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LEO V. (THE ARMENIAN) AND THE REVIVAL OF ICONOCLASM (A.D. 813-820)
§ 1. Reign and Administration of Leo V.
LEO V. was not the first Armenian1 who occupied the Imperial throne. Among the Emperors who reigned briefly and in rapid succession after the decline of the Heraclian dynasty, the Armenian Bardanes who took the name of Philippicus, had been chiefly noted for luxury and delicate living. The distinctions of Leo were of a very different order. If he had "sown his wild oats" in earlier days, he proved an active and austere prince, and he presented a marked contrast to his immediate predecessor. Born in lowly station and poor circumstances, Leo had made his way up by his own ability to the loftiest pinnacle in the Empire ; Michael enjoyed the advantages of rank and birth, and had won the throne through the accident of his marriage with an Emperor's daughter. Michael had no will of his own; Leo's temper was as firm as that of his namesake, the Isaurian. Michael was in the hands of the Patriarch; Leo was determined that the Patriarch should be in the hands of the Emperor. Even those who sympathized with the religious policy of Michael were compelled to confess that he was a feeble, incompetent ruler; while even those who hated Leo most bitterly could not refuse to own that in civil administration he was an able sovran. A short description of Leo's
1 On one side his parentage was Assyrian," which presumably means Syrian (Gen. 28; Cont. Th. 6 καтà συζυγίαν ἐξ ̓Ασσυρίων καὶ ̓Αρμενίων).
The statements are vague.
personal appearance has been preserved. He was of small stature and had curling hair; he wore a full beard; his hair was thick; his voice loud.1
On the very day of his entry into Constantinople as an Augustus proclaimed by the army, an incident is related to have occurred which seemed an allegorical intimation as to the ultimate destiny of the new Emperor. It is one of those stories based perhaps upon some actual incident, but improved and embellished in the light of later events, so as to bear the appearance of a mysterious augury. It belongs to the general atmosphere of mystery that seemed to envelop the careers of the three young squires of Bardanes, whose The prophecy of
destinies had been so closely interwoven. the hermit of Philomelion, the raving of the slave-girl of Michael Rangabé,2 and the incident now to be related, mark stages in the development of the drama.
Since Michael the Amorian had been rewarded by Nicephorus for his desertion of the rebel Bardanes, we lose sight of his career. He seems to have remained an officer in the Anatolic Theme, of which he had been appointed Count of the tent, and when Leo the Armenian became the stratêgos of that province the old comrades renewed their friendship. Leo acted as sponsor to Michael's son; and Michael played some part in bringing about Leo's elevation. The latter is said to have shrunk from taking the great step,
1 Pseudo-Simeon, 603. This is one of the notices peculiar to this chronicle and not found in our other authorities. I have conjectured that the source was the Scriptor Incertus, of whose work we possess the valuable fragment frequently cited in these notes. See Bury, A Source of Symeon Magister B.Z. i. 572 (1892). Note de Boor's emendation σγυράν for ὀγυράν (Kóμŋv) in this passage, and cp. above, p. 22, n. 2. On most of the coins of Leo, which are of the ordinary type of this period, his son Constantine appears beardless on the reverse. A seal, which seems to belong to these Emperors, with a cross potent on the obverse, and closely resembling one type of the silver coinage of these Emperors and of their predecessors Michael and Theophylactus (see Wroth, Pl. xlvii. 4, 11, 12), is preserved in the Russian Arch. Institute
at Constantinople (Panchenko, Kat. Mol. viii. 234).
2 Constantine Porphyrogennetos was conscious of this dramatic development. We may trace his hand in the comment (in Cont. Th. 23) that the prophecy of Philomelion was the first vague sketch, and the words of the slave-girl "second colours"-deútepá τινα χρώματα ὡς ἐν ζωγραφίᾳ ταῖς προτεραῖς ἐμμορφωθέντα σκιαῖς.
3 Told by Genesios, 7, and in Cont. Th. 19 (after Genesios).
4 Cont. Th. 1211. See above, p. 12. It is not clear whether Michael's office was still that of κόμης τῆς κόρτης of the Anatolic Theme. Gen. 7 describes him as τῶν αὐτοῦ ἱπποκόμων πρωτάρχῳ (cp. Cont. Th. 19), which seems to mean that he was the private protostrator of Leo as stratêgos.
5 Gen. 1215
as he was not sure that he would obtain simultaneous recognition in the camp and in the capital, and Michael the Lisper, threatening to slay him if he did not consent, undertook to make the necessary arrangements.1 When Leo entered the city he was met and welcomed by the whole Senate near the Church of St. John the Forerunner, which still stands, not far from the Golden Gate, and marks the site of the monastery of Studion. Accompanied by an acclaiming crowd, and closely attended by Michael his confidant, the new Augustus rode to the Palace. He halted in front of the Brazen Gate (Chalkê) to worship before the great image of Christ which surmounted the portal. The Fifth Leo, who was afterwards to be such an ardent emulator of the third Emperor of his name, now dismounted, and paid devotion to the figure restored by Irene in place of that which Leo the Isaurian had demolished. Perhaps the Armenian had not yet decided on pursuing an iconoclastic policy; in any case he recognized that it would be a false step to suggest by any omission the idea that he was not strictly orthodox. Halting and dismounting he consigned to the care of Michael the loose red military garment which he wore. This cloak, technically called an eagle, and more popularly a kolobion, was worn without a belt. Michael is said to have put on the "eagle" which the Emperor had put off. It is not clear whether this was strictly according to etiquette or not, but the incident was supposed to be an omen that Michael would succeed Leo. Another still more ominous incident is said to have followed. The Emperor did not enter by the Brazen Gate, but, having performed his act of devotion, proceeded past the Baths of Zeuxippos, and passing through the Hippodrome reached the Palace at the entrance known as the Skyla.3 The Emperor walked rapidly through the gate, and Michael, hurrying to keep up with him, awkwardly trampled on the edge of his dress which touched the ground behind.
It was said that Leo himself recognized the omen, but it certainly did not influence him in his conduct; nor is there
1 Gen. 5, repeated in Cont. Th.
2 ȧerós, also fáλacoa, Cont. Th. 19. Genesios says it was called a кoλóẞLov (a garment with very short sleeves, whence its name; cp. Ducange, Gloss. s.v.). The incident is the subject of
an illustration in the Madrid MS. of Skylitzes (reproduced in Beylié, L'Habitation byzantine, 122).
3 Compare the route of Theophilus on the occasion of his triumph. See below, p. 128.
anything to suggest that at this time Michael was jealous of Leo, or Leo suspicious of Michael. The Emperor made him the Domestic or commander of the Excubitors, with rank of patrician, and treated him as a confidential adviser. Nor did he forget his other comrade, who had served with him under Bardanes, but cleaved more faithfully to his patron than had either the Amorian or the Armenian. Thomas the Slavonian returned from Saracen territory, where he had lived in exile, and was now made Turmarch of the Federates. Thus the three squires of Bardanes are brought into association again. Another appointment which Leo made redounds to his credit, as his opponents grudgingly admitted. He promoted Manuel the Protostrator, who had strongly opposed the resignation of Michael and his own elevation, to the rank of patrician and made him General of the Armeniacs. Manuel could hardly have looked for such favour; he probably expected that his fee would be exile. He was a bold, outspoken man, and when Leo said to him, "You ought not to have advised the late Emperor and Procopia against my interests," he replied, "Nor ought you to have raised a hand against your benefactor and fellow-father," referring to the circumstance that Leo had stood as sponsor for a child of Michael.1
The revolution which established a new Emperor on the throne had been accomplished speedily and safely at a moment of great national peril. The defences of the city had to be hastily set in order, and Krum, the Bulgarian victor, appeared before the walls within a week. Although the barbarians of the north had little chance of succeeding where the Saracen forces had more than once failed, and finally retired, the destruction which they wrought in the suburbs was a gloomy beginning for a new reign. The active hostilities of the Bulgarian prince claimed the solicitude of Leo for more than a year, when his death, as he was preparing to attack the capital again, led to the conclusion of a peace.
On the eastern frontier the internal troubles of the Caliphate relieved the Empire from anxiety during this
1 Or perhaps Michael for a child of Leo (Cont. Th. 24). Leo was the godfather of a son of Michael the Amorian (Theophilus-unless Michael had another son who died early), ib.
23. There is perhaps no need to suspect a confusion of the two Michaels. The advancements of Michael and Thomas are told in Gen. 12, that of Manuel only in Cont. Th.
reign, and, after the Bulgarian crisis had passed, Leo was able to devote his attention to domestic administration. But of his acts almost nothing has been recorded except of those connected with his revival of iconoclasm. His warfare against image-worship was the conspicuous feature of his rule, and, occupied with execrating his ecclesiastical policy, the chroniclers have told us little of his other works. Yet his most bitter adversaries were compelled unwillingly to confess that his activity in providing for the military defences of the Empire and for securing the administration of justice was deserving of all commendation. This was the judgment of the Patriarch Nicephorus, who cannot be accused of partiality. He said after the death of Leo: "The Roman Empire has lost an impious but great guardian." 2 He neglected no measure which seemed likely to prove advantageous to the State; and this is high praise from the mouths of adversaries. He was severe to criminals, and he endeavoured, in appointing judges and governors, to secure men who were superior to bribes. No one could say that love of money was one of the Emperor's weak points. In illustration of his justice the following anecdote is told. One day as he was issuing from the Palace, a man accosted him and complained of a bitter wrong which had been done him by a certain senator. The lawless noble had carried off the poor man's attractive wife and had kept her in his own possession for a long time. The husband had complained to the Prefect of the City, but complained in vain. The guilty senator had influence, and the Prefect was a respecter of persons. The Emperor immediately commanded one of his attendants to bring the accused noble and the Prefect to his presence. The ravisher did not attempt to deny the charge, and the minister admitted that the matter had come before him. Leo enforced the penalties of the law, and stripped the unworthy Prefect of his office.3
Our authorities tell us little enough about the administration of this sovran, and their praise is bestowed reluctantly. But it is easy to see that he was a strenuous ruler, of the
1 Gen. 17-18.
2 Gen. 17. The account in Cont. Th. 30 is taken from Genesios, but the writer, on his own authority, makes out Leo to have been a hypocrite, and to have feigned a love of justice
for show. Gieseler regarded him as "einer der besten Regenten" (Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte, ii. 1, p. 4, ed. 4, 1846).
3 Gen. 18.