The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Edward Gibbon

Part 14 out of 15

trust or power, in the solitude of the palace. At their secret
instigation, the troops of the Anatolian theme or province
approached the city on the Asiatic side, demanded for the royal
brothers the partition or exercise of sovereignty, and supported
their seditious claim by a theological argument. They were
Christians, (they cried,) and orthodox Catholics; the sincere
votaries of the holy and undivided Trinity. Since there are
three equal persons in heaven, it is reasonable there should be
three equal persons upon earth. The emperor invited these
learned divines to a friendly conference, in which they might
propose their arguments to the senate: they obeyed the summons,
but the prospect of their bodies hanging on the gibbet in the
suburb of Galata reconciled their companions to the unity of the
reign of Constantine. He pardoned his brothers, and their names
were still pronounced in the public acclamations: but on the
repetition or suspicion of a similar offence, the obnoxious
princes were deprived of their titles and noses, ^* in the
presence of the Catholic bishops who were assembled at
Constantinople in the sixth general synod. In the close of his
life, Pogonatus was anxious only to establish the right of
primogeniture: the heir of his two sons, Justinian and Heraclius,
was offered on the shrine of St. Peter, as a symbol of their
spiritual adoption by the pope; but the elder was alone exalted
to the rank of Augustus, and the assurance of the empire.

[Footnote *: Schlosser (Geschichte der bilder sturmenden Kaiser,
p. 90) supposed that the young princes were mutilated after the
first insurrection; that after this the acts were still inscribed
with their names, the princes being closely secluded in the
palace. The improbability of this circumstance may be weighed
against Gibbon's want of authority for his statement. - M.]
After the decease of his father, the inheritance of the
Roman world devolved to Justinian II.; and the name of a
triumphant lawgiver was dishonored by the vices of a boy, who
imitated his namesake only in the expensive luxury of building.
His passions were strong; his understanding was feeble; and he
was intoxicated with a foolish pride, that his birth had given
him the command of millions, of whom the smallest community would
not have chosen him for their local magistrate. His favorite
ministers were two beings the least susceptible of human
sympathy, a eunuch and a monk: to the one he abandoned the
palace, to the other the finances; the former corrected the
emperor's mother with a scourge, the latter suspended the
insolvent tributaries, with their heads downwards, over a slow
and smoky fire. Since the days of Commodus and Caracalla, the
cruelty of the Roman princes had most commonly been the effect of
their fear; but Justinian, who possessed some vigor of character,
enjoyed the sufferings, and braved the revenge, of his subjects,
about ten years, till the measure was full, of his crimes and of
their patience. In a dark dungeon, Leontius, a general of
reputation, had groaned above three years, with some of the
noblest and most deserving of the patricians: he was suddenly
drawn forth to assume the government of Greece; and this
promotion of an injured man was a mark of the contempt rather
than of the confidence of his prince. As he was followed to the
port by the kind offices of his friends, Leontius observed, with
a sigh, that he was a victim adorned for sacrifice, and that
inevitable death would pursue his footsteps. They ventured to
reply, that glory and empire might be the recompense of a
generous resolution; that every order of men abhorred the reign
of a monster; and that the hands of two hundred thousand patriots
expected only the voice of a leader. The night was chosen for
their deliverance; and in the first effort of the conspirators,
the praefect was slain, and the prisons were forced open: the
emissaries of Leontius proclaimed in every street, "Christians,
to St. Sophia!" and the seasonable text of the patriarch, "This
is the day of the Lord!" was the prelude of an inflammatory
sermon. From the church the people adjourned to the hippodrome:
Justinian, in whose cause not a sword had been drawn, was dragged
before these tumultuary judges, and their clamors demanded the
instant death of the tyrant. But Leontius, who was already
clothed with the purple, cast an eye of pity on the prostrate son
of his own benefactor and of so many emperors. The life of
Justinian was spared; the amputation of his nose, perhaps of his
tongue, was imperfectly performed: the happy flexibility of the
Greek language could impose the name of Rhinotmetus; and the
mutilated tyrant was banished to Chersonae in Crim- Tartary, a
lonely settlement, where corn, wine, and oil, were imported as
foreign luxuries.

On the edge of the Scythian wilderness, Justinian still
cherished the pride of his birth, and the hope of his
restoration. After three years' exile, he received the pleasing
intelligence that his injury was avenged by a second revolution,
and that Leontius in his turn had been dethroned and mutilated by
the rebel Apsimar, who assumed the more respectable name of
Tiberius. But the claim of lineal succession was still
formidable to a plebeian usurper; and his jealousy was stimulated
by the complaints and charges of the Chersonites, who beheld the
vices of the tyrant in the spirit of the exile. With a band of
followers, attached to his person by common hope or common
despair, Justinian fled from the inhospitable shore to the horde
of the Chozars, who pitched their tents between the Tanais and
Borysthenes. The khan entertained with pity and respect the
royal suppliant: Phanagoria, once an opulent city, on the Asiatic
side of the lake Moeotis, was assigned for his residence; and
every Roman prejudice was stifled in his marriage with the sister
of the Barbarian, who seems, however, from the name of Theodora,
to have received the sacrament of baptism. But the faithless
Chozar was soon tempted by the gold of Constantinople: and had
not the design been revealed by the conjugal love of Theodora,
her husband must have been assassinated or betrayed into the
power of his enemies. After strangling, with his own hands, the
two emissaries of the khan, Justinian sent back his wife to her
brother, and embarked on the Euxine in search of new and more
faithful allies. His vessel was assaulted by a violent tempest;
and one of his pious companions advised him to deserve the mercy
of God by a vow of general forgiveness, if he should be restored
to the throne. "Of forgiveness?" replied the intrepid tyrant:
"may I perish this instant - may the Almighty whelm me in the
waves - if I consent to spare a single head of my enemies!" He
survived this impious menace, sailed into the mouth of the
Danube, trusted his person in the royal village of the
Bulgarians, and purchased the aid of Terbelis, a pagan conqueror,
by the promise of his daughter and a fair partition of the
treasures of the empire. The Bulgarian kingdom extended to the
confines of Thrace; and the two princes besieged Constantinople
at the head of fifteen thousand horse. Apsimar was dismayed by
the sudden and hostile apparition of his rival whose head had
been promised by the Chozar, and of whose evasion he was yet
ignorant. After an absence of ten years, the crimes of Justinian
were faintly remembered, and the birth and misfortunes of their
hereditary sovereign excited the pity of the multitude, ever
discontented with the ruling powers; and by the active diligence
of his adherents, he was introduced into the city and palace of

Chapter XLVIII: Succession And Characters Of The Greek Emperors.

Part II.

In rewarding his allies, and recalling his wife, Justinian
displayed some sense of honor and gratitude; ^* and Terbelis
retired, after sweeping away a heap of gold coin, which he
measured with his Scythian whip. But never was vow more
religiously performed than the sacred oath of revenge which he
had sworn amidst the storms of the Euxine. The two usurpers (for
I must reserve the name of tyrant for the conqueror) were dragged
into the hippodrome, the one from his prison, the other from his
palace. Before their execution, Leontius and Apsimar were cast
prostrate in chains beneath the throne of the emperor; and
Justinian, planting a foot on each of their necks, contemplated
above an hour the chariot-race, while the inconstant people
shouted, in the words of the Psalmist, "Thou shalt trample on the
asp and basilisk, and on the lion and dragon shalt thou set thy
foot!" The universal defection which he had once experienced
might provoke him to repeat the wish of Caligula, that the Roman
people had but one head. Yet I shall presume to observe, that
such a wish is unworthy of an ingenious tyrant, since his revenge
and cruelty would have been extinguished by a single blow,
instead of the slow variety of tortures which Justinian inflicted
on the victims of his anger. His pleasures were inexhaustible:
neither private virtue nor public service could expiate the guilt
of active, or even passive, obedience to an established
government; and, during the six years of his new reign, he
considered the axe, the cord, and the rack, as the only
instruments of royalty. But his most implacable hatred was
pointed against the Chersonites, who had insulted his exile and
violated the laws of hospitality. Their remote situation
afforded some means of defence, or at least of escape; and a
grievous tax was imposed on Constantinople, to supply the
preparations of a fleet and army. "All are guilty, and all must
perish," was the mandate of Justinian; and the bloody execution
was intrusted to his favorite Stephen, who was recommended by the
epithet of the savage. Yet even the savage Stephen imperfectly
accomplished the intentions of his sovereign. The slowness of
his attack allowed the greater part of the inhabitants to
withdraw into the country; and the minister of vengeance
contented himself with reducing the youth of both sexes to a
state of servitude, with roasting alive seven of the principal
citizens, with drowning twenty in the sea, and with reserving
forty-two in chains to receive their doom from the mouth of the
emperor. In their return, the fleet was driven on the rocky
shores of Anatolia; and Justinian applauded the obedience of the
Euxine, which had involved so many thousands of his subjects and
enemies in a common shipwreck: but the tyrant was still insatiate
of blood; and a second expedition was commanded to extirpate the
remains of the proscribed colony. In the short interval, the
Chersonites had returned to their city, and were prepared to die
in arms; the khan of the Chozars had renounced the cause of his
odious brother; the exiles of every province were assembled in
Tauris; and Bardanes, under the name of Philippicus, was invested
with the purple. The Imperial troops, unwilling and unable to
perpetrate the revenge of Justinian, escaped his displeasure by
abjuring his allegiance: the fleet, under their new sovereign,
steered back a more auspicious course to the harbors of Sinope
and Constantinople; and every tongue was prompt to pronounce,
every hand to execute, the death of the tyrant. Destitute of
friends, he was deserted by his Barbarian guards; and the stroke
of the assassin was praised as an act of patriotism and Roman
virtue. His son Tiberius had taken refuge in a church; his aged
grandmother guarded the door; and the innocent youth, suspending
round his neck the most formidable relics, embraced with one hand
the altar, with the other the wood of the true cross. But the
popular fury that dares to trample on superstition, is deaf to
the cries of humanity; and the race of Heraclius was extinguished
after a reign of one hundred years

[Footnote *: Of fear rather than of more generous motives.
Compare Le Beau vol. xii. p. 64. - M.]

Between the fall of the Heraclian and the rise of the
Isaurian dynasty, a short interval of six years is divided into
three reigns. Bardanes, or Philippicus, was hailed at
Constantinople as a hero who had delivered his country from a
tyrant; and he might taste some moments of happiness in the first
transports of sincere and universal joy. Justinian had left
behind him an ample treasure, the fruit of cruelty and rapine:
but this useful fund was soon and idly dissipated by his
successor. On the festival of his birthday, Philippicus
entertained the multitude with the games of the hippodrome; from
thence he paraded through the streets with a thousand banners and
a thousand trumpets; refreshed himself in the baths of Zeuxippus,
and returning to the palace, entertained his nobles with a
sumptuous banquet. At the meridian hour he withdrew to his
chamber, intoxicated with flattery and wine, and forgetful that
his example had made every subject ambitious, and that every
ambitious subject was his secret enemy. Some bold conspirators
introduced themselves in the disorder of the feast; and the
slumbering monarch was surprised, bound, blinded, and deposed,
before he was sensible of his danger. Yet the traitors were
deprived of their reward; and the free voice of the senate and
people promoted Artemius from the office of secretary to that of
emperor: he assumed the title of Anastasius the Second, and
displayed in a short and troubled reign the virtues both of peace
and war. But after the extinction of the Imperial line, the rule
of obedience was violated, and every change diffused the seeds of
new revolutions. In a mutiny of the fleet, an obscure and
reluctant officer of the revenue was forcibly invested with the
purple: after some months of a naval war, Anastasius resigned the
sceptre; and the conqueror, Theodosius the Third, submitted in
his turn to the superior ascendant of Leo, the general and
emperor of the Oriental troops. His two predecessors were
permitted to embrace the ecclesiastical profession: the restless
impatience of Anastasius tempted him to risk and to lose his life
in a treasonable enterprise; but the last days of Theodosius were
honorable and secure. The single sublime word, "Health," which
he inscribed on his tomb, expresses the confidence of philosophy
or religion; and the fame of his miracles was long preserved
among the people of Ephesus. This convenient shelter of the
church might sometimes impose a lesson of clemency; but it may be
questioned whether it is for the public interest to diminish the
perils of unsuccessful ambition.

I have dwelt on the fall of a tyrant; I shall briefly
represent the founder of a new dynasty, who is known to posterity
by the invectives of his enemies, and whose public and private
life is involved in the ecclesiastical story of the Iconoclasts.
Yet in spite of the clamors of superstition, a favorable
prejudice for the character of Leo the Isaurian may be reasonably
drawn from the obscurity of his birth, and the duration of his
reign. - I. In an age of manly spirit, the prospect of an
Imperial reward would have kindled every energy of the mind, and
produced a crowd of competitors as deserving as they were
desirous to reign. Even in the corruption and debility of the
modern Greeks, the elevation of a plebeian from the last to the
first rank of society, supposes some qualifications above the
level of the multitude. He would probably be ignorant and
disdainful of speculative science; and, in the pursuit of
fortune, he might absolve himself from the obligations of
benevolence and justice; but to his character we may ascribe the
useful virtues of prudence and fortitude, the knowledge of
mankind, and the important art of gaining their confidence and
directing their passions. It is agreed that Leo was a native of
Isauria, and that Conon was his primitive name. The writers,
whose awkward satire is praise, describe him as an itinerant
pedler, who drove an ass with some paltry merchandise to the
country fairs; and foolishly relate that he met on the road some
Jewish fortune-tellers, who promised him the Roman empire, on
condition that he should abolish the worship of idols. A more
probable account relates the migration of his father from Asia
Minor to Thrace, where he exercised the lucrative trade of a
grazier; and he must have acquired considerable wealth, since the
first introduction of his son was procured by a supply of five
hundred sheep to the Imperial camp. His first service was in the
guards of Justinian, where he soon attracted the notice, and by
degrees the jealousy, of the tyrant. His valor and dexterity
were conspicuous in the Colchian war: from Anastasius he received
the command of the Anatolian legions, and by the suffrage of the
soldiers he was raised to the empire with the general applause of
the Roman world. - II. In this dangerous elevation, Leo the
Third supported himself against the envy of his equals, the
discontent of a powerful faction, and the assaults of his foreign
and domestic enemies. The Catholics, who accuse his religious
innovations, are obliged to confess that they were undertaken
with temper and conducted with firmness. Their silence respects
the wisdom of his administration and the purity of his manners.
After a reign of twenty-four years, he peaceably expired in the
palace of Constantinople; and the purple which he had acquired
was transmitted by the right of inheritance to the third
generation. ^*
[Footnote *: During the latter part of his reign, the hostilities
of the Saracens, who invested a Pergamenian, named Tiberius, with
the purple, and proclaimed him as the son of Justinian, and an
earthquake, which destroyed the walls of Constantinople,
compelled Leo greatly to increase the burdens of taxation upon
his subjects. A twelfth was exacted in addition to every aurena
as a wall tax. Theophanes p. 275 Schlosser, Bilder eturmeud
Kaiser, p. 197. - M.]

In a long reign of thirty-four years, the son and successor
of Leo, Constantine the Fifth, surnamed Copronymus, attacked with
less temperate zeal the images or idols of the church. Their
votaries have exhausted the bitterness of religious gall, in
their portrait of this spotted panther, this antichrist, this
flying dragon of the serpent's seed, who surpassed the vices of
Elagabalus and Nero. His reign was a long butchery of whatever
was most noble, or holy, or innocent, in his empire. In person,
the emperor assisted at the execution of his victims, surveyed
their agonies, listened to their groans, and indulged, without
satiating, his appetite for blood: a plate of noses was accepted
as a grateful offering, and his domestics were often scourged or
mutilated by the royal hand. His surname was derived from his
pollution of his baptismal font. The infant might be excused;
but the manly pleasures of Copronymus degraded him below the
level of a brute; his lust confounded the eternal distinctions of
sex and species, and he seemed to extract some unnatural delight
from the objects most offensive to human sense. In his religion
the Iconoclast was a Heretic, a Jew, a Mahometan, a Pagan, and an
Atheist; and his belief of an invisible power could be discovered
only in his magic rites, human victims, and nocturnal sacrifices
to Venus and the daemons of antiquity. His life was stained with
the most opposite vices, and the ulcers which covered his body,
anticipated before his death the sentiment of hell-tortures. Of
these accusations, which I have so patiently copied, a part is
refuted by its own absurdity; and in the private anecdotes of the
life of the princes, the lie is more easy as the detection is
more difficult. Without adopting the pernicious maxim, that where
much is alleged, something must be true, I can however discern,
that Constantine the Fifth was dissolute and cruel. Calumny is
more prone to exaggerate than to invent; and her licentious
tongue is checked in some measure by the experience of the age
and country to which she appeals. Of the bishops and monks, the
generals and magistrates, who are said to have suffered under his
reign, the numbers are recorded, the names were conspicuous, the
execution was public, the mutilation visible and permanent. ^*
The Catholics hated the person and government of Copronymus; but
even their hatred is a proof of their oppression. They
dissembled the provocations which might excuse or justify his
rigor, but even these provocations must gradually inflame his
resentment and harden his temper in the use or the abuse of
despotism. Yet the character of the fifth Constantine was not
devoid of merit, nor did his government always deserve the curses
or the contempt of the Greeks. From the confession of his
enemies, I am informed of the restoration of an ancient aqueduct,
of the redemption of two thousand five hundred captives, of the
uncommon plenty of the times, and of the new colonies with which
he repeopled Constantinople and the Thracian cities. They
reluctantly praise his activity and courage; he was on horseback
in the field at the head of his legions; and, although the
fortune of his arms was various, he triumphed by sea and land, on
the Euphrates and the Danube, in civil and Barbarian war.
Heretical praise must be cast into the scale to counterbalance
the weight of orthodox invective. The Iconoclasts revered the
virtues of the prince: forty years after his death they still
prayed before the tomb of the saint. A miraculous vision was
propagated by fanaticism or fraud: and the Christian hero
appeared on a milk-white steed, brandishing his lance against the
Pagans of Bulgaria: "An absurd fable," says the Catholic
historian, "since Copronymus is chained with the daemons in the
abyss of hell."

[Footnote *: He is accused of burning the library of
Constantinople, founded by Julian, with its president and twelve
professors. This eastern Sorbonne had discomfited the Imperial
theologians on the great question of image worship. Schlosser
observes that this accidental fire took place six years after the
emperor had laid the question of image-worship before the
professors. Bilder sturmand Kaiser, p. 294. Compare Le Heau.
vol. xl. p. 156. - M.]

Leo the Fourth, the son of the fifth and the father of the
sixth Constantine, was of a feeble constitution both of mind ^*
and body, and the principal care of his reign was the settlement
of the succession. The association of the young Constantine was
urged by the officious zeal of his subjects; and the emperor,
conscious of his decay, complied, after a prudent hesitation,
with their unanimous wishes. The royal infant, at the age of
five years, was crowned with his mother Irene; and the national
consent was ratified by every circumstance of pomp and solemnity,
that could dazzle the eyes or bind the conscience of the Greeks.
An oath of fidelity was administered in the palace, the church,
and the hippodrome, to the several orders of the state, who
adjured the holy names of the Son, and mother of God. "Be
witness, O Christ! that we will watch over the safety of
Constantine the son of Leo, expose our lives in his service, and
bear true allegiance to his person and posterity." They pledged
their faith on the wood of the true cross, and the act of their
engagement was deposited on the altar of St. Sophia. The first
to swear, and the first to violate their oath, were the five sons
of Copronymus by a second marriage; and the story of these
princes is singular and tragic. The right of primogeniture
excluded them from the throne; the injustice of their elder
brother defrauded them of a legacy of about two millions
sterling; some vain titles were not deemed a sufficient
compensation for wealth and power; and they repeatedly conspired
against their nephew, before and after the death of his father.
Their first attempt was pardoned; for the second offence ^! they
were condemned to the ecclesiastical state; and for the third
treason, Nicephorus, the eldest and most guilty, was deprived of
his eyes, and his four brothers, Christopher, Nicetas, Anthemeus,
and Eudoxas, were punished, as a milder sentence, by the
amputation of their tongues. After five years' confinement, they
escaped to the church of St. Sophia, and displayed a pathetic
spectacle to the people. "Countrymen and Christians," cried
Nicephorus for himself and his mute brethren, "behold the sons of
your emperor, if you can still recognize our features in this
miserable state. A life, an imperfect life, is all that the
malice of our enemies has spared. It is now threatened, and we
now throw ourselves on your compassion." The rising murmur might
have produced a revolution, had it not been checked by the
presence of a minister, who soothed the unhappy princes with
flattery and hope, and gently drew them from the sanctuary to the
palace. They were speedily embarked for Greece, and Athens was
allotted for the place of their exile. In this calm retreat, and
in their helpless condition, Nicephorus and his brothers were
tormented by the thirst of power, and tempted by a Sclavonian
chief, who offered to break their prison, and to lead them in
arms, and in the purple, to the gates of Constantinople. But the
Athenian people, ever zealous in the cause of Irene, prevented
her justice or cruelty; and the five sons of Copronymus were
plunged in eternal darkness and oblivion.
[Footnote *: Schlosser thinks more highly of Leo's mind; but his
only proof of his superiority is the successes of his generals
against the Saracens, Schlosser, p. 256. - M.]

[Footnote !: The second offence was on the accession of the young
Constantine - M.]

For himself, that emperor had chosen a Barbarian wife, the
daughter of the khan of the Chozars; but in the marriage of his
heir, he preferred an Athenian virgin, an orphan, seventeen years
old, whose sole fortune must have consisted in her personal
accomplishments. The nuptials of Leo and Irene were celebrated
with royal pomp; she soon acquired the love and confidence of a
feeble husband, and in his testament he declared the empress
guardian of the Roman world, and of their son Constantine the
Sixth, who was no more than ten years of age. During his
childhood, Irene most ably and assiduously discharged, in her
public administration, the duties of a faithful mother; and her
zeal in the restoration of images has deserved the name and
honors of a saint, which she still occupies in the Greek
calendar. But the emperor attained the maturity of youth; the
maternal yoke became more grievous; and he listened to the
favorites of his own age, who shared his pleasures, and were
ambitious of sharing his power. Their reasons convinced him of
his right, their praises of his ability, to reign; and he
consented to reward the services of Irene by a perpetual
banishment to the Isle of Sicily. But her vigilance and
penetration easily disconcerted their rash projects: a similar,
or more severe, punishment was retaliated on themselves and their
advisers; and Irene inflicted on the ungrateful prince the
chastisement of a boy. After this contest, the mother and the son
were at the head of two domestic factions; and instead of mild
influence and voluntary obedience, she held in chains a captive
and an enemy. The empress was overthrown by the abuse of
victory; the oath of fidelity, which she exacted to herself
alone, was pronounced with reluctant murmurs; and the bold
refusal of the Armenian guards encouraged a free and general
declaration, that Constantine the Sixth was the lawful emperor of
the Romans. In this character he ascended his hereditary throne,
and dismissed Irene to a life of solitude and repose. But her
haughty spirit condescended to the arts of dissimulation: she
flattered the bishops and eunuchs, revived the filial tenderness
of the prince, regained his confidence, and betrayed his
credulity. The character of Constantine was not destitute of
sense or spirit; but his education had been studiously neglected;
and the ambitious mother exposed to the public censure the vices
which she had nourished, and the actions which she had secretly
advised: his divorce and second marriage offended the prejudices
of the clergy, and by his imprudent rigor he forfeited the
attachment of the Armenian guards. A powerful conspiracy was
formed for the restoration of Irene; and the secret, though
widely diffused, was faithfully kept above eight months, till the
emperor, suspicious of his danger, escaped from Constantinople,
with the design of appealing to the provinces and armies. By this
hasty flight, the empress was left on the brink of the precipice;
yet before she implored the mercy of her son, Irene addressed a
private epistle to the friends whom she had placed about his
person, with a menace, that unless they accomplished, she would
reveal, their treason. Their fear rendered them intrepid; they
seized the emperor on the Asiatic shore, and he was transported
to the porphyry apartment of the palace, where he had first seen
the light. In the mind of Irene, ambition had stifled every
sentiment of humanity and nature; and it was decreed in her
bloody council, that Constantine should be rendered incapable of
the throne: her emissaries assaulted the sleeping prince, and
stabbed their daggers with such violence and precipitation into
his eyes as if they meant to execute a mortal sentence. An
ambiguous passage of Theophanes persuaded the annalist of the
church that death was the immediate consequence of this barbarous
execution. The Catholics have been deceived or subdued by the
authority of Baronius; and Protestant zeal has reechoed the words
of a cardinal, desirous, as it should seem, to favor the
patroness of images. ^* Yet the blind son of Irene survived many
years, oppressed by the court and forgotten by the world; the
Isaurian dynasty was silently extinguished; and the memory of
Constantine was recalled only by the nuptials of his daughter
Euphrosyne with the emperor Michael the Second.

[Footnote *: Gibbon has been attacked on account of this
statement, but is successfully defended by Schlosser. B S. Kaiser
p. 327. Compare Le Beau, c. xii p. 372. - M.]

The most bigoted orthodoxy has justly execrated the
unnatural mother, who may not easily be paralleled in the history
of crimes. To her bloody deed superstition has attributed a
subsequent darkness of seventeen days; during which many vessels
in midday were driven from their course, as if the sun, a globe
of fire so vast and so remote, could sympathize with the atoms of
a revolving planet. On earth, the crime of Irene was left five
years unpunished; her reign was crowned with external splendor;
and if she could silence the voice of conscience, she neither
heard nor regarded the reproaches of mankind. The Roman world
bowed to the government of a female; and as she moved through the
streets of Constantinople, the reins of four milk-white steeds
were held by as many patricians, who marched on foot before the
golden chariot of their queen. But these patricians were for the
most part eunuchs; and their black ingratitude justified, on this
occasion, the popular hatred and contempt. Raised, enriched,
intrusted with the first dignities of the empire, they basely
conspired against their benefactress; the great treasurer
Nicephorus was secretly invested with the purple; her successor
was introduced into the palace, and crowned at St. Sophia by the
venal patriarch. In their first interview, she recapitulated
with dignity the revolutions of her life, gently accused the
perfidy of Nicephorus, insinuated that he owed his life to her
unsuspicious clemency, and for the throne and treasures which she
resigned, solicited a decent and honorable retreat. His avarice
refused this modest compensation; and, in her exile of the Isle
of Lesbos, the empress earned a scanty subsistence by the labors
of her distaff.

Many tyrants have reigned undoubtedly more criminal than
Nicephorus, but none perhaps have more deeply incurred the
universal abhorrence of their people. His character was stained
with the three odious vices of hypocrisy, ingratitude, and
avarice: his want of virtue was not redeemed by any superior
talents, nor his want of talents by any pleasing qualifications.
Unskilful and unfortunate in war, Nicephorus was vanquished by
the Saracens, and slain by the Bulgarians; and the advantage of
his death overbalanced, in the public opinion, the destruction of
a Roman army. ^* His son and heir Stauracius escaped from the
field with a mortal wound; yet six months of an expiring life
were sufficient to refute his indecent, though popular
declaration, that he would in all things avoid the example of his
father. On the near prospect of his decease, Michael, the great
master of the palace, and the husband of his sister Procopia, was
named by every person of the palace and city, except by his
envious brother. Tenacious of a sceptre now falling from his
hand, he conspired against the life of his successor, and
cherished the idea of changing to a democracy the Roman empire.
But these rash projects served only to inflame the zeal of the
people and to remove the scruples of the candidate: Michael the
First accepted the purple, and before he sunk into the grave the
son of Nicephorus implored the clemency of his new sovereign.
Had Michael in an age of peace ascended an hereditary throne, he
might have reigned and died the father of his people: but his
mild virtues were adapted to the shade of private life, nor was
he capable of controlling the ambition of his equals, or of
resisting the arms of the victorious Bulgarians. While his want
of ability and success exposed him to the contempt of the
soldiers, the masculine spirit of his wife Procopia awakened
their indignation. Even the Greeks of the ninth century were
provoked by the insolence of a female, who, in the front of the
standards, presumed to direct their discipline and animate their
valor; and their licentious clamors advised the new Semiramis to
reverence the majesty of a Roman camp. After an unsuccessful
campaign, the emperor left, in their winter-quarters of Thrace, a
disaffected army under the command of his enemies; and their
artful eloquence persuaded the soldiers to break the dominion of
the eunuchs, to degrade the husband of Procopia, and to assert
the right of a military election. They marched towards the
capital: yet the clergy, the senate, and the people of
Constantinople, adhered to the cause of Michael; and the troops
and treasures of Asia might have protracted the mischiefs of
civil war. But his humanity (by the ambitious it will be termed
his weakness) protested that not a drop of Christian blood should
be shed in his quarrel, and his messengers presented the
conquerors with the keys of the city and the palace. They were
disarmed by his innocence and submission; his life and his eyes
were spared; and the Imperial monk enjoyed the comforts of
solitude and religion above thirty-two years after he had been
stripped of the purple and separated from his wife.

[Footnote *: The Syrian historian Aboulfaradj. Chron. Syr. p.
133, 139, speaks of him as a brave, prudent, and pious prince,
formidable to the Arabs. St. Martin, c. xii. p. 402. Compare
Schlosser, p. 350. - M.]

A rebel, in the time of Nicephorus, the famous and
unfortunate Bardanes, had once the curiosity to consult an
Asiatic prophet, who, after prognosticating his fall, announced
the fortunes of his three principal officers, Leo the Armenian,
Michael the Phrygian, and Thomas the Cappadocian, the successive
reigns of the two former, the fruitless and fatal enterprise of
the third. This prediction was verified, or rather was produced,
by the event. Ten years afterwards, when the Thracian camp
rejected the husband of Procopia, the crown was presented to the
same Leo, the first in military rank and the secret author of the
mutiny. As he affected to hesitate, "With this sword," said his
companion Michael, "I will open the gates of Constantinople to
your Imperial sway; or instantly plunge it into your bosom, if
you obstinately resist the just desires of your fellow-soldiers."
The compliance of the Armenian was rewarded with the empire, and
he reigned seven years and a half under the name of Leo the
Fifth. Educated in a camp, and ignorant both of laws and
letters, he introduced into his civil government the rigor and
even cruelty of military discipline; but if his severity was
sometimes dangerous to the innocent, it was always formidable to
the guilty. His religious inconstancy was taxed by the epithet
of Chameleon, but the Catholics have acknowledged by the voice of
a saint and confessors, that the life of the Iconoclast was
useful to the republic. The zeal of his companion Michael was
repaid with riches, honors, and military command; and his
subordinate talents were beneficially employed in the public
service. Yet the Phrygian was dissatisfied at receiving as a
favor a scanty portion of the Imperial prize which he had
bestowed on his equal; and his discontent, which sometimes
evaporated in hasty discourse, at length assumed a more
threatening and hostile aspect against a prince whom he
represented as a cruel tyrant. That tyrant, however, repeatedly
detected, warned, and dismissed the old companion of his arms,
till fear and resentment prevailed over gratitude; and Michael,
after a scrutiny into his actions and designs, was convicted of
treason, and sentenced to be burnt alive in the furnace of the
private baths. The devout humanity of the empress Theophano was
fatal to her husband and family. A solemn day, the twenty-fifth
of December, had been fixed for the execution: she urged, that
the anniversary of the Savior's birth would be profaned by this
inhuman spectacle, and Leo consented with reluctance to a decent
respite. But on the vigil of the feast his sleepless anxiety
prompted him to visit at the dead of night the chamber in which
his enemy was confined: he beheld him released from his chain,
and stretched on his jailer's bed in a profound slumber. Leo was
alarmed at these signs of security and intelligence; but though
he retired with silent steps, his entrance and departure were
noticed by a slave who lay concealed in a corner of the prison.
Under the pretence of requesting the spiritual aid of a
confessor, Michael informed the conspirators, that their lives
depended on his discretion, and that a few hours were left to
assure their own safety, by the deliverance of their friend and
country. On the great festivals, a chosen band of priests and
chanters was admitted into the palace by a private gate to sing
matins in the chapel; and Leo, who regulated with the same
strictness the discipline of the choir and of the camp, was
seldom absent from these early devotions. In the ecclesiastical
habit, but with their swords under their robes, the conspirators
mingled with the procession, lurked in the angles of the chapel,
and expected, as the signal of murder, the intonation of the
first psalm by the emperor himself. The imperfect light, and the
uniformity of dress, might have favored his escape, whilst their
assault was pointed against a harmless priest; but they soon
discovered their mistake, and encompassed on all sides the royal
victim. Without a weapon and without a friend, he grasped a
weighty cross, and stood at bay against the hunters of his life;
but as he asked for mercy, "This is the hour, not of mercy, but
of vengeance," was the inexorable reply. The stroke of a
well-aimed sword separated from his body the right arm and the
cross, and Leo the Armenian was slain at the foot of the altar.
A memorable reverse of fortune was displayed in Michael the
Second, who from a defect in his speech was surnamed the
Stammerer. He was snatched from the fiery furnace to the
sovereignty of an empire; and as in the tumult a smith could not
readily be found, the fetters remained on his legs several hours
after he was seated on the throne of the Caesars. The royal
blood which had been the price of his elevation, was unprofitably
spent: in the purple he retained the ignoble vices of his origin;
and Michael lost his provinces with as supine indifference as if
they had been the inheritance of his fathers. His title was
disputed by Thomas, the last of the military triumvirate, who
transported into Europe fourscore thousand Barbarians from the
banks of the Tigris and the shores of the Caspian. He formed the
siege of Constantinople; but the capital was defended with
spiritual and carnal weapons; a Bulgarian king assaulted the camp
of the Orientals, and Thomas had the misfortune, or the weakness,
to fall alive into the power of the conqueror. The hands and
feet of the rebel were amputated; he was placed on an ass, and,
amidst the insults of the people, was led through the streets,
which he sprinkled with his blood. The depravation of manners,
as savage as they were corrupt, is marked by the presence of the
emperor himself. Deaf to the lamentation of a fellow-soldier, he
incessantly pressed the discovery of more accomplices, till his
curiosity was checked by the question of an honest or guilty
minister: "Would you give credit to an enemy against the most
faithful of your friends?" After the death of his first wife, the
emperor, at the request of the senate, drew from her monastery
Euphrosyne, the daughter of Constantine the Sixth. Her august
birth might justify a stipulation in the marriage-contract, that
her children should equally share the empire with their elder
brother. But the nuptials of Michael and Euphrosyne were barren;
and she was content with the title of mother of Theophilus, his
son and successor.

The character of Theophilus is a rare example in which
religious zeal has allowed, and perhaps magnified, the virtues of
a heretic and a persecutor. His valor was often felt by the
enemies, and his justice by the subjects, of the monarchy; but
the valor of Theophilus was rash and fruitless, and his justice
arbitrary and cruel. He displayed the banner of the cross
against the Saracens; but his five expeditions were concluded by
a signal overthrow: Amorium, the native city of his ancestors,
was levelled with the ground and from his military toils he
derived only the surname of the Unfortunate. The wisdom of a
sovereign is comprised in the institution of laws and the choice
of magistrates, and while he seems without action, his civil
government revolves round his centre with the silence and order
of the planetary system. But the justice of Theophilus was
fashioned on the model of the Oriental despots, who, in personal
and irregular acts of authority, consult the reason or passion of
the moment, without measuring the sentence by the law, or the
penalty by the offense. A poor woman threw herself at the
emperor's feet to complain of a powerful neighbor, the brother of
the empress, who had raised his palace-wall to such an
inconvenient height, that her humble dwelling was excluded from
light and air! On the proof of the fact, instead of granting,
like an ordinary judge, sufficient or ample damages to the
plaintiff, the sovereign adjudged to her use and benefit the
palace and the ground. Nor was Theophilus content with this
extravagant satisfaction: his zeal converted a civil trespass
into a criminal act; and the unfortunate patrician was stripped
and scourged in the public place of Constantinople. For some
venial offenses, some defect of equity or vigilance, the
principal ministers, a praefect, a quaestor, a captain of the
guards, were banished or mutilated, or scalded with boiling
pitch, or burnt alive in the hippodrome; and as these dreadful
examples might be the effects of error or caprice, they must have
alienated from his service the best and wisest of the citizens.
But the pride of the monarch was flattered in the exercise of
power, or, as he thought, of virtue; and the people, safe in
their obscurity, applauded the danger and debasement of their
superiors. This extraordinary rigor was justified, in some
measure, by its salutary consequences; since, after a scrutiny of
seventeen days, not a complaint or abuse could be found in the
court or city; and it might be alleged that the Greeks could be
ruled only with a rod of iron, and that the public interest is
the motive and law of the supreme judge. Yet in the crime, or
the suspicion, of treason, that judge is of all others the most
credulous and partial. Theophilus might inflict a tardy
vengeance on the assassins of Leo and the saviors of his father;
but he enjoyed the fruits of their crime; and his jealous tyranny
sacrificed a brother and a prince to the future safety of his
life. A Persian of the race of the Sassanides died in poverty
and exile at Constantinople, leaving an only son, the issue of a
plebeian marriage. At the age of twelve years, the royal birth
of Theophobus was revealed, and his merit was not unworthy of his
birth. He was educated in the Byzantine palace, a Christian and
a soldier; advanced with rapid steps in the career of fortune and
glory; received the hand of the emperor's sister; and was
promoted to the command of thirty thousand Persians, who, like
his father, had fled from the Mahometan conquerors. These
troops, doubly infected with mercenary and fanatic vices, were
desirous of revolting against their benefactor, and erecting the
standard of their native king but the loyal Theophobus rejected
their offers, disconcerted their schemes, and escaped from their
hands to the camp or palace of his royal brother. A generous
confidence might have secured a faithful and able guardian for
his wife and his infant son, to whom Theophilus, in the flower of
his age, was compelled to leave the inheritance of the empire.
But his jealousy was exasperated by envy and disease; he feared
the dangerous virtues which might either support or oppress their
infancy and weakness; and the dying emperor demanded the head of
the Persian prince. With savage delight he recognized the
familiar features of his brother: "Thou art no longer
Theophobus," he said; and, sinking on his couch, he added, with a
faltering voice, "Soon, too soon, I shall be no more Theophilus!"

Chapter XLVIII: Succession And Characters Of The Greek Emperors.

Part III.

The Russians, who have borrowed from the Greeks the greatest
part of their civil and ecclesiastical policy, preserved, till
the last century, a singular institution in the marriage of the
Czar. They collected, not the virgins of every rank and of every
province, a vain and romantic idea, but the daughters of the
principal nobles, who awaited in the palace the choice of their
sovereign. It is affirmed, that a similar method was adopted in
the nuptials of Theophilus. With a golden apple in his hand, he
slowly walked between two lines of contending beauties: his eye
was detained by the charms of Icasia, and in the awkwardness of a
first declaration, the prince could only observe, that, in this
world, women had been the cause of much evil; "And surely, sir,"
she pertly replied, "they have likewise been the occasion of much
good." This affectation of unseasonable wit displeased the
Imperial lover: he turned aside in disgust; Icasia concealed her
mortification in a convent; and the modest silence of Theodora
was rewarded with the golden apple. She deserved the love, but
did not escape the severity, of her lord. From the palace garden
he beheld a vessel deeply laden, and steering into the port: on
the discovery that the precious cargo of Syrian luxury was the
property of his wife, he condemned the ship to the flames, with a
sharp reproach, that her avarice had degraded the character of an
empress into that of a merchant. Yet his last choice intrusted
her with the guardianship of the empire and her son Michael, who
was left an orphan in the fifth year of his age. The restoration
of images, and the final extirpation of the Iconoclasts, has
endeared her name to the devotion of the Greeks; but in the
fervor of religious zeal, Theodora entertained a grateful regard
for the memory and salvation of her husband. After thirteen
years of a prudent and frugal administration, she perceived the
decline of her influence; but the second Irene imitated only the
virtues of her predecessor. Instead of conspiring against the
life or government of her son, she retired, without a struggle,
though not without a murmur, to the solitude of private life,
deploring the ingratitude, the vices, and the inevitable ruin, of
the worthless youth.
Among the successors of Nero and Elagabalus, we have not
hitherto found the imitation of their vices, the character of a
Roman prince who considered pleasure as the object of life, and
virtue as the enemy of pleasure. Whatever might have been the
maternal care of Theodora in the education of Michael the Third,
her unfortunate son was a king before he was a man. If the
ambitious mother labored to check the progress of reason, she
could not cool the ebullition of passion; and her selfish policy
was justly repaid by the contempt and ingratitude of the
headstrong youth. At the age of eighteen, he rejected her
authority, without feeling his own incapacity to govern the
empire and himself. With Theodora, all gravity and wisdom
retired from the court; their place was supplied by the alternate
dominion of vice and folly; and it was impossible, without
forfeiting the public esteem, to acquire or preserve the favor of
the emperor. The millions of gold and silver which had been
accumulated for the service of the state, were lavished on the
vilest of men, who flattered his passions and shared his
pleasures; and in a reign of thirteen years, the richest of
sovereigns was compelled to strip the palace and the churches of
their precious furniture. Like Nero, he delighted in the
amusements of the theatre, and sighed to be surpassed in the
accomplishments in which he should have blushed to excel. Yet
the studies of Nero in music and poetry betrayed some symptoms of
a liberal taste; the more ignoble arts of the son of Theophilus
were confined to the chariot-race of the hippodrome. The four
factions which had agitated the peace, still amused the idleness,
of the capital: for himself, the emperor assumed the blue livery;
the three rival colors were distributed to his favorites, and in
the vile though eager contention he forgot the dignity of his
person and the safety of his dominions. He silenced the
messenger of an invasion, who presumed to divert his attention in
the most critical moment of the race; and by his command, the
importunate beacons were extinguished, that too frequently spread
the alarm from Tarsus to Constantinople. The most skilful
charioteers obtained the first place in his confidence and
esteem; their merit was profusely rewarded the emperor feasted in
their houses, and presented their children at the baptismal font;
and while he applauded his own popularity, he affected to blame
the cold and stately reserve of his predecessors. The unnatural
lusts which had degraded even the manhood of Nero, were banished
from the world; yet the strength of Michael was consumed by the
indulgence of love and intemperance. ^* In his midnight revels,
when his passions were inflamed by wine, he was provoked to issue
the most sanguinary commands; and if any feelings of humanity
were left, he was reduced, with the return of sense, to approve
the salutary disobedience of his servants. But the most
extraordinary feature in the character of Michael, is the profane
mockery of the religion of his country. The superstition of the
Greeks might indeed excite the smile of a philosopher; but his
smile would have been rational and temperate, and he must have
condemned the ignorant folly of a youth who insulted the objects
of public veneration. A buffoon of the court was invested in the
robes of the patriarch: his twelve metropolitans, among whom the
emperor was ranked, assumed their ecclesiastical garments: they
used or abused the sacred vessels of the altar; and in their
bacchanalian feasts, the holy communion was administered in a
nauseous compound of vinegar and mustard. Nor were these impious
spectacles concealed from the eyes of the city. On the day of a
solemn festival, the emperor, with his bishops or buffoons, rode
on asses through the streets, encountered the true patriarch at
the head of his clergy; and by their licentious shouts and
obscene gestures, disordered the gravity of the Christian
procession. The devotion of Michael appeared only in some
offence to reason or piety: he received his theatrical crowns
from the statue of the Virgin; and an Imperial tomb was violated
for the sake of burning the bones of Constantine the Iconoclast.
By this extravagant conduct, the son of Theophilus became as
contemptible as he was odious: every citizen was impatient for
the deliverance of his country; and even the favorites of the
moment were apprehensive that a caprice might snatch away what a
caprice had bestowed. In the thirtieth year of his age, and in
the hour of intoxication and sleep, Michael the Third was
murdered in his chamber by the founder of a new dynasty, whom the
emperor had raised to an equality of rank and power.
[Footnote *: In a campaign against the Saracens, he betrayed both
imbecility and cowardice. Genesius, c. iv. p. 94. - M.]

The genealogy of Basil the Macedonian (if it be not the
spurious offspring of pride and flattery) exhibits a genuine
picture of the revolution of the most illustrious families. The
Arsacides, the rivals of Rome, possessed the sceptre of the East
near four hundred years: a younger branch of these Parthian kings
continued to reign in Armenia; and their royal descendants
survived the partition and servitude of that ancient monarchy.
Two of these, Artabanus and Chlienes, escaped or retired to the
court of Leo the First: his bounty seated them in a safe and
hospitable exile, in the province of Macedonia: Adrianople was
their final settlement. During several generations they
maintained the dignity of their birth; and their Roman patriotism
rejected the tempting offers of the Persian and Arabian powers,
who recalled them to their native country. But their splendor
was insensibly clouded by time and poverty; and the father of
Basil was reduced to a small farm, which he cultivated with his
own hands: yet he scorned to disgrace the blood of the Arsacides
by a plebeian alliance: his wife, a widow of Adrianople, was
pleased to count among her ancestors the great Constantine; and
their royal infant was connected by some dark affinity of lineage
or country with the Macedonian Alexander. No sooner was he born,
than the cradle of Basil, his family, and his city, were swept
away by an inundation of the Bulgarians: he was educated a slave
in a foreign land; and in this severe discipline, he acquired the
hardiness of body and flexibility of mind which promoted his
future elevation. In the age of youth or manhood he shared the
deliverance of the Roman captives, who generously broke their
fetters, marched through Bulgaria to the shores of the Euxine,
defeated two armies of Barbarians, embarked in the ships which
had been stationed for their reception, and returned to
Constantinople, from whence they were distributed to their
respective homes. But the freedom of Basil was naked and
destitute: his farm was ruined by the calamities of war: after
his father's death, his manual labor, or service, could no longer
support a family of orphans and he resolved to seek a more
conspicuous theatre, in which every virtue and every vice may
lead to the paths of greatness. The first night of his arrival
at Constantinople, without friends or money, the weary pilgrim
slept on the steps of the church of St. Diomede: he was fed by
the casual hospitality of a monk; and was introduced to the
service of a cousin and namesake of the emperor Theophilus; who,
though himself of a diminutive person, was always followed by a
train of tall and handsome domestics. Basil attended his patron
to the government of Peloponnesus; eclipsed, by his personal
merit the birth and dignity of Theophilus, and formed a useful
connection with a wealthy and charitable matron of Patras. Her
spiritual or carnal love embraced the young adventurer, whom she
adopted as her son. Danielis presented him with thirty slaves;
and the produce of her bounty was expended in the support of his
brothers, and the purchase of some large estates in Macedonia.
His gratitude or ambition still attached him to the service of
Theophilus; and a lucky accident recommended him to the notice of
the court. A famous wrestler, in the train of the Bulgarian
ambassadors, had defied, at the royal banquet, the boldest and
most robust of the Greeks. The strength of Basil was praised; he
accepted the challenge; and the Barbarian champion was overthrown
at the first onset. A beautiful but vicious horse was condemned
to be hamstrung: it was subdued by the dexterity and courage of
the servant of Theophilus; and his conqueror was promoted to an
honorable rank in the Imperial stables. But it was impossible to
obtain the confidence of Michael, without complying with his
vices; and his new favorite, the great chamberlain of the palace,
was raised and supported by a disgraceful marriage with a royal
concubine, and the dishonor of his sister, who succeeded to her
place. The public administration had been abandoned to the
Caesar Bardas, the brother and enemy of Theodora; but the arts of
female influence persuaded Michael to hate and to fear his uncle:
he was drawn from Constantinople, under the pretence of a Cretan
expedition, and stabbed in the tent of audience, by the sword of
the chamberlain, and in the presence of the emperor. About a
month after this execution, Basil was invested with the title of
Augustus and the government of the empire. He supported this
unequal association till his influence was fortified by popular
esteem. His life was endangered by the caprice of the emperor;
and his dignity was profaned by a second colleague, who had rowed
in the galleys. Yet the murder of his benefactor must be
condemned as an act of ingratitude and treason; and the churches
which he dedicated to the name of St. Michael were a poor and
puerile expiation of his guilt.
The different ages of Basil the First may be compared with
those of Augustus. The situation of the Greek did not allow him
in his earliest youth to lead an army against his country; or to
proscribe the nobles of her sons; but his aspiring genius stooped
to the arts of a slave; he dissembled his ambition and even his
virtues, and grasped, with the bloody hand of an assassin, the
empire which he ruled with the wisdom and tenderness of a parent.

A private citizen may feel his interest repugnant to his duty;
but it must be from a deficiency of sense or courage, that an
absolute monarch can separate his happiness from his glory, or
his glory from the public welfare. The life or panegyric of Basil
has indeed been composed and published under the long reign of
his descendants; but even their stability on the throne may be
justly ascribed to the superior merit of their ancestor. In his
character, his grandson Constantine has attempted to delineate a
perfect image of royalty: but that feeble prince, unless he had
copied a real model, could not easily have soared so high above
the level of his own conduct or conceptions. But the most solid
praise of Basil is drawn from the comparison of a ruined and a
flourishing monarchy, that which he wrested from the dissolute
Michael, and that which he bequeathed to the Mecedonian dynasty.
The evils which had been sanctified by time and example, were
corrected by his master-hand; and he revived, if not the national
spirit, at least the order and majesty of the Roman empire. His
application was indefatigable, his temper cool, his understanding
vigorous and decisive; and in his practice he observed that rare
and salutary moderation, which pursues each virtue, at an equal
distance between the opposite vices. His military service had
been confined to the palace: nor was the emperor endowed with the
spirit or the talents of a warrior. Yet under his reign the
Roman arms were again formidable to the Barbarians. As soon as
he had formed a new army by discipline and exercise, he appeared
in person on the banks of the Euphrates, curbed the pride of the
Saracens, and suppressed the dangerous though just revolt of the
Manichaeans. His indignation against a rebel who had long eluded
his pursuit, provoked him to wish and to pray, that, by the grace
of God, he might drive three arrows into the head of Chrysochir.
That odious head, which had been obtained by treason rather than
by valor, was suspended from a tree, and thrice exposed to the
dexterity of the Imperial archer; a base revenge against the
dead, more worthy of the times than of the character of Basil.
But his principal merit was in the civil administration of the
finances and of the laws. To replenish and exhausted treasury,
it was proposed to resume the lavish and ill-placed gifts of his
predecessor: his prudence abated one moiety of the restitution;
and a sum of twelve hundred thousand pounds was instantly
procured to answer the most pressing demands, and to allow some
space for the mature operations of economy. Among the various
schemes for the improvement of the revenue, a new mode was
suggested of capitation, or tribute, which would have too much
depended on the arbitrary discretion of the assessors. A
sufficient list of honest and able agents was instantly produced
by the minister; but on the more careful scrutiny of Basil
himself, only two could be found, who might be safely intrusted
with such dangerous powers; but they justified his esteem by
declining his confidence. But the serious and successful
diligence of the emperor established by degrees the equitable
balance of property and payment, of receipt and expenditure; a
peculiar fund was appropriated to each service; and a public
method secured the interest of the prince and the property of the
people. After reforming the luxury, he assigned two patrimonial
estates to supply the decent plenty, of the Imperial table: the
contributions of the subject were reserved for his defence; and
the residue was employed in the embellishment of the capital and
provinces. A taste for building, however costly, may deserve
some praise and much excuse: from thence industry is fed, art is
encouraged, and some object is attained of public emolument or
pleasure: the use of a road, an aqueduct, or a hospital, is
obvious and solid; and the hundred churches that arose by the
command of Basil were consecrated to the devotion of the age. In
the character of a judge he was assiduous and impartial; desirous
to save, but not afraid to strike: the oppressors of the people
were severely chastised; but his personal foes, whom it might be
unsafe to pardon, were condemned, after the loss of their eyes,
to a life of solitude and repentance. The change of language and
manners demanded a revision of the obsolete jurisprudence of
Justinian: the voluminous body of his Institutes, Pandects, Code,
and Novels, was digested under forty titles, in the Greek idiom;
and the Basilics, which were improved and completed by his son
and grandson, must be referred to the original genius of the
founder of their race. This glorious reign was terminated by an
accident in the chase. A furious stag entangled his horns in the
belt of Basil, and raised him from his horse: he was rescued by
an attendant, who cut the belt and slew the animal; but the fall,
or the fever, exhausted the strength of the aged monarch, and he
expired in the palace amidst the tears of his family and people.
If he struck off the head of the faithful servant for presuming
to draw his sword against his sovereign, the pride of despotism,
which had lain dormant in his life, revived in the last moments
of despair, when he no longer wanted or valued the opinion of

Of the four sons of the emperor, Constantine died before his
father, whose grief and credulity were amused by a flattering
impostor and a vain apparition. Stephen, the youngest, was
content with the honors of a patriarch and a saint; both Leo and
Alexander were alike invested with the purple, but the powers of
government were solely exercised by the elder brother. The name
of Leo the Sixth has been dignified with the title of
philosopher; and the union of the prince and the sage, of the
active and speculative virtues, would indeed constitute the
perfection of human nature. But the claims of Leo are far short
of this ideal excellence. Did he reduce his passions and
appetites under the dominion of reason? His life was spent in
the pomp of the palace, in the society of his wives and
concubines; and even the clemency which he showed, and the peace
which he strove to preserve, must be imputed to the softness and
indolence of his character. Did he subdue his prejudices, and
those of his subjects? His mind was tinged with the most puerile
superstition; the influence of the clergy, and the errors of the
people, were consecrated by his laws; and the oracles of Leo,
which reveal, in prophetic style, the fates of the empire, are
founded on the arts of astrology and divination. If we still
inquire the reason of his sage appellation, it can only be
replied, that the son of Basil was less ignorant than the greater
part of his contemporaries in church and state; that his
education had been directed by the learned Photius; and that
several books of profane and ecclesiastical science were composed
by the pen, or in the name, of the Imperial philosopher. But the
reputation of his philosophy and religion was overthrown by a
domestic vice, the repetition of his nuptials. The primitive
ideas of the merit and holiness of celibacy were preached by the
monks and entertained by the Greeks. Marriage was allowed as a
necessary means for the propagation of mankind; after the death
of either party, the survivor might satisfy, by a second union,
the weakness or the strength of the flesh: but a third marriage
was censured as a state of legal fornication; and a fourth was a
sin or scandal as yet unknown to the Christians of the East. In
the beginning of his reign, Leo himself had abolished the state
of concubines, and condemned, without annulling, third marriages:
but his patriotism and love soon compelled him to violate his own
laws, and to incur the penance, which in a similar case he had
imposed on his subjects. In his three first alliances, his
nuptial bed was unfruitful; the emperor required a female
companion, and the empire a legitimate heir. The beautiful Zoe
was introduced into the palace as a concubine; and after a trial
of her fecundity, and the birth of Constantine, her lover
declared his intention of legitimating the mother and the child,
by the celebration of his fourth nuptials. But the patriarch
Nicholas refused his blessing: the Imperial baptism of the young
prince was obtained by a promise of separation; and the
contumacious husband of Zoe was excluded from the communion of
the faithful. Neither the fear of exile, nor the desertion of his
brethren, nor the authority of the Latin church, nor the danger
of failure or doubt in the succession to the empire, could bend
the spirit of the inflexible monk. After the death of Leo, he was
recalled from exile to the civil and ecclesiastical
administration; and the edict of union which was promulgated in
the name of Constantine, condemned the future scandal of fourth
marriages, and left a tacit imputation on his own birth.
In the Greek language, purple and porphyry are the same
word: and as the colors of nature are invariable, we may learn,
that a dark deep red was the Tyrian dye which stained the purple
of the ancients. An apartment of the Byzantine palace was lined
with porphyry: it was reserved for the use of the pregnant
empresses; and the royal birth of their children was expressed by
the appellation of porphyrogenite, or born in the purple.
Several of the Roman princes had been blessed with an heir; but
this peculiar surname was first applied to Constantine the
Seventh. His life and titular reign were of equal duration; but
of fifty-four years, six had elapsed before his father's death;
and the son of Leo was ever the voluntary or reluctant subject of
those who oppressed his weakness or abused his confidence. His
uncle Alexander, who had long been invested with the title of
Augustus, was the first colleague and governor of the young
prince: but in a rapid career of vice and folly, the brother of
Leo already emulated the reputation of Michael; and when he was
extinguished by a timely death, he entertained a project of
castrating his nephew, and leaving the empire to a worthless
favorite. The succeeding years of the minority of Constantine
were occupied by his mother Zoe, and a succession or council of
seven regents, who pursued their interest, gratified their
passions, abandoned the republic, supplanted each other, and
finally vanished in the presence of a soldier. From an obscure
origin, Romanus Lecapenus had raised himself to the command of
the naval armies; and in the anarchy of the times, had deserved,
or at least had obtained, the national esteem. With a victorious
and affectionate fleet, he sailed from the mouth of the Danube
into the harbor of Constantinople, and was hailed as the
deliverer of the people, and the guardian of the prince. His
supreme office was at first defined by the new appellation of
father of the emperor; but Romanus soon disdained the subordinate
powers of a minister, and assumed with the titles of Caesar and
Augustus, the full independence of royalty, which he held near
five-and-twenty years. His three sons, Christopher, Stephen, and
Constantine were successively adorned with the same honors, and
the lawful emperor was degraded from the first to the fifth rank
in this college of princes. Yet, in the preservation of his life
and crown, he might still applaud his own fortune and the
clemency of the usurper. The examples of ancient and modern
history would have excused the ambition of Romanus: the powers
and the laws of the empire were in his hand; the spurious birth
of Constantine would have justified his exclusion; and the grave
or the monastery was open to receive the son of the concubine.
But Lecapenus does not appear to have possessed either the
virtues or the vices of a tyrant. The spirit and activity of his
private life dissolved away in the sunshine of the throne; and in
his licentious pleasures, he forgot the safety both of the
republic and of his family. Of a mild and religious character,
he respected the sanctity of oaths, the innocence of the youth,
the memory of his parents, and the attachment of the people. The
studious temper and retirement of Constantine disarmed the
jealousy of power: his books and music, his pen and his pencil,
were a constant source of amusement; and if he could improve a
scanty allowance by the sale of his pictures, if their price was
not enhanced by the name of the artist, he was endowed with a
personal talent, which few princes could employ in the hour of

The fall of Romanus was occasioned by his own vices and
those of his children. After the decease of Christopher, his
eldest son, the two surviving brothers quarrelled with each
other, and conspired against their father. At the hour of noon,
when all strangers were regularly excluded from the palace, they
entered his apartment with an armed force, and conveyed him, in
the habit of a monk, to a small island in the Propontis, which
was peopled by a religious community. The rumor of this domestic
revolution excited a tumult in the city; but Porphyrogenitus
alone, the true and lawful emperor, was the object of the public
care; and the sons of Lecapenus were taught, by tardy experience,
that they had achieved a guilty and perilous enterprise for the
benefit of their rival. Their sister Helena, the wife of
Constantine, revealed, or supposed, their treacherous design of
assassinating her husband at the royal banquet. His loyal
adherents were alarmed, and the two usurpers were prevented,
seized, degraded from the purple, and embarked for the same
island and monastery where their father had been so lately
confined. Old Romanus met them on the beach with a sarcastic
smile, and, after a just reproach of their folly and ingratitude,
presented his Imperial colleagues with an equal share of his
water and vegetable diet. In the fortieth year of his reign,
Constantine the Seventh obtained the possession of the Eastern
world, which he ruled or seemed to rule, near fifteen years. But
he was devoid of that energy of character which could emerge into
a life of action and glory; and the studies, which had amused and
dignified his leisure, were incompatible with the serious duties
of a sovereign. The emperor neglected the practice to instruct
his son Romanus in the theory of government; while he indulged
the habits of intemperance and sloth, he dropped the reins of the
administration into the hands of Helena his wife; and, in the
shifting scene of her favor and caprice, each minister was
regretted in the promotion of a more worthless successor. Yet
the birth and misfortunes of Constantine had endeared him to the
Greeks; they excused his failings; they respected his learning,
his innocence, and charity, his love of justice; and the ceremony
of his funeral was mourned with the unfeigned tears of his
subjects. The body, according to ancient custom, lay in state in
the vestibule of the palace; and the civil and military officers,
the patricians, the senate, and the clergy approached in due
order to adore and kiss the inanimate corpse of their sovereign.
Before the procession moved towards the Imperial sepulchre, a
herald proclaimed this awful admonition: "Arise, O king of the
world, and obey the summons of the King of kings!"

The death of Constantine was imputed to poison; and his son
Romanus, who derived that name from his maternal grandfather,
ascended the throne of Constantinople. A prince who, at the age
of twenty, could be suspected of anticipating his inheritance,
must have been already lost in the public esteem; yet Romanus was
rather weak than wicked; and the largest share of the guilt was
transferred to his wife, Theophano, a woman of base origin
masculine spirit, and flagitious manners. The sense of personal
glory and public happiness, the true pleasures of royalty, were
unknown to the son of Constantine; and, while the two brothers,
Nicephorus and Leo, triumphed over the Saracens, the hours which
the emperor owed to his people were consumed in strenuous
idleness. In the morning he visited the circus; at noon he
feasted the senators; the greater part of the afternoon he spent
in the sphoeristerium, or tennis-court, the only theatre of his
victories; from thence he passed over to the Asiatic side of the
Bosphorus, hunted and killed four wild boars of the largest size,
and returned to the palace, proudly content with the labors of
the day. In strength and beauty he was conspicuous above his
equals: tall and straight as a young cypress, his complexion was
fair and florid, his eyes sparkling, his shoulders broad, his
nose long and aquiline. Yet even these perfections were
insufficient to fix the love of Theophano; and, after a reign of
four ^* years, she mingled for her husband the same deadly
draught which she had composed for his father.
[Footnote *: Three years and five months. Leo Diaconus in
Niebuhr. Byz p. 50 - M.]

By his marriage with this impious woman, Romanus the younger
left two sons, Basil the Second and Constantine the Ninth, and
two daughters, Theophano and Anne. The eldest sister was given
to Otho the Second, emperor of the West; the younger became the
wife of Wolodomir, great duke and apostle of russia, and by the
marriage of her granddaughter with Henry the First, king of
France, the blood of the Macedonians, and perhaps of the
Arsacides, still flows in the veins of the Bourbon line. After
the death of her husband, the empress aspired to reign in the
name of her sons, the elder of whom was five, and the younger
only two, years of age; but she soon felt the instability of a
throne which was supported by a female who could not be esteemed,
and two infants who could not be feared. Theophano looked around
for a protector, and threw herself into the arms of the bravest
soldier; her heart was capacious; but the deformity of the new
favorite rendered it more than probable that interest was the
motive and excuse of her love. Nicephorus Phocus united, in the
popular opinion, the double merit of a hero and a saint. In the
former character, his qualifications were genuine and splendid:
the descendant of a race illustrious by their military exploits,
he had displayed in every station and in every province the
courage of a soldier and the conduct of a chief; and Nicephorus
was crowned with recent laurels, from the important conquest of
the Isle of Crete. His religion was of a more ambiguous cast;
and his hair-cloth, his fasts, his pious idiom, and his wish to
retire from the business of the world, were a convenient mask for
his dark and dangerous ambition. Yet he imposed on a holy
patriarch, by whose influence, and by a decree of the senate, he
was intrusted, during the minority of the young princes, with the
absolute and independent command of the Oriental armies. As soon
as he had secured the leaders and the troops, he boldly marched
to Constantinople, trampled on his enemies, avowed his
correspondence with the empress, and without degrading her sons,
assumed, with the title of Augustus, the preeminence of rank and
the plenitude of power. But his marriage with Theophano was
refused by the same patriarch who had placed the crown on his
head: by his second nuptials he incurred a year of canonical
penance; ^* a bar of spiritual affinity was opposed to their
celebration; and some evasion and perjury were required to
silence the scruples of the clergy and people. The popularity of
the emperor was lost in the purple: in a reign of six years he
provoked the hatred of strangers and subjects: and the hypocrisy
and avarice of the first Nicephorus were revived in his
successor. Hypocrisy I shall never justify or palliate; but I
will dare to observe, that the odious vice of avarice is of all
others most hastily arraigned, and most unmercifully condemned.
In a private citizen, our judgment seldom expects an accurate
scrutiny into his fortune and expense; and in a steward of the
public treasure, frugality is always a virtue, and the increase
of taxes too often an indispensable duty. In the use of his
patrimony, the generous temper of Nicephorus had been proved; and
the revenue was strictly applied to the service of the state:
each spring the emperor marched in person against the Saracens;
and every Roman might compute the employment of his taxes in
triumphs, conquests, and the security of the Eastern barrier. ^**

[Footnote *: The canonical objection to the marriage was his
relation of Godfather sons. Leo Diac. p. 50. - M.]

[Footnote **: He retook Antioch, and brought home as a trophy the
sword of "the most unholy and impious Mahomet." Leo Diac. p. 76.
- M.]

Chapter XLVIII: Succession And Characters Of The Greek Emperors.

Part IV.

Among the warriors who promoted his elevation, and served
under his standard, a noble and valiant Armenian had deserved and
obtained the most eminent rewards. The stature of John Zimisces
was below the ordinary standard: but this diminutive body was
endowed with strength, beauty, and the soul of a hero. By the
jealousy of the emperor's brother, he was degraded from the
office of general of the East, to that of director of the posts,
and his murmurs were chastised with disgrace and exile. But
Zimisces was ranked among the numerous lovers of the empress: on
her intercession, he was permitted to reside at Chalcedon, in the
neighborhood of the capital: her bounty was repaid in his
clandestine and amorous visits to the palace; and Theophano
consented, with alacrity, to the death of an ugly and penurious
husband. Some bold and trusty conspirators were concealed in her
most private chambers: in the darkness of a winter night,
Zimisces, with his principal companions, embarked in a small
boat, traversed the Bosphorus, landed at the palace stairs, and
silently ascended a ladder of ropes, which was cast down by the
female attendants. Neither his own suspicions, nor the warnings
of his friends, nor the tardy aid of his brother Leo, nor the
fortress which he had erected in the palace, could protect
Nicephorus from a domestic foe, at whose voice every door was
open to the assassins. As he slept on a bear-skin on the ground,
he was roused by their noisy intrusion, and thirty daggers
glittered before his eyes. It is doubtful whether Zimisces
imbrued his hands in the blood of his sovereign; but he enjoyed
the inhuman spectacle of revenge. ^* The murder was protracted by
insult and cruelty: and as soon as the head of Nicephorus was
shown from the window, the tumult was hushed, and the Armenian
was emperor of the East. On the day of his coronation, he was
stopped on the threshold of St. Sophia, by the intrepid
patriarch; who charged his conscience with the deed of treason
and blood; and required, as a sign of repentance, that he should
separate himself from his more criminal associate. This sally of
apostolic zeal was not offensive to the prince, since he could
neither love nor trust a woman who had repeatedly violated the
most sacred obligations; and Theophano, instead of sharing his
imperial fortune, was dismissed with ignominy from his bed and
palace. In their last interview, she displayed a frantic and
impotent rage; accused the ingratitude of her lover; assaulted,
with words and blows, her son Basil, as he stood silent and
submissive in the presence of a superior colleague; and avowed
her own prostitution in proclaiming the illegitimacy of his
birth. The public indignation was appeased by her exile, and the
punishment of the meaner accomplices: the death of an unpopular
prince was forgiven; and the guilt of Zimisces was forgotten in
the splendor of his virtues. Perhaps his profusion was less
useful to the state than the avarice of Nicephorus; but his
gentle and generous behavior delighted all who approached his
person; and it was only in the paths of victory that he trod in
the footsteps of his predecessor. The greatest part of his reign
was employed in the camp and the field: his personal valor and
activity were signalized on the Danube and the Tigris, the
ancient boundaries of the Roman world; and by his double triumph
over the Russians and the Saracens, he deserved the titles of
savior of the empire, and conqueror of the East. In his last
return from Syria, he observed that the most fruitful lands of
his new provinces were possessed by the eunuchs. "And is it for
them," he exclaimed, with honest indignation, "that we have
fought and conquered? Is it for them that we shed our blood, and
exhaust the treasures of our people?" The complaint was reechoed
to the palace, and the death of Zimisces is strongly marked with
the suspicion of poison.

[Footnote *: According to Leo Diaconus, Zimisces, after ordering
the wounded emperor to be dragged to his feet, and heaping him
with insult, to which the miserable man only replied by invoking
the name of the "mother of God," with his own hand plucked his
beard, while his accomplices beat out his teeth with the hilts of
their swords, and then trampling him to the ground, drove his
sword into his skull. Leo Diac, in Niebuhr Byz. Hist. l vii. c.
8. p. 88. - M.]

Under this usurpation, or regency, of twelve years, the two
lawful emperors, Basil and Constantine, had silently grown to the
age of manhood. Their tender years had been incapable of
dominion: the respectful modesty of their attendance and
salutation was due to the age and merit of their guardians; the
childless ambition of those guardians had no temptation to
violate their right of succession: their patrimony was ably and
faithfully administered; and the premature death of Zimisces was
a loss, rather than a benefit, to the sons of Romanus. Their
want of experience detained them twelve years longer the obscure
and voluntary pupils of a minister, who extended his reign by
persuading them to indulge the pleasures of youth, and to disdain
the labors of government. In this silken web, the weakness of
Constantine was forever entangled; but his elder brother felt the
impulse of genius and the desire of action; he frowned, and the
minister was no more. Basil was the acknowledged sovereign of
Constantinople and the provinces of Europe; but Asia was
oppressed by two veteran generals, Phocas and Sclerus, who,
alternately friends and enemies, subjects and rebels, maintained
their independence, and labored to emulate the example of
successful usurpation. Against these domestic enemies the son of
Romanus first drew his sword, and they trembled in the presence
of a lawful and high-spirited prince. The first, in the front of
battle, was thrown from his horse, by the stroke of poison, or an
arrow; the second, who had been twice loaded with chains, ^* and
twice invested with the purple, was desirous of ending in peace
the small remainder of his days. As the aged suppliant
approached the throne, with dim eyes and faltering steps, leaning
on his two attendants, the emperor exclaimed, in the insolence of
youth and power, "And is this the man who has so long been the
object of our terror?" After he had confirmed his own authority,
and the peace of the empire, the trophies of Nicephorus and
Zimisces would not suffer their royal pupil to sleep in the
palace. His long and frequent expeditions against the Saracens
were rather glorious than useful to the empire; but the final
destruction of the kingdom of Bulgaria appears, since the time of
Belisarius, the most important triumph of the Roman arms. Yet,
instead of applauding their victorious prince, his subjects
detested the rapacious and rigid avarice of Basil; and in the
imperfect narrative of his exploits, we can only discern the
courage, patience, and ferociousness of a soldier. A vicious
education, which could not subdue his spirit, had clouded his
mind; he was ignorant of every science; and the remembrance of
his learned and feeble grandsire might encourage his real or
affected contempt of laws and lawyers, of artists and arts. Of
such a character, in such an age, superstition took a firm and
lasting possession; after the first license of his youth, Basil
the Second devoted his life, in the palace and the camp, to the
penance of a hermit, wore the monastic habit under his robes and
armor, observed a vow of continence, and imposed on his appetites
a perpetual abstinence from wine and flesh. In the sixty-eighth
year of his age, his martial spirit urged him to embark in person
for a holy war against the Saracens of Sicily; he was prevented
by death, and Basil, surnamed the Slayer of the Bulgarians, was
dismissed from the world with the blessings of the clergy and the
curse of the people. After his decease, his brother Constantine
enjoyed, about three years, the power, or rather the pleasures,
of royalty; and his only care was the settlement of the
succession. He had enjoyed sixty-six years the title of
Augustus; and the reign of the two brothers is the longest, and
most obscure, of the Byzantine history.
[Footnote *: Once by the caliph, once by his rival Phocas.
Compare De Beau l. p. 176. - M.]

A lineal succession of five emperors, in a period of one
hundred and sixty years, had attached the loyalty of the Greeks
to the Macedonian dynasty, which had been thrice respected by the
usurpers of their power. After the death of Constantine the
Ninth, the last male of the royal race, a new and broken scene
presents itself, and the accumulated years of twelve emperors do
not equal the space of his single reign. His elder brother had
preferred his private chastity to the public interest, and
Constantine himself had only three daughters; Eudocia, who took
the veil, and Zoe and Theodora, who were preserved till a mature
age in a state of ignorance and virginity. When their marriage
was discussed in the council of their dying father, the cold or
pious Theodora refused to give an heir to the empire, but her
sister Zoe presented herself a willing victim at the altar.
Romanus Argyrus, a patrician of a graceful person and fair
reputation, was chosen for her husband, and, on his declining
that honor, was informed, that blindness or death was the second
alternative. The motive of his reluctance was conjugal affection
but his faithful wife sacrificed her own happiness to his safety
and greatness; and her entrance into a monastery removed the only
bar to the Imperial nuptials. After the decease of Constantine,
the sceptre devolved to Romanus the Third; but his labors at home
and abroad were equally feeble and fruitless; and the mature age,
the forty-eight years of Zoe, were less favorable to the hopes of
pregnancy than to the indulgence of pleasure. Her favorite
chamberlain was a handsome Paphlagonian of the name of Michael,
whose first trade had been that of a money-changer; and Romanus,
either from gratitude or equity, connived at their criminal
intercourse, or accepted a slight assurance of their innocence.
But Zoe soon justified the Roman maxim, that every adulteress is
capable of poisoning her husband; and the death of Romanus was
instantly followed by the scandalous marriage and elevation of
Michael the Fourth. The expectations of Zoe were, however,
disappointed: instead of a vigorous and grateful lover, she had
placed in her bed a miserable wretch, whose health and reason
were impaired by epileptic fits, and whose conscience was
tormented by despair and remorse. The most skilful physicians of
the mind and body were summoned to his aid; and his hopes were
amused by frequent pilgrimages to the baths, and to the tombs of
the most popular saints; the monks applauded his penance, and,
except restitution, (but to whom should he have restored?)
Michael sought every method of expiating his guilt. While he
groaned and prayed in sackcloth and ashes, his brother, the
eunuch John, smiled at his remorse, and enjoyed the harvest of a
crime of which himself was the secret and most guilty author. His
administration was only the art of satiating his avarice, and Zoe
became a captive in the palace of her fathers, and in the hands
of her slaves. When he perceived the irretrievable decline of
his brother's health, he introduced his nephew, another Michael,
who derived his surname of Calaphates from his father's
occupation in the careening of vessels: at the command of the
eunuch, Zoe adopted for her son the son of a mechanic; and this
fictitious heir was invested with the title and purple of the
Caesars, in the presence of the senate and clergy. So feeble was
the character of Zoe, that she was oppressed by the liberty and
power which she recovered by the death of the Paphlagonian; and
at the end of four days, she placed the crown on the head of
Michael the Fifth, who had protested, with tears and oaths, that
he should ever reign the first and most obedient of her subjects.

The only act of his short reign was his base ingratitude to his
benefactors, the eunuch and the empress. The disgrace of the
former was pleasing to the public: but the murmurs, and at length
the clamors, of Constantinople deplored the exile of Zoe, the
daughter of so many emperors; her vices were forgotten, and
Michael was taught, that there is a period in which the patience
of the tamest slaves rises into fury and revenge. The citizens
of every degree assembled in a formidable tumult which lasted
three days; they besieged the palace, forced the gates, recalled
their mothers, Zoe from her prison, Theodora from her monastery,
and condemned the son of Calaphates to the loss of his eyes or of
his life. For the first time the Greeks beheld with surprise the
two royal sisters seated on the same throne, presiding in the
senate, and giving audience to the ambassadors of the nations.
But the singular union subsisted no more than two months; the two
sovereigns, their tempers, interests, and adherents, were
secretly hostile to each other; and as Theodora was still averse
to marriage, the indefatigable Zoe, at the age of sixty,
consented, for the public good, to sustain the embraces of a
third husband, and the censures of the Greek church. His name
and number were Constantine the Tenth, and the epithet of
Monomachus, the single combatant, must have been expressive of
his valor and victory in some public or private quarrel. But his
health was broken by the tortures of the gout, and his dissolute
reign was spent in the alternative of sickness and pleasure. A
fair and noble widow had accompanied Constantine in his exile to
the Isle of Lesbos, and Sclerena gloried in the appellation of
his mistress. After his marriage and elevation, she was invested
with the title and pomp of Augusta, and occupied a contiguous
apartment in the palace. The lawful consort (such was the
delicacy or corruption of Zoe) consented to this strange and
scandalous partition; and the emperor appeared in public between
his wife and his concubine. He survived them both; but the last
measures of Constantine to change the order of succession were
prevented by the more vigilant friends of Theodora; and after his
decease, she resumed, with the general consent, the possession of
her inheritance. In her name, and by the influence of four
eunuchs, the Eastern world was peaceably governed about nineteen
months; and as they wished to prolong their dominion, they
persuaded the aged princess to nominate for her successor Michael
the Sixth. The surname of Stratioticus declares his military
profession; but the crazy and decrepit veteran could only see
with the eyes, and execute with the hands, of his ministers.
Whilst he ascended the throne, Theodora sunk into the grave; the
last of the Macedonian or Basilian dynasty. I have hastily
reviewed, and gladly dismiss, this shameful and destructive
period of twenty-eight years, in which the Greeks, degraded below
the common level of servitude, were transferred like a herd of
cattle by the choice or caprice of two impotent females.

From this night of slavery, a ray of freedom, or at least of
spirit, begins to emerge: the Greeks either preserved or revived
the use of surnames, which perpetuate the fame of hereditary
virtue: and we now discern the rise, succession, and alliances of
the last dynasties of Constantinople and Trebizond. The Comneni,
who upheld for a while the fate of the sinking empire, assumed
the honor of a Roman origin: but the family had been long since
transported from Italy to Asia. Their patrimonial estate was
situate in the district of Castamona, in the neighborhood of the
Euxine; and one of their chiefs, who had already entered the
paths of ambition, revisited with affection, perhaps with regret,
the modest though honorable dwelling of his fathers. The first
of their line was the illustrious Manuel, who in the reign of the
second Basil, contributed by war and treaty to appease the
troubles of the East: he left, in a tender age, two sons, Isaac
and John, whom, with the consciousness of desert, he bequeathed
to the gratitude and favor of his sovereign. The noble youths
were carefully trained in the learning of the monastery, the arts
of the palace, and the exercises of the camp: and from the
domestic service of the guards, they were rapidly promoted to the
command of provinces and armies. Their fraternal union doubled
the force and reputation of the Comneni, and their ancient
nobility was illustrated by the marriage of the two brothers,
with a captive princess of Bulgaria, and the daughter of a
patrician, who had obtained the name of Charon from the number of
enemies whom he had sent to the infernal shades. The soldiers had
served with reluctant loyalty a series of effeminate masters; the
elevation of Michael the Sixth was a personal insult to the more
deserving generals; and their discontent was inflamed by the
parsimony of the emperor and the insolence of the eunuchs. They
secretly assembled in the sanctuary of St. Sophia, and the votes
of the military synod would have been unanimous in favor of the
old and valiant Catacalon, if the patriotism or modesty of the
veteran had not suggested the importance of birth as well as
merit in the choice of a sovereign. Isaac Comnenus was approved
by general consent, and the associates separated without delay to
meet in the plains of Phrygia at the head of their respective
squadrons and detachments. The cause of Michael was defended in
a single battle by the mercenaries of the Imperial guard, who
were aliens to the public interest, and animated only by a
principle of honor and gratitude. After their defeat, the fears
of the emperor solicited a treaty, which was almost accepted by
the moderation of the Comnenian. But the former was betrayed by
his ambassadors, and the latter was prevented by his friends.
The solitary Michael submitted to the voice of the people; the
patriarch annulled their oath of allegiance; and as he shaved the
head of the royal monk, congratulated his beneficial exchange of
temporal royalty for the kingdom of heaven; an exchange, however,
which the priest, on his own account, would probably have
declined. By the hands of the same patriarch, Isaac Comnenus was
solemnly crowned; the sword which he inscribed on his coins might
be an offensive symbol, if it implied his title by conquest; but
this sword would have been drawn against the foreign and domestic
enemies of the state. The decline of his health and vigor
suspended the operation of active virtue; and the prospect of
approaching death determined him to interpose some moments
between life and eternity. But instead of leaving the empire as
the marriage portion of his daughter, his reason and inclination
concurred in the preference of his brother John, a soldier, a
patriot, and the father of five sons, the future pillars of an
hereditary succession. His first modest reluctance might be the
natural dictates of discretion and tenderness, but his obstinate
and successful perseverance, however it may dazzle with the show
of virtue, must be censured as a criminal desertion of his duty,
and a rare offence against his family and country. The purple
which he had refused was accepted by Constantine Ducas, a friend
of the Comnenian house, and whose noble birth was adorned with
the experience and reputation of civil policy. In the monastic
habit, Isaac recovered his health, and survived two years his
voluntary abdication. At the command of his abbot, he observed
the rule of St. Basil, and executed the most servile offices of
the convent: but his latent vanity was gratified by the frequent
and respectful visits of the reigning monarch, who revered in his
person the character of a benefactor and a saint.
If Constantine the Eleventh were indeed the subject most
worthy of empire, we must pity the debasement of the age and
nation in which he was chosen. In the labor of puerile
declamations he sought, without obtaining, the crown of
eloquence, more precious, in his opinion, than that of Rome; and
in the subordinate functions of a judge, he forgot the duties of
a sovereign and a warrior. Far from imitating the patriotic
indifference of the authors of his greatness, Ducas was anxious
only to secure, at the expense of the republic, the power and
prosperity of his children. His three sons, Michael the Seventh,
Andronicus the First, and Constantine the Twelfth, were invested,
in a tender age, with the equal title of Augustus; and the
succession was speedily opened by their father's death. His
widow, Eudocia, was intrusted with the administration; but
experience had taught the jealousy of the dying monarch to
protect his sons from the danger of her second nuptials; and her
solemn engagement, attested by the principal senators, was
deposited in the hands of the patriarch. Before the end of seven
months, the wants of Eudocia, or those of the state, called aloud
for the male virtues of a soldier; and her heart had already
chosen Romanus Diogenes, whom she raised from the scaffold to the
throne. The discovery of a treasonable attempt had exposed him
to the severity of the laws: his beauty and valor absolved him in
the eyes of the empress; and Romanus, from a mild exile, was
recalled on the second day to the command of the Oriental armies.

Her royal choice was yet unknown to the public; and the promise
which would have betrayed her falsehood and levity, was stolen by
a dexterous emissary from the ambition of the patriarch. Xiphilin
at first alleged the sanctity of oaths, and the sacred nature of
a trust; but a whisper, that his brother was the future emperor,
relaxed his scruples, and forced him to confess that the public
safety was the supreme law. He resigned the important paper; and
when his hopes were confounded by the nomination of Romanus, he
could no longer regain his security, retract his declarations,
nor oppose the second nuptials of the empress. Yet a murmur was
heard in the palace; and the Barbarian guards had raised their
battle-axes in the cause of the house of Lucas, till the young
princes were soothed by the tears of their mother and the solemn
assurances of the fidelity of their guardian, who filled the
Imperial station with dignity and honor. Hereafter I shall
relate his valiant, but unsuccessful, efforts to resist the
progress of the Turks. His defeat and captivity inflicted a
deadly wound on the Byzantine monarchy of the East; and after he
was released from the chains of the sultan, he vainly sought his
wife and his subjects. His wife had been thrust into a
monastery, and the subjects of Romanus had embraced the rigid
maxim of the civil law, that a prisoner in the hands of the enemy
is deprived, as by the stroke of death, of all the public and
private rights of a citizen. In the general consternation, the
Caesar John asserted the indefeasible right of his three nephews:
Constantinople listened to his voice: and the Turkish captive was
proclaimed in the capital, and received on the frontier, as an
enemy of the republic. Romanus was not more fortunate in
domestic than in foreign war: the loss of two battles compelled
him to yield, on the assurance of fair and honorable treatment;
but his enemies were devoid of faith or humanity; and, after the
cruel extinction of his sight, his wounds were left to bleed and
corrupt, till in a few days he was relieved from a state of
misery. Under the triple reign of the house of Ducas, the two
younger brothers were reduced to the vain honors of the purple;
but the eldest, the pusillanimous Michael, was incapable of
sustaining the Roman sceptre; and his surname of Parapinaces
denotes the reproach which he shared with an avaricious favorite,
who enhanced the price, and diminished the measure, of wheat. In
the school of Psellus, and after the example of his mother, the
son of Eudocia made some proficiency in philosophy and rhetoric;
but his character was degraded, rather than ennobled, by the
virtues of a monk and the learning of a sophist. Strong in the
contempt of their sovereign and their own esteem, two generals,
at the head of the European and Asiatic legions, assumed the
purple at Adrianople and Nice. Their revolt was in the same
months; they bore the same name of Nicephorus; but the two
candidates were distinguished by the surnames of Bryennius and
Botaniates; the former in the maturity of wisdom and courage, the
latter conspicuous only by the memory of his past exploits. While
Botaniates advanced with cautious and dilatory steps, his active
competitor stood in arms before the gates of Constantinople. The
name of Bryennius was illustrious; his cause was popular; but his
licentious troops could not be restrained from burning and
pillaging a suburb; and the people, who would have hailed the
rebel, rejected and repulsed the incendiary of his country. This
change of the public opinion was favorable to Botaniates, who at
length, with an army of Turks, approached the shores of
Chalcedon. A formal invitation, in the name of the patriarch,
the synod, and the senate, was circulated through the streets of
Constantinople; and the general assembly, in the dome of St.
Sophia, debated, with order and calmness, on the choice of their
sovereign. The guards of Michael would have dispersed this
unarmed multitude; but the feeble emperor, applauding his own
moderation and clemency, resigned the ensigns of royalty, and was
rewarded with the monastic habit, and the title of Archbishop of
Ephesus. He left a son, a Constantine, born and educated in the
purple; and a daughter of the house of Ducas illustrated the
blood, and confirmed the succession, of the Comnenian dynasty.

John Comnenus, the brother of the emperor Isaac, survived in
peace and dignity his generous refusal of the sceptre. By his
wife Anne, a woman of masculine spirit and a policy, he left
eight children: the three daughters multiplied the Comnenian
alliance with the noblest of the Greeks: of the five sons, Manuel
was stopped by a premature death; Isaac and Alexius restored the
Imperial greatness of their house, which was enjoyed without toil
or danger by the two younger brethren, Adrian and Nicephorus.
Alexius, the third and most illustrious of the brothers was
endowed by nature with the choicest gifts both of mind and body:
they were cultivated by a liberal education, and exercised in the
school of obedience and adversity. The youth was dismissed from
the perils of the Turkish war, by the paternal care of the
emperor Romanus: but the mother of the Comneni, with her aspiring
face, was accused of treason, and banished, by the sons of Ducas,
to an island in the Propontis. The two brothers soon emerged
into favor and action, fought by each other's side against the
rebels and Barbarians, and adhered to the emperor Michael, till
he was deserted by the world and by himself. In his first
interview with Botaniates, "Prince," said Alexius with a noble
frankness, "my duty rendered me your enemy; the decrees of God
and of the people have made me your subject. Judge of my future
loyalty by my past opposition." The successor of Michael
entertained him with esteem and confidence: his valor was
employed against three rebels, who disturbed the peace of the
empire, or at least of the emperors. Ursel, Bryennius, and
Basilacius, were formidable by their numerous forces and military
fame: they were successively vanquished in the field, and led in
chains to the foot of the throne; and whatever treatment they
might receive from a timid and cruel court, they applauded the
clemency, as well as the courage, of their conqueror. But the
loyalty of the Comneni was soon tainted by fear and suspicion;
nor is it easy to settle between a subject and a despot, the debt
of gratitude, which the former is tempted to claim by a revolt,
and the latter to discharge by an executioner. The refusal of
Alexius to march against a fourth rebel, the husband of his
sister, destroyed the merit or memory of his past services: the
favorites of Botaniates provoked the ambition which they
apprehended and accused; and the retreat of the two brothers
might be justified by the defence of their life and liberty. The
women of the family were deposited in a sanctuary, respected by
tyrants: the men, mounted on horseback, sallied from the city,
and erected the standard of civil war. The soldiers who had been
gradually assembled in the capital and the neighborhood, were
devoted to the cause of a victorious and injured leader: the ties
of common interest and domestic alliance secured the attachment
of the house of Ducas; and the generous dispute of the Comneni
was terminated by the decisive resolution of Isaac, who was the
first to invest his younger brother with the name and ensigns of
royalty. They returned to Constantinople, to threaten rather
than besiege that impregnable fortress; but the fidelity of the
guards was corrupted; a gate was surprised, and the fleet was
occupied by the active courage of George Palaeologus, who fought
against his father, without foreseeing that he labored for his
posterity. Alexius ascended the throne; and his aged competitor
disappeared in a monastery. An army of various nations was
gratified with the pillage of the city; but the public disorders
were expiated by the tears and fasts of the Comneni, who
submitted to every penance compatible with the possession of the
The life of the emperor Alexius has been delineated by a
favorite daughter, who was inspired by a tender regard for his
person and a laudable zeal to perpetuate his virtues. Conscious
of the just suspicions of her readers, the princess Anna Comnena
repeatedly protests, that, besides her personal knowledge, she
had searched the discourses and writings of the most respectable
veterans: and after an interval of thirty years, forgotten by,
and forgetful of, the world, her mournful solitude was
inaccessible to hope and fear; and that truth, the naked perfect
truth, was more dear and sacred than the memory of her parent.
Yet, instead of the simplicity of style and narrative which wins
our belief, an elaborate affectation of rhetoric and science
betrays in every page the vanity of a female author. The genuine
character of Alexius is lost in a vague constellation of virtues;
and the perpetual strain of panegyric and apology awakens our
jealousy, to question the veracity of the historian and the merit
of the hero. We cannot, however, refuse her judicious and
important remark, that the disorders of the times were the
misfortune and the glory of Alexius; and that every calamity
which can afflict a declining empire was accumulated on his reign
by the justice of Heaven and the vices of his predecessors. In
the East, the victorious Turks had spread, from Persia to the
Hellespont, the reign of the Koran and the Crescent: the West was
invaded by the adventurous valor of the Normans; and, in the
moments of peace, the Danube poured forth new swarms, who had
gained, in the science of war, what they had lost in the
ferociousness of manners. The sea was not less hostile than the
land; and while the frontiers were assaulted by an open enemy,
the palace was distracted with secret treason and conspiracy. On
a sudden, the banner of the Cross was displayed by the Latins;
Europe was precipitated on Asia; and Constantinople had almost
been swept away by this impetuous deluge. In the tempest,
Alexius steered the Imperial vessel with dexterity and courage.
At the head of his armies, he was bold in action, skilful in
stratagem, patient of fatigue, ready to improve his advantages,
and rising from his defeats with inexhaustible vigor. The
discipline of the camp was revived, and a new generation of men
and soldiers was created by the example and precepts of their
leader. In his intercourse with the Latins, Alexius was patient
and artful: his discerning eye pervaded the new system of an
unknown world and I shall hereafter describe the superior policy
with which he balanced the interests and passions of the
champions of the first crusade. In a long reign of thirty- seven
years, he subdued and pardoned the envy of his equals: the laws
of public and private order were restored: the arts of wealth and
science were cultivated: the limits of the empire were enlarged
in Europe and Asia; and the Comnenian sceptre was transmitted to
his children of the third and fourth generation. Yet the
difficulties of the times betrayed some defects in his character;
and have exposed his memory to some just or ungenerous reproach.
The reader may possibly smile at the lavish praise which his
daughter so often bestows on a flying hero: the weakness or
prudence of his situation might be mistaken for a want of
personal courage; and his political arts are branded by the
Latins with the names of deceit and dissimulation. The increase
of the male and female branches of his family adorned the throne,
and secured the succession; but their princely luxury and pride
offended the patricians, exhausted the revenue, and insulted the
misery of the people. Anna is a faithful witness that his
happiness was destroyed, and his health was broken, by the cares
of a public life; the patience of Constantinople was fatigued by
the length and severity of his reign; and before Alexius expired,
he had lost the love and reverence of his subjects. The clergy
could not forgive his application of the sacred riches to the
defence of the state; but they applauded his theological learning
and ardent zeal for the orthodox faith, which he defended with
his tongue, his pen, and his sword. His character was degraded
by the superstition of the Greeks; and the same inconsistent
principle of human nature enjoined the emperor to found a
hospital for the poor and infirm, and to direct the execution of
a heretic, who was burned alive in the square of St. Sophia.
Even the sincerity of his moral and religious virtues was
suspected by the persons who had passed their lives in his
familiar confidence. In his last hours, when he was pressed by
his wife Irene to alter the succession, he raised his head, and
breathed a pious ejaculation on the vanity of this world. The
indignant reply of the empress may be inscribed as an epitaph on
his tomb, "You die, as you have lived - A Hypocrite!"

It was the wish of Irene to supplant the eldest of her
surviving sons, in favor of her daughter the princess Anne whose
philosophy would not have refused the weight of a diadem. But
the order of male succession was asserted by the friends of their
country; the lawful heir drew the royal signet from the finger of
his insensible or conscious father and the empire obeyed the
master of the palace. Anna Comnena was stimulated by ambition
and revenge to conspire against the life of her brother, and when
the design was prevented by the fears or scruples of her husband,
she passionately exclaimed that nature had mistaken the two
sexes, and had endowed Bryennius with the soul of a woman. The
two sons of Alexius, John and Isaac, maintained the fraternal
concord, the hereditary virtue of their race, and the younger
brother was content with the title of Sebastocrator, which
approached the dignity, without sharing the power, of the
emperor. In the same person the claims of primogeniture and
merit were fortunately united; his swarthy complexion, harsh
features, and diminutive stature, had suggested the ironical
surname of Calo-Johannes, or John the Handsome, which his
grateful subjects more seriously applied to the beauties of his
mind. After the discovery of her treason, the life and fortune
of Anne were justly forfeited to the laws. Her life was spared
by the clemency of the emperor; but he visited the pomp and
treasures of her palace, and bestowed the rich confiscation on
the most deserving of his friends. That respectable friend
Axuch, a slave of Turkish extraction, presumed to decline the
gift, and to intercede for the criminal: his generous master
applauded and imitated the virtue of his favorite, and the
reproach or complaint of an injured brother was the only
chastisement of the guilty princess. After this example of
clemency, the remainder of his reign was never disturbed by
conspiracy or rebellion: feared by his nobles, beloved by his
people, John was never reduced to the painful necessity of
punishing, or even of pardoning, his personal enemies. During
his government of twenty-five years, the penalty of death was
abolished in the Roman empire, a law of mercy most delightful to
the humane theorist, but of which the practice, in a large and
vicious community, is seldom consistent with the public safety.
Severe to himself, indulgent to others, chaste, frugal,
abstemious, the philosophic Marcus would not have disdained the
artless virtues of his successor, derived from his heart, and not
borrowed from the schools. He despised and moderated the stately
magnificence of the Byzantine court, so oppressive to the people,
so contemptible to the eye of reason. Under such a prince,
innocence had nothing to fear, and merit had every thing to hope;
and, without assuming the tyrannic office of a censor, he
introduced a gradual though visible reformation in the public and
private manners of Constantinople. The only defect of this
accomplished character was the frailty of noble minds, the love
of arms and military glory. Yet the frequent expeditions of John
the Handsome may be justified, at least in their principle, by
the necessity of repelling the Turks from the Hellespont and the
Bosphorus. The sultan of Iconium was confined to his capital,
the Barbarians were driven to the mountains, and the maritime
provinces of Asia enjoyed the transient blessings of their
deliverance. From Constantinople to Antioch and Aleppo, he
repeatedly marched at the head of a victorious army, and in the
sieges and battles of this holy war, his Latin allies were
astonished by the superior spirit and prowess of a Greek. As he
began to indulge the ambitious hope of restoring the ancient
limits of the empire, as he revolved in his mind, the Euphrates
and Tigris, the dominion of Syria, and the conquest of Jerusalem,
the thread of his life and of the public felicity was broken by a
singular accident. He hunted the wild boar in the valley of
Anazarbus, and had fixed his javelin in the body of the furious
animal; but in the struggle a poisoned arrow dropped from his
quiver, and a slight wound in his hand, which produced a
mortification, was fatal to the best and greatest of the
Comnenian princes.

Chapter XLVIII: Succession And Characters Of The Greek Emperors.

Part VI.

A premature death had swept away the two eldest sons of John
the Handsome; of the two survivors, Isaac and Manuel, his
judgment or affection preferred the younger; and the choice of
their dying prince was ratified by the soldiers, who had
applauded the valor of his favorite in the Turkish war The
faithful Axuch hastened to the capital, secured the person of
Isaac in honorable confinement, and purchased, with a gift of two
hundred pounds of silver, the leading ecclesiastics of St.
Sophia, who possessed a decisive voice in the consecration of an
emperor. With his veteran and affectionate troops, Manuel soon
visited Constantinople; his brother acquiesced in the title of
Sebastocrator; his subjects admired the lofty stature and martial
graces of their new sovereign, and listened with credulity to the
flattering promise, that he blended the wisdom of age with the
activity and vigor of youth. By the experience of his
government, they were taught, that he emulated the spirit, and
shared the talents, of his father whose social virtues were
buried in the grave. A reign of thirty seven years is filled by
a perpetual though various warfare against the Turks, the
Christians, and the hordes of the wilderness beyond the Danube.
The arms of Manuel were exercised on Mount Taurus, in the plains
of Hungary, on the coast of Italy and Egypt, and on the seas of
Sicily and Greece: the influence of his negotiations extended
from Jerusalem to Rome and Russia; and the Byzantine monarchy,
for a while, became an object of respect or terror to the powers
of Asia and Europe. Educated in the silk and purple of the East,
Manuel possessed the iron temper of a soldier, which cannot
easily be paralleled, except in the lives of Richard the First of
England, and of Charles the Twelfth of Sweden. Such was his
strength and exercise in arms, that Raymond, surnamed the
Hercules of Antioch, was incapable of wielding the lance and
buckler of the Greek emperor. In a famous tournament, he entered
the lists on a fiery courser, and overturned in his first career
two of the stoutest of the Italian knights. The first in the
charge, the last in the retreat, his friends and his enemies
alike trembled, the former for his safety, and the latter for
their own. After posting an ambuscade in a wood, he rode forwards
in search of some perilous adventure, accompanied only by his
brother and the faithful Axuch, who refused to desert their
sovereign. Eighteen horsemen, after a short combat, fled before
them: but the numbers of the enemy increased; the march of the
reenforcement was tardy and fearful, and Manuel, without
receiving a wound, cut his way through a squadron of five hundred
Turks. In a battle against the Hungarians, impatient of the
slowness of his troops, he snatched a standard from the head of
the column, and was the first, almost alone, who passed a bridge
that separated him from the enemy. In the same country, after
transporting his army beyond the Save, he sent back the boats,


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