Leo III the Isaurian

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Leo III the Isaurian
Emperor of the Romans
Solidus of Leo III the Isaurian.jpg
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign25 March 717 – 18 June 741
Predecessor Theodosios III
Successor Constantine V
Bornc. 685
Germanikeia, Byzantine Empire
Died18 June 741 (aged 55 or 56)
Spouse Maria
Issue Constantine V
Dynasty Isaurian dynasty
Isaurian or Syrian dynasty
Leo III 717741
with Constantine V as co-emperor, 720741
Constantine V 741775
with Leo IV as co-emperor, 751775
Artabasdos' usurpation741743
Leo IV 775780
with Constantine VI as co-emperor, 776780
Constantine VI 780797
under Irene as regent, 780790, and with her as co-regent, 792797
Irene as empress regnant797802
Preceded by
Twenty Years' Anarchy
Followed by
Nikephorian dynasty

Leo III the Isaurian , also known as the Syrian (Greek : Λέων Γ΄ ὁ Ἴσαυρος, romanized: Leōn III ho Isauros; c. 685 – 18 June 741), was Byzantine Emperor from 717 until his death in 741 who founded the Isaurian dynasty. [1] He put an end to the Twenty Years' Anarchy, a period of great instability in the Byzantine Empire between 695 and 717, marked by the rapid succession of several emperors to the throne. He also successfully defended the Empire against the invading Umayyads and forbade the veneration of icons. [2]


Isauria, in ancient geography, is a rugged isolated district in the interior of South Asia Minor, of very different extent at different periods, but generally covering what is now the district of Bozkır and its surroundings in the Konya Province of Turkey, or the core of the Taurus Mountains. In its coastal extension it bordered on Cilicia.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Romanization of Greek is the transliteration (letter-mapping) or transcription (sound-mapping) of text from the Greek alphabet into the Latin alphabet. The conventions for writing and romanizing Ancient Greek and Modern Greek differ markedly, which can create confusion. The sound of the English letter B was written as β in ancient Greek but is now written as the digraph μπ, while the modern β sounds like the English letter V instead. The Greek name Ἰωάννης became Johannes in Latin and then John in English, but in Greek itself has instead become Γιάννης; this might be written as Yannis, Jani, Ioannis, Yiannis, or Giannis, but not Giannes or Giannēs as it would have been in ancient Greek. The masculine Greek word Ἅγιος or Άγιος might variously appear as Hagiοs, Agios, Aghios, or Ayios, or simply be translated as "Holy" or "Saint" in English forms of Greek placenames.



A Leo III base gold solidus, minted in Rome. Leo III base gold solidus minted in Rome.jpg
A Leo III base gold solidus, minted in Rome.
Example of the miliaresion silver coins, first struck by Leo III to commemorate the coronation of his son, Constantine V, as co-emperor in 720. Leo III and Constantine V miliaresion.jpg
Example of the miliaresion silver coins, first struck by Leo III to commemorate the coronation of his son, Constantine V, as co-emperor in 720.
Byzantine Empire 717 AD. 1. Ravenna 2. Venetia and Istria 3. Rome 4. Naples 5. Calabria 6. Hellas 7. Thrace 8. Opsikion 9. Thrakesion 10. Anatolikon 11. Karabisianoi 12. Armeniakon. Hatched area: Frequently invaded by Umayyad Caliphate ByzantineEmpire717+extrainfo+themes.svg
Byzantine Empire 717 AD. 1. Ravenna 2. Venetia and Istria 3. Rome 4. Naples 5. Calabria 6. Hellas 7. Thrace 8. Opsikion 9. Thrakesion 10. Anatolikon 11. Karabisianoi 12. Armeniakon. Hatched area: Frequently invaded by Umayyad Caliphate

Early life

Leo, whose original name was Konon, was born in Germanikeia in the Syrian province of Commagene (modern Kahramanmaraş in Turkey). Some, including the Byzantine 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 loyalist followers, and horsemen provided by Tervel of Bulgaria in 705.

Kahramanmaraş Metropolitan municipality in Mediterranean, Turkey

Kahramanmaraş is a city in the Mediterranean Region of Turkey and the administrative center of Kahramanmaraş Province. Before 1973, Kahramanmaraş was named Maraş. The city lies on a plain at the foot of the Ahir Dağı and has a population of 1,112,634 as of 2017. The region is best known for its distinctive ice cream, and its production of salep, a powder made from dried orchid tubers. It is connected by air to İstanbul and Ankara. Turkish Airlines has daily direct flights from İstanbul and also AnadoluJet operates direct flights from Ankara.

Byzantine Empire Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural and military force in Europe. "Byzantine Empire" is a term created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire, or Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as "Romans".

Saint Theophanes the Confessor was a member of the Byzantine aristocracy who became a monk and chronicler. He served in the court of Emperor Leo IV the Khazar before taking up the religious life. Theophanes attended the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 and resisted the iconoclasm of Leo V the Armenian, for which he was imprisoned. He died shortly after his release.

After the victory of Justinian II, Konon was dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Alania and Lazica to organize an alliance against the Umayyad Caliphate under Al-Walid I. According to the Chronicle of Theophanes Justinian wanted to get rid of Konon and took back the money that had been given to him to help advance Byzantine interests, thus leaving Konon stranded in Alania. The chronicle describes the mission as successful and Konon returning eventually to Justinian after crossing the Caucasus mountains in May with snowshoes and taking the fortress of Sideron (associated with Tsebelda) on the way. [3] [4]

Alania medieval kingdom of the Alans (proto-Ossetians)

Alania was a medieval kingdom of the Iranian Alans (proto-Ossetians) that flourished in the Northern Caucasus, roughly in the location of latter-day Circassia and modern North Ossetia–Alania, from its independence from the Khazars in the late 9th century until its destruction by the Mongol invasion in 1238–39. Its capital was Maghas, and it controlled a vital trade route through the Darial Pass. The kingdom reached its peak in the 11th century, under the rule of king Dorgolel.

Lazica former country

Lazica was the Latin name given to the territory of Colchis during the Roman/Byzantine period, from about the 1st century BC.

Al-Walid I Umayyad caliph

Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, commonly known as al-Walid I, was the sixth Umayyad caliph, ruling from October 705 until his death.

Konon was appointed commander (stratēgos) of the Anatolic theme by Emperor Anastasius II. On his deposition, Konon 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, [5] daughter of Leo as part of the agreement.

<i>Strategos</i> Greek military leader

Strategos or Strategus, plural strategoi, is used in Greek to mean military general. In the Hellenistic world and the Byzantine Empire the term was also used to describe a military governor. In the modern Hellenic Army it is the highest officer rank.

Anatolic Theme theme of the Byzantine empire

The Anatolic Theme, more properly known as the Theme of the Anatolics was a Byzantine theme in central Asia Minor. From its establishment, it was the largest and senior-most of the themes, and its military governors (stratēgoi) were powerful individuals, several of them rising to the imperial throne or launching failed rebellions to capture it. The theme and its army played an important role in the Arab–Byzantine wars of the 7th–10th centuries, after which it enjoyed a period of relative peace that lasted until its conquest by the Seljuk Turks in the late 1070s.

Artabasdos 8th-century Byzantine emperor

Artavasdos or Artabasdos, Latinized as Artabasdus, was a Byzantine general of Armenian descent who seized the throne from June 741 or 742 until November 743. His reign constitutes a usurpation against Constantine V, who had retained control of several themes in Asia Minor.

Siege of Constantinople

Leo entered Constantinople on 25 March 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 Umayyad forces sent by Caliph Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik and serving under his brother Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik. They had taken advantage of the civil discord in the Byzantine Empire to bring a force of 80,000 to 150,000 men and a massive fleet to the Bosphorus. [6]

Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik Umayyad caliph

Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik was the seventh Umayyad caliph, ruling from 23 February 715 until his death. Prior to his accession, he successively served as the governor of Palestine for his father Caliph Abd al-Malik and brother Caliph al-Walid I. During this period, Sulayman came under the mentorship of the Umayyads' court theologian Raja ibn Haywa al-Kindi and forged close ties with the Arab tribal elite of the district. In place of the long-established urban center of Lydda, he founded the nearby city of Ramla and in it, his palace and the White Mosque. The new city served as the administrative capital of Palestine as late as the 11th century.

Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik was an Umayyad prince and one of the most prominent Arab generals of the early decades of the 8th century, leading several campaigns against the Byzantine Empire and the Khazar Khaganate. He achieved great fame especially for leading the second and last Arab siege of the Byzantine capital Constantinople.

Careful preparations, begun three years earlier under Anastasius II, and the stubborn resistance put up by Leo wore out the invaders. An important factor in the victory of the Byzantines was their use of Greek fire. [7] The Arab forces also fell victim to Bulgarian reinforcements arriving 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 of Bulgaria or his eventual successor Kormesiy of Bulgaria.

Greek fire incendiary weapon used by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire developed c. 672

Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire beginning c. 672. Used to set light to enemy ships, it consisted of a combustible compound emitted by a flame-throwing weapon. Greek fire was first used by the Greeks besieged in Constantinople (673–78). Some historians believe it could be ignited on contact with water, and was probably based on naphtha and quicklime. The Byzantines typically used it in naval battles to great effect, as it could continue burning while floating on water. The technological advantage it provided was responsible for many key Byzantine military victories, most notably the salvation of Constantinople from two Arab sieges, thus securing the Empire's survival.

Tervel of Bulgaria Emperor of the Bulgarians

Khan Tervel also called Tarvel, or Terval, or Terbelis in some Byzantine sources, was the khan of Bulgaria during the First Bulgarian Empire at the beginning of the 8th century. In 705 Emperor Justinian II named him caesar, the first foreigner to receive this title. He was raised a pagan like his grandfather Khan Kubrat. but was later possibly baptised by the Byzantine clergy. Tervel played an important role in defeating the Arabs during the Siege of Constantinople in 717–718.

Unable to continue the siege in the face of the Bulgarian onslaught, the impenetrability of Constantinople's walls, and their own exhausted provisions, the Arabs were forced to abandon the siege 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.


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 Umayyad Caliphate renewed its 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 law, maritime law and criminal law, notably substituting mutilation for the death penalty in many cases. The new measures, which were embodied in a new code called the Ecloga (Selection), published in 726, 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's most striking legislative reforms dealt with religious matters, especially iconoclasm ("icon-breaking," therefore an iconoclast is an "icon-breaker"). [8] 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 veneration of images (726–729). [9] This prohibition of a custom, which had been in use among Christians for centuries, may have been inspired by Islamic influence as well as the desire to appease those who had not been Christians, and received the support of the official aristocracy. 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 (cf. Agallianos Kontoskeles). In 730, Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople resigned rather than subscribe to an iconoclastic decree. Leo had him replaced by Anastasios, [10] 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 later 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); in 740 Leo retaliated by transferring Southern Italy and Illyricum from the papal diocese to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople. [11] 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 southern Italian subjects successfully defied his religious edicts, and the Exarchate of Ravenna became effectively detached from the Empire.

Scholars have discussed the mutual influence of Muslim and Byzantine iconoclasm, noting that Caliph Yazid II had issued an iconoclastic edict, also targeting his Christian subjects, already in 721. [12]


The emperor died of dropsy in June 741.


With his wife Maria, Leo III had four known children:

See also


  1. Craig, Graham, Kagan, Ozment, and Turner. The Heritage of World Civilizations. Prentice Hall. p. 321. ISBN   978-0-205-80766-6.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Gero, Stephen (1973). Byzantine Iconoclasm during the Reign of Leo III, with Particular Attention to the Oriental Sources. Louvain: Secrétariat du Corpus SCO. ISBN   90-429-0387-2.
  3. Theophanes the Confessor (1982). The Chronicle of Theophanes: Anni Mundi 6095-6305 (A.D. 602-813). Stanford: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 85. ISBN   0812211286.
  4. The association of the Sideron fortress with Tsebelda is made by O. Bgazhba and S. Lakoba in Бгажба, О. Х.; Лакоба, С. З. (2007). История Абхазии с древнейших времен до наших дней (The History of Abkhazia from Ancient Times to Present Day) (in Russian). Алашарбага. p. 134.
  5. Treadgold, Warren (1997). A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford: University of Stanford Press. p. 346. ISBN   0-8047-2630-2.
  6. (in French) Guilland, Rodolphe. "L’expédition de Maslama contre Constantinople (717–720)" in Études Byzantines. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1959, pp. 109–133.
  7. Treadgold. History of the Byzantine State, p. 347.
  8. Ladner, Gerhart. "Origin and Significance of the Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy." Mediaeval Studies, 2, 1940, pp. 127–149.
  9. Treadgold. History of the Byzantine State, pp. 350, 352–353.
  10. Treadgold. History of the Byzantine State, p. 353.
  11. Treadgold. History of the Byzantine State, pp. 354–355.
  12. A. A. Vasiliev (1956), The Iconoclastic Edict of the Caliph Yazid II, A. D. 721, pp. 25-26


Leo III the Isaurian
Born: c. 685 Died: 18 June 741
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Theodosius III
Byzantine Emperor
25 March 717 – 18 June 741
Succeeded by
Constantine V

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