previous next

Joannes I. Zimisces

Ἰωάννης Τζιμισκῆς), emperor of Constantinople (A. D. 969-976), was descended from an illustrious Armenian family. He was the grandson of Theophilus, whose name was conspicuous during the reign of Romanus I. Lecapenus, and the grand-nephew of Curcuas, the brother of Theophilus, who was still more eminent. The surname Zimisces was given to Joannes on account of his diminutive size, that word signifying in the Armenian language a man of very small stature. Zimisces served from his early youth in the Greek armies, and astonished both his friends and foes by the heroic deeds which he performed on the field of battle. During the regency of Theophano, the widow of the emperor Romanus, Nicephorus Phocas became the leader of the empire, and was constantly supported by Zimisces, who saved him from ruin when the eunuch Bringas conspired against his life. Believing that the friendship between Nicephorus and Zimisces was only pretended, Bringas wrote to Zimisces, offering him great reward--perhaps the crown--if he would kill Nicephorus, but Zimisces not only showed the letter to his friend, but urged him to assume the imperial crown. This Nicephorus did in 963, and reigned as colleague of the two minor sons of Romanus and Theophano, Basil II. and Constantine VIII. Nicephorus married the widow Theophano, and appointed Zimisces second commander of the armies, himself being the first. In this capacity Zimisces performed such extraordinary exploits, and gained such decisive victories, that he became the idol of the army, and was acknowledged to be the first general in the East. The Arabs were then masters of all Syria and Cilicia. In the battle at Adana (963) they were routed with great slaughter by Zimisces, and 5000 of their veteran troops having entrenched themselves on a steep hill, refusing to surrender, the gallant commander of the Greeks put himself at the head of a chosen body, stormed the entrenchments, and exterminated the infidels. Henceforth that hill was called the bloodhill. In the following year Zimisces conquered the greater part of Cilicia, crossed Mount Amanus, entered Syria, and spread terror through the valley of the Orontes. Mopsuestia, which was then called Massissa, resisted the protracted siege of Nicephorus, who gave up all hopes of taking it, and was retiring, when Zimisces approached with a few brave troops, and took the town by storm. His eminent services were rewarded with ingratitude. Through the intrigues of the emperor's brother, Leo, he was deprived of his command, and sent into exile. The empress Theophano, however, who was his mistress in secret, contrived that he should be sent to Chalcedon, opposite Constantinople. From Chalcedon Zimisces continued his adulterous intercourse with Theophano, and was received by her in disguise in the very apartments of her husband. They concerted a plan to kill Nicephorus, and to have Zimisces proclaimed emperor. In the night of the 11th to the 12th of December, 969, Zimisces crossed the Bosporus with a few daring followers, and having been wound up, by means of baskets attached to ropes, to the upper story of the imperial palace by some of the servants of the empress, they were led to the bedroom of Nicephorus, who soon fell under their weapons. Before he expired he was exposed to most unmerciful tortures, and, abusing him with the most opprobrious terms, Zimisces broke his jaw-bone with the pommel of his sword.

Being proclaimed emperor, Zimisces imitated the example of his unfortunate predecessor, and reigned as colleague of the two sons of Romanus. His first act was to send his enemy Leo, the brother of Nicephorus, into exile; his second, to obey the summons of Polyeuctes, the patriarch of Constantinople, who urged him to banish Theophano; his third, to divide part of his property among the poor, and spend the rest in building a vast and splendid hospital on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus. He then sent his general Nicolaus against the Arabs, who were besieging Antioch with the flower of their army; and his general Bardas Sclerus against the Russians, who had overrun and traversed Bulgaria, and laid siege to Adrianople. Both of the generals were successful, and the Greek arms obtained decisive victories in Europe and Asia. The triumph of Zimisces was checked by a rebellion of Bardas Phocas, the son of the exiled Leo, who assumed the imperial title at Caesareia, and was supported by his father and his brother Nicephorus; but the rebellion was soon quelled, and Leo and Nicephorus were taken prisoners, and condemned to death. The emperor, nevertheless, spared their lives, and sent them into exile, till, having rebelled a second time, they were blinded, and kept in confinement. Bardas Phocas having surrendered to Bardas Sclerus, was compelled to assume the monastic habit, and to spend the rest of his life in a convent in Chios. Previous to these events (970), Zimisces, who was then a widower, having lost his wife Maria, the sister of Bardas Sclerus, married Theodora, the daughter of Constantine Porphyrogenneta, and the sister of the late Romanus II., a marriage agreeable to the Greeks, who revered the memory of the learned and mild Constantine. Meanwhile, the Russians had again invaded Bulgaria; and they would have formed lasting settlements in that country but for the valour of Zimisces, who took the command in the field, while a Greek fleet sailed up the Danube, cutting off the retreat of the northern barbarians. Parasthlava, the capital of the Bulgarian kingdom, had been taken by the Russians, and the Bulgarian king, Bosisa, was kept there by the Norman Sventislav (Sviatoslav, Wenceslaus), or Sphendosthlaba, as the Greeks call him, the prince of the Russians of Kiew. Under the walls of Parasthlava the Russians suffered a bloody defeat; a large body of their best troops, who defended the castle, was cut to pieces; and Zimisces once more gave proof of military genius and undaunted courage. Sphendosthlaba made peace, and withdrew to Russia, while Bosisa was generously re-established by Zimisces on his hereditary throne. These events were followed by the marriage of Theophano or Theophania--not the banished empress, but the daughter of the late emperor Romanus II.--with Otho II., Roman emperor and king of Germany. A fresh war with the Arabs called the emperor from his capital to Syria. Zimisces fought with his usual fortune, defeated the Arabs in several pitched battles, and pursued them as far as the confines of Palestine, when they sued for peace. On his return to Europe the emperor beheld with pleasure a large extent of land in Cilicia, covered with beautiful villas and thriving farms; but having been informed that those fine estates belonged to the eunuch Basilius, who was one of the principal officers of his household, " Is it for eunuchs," he cried out, " that brave men fight, and we endure the hardships of so many campaigns! " Basilius was informed of this, but disguised his apprehensions or anger. A few days afterwards, however, Zimisces felt symptoms of a serious illness; he grew worse and worse, and on his arrival in his capital he was on the verge of death. He expired shortly after his return, on the 10th of January, 976, at the age of fifty-one, leaving the memory of one of the most distinguished rulers of the Byzantine empire. His successor was Basil II., who reigned together with his brother Constantine VIII. (Cedren. vol. ii. p. 375-415, ed. Bonn; Zonar. 16.28, &c, 17.1-5; Leo Diaconus, 1. iii.--ix , 10.100.1-12.)

[W.P]

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
976 AD (1)
969 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: