Historical Figure
Nationality: Armenian citizen of the Byzantine Empire
Date of Birth: Early 710s (probably)
Date of Death: Late 740s (disputed)
Cause of Death: Unknown
Religion: Eastern Orthodox Church
Occupation: Nobleman, General
Parents: Emperor Artabasdos,
unknown mother,
Empress Anna (stepmother?)
Relatives: Co-emperor Nikephoros (half brother),
seven other siblings (names unknown)
Political Office(s): Strategos of the Armeniac Theme
Fictional Appearances:
"Islands in the Sea"
POD: 717 CE
Type of Appearance: Direct
Nationality: Italy (born in Byzantine Empire)
Occupation: Priest, Diplomat
Parents: Princess Anna
Relatives: Emperor Leo III (grandfather)

Niketas (Greek: Νικήτας) was the eldest son of the Byzantine general and usurper Artabasdos (reigned 741–743). He was probably born in the early 710s. Anna, daughter of Emperor Leo III, seems to have been his stepmother. He served as a general during his father's usurpation against Emperor Constantine V, the son of Leo. After Artabasdos ascended the imperial throne in 741, Niketas was named strategos of the Armeniac Theme. In August 742 or 743, however, he was defeated in the Battle of Modrine by the forces of Constantine. After a battle near Nicomedia, he was captured and imprisoned. After Constantine regained Constantinople in November 743, Niketas and his brother Nikephoros and their father were paraded through the Hippodrome of Constantinople. The three were then violently blinded and confined to the Chora Monastery, and died at unknown dates.

Niketas in "Islands in the Sea"[]

Father Niketas was a Catholic priest and part of a Roman delegation sent by Pope Constantine II in AD 769, to a heathen Bulgar Khan named Telerikh.[1] The purpose was to attempt to convert him and his people to Christianity. The other two emissaries were Father Theodore and Brother Paul.[2] Niketas was a bitter man but surprisingly knowledgeable in the ways of the secular political world. This was because he was a grandson[3] of Leo III, the last Basileus ton Rhomaion or emperor of the Romans in Constantinople.[4]

The evening after their arrival in the Bulgar capital of Pliska, a delegation of Muslims also arrived intending to try to convert Telerikh to Islam. Telerikh had invited both delegations in order for them to present their respective faiths and debate each other. He would then decide which, if any, he and his people would convert to.[5]

At the first meeting, both delegations presented gifts to Telerikh, including a Bible and a Qu'ran. This led to a theological discussions between Paul and Jalal ad-Din on the differences between their religions. During the talk, one of Telerikh's nobles called out to the Khan, in his own speech, that their own gods had served them well enough for years and years and not to change now. Ad-Din replied that the extent of the Caliphate proved Allah's might and even the Christians, who knew God imperfectly, had much more extensive lands than the Bulgars. Niketas added that these false gods also isolated the Bulgars since they could not swear oaths that Christians or Muslims would find binding.[6]

After considerable debate lasting the better part of a day, the Khan stated that these issues needed thought and dismissed the parties until another meeting three days later. He also warned the Christians and Muslims that they all were his guests and that they were not to fight one another.[7]

At the next meeting, Telerikh asked the two delegations to described their beliefs and how they worshiped their common, one god. Theodore and ad-Din did so, and vigorously took exception to what the other stated until Telerikh said "Wait". He summarised their arguments as calling each other a liar which was not helpful since he could not tell which was truthful. Instead, he asked them to tell him what his people would have to do if they followed one faith or the other. It came out that he would have to give up wine and pork if he became a Muslim or 46 of his 47 wives if he became a Christian. Neither was very appealing.[8]

Further discussion ensued over the nature of Heaven and Paradise with the latter looking better to the Khan..[9] While Telerikh was contemplating the fleshy rewards of Paradise, Niketas interrupted and asked him to consider one other thing. While the Pope was the leader in all spiritual matters, there were many secular rulers in Christian lands. This contrasted positively with Islam where the Caliph was supreme in both. If Telerikh became a Muslim he might well have to subservient himself to the Caliphate although ad-Din assured him that would not be the case if he voluntarily converted. All previous lands that converted and became subordinate did so because they had been conquered which would not be the case with the Bulgars.[10]

Telerikh, not showing any signs of a decision, dismissed the two delegations with the command to meet again in four days.[11].

After the four days passed, the delegates once more met the Khan. He announced that he had made his decision. He rose from his throne and walked down the space between the two sets of emissaries. He then turned southeast, towards Mecca, sank to his knees and said the shahada three times. After much proselytizing and debate, the Khan converted to the Muslim faith because of the nature of the Christian heaven and because the Caliphate commanded a stronger empire than the Pope.[12]


  1. See, e.g., Departures, pg. 70.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Niketas' precise familial relations are uncertain to historians, so Harry Turtledove cannot be faulted for this possible inaccuracy.
  4. Ibid. pg. 75.
  5. Ibid., pg. 70, generally.
  6. Ibid., pgs. 70-74.
  7. Ibid., pg. 74.
  8. 76-78.
  9. Ibid., pgs. 80-82.
  10. Ibid., pg. 82.
  11. Ibid. pg. 83.
  12. Ibid., pg. 86-87.