THE race of Leo the Isaurian, which in no inglorious fashion had filled the whole of the eighth and ninth centuries with its iconoclastic struggles, social reforms, and palace intrigues, nominally died out in 867 in the person of a debauched and incapable young Emperor, Michael III, known as the Drunkard. The man who in consequence ascended the throne by means of a crime, and founded the Macedonian dynasty, was Basil I. To study the personal character and home policy of the sovereigns directly or indirectly descended from him down to 1057, is, in effect, to depict the leading aspects of the period, save for the ever-present struggle for existence against external foes.



BASIL I (867-886).


The founder of the Macedonian dynasty was born about 812 in the neighborhood of Hadrianople, of a humble Macedonian family engaged in agriculture and probably of Armenian extraction. As always happens in such cases, no sooner had Basil ascended the throne than the genealogists provided him with illustrious ancestors. His obscure family history was made the subject of legendary embellishments, as were his infancy and early years. The Arsacids, Philip of Macedon, Alexander, and Constantine, were attributed to him as his remote progenitors. It was related that marvels and prodigies had attended his birth, foreshadowing a glorious future for him. As a matter of fact, Basil's father and mother were poor peasants. “While still in swaddling clothes” he was, with his family, carried captive into Bulgaria by the troops of Krum, and there he remained until he was about twenty years old. On his return to Macedonia, finding himself rich in nothing but brothers and sisters, he set out for Constantinople and took service in the first instance with the Strategus of the Peloponnesus, Theophylitzes. Here he rose to fortune, having on a voyage to Patras had the good luck to make acquaintance with a rich widow named Danielis, who showered favors upon him. A very handsome man and of herculean strength, he attracted notice at Constantinople, and in 856 the Emperor Michael took him into his service as chief groom.

In this way Basil was brought into intimate association with the sovereign, whose confidant he soon became. While the government was left to Bardas, Michael amused himself and Basil became the self-appointed minister of the imperial pleasures. Amidst the corruptions of the court the shrewd peasant contrived to make a place of his own and gradually to render himself indispensable. He rose in favor, obtained ancient dignities for himself, and, in order that he might have no rival to fear, in April 866 he assassinated the Caesar Bardas, Michael’s uncle. This was a preliminary crime. Having thus got rid of the real ruler of the state, Basil prevailed upon the Emperor, on 26 May following, to declare him associated in the imperial authority. Thus the path to the crown was thrown open to him. It was quickly traversed. Having lost the affection of the Emperor, who had taken a fancy to a boatman named Basiliscianus and wished to have him crowned, Basil, no longer feeling himself secure, formed a plot with several of his relations and friends, and on the night of 23 September 867 procured the assassination of Michael in the St Mamas palace. This done, he instantly returned to Constantinople, took possession of the imperial palace, and had himself proclaimed sole Emperor. The Macedonian Dynasty was founded. It was to last for nearly two centuries.

According to the chroniclers, the revolution of September 867 was welcomed by the population as a whole. The Senate, the nobles, the army, and the people made no difficulty about acclaiming the man of the moment, for it was generally understood that the Empire was passing through a serious crisis, and that it was of the first importance to have the throne filled by one who was a good soldier, a wise administrator, and a valiant leader. Now there was no doubt that Basil possessed these qualifications.

Having reached the age of fifty-six when he mounted the throne, the new Emperor did not arrive at power unaccompanied. He brought his family with him, a strange family, to tell the truth, and one which labored under the disadvantage of doubtful legitimacy. While still young, Basil had married a Macedonian girl named Maria, from whom he procured a divorce in 865 when his fortunes showed signs of soaring. The Emperor Michael immediately married him to his own mistress, Eudocia Ingerina, who nevertheless continued to live with her imperial lover. On Basil's accession, she mounted the throne with him as Empress, dying in 882. Ostensibly Basil had two sons, Constantine and Leo. Who were these children? The elder, Constantine, was his father’s favorite. He was probably born about 859. In 870 Basil associated him in his government, and took him on the campaign which he made in 877 against Germanicea. Unfortunately he died in 879, to the despair of his father, whose mind became affected. The mother of this son was unquestionably Maria, and he would have been the natural heir. There were probably also four daughters of the same marriage, who were sent to a convent and ignored on all hands. One of them, however, must have married, for Basil had a son-in-law, a celebrated general, Christopher. As to Leo, he was almost certainly born at the palace of St Mamas on 1 December 866. Whatever Constantine VII says in his life of his grandfather, Leo was not Basil's son but the offspring of Michael and Eudocia Ingerina. He was consequently illegitimate. The evident antipathy with which Basil regarded him is thus easily understood. He was nevertheless Basil's successor. After becoming Emperor, Basil had two more sons by Eudocia, Alexander, who reigned jointly with Leo VI and died in 912, and Stephen, who became Patriarch of Constantinople. Basil had, besides, brothers and sisters, but none of them played a part of any importance. One of his sisters, Thecla, made herself notorious by her misconduct, and his brothers took an active and prominent share in the murder of Michael.

The finances 

On the morrow of Michael’s assassination, Basil, already co-regent, was proclaimed sole Emperor by Marianus, Prefect of the City, in the Forum. Then, having at St Sophia solemnly returned thanks to God, he set himself to the task of government. The first matter which seems to have engaged his attention was the exchequer. The finances were in a truly deplorable state. Michael III had wasted all his resources, and in order to raise money had sold, broken up, or melted down a large number of works of art. When Basil came to examine the treasury, nothing was left in it. But a statement of accounts was found in possession of one of the officials, proving that serious malversations had been committed. The thieves were forced to restore half of the sums abstracted, and in this way a certain amount was brought into the treasury. Other sums of importance reached it in due time, helping to restore the finances to solvency.

But this, in itself, was little. The first urgent reform was the reorganization of the financial machinery of the State. Social questions at this juncture had become acute. The feudal class, which was all-powerful, was striving to accentuate more and more the formidable distinction between the rich and the poor, and crying abuses were springing up in every direction. Basil tried to protect the small men against the great, by showing favor to the lesser land­holders; he appointed honest and trustworthy officials over the finances, and exerted himself to maintain the peasant in possession of his plot, and to secure him from being ruined by fines or taxes out of all proportion to his wealth. Then, taking a step further, he endeavored to reform the method of collecting the taxes by revising the register of lands, and compelling the officials to set down in clear, legible, comprehensible figures the fixed quota on which depended the amount of tax payable. Finally, he took a direct and personal share in financial administration, verifying the accounts, receiving the complaints which reached Constantinople, and acting as judge of final resort. It is probable that exertions such as these brought about a temporary improvement in the state of the poor and laboring classes. Nevertheless, as we shall see, Basil’s successors were in their turn to find the social and financial tension more acute than ever.

While thus attending to the finances, Basil also applied himself to the task of legislative and judicial reorganization. Here, as elsewhere, he made a point in the first place of choosing officials of integrity, and also just and learned judges. He cared little from what stratum of society his judges were drawn, provided that they discharged their duties faithfully. Basil required that they should be numerous and easily accessible, and that their pay should be sufficient to make them independent. Justice was to be administered daily at the Chalce Palace, at the Hippodrome, and at the Magnaura, and more than once Basil himself was seen to enter the court, listen to the trial, and take part in the deliberations.

But it is plain that the chief legislative work of Basil was the revision of the Justinianean Code and the issue of new law-books. In 878 or 879, without waiting for the completion of the work of remodeling which he had planned, he promulgated the Prochiron, a handbook or abridgment which determined the laws and unwritten customs in force, and abrogated those no longer in use. The Prochiron was, above all, concerned with civil law. It maintained its authority up to 1453. A second and fuller edition was prepared by Basil about 886. This was the Epanagoge, which besides formed an introduction and a summary, intended for a more important collection in forty books, the Anacatharsis. The last-named work is no longer in existence. No doubt its substance, as well as that of the Epanagoge, was included in the Basilics. But apparently neither of these earlier works was ever officially published. In any case, they did not remain in force for long.


During the most glorious period of his reign, Basil gave a new impulse to the fine arts which was destined to outlast his life. Under his direction, large numbers of churches were rebuilt, repaired, and beautified. In architecture we get the type of cupola intermediary between the large and dangerous dome of St Sophia and the elegant lantern-towers of a later age, while buildings on the basilica model become rarer, and architects are chiefly eager to construct splendid churches with gilded roofs, glittering mosaics, and marbles of varied hues. It was to Basil that his contemporaries owed, among other buildings, the magnificent church begun in 876 and consecrated in 880, called, in contradistinction to St Sophia, the New Church, with its scheme of decoration in many colors, and its unequalled mosaics forming a great assemblage of religious pictures, a church worthy to stand beside that which Justinian had built. We know it fairly well through the descriptions of Photius and Constantine VII.

Basil’s artistic enterprise also found free scope in the erection of secular buildings which he raised for his own use, such as the palace of the Caenurgium, with its famous historical decorations and its ornamented pavements. The lesser arts also entered on a period of revival, and among works which have come down to us one in particular is famous, the celebrated manuscript of St Gregory (Parisinus 510) with its full-page illuminations and its varied ornamentation. It is of the highest interest for the reign of Basil, as it leaves us some trace of the portraits, unfortunately in a very imperfect condition, of Basil, Eudocia, Leo, and Alexander.

Religious questions 

The religious question was the chief concern of Basil’s reign. At his accession, the dispute with Rome which had arisen over Photius had reached an acute stage, and the Eastern Church was deeply divided. Photius had been chosen Patriarch in very irregular fashion on 25 December 858, a month after the banishment of the rightful Patriarch, Ignatius. Bardas had been the cause of the whole trouble, and, as early as 860, Rome had intervened. In spite of the Roman legates who, in 861, had allowed themselves to be intimidated into recognizing Photius, Nicholas I had deposed and anathematized him and his adherents. The result was anarchy. Basil, therefore, who disliked “the knavery of this sage” and was also desirous of conciliating the Roman See and restoring religious peace to the Empire, hastened to recall Ignatius on 23 November 867, and to demand a council to put an end to the schism. This Council met in St Sophia on 5 October 869 and sat until 28 February 870. Basil, though in an indirect and covert way, took a leading part in it, and brought about the triumph of his own policy. On 5 November Photius was anathematized, declared to be deposed, and exiled to the monastery of Skepes.

The Emperor had, in part at least, gained his end. The solemn sitting of a council had, in the eyes of the public, set a seal upon his usurpation, and the Church found itself in the position of having implicitly recognized his title. And, what was more, the arrival of ambassadors from Bulgaria, who came at this juncture to inquire of the Council to which of the two Churches, Rome or Constantinople, their own belonged, was a further advantage for Basil. Thanks to the support given him by the Patriarch Ignatius, against the will of Rome and its legates, the Emperor obtained a decision that Bulgaria came under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate, and Ignatius consecrated a bishop for that country. The result of all these religious transactions was clear. Basil’s authority at home and abroad was strengthened, but at the same time he had broken with the Pope, Hadrian III.

The settlement, however, brought some measure of peace to the Church. In 875 or 876 Photius even returned to Constantinople as tutor of the imperial children, entered again into communication with Pope John VIII, and waited for the death of the aged Ignatius, which occurred on 23 October 877. Three days later, Photius again took possession of the patriarchal throne, and the Pope, upon certain conditions which were never carried out, confirmed his title. A temporary end was thus put to the schism, and the two authorities were again in harmony. A Council was held at Constantinople in 879-880 to decide the religious question. But by that time Basil’s reign was virtually ended. Having lost his son Constantine he allowed things to take their own course, and Photius profited by his apathy to weave the conspiracy which proved his ruin.

Basil’s reign ended gloomily. The nineteen years during which he had governed the Empire had not been free from complications. More than once he had had to foil a conspiracy aimed against his life; serious difficulties had arisen with his successor Leo; his armies had not been uniformly successful. It was, however, Constantine's death in 879 which really killed Basil. From this time onwards his reason was clouded; he became cruel and left to others all care for the administration. He himself spent his time in hunting, and it was while thus employed that he was overtaken by death at Apamea as the result of an accident perhaps arranged by his enemies. He was brought back seriously injured to Constantinople, where he died on 29 August 886, leaving the Empire to Leo VI under the guardianship of Stylianus Zaützes, an Armenian, who later became father-in-law of the Emperor.



LEO VI (886-912).


The revolution of 867 which had raised Basil to the throne was now undone, so far as its dynastic significance went, since with Leo VI the crown returned to the family of Michael III. Although the offspring of an adulterous connection, the new sovereign was none the less of the imperial blood, and his accession really meant that the murderer’s victim in the person of his son thrust aside the impostor in order to take his proper place. Officially, however, Basil's successor was regarded as his legitimate heir, and many no doubt believed that he was in fact his son and Eudocia’s. It is this false situation which explains the estrangement between Basil and Leo, the conduct of the latter, and doubtless also the existence of a party at court which remained permanently hostile to Basil and constant to Michael’s dynasty in the person of Leo VI.

Leo, when he ascended the throne at Constantinople (886), was twenty years old. Up to that time his life had been a painful one. It is true that Basil had given him an excellent education, and that his care had not been thrown away. We know that Leo VI was surnamed the Wise, or the Philosopher, probably on account of his writings, his eloquence, and his learning. But this was certainly the sole advantage which the new ruler owed to his nominal father. While he was still quite young Basil had him tonsured; then, as he had an heir in the person of Constantine and as public opinion looked upon him as the father of the second child also, he associated him in the Empire with Constantine, and soon afterwards with Alexander. As long as Constantine lived, the relations between Basil and Leo were in no way unusual, but on the death of the eldest son the situation was changed. Leo now became the heir, the second place only falling to Alexander. It will easily be understood that this was a grief to Basil. At all costs he desired to set Leo aside in favor of Alexander. In the winter of 880-881 the Emperor married his adopted son to a young girl for whom he had no affection and who might be supposed unlikely to bear him children. This was Theophano, a relation of Eudocia Ingerina, afterwards St Theophano. A daughter was, nevertheless, born of this marriage, named Eudocia, but she died in 892. Her birth no doubt caused an increase of hatred on both sides. Leo roused himself, the party which he led took shape, and in 885 a revolt broke out under John Curcuas, Domestic of the Hicanati, supported by sixty-six fellow-plotters, all great dignitaries of the court. The conspirators were discovered and severely punished. Leo, who had been concerned in the affair, was betrayed by a monk named Theodore Santabarenus, and thrown into prison with his wife and little daughter. The Emperor threatened to have his eyes put out, but was dissuaded from this course by Photius himself, and some of the courtiers. Leo was restored to his dignities, but the Emperor gave him neither his confidence nor his affection. Before long, Basil died, as a result of a hunting-accident which may well have been a murder.

A light was at once shed upon the doubtful paternity of Leo by his conduct on the death of Basil I. Without bestowing much attention on the remains of his supposed father, he reserved all his care for those of his real parent, Michael III. Immediately on his accession he ordered that the body of the murdered Emperor should be solemnly removed from Chrysopolis, where it had been hastily interred in 867, and brought to Constantinople, where a magnificent funeral service was held over it in the church of the Holy Apostles. It thus appeared that he wished to emphasize the renewal, in his own person, of a dynastic tradition which had been momentarily interrupted. He then applied himself to the task of government, in theory jointly with Alexander but practically as sole ruler. The reign of Leo VI is in one sense the completion and crowning of that of Basil. All the reforms adumbrated during the late reign were achieved and codified under Leo, and the majority of the questions then left unsolved were now dealt with. To pronounce the reign a poor and feeble one is grossly unfair. It is true that, as far as foreign affairs are concerned, there is little to record and that little not of a fortunate kind. Leo VI evidently was not built on the scale of Basil. Far more at home in court and cabinet than his predecessor, he had none of the qualities of a general. This did not, however, prevent his doing useful work as a ruler.

End of the Photian schism

The first religious question which confronted the new government was that of Photius. Leo was certain to be a foe to the Patriarch, who, with the help of his friend Santabarenus, had done his utmost to exacerbate Basil against his heir. He had hoped to profit by the late Emperor's weakened condition and by the youth of his successor to thrust one of his own relatives into the chief authority. In any case, it was he who, through the agency of Santabarenus, had procured the imprisonment of Leo and his family. Thus, when after his three months’ disgrace Leo's dignities had been restored to him by Basil, Santabarenus had been driven to his see of Euchaita near Trebizond, there to hide himself in oblivion. But unfortunately for both parties Leo did not forget. By the new Emperor’s orders, immediately upon the death of Basil, Photius was removed from his office, and a tribunal met to try his case as well as that of his accomplice. Their guilt could not in point of fact be proved, but this did not affect the result of their trial. The Patriarch was sent into exile, dying at Bordi or Gordi in Armenia in 891; Santabarenus was scourged and banished to Athens, where his eyes were put out. Then Leo’s young brother Stephen, aged sixteen, was raised to the Patriarchal See at Christmas 886. His tenure of it was but brief, for he died on 17 May 893. Finally, in 900, after letters and legates had passed between Rome and Constantinople, the act uniting the two Churches was solemnly signed, Anthony Cauleas being Patriarch. By these various means the schism was brought to an end, and some measure of peace was restored to the Church.

This repose was not, indeed, of long duration, for during Leo’s reign an obscure religious question arose to rekindle popular excitement and theological passion, namely, the successive marriages of the Emperor. On 10 November 893 Theophano died, and Leo was at last free to think of re-marrying. Now for a long time, to the great displeasure of Basil, Leo had maintained a mistress named Zoe, a woman, it would appear, of the worst possible reputation. Her father was Stylianus Zaützes, Leo’s guardian, who had probably encouraged his sovereign’s passion, for immediately upon his accession Leo loaded him with favors, put the direction of public business into his hands, and before long, having already raised him to the rank of magister, created for him the sounding title of Basileopator (894). He then married Zoe as his second wife, but a few months after her marriage she also died, during the summer of 896, without having borne a male heir to the Emperor. Contrary to all rule and custom, Leo determined on a third marriage, and in the spring of 899 he took as his wife a young Phrygian girl named Eudocia, by whose death he was again left a widower on 20 April 900. Not long after he was attracted by the daughter of a noble and saintly family, Zoe, who in allusion to her black eyes was surnamed Carbonupsina. The Emperor at first could not venture to marry her. He several times manifested his intention of doing so, but met with such general reprobation that he felt forced to refrain, until the day when Zoe gave birth to a son, afterwards Constantine VII. This was in the autumn of 905. In January 906 the child was solemnly baptized by the Patriarch, but only upon condition that Leo should dismiss Zoe. This stipulation was in accordance not only with the canons of the Byzantine Church but also with the civil laws enacted by Leo himself. Both alike forbade a fourth marriage.

It will be readily understood that this austere provision commended itself neither to Leo nor to Zoe. The Emperor wished to legitimate his sole heir and successor; Zoe hoped to become Empress and to reign. Now the Patriarch had already refused to concur in the marriage with Eudocia, and had suspended the priest who blessed the union. And, moreover, that Patriarch was Anthony Cauleas, and the question was merely of a third marriage. What was likely to be the attitude of the new Patriarch, Nicholas, towards a fourth union? Leo, however, persisted. Three days after Constantine's baptism, he married Zoe and created her Augusta. Nicholas, though he had been a friend of the Emperor from childhood and had been named Patriarch by him, did not temporize. Having in vain endeavored to influence his master, he refused to recognize the marriage, and at the end of 906 forbade the guilty Emperor to enter St Sophia. The Patriarch had on his side the Church, the court, and the city. It was, however, agreed that Rome should be consulted on the subject. Both Nicholas and Leo wrote to the Pope, who dispatched legates, and in the end granted a dispensation for the marriage. The Eastern Patriarchates also sanctioned this relaxation of the established law, and immediately Nicholas was driven into exile and resigned his office. He was succeeded by Euthymius, a saintly man, in January 907. But the conflict of course was not to be so easily extinguished. In June 911 the debates on the Emperor's fourth marriage were still going on. They lasted, indeed, up to the death of Leo (11 May 912) and even beyond it.

Administration and legislation

Leo’s legislative activity showed itself in the ecclesiastical domain as well as in the civil. Between 901 and 907, in conjunction with his friend the Patriarch Nicholas, he published a list of the Churches in dependence upon Constantinople and the order of their precedence. He thus carried through a genuine reorganization of the outer framework of the Byzantine Church, including Illyricum in its jurisdiction, despite the repeated protests of the See of Rome. These Nea Taktiká which form the sequel to the Paliás Taktiká of the preceding period show us, in fact, the ecclesiastical provinces of the Balkan peninsula grouped around Constantinople.

Independently of this new set of regulations, and before it was issued, Leo, as soon as he succeeded to power, had addressed to his brother Stephen a series of Novels dealing with ecclesiastical affairs, the interior organization of the Church, and religious discipline, just as the Patriarch himself might have done. It was he also who created certain new ecclesiastical honors, or gave greater importance to others already existing, such as the office of syncellus held by his brother before he became Patriarch. These measures formed part of a general scheme of reform already initiated by Basil, which Leo desired to follow up to a successful issue.

To whatever branch of the civil administration we turn, traces appear of the handiwork of Leo VI. His energy seems to have been enormous. The book of Ceremonies, a collection published by Constantine VII, dealing with the organization and working of the court and the different civil and religious ceremonies, contains material compiled under Leo VI. At any rate, to it was appended the Klitopologion, or ceremonial treatise of precedence at court, composed in 899 by the atriclines (dapifer) Philotheus. It is plain that a reorganization of the court was in process during Leo’s reign.

With regard to the policing of the city and the regulation of commerce, we have a valuable document, the Book of the Prefect, containing ordinances or regulations applicable to the numerous gilds dwelling and working at Constantinople. This edict is addressed to the Prefect of the City.

For the army and navy we possess a Tactics. Attempts have been made to transfer its authorship from Leo VI to Leo the Isaurian. It seems certain, however, that this work also belongs to the reign with which we are now dealing. But the great legislative achievement of Leo VI, besides his Novels dealing with civil affairs addressed to Stylianus between 887 and 893, was the publication of the important work on law initiated by Basil, which bears the name of the Basilics. This vast collection of the writings of Justinian and the Novels of his successors extends to sixty books. The jurists who drew up this work made a point of preserving all the writings of Justinian that had not fallen into disuse. To this they added the customs which had grown up in the course of centuries and had acquired the force of law, and also the provisions set down and promulgated by Basil in the Prochiron and the Epanagoge. To these were added a certain number of the decrees of the Iconoclast Emperors, in spite of the avowed unwillingness of the legists to make use of this heretical legislation. The work saw the light between 887 and 893.

For the sake of completeness, and in order to give a general idea of the activities of Leo VI, it is important to mention the direct share taken by the Emperor in developing the civilization of his day. He is known as an orator. On all great public occasions, and especially at religious festivals, he was fond of delivering orations and homilies. The greater part of these have not yet been edited. Religious literature seems, indeed, to have been attractive to Leo, for besides his homilies he published liturgical works and odes, and even a letter on dogma addressed to the Caliph Omar. We have, besides, from his pen ‘Oracles’ on the destiny of the Empire, and some secular poems.

With regard to the fine arts, Leo, like his father, restored and constructed a large number of religious buildings. The best known of these are the churches which he erected in honor of his first two wives, Theophano and Zoe, and the convent of Nossiae. Finally, the museums of Europe still preserve many specimens of artistic work, ivories and jewellery, of Leo’s period.






In some respects the character of Constantine VII bears a striking resemblance to that of his father Leo. But the father’s defects, as reproduced in the son, outweigh his good qualities. Like Leo VI the Porphyrogenitus was a savant, an artist, and a scholar. Unfortunately he was not endowed with an organizing mind and the same indefatigable energy. His reign, moreover, was a prolonged minority. His uncle Alexander, the Council of Regency, and Romanus Lecapenus in turn directed the government. Constantine VII himself never governed officially until 944.

In spite of the family hatred which divided Leo from Alexander, and in spite of the fruitless efforts of the latter to rid himself of his brother by a conspiracy formed in 900, Leo VI at his death entrusted the guardianship of his seven-year-old son to Alexander as the only genuine representative of Basil. The reign of this prince had never been more than nominal. During his brother’s lifetime he had been excluded from the administration; indeed, he had excluded himself, having made himself impossible by his disgraceful behavior. Now, jointly with his nephew and under cover of his name, he was about to attempt to govern. His attempt was short-lived, and fortunately so, for his administration brought nothing but disturbances and violent reaction in the Empire.


To the blundering policy of Alexander was due the reappearance of schism at Constantinople, a schism on the one hand religious and on the other national. The first act of the protector, as early as May 912, was to recall the Patriarch Nicholas from exile, and to drive Euthymius with insult and violence from his see. This was a wanton outrage to the memory of Leo VI; it was also the way to confirm the people in the opinion that Zoe had never been a wife and that Constantine was not legitimate. The Church was divided as to the two Patriarchs; each had his supporters. The nation was divided on the far graver question of the legitimacy of Constantine. All the ministers of the last reign were disgraced, and Zoe was driven from the palace. In his hatred Alexander even thought of proceeding to the mutilation of his nephew. Time failed him, and he died at the most opportune moment on 6 June 913.

According to the wish expressed by Alexander on his death-bed, a Council of Regency was appointed to govern the Empire. At the head of it was the Patriarch Nicholas, with one man of great weight, but only one, to second or counter his efforts, John Eladas. Returning as he did in triumph, the Patriarch, naturally enough, had only one idea, to maintain his own judgment as to the unlawfulness of Leo’s fourth marriage. He consented, however, to wait for the death of Euthymius, which occurred on 5 April 917, before publishing his Tomus Unionis. Meanwhile, other events took place. His first care was to drive out Zoe, who on Alexander’s death had returned to the palace, and his next was to open negotiations with all those ambitious men who were already in fancy assuming the crown, such as Constantine Ducas, Lecapenus, and Leo Phokas. The threatening aspect of foreign affairs gave these aspirants an opportunity of thrusting their services upon the State. One of them, Constantine Ducas, had narrowly failed of success. But he died just as he was about to assault the palace. The domestic situation was thus very serious, and anarchy reigned. Happily John Eladas was there to supply a remedy. Taking advantage of the unpopularity incurred by the Regents, especially through the bloody revenge which they exacted for the abortive attempt of Ducas, he skillfully contrived, with the help of one of the members of the council, to exclude the Patriarch and to recall Zoe (October 913). All the partisans of Alexander were now in their turn disgraced and banished. Nicholas received orders to confine himself henceforward to his ecclesiastical administration.

The Empire was, in fact, divided into two camps. Two hostile parties confronted each other in the army, the court, and the city. Both were military, and each was struggling to put its own leader at the head of affairs; one was for Phokas and the other for Romanus Lecapenus. Zoe had embraced the interests of Phokas, but among her entourage a certain Theodore, the influential tutor of Constantine, was negotiating with Romanus Lecapenus. It was the latter who prevailed. Thanks to the favor and skillful exertions of Theodore, Romanus obtained a footing in the palace, married his daughter Helena to Constantine, filled all the offices with his partisans, and himself assumed the title of Basileopator. Leo Phokas, indeed, tried the chances of a revolt. It was in vain. Being promptly abandoned by his fellow-conspirators, he was taken prisoner and suffered mutilation.

Romanus I Lecapenus (919-944).

In this manner Romanus on 25 March 919 made himself sole Regent of the Empire. He was merely a poor soldier of the Armeniac theme, a plebeian, as Basil had been. Leo VI had become attached to him and had thrown open the path to honors to his favorite. When the Emperor died Lecapenus was Druarius of the fleet. He did not allow himself to be hampered by gratitude. As soon as he was left master of the situation by the exile of his opponent Phokas, he showed himself as he really was, a hardy upstart and insatiably ambitious but a capital administrator.

He promptly seized upon the supreme power and showed every intention of keeping it. Zoe found herself relegated to her convent, Theodore was exiled, and Constantine VII abandoned. Romanus’ friend, the Patriarch Nicholas, regained his influence and governed under the name of the Regent. As early as September 919 Lecapenus had himself crowned Caesar, then on 17 December Emperor. Thenceforward his position seemed to him secure. He had, indeed, made himself master of the throne and was soon to become master of the Church.

It was with this object and in the hope of founding a new dynasty to his own advantage, that in 921, imitating the course taken by Basil, he had his wife Theodora crowned Empress and his eldest son Christopher Emperor. Feeling his power daily increasing despite the conspiracies incessantly woven around him, in 923 he set the imperial crown on the head of his daughter-in-law, and in 924 crowned his other two sons, Stephen and Constantine. From 922, besides, the coinage and official documents show that he already took precedence of the rightful sovereign.

In political matters Romanus was unquestioned master, and it must be acknowledged that his government was not wanting in greatness. Shrewd and clever, he received in magnificent fashion in 923 Ashot II, King of Armenia, Adernesih, the Curopalates of Iberia (at this time a vassal of the Empire), and the princes of the family of Taron. We find him (as well as the Patriarch Nicholas) keeping up continuous relations with most of the rulers of these distant lands, receiving them hospitably, giving them help against the Arabs, and above all making treaties with them through his diplomatists, greatly to the advantage of Byzantium, which thus acquired considerable influence in their countries. On another frontier of the Empire, the Bulgarians, during the Tsar Simeon’s reign, had caused him much anxiety and serious injury. All his diplomatic skill had been useless before the arms of the Tsar. But on Simeon’s death more amicable relations were resumed with his son Peter, and Romanus, imitating earlier Emperors, bestowed his grand­daughter Mary in marriage upon the young king on 8 September 927, and signed a peace with Bulgaria. In this manner he very adroitly detached the Bulgarian Church from the Papacy and bound it to Constantinople, which, both in ecclesiastical and political matters, was obtaining an evident preponderance.

In home politics, Romanus’ attention, like that of his predecessors, was drawn to social problems. The provincial aristocracy were nothing short of a scourge. By their wealth and their grinding of the poor the ‘powerful’ ruined the peasantry and the government with them. Again it became imperative to retrace the steps that had been taken. This was the object of the numerous Novels which the government of Lecapenus put forth. In 922 and 934 two laws were enacted forbidding the rich to acquire land belonging to the poor or to the military class. Those who were injured in this way received a preferential right of repurchase for their protection. Two other Novels allowed the seller a right of re-entry, on repayment, in case of a sale forced by famine, and pronounced a sale null and void if effected to the prejudice of the right of re-purchase. All these Novels had as their object the protection of the small holdings, the basis of general prosperity. No doubt the occasion that called them forth was the suffering caused by the terrible winter of 933, when famine brought about the ruin and death of large numbers of the population.

In the domain of religion, the influence of the Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus remained predominant up to his death on 15 May 925. His correspondence shows him busying himself with political and foreign affairs. He is in touch with Simeon, Tsar of Bulgaria, and with the Pope at Rome. Nor is it strange that he should have sought to impose his opinion on the vexed question of fourth marriages. In June 920 a Council met at Constantinople to deal with the subject, and it was on this occasion that he published the Tomos tis Enoseos, the decree of union which condemned fourth and cast blame on third marriages. Nevertheless, something had been gained. The Council had restored harmony among all Byzantines.

The authority of Romanus, so long as Nicholas lived, was exercised mainly upon political matters. Religious concerns were felt to be in safe hands. But, on the death of the Patriarch, the Emperor, carrying on the system of Basil I, wished to put the government of the Church in the hands of his youngest son, Theophylact. Unfortunately, though already syncellus (patriarchal secretary), Theophylact was only a child of eight or ten years old. It was necessary to wait. Two Patriarchs appointed ad interim, Stephen and Tryphon, filled the post until 931. In 933, after a vacancy of eighteen months, Theophylact was at last elected and John XI ratified the choice. The new Patriarch, to the great scandal of Constantinople, was to remain in office up to his death on 27 February 956. It was during this wretched patriarchate, in 942, that the famous ‘Image of Edessa’ was brought to Constantinople. It was a linen cloth on which, it was said, our Lord had left the trace of His features, and which He had sent to Abgar as a token of friendship. Curcuas, the general, had acquired it in exchange for a prisoner and had sent it to Constantinople, where it was received with great solemnity.

This acquisition of a famous relic was the last triumph of Lecapenus. In spite of the charity which he showed towards the inhabitants of his capital during the famine of 927 and the severe winter of 933, in spite of the substantial sums which he distributed to the poor, the hospitals which he erected, and the public works of all kinds which he undertook, Romanus was not in the least beloved at Constantinople. Constantine VII still had supporters and friends. He was both pitied and respected. “He who should have been first found himself made fifth”, and this excited great displeasure. Deprived of everything, of power and of the appearance of power, it was said that he was even obliged to work as an artist in order to maintain himself. On the other hand, Romanus Lecapenus had implacable enemies, even in his own sons, who were jealous of his authority and eager to seize upon it for themselves. Perhaps these domestic broils were fomented by the influence of Constantine's friends; possibly it was these faithful servants of the real Emperor who counseled the ‘Lecapenides’ to rebel. No one knows. Only one thing is certain, that, after the death of Christopher, the sons of Romanus on 16 December 944 carried off their father, banished him to a convent in the Island of Proti, and forced him to take the monastic habit. They counted upon succeeding to his place. But they only met with the just punishment of their guilt. At the very hour when they were to have dethroned Constantine, the Emperor had them seized and dispatched them to join their father on 27 January 945. Romanus Lecapenus died, a few years after his fall, in 948.

Constantine VII and his entourage. (944-959).

The family of Romanus Lecapenus before long survived only in the female line. Stephen was deported to Rhodes and Lesbos, where he was poisoned in 963; Constantine was relegated to Samothrace and assassinated by his guard; while of the other Lecapenides whose fate is known, Romanus, Michael, and Basil only suffered mutilation, and thus survived to reappear later in political life. Alone of his family, the despised Theophylact remained at Constantinople.

The first steps taken by Constantine naturally began a reaction. He dismissed the relations, friends, and partisans of Romanus Lecapenus, and surrounded himself with members of the rival faction of Phokas, which, thanks to Constantine's patronage, we shall soon find in possession of the imperial throne. This violent reaction did not fail of the usual result, in the shape of numerous conspiracies. Both in 945 and in 947 the supporters of Romanus made a move. But it was in vain, and cruel punishments and mutilations followed. Constantine, who thus at the age of thirty-nine took the reins of government into his own hands, was much more of a student than a man of action. Though usually of a mild and even timid disposition, he was subject to terrible fits of anger, when he became violent and even cruel. For the rest, although an accomplished judge of wine and cookery, he was evidently not the man destined to restore the Empire’s former glories. The government at once fell into the hands of his wife Helena, and a favorite, Basil, known as the Bird. Apparently neither of them accomplished anything of importance, and they confined themselves to selling public offices to the highest bidders. Scandals took place which the Emperor, buried as he was in his books, had not the resolution to punish and put down. Such, for example, was the conduct of that Prefect of the City who was “a notorious robber” but nevertheless administered the police of Constantinople, loaded with favors conferred by the Emperor.

It must, however, be acknowledged that Constantine’s family circle was a singular one. His wife, the Empress Helena, was by no means above reproach, but she compares favorably with others of his connections. In 939 a son had been born to him, Romanus II, who from his early days gave promise of utter worthlessness, in spite of the affection which his father showed for him and the care which he bestowed on his education. In the reign of Lecapenus, in 944, the Regent had arranged a marriage for him with Bertha, the illegitimate daughter of Hugh of Provence and Pezola. This unequal connection was an insult to the Macedonian House, but worse was in store. The poor Provençale lived only five years at Constantinople, and is said to have died a virgin. But after her death not merely disparity but shame and crime entered the palace in the person of Romanus’ second wife, a courtesan, the daughter of a tavern-keeper, whom he married at the end of 956. She had been known as Anastasia at the Hippodrome; as Empress she took the name of Theophano. According to the majority of the chroniclers, she was the Brinvilliers of her age. Before practicing as a poisoner herself, she induced her husband to poison Constantine VII, and with partial success, for the Emperor died, if not immediately, still in the end from the effects of the drug administered to him. This was but her first step in the path of crime, as was tragically shown in the succeeding reigns. As to the rest of the court dignitaries whose names have come down to us, they were little more to be respected. The only sound portion of the governing body was to be found in the army.

The Church, as represented by the Patriarch Theophylact, kept pace with the court. Doubtless among the occupants of monasteries and bishoprics it would not be difficult to find shining examples of holy living. But the patriarchate was given up to disorder, license, and impiety. So great was the scandal caused by Theophylact’s conduct that the Emperor, who tolerated it, was involved in the discredit. Consequently, when the Patriarch was killed by a fall from his horse in February 956, Constantine was compelled, in order to repair the mischief that had been done, to seek out an austere monk of Proti whose fame was widespread, named Polyeuctes. The new Patriarch was a reformer, and fully resolved to impose on all alike a discipline which had become a necessity. In his solitary life he had acquired great spiritual exaltation and a resolute will; he was, in the full sense of the word, a man of faith. At first he was joyfully received on all hands. The Emperor fully expected that this poor monk, bred at a distance from worldly intrigues, could be held in the hollow of his hand; pious folk looked forward to the reforms which the Patriarch desired to carry out; and the court bishops promised themselves that they could always bring about Polyeuctes’ resignation should he prove disposed to interfere too much with their habits. This seemed all the more feasible, inasmuch as Polyeuctes' consecration had not been performed according to the customary rules. He was, in fact, consecrated on 3 April 956 by Basil, Metropolitan of Caesarea. This was quite contrary to precedent, for according to law the right belonged to Nicephorus, Bishop of Heraclea; but as the latter was in bad odor at court, his services were refused by Constantine, who deliberately set him aside. Nothing more was needed, it was supposed, to quash the appointment of Polyeuctes and send him back to his convent. And in fact, from the very outset of his patriarchate, cabals were formed against him, of which Theodore, Bishop of Cyzicus, was the moving spirit. His rigor was at once made a reproach to him, as also was his narrowness of view and his action in restoring the name of the Patriarch Euthymius, formerly struck out of the diptychs by Nicholas. Efforts were made to ruin him. But Polyeuctes was not the man to yield. Far from cringing before his adversaries, he attacked the Emperor himself, and on one occasion openly demanded that he should make good all the injuries inflicted on the Church by his family and by the preceding patriarchate. To put forward such a claim was to make a public declaration of his independence. Constantine so well understood this that he was preparing to have the election of Polyeuctes quashed when he died.


From the administrative and political point of view the personal government of Constantine Porphyrogenitus is undeniably of small importance. Some of the chroniclers even represent the Emperor as an idler and a do-nothing. But this is a grotesque exaggeration. On the other hand, we cannot place entire confidence in the flatterers who depict Constantine as an administrator ever on the alert to lessen the evils afflicting his people, to give orders to his provincial governors, to keep himself well informed of all that was happening, to give brilliant receptions to ambassadors, and to keep in touch with the rulers of East and West. It is nevertheless certain that Constantine endeavored on the one hand to do the work of an administrator, and on the other showed himself throughout his life by his intellectual activity and his numerous writings not to be the indolent trifler of the chronicler Cedrenus. In the first place, we have nine Novels of his to prove that he too paid attention to the juridical and social questions which had caused such constant anxiety to his predecessors. Like them, he forbids the wealthy nobles to acquire lands belonging to the poor or the military class; like them, he legislates on certain points of civil law, such as wills, inheritance, the salaries payable to notaries, the right of sanctuary, and so forth. But he did more than this. Towards the end of his reign he issued an alphabetical abridgment of the Basilics intended to be of service to lawyers. Finally, during the time of his personal government he granted a chrysobull in favor of the monastery of St John the Baptist at Thessalonica, and another to the convent of the Iberians on Mount Athos.

Apart from these beneficent laws, Constantine, who piqued himself on his knowledge of the rules of etiquette, and was fond of holding himself up as an example to the splendid and stately court which surrounded him, seems to have taken special pleasure in the reception and dispatch of great numbers of ambassadors. In 945 and 949 we find him sending diplomatic missions to Otto I in Germany; in May and in August 946 he received the ambassadors of the Caliph and the Emir of Amida with great magnificence; in October it was the turn of the ambassadors from Spain; in 948 that of Liudprand, Berengar’s envoy; and finally in 957 he gave a brilliant welcome to the Russian Princess Olga and the splendid cortege which accompanied her, including both men and women. All the indications point to this visit to Constantinople as the time when the baptism of Olga took place.

But the true glory of Constantine VII is the share which he had in the intellectual movement of his day. Like Bardas under Michael III, he made great efforts to revive education, which, outside Constantinople, was hardly to be obtained; he appointed to the university chairs savants of reputation, historians, writers, philosophers, men of science, jurisconsults; like Basil I he gave a new impetus to all the arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, and music; while, more than any of his predecessors, he interested himself in students, receiving them, helping them, and when their studies were finished promoting them to great civil and ecclesiastical posts. He himself helped forward this general literary renaissance by working at painting, music, and the industrial arts, as also by publishing, especially for his son's use, several works, some of which are lost, though others have come down to us. About 934 or 935 he wrote the Book of the Themes or provinces of the Empire; in 952 or 953 he published the Book of the Administration of the Empire, and composed the first eighty-three chapters of the Book of Court Ceremonies which bears his name; finally in 958 or 959 he gave to the public the Life of Basil. Thus it is not strange that under his government literary and artistic production should have been abundant. Thanks to him, numberless religious and secular buildings were erected, restored, and embellished; such works as the Continuation of Theophanes, the Discourse upon the Image of Edessa, and other compositions of literary and religious importance were begun and finished, so that it is in fact almost solely to the learned labors of an Emperor, so often decried, that we owe such knowledge as we possess of the period in which he lived and reigned.

Either in the summer or in the autumn of 959, Constantine, feeling himself near to death, went, in search of some measure of physical and mental repose, to the slopes of Mount Olympus in Bithynia, then celebrated for the medicinal waters of Sotiriopolis, and for its monasteries and hermits. He was to find there nothing but gloomy presages of his speedy end. He returned to Constantinople only to die, expiring on 9 November 959 at the age of fifty-four.



ROMANUS II (959-963).


The new ruler, Romanus II, was twenty years old when his father died, probably as the result of the poison which he and his wife administered to him. Despite his youth and his bodily and mental advantages, despite his excellent education, Romanus II was to make but a transitory appearance as Emperor, and to leave a most unworthy reputation behind him. At his accession he was surrounded by his mother Helena, his wife Theophano, his five sisters, and his son Basil II. He had been crowned and had received a share of the imperial power, in accordance with the Basilian tradition, in 945, and he now at once took possession of the government, or rather handed it over to his wife Theophano. We have already seen who this wife was. The daughter of Craterus, a poor tavern-keeper of Laconian origin, she owed the unhoped for honor of ascending the throne solely to her beauty and her vices. While her husband eagerly pursued, surrounded by unworthy companions, the life of debauchery and dissipation which was destined to lead him to an early grave, she for her part took upon herself the task of government with the help of a noble eunuch, Joseph Bringas, whom Constantine on his death-bed had recommended to Romanus.

This reign would be utterly insignificant were it not lighted up by the eventful military triumphs of Nicephorus Phokas and his brother. Indeed, within the imperial circle things immediately began to take a mischievous turn: Helena and her daughters, by order of Theophano and with the consent of Romanus II, were forced to quit the palace for a convent. Helena, it is true, obtained leave to remain in the palace, where she died on 19 September 961, but her daughters, Zoe, Theodora, Theophano, Anne, and Agatha were sent first to the convent of Canicleum, and soon after to separate houses. It was probably the harsh treatment dealt out to Constantine's family which, in March 961, brought about the conspiracy, formed, with the help of other lords, by that Basil the Bird who had been the favorite, perhaps the lover, of Helena in the preceding reign. Knowing that Romanus was about to visit the Hippodrome, Basil resolved on his assassination, but being informed against by a converted Saracen named Johannicius, he was seized, tortured, and finally died insane in Proconnesus.

Though dying young, Romanus was to leave a large family to the Empire. In addition to Basil II, he had a second son by Theophano in 961, the future Constantine VIII whom the Patriarch Polyeuctes crowned in April the same year. He had, besides, two daughters, of whom one, Theophano, born perhaps as early as 956, became the wife of Otto II of Germany, and the other, Anne, was married to Vladimir of Russia. The two sons of Romanus II were to reign in Constantinople between Tzimisces and the daughters of Constantine VII.

Historians and chroniclers record no event of importance in the internal administration of the Empire during the years from 959 to 963. The government under Romanus gave its whole attention to events beyond the frontiers. And in this field it unquestionably acted with judgment and ability. Immediately upon the death of Constantine, Theophano and Bringas showed themselves desirous of maintaining or creating advantageous relations with the rulers of the East and the West. They sent ambassadors to every court. Then on 22 April 960 they had the little Basil II crowned. But it was above all by planning the campaign of Nicephorus against the Saracens that they gave proof of political discernment. They felt the need of making an end once for all with these enemies, who were ever increasing in aggressiveness, and in Nicephorus Phokas they had a man great enough to engage these perennial foes at an advantage. In spite of unending court intrigues, the government in July 960 laid upon this general, though he was suspected by many, the task of attacking the Arabs of Crete, supported him energetically, supplied him with reinforcements, and thus prepared the way for the great victory which Nicephorus won on 7 March 961 resulting in the conquest of Chandax (now Candia) in Crete.

Accordingly when the general returned to Constantinople he received in the Circus the honor of a pedestrian ovation, a foretaste of the triumphs which later were to be his. Both concentration on foreign affairs and skillful diplomacy were displayed by Theophano’s government on the morrow of Nicephorus’ victory. He returned covered with glory and accompanied by the defeated emir Abd-al-Aziz. This chief was well treated and splendidly lodged, and Constantinople had no reason to regret her generosity, for his son, having become a Christian, won renown in 972 in the Byzantine army.

It appears that, during the short time that he remained at the head of affairs, Bringas also paid attention to the material interests of the population. In October 961 there was a great dearth, and corn was at an extravagant price. He brought into the capital ship-loads of corn and barley, which, despite his reputation for avarice, he sold at half-price.


Then came a check. The Byzantine armies were winning brilliant successes in Asia, due entirely to the two Phokas brothers, when Nicephorus suddenly learned that Romanus had died at the palace on 15 March 963. Though the end was sudden it was not unforeseen, for the Emperor's health had been declining all the winter. Theophano was nevertheless accused of having rid herself of her husband by poison in order to marry Nicephorus. The crime was never proved, but the sequel was just what had been prophesied. With Romanus II the glory of the Macedonian House and the intellectual renaissance which it had initiated departed for a time. Government by women and successful soldiers was about to begin.






At the moment when Romanus II was gathered to his fathers in the church of the Holy Apostles, leaving the Empire in the hands of Theophano, Bringas, and two crowned children, the already illustrious name of Phokas had, in the course of four years from 960 to 963, reached the highest pitch of glory. This was owing to the achievements of Leo and even more of Nicephorus, who was at that time the chief personage of the Empire. The Phokas family, which originated in Cappadocia, was indeed well known to fame. It was, with the families of Curcuas and Tzimisces, among the noblest in Asia Minor. In the days of Basil I, a Nicephorus Phokas, grandfather of the future Emperor, had won renown by his warlike exploits in Italy and Sicily, and since then all of the family, from father to son, had been soldiers, and successful soldiers. The uncle and father of Nicephorus had been specially distinguished by their valor—the former, Leo, by his share in the war with the Bulgarians, and the latter, Bardas, by his victories in Asia Minor. The man who now, by his marriage with Theophano, was about to ascend the throne of Constantinople had, with his brother Leo, followed the glorious path marked out for him. Magister, and generalissimo of the armies of the East, under Constantine VII, he had long warred successfully in Asia Minor, and had since covered himself with glory by the siege of Chandax. He was born probably about 913, and was thus nearly fifty when the death of Romanus II took place. At this period, monk and soldier were united in him. Having lost his wife and his only son a little before 963, he had often thought of going to join his friend St Athanasius, the founder of the Great Laura, on Mount Athos. It was through his interest and his gifts that the first convent on the “Holy Mountain” had been built, and a cell there had long awaited him. A man of iron temper, mystical to the highest degree, and yet none the less a man of passions, he had devoted himself to his army and his men, and at the same time to prayer and the severest mortifications. He was reported to be unbendingly stern, uncompromisingly just, and rigidly pious, but he was also considered miserly. In spite of his failings, his shining qualities won for him general love and deep respect, above all in the camp. On the other hand he was dreaded by many, and especially by Bringas, on account of his military fame and the brilliant campaign with which his name was inseparably joined. After the conquest of Crete, he had, however, returned to Asia Minor and to his brother, conquering Cilicia between 961 and 963. He had then flung himself upon Syria, and had just taken Aleppo when the news of the death of Romanus forced him to pause.

At Constantinople the death of Romanus had created a most difficult situation. Theophano, at twenty years of age, naturally desired to retain power and to act as Regent, as she was authorized to do by her husband's last dispositions. But Bringas had to be reckoned with, and his projects, it would appear, tended in quite another direction. He, with his partisans, counted upon seizing sole power at the first favorable moment and governing the Empire. Thus, though he had supported Nicephorus at the time of the Cretan expedition, yet out of dread of his popularity and perhaps also from other motives he had made haste to send him back to Asia Minor. This, however, had not prevented Nicephorus, doubtless without Bringas’ knowledge, from being kept informed by the Empress herself of all that went on. It was, indeed, of importance to Theophano, if she was to make herself safe in all contingencies, to be able to make use of Nicephorus, before whom she had held out the hope of supreme power and even of something more. As the general was on his way through Constantinople she had, with great skill, contrived to plant in the austere soldier's heart the germs of a passion which she intended to turn to account, and which was to drive from his mind any pious aspirations after the monastic life and permanently to deflect the current of his existence. It was this, probably, which had so greatly excited the alarm of Bringas.

Nevertheless, for the moment, the expressed wishes of Romanus were respected. The Patriarch Polyeuctes proclaimed Theophano Regent, with Bringas as her minister. Immediately afterwards, however, Theophano secretly called back Nicephorus, who reached Constantinople as early as April. Officially he came to receive the reward of his conquests, a military triumph and the confirmation of his authority. In reality he came to measure himself against the head of the government. So well did Bringas understand this that he at once attempted to rid himself of his formidable adversary. He proposed that he should be forbidden to enter Constantinople, that a triumph should be refused him, and even that his eyes should be put out. All these attempts failed before the universal popularity of Nicephorus, probably helped by the intrigues of Theophano. The people welcomed Nicephorus with all possible honor and magnificence. But on the morrow of this ceremonial reception, which so greatly increased his prestige, being alone and without his army, he felt himself in danger and took refuge in St Sophia. There he obtained from the Patriarch and his clergy the protection of which he stood in need. Thanks to his reputation for piety, his valuable connection with the monks, his services, and the animosities which divided the three most powerful forces in Constantinople —Theophano, Bringas, and Polyeuctes— Nicephorus found a steadfast supporter in the Patriarch. In spite of Bringas, and thanks to Polyeuctes, the Senate fully confirmed the authority of Nicephorus, and promised that nothing should be done without his being consulted. Nicephorus, in return, swore to engage in no design injurious to the rights of the young princes. The Patriarch’s eloquence had saved Nicephorus, who, as soon as Easter was over, lost no time in returning to Asia Minor at the head of his army. Bringas had been outwitted. The Patriarch had no suspicion of what his own future would be under Nicephorus.

The chief minister, however, did not acknowledge himself defeated. At any cost, whether Nicephorus were present or absent, he sought his life. For this he maneuvered, but clumsily enough. Through a confidential agent he made splendid offers to two of Nicephorus’ generals, Curcuas and Tzimisces, if they would betray their chief to him. They, however, far from lending an ear to such proposals, revealed the intrigue to Nicephorus, and in order to cut matters short, prevailed on him without difficulty to hasten the realization of his plans, to assume the crown, and to march upon Constantinople. Accordingly on 3 July 963 the army, instigated by the two generals, proclaimed Nicephorus Emperor at Caesarea. The next day, the troops set out to accompany him to St Sophia and there to have him crowned. As soon as the news was known at Constantinople the mutterings of revolt began. Bringas tried to make head against it, and to organize the defence. His partisans were numerous, even among the troops in the capital, and he had valuable hostages in his hands in the persons of the father and brother of Nicephorus. The new sovereign reached Chrysopolis on 9 August and there awaited events. After three days of furious revolution had dyed the streets of Constantinople with blood, the supporters of Bringas were defeated. Nicephorus’ father was saved by Polyeuctes, and on 14 August 963, under the aegis of Basil, the illegitimate son of Romanus Lecapenus and a bitter enemy of Bringas, Nicephorus entered Constantinople. On 16 August he was crowned in St Sophia, declaring himself the guardian of the imperial children.

The revolution to which Nicephorus had just put the finishing touch was the culmination of hypocrisy, for everyone knew, by the recent example of Romanus Lecapenus, the real meaning of the title of guardian, or joint sovereign, in connection with Emperors who were still minors. Whatever fictions might adorn official documents, it was Nicephorus who became Emperor, and sole Emperor. The monks, his former friends, were scandalized. St Athanasius, quite in vain, reminded the Emperor of his former vocation for the religious life. And it soon appeared that still more ruthless disillusionments were in store. Apart from this, the action of Nicephorus was, politically speaking, of great gravity. Once again he severed the dynastic chain. And this time the breach in the succession was made not merely in his own name and for his personal benefit, or out of family ambition, but in the name and with the support of the army, which was now to re-learn the lesson of thrusting its weighty sword into the scale in which the internal destinies of the Empire were balanced. It is true that for all this Nicephorus paid a heavy penalty, and it is no less true that the course he took was to have the most disastrous influence on the fortunes of Constantinople.

At the very outset, as soon as he was master of the palace and the city, Nicephorus hastened to deal out titles and rewards to those who had aided him. His father was declared Caesar, his brother Leo magister and curopalates, while in the East John Tzimisces succeeded to the post, rank, and honors which Nicephorus had held. Basil received the title and appointment of Proedros or President of the Senate. As to Bringas, he was of course dismissed, and was detained at a distance from Constantinople in a monastery, where he died in 971. These arrangements made, Nicephorus turned his thoughts towards a marriage with Theophano, both from personal and from political considerations. The matter, however, was not quite so simple as at first it looked. Both the Church and lay society might have something to say on the subject. It was probably in order to gain time to reconcile the public mind to the idea, as well as to observe the proprieties, that Nicephorus, acting in accord with the Empress, sent her away to the palace of Petrion on the Golden Horn until the day fixed for the wedding. It took place on 20 September, six months almost to a day after the death of Romanus. As might have been expected, it aroused great displeasure among the clergy. St Athanasius was much incensed against his old friend, and Polyeuctes, finding himself tricked, steadily refused communion to Nicephorus for a whole year. For, on the one hand, there was to the monks, of whom the Patriarch was one, something distinctly scandalous in the spectacle of this man of fifty marrying a woman in the twenties; this austere general, ascetic almost to a fault, who had vowed to end his days as a celibate in a monastery, now, having by the help of the Church attained to supreme power, suddenly uniting himself to Theophano, one of the most ill-famed and vicious of women, utterly repulsive in the eyes of the religious world. On the other hand, the newly-wedded couple, having both been widowed, could not, without doing penance, enter upon a second marriage. The determined refusal of Polyeuctes was, however, very offensive both to Nicephorus and Theophano. We are told that Nicephorus never forgave the Patriarch. This Polyeuctes was soon to learn, and not only he but the whole body of the clergy was to suffer in consequence.

The ecclesiastical struggle, thus inauspiciously begun on the marriage-day of Nicephorus, ended only with his death. If the chroniclers are to be trusted, it was further envenomed by the rumors set afloat by a court chaplain named Stylianus. He claimed, indeed, that the Emperor's marriage with Theophano was unlawful and void, because Nicephorus had stood godfather to one, if not two, of the Empress’ children. The canons were absolutely conclusive against such unions, which were forbidden by “spiritual affinity”. It is not very easy to determine how much foundation there was for the statement. It is certainly strange if Polyeuctes were ignorant of a circumstance so serious and notorious, and if Nicephorus and Theophano on their side took no notice of this ecclesiastical impediment. Was the allegation of Stylianus made before or after the marriage ceremony? Even on this point the chroniclers give us no answer. However this may be, one thing is plain, that Polyeuctes was roused, and he demanded of Nicephorus under the heaviest canonical penalties the repudiation of Theophano. Naturally the Emperor refused, and at once gathered together au assembly, half ecclesiastical and half lay, to discuss the question. This miniature council, composed of court bishops and officials devoted to the royal family, made no difficulty about coming to the decision which Nicephorus would be likely to desire. The regulation on which Polyeuctes relied was, it was decided, invalid, although its meaning was unmistakable, because it had been put forth in the name of a heretical Emperor, Constantine Copronymus. Further, to bolster up this rather pitiful decision, Stylianus came forward to declare solemnly that Nicephorus had never been godfather to any one of the imperial children, and that he himself had never spoken the incriminating words. It is not known whether Polyeuctes was convinced, but it is probable, for, averse from compromise as he was, he yet admitted the Emperor to the Holy Communion. But what after all do these stories amount to? Nothing can be positively known. It is plain that they fit in badly with what knowledge we have of the manners of the age and the characters of its chief personages. It would appear that, if the struggle had been as heated and as much founded in reason on the part of the Patriarch as is represented, the latter would not then have hesitated to maintain his condemnation and Nicephorus would probably have deposed him. If both consented to an apparent reconciliation, we must believe that the chroniclers either exaggerated, or what is more likely, misunderstood the nature of the dispute. It is not impossible that at bottom the whole affair was merely a quarrel got up by the monks, who were indignant at the conduct of Nicephorus and at his marriage.

This explanation of these events is supported by the fact that at once, in 964, Nicephorus, as though to take his revenge, published a Novel as strange as it was revolutionary against the monks. He, who had once so greatly loved the religious, turned suddenly to scoffing at and sitting in judgment on his old friends. “The monks” he says, “possess none of the evangelical virtues; they think only of acquiring worldly goods, of building, and of enriching themselves. Their life differs in nothing from that of the thorough worldling”. They were ordered to leave the cities and go forth into the wilderness, abandoning all their lands and goods. It was no doubt to help them along this path that he forbade (though he had himself given large sums to St Athanasius when he founded his convent on Mount Athos) that new monasteries should be established or others enriched by new donations, or that lands, fields, or villas should be left by will to convents, hospitals, or clergy.

This celebrated Novel had, it would seem, a double object. It gave Nicephorus the means of avenging himself upon the monks for the humiliations they had lately inflicted on him, and it enabled him also to find the necessary supplies which he wanted to carry on the war. “The revenues were intended indeed” he said, “to be distributed to the poor, but in reality they profited none but the clergy, and this while the soldiers, who were going forth to fight and die for God and the Emperor, lacked even necessaries”. The fact was that Nicephorus wished as Emperor to prosecute the expeditions which he had begun as a private subject. From 964 to 966 the Empire resounded with the clash of arms. While his generals were fighting the African Arabs in Sicily and Cyprus, Nicephorus himself twice went forth to encounter the Asiatic Saracens in Cilicia, Mesopotamia, and Syria. For these distant wars he needed large sums of money, and it was the property of the clergy, which as long as he lived he never spared, that supplied him with funds.

This doubled-edged policy was made clear and obvious during the winter of 966-967, immediately upon the Emperor’s return to Constantinople. Thanks to the court bishops, in residence at the capital and thus in the Emperor’s power, he embodied in an edict a measure in the highest degree injurious to the Church. For the future it was declared unlawful to nominate any subject to a bishopric without the Emperor's consent. In this way Nicephorus made sure of having bishops entirely at his devotion, and at the same time he could seize upon the Church revenues, whether during the vacancy of a see or after an appointment had been made. There are many examples to prove this. It is not known what attitude the clergy took up on this matter. In no quarter do we hear of revolts or of coercive measures, but doubtless such a policy must have powerfully furthered the rise of the popular movement which thrust Nicephorus from power. In any case, the first demand of Polyeuctes on the accession of Tzimisces was to be for the abrogation of these anti-clerical measures.

The last fact which the chroniclers record in connection with ecclesiastical matters in this reign, is the strange idea conceived by the Emperor of constraining the Church to venerate as martyrs those who had fallen in the warfare against the infidel. Naturally, nobody was found willing to comply with this eccentric demand, and Nicephorus was compelled to abandon a project opposed by Polyeuctes and the whole of the clergy.

Putting aside this perennial quarrel with the churchmen, which itself had a military aim, Nicephorus seems during his short reign to have had little attention to spare for anything but his soldiers and the army. It was this, indeed, which before long predisposed the populace towards that movement of revolt which was to bring about his speedy ruin. Quite early in the reign, after the example of his predecessors, Nicephorus revived the laws favoring the small military holdings and protecting them against the vexatious and extortionate purchase of them by the great. He granted his soldiers the widest facilities for regaining possession of their lands when they had been sold or stolen, and this evidently with a view to retaining their services in the army. Then, legislating in accordance with his own experience, he issued a Novel dealing with the Armenian fundi, that is, the fiefs belonging to those Armenian soldiers, mercenaries in the service of the Empire, who had obtained military lands in return for their services but did not always fulfill the obligations which their tenure imposed upon them. In 967 and at another date not exactly known, Nicephorus issued two more Novels touching landed property, and especially the property of the rich. The Emperor required that each man should keep what he possessed, or at least should acquire lands only from those set apart for his caste. A noble might only possess noble fiefs; a commoner only commoners’ fiefs; a soldier only military allotments. This was plainly to protect and strengthen the very framework of Byzantine society. Unfortunately these laws, the character of which was further emphasized by countless instances, were too exclusively military in their scope. The exaggerated importance attached to the army was shown in every possible way, and ended by irritating and exciting the public mind. About 966 and 967 the mutterings of revolt began to be heard on every side.

If the many excesses of the army, and the marks of exclusive favor which Nicephorus lavished on it, were the chief causes of the Byzantine revolution which swept away the Emperor, they were not the only ones. The anti-clerical policy of Nicephorus had already alienated numbers of his subjects. His military policy fostered the spread of this disaffection. But, above all, his fiscal measures provoked general discontent. In consequence of the wars of the Empire, more and more money was constantly being required by the government. Taxes increased at a prodigious rate, while in other directions retrenchments were made in habitual expenditure, which estranged all classes, nobles and commoners. As if all this had been insufficient, exceptional measures were now taken. Not only did the tax-gatherers receive strict orders: to exact the taxes, but, more serious still, the Emperor himself trafficked in corn, wine, and oil, of which commodities the government had a monopoly, thus causing such a rise in the cost of living that riots began to break out in almost every direction. On Ascension Day (9 May 967), as Nicephorus was returning from his devotions, he was stopped by crowds of people and insulted in the heart of Constantinople, stones and tiles being thrown at him. He would certainly have perished, but that his faithful bodyguard covered his hasty retreat to the palace. This insurrection had no other effect than to make Nicephorus aware of his danger. It did not avail to change his line of policy. For his own defence, without reckoning with his recent fresh expenditure, he had a strong high wall built to surround the Great Palace completely, and within its circuit, close to the sea, he erected the fortress of Bucoleon where he was to meet his death.

Like the earlier years of Nicephorus, his last two were entirely given up to war on all sides. There were wars in Bulgaria and Italy, and in Syria, where Antioch and Aleppo were taken. Among home events, two only are worth recording. One was the arrival at Constantinople in 967 of the Bulgarian ambassadors, claiming the tribute which the Empire had been accustomed to pay to the Tsar. Nicephorus, who was on the watch for a pretext to declare war against his neighbor, received the ambassadors roughly, insulted them before the whole court, and drove them ignominiously away. Soon afterwards, he set out at the head of his troops for Bulgaria. The other event, which was of the same character, was the embassy of Liudprand, Bishop of Cremona, now sent for the second time to Constantinople by the Emperor Otto. Liudprand arrived in the East on 4 June 968. His master, after his usurpations in southern Italy and his assumption of the title of Emperor, had made him the bearer of a pacific message and a proposal of marriage. The German sovereign hoped to bring the struggle in Italy to an advantageous conclusion, and to secure quiet possession of the provinces which he had conquered, by means of a marriage between his son and Theophano, daughter of Romanus II. The embassy met with wretched success. Liudprand, detained as a half-prisoner and publicly insulted by Nicephorus and his court, spent four months at Constantinople, and was obliged to leave without having obtained any concession. For the time the marriage fell into abeyance; the idea was only resumed later, and the union did not take place until 972.

Immediately after Liudprand’s embassy, about the end of July 968, Nicephorus set out for a campaign in Asia Minor, and did not return to Constantinople until the beginning of 969. Notwithstanding the fresh laurels which he had reaped in Syria, only death awaited him. Disaffection to his rule was daily growing and plots were openly discussed. On the other hand, Theophano had found a new lover, and John Tzimisces had become the Emperor's successful rival in love as he had already been in war. As Schlumberger has pointed out, the whole clue to the palace drama, in which these two were the chief actors, escapes our grasp.

How and why did Theophano and Tzimisces decide upon ridding themselves of Nicephorus? We do not know, nor do contemporaries seem to have known.

All the conjectures put forward by chroniclers, Byzantine, Arab, and Western, are possible, but of none is there a shadow of proof. Two things only are certain, first, the passion of Theophano for Tzimisces, secondly, the plot to kill the Emperor, which they jointly concocted with the help of several other conspirators. The murder took place in the night of 10-11 December 969. By Theophano’s means the palace was opened to Tzimisces and his confederates, and they, without difficulty, made their way into Nicephorus’ chamber. They found the Emperor asleep, lying on a tiger-skin. Arousing him with kicks, they then struck at his face with a sword, inflicting a great wound. In this state, the conspirators, after tying his legs together, dragged him before Tzimisces, who loaded him with insults, spurning him with his foot and plucking out his beard. Finally he completed his work by shattering the Emperor’s skull with a sword, while another assassin ran him through the body. This done, in order to check the revolt which was beginning, Tzimisces immediately had himself crowned, and ordered that the head of Nicephorus should be exhibited at a window. Next day, in great secrecy, the murdered Emperor was buried in the church of the Holy Apostles, and thus came to a bloody end one of the most glorious reigns, if it be looked at solely from the military point of view, in the whole of Byzantine history.





John Tzimisces, whose true surname was Chemshkik, or Chemishgig, which the Byzantines made into Tzimisces, belonged to an ancient and noble Armenian family. Through his father he was related to the illustrious house of Curcuas, and through his mother to that of Phokas. He was born at Hierapolis in Armenia (now Chemishgadzak, i.e. birth-place of Tzimisces) about 924 and, like Nicephorus and all his other relatives, was a soldier from his boyhood. He early attached himself to his cousin, and made the great campaigns of Cilicia and Syria in his company. At this time a close friendship united them, and we know that it was Tzimisces who prevailed upon Nicephorus to ascend the throne. His military renown and his exploits in battle almost equaled those of the Emperor, and his popularity was great in the army, on account of his bravery, his liberality, and also his personal beauty, although he was short of stature. On the accession of Nicephorus, he received the post vacated by the Emperor, that of Domestic of the Scholae of Anatolia, became magister, and was entrusted with the task of prosecuting the conquests of Nicephorus, work which he accomplished with signal success chequered by occasional reverses. Was it these successes which alienated the Emperor from Tzimisces? It may be so, but the truth is not known. One thing, however, is certain, that in 969 Tzimisces fell from favor. It is possible, it is even probable, that there were other causes for this disgrace. Tzimisces was not long in discovering that his former brother-officer, though under obligations to him, did not show him proper consideration, treated him just like the other generals, and was ungrateful towards him. Moreover, what may very well have determined him to throw in his lot with the discontented, and to weave the conspiracy which put an end to the reign of Nicephorus, was the influence of Theophano herself, who had at this time a strong passion for him. In any case, it was she who helped him in his revolt and urged him on to assassinate Nicephorus. Finally, Leo Phokas was an inveterate foe of Tzimisces and constantly accused him to his brother, doing all in his power to embitter the relations between them. All these causes combined to bring about first a complete breach and finally a violent hatred between these two old friends and kinsmen. In 969 Tzimisces had been deprived of his military rank, had been driven from court, and had received orders to live in exile on the Asiatic coast on his estates in Chalcedon, whence he was forbidden to depart. It was, however, from thence that he set out on the night of 9-10 December to perpetrate the murder which seated him on the throne. On attaining supreme power Tzimisces was forty-five years old. He was the widower of a certain Maria, a sister of Bardas Sclerus, was the lover of Theophano, and was childless. In order to succeed to the throne after the murder of Nicephorus, he was ready to accept any conditions which might be laid upon him.

Immediately after his coronation, Tzimisces, as Nicephorus had done, declared that he would look upon himself merely as the guardian and protector of the legitimate sovereigns, Basil and Constantine, and as Regent therefore of the Empire. After this, he set to work to organize his government. He took as his chief minister the famous Basil, illegitimate son of Romanus Lecapenus and favorite of Constantine VII, who has already appeared as the zealous supporter of Nicephorus at the time of his accession, who became his Parakoimomenos, or chief Chamberlain, and received the post, created for him, of President of the Senate. Basil, for the same reasons no doubt as Tzimisces, had abandoned the Emperor, and when the conspiracy of 969 was formed made common cause with the plotters. Thus, as soon as Tzimisces was seated on the throne, Basil became the real head of the government, and by him the first measures taken were inspired. By his orders the new sovereign was proclaimed in every quarter of the city, and public gatherings, disorder, and pillage were forbidden, under pain of beheading. It was not desired that the revolutionary scenes which had marked the accession of Nicephorus should be re-enacted in Constantinople. The next step was to dismiss all functionaries who were in favor of the former Emperor, and to replace them by new men. Leo Phokas and his sons, with the exception of Peter, a eunuch, were banished to Methymna and Amasia. In this way the position of Tzimisces was secured.

The Patriarch Polyeuctes, who had reached a great age, was near his end when the events of 10 December 969 took place. What was his attitude on first hearing of the revolution we do not know, but on the other hand we know how, despite the burden of his years, he received Tzimisces, when the new Emperor, a week after his crime, presented himself at St Sophia in order to be crowned. The Patriarch firmly refused to take part in any religious ceremony until Tzimisces should have done penance, exculpated himself from the murder of Nicephorus, and denounced the criminals. Polyeuctes went further. On this solemn occasion he took the revenge of his lifetime, issuing to John this ultimatum: “Drive first of all from the Sacred Palace the adulterous and guilty wife, who planned and directed everything and who has certainly been the chief mover in the crime”. Finally, feeling perhaps the moral strength of his own position as against this suppliant murderer, the Patriarch took another step in advance and exacted, as a striking reparation, the repeal of the whole of the religious legislation of the late Emperor, the recall to their sees of all the exiled bishops, and the distribution of the usurper’s private fortune to the poor and the hospitals. John agreed to everything. The Novels were immediately abrogated, the bishops recalled, Theophano exiled to Proti and later to Armenia, while John himself made no scruple of swearing that he had not lifted his hand against Nicephorus, and denounced on oath several of his late accomplices as guilty of the crime. Then, as much from necessity as policy, he gave great largess to the poor, the peasants, and even the aristocracy. This done, Polyeuctes crowned John at Christmas 969. Before his death the Patriarch had a last gratification, that of seeing Tzimisces faithfully fulfill his promises as to his religious policy. The Church of Antioch having lost its Patriarch, Christopher, Tzimisces caused Polyeuctes to appoint in his place a holy hermit, Theodore of Colonea, who had long been known to him. The Patriarch was spared long enough to perform the consecration on 8 January 970. His death followed on 28 January.

The successor to Polyeuctes was proposed by Tzimisces to a synod which he assembled when the vacancy occurred. Basil, like Theodore of Colonea, was a poor monk of the Olympus, famous for his saintliness and his prophecies. He was a friend of the Emperor, and when his consecration took place on 13 February John might certainly flatter himself that he had made a wise and fortunate choice both for the Church and for himself. Yet this did not prove to be altogether the case, for, in fact, in 974 a conflict broke out between the two authorities; Basil, who had less discernment doubtless than Polyeuctes, would have liked to turn the Church into one vast convent, and to enforce reforms which were distasteful to the bishops. Perhaps, indeed, he went further, and, if we are to believe Leo the Deacon, unwisely began to supervise the conduct of his subordinates rather too closely. With all his merits, we are told, “he was of a curious and investigating turn of mind”. What is certain is that complaints were laid against him on this account, and he was also reproached with maladministration of the Church. In short, the Emperor was obliged to interfere. He called upon the Patriarch to appear before his court and clear himself. Basil refused to take any such step, alleging that he came under no jurisdiction but that of an Ecumenical Council, which would necessarily bring in the West. This led to his fall. While Polyeuctes, strong in his right, had maintained himself in the see of Constantinople against all comers, Basil for his part, being very possibly guilty of the errors laid to his charge, was deposed and sent into exile at his monastery on the Scamander. His syncellus, Anthony of the Studion, succeeded him. Perhaps this deposition of Basil may have some vague connection with affairs in Italy, and with the presence at Constantinople of the exiled anti-Pope Boniface. But it seems rather unlikely, and in any case our authorities do not make the statement. All that has been said by historians on the subject is mere conjecture.

The death of its patron Nicephorus did not hinder the building and extension of the Great Laura (monastery) of St Athanasius, founded in 961. In 970 the community there was numerous enough to allow of the saint's imposing upon them a rule, a typikon determining the laws which should govern the monks of the Holy Mountain. Unfortunately the typical was ill-received and ill-observed, so much so that a revolt broke out against the Abbot. The mutineers considered St Athanasius and his rules too severe, and appealed to the Emperor. This was the reason that Tzimisces, after holding an inquiry, granted to the Laura the chrysobull of 972 confirming the typikon of St Athanasius and the privileges granted by Nicephorus. The monastery was declared “autocephalous” under the sole authority of the Abbot (Igumen). The Golden Bull laid down rules for the administration of the convent, and its provisions are still in force today.

The reign of the soldier John Tzimisces, like that of Nicephorus Phokas, was military in character, and events of note in home politics (with the exception of religious events) are few in number. One of the most important was certainly the revolt of Bardas Phokas in 971. Son of Leo and nephew of Nicephorus, Bardas had been banished to Pontus on the death of the Emperor. Thanks to the good offices of his father and other members of his family, of some of the strategi who had remained loyal to Nicephorus, and even of some among the clergy, he succeeded in breaking prison and in surrounding himself with partisans. Then, taking advantage of the Russian war, which Tzimisces was just beginning, Bardas had himself proclaimed Emperor at Caesarea, amidst large numbers of adherents. Fortunately, civil war had not time to break out. The Emperor’s brother-in-law, Bardas Sclerus, was immediately sent against the usurper, who, before he had struck a blow, found himself deserted by his friends and forced to surrender. He was relegated with his family to a monastery in the island of Chios. Next year, while Tzimisces was at the siege of Durostolus (Silistria), Leo Phokas attempted to regain power, but unsuccessfully. Being taken prisoner at Constantinople he was blinded and in this state reconsigned to his monastery.

While the ineffectual revolt of Bardas Phokas was just about to break out, and the preparations for the war with Russia were being pushed feverishly on, Tzimisces took advantage of the situation to form a fresh union. Being debarred from marrying Theophano, he fell back upon Theodora, a princess of mature age, daughter of Constantine VII and aunt of Romanus II. This prudent marriage gave great satisfaction at Constantinople, for it confirmed the legitimate descendants of Basil I upon the throne.

Before setting out for the brief and victorious Russian war, in the spring of 972, Tzimisces found time to receive another German embassy, which sought Constantinople in order to renew the negotiations, broken off under Nicephorus, respecting the marriage of Theophano, daughter of Romanus II, with the youthful Otto II. The embassy headed by Gero, Archbishop of Cologne, reached Constantinople about the end of 971. The girl, in spite of certain doubts which have been raised, certainly appears to have been a genuine princess, born in the purple, and sister of Basil II; she was betrothed, and set out for Italy. The marriage took place at Rome on 14 April 972.

So far as we can judge from the scanty documents which have come down to us, Tzimisces seems not to have given much of his personal attention to the work of internal administration. His wars occupied him sufficiently. Only one Novel issued in his name has been preserved; it concerns the slaves taken in war. Basil the Parakoimomenos remained chief minister up to the death of Tzimisces, and used his position to enrich himself to a scandalous extent. This meant that the social difficulty remained unsolved, and became even graver. All the efforts of his predecessors had thus been fruitless. And yet the Emperor behaved liberally to all classes of society. He made large distributions from his private resources. But the only genuinely useful legislative measure which he carried out was the abolition of the highly unpopular tax called the Kapnikon, or poll tax, which was paid only by plebeians.

The reign of John Tzimisces was being made illustrious by his victories, when suddenly, on his return from a second campaign in Asia, he died in Constantinople on 10 January 976. Many discussions have arisen as to this unexpected death. Did the Emperor fall a victim to poison or to sickness? It cannot be certainly known, but according to Schlumberger it is most probable that he succumbed to typhus. However this may be, John Tzimisces left the Empire devoid of all apparent support and likely soon to be given up to all the fury of revolution. No one, it is plain, foresaw what manner of man Basil II would prove himself to be.

With Tzimisces the tale of great soldiers raised to the throne breaks off for the time. Henceforward, power was to return to the Macedonian House until the rise of the Comneni. The Emperors who were to reign from 1028 to 1057 might be foreigners or men of no account. For in fact, in contrast to what followed on the death of Romanus II, the reins of power were now to be held by the female members of the reigning house.