One Is None, Two Is One: The Byzantine Tradition of Co-Emperors

Did you know that the Byzantine Empire sometimes had two emperors? This was an old tradition dating back to Roman Emperor Diocletian in the late 200s CE, who created a system of four emperors, two senior emperors and two junior emperors. Byzantine co-emperors go back to at least the 400s CE with Leo II crowning his father Zeno co-emperor and promptly dying, making Zeno sole ruler. Not exactly off to a good start. But the co-emperor tradition continued. By the 900s it was common enough that there were distinct terms for the junior co-emperor (basileus) and senior co-emperor (autokratōr or occasionally megas basileus).

One of the more interesting co-emperors had not one co-ruler but four! Romanos I Lekapenos, an Armenian who became a major Byzantine naval commander, seized the royal palace and the reins of government in 919. In March he married his daughter to the reigning emperor, fifteen-year-old Constantine VII. In September Romanos decided that was not enough and had himself crowned co-emperor with his own made-up term for equal emperors "Caesar," before finally, in December, naming himself the senior co-emperor or autokratōr.

Romanos eventually crowned his own sons co-emperors: Christopher in 921, Stephen and Constantine in 924. For the time being, Constantine VII was regarded as first in rank after Romanos himself, Baileus to his autokrator. For his kindness to the man he deposed, Romanos I Lekapenos was given the nickname "the gentle usurper."

Prehistoric Untouched Settlement Found Nestled In A Polish Forest

A 2,000-year-old settlement, complete with surrounding fields, farms, and roads, has been discovered in northern Poland’s Tuchola Forest. The settlement is notable because not just the buildings are intact, but the fields they lived off of and the road they walked remain as well. Nothing was covered over by later settlements. The site covers about 420 acres, and was found using airborne laser-scanning equipment and dated based on pottery recovered on the ground. It will be exciting to hear as more comes out about this ancient site!


"Anyone who holds a true opinion without understanding is like a blind man on the right road."

Plato, in "The Republic," 380 BCE

How Buddha's Aunt Convinced Him To Allow Women To Become Nuns -- With An Ancient Protest March

Buddha founded a monk's order in his lifetime. But he refused to start an order for women, even though his aunt Gotami -- who had nursed him and raised him as her own -- asked three times. So she decided to lead a walk of women who wanted to become nuns. Though in her seventies, Gotami and 500 supporters shaved their heads, donned a monk's yellow robes, and walked more than 100 miles to the Jetavana monastery where the Buddha taught.

When they arrived, covered in dust and with abused feet, Buddha again refused. No reason was given. The monk Ananda, one of the Buddha’s principal disciples and his cousin, offered to speak to the Buddha on the women's behalf. He is said to have asked the Buddha first directly to start a women's order. The Buddha said no. So Ananda asked whether women were unable to become enlightened? Could they attain the bliss of statehood? The Buddha replied that yes, a woman can become enlightened. So why can they not become nuns? With those words, Ananda changed the Buddha's mind, and the first order of Buddhist nuns was formed in the Buddha's lifetime.

So you don't give the Buddha too much credit, nuns were considered inferior to monks in several regards. There were eight conditions the new order of nuns had to follow: Nuns, no matter how senior, must defer to monks, even new ones. They could never chide or advise a monk, and yet had to seek the counsel of the male order and abide by the rules of both the male and female orders. Nuns also had to study two years before being ordained, compared to a year for monks, and had to live within six hours travel of a male order. The rules seem ridiculous and sexist, today. But Gotami had gotten what she wanted, through the power of peaceful protest.

The Mayans Had Steam Baths!

It's true! The Mayans liked to get clean, by sweating. And archaeologists may have discovered a new, very old, steam bath. A team of researchers have uncovered a stone structure at Guatemala’s Maya site of Nakum that may have served as the foundation of a steam bath as early as 700 BCE. The excavators first discovered the entrance to a tunnel carved out of rock in an area of the site surrounded by temples, pyramids, and palaces. Like some modern-day Indiana Joneses, they followed the tunnel down a set of stairs, to a second tunnel, which ends in a rectangular room with rock-cut benches. An oval hearth in the wall opposite the entrance to the room is thought to have been used to heat large stones. Just pour on water - and voila! A steam bath! The structure was deliberately and completely sealed with mortar and rubble around 300 BCE. Maybe steam baths went out of fashion?

Intriguing Cluster of Ancient Chinese Tombs Discovered

A cluster of 12 tombs estimated to be more than 1,500 years old has been discovered in northern China. The tombs are thought to date to the Sixteen Kingdoms period (304 to 439 CE). The tombs each had a passage, a door, and a path leading to the coffin chamber, and were arranged in two rows, perhaps because the occupants belonged to a single extended family. Genetic testing may be conducted to confirm that hypothesis.

What makes the finds particularly exciting are the never-before-seen burial customs. Some had a small pit in one corner of the coffin chamber, filled with stones. Some of the tombs' occupants had their feet held down by square stones. Figurines of warriors, servants, and animals made of pottery, and mirrors, stamps, hair clasps, pins, bracelets, bells, and coins made of bronze were also found in the tombs, all artifacts which have been found in other Chinese tombs, so a little less exciting.


"The life of a good book is far longer than the life of a man. Its author dies, and his generation dies, and his successors are born and die; the world he knew disappears, and new orders which he could not foresee are established on its ruins; law, religion, science, commerce, society, all are transformed into shapes which would astound him; but his book continues to live. Long after he and his epoch are dead, the book speaks with his voice."

Gilbert Highet, on Juvenal. Highet (1906 – 1978) was a Scottish-American classicist, academic, writer, intellectual, critic and literary historian. Juvenal (1st century - 2nd century CE) was a Roman poet who published at least five books of verses. They lived 1,800 years apart, proving the truth of Highet's quote.

Giraffes Were Thought To Be What Now?

The ancient Greeks and Romans thought giraffes were an unnatural offspring of a camel and a leopard. Due to the animal's camel-like shape and leopard-like spots. The camel's Latin name is pretty simple: "camelopardalis." Which is how the camel's scientific name came to be "Giraffa camelopardalis."

Archaeologists Very Excited to Discover Ugly, Late-Roman Statues in Israel

The two statues' discovery, in late 2018, is important for understanding late Roman period style. It's a particularly difficult style to study, as no two statues from this time period resemble each other. One appears to be a man with a beard. Both are made of local limestone and have distinctive hair and clothing features. Researchers think they are intended to look like a deceased person, like similar statues, which were usually placed in or near burial caves.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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