i.e., "with the Coal-Black Eyes" ( ), was fourth wife of the
Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise
and the mother of Constantine
Zoe Karbonopsina was a relative of the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor
niece of the admiral Himerios
Desperate to sire a son, Leo VI married his mistress Zoe on 9
January 906, only after she had given birth to the future
Constantine VII at the end of 905. However, this constituted his
fourth marriage, and was therefore uncanonical in the eyes of the
church, which had
already been reluctant to accept his third marriage to Eudokia, who
died in childbirth in 901.
Although the Patriarch
baptised Constantine, he forbade the emperor from marrying for the
fourth time. Leo VI married Zoe with the assistance of a
cooperative priest, Thomas, but Nicholas' continued opposition to
the marriage led to his removal from office and replacement by
in 907. The new
patriarch attempted a compromise by defrocking the offending priest
but recognizing the marriage.
When Leo died in 912, he was succeeded by his younger brother
, who recalled
Nicholas Mystikos and expelled Zoe from the palace. She returned on
Alexander's death in 913, but Nicholas forced her to enter a
convent after obtaining the promise of the senate and the clergy
not to accept her as empress. However, Nicholas' unpopular concessions to
the Bulgarians later in the same year weakened his position and in
914 Zoe was able to overthrow Nicholas and replace him as regent.
Nicholas was allowed to remain
patriarch after reluctantly recognizing her as empress.
Zoe reigned with the support of imperial bureaucrats and the
influential general Leo Phokas the
, who was her favorite. Zoe's first order of business was
to revoke the concessions to Simeon
I of Bulgaria
, including the recognition of his imperial title
and the arranged marriage between his daughter and Constantine VII.
renewed the war with Bulgaria, which began badly for the Byzantines
who were distracted by military operations in Southern Italy and on the
eastern frontier. In 915 Zoe's troops defeated an Arab invasion of Armenia, and made
peace with the Arabs. This freed her hands to organize a major
expedition against the Bulgarians, who had raided deep into
Byzantine Thrace and captured Adrianople.
The campaign was planned on a grand scale,
and intended the bribing and transportation of Pecheneg
into Bulgaria by the imperial fleet from
the north. However, the Pecheneg alliance failed, and Leo Phokas
was crushingly defeated in the Battle of Anchialus
and again at
Katasyrtai in 917. Zoe tried to ally with Serbia and the
Magyars against Simeon.
failed to produce any concrete results, and the Arabs, encouraged
by the empire's weakness, renewed their raids. A humiliating treaty
with the Arabs of Sicily
, who were asked to
help subdue revolts in Italy, did little to improve the position of
Zoe and her supporters.
In 919, there was a coup involving various factions, but the
opposition to Zoe and Leo Phokas prevailed; in the end the admiral
took power, married his
daughter Helena Lekapene
Constantine VII, and forced Zoe back into a convent.