The Skleroi of Byzantium

Konstantinos Skleros och ryssen
Konstantinos Skleros, defending his brother, attacks a warrior of the Rus; from Madrid Skylitzes, fol. 162h.

Byzantinian aristocratic and ministerial family of Armenian origins, known for about 400 years, between the 9th and 13th centuries.[i] The most widely known member is Bardas Skleros, brother of the below mentioned Konstantinos, who proclaimed himself anti-emperor against Basileios II.  The two earlier generations mentioned by Settipani, consisting of Leon Skleros and his putative son Niketas Skleros, can only be attached to the family tree by means of guesswork.  These should therefore be cut from the line, although they have most likely belonged to the same family.[ii] It is said that Leon originated from Asia Minor, which corresponds well with the later generations having served in the eastern parts of the empire.[iii]

Tab. 1

Munīr (Pantherios) is only found in Arabic sources wherein he is mentioned as the father of Bardas and Konstantinos under the name Munīr (or Bynyr, approximating ”bringer of light”). This name has been supposed to have been a translation to Arabic of the name Photeinos, in turn an erroneous transcription of Pantherios.[iv] He has been identified with the Pantherios (without a family name or other known connection to the Skleroi) who was appointed domestikos ton Scholon (military commander) in 943/4 over the armies in the east by his relative, the emperor Romanos Lekapenos;[v] according to PMBZ 26243 he was already domestikos in 941 and one of the commanders who helped beat back Igor of Kiev’s attack on Costantinople, and is likewise said to have led 40,000 men from the east in that campaign.[vi] It was presumably the same Pantherios who was Strategos (general) or Patrikios (honorific) of the theme of Thrace during the aforenamed emperor’s reign.[vii] That this Pantherios is the same as Bardas’ father Munīr is an hypothesis based on the above mentioned erroneous transcription, that the unusual name Pantherios occurs in later generations of the Skleroi family, that the sons Konstantinos and Bardas, given their status in life must have been born into a high-ranking family, and that Pantherios is said to be related to the Macedonian dynasty, which we know that he through Bardas’ father Munīr’s marriage (and possibly also by blood).[viii] — M. to Gregoria, who is expressly stated to have been Bardas’ mother, which also makes her Munīr/Pantherios’ partner and mother of Konstantinos, as well as the daughter of another Bardas (whose grandfather was the nephew of emperor Basileios I and therefore a member of the Macedonian dynasty).[ix]

C h i l d r e n :
Bardas Skleros, rebel, anti-emperor; † 6/3 991.[x]
Konstantinos Skleros, see Tab. 2.
Maria Skleraina, † before 969, probably childless, in her marriage to emperor Ioannes Tzimiskes.[xi]

Konstantinos Skleros skickas till Baghdad
Konstantinos is sent by his brother Bardas to the emir of Baghdad; from the Madrid Skylitzes, fol. 179v.

Tab. 2

Konstantinos Skleros (son of Munīr/Pantherios), b. ca. 930.[xii] He held the title of Patrikios in 970 when he took part in the battle of Arkadiopolis where the Byzantine army, under his brother Bardas, defeated an army led by Sviatoslav I of Kiev.[xiii] Konstantinos is said by Leo the Deacon, to have had an enormous body with undefeatable strength.[xiv] During the aforementiond battle, when Bardas was attacked by a rider, Konstantinos struck against the attacker who, at that very instant, turned so that the blow struck the horse in the neck.  This led to the rider falling off the horse, whereupon Konstantinos grabbed his beard and cut off his head.[xv] He was also with his brother during the same year in March when the latter was ordered to quell the rebellion by Bardas Phokas, who was also Konstantinos’ brother-in-law.[xvi] It is possible that Konstantinos, because of this relationship, was closely involved in the negotiations for Phokas’ surrender, after the rebel had fled the field to a nearby fortification.[xvii] It is possible that he accompanied his brother Bardas during the sieges of Preslav and Dorostolon in 971, where Sviatoslav’s Ruso-Bulgarian army was finally crushed.[xviii] Konstantinos also joined his brother’s rebellion in 976 and led the right wing of the rebellious forces at the battle of Rhagea, during the autumn of 977[xix] Following Bardas’ defeat at Aquae Saravenae 24/3 979, they both fled to nearby Arabic lands, from whence Konstantinos was soon sent by Bardas to Baghdad where he was to negotiate for support with the emir.[xx] Instead he was detained there, along with Bardas and Bardas’ son Romanos. Konstantinos is said to be mentioned in the treaty entered into between Baghdad and Byzantium in 983, wherein he was given permission, thanks to his patrikios title, to return to Constantinople, as long as he did not continue to support his brother.[xxi] He must have rejected this offer as he remained in Baghdad until an agreement was reached in about 986/7, which he himself, Bardas, and Romanos all signed.[xxii] After their return to Byzantium, Konstantinos negotiated between his brother-in-law Bardas Phokas, and his brother – both now rivalling rebels against the emperor Basileios II.[xxiii] Konstantinos was possibly also involved in the reconciliation between Bardas, his brother, and the emperor, which was reached after the death of Phokas in 989.[xxiv] He accompanied his brother in exile to their estates at Didymoteichon, from where they were both recalled to take part in the Bulgarian war, but they refused service on grounds of poor health.[xxv] Konstantinos †, five days after his brother, 11/3 991 at Didymoteichon.[xxvi]  — M. to Sophia Phokaina (daughter of the kouropalates Leon Phokas and niece of emperor Nikephoros II Phokas).[xxvii]

C h i l d :

Theophano Skleraina
Theophano, posthumous port-rait from about 996 in St. Gereon’s Gospels, Cologne, Historisches Ar-chiv, Cod. W 312, fol. 22h. Also O’Driscoll (2015), p. 20.

Theophano Skleraina, b. about 959/60.[xxviii] As her parents are not explicitly named in the source material, a large number of attempts to identify her origins has been made.[xxix] She is described in her dower as ”Theophanu, Iohannis Constantinopolitani imperatoris neptim clarissimam[xxx] which should be interpreted as being emperor Ioannes Tzimiskes’ niece (the only emperor by name Ioannes during this period).[xxxi] European sources state that she was an augusta, came from the imperial palace, and that she was closely associated with the imperial family.[xxxii]  As her first daughter is proven to be named after her paternal grandmother, and the third after her paternal great-grandmother, the second daughter, Sophia, should, according to the prevalent naming customs at the time, be named after her maternal grandmother.[xxxiii] Similarly, her epithet clarissimam should be interpreted as her having belonged to the third rank at Constantinople, to which class also belonged the Patrikioi (her father Konstantinos’ title).[xxxiv] Sources expressly referring to her as the daughter of the emperor are all written at least 100 years after her marriage.  Therefore the theory that she is the daughter of Konstantinos Skleros and Sophia Phokas is considered the most plausible.[xxxv]  She is said to have grown up at the imperial palace at Constantinople, from at least 963 when her grandfather’s brother Nikephoros II Phokas became emperor.[xxxvi] Theophano was a young girl (around 12-13 years old) when she was married off, as a result of negotiations between Otto I (who originally sought to marry Anna, the daughter of emperor Romanos II – which marriage proposal was brusquely rebuffed by the diplomatically challenged emperor Phokas) and the usurper Ioannes Tzimiskes.[xxxvii] She founded, with her husband, the monastery at Memleben and made several other donations.[xxxviii] She served, after her husband’s death, as her son Otto III’s regent during his minority,[xxxix] but was also during this period involved in a severe conflict and power-struggle with her mother-in-law Adelheid, who would survive Theophano.[xl] † 15/6 991 ”too early” at the imperial palace at Nijmegen; bur. at St. Pantaleon’s Abbey, Cologne.[xli] — M. 14/4 972 at St. Peter’s, Rome, by pope John XIII, to emperor Otto II of the Holy Roman Empire.[xlii]


Theophano sarkofag
Theophano’s sarcophagus at St. Pantaleon’s Abbey, Cologne.  Photo: Allie Caulfield, 2010, Flickr



Madrid Skylitzes: Skylitzes, I. (ca. 1057) Codex Græcus Matritensis Ioannis Skyllitzes, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, document number MS Graecus Vitr. 26-2 south-Italian copy by an unknown hand from the 12th-14th century, from World Digital Library

MGH DD: — (1893) Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Diplomatum Regum et Imperatorum Germaniae, tom. II, Ottonis II et III Diplomata. Hannover: Hahnsche verlag.

PMBZ: Lille, R.-J., Ludwig, C., Zielke, B., Pratsch, T. (2013) Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit. Berlin: De Gruyter. (förk. PMBZ) Digital database, here: de Gruyter

St. Gereons Gospels: — (ca. 996) Evangeliar aus St. Gereon, unpublished manuscript at the historical archives of Cologne, codex no. 312, from Historisches Archiv Köln

Other works:

Cheynet, J.-C. (1986) ”Notes arabo-byzantines” i Kremmoudas, B., Maltezou, C., & Panagiotakes, N. M. (eds.) Αφιέρωμα-στον-Νίκο-Σβορώνο, vol. 1.  Athen: Pethumno, pp. 145-152.

Cheynet, J.-C. (1996) Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance (963-1210). Paris: Éditions de la Sorbonne.

Cheynet, J.-C. (1998) ”John Nesbitt – Nicolas Oikonomides, Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Art Museum. Vol. 3. West, Northwest and Central Asia Minor and the Orient” in Revue des études byzantines, vol. 56, p. 323.

Engels, O. (1995) ”Theophano, the western empress from the East” i Davis, A. (ed.) (1995) The Empress Theophano: Byzantium and the West at the turn of the first millennium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 28-48.

Hlawitschka, E. (2006) Die Ahnen der hochmittelalterlichen deutschen Könige, Kaiser und ihrer Gemahlinnen Band I: 911-1137 Teil 2. München: Monumenta Germaniæ Historica.

Holmes, C. J. (1999) Basil II and the Government of Empire. Oxford: Unpublished Phd. thesis.

O’Driscoll, J. (2015) Image and Inscription in the Painterly Manuscripts from Ottonian Cologne. Opublicerad doktorsavhandling, Harvard University.

Schwennike, D. (2005) Europäische Stammtafeln, Neue Folge, b. I.1. Frankfurt-am-Main: Vittorio Klostermann.

Seibt, W. (1976) Die Skleroi: eine prosopographish-sigillographische Studie. Wien: Böhlau verlag.

Settipani, C. (2006) Continuité des élites à Byzance durant les siècles obscurs: les princes caucasiens et l’empire du VIe au IXe siècle. Paris: de Boccard.

Sewter, E. R. A. (trans.) (1966) Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus (2nd ed.). London: Penguin.

Talbot, A.-M., & Sullivan, D. F. (trans.) (2005) The History of Leo the Deacon: Byzantine Military Expansion in the Tenth Century. Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Thiele, A. (1991) Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, b. I.1. Frankfurt-am-Main: R. G. Fischer.

Wangerin, L. (2014) ”Empress Theophanu, Sanctity, and Memory in Early Medieval Saxony” in Central European History, vol. 47, pp. 716-736.

Whittow, Mark (1996). The Making of Byzantium, 600–1025. Berkeley: University of California Press

Wolf, G. (1988) ”Nochmals zur Frage: wer war Theophano?” in Byzantinische Zeitschrift, vol. 81, pp. 272-283.

Wortley, J. (trans.) (2010) John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811-1057. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


[i] Seibt (1976), p. 15.

[ii] PMBZ 4409, 25717; Seibt (1976), pp. 20-21, 24-25; Settipani (2006), pp. 236-237.

[iii] PMBZ 4409.

[iv] Cheynet (1986), p. 146 develops his theory wherein he 1998 states that the relationship is ”indubitable” (ibid., 1998, p. 323); PMBZ 25448; Seibt (1976), pp. 27-28; Settipani (2006), p. 237 och n. 8.

[v] Cheynet (1986), p. 147; Cheynet (1996), p. 269 n. 52; Whittow (1996), p. 345, points out that the name Pantherios is unusual and that the Skleroi is the only family in the east that appears to have used it; Wortley (2010), pp. 222, 275 n. 24.

[vi] PMBZ 26243, treats Pantherios and Munīr as two separate individuals.

[vii] Cheynet (1998), p. 323 gives the title Strategos; Whittow (1996), p. 345 gives Patrikios.

[viii] Settipani (2006), p. 237 n. 8 suggests that Pantherios is the son of a Niketas, married to an unnamed granddaughter of emperor Basileios I.  There appears to be no evidence for this and the theory should be discarded.  Regarding this, see also Hlawitschka (2006), p. 153; Seibt (1976), p. 28 & n. 44, citing Manasses 5947 and Skutariotes, SATHAS MB VII, 158, 6-10; PMBZ 25448, 26243, 22345.

[ix] Hlawitschka (2006), p. 153; PMBZ 22345; Seibt (1976), p. 28 citing Skutariotes, SATHAS MB VII, 158, 6-10.

[x] Holmes (1999), p. 116; Sewter (1966), I.23-28 (pp. 40-43);

[xi] PMBZ 24924, 20785.

[xii] Hlawitschka (2006), p. 153; PMBZ 23921.

[xiii] PMBZ 23921; Talbot et al. (2005), VI.12 pp. 158-159.

[xiv] Talbot et al. (2005), p. 159.

[xv] PMBZ 23921; Seibt (1976), p. 58; Talbot et al. (2005), p. 159; Wortley (2010), p. 278.

[xvi] Seibt (1976), p. 59; Wortley (2010), pp. 280-281.

[xvii] PMBZ 20785; Seibt (1976), p. 59; Talbot et al. (2005), VII 3 p. 166, VII 4-5 pp. 167-168, VII 6 p. 169 & VII 8 p. 173; Wortley (2010), p. 281; Kratchkovsky (1924), p. 831.

[xviii] PMBZ 20785; Talbot et al. (2005), VIII.7 p. 183; ), IX.10 pp. 198-199; Skylitzes tells the story of the battle in great detail, see Wortley (2010), pp. 284ff.

[xix] PMBZ 23921; Seibt (1976), p. 59; Wortley (2010) p. 305.

[xx] PMBZ 23921; Seibt (1976), p. 59; Wortley (2010), p. 310.

[xxi] Seibt (1976), p. 59.

[xxii] PMBZ 23921; Seibt (1976), p. 59; Wortley (2010), p. 310.

[xxiii] PMBZ 23921; Seibt (1976), pp. 59-60; Wortley (2010), p. 317.

[xxiv] PMBZ 23921; Wortley (2010), p. 321.

[xxv] Seibt (1976), p. 60

[xxvi] Hlawitschka (2006), p. 153; PMBZ 23921; Seibt (1976), p. 60.

[xxvii] Hlawitschka (2006), pp. 152-153; PMBZ 23921, 27154; Seibt (1976), p. 58; Talbot et al. (2005), p. 166; Wortley, p. 281.

[xxviii] Hlawitschka (2006), p. 144; PMBZ 28127; Wolf (1988), p. 279.

[xxix] Hlawitschka (2006), pp. 145-151 and Wolf (1988), pp. 272-274, provide overviews of the research history.

[xxx] MGH DD (1893) p. 29

[xxxi] PMBZ 28127; Wolf (1988), p. 275. The usual reference works state the same, without further connections being listed, see Schwennike (2005), taf. 10, and Thiele (1995), p. 12, who nevertheless gives her the surname Skleraina.

[xxxii] Hlawitschka (2006), p. 146.

[xxxiii] Hlawitschka (2006), p. 151; Wolf (1988), p. 272.

[xxxiv] Wolf (1988), p. 276.

[xxxv] Se t.ex. Hlawitschka (2006), p. 149, 152; Wangerin (2014) p. 719.

[xxxvi] PMBZ 28127; Wolf (1988), pp. 277, 278

[xxxvii] Hlawitschka (2006), p. 143.

[xxxviii] Engels (1995), p. 39.

[xxxix] Engels (1995), pp. 28-48.

[xl] Engels (1995), pp. 40-41.

[xli] Engels (1995), p. 46; Hlawitschka (2006), p. 145; PMBZ 28127.

[xlii] Engels (1995), p. 33; Hlawitschka (2006), p. 143, citing her preserved dowry charter, dated 14/4 972.

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