Leo VI the Wise

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Leo VI
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
Detail of the Imperial Gate mosaic in Hagia Sophia showing Leo VI the Wise.jpg
A mosaic in Hagia Sophia showing Leo VI paying homage to Christ
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign29 August 886 – 11 May 912
Coronation 870 as co-emperor [1]
Predecessor Basil I
Successor Alexander
Born19 September 866
Died11 May 912(912-05-11) (aged 45)
IssueEudokia, Anna, Anna, Basil, Constantine VII
Full name
Leo VI "the Wise" or "the Philosopher"
Dynasty Macedonian
Father Basil I or possibly Michael III
Mother Eudokia Ingerina

Leo VI, called the Wise or the Philosopher (Greek : Λέων Ϝ΄ ὁ Σοφός, Leōn VI ho Sophos, 19 September 866 – 11 May 912), was Byzantine Emperor from 886 to 912. The second ruler of the Macedonian dynasty (although his parentage is unclear), he was very well-read, leading to his epithet. During his reign, the renaissance of letters, begun by his predecessor Basil I, continued; but the Empire also saw several military defeats in the Balkans against Bulgaria and against the Arabs in Sicily and the Aegean. His reign also witnessed the formal discontinuation of several ancient Roman institutions, such as the Roman consul and Senate (in this period also known as the Byzantine Senate), which continued to exist in name only and lost much of their original functions and powers.

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.

Macedonian dynasty dynasty

The Macedonian dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056, following the Amorian dynasty. During this period, the Byzantine state reached its greatest expanse since the Muslim conquests, and the Macedonian Renaissance in letters and arts began. The dynasty was named after its founder, Basil I the Macedonian who came from the Theme of Macedonia which at the time was part of Thrace.

Basil I Byzantine emperor

Basil I, called the Macedonian was a Byzantine Emperor who reigned from 867 to 886. Born a simple peasant in the theme of Macedonia, he rose in the Imperial court. He entered into the service of Theophilitzes, a relative of Emperor Michael III, and was given a fortune by the wealthy Danielis. He gained the favour of Michael III, whose mistress he married on the emperor's orders, and was proclaimed co-emperor in 866. He ordered the assassination of Michael the next year. Despite his humble origins, he showed great ability in running the affairs of state. He was the founder of the Macedonian dynasty. He was succeeded upon his death by his son Leo VI.


Early life

Leo VI (right) and Basil I, from the 11th-century manuscript by John Skylitzes Basil&leo.jpg
Leo VI (right) and Basil I, from the 11th-century manuscript by John Skylitzes

Born to the empress Eudokia Ingerina, Leo was either the illegitimate son of Emperor Michael III [2] [3] [4] or the second son of Michael's successor, Basil I the Macedonian. [5] [6] [7] Eudokia was both Michael III's mistress and Basil’s wife. In 867, Michael was assassinated by Basil, who succeeded him as Emperor. [8] As the second eldest son of the Emperor, Leo was associated on the throne in 870 [9] and became the direct heir on the death of his older half-brother Constantine in 879. [10] However, Leo and Basil did not like each other; a relationship that only deteriorated after Eudokia's death, when Leo, unhappy with his marriage to Theophano, took up a mistress in the person of Zoe Zaoutzaina. Basil married Zoe off to an insignificant official, and later almost had Leo blinded when he was accused of conspiring against him. [11] [12] On August 29, 886, Basil died in a hunting accident, though he claimed on his deathbed that there was an assassination attempt in which Leo was possibly involved. [13]

Eudokia Ingerina Byzantine emperoress

Eudokia (Eudocia) Ingerina was a Byzantine Empress as the wife of the Byzantine emperor Basil I, the mistress of his predecessor Michael III, and the mother to Leo VI the Wise, Alexander and Stephen I of Constantinople.

Michael III Byzantine emperor

Michael III was Byzantine Emperor from 842 to 867. Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Amorian dynasty. He was given the disparaging epithet the Drunkard by the hostile historians of the succeeding Macedonian dynasty, but modern historical research has rehabilitated his reputation to some extent, demonstrating the vital role his reign played in the resurgence of Byzantine power in the 9th century.

Theophano, wife of Leo VI Byzantine empress

Theophano was a Byzantine Empress by marriage to Leo VI the Wise. She is venerated as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Domestic policy

One of the first actions of Leo VI after his succession was the reburial, with great ceremony, of the remains of Michael III in the imperial mausoleum within the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. [14] This contributed to the suspicion that Leo was (or at least believed himself to be) in truth Michael's son. [10] Seeking political reconciliation, the new Emperor secured the support of the officials in the capital, and surrounded himself with bureaucrats like Stylianos Zaoutzes (the father of his mistress, Zoe Zaoutzaina) [13] and the eunuch Samonas, an Arab defector whom Leo raised to the rank of patrikios and who stood in as godfather to Leo’s son, Constantine VII. [15] His attempts to control the great aristocratic families (e.g., the Phokadai and the Doukai) occasionally led to serious conflicts, [16] the most significant being the revolt of Andronikos Doukas in 906. [17]

Church of the Holy Apostles church in Istanbul

The Church of the Holy Apostles, also known as the Imperial Polyándreion, was a Greek Eastern Orthodox church in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The first structure dates to the 4th century, though future emperors would add to and improve on the space. It was second in size and importance only to the Hagia Sophia among the great churches of the capital. When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the Holy Apostles briefly became the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. Three years later the edifice, which was in a dilapidated state, was abandoned by the Patriarch, and in 1461 it was demolished by the Ottomans to make way for the Fatih Mosque.

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Byzantine Empire, and also of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261), until finally falling to the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). It was reinaugurated in 324 from ancient Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine the Great, after whom it was named, and dedicated on 11 May 330. The city was located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul.

Stylianos Zaoutzes was a high Byzantine official of Armenian origin. Rising to high rank under Byzantine emperor Basil I, he then rose further to prominence under Basil's successor Emperor Leo VI the Wise, who had a close friendship and possibly an affair with Stylianos's daughter Zoe Zaoutzaina. Stylianos Zaoutzes was Leo's leading minister during the first half of his reign, and was awarded the unique title of basileopator. His standing and influence declined after 895, but in 898, he became Leo's father-in-law when the Byzantine emperor married Zoe. He died in 899, in the same year as Zoe. Following an attempted coup by his relatives, the Zaoutzes clan was deprived of the considerable power it had amassed under Stylianos's tutelage.

Leo also attempted to involve himself in the church through his arbitrary interference with the patriarchate. [18] Using Pope John VIII's excommunication of Photius, he dismissed the Patriarch Photios, [19] who had been his tutor, and replaced him with his own 19-year-old brother Stephen in December 886. [10] On Stephen's death in 893, Leo replaced him with Zaoutzes' nominee, Antony II Kauleas, who died in 901. [16] Leo then promoted his own Imperial secretary ( mystikos ) Nicholas, but suspicions that he was involved in the failed assassination attempt against Leo in 903 [20] as well as his opposition to Leo’s fourth marriage saw Nicholas replaced with Leo’s spiritual father Euthymios in 907. [17]

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople position

The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople–New Rome and ranks as primus inter pares among the heads of the several autocephalous churches that make up the Eastern Orthodox Church. The term Ecumenical in the title is a historical reference to the Ecumene, a Greek designation for the civilised world, i.e. the Roman Empire, and it stems from Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon.

Photios I of Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople

Photios I, , also spelled Photius or Fotios, was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 858 to 867 and from 877 to 886; He is recognized in the Eastern Orthodox Church as Saint Photios the Great.

The mystikos was an important Byzantine office of the imperial chancery from the 9th through to the 15th centuries. Its initial role is unclear; he was probably the Byzantine emperor's private secretary. In time, the office also exercised judicial duties. It became an important fiscal official in the Komnenian period, and remained one of the highest-ranking state offices into the Palaiologan period as well.

The magnificent Church of Ayios Lazaros in Larnaca was constructed during the rule of Leo VI in the late 9th century, [21] and it was built after the relics of St. Lazaros were transported from Crete to Constantinople. [22] The church is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture. Leo also completed work on the Basilika , the Greek translation and update of the law code issued by Justinian I, which had been started during the reign of Basil. [23]

Larnaca Place in Larnaca District, Cyprus

Larnaca is a city on the southern coast of Cyprus and the capital of the eponymous district. It is the third-largest city in the country, after Nicosia and Limassol, with a metro population of 144,200 in 2015.

Byzantine architecture architectural style

Byzantine architecture is the architecture of the Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire.

The Basilika was a collection of laws completed c. 892 AD in Constantinople by order of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise during the Macedonian dynasty. This was a continuation of the efforts of his father, Basil I, to simplify and adapt the Emperor Justinian I's Corpus Juris Civilis code of law issued between 529 and 534 which had become outdated. The term "Basilika" comes not from the Emperor Basil's name, but rather from Greek: τὰ βασιλικά meaning "Royal Laws".

Bishop Liutprand of Cremona gives an account similar to those about Caliph Harun al-Rashid, to the effect that Leo would sometimes disguise himself and go about Constantinople looking for injustice or corruption. According to one story, he was even captured by the city guards during one of his investigations. Late in the evening, he was walking alone and disguised. Though he bribed two patrols with 12 nomismata and moved on, a third city patrol arrested him. When a terrified guardian recognized the jailed ruler in the morning, the arresting officer was rewarded for doing his duty, while the other patrols were dismissed and punished severely.[ citation needed ]

Liutprand, also Liudprand, Liuprand, Lioutio, Liucius, Liuzo, and Lioutsios, was a historian, diplomat, and Bishop of Cremona born in what is now northern Italy, whose works are an important source for the politics of the 10th century Byzantine court.

Harun al-Rashid the fifth Abbasid Caliph

Harun al-Rashid was the fifth Abbasid Caliph. His birth date is debated, with various sources giving dates from 763 to 766. His epithet "al-Rashid" translates to "the Orthodox," "the Just," "the Upright," or "the Rightly-Guided." Al-Rashid ruled from 786 to 809, during the peak of the Islamic Golden Age. He established the legendary library Bayt al-Hikma in Baghdad in present-day Iraq, and during his rule Baghdad began to flourish as a center of knowledge, culture and trade. During his rule, the family of Barmakids, which played a deciding role in establishing the Abbasid Caliphate, declined gradually. In 796, he moved his court and government to Raqqa in present-day Syria.

Foreign policy

The Byzantines flee at Boulgarophygon, miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes Boulgoarofygon.jpg
The Byzantines flee at Boulgarophygon, miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes

Leo VI's fortune in war was more mixed than Basil's had been. [24] In indulging his chief counselor Stylianos Zaoutzes, Leo provoked a war with Simeon I of Bulgaria in 894, but he was defeated. [25] Bribing the Magyars to attack the Bulgarians from the north, Leo scored an indirect success in 895. [26] However, deprived of his new allies, he lost the major Battle of Boulgarophygon in 896 and had to make the required commercial concessions and to pay annual tribute. [27]

Although he won a victory in 900 against the Emirate of Tarsus, in which the Arab army was destroyed and the Emir himself captured, [28] in the west the Emirate of Sicily took Taormina, the last Byzantine outpost on the island of Sicily, in 902. [29] Nevertheless, Leo continued to apply pressure on his eastern frontier through the creation of the new thema of Mesopotamia, a Byzantine invasion of Armenia in 902, and the sacking of Theodosiopolis, as well as successful raids in the Arab Thughur . [28]

Then, in 904 the renegade Leo of Tripolis sacked Thessalonica with his pirates – an event described in The Capture of Thessalonica by John Kaminiates – while a large-scale expedition to recover Crete under Himerios in 911–912 failed disastrously. Nevertheless, the same period also saw the establishment of the important frontier provinces ( kleisourai ) of Lykandos and Leontokome on territory recently taken from the Arabs. [30] In 907 Constantinople was attacked by the Kievan Rus' under Oleg of Novgorod, who was seeking favourable trading rights with the empire. [29] Leo paid them off, but they attacked again in 911, and a trade treaty was finally signed. [31]


Leo VI caused a major scandal with his numerous marriages which failed to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. [32] His first wife Theophano, whom Basil had forced him to marry on account of her family connections to the Martinakioi, and whom Leo hated, [33] died in 897, and Leo married Zoe Zaoutzaina, the daughter of his adviser Stylianos Zaoutzes, though she died as well in 899. [34] Upon this marriage Leo created the title of basileopatōr ("father of the emperor") for his father-in-law. [35]

After Zoe's death a third marriage was technically illegal, [36] but he married again, only to have his third wife Eudokia Baïana die in 901. [28] Instead of marrying a fourth time, which would have been an even greater sin than a third marriage (according to the Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos) [37] Leo took as mistress Zoe Karbonopsina. [38] He married her only after she had given birth to a son in 905, [36] but incurred the opposition of the patriarch. Replacing Nicholas Mystikos with Euthymios, [16] Leo got his marriage recognized by the church (albeit with a long penance attached, and with an assurance that Leo would outlaw all future fourth marriages). [17]


Gold solidus of Leo VI and Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, 908-912 GoldSolidusLeoVIAndConstantinVIIPorphyrogenetos908-912.jpg
Gold solidus of Leo VI and Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, 908–912

The future Constantine VII was the illegitimate son born before Leo's uncanonical fourth marriage to Zoe Karbonopsina. [36] To strengthen his son's position as heir, Leo had him crowned as co-emperor on May 15, 908, when he was only two years old. [39] Leo VI died on May 11, 912. [16] He was succeeded by his younger brother Alexander, who had reigned as Emperor alongside his father and brother since 879. [40]


Leo VI was a prolific writer, and he produced works on many different topics and in many styles, including political orations, liturgical poems, and theological treatises. [29] On many occasions he would personally deliver highly wrought and convoluted sermons in the churches of Constantinople. [29]

In the subject matter of legal works and treatises, he established a legal commission that carried out his father's original intent of codifying all of existing Byzantine law. The end result was a six-volume work consisting of 60 books, entitled the Basilika . Written in Greek, the Basilika translated and systematically arranged practically all of the laws preserved in the Corpus Juris Civilis , thereby providing a foundation upon which all later Byzantine laws could be built. [36] Leo then began integrating new laws issued during his reign into the Basilika. Called "Novels", or "New Laws", these were codes that dealt with current problems and issues, such as the prohibition on fourth marriages. Both the Basilika and the Novels were concerned with ecclesiastical law (canon law) as well as secular law. [36] Most importantly, from a historical perspective, they finally did away with much of the remaining legal and constitutional architecture that the Byzantine Empire had inherited from the Roman Empire, and even from the days of the Roman Republic. [15] Obsolete institutions such as the Curiae, the Roman Senate, even the Consulate, were finally removed from a legal perspective, even though these still continued in a lesser, decorative form. [36]

Tactica Leo - Tactica, sive De instruendis aciebus, 1586 - 1435950 F.jpeg

The supposed Book of the Eparch and the Kletorologion of Philotheos were also issued under Leo's name and testify to his government’s interest in organization and the maintenance of public order. [36] The Book of the Eparch described the rules and regulations for trade and trade organizations in Constantinople, while the Kletorologion was an attempt to standardize officials and ranks at the Byzantine court. [36] Leo is also the author, or at least sponsor, of the Tactica, a notable treatise on military operations. [16]

Succeeding generations saw Leo as a prophet and a magician, and soon a collection of oracular poems and some short divinatory texts, the so-called Oracles of Leo the Wise , at least in part based on earlier Greek sources, were attached to the Emperor's name in later centuries and were believed to foretell the future of the world. [29]

Finally, Leo is credited with translating the relics of St. Lazarus to Constantinople in the year 890. There are several stichera (hymns) attributed to him that are chanted on Lazarus Saturday in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He also composed hymns that are sung on the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.


By his first wife, Theophano, Leo VI had one daughter:

By his second wife, Zoe Zaoutzaina, Leo had one daughter:

By his third wife, Eudokia Baïana, Leo had one son:

By his fourth wife, Zoe Karbonopsina, Leo had two children: [38]

See also

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Euthymius I Syncellus was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 907 to 912. A monk since his youth, he became spiritual father of the future emperor Leo VI the Wise, and was raised by him to the high ecclesiastical office of syncellus. Despite his turbulent relationship with Leo, in 907 he was appointed to the patriarchate and held the post until his deposition shortly before or after Leo's death in 912.


Basileopatōr was one of the highest secular titles of the Byzantine Empire. It was an exceptional post, and conferred only twice in the Empire's history.

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Leo Choirosphaktes, sometimes Latinized as Choerosphactes and also known as Leo Magistros or Leo Magister, was a Byzantine official who rose to high office under Emperor Basil I the Macedonian and served as an envoy under Emperor Leo VI the Wise to Bulgaria and the Abbasid Caliphate. Choirosphaktes was also a well-educated and prominent scholar and writer, many of whose works and correspondence survive.

Constantine (Greek: Κωνσταντῖνος, surnamed Barbaros, was a Byzantine eunuch servant who rose to become parakoimomenos of the Byzantine emperor Leo VI the Wise in 911–912, displacing his own former master, Samonas. He held again the post during the regency of Zoe Karbonopsina in 913–919, where he played an important role in the governance of the state. He lost his post after he supported his relative Leo Phokas the Elder in his unsuccessful rivalry with Romanos I Lekapenos over control of the throne, but he was later appointed to the post of primikerios by Lekapenos.


  1. Dumbarton Oaks, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection: Leo III to Nicephorus III, 717–1081 (1973), pg. 507
  2. Treadgold, pg. 462
  3. Norwich, pg. 102
  4. Finlay, pg. 306
  5. Adontz, Nicholas, L'Age et l'origine de l'empereur Basil I. Byzantion , 8, 1933, pp. 475–550
  6. Charanis, Peter, The Armenians in the Byzantine Empire, 1963, pg. 35
  7. Ostrogorsky, George, History of the Byzantine State, 1969, pg. 233, note 1
  8. Treadgold, pg. 455
  9. Kazhdan, pg. 1210
  10. 1 2 3 Gregory, pg. 225
  11. Norwich, pg. 99
  12. Treadgold, pg. 460
  13. 1 2 Treadgold, pg. 461
  14. Finlay, pg. 307
  15. 1 2 Finlay, pg. 308
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 Kazhdan, pg. 1211
  17. 1 2 3 Treadgold, pg. 468
  18. Finlay, pg. 310
  19. Norwich, pg. 104
  20. Treadgold, pg. 467
  21. Michaelides, M.G., Saint Lazarus, The Friend Of Christ And First Bishop Of Kition, (1984) "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2009-09-21.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  22. Shepard, The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire (2008), pg. 493–496
  23. Norwich, pg. 105
  24. Finlay, pg. 314
  25. Treadgold, pg. 463
  26. Norwich, pg. 108
  27. Treadgold, pg. 464
  28. 1 2 3 Treadgold, pg. 466
  29. 1 2 3 4 5 Gregory, pg. 226
  30. Treadgold, pg. 466–470
  31. Treadgold, pg. 469
  32. 1 2 Norwich, pg. 114
  33. According to the Patriarch Euthymios' biographer, Leo once told Euthymios that "the whole Senate knows that it was against my will and in great sorrow that I married [Theophano]. Apud Gilbert Dagron, Emperor and Priest:the Imperial Office in Byzantium. Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN   978-0-521-03697-9, pp. 203
  34. Treadgold, pg. 465
  35. 1 2 Norwich, pg. 113
  36. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Gregory, pg. 227
  37. Finlay, pg. 312
  38. 1 2 Norwich, pg. 115
  39. Kazhdan, pg. 502
  40. Gregory, pg. 228
  41. Norwich, pg. 112
  42. Reuter, Timothy, The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. III: c. 900-c. 1024, Cambridge University Press, (2000), pg. 334.
  43. Tougher, p. 148.


Leo VI the Wise
Born: 19 September 866 Died: 11 May 912
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Basil I
Byzantine Emperor
29 August 886 – 11 May 912
with Basil I, 870–886
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Basil I in 867, then lapsed
Consul of the Roman Empire
Succeeded by
Consulate abolished