Michael IV

Michael IV 1034 – 1041

Such was the manner of Romanus’s death, after a reign of five and a half years. The empress Zoe, learning of his death — she had not herself been present while he was dying — immediately took control of affairs, apparently under the impression that she was the rightful heir to the throne by divine permission. In point of fact, she was not so much concerned to seize power on her own behalf; all her efforts were directed to securing the crown for Michael, the person I have already described.

Michael IV – There was opposition,**43 for those courtiers who had been allotted positions of dignity — most of them were old family retainers — joined with her husband’s friends and his retainers, who had served his family ever since his father’s time, in trying to prevent her from any precipitate or drastic action. They advised her to consider the noblest course for herself before making any decisions. One of the people, they said, should be promoted to the crown, some man preeminent among themselves and a man willing to treat her, not as his consort, but as empress in her own right.

All kinds of argument were produced to persuade her. They believed their influence would quickly prevail and she would come over to their point of view. To their surprise, she persisted in her support of Michael, with unwavering loyalty; there was no question of reason in the matter, for her judgment of the man was inspired by sentiment.

Michael IV – It remained to set a time for the ceremony of coronation and for the assumption of the other insignia of power. Michael’s elder brother approached her on the subject privately (he was the eunuch John, a man of outstanding intellect, as well as a man of action). ‘We shall die,’ he argued, ‘if there is any further delay in promoting Michael.’ Zoe, now completely won over, at once sent for the young man, clothed him in a robe interwoven with gold, placed on his head the imperial crown, and set him down on a magnificent throne, with herself near him in similar dress. She then issued an order that all those who were living in the palace were to prostrate themselves before both of them and hail them both as sovereigns in common.

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Those who took part in these ceremonies with him and faked the apparitions, will know whether the story is true or false. If it is a mere fabrication then my opinion on the subject cannot be disregarded. Obviously, where history is concerned, men are prone to invention and for that very reason slanders current among ordinary folk do not readily convince me. Before I trust what I hear, I always put such stories to the test.

Beings above this world

34. I do know that the man was a pattern of piety after his accession. Not only did he regularly attend Holy Church, but he paid particular heed to the philosophers. By the word ‘philosophers’ here I do not mean those who have tried to discover the principles of the universe — and neglected the principles of their own salvation — nor those who have examined the essence of nature. I mean those who have scorned the World and who live with the Beings above this world. Who, then, that lived such a l

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31. It was now evident that the whole of the emperor’s body was swollen, and nobody could fail to notice the hydropsy from which he was suffering. He tried various methods, such as prayers and purifications, in the hope of being cured, but he was confident of ultimate recovery for one reason in particular — the building of a church in honour of the Anargyroi,**51 in a suburb of the city, on the east side.

It was a glorious monument. Actually, not all the foundations were laid by Michael, but he threw them over a wider area. There had been a sacred building on the spot before, although it was not noted for any magnificence, nor was it remarkable for architectural style. This erection he now beautified, built additions on to it, and surrounded it with walls. The new chapels enhanced its glory. When all the work was done, he dedicated this church as a monastery. So far as the building of sacred churches was concerned, Michael surpassed all his predecessors, both i

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He was expert in the conception and planning of unlikely designs. He showed no consideration for benefactors, no gratitude to anyone for friendship or solicitude or devotion on his behalf. But his powers of dissimulation were such that he could hide all that. After his promotion to Caesar, there was a fairly long interval before he became emperor, and he began to imagine in his own mind, secretly of course, what it would be like to rule. He began to plot the things he would do, picturing the scene to himself. Every member of the family was considered in turn.

All those who had shown him a favour and helped to promote him he planned to destroy. With the empress he would be bitterly angry. Some of his uncles he would kill, others he would drive into exile. And all the time he was imagining these things, he was even more careful than usual to appear friendly towards them.

The eunuch John was the principal object of his treacherous designs, but there was no hint of t

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26. Let me now give some account of this man.**50 His family, on his father’s side, was altogether insignificant and completely obscure. His father came from some absolutely deserted country place or from some other odd corner of the world. His activities included neither the sowing of crops nor the planting of vineyards — in truth, he could not call a single acre of land his own. There was no herd of cattle to drive, no flock of sheep to tend. He was not a farm-bailiff. He had no other livelihood there, or even a sign of one. No, the fellow turned his attention to the sea.

He had no mind to engage in commerce, or to act as navigator on a ship, or to pilot vessels, at a fee, when they put into harbour or sailed out to sea. However, as he had turned his back on the land and now looked to the sea for his living, he became something big in the shipbuilding line. Please do not imagine that he cut timber or planed off the wood they use in the ships, nor did he fit a

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24. What had taken place was, in reality, the beginning of mighty disasters in the future, and what was, to all appearances, the foundation stone of the family’s glory proved really to be its utter destruction. I will demonstrate the truth of that later in the history. Let it suffice now that the emperor’s friends settled the matter in the way I have described and put this young Caesar, the heir-presumptive, in a position where he would accede to the throne, as soon as the emperor succumbed to his illness.

Having done so, they ceased to concern themselves with the permanence of their own position, convinced that their interests were now thoroughly assured. I do not know whether the emperor immediately repented of his action, or if his feelings for his nephew underwent some change, but he did not treat him as Caesar, and far from respecting his high rank, he failed to accord him even the recognized honours, and took care that he should enjoy only the outward sym

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The Empress’s Adoption of Michael**48 and his Promotion to Caesar

22.’A very easy measure,’ answered John, ‘and all ready. If our brother **49 were not dead, you would have granted him the second highest dignity in the state — the office of Caesar. Since death has

taken him from us, there is our sister’s son, Michael, who, as you know, has been entrusted with the command of your bodyguard. Why not make him Caesar? He will be of more service to you than before, and as for the position, he will regard that as merely nominal. Apart from holding the title, he will be no more than a slave to you, occupying the lowest rank.’

With these persuasive arguments he won over the emperor, and once agreed on the new policy, they debated the manner of carrying it out. John again was ready with advice. ‘You know, Sir, that the Empire belongs by inheritance to Zoe and the whole nation owes greater allegiance to her, becau

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It came about like this. One day he found Michael alone, and cloaking his thoughts in periphrasis, began to address him in the following manner, obviously with the idea of compelling him to ask questions. ‘That I have continued to serve you,’ he said, ‘not simply as a brother, but as Master and Emperor, Heaven knows, and all the world knows it too; you yourself could scarcely deny it. That, however, I also pay some small attention, to put it mildly, to the desires of the rest of the family, to their opinions of the common good and to their interests, you, more than anyone else, also know. So I am not worried about your present tenure of the throne.

What I want to guarantee is the future as well, and I wish to ensure that the crown can continue free from attacks. If I have been unable to restrain the tongues of the people, at least my policy consistently directed everyone’s attention to you, and to you alone. If then you have received sure proof of m

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This he did, partly by the despatch of envoys, partly by bribery, partly by annual displays of military strength. Thanks to these precautions neither the ruler of Egypt nor of Persia, nor even of Babylonia, broke the terms of treaties they had made with us. Nor did any of the more distant peoples openly show their hostility.

Apprehensive of the emperor’s watchful care

Some were actually reconciled altogether, while others, apprehensive of the emperor’s watchful care and fearful of his vengeance, followed a policy of strict neutrality. The organization and control of public finance had been deputed to his brother John. To John also was left the greater part of civil administration, but the remaining affairs of state Michael managed himself.

Now some subject of civil government would claim his attention; at other times he would be organizing the ‘sinews’ of the Roman Empire, that is, the Army, and building up its strength; but al

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There was something else that he feared, too — something that further prevented him from visiting the empress. The brain-storms no longer attacked him, as heretofore, at lengthy intervals, but they occurred more frequently, whether through some outside influence which altered the nature of the illness or because of some internal affection which brought on the fits. In front of others he was not so embarrassed when these came on, but before the empress he blushed deeply, and since the malady afflicted him in circumstances that were unpredictable, he kept out of her sight. If she had seen him like that, he would have felt disgraced.

Duty of observing and keeping watch over

18. For these reasons he rarely appeared in public and he lacked self-confidence in the society of others.**47 Whenever he wished to give audience or to carry out any other of the usual ceremonies, certain persons were entrusted with the duty of observing and keeping watch over him. These

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16. So much then for the brothers. Let us return to the emperor. For some time he treated Zoe with marked consideration, but that phase soon passed. He suspected her motives — there were reasons for suspicion in that house — and he proceeded to deny her any liberty whatever.**46 Permission to leave the palace in her usual way was refused, and she was shut up in the women’s quarters. No one was allowed to approach her, unless the captain of the guard had first given authority, after careful scrutiny of the visitor’s identity, origin, and purpose, so close was the watch kept over her.

She was, quite naturally, embittered by this sort of treatment. Surely it was hardly to be wondered at, when the benefits she had conferred upon the emperor were being repaid with such hatred. Nevertheless, she restrained herself, reflecting that to rebel against Michael’s decisions would be improper, and in any case she had no opportunity, even if she wished, to t