John I Tzimiskes was born into the Kourkouas family of Armenian origin. Scholars ha
John I Tzimiskes was born into the Kourkouas family of Armenian origin. Scholars have speculated that his nickname "Tzimiskes" was derived either from the Armenian Chmushkik (Չմշկիկ), 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, who states that Tzimiskes was from the region of Khozan, from the area which is now called Chmushkatzag." Khozan was located in the region of Paghnatun, in the Byzantine province of Fourth Armenia (Sophene).
Tzimiskes was born sometime around 925 to an unnamed member of the Kourkouas family and the sister of the future Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas. Both the Kourkouai and the Phokadai were distinguished Cappadocian families, and among the most prominent of the emerging military aristocracy of Asia Minor. 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 rather short but well-built man, with reddish blonde hair and beard and blue eyes who was attractive to women. He seems to have joined the army at an early age, originally under the command of his maternal uncle Nikephoros Phokas. The latter is also considered his instructor in the art of war. Partly because of his familial 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.
His marriage to Maria Skleraina, daughter of Pantherios Skleros and sister of Bardas Skleros, linked him to the influential Skleros family. Little is known about her; she died before his rise to the throne, and the marriage was apparently childless. The contemporary historian Leo the Deacon remarks that she excelled in both beauty and wisdom.
Tzimiskes died suddenly in 976 returning from his second campaign against the Abbasids and was buried in the Church of Christ Chalkites, which he had rebuilt. Several sources state that the Imperial chamberlain Basil Lekapenos poisoned the Emperor to prevent him from stripping Lekapenos of his ill-gotten lands and riches. Tzimiskes left all his own personal wealth to the poor and the sick. He was succeeded by his ward and nephew, Basil II, who had been nominal co-emperor since 960.
Today, Tsimiski Street, the main commercial road in the center of Thessaloniki, is named after him. Çemişgezek in the Tunceli Province, modern day Turkey, is named after him, as he was born there.