1. Dynasty’s foundation: Basil I (867-886)
Founder of the Macedonian dynasty was Basil I, who was born around 835 in the region of western Thrace (suburbs of Andrianople). Basil, known with the surname “the Macedonian” because of his origin (but he was also known as Kephalas), descended from a family of villagers. Thanks to his skills and his strength, when he came to Constantinople around 855-860, quickly attracted the attention of powerful men, gradually progressing from stableman - of the patrikios Theophilos - to a personal servant of the emperor Michael III, whose became the parakoimomenos in 856. Basil helped Michael III to get rid of his uncle, caesarBardas, in 866, an event that led to his coronation as a co-emperor in the same year, while the emperor had previously married him to his ex-mistress Eudokia Ingerina. On the 24th of September 867, at the Saint Mammas palace at Pera, Basil the Macedonian's men (amongst them was also his brother Symbatios) murdered Michael III. After that Basil remained the sole emperor. As a means of confirmation of his new, absolute power, Basil was officially acclaimed as emperor on the church of Hagia Sophia.
Basil I the Macedonian ruled the empire for 19 years (867-886). Active and ambitious, already from the seizure of power he had to confront many problems and was dedicated to their solution. He dethroned patriarch Photios (858-867, 877-886) and at his place he restored Ignatios (847-858, 867-877), trying that way to smooth away the clash with Rome (which Photios refused to acknowledge), as well as the internal quarrels within the church of Constantinople. That way, Basil gained Rome’s valuable support, which would last for many years, until the moment emperor would reinstate patriarch Photios to the capital and the palace (around 873), appointing him as his sons’ tutor. Soon after the seizure of power, Basil crowned his eldest son Constantine co-emperor (he was his son from his first – unknown to us – wife), whereas in 870 he crowned Leo (who was born in 866 from his marriage with Eudokia Ingerina). Basil’s third son, Stephan porphyrogennetos, was born soon after his father’s accession to the throne (possibly at the end of 867),1 while his fourth son Alexander was born two years later and was crowned in 879, after the death of the eldest Constantine. Stephan, who was castrated, since he was intended to follow an ecclesiastical career, became patriarch of Constantinople right after his brother’s Leo undertaking of power in 886. Basil got also four daughters who were made nuns (in the St Euphemia Monastery at Constantinople), because he did not want any ambitious son-in-law to threaten his succession by his own sons.
Basil I had a political agenda with bold ends, transpired by the idea of restoration regarding the post-Iconoclasm empire’s strength, after Michael’s III “weak” reign. His manifold activity was associated with Byzantium’s great intellectual prosperity, the missionary successes of the previous years and the strong ideology of the new post-Iconoclasm era, proclaimed by patriarch Photios. Basil the Macedonian erected or restored more than thirty churches or monasteries, all of them at Constantinople or in the suburbs, while his main foundation, Nea Ekklesia (New Chruch) at Great Palace, along with the Kainourgion palace laying nearby, constituted the most clear expression of this new idea of Constantinople’s restoration, as well as of the entire empire’s one. Nea Ekklesia formed a manifestation of the emperor’s superiority over the spiritual power, while the date of inauguration, 1st of May (880) was established as the capital’s new official celebration, strongly reminding the 11th of May, day of the city’s foundation in 330.
In the same spirit of profound reorganization (characterized also by a certain classicism), Basil was dedicated to the ambitious program of codification of the law. Basil managed to issue before his death only the Eisagoge, a codex of 40 chapters, the introduction of which concerned the place and the role of the emperor and the patriarch and was written by Photios, who had been restored to the patriarchal throne by Basil since 877. Basil's legislation included a number of provisions concerning the Jews, whose Christianization was one of the emperor's concerns, in ways that were not always beyond critisism.2
2. Leo VI (886-912)
Leo VI the Wise (886-912) was a complex personality, highly educated and ambitious, but easily manipulated: already since his reign’s early days he was under the strong influence of Stylianos Zaoutzes, father of his mistress Zoe, for whom he even introduced the new title of basileopator. Leo’s biggest problem was that he could not get a son to succeed him: his first wife Theophano – future saint – died in 895/6 without giving birth to a son, just as Zoe Zaoutzes soon later. His third wife Anna gave him a son, who was named Basil; however he died soon after his birth along with his mother. Leo’s new mistress, Zoe Karbonopsina, delivered a son to the emperor, who was named Constantine. Leo stood before a dilemma regarding the way he was going to secure legitimacy for his son. After an agreement with patriarch Nikolaos Mystikos (901-907, 912-925), the emperor was assured of Constantine’s recognition as a legitimate son, yet he proceeded a step further and violated the agreement by getting married to Zoe. This way a dispute broke out around the issue of tetragamy, of Leo’s fourth illegal marriage, which duisturbed the Byzantine society and brought back the old division between the adherents of Photios and Ignatios. Leo was forced to dethrone Nikolaos Mystikos, appointing Euthymios to the patriarchal throne (907), while he asked for Rome’s help. Nevertheless, before his death he reinstated Nikolaos to the patriarchal throne as an act of repentance.
Leo VI carried on his father’s legislative activity: he issued a new code, the Procheiron,3 from which he took off the introduction of Photios, who was placing the patriarch above the king. It is to be noted that, as soon as he assumed power, Leo replaced Photios with his brother Stephan on the patriarchal throne (886-893). Besides Procheiron, he also issued a collection of 113 Novels, which were mainly addressed to Stylianos Zaoutzes and patriarch Stephan, as well as a compilation of royal laws, the so-called Basilika, in 60 volumes, containing all the old provisions of the laws that were going to form the basis of the Byzantine juridical system until the end of the Empire. With his intention to promulgate the imperial majesty, Leo renovated at the capital a monastery dedicated to Saint Lazarus, and he also erected a bath complex which was adorned with mosaics depicting pagan motives. He even composed many orations which he delivered upon the occasion of consecration of churches founded by friends of his at Constantinople.
3. Romanos I Lakapenos (920-944)
After Leo’s death on May 912 and the brief independent reign of his brother Alexander (died June 913), Leo’s eight-year-old son Constantine remained the sole emperor. Byzantium entered a period of crisis, during which the influence of patriarch Nikolaos Mystikos alternated with that of queen mother Zoe and of powerful men from great families, while at the same time the wars against the Bulgarians and the effort of the Bulgarian ruler Symeon to win the imperial crown reached a point of fierce tense. After the defeat of the Byzantines by Symeon at Anchialos (20 August 917), the drouggarios tou stolou Romanos Lakapenos reached opposite Constantinople and, after an agreement with patriarch Nikolaos Mystikos, he took power, while he married his daughter Helen to Constantine Porphyrogennetos. Romanos Lakapenos received the title of basileopator, later on that of caesar and on December of 920 he was crowned king by Nikolaos Mystikos. Romanos’ reign (920-944) is characterized by the Byzantine army’s successes in the East under the leadership of the domestikos ton scholonJohn Kourkouas, by the concluding of peace with the Bulgarians after Symeon’s death in 927,4 by the emperor’s effort to put an end to the aristocracy’s strengthening through the establishment of the right of protimesis5 on the agrarian estates via the issuing of Novels (928 and 934),6 and finally, by the crowning of his sons Christopher, Stephan and Constantine.7
4. Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (913/945-959), Romanos II (959-963)
Constantine Porphyrogennetos succeeded in resuming the power at the expense of Stephan and Constantine Lakapenos on February 945, appointing right away members of the Phokas family on Byzantine army posts of the outmost importance. Next, the organization of the large historiographic and literary activity at Constantinople drawn his attention, thanks to which the period of his reign (until 959) was named an era of encyclopedic movement.8 His son Romanos II reigned for only four years (959-963), during which Byzantium under the leadership of Nikephoros Phokas recaptured Crete (961) and went on with the victorious wars against the Arabs in the East.
5. Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969)
Nikephoros Phokas’ glory contributed so that the successful general managed to prevail over the Constantinopolitan elite (August 963), led by the parakoimomenos Joseph Briggas, to get married to Romanos’ widow Theophano and to become emperor; the Phokas family, thus, reached the climax of its influence. Nikephoros Phokas continued his successful eastern campaigns, bringing back Cyprus under the Byzantine dominion (965), while at the same time he applied a severe policy against the monasteries, by restricting the growth of their property.9 However, his relative and one of the best commanders of the Byzantine army John Tzimiskes had an affaire with the empress Theophano, with whom he complotted against Nikephoros Phokas. At the end, Tzimiskes murdered Nikephoros I at the imperial palace on the 11th of December 969, only a few months after the Byzantine troops had brought Antioch back under the authority of Constantinople.
6. John I Tzimiskes (969-976)
Young emperor John Tzimiskes (969-976) was forced, after the demand of patriarch Polyeuktos (956-970), to evict the empress Theophano from the palace as an act of repentance for his predecessor’s murder, appearing himself as protector of the young porphyrogennetoi princes, Romanos’ II sons, Basil (born 958) and Constantine (born 960). John Tzimiskes went on with the wars in the East, but he was forced to turn his attention towards the Balkans. During the last years of his reign Nikephoros Phokas, not wanting to pay the money tribute that the Bulgarians demanded, he invited the Russian ruler Svjatoslav to attack them. Svjatoslav, however, claimed himself lord of Bulgaria, which as a consequence made Byzantium to confront the ambitious Russian ruler instead of a weak Bulgarian state. In 971, the emperor John Tzimiskes set out from Adrianople in charge of the Byzantine army, which after a long battle inflicted upon Svjatoslav a defeat at Dorostolon (Dristra). Tzimiskes took away from the Bulgarian tsar, Boris, the imperial crown, which after his triumph he placed into the Holy Sanctuary of Hagia Sophia, while on the ex-Bulgarian soil he established the Byzantine system of rule and founded a series of themes.
7. Basil II (976-1025)
After Tzimiskes’ death because of typhus on January 976, typically the power at the empire passed into the hands of the young emperors Basil II (976-1025) and Constantine VIII (he reigned independently 1025-1028), yet the most powerful man of the empire until 985 was parakoimomenos Basil, Romanos Lakapenos’ illegitimate son. At the same time, inside the empire broke out uprisings by the military commanders Bardas Phokas and Bardas Skleros (which would led in a series of civil wars until 988), while the Bulgarians broke out in a revolt headed by Samuel, who captured within a short period of time the territories from the banks of Danube until Macedonia and Albania.
Basil II was one of the most powerful Byzantine emperors. He dedicated his entire life at strengthening the imperial prestige and at waging wars on all the frontiers of the empire. After his final prevalence on the civil wars with the aid of the ruler of Kiev Vladimir,10 Basil managed to crash Samuel’s state through his continuous campaigns until the last years of the 10th century. At the decisive battle at Kleidi (1014) he utterly defeated the Bulgarian army and blinded 13-14.000 Bulgarians;11 Samuel sustained apoplexy when he faced his blinded soldiers and passed away. Basil II subjugated in 1018 the entire Bulgarian state and reinstated his empire’s borders to the rivers Sabbas and Danube; furthermore, he founded the archbishopric of Ohrid and established the theme system over the entire area of the Balkans. During the following years, Byzantium reached the climax of its territorial expansion after the Justinianic era, when Basil II annexed to the empire parts of the vassal Armenian sovereignties. According to his policy, Basil II tried to confine the power of Asia Minor’s great aristocratic families and tried to carry on Romanos Lakapenos’ policy, by retaining the tax revenues within state hands and by applying the allelengyon, which the rich people paid on behalf of the poor villagers.
8. The period from 1025 to 1042
8.1. Constantine VIII (1025-1028)
The short-lived reign of Basil’s brother, Constantine VIII, brought about the final victory of the aristocracy, whereas the choice of Romanos Argyros (1028-1034) as successor and husband of Constantine’s daughter Zoe just confirmed the supremacy of the powerful families over central authority.
8.2. Romanos III (1028- 1034)
With Romanos III started the period of the struggle among the members of the Byzantine aristocracy to win the favor of Constantine’s VIII porphyrogennetoi daughters, Zoe and Theodora. Until 1056, at the beginning Zoe and later on Theodora, provided, thanks to their lineage with the Macedonian dynasty, the legitimacy to all the emperors, through marriage or adoption. Zoe got married for the second time on the 11th of April 1034 to Michael IV Paphlagon (1034-1041), who together with his elder brother, the eunuch John Orphanotrophos, strangled Romanos Argyros inside the palace baths.
8.3. The emperors Michael IV (1034-1041) and Michael V (1041-1042), and empresses Zoe and Theodora
In contrast to the rich aristocrat Romanos Argyros, who already from the beginning of his reign had abolished the allelengyon that dissatisfied Byzantine lay and ecclesiastical landowners, Michael IV Paphlagon stemmed from the middle classes. Surrounded by his four brothers, whom he placed in the most significant offices, the period of his reign was the beginning of a new, domestic way of governing with the help of an interlaced network of relatives, which during the following decades would be strengthened, while it would become the dominant form of reigning since the period of ascendance of Alexios I Komnenos to power (1081). Michael IV, according to Michael Psellos’ estimation, was a good ruler and an honest man, but under the negative influence of his brothers.12 Michael’s IV disease (epilepsy) and the interfamilial discord that broke out caused the collapse of the Paphlagon family after the short reign of Michael V Kalaphates (son of Michael’s IV sister). The empress Zoe adopted Michael V, yet he ordered her expulsion from Constantinople, an event that led on the April 1042 to an uprising of the people of Constantinople against him. After that, Zoe’s sister, Theodora, returned from the monastery and was crowned empress. After Zoe’s return from Princes’ Islands, the two sisters ruled together for the following four months, however Zoe proceeded to a third marriage with Constantine Monomachos, who was crowned emperor (1042-1055). It was a time during which the conscience regarding the claim upon the imperial crown and the legitimacy of the last representatives of the Macedonian dynasty was at its peak, foremost at the Byzantine capital. During that period, the fact that the purpleborn daughters of Constantine’s VIII descended from a series of five emperors was considered the strongest argument for their right to bear the imperial crown and to rule the empire.
9. Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055)
Just as its predecessors, Constantine Monomachos was covered under the legitimacy of empress Zoe, even after her death in 1050. Nevertheless, Zoe, right after Monomachos’ coronation, was fully displaced and replaced by the emperor’s mistresses, especially by the famous Sklerina, for the shake of whom a private royal house was built near the Great Palace. The short-lived intellectual prosperity at the beginnings of Monomachos’ reign, the foundation of a “University”, in charge of which Michael Psellos was appointed as the hypatos ton philosophonand John Xiphilinos as nomophylax, had nothing in common with the other last representatives of the Macedonian dynasty, just as the ecclesiastical breach between Constantinople and Rome in 1054, which at Byzantium passed completely unnoticed.
10. Theodora (1055-1056): The end of the dynasty
The well-established legitimacy of the Macedonian dynasty contributed so that after Monomachos’ death, and because of the fact that the emperor had not got a successor, the empress Theodora held the throne (1055-1056). Ruling with the aid of a small cycle of close collaborators, among whom the most powerful were Leo Paraspondylos and the later emperor Michael VI Stratiotikos (1056) the brief independent reign of Theodora constituted the end of an entire era and the forerunner of a new one in which some new families would struggle for the establishment of their own power’s legitimacy and of their right upon the imperial crown. By Theodora’s death in 1056 was erased the last representative of the family of Basil the Macedonian, of the most long-lived dynasty that the Byzantine history has encountered until then.
11. The borders
The Byzantine Empire during the long-lived period of the Macedonian dynasty reached gradually the climax of its territorial expansion for the centuries to come after the Justinianic reconquest. Particularly in the East the main concern was the stabilization of the inner region of the Euphrates with the campaigns of Basil I at Tephrike, at Melitene and at Samosata (9th c.), as well as with the campaigns of John Kourkoua in the Euphrates (early 10th c.), while Byzantium under the emperors Constantine VII, Nikephoros II and John I expanded towards Cilicia and northern Syria. This expansion continued at the beginnings of the 11th century, as much through warfare as through diplomatic practices: thus, Edessa (1031), Kars (after 1000), Vaspurakan (1021) and Ani (1045) were taken, expanding largely the borders eastwards.13
In the Balkans the evolutions are related with the wars against the Bulgarians, as well as with sklaviniai. As far as the latter ones are concerned, two events took place: the sklaviniai were either integrated into Byzantium or Bulgaria, or gradually evolved into semi-state unions and finally into little states. Thus, at the beginnings of Basil’s I reign the theme of Delmatia on the Dalmatian shores was formed, since the Slavs that were settled on the mountainous areas had acknowledged the Byzantine suzerainty.
The Christianized (865/6) Bulgarian kingdom under the leadership of Symeon constituted one of the most serious threats against Byzantium. From 913 onwards, the Byzantines were occupied with a hopeless struggle against Symeon, who upon his effort to seize the imperial crown reached until Thessalonica, Durrhachion and Corinth, while he twice attempted to capture Constantinople (913 and 924). Symeon’s death marked the start of a peaceful period, which ended up with the dissolution of the first Bulgarian state by Nikephoros II Phokas, thanks also to the help of the Rus. However, the Russian prince Svjatoslav made an attempt to appropriate Bulgarian soil, but John I Tzimiskes forced him to sign a treaty after the battle at Dorostolon (971). In 976, as a consequence of the revolt of Kometopouloi (of the sons of comes Nikolaos), a western Bulgarian state was founded, at first place with Prespa as its capital and later on with Ohrid. This state’s greater expansion was marked under Samuel, from the Adriatic to Danube and as far as central Greece to the south. At the end, after a long war this state was dissoluted by Basil II and on the Bulgarian territories were created the themes of Paristrion (Paradounavis) and of Sirmion.14
In Italy and Sicily the Byzantines had to confront the Arabs and, after 962, the ambitions of the Western Roman Empire, as well as the papal policy. In the 9th century, the Arabs conquered some lands, yet in 876 the Byzantines recaptured Bari. Under Basil II the Byzantine possessions in southern Italy were stabilized, while during the years of his successors the western coast of Sicily was regained.
As far as the administrative organization is concerned, from the 10th century onwards the theme were shrinking, leading to a union of some new themes (mainly of frontier regions) into superior military units under the leadership of a duxor katepano. As an example, during the last third of the 10th century the themes of the eastern borders were under the dux of Antioch, Mesopotamia and Chaldia, while in the Balkans there were the doux of Thessalonica, Adrianople and the mouth of river Danube.15
Byzantium during the period of the Macedonian dynasty evolved into a centralized state with a rigid structure, into what in other words could call the Byzantine state in its “classical” form, governed by a strictly hierarchical imperial court and the administrative mechanisms of Constantinople.16
As far as the foreign affaires are concerned, the leadership of capable emperors allowed the empire to hold back the Arab attacks and to counterattack, to erase the Bulgarian menace for a long period of time and to make the Rus allies. Thus, the Byzantine empire under the Macedonians formed a powerful state that had expanded in a large degree compared to its past.
As far as the domestic affaires are concerned, the empire was equally vigorous. The economy presented an upturn, with the growth of cities in size and number, as well as of the population, leading to the rise of commercial activities. To this fact also contributed the restoration of Byzantine control over the maritime roots, especially after the reconquest of Crete from the Arabs (961). The state gathered its resources under the form of taxes from the agrarian population and thus tried to protect the free farmers and to limit the expansion of big land property, which formed both the Church and the aristocracy. The imperial power was strengthened against the Church during that period, while it temporarily managed to assert itself upon the power of the aristocratic families, restricting their expansiveness with measures such as the principle of protimesis. However, the emperors’ policy in this domain was inconsistent and eventually the resistance of the free agrarian population yielded to the pressure of the big land property.17 The aristocratic families were used to serve the emperor faithfully and their descendants as generals were in a large degree responsible for the significant victories of that period. This fact is due, among other things, to the fact that, at least in the beginning, the administrative and military dignitaries owned their place and their financial strength to the undisputable center of the state, the emperor. Even when they rebelled, they sought the support of Constantinople and the seizure of the throne and not the foundation of an independent hegemony.
Regarding the intellectual domain big progress was marked, particularly perceptible in the domain of the revival of the law. At the same time, special emphasis was given to the sense of justice on taxation and transactions, as well as on the protection of the weak, a trend that the fiscal reforms also reflected (e.g. confinements on the highest rate of interest).
Everything that was sketched out so far promulgates the strength, the prosperity and the well-being that the Byzantine state joined during the times the Macedonian dynasty was ruling.