Zeno, Byzantine Emperor

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The Byzantine emperor Zeno (474491) came from the village of Rusumblada in Isauria. Born c. 426/431, his original name was Tarasicodissa. During a military career, Zeno acquired papers in 466 showing the treachery of Aspar's son Ardabur. This brought him promotion to comes domesticorum and marriage to Leo's daughter Ariadne. He served as magister militum per Thracias (467469) and magister militum per Orientem (469471), before acting as magister militum praesentalis (?474). He was also given the honors of the consulate (469) and patricius. Zeno's son Leo (born c. 467) was made Augustus with his grandfather in January 474. After Leo I's death, Jan. 18, 474, Zeno ruled as Augustus from February 9 with his young son. When Leo II died in November 474, Zeno ruled alone.

Revolts against him were launched by Basiliscus (475476) Marcian (479), and Leontius (484488). Basiliscus seized power in January 475, forcing Zeno to flee to Isauria. He returned to Constantinople in August 476, after Basiliscus lost the support of his conspirators Illus and Armatus. Marcian, his brother-in-law, was defeated by Illus in an attempt to storm the palace in 479. Lastly, Zeno's mother-in-law, Verina, revolted in 484 with the support of Illus. When Zeno sent Leontius against them in 484, Leontius deserted and was acclaimed emperor. The rebels were defeated near Antioch in 484, but it was not until 488 that they were finally suppressed in the Isaurian mountains. Beset by immediate problems, Zeno paid little attention to the west, though in 474 he declared Nepos emperor in Italy. He continued to recognize Nepos even after the latter had been forced into exile, but when Nepos died in 480, Zeno accepted Odoacer's authority in Italy. Until Theoderic Strabo's accidental death in 481, Zeno could set him against Theoderic the Amal, another Gothic leader in the Balkans. Then Theoderic the Amal became a grave threat, even attacking Constantinople in 487. In 488 Zeno sent him against Odoacer in Italy, thus removing most of the Goths from the Balkans.

In religious affairs, Zeno was faced with twin problems of western reluctance to accept a patriarchate at Constantinople and of Alexandrian rejection of Chalcedon. In 482 Zeno issued his Edict (subsequently known as the Henoticon) which was neutral on Chalcedon but supported the patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius. On both grounds this offended the pope, causing the Acacian Schism (484519). Although extremists (Nestorians and Eutychians) rejected the Edict, it was accepted by most moderates. Zeno's subsequent actions tended towards anti-Chalcedonianism, appointing patriarchs like Peter the Fuller in Antioch who were sympathetic to monophysitism.

Zeno was unpopular, particularly in the capital. The frequent military crises placed great financial demands on the treasury, and Zeno raised money by selling offices. This, along with his patronage of Isaurians provoked widespread hostility. Despite the enormous challenges he faced, Zeno died in peace, Apr. 9, 491, leaving no heir.

Bibliography: e. w. brooks, "The Emperor Zenon and the Isaurians," English Historical Review 8 (1893) 209238. a. cameron, et al., eds., Cambridge Ancient History vol. 14 (Cambridge 2000) 4952. h. w. elton, "Illus and the Imperial Aristocracy under Zeno," Byzantion 70 (2000) 393407.

[h. w. elton]