Who was the last emperor to visit Rome?

Mar 27 2010

Listener Allison asked which emperor had the distinction of being the last Roman sovereign to set foot in the ancient capital city.  It was the uninspiring John VIII who visited in 1423 to beg for help against the Ottoman Turks.  His stay in the Eternal City was quite a contrast from the previous imperial visit.  That had been in 663 when the emperor Constans II had visited for 12 days.  Despite a stay of less than two weeks, Constans managed to annoy the entire population by stripping everything of value (including the bronze from the roof of the Pantheon) to fund his war against the Arabs.  Rumor had it that his tax collectors were so severe that husbands were sold into slavery and wives were forced into prostitution to meet the sums demanded.  Fortunately for John VIII, seven centuries tend to dim those kind of memories.  He was given a warm welcome and Renaissance artists, taken by his exotic dress left several realistic portraits.  Thanks to that Roman trip, he remains the one Byzantine emperor to be realistically painted- a notoriety he certainly didn’t deserve!

2 responses so far

  1. Constans “war against the Arabs” was actually self-defense against jihad, was it not?

  2. Absolutely. Constans II never knew a moment of peace against the Caliphate not because he wanted to fight but because several Caliphs had openly said they wanted to annihilate the Roman Empire. By the time he came to the throne the jihad had swallowed up nearly half the empire and seemed likely to finish the job. The fact that it didn’t is a testament to men like John Tzimisces and Basil II who understood completely the enemy they were fighting. To paraphrase the great warrior-emperor Nicephorus Phocas: ‘There can be no permanent peace with a religion that seeks your complete destruction.’

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