Though no great statesman, Nicephorus Phocas was a general of staggering brilliance. In the service of Basil I and Constantine VII he had won great victories, and as sole military commander of the Empire, he was to build on these previous advances. After the death of Romanus II, Nicephorus claimed the throne, but was rebuffed by the civil administration. Instead he withdrew to Cappadocia, where John Tzimisces proclaimed him emperor, with the support of the army, the aristocracy (of which the Phocas was one of the major families) and the Patriarch. Shortly after his coronation he married the Empress Theophano and became regent for her infant sons, Basil and Constantine.
Nicephorus's attempts at diplomacy, especially with the Latin Otto I all failed due to his intransigence. He refused to bring peace to his borders by paying tribute to the Bulgars, instead inviting in the Russian prince Svjatoslav of Kiev to help battle them.
In the last years of his reign his financial policies were making the emperor increasingly unpopular. He himself was accused of making a personal fortune by abusing the state monopoly on the corn trade. Closer to his home, his wife Theophano has begun an affair with John Tzimisces. At her goading, John, once Nicephorus' closest ally, and some colleagues crept into the emperor's bedchamber on the night of 10th December, 969 and murdered the Emperor. The tough old soldier is recorded as putting up quite a struggle before finally being run through with a scimitar.
Ugly and ascetic, Nicephorus was never able to endear himself with the populace, nor his wife. The military conquests of Cyprus, Crete, Antioch and parts of Syria may have been acts of military genius, but they weighed heavily on the Byzantine taxpayer. His policies reflected his two natural constituencies: the army and the aristocracy.
AR miliaresion of Constantinople, 963-969, officina , g, 28mm.
Obv. +IhSySXRI SτySηIC(A*); Cross crosslet on globus above two steps; at centre, medallion of four lobes containing facing bust of Nicephorus, wearing crown with cross and pendilia and loros and short beard and dividing minute inscription n / I – C / F. Triple border with eight equally spaced globules.
Rev. +ηICHF / ЄηXωAVτO / CRAT'ЄVSЄb' / bASILЄVS / RωmAIω'; Inscription in five lines. Cross of dots beneath and triple border as on obverse.
DOC 6, SB 1781
Æ follis of Constantinople, 963-969, officina , 6.21g, 26mm, 180º.
Obv. Bust facing with short beard, wearing crown and old-style loros ornamented with pearls; he holds cruciform sceptre in right hand, and globus cruciger in left.
Rev. +ηICHF' / ЄηΘЄωbA / SILЄVSRω / mAIωη; Inscription in four lines.
Berk 944, DOC 7, SB 1783
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