Page images

thereafter. Leo was, like most of the inhabitants of the Eastern themes, and most of the higher officers in the army, strongly imbued with the doctrines of his great namesake the Isaurian. For the first two years of his reign he kept his opinions to himself, and endeavoured to maintain a strict neutrality between the image-worshippers and the imagebreakers. But the Iconodule clergy were too vehement, and Leo himself too conscientious for such a truce to endure for very long. In 815 the struggle broke out: Leo had requested the patriarch Nicephorus to order certain images, which were especial stumbling-blocks to the Iconoclasts, owing to the grovelling popular devotion which they attracted, to be raised so far from the ground that devotees should no longer be able to kiss and embrace them. The patriarch refused, bade all his clergy commence special prayers for deliverance, because the church was in danger, and excommunicated a bishop whom he suspected of having counselled the imperial order. Leo replied by deposing Nicephorus, and substituting for him a successor of decided Iconoclast views. The new patriarch at once held a council which declared image-worship superstitious, and re-affirmed all the decrees against it which had been passed in 754, by the synod held by Constantine Copronymus. But Leo did not plunge into persecution as his Isaurian predecessor had done: beyond removing a few church dignitaries from office, and banishing an abbot who made an open display of images in the streets of the capital, he took no repressive measures against the Iconodules. His moderation profited him little, for the image-worshippers hated a heretic as much as a persecutor, and his mildness only gave them the better opportunity of intriguing and conspiring against him. The last years of his reign, though full of outward prosperity, were a time of discontent and unrest beneath the Leo v. and the surface, and it was felt that he had offended too iconoduies. many of his subjects for his life to be safe, or his throne secure. Knowing of this, unquiet spirits among his generals and courtiers began to draw together and plot against him.

The chief of these malcontents was Michael the Amorian, a turbulent soldier who had been the emperor's close friend when both were private persons, and who had been promoted to high office when Leo gained the crown. His conspiracy was detected, and he was thrown into prison, but when his confederates learnt that they were in danger of discovery, they resolved to strike at once before they were arrested. Leo was attending matins on Christmas Day in his private chapel, when the conspirators fell upon him. Snatching the great cross from the altar he fought desperately with it against his assailants, but before help could arrive he was cut down, and fell dead in the sanctuary.

The murderers hastened to the cell of Michael the Amorian, and saluted him as emperor. He was drawn from his dungeon and presented to the people in the imperial robes, before the fetters had been struck from his feet, and ere the day was ended the patriarch had crowned him in St. Sophia (December 25, 820). Michael was very inferior to the man whom he had dethroned: he had nothing to back him save his military talent and a certain measure of unscrupulous ability. He was quite uneducated, and his provincial dialect and ungrammatical expressions were the jest of the court and capital. But he knew how to strike hard, and his harshness cowed his enemies more than Leo the Armenian's mild policy. His accession was the signal for rebellion all over the empire: a certain Thomas raised the heretical sects of Asia Minor and the Iconoclast partisans of the late emperor in rebellion, and for three years made Michael's throne insecure. He even beleaguered Constantinople, and might have taken it, had not his followers alienated public sympathy by their ravages in its neighbourhood. He was ultimately put down and slain, but his rebellion caused a serious loss to the empire. While the whole of the imperial fleet and army was acting against him, a horde of Saracen pirates descended on the great island of Crete, and overran it from end to end (825). After peace had been restored, Michael made two attempts to expel the adventurers, but both failed, and for a hundred and thirty five years the 'island of the hundred cities' remained a Saracen outpost, and a sad hindrance to the commerce of the ^Jgean. Hardly had the expeditions sent against Crete returned with loss and disgrace, than Michael heard Loss of Crete that a new province was being assailed by the and Sici'y. same enemy. In 827 the Moslems of Africa, summoned by the traitor Euphemius, landed in Sicily, and began the conquest of that island. We have described its slow but steady progress in another chapter.1

The loss of these two outlying provinces does not seem to have troubled Michael. He was perhaps content that he was preserved from a greater Saracen war with the whole force of the caliphate, owing to the civil strife of the descendants of Haroun-al-Raschid. Nor did the peaceful Lewis the Pious stir up the Franks against him. The conquest of Crete and Sicily was a vexatious incident, not a pressing danger.

In dealing with the thorny ecclesiastical questions which had proved so dangerous to his predecessor, Michael the Amorian showed caution rather than zeal. His accession had been supported by the image-worshippers, who cordially detested Leo the Armenian. But when safe on the throne he refused to put himself into their hands, or to commence a persecution of the Iconoclasts. He was probably at heart a contemner of images himself, and his son and colleague Theophilus had a fierce hatred for them. His line of policy was to proclaim complete toleration of both parties, and to recall and replace the prelates whom Leo had banished. But in public worship he maintained the condition of things that he found existing, and refused to restore the images which his predecessor had removed or mutilated. On the other hand he allowed such figures and pictures as had escaped Leo's hand to remain, and permitted the monks to practise as many superstitions as they pleased within the walls of their monasteries. Neither party was satisfied; both accused Michael of 1 See pp. 448 and 449.

time-serving and lukewarm service of God, but they kept fairly quiet, and the controversy was for a time quiescent.

Michael reigned for nine years only, and at his death in 829 left the throne to his eldest son Theophilus, a man of much greater mark and individuality than himself. The new emperor was an active warlike prince, with a great love of splendour and pomp, and a strong determination to have his own will in all things. Moreover—and this was certain to give the empire troublous times—he was a firm and conscientious Iconoclast: it had been with great difficulty that his father restrained him from taking harsh measures against imageworship, while he was still only his junior colleague on the throne. The chroniclers bear strong witness to his courage, his personal virtues, and his even-handed justice, but his meddling in things ecclesiastical has sufficed to blacken his character in their pages.

The greater part of the reign of Theophilus was taken up with a long struggle with the caliphate. The Abbasside empire had been much weakened since the death of Haroun-alRaschid, first by the civil strife between his sons, and then by the religious wars excited by the heterodox caliph El-Mamun. Theophilus thought that the ancient enemy was so reduced by the loss of many outlying provinces, and by long strife at home, that the empire would be able to win back some of the lands lost two centuries before by Heraclius. Accordingly he provoked a war with El-Mamun by sheltering the many refugees from Persia and Syria, who fled before the persecutions of the caliph. Unfortunately for Theophilus, the troubles of his adversary were just at an end, and the Saracens had their hands once more free for a struggle with the empire. The long war which set in revealed that the forces of the caliph and the emperor were now so evenly balanced that it was impossible for either to deal the other any deadly blow, but quite possible for each to harry and molest the other's frontiers for an indefinite time. With some trifling interruptions of truce and armistice, it lasted more than thirty years. The caliph began the struggle by invading his neighbour's Cappadocian borders, and overrunning the land as far as Heraclea (831). His fleets at the same time made some descents on the Cyclades and the Mysian coast. El-Mamun led three expeditions in person into Asia Minor, and after getting possession of the passes of Taurus, took the great town of Tyana at their northern exit, and fortified it as a base for further operations. Fortunately for Theophilus the caliph died at this moment, and his armies retired to Tarsus, abandoning their conquests beyond the mountains. The emperor was more fortunate against the new Saracen monarch, El-Motassem, the brother of El-Mamun. Theophilus was able to invade Syria and Mesopotamia, and to capture the important town of Samosata, where the Byzantine banners had not been seen since the time of Constantine Copronymus. But the ravages of Theophilus on the Euphrates, and especially his sack of Zapetra, a place for which El-Motassem had a special regard, provoked the Saracens to greater efforts. In 838 the caliph took the field at the head of a vast army: he had sworn to sack the emperor's birthplace, Amorium, in revenge for the plundering of Zapetra, and it is said that 130,000 men marched out of Tarsus, each with the word ' Amorium ' painted on his shield. Theophilus hastened forth to defend his ancestral town: but one division of the Saracen army defeated Theophilus him with great slaughter at Dasymon, while an- beaten by other, under the caliph's personal orders, stormed Saracens' 838Amorium and slew the whole population—men, women, and children—to the number of not less than 30,000.

Such a disaster, and the sight of the caliph's troops advancing as far as the centre of Phrygia, seemed to portend danger to the empire. But having satiated his wrath and vengeance, ElMotassem retired, and the generals of Theophilus recovered the whole of the lost lands as far as the line of Taurus. Intestine troubles kept the caliph busy at home, and after the East Romans had recommenced their invasions of Syria and taken Laodicea, the port of Antioch, a truce was patched up,

« ՆախորդըContinue »