Nikephoros Melissenos was born ca. 1045. He was of noble descent from both his parents, who belonged to old aristocratic families. Their members had acquired high offices in the military hierarchy. His father was a member of the Bourtzes family, one of the most prominent families of the military aristocracy of Asia Minor, with influence on the theme of Anatolikon and the region of Antioch. His mother was a member of the Melissenos family. Its members had acquired high offices in the byzantine army serving as of themes from the 9th until the 11th century.
The marriage of Nikephoros Melissenos to Eudokia Komnene –the second-born daughter of John Komnenos and Anna Dalassene, as well as sister of the subsequent emperor Alexios I (1081-1118)– occurred prior to 1067, and tied Nikephoros Melissenos to the royal house of the Komnenoi. This marriage gave him a son, John Komnenos. Nikephoros Melissenos died on November 17th, 1104.
2. Military career
Nikephoros Melissenos was honored with the title of prior to 1067 and served as the of Triaditza (modern Sofia) during the reign of Constantine X Doukas or Romanos IV Diogenes for an unknown period of time. During the reign of the latter, he served in the byzantine army under the command of his brother-in-law, the Manuel Komnenos. In the autumn of 1080, he was captured, along with Manuel Komnenos and his other brother-in-law, Michael Taronites, in a clash with the Seljuks of Chrysoskoulos near the city of Sebasteia. Their captivity, however, did not last long, since Manuel Komnenos convinced Chrysoskoulos to enter the service of Romanos IV Diogenes.
When Nikephoros Botaneiates rebelled against Michael VII Doukas (1071-1078) in October 1077, Melissenos refused to join his rebellion, in contrast with many other great landowners of Asia Minor. It seems possible that he replaced the rebel as the commander of the theme of Anatolikon and was appointed strategos of the theme during that period.1 Following the ascent of Nikephoros III Botaneiates to the throne (spring of 1078), he fell into disfavor. In 1080, he resided in Kos, most probably on exile, due to his opposition against the emperor at the time of his rebellion.2
3. Rebellious activity
Nikephoros Melissenos rebelled against Nikephoros III Botaneiates in the autumn of 1080, attempting to seize the imperial throne. In order to achieve his goal, he did not hesitate to reinforce his rebellious army with Seljuk mercenaries, knowing that their great numbers were necessary for his prevalence. The local populations welcomed him as an emperor during his advance through the lands of Asia Minor. As a result, it was easy for him to seize Nicaea of Bithynia and proclaim himself emperor in February 1081. The simultaneous rebellion of Alexios Komnenos, however, which became known to Melissenos a month later, forced him to adjust his demands. He proposed to Alexios to divide the empire among themselves, claiming for himself the western provinces and his coronation as co-emperor. However, the diplomatic maneuvres of Alexios and the rapid course of events leading to the coronation of Alexios a few days later, placed Melissenos before a fait accompli. He abandoned his imperial ambitions and accepted the privileges that Alexios offered. He was honored with the title of and received the tax revenues of the region of Thessaloniki as an imperial grant.
The extent of the ambitions of Melissenos is hard to fathom, since the ease he abandoned his claim to the crown reveals that his objective was not the throne itself but the securing of his property, which was threatened by the Seljuk presence in Asia Minor. It is indicative that after the ascent of Alexios I Komnenos to the throne, Melissenos abandoned his great estate in Dorylaeum and relinquished part of the imperial grants to his relatives, the Bourtzes family. His failed attempt to assume power had dire consequences on the territorial integrity of the empire, since the cities where he set up garrisons of Seljuk mercenaries remained under their control following the failure of his rebellion. His rebellion is a characteristic example of how the political dispute for the throne and the personal ambitions of the aristocrats weakened the empire and gave the chance to the Seljuks to be involved in the interior of the empire.
4. Activity of Nikephoros Melissenos from 1081 until his death
From 1081 until 1091, Nikephoros Melissenos fought next to Alexios I Komnenos. In the autumn of 1081, he participated in the battle of Dyrrachion against the Normans of Robert Guiscard as a commander of a part of the imperial army. He retained this position in the battle of Dristra (autumn of 1087) against the Pechenegs. During that battle, which ended in the defeat of the Byzantines, he was captured and bought off by the emperor Alexios I. In the spring of 1091, Melissenos was ordered by the emperor to gather conscripts among the Bulgarian and Vlach nomads. He then commanded units of the imperial army in the battle at the foot of mount Levounion, which ended in a byzantine victory and the temporary elimination of the Pecheneg threat.
In 1094, Nikephoros Melissenos confirmed his allegiance to Alexios I Komnenos as he participated in the family council of the Komnenoi on the subject of the rebellion of John Komnenos, the doukas of Dyrachion, and Nikephoros condemned his action. During that same year, he was sent, along with George Palaiologos and John Taronites, to Beroe in order to guard the nearby region which was threatened by the Cumans. That is the last mission of Nikephoros Melissenos mentioned in the sources.
1. Gautier, P. (ed.), Nicephori Bryennii historiarum libri quattuor (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae IX, series Bruxellensis, Brussels 1975), p. 300, note 1.
2. Gautier, P. (ed.), Nicephori Bryennii historiarum libri quattuor (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae IX, series Bruxellensis, Brussels 1975), p. 301, note 3.