Theophano (Byzantine Empress)

Theophano was a Byzantine empress. She was the wife of Romanus II; wife and murderer of Nicephorus Phocas; lover of John I Tzimisces ; the mother of Basil II , Constantine VIII and the princess Anna Porphyrogenita, who later married the Russian prince Vladimir.

Becoming Empress

This beautiful but considerably amoral woman played an important role in Byzantine history. An innkeeper's daughter by the name of Anastaso, the emperor Romanus II fell in love with her around the year 956 and married her. Romanus' father Constantine VII Porphyrogentius avoided the mistake of preventing his son to marry the girl of his choice--as had several of his precedessors, culminating in their downfalls--by blandly pretending that Anastaso was of noble birth. After their marriage, she was given the name of Romanus' grandfather's first saintly wife Theophano (whom she resembled not at all).

Partnership with Nicephorus Phocas

On March 15, 963, Emperor Romanus II unexpectedly died at the age of twenty-six. His sons Basil II and Constantine VIII were heirs and Theophano was named regent. However she realized that to secure power she needed to align her interest with the strongest general at the time, Nicephorus Phocas. As the army had already proclaimed him as an Emperor in Caesarea, Nicephorus entered Constantinople on August 15, broke the resistance of Joseph Bringas ( a eunuch palace official who had become Romanus' chief council) in bloody street fights, and on 16 August he was crowned in Hagia Sophia. After that he married Theophano, thereby legitimizing his reign by marring into the Macedonian dynasty.

The marriage proved controversial as Nicephorus had been god-father to one or more of Theophano's children, which placed them within a prohibited spiritual relationship. Nicephorus (who no doubt sincerely loved his beautiful wife) organised a council at which it was denied that he had ever been god-father to his wife's children.


However, not too long after, she became lover to a young and brilliant general, John Tzimisces. They soon began to conspire against Nicephorus . She prepared the assassination and John and his friends implemented it on the night between 10 and 11 December 969. The emperor was now John I Tzimisces (969-976)


However, Theophano badly miscalculated in the hope of becoming the wife of the new ruler. Slain Nicephorus found his avenger in the Patriarch Polyeuctus, who was determined to punish the crime. He demanded John to repent, to punish the murderers (his helpers and friends), and to remove Theophano from the court. John was forced to submit to Patriarch’s requests. Only then was he allowed to enter the church and be crowned emperor.

Theophano was first sent into exile to the island of Prinkipo, sometimes known as Prote. However, shortly afterwards, she made a reappearance in the capital, seeking asylum in the Hagia Sophia, where, however, she was forcibly removed on the orders of the Chamberlain Basil, who condemned her to exile in distant Armenia. Before this, he granted her request of an audience with the Emperor John, who surprisingly agreed to attend. Once there however, he was subjected to the former empress, who then physically attacked the chamberlain, landing several telling blows.

It is possible that after the succession of her sons to the throne that she was able to return to Constantinople.


  • History of the Byzantine State by Georgije Ostrogorski
  • Byzantium: The Apogee by John Julius Norwich

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