Usurper narratives and power: pretexts, legacies, and aspects of legitimation in Byzantium (963-1204)

Davidson, Alistair James (2014). Usurper narratives and power: pretexts, legacies, and aspects of legitimation in Byzantium (963-1204). University of Birmingham. M.Res.

PDF - Accepted Version

Download (1MB)


The period 963-1204 was marked by periods of dynastic instability made possible by the inherent contradictions in the Byzantine political system. Usurpation was considered an ignominious route to power and bloodshed tainted a usurper’s legacy, prompting attempts at atonement. The motives for revolt were of considerable interest to contemporaries and helped to determine legitimacy.

Self-interest and ambition were the marks of illegitimate tyrants. Acting in self-defence and deposing a tyrant for the good of the empire were considered legitimate reasons to rebel. The motif of the reluctant emperor was employed to promote the claims of ‘good’ emperors. These individuals were often presented in accordance with aristocratic and literary ideals which enhanced the narrative.

The declaration of rebellion set in motion a process of legitimation for the would-be usurper. The donning of imperial garments was a sign of intent and the transfer of control over the Great Palace considered vital to success. Both were associated with basileia and therefore necessary for legitimacy. The coronation was but one mark of legitimacy and close connections to the previous dynasty were sought after and promoted in order to enhance a usurper’s claim. Patriarchal favour and signs of divine approval fulfilled similar roles.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.Res.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.Res.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History


Request a Correction Request a Correction
View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year