Constantine VII, Born in the Purple
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos baptizes Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus from a 12th or 13th century illuminated manuscript known as the Madrid Scylitzes which chronicles the reigns of Byzantine emperors from the death of Nicephorus I in AD 811 to Michael VI in 1057. Constantine VII is called Porphyrogenitus on my latest coin, struck in Constantinople. "Born in the Purple", emphasizes his legitimacy. He was the illegitimate child of Leo VI however, his mother gave birth to him in the Purple Room of the imperial palace. Leo VI did marry Zoe after the birth of Constantine - but as his 4th marriage, this marriage was also of questionable legitimacy.
Constantine's Horoscope AD 905 If the links made by David Pinder between a 10th century horoscope and Constantine VII are correct, there is an interesting document from the birth of Constantine, written about an hour before dawn of 2 September AD 905, predicting his future:
lot of livelihood Aquarius 8;200 (VIII 5)
lot of marriage Taurus 18;400 (XIII 4)
lot of friendship Virgo 4;370 (XIV 3)
lot of love Scorpio 6;350 (XIV 3)
lot of military service Taurus 4;23 (XVI 1)
Not too surprisingly, this horoscope doesn't predict well many elements of the future: it doesn't predict his siblings correctly, or his marriages and children, and it is off by 5 years predicting his death. However it is largely correct in its portrayal of what can be expected of his character, his wealth, his social position, his activities, his friends, his journeys, and his military service. Apparently he also wasn't a good looking child, which is also aligned with the horoscope. Miliaresion This is the only coin to explicitly use this moniker (ΠORFVROG on line 2 of the reverse) and this is the first time this appears on any Byzantine coin. I find this curious, and wonder if, given its use late in his reign, perhaps this is more in support for his son Romanus II as dynastic heir rather than any reinforcement of the legitimacy of a ruler who has reigned for more than 30 years. This coin is a silver miliaresion from the "period VIII" defined by Wroth in the British Museum Collection as April AD 945- November AD 949. Also defined as Class 6 in Dumbarton Oaks Research Library (DOC), AD 945-949. The period of Constantine VII and his son Romanus II as read on the reverse.
. History There is a long calendar of events from his reign, very nicely and read-ably documented in the DOC reference. For a hyper-short summary of the historical context: in May 908 Constantine VII became co-ruler with his father Leo VI and his uncle Alexander, younger brother to Leo VI. He was about 3 years old in AD 908. He became sole ruler at the age of six when his uncle Alexander died. His mother, Zoe Karbonopsina, was regent during his first years as King.
Emperor Alexander, on his deathbed, passes imperial power to his nephew Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus In 919, Romanus Lecapenus, aka Romanus I, a naval commander, becomes commander of the palace guard and solidifies his political position by marrying his daughter Helena to the 14 year old Constantine VII. Romanus is names co-ruler a year later, and Zoe is sent sent to a monastery. Skipping quickly through a lot of drama with Romanus I's sons, Christopher, Stephen and Constantine, who can also be found on coins from this period with much to discuss about who was the most senior ruler shown on coins. By AD 945 Constantine VII is again sole emperor and elevates his six year old son by Helena, Romanus II, to co-Augustus. Constantine is known as an accomplished ruler, an important scholar and a patron of literature and art. Several of his works are available to read on Archive.org. His rule ends with his death of natural causes in Nov 959.
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, with son Romanus II. 913-959, AR Miliaresion, Constantinople mint. Struck 945-959 Obv: IESuS xRIStVS nIcA, Cross-crosslet set on three steps; globus below Rev:+ COҺST’ τ’/ ΠORFVROG,/ CЄ ROmAҺO/ ЄҺ X’ω EVSEЬ’/ Ь’ RωmEOҺ in five lines Obv Translation: Jesus Christ Victor Rev Translation: Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Romanus, by the grace of Christ, Pius, Emperors of the Romans While DOC is unequivocal:“The small lettering and the redesigned cross on the reverse make it clear that they belong to the period of Romanus II, not that of Romanus I” I am surprised that all the CNG coins of this type (e.g. this one) are listed as Romanus I - I usually trust CNG attributions, so it does make me wonder if there is more recent information or some controversy here? References:
Ioannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum, circa 1126 – 1150, Illuminated manuscript from the National Library of Spain
Wroth, W. W. (1908). Catalogue of the imperial Byzantine coins in the British Museum, British Museum Dept. of Coins and Medals, 451-467.
Boudreaux, P. (1912). Catalogus codicum astrologorum graecorum. VIII. Codicum parisinorum partem tertiam descripsit, Bruxellis, 18.
Pingree, D. (1973). The Horoscope of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 27, 217-231.
Grierson, P (1973), Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection, Volume 3, Leo III to Nicephorus III, 717–1081, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, 526-573
Wortley, J. (2010). John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811–1057: Translation and Notes, Cambridge University Press.
Whiting, P.D. (1973). Byzantine Coins, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 188-190
Wikipedia Constantine VII