Romanos I Lekapenos

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Romanos I Lekapenos
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
Romanos Lekapenos depicted in the 12th century Madrid Skylitzes.
Byzantine emperor
Reign17 December 920 –
20 December 944
PredecessorConstantine VII
(under regent rule)
SuccessorConstantine VII (alone)
Co-emperorsChristopher Lekapenos
Stephen Lekapenos
Constantine Lekapenos
Bornc. 870
(modern-day Turkey)
Died15 June 948 (aged 77–78)
FatherTheophylaktos Abastaktos

Romanos I Lakapenos or Lekapenos (Greek: Ῥωμανός Λακαπήνος or Λεκαπηνός, Rōmanos Lakapēnos or Lekapēnos; c. 870 – 15 June 948),[1] Latinized as Romanus I Lecapenus, was Byzantine emperor from 920 until his deposition in 944, serving as regent for and senior co-ruler of the young Constantine VII.


Romanos, born in Lakape (later Laqabin) between Melitene and Samosata (hence the name), was the son of a peasant with the remarkable name of Theophylact the Unbearable (Theophylaktos Abastaktos), usually identified as Armenian.[2][3] However, according to the Byzantinist Anthony Kaldellis, Romanos is discussed in many Byzantine sources, but none of them calls him an Armenian.[4] His father came from humble origin in the Armeniac Theme and that's the reason he was assumed to have been Armenian.[4] This alleged ethnicity has been repeated so often in literature that it has acquired the status of a known fact, even though it is based on the most tenuous of indirect connections.[4] Nevertheless, his father Theophylact, as a soldier, had rescued the Emperor Basil I from the enemy in battle at Tephrike and had been rewarded by a place in the Imperial Guard.[5] Romanos' byname, now usually treated as a family name, was derived from his place of birth, Lakape, and is found mostly as Lakapenos in the sources, although English-language scholarship in particular prefers the form Lekapenos, in large part due to Sir Steven Runciman's 1928 study on the emperor.[4]

Bulgarian forces rout the Byzantines at Anchialos in 917.

Although he did not receive any refined education (for which he was later abused by his son-in-law Constantine VII), Romanos advanced through the ranks of the army during the reign of Emperor Leo VI the Wise. In 911 he was general of the naval theme of Samos and later served as admiral of the fleet (droungarios tou ploimou). In this capacity he was supposed to participate in the Byzantine operations against Bulgaria on the Danube in 917, but he was unable to carry out his mission. In the aftermath of the disastrous Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Acheloos in 917 by the Bulgarians, Romanos sailed to Constantinople, where he gradually overcame the discredited regency of Empress Zoe Karvounopsina and her supporter Leo Phokas.

The blinding of Leo Phokas on the orders of Romanos Lekapenos.

Rise to power[edit]

On 25 March 919, at the head of his fleet, Lekapenos seized the Boukoleon Palace and the reins of government. Initially, he was named magistros and megas hetaireiarches, but he moved swiftly to consolidate his position: in April 919 his daughter Helena was married to Constantine VII, and Lekapenos assumed the new title basileopator. On 24 September 920, he was named caesar; and on 17 December, Romanos was crowned senior emperor.[6][7]

Leo Phokas' supporters surrender to Romanos Lekapenos.

In subsequent years Romanos crowned his own sons co-emperors, Christopher in 921, Stephen and Constantine in 924, although, for the time being, Constantine VII was regarded as first in rank after Romanos himself. It is notable that, as he left Constantine VII untouched, he was called 'the gentle usurper'. Romanos strengthened his position by marrying his daughters to members of the powerful aristocratic families of Argyros and Mouseles, by recalling the deposed patriarch Nicholas Mystikos, and by putting an end to the conflict with the Papacy over the four marriages of Emperor Leo VI.

His early reign saw several conspiracies to topple him, which led to the successive dismissal of his first paradynasteuontes, John the Rhaiktor and John Mystikos. From 925 and until the end of his reign, the post was occupied by the chamberlain Theophanes.

War and peace with Bulgaria[edit]

A feast in honor of Simeon I of Bulgaria and Romanos engaging the Bulgarians, from the 14th century Manasses Chronicle.

The first major challenge faced by the new emperor was the war with Bulgaria, which had been re-ignited by the regency of Zoe. The rise to power of Romanos had curtailed the plans of Simeon I of Bulgaria for a marital alliance with Constantine VII, and Romanos was determined to deny the unpopular concession of imperial recognition to Simeon, which had already toppled two imperial governments. Consequently, the first four years of Romanos' reign were spent in warfare against Bulgaria. Although Simeon generally had the upper hand, he was unable to gain a decisive advantage because of the impregnability of Constantinople's walls. In 924, when Simeon had once again blockaded the capital by land, Romanos succeeded in opening negotiations.

Simeon orders the burning of the Church of St. Mary of the Spring outside the Theodosian Walls.

Meeting Simeon in person at Kosmidion, Romanos criticized Simeon's disregard for tradition and Orthodox Christian brotherhood and supposedly shamed him into coming to terms and lifting the siege. In reality, this was accomplished by Romanos' tacit recognition of Simeon as emperor of Bulgaria. Relations were subsequently marred by continued wrangling over titles (Simeon called himself emperor of the Romans as well), but peace had been effectively established.

On the death of Simeon in May 927, Bulgaria's new emperor, Peter I, made a show of force by invading Byzantine Thrace, but he showed himself ready to negotiate for a more permanent peace. Romanos seized the occasion and proposed a marriage alliance between the imperial houses of Byzantium and Bulgaria, at the same time renewing the Serbian-Byzantine alliance with Časlav of Serbia, returning independence the same year. In September 927 Peter arrived before Constantinople and married Maria (renamed Eirene, "Peace"), the daughter of Romanos' eldest son and co-emperor Christopher, and thus his granddaughter. On this occasion Christopher received precedence in rank over his brother-in-law Constantine VII, something which compounded the latter's resentment towards the Lekapenoi, the Bulgarians, and imperial marriages to outsiders (as documented in his composition De Administrando Imperio). From this point on, Romanos' government was free from direct military confrontation with Bulgaria. Although Byzantium would tacitly support a Serbian revolt against Bulgaria in 931, and the Bulgarians would allow Magyar raids across their territory into Byzantine possessions, Byzantium and Bulgaria remained at peace for 40 years, until Sviatoslav's invasion of Bulgaria.

Campaigns in the East[edit]

Romanos appointed the brilliant general John Kourkouas commander of the field armies (domestikos ton scholon) in the East. John Kourkouas subdued a rebellion in the theme of Chaldia and intervened in Armenia in 924. From 926 Kourkouas campaigned across the eastern frontier against the Abbasids and their vassals, and won an important victory at Melitene in 934. The capture of this city is often considered the first major Byzantine territorial recovery from the Muslims.

The army under general John Kourkouas takes the city of Melitene.

In 941, while most of the army under Kourkouas was absent in the East, a fleet of 15 old ships under the protovestiarios Theophanes had to defend Constantinople from a Kievan raid. The invaders were defeated at sea, through the use of Greek fire, and again at land, when they landed in Bithynia, by the returning army under Kourkouas. In 944 Romanos concluded a treaty with Prince Igor of Kiev. This crisis having passed, Kourkouas was free to return to the eastern frontier.

The Byzantine fleet under Theophanes repels the Rus' in 941. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes.

In 943 Kourkouas invaded northern Mesopotamia and besieged the important city of Edessa in 944. As the price for his withdrawal, Kourkouas obtained one of Byzantium's most prized relics, the mandylion, the holy towel allegedly sent by Jesus Christ to King Abgar V of Edessa.

In exchange for sparing Edessa, its inhabitants gift the Mandylion to the Byzantines.

John Kourkouas, although considered by some of his contemporaries "a second Trajan or Belisarius," was dismissed after the fall of the Lekapenoi in 945. Nevertheless, his campaigns in the East paved the way for the even more dramatic reconquests in the middle and the second half of the 10th century.

Internal policies[edit]

The palace church at Myrelaion, commissioned by Romanos I as a family shrine in 922 in Constantinople.

Romanos I Lekapenos attempted to strengthen the Byzantine Empire by seeking peace everywhere that it was possible—his dealings with Bulgaria and Kievan Rus' have been described above. To protect Byzantine Thrace from Magyar incursions (such as the ones in 934 and 943), Romanos paid them protection money and pursued diplomatic avenues. The Khazars were the allies of the Byzantines until the reign of Romanos, when he started persecuting the Jews of the empire. According to the Schechter Letter, the Khazar ruler Joseph responded to the persecution of Jews by "doing away with many Christians", and Romanos retaliated by inciting Oleg of Novgorod (called Helgu in the letter) against Khazaria.[8]

Similarly, Romanos re-established peace within the church and overcame the new conflict between Rome and Constantinople by promulgating the Tomos of Union in 920. In 933 Romanos took advantage of a vacancy on the patriarchal throne to name his young son Theophylaktos patriarch of Constantinople. The new patriarch did not achieve renown for his piety and spirituality, but he added theatrical elements to the Byzantine liturgy and was an avid horse-breeder, allegedly leaving mass to tend to one of his favorite mares when she was giving birth.

Romanos was active as a legislator, promulgating a series of laws to protect small landowners from being swallowed up by the estates of the land-owning nobility (dynatoi). The legislative reform may have been partly inspired by hardship caused by the famine of 927 and the subsequent semi-popular revolt of Basil the Copper Hand. The emperor also managed to increase the taxes levied on the aristocracy and established the state on a more secure financial footing. Romanos was also able to effectively subdue revolts in several provinces of the empire, most notably in Chaldia, the Peloponnese, and Southern Italy.

In Constantinople, he built his palace in the place called Myrelaion, near the Sea of Marmara. Beside it Romanos built a shrine which became the first example of a private burial church of a Byzantine emperor. Moreover, he erected a chapel devoted to Christ Chalkites near the Chalke Gate, the monumental entrance to the Great Palace.

End of the reign[edit]

Silver follis of Romanos I, marked: "RωMAN(ός) BASILЄVS RωM(αῖων)"

Romanos' later reign was marked by the old emperor's heightened interest in divine judgment and his increasing sense of guilt for his role in the usurpation of the throne from Constantine VII. On the death of Christopher, by far his most competent son, in 931, Romanos did not advance his younger sons in precedence over Constantine VII. Fearing that Romanos would allow Constantine VII to succeed him instead of them, his younger sons Stephen and Constantine arrested their father on 20[6] (or 16)[9] December 944, carried him off to the Princes' Islands and compelled him to become a monk. When they threatened the position of Constantine VII, however, the people of Constantinople revolted, and Stephen and Constantine were likewise stripped of their imperial rank and sent into exile to their father. Romanos died on 15 June 948,[6][10] and was buried as the other members of his family in the church of Myrelaion.

Having lived long under constant threat of deposition—or worse—by the Lekapenoi family, Constantine VII was extremely resentful of them. In his De Administrando Imperio manual written for his son and successor, Romanos II, he minces no words about his late father-in-law: "the lord Romanus the Emperor was an idiot and an illiterate man, neither bred in the high imperial manner, nor following Roman custom from the beginning, nor of imperial or noble descent, and therefore the more rude and authoritarian in doing most things ... for his beliefs were uncouth, obstinate, ignorant of what is good, and unwilling to adhere to what is right and proper."[11]


Gold solidus of Romanos I with his eldest son, Christopher Lekapenos

Romanos I's only named wife is Theodora, who died in 922.[12] However, genealogical and chronological considerations have led to the hypothesis that his three eldest children may have been born from an otherwise unattested first marriage.[13] Romanos had at least eight legitimate and at least one illegitimate children, leading to numerous aristocratic descendants and connections in the Middle Byzantine period, including every emperor for the next century.

  • Christopher, co-emperor from 921 to 931 (senior co-emperor from 927);[14] he married the augusta Sophia (died after 944), daughter of the magistros and patrikios Niketas Helladikos;[15] they were parents of:
    • Maria (supposedly renamed Eirene, "Peace"), died before 967 (963?);[16] she married 927 Emperor Peter I of Bulgaria ; they were parents, among others, of:
      • Boris II, emperor of Bulgaria, died 977; he married and left issue
      • Roman, emperor of Bulgaria, died 997
    • Romanos, possibly co-emperor, died young, before 927[17]
    • Michael Porphyrogennetos, born after 921, possibly given quasi-imperial honors before 945, subsequently magistros and raiktor, died after 963;[18] he married and was the father of:
      • Helene;[19] she married Konstantinos Radenos, protospatharios; left issue
      • Sophia;[20] she married Pankratios Taronites, patrikios; left issue
  • unnamed daughter, who died after 961;[21] she married Romanos Saronites, magistros;[22] they were the parents of two unnamed children
  • unnamed daughter; she married (Alexios?) Mousele, who died in 922;[23] they were the parents of:
    • Romanos Mousele, magistros;[24] left issue
  • Theophylaktos, born 913, castrated as child, patriarch of Constantinople from 933 to 956.[25]
  • Stephen Porphyrogennetos, born c. 920, co-emperor from 923 to 945, died 963;[26] he married (in 934?) Anna, daughter of Gabalas;[27] they were the parents of:
    • Romanos, sebastophoros, logothete of the envoys, castrated 945, died 975[28]
  • Constantine Porphyrogennetos, born c. 921, co-emperor from 923 to 945, died between 945 and 948;[29] he married (1) Helena, daughter of the patrikios Adrianos,[30] and (2), 941? Theophano Mamas;[31] he and his first wife were the parents of:
    • Romanos, patrikios and praipositos, born after 934, castrated 945, died 971[32]
  • Helena, b. c. 907, died 961;[33] she married Emperor Constantine VII; they were the parents of:
  • Agatha, born c. 908?;[51] she married in 921-922 Romanos Argyros;[52] they were the parents of:
  • Basil, illegitimate son by a "Scythian" mistress, eunuch, protobestiarios, parakoimomenos, paradynasteuon, proedros, who remained influential at court, dominating it in 976–985, before being set aside; he died after 986.[62]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lilie et al. 2013,
  2. ^ John H. Rosser (2011). Historical Dictionary of Byzantium. Scarecrow Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8108-7567-8.
  3. ^ Hélène Ahrweiler; Angeliki E. Laiou (1998). Studies on the Internal Diaspora of the Byzantine Empire. Dumbarton Oaks. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-88402-247-3.
  4. ^ a b c d Kaldellis, Anthony (2019). Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium. Harvard University Press. pp. 174–175. ISBN 978-0-674-98651-0.
  5. ^ Runciman, p. 63
  6. ^ a b c Bekker, Immanuel, ed. (1838) [9th-10th c.]. "Libri VI: Constantini Imperium". Theophanes Continuatus. pp. 393–397, 436–441.
  7. ^ Runciman 1988, pp. 59–62.
  8. ^ "Rus". Encyclopaedia of Islam
  9. ^ Skylitzes, John (2010) [1057]. Synopsis of History. Translated by Wortley, John. Cambridge University Press. p. 227.
  10. ^ George Monachos' continuation gives 15 July, but this is most likely a mistake, as the entire chapter is essentially a copy of Theophanes Continuatus.
  11. ^ Jonathan Shepard (ed.). Cambridge History Byzantine Empire. p. 39.
  12. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 29757
  13. ^ For this and the other family relationships, see the relevant articles in Lillie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28987.
  14. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 23428
  15. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 29306
  16. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 27073
  17. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28994
  18. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 27328
  19. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 24732
  20. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 29309
  21. ^ "Romanos Musele".
  22. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28997
  23. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22394
  24. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28998
  25. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 30347
  26. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 29405
  27. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22584
  28. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28996
  29. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 25985
  30. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22277
  31. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 30278
  32. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28995
  33. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 24727
  34. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 26572
  35. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28988
  36. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 23309
  37. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 30280
  38. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22991
  39. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 25889
  40. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 24731
  41. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 23914
  42. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 30663
  43. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 29760
  44. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22589
  45. ^ Shepard 2003: 26-27, building on Poppe 1997; Shepard also accepts Poppe's suggestion that Anna was the mother of Saints Boris and Gleb, but that is explicitly contradicted by the sources.
  46. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 30662
  47. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 29759
  48. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22322
  49. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 30281
  50. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22588
  51. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22321
  52. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28993
  53. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 23243
  54. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 26199
  55. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 22896
  56. ^ Kaldellis 2017: 139.
  57. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 26811
  58. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 27091
  59. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 23282
  60. ^ a b Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 28935
  61. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 23266
  62. ^ Lilie et al. 2013: PMBZ 23078


External links[edit]

Romanos I Lekapenos
Born: c. 870 Died: 15 June 948
Regnal titles
Preceded by Byzantine emperor
with Constantine VII (913–959)
Christopher Lekapenos (921–931)
Stephen Lekapenos (924–945)
Constantine Lekapenos (924–945)
Succeeded by