Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959)
Romanos Lekapenos(919-944)






Constantine VII was born (genitus) in the Purple (Porphyro) Chamber of the Imperial Palace in Constantinople (905), as it was customary for the legitimate children of reigning emperors. He was the son of Leo VI the Sophos and Zoe. Zoe was Leo's fourth wife, although the Greek Church forbade a widower to be married more than three times. Constantine VII was proclaimed coemperor at a very young age (913). The Ecumenical Patriarch Nikolaos promised to the powerful tsar of Bulgaria (Simeon I) that the child emperor would marry Simeon's daughter. The Greeks didn't keep that promise and Simeon started to pillage the lands of the Empire, defeating them at the Battle of Anchialus in 917. This was the proper moment for the Greek admiral Romanos Lekapenos (born in Cappadokia) to sail to Constantinople and take over the control of the state forcing at the same time the Empress Zoe to become a nun in a monastery of the island called Proti. Romanos sent his rivals on exile and forced the Byzantine Emperor to get married to his daughter Helena. So, Romanos I Lecapenos was proclaimed basilopator (father of the king) and finally on 17 December 919 he was crowned co-emperor, becoming thus the dominant leader of the Greek Empire.


The first major enemy that the Greek Emperor had to face was the tzar of Bulgaria Simeon I . Simeon had received greek education in the University of Constantinople and had spent most of his early life living in the Greek capital. He had studied the rhetoric of Demosthenes and Aristotle and he spoke the Greek language so fluently, that he was referred to as "the half-Greek" in Byzantine chronicles. But the student of Patriarch Photios proved very hostile to his benefactors. Between 920 and 922, Simeon I increased his pressure on Byzantium, attacking Thessaly and reaching even the Isthmus of Corinth. He pillaged Adrianople, crossed Ellispontos (Dardanelles) and conquered Lampsacus. He also planned a large campaign aiming at the conquest of Constantinople. In 924 Simeon sent envoys to the Fatimid caliph, asking for help. The caliph agreed and sent his own representatives back to the Bulgarians to arrange the alliance. However, the envoys were captured by the Greeks at Calabria. Romanos offered peace and gold to the Arabs and ruined their alliance with Bulgaria. In the summer of 924, Simeon reached the Greek capital and demanded to see the Patriarch and the Emperor. He conversed with Romanos on the Golden Horn near Kosmidion on 9 September 924. Romanos criticized Simeon's betrayal of his Orthodox brothers and his pointless wars against them. Finally peace was established. Greeks would pay an annual tax to the tzar, regaining all the cities that the Bulgarians had taken from them.

Simeon and Romanos Lekapenos

After the death of the Bulgarian Tsar (927), a peace treaty between Greeks and Bulgarians allowed Romanos Lekapenos to move his troops to the East, in order to face the muslim threat. Romanos appointed his friend Ioannes Kourkouas as field marshal (domestikos ton scholon) in the East. Kourkouas pushed the Arabs further to the south and won important victories at Melitene (Malatya) and at Edessa (Urfa). The imperial navy, under the patrikios and droungarios Ioannes Rhadenos, also marked significant victory off Lemnos island. The Arab fleet was commanded by the traitor Leo Tripolitis. Tripolitis was born Greek but after he was captured by the muslim pirates he became a traitor of his faith. The renegade barely escaped after his defeat. The epoch of Romanos Lecapenos was of very great importance for the state policy in the East. The Greek Empire under the guidance of the emperor resumed the offensive wars and began to triumph. The eastern borders were never again crossed by the muslim invaders. Ioannes Kourkouas proved one of the most brilliant soldiers that the Greek Empire had produced for generations. He infused a new spirit into the imperial armies and led them victoriously in Mesopotamia and Armenia.

Greeks take Melitene

In 941 Theophanes and Vardas Phocas had to defend Constantinople against russian raids. Romanos asked Kourkouas to return to the Greek capital, and face the new threat. Kourkouas used the Ygron Pyr (Greek Fire) and burned the russian fleet, forcing the Prince Igor of Kiev to sign a treaty of peace with Romanos. Kourkouas was free to return to the eastern frontier at the head of 50000 men and repeat his victories against the muslims. The Greek emperor signed peace treaties also with the Magyars to prevent them from pillaging the rich lands of Thrace and Macedonia. Igor tried for a second time to take Constantinople. He organized a large army of Varangians, Russians, Polish, Slavs and Patzinaks. The Byzantine Emperor sent his best noblemen to Igor and to the Patzinaks, offering them precious gifts and gold. In spite of all these offers, Igor started out for Constantinople, but when he reached the banks of the Danube he consulted his advisors and decided to accept the conditions proposed by the Byzantines and return to Kiev. In the following year the Greeks and Russians negotiated a new treaty that was to last "as long as the sun shall shine and the world shall stand, in the present centuries, and in the centuries to come."

Romanos I was active as a legislator. He induced laws to protect small landowners and increased the taxes of the dynatoi (rich land owners). Fearing that Romanos would allow Constantine VII to succeed him instead of them, his sons arrested their father in December 944, and had him exiled to the Prince's Islands forcing him to become a monk. When they threatened Constantine VII, the people of Constantinople were informed about that, they revolted and the sons followed their father to his exile. Romanos Lecapenos died in June 948.

After Romanos' death, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus remained the sole emperor of the Byzantine Empire. He appointed some members of the Phocas family at the highest military grades. These members had fallen in disgrace under Romanus Lecapenus. Constantine had inherited a passion for learning and writing from his father. He is considered as the most outstanding figure in the cultural movement of the tenth century by many historians. He devoted the greatest part of his life to the field which interested him. He wrote many books but most of them were destroyed by the barbarian Ottomans. Vios Vasileiou is the biography of his grandfather and founder of the Macedonian dynasty Basil I. Another work, Pros ton yion Romanon II - To his son Romanos II (De Administrando Imperio) was dedicated to his son and successor, and contains valuable information about the geography of Eastern Europe and Asia Minor. It also describes the relations of the Byzantine Empire with its neighboring nations (Patzinaks, Russians, Uzes, Khazars, Magyars), the Byzantine diplomacy and the foreign politics. It also deals with Arabs, Armenians, Bulgarians, Dalmatians, Franks, Italians, and Venetians. It is also one of the most important source of information concerning the scandinavian origins of the Russian people. Another work is Peri Vasileiou taxeos (De ceremoniis aulae Byzantinae),which is a detailed description of the complicated code of life at the imperial court, and it might almost be considered as a book of court regulations and protocols. Most of those protocols were copied by the Latin Kings and the Russian Tzars for their own court ceremonies. The elements found in it in relation to baptism, marriage, coronation, burial of emperors, church solemnities, reception of foreign ambassadors, equipment of military expeditions, are an invaluable source for the study of the social life of the Greek Empire. Peri Thematon (De thematibus), is mainly a compilation of older sources on the origins and development of the themata (provinces) of the Byzantine Empire. Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus urged others to write, and attempted to raise the education of his people to a higher level. He constructed many magnificent buildings and organized the oldest University of Medieval Europe the University of Magnavra. He was interested in art and music, and spent large sums of money on the compilation of anthologies from previous Byzantine scholars. Constantine Porphyrogenitus is considered to be the first to create many encyclopaedic works, recruiting dozens of teachers and students for that complex task. The most famous work was the Lexicon of Suidas, which is an encyclopaedic lexicon with 30000 entries from ancient and medieval sources. The Lexicon of Suidas is something between a grammatical dictionary and an encyclopaedia in the modern sense. It explains the source, derivation, and meaning of words according to the philology of its period. This is another evidence of the wide extent to which the Medieval Greek Empire preserved and developed the remnants of ancient classic culture. Constantine Porphyrogenitus was also interested in the registration of the cultural heritage collections, as for example Geoponika which was a collection of Greek writers concerned with agriculture.


The last years of Constantine Porphyrogenitus were marked by bloody wars against the Arabs in northern Mesopotamia. Finally, the Christian army under the command of the Armenian general Ioannes Tzimisces, crossed Euphrates river forcing the muslims to retreat. The eastern conquests extended the borders of the Greek Empire beyond the Euphrates and inaugurated a brilliant period of Byzantine victories over the Muslims. Using the words of the French historian, Rambaud "All the failures of Basil I were revenged; the road was opened to Tarsus, Antioch, Cyprus, and Jerusalem. Before his death Constantine could rejoice because during his reign so many great acts had been performed for the cause of Christ. He opened the era of Crusades for the East as well as for the West, for the Hellenes (Greeks) as well as for the Franks (Latins)" The large sea expedition organized against the Cretan Arabs in 949 resulted in complete failure and the loss of numerous vessels. The constant clashes between the Greeks and the Muslims took place in Italy and in Sicily.


The friendly Greek-Russian relations became even better in the year 957, when the Russian Princess Olga visited Constantinople and was magnificently received by the Emperor, the Empress, and the heir to the throne according to Russian historians.. The protocol of Olga's reception has also been described in detail in Constantine's famous work Peri Vasileiou taxeos. One of the most well-known Olga's actions was her conversion to Christianity. She was the first to bring this religion to the pagan Russians and because of her influence on her grandson, Vladimir the Great, he followed her example and in 988 he made Christianity the official religion of Kiev.

"Olga went to Greece, and arrived at Tsargrad (Constantinople). The reigning Emperor was named Constantine, son of Leo. Olga came before him, and when he saw that she was very fair of countenance and wise as well, the Emperor wondered at her intellect. He conversed with her and remarked that she was worthy to reign with him in his city. When Olga heard his words, she replied that she was still a pagan, and that if he desired to baptise her, he should perforn this function himself; otherwise, she was unwilling to accept baptism. The Emperor, with the assistance of the Patriarch, accordingly baptised her.

After her baptism, the Emperor summoned Olga and made known to her that he wished her to become his wife. But she replied, "How can you marry me, after yourself baptizing me and calling me your daughter? For among Christians that is unlawful, as you yourself must know." Then the Emperor said, "Olga, you have outwitted me." He gave her many gifts of gold, silver, silks, and various vases, and dismissed her, still calling her his daughter.

Now Olga dwelt with her son Svyatoslav, and she urged him to be baptized, but he would not listen to her suggestion. For to the infidels, the Christian faith is foolishness. They do not comprehend it, because they walk in darkness and do not see the glory of God. Their hearts are hardened, and they can neither hear with their ears nor see with their eyes.

Olga remarked quite often , "My son, I have learned to know God, and I am glad for it. If you know him, you too will rejoice." But he did not heed her exhotation, answering, "How shall I alone accept another faith? My followers will laugh at that." But his mother replied, "If you are converted, all your subjects will per force follow your example." .

Svyatoslav announced to his mother and his boyars, "I do not care to remain in Kiev, but I should prefer to live in Pereyaslavets on the Danube, since that is the centre of my realm, where all riches are concentrated; gold, silk, wine, and various fruits from Greece, silver and horses from Hungary and Bohemia, and from Rus' furs, wax, honey, and slaves." But Olga made a reply, "You behold me in my weakness. Why do you desire to depart from me?" For she was already in precarious health. She thus remonstrated with him and begged him first to bury her and then to go wheresoever he would. Three days later Olga died. "
Russian Primary Chronicle

The rulers of the Macedonian dynasty issued laws in defense of peasant and military landholding. They prohibited the powerful from buying peasant property. For example the powerful would be forbidden to acquire the property of the poor in any manner, whether it would be by donation, will, patronage, purchase, rent, or exchange; the military allotments alienated in any manner during the last thirty years, and also those which were about to be alienated, would be returned to their original owners without any compensation to the holders. Constantine VII died at Constantinople in 959 and was succeeded by his son Romanos II.

Bibliography
History of the Byzantine Empire, A. A. Vasiliev