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Nikephoros I › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 02 February 2018
Nikephoros I Captured by Krum (Unknown Artist)
Nikephoros I ruled as emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 802 to 811 CE. A former finance minister who did much to improve the state economy, Nikephoros was not particularly popular with the empire ’s overtaxed peasants and overregulated merchants. Initially successful in his foreign affairs when he won victories in the Balkans, he then faced a rebellion in Asia Minor in 806 CE and subsequent losses to the Abbasid Caliphate. The emperor was killed on the battlefield fighting in Bulgaria, and his skull was infamously made into a silver -lined drinking cup by his nemesis the Bulgar Khan Krum.


Irene the Athenian (r. 797-802 CE) had been the first-ever woman to rule as Byzantine emperor in her own right. The wife of Leo IV (r. 775-780 CE) and regent for her young son Constantine VI from 780-790 CE, Irene took sole power in 797 CE after enduring the ignominy of exile following her insistence she should rule above her son no matter what age he reached.However, her proposed marriage alliance with Charlemagne, king of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans in the west, was a step too far for the Byzantine establishment and she was deposed and exiled for the second time in October 802 CE.Nikephoros, the chief finance minister ( logothetes tou genikou ) under Irene, was selected as the new emperor.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his former ministerial role, Nikephoros quickly set about putting the Byzantine economy on a sounder footing after the chaotic years of Irene's reign. For some time the state coffers had been less full than they ought to have been because of inefficiencies in tax collection and Irene giving out too many tax privileges to all and sundry. Accordingly, the tax rolls were reassessed and new land taxes imposed. There was a new tax, the hearth tax ( kapnikon ), which was payable by all peasant tenants who worked on land owned by churches and monasteries. Another burden was the obligation of all villages to finance the military arms and equipment of those community members who could not afford to do so themselves. The village was also expected to pay the tax arrears of its poorer inhabitants, too.


Other taxes included duties on imported goods, notably on slaves bought from outside the empire. The duties were relatively easy to collect as the state controlled most of the access points open to merchants. Traders were also hit by a ban on private loans, and shipowners could only raise money through the state, which charged 17% interest (the usual being below 6%).Finally, a tax on inheritance was introduced. It seemed that having an accountant as an emperor had its consequences.
As one might expect, Nikephoros' taxes were not very popular, especially with the Church who not only suffering under them itself also saw them as an unnecessary burden on an already impoverished peasantry. Monasteries were targeted, especially, and their property was often confiscated or they were compelled to host army units unpaid. One of the chief voices in the protests was Theophanes the Confessor (dc 818 CE) who wrote his Chronographia history on the period, which predictably, contains an unflattering section on Nikephoros' reign.
Gold Coin of Nikephoros I

Gold Coin of Nikephoros I

The Church was not pleased with the emperor's choice for the important position of Patriarch (bishop) of Constantinopleeither. Confusingly selecting his namesake, the scholarly layman Nikephoros I (r. 806-815 CE), the new bishop's support of the second marriage of Constantine VI (r. 780-797 CE) in 795 CE, which had created the Moechian controversy over whether an emperor should remarry, set off yet another round of heated debate and conflict between elements of the Church and the emperor. Nikephoros the bishop had called a synod of clerics and laymen in 806 CE, which recognised the marriage and pardoned Joseph, the priest who had performed the ceremony. Especially unhappy were the monks and followers of Theodore of Stoudios, who had been persecuted for opposing the marriage at the time. The issue would only be resolved when emperor Michael I (r. 811-813 CE) exiled Joseph and recalled Theodore and his followers from exile in 811 CE.
Still, despite these controversies, the emperor's tax reforms did achieve their aim and the state was in a much healthier financial situation than under his predecessors. The army and navy could be paid for and expanded, and the fortifications of Constantinople could be improved too. The empire was further bolstered by the movement of loyal settlers from Asia Minor to Greece, improved defences in Greece and the creation of new military provinces ( themes ) across the Balkans. These provinces were Thrace, Macedonia, Kephalonia, Dyrrachium, and Thessalonike, with Thessalonica as its capital.


Having improved the military muscle at his disposal, Nikephoros set about using it to good effect. Victories came against the Slavs in the Peloponnese and Serdica region of Bulgaria. A minor skirmish with Charlemagne and the Franks over Venice was settled by a peace treaty in 807 CE, although another naval encounter occurred in 810 CE when the doge Oblerius proved disloyal to Byzantine rule.
The Byzantine Empire in the mid-9th century CE

The Byzantine Empire in the mid-9th century CE

The Bulgars, unified and led by their charismatic Khan Krum (rc 802-814 CE) were now proving particularly troublesome. In 808 CE Krum wiped out a Byzantine army near the river Strymon, and in 809 CE he did the same to the Byzantine garrison at Sofia. He also managed to seize the treasure chest of the army containing 80,000 gold coins. Nikephoros responded admirably to these blows by assembling a large revenge force and sacking the Bulgar capital at Pliska in 810 CE, and again in 811 CE when men, women, and children were mercilessly butchered. The fortress at Sofia was also rebuilt.


Elsewhere was a different story, though. In 803 CE a serious revolt was led by Bardanes Tourkos, a military commander of five provinces in Asia Minor. The revolt only lasted a month and ended when some commanders switched their support back to the emperor and Bardanes Tourkos retired to a monastery.
A consequence of the Tourkos revolt was that it weakened Byzantine control of Asia Minor, a situation fully exploited by Harun al-Rashid (r. 789-809 CE), leader of the Abbasid Caliphate based in Baghdad, who seized Tyana and Herakleia at the Cilician Gates in 806 CE. A peace between the two states was only achieved in 807 CE and that at the cost of a hefty tribute from Nikephoros to his rival: 30,000 gold nomisma coins per annum.
Khan Krum of the Bulgars

Khan Krum of the Bulgars

Even more disastrous was the ongoing campaign against the Bulgars. After the resounding successes mentioned above the fortunes of the Byzantines nose-dived spectacularly. Nikephoros and his army were ambushed near Pliska on 25 July 811 CE.The Bulgars had waited until dark and then, using wooden palisades, blocked both the entrance and exit to a narrow mountain pass in which the Byzantines had camped for the night. The next morning the Byzantine army was trapped and all but wiped out by sword, fire and landslides set off by the Bulgars. Many of the top Byzantine generals were killed in the disaster, and even those few cavalry that managed to escape the debacle were pursued until they fell into a ravine and drowned in the river below.
Most calamitous of all, Nikephoros was killed in the battle, the first Byzantine ruler to suffer such a fate at the hands of foreigners for over 400 years. His body was identified by its purple boots and brought before Krum who had the head cut off and placed on a spike for a few days. Infamously, Krum then had Nikephoros' skull inlaid with silver and converted into a drinking cup which he and his allies used to toast their victory. The Bulgar leader was even said to have kept his souvenir and to have forced visiting ambassadors from Constantinople to drink from it whenever the opportunity arose.


In 811 CE Nikephoros was succeeded by his son and heir Staurakios (aka Stavrakios). Unfortunately for the empire, Staurakios had been seriously wounded in the very same battle in which his father had been killed. The young emperor succumbed to his wounds only two months after inheriting his title. Next to step up was Michael I Rangabe, husband of Staurakios' sister Prokopia and who was backed by the Patriarch Nikephoros, but he would only last two years. In that brief time, the emperor did manage a peace with Charlemagne in the west and a return of Byzantine possessions on the Adriatic coast. Once more, though, the troublesome Bulgars were responsible for an imperial change when they defeated Michael's army in 813 CE. Obliged to abdicate after the debacle, Leo V the Armenian, a prominent general, then took the throne in the same year. He would bring a measure of much-needed stability and reign until 820 CE.

Marcus Gavius Apicius › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by John Horgan
published on 10 November 2017
Apicius (Alexis Soyer)
Marcus Gavius Apicius, a wealthy and educated member of the Roman elite who lived during the reign of Emperor Tiberius(14-37 CE), is famous for his love of food and a cookbook titled De Re Coquinaria ( The Art of Cooking ). He was a model gourmand who organized and held extravagant dinner parties, and scholars have suggested that he was provided money by the Roman government to feed and entertain foreign dignitaries. These elaborate affairs offered Apicius and the government the opportunity to showcase the finest Roman cuisine.
Described by Tertullian as “the patron saint of cooks,” ( On the Soul, 33) Apicius is credited with writing two cookbooks: one of general recipes; the other a book on sauces. Neither book has survived. He established a cooking school and served as an inspiration to a whole host of later cooking schools. His life spent studying, acquiring and consuming food created one part of his legacy which is now associated with anyone who loves high quality and expensive food. However, his food extravagances eventually drained his household revenues, thus jeopardizing his ability to maintain his luxurious culinary lifestyle and causing Apicius to become distraught and commit suicide.



In ancient Roman society, the food consumed by the elites was prepared by cooks who were slaves. While not a cook himself, Apicius earned his reputation as a gourmand not only for his sumptuous feasts but also for his knowledge of food. His skills focused on the areas of animal husbandry, crops and produce production. He knew about the best, most extravagant foodstuffs but also the location of the desired ingredients, and the expanse of the Roman Empire provided Apicius with a wide range of foods and tastes.
Dinner ( cena ) was a more formal affair consisting of three courses with no limit on the number of dishes offered for each course. The first course ( gustatio ) consisted of appetizers, especially those which included eggs. The main course ( mensae primae ) included dishes of meats, fish and stews. The dessert course ( mensae secundae ) offered fruits, nuts and cakes. It was these cena recipes which were collected and published in Apicius's De Re Coquinaria.
Roman Banquet Fresco
Roman Banquet Fresco
The Romans' willingness to adopt and integrate foreign food customs created the first truly international cuisine. However, the growing luxury of Roman recipes and meals served as an early indicator of the moral decay of the empire challenging the “…widely held belief that Rome ’s greatness was built upon an austere frugality,” according to Roy Strong ( Feast, 19). Despite Rome's growing extravagance with regard to better quality foods, the typical Roman breakfast and lunch remained quite simple consisting chiefly of water, bread, cheese, fruits and leftovers. Dinner was a separate matter and it was at this meal that Apicius demonstrated his gourmet tastes.


Apicius is credited with writing the only surviving cookbook of the Greco-Roman world, although some scholars argue that there is little connection between Apicius and the cookbook. Consensus among researchers suggests that the recipes came from his household's cooks. De Re Coquinaria contains nearly 500 recipes; how many of those recipes can be directly linked to Apicius remains open to debate. The whole book consists of ten individual books arranged according to the type of food to be prepared. The earliest surviving editions of the cookbook date back to the 9 th century CE and are held by the Vatican and the New York Academy of Medicine in New York City.
Asparagus, Roman Mosaic

Asparagus, Roman Mosaic

The recipes in De Re Coquinaria are not written with the home cook in mind but instead composed for trained, experienced chefs. Recipes account for 90% of the entire work although unlike modern recipes, these ancient instructions provide no amounts and few instructions on how to actually prepare the dishes.
The lack of instructions in the recipes is highlighted by the following recipe for roasted wild boar:
Boar is cooked like this: sponge it clean and sprinkle with salt and roast cumin. Leave to stand. The following day, roast it in the oven. When it is done, scatter with ground pepper and pour on the juice of the boar, honey, liquamen, caroenum, and passum. (330).
The remaining 10% of the cookbook highlights presentation techniques as well as - ironically - remedies for stomach aches.
Mushrooms, Roman Mosaic

Mushrooms, Roman Mosaic

While not all of the recipes result in an exotic dish many do. The recipes demonstrate the inclusion of local ingredients but primarily ingredients from faraway places many of which were quite expensive and lavish: birds (eg ostrich, peacock, crane), animals (eg boar, goat, hare), various internal organs (eg brains, lungs, stomach), lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts dominate the ingredient lists. For example, the following is a recipe for flamingo in spiced date sauce:
Scald the flamingo, wash and dress it, put it in a pot, add water, salt, dill, and a little vinegar to be parboiled.Finish cooking with a bunch of leeks and coriander, and add some reduced must [grape juice] to give it color. In the mortar crush pepper, cumin, coriander, laser root, mint, rue, moisten with vinegar, add dates, and the fond [drippings] of the braised bird, thicken, strain, cover the bird with the sauce and serve. (6.231).
Roman Mosaic

Roman Mosaic

Multiple seasonings, sometimes as many as ten per dish, mixed with a variety of main ingredients often result in a finished product similar to the modern casserole. Nearly all of the recipes include some type of sauce chiefly to mask the flavors of the ingredients. Garum, a fish-based sauce that was extremely salty and pungent, was used in all of Apicius' recipes. Regardless of the final outcome the recipes reflect a Mediterranean palate from areas such as Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. Look.
The work as a whole reflects the Roman empire at its height: the extravagance and luxury of a society and culture enjoying, quite literally, the fruits of conquest. Especially amongst wealthy Romans, food and cooking allowed them to put on display how really rich they were as well as the status of friends and acquaintances whose company they enjoyed when they held luxurious banquets and meals. Conspicuous consumption, here showcased by Apicius, characterized upper-class Roman society, and its expensive meats, the use of slave cooks and the varieties of foreign ingredients demonstrated the class differences of ancient Rome.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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