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Constantine VIII

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Constantine VIII

Constantine VIII
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Constantine VIII on the reverse of this histamenon coin, with crown, pelled labarum and akakia.
Reign 962 – 15 December 1025 (co-emperor) 15 December 1025 – 11 November 1028 (sole emperor)
Predecessor Basil II
Successor Romanos Argyros
Born 960
Died 11 November 1028
Spouse Helena
Issue Eudokia
Zoe
Theodora
Full name
Constantine VIII
Dynasty Macedonian dynasty

Constantine VIII (Greek: Κωνσταντῖνος Η΄, Kōnstantinos VIII) (960 – 11 November 1028) was reigning Byzantine Emperor from 15 December 1025 until his death in 1028. He was the son of the Emperor Romanos II and Theophano, and the younger brother of the eminent Basil II, who died childless and thus left the rule of the Byzantine Empire in his hands.

Family

As a youth, Constantine VIII had been engaged to a daughter of Emperor Boris II of Bulgaria, but in the end he married a Byzantine aristocrat named Helena, daughter of Alypius. By her he had three daughters: Eudokia, who became a nun, Zoe, and Theodora, future empresses.

Life

A photograph of a gold coin depicting two crowned figures, both grasping a double-barred patriarchal cross between them
Basil II and Constantine VIII, holding cross. Nomisma histamenon.

Constantine VIII had been crowned with his brother by their father in 962, when he was still an infant. However, for some 63 out of the 68 years of his life he was eclipsed by other emperors, including Nikephoros II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes, and Basil II. Even when his elder brother became senior emperor, Constantine was perfectly content to enjoy all the privileges of Imperial status without concerning himself with state affairs. On occasion Constantine participated in his brother's campaigns against rebel nobles. In 989, he acted as mediator between Basil II and Bardas Skleros. Otherwise he spent his life in the search of pleasure and entertainment, including spectator sports at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, or amusing himself with riding and hunting.

When Basil II died on 15 December 1025, Constantine finally became sole emperor, ruling for less than three years before his own death on 11 November 1028.

Physically Constantine was tall and graceful, where Basil had been short and stocky. He was a superb horseman. By the time he became emperor, he had chronic gout and could hardly walk. His reign was a disaster because he lacked courage and political savvy. He reacted to every challenge with impulsive cruelty, persecuting uppity nobles and allegedly ordering the execution or mutilation of hundreds of innocent men. Constantine carried on as he always had – hunting, feasting, and enjoying life – and avoided state business as much as possible. He was poor at appointing officials. Within months, the land laws of Basil II were dropped under pressure from the Anatolian aristocracy (the dynatoi), although Constantine struck at the nobility when threatened by conspiracy.

Like his brother, Constantine died without a male heir. The Empire thus passed to his daughter Zoe, whom he

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