Michael Bourtzes

Michael Bourtzes
Born ca. 930/935
Died after 996
Allegiance Byzantine Empire
Rank strategos, doux of Antioch
Battles/wars Siege of Antioch (968–969), Revolt of Bardas Skleros, Battle of the Orontes

Michael Bourtzes (Greek: Μιχαήλ Βούρτζης, ca. 930/935 – after 996)[1] was a leading Byzantine general of the latter 10th century. He became notable for his capture of Antioch in 969, but fell into disgrace by the Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963–969). Resentful at the slight, Bourtzes joined forces with the conspirators who assassinated Phokas a few weeks later. Bourtzes re-appears in a prominent role in the civil war between Emperor Basil II (r. 976–1025) and the rebel Bardas Skleros, switching his allegiance from the emperor to the rebel and back again. Nevertheless, he was re-appointed as doux of Antioch by Basil, a post he held until 995, when he was relieved because of this failures in the war against the Fatimids.


Career under Nikephoros II and John I Tzimiskes

The capture of Antioch on 28 October 969 by the Byzantine forces under Bourtzes (shown stepping on the wall), from the chronicle of John Skylitzes.

Michael Bourtzes is the first prominent member of the Bourtzes family, originating in the upper Euphrates region, which went on to become one of the major clans of the Byzantine military aristocracy during the 11th century.[2] He first comes to prominence in late 968, when he was appointed by Nikephoros II as patrikios and strategos of the small theme of Mauron Oros ("Black Mountain") and tasked to lead the forces blockading the city of Antioch.[3][4] Acting against Nikephoros' orders not to assault the city in his absence, in the late autumn of 969, Bourtzes persuaded a traitor inside the city to surrender one of the wall's main towers, which he then promptly occupied. He then defended this post against repeated attacks of the city's defenders for three days, until the reinforcements led by Peter Phokas arrived and secured the city for the Byzantines.[3][5] Despite his major role in this success, Bourtzes' reward was distinctly lacking: angry at him for disobeying his orders, or, according to another account, for laying fire and destroying much of the city, Emperor Nikephoros dismissed him from his post and appointed a kinsman of his, Eustathios Maleinos, as the first governor of Antioch.[3][6]

Angered by this perceived injustice, Bourtzes joined a conspiracy involving a number of other prominent generals who were discontent at Nikephoros, chief amongst them John Tzimiskes.[7] On the night of 10/11 December 969, a group of these conspirators, including Tzimiskes and Bourtzes, managed to gain access to the imperial Boukoleon Palace by sea, and proceeded to murder the emperor and install Tzimiskes as his successor.[6][8] Despite his prominent role in the assassination of Nikephoros II, the historical sources barely mention Bourtzes for the duration of Tzimiskes' reign (969–976). Yahya of Antioch records that he oversaw the repairs carried out to the walls of Antioch following an earthquake, but he does not appear to have been placed in command there. Rather, at the time of Tzimiskes' death in January 976, he is stated by John Skylitzes to have commanded the elite tagma of the Stratelatai in the army of Bardas Skleros.[9]

Career under Basil II

Basil II with his younger brother and co-emperor, Constantine VIII

At the point of Tzimiskes' death, imperial power reverted to the legitimate emperors, the young brothers Basil II and Constantine VIII. In view of their youth and inexperience however, government essentially continued to be exercised by the powerful parakoimomenos, Basil Lekapenos. Almost immediately, the parakoimomenos moved to forestall any moves by one of the powerful Anatolian magnates to seize the throne and reign as a supposed "guardian" of the two young emperors, like Phokas and Tzimiskes had done.[10] A general reshuffle of the most important army posts in the East followed, interpreted by later historians like Skylitzes as a move to weaken the position of over-powerful strategoi. At this point, Bourtzes was appointed commander of the troops in Syria, with his seat at Antioch; indeed, he seems to have been the first to be titled doux of Antioch.[11] Almost immediately, he set out in a deep raid into Fatimid-controlled Syria, reaching Tripolis and returning with much booty.[12]

In spring however, Bardas Skleros, the newly-appointed doux of Mesopotamia and one of Tzimiskes' chief supporters, rose in revolt and proclaimed himself emperor at his base in Melitene.[10] Bourtzes was commanded by Constantinople to lead his force north, join the army of Eustathios Maleinos, now governor of Cilicia, and block the rebel from crossing the Antitaurus Mountains. Leaving his son in control of Antioch, Bourtzes complied and marched north.[13] In the ensuing battle at the fortress of Lapara however, the combined loyalist force was routed, with Bourtzes being the first to retreat according to the chroniclers.[14][15] Soon after he deserted the imperial camp and joined Skleros.[3][16] In the autumn of 977, he was deployed in command of Skleros' forces shadowing the operations of the imperial army advancing from Kotyaion to Iconium. The two forces became entangled in an impromptu fight, which ended in a bloody defeat for the rebels.[17] After this Bourtzes again switched sides and rejoined the imperial army, now led by Bardas Phokas.[3]

Uniquely amongst the military leaders who had revolted against him, Basil II continued to rely on Bourtzes and entrusted him again with the critical position of doux of Antioch in 990–995.[3][18] In November 989 Bourtzes took the city over from Leo Phokas, the son of Bardas, who himself had submitted to the emperor only months earlier.[19] From this position, Bourtzes led the defense of the imperial frontier in a renewed bout of fighting with the Fatimids.[20] In 992, he put down a rebellion of the Muslim population of Laodicea, Antioch's seaport, and deported them to Anatolia. In the same year however he also suffered a defeat in battle, and then another at the banks of the Orontes, near Apamea, on 15 September 994. These failures, as well as accusations that he had exacerbated the conflict by imprisoning a Fatimid ambassador, brought Basil's displeasure upon him.[21][22][23] In 995, as the Byzantine forces in the East had been weakened by their defeats, the Fatimids laid siege to Aleppo, the Empire's major Arab client. Basil himself had to interrupt his operations against Bulgaria and turned to the East in a lightning campaign to relieve the city. At around that time, he also dismissed Bourtzes from his post and replaced him with Damian Dalassenos.[24]

Nothing more is known of Michael Bourtzes after that. He did however have at least three sons, Michael, Theognostos and Samuel, known because they conspired against Emperor Constantine VIII (sole emperor in 1025–1028) after he blinded Michael's son, named Constantine, in 1025/1026.[25]


  1. ^ Cheynet & Vannier (1986), p. 18
  2. ^ Kazhdan (1991), pp. 317–318
  3. ^ a b c d e f Kazhdan (1991), p. 318
  4. ^ Holmes (2005), p. 332
  5. ^ Whittow (1997), p. 353
  6. ^ a b Holmes (2005), pp. 332–333
  7. ^ Whittow (1997), pp. 353–354
  8. ^ Whittow (1997), p. 354
  9. ^ Holmes (2005), pp. 337–338
  10. ^ a b Whittow (1997), p. 361
  11. ^ Holmes (2005), pp. 338–339
  12. ^ Holmes (2005), pp. 339–341
  13. ^ Holmes (2005), p. 341
  14. ^ Holmes (2005), p. 357
  15. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 1178
  16. ^ Whittow (1997), p. 362
  17. ^ Whittow (1997), p. 363
  18. ^ Magdalino (2003), pp. 93–94
  19. ^ Holmes (2005), p. 345
  20. ^ Holmes (2005), p. 346
  21. ^ Holmes (2005), pp. 346–347
  22. ^ Trombley (1997), pp. 269–270
  23. ^ Magdalino (2003), p. 55
  24. ^ Holmes (2005), pp. 347, 476
  25. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 317


  • Cheynet, Jean-Claude; Vannier, Jean-François (1986). Études prosopographiques. Publications de la Sorbonne. ISBN 978-2859441104. 
  • Holmes, Catherine (2005). Basil II and the Governance of Empire (976–1025). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199279685. 
  • Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. (1991), Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6 
  • Magdalino, Paul, ed (2003). Byzantium in the year 1000. BRILL. ISBN 9789004120976. 
  • Trombley, Frank (1997), "The Taktika of Nikephoros Ouranos and Military Encyclopaedism", in Binkley, Peter, Pre-modern encyclopaedic texts: proceedings of the second COMERS Congress, Groningen, 1–4 July 1996, BRILL, pp. 261–274, ISBN 978-90-04-10830-1 
  • Whittow, Mark (1996). The Making of Byzantium, 600–1025. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20496-4. 

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  • Bourtzes, Michael —    General under Nikephoros II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes, and Basil II (qq.v.). His mostly distinguished military career (e.g., he and fellow general Peter Phokas captured Antioch (q.v.) in 969) was interspersed with treachery. He supported the… …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

  • Damian Dalassenos (duke of Antioch) — Damian Dalassenos (Greek: Δαμιανός Δαλασσηνός) (died 998) was a Byzantine aristocrat and general, who served as the doux of Antioch in 995/6–998. Damian is the first attested member of the distinguished Dalassenos clan. As a holder of the high… …   Wikipedia

  • Nikephoros II Phokas —    Emperor (q.v.) from 963 969. His greatest triumph as general (domestikos [q.v.] ton scholon) for Romanos II (q.v.) was the conquest of Crete (q.v.) in 961. As emperor, his victories against the Arabs (q.v.) continued with the capture of Cyprus …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

  • Nikephoros Melissenos — Usurper of the Byzantine Empire Reign 1080–1081 …   Wikipedia

  • 994 — Années : 991 992 993  994  995 996 997 Décennies : 960 970 980  990  1000 1010 1020 Siècles : IXe siècle  Xe siècle …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Phokas, Peter —    See Bourtzes, Michael; Nikephoros II Phokas …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

  • Skleros, Bardas —    See Basil II; Bourtzes, Michael …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

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