John I Tzimiskes (969–976)
John came to the throne by murdering his relative and predecessor Nikephoros II Phokas. Tzimiskes led a conspiracy to overthrow a ruler viewed as hostile to the interests of his fellow eastern landowners. John was acclaimed emperor and, at the demand of Patriarch Polyeuktos, banished Theophano, Nikephoros’s widow, to Prinkipio. Instead, he married Theodora, a daughter of Constantine VII, which associated him with the Macedonian dynasty; Basil II and Constantine VIII, the young sons of Romanos II, were shunted aside, with Basil appearing on just one issue of gold coins and never on seals.
John’s reign, in its bellicosity, was a natural extension of Nikephoros’s. In 971 he succeeded in expelling Svjatoslav, the prince of Kiev, from the Balkans. He extended Byzantine control further into Bulgaria during this campaign, destroying the Bulgar capital of Great Preslav, which was temporarily renamed Ioannoupolis, and capturing the Bulgarian tsar Boris. Activities on the eastern front were similarly expansive, with a Fatimid Egyptian army defeated in 970/1 near Antioch by the eunuch-general Nicholas patrikios, an incursion into Armenia in 974, and a large offensive into Syria in 975 that made John the first emperor to visit the region since Herakleios almost three hundred and fifty years earlier. Ultimately, this final offensive guaranteed a measure of security for the recently-won city of Antioch. The administration of the empire remained under the eunuch Basil Lekapenos, the parakoimomenos, who had been important at court since the reign of Constantine VII. John continued to defend the poor against the dynatoi. He greatly improved relations with the Western Empire by agreeing to the marriage alliance that Nikephoros had rejected. In 972 John's niece, Theophano, married the German emperor Otto II. John unexpectedly became ill and died in 976, leaving the government in the hands of Basil Lekapenos and the infant Basil II and Constantine VIII. There were rumors, impossible to prove, that Basil Lekapenos had poisoned John. However he died, John's early demise was a severe blow to the empire.
John's seals follow the pattern laid down by Constantine VII: the emperor is shown alone on the reverse with the inscription autokrator Romaion (sole ruler of the Romans). The obverse of John's seals are interesting for the addition of the inscription Iesus Christus rex regnantium. John, like Nikephoros, was pious and devoted to the cult of the Mother of God. On the reverse of two of John’s tokens, as well as on his gold coins, he is shown being blessed by the Mother of God.
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