Alternative History

Georgios Danielopoulos rallying the people of Constantinople

The Byzantine Revolution (Greek: Βυζαντινή Επανάσταση), also known as the Byzantine Civil War, was a period of social and political upheaval in the Byzantine Empire which lasted from 1797 until 1801. It began after the Byzantine defeat in the hands of the Russians during the Caucasus War. The war led the Byzantines into a financial crisis which forced Basileus Ferenikos IV to call upon the Byzantine Senate to raise the tax on the lower class. It then ended with the formation of the Republic of Byzantium, and the Donus Coup that swept Donus Tzimiskes to power.


The causes of the Byzantine Revolution, the revolution that brought the regime of Basileus Ferenikos IV and the Byzantine Empire to an end, were manifold. The Byzantine Empire in 1797 had failed to manage the social and economic inequality and the decisive defeat against the Russians in the Caucasus War had rapidly drained the national treasury. The rapid population growth and the inability to adequately finance the government debt resulted in economic depression, unemployment and high food prices. These combined with a regressive tax system and resistance to reform by the ruling elite to produce a crisis Basileus Ferenikos IV proved unable to manage. In an effort to resolve the crisis,  the appointed Finance Minister Adrian Angelopoulos was called to solve the crisis but was unable to reach an agreement on how to increase revenue so May 1797 Ferenikos called upon the Byzantine Senate for the first time in over thrity years to help solve the financial crisis.

A debate in the senate on how to deal with Byzantine Empire financial crisis.

The National Confederation of Byzantium taking the Parthenon Oath

The Byzantine Senate was divided into three parts; the First Class for members of the clergy, Second Clas for the nobility, and Third Class for the "commons" or the middle or lower class. Each sat separately, enabling the First and Second Class to outvote the Third, despite representing less than 5% of the population, while both were largely exempt from tax.The Byzantine Senate convened in the Hellenic Parliament Building on 5 May 1797, near the Imperial Palace in Athens rather than in Constantinople, the choice of location was interpreted as an attempt to control their debates. As was customary, each Class to be assembled in separate rooms, whose furnishings and opening ceremonies deliberately emphasised the superiority of the First and Second Class. After an extended stalemate on a debate on how to deal with Byzantine Empire financial crisis, on 10th of May the Third Class proceeded to verify its own deputies, a process completed on 13th May. Two days later, they declared themselves The National Confederation of Byzantium. The remaining deputies from the other two Classes were invited to join, but the Confederation made it clear they intended to legislate with or without their support. In an attempt to prevent the Confederation from convening, Ferenikos IV ordered the Confederation Building to closed down, claiming it needed to be prepared for a royal speech. On May 16 1797 the Confederation met in the outside of Parthenon in Athens and swore not to disperse until a new constitution had been agreed. Messages of support poured in from Constantinople and other cities by May 20, they had been joined by the majority of the First Class, plus forty-seven members of the Second, and Ferenikos IV backed down.

The Beggining of the Violence

On May 22, three radical deputies of the Third Class, Mikolaos Rousopoulos, Georgios Danielopoulos, and Ahmet Burakgazi had formed a new radical party called the Jacobin Party, they soon became a leading figure in the Confederation and soon growing number of more radical Jacobins wanted the removal of Basileus Ferenikos IV. Ferenikos had dismissed Adrian as finance minister on May 23. On May 25, the Confederation went into a non-stop session after rumours circulated that Ferenikos was planning to use the Serres regiment to force it to close. The news brought crowds of protestors into the streets, and soldiers of the Turkic Regiment. refused to disperse them.

The Storming of Arta Castle

On May 26 the Confederation had announce the creation of the National Militia also known as the Confederate Guards, and immediately, many troops from the Byzantine Military had defected with the Confederate Guards including the entire Turkic Regiment. In the early morning of the next day, the search for weapons for the national militia led to the storming of the Citta dei Nicliani a military hospital which secured rifles for the militia. Many of the Confederate Guards joined the mob in attacking Arta Castle, a royal fortress with large stores of arms and ammunition. The governor Dardanos Labropoulos surrendered after several hours of fighting that cost the lives of 83 attackers. Taken to the Citta dei Nicliani, he was executed, his head placed on a pike and paraded around the city. The attack of Arta Castle was led by Lysander the newly appointed commander of the Confederate Guards.

The Confederation published the Citzens Decrees which were seven decress from May 27- 29 which abolished feudalism and other privileges held by the nobility, notably exemption from tax. Other decrees included equality before the law, opening public office to all, freedom of worship, and cancellation of special privileges held by provinces and towns.

On May 30 Basileus Ferenikos IV had supended the Byzantine Senate due to its being unable to help resolve the financial crisis and the growing strenght of the Confederation. With the suspension of the Byzantine Senate in May, the one of the key institutional pillar of the old regime had all been abolished in less than a month. From its early stages, the Revolution therefore displayed signs of its radical nature; what remained unclear was the constitutional mechanism for turning intentions into practical applications.

The crowds outside the Imperial Confederation Building

On June 3 1797, crowds assembled outside the Citta dei Nicliani, urging action to reduce prices and improve bread supplies. These protests quickly turned political, and after seizing weapons stored at the Citta dei Nicliani, some 7,000 marched on the Imperial Confederation Building,to present their demands to the Confederation. They were followed by 15,000 members of the Confederate Guards under Lysander, who tried to dissuade them, but took command when it became clear they would desert if he did not grant their request. When the Confederate Guard arrived later that evening, Lysander persuaded Ferenikos the safety of his family required relocation to Constaninople. Next morning, some of the protestors broke into the Royal apartments, searching for Basilla Alexandra, who escaped. They ransacked the palace, killing several guards. Although the situation remained tense, order was eventually restored, and the Royal family and Confederation left for Constaninople and was escorted by the Confederate Guard. Announcing his acceptance of the Citizens Decrees and the Declaration, Ferenikos committed to a figure head, and his official title changed from 'Basileus of the Byzantine Empire' to 'Basileus of the Byzantines '.

The Politics of the Revolution

The National Confederation of Byzantium celebrating the victory of Julius Bastiaan Manussaco.

The National Confederation of Byzantium was an unicameral legislature and had five parties vhying for power in Confederation. The Centrist are currently the leading party in the Confederation, the leader of the Centrist was Julius Bastiaan Manussaco who is also the President of the National Confederation of Byzantium. The Reactionaries are the second leading party in the Confederation their leader is Christopher Hatzis. The Monarchist are the third leading party in the Confederation and their leader Stefanos Iraklidis wanted the return of Basileus Ferenikos IV power and the return of the Byzantine Senate.The Turkish Party was the fourth leading party in the Confederation and their leaders Halil Erdogan and Kahraman Gultekin had wanted equal rights for all Turkish citizens and Islam worshippers. The Jacobins Party was the last leading party in the Confederation and their leaders Mikolaos Rousopoulos, Georgios Danielopoulos, and Ahmet Burakgazi wanted new radical policies, and radical changes for example the complete removal Basileus Ferenikos IV. Ahmet was previously part of the Turkish Party but had left due to his more radical policies, and had joined Mikolaos and Georgios to form the Jacobin Party.

The announcement of the Declaration of the Rights of the Citizens of Byzantium.

Lysander prepared a draft constitution known as the Declaration of the Rights of the Citizens of Byzantium. However the Confederation had reached no consensus on the role of the Crown, and until this question was settled, it was impossible to create political institutions. When presented to the legislative committee on June 10, it was rejected by pragmatists such as Julius Bastiaan Manussaco, President of the Confederation, who feared creating expectations that could not be satisfied. After some editing by Georgios, it was published on June 14 as a statement of principle.

The Revolution caused a massive shift of power from the Orthodox Church to the state, although the extent of religious belief has been questioned, elimination of tolerance for religious minorities meant by 1797 being a Orthodox meant being classified as a Byzantine. and also meant being Islam is classified as being Turkic. The church was the largest individual landowner in the Byzantine Empire, controlling nearly 10% of all estates and levied tithes, effectively a 10% tax on income, collected from peasant farmers in the form of crops. In return, it provided a minimal level of social support.

the Confederation confiscation of all church property

The August decrees abolished tithes, and on June 15 the Confederation confiscated all church property.In return, the state assumed responsibilities such as paying the clergy and caring for the poor, the sick and the orphaned. On June 16 1797, religious orders and monasteries were dissolved, while monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew the 3rd was forced to resign and had disolved to title The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

The Fall of the Monarchy

Ferenikos and Alexandra return of Constanipole after their attempted escape

Held in the Justinian Palace in Constaninople under virtual house arrest, Ferenikos was urged by his wife to re-assert his independence by taking refuge in Austria due to his wife being part of the Austrian Royal Family. They would go to Austria with 10,000 soldiers considered loyal to the Crown. The royal family left the palace in disguise on the night of 11 July 1797; late the next day, Ferenikos was recognised as he passed through Belgrade, arrested and taken back to Constantinople. The attempted escape had a profound impact on public opinion; since it was clear that Ferenikos had been seeking refuge in Austria, the Confederation now demanded oaths of loyalty to the regime, and began preparing for war, while fear of 'spies and traitors' became pervasive.Despite calls to replace the monarchy with a republic, Ferenikos retained his position but was generally regarded with acute suspicion and forced to swear allegiance to the confederation. A new decree stated retracting this oath, making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would be considered abdication. However, radicals led by Georgios Danielopoulos prepared a petition demanding his deposition, and on June 12, an immense crowd gathered near the Hagia Sophia to sign. Led by Lysander, the Confederate Guard was ordered to "preserve public order" and responded to a barrage of stones by firing into the crowd, killing between 14 and 60 people.The massacre badly damaged Lysander's reputation.

Basileus Ferenikos IV

On June 25 Emperor Maximilian III of Austria and Peter IV of Russia issued the Declaration of Chisinau declaring their support for Ferenikos, and hinting at an invasion of Byzantium on his behalf. Based on a motion proposed by Mikolaos Rousopoulos, existing deputies were barred from elections held in early July for the Legeslative Confederation Elections. Although Mikolaos himself was one of those excluded, his support in the clubs gave him a political power base not available to Lysander, who resigned respectively as head of the Confederate Guards. The new laws were gathered together in the 1797 Constitution, and submitted to Ferenikos IV, who pledged to defend it "from enemies at home and abroad". On July 12, the The National Confederation of Byzantium was dissolved, and the Legeslative Confederation of Byzantium convened the next day.

On July 15 the Legeslative Confederation of Byzantium passed a decleration of war against Austria and Russia. The campaign for war against Austria and Prussia, also led by Christopher Hatzis, whose aims have been interpreted as a mixture of cynical calculation and revolutionary idealism. While exploiting popular anti-russianism, it reflected a genuine belief in exporting the values of political liberty and popular sovereignty. Ironically, Alexandra headed a faction within the court that also favoured war, seeing it as a way to win control of the military, and restore royal authority.

Christopher inability to build a consensus in the Confederation resulted in the appointment of a new leader of the Reactionaries. On July 30 the Byzantine Revolutionary Wars began when Byzantine armies attacked Austrian and Russian forces along their borders, before suffering a series of disastrous defeats. In an effort to mobilise popular support, the government ordered non-juring priests to swear the oath or be deported, dissolved the Imperial Guard and replaced it with 20,000 εθελοντές (volunteers) Ferenikos agreed to disband the Guard, but vetoed the other two proposals, while Lysander called on the Assembly to suppress the clubs.

The Storming of the Basileus Palace by the Constanipolian National Guard against the Basileus Guard

Popular anger increased when details of the Sofia Manifesto reached Constanipole on 4 August, threatening 'unforgettable vengeance' should any oppose the Allies in seeking to restore the power of the monarchy. On the morning of 10 August, a combined force of Constanipolian National Guard and provincial εθελοντές attacked the Basileus Palace, killing many of the Basileus Guard protecting it. Ferenikos and his family took refuge with the Confederation and shortly after 11:30 am, the deputies present voted to 'temporarily relieve the Basileus', effectively suspending the monarchy.