This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.


Leo the Deacon
The Death of Romanos II, in 963

Historiae Libri X, ed. C. B. Hase (Bonn, 1828), 29-31 [Book 2]

9. When Nikephoros had celebrated his triumph and been admired by the whole populace, the emperor Romanos gave him splendid gifts, and entrusted him with the command of Asia. So he girded himself in turn with the rank of domestikos, and crossed the Bosphorus leading his troops which he arranged in a phalanx hard to withstand or overpower, and went as far as the lands of the Arabs. When they had heard about Nikephoros’ advance, it seemed impossible for them to stay in the country, lay ambushes and clash with him in pitched battle, and better to run away from there towards their fortresses and deflect the attacks by the fortifications, hurling missiles as far as possible. For they were terribly afraid to fight in close formation against such a powerful and obdurate man. And he ravaged the land like a thunderbolt, ravaging the fields and enslaving heavily populated villages. When he had destroyed everthing under foot with fire and sword, he attacked the fortresses, most of which he conquered without a blow. Those which happened to be defended by their walls and the crowd of those within, against these he unleashed the machines and pursued war to the end, urging on those under him to fight spiritedly. Everyone readily obeyed this man’s commands, for he was not just charismatic and persuasive with regard to courage with his words, but also by his actions (30) themselves fighting extraordinarily, always at the front of the phalanx, accepting every danger at it arose and driving it away with force. Therefore when he had seized and thrown down in short order more than sixty fortresses of the Arabs, and had removed an enormous amount of plunder and achieved such a distinguished victory as had no other, then he took the army from there and sent them back to their own lands, after they had gathered unspeakable wealth. And he set off to the emperor to receive the rewards of his labours.

10.  Just in the middle of the journey a certain rumour reached the general, announcing the death of the lord Romanos. Confounded by the unexpectedness of the rumour, he stopped the journey and remained in the country. It is said the emperor Romanos completed life in this manner. When he took over rulership, he behaved fairly moderately and generously to his subjects, but certain men, insinuating themselves [into his company] and corrupting the man, wretches and slaves to appetite and sexual hunger, corrupted the good nature of the young man, advocating luxury and unbridled pleasure, awakening his appetites for strange desires. Then at the time of fasting, which men inspired by God had instituted for cleansing of souls and passage to betterment, the pests took Romanos out hunting for deer, riding in impassable mountains. As they returned from there, they gathered around the (31) aggrieved emperor, breathing his last. Some say that on the untimely ride a spasm had affected his vital parts. But the conjecture of the majority was that he had drunk hemlock at the hands of his wife. Whether it was the first or the second reason, Romanos departed life while still at the pinnacle of youth, having reigned for three years and five months. When this man had departed from mankind, rule over the empire was entrusted by the Patriarch Polyeuktos and the council of the senate to his sons, Basil and Constantine, who were still completing infancy and nursing, with their mother Theophano. This woman was begotten of an obscure family, but surpassed all other women in beauty and the appearance of her body. She had been joined in wedlock to the emperor Romanos. Nikephoros (for again I shall return to the sequence of the narrative) was informed about the transfer of the greatest authority, and was confounded in many ways at other times for other ideas. For the incredible turn of events and the reversal and fickleness of fortune would not allow the man to be calm, as he especially mistrusted the power of Joseph [Bringas], who was a eunuch and wielded more power in the imperial palace (for he was exalted by the rank of chamberlain), and was hostile to Nikephoros.

Paul Stephenson, June 2003; revised January 2012