Helena Lekapene

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Helena Lekapene (Latinized to Lecapena, c. 910 - 19 September 961) was the Empress consort of Constantine VII. She was a daughter of Romanos I and his wife Theodora.

Background

The deaths of Emperor Leo VI the Wise in 912 and his brother and successor Alexander in 913, left the throne of the Byzantine Empire to Constantine VII. Constantine was only seven years old when assuming the throne. The Empire was placed in the care of Regents.

Nicholas Mystikos, Patriarch of Constantinople was the principal regent until March 914. He was displaced by Zoe Karbonopsina, mother of the young Emperor. Zoe reigned with the support of influential general Leo Phocas until 919. However Leo led the Byzantine army into a series of lost battles against Simeon I of Bulgaria in a phase of the Byzantine-Bulgarian Wars. This strengthened the oppossition to the Regent and her favorite general.

In 919, a coup d'état involving various factions managed to remove Zoe from power. The new effective Regent was Romanos Lekapenos, Drungarios (admiral) of the Byzantine navy. Romanos orchestrated the marriage of Helena to Constantine VII as a way to secure a connection to the legitimate Macedonian dynasty.

Reign of Romanos

The work Theophanes Continuatus was a continuation of the chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor by other writers, active during the reign of her husband. The description of her marriage at the chronicle places the event in April or May 919. The groom was still four or five months sort of his fourteenth birthday. The age of Helena is not recorded but she was likely also underage. They would not have children until the 930s.

Romanos was proclaimed basileopatōr ("father of the emperor") on the occasion of the marriage. In September, 920, Romanos was invested as kaisar (Caesar). On 17 December 920, Romanos was crowned co-emperor and in effect became the senior of the two associate emperors.

Helena was now married to the junior co-ruler. Her mother Theodora was crowned as Augusta in January, 921 and was her senior in palace hierarchy. Theodora died on 20 February, 922.

Helena was in effect the senior Empress of the papace following the death of her mother. But not the only one. Her brother Christopher Lekapenos became co-emperor in 921. Prior to his elevation to the throne, Christopher was married to Sophia, daughter of magister Niketas. Sophia was crowned empress in February 922. They had three children.

In 924, there was a senior Emperor (Romanos), two junior emperors (Constantine VII and Christopher) and two Empresses (Helena and Sophia). However Romanos crowned two more of his sons as co-emperors, Stephen Lekapenos and Constantine Lekapenos. By 933, Stephen was married to Anna, daughter of Gabalos. No children are mentioned by the chronicle. By 939, Constantine was married to another Helena, daughter of patrician Hadrian. She died on 14 January 940. Constantine married Theophano Mamas on 2 February 940. Constantine had a son but which wife was the mother is not recorded.

With the favor of Romanos, Christopher held seniority among the four junior co-emperors. He was the heir to the thronewhile Constantine VII, Stephen and Constantine Lekapenos were to remain junior co-rulers. However Christopher died in 931. Romanos did not advance his younger sons in precedence over Constantine VII. His son-in-law was now the heir over his own sons. Helena bound to become the principal Empress upon the death of her father.

This period laster until 16 December 944. Fearing that Romanos would allow Constantine VII to succeed him instead of them, his younger sons Stephen and Constantine arrested their father in carried him off to the Prince's Islands and compelled him to become a monk.

Reign of Constantine

Constantine VII was restored to his position as senior emperor after twenty-four years as junior co-ruler. On 27 January 945 his brothers-in-law and co-rulers Stephen and Constantine were also deposed. They were sent into exile, leaving Constantine VII sole emperor. Helena was by then the only Empress.

Having never exercised executive authority, Constantine remained primarily devoted to his scholarly pursuits and relegated his authority to bureaucrats and generals, as well as his energetic wife Helena.

Their marriage resulted in the birth of several children, including:

  • Leo, who died young.
  • Romanos II.
  • Zoe. Sent to a convent.
  • Theodora, who married Emperor John I Tzimiskes.
  • Agatha. Sent to a convent.
  • Theophano. Sent to a convent.
  • Anna. Sent to a convent.

Romanos II was the co-ruler and heir. When Constantine VII died on 9 November 959, Romanos II succeeded him to the throne. His own wife Theophano convinced him to sent all five of his sisters to the convent of Kanikleion. Helena seems to have retired from palace life after this point. Her death on 19 September 961 is among the last events recorded in the Theophanes Continuatus chronicle.

Royal titles
Preceded by
Zoe Karbonopsina
Byzantine Empress consort
919–920
Succeeded by
Theodora
Preceded by
Theodora
Byzantine Empress consort
944–959
Succeeded by
Theophano

External links