In November 959 Romanos II succeeded his father on the throne, among rumors that he or his wife had sped up the end of Constantine VII by poison. Romanos carried out a virtual purge of his father's courtiers and replaced them with his own friends and those of his wife. Among the persons removed from court were the Empress Mother, Helena, and her daughters, all of them being relegated to a monastery. Nevertheless, many of Romanos' appointees were able men, including his chief adviser, the eunuch Joseph Bringas.
The pleasure-loving sovereign could also leave military matters in the adept hands of his generals, in particular the brothers Leo and Nikephoros Phokas. In 960 Nikephoros Phokas was sent with a fleet of 1,000 dromons, 2,000 chelandia, and 308 transports (entire fleet was manned by 27,000 oarsmen and marines) carrying 50,000 men to recover Crete from the Muslims. After a difficult campaign and the 9-month siege of Chandax, Nikephoros successfully re-established Byzantine control over the entire island in 961. Following a triumph celebrated at Constantinople, Nikephoros was sent to the eastern frontier, where the Emir of Aleppo Sayf al-Daula was engaged in annual raids into Byzantine Anatolia. Nikephoros conquered Cilicia and even Aleppo in 962, sacking the palace of the Emir and taking possession of 390,000 silver dinars, 2,000 camels, and 1,400 mules. In the meantime Leo Phokas and Marianos Argyros had countered Magyar incursions into the Byzantine Balkans.
After a lengthy hunting expedition Romanos II took ill and died on March 15, 963. Rumor attributed his death to poison administered by his wife Theophano. Romanos II's reliance on his wife and on bureaucrats like Joseph Bringas had resulted in a relatively capable administration, but built up resentment among the nobility, which was associated with the military.