Constantine VII

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos or Porphyrogenitus ("the Purple-born", that is, born in the porphyry (a hard, purple-colored, decorative stone) paneled imperial bed chambers; Greek: Κωνσταντῖνος Ζ΄ Πορφυρογέννητος, translit. Kōnstantinos VII Porphyrogennētos; 17–18 May 905 – 9 November 959) was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959. He was the son of the emperor Leo VI and his fourth wife, Zoe Karbonopsina, and the nephew of his predecessor, the emperor Alexander.

Most of his reign was dominated by co-regents: from 913 until 919 he was under the regency of his mother, while from 920 until 945 he shared the throne with Romanos Lekapenos, whose daughter Helena he married, and his sons. Constantine VII is best known for his four books, De Administrando Imperio (bearing in Greek the heading Πρὸς τὸν ἴδιον υἱὸν Ῥωμανόν),[2] De Ceremoniis (Περὶ τῆς Βασιλείου Τάξεως), De Thematibus (Περὶ θεμάτων Άνατολῆς καὶ Δύσεως), and Vita Basilii (Βίος Βασιλείου).

His nickname alludes to the Purple Room of the imperial palace, decorated with porphyry, where legitimate children of reigning emperors were normally born. Constantine was also born in this room, although his mother Zoe had not been married to Leo at that time. Nevertheless, the epithet allowed him to underline his position as the legitimized son, as opposed to all others who claimed the throne during his lifetime. Sons born to a reigning Emperor held precedence in the Eastern Roman line of succession over elder sons not born "in the purple".

Constantine VII
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign15 May 908 – 6 June 913 (as junior co-emperor under his father and uncle Alexander)
PredecessorLeo VI
Co-emperorsLeo VI (908–912)
Alexander (908–913)
Reign6 June 913 – 17 December 920 (as sole emperor under regency)
PredecessorAlexander (as senior emperor)
Himself (as junior co-emperor)
SuccessorRomanos I Lekapenos (as senior emperor)
Himself (as junior co-emperor)
RegentZoe Karbonopsina (913–919)
Reign17 December 920 – December 944 (as junior co-emperor under Romanos I Lekapenos)
Co-emperorsRomanos I Lekapenos (920–944)
Christopher Lekapenos (921–931)
Stephen and Constantine Lekapenos (924–944)
ReignDecember 944 – 9 November 959 (as senior emperor)
PredecessorRomanos I Lekapenos (as senior emperor)
Himself (as junior co-emperor)
Stephen and Constantine Lekapenos (as junior co-emperors)
SuccessorRomanos II
Co-emperorsStephen and Constantine Lekapenos (944–945)
Romanos II (945–959)
Born17 or 18 May 905[1]
Died9 November 959 (aged 54)[1]
SpouseHelena Lekapene
IssueRomanos II
Full name
Constantine Porphyrogennetos
("the Purple-born")
DynastyMacedonian dynasty
FatherLeo VI
MotherZoe Karbonopsina


Gold solidus of Leo VI and Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, 908–912
Zoe Karbonopsina
Follis of Constantine and his mother Zoe minted during Zoe's regency
Constantine VII dining with Tsar Symeon of Bulgaria
Constantine and Simeon dining

Constantine was born at Constantinople, an illegitimate son born before an uncanonical fourth marriage. To help legitimize him, his mother gave birth to him in the Purple Room of the imperial palace, hence his nickname Porphyrogennetos. He was symbolically elevated to the throne as a two-year-old child by his father and uncle on May 15, 908.

In June 913, as his uncle Alexander lay dying, he appointed a seven-man regency council for Constantine. It was headed by the Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos, the two magistroi John Eladas and Stephen, the rhaiktor John Lazanes, the otherwise obscure Euthymius and Alexander's henchmen Basilitzes and Gabrielopoulos.[3] Following Alexander's death, the new and shaky regime survived the attempted usurpation of Constantine Doukas,[4] and Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos quickly assumed a dominant position among the regents.[5]

Patriarch Nicholas was presently forced to make peace with Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, whom he reluctantly recognized as Bulgarian emperor. Because of this unpopular concession, Patriarch Nicholas was driven out of the regency by Constantine's mother Zoe. She was no more successful with the Bulgarians, who defeated her main supporter, the general Leo Phokas, in 917. In 919 she was replaced as regent by the admiral Romanos Lekapenos, who married his daughter Helena Lekapene to Constantine. Romanos used his position to advance to the ranks of basileopatōr in May 919, to kaisar (Caesar) in September 920, and finally to co-emperor in December 920. Thus, just short of reaching nominal majority, Constantine was eclipsed by a senior emperor.

Constantine's youth had been a sad one due to his unpleasant appearance, his taciturn nature, and his relegation to the third level of succession, behind Christopher Lekapenos, the eldest son of Romanos I Lekapenos. Nevertheless, he was a very intelligent young man with a large range of interests, and he dedicated those years to studying the court's ceremonial.

Romanos kept and maintained power until 944, when he was deposed by his sons, the co-emperors Stephen and Constantine. Romanos spent the last years of his life in exile on the Island of Prote as a monk and died on June 15, 948.[6] With the help of his wife, Constantine VII succeeded in removing his brothers-in-law, and on January 27, 945, Constantine VII became sole emperor at the age of 39, after a life spent in the shadow. Several months later, Constantine VII crowned his own son Romanos II co-emperor. Having never exercised executive authority, Constantine remained primarily devoted to his scholarly pursuits and relegated his authority to bureaucrats and generals, as well as to his energetic wife Helena Lekapene.

In 949 Constantine launched a new fleet of 100 ships (20 dromons, 64 chelandia, and 10 galleys) against the Arab corsairs hiding in Crete, but like his father's attempt to retake the island in 911, this attempt also failed. On the Eastern frontier things went better, even if with alternate success. In 949 the Byzantines conquered Germanicea, repeatedly defeated the enemy armies, and in 952 they crossed the upper Euphrates. But in 953 the Hamdanid amir Sayf al-Daula retook Germanicea and entered the imperial territory. The land in the east was eventually recovered by Nikephoros Phokas, who conquered Hadath, in northern Syria, in 958, and by the general John Tzimiskes, who one year later captured Samosata, in northern Mesopotamia. An Arab fleet was also destroyed by Greek fire in 957. Constantine's efforts to retake themes lost to the Arabs were the first such efforts to have any real success.

Constantine VII (Roman emperor), deathbed
The Madrid Skylitzes' depiction of Constantine on his deathbed

Constantine had active diplomatic relationships with foreign courts, including those of the caliph of Cordoba Abd ar-Rahman III and of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor. In the autumn of 957 Constantine was visited by Olga of Kiev, regent of the Kievan Rus'. The reasons for this voyage have never been clarified; but she was baptised a Christian with the name Helena, and sought Christian missionaries to encourage her people to adopt Christianity. According to legends, Constantine VII fell in love with Olga, however she found the way to refuse him by tricking him to become her godfather. When she was baptized, she said it was inappropriate for a godfather to marry his goddaughter.[7]

Constantine VII died at Constantinople in November 959 and was succeeded by his son Romanos II. It was rumored that Constantine had been poisoned by his son or his daughter-in-law Theophano.

Literary and political activity

Gold solidus of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, 913–959.

Constantine VII was renowned for his abilities as a writer and scholar. He wrote, or had commissioned, the works De Ceremoniis ("On Ceremonies", in Greek, Περί τῆς Βασιλείου Τάξεως), describing the kinds of court ceremonies (also described later in a more negative light by Liutprand of Cremona); De Administrando Imperio ("On the Administration of the Empire", bearing in Greek the heading Προς τον ίδιον υιόν Ρωμανόν),[2] giving advice on running the Empire internally and on fighting external enemies; a history of the Empire covering events following the death of the chronographer Theophanes the Confessor in 817; and Excerpta Historica ("Excerpts from the Histories"), a collection of excerpts from ancient historians (many of whose works are now lost) in four volumes (1. De legationibus. 2. De virtutibus et vitiis. 3. De insidiis. 4. De sententiis.) Also amongst his historical works is a history eulogizing the reign and achievements of his grandfather, Basil I (Vita Basilii, Βίος Βασιλείου). These books are insightful and of interest to the historian, sociologist, and anthropologist as a source of information about nations neighbouring the Empire. They also offer a fine insight into the Emperor himself.

In his book, A Short History of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich refers to Constantine VII as "The Scholar Emperor".[8] Norwich describes Constantine:

He was, we are told, a passionate collector—not only of books and manuscripts but works of art of every kind; more remarkable still for a man of his class, he seems to have been an excellent painter. He was the most generous of patrons—to writers and scholars, artists and craftsmen. Finally, he was an excellent Emperor: a competent, conscientious and hard-working administrator and an inspired picker of men, whose appointments to military, naval, ecclesiastical, civil and academic posts were both imaginative and successful. He did much to develop higher education and took a special interest in the administration of justice.[9]

In 947, Constantine VII ordered the immediate restitution of all peasant lands, without compensation; by the end of his reign, the condition of the landed peasantry, which formed the foundation of the whole economic and military strength of the Empire, was better off than it had been for a century.[10]

In The Manuscript Tradition of Polybius, John Michael Moore (CUP, 1965) provides a useful summary of the commission by Porphyrogenitus of the Constantine Excerpts:

He felt that the historical studies were being seriously neglected, mainly because of the bulk of the histories. He therefore decided that a selection under fifty-three titles should be made from all the important historians extant in Constantinople; thus he hoped to assemble in a more manageable compass the most valuable parts of each author. ... Of the fifty-three titles into which the excerpts were divided, only six have survived: de Virtutibus et Vitiis; de Sententiis; de Insidiis; de Strategematis; de Legationibus Gentium ad Romanos; de Legationibus Romanorum ad Gentes. The titles of only about half the remaining forty-seven sections are known.[11]


By his wife Helena Lekapene, the daughter of Emperor Romanos I, Constantine VII had 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.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos" in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 1991, p. 502. ISBN 0195046528
  2. ^ a b Moravcsik 1967.
  3. ^ Runciman 1988, pp. 47–48.
  4. ^ Runciman 1988, pp. 49–50.
  5. ^ Runciman 1988, pp. 49ff..
  6. ^ Ostrogorsky, George (1969). History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. p. 278. ISBN 0-8135-0599-2.
  7. ^ S. H. Cross and O. P. Sherbowizt-Wetzor (trans.) (1953). The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America. pp. 82–83. ISBN 9780915651320.
  8. ^ Norwich, John Julius. (1997) A Short History of Byzantium. London: Viking, p. 180. ISBN 0-679-45088-2
  9. ^ Norwich, 181.
  10. ^ Norwich, 182-83.
  11. ^ Moore, 127.


External links

Constantine VII
Born: September 905 Died: 9 November 959
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Emperor
6 June 913 –9 November 959
with Romanos I (920–944)
Christopher Lekapenos (921–931)
Stephen Lekapenos (924–945)
Constantine Lekapenos (924–945)
Succeeded by
Romanos II
Christopher Lekapenos

Christopher Lekapenos or Lecapenus (Greek: Χριστόφορος Λακαπηνός) was the eldest son of Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920–944) and co-emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 921 until his death in 931. Christopher was given the position of megas hetaireiarches (commander of the palace guard) in spring 919, after Romanos assumed the position of basileopator. Romanos, in order to give his family precedence over the more Macedonian line, raised Christopher to co-emperor on 21 May 921. In 928 Christopher's father-in-law, Niketas, unsuccessfully attempted to incite Christopher to usurp his father, resulting in Niketas being banished. Christopher died in August 931, succeeded by his father and two brothers, Stephen Lekapenos and Constantine Lekapenos, and Constantine VII. In December 944 his brothers overthrew and exiled his father, however they themselves were exiled upon their attempts to oust Constantine VII.

Constantine Lekapenos

Constantine Lekapenos or Lecapenus (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Λακαπηνός) was the third son of the Byzantine emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920–944), and co-emperor from 924 to 945. With his elder brother Stephen, he deposed Romanos I in December 944, but was overthrown and exiled by the legitimate emperor Constantine VII (r. 913–959) a few weeks later. Constantine was exiled to the island of Samothrace, where he was killed while attempting to escape sometime between 946 and 948.

De Administrando Imperio

De Administrando Imperio ("On the Governance of the Empire") is the Latin title of a Greek work written by the 10th-century Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII. The Greek title of the work is Πρὸς τὸν ἴδιον υἱὸν Ρωμανόν ("To [my] own son Romanos"). It is a domestic and foreign policy manual for the use of Constantine's son and successor, the Emperor Romanos II.

De Ceremoniis

The De Ceremoniis (fully De cerimoniis aulae Byzantinae) is the conventional Latin name for a Greek book of ceremonial protocol at the court of the Byzantine emperors in Constantinople. Its Greek title is often cited as Ἔκθεσις τῆς βασιλείου τάξεως ("Explanation of the Order of the Palace"), taken from the work's preface, or Περὶ τῆς Βασιλείου Τάξεως ("On the Order of the Palace"). In non-specialist English sources, it tends to be called the Book of Ceremonies of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (variably spelt), a formula used by writers including David Talbot Rice and the modern English translation.


Fajsz (Hungarian: [ˈfɒjs]), also Falicsi ([ˈfɒlit͡ʃi]), was Grand Prince of the Hungarians from about 950 to around 955. All information on him comes from De administrando imperio, a book written by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. No other contemporary source or later Hungarian chronicle preserved his name, suggesting that he did not take an active role in the politics of the Hungarian tribes' confederation.

Helena Lekapene

Helena Lekapene (in Greek: Ἑλένη Λεκαπηνή; Latinized to Lecapena) (c. 910 – 19 September 961) was the empress consort of Constantine VII, known to have acted as his political adviser and de facto co-regent. She was a daughter of Romanos I Lekapenos and Theodora.

Joseph Bringas

Joseph Bringas (Greek: Ὶωσῆφ Βρίγγας) was an important Byzantine eunuch official in the reigns of Emperor Constantine VII (r. 945–959) and Emperor Romanos II (r. 959–963), serving as chief minister and effective regent during the latter. Having unsuccessfully opposed the rise of Nikephoros Phokas to the imperial throne in 963, he was exiled to a monastery, where he died in 965.

Macedonian dynasty

The Macedonian dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056, following the Amorian dynasty. During this period, the Byzantine state reached its greatest expanse since the Muslim conquests, and the Macedonian Renaissance in letters and arts began. The dynasty was named after its founder, Basil I the Macedonian who came from the Theme of Macedonia which at the time was part of Thrace.

Marianos Argyros

Marianos Argyros (Greek: Μαριανός Ἀργυρός, fl. 944–963) was a Byzantine aristocrat and member of the Argyros family. A monk, in 944 he supported the assumption of sole rule by Constantine VII, and was allowed to leave the monastery and enter imperial service. He held a succession of senior military commands, fighting in southern Italy against local rebels and the Fatimids, and in the Balkans against the Magyars. In 963, he tried to oppose the takeover of the imperial throne by the general Nikephoros Phokas by assuming control over Constantinople and arresting his father, Bardas Phokas the Elder. During the ensuing clashes, he was hit on the head by a platter, and died on the next day, 16 August 963.

Nicholas Mystikos

Nicholas I Mystikos or Nicholas I Mysticus (Greek: Νικόλαος Α΄ Μυστικός, Nikolaos I Mystikos; 852 – 11 May 925) was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from March 901 to February 907 and from May 912 to his death in 925. His feast day in the Eastern Orthodox Church is 16 May.Nicholas was born in the Italian Peninsula and had become a friend of the Patriarch Photios. He fell into disfavor after Photios' dismissal in 886 and retired to a monastery. Emperor Leo VI the Wise retrieved him from the monastery and made him mystikos, a dignity designating either the imperial secretary or a judicial official.

On 1 March 901, Nicholas was appointed patriarch. However, he fell out with Leo VI over the latter's fourth marriage to his mistress Zoe Karbonopsina. Although he reluctantly baptized the fruit of this relationship, the future Constantine VII, Nicholas forbade the emperor from entering the church and may have become involved in the revolt of Andronikos Doukas. He was deposed as patriarch on 1 February 907 and replaced by Euthymios. Exiled to his own monastery, Nicholas regarded his deposition as unjustified and involved Pope Sergius III in the dispute.

About the time of the accession of Leo VI's brother Alexander to the throne in May 912, Nicholas was restored to the patriarchate. A protracted struggle with the supporters of Euthymios followed, which did not end until the new Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos promulgated the Tomos of Union in 920. In the meantime Alexander had died in 913 after provoking a war with Bulgaria, and the underage Constantine VII succeeded to the throne. Nicholas Mystikos became the leading member of the seven-man regency for the young emperor, and as such had to face the advance of Simeon I of Bulgaria on Constantinople. Nicholas negotiated a peaceful settlement, crowned Simeon emperor of the Bulgarians in a makeshift ceremony outside Constantinople, and arranged for the marriage of Simeon's daughter to Constantine VII.

This unpopular concession undermined his position, and by March 914, with the support of the magistros John Eladas, Zoe Karbonopsina overthrew Nicholas and replaced him as foremost regent. She revoked the agreement with Simeon, prompting the renewal of hostilities with Bulgaria. With her main supporter Leo Phokas crushingly defeated by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Acheloos in 917, Zoe started to lose ground. Embarrassed by further failures, she and her supporters were supplanted in 919 by the admiral Romanos Lekapenos, who married his daughter Helena Lekapene to Constantine VII and finally advanced to the imperial throne in 920. The Patriarch Nicholas came to be one of the strongest supporters of the new emperor, and took the brunt of renewed negotiations with the Bulgarians until his death in 925.

In addition to his numerous letters to various notables and foreign rulers (including Simeon of Bulgaria), Nicholas Mystikos wrote a homily on the sack of Thessalonica by the Arabs in 904. He was a critical thinker who went as far as to question the authority of Old Testament quotations and the notion that the emperor's command was unwritten law.

Polyeuctus of Constantinople

Polyeuctus (in Greek: Πολύευκτος), (? – 5 February 970) was Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (956–970). His orthodox feast is on February 5.

Romanos II

Romanos (or Romanus) II (Greek: Ρωμανός Β΄, Rōmanos II) (938 – 15 March 963) was a Byzantine Emperor. He succeeded his father Constantine VII in 959 at the age of twenty-one and died suddenly in 963.

Romanos I Lekapenos

Romanos I Lekapenos or Lakapenos (Greek: Ρωμανός Α΄ Λακαπηνός, Rōmanos I Lakapēnos; c. 870 – June 15, 948), Latinized as Romanus I Lecapenus, was an Armenian who became a Byzantine naval commander and reigned as Byzantine Emperor from 920 until his deposition on December 16, 944.

Stephen Lekapenos

Stephen Lekapenos or Lecapenus (Greek: Στέφανος Λακαπηνός; died 18 April 963) was the second son of the Byzantine emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920–944), and co-emperor from 924 to 945. With his younger brother Constantine, he deposed Romanos I in December 944, but was overthrown and exiled by the legitimate emperor Constantine VII (r. 913–959) a few weeks later. Stephen lived out his life in exile on the island of Lesbos, where he died on Easter 963.

Theodora, daughter of Constantine VII

Theodora (in Greek: Θεοδώρα; born c. 946) was the second wife and the empress consort of John I Tzimiskes. She was a daughter of Constantine VII and Helena Lekapene. Her maternal grandparents were Romanos I Lekapenos and Theodora.

The work Theophanes Continuatus was a continuation of the chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor by other writers, active during the reign of her father. The chronicle ends in 961 and records her fate following the death of Constantine VII on 9 November 959. Her brother Romanos II succeeded to the throne and his wife Theophano convinced him to send all five of his sisters to the convent of Kanikleion. Theodora and her sisters Zoe, Agatha, Theophano and Anna were initially held in Kanikleion. Later they were split with Theodora, Zoe and Theophano sent to the monastery of Antiochus while Agatha and Anna were sent to Myrelaion, a nunnery built by their maternal grandfather.

While the sisters were following their monastic lives, changes were occurring in the imperial throne. Romanos II died on 15 March 963. His co-rulers and successors were his underage sons Basil II and Constantine VIII. Their mother served as their regent until marrying victorious general Nikephoros II. Nikephoros rose to the throne as senior Emperor. However Theophano and John Tzimiskes, Nikephoros' nephew, organized his assassination on the night of 10–11 December 969.

John became senior Emperor in place of Nikephoros. Theophano was exiled to the island of Pringipos. His previous marriage to Maria Skeleraina had solidified an alliance with general Bardas Skleros, but the loyalties of the rest of the Byzantine Empire were not as secure. John rectified the situation by releasing Theodora from Myrelaion and arranging their marriage. According to Leo the Deacon, the marriage occurred in November 971. The Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. IV, The Byzantine Empire (1966) by Joan M. Hussey attributes to this marriage the birth of a daughter, Theophano Kourkouas.

John Tzimiskes died on 10 January 976. Whether Theodora was still alive is not mentioned in medieval sources.

Theophanes Continuatus

Theophanes Continuatus (Greek: συνεχισταί Θεοφάνους) or Scriptores post Theophanem (Οἱ μετὰ Θεοφάνην, "those after Theophanes") is the Latin name commonly applied to a collection of historical writings preserved in the 11th-century Vat. gr. 167 manuscript. Its name derives from its role as the continuation, covering the years 813–961, of the chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor, which reaches from 285 to 813. The manuscript consists of four distinct works, in style and form very unlike the annalistic approach of Theophanes.The first work, of four books consists of a series of biographies of the emperors reigning from 813 to 867 (from Leo the Armenian to Michael III). As they were commissioned by Emperor Constantine VII (r. 913–959), they reflect the point of view of the reigning Macedonian dynasty. The unknown author probably used the same sources as Genesios. The second work is known as the Vita Basilii (Latin for "Life of Basil"), a biography of Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867–886) written by his grandson Constantine VII probably around 950. The work is essentially a panegyric, praising Basil and his reign while vilifying his predecessor, Michael III. The third work is a history of the years 886–948, in form and content very close to the history of Symeon Logothetes, and the final section continues it until 961. It was probably written by Theodore Daphnopates, shortly before 963.

Theophylact of Constantinople

Theophylact Lekapenos (or Lecapenus) (Greek: Θεοφύλακτος Λακαπηνός, Theophylaktos Lakapenos) (917 – 27 February 956) was Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 2 February 933 to his death in 956.

Walled Obelisk

The Walled Obelisk, Constantine Obelisk or Masonry Obelisk (Turkish: Örme Dikilitaş or Konstantin Dikilitaşı) is situated near the Serpentine Column at the southern side of the Hippodrome of Constantinople (now Sultanahmet Square) in Istanbul, Turkey. Its original construction date is unknown, but it is named after Constantine VII, who repaired it in the tenth century.

Zoe Karbonopsina

Zoe Karbonopsina, also Karvounopsina or Carbonopsina, i.e., "with the Coal-Black Eyes" (Greek: Ζωή Καρβωνοψίνα, Zōē Karbōnopsina), was an empress consort and regent of the Byzantine empire. She was the fourth spouse of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise and the mother of Constantine VII, serving as his regent from 914 until 919.

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