A nephew of Constantine IX, he was born in Adrianople, the scion of the noted noble Armenian/Georgian family of Tornikios. He was named patrikios and commander (doux) of Melitene (according to Michael Attaleiates) or Iberia (according to Michael Psellos). Although favoured by Constantine, Tornikios was crafty and ambitious according to Psellos, and became a devotee of the Emperor's sister Euprepia, who opposed the Emperor's policies. During Leo's tenure in the East, however, a revolt broke out in Macedonia by some of his supporters. Tornikios was swiftly recalled to Constantinople, where he was tonsured but otherwise allowed considerable personal liberty.
Taking advantage of this, he fled the capital to Adrianople on September 14, 1047. There he gathered his supporters and a number of disgruntled generals and raised them in revolt against Emperor Constantine's misgovernment. Proclaiming himself emperor, he marched against the capital with his forces and set up his camp opposite the Walls of Constantinople on September 25, 1047. An ad hoc force of armed citizens who sallied out to meet him was easily defeated. This victory spread panic to the capital's defenders, who momentarily abandoned their posts on the walls and their gates. Tornikios, however, hesitated, and lost the opportunity to take the city, for that night, Emperor Constantine managed to restore order and re-occupy the walls, awaiting the arrival of the Anatolian army. The siege lasted four days, from September 25 until September 28. Two assaults of Tornikios's men on the walls were turned back by the defenders under the personal leadership of Emperor Constantine, who, despite suffering from gout and having no military experience, showed courage and energy in this extremity. Following the failure of his assaults, Tornikios was forced to withdraw westwards. Hoping to retrieve the situation he attacked Rhaidestos, but was again repulsed. At this point, his followers started to abandon him. He found refuge in a church at Boulgarophygon, but was lured out of it and captured. On Christmas 1047, at Constantinople, he was blinded along with a certain John Vatatzes, his principal supporter. Nothing is thereafter known about him.