the heart and stomach of a man

Susan Wise Bauer, whose book The History of the Ancient World I have quoted here so often is now working on a history of the Middle Ages. This is from her most recent blog post:

Zoe, in a doodle on a Byzantine manuscript

After a stupefyingly long time, I have emerged from slogging through the details of the tenth century and am on to chronicling the eleventh. Now I’m getting into some REALLY extraordinary behavior … such as that of the Empress Zoe, who in 1034, at the age of 56, was widowed when her husband, the Byzantine emperor Romanos III, conveniently drowned in his bathtub. Zoe was less than crushed; she had only married him on her father’s orders anyway (her father had forced Romanos to divorce his own wife and marry Zoe instead). On the same day that Romanos III died, Zoe married her lover, the twenty-four-year-old palace chamberlain Michael. He then became Emperor Michael IV.

However, Zoe hadn’t been long married when she developed a crush on another young man, a court official named Constantine Monomachos, twelve years younger than she.

Michael IV was annoyed enough by this to exile Constantine to a distant island.

Emperor Constantine IX

As Zoe was past producing an heir, Michael IV adopted his nephew (also named Michael, and only five years his junior) as his son and appointed him to be the next Emperor. The nephew-son didn’t have to wait long. Michael IV, although apparently quite good-looking, was also a bit of a weakling; he died at the age of thirty-one from a long-standing illness, after only seven years on the throne. Almost at once, Zoe had the nephew-son arrested, blinded, and castrated. He died, unsurprisingly, and she became senior ruler of the Byzantine Empire.

At this point, Zoe (who was now in her sixties), became reigning empress of Byzantium. At once, she called Constantine (aged 41) back from his exile and married him.

Entertaining, but not very edifying. Happy Advent.

By the way, if you like gruesome history like this, you might want to check out the “12 Byzantine Rulers” podcast.

PS Extra credit to those who can identify the source of the title of this post.


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