Nicephorus III Botaniates (c.1002-1081) played a prominent role in many of the key events of Byzantine history during the latter eleventh century.[] Nicephorus was a distinguished commander from the Thema of Anatolikon and a member of the military aristocracy, known as the dynatoi. Sandwiched in between the calamitous reign of Michael VII Ducas (r.1071-1078) and the recovery of Alexius I Comnenus (r.1081-1118), Nicephorus III’s reign is often characterised as an appendix to the Ducas dynasty or prelude to the Comnenian emperors.[] Yet his life and reign was ‘both long and interesting with an exemplary cursus honorum, encompassing many provincial governorships in nearly every region of the empire.’[]
The most detailed account of the life and reign of Nicephorus III is by Michael Attaliates, a Byzantine lawyer and historian, who wrote his history in the 1070s and dedicated it to Nicephorus III.[] Attaliates’ account of the emperor is highly laudatory. The author himself admitted that his account bordered on panegyric rather than history regarding Nicephorus III.[] This praiseworthy attitude stems from the fact that Attaliates was promoted in rank from that of Patrician to Vestes, which was a supreme honour. Although Attaliates was a beneficiary of Nicephorus III, he also appreciated the emperor as an experienced soldier and fellow citizen from Anatolia. The historian had also become thoroughly disillusioned with the previous government of Michael VII, who had largely lost Anatolia. Furthermore, they refused to deal with the revolt of Nicephorus Bryennius when they destroyed Attaliates’ house and lands in Rhaedestus.[] Attaliates recorded several episodes from the life of Nicephorus Botaniates from 1053 until he rebelled in October 1077. There is no information about the life of Nicephorus before this point.
Anna Comnena’s The Alexiad completes the narrative of Nicephorus III’s life covering his reign and death.[] She wrote The Alexiad between 1143-1153 and wrote her narrative from the perspective of her father Alexius Comnenus. John Scylitzes’ continuation of his Synopsis of History largely follows the narrative of Michael Attaliates but removed extraneous material that Attaliates inserted into his narrative.[] The continuation concluded with Nicephorus’ successful rebellion and the death of the eunuch and financial Logothete, Nikephoritzes. Nicephorus Bryennius’ Material for History focuses on the events of the 1070s and the rise of Alexius Comnenus.[] Michael Psellus’ Chronographia is of little use for the life of Nikephoros III.[] Psellus only mentions Botaniates once as part of a letter by Michael VII to the rebellious Botaniates, which was reproduced by Psellus.[] However, the discovery of a second manuscript of Psellus’ Chronographia has jeopardised the authenticity of this letter. The second manuscript does not mention the ‘Letter to Phocas’ and ends before Botaniates’ revolt. It has been suggested that this letter was in fact sent by Basil II (r.976-1025) to the rebel Bardas Phocas.[] John Zonaras’ Epitome of Histories also covered the life of Nicephorus III but is largely based on the history of John Scylitzes. Zonaras’ final chapter about the reign of Alexius I was derived from his experience.[]
A few non-byzantine sources treated the life and reign of Nicephorus III. William of Apulia, a Norman source who wrote in the 1090s, referred to Nicephorus in conjunction with the invasion of the Eastern Roman Empire by Robert Guiscard in 1081. Matthew of Edessa, Michael the Syrian, and Bar Hebraeus outline the reign of Nicephorus III in their chronicles but provide limited information.
Lead seals and ecclesiastical documents provide a rich source for Nicephorus III’s career beyond what was written in the histories.
Nicephorus Botaniates was born circa 1002 and was from a renowned military family from the Anatolikon Thema.[] His grandfather was Theophylact Botaniates, Doux of Thessalonica and his father was Michael Botaniates. Both of these men served as distinguished commanders in the campaigns of Basil II (r. 976-1025) against the Bulgarians and Georgians. Theophylact and Michael Botaniates won the Battle of Thessalonica in July 1014, which combined with the Battle of Kleidion Pass was a crucial double victory against the First Bulgarian Empire.[] Theophylact was subsequently killed later that year but Michael Botaniates continued to serve and fought during Basil II‘s Georgian war in 1021-1022.
Once he became emperor, Nicephorus III probably had Michael Attaliates alter the historical record. Theophylact had followed up his great triumph at the Battle of Thessalonica with an ignominious death at the hands of a Bulgar ambush, supposedly killed by the Bulgar prince, Gabriel-Radomir. Nicephorus had this changed so that his grandfather was renamed Nicephorus the Elder and was killed after being thrown from his horse at the Battle of Kleidion Pass. This also conflated the emperor’s grandfather with Nicephorus Xiphias, who played an instrumental role in the victory at Kleidion. Attaliates then removed any trace of Theophylact at the Battle of Thessalonica and made Michael the hero instead.[] John Scylitzes’ history described what actually happened.
Attaliates claimed that Nicephorus III and the Botaniates family were descendants of Nicephorus II Phocas and the Phocas family.[] In addition, he says, that through 92 generations Nicephorus III could trace his ancestry back to Constantine the Great (r. 306-337) and the Fabii family from Republican Rome.[] Scylitzes and Zonaras, although they included this genealogy in their own coverage of Nicephorus III, viewed it with scepticism.[] Botaniates used this supposed dynastic link to legitimise himself during his revolt against Michael VII. The link with Nicephorus II Phocas (r. 963-969) was especially important because it connected him to a victorious soldier emperor, which was how he wanted to present himself during his rebellion. While Attaliates probably exaggerated his patron’s lineage, a sixth century tablet from Synnada, in Phrygia, demonstrates that the family of Botaniates was quite ancient.[]
Nicephorus is known to have married Vevdene at an unknown date. However, she died shortly after she was crowned empress.[] The emperor then decided to marry the empress Eudocia Makrembolitissa, the former wife of Constantine X Ducas (r. 1059-1067) and Romanus IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071). The planned marriage was foiled because she had taken a vow not to marry again after the death of Constantine X. Secondly, she had been a nun for seven years. Lastly, third marriages were uncanonical. The emperor instead married Maria of Alania, the Georgian wife of Michael VII, which was considered adulterous because Michael VII had been forced to divorce her when he abdicated and became a monk in April 1078.[]
Nicephorus the General
The Battle of Preslav (1053) was the first event where Nicephorus Botaniates caught the attention of both contemporaries and historians. During the Pecheneg War, which lasted from 1047-1053, Constantine IX Monomachus (r. 1042-1055) assembled a large army to subdue the Pechenegs after a recent culmination of victories against the nomads.[] Under the joint-command of Michael Docianus and Basil the Syncellus, an eunuch and Dux of Bulgaria, marched to Preslav. They were met with a palisade, which the Pechenegs had built and defended. The Roman army besieged them but were unable to breach the defences and ran short of supplies. The army abandoned their camp at night, hoping to slip away unseen. Tyrach, leader of the Pechenegs, spotted the Romans and ambushed their column, killing Basil in the process. The outcome was an unmitigated disaster because most of the army was destroyed or routed.[] Amid the rout, Nicephorus Botaniates managed to rally his unit of cavalry and extricated them from the battle. The commander kept his men in a close formation so that the horse-archers of the Pechenegs inflicted minimal casualties. He then proceeded along a nearby river bank and deployed scouts that prevented his unit from being encircled or cut off from their escape route. The Pechenegs attempted to break the formation of Botaniates during this manoeuvre multiple times, but every attempt was unsuccessful. The Pechenegs tried to get Botaniates to surrender but he and his men refused. Then they shot the Roman horses dead and so they continued on foot. Nicephorus was able to hold his company together for eleven days despite constant attack. It was only after Botaniates and his men reached the outskirts of Adrianople when the Pecheneg pursuers withdrew.[]
Nicephorus is not mentioned again until the revolt of Isaac I Comnenus (r. 1057-1059) against the emperor Michael VI (r. 1056-1057) in June 1057. This revolt occurred because of the one-sided favouritism Michael VI toward the Constantinopolitan civil service. He granted them gifts, honours and titles. In contrast, Michael VI gave the eastern military aristocracy nothing but scorn and humiliation. Isaac Comnenus and his fellow officers were personally insulted by the emperor and their attempt at reconciliation was blocked by the Protosyncellus, Leo Paraspondyles.[] At the Battle of Hades/Polemon, Isaac won a decisive victory against Michael VI. The battle is reported to have been the bloodiest battle the Byzantines fought in a civil conflict during the eleventh century.[] Michael VI was deposed soon after and Isaac Comnenus became emperor on 1 September 1057.
Nicephorus Botaniates was a member of Isaac‘s revolt and participated in the Battle of Polemon/Hades. Nicephorus had become a Magistros by 1057.[] During the battle, Randolf the Frank, commander of the Frankish mercenaries, who fought for Michael VI, spotted Nicephorus after the battle was largely over, while Michael VI‘s forces fled. Randolf challenged Nicephorus to a duel and they fought each other. Nicephorus cut Randolf’s shield in two. Randolf hit Nicephoros’ helmet but the blow glanced off and after being joined by his comrades he captured Randolf.[]
From 1057-1059, Nicephoros served as Doux of the Opsikion Thema.[] Nicephorus may have participated in Isaac I‘s Hungarian campaign in 1059 in this office. During the campaign Botaniates saved the life of the future emperor Romanus Diogenes.[]
Botaniates was then designated Doux of Antioch and Edessa from 1059-1061.[] The Ducate of Antioch was an important command. The Doux was responsible for the whole of Byzantine Syria. Nicephorus’ assignment to this position was a great honour. The military situation in the east had deteriorated due to the destructive raids of the Seljuk Turks and the weakening of the eastern armies during the civil war.
In 1061, Nicephorus Botaniates was reassigned to become Doux of Thessalonica and was promoted to the rank of Proedros.[] Constantine X ordered him as Doux to investigate a complaint from Iveron monastery, situated on Mount Athos in Macedonia. Their complaint was that some of the monastery’s property and Paroikoi (the Byzantine equivalent of serfs) had been unlawfully confiscated.[] Nicephorus sent Michael Spatharocandidatus to enquire further. He reiterated a Chrysobull issued by Basil II, which stated that 60 households and 40 Paroikoi that belonged to the monastery were exempt from taxation. Therefore, they could not be confiscated.[]
The following year, Nicephorus settled another legal dispute between the Monastery of Lavra and a local landowner, called Theodoros of Aichmalotou, over some property. Nicephorus ruled in favour of the monastery.[] Following this, there was another land dispute between the Bishop of Ezoba and the monastery of Iveron. Botaniates sent his agents to inquire further and concluded that the bishop had wrongfully usurped land from the monastery. He ordered his subordinates to mark out the land that belonged to the monastery from the land of the bishop.[] A final Thessalonican legal dispute drew Nicephorus into a dispute between the monastery of Iveron and the Metochion of Melissourgeion. The Metochion had disregarded the decision previously made by the Empress Theodora (r.1055-1056) on the same issue. Nicephorus reasserted the empress’ ruling.[] In 1063, with his assignment completed, Nicephorus was likely appointed as Doux of Paristrion. The command was important because the province included the cities and Themata along the Danube.[]
In September 1064, Basil Apokapes and Nicephorus Botaniates attempted to stop an invading horde of Uzes from crossing the Danube. The Byzantines were defeated and the generals were captured.[] The two officers later escaped after the Uzes were devastated by Bulgarian raids, famine, and disease.[]
Once the Uzes’ invasion was over, Nicephorus Botaniates was sent to Cyprus to become its Doux from 1065-1067.[]
The reign of Constantine X was marked by a rapid period of decline due to frequent and determined attacks by the Turks in the east, the Normans in Italy and the Uzes in the Balkans. To compound these difficulties Constantine X economised on the army; veterans were demobilised and soldiers were not properly equipped or supplied, which led to a collapse in morale.[] The next episode in the life of Nicephoros Botaniates was a prime example of the circumstances the eastern frontier and military at the time. The Seljuk Turks and their allies, the Arabs of Aleppo raided Byzantine Syria. Botaniates was Doux of Antioch at the time, a position he held from 1067-1068.[] The government in Constantinople assembled an army to drive out the invaders. However, once the army had been organised they were only paid a fraction of their proper wages. The army received their half pay and then disbanded.[] The Muslim allies attacked again. Eudocia’s regency (r.1067) sent a company of poorly-equipped recruits to Antioch. Botaniates tried to make use of them but their total lack of equipment, provisions or even horses forced him to disband them. Botaniates recruited local soldiers and in combination with his own retinue checked the attacks of the Turks and Arabs.[]
The Turkish threat to the eastern frontier was extremely serious and the empress Eudocia decided to break her oath to her dead husband, Constantine X, not to remarry.[] She wanted to place a soldier on the throne to direct the empire’s defences. Botaniates was considered among her potential candidates but she finally decided to marry Romanus Diogenes.[] Attaliates implied that Botaniates was initially the favoured candidate for the senate but was disqualified because he was away in Syria as governor of Antioch.[]
Nicephoros Botaniates was relieved of his command of Antioch by Romanus IV. After a short period of time when he held no post, he was promoted to the rank of Protoproedros and designated Doux of Strymon and Voleron in the Balkans from 1068-1070.[] Botaniates then became Doux of Peloponnese and Hellas from 1071 – circa 1074.[] The only mention of Nicephorus during Romanus IV‘s reign was during the beginning of the Manzikert campaign in 1071.[] Romanus IV crossed the Sangarius River, in Anatolia, with his forces and mustered his army. He selected the units and men he wanted to bring with him and dismissed the remaining soldiers and officers. They were dismissed because many of them had become demoralised by the successes of the Turks and so the emperor only wanted trusted men to campaign with him in Armenia. He dismissed the officers because several of them had formed a faction and were suspected of plotting against him.[] The only ‘plotter’ that Scylitzes mentioned by name was Nicephorus Botaniates ‘and others of his sort’. Furthermore, a fire in the army’s stables the night before may have given Romanus IV cause to be suspicious of his officers. Scylitzes commented that although Romanus IV was wise to remove potential enemies from his campaign he still kept men in his army, such as Andronicus Ducas, who were disloyal.
After the disastrous Battle of Manzikert on 26 August 1071, Botaniates remained out of the civil war that followed. Nicephorus was promoted to the rank of Kouropalates once Romanus IV had been defeated by Michael VII, who became sole emperor. As Kouropalates, Botaniates was officially designated as a high-ranking general in the empire. This title was reserved for those with high esteem in the imperial court but were in no way related to the ruling dynasty. Ostracised in the reign of Romanus IV, Michael VII made Botaniates one of his most trusted generals. Botaniates was once again appointed as Doux of Opsikion after he concluded his tenure as Doux of Hellas and Peloponnese sometime before 1074.[]
The Battle of Manzikert and the subsequent civil war between Michael VII and Romanus IV left central Anatolia exposed to Turkish raids. In 1073, Michael VII sent an army of 4000 men to check the Turkish advance.[] The army was led by Isaac Comnenus, who was Domesticus of the East and the nephew of emperor Isaac I. During the campaign, Roussel Bailleul, the commander of the 400 Frankish mercenaries in the army, mutinied after Isaac punished one of his men for assaulting a local. Isaac was defeated by the Turks shortly after and Roussel set up a small Norman principality in central Anatolia. He forced local inhabitants to pay him taxes and in exchange he protected them from the Turks.
Michael VII and his government could not let Roussel’s ambitions go unchallenged. In 1074, an army, which consisted of the Varangian Guard, Frankish mercenaries and Byzantine soldiers, was sent to destroy Roussel. Michael VII‘s uncle, Caesar John Ducas, was placed in command alongside the Kouropalates, Nicephorus Botaniates.[] The two armies met at the Zompos Bridge on the Sangarius River. John offered to negotiate but Roussel refused. The Caesar attacked across the bridge, with Nicephorus in command of the rearguard. Botaniates’ forces comprised the Thema and Tagma troops from ‘the army of Phrygians and Lycaonians and also that of the Asianoi’. These regiments correspond to the Themata of Anatolikon, Cappadocia and Opsikion respectively.[] The battle went awry for Caesar John because the bridge was slippery, which made it difficult to cross. Then his Frankish mercenaries defected to Roussel, who encircled John’s forces. Lastly, Nicephorus did not aid John with his troops when the battle turned against the Romans. For whatever reason, Nicephorus chose to withdraw instead and successfully extracted his troops from the battle to his own estates in the Anatolikon Thema.[] Caesar John was defeated and captured. His son Andronikos was fatally wounded and the army that did not escape with Botaniates was lost.
After the Battle of Zompos Bridge, Nicephorus was appointed Doux of Anatolikon from 1074 until his revolt in 1077.[] Although the histories are silent on his activities, he probably utilised his standing troops to defend his homeland in the Anatolikon Thema from Turkish attack.
Nicephorus’ Revolt against Michael VII
The reign of Michael VII went from bad to worse.[] He dealt with the rebellions of Roussel, Nestor and the Bulgarians. However, the Turks managed to overrun most of Anatolia. Italy was completely lost by 1071. The northern Balkans had drifted out of imperial control and into the hands of the Pechenegs as well as other local groups, such as the Paulicians. In the words of Attaliates the Eastern Roman Empire was ‘pressed on all sides by the pangs of death.’[]
The currency continued to be debased. Refugees flooded into Constantinople from Anatolia. Famine and poverty were rife. All of these problems were exacerbated by the introduction of a granary that centralised the buying and selling of grain. The granary increased the price of grain and discouraged farmers from selling their crops, which caused widespread shortages.[] Scylitzes recorded the odium which Michael VII and his regime gained for this catastrophic policy, ‘If anyone said ‘Michael’ and did not add “Parapinakes”[] he would not thereby make it clear right away who was meant, since at that time one gold coin purchased a measure of grain less a quarter.’
Nicephorus Botaniates had defended the Thema of Anatolikon from frequent Turkish attack but was running out of men and those he did have had lost all confidence in facing the Turks. They even refused to leave their strongholds to assemble under Nicephorus’ command because they were too afraid.[]
In October 1077,[] Nicephorus rebelled against Michael VII.[] Aristocrats from the Themata of western Anatolia proclaimed Nikephorus as emperor and rallied to his cause. Alexander Kabasilas, Romanus Straboromanus, John Goudelius, Nicephorus and Theodoulos Synadenos and members of the senate.[] Roussel Bailleul escaped prison and attempted to desert to Botaniates but was caught. Botaniates mustered his available forces and organised his staff. Gifts and honours went to his followers. He eventually set out from Lampe towards Constantinople in the new year.
In November 1077, Nicephorus Bryennius, Doux of Dyrrachium rebelled and was proclaimed emperor. Michael VII and his chief minister, Nikephoritzes were in a desperate situation and confiscated church valuables to pay for soldiers and mercenaries. The act alienated the church against them.
On 7 January 1078, the senate declared Nicephorus Botaniates emperor instead of Michael VII, while Nicephorus was in the Anatolikon Thema. During Botaniates’ march, George Palaeologus and Nicephorus Melissenus abandoned his rebellion because their brother-in-law Alexios Comnenus continued to support Michael VII. Sulayman, the Seljuk Sultan was in the process of establishing a new state in central Anatolia known as the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum. Michael VII hired him to defeat Botaniates but Arisighi, a Turkish emir in Botaniates’ employ, persuaded Sulayman to join him in exchange for the city of Nicaea. Much of the surrounding area supported Nicephorus once he arrived in Nicaea.[]
On 24 March 1078, the citizens of Constantinople, senators and a synod of bishops proclaimed Botaniates emperor. They occupied the capital to depose Michael VII, who abdicated and became a monk.[] Nikephoritzes tried to escape but was caught and tortured to death.[] Nicephorus entered Constantinople and was crowned on 3 April 1078.
Consolidation of Power
Once Nicephorus III had been crowned he rewarded his supporters and handed out gifts, honours and promotions on an unprecedented scale.[] He paid the senators their rogai, the annual stipend paid to each senator. He also distributed large quantities of money to the poor and dispossessed.[] The church’s valuables were restored, the soldiers and Turks were handsomely rewarded, but this beneficence was funded with the further debasement of the currency.[]
Nicephorus III had no legitimacy. A major problem for emperors after the death of Empress Theodora was that the Macedonian dynasty, which had held power since 867, had died out. Establishing imperial continuity for a new emperor was difficult and often challenged. Botaniates had the same issue, however, he had just deposed the discredited Ducas family who were the only source of imperial legitimacy.
An opportunity arose with the death of Nicephorus III’s wife, Vevdene who died soon after being crowned empress. Her tragic death enabled the new emperor to seek a marriage from empresses of the Ducas family: Eudocia and Maria. He brought Eudocia back from exile and gave her control of three government ministries. However, their planned marriage was thwarted on the grounds that it was uncanonical. Instead, Nikephoros III married Maria of Alania. She was young, pretty and, as a foreigner, was a neutral marriage candidate.[]
The emperor relied heavily on his two household slaves, Boril and Germanus, to assist his governance of the empire. However, they were extremely unpopular.
Revolt of Nicephorus Bryennios and the Varangian Coup
When Botaniates took to the throne, his rebellious counter-part in the west Nicephorus Bryennius refused to abandon his imperial ambitions. Nicephorus III appointed Alexius Comnenus as Domestic of the West and assembled an army to defeat him. Alexius fought Bryennius at the Battle of Kalabrye. Despite being outnumbered, Alexius defeated Bryennius and captured the rebel. Bryennius was blinded on the orders of Boril but the emperor then granted him and the rest of his supporters amnesty.[] Michael Attaliates delivered an oration of thanks to Nicephorus III for this victory.
The rebellion had ended but it still had consequences. During the rebellion of Bryennius, his brother John had cut off the nose of a Varangian guardsman. The guardsmen murdered John Bryennius in revenge. Nicephorus III had the Varangian executed. During a parade, the Varangian Guard, who were drunk and angered by their comrade’s death, tried to kill their emperor. His attendants and he managed to defend themselves until the other imperial bodyguards arrived and subdued the Varangians. Afterwards the ringleaders of the coup were sent on garrison duty in provincial forts.[] Michael of Nicomedia died shortly after the coup attempt. He was the head of Nicephorus III’s administration and vehemently disputed the emperor’s generosity due to the financial ramifications. Michael of Nicomedia was notable because he may had been the same person as Michael Psellus, the famous eleventh century polymath of the Eastern Roman Empire.[] If not, he was still an experienced minister and an opponent of Nikephoritzes.
Revolt of Nicephorus Basilacius
Once Nicephorus Bryennius had been dealt with, another rebellion broke out led by Nicephorus Basilacius. He was a supporter of Bryennius and now aimed for the throne himself.[] However, Alexius Comnenus soundly defeated Basilacius, who was blinded. In June/July 1078, Alexius drove off some Pechenegs that raided the hinterlands of Adrianople.
The Paulician Insurrection of Leca and Drobomir
Turmoil in the Balkans continued. Leca of Philippopolis, a Paulician heretic, killed the bishop of Serdica and deserted to the Pechenegs. He incited them to attack the Eastern Roman Empire. Leca’s revolt was in conjunction with a rebellion by another Paulician called Drobomir. Drobomir started an insurrection in the city of Mesembria. Leca’s acts were very serious because he attempted to create a new Paulician state just as there had been in Anatolia during the 9th century. Nicephorus III despatched an army to deal with the Paulician insurgents. The two rebels failed to gain the support of the Pechenegs and surrendered to the emperor. To secure their loyalty, Nikephoros III gave them gifts and titles. After the end of the Paulician revolt, Nicephorus III and the Pechenegs ended hostilities and the latter resumed their client status. The Pechenegs did not raid the Balkans again until 1086.[]
Revolt of Constantius Ducas
Nicephorus III survived the first few months of his reign and pacified the Balkans. His next priority was to rectify the dire situation in the east. In 1078, Philaretus Brachamius, an Armenian commander who controlled most of Syria and Cilicia recognised Nicephorus III as his sovereign. The emperor granted him the position of Doux of Antioch.
At the time it was a possibility that the Byzantines could reverse the loss of central Anatolia and reconnect many of their isolated provinces together again. Syria was very important to the eastern Roman Empire. The region was rich and held Antioch, one of the ancient Patriarchates of Christianity. The diplomatic recovery of the region was seen as a great success to contemporaries, especially since Michael VII had failed to gain Brachamius’ submission. If Botaniates had succeeded in retaking Anatolia, this diplomatic success may have been more significant.[]
In 1079, Nicephorus III gathered the remnants of the imperial army and sent them to Nicaea. The aim of the expedition was to drive the Turks from Anatolia. However, the low morale of the army necessitated sending the Tagma of the Immortals to bolster their forces against the Turks. The Immortals were commanded by Constantius Ducas, the brother of Michael VII. As soon as he reached Chrysopolis Constantius rebelled and proclaimed himself emperor. Nicephorus sent emissaries who persuaded the soldiers under Constantius’ command to abandon the rebel with an offer of amnesty. Constantius was handed over and exiled to a monastery. Although another threat to Nicephorus III had been eliminated, the expedition had to be abandoned and Turkish raids continued unabated.[]
Economic and Judicial Reform
The short reign of Nicephorus III witnessed a number of internal initiatives. His two priorities were economic and judicial reform. One of the major crises that he resolved during his reign was the influx of thousands of refugees from Anatolia to Constantinople in the wake of the Turkish conquest.[] The unemployed and poor, called emboloi, had suffered from the shortages caused by the disastrous economic policies of Michael VII and Nicephoritzes.[] Nicephorus paid them using gold and honours which relieved them of their poverty.
Constantinople was lined with small jetties called skalai, the majority of which were owned by charitable institutions.[] These skalai were vital for increasing the capacity of merchant ships to supply and trade goods in the capital. Michael VII‘s government confiscated the jetties to generate more government revenues.[] The seizure of these ports seriously affected trade with the capital and many people’s livelihoods. Nicephorus III returned the jetties to their former owners, which was extremely popular. On the other hand, the substantial revenues the jetties generated had been sacrificed, which the government desperately needed.
All public debts were written off that had accrued before Nicephorus III’s reign. Creditors were restricted from demanding a debt be repaid sooner than expected. Creditors were also forbidden from seizing a debtor’s property to pay their debt.[] Nicephorus III’s laws, in Attaliates’ words, ‘put an end to the fear of debt’ which had ruined many people during his reign of Michael VII. By the reign of Alexius Comnenus the issue of shortages and mass destitution in Constantinople had seemingly been resolved through these measures. However, these policies came at the expense of the government’s solvency and combined with the distribution of honours deepened the empire’s financial crisis.
The issue of shortages and refugees was part of a much wider economic crisis. The devaluation of the coinage had thrown the economy into chaos with rising prices and lack of trust in newly minted coins.[] In 1079, Nicephoros III’s government revised its tax registers to compensate for the poor quality of coinage it received. John Kataphloron undertook an extensive fresh assessment of the region of Thessalonica and increased taxes. The monastery of Lavra had paid 46 and seven twenty-fourths of gold nomismata per year. The assessment revised the payment to 79 and three quarters of gold nomismata per year. The increase was largely due to inflation and the currency’s debasement.[]
To pay for the emperor’s benefactions, the empire’s expenses and the emperor’s economic policies, the currency was debased even further. The gold content of the nomisma fell from 58% to 35% from 1078-1081, a total of a 23% reduction in three years, which was an enormous devaluation. The devaluation was greater than that of any previous emperor during the eleventh century and only surpassed by Alexius I in the first decade of his reign.[] The value of silver and copper coinage also fell. Nicephorus III debased silver coins by 36% from 71% under Romanus IV to 45% by 1081. The copper coinage halved in value from 24 folles to the pound to 48 during the years 1068-1081.[] The state was bankrupt and officials’ pensions and salaries were suspended.[] Nicephorus III’s economic policies were criticised at the time by Michael of Nicomedia, Nicephorus III’s chief minister, who sharply disagreed with the emperor’s generosity.[]
Attaliates praised Nicephorus III for attempting to improve his education and for his care in hearing court cases. Although, Nicephoros III was not well educated, even known to misspell his own name, Nicephorus III took his role of emperor seriously. Attaliates lauded the emperor’s attempt to educate himself at night despite being in his late 70s.[]
The monastery of Peribleptus in Constantinople was restored by Nicephorus III.[]
Nicephorus III promoted his military pedigree through Attaliates’ History. Attaliates changed the fate and identity of the emperor’s grandfather in his history from being killed in an ambush by the Bulgars in 1018, to being thrown from his horse during the Battle of Kleidion. The role of his grandfather in the defence of Thessalonica in July 1018 was wholly given to his father, Michael Botaniates.[]
In 1079, several legal issues were resolved and laws introduced. The first law concerned spousal insanity. The second extended the time between the passing of sentence and execution to thirty days. New evidence could be submitted to exonerate the accused and allowed a judge to review whether the crime warranted the death penalty.[] Imperial servants were accorded the same rights and protection under the law as to private ones so that they were not arbitrarily mistreated by an emperor.[] Although these may be considered minor reforms, they nonetheless show Nicephorus III’s desire to rectify some of the issues that blighted the Byzantine state, especially with the fall of Anatolia and constant civil strife. He followed a trend in the eleventh century for judicial reform and a Humanist approach to justice.
As a childless septuagenarian, Nicephorus III needed a successor. The empress, Maria of Alania, still hoped her son Constantine Ducas would succeed as emperor. However, as was natural for any usurper, Nicephorus III wanted to establish his own dynasty on the throne. Furthermore, Constantine was six years old in 1080 and ill-suited to rule an empire on the threshold of collapse. The emperor chose his nephew, Nicephorus Synadenus, as his heir because he was young, strong, intelligent and had participated in Botaniates’ revolt. The decision was a political disaster. Maria of Alania supported the scheming Comnenian family to protect the inheritance of her son.[] From Nicephorus III’s perspective, Nicephorus Synadenus was a good choice to continue his line and secured the impending issue of the succession. He also arranged a marriage between Synadenus and the niece of Alexius Comnenus.[]
The Revolts of Nicephorus Melissenus and Alexius Comnenus
The Balkans had been stablised but in the east the Turks continued to make gains. In 1080, they took Cyzicus.[] In Italy, Robert Guiscard prepared to invade the Eastern Roman Empire to place a man claiming to be Michael VII Ducas on the throne.[] Inside the empire, Anna Dalassena and her sons Isaac and Alexius Comnenus plotted against Botaniates.
Nicephorus Melissenus rebelled on the island of Cos. He travelled to Anatolia to gain support from the Turks. They took several cities and installed Turkish garrisons in them. To prevent even further disaster in Anatolia, Nicephorus III despatched Alexius Comnenus to deal with the rebel.[] Alexius refused to lead the army against his brother-in-law Melissenus and lacked sufficient forces to challenge the Turks. Instead the emperor appointed John the Protovestiarius, a eunuch, to command the army against Melissenus. They marched to Nicaea but withdrew. The issue of low morale when facing the Turks was still present.[] Meanwhile, Nicephorus III’s slaves Boril and Germanus kept a close watch over the Comnenian clan. Discovering a Comnenian plot to usurp their master they planned to blind Alexios and Isaac to remove them as a threat.[] Alexios and Isaac were informed of Boril and Germanus’ intentions and rebelled on 14 February 1081.[]
On 1 April 1081, Alexius arrived at Constantinople, which was defended by German mercenaries, called the Nemitzoi, soldiers from Choma, local volunteers, the Varangian Guard and the Immortals. Alexius persuaded the German mercenaries to open the gates. The rebels entered Constantinople and proceeded to pillage their capital city. Botaniates decided that his only option was to abdicate in favour of Nicephorus Melissenus, who was in Damalis in Anatolia. The emperor planned to send messengers across the Bosphorus to reach him, but George Palaeologus, one of Alexius‘ most trusted friends, intercepted the messengers and persuaded them to support Alexius as the next emperor.
The rebel soldiers had abandoned Alexius and a few of his retainers for plunder, putting them in a vulnerable position. Nicephorus Palaeologus, the father of George Palaeologus, pleaded with Nicephorus III to allow him to lead the Varangian Guard against the Comnenians and wipe out the rebels. Nicephorus III refused Palaeologus’ request to prevent further bloodshed. Instead Nicephorus Palaeologus was asked to offer Alexius terms. He would be granted amnesty, be adopted as Nicephorus III’s son and raised to the rank of senior co-emperor. Alexius accepted the offer but it was ultimately rejected by Caesar John Ducas.
Boril took it upon himself to organise the loyalist soldiers and prepared to purge the city of the rebels. However, before the butchery began Nicephorus III was convinced by the Patriarch to step down. The emperor retreated to the church of St Sophia and sought sanctuary within its walls.[] Nicephorus III was then escorted by Alexius‘ loyalists to the monastery of Peribleptus. He formerly abdicated and became a monk. Nicephorus III Botaniates died later that year.[]
Most modern historians are highly dismissive of Nicephorus III Botaniates. Under his leadership, the honours system was inflated by unparalleled imperial generosity, the nomisma was debased further, the frontiers disintegrated, rebellions were commonplace and a poor, political choice of successor saw him removed from the throne.[] The opinions of Byzantine authors on Nicephorus III can be grouped into two camps. Michael Attaliates, John Zonaras and John Scylitzes’ Continuation are generally favourable to his reign. Anna Comnena, Nicephorus Bryennius and later authors are generally hostile or indifferent to the emperor.[]
Nicephorus III Botaniates was an accomplished soldier and governor. When he seized the throne, the empire suffered from serious problems and tough choices were made. He exacerbated the declining economic situation with his unparalleled generosity and debasement of the currency. However, the shortages and financial chaos that resulted from the economic policies of Michael VII‘s government and the fall of Anatolia ended. Many people’s livelihoods were restored. Whereas the economic crisis was a problem that none of Nicephorus III’s predecessors managed to reverse nor his successor until 1092, he alleviated his people from starvation, debt and destitution.
Through the wise appointment of competent generals and officials, every rebel was defeated and the Pechenegs driven out. The foundations for reversing the situation in Anatolia were laid with the return to loyalty of Philaretus Brachamius and fielding an army in Bithynia. His small achievements proved emphemral due to the increasing problem of poor military morale against the Turks and frequent rebellions.
Nicephorus III’s choice of successor, although typically seen as a ‘stupid’ decision, was a natural one for any ruler. The foolishness of the idea stems more from hindsight. Its major consequence was that it alienated Maria of Alania into joining the conspiracy of the Comnenians. Alexios I followed in Nicephorus III’s stupidity by appointing his own heir as well rather than the young Constantine Ducas.
Nicephorus III was active, took his role as emperor seriously and confronted each challenge as they arose. He was respected enough to inspire the unflinching loyalty of the once rebellious Varangian Guard, the soldiers from Choma and many others during the moment of his deposition. Ultimately, his age was his greatest drawback. A young Nicephorus III may have been as successful as Alexius I but he was in his late seventies. His career was nearing its end even had he crushed Alexius I‘s assault on Constantinople. Along with Alexius there was also the impending Norman invasion to consider as well. To prevent the capital’s streets running red with the blood of his subjects, Nicephorus III passed the baton of empire from his old hands to the young ones of Alexius I Comnenus.
Aristakes Lastivertsi, History Regarding the Sufferings Occasioned by Foreign Peoples Living Around Us, Translation by Robert Bedrosian, (1985).
Anna Komnene, The Alexiad, Translated by E. R. A. Sewter, (2009) revised edition by Peter Frankopan.
Bar Hebraeus, The Chronography of Gregory Abu’l Faraj, the son of Aaron, the Hebrew physician, commonly known as Bar Hebraeus, being the first part of his Political History of the World, translated from the Syriac, I-II, Translated by E. A Wallis Budge (1932).
John Skylitzes, A Synopsis of Byzantine History 811-1057, Translated by John Wortley, (2010).
John Skylitzes Continuatus, Byzantium in the Time of Troubles: The Continuation of the Chronicle of John Skylitzes (1057-1079), Translated by Eric McGeer and John W. Nesbitt (2020).
John Zonaras, Historical Epitome, Vol 1-3, C.S.H.B., Pinder (1841), (1844), (1897).
Matthew of Edessa, Chronicle, Translation by Robert Bedrosian, (2017).
Michael Attaleiates, The History, Translated by Anthony Kaldellis, and Demtris Krallis (2012).
Michael Psellus, Chronographia, Translated by E.R.A. Sewter (1953).
Michael the Syrian, Chronicle, Translation by Robert Bedrosian (2013).
Nesbitt, J. and Oikonomides, N. and McGeer, E. (1991-2009) Catalogue of Byzantine Seals At Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art, Vol. I-VI, Washington D.C.
Nikephoros Bryennius, Materials for History, Edition by P. Gautier, Bruxelles (1975).
William of Apulia, The Deeds of Robert Guiscard, Translation by Loud, G.A. (2000).
Lefort, J., Oikonomidès, N., Papachryssanthou, D., Métrévéli, H., Kravari, V. Papacostas (1985-1990) Actes d’Iviron, Actes de l’Athos Vol. XIV and XVI, Paris.
Lemerle, P., Guillou, A., Svoronos, N. Papacostas, T. (1970) Actes de Lavra. Première partie: Des origines à 1204, Archives de l’Athos Vol. V, Paris.
Angold, M. (1997) The Byzantine Empire, 1025-1204: A Political History — Second Edition, London.
Buckler, G. (1931) ‘A Sixth Century Botaniates’ in Byzantion 6, 405-410.
Cheynet, J.-C. (1990) Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance (963-1210), Paris.
Haldon, J. (2008) The Byzantine Wars, Gloucestershire.
Hussey, J.M., The Byzantine Empire in the Eleventh Century: Some Different Interpretations (London, 1950).
Karagiorgou, O. (2008) ‘On the way to the throne: the career of Nikephoros III Botaniates before 1078,’ in Hypermachos, Festschrift für Werner Seibt zum 65. Geburtstag, Wien 2008, pp. 105-132.
Kornberger, F. L.-S. (2018) ‘A Narrative Approach on the Dedication of Michael Attaleiates’ History to the Emperor Nikephoros III Botaniates’ in Praktiká 9ou Synedríou Metaptychiakón Phoitetón kai Ypopsephíon Didaktóron tou Tmématos Philologiás. Ethnikó kai Kapodistriakó Panepistémio Athénon 4-7 Oktobríou 2017: Byzantiné Philología.
Krallis, D., Michael Attaleiates and the Politics of Imperial Decline in Eleventh-Century Byzantium (Arizona, 2012).
Laiou, A. E., (1992) ‘Imperial Marriages and Their Critics in the Eleventh Century: The Case of Skylitzes’ in Dumbarton Oaks Papers Vol. 46, Homo Byzantinus: Papers in Honor of Alexander Kazhdan (1992) 165-176.
Leidholm, Nathan (2018) ‘Nikephoros III Botaniates, the Phokades, and the Fabii: embellished genealogies and contested kinship in eleventh-century Byzantium’ in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 42 (2) 185-201.
Mango, Cyril (1972) The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453: Sources and Documents — 1986 Reprint, Toronto.
de Medeiros Publio Dias, J. V. ‘Nikephoros III. Botaniates (1078-1081), der konstruierte Versager’, in Der Herrscher als Versager?! Göttingen: V&R; Unipress, 2019 (Kraftprobe Herrschaft Band 1), pp. 297-320.
Mullet, M. and Smythe, D. (1996) Alexios I Komnenos: Papers, Belfast.
Neville, L. Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-century Byzantium: The Material for History of Nikephoros Bryennius (Cambridge, 2012).
Polemis, D. I (1968) The Doukai; A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (London).
Strong, S. (2018) ‘Nikephoros III Botaniates and Nikephoros Bryennios: The Means and Ends to Usurp an Imperial Throne and the Precedent it set for Alexios I Komnenos in 1081 AD’ in Apprendistato dello Storico III (2019). Dialettiche del Potere: rivendicazione, usurpazione, giustificazione, 30-31 Maggio 2019 (Università degli studi di Roma – La Sapienza, 2019).
Reinsch, D. R. ‘Theophylaktos Simokattes in der Kanzlei Kaiser Basileios’ II. Zur graphé tou Basileos pros ton Phokan am Ende der Chronographia des Michael Psellos,’ in JOB 58 (2008), 147-151.
Treadgold, W., A History of the Byzantine State and Society (Stanford, 1997).
Valeriev, I. (2010) ‘Unpublished Seal of Nikephoros Botaniates as a Proedros and Doux of Antioch’ in Pontica vol. 43 (2010) p.425-433.
[]For general overviews of the history of the eleventh century and specifically the reign of Nicephorus III see Kaldellis, 2017: 266-270; Angold, 1997: 102-106; Treadgold, 1997: 607-611.
[] Kaldellis, 2017: 266, ‘Botaniates’ reign was basically an extension of the Ducas dynasty,’ and de Medeiros Publio Dias, 2018: 297, ‘ His government is normally only seen as a prelude to the important, but at the same time controversial rule of Alexios I Komnenos.’
[]Karagiorgou, 2008: 105.
[]Treadgold, 2013: 312-329.
[]Attaleiates, History, 33.10.
[]Attaleiates, 31.4, 8.
[]Treadgold, 2013: 354-386.
[]Wortley, 2010: IX-XXXIII; McGeer and Nesbitt, 2020: 5-29; Treadgold, 2013: 329-339.
[]Treadgold, 2013: 344-354.
[]Treadgold, 2013: 271-308.
[]Psellos, 7.Michael VII.18-20.
[]Deither Reinsch, 2008: 147-151.
[]Treadgold, 2013: 388-399.
[]Attaliates, 27.2; Scylitzes, 23.6 (488).
[]Scylitzes, 348-351; Attaliates, 29.2-7.
[]Kaldellis, 2017: 326-327. The author was confused by the two accounts but failed to consider the motivations or propaganda behind changing the events in the account of Attaliates compared to Scylitzes. Both historians likely used a common source for Theophylact and Michael Botaniates, most likely Theodore of Sebastea.
[]Attaliates, 27.6-28.8; Skylitzes Continuatus, 172.
[]The subject of the emperor’s lineage is discussed by Leidholm, N. (2018) ‘Nikephoros III Botaniates, the Phokades, and the Fabii: embellished genealogies and contested kinship in eleventh-century Byzantium’ in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 42 (2) 185-201.
[]Scylitzes, 172; Zonaras, XVIII.17.14-18.
[]Buckler, 1931: 405-410.
[]Skylitzes Continuatus, VII.2 (181).
[]See Laiou, 1992: 165-176, for the marital entanglements of eleventh century emperors, such as Nicephorus III.
[]Kaldellis, 2018: 199-201.
[]Attaliates, 7.9-12; Scylitzes, 21.28 (475-476).
[]Attaliates, 11.1-2; Psellus, 7.1-3; Scylitzes, 23.6 (488); Kaldellis, 2017: 216-217.
[]Aristakes, 131; Attaliates, 11.4-5; 23.8-10 (492-495); Kaldellis, 2017: 218-219.
[]Attaliates, 11.6. It is possible that he became Magistros at some point between 1053-1057.
[]Scylitzes, 23.10 (494-495). Scylitzes prefaces this tale with ‘they say’.
[]Karagiorgou, 2008: 107-108.
[]Attaliates, 16.8; Kaldellis, 2017:222-223. Kaldellis and Krallis, 2012: 601, date Nicephorus’ saving of Romanus to 1059 while fighting the Hungarians. This is based on the assumption that the Sauromatai were the Hungarians. If this is not the case I would place the saving of Romanus IV in 1064-1065 during the Uzes invasion.
[]Karagiorgou, 2008: 108-111.
[]Karagiorgou, 2008: 111-115.
[]Iveron, 2.90.4-7, 2.91.22-24.
[]Iveron, 2.97.11-14, 2.102.9-13.
[]Valeriev, 2010: 428; McGeer and Nesbitt, 2020: 62.
[]Attaliates, 14.6; Scylitzes Continuatus, II.5 (113-114) Kaldellis, 2017: 236.
[]Scylitzes Continuatus, II.6 (115).
[]Bar Hebraeus, X.254; Karagiorgou, 2008: 129.
[]Kaldellis, 2018: 231-238.
[]Karagiorgou, 2008: 115-116; Valeriev, 2010: 427-428.
[]Attaliates, 16.6; Scylitzes Continuatus, III.4 (120-121); Karagiorgou, 2008: 115-117.
[]Attaliates, 16.8-14; Kaldellis, 2017: 238-241.
[]Attaliates, 16.7; Scylitzes Continuatus, III.5 (121).
[]Attaliates, 16.6; Karagiorgou, 2008:116; Valeriev, 2010: 427. Although no source specifically says it was Romanus IV that relieved Nicephorus of his command of Antioch, the dating of his lead seals from being in command to not changed at roughly this time in early 1068. His removal was likely due to his being the second most favoured candidate for the throne by Eudocia’s government and Romanus needed to neutralise him. The sequence of events seems to corroborate the statements by the sources that Botaniates was considered as Eudocia’s new husband in 1067.
[]Karagiorou, 2008: 117-118; Valeriev 2010: 427.
[]Kaldellis, 2017: 246-248; Angold, 1997: 44-48; Haldon, 2008: 168-181.
[]Scylitzes Continuatus, V.3 (143.17-18); Psellus, 7.Michael VII.18. Sewter speculated that the reference in the ‘Letter to Phocas’ previous retirement may have been to Romanus IV’s dismissal of Botaniates from the Manzikert campaign in 1071.
[]Karagiorgou, 2008: 119-120.
[]Kaldellis, 2017: 257.
[]Attaliates, 23.3-4; Bryennius, 166-172; Scylitzes Continuatus, VI.6 (158); Kaldellis, 2017: 258.
[]Bryennius, 169.15-18. These Themata are guesses but they occupy the same areas as the ancient regions Bryennius mentioned. They are also close to the route the Roman army took and Zompos bridge. Botaniates was also Dux of Opsikion.
[]Attaliates, 23.4; Bryennius, 171.3-7.
[]Bryennius, 55.3; Karagiorgou, 2008: 120-124; Valeriev, 2010: 427. Karagiorgou guessed that Nicephorus became Dux of Anatolikon in 1075.
[]Angold, 1997: 117-124; Kaldellis, 2017: 252-264.
[]Attaliates, 25.4-6; Scylitzes Continuatus, VI.12. (162).
[]Meaning short a quarter or less a quarter.
[]Scylitzes Continuatus, VI.28. (172); Bryennius, 61.25-27; Zonaras, XVIII.17.14; Psellus, 7.Michael VII.18-20; Attaliates, 27.4, says Botaniates was proclaimed emperor on 2 July 1078. This is an error. An omen occurred on 3rd October while Nicephorus erected his imperial tent. It stands to reason that his revolt took place on the first or second of the month.
[]Kaldellis, 2017: 264-266; Angold, 1997: 123-124.
[]Scylitzes, VI.28 (172); Cheynet, 1990: 84-85, 349-355, lengthy discussion of the rebellion.
[]Scylitzes Continuatus, VII.15 (186); Bryennius, 3.15-26; Attaliates, 32.16.
[]Attaliates, 33.5; Scylitzes Continuatus, VII.1 (179); Bryennius, 4.1; Kaldellis, 2017: 266.
[]Comnena, III.2; Scylitzes Continuatus, VII.5 (181-182).
[]Bryennius, 4.16-28; Attaliates, 34.4-8; Scylitzes Continuatus, VII.2-4 (179-182); Comnena, I.4-7.
[]Attaliates, 35.1-2; Scylitzes Continuatus, VII.4 (181); Kaldellis, 2017: 267-268.
[]Attaliates, 35.3; For a summary of the debate around the identity of Michael of Nicomedia see Treadgold, 2013: 272-273.
[]Attaliates, 35.4-7; Scylitzes, Continuatus, VII.6 (182-183); Komnene, 1.7-9; Bryennius, 4.16-428; Kaldellis, 2017: 268.
[]Attaliates, 35.11-12; Scylitzes Continuatus, VII.9, 13 (184).
[]Attaliates, 35.10; Scylitzes Continuatus, VII.8 (184); Kaldellis, 2017: 268; Cheynet, 1990: 82, 298, 398-399.
[]Attaliates, 36.5-7; Scylitzes Continuatus, VII.11 (185); Kaldellis, 2017: 268.
[]Mullet and Smythe, 1996: 167-170; Angold, 1997:81-83.
[]Lavra, 219-223, 263-269; Mullet and Smythe, 1996: 173-174.
[]Laiou, 2002: 931-932.
[]Laiou, 2002: 932.
[]Angold, 1997: 125.
[]Attaliates, 1.2, 36.10; Karagiorgou, 2008: 113.
[]Mango, 1986: 217-218, 227-228.
[]Attaliates, 29.2-3; Scylitzes, 16.36 (350-351).
[]Comnena, I.12; William of Apulia, 4.5.
[]Kaldellis, 2017: 268-269.
[]Comnena, II.4; Zonaras, XVIII. 20.727; Angold, 1997: 126.
[]Comnena, II.9-12; Zonaras, XVIII.20.727-730; Kaldellis, 2017:269-270.
[]Comnena, III.1. A date of 10 December 1081 has been suggested but I have yet to find any evidence that this date is correct.
[]Treadgold, 1997:607-611; Kaldellis, 2017: 266-270; Angold, 1997:124-127.
[]For a full discussion of the reputation of Nicephorus III see de Mederios Publio Dias, 2019: 304-315.