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Blinding of Leo Phokas the Elder with hot iron pokers. Blindings were probably carried out by paid soldiers or mercenaries. 

On the 29th of June 1072 AD, Emperor Romanos Diogenes IV was cruelly blinded by his political rivals and sent off to die in a remote monastery on the island of Prote, in the Sea of Marmara. Why was he blinded and not killed? Mutilation in the “Byzantine Empire” was commonly used to punish criminals, but it also had a significant role in the political life of the ruling class. In fact, by blinding a political rival, you would incapacitate him and make it impossible for him to lead armies, one of the main tools of politics during that era. The method of castration was also used as it made it impossible for a rival to establish a ruling dynasty or give birth to other potential rivals. This practice was well known at court, as demonstrated by the huge presence of eunuchs. The practice of rhinotomy, the cutting of the nose, was widely used in Constantinople as well, as a mutilated man could not ascend to the throne. The emperor was seen as an embodiment of the power of God and therefore, as God was perfect, the emperor needed to be as well. A famous case is Emperor Justinian II, who was a victim of rhinotomy, but was later able to replace his  nose with a golden replica, and by doing so, able to reclaim the throne. Another famous case, is when Emperor Basil II (960-976 AD) blinded his Bulgarian prisoners of war en masse. While not egregious by modern standards, I would not consider political mutilation a barbarous act, as it was simply a means to sideline political opponents without resorting to capital punishment, and if you consider what was going on in Western Europe at the time, you will also see the humanity in this eastern Roman practice.

 

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Rhinotomy of emperor Justinian II.

 

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