Different Types of Byzantine Political Mutilation

Who got what cut off and when?

Grant Piper


Political mutilation in Byzantine culture. (2022, August 10). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_mutilation_in_Byzantine_culture

Being the emperor was a dangerous job before the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Rome was racked with political violence, schemes, and numerous assassinations. The constant infighting and killings of political rivals and even emperors helped severely weaken the empire over time and ultimately played into its ultimate demise.

Eastern Rome, based in Byzantium, watched this unfold in horror. They were determined not to let their slice of the empire fall into chaos. (They were successful and lasted 1000 years longer than Rome did.) In order to shore up their portion of the old empire, they decided not to let political rivals become true threats to the throne or to the stability of the empire.

So how can you stop political rivals from disrupting the empire when those rivalries contributed to the fall of Rome in 476? You mutilate them.

Political Mutilation

Presian (son of Ivan Vladislav). (2022, March 20). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presian_(son_of_Ivan_Vladislav)

Before Byzantine emperors started having their rivals mutilated, the punishment was often reserved for criminals. The theory was based on ancient tradition. If you committed a crime, you would have something taken from you, such as an eye, a hand, or a nose. That way, everyone would recognize you as a criminal, and your past deeds would always be visible on your face. It was a powerful deterrent.

Political operatives adopted this punishment but for different reasons. Mutilated persons could not hold the Byzantine throne for various reasons. The different mutilations were based on a person’s strengths and the requirements of the job of the emperor.

The Byzantine Emperor was expected to do three basic things.

  1. Sire an heir.
  2. Lead the armies into battle in defense of the empire.
  3. Be perfect and blameless in the eyes of God as God’s holy representative on Earth.

In order to disqualify someone from office, all you had to do was ensure that one of these three things could no longer be accomplished.



Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.