Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959. He was the son of the emperor Leo VI and his fourth wife Zoe.

Early Life

In 901 AD, with the death of his third wife, Leo VI, stepped in a relationship with a women named Zoe who in 905 gave birth to an heir, Constantine. Wanting to legalize the birth of his son, Leo VI negotiated with the Patriarch of Constantinople, an agreement according to which, in exchange for the baptism of the heir, the emperor would have renounced the relationship with Zoe. The Patriarch accepted and baptized Constantine. Emperor, however, did not renounced his lover but decided to marry her.

Furiously, the Patriarch forbade the emperor from setting foot in church for Christmas Mass, a move which, in fact, amounted to excommunication. The Emperor decided to force the Patriarch Nicholas to resign, imposing Eutimio in his place.

Leo VI in 911, crowned Constantine as co-emperor. Leo VI died and the authority passed to his younger brother and co-emperor Alexander, who wanted to centralize all the power and had the empress mother Zoe relegated to a convent. Alexander’s reign, however, lasted less than a year since he died in 913. In the absence of sons, Alexander had arranged for the throne to pass to his nephew Constantine, and until his age the effective power belonged to a Council of Regency presided over by Patriarch Nicholas.


Bulgarians had occupied the whole Thrace and had laid siege to Constantinople, then the patriarch Nicholas decided to negotiate the peace: Simeon was crowned as Emperor of the Bulgarians and obtained several territories that he had won, plus the payment of an annual tribute and the engagement of one of his daughters with Emperor Constantine.

Shortly after the conclusion of peace with Bulgaria, the popularity and prestige of the Patriarch had fallen, he had to surrender the regency to the Empress (mother) Zoe, who invalidated the peace treaty and rejected the marriage proposal, thus resuming hostilities. Simeon, without being hit, invaded Thrace again and, in 914, conquered the important city of Adrianople.

The defeat marked the end of the regency of Zoe. Then Romanos Lecapenos with the support of the patriarch Nicola and numerous officials, assumed the regency.

The ambitions of Romanos Lecapenos did not stop at the regency: behind the pretext of the defeats in Bulgaria, exiled the Empress Zoe and, in 919, with the marriage of his daughter Elena Lecapenas to Constantine assumed the title of Emperor father in 920, he obtained the title of Emperor and Co-Emperor.

In the following years, the position of Constantine remained marginal: shy, with a peaceful character, only greedy for knowledge and culture, he spent the years of Roman’s reign studying the works of the past, he never laid down his imperial title. In 931, at the death of his son, Romano I, aware that his children were devoid of political capacity, returned to Constantine the title of second emperor.

In 944, the health conditions of Romano I got worse and his son Stefano, with the support of the other brothers, decided to exile his father in a convent on the island.

The reign of the young princes did not last long: the church and the army refused to recognize them while the population of Constantinople rebelled in favor of the Constantine who, deposed and exiled him with his brothers and assumed power at age of 39.

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos crowned by Christ, ivory, ca. 945

Despite the strong resentment against Roman I, Constantine continued his predecessor’s internal and foreign policy, limiting himself exclusively to appointing several members of the Foca family (once his supporters) to the highest military posts.
There were no purges: the emperor held in great consideration the advice of his wife Elena Lecapenas. In 947, in the wake of the measures already issued by Roman I, Constantine ordered that all the lands purchased by the nobles from the time of his ascent to the throne had to be returned to the original owners, upon payment of the price agreed.

Byzantine Under His Reign

The reign of Constantine also saw an intense diplomatic activity of the Byzantine court: numerous contacts were made with Otto I of Saxony and with the Caliph of Cordoba Abd-er-Rahman III; the emperor tried, through the conversion of several Hungarian nobles, to extend his influence on the Balkans but without success. Lastly, the personal visit of the Grand Duchess Olga dei Rus’ of Kiev was important, which not only stayed for a long time in Constantinople but, converting to Christianity, encouraged many monks to move to their own kingdom; thus began the missionary activity of the Eastern Church in Russia. He died in 959. He was succeeded by his son Romano II.

Constantine VII was known as a sculptor, musician, painter, and writer. Under his reign an intense encyclopedic compilation activity was promoted, with the intent of perpetuating the religious and civil traditions that had made the empire great. His reign is politically insignificant, but his literary activity occupies one of the most prominent places in the Byzantine cultural history. The age of Constantine entails changes in the repertoire of Byzantine historiography, above all a certain encyclopedic tendency. There remains an open question as to the role of Constantine himself in the creation of those works that are cited under his name. He is most often the initiator and organizer of certain literary compositions. A broad circle of emperor’s interests included not only science but also many branches of art. The emperor gathered around a group of capable and educated people who worked with him to save material for writing a piece of encyclopedic character of history and other sciences, so in some cases it is very difficult to separate what the emperor wrote and what his associates did. He wrote, or had commissioned, the works De Ceremoniis describing the kinds of court ceremonies, De Administrando Imperio giving advice on running the Empire internally and on fighting external enemies; a history of the Empire covering events following the death of the chronographer Theophanes the Confessor in 817; and Excerpta Historica (“Excerpts from the Histories”), a collection of excerpts from ancient historians in four volumes 1. De legationibus. 2. De virtutibus et vitiis. 3. De insidiis. 4. De sententiis. Amongst his historical works is a history eulogizing the reign and achievements of his grandfather, Basil I. These books are insightful and of interest to the historian, sociologist, and anthropologist as a source of information about nations around the Empire. They also offer a fine insight into the Emperor himself.