John I Tzimiskes was the senior Byzantine Emperor from 11 December 969 to 10 January 976. An intuitive and successful general, he strengthened the Empire and expanded its borders during his short reign, John I Tzimiskes was born into the Kourkouas clan, a family of Armenian origin. Scholars have speculated that his nickname Tzimiskes was derived either from the Armenian Chmushkik, meaning red boot, or from an Armenian word for short stature. A more favorable explanation is offered by the medieval Armenian historian Matthew of Edessa, Khozan was located in the region of Paghnatun, in the Byzantine province of Fourth Armenia. Tzimiskes was born sometime in 925 to a member of the Kourkouas family. Both the Kourkouai and the Phokadai were distinguished Cappadocian families, several of their members had served as prominent army generals, most notably the great John Kourkouas, who conquered Melitene and much of Armenia. Contemporary sources describe Tzimiskes as a short but well-built man, with reddish blonde hair and beard. He seems to have joined the army at an early age, the latter is also considered his instructor in the art of war. Partly because of his connections and partly because of his personal abilities, Tzimiskes quickly rose through the ranks. He was given the political and military command of the theme of Armenia before he turned twenty-five years old and his marriage to Maria Skleraina, daughter of Pantherios Skleros and sister of Bardas Skleros, linked him to the influential family of the Skleroi. Little is known about her, she died before his rise to the throne, the contemporary historian Leo the Deacon remarks that she excelled in both beauty and wisdom. The Byzantine Empire was at war with its neighbors, the various autonomous and semi-autonomous emirates emerging from the break-up of the Abbasid Caliphate. The most prominent among them was the Hamdanid Emirate of Aleppo, Armenia served as the borderland between the two Empires, and Tzimiskes successfully defended his province. He and his troops joined the part of the army. Nikephoros justified his name with a series of victories, moving the borders further east with the capture of about 60 border cities including Aleppo, by 962 the Hamdanids had sued for peace with favorable terms for the Byzantines, securing the eastern border of the Empire for some years. Tzimiskes distinguished himself during the war both at the side of his uncle and at leading parts of the army to battle under his personal command and he was rather popular with his troops and gained a reputation for taking the initiative during battles, turning their course. On the death of Emperor Romanos II in 963, Tzimiskes urged his uncle to seize the throne, to solidify his position, Tzimiskes married Theodora, a daughter of Emperor Constantine VII. He proceeded to justify his usurpation by repelling the invaders of the Empire
Gold histamenon of John Tzimiskes, showing him crowned by the Virgin Mary.
The Bamberger Gunthertuch, a Byzantine silk tapestry depicting the return of John Tzimiskes from a successful campaign.