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Stauracius (A. D. 811)

Matthew Marsh
Sul Ross State University

Reigning only two months following the annihilation of the imperial army under Nicephorus I in Bulgaria, Stauracius has one of the shortest reigns in the history of the Byzantine Empire.  We possess very little information about the life or reign of Stauracius.  What little information we have comes from Theophanes, the main chronicler of the period, whose hatred of Nicephorus has led Stauracius to have a similarly negative portrayal to that of his father in Theophanes’ Chronographia.[[1]]The account in Theophanes is slightly supplemented by short references in other literary sources of the period, but these tend to be very short, basic and, particularly in the Syriac works, wrong.[[2]]Because of this Stauracius remains a rather shadowy figure in the history of the period.

Early Life

Stauracius was the son of the Emperor Nicephorus I and his wife Procopia and was born sometime in the early 790s, possibly in the same time period that Nicephorus became Irene’s Chief Logotheate in charge of finance for the empire.[[3]] Stauracius was approximately 10-12 years old when Nicephorus launched his successful coup d’état in A.D. 802.[[4]]At first he would have no official position in his father’s government until, during the late summer of A.D. 803, the rebellion of Bardanes Turcus broke out in the Anatoliac theme.[[5]]  While Turcus’s rebellion failed by early September, Nicephorus decided to move quickly to make his hold on the throne more secure.  To this end Nicephorus had Stauracius crowned as co-emperor on Christmas Day A.D. 803.[[6]] While Stauracius would not take an active part in Nicephorus’s government at this time, his coronation would end any questions about the succession and make it harder for any potential usurper to gain the throne.

There is then no mention of Stauracius until A.D. 807, at which time Nicephorus, having decided that his son needed to be married, held an imperial bride show in order to pick a wife for his son.  On December 20thNicephorus chose Theophano, a relative of the late Empress Irene, to marry Stauracius.  Theophano was chosen in spite of the fact that, according to Theophanes, she was engaged to another man whom she had already slept with and she was not the most beautiful of those in the show.[[7]]

Stauracius does not appear again in the historical record until the launch of Nicephorus’s ill-fated Bulgarian campaign in May of A.D. 811.[[8]]  The Bulgars had been a major foreign policy concern of the Empire since the days of Constantine IV, whose campaign against them ended disastrously, and between A.D. 808 - 811 the simmering hostilities between the two powers had erupted into open warfare.[[9]] Nicephorus led the campaign in person with Stauracius, Michael I Rhangabe, his son-in-law [and a future emperor], and a large collection of senior dignitaries from the Imperial court in tow.  The campaign was initially very successful as the army struck at the Bulgarian capital Pliska, overwhelmed its 12,000-strong garrison and then defeated an army of some 15,000 the Bulgarian Khan Krum had sent to relieve the city[[10]]  In his messages back to Constantinople Nicephorus attributed victory to the military advice of Stauracius.[[11]] However, on the return march a desperate Krum trapped the Byzantine army in a small valley with palisades and two days later launched a massive attack.  In the ensuing battle Nicephorus was killed and most of the army cut to pieces.[[12]]  Stauracius suffered a grievous wound to the spine, but was evacuated successfully from the battlefield to Adrianople.[[13]]

Reign and Death

Roughly three days after the battle the main survivors had been gathered at Adrianople.  While Stauracius was by law Nicephorus’s heir, the severity of his injury meant that the succession was in doubt.  Some of the officials pressed Michael Rhangabe, Stauracius’s brother-in-law who had escaped the battle unscathed, to let them proclaim him emperor.  Rhangabe refused and Stauracius received the support of the senior surviving military commander, Stephan, the domestic of the scholae.[[14]]  Stauracius was just strong enough to be able to address the surviving troops and spoke out against Nicephorus’s judgment.  The army then acclaimed him as emperor, on or about July 28.[[15]]

By the time Stauracius returned to Constantinople by litter he found that there was blood in his urine and that he was paralyzed from the waist down.  Though Stauracius did what he could to assert his authority, rebuffing the Patriarch Nicephorus in his attempt to get the Emperor to return the large sums of money that the Emperor Nicephorus had collected, as his condition became known to the officials around him it became a question of not if he would die, but only when.  Stauracius and Theophano did not have any children of their own so the question of the succession became the burning question of the day.

Stauracius’s sister Procopia backed her husband Michael Rhangabe, but Theophano, attempting to follow in the Empress Irene’s footsteps, wanted to succeed him as a ruling Empress.  Fearing the possibility of mob violence as his health deteriorated Stauracius finally decided to make Theophano his successor.[[16]] This decision succeeded in uniting the chief officials of the Empire, in spite of their major differences, as none wanted the uncertainty that had accompanied Irene when she ruled.  The Patriarch Nicephorus, the domestic of the Scholae Stephan and the magister Theoctistus agreed to back Stauracius’s brother-in-law Michael Rhangabe as Emperor.

On the night of October 1st Stauracius, perhaps getting wind of part of the plot, summoned the domestic Stephan and asked him if it were possible to have Michael brought to the palace and blinded.  Stephan convinced him that Michael was too well defended to attempt such an act.  After promising Stauracius to tell no one of their conversation Stephan proceeded to assemble what was left of the tagmatic troops and key civil servants in the Hippodrome.  There at dawn on October 2nd Michael Rhangabe was proclaimed the new Emperor.[[17]] Hearing the acclamation from the palace Stauracius immediately realized what had happened and summoned his kinsman Symon and accepted tonsure and the monk’s habit.  He also sent a strong protest to the Patriarch Nicephorus over his role in the coup d’état that the Patriarch answered in person, along with Michael I Rhangabe and his wife.  The patriarch counseled Stauracius that they had acted thus not out of treachery, but out of fear for his life.  Stauracius, unimpressed, informed the patriarch that “you will not find him a better friend.”  In considerable agony, Stauracius would live another three months before dying on January 11, 812 of putrefaction in his wound.[[18]]


Reigning only two months and eight days, Stauracius did not rule long enough to make the mark on the Empire that his father had.  Due to his youth, and the fact that even as co-emperor from A. D. 803-811 he existed in Nicephorus’s shadow, we know next to nothing about his abilities or strengths.  While entries in Theophanes’ Chronographia give hints that Stauracius perhaps had some tactical & strategic skills, and certainly perhaps a measure of the will that Nicephorus employed, they do not provide a complete picture of Stauracius as a person.  Therefore he remains a brief shadowy figure in the history of the Empire.

Bibliography: Primary Sources

Bar Hebraeus, Gregorius. The Chronography of Gregory Abu’l Faraj. In VolumeI. Translation: E. A. W. Budge. LondonUKOxfordUniversity Press, 1932.

The Chronicle of 811. Ed. I. Dujcev, “La Chronique byzantine de l’an 811.” In Travaux et Mémoires I (1965) (205-254) Partial translation with commentary: Paul Stephenson (210-16) 2003[assessed 8 June 2013 at http://www.paulstephenson.info/trans/scriptor1.html]

Genesios. Regum Libri Quattuor as On the Reigns of the Emperors. Byzantina Australiensia 11. Translated with Commentary: Anthony Kaldellis. Canberra , AUS: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1998.

John Scylitzes. Synopsis historion as A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811-1057. Introduction, Text & Notes Translated: John Wortley. CambridgeUK:CambridgeUniversity Press, 2010.

Michaelis Pselli. Historia Synomos. Corpus Fontium Historae Byzantinae Vol. 30 Series Berolinensis. Translated with Commentary: W. J. Aerts. Berlin, DE: Walter de Gruyter, 1990.

Michael the Syrian. Chronique de Michel le Syrien. Vol. III Translated: J. B. Chabot. (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905.)

Nikephoros. Breviarium Historicum.As An Eyewitness to History: The Short History of Nikephoros Our Holy Father Patriarch of Constantinople. Translation: N. Tobias and A. Santoro. Commentary: N. Tobias. Brookline, MA: Hellenic College Press, 1989.

A Syriac Fragment: The Chronicle of 754-813 A. D.  Syriac Text and English translation: E. W. Brooks In Zeitschrift für deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 54, 1900. (195-230) 

Theophanes. The Chronicle of Theophanes: An English translation of anni mundi 6095-6305 (A.D. 602-813). Translated with Commentary: H. N. Turtledove. PhiladelphiaUniversity of Philadelphia, 1982.

Bibliography: Modern Works

Anastos, Milton V. “Iconoclasm and Imperial Rule 717-842" In TheCambridge Medieval History Vol. IV: The Byzantine Empire (Part I: Byzantium and its Neighbours.) Ed. J. M. Hussey. CambridgeUK:CambridgeUniversity Press, 1966.

Browning, Robert. “Byzantine Foreign Policy and the Bulgarian State, Seventh to Tenth Century” In Studies in Hounour of T.B.L. Webster, edited by J.H. Betts and others, I. Bristol, UK: Bristol Classical Press, 1986. (pp. 23-32)

Bury, J. B. A History of the Eastern Roman Empire: From the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I (A.D. 802-867).LondonUK: Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1912.

______. A History of the Later Roman Empire: From Arcadius to Irene (A.D. 395-800)LondonUK: Macmillan and Co. LTD, 1889. 

Christophilopoulou, Aikaterina. Byzantine History, Volume II 2nd Edition Translated: Timothy Cullen. Amsterdam [NL]: Adolf M. Hakkert Publisher, 1993.

Fouracre, Paul Ed. The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume I c. 500-700. Cambridge
[UK]: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2006
Grierson, Philip . “The Tombs and Obits of the Byzantine Emperors.” In Dumbarton Oaks Papers 16. Washington D. C.: DumbartonOaksCenter for Byzantine Studies, 1963.
Hussey, J. M. Ed. The Cambridge Medieval History Vol. IV: The Byzantine Empire (Part I: Byzantium and its Neighbours.)CambridgeUK:CambridgeUniversity Press, 1966.
Kaegi, Walter Emil. Byzantine Military Unrest, 471-843: An InterpretationAmsterdam, NL: Adolf M. Hakkert - Publisher, 1981.
Kazhdan, Alexander  Ed.  The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. 3 Vol. New YorkOxfordUniversity Press, 1991.
Louth, Andrew. “The Byzantine empire in the seventh century” In The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume I c. 500-700. Ed. Paul Fouracre. (Cambridge [UK]:CambridgeUniversity Press, 2006), 291-316 
Niavis, Pavlos E. The Reign of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I (A.D. 802-811) Historical Monographs 3. Athens, GR: Historical Publications St. D. Basilopoulos, 1987.
Obolensky, Dimitri. “The Empire and Its Northern Neighbours: 565-1018” In The Cambridge Medieval History Vol. IV: The Byzantine Empire (Part I: Byzantium and its Neighbours.). Ed. J.M. Hussey. CambridgeUK:CambridgeUniversity Press, 1966. pp. 473-485.
Prosography of the Byzantine Empire I (641-867) [CD-Rom] Ed. John Martindale. LondonUK: Ashgate, 2001.
Runciman, Steven. A History of the First Bulgarian EmpireLondonUK: G. Bell & Sons LTD, 1930.\
Shepard, Jonathon  “Slavs and Bulgers” In The New Cambridge Medieval History: Vol. II c. 700-900. Ed. Rosamond McKittrick.CambridgeUKCambridgeUniversity Press, 1995.


Sophoulis, Panos. Byzantium and Bulgaria, 775-831. East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages 450-1450 Volume XVI. Leiden, NL: Brill, 2012.

Treadgold, Warren. The Historicity of the Imperial Bride-shows” Jahrbuch Der Osterreichischen Byzantinistik Vol. 54 (2004), 39-52.

______. The Byzantine Revival 780-842. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988.)

______. “The Bride-Shows of the Byzantine Emperors” In ByzantionVol. 49 (1979), 395-413


[[1]]Theophanes. A. M. 6296, 6300 & 6303-6304
[[2]]Bar Hebraeus 136; The Chronicle of 811. 210-16; Historia Synomos 83, 85; Scylitzes.;  Michael the Syrian. 493-494; A Syriac Fragment229-230. See Staurakios 2 in Prosography of the Byzantine Empire I (641-867) [CD-Rom] Ed. John Martindale. (LondonUK: Ashgate, 2001.) for full listing of textual and sigillographic sources.  See Treadgold (1988), 387-390 for a concise discussion of the sources for this period, particularly 388 for Michael the Syrian. For a discussion on The Chronicle of 811 see Sophoulis, 23-26.
[[3]]. Treadgold 129
[[4]]Grierson 55; Treadgold (1988) 129
[[5]]. For Bardanes rebellion see: Genesios 1.6 & 1.7; Theophanes A. M. 6295 also Bury (1912), 10-13; Kaegi, 245-247; Niavis, 61-62 & Treadgold (1988), 131-132
[[6]]. On the end of Bardanes’ rebellion see: Genesios 1.7; Theophanes A. M. 6295 also Bury (1912) 12-13; Kaegi 246-247; Niavis 64 & Treadgold 132. For coronation of Stauracius see:
Theophanes A. M. 6296 also Anastos 91; Bury 14; Niavis 64 & Treadgold (1988), 134
[[7]]. Theophanes A. M. 6300 also Bury (1912), 14; ODB Staurakios 1945-1946; Treadgold (1988), 152-153 & Treadgold (1979) 401-402.  Note that the author of the ODB entry on Staurakios states that “he raped two beautiful girls.”  This is an inaccurate reading of the discussion in Theophanes A. M. 6300 discussion of the bride-show which states that Nicephorus chose the two girls, more beautiful than Theophano, and openly debauched with them.  See either the Turtledove or Mango/Scott translations of Theophanes’ Chonographia. On the political reasoning behind the Imperial Bride-shows see Treadgold (2004), 50 & Treadgold (1979), 410-413. On the issue of the historicity of the Imperial Brides-shows and for a review of the dissenting literature see: Treadgold (2004), particularly 41-42 and 48-52.
[[8]]. Theophanes A. M. 6303
[[9]]. On Constantine IV’s campaign see: Nikephoros 25-26; Theophanes A. M. 6171 also Browning 24-25; Bury (1889), 333-334; Christophilopoulou 80-82; Louth 301; Obolensky 484; Runciman 26-27.  On Bulgar/Byzantine relations during the reign of Nikephoros I see: Theophanes A. M. 6301 also Anastos 93; Browning 29; Bury (1912), 340-341; Christophilopoulou 211-13; Niavis 228, 230-31; Runciman 52-55; Shepard 233-34; Sophoulis 180-183, 186-191; Treadgold (1988), 157-58.
[[10]].  Bar Hebraeus 135-136; The Chronicle of 811, 210, 212-216; Michael the Syrian 490; Theophanes A. M. 6303 also Anastos 94; Bury (1912), 343-344; Christophilopoulou 213; Niavis 235-243; Runciman 55-56; Shepard 235; Sophoulis 192-207; Treadgold (1988), 169-172;
[[11]]. Theophanes A. M. 6303
[[12]]. Bar Hebraeus 135-136; The Chronicle of 811. 210-216; Michael the Syrian 490; Theophanes A. M. 6303 also Anastos 94; Browning 29; Bury (1912), 344-45; Christophilopoulou 213-214; Niavis 237-243; Obolensky 490; Runciman 56-57; Shepard 235; Sophoulis  208-211; Treadgold (1988), 172-174;
[[13]]. Bar Hebraeus 135-136; The Chronicle of 811. 216; Historia Synomos 83 Michael the Syrian 490; Theophanes A. M. 6303 also Bury (1912), 16; Christophilopoulou, 214; ODB Staurakios, 1946; Runciman, 57-58; Sophoulis 211-216; Treadgold (1988), 174
[[14]]. Theophanes A. M. 6303 also Bury (1912),16-17; Christophilopoulou, 215; ODB Staurakios, 1946; Treadgold (1988), 175
[[15]]A Syriac Fragment,229-230; Theophanes A. M. 6303 also Sophoulis, 217; Treadgold (1988), 175
[[16]]Historia Synomos 83 ; Theophanes A. M. 6303 also Bury (1912), 17-18; Christophilopoulou, 215-16; ODB Staurakios, 1946; Sophoulis, 217; Treadgold (1988), 176. [Note: The conjecture put forth by Bury that Stauracius possibly intended to turn the Empire into a democracy has been proven to be an incorrect reading of a passage in Theophanes AM 6303. See Christophilopoulou, 215-16 n. 38 for details.]
[[17]]. Theophanes A. M. 6303 also Bury (1912), 18-20; Christophilopoulou, 216; ODB Staurakios, 1946; Sophoulis, 217; Treadgold (1988), 176
[[18]]. Bar Hebraeus 136; The Chronicle of 811, 216; Historia Synomos, 83-85; Michael the Syrian, 493; A Syriac Fragment,230; Theophanes A. M. 6304 also Bury (1912), 20; Christophilopoulou, 216; ODB Staurakios, 1946; Treadgold (1988), 176-177 Please note that while Bar Hebraeus, the Historia Synomos, Michael the Syrian and the Syriac fragment all record the death of Stauracius, their stated cause, and the immediate events prior, are all rather inaccurate.  The Chronicle of 811 makes the mistake of saying that Stauracius died after reigning two months, rather than almost six months after the battle.


Copyright (C) 2013, Matthew Marsh. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.
Comments to: Matthew Marsh

Updated:2 November 2013

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