Leo III the Isaurian
name =Leo III
Emperorof the Byzantine Empire
caption =Leo III and his son
25 March, 717- June 18, 741
othertitles = Leo the Isaurian
full name =
date of birth =685
place of birth =
date of death =
June 18, 741
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date of burial =
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Leo III "the
Isaurian" or "the Syrian" (Greek: Λέων Γ΄, "Leōn III"), (c. 685– June 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 forbade the veneration of icons (see Iconoclasm).
Leo, whose original name was Konon, was born in Germanikeia (
Maraş) 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 Constantinoplewith an army of 15,000 horsemen provided by Tervel of Bulgariain 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
Alaniaand Lazicato organize an alliance against the Umayyad Caliphate under Al-Walid I. Leo was appointed commander ("stratēgos") of the Anatolic theme by Emperor Anastasius II. On his deposition Leo joined with his colleague Artabasdus, the "stratēgos" 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.
iege of Constantinople
Leo entered Constantinople on
March 25, 717and 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-Malikand 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 Confessorwas 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 IIwould not attempt another siege. The siege had lasted 12 months.
Having thus preserved the Empire from extinction, Leo proceeded to consolidate its administration, which in the previous years of
anarchyhad become completely disorganized. In 718 he suppressed a rebellionin Sicilyand 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 Khazarsand the Georgians.
Leo undertook a set of
civilreforms including the abolitionof 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 noblesand 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. [cite web
But Leo's most striking legislative reforms dealt with religious matters, especially
iconoclasm. After an apparently successful attempt to enforce the baptismof all Jews and Montanists in the empire (722), he issued a series of edicts against the worship of images (726–729). 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 Constantinopleresigned 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.
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 Rometo anathematize and excommunicate the iconoclasts (730, 732); Leo retaliated by transferring Southern Italyand Illyricumfrom the papal diocese to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The struggle was accompanied by an armed outbreak in the exarchate of Ravennain 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 Ravennabecame effectively detached from the empire.
Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium", Oxford University Press, 1991.
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