Staurakios or Stauracius (Greek: Σταυράκιος; early 790s – 11 January 812 AD) was Byzantine emperor from 26 July to 2 October 811. He was born in the early 790s, probably between 791 and 793, to Nikephoros I and an unknown woman. Nikephoros seized the throne of the Byzantine Empire from Empress Irene in 802, and elevated Staurakios to co-emperor in December 803. After Nikephoros fell in the Battle of Pliska on 26 July 811, Staurakios was declared emperor, despite his severe injuries from the battle. His reign was short due to the political uncertainties surrounding his wounds, which included the severing of his spine; he was usurped by his brother-in-law, Michael I Rangabe, on 2 October 811. After being removed from power, he was sent to live in a monastery, where he stayed until he died of gangrene or poisoning on 11 January 812.
|Emperor of the Romans|
|Byzantine emperor |
(with Nikephoros I)
|Reign||25 December 803 – 26 July 811|
|Coronation||25 December 803|
|Reign||26 July – 2 October 811|
|Predecessor||Nikephoros I and Staurakios|
|Born||Early 790s AD|
|Died||11 January 812 AD|
Monastery of Braka
Monastery of Braka
|Consort||Theophano of Athens|
|Mother||Unknown woman, name sometimes given as Prokopia, possibly due to confusion with her daughter, Prokopia|
Staurakios was born in the early 790s AD, probably between 791 and 793, to Nikephoros I and an unknown woman, often referred to as Prokopia due to confusion with her daughter, Prokopia. Nikephoros was logothetēs tou genikou (finance minister) at the time of Staurakios' birth, before he revolted against Byzantine Empress Irene in 802 AD, and seized the throne for himself; Staurakios was around 10–12 years old at this time. Nikephoros consolidated power in the throne, instituted caesaropapism, and implemented strict fiscal laws. For these reasons, he was hated by many, especially the contemporary ecclesiastical historians, who are the main source of history for his reign; many modern historians, therefore, doubt their assertions of his malevolent character.
Staurakios was not given an official government position upon his father's accession to the throne, but, in the summer of 803, Bardanes Tourkos revolted against Nikephoros in the Anatolic Theme; although his revolt was put down by early September, it convinced Nikephoros to consolidate his hold on the throne by declaring Staurakios co-emperor and heir, which he did on 25 December 803. By doing so, Nikephoros removed any question of the imperial succession and increased his own legitimacy—although Staurakios, now somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13, was not yet old enough to actually exercise power.
After Staurakios' elevation to co-emperor, he is not mentioned again in the sources until 807, when Nikephoros decided that Staurakios needed to marry, and thus held an imperial bride show to select a wife on 20 December 807. Theophano of Athens was selected, likely due to the fact that she was a kinswoman of Irene, and therefore would help add legitimacy to both Nikephoros' and Staurakios' rule. According to the heavily-biased Byzantine historian Theophanes, she was chosen despite the fact that she was already engaged to a man, whom she had slept with premaritally, and was not the most beautiful of the women presented at the bride show.
After his marriage, Staurakios is not mentioned again until 811, when Nikephoros prepared his invasion of the Bulgarian Khanate in May of that year. The Bulgarians had been a serious foreign threat to the Byzantine Empire since the reign of Constantine IV (r. 668–685), who had led a disastrous invasion into their lands. Between 808 and 811, the building tension between the two powers resulted in outright warfare. Nikephoros led the campaign over the Balkan Mountains and into the Bulgarian Khanate in person alongside Staurakios, his son-in-law Michael Rhangabe, a kouropalates (high-ranking court official), and many senior Imperial officials. The invasion was initially very successful, with the Byzantine forces attacking the Bulgarian capital of Pliska, defeating first the 12,000-strong garrison of the city, and then an army of 15,000 which had been sent by the Bulgarian khan Krum to relieve the city. In correspondence sent to Constantinople, Nikephoros attributed these military victories to the strategic advice of Staurakios. The victorious Byzantine forces began to march back to the Byzantine Empire, but a desperate Krum managed to trap the Byzantine army in a small valley with palisades, before launching a massive assault two days later, on 26 July 811. This battle, known as the Battle of Pliska, resulted in a Bulgarian massacre of the Byzantine forces. Much of the Byzantine army was destroyed, and Nikephoros himself was slain.
The remaining Byzantine forces, including a severely wounded Staurakios, retreated to Adrianople over three days. Staurakios' spine had been severed during the battle, which along with Staurakios' demonstrated lack of ability, led the uninjured influential figures in the empire to consider the issue of Nikephoros' successor. Chiefly they were three who had traveled with Nikephoros and Staurakios, the magistros (Master of Offices) Theoktistos, the Domestic of the Schools Stephanos, and Michael Rhangabe. The severity of Staurakios' wounds led to speculation as to whether he would live, although eventually they judged he would make the best candidate, as the legitimate successor, and declared him emperor. Staurakios gave a speech to the surviving troops, where he insulted Nikephoros' military judgment, before being acclaimed by the army c. 28 July 811. Almost immediately after Staurakios ascended the throne, Michael was pressured to usurp it, due to the legitimacy granted to him by his marriage to Staurakios' sister, Prokopia, and his military abilities. Theoktistos and others attempted to convince Michael to take the throne, although he repeatedly refused at this time.
Staurakios was brought by litter to Constantinople. By this time, it had been discovered that he had blood in his urine, and was paralyzed from the waist down. In spite of this, Staurakios did his best to assert his imperial authority, including rebuffing the attempts of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Nikephoros I, to have funds which Nikephoros had collected returned to the church. The severity of his injury, and the lack of any children to nominate as heirs led to a debate about who would succeed him, as his impending death was considered a certainty. Staurakios' sister, Prokopia, backed her husband Michael, while Theophano backed herself, hoping to take the throne the same way her kinswoman Irene had. The only proof of such intrigues given by contemporary historians comes from records that Staurakios became hostile to Theoktistos and Michael, which would suggest he was aware of their plottings, and that he suspected Prokopia of conspiring to kill him.
Staurakios wavered between two possible options for succession. The first, to make Theophano empress, and the second, attested in a ninth-century chronicle, to institute a form of imperial democracy. The second option is considered by the Byzantine historian J. B. Bury to be the machinations of an addled brain if it did in fact happen. After hearing of the two options Staurakios was considering, Patriarch Nikephoros I aligned himself with Stephanos, Theoktistos, and Michael. Afraid of the possibility of a public uprising due to lack of an heir, Staurakios declared Theophano his successor. This decision united the chief leaders and officials of the Byzantine Empire behind Michael, as they did not desire to return to the uncertainty which had pervaded Irene's rule, due to her ruling despite being a woman.
On 1 October 811, Staurakios summoned Stephanos, whom he trusted completely, likely because Stephanos was the first to proclaim Staurakios emperor, to propose blinding Michael; Staurakios was unaware that Michael had the support of Stephanos himself. Stephanos assured Staurakios of the strength of his position, and dissuaded him from having Michael blinded, saying he was too well protected to attempt it. Stephanos, after swearing he would not reveal the discussion to anyone else, gathered the remaining tagmatic forces and important officials at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, where on 2 October Michael was proclaimed emperor by the army and senate at dawn. Upon hearing of this, Staurakios hastened to abdicate, fearing his execution otherwise. Staurakios summoned his relative, Symon the monk, and was tonsured and dressed in monastic garb. Staurakios also sent a letter of protest to Patriarch Nikephoros for his role in the coup d’état; Nikephoros answered in person, writing alongside Michael and Prokopia, and assured Staurakios that he had not betrayed him, but rather protected him. Staurakios was unimpressed and informed the Patriarch that "you will not find him (Michael) a better friend", meaning that Michael would not be more useful to Nikephoros than Staurakios himself had been. Staurakios lived another three months before dying of gangrene on 11 January 812. He was buried in the Monastery of Braka, which was given to Theophano by Prokopia.
According to the Syriac sources—the Chronicle of 813 and Michael the Syrian—and the chronicle of the Petros of Alexandria, there were rumors that Staurakios had been poisoned by his sister Prokopia, rather than dying of gangrene. Theophanes considered these rumors possible and mentions that Theophano herself considered these rumors true.
The main source for the reigns of both Nikephoros I and Staurakios is Theophanes' Chronographia, which was tainted by Theophanes' hatred of both men. Although many historians believe that both Nikephoros I and Staurakios have been falsely portrayed as malevolent, few other sources exist for their reign. Most other sources take the form of short references, which provide little insight, and include many errors, especially the Syriac Chronicle of 813. Because of the brevity of Staurakios' reign, and the weakness and bias of the sources, much of his life is unknown. Staurakios reigned only two months and eight days, and was therefore unable to leave a mark on the empire as his father had done. Hints from the Chronographia suggest that Staurakios wielded strategic understanding, and perhaps that Staurakios was as strong-willed as his father, but his character is otherwise unknown.
Both Nikephoros and Staurakios were generally successful in maintaining the borders of the Byzantine Empire, although they did not achieve much military success, occasionally being forced to make humiliating concessions to powerful enemies, such as the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid.