1st Edition

Power and Representation in Byzantium The Forging of the Macedonian Dynasty

By Neil Churchill Copyright 2024
    278 Pages 18 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Throughout the history of Byzantium 65 emperors were dethroned and only 39 reigns ended peacefully. How might a usurper get away with murdering his predecessor? And how could a bloody act of regicide lead to one of the most glorious of all eras in Byzantium? These were questions that puzzled Michael Psellos as he looked back at Basil I’s assassination of Michael III and the origin of the Macedonian dynasty. Might the imperial art of Basil, his sons and grandson help to explain how the dynasty overcame its violent beginnings and secured the loyalty of its subjects?

    It has long been recognised that the early Macedonian emperors were active propagandists but royal art has usually been viewed thematically over the span of centuries. Official iconography has been understood to project imperial power in ways which were impersonal and unchanging. This book instead adopts a chronological approach and considers how Basil justified his seizure of power, and how his successors went on to articulate their own ideas about authority. It concludes that imperial art did at times reflect the personality of the emperor and the political demands of the moment, such as the need for an heir, the nature of court politics or the choice of successor.

    This innovative account of the forging of the Macedonian dynasty will appeal to those interested in how early medieval kings and emperors used art to create their own image, to differentiate themselves from rivals and to extend the boundaries of their personal power.


    1. Basil I: usurping power
    2. Laying foundations: Basil’s building work
    3. From emperor to dynasty: family and succession
    4. Leo VI: continuity and change
    5. Leo VI: power contested
    6. Alexander: idler or innovator?
    7. Dynasty destablised: the regency of Zoe
    8. Dynasty under threat: Romanos I and the Lekapenoi
    9. Constantine VII and the re-invention of the dynasty




    Neil Churchill is an independent scholar who specialises in art and politics in Byzantium and the early medieval west. He studied the art and kingship of the Carolingians at the University of Cambridge and completed his doctorate on the art of Basil I, Leo VI and Alexander, the first three Macedonian emperors of Byzantium, at the University of Sussex.