Nikephoros Phokas the Elder

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Nikephoros Phokas

Greek, Ancient: Νικηφόρος Φωκᾶς
Also Known As: "Phocas"
Birthplace: Cappadocia, Byzantine Empire
Death: circa 896 (47-65)
Cappadocia, Turkey
Immediate Family:

Son of Phokas
Husband of Anna Dalassena
Father of Bardas Phokas the Elder; Leo Phokas the Elder; Ne Phokaina Kurkuas and Sophia Phokas

Managed by: Henn Sarv
Last Updated:

About Nikephoros Phokas the Elder


(An influential Cappadocian family which had originated in Armenia)

  • [MAMN181] Hmayeak I m. ?
    • . [PHOC211] Prince Artavazd of Georgia m. ?
      • . . [PHOC221] Marianos Mamikonian (780) m. [GREG222] Theoktista Phlorina (795)
        • . . . [PHOC232] Theodora II m. [MICH211] Emperor Theophilos of Byzantium
        • . . . [PHOC231] Caesar Bardas Phocas m. ?
          • . . . . [PHOC241] Caesar Nicephoros Phocas m. [DALX242] Anna Dalassene
            • . . . . . [PHOC252] Caesar Bardas Phocas m2. [MALS252] --- Maleina
              • . . . . . . [PHOC262] --- Phocaina m. [KOUR282] Theodoros Kourkouas
              • . . . . . . [PHOC261] Leo Phocas, Prefect of Cappadocia m. ?
                • . . . . . . . [PHOC272] Sophie Phocaina m. [SCLE271] Constantinos Scleros, Governor


Nikephoros Phokas the Elder

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Nikephoros Phokas

Died 895/896

Allegiance Byzantine Empire

Years of service ca. 872–895/6

Rank Domestic of the Schools

Wars Arab–Byzantine wars in the East and southern Italy, Byzantine–Bulgarian wars

Relations Bardas Phokas the Elder and Leo Phokas the Elder (sons)

Nikephoros Phokas the Elder (Greek: Νικηφόρος Φωκᾶς, Nikēphoros Phōkas) (c. 830 – c. 896/900) was one of the most prominent Byzantine generals of the late 9th century, and the first important member of the Phokas family. He had a distinguished military career in southern Italy, where his victories laid the foundation for the Byzantine resurgence, and led successful campaigns against the Arabs in the eastern borderlands as well as against the Bulgarians of Tsar Simeon.


 [hide] 1 Life 2 References 3 Sources 4 Further reading


Nikephoros was the son of the founder of the Phokas family, a middle-ranking military officer (tourmarches) from Cappadocia named Phokas, attested ca. 872.[1][2]

Nikephoros began his military career under Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (reigned 867–886), probably at the same time as his father was appointed to the post of tourmarches (ca. 872). Nikephoros was originally appointed to the guard corps of the Manglabitai, and possibly participated in Basil's 873 campaign against Samosata.[3] Shortly after, at any rate before 878, Nikephoros was promoted to the rank of protostrator and the post of commanding general (strategos) of the theme of Charsianon.[3]

Byzantine troops under Nikephoros Phokas capture the town of Amantia in Italy. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes Nikephoros made his name as the Byzantine commander-in-chief (monostrategos, "single-general") against the Arabs in southern Italy, a post to which he was appointed in late 885, or, according to Shaun Tougher, after the accession of Leo VI the Wise in July 886. His command involved the forces of several western themes (Thrace, Macedonia, Cephallenia, Longobardia and Calabria), and lasted until his recall to Constantinople, probably in 887.[3][4][5] As a reward for his successes in Italy, he was raised to the rank of patrikios and named to the post of Domestic of the Schools, in effect commander-in-chief of the Byzantine army.[3][4]

Little is known of his activities over the next few years and until the outbreak of war with Bulgaria in 894.[3] An undated report of a successful raid into the Arab lands of Cilicia led by Nikephoros probably dates to this period.[6] In 895, he was sent against the Bulgarians at the head of a large army. It is unclear whether Nikephoros engaged the Bulgarians in battle, for a Byzantine-instigated invasion by the Magyars from the north, and the activities of the Byzantine navy in the Danube, forced the Bulgarian ruler Simeon to ask for a truce, and the Byzantines withdrew.[3][5]

This is the last campaign associated with Nikephoros Phokas, and some chroniclers report that he died in 895/896. His death reportedly encouraged Simeon to reopen hostilities, with devastating success against Nikephoros' successor as Domestic, Leo Katakalon.[7][8] The later chronicle of Theophanes Continuatus, however, reports a different story, according to which Nikephoros was disgraced and dismissed from is post after refusing proposals for a marriage alliance with Leo's powerful chief minister, Stylianos Zaoutzes. Nikephoros was then appointed strategos of the Thracesian Theme, spending his remaining years until his death around 900 fighting against the Arabs. This account is largely rejected by modern scholars.[5][7][9]

By all accounts, Nikephoros Phokas was a capable soldier. Leo VI lauds his military talents in his Tactica,[5] and he is credited with the invention of a weapon to counter cavalry during his campaign against the Bulgarians, consisting of a sharpened stake driven into the ground.[7]

Nikephoros was the father of Bardas Phokas the Elder and Leo Phokas the Elder, both of whom became Domestics of the Schools, and through Bardas the grandfather of Nikephoros II Phokas, general and emperor in 963–969, and of Leo Phokas the Younger.[

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Nikephoros Phokas the Elder's Timeline

Cappadocia, Byzantine Empire
Byzantium (Constantinople), Istanbul, Turkey
Age 56
Cappadocia, Turkey