A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Ἀναστάσιος), emperor of CONSTANTINOPLE, surnamed Dicorus (Δίκορος) on account of the different colour of his eye-balls, was born about 430 A. D., at Dyrrachium in Epeirus. He was descended from an unknown family, and we are acquainted with only a few circumstances concerning his life previously to his accession. We know, however, that he was a zealous Eutychian, that he was not married, and that he served in the imperial lifeguard of the Silentiarii, which was the cause of his being generally called Anastasius Silentiarius. The emperor Zeno, the Isaurian, having died in 491 without male issue, it was generally believed that his brother Longinus would succeed him; but in consequence of an intrigue carried on during some time, as it seems, between Anastasius and the empress Ariadne, Anastasius was proclaimed emperor. Shortly afterwards he married Ariadne, but it does not appear that he had had an adulterous intercourse with her during the life of her husband. When Anastasius ascended the throne of the Eastern empire he was a man of at least sixty, but though, notwithstanding his advanced age, he evinced uncommon energy, his reign is one of the most deplorable periods of Byzantine history, disturbed as it was by foreign and intestine wars and by the still greater calamity of religious troubles. Immediately after his accession, Longinus, the brother of Zeno, Longinus Magister Officiorum, and Longinus Selinuntius, rose against him, and being all natives of Isauria, where they had great influence, they made this province the centre of their operations against the imperial troops. This

war, which is known in history under the name of the Isaurian war, lasted till 497, and partly till 498, when it was finished to the advantage of the emperor by the captivity and death of the ringleaders of the rebellion. John the Scythian, John the Hunchbacked, and under them Justinus, who became afterwards emperor, distinguished themselves greatly as commanders of the armies of Anastasius. The following years were signalized by a sedition in Constantinople occasioned by disturbances between the factions of the Blue and the Green, by religious troubles which the emperor was able to quell only by his own humiliation, by wars with the Arabs and the Bulgarians, and by earthquakes, famine, and plague. (A. D. 500.) Anastasius tried to relieve his people by abolishing the χρυσάργυρος, a heavy poll-tax which was paid indifferently for men and for domestic animals. Immediately after these calamities, Anastasius was involved in a war with Cabadis, the king of Persia, who destroyed the Byzantine army commanded by Hypacius and Patricius Phrygius, and ravaged Mesopotamia in a dreadful manner. Anastasius purchased peace in 505 by paying 11,000 pounds of gold to the Persians, who, being threatened with an invasion of the Huns, restored to the emperor the provinces which they had overrun. From Asia Anastasius sent his generals to the banks of the Danube, where they fought an unsuccessful but not inglorious campaign against the East-Goths of Italy, and tried, but in vain, to defend the passage of the Danube against the Bulgarians. These indefatigable warriors crossed that river in great numbers, and ravaging the greater part of Thrace, appeared in sight of Constantinople; and no other means were left to the emperor to secure the immediate neighbourhood of his capital but by constructing a fortified wall across the isthmus of Constantinople from the coast of the Propontis to that of the Pontus Euxinus. (A. D. 507.) Some parts of this wall, which in a later period proved useful against the Turks, are still existing. Clovis, king of the Franks, was created consul by Anastasius.

The end of the reign of Anastasius cannot well be understood without a short notice of the state of religion during this time, a more circumstantial account of which the reader will find in Evagrius and Theophanes cited below.

As early as 488, Anastasius, then only a Silentiarius, had been active in promoting the Eutychian Palladius to the see of Antioch. This act was made a subject of reproach against him by the orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, Euphemius, who, upon Anastasius succeeding Zeno on the throne, persuaded or compelled him to sign a confession of faith according to the orthodox principles laid down in the council of Chalcedon. Notwithstanding this confession, Anastasius continued an adherent to the doctrines of Eutychius, and in 496 he had his enemy, Euphemius, deposed and banished. It is said, that at this time Anastasius showed great propensities to the sect of the Acephali. The successor of Euphemius was Macedonius, who often thwarted the measures of the emperor, and who but a few years afterwards was driven from his see, which Anastasius gave to the Eutychian Timotheus, who opposed the orthodox in many matters. Upon this, Anastasius was anathematized by pope Symmachus, whose successor, Hormisdas, sent deputies to Constantinople for the purpose of restoring peace to the Church of the East. However, the religious motives of these disturbances were either so intimately connected with political motives, or the hatred between the parties was so great, that the deputies did not succeed. In 514, Vitalianus, a Gothic prince in the service of the emperor, put himself at the head of a powerful army, and laid siege to Constantinople, under the pretext of compelling Anastasius to put an end to the vexations of the orthodox church. In order to get rid of such an enemy, Anastasius promised to assemble a general council, which was to be presided over by the pope, and he appointed Vitalianus his commander-in-chief in Thrace. But no sooner was the army of Vitalianus disbanded, than Anastasius once more eluded his promises, and the predomination of the Eutychians over the orthodox lasted till the death of the emperor. Anastasius died in 518, at the age of between eighty-eight and ninety-one years. Evagrius states, that after his death his name was erased from the sacred "Diptychs" or tables.

Religious hatred having more or less guided modern writers as well as those whom we must consider as the sources with regard to Anastasius, the character of this emperor has been described in a very different manner. The reader will find these opinions carefully collected and weighed with prudence and criticism in Tillemont's " Histoire des Empereurs." Whatever were his vices, and however avaricious and faithless he was, Anastasius was far from being a common man. Tillemont, though he is often misled by bigotry, does not blame him for many actions, and praises him for many others for which he has been frequently reproached. Le Beau, the author of the "Histoire du Bas Empire," does not condemn him; and Gibbon commends him, although principally for his economy. (Evagrius, 3.29, seq.; Cedrenus, pp. 354-365, ed. Paris; Theophanes, pp. 115-141, ed. Paris; Gregor. Turon. 2.38.)