Flavius Zeno Augustus is most famous for being the Eastern Roman Emperor when the last western Emperor was deposed in 476, but his reign turns out to be interesting in its own right. Zeno was an Isaurian, from a rugged area of southern Asia Minor. His early life is somewhat obscure, although the author is able to come to some conclusions, and we probably know his original Isaurian name as well as his Roman name. The Isaurians were generally seen as ‘internal barbarians’, but Zeno appears to have been a fairly well regarded member of the Roman establishment before coming to power. Crawford is able to trace his career during the reign of Leo I, a period in which both parts of the Empire were troubled by migrating tribes – most famously the Huns and the Goths. One of Zeno’s biggest problems as Emperor would be to find a balance between the various war bands that were settled within the boundaries of the Empire, and it was this problem that led to one of his most significant decisions – arranging for Theoderic the Amal to invade Italy to depose Odoacer, the general who had deposed the last western Emperor.
The religious disputes of Zeno’s reign were clearly very important at the time, although to a modern reader the burning theological issues of the time appear remarkably petty. A prolonged series of debates about the precise nature of Christ had produced a series of rival theologies, which led to insanely over-exagerated clashes between their supporters. These in turn led to a series of Church Councils held in a clearly pointless attempt to come up with a compromise. The most recent of these during Zeno’s reign was the council of Chalcedon, which triggered the inevitable clashes between supporters and opponents of its conclusions. Unfortunatly for Zeno, one of his attempts to find a compromise between supporters and opponents of the Council was later used by opponents of Chalcedon, so later historians tended to assume that Zeno had also been an anti-Chalcedonian, and appear to have distorted his reputation as a result.
This is an interesting biography, looking at a period in which the Eastern Empire managed to survive a series of crisis almost a serious as the ones that destroyed the western Empire. The story of Zeno’s reign resembles a fantasy novel, with rivalrys within his court (even leading to his being briefly deposed soon after coming to the throne), family rivalries, barbarian invadors, some of whom threatened Constantiniple itself, revolts, religious disputes, and in keeping with this period of later Roman history an impressive cast of strong women, not least Zeno’s wife Ariadne, daughter of Leo I, who went on to play a major role in selecting Zeno’s successor, who she then went on to marry.
1 – Under Pressure: The Roman Empire of the Fifth Century
2 – The Romanized ‘Barbarians’: Isauria and the Origins of Zeno
3 – Enemies in the State: The Gothic ‘Nations’ of the Theoderici
4 – Puppet on a String? The Reign of Leo I
5 – The Pressure Grows: Huns, Vandals and Assassins
6 – The Puppet Becomes the Butcher: The End of Aspar
7 – A Father Succeeding his Son: The Making of Flavius Zeno Augustus
8 – A Brief Imperial Interlude: The Usurption of Basiliscus
9 – Beholden to All: The Price of Zeno’s Restoration
10 – All Quiet on the Eastern Front?
11 – Zeno, the Christological Crisis and Imperial Religious Policy
12 – A Long Time Coming: The Revolt of Illus
13 – Zeno, Theoderic and the End of the Western Empire
14 – Demonic Possession, Vivisepluture and a Woman Scorned: The Death of Zeno and the Succession
Author: Peter Crawford
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military