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Staurakios or Stauracius (Greek: Σταυράκιος; After 778 – 11 January 812 AD) was Byzantine Emperor from 26 July to 2 October 811. He was born sometime after 778 AD, to Nikephoros I and an unknown woman. Nikephoros seized the throne of the Byzantine Empire from Irene of Athens 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. However, due to these injuries his reign was short, he was usurped by his brother-in-law, Michael I Rangabe, on 2 October 811, after which he was sent to live in a monastery, where he stayed until he died of gangrene on 11 January 812.

Emperor of the Romans
An image of a golden coin bearing the image of Staurakios
A coin minted for Staurakios
Co-Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
(With Nikephoros I)
Tenure25 December 803 – 26 July 811
Coronation25 December 803
SuccessorStaurakios (alone)
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Tenure26 July – 2 October 811
Coronation28 July
PredecessorNikephoros I and Staurakios
SuccessorMichael I
BornEarly 790s AD
DiedJanuary 11, 812 AD
Monastery of Braka
ConsortTheophano of Athens
FatherNikephoros I
Nikephorian dynasty
Nikephoros I 802–811
with Staurakios as co-emperor, 803–811
Staurakios 811
Michael I 811–813
with Theophylact as co-emperor, 811–813
Preceded by
Isaurian dynasty
Followed by
Leo V and the Amorian dynasty


Staurakios was born in the early 790s AD, probably between 791 and 793, to Nikephoros I and Procopia.[1][2][3][4] Nikephoros was a 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. He was one of the few "strong emperors" who had not previously been a general, although it is considered likely that he had some military training, because he led armies into the field. Nikephoros consolidated power towards the throne instituted caesaropapism, and 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, leading many historians to doubt their assertions of his malevolent character.[1][5] Nikephoros and Staurakios were generally successful in maintaining the borders of the Byzantine Empire, although they were not met with huge military success, occasionally being forced to make humiliating concessions to powerful enemies, such as the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid.[6][7]

Staurakios was not given an official government position upon his father's accession to the throne, however in the summer of 803, Bardanes Turcus 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 elevating Staurakios to co-emperor, which he did on 25 December 803.[1][2][8] While Staurakios, now somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13, was not yet old enough to actually exercise power, Nikephoros removed any question of the imperial succession by declaring Staurakios his co-emperor and heir, as well as increased his own legitimacy.[1]

After Staurakios' elevation to co-emperor, he is not mentioned again 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 kinsman of Irene, and therefore would help add legitimacy to both Nikephoros and Staurakios' rule. According to the heavily biased 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.[1][6][7]

After his marriage, Staurakios is not mentioned again until 811, when Nikephoros prepared his invasion of the Bulgarian Empire in May 811. The Bulgarian had been a serious foreign threat to the Byzantine Empire since the reign of Constantine IV (r 668–685), whose invasion of them ended in disaster. Between 808 and 811, the building tension between the two powers ended in outright warfare. Nikephoros led the campaign over Haemus Mons and into the Bulgarian Empire in person alongside Staurakios, his son-in-law and kouropalates Michael Rhangabe, 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 correspondences 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 massacre for the Byzantine forces, where much of the army was destroyed, and Nikephoros himself was slain.[1][6][7]


The remaining Byzantine forces retreated to Adrianople in three days, including a severely wounded Staurakios. Staurakios' spine had been severed during the battle, which along with Staurakios' lack of previous demonstrations of ability, led the three uninjured influential people who had traveled with Nikephoros and Staurakios, Magistros Theoktistos, Domestic of the Schools Stephanos, and Michael Rhangabe, to consider the issue of Nikephoros' successor. The severity of Staurakios' injury led to speculations as to whether he would live, although eventually they judged he would make the best candidate, as the legitimate successor, and declared him emperor.[1][9] Staurakios gave a speech to the surviving troops, where he insulted Nikephoros' military judgment, before being acclaimed by the army on c. 28 July 811.[1][10] 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.[11]

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 declare his heir led to debate about who would be his heir, as his impending death was considered a certainty due to the extent of his injuries.[1] Staurakios' sister, Procopia, backed her husband Michael, while Theophano backed herself, hoping to take the throne the same way her kinsman Irene had. The only proof of such intrigues given by contemporary historians is records that Staurakios became hostile to Theoktistos, and Michael, which would suggest he was aware of their plottings, and Prokopia, who he suspected of conspiring to kill him.[1][11]

As Staurakios became more and more aware that his days were numbered, he 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 to be the machinations of an addled brain if it did in fact happen. After hearing 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.[1]

On 1 September 811, Staurakios summoned Stephanos, whom he trusted wholly, likely because Stephanos was the first to proclaim Staurakios emperor, to propose blinding Michael, who Staurakios was unaware 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.[1][12][13] 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.[1][14] Staurakios summoned his relative, Symon the monk, and was tonsured and dressed in monastic garb.[1][12] Staurakios also sent a letter of protest to Patriarch Nikephoros for his role in the coup d’état; Nikephoros answered in person, 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 a better friend".[1] Staurakios lived another three months before dying of gangrene on 11 January 812, and was buried in the Monastery of Braka, which was given to Theophano by Prokopia.[1][9][15][16]

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 considers these rumors true.[4]


The main source for the reigns of both Nikephoros I and Staurakios come from 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 tend to be riddled with errors, especially the Syriac Chronicle 754–813 AD. Because of the brevity of Staurakios' reign, and the weakness and bias of the sources, much of his life is unknown.[1][5] 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.[1]


Primary sourcesEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Marsh.
  2. ^ a b Bury 2008, p. 14.
  3. ^ Bury 2008, p. 14f.
  4. ^ a b PmbZ, Staurakios (#6866/corr.).
  5. ^ a b Bury 2008, p. 9.
  6. ^ a b c Bury 2008, p. 15.
  7. ^ a b c Venning & Harris 2006, p. 234.
  8. ^ Venning & Harris 2006, p. 229.
  9. ^ a b Bury 2008, p. 16.
  10. ^ Bury 2008, p. 16f.
  11. ^ a b Bury 2008, p. 17.
  12. ^ a b Bury 2008, p. 18.
  13. ^ Venning & Harris 2006, p. 235.
  14. ^ Bury 2008, pp. 18–19.
  15. ^ Bury 2008, p. 21.
  16. ^ Lawler 2011, p. 240.


  • Bury, J. B. (2008). History of the Eastern Empire from the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil: A, Parts 802–867. New York: Cosimo, Inc. ISBN 9781605204215.
  • Lawler, Jennifer (2011). Encyclopedia of the Byzantine Empire. McFarland. ISBN 9781476609294.
  • Lilie, Ralph-Johannes; Ludwig, Claudia; Pratsch, Thomas; Zielke, Beate (2013). "Staurakios". Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit Online. Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Nach Vorarbeiten F. Winkelmanns erstellt (in German). Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter.
  • Marsh, Matthew (2013). "Staurakios (A. D. 811)". De Imperatoribus Romanis. Archived from the original on 1 August 2019. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  • Venning, Timothy; Harris, Jonathan (2006). A Chronology of the Byzantine Empire. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780230505865.

External linksEdit

Born: After 778 Died: 11 January 812
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Nikephoros I
Byzantine Emperor
26 July 811 – 2 October 811
Succeeded by
Michael I