Roman Emperors Dir Nicephorus I

mapDIR Atlas

Nicephorus I A. D. 802-811

Matthew Marsh
Sul Ross State University

Nicephorus I can be considered one of the Byzantine Empire's more controversial emperors, reigning in a period more turbulent than usual. Nicephorus' policies, which were aimed at strengthening the Byzantine State, were viewed extremely critically by Theophanes, the main chronicler for the period. Theophanes objected strongly to Nicephorus' tolerance towards the iconoclasts, his desire to make the church subordinate to the state once again, and his financial policies which affected the church. This would lead to Nicephorus having an unflattering and frequently unfair portrayal in the historical record of the time. Since Theophanes was the main chronicler working during this period, and the one whose work is the most intact, his viewpoint has tended to dominate the historical record, despite the more favorable, but fragmented accounts in the Chronicle of Monemvasia and the non-Byzantine sources such as Bar Hebraeus and Michael the Syrian. Additionally, the Chronicle of 811 offers a more grounded critique of his military abilities and his final campaign. Early modern historians such as Edward Gibbon, and even to a degree George Finley, accepted Theophanes' account at face value, leading to a rather negative view of Nicephorus. In the late nineteenth century Charles W. C. Oman, in his popular history of the Byzantine Empire and later in his history of the Dark Ages, gave one of the first balanced accounts of Nicephorus' reign. However, due to the vast span of history to be covered, Oman was only able to devote a few paragraphs to his reign. Beginning with J. B. Bury in his History of the Eastern Roman Empire, and Charles Diehl with his contribution to the original Cambridge Medieval History, other historians have re-examined the evidence and have discovered instead a farsighted, but flawed ruler who laid the foundation for the Byzantine Empire's prosperity in the Macedonian period.[[1]]

Background and Early Career

According to tradition, Nicephorus was descended from one of the last Ghassanid Kings, Gafna or Djabalah or Cabella depending on what source is used, who along with his family had fled to Roman-controlled Cappadocia during the early days of the Moslem conquest of the Levant.[[2]]  However, this tradition is only to be found in non-Byzantine sources since Theophanes only records that the Emperor was a close neighbor of the Athinganoi in Phrygia and Lycaonia; the chronographer's comments describe Cappadocia, although they do not answer the question of his ancestry.[[3]]  Perhaps one can safely say Nicephorus' ancestors were Arab Christians, not necessarily royalty, who left Mesopotamia before the Arab conquest and settled in Cappadocia. From his origins in Cappadocia Nicephorus had risen in the early days of Irene's regency through the ranks to become the strategos of the Armeniac Theme.[[4]]  In this position he had supported Irene when Constantine VI moved to become sole ruler of the Empire in A. D. 790, though his troops mutinied and removed him from command.[[5]] Sometime between A. D. 790 and 797 Nicephorus became the Chief Logothete or Finance Minister for Irene. In this capacity Nicephorus had overseen the fiscal administration of the Empire, an experience which would serve him well during his reign as Emperor.[[6]]  At the time of his coup d'état Nicephorus was about fifty and widowed, as his wife, who was possibly named Procopria, is not named in the listing of Imperial tombs. Nicephorus had two living children, a daughter Procopria, and a son Stauracius. Procopria was married to the future emperor Michael Rhangabe and already had children of her own when Nicephorus became Emperor. His son Stauracius was evidently only about ten when Nicephorus became Emperor and, due to his youth, would not play a large role in the government, despite having been crowned co-Emperor, until the very end of Nicephorus' reign.[[7]]

The Empire in A. D. 802

In A. D. 802 the Byzantine Empire, while not permanently damaged, was in a weaker position than it had been in A. D.780 on the death of Constantine V. The struggle for power between Constantine VI and his mother Irene had led to greater involvement of the Thematic commanders in the politics of the Empire, making them more likely to mutiny or revolt. This is particularly evident in the period from 790-797 when there were no less than four revolts led by the Thematic commanders. Additionally, the empire's financial position was not good since Irene had practically let the taxes owed by monastic properties lapse during her reign, and given tax breaks to the merchants to encourage them to support her in Constantinople. In foreign affairs the Empire had suffered as well. The Bulgars, whom Constantine V had defeated repeatedly during his reign, had regrouped and sharply defeated the Imperial forces. The Arab Caliphate had repeatedly made raids into Byzantine Anatolia during Irene's regency and, while no major territory had been lost, these raids, coupled with the defeats inflicted by the Bulgarians, made the Empire seem like it was weakening and disorganized. To add insult to injury, on Christmas Day in A. D. 800 the Frankish King Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III, contributing further to the declining international prestige of the Empire.[[8]]

The coup d'état against Irene

By A. D. 802 Irene's hold on power was slipping rapidly and on the night of October 31 a group of senior patricians, bureaucratic officials and officers of the tagmata moved to overthrow Irene and set up Nicephorus in her place. The conspirators gained entrance into the palace by convincing the guards that Irene had sent them to proclaim Nicephorus Emperor because the patrician Aetius was going to force Irene to name his brother Leo as Emperor in her stead. Once in the palace they sent runners out to proclaim the ascension of Nicephorus, and they surrounded the monastery where Irene was with troops; having arrested her, they brought her to the Great Palace under guard. With Irene out of the way, the conspirators then had Nicephorus crowned in the Hagia Sophia by the Patriarch Tarasius.[[9]]
After his coronation Nicephorus met with Irene, who recognized Nicephorus as emperor. Nicephorus allowed Irene to stay in the Palace of Eleutherius in return for revealing where she had hidden most of the Imperial treasury. However, even though Irene had revealed the location of the treasury, she was too dangerous to be allowed free reign of the capital. According to some sources Irene was involved in a coup d'état attempt against Nicephorus and, because of this, was exiled to the island of Principo, where she became the Abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God, which she had founded some years earlier. She would live there until she died roughly a year later.[[10]]

A. D. 802-811: Internal Affairs and Policy

A year after the exiling of Irene, Nicephorus had to face the first major challenge of his reign. On July 18th or 19th the strategos of the Anatoliac theme, Bardanes Turcus, was proclaimed emperor by his troops and, with the exception of the Armeniac theme, was supported by the other Asiatic themes. This rebellion would be the first of many that would trouble Nicephorus throughout his nine-year reign. The fact that only the Asiatic themes revolted has been seen in part as disgruntlement that Nicephorus was made Emperor without the approval of the Asiatic armies. Other issues possibly included the fact that Asiatic themes had not received their pay or the fact that the Byzantine law concerning the distribution of booty was not enforced.[[11]]   The combined army of the Asiatic themes marched to Chrysopolis, an Asian suburb of Constantinople, and waited, hoping to provoke a general rising against Nicephorus.[[12]]   None was forthcoming and Bardanes was forced to retreat to Malagina in the Ospician theme.[[13]]   By mid-August his rebellion began to wither away as two of his trusted aides, the future emperors Leo the Armenian and Michael the Amorian, deserted to Nicephorus side.[[14]]   Soon afterwards Bardanes himself began negotiations with Nicephorus for amnesty. On September 8th the rebellion collapsed as Bardanes fled to a monastery he had founded earlier on the island of Prote, taking advantage of Nicephorus offer of amnesty to Bardanes and his followers. Having been tonsured en route to become a monk, Bardanes gave up all pretensions to the throne and settled into life of the monastery, though he would lose his eyesight the next year when a band of Lycaonians landed on the island and blinded him.[[15]]   Shortly afterwards, during the Christmas of 803, Nicephorus crowned his son, Stauracius, as his co-emperor. Though Stauracius was only thirteen at the time, and played no active role in the government, his coronation ended any question of the succession and made it harder for a potential usurper to claim the throne.[[16]]   Following the collapse of Bardanes rebellion Nicephorus had to deal with foreign relations with the Arab Caliphate. It would be A. D. 805 before Nicephorus could turn his attention to other matters.

At this time Byzantine control over Greece was limited to the coastal regions, mountainous areas and a few cities.[[17]]  During the reign of Irene the eunuch Stauracius conducted a raid through the hinterland of the Hellas theme and into the Peloponnese which overawed the local Slavic tribes; no attempt, however, to reconquer the area was undertaken until Nicephorus reign.[[18]]  Under the command of the strategos Sclerus of the Hellas theme the Byzantine army moved quickly into the interior of the peninsula, crushing what resistance there was and bringing the local tribes under Imperial control. By the end of the year, A. D. 805 Sclerus was able to communicate the re-conquest of the entire region to Nicephorus, who was quite naturally delighted at the ease of the expedition, but immediately set to work on how to keep the province in the empire s hands.[[19]]  Upon learning of communities within the empire who traced their heritage back to towns within the Peloponnese, Nicephorus began the process of resettling Greece with voluntary homesteaders.[[20]]

However, despite the ease with which the strategos had taken the area, the Peloponnese still was not subdued. Shortly afterwards, between A. D. 805 and 807, the Slavs in the region near Patras, on the Northern Peloponnese, revolted and, with the aid of Moslem forces from North Africa, laid siege to the town. Though the revolt would be put down swiftly, the need for greater Imperial control over the area was evident.[[21]]  To cover this need Nicephorus created the Theme of the Peloponnese from the Theme of Hellas, as a new administrative unit for military and fiscal purposes.[[22]]  To help protect the area from the sea Nicephorus also created a naval theme out of the Archontate of Cephalonia, guarding not only the western approaches of Greece but also the Imperial holdings in Dalmatia and Venice. [[23]]   Later, around A. D. 809, two additional themes were created in the Balkans, Thessalonika and Dyrrhachium. Thessalonika was created to help protect Byzantine advances into the Balkans and to guard against Moslem raiders, while Dyrrhachium was to act as a shield against Frankish attempts to assume control over Imperial territories and against Moslem raiders from the North African states. The military forces of these themes would be based partially on land forces and partially upon naval forces.[[24]]

Events of the next two years would distract Nicephorus and kept him from focusing solely on Greece. In addition to problems with the Arab Caliphate , Nicephorus also had to choose a new Patriarch upon the death of the very popular Patriarch Tarasios in early February 806. Nicephorus choice was a learned layman, also named Nicephorus, who represented a moderate wing of the church that was less likely to try to pursue policy counter to that of the emperor. Nicephorus ascension to the Patriarchate was challenged by the abbots Theodore and Plato, the leaders of the Studites. The Studites were members of the church who comprised the more hardline ecclesiastical position, and claimed that it was not proper for someone not in the clergy to rise so quickly. However, they were in the minority opinion and Emperor Nicephorus was able to secure the Patriarchal throne for his candidate. Later, when these two were involved in a dispute over a priest who had officiated at the second marriage of Constantine VI, Emperor Nicephorus took advantage of the situation to convene a synod to consider the case. The ruling from the synod was in favor of the priest and in the process he exiled the abbots.[[25]]

Shortly after picking the new Patriarch, Nicephorus planned to lead an expedition into Bulgaria in 807. However, after Nicephorus discovered evidence of a high-level conspiracy involving senior military and political personnel, he turned the expedition back to Constantinople without reaching Bulgaria.  There, Nicephorus was able to find the main conspirators and punished them by whipping, confiscating their property and exiling them.[[26]]   More serious was the mutiny of the army at Sardica when Nicephorus attempted to have the troops rebuild the city.[[27]]   The army, which was composed of the elite tagmata and the thematic army of Thrace, had not yet been paid and as a result protested strenuously at being ordered to do heavy labor and proceeded to mutiny against Nicephorus. Nicephorus stood his ground and was able to end the mutiny peacefully, but after identifying the principal mutineers had them exiled after being whipped and shorn.[[28]]   Both of these events show that dissatisfaction with Nicephorus policies was reaching high levels in the Imperial court and in the army.

Shortly after the mutiny at Sardica, during the years of 809-810, Nicephorus enacted possibly his most controversial edicts. Called the vexations by Theophanes, these edicts were concerned with military, economic and fiscal reform. Many of the edicts were actually aimed at reducing the corruption and essentially tax-dodging by the clergy and the upper class. Others focused upon increasing the military and civilian presence in the newly-reclaimed territories in Greece and Macedonia. The first vexation was a variation of Nicephorus earlier policy of voluntary transplanting of Byzantine citizens to the newly reoccupied lands of Greece. However, this time Nicephorus transferred soldiers and their families from the great themes of Anatolia to Greece and Macedonia. By effecting a population transfer on this scale, W. Treadgold estimates possibly 70,000 combined men, women and children were moved; Nicephorus was not only protecting his newly conquered territory militarily, but changing Greece from a primarily Slavic land back to Greek. This action is also seen by W. Kaegi as a means of removing potentially rebellious soldiers from the Asiatic themes by stationing them with different units, cutting down on the possibility of revolt[[29]]

The second and ninth vexations are essentially aimed at increasing conscription among the thematic armies from the peasants who earlier would not have been able to afford the costs of equipment needed to join the armed forces. Now the costs were covered by the peasants wealthier neighbors. The ninth vexation was aimed at the naval themes, wherein the peasant farmers would owe service in the naval forces rather than the land forces. The other vexations are aimed at fiscal reform; vexation three increased taxes and provided for a new census of the Empire, while vexation four removed all previously extended remissions of taxes (in part or whole) from the books, forcing monasteries to pay their full amounts again, as well as through vexation five their back-taxes. Vexations six, seven and eight, which affected both rich and poor alike, respectively (in order) extended the scope of the Imperial inheritance tax and extended the length of time during which anyone who found treasure had to turn said treasure over to the fisc.[[30]]

The final vexation seems to have been designed to help boost the native Byzantine merchant marine and stimulate commerce and trade. In this edict reputable ship-owning or shipbuilding firms were forced to accept loans of 12 lbs of gold at 16% from the state. In order for the firms to pay back the loan they would have to expand their trade, thus increasing the amount of revenue going into the Imperial fisc.[[31]] These edicts were designed to strengthen the Byzantine state and, in the more immediate term, prepare the Empire for war against the Bulgarians. In the long run they helped to lay the foundation for the prosperity of the Macedonian period of the Byzantine Empire.

A. D. 802-811: Foreign Policy-Arab, Frankish and Bulgarian

Following his successful coup Nicephorus began to change Irene s foreign policy with the Arab Caliphate, starting in 803 by refusing to pay the tribute agreed to by Irene.[[32]] The first response from the Arab Caliphate was a retaliatory cross-border raid into Cappadocia in August, during the middle of the rebellion of Bardanes Turcos. The raid, led by the son of Caliph Harun, besieged two border forts and was able to procure the release of some 300 Arab prisoners.[[33]]   The second response was the invasion, under the command of the Caliph Harun himself, of Anatolia in the latter part of 803 where he laid siege to Heraclea [in Cappadocia]. Quickly marshaling his army together, Nicephorus moved into central Anatolia and after two months of negotiations with the Caliph was able to arrange a truce in return for tribute.[[34]]   The next year, however, A. D. 804, Harun launched a new raid into the Anatoliac theme, defeating the Byzantine army, which was under Nicephorus s direct command, at Crasos and nearly captured the Emperor. However, the raiders withdrew without following up on their victory. In A. D. 805, due to unrest in one the Caliph s eastern provinces [Khurasan], the Caliph made a new truce with Nicephorus, which included a prisoner exchange, leaving the Empire secure for the moment.[[35]]

Taking advantage of the Caliph s preoccupation with events in Khurasan, Nicephorus spent part of the campaigning season of A. D. 805 rebuilding and strengthening fortresses along the Arab-Byzantine border at Ancyra [in Galatia], Andrasus and Thebasa.   Nicephorus then followed this up with a rapid series of raids into Cilicia. [[36]]   The response from the Caliphate was not long in coming. In response to Nicephorus s activities the year before, in A. D. 806 Caliph Harun launched a massive razzia into the Empire, taking Heraclea [Cappadocia] while his subordinates raided through the region, taking several border fortresses in the process, as far as Ancyra.[[37]]   With an Arab army reputably 135,000 strong swarming over the Eastern frontier, Nicephorus sued for peace and after protracted negotiations was able to agree to terms with Caliph Harun.   In the treaty Nicephorus agreed to pay 30,000 nomismata immediately, and then pay the same amount annually, of which 3 nomismata were a head tax for Nicephorus and 3 for his son Stauracius.   In addition, Nicephorus pledged not to rebuild the border fortress that had been taken by the Arabs during the razzia.   In return Harun evacuated his troops from Byzantine territory.[[38]]   However, shortly after the Caliph s withdrawal Nicephorus quickly broke the peace and began rebuilding the lost border fortresses, apparently never sending the tribute again. In A. D. 807 the Caliph sent a force to raid into Byzantine territory that was defeated at the Cilician Gates; a second force withdrew inconclusively as the Caliph rebuilt and repopulated Tarsus as a base to check any Imperial advance into Cilicia. A raid on the island of Rhodes followed in A. D. 808, but the Admiral in charge of the raid failed to take the town. The death of Caliph Harun in AD 809 relieved the pressure on the Eastern front and enabled Nicephorus to focus his attention on matters in the West.[[39]]

~Relations with Charlemagne~

In the West Nicephorus had to face a very different set of challenges: the rising power of the Bulgarian Kingdom and the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne. Shortly before Nicephorus s coup d état in A. D. 802, envoys from Charlemagne had arrived in Constantinople. Relations between the two powers had become severely strained when Charlemagne had been crowned Emperor of the Romans by the Pope. According to Theophanes part of the negotiations included trying to arrange a marriage between Charlemagne and Irene.[[40]]   Naturally with the ascension of Nicephorus this part of the negotiations was out of the question. Nicephorus sent the envoys back in the spring of A. D. 803 to notify Charlemagne of the change in government and to try to maintain the current peace between the two powers pending additional negotiations. The envoys also managed to maintain a diplomatic silence on the subject of Charlemagne s title.

Charlemagne in return was willing to consider himself at peace with Nicephorus and the Byzantine Empire, while freely recognizing the Byzantine claims to Venice and Dalmatia, but still considered himself an Emperor. When Charlemagne s response made it to Nicephorus the next year, it was never replied to so that the Empire would not have to recognize Charlemagne as an emperor, which responding to the letter would have done tacitly.[[41]]   Three years later, in A. D. 806, the Dukes of Venice, which was still technically a Byzantine territory, sent a fleet to force the leaders of the Dalmatian ducates to follow Venetian policy and paid homage to Charlemagne. This put Venice and the Dalmatian ducates under the control of the Frankish Empire.[[42]]   Despite his preoccupation with events in the east at this time, Nicephorus would not stand idly by and let Imperial territory be lost in the west and so he sent the Fleet from the Theme of Cephalonia to retake Venice and the Dalmatian cities. Under its Admiral, Nicetas, the fleet quickly restored Byzantine control over the Dalmatian cities, prompting the Venetian Dukes to recant their allegiance to the Franks and restored the situation in the Adriatic to the former status quo.[[43]]  Later, in A. D. 809 or 810, to strengthen Byzantine control over the Dalmatian coast, Nicephorus made the Ducates of Dalmatia into the Archontate of Dalmatia, which had a larger number of troops allotted to them.[[44]]

In A. D. 810 the Venetian Dukes changed sides yet again, submitting to Charlemagne s son Pepin who then proceeded to take the city. However, by late spring of A. D. 810 the fleet of the strategos of Cephalonia arrived off Dalmatia, prompting Pepin to withdraw to the mainland, where he soon died. A legate was dispatched first to Venice, where he deposed the turncoat dukes, before continuing on to Aachen to negotiate peace with Charlemagne.[[45]]   Charlemagne proved cordial and recognized Byzantine authority over Venice and Dalmatia, while at the same time dispatching envoys of his own to negotiate a permanent peace. Peace in the Adriatic would allow Nicephorus to focus fully on the Bulgarian Kingdom.

~Relations with Bulgars~

The Bulgars had been a significant aspect of Byzantine foreign policy ever since the days of Constantine IV, who led an ill-fated expedition against them in A. D. 680.[[46]]  Despite the best efforts of the Emperor Constantine V, the Bulgarian Kingdom remained intact and a potentially dangerous neighbor to have around.[[47]]   Shortly after the coup d état of Nicephorus, in A. D. 803, Charlemagne destroyed what remained of the Avar Kingdom; this opened up much of the former kingdom to Bulgar expansion.  This was something the new Khan, Krum, took advantage of, moving quickly to unite the two Bulgar kingdoms into one.[[48]]  This expansion posed a threat to the continued Byzantine interests in Thrace and the reclamation of Greece. Recognizing this, Nicephorus planned an expedition in A. D. 807 that was, it appears, intended to overawe the Bulgarians so that annexation of the Slavic-held territories could continue. However, the expedition was derailed when a conspiracy was discovered in the ranks of his army.[[49]]

Then, before Nicephorus could put a new expedition together, the Bulgar Khan Krum struck first. In A. D. 808 the Bulgars launched a surprise attack on the Byzantine Headquarters on the Strymon River, where the strategos was distributing the payroll for the Thematic soldiers. Taking the camp utterly by surprise, the Bulgars killed the Macedonian strategos, along with most of the men before stealing the payroll (1,100 lbs of gold) and the baggage. Shortly afterwards in early A. D. 809, the Bulgar Khan Krum marched an army to the town of Sardica and through treachery managed to take the town. Krum then killed almost all the soldiers, who numbered around 6,000 strong, along with a large number of townspeople, before withdrawing.[[50]]   Nicephorus quickly marshaled an army constructed out of the tagmata and the thematic army of Thrace and marched into Bulgaria, where he took the capital of Pliska, plundering and possibly burning it before returning to Sardica. There Nicephorus planned to have the army rebuild the city and its fortifications, but a mutiny among the tagmatic soldiers, partially over pay and in part due to being asked to take part in heavy labor, ended that plan. After returning to Constantinople, Nicephorus began planning a massive campaign against Bulgaria and began putting into motion policy changes (see above under Internal Affairs and Policy) to help effect a victory against the Bulgars.[[51]]

A. D. 811: Campaign against the Bulgar Khan Krum and Death

For the next two years,810-811, Nicephorus prepared for a massive campaign, taking advantage of the quiet on the eastern front from the death of Caliph Harun to pull a large number of Anatolian thematic troops to Europe for the campaign. When Nicephorus set out in May of A.D. 811 he had a force that has been estimated at around 71,000 men. Accompanying the expedition was Nicephorus son Stauracius, his son-in-law the future emperor Michael I Rhangabe, and a large collection of senior dignitaries from the Imperial court.[[52]]  Krum was suitably impressed by the massive size of the force arrayed against him and sent envoys to Nicephorus to sue for peace. However, whatever the terms were that Krum offered to the Empire, Nicephorus refused them. Shortly afterwards Nicephorus moved with speed and struck at the Bulgarian capital of Pliska again, overwhelming the 12,000-man garrison that Krum had left behind, and then a Bulgarian relief force of roughly 15,000. Nicephorus next sacked the city, finding the treasury of the Khan in the process, which was then distributed amongst the troops, and burned the town to the ground.[[53]]

Desperate, Krum reinforced his remaining armies by arming the Bulgarian women and recruiting Avar and Slavic mercenaries. Despite these measures, his army still was not large enough to challenge Nicephorus on even terms, so instead Krum laid a trap for the Byzantine army in the mountains. On their return march the Byzantine army was trapped in a small valley by large wooden palisades erected by Krum s forces at either end. After two days the Bulgars launched an assault on the emperor s camp, during which Nicephorus was killed, leaving his remaining bodyguard, tagmatic troops and Imperial dignitaries to flee the battlefield. Shortly after, the themes joined the rush to escape as well, turning the battlefield into a rout. The rout cost the Empire an immense number of soldiers from both the tagmata and the thematic armies, along with a number of senior level commanders and dignitaries. Nicephorus s son Stauracius, suffering from a near-mortal wound to the spine, was evacuated to Adrianople, where a struggle over the succession would develop. For the moment both the Bulgarians and the Empire paused to regroup from their losses, but the war was far from over.[[54]]


In the eight years of his reign Nicephorus faced a large number of problems, both from within the Empire and from without. While it would be a mistake to characterize Nicephorus as a great emperor, he was a conscientious and able ruler who was determined to set the Empire back on course. For the most part, in terms of internal affairs Nicephorus was more successful. His economic policy, outlined in the so-called Vexations, would help reassert state control over taxation, recruitment into the armed forces and the near-independent monastic properties. Nicephorus reconquest of Greece and the transfer, both volunteer and forced, of citizens from other areas of the Empire into several newly created themes was to successfully reestablish Imperial control in an area that had been lost for roughly two hundred years. Nicephorus successful selection of his own patriarch, despite the pressure from the more hardline members of the clergy, helped strengthen the control of the State over the church.

However, in terms of foreign policy and military matters, Nicephorus does not have the best record. In simple terms Nicephorus was not a great general and frequently misgauged the mood of his troops, something that the many mutinies and put down rebellions of the reign can point towards. His attempts to push the Imperial border beyond the Tarsus and Anti-Tarsus mountains only provoked several retaliatory raids from the Abbasid Caliph. Even though these raids came to nothing and the Empire lost no territory, they caused considerable hardship for the borderlands and gained nothing in territory. His avoidance of a definite peace treaty with Charlemagne because of the appropriation of the title of Emperor for the west in part led to military skirmishes that possibly could have been avoided. And finally, the military campaigns against the Bulgars were to prove disastrous for Nicephorus, leading to his death, the destruction of a large portion of the armed forces and precipitating a succession crisis due to the injury of his son. However, his military setbacks would ultimately only have a short?term impact on the Empire, while the changes to the provincial administration, and the economic reforms he put into place, would make the State stronger and give later Emperors a sound foundation upon which to expand the Empire.


Primary Sources

Bar Hebraeus, Gregorius. Chronography. 2 Vol. Translation: E. A. W. Budge. London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1932.

The Chronicle of 811. Ed. I. Dujcev, La Chronique byzantine de l an 811. in Travaux et Memoires I (1965) (205-254) Partial translation with commentary: Paul Stephenson (210-16) 2003 [accessed 18 August 2010 at]

Genesios. On the Reigns of the Emperors . Byzantina Australiensia 11. Translated with Commentary: Anthony Kaldellis. Canberra , AUS: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1998.

Michael the Syrian. Chronique de Michel le Syrien. Vol. III Translated: J. B. Chabot. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905.

Nikephoros. Nikephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople: Short History. Translated with commentary: Cyril Mango. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1990. 

Porphyrogenitus, Constantine. De Administrando Imperio. Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae Vol. I, Dumbarton Oaks Texts Vol. I. Edited: G. Y. Moravcsik. Translated: R. J. H. Jenkins. Washington D. C: Dumbarton Oaks, 1967.

A Syriac Fragment: The Chronicle of 754-813 A. D. Syriac Text and English translation: E. W. Brooks in Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 54, 1894. (195-230) 

Theophanes. The Chronicle of Theophanes: An English translation of anni mundi 6095-6305 (A.D. 602-813). Translated with Commentary: H. N. Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania 1982.

Modern Works

Anastos, Milton V. Iconoclasm and Imperial Rule 717-842" in The Cambridge Medieval History Vol. IV: The Byzantine Empire (Part I: Byzantium and its Neighbours.) Ed. J. M. Hussey. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Auzepy, Marie-France. State of Emergency (700-850) in The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire: c. 500-1492. Ed. Jonathon Shepard. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. (pg. 251-291)

Brooks, E. W. The Struggle with the Saracens: 717-867" in The Cambridge Medieval History Vol. IV: The Eastern Roman Empire (717-1453). Ed. J.R. Tanner, C.W. Previte-Orton & Z.N. Brooke. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1923.

______. Byzantines and Arabs in the time of the Early Abbasids, English Historical Review 15(1900), 728-747.

______. Arabic Lists of the Byzantine Themes, Journal of Hellenic Studies 21(1901), 67-77.

Browning, Robert. Byzantine Foreign Policy and the Bulgarian State, Seventh to Tenth Century, Studies in Honour of T.B.L. Webster, edited by J.H. Betts and others, I. Bristol, UK: Bristol Classical Press, 1986. (pp. 23-32) 

Bury, J. B. A History of the Eastern Roman Empire: From the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I (A.D. 802-867). London, UK: Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1912. 

Charanis, Peter. Observations on the History of Greece during the Early Middle Ages, In Balkan Studies, Vol. XI, No. 1 Thessalonica, GE, 1970.

______. The Chronicle of Monemvasia and the Question of the Slavonic Settlements in Greece, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 5(1950), 141?166.Charanis translates key excerpts from the Chronicle dealing with the period of Nicephorus in this paper.

______. Nicephorus I, The Savior of Greece from the Slavs (810 A.D.), Byzantina?Metabyantina, 1.1(1946), 75-92.

Christophilopoulou, Aikaterina. Byzantine History, Vol. II Translated: Timothy Cullen. Amsterdam [NL]: Adolf M. Hakkert Publisher, 1993.

Diehl, Charles. From Nicephorus I to the Fall of the Phrygian Dynasty, The Cambridge Medieval History Vol. II: The Rise of the Saracens and the Foundation of the Western Empire. Ed. J. R Tanner, H. W. Gwatkin, & J. P. Whitney. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926. pp. 27-48

Finlay, George. A History of Greece: From its Conquest By the Romans to the Present time, BC 146 to AD 1864. Vol II. Oxford, UK: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1877. 

Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. V Ed. J. B. Bury. London, UK: Methuen & Co. 1898.

Grierson. Philip . The Tombs and Obits of the Byzantine Emperors, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 16. Washington D. C.: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1963.

Hussey, J. M. Ed. The Cambridge Medieval History Vol. IV: The Byzantine Empire (Part I: Byzantium and its Neighbours.) Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Kaegi, Walter Emil. Byzantine Military Unrest, 471-843: An Interpretation. Amsterdam, NL: Adolf M. Hakkert - Publisher, 1981.

Niavis, Pavlos E. The Reign of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I (A.D. 802-811) Historical Monographs 3. Athens, GR: Historical Publications St. D. Basilopoulos, 1987.

Obolensky, Dimitri. The Empire and Its Northern Neighbours: 565-1018 in The Cambridge Medieval History Vol. IV: The Byzantine Empire (Part I: Byzantium and its Neighbours.). Ed. J.M. Hussey. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1966. pp. 473-485.

Oman, Charles W. C. The Dark Ages: 476-918. Periods of European History. London, UK: Rivingtons, 1893.

______. The Byzantine Empire. Originally published: London, UK: T. Fisher Unwin, 1892. New Edition published: Yardley, PE: Westholme Publishing, 2008.

Shepard, Jonathon Slavs and Bulgers, The New Cambridge Medieval History: Vol. II c. 700-900. Ed. Rosamond McKittrick. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Toynbee, Arnold. Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His World. London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Treadgold, Warren. The Byzantine Revival 780?842. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988.

______. The Byzantine State Finances in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries. East European Monographs, No. CXXI, Byzantine Series II. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1982.

Whittow, Mark. The Making of Byzantium 600-1025. Los Angeles: University of California, 1996.


[[1]]. Bury 1-16; Christophilopoulou 201, see also n. 6; The Chronicle of 811 210-216; Diehl 27-48; Finlay 92?107; Gibbon 192; Oman 201?204; Theophanes. See also Charles W. C. Oman. The Dark Ages: 476-918. In Periods of European History. (London, UK: Rivingtons, 1893.) 478-81

[[2]]. Anastos 91; Bar Hebraeus 131-132; Brooks (1894) 230, Brooks (1900) 743; Bury 8; Michael the Syrian 15; Niavis 40-41; Treadgold. (1988) 127.

[[3]]. Bury has accepted the non-Byzantine accounts ( Bury 8), Treadgold accepted them provisionally depending on whether or not they were true ( Treadgold [1988] 127), whereas Niavis simply laid them out against Theophanes account for the reader to see (Niavis 40-41).

[[4]]. Treadgold (1988) 79.

[[5]]. Michael the Syrian 9 ; Theophanes A. M. 6283 (Turtledove accidently reverses who was proclaimed the new strategeos of the Armeniac Theme, it should be Alexios not Nikephoros); Treadgold (1988) 9

[[6]]. Bar Hebraeus 131; Bury 9 & 212; Christophilopoulou 202; Niavis 41?2; Theophanes A.M. 6295; Treadgold (1988). 129; 

[[7]]. Grierson 55; Treadgold (1988) 129-131 & n163. 

[[8]]. Anastos 88?90; Christophilopoulou 159?64, 175-83; Kaegi 243 & 256-257. See also Treadgold (1988) 83-114, 123 & 125.

[[9]]. Anastos 90-91; Bar Hebraeus 131; Brooks (1900) 743; Bury 5-7; Christophilopoulou 183; Michael the Syrian 12; Theophanes A. M. 6295; Treadgold (1988) 120; Whittow 150.

[[10]]. Anastos 90-91; Bar Hebraeus 131; Bury 7; Christophilopoulou 187; Michael the Syrian 12-13; Niavis 39?-0; Theophanes A. M. 6295; Treadgold (1988) 120; Whittow 150.

[[11]]. Anastos 91; Bury 10?11; Genesios 1.7; Kaegi 245; Niavis 61-62; Theophanes A. M. 6295; Treadgold (1988)131-132.

[[12]]. The Opsician, Thracesian, Bucellarian and Anatolic themes. See E. W. Brooks, Arabic Lists of the Byzantine Themes, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 21 (1901), 67-77 for more information based on the Arabic sources.

[[13]]. Bury 12-13; Niavis 61?62; Theophanes A. M. 6295; Treadgold (1988)131-132.

[[14]]. Bury 12-13; Genesios 1.8; Kaegi 246; Niavis 58, 61-62; Theophanes A. M. 6295; Treadgold (1988) 131-132. 

[[15]]. Bury 12-13; Genesios 1.7; Kaegi 246-247; Niavis 64; Theophanes A. M. 6295, A. M. 6296; Treadgold (1988) 132.

[[16]] . Anastos 91; Bury 14; Niavis 64; Theophanes A. M. 6296; Treadgold (1988) 134. 

[[17]]. Anastos 92; Charanis (1950) 141?166, 148 (Charanis article includes a translation of a key excerpt from the Chronicle. The entire chronicle has been translated into french by Paul Lemerle in La Chronique improprement dite de Monemvasie: Le Contexte historique et legendaire, Revue des Etudes Byzantines 21 (1963), 5-49); Charanis (1946), 75?92, 80-82; Charanis (1970), 13-23; Niavis 79-80; For a careful and detailed summary of the issues relating to the Slavic penetration of Greece and the different historical approaches see Christophilopoulou 425-459.

[[18]]. Auzepy 258; Christophilopoulou 177; Michael the Syrian 13; Niavis 82; Treadgold. (1988) 71-73,136; Theophanes A. M. 6275.

[[19]]. Charanis (1950) 148; Niavis 79?80; Toynbee 95-96; Treadgold (1988) 136. 

[[20]]. Charanis (1950) 148, 152-3; Treadgold (1988) 136-7.

[[21]]. Charanis (1946) 84; Christophilopoulou 456-57; Constantine Porphyrogenitus 229 & 231; Niavis 84; Toynbee 99.

[[22]]. Charanis (1970) 9?11; Christophilopoulou 352 & 459; Niavis 77; Toynbee 261-63; Treadgold (1988) 160-1; Treadgold (1982.) 71.

[[23]]. Anastos 92; Niavis 74-75; Treadgold (1988) 161. 

[[24]]. Please note that the dates for the establishment of these themes are not set in stone. See Christophilopoulou 355; Niavis 77; Treadgold (1988) 161 for varying interpretations and review of older material.

[[25]]. Anastos 94-95; Christophilopoulou 207-209; Treadgold (1988)141-143; Theophanes A. M. 6298, 6301.

[[26]]. Bury 14; Christophilopoulou 212; Kaegi 247; Treadgold (1988) 147; Theophanes A. M. 6299.

[[27]]. See section on the foreign relations with the Bulgars for detail on the campaign.

[[28]]. Christophilopoulou 212; Kaegi 247-48; Niavis 74-75; Treadgold (1988) 158; Theophanes A. M. 6301.

[[29]]. Anastos 92-93; Charanis (1970) 32; Christophilopoulou 454, 457-458; Kaegi 258?59; Niavis 82?91; Toynbee 94-95; Treadgold (1988)162-63; Theophanes A. M. 6302 [All vexations with complete descriptions may be found in Theophanes A. M. 6302. See Christophilopoulou, Niavis and Treadgold for full and complete discussion of the vexations.]

[[30]]. Anastos 93-94; Christophilopoulou 203-204; Niavis 91-105; Treadgold163-64; Theophanes A. M. 6302 .

[[31]]. Christophilopoulou 203-204; Toynbee 45-46; Treadgold (1988)164-165; Theophanes A. M. 6302. 

[[32]]. Anastos 91; Brooks. (1900) 742-4; Brooks. (1923) 126; Bury 249-50; Christophilopoulou 210; Michael the Syrian 16; Niavis 199-203; Treadgold (1988) 130.

[[33]]. Bar Hebraeus 132; Brooks (1900) 742; Niavis 204?06; Treadgold 131&33.

[[34]]. Bar Hebraeus 132; Brooks. (1900) 743; Bury 250; Michael the Syrian 16; Niavis 206 & 208; Treadgold. (1988)133.

[[35]]. Brooks. (1900) 744; Brooks (1923) 126; Niavis 208-209; Treadgold (1988) 135; Theophanes A. M. 6296, 6297.

[[36]]. Bar Hebraeus 132; Brooks (1900) 743; Christophilopoulou 210; Michael the Syrian 16; Niavis 204-206; Treadgold (1988) 138; Theophanes A. M. 6297.

[[37]]. Anastos 91; Bar Hebraeus 132; Brooks, (1900) 745; Christophilopoulou 210-11; Michael the Syrian 16; Niavis 210-11; Treadgold(1988) 144-45; Theophanes A. M. 6298

[[38]]. Bar Hebraeus 132; Brooks. (1900) 745-46; Bury 250 n 2; Christophilopoulou 211; Michael the Syrian 16; Niavis 212; Treadgold (1988)145; Theophanes A. M. 6298 [Note that both Bar Hebraeus and Michael the Syrian are both rather garbled in their accounts and seem to have reversed the roles of Nicephorus and Harun.]

[[39]]. Bar Hebraeus 133-35; Brooks (1900) 746-47; Brooks (1894) 228; Bury 251; Christophilopoulou 211; Michael the Syrian 17-21; Niavis 212-13, 216-217; Treadgold (1988) 147-8; Theophanes A. M. 6298, 6299.

[[40]]. Anastos 90; Bury 317?20; Christophilopoulou 182-3, 209; Niavis 170-175; Treadgold (1988) 130; Theophanes A. M. 6294, 6295.

[[41]]. Christophilopoulou 209; Niavis 175-177; Treadgold (1988) 130; Theophanes A. M. 6295.

[[42]]. Bury 323; Niavis 178-179; Treadgold (1988) 144.

[[43]]. Bury 323-4; Niavis 180-181; Treadgold (1988) 144 & 147.

[[44]]. Treadgold (1988) 161.

[[45]]. Bury 324; Constantine Porphyrogenitus 121; Niavis 182; Treadgold (1988) 166. 

[[46]]. Browning 24-25; Christophilopoulou 80-81; Obolensky 484; Nikephoros 89 & 91; Theophanes A. M. 6171.

[[47]]. Anastos 74-75; Browning 28-29; Christophilopoulou 153-157; Nikephoros 145, 149-53, 159; Obolensky 490; Shepard 232; Theophanes A. M. 6247, 6251, 6254, 6256, 6265-67.

[[48]]. Browning29; Christophilopoulou 211-212; Niavis 223; Obolensky 490; Shepard 233-34; Toynbee 105; Treadgold (1988) 146.

[[49]]. Anastos 93; Browning 29; Bury 340; Christophilopoulou 212; Niavis 225-227; Treadgold (1988) 146-47; Theophanes A. M. 6299.

[[50]]. Anastos 93; Browning 29; Bury 340-341; Christophilopoulou 212; Niavis 228, 230-31; Shepard 233-34; Treadgold (1988) 157?58; Theophanes A. M. 6301.

[[51]]. Browning 29; Bury 341; Christophilopoulou 212-213; Kaegi 247?248; Niavis 231-235; Toynbee 105-106; Treadgold (1988) 157-58; Theophanes A. M. 6301.

[[52]]. Anastos 94; Bury 343; Christophilopoulou 213; The Chronicle of 811 210; Michael the Syrian 17; Niavis 235-36; Shepard 235; Treadgold (1988) 169-70; Theophanes A. M. 6303.

[[53]]. Anastos 94; Bar Hebraeus 135-136; Bury 343-44; Christophilopoulou 213; The Chronicle of 811. 212-216; Michael the Syrian 17; Niavis 237-243; Shepard 235; Treadgold (1988) 171-172; Theophanes A. M. 6303.

[[54]] . Anastos 94; Bar Hebraeus 135-136; Browning 29; Bury 344-45; Christophilopoulou 213-214; The Chronicle of 811. 210-212; Michael the Syrian 17; Niavis 237-243; Obolensky 490; Shepard 235; Treadgold (1988) 172-174; Theophanes A. M. 6303

Copyright (C), Matthew Marsh. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

For more detailed geographical information, please use the DIR/ORB Antique and Medieval Atlas below. Click on the appropriate part of the map below to access large area maps.

Clickable ImageS-EN-O/N-WS-O/S-WN-E

Return to the Imperial Index