Emperor of the Romans
A golden coin showing Constantine with Emperor Basil
Constantine (right) with Emperor Basil (left)
Byzantine co-emperor
(with Basil I)
Reignc. January 868 – 3 September 879
PredecessorBasil I (alone)
SuccessorBasil I and Leo VI
BornBetween 855 and c. 865
Died3 September 879
BetrothedErmengard of Italy
DynastyMacedonian dynasty
FatherBasil I, possibly Michael III
MotherMaria, possibly Eudokia Ingerina

Constantine (Greek: Κωνσταντῖνος; born between 855 and c. 865, died 3 September 879) was a junior Byzantine emperor, alongside Basil I as the senior emperor, from January 868 to 3 September 879. His parentage is a matter of debate, but he is generally assumed to be the son of Byzantine Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886) and his first wife, Maria or second wife Eudokia Ingerina; although other theories include him being the son of Emperor Michael III (r. 842–867) and Eudokia. Constantine was made co-emperor by his father in c. January 868. He was engaged to Ermengard of Italy, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Louis II, in 870/871, but it is not known if he ever married her; some sources take the affirmative stance, while others argue there is no concrete evidence. As emperor, he served in several campaigns alongside his father, including one in Syria, for which he shared a triumph.

Constantine was the intended heir of Basil, and as such received much attention from him, and accompanied him on military campaigns; whereas his younger brother, Leo VI (r. 886–912), was made co-emperor merely to secure the imperial lineage and bolster legitimacy. However, Constantine died of fever on 3 September 879, before his father. After his death, Leo became the primary heir, and another brother, Alexander (r. 912–913) was raised to co-emperor.



The reverse of a coin bearing the image of Constantine and Eudokia
The reverse of a coin bearing the image of Constantine and Eudokia

Constantine was born at an unconfirmed date: Historian Nicholas Adontz argues that he was born c. 855, whereas Shaun Tougher states that he may have been born in 864 or after.[1] The parentage of Constantine is heavily disputed. Byzantine emperor Basil I (r.  867–886) is generally accepted as his father, but he had two wives, Maria and Eudokia Ingerina (r. 866–882). Furthermore, Eudokia is reported by some sources to have been the mistress of Basil's predecessor, Michael III (r. 842–867), while married to Basil.[2] Sources state that Basil had been married to Maria before he became emperor, and produced at least one child, Anastasia, and possibly Constantine himself, before being ordered by ruling Emperor Michael to divorce her and marry Eudokia, which he did; the exact date is unknown, but the marriage of Basil to Eudokia has been traditionally dated to c. 865, based upon the timeline of the 10th-century Pseudo-Symeon;[2][3][4] although historians such as Romilly Jenkins and Patricia Karlin-Hayter have questioned the validity of this timeline.[5] Jenkins also points to the "chronological incongruities" of Symeon Logothete's narrative of Michael's reign, casting further doubt on the marriage date of Basil and Eudokia.[6] Historian Cyril Mango states his belief that Constantine was the child of Basil and Maria, along with Anastasia,[2] a view shared by George Ostrogorsky.[4] Judith Herrin, instead, argues a different date for the marriage of Basil and Eudokia, which would make Eudokia the mother of Constantine.[2][7] Leo Grammaticus, a 10th-century historian, on the other hand, suggests that Constantine was the son of Michael and Eudokia.[2] Historians Lynda Garland and Shaun Tougher do not take a position in their 2007 work but admit either of the three are possible while leaning toward Basil as the father.[2]

Some sources hostile to the Macedonian dynasty, which was founded by Basil, including the tradition of the 10th-century Symeon Logothete, have suggested that future Emperor Leo VI (r.  886–912), nominally the son of Basil and Eudokia, was actually the son of Michael and that she was Michael's mistress for much of his life, based on the time of his birth relative to her marriage to Basil. It is possible that this marriage was intended to be purely nominal, and that Michael offered his oldest sister, Thekla, to Basil as a mistress during this time, and some sources suggest that Eudokia herself remained as Michael's mistress. Symeon Logothete implies that not only Leo, but also Stephen I of Constantinople, was the son of Michael. George Hamartolos, a contemporary source, argues that the future Emperor Alexander (r.  912–913), was Basil's only legitimate son. Mango suggests the intention of the marriage was to ensure Leo, whom Eudokia was then pregnant with, per some sources, would be born in the purple, officially as the child of a co-emperor and empress, rather than an emperor and a mistress. Garland and Tougher admit that pro-Macedonian sources would be unlikely to admit to such infidelity, as it would embarrass the dynasty. They doubt the entire narrative of Symeon Logothete, as he is generally hostile to the Macedonian dynasty, and question how, if Eudokia had been Michael's mistress since he was young, Leo could be their first child.[2] Both Ostrogorsky and Adontz hold that Leo was the legitimate son of Basil and Eudokia, and dismiss the conspiracy.[4] In her investigation of the rumors of infidelity, Karlin-Hayter notes that it is only contained within anti-Macedonian sources and that the rumor was contemporary to Michael's reign, and concludes the rumor was intended to humiliate Basil.[8]

Tougher in his 1994 Ph.D. thesis supports the theory that Constantine is the son of Basil and Eudokia.[6] In his later 1997 work, he argues against much of the reasoning behind considering Constantine to be Maria's son but does not definitively state a mother for Constantine.[9] In his 1994 work, he points out that many Byzantine chroniclers consider Constantine to be the son of Basil, and that many historians use an argument that Constantine is Maria's son as a tool to explain why, Leo, but not Constantine, is said to be hated by Basil, as Basil would therefore consider Constantine his true son.[10] He also argues that Alexander, who could not possibly be Michael's son by virtue of being born after his death, was not elevated in place of Constantine and Leo, suggesting either Basil believed them both to be his own sons, or else was not bothered by them not being such,[11] and that Michael does not seem to have viewed Leo in any paternal way, stating that "this in itself is telling".[12] Tougher questions the arguments that preclude Constantine from being the son of Eudokia by way of arguing that he would therefore have been too young to campaign with his father in 878; he argues that, given the issues related to the chronology of the marriage of Basil and Eudokia, it is possible that Constantine would be of fighting age.[10] Historian Arnold J. Toynbee argues that parents may have different feelings for sons, and the difference of personality is as likely as different mothers to explain why Basil preferred Constantine to Leo.[13]

In his 1997 work, Tougher points out that Mango's reconstruction is ingenious, but convoluted, arguing that Michael could simply have adopted Constantine, rather than enacting a conspiracy to have his child, who he could not have known would be male, born in the purple.[14] This is further reinforced by the fact that Alexander was only made emperor in 879, after Constantine's death.[15] Tougher also points out that Leo VI advocated bringing the son of noblemen, called "noble whelps", on campaigns in his Tactica, the same term that the Life of Basil uses for Constantine in its narrative of the 878 campaign; therefore stating that it was possible Constantine may have been 13/14 at the time, and therefore the son of Eudokia.[10] Adontz argues that Constantine must have been born around 855, and is, therefore, the son of Maria, in order to be engaged to Ermengard of Italy, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Louis II (r. 844–875), however, Tougher argues that this engagement reflects that more of a child's engagement than a true marriage, and that, given that many Byzantine men were married at age 15, this may point to him being younger.[1]

Parentages of the children of Basil I, by source
Medieval sources Modern sources
Source and child Symeon Logothete[2] George Hamartolos[2] Leo Grammaticus[2] Leo VI the Wise[16] Constantine VII[16] Nicholas Adontz[4] George Ostrogorsky[4] Cyril Mango[2] Judith Herrin[2] Shaun Tougher (1994)[17] Shaun Tougher (1997)[9] Lynda Garland and
Shaun Tougher (2007)[2]
Constantine Uncertain ? Michael and Eudokia Basil and Eudokia Basil and Maria Basil and Eudokia Lean Basil and Eudokia Lean Basil and Maria/Eudokia
Leo Michael and Eudokia Basil and Eudokia Michael and Eudokia ? Lean Basil and Eudokia
Stephen ? ?
Alexander Basil and Eudokia ? ? ?

Later life

Basil had been born into a peasant family,[18] before gaining the notice of Emperor Michael, and subsequently became his confidant and Parakoimomenos.[19] Basil rose to co-emperor by convincing Michael that his uncle Bardas was plotting against him and after slaying Bardas with Michael's blessing, was crowned on 26 May 866. Tensions between Basil and Michael built up, and Basil feared that he would be replaced, as Michael had threatened to make the patrikios Basiliskianos emperor instead. Therefore, on the night of 23/24 September 867, Basil and his conspirators murdered him in his bed, making Basil the sole emperor.[2]

Constantine, along with the rest of his brothers, was educated by Photios, later the Patriarch of Constantinople; Photios may also have been the godfather of Constantine, although some sources, such as Tougher, believe Photios was the godfather of Leo, rather than Constantine.[20] Constantine is thought to have received more direct education and attention from Basil, whereas his other brothers may have been accompanied by court eunuchs.[21] Constantine was made co-emperor by Basil in c. January 868,[22] and was his intended heir.[23][24] Some historians date the coronation to 6 January 868, the Feast of Epiphany, but there is no certainty of this; the ceremony could also have taken place on 25 December 867.[25] Although Leo was raised to co-emperor on 6 January 870,[26] Tougher views it likely that although Leo technically shared in imperial status, he was intended to live a life of obscurity, existing only to secure the imperial succession, much as Alexander later would under Leo himself.[23][27]

Constantine was engaged to Ermengard of Italy, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Louis II,[1][28] in 870/871,[29] historians Charles Previté-Orton and Werner Ohnsorge take the position that they married, however, Tougher (1994) argues that there is no evidence he ever married.[30] Constantine served in military campaigns alongside his father,[22][24] in order to prepare him to be a military leader,[24] including a campaign in Syria, for which he shared a triumph in Constantinople with his father in 878.[23][24] In January 879, Constantine and his father campaigned in Germanicia, to great success.[31] That summer, they returned and plundered Germanicia and Adata, and raided northern Mesopotamia.[32]


Constantine died unexpectedly of fever on 3 September 879, leaving Leo as the primary heir.[2][22][33] Basil was severely effected by Constantine's death, and declared a period of mourning after this, possibly lasting up to six months. Notably, much of the coinage made after his death focuses upon him.[34] Jenkins states that after Constantine's death "Basil went out of mind, and continued during the next seven years to be subject to fits of derangement," and relates that Basil became violent and contemptuous toward Leo, whom he "had never cared for", despising his "bookish youth"; Tougher considers this "at best, an overstatement."[34][35] Tougher does concede that pro-Macedonian sources have an obvious bias in declaring that Basil recovered "manfully, inspired by the example of Job", but believes Basil's shock was due more to the loss of an heir which Basil had trained well, and expected to succeed him, rather than true favoritism. Basil also had Constantine declared a saint by Photios I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, confirmed by the Synaxarion of Constantinople.[33] The Life of Ignatios states that Basil had numerous churches and monasteries built in honor of Constantine, including one at a location where Theodore Santabarenos was supposedly able to summon the ghost of Constantine for Basil.[34]

After the death of Constantine, Basil focused upon securing his dynasty by marrying Leo to Theophano Martinakia, in order for them to produce heirs, and Tougher (1994) remarks that Basil may even have become overprotective, shielding his remaining children from warfare.[36] Additionally, Alexander is believed to have been crowned emperor following Constantine's death, in 879.[37] Leo was imprisoned and stripped of imperial rank by Basil in 883, allegedly for his plans to usurp him, whereafter Alexander appears to have become the heir, until July 886, when Leo was released and restored as emperor.[38] Just a month later, on 29 August 886, Basil died of wounds from a hunting trip, and Leo succeeded him.[39][40]


Pro-Macedonian sources such as Leo VI and his son Constantine VII, as well as Joseph Genesius exclude information regarding Basil's first marriage to Maria.[41] Constantine VII states that all of his aunts and uncles were the legitimate children of Basil and Eudokia, while Leo goes further, stating that Basil and Eudokia produced children before being married to each other.[16] Constantine VII gives an idealized version of Basil's reign, stating that when Basil was crowned at the Hagia Sophia, he was followed by a chariot containing Eudokia, Constantine, and Leo, and that both Constantine and Leo were crowned at the same time as Basil, in 867, which no other source agrees with.[12]

Anti-Macedonian sources, such as Symeon Logothete, usually assume that Constantine was the son of Eudokia,[2][41] and provide information regarding the alleged infidelity of Eudokia, and the arrangement between Michael and Basil.[2]

Constantine is mentioned as Emperor in The Acts of the Eighth Ecumenical Council.[22] He appears, bearing the title basileus, on numerous coins, alongside Basil and other members of his family.[22]


Primary sources


  1. ^ a b c Tougher 1997, p. 44.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Garland & Tougher 2007.
  3. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 21.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ostrogorsky 1956, p. 233.
  5. ^ Tougher 1994, pp. 21–22.
  6. ^ a b Tougher 1994, p. 22.
  7. ^ Herrin 2001, p. 225.
  8. ^ Tougher 1994, pp. 20–21.
  9. ^ a b Tougher 1997, pp. 43–44.
  10. ^ a b c Tougher 1997, pp. 43–4.
  11. ^ Tougher 1994, pp. 26–27.
  12. ^ a b Tougher 1994, p. 24.
  13. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 23.
  14. ^ Tougher 1997, p. 45.
  15. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 27.
  16. ^ a b c Tougher 1994, pp. 22–23.
  17. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 22 & 25.
  18. ^ Vasiliev 1928–1935, p. 301.
  19. ^ Gregory 2010, p. 242.
  20. ^ Tougher 1994, pp. 27–28.
  21. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 170 & 187.
  22. ^ a b c d e Foss 2005, p. 97.
  23. ^ a b c Tougher 1997, p. 52.
  24. ^ a b c d Tougher 1994, p. 30.
  25. ^ Tougher 1997, p. 46.
  26. ^ Kazhdan 1991, p. 1210.
  27. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 30 & 198.
  28. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 118.
  29. ^ Adontz 1956, p. 20.
  30. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 23 & 118.
  31. ^ Spatharakis 1976, p. 99.
  32. ^ Treadgold 1997, p. 458.
  33. ^ a b Tougher 1997, pp. 52–3.
  34. ^ a b c Tougher 1997, p. 53.
  35. ^ Jenkins 1966, pp. 195–197.
  36. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 136.
  37. ^ Tougher 1994, pp. 27 & 186.
  38. ^ Tougher 1994, p. 191.
  39. ^ Tougher 1994, pp. 191–192.
  40. ^ Ostrogorsky 1956, p. 241.
  41. ^ a b Tougher 1997, pp. 44–45.


Further reading