The Failed Conspiracy Attempt Against Emperor Romanos II

In 959, the youthful Emperor Romanos II succeeded his father to rule Constantinople and its sprawling empire. Personally an inept politician and an inexperienced military leader, the best he could do for his empire was to delegate the administration of the state to a man named Joseph Bringas, and to similarly leave the defense of the realm to the Phocas family. Although the emperor’s lieutenants did an admirable job seeing to the needs of the empire, Romanos’ lack of inspiring leadership led to the creation of conspiracies that aimed to change the ruling regime. One such plot occurred as early as the second year of his reign.

Around 960, a cabal of nobles and minor military officials formulated a plan to capture the emperor. The plot might have come to fruition had it not been for a man named Ioannikios who, after being recruited by the conspirators, subsequently revealed the existence of the scheme to the imperial authorities.  The 11th-century historian, John Skylitzes, described the conspirators and their plot:

“The leaders and instigators of this conspiracy were the magister Basil Peteinos and some other distinguished personages, the patricians Paschalios and Bardas Lips; also Nicholas Chalkoutzes. Their plan was to seize the emperor as he was going [to the Hippodrome] the day when there was horse racing, to put Basil on the imperial throne and proclaim him emperor” (Synopsis Historion, John Wortley translation, pg 241).

Upon receiving the tip-off about the plot, the emperor’s officials moved quickly to crush the conspiracy. Joseph Bringas successfully tracked down the members of the plot and had them all arrested before they could act on their plan. The government, understandably, did not treat the conspirators kindly. According to John Skylitzes, “they were arrested by Joseph, condemned and ruthlessly tortured (with the sole exception of Basil). On the day of the horse races they were paraded for public derision, sent into exile and tonsured as monks” (Synopsis Historion, John Wortley translation, pg 242). Interestingly enough, these men were apparently forgiven sometime before the death of Romanos II in 963, and allowed to rejoin society. Basil Peteinos, however, was once again the exception, as he died during his exile.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Scene of Emperor Leo and Constantine Doukas from a 13th-century manuscript of John Skylitzes’ history, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

 

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