Mutilation was a common method of punishment for criminals in the Byzantine Empire, but it also had a role in the empire's political life. By blinding a rival, one would not only restrict their mobility but also make it almost impossible for them to lead an army into battle, then an important part of taking control of the empire. Castration was also used to eliminate potential opponents. In the Byzantine Empire, for a man to be castrated meant that he was no longer a man—half-dead, "life that was half death". Castration also eliminated any chance of heirs being born to threaten either the emperor’s or the emperor's children's place at the throne. Other mutilations were the severing of the nose (rhinotomy) or the amputating of limbs.
The mutilation of political rivals by the emperor was deemed an effective way of side-lining from the line of succession a person who was seen as a threat. Castrated men were not seen as a threat, as no matter how much power they gained they could never take the throne, and numerous eunuchs were entrusted with high and confidential offices in the Byzantine court and administration. In Byzantine culture, the emperor was a reflection of heavenly authority. Since God was perfect, the emperor also had to be unblemished; any mutilation, especially facial wounds, would disqualify an individual from taking the throne. An exception was Justinian II (ὁ Ῥινότμητος, "the slit-nosed"), who had his nose cut off (Greek - rhinokopia) when he was overthrown in 695 but was able to become emperor again, in 705.
Blinding as a punishment for political rivals and a recognized penalty for treachery was established in 705, although Emperor Phocas used it earlier during his rule as well, becoming common practice from Heraclius onwards. Castration as a punishment for political rivals did not come into use until much later, becoming popular in the 10th and 11th centuries. An example is that of Basil Lekapenos, the illegitimate son of Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos, who was castrated when young. He gained enough power to become parakoimomenos and effective prime minister for three successive emperors, but could not assume the throne himself. The last to use this method voluntarily was Michael VIII Palaiologos, although some of his successors were forced to use it again by the Ottoman Sultans.
Cases of disfigurement
|Alexios Philanthropenos||1295||Blinded||Governor of the Thracesian Theme, he rose up against Andronikos II Palaiologos, but was captured by loyalist soldiers and blinded|||
|Anastasius of Constantinople||743||Blinded||For supporting Artabasdos's usurpation against Constantine V he was blinded|||
|Artabasdos||743||Blinded||Artabasdos and his sons Nikephoros and Niketas were blinded for his failed insurrection against Constantine V during the iconoclasm crisis|||
|Sisinnios||743||Blinded||Strategos of the Thracesians, he supported Constantine V against Artabasdos but was blinded after the former's victory due to suspicions of conspiring to seize the throne himself|||
|Antiochos, David, Theophylact of Iconium, Christopher, Constantine, Theophylact the kandidatos, and 11 others||766||Blinded||High-ranking provincial governors and court officials, members of a group of nineteen who conspired against Constantine V. The plot was discovered and its members publicly paraded at the Hippodrome on 25 August 766. The two ringleaders, brothers Constantine and Strategios Podopagouros, were executed, the rest blinded and exiled, and every year imperial agents were sent to deliver 100 lashes.|||
|John Athalarichos||637||Nose and hands amputated||Amputation carried out after he tried to overthrow his father, Heraclius; his co-conspirator Theodore who received the same punishment was exiled and also had one leg amputated.|||
|Bardanes Tourkos||803/804||Blinded||Led an unsuccessful revolt against Nikephoros I and surrendered. Blinded whilst in confinement in a monastery, likely on Nikephoros' orders.|||
|Bardas Phokas||1026||Blinded||Accused of plotting against Constantine VIII|||
|Constantine Diogenes||1095||Blinded||Impostor pretender, led a Cuman invasion of Thrace against Alexios I Komnenos|||
|Philippikos Bardanes , Theodore Myakes, George Bouraphos||713||Blinded||A rebellion of Opsician troops succeeded in getting a number of men into the city where they were able to blind Philippicus at a bathhouse on June 3, 713. He was followed a week later by the patrikios Theodore Myakes and a week after that by the Count of the Opsicians, the patrikios George Bouraphos|||
|Callinicus I of Constantinople||705||Blinded||Supported the overthrow of Justinian II and was blinded when he came back to power in 705|||
|Constantine VI||797||Blinded||Emperor who was blinded by supporters of his mother, Irene of Athens. Constantine died of his injuries shortly thereafter, leading to Irene being crowned the empress regnant.|
|Constantine , Basil, Gregory and Theodosios||820||Castrated||The sons of Leo V the Armenian, who was deposed on Christmas Day, 820, by Michael II the Amorian. They were exiled to Prote, castrated and confined to a monastery as monks.|||
|Leo Phokas||919||Blinded||Rose up against the assumption of power by Romanos Lekapenos but was captured and blinded|||
|Constantine Aspietes||1190/1||Blinded||Suspected of plotting a revolt against Isaac II Angelos because he distributed delayed pay to his troops|||
|Leo Phokas, Nikephoros Phokas||971||Blinded||Plotted a revolt against John I Tzimiskes|||
|Nikephoros||792||Blinded||Uncle of Constantine VI, blinded, while his four brothers had their tongues cut, after the tagmata conspired to put him on the throne in the aftermath of the Battle of Marcellae|||
|Alexios Mosele||792||Blinded||General of the Armeniacs, blinded because of their refusal to acknowledge Irene of Athens as empress and co-ruler of Constantine VI|||
|Constantine Diogenes||1028–1034[A 1]||Blinded||The popular general was blinded because of a supposed plot against Romanos III Argyros|||
|Nikephoros Bryennios||1078||Blinded||Nikephoros had rebelled against Michael VII in 1077, and continued his rebellion against Nikephoros III Botaneiates. Defeated and captured by Alexios Komnenos at Kalavrye, he was blinded.|||
|Nikephoros Diogenes||1094||Blinded||Nikephoros was Romanos IV Diogenes's son with Eudokia Makrembolitissa; Emperor Alexios I Komnenos had him blinded after charging him with treason|||
|Romanos IV Diogenes||1072||Blinded||Andronikos Doukas had Romanos IV Diogenes blinded after tricking him into stepping down as emperor|||
|Heraklonas||641||Nose slit||Overthrown, disfigured and exiled by supporters of Constans II|||
|Theophylact, Staurakios and Niketas (the future Patriarch Ignatius)||813||Castrated||Sons of Michael I Rhangabe, they were castrated after his overthrow by Leo V the Armenian|||
|Justinian II||695||Nose cut off||Overthrown, disfigured and exiled by supporters of Leontios|||
|Alexios Komnenos||1182||Blinded, possibly castrated||De facto regent for Alexios II Komnenos, overthrown by the usurper Andronikos I Komnenos|
|John IV Laskaris||1261||Blinded||Made emperor at seven years old, he was overthrown and blinded when he was eleven years old|||
|Basil Lekapenos||920–944[A 2]||Castrated||As an infant he was castrated for being born an illegitimate son to Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos|||
|Martina||641||Tongue cut out||Overthrown, disfigured and exiled by supporters of Constans II|||
|Symbatios the Armenian||866/867||One eye gouged out, right arm cut off||Rebelled with George Peganes against Michael III's raising Basil the Macedonian as co-emperor|||
|George Peganes||866/867||Blinded, nose cut off||Rebelled with Symbatios the Armenian against Michael III's raising Basil the Macedonian as co-emperor|||
|The family of John the Orphanotrophos||1041||Castrated||Michael V castrated all male members of John the Orphanotrophos's family|||
|John the Orphanotrophos||1043||Blinded||Was seen as a threat so he was blinded by the patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius|||
|Prousianos||1029||Blinded||After a supposed plot against Romanos III Argyros, he was blinded|||
|Theodorus||637||Nose, hands and one leg amputated||Mutilated for being a co-planner in Athalarichos's attempt to overthrow Heraclius|||
|Isaac II Angelos||1195||Blinded||Blinded and deposed by his brother Alexios III Angelos|
|Leontios||698||Blinded||Blinded and deposed by Tiberios III and later killed by Justinian II in 705|
- Rautman 2006, p. 30
- Ringrose 2003, p. 62
- Longworth 1997, p. 321
- Ostrogorski 1957, p. 124
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- Kountoura-Galaki 1983, pp. 213–214
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