Constantine VII

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Constantine VII
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus.jpg
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign15 May 908 – 6 June 913 (as junior co-emperor under his father and uncle Alexander)
Predecessor Leo VI
Co-emperorsLeo VI (908–912)
Alexander (908–913)
Reign6 June 913 – 17 December 920 (as sole emperor under regency)
PredecessorAlexander (as senior emperor)
Himself (as junior co-emperor)
Successor Romanos I Lekapenos (as senior emperor)
Himself (as junior co-emperor)
Regent Zoe Karbonopsina (913–919)
Reign17 December 920 – December 944 (as junior co-emperor under Romanos I Lekapenos)
Co-emperorsRomanos I Lekapenos (920–944)
Christopher Lekapenos (921–931)
Stephen and Constantine Lekapenos (924–944)
ReignDecember 944 – 9 November 959 (as senior emperor)
PredecessorRomanos I Lekapenos (as senior emperor)
Himself (as junior co-emperor)
Stephen and Constantine Lekapenos (as junior co-emperors)
Successor Romanos II
Co-emperorsStephen and Constantine Lekapenos (944–945)
Romanos II (945–959)
Born17 or 18 May 905 [1]
Died9 November 959 (aged 54) [1]
Spouse Helena Lekapene
Issue Romanos II
Full name
Constantine Porphyrogennetos
("the Purple-born")
Dynasty Macedonian dynasty
FatherLeo VI
MotherZoe Karbonopsina

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos or Porphyrogenitus ("the Purple-born", that is, born in the porphyry (a hard, purple-colored, decorative stone) paneled imperial bed chambers; Greek : Κωνσταντῖνος Ζ΄ Πορφυρογέννητος, translit.  Kōnstantinos VII Porphyrogennētos; 17–18 May 905 – 9 November 959) was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959. He was the son of the emperor Leo VI and his fourth wife, Zoe Karbonopsina, and the nephew of his predecessor, the emperor Alexander.

Born in the purple

Traditionally, born in the purple was a category of members of royal families born during the reign of their parent. This notion was later loosely expanded to include all children born of prominent or high-ranking parents. The parents must be prominent at the time of the child's birth so that the child is always in the spotlight and destined for a prominent role in life. A child born before the parents become prominent would not be "born in the purple". This color purple came to refer to Tyrian purple, restricted by law, custom, and the expense of creating it to royalty.

Porphyry (geology) Textural form of igneous rock with large grained crystals in a fine matrix

Porphyry is a textural term for an igneous rock consisting of large-grained crystals such as feldspar or quartz dispersed in a fine-grained silicate rich, generally aphanitic matrix or groundmass. The larger crystals are called phenocrysts. In its non-geologic, traditional use, the term porphyry refers to the purple-red form of this stone, valued for its appearance.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.


Most of his reign was dominated by co-regents: from 913 until 919 he was under the regency of his mother, while from 920 until 945 he shared the throne with Romanos Lekapenos, whose daughter Helena he married, and his sons. Constantine VII is best known for his four books, De Administrando Imperio (bearing in Greek the heading Πρὸς τὸν ἴδιον υἱὸν Ῥωμανόν), [2] De Ceremoniis (Περὶ τῆς Βασιλείου Τάξεως), De Thematibus (Περὶ θεμάτων Άνατολῆς καὶ Δύσεως), and Vita Basilii (Βίος Βασιλείου).

Helena Lekapene was the empress consort of Constantine VII, known to have acted as his political adviser and de facto co-regent. She was a daughter of Romanos I Lekapenos and Theodora.

<i>De Administrando Imperio</i> literary work

De Administrando Imperio is the Latin title of a Greek-language work written by the 10th-century Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII. The Greek title of the work is Πρὸς τὸν ἴδιον υἱὸν Ρωμανόν. It is a domestic and foreign policy manual for the use of Constantine's son and successor, the Emperor Romanos II.

<i>De Ceremoniis</i>

The De Ceremoniis is the conventional Latin name for a Greek book of ceremonial protocol at the court of the Byzantine emperors in Constantinople. Its Greek title is often cited as Ἔκθεσις τῆς βασιλείου τάξεως, taken from the work's preface, or Περὶ τῆς Βασιλείου Τάξεως. In non-specialist English sources, it tends to be called the Book of Ceremonies of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, a formula used by writers including David Talbot Rice and the modern English translation.

His nickname alludes to the Purple Room of the imperial palace, decorated with porphyry, where legitimate children of reigning emperors were normally born. Constantine was also born in this room, although his mother Zoe had not been married to Leo at that time. Nevertheless, the epithet allowed him to underline his position as the legitimized son, as opposed to all others who claimed the throne during his lifetime. Sons born to a reigning Emperor held precedence in the Eastern Roman line of succession over elder sons not born "in the purple".

An epithet is a byname, or a descriptive term, accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It can also be a descriptive title: for example, Pallas Athena, Alfred the Great, Suleiman the Magnificent or Władysław I the Elbow-high.


Gold solidus of Leo VI and Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, 908-912 GoldSolidusLeoVIAndConstantinVIIPorphyrogenetos908-912.jpg
Gold solidus of Leo VI and Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, 908–912
Follis of Constantine and his mother Zoe minted during Zoe's regency Zoe Karbonopsina.jpg
Follis of Constantine and his mother Zoe minted during Zoe's regency
Constantine and Simeon dining Constantine VII dining with Tsar Symeon of Bulgaria.jpg
Constantine and Simeon dining

Constantine was born at Constantinople, an illegitimate son born before an uncanonical fourth marriage. To help legitimize him, his mother gave birth to him in the Purple Room of the imperial palace, hence his nickname Porphyrogennetos. He was symbolically elevated to the throne as a two-year-old child by his father and uncle on May 15, 908.

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Byzantine Empire, and also of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261), until finally falling to the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). It was reinaugurated in 324 from ancient Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine the Great, after whom it was named, and dedicated on 11 May 330. The city was located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul.

In June 913, as his uncle Alexander lay dying, he appointed a seven-man regency council for Constantine. It was headed by the Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos, the two magistroi John Eladas and Stephen, the rhaiktor John Lazanes, the otherwise obscure Euthymius and Alexander's henchmen Basilitzes and Gabrielopoulos. [3] Following Alexander's death, the new and shaky regime survived the attempted usurpation of Constantine Doukas, [4] and Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos quickly assumed a dominant position among the regents. [5]

Alexander (Byzantine emperor) Emperor of the Byzantine Empire 912–913

Alexander, sometimes numbered Alexander III, ruled as Emperor of the Byzantine Empire in 912–913.

Nicholas Mystikos Patriarch of Constantinople

Nicholas I Mystikos or Nicholas I Mysticus was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from March 901 to February 907 and from May 912 to his death in 925. His feast day in the Eastern Orthodox Church is 16 May.

John Eladas was a senior member of the Byzantine court and regent in the early 10th century.

Patriarch Nicholas was presently forced to make peace with Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, whom he reluctantly recognized as Bulgarian emperor. Because of this unpopular concession, Patriarch Nicholas was driven out of the regency by Constantine's mother Zoe. She was no more successful with the Bulgarians, who defeated her main supporter, the general Leo Phokas, in 917. In 919 she was replaced as regent by the admiral Romanos Lekapenos, who married his daughter Helena Lekapene to Constantine. Romanos used his position to advance to the ranks of basileopatōr in May 919, to kaisar (Caesar) in September 920, and finally to co-emperor in December 920. Thus, just short of reaching nominal majority, Constantine was eclipsed by a senior emperor.

Simeon I of Bulgaria King of the Bulgarians

SimeonI the Great ruled over Bulgaria from 893 to 927, during the First Bulgarian Empire. Simeon's successful campaigns against the Byzantines, Magyars and Serbs led Bulgaria to its greatest territorial expansion ever, making it the most powerful state in contemporary Eastern Europe. His reign was also a period of unmatched cultural prosperity and enlightenment later deemed the Golden Age of Bulgarian culture.

Bulgaria country in Southeast Europe

Bulgaria, officially the Republic of Bulgaria, is a country in Southeast Europe. It is bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and North Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. The capital and largest city is Sofia; other major cities are Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas. With a territory of 110,994 square kilometres (42,855 sq mi), Bulgaria is Europe's 16th-largest country.

Zoe Karbonopsina Byzantine Emperors wife

Zoe Karbonopsina, also Karvounopsina or Carbonopsina, i.e., "with the Coal-Black Eyes", was an empress consort and regent of the Byzantine empire. She was the fourth spouse of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise and the mother of Constantine VII, serving as his regent from 914 until 919.

Constantine's youth had been a sad one due to his unpleasant appearance, his taciturn nature, and his relegation to the third level of succession, behind Christopher Lekapenos, the eldest son of Romanos I Lekapenos. Nevertheless, he was a very intelligent young man with a large range of interests, and he dedicated those years to studying the court's ceremonial.

Romanos kept and maintained power until 944, when he was deposed by his sons, the co-emperors Stephen and Constantine. Romanos spent the last years of his life in exile on the Island of Prote as a monk and died on June 15, 948. [6] With the help of his wife, Constantine VII succeeded in removing his brothers-in-law, and on January 27, 945, Constantine VII became sole emperor at the age of 39, after a life spent in the shadow. Several months later, Constantine VII crowned his own son Romanos II co-emperor. Having never exercised executive authority, Constantine remained primarily devoted to his scholarly pursuits and relegated his authority to bureaucrats and generals, as well as to his energetic wife Helena Lekapene.

In 949 Constantine launched a new fleet of 100 ships (20 dromons , 64 chelandia, and 10 galleys) against the Arab corsairs hiding in Crete, but like his father's attempt to retake the island in 911, this attempt also failed. On the Eastern frontier things went better, even if with alternate success. In 949 the Byzantines conquered Germanicea, repeatedly defeated the enemy armies, and in 952 they crossed the upper Euphrates. But in 953 the Hamdanid amir Sayf al-Daula retook Germanicea and entered the imperial territory. The land in the east was eventually recovered by Nikephoros Phokas, who conquered Hadath, in northern Syria, in 958, and by the general John Tzimiskes, who one year later captured Samosata, in northern Mesopotamia. An Arab fleet was also destroyed by Greek fire in 957. Constantine's efforts to retake themes lost to the Arabs were the first such efforts to have any real success.

The Madrid Skylitzes' depiction of Constantine on his deathbed Constantine VII (Roman emperor), deathbed.jpg
The Madrid Skylitzes' depiction of Constantine on his deathbed

Constantine had active diplomatic relationships with foreign courts, including those of the caliph of Cordoba Abd ar-Rahman III and of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor. In the autumn of 957 Constantine was visited by Olga of Kiev, regent of the Kievan Rus'. The reasons for this voyage have never been clarified; but she was baptised a Christian with the name Helena, and sought Christian missionaries to encourage her people to adopt Christianity. According to legends, Constantine VII fell in love with Olga, however she found the way to refuse him by tricking him to become her godfather. When she was baptized, she said it was inappropriate for a godfather to marry his goddaughter. [7]

Constantine VII died at Constantinople in November 959 and was succeeded by his son Romanos II. It was rumored that Constantine had been poisoned by his son or his daughter-in-law Theophano.

Literary and political activity

Gold solidus of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, 913-959. GoldSolidusConstantinVIIPorphyrogenetos913-959.jpg
Gold solidus of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, 913–959.

Constantine VII was renowned for his abilities as a writer and scholar. He wrote, or had commissioned, the works De Ceremoniis ("On Ceremonies", in Greek, Περί τῆς Βασιλείου Τάξεως), describing the kinds of court ceremonies (also described later in a more negative light by Liutprand of Cremona); De Administrando Imperio ("On the Administration of the Empire", bearing in Greek the heading Προς τον ίδιον υιόν Ρωμανόν), [2] giving advice on running the Empire internally and on fighting external enemies; a history of the Empire covering events following the death of the chronographer Theophanes the Confessor in 817; and Excerpta Historica ("Excerpts from the Histories"), a collection of excerpts from ancient historians (many of whose works are now lost) in four volumes (1. De legationibus. 2. De virtutibus et vitiis. 3. De insidiis. 4. De sententiis.) Also amongst his historical works is a history eulogizing the reign and achievements of his grandfather, Basil I (Vita Basilii, Βίος Βασιλείου). These books are insightful and of interest to the historian, sociologist, and anthropologist as a source of information about nations neighbouring the Empire. They also offer a fine insight into the Emperor himself.

In his book, A Short History of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich refers to Constantine VII as "The Scholar Emperor". [8] Norwich describes Constantine:

He was, we are told, a passionate collector—not only of books and manuscripts but works of art of every kind; more remarkable still for a man of his class, he seems to have been an excellent painter. He was the most generous of patrons—to writers and scholars, artists and craftsmen. Finally, he was an excellent Emperor: a competent, conscientious and hard-working administrator and an inspired picker of men, whose appointments to military, naval, ecclesiastical, civil and academic posts were both imaginative and successful. He did much to develop higher education and took a special interest in the administration of justice. [9]

In 947, Constantine VII ordered the immediate restitution of all peasant lands, without compensation; by the end of his reign, the condition of the landed peasantry, which formed the foundation of the whole economic and military strength of the Empire, was better off than it had been for a century. [10]

In The Manuscript Tradition of Polybius, John Michael Moore (CUP, 1965) provides a useful summary of the commission by Porphyrogenitus of the Constantine Excerpts:

He felt that the historical studies were being seriously neglected, mainly because of the bulk of the histories. He therefore decided that a selection under fifty-three titles should be made from all the important historians extant in Constantinople; thus he hoped to assemble in a more manageable compass the most valuable parts of each author. ... Of the fifty-three titles into which the excerpts were divided, only six have survived: de Virtutibus et Vitiis; de Sententiis; de Insidiis; de Strategematis; de Legationibus Gentium ad Romanos; de Legationibus Romanorum ad Gentes. The titles of only about half the remaining forty-seven sections are known. [11]


By his wife Helena Lekapene, the daughter of Emperor Romanos I, Constantine VII had several children, including:

See also

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  1. 1 2 "Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos" in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium , Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 1991, p. 502. ISBN   0195046528
  2. 1 2 Moravcsik 1967.
  3. Runciman 1988, pp. 47–48.
  4. Runciman 1988, pp. 49–50.
  5. Runciman 1988, pp. 49ff..
  6. Ostrogorsky, George (1969). History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. p. 278. ISBN   0-8135-0599-2.
  7. S. H. Cross and O. P. Sherbowizt-Wetzor (trans.) (1953). The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America. pp. 82–83. ISBN   9780915651320.
  8. Norwich, John Julius. (1997) A Short History of Byzantium. London: Viking, p. 180. ISBN   0-679-45088-2
  9. Norwich, 181.
  10. Norwich, 182-83.
  11. Moore, 127.


Constantine VII
Born: September 905 Died: 9 November 959
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Emperor
6 June 913 –9 November 959
with Romanos I (920–944)
Christopher Lekapenos (921–931)
Stephen Lekapenos (924–945)
Constantine Lekapenos (924–945)
Succeeded by
Romanos II