The Empress Zoe's First Marriage

The Greek Orthodox church allows for three marriages during a lifetime, and the Empress Zoe made full use of this right. Although she was said to be a great beauty and had been "born into the purple" [Porphyrogenita] - or more likely because of this - her father Constantine VIII did not allow her to marry until fairly late.

Zoe's first marriage took place on the 12th November 1028, when she was 50; the groom was 60, and had just, on the emperor's orders, divorced his wife Helena and sent her to a monastery. It was forced upon her by her father days before he died, to ensure a smooth succession. Constantine had first tried to marry him off to Theodora, a younger daughter, but she had refuse. Zoe's husband, became Emperor Romanus III Argyrus and she became Empress Zoe on the 15th.

Romanus fell ill in 1034, and died in his bath. Or was poisoned - either way, his death was not considered to have been of natural causes.
[image source]

Zoe had by then grown suspiciously close to a courtier, Michael, whom she married on the same day that Romanus died - the 11th April. Michael IV had no children, so the couple adopted his eponymous nephew. When Michael IV died in 1041 Michael V became emperor. He soon exiled Zoe to a convent, but the citizens of Constantinople proved loyal and soon had Zoe and her sister Theodora recalled. Michael V was removed, blinded and in turn shipped off to a monastery.

Without an emperor, the two sisters ruled jointly. Zoe was only allowed on further marriage by the church, so she had to pick well - if her new husband met with an accident, she could not have a fourth. She picked the man who would become Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos, and ruled jointly with him after their wedding on the June 11th 1042 .

Zoe died in 1050, Constantine in 1055. Theodora continued to be titular empress until her death in 1056, although in practise she had had little say in governing after the enthronement of Constantine.

These are some photos I took in Haghia Sophia of a mosaic depicting Christ enthroned, flanked by Constantine IX Monomachos and Zoe.

Post, excluding first image: Copyright © 2008 Dorothy King

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