Leo III & Constantine V

Leo III & Constantine V

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Leo III, byname Leo The Isaurian, (born c. 675, –680, Germanicia, Commagene, Syria—died June 18, 741, Constantinople), Byzantine emperor (717–741), who founded the Isaurian, or Syrian, dynasty, successfully resisted Arab invasions, and engendered a century of conflict within the empire by banning the use of religious images (icons).

Emperor Constantine V Copronymos

Emperor Leo’s son and successor, Emperor Constantine V Copronymos (r. 741–775), took a much harsher stance against the icons and their defenders. Even daring to call himself &ldquoemperor and priest,&rdquo he was more determined than his father had been to subject the Church to his own will. He styled himself a theologian, and attempted to present a well-reasoned, theologically informed case against the icons. He systematically pursued the official policy of Iconoclasm, removing Iconodules from the episcopacy and replacing them with Iconoclasts.

By 753 he felt ready to move definitively at the highest theological and ecclesiastical level. He called a major Church council which he intended to be the Seventh Ecumenical Council. It met the next year in Constantinople, with 338 bishops in attendance—all of whom were under severe imperial pressure to support the Iconoclastic position.

This Iconoclastic Council of 754 condemned the making and venerating of icons. The bishops at the council declared that they were only following the first six Ecumenical Councils, and indeed, all of Holy Tradition—though quite obviously, they were ignoring Canon 82 promulgated by the Quinisext Council in 692.

In trying to make sophisticated theological arguments, the Iconoclastic Council asserted that icons of Christ either are Monophysitic (mixing the divine and human natures, if their defenders say that Christ Himself is depicted in the icons), or Nestorian (separating Christ’s divine nature from His humanity, if it is stated that only His human nature and not His divine nature is being depicted). In conclusion, the council decreed:

Supported by the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers, we declare unanimously, in the name of the Holy Trinity, that there shall be rejected and removed and cursed out of the Christian Church every likeness which is made out of any material and color whatever by the evil art of painters.

It seems that the chief Christological mistake of this council was that it did not properly distinguish between Christ&rsquos divine nature and His (divine) hypostasis. The icons do depict Christ in His human nature, which He has forever joined inseparably to Himself through union with His divine Person or hypostasis. But of course the icons do not depict His divine nature, which forever remains invisible and uncircumscribable.

The theology expressed at this false council also reflects a dualistic streak haunting Christianity in various ways through the centuries, which denies the full goodness of the material order. In addition to calling iconography &ldquothe evil art of painters,&rdquo this council also labeled it &ldquoa dead art, discovered by the heathen,&rdquo and &ldquolifeless pictures with material colors which are of no value.&rdquo It said Christians are forbidden &ldquoto imitate the customs of the demon-worshippers, and to insult the saints . . . by common dead matter.&rdquo And it slanderously accused the iconographer of working &ldquofrom sinful love of gain . . . with his polluted hands.&rdquo

Such a negative view of matter cannot help but undermine a proper understanding of the Incarnation of Christ—and hence, of the very nature and scope of salvation itself. As Bishop Kallistos Ware observes,

The Iconoclasts, by repudiating all representations of God, failed to take full account of the Incarnation. They fell, as so many puritans have done, into a kind of dualism. Regarding matter as a defilement, they wanted a religion freed from all contact with what is material for they thought that what is spiritual must be non-material. But this is to betray the Incarnation, by allowing no place to Christ&rsquos humanity, to His body it is to forget that our body as well as our soul must be saved and transfigured. The Iconoclast controversy is thus closely linked to the earlier disputes about Christ&rsquos person. It was not merely a controversy about religious art, but about the Incarnation, about human salvation, about the salvation of the entire material cosmos.

Many in the Church refused to accept the decisions of the Iconoclastic Council. As a result, they were viciously persecuted by the imperial authorities. The time between 762 and 775 is known as the &ldquodecade of blood&rdquo since hundreds of Christians, mostly monks, were imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for harboring and honoring icons.

Constantine’s weak successors

His successors all but let slip the gains won by the great iconoclast. Constantine’s son Leo IV died prematurely in 780, leaving to succeed him his 10-year-old son, Constantine VI, under the regency of the empress Irene. Not much can be said for Constantine, and Irene’s policies as regent and (after the deposition and blinding of her son at her orders) as sole ruler from 797 to 802 were all but disastrous. Her iconodule policies alienated many among the themal troops, who were still loyal to the memory of the great warrior emperor, Constantine V. In an effort to maintain her popularity among the monkish defenders of the icons and with the population of Constantinople, she rebated taxes to which those groups were subject, and she reduced the customs duties levied outside the port of Constantinople, at Abydos and Hieros. The consequent loss to the treasury weighed all the more severely, since victories won by the Arabs in Asia Minor (781) and by the Bulgars (792) led both peoples to demand and receive tribute as the price of peace. A revolt of the higher palace officials led to Irene’s deposition in 802, and the so-called Isaurian dynasty of Leo III ended with her death, in exile, on the isle of Lesbos.

In the face of the Bulgar menace, none of the following three emperors succeeded in founding a dynasty. Nicephorus I (ruled 802–811), the able finance minister who succeeded Irene, reimposed the taxes that the empress had remitted and instituted other reforms that provide some insight into the financial administration of the empire during the early 9th century. In the tradition of Constantine V, Nicephorus strengthened the fortifications of Thrace by settling, in that theme, colonists from Asia Minor.

Taking arms himself, he led his troops against the new and vigorous Bulgar khan, Krum, only to meet defeat and death at the latter’s hands. His successor, Michael I Rhangabe (811–813), fared little better internal dissensions broke up his army as it faced Krum near Adrianople, and the resulting defeat cost Michael his throne. In only one respect does he occupy an important place in the annals of the Byzantine Empire. Michael was the first emperor to bear a family name, and his use of the patronymic, Rhangabe, bears witness to the emergence of the great families, whose accumulation of landed properties would soon threaten the integrity of those smallholders upon whom the empire depended for its taxes and its military service. The name Rhangabe seems to be a Hellenized form of a Slav original (rokavu), and, if so, Michael’s ethnic origin and that of his successor, Leo V the Armenian (ruled 813–820), provide evidence enough of the degree to which Byzantium in the 9th century had become not only a melting-pot society but, further, a society in which even the highest office lay open to the man with the wits and stamina to seize it. Leo fell victim to assassination, but before his death events beyond his control had improved the empire’s situation. Krum died suddenly in 814 as he was preparing an attack upon Constantinople, and his son, Omortag, arranged a peace with the Byzantine Empire in order to protect the western frontiers of his Bulgar empire against the pressures exerted by Frankish expansion under Charlemagne and his successors. Since the death of the fifth caliph, Hārūn ar-Rashīd, had resulted in civil war in the Muslim world, hostilities from that quarter ceased. Leo used the breathing space to reconstruct those Thracian cities that the Bulgars had earlier destroyed. His work indicates the degree of gradual Byzantine penetration into the coastal fringes of the Balkan Peninsula, as does the number of themes organized in that same region during the early 9th century: those of Macedonia, Thessalonica, Dyrrhachium, Dalmatia, and the Strymon.

The new emperor, Michael II, was indeed able to establish a dynasty—the Amorian, or Phrygian—his son Theophilus (829–842) and his grandson Michael III (842–867) each occupying the throne in turn, but none would have forecast so happy a future during Michael II’s first years. Thomas the Slavonian, Michael’s former comrade in arms, gave himself out to be the unfortunate Constantine VI and secured his coronation at the hands of the Patriarch of Antioch. That was accomplished with the willing permission of the Muslim caliph under whose jurisdiction Antioch lay. Thomas thereupon marched to Constantinople at the head of a motley force of Caucasian peoples whose sole bonds were to be found in their devotion to iconodule doctrine and their hatred of Michael’s Iconoclasm. Assisted by Omortag and relying upon the defenses of Constantinople, Michael defeated his enemy, but the episode suggests the tensions beneath the surface of Byzantine society: the social malaise, the ethnic hostility, and the persisting discord created by Iconoclasm. All those may explain the weakness displayed throughout Theophilus’s reign, when a Muslim army defeated the emperor himself (838) as a prelude to the capture of the fortress of Amorium in Asia Minor. It may also explain the concurrent decline of Byzantine strength in the Mediterranean, manifest in the capture of Crete by the Arabs (826 or 827) and in the initiation of attacks upon Sicily that secured the island for the world of Islam. Iconoclasm certainly played its part in the further alienation of East from West, and a closer examination of its doctrines will suggest why this may have been.

Leo III and Constantine V (720–41)

Half-length representation of Leo III, with a short beard and mustache, wearing a chlamys and crown with a cross. He holds a globus cruciger in his right hand and in his left an akakia. Remains of a circular inscription at right. Wreath border.

[D(omino) n(ostr)o Leon(i) p(erpetuo) a(ugusto)] mul(tos) [a(nnos)].(?)


Half-length representation of Constantine, beardless. He is shown with a youthful and much smaller head wearing a crown with a cross and a chlamys, and he holds a globus cruciger in his right hand. A small cross at right. Remains of a circular inscription at left. Indeterminate border.

D(ominus) n(oster) C[o]n[stantinus].


Half-length representation of Leo III, with a short beard and mustache, wearing a chlamys and crown with a cross. He holds a globus cruciger in his right hand and in his left an akakia. Remains of a circular inscription at right. Wreath border.

[D(omino) n(ostr)o Leon(i) p(erpetuo) a(ugusto)] mul(tos) [a(nnos)].(?)


Half-length representation of Constantine, beardless. He is shown with a youthful and much smaller head wearing a crown with a cross and a chlamys, and he holds a globus cruciger in his right hand. A small cross at right. Remains of a circular inscription at left. Indeterminate border.

D(ominus) n(oster) C[o]n[stantinus].

DO Seals 6, no. 29.1 Zacos–Veglery, no. 33 bis.


Domino nostro Leoni perpetuo augusto multos annos.
Dominus noster Constantinus.

Our lord Leo, eternal augustus, [reign] many years.
Our lord Constantine.


The two-year-old Constantine V became his father’s colleague on 25 March 720, and he appears alongside Leo on his coinage from this point forward.

It is important to note that on iconic seals issued during Leo’s joint reign with Constantine the Virgin disappears (see also BZS.1951.31.5.1628). One assumes that in limiting iconography to family members Leo wished to emphasize Constantine’s rights to succession, while at the same time promoting a program of iconoclastic decoration.

Zacos–Veglery read the circular inscription on the obverse as .NO[LE]O-NP[A]MUL. In fact it is impossible to see the letters NO[LE]O. There are traces of letters at left, and one could believe that the inscription ends with the letters MUL. The most certain letter is L. Far less problematic is the reading of the inscription on the reverse. Although Zacos and Veglery were inclined to print the legend as . ST-. NU, one can discern quite readily at the beginning the letters C and N. Although one could debate letterforms, the fact is that stylistically and iconographically one is left only with the choice of attributing the seal to Leo III and Constantine V. See the article by N. Likhachev, “Sceaux de l’empereur Léon III l’Isaurien,” Byzantion 11 (1936): 472, and the seal reproduced from the collection of the Hermitage. On the obverse of the Hermitage specimen is a representation of Leo III wearing a crown and a chlamys and holding a globus cruciger in the r. hand on the reverse appears Constantine similarly dressed and holding a globus cruciger in the r. hand. Both emperors are identified by readable inscriptions. Thus the emperors on our seals wear the same clothing and hold the same symbols of power as on the Hermitage specimen. We note that on Grierson’s class 2 follis of Constantinople (DOC 3.1:29d.3 [pl. 3]), attributed to the years 720–ca. 721, one finds a small cross to the right of Constantine’s bust.

Leo III & Constantine V - History

Leo III, the Isaurian, Byzantine Emperor and his dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire for nearly a century between 717 until 795 when Empress Euphrosyne was deposed and sent to the convent. They came from our ranks.

Leo III was a devout Chalcedonian Christian. His contribution to Christendom is often ignored or goes unnoticed because of his Iconoclast, counter icon-veneration controversy. He was instrumental in stopping the advance of the Arabs in the East. Further, he delayed the infiltration of Islam into Eastern Europe until the onslaught of the Ottoman Seljuk Turks.

Leo III, so-called founder of the "Isaurian" dynasty, was not of Asia Minor but was born ca. 680 in Germanicia a.k.a. Marash near Aleppo in the northern corner of the eastern Mediterranean. His original name may have been Konon. According to the chronicles of Theophanes the Confessor, his family was forcefully resettled by Justinian II (685-695) in Mesembria, an ancient Greek town on the coast of Thrace near Bulgaria where he was raised.

Forceful Dispersion and Resettlement of Eastern Christians

Forceful resettlement of many Christians of the East was a result of a deal struck between the Byzantines and the Arabs. That happened because large numbers of the Christian zealots were removed and dispersed around the Byzantine Empire, away from the boarders between the Byzantine Empire and the Arabs. These Christians were originally supported by the Byzantines themselves but got scapegoated for politics. That was accomplished through an hefty payoff-agreement between the Emperor and the Umayyad Caliph. These Christians were what is known as the Jarjamites, the Maronites/Maradaites, Jacobites and others. They were a thorn in the side of the invading Arabs because they refused to convert to Islam and did not accept the Arab cause célèbre.

&ldquoBetween 660-690, a militant movement appeared in the mountainous region extending from Amanus and northern Syria to the mountains of Galilee, with Lebanon as its stronghold. The Byzantines organized this movement to fight the Umayyad. It was formed of groups of warriors known as the &lsquoJarajima&rsquo (named after the city of &lsquoJarjouma&rsquo near Antioch. The Jarajima, also known as &lsquoMarada&rsquo (&lsquoMardaites&rsquo, strong men) were &lsquoa ruthless generation, called after by kings to defend their property because they were well trained for wars&rsquo&rdquo

&ldquoIn 677, the Byzantines waged war against the Umayyads to regain the territory they had lost, taking advantage of the internal conflicts among the Arabs particularly between Moawiya and Imam Ali. The Byzantine army gathered &lsquoa big group of the Jarajima among whom were Maronites from Syria and Lebanon&rsquo. The Byzantines were able to dominate the mountainous region stretching from the &lsquoBlack Mountain&rsquo overlooking &lsquoAssouaydia&rsquo to Jerusalem. The Marada-Jarajima made of the Lebanese mountains their stronghold they raided the Umayyad causing them extensive damage.

&ldquoConsequently, Moawiya, the Umayyad Caliph, was forced to sign a peace treaty with them and with the Byzantine emperor Constantine IV, by virtue of which he agreed to pay a ransom of 3000 golden dinars and fifty Arabian horses annually, and to set free 8000 Byzantine prisoners. This treaty endowed the Mardaites with more authority and power. When Justinian II became emperor of Byzantium (685-695), he wanted to regain Levant region from the Arabs. He mobilized large groups of the inhabitants of the northern borders and sent with them a division of the Byzantine army. This army was able, with the support of the Jarajima, to conquer Syria, Lebanon, northern Palestine and the Golan region.

&ldquoThe Mardaites formed with the Maronites a strong army. The merging of the natives (the Maronites) with the non natives (the Mardaites) was accelerated because they shared the same language (Syriac), the same Chalcedonian faith which distinguished the Maronites, and the same objectives of defending their land against the expansion of the Umayyad. The historian Ibn al-Qilai talks about &lsquothe Maronites and their prince who lived in Baskinta&rdquo The Maronites lived in Mount Lebanon where they spread their authority on the mountains and neighboring coasts. They were loyal to the Roman Church and to their Patriarch.&rsquo

&ldquoWhen Abdel Malek bin Marwan became Caliph in 685, the Marada [Mardaites] Maronites renewed their attacks from the Lebanese mountain against the Umayyad with an army of more than 30,000 men.

The Umayyad Caliph and Justinian II then signed a treaty in which the Byzantine Emperor pledged to remove the Mardaites from Lebanon. This treachery dealt the Maronites and Christianity in the East a severe blow and deepened the Maronite resentment against the Byzantine Empire.&rsquo&rdquo

Source: Khoury Harb, Antoine. The Maronites History and Constants (p. 66, 68, 72)

It is highly unlikely that anyone can precisely determine from which Christian group Leo III came from however, conventional wisdom seems to indicate that he must have come from the Maronites, Maradaites, Jarjamites or Jacobites (or a mix of them). The conclusion is based on the fact that his family was one of the many Christian families that were forcefully resettled in Thrace and elsewhere by Justinian II, as testified to by the chronicles of Theophanes the Confessor. However, in retrospect, the differences between the said Christian groups are sometimes blurry. Nevertheless, his having become a Byzantine Emperor automatically makes him a Melkite, in the technical meaning of the word.

In 705, when Emperor Justinian II was advancing on Constantinople from Bulgaria, Leo entered into his service along with an army of 15,000 horsemen provided by Tervel khan of Bulgaria. Consequently, upon Justinian&rsquos victory, he sent Leo on a diplomatic mission to Lazica in Georgia to setup an alliance against the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I. Leo attracted his sovereign's attention during his second regime (705-711). When insecure Anastasius II (713-715) came to power, he appointed Leo to the post of general or governor of the military tenured district of Anatolia. Rivalries between troop units of the various districts escalated into rebellions and instability that encouraging Leo's own ambitions.

When Anastasius was deposed, Theodosius III (715-717) was chosen as a successor. Leo, Patricius and Artavasdus of Armenia (who also came from Marash, near Aleppo and who became his son-in-law) refused to recognize the legitimacy of Theodosius and joined forces to overthrow him. After capturing his son in Nicomedia, Theodosius took the advice of Patriarch Germanus and the senate and abdicated. Both deposed father and freed son subsequently entered the clergy and Theodosius became bishop of Ephesus. Leo acceded to the throne and entered Constantinople, where he was crowned emperor on March 25, 717 as Leo III. His wife Maria was crowned empress in 718. By his wife Maria, Leo III had four known children:

  • Anna, who married Artavasdus
  • Constantine V, who succeeded as emperor
  • Irene
  • Kosmo

Originally promising the succession to Artavasdus, Leo secured a dynastic line of his own when his son, Constantine was born in 718. Leo made him co-emperor in 720, guaranteeing this family succession. In 733, Leo married Constantine to a princess of the Khazars, thereby winning them as valuable allies against the Arabs in the Caucasus. Leo shared command and authority with Constantine V in his last years, so that power passed directly to his son when he died on June 18, 741, having reigned more than 24 years.

Though a usurper, Leo III proved to be the right man for the times. The Arabs under their Umayyad rulers had again taken the offensive, having failed in earlier efforts to overrun the "Empire of the Christians" and to take its great capital. From 695 on, exploiting the chaos after the collapse of the Byzantine Heraclian regime, the Arab armies plunged deep into Asia Minor and threatened Constantinople directly in the Second Arab siege of Constantinople. They massed a force of 80,000 men and a massive fleet to the Bosphorus. The Umayyad Arabs forces were sent by Caliph Suleiman Ibn Abed al-Malik and served under Maslama. With only the briefest time for preparations, Leo faced a full-scale siege, on August 15, 717. Leo's leadership was brilliant.

Careful preparations and the stubborn resistance put up by Leo wore out the invaders. The Arab forces were defeated thanks to Bulgarian reinforcements that arrived to aid the Byzantines. Leo was allied with the Bulgarians but the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor was uncertain if they were still serving under Tervel or his eventual successor Kormesiy of Bulgaria. The siege had lasted 12 months. As with the previous Arab siege, under Constantine IV 40 years before, the combination of strong fortifications, excellent organization, and the fearsome secret weapon known as "Greek fire" gave the Byzantines success. This great triumph against the final tide of the Arab offensive saved not only the Byzantine Empire but all of Eastern Europe, and perhaps more beyond, from Moslem conquest. Unable to continue the siege in the face of the Bulgarian onslaught and lack of successes, the Arabs were forced withdrew in disarray in August 718.and abandoned their ambitions on Constantinople in August, 718. Suleiman himself had died the previous year and his successor Omar II would not attempt another siege.

The Arabs' menace to the empire did not end altogether during the 720s and 730s they resumed their offensive into Asia Minor. Leo devoted further efforts against them, and in 740 he won a great victory at Akroinon which further crippled the Arabs' position, enabling his son and successor to take the offensive against them. Not only was the capital freed from danger, but the safety of Asia Minor, the empire's greatest source of manpower and revenue, was secured. Further, Leo advanced the system of the themes (administrative divisions of the empire) to a significant extent. He reconsolidated the system by dividing the original themes into smaller units and reorganizing them he had learned from his own success how easy it was for a commander of a large territory to seize the throne.

Leo's Greatest Controversy, the Iconoclasm

Iconoclasm (Eikonoklasmos or Εικονοκλασία, "Image-breaking -- εικόνα- διάλειμμα") is the name of the heresy of opposition to the religious use of images and veneration of pictures and statues symbolizing sacred figures in the Christian Church.

Before going into details about the iconoclastic movement that started with Leo III, it is important to mention that during the Arab siege of Constantinople in 717, the patriarch attempted to protect the city through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Following the example of Patriarch Sergius (610-638) who had carried an icon of the Virgin around the city walls during the Avar siege of Constantinople in 626, Patriarch Germanus faced the Arab siege with the power of an icon of her, the Theotókos (Θεοτόκος -- God bearer -- Mother of God). Miraculously, the city was saved, though Leo's role in the affair is played down by iconophile sources.

Despite his military successes, the empire suffered territorial losses during Leo's early reign, as well as, a devastating underwater earthquake at Thera and Therasia in 726. These were interpreted by him as a sign of divine displeasure, and as a warning to turn back to the "real protector of the empire in its full greatness," i.e. Christ. It was at around this time, either in 726 or 730 -- the sources are divided as to whether the ruling patriarch was Germanus or his successor Anastasius -- that he replaced the relief of Christ on the Chalke Gate at the entrance to the imperial palace with a cross bearing the inscription "I drive out the enemies and kill the barbarians." He is reported to have done that to resurrect the symbol under which Constantine the Great and Heraclius conquered, or re-conquered, great areas for the Byzantine Empire which was at that point in time sadly reduced by Germanic, Slav and Arab incursions.

The prohibition of devotion to icons seems to have received some support from official aristocratic circles and some heretical clergy. Though the movement may have been aimed indirectly at the centers of icon support, the monasteries, a genuine religious and theological concern cannot be overlooked. Influences of Islam, Judaism, and even some Christian heresies have been suggested as affecting the movement, but it may also reflect a puritanical reaction to the Greek philosophical rationalization of physical representation of the Divine.

There is no proof that Leo's objection to icon veneration was due to his desire to convert Muslims and Jews who abhorred devotion to holy images. However, in 726 he issued an edict against that. It ordered the images to be placed higher in the churches that it might be impossible for the people to kiss them. However, this deeply rooted form of devotion infuriated the ninety-year old Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople, and was opposed by the people and the monks. The uproar went so far as to prompt a certain Cosmas to take advantage of a popular rising in the Cyclades islands, and had himself proclaimed emperor. He went with a fleet against Constantinople but Leo crushed his advance and had him executed.

In a second edict of A.D. 730, Leo ordered all images to be removed from the churches. Now began a war against images by military force, which went to great excess in fanatical violence. Repeated popular tumults were quelled in blood. Only in Rome and North Italy did the powerful arm of the emperor make no impression.

In the Italian Peninsula, defiant Popes Gregory II and Gregory III on behalf of image-veneration led to a fierce campaign against the emperor. The former summoned councils in Rome to anathematize and excommunicate the iconoclasts in 730 and 732. Leo retaliated by transferring Southern Italy and Illyricum from the papal diocese to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The author of the Life of Pope Gregory II in the Liber Pontificalis is keen to lay the blame on Leo's iconoclast actions he acknowledges that resistance to the imposition of an increased tax on all land, including that belonging to the church, also motivated papal opposition to Leo. Leo's intention was to strengthen his rule in Italy and make Italy contribute more to the cost of its own defense against the Arab threat (Davis, infra, 10 n. 2). The transfer of the dioceses of Sicily, Calabria and Illyricum from papal to Byzantine jurisdiction was also a source of conflict with the supreme pontiffs, though this may have occurred later, during the reign of Constantine V. Nevertheless, friction between pope and emperor only encouraged the papacy's drift into its epoch-making alliance with the Carolingian Franks. The struggle was accompanied by an armed outbreak in the Exarchate of Ravenna in 727, which Leo finally endeavored to subdue by means of a large fleet. But the destruction of the armament by a storm decided the issue against him. His South Italian subjects successfully defied his religious edicts, and the Exarchate of Ravenna became effectively detached from the empire, ending Byzantine sovereignty over Rome.

His son and successor Constantine V (718&ndash75), had the worship of images condemned as idolatry.

Saint John of Damascus and The Theology Against Iconoclasm

The greatest dogmatist, theologian of this age and Father of the Church, Saint John of Damascus (Ιωάννης Δαμασκήνος) was safe in the Arab Caliph Abdul Malek's court where he served as protosymbulus (Προτοσυμμπuλuσ), or chief councilor. He was brought up at the court in Damascus, where his father was an official. He entered the fray against Leo, in defense of veneration of icons. Not only did he himself oppose the Byzantine monarch, but he also stirred the people to resistance. To the royal iconoclastic decrees, Saint John replied with vigor, and by the adoption of a simpler style brought the Christian side of the controversy within the grasp of the common people. Later, he emphasized what he had already said and warned the emperor to beware of the consequences of what he called an unlawful action.

John explained it like this: "Often, doubtless, when we have not the Lord's passion in mind and see the image of Christ's crucifixion, his saving passion is brought back to remembrance, and we fall down and worship not the material but that which is imaged: just as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify."

Second, John drew support from the writings of the early fathers like Basil the Great, who wrote, "The honor paid to an icon is transferred to its prototype." That is, the actual icon was but a point of departure for the expressed devotion the recipient was in the unseen world.

Third, John affirmed that, with the birth of the Son of God in the flesh, the depiction of Christ in paint and wood demonstrated faith in the Incarnation. Since the unseen God had become visible, there was no blasphemy in painting visible representations of Jesus or other historical figures. To paint an icon of him was, in fact, a profession of faith, deniable only by a heretic!

"I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter," he wrote. "I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God."

Naturally, John's vigorous opposition to iconoclasts angered Leo. Unable to reach the writer with physical force, he endeavored to retaliate by strategy. Having secured an autograph letter written by John, he is said to have forged a letter, exactly similar in chirography. It was purported to have been written by John to the Emperor. In it he was claimed to have offered to betray into Leo's hands the city of Damascus. The letter was sent to the caliph. Notwithstanding his councilor's earnest avowal of innocence, the caliph accepted it as genuine and ordered that the hand that wrote it be severed at the wrist.

The caliph, now convinced of John's innocence, would fain have reinstated him in his former office, but the Damascene had heard a call to a higher life, and with his foster-brother entered the monastery of St. Sabas, some eighteen miles south-east of Jerusalem.

In 754, the pseudo-Synod of Constantinople convened at the command of Constantine V, the successor of Leo, confirmed the principles of the Iconoclasts and anathematized by name those who had conspicuously opposed them. But the largest measure of the council's spleen was reserved for Saint John of Damascus. He was called a "cursed favorer of Saracens", a "traitorous worshipper of images", a "wronger of Jesus Christ", a "teacher of impiety", and a "bad interpreter of the Scriptures".

The accession of Empress Irene brought with it a change in policy, and the iconoclasts were condemned in turn. The Seventh General Council of Nicea (787) made ample amends for the insults of Saint John's enemies, and Theophanes, writing in 813, indicates that he was surnamed Chrysorrhoas (golden stream -- C'ρυσορ'ροασ) by his friends on account of his oratorical gifts. In the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII he was enrolled among the doctors of the Church. His feast is celebrated on 27 March in the West.

A second period of iconoclasm was inaugurated under imperial auspices in the first half of the 9th century it ended with the final condemnation of iconoclasm at the Council of Orthodoxy, held in 843 under the patronage of Empress Theodora II.

In addition to its theological aspects, the iconoclastic movement seriously affected Byzantine art. Numerous icons from the early age of the Church were destroyed. However, Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai was geographically isolated and autonomous. That saved countless treasures of iconography in it that would have been otherwise destroyed. It is now home to a famed collection of early icons.

His affiliation with iconoclasm aside, Leo's adherence to Chalcedonian orthodoxy cannot be questioned, even though he may have been raised as a non-Chalcedonian. He sought religious uniformity in the empire even at the cost of forced conversion of dissidents and Montanists.

Further, there is indeed evidence for iconoclasm among certain bishops in Asia Minor, notably Constantine of Nakoleia, prior to 726, when Leo seems to have promulgated his imperial edict. There is no proof of contact between Leo and these iconoclast reformers, or of any influence by them on his later policies, just as there is no evidence of Jewish or Muslim influence. Further, it is noteworthy that he was not known as an iconoclast in contemporary Muslim and Armenian sources.

Furthermore, the movement fomenting internal quarrels and splitting with the papacy, which began to abandon its Byzantine allegiance and seek alliance with the Franks. Despite its victory in the theological sphere, the Eastern Church was not successful in its challenge of imperial authority, even with John of Damascus's assertion that the emperor had no right to interfere in matters of faith. Both the introduction of iconoclasm and its condemnation at the councils of 787 and 843 were ultimately the result of imperial rather than ecclesiastical decisions, because the councils met only on imperial orders. Consequently, the authority of the emperor in both the spiritual and the secular spheres, and his control of the church, emerged from the controversy perceptibly strengthened.

Having thus preserved the Empire from extinction, Leo proceeded to consolidate its administration, which in the previous years of anarchy had become completely disorganized. In 718 he suppressed a rebellion in Sicily and in 719 did the same on behalf of the deposed Emperor Anastasius II. Leo secured the Empire's frontiers by inviting Slavic settlers into the depopulated districts and by restoring the army to efficiency. His military efforts were supplemented by his alliances with the Khazars and the Georgians.

A number of new institutional codifications marked his reign. By far the most important of these is his Eklogá, where there is no mention of icons, the law code promulgated by him in March 726 which constituted an important revision of the Justinian code. Issued in 726, this is a digest of essentials from Justinian I's old Corpus juris civilis, the cornerstone of which was set by scholars of Berytus (Beirut) School of Law, such as Papinian, Ulpian, and Dorotheus, but now in Greek, the empire's functional language. This code demonstrated the continuing evolution of Roman law in the East, amalgamated with new Christian and Oriental elements. Leo's work is therefore a bridge between the legal landmarks of Justinian's age and the mature Byzantine codifications of the late 9th century.

In his Eklogá, Leo undertook a set of civil reforms including the abolition of the system of prepaying taxes which had weighed heavily upon the wealthier proprietors, the elevation of the serfs into a class of free tenants and the remodeling of family and of maritime law. He also created at least two new maritime themes for the security of the empire, namely the Thrakesion and the Kibyrrhaiotai in Asia Minor.

  1. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
  2. Christianity Today, Christian History & Biography of Saint John of Damascus.
  3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
  4. Michael Syrus XI, 19 (pp. 455, 456
  5. M. V. Anastos, 'Leo III's Edict against the Images in the Year 726-727 and Italo-Byzantine Relations between 726 and 730', Byzantinische Forschungen 3 (1968), 5-41.
  6. Khoury Harb, Antoine. The Maronites History and Constants (p. 66, 68, 72)
  7. R. Davis, The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes (Liber Pontificalis) (Liverpool, 1992), 'Life of Gregory II', Introduction and notes, 1-16.
  8. S. Gero, Byzantine Iconoclasm during the reign of Leo III, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 41 (Louvain, 1973).
  9. J. Gouillard, 'Aux origines de l'iconoclasme: le témoinage de Grégoire II', Travaux et mémoires (Centre de recherche d'histoire et de civilisation byzantines) 3 (1968), 243-307.
  10. Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium: s.v. "Leo III" (Paul Hollingsworth)
  11. P. Speck, 'Byzantium: Cultural Suicide?', Byzantium in the Ninth Century: Dead or Alive?, ed. L. Brubaker (Ashgate, 1998), 73-84, esp. 78-79.
  12. Funk & Wagnalls® New Encyclopedia.
  13. Ghevond's Text Of The Correspondence Between Omar II And Leo III, Arthur Jeffery Columbia Univerity
  14. Bronwen Neil, Leo III (717-741) Australian Catholic University
  15. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press.
  16. The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 4, 2 pts. (2d ed., 1966-1967).
  17. George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State (1957 2d ed. 1969)
  18. J. B. Bury, A History of the Later Roman Empire: Arcadius to Irene (2 vols., 1889)
  19. Edward James Martin, A History of the Iconoclastic Controversy (1930).

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Individual Note

Leo III the Isaurian
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire

Leo III and his son Constantine V
Reign 25 March 717 - June 18, 741
Titles Leo the Isaurian
Born 685
Died June 18, 741
Predecessor Theodosios III
Successor Constantine V
Consort Maria
Issue Constantine V
Dynasty Isaurian Dynasty

Leo III the Isaurian or the Syrian (Greek: . G?, Leon III), (c. 685June 18, 741) was Byzantine emperor from 717 until his death in 741. He put an end to a period of instability, successfully defended the empire against the invading Umayyads, and adopted the religious policy of Iconoclasm.

Contents [hide]
1 Life
1.1 Early life
1.2 Siege of Constantinople
1.3 Administration
1.4 Iconoclasm
2 Family
3 References
4 External links

[edit] Early life
Leo, whose original name was Konon, was born in Germanikeia (Maras) in the Syrian province of Commagene. Some, including the Greek chronicler Theophanes, have claimed that Konon's family had been resettled in Thrace, where he entered the service of Emperor Justinian II, when the latter was advancing on Constantinople with an army of 15,000 horsemen provided by Tervel of Bulgaria in 705, but such an assertion is not supported by the writings of Patriarch Nicephorus nor is it found in other oriental sources.

After the victory of Justinian II, Leo was dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Alania and Lazica to organize an alliance against the Umayyad Caliphate under Al-Walid I. Leo was appointed commander (strategos) of the Anatolic theme by Emperor Anastasius II. On his deposition Leo joined with his colleague Artabasdus, the strategos of the Armeniac theme, in conspiring to overthrow the new Emperor Theodosius III. Artabasdus was betrothed to Anna, daughter of Leo as part of the agreement.

[edit] Siege of Constantinople
Leo entered Constantinople on March 25, 717 and forced the abdication of Theodosios III, becoming emperor as Leo III. The new emperor was immediately forced to attend to the Second Arab siege of Constantinople, which commenced in August of the same year. The Arabs were Ummayad forces sent by Caliph Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik and serving under Maslama. They had taken advantage of the civil discord in the Roman Empire to bring a force of 80,000 men and a massive fleet to the Bosphorus.

Careful preparations and the stubborn resistance put up by Leo wore out the invaders. An important factor in the victory of the Romans was their use of Greek fire. The Arab forces also fell victim to Bulgarian reinforcements arriving to aid the Romans. Leo was allied with the Bulgarians but the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor was uncertain if they were still serving under Tervel or his eventual successor Kormesiy of Bulgaria. Unable to continue the siege in the face of the Bulgarian onslaught and lack of successes, the Arabs were forced to abandon their ambitions on Constantinople in August, 718. Sulayman himself had died the previous year and his successor Umar II would not attempt another siege. The siege had lasted 12 months.

[edit] Administration
Having thus preserved the Empire from extinction, Leo proceeded to consolidate its administration, which in the previous years of anarchy had become completely disorganized. In 718 he suppressed a rebellion in Sicily and in 719 did the same on behalf of the deposed Emperor Anastasios II. Leo secured the Empire's frontiers by inviting Slavic settlers into the depopulated districts and by restoring the army to efficiency when the Ummayad Caliphate renewed their invasions in 726 and 739, as part of the campaigns of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, the Arab forces were decisively beaten, particularly at Akroinon in 740. His military efforts were supplemented by his alliances with the Khazars and the Georgians.

Leo undertook a set of civil reforms including the abolition of the system of prepaying taxes which had weighed heavily upon the wealthier proprietors, the elevation of the serfs into a class of free tenants and the remodelling of family and of maritime law. These measures, which were embodied in a new code (the Ecloga) published in 740, met with some opposition on the part of the nobles and higher clergy. The emperor also undertook some reorganization of the "Theme" structure by creating new themata in the Aegean region.

Leo also published the Eclogue, a compilation of new imperial constitutions[1].

[edit] Iconoclasm
But Leo's most striking legislative reforms dealt with religious matters, especially iconoclasm. After an apparently successful attempt to enforce the baptism of all Jews and Montanists in the empire (722), he issued a series of edicts against the worship of images (726729). This prohibition of a custom which had undoubtedly given rise to grave abuses seems to have been inspired by a genuine desire to improve public morality, and received the support of the official aristocracy and a section of the clergy. But a majority of the theologians and all the monks opposed these measures with uncompromising hostility, and in the western parts of the empire the people refused to obey the edict.

A revolt which broke out in Greece, mainly on religious grounds, was crushed by the imperial fleet in 727. In 730, Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople resigned rather than subscribe to an iconoclast decree. Leo had him replaced by Anastasios who willingly sided with the emperor on the question of icons. Thus Leo suppressed the overt opposition of the capital.

In the Italian Peninsula, the defiant attitude of Popes Gregory II and Gregory III on behalf of image-veneration led to a fierce quarrel with the emperor. The former summoned councils in Rome to anathematize and excommunicate the iconoclasts (730, 732) Leo retaliated by transferring Southern Italy and Illyricum from the papal diocese to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The struggle was accompanied by an armed outbreak in the exarchate of Ravenna in 727, which Leo finally endeavoured to subdue by means of a large fleet. But the destruction of the armament by a storm decided the issue against him his South Italian subjects successfully defied his religious edicts, and the Exarchate of Ravenna became effectively detached from the empire.

[edit] Family
By his wife Maria, Leo III had four known children:

Anna, who married Artabasdus.
Constantine V, who succeeded as emperor.

[edit] References
The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.

[edit] External links
Media related to Leo III from the Wikimedia Commons.
Leo III the Isaurian
Isaurian Dynasty
Born: c. 685 Died: 18 June 741
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Theodosius III Byzantine Emperor
717741 Succeeded by
Constantine V

Leo III (717–741)

The long reigns of Leo III and his successors, when compared with the multiple usurpations of the imperial tenures in the two decades prior, attests to the importance of success and ability, as opposed to birth, in the length of rule and legitimacy of dynasty in Byzantium. Leo, the strategos of the Anatolikon theme, was an able administrator and military leader from a Syrian family transferred to Thrace in one of Justinian II's relocation programs. Almost as soon as he took power, Leo faced an Arab siege of Constantinople. In resisting the Arabs Leo benefited from the foresight of his two immediate predecessors. Anastasios II (713–715) had strengthened the walls of Constantinople and prepared the city for the Arab attack that he thought was coming. Theodosios III (715–717) secured an alliance with the Bulgar Khan Tervel, ensuring peace in the Balkans and support against any troops laying siege to the land walls of Constantinople. These preparations, combined with Leo's skills in warfare and intrigue meant that the Arab siege of 717–18 not only failed, but was a disaster for the caliph. Another of Leo's great military achievements was to free the western provinces of his Anatolian empire from the frequent Arab raids that had plagued life there for over half a century.

Leo III with his son Constantine V, issued 720–41 (BZS.1951.31.5.1643)

In addition to being an able commander Leo was a keen legal and administrative reformer. He introduced a codification of the law known as the Ekloga, in which the death penalty was largely replaced by mutilation, the text was written in a style that was clear and simple for most people to understand, and the laws provided more protection to women than they had previously enjoyed. He created new administrative districts and provided greater central control over the themes, something that was needed to help halt the large number of provincial revolts that had been seen over the last sixty years. In addition to his administrative reforms and military successes, Leo also introduced the policy of Iconoclasm by removing the image of Christ from the Chalke Gate. This policy against the use of religious imagery remained in place until 787, and was reinstated, in a less vigorous manifestation, from 815 until 843. From a sigillographic perspective, it is to the policy of Iconoclasm that we look for the origin of the cruciform invocative monograms that dominate the obverses of eighth- and ninth-century seals.

Leo III and Constantine V, aniconic seal, issued 720–41 (BZS.1958.106.588)

Leo issued two groups of seals, one iconic and one aniconic. The iconic seals break down into two subgroups. First, from 717­ to 720, as on his predecessors’ seals, Leo III is depicted on the reverse, with the Mother of God holding Christ on the obverse. Second, from 720 to 741, Leo III is associated with his son Constantine V, who replaces the Mother of God. The second group, from the period of associated rule, largely parallels the aniconic design of the silver miliaresion introduced in 720 and based on the Arab dirham. The design, which depicts a cross on the obverse and an inscription on the reverse, is the first imperial seal without a depiction of the emperor. In addition, the obverse inscription of the aniconic specimens, which differs from that found on coins, is the first Greek inscription on Byzantine seals, although it continues to be rendered in Latin letters. For more seals of the Isaurian Dynasty see the Dynasties of Empire section.

Constantine V, Eastern Roman Emperor

KONSTANTINOS, son of Emperor LEON III & his wife Maria --- (Sep 718-Strongylon 14 Sep 775, bur Constantinople, Church of the Holy Apostles). Theophanes records that "Leoni principi filius𠉬onstantinus" was born in the third year of his reign as emperor[666]. He was crowned co-emperor [%CF%83%CF%85%CE%BC%CE%B2%CE%B1%CF%83%CE%B9%CE%BB%CE%B5%CF%8D%CF%82] by his father at Easter 31 Mar 720. He succeeded his father in 741 as Emperor KONSTANTINOS V "Kopronymos", his nickname "Dung-named" accorded from his allegedly having defecated in the font at the time of his baptism aged 6 months 25 Dec 718[667]. The Anastasii Historia Ecclesiastica ex Theophane records his coronation "XIV Kal Iul"[668]. Having left Constantinople on campaign against the Arabs, his brother-in-law Artabasdos revolted and proclaimed himself emperor in Constantinople in 742. Emperor Konstantinos sought refuge in Amorium, the chief city of the theme of Anatolia which supported Emperor Konstantinos along with the Thracian theme, but defeated the anti-emperor at Sardis in Lydia in May 743. Emperor Konstantinos re-entered Constantinople after a short siege 2 Nov 743, and inflicted a terrible revenge against the rebel's supporters. A successful campaigner, he consolidated his position to the east with military victories against the Umayyads, reconquering northern Syria including Germanikeia in 746, routing the Arab fleet at Alexandria the following year, and temporarily recapturing Melitene and Theodosiopolis in 752[669]. The transfer of the capital of the Caliphate from Damascus to Baghdad by the Abbasids reduced the pressure felt by Byzantium from its Arab neighbours. The scene of military pressure switched to the northern frontier of the European part of the empire. Provoked by Konstantinos V's refortification of the area, the Bulgars invaded Byzantium in 756, were defeated 30 Jun 763 at Anchialos on the Black Sea coast, but continued to be a source of military irritation for the remainder of Konstantinos V's reign[670]. Emperor Konstantinos created the theme of Bucellarion in [767] by splitting the powerful theme of Opsikion. A more fanatical iconoclast than his father, he persecuted and tortured his religious opponents. After forbidding the use of images by civil order of an imperial council, Konstantinos summoned a carefully constituted assembly of bishops to issue similar orders in 754. The orders were applied severely, but opposition to iconoclasm did not diminish. The monks and monasteries, at first simply the focus of iconophile opposition, over time became objects of persecution themselves. Monasteries were closed and their confiscated assets transferred to the emperor. In addition, the emperor's fanaticism spread from mere images to the cult of saints and the Virgin Mary, bringing him into opposition with his own religious council[671]. The Anastasii Historia Ecclesiastica ex Theophane records that Emperor Konstantinos V died during one of his campaigns against the Bulgars, on board ship after landing at the port of Strongylon[672]. The Anastasii Historia Ecclesiastica ex Theophane records his death "XVIII Kal Oct" and that he had reigned for 34 years, three months and two days[673]. Emperor Konstantinos VII's De Ceremoniis Aulæ records that "Leonis Isauri filius, Constantinus, vulgo Caballinus [%CE%9A%CE%B1%CE%B2%CE%B1%CE%BB%CE%BB%CE%AF%CE%BD%CE%BF%CF%82] dictus" was buried in the church of the Holy Apostles[674].

m firstly ([731/32]%29 [CHICHEK], daughter of [BIHEROS] Khan of the Khazars (-[750/6 Jun 751], bur Constantinople, Church of the Holy Apostles). Theophanes records the marriage of "Leo imperator𠉬onstantino filio suo" and "filiam Chagani Scytharum principis" and that she was baptised as EIRENE[675]. She is named Chichek in Europäische Stammtafeln, but the primary source which confirms this name (and the name of her father) has not yet been identified. This marriage was arranged by Emperor Leon III to confirm his alliance with the Khazars against their common enemy the Arabs[676]. Emperor Konstantinos VII's De Ceremoniis Aulæ records that "Irene uxor Constantini Caballini" was buried in the church of the Holy Apostles[677].

m secondly ([751/52]%29 MARIA, daughter of --- (-[751/52]). The History of Patriarch Nikeforos records the death of "Mariæ Augustæ", dated to 750 in the edition consulted[678]. Her origin is not known.

m thirdly EVDOKIA, daughter of ---. Theophanes records that "Eudociam tertiam coniugem" was crowned augusta 2 Apr, dated to [768/69][679]. The History of Patriarch Nikeforos records the coronation "indictione 7, mense Aprili, sabbato sancto" of "Constantinus Eudociam coniugem" as "augusta", dated to 768 in the edition consulted[680]. She was related to Theodotos Melissenos who was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople by Emperor Leon V in 815[681].

From Leo III to the ascension of Michael II

In 717, when Leo III the Isaurian took power, the empire was in an unstable situation. The Arabs were besieging Constantinople for a second time however, at the end of the summer of 718 they were compelled to abandon the siege and made no more attempts to take the city. Despite the Byzantine victory, the Arabs maintained their superiority, and it was only in 740 that Leo III defeated them soundly in the heart of Anatolia, putting an end to their expansionist ambitions.

Leo III used the successive defeats at the hands of the Arabs together with natural catastrophes such as the volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini shortly before 726 as proof of divine anger provoked by the Byzantines' excessive worship of icons. As a solution, he attempted to implement a policy of Iconoclasm from 726 by destroying the image of Christ at the Chalke, the gate leading to the imperial palace, replacing it with a simple cross. This aroused a reaction from the people, in favour of keeping not only this image but images in general. Leo III therefore had to wait until 730 to implement his Iconoclastic policy and destroy all types of images. The iconodules (those who prayed to images) accused him of being influenced mainly by the Arabs and the Jews, two peoples with an aniconic tradition.

The reign of the son of Leo III, Constantine V (741-775), marked the beginning of a veritable iconoclastic policy that triggered major controversies. During the first years of his reign, Constantine V led brilliant campaigns against the Arabs. He took advantage of a civil war that was dividing the people to take Melitene in 752. After that year he focused on internal politics, attempting to impose the iconoclast doctrine. In 754, he summoned a council to the palace of Hieria, near Chalcedon, in order to have iconoclasm officially recognised as the orthodox belief of the Byzantine Church and State. This doctrine accused anyone who venerated icons of being an idolater. The basic idea of the iconoclasts stemmed from the Platonic principle according to which an image is of the same nature as its prototype. Iconoclasm considered that only the cross and the Eucharist were legitimate images. The iconodules, on the other hand, defended the idea that the image refers to a model whose substance it does not share, which would refute the accusation of idolatry. The honour shown to the image is given to the prototype, not to the matter representing it.

After the death of Constantine V in 775, his son Leo IV (775-780) tried to assuage the discontent of the iconodules and put an end to their persecution. When Leo IV died, his wife Irene assumed the regency for their young son, Constantine VI. To ensure that the West and the Pope would support them, Irene soon decided that she would no longer pursue iconoclasm and summoned another council, held at the church of Hagia Sophia of Nicaea on 24 September 787. The council condemned iconoclasm, proclaimed it to be heresy and declared that producing and venerating images were the true doctrine.

In 790 Constantine VI, the son of Irene and the deceased Leo IV, helped by the army, took power and undertook a policy of appeasement. His reign lasted only seven years, and in 797 Irene had her son blinded. She thus became the first woman to hold power on her own (797-802). Despite the support of the monks to whom she had given important tax rebates, she was overthrown by her finance minister, Nicephorus I (802-11) in 802. After the reign of Nicephorus I, whose foreign policy was essentially focused on winning back the territories controlled by the Slavs and on making war with the Bulgars, Leo V the Armenian, a strategos ("general") of the Anatolikon theme proclaimed himself emperor (813-820). Although he was no dogged iconoclast, and despite the opposition of patriarch Nicephorus, he decided to re-establish iconoclasm. He therefore summoned another council at the Church of Saint Sophia in 815. The prevailing spirit of the council was relatively moderate and no real opposition was manifest yet the ensuing persecutions, targeting the monks, were more violent. Leo V was killed in 820 by the partisans of his successor, Michael II the Amorian (820-829).

Iconoclasm was an integral part of the social and political programme of Emperors Leo III and Constantine V. At a time when the empire was weakened by epidemics and wars, the primary concern of Leo III and his successors was to re-establish imperial authority and strengthen the power of the state. The victories against the Arabs certainly conferred prestige on them. They imposed a reform of the State and Church in order to improve economic and social conditions. Iconoclasm was a pretext in the policy of purges that Leo III and his son vigorously pursued. It became the primary issue in the war the emperor waged against the Church and its properties, the monasteries and their revenue, their important role in society and their increasing influence on public opinion.

It is difficult to speak with accuracy about the development of iconoclast art and culture because little of it remains today. Schools of higher learning certainly continued to be active in Constantinople during this period, but the texts give no details. Examples of iconoclastic art are rare, for the iconodules destroyed any decorative objects produced by the iconoclasts. According to the only iconodule sources that have survived until the present time, the iconoclasts opposed any depiction of Christ because of his divinity. This entailed an absolute refusal of all other sacred images. Only the cross, symbol of the incarnation of Christ, surrounded by plant, animal and ornamental motifs, was permitted. Motifs inspired by imperial iconography, such as the illustration of drivers that Constantine V placed at the Arch of the Milion, and the eighth century silk now at the Musée de Cluny, have become the symbols of the victorious emperor.

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