Nicephorus I Logothetis (802-811)

Stravracius (811)




Nicephorus I was born in Seleucia Sidera of Pisidia, a hellenistic city founded by Alexander's general Seleucus I Nicator. Nicephorus was a very educated person and became minister of finance (Logothetis) during the reign of Irene the Athenian. Empress Irene Sarantapehos the Athenian was the first woman to rule the Byzantine Empire and this was a good reason for the head of the Roman Church Pope Leo to claim that she was not a legitimate ruler and proclaimed Charlemagne as Roman Emperor (Romanum gubernans Imperium) at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Empress Irene and Charlemagne sent emissaries to each other's courts, to negotiate a marriage between them so as to unite the two parts of Ancient Roman Empire.

"Now when the king upon the most holy day of the Lord's birth was rising to the mass after praying before the confession of the blessed Peter the Apostle, Leo the Pope, with the consent of all the bishops and priests and of the senate of the Franks and likewise of the Romans, set a golden crown upon his head, the Roman people also shouting aloud. Carolo Augusto a Deo coronato, magno et pacifico imperatori Romanorum vita et victoria! And when the people had made an end of chanting the Laudes, he was adored by the Pope after the manner of the emperors of old. For this also was done by the will of God. For while the said Emperor abode at Rome certain men were brought unto him, who said that the name of Emperor had ceased among the Greeks, (dicentes quod apud Greacos nomen imperatoris cessasset) and that among them the Empire was held by a woman called Irene (Herene), who had by guile laid hold on her son the Emperor, and put out his eyes, and taken the Empire to herself, as it is written of Athaliah in the Book of the Kings; which when Leo the Pope and all the assembly of the bishops and priests and abbots heard, and the senate of the Franks and all the elders of the Romans, they took counsel with the rest of the Christian people, that they should name Charles king of the Franks to be Emperor, seeing that he held Rome the mother of empire where the Caesars and Emperors were always used to sit;"
Chronicle of Moissac (801)




"And because the name of Emperor had now ceased among the Greeks, and their Empire was possessed by a woman, it then seemed both to Leo the Pope himself, and to all the holy fathers who were present in the self-same council, as well as to the rest of the Christian people, that they ought to take to be Emperor Charles king of the Franks, who held Rome herself, where the Caesars had always been wont to sit, and all the other regions which he ruled through Italy and Gaul and Germany; and in as much as God had given all these lands into his hand, it seemed right that with the help of God and at the prayer of the whole Christian people he should have the name of Emperor also. Whose petition king Charles willed not to refuse, but submitting himself with all humility to God, and at the prayer of the priests and of the whole Christian people, on the day of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ he took on himself the name of Emperor, being consecrated by the lord Pope Leo."
The Annals of Lauresheim (9th century)






"Charlemagne Crowned Roman Emperor

Charlemagne accordingly went to Rome, to set in order the affairs of the Church, which were in great confusion, and passed the whole winter there. It was then that he received the titles of Emperor and Augustus (Dec 25, 800), to which he at first had such an aversion that he declared that he would not have set foot in the Church the day that they were conferred, although it was a great feast-day, if he could have foreseen the design of the Pope. He bore very patiently with the jealousy which the Roman Emperors showed upon his assuming these titles.

The Emperors of Constantinople, Nicephorus I (802-811), Michael I (811-813), and Leo V (813-820), made advances to Charles, and sought friendship and alliance with him by several embassies; and even when the Greeks suspected him of designing to wrest the empire from them, because of his assumption of the title Emperor, they made a close alliance with him, that he might have no cause of offense. In fact, the power of the Franks was always viewed by the Greeks and Romans with a jealous eye, whence the Greek proverb "Have the Frank for your friend, but not for your neighbor."

Charlemagne next reduced and made tributary all Italy from Aosta to Lower Calabria, where the boundary line runs between the Beneventans and the Greeks, a territory more than a thousand miles" long; then Saxony, which constitutes no small part of Germany, and is reckoned to be twice as wide as the country inhabited by the Franks, while about equal to it in length; in addition, both Pannonias, Dacia beyond the Danube, and Istria, Liburnia, and Dalmatia, except the cities on the coast, which he left to the Greek Emperor for friendship's sake, and because of the treaty that he had made with him."
Vita Karoli Magni, Einhart

As we read in the medieval sources the Byzantines were called "Greeks" by the Europeans. Byzantium was then called the "kingdom of the Greeks" in the west. Nowadays, under Turkey's pressure the term "Greeks" has been eliminated, because Turkey refuses stubbornly to admit the genocide that the Turks have commited against the Greek people of the Asia Minor which in the 9th century was 100% Christian Orthodox and 100% Greek. Now after the genocide committed by the Turks, Asia Minor is 100% muslim and 100% Turkish.



After Irene was dethroned and exiled, Nicephorus I became Emperor of the Greeks (802). Nicephorus made a peace treaty with the Emperor of Romans that is known as Pax Nicephori (Peace of Nicephorus). According to the terms of the treaty, the Greek Emperor recognized the authority of the Roman Emperor in the West. Nicephorus and Charles the Great negotiated their boundaries in the Adriatic Sea and Venice became part of the Greek Empire. However, the following year the Venetians returned to the Roman Empire and a war broke out between the two empires which lasted until 810. In 811, the treaty came into effect again and Michael I Rangabe recognised Charlemagne's imperial title. Three years later, the treaty was ratified with some amendments that were even more advantageous to Venice that finally became autonomous.

In the meantime, Greek possessions in the Mediterranean Sea were seriously menaced by the Arab pirates. In 803, a revolt that was led by a military commander (Bardanes Tourkos) was crushed and the leader of this revolt was exiled to the Prote island. A consequence of this civil war was the attack on the Cilician Gates (Pylae) by Harun al-Rashid. A peace treaty between Greeks and Arabs was signed in 807 after Nikephoros had paid a tribute of 30000 gold nomisma to his enemy.

Harun al-Rashid was the fifth caliph of the Abbasid Empire and ruled during its apogee, as described in the "Thousand and One Nights". During his father's reign, Harun had invaded Byzantium (780), and had looted Chrysopolis (Scutari) on the Bosphorus coast. When he became caliph, he repeated his raids against the Greek Empire. According to Tabari, during those raids he wore a special cap (qalansuwa) with the title Gazi Hajj, "Warrior for the Faith, Pilgrim," inscribed on it. Harun favoured art and science, and he is best known for the construction of the "House of Wisdom" (Bayt al-Hikmah), in Baghdad. The House of Wisdom's main project was collecting and translating numerous works from the Greek literary canon, which established an enormous influence on Arab thought. Works including those by Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, Galenus, Pythagoras, Pedanius Dioscorides and Euclid were requested from the library of Constantinople, and brought back to Baghdad to be translated. During his son's reign, Caliph al-Mamun (813-833), the House of Wisdom, was extended to include separate galleries for each branch of science. Caliph al-Mamun offered Leo the Mathematician great riches to come and teach in Baghdad. Leo refused "to serve the enemies of his faith", but Caliph al-Mamun insisted and offered two thousand pounds of gold and a perpetual peace with the Greeks if only Leo would send answers to some difficult questions of geometry and algebra.

The Slavs who lived in Peloponnese attacked the main cities of the peninsula with the help of the Arab pirates (Saracens). They looted the countryside and tried to conquer the rich and prosperous city of Patrai (Patras). The city resisted against the conquerors but soon there was food shortage. So, the Greeks sent a messenger to Corinth, to ask for help. The envoy had been instructed on his way home to wave the flag he carried if reinforcements were on the way. The messenger returned with bad news but his horse slipped and the rider waved the flag accidentally. The Greeks interpreted this as a sign that the aid was near, and opened the gates, attacking the besieging Slavs with all their force. The Slavs panicked and abandoned the siege. The victory was dedicated to the city's patron Saint Andrew. The reinforcements came some days later.



Nikephoros tried to reconstruct the Byzantine Economy, after the corrupt regime of Empress Irene's. New land taxes were imposed on the monasteries and the big landowners, including the hearth tax (kapnikon). Another economic burden was the obligation of the church and monasteries to finance the army units. One of the main protesters was Theophanes the Confessor, who wrote his Chronographia history on that period, which contains unfavorable comments on Nikephoros' reign.

The Greek campaign against the Bulgars, who had invaded Thrace and Macedonia, was disastrous. Nikephoros was ambushed near Pliska on 25 July 811. The Bulgars had waited until dark and then, using wooden palisades, blocked both the entrance and the exit to a narrow mountain pass in which the Greeks had camped for the night. The next morning the Greek army was trapped and was wiped out by sword. Nikephoros was killed and was the first Byzantine Emperor to fall in battle after 400 years. His body was identified by his purple boots and was brought before Krum who had the head cut off and placed on a spear for a few days. Later, Krum encased Nicephorus's skull in silver, and used it as a cup for drinking wine. In 811 Nikephoros was succeeded by his son Stavrakios. Unfortunately, Stavrakios was seriously wounded in the battle and after two months he succumbed to his wounds.

"In the first decade of the ninth century the first striking figure in Bulgarian history mounted the throne of Pliska. This was Krum - a name still familiar to readers of Balkan polemics. Krum, whose realm at his accession embraced Danubian Bulgaria and Wallachia, "Bulgaria beyond the Danube," coveted Macedonia - the goal of so many Bulgarian ambitions in all ages. He invaded the district watered by the Strymon, defeated the Greek garrisons, and seized a large sum of money intended as pay for the soldiers. More important still, in 809 he captured Sardica, the modern Sofia, then the northernmost outpost of the Empire against Bulgaria, put the garrison to death, and destroyed the fortifications. The Emperor Nicephorus I retaliated by spending Easter in Krum's palace at Pliska, which he plundered; he foresaw Bulgarian designs upon Macedonia and endeavoured to check the growth of the Slav population there by compulsory colonisation from other provinces. He then resolved to crush his enemy, and, after long preparation, marched against him in 811. Proudly rejecting Krum's offer of peace, he again occupied Phska, set his seal on the Bulgarian treasury, and loftily disregarded the humble petition of Krum: "Lo, thou hast conquered; take what pleaseth thee, and go in peace.' Krum, driven to desperation, closed the Balkan passes in the enemy's rear, and the invaders found themselves caught, as in a trap, in an enclosed valley, perhaps that still called "the Greek Hollow" near Razboina. Nicephorus saw that there was no hope: "Even if we become birds," he exclaimed," none of us can escape!"

On 26 July the Greek army was annihilated; no prisoners were taken; for the first time since the death of Valens four centuries earlier an Emperor had fallen in battle; and, to add to the disgrace, his head, after being exposed on a lance, was lined with silver and used as a goblet, in which the savage Bulgarian pledged his nobles at state banquets. Yet the lexicographer Suidas would have us believe that this primitive savage was the author of a code of laws - one of which ordered the uprooting of every vine in Bulgaria, to prevent drunkenness, while another bade his subjects give to a beggar sufficient to prevent him ever feeling the pinch of want again. To complete the disaster, Nicephorus' son, the Emperor Stauracius, died of his wounds.

This was not Krum's only triumph over the Greeks. In 812 he captured Develtus and Mesembria, as the war party at Constantinople, headed by Theodore of Studion, declined to renew an old Greco-Bulgarian commercial treaty of some fifty years earlier, which had permitted merchants duly provided with seals and passports to carry on trade in either state, and under which the Bulgarian ruler was entitled to a gift of clothing and 30 lbs. of red-dyed skins. The treaty also fixed the Greco-Bulgarian frontier at the hills of Meleona, well to the south of the Balkans, and stipulated for the extradition of deserters."

The Cambridge medieval history, J.B. Bury 1923