Chapter 7 Nikephoros the All-Devourer

In: The Chronographia of George the Synkellos and Theophanes
Jesse W. Torgerson
Search for other papers by Jesse W. Torgerson in
Current site
Google Scholar
Open Access

The Chronicle criticizes Nikephoros I (r. 802–811) more directly and stridently than any other emperor. In this chapter I explain that critique as the first end, or purpose of the entire Chronographia project. Scholars today, however, have largely rejected the Chronicle’s assessment of Nikephoros’ reign, in which he is portrayed as the very image of the Antichrist. They have worked to read past this virulent criticism, evaluating the emperor by our modern standards for effective rule and so have determined Nikephoros to be “an efficient but severe ruler” who all but saved the Byzantine state.1 In doing so scholars have left the critique in the Chronicle unexplained. Why would a contemporary account denigrate this effective ruler so forcefully? In this chapter I explain why contemporary authors, and presumably their immediate audience, viewed the orthodox emperor Nikephoros I as so evil that he was made to be the polemical focus of the entire order of past time. First, I take the rhetoric against Nikephoros on its own terms by working carefully through the exact critiques and statements of the Chronicle’s invective. I then connect the literary structure of the Chronicle’s account of the reign of Nikephoros to the overall argument of the work in terms of the typological logic of the First-Created Day thesis, and the ethic of rulership established through the images of earlier emperors. All of this sets up this book’s final chapters in which the social and political logic of the Chronicle’s concluding imperial portraits amount to a coherent agenda for the group by and for whom the invective against Nikephoros I was first written.

In the entry on Nikephoros’ accession, AM 6295 (AD 802), the Chronicle describes how Nikephoros seized power from Irene by referring to him via an epithet: the All-Devourer (ὁ παµφάγος).2 This title is used of Nikephoros in only one other place: the entry for AM 6302 (AD 810). These two uses of the epithet ὁ παµφάγος are both the thesis and the structural bookends for Nikephoros’ era. That era begins by claiming Nikephoros I is the All-Devourer and builds up to the revolts against him under his fifth, sixth, and seventh years (AM 6299–6301 or AD 807–809). It concludes by justifying the title All-Devourer under his eighth year (AM 6302 or AD 809/10) where a catalogue of “Ten Evils” depicted him as the fulfillment of the type of the Pharaoh of the Book of Exodus. The complete set piece concludes with the parable of Nikephoros’ encounter with a keroullarios (candle-maker). In the process, the Chronicle made Nikephoros the fulfillment of its “impious” imperial antitype, not because of his lack of religious devotion or even his religious policies, but because of his propensity to greed (πλεονεξία or φιλαργυρία), which led to bad policies in domestic and foreign affairs, and especially to over-taxation and the use of the imperial treasury as a personal hoard. Nikephoros did not fulfill the type of the evil emperor because of any heretical declaration but because his impious way of ruling as the All-Devourer amounted to attacks on all Romans and on the unity of the Empire itself.3

What did the Chronicle mean by calling Nikephoros I the All-Devourer, the παµφάγος eater-of-everything? The Chronicle introduced the term in a group of phrases that signal Nikephoros was terrible in a specific manner. Nikephoros came to the throne as a “usurper” or “just as Judas had betrayed the Lord after dining with him.” He attained power because “God in His inscrutable judgment … permitted this because of the multitude of our sins,” and so the Romans were ruled by “a swineherd” with an “innate wickedness and avarice.” These are not random accusations. Under AM 6302 (AD 810) Nikephoros was specifically “inventive in all manner of greed,” and these pejoratives emphasize this vice: the swineherd of the gospels is inherently greedy, employing a laborer for so little that he craves the pig slop;4 and, Judas was a traitor to Christ because he sold information about his lord for thirty pieces of silver.5 Greed, the primary imperial sin in the entire work, is set in direct opposition to the liberality, generosity, mercy, and ultimately repentance which we have seen characterize the positive imperial types of the Chronicle. The Chronicle thus uses the title All-Devourer to focus the reader’s attention on the entries AM 6295–6302 as a coherent invective against Nikephoros’ greed.

1 The Transition from Irene to Nikephoros: AM 6295–6296 (AD 802–804)

In this section, I depart somewhat from the method of the previous two chapters. This is in part because the end of PG 1710 is damaged, and the text of the Chronicle for most of the reign of emperor Nikephoros I is missing therein. This means that it is impossible to know exactly how the reign of Nikephoros might have been subdivided as we have seen so far—through the use of AM headings to indicate narrative subdivisions. Nevertheless, we still possess the beginning of Nikephoros’ reign in PG 1710, and the one structural fact that can still be noted from this beginning is significant. In PG 1710 the reign of Nikephoros blends into that of his predecessor Irene: there are no marked AM entries to create narrative divisions between the two. We have seen this same sort of blending of two reigns once before, in the transition between Theodosios II and Maurice. As there, PG 1710 merely provides a header in the top margin to note the transition into the era of Nikephoros.6 Without so much as a line break the text flows as though in one continuous story from the era of Irene into the era of Nikephoros (de Boor’s AM 6295 moving directly into de Boor’s AM 6296).

Nikephoros’ first actions upon gaining control of the empire are thus described in the same entry as Irene’s speech of repentance and capitulation, considered in the previous chapter (recorded under de Boor’s AM 6295). The account of Nikephoros unjustly seizing power from Irene moves directly into the revolt of Bardanes Tourkos, and then moves back to Irene to record Nikephoros deceiving her just before her death, and finally ends the story with how Nikephoros turned from the coronation of his son to deceive and blind Bardanes.

Leading up to this moment Irene had been portrayed as a generous martyr-empress. Nikephoros was immediately framed as the antithesis to this portrait. Nikephoros first urges Irene to not hide the location of any treasure, glossed as a sign he was possessed by the “vice of avarice” (τῆς φιλαργυρίας τὸ πάθος).7 Nikephoros “the Universal Devourer, was terribly sick with [the vice], setting all his hopes in gold.”8 After Irene had given her speech of acquisition, Nikephoros’ own reign begins and he is again described as the “Universal Devourer” (ὁ παµφάγος).9 The thesis of the account is then stated: Nikephoros used performance, or deception (ὑποκρίσις), to hide his “innate wickedness and avarice” (κακία and φιλαργυρία).10

The first proof of these characteristics is given immediately: Nikephoros’ formation of a judicial appeals court at the Magnaura or Great Hall. The Magnaura court was an imperial tribunal in a public-facing hall or throne room of the palace set up to replace the civic judicial court of the quaestor. Listing this action first set up a knowing Constantinopolitan reader to make a connection between the formation of this court and the later rebellion by Arsaber the quaestor in AD 808. But at first glance it is a strange example to be the leading proof of all-consuming greed.11 The Chronicle makes the argument that by bringing judicial procedures which previously took place outside of the imperial complex within it, the Magnaura court was “evil and unjust.” Its purpose was “not to give the poor their due … but to dishonor and subjugate all persons in authority and to gain personal control of everything, which, indeed, [Nikephoros] did.”12 Then, though she seems to have nothing to do with the Magnaura court, the Chronicle reminds readers of Irene by noting at this moment that Nikephoros banished Irene to the island of Lesbos because he feared those who might miss “the liberalities of the pious Irene.”13 Thus, the Chronicle argues that the institution of the court of the Magnaura did away with the specific political virtues which had redeemed the latter part of Irene’s reign.

By beginning the narrative of Nikephoros’ reign in this way the Chronicle associated opposition to any of Nikephoros’ policies with Irene’s legacy. The text immediately provided a figure to carry on the legacy of opposition to Nikephoros in the person of Bardanes Tourkos. Just after Irene had been deposed, in July of 803, Bardanes Tourkos (the strategos or governor-general of the Anatolikon Thema) was proclaimed emperor not only by his own thema but by all of Asia Minor. Bardanes attempted to refuse, but the army insisted and brought him to the capital. According to the Chronicle, the residents of Constantinople were much less enthusiastic about Bardanes than were his soldiers.14 However, instead of attacking the City and taking the throne by force, Bardanes retired to the nearby military encampment of Malagina.15 There he declared that without the peaceful capitulation of the city he would not proceed against Nikephoros. He was “filled with the fear of God” and determined that “a massacre of Christians should not occur on his account.” Using Patriarch Tarasios as the intermediary, Bardanes acquired a promise from Nikephoros that “he would remain unharmed and unpunished together with all his companions.”16

Staurakios, Nikephoros’ son, is then contrasted with Bardanes. Staurakios is deemed “in all respects—in appearance, in vigor, and in temperament—unsuitable for this office” of emperor.17 Nevertheless, once Nikephoros’ unimpressive son was crowned, he immediately sent his men to Prote where they blinded the virtuous Bardanes in his retirement. In this, the Chronicle made its final connection between Bardanes and Irene by having both be victims of Nikephoros’ lies.18 The Chronicle emphasizes Bardanes’ legitimacy by specifically stating the blinding was to the horror of “the patriarch, the Senate, and all God-fearing people,” so that the very groups which should have been making an imperial acclamation for Staurakios were instead mourning the would-be usurper.19 That is, the Chronicle asserted Bardanes was humble and fit for office and was supported by a political consensus of ecclesia, senatus, and populus all revolted at the new dynasty’s use of deceit and manipulation to satisfy its all-devouring greed.20

The connection between Irene and Bardanes was thus emphasized through juxtaposition, interweaving the story of her death within the story of his revolt. Irene’s deposition and exile to Prinkipios precede Bardanes’ revolt. Her further exile to Lesbos and death there come immediately after, and the blinding and confiscation of Bardanes’ belongings concludes the sequence. In this way the Chronicle utilized multiple means to directly connect Bardanes’ revolt with Irene’s legacy and show that both favored pious liberality, and that both were victims of the lies of Nikephoros.

2 Nikephoros’ Failures and a Growing Opposition: AM 6297–6301 (AD 804–809)

First, a note on the manuscript sources for this portion of the text. For this section and into my argument in chapter 8 (which considers the entries for AM 6303–6305 or what I will call the “coda” of the Chronicle), I must leave behind the discussion of the presentation of the text in PG 1710 because the ending of that manuscript is damaged (leaving off on f. 397v at de Boor’s page 479, line 13). Just as I did for the lacunae noted in chapter 5 and chapter 6, for this section and all of chapter 8 my argument will rely on the text as it is presented in Wake Greek 5 and in VG 155, except that I will ignore the annual regnal notices and assume that in PG 1710 these entries began with the customary “In this year” heading. As proven in the Introduction, the use of AM headings is remarkably consistent across the ninth-century Greek manuscripts, and so we can be highly confident that if Wake Greek 5 and VG 155 do not include an AM heading, then neither did PG 1710. Unlike almost every previous imperial reign greater than a few years, the reign of Nikephoros I had no annus mundi entries for the reign of Nikephoros, including his first year. For the reasons just noted, this cannot be stated with absolute confidence for PG 1710. Nevertheless, since neither Wake Greek 5 nor VG 155 included AM headings for Nikephoros’ reign, I am quite confident that the only divisions of Nikephoros’ reign in the now-lost text of PG 1710 must have been the “In this year” headings which, as I have shown, emphasize narrative continuity rather than narrative division. Based on this reasoning, in what follows I analyze the reign or era of Nikephoros as a single narrative piece (for ease of reference I note corresponding AM entries from K. de Boor’s edition), and in doing so I believe that everything argued here would remain the case if we were to recover the lost portion of PG 1710.

Following is a sketch of the events that make up the Chronicle’s account of the first part of the reign of Nikephoros I. Just before Irene’s death on August 9 (AD 803), the Chronicle had reflected on the deeds now to come: “Who would be able to narrate a fitting account of the works accomplished in these days by [Nikephoros] according to God’s dispensation, because of our sins?”21 Though a truly fitting account might not be possible, the Chronicle did try. It described the third through the seventh years of Nikephoros’ reign as an image of the results of all-consuming greed. Ineffective campaigns, banishment of principled Romans, and instigation of suffering amongst Christians all lead to a quickly unravelling political community. These entries are bookended by images of Nikephoros promising mercy but instead meting out punishment: first to Bardas Tourkos, and in the end to his own exhausted army.

I have already described the sequence leading up to and immediately following the death of Irene in which Nikephoros had his son Staurakios crowned emperor, went back on his promises of clemency to Bardanes Tourkos, and had him blinded. Pretending to be sorrowful “he did not, however, deceive the majority of people.” Nikephoros led an expedition into Asia Minor against the Arabs (AM 6296) but “lost many men and was himself on the point of being captured.” He sent another expedition into Syria (AM 6297) but “returned after losing many men without achieving any success.”22

Patriarch Tarasios then died (AM 6298). The asecretis Nikephoros was appointed patriarch by Emperor Nikephoros. His appointment was opposed by the monks of St. John in Stoudios who had “planned a schism.” Ever eager to promote division rather than create unity and stability, Emperor Nikephoros desired to dissolve their monastery and expel them but “was turned back by certain persons persuading” him otherwise (ἀνετράπη συµβουλευόντων τινῶν). Given the text’s stance of measured opposition to the Stoudites it is a fair guess that these “certain persons” were part of the chronographers’ political network, if not one of the chronographers themselves. Hārūn al-Rashīd (“Aaron” in the text) led a raiding party into Asia Minor (AM 6298) which captured five forts and built a mosque at Tyana. Nikephoros, “seized by fright and perplexity,” led a raiding party in response. He achieved victories but the resulting treaty left Harun ar-Rashid “pleased and overjoyed, more than he would have been had he received ten thousand talents, because he had subjugated the Roman Empire (ὑποτάξας τὴν Ῥωµαίων Βασιλείαν).”23

Nikephoros had just set out for Bulgaria (AM 6299) when at Adrianople he learned of a revolt planned against him by imperial officials and the tagmata troops. Parallel to the defeat in the just-signed treaty, Nikephoros used the opportunity to undermine the empire. Nikephoros “accomplished nothing other than fighting off his fellow-countrymen, afflicting many with beatings, banishments, and confiscations.”24 Nikephoros then went on to round up immigrants (προσήλυτον) and renters (πάροικον)—presumably from Asia Minor—and bring them into Thrace.25 He intended “to procure no little haul of gold out of them from yearly taxation.”26 The Chronicle emphasizes here that the theme is greed, surmising Nikephoros did “everything because of his love for gold, and not because of Christ.”27

Harun ar-Rashid sent an expedition against the island of Rhodes (AM 6300) but was miraculously defeated by “a great disturbance of sea waves, thunder, and lightning” attributed to St. Nicholas of Myra. Nikephoros followed up on this marvel of divine protection with an abomination. He demanded a competition to find an empress for Staurakios, choosing Theophano of Athens (an already-married relative of empress Irene). During the wedding, Nikephoros “the abominable man, derided by all” (παρὰ πάντων ὁ µιαρὸς γελώµενος) openly seduced two other contestants.28 Nikephoros then learned of a revolt planned against him by “the quaestor and patrician Arsaber” along with secular leaders and “holy bishops, monks, and [officials] of the Great church.” This revolt is linked to that of the year before by describing the punishments in almost the same language: “afflicted with beatings, banishments, and confiscations.”29

In a war of succession after Harun ar-Rashid’s death there was great disruption to the entire caliphate (AM 6301). The Chronicle mentions this but focuses especially on Jerusalem’s churches being made desolate and how “slaughter resulting from this anarchy” was directed “at each other and against us.” The disruption of the Christian community extended to Constantinople. Without the mitigating counsel of the officials just punished as rebels, emperor Nikephoros found opportunity (ἀφορµή) to have the monks of St. John in Stoudios “driven out of their monastery and city into exile.”30

Krum (“Kroummos”) the Bulgarian archegos attacked the Roman army (AM 6301) and razed Serdica. Nikephoros led an expedition but “did not achieve anything worthy of mention.” Nevertheless, he pretended he had conquered Krum and celebrated Easter in the court of his enemy. When the Roman soldiers discovered Nikephoros wanted them to retake Serdica they revolted “swearing that they could no longer suffer his boundless avarice and his scheming mind” (τὴν ἄµετρον φιλαργυρίαν καὶ κακοµήχανον αὐτοῦ γνώµην). Nikephoros returned to Constantinople from where he identified the rebels. Promising clemency he ostensibly gathered them to receive their pay but instead, in language that echoes his previous punishments, seized the soldiers to “exact vengeance on most with beatings, with tonsures and with banishments.”31

3 The Ten Evils of Nikephoros I: An Overview

All of this leads to the entry for Nikephoros’ eighth year (de Boor’s AM 6302). The entry consists of only two passages: the much-discussed Ten “Evils,” or “wicked deeds” (κακώσεις) of Nikephoros, and the odd and much less-discussed Parable of the Keroullarios (the Chandler).32 The Chronicle’s description of a suite of fiscal policies as Ten Evils is, though hostile to Nikephoros, also the most comprehensive account we possess of his actions and reforms. Though my argument does not depend in any way on the relative significance of Nikephoros’ actions for Byzantine history, at the present moment scholarship on the medieval Roman state and economy holds that Nikephoros’ policies and reforms amounted to some of the most impactful changes made in the entire millennium of the byzantine period. For this reason it is necessary to say a brief word about this scholarly context before continuing my analysis of the rhetorical goals of the Chronicle’s account of the Ten Evils of Nikephoros I.

The fiscal and economic reforms enacted by Nikephoros and which are behind the so-called Ten Evils are essential for our current understanding of middle Byzantine fiscal structures—the relationship between the Roman military, economy, tax collection system, and bureaucratic apparatus—known to historians as the “Theme System” for its central organizing fiscal unit, the θέµα (thema, plural themata). Some decades ago it was thought that the theme system was a creation of the seventh and eighth centuries, and that by the ninth century this system was in a state of conflict with the imperial center at Constantinople.33 The current consensus holds, instead, that “the so-called ‘theme system’ was actually a product of early ninth-century measures taken by Nikephoros I.”34 I provide in the paragraphs below the most essential features of how historians now understand the ‘theme system’ at the time of Nikephoros I. This should permit readers unfamiliar with this system to follow the discussion over the next several pages. Anyone unfamiliar with the middle Byzantine themata should begin with the recent comprehensive discussion in J. Haldon and L. Brubaker’s Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, from which what follows is largely drawn.35

During the reign of Nikephoros “the word thema was applied to the establishment of a new type of military force in a designated area.”36 This was “a novel and effective way to recruit and maintain provincial armies and assign a direct fiscal burden for the equipping and maintenance of soldiers to the affected provinces.”37 From the perspective of the imperial palace, this new arrangement arose in the following way:

[T]he state allocated the transferred soldiers to new lands—soldiers were being settled, as soldiers, with all the legal implications entailed in such a move. Soldiers also became for the first time a direct cost to the communities from which they were recruited or into which they were inserted, both in respect of paying for their basic equipment and in terms of covering their taxes. In doing this, Nikephoros was creating a new kind of army, less burdensome to the fisc, with a direct investment of its properties and communities…. This army was therefore allocated to a particular region within an existing military command, and ‘placed’ there, with the specific duty to protect imperial territory by protecting its own lands.38

Exactly who oversaw these changes or was employed to make the bureaucratic adjustments, exactly how and in what form were the local contributions to these soldiers levied, and many other questions remain fully up for debate.39 As F. Montinaro recently put it in a symposium on J. Haldon’s new narrative in The Empire that would not Die, it remains entirely possible that we need to start afresh and allow for “pure invention rather than a mere act of survival,” permitting of wholly new structures rather than only explaining change through slowly evolving old practices.40

Scholars readily admit that there is no Byzantine term for what we reconstruct as The Theme System, regardless of their position in the debates over how and to what degree Nikephoros administered the taxation, administration, and provision of the military through a new bureaucratic apparatus. Neither Nikephoros nor any other Byzantine would recognize such a term or concept. Since I am here interested in determining the meaning that the rhetorics of the Ten Evils conveyed to a contemporary audience and analyzing the significance of how that meaning was conveyed, I will only refer to the massive literature associated with the rise of the Theme System when this literature can help us understand what a specific Evil meant in practical terms.

What must be noted, however, is that the way the Chronicle presents these specific actions of Nikephoros, and the way we currently describe these actions—as a part of the so-called Theme System—are in direct contrast to each other. Byzantine historiography tends to narrate the administrative changes prior to and during Nikephoros’ reign as the empire’s successful response to the conquests of Arab tribes known as the expansion of Islam. For instance, in J. Haldon’s recent study, these administrative changes are a leading character in defining the seventh to ninth-century Roman polity as The Empire that Would Not Die.41 This is not to say that such an analysis is incorrect, but it is important to note that the Chronicle finds the very measures of Nikephoros which historians attribute with creating the Theme System to blame for the suffering of Christians under both the ʿAbbasids and the Romans. The steps Nikephoros I took to reify slowly evolving economic and bureaucratic practices and reorganizations into something that can be called a new fiscal system are found in the list of Ten Evils preserved in the Chronicle. Almost no attention has been paid to the fact that this list was created specifically in order to condemn these same administrative actions. The Ten Evils is a rhetorical set piece, and in addition to how historians have used it thus far it must also be discussed in the context of its function as the original impetus, the culmination of the entire Chronographia project.

As I will show, the rhetoric of the Ten Evils made a forced population transfer, a restructuring of church finance, reforms of inheritance law, taxation on the discovery of treasure, and other such measures into the height of evil in Roman history. For the Chronicle these measures were the proof that Nikephoros was the All-Devourer who “always acted for show and not for God,”42 with love “for gold, and not for Christ,”43 and whose policies were “godless punishments against the Christians.”44 Nikephoros’ Ten Evils are portrayed as greater in significance than, for instance, Constantine V’s supposed executions of those who insisted on the veneration of icons. The Chronicle made such hyperbolic accusations by introducing the evils with the claim that Nikephoros’ measures caused citizens “in their folly, to utter blasphemies and pray to be invaded by the enemy.”45 According to this logic, Nikephoros’ avaricious, impious actions impelled Christians to blaspheme God, and to will damnation both for themselves and for the Christian Roman Empire.

My analysis of the Ten Evils uses the literary setting of the Chronicle to re-contextualize what we can deduce about the administrative reforms behind them. If this analysis contributes anything to the debate about the middle Byzantine ‘theme system’ and Nikephoros’ role in creating it, that contribution will be to clarify the logic behind describing Nikephoros’ reforming actions as so inherently evil. To begin this analysis, I turn first to the overall rhetorical framework for the passage as a whole.

When discussing the Ten Evils of Nikephoros historians have repeatedly noted the obvious association between the Ten Evils and the Ten Plagues which in the Book of Exodus God visited upon Egypt for Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Hebrews.46 The association is clear, but the metaphor is illogical and needs explanation. First, the corresponding roles of God and Pharaoh do not hold up. In the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh did not create the Ten Plagues that were visited upon Egypt. Rather, God generated each plague to punish Pharaoh and his people and to demonstrate his power, shown by upsetting the balance between man and nature. In the Chronicle Nikephoros is attributed with agency: his role is parallel to that of the Divine in the story of the plagues. Second, it was the Egyptians who were punished by the plagues (and in the tenth plague, Pharaoh in particular) and not the Israelites, who in this parallel would presumably correspond to the Christian Romans. Third, in the drama of the Exodus story the Hebrews are saved, thereby demonstrating God’s special favor upon them amongst all other peoples. There is no equivalent to the Israelites as the “Chosen Race” in the Ten Evils. Instead Nikephoros’ evils bring about blasphemy against—in the sense of denial of—God. What meaning was associating the Ten Plagues of Egypt with the Ten Evils of Nikephoros meant to convey?

The parallel works when interpreted through the typological reasoning we have seen throughout the Chronicle. The goal of comparing Nikephoros to Pharaoh via comparing the Ten Evils to the Ten Plagues is to make Nikephoros into the fulfillment of the type of the over-proud ruler who would put himself in the place of God. In this way the metaphor serves to make Nikephoros into an antithesis or an antitype, carefully constructed to fulfill the ethical theme we have seen developing over the course of the Chronicle, of the equivocation of imperial greed with imperial impiety.47

Taken as a whole, the argument of the Chronicle is straightforward. The Ten Evils represent a wide range of policies, but the argument is conveyed through the two thematic groupings into which the ten are arranged. The first group of five evils constitutes evidence of “impiety” as hatred for the People of God, the Christians and the Church. Evils one, two, and three drive Christians to such extremes of distress that they blaspheme God. Evils four and five seize revenues from the Church by reclaiming dependent peasant renters (paroikoi) whom the previous emperors had placed under the church’s supervision. The second group of five evils constitutes evidence of greed as the accumulation of capital for the emperor through the unjust seizure of wealth: Nikephoros shows “avarice” through actions taken against all his people, both rich and poor. The Ten Evils as a whole make Nikephoros the All-Devourer into the fulfillment of the impious emperor type. As such they show what imperial greed does to a political community: the people are pillaged while relief for suffering—the mercy of the Church—is disenfranchised, inhibited, or removed.

The following discussion outlines the Ten Evils of Nikephoros’ fiscal policies in the two thematic groups just identified. I briefly consider the meaning of each evil in light of scholars’ explanations in social or economic terms, but I focus on the rhetorical framing, for our goal is to see how each evil connects to the imperial types which we have seen throughout the Chronicle.

4 The First Five Evils: The Evils of Impiety

My quotations of the Ten Evils in sections 4 and 5 of this chapter echo the presentation in the surviving manuscripts rather than that found in critical editions of the Chronicle. Specifically, this means that I have listed and numbered each vexation separately because in the ninth-century manuscripts where this passage survives (Wake Greek 5 and VG 155), these numbers appear in the margins, written by hands that are almost certainly those of the original scribes.48 Here are the first five:

1. In this year Nikephoros, following the godless punishments [he had meted out] and intent on humiliating the army altogether, removed Christians from all the themata and ordered them to proceed to the Sklavinias after selling their estates. This state of affairs was no less grievous than captivity: many in their folly uttered blasphemies and prayed to be invaded by the enemy, others wept beside their ancestral tombs and extolled the happiness of the dead; some even hanged themselves to be delivered from such a sorry pass. Since their possessions were difficult to transport, they were in no position to take them along, and so witnessed the loss of properties acquired by parental toil. Everyone was in complete distress, the poor because of the above circumstances and those that will be recounted later on, while the richer sympathized with the poor (πτωχοί, ptochoi) whom they were unable to help and awaited heavier misfortunes. These measures were started in the month of September and completed by holy Easter.49

2. Secondly, he ordered a second evil, namely that poor people should be enrolled in the army and should be fitted out by the inhabitants of their commune, also paying to the Treasury 18 ½ nomismata per man plus his taxes in joint liability.50

3. His third evil idea was that everyone was to be assessed and everyone’s taxes were to be raised, with an additional payment of 2 keratia per man for the paperwork.51

4. The fourth: he ordered that all remissions should be cancelled.52

5. The fifth: the paroikoi of charitable foundations (εὐαγεῖς οἴκοι, euageis oikoi), of the orphanage, of hostels, homes for the aged, churches, and imperial monasteries should be charged the hearth tax (καπνικόν, kapnikon) counting from the first year of his usurpation, and that their more important estates should be transferred to the imperial demesne (κουρατορία, kouratoria), whilst the rates due on them should be added to such estates and paroikoi as were left to the charitable foundations (εὐαγεῖς οἴκοι, euageis oikoi), with the result that many of them had their tax doubled whereas their dwellings and rural holdings were reduced.53

The theme of these first five evils is the impiety Nikephoros demonstrated by his not only failing to protect the poor, but directly exploiting them instead. The first three evils refer to tribulations faced by the poor (πτωχοί) among the Romans at large through population transfers to replenish underpopulated areas. The fourth and the fifth evils concern policies directed against the church’s collection of rents from the poor who farmed its properties.

The First, Second, and Third Evils of Nikephoros seem to all have to do with aspects related to the resettlement of a population surplus from one area to an area in need of capable farmers both for security, and to fully exploit the land in question. The First Evil explicitly describes a population transfer in which a great number of “the poor” (πτωχοί) were moved from territories in Asia Minor to those known as Sklavinia in Macedonia, the Peloponnesos, and possibly Thrace.54 Nikephoros repopulated these newly reconquered areas with fully hellenized, sedentary farmers from the Byzantine heartland of Asia Minor who fell into the economic category of “the poor.” The Second Evil was then the enrolling of these “poor citizens … in the army.” It would make sense to a contemporary reader for these conscripted farmers to be connected to the army because “the poor” is a technical fiscal category meaning an individual who was not able to pay the 18 ½ nomismata necessary for equipping a soldier.55 Many farmers would not have met this bar and so in the case that individuals still could not pay the 18 ½ nomismata, the community, or neighborhood—which the Second Evil calls the ὁµοχώροι—would collectively pay those military dues.56 The Second Evil must mean that upon migration, the land given to “poor” in question would have been immediately linked to the support of the local military district, the thema. Nikephoros’ measures moved these small-scale farmers to make them productive for the military. Upon being moved, the farmers were immediately incorporated into the (perhaps more effective) tax structures in those themata, sending the revenues from their taxation directly into the supply of the local military units. Many of these newly conscripted farmers may even have previously been exempt from taxation due to their relative poverty.57 This is the sense in which all of these “poor” were, technically speaking, “enrolled in the army.”

The Third Evil seems to go back in time to point out that Nikephoros funded a census by assessing each taxpayer an additional two keratia (1/12 nomismata).58 Historians think this census took place over the course of 807–809. If correct, it is worth noting that those are the very years in which administrators, patriarchal officials, and soldiers attempted the revolt against Nikephoros which the Chronicle described in such favorable terms. Regardless, the point of the description in the Chronicle is that Nikephoros made the population pay for the tax registers to be updated over the course of 807–809, which generated the data to facilitate the population transfers of 810. Thus, “the poor” funded their own redistribution, Nikephoros made them pay for their own exploitation.

It is not clear what, exactly, stands behind the Fourth Evil. C. Mango believed the Fourth Evil’s generic statement that tax exemptions (“remissions”) were revoked should be interpreted on the basis of the Fifth Evil’s description (as below) of Nikephoros’ reorganization of the monastic, ecclesiastical, and charitable properties of Constantinople, and thus as repeals of Irene’s grant of tax relief to Constantinopolitan monastic institutions.59 It could also be read in terms of the just-discussed actions to make “the poor” directly fund the military, making the Fourth Evil, in effect, simply a restatement of the wickedness of the Second and Third Evil. In the end, there is simply too little here to make out the content of the actual economic measures.60

Our contextualized analysis can help with this puzzle. If the Fourth Evil is read in light of the Chronicle’s contrast between the generosity of Irene’s reign and the “All-Devouring” Nikephoros, we can recall Irene’s grants of tax relief to urban monasteries and two other specific exemptions: in March 801 Irene revoked the urban taxes on Constantinople as a whole, as well as the taxes on imports in the kommerkia trade centers.61 Even if this is not the case historically, within the literary world constructed by the Chronicle this is the most coherent reading: that the Fourth Evil refers to Nikephoros revoking the exemptions granted by Irene. The Fourth Evil is thus a claim that Nikephoros revoked policies defining Irene’s generosity or liberality, the hallmarks of the good emperor type.

The Fifth Evil relates to Nikephoros’ reforms of church finances and property management, specifically properties designated for the charitable institutions of Constantinople. M. Kaplan’s work to understand this measure has remained unchallenged.62 While the measure has also not been as fervently debated as other measures, these policies were essential for Nikephoros’ wider fiscal and political strategies. More importantly for our purposes, this is the measure most directly related to the interests of the work’s authors and the faction behind the 807–809 revolt as it has to do with the fiscal divisions between the patriarchal and imperial administrations.

The Fifth Evil demonstrates Nikephoros’ impiety in three ways. First, he shifted the administration of certain lands from the ecclesia to the imperium; second, he reapportioned those farms; and third, he assessed their dependent renters back taxes from taxes which they had previously been exempt. The explanation, drawing largely on M. Kaplan’s work, is as follows. The euageis oikoi (εὐαγεῖς οἴκοι) in this evil were the charitable houses which provided the needy of Constantinople with basic welfare by being directly supplied by specific farms. Though those farms were a part of the imperial domain (the explicit property of the emperor), they had been designated to be overseen by the church for the purpose of distributing the rents and produce to the relevant charitable houses. Nikephoros intervened and reformed the management of these properties by removing them from the church’s supervision and placing them under one of the emperor’s own bureaucratic departments, thus directly limiting the power and influence of the church.63

Next, Nikephoros reorganized the farms themselves. Kaplan speculates that Nikephoros took the best land from these euageis oikoi-designated farms for the imperial demesne (kouratoria, the estates directly exploited by the emperor).64 The remaining lands—reduced in size and less productive—were re-organized to be farmed by the original paroikoi for the supply of the euageis oikoi charitable houses at the same level as before. Finally, these farms had received an exemption from the kapnikon (a hearth tax) granted to lands owned by the church.65 Nikephoros revoked the tax exemption and required the farmers to pay in arrears from the beginning of his reign. That is, the kapnikon was assessed retroactively from November 802. In sum, the emperor took responsibility for the charitable houses of Constantinople completely away from the patriarchate, reappropriated much of the territory designated for their provision, and extracted an increased total tax from that territory, now divided into smaller properties, all while demanding the same level of provision for the charitable houses.

It is possible that Nikephoros was simply returning to the way things had been a few decades before, for since the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, religious institutions in Constantinople had achieved increasing independence and therefore wealth and power.66 And, as M. Kaplan concludes, the reform of the management of lands designated for the charitable institutions of Constantinople in the Fifth Evil produced an immediate and lasting surplus for the Treasury.67 Nevertheless, for the second decade of the ninth century this was a landmark shift in the relationship between the populace, the patriarchate, and the palace: the power and influence of the church would have been drastically reduced by removing significant tracts of land from its supervision and placing them under the emperor’s own bureaucratic departments.

From the point of view of the Chronicle, Nikephoros’ crime was predicated on what these changes said about ecclesiology: the role of the Church in the world. The reclamation of charitable revenues for the imperium seemed to mean that the church was in effect part of the imperial domain, directly subject to the needs and demands of the ruler.68 The Fifth Evil accused the imperium of enriching itself on lands previously designated to feed the poor, sick, orphaned, and elderly. And, to be specific, the majority of officials noted under the 808 rebellion would have had much less to supervise: one would presume it led to a reduction in their departments. This was how the Chronicle could assert that Nikephoros’ administrative reorganization was fundamentally impious and an attack on Christians.

In conclusion to my discussion of the first five evils, it is worth recalling that the leader of the 808 revolt, Arsaber, served as the quaestor. There is a direct connection between the supervisory duties of the ninth-century quaestor and the First Evil, the measures behind which would have brought mass migration through Constantinople. The quaestor was traditionally charged with supervision of travellers and visiting provincials, specifically granted the authority to enact punishments for injustices committed against tenants by their landlords. This would not only concern complaints from the newly settled poor, but also the paroikoi of the euageis oikoi of the Fifth Evil, who may have desired to file complaints against the fisc for their forced dispossession and resettlement.69 In years past the quaestor would have been responsible for adjudicating related disputes, but in setting up his “evil and unjust tribunal at the Magnaura,” Nikephoros had taken over the quaestor’s ability to take up such complaints.70 In other words, those who might bring legal complaints against Nikephoros’ measures would have to do so before Nikephoros himself: there was no one left who could bring Nikephoros to justice.

5 The Last Five Evils: The Evils of Greed

The first five evils made the case for Nikephoros’ impiety. This next set of five evils make the accusation of imperial avarice. They attribute Nikephoros with a program of unjust seizure of monetary resources from the population he was charged with protecting.

6. Sixth [evil]: the strategoi should keep an eye on all who recovered quickly from poverty and exact money from them as if they had found treasure trove.71

7. Seventh (evil): everyone who in the previous twenty years had discovered any kind of jar or vessel should likewise be deprived of their money.72

8. Eighth [evil]: the poor (ptochoi) who had received a divided inheritance from their fathers and grandfathers should be taxed by the Treasury for the same period of twenty years; and, that those who had bought household slaves outside Abydos and especially in the Dodekanese should pay an impost of 2 nomismata per head.73

9. Ninth [evil]: the naukleroi who lived on the sea coast, especially that of Asia Minor, and who had never practised agriculture should be forced to buy some of the estates [Nikephoros] had seized with a view to being assigned an assessment by him.74

10. Tenth [evil]: convening the foremost naukleroi of Constantinople, he gave each a loan of 12 lbs. of gold at a rate of interest of 4 keratia to the nomismata on top of the usual custom dues which they were liable.75

Evils Six, Seven, and the first part of Eight claimed Nikephoros demonstrated avarice by seizing wealth from the specifically “poor” portions of the population. That is, the Chronographia grouped new laws about inheritances (Eighth Evil), treasure troves (Seventh Evil), and “sudden changes in wealth” (Sixth Evil) as all contributing to the subjugation of the “poor” population (to be read in line with the fiscal meaning of the “poor,” as above).76 In the second part of the Eighth Evil as well as Nine and Ten, Nikephoros is shown as avaricious by seizing the wealth of “rich” segments of the population. The combination of the two implied that Nikephoros’ avarice was inflicted upon the entirety of society, rich and poor alike. In sum, the effect was to make the state the direct beneficiary of any significant economic growth accumulated by single individuals, regardless of their status as one of the “poor” or as one of the “powerful”. As we will discuss below, it should now be clear why the Chronographia made this series of evils the heart of the accusation that Nikephoros was the epitome of imperial avarice.77

The Sixth Evil in particular re-defined the sudden acquisition of any wealth as the discovery of treasure. This measure seems to have created a category of revenue previously outside the purview of the state, for by defining sudden revenues as “treasure,” Nikephoros made them liable to taxation. All rapid increases in wealth—we might imagine a range of events—were to be monitored by the strategos of the local thema and seized by the state as treasure. The Seventh Evil—seizing a discovered jar or vessel—similarly claims discovered treasure troves such as coin hoards (which would be stored in jars) on behalf of the imperial fisc. We can even identify the specific older law which this new measure would have overturned: the so-called “treasure trove law” of Justinian I which had protected finders of “treasure” from taxation.78 The Chronicle emphasizes Nikephoros’ rapaciousness did not simply overturn Justinian’s decree to exempt these discoveries from taxes but subjected the entire amount of any discovery from the previous twenty years to immediate seizure by the imperial fisc. Nikephoros thus changed the empire’s understanding of “treasure” from something liable to either taxation or exemption to a good that was in fact entirely the property of the fisc. The first part of the Eighth Evil builds directly on this critique, accusing Nikephoros of collecting back-taxes on inheritances received by “the poor” at any time in the twenty years prior to the edict.79 According to A. Christophilopoulou, “the poor” in this measure refer to the specific fiscal category of those who receive an inheritance of fifty nomismata or less, a “poor man’s inheritance.”80 The result for the state would be the potential to suddenly seize a sizeable amount of coin, an undisclosed percentage of all inheritances up to 50 gold coins received over the previous twenty years.

Interpretation of the second half of the eighth, and the ninth and tenth evils is fairly complex if the goal is to exactly understand their impact as administrative measures. This is not, however, our present goal and if approached as a group it is possible to make sense of these claims as a piece of policy critique. The second half of the eighth vexation concerns increased taxation on the import of slaves: the import hub of Abydos—at the mouth of the Hellespont—retained control of the slave trade coming into Constantinople from the South by preventing the establishment of rival centers for human imports on the islands off the coast of Asia Minor, such as Rhodes.81 The tax of two nomismata per head seems to be the reinforcement of an existing tax, rather than the imposition of a new, higher tax.82

The Ninth Evil refers to “some of the estates” which “Nikephoros had seized” clearly indicating that Nikephoros’ administration was making every effort to re-sell newly seized lands at value (a cash windfall). Nevertheless, the fact that the text does not explicitly state the referent—which estates had Nikephoros seized?—has led to much debate. Some scholars have understood this to refer to the seizures noted in the First Evil—in which Nikephoros had “removed Christians from all the themata and ordered them to proceed to the Sklavinias after selling their estates,” specifically reading it in light of the proposed development of the Theme System already mentioned. If this is correct, the action behind this Ninth Evil could be that Nikephoros acquired some of those same estates (seized in the First Evil) and sold them to “naukleroi who lived upon the sea coast.”83 Though the reality behind this measure is not settled, I am inclined to agree with P. Lemerle, C. Mango, and J. Haldon who interpret naukleroi to literally mean “shipowners” rather than as a new technical term meaning “sailors in the navy attached to military estates.”84 It seems more believable that shipowners, rather than mere naval recruits, were imagined to have had access to the cash necessary for the land purchases which Nikephoros was demanding.85

Regardless, the significant point for our purposes is the moral context in which a reader is prompted to understand these actions. Reading the Ninth Evil in the context of the Eighth Evil that came just before makes it clear that the rhetorical point is not whether the naukleroi of the Ninth Evil designated naval sailor-farmers or the wealthy commercial class of shipowners along the coast of Asia Minor. The significance was Nikephoros extracting wealth for the imperial fisc from those who possessed surplus. Regardless of who purchased the lands, the imperial administration received a great deal of capital from dictating the forced purchase of estates which it had seized, and thereby also ensured continued tax revenues from those same estates.

The naukleroi are also the subject of the Tenth Evil and as C. Mango points out, the naukleroi here can only be understood in the literal sense of “the foremost shipowners of Constantinople.”86 The naukleroi of Constantinople were made to take on loans of twelve talents (or pounds) of gold from the imperial treasury.87 This seems to be a one-time mass disbursement of imperial capital in high-interest loans. The Chronographia states that Nikephoros fixed the interest at 4 keratia to the nomismata, that is, 16.7%,88 which figure A. Laiou took to indicate that the measure was extortionate.89 Nikephoros’ actual goals are out of the historian’s reach.90 What we can say is that the Chronicle’s Tenth Evil accused Nikephoros of snatching up revenues from trade.91 In the context of the work’s rhetorical goals this fulfills the point of the latter five evils’ accusations: in his innate avarice Nikephoros unjustly seized monetary resources from all across the population he was charged with protecting.92 Assuming that these measures were successfully carried out, they paved the way for the imperial fisc to quickly obtain a significant amount of revenue and specifically, given the nature of the items discussed, of revenue in cash.

The Chronicle was composed to make this set piece provide the content for the polemic against Nikephoros I, and to set up the conclusion of the entire project. It is therefore essential to establish how to understand these Ten Evils as a whole, specifically as a parallel to the type of the Ten Plagues used to punish the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus. It is impossible to read the Ten Evils’ imperial edicts and orders as a direct simile for God’s generation of Ten Plagues.93 There is no indication the Chronicle wanted readers to think that Nikephoros ruled over the Egyptians. Instead, the Chronicle stated that Nikephoros’ actions caused “the Christians” to lose their faith, to blaspheme against God, and to call out for self-destruction. If anything, Nikephoros’ reign (through the Ten Evils) was turning the Chosen People (the Christians) into the Egyptians. Nikephoros’ Ten Evils played out the story of the Ten Plagues in reverse.

Rather than a direct simile, the Ten Evils constitute a typological inversion, an over-writing of the Exodus story as the Ten Plagues in reverse. Instead of a story in which God punished those who would subject his Chosen People to slavery, and then led his People on a journey to salvation, Nikephoros punished his Chosen People, thereby leading them from freedom as Roman citizens into subjugation. Pharaoh oppressed the People of God but he ostensibly did so out of love and pride for his own people. Pharaoh was at least a good king to the Egyptians: he desired to make them rich and proud to the detriment of subject peoples. The Egyptians were punished for their Pharaoh not regarding the supreme God’s regard for the Hebrews. While Pharaoh made the mistake of not fearing this God, he loved his own people. Nikephoros was the opposite. The rhetoric of the Chronicle described Nikephoros as an anti-Pharaoh who punished and enslaved his people and took up the role of a vengeful God against them. Associating the Ten Plagues with the Ten Evils made Nikephoros a fulfillment of the type of Pharaoh in the sense that he functioned as an antitype of a king: devouring rather than protecting his subjects. Furthermore, in that Nikephoros had visited a level of disaster befitting a jealous deity upon those who looked to him for protection, he caused his Chosen People to forsake salvation and blaspheme God. In his faith-destroying greed, Nikephoros was depicted as not only an anti-King, but an anti-God.

6 The Parable of the Keroullarios and the All-Devourer: A Typological Reading

Fittingly, then, the final mention of Nikephoros as ὁ Παµφάγος came immediately after the Tenth Evil. As noted in this chapter’s introduction, this predicate adjective had last been used for Nikephoros at his accession. In that context, it described how he forced out the repentant Irene and in his first official act as emperor established the tribunal court at the palace of the Magnaura “to dishonor and subjugate all persons in authority and to gain personal control of everything.”94 The closing declaration of Nikephoros the “Universal Devourer” introduced a parable told “in order to remember that man.” This parable immediately followed the description of the Ten Evils and as such closed out the entry on Nikephoros’ eighth year (de Boor’s AM 6302).95 It is a confusing anecdote which only becomes coherent when read through the typological reasoning identified in the imperial types and the First-Created Day thesis of the entire Chronicle.

In its typology the Chronicle made Nikephoros the opposite of the saving and merciful Christ, portraying the emperor in the image of the Antichrist. It is not unexpected that the Chronicle would portray an emperor in the image of the Antichrist without explicitly giving him that label. As P. Alexander has explained, “in several Byzantine apocalypses there appears a marked reluctance to use the term Antichrist; the authors prefer a series of circumlocutions.” We have seen the Chronicle set readers up to see Nikephoros as the image of the Antichrist by labeling Constantine V the “Forerunner to the Antichrist.” The reader was left to discern the Antichrist for whom Constantine V prepared the way, for the Antichrist figure would be “characterized not by a personal name but by an activity: opposition to Christ.”96

As I just argued, through the allusion between the Ten Evils enacted by Nikephoros and the Ten Plagues enacted upon Pharaoh the Chronicle established a specific typological relationship between Nikephoros I and the Pharaoh of Exodus as a distorting mirror image or an antitype. Nikephoros is painted as an Antichrist through the Parable of the Keroullarios (ὁ κηρουλλάριος, a chandler or candle-maker) again through an antitype, or a distorted image.

The Tenth Evil presented the loans forced upon the merchants of Constantinople as a means by which the all-devouring avaricious Nikephoros sought to acquire any wealth his subjects might obtain. The Chronicle then introduced the Parable of the Keroullarios as follows:

And also: here is something worthy of note as a morsel, or paradigmatic example, in order to remember that man [the All-Devourer].97

The short story begins with the keroullarios summoned to an audience with the “Universal Devourer” Nikephoros I where he is made to swear on the emperor’s head to the amount of money he possessed.98

Some candle merchant (ὁ κηρουλλάριος) was in the Forum,
self-sufficient by his own labors.
The All-Devourer, when he had summoned the man, said:
Place your hand upon my head, and swear to me:
How much gold do you have?
The Little One—declining himself as forsooth unworthy—was forced by him to do it, and so admitted he possessed 100 lbs.99
And so he ordered that [amount] be produced within the hour, saying:
What need do you have of distraction?
Break bread with me, and take 10 lbs.100
and go your way, having been satisfied.101

As above, I translated the keroullarios’ attempt to avoid Nikephoros’ demand for an account of his wealth as him stating that he was “unworthy” of so much attention. A literal translation of “without honor” may in fact be a more accurate rendering of ἀνάξιος in this context for this could be not only an assertion of relative humility but a factual statement that the keroullarios possessed no honorific title from the court. Taking the term in this literal manner means the keroullarios argued that wealth should not be demanded from a Little One, someone without the quid pro quo of a formal honorific given in return from the emperor.102 Regardless, the keroullarios was forced to admit that he had acquired one hundred pounds (talents) of gold coin from his trade. Nikephoros nevertheless ordered the money be produced, within the hour. The final address to the keroullarios should be imagined as though the pile of coins lay between them: having parted his subject from his wealth, the greedy Devourer-of-All ironically chides the keroullarios for his “worry,” for caring about his possessions.103 The keroullarios should be grateful for relief from the demanding and worrisome burden of wealth!

How was this story a “paradigmatic example” of Nikephoros, and a conclusion to not only the Ten Evils but the entire original impetus of the Chronographia project? On a literal level, the keroullarios would seem to be just the sort of individual for whom Nikephoros’ measures behind the so-called Sixth Evil had been crafted. The sudden wealth of the keroullarios may have qualified him as a citizen who had “recovered quickly from poverty.” Nikephoros might be portrayed here as fulfilling his own directive to “exact money from them as if they had found treasure.” Thus, on one level the story simply amplifies the theme of Nikephoros’ avarice in the final five vexations.104

However, Nikephoros was not simply greedy, he was ὁ Παµφάγος, the All-Devourer and an antitype of divine and earthly power. As such, the All-Devourer urging the keroullarios to be freed from “worry” marks him as an antitype, for the same idea was spoken by Christ in the Gospel According to Luke. There Christ used the same verb περισπάω to negatively describe Martha (sister of Mary and Lazarus) for being “distracted” (περιεσπᾶτο) about all of the service (περὶ πολλὴν διακονίαν) she did to prepare a meal for Christ.105 The association between the parable and this gospel passage is underscored by the fact that Nikephoros consoles the keroullarios with a meal.106 But whereas the Christ of the Gospel gently chided Martha to not worry about the meal but to sit at his feet like her sister Mary and meditate on his teaching, the All-Devourer who “lived for Gold and not for Christ” alleviated such distraction by confiscation.107

If we chew longer on this “morsel or paradigm” (ἡδύσµατος ἢ παραδείγµατος) it becomes increasingly clear that if the Ten Evils were the argument for Nikephoros as anti-king (the “Pharaoh of the Mind”), then the parable of the keroullarios is the argument for Nikephoros as anti-Christ. The two concluding verbs in the parable—“to go” (πορεύοµαι) and “to be satisfied” or “to have enough” (ἀρκοῦµαι)—are also the actions in the dramatic moment of a parable of Christ resonant in the contemporary Byzantine liturgical imagination: the parable of the ten virgins.108 Several associations draw the reader’s mind to this parable. First the obvious numeric correspondences in the number ten, with ten vexations, ten virgins, and ten pounds of gold. Furthermore, a keroullarios would, for a Constantinopolitan audience, be thought of as someone who sold both candles and oil for lamps.109 As we will see the Chronicle indeed provides both linguistic and conceptual parallels between the keroullarios and the well-known and familiar parable of the virgin bridesmaids who needed oil with which to light their lamps.

And at midnight a cry was heard:
Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!
Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said to the wise,
Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.
But the wise answered, saying,
No, lest there should not be enough [πορεύω] for us and you;
but go [αρκέω] rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.110

This parable would not have been in the least obscure to a Constantinopolitan reader of the ninth century, having been a site of creativity in Byzantine liturgical compositions for some time. Recent research has brought evidence to light demonstrating that a service specifically dedicated to Christ as the Bridegroom was becoming established in Constantinople at this time.111 G. Pagoulatos has traced evidence of the service in turn-of-the-century liturgical innovations in Constantinople.112 Based directly on the parable of the ten virgins, this service placed the gathered faithful in the dramatic position of the ten virgins awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom, interpreted to be Christ himself.113

It has already been argued that the Chronicle seems to have relied on readers’ familiarity with the homiletics of the patriarch John Chrysostom (r. 398–404).114 In his homily on Matthew 25, Chrysostom invoked an economic argument to explain the lesson of the Ten Virgins that resonates with the Chronicle’s account of the keroullarios. Chrysostom built on the fact that in the original text Christ had told of five wise and five foolish bridesmaids waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. He began his exegesis by asserting that the wise virgins were wise for making intelligent transactions in almsgiving in order to be prepared to wait for the Bridegroom.115 He then focused on the idea that his congregation replicated the foolish virgins’ error, to misunderstand the economy of salvation: “Heaven is a business and an enterprise and we are negligent.”116 Relying on the verbal similarity between oil (ἔλαιον) and mercy (ἔλεος) Chrysostom’s allegorical reading of the foolish virgins asserted the bridesmaids mistakenly thought that their “light” (virginity) alone was enough to gain entrance to the “wedding feast” (the kingdom of heaven), not realizing that “oil” (almsgiving) was needed as payment.117 According to Chrysostom’s interpretation, the merchant in the parable (from whom the foolish virgins should acquire oil) stood for the poor (πτωχοί). The virgins had merely needed to turn to these poor to “give bread and seize paradise.”118 Chrysostom’s conclusion makes the same moral connection between the parable of the Ten Virgins and his present audience as the moral lesson that seems to be the point of the Parable of the Keroullarios in the Chronicle: just as the bridesmaids in Chrysostom’s sermon were convicted for having refused to care for the poor due to their own love of money, the Chronicle accused Nikephoros for his abuse of the poor (vexations one through five) and his greed (vexations six through ten).119 The sin of the foolish virgins according to Chrysostom equates to the very greed of which the Chronicle accused Nikephoros.

The assumption of an intertwined reading runs even deeper, for the All-Devourer’s interaction with the keroullarios also seems to supply the portion of the parable missing in the gospel: the actual transaction between the foolish virgins and the merchant from whom they were meant to buy oil. Taking heed of the lesson of this parable, the emperor should have sought out the poor and “purchased” his oil (and so the prize of salvation) by giving alms. Instead he did the opposite of Christ’s advice: he tried to steal his prize by simply demanding his subjects’ wealth. Nikephoros failed to enter Chrysostom’s marketplace of salvation, misunderstanding the very concept of mercy.

The Chronicle ended its parallels between the two parables here. But quite possibly it did so to leave the reader to supply the apocalyptic conclusion. In the gospel parable it is just at this moment that the anticipated Bridegroom appears:

And while [the foolish virgins] went to buy, the bridegroom came,
and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding;
and the door was shut.
Afterward the [foolish] virgins came also, saying,
Lord, Lord, open to us!
But he answered and said,
Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.120

When you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Therefore: keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.121

A meditative Byzantine reader following through this inter-textual association would find the idea of the First-Created Day reborn in their mind, with its final instance to come: that last day of the apocalyptic revelation of the returning Christ.122

Indeed, by the ninth century the use of the Parable of the Ten Virgins (or the Parable of the Bridegroom) was a standard means of invoking impending apocalypse. The sixth-century hymns of Romanos the Melodist had long been incorporated into the hymnography of the cathedral of Hagia Sophia.123 Romanos had composed a kontakion which placed the chanter in the position of the five foolish virgins, calling out to the Lord and bridegroom “Open!” as though trapped behind the shut door of the parable. In his fourth stanza, Romanos described the experience of these excluded virgins, the bridesmaids, as an experience of the apocalyptic end times:

But as [Christ] foretold, all things will happen:
Famines and earthquakes and plagues come to pass.
And nation will rise against nation,
Fearful things within and without,
they have mustered in battle
To be saved anywhere is impossible,
for there is danger everywhere:
Refuge is nowhere, flight is for all;
The gate has been shut, compassion has been sealed,
Not desired within, now we cry out without:

The Chronicle had provided images of famines, earthquakes, plagues, and war in the years leading up to this point. The emperors just preceding Nikephoros had overseen these very events in their own times: Constantine V the “Forerunner to the Antichrist” ruled through droughts, plague, and seven earthquakes,125 and in the year Irene blinded her son Constantine VI there was another.126 However, the era of Nikephoros was even worse: a Byzantine defeat in battle was described under every entry.127 In the entry immediately preceding the current passage, Nikephoros’ swindling his troops of their pay was described as two natural disasters.128

All of these allusions are invitations for a ninth-century Constantinopolitan audience to see Nikephoros in the image of the Antichrist by the end of this entry for his eighth year (de Boor’s AM 6302 or AD 809/10). I have documented the incessant castigation of Nikephoros I from the very moment of his accession to the throne, the accompanying picture of a world on fire, and the swirling inferences of apocalyptic types.129 The Parable of the Keroullarios as an image of the Bridegroom and the Virgins allows the prefatory injunction to the reader to echo with the command of the parable: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” The Chronographia’s First-Created Day typology tied together all time and time’s reckoning by making the Creation and the Incarnation, the Resurrection from the Ark and the Resurrection from the Tomb into both historical events and present events in the liturgical life of the church. The reader of the Chronicle had been conditioned to look for a coming First-Created Day: four First-Created Days had passed and yet the Last Day remained, the Day of Christ’s return.130 But in the post-Incarnation Era, the final instance of the recurring First-Created Day could not be dated, for the next salvific day was the Last, the end of time.

According to Christ’s own words it was not possible for an angel, or even Christ himself to perceive the date of the final day, the ultimate First-Created Day to inaugurate eternity. Presumably then, neither could a chronographer. The Chronicle’s impetus was to equip a reader to decide for themselves what to make of the entirety of the past. The orthodox Christian could know all past time, but future time was another issue, for the “Day and the Hour” were hidden. An author could do no more than allude to this event, and warn his audience to watch carefully by understanding what sort of deeds their emperor had done, and thereby place him within the typological spectrum which the Chronicle had provided.

7 The First End(ing) of the Chronographia

Nikephoros’ portrait as both the fulfillment of Pharaoh’s type and as the image of the Antichrist was built upon historical typologies set up by the First-Created Day thesis. The interconnectedness of historical typologies and the chronological argument of the First-Created Day was stated explicitly by George the Synkellos in his account of the Resurrection of Christ:

For orthodox Christians, this day was rightly considered the first Pascha. Not with ancient leaven and in flight from the Pharaoh perceptible to the senses in Egypt and his ruthless taskmasters, [but] rather it was in direct apprehension of the Egypt perceptible to the mind, which is evil and ignorance, and the Devil, who is its author. Surpassing the types and the shadows based in the law, they delight in the true lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world … and by his grace and redemption, they are introduced to the heavenly Jerusalem … for he had brought together existence in a lasting relationship.131

Reading the Chronicle in its ninth-century form—reading the beginning of the present era from the Roman conquest of Jerusalem—makes it possible to see how the typological connection between Nikephoros in the image of Pharaoh and of the Antichrist was set into the structure of the text from the beginning.

By now it should be clear that in stating that the Chronicle made a philosophical and historiographical case against Nikephoros I through a series of typologies I do not mean that it did not have political implications and concerns for its present. The Chronicle set its readers up to recognize Nikephoros as the promised fulfillment of the Pharaoh “perceptible to the mind” and in this way fulfilled the promise of the Preface to give the reader a clear exposition of the present age and some benefit from the past. The Chronicle provided this present, practical benefit by crafting its imperial portraits into typologies. Chapter 5 explored types that presented cautionary warnings. The military successes of Herakleios and Leo III did not prevent their susceptibility to deception by heretical ideas (monotheletism and iconoclasm) or the ruination of their empires. Leo III’s son and successor, Constantine V—the “forerunner to the Antichrist”—then established the final warning of the doom to come, culminating in the image of Nikephoros as the new Pharaoh, the Antichrist himself.

In this chapter I have argued that this historical polemic was the Chronicle’s entire rhetorical goal. It is true that the form in which the Chronographia has been preserved and transmitted through the centuries has its “end” or final entry, not in Nikephoros’ eighth year (AM 6302), but three years later at the accession of Leo V (AM 6305 or AD 812/13). However, George the Synkellos claimed his work would be found “both dependable and equally accurate … up to the current 6302nd year.” I have taken that date at face value, as evidence that this was the original conception of the end of the Chronographia project. While previous scholars have not even entertained such an idea, it needs to be seriously considered for a number of reasons. The Preface of Theophanes states that the chronicler had received from George the Synkellos an impetus or an “end” towards which to write. If—as seems likely—this would mean that George the Synkellos had already mapped out the idea of the Chronographia and communicated that idea to Theophanes as the “impetus” of the work, then he certainly would have communicated (if not written out) to his “close friend” how he intended the work to end in AM 6302. In the present chapter I have also pointed out the identifiable structural unity in the original entries about Nikephoros covering AM 6295–AM 6302. These entries are a rhetorical set piece which begins and ends by labeling Nikephoros as the Devourer of All.

To read the Chronicle was to engage with its imperial portraits as Kaiserkritik and thereby to judge one’s own emperor. In denigrating the regime of Nikephoros I up through AM 6302, the Chronicle’s apocalyptic typologies justified armed opposition to the present emperor. Whether or not the synkellos of the rebellion against Nikephoros was George the Synkellos, the more emphatic point for the Chronicle was to connect the two “Armenian” networks who led rebellions against Nikephoros I by beginning the reign of that emperor with the revolt of Bardanes (AM 6295–6296) and ending it with the revolt of the quaestor Arsaber and the tagmata (AM 6299–6301). A reader who accepted this portrait of Nikephoros, who realized Nikephoros in the image of the Antichrist, made common cause with these rebels.

I have argued that the Chronographia’s portraits of past bishops and emperors as types in an eschatological framework combined particular political virtues and vices to give meaning to the reigns of recent emperors. In the end this framework evoked the Antichrist and the eschaton—the end of time. I do not wish this statement to imply that I envision an audience of panicked sky-watchers. Instead, I see the eschaton of the Chronographia within the context J. Palmer has laid out for the whole of the Early Middle Ages: the eschaton was imminent, and everywhere, and quotidian.132 Palmer’s framing does not mean the idea of the end of days was meaningless, but that Apocalypse was how the Early Middle Ages conceptualized its future-driving energies and anxieties—energies that have modern parallels in our idea of Nuclear Holocaust or Climate Change. An End is coming, an End is near: this present day is lived in constant anticipation of that anticipated but unknown tomorrow. I read the Chronographia project in this same spirit. The project was a political manifesto framed within an account of the universe, a historical call to arms by a righteous synkellos against an unjust emperor, an erudite reasoned call for revolt from one of the highest imperial officials in the empire whose auctoritas gave heft to the critique. This was not an innocuous antiquarian compilation of some random historical notices. This was an extended, focused historical argument with a specific political end.

In the next chapter, chapter 8, I turn to the second ending of the Chronographia project: the final three entries covering AM 6303–6305 or AD 811–813. In doing so I turn from reading the Chronographia as a “public” history that could in theory be shared by all Romans. On the level of a public politics the original impetus for the Chronographia had been to bring together the whole of the Roman past in a way that called for a new Roman political consensus in the present. But I argue that these final entries re-framed the Chronographia as a “private” history.133 By this I mean that the new ending was deeply embedded in the needs of a specific socio-political network (or community) and so was written to meet that group’s specific needs. The original impetus of the project was to level an invective against Nikephoros I, to sweep the blinders from the eyes of the elite of Constantinople and show them what a monster their emperor was. But once that emperor had died, the lesson from his reign could no longer be a warning that doom was impending if Nikephoros continued in power. In death, Nikephoros became just another imperial type (or antitype). The last three entries, written after the death of the All-Devourer, represent a different impetus. Someone—likely Theophanes—added these entries which told of the death of Nikephoros, the short reign of Michael I, and then brought Leo V the Armenian to the throne in the very last entry for AM 6305 (AD 813). An audience of elite Constantinopolitans would have known well how much these few years had changed the status of the community whose perspective had been articulated and promoted by the narrative of the Chronographia project. The professed leader of the last revolt against Nikephoros, Arsaber, had been punished, beaten, and banished in AD 808. However, in AD 813 this same Arsaber would find himself the father-in-law to the new emperor, Leo V. In the next chapter, I describe how to read these entries in the context of that new reality.


Leslie Brubaker and John F. Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 359; Pavlos E. Niavis, The Reign of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I. (AD 802–811) = Hē Basileia tou Byzantinou Autokratora Nikēphorou 1 (802–811 m. Ch.), Historikes Monographies 3 (Athens: Basilopoulos, 1987).


MS 656–57 / dB 477.18–479.10. Nikephoros is ὁ παµφάγος at dB 477.32 and 478.29.


Though this deeply ethical critique of imperial power animates the central concerns of the Chronicle, this does not make the work a product of “the church” any more than all articulations of imperial power in Byzantium drew deeply upon the types and models found in scripture and the liturgy. On the use of Old Testament imagery to articulate ideals of imperial power under the Isaurian emperors, see: M. T. G. Humphreys, Law, Power, and Imperial Ideology in the Iconoclast Era: c. 680–850, OSB (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). G. Dagron standardized the inseparable relationship between emperor and church, between οἰκουµένη and ἐκκλησία. Gilbert Dagron, Emperor and Priest: The Imperial Office in Byzantium, trans. Jean Birrell, Past and Present Publications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). Furthermore, we completely misunderstand Constantinople if we do not recognize the liturgical implications of the office of emperor. Robert F. Taft, Through Their Own Eyes: Liturgy as the Byzantines Saw It (Berkeley, CA: InterOrthodox Press, 2006).


The parable of the prodigal son is told in the Gospel according to Luke 15:11–32. Verses 14–16 describe the swineherd: “And when [the prodigal son] had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.”


Gospel according to Matthew 26:15.


This is another connection between the portraits of the empresses Irene and Pulcheria. Pulcheria’s continued reign from her role under her brother Theodosios II to her role as empress under Maurice was the reason for disrupting the normal narrative division between the eras of those emperors.


MS 656 / dB 477.30.


ἐνόσει γὰρ αὐτὸ δεινῶς πάσας ἐν τῷ χρυσῷ τιθεὶς τὰς ἐλπίδας ὁ παµφάγος. MS 656 / dB 477.31.


MS 657 / dB 478.29.


ὁ γοῦν παµφάγος οὗτος τοῦ κράτους ἐπιλαβόµενος οὐδὲ κἂν πρὸς βραχὺ ἴσχυσεν ἐπικαλύψαι δι’ ὑποκρίσεως τὴν ἔµφυτον αὐτοῦ κακίαν τε καὶ φιλαργυρίαν. MS 657 / dB 478 29–31. The use of ὑποκρίσις (hypocrisy) may well be an invocation of the “scribes and pharisees” opposed to Christ in Gospel according to Matthew 23:27–28.


The quaestor would have been the official most directly impacted by Nikephoros subsuming the job of the quaestor into the imperial bureaucracy.


MS 657 / dB 479.


τὰς τῆς εὐσεβοῦς Εἰρήνης εὐεργεσίας. MS 675 / dB 479.4–5.


They refused to support Bardanes against Nikephoros I. Though the Chronographia had just accused Nikephoros of being untrustworthy—for going back on his word to allow Irene to stay in Constantinople and instead exiling her to the Prince’s Island of Prinkipios—in this context removing Irene from the City was certainly a prescient move on Nikephoros’ part. Bardanes’ rebellion would likely have gone differently if he and his armies could have appealed to a just-deposed empress still within the city.


In the Sangarius valley; the standard gathering point for the armies of the East in preparation for a campaign.


MS 657 / dB 479.


MS 659 / dB 480.


Nikephoros had just been accused of going back on his word to allow Irene to stay in Constantinople and instead exiling her to the Prince’s Island of Prinkipios, only to exile her further to the island of Lesbos. Likewise, immediately upon Bardanes’ accepting monastic tonsure at his own island monastery of Prote (modern Kınlaıda), It is worth noting that Irene had only just been removed from her own monastery on another of the “Prince’s Islands,” on Prinkipios (modern Büyükada). The Chronicle notes that Nikephoros broke that oath just as he had with Irene. Nikephoros had promised Bardanes to “not harm him in any respect,” but he went on to seize Bardanes’ fortune and oppress the officers and landowners of the Themata, the supporters of his revolt. MS 658 / dB 480.


MS 659 / dB 480. This political trifecta should not be taken as a literal historical fact but emphasizes that the abhorrence for Nikephoros’ deed was felt by the entire political community of the empire.


MS 659–60 /dB 480–81.


καὶ τίς λόγος δυνήσεται πρὸς ἀξίαν διηγήσασθαι τὰ ἐν ταῖς ἡµέραις ἐκείναις πραχθέντα ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ ἔργα κατὰ θεοῦ παραχώρησιν διὰ τὰς ἁµαρτίας ἡµῶν; MS 658 / dB 480. Compare Gospel according to John 21:25: “And there are many other things which Jesus did which, if they were written one-by-one, I do not believe the cosmos could contain the books that would be written.” Ἔστιν δὲ καὶ ἄλλα πολλὰ ἃ ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, ἅτινα ἐὰν γράφηται καθ’ ἕν, οὐδ’ αὐτὸν οἶµαι τὸν κόσµον χωρῆσαι τὰ γραφόµενα βιβλία.


C. Mango and R. Scott (Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, 661n3) clarify that based on other sources the expedition was most likely into Asia Minor again, into the region of Cilicia.


MS 662 / dB 482.


δαρµοῖς τε καὶ ἐξορίαις καὶ δηµεύσεσι πολλοὺς ὑποβαλών. MS 663 / dB 482.


MS 663 / dB 482.30–483.2.


οἰόµενος οὐκ ὀλίγην ὁλκὴν χρυσοῦ πορίσασθαι ἐξ αὐτῶν ἐξ ἐτησίων τελεσµάτων. MS 663 / dB 482.32–483.1. See the description of Nikephoros’ First Evil, in section 4 below.


ὁ πάντα διὰ τὸν φιλούµενον αὐτῷ χρυσὸν καὶ οὐ διὰ τὸν Χριστὸν πράττων. MS 663 / dB 483.1–2.


MS 664 / dB 483.


τοὺς δὲ λοιποὺς δαρµοῖς καὶ ἐξορίαις, πρὸς δὲ καὶ δηµεύσεσι καθυπέβαλεν. MS 664 / dB 483.


ἐξεβλήθησαν τῆς µονῆς καὶ τῆς πόλεως ἐξορίᾳ παραπεµφθέντες. dB 484.26–27. The full passage states: “Theodore, abbot of Stoudios, and his brother Joseph, the archbishop of Thessalonica, along with the recluse Platon and their other monks withdrew from communion with Nikephoros, the most holy patriarch, on account of the oikonomos Joseph who had unlawfully married Constantine and Theodote. Seizing this opportunity, the emperor Nikephoros assembled many bishops and abbots and ordered that a synod be held against them. By this means they were expelled from their monastery and from the City and were banished in the month of January of the second indiction.” MS 665 / dB 484.19–28.


A similar but distinct phrase (δαρµοῖς τε καὶ κουραῖς καὶ ἐξορίαις τοὺς πλείστους τιµωρησάµενος) from that used for the previous two revolts, confirming that this uprising is to be understood as occurring for different reasons than the previous. MS 666 / db 486.5–6.


For reference, the reader can find the Ten Evils at MS 667–68 / dB 486–87 (AM 6302 [AD 809/10]) and the Parable of the Keroullarios at MS 668–69 / dB 487–88 (AM 6302 [AD 809/10]). It is important to note the rhetorical bluntness of the condemnation in the list of Ten Evils. The Chronicle simply labelled Nikephoros “evil” (κακία) who enacted “an evil” (κְַάκωσις): the deeds exemplify the character.


See Alexander P. Kazhdan, ODB s.v. “Theme” for an expanded description of the development of the theme system along these lines, and for bibliography supporting this point of view.


Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 665.


Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 715–17, and 746–55. For a slightly more recent summative discussion and bibliography see: Salvatore Cosentino, “La Perception de Domaine Économique Dans La Chronographie de Théophane,” in Studies in Theophanes, ed. Marek Jankowiak and Federico Montinaro, Travaux et Mémoires 19 (Paris: Association des amis du Centre d’histoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2015), 327–52; and, John F. Haldon, The Empire That Would Not Die: The Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640–740, Carl Newell Jackson Lectures 13 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016), 258–75. For continued discussion of important points of contention: Federico Montinaro, “‘Killing Empire’: Goldilocks and the Three Byzantine Kommerkiarioi,” Journal of European Economic History 46, no. 2 (2017): 165–72; Salvatore Cosentino, “The ‘Empire That Would Not Die’ Looks West,” Journal of European Economic History 46, no. 2 (2017): 151–63.


Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 749.


Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 750.


Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 748–49.


For important contributions to the discussion of both what constitutes this “system” and how it developed, see Paul Lemerle, The Agrarian History of Byzantium from the Origins to the Twelfth Century: The Sources and Problems (Galway: Galway University Press, 1979), 27–67; Nicolas Oikonomidès, “Middle Byzantine Provincial Recruits: Salary and Armament,” reprinted in Social and Economic Life in Byzantium, ed. Elizabeth Zachariadou, Variorum Collected Studies 799 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004); John Haldon, “Military Service, Military Lands, and the Status of Soldiers: Current Problems and Interpretations,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 47 (1993): 1–67. Then in Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 746 with n77 who observe that “there is no evidence for a direct association between military service and land during the seventh and eighth centuries”; also note the list of characteristics of a thema by the end of the reign of Nikephoros on pp. 752–53. Further in Haldon, The Empire That Would Not Die; and now Federico Montinaro, “‘Killing Empire’: Goldilocks and the Three Byzantine Kommerkiarioi,” Journal of European Economic History 46, no. 2 (2017): 165–72.


Montinaro, “‘Killing Empire’: Goldilocks and the Three Byzantine Kommerkiarioi,” 171.


Haldon, The Empire That Would Not Die.


MS 659 / dB 480.


MS 663 / dB 482. Compare the Gospel according to Matthew 6:24.


MS 667 / dB 486.


MS 667 / dB 486.


MS 669n3 with bibliography. For the classic discussion see: Franz Hermann Tinnefeld, Kategorien der Kaiserkritik in der byzantischen Historiographie: von Prokop bis Niketas Choniates (München: W. Fink, 1971), 74–78.


For previous discussions as Nikephoros as the New Pharaoh or in the language of the Chronicle the “Pharaoh of the Mind” see chapter 3 sections 3 and 5, and chapter 5 section 5.


As the only substantive difference between the text in the ninth-century manuscripts and K. de Boor’s edition is that, as noted, those manuscripts number each of the evils in the margin, besides those numbers the Greek for this and each of the Evils to follow is that of de Boor’s critical edition. The translation is MS 667–68.


Τούτῳ τῷ ἔτει Νικηφόρος µετὰ τὰς ἀθέους ὑπεξελεύσεις τὰ στρατεύµατα πάντῃ ταπεινῶσαι σκεψάµενος Χριστιανοὺς ἀποικίσας ἐκ παντὸς θέµατος ἐπὶ τὰς Σκλαυινίας γενέσθαι προσέταξεν, τὰς δὲ τούτων ὑποστάσεις πιπράσκεσθαι. καὶ ἦν αἰχµαλωσίας οὐκ ἔλαττον τὸ πρᾶγµα, πολλῶν ἐξ ἀνοίας βλασφηµούντων καὶ ἐχθρῶν ἐφόδους αἰτούντων, ἑτέρων δὲ περὶ τοὺς γονικοὺς τάφους θρηνούντων καὶ τοὺς ἀποθανόντας µακαριζόντων· εἰσὶ δὲ οἳ καὶ ἀγχόναις ἐχρήσαντο πρὸς ἀπαλλαγὴν τῶν δεινῶν. τά τε γὰρ προσόντα δυσκίνητα συνεπιφέρεσθαι ἠδυνάτουν καὶ τὴν ἐκ γονικῶν πόνων κτηθεῖσαν ὕπαρξιν ὀλλυµένην ἑώρων· καὶ πᾶσα τοὺς πάντας εἶχεν ἀµηχανία, τῶν µὲν πενήτων ἐν τούτοις καὶ τοῖς ἑξῆς ῥηθησοµένοις, τῶν δὲ ὑπερεχόντων συµπασχόντων αὐτοῖς καὶ µὴ δυναµένων βοηθῆσαι ἀπεκδεχοµένων τε βαρυτέρας συµφοράς. ταῦτα ἤρχθη µὲν ἀπὸ τοῦ Σεπτεµβρίου µηνός, πρὸς δὲ τὸ ἅγιον πάσχα πεπέρασται. dB 486.10–23.


δευτέραν σὺν ταύτῃ κάκωσιν, προσέταξε στρατεύεσθαι πτωχοὺς καὶ ἐξοπλίζεσθαι παρὰ τῶν ὁµοχώρων, παρέχοντας καὶ ἀνὰ ὀκτωκαίδεκα ἡµίσους νοµισµάτων τῷ δηµοσίῳ, καὶ ἀλληλεγγύως τὰ δηµόσια. dB 486.23–26.


τρίτην κακόνοιαν, ἐποπτεύεσθαι πάντας, καὶ ἀναβιβάζεσθαι τὰ τούτων τέλη, παρέχοντας καὶ χαρτιατικῶν ἕνεκα ἀνὰ κερατίων βʹ. dB 486.26–28.


καὶ πρὸς τετάρτην, τοὺς κουφισµοὺς πάντας ἀναβιβάζεσθαι προσέταττεν. dB 486.28–29.


πέµπτην, τοὺς τῶν εὐαγῶν οἴκων παροίκους τοῦ τε ὀρφανοτροφείου καὶ τῶν ξενώνων καὶ γηροκοµείων τε καὶ ἐκκλησιῶν καὶ µοναστηρίων βασιλικῶν τὰ καπνικὰ ἀπαιτεῖσθαι ἀπὸ τοῦ πρώτου ἔτους τῆς αὐτοῦ τυραννίδος, τὰ δὲ κρείττονα τῶν κτηµάτων εἰς τὴν βασιλικὴν κουρατορίαν αἴρεσθαι, τὰ µέντοι τέλη αὐτῶν ἐπιτίθεσθαι τοῖς ἐναποµείνασιν εἰς τοὺς αὐτοὺς εὐαγεῖς οἴκους κτήµασι καὶ παροίκοις, ὡς διπλοῦσθαι πολλῶν τὰ τέλη, τῶν οἰκήσεων στενουµένων αὐτοῖς καὶ τῶν χωρίων. dB 486.29–487.5.


Omeljan Pritsak, ODB s.v. “Sklavinia.” The Sklavinia (Σκλαυινία) was a name for the region given to the people group, the Sklavinoi (Σκλαυινοί), from North of the Danube that was forcefully emigrated into the Balkans over the course of the sixth and seventh centuries. The term was, and is, sometimes used indiscriminately with “Avars.” According to O. Pritsak the plural term sklaviniai (σκλαυινίαι) in the ninth century could still mean “a stronghold … of the frontier military type”, or “a military colony [that] subsisted by agriculture.” It is not exactly clear how contemporaries would have read the frequent use of the term in the Chronicle. For disambiguation and discussion of the appearance of the term see Florin Curta, “Sklaviniai and ethnic adjectives: a clarification,” Byzantion Nea Hellás 30 (2011): 85–98.


The 18 ½ nomismata assessment represents the cost of a soldier which C. Mango and R. Scott (Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, 669n4) understand as one of two different payments, for the fitting out of the soldier and for his taxes. Joint liability was a principle laid down in the eighth-century Rural Code (or Farmer’s Law) in which the entire village of a soldier was responsible for his taxes while he was away on campaign. Lemerle, Agrarian History of Byzantium, 27–67, especially 62–63; Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 747–48.


Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 747–48.


Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 753–55.


This new census perhaps took as long as two years to complete, and almost certainly took place in anticipation of the population transfer described as the First Evil and the Second Evil. Warren T. Treadgold, “The Revival of Byzantine Learning and the Revival of the Byzantine State,” American Historical Review 84, no. 5 (1979): 1259–60, 1262.


Mango and Scott, Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, 669n7.


Paul Speck, Kaiser Leon III., die Geschichtswerke des Nikephoros und des Theophanes und der Liber Pontificalis, Poikila Byzantina 19 (Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt, 2002), 806–9.


Irene’s exemptions on the kommerkia were described earlier in the Chronicle at MS 653 / dB 475 (AM 6293) with MS 669 n7. The “private” church—the network of especially suburban monasteries—was strongly favored, patronized, and protected by Irene through policies which may even have been originally crafted with the help of George the Synkellos. On the complex debate concerning the changing meaning and role of this term and the entities to which it refers see (with further bibliography): Montinaro, “‘Killing Empire’: Goldilocks and the Three Byzantine Kommerkiarioi.”


Aikaterina Christophilopoulou, Byzantine History II: 610–867, trans. Timothy Cullen, 2nd ed. (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1993), 204–205; Nicolas Oikonomidès, “De l’impôt de distribution à l’impôt de quotité à propos du premier cadastre byzantin (7e–9e siècle),” in Social and Economic Life in Byzantium, ed. Elizabeth Zachariadou, Variorum Collected Studies 799 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 16–17. Lemerle, Agrarian History of Byzantium, 55–56; 177–88. Jacques LeFort, “The Rural Economy, Seventh-Twelfth Centuries,” in The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century, ed. Angeliki E. Laiou, 3 vols., DOS 39 (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2002), 1: 286–87. Nicolas Oikonomidès, “The Role of the Byzantine State in the Economy,” in Laiou, Economic History of Byzantium, 3:1007. Michel Kaplan, Les hommes et la terre à Byzance du VIe au XIe siècle: propriété et exploitation du sol (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1992), 266–68. Michel Kaplan, “Maisons impériales et fondations pieuses: Réorganisation de la fortune impériale et assistance publique de la fin du VIIIe siècle à la fin du Xe siècle,” in Byzance: Villes et campagnes, Les médiévistes français 7 (Paris: Picard, 2006), 167–83, especially 169–72 (originally published Byzantion 61 [1991]). Before Kaplan’s arguments, Byzantinists had indeed already identified the ninth-century administrative switch from operating Constantinople’s charitable institutions out of the patriarch, to operating them out of the imperial administration. Nevertheless, the field discussed this development as a gradual occurrence. Kaplan insisted that the change in fact happened essentially all at once, through the administrative reforms of Nikephoros I that lie behind the Fifth Evil.


Kaplan’s treatment of the fifth vexation pays careful attention to the language of the passage. The use of the term εὐαγεῖς οἴκοι (“charitable establishments”) in the passage likely alerts us to specific categories of imperial administration. When the Chronographia used the adjective “imperial” (βασιλικός) to describe the first several institutions listed, the adjective was used attributively to qualify each of the establishments cited: the imperial orphanage, the imperial hostels, the imperial homes for the elderly, and the imperial monasteries. Michel Kaplan, “Maisons impériales et fondations pieuses,” 168n5. See also: Michel Kaplan, “Quelques aspects des maisons divines du VIe au IXe siècle,” in Byzance: Villes et campagnes, 138–56, 160 (originally published in Mélanges Svoronos [Rethymno, 1986]). The use of the singular in “the orphanage” likely indicates the most important orphanage in the capital, of St. Paul in the Acropolis region founded by Justin II. Raymond Janin, La géographie ecclésiastique de l’Empire byzantin, part 1, Le siège de Constantinople et le patriacat oecuménique, vol. 3, Les églises et les monastères, 2nd ed. (Paris: Institut français d’études byzantines, 1969), 567–68. Alice-Mary Talbot and Alexander P. Kazhdan, ODB s.v. “Orphanages.”


Kaplan believed that Nikephoros was acting practically: imperial revenues had become insufficient for imperial needs. The lands newly categorized as part of the “the imperial kouratoria” (κουρατορία) would have been directly exploited imperial estates overseen by the kourator (κουράτωρ). The number of officials under the treasury department increased around this time, possibly to accommodate the confiscations added to the imperial demense. Though he remained low in rank, this would have given the koutaror, the official overseeing the imperial kouratoria, some power. Note the kourator under the sakellarios at Nicolas Oikonomidès, Les listes de préséance byzantines des IXe et Xe siècles: Introduction, texte, traduction et commentaire, Le monde byzantine (Paris: Éditions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1972), 107.17, but with his own subordinates at 123.11–27. See: Kaplan, “Quelques aspects des maisons divines,” 147, 153, 168–69; Kaplan, “Maisons impériales et fondations pieuses,” 168–69, 179; Alexander P. Kazhdan, ODB s.v. “Kouratoreia”; Oikonomidès, Les listes de préséance byzantines, 318. In the tenth century, the kouratoria would be more fully absorbed into department of the treasury, overseen by the logothetes tou genikou, Nikephoros’ former position. MS 655 / dB 476 (AM 6295). Anecdotal evidence inclines in this direction, for this office would have had an unusual amount of power and influence if it oversaw a handful of imperial estates. Also note that this department produced two successors, Leo V the Armenian and Michael Rhangabe, understandable if these estates represented large tracts of directly exploitated imperial land. Kaplan, “Maisons impériales et fondations pieuses,” 172–73.


Christophilopoulou, Byzantine History II: 610–867, 201–9. On kapnikon see: Mark C. Bartusis, ODB s.v. “Kapnikon.”


John Prescott Thomas, Private Religious Foundations in the Byzantine Empire, DOS 24 (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1987), 117–19; 128–29; Peter Hatlie, The Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, ca. 350–850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 312–52, especially 330–43. The Constantinopolitan religious houses had long resisted centralization; by comparison Justinian had centralized the imperial domains in Cappadocia all the way back in the sixth century. On the relevant canons of the council of Nicaea II in 787 see: Kaplan, “Quelques aspects des maisons divines,” 147–48; Michel Kaplan, “Les moines et leurs biens fonciers à Byzance du VIIIe au Xe siècle: Acquisition, conservation et mise en valeur,” in Byzance: Villes et campagnes, 218–20 (originally published Revue bénédictine 103 [1993]); and, Hatlie, Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, 318–19 and 343–47.


Nikephoros may well have created a new office to oversee these new revenues: the appearance of grand kourator (µέγας κουράτωρ) at the beginning of the ninth century (790–830) tellingly coincides with the return of the euageis oikoi to the control of the state, the formation of new imperial monasteries, and the imperial takeover of ancient foundations. Kaplan, “Maisons impériales et fondations pieuses,” 178–79.


For instance, even the way the Orphanage of Constantinople was run mattered, and was an issue of direct concern to the Emperor of the Romans. Lands that were part of the imperial domain remained ultimately subject to the desires of the emperor. Thomas, Private Religious Foundations, 111–30.


J. B. Bury, The Imperial Administrative System in the Ninth Century; with a Revised Text of the Kletorologion of Philotheos (New York: B. Franklin, 1958), 74; Rodolphe Guilland, “Études sur l’histoire administrative de l’empire Byzantin. Le questeur: ὁ κοιαίστωρ, quaestor,” Byzantion 41 (1971): 81–82.


MS 657 / dB 478.


Translation MS 668. ἕκτην, σκοπεῖσθαι παρὰ τῶν στρατηγούντων τοὺς ἀθρόως ἐκ πτωχείας ἀνακτησαµένους, καὶ ἀπαιτεῖσθαι χρήµατα ὡς εὑρετὰς θησαυρῶν. dB 487.6–8.


ἑβδόµην, τοὺς πρὸ κʹ χρόνων εὑρηκότας καὶ µέχρι τῆς δεῦρο πίθον ἢ σκεῦος ὁτιοῦν καὶ αὐτοὺς ἐξαργυρίζεσθαι. dB 487.8–9.


ὀγδόην, τοὺς ἐκ πάππων ἢ πατέρων κληρονοµήσαντας διαιρεθέντας, ἐκ τῶν αὐτῶν χρόνων κʹ ἐξαναδιδόναι τῷ δηµοσίῳ, τοὺς πένητας· καὶ τοὺς ὠνησαµένους ἔξω τῆς Ἀβύδου σώµατα οἰκετικά, ἀνὰ βʹ νοµισµάτων τελέσαι προσέταξεν, καὶ µάλιστα τοὺς κατὰ τὴν ∆ωδεκάνησον. dB 487.9–13.


ἐννάτην, τοὺς τὰς παραθαλασσίας οἰκοῦντας, µάλιστα τῆς µικρᾶς Ἀσίας, ναυκλήρους µηδέποτε γηπονικῶς ζήσαντας ἄκοντας ὠνεῖσθαι ἐκ τῶν καθαρπαγέντων αὐτῷ κτηµάτων, ὡς ἂν ἐκτιµηθῶσι παρ’ αὐτῷ. dB 487.13–16.


δεκάτην, τοὺς ἐν Κωνσταντινουπόλει ἐπισήµους ναυκλήρους συναγαγὼν δέδωκεν ἐπὶ τόκῳ τετρακεράτῳ τὸ νόµισµα ἀνὰ χρυσίου λιτρῶν δώδεκα τελοῦντας καὶ τὰ συνήθη κωµέρκια. dB 487.17–19.


It is not clear whether the finds were limited to “random” discoveries—in a field, or an abandoned building—or whether subjects would now be taxed for “discovering treasure” when in fact that treasure was one’s own buried savings horde: this is the very sort of ambiguity the Chronicle used to shape Nikephoros’ diverse actions into a systematic program with a specific moral agenda.


For another summary see: Oikonomidès, “Role of the Byzantine State,” 3:990.


Ernest Metzger, A Companion to Justinian’s Institutes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 60.


This date of twenty years is presumably simply a round number and was not chosen in order to overturn a measure from AM 6280–6282 (AD 787–790).


Until this action by Nikephoros, there does not seem to have been any tax on inheritance in cases where the assets of the deceased were shared out between two or more persons and the share each received amounted to no more than 50 nomismata. One important result of the measure would have been to erode part of the legal distinction between “rich” and “poor.” The poor would now pay the same inheritance tax as the rich. Christophilopoulou, Byzantine History II: 610–867, 204.


Youval Rotman, Byzantine Slavery and the Mediterranean World, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).


Given that the measure specifically names the region where rival slave-trading centers had already been established (in the Dodacanese), we can presume that non-regulated slave markets were thriving, and that this was an attempt to regain regulatory control. See discussion of this passage and its relationship to the North-South axis of trade to and from Constantinople in Michael McCormick, Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce, c.700–c.900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 587–91.


While naukleroi usually designates shipowners, G. Ostrogorsky and A. Christophilopoulou argued that the estates referred to specifically “military lands” (stratiotai ktemata), in which case the naukleroi would be specifically sailors in the imperial navy. According to G. Ostrogorsky (and later A. Christophilipoulou), the Ninth Evil extended the already extant Theme System for funding an inland military cohort to outfitting the navy. If this was so, then Nikephoros would have been making each sailor’s community collectively obligated to care for their sailor’s land, to provide for his supplies, and to pay his taxes. Georg Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers Byzantine Series (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1969), 190–91. Christophilopoulou, Byzantine History II: 610–867, 205–6.


L. Brubaker and J. Haldon (Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680–850, 750–751) assert that landholdings were not specifically designated as military lands until the tenth century. In this they agree with the older discussion in Lemerle, The Agrarian History of Byzantium, 68–69 and with Mango and Scott, Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, 670n16. For a broader and general discussion see: Lemerle, Agrarian History of Byzantium, 68–192; and especially 71–73. A. Christophilopoulou responded to the arguments of J. Haldon et al., objecting that the naukleroi were already “a tiny elite of the seafaring community,” and that putting even more lands in their hands amounted to imperial encouragement of estate-sized landholdings, which is contrary to our understanding of imperial concern in the Middle Byzantine Period to favor the “poor” against the predations of the “powerful.” In A. Christophilopoulou’s favor, it could be said that P. Lemerle, C. Mango, and J. Haldon’s interpretation does seem somewhat contrary to the trajectory of Nikephoros’ economic reforms: Nikephoros did seem interested in strengthening the armed forces by limiting the possibilities for large landowners and limiting large estates. Nevertheless, our evidence for the imperium’s concern to suppress the powerful in favor of the poor comes primarily from nearly a century and more after the events under discussion here, from the period of the Macedonian dynasty.


If the naukleroi of the Ninth Evil does relate to the development of the Theme System, and the naukleroi are to become farmer-sailor-soldiers, it is hard to see how the expansion of the Theme System relates specifically to the imperial vice of avarice. An interpretation by F. Uspenskij, still largely passed over, sought to strike something of a middle ground accounting for important insights from both sides: “the seafaring inhabitants of the coastlands, particularly in Asia Minor, who have never made their livelihood by farming, were obliged to cultivate the confiscated lands they bought and also to serve in the imperial navy, mostly in the units raised from the maritime themes.” That is, like C. Mango and J. Haldon, F. Uspenskij also understood the naukleroi to be middling to upper-class shipowners, but with A. Christophilopoulou believed that the forced purchase of land conscripted seafaring individuals who previously enjoyed freedom of economic activity into the thema system of military small holdings. As cited in Christophilopoulou, Byzantine History II: 610–867, 205–6.


Mango and Scott, Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, 670n16.


The Tenth Evil has been primarily discussed in the context of a “Byzantine perspective” on interest and usury interpreted to mean Nikephoros attempted to do away with private lending. See the discussion on lending in Angeliki E. Laiou, “Economic Thought and Ideology,” in Laiou, Economic History of Byzantium, 1123–44, especially 1130–33 and 1136–39. The argument is: if naukleroi desired to conduct a trading venture of any kind through borrowed capital, they would only be able to take out these loans from the imperial treasury. This would make the state the only legal lender.


C. Mango and R. Scott (Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, 670n17) note that the next historical notice we have concerning the relationship of the Byzantine state to speculative lending was Leo VI’s tenth-century Novella 83 which fixed the acceptable loan rate at 4.17% with any party able to serve as the lender. The interest rate is higher than the maximum under Justinian I (12%), but it may have already been the norm by the late eighth or early ninth century. A rate of 16.7% was the unofficially recognized maximum for a loan in the twelfth century and may have been standard by as early as the 790s.


This action would amount to dispersing a large amount of capital to individuals who had been carefully selected based on the state’s ability to hold them accountable for the use of that capital. When the individuals, the wealthiest naukleroi, returned that capital in a matter of years, the fisc would make a tidy 16.7% profit on its “investment” in maritime trade in and around Constantinople. Angeliki E. Laiou, “Exchange and Trade: Seventh—Twelfth Centuries,” in Laiou, Economic History of Byzantium, 2:711–713. And: Angeliki E. Laiou, “God and Mammon: Credit, Trade, Profit and the Canonists,” in Economic Thought and Economic Life in Byzantium, ed. Cécile Morrisson and Rowan Dorin, Variorum Collected Studies Series CS1033 (Farnham: Ashgate Variorum, 2013). This builds on earlier analyses by Christophilopoulou, Byzantine History II: 610–867, 206–7.


Though from the emperor’s point of view, it seems to have forced significant maritime trade ventures by injecting capital with which wealthy merchants had to either make a significant profit or take the financial loss of the interest. W. Treadgold (“Revival of Byzantine Learning,” 165–66) suggested that the loans would have stimulated the economy. More immediately, a question that has yet to be raised in scholarly discussions is: how could Nikephoros afford to dispense with so much capital from the imperial treasury when—as we learn from the next entry AM 6303 (AD 811)—Nikephoros was planning a major military campaign? The sum of these five measures could be the answer. If Nikephoros seized property from the population in Asia Minor, then forced the naukleroi on the coast of Asia Minor to buy up those estates, this would have provided the emperor with a great deal of capital. Rather than simply holding onto that sudden injection of capital, Nikephoros immediately sought to turn an even greater profit by forcing the naukleroi of Constantinople to take on that capital as loans, to be returned in a few years with interest. In other words, Nikephoros managed to seize the surplus capital from one portion of the population, and then require another portion of the population to increase that capital by 16.7%. If we imagine Nikephoros’ rationale in enacting these five (or rather six) measures—as I have just proposed we delineate them—and if we take the upcoming campaign against the Bulgarians into consideration, Nikephoros was guaranteeing that, whatever happened on the campaign, when he returned he would be able to expect the receipt of a massive amount of capital into the imperial treasury with which he might settle his campaign debts.


Laiou, “Exchange and Trade,” 2:711: “At the same time, the emperor seems to have forbidden interest-bearing sea-loans made by individuals. In this measure, one may see an effort to increase state control of Constantinopolitan maritime trade as well as of the revenues thereof.” On control through increased taxation see Oikonomidès, “Role of the Byzantine State,” 3:986–87.


A. Christophilopoulou’s sustained work on the reforms of Nikephoros—summarized in her Byzantine History II: 610–867—makes the astute connection between the “Evils” listed at the end of George’s list, and those at the beginning. In other words, the forced purchase of estates which we have just been discussing, likely relates directly to the population transfers described in the first three “Evils.” Christophilopoulou, Byzantine History II: 610–867, 201–9.


On the use of Old Testament imagery and to articulate ideals of imperial power under the Isaurian emperors, see: Humphreys, Law, Power, and Imperial Ideology.


MS 657 / dB 479.


ἕνεκα µνησθῆναι καὶ τοῦτο. My translation / dB 487.30–31.


Paul J. Alexander, The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, ed. Dorothy Abrahamse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 194.


C. Mango and R. Scott (Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, 668) translate “paradigmatic example” (παράδειγµα) as “amusing example,” but this is more, something worth being recalled.


On the increased importance of oath-taking in Byzantine legal proceedings from the mid-eighth century see: Marie-France Auzépy, “State of Emergency (700–850),” in The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c. 500–1492, ed. Jonathan Shepard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 251–91. And now Humphreys, Law, Power, and Imperial Ideology.


= 7,200 nomismata.


= 72 nomismata in PG 1710; other MSS = 100 nomismata.


κηρουλλάριός τις ἦν ἐν τῷ Φόρῳ ἐκ πόνων ἰδίων ἀνενδεής. τοῦτον µεταστειλάµενος ὁ παµφάγος φησίν· “θὲς τὴν χεῖρά σου κατὰ τῆς κεφαλῆς µου, καὶ ὄµοσόν µοι τὸ πόσος σοι χρυσός ἐστιν;” ὁ δὲ µικρὸν ὡς ἀνάξιος δῆθεν παραιτούµενος ἐβιάσθη τοῦτο παραὐτοῦ ποιῆσαι, καὶ λίτρας ρʹ ἐξειπεῖν ἔχειν. καὶ τοῦτο κατὰ τὴν ὥραν προσέταξεν ἐνεχθῆναι φήσας· “σὺ τί χρείαν ἔχεις περισπασµοῦ; συναρίστησόν µοι, καὶ ἆρον νοµίσµατα ρʹ, καὶ πορεύου ἀρκούµενος.” My translation / dB 487.31–488.6.


From this perspective, the meaning of the exchange could be re-imagined more fully as: “How much money do you have?” “Majesty, this is inappropriate, I am as yet without formal honor: I am not yet incorporated into your court where I would receive the benefit of high association in exchange for such interrogation.”


Despite the echoes of Christ’s speech about worry in Matthew 6, the relevant verb used there is µεριµνάω, and the lesson is to not be anxious for “ἀρκετὸν τῇ ἡµέρᾳ ἡ κακία αὐτῆς” (The evil of the day is sufficient to it).


The reader is not invited to consider the historicity of this situation—no specific date is mentioned. The story’s introduction separates the tale from the realms of time and space, whereas the Ten Evils situate the story in a moral universe. Thus, we are allowed to see this situation in the abstract, as the playing out of one (or all) of the Ten Evils.


Gospel according to Luke 10:40. In Christ’s response, he describes Martha’s own state back to her: “you are troubled (µεριµνάω) and distracted (θορυβάζῃ) about many things.” We may thus take this statement as a gloss on what it means to be περισπασµός. There is a conceptual resonance with Gospel according to Matthew 11:28–29, though not the explicit parallels in diction.


MS 669 / dB 488 (AM 6302).


ὁ πάντα διὰ τὸν φιλούµενον αὐτῷ χρυσὸν καὶ οὐ διὰ τὸν Χριστὸν πράττων. MS 663 / dB 483.1–2 (AM 6299).


Gospel according to Matthew 25:6–9.


Alexander P. Kazhdan, ODB s.v. “Keroularios.”


µέσης δὲ νυκτὸς κραυγὴ γέγονεν, Ἰδοὺ ὁ νυµφίος, ἐξέρχεσθε εἰς ἀπάντησιν αὐτοῦ. τότε ἠγέρθησαν πᾶσαι αἱ παρθένοι ἐκεῖναι καὶ ἐκόσµησαν τὰς λαµπάδας ἑαυτῶν. αἱ δὲ µωραὶ ταῖς φρονίµοις εἶπαν, Δότε ἡµῖν ἐκ τοῦ ἐλαίου ὑµῶν, ὅτι αἱ λαµπάδες ἡµῶν σβέννυνται. ἀπεκρίθησαν δὲ αἱ φρόνιµοι λέγουσαι, Μήποτε οὐκ ἀρκέσῃ ἡµῖν καὶ ὑµῖν· πορεύεσθε µᾶλλον πρὸς τοὺς πωλοῦντας καὶ ἀγοράσατε ἑαυταῖς. Gospel of Matthew 25:6–9.


Gerasimos P. Pagoulatos, Tracing the Bridegroom in Dura: The Bridal Initiation Service of the Dura-Europos Christian Baptistry as Early Evidence of the Use of Images in Christian and Byzantine Worship (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2008). On the development of services in seventh through ninth-century Constantinople with an increasingly dramatic or narrative power see Egon Wellesz, “The Nativity Drama of the Byzantine Church,” Journal of Roman Studies 37, no. 1–2 (1947): 145–51.


Pagoulatos, Tracing the Bridegroom in Dura, 30. The idea of the service dates back to the third-century baptismal rituals celebrated in, for instance, the house church preserved at Dura Europas. The earliest direct evidence that the service became a part of the imperial liturgy only comes from the eleventh century. Nevertheless, this distinctly Syrian-Palestinian rite seems to have been brought to Constantinople between the late eighth and the middle of the ninth century. Pagoulatos, Tracing the Bridegroom in Dura, 24, in reference to the eleventh century codex no. 788 held in the University Library of Athens. For a discussion of the relationship between the interaction between developments in eleventh-century art and this liturgy see: Hans Belting, “An Image and Its Function in the Liturgy: The Man of Sorrows in Byzantium,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, no. 34–35 (1980): 1–16, especially 4–7. The Bridegroom Matins was promoted and practiced by George the Synkellos’ demographic: iconophile monks with connections to Syria-Palestine. Pagoulatos, Tracing the Bridegroom in Dura, especially 28. And see discussion of the ninth-century Patmos Codex no. 266 at pp. 33, 132–33. Given George’s connection to the “Old Lavra” of St. Sabas in Palestine, it is a fair guess that he lived in one of the monastic communities in which the Bridegroom Matins was being developed into the form that would gain acceptance in Constantinople. On the incorporation of Palestinian liturgical practices in the liturgy of Constantinople during the eighth and ninth centuries see: Robert F. Taft, “The Liturgy of the Great Church: An Initial Synthesis of Structure and Interpretation on the Eve of Iconoclasm,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 34–35 (1980–81): 45–75, especially 65–66, 72. For an alternative trajectory on the relationship of images of Christ the bridegroom to the god Dionysios see: Gary Vikan, “Art and Marriage in Early Byzantium,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990): 162.


On the harmony of this reading with the formation of the liturgical self: Derek Krueger, Liturgical Subjects: Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium, Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 130–63.


Chapter 3, section 2.1. See a direct citation of John Chrysostom’s commentary on Matthew in the Chronographia at AT 5 / M 3.19–22.


See Angeliki E. Laiou, “Law, Justice, and the Byzantine Historians: Ninth to Twelfth Centuries,” in Law and Society in Byzantium, Ninth–Twelfth Centuries, ed. Angeliki E. Laiou and Dieter Simon (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1994), 151–86, especially 159n124 on the economic mindset within a long history of thinking deeply about identity, the self, and difference.


Ἐµπορία καὶ πραγµατεία ὁ οὐρανὸς, καὶ ἡµεῖς ἀµελοῦµεν. John Chrysostom, De paenitentia hom. 3. PG 49, 294.5–6. Translated in Gus George Christo, St. John Chrysostom: On Repentance and Almsgiving, The Fathers of the Church 96 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1998), 32 (section 8).


“Virginity is the light, almsgiving the oil.” Τὸ γὰρ πῦρ ἐστιν ἡ παρθενία, τὸ δὲ ἔλαιον ἐστὶν ἡ ἐλεηµοσύνη. John Chrysostom, De paenitentia hom. 3. PG 49, 294.8–9. Translated Christo, On Repentance and Almsgiving, 32 (section 7).


Δὸς ἄρτον, καὶ λαβὲ παράδεισον. John Chrysostom, De paenitentia hom. 3. PG 49.294.5–7. Translated Christo, On Repentance and Almsgiving, 32 (section 8).


“They did not possess almsgiving (light) along with virginity. This statement is worthy of much shame. You overthrew pleasure but did not despise money. O virgin you, who denied the worldly life and crucified yourself to it, yet love money!” ἐπειδὴ µετὰ τῆς παρθενίας τὴν ἐλεηµοσύνην οὐκ εἶχον. Πολλῆς αἰσχύνης τὸ ῥῆµα ἄξιον· ἡδονὴν καταπαλαίσασα, χρηµάτων οὐ κατεφρόνησας· ἀλλὰ παρθένος ἀποταξαµένη τῷ βίῳ, καὶ σταυρωθεῖσα χρηµάτων ἐρᾷς. John Chrysostom, De paenitentia hom. 3. PG 49, 297.46–49. Translated Christo, On Repentance and Almsgiving, 36 (section 13).


οὕτως καὶ ὑµεῖς, ὅταν ἴδητε ταῦτα πάντα, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις. ἀµὴν λέγω ὑµῖν ὅτι οὐ µὴ παρέλθῃ ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη ἕως ἂν πάντα ταῦτα γένηται. ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσεται, οἱ δὲ λόγοι µου οὐ µὴ παρέλθωσιν Περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡµέρας ἐκείνης καὶ ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι τῶν οὐρανῶν οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, εἰ µὴ ὁ πατὴρ µόνος…. γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε ποίᾳ ἡµέρᾳ ὁ κύριος ὑµῶν ἔρχεται. Gospel according to Matthew 25:10–12.


Gospel according to Matthew 24: 33–36, 42. Emphasis mine.


On just such readers, see: Derek Krueger, “Beyond Eden: Placing Adam, Eve, and Humanity in Byzantine Hymns,” in Placing Ancient Texts: The Ritual and Rhetorical Use of Space, ed. Mika Ahuvia and Alexander Kocar, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 14 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018), 167–78.


Krueger, Liturgical Subjects, 65.


ἀλλ’ ὡς προεῖπε πάντα γενήσεται·καὶ λιµοὶ καὶ [λο]ιµοὶ καὶ σεισµοὶ συνεχεῖς, καὶ ἔθνος ἐπὶ ἔθνος ἐγήγερται· τὰ ἔσω φοβερά, τὰ ἔξω δὲ µάχης πεπλήρωνται· οὐκ ἔστι ποῦ σωθῆναι· πανταχοῦ γὰρ ὁ κίνδυνος· οὐδαµοῦ καταφυγή, φυγὴ δὲ πᾶσιν· ἡ πύλη κέκλεισται, ἡ εὐσπλαγχνία ἐσφρα[γί]σθη· οὐ γὰρ ἠβουλήθηµεν ἔνδοθεν εἶναι, ⟨νῦν ἔξω βοῶµεν· «Ἄνοιξον»⟩. Canticum 51.4. Ed. and trans. José Grosdidier de Matons, Romanos le Mélode: Hymnes, vol. 5, SC 283 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1981), 302.


Droughts: MS 608 / dB 441 (AM 6258); MS 601 / dB 435 (AM 6255). Plague: MS 585–86/dB 423–24 (AM 6238). Earthquakes: MS 639 / dB 464 (AM 6282, [AD 790]), MS 594 / dB 430 (AM 6248, [AD 755]), MS 588 / dB 426 (AM 6241, [AD 748]), MS 585 / dB 422 (AM 6238, [AD 745]), MS 579 / dB 418 (AM 6235, [AD 742]), MS 577 / dB 416 (AM 6234, [AD 741]), MS 572 / dB 412 (AM 6232, [AD 739]).


MS 646 / dB 470 (AM 6288, [AD 796]).


Even if in reality the outcome had been ambiguous if not actually positive, as in AM 6300 (AD 807/8), when the destruction of Rhodes by an ʿAbbasid fleet is emphasized over the successful defense of the fort there and the subsequent destruction of the fleet by storm.


“Desisting somewhat, the wretches [the soldiers] abandoned their course of action and withdrew to a hill, crying, ‘Lord have mercy!’ as if it were an earthquake or a drought…. On account of their misfortune they called the Bosporus the ‘River of Fire.’” οἱ δὲ µικρὸν παυσάµενοι βουνόν τινα κατέλαβον οἱ τρισάθλιοι τῆς ἐν χερσὶν ἐπιλαθόµενοι πράξεως, τό, “κύριε ἐλέησον,” ἀναβοῶντες ὡς ἐπί τινι σεισµῷ ἢ ἀνοµβρία…. οἱ δὲ διὰ τὴν συµφορὰν πύρινον ποταµὸν τὸ Πέραµα προσηγόρευσαν. MS 666 / dB 485–86 (AM 6301 [AD 808/9]). For references see: the river spewed from the mouth of the serpent in the Apocalypse of John 12.15–16; the river of fire in Daniel 7:10.


The Chronicle limits its use of phrases with apocalyptic connections, preferring to work with images. For a few examples, however, see: Timothy the Cat called the “Forerunner to the Antichrist” MS 170 / dB 111.1 (AM 5950, [AD 457/8]); and, “Abomination of Desolation” used to describe the fall of Jerusalem to ʿUmar. MS 417 / dB 339 (AM 6127 [AD 634/5]).


Matthew 24:33–36, 42.


Αὕτη Χριστιανοῖς ὀρθοδόξοις πρῶτον πάσχα καλῶς ἐχρηµάτισεν, οὐκ ἐν ζύµῃ παλαιᾷ καὶ φυγῇ τοῦ κατ’ Αἴγυπτον αἰσθητοῦ Φαραῶ καὶ τῶν αὐτοῦ πικρῶν ἐργοδιωκτῶν, ἀλλ’ ἐν καταλήψει τῆς νοητῆς Αἰγύπτου, τῆς κακίας καὶ ἀγνοίας καὶ τοῦ ταύτης ἀρχηγοῦ διαβόλου, ὑπὲρ τοὺς τύπους καὶ τὴν νοµικὴν σκιὰν αὐτῷ τῷ ἀληθινῷ ἀµνῷ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ αἴροντι τὴν ἁµαρτίαν τοῦ κόσµου κατατρυφῶσινκαὶ τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι καὶ ἀπολυτρώσει πρὸς τὴν ἄνω Ἱερουσαλὴµ ἐπειγοµένοιςσυντάξας τὸ εἶναι τῇ σχετικῇ ἀλληλουχίᾳ. AT 464 / M 389–90.


James T. Palmer, The Apocalypse in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).


Private in the sense used by Janet L. Nelson, “Public Histories and Private History in the Work of Nithard,” Speculum 60, no. 2 (1985): 251–93.

  • Collapse
  • Expand