Theophano (10th century)

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Theophano (Greek: Θεοφανώ, Theophanō) was a Byzantine empress. She was the daughter-in-law of Constantine VII; wife of Romanos II; wife of Nikephoros II Phokas; lover of John I Tzimiskes; the mother of Basil II, Constantine VIII and the princess Anna Porphyrogenita, who later married Kievan prince Vladimir. Theophano played an important role in 10th century Byzantine history. She served as Regent during the minority of her sons.

Empress of Romanos II[edit]

Theophano was born of Laconian Greek origin[1][2][3][4][5] in the Peloponnesian region of Lakonia,[6] possibly in the city of Sparta, in 941.[7] Theophano was originally named Anastasia, or more familiarly Anastaso[8] and was the daughter of a poor tavern-keeper called Craterus.[9][10] Theophano was renowned for her great beauty and heir apparent Romanos fell in love with her around the year 956 and married her over the strenuous objections of his father.[11] After their marriage, she was renamed Theophano, after Theophano, a sainted Empress of the Macedonian dynasty.

Theophano's humble origins made her unpopular among Byzantine elites and when her father-in-law, the emperor Constantine VII died, rumors were spread alleging that she had poisoned him. Constantine died in 959, but he died of a fever which lasted several months, not showing evidence of poisoning. Astute and intelligent, Theophano had influence with her husband, Romanos, an influence resented and likely exaggerated by her rivals in the court.

Empress of Nikephoros Phokas[edit]

On March 15, 963, Emperor Romanos II died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-six. Again, Theophano was rumored to have poisoned him, although she had nothing to gain and everything to lose from this action and, indeed, was still in bed only 48 hours after giving birth to Anna Porphyrogenita when the Emperor died. Their sons Basil II and Constantine VIII, only five and three years old, respectively, were the heirs and Theophano was named regent. However, hereditary ascension was a matter of tradition, not law in the Empire and she realized that to protect her sons and secure her position she would need a protector. Passing over a bevy of would be suitors among Constantinople's courtiers, she made an alliance with, Nikephoros Phokas. Nikephoros, a physically repulsive ascetic twice her age, was the greatest military hero of the Empire at the time, having reconquered Crete, Cyprus, Cilicia, and Aleppo. In return for her hand, the childless Nikephoros gave his sacred pledge to protect her children and their interests. As the army had already proclaimed Nikephoros an Emperor in Caesarea, Nikephoros entered Constantinople on August 15, broke the resistance of Joseph Bringas (a eunuch palace official who had become Romanos' chief counsellor) in bloody street fights, and on 16 August he was crowned in the Hagia Sophia. After that he married Theophano, bolstering his legitimacy.

The marriage provoked some clerical opposition as Nikephoros had been god-father to one or more of Theophano's children, which placed them within a prohibited spiritual relationship. It should also be noted that the Orthodox Church only begrudgingly recognized second marriages. The situation was aggravated by the tremendous enmity the arch-conservative Patriarch Polyeuctus felt towards the young upstart empress. Thus even before the issue of his having been the god-father of at least one of Theophano's children surfaced banned Nikephoros from kissing the holy altar on the grounds that he must first perform the penance for contracting a second marriage. In the issue of his role as godfather, however, Nikephoros organised a council at which it was declared that since the relevant rules had been pronounced by the iconoclast Constatine V Copronymus, it was of no effect. Polyeuctus did not accept the council as legitimate, and proceeded to excommunicate Nikephoros and insist that he would not relent until Nikephoros put away Theophano. In response, Bardas Phokas and another person testified Nikephoros was not in fact godfather to any of Theophano's children, at which Polyeuctus relented and allowed Nikephoros to return to full-fellowship in the church and keep Theophano as his wife.[12]

Nikephoros' gruff military style proved counterproductive in diplomacy and at court. Soon the Empire was at war on multiple fronts, the heavy taxes needed to support the wars were widely unpopular particularly as they coincided with a few years of poor harvests which brought famine. When the Emperor tried to relieve the suffering by limiting the wealth of the monasteries, he alienated the church. A widespread conspiracy developed to remove the Emperor. On the night of 10 and 11 December 969, his nephew John I Tzimiskes (969–976) crossed the Bosphorus in a storm, was smuggled into the palace and lowed into the Imperial chambers where he woke and killed his uncle.

Tzimiskes was good looking and irrepressibly charming and the legend is that he and Theophano were lovers. Whatever the case, the conspiracy against Nikophoros was widespread and it seems clear that the his wife and nephew had come to an understanding. On the night of the assassination Theophano suspiciously left the Imperial bedchamber, leaving the doors unbolted.

Downfall[edit]

Tzimiskes now proposed to marry Theophano. However, the Empress had by now been too damaged by gossip and rumors. Patriarch Polyeuktos, refused to perform the coronation unless John punished those who had assisted him in the assassination, removed the "scarlet empress" from the court, and repealed all his predecessor's decrees that ran contrary to the interests of the church.[13][14] John calculated that his legitimacy would be better enhanced by church approval than betrothal to the unpopular empress and acceded to the Patriarch's demands.[15][16] Theophano was sent into exile to the island of Prinkipo (sometimes known as Prote).

Children[edit]

Theophano and Romanos II had three children:

  1. Basil II
  2. Constantine VIII
  3. Anna Porphyrogenita

Theophanu, consort Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor has been suggested as the fourth daughter of the couple. Current research holds that her actual father was Konstantinos Skleros (Κωνσταντίνος Σκληρός), brother of the pretender Bardas Skleros (Βάρδας Σκληρός) and her mother was Sophia Phokaina (Σοφία Φώκαινα), niece of Nikephoros II.

In literature[edit]

English author Frederic Harrison wrote Theophano: The Crusade of the Tenth Century (1904), which portrays Theophano as the arch-schemer of Constantinople who manipulated the court to secure her own position in the face of inconstant Imperial leadership (the vain and distracted Constantine VII, the drunkard Romanus II, the overly pious Nicephorus Phocas) and thus largely for the good of the state. The Greek historical fiction writer Kostas Kyriazis (b. 1920) wrote a biography called Theophano (1963), followed by the 1964 Basil Bulgaroktonus on her son. As depicted in these books, Theophano was indeed guilty of all the killings attributed to her in her lifetime, and the heritage of a mother who killed both his father and his stepfather caused her son Basil to distrust women and avoid marriage himself.

References[edit]

  1. ^ McCabe, Joseph (1913). The empresses of Constantinople. R.G. Badger. p. 140. OCLC 188408. "(Theophano) came from Laconia, and we may regard her as a common type of Greek." 
  2. ^ Diacre, Léon le – Talbot, Alice-Mary – Sullivan, Denis F. (2005). The History of Leo the Deacon: Byzantine Military Expansion in the Tenth Century. Dumbarton Oaks. pp. 99–100. ISBN 0-88402-324-9. "Nikephoros himself claimed that he wished to maintain his customary moderate lifestyle unaltered, avoiding cohabitation with a wife..And he took in marriage the wife of Romanos, who was distinguished in beauty, and was indeed a Laconian woman." 
  3. ^ Bury, John Bagnell – Gwatkin, Henry Melvill – Whitney, James Pounder – Tanner, Joseph Robson - Previté-Orton, Charles William - Brooke, Zachary Nugent (1923). The Cambridge medieval history. Camb. Univ. Press. pp. 67–68. OCLC 271025434. "The new ruler, Romanus II… took possession of the government, or rather handed it over to his wife Theophano. We have already seen who this wife was. The daughter of Craterus, a poor tavern-keeper of Laconian origin, she owed the unhoped-for honour of ascending the throne solely to her beauty and her vices." 
  4. ^ Durant, Will – Durant, Ariel (1950). The Story of Civilization: The age of Faith; a history of medieval civilization - Christian, Islamic, and Judaic - from Constantine to Dante: A.D. 325-1300. Simon and Schuster. p. 429. OCLC 245829181. "Perhaps Romanus II (958-63) was like other children, and did not read his father's books. He married a Greek girl, Theophano; she was suspected of poisoning her father-in-law and hastening Romanus' death" 
  5. ^ Hyslop, R. (2008). Varangian. Cuthan Books. p. 545. ISBN 0-9558718-2-4. "Theophana, a Greek inn-keeper's daughter, married the emperor Romanus II in 958. She was alleged to have murdered this husband to marry the general Nicephorus" 
  6. ^ Goodacre, Hugh George (1957). A handbook of the coinage of the Byzantine Empire. Spink. p. 203. OCLC 2705898. "Theophano, in spite of her accomplishments, was but of the humblest birth…she came from Laconia, no doubt bringing with her thence the peerless beauty of the Greek type. Romanus II and Theophano were married about the year 956" 
  7. ^ Miller, William (1964). Essays on the Latin Orient. A. M. Hakkert. p. 47. OCLC 174255384. "The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who wrote about the middle of the tenth century, has left us a favourable sketch of the Peloponnese as it was in his day.. His biography represents that city (Sparta) – of which the contemporary Empress Theophano, wife of Romanos II and Nikephoros Phokas, was perhaps a native." 
  8. ^ Davids, Adelbert (2002). The Empress Theophano: Byzantium and the West at the Turn of the First Millennium. Cambridge University Press. p. 325. ISBN 0-521-52467-9. "The emperor Romanos II was married to the daughter of a merchant, called Anastaso, who took the name of Theophano at marriage" 
  9. ^ Bréhier, Louis (1977). The life and death of Byzantium. North-Holland Pub. Co. p. 127. ISBN 0-7204-9008-1. "Anastasia, daughter of Craterus, of illustrious parentage according to the panegyrist, but a former barmaid nicknamed Anastaso according to the other chronicles. Not only did Constantine approve this marriage, but he had it celebrated with great splendour in the church of Hagia Sophia and gave his daughter- in-law" 
  10. ^ Diehl, Charles (1927). Byzantine portraits. A.A. Knopf. OCLC 1377097. "Her father, Craterus, of Laconian origin, was an obscure plebeian who kept a public-house in one of the slums of the capital. She herself, before her marriage, was called Anastasia, or more familiarly, Anastaso" 
  11. ^ Ash, John (1995). A Byzantine Journey. I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. p. 243. ISBN 1 84511 307 1. "Theophano was a wine-merchant’s daughter, and for this reason alone the more snobbish Byzantine commentators have hated her, but even her worst detractors do not attempt to deny that she was beautiful, so beautiful and so beguiling that Romanos II, while still heir to the throne, insisted on marrying her over the strong objections of his father, Constantine VII." 
  12. ^ Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Apogee. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 1992, p. 192-194
  13. ^ Ash. John (1995). A Byzantine Journey, 1995. I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., London. p. 248. "Scandal and rumor had done their work and Patriarch Polyeuctus (an elderly bigot more than willing to believe the worst of a beautiful and ambitious woman) flatly refused to perform the coronation while the “scarlet empress” still resided in the palace." 
  14. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1993). Byzantium: The Apogee. Penguin Books. p. 240. "...this, the Patriarch firmly declared, could on no account be contemplated. On the contrary, there could be no question of John Tzimisces being crowned Emperor until the Empress were put away, never again to show her face in Constantinople. ... He next demanded that John should do public penance and denounce all those who had been his accomplices in the crime. Finally, he must undertake to abrogate all his predecessor's decrees against the church." 
  15. ^ Ash. John (1995). A Byzantine Journey, 1995. I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., London. p. 248. "Tzimiskes made no attempt to defend his benefactress. Enraged and humiliated, she was immediately bundled off to a convent on the island of Prote.." 
  16. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1993). Byzantium: The Apogee. Penguin Books. p. 240. "Perhaps, as has already been suggested, John had never really loved Theophano, and had seen her merely as the most direct instrument of his own ambition; in any case, he did not hesitate in making his choice." 

Sources[edit]

Royal titles
Preceded by
Helena Lekapene
Byzantine Empress consort
956–963
963–969
with Helena Lekapene (956–959)
Succeeded by
Theodora
Empress-Mother of the Byzantine Empire
March 15, 963 – June 15, 991
Succeeded by
Eudokia Makrembolitissa