Michael Lachanodrakon

Last updated
Michael Lachanodrakon
Died 792
Allegiance Byzantine Empire
Years of service 760s–792
Rank strategos
Battles/wars Arab–Byzantine frontier wars, Battle of Marcellae

Michael Lachanodrakon (Greek : Μιχαήλ Λαχανοδράκων; died 20 July 792) was a distinguished Byzantine general and fanatical supporter of Byzantine Iconoclasm under Emperor Constantine V (r. 741–775). As a result of his iconoclast zeal, in 766 he rose to high office as governor of the Thracesian Theme, and instigated a series of repressive measures against iconophile practices, particularly targeting the monasteries. A talented general, he also led a series of campaigns against the Arabs of the Abbasid Caliphate before being dismissed from office in about 782. Restored to imperial favour in 790, he fell at the Battle of Marcellae against the Bulgars in 792.

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.

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. Both the terms "Byzantine Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" are historiographical terms 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".

Byzantine Iconoclasm two periods in the history of the Byzantine Empire when the use of religious images or icons was opposed by religious and imperial authorities

Byzantine Iconoclasm refers to two periods in the history of the Byzantine Empire when the use of religious images or icons was opposed by religious and imperial authorities within the Eastern Church and the temporal imperial hierarchy. The "First Iconoclasm", as it is sometimes called, existed between about 726 and 787. The "Second Iconoclasm" was between 814 and 842. According to the traditional view, Byzantine Iconoclasm was started by a ban on religious images by Emperor Leo III and continued under his successors. It was accompanied by widespread destruction of images and persecution of supporters of the veneration of images. The Western church remained firmly in support of the use of images throughout the period, and the whole episode widened the growing divergence between the Eastern and Western traditions in what was still a unified church, as well as facilitating the reduction or removal of Byzantine political control over parts of Italy.


Persecution of the iconophiles

Gold coin of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717-741), depicted with his son and successor, Constantine V. Leo first promoted iconoclasm, which became official policy under Constantine. Solidus-Leo III and Constantine V-sb1504.jpg
Gold coin of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (r. 717–741), depicted with his son and successor, Constantine V. Leo first promoted iconoclasm, which became official policy under Constantine.

Nothing is known of Lachanodrakon's origins and early life. He receives a very negative treatment in the historical sources, which were written after the final defeat of Byzantine Iconoclasm; some refer to him solely as ho Drakon (ὁ Δράκων, "the Dragon", alluding to his surname and the Biblical Beast). Their profoundly iconophile perspective means that reports of his actions, especially those relating to the suppression of icon worship, are potentially untrustworthy. [1] [2]

Icon religious work of art, generally a panel painting, in Eastern Christianity

An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic, and certain Eastern Catholic churches. The most common subjects include Christ, Mary, saints and angels. Although especially associated with "portrait" style images concentrating on one or two main figures, the term also covers most religious images in a variety of artistic media produced by Eastern Christianity, including narrative scenes. Icons can represent various scenes in the Bible.

At the Council of Hieria in 754, Constantine V had declared the adoration of icons to be a heresy, and had thereby elevated iconoclasm to official imperial policy. No persecution of iconophiles was launched at first, but iconophile resistance grew, until from 765 on, Constantine began persecuting iconophiles, and especially monks. The discovery of a wide-ranging iconophile plot against him involving some of the highest civil and military officials of the state in 766 provoked an extreme reaction. Patriarch Constantine II and other officials were deposed, jailed, publicly humiliated, and finally executed, replaced by new, uncompromisingly iconoclast officials. In addition, the veneration of sacred relics and prayers to the saints and the Virgin Mary were condemned. [3]

The iconoclast Council of Hieria was a Christian council of 754 which viewed itself as ecumenical, but was later rejected by the medieval Catholic Church. It was summoned by the Byzantine, Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine V in 754 in the palace of Hieria opposite Constantinople. The council supported the emperor's iconoclast position in the Byzantine iconoclasm controversy, condemning the spiritual and liturgical use of iconography as heretical.

Heresy belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs

Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs, in particular the accepted beliefs of a church or religious organization. A heretic is a proponent of such claims or beliefs. Heresy is distinct from both apostasy, which is the explicit renunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is an impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.

Iconoclasm the destruction of religious icons

Iconoclasm is the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any individual who challenges "cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious".

Map of the themes and major settlements of Byzantine Asia Minor and the Arab-Byzantine frontier zone in the late 8th century Asia Minor ca 780 AD.svg
Map of the themes and major settlements of Byzantine Asia Minor and the Arab–Byzantine frontier zone in the late 8th century

By 763 or 764, according to the iconophile Life of St Stephen the Younger hagiography, Lachanodrakon had already distinguished himself by his iconoclast fervour. On the emperor's orders, he led a group of soldiers on an invasion of the Pelekete monastery on the Propontis, where he arrested 38 monks and subjected the remainder to various tortures and mutilations. After burning down the monastery, he took the 38 captives to Ephesus, where they were executed. [4] [5] In 766/767, as part of the emperor's reshuffle of the senior echelons of the Byzantine Empire, Lachanodrakon was rewarded with the important post of strategos (military governor) of the Thracesian Theme, and given the rank of patrikios and imperial protospatharios according to his seal. [6] [2] He soon began a harsh repression of the monasteries and iconophiles. According to Theophanes the Confessor, in 769/770 he summoned the monks and nuns of his theme to Ephesus, gathered them in the city's tzykanisterion and forced them to marry, threatening them with blinding and exile to Cyprus if they refused. Although many resisted and "became martyrs" in Theophanes's words, many complied. Later reports of exiled monks in Cyprus becoming Arab captives seem to partly corroborate this story. [2] [7] [8] Theophanes reports further that in 771/772, Lachanodrakon dissolved all monasteries in the theme, confiscated and expropriated their property, and sent the proceeds to the emperor, who replied with a letter thanking him for his zeal. Lachanodrakon allegedly had relics, holy scriptures, and monks' beards set on fire, killed or tortured those who venerated relics, and finally prohibited the tonsure. Although highly embellished, these reports probably reflect actual events. [4] [8] [9] At any rate, by 772, according to historian Warren Treadgold, Lachanodrakon seems to have succeeded in "eradicating monasticism within his theme". [4] [10]

Hagiography biography of a Christian saint

A hagiography is a biography of a saint or an ecclesiastical leader. The term hagiography may be used to refer to the biography of a saint or highly developed spiritual being in any of the world's spiritual traditions.

The Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, commonly known as the Pelekete monastery, is a ruined Byzantine-era monastery near modern Tirilye in Turkey.

Ephesus Ancient city in Anatolia

Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, three kilometres southwest of present-day Selçuk in İzmir Province, Turkey. It was built in the 10th century BC on the site of the former Arzawan capital by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. During the Classical Greek era it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. The city flourished after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC.

Military activities

Gold coin of Emperor Leo IV the Khazar (r. 775-780), also depicting his son and co-emperor Constantine VI, as well as the Isaurian dynasty's founders Leo III and Constantine V. Leo iv constantine vi coin.jpg
Gold coin of Emperor Leo IV the Khazar (r. 775–780), also depicting his son and co-emperor Constantine VI, as well as the Isaurian dynasty's founders Leo III and Constantine V.

Lachanodrakon was also a capable general, winning fame for his campaigns against the Abbasids on the Byzantine Empire's eastern frontier. During the reign of Constantine V's son Leo IV (r. 775–780) he seems to have been the most prominent military commander, repeatedly leading expeditions comprising troops from several themes against the Arabs. [2] [8] [11]

Leo IV the Khazar 8th-century Byzantine emperor

Leo IVthe Khazar was Byzantine Emperor from 775 to 780 AD. He was born to Emperor Constantine V and Empress Tzitzak in 750. He was elevated to caesar the next year, in 751. When Constantine V died in September 775, while campaigning against the Bulgarians, Leo IV became senior emperor on 14 September 775. In 778 Leo raided Abbasid Syria, decisively defeating the Abbasid army outside of Germanicia. Leo died on 8 September 780, of tuberculosis. He was succeeded by his son Constantine VI, who was eventually overthrown by Leo's wife Irene, who installed herself as empress.

The first such expedition occurred in 778 when, preempting an anticipated Arab raid, Lachanodrakon led a large army against Germanikeia. Although the city did not fall (Theophanes claims that the Arab commander bribed Lachanodrakon), the Byzantine army defeated a relief force, plundered the region, and took many captives, mostly Jacobites, who were then resettled in Thrace. [2] [11] [12] In 780, Lachanodrakon ambushed and defeated an Arab invasion in the Armeniac Theme, killing the brother of the Arab commander Thumama ibn al-Walid. The Arab historian al-Tabari records that in 781 Lachanodrakon forced another Arab invasion, under 'Abd al-Kabir, to withdraw without battle, although Theophanes ascribes the success to the sakellarios John. [2] [8] [11] In 782, however, he was defeated by the Arab general al-Barmaqi during a large-scale invasion led by the future caliph Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809), losing some 15,000 men according to Theophanes. In the aftermath of this defeat, and likely because of his iconoclast past, he was apparently removed from his command by the iconophile empress-regent Irene of Athens. [2] [8] [11]

Jacobite Syrian Christian Church Oriental Orthodox Church based in the Indian state of Kerala

The Jacobite Syrian Christian Church also known as the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, or the Syriac Orthodox Church of India, is an autonomous Oriental Orthodox Church based in the Indian state of Kerala, and is an integral branch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. It recognizes the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Of Antioch and all the East, currently Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II seated in the Cathedral of Saint George, Bab Tuma, Damascus, Syria, as its Supreme Head. It functions as a largely autonomous unit within the church, under the authority of the Catholicos of India, currently Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I. Currently, this is the only church in Malankara which has a direct relationship with the Syriac Christians of Antioch, which has continued from after the schism and they continue to use West Syriac Rite.

Thrace kingdom of Thracians

Thrace is a geographical and historical region in Southeast Europe, now split between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, which is bounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. It comprises southeastern Bulgaria, northeastern Greece and the European part of Turkey.

Armeniac Theme Theme of the Byzantine empire

The Armeniac Theme, more properly the Theme of the Armeniacs was a Byzantine theme located in northeastern Asia Minor.

Lachanodrakon reappears in 790, when the young emperor Constantine VI (r. 780–797) conspired to overturn the tutelage of Irene. The general was sent by Constantine to the Armeniac Theme to secure the allegiance of its soldiers. Constantine succeeded in toppling his mother in December 790; it was probably then that Lachanodrakon was rewarded with the supreme non-imperial title, that of magistros . [2] [8] [11] According to the account of Theophanes, he participated in the imperial campaign against the Bulgars in 792 that led to the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Marcellae on 20 July, where he was killed. The history of John Skylitzes records his death in the Battle of Versinikia, again against the Bulgars, in 813, but this is clearly an error. [2] [8] [11]

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  1. Stouraitis 2005 , Chapter 1.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 PmbZ , pp. 273–274.
  3. Treadgold 1997 , pp. 361–365.
  4. 1 2 3 Stouraitis 2005 , Chapter 2.1.
  5. Rochow 1994 , p. 66.
  6. Treadgold 1997 , p. 364.
  7. Rochow 1994 , p. 65.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hollingsworth 1991 , p. 1168.
  9. Rochow 1994 , pp. 65–66.
  10. Treadgold 1997 , p. 365.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Stouraitis 2005 , Chapter 2.2.
  12. Treadgold 1997 , p. 369.