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His father took pains to choose a suitable wife for him. On December 20, 807, a company of young girls from all parts of the Empire was assembled in the Palace, to select a consort for Stauracius. For a third time in the history of New Rome an Athenian lady was chosen to be the bride of a Roman Augustus. The choice of Nicephorus now fell on Theophano, even as Constantine V. had selected Irene for his son Leo, and nearly four centuries before Pulcheria had discovered Athenais for her brother Theodosius. Theophano had two advantages: she was a kinswoman of the late Empress Irene; and she had already (report said) enjoyed the embraces of a man to whom she was betrothed.2 The second circumstance gave Nicephorus an opportunity of asserting the principle that the Emperor was not bound by the canonical laws which interdicted such a union.3
If a statement of Theophanes is true, which we have no means of disproving and no reason to doubt, the beauty of the maidens who had presented themselves as possible brides for the son, tempted the desires of the father; and two, who were more lovely than the successful Athenian, were consoled for their disappointment by the gallantries of Nicephorus himself on the night of his son's marriage. The monk who
. records this scandal of the Imperial Palace makes no other comment than the rascal was ridiculed by all.”
The frontiers of the Empire were maintained intact in the reign of Nicephorus, but his campaigns were not crowned by military glory. The death of the Caliph Harun (809 A.D.) delivered him from a persevering foe against whom he had been generally unsuccessful, and to whom he had been forced to make some humiliating concessions ; but the Bulgarian war brought deeper disgrace upon Roman arms and was fatal to Nicephorus himself. In an expedition which, accompanied by his son and his son-in-law, he led across the Haemus, he suffered himself to be entrapped, and his life paid the penalty for his want of caution (July 26, A.D. 811).4
2 μεμνηστευμένην ανδρί και πολλάκις αυτώ συγκοιτασθείσαν, χωρίσας αυτήν απ' αυτού το άθλίω Σταυρακίω συνέζευξεν
Cp. below, p. 34. 4 The Saracen and Bulgarian wars of Nicephorus are described below in Chaps. VIII. and XI.
§ 3. Stauracius The young Emperor Stauracius had been severely wounded in the battle, but he succeeded in escaping to the shelter of Hadrianople. His sister's husband, Michael Rangabé, had come off unhurt; and two other high dignitaries, the magister Theoktistos, and Stephanos the Domestic of the Schools, reached the city of refuge along with the surviving Augustus. But although Stauracius was still living, it was a question whether he could live long. His spine had been seriously injured, and the nobles who stood at his bedside despaired of his life. They could hardly avoid considering the question whether it would be wise at such a crisis to leave the sole Imperial power in the hands of one who had never shown any marked ability and who was now incapacitated by a wound, seemingly at the door of death. On the other hand, it might be said that the unanimity and prompt action which the emergency demanded would be better secured by acknowledging the legitimate Emperor, however feeble he might be. So at least it seemed to the Domestic of the Schools, who lost no time in proclaiming Stauracius autokrator.? Stauracius himself, notwithstanding his weak condition, appeared in the presence of the troops who had collected at Hadrianople after the disaster, and spoke to them. The soldiers had been disgusted by the unskilfulness of the late Emperor in the art of war, and it is said that the new Emperor sought to please them by indulging in criticisms on his father.
But the magister Theoktistos, although he was present on this occasion, would have preferred another in the place of
1 Theoktistos is undoubtedly the It is worth noticing that Muralt and same person as the quaestor who sup- Hirsch (190) adduce from Theophanes ported Nicephorus in his conspiracy July 25 as the date of the death of against Irene ; he was rewarded by Nicephorus. This is due to a wrong the high order of magister.
reading, corrected in de Boor's edition, 2 The reign of Stauracius, reckoned 491. In Cont. Th. 11 the date is also from the date of his father's death, given as July 26, but the death of July 26, to the day of his resignation, Štauracius is wrongly placed on the Oct. 2, lasted 2 months and 8 days day of his resignation (Oct. 2). He (Cont. Th. 11). Theophanes gives 2 survived till Jan. 11, 812 (Theoph. months and 6 days (495), but he 495). reckons perhaps from the date of his 3 The divergent views of Stephanos proclamation at Hadrianople, which and Theoktistos are expressly noted might have been made on July 28. by Theophanes, 492.
Stauracius. And there was one who had a certain eventual claim to the crown, and might be supposed not unequal to its burdens, Michael Rangabé, the Curopalates and husband of the princess Procopia. It would not have been a violent measure if, in view of the precarious condition of her brother, Procopia's husband had been immediately invested with the insignia of empire. Such a course could have been abundantly justified by the necessity of having an Emperor capable of meeting the dangers to be apprehended from the triumphant Bulgarian foe. Theoktistos and others pressed Michael to assume the diadem, and if he had been willing Stauracius would not have reigned a week. But Michael declined at this juncture, and the orthodox historian, who admires and lauds him, attributes his refusal to a regard for his oath of allegiance " to Nicephorus and Stauracius.” 1
. The wounded Emperor was removed in a litter from Hadrianople to Byzantium. The description of the consequence of his hurt 2 shows that he must have suffered much physical agony, and the chances of his recovery were diminished by his mental anxieties. He had no children, and the question was, who was to succeed him. On the one hand, his sister Procopia held that the Imperial power rightly devolved upon her husband and her children. On the other hand, there was another lady, perhaps even more ambitious than Procopia, and dearer to Stauracius. The Athenian Theophano might hope to play the part of her kinswoman Irene, and reign as sole mistress of the Roman Empire.3
Concerning the intrigues which were spun round the bedside of the young Emperor in the autumn months (August and September) of 811, our contemporary chronicle gives only a slight indication. The influence of Theophano caused her husband to show marked displeasure to the ministers Stephanos and Theoktistos, and to his brother-in-law Michael, and also to regard with aversion his sister Procopia, whom he suspected of conspiring against his life.4 As his condition 1 Ib.
μίμησιν της μακαρίας Ειρήνης κρατήσεις 2 The wound is characterized as ήλπιζε της βασιλείας απαις ούσα. mortal (καιρίως) κατά του σπονδύλου το 4 The words of Theophanes are here begidu pèpos. The consequence was, di' ambiguous, and the sense depends on ούρων αιμορραγήσας αμέτρως κατεξηράνθη the punctuation. De Boor punctuates μηρούς και σκέλη.
thus : αποστρεφόμενος πάντη και Προ3 10. αυτίκα γάρ ή τάλαινα κατά κοπίαν την ιδίαν αδελφήν, ώς επιβουλεύ
grew worse and he saw that his days were numbered, he wavered between two alternative plans for the future of the Empire. One of these was to devolve the succession on his wife Theophano.
The other alternative conceived by Stauracius is 80 strange that we hardly know what to make of it. The idea comes to us as a surprise in the pages of a ninth-century chronicle. It appears that this Emperor, as he felt death approaching, formed the conception of changing the Imperial constitution into a democracy. It was the wild vision of a morbid brain, but we cannot help wondering how Stauracius would have proceeded in attempting to carry out such a scheme. Abstractly, indeed, so far as the constitutional aspect was concerned, it would have been simple enough. The Imperial constitution might be abolished and a democratic republic established, in theory, by a single measure. All that he had to do was to repeal a forgotten law, which had regulated the authority of the early Caesars, and thereby restore to the Roman people the powers which it had delegated to the Imperator more than seven hundred years before. Of the Lex de imperio Stauracius had probably never heard, nor is it likely that he had much knowledge of the early constitutional history of Rome. Perhaps it was from ancient Athens that he derived the political idea which, in the circumstances of his age, was a chimera ; and to his wife, thirsty for power, he might have said, “ Athens, your own city, has taught the world that democracy is the best and noblest form of government."
The intervention of the Patriarch Nicephorus at this juncture helped to determine and secure the progress of events. He was doubtless relieved at the death of his stark namesake, however much he may have been distressed at the calamity which brought it about; and we are told that, when Stauracius arrived at Constantinople, the Patriarch hastened to give him ghostly advice and exhort him to console those who had been pecuniarily wronged by his father, by making σασαν αυτά ταϊς θεοφανούς της αυγούστης αποστρεφόμενος. The insinuations of υποβολαίς. The meaning of this wou his wife caused the aversion of be that Theophano suborned Procopia Stauracius to his sister. to plot against Stauracius. It is clear 1 Ι6. ή δημοκρατίαν εγείραι Χριστιανούς that we should punctuate after aŭrý επί τοις προλαβούσι κακοίς (“ to crown and
ταϊς υποβολαίς with their misfortunes").
restitution. But like his sire, according to the partial chronicler, Stauracius was avaricious, and was unwilling to sacrifice more than three talents in this cause, although that sum was but a small fraction of the monies wrongfully appropriated by the late Emperor. The Patriarch failed in his errand at the bedside of the doomed monarch, but he hoped that a new Emperor, of no doubtful voice in matters of orthodoxy, would soon sit upon the throne. And it appeared that it would be necessary to take instant measures for securing the succession to this legitimate and desirable candidate. The strange designs of Stauracius and the ambition of Theophano alarmed Nicephorus, and he determined to prevent all danger of a democracy or a sovran Augusta by anticipating the death of the Emperor and placing Michael on the throne. At the end of September he associated himself, for this purpose, with Stephanos and Theoktistos. The Emperor was already contemplating the cruelty of depriving his brother-in-law of eyesight, and on the first day of October he summoned the Domestic of the Schools to his presence and proposed to blind Michael that very night. It is clear that at this time Stauracius placed his entire trust in Stephanos, the man who had proclaimed him at Hadrianople, and he knew not that this officer had since then veered round to the view of Theoktistos. Stephanos pointed out that it was too late, and took care to encourage his master in a feeling of security. The next day had been fixed by the conspirators for the elevation of the Curopalates, and throughout the night troops were filing into the Hippodrome to shout for the new Emperor. In the early morning the senators arrived; and
1 It is to be presumed that three parts of the Great Hippodrome, the talents means three litrai (£129 : 12s.). northern part being roofed over, the The mere fact that Stauracius could southern uncovered. But this view offer such a sum shows that the is untenable, and Bieliaev is also Patriarch's demand inust have referred wrong in placing the Kathisma-the to some small and particular cases of building in which the Emperor sat injustice suffered by individuals. when he witnessed the races- -between
Theoph. 493 εν τω σκεπαστώ ιππο- these two portions. The Kathisma opbuw. Labarte (131-2) supposed that was at the north end of the Hippothis covered hippodrome was inside drome. Ebersolt (Le Grand Palais, the Palace (Paspates actually assumed 157-8) holds that the northern part two hippodromes, one roofed, the other was uncovered, the southern covered. unroofed, within the Palace : Tà Bus. This view is equally improbable. I αν. 249 sqq.). Ιη περί ταξ. 507 ο κάτω hope to show elsewhere that "the σκεπαστός ιππ. and ο ασκέπαστος ιππ. roofed Hippodrome was contiguous are mentioned together. Bieliaev sup- to the great “unroofed ” Hippodrome, posed that they are only different though not part of the Palace.