The Byzantine Empire was extremely cosmopolitan. Inside its borders lived Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, Cappadocians, Pahlagonians, Germans, Isaurians, and many others. Nonetheless, Byzantines identified as Roman, a supra-ethnic form of identity that was continued from the Roman Empire. But while this Roman identity may have bound Byzantines together, ethnic identities and divisions still existed. Byzantine primary sources are replete with references to specific ethnicities inside the Empire, such as “Armenians” and “Isaurians.” Byzantine emperors were no different than their subjects in this respect; they were an ethnically diverse cadre of rulers.
Some Byzantine emperors were never ethnically identified in primary sources. In other cases, historians used terms that could refer to both a geographic or ethnic origin. It is not an easy task to delineate the ethnic origins of the Byzantine emperors. In the following paragraphs, I will try to lay out the ethnic origins of the 90 Byzantine emperors (not counting Basiliscus, Mezezius, Artabasdos, Michael IX, Andronikos IV, John VII, or Andronikos V, all of which were short-lived usurpers or junior emperors). Continue reading “The Ethnic Backgrounds of Byzantine Emperors”