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Instability of the Byzantine emperors

So a while back I went through the kings of England from William the Conqueror on down, to see how well the principle of hereditary succession worked to keep things stable and predictable. Answer: not very well at all, until Parliament took over and drained the Crown of real power. As with the "emperors" of Japan, no one bothers stealing a ceremonial office. I will grant though they managed to keep it in the extended family: all the kings are descended from William, and after a couple generations they're all from Alfred the Great, too.

I'd wondered how other other places would stack up. Happily for me, for the Eastern Roman Empire someone has already done most of the work. Definitely not in the family here: a quick eyeball shows most dynasties lasting either a few years or about 80 years, almost on the dot. The Macedonian is an exception, listed at 200 years... though that's kind of an artifact of decision making. 50 years in we get Romanos I: "After becoming the emperor's father-in-law, he successively assumed higher offices until he crowned himself senior emperor." OTOH, he was overthrown and succeeded by the sons of his predecessor, so I guess he's more hiccup in the succession. We get another such hiccup with Nikephoros II and nephew.

Even within dynasties, succession is often to a brother, nephew, son-in-law(!), or adopted son(!). The first two are traditional enough, the latter less so. Succession is often not peaceful, either.

One big difference from the 'real' Roman Empire: a fair number (relatively speaking) of women in power. Empresses-regnant Pulcheria, Irene, Zoe, and Theodora; also a fair number of regencies by mothers, or in one case, a sister.
Female regents mentioned: Sophia for her insane husband, Martina for her son, Irene for her son (whom she then usurped), Theodora (different) for her son, Zoe (different) for her son, Eudokia for her son, Maria for her son.

The Komnenids seem second longest, at 104 years... ooh no, third; the final dynasty, the Palaiologans, went 192 years, and their founder had blood or marriage connections to the two prior dynasties. But this is still including civil wars, usurpations in the family, and accessions of maternal relatives.

To be fair, I've read that hereditary succession was never an official principle of either Roman empire, it was just a default, whereas having the right magical blood was important to the English.

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Damien Sullivan

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