Ancient History

Reconstructing the Narrative: The Usurpation of Nikephoros Bryennios the Elder



This paper traces the usurpation of Nikephoros Bryennios the elder, 1077/8 AD, by examining narratives from three Byzantine historians: Michael Attaleiates, John Skylitzes, and Nikephoros Bryennios the younger. For the most part, modern scholars have focussed on investigating successful usurpation candidates who managed to rise to imperial power. For this period, this included Nikephoros Botaneiates and Alexios Komnenos. Key questions are often asked, such as how usurpers managed to succeed and why did they choose to undertake a course of usurpation, often resulting in a narrative of justification and legitimacy.[1] For this period, albeit from Neville (2012) on Nikephoros Bryennios, appreciation has not been given to usurpers who failed.[2] This paper will provide a chronology of Nikephoros Bryennios’ usurpation, and how these three authors depict the incident, the correlations and differences between them, and lastly, preliminary thoughts why Bryennios’ usurpation failed compared to his successful contemporaries. 

[1] These questions are instrumental to answer in the field of usurpation because justification and legitimacy are the quintessential ingredients for understanding how individuals are successful or less fortunate in their coup attempts. The factors of justification and legitimacy intertwine with one another and are important when examining the perception of the usurper and how they were viewed by the public, state, and church during and after their usurpation.

[2] For a recent, although currently unpublished, thesis that addresses some of the limitations of previous studies on usurpation during this period, see Davidson, The Glory of Ruling.


  • Year: 2020
  • Volume: 4 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 1-27
  • DOI: 10.18573/share.18
  • Published on 23 Jul 2020
  • Peer Reviewed