The Unspeakable Punishments Of The Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire

eastern roman byzantine punishments

In the year 395, the Roman Empire split into two parts: the Western Roman Empire, which included Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire, sometimes called “The Byzantine Empire” after its capital at Byzantium, and which became Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

The split of the most powerful empire in Western history happened for a number of reasons:

One, it would be easier to administer a smaller area, considering the means of communication at the time.

Two, the borders of the empire were threatened by many hostile people and it was believed that dividing command and control would make defending the empire easier.

Three, it was believed that having two equal emperors would lessen the number of power struggles that had been taking place within the Roman Empire for decades.

One thing didn't change with the division of the empire, however – the use of torture and bizarre punishments to keep the people and rivals in line.

Another Byzantine favorite was "rhinotomy" - the removal of the nose. If you've seen the movie "The Northman" (2022), you know that you can live without a nose.

But, you couldn't be a Byzantine emperor, for laws forbade the most powerful and exalted figure in the land from being a person who had been disfigured.

Political enemies at the highest levels would sometimes cut off the nose of rivals if they had the opportunity to prevent them from taking the throne.

Emperors overthrown and not killed outright often had their noses cut off. Even with a leather or cloth mask to prevent foreign bodies from entering the space where the nose used to be, everyone knew what lay underneath.

Of course, laws are only as strong as the paper or parchment they're written on and there were exceptions. The emperor Justinian II was involved in a power struggle with two rivals, one of which who had replaced Justinian on the throne after having cut Justinian's nose off. Undaunted, Justinian covered his nose with a shield made from pure gold, and being powerful, retook the throne.

Shortly thereafter, his two rivals, former emperors Leontios and Tiberius III, had their noses cut off before being killed. Justice belonged to Justinian in 705AD. By the way, Justinian's nickname was “Rhinometos,” or “slit-nosed.”

It seems that among the ruling classes, golden noses were a trend in the Eastern Roman Empire. The Byzantine general Tatikios, who led the armies of the empire on the First Crusade also had a golden nose.

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