Argyros (Argyropoulos) Family

1. General

The Byzantine aristocratic Argyros family from the theme of Charsianon entered the limelight of the Byzantine history in the mid-9th century. Right from the start, the members of the family held key and prestigious positions, mainly in the army. In the first half of the 10th century the Argyros family was forged its ties with the capital thanks to their alliance with the Lekapenos family and through them with the Macedonian dynasty. The Argyros' alliance with the dynasty was consolidated in the 11th century, when a member of the lineage ascended the imperial throne. The reign of Romanos III Argyros (1028-1034) was the most powerful period of the family, which was allied to other prominent Byzantine families too, such as the Skleros and the Diogenes lineages. Towards the late 11th century, the Argyros lineage begun to lose power and it gradually declined, as reflected in the positions held by people under this name in the 12th century. Although descendants from Asia Minor can still be traced through the 15th century, their exact relation to the once prominent Argyros lineage are uncertain.

2. Emergence and origins of the family

The earliest information about the Argyros (Argyropoulos) family dates back to the mid-9th century. The family was probably named after an ancestor, whose nickname “Argyros” (silver) was adopted as family name. We know that the family had ties with the region that came under the jurisdiction of the Asia Minor theme of Charsianon exactly in that period, and that members of the family held military posts in this theme, as they did in the theme of Anatolikon too.1

The ascent of the Argyros family begun during the reign of Michael III (842-867), when its first members are attested among the Byzantine military officials. The first known Argyros, a certain Leo of humble origins, was a military official; he served as a tourmarches and grabbed the chance to ascend thanks to the war against the Arabs and the Paulicians in the eastern part of the Empire. Leo Argyros founded the monastery of St Elisabeth in the theme of Charsianon.

3. The family in the late 9th and early 10th c.

It would not be a mistake to suggest that it was the career of Eustathios Argyros, Leo’s son and second known important member of the family, that gave his descendants the opportunity to attain their place among the most prominent families of the empire. Under Leo VI (886-912),Eustathios Argyros, already a patrikios, became strategos of Anatolikon. He went on to become strategos of the theme of Charsianon (ca. 907), while in the following year he was awarded the title of magistros and served as droungarios of the vigla. Shortly later, Eustathios Argyros fell out of favour for unknown reasons and was exiled to his family domain in the theme of Charsianon. But his career and ascent opened the way to his three sons, who were able to occupy the highest military dignities. Two of them, Pothos and Leo, held the position of domestikos ton scholon, while Leo also became strategos of the theme of Sebasteia.

4. The association of the lineage with the capital

The Argyros lineage was greatly esteemed and had authority in the theme of Charsianon, something also confirmed by the fact that Romanos I Lekapenos (920-944) married his young daughter Agathe to Romanos Argyros, Eustathios’ grandson.2 The wedding took place in 921 and indirectly allied the Argyros family to the Macedonian dynasty, since Lekapenos’ elder daughter, Helen, was married to the then underage Constantine VII (Porphyrogenitus / 913-959). This marriage gave the Argyros family the opportunity to increase their influence in Constantinople and make several distinguished friends.

5. The family in the 10th century

During the reign of Romanos I Lekapenos (920-944), the Argyros family along with the Mouzalon and the Saronites families were among the families supporting the new emperor.3 As co-emperor of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959), Romanos I Lekapenos tried to consolidate his position and become independent from the Macedonian dynasty with the support of the above families. The Argyros family grabbed the opportunity and participated actively in Byzantine political matters. They also attempted to take part in the conflicts that broke out among the members of the Lekapenos family. In this framework, Marianos Argyros, the brother of Romanos, the emperor’s son-in-law, backed the rebellion staged in 944 by the sons of Romanos I, who wanted to overthrow their father. The rebellion was only partially successful: although Romanos I was deposed, his sons failed to seize the throne; instead, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, the legal representative of the Macedonian dynasty managed to assume power.

The new emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus started his reign with the reinstatement of the Phokas family by appointing some of its members to key military positions and at the same time awarding Marianos Argyros the title of comes tou stavlou. Marianos Argyros later fought in southern Italy and in 959 he was given the leadership of the troops of the Empire's European themes.4

When Romanos II (959-963) died, Marianos Argyros joined the opponents of the usurper Nikephoros Phokas (963-969) and was among the architects of the capital’s defence against the rebels. However, his resistance failed to succeed and Marianos, fatally wounded during a conflict, died on August 16, 963, on the day Nikephoros Phokas was crowned at the church of Hagia Sophia.

6. The Argyros family at the peak of their power: the reign of Romanos III Argyros

The next reknown generation of the Argyros family included the descendants of a certain Argyropoulos, who was the grandson of Romanos Argyros and Agathe Lekapene. Among them was the most prominent member of the family, Romanos III Argyros (1028-1034).

Before he ascended the throne, Romanos Argyros had been prefect of Constantinople, a title of which Michael Psellos had written that it designated an imperial dignity, only without the Purple.5 The fact that Romanos Argyros was one of the most prominent officials of the capital in that period is apparent in Constantine VIII's choice of him as his son-in-law and successor while on his deathbed in 1028.6

In the years of Romanos III (1028-1034), the Argyros family reached the peak of their power and fame. Various relatives of the emperor were highly honoured and were awarded state positions. For example, in the early years of the reign of Romanos III, his sister Pulcheria Argyropoulina, who was married to Basil Skleros, an offspring of the Skleros family, had considerable influence over the palace. Towards the end of his reign, Romanos III was supplanted by the Paphlagonians, John Orphanotrophos and his brother Michael, the subsequent emperor Michael IV (1034-1041). Because Emperor Romanos III had no children, the Argyros family was not able to found a dynasty. The reign of Romanos III ended in April 1034, when the emperor died under mysterious circumstances and Michael IV the Paphlagonian ascended the throne.7

7. Relations of the Argyros family to other families

The Argyros lineage, as a notable and wealthy family, had the opportunity to form alliances with distinguished families. The wedding between Romanos Argyros and Agathe Lekapene in 921, as mentioned above, made the Argyros family one of the first families of the Empire to be allied to the Macedonian dynasty. In the years of Basil II (976-1025), the Argyros family were related to the Skleros family: Pulcheria Argyropoulina was married to Basil Skleros, the grandson of the renowned usurper Bardas Skleros. A sister of Romanos III got married to an offspring of the Karantinos family.8

Romanos III Argyros's (1028-1034) ascend to throne was the result of his marriage. Romanos had to marry either Zoe or Theodora, the daughters of Constantine VIII, in order to become emperor. According to the Byzantine historian John Skylitzes, the marriage was first proposed to Theodora, who refused to marry Romanos, either because of the possible conflict resulting from the already established marital alliance between the Macedonian dynasty and the Argyros family, or because Romanos was already married in that period. However, the conflict resulting from the alliance was resolved with the intervention of the patriarch.9 Finaly, Romanos Argyros got married to Zoe and assumed power as Emperor Romanos III (1028-1034). The Argyros family then went on to establish alliances with the Diogenes family: a niece of Romanos III was married to the patrikios Constantine Diogenes, the father of the subsequent Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes (1068-1071).10

According to Nikephoros Bryennios, before Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) got married to Eirene Doukaina, he had been engaged (maybe even married?) to an offspring of the “notable” and “wealthy” Argyros family.11 This is not reported by other sources but in case it is true, the betrothal (or marriage) could have taken place in the early years of the second half of the 11th century. The fiancée (or wife) of Alexios Komnenos must have died before 1077, when Alexios got married to Eirene Doukaina.

However, despite such relations to prominent Byzantine families, the lack of alliance with the Komnenian dynasty was decisive for the future of the Argyros family. After 1081, when Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) ascended the throne, the key positions of the state were reserved to the relatives of the Komnenos and the Doukas families. The fact that the Argyros lineage failed to marry into any of these two families lowered their prestige and influence and led to its gradual decline towards the late 11th century.

8. The Argyros lineage in the 12th c.

Although there is information about certain people under the surname Argyros-Argyropoulos through the 12th century, the importance of the family was reduced and the Argyros family was no longer ranked among the upper class of the Byzantine society. Some Argyroi held administrative offices. It seems that the descendants of the old Argyros family withdrew from the army at some point in the second half of the 11th century. Furthermore, although the name Argyros-Argyropoulos can be attested in different regions of the empire, such as Crete, it is impossible to define the relation of these persons to the Asia Minor lineage. This is also the case with various Argyroi attested in the 14th and the 15th c. in the European territories of the Empire (Chalkidike Peninsula, Serres and Thessaloniki).12 However, the descendants of the Argyros family of Asia Minor can still be traced until the 15th century.13

9. The surname Argyros in Southern Italy

The surname Argyros was in use in various regions of southern Italy. However, it is rather a coincidence, as it was used sporadically and not as a family name going back to the Byzantine Argyros lineage of Charsianon.14

1. The sons of Basil Argyros (the brother of Romanos III), influential figures of the theme of Anatolikon according to Skylitzes, took part in the rebellion of Isaac Komnenos in 1057; see Thurn, J. (ed.), Ioannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae V, Berlin - New York 1973), p. 488.

2. According to John Skylitzes, Agathe got married to Leo, Eustathios’ son; see Thurn, J. (ed.), Ioannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae V, Berlin - New York 1973), p. 213. However, the information provided by Theophanes Continuatus that Agathe married the son of Leo and grandson of Eustathios should be considered more reliable; see Symeonis magistri ac logothetae, Annales: Theophanes Continuatus, Ioannes Cameniata, Symeon magister, Georgius Monachus, Bekker, I. (ed.) (CSHB, Bonnae 1838), p. 399. See also Vannier, J-F., Familles byzantines: Les Argyroi (IXe – XIIe siècles) (Paris 1975), p. 26.

3. In the years of Romanos I Lekapenos, the Argyros, Mouzalon and Saronites families entered the limelight, while the Phokas family declined. When Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus ascended single-handed the throne, he sought support from the Phokas family, who became very influential in the empire, while the followers of the overthrown Romanos I Lekapenos were ousted from their positions.

4. On that occasion, Marianos Argyros is reported as μονοστράτηγος (monostrategos-the only strategos) of the European themes; see Vannier, J-F., Familles byzantines: Les Argyroi (IXe - XIIe siècles) (Paris 1975), p. 31.

5. Renauld, É. (ed.), Michel Psellos, Chronographie ou histoire d'un siècle de Byzance I (Paris 1926, 1928), p. 30.

6. According to John Skylitzes, Constantine VII at first intended to appoint Constantine Dalassenos his successor, but later changed his mind and appointed the prefect of the city, Romanos Argyros, who was clearly supported by eminent figures of the capital and the imperial court; see Thurn, J. (ed.), Ioannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae V, Berlin - New York 1973), pp. 373‑374.

7. According to John Skylitzes, the death of Romanos Argyros was the result of a conspiracy planned against him by John Orphanotrophos, Michael of Paphlagonia and their followers. According to the same source, on April 11, 1034, Romanos III was murdered in his bath; see Thurn, J. (ed.), Ioannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae V, Berlin - New York 1973), p. 391. Michael Psellos also reports that Zoe, Michael and John Orphanotrophos were considered responsible for the emperor’s death; see Renauld, É (ed.), Michel Psellos, Chronographie ou histoire d'un siècle de Byzance I (Paris 1926, 1928), pp. 50-52.

8. He was Constantine Karantinos; see Vannier, Jean-F., Familles byzantines: Les Argyroi (IXe - XIIe siècles) (Paris 1975), p. 42.

9. The first wife of Romanos was called Helen. Because she renounced the world and became a nun, Romanos Argyros entered into a second marriage. See Σκυλίτζης, Thurn, J. (ed.), Ioannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae V, Berlin - New York 1973), p. 374.

10. She was the daughter of Basil Argyros, the brother of Emperor Romanos III; Thurn, J. (ed.), Ioannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae V, Berlin - New York 1973), p. 376. See also Vannier, J-F., Familles byzantines: Les Argyroi (IXe - XIIe siècles) (Paris 1975), pp. 49-50.

11. Gautier, P. (ed.), Nicéphore Bryennios histoire: introduction, texte, traduction et notes (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae IX, Bruxelles 1975), p. 221. See also Vannier, J-F., Familles byzantines: Les Argyroi (IXe - XIIe siècles) (Paris 1975), p. 51 and n. 1 and 4. Βαρζός, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών Ι (Thessaloniki 1984), p. 87, reports that Alexios Komnenos married the daughter of the wealthy feudal lord of Italy Argyros circa 1076, but she soon died.

12. For the Argyros/Argyropulos family members appearing in the late Byzantine years, see Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit, fasz. 1 (Wien 1976), no. 1242‑1292. See also PLP, Addenda und Corrigenda zu Faszikel 1‑8 (Wien 1988), no. 91279‑91412.

13. Brand, C.M., “Argyros”, in Kazhdan, A. (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium I (New York - Oxford 1991), pp. 165-166.

14. For more information about the above mentioned people, see Vannier, J-F., Familles byzantines: Les Argyroi (IXe - XIIe siècles) (Paris 1975), pp. 57-61.