Romanos II (959-963)

Romanos II was the son of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus and Helena Lekapene, the daughter of Emperor Romanos I. He became emperor after his father's death at the age of 21. He was handsome, tall and strong but indifferent in state affairs and politically incapable. He left the state affairs to Parakoimomenos Iosif Bringas and the military affairs to Nicephorus Phocas and his brother Leo Phocas. As a child, he was married to the princess of Provence and Italy Bertha, the illegitimate daughter of Hugh of Arles, King of Italy. The Italian princess was baptized as Orthodox and was renamed Eudocia.

"At this same time King Hugh sent his daughter Berta, whom he had had by the courtesan Pezola, to Constantinople to be married to the little Romanos, son of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, the ceremony being performed by Sigefred, the venerable bishop of Parma. The imperial power was then held by the elder Romanos I and his two sons Constantine and Stephen. Next to Romanos however in order of precedence came Constantine, son of the emperor Leo VI, whose little son by Helena, the elder Romanos' daughter, married the aforesaid Berta, whose name was changed by the Greeks to Eudoxia. These four then were joint emperors, when the two brothers Stephen and Consfantine, without the knowledge of Constantine son of the emperor Leo VI, prepared to play un mauvais tour, that is, a nasty trick upon their father Romanos I. They were weary of his strict control which did not allow them to do anything that they wished. So, listening to bad advice, they began to consider how they might deprive him of the throne. The palace at Constantinople surpasses both in beauty and in strength all the fortresses I have ever seen, and it is moreover guarded constantly by a great crowd of soldiers."
Antapodosis - Liber de Rebus Gestis Ottonis - Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana
Liutprandus Cremonensis Episcopus

With Hugh out of power in Italy and dead by 947, and Bertha herself dead in 949, Romanos II was at last allowed to select his a bride of his choice. At 956, he married Anastaso, the beautiful and ambitious daughter of a pour Spartan, named Krateros. After the marriage she was renamed Theophano and had two sons Basil and Constantine and one daughter Anna who would later be married to Vladimir I of Kiev. Theophano demanded from her husband to sent his mother Helena, and her daughters to a monastery in Prince's islands. Nevertheless, many of Romanos' advisors were able men, including his Magistros (general) Nicephoros Phocas.

In 960 Nicephorus Phocas was sent to liberate Crete from the Arab Muslims (Saracenes). After a hard campaign and the one year siege of Chandakas (Herakleion), Nikephoros re-established Greek control over Crete. After his triumph, Nikephoros or the "Pale Death of the muslims" was sent to the eastern frontier, with Ioannes Tzimisces and his brother Leo Phokas and liberated the thema (province) of Cilicia and the city Aleppo of Syria. In the meantime Marianos Argyros defeated the Magyars who had invaded Macedonia.

Romanos II with a series of new legislative measures, favoured the smallholders and taxed heavily the large-scale landowners known in as dynatoi (powerful). He died barely 23 years old, having been emperor just for three years, leaving his two sons, Basil and Constantine, as the legitimate emperors. Rumor attributed his death to his devious wife Theophano. Because the future emperors were very young, the political void was filled by two talented generals, Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969) and Ioannes Tzimiskes (969-976). Nicephorus Phocas was a member of the aristocracy of Cappadocia and became emperor immediately after the death of Romanos.

"On the first of August I left Pavia and sailing down the Po arrived in three days at Venice. There I met a Greek envoy, the eunuch Salerno, chamberlain of the palace, who had just returned from Spain and Saxony. He was anxious to sail for Constantinople and was taking there with him an envoy from my present master, who was then king and is now emperor. Finally we left Venice on the twenty fifth of August and reached Constantinople on the seventeenth of September. It will be a pleasant task to describe the marvellous and unheard of manner of our reception.

Next to the imperial residence at Constantinople there is a palace of remarkable size and beauty which the Greeks call Magnavra (Megali Avra), the letter v taking the place of the digamma, and the name being equivalent to "Fresh breeze". In order to receive some Spanish envoys, who had recently arrived, as well as myself and Liutefred, Constantine VII gave orders that this palace should be got ready and the following preparations made. Before the emperorís seat stood a tree, made of bronze gilded over, whose branches were filled with birds, also made of gilded bronze, which uttered different cries, each according to its varying species. The throne itself was so marvellously fashioned that at one moment it seemed a low structure, and at another it rose high into the air. It was of immense size and was guarded by lions, made either of bronze or of wood covered over with gold, who beat the ground with their tails and gave a dreadful roar with open mouth and quivering tongue. Leaning upon the shoulders of two eunuchs I was brought into the emperor's presence. At my approach the lions began to roar and the birds to cry out, each according to its kind; but I was neither terrified nor surprised, for I had previously made enquiry about all these things from people who were well acquainted with them. So after I had three times made obeisance to the emperor with my face upon the ground, I lifted my head, and behold! the man whom just before I had seen sitting on a moderately elevated seat had now changed his raiment and was sitting on the level of the ceiling.

How it was done I could not imagine, unless perhaps he was lifted up by some such sort of device as we use for raising the timbers of a wine press. On that occasion he did not address me personally, since even if he had wished to do so the wide distance between us would have rendered conversation unseemly, but by the intermediary of a secretary he enquired about Berengar's doings and asked after his health. I made a fitting reply and then, at a nod from the interpreter, left his presence and retired to my lodging. "

Antapodosis - Liber de Rebus Gestis Ottonis - Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana
Liutprandus Cremonensis Episcopus

Luitprand belonged to a distinguished Lombard family in Northern Italy and at an early age went to the Court of Pavia and became cleric. In 949 he visited as Italian ambassador the Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. Liutprand was historian, diplomat, and Bishop of Cremona and is famous for his works about the Byzantine Empire of the 10th century. He learned to speak Greek and has described with many details the Greek capital, the glory of the King of the Greeks and the customs of the Byzantine court.

"Three days after I had presented my gifts the emperor summoned me to the palace and personally invited me to dinner with him, after the banquet bestowing a handsome present on myself and my attendants. As the opportunity has occurred to describe the appearance of the emperor's table, particularly on a feast day, and also the entertainments that are given there, I think it best not to pass the matter over in silence but to give an account.

Ch. VIII. There is a palace near the Hippodrome looking northwards, wonderfully lofty and beautiful, which is called "Decanneacubita", "The house of the nineteen couches". The reason of its name is obvious: "deca" is Greek for ten, "ennea" for nine, and "cubita" are couches with curved ends; and on the day when Our Lord Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh nineteen covers are always laid here at the table. The emperor and his guests on this occasion do not sit at dinner, as they usually do, but recline on couches: and everything is served in vessels, not of silver, but of gold. After the solid food fruit is brought on in three golden bowls, which are too heavy for men to lift and come in on carriers covered over with purple cloth. Two of them are put on the table in the following way. Through openings in the ceiling hang three ropes covered with gilded leather and furnished with golden rings. These rings are attached to the handles projecting from the bowls, and with four or five men helping from below, they are swung on to the table by means of a moveable device in the ceiling and removed again in the same fashion. As for the various entertainments I saw there, it would be too long a task to describe them all, and so for the moment I pass them by.

In the week before the feast Vaiophoron (Vaion), which we call the Feast of Palms, the emperor makes a payment in gold coins to his vassals and to the different officers of his court, each one receiving a sum proportionate to his office. As I wished to be present at the ceremony, the emperor bade me attend it. The procedure was as follows. A table was brought in, fifteen feet long and six feet broad, which had upon it parcels of money tied up in bags, according to each man's due, the amount being written on the outside of the bag. The recipients then came in and stood before the king, advancing in order as they were called up by a herald. The first to be summoned was the marshall of the palace, who carried off his money, not in his hands but on his shoulders, together with four cloaks of honour. After him came the commander in chief of the army and the lord high admiral of the fleet. These being of equal rank received an equal number of money bags and cloaks, which they did not carry off on their shoulders but with some assistance dragged laboriously away. After them came twentyfour controllers, who each received twentyfour pounds of gold coins together with two cloaks. Then followed the order of patricians, of whom every one in turn was given twelve pounds of gold and one cloak. As I do not know how many patricians there are, I do not know the total amount that was paid; but every one received an equal share. After them came a huge crowd of minor dignitaries; knights of the sword of the first, second and third class, chamberlains, treasury and admiralty officials. Some of these received seven pounds of gold, others six, five, four, three, two and one, according to their rank. I would not have you think that this was all done in one day. It began on the fifth day of the week at six o'clock in the morning and went on till ten, and the emperor finished his part in the proceedings on the sixth and seventh day. Those who take less than a pound receive their share, not from the emperor, but from the chief chamberlain during the week before Pasha (Easter). While I was standing and marvelling at the proceedings the emperor sent his chancellor to me and asked me how the ceremony pleased me. "It would please me", I replied, "if it did me any good. When Dives (Rich man in Jesus' parable) was in torment the rest that he saw Lazarus (pour man) enjoying would have pleased him, if it had come his way. As it did not, how, pray, could it have pleased him ?" The emperor smiled in some confusion, and motioned me to come to him. He then presented me with a large cloak and a pound of gold coins; a gift which he willingly made and I even more willingly accepted."

Antapodosis - Liber de Rebus Gestis Ottonis - Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana
Liutprandus Cremonensis Episcopus

The Bishop of Cremona was sent again to Constantinople in the summer of 968, this time to the court of Nicephorus Phocas, to demand for the Holy Roman emperor's younger son (later Otto II) the hand of Anna, daughter of the former emperor Romanus II. The possible marriage was part of a wider negotiation between the Roman Emperor (Romanorum Imperatore Augusto) Otto I and the Emperor of Greeks (Imperatorem Graecorum) Nicephorus Phocas. Nicephorus claimed Benevento and Capua, which were actually in Lombard hands and whose forces had come to strife with Otto I in Vari (Bari) recently. His reception at Constantinople was humiliating and ultimately futile. The cause was the disagreement about the title "Roman Emperor", which the Greeks and the Latins claimed for their own kings.

"On the fourth of June we arrived at Constantinople, and after a miserable reception, meant as an insult to yourselves, we were given the most miserable and disgusting quarters. The palace where we were confined was certainly large and open, but it neither kept out the cold nor afforded shelter from the heat. Armed soldiers were set to guard us and prevent my people from going out, and any others from coming in. This dwelling, only accessible to us who were shut inside it, was so far distant from the emperor's residence that we were quite out of breath when we walked there - we did not ride. To add to our troubles, the Greek wine we found undrinkable because of the mixture in it of pitch, resin and plaster. The house itself had no water and we could not even buy any to quench our thirst. All this was a serious "Oh dear me!", but there was another "Oh dear me" even worse, and that was our warden, the man who provided us with our daily wants. If you were to seek another like him, you certainly would not find him on earth; you might perhaps in hell. Like a raging torrent he poured upon us every calamity, every extortion, every expense, every grief and every misery that he could invent. In our hundred and twenty days not one passed without bringing to us groaning and lamentation.

On the fourth of June, as I said above, we arrived at Constantinople and waited with our horses in heavy rain outside the Carian gate until five o'clock in the afternoon. At five o'clock Nicephorus ordered us to be admitted on foot, for he did not think us worthy to use the horses with which your clemency had provided us, and we were escorted to the afore- said hateful, waterless, draughty stone house. On the sixth of June, which was the Saturday before Pentecost, I was brought before the emperor's brother Leo, marshal of the court and chancellor; and there we tired ourselves with a fierce argument over your imperial title. He called you not Emperor, which is Basileus in his tongue, but insultingly Rex, which is king in ours. I told him that the thing meant was the same though the word was different, and he then said that I had come not to make peace but to stir up strife. Finally he got up in a rage, and really wishing to insult us received your letter not in his own hand but through an interpreter.

To increase my calamities, on the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (15 August 968) the holy mother of God, an ill-omened embassy came from the apostolic and universal Pope John with a letter asking Nicephorus the Emperor of the Greeks to conclude an alliance and firm friendship with his beloved and spiritual son Otto August Emperor of the Romans". If you ask me why these words, and manner of address, which to the Greeks seem sinful audacity, did not cost the bearer liis life and overwhelm it even before they were read, I cannot answer. On other points I have often shown a fine and copious flow of words; on this I am as dumb as a fish. The Greeks abused the sea, cursed the waves, and wondered exceedingly how they could have transported such an iniquity, and why the deep had not opened to swallow up the ship. "The audacity of it!" they cried, "to call the universal Emperor of the Romans, the one and only Nicephorus, the great, the august "Emperor of the Greeks" and to style a poor barbaric creature "Emperor of the Romans!" O sky? O earth! O sea! What shall we do with these scoundrels and criminals?

(Verum ut augerentur calamitates meae, in Assumptione sanctae Dei genitricis et uirginis Mariae, meo omine non bono uenerunt domni apostolici et uniuersalis papae Iohannis nuntii cum litteris, quibus rogabant "Nicephorum imperatorem Graecorum", ut parentelam firmamque amicitiam faceret cum dilectio spiritualique filio suo "Ottone Romanorum imperatore augusto". Quae uox, quae inscriptio, secundum Graecos peccatrix et temeraria, quomodo latorem non occiderit, cur, priusquam laederetur, non oppresserit, qui in aliis rebus saepe uideor spermologus et multisonus, in hac, ut piscis, uideor insonus. Obiurgabant Graeci mare, impraecabantur aequori, plus iusto mirantes, cur peccatum illud portare potuerit, cur fretum dehiscens nauim non absorbuerit. "Imperatorem, inquiunt, uniuersalem Romanorum, augustum, magnum, solum Nicephorum scripsisse Graecorum, hominem quendam barbarum, pauperem Romanorum, non piguit! O coelum! o terra! o mare! Sed quid, inquiunt, faciemus hominibus istis sceleratis, criminosis? )

Nicephorus, who loves to harm all churches, out of the abundant envy he feels towards you has ordered the Patriarch of Constantinople to raise the church of Otranto to the rank of an archbishopic, and not to allow the divine mysteries throughout Apulia and Calabria to be celebrated in Latin, but to have them celebrated in Greek. (Nicephorus cum omnibus ecclesiis homo sit impius, livore, quo in vos abundat, Constantinopolitano patriarchar praecepit, ut Hydrontinum (Otranto) ecclesiam in archiepiscopatus honorem dilatet, nec permittat in omni Apulia seu Calabria latine amplius, sed graece divina mysteria celebrare.)"

Antapodosis - Liber de Rebus Gestis Ottonis - Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana
Liutprandus Cremonensis Episcopus

Encyclopaedia Britannica