Leo 3

Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire
Dates695 (taq) / 741 (ob.)
PmbZ No.4242
Variant NamesLeo III (emperor)
LocationsConstantinople (burialplace);
Constantinople (officeplace);
Hagia Sophia (Constantinople);
Anatolikoi (officeplace);
Germanikeia (Syria);
Germanikeia (Syria) (residence);
Isauria (birthplace);
Mesembria (Haemimontus) (residence);
Constantinople (residence);
Mesembria (Haemimontus);
Phasis (Lazike);
Amorion (Galatia);
Nikomedeia (Bithynia);
Chrysopolis (Bithynia);
Germanikeia (Syria) (birthplace)
TitlesSpatharios (dignity);
Augustus (office);
Emperor (office);
Patrikios (office);
Strategos, Anatolikoi (office)
Textual SourcesBar Hebraeus, Chronographia, tr. E. A. W. Budge, The Chronography of Abu 'l-Faraj (London, 1932; repr. Amsterdam, 1976) (history);
Chronicon Anonymi ad annum 1234 pertinens, ed. and tr. J.-B. Chabot, I = CSCO 81-82 (Paris, 1916-20), II = CSCO 109 (Louvain, 1937) (chronicle);
Chronicon Anonymum ad annum 819 pertinens, ed. Aphram Barsaum (CSCO 81, 1920), trans. J.-B. Chabot, CSCO 109, Scriptores Syri 56 (Louvain, 1937) (chronicle);
Chronicon ad annum Domini 846 pertinens, ed. E. W. Brooks, tr. J.-B. Chabot, CSCO 3-4 (Louvain, 1904); also tr. E. W. Brooks, "A Syriac Chronicle of the Year 846", Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländ (chronicle);
Chronique de Denys de Tell-Mahré, ed. and tr. J.-B. Chabot (Paris, 1895); tr. A. Palmer, The Seventh Century in West-Syrian Chronicles (Liverpool, 1993), pp. 54-65 (chronicle);
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Ceremoniis Aulae Byzantinae Libri II, ed. J. J. Reiske, CSHB (Bonn, 1829); also ed. (in part) A. Vogt (Paris, 1935, repr. 1967) (history);
Elias Barshinaya, Chronicle (Eliae metropolitae Nisibeni, Opus chronologicum, pars prior, ed. and tr. E. W. Brooks, CSCO 62 and CSCO 63 (1910) (chronicle);
Nicephorus, Breviarium Historiae, ed. C. Mango, Nikephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople: Short History; prev. ed. C. de Boor Nicephori ArchiepiscopiConstantinopolitani Opuscula Historica Leipzig 1880 (history);
Paulus Diaconus, Historia Gentis Langobardorum, ed. L. Bethmann and G. Waitz, MGH, Scr. Rer. Lang., pp. 12-187; also in MGH, Scr. Rer. Ger. 48, pp. 49-242 (history);
Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia, ed. C. de Boor, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1883-85, repr. Hildesheim/NewYork, 1980); tr. and comm. C. Mango and R. Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, Oxford 1997 (chronicle);
Vita Nicetae Hegoumeni Medicii, Auctore Theostericto (BHG 1341), AASS April I, Appendix, pp. xviii-xxviii (hagiography);
Vita Stephani Iunioris, by Stephanus Diaconus (BHG 1666), ed. M.-F. Auzépy, La Vie d'Etienne le Jeune par Étienne le diacre. Introduction, édition et traduction (Aldershot, 1997); PG 100. 1069-1186 (hagiography);
Zonaras = Ioannis Zonarae Epitome Historiarum, libri XIII-XVIII, ed. Th. Büttner-Wobst, (Bonn, 1897) (history)
Seal SourcesSeibt, W., Die byzantinischen Bleisiegel in Österreich. I. Teil, Kaiserhof (Vienna, 1978);
Zacos, G. and Veglery, A., Byzantine Lead Seals, vol. I (in 3 parts) (Basel, 1972).

Leo 3's baptismal name was Konon: Theoph. AM 6221 (he allegedly once said to the patriarch Germanos 8: τὸ βαπτιστικὸν μοῦ ὄνομα ἐν ἀληθείᾳ Κόνων ἐστιν), Zon. XIV 28. 2 (Λέων δὲ ὁ καὶ Κόνων), XV 2. 24 (Κόνων γὰρ παρὰ τῶν γονέων νηπιόθεν ὠνόμασμαι), Georg. Mon. 735, 13.

He is described as a Syrian: Theoph. AM 6232 (Λέοντος τοῦ τυράννου καὶ παρανομωτάτου Σύρου), Vita Steph. Iun. 98.14-15 (1084B) (Λέων ὁ συρογενής), 119.8-9 (1109C) (ἐκ τῆς δὲ Συριάτιδος γαίης τὸ γένος καὶ τὸ φρόνημα φέροντα).

A native of Isauria, he was transferred to Mesembria with his parents in the reign of Justinian II (Ioustinianos 1): Zon. XV 1. 1 (and see below). He was an Isaurian: Const. Porph., Cer. II 42 (Reiske, 645). He was of Isaurian descent but his family apparently lived in Germanikeia (in Syria) (ἐκ τῆς Γερμανικέων καταγόμενος, τῇ ἀληθείᾳ δὲ ἐκ τῆς Ἰσαυρίας); he and his parents were transported to Mesembria in Thrace during the first reign of the emperor Justinian II (Ioustinianos 1); later, when Justinian II (Ioustinianos 1) advanced with his Bulgar allies (in 705, to regain the throne), Leo 3 met him with the gift of a flock of sheep and was welcomed by Justinian II (Ioustinianos 1); he was made a spatharios immediately and became one of the close associates of the emperor (ἔσχεν αὐτὸν ὡς γνήσιον φίλον); accusations that he was aiming at the throne were made and examined only to be dismissed, but allegedly gossip persisted and the emperor Ioustinianos 1 removed him from court and sent him on a secret mission to the Alans; he was given funds and sent to arouse the Alans to attack Abasgia, which at the time was under Arab rule together with Lazike and Iberia; leaving the money at Phasis, in Lazike, Leo 3 made his way to Alania via Apsilia and the Caucasus range, and persuaded the Alans to act against the Abasgi; however Ioustinianos 1 had the money brought back from Phasis, allegedly wishing to destroy Leo 3; instead of abandoning Leo 3 the Alans cooperated with him and with his help surprised and plundered Abasgia; Ioustininanos 1 offered the Abasgi peace if they would rescue Leo 3 and send him safely back, but Leo 3 refused to put himself into the hands of the Abasgi and looked for another way home; he eventually joined two hundred Roman troops who had been cut off in Apsilia, and with these laid siege to the fort of Sideron (see Pharesmanes 1); with help from the Apsilii under Marinos 1 he took the fort and made his way back to the coast and then to Ioustinianos 1: Theoph. AM 6209 (throughout this story Theophanes refers to Leo 3 as ὁ σπαθάριος), Zon. XV 1. 1-4, 1. 19.

Leo 3 allegedly remained in the East for several years and on his return found that Justinian II (Ioustinianos 1) was dead, Philippikos 1 had been emperor, and Artemios (Anastasios 6) was now on the throne: Zon. XV 1. 21. After the overthrow first of Justinian II (Ioustininanos 1) and then of Philippikos 1, Artemios (Anastasios 6) became emperor (as Anastasios II) (in 713) and promoted Leo 3 to the post of strategos of the Anatolikoi: Theoph. AM 6209 (προβάλλεται αὐτὸν στρατηγὸν εἰς ἀνατολικούς), Zon. XIV 28. 2 (παρὰ τοῦ Ἀρτεμίου στρατηγὸς τῶν Ἀνατολικῶν προβληθείς), XV 1. 21.

In 715, when Theodosios 2 overthrew the emperor Anastasios II (Anastasios 6), Leo 3 was the strategos of the Anatolikoi (τῶν ἀνατολικῶν στρατηγὸς ὤν); he supported Anastasios 6 and refused ever to recognise Theodosios 2; he was closely supported by the strategos of the Armeniakoi, Artabasdos 1, to whom he betrothed and eventually married his own daughter, Anna 1 (ᾧ κὰ συνέθετο δοῦναι τὴν ἑαυτοῦ θυγατέρα εἰς γυναῖκ: ὃ καὶ πεποίηκεν.: Theoph. AM 6207; ὃν καὶ γαμβρὸν μετὰ τὸ βασιλεῦσαι αὐτὸν εἰς Ἄνναν τὴν θυγατέρα αὐτοῦ πεποίηκεν: Theoph. AM 6209): Theoph. AM 6207, Theoph. AM 6209, Zon. XIV 28. 2, XV 1. 21-22.

In 716 Leo 3 was patrikios and strategos of the Anatolikoi: Theoph. AM 6208 (τὸν στρατηγὸν τῶν ἀνατολικῶν), Nic. Brev. de Boor 52, Mango 52.19-20 (Λέων ὁ πατρίκιος, τηνικαῦτα στρατηγὸς ὢν τοῦ τῶν Ἀνατολικῶν λεγομένου στράτου). In that year a large expedition was mounted by the Arabs into Asia Minor; because of his refusal to recognise Theodosios 2, the Arabs tried to manipulate Leo 3 for their advantage, but he evaded their plots (see Anonymus 12) and finally managed to send troops under the tourmarch Nikaias 1 into the beleaguered city of Amorion while himself withdrawing to Pisidia; after further exchanges with the Arab leader Maslama 1, Leo 3 withdrew to Nikomedeia, near where he captured the emperor Theodosios 2's son (Anonymus 13) with all his retinue; the Arabs went into winter quarters and Leo 3 moved on to Chrysopolis; Theodosios 2 now gave in to pressure and abdicated in favour of Leo 3: Theoph. AM 6208, Zon. XIV 28. 2-3, Chron. 1234, §157 (pp.300-303). He was chosen by the combined civil and military authorities of the empire to replace Theodosios 2 as emperor, to meet the crises facing the empire; he entered the city through the Golden Gate and was crowned in Hagia Sophia: Nic. Brev. de Boor 52, Mango 52.

Leo 3 rebelled against the emperor Theodosios 2, who abdicated in his favour: Vita Steph. Iun. 98.14-19 (1084B) (for the date see Rochow, Theophanes, 391). He dethroned the emperor Theodosios 2 and seized the empire: Vita Nicetae Medicii (ASS April I) 27 (Λέων γὰρ, ὁ τῶν Ἰσαύρων λεγόμενος, Θεοδόσιον τὸν νέον τυραννήσας, ἥρπασε τὴν τῶν Ῥωμαίων βασιλείαν).

Leo 3's accession was supposedly foretold to him in his boyhood in Isauria by Jewish sorcerers, according to a story invented to explain his later opposition to sacred images: Zon. XV 3. 5-6. Said by Paul the Deacon to have become emperor on the death of the emperor Theodosios 2: Paul. Diac., Hist. Lang. VI 41.

Husband of Maria 3: Theoph. AM 6211 (Μαρία, ἡ γυνὴ Λέοντος), Zon. XV 2. 12. Father of Konstantinos 7 (Constantine V), born in 718: Theoph. AM 6211 (late in 718, before 25 December) (ἐτέχθη τῷ δυσσεβεῖ βασιλεῖ Λέοντι ὁ δυσσεβέστερος αὐτοῦ υἱὸς Κωνσταντῖνος καὶ τοῦ Ἀντιχρίστου πρόδρομος), Nic. Brev. de Boor 55, Mango 56, Zon. XV 2. 12. He crowned his son emperor at Easter 720: Theoph. AM 6212 (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ πάσχα, ἐστέφθη Κωνσταντῖνος ὑπὸ Λέοντος, τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ). He subsequently betrothed Konstantinos to a Khazar princess: Nic. Brev. de Boor 58-59, Mango 63, Chron. 1234, §164 (p. 310). The marriage was in 733 and Leo 3 had his daughter-in-law renamed Eirene after she became a Christian: Theoph. AM 6224 (Λέων ὁ βασιλεὺς τὴν θυγατέρα Χαγάνου, τοῦ τῶν Σκυθῶν δυνάστου, τῷ υἱῷ Κωνσταντίνῳ ἐνυμφεύσατο, ποιήσας αὐτὴν Χριστιανὴν καὶ ὀνομάσας αὐτὴν Εἰρήνην), Zon. XV 4. 11. He also had a daughter (Anna 1) who married Artabasdos 1: Nic. Brev. de Boor 59, Mango 64.

Leo 3 died of dropsy after ruling for twenty-four years (in 741) and was succeeded by Konstantinos 7: Nic. Brev. de Boor 59, Mango 64, Zon. XV 4. 18. He died on 18 June, 741, after reigning for twenty-four years, two months twenty five days; his reign began on 25 March of indiction fifteen (717) and ended on 18 June of indiction nine (741); he was succeeded by his son Konstantinos 7: Theoph. AM 6232 (Κωνσταντῖνος, ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ), cf. Chron. 1234, §167 (p.313) (his death).

At first Leo 3 seemed a pious emperor, but after ten years he issued a statement opposing the worship of images (εἰδωλικῆς τεχνουργίας ὑπαρχούσης τῆς τῶν εἰκόνων ἀνατυπώσεως, οὐ δεῖ ταύτας προσκυνεῖν): Vita Steph. Iun. 98.22-99.5 (1084B-C). He allegedly believed in the magical powers of incantations and was able to delude persons who were of the same way of thinking; he began to attack icons, and persisted even though the patriarch Germanos 8 showed him his error: Vita Steph. Iun. 119.11-18 (1109C-D). He overturned ancient traditions by banning the painting and veneration of the image of Christ: Vita Nicetae Medicii (AASS April I) 27. Said to have burnt images of saints and to have instructed the bishop of Rome to do the same; the pope refused and the army of Italy was allegedly only prevented from appointing a rival emperor by the intervention of the bishop of Rome himself; later Leo 3 ordered his subjects to remove and destroy holy icons, and punished those who refused: Paul. Diac., Hist. Lang. VI 49.

Leo 3 is possibly identical with Konon 7, owner of seals in the early eighth century whose career matches the earlier career of the future emperor.

For Leo 3's imperial seals, see Zacos and Veglery 33-34, Seibt, Bleisiegel I, pp. 78-81, no. 15, with references. An image of Leo 3 is recorded on the seal of Anonymus 433: Zacos and Veglery 221.

Leo 3 was buried in the Mausoleum of Justinian at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople: Const. Porph., Cer. II 42 (Reiske, 645).

Leo 3 is recorded also in several other oriental sources. Leo 3 became ruler of the Romans after Theodosios 2 was deposed: Chron. ad a. 846, p. 231, 12ff. = p. 175 (Chabot) = p. 580 (Brooks). In the year 1028 Sel. (716/717) after an Arab army (under Ubaida) went to Thrace and suffered a defeat by the Bulgars, the emperor Leo 3, described as the astute king of the Romans, pressed the survivors so hard that they were forced to eat their pack animals to survive: Chron. ad a. 819, p. 15, 17-24 = pp. 10-11, Chron. ad a. 846, p. 234, 6-133 = p. 177 (Chabot) = p. 583 (Brooks). In AH 101 (July 719/July 720) = 1030 Sel. (718/719) Leo 3 ordered that all Jews living in the empire should be baptised: Elias, Chron., p. 162, 12-19 = pp. 77ff. In AH 123 (Nov. 740/Nov. 741) = 1052 Sel. (740/741) the emperor Leo 3 died and was succeeded by his son Konstantinos 7: Elias, Chron., p. 168, 25 - p. 169, 2 = p. 80.

Leo 3 was a native of the borderlands of Syria; he was a strong man and brave and warlike and became a military commander: Pseudo-Dion., Chron., p. 157 = p. 118 = p. 62 (Palmer). In the year 1028 Sel. (716/717) when the Arabs under Maslama 1 invaded the lands of the Romans, Leo 3 allegedly made a pact with them to gain them access to Constantinople without bloodshed; he entered Constantinople where the emperor, frightened by news of the invasion and of the pact, insisted on abdicating, in spite of Leo 3's exhortations to remain firm; the Romans then chose Leo 3 as the next emperor; he strengthened the defences of the city and took measures to prevent its capture by the Arabs, and procrastinated when Maslama 1 demanded that he fulfil their pact; the Arabs laid siege to Constantinople for three years and suffered increasingly from famine, until the caliph Sulayman 4 died and his successor `Umar (Omar 2) ordered Maslama 1 to abandon the siege and withdraw; before he left Leo 3 allowed him to enter the city with a few followers to see the sights: Pseudo-Dion., Chron., pp. 156, 26 - 160, 10 = pp. 118-120 = pp. 62-65 (Palmer). In the year 1045 Sel. (733/734) Artabas (Artabasdos 1) rebelled and seized Constantinople, in breach of an agreement made with Leo 3; Leo 3 besieged him in the capital, and eventually captured him and put out his eyes; meanwhile an Arab army under Sulayman invaded and was warned by Leo 3 not to approach him more closely but to attack Pelozonium, from where Artabas (Artabasdos 1) had drawn his troops, and plunder it as an easy prey if he so wished: Pseudo-Dion., Chron., pp. 171,16 - 172,9 = pp. 129ff. Leo 3 died in the year 1052 Sel. (740/741) after reigning for twenty-five years as king of the Romans and was succeeded by his son Konstantinos 7: Pseudo-Dion., Chron., p. 175,21-23 = p. 133.

In the year 1027 Sel. (715/716) Leo 3 was a commander of the Roman army when the Arabs under Maslama 1 launched an expedition against Constantinople; he allegedly met Maslama 1 and promised to help him capture Constantinople and in return was promised the imperial throne; for this the emperor Theodosios III (Theodosios 2) imprisoned his followers in the fortress of Amorion; Leo 3 then visited the caliph Sulayman 4; he was encamped with twelve thousand men near Chalcedon, to prevent supplies reaching Constantinople, but took six thousand with him to Amorion, where the people surrendered his followers to him; he then returned to Constantinople after dismissing the Arabs with him, and after meeting leaders of the Romans and explaining how he had tricked the Arabs he was proclaimed emperor; he then began to fortify the city: Bar Hebr., pp. 107-108. He reigned for twenty-four years: Bar Hebr., p. 108. He had hired Bulgars to help the Romans against the Arabs: Bar Hebr., p. 108. He was opposed to holy images and ordered that the images of saints and of kings be removed from churches and houses in spite of widespread opposition; he also exiled all who did not accept the Council of Chalcedon, and persecuted the Jews, forcing many to accept baptism while others fled to Syria: Bar Hebr., p. 109. Father of Constantine V (Konstantinos 7); he married his son to a daughter of the khagan of the Khazars (cf. Eirene 3 and Anonymus 178), and when she had received baptism he crowned his son co-emperor; he died in the year 1053 Sel. (741/742) and was succeeded by his son, Constantine V (Konstantinos 7): Bar Hebr., p. 110.

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