Theophano (10th century)

Theophano (10th century)

Theophano was a Byzantine empress. She was the daughter-in-law of Constantine VII; wife of Romanos II; wife of Nikephoros II Phokas; lover of John I Tzimiskes; the mother of Basil II, Constantine VIII and the princess Anna Porphyrogenita, who later married the Russian prince Vladimir.

Becoming Empress

This beautiful but considerably amoral woman played an important role in 10th century Byzantine history. An innkeeper's daughter by the name of Anastaso, the crown-prince Romanos fell in love with her around the year 956 and married her. After their marriage, she was renamed "Theophano", after Theophano, a sainted Empress of the Macedonian dynasty.

She is rumoured to have poisoned her father-in-law, the emperor Constantine VII (in complicity with her husband Romanos). Constantine died in 959, but he died of a fever which lasted several months, not showing evidence of poisoning. Romanos' dependence upon his wife for advice and support allowed her to dominate the empire during his short reign.

Partnership with Nikephoros Phokas

On March 15, 963, Emperor Romanos II died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-six. Again, Theophano was rumoured to have poisoned him, although she had nothing to gain and everything to lose from this action. Their sons Basil II and Constantine VIII were heirs and Theophano was named regent. However she realized that to secure power she needed to align her interest with the strongest general at the time, Nikephoros Phokas. As the army had already proclaimed him as an Emperor in Caesarea, Nikephoros entered Constantinople on August 15, broke the resistance of Joseph Bringas (a eunuch palace official who had become Romanos' chief counsellor) in bloody street fights, and on 16 August he was crowned in the Hagia Sophia. After that he married Theophano, thereby legitimizing his reign by marrying into the Macedonian dynasty.

The marriage proved controversial as Nikephoros had been god-father to one or more of Theophano's children, which placed them within a prohibited spiritual relationship. It should also be noted that the Orthodox Church only begrudgingly recognized second marriages. Thus even before the issue of his having been the god-father of at least one of Theophano's children surfaced the Patriarch, Polyeuctus, banned Nikephoros from kissing the holy altar on the grounds that he must perform the penance for contracting a second marriage first. In the issue of his role as godfather, however, Nikephoros organised a council at which it was declared that since the relevant rules had been pronounced by the iconoclast Constatine V Copronymus, it was of no effect. Polyeuctus did not accept the council as legitimate, and proceeded to excommunicate Nikephoros and insist that he would not relent until Nikephoros put away Theophano. In response, Bardas Phokas and another person testified Nikephoros was not in fact godfather to any of Theophano's children, at which Polyeuctus relented and allowed Nikephoros to return to full-fellowship in the church and keep Theophano as his wife. (Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Apogee. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 1992, p. 192-194)


However, not too long after, she became lover to a young and brilliant general, John Tzimiskes. They soon began to conspire against Nikephoros. She prepared the assassination and John and his friends implemented it on the night between 10 and 11 December 969. The emperor was now John I Tzimiskes (969-976).


However, Theophano badly miscalculated in the hope of becoming the wife of the new ruler. Slain Nikephoros found his avenger in the Patriarch Polyeuktos, who was determined to punish the crime. He demanded John to repent, to punish the murderers (his helpers and friends), and to remove Theophano from the court. John was forced to submit to the Patriarch’s requests. Only then was he allowed to enter the church and be crowned emperor.

Theophano was first sent into exile to the island of Prinkipo (sometimes known as "Prote"). However, shortly afterwards, she made a reappearance in the capital, seeking asylum in the Hagia Sophia, where, however, she was forcibly removed on the orders of the Chamberlain Basil, who condemned her to exile in distant Armenia. Before this, he granted her request of an audience with the Emperor John, who surprisingly agreed to attend. Once there however, he was subjected to a torrent of abuse from the former empress, who then physically attacked the chamberlain, landing several telling blows. And according to Gibbon, she avowed the illegitimacy of her son, Basil II and hurled abuse at him as he stood silent, accepting the rule of his (soon to be) uncle, John Tzimiskes.

It is possible that after the succession of her sons to the throne that she was able to return to Constantinople.


Theophano and Romanos II had at least three children:
# Basil II
# Constantine VIII
# Anna, who married Vladimir I of Kiev.

Theophanu, consort Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor has been suggested as the fourth daughter of the couple. Current research holds that her actual father was Konstantinos Skleros (Κωνσταντίνος Σκληρός), brother of the pretender Bardas Skleros (Βάρδας Σκληρός) and her mother was Sophia Phokaina (Σοφία Φώκαινα), niece of Nikephoros II.


*"History of the Byzantine State" by Georgije Ostrogorski
*"Byzantium: The Apogee" by John Julius Norwich

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