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§ 2. Nicephorus I.
According to Oriental historians,' Nicephorus was descended from an Arabian king, Jaballah of Ghassan, who in the reign of Heraclius became a Mohammadan, but soon, dissatisfied with the principle of equality which marked the early period of the Caliphate, fled to Cappadocia and resumed the profession of Christianity along with allegiance to the Empire. Perhaps Jaballah or one of his descendants settled in Pisidia, for Nicephorus was born in Seleucia of that province." His fame has suffered, because he had neither a fair historian to do him justice, nor apologists to countervail the coloured statements of opponents. He is described as an unblushing hypocrite, avaricious, cruel, irreligious, unchaste, a perjured slave, a wicked revolutionary. His every act is painted as a crime or a weakness, or as prompted by a sinister motive. When we omit the adjectives and the comments and set down the facts, we come to a different conclusion. The history of his reign shows him a strong and masterful man, who was fully alive to the difficulties of the task of governing and was prepared to incur unpopularity in discharging his duty as guardian of the state. Like many other competent statesmen, he knew how to play upon the weaknesses of men and to conceal his own designs; he seems indeed to have been expert in dissimulation and the cognate arts of diplomacy. It was said that tears came with convenient readiness, enabling him. to feign emotions which he was far from feeling and win a false reputation for having a good heart."
Michael Syr. 15 (Bar-Hebraeus, 139). Tabari says: "the Romans record that this Nikephoros was a descendant of Gafna of Ghassan" (apud Brooks, i. 743).
2 It is strange that Theophanes calls him a swineherd (476), but the point of the contumely may be his provincial birth. Michael Syr. 12 calls him a Cappadocian. His head on coins is as generally in Byzantine coinage-purely conventional.
By Theophanes. Over against Theophanes, however, we may place the brief eulogy of another contemporary monk, Theosteriktos (who wrote the Life of Nicetas of Medikion 4. A. D. 824-829), who describes him
(Vit. Nicet. xxix.) as o evoeẞéOTATOS καὶ φιλόπτωχος καὶ φιλομόναχος. He is also praised for piety and orthodoxy in the Ep. Synod. Orient. ad Theoph.
Theoph. 477, cp. 483 (ò woλUμήχανος).
5 lb. 480. The same faculty was attributed to Lord Thurlow. When the Regency question came up, on the occasion of George the Third's first seizure with insanity, as the Chancellor was trimming between loyalty to the King, whose recovery was uncertain, and the favour of the Prince of Wales, a seasonable display of emotion in the House of Lords was one of his arts.
Most of the able Roman Emperors who were not born in the purple had been generals before they ascended the throne. Nicephorus, who had been a financial minister, was one of the most notable exceptions. It is probable that he had received a military training, for he led armies into the field. He was thoroughly in earnest about the defence of the Empire against its foes, whether beyond the Taurus or beyond the Haemus; but he had not the qualities of a skilful general, and this deficiency led to the premature end of his reign. Yet his financial experience may have been of more solid value to the state than the military talent which might have achieved some brilliant successes. He was fully determined to be master in his own house. He intended that the Empire, the Church as well as the State, should be completely under his control, and would brook no rival authorities, whether in the court or in the cloister. He severely criticized his predecessors, asserting that they had no idea of the true methods of government. If a sovran, he used to say, wishes to rule efficiently, he must permit no one to be more powerful than himself,3—a sound doctrine under the constitution of the Roman Empire. The principles of his ecclesiastical policy, which rendered him execrable in the eyes of many monks, were religious toleration and the supremacy of the State over the Church. Detested by the monks on this account, he has been represented by one of them, who is our principal informant, as a tyrannical oppressor who imposed intolerable burdens of taxation upon his subjects from purely avaricious motives. Some of his financial measures may have been severe, but our ignorance of the economic conditions of the time and our imperfect knowledge of the measures themselves render it difficult for us to criticize them.*
In pursuance of his conception of the sovran's duty, to take an active part in the administration himself and keep its various departments under his own control, Nicephorus resolved to exercise more constantly and regularly the supreme judicial functions which belonged to the Emperor. His immediate predecessors had probably seldom attended in person the Imperial Court of Appeal, over which the Prefect Theoph. 479 εἰς ἑαυτὸν τὰ πάντα
2 lb. 489.
For these measures see below, Chap. VII. § 1.
of the City presided in the Emperor's absence; but hitherto it had been only in the case of appeals, or in those trials of high functionaries which were reserved for his Court, that the sovran intervened in the administration of justice. Nicephorus instituted a new court which sat in the Palace of Magnaura. Here he used to preside himself and judge cases which ordinarily came before the Prefect of the City or the Quaestor. It was his purpose, he alleged, to enable the poor to obtain justice speedily and easily. It is instructive to observe how this innovation was construed and censured by his enemies. It was said that his motive was to insult and oppress the official classes, or that the encouragement of lawsuits was designed to divert the attention of his subjects from Imperial " impieties." 2 The malevolence of these insinuations is manifest. Nicephorus was solicitous to protect his subjects against official oppression, and all Emperors who took an active personal part in the administration of justice were highly respected and praised by the public.
Not long after Nicephorus ascended the throne he was menaced by a serious insurrection. He had appointed an able general, Bardanes Turcus, to an exceptionally extensive command, embracing the Anatolic, the Armeniac, and the three other Asiatic Themes. The appointment was evidently made with the object of prosecuting vigorously the war against the Saracens, in which Bardanes had distinguished himself, and won popularity with the soldiers by his scrupulously fair division of booty, in which he showed himself no respecter of persons. He was, as his name shows, an Armenian by
1 Cp. Zacharia, Gr.-röm. Recht, 357. 2 Theoph. 479, 489.
3 The sources are Theoph. 479; Gen. 8 sqq.; Cont. Th. 6 sqq. The narra tives in the two latter works are told à propos of the history of Leo the Arinenian, and though they are cog. nate (and must be derived ultimately from the same source), Cont. Th. is here independent of Genesios (ep. Hirsch, Byz. Stud. 189).
• Cont. Th. β μονοστράτηγον τῶν πέντε θεμάτων τῶν κατὰ τὴν ἀνατολήν. Theoph. and Gen. designate Bardanes. as strategos of the Anatolic Theme.
Probably he had held this post at
descent, but we are not told whence he derived the surname of "Turk." The large powers which were entrusted to him stirred his ambitions to seize the crown, and the fiscal rigour of the new Emperor excited sufficient discontent to secure followers for a usurper. The Armeniac troops refused to support him, but the regiments of the other four Themes which were under his command proclaimed him Emperor on Wednesday, July 19, A.D. 803.1
This revolt of Bardanes has a dramatic interest beyond the immediate circumstances. It was the first act in a long and curious drama which was worked out in the course of twenty years. We shall see the various stages of its development in due order. The contemporaries of the actors grasped the dramatic aspect, and the interest was heightened by the belief that the events had been prophetically foreshadowed from the beginning. In the staff of Bardanes were three young men who enjoyed his conspicuous favour. Leo was of Armenian origin, like the general himself, but had been reared at a small place called Pidra in the Anatolic Theme. Bardanes had selected him for his fierce look and brave temper to be a “spear-bearer and attendant," or, as we should say, an aide-de-camp. Michael, who was known as Traulos, on account of his lisp, was a native of Amorion. The third, Thomas, probably came of a Slavonic family settled in Pontus. near Gaziura. All three were of humble origin, but Bardanes detected that they were marked out by nature for great things and advanced them at the very beginning of their careers. When he determined to raise the standard of rebellion against Nicephorus, he took these three chosen ones into his confidence, and they accompanied him when he rode one day to Philomelion for the purpose of consulting a hermit said to be endowed with the faculty of foreseeing things to come. Leaving his horse to the care of his squires, Bardanes entered
1 Theoph. and Cont. Th.
The story is told by Genesios (p. 8). The account in Cont. Th. 7 is taken from Genesios; see Hirsch, 184 sqq.
Cf. Ramsay, Asia Minor, 246 n. The town of Gaziura (Ibora) is on the river Iris, south-cast of Amasea, on the road to Tokat. It corresponds to the modern Turkhal. Cp. Ramsay, ib. 326 877. On the birth of Thomas in this region, Genesios and Cont. Th.
agree. But Genesios makes Thomas out to be an Armenian (though in another place he says σκυθίζων τῷ yével, 32), while in Cont. Th. 50 his parents are called Σκλαβογενῶν τῶν πολλάκις έγκισσευθέντων κατὰ τὴν ̓Ανατολήν. The stories about his early life will find a more fitting place when we come to his rebellion in the reign of Michael II.
5 In Pisidia, not far east of Antioch.
the prophet's cell, where he received a discouraging oracle. He was bidden to abandon his designs, which would surely lead to the loss of his property and of his eyes. He left the hermit's dwelling moody and despondent, and he was mounting his horse when the holy man, who had followed to the door and espied his three companions, summoned him to return. Eagerly expecting a further communication Bardanes complied, and he heard a strange prophecy: "The first and the second of these men will possess the Empire, but thou shalt not. As for the third, he will be merely proclaimed, but will not prosper and will have a bad end." The disappointed aspirant to the throne rushed from the hut, uttering maledictions against the prophet who refused to flatter his hopes, and jeeringly communicated to Leo, Michael, and Thomas the things which were said to be in store for them. Thus, according to the story, the destinies of the two Emperors Leo V. and Michael II. and of the great tyrant Thomas were shadowed forth at Philomelion long before it could be guessed how such things were to come to pass.'
The destiny of their patron Bardanes was to be decided far sooner. The insurgent army advanced along the road to Nicomedia, but it was soon discovered that the Emperor was prepared for the emergency and had forces at his disposition which rendered the cause of the tyrant hopeless. Thomas, the Slavonian, stood by his master; but Leo, the Armenian, and Michael, of Amorion, deserted to Nicephorus, who duly rewarded them. Michael was appointed a Count of the tent,
This prediction post eventum was probably manufactured soon after the death of Thomas, in A.D. 824.
Apparently coming from Nicaea (Cont. Th. 9).
3 There is a difficulty, which historians have not noticed, as to the meaning of this appointment. There was, so far as we know, no official entitled κόμης τῆς κόρτης par excellence, while in every Theme there was an officer so named. It may be held that in the reign of Nicephorus there was a Count of the Imperial tent, who had duties when the Emperor took part in a campaign, and that the office was abolislied soon afterwards. It appears, however, possible that Michael was appointed κόμης τῆς κόρτης of the
Anatolic Theme. In support of this view, I adduce the fact that when Leo, the Armenian, became strategos of that Theme under Michael I. he is said to have renewed his friendship with Michael, the Amorian. This sug gests that Michael was connected with the Anatolic Theme. Moreover, at the time of Leo's elevation to the throne he appears as attached to his staff. The Counts of the tent of the various Themes attended on the Emperor's tent in campaigns (repl Tag. 489). The Foederati were the foreign guard of the Palace, afterwards known as the Hetaireia; the Count of the Federates was the later Hetaeriarch. See Bury, Imp. Administrative System, 107.