The first years of Basil II (976-989).



THE death of John Tzimisces not only closed for a time the period of great if usurping generals, but also, except for the reign of Basil II, put an end to the great military successes of the Empire. Thenceforward, from the death of Basil II in 1025 down to the day when a new dynasty, that of the Comneni, came to take up the scepter of Constantinople, the imperial sovereignty, while its condition became ever more and more critical, remained in the hands of the descendants of Basil I. It was held first by men and afterwards by women, and was discredited and degraded by most extraordinary palace intrigues which are barely conceivable to the Western mind.

John Tzimisces left no heir capable of succeeding him. Besides, as we have seen, he, like Nicephorus Phokas, had always strictly reserved the rights of the two imperial children, Basil and Constantine, the sons of Romanus II and Theophano, of whom he had declared himself the guardian. It was to them, consequently, that the imperial crown, according to the hereditary principle, now fell. Basil II was the elder of the two. He was probably born sometime in the year 958, and was crowned on 22 April 960. His brother Constantine was two years younger, having been born in 960 or 961. He, in his turn, was crowned Emperor on 7 April 961. They both spent their early years under the guardianship of their mother and of the two generals who successively raised themselves to the throne, probably without suffering much, unless morally and intellectually, from the political events which took place. Few men can have differed more from each other than these two brothers, whose actual reigns in Constantinople covered a period of 52 years. Basil II, above all a warrior and a ruler, had no taste for luxury, art, or learning. He was a rough and arbitrary man, never able to throw off the soldier, a sort of Nicephorus Phokas with a better title. Constantine, on the other hand, reminds us of his father, and especially of his great-great-uncle, Alexander. Like the latter, he always chose a soft and easy life, preferring the appearance of power to its reality' and pleasures of every kind to the discipline of work. Thus Constantine while his brother lived no more governed than did Alexander. Admitted to a purely honorary share in the sovereignty, he enjoyed its dignities while knowing nothing of its burdens. Yet, in contrast to Alexander, Constantine appears on certain occasions to have shown himself a brave soldier, and at all events he never at any time manifested the evil and mischievous characteristics of Leo VI’s brother. He was a weakling, who thought himself lucky to have someone more capable than himself at his side to undertake the direction of affairs. Of the two brothers only Constantine seems to have married. At some unstated time he took to wife Helena, the daughter of the patrician Alypius, who was the mother of his three daughters, Eudocia, Zoe, and Theodora, two of whom were to be rulers of Constantinople after his death up to 1056. When by the death of Tzimisces the two young men succeeded to power, their mother was in a convent, and there was no influential member of their family with whom their responsibilities might have been shared. They had no one to depend upon except their great-uncle, the famous eunuch and parakoimomenos Basil, who had been chief minister under four Emperors, and Bardas Sclerus the general, brother-in-law of the late Emperor John Tzimisces, who had promised him the succession.

As might be expected, Basil and Bardas detested one another, and both aspired to the chief power. The former, however, was actually in Constantinople, and easily seized upon the helm in Basil II’s name and perhaps with his consent, while the other, who was with the army, could only lay his plans for the future. The eunuch Basil thus, at the outset of the new reign, remained what he had heretofore been, the real and all-powerful minister of the Empire.

The first action of the new government was to recall Theophano from her convent; then immediately afterwards, in order to strengthen his own position, Basil deprived his rival of the title of Stratelates of the armies of the East, and gave him the office of Duke of the frontier theme of Mesopotamia. Other great officers, friends of Sclerus, were dealt with in the same way: for instance, Michael Burtzes, who was sent to Antioch with the titles of Duke and magister. The patrician Peter Phokas succeeded Sclerus as commander of the armies of Anatolia.

At this juncture, Bardas Sclerus appeared in Constantinople, no doubt to be invested with his new command. The diminished importance of his position had exasperated him, and he made so little secret of it in his conversation that Basil ordered him to leave Constantinople at once and rejoin his troops. This was the signal for revolt. As soon as he reached Mesopotamia, he stirred up his army to revolt against the eunuch, having first taken care to recall his son Romanus to his side.

Revolt of Bardas Sclerus 

Like other revolts, this one, which was destined to last four years, began with the proclamation of Bardas as Emperor, sometime during the summer of 976. The troops made no difficulty about acclaiming their commander, and Bardas soon drew fresh and substantial contingents from Armenia and even from several emirs with whom he negotiated. By his orders the military funds were seized upon and the rich landowners taxed, and in this way he obtained the money that he needed. Then immediately opening the campaign, he made himself master of several fortresses such as Kharput and Malatiyah, and set out for Constantinople. Peter Phokas was at once dispatched against him to Caesarea in Cappadocia. Meanwhile the Bishop of Nicomedia received orders to approach him with a view to an accommodation. It was labor lost. Sclerus was bent on empire or war.

The rebel army was for long successful. After a preliminary affair between vanguards which resulted to the advantage of his troops, Bardas won a great victory over Peter Phokas at Lepara-Lycandus in the autumn of 976 which threw Asia Minor open to him. The revolt spread from place to place. Whole provinces, with their soldiers, sailors, officials, and rich landowners, quickly ranged themselves on the side of the victor. Civil war was everywhere, and, in consequence, Bardas and his army penetrated by way of Caesarea to Cotyaeum. Constantinople was panic-stricken, but Basil's energy did not fail him. At the opening of 977 he sent off the protovestiary Leo with discretionary powers, to lead the imperial army and to buy off the mutineers. He was no more fortunate than Peter Phokas had been. If, at the very outset, thanks to his skillful tactics, he gained an appreciable advantage at Oxylithus over a detachment of the rebels, he incurred a defeat at Rhegeas, where Peter Phokas fell, towards the end of 977. Through this victory, Asia Minor with its fleet and troops fell into the hands of Sclerus. It was with this great accession of strength that in the spring of 978 he again set out for Constantinople and laid siege to Nicaea, which was defended by Manuel Comnenus, surnamed Eroticus. But Manuel, after a blockade of several weeks, was forced to surrender, and Sclerus entered Nicaea, his last halting-place before Constantinople. It was also the scene of his last triumph.

While Sclerus was gaining this brilliant success, his fleet under the Admiral Curticius was being defeated and annihilated by the imperial admiral, Theodore Carantenus. Nevertheless, the imperial pretender advanced upon Constantinople, which was in a state of terror. The situation was rendered graver by a revolt of the Bulgarians and a scarcity of soldiers. But once again the aged Basil saved the Empire, this time by making an appeal to one of his former enemies, Bardas Phokas, himself once a leader of revolt, who had been reduced to impotence by the very Bardas Sclerus whom he was now about to meet and overthrow. Bardas Phokas, having received full powers, did not spend time over the defence of Constantinople. He threw himself into Caesarea, where the broken remains of the imperial army lay under the command of Maleinus, in order to take the army of Sclerus in the rear, and oblige him to retrace his way into Asia Minor. This, in fact, was what happened. Sclerus was forced to retreat from before Constantinople in order to meet the danger from Phokas, whom he encountered not far from Amorium in the plain of Pancalia. Here Phokas was defeated on 19 June 978, but was able to retire in good order to Charsianum, where he was again beaten by Sclerus. Nevertheless, the game was not lost for the imperialists. During the winter of 978-979 they obtained help from the Curopalates of Iberia, and in the spring of 979, on 24 March, a fresh battle was fought at Pancalia, ending, after a single combat between the two namesakes, in the complete triumph of Phokas, the final defeat of the rebel army, and the flight of the defeated pretender to Saracen soil. Constantinople was thus saved.

Bardas Sclerus took refuge at Amida, and soon afterwards in the summer of 979 was imprisoned at Baghdad with his family by the order of the Caliph. At Constantinople it was desired that the rebel should be handed over, and to obtain this object the parakoimomenos sent an embassy to Baghdad headed by Nicephorus Uranus. It was unsuccessful. The Caliph would not relax his hold on the prisoner, and Sclerus remained in durance up to December 986. As to his followers, they were granted an amnesty as early as 979 or 980.

But now it was the turn of the eunuch Basil. Hardly had the Empire been momentarily saved from the revolt of Bardas Sclerus, when the military conspirators within its borders, unmindful of the very serious position of affairs in Italy, Bulgaria, and Syria, began plotting anew as they had done under preceding Emperors. The parakoimomenos Basil, on the one hand, to whose energy the defeat of Sclerus was due, felt himself, in spite of his immense services, more and more deserted by Basil II, who was becoming eager to govern in person; while on the other hand, the great military leaders, Bardas Phokas and Leo Melissenus, were dreaming of a military dictatorship and looking back to their illustrious predecessors such as Nicephorus and Tzimisces. They wanted a part to play, and thought the role assigned them by the Emperor altogether inadequate. For these reasons, and many others of which we are ignorant, the whole body of great officers resolved to join hands in order to rid themselves of Basil II. The conspiracy was hatched at Constantinople, and appears to have had its ramifications in Syria and Bulgaria. Unluckily for the plotters, the Emperor received timely warning, and the latent antagonism between him and his old minister burst forth with startling suddenness and violence (985). Roughly and without warning, Basil snatched power from the hands of the parakoimomenos, drove him from the palace, confined him to his house, and then banished him to Bosphorus. The rest of the conspirators were now reduced to impotence, but the Emperor was not yet strong enough to punish all his enemies. Melissenus and Phokas were spared. As to the parakoimomenos, his immense fortune was confiscated, and he died soon after his fall, stripped of everything and in a mental state bordering upon madness. Once again plotting had ended in a fiasco. It had served no other end than to make the Emperor sure of himself, and to transform him wholly and completely. “Basil” says Zonaras, “became haughty, reserved, suspicious, implacable in his anger. He finally abandoned his former life of pleasure”.

Conspiracy of Phokas and Sclerus 

Basil II had not seen the last of ill-fortune with the fall of his minister. Hardly was he set free from the arbitrary domination of the eunuch Basil, when he was called upon to face fresh dangers. In the autumn of 986 he had just returned to Constantinople, after having been defeated by the Bulgarians on 17 August owing to lack of zeal on the part of his lieutenants. Suddenly, while the Byzantine generals, Bardas Phokas at their head, were plotting against their sovereign, the news came that Sclerus had escaped from Baghdad, and for the second time had put forward his pretensions at Malatiyah. It was the beginning of the year 987. Whether he would or no, in order to win over Bardas Phokas, Basil was forced to restore him in April to his dignity of Domestic of the Anatolian Scholae, from which he had been dismissed after the plot of 985, and to dispatch him against Sclerus. Unfortunately, Phokas was devoid of scruples. Instead of doing the duty imposed on him, he betrayed his master and entered into negotiations with Sclerus. This shows us in what peril Basil stood. His position was further made worse by the fact that Phokas also on 15 August 987 had himself proclaimed Emperor for the second time with great pomp at Chresianus, nearly all the military officers rallying round him. (This shows what strange revulsions of fortune might be seen within a few years at Constantinople. In 971 Bardas Phokas had himself proclaimed Emperor in opposition to Tzimisces. Sclerus opposed and defeated him, and he retired into a convent as a monk. In 976-977 it was Sclerus who broke out into revolt, while Phokas was dispatched against him. Ten years passed, and the two hostile leaders were again on the scene, but this time they were acting in concert, both pretending to the throne and both declared Emperors). Again civil war divided the Empire, while on the frontiers the Bulgarians were making ready to invade its territory. Basil II could not have escaped ruin had the two pretenders acted loyally towards one another. Like professional thieves, they had agreed to march together upon Constantinople and there to divide the Empire. Phokas was to have the capital and the European provinces, Sclerus Asia Minor. But the following incident intervened. More discerning than his father, young Romanus Sclerus, divining Phokas’ bad faith, refused to agree to the proposed treaty, and going straight to Constantinople opened the Emperor’s eyes to the true state of affairs. And in truth he was right in his suspicions, for during an interview between the two pretenders on September 987, Phokas had Sclerus seized and deprived of his imperial dignity, after which he was sent under a strong guard into confinement at the castle of Tyropaeum in custody of Phokas’ wife.

Phokas, now left to be the only pretender, at once hastened to advance upon Constantinople, nearly all Asia Minor being in his favor. He arrived under the city walls probably in the early days of 988. Part of his army encamped at Chrysopolis, the other half going to besiege Abydos in order to seize at once upon the Straits, the fleet, and the convoys which secured the food-supply of Constantinople. Basil II faced ill-fortune with splendid energy. He had recourse to Russia, and signed a treaty at Kiev which brought him the help of 6000 Varangians. The famous druzhina arrived during the spring of 988, probably in April, and a few months later, in the summer, crossing over to the coast of Asia Minor under Basil II, it met the enemy’s forces in the terrible battle of Chrysopolis, where victory remained with Basil. Meanwhile, in the direction of Trebizond, a member of the princely Armenian family of Taron was causing disquiet to the eastern wing of Phokas’ army, and forced the pretender to dispatch his Iberian contingents to the defence of their homes, while he himself hurried to the help of his lieutenant, Leo Melissenus, at Abydos. It was around this town that the final act in the drama took place. Constantine, Basil’s brother, was the first to set out for Abydos. He was soon followed by Basil with the Russians, and in the spring of 989 the two armies met. The decisive action took place on 13 April. By some accident which has never been explained, Phokas suddenly hurled himself in person against Basil, and narrowly missing him fell dead without ever having been wounded. The battle was now won. The rebel troops dispersed, and were cut in pieces by the imperialists. Many prisoners were taken, and the leaders of the revolt, with the exception of Melissenus, were executed. Basil II had definitely triumphed over all rivals. Bardas Sclerus, it is true, was set at liberty by Phokas’ wife as soon as she learned the fate of her husband, but his release profited him little. The new rebellion, begun in the summer of 989, was quickly ended by a reconciliation between Basil II and Sclerus. The latter secured his pardon, and the title of Curopalates. All his adherents were also pardoned. The pacification was sealed by an interview between Basil II and Sclerus in October 989. Sclerus, however, did not long survive his fall. He died blind and in semi-captivity at Didymotichus on 6 March 991.

Ecclesiastical affairs

During the thirteen years from 976 to 989 contemporary records, which by the way are extremely meager, speak of little beyond the civil strife which dyed the Empire with blood. It is probable indeed that all other administrative concerns were thrust into the background by the ever fresh perils which menaced the Empire, for the few events that are mentioned during the period all have a close connection with the civil war. One of the most important was unquestionably the resignation of the Patriarch, Anthony of Studion, in 980. We do not know what caused his retirement from the Patriarchate, nor have we any explanation of the fact that his successor, Nicholas Chrysoberges, was not elected until 984. It seems, however, that the reason must be sought in the revolt of Sclerus. Numerous small coincidences, indeed, lead us to conjecture that Sclerus, who was brother-in-law of Tzimisces and was chosen by him on his death-bed to be his successor, was always the favorite candidate of the clergy, as Bardas Phokas was of the army. Now as we know that it was on the occasion of the first defeat of Sclerus in 980 that Anthony was obliged to abdicate, we may conjecture the cause of this event to have been the zeal displayed by the Patriarch and his clergy in the cause of the pretender. For the rest, Anthony died soon after his abdication in 980. But it was not until 984 that he was succeeded by Nicholas Chrysoberges, who governed until 996, and of whom we know nothing except that it was under his pontificate that the baptism of Vladimir and his Russian subjects took place.

Another bishop, Agapius of Aleppo, distinguished himself at this time by his share in the Sclerian revolt. On 28 May 986 Theodore of Colonea, Patriarch of Antioch, died at Tarsus, as he was journeying by sea to Constantinople. His city had fallen into the hands of Sclerus, and the government desired above all things to regain possession of so important a place. Agapius, Bishop of Aleppo, promised that if he were appointed Patriarch he would bring about the return of the town to its allegiance. He was consequently nominated and made his entry into Antioch on 23 November 977. Thanks to his connivance and that of the governor, Ubaid-Allah, a Saracen who had become Christian, the town did in fact come again into the Emperor’s possession. This state of affairs continued up to the time of the revolt of Bardas Phokas, who succeeded in seizing upon Antioch. It is probable that the Patriarch received the new pretender amicably, for after the victory of Abydos he sought to approach the Emperor with explanations of his conduct. At all events, in consequence of his machinations, he was exiled by order of Phokas in March 980, and, on the other hand, was unable to regain favor with the Emperor. Summoned to Constantinople at the end of 989 or the beginning of 990, he was imprisoned in a monastery, and in September 996, in exchange for a large pension, he signed his abdication. He died a little later, in September 997.

We have only one law belonging to this part of the reign of Basil. It is dated 4 April 988, and deals with religious matters, being the famous Novel which abrogated the anti-clerical legislation of Nicephorus Phokas. It is more than likely, as the preamble states, that Basil put forth this Novel, menaced as he was by imminent danger, with the idea that he was performing an act of piety, and thinking to assuage the Divine anger by restoring to the monks the right of acquiring and erecting new monasteries; but it also appears highly probable that the Novel had besides a political bearing. In publishing it at the moment when he was preparing to attack Bardas Phokas at Abydos, Basil judged it well to recall to the minds of the clergy what Nicephorus had been to them, and to convince them that the rightful Emperor had no intention of maintaining or imitating the religious policy of his earliest guardian. Finally, it is worth noting as a curious circumstance that it was just at the time when the Empire was convulsed by civil war and when misery was rife on every side, that the most vigorous renascence of the monastic life took place. It was from Mount Athos, whither they had retired, that John and Tornicius, hearing the news of the civil war, came forth to intervene in arms on behalf of the Emperor. Tornicius (or Tornig) and John fought valiantly at Pancalia in 979, and with the booty that he won Tornicius built the famous convent of Iviron, which Basil II by his golden bull of 980 considerably enriched. Already in 978 the Emperor had made royal gifts to the Laura of St Athanasius, and about 972 had authorized the founding of Vatopedi. Thus it is not surprising, after this, that apart from any other considerations he should have meditated the abrogation of laws which he had not scrupled to be the first to contravene.

The great transaction, half political and half religious, which marks this period of Basil II’s reign was unquestionably his treaty of alliance with Vladimir of Russia, and the baptism of the Russians to which it led. The negotiations arose over the visit to Constantinople of an embassy from the great Russian Prince of Kiev, sent to collect information touching the Orthodox religion. The Emperor at the moment was in the thick of the civil struggle, in want of both men and money. He used the opportunity to attempt to bring about with the Russians, heretofore his enemies, an understanding which should supply him with the help of which he stood in need. It was accordingly arranged that the Prince of Kiev should send six thousand Varangians to Constantinople, and in exchange should receive in marriage the princess Anne, Basil’s sister (born March 961), the bridegroom becoming a Christian. This was carried out. The Varangians arrived, and were instrumental in saving the Empire, but Basil showed less promptness in handing over his sister. It needed an attack upon the Crimea by the Russians in the summer of 989 to bring him to the point. It was about the end of that year, indeed, that Anne set out for Kiev and that Vladimir received baptism, thus bringing Russia permanently within the circle of the political and religious influence of Constantinople.



Rule of Basil II (989-1025).


In the reign of Basil II, the year 989 stands for the complete end of civil strife, and the unquestioned victory of the imperial authority as well as of the legitimist principle. For the future, his only task was to consolidate his power and to make head against the two great enemies of his empire, the Bulgarians and the Saracens. This implies that the reign of the ‘Bulgaroctonus’ was primarily a military one. Nevertheless, in the course of home affairs, there are several events of the first importance to be noted.

On the death of Nicholas Chrysoberges the court named as his successor Sisinnius. His consecration took place on 12 April 996. This Sisinnius was a layman of the high rank of magister. He was also a physician, and was besides deeply versed in letters and endowed with many virtues. Yet he did not seem to be marked out for so distinguished an office, and it is probable that the Emperor was actuated by political motives. However this may be, one thing seems certain, that during his very brief pontificate Sisinnius came to a more or less complete breach with Rome. The grounds of this fresh quarrel were doubtless quite unconnected with theology. They were, in fact, purely personal. The Pope, Gregory V, was a nominee of Otto III of Germany, while Basil’s candidate for the Papacy, a Greek named Philagathus, had been defeated in spite of having had the support of Crescentius the Patrician of Rome. In enmity to Gregory, Crescentius set up the Greek as anti-Pope, and in due course, at the beginning of 998, Gregory excommunicated his rival. Hence came the rupture. The pontificate of Sisinnius was, however, signalized by other measures. Reverting to the ever-irritating question of second marriages, he issued a regulation concerning unlawful unions between persons related in various degrees, and another which condemned even second marriages. This was at the same time a direct attack upon Rome, which had sanctioned the fourth marriage of Leo VI. Sisinnius had not time to go further. He died about the month of August 998. One encyclical letter of his has come down to us, addressed to the bishops of Asia Minor and treating of the Procession of the Holy Ghost.

His short pontificate ended, a successor to Sisinnius was sought, according to the traditional practice, in the ranks of the clergy. The Emperor’s choice, in fact, fell upon an aged monk of distinguished birth named Sergius, Igumen of the Manuel Monastery. Hardly anything is known of his pontificate or of the events which took place within it, but dissensions broke out between Constantinople and Rome about 1009, which were caused in all probability by the Emperor’s policy in Italy, and which ended in schism. We feel, indeed, that we are approaching the days of Michael Cerularius, for, monk as he was, Sergius certainly appears to have carried on the struggle initiated by Sisinnius. Several of our authorities, questionable it is true, tell us that the Patriarch assembled a synod in 1009 at Constantinople, and that he resumed the policy formerly inaugurated by Photius, procured the confirmation of his pronouncements against Latin innovations, and struck out the Pope’s name from the diptychs. In fact, at this time separation and schism were put on an official footing. Apart from this event, which does not appear to have had any immediate consequences, we find that Sergius very courageously attempted to induce the Emperor to abolish the tax which he had just reimposed, the allelengyon, but without success. Basil refused his consent. It was also during this pontificate that a certain number of liturgical and canonical books were translated from the Greek into Russian for the use of the recently-founded Church, and that the monastery of St Anne was founded on Mount Athos. Finally we have an ordinance of Sergius dated in May 1016 authorizing devout persons to give donations to churches and monasteries.

The successor of Sergius was a eunuch named Eustathius, almoner of the imperial chapel, elected on 12 April 1020. The appointment was dictated solely by political reasons. Relations between Rome and Constantinople were much strained, if not wholly broken off. In Italy things were not going prosperously for the Empire; German influence was preponderant there, and Benedict VIII had not hesitated to employ the Normans against the Byzantines. It will readily be understood that, in these circumstances, Basil’s whole idea would be to countermine papal influence at Constantinople. But a Western chronicler tells us that in 1024, immediately on the death of Benedict VIII, Eustathius asked for the title of Ecumenical Patriarch from John XIX, and in this way resumed spiritual relations with Rome. John XIX was about to concede the privilege, which would have been tantamount to granting autonomy to the Church of Constantinople, when the protests of Western Europe compelled him to draw back. Matters had reached this stage when Eustathius and Basil II died, within a few days of each other, in December 1025. The successor to the dead Patriarch was at once chosen. He was Alexius, Igumen of the Studion.

Legislation against the ‘powerful’ 

The reign of Basil II is notable for a certain number of laws of importance. Some are concerned merely with gifts made to the great monasteries; others have a more general significance. It was in January 996 that Basil issued his famous Novel against the continual encroachments of the great territorial proprietors. If this question had been, as we have seen, a constant preoccupation of the Emperors of the preceding century, it had become for Basil II a matter of life and death. For it was the great landholders who had raised the standard of revolt, and they it was who, with their money and their men, had maintained the cause of the rebel pretenders. It was of the utmost importance, then, for Basil to carry out the advice which had been given him (it is said, by Bardas Sclerus after his defeat), to break down this formidable power, and dry up the source that fed it, territorial wealth. This he did by means of the Novel of January 996, “condemning those who enriched themselves at the expense of the poor”. This provision in fact merely confirms and gives precision to that of Romanus Lecapenus, and extends its scope. Prescription, even for forty years, was now to avail nothing against the right of redemption; the power to reclaim property was declared inalienable by any lapse of time. Any estate acquired by its owner before the date of the Novel of Lecapenus was to remain in the hands of its actual proprietor, provided that he could furnish authentic documentary proof that his rights dated from a time anterior to the ordinance. The title to any estate illegally acquired since the publication of the Lecapenian Novels was declared null, and the peasants might at once reclaim their original property, which would be restored to them without the payment of any compensation. Estates unjustly come by, even if their possession had been sanctioned by a golden bull from the Emperor, were subject to the same provision, any such bulls being declared null.

Special provisions gave precision also to the Novel of 4 April 988 concerning ecclesiastical property, and finally very severe penalties were decreed against high officials who used their position to enrich themselves outrageously at the expense of the crown lands. The principle underlying all this formidable legislation was that any estate, whether noble, ecclesiastical, or burgher, should remain permanently what it was, and that thus commoners’ lands were never to pass to either of the other two classes.

This Draconian law was, in truth, only justice, for the ‘powerful’ had in the end agreed that they were rightful possessors of land taken from the poor only if by any means or methods whatsoever, they had debarred their victims for a period of forty years from lodging a complaint in due legal form. The injustice of the practice is clear, and so is the social danger to which it led. It was by such means that the fortunes of the great feudal houses had been founded, such as those of Phokas, Maleinus, Tzimisces, Sclerus, and of the parakoimomenos Basil; it was by such means too that the exchequer was depleted, for all these great nobles, like convents, were privileged with regard to taxation.

The new laws appear to have met with no great success. The penalties were irregularly applied, even if we take it that they were capable of being enforced. In 1002 the Emperor, having paid him a visit, did indeed disgrace Eustathius Maleinus, whom he carried prisoner to Constantinople, awaiting the opportunity of his death to confiscate his estates to the profit of the crown. But this was an isolated instance, which goes to show how difficult, slow, and inefficacious was the application of the Novel of 996. It was moreover in these circumstances that Basil II, in order to provide for the enormous cost of the war with Bulgaria, as well, probably, as to pursue his controversy with the great feudal lords, re-imposed the famous tax called the allelengyon, by which the rich and the poor were declared jointly and separately liable with respect to all obligations, whether financial or military, and the rich were required, in default of the poor, to discharge for them both their taxes and their service in the field. This mutual warranty was an old legacy from the Roman law as to the curiales, which had no other result than to ruin the mass of the great landholders and to stir up the bitterest of social hatreds. Thus Basil's work had no element of permanence. If for a time the Emperor found some profit in exacting the tax, his successors were before long forced to repeal it.

Secular relations with the West

If Constantinople was on far from amicable terms with Rome, and if Italian affairs were frequently the cause of disputes with the Saxon Emperors, yet from 983 onwards, the date at which Theophano took power into her own hands, the relations between the two imperial courts were excellent. Otto III had been educated by his mother in great reverence for Constantinople and according to Greek ideas, and, as soon as he was old enough, he hastened in May 996 to send an embassy to Basil II asking for the hand of one of his imperial cousins, no doubt Zoe or Theodora. We know nothing of the results of this first embassy, but apparently it was warmly received, for in 1001 a fresh mission left Italy, headed by Arnulf, Archbishop of Milan, charged on this occasion to bring back the promised princess. This second embassy was received by Basil II with honors such as in themselves show how cordial were the relations between the two courts. Unfortunately neither had laid its account with death. When the wedding cortege reached Bari, the news came that Otto III had died in January 1002, and all dreams, diplomatic and matrimonial, vanished like smoke. The Byzantine princess who had been about to assume the imperial crown of the West must needs return to Constantinople, and before long be a witness of the ruin of the Byzantine power in Italy, which her marriage would perhaps have hindered or at any rate delayed.

At Venice, in contrast to the Italian mainland, the Doge Peter Orseolo II (elected 991) made every effort to maintain a thoroughly good understanding with Basil. In 991 or 992 he sent ambassadors to Constantinople, who were very well received, and by a chrysobull of March 992 secured valuable commercial privileges. Later on, relations became even more intimate. In 998 the Doge’s son John spent some time at Constantinople, and some few years afterwards, in 1004, Basil gave him as his wife a young Greek of illustrious race, Maria Argyrus, sister of Romanus Argyrus, the future Emperor of Constantinople. Unfortunately both husband and wife died of the plague in 1007.

One of the most important of Basil's diplomatic achievements was the political and religious organization which he imposed upon Bulgaria after his final victory in 1018. We are to some extent acquainted with this work of his through three Novels addressed by the Emperor to John, Archbishop of Ochrida, which have been discovered in a golden bull of Michael Palaeologus dated 1272. By these Novels Basil set up an autonomous Church in Bulgaria, having as its sphere the ancient Bulgarian Patriarchate as it existed from 927-968, with the addition of a whole series of bishoprics taken from various metropolitan sees of Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly, Serbia, etc. It is probable that in this he was influenced by political motives, but on this point we have very little information.

Recurrence of revolt 

The reign of Basil II, full of importance from the domestic point of view, was even more so in a military sense. An Emperor who strove so energetically and successfully to enable Byzantium to triumph over her foreign enemies, after having bravely contended for his own rights against his personal foes, was naturally, during the greater part of his reign, often absent from Constantinople. While going forth on his military expeditions and while returning to his capital he had, what was very rare for an Emperor, an opportunity of visiting every part of his vast dominions, and his sojourn at Athens in 1018 has always been famous. His military triumphs, celebrated at Constantinople after his great victories, were also magnificent, as beseemed the reward which his warlike achievements had deservedly earned.

Yet before his death Basil, about 1022, was called upon once again to experience the anxieties of his younger days, through the revolt of two of his generals, Nicephorus Xiphias and Nicephorus Phokas, son of Bardas. The Emperor was at Trebizond, about to set forth on an expedition to Iberia, when he learned in rapid succession that in his rear the two generals had broken out into revolt, that a conspiracy had been formed to dethrone him, that the traitors had probably an understanding with one of his worst enemies, the King of the Abasgians, and that an army was gathering together against him in Cappadocia. The situation was likely to become even more threatening, for Phokas was proclaimed Emperor. But, as before, Basil profited by the rivalry which soon declared itself between the two rebels. Xiphias, jealous of Phokas, drew the crowned pretender into an ambush on 15 August 1022, and had him assassinated. It was now all over with the revolt, and also with the family of Phokas, which with this Nicephorus disappears from the pages of history. As to Xiphias, he was made prisoner, tonsured, and sent into exile on one of the Princes Islands, his property being confiscated. The Emperor, thus delivered, was able to continue his march to Iberia.

A reign so essentially military as Basil’s was unfavorable to letters and the arts, which indeed the Emperor always looked upon with indifference or contempt. Nevertheless, whatever the period to which the work of Simeon Metaphrastes should be assigned, hagiographical compilation was actively carried on, as we see from the famous Mepologium of Basil dedicated to that sovereign, a marvelous illuminated manuscript now preserved in the Vatican Library. Basil's name is also associated with another great work, this time an architectural one. In the night of the 25-26 October 989 Constantinople was visited by a fearful earthquake. The destruction was enormous. The cupola of St Sophia and the eastern apse gave way. It was necessary that they should be at once repaired, and also that the ramparts and the aqueduct of Valens which had been partially destroyed should be reconstructed. An Armenian architect, Tiridates, was entrusted with the work at St Sophia, fine mosaics being executed for the adornment of the western arch. The same was the case with the Baths of Blachernae, which Basil caused to be rebuilt and redecorated in sumptuous fashion. Commerce, especially, seems to have prospered during this reign, and the great silk manufactories seem to have been always at work. The industrial museum at Dusseldorf preserves a superb silk stuff, dating from the reign of Basil and the year 1000, into which are woven figures of lions facing one another.

From the time of Basil’s return from his campaign in Iberia nothing is recorded of him until his death. We only know that as the conqueror of Mussulmans, Russians, and Bulgarians he had extended his empire as far as the Caucasus, when at the age of sixty-eight he desired, in spite of the glories which already made his reign illustrious, to accomplish still more and to go in person to carry the war into Sicily. He was prevented only by death, which cut him off on 15 December 1025 after a reign of forty-nine years and eleven months. As he left no direct heirs, he named his brother Constantine to succeed him, and to take up the splendid inheritance which his own energy and valor had enabled him to leave behind. Never, indeed, had the Empire been stronger, wider, or more prosperous than in this year 1025, the high-water mark in the history of the Macedonian House and, in fact, of the Byzantine Empire. With Basil II’s death a period of miserable decadence was to set in.



Constantine VIII (1025-1028).


The new Emperor, to whom Basil in dying had committed the imperial crown, was already an old man, sixty-four or sixty-five years of age, having first seen the light in 960 or 961. Unlike his brother, he had spent his life almost wholly within the palace precincts, amidst all the refinements of luxury and lowest excesses of debauchery. As we have seen, he was crowned on 7 April 961, and associated in the Empire as the honorary colleague of Basil in 976. When he succeeded to the throne he had a wife, Helena, and three daughters, Eudocia, Zoe, and Theodora. The eldest daughter makes no figure in history. Disfigured from her early days by small-pox, she entered a convent and died before 1042. The other two were to have their names in all men's mouths and to represent the Macedonian dynasty up to 1056.

The Emperor Constantine VIII bore the worst possible reputation at Constantinople, and unfortunately with only too much reason. Psellus has left us an unflattering portrait of him, which, however, seems to be fairly accurate. Inheriting, as he did, the blood of Michael III and Alexander, during his reign of three years his one object seemed to be to empty the treasury, and, as Scylitzes says, “to do a vast amount of mischief in a very short time, to pursue his merely voluptuous way of life as the absolute slave of gluttony and lust, and to indulge without reflection in the amusements of the Hippodrome, the table, the chase, and games of hazard”. His first measures were taken solely with a view to getting rid of the whole of the late Emperor’s staff, and to dealing out offices and honors to the habitual companions of his debauches, men of base origin, several of whom were pagans and barbarians. The government was handed over to six eunuchs, and in order, no doubt, to found his authority on terror, the new Emperor disgraced a certain number of men of mark such as Constantine Burtzes and Nicephorus Comnenus, Bardas Phokas and the Metropolitan of Naupactus, all of whom he caused to be blinded. Then, notwithstanding the enormous sums left in the imperial treasury by Basil, Constantine VIII demanded with covetous insistence not only the strict and yearly exaction of the taxes in full, but also the arrears of two years, which Basil had not exacted. This was a grievous burden for the whole Empire and spelt ruin to many families. But such considerations were powerless to disturb the equanimity of Constantine VIII.

Except for these few incidents, the reign of three years was marked by no event of importance, unless it be the marriage of Zoe. However, the military and political conditions which Constantine, quite apart from any will of his own, inherited of necessity from his brother in Armenia, Iberia, and Italy, brought embassies to Constantinople of which an account has been preserved. In 1026 the Katholikos of Iberia came to appeal for the protection of the Emperor for his Church. At the beginning of 1028 came the embassy sent by Conrad II with the ostensible object of proposing a marriage of ridiculous disparity between his son, aged ten, and one of the two princesses born in the purple, but in reality to attempt to conclude an alliance between East and West which might have restored the ancient unity of the Roman Empire, as the Macedonian House had now no male heirs. Werner, Bishop of Strasbourg, and Count Manegold were received with great splendor at Constantinople, but the negotiations led to no practical result, and that for several reasons: in the first place, because they aimed at the impossible, and in the second, because on 28 October 1028 Werner died, as did a fort­night later the Emperor himself. Nevertheless, some good effect seems to have come of the mission, for from this time onwards the relations between Germans and Greeks were, temporarily at least, marked by a genuine cordiality.

We have a somewhat curious new departure dating from the reign of Constantine VIII and the year 1027, described by the Arab writer, Magrizi. It was actually agreed upon by treaty between the Emperor and the Fatimite Caliph Zahir that for the future the Egyptian ruler’s name should be mentioned in all the prayers offered in mosques situated in the imperial territory, and that the mosque in Constantinople should be restored and a muezzin established there. On his part, the Caliph agreed to the rebuilding of the church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem, which had been destroyed in 1009, and to the return to the orthodox faith of those Christians who through force or fear had become Mohammedans. There is besides in existence a Novel of Constantine VIII dated June 1026 anathematizing seditions.

When on 9 November 1028 Constantine fell dangerously ill, he bethought himself of settling the succession. He had near him only his two younger daughters, neither of whom was married. A solution of the question had to be found without delay. It was resolved that Zoe should be married on the spot, and the Emperor made choice of Constantine Dalassenus, but at the last moment palace jealousies caused him to be set aside, and the final choice fell on Romanus Argyrus. But he was married. By the order of the Emperor and by threats of the most horrible punishments, Romanus was brought to consent to a divorce, and his wife to retire from the world into a convent. There she died in 1032. Romanus was at once proclaimed Caesar and heir to the Empire. In spite of the existence of his real wife and the nearness of relationship between the two, the Patriarch made no objection to solemnizing this remarkable union, on account, it would seem, of the State interests involved, and in order to avert a political crisis. At all events, nobody seems to have raised any protest against the morals displayed, and Constantine tranquilly expired on 11 November 1028, aged seventy. (Constantine VII, grandfather of Constantine VIII, and Romanus Argyropulus, great-grandfather of Romanus Argyrus, had married sisters, Helen and Agatha, daughters of Romanus Lecapenus. It was probably for this reason that Romanus was chosen for Zoe’s husband and for future Emperor).



Zoe and Romanus III Argyrus (1028-1034).


Zoe, when in right of her birth she ascended the Byzantine throne, was forty-eight years old, having been born in 980. “Of a haughty temper and great personal beauty, with a brilliant mind” says Psellus, she had languished into old age in the women’s apartments of the palace, imperial policy having been neither able nor willing to find her a husband. Her marriage with Romanus Argyrus meant to her emancipation and liberty, and she was to make use of her position to recall into being, nay, to unite in her own person and display to the world, all that had brought shame upon her race, and to give herself up to the worst excesses. There is something in Zoe of Theodora, something of Romanus II, and again something of Constantine VIII. Her accession began the hopeless decline of her dynasty.

The husband whom accident had given her was in himself a worthy man. Up to the day of his unwelcome marriage, he had lived at Constantinople as a great noble, deeply attached to his affectionate wife, much given to works of piety, and to study as understood by a man of the world, that is to say, of a rather superficial description. He was a man of ability, but unfortunately not a little vain, and as Emperor during his six years’ reign he strove to govern well, and dreamed (a strange dream, considering the age which both he and Zoe had reached) of establishing an Argyrus dynasty at Constantinople. Unluckily his intelligence did not keep pace with his good intentions, and owing to his self-deception as to his own military qualifications and to his too eager appetite for glory, he ended by bringing the worst calamities upon Constantinople, and upon himself the most bitter disillusionment.

On his accession, the first measures taken were fortunate, and show the importance which Romanus always attached to being on good terms with the clergy. The first Novel which he issued on his accession increased the contribution made by the imperial exchequer to relieve the strain on the very limited resources of St Sophia. He then abolished the famous tax known as the allelengyon which Basil II had reimposed, and bestowed lavish alms on all who had been ruined by the late reign. Going further, he flung open the prison doors and set free those who were detained for debt, himself paying a great part of what was due to private creditors and remitting what was claimed by the State. He restored to liberty numberless victims of the late reign, replacing them in their old positions, and, when feasible, bestowing great offices on them.

These first steps, however, unfortunately led nowhere. Hardly had the edicts gone forth, when a series of calamities fell upon the Empire which changed not only the aspect which Romanus had given to his government but the very character of the sovereign himself. The account of the disasters experienced by the Emperor and his army in Syria must be omitted here. They did not come alone. Soon money began to fail, and Romanus was forced to concentrate all his energy upon the financial side of the administration, and from having been liberal and munificent, he became, except where the clergy and his buildings were concerned, severe, harsh, and even, it was said, avaricious, to a degree which brought him many enemies. He was compelled to raise the money needed by fresh taxes, and it happened further that under his government the Empire passed through a time of fearful crisis. In the winter of 1031-1032 there was an awful famine in Asia Minor accompanied by prodigious mortality; with the spring came the plague, then an army of locusts which made havoc of the crops, and then, as though all this had not been enough, on 13 August Constantinople was shaken by a terrific earthquake which destroyed numberless houses, hospitals, and aqueducts. Romanus III was forced to come to the relief of all the unfortunate sufferers with money. He did it on a generous scale, but the finances felt the effects grievously.

In spite of the emptiness of the treasury, of which, indeed, his propensities were partly the cause, Romanus III was a great builder. Like Justinian and Basil I, he desired to erect at Constantinople a new architectural marvel, a worthy rival of St Sophia and the New Church. This was the church of St Mary Peribleptos, and he added to it a large laura for men. He endowed both church and monastery richly, alienating lands of considerable extent and unusual fertility. But he went further. Not content with building the Peribleptos church, he adorned St Sophia with costly decorations in gold and silver, while at Jerusalem he began the rebuilding of the church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was not finished till 1048.

In 1030 or 1031, from purely political motives, Romanus III, having no children of his own, arranged marriages for two of his nieces. One of them, Helena, was married to Parakat IV, King of Iberia, and the other to John-Sempad, King of Greater Armenia. The former of these marriages gave occasion for a visit to Constantinople of Queen Mariam, Paraka’s mother, and for a treaty of alliance between the two sovereigns, a treaty, however, which proved of small importance, for Romanus at the first opportunity tore it up Helena, in fact, had died not long after her marriage.

The chroniclers preserve the remembrance of another embassy which also made its appearance in 1031. This was the Saracen mission, headed by the son of the Mirdasid Emir of Aleppo, Shibl-ad-daulah. He, also, came to request the renewal by treaty of peaceful relations. His proposal, which was accepted, was to go back to the convention signed after the victories of Nicephorus Phokas, in fact to the payment of a tribute. A treaty on much the same lines resulted, also at this date, from a visit paid by the Emir of Tripolis to Constantinople.

When Zoe ascended the throne, it necessarily happened that her younger sister Theodora was left somewhat neglected and forgotten in the women's apartments of the palace. This did not suit her at all, however devout she may have been, and, debarred from ruling, she betook herself to plotting. Even in 1031 a first conspiracy broke out against Romanus III, the moving spirit of which, Fruyin, or Prusianus, was no other than the eldest son of the last Bulgarian sovereign. He was accused, and apparently the charge was proved, of having had designs upon the throne of Constantinople and perhaps upon the hand of Theodora. In any case, it is fairly plain that the future Empress took a hand in the game. But the plot was discovered, and Prusianus was blinded. Theodora, on this first occasion, was not proceeded against, but her immunity did not last long, for soon afterwards another affair arose which led to more serious consequences. This was the conspiracy of Constantine Diogenes, Romanus III's own nephew. We know nothing of this plot except its results. Some of the highest personages in the State were so deeply implicated in it that they were subjected to the worst outrages, and then imprisoned for the remainder of their lives. Nor did Theodora herself go unpunished. She was sent to expiate her guilt at the convent of Petrion.




Zoe and Michael IV (1034-1041).


The Empress Zoe’s satisfaction was brief. In gaining her new husband by a crime she had at the same time found a master. Cunningly acted upon by John Orphanotrophos, who was already the real ruler of the Empire, she determined to have Michael proclaimed at once, and, within a few hours of her husband's death, to marry him publicly. The Patriarch was hastily summoned to the palace, where he learned at one and the same time the death of Romanus and the service expected of him. It was no light thing. It was in fact that he should proceed without parley to bless the union, on a Good Friday, of a woman stained with crime, fifty-four or fifty-five years of age, and widowed only a few hours, with a young man of no family, thirty years her junior. How came the Patriarch Alexius to lend himself to the accomplishment of anything so infamous? We cannot tell. Scylitzes only relates that he was won over by bribes to do the will of the Empress. At all events, no one at Constantinople made any protest against this exhibition of imperial morals. The city, it appears, was delighted to greet the new sovereign, and on the day of Romanus’ funeral there were no lamentations for the dead Emperor, who had not been popular with the inhabitants of Constantinople.

And yet, strange to relate, once seated upon the throne, this untrained man, with no claims to govern, and already tormented by the epileptic fits which a few years later were to carry him off in his turn, proved a good ruler, careful of the public interest, attentive to the defence of the Empire, and courageous when the situation in Bulgaria made demands upon his energy. The character given of him by one who knew him personally and intimately, Psellus, should be studied in order to gain an idea of what Michael was upon the throne. “Such was the conduct of the Emperor” he says, “that setting aside his crime against Romanus III, his treasonable adultery with Zoe, and the cruelty with which he sent several illustrious persons into exile on mere suspicion, and setting aside, further, his disreputable family, for whom after all he was not responsible, one cannot do otherwise than place him among the elect of sovereigns in all ages”. He wisely declined to make any hasty innovations, any sweeping changes in the imperial administration. If there was favoritism, if the Senate found itself invaded by the creatures of the new regime, this was the doing of Michael's brother. But there is more to be said. Michael proved to be extremely devout; hardly was he seated on the throne when he began to realize the crime he had committed, to regret it, and to do penance. He would now have no companions but monks, and no anxiety save to do good and to expiate his sins. His life was that of an ascetic, and the whole of the imperial treasure went to build convents, a home for the poor, the Ptochotropheion, and even a refuge for fallen women.

Meanwhile, what was Zoe doing? She had not taken long to realize how grossly she had deceived herself. Devoid of gratitude towards a woman whom he had never really loved, Michael broke off relations with the Empress and refused to see her. Under the influence of his brother and of his religious impressions, dreading too lest he should meet with the fate of Romanus, he kept her in retirement and had her carefully watched. All her attendants were changed, officials devoted to the Emperor were introduced into her service, and she was forbidden to go out unless with Michael's permission. Zoe bore with these fresh humiliations patiently until, weary of her servitude, she attempted to poison John. It was labor lost. She met with no success, only causing an increase in the rigor of her confinement. It was the just reward of her crime, and lasted up to the death of Michael IV.

On Michael’s accession, his whole family took up their abode in the palace and obtained high offices in the Empire. John Orphanotrophos, the eldest, became chief minister; Nicetas, Constantine, and George became respectively, commander at Antioch with the title of Duke, Domestic of the Oriental Scholae, and Protovestiary. This latter office, which fell to the youngest, was one of the great dignities of the court. The family were all thoroughly corrupt and as uninteresting as they were uncultivated. They were to prove the ruin of their nephew the next Emperor. The only exception was the famous John Orphanotrophos. Beneath his monk’s frock, which he always retained, he was fully as corrupt as his brothers. Though a confirmed drunkard, he had nevertheless remarkable talents for government. He was an able financier, unrivalled as an administrator, and an astute politician. He was, moreover, absolutely devoted to his family and to the Emperor, and, despite his serious faults, his falseness, cynicism, and coarseness, he was in truth, as Psellus somewhere calls him, the bulwark of his brother Michael. He it was who had found means to advance him in Zoe’s good graces, and he it was who later contrived to make the fortune of his nephew, Michael the Calaphates, from whom he was in the end to receive no reward but exile.

The powerful eunuch’s government was energetic, if not uniformly successful. His untiring activity embraced all the foreign affairs of the Empire, and Byzantine armies were again sent forth to strive for the supremacy and safety of the Empire in Asia Minor against Saracens, Iberians, and Armenians, as well as in Italy and Sicily (where the situation was further complicated by the arrival of the Normans), and also, towards the end of the reign, in Bulgaria. Certainly John could claim brilliant successes from time to time, especially in Sicily, where Syracuse was temporarily re-taken in 1038. Men of a different stamp, however, would have been needed to restore to Constantinople her former prestige, and, in a word, from the reign of Michael must be dated a widespread decline in the strength of the Empire.

As to home affairs, they seem to have been less creditably managed. John hoped to see a new Paphlagonian dynasty founded, and with this object, after having reduced to penury and thrust into prison those who, like Constantine Dalassenus, had fallen under his suspicion, he made it a point of conscience to enrich his own family beyond measure. The people were ground down by taxes. Money was wanted for the war; it was wanted for the absurd and ruinous charities of the Emperor, who, more and more broken down by illness, thought of nothing but distributing solidi aurei as a means of regaining health; it was wanted, above all, for the Emperor’s relations. Their rapacity was indeed the prime cause of the intense unpopularity which before long was to sweep away the whole tribe of these detested eunuchs. But John imagined himself safe from attack, and in order to establish his authority more firmly he made a momentary attempt, like Photius and Cerularius, to bring about the abdication of Alexius, and have himself nominated Patriarch in his place, thus getting the entire control of affairs, religious as well as political, into his own hands. The maneuver was only defeated by the energy of Alexius, and fear of the complications which might ensue.

While his brother and minister John Orphanotrophos was thus governing the Empire, Michael, more and more affected by his epileptic fits, and suffering besides from dropsy, paid scant attention to anything beyond his charitable and devotional employments. He usually spent his time at Salonica, at the tomb of St Demetrius, and from what Psellus tells us only military matters could rouse his interest during his lucid intervals. His state gave some anxiety to the chief minister. Every contingency must be prepared for, if Constantinople, as he hoped, was to be endowed with a new dynasty. Therefore, in the course of the year 1040, he decided on striking a decisive blow. As neither he nor his brothers, who were all eunuchs, could perpetuate their name, he contrived to persuade Michael IV to nominate as Caesar a very young nephew, son of their sister Mary. Further, what seems almost incredible, in spite of the rigorous treatment which both brothers had meted out to Zoe, John and Michael, to ensure the success of their designs, prevailed on the Empress to become a party to them, and suggested to her the idea, to which she cheerfully acceded, of adopting the young man. This was duly carried out. Magnificent fetes were given at Constantinople, in the course of which Michael V, surnamed the Calaphates, was proclaimed Caesar and adopted son of the imperial couple.

It was in these circumstances that at the end of the year 1040 news came of a rising in Bulgaria. By a supreme effort of will the Emperor put himself at the head of his troops and, without hesitation, marched into Bulgaria. A fierce struggle followed. For a moment the worst disasters seemed to threaten the Empire. Finally, however, Michael triumphed, and suppressed the revolt. But this burst of energy destroyed him. He was still able to be present at the triumph decreed him by his capital. His government even succeeded at this time in foiling a conspiracy, formed no doubt in consequence of the adoption of Michael V, one of the moving spirits in which was that very Michael Cerularius who was soon to become Patriarch. Then the end came. On 10 December 1041 he quitted the imperial palace without even taking leave of Zoe, and betook himself to the monastery of the Holy Argyri, which was his own foundation. There, laying aside his royal robes, he had himself clothed in a serge frock, and thus as a monk he died on the same day, having reigned seven years and eight months over the Empire.



Michael V (1041-1042). Fall of the Orphanotrophos


The project which John Orphanotrophos had formed in inducing Zoe to adopt his nephew Michael was not destined to succeed. Indeed it was to lead to the ruin of the whole egregious family. The young man, as it proved, had none of the strong points of his uncles, though he shared in all their defects. Son of a sister of the Paphlagonians, and of Stephen, a plain artisan employed in careening ships in the port of Constantinople, Michael, when fortune began to smile on his relations, had been appointed commander of the imperial guard, while his father, suddenly placed at the head of the fleet, set out to distinguish himself in Sicily by memorable and grievous defeats. It was from his functions in the palace that John took his nephew to have him proclaimed Caesar and adopted as heir to the throne. Unfortunately for both parties, Michael was an exceedingly worthless young man, vicious, cruel, hypocritical, and ungrateful, though not wanting in cleverness or shrewdness. An unfortunate tension soon made itself felt in the relations between uncles and nephew. Michael detested John, and despised his uncle the Emperor. John began to distrust the Caesar, and Michael IV to be estranged. The result of this was the rapid fall of the adopted son from favor, and his banishment beyond the walls of the city. There he remained until the death of Michael IV, and there he would no doubt have been left, had he not been necessary to the vast schemes of the Paphlagonians. In order to secure the continuance of the family the plan set on foot must be carried out, and it was thus that Zoe, alone and abandoned without defence to the faction of her brothers-in-law, was forced to allow Michael to be consecrated, crowned, and proclaimed Emperor of Constantinople.

At first everything seemed to go smoothly. Michael appeared as the humble servant of the Empress and the docile pupil of his uncle. Honors were distributed to the nobles, and alms to the people. But this was merely an attitude temporarily taken up. In reality, there were serious dissensions between the brothers and the nephew. For a long time Michael had been acting with his uncle Constantine against John, whom they both detested. Thus the first care of the young Emperor was to raise Constantine to the rank of nobilissimus, and his second to find an opportunity to get rid of the Orphanotrophos. He took advantage of a debate, at the end of which the old eunuch had retired in great dudgeon to his estates, to have him suddenly carried off and deported to the monastery of Monobatae at a great distance. This was Michael’s first victim; his second was to cost him his throne and his life.

Thus left master of the situation by the banishment of the Orphanotrophos, who naturally seems to have disappeared unregretted by anyone at Constantinople, Michael's one idea was to make use of the power that he had acquired. Psellus tells us that, as a base upstart, he bore a deadly hatred to the aristocracy and to all in whom he could trace any marks of distinction. No one, as the historian says, could live in peace or feel safe in the possession of his wealth and honors. It was only the lowest of the populace who were in favor and who seemed well-affected to the Emperor. Nevertheless, as Professor Bury has aptly pointed out, it was he who restored to liberty and to his offices and honors the great general, George Maniaces, who had been imprisoned during the late reign, as also Constantine Dalassenus, one of the greatest nobles of the time. He it was, too, who founded the fortunes of Constantine Lichudes, the future Patriarch and a statesman of distinction. But besides this, another Byzantine historian, Michael Attaliates, has left these words upon Michael V, which as it were fill in the sketch of Psellus. “He conferred honors and dignities upon a great number of good citizens, and also gave proof of great zeal for the maintenance of order and the rigorous administration of justice”.

In truth, the most serious blunder of Michael was his attack upon Zoe. From the first he consigned her to the gynaeceum, denying her even necessaries and subjecting her to close supervision. Then, imagining his position securely established at Constantinople and being urged on by his uncle Constantine, suddenly, on 18 April 1042, he had the old Empress torn from the palace, and having ordered a summary trial at which she was found guilty of poisoning, without further formalities he banished the lineal descendant of the Macedonian House to the convent of Prinkipo, first having her hair cut off. The Patriarch Alexius, at the same time, received orders to withdraw to a monastery.

In order to legalize his summary action, Michael V on 19 April caused to be read to the Senate and the assembled people a message in which he explained his conduct and accused the Empress and the Patriarch of having plotted against his life. He felt himself sure of the good effect of his message and of the general approbation. But in this he was grossly deceived.

As soon as the populace learned the exile of its sovereign, there burst forth almost instantly a perfect explosion of fury against the Emperor. The Prefect of the City narrowly escaped being lynched. Meanwhile, as the historian Ibn al-Athir relates, the Patriarch, thanks to money gifts judiciously administered to the soldiers sent to murder him, contrived to escape and to return in hot haste to Constantinople, where he caused all the bells in the city to be rung. This was probably about midday on Monday 19 April, for at that moment the revolution broke out with terrific violence round the palace. The army itself soon joined with the mob to liberate Zoe and kill the Calaphates. The prisons were broken open, and the whole flood of people rushed to set the imperial palace on fire and to pillage and destroy the houses of the Paphlagonian family. Michael and Constantine quickly realized the seriousness of the revolt, and felt that they had only one chance of escape, namely, to recall Zoe and endeavor to defend themselves meanwhile. But even this last shift failed. Zoe indeed arrived at the palace and showed herself to the people; but it was too late. The revolution, under the leadership of the aristocracy and the clergy, was thoroughly organized, was bent on having the Emperor's life, and dreaded the feeble Empress’ perpetual changes of purpose.

It was at this moment that the mob, under the skillful guidance of some of its leaders, suddenly bethought itself that there still existed in the person of Theodora, forgotten in her convent at Petrion, genuine princess, born in the purple, daughter of Constantine VIII and sister of Zoe. It was instantly resolved to go in search of her, and to have her crowned and associated in the government. During the evening of 19 April the Patriarch, who was probably the moving spirit in the whole affair, officiated at St Sophia, and there he received and at once proceeded to anoint this elderly woman, who probably hardly understood the transaction in which she appeared as a chief figure. Meanwhile the Emperor was declared to be deposed, and all his partisans were removed from their offices.

The Emperor felt at once that all was lost, and had only one wish left, to fly; but, urged on by his uncle the nobilissimus, he was obliged to agree to defend himself in his palace, which was still surrounded and besieged by the crowd. About three thousand men perished in the assault, which finally, after a siege of two days and two nights, was successful. The insurgents then made their way into the Sacred Palace, in the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, smashing and plundering right and left, but the man whom they sought was no longer there. He had fled with his uncle and taken refuge in the Studion, where he precipitately had himself tonsured and clothed with the monastic habit.

This radical solution of the question did not avail to save Michael V or Constantine. As soon as the mob learned the place of their retreat, it rushed thither, bent on dragging them from the altar of the church in which they had taken sanctuary and on putting them to death. Throughout Wednesday the revolutionaries thundered outside the monastery whither they had now hurried, but none dared violate the sacred precincts. It was now that Theodora, from this time onward acting as sovereign, ordered that both uncle and nephew should be removed and their eyes put out. Surrounded by a mob mad with excitement, the two Paphlagonians were brought to the Sigma, frightfully mutilated, and finally condemned to banishment. Michael withdrew to the monastery of Elcimon, the nobilissimus we know not where. The revolution was accomplished on 21 April 1042.

On the morrow of Michael’s disappearance, the two sisters confronted one another, each with her own partisans. Zoe was the elder, and might be supposed by many to be more capable of carrying on the imperial administration than Theodora, who had only just taken leave of her convent. She thus had claims to the chief share of power. Theodora, for her part, had the advantage in that she was the younger, and that not having, like her sister, been twice married already, she might without raising a scandal provide the Empire with a master capable of defending it effectively. In any case, she must be immediately admitted to a share in the government.

This was the solution finally decided on. The two sisters were reconciled—or made a show of it—and it was agreed that Zoe should take precedence of Theodora, but that the two should govern the Empire jointly. The government, in the hands of these two aged women, who were popular with their subjects, lasted for a few weeks and seems to have been fortunate. Except in the case of Michael V’s family and his declared partisans, who were deprived of their offices, no change was made in the administration or in the personnel of the higher imperial officials. The two sisters presided at the councils, which were managed by the leading ministers, and distributed pardons, favors, and money to great and small. Several wise edicts were issued against the traffic in judicial posts; vacant offices were filled up with a view to the best interests of the State. Maniaces, the famous general, was sent back to Italy to take up the supreme command of the Byzantine troops in the West.

In spite of these things, however, this strange government could not last. The sovereigns were too unlike each other in character, too disunited at heart, too old and too weak, to accomplish anything durable or fruitful. Furthermore, faction was busy all around them. It was absolutely necessary to have a man at the head of affairs, who would attend to the finances with an object other than of depleting them, as Zoe unceasingly did, and to the army, so as to keep at a distance foes ever on the watch to take advantage of Byzantine weakness.

It was owing to this need that marriage schemes at once began to be canvassed. As Theodora positively refused to take any husband whatsoever, the court fell back upon Zoe who, despite her sixty-two years, resolutely demanded a third partner. After several projects had ended in nothing, the choice of Zoe and the court fell upon Constantine Monomachus, who espoused his sovereign on 11 June 1042. On the morrow he was crowned Emperor of Constantinople.



Zoe, Theodora, and Constantine IX Monomachus (1042-1055).


Up to the moment of his accession the new Emperor had led a somewhat stormy life. The son of a certain Theodosius, Constantine was the last representative of one of the most illustrious Byzantine families. Having lost his first wife, he had married as his second the daughter of Pulcheria, the stately sister of Romanus Argyrus, and in this way had acquired an important social position. A great favorite at court, it is said that even as such he had made early advances to Zoe, not without success. Unfortunately the rise of the Paphlagonians had blighted his hopes of a great future, and John Orphanotrophos had banished him to Mitylene. It was there that news was brought him that Zoe had made choice of him for her husband, and he returned in triumph to Constantinople for the celebration of the marriage which was to seat him upon the throne.

Constantine was thus by no means an upstart; he was, moreover, a man of keen intelligence, cultivated, fond of luxury and elegance, but unfortunately not a little given to debauchery. It has been said that after a government of women came a government of loose livers and men of pleasure, but it was, nevertheless, a government fairly fortunate for Constantinople. At all events, it was more representative than the Paphlagonian regime, and was even, in its happier hours, as skillful as it was enterprising.

Constantine had been accustomed to lead a dissolute life, and his first thought was to enjoy his new position of power to the full. Among his mistresses were two who have left a name behind them, Sclerena, and an Alan princess whom we shall meet again later. Sclerena was a niece of Pulcheria and a grand-daughter of Bardas Sclerus. Being left a widow, she lost no time in attaching herself to Constantine, and so strong had been the feeling between them that Sclerena had followed her lover to his exile at Lesbos. Then when he reached supreme power Constantine could not rest until he had recalled her to his side. Soon, under the benevolent patronage of Zoe, Sclerena appeared as maitresse en titre, had her own apartments at the palace, and received the title of Sebaste or Augusta. Stranger still, she contrived to live on excellent terms with Theodora, who also dwelt at the palace, and divided her time between her devotions and attention to her fortune, accumulating money to her heart's content. The system amounted to something like a government by four, and it narrowly escaped causing the Empire a fresh dynastic crisis. For though the four heads of the government regarded each other's amusements with much complaisance and joined in princely depredations on the exchequer, the public quite rightly considered that the scandal had gone far enough, and was not quite easy as to the safety of the two aged sovereigns. This opinion was conveyed to Constantine by the popular support given to a revolt of 9 March 1044, during which it would have gone hard with him but for the intervention of Zoe and Theodora. Strong measures were taken, the foreigners, “Jews, Mussulmans, and Armenians”, being driven from Constantinople, but, in spite of this rigorous repression, the revolt would doubtless have burst forth anew and for the same reasons, had not Sclerena very opportunely died, no doubt soon after the rising of 1044.

If at the palace nothing was thought of but amusement, it must be allowed that, in contrast with what had been the case at other periods, Constantine and his female colleagues had been careful to surround themselves with distinguished men, capable of managing public affairs efficiently. From the beginning of his reign the new Emperor had had recourse to the wisdom of the famous Michael Cerularius, and when in 1043 Cerularius became Patriarch, his former office was given to a man of great talent, Constantine Lichudes. Besides these valuable ministers, men of solid culture and integrity, there were employed a whole crowd of clerks, notaries, and minor officials, such as Psellus, Xiphilin, and others, who certainly were not chosen at haphazard.

Revolt of Maniaces

As always happened on the accession of a new Emperor, the court, in order to gain the support of all classes, made lavish distributions of honors to the great and of money to the populace, turned out certain office-holders, and made certain political changes. Constantine IX, we know not why, sent John Orphanotrophos to Mitylene where he put him later to a violent death; Michael V he sent to Chios, and Constantine the nobilissimus to Samos. On the other hand, he raised Romanus Sclerus, Sclerena’s brother, to the highest dignities. This was the beginning of a very serious revolt, which was not without influence upon Sclerena’s unpopularity.

Romanus Sclerus had within the Empire a formidable and powerful foe in the person of that Maniaces whom the ephemeral authority of Michael V had sent back to Italy. In his new position of favorite, Romanus desired above all things to make use of his influence to avenge himself. He prevailed upon Constantine to recall his enemy, and in the meantime ravaged Maniaces' estates and offered violence to his wife. Maniaces was not of a temper to submit to such usage. Supported by his troops he raised the standard of revolt against the Emperor, and caused his own successor, sent out by the Emperor, to be assassinated. He then began his campaign by marching upon Constantinople, there to have himself proclaimed Emperor. But he met with a check at Otranto, and in February 1043 he embarked, landing soon afterwards at Dyrrachium, whence he advanced upon Salonica in the hope of drawing after him Bogislav’s Serbs, who had recently defeated some Byzantine troops in 1042 near Lake Scutari. But, unfortunately for him, his successes soon came to an end. At Ostrovo he encountered the army sent against him by Constantine. He was defeated and killed. The Empire was saved.

Revolt of Tornicius

At about the same time the chroniclers Scylitzes and Zonaras speak of another revolt, hatched this time in Cyprus by Theophilus Eroticus, which, however, does not appear to have involved the government in serious danger. Such did not prove to be the case with a rising which broke out in September 1047, and for three months threatened to deprive Constantine of the throne. Its leader was Leo Tornicius. Constantine IX in his heart cared little for the defence of the Empire, and consequently neglected the army; the depredations on the treasury went on apace; there were pressing dangers on the eastern and western frontiers; and, because of all this, malcontents were numerous. The rising broke out at Hadrianople, among military commanders who had been displaced or passed over, and Tornicius put himself at its head. This man was of Armenian origin and traced his descent from the Bagratid kings. Besides all the wrongs which he shared with the other generals, he had special grievances of his own: in the first place, Constantine’s policy in Armenia; then, probably, a love-affair which the Emperor had broken off. Tornicius, who was a cousin of the Emperor, was on very intimate terms with a sister of his, named Euprepia. Now between Constantine and Euprepia relations were somewhat strained, and it was to punish his sister as well as his cousin, for whom, be it said, he had no liking, that he sent him to the provinces in honorable exile as strategus, and later compelled him to become a monk. It was this which led Tornicius to resolve upon rebellion, and to take the leadership of a movement which had long existed in the army. On 15 June the whole body of conspirators met at Hadrianople, and soon afterwards Leo was proclaimed Emperor. Thereupon the insurgents set out for Constantinople with the army corps from Macedonia. In these circumstances, Constantine showed remarkable energy. In spite of the illness by which he was just then tormented, he set to work to arm the troops in Constantinople, who barely numbered a thousand, and gave orders to summon the imperial army by forced marches from the depths of Armenia. If Tornicius, who had reached the walls of Constantinople, had made the smallest exertion, he would have had the Empire in his grasp, but hoping to be acclaimed by the people and unwilling to shed blood, he remained inactive beneath the ramparts of the town. Meanwhile, Constantine on the other hand was acting. He scattered money among the enemy's troops, won over officers and men, and could then await the army from the East and the Bulgarian contingents which he had demanded. Matters were at this point when, in the beginning of October, Tornicius left Constantinople to take up a position on the road from Hadrianople to Arcadiopolis, and to engage in a fruitless siege of the little town of Rhaedestus. After this he relapsed into inactivity. It was then, in the month of December, that the army from Armenia reached Constantinople. Constantine, feeling himself sure of ultimate victory over a foe so strangely passive, was reluctant to shed blood. The hostile army was gradually overcome by bribes, hunger, and promises, and Tornicius soon found himself, with his lieutenant Vatatzes, practically deserted. Both were made prisoners, their eyes were put out on 24 December 1047, and a little later they suffered death.



Annexation of Armenia : Michael Cerularius


While within the borders of his empire Constantine's government was disturbed by the revolts of Maniaces and Tornicius, outside it the enemies of Byzantium were also on the alert. In 1043 it became necessary to take arms against the Russians, who were defeated. As a result of this campaign and in order to seal the peace which followed, a Greek princess was married to Yaroslav’s son, Vsevolod. Next year, in 1044, there broke out the war with Armenia which ended in the complete and lamentable overthrow of that ancient kingdom, and the appearance on the frontiers of the Empire of the Seljuq Turks. Ani was betrayed to the Greeks, and the last King of Armenia, Gagik II, went forth to live in gilded exile at Bizou. The Katholikos Petros, who had engineered the surrender of Ani, was also deported, first to Constantinople and later to Sebastea, where he died some years afterwards. To the misfortune of both, Armenia was made into a Byzantine province, so that the Empire, without a buffer-state, from this time onwards had to encounter single-handed the race who, in the end, were one day to conquer it. To complete the picture, it will be shown elsewhere that Asia Minor was not the only ground on which the Byzantine troops were to measure their strength during the reign of Monomachus. With varying success, their generals were obliged to confront Arabs, Patzinaks, Lombards, and Normans. Every frontier was threatened, South Italy was lost, and as a final calamity Michael Cerularius was about to make a complete and definitive breach with the Roman Church, which alone might perhaps have been able to save the ancient Greek Empire.

On the death of the Patriarch Alexius on 22 February 1043, Constantine’s government raised to the Patriarchal throne, with circumstances of considerable irregularity, the first minister of the Empire, the man who was to be famous as Michael Cerularius. His consecration took place on 25 March. Cerularius’ ordination was merely an incident in his career. In 1040, as a result of the conspiracy which he had organized against the Emperor Michael with a view to taking his place, he had been condemned to deportation and had been forced to assume the monastic habit. Still, if Michael found himself on the patriarchal throne merely through a chapter of accidents, he brought to it, not indeed any striking virtues, but a fine intellect, wide culture, and iron will. And, moreover, in all that he did he had a definite aim. Now that he had reached the highest ecclesiastical position in the Empire and was second only to the Basileus, he attempted to set up on the shores of the Bosphorus a Pontificate analogous to that of the Pope at Rome, so that he would have been in fact Emperor and Patriarch at the same time. This was, indeed, the real cause of the Schism and of his conduct towards Constantine IX. It was at the very close of the reign of Constantine Monomachus, when the Emperor was-well known to be ill and near his end, that Cerularius threw down the brand of discord.

Throughout the pontificate of Alexius relations with Rome had been excellent, and there were no signs whatever of a conflict when in 1053 it suddenly burst forth. Cerularius had chosen his opportunity with skill. The Emperor had grown old and seemed to have no energy left; the Pope, Leo IX, was unfortunately placed in Italy under the yoke of the Normans. That Leo, in spite of his misfortunes, should have attempted to extend his authority over the Greek sees in southern Italy is possible, and indeed probable enough, for the authority of Constantinople had sunk extremely low in the West. Nevertheless, the provocation came from Cerularius. Through the medium of Leo, Archbishop of Ochrida, Cerularius wrote to John of Trani a letter, which was really intended for the Pope and the West generally. In this letter he attacked the customs of the Latin Church, particularly the use of unleavened bread and the observance of Saturday as a fast. At the same time a violent composition by the monk Nicetas Stethatus was circulated in the Byzantine Church, in which these two charges were taken up afresh, and an attack was also made on the celibacy of the clergy. These usages were declared to be heretical. Questions of dogma were not touched upon. Finally Cerularius of his own authority closed all those churches in Constantinople which observed the Latin ritual.

Leo IX replied at once; without discussing the trivial charges of the Patriarch, he removed the controversy to its true ground, namely, the Roman claim to primacy of jurisdiction, and demanded, before entering on any discussion, the submission of the Patriarch. The latter at first yielded, and wrote to the Pope a letter respectful in tone and favorable to union. It is certain, however, that he was compelled to take this step by the Emperor, who was himself urged on by the Greeks living in Italy, among others by the Catapan Argyrus. Leo IX wrote in January 1054 to Constantine, entrusting his letter to three legates who arrived in April, bearing also a letter to Cerularius very sharp and harsh in tone and deeply irritating to the Patriarch, as was also the attitude assumed towards him by the three legates. On the other hand, Constantine was won over to the Roman cause by the very affectionate epistle addressed to him by Leo IX, and immediately proceeded to carry out the Pope's wishes. Unfortunately at this juncture Leo IX died, on 19 April, and his successor was not chosen until April 1055. The legates no longer had sufficient authority to enable them to act, and Cerularius, taking advantage of his position, began to write and intrigue, with a view to winning over Eastern Christendom to his cause, beginning with Peter, Patriarch of Antioch. The legates, for their part, in spite of their diminished authority, solemnly excommunicated Cerularius and his supporters. The step turned out a mistake on the Latin side. The Patriarch was only waiting for this opportunity to show himself in his true colors. He demanded, indeed, an interview with the legates, who had already quitted Constantinople on 17 July 1054, but were recalled by the Emperor's orders. Suddenly, however, suspicions of Cerularius arose. The Emperor, fearing an ambush, again sent off the legates, for it was rumored that the Patriarch intended to stir up the people to assassinate them. It was upon the Emperor that the brunt of Cerularius' anger fell. At his instigation a rising was let loose in Constantinople, and Constantine was forced to abase himself before the victorious Patriarch. With the Emperor's sanction, he at once held a synod in St Sophia on 20 July, the Roman bull was condemned, an anathema was pronounced, and a few days later the bull was burned. The separation was an accomplished fact. Its unhappy consequences were to make themselves soon and lastingly felt.

From the point of view of civilization, the reign of Constantine Monomachus must be considered one of the most fortunate, for a true literary renaissance flourished at Constantinople under the auspices of the Emperor. Though not himself learned, Constantine was a man of taste, and liked to surround himself with cultivated people. His court was the resort of the most intellectual men of the day, and it was owing to their entreaties that he decided to re-open the University of Constantinople. The most distinguished scholars at that time were John Xiphilin, Constantine Lichudes, Cerularius, John Mauropus, Psellus, and Nicetas Byzantius. They were all bound together by friendship, all loved and pursued letters and jurisprudence, and some, like Xiphilin, Lichudes, and Cerularius, were destined to reach the highest positions in Church and State. The first foundation of Constantine goes back to 1045. With the help of his friends, he began the restoration of the science of jurisprudence, founding a School of Law. Then he decided that in the new University all branches of learning should be taught. Psellus was entrusted with the teaching of philosophy, Nicetas Byzantius and Mauropus with that of grammar, rhetoric, and orthography. Thus was formed the School of St Peter, so called from the place where the new ‘masters’ lectured. Law was lodged at St George of Mangana, the faculty took the name of the School of the Laws, and Xiphilin became its head. A library was added to the school. It was there that the historian Michael Attaliates taught. In these schools of higher learning law was taught in the first place, but the other branches of humane learning were not neglected. Plato, Homer, the ancient historians, and theology found their commentators. Psellus was undoubtedly the most conspicuous of the professors, the most applauded and discussed. Unfortunately these savants were not endowed only with learning and virtues. They had also defects, of which vanity and arrogance were not perhaps the worst. Before long, quarrels broke out between them and the courtiers, then disputes arose among the learned themselves, then difficulties grew up even with the Emperor to such an extent that by about 1050 the enterprise was ruined. Constantine IX was forced to close his University, and to disgrace Lichudes and Mauropus. Xiphilin became a monk, and Psellus joined him at Olympus, only, however, to return before long on the death of Monomachus.

From the artistic standpoint, the reign of Constantine Monomachus is memorable for that stately building, St George of Mangana, which made heavy demands upon the treasury. The Emperor also beautified St Sophia, and enriched it with precious objects intended to serve for divine worship. We also know that he built several hospitals and refuges for the poor.



Deaths of Zoe and Constantine IX


Life in the women’s apartments of the palace remained throughout the reign what it had been at the beginning, that is to say very far from edifying. Zoe, as she grew old, devoted herself to distilling perfumes, and flinging away public money on innumerable absurd caprices. Theodora, a good deal neglected, spent her time in devotion, and in counting her fortune which she hoarded up with care. Constantine fell under the dominion of a dwarf, at whose hands he narrowly escaped assassination, and was then subjugated by a young Alan princess, whom he loaded with presents and looked forward to marrying at some future time. Meanwhile Zoe died in 1050, and Constantine it appears greatly lamented the aged Empress. By rights Theodora should now have regained power. But she never thought of doing so, and the only concession which Constantine made to her feelings was to refrain from marrying the Alan princess. “The aged sovereign” says Psellus, “would never have endured to be at once Empress and first subject of an upstart”. He contented himself, as in Sclerena’s case, with bestowing on his mistress the title of Augusta, indulging in countless acts of insensate prodigality for her and her family, and putting himself thus in the most ridiculous position to the delight of his enemies and the grief of Psellus.

In the early days of 1055 the Emperor, whose health was failing more and more and who had besides broken with his sister-in-law and caused her to quit the palace, retired to his favorite monastery, St George of Mangana. Feeling himself dying, he summoned a council to his side to choose his successor, regardless of Theodora. The choice fell on an obscure man named Nicephorus, at that time in Bulgaria. But there still existed in the capital a party which had remained loyal to the princess born in the purple. It was this party which, without waiting for the arrival of Nicephorus or the death of the Emperor, proclaimed Theodora afresh as the sole Empress of Constantinople, and sent orders to have the pretender arrested at Salonica. He was then deported to the interior of Asia Minor.

Constantine IX died on 11 January 1055, and was solemnly buried besides Sclerena in the monastery of Mangana. Once again Theodora, now aged seventy-five, was momentarily to resume the government of the Empire.

With this aged virgin the glorious history of the Macedonian House comes to an end. Founded in blood in the ninth century, it dies out in the eleventh in barrenness, weakness, and shame, the wretched but just reward of a long series of moral iniquities. We know not with what feelings the Byzantines watched its extinction, nor what presentiments visited them as to the future of the State. One fact alone is known to us, that Theodora supported and favored Cerularius and his faction, and that it was owing to this party of intriguers that she again took up the government. It is probable that the Patriarch had views of his own, and was awaiting the propitious moment when he might quietly pass from the patriarchal palace to the imperial. But, in the first place, Theodora’s reign proved a very brief one. It did not last eighteen months. And, besides, strange to relate, when Cerularius put himself forward to “give the law” he found that Theodora stood her ground, resisted, and in the end disgraced the Patriarch. With him were dismissed several of the great generals, among them Bryennius and Comnenus, and the reign of the eunuchs began. If this was a misfortune for the Empire, it proved at least that the Empress had a will of her own and meant to be obeyed.

As might have been expected, the court immediately began to urge projects of marriage on Theodora, but the Empress was no more disposed at the close of her life than in earlier days to accept an expedient which had turned out so ill in the case of her sister Zoe. Without any support or counsel but such as she could obtain from her eunuchs, she took up the task of governing, and of holding in check the whole military party whose two chief leaders had been disgraced. At the head of affairs she set an ecclesiastic, Leo Paraspondylus, the protosyncellus, a man of great merit, upright, honest, and intelligent, but abrupt and dictatorial to a degree, which accounts for the unpopularity he soon incurred. In addition to this, the Empress’ parsimony and the intrigues of Cerularius helped to cool the attachment which the Byzantines had shown for their sovereign. A seditious outbreak was plainly imminent when Theodora died, rather unexpectedly, on 31 August 1056.

As soon as the first symptoms of her malady appeared, there was great agitation among the palace eunuchs. The party in power was by no means ready to throw up the game. Leo Paraspondylus therefore hastily summoned a council to meet around the dying Theodora's bed and provide for the succession. They made choice of an old patrician, who had spent his life in camps, Michael Stratioticus, who seemed to have the qualities requisite for letting himself be governed and at the same time commanding the support of the army. Cerularius was at once consulted, and after some hesitation, before the closing eyes of the sovereign and authorized by a faint sign of consent from her, he crowned and proclaimed Stratioticus Emperor.

Michael VI, the poor old man who was now to affix his trembling signature to the last page of the history of the Macedonian family, belonged to the aristocracy of Constantinople and was descended from that Joseph Bringas who had been chief minister under Romanus II. To the clique who hoped to govern in his name he was a mere figure­head. His age, his want of capacity, the weakness of his position, unsupported by any party in the State, were for the eunuchs and especially for Leo Paraspondylus so many pledges that they would be confirmed in all their authority. By way of precaution, however, the court, on raising him to the throne, exacted from him an oath that he would never act contrary to the wishes of his ministers. It is plain that they were counting without the strength of the great feudal families, every one of which aspired to sovereign power, and also without the popular outbreaks which they expected to crush without difficulty. In reality the eunuchs were grossly deceived in their calculations.

On the very morrow, indeed, of Michael's proclamation Theodosius, the president of the Senate, attempted to organize an outbreak. He was a cousin of Constantine IX, and in this capacity fancied that he had rights to the succession. But he had no supporters either in the army or the palace or among the clergy. At the head of a troop of dependents, the most he could do was to break open the prisons and to appear in front of the palace and St Sophia. The doors were shut against him; no difficulty was found in arresting him and he was sent into exile at Pergamus. Michael VI and his court fancied that their troubles had ended with this slight attempt at a revolt; they were already distributing profuse gifts to the Senate and the people and planning some few changes in the official staff, when, in rapid succession, the Emperor quarreled with some of the most popular commanders in the army, with Catacalon Cecaumenus whom he dismissed, with the ‘FrancopolHerve whom he ill-treated, with Nicephorus Bryennius to whom he refused the restoration of his estates formerly confiscated by Theodora, and, above all, with Isaac Comnenus. On Easter Day 1057 he denied to all of them the favors which they came to ask, and by the advice of his minister launched out into a flood of invective against each of them. It was the divorce of the court from the army which he so unthinkingly pronounced. There was only one sequel to so sinister a beginning, and that was revolt.

The conspirators immediately gathered at St Sophia, and in concert with the Patriarch deliberated how they might best get rid of the Emperor and his eunuchs. Without further delay they hailed Isaac Comnenus as the future Emperor, afterwards returning to their estates in Asia Minor to prepare for war. It was on 8 June 1057 in the plain of Gunaria in Paphlagonia that Isaac was proclaimed Emperor. Immediately afterwards the rebel army began its march upon Constantinople and reached Nicaea. Everywhere the pretender was recognized, the Asiatic themes submitting to his authority. Michael VI for his part, as soon as he learned what had taken place, attempted to organize the defence. Unfortunately he had no commanders of any capacity on his side, though on the other hand his army was more numerous than that of his opponents. The imperial troops set forth, led by a certain Theodore, and made their way towards Nicaea. At Petroe they halted, not far from the camp of Comnenus, and here it was that the battle took place on 20 August. It was waged with fury, and degenerated into a massacre. Though at first defeated, in the end Isaac Comnenus was the victor, thanks to Catacalon, who came up in time to reinforce the wavering center and left wing of the rebels.

Even after the battle of Petroe, the unfortunate Michael still hoped to save his crown by winning over the Senate and the populace of Constantinople. Unluckily for himself, the poor Emperor had now contrived to fall out with Michael Cerularius, who for his part was busy plotting against him. Though feeling at heart that all was lost, Michael VI nevertheless tried to negotiate with Comnenus. Through Psellus and two other senators, he offered Isaac the title of Caesar, engaging also to adopt him and name him his successor, as well as to pardon all the rebels. This was on 24 August. The revolted troops were already at Nicomedia, and the embassy sent in Michael's name had been secretly won over to the cause of Comnenus. After an exchange of views had taken place, and some counter-proposals had been made on behalf of Isaac, the envoys returned to Constantinople. There, while ostensibly rendering an account of their mission to the Emperor, in reality during the whole of 29 August they were, with Cerularius, organizing the revolt and weaving the conspiracy which ended in the abdication of Michael VI.

As soon as all was completed, Michael VI’s embassy, consisting of the same men as before, set out again for Comnenus’ camp, and on the same day, 30 August, the revolt broke out at Constantinople. The struggle was not a bloody one, but was marked by the personal intervention of the Patriarch, who suddenly at St Sophia openly ranged himself on the side of the rebels, sanctioned the proclamation of Comnenus as Emperor, and took the direction of the revolutionary movement into his own hands. His first care was to send a number of bishops to the palace with instructions to tonsure the Emperor at once, to clothe him with the monastic habit, and to send him to a convent in Constantinople, where soon afterwards he died. On 31 August 1057 amid indescribable enthusiasm Comnenus made his triumphal entry into the Sacred Palace. The next day, or the day after, he was crowned by the Patriarch. Thus was the dynasty of the Comneni solemnly inaugurated. That of the Macedonians had become extinct.