Constantine Doukas (usurper)

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Constantine Doukas
Died June 913
Allegiance Byzantine Empire
Rank Domestic of the Schools
Relations Andronikos Doukas (father)

Constantine Doukas (or Doux) (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Δούκας/Δούξ) (died 913) was a prominent Byzantine general. In 904, he stopped the influential eunuch court official Samonas from defecting to the Arabs. In return, Samonas manipulated his father, Andronikos Doukas, into rebelling and fleeing to the Abbasid court in 906/907. Constantine followed his father, but soon escaped and returned to Byzantium, where he was restored by Leo VI the Wise (r. 886–912) to favour and entrusted with high military offices. Upon the death of the Emperor Alexander (r. 912–913), Constantine with the support of several aristocrats unsuccessfully tried to usurp the throne from the young Constantine VII (r. 913–959), but was killed in a clash with supporters of the legitimate emperor.


Early life and career[edit]

Constantine Doukas escapes from Arab captivity, throwing gold coins behind him to delay his pursuers. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes chronicle

He was the son of Andronikos Doukas, a prominent general under Emperor Leo VI the Wise and the first prominent member of the Doukas family.[1][2] Constantine first appears in 904, during the attempted flight of the Arab-born eunuch Samonas, one of the emperor's most trusted aides, to his native lands. Constantine captured Samonas at the holy shrine of Siricha and escorted him back to Constantinople, where an enquiry into the matter was held before the Senate. Leo, who was still attached to his servant, enjoined Constantine to maintain that Samonas had in fact been making for the shrine where he was captured, and not the Arab frontier. When the senators however asked Constantine to verify the truth of this claim by swearing on "God and the emperor's head", he refused to do so. Samonas was punished by house arrest, and although he was soon pardoned by Leo, he had conceived a deep enmity towards the Doukai.[2][3]

Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes, showing Leo admonishing Constantine not to attempt to usurp the throne

This grudge came to the fore in 906, when Samonas tricked Andronikos into refusing to participate in an imperial expedition. Afraid that he would be punished for his disobedience, Andronikos with his family and retainers fled to the fortress of Kabala, near Iconium, and thence across the border into exile in the Abbasid Caliphate. Constantine and his father ended up in Baghdad, where Andronikos, again through the machinations of Samonas, was confined to house arrest and forced to convert to Islam. He died there in ca. 910.[4][5] Constantine however managed to escape in ca. 908, journeyed through Armenia and was warmly welcomed back by Leo in a ceremony in the throne room of the Chrysotriklinos. Despite his father's revolt, the Doukai remained very popular due to their military successes, and prophecies apparently circulated that predicted Constantine's rise to the throne. Leo warned the young man from trying to become emperor, but quickly entrusted him with senior military positions: in ca. 909 Constantine was strategos of the Charsianon theme and he had risen to Domestic of the Schools by 913. From both positions he fought victoriously against the Arabs.[4][6][7]

Attempted usurpation[edit]

The coronation of the young Constantine VII. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes chronicle

Leo VI died in May 912 and was succeeded by his brother Alexander, who reigned for little over a year before dying in June 913. Leo's empress, Zoe Karbonopsina, and his son and titular co-emperor, Constantine VII, were sidelined during the reign of Alexander, who also restored Zoe's old adversary, Nicholas Mystikos, as Patriarch of Constantinople.[8][9] Thus, at the death of Alexander, with Constantine VII not even eight years old, a power struggle ensued between Zoe and Patriarch Nicholas, who headed the regency council. It was at this point that Constantine Doukas launched a rebellion aiming for the throne. The chroniclers insinuate that Patriarch Nicholas was also involved. Unaware that he would be appointed regent (Alexander named him to the regency council on his deathbed), fearful of losing his pre-eminent position and anxious about the threat posed by the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon, the Patriarch apparently summoned Doukas to assume the throne.[4][10][11]

Doukas, enjoying wide support among both the aristocrats and the populace, accepted the Patriarch's summons and headed to Constantinople with a few trusted friends. He entered the capital in secret through a postern during the night, and hid in the house of his father-in-law, Gregory Iberitzes. On the following morning, his supporters opened the gates to his army, hailing him as emperor. Constantine was duly proclaimed emperor before the people at the Hippodrome, and headed in triumph towards the Chalke gate of the imperial palace.[4][12][13] There however he was opposed by the soldiers of the Hetaireia guard and armed oarsmen of the imperial fleet, assembled by the magistros John Eladas, a member of the regency council. An armed clash followed, in which many were killed, including Constantine's son Gregory, his nephew Michael and his friend Kourtikes. Disheartened, Constantine turned and tried to flee, but his horse slipped and fell. Constantine was killed by an arrow, allegedly cursing the Patriarch Nicholas as he died; his head was cut off and presented to the young emperor.[14][15]

The numerous supporters of the usurper were likewise harshly punished; some were blinded and exiled, others were tonsured and confined to monasteries, while many of the common folk were affixed to stakes on the eastern shore of the Bosporus.[16] Constantine Doukas' wife was exiled to Paphlagonia and his younger son Stephen was castrated. Along with the deaths of Constantine's son and nephew, this meant the extinction of this branch of the Doukas family: the relation of the later bearers of the Doukas name with Andronikos and Constantine is unclear.[17][18]


Despite his failure at seizing the throne, Constantine Doukas' popularity meant that his memory was preserved both among the people and the aristocracy of Asia Minor: in the 930s, Basil the Copper Hand assumed his identity and led a peasant revolt, while among the aristocracy he was glorified as a hero. Elements of this found their way into the epic poem Digenes Akrites, as well as the hagiography of St. Basil the Younger.[4][19]


  1. ^ Kazhdan (1991), pp. 655, 657
  2. ^ a b Polemis (1968), p. 21
  3. ^ Tougher (1997), pp. 208–210, 214–215
  4. ^ a b c d e Kazhdan (1991), p. 657
  5. ^ Tougher (1997), pp. 209–210
  6. ^ Polemis (1968), pp. 21–23
  7. ^ Tougher (1997), p. 210
  8. ^ Kazhdan (1991), pp. 56–57
  9. ^ Garland (1999), pp. 117–118
  10. ^ Polemis (1968), p. 23
  11. ^ Garland (1999), p. 119
  12. ^ Polemis (1968), pp. 23–24
  13. ^ Leo Grammaticus, pp. 288–289; Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 381–383
  14. ^ Polemis (1968), p. 24
  15. ^ Leo Grammaticus, p. 290; Theophanes Continuatus, p. 383
  16. ^ Leo Grammaticus, pp. 290–291; Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 383–385
  17. ^ Polemis (1968), pp. 2, 25
  18. ^ Krsmanovic (2003), Chapter 3
  19. ^ Polemis (1968), pp. 7, 24–25


Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]