John I Tzimisces
Emperor,  969 - 976, 
"I acknowledge two powers in this life: the priesthood and the Empire; the Creator of the world has entrusted to the former the cure of souls, to the latter the care of bodies. If neither part is damaged, the well-being of the world is secure."
John I  as attributed by Leo the Deacon 
AV nomisma of Constantinople, 969-976, 4.41g, 22mm.
Obv. +IhSXISRЄXRЄςNANTIηm; Bust of Christ Pantocrator, bearded, with cross having two pellets in the arms of the cross nimbate. He raises His right hand in benediction; in left, holds Gospels.
Rev. +ΘЄOTOC’bOHΘ'IωδЄSP; Facing busts of the Virgin nimbate, on right, with John, with short beard, on left. He holds long patriarchal cross between them. The Virgin wears stola and maphorium, crowns the emperor with her right hand; above her head, MT; John wears loros and above his head is the manus Dei.
Berk 282, DOC 3, Sear 1785

Though emperor for only a relatively short period, the Armenian general John Tzimisces accomplished much. He continued the impressive successes of his predecessor, Nicephorus II Phocas, and prepared the way for the brilliant Basil II. John came to power through the machinations of his mistress, and the wife of Nicephorus, Theophano. Excellent as Nicephorus may have been on the battlefield, his wife wanted someone younger and better looking. (This beautiful, pleasure-loving, daughter of a wine-merchant's first husband had, after all, been the outstandingly handsome Romanus II.) And so she arranged for John, who had formerly been Nicephorus' staunchest ally, and his aristocratic allies to assassinate him in his bedchamber on the night of 10th December, 969.

Theophano was to be disappointed in her plans for marrying the new emperor. The Patriarch Polyeuctes demanded John commit penance, punish his cohorts, and expel Theophano from the palace. Only when he had submitted to all the Patriarch's demands was he admitted to enter a church and be crowned. These events show the extent of the patriarchate's power in Byzantium, (though Christianity did not hold complete sway: Matthew of Edessa reports John had a liasion with a Muslim of lady of Amida.) John made a political marriage, taking as his wife Theodora, the daughter of Constantine VII, and aunt of the young emperors Basil and Constantine. John is described as handsome with dark-blond hair, a red beard and piercing blue eyes, though his surname refers to his short stature.

Nicephorus had invited the Russian strongman Svjatoslav into the Balkans to help fight the Bulgars, but with Nicephorus' death the Russian soon proved himself a loose cannon on Imperial soil. In April, 971 John stormed Svjatoslav's base, the Bulgarian capital of Preslav, and won a decisive victory. His triumphal return to Constantinople is pictured above. With the west secure, John turned his attention to the east. Here he continued Nicephorus' work, pushing back the Arabs and capturing Beirut. The Byzantine chronicles claim he penetrated into Palestine (though he did not take Jerusalem), but contemporary Arab writers make no mention of this.

On his return to the capital in early 976 John came down with typhoid, and on the 10th January he died. It has been speculated that it was poison rather than disease that ended this great general's life.


There are no bronze coins bearing either John Tzimisces' image or name. It was under his reign that we see the commencement of the anonymous bronze coinage which was to predominate for almost a century. Fortunately, the silver and gold coinage continued to use portraiture.
None of the coins of John's reign make any reference to his titular colleagues, Basil and Constantine.
Constantinople
AV nomisma of Constantinople, 969-976, 4.41g, 22mm.
Obv. +IhSXISRЄXRЄςNANTIηm; Bust of Christ Pantocrator, bearded, with cross having two pellets in the arms of the cross nimbate. He raises His right hand in benediction; in left, holds Gospels.
Rev. +ΘЄOTOC’bOHΘ'IωδЄSP; Facing busts of the Virgin nimbate, on right, with John, with short beard, on left. He holds long patriarchal cross between them. The Virgin wears stola and maphorium, crowns the emperor with her right hand; above her head, MT; John wears loros and above his head is the manus Dei.
Berk 282, DOC 3, Sear 1785
AR miliaresion of Constantinople, 969-976, 2.28g, 22mm, 180º. Clipped.
Obv.  +IhSγSXRI SτγSηICA*;  Cross crosslet on globus above two steps; at centre, circular medallion containing facing bust of John., with short beard, wearing crown with cross and loros and dividing the inscription I / ω - A / n; triple border ornamented with eight equally spaced globules.
Rev.  +IωAηη' / ЄηXωAVτO / CRAT'ЄVSЄb' / bASILЄVS / RωmAIω';  Five dot cross above and beneath; triple border, as obverse; much of first and second and all third border clipped.
DOC 7a, Sear 1792
Last modified on 06 Apr 2014