Botaneiates family

1. General

The Botaneiates was a Byzantine aristocratic lineage from Asia Minor. They probably came from the village of Botane and were named after it. Several generations of the family were associated with the region of Phrygia, particularly with the theme of Anatolikon. The earliest evidence on the family go back to the 9th century. Their ascent began in the years of Basil II (976‑1025), when certain members of the family are reported among the strategoi in the wars against the Bulgarians. The Botaneiates family reached their heyday during the reign of Nikephoros III. In the 12th century, in the years of the Komnenian dynasty, the Botaneiates family managed to maintain their high positions thanks to the affinal relations they established with the Komnenos and Doukas families. The social position of the family began to deteriorate towards the late 12th century.

2. Descent and origins of the Botaneiates lineage

The Botaneiates family probably was from the village of Botane, near Synada (modern Şuhut), Phrygia,1 and was named after their birthplace. The available information concerning the members of the family indicates that the Botaneiates maintained their bonds with that region for many generations. According to the sources, Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates, the most distinguished member of the family, came from the area of Lambe, Phrygia, in the theme of Anatolikon.2

The first reliable reference to the family dates to the 9th century.3 However, the subsequent evidence about the members of the family dates to the early 11th century. The fact that for a whole century the Botaneiates family were not mentioned in the sources proves that the family's ascent actually began during the reign of Basil II. Therefore, we should count the Botaneiates family among those families that grasped the opportunity to ascend the social ladder and got to be ranked among the military aristocracy, an opportunity offered by the new military and expansionist policy that the empire followed in the second half of the 10th century.4

3. The Botaneiates family under Basil II

As mentioned above, after a silent 10th century, the 11th-c. sources once again begin to provide information about the members of the Botaneiates family. Two of its members, the grandfather and the father of the subsequent Emperor Nikephoros III, are known to have lived in the years of Basil II, both holding the office of strategos.

The first of them, named Theophylaktos according to the historian John Skylitzes and Nikephoros according to Michael Attaleiates,5 participated in the war against the Bulgarians of Samuel as doukas of Thessalonike. He was killed in the summer of 1014 during the operations that followed the battle of Kleidi.6

His son Michael Botaneiates participated along with his father in the operations against the Bulgarians in the area of Thessalonike, and probably played an important role in the defence of the city, although his rank remains unknown. After his father died, Michael participated in the campaigns of Emperor Basil II against the Abasgoi (1021‑1022).

Such evidence indicates that in the early 11th century the Botaneiates family held an eminent position among the Byzantine aristocracy. Their rise must have started in the years of Basil II, when the political circumstances offered the competent strategoi the opportunity for rapid ascent. It should be stressed that Michael Attaleiates, who wrote the encomium of Emperor Nikephoros III, does not refer to the recent past of the Botaneiates family, given that the above two strategoi of Basil II were the only ancestors of the emperor he knew. However, because he tried to find ways to highlight the prestige of the family his favourite emperor belonged to, he associated the Botaneiates lineage with the Phokas family, who claimed to have been descendants of the Roman family of the Fabii.7

4. The Botaneiates lineage at the peak of their power: the reign of Nikephoros III

The most distinguished member of the family was Emperor Nikephoros III. Before he ascended the throne, Nikephoros had followed a long and successful career in the army. He became a military officer during the reign of Constantine IX Monomachos (1042–1055). Although there are no details about his early career, he must have been particularly successful in his military activities, as indicated by the fact that during the rebellion of Isaac Komnenos (1057), whom he supported, Nikephoros Botaneiates was already a magistros and one of the most important members of military aristocracy.8

The ascension of Isaac I Komnenos to the throne opened Nikephoros the way to high military offices. In the 1060s he excelled as commander in the Balkans, while he was later awarded the title of doukas of Antioch. At the same time, he consolidated his political position, seeing as he was one of the pretenders for the throne in 1067‑1068, while he was the third revolter after 1057 that assumed the throne (after Isaac I Komnenos and Constantine X Doukas). In October 1077, Nikephoros Botaneiates started his struggle for the throne from his birthplace, the theme of Anatolikon, where he was serving as strategos, with the high-ranking dignity of kouropalates. Nikephoros was crowned emperor in 1078 and his reign was the greatest achievement of the Botaneiates family. However, in 1081 Alexios Komnenos (1081‑1118) overthrew the old emperor and confined him to a monastery, where he died a few months later.

5. The Botaneiates family in the years of the Komnenian dynasty

The Botaneiates family managed to maintain its eminent position in the Byzantine society after Nikephoros III was overthrown, thanks to the affinal relations with the Komnenian dynasty and the Synadenos family.9 The Botaneiates and the Komnenos families first tried to come closer before 1081, when a grandson of Nikephoros III was engaged to the daughter of Manuel Komnenos, the brother of the subsequent Emperor Alexios. The wedding took place a few years later, circa 1085.10 In addition, around 1110‑1112, Alexios I gave Eudokia, the daughter of his brother, the sebastokrator Isaac, in marriage to Nikephoros Botaneiates, who, thanks to this alliance, was awarded the title of sebastos.11 The same title was also awarded to other members of the family, known already from the first half of the 12th century: Manuel (married to Eirene Synadene)12 and George (husband of Zoe Doukaina).13 There is no evidence about the careers of these two 12th-c. members, but they probably were eminent figures of the imperial court, as their title indicates.

Towards the late 12th century, the Botaneiates family permanently lost its social status.14 The members of the family appearing in the subsequent period, in the 13th and 14th c., never held any important office.15

1. Άμαντος, Κ., “Οι Βοτανιάται”, Ελληνικά 8 (1935), p. 48; Belke, K. – Mersich, N., Phrygien und Pisidien (TIB 7, Wien 1990), p. 209.

2. Thurn, I. (ed.), Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 5, Berlin – New York 1973), p. 488, and Bekker, I. (ed.), Michaelis Attaliotae Historia (Bonn 1853), pp. 185, 213.

3. Schlumberger, G., Sigillographie de l’ Empire byzantin (Paris 1884), 438, no. 2; Buckler, G., “A Sixth Century Botaniates”, Byzantion 6 (1931), pp. 405-410. It is believed that this surname was evidenced long ago, even from the 6th century. However, it is an ethnic rather than a family name; see Kazhdan, A., “Botaneiates”, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 1 (New York – Oxford 1991), p. 314.

4. Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969), John I Tzimiskes (969-976) and particularly Basil II (976-1025) pursued an expanded military policy. In that period, the war needs called for the participation of young people (of various ethnicities) in the Byzantine army, who were rewarded for their service with important titles, senior offices and money. As a result, competent officers became the founders of subsequently glorious families, such as the Komnenos and the Bourtzes lineages. On the other hand, the war gave the opportunity for rapid ascent to families that had not held any key position in the Byzantine aristocracy until then, as it happened with the Botaneiates family. See Krsmanović, B., Uspon vojnog plemstva u Vizantiji XI veka (Βeograd 2001), pp. 3, 5, 11-13.

5. Thurn, I. (ed.), Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 5, Berlin – New York 1973), pp. 350, 352; Bekker, I. (ed.), Michaelis Attaliotae Historia (Bonn 1853), p. 230. Kazhdan A. “Botaneiates”, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 1 (New York – Oxford 1991), p. 314, wrongly believes that Skylitzes’ Theophylaktos and Attaleiates’ Nikephoros were two different people whose sons were called Michael.

6. Bekker, I. (ed.), Michaelis Attaliotae Historia (Bonn 1853), p. 230.

7. Because the historian Michael Attaleiates admired the emperor, he presents him in his work as a descendant of Nikephoros II Phokas, implying that in the second half of the 10th century the Botaneiates Family became relatives with the Phokas Family. See Μιχαήλ Ατταλειάτης, Ιστορία, Bekker, I. (ed.), Michaelis Attaliotae Historia (Bonn 1853), pp. 217, 228, 229. According to Djurić, I., “Porodica Foka”, Zbornik Radova Vizantinoslog Intituta 17 (1976), p. 219 and fn. 11, it was an indirect affinity. See also Cheynet, J.-C., Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990), p. 217, fn. 70, p. 68, fn. 49.

8. Thurn, I. (ed.), Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis Historiarum (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 5, Berlin – New York 1973), p. 495.

9. According to Skylitzes Continuatus, Chronographia, Τσολάκης, Ε. (ed.), Η Συνέχεια της Xρονογραφίας του Ιωάννου Σκυλίτζη (Ioannes Skylitzes Continuatus) (Institute for Balkan Studies 105, Thessaloniki 1968), p. 185, n. 23-26, the daughter of Theodoulos Synadenos was the niece of Nikephoros III, while Anna Komnene [Reinsch, D.R. – Kambylis, A. (ed.), Annae Comnenae Alexias (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 40, Berlin – New York 2001), pp. 57, 75-82], reports that Nikephoros Botaneiates intended to bequeath the throne to a member of the Synadenos family.

10. Βαρζός, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών 1 (Thessaloniki 1984), p. 123.

11. Βαρζός, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών 1 (Thessaloniki 1984), pp. 172-173. See also Kazhdan, A., “Some Notes on the Byzantine Prosopography of the Ninth through the Twelfth Centuries”, Byzantinische Forschungen 12 (1987), pp. 67-68.

12. Βαρζός, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών 1 (Thessaloniki 1984), pp. 274-275. This Manuel owned land in the region of Berroia. See Gautier, P., “Le typikon du Christ Sauveur Pantocrator”, Revue des Études Byzantines 32 (1974), p. 123; Cheynet, J.-C., Pouvoir et contestations à Byzance 963-1210 (Paris 1990), p. 239, n. 273.

13. Polemis, D., The Doukai. A Contribution to Byzantine Prosopography (London 1968), p. 79, no. 33; Βαρζός, Κ., Η γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών 1 (Thessaloniki 1984), pp. 280-281.

14. See Miklosich, F. – Müller, J., Acta et diplomata graeca medii aevi 6 (Wien 1890), p. 136, including a reference to John Botaneiates, who held the title of taboullarios in Crete.

15. Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit 2 (Wien 1977), no. 3001-3003.