Romanus I Lecapenus, Byzantine Emperor

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Reign: Dec. 17, 920, to Dec. 16, 944; b. Lakape, Armenia, c. 870; d. Prote, June 15, 948. He was the son of an Armenian peasant, Theophylactus Abastactus, who had become an officer by saving the Emperor Basil I's life. Romanus was befriended by Emperor Leo VI, who appointed him strategos of the naval theme of Samos in 911. Shortly afterward he was promoted, probably by Emperor Alexander, to droungarios (Admiral) of the Fleets. According to a hostile account (Theophanes Continuatus), Romanus failed to ferry Byzantine allies across the Danube, resulting in a resounding defeat by the Bulgarians at the river Acheloos in 917. In May 919, Romanus married his daughter Helen to the young Emperor constantine vii porphyrogenitus, in contravention of an arrangement brokered by Patriarch nicholas i mysticus with the Bulgarian Tsar Symeon. He took the basileopator ; became caesar (September 24, 920); then, besting the general Leo Phocas, a rival candidate, became emperor (December 17, 920). To solidify his regime and marginalize the legitimate emperor, Romanus had his own son Christopher crowned basileus, i.e., given the imperial title (May 20, 921), and his two younger sons, Constantine and Stephen, later received the same dignity (Dec. 25, 924).

Romanus eventually achieved a peace with the Bulgarian King Symeon, reluctantly recognizing him as emperor of Bulgaria and spiritual brother (pneumatikos adelphos ). Upon Symeon's death in 927, Romanus married his granddaughter, Maria, to the new Tsar Peter; Peter recognized Romanus as his spiritual father. Romanus restrained Arab depredations in southern Italy; entered an alliance with Caucasia and Armenia; deflected a Russian assault on Constantinople in 941; and through his general John Curcuas, forced Edessa to surrender the hagion mandylion, the picture of Christ supposedly painted for King abgar by the Savior himself. Romanus was the first emperor to legislate in favor of the poor (penetes ): his novels were intended to defend small landholders against annexation of their lands by the powerful (dynatoi ), and thus also strengthen imperial authority and the fisc in the face of aristocratic expansionism. Interventions in Church affairs saw Romanus issue a Tomos of Union in 920, and appoint his 16yearold son Theophylactus Patriarch of Constantinople in 933.

Romanus's designated heir, Christopher, died in 931. On December 16, 944, his two other sons, Constantine and Stephen, rebelled and drove out their father; but they were in turn expelled by the Porphyrogenitus, who became sole emperor on Jan. 27, 945. Romanus was exiled to the island of Prote, where he died a penitent. Works produced under Constantine besmirched the deeds of the late usurper, but a sympathetic, almost hagiographical account of Romanus's reign is preserved in the chronicle of Symeon Logothete.

Bibliography: a. cameron, "The History of the Image of Edessa: the Telling of a Story,"Harvard Ukrainian Studies 7 (1983) 8094; eadem, "The Mandylion of Edessa and Byzantine Iconoclasm," in The Holy Face and the Paradox of Representation, ed. h. l. kessler, g. wolf (Bologna 1998) 3354; r. jenkins, "The Peace with Bulgaria (927) Celebrated by Theodore Daphnopates," Polychronion. Festschrift F. Dolger (Heidelberg 1966) 287303; r. morris, "The Powerful and the Poor in Tenthcentury Byzantium: Law and Reality," Past and Present 73 (1976) 327. New Cambridge Medieval History, v.3. s. runciman, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus (Cambridge, Eng. 1929). Théodore Daphnopates, Correspondance, ed. & tr. j. darrouzÈs, l. westerink (Paris 1976). Theophanes continuatus, Ioannes Caminiata, Symeon Magister, Georgius Monachus continuatus, ed. i. bekker (Bonn 1825). m. whittow, The Making of Byzantium, 6001025 (Berkeley 1996) 340348.

[m. j. higgins/

p. stephenson]