Tiberius III

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Considering he started out a Byzantine Jack Tar, Tiberius III rose all the way to become an emperor. There have been plenty examples, both ancient and modern, of a general becoming his country's head of state. Far less so a naval captain and one not even in the top rank there. But Tiberius - or Apsimar as he was originally called - did just that, and moreover, kept his job for a busy seven years.

Tiberius III: A well-groomed emperor, considering this was the Dark Ages.


Tiberius seems to have been from a family of Germans (Apsimar as a given name being about as popular as Hans or Heinz in those days). What sort of German isn't known and was probably by now Greek enough that his opponents didn't make anything of this background. How he got into the Byzantine navy is not known or what else he actually did before grasping the opportunity to become an emperor came into view.

It started out as a basically a mutiny of Byzantine captains on their way back from Carthage where they had failed to retain the city. Tiberius wasn't in the first rank, he was in charge of a small squadron. But he seems to have impressed his fellow sea shanty mates and was proclaimed emperor against the then ruler Leontius in 698. This is when Apsimar chose the name 'Tiberius'. Why that rather than say 'Constantine' or some other popular name for emperors, no one now knows.


Tiberius and the fleet arrived outside Constantinople. Perhaps to their surprise, the gates were closed against them and for the next six months Tiberius was obliged to lay siege to the city. Eventually someone forgot to lock a particular door and soon Tiberius and his friends were inside the walls and looking for Leontius. Tiberius could have easily slain Leontius, after all, wasn't he also a usurper and without family or friends? In the end Tiberius just settled for Leontius's nose. By disfiguring a rival, it was believed you made it impossible for them to return as apparently the job description was 'I am of sound and healthy body and I have kept all my eyes, hands and tongue. Oh, and add in a nose'. Leontius was made in illegible for a comeback (so it was believed) and shut up in a monastery to ponder the cruel twists of fate.

Now that Tiberius has his thrown, what was he going to do with it? North Africa was now totally lost except for a far outpost opposite the coast of Spain in what is now Morocco. As a naval rather than military man, Tiberius reorganised the Byzantine held islands of Sicily and Sardinia. He also had time for some work on the military provinces bordering both the Umayyad empire in the Middle East.

Unlike Leontius, Tiberius appears to have become from a large family. He had a brother called Heraclius and son named Theodosius who would later long outlive his father and become an influential bishop in the reigns of Leo III and Constantine V. Tiberius showed enough intelligence and skill that showed he could have become an important ruler of the Byzantine Empire but out there was another man who was looking for a Frank Sinatra comeback. The deposed (and mutilated) Justinian II, now gathering an army of supporters in the Balkans.


Grisly goings on in Constantinople. On the left, Tiberius is about to lose his nose whilst Justinian II has one foot on Leontius's neck.Other deaths to follow.

Justinian's army eventually went on the march and in 705 turned up outside Constantinople. Instead of waiting out a siege, Justinian's scouts found a disused drainage pipe and sent their smallest soldiers into the city to open up the gates. Tiberius fled.

For the next few months Tiberius played hide and seek with Justinian's soldiers but was eventually run to ground. He wasn't killed on the spot as Justinian had booked him to provide some low level entertainment at the Hippodrome. Tiberius was dragged around the city to be showered in shit, his only solace being that he wasn't alone. The man he had deposed and nose sliced was there with him. It was a case of 'hello Leontius, we meet again!'

If the two men shared a grim joke together or not we won't know. They were pretty sure what their joint fate was. As an extra humiliation, Tiberius had his nose cut off and was used a foot stall (as was Leontius) at the Hippodrome. They must have made a strange sight. Two noseless men lying prostrate under the feet of another equally disfigured man except he wore a golden schnozzer. Once the chariot racing was over, Tiberius lost his head...literally.

Preceded by:
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by:
Justinian II 'redux'