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The power exercised by the eunuch Aetius was intolerable to many of the magnates who held high offices of state, and they had good reason to argue that in the interests of the Empire, placed as it was between two formidable foes, a stronger government than that of a favourite who wielded authority at the caprice of a woman was imperatively required. The negotiations of the Empress with Charles the Great, and the arrival of ambassadors from him and the Pope, to discuss a marriage between the two monarchs which should restore in Eastern and Western Europe the political unity of the Roman Empire once more, were equally distasteful and alarming to Aetius and to his opponents. The overtures of Charles may well have impressed the patricians of New Rome with the danger of the existing situation and with the urgent need that the Empire should have a strong sovran to maintain. its rights and prestige against the pretensions of the Western barbarian who claimed to be a true Augustus. It might also be foreseen that Aetius would now move heaven and earth to secure the elevation of his brother to the throne as speedily as possible.
These circumstances may sufficiently explain the fact that the discontent of the leading officials with Irene's government culminated in October A.D. 802, while the Western ambassadors were still in Constantinople. The leader of the conspiracy was Nicephorus, who held the post of Logothete of the General Treasury, and he was recognized by his accomplices as the man who should succeed to the Imperial crown. His two chief supporters were Nicetas Triphyllios, the Domestic of the scholarian guards, and his brother Leo, who had formerly been stratêgos of Thrace. The co-operation of these men was highly important; for Aetius counted upon their loyalty, as Nicetas had espoused his part against his rival Stauracius Leo, who held the high financial office of Sakellarios, and the quaestor Theoktistos joined in the plot, and several other patricians.3
1 Theoph. 47527, 478.g. The manner in which the presence of the ambassadors (άTокρioιápio) is noticed in the second passage (ὁρώντων τὰ πράγματα) suggests that Theophanes -derived some of his information from their account of the transactions.
2 For this reason Theophanes calls
them τῶν ἐπιόρκων καὶ δολερῶν ΤριφυλAlwv (476). Michael Syr. iii. 12 assigns a leading rôle to Nicetas.
3 As Leo Seranta pêchos and Gregory, son of Musulakios (formerly Count of the Opsikian Theme). Also some of the chief officers of the other Tagmata (the Excubitors and the Arithmos).
On the night of October 31 the conspirators appeared before the Brazen Gate (Chalkê) of the Palace, and induced the guard to admit them, by a story which certainly bore little appearance of likelihood. They said that Aetius had been attempting to force the Empress to elevate his brother to the rank of Augustus, and that she, in order to obviate his importunities, had dispatched the patricians at this late hour to proclaim Nicephorus as Emperor. The authority of such important men could hardly be resisted by the guardians of the gate, and in obedience to the supposed command of their sovran they joined in proclaiming the usurper. It was not yet midnight. Slaves and others were sent to all quarters of the city to spread the news, and the Palace of Eleutherios, in which the Augusta was then staying, was surrounded by soldiers. This Palace, which she had built herself, was probably situated to the north of the harbour of Eleutherios, somewhere in the vicinity of the Forum which was known as Bous.' In the morning she was removed to the Great Palace and detained in custody, while the ceremony of coronation was performed for Nicephorus by the Patriarch Tarasius, in the presence of a large multitude, who beheld the spectacle with various emotions. The writer from whom we learn these events was a monk, violently hostile to the new Emperor, and devoted to the orthodox Irene, who had testified so brilliantly to the "true faith." We must not forget his bias when we read that all the spectators were imprecating curses on the Patriarch, and on the Emperor and his well-wishers. Some, he says, marvelled how Providence could permit such an event and see the pious Empress deserted by those courtiers who had professed to be most attached to her, like the brothers Triphyllios. Others, unable to believe the evidence of their eyes, thought they were dreaming. Those who took in the situation were contrasting in prophetic fancy the days that were coming with the blessed condition of things which existed under Irene. This description represents the attitude.
It is supposed that Ak Serai, "White Palace," the present name of the quarter where the Forum Bous was situated, is derived from Irene's palace.. See Mordtmann, Esquisse, p. 76. In any case, it must have been situated in the Eleutherios quarter
(Tà 'EXev@epiov), which stretched northward from the harbour of that name.
* Thcoplanes (476) καὶ πάντες ἐπὶ τοῖς πραττομένοις ἐδυσχέραινον κτλ., and again κοινὴ δὲ πάντας κατεῖχε ζόφωσις καὶ ἀπαράκλητος ἀθυμία.
of the monks. and the large number of people who were under their influence. But we may well believe that the populace showed no enthusiasm at the revolution; Nicephorus can hardly have been a popular minister.
The new Emperor determined, as a matter of course, to send the deposed Empress into banishment, but she possessed a secret which it was important for him to discover. The economy of Leo III. and Constantine V. had accumulated a large treasure, which was stored away in some secret hidingplace, known only to the sovran, and not communicated to the Sakellarios, who was head of the treasury. Nicephorus knew of its existence, and on the day after his coronation he had an interview with Irene in the Palace, and by promises and blandishments persuaded her to reveal where the store was hidden. Irene on this occasion made a dignified speech,' explaining her fall as a punishment of her sins, and asking to be allowed to live in her own house of Eleutherios. Nicephorus, however, banished her first to Prince's Island in the Propontis, and afterwards to more distant Lesbos, where she died within a year. We cannot accept unhesitatingly the assertion of the Greek chronographer that Nicephorus broke his faith. There is some evidence, adequate at least to make us suspicious, that he kept his promise, and that Irene was not banished until she or her partisans organized a conspiracy against his life.2
Theophanes professes to give Irene's speech verbatim; and the substance of it may perhaps be genuine. Some patricians were present at the interview, and the chronographer may have derived his inforImation from one of these. Irene's steadfast bearing after her sudden misfortune made an impression.
2 Michael Syr. 12-13. The passage is literally transcribed by BarHebraeus, 138: "Imperiuni igitur adeptus est anno 1114 et honorifice habuit Irenem reginam et Aetium. Hi caedem ejus parare voluerunt manu monachorum. Insidiis vero manifestatis Irene in exilium missa est Athenas ubi monache facta est
[leg. obiit]. Aetio retribuit uti ei facere voluit." The details of Michael's statements concerning Roman history are frequently inaccurate and confused, but it seems probable that there was some real foundation for this explicit notice of a conspiracy in which Irene was concerned after her dethronement. The silence of Theophanes proves nothing. He wished to tell as little as possible to the discredit of the Empress and to blacken the character of the Emperor. The last sentence in the above passage means that Aetius was spared, because he had concealed Nicephorus from the anger of Irene.
§ 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."
1 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).
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.
3 By Theophanes. Over against Theophanes, however, we may place the brief eulogy of another temporary monk, Theosteriktos (who wrote the Life of Nicetas of Medikion C. A.D. 824-829), who describes him
(Vit. Nicet. xxix.) as ỏ evσeßÉOTATOS καὶ φιλόπτωχος καὶ φιλομόναχος. He is also praised for piety and orthodoxy in the Ep. Synod. Orient. ad Theoph. 365.
Theoph. 477, cp. 483 (o woλU
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,3sound 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.1
μετενεγκεῖν. 2 lb. 489.
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 inore 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
4 For these measures see below, Chap. VII. § 1.