Philoraios was a bodyguard known to have been working in Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Romanos II (r. 959-963). He was employed by the ruler’s cousin, Magister Romanos Moseles, and became a man of some renown. Interestingly, Philoraios’ brief wave of fame was not due to his abilities as a bodyguard. His name, instead, was written down in the history books as a result of his natural talent for showmanship.
As the story goes, Philoraios—presumably as a side job to his duties as a guard—was something of a circus performer. Appearing in shows amid famous venues such as the Hippodrome of Constantinople, he reportedly awed and amazed adoring crowds with dangerous and entertaining feats. Large racetracks like the Hippodrome must have been ideal for his performances, as the tricks he attempted often centered on horsemanship. A later historian, John Skylitzes (c. 1041-1101), colorfully described one of Philoraios’ supposed shows, writing, “He could ride around the track of the Hippodrome standing upright on the saddle of a racehorse running at full speed, bearing in his hands a sword which he would turn like a windmill without in the least declining from his upright position” (Synopsis Historion, chapter about Romanos II, section 7). Through such expositions, Philoraios entertained the masses, while also warning would-be assailants of what they would face if they harassed the bodyguard or his employers.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration from the 13th-century Skylitzes Matritensis manuscript, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- John Skylitzes. A Synopsis of Byzantine History: 811-1057, translated by John Wortley. Original text c. 11th or early 12th century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.