The parakoimōmenos (Greek: παρακοιμώμενος, literally "the one who sleeps beside [the emperor's chamber]") was a Byzantine court position, usually reserved for eunuchs. The position's proximity to the emperors guaranteed its holders influence and power, and many of them, especially in the 9th and 10th centuries, functioned as the Byzantine Empire's chief ministers.
History and functions
The title was used anachronistically by various Byzantine writers for prominent eunuch court officials all the way back to Euphratas under Constantine the Great (reigned 306–337), the notorious Chrysaphius under Theodosius II (r. 408–450), or an unnamed holder under Emperor Maurice (r. 582–602). However, it was most probably created only later in the 7th century, and is first attested securely only under Leo IV the Khazar (r. 775–780), when the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor records the existence of three "koubikoularioi and parakoimomenoi". In the beginning, it was a modest office, given to those koubikoularioi (from Latin cubicularius, denoting the eunuch servants of the emperor's "sacred bedchamber" or sacrum cubiculum) who were tasked with sleeping outside the emperor's chamber during the night as a security measure. As evidenced by seals from the 7th and 8th centuries, it was usually combined with other palace functions, such as the epi tēs trapezēs, and its holders held lowly dignities such as ostiarios. It is possible that in the cases where several co-emperors reigned at the same time, a parakoimōmenos would be assigned to each.
From the mid-9th century, however, the office grew in importance, outstripping its nominal superior, the praipositos, until it came to be regarded as the highest post reserved for eunuchs, with its holders raised to the dignity of patrikios. Over the next two centuries, many of its holders, a few of whom were exceptionally not eunuchs, were able to use their proximity to the imperial person to exercise considerable influence. Especially during the reigns of weak or uninterested emperors, men like Samonas, Joseph Bringas and Basil Lekapenos functioned as chief ministers, while Basil the Macedonian (r. 867–886) was able to use this position to eventually usurp the throne from Michael III (r. 842–867).
By the 11th century, the parakoimōmenos had assumed most of the old administrative functions of the praipositos as well. The post continued to be important in the 11th century, but seems to have declined in the 12th, when it also began to be regularly awarded—possibly as a noble title rather than an active function—to non-eunuchs as well. The post survived in the Empire of Nicaea (1204–1261) and into the Palaiologan period, where it was divided into the parakoimōmenos tou koitōnos (παρακοιμώμενος τοῦ κοιτῶνος), who retained the duties of the koitōn (the imperial bedchamber), and the parakoimōmenos tēs sphendonēs (παρακοιμώμενος τῆς σφενδόνης), who was entrusted with keeping the sphendonē, the ring with the emperor's personal seal, used to seal his private correspondence. Both posts were soon transformed into proper court dignities, ranking 17th and 16th respectively in the imperial hierarchy, according to the mid-14th century author pseudo-Kodinos; at the same time, their holders ceased to be palace eunuchs, but were important noblemen and administrators like Alexios Apokaukos.
Under Theophilos (r. 829–842), only one holder is known, the ostiarios Scholastikios. The patrikios Damian served Michael III until circa 865, and was then replaced by Michael's favourite, Basil the Macedonian. After Basil's accession to co-emperor in 866, the office was occupied by a certain Rentakios until the murder of Michael III. Judging from his own experience that the office was too powerful and too close to the emperor, Basil I (r. 867–886) did not appoint a parakoimōmenos. His son and successor Leo VI (r. 886–912) revived the office in 907 for his favourite Samonas, who until then was a prōtovestiarios. He held the post until his disgrace in summer 908. He was replaced by Constantine Barbaros, who held the office until circa 919 with the exception of the reign of Alexander (r. 912–913), who installed the patrikios Barbatos in his stead. Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920–944) named his trusted aide Theophanes as parakoimōmenos.
Theophanes was retained by Constantine VII (r. 913–959) until 947, when he was replaced by Basil Lekapenos. Lekapenos, the bastard son of Emperor Romanos I, would play a dominant role in Byzantine history over the next four decades, toppling emperors and serving as the virtual regent or co-regent (paradynasteuōn) of the Empire for over thirty years, comprising the reigns of Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963–969) and John I Tzimiskes (r. 969–976), and the early reign of Basil II (r. 976–1025) until his dismissal in 985. Basil was replaced under Romanos II (r. 959–963) by the capable Joseph Bringas, who also exercised the de facto rule of the state, but was toppled by Lekapenos shortly after Romanos II's death.
In the 11th century, the most important holder of the office was Nicholas, who was parakoimōmenos and proedros as well as Domestic of the Schools under Constantine VIII (r. 1025–1028) and served again in the same offices for a time under Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042–1055). John Komnenos, a relative of the Emperor John II Komnenos (r. 1118–1143), was named as parakoimōmenos and entrusted with the charge of state affairs along with Gregory Taronites. In the late 12th century, the eunuch Nikephoros under Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1183–1185) and the likewise eunuch John Oinopolites under Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195–1203) are the only known holders.
In the Empire of Nicaea, known holders are Alexios Krateros (attested circa 1227–1231) under John III Vatatzes (r. 1222–1254) and George Zagarommates under Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254–1258). Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1259–1282) named a trusted agent of his, a Turkish refugee named Basil, to serve as parakoimōmenos of the koitōn during his early reign (1259–1261). After becoming sole emperor in 1261, Michael named John Makrenos to the post. Makrenos participated in the campaign to recover the Morea from the Latins, and fought in the battles of Prinitza and Makryplagi, being captured in the latter. He was later returned to Constantinople, where he was accused of treason and blinded. Three parakoimōmenoi of the sphendonē are known under Michael VIII: Michael's uncle Isaac Doukas, Gabriel Sphrantzes, nephew of John I Doukas of Thessaly, and Constantine Doukas Nestongos, another relative of the Emperor.
Four parakoimōmenoi are known under Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282–1328): Andronikos Kantakouzenos, Andronikos Komnenos Doukas Palaiologos Tornikes, John Phakrases, author of a treatise on imperial offices, and the general John Choumnos, the eldest son of the scholar and minister Nikephoros Choumnos. Perhaps the most famous of the late Byzantine parakoimōmenoi was the capable and ambitious Alexios Apokaukos, a man of humble birth who rose in high office as a protégé of John Kantakouzenos and the chief instigator of the Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347. He was made parakoimōmenos in 1321, and held the post until his elevation to the rank of megas doux in 1341. Finally, the last known holders are, under John V Palaiologos (r. 1341–1391), Angelos Kalothetes, attested in a letter in 1362, and Theophylaktos, who was sent as en emissary to Pope Urban V in 1367.
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