Constantine IX Monomachos
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
A mosaic with a background of gold showing a bearded Constantine wearing a crown and jeweled robes holding a small bag in his hands which is tied at the top
Mosaic of Emperor Constantine IX at the Hagia Sophia.[1]
Byzantine emperor
Reign11 June 1042 – 11 January 1055
Coronation12 June 1042
PredecessorZoë and Theodora
EmpressesZoë (1042–1050)
Theodora (1042–1055)
Bornc. 1000/1004
Died11 January 1055 (aged 50–55)
Spousedaughter of Basil Skleros
Maria Skleraina
Zoë Porphyrogenita
FatherTheodosios Monomachos

Constantine IX Monomachos (Medieval Greek: Κωνσταντῖνος Μονομάχος, romanizedKōnstantinos Monomachos; c. 980[3]/c. 1000[4] – 11 January 1055) reigned as Byzantine emperor from June 1042 to January 1055. Empress Zoë Porphyrogenita chose him as a husband and co-emperor in 1042, although he had been exiled for conspiring against her previous husband, Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian. The couple shared the throne with Zoë's sister Theodora Porphyrogenita. Zoë died in 1050, and Constantine continued his collaboration with Theodora until his own death five years later.

Constantine waged wars against groups which included the Kievan Rus', the Pechenegs and, in the East, the rising Seljuq Turks. Despite the varying success of these campaigns, the Byzantine Empire largely retained the borders established after the conquests of Basil II (r. 976–1025), even expanding eastwards when Constantine annexed the wealthy Armenian kingdom of Ani. Constantine accordingly may be considered the last effective emperor during the Macedonian Renaissance.

In 1054, a year before Constantine's death, the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches took place, culminating in Pope Leo IX excommunicating the Patriarch Michael Keroularios. Constantine, aware of the political and religious consequences of such a disunion, made unsuccessful efforts to prevent the breach.

Early life

Constantine Monomachos was the son of Theodosios Monomachos, an important bureaucrat under Basil II and Constantine VIII, of the famous and noble Monomachos family.[5] His mother and her name are unknown. Constantine was born around 980[3] or 1000[4] in Antioch. At some point Constantine's father Theodosios had been suspected of conspiracy, and his son's career suffered accordingly.[6] Constantine's position improved after he married his second wife, sometimes called Helena or Pulcheria, a daughter of Basil Skleros,[7] and niece of Emperor Romanos III Argyros.[8] Catching the eye of Empress Zoë Porphyrogenita, he was exiled to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos by her second husband, Emperor Michael IV.[9]

Gold histamenon of Zoë and Theodora, 1042.

The death of Michael IV and the overthrow of Michael V in 1042 led to Constantine being recalled from his place of exile and appointed as a judge in Greece.[10] However, before he could commence his appointment, Constantine was summoned to Constantinople, where the fragile working relationship between Michael V's successors, Empresses Zoë and Theodora Porphyrogenita, was breaking down. After two months of increasing acrimony between the two, Zoë decided to search for a new husband, thereby hoping to prevent her sister from increasing her popularity and authority.[11]

Arrival of Constantine Monomachos to Constantinople.

After her first preference displayed contempt for the empress and her second died under mysterious circumstances,[8] Zoë remembered the handsome and urbane Constantine. The pair were married on 11 June, without the participation of Patriarch Alexius of Constantinople, who refused to officiate over a third marriage (for both spouses). Constantine was crowned on the following day.[12]


Gold tetarteron of Constantine IX Monomachos. Reverse. Bust of Constantine IX with a beard; on his head is a crown with a cross; labarum in his right hand, globe with a cross in his left. Constantinople.
Coronation of Constantine IX

Constantine continued the purge instituted by Zoë and Theodora, removing the relatives of Michael V from the court.[13] The new emperor was pleasure-loving[14] and prone to violent outbursts on suspicion of conspiracy.[15] He was heavily influenced by his controversial wife or mistress, Maria Skleraina, a relative of his second wife, and Maria's family. Constantine had another mistress, an "Alan princess", Gurandukht, likely the daughter of George I.

Zoë (left), Constantine IX (centre), and Theodora (right) depicted on the Monomachus Crown

In August 1042 Constantine relieved the general George Maniakes from his command in Italy, and Maniakes rebelled, declaring himself emperor in September.[16] He transferred his troops into the Balkans and was about to defeat Constantine's army in battle, when he was wounded and died on the field, ending the crisis in 1043.[17]

Immediately after the victory, Constantine was attacked by a fleet from Kievan Rus';[17] it is "incontrovertible that a Rus' detachment took part in the Maniakes rebellion".[18] They too were defeated, with the help of Greek fire.[19] As part of the peace negotiations Constantine married his daughter, Anastasia (by his second wife or Maria Skleraina), to the future Prince Vsevolod I of Kiev, the son of his opponent Yaroslav I the Wise.[20][21] Constantine's family name Monomachos ("one who fights alone") was inherited by Vsevolod and Anastasia's son, Vladimir II Monomakh.[5][22]

Constantine IX's preferential treatment of Maria Skleraina in the early part of his reign led to rumors that she was planning to murder Zoë and Theodora.[23] This led to a popular uprising by the citizens of Constantinople in 1044, which came dangerously close to harming Constantine as he participated in a religious procession. The mob was only quieted by the appearance at a balcony of Zoë and Theodora, who reassured the people that they were not in any danger of assassination.[24]

Gagik II of Armenia surrenders to Emperor Constantine Monomachos
Depiction of a philosophy lesson in the University of Constantinople.

In 1045 Constantine annexed the Armenian kingdom of Ani,[25] but this expansion merely exposed the empire to new enemies. In 1046 the Byzantines came into contact for the first time with the Seljuk Turks.[26] They met in battle in Armenia in 1048 and settled a truce the following year.[27] Even if the Seljuk rulers were willing to abide by the treaty, their unruly Turcoman allies showed much less restraint. The Byzantine forces would suffer a cataclysmic defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.[28] Constantine began persecuting the Armenian Church, trying to force it into union with the Orthodox Church.[26] In 1046,[29] he refounded the University of Constantinople by creating the Departments of Law and Philosophy.[30]

Leo Tornikios attacks Constantinople, Skylitzes chronicle.

In 1047 Constantine was faced by the rebellion of his nephew Leo Tornikios, who gathered supporters in Adrianople and was proclaimed emperor by the army.[31][32] Tornikios was forced to retreat, failed in another siege, and was captured during his flight.[28] The revolt had weakened Byzantine defenses in the Balkans, and in 1048 the area was raided by the Pechenegs,[33] who continued to plunder it for the next five years. The emperor's efforts to contain the enemy through diplomacy merely exacerbated the situation, as rival Pecheneg leaders clashed on Byzantine ground, and Pecheneg settlers were allowed to live in compact settlement in the Balkans, making it difficult to suppress their rebellion.[34]

Constantine seems to have taken recourse to the pronoia system, a sort of Byzantine feudal contract in which tracts of land (or the tax revenue from it) were granted to particular individuals in exchange for contributing to and maintaining military forces.[9][35] Constantine could be wasteful with the imperial treasury. On one occasion he is said to have sent an Arab leader 500,000 gold coins, over two tons of gold.[36]

Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

In 1054 the centuries-old differences between the Eastern and Western churches led to their final separation. Legates from Pope Leo IX excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Keroularios when Keroularios would not agree to adopt western church practices, and in return Keroularios excommunicated the legates.[37] This sabotaged Constantine's attempts to ally with the Pope against the Normans, who had taken advantage of the disappearance of Maniakes to take over Southern Italy.[38]

Zoe, Constantine and Theodora, depicted on an illustrated manuscript, believed to be a gift to the Saint George of Mangana Monastery (ca. 1047).

Constantine tried to intervene, but he fell ill and died on 11 January of the following year.[39][40] He was persuaded by his councillors, chiefly the logothetes tou dromou John, to ignore the rights of the elderly Theodora, daughter of Constantine VIII, and to pass the throne to the doux of Bulgaria, Nikephoros Proteuon.[41] However, Theodora was recalled from her retirement and named empress.[42]

Architecture and art

The literary circle at the court of Constantine IX included the philosopher and historian Michael Psellos,[43] whose Chronographia records the history of Constantine's reign. Psellos left a physical description of Constantine in his Chronographia: he was "ruddy as the sun, but all his breast, and down to his feet... [were] colored the purest white all over, with exquisite accuracy. When he was in his prime, before his limbs lost their virility, anyone who cared to look at him closely would surely have likened his head to the sun in its glory, so radiant was it, and his hair to the rays of the sun, while in the rest of his body he would have seen the purest and most translucent crystal."[44]

Immediately upon ascending to the throne in 1042, Constantine IX set about restoring the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which had been substantially destroyed in 1009 by Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah.[45] Byzantine Emperor Romanos III had secured the right to undertake such a restoration in a treaty with al-Hakim's son al-Zahir, but it was Constantine who finally set the project in motion, funding the reconstruction of the Church and other Christian establishments in the Holy Land.[46]

Appearance and personality

Constantine was said to rival Achilles and Nireus in terms of beauty.[47] He was described by Michael Psellos as "a marvel of beauty that Nature brought into being in the person of this man, so justly proportioned, so harmoniously fashioned, that there was no one in our time to compare to him".[4] Psellos described "the symmetry of the emperor's body, his perfect analogies, his ruddy hair which shone like rays of sunlight, [and] his white body which appeared like clear and translucent crystal".[47]

In addition to his beauty, Constantine was praised for his justice and wisdom, the latter being displayed through his patronage of philosophy and rhetoric, as well as his legislation.[48] Indeed, during his reign there was a "rennaisance" of interest in ancient Greek philosophy.[49] His personality has been described as good-natured; he was easily amused and loved to laugh.[4] He charmed practically everyone who knew him, especially Zoe whom he enthralled immediately.[4] Constantine spent money without restraints and liked to make several luxurious gifts to his associates.[4] For example, he gave to the Church many objects of great value, including precious sacred vessels, "that surpassed by far all the others as to dimensions, beauty and price".[50] Constantine also showed clemency and mercy, even in cases of treason.[48]

See also


  1. ^ Davies, Wendy; Fouracre, Paul (2 September 2010). The Languages of Gift in the Early Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. p. 38. ISBN 9780521515177. The mosaic dates between 1042, when Zoe married Constantine (her third husband), and 1050, when Zoe died, but the heads have been changed and the mosaic probably originally portrayed Zoe with her first husband, Romanos III (1028–34), who also donated funds to the church.
  2. ^ A.V. Soloviev, 'Marie, fille de Constantin IX Monomaque', Byzantion, vol. 33, 1963, p. 241-248.
  3. ^ a b "Constantine IX Monomachus". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 11 April 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Head, Constance (1982). Imperial Byzantine Portraits: A Verbal and Graphic Gallery. Caratzas Brothers Publishing. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-89241-084-2.
  5. ^ a b Kazhdan, pg. 1398
  6. ^ Norwich, pg. 307
  7. ^ Eric Limousin. Constantin IX Monomaque : empereur ou homme de réseau ?. 140 e Congrès national des sociétés historiques et scientifiques , May 2015, Reims, France. p. 26-37.
  8. ^ a b Norwich, pg. 306
  9. ^ a b Kazhdan, pg. 504
  10. ^ Finlay, pg. 500
  11. ^ Finlay, pg. 499
  12. ^ Georgius CedrenusCSHB 9: 540-2: "Michaelus in monasterium Elegmorum, 21 die Aprilis... Augusta Zoe nupsit... die Iunii undecima anni eius quem supra indicavimus. postridie coronatus est a patriarcha."
  13. ^ Finlay, pg. 505
  14. ^ Norwich, pg. 308
  15. ^ Finlay, pg, 510
  16. ^ Norwich, pg. 310
  17. ^ a b Norwich, pg. 311
  18. ^ Quoted from: Litavrin, Grigory. Rus'-Byzantine Relations in the 11th and 12th Centuries. // History of Byzantium, vol. 2, chapter 15, p. 347-352. Moscow: Nauka, 1967 (online)
  19. ^ Finlay, pg. 514
  20. ^ Christian Settipani, Continuité des élites à Byzance durant les siècles obscurs. Les princes caucasiens et l'Empire du vie au ixe siècle, Paris, de Boccard, 2006, p. 245. (ISBN 978-2-7018-0226-8)
  21. ^ A.V. Soloviev, 'Marie, fille de Constantin IX Monomaque', Byzantion, vol. 33, 1963, p. 241-248.
  22. ^ P.P Tolocko, Byzance vue par les Russes, dans Le sacré et son inscription dans l'espace à Byzance et en Occident, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2001, pp. 277-284.
  23. ^ Norwich, pg. 309
  24. ^ Finlay, pg. 503
  25. ^ Norwich, pg. 340
  26. ^ a b Norwich, pg. 341
  27. ^ Finlay, pg. 520
  28. ^ a b Norwich, pg. 314
  29. ^ John H. Rosser, Historical Dictionary of Byzantium, Scarecrow Press, 2001, p. xxx.
  30. ^ Aleksandr Petrovich Kazhdan, Annabel Jane Wharton, Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries, University of California Press, 1985, p. 122.
  31. ^ Bréhier, pg. 325
  32. ^ Norwich, pg. 312
  33. ^ Finlay, pg. 515
  34. ^ Norwich, pg. 315
  35. ^ Finlay, pg. 504
  36. ^ Laiou, pg. 3
  37. ^ Norwich, pg. 321
  38. ^ Norwich, pg. 316
  39. ^ Skylitzes, John (1973) [1057] Synopsis of Histories, 478, n.92 (Bekker 610, s.18). "ιαʹ του Ιανουαρίου."
  40. ^ For the date 7 / 8 January, see: Peter Schreiner (1977). Kleinchroniken 2., 148 (cf. Kleinchroniken 1)
  41. ^ Finlay, pg. 527
  42. ^ Treadgold, pg. 596
  43. ^ Garland, pg. 246
  44. ^ Psellos, 126:2–5
  45. ^ Finlay, pg. 468
  46. ^ Ousterhout, Robert (1989). "Rebuilding the Temple: Constantine Monomachus and the Holy Sepulchre". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 48 (1): 66–78. doi:10.2307/990407. JSTOR 990407.
  47. ^ a b Hatzaki, Myrto (2009). Beauty and the Male Body in Byzantium: Perceptions and Representations in Art and Text. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-230-24530-3.
  48. ^ a b Nathan, Geoffrey; Garland, Lynda (1 January 2011). Basileia: Essays on Imperium and Culture in Honour of E.M. and M.J. Jeffreys. BRILL. p. 187. ISBN 978-90-04-34489-1.
  49. ^ Wilson, Nigel (31 October 2013). Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. Routledge. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-136-78800-0.
  50. ^ Oikonomides, Nicolas (1978). "The Mosaic Panel of Constantine IX and Zoe in Saint Sophia". Revue des études byzantines. 36 (1): 219–232. doi:10.3406/rebyz.1978.2086.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

Constantine IX Monomachos Macedonian dynastyBorn: c. 1006 Died: 11 January 1055 Regnal titles Preceded byZoë andTheodora Byzantine emperor 1042–1055 Succeeded byTheodora