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Theophano was a Byzantine empress. She was the daughter-in-law of Constantine VII; wife of Romanos II; wife of Nikephoros II Phokas; lover of John I Tzimiskes; the mother of Basil II, Constantine VIII and the princess Anna Porphyrogenita, who later married Kievan prince Vladimir. This beautiful but considerably amoral woman played an important role in 10th century Byzantine history.


Becoming Empress

Theophano was born of Laconian Greek origin[1][2][3][4][5] in the Peloponnesian region of Lakonia[6], possibly in the city of Sparta[7]. Theophano was originally named Anastasia, or more familiarly Anastaso[8] and was the daughter of a poor tavern-keeper called Craterus[9][10]. The crown-prince Romanos fell in love with her around the year 956 and married her. After their marriage, she was renamed Theophano, after Theophano, a sainted Empress of the Macedonian dynasty.

She is rumoured to have poisoned her father-in-law, the emperor Constantine VII (in complicity with her husband Romanos). Constantine died in 959, but he died of a fever which lasted several months, not showing evidence of poisoning. Romanos' dependence upon his wife for advice and support allowed her to dominate the empire during his short reign.

Partnership with Nikephoros Phokas

On March 15, 963, Emperor Romanos II died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-six. Again, Theophano was rumoured to have poisoned him, although she had nothing to gain and everything to lose from this action. Their sons Basil II and Constantine VIII were heirs and Theophano was named regent. However she realized that to secure power she needed to align her interest with the strongest general at the time, Nikephoros Phokas. As the army had already proclaimed him as an Emperor in Caesarea, Nikephoros entered Constantinople on August 15, broke the resistance of Joseph Bringas (a eunuch palace official who had become Romanos' chief counsellor) in bloody street fights, and on 16 August he was crowned in the Hagia Sophia. After that he married Theophano, thereby legitimizing his reign by marrying into the Macedonian dynasty.

The marriage proved controversial as Nikephoros had been god-father to one or more of Theophano's children, which placed them within a prohibited spiritual relationship. It should also be noted that the Orthodox Church only begrudgingly recognized second marriages. Thus even before the issue of his having been the god-father of at least one of Theophano's children surfaced the Patriarch, Polyeuctus, banned Nikephoros from kissing the holy altar on the grounds that he must perform the penance for contracting a second marriage first. In the issue of his role as godfather, however, Nikephoros organised a council at which it was declared that since the relevant rules had been pronounced by the iconoclast Constatine V Copronymus, it was of no effect. Polyeuctus did not accept the council as legitimate, and proceeded to excommunicate Nikephoros and insist that he would not relent until Nikephoros put away Theophano. In response, Bardas Phokas and another person testified Nikephoros was not in fact godfather to any of Theophano's children, at which Polyeuctus relented and allowed Nikephoros to return to full-fellowship in the church and keep Theophano as his wife. [11]


However, not too long after, she became lover to a young and brilliant general, John Tzimiskes. They soon began to conspire against Nikephoros. She prepared the assassination and John and his friends implemented it on the night between 10 and 11 December 969. The emperor was now John I Tzimiskes (969-976).


However, Theophano badly miscalculated in the hope of becoming the wife of the new ruler. Slain Nikephoros found his avenger in the Patriarch Polyeuktos, who was determined to punish the crime. He demanded John to repent, to punish the murderers (his helpers and friends), and to remove Theophano from the court. John was forced to submit to the Patriarch’s requests. Only then was he allowed to enter the church and be crowned emperor.

Theophano was first sent into exile to the island of Prinkipo (sometimes known as Prote). However, shortly afterwards, she made a reappearance in the capital, seeking asylum in the Hagia Sophia, where, however, she was forcibly removed on the orders of the Chamberlain Basil, who condemned her to exile in distant Armenia. Before this, he granted her request of an audience with the Emperor John, who surprisingly agreed to attend. Once there however, he was subjected to a torrent of abuse from the former empress, who then physically attacked the chamberlain, landing several telling blows. And according to Gibbon, she avowed the illegitimacy of her son, Basil II and hurled abuse at him as he stood silent, accepting the rule of his (soon to be) uncle, John Tzimiskes.

It is possible that after the succession of her sons to the throne that she was able to return to Constantinople.


Theophano and Romanos II had at least three children:

  1. Basil II
  2. Constantine VIII
  3. Anna, who married Vladimir I of Kiev

Theophanu, consort Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor has been suggested as the fourth daughter of the couple. Current research holds that her actual father was Konstantinos Skleros (Κωνσταντίνος Σκληρός), brother of the pretender Bardas Skleros (Βάρδας Σκληρός) and her mother was Sophia Phokaina (Σοφία Φώκαινα), niece of Nikephoros II.

In Literature

The Greek historical fiction writer Kostas Kyriazis (b. 1920) wrote a biography called Theophano (1963), followed by the 1964 Basil Bulgaroktonus on her son. As depicted in these books, Theophano was indeed guilty of all the killings attributed to her in her lifetime, and the heritage of a mother who killed both his father and his stepfather caused her son Basil to distrust women and avoid marriage himself.


  1. ^ McCabe, Joseph (1913). The empresses of Constantinople. R.G. Badger. p. 140. OCLC 188408. "(Theophano) came from Laconia, and we may regard her as a common type of Greek."  
  2. ^ Diacre, Léon le – Talbot, Alice-Mary – Sullivan, Denis F. (2005). The History of Leo the Deacon: Byzantine Military Expansion in the Tenth Century. Dumbarton Oaks. p. 99–100. ISBN 0884023249. "Nikephoros himself claimed that he wished to maintain his customary moderate lifestyle unaltered, avoiding cohabitation with a wife..And he took in marriage the wife of Romanos, who was distinguished in beauty, and was indeed a Laconian woman."  
  3. ^ Bury, John Bagnell – Gwatkin, Henry Melvill – Whitney, James Pounder – Tanner, Joseph Robson - Previté-Orton, Charles William - Brooke, Zachary Nugent (1923). The Cambridge medieval history. Camb. Univ. Press. p. 67–68. OCLC 271025434. "The new ruler, Romanus II… took possession of the government, or rather handed it over to his wife Theophano. We have already seen who this wife was. The daughter of Craterus, a poor tavern-keeper of Laconian origin, she owed the unhoped-for honour of ascending the throne solely to her beauty and her vices."  
  4. ^ Durant, Will – Durant, Ariel (1950). The Story of Civilization: The age of Faith; a history of medieval civilization - Christian, Islamic, and Judaic - from Constantine to Dante: A.D. 325-1300.. Simon and Schuster. p. 429. OCLC 245829181. "Perhaps Romanus II (958-63) was like other children, and did not read his father's books. He married a Greek girl, Theophano; she was suspected of poisoning her father-in-law and hastening Romanus' death"  
  5. ^ Hyslop, R. (2008). Varangian. Cuthan Books. p. 545. ISBN 0955871824. "Theophana, a Greek inn-keeper's daughter, married the emperor Romanus II in 958. She was alleged to have murdered this husband to marry the general Nicephorus"  
  6. ^ Goodacre, Hugh George (1957). A handbook of the coinage of the Byzantine Empire. Spink. p. 203. OCLC 2705898. "Theophano, in spite of her accomplishments, was but of the humblest birth…she came from Laconia, no doubt bringing with her thence the peerless beauty of the Greek type. Romanus II and Theophano were married about the year 956"  
  7. ^ Miller, William (1964). Essays on the Latin Orient. A. M. Hakkert. p. 47. OCLC 174255384. "The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who wrote about the middle of the tenth century, has left us a favourable sketch of the Peloponnese as it was in his day.. His biography represents that city (Sparta) – of which the contemporary Empress Theophano, wife of Romanos II and Nikephoros Phokas, was perhaps a native."  
  8. ^ Davids, Adelbert (2002). The Empress Theophano: Byzantium and the West at the Turn of the First Millennium. Cambridge University Press. p. 325. ISBN 0521524679. "The emperor Romanos II was married to the daughter of a merchant, called Anastaso, who took the name of Theophano at marriage"  
  9. ^ Bréhier, Louis (1977). The life and death of Byzantium. North-Holland Pub. Co. p. 127. ISBN 0720490081. "Anastasia, daughter of Craterus, of illustrious parentage according to the panegyrist, but a former barmaid nicknamed Anastaso according to the other chronicles. Not only did Constantine approve this marriage, but he had it celebrated with great splendour in the church of Hagia Sophia and gave his daughter- in-law"  
  10. ^ Diehl, Charles (1927). Byzantine portraits. A.A. Knopf. OCLC 1377097. "Her father, Craterus, of Laconian origin, was an obscure plebeian who kept a public-house in one of the slums of the capital. She herself, before her marriage, was called Anastasia, or more familiarly, Anastaso"  
  11. ^ Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Apogee. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 1992, p. 192-194
Royal titles
Preceded by
Helena Lekapene
Byzantine Empress consort
Succeeded by
Empress-Mother of the Byzantine Empire
March 15, 963- June 15, 991
Succeeded by
Eudokia Makrembolitissa




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