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Michael Psellus: Chronographia

Complete Text | Introduction | Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Book 4 | Book 5 | Book 6 | Book 7



    MICHAEL VI 1056-1057 [p.209]
    ISAAC COMNENUS 1057-1059 [p.230]
    CONSTANTINE X 1059-1067 [p.253]
    EUDOCIA 1067 [p.264]
    ROMANUS IV 1068-1071 [p.268]
    MICHAEL VII 1071-1078 [p.281]





1. Apparently, the last few emperors were convinced that they were firmly established once the civil element acclaimed them. Indeed, their close relations with these persons were such that the emperors believed the throne was safely ensured beyond all dispute if the civilians were well-disposed. Naturally, therefore, as soon as they took up the sceptre it was to the civil party that they granted the right to speak in their presence before all others. If they evinced pleasure, if they uttered flattering speeches and gave vent to a little nonsensical clap-trap, then the emperors needed no further assistance. It was as if they had the sanction of God. Really, of course, their power rests on three factors: the people, the Senate, and the army. Yet while they minimized the influence of the military, imperial favours were granted to the other two as soon as a new sovereign acceded.

2. In the case of the aged Michael the conferring of honours surpassed the bounds of propriety. He promoted individuals, not to the position immediately superior to that they already occupied, but elevated them to the next rank and the one above that. In fact, the emperor's courtiers had only to put themselves forward as candidates [210] for a fourth promotion and he would readily consider their claims. Thereupon another, standing at his other side and plucking at his other sleeve, so to speak, would ask for and get a fifth. His generosity led to a state of absolute chaos.


3. When this came to the ears of the soldiers, and among them those who held positions of command and were crack troops,**164 they came to Byzantium too, with the object of winning equal honours for themselves, or even greater ones. A day was therefore fixed for them to have audience with the emperor and I myself was present on the occasion, standing beside him. The men who came into his presence were noble warriors, men of fine reputation. After bowing to him and making the usual acclamation, they stood, at the emperor's command, awaiting their turn. Now at this juncture he should have taken them aside individually. He should have begun his conversation with generous words in a manner worthy of his high rank.**165 Instead, he started by finding fault with them en blo -- -- a mean thing to do. Then, having made their leader stand forth in the centre of the group, together with his second-in-command -- Isaac Comnenus**166 was the chief man in the deputation and Cecaumenus, from Colonus, was the other**167 -- he poured out a torrent of abuse on Isaac. He charged him with all but losing Antioch and with corrupting his army; he had shown no sign of gallantry or leadership; on the contrary, he had levied the people's money for his own use, and instead of using his command to win glory, he had made it a pretext for satisfying his personal greed. In the face of these sudden blows Isaac stood transfixed. He had come expecting promotion; instead he had been grossly insulted. When his fellow-generals tried to defend him, the emperor forbade them even to speak. Even if he despised the others, he should have considered Isaac, at least, worthy of an honourable hearing. Yet he, too, was denied that favour.


4. All this made an enormous impression on the soldiers, and their rebellion against Michael dates from this interview. Indeed, the [211] effect produced by this tragical event on their morale was nothing less than shattering. Yet, although the seeds of disaffection were sowed there, no immediate attempt was made to seize power. A second interview was tried first, in the hope that the emperor might prove more friendly.**168 But when they asked him for bread he offered them stones; when they protested, even the stones were refused. They were repelled and rejected. The others were all for immediate action -- they were almost prepared to lay violent hands upon him there and then, and to tear him down from his throne -- but Isaac restrained them. There was need, he said, for wiser counsel. Nevertheless, from that moment the conspiracy was afoot and they began the search for a leader, some man capable of governing the Empire.**169

5. Despite Isaac's persistent refusal to press his own claims to the throne, and despite his assertion that all of them were equal to the task, it was unanimously decided that the honour was his.**170 He was in fact pre-eminent, not only by birth but in his kingly appearance; his nobility of mind and firmness of character, too, were outstanding. One look at the man was enough to inspire respect. However, I must describe his qualities in a later chapter. After the conspirators had agreed on their aims, there was another brief encounter with the emperor and they all went away to their homes. By the early morning, however, when the sun was just rising, they were within easy call of one another. So, after waiting a few days, they assembled in one place**171 and concerted their plans. Even so, their deliberations were not completed before a gallant army was already flocking to their standard. A host of warriors joined them, adding fresh strength to their confidence. The news spread that a valiant general was the new emperor, and that he had won over to his side the most powerful families, persons whom they knew by name. Without the least hesitation, therefore, recruits poured in, every man, like a good runner, striving to get there before his comrades.

6. Even before this time it had been the ambition of the military to subjugate the whole of the Roman Empire, to serve a soldier-emperor and break down the civil succession to the Principate, but hitherto these designs were kept secret. Their fond designs were cherished only in private -- for the simple reason that nobody seemed competent to rule. Not even in their wildest dreams had they expected Isaac to entertain ambitions for sovereignty, because of the [212] difficulties attendant on such an enterprise. Now the position was altogether changed. They saw Isaac at the head of a revolutionary party: they saw him personally taking the decisions necessary to its success. The time for compromise was now over. Without more ado adherents rallied to his side, strongly equipped and provided for the exigencies of war.**172

7. Considering that this was the first time he had commanded such an expedition, Isaac's conduct of the revolt showed more wisdom than boldness. Being aware of the supreme importance of great wealth in managing his army, he began by barricading off all the roads into the city and leaving an adequate guard at each obstruction. Permission to go in or out was refused unless Isaac himself had first been informed and had already agreed to movement in either direction. His next move was to exact the public taxes. This was not done in any hurried or confused manner, but rolls were drawn up, honest tax-gatherers appointed, and separate entries made in the accounts, so that when he was officially made emperor he might have accurate records of the revenues. Now you will understand what I meant when I said that he showed more prudence than audacity. And here we may note another admirable provision. After dividing the great force that had joined him into appropriate ranks, he set on one side the braver men and soldiers known to be cool and steady under fire. These men were then distributed among the various companies and regiments. Actually the segregated men were in the majority, and the others proved themselves in no way inferior to them in valour.

8. Isaac's first order was that they should keep to their own separate groups and avoid any disorderly mingling and confusion. They were to advance in silence, preserving the ranks and companies in which he had arranged them, and the same discipline was to be observed when they encamped. Next he settled the amount of rations required for the campaign by each soldier, and the equipment sufficient for a military expedition. Promotions were made, the higher ranks being assigned to the better soldiers and the lower to the others. His own safety was made the special care of men chosen from his own family. So, with his bodyguard about him, he advanced fearlessly and again pitched camp. The nights he spent in ceaseless vigil over the affairs of state, while in the day-time his brilliant direction was more evident still. There was stern resolve [213] in the manner of his advance, but since many things are wont to befall armies, and since most soldiers are more distinguished for boldness than for wisdom, Isaac refrained from disciplinary action against defaulters, at least for the moment. One look from him was enough to terrify them and a scowl on his face was as good as any corporal punishment.

9. Thus the army was strictly disciplined. Meanwhile he was already at the gates of the city. The emperor's jurisdiction was confined to Byzantium alone. Yet he took no counter-measures to check his daring opponents; nor did his former advisers make any effort to stop the rebels. You would have believed no state of emergency existed at all. What is more, no attempt was made to pit against the enemy what forces were left to the emperor. No action whatever was taken to break up the revolutionary army. Some of the court did indeed jerk Michael out of his apathy by insisting on the necessity for consultation and a good supply of money. They urged him to collect an army. A council was thereupon summoned, and besides some other public-spirited gentlemen -- they were very numerous, but until that moment their advice had been completely disregarded -- he also called in myself. He treated me like an adopted son and pretended, with the air of a man who has made a foolish error, that he had long regarded me as a boon companion.


10. Well, I bore him no malice and my advice to him was to take the following three measures at once. I knew there was a difference of opinion between himself and the patriarch, and I knew that the latter was angry with Michael. So my first counsel was this, that he should put an end, once and for all, to his quarrel with the patriarch and come to some common agreement with him, because his position in the present circumstances was particularly strong. Unless the emperor made quite sure of his adherence first, he was likely to join the rebel party in their attack. My second proposal was that an embassy should be despatched to the enemy leader, with instructions to disband his forces: a reward should be promised him -- a reasonable sum of money -- and the prospect of further inducements later on. The embassy should moreover seek to undermine discipline in [214] the enemy's camp and try to disorganize his army. To these I added a third suggestion, the most convincing of all and more cogent than the others, that he should mass the armies of the west, centralize whatever forces remained to him in one group, invoke the alliances concluded with the neighbouring barbarians, strengthen the mercenary army then in Byzantium, put them under the command of a brave general, build up an adequate corps of men for him, and everywhere resist the hordes set in motion against us. These proposals were actually accepted by the emperor.


11. Later, however, he rejected the first plan -- and the disregarding of that alone was enough to cause his downfall -- but he did apply himself to the second and third. Nevertheless, nothing was accomplished in respect of the second. As for the armies in the west, they were prepared in the most warlike fashion and reinforced by other allied forces.**173 So, after being divided up into companies and grouped by regiments, they faced the eastern armies not only wellequipped but with confidence The two sides were entrenched at no great distance from each other and the no-man's land between them was quite small, but that space remained empty, for neither party sallied out to do battle. Clearly the emperor's men were more numerous, but the enemy had the advantage in discipline and strength, and -- more important and still more astonishing -- their army was coherent, with an unwavering belief in its leader, whereas in our camp there were gaps and empty places, when every day bodies of men deserted to the rebels. Moreover, our commander**174 -- I need not mention his name -- was divided in his loyalties; in fact, as I see it, he was biassed against us.

12. We were therefore at a disadvantage in two respects, and even before it was decided to make war, the attitude of our generals proved our undoing. The rank and file, on the other hand, together with what had been left of our own national army, were still unaware of their leader's vacillation. They faced the enemy, 'men of war and breathing courage',**175 as the poet says, equipped with the finest weapons and all the best armour, both for opulence and defence. So, with the war-cry on their lips, they gave rein to their chargers [215] and bore down on the foe with irresistible force, and our right Sank, having turned their left, pursued them afar.

13. When the rebel right flank saw what had happened, they made no attempt to hold their ground or face the emperor's troops roaring to the attack, but retired and dispersed at once. The truth is, they were afraid the victors might divert their attack, and by relieving pressure on the routed left wing, bring the full force of their charge on to their own flank. So both right and left joined in the flight and victory clearly rested with the emperor. Firmly rooted in the centre, master of victors and vanquished alike, was the rebel leader. Some of our men saw him (they were Scyths from the Taurus district, and not more than four at that) and attacked him with spears, driving in on both flanks, but the iron shafts proved ineffective, for they missed him. Meanwhile he budged in neither direction, for as they pushed him with equal force this way and that, he remained poised and balanced in the middle. To Isaac this seemed a favourable omen, when attacks from right and left both failed to dislodge him, and he promptly bade his followers set about their enemies with more vigour. He urged them to take heart, rout their adversaries and pursue them far and wide.

14. The news of this reverse,**176 inflicted on us in the manner I have described, was even more terrifying and serious than anything we had heard before. It astounded us, and the emperor was thrown into utter confusion. He was now convinced that his cause was hopeless, for it was impossible to summon to his aid the western army after its defeat, at least for the time being, and he could not get ready other men by a fresh levy. The general in charge of his forces, moreover, the eunuch Theodorus, who had previously been appointed to the office of proedrus by the empress Theodora, and who had afterwards taken over the eastern armies, resolutely opposed a military expedition, not so much because he lacked the necessary confidence to engage the enemy, but because he had already concluded a treacherous and secret agreement with Comnenus.


15. The emperor therefore, after waiting a few days, asked me to come to terms with Comnenus. I was to lead an embassy on his behalf, with secret proposals to the enemy. By my eloquence and [216] powers of argument I was to soften him down and induce a change of attitude to the emperor. My first reaction to this idea, which came upon me like a bolt from the blue, was to refuse the honour. 'I would not voluntarily undertake such a commission,' I said, 'fraught as it is with considerable danger, the outcome of which, so far from being a matter of doubt, is quite obvious to anyone. It is clear that a man who has just won a victory and is elated by his success will not agree to surrender his superior position, or so debase himself as to accept inferior office.'

16. The emperor had a prompt reply to this. Shaking his head and accusing me of forgetting all the ties of friendship and mutual attachment, he went on: 'So the purpose of your unceasing studies was to cultivate a persuasive eloquence, but when your friends suffer misfortune, or rather your masters -- God forgive me for using the word! -- you care not a jot how you may give them assistance. When I became emperor, my relations with you underwent no change: I speak with you as I have always done: I greet you and embrace you in my usual way, and every day -- it is right that it should be so -- "I taste the honey of your lips."  But I thought to be repaid in equal measure. But you -- you do not even give me as much consideration as a gentleman accords an enemy when he is down and out. Ah well, I will go along the path that destiny has prepared for me, and as for you, be sure that some day someone will bring on you censure and reproach for having betrayed your master and friend.'

17. At the sound of these words I was almost struck dumb with amazement. It was impossible to maintain my original objection, so I suddenly changed my attitude. 'But, Sire,' I objected, 'I am not refusing to carry out your instructions because I am afraid of this duty. My idea is rather to observe proper precautions in the matter. I am merely postponing action because I suspect that most of the others will be jealous.' '' 'And what, may I ask,' said he, 'is it that makes you so careful? Why have you no confidence in this embassy?' -- 'The man you are asking me to visit,' I replied, 'has already won a victory: he is full of confidence in his own future. I hardly fancy, therefore, that he will show any kindly feeling towards me, nor will he be diverted from his plans by any arguments I can put before him. Probably he will address me in a haughty fashion, bring dishonour on my embassy, and send me away without accomplish[217]ing anything. The others will then slander me, saying that I have betrayed my trust. Whey will argue thus: when he succeeded beyond his expectations, I had only made him more arrogant than ever; in any future negotiations, therefore, he would ignore all the emperor's orders and any embassy sent to him thereafter would be disregarded. Why? Because Comnenus is under the impression that he himself is soon to become supreme ruler of the Empire. Nevertheless,' I went on, 'if it is your wish that I should obey this order, please give me a colleague, one of the senior members of the Senate. Our proposals will thus be put forward by two of us, jointly, and his replies will be addressed to both of us. The negotiations will then be conducted without secrecy.'

18. Michael was pleased with this idea. 'Choose any member of the Senate you like,' he said. I chose the most distinguished and sensible man, one who, I was quite sure, would have the courage to accompany me on the embassy.**177 No sooner had this gentleman heard my proposal than he agreed to act in this capacity and share my duties. Then, after consultation and an exchange of ideas, we co-opted a third person to join in the deputation, a man who held high rank among the Romans, a leading member of the Senate, distinguished no less for his oratory than because of his powerful intellect.**178 In former times he had been guide and counsellor to the emperor Monomachus, and later he brought glory to the office of Patriarch. Having devoted his own life to the service of God, he afterwards consecrated Isaac, too, as a priest.**179

19. When he also expressed his readiness to join us -- his patriotism was never in doubt -- he became the most delightful member of our mission. We then received letters for Isaac from the emperor, or rather we ourselves concocted these messages and composed them in a form as expedient as might be. Our object was to effect a compromise: Isaac was to wear the crown and the insignia of the Caesar, and yet, at the same time, remain subject to the emperor. So we confidently set out on our journey to meet him, and after covering the first stage out from the city, we acquainted him of our arrival and we assured him, most emphatically, that we would under no circumstances enter into any negotiations, unless he first undertook by the most solemn oaths not to detain us once our task was done, nor to do us any other injury, but to treat us with the honour due to our position and guarantee our safe return.

20. All these assurances being given and other, additional, promises being made, we immediately set sail in our triremes and landed near the spot where he was encamped.**180 We were greeted at once, even before the conference with Isaac began, and they received us most cordially. One after another the leaders of his army came up and addressed us in the pleasantest manner. Kissing our heads and hands, they protested with tears, that though they wore on their brows the garlands of victory, they were weary of shedding the blood of their fellow-countrymen and of bringing destruction upon their kinsfolk. Then, putting us in their midst, they escorted us to the tent of their general (for he, too, was encamped there, like themselves, in the open air). After dismounting themselves, they made us do likewise and bade us wait outside. Permission was then granted us to enter the tent alone, for the sun had already gone down and Isaac was unwilling to allow a big assembly in the imperial tent.

21. He greeted us as we came in, seated on a high throne, with a small bodyguard in attendance. He was dressed not so much like an emperor as a general. He rose slightly as we entered and bade us be seated. No questions were asked about the purpose of our visit, but after a few brief remarks in explanation of his own campaign, and after sharing a drink with us, he allowed us to retire to our own tents, which had been pitched very near his. We went out in amazement. The man had made no long speeches at this first meeting; his only enquiries concerned our voyage. Had we had a smooth voyage? Nothing more. So, after dispersing to our respective tents and sleeping for a while, we met again about dawn and decided how we were to conduct negotiations at the next interview. We were convinced that it was wrong to delegate the duty to one member alone: better that all should frame our questions and all together receive his answers.

22. While we were engaged in these discussions, day broke and the sun crept up over the horizon and was up in the sky, shining brightly. But it was not long before the leading councillors arrived and summoned us to his presence. They practically became our escort and led us away to their general. We found him in a bigger tent this time, big enough for an army and its mercenary forces as well. Outside it and all around there stood a great multitude of men, not at ease or mingled together, but drawn up in ranks, in a series of concentric circles, with a short interval between each group.

[219] Some were armed with swords, others with the heavy iron rhomphaia, others with lances. Not a sound was heard from any of them. Every man stood stiffly to attention in an attitude of fear, their eyes steadily fixed on the soldier who was in charge at the door of the tent. He was actually the captain of the emperor's personal bodyguard, a brave-hearted man, quick-witted and energetic, good at speaking, bitter at holding his tongue, and at his best when in deliberation -- the Duke John, who had from a long line of ancestors inherited a spirit at once courageous and steadfast.**181

23. When we had drawn near, this man told us to stand by the entrance while he himself went inside the tent. After a short pause, he came out again, and without a single word to us threw open the tent-door, suddenly. The sight that met our eyes within was astonishing. It was so unexpected, and truly it was an imperial spectacle, capable of over-aweing anyone. First, our ears were deafened by the roars of the army, but their voices were not all raised at once: the front rank acclaimed him first, then the second took up the cry, then the next rank, and so on. Each rank uttered its own cry with a different intonation from the rest. Then, after the last circle had shouted, there was one great united roar which hit us like a clap of thunder almost.

24. When they eventually grew quiet, they gave us leisure to observe what was inside the tent (for we had not immediately entered when the door was thrown open, but stood at some distance waiting for the signal to go in). I will describe that scene. The emperor himself was seated on a couch decorated with two head-rests. The couch was raised on a high platform and overlaid with gold. Under his feet was a stool. A magnificent robe gave him an air of great distinction. Very proudly he held up his head and puffed out his chest (an effort that caused his cheeks to take on a deep red tinge), while his eyes, with their far-away gaze, showed plainly that he was thinking profoundly and wholly given up to his own meditations. Then the fixed gaze relaxed, and it was as if he had come from troubled deeps to the calm of some haven. All round him were circles on circles of warriors. The nearest circle, and the smallest ones was composed of the most important persons, the leading representatives of the nobility, men who rivalled the stately grandeur of the Ancient Heroes. And there they stood, their own exalted rank an inspiration to their juniors. Around them were their lieutenants and the front [220] rank fighters, grouped in a second circle. With these stood some soldiers of inferior battalions and certain high-ranking company commanders, on the emperor's left. Surrounding these again we saw the light-armed troops without armour, and behind them all the allied forces which had joined him from different barbarian nations. There were Italians, and Scyths from the Taurus, men of fearful appearance, dressed in fearful garb, both alike glaring fiercely about them. They were not alike in other respects, for while the one tribe painted themselves and plucked out their eyebrows, the other preserved their natural colour; the one made their attacks as the spirit moved them, were impetuous and led by impulse, the other with a mad fury; the former in their first onslaught were irresistible, but they quickly lost their ardour; the latter, on the other hand, were less impatient, but fought with unsparing devotion and a complete disregard for wounds. These then were the warriors who rounded off that circle of shields, armed with long spears and single-edged battle-axes. The axes they carried on their shoulders, and with the spiked ends of the spears jutting out before and behind them the intervals between the ranks were, so to speak, roofed in.

25. So much for the warriors. As for us, we were given a sign to come in by the emperor, with a motion of the hand and a slight nod of the head, just enough to tell us that we were to move over to his left side. When we had passed through the space between the first and second circle and were quite near him, he again asked us the same questions as before, and being satisfied with our replies, he continued in a louder voice, 'Well now, let one of you turn about and stand in the midst of these men here (pointing to those who stood about him on either side) and put in my hand the letter from him who has sent you. You can also tell me the message that you have brought to us here.'

26. At this each of us declined the honour of making reply, and each asked the others to do so instead of himself. We held a conference among ourselves and my two companions pressed the duty on me. I was best-equipped, they said, for speaking freely because, unlike themselves, I was a philosopher. They would come to my aid if, by any chance, my arguments were refuted. So I at once calmed the beating of my heart and stepped into the middle, collected my wits, and gave him the letter. Then, taking the signal to speak, I began my discourse. If the noise which was going on there [221] had not scared me while I was speaking, and if it had not so frequently interrupted me that I forgot my long harangue, perhaps I would have recalled the actual words I had prepared beforehand. They would have occurred to me in their proper setting and sequence wherever I was developing my argument in periods, or stressing my ideas with a series of clauses rising to some climax. Nobody there noticed that there was subtlety in my plain speaking, but the fact was, that by a careful imitation of Lysias**182 in his use of common everyday speech, I took simple expressions known to the ordinary man, and decked them out with delicate philosophical touches. Anyway, I will recall now the main points of my discourse, as far as my memory serves me.

27. The introduction was mos: emphatic. I spoke clearly enough, but it was artfully done, for to begin with I avoided all reference to their guilt, and started with the Caesar and the acclamation he shared with the emperor. I enumerated other favours, and honours greater still, which had been conferred on them by their true sovereign. Those who stood nearest us received this preamble with satisfaction and held their peace, but the crowd in our rear shouted as one man that they refused to acknowledge any other role for their leader but that of emperor. Maybe the majority did not approve of this, but they slavishly said so and accommodated themselves to circumstances. At all events they put to shame the orderly element in my audience and forced them to shout defiance too. Probably because he wished to avoid the appearance of disagreeing with the mob, the emperor supported their objection, using precisely the same words.

28. I was in no way disturbed by this. Indeed, I was now in a solid position based on very substantial arguments -- and I am not the sort of man who shrinks away, when I am once engaged in a fight. So I interrupted my speech and stood in silence, waiting for the crowd to grow quiet. And after they had bawled their heads off, they did steady down, and I, continuing in the same strain, began gently to reveal my more damaging points, although still not finding fault with the rebels. I reminded them how one climbs a ladder, pointed out the mistake of over-reaching with the foot, and praised the reasonable progress to the imperial throne. The proper order, I said, was this: first, experience, and afterwards, philosophical speculations; the man of practical affairs first, and afterwards the theorist. [222] Most of those who had ruled as emperors, and the best of them, had been promoted to imperial power from the rank of Caesar.

29. At this remark, some individuals objected that I was quoting one particular kind of promotion. Isaac, they said, had been invested with power already. 'But,' I flashed back, 'he has not become emperor yet! What is more, if your objections are not to be perfectly ridiculous, your position (I was afraid to use the word rebellion expressly) has not even a respectable name at all.' Then I went on as follows: 'Give up the title of Emperor and your accession to the throne will have the sanction of legality.' When I mentioned the adoption proposed by the emperor, they broke in. 'Do you mean to tell us,' they asked, 'that an emperor's Son will be deprived of his power, the sovereign power?' -- 'Yes,' I answered, 'the greatest emperors have treated even their real sons like that.' And I straightway reminded them of the divine Constantine**183 and certain other rulers who had honoured their sons with the title of Caesar first and afterwards promoted them to the exalted position of emperor. Then, drawing together the threads of my argument, more in the manner of a syllogism, I made this comparison: 'That is how they treated their own sons, men of their own flesh and blood. Isaac here is only a son by adoption . . .' and, having thrown in the word adoption, I left the rest of the sentence in suspense.

30. However, they knew what I meant, and they proceeded to enumerate a host of reasons for their 'common movement' -- a euphemism they produced for 'rebellion'. Instead of refuting their arguments out of hand, I replied as if I were taking their part. I exaggerated their misfortunes 'Yes, I know these things and often my heart has bled because of them. Your anger,' I said, 'your anger is justified, and so is the despair you feel at your sufferings.' And having pacified them with these words, I shook them with a sudden assault from the flank. 'Those are terrible things, terrible indeed, but they do not justify revolution: nothing whatever is a legitimate excuse for that. Now suppose that you were emperor (here I carried on the argument with a direct reference to their leader) and suppose you were to become very ill-tempered, and the leader of the Senate, shall we say, or the commander-in-chief of the army entered into a conspiracy and got accomplices to aid him in his evil design, engineering a plot to dethrone yourself and at the same time excusing himself with a recital of all his sufferings and a description of the [223] indignity with which he had been treated -- would the pretexts he put forward justify the plot in your eyes?' When Isaac said 'No!' I went on, 'But in your case you have not even suffered indignity, except inasmuch as you have failed to get what you had previously set your heart on. As for the terrible sufferings you speak of, those have been caused by other men, not by the present emperor.' As he did not reply to this, (for he was not so much concerned with arguing persuasively himself as with listening to the simple truth from me) I pressed him still further: 'Well then, change your mind. Be persuaded by your better judgment. Honour your father in his old age, and you will inherit the throne by legal means.'

31. My words, assisted by numerous ether arguments, had already convinced him, when a cry rose up behind me, a cry which from that moment has never ceased to ring in my ears. It was a confused cry, for everyone there attributed to me a different quality. Some spoke of my invincible rhetoric, others of the power of my words, others again of the force of my arguments. I myself made no reply to any of them, but the emperor, holding up his hand for silence, addressed them. 'This man has said nothing at all which gives the appearance of chicanery or wilful deception of his audience. He has followed the course of events, and his explanations have been proffered in simple language. There is no reason therefore why you should upset our conversation or throw our meeting into disorder.' Those were his very words, but same of his entourage, wishing to intimidate me, begged the emperor 'to save the orator, who is sure to be destroyed out of hand, for most of the soldiers have already drawn their swords against him, and they will cut him in pieces the moment he leaves the tent!' I smiled at these words. 'If I, who have brought to you an Empire and all the power which you have achieved, am in recompense for these good tidings to be torn in pieces by your own hands, surely you are merely confirming the fact of your rebellion. You become your own accusers. No, your purpose in these words is either to gag me or to force a recantation, but I will neither change my opinions nor alter my words.'

32. When I made this declaration, the emperor rose from his throne and dismissed the assembly, after honouring me with several complimentary remarks. The soldiers were ordered to go on ahead and Isaac took us aside by ourselves. 'Do you really believe,' he said, 'hat this imperial robe has been put on me with my approval? Do [224] you think that if it were possible for me to run away I would refuse to escape? Of course not. They persuaded me to take this course in the first place, and now I am in their power, hemmed in on all sides. However, if you will take a solemn oath to convey certain private information to the emperor on my behalf, I will tell you, now, my own secret intentions.' We swore to preserve the secrecy of this confidential information, and he went on: 'For the present I do not covet supreme power. I am satisfied with the position of Caesar. Let the emperor therefore send me fresh despatches, to the effect that, when he dies, he will bequeath the Empire to nobody except myself, that he will not deprive any of my colleagues of the honours I have bestowed upon them, and that he will share with me some, at any rate, of his imperial power, so that I may be able, if I wish, to dispense the less important civilian posts to some of my followers, and in other cases even control military promotions. I am not making these requests for my own sake, but for my men. And if he confirms them, I will come to him without delay and pay him the honour due to an emperor and a father. Naturally, these terms are not to the liking of my army.**184 so I will give you a twofold message. One letter I wall submit courteously to their inspection and let them read it; the other (the secret one) will be memorized by yourselves. And one other favour for my men. Make sure that little fellow**185 is deprived of his position in the government. In the past it was obvious that he was bitterly opposed to our ambitions, and we still suspect him. Today then you will dine with me. Tomorrow you will set out and carry my secret injunctions to your master.'

33. So we sat at his table and marvelled still more at his perfect manners, for the man condescended to us in a most friendly way. There was nothing of the proud tyrant about him. Early next morning we presented ourselves before him again, and after receiving the second message secretly, we went down to the sea, escorted by the same guard as before. We found the water calm, slipped our mooring-cables, and sailed for Byzantium. Day had broken when we reached the palace harbour. We gave the emperor a description of the whole affair and explained the secret proposals after handing him the two letters. He read them through several times and then urged us to recapitulate what Isaac had suggested. 'Well,' he said, 'they must all be carried out. Let him have whatever he wants. He can even wear a crown -- that will give him more prestige than ever. He [225] wears a garland now, not a crown, but there -- he can have it, however unusual it may be for a Caesar. He must exercise power together with myself, he must share in the appointment to offices. A special imperial tent will have to be set aside for his use and a noble bodyguard must be allowed for his protection. And as for those who have served with him on this rebellious campaign, each of them can retain with impunity whatever privileges Isaac has granted him, money, or property or high office. What I have promised shall be ratified in writing, and by word of mouth. It shall be carried out. I will have documents drawn up and sealed. I will moreover swear on oath never to break these promises in any particular. As he has entrusted you with secret proposals to me, so I also make my countersuggestions to him. You shall convey these proposals, even more confidential than his own. Do you therefore swear solemnly to Isaac that a few days hence I will make him my partner, after I have made the necessary excuses for his promotion. If for the moment I postpone this action, he must forgive me. The fact is, I am afraid of the people and the Senate, and I am not at all sure that they will approve my plan. To avoid stirring up trouble against myself, therefore, I beg him to excuse me at present -- at the proper moment it will be done. As for the other promises in my letter to him, mark them well; but please keep secret the one I have just mentioned. Go back to him as quickly as possible. No more delay.'

34. So, after one day's interval, we sailed back together to the Caesar and handed over to him the emperor's message.**186 Isaac was not dressed in the same clothes in which we had seen him before, when he was seated on his throne, but in some modest and inferior garb. When he had received our letter he gave orders for it to be read aloud, so that all might hear it. It was apparent that what he had done met with general approval, because he had acted in the interests of his fellow-conspirators rather than for himself. Both he and they, therefore, were unanimously resolved that their revolutionary activities must be abandoned. Later we had a private interview and passed on to him our secret information. The effect of this was instantaneous. He was like a man inspired. Immediate orders were given to the army: the men were to dismiss to their homes for the present, but to return to the colours when his affairs were firmly established. Isaac was even more disposed now to trust us, for he knew that the man who had formerly been entrusted with the [226] administration of the Empire had since been forced to resign his office.**187 He spoke, too, of the straightforward, honest character of the Emperor. As he wished no time to be lost in concluding the negotiations, he bade us return next day and tell Michael that he (Isaac) would come to the capital and that all his former suspicions were now dissipated. Preparations were thereupon made for his departure on the third day. He was to leave camp with a small bodyguard and come down to the seaboard opposite the imperial palace. He had extraordinary faith in the emperor,**188 so much indeed that he did not even insist on a magnificent reception in Byzantium. He merely required us to go out to meet him and we were to escort him personally to the palace. In this, our second embassy, therefore, success again attended our efforts, and we were filled with unspeakable joy to think that by our oratory and wisdom we had made some contribution to our country's welfare. So we made ready to depart on the morrow.

35. It was not yet evening, however, before some messengers arrived from the camp and gathered round the emperor's (Isaac's) tent, with what was, no doubt, good news for the Caesar. Michael, they said, had been forced to abdicate. A plot had been set on foot against him by senators who had obliged him to put aside his imperial robes and fly for refuge to the Church of Santa Sophia.**189 This tale had no great effect on Isaac, nor were we very much perturbed by it then. We imagined the whole story to be a fiction, and turned to our own affairs.

36. But the first bearers of good tidings had not dispersed before others came up, and then again others, one after another, all confirming the truth of the rumour. Naturally we were extremely worried at this, and having met together, we conferred on the possible causes of this belief. The occupant of the first tent, anyway, assured us that the rumour was true, for one of his own servants, he said, had just arrived from the city, a most reliable and serious fellow, and he had given a vivid account of the whole affair. Apparently, certain seditious and troublesome persons -- and here he mentioned individuals who, as we ourselves know quite well, had insinuated themselves into favour with the Senate -- these persons, he said, had first thrown the city into a turmoil and thoroughly upset the government, threatened peaceful citizens with burning and other misfortunes, stolen into the sacred precincts of Santa Sophia and dared to violate its [227] sanctuary, and then, after enlisting the sympathies of the patriarch, without any opposition from him, had made him the leader of their faction.**190 After which, with wild shouts of exultation, they called down curses on the emperor, uttered all kinds of slander to discredit him, and hailed Isaac as alone worthy of ruling the Empire. That, said he, was all his informant knew, but if anything further had happened since, no doubt we should soon hear of it.

37. At this news we determined to make our way to the Caesar's tent, to see if there was any further news to be learnt from him. So we gathered there, and found him dictating his letter to Michael. What he had to tell us was the same as before: the stories were, to him, just incredible. But while he was in the open air with us -- the sun had not yet set -- there came another messenger, panting for breath while he was still some distance away, and when he had almost reached us he fell down (on purpose, I fancy), and his words came in gasps. Then, pretending to collect his wits, he told us the emperor had abdicated, the city was making preparations to receive his successor, already an imperial galley had been equipped for Isaac, and his escort were standing by with their torches. He assured us that he himself had witnessed these things. He had seen Michael, w ho only that morning had been our sovereign, become an ordinary citizen and soon afterwards he had been dressed in the coarse cowl of a monk, with no outward sign of imperial rank. The fellow's account was still unfinished when another messenger came up, and after him a third, all with the same story. Finally, there reached us one of the more intelligent and educated class, and he too gave us a dramatic account of the whole scene. The emperor believed him -- the only courier he did believe. We were thereupon ordered to remain quiet by our tents. The reign of Isaac had begun.

38. How my fellow-ambassadors passed that night**191 I cannot say, but to me life seemed hopeless and I thought it was a matter of minutes before I should be sacrificed like a beast. You see, I knew that everyone was violently angry with me: there could be no escape. I would perish miserably, and all manner of throat-slitting and maiming would be my lot. Above all I was afraid of the new emperor. Perhaps he would recall the things I had said to him, and how I had persuaded him to remain an ordinary citizen; probably he would subject me to all kinds of vengeance and torture. So, while everyone else had dropped off to sleep, I waited in solitude for my [228] executioners. At the slightest sound of a voice or any noise round about my tent, I was at once petrified with fear, thinking death was at hand. When the greater part of the night had passed in this way -- I had no idea the time had elapsed -- and when the dawn was about to break, I recovered somewhat, for it seemed a lesser evil to die in the light of day. Bending forward a little to peep out of my tent, I saw watch-fires burning and round the emperor's quarters lighted lamps. There was hurry and bustle everywhere, for the whole army had been ordered to make ready and pack for the journey to the capital. The sun had not yet risen, when, suddenly, Isaac rode out on horseback and we too left camp, not in his immediate entourage, but in the rear.

39. For my part, I expected, after a reasonable distance had been traversed, that he would summon me: I should be commanded to explain why I had given my former advice. When he did send for me, my hopes and fears were exhausted. To my surprise, however, he spoke in a perfectly straightforward manner; there were no rhetorical propositions, no balanced arguments, no refutations, no artful insinuations or systematic discussion, no attempt to influence my judgment or to lead me astray. Instead, he proceeded to tell me his secret plans and confided in me about the cares he had for the Empire. He asked me what in my opinion was the best way to govern, what course of action he should follow in order to rival the greatest sovereigns. I recovered my spirit at these words. My courage revived, and as I expatiated at great length on this subject, my reputation with him was much enhanced. In fact, the emperor had nothing but admiration for my discourse, so that he persisted in asking me questions and carefully pondered my answers, not satisfied with any superficial reply. After our talk, he summoned my fellow-ambassadors to his presence also, and he expounded to them his immediate policy, treating them as partners in the scheme. Such was the position in our relations when the sun rose and the whole scene was flooded with its light.

40. All the populace of the city poured out to honour him.**192 Some brought lighted torches, as though he were God Himself. Others sprinkled sweet perfumes over him. Everyone, in his own peculiar way, tried to please him. Without exception the people regarded the occasion as a festal day. There was dancing and rejoicing everywhere. You would think Isaac's entry into the capital [229] was some revelation of the Deity Himself. But how could I, in a few brief words, describe to you the magnificence of that wonderful sight? I have taken my part in many imperial processions, and I have assisted at ceremonies of a mere religious character, but in all my life I have never seen such splendour. It was not merely the people of the city, nor the Senate, nor the host of farmers and merchants, that made up that happy throng: there were students of the theological colleges there, and dwellers on the mountain-tops, and hermits who had left their communal homes in the carved rocktombs; the stylites,**193 too, who lived in mid-air, joined in the crowds. All of them, whether they had slipped out from their rocks, or come down from their aerial perches, or exchanged the mountain heights for the level plains, all made the emperor's procession into the City a most memorable sight.

41. Isaac himself was neither deceived by this hollow triumph nor unduly elated. His first reaction was to suspect the extraordinary changes in his fortunes. It was typical of the man's shrewd perception. He was still meditating on the subject when he turned and spoke to me, rather unexpectedly. 'Philosopher,' he said, 'this amazing piece of good luck seems to me a fickle business. In my heart I am not at all sure it will have a happy ending.' -- 'The thought of a philosopher,' I answered, 'but fortunate beginnings are not invariably followed by disaster. If Fate has set a limit, it is not for us to probe. In fact, my acquaintance with learned books and propitiatory prayers tells me, that if a man betters his condition, he is merely following his destiny. When I say that, I am, of course, expressing the doctrine of the Hellenes,**194 for according to our Christian Faith, nothing is predetermined, nothing foreordained in our lives. Nevertheless, there is a logical connexion between effects and their immediate causes. Once you change that philosophic outlook, however, or become elated with pride because of these glories, Divine Justice will assuredly oppose your plans, and very quickly at that. So long as your heart is not filled with pride, you can take courage, for God is not jealous where He gives us blessings. On the contrary, He has many a time set men on the path of glory by one swift move. But, setting aside all such considerations, my own case offers a fine opportunity for you to exercise Justice. Make a good start and bear no malice for the reckless speeches I made as an envoy. I was obeying an emperor's command and I served him well. So it was not through [230] any ill-will towards you, but in loyalty to Michael, that I argued as I did.'

42. At these words his eyes filled with tears. 'Do not speak so,' he said, 'for I appreciated your tongue then, when you spoke in insolence, more than now, when it praises and flatters. However, I will make a beginning, as you suggest, with your own case. In fact, I regard you as first among my friends, and I will mark the occasion witty a special honour, the title of President of the Senate.' While we were talking, the sun had already reached its zenith, and we saw the gulf on which we were to sail. The imperial galley came into sight. Isaac, pelted with flowers and deafened with cries of 'Good luck!', immediately went on board and made his triumphal progress across the sea from the Propontis to the Imperial Palace. Even in the midst of these preparations he remained seated by us. So, with all due legal sanction, Isaac Comnenus acceded to the throne.**195

43. The emperor Michael the Aged had spent one whole year in power. He died soon after his abdication, a private citizen.**196



44. Having inherited the throne, Comnenus, always the man of action, lost no time in making himself complete master of the Empire. From the very beginning he personally supervised the affairs of state.**198 In the evening on which he entered the palace, and before he had time to shake off the dust of battle or to change his clothes and order baths for the morrow, he was issuing instructions to the army and the people of the city. There was no pause for rest. He reminded me of a man who has barely escaped a mighty storm at sea, and after swimming for his life, has been lucky enough to reach harbour but has not yet spat the salt brine out of his mouth or recovered his breath. The rest of that day, and all that night, he spent on matters of state.

45. His army had flocked into the city, at least those who had risked their lives with him and dared to face danger in his ranks, and Isaac was afraid they might run amok in the streets, or, trusting in his indulgence, cause trouble for the civil population. His first care, therefore, was to pay them the usual tributes and send them off to their own countries. They were to rest at home for a while and report to the colours later, in order to serve under the emperor in [231] war against the barbarians. It was supposed that the operation of disbandment would take place in a matter of months, but one had scarcely time to guess his plans before he dispersed these forces and withdrew them from the capital. He reminded them individually of their deeds in the war, decorating some for bravery in the field, others for distinguished leadership; for others he had some word of commendation. All alike were mentioned in some way and received their appropriate reward from the new emperor. For my own part, I was glad to see them go. The affair reminded me of clouds in the sky suddenly penetrated by the sun, its bright rays scattering the shadows.

46. So the city was freed of the troublesome presence of the soldiers and the inhabitants marvelled at the way in which Isaac had handled them. A great future was predicted for his reign. This was natural enough, for his actions had already confounded their expectations and the future promised to surpass their wildest dreams. In fact, they anticipated a time of wonderful prosperity. With regard to the emperor's character, people who met him only at certain times, when he was seated on his throne, in the process of dealing with state affairs, or giving audience to some embassy, or uttering the most dreadful threats against the barbarians, had the impression that he was abrupt and hard.**199 To such folk it was inconceivable that there could be a softer side to the man's character. But if one saw him in his home-life, or choosing his officials, one realized the extraordinary duality of Isaac's nature. It was like hearing the string; of some musical instrument pitched to one certain note, but producing two sounds, one soft, the other harsh. I myself have seen

him in both moods, in moments of tension and moments of relaxation, and in my opinion his character was indeed twofold. When he was relaxing, it was incredible to me that he would ever concentrate again; when he was fiercely concentrated on some purpose, that he would ever relax again or forget his serious deliberations and come down to earth. He was so gracious and pleasant in the one case, and in the other -- why, even his face changed, his eyes flashed, and his brow, to put it metaphorically, hung threatening over the clear light of his soul like some dark cloud.**200

47. When the throne was ready for him and the senators were standing in groups on either side of it, Isaac would at once relapse into silence, a perfect imitation of Xenocrates's**201 picture, his mind [232] open, as it were, to receive ideas. This silence of his struck no little fear into the hearts of the senate. Some stood rooted to the spot, as if they had been hit by lightning, in the same position as when the thunderbolt fell, dry and bloodless, like men without souls. Others reacted differently: one standing stiffly to attention, another folding his arms more tightly than usual across his chest, a third staring at the ground. Another (and this was true of them all, for they were all filled with terror) repressed a desire to move by sheer will-power, shifting his posture as quietly and unobtrusively as he could. Every time the emperor refused his consent to proposals set before him, their breath would come fast, and you recognized the change in them by the beating of their hearts.

48. More than any other man he was laconic in the extreme, not expressing all his ideas in so many words, yet leaving no doubt as to his meaning. Those who describe Lysias**202 (the orator Lysias, the son of Cephalus) attribute to him, among other virtues to which they bear witness, the ability to bridle his eloquence at the appropriate moment. They tell us, moreover, that despite his command of language, he was satisfied with saying only what was essential, so that his audience might infer from them those things that were left unsaid. In the same way Isaac also had a tongue which by gentle showers, so to speak, and not by heavy rain, fattened the nature ready to receive them, and as the moisture quietly sank deep into the soil, he aroused his listeners to the knowledge of what had been passed over in silence. The truth was that he wished to avoid refutation, and being now emperor and lord of all, he had no desire to foster any inopportune rivalry with himself in the sphere of eloquence.

49. For that reason he left the study of rhetoric to us lesser folk, and to ordinary citizens. In his case, a nod, a movement of the hand, an inclination of the head to one side or the other, were all that he considered necessary to indicate his wishes. He was not particularly conversant with the laws, so he improvised a legal procedure of his own. For instance, where a verdict had to be pronounced, he would not take the initiative himself, but refer the matter to his judges, and when they decided the case, he used to support the majority, and only then would he take the lead and record his vote, all the time pretending that his own judgment had been uninfluenced by the others. To avoid any mistake in legal phraseology, he left that to his [233] juniors, but invariably he added something which he said should have been included in the documents, or else erased something on the ground that it was superfluous.

50. When dealing with ambassadors he pursued no set policy, except that he always held converse with them dressed in the most magnificent apparel. On those occasions he poured out a flood of words, more abundant than the rising Nile in Egypt or Euphrates plashing against the shores of Assyria. He made peace wich those who desired it, but with the threat of war if they transgressed so much as one term or his treaty. Such was the contract he made with Parthia and Egypt. In the case of other nations, however, he was not so agreeable. Some, having ceded many towns and surrendered their armed forces, were even prepared to leave their native soil and emigrate at once, but Isaac refused his consent and they were ordered to remain quietly where they were. He did this, not because he grudged the Roman Empire the acquisition of new territory, but because he knew that an imperialist policy of that sort could not be effected without much expenditure of money and men, as well as a sufficient reserve. Where these were lacking, expansion became merely a diminution of strength. On most of the barbarian generals he cast aspersions -- I have myself heard these things being said -- charging them with want of manliness and reprimanding them for the careless manner in which they carried out their duties as officers. Their morale had fallen very low, but he revived it, with the intention of using them as a bulwark against the aggression of stronger nations.

51. What I have written is sufficient eulogy for Isaac. If in addition there is some lesson to be drawn for the future, that task is one the historian will find to his liking. I will try to do so. In other matters than the civil administration he advanced the welfare of his empire by gradual progress, and had he followed the same policy in the nonmilitary sphere also, by purging the state of its rotten elements, first reducing the gross evil and then applying his remedy, two things would have happened: he himself would have earned undying honour, and the body politic would not have been brought to utter ruin. But Isaac wanted to revolutionize everything. He was eager to lose no time in cutting out the dead wood which had long been accumulating in the Roman Empire. We can liken it to a monstrous body, a body with a multitude of heads, an ugly bull-neck, hands [234] so many that they were beyond counting, and just as many feet; its entrails were festering and diseased, in some parts swollen, in others wasting away, here afflicted with dropsy, there diminishing with consumption. Now Isaac tried to remedy this by wholesale surgery.**203 He attempted to get rid of the bulges and restore the body to a normal shape, to take away this and build up that, to heal the intestines and breathe into this monster some life-giving breath, but the task was beyond him, and in consequence he lacked faith in his own success. However, to avoid any confusion in our history let us first explain how our body politic got into this gross condition, then how Isaac attempted to cut out its rottenness, and thirdly, how these efforts of his were not universally successful. When I have done all this, I will add an account of the end of his reign and finish my history.

52. After the death of Basil the Great (Basil the son of Romanus,**204 whose family inherited the Empire to the third generation) his brother, Romanus's younger son, succeeded to the throne. He inherited great wealth, for Basil had been emperor for many years, longer than any other sovereign, and had made himself master of many nations whose riches he transferred to the imperial treasury. In Basil's reign, therefore, the revenues vastly exceeded expenditure; and when he died immense sums were at the disposal of his brother Constantine. The latter was already an old man: many years had passed before he finally realized his ambition. Yet, once that ambition was attained, he not only made no attempt to win military renown and add to the dominions he possessed but did not even care to preserve the bounds of his power inviolate. On the contrary, he plunged into a life of pleasure, determined to squander and spend everything, and if death had not quickly carried him off, Constantine alone would have sufficed to the destruction of the Empire.

53. He was the first emperor to corrupt and swell out the body politic, partly by fattening some of his subjects with great wealth, partly by raising them to positions of honour and giving them opportunities to live in depravity and vice. At his death, his kinsman Romanus became emperor, with the intention of being a real autocrat. The family of the Porphyrogeniti**205 was now extinct, and Romanus's ambition was to lay firm foundations of a rival dynasty. In order, therefore, that the civil population, as well as the military class, might be ready and willing to accept the principle of hereditary [235] succession in his own family, he proceeded to anticipate their approval with the distribution of largess on a generous scale, thus adding to a body which was already gross, and aggravating the disease, and filling the corrupted part with superfluous fat. His ambitions ended, however, in utter failure, not only in his ideas about his family, but also in his hopes of bequeathing to his descendants a well-organized state.

54. At his death, Michael ascended the throne. He stopped most of the evil practices, but he was not strong enough to deny some small additions of fat to this body, so accustomed to its nourishment of bad juices and unwholesome, fat-making, foods. Even Michael contributed somewhat to its grossness, however niggardly. Doubtless he would have perished on the spot if he had not followed, in some small measure, the policy of his predecessors. On the other hand, had Michael continued a few years longer in power, his subjects would one day have learnt to live wisely. In any case, a bursting-point was inevitable one day, for they were gorged to the limit of well-being.

55. This emperor also having quickly met his end -- I will pass over his nephew who, after a wretched reign, came to an even more wretched death -- Constantine Euergetes, the nickname by which he is known to most folk (I refer to Monomachus), succeeded to the imperial throne. He took over the state as though it were a merchantman loaded to the safety-line, so that it barely topped the wash of the waves, and having crammed it up to the very decks, he sank it. To put it more plainly, and at the same time revert to my former comparison, he first added a host of new limbs and new parts to a body already long-corrupted, injected into its entrails liquids even more unwholesome, and then, having done this, took it out of its natural state and deprived it of peaceful and civilized existence. He practically drove it mad and brought it to the verge of savagery, by making many-headed, hundred-handed, monsters of the majority of his subjects. After him, the Empress Theodora became sovereign, with more legal claim to power. Although she apparently refrained from reducing this strange animal to a state of complete insanity, yet even she imperceptibly added some hands and a few feet to it.

56. Theodora's drama played out to its finish, the reins were put into the hands of the old man Michael. Unable to bear the move- [235] ment of the imperial chariot, with his horses running away with him from the start, he made the show more confused than ever, and being scared out of his wits at the uproar, he retired from the race and took his place by the non-runners. Of course he ought to have held on; he should have kept a pretty tight hold on the bit. In practice, however, he was like a man who is dismissed the service -- in his case, the throne -- and returns to his former manner of life.

57. Here then we have the first crisis. The greater part of the nation had been changed from men into beasts. They had been fattened up to such an extent that it was necessary to administer purgative drugs, and that in considerable doses. A second course of treatment was demanded -- I mean, of course, surgical operations, cauterization, cathartics. The opportunity for healing recurred and Isaac Comnenus, wearing his crown, climbed into the Roman chariot. In order that we may consider him, too, in the light of allegory, let us liken his position partly to that of a charioteer, partly to that of a doctor.

58. Isaac was a devotee of the philosophic life: he abhorred anything that was physically diseased or corrupt. But his hopes were disappointed, for he found nothing but disease and festering sores, the imperial horses running at full speed from the starting-post, quite impossible to master, heedless of the reins. In the one case he ought to have waited for the appropriate moment before he applied surgical remedies and cautery; it was wrong to operate on the internal organs with the surgeon's heated iron without reasonable premeditation. In the case of the horses, the right course was to discipline them gently with the reins, and break them in, caress them lightly in a professional way, and make a fuss of them, then climb aboard his chariot and give them the rein, after the style of Philip's son when he taught Bucephalus to answer the bit.**206 But Isaac wanted to see the chariot borne along on a straight course at once, before this initial training. He wanted to see the sick body restored to health immediately. What with his burning and cutting here, and his mighty pulling and tugging with the reins on his runaway horses there, he somehow or other failed to notice that he himself had caught the disease before he got control over these troubles and restored them to order. Do not imagine that I am finding fault with the man for trying. I do accuse him, though, for choosing the wrong time for his unsuccessful efforts. As for the third stage of the disease, that must wait. Let us dwell on the second a little longer. [237]

59. As I have often remarked, the emperors before Isaac exhausted the imperial treasures an personal whims. The public revenues were expended not on the organization of the army, but on favours to civilians and on magnificent shows. Finally, to ensure that after their death the funerals should be more impressive and the interment more extravagant, they prepared monuments of Phrygian or Italian marble, or of Proconnesian slab. Houses were then built round them and churches lent them sanctity. Groves were planted, while parks and meadows encircled the whole area. Then, as they had to enrich their places of meditation (the name they invented for these buildings) with money and possessions, they not only emptied the palace treasury, but even cut into the money contributed by the people to the public revenues. Nor were they satisfied with the presentation of a mere sufficiency to their places of meditation (we had better call them that). The imperial wealth was divided into three parts: one to pay for their pleasures, another to glorify their new-fangled buildings, and a third to enable these who were naturally lazy and made no contribution to the balancing of the nation's budget, to live in luxury and bring dishonour on the practice and name of virtue, while the military were being stinted and treated harshly. The present emperor, of course, had been commander-in chief of the army. He was already aware, for many reasons, of the cause of the Roman Empire's contemptible state. He knew why it was that our neighbors prospered while all our affairs had declined, and why not one Roman had been able to put a stop to the attacks and robberies carried out by barbarians. When he had the additional prestige conferred by the title of 'Emperor', Isaac at once rooted up the cause of our troubles. So far his actions were worthy of his exalted position, but I am by no means disposed to commend his efforts to do everything at once. However, let me describe what he did.

60. In the first place, once he had taken the government on his own shoulders -- from the moment of his coronation indeed -- and once he had, by his coronation, legalized his position as emperor, his policy was radically opposed to that of the aged Michael. Donations which Michael had given, Isaac took away; wherever Michael had done something of note, Isaac destroyed it. Then, becoming gradually more bold, he went too far in his reforms, and here too he wiped out and rescinded much of Michael's work. Quite a number [238] of his measures he completely annulled. The consequence was that the people came to hate him, and no small section of the army agreed with them -- all those soldiers, in fact, who found themselves deprived of their wealth by their new ruler. Having gone so far, instead of relaxing his programme somewhat, he went further, like the grammarian who in analysis starts with the complex and then proceeds to the simple. He classed under one heading the acts of his predecessors, thus attacking all and bringing all into discredit at once. In pursuit of such a policy it was inevitable that he should add to his other victims the priests of the Church. Indeed, he cut off the greater part of the monies set apart for their sacred buildings, and having transferred these sums to the public funds, he estimated the bare necessities for the clergy, thereby making the name 'place of meditation' really appropriate. He did this with the insouciance of a man picking up a grain of sand from the seashore. He just set his hand to the task, and it was all done without the slightest commotion. Indeed, I never saw any man on earth so deliberate in his reasoning; or so quiet in the execution of vast ideas.

61. This conduct at the time seriously alarmed most of his subjects, but after a while the majority became more resigned to it. Obviously, if men wished to vilify the emperor's actions, it was sufficient for him to point out that they were in the public interest. And the policy would have been hailed with applause, if only the emperor, like a man who has swum to shore out of the sea, had given himself some time to get back his breath. Isaac, however, did not know what it was to lie at anchor for a while, or rest in harbour. On the contrary, he braved the sea a second time, a different sea this time, and then a third, and after that a greater and most fearful one, as if he were not merely engaged in stirring up the waves of politics, but in cleaning up the dung of Augeas's stable.**207

62. As I have emphasized before, if this emperor had chosen the proper time for his reforms; if he had condemned one practice, shall we say, and allowed another to stand for the time being, destroying it at some later date; if, after the amputation, he had rested before attempting another operation; if he had advanced thus, step by step, in his extermination of evil, quietly and without attracting attention like the Creator in Plato, this man who, like him, had inherited a world -- in his case the world of politics -- in a state of flux, without harmony, without order, then he too, I affirm, would have brought [239] it back from chaos to calm, and he too would have introduced real harmony into the affairs of state. God is described by Moses, the leader of His people, as creating the universe in six days, but if Isaac did not complete his whole task in a single day, he reckoned the failure intolerable, such was the excessive zeal with which he tried to accomplish his purpose. Nothing on earth restrained him, no proffering of wiser counsels, no fear for the future, no hatred of the mob, none of the other factors which, in normal men, curb vanity or check mighty ambition. Had some rein kept him under control, he would have overrun the whole inhabited world, country by country. He would have won glory on every battlefield, and none of the emperors before him would have been his rival.**208 But lack of restraint, refusal to accept reason as his guide, these were the ruin of his noble character.

63. I have described more or less, the alarm and confusion he caused in the political world. In the world of foreign affairs, his ambition was to effect a union of the eastern and western barbarians. They themselves were heartily afraid of him. For the first time they changed their usual tactics. Having observed the quality of the man they had to deal with, instead of pursuing an aggressive strategy they sought safety in obscurity. The Sultan of Parthia, for example, the arch-revolutionary of former times, now adopted an almost retrogressive policy. In no place would he stay for any length of time, had no fixed abode, and -- a thing which is really astonishing -- went into complete retirement, cutting himself off from intercourse with everyone. The ruler of Egypt, too, even to this day is terrified of the man and still courts his favour with flattery. He even goes so far as to lament Isaac's downfall. The truth is, the emperor's appearance and the emperor's words were as potent as his hands were strong, hands with which he had torn down many a city and destroyed walls defended by thousands of warriors.

64. He preferred to be ignorant of nothing, even down to the smallest detail, but since he knew this to be impossible, he would try to obtain his information by indirect means. He used to send for an expert and, without questioning him on the subject about which he was ignorant, by clever manoeuvring round it, he would make the other reveal what he himself did not know, in such a way that the expert was apparently explaining something that was common knowledge to both of them alike. He often tried to catch me like [240] that too, but when on one occasion I ventured to tell him it was a secret, he was taken aback and blushed as if he had been caught doing something wrong. Being a man of great pride, he had a horror of being rebuked, whether openly or subtly.

65. An example of this is found in his treatment of the Patriarch Michael.**209 The latter had spoken frankly to him on a certain occasion, using language that was somewhat bold. At the time the emperor passed it over and checked his anger, but he cherished resentment deep in his heart. It broke out unexpectedly, and in the belief that he was following a precedent he expelled Michael from the city. He was condemned to exile in a circumscribed area, and it was there that he died. However, I will not explain how this came about now, for it is a long story. If anyone cares to examine the quarrel between these two, he will blame the one for the start of it, the other for its ending, when the emperor cast the patriarch off as if he were a load on his shoulders. One point here that I almost forgot: a messenger returning from a distant mission brought to him the news of the patriarch's death, with the air of a man who was freeing him from all trouble in the future, but Isaac, when he heard of it, his heart immediately touched, bewailed loudly an unusual thing for him -- and mourned him deeply. He was sorry for the way he had treated the patriarch and often tried to propitiate his soul. As if to justify himself, or rather to appease the dead man, he at once granted to Michael's family the privilege of speaking freely in his presence, and they were allowed to join his immediate retinue. As Michael's successor in the sacred office, he presented to God and honoured with high rank one whom his previous life had shown to be blameless, one whose eloquence had left him without a rival, even among the most eminent scholars.


66. This gentleman was none other than the famous Constantine, who in the past had on more than one occasion restored peace to a storm-tossed Empire and had been much sought after by many of the emperors. The crowning-point of his career came with his elevation to the Patriarchate.**210 All other candidates for the office yielded to his claims.**211 All were agreed that he had pre-eminent qualities which fitted him for the duty above the rest. And to the glorification [241] of this dignity he dedicated all his efforts, a man who lived the life of a priest, yet possessed qualities of statesmanship and great public spirit. In the case of other men, virtue is supposed to be some such thing as not yielding to circumstances, not tempering one's freedom of speech, not attempting by one's own mildness of character to turn men of sterner material into slaves. So it has come about that mankind has dared every sea, gone in the face of all winds, and some, caught by the waves, have sunk, while others have been rebuffed with much violence. With Constantine, however, the varied pattern of his life enabled him to deal successfully with every precise philosophic problem, and at the same time with all questions of practical government. Moreover, he handled affairs, not like an orator, but as a philosopher would deal with them: there were no wasted words, no histrionics. He played either rôle, churchman or politician, without deviating one iota from his natural habits. As a politician, he impressed his interrogators by his priestly dignity, yet when you approached him in his capacity of Patriarch, even if you stood in considerable awe of him and trembled a bit, he still appeared human, with the graceful manners of a diplomat, a man of sturdy character and smiling gravity. His whole life inspired confidence: on the one side, his military and political career, on the other, his great dignity, his courtesy. It was natural, even before this appointment, that I should often predict for him promotion to the Church's highest offices. His manner of life taught me what to expect in the future, and now, after he has actually become High Priest, I still see in him a gentleman of the noblest character.

67. By appointing such a man as Michael's successor, therefore, the emperor paid a compliment to the late Patriarch. I will now deal with the barbarians. In the east Isaac put an end to their incursions; in that part of the world the task proved to be well within his power. Now he proceeded to march in full force against the western barbarians. In the old days they had been called Mysians,**212 but later their name was changed to its present form. They live in all countries divided from the Roman Empire by the River Ister (Danube). Suddenly they left these districts and emigrated to our side of the river. This movement areas caused by the activities of the Getae, their neighbors, who by their plundering and ravaging compelled them to abandon their own homes and seek new ones. So, at a time when the Ister was frozen over, they crossed as though on dry land [242] and emigrated from the Trans-danubian territories to our province. The whole nation was transported, bag and baggage, over our borders, incapable of living at peace themselves, and bound to spread consternation among their former neighbors.

68. More than other nations they are difficult to fight and hard to subdue. They are neither vigorous of body, nor brave in spirit. They wear no breastplates, put on no greaves, and no helmets protect their heads. They carry no shields of any kind whatsoever, neither the long sort like those traditionally borne by the Argives, nor the round shield, nor do they gird on swords. The only weapon they carry in their hands is the spear, their sole defensive armour. They are not divided up by battalions, and when they go to war they have no strategic plan to guide them. The terms 'vanguard', 'left wing', 'right flank' mean nothing to them. They build no palisades for their own protection, and they are unacquainted with the idea of defensive ditches on the perimeter of their camps. In one mass, close-packed and pell-mell, fortified by sheer desperation, they emit loud war-cries, and so fall upon their adversaries. If they succeed in pushing them back, they dash against them in solid blocks, like towers, pursuing and slaying without mercy. On the other hand, if the opposing force withstands their assault and if their ranks preserve an unbroken line in face of the barbarian onslaught, the latter forthwith turn about and seek safety in flight. But there is no order in their retreat. They scatter in all directions, in small groups. One hurls himself into a river, and either swims to land or is engulfed in its eddies and sinks; another goes of into a thick wood and so becomes invisible to his pursuers; a third escapes in some other way. They all disperse at the same moment, but later, in some strange fashion, they meet again, one coming down from a mountain, another from some ravine, another from a river, all from different hiding-places. When they are thirsty, if they find water, either from springs or in the streams, they at once throw themselves down into it and gulp it up; if there is no water, each man dismounts from his horse, opens its veins with a knife, and drinks the blood. So they quench their thirst by substituting blood for water. After that they cut up the fattest of the horses, set fire to whatever wood they find ready to hand, and having slightly warmed the chopped limbs of the horse there on the spot, they gorge themselves on the meat, blood and all. The refreshment over, they hurry [243] back to their Primitive huts and lurk, like snakes, in the deep gullies and precipitous cliffs which serve as their walls.

69. Taken in the mass, this is a nation to be feared, and a treacherous one. Treaties of friendship exercise no restraining influence over these barbarians, and even oaths sworn over their sacrifices are not respected, for they reverence no deity at all, not to speak of God. To them all things are the result of chance, and death they believe to be the end of everything. For these reasons they make peace with great alacrity and then, when they find it necessary to resort to war, they at once violate the terms of their treaty. If you conquer them in war, they invoke a second treaty of friendship; if it is they who win the combat, they massacre some of their captives and hold a magnificent sale of the rest. For the rich prisoners they fix the price high, and if they fail to get ransom, they kill them.

70. Determined to drive this people from Roman territory, Isaac set out against them with a strong force. He was particularly confident before an enemy that was so scattered and had such a different conception of war; he led his army in an attack on the strongest enemy concentration. It was difficult to fight them and no less difficult to take them captive. As he drew near, they were filled with terror, not only on his own account, but also because of his army. In fact, they had not the courage to defy a man whom they looked upon as 'wielder of the thunderbolt', and when they saw the unbroken line of Roman shields, they abandoned the idea of fighting in mass. So they attacked in isolated groups, howling their war-cries. But they found the Romans too compact for them, and having discovered that they could neither catch them by ambush nor face them in open battle, they made a proclamation that they would fight on he third day from then. Thereupon, on the self-same day on which hey made this declaration, they left their tents, forsaking all those incapable of flight, that is, aged people and the very young, and hen dispersed in the inaccessible regions of hat country. According o the agreement, the emperor marched out to meet them on the third day, with his troops lined up for battle, but not a barbarian as to be seen. As he thought it unwise to pursue them, partly because he was nervous of secret ambushes, and partly because they ad three days start on their flight, he destroyed their tents, and taking away what booty he found there, returned laden with the trophies of war. The return journey, however, proved unfortunate, [244] for a sudden storm fell upon his army with great violence, and he lost many of his soldiers.**3 Still, he did return to the capital, his lead crowned with the garlands of victory.

71. From that time there appeared in the man new qualities, foreign to his normal behaviour. I am speaking from personal observation, as I was pretty familiar with his character. He became more haughty to such an extent that he held everyone else in contempt. In fact, he treated his own relatives just like the others, and his brother,**214 whenever he approached the outer entrances to the palace, at once dismounted from his horse, in accordance with the emperor's express command, and there was nothing whatever to distinguish him from the rest when he had audience with Isaac. Indeed he was the finest gentleman I ever met, and he accepted the change of attitude without rancour, and far from showing irritation at this new state of affairs, he obeyed the emperor's commands and treated him with due respect. He was generally unobtrusive, an example to other men to change their demeanour in like manner.

72. With this change in the emperor's character the second period of his reign came to an end. Now begins the third. Isaac was passionately devoted to hunting. No one was ever more fascinated by the difficulties of this sport. It must be admitted, moreover, that he was skilled in the art, for he rode lightly and his shouts and halloos lent wings to the dogs, besides frightening the coursing hare. On several occasions he even caught the quarry in full flight with his hand. He was, too, a dead shot with a spear. But crane-hunting attracted him more, and when the birds were flying high in the air he still refused to give up the hunt. He would shoot them down from the sky, and truly his pleasure at this was not unmixed with wonder. The wonder was that a bird so exceptionally big, with feet and legs like lances, hiding itself behind the clouds, should, in the twinkling of an eye, be caught by an object so much smaller than itself. The pleasure he derived from the bird's fall, for the crane, as it fell, danced the dance of death, turning over and over, now on its back now on its belly.

73. The emperor took delight in both kinds of chase. However, to avoid reducing the number of animals kept in special reserves by hunting them down, he used to go out, when the fancy took him, to find beasts in their natural habitat, hunting them both on horse- [245]back and with the falcon, at his leisure. He would stay at an imperial lodge outside the city, a place surrounded by sea and equipped well enough to please ordinary huntsmen of either kind, but not to the satisfaction of Isaac. He would rise early in the morning and continue hunting till late evening. With this constant throwing of spears at bears and hogs, and with the repeated strain on his right arm, he caught a chill in his side. At the time the trouble was not especially obvious, but on the following day he had fever, with fits of shivering.**215


74. I, knowing nothing of this, went out to see him and pay my respects as usual. He greeted me lying on a bed. A small bodyguard stood near and there was also present his chief physician. After greeting me he remarked, with a cheerful look, 'You come at an opportune moment', and promptly gave me his hand to feel his pulse, for he knew that besides my other activities I had also practised medicine. I recognized the illness from which he was suffering, but made no immediate comment. Instead, I turned to the aforementioned doctor. 'In your opinion,' I said, 'what sort of fever is this?' In a somewhat loud voice, so that the emperor might hear, he replied, 'Ephemeral. But if it does not pass off today, there is no cause for surprise. The fever sometimes takes that form as well -- the name"ephemeral" is deceptive.' 'Well,' said I, 'I do not exactly agree with your diagnosis. The artery pulsation tells me it will be a three days fever. However, let us hope your Dodonian cauldron**216 is right and my Delphic tripod wrong. Probably it will be wrong, for my own studies have not been advanced enough for me to play the oracle.'

75. Well, the third day arrived and the critical stage of the illness had already run on past the normal period. It proved that one of us was a skilled physician, and it also proved that my calculations were not quite accurate. Afterwards some not very solid food was prepared for the emperor, but before he had time to taste it a sudden violent fever assailed him. They do say that Cato,**217 when he was in a fever or suffering from some other illness, used to remain completely motionless and still, resting until the attack passed and the state of his health took a change for the better. Isaac, however, un- [246]like Cato, kept altering the position of his body and twisting about. His breathing was quicker, and laboured. Nature gave him no respite whatever. Then at last he did get some rest, he thought of returning to the palace.

76. At once he embarked on the imperial trireme and put in at Blachernae. Back in the palace, he felt easier and revelled in the change. He talked in a rather provincial dialect,**218 cracking jokes**219 more than was his wont, and kept us until evening with stories of the old times, recalling all the witty sayings of Romanus's son, the emperor Basil the Great.

77. At sunset he dismissed us and prepared for sleep. For my part, I left the palace full of confidence and buoyed up with fond hopes of the emperor's recovery. I returned rather early the next morning. Just before I reached the doors someone gave me the most alarming news: the emperor was suffering from a stabbing pain in his side, his respiration was difficult, and the breathing was not very strong. I was astonished at this information. Quietly entering the bedroom where he lay, I stood there in silence, filled with instant dismay. He looked at me as if he were asking whether he was past hope and on the point of dying, and at once stretched out his hand to me from under the coverlet. Before I put my fingers on his wrist, the chief physician -- there is no need to mention his name -- interrupted, 'Don't test the artery. I have already taken his pulse. It's irregular. I could detect only half the pulsations. Each alternate beat is very weak. Like the teeth of an iron saw.'

78. I myself paid little attention to the fellow, but at every break in the pulsation I carefully watched the movement of the artery. I did not recognize the 'saw' pulse, but it was beating rather faintly, not so much reminiscent of the movements of a palsied foot, but rather of one held by chains and trying hard to move. The illness afflicting the emperor had now reached its crisis. Actually most of the others were unaware of this and all of them, or nearly all, were in doubt whether he would survive.

79. From that moment confusion reigned in the palace. The empress**220 -- a most remarkable woman, descended from a very noble family, foremost in works of piety -- and her daughter**221 by Isaac, herself a beautiful girl, not only at the time when her hair w as cut early in her life but even after tonsuration, her simple robes showing off to advantage the warmth of her complexion and the [247] gold-red of her hair, these two women, and the emperor's brother,**222 and his nephew,**223 formed a circle round his bed, giving him their last messages and shedding tears of farewell. They exhorted him to go at once to the Great Palace, so that there he might make any decisions that were necessary. They were anxious, too, lest the family should fall on evil times at his death: they might lose the fortunate status they then held as the emperor's kinsfolk. So Isaac made ready to leave. During these preparations there came to him, none too soon, the High Priest**224 of Saint Sophia, offering spiritual advice and all kinds of consolation.

80. As I said, the emperor agreed with his family that it was desirable for him to move, and here he showed he had lost none of his pristine courage. He left the bedroom leaning on no one's arm. It was typical of the man's independent spirit. Like some towering cypress being violently shaken by gusts of wind, he certainly tottered as he walked forward, but he did walk, although his hands trembled; and he did it unaided. In this condition he mounted his horse, but how he fared on the ride I do not know, for I hurried on by the other road to get there before him. I was successful, but when he arrived I saw that he was extremely agitated and in a state of utter collapse. All the family sat round him lamenting. They would willingly have died with him, had they been able. Leader of the chorus of dirges was the empress; answering her mother's lamentations and weeping in a manner even more lugubrious, was the daughter.

81. While they were engaged thus, the emperor, remembering that he was about to pass on to a higher life, expressed a desire to enter the Church. It was his own wish. We had not influenced him at all, but the empress, who did not know that, blamed all of us for the decision rather than him. Then, seeing me there as well as the others, she exclaimed, 'Pray Heaven we benefit from your advice as much as you hope, philosopher! But what a fine way to show your gratitude -- planning to convert your emperor to the life of a monk!'

82. I gave her my word of honour, before she could say another word, that I had never entertained such a thought. More than that, I asked the sick man who had advised him to take this course. 'Not you,' he replied, 'but this lady (the very words he used), this lady, true to her womanly instincts, first tries to prevent us from following wiser counsel, and then blames everyone else for a suggestion that I [248] make myself' -- 'Indeed I do,' said she, 'and take on my own shoulders all the sins you ever committed, and if you do get well again -- at least I have what I seek and long for; if not, then I myself will defend you before your Judge and God. I will answer for the sins you have committed. Please God you may be found guiltless, but in any case I would gladly be devoured -- yes, even by worms for your sake. The deepest darkness can cover me, the outer fire can burn every bit of me -- I would welcome it. And you -- have you no pity now for us in our desolation? What sort of feeling have you, to take away yourself from the palace, and leave me behind, condemned to a widowhood full of sorrow, and your daughter, a wretched orphan? Nor will that be the end of our sufferings. More dreadful things will follow. Hands, maybe not even friendly hands, will carry us off to faraway places of exile. They may decide on some worse fate. It may be some pitiless fellow will shed the blood of your dear ones. No doubt you will live on after you enter the Church, or perhaps you will die nobly, but what will be left for us? -- a life worse than death!'

83. Yet she failed to convince him with these arguments, and when she had given up all hope of winning him over to her own point of view, she went on, 'At least, then, nominate as emperor the roan who serves you with greatest loyalty and devotion. As long as you live, he will treat you with due honour, and he will be just like a son to me.' At these words the emperor gained fresh strength. The duke Constantine**225 was immediately sent for and joined us. Constantine was a man of great renown whose ancestors had been most distinguished. His descent in fact was traced from the celebrated Ducas (I refer to Andronicus**226 and Constantine**227) who are the object of much comment in the writings of historians, both for the keenness of their intellect and for their brave deeds. The duke was no less proud of his more immediate ancestors.

84. His lineages therefore, was enough to cover the man with glory, but no one, in attempting a biography of Constantine himself, would be wrong if he referred to him as an Achilles. Just as that hero's family had a mighty origin -- his grandfather was Aeacus, who the myths say was begotten of Zeus, and his father was Peleus, whom the Greek stories exalt and represent as a husband of Thetis, herself a goddess of the sea -- and yet Achilles' own deeds surpassed the glories of his fathers, and far from Achilles being honoured [249] because of those who begat him, it is they who win renown from the fact that he was their progeny; so it was also in the case of Duke Constantine who must be the next emperor in my history. Brilliant as the early records of his family were, still more brilliant are the deeds that had their origin in his own nature and moral purpose .

85. But the story of his reign must wait a little. While he was still living as an ordinary citizen, he rivalled even the greatest emperors, as far as aptitude for government was concerned, or pride of lineage. Above all other things, he strove to live prudently, to avoid giving offense to his neighbors or treating anyone with a patronizing and lordly condescension. He was most careful to prove his loyalty to the reigning emperors, while his own brilliance, like the sun behind clouds, was kept in obscurity, to avoid attracting attention to himself.

86. I say these things, not on the evidence of other men, but relying on my own senses and my own opinions, after personal observation of a careful and quite exceptional nature. Others may boast of his many splendid successes, but so far as I myself am concerned, one thing counterbalances all the rest: the fact that this man, who was so admirable, not only in appearance, but in reality, should place more confidence in my judgment than in the scheming of my rivals. Whether he had noticed somewhat more evidence of wisdom in my opinions than in those of the others, or whether it was because my character pleased him, I know not, but he was so much attached to me, and loved me so much more than the rest, that he listened intently to every word that I uttered, depended on me absolutely for spiritual advice, and entrusted to my personal care his most precious possessions.

87. Despite his qualities, Constantine had a hearty contempt for offices of great dignity and preferred to live in retirement. He used to dress in a rather careless fashion, going about like a country yokel. Lovely women, of course, enhance their beauty by the wearing of simple clothes; the veil with which they conceal it only serves to make more evident their radiant glory, and a garment carelessly worn is just as effective, when they wear it, as the most carefully prepared make-up. So it was with Constantine. The clothes he threw round him, far from hiding his secret beauties, only rendered them more conspicuous. It was inevitable that all tongues should be loud in his praise. Men naturally referred to him as destined for the [250] imperial throne. Some prophesied his future with all the solemnity of an oracle; others were more guarded in their language, careful to refrain from causing him embarrassment. All the same, it was not the openly hostile, but his own admirers, who made him most nervous, and he put up all manner of barriers to keep them at a distance. Unfortunately, from his point of view, they proved to be the most pugnacious dare-devils and made light of the obstacles he put in their path.

88. His extraordinary caution and sound judgment were proved when the army elected its leader and Comnenus was preferred to all others, for Comnenus, the man who had actually been designated as the next emperor, was ready to hand over the command of the army to Constantine, after the soldiers' decision was made known but he renounced all claim to it in writing and voluntarily gave up his ambitions in that direction, considering the circumstances in which the offer was made. Certain it is that those who attended that conference would never have reached a unanimous decision on the subject, had he not intervened in the debate himself. By sheer force of character he united the various factions. The army, now acting in concert, had, so to speak, two strings to its bow, a stronger and a weaker, or perhaps I should say a weaker and a stronger, for although Isaac had been elected emperor and Constantine had been promised the lesser honour of Caesar, the latter's more noble ancestry and his extremely lovable character made him a favourite among the people. To show even more clearly what an admirable person he was, when the rebellion ended in Isaac's accession to the throne and he was firmly established in power, Constantine gave up to him the Caesarship as well, though he could have disputed with him the highest position of all. The man's character was, in fact, without parallel. I would like to add an observation of my own here. There can be no doubt that his failure to obtain election at the time of the conference, and his present promotion, were both the result of Divine intervention, for instead of being elevated to the supreme position in the Empire by means of a revolution, a circuitous route, he was chosen directly from the inner circle of the court.



89. It was not surprising, therefore, that when he was summoned on this occasion by Isaac, apparently breathing his last, he appeared blushing and showing signs of his accustomed modesty, his hands hidden beneath his robe (a habit of his). The emperor, speaking with great deliberations addressed him. 'Of those who stand around me here,' he said, pointing to his family, 'one is my brother, another my nephew, and dearest of all, here is my wife, the empress, and here my daughter, my only child**228 in fact, but my choice falls on you rather than on them. Your qualities have a greater claim on me than the ties of kinship. It is to you that I bequeath the Empire, and, more than that, my beloved family. Nor are they unwilling that this should be so: indeed, they have strongly advised me to take this course. This is no new idea, conceived on the spur of the moment, nor is it my unfortunate illness that has driven me to adopt it. Even at the time when I was elected emperor, I knew you were the better man, more fitted for the offices and since then I have come to the conclusion, after a detailed examination of your claims in comparison with other candidates, that you are without any doubt whatsoever the man most fitted to succeed me as emperor. As for myself, you see that I am finished: my life is nearing its close. From now on, you will assume power, and the government will be in safe hands, for in the past God has judged you worthy. Now the Empire is your inheritance. My wife and my dear daughter I place in your hands as a sacred trust. As for my brother and nephew, I beg you earnestly to care for and cherish them.'

90. At these words there was applause, not unmingled with tears, and the emperor's entourage acclaimed Constantine.**229 He, having now been chosen to succeed Isaac, stood respectfully and modestly at the latter's side, with the air of a man being initiated into some holy mystery or introduced to some strange rite. Such was the ceremony that commenced his reign. The events that subsequently occurred did not run so smoothly as the account of them would lead one to suppose. Certainly he had some immediate successes, but there were difficulties, even reverses.

91. If he was assisted in any way by myself, it is surely not for me [252] to say so. I would not dream of claiming such an honour. Doubtless the emperor himself would know that wherever opposition arose I resisted it, and when his affairs prospered, I was at hand to help on the good work. Such was the extent of my enthusiasm and my devotion to his cause, that when he was in desperate straits I seized the helm myself, and by drifting with the tide here and pulling hard on the tiller there, I brought him into the imperial harbour in safety.

92. It is now my purpose to examine, and describe in detail, the events of his reign, his general policy, the part he played in the government. I will discuss the principles on which he based his rule and the modifications he introduced into them, the ideals for which he strove as emperor, the measures he carried through successfully the innovations for which he was personally responsible, his prejudices for and against certain lines of conduct, his handling of civil administration, his attitude towards the army, and so on.


1059 -- 1067


1. I will abbreviate my account of this emperor as far as is convenient, devoting the usual space that I allot to these descriptions. Afterwards I will go into greater detail and write of his family, the appearance of his house, his personal habits, his likes and dislikes, both before he came to the throne and after. There is no other emperor whom I am qualified to describe with such intimate knowledge, for here was a man who as an ordinary citizen earned my praise, as a crowned emperor my admiration, one from whom I was never estranged in the slightest degree. I had a special place of honour at his side whenever he took his seat on the imperial throne, was constantly engaged in conversation with him, shared the same table, received at his hands favours that baffle description.

2. As soon as he acceded to power, this man, an emperor in very truth appointed by God, made it his first concern to ensure in his Empire fair dealing and good order, to put an end to fraudulence and introduce a moderate and just system of government.**231 Being endowed with a natural aptitude for all kinds of duties, he was fully capable of dealing with his responsibilities as a sovereign. For instances when acting as judge in lawsuits, he showed himself by no means ignorant of the principles of civil law. He was, in fact, extraordinarily clever in getting straight to the point. Without making a special study of philosophy and rhetoric, he proved to be in no way inferior to the philosophers and orators when he engaged [254] in controversy, or made a speech, or dashed off a letter. In military affairs, too, the superiority of his methods was no less pronounced.**232

3. Finding the Empire reduced to serious straits -- all its revenues had been squandered -- he inaugurated a moderate financial policy. There was no foolish spending, no reaping {if I may quote) where he had not sowed, no gathering of what he had not scattered. On the contrary, he was careful to determine in advance what capital he was prepared to expend, thereby saving himself from trouble in the future. As a result he left the imperial treasury not full, certainly not overflowing, but half-replenished. Of all the emperors he was the most pious; nobody, in fact, rivalled him in that virtue. In war he achieved several successes, without undue effort, and wore the garlands of victory.**233

4. He administered the Empire for slightly over seven years, and when he died, a victim of disease, he left abundant material for would-be eulogists. He controlled his temper, did nothing by instinct, always followed the dictates of reason. No one was ever put to death by him, even where the most dreadful crimes had been committed.**234 No one suffered mutilation at his command. He rarely uttered threats and even these were forgotten soon, for he was invariably more inclined to shed tears than to resort to cruelty.

5. Having thus given a brief outline of the man, I will now proceed to a fuller description and fill in the details, as I promised I would in the case of this admirable and remarkable ruler.

6. His family, as far back as his great-grandfathers, had been both distinguished and affluent, the kind of persons historians record in their works. Certain it is that to this very day the names of the celebrated Andronicus,**235 of Constantine,**236 of Pantherius,**237 are on everybody's lips -- all relatives of his, some on the paternal, others on the mother's side. His immediate ancestors, too, were no less prominent. And just as Achilles, descended from the famous Aeacus and Peleus, won more renown than they, so this emperor also, having before him such examples in his own family, not only followed their pattern, but far surpassed his forefathers, being himself conspicuous for all the virtues. From earliest childhood he had seemed a likely candidate for imperial honours, and when he did ascend the throne he conducted himself so well in his duties that he won universal approbation. Constantine was careful to avoid the wild gossip and petty talk of the Forum, and most of his time [255] was spent in the country, where he busied himself on his father's estate. After his marriage he led a life of studied moderation. His wife was herself a member of a most distinguished family (she was a daughter of the famous Constantine Dalassenus, a man well known throughout the civilized world for his strength) and she was a lady of great beauty. When death carried her off, lest he should again be exposed to obloquy or give ill-natured folk any opportunity for slander, he married a second time. This lady was also of noble birth, a woman of great spirit and exceptional beauty.**238 By her he had both sons and daughters, not only before his accession to the throne but afterwards.**239 The eldest of these children was Michael, who succeeded him as emperor and shared that position with his brothers, surpassing all other rulers before him. When I have told the story of his father's reign, I will pass straight on to a description of him.

7. At this stage of the history I would like to introduce myself into the narrative, deriving from the virtues of Constantine some reflected glory. At that time I was a prominent orator. In fact, my renown was due rather to eloquence than any family connections. The emperor himself was passionately fond of rhetoric, an enthusiast if ever there was one, and my friendship with him and the intimacy we enjoyed owed its origin to this fact. A mutual admiration sprang up after our first conversation and trial of skill, and we became so attached to one another that we frequently visited each other's houses, revelling in this delightful friendship. Another factor, too, contributed to the high regard in which we held one another. Owing to my oratorical skill, I was introduced at court and became secretary to the reigning emperor, none other than Constantine, head of the Monomachi, a position which was in very truth his by right.**240 I was then twenty-five years old. Of course, I had to adopt a more distinguished mode of living and a finer house had to be found to live in. Even in this matter the emperor provided for me. He allowed me to take over my friend's**241 house, giving him a mansion in exchange, and thereby united us more firmly still in the bonds of friendship. I trusted him (my friend) implicitly on all occasions and painted a glowing picture of his virtues to the emperor. I was even able to gain for him certain advantages. Then, of course, this emperor died and his place on the throne was taken by Michael the Aged (I will not recall again the many events that occurred [256] between the two reigns). There was a crisis in the state, when the military felt it incumbent on them to enter the struggle for power prepared to risk their lives in order that they might rule the Empire Chief responsibility for this state of affairs rested on the senate because of its choice of magistrates in the government and because it failed to see the dangers involved. No doubt, too, the emperor gave them a pretext for disloyalty and added fuel to the flames. Well, the soldiers decided to revolt on their own initiative, holding a council of war in Byzantium and immediately afterwards setting out for their chosen rendezvous. I have told the whole story in detail in the section devoted to Comnenus.

8. The people were unanimous in their support of Constantine and wished him to become emperor. They urged him to seize power himself, but he refused, nobly withdrawing his own claims and making way for Isaac Comnenus. So God, long before his accession, guided his actions, wishing him to come to the throne by legitimate means. I prefer not to repeat the history of the subsequent happenings, but briefly Comnenus became master of the Empire, and forgot most of the promises he had made to Constantine. The latter contented himself, once more, with a minor rôle. He was careful to avoid giving any offence to the ruling monarch. However, when Comnenus fell ill and nearly died, he remembered the agreements previously made with his lieutenant. He sought my advice on the situation {none of the emperors in any life-time had a higher opinion of me, or admired me more than he did). The result of this conversation was that he set aside the claims of his own family and turned wholeheartedly to Constantine.

9. I will dwell for a few moments on this affair and the reasons for it. It was mid-day, and the emperor was suffering from a recurrence of his illness, a more than usually violent attack. Believing that he was about to die almost at once, he sent for Ducas, gave him a verbal assurance that he was the new emperor, and openly entrusted to his care those whom he held most dear, his wife and daughter, his brother and the rest of his family. The insignia of the sovereign were not yet handed over to Constantine, but the promise was explicit.

10. Later, the emperor recovered somewhat, and as it appeared that he was now restored to his normal health, he regretted his previous action, while Constantine, after being promoted to the [257] throne, now found himself in a dangerous and embarrassing position. Not only was he afraid that his hopes were confounded, but he was fearful of the misfortune and the suspicion that might follow his collapse. So, abandoning all others, he took counsel with me, in the name of our old friendship. Whatever I proposed to do, whatever initiative I took, he was prepared, he said, to follow without hesitation. Divine, spotless soul (I am moved to write as though you indeed heard me), I did not fail you. My friendship was true. You know yourself how from the very start I stood by you, how I encouraged and upheld you, how I cheered you in moments of despair, how I promised, if need arose, to share your perils, how I won over to your side the Patriarch, satisfied all the demands of friendship, allowed no opportunity to dip.

11. To complete the story, the emperor was seized with a worse attack and everyone despaired of his life, but nobody at all, except myself, dared to array Constantine in the imperial insignia. I spoke out freely and seated him on the imperial throne, putting on his feet he sandals of purple -- the sandals hitherto denied to him -- and the Senate gave its unanimous approval. The other ceremonies followed, the meeting of the magistrates, their presentation to the sovereign, the homage due to an emperors the prostration, and all the formalities usually observed when a new ruler is proclaimed.

12. When he saw me leading the act of homage, he at once rose from his throne and openly embraced me, his eyes filled with tears. He was quite overcome, and the favours he then promised in his great thankfulness were more than he could ever have fulfilled -- though he did carry into effect most of them.

13. These events took place in the evening, and not long after Isaac, now utterly despairing both of his throne and his life, allowed himself to undergo the ceremony of tonsure and assumed the robe of a monk. About midnight the illness became less severe and he revived a little. Then, realizing his predicament and giving up all hope for the future, when he saw that Constantine was now in power, he admitted that the affair had his full approval and without more ado left the palace. A journey by sea brought him to his retreat in the monastery at Studium.**242

14. I have already described how he went off there, to die a lingering death,**243 in the history of the last reign. Constantine was now complete master of the Empire and firmly established on the throne. [258]

In the privacy of the throne-room, with the separating curtain still drawn, and with only myself standing beside him at his right hand his first act was to render thanksgiving to God, his hands raised above his head, his eyes filled with tears. After this preliminary act of dedication, he drew aside the curtain and called in the Senate all the soldiers who happened to be there at the time, the keepers of the public records, and the magistrates who presided in the courts of justice. When all were assembled, he made an extempore speech on the subject of justice and mercy and righteous dealing. The address was suited to his audience, as he appealed now to their sense of justice, now to their humanity and the responsibilities of Empire. At the end he invited me to say a few words appropriate to the occasion, and then dismissed the assembly.

15. He proceeded at once to put into practice the advice he had given, guided by the two principles just emphasized, namely, 'Do good' and 'Dispense Justice'. Not a single man out of that assembly was sent away without some reward. The government officials, their deputies, the minor dignitaries, even the manual workers, all received something. In the case of the last-named, he actually raised their social status. Until his time there had been a sharp distinction between the class of ordinary citizens and the Senate, but Constantine did away with it. Henceforth no discrimination was made between worker and Senator, and they were merged in one body.

16. Seeing that the majority of his subjects were disturbed at the injustice of their lot, some persons exercising more power than they should have done, while the rest were oppressed by them, he decided to act as a judge himself, 'seeing things', as the Prophet-King has it, 'with an unbiased eye'. Wrong-doers he treated with severity, but to the injured parties he showed himself most gracious and kind. So long as a trial was in progress there was no prejudice for or against either litigant, plaintiff or defendant, and both were cross-examined with equal respect. This impartiality led to the disclosure of secrets: not only was the character of individual witnesses exposed to scrutiny, but more often than not fresh delinquencies were brought to light. New customs made their first appearance at court, their initiation being proclaimed with the utmost solemnity. Unjust contracts were annulled. Every order issued by the emperor, every written instruction, had the same, or even greater, force than the law. As for the country-folk, who in former times did not even know [259] who the ruling emperor was, they were unwavering in their loyalty to Constantine, while the kindly affection he had for them was evident from the way he spoke to them, and still more from the way he treated them.

17. These were not his only measures, for the public revenues also demanded attention. I am not composing a panegyric but a true history, so I must admit here that there were occasions on which his policy fell short of perfection, when he relied on his own judgment and refused outside advice. For example, international differences, according to his ideas, had to be settled, not by recourse to arms, but the sending of gifts and by other tokens of friendship -- for two reasons: in the first place, he would avoid having to spend the greater part of the imperial revenues on the army, and, secondly, his own manner of life would not be disturbed.**244

18. Actually, he was greatly mistaken in this, for when the military organization broke down, the poster of our enemies increased and they became more active in their opposition. Of course, emperors should be above such foolishness -- refusal to accept advice, I mean, and lack of foresight -- but selfishness on the one hand, and, on the other, the flattering speeches of ordinary folk, who persuaded some of them that they could do everything unaided, these for the most part were the things that caused their downfall and led them astray, of the path of duty. If a man speaks his mind in defence of what is good, they suspect him, whereas a warm welcome awaits the parasite: he is allowed to share their secrets. Herein lies the cause of the Roman Empire's decline. It was this that brought discredit on our affairs. Yet more than once I tried to save this emperor, if no other, from such a mistake. On this point, however, he was emphatic and quite inflexible. Let us leave it at that, and examine his reputation for humanity, as well as for wisdom. We have already dealt faith his claim to be just. But here I recall a point that had escaped my memory, and I will mention it now.

19. At the time when he was crowned, he made a vow to God that he would never inflict corporal punishment. It was a promise that he kept, and more than kept, for not only did he abstain from physical violence, but usually from violent language, except when he purposely assumed a terrible expression and uttered threats of vengeance that he never intended to carry out. As a judge, he went straight to the point, dealing with cases on their merits and giving [260] each party a reasonable chance to state their claims, careful to maintain justice where injustice had been done.

20. The reader may like to know something of his home-life. With the children he was delightful, joining gladly in their games, laughing at their baby-talk, often romping with them. From infancy he saw to it that they had a good education, both in mind and body. Three sons had been born before he acceded to the throne, and two daughters. The second boy lived only a short time after his father became emperor and then died, a most beautiful child. Of the daughters, the younger had already been betrothed.**245 She was a lady of great charm and virtue. The other, who bore the significant name of Arete (Virtue), dedicated her life to the service of God.**246 lf She is still with us. May she live to a ripe old age!

21. The sun had not yet completed its yearly cycle after Constantine's promotion, when another child was born to him, and at once dignified with the imperial title. The other two brothers, having been born before his accession (the remarkable Michael and the younger son, Andronicus), counted as ordinary citizens. However, it was not long before his father adorned the eldest and most handsome son, this same Michael, the truly devout Michael, with the imperial diadem, but just before he took his seat on the throne, Constantine put him to a severe test, to find out if the young man was really suited to be emperor. The question he asked him concerned political theory. As Michael solved the problem and gave the correct answer, the emperor regarded it as an omen that he was destined to win great renown in his future reign, and the ceremony of enthronement was at once performed.

22. Later on certain individuals set on foot a plot against the emperor's life.**247 Their object was to depose him and set up someone else as head of the state. The conspirators included among their number men of obscure birth, persons who were quite unknown, but there were also implicated some of the nobles and men of distinction. The plot was preconcerted in such a way that some of the rebels made their attempt from the sea, while others were carrying on their disreputable business on land, but at the very moment when things reached a crisis, the affair was brought to light through Divine intervention and their evil plans were discovered. Constantine might well have had them beheaded. They might have lost their hands or been mutilated in some other way. Instead, some of [261] them were forcibly shaved and the rest condemned to exile. The emperor, as if to celebrate his narrow escape from danger, invited me to his private apartment and ordered me to dine at his table. But he had not finished the meal before he burst into tears. 'Philosopher,' he said, 'what a pity our exiles cannot share in such pleasures! I cannot possibly enjoy myself like this when others are in distress!'

23. When an alliance had been concluded between the western Mysians**248 and the Triballi, and these two nations formed a united front, the Roman Empire found itself in a very serious position. At the first opportunity Constantine hurried off to fight them, but later, thanks to me -- I snatched him from danger almost by main force -- he returned to the palace. However, he did mobilize a small army and sent it off to oppose them. At this point God worked a wonder no less strange than the miracles performed by Moses, for the barbarians immediately took to their heels, terror-struck, scattering in all directions, and most of them were cut down by our men's swords as they followed them in hot pursuit. It was as if the enemy had seen a host of angelic beings. Their dead were left to the birds of prey, while the runaways dispersed all over the countryside. If I had proposed to write a panegyric, therefore, instead of a comprehensive history, in this marvel I would have found enough material for praise beyond all bounds. As it is, I must divert my enthusiasm to other matters.

24. It would be possible for me to name emperors who rivalled, even equalled, Constantine in other things, but not where belief in God was concerned, or the mystery of the ineffable dispensation of God the Word. This latter, to Constantine, was more than anything else beyond conception: no words could possibly explain it, however simple, however clever. Every time I tried to expound to him the Mystery enacted on our behalf, his heart would fill with joy, his whole body tremble in exultation, and the tears would stream from his eyes. He had made a study of Holy Writ in all its fullness, and his knowledge was not confined merely to the text, but extended to the deep spiritual ideas that underlie it. Whatever leisure from public duties he enjoyed was spent in the reading of the Sacred Books.

25. He took peculiar pleasure in my company. No one else had the same restful influence on him. If, therefore, I failed to present myself several times in a day, he would complain about it and fret. [262] He respected me more than anyone else and 'drank his fill of waters at my fount': to him they were as nectar. I told him once that one of the citizens was dead. To my astonishment, he displayed extraordinary pleasure, and when I asked him why, he replied: 'Because if you must know, I have heard many complaints about the fellow before and now . . .', but here I broke in (actually I was afraid he might give way to violence and burst into a rage against the man): 'Well, since he is dead, let the accusations against the man die too. It would be well for his detractors to forget it, for all hatred perishes when a man meets his end.'

26. Constantine promoted his brother John**249 to the dignity of Caesar. He showed great affection for him, especially after his elevation, and shared with him the administration of the Empire. This was not surprising, for the brother was endowed with wisdom. He was, moreover, a man of high ideals and great practical ability. It was natural, then, that when the emperor (some time before his death) fell victim to a serious illness, he should place under John's tutelage his own children. John was to be a father to them, together with the man whom Constantine himself had appointed Patriarch.**250 The latter gentleman was a person of great virtue and thoroughly suited to be Head of the Church.

27. However, the emperor recovered from that illness, though it was not long before there were signs of physical decay and he gradually declined. On this occasion he entrusted all his duties to his wife, Eudocia. In his opinion, she was the wisest woman of her time and he thought that no one was better qualified to educate his sons and daughters. Later on in the history I will give a more detailed account of Eudocia. Constantine himself did not long survive the administrative changes that I have mentioned, and after committing the children to her care, he died.**251 He had lived slightly over sixty years.

28. I doubt whether any other emperor lived a life more glorious, or died more contented. Apart from the one conspiracy against his life and the disaster from which he was saved, the rest of his reign was spent in tranquillity and pleasure. What is more, he left behind sons to succeed him on the throne, sons who were the living image of their father, resembling him both in character and in physique.

29. Having given an adequate account of his deeds, let us now record a few of his sayings.**252 When speaking of those who had [263] plotted against him, he used to remark, that far from depriving them of honour or money, he would treat them as slaves, not as free men. 'But it is not I who have taken away their freedom: it is the law that has exiled them from their country.' He was a keen student of literature and a favourite saying was this: 'Would that I were better known as a scholar than as emperor!' He was a valiant fighter himself, and when someone professed that he would gladly shield the emperor with his own body in battle, Constantine answered: 'Bravo! and please don't forget to deal me a blow yourself, when I have fallen!' To a person who was making a careful study of the laws, so that he might do some wrong with impunity, he remarked, 'These laws are the ruination of us!' With that I end my account of this emperor.



1068 -- 1071



1. When the empress Eudocia, in accordance with the wishes of her husband, succeeded him as supreme ruler, she did not hand over the government to others. Far from choosing to spend most of her life In idleness at home, while the magistrates had charge of public affairs, she assumed control of the whole administration in person. At first she behaved modestly enough: neither in the imperial processions nor in her own clothing was there any mark of extravagance. She made herself conversant with all her duties, and wherever it was practicable, she took part in all the processes of government, the choice of magistrates, civil affairs, revenues and taxes. Her pronouncements had the note of authority which one associates with an emperor. Nor was this surprising, for she was in fact an exceedingly clever woman. On either side of her were her two sons, both of whom stood almost rooted to the spot, quite overcome with awe and reverence for their mother.

2. That Constantine should respect her, being a child and still incapable of understanding the affairs of state, will cause no surprise, and I cannot bring myself to praise him for a modesty that was natural, but Michael's case is different. He was already long past his [265] boyhood and able to think for himself. His intellectual powers were fully developed, had been frequently put to the test. It is no easy matter, therefore, to find a parallel to his obedient attitude, or to the way he left the whole administration to his mother. I find it altogether impassible to praise the young man enough for this. On several occasions I have seen him myself, when he could have spoken in his mother's presence, keep silent, as if speech were beyond him, and though he had the ability to undertake any task you like to name, he took no part in matters concerned with the Empire.

3. Yet it would not be true to say that his mother despised him, at the beginning of her reign. As a matter of fact, she personally trained him for his future career, and later on allowed him to appoint magistrates and encouraged him to act as a judge. She often demonstrated her affection for him with kisses. There were times when she commended him, expressed her pride in what he had done, and always she was building up his characters quietly preparing him for the various duties that an emperor has to perform. She frequently handed him over to me and suggested that I should instruct him in the functions of his office and give him advice. He used to sit on the imperial throne beside his brother Constantine, and being endowed with an exceptionally generous nature, he had no intention of keeping all power to himself. In fact, he often allowed his brother to share in his duties as emperor. Such was the state of affairs at that time, and these arrangements would have been preserved without alteration to the end, if they had not suffered interruption from a cruel blow of fortune.

4. At this stage in my narrative I would like to say just this about the empress Eudocia: I do not know whether any other woman ever set such an example of wisdom or lived a life comparable to hers, up to this point; I will not go so far as to say that she became less wise after this event, only that she lost some of her old precision: her ideas changed as she grew older. I would offer this defence on her behalf, that even if there was some alteration in her, she did not become a slave to pleasure or give way to voluptuous emotions. The truth is, she was very worried over her sons. She feared they might be deprived of the crown, if there were no one to protect and guide them. Actually, life at the palace held no attraction so far as she herself was concerned. The following incident will prove this most convincingly. The present author was a brother (I am using [266] the word in a spiritual sense) of her father, and she had an extraordinary respect for me. In fact, she looked upon me as something divine. I happened on one occasion to be with her in a sacred church, and when I saw the earnestness of her faith in God and how devoted she was to her Lord, I was deeply moved and prayed with all my heart that she might enjoy power as long as she lived. But she, turning round, rebuked me for it. The prayer, she said, was really a curse. 'I hope it will not be my fate to enjoy power so long that I die an empress.' These words filled me with such terror that ever afterwards I regarded her as more than human.

5. However, man is a very inconstant being, especially when external circumstances give him an excuse for changing. This particular empress was a woman of steadfast character and noble spirit but her tower of wise counsels was violently shaken by the rivers that dashed against it, and she was persuaded to marry a second time. A number of people knew what was going on. They even suggested that Destiny had a hand in the matter. Yet she never so much as hinted at her intentions to me. No doubt she held her tongue for shame. She wished to avoid naming the husband-to-be and at the same time put an end to the conflicting rumours about his identity. On the other hand, she wanted me to know of her plan. Consequently, I was visited by one of her evil counsellors. He urged me so speak freely to her on the subject, and to suggest that she should place a nobleman on the throne. My answer was concise: I would neither offer this advice nor seek to persuade her by argument, nor would I use my eloquence if a good opportunity presented itself.**253

6. In the meantime there had been whispered rumours, and the court got to know of the affair. The future emperor had already been chosen by her, and according to the arrangements they had made, this was the very day on which the prospective bridegroom was expected to arrive in the city. On the morrow the ceremony of coronation was to be performed. That evening the empress sent for me. When we were alone, she spoke to me with tears in her eyes. 'You must be aware,' she said, 'of our loss in prestige and of the declining fortunes of our Empire, with wars constantly springing up and barbarian hordes ravaging the whole of the east.**254 How can our country possibly escape disaster?' I knew nothing of the things that had been going on, nor that the future emperor was already [267] standing at the palace doors, so I replied that it was no easy matter to decide. 'It requires careful consideration,' I said. 'Better propose today and listen tomorrow, as the proverb says.' With a little laugh she went on, 'But deliberation is superfluous now. The matter has been considered already and the decision is made. Romanus, the son of Diogenes, has been invited to rule as emperor, in preference to all others.'**255

7. These words filled me with instant consternation. I could not conceive what would become of me. 'Well then,' I said, 'tomorrow I too will give my advice on the matter.' -- 'Not tomorrow,' she replied 'but now. Give me your support.' I returned to the attack, with just one question: 'But your son, the emperor, who will presumably one day govern the Empire alone -- does he know what has happened too?' -- 'He is not entirely in the dark, although he does not yet know all the details,' she said. 'However, I am glad you mention my son. Let us go up to him together, and explain how things stand. He is sleeping above in one of the imperial apartments.'

8. So we went up to him. How she felt about it I do not know, but I was most agitated. A sudden fit of trembling shook me through and through. She sat down on her son's bed, called him 'her emperor', 'her best of sons'. 'Rise up,' she said, 'and receive your step-father. Although he takes the place of your father, he will be a subject, not a ruler. I, your mother, have bound him in writing to observe this arrangement.' Well, the young man got up from his bed at once, and although he looked at me suspiciously I have no idea what he was thinking. Together with his mother he left the room in which he had been sleeping, and immediately came face to face with the new emperor. Without the slightest trace of emotion, his visage quite expressionless, he embraced Romanus, becoming at once his colleague on the throne and his friend.

9. Thereupon the Caesar was also summoned.**256 Never were his diplomatic qualities seen to better advantage. First he made some tactful inquiries about his nephew the emperor, then added a few words of commendation in praise of Romanus. This was followed by congratulations for all the imperial party. One could almost hear him singing the wedding song and see him taking his fill from the nuptial drinking-bowl. And that is how the government of the Empire passed into the hands of the next sovereign, Romanus.**257



10. This emperor, Romanus, son of Diogenes, came of an ancient and distinguished family. Only in one respect was it dishonoured -- by his father. The latter had been arrested on a charge of attempted revolution during the reign of Romanus Argyrus and had committed suicide by hurling himself over a precipice. There were occasions when he did act in a straightforward fashion, but for the most part he was a hypocrite and a braggart. Even Romanus himself did not escape the imputation of treachery at the time, but any designs he may have cherished during the rest of his life passed unnoticed, until Eudocia became empress (I have described this lady in the preceding chapters). It was not until her reign that he revealed his secret intentions. He was at once apprehended, and his audacity would have met with its just deserts, had not the empress exercised her clemency on his behalf and saved him from condemnation -- an error of judgment on her part. She ought to have put him to death. Instead, she preserved his life, and having done so, she thought that her own supremacy would be assured if she made him emperor. He would, she believed, never again oppose her wishes. It was a reasonable conjecture, but her plans went astray. After pretending for a few days to be her loyal subject, he suddenly reverted to his normal habits. The more she tried to dominate him, to treat him, who was really her master, like a lion in a cage, the more he fretted at her restraining influence and glared at the hand that kept him in check. To begin with, he growled inwardly, but as time passed his disgust became obvious to everyone.**258

11. I must admit that his attitude to myself was one of great deference. The fact is, when he was still a private citizen, he had courted my favour with the most abject servility, and I had in some measure helped him in his career. Far from forgetting these services when he ascended the throne, he showed such affection and regard for me that he would rise up when I came into his presence and treated me as his greatest friend. However, that is by the way and outside the general scope of my narrative. The main point is that he wished to rule unchallenged by anyone else and to govern the Empire entirely on his own. Unfortunately, he had made no notable contribution to public affairs in his previous career. Nevertheless, he waited patiently for the opportunity, and the declaration of war against the Persians [269] owed its origin no less to his personal ambitions than to a desire to safeguard the whole commonwealth.

12. It was my habit to give the emperors useful advice, so I tried to restrain him, pointing out that it was first necessary to discuss the question of military forces, to draw up lists of names, to call on help from abroad, and then, when all preparations had been completed, to declare war. But the babblers who make a habit of contradicting all I say (with a few exceptions) have brought ruin on our affairs. They did it then, and they are doing it now. So the worse opinion prevailed, and he, donning his warlike armour in the palace, taking a shield in his left hand and a spear in his right, 'wellcompacted with bands, twenty-two cubits in length',**259 thought that with the one he could bar the enemy's inroads, while he plunged the other in his adversary's flanks. Others uttered their war-cry, clapped their hands at this, but my face was clouded with gloom, for I guessed what the result of it all would probably be.

13. At all events, he left the city with all his army**260 and advanced against the barbarians, not knowing where he was marching, nor what he was going to do. He wandered over the countryside, planning to go one way, marching by another, traversing Syria, as well as Persia -- and all the success he met with was to lead his army into the interior, establish his men on some high hills, bring them down again, cut them off in narrow passes, and suffer heavy casualties through his manoeuvring. However, he returned, still to all appearances victorious. Neither from the Medes nor from the Persians did he bring us any spoils of war. One thing alone satisfied him: that he had marched against his foes.

14. Therein lay his first excuse for vainglory. From now on, he affected contempt for the empress, completely despised the officers of state, refused advice, and -- incurable malady of emperors -- relied on no counsel, no guidance but his own, under all circumstances without exception. As for myself, I swear by God, the God whom philosophy reveres, that I tried to turn him from his ambitions.**261 I knew his treacherous designs. I feared for the empress and the commonwealths lest all should be lost in revolt and disorder. I reminded him of his solemn undertakings. Wherever possible, I even attempted to frighten him with the prospect of ultimate failure: his schemes might turn to his own destruction. And when, as often happened Eudocia was stirred to indignation at his insults, and [270] when she was grieved, I took both sides and tried by my words to reconcile their differences.

15. Not long afterwards, at the very beginning of spring, **262 in fact, there was trouble from the enemy, and the emperor's previous campaign was shown to have been a hollow triumph. So once more there were preparations for war, and (to pass over the intervening occurrences) I myself took a small part in the expedition. The fact is, he put such overwhelming compulsion on me to join him on the campaign that I could not possibly refuse.**263 I would rather not say anything at the moment of the reason why he was so insistent that I should accompany him, because I am abridging most of this story, but I will speak of it when I write the history of these events. I am still under an obligation in the matter, although nobody can accuse me of any disloyalty to him, nor blame me because all his plans went astray.

16. He agreed that in all matters connected with literature he was my inferior (I am referring here to the sciences), but where military strategy was concerned it was his ambition to surpass me. The knowledge that I was thoroughly conversant with the science of military tactics, that I had made a complete study of everything pertaining to military formations, the building of war-machines, the capture of cities, and all the other things that a general has to consider, this moved him not only to admiration, but also to envy. So far as he could, he argued against me, and tried to outdo me in these debates. Many of those who shared that campaign with us will know that this description is not exaggerated.

17. This second war of his was no more successful than the first. It was, in fact, altogether indecisive and the enemy held their own everywhere. If our men fell in their tens of thousands, while a mere handful of our adversaries were taken prisoner, at least we were not beaten -- and we succeeded in making a lot of noise at the barbarians! The result of it all was that Romanus became more proud and more insolent than ever, because, forsooth, he had twice commanded an army. He lost respect for everything, and -- worse still -- the evil counsellors to whom he listened led him completely astray.

18. As for the empress, he treated her like a captive taken in war. For next to nothing he would have agreed even to drive her out of the palace. The Caesar**264 he suspected, and on several occasions hastened to arrest him and put him to death, but changed his mind [271] afterwards and gave up the idea. For the present, at all events, he was content to bind him and his sons to swear on oath that they would be loyal. Having no reasonable pretext for carrying out the plans which he secretly cherished against the Caesar, he set out on his third and last expedition against the barbarians,**265 who were now distinctly hostile. Actually, they were engaged in plundering raids on Roman territory and as soon as spring came, they overran it in considerable force. So Romanus once again left the capital to fight them, accompanied by a larger contingent of allies and native troops than before.**266

19. With his usual contempt of all advice, whether on matters civil or military, he at once set out with his army and hurried to Caesarea. Having reached that objective, he was loth to advance any further and tried to find excuses for returning to Byzantium, not only for his own sake but for the army's. When he found the disgrace involved in such a retreat intolerable, he should have come to terms with the enemy and put a stop to their annual incursions. Instead, whether in desperation, or because he was more confident than he should have been, he marched to the attack, without taking adequate measures to protect his rear. The enemy, seeing him advance, decided to lure him on still further and ensnare him by cunning. They therefore rode on ahead of him and then retired again, as though the retreat was planned. By carrying out this manoeuvre several times, they succeeded in cutting off some of our generals, who were taken captive.**267

20. Now I was aware (though he was not) that the Sultan himself, the King of the Persians and Kurds, was present in person with his army, and most of their victories were due to his leadership. Romanus refused to believe anyone who detected the Sultan's influence in these successes. The truth is, he did not want peace. He thought he would capture the barbarian camp without a battle. Unfortunately for him, through his ignorance of military science, he had scattered his forces; some were concentrated round himself, others had been sent off to take up some other position. So, instead of opposing his adversaries with the full force of his army, less than half were actually involved.**268

21. Although I cannot applaud his subsequent behaviour, it is impossible for me to censure him. The fact is, he bore the whole brunt of the danger himself. His action can be interpreted in two [272] ways. My own view represents the mean between these two extremes. On the one hand, if you regard him as a hero, courting danger and fighting courageously it is reasonable to praise him: on the other when one reflects that a general, if he conforms to the accepted rules of strategy must remain aloof from the battle-line, supervising the movements of his army and issuing the necessary orders to the men under his command, then Romanus's conduct on this occasion would appear foolhardy in the extreme, for he exposed himself to danger without a thought of the consequences. I myself am more inclined to praise than to blame him for what he did.**269

22. However that may be, he put on the full armour of an ordinary soldier and drew sword against his enemies. According to several of any informants, he actually killed many of them and put others to flight. Later, when his attackers recognized who he was, they surrounded him on all sides. He was wounded**270 and fell from his horse. They seized him, of course, and the Emperor of the Romans was led away, a prisoner, to the enemy camp, and his army was scattered. Those who escaped were but a tiny faction of the whole. Of the majority some were taken captive, the rest massacred.

23. I do not intend at this moment to write of the time spent by the emperor in captivity or of the attitude adopted towards him by his conqueror. That must wait till later. A few days after the battle one of those who had escaped, arriving before his comrades, brought the terrible news to the City. He was followed by a second messenger, and by others. The picture they painted was by no means distinct, for each explained the disaster in his own fashion, some saying that Romanus was dead, others that he was only a prisoner; some again declared that they had seen him wounded and hurled to the ground, while others had seen him being led away, in chains, to the barbarian camp. In view of this information, a conference was held in the capital, and the empress considered our future policy. The unanimous decision of the meeting was that, for the time being, they should ignore the emperor, whether he was a prisoner, or dead, and that Eudocia and her sons should carry on the government of the Empire.

24. At this conference some councillors wished Michael, and his young brother, to control the administration entirely: their mother was to take no active part whatever. Others again favoured the complete restoration of Eudocia's rule, to the exclusion of her sons. For my own part, neither solution of the problem seemed satisfactory. My personal opinion -- I will speak frankly -- was that both should act in concert: the son should pay her respect, because she was his mother, and she should govern the whole Empire as sovereign on equal terms with her son. This was in fact the proposal which the emperor Michael himself favoured and he supported me. There were persons who wished to get supreme power for themselves and to govern the state for their own profit, and these were just the people who urged her to rule alone. At the same time they were busily engaged in trying to force a quarrel between Michael and his mother.

25. It is difficult for me, at this stage, to express adequately the admiration I feel for this young man. He discussed the constitutional question with me privately, and he was prepared, if his mother so desired to abdicate. He was most anxious to avoid any mark of disrespect for her: at all costs she must be treated with all due consideration. Again and again I managed to effect a settlement between them, but Michael was so obsessed with the idea that he must never oppose his mother, that even the thought of meeting her face to face would cause him to blush. He insisted on humiliating himself altogether. Such was the position, with the whole matter still undecided, when the Caesar arrived in the city, at Eudocia's invitation, and lent his support to my scheme. He was strongly in favour of joint-rule by the family.

26. This trouble had not completely died down before another howling tempest broke over our heads, and on the self-same day. The commander-in-chief of the enemy forces, when he perceived that the Roman emperor had fallen into his hands, instead of exulting in his triumph, was quite overcome by his own extraordinary success. He celebrated his victory with a moderation that was beyond all expectation. Offering his condolences to the captive, he shared his own table with him, treated him as an honoured guest, gave him a bodyguard, loosed from their chains those prisoners he cared to name and set them free. Finally, he restored liberty to Romanus himself also, and after making a treaty of friendship and after receiving from him assurances on oath that he would loyally abide by the agreements they had made, sent him back to Roman territory, with as numerous an escort and bodyguard as anyone could wish for.**271 Actually, this proved to be the beginning of trouble, the main [274] cause of a multitude of disasters. The emperor, having obtained more concessions than he had thought possible, was under the impression that he would now recover his throne without any difficulty, and to signalize the good fortune that had followed on his defeat, he wrote a letter in his own handwriting to the empress, telling her of all his adventures.

27. Immediately there was wild confusion in the palace, with comings and goings everywhere. Some professed astonishment at the news, others would not believe it. Eudocia found herself in an embarrassing position. She was unable to decide what to do next. When I myself arrived in the midst of the turmoil there was general demand that I should advise on the best policy. My beloved emperor (Michael) was particularly insistent and joined the others in urging me to speak. I declared, therefore, that it was no longer necessary to receive Romanus in the Empire: he should be outlawed and instructions should be forwarded to every place in the Roman dominions that his reign was over. The moderate element were convinced that this policy was in our best interests, but the opposition favoured a different plan.

28. That was the state of affairs, when Michael, fearing for his own safety and distrusting the cruel nature of Diogenes, decided on his own course of action. The plan he adopted undoubtedly saved him and it was admittedly a wise move. He cut himself off from his mother and henceforth became his own master. Then, on the advice of his cousins, the Caesar's sons,**272 he won over to his allegiance the palace guards.**273 (These men are, without exception armed with shields and the rhomphaia, a one-edged sword of heavy iron which they carry suspended from the right shoulder.) Well, the guards banged on their shields all together, bawled their heads off as they shouted their war-cry, clashed sword on sword, with answering quells, and went off in a body to the emperor, thinking he was in danger. Then, forming a circle about him, so that no one could approach, they carried him off to the upper parts of the palace.

29. So much for them. Meanwhile those who were with the empress -- and I was one of that number -- not knowing what was happening, were almost petrified with fear. We thought that terrible things were about to befall us. The empress did indeed lose her nerve, and pulling her veil over her head she ran off to a secret crypt below ground. While she was hiding in the depths of this cavern, [275] I stayed by the opening that led to it. I had no idea what to do, nor nowhere to turn for safety. However, once his own security was guaranteed, Michael remembered me. I was the first person he thought of, and messengers were sent to all parts of the palace, to find out where I was. Having discovered my whereabouts, they lifted me up in their arms and carried me in cheerful triumph to their sovereign, as if I were some lucky find, or some precious gift. And he, as soon as he set eyes on me, was like a man who breathes a sigh of relief when a storm has passed. At once he handed over to me the responsibility of taking all decisions that might be necessary.

30. So I busied myself with affairs of state. There were plans to be made, precautions to be taken, if the administration of the City was to ride this storm. Meanwhile the others were dealing with the question of the dowager empress. To cut a long story short, it was decreed that she must leave the city and live in a convent that she herself had founded by the sea in honour of Mary, the Mother of God.**274 No time was lost in carrying out this decision, although her son refused to ratify it: he could not agree to his mother's exile. I know that for a fact, and I am prepared to maintain it before all the world, with God as my witness. The truth is, circumstances were too strong for him and overruled his own wishes.

31. In matters of this kind, history is apt to repeat itself. You find the same sort of things happening, the same sort of things being said. In this case, men differed widely in their opinions about the empress, and a constant stream of propaganda was directed against her. The result was a second decree, to the effect that she must now take the veil of a nun. Without more ado, this order was also carried out, and the empress's career was brought to an abrupt conclusion.

32. Diogenes, meanwhile, instead of rejoicing in his deliverance, was filled with chagrin at the prospect of losing his throne. Actually, a large body of soldiers had already flocked to his standard, and as he moved from place to place, with the comforting knowledge that there was no one to oppose him, he appropriated to his own use the money from the public funds. Finally he arrived with his army at the famous city of Amasea, the place that everyone is talking about.

33. Michael's immediate answer to this was to appoint the Caesar's younger son**275 commander-in-chief of the Roman army. The new general was a man of great energy, blest with a quick wit and a [276] remarkable flair for discerning the right course of action, and for explaining it in language that all could understand. Having approached the city -- Diogenes had already established himself in Amasea -- he first concentrated his army. This done, he began series of skirmishes, using all manner of wily tricks in order to capture his opponent, or else drive him out of the city. As his position grew steadily worse, Diogenes made a daring sally and drew up the whole of his forces in battle-array against the attacker. In the ensuing struggle, both sides suffered considerable losses. Our general charged the enemy like a horseman on wings, and falling on the hostile ranks, a veritable tower of strength, forced them back and smashed their line in many places. Some of those who resisted fell fighting on the battlefield, others were captured, while a small number escaped by flight. Among these last was Diogenes, riding as fast as his horse could carry him. For the first time we had reason to feel confident in the future.

34. As a matter of fact this defeat marked the beginning of Diogenes's downfall. With a handful of his followers, he took refuge in a minor fortress,**276 and he would very soon have fallen into our hands, but for the intervention of someone else.**277 An Armenian by birth, a crafty individual opposed to us on principle this man had been promoted to high rank by Diogenes, while he was still reigning emperor, and now, seeing in the latter's present misfortune an opportunity to repay the favours he had received from him in the past, he came to meet him with a considerable band of soldiers. He encouraged Romanus to take heart, made him wonderful promises, and instead of allowing him to fight our troops, carried him off to Cilicia. The remote valleys of that country, he argued would give him a respite from our attacks. Next he equipped an army for him, gave him money, clothed him in the robes of an emperor, and then, having armed him for battle, the clever rogue waited for a favourable chance to renew the struggle against us.

35. Once again, therefore, we held a council and debated our future policy. One party was in favour of making peace. It was better, they contended, to allow him some share in the governments and to do nothing more in the matter. Others were determined to prosecute the war and make sure that he had no second chance to embark on his reckless schemes. Well, we decided to try and make peace first. A friendly and sympathetic letter was despatched to him [277] from the emperor. Diogenes, however, regarded Michael's kindly attitude as an outrageous insult. He maintained that he himself was entirely free from blame, and he proceeded to make specific demands. He refused to abdicate or in any way moderate his claims to the throne. In fact, to judge from his reply, he was more presumptuous than his plotting had led us to believe.

36. So the emperor was reluctantly compelled to abandon his plans for peace. Andronicus was given command of the imperial armies, the elder of the Caesar's sons. This Andronicus was an amazingly tall man, generous, kindly, and extremely fair. He was now entrusted with the conduct of all the forces of the Eastern Command, and was sent out to do battle with the enemy. His first object was to instil into his army a corporate spirit: the loyalties of his men must be centred in one common object. With this in view, he treated all ranks with meticulous fairness. He tried to understand his soldiers as individuals, and to prove that he was their friend. His second object was to escape Diogenes's notice when he drew near the passes into Cilicia, to make his way quietly through the tortuous mountain defiles, and after traversing all the difficult parts, to present himself unexpectedly before the enemy. Our men set about this task, and in accordance with the plan, they marched through the pass on a narrow precipitous path. Meanwhile the emperor was terribly worried in case his rival should be caught by our soldiers, and either fall fighting, or having been taken alive be mutilated in some part of his body.

37. Many a time I have seen him weep over this, risking his own life if only his adversary might be spared any suffering. The man was his friend, he said, and there were covenants between them, which he was afraid might be broken. So certain priests, men of peace, were entrusted with a friendly message to Diogenes.**278 They had a letter from Michael, in which he made all kinds of promises, but at the same time counselled him, stubborn as he was, to submit.

38. Before this message arrived, however, Diogenes was already engaged in war. He himself remained inside the fortress**279 previously seized by him with a handful of men, but practically all his army was under the command of the Armenian Chatatoures, whom I mentioned in a preceding chapter, and had been sent out to do battle, apparently with every chance of success. The Armenian, advancing with infantry and cavalry, had seized the points of van-[278]tage before our men arrived, and his forces were drawn up in battle order. For the most part, they were fine physical specimens, and most eager for combat.

39. Facing Chatatoures, with his army also arranged for battle was Andronicus. Before the soldiers formed up in close order and the two armies came to grips, Crispinus the Frank**280 (I am writing these words on the very day he died) was standing with Andronicus and they were encouraging one another. This Crispinus had at first appeared as an enemy to the Romans, but later he changed his attitude, and his new loyalty was no less evident than his former hostility. Seeing Diogenes's men now prepared for battle, Crispinus exhorted Andronicus to trust him, saying that he was going to charge the enemy cavalry. With that, he and his men rode at full gallop against their centre. He cut right through the ranks, and when he saw resistance was feeble, the rebels only withstanding his attack for a few moments and then running away, he pursued the fugitives with a handful of his knights. Thus he inflicted heavy losses and took still more prisoners.

40. Diogenes's army was broken and routed. Andronicus, meanwhile, returned in triumph with Crispinus to the tent which had been prepared for him. Later, one of the knights came up, bringing to the general an enemy captive. It was the Armenian Chatatoures. In the flight, he said, he had fallen from his horse at a ditch and had crept under a bush. One of the pursuers had spotted him and would have made short work of him, but when he saw the Armenian's tears, he merely stripped him of his clothes and went away, leaving him naked under the bush. Then a second warrior, seeing him in this sorry plight, rushed up to kill him, but Chatatoures told him that if he would spare him and take him away to a certain general (whom he mentioned by name), he would be most handsomely rewarded. Recognizing who the man was, Andronicus felt doubly victorious. However, clothes and equipment were provided for him, and though he was kept a prisoner, no constraint was put upon him, as befitted a brave leader.

41. Diogenes, of course, could feel no confidence in the small remnants of his army, but he still hoped that assistance would speedily come from his Persian allies.**281 Indeed, he encouraged his men with this assurance and held out prospects of relief in the near future. Yet the very troops on whose loyalty he was relying, the men [279] to whom he had entrusted the keys of his garrison, were the first to betray him. Actually, they made an agreement with our general, and being promised on oath that they themselves would suffer no harm, they threw the gates wide open and admitted our soldiers. Then they led them to the house where Diogenes was living. There he stood, a strange, melancholy spectacle, all his hopes gone, his hands fettered as though he were a slave, surrendering himself unconditionally to his captors. At once he was forced to don the black robe of a monk, and taking off his headdress, he allowed his hair to be cut short, not caring who did it. So the ceremony of initiation was hurriedly performed, not by the persons who should have carried it out, but by individuals who chanced to be there. Having made him a monk, they then led him out of his fortress and, with the greatest joy imaginable, took him off to Andronicus. Instead of receiving him in a high-handed, arrogant fashion, he actually sympathized with the prisoner. He shook hands and invited him to his own tent. Finally, he asked him to be his guest at table, where a magnificent banquet was prepared.

42. So far the story has proceeded without a hitch: I have taken you along 'the royal, smooth highway', as the Holy Scripture has it. To pass on to what happened thereafter is a most disagreeable task. I am reluctant to describe a deed that should never have taken place. And yet, if I may alter my words slightly, it was a deed that should have taken place by all means. On the one hand, the scruples of religion, as well as a natural unwillingness to inflict pain, would forbid such a deed: on the contrary side, the state of affairs at the time, and the possibility of sudden changes in the fortunes of both parties, proclaimed that it must be done. The thing came about as follows. The more enthusiastic element in the emperor's council were afraid that Diogenes might succeed in his plots and once more embarrass the new sovereign. So, concealing their intentions from Michael, they wrote a letter to a certain person who was conveniently able to carry them out, with orders to blind him.**282

43. The emperor was quite ignorant of what was being done -- and God knows I am not saying that to flatter Michael. This is a perfectly true account. When, therefore, he found out, too late, what had occurred, he wept more bitterly even than Diogenes did before undergoing his torture. The news had the most distressing effect on him. Indeed, Michael did not leap for joy, or show any other sign [280] of pleasure, even when he first heard that his enemy had been take prisoner. There is no doubt but that he would have long continued to mourn him openly, had he not feared public resentment. As or Diogenes, he was brought in his blindness to the monastery which he himself had founded, on the island of Prote, and there he died, not long afterwards. His reign had lasted less than four years.**283 Michael was now undisputed ruler of the Empire.



[281] 1. Now that I am about to write an account of the emperor Michael Ducas, or at least to give a rough outline of his reign, as far as the limited space of this history allows me, I must first beg my readers not to look upon my version of the man's character and deeds as exaggerated. On the contrary, I shall hardly do justice to either. As I write these words, I find myself overcome by the same emotions as I often feel when I am in his presence: the same wonder thrills me. Indeed, it is impossible for me not to admire him. And I would ask my readers not to distrust my account, nor to regard with suspicion the words that I shall presently write here, because they are penned during this emperor's lifetime. The very reason why I undertook to write this history was, in fact, none other than this, that men might know there exists a human nature of such divinity, one that far surpasses all others that we have ever known before.**284

2. It is difficult to decide which of his qualities I am to delineate first, but I consider the following characteristic most worthy of note: despite the fact that none of his subjects, however humble, however distinguished in any way, however illustrious, remained for long personally unknown to the emperor, not one was ever abused by him, or insulted in public, or refused admittance to his presence because of some delinquency. Further than that, even when Michael had been deliberately affronted, he preferred to disregard bad manners rather than to rebuke them openly. The supreme example of this trait occurred when he caught certain individuals -- and they were, incredible though it may seem, members of his own bodyguard, [282] entrusted with his own safety -- actually hastening to do him some injury. Yet their impudence earned them neither reproof nor threats of terrible vengeance. There were several cases, too, of attempted robbery from the imperial treasury, where the burglars were caught red-handed. They also were released, and far from treating them with any severity, Michael did not even impugn their motives. He was a man of extraordinary intelligence, and through careful observation he acquired a knowledge of affairs. He had, for instance thorough grasp of the whole system of taxation, of revenues and public expenditure, of the incomes paid from the exchequer and the percentage of income paid back to the treasury in the form of taxes. He knew all about the mint, the exact weight of a stater, how a touchstone functioned, what proportion of precious metal was included in every gold coin. In short, his information on the whole business of finance was extremely accurate, with the result that the experts on any particular subject found themselves at a disadvantage when he talked with them. Men who devoted their lives to a study of these things were unable to rival him in their own sphere.

3. Even when he was a youth, with the down of his first beard still fresh on his cheeks, he was in no way the inferior of his elders in wisdom. He was addicted to no pleasures, was no slave to gluttony, did not encourage sumptuous banqueting. From the delights of love he abstained so rigorously that of most of them he had no knowledge at all and was quite ignorant of sexual practices condemned by law. So excessive was his modesty, in fact, that indecent jest, or even a mere mention of the word 'love' would bring to his cheeks a deep blush in a moment.

4. The reader will probably like to know what were the emperor's favourite occupations, on what he prided himself most. Nothing pleased him more than reading books on all kinds of learned subjects, studying literary essays, pithy sayings, proverbs: he delighted in elegant compositions, subtle combinations of words, changes of style, coining of new words, poetic diction: but, above all else, he cultivated a love of philosophy, of books that enrich the spiritual life, of allegory and its interpretation.**285 None of his predecessors on the throne, I should imagine, was more thoughtful, none quicker in getting to the central point of any given problem. But I will be more explicit. It is agreed that certain standards of behavior, certain manners of speaking are appropriate to an emperor, others [283] to a philosopher, others to an orator, others to a musician. Similarly, each class specializes in its own subject: astrologers spend their time in studying the heavens: geometricians in demonstrating with geometrical figures: the syllogism is reserved for philosophers, the secrets of nature for the scientists -- everyone has his own particular métier, his own particular subject. With Michael, however, it was different for he specialized in them all. He took his place with the philosophers, conversed with the orators on emphasis or zeugma, talked w ith the opticians about the refraction or diffraction of rays: and often, when we spoke on allegory, he surpassed his present historian, whom, in preference to all others, he chose as his tutor, and whose name he mentioned with extraordinary honour. Although he does not apply himself to iambics, he dashes them off extempore, and if the rhythm is generally defective, at least the sentiments are sound. In brief, Michael is a prodigy of our generation, and a most beloved character.

5. In appearance he resembles an old man somewhat, with something about him of the thinker or pedagogue. His eyes are intent, his brow neither haughty nor beetling, like that of a man who suspects his fellows. His expression is frank, marked with a suitable gravity. There is nothing hurried about his gait, nothing of disorder: On the other hand, he is neither slow-moving nor indolent. A musician, who from the nature of his vocation must understand the regulated succession of notes, would praise his movements. His voice, too, is both harmonious and rhythmical, without a suggestion of harshness or impetuosity, clear and distinct.

6. There are many things that can be said or done to take the heart out of a man, or to provoke him to some course of action: but Michael keeps his head. He is neither dispirited by the one, nor exasperated by the other. He has a most pleasant laugh, weeps in the most piteous manner imaginable, very rarely becomes angry, and generally is in better humour than ever afterwards. Not having made a special study of legal matters, he takes a broad view of their interpretation, and passes judgment rather in accordance with the spirit than with the letter of the law. He is very prone to blush, but there is never in his conduct the slightest hint of any impropriety. Although he is a clever ball-player, his enthusiasm is reserved for one ball only -- the heavenly sphere, for he is well aware that the course of life, and all its changes, depend on the throw of a dice- [284]cube, and that it is a cube -- the geometric cube**286 -- that Plato attributes to the earth. In the chase he takes pleasure, but only provided that he sees the quarry escape unharmed, and if the huntsman gets near it, he is worried and refuses to watch.

7. The magnificent apparel of an emperor holds no particular charm for him: he prefers to crown his head, not so much with material diadems, as with unseen virtues. And not every word that is whispered in his ears affects him deeply: harmful remarks, stories that usually inflict pain, he ignores altogether: others, which ordinarily produce most pleasure in the hearer, he erases completely from his mind. For inspiration he looks to his father, and although in most things he surpasses him, he professes that he is in every way his inferior. Here I must mention something that I feel is beyond praise the most remarkable fact about Michael's reign. At a time when our affairs, no less in the east than in the west, were at their lowest ebb -- a condition brought about in the first place by the sovereigns who preceded him -- any other man, however resolute, would have allowed himself to drift with the tide of misfortune, would have given up the struggle. With what result? The cable that held the ship of state would have cracked under the strain, and we should have seen the roof of the edifice come crashing down, the foundations torn up. But the tide of misfortune was checked by Michael's steadfast spirit, by his unshakable resolve, and if, so far, we have not beached our vessel in harbour, at least we are riding the storm in deep waters and we have not been driven back into the open sea. **287

8. His attitude to the others I have described. Now I will examine his relations with myself. There was, in fact, no comparison at all between the way he treated them and his behaviour towards me, his biographer. Not one of his brothers enjoyed the confidence that he placed in me, nor did the great nobles, nor the churchmen. Favours were heaped upon me. Gifts, in ever-increasing profusion, were sent to me, and boons followed one another in rapid succession, augmenting the wealth that I already possessed. Others, of course, have done much the same thing, but there are certain characteristics that mark him out as different from all the rest: the depth of his feeling for me, not only on mental, but spiritual, grounds: his unhesitating frankness and the obvious pleasure he takes in my company: his belief in my supremacy as a man of learning, both here, among men with whom he is personally acquainted, and among others, of whom he [285] has heard only by repute. I pray that the darts of jealousy and malice may never disturb that friendship.

9. In my efforts to compress this account, I have inadvertently passed over many things: for example, Michael's love for his wife,**288 by whom he has a baby son;**289 and his affection for his two brothers, who, though admirable themselves, are not his equal. It would be superfluous to praise the empress because of her family, although its wealth and antiquity cannot fail to confer lustre on the highest offices: her own pre-eminence, not only in virtue, but also in beauty, is commendation enough. If, as the tragic poet**290 says, 'silence is a woman's glory', then she, above all other women, is worthy of honour, for she speaks to no one but her husband, and her natural loveliness is far more effective than any artificial adornment dictated by convention.

10. The reader will probably wish to know what is the emperor's attitude to his brothers. Far from keeping them in subjection, perpetually tugging at the reins, so to speak, he gives each of them a chance to exercise imperial power, with complete freedom of action. Nor must I forget his uncle, the Caesar, on whose opinions he places considerable reliance. His wise counsel and all-round ability are, in fact, greatly admired by the nephew. Michael devotes his attention to civil administration, but everything pertaining to military affairs is left to the Caesar.

11. There is one thing that I must add here. The emperor knew that I was preparing to publish his biography and instructed me not to write until he had first given me a brief outline of his own character. Later, his secretary read to me what he had written. I myself, before I heard this effusion, was expecting something too intimate, something rather on the grand scale. What he did in fact produce was quite the reverse. Such was the humility, such the diffidence with which he described himself, and so critical the way in which he examined his innermost being, that even a heart of stone could not forbear to wonder at the depths of his self-abasement. God-like emperor, no other virtue, no other good quality could demonstrate more clearly your real character.


12. I saw Constantine,**291 the son of the emperor Michael Ducas, when he was a tiny baby. He was being fed in the arms of his nurse [286] and was wearing an imperial headband. To him I can attribute neither sayings nor deeds, for he has not yet done anything, nor spoken a word, but I can comment on his appearance and on the character that it expresses, as far as it is possible to judge anyone's nature from their looks, for never have I seen such beauty on earth. His face is rounded into a perfect circle, the eyes grey, very big, and

most serene, with the eyebrows forming an absolutely straight line slightly separated at the base of the nose and gently curving towards the temples. The tip of his nose is straight, but there is a tiny rise on the bridge and towards the base it is somewhat aquiline. His head is covered with hair golden as the sun, and his lips are dainty, his eyes gentle, gentler than the angels. In them you may see a nature neither proud nor humble, but charming, divinely inspired.

13. There is a story that Heracles saw Ajax, the son of Telamon, while still a nursling, and wrapt him in his lion-skin. Likewise, I have rnany a time held in my arms this little prince and prayed that he may benefit from my words. In time to come I will take him in my arms again, very often, and I hope, that when he grows to manhood and inherits the Empire from his father, I too may benefit from him. Nestor of Pylos, after the capture of Troy, told Neoptolemus, Achilles' son, how a man might cultivate shrewdness. I would give only this advice to the little one -- for maybe one day, when he becomes a youth, he will read my history -- this advice, to follow the example of his father and to ask himself how nearly he approaches that model. Yes, little one, may you indeed be like your sire: you would 'grow up no mean man'.**292 If I live on beyond the normal span, I will compose another history, for you, when you have given me deeds to write of; if not, then what I have written here will satisfy you and provide for other historians a startingpoint, when they record your reign.


14. This charming prince is just past his boyhood. Although an eager student of oratory, he is not disposed to neglect the more profound subjects -- at any rate, he embarrasses me when he discourses on the antipodes and denies their existence, contending that, if they did exist, they would have to walk upside down! His hands are [287] somewhat large, but he is clever with them and has a delicate touch. He takes to his athletic training easily, is lighthearted, unaffected, and altogether frank, refined in his tastes, a useful horseman, passionately fond of the chase, not content with keeping abreast of the hare, but anxious to fly along with the crane. He is only a moderate speaker, but concludes gracefully whenever he lapses into nonsense.


15. Not very quick-witted, but being wrapt up in himself, he has all the appearance of a thinker. He is generally observant, though, and when words are called for, he is a pretty clever speaker. He is not one to give way to his adversaries quickly, but answers argument with argument, and tries to win his point. Yet he finishes with a smile and derives a quiet satisfaction from his efforts. He has an old head on young shoulders, great tenacity of purpose and steadiness. He is moderately generous, not too liberal, nor yet tight-fisted, a clever horseman, a great huntsman, the darling both of his mother and of his brothers.


16. How can I do justice to the noble qualities, the virtues, of this gentleman? Such versatility, such outstanding gifts, baffle description. Two characteristics, rarely found in conjunction, are extremely marked in him -- a lively intelligence (I never saw or heard of anyone so quick-witted) and kindness of heart. He reminds me of a river of oil flowing noiselessly on its way, so mild he is. And as for military strategy, he has acquired a knowledge of the science of the ancients comparable to that of the famous Caesars themselves. He has studied the brave deeds and victories of the Hadrians, the Trajans, and others of the same company. This knowledge, moreover, has not developed spontaneously, nor by chances but from the reading of books on tactics and strategy and siege-craft, from the works of Aelian**296 and Apollodorus**297 and their disciples. It might be inferred that one so versed in military science would be deficient in the arts of civil administration, of jurisprudence, of finance, but such a belief would be quite erroneous. The truth is, to whatever noble study he devotes his energies, John excels in it, sharp as the [288] proverbial razor. Perhaps, someone may suggest, he is bad-tempered. Not a bit of it, although he does show a certain amount of spirit. Perhaps vindictive? No man was ever less revengeful- his for nature is even more marked than his self-control. Maybe he is too ready with his tongue, too outspoken, too presumptuous in the presence of his brother and, to a less degree, when talking with his nephew? Wrong again. In fact, John sets us all an example of diplomacy, always careful to avoid extremes, tempering his serious pursuits with levity. Only in this matter of pastimes does he show lack of restraint and lose a sense of proportion.**298

17. He indulges in all kinds of hunting, observing carefully the flight of birds and the tracks followed by wild beasts. He urges on the dogs and chases the dappled hind. He is mad about bears, too -- I have often reproached him for that, but all to no purpose, for the pastime never fails to give him amusement. His life is spent in two pursuits -- books and hunting: in other words, his leisure hours are devoted to the latter, and when he works, the whole world is his study, everything in its place. Nor is he less conversant with the functions of war than with the occupations of peace. He can discourse on companies, battle-formations, army groups, how to set out a phalanx, how to defend in depth, how to form hollow square. He understands what is meant by hollow wedge or forming close column. He knows all about wall-fighting, cavalry skirmishing, the arrangement of infantry appropriate to different circumstances or different terrains. But why go into further detail? Whatever aspect one considers, the man is without a rival.


18. In this letter the emperor began with a reference to the harshness of Phocas's exile,**300 and to the time he had wasted. He recalled the desolation of his friends, the financial difficulties, the filthy tunics and tattered garments. After this preface, he wrote of Phocas's restoration, a change of fortune for which he (Michael) had been personally responsible, and of the great honour accorded him at his reception in the palace (here he reminded him of favours 'worthy of a satrap' and of indescribable scenes of welcome). He pointed out how quick he had been to confer on Phocas all the greatest and most coveted honours of the Roman State;**301 how, from the first, he [289] had exalted him to positions of power, both in the civil and in the military sphere; how he had promoted him above all others and assured him of an income which, everyone would agree, was commensurate with the high office he enjoyed. To quote his own words, 'Who has received at my hands a greater reward than yourself? Who has adjudged to be the emperor's friend, his ears and eyes, but you? Who but you obtained from me his every desire? With whom did I share the most important functions of government? There were secrets, kept hidden from my brother and my mother, which I disclosed to you alone. And who now has the power to give away or withhold the highest offices in the realm? Those offices, remember, have brought you great renown and much aggrandizement. I will not speak of the favours I have conferred, for your sake, on your father and brother and kinsmen; I will not mention all those whom I have promoted from obscurity and indigence to high rank, merely to please you; nor will I speak of the many who have acquired not inconsiderable riches, and now, instead of existing in the penurious manner of their forbears, hold commands in the army and fill responsible posts in the civil administration. Their injustices, whether committed in secret or in the broad light of day, were purposely ignored by me, for I knew these malefactors were legion and held my peace at their wrong-doing, being prepared to tolerate anything for your sake. My one comfort in the hour of trouble was, I believed, yourself -- after God, of course. I chose you to stand by me throughout the time of my tribulations, and elected you to supervise my affairs constantly, because I thought that in you, alone of all men, I had won an ally and a partner, and because I was confident that the perplexities which assailed us would be settled by your aid. But my plans -- how vain they appear now, how groundless my hopes! Through your senseless pride, the treasure that I sought has turned out to be nothing but rubble. Hope will not always spring eternal: a host of evils takes the heart out of a man. But there -- we have brought this trouble on ourselves, deluded into thinking that fire can be extinguished with oil.

19. 'In place of the comfort that I looked for, you bring on me disaster: instead of an ally, I find in you an open enemy, instead of a fellow-worker, a destructive agent. So, at least, it appears, if the rumours that are spread abroad about you are true. Men say that you are arming yourself for the fray, intent on vengeance, as if you had [290] suffered at my hands the vilest of wrong-doing, the supreme disservice. They tell me that you are earnestly striving to thrust me forth from my home, the palace of an emperor, and preparing to win it for yourself and make it your own. I beg of you, magistros, with all my heart and soul, never, never to contemplate such a course. A plague on the rumour-mongers and the inventors of idle tales, the wicked who sow tares among the wheat, who magnify into prodigies what does not even exist, inspired only by their jealousy! Their monstrous absurdities are beneath contempt, lies fabricated, I am sure,. with one special intent -- to break up our unity of purpose and to smash the harmony that binds us together. These evil men are nothing to us. If the adversary speaks again, let him not rejoice at our discomfiture. And as for yourself, I pray that you may for ever cast from your mind the thought of a deed so abominable in the eyes of God, so utterly depraved. I plead with you not to show yourself so unfeeling, so unjust as to attack those who have treated you with kindness and are blameless. Do not allow yourself to become an object of loathing to men, a model of wickedness!'

20. The emperor went on to remind Phocas that he had called on God as his Witness, with oaths most terrible. He pointed out that Divine Providence each day scans the whole inhabited world, but with unsleeping eye it also watches over the affairs of individual men, and metes out to them the just recompense for their deeds and to each of them renders measure for measure. Those who walk in the path of unrighteousness are caught in the net of Providence, and through the working of Providence even the dictates of Fortune are reversed. 'If you stand in awe of the Judgment of God, if you expect Him to pass sentence on your deeds, then tremble for the success of this enterprise. Let wisdom guide your steps, let prudence direct your plans. Discretion before disloyalty! He who follows bad counsel plots, from the very beginning, his own destruction!'

(At this point the Chronographia ends abruptly. Psellus never completed it.)**302



164. The deputation of generals, headed by Catacalon Cecaumenus, Isaac Comnenus, Michael Burtzes, Constantine and John Ducas, met the emperor on Easter Day, 1057.

165. According to Cedrenus (794, p. 615) Michael did speak to the generals individually and praised their services to the Empire, but he obstinately refused to grant their requests.

166. The Comneni came originally from Comne, near Hadrianople, and had estates in the Castamon district of Asia Minor. They were destined to play a preeminent role in Byzantium during the next hundred years. Isaac himself was the son of Manuel Eroticus, a distinguished prefect under Basil II. He had married the daughter of a king of Bulgaria and had two children, a son who died young and a daughter who became a nun some time after 1057. Both Isaac and his brother Joahn had already held high office.

167. Catacalon Cecaumenus, Duke of Antioch, had been supplanted by the emperor's nephew Michael.

168. The generals tried to persuade Leo Paraspondylus to intercede for them, but he was unable to influence the emperor.

169. Psellus does not mention Bryennius and Hervé Francopullus. The former was in command of the Macedonian army in Cappadocia, having been recalled from exile by Michael and ordered to prosecute the war against the Turks. He demanded the restoration of his property, seized by Theodora, but having failed in this went off to his army in disgust, accompanied by one Opsaras, obviouslv an agent of the emperor. Bryennius attempted to pay the troops more than the authorized amount and when Opsaras denounced him threw the agent into chains. The result of this impetuosity was that he lost his eyes and was betrayed to the emperor, and, more important, other generals who had hitherto refrained from action (such as Romanus Sclerus, Botaneiates, and the sons of Basil Argyrus) hurried to proclaim Isaac emperor, because they heard that the whole conspiracy might now be revealed. Hervé was an Armenian and a soldier of some distinction. He demanded the rank of magister only to be treated by Michael with the utmost rudeness, and after this he joined the Turks.

170. In St. Sophia with the connivance of Cerularius.

171. On the plain of Gunaria where, on 8 June 1057, Isaac was acclaimed as the new emperor.

172. The headquarters of the rebel army was now at Nicaea. Isaac was in no hurry to occupy the city: he wished to avoid battle at first, confident that the enemy would desert the emperor. In fact, the imperial leaders remained loyal but the rank and file melted away (Cedrenus, 800B, p. 627).

173. They were put under the command of Theodorus, a eunuch of the late empress, and of Aaron Ducas, brother-in-law of Comnenus himself. They crossed to Nicomedia and broke down the bridge over the River Sangares. Their camp was finally established on Mount Sophon.

174. Theodorus (cf. note 173).

175. Homer, Iliad, III, 8 ff

176. The Battle of Hades, not far from Nicaea, on 20 August 1057. Cedrenus describes this engagement in some detail (801-2, p.628 ff.).

177. Theodorus Alopus, a senator.

178. Constantine Lichudes.

179. He later succeeded Cerularius as Patriarch and presided at the ceremony of Isaac's own tonsuration in 1059.

180. At Nicomedia, 24 August.

181. Brother of Isaac.

182. The Athenian orator (c. 459-380 B.C.).

183. Constantine the Great appointed his sons Caesars before his death: Crispus and Constantine II in 317, Constantius II in 323, and in 333 Constans. The last three afterwards became emperors.

184. Catacalon, who was chiefly responsible for the victory of 20 August, is said to have been most vehement in opposing any compromise with the emperor.

185. Leo Paraspondylus.

186. Comnenus had meanwhile moved to Rheae. There is no doubt that these negotiations were deliberately prolonged, and Psellus with his fellow-ambassadors was plotting with Cerularius to get rid of Michael. We are told by Cedrenus (803, p. 633) that the ambassadors persuaded Catacalon to oppose their terms in order to delay the final decision until everything was ready at Byzantium.

187. Cf. note 185.

188. Isaac had every reason to feel confidentCthe uprising timed for the 30 August was arranged.

`89. Cedrenus's account is interesting (804-5, pp. 635-6). The Patriarch pretended to be reluctant to endorse the proclamation of Isaac as emperor. In the end he sent messengers to both the rivals: one to advise Michael to abdicate, the other to Comnenus warning him to hasten to the palace. In fact, Michael did not take refuge in St. Sophia. The Patriarch remained there.

190. Michael Anastasius, Theodorus Chryselius, Christophorus Pyrrhus. The Patriarch sent his nephews, Nicephorus and Constantine, to negotiate with them, but the crowd threatened to strangle these emissaries unless Cerularius himself condescended to meet the conspirators.

191. The night of 31 August 1057. Isaac was now at Chrysopolis.

192. 1 September.

193. Holy men who lived on pillars.

194. Psellus uses this generic term for Pagans.

195. He was crowned by the Patriarch in St. Sophia.

196. Michael lived his last days as a monk in Byzantium.

197. Isaac was about fifty years old. He was born about 1005.

198. Essentially a soldier-emperor, Isaac had little respect for the Court. His reply to someone who reproached him for rebelling against Michael was typical: 'I couldn't bear to serve my fellow-slave any more !' (Scylitzes, 813, p.650).

199. Isaac used to say that an emperor should be terrible to foreigners, but accessible to his friends.

200. Cf. Scylitzes (813, p. 650): '(Isaac) was a man of fixed habits, fair-minded, sharp-witted, strong, intelligent, a great leader in war, a terror to his foes, kindly to his friends.'

201. Xenocrates of Chalcedon, a follower of Plato, was head of the Academy from 339 to 314 B.C. He was a philosopher of great moral earnestness. Psellus may however be referring to another Xenocrates, a sculptor of the school of Lysippus, who flourished in the third century B.C. and who wrote on art (Pliny, XXXV, 10, 36; Diogenes Laertius, IV, 15).

202. Cf. note I82. Many writers of antiquity wrote commentaries on the orations of Lysias, most of which have unfortunately perished.

203. Isaac's coinage gives the clue to his reign. Instead of the labarum (the imperial standard) a drawn sword appears in his hand. The days of eunuch-rule were over: henceforth the Empire was to be governed by a soldier. Hence he had little sympathy for the court party. All kinds of economy were practised. The monasteries were among the first to suffer; many noble families were compelled to surrender property and wealth; certain allowances previously given to men who held office were cancelled; taxation became much heavier and was enforced without mercy; donations which other emperors made freely were now withheld. These measures naturally caused no little dissatisfaction (Scylitzes, 808, p. 642).

204. Romanus II.

205. The title ('born in the purple') gave special distinction to the ruling dynasty. Here Psellus is speaking of the Macedonian House.

206. Alexander the Great, who mastered his favourite horse by turning him towards the sun. In its memory (it died in battle) he founded the city of Bucephala.

207. The sixth labour of Heracles.

208. Judging by Isaac's conduct of the Patzinak campaign of 1059, he was not an outstanding strategist.

209. Cerularius. Isaac owed his throne to the Patriarch's intervention in 1057. In return the emperor renounced certain jurisdiction over the affairs of the Church. Emboldened by this Cerularius tried to extend his power: he wore (or perhaps destined for his relative Constantine Ducas) the purple buskins that were considered the prerogative of the emperor only. In November 1058 Isaac arrested him and sent him int exile at Proconnesus. As the Patriarch refused to abdicate, Psellus, at the emperors request, drew up the Accusation, an interesting and informative docunnen which charges him with heresy and treason and gives a wealth of corroborative detail. Cerularius however died before he could be brought to trial and was succeeded by Lichudes in 1059 (Scylitzes, 809, p. 644).

210. February, 1059.

211. Yet Lichudes was not allowed to take up his new appointment without delay. Isaac insisted that he should submit to some inquisition before the Synod (Scylitzes 809, C-D, p. 645).

212. The Patzinaks crossed the Danube (Ister) it 1059. The Hungarians also threatened the Romans but peace was arranged with them. The campaign against the Patzinaks was almost brought to a successful conclusion, but an unusually early fall of snow and heavy rain caused the emperor to withdraw under great difficulties (September). There were rumours that the Turks were preparing to invade the easts provinces and Isaac had to return to the capital.

213. 24 September.

214. John Comnenus.

215. November 1059. The account of Scylitzes is different (811A, p. 647)

216. Dodona and Delphi were both noted as oracles.

217. M. Porcius Cato (234-I49 B.C.) was regarded as the typical Roman, the perfect example of a vir moribus antiquis.

218. Not improbable, for Isaac was not a native of Constantinople.

219. He had a sense of humour (Scylitzes, 813, pp. 650-1).

220. Catherine (or Aecaterina), daughter of John Vladislav, a Bulgarian prince.

221. Maria. After the emperor's death both she and her mother retired to a convent. The empress changed her name to Helena.

222. John.

223. This was probably Manuel, who distinguished himself afterwards as a general. But John had four other sons and the reference may be to Theodorus Doceianus, his sister's son.

224. Lichudes.

225. Constantine Ducas, President of the Senate. It is said that he offered the throne first to his brother who refused it.

226. Andronicus was implicated in a conspiracy against Leo VI the Wise in 906. The family had long been distinguished at Byzantium.

227. Constantine was one of the contestants for the imperial throne after the death of Alexander (913) and had he not died suddenly might well have succeeded him.

228. Isaac had a son, but he died early in life.

229. November 1059.

230. Seven years and six months (from November 1059 to May 1067).

231. The truth is that Constantine X was a mediocre person. He neglected the army, he allowed the barbarians to attack the Empire almost with impunity, devoted his time to civil administration (particularly to legal problems) and openly admitted that he preferred to be known as a great orator rather than as a great emperor (Scylitzes, 813-14, pp- 651-3).

232. He had earned sorne reputation as a general in the past, but during his Principate he was lacking in all initiative and dilatory in the extreme.

233. In the East the Turks plundered and ravaged: Armenia, Iberia and the provinces on the Euphrates suffered severely at their hands. Ani was lost. Meanwhile in the West some 600,000 Uzes crossed the Danube, defeated the Roman and Bulgarian forces who opposed them, captured the Roman generals Basil Apocapes and Nicephorus Botaneiates, broke into Thrace and Greece, and threatened Macedonia. After much delay Constantine marched out against them with 150,000 men, but before he could join battle he received news that the enemy, attacked by Patzinaks, Bulgarians, famine ard disease, had retreated over the Danube. Scylitzes (816C, p. 656) ascribes this reverse to Divine intervention (1065).

234. The City Prefect and several nobles were implicated in a plot to kill the emperor on St. George's Day (1060), but they were only punished by the confiscation of all their property (Scylitzes 813D, p. 652).

235. Cf. note 226.

236. Cf. note 227.

237. Possibly the grandfather of the almost legendary Digenes Acritas, who is said to have carried on a permanent freebooting campaign against the Saracens. According to the legend he was the son of a daughter of a general of the Ducas family and a Saracen emir (whence his name Di-genes). See Byzantium, ed. Baynes and Moss, pp. 246 ff.

238. Eudocia Macrembolitissa, a relative of Michael Cerularius.

239. Michael and Andronicus before his accession; after he became emperor, Constantine. There were two daughters Theodora and Zoe.

240. Constantine IX.

241. Constantine X.

242. Isaac submitted to the discipline of this monastery and was even content to act as janitor.

243. Some time in 1061.

244. Constantine's parsimony was notorious (Scylitzes, 815D, p. 655).

245. Zoe married Adrian Comnenus, brother of the future Alexius I.

246. She was also known as Theodora Anna.

247. Cf. note 234. They intended to sink the imperial galley and drown the emperor while he was on his way back to the palace from Mangana.

248. Cf. note 233.

249. They were the sons of Andronicus Ducas.

250. John Xiphilinus of Trebizond was elected Patriarch in 1064, afier the death of Lichudes. He was appointed to the office against his will (Scylitzes, 817C, P.658) for he was loth to leave his monastery. He was now Abbot there (Psellus, Funeral Oration on John Xiphilinus, ed. C. N. Sathas, Bibl. Graec. Med. Aev., iv, p. 448).

251. The emperor's illness began in October 1066 and lasted until the following May. On his deathbed he compelled his wife to swear that she would never marry again, and the Caesar John and other intimates were required to promise that they would recognize no other emperor but Constantine's sons.

252. It is noteworthy that the whole of this section dealing with the emperor's sayings is found verbatim in Scylitzes, 818C, P. 660. Medieval writers regarded the work of their predecessors or even contemporaries as common property. (C, Anna Comnena, Alexiad, V, 9. where she uses a passage taken from Psellus, Chronographia, Rornanus III, 2-3 .)

253. Eudocia was particularly concerned at the attitude of the Patriarch: he was insistent that she should remain faithful to the oath she had given to her dying husband. In order to obtain his consent to her new marriage, she conspired with one of the Court eunuchs, a person of low character. This eunuch suggested to the Patriarch that his brother Bardas should marry the empress. Xiphilinus, flattered by this proposal, consulted the Senate, but did not press his brother's claims (Bardas was quite unsuitable for such a position); he finally agreed instead that Romanus Diogenes should marry her (Scylitzes, 821-2, p.664 ff.).

254.The Turks were enjoying uninterrupted success: in Cilicia, helped by a Roman deserter, Amertices, who had been exiled because of an attempted assassination of Constantine X, they had won victories and ravaged the land; in Syria Nicephorus Botaneiates tried to stem their advance with an ill-equipped force, short both of supplies and of money, and eventually resigned his command. In Europe the Patzinaks had again gone over to the offensives but had been repulsed by the Romans. For his success in this campaign Romanus had been promoted by Constantine at the end of his reign and (probably with some justice) had plotted to dethrone the empress. He was denounced, arrested and sent into exile, but soon recalled. On 24 December 1067 he was made magister and put in command of the army, with the approval of the Senate. One man consistently opposed him, John Ducas.

255. Romanus, son of Constantine Diogenes, was born in Cappadocia. His father had conspired against Romanus Argyrus (Romanus III) but had escaped capture.

256. John Ducas. Cf. note 254.

257 The marriage took place on 1 Janua y 1068 and Romanus IV's reign begins from that date.

258. The elevation of Romanus was really a victory for the military party in the state. Psellus himself exercised great influence, but only as long as the Court held the upper hand. In his account of the new emperor it is not difficult to see that he is to some extent biased.

259. cf. Homer, Iliad, XV, 678.

260. Romanus had a conglomerate force of Macedonians, Bulgarians, Cappadocians, Uzes, Franks, and some poor levies from Phrygia. The army was ill-paid and ill-equippedCa state of affairs that was due entirely to his predecessor, Constantine. Psellus is not altogether fair to him, for his strategy was not so aimless as the historian infers. The enemy had the initiative and were able to strike at many points, while the emperor had generals whom he could scarcely trust. It is certain that he himself was a brave man and more than once saved the day when his lieutenants had suffered defeat. After pushing back the Turks in the north he inflicted a severe reverse on them in the south (20 November 1068).

261. The leaders of the peace party were Psellus himself, Nicephorus Palaeologus and John Ducas.

262. Spring 1069. This campaign was indecisive, though the enemy took Iconium.

263. The probable reason is that Romanus dared not leave Psellus in the capital while he was conducting the war. He must have been aware of the other's intrigues.

264. John Ducas.

265. Psellus does not mention that the campaign of 1070 was carried on by Manuel Comnenus. He was defeated and taken prisoner, but persuaded his captor to desert to the Byzantines and, contrary to all expectations, arrived safely at Constantinople. Romanus's third campaign against Alp Arslan, the Seljuq ruler, took place in 1071. After varying fortunes the Sultan offered peace, but the emperor refused to accept his terms and a pitched battle was fought at Manzikert (26 August 1071). As a result of treachery on the part of some officers, he was defeated and captured, but not without great gallantry in the face of odds (Scylitzes, 841, p. 699).

266. Scylitzes speaks of omens which foreshadowed the disaster that was to follow (835-6, pp.689-90).

267. Bryennius in particular.

268. The Battle of Manzikert. Cf. note 265.

269. Psellus conveniently ignores the fact that if Andronicus, the son of John Ducas, had not run away and deliberately spread the rumour that the battle was lost, Romanus might never have been compelled to take such a risk (Scylitzes, 840D, p. 698).

270. In the hand. He fought on after his horse had been shot down under him.

271. A full account is preserved in Scylitzes (842, p. 700). The Sultan asked Romanus what be would have done if the Romans had won and the Turkish ruler had been captured. The emperor, without any dissimulation, replied, 'I would have flogged vou to death!''But 1,' said Arslan, 'will not imitate you. I have been told that your Christ teaches gentleness and forgiveness of wrong. He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.'

272. Andronicus and Constantine Ducas.

273. The famous Varangian guards.

274. We are told by Scylitzes (843, p. 702) that Eudocia was sent into exile by the Caesar John, by his sons, and above all by Psellus (who, says Scylitzes 'glories in his deed in one of his books').

275. Constantine.

276. Tyropaeum. The defeat of ch. 33 was really suffered by Theodorus Alyates, one of the emperor's lieutenants who was taken prisoner and blinded.

277. Chatatoures, the Duke of Antioch (see ch. 38).

278. The Bishops of Chalcedon, Heraclea, and Colonus.

279. Apparently Adana, in Cilicia.

280. This Crispinus had joined Romanus on his first campaign. Previously he had been in Italy. As he was not treated with the consideration which he thought was his due, he revolted (Easter, 1069) and appears to have carried on a freebooting campaign, plundering the tax-collectors and defeating the forces sent against him. After putting to flight the army of the emperor's brother-in law, Samuel Alousianus the Bulgarian, in Armenia, he showed remarkable clemency to his captives and set them free. Thereupon he sent an embassy to the emperor begging for pardon, and he was restored, but not for long. Once more he became suspect and lost his command, being sent into exile at Abydos. If Scylitzes is to be believed, he was a great warrior and a valuable ally.

281. I.e. the Turk Alp Arslan, who had made an alliance with the emperor.

282. Scylitzes (845B, p. 705) asserts that it was John Ducas who gave this order without the knowledge of Michael.

283. From the time of his accession to his capture at Adana he reigned three years and eight months (i.e. to September 1071). Further details are to be found in Scylitzes, who cannot conceal his dislike of Psellus and the Ducas family. He writes (821, p. 664) that Romanus was a man of fine appearance, tall, with broad shoulders and a deep chest. He constantly refers to the emperor's personal bravery and pays tribute to his fortitude at the time of his final calamity (845. p. 705).

284. The truth is that Michael Parapinaces w as a despicable person and some of the blame for his inefficient rule must fall upon Psellus. The young emperor was being trained in logic and philosophy, but the situation of the Empire demanded a soldier, a strong character such as Romanus Diogenes had already proved himself. On all sides the enemies of the Byzantines were meeting with success. Serbia was becoming a dangerous neighbour; the Normans were threatening the west; the Muslims were advancing in the east; the nomad tribes over the Danube were re-commencing their forays; and the Roman armies were discontented and disorganized. In the Byzantine Empire itself there was constant tension too: the Ducas family was losing grip and the Cornneni were steadily building up a great reputation.

285. Scylitzes {856D, p. 725) is scathing in his condemnation of the emperor's activities: 'While he spent his time in the useless pursuit of eloquence and wasted his energy on the composition of iambic and anapaestic verse (and they were poor efforts indeed}, he brought his Empire to ruin, led astray by his mentor, the philosopher Psellus.' Again (846, p. 706): 'While he (Nicephoritza, the emperor's favourite) concentrated all power in his own hands, Michael found time for nothing but triodes and childish games. The leading philosopher, Psellus, had made hirn quite unfitted for the position he occupied.'

286. Obscure, but maybe a reference to Plato's perfect number (Rep., VIII).

287. Michael's worst mistake was appointing the eunuch Nicephoritza logothete. This man was an unscrupulous rascal of the most despicable type. At Byzantium his one object was to aggrandize himself. In the perpetual wars carried on against the enemies of the Empire, it is patent that he had no consistent policy: each successive crisis was met with some new make-shift plan, with no thought for honour or prestige. The heartless selfishness of the emperor's advisers {for he himself was merely a tool in their hands) is exemplified in their treatment of the Norman Roussel de Bailleul (Ruselius).

288. Maria, an Alan princess, who was afterwards married to the emperor Nicephorus Botaneiates. Mentioned in the Alexiad of Anna Comnena passim.


289. Constantine, betrothed to Helena the daughter of Robert Guiscard, but later to Anna Comnena. He probably died before she was of marriageable age.

290. Sophocles, Ajax, 293.

291. Cf. note 289.

292. Sophocles, Ajax, 551.

293. Andronicus played little part in the history of these times and his subsequent fate is unknown.

294. After the abdication of Michael VII Parapinaces, Constantine (or Constantius) was confined in a monastery by Nicephorus, the new emperor. He appears to have died in cattle at Durazzo (1082).

295. The Sultan made war on Michael, determined to avenge the death of Romanus, and after Isaac Comnenus and Roussel had both been taken prisoner by the Turks, the emperor appointed John Ducas commander-in-chief. Roussel was liberated and decided to throw in his lot with John. He proclaimed him emperor. Thereupon Michael, with his usual duplicity, caked upon the Sultan to help him. The rebels were soon captured and although they were ransomed, John became a monk. Towards the end of the reign he arranged a marriage between his grand-daughter Irene and Alexius Comnenus, the future emperor. This alliance united the two most powerful families at Byzantium. In 1081 he emerged from his monastery to help Alexius in his successful revolt against Nicephorus.

296. Author of a book on strategy. Lived probably in the reign of Trajan (A D. 98C117).

297. Apollodorus of Damascus wrote on Engines of War at Rome in the first century A.D. He also planned the Forum of Trajan.

298. In fact, John was a crafty intriguer and cruelly revengeful.

299. Nicephorus Botaneiates, the future emperor, claimed to be a descendant cf the ancient Fabii family or Rome. He was one of the two contestants for the throne when the generals revolted against Michael VII in 1077. He eventually defeated his rival Bryennius amd forced Michael to abdicate and retire to a monastery. He reigned for three years before he himself was compelled to resign and become a monk.

300. Possibly a reference to the fact that Romanus IV Diogenes had dismissed him in 1071, when preparing for the campaign that was to end at Manzikert.

301. He had been promoted to the office of curopalates.

302. Nothing appears to be known about Psellus after the abdication of Michael VII in January 1078.

Complete Text | Introduction | Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 | Book 4 | Book 5 | Book 6 | Book 7


Michael Psellus: Chronographia, trans E.R.A Sewter, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953)

This copyright on this text was not renewed. Extensive inquiries were made in the records of copyright renewals, and then a correspondence with Yale University Press (on file) confirmed the situation.

Note that there is a later and revised edition of the translation, published by Penguin, and that should be referred to for scholarly purposes.


This etext slightly alters the organization and much of the typography of the printed edition.

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