1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nicephorus

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NICEPHORUS, the name of three emperors of the East.

Nicephorus I., emperor 802–811, was a native of Seleucia in Pisidia, who was raised by the empress Irene to the office of logothetes or lord high treasurer. With the help of the patricians and eunuchs he contrived to dethrone and exile Irene, and to be elected emperor in her stead. His sovereignty was endangered by Bardanes, one of his ablest generals, who revolted and received support from other commanders, notably the later emperors Leo the Armenian and Michael the Amorian. But Nicephorus gained over the latter two, and by inducing the rebel army to disperse achieved the submission of Bardanes, who was relegated to a monastery. A conspiracy headed by the patrician Arsaber had a similar issue. Nicephorus, who needed large sums to strengthen his military force, set himself with great energy to increase the empire’s revenue. By his rigorous imposts he alienated the favour of his subjects, and especially of the clergy, whom he otherwise sought to control firmly. In 803 and 810 he made a treaty with Charlemagne, by which the limits of the two empires were amicably fixed. Venice, Istria, the Dalmatian coast and South Italy were assigned to the East, while Rome, Ravenna and the Pentapolis were included in the Western realm. By withholding the tribute which Irene had agreed to pay to Harun al-Rashid, Nicephorus committed himself to a war with the Saracens. Compelled by Bardanes’s disloyalty to take the field himself, he sustained a severe defeat at Crasus in Phrygia (805), and the subsequent inroads of the enemy into Asia Minor induced him to make peace on condition of paying a yearly contribution of 30,000 gold pieces. By the death of Harun in 809, Nicephorus was left free to deal with the Bulgarian king, Krum, who was harassing his northern frontiers. In 811 Nicephorus invaded Bulgaria and drove Krum to ask for terms, but in a night attack he allowed himself to be surprised and was slain along with a large portion of his army. Krum is said to have made a drinking cup of Nicephorus’s skull.

Nicephorus II. (Phocas), emperor 963–969, belonged to a Cappadocian family which had produced several distinguished generals. He was born about 912, joined the army at an early age, and, under Constantine VII., became commander on the eastern frontier. In the war with the Saracens he began with a severe defeat (956), which he retrieved in the years following by victories in Syria. In 960 he led an expedition to Crete, stormed Candia after a ten months’ siege, and wrested the whole island from the Saracens. After receiving the unusual honours of a triumph, he returned to the east with a large and well-equipped army. In the campaigns of 962–63 by brilliant strategy he forced his way through Cilicia into Syria and captured Aleppo, but made no permanent conquests. Upon the death of Romanus II. he returned to Constantinople to defend himself against the intrigues of the minister Bringas. With the help of the regent Theophano and the patriarch, he received supreme command of the eastern forces, and being proclaimed emperor by these marched upon the capital, where meanwhile his partisans had overthrown his enemy Bringas. Thanks to his popularity with the army, Nicephorus was crowned emperor by the side of Romanus’s infant sons, and in spite of the patriarch’s opposition married their mother Theophano. During his reign he continued to wage numerous wars. In 964–966 he definitely conquered Cilicia and again overran Mesopotamia and Syria, While the patrician Nicetas recovered Cyprus. In 968 he reduced most of the fortresses in Syria, and after the fall of Antioch and Aleppo (969), which were recaptured by his lieutenants, secured his conquests by a peace. On his northern frontier he began a war against the Bulgarians, to whom the Byzantines had of late been paying tribute (967), and by instigating an attack from the Russians distracted their attention effectively. Nicephorus was less successful in his western wars. After renouncing his tribute to the Fatimite caliphs, he sent an expedition to Sicily under Nicetas (964–65), but was forced by defeats on land and sea to evacuate that island completely. In 967 he made peace with the Saracens of Kairawan and turned to defend himself against their common enemy, Otto I. of Germany, who had attacked the Byzantine possessions in Italy; but after some initial successes his generals were defeated and driven back upon the southern coast. Owing to the care which he lavished upon the proper maintenance of the army, Nicephorus was compelled to exercise rigid economy in other departments. He retrenched the court largesses and curtailed the immunities of the clergy, and although himself of an ascetic disposition forbade the foundation of new monasteries. By his heavy imposts and the debasement of the coinage he forfeited his popularity with the rest of the community, and gave rise to riots. Last of all, he was forsaken by his wife, and, in consequence of a conspiracy which she headed with his nephew John Zimisces, was assassinated in his sleeping apartment. Nicephorus was the author of an extant treatise on military tactics which contains valuable information concerning the art of war in his time.

Nicephorus III. (Botaniates), emperor 1078–1081, belonged to a family which claimed descent from the Roman Fabii and rose to be commander of the troops in Asia. He revolted in 1078 from Michael VII., and with the connivance of the Turks marched upon Nicaea, where he assumed the purple. In face of another rebellious general, Nicephorus Bryennius, his election was ratified by the aristocracy and clergy. With the help of Alexius Comnenus he drove out of the field Bryennius and other rivals, but failed to clear the invading Turks out of Asia Minor. Nicephorus ultimately quarrelled with Alexius, who used his influence with the army to depose the emperor and banish him to a monastery. In the years of his reign he had entirely given himself over to debauchery.

See Gibbon, Decline and Fall (ed. Bury, 1896); Finlay, Hist. of Greece; G. Schlumberger, Nicéphore Phocas (Paris, 1890); K. Leonardt, Kaiser Nicephorus II. (Halle, 1887).