Theophilos (emperor)

Infobox Monarch
name =Theophilos
title =Emperor of the Byzantine Empire

caption =Theophilus, in the "Chronicle" of John Skylitzes
reign =October 2, 829January 20, 842
predecessor =Michael II
successor =Michael III
consort =Theodora
issue =Constantine
dynasty =Phrygian Dynasty
father =Michael II
mother =Thekla
date of birth =813
date of death =January 20, 842|

Theophilos or Theophilus ( _el. Θεόφιλος), (Greek translation of his name, "Friend of God") (813 – 20 January 842) was Byzantine emperor from 829 to 842. He was the second emperor of the Phrygian dynasty.


Theophilos was the son of the Byzantine Emperor Michael II and his wife of Armenian descent Thekla, and the godson of Emperor Leo V the Armenian. Michael II crowned Theophilos co-emperor in 822, shortly after his own accession. Unlike his father, Theophilos received an extensive education, and showed interest in the arts. On October 2, 829, Theophilos succeeded his father as sole emperor.

Theophilos continued in his predecessors' iconoclast, though without his father's more conciliatory tone, issuing an edict in 832 forbidding the veneration of icons. He also saw himself as the champion of justice, which he served most ostentatiously by executing his father's co-conspirators against Leo V immediately after his accession. His reputation as a judge endured, and in the literary composition "Timarion" Theophilos is featured as one of the judges in the Netherworld.

At the time of his accession, Theophilos was obliged to wage wars against the Arabs on two fronts. Sicily was once again invaded by the Arabs, who took Palermo after a year-long siege in 831, established the Emirate of Sicily and gradually continued to expand across the island. The invasion of Anatolia by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun in 830 was faced by the emperor himself, but the Byzantines were defeated and lost several fortresses. In 831 Theophilos retaliated by leading a large army into Cilicia and capturing Tarsus. The emperor returned to Constantinople in triumph, but in the Autumn was defeated by the enemy in Cappadocia. Another defeat in the same province in 833 forced Theophilos to sue for peace (Theophilos offered 100,000 gold dinars and the return of 7,000 prisoners)J. Norwich, "Byzantium: The Apogee", 47] , which he obtained the next year, after the death of Al-Ma'mun.

During the respite from the war against the Abbasids, Theophilos arranged for the abduction of the Byzantine captives settled north of the Danube by Krum of Bulgaria. The rescue operation was carried out with success in c. 836, and the peace between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire was quickly restored. However, it proved impossible to maintain peace in the East. Theophilos had given asylum to a number of refugees from the east in 834, including Nasr (who was Kurdish [I. Sevcenko, Review of New Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, "Slavic Review", p. 111, 1968.] ), baptized Theophobos, who married the emperor's aunt Irene, and became one of his generals. With relations with the Abbasids deteriorating, Theophilos prepared for a new war.

In 837 Theophilos led a vast army of 70,000 men towards Mesopotamia, and captured Melitene and Samosata.W. Treadgold, "A History of the Byzantine State and Society", 440] The emperor also took Zapetra (Zibatra, Sozopetra), the birthplace of the Caliph al-Mu'tasim, destroying it. Theophilos returned to Constantinople in triumph. Eager for revenge, Al-Mu'tasim assembled a vast army and launched a two prong invasion of Anatolia in 838. Theophilos decided to strike one division of the caliph's army before they could combine. On July 21, 838 at the Battle of Anzen in Dazimon, Theophilos personally led a Byzantine army of 40,000 men against the troops commanded by al-Afshin.W. Treadgold, "A History of the Byzantine State and Society", 441] Al-Afshin withstood the Byzantine attack after which he then counter attacked and won the battle. The Byzantine survivors fell back in disorder and did not interfere in the caliph's continuing campaign.

Caliph Al-Mu'tasim took Ancyra. Al-Afshin joined him there. The full Abbasid army advanced against Amorion, the cradle of the dynasty. Initially there was determined resistance. Then a Muslim captive escaped and informed the caliph where there was a section of the wall that had only a front facade. Al-Mu'tasim concentrated his bombardment on this section. The wall was breached. Having heroically held for fifty-five days, the city now fell to al-Mu'tasim on September 23, 838.

And in 838, in order to impress the Caliph of Baghdad, Theophilus had John the Grammarian distribute 36,000 "nomismata" to the citizens of Baghdad.J. Norwich, "Byzantium: The Apogee", 43] Around 841, the Republic of Venice sent a fleet of 60 galleys (each carrying 200 men) to assist the Byzantines in driving the Arabs from Crotone, but it fails.J. Norwich, "A History of Venice", 32]

During this campaign some of Al-Mu'tasim's top generals were plotting against the caliph. He uncovered this. Many of these leading commanders were arrested, some executed, before he arrived home. Al-Afshin seems not to have been involved in this, but he was detected in other intrigues and died in prison in the spring of 841. Caliph al-Mu'tasim fell sick in October, 841 and died on January 5, 842.

Theophilos never recovered from the blow; his health gradually failed, and he died on January 20, 842. His character has been the subject of considerable discussion, some regarding him as one of the ablest of the Byzantine emperors, others as an ordinary oriental despot, an overrated and insignificant ruler. There is no doubt that he did his best to check corruption and oppression on the part of his officials, and administered justice with strict impartiality, although his punishments did not always fit the crime.

In spite of the drain of the war in Asia and the large sums spent by Theophilos on building, commerce, industry, the finances of the empire were in a most flourishing condition, the credit of which was in great measure due to the highly efficient administration of the department. Theophilos, who had received an excellent education from John Hylilas, the grammarian, was a great admirer of music and a lover of art, although his taste was not of the highest. He strengthened the Walls of Constantinople, and built a hospital, which continued in existence till the twilight of the Byzantine Empire.


By his marriage with Theodora, Theophilos had seven children:
* Constantine, co-emperor from c. 833 to c. 835.
* Michael III, who succeeded as emperor.
* Maria, who married the Caesar Alexios Mouseles.
* Thekla, who was a mistress of Emperor Basil I the Macedonian.
* Anna
* Anastasia
* Pulcheria


* Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari History v. 33 "Storm and Stress along the Northern frontiers of the Abbasid Caliphate, transl. C. E. Bosworth, SUNY, Albany, 1991
* John Bagot Glubb The Empire of the Arabs, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1963
*"The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium", Oxford University Press, 1991.

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