Page 1013

1013 ROME-MACEDONIAN DYNASTY.

to share with them his royal food, consisting

of radishes and water. Constantine VII., now

in the fortieth year of his nominal reign, was

called from his retirement to be, in reality,

Emperor of the East. His reign continued

for fifteen years; but his temper was little

suited to the stormy arena of public affairs,

and, leaving the management of the government to the Empress Helena, he sought the

more congenial task of educating his son. In

the year 959 he died, not without the suspicion of poison, and left the crown to his heir,

Romanus II.

The prince, now in his twenty-first year,

was suspected of having contributed to his

father's death; but that criminal event must

be referred rather to the wickedness of Theophano, the wife of Romanus, who was willing

to go up to the Imperial seat over the dead

body of her husband's father. The Emperor

himself, however, was a ruler insensible to

the opportunities of greatness. His ignoble

ambitions ran to waste on hunting and the

circus, while the government was left to his

ministers. The chief distinction of his brief

reign was due to the deeds of his two generals, Nicephorus and Leo, who waged successful warfare with the Saracens. At last Theophano wearied of her commonplace lord, and

gave him a cup of poison. She then procured

the proclamation of herself as regent during

the minority of her two sons, afterwards Basil II. and Constantine IX.

The wicked Empress, however, had no hold

Upon public confidence. Soon discovering the

uncertain tenure of a throne obtained by the

darkest crimes, she sought to make her present

rank secure by a popular marriage. To this

end she chose for her second husband the

brave general Nicephorus Phocas. The latter was one of the most remarkable characters

of his age. He combined in himself the dispositions of a soldier and a monk. Though greatly

distinguished as a warrior, he chose to wear a

gown of hair-cloth. He fasted. He adopted

the priestly idiom and declared with doubtful

truthfulness his wish to retire from the management of the state for the solitary pleasures

of the cloister. He had been commander of

the Oriental armies, but having gained the ascendancy over the other leaders his piety

did not prevent him from marching on Constantinople and declaring his collusion with the

schemes of the Empress. He was declared

Augustus in the year 963, but the popularity

which had been evoked by his religious zeal

soon disappeared when the discovery was

made that he was at bottom a miser and hypocrite. Nevertheless, Nicephorus conducted

well the business of the state. His old-time

skill and bravery as a general were exhibited

yearly in contests with the Saracens. The

revenues were carefully husbanded and applied

to appropriate uses. The existing boundaries

of the Empire were well maintained, and the

martial spirit of the people considerably revived by the warlike deeds and recurring

triumphs of the Emperor.

Meanwhile the event was contrived by

which Nicephorus was to lose both crown and

life. Next to himself the ablest general of

the eastern army was an Armenian named

John Zimisces, a man of stunted bodily stature

but heroic purposes. After aiding in the elevation of Nicephorus to the throne Zimisces

was deprived of his command, and but for the

intercession of the Empress, with whom he was

a favorite, he would have been driven into

exile. By her influence, however, he was retained in a subordinate office near the court.

It was not long until an intrigue was concocted

between Theophano and himself to dispose of

Nicephorus and take the throne for themselves.

In 969 the Emperor was murdered in his

palace, and as soon as his gory head was exhibited outside, John Zimisces donned the purple and had himself proclaimed as ruler of

the East.

The coronation of the new Emperor was

the occasion of a strange scene on the steps of

the church of Saint Sophia. There the patriarch of Constantinople met the sovereign as

he was entering and demanded that the wicked

and ignoble Empress should be forever degraded and dismissed from the palace. Nor

was the Emperor loath to comply with the

demand, perceiving that he himself might soon

be added to the list of her victims. Neither

was he unwilling to add to his own popularity

by the degradation of the despised Empress.