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Stylianos Zaoutzes ( ) was a high Byzantine official of Armenian origin. Rising to high rank under Byzantine emperor Basil I, he then rose further to prominence under Basil's successor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886–912), who had an affair with Stylianos' daughter Zoe Zaoutzaina. Stylianos Zaoutzes was Leo's leading minister during the first half of his reign, and was awarded the unique title of basileopator. His standing and influence declined after 895, but in 898, he became Leo's father-in-law when the emperor married Zoe. He died in 899, in the same year as Zoe. Following an attempted coup by his relatives, the Zaoutzes clan was deprived of the considerable power it had amassed under Stylianos' tutelage.


Origins and early career

Zaoutzes was of Armenian descent, and was born in the thema of Macedonia. It has been theorized by N. Adontz that Stylianos might be the son of a contemporary strategos of Macedonia named Tzantzes, the name also of Stylianos' son, but the connection is ultimately impossible to prove. According to Steven Runciman, the surname Zaoutzes derives from the Armenian word Zaoutch, "negro", reflecting Stylianos' particularly dark complexion. In the same vein, Stylianos was known among Byzantines as "the Ethiopianmarker". Whatever his exact ancestry, he shared ethnic and geographical origin with the Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867–886), a factor that may have played a role in his ascent to high office during the latter's reign.

In late 882, the young Leo, Basil's second son and heir after the death of his elder brother Constantine in 879, was wedded to Theophano, a member of the Martinakes family. However, before or shortly after the marriage, he had taken up Zoe Zaoutzaina, the beautiful daughter of Stylianos Zaoutzes, as his mistress. At that point, Zaoutzes held the post of mikros hetaireiarches, i.e. commander of the junior regiment of the emperor's mercenary bodyguard, the hetaireia. Leo's relations with his father Basil were always strained, and when Theophano informed him of this affair, Basil married Zoe off to one Theodore Gouzouniates and punished his son. Furthermore, in 883, Leo was denounced as plotting against Basil and was imprisoned; it was only through the intervention of patriarch Photios and Stylianos Zaoutzes that he was not also blinded. This affair does not seem to have hurt Stylianos' standing with Basil or his career, for by the end of Basil's reign he was protospatharios and megas hetaireiarches (senior commander of the hetaireia).

Rise to prominence

Leo spent three years in prison, until released and restored to his rank in late July 886, through the mediation of Zaoutzes. By that time, Basil was ailing, and on 12 August 886, he was gravely wounded during a hunt. Zaoutzes' participation in the hunt raised suspicions of a conspiracy, but his complicity is generally rejected, as Basil survived for nine days, during which he did not punish Zaoutzes. Upon Basil's death, Leo was crowned emperor, but Zaoutzes, awarded the titles of patrikios and magistros and the office of logothetes tou dromou, effectively assumed control of the government, directing state policy. One tradition, based on the Vita Euthymii (the hagiography of patriarch Euthymios I), holds that Basil himself appointed Stylianos as regent (epitropos), but other sources indicate that his ascent to power was more gradual. It is indicative of his authority that most of Leo's ordinances (novels) are directed to him in person, and in 893, he succeeded in getting his protégé, Antony Kauleas, elected as Patriarch of Constantinople. In the same period (between 886 and 893), Leo VI himself delivered a homily on a church built on Zaoutzes' orders in Constantinople.

His rise to prominence was only solidified in 891–893, when Stylianos was given the newly-created title of basileopator ("father of the emperor"). His promotion to this new and enigmatic title has been a subject of controversy, as neither the reasons for the creation of the title nor its exact functions are known. The early date of his elevation precludes a relation to the eventual rise of his daughter Zoe to the imperial throne as Leo's empress. Gratitude for his support against Basil may have played a role, and a common theory is that the office implied some form of tutorship over the emperor. The office certainly confirmed Stylianos as the senior secular official of the Empire. However, although Zaoutzes has traditionally been regarded as an all-powerful regent over a weak emperor, in no small part due to the account provided in the Vita Euthymii, the actual relationship between the two may have been quite different. A more careful evaluation of the source material has led modern scholarship to conclude that Leo was actively involved in government, and that Zaoutzes as chief minister was loyal and obsequious to his master.

An assessment of his record as the Empire's first minister is difficult. Of the few available sources on his career, the Vita Euthymii, compiled years after Zaoutzes' death, is extremely hostile, seeking to pin the responsibility for several of the reign's failures or unpopular decisions on him, and thus preserve Leo from blame. The account of the Vita is further colored by the fierce rivalry between Stylianos and Euthymios, then a synkellos and Leo's spiritual father, over influence on the emperor. Thus the Vita accuses Stylianos of being responsible for the sacking of Nikephoros Phokas the Elder from the army, as well as for the outbreak of hostilities with Bulgaria in 893: allegedly, two of his protégés moved the main market for Bulgarian goods from Constantinoplemarker to Thessalonicamarker and then proceeded to extract exorbitant fees from the Bulgarian merchants. When Leo, at the behest of Stylianos, rejected the merchants' protests, the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I found a pretext to attack Byzantium. It has however been recently suggested by Paul Magdalino that the transfer was in fact Leo's initiative, aiming to enrich Thessalonica, whose patron saint, St Demetrius, he showed special favor to.

Fall from favor and death

Nevertheless, all this has led to the enduring image of an ineffectual leadership in foreign and military affairs under Zaoutzes. This may explain why, despite the resumption of Leo's affair with Zoe, the relationship between Zaoutzes and the Emperor became strained: tales of an alleged plot by Zaoutzes' son to murder the Emperor in 894/895 indicate a rift between the two, and although Zaoutzes himself was not involved, a major quarrel between him and Leo ensued shortly after. Although they were reconciled, his standing seems to have declined further thereafter, as two of his protégés, found guilty of accepting bribes, were punished by Leo. Nevertheless, in late summer 898, following the death of Theophano in December 865 or 866 and of Zoe's first husband Gouzouniates in early 898, Leo at last married Zoe, raising her to Augusta. In the next year however, both Zoe and Stylianos died. Following their deaths, Leo proposed to marry yet again, choosing Eudokia Baïana as his wife. Zaoutzes' numerous relatives, who had benefited from his patronage, were fearful of losing their positions to the new Empress' relations, and conspired to overthrow Leo. Chief among them was Basil, Zoe's nephew. The plot however was betrayed by the eunuch servant Samonas, and the conspiracy suppressed. The Zaoutzes relatives were exiled or confined to monasteries, and the clan's power broken. Samonas himself was richly rewarded: he was taken into the imperial service and rapidly promoted, becoming parakoimomenos by 908, before he too fell from favor.



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