THE religious policy of the Empress Irene, the concentrated and impassioned devotion which she brought to the task of restoring the cult of images, had produced, in the external affairs of the Empire no less than in its internal condition, results which were largely injurious. Her financial policy, and the considerable remissions of taxation which she had agreed to in the hope of assuring her popularity and of recommending herself to the Church, had had no better success. An onerous task was thus laid upon her successor. He had to remedy the penury of the exchequer, to restore order to a thoroughly disturbed State, by prudent administration to extinguish the memories of a bitter and lengthy quarrel, and thus to quiet its last convulsive heavings.

Such was the end aimed at, it would seem, from the opening of his reign by the new Emperor Nicephorus I (802-811). From his opponents he has met with hardly better treatment than the great iconoclast sovereigns of the eighth century. Theophanes declares “that on all occasions he acted not after God but to be seen of men”, and that in all his actions “he shamelessly violated the law”, and he severely blames his “unmeasured love of money”, comparing him to “a new Ahaz, more covetous than Phalaris and Midas”. In reality, Nicephorus seems to have been a talented ruler, anxious to fulfill his duties as Emperor, a man of moderate temper and comparatively tolerant. He renounced the violent courses adopted by the Iconoclast Emperors, but he was determined to maintain the great work of reform which they had carried out. A good financier—before his accession he had filled the high office of Logothete-General—he desired to restore to the treasury the supplies of which it stood in need, and in the very first year of his reign he reimposed the greater part of the taxes imprudently abolished by Irene, until in 810 he had thought out a comprehensive scheme of financial reorganization, of which the most essential feature was the abrogation of the numerous fiscal exemptions enjoyed by Church property. A man very jealous of his authority—he bitterly reproaches his predecessors with having had no idea of the true methods of government—he would never tolerate the idea of any person being more powerful than himself, and claimed to impose his will upon the Church as well as the State. His adversaries the monks forgave nothing of all this, and have depicted him as a tyrant, oppressive, cruel, hypocritical, and debauched, while it is also plain that, owing to the harshness of his financial measures, he was highly unpopular. “Everybody” as one of his courtiers said to him, “exclaims against us, and if any misfortune happens to us, there will be general rejoicing at our fall”. Yet it would appear that Nicephorus, in difficult times, possessed some of the qualities which go to make a good Emperor.

But passions were still so much heated that everything offered matter for strife. The monks were outraged at the idea of ecclesiastical property being liable to taxation and Church tenants subject to a poll-tax. They vehemently denied the right of the Emperor to interfere in religious matters. They even resisted the authority of the Patriarch Nicephorus, who in 806 had succeeded Tarasius. Yet Nicephorus brought to his high office a fervent zeal for the reform of the monasteries and the destruction of heresy, and thus would have seemed likely to be acceptable to the monks of the Studion and their fiery Abbot Theodore. But, before attaining to the patriarchate, Nicephorus had been a layman, and it was necessary to confer all the grades of holy orders on him at the same time. Consequently the Studite monks violently protested against his election. But above all the new Patriarch was, like the Emperor, a statesman of opportunist tendencies desirous of pacifying men’s minds and of obliterating the traces of recent struggles. At the request of the Basileus, he summoned a Synod to restore to his sacerdotal functions the priest Joseph, who had formerly been excommunicated for having solemnized the marriage of the Emperor Constantine VI and Theodote. The assembly, despite the protests of Theodore of Studion, complied with the Patriarch’s wish, and even restored Joseph to the dignity of Grand Oeconomus (807). This was the origin of the long quarrel called the “Moechian controversy” (from mixós, adulterer, whence the name Moechiani given to the supporters of Joseph’s rehabilitation).

The monks of the Studion resolutely withdrew from communion with the Patriarch. “We shall endure everything”, Theodore declared, “death itself, rather than resume communion with the Oeconomus and his accomplices. As to the Patriarch, he makes us no answer, he refuses to hear us, he is, in everything, at the Emperor’s orders. For my part, I will not betray the truth despite the threat of exile, despite the gleaming sword, despite the kindled faggots”. And indeed the Emperor quickly became impatient of an opposition which disturbed the peace of the Church afresh, and which irritated him the more keenly in that it claimed to subject the conduct and marriage of an Emperor to canonical rules. Another Synod, held in 809, reiterated therefore the lawfulness. of Constantine VI's espousals, declared that the Emperors were above the law of the Church, and pronounced sentence of excommunication upon all gainsayers. The old Abbot Plato, Theodore of Studion, and his brother Joseph, Archbishop of Thessalonica, were banished to the Princes Islands; the seven hundred monks of the Studion, who vehemently refused to go over to the side of the temporal power, were scattered, imprisoned, maltreated, driven into exile. For two whole years persecution raged. The fact was, as Theodore of Studion truly wrote, “it was no longer a mere question of ecclesiastical discipline that was at stake. A breach has been made in faith and morals and in the Gospel itself”. And in opposition to the Emperor’s claim to set himself above the laws of the Church and to make his will prevail, Theodore boldly appealed to Rome, and to secure the liberty of the Eastern Church he invoked the judgment of the Pope, “the first of pastors”, as he wrote, “and our apostolic head”.

Thus, despite the good intentions of the Emperor and his Patriarch, passions flared up afresh; and such was the fanaticism of the devout party that they ignored the grave dangers threatening the Empire, and even looked upon the death of the Emperor, who fell fighting against the Bulgars on the disastrous day of 25 July 811, as a just punishment from God upon their cruel foe.


Michael I Rangabé 

Michael I Rangabé (811-813) succeeded his father-in-law Nicephorus, after the short reign of Stauracius, the son of the late Emperor. He was a prince after the Church’s heart, “pious and most orthodox”, writes Theophanes; his chief anxiety was to repair all the injustices of the preceding reign, “on account of which”, adds Theophanes, “Nicephorus had miserably perished”. He recalled the Studites from exile, caused the Oeconomus Joseph to be condemned anew, and at this cost succeeded in reconciling the monks with the Patriarch. He showed himself a supporter of images, anxious to come to an understanding with Rome, and firmly opposed to the iconoclasts. Such a policy, at a time when the Bulgarian war was raging and the terrible Khan Krum threatening Constantinople, was grossly imprudent. The iconoclasts, indeed, were still strong in the capital, where Constantine V had settled numerous colonists from the East, and where the Paulicians, in particular, occupied an important place; besides which almost the whole army had remained faithful to the memory of the illustrious Emperors who had formerly led it to victory. Thus Constantinople was in a state of tense excitement; plots were brewing against Michael; noisy demonstrations took place at the tomb of Constantine V. When in June 813 Michael I was defeated by the Bulgars at Versinicia, near Hadrianople, the iconoclasts considered the opportunity favorable for dethroning the Emperor. The army proclaimed one of its generals, Leo the Armenian, Strategus of the Anatolics, begging him “to watch over the safety of the State, and to defend the Christian Empire”. On 11 July the usurper entered Constantinople. His accession was to be the signal for a supreme effort to impose iconoclast ideas upon the Empire.


Leo V the Armenian

The new Emperor, who was of Eastern origin, was, although secretly, an iconoclast at heart. But so great was the peril from outside—the Bulgars were besieging Constantinople—that he was at first obliged to cloak his tendencies, and to sign a confession of faith by which he pledged himself to defend the orthodox religion and the veneration of the sacred icons. But when he had inflicted a severe defeat on the barbarians at Mesembria (813), and when the death (14 April 814) of the terrible Khan Krum had led to the conclusion of a truce for thirty years with his successor Omurtag, Leo no longer hesitated to make his real feelings known. Drawing his inspiration from the same ideas as those on which the resolutions of Leo III had been based, he declared that if the Christians were always beaten by the pagans, “it is because they prostrate themselves before images. The Emperors who adored them” he proceeded, “have died in exile or in battle. Only those who destroyed them have died on the throne and been buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles. It is their example that I shall follow”. He therefore ordered the learned John Hylilas, surnamed the Grammarian, to collect the authorities favoring the condemnation of images, and in particular to draw from the archives of the churches the acts of the Council of 753. On the other hand, he attempted to win over the Patriarch Nicephorus to his views, and, with the hope of shaking the resistance of the party opposed to him, he summoned a conference at the imperial palace, where under his presidency orthodox and iconoclasts might hold a debate. The speech with which he opened the assembly was answered by courageous remonstrances from Theodore of Studion. “Church matters” he boldly declared, “are the province of priests and doctors; the administration of secular things belongs to the Emperor. This is what the Apostle said: ‘God has instituted in His Church in the first place the apostles, then prophets, then evangelists’, but nowhere does he make mention of Emperors. It is to the former that it appertains to decide matters of dogma and faith. As for you, your duty is to obey them and not to usurp their place”. Leo, exasperated, suddenly brought the assembly to a close, and next day a decree appeared forbidding thenceforward the discussion of religious questions. The resistance of the opposition party only gathered strength. “For my part” declared Theodore of Studion, “I had rather have my tongue cut out, than fail to bear testimony to our Faith and defend it with all my might by my power of speech. What! are you to have full liberty to maintain error, and are we to keep silence concerning the truth! That we will never do. We will not give our tongue into captivity, no, not for an hour, and we will not deprive the faithful of the support of our words”. Did the Emperor dread the influence of the Studites? At all events, he pretended to yield, and at the Christmas festival 814 he solemnly did reverence to the icons at St Sophia. But before long he took his resolve.

In the month of March 815 the Patriarch Nicephorus was banished, and in his place was set up an official of the palace, Theodotus Cassiteras, wholly devoted to the Emperor’s policy. It was in vain that the monks of the Studion arranged solemn demonstrations in honor of the holy images, and that on Palm Sunday 815 more than a thousand religious walked in procession round the monastery, each bearing an icon in his hands and singing the canticle: “We venerate your sacred images, 0 blessed Saints”. The Emperor retorted by convoking a Council at St Sophia (815), which confirmed the canons of the Synod of 753, proscribed images after its example, declaring that they were mere “idols” and recommended “worship in spirit and in truth”. Nor did the assembly resist the temptation to cast parenthetic reproach on the memory of Irene, recalling the happy state of the Church “up to the day when the imperial scepter had fallen from the hands of men into those of a woman, and when, through the folly of that woman, the Church of God was ruined”. It was the controversy over images breaking out afresh. But while the earlier iconoclast movement had lasted more than half a century, the second was to endure barely twenty-five years (815-842). This time the enemies of icons were to find confronting them, particularly in the monks of the Studion, a resistance better organized, more vigorous, and more dangerous also. In its defence of images the Byzantine Church now really aspired to something beyond. She openly aimed at casting off the authority of the State and winning her freedom, and in order to secure her independence she did not hesitate to appeal to the Pope against the Emperor and, despite her former repugnance, to recognize the primacy of the Roman Church. This is the characteristic feature distinguishing the second phase of the great controversy. Between Church and State, then, there was waged at Constantinople much the same conflict which, in the West, took later on the form of the struggle over Investitures.

However, Leo V at first tried moderate methods. But the Studites were immovable, and the opportunists, fearful of seeing the struggle re­opened, lent their support to the uncompromising monks. Theodore of Studion was banished (815) and his monks scattered, while against images as well as their defenders persecution was let loose. “The altars have been overthrown” writes Theodore of Studion, “and the temples of the Lord laid waste; a lamentable sight it is to see the churches of God despoiled of their glory and disfigured. Among my brethren, some have had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, others of chains and prison on a little bread and water, some have been condemned to exile, others reduced to live in the deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth, others after receiving many stripes have gone hence to the Lord as martyrs. Some there are who have been fastened in sacks and thrown by night into the sea”. Again, he says, “The holy vessels are melted down, the sacred vestments cast to the flames, with the pictures and the books which contain anything concerning images. Inquisition is made, and questions put from house to house, with threats and terrorism, so that no single picture may escape the heretics. He who most signalizes himself by his rage against Christ is judged worthy of the most honor. But for those who resist—scourges, chains, prison, the tortures of famine, exile, death. They have only one thought—to compel everyone to yield. The persecution we endure is beyond any persecution by the barbarians”.


Accession of Michael the Amorian

From his distant exile, Theodore, without truce or intermission, valiantly encouraged the resistance. “Are we to yield” he wrote, “are we to keep silence, and out of fear give obedience to men and not to God? No, never. Until a door is opened unto us by the Lord, we shall not cease to fulfill our duty as much as in us lies”. He renewed and repeated, therefore, the letters and exhortations which he addressed to Pope Paschal, appealing for justice and help: “Listen to us, 0 Apostolic Head, charged by God with the guidance of Christ’s sheep, porter of the heavenly kingdom, rock of the Faith on which is built the Catholic Church, for you are Peter, you are the successor of Peter, whose throne you honorably fill”. The Pope, with no great success, attempted to intervene, and the struggle went on, becoming ever more embittered. In the face of the Emperor’s severities many ended by giving way. “Nearly all spirits quail” writes Theodore of Studion himself, “and give attestations of heresy to the impious. Among the bishops, those of Smyrna and Cherson have fallen; among abbots, those of Chrysopolis, of Dios, and of Chora, with nearly all those of the capital”. Leo the Armenian seemed to have won the day.

But his fall was at hand. Even in his own circle plots were hatching against him, and one of his old companions in arms, Michael the Stammerer, Count of the Excubitors, was at the head of the conspirators. Leo V had him arrested, and to save him his friends hazarded a bold stroke. On 25 December 820, while the Emperor was attending the morning office of the Nativity, mingling, as was his custom, his voice with those of the choristers, the plotters, who had contrived to slip in among the congregation, struck him down at the foot of the altar. Michael, instantly set at liberty, was proclaimed, and, while his feet were still loaded with fetters, was seated on the imperial throne. With him began the Phrygian dynasty (Michael was a native of Amorium), which for three generations, from 820 to 867, was to rule the Empire.

The new sovereign (820-829) was, it would appear, somewhat indifferent in religious matters. “I have not come” he said to the former Patriarch Nicephorus, “to introduce innovations in matters of faith and dogma, nor to question or overthrow what is fixed by tradition and has gained acceptance. Let every man, then, do as seems him good and right; he shall have no vexation to undergo, and no penalty to fear”. He began, therefore, by recalling the exiles; he set at liberty the victims of the preceding reign, and flattered himself that by assembling a conference, in which the orthodox and the iconoclasts should deliberate together over the question of images, he could bring them to an agreement and restore peace. Theodore of Studion, who had returned to Constantinople, flatly refused to enter into any relations with the heretics, and, faithful to the doctrine which he had always maintained, he declared to the prince: “There is no question here of human and temporal things in which kings have power to judge; but of divine and heavenly dogmas, which have been entrusted to those only to whom God has said: ‘Whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven’. Who are they who have received this power? The Apostles and their successors. As to emperors and sovereigns, their part is to lend their support and approbation to what has been decreed. No power has been granted them by God over the divine dogmas, and if they exercise such, it will not be lasting”.

The Emperor was ill-inclined to accept these admonitions. He signified his pleasure by setting on the patriarchal throne, at the death of Theodotus Cassiteras (821), not the former Patriarch Nicephorus, whose restoration the Studites demanded, but an avowed enemy of images, Anthony, Bishop of Syllaeum. Much displeased also at the negotiations which his opponents were carrying on with Rome, he gave a very ill reception to the monk Methodius who brought him letters from Paschal I; he caused him to be scourged, and imprisoned him for more than eight years in a little island in the Gulf of Nicomedia. It is true that, when in 822 the formidable insurrection of Thomas broke out in Asia Minor, Michael thought it prudent to recall to Constantinople the monks, whom he had again banished from it; “it was by no means”, says the biographer of Theodore of Studion, “from any tenderness towards them, but in dread lest some should espouse the cause of Thomas, who passed for a supporter of image-worship”. But on the ending of the civil war by the defeat of the rebel (823), Michael thought himself in a position to act more vigorously. Convinced that it was above all the support of Rome which encouraged the uncompromising temper of his adversaries, he began a correspondence with the Emperor of the West, Louis the Pious, and, in a curious letter of 824, denounced to him the abuses of image worship, and requested his intervention at Rome, in order to induce the Papacy to put an end to them. Under these conditions it became difficult for the defenders of icons to remain at Constantinople. Theodore of Studion withdrew to a convent in Bithynia and died there in 826. The iconoclast policy was triumphant; but, faithful to the promises of toleration made on the morrow of his accession, Michael refrained from all violence against his opponents; while personally constant to his resolve to render no worship to images, he left those who thought otherwise freedom to cling to what seemed to them the orthodox faith.


Theophilus: revival of persecution

Theophilus, his son and successor (829-842), showed more zeal in combating icons. Sincerely pious, and delighting, like the true Byzantine prince he was, in theological discussions, of a systematic turn of mind, and obstinate to boot, it was not long before he came to consider Michael II’s politic tolerance inadequate, and, under the influence of his former tutor, John Hylilas, whom he raised to the patriarchal throne in 832, he resolved to battle vigorously with the iconodule party. Severe measures were ordered to prevent its propaganda and to strike at its leaders; to banish, especially from Constantinople, the proscribed pictures, and to punish any painter who dared to produce them. Once again terror reigned: convents were closed, the prisons were filled with victims, and some of the punishments inflicted were of extraordinary cruelty. The two Palestinian monks, Theodore and Theophanes, who stand out, after the death of Theodore of Studion, as the foremost champions of the icons, were first banished, then recalled to Constantinople, where the Emperor caused to be branded on their foreheads with red-hot irons certain insulting verses which he had composed for the purpose. Hence the name of Graptoi, bestowed on them in hagiographical writings. Lazarus, the painter of icons, was also imprisoned and barbarously tortured; Theophilus ordered, it is said, that his hands should be burned with red-hot irons. Other supporters of pictures were exiled. But the work of the iconoclast Emperor was ephemeral. Even in the palace, the sympathies of the prince's own circle were secretly with the forbidden images: the Empress Theodora and her mother Theoctiste hardly concealed their feelings, and the Basileus was not unaware of it. He also realized that the whole Empire besides was weary of an interminable struggle leading to no result. It was vain for him to exact on his death­bed from his wife Theodora, whom he left Regent, and from the ministers who were to assist her, a solemn oath to make no change in his policy, and not to disturb in his office the Patriarch John, who had been its chief inspirer (842). Rarely has a last injunction been made more utterly in vain.



Civil Wars (802-823)


While the second phase of the quarrel of the images was thus developing, events of grave importance were taking place within the Empire as well as without.

Irene’s crime against her son, by diverting the succession from the Isaurian dynasty, had reopened the chapter of revolutions. The old Empress had been overthrown by a plot; other conspiracies were constantly to disturb the reigns of her successors.

First in time (803) came the rising of Bardanes Turcus, who, originally strategus of the Anatolics, had been placed by Nicephorus in supreme command of all the troops in cantonments in Asia Minor. Intoxicated by this great position and by his popularity among the soldiers, Bardanes proclaimed himself Emperor. But the insurrection was short-lived. The rebel leader, betrayed by his chief partisans and unable to take Constantinople, threw up the game and entered the cloister. In 808 another plot was set on foot to place on the throne the Patrician Arsaber, who held the high office of quaestor; in 810 there was an attempt to assassinate the Emperor. Things were much worse after the death of Nicephorus. During the few months that his son Stauracius reigned (after escaping wounded from the defeat inflicted by the Bulgars on the Byzantines) unending intrigues went on with the object of raising his brother-in-law, Michael Rangabé, to power, and the Patriarch Nicephorus himself took part with the Emperor’s ministers in fomenting the revolution which dethroned him (October 811). Less than two years afterwards, the disasters of the Bulgarian war, the discontent of the army after the defeat of Versinicia, and the great danger threatening the Empire, caused the fall of Michael; the soldiers proclaimed their general, Leo the Armenian, Emperor. Entering Constantinople he seized upon supreme power (July 813). It has already been seen that, thus raised to the throne by an insurrection, Leo fell a victim to plotters who assassinated him on Christmas morning 820.

Under Michael II, there was, for two years, little or no improvement in the state of things; the Empire was convulsed by a terrible civil war let loose by the insurrection of Thomas the Slavonian, an old brother-officer of the Emperor. Professing to be Constantine VI, the dethroned son of Irene, Thomas had won over the whole iconodule party, proclaiming himself its defender; he appealed to the lower classes, whose social claims he supported, and, in this almost revolutionary movement, he gathered round him all who were discontented. Finally, he had secured the support of the Arabs: the Caliph Mamun had recognized him as Emperor, and authorized the Patriarch of Antioch to crown him with all solemnity. Master of nearly the whole of Asia Minor, leader of an army of more than eighty thousand men, Thomas had now only to get possession of Constantinople. He succeeded in leading his soldiers into Europe, and the fleet of the themes of the Aegean and of the Cibyrrhaeots being at his disposal, he attacked the capital by land and sea. A first attempt failed (December 821—February 822), but in the spring of 822 Thomas returned to the charge, and reinforced by contingents supplied to him from the European provinces which were warmly in favor of images, he pushed on the siege throughout the year 822 with so much vigor that the fall of Michael II seemed merely a question of days. Only the intervention of the Bulgars saved the Emperor. In the spring of 823 the Khan Omurtag made a descent upon Thrace. Thomas had to bring himself to abandon Constantinople to go to meet this new enemy, by whom he was completely beaten. Some weeks later, having been defeated by the imperialist troops, he was compelled to throw himself into Arcadiopolis, where he held out until the middle of October 823. In Asia Minor also, where the troops of the Armeniac and Opsician themes had remained unshakably loyal to the Emperor, the last attempts at resistance were crushed. But the alarm had been great, and if the defeat of Thomas' rising had made the Phrygian dynasty safe for long years to come, on the other hand it is certain that the continual outbreaks, coming one after another from 802, had notably impaired the strength and exhausted the resources of the Empire.


Recognition of the Western Empire (812)

This was plainly to be seen in the disasters both in the East and in the West encountered by the foreign policy of the State.

From the early days of his reign Nicephorus had made efforts to come to a settlement of the Italian question with Charlemagne, and the treaty of 803, which left to the Eastern Empire Venice, the Dalmatian coast, Naples, Calabria, and Sicily, abandoned, per contra, Istria, the interior of Dalmatia, the Exarchate of Ravenna, the Pentapolis, and Rome to the Franks. But, as Constantinople refused to recognize the Emperor of the West, it was not long before hostilities broke out afresh, and Frankish intrigues in the Venetian lagoons decided Nicephorus on taking energetic steps. A Greek fleet appeared at the head of the Adriatic (807) without, however, enabling the Byzantines to hinder Pepin, the young Frankish King of Italy, from taking, after a long siege, the islands of the lagoon (810). Negotiations were therefore reopened with Aix-la-Chapelle, and the treaty of 812, while restoring Venice to the Eastern Empire and in other respects renewing the convention of 803, provided for the recognition by Constantinople, although reluctant, of Charlemagne's imperial title. Thus the Greeks accepted the events of 754 and renounced their historic rights to Italy; thus, as Charlemagne wrote, the Western Roman Empire officially took its place side by side with the Eastern Empire; thus, as Einhard expressed it, every occasion of stumbling was definitively removed between them. But for Constantinople it was a deep humiliation to have been forced to recognize even momentarily, even with the secret intention of withdrawing the concession, the event which, on Christmas Day 800, had taken place in St Peter's at Rome.

Still heavier blows fell upon the Empire in the East. The resolution arrived at by Nicephorus, immediately upon his accession, to refuse the tribute which Irene had been forced to pay to the Arabs, had renewed the war between the Empire and the powerful Caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty. It proved disastrous to the Byzantines, at least for the first ten years; from 814 to 829, however, internal disturbances in the Mohammedan world restored to the Greeks some degree of tranquility in Asia. But elsewhere the Musulmans gained alarming advantages. In 826 some Arabs, who had been driven from Spain, seized upon Crete, and founded the stronghold of Chandax. All the efforts of the Byzantines in the reign of Michael II to reconquer the island proved useless, and the Mussulman corsairs, masters of so excellent a strategic position, were to become, for a century and a half, the terror of the Eastern Mediterranean. About the same time, the rising of Euphemius in Sicily had consequences no less serious for Constantinople. In 827 the rebel called the Mussulmans of Africa to his help, and the Aghlabid Emir, Ziyadatallah, landed in the island. The Arabs were not to evacuate it before the end of the eleventh century. It is true that they failed at first before Syracuse, but then the troops dispatched from Constantinople were completely defeated at Mineo (830), and soon after that the great town of Palermo fell into the hands of the infidels (831). And if more than a quarter of a century, up to 859, was still needed to complete the conquest of Sicily, yet the Arabs, from this time onward, held in Western waters a position analogous to that which the possession of Crete gave them in the East, and were soon from thence to menace Southern Italy.

The war which had been waged against the Empire, during the early years of the ninth century, by Krum, the Khan of Bulgaria, ran an even more terrible course. Let loose by the imprudent offensive of Nicephorus, it was marked by sanguinary disaster. In 809 Sardica fell into the hands of the Bulgars, and its garrison was massacred. In 811 the great expedition which Nicephorus led into Bulgaria came to an end in the Balkan passes with a severe defeat, in which the Byzantine army, surrounded on all sides, was cut to pieces, and the Emperor himself slain. Thereupon Krum committed frightful ravages in Thrace and Macedonia, and Michael I, attempting to check him, was completely defeated at Versinicia near Hadrianople (June 813). Even Constantinople was threatened. Krum appeared under the walls of the capital, which was saved by the energy of Leo V, though the surrounding districts were fearfully wasted by the exasperated Bulgarian prince. Hadrianople fell into his hands; but Leo's victory at Mesembria (Autumn 813) restored the fortunes of the Empire, and the death of Krum (April 814) just as he was preparing a fresh onslaught upon Constantinople, sufficed to reassure the Byzantines. Shortly afterwards a peace for thirty years was concluded between the Empire and the new ruler of Bulgaria, Omurtag: the frontier of Thrace, dividing the two states, was now marked by a line of fortifications running from Develtus to Makrolivada, between Hadrianople and Philippopolis. The fact was that the Bulgars had, at that moment, more pressing anxieties on their western frontier; the Frankish threat was sufficiently engrossing to make them ready to live on good terms with the Byzantine Empire.

One last incident had disturbed the reign of Nicephorus. In 807 the Slays of the Peloponnesus had risen and laid siege to Patras. Legend relates that the town was miraculously saved by its patron, St Andrew the Apostle. At any rate, it seems that, after this outbreak, the Slav tribes were compelled to adopt more regular habits of life, less dangerous to the security of the country.

In face of the difficulties which they had had to overcome, the early Emperors of the ninth century had not been devoid of real merit. Nicephorus was an energetic and courageous prince and a capable administrator. Leo V was a skillful general, solicitous for the military defence of the Empire and for the sound organization of justice, whose great qualities his very enemies acknowledged. The Patriarch Nicephorus said of him on the morrow of his assassination: “The Empire has lost an impious prince, but a great defender of the public interest”. The second sovereign of the Phrygian dynasty was no less remarkable, and his reign (820-829) was marked by decided improvement in the situation at home as well as abroad.


Struggle with the Caliphs

In the East, the Caliphate had for several years been greatly disturbed and weakened by the insurrection of Babak and the communistic sect of the Khurramites of which he was the leader. Theophilus, from the moment of his accession, turned these conditions to good account. He entered into negotiations with the rebels, and gave a hearty welcome to those of them who, under the command of Theophobus, a Persian officer, came (it is said, to the number of thirty thousand) to ask leave to serve in the imperial army (830). The war with the Arabs immediately broke out again. As long as the Caliph Mamun lived, it was marked by varying success, and the Emperor was more than once obliged to bring himself to make overtures for peace. But after Mamun’s death (833) he assumed the offensive more boldly. The campaign of 837 on the Euphrates proved fortunate. Zapetra and Samosata were taken, and Theophilus celebrated his victory by a triumphal entry into his capital. The following year, however, the Byzantines met with a serious defeat at Dazimon, now Tokat, and Amorium, the cradle of the royal house, was taken by the Mussulmans and sacked. The Emperor had to submit to negotiate and a truce was signed (841). Fortunately the death of the Caliph Mutasim, who was already meditating an attack on Constantinople (842), and a disaster suffered by the Arab fleet attempting the enterprise, caused a temporary cessation of the struggle.

About the same time the Byzantine Empire, through its diplomatic relations, was extending its influence and increasing its reputation. In 833, at the request of the Khan of the Chazars, a Byzantine officer built at the mouth of the Don the fortress of Sarkel. It was intended to protect the district against the attacks of the Patzinaks, and especially of the Russians, who were beginning to threaten the shores of the Black Sea, and who for the first time sent ambassadors to Constantinople in 838. The Byzantine court was, besides, on good terms with the Western Emperors; in 839 Theophilus applied to Louis the Pious for his support in an attack on Syria or Egypt. Similar negotiations took place with the Umayyad Emirs of Cordova, at all times the enemies of the Abbasid Caliphs. Thus from the shores of the Crimea to the limits of the West, Byzantine diplomacy, after a long time of isolation, resumed its earlier activity.

But it is especially on account of his home government that Theophilus is still remembered. The chroniclers picture this prince much as the Arab tales represent Harun ar-Rashid, as a ruler ever anxious to render absolute justice to all his subjects, accessible to every comer, willingly taking part in the life of the people in order to gain more accurate information, severe towards the guilty, and eager to redress all injustices. A good administrator, he applied himself to bringing the finances into order, and at his death left a large reserve; the financial prosperity enjoyed by the Empire is proved most clearly by the fact that the gold coins (solidi, bezants) of Byzantium were current throughout the world.

Theophilus set himself with no less energy to secure the defensive organization of the Empire. In Asia, besides the ancient ‘five themes’ there were the new themes of Paphlagonia and Chaldia, without reckoning the small military governments, or clisurae, of Seleucia, of Charsianum, of Cappadocia, and of Colonea. On the Black Sea, the free town of Cherson was also made into a theme, in order to strengthen the defence against the Patzinaks and the Russians. Finally, in the European territories where, from 813, the Peloponnesus had been constituted a separate theme, Theophilus created the themes of Thessalonica, of Cephalonia, and of Dyrrachium, in order to ward off the Bulgarian threat to Macedonia and the Arab danger in the Adriatic. Thus the military defence of the Empire was completed and perfected.

Lastly, Theophilus was a great builder. He loved pomp and splendor and all that might enhance the prestige of his throne. On two occasions, in 831 and 837, he dazzled Constantinople by the magnificence of his triumphs. He added to the beauty of the imperial palace by wonderful buildings, in which he plainly sought to rival the glories of Baghdad. Around the new throne-room, the Triconchus, to which the Sigma terrace led, he raised numerous and sumptuous pavilions, glorious with many-colored marbles, and glittering with golden mosaics.

Still further to emphasize the beauty of his palace, he adorned it with admirable specimens of the goldsmith’s art. In the great hall of the Magnaura was a plane-tree made of gold, shading the imperial throne, on the branches of which golden birds were perched; at the foot of the throne were lions couchant of gold, and on either hand golden griffins stood sentinel; opposite was set up a golden organ, adorned with enamels and precious stones. These masterpieces of splendor and luxury were at the same time marvels of mechanical skill. On audience-days, when foreign ambassadors entered the hall, the birds in the plane-tree fluttered and sang, the griffins sat up on their pedestals, the lions arose, lashed the air with their tails, and gave forth metallic roars. Elsewhere, a great coffer of gold, the Pentapyrgion, served to hold the imperial insignia and the crown jewels. Again, Theophilus had renewed the imperial wardrobe with unheard-of splendor, the gala robes worn on days of ceremony by the Basileus and the Augusta, the cloth of gold or gold-embroidered garments which adorned the great dignitaries of the court when they walked in solemn procession. He also, at great cost, restored the ramparts of Constantinople. All this conveys a strong impression of wealth (it is estimated that Theophilus spent more than a million a year on his building operations), of magnificence, and of beauty. Certainly Theophilus was lacking in several of the outstanding qualities of a statesman; his religious policy was ill-judged, and his wars not always successful. Nevertheless, his reign is conspicuous as a time of unusual brilliancy, a proof of the moral and material revival of the Byzantine Empire towards the middle of the ninth century.



Regency of Theodora.


Theophilus at his death left the throne to a child of tender age, his son Michael III, who was not more than three or four years old. The Empress Theodora, therefore, assumed the regency during the minority of the young sovereign, her counselors being her uncle the Magister Manuel, and the Logothete Theoctistus. They were religious men, secretly attached, as was the Basilissa herself, to iconodule principles, men of good sense also, who regarded with natural anxiety the long continuance of the religious strife and the serious consequences that it might have for the dynasty. The execution of the iconodule Theophobus, the successful general, the Emperor’s own brother-in-law, which Theophilus had ordered from his death-bed, looks like a recognition of the threatening appearance of the situation, the champions of images waiting only for a leader to attempt a revolution. The Regent's ministers, especially her brother Bardas, who had great influence with her, strongly urged her to hasten the restoration of orthodoxy. The Basilissa, however, hesitated. She had been deeply attached to her husband and put great faith in the correctness of his political views, she was unwilling to consign his last instructions to oblivion, and, finally, she was much concerned at the prospect of the anathema likely to be pronounced against the late Emperor if iconoclasm were condemned. Nearly a year was needed to overcome the Regent’s scruples. At last, however, fearing for the throne of her son, she came to a decision.

It was of the first importance, if the restoration of images was to be successfully carried out, to get rid of the Patriarch John, a clever and formidable man, whose enemies had created for him a sinister reputation as a magician, and who was nicknamed Lekanomantis. The prelate was therefore invited to sit on the council which had just been convoked in order to restore images to honor. John refused, and was consequently, not without some slight maltreatment, deposed and relegated to a monastery. In his seat was installed the monk Methodius, in former days so harshly persecuted by Michael II, but whom Theophilus, by a singular caprice, had admitted to intimacy on account of his scientific attainments. Highly favored by Theodora, the new Patriarch assumed full control of the council which met in February 843. To please the Empress, the bishops hastened to except Theophilus from the condemnation directed against heretics, admitting without discussion the pious fraud which represented the Emperor as having, in his last moments, repented of his errors. Thanks to this compromise, the restoration of orthodoxy was accomplished without opposition. The pictures were solemnly reinstated in honor; the exiles and the proscribed were recalled and welcomed in triumph; the prisoners were set at liberty; the remains of the martyrs who had died in the struggle were brought back in state to Constantinople; and anathemas fell upon the most famous of the iconoclasts. Then, the work of the council having been accomplished, on the first Sunday in Lent (19 February 843) a triumphal procession, headed by the Empress herself, marched through the streets of the capital, from the church of the Virgin in Blachernae to St Sophia, where the enthusiastic people returned thanks to the Most High. In the evening, at the Sacred Palace, Theodora gave a great banquet, at which were assembled the prelates and confessors and those who had suffered for the cause. It was the festival of Orthodoxy, which from that time the Greek Church has solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday in Lent every year, in commemoration of the reinstatement of images and of the blessed Theodora.

Thus, after more than a century of strife, peace was at last restored to the Empire. But if, from the dogmatic standpoint, the victory of the iconodule party was complete, the Church, on the other hand, was forced to give up the tendency towards independence which some of her most illustrious champions had shown. One of the essential objects to which the policy of the Iconoclast Emperors had been directed was the reduction of the Church to entire dependence on the State. In spite of the protests of their opponents, who, from Gregory II and John Damascene down to the Fathers of the Council of 787 and Theodore of Studion, had with one voice refused to the Emperor the right to rule the Church, it was this imperial policy which now proved victorious. “In the struggle” writes Harnack, “which for a century the Byzantine Church maintained against the State, not her religious constitution alone, but her liberty was at stake. On the first point, she was the victor; in the struggle for liberty, she yielded”. Thus, in spite of the re-establishment of orthodoxy, the Studite party and the freedom for which they had fought were defeated, and the work of the Iconoclast Emperors proved not to have been in vain.


Persecution of the Paulicians

Theodora’s government, however, which lasted up to 856, assumed, as might have been expected, somewhat of a religious complexion. The Empress, priding herself highly on having restored orthodoxy, held it no less important to wage war upon heresy. From the end of the seventh century, the Paulicians, so called from the great respect which they professed for the Apostle Paul, had been spreading their doctrines through Asia Minor, from Phrygia to Armenia. Their progress had been furthered by the patronage of the Iconoclast Emperors, and the Orthodox Church saw with great anxiety the growth of the influence and the spread of the propaganda of sectaries whom she characterized as Manichaeans. Theophilus, it is not exactly known why, had allowed himself to be persuaded into persecuting them, and part of the heretical community had from that time sought refuge in Arab territory. Theodora was only too happy to be able in this point to continue her husband's policy. By her orders, the Paulicians were called upon to choose between conversion and death, and, as they refused to yield, the imperial government set itself to break down their resistance. Blood was shed in torrents in the parts of Asia Minor where they were settled; it is said that one hundred thousand persons suffered death. The survivors, led by Carbeas, one of their chiefs, went to ask shelter from the Emir of Melitene, and settling around Tephrice, which became their main citadel, they soon made it clear to the Byzantines how ill-advised they had been in thrusting into the arms of the Mussulman men who, up till then, had valiantly defended the frontiers of the Empire. It has been said with justice that the persecution of the Paulicians was “one of the greatest political disasters of the ninth century”.

The pious zeal which inspired the Regent suggested to her more fortunate projects elsewhere. She initiated the great missionary enterprise through which, some years later, the Gospel was to be brought to the Chazars, the Moravians, and the Bulgars. In order to subdue the ever restless Slav tribes of the Peloponnesus, she despatched thither the Strategus Theoctistus Bryennius (849) who, except in the Taygetus region where the Milengi and the Ezerites kept their autonomy, succeeded in establishing the imperial authority on a firm basis throughout the province, and in preparing the way for the conversion of the Slavs. Finally, Theodora, by her sound financial administration, did no small service to the state. Unfortunately, as is often the case under feminine government, the imperial palace was a hive of intrigue. The Logothete Theoctistus, the Regent's chief minister, had her entire favor, and against him her brother Bardas sought support from the young Emperor Michael, his nephew, who, as he grew up, showed deplorable tendencies. Bardas used his influence to embitter the resentment of the young prince against the Logothete, and in 856 a plot was concocted which ended in the murder of Theoctistus. This was a blow aimed full at Theodora, and thus she understood it. For two years more she lived in the palace, until in 858 she was requested to withdraw into a convent. But her political career was already over. From the day after the assassination of Theoctistus, Michael III had taken power into his own hands; Bardas, appointed Magister and Domestic of the Scholae, and at last in 862 almost admitted to a share in the Empire under the title of Caesar, was for ten years (856-866) to exercise supreme power in the name of his nephew.


Michael III and the Caesar Bardas 

In spite of the sedulous care which his mother had bestowed on his education, Michael III, who was now about seventeen or eighteen years old, was a prince of the worst type. Without taking too literally all that has been related of him by chroniclers too much bent on excusing the murder which gave the throne to Basil the Macedonian, and therefore disposed to blacken the character of his victim, it is certain that the behavior of the miserable Emperor was calculated to scandalize both the court and the capital. He cared for nothing but pleasure, hunting, riding, racing, wrestling of athletes; he delighted in driving a chariot on the palace race-course and in showing himself of before his intimates. He frequented the lowest society, was ever surrounded by charioteers, musicians, buffoons, and players; he spent part of his nights drinking (history has bestowed on him the surname of Michael the Drunkard); he amused himself and his unworthy favorites with coarse and indecent jests, turning religion into ridicule, parodying the sacred rites, and in his low and tasteless jests sparing neither the Patriarch nor the Empress-Mother. He wasted the money amassed by his parents in ridiculous extravagances; public business was to him an unwelcome infliction, a mere hindrance to his amusements, an interruption to his course of folly; in fine, he was the natural prey of favorites for ever contending for his good graces, and his court, where he ostentatiously displayed his mistress, Eudocia Ingerina, was the home of ceaseless intrigue.

Bardas, who governed the Empire in the name of Michael III, was a man of another stamp. Keenly ambitious, greedy of power and wealth, little troubled with scruples or morals, he was, despite his vices, a man of unquestionable capacity. Even his enemies have been unable to deny his great qualities. A good administrator, he prided himself on his love of strict justice and on his incorruptibility as a minister, and in this way he made himself highly popular. A man of great talents, he loved letters and was interested in scientific studies. Theophilus had already appreciated the importance of restoring Constantinople to its intellectual pre-eminence in the Eastern world; he had been the patron of learned men, and had heaped favors on the Patriarch John and on the great mathematician, Leo of Thessalonica. Bardas did more. To him is due the honor of having founded the famous school of the Magnaura, where he gathered the most illustrious teachers of the day. Its direction was put into the hands of Leo of Thessalonica, one of the greatest minds of the ninth century, whose universal learning—he was equally versed in mathematics, medicine, and philosophy—had gained for him among his contemporaries the reputation of a wizard and magician. Around him were others teaching geometry, astronomy, and philology, and to encourage the zeal of the professors and the eagerness of their pupils, Bardas used to pay frequent and diligent visits to the school. He counted other learned men among his intimates: Constantine, some years afterwards to become the apostle of the Slavs, and then teaching philosophy at the University; Photius, the most distinguished and brilliant intellect of the time as well as the man of most learning, who was shortly, by the favor of the all-powerful minister, to attain the patriarchal throne of Constantinople. Under the influence of Bardas, a great wave of intellectual revival was already passing over the capital, presaging the renaissance of the tenth century, and already, by its secular and classical character, arousing the anxiety of the Church. It has been justly remarked that henceforward there was to be no more interruption, no further period of darkness breaking into the literary activities of the Byzantines, until the fall of Constantinople, and that one of the most valid claims to glory of the Amorian dynasty in the history of civilization is undoubtedly the interest which the court then showed in education and learning.

Bardas had still another honor, that of successfully accomplishing, with the help of the Patriarch Photius, the great work of the conversion of the Slavs. Two men were the renowned instruments in the work, Constantine, better known under his name in religion, Cyril, and his brother Methodius, “the Apostles of the Slavs”, as history still calls them today. Constantine, the younger of the two, after having been at first a professor at the University of Constantinople, had, about 860, successfully carried out a mission to Christianize the Chazars; he was thus marked out for the work when, towards 863, Rostislav, Prince of Great Moravia, requested of the Byzantine court that his people might be instructed in the Christian Faith. In 864 Cyril and Methodius set out, and they carried with them the means of assuring the success of their undertaking. Natives of Thessalonica, and thus quite familiar with the language and customs of the Slavs, who on all sides dwelt around that great Greek city, the two missionaries well understood the necessity of speaking to those whom they desired to convert in their own tongue. For their benefit, therefore, they translated the Gospel into a dialect akin to that spoken by the Moravians, and, in order to transcribe it, they invented an alphabet from the Greek minuscule, the Glagolitic script. At the same time, Cyril and Methodius introduced into Moravia a Slav liturgy, they preached in the language, and did their utmost to train a Slav clergy. Thus it was that their success was achieved, and after their first stay in Moravia, Rome herself expressed her approbation of the methods they had employed in their undertaking (868). It is true that later on, owing to the opposition and intrigues of the German clergy, the work so magnificently begun was quickly ruined. But nevertheless, the glory remained to Constantinople of having, at the same time that she brought the orthodox faith to the Slays, created the alphabet and the liturgical language in use amongst them today.

The conversion of Bulgaria was another triumph for Constantinople. From the first thirty years of the ninth century, Christianity had begun to make its way among the Bulgars, and imperial policy watched its progress with interest, seeing in it a means of strengthening Byzantine influence in this barbarian kingdom. On his side, Tsar Boris, placed as he was between the Greek Empire and that great Moravia which, at this very time, was accepting Christianity, realized that he could no longer remain pagan. But he hesitated between the orthodoxy of Constantinople and the Roman faith offered him by Germany, whose ally he had become. Constantinople could not allow Bulgaria to come within the Western sphere of influence. A military expedition recalled the prince to discretion (863), and as his conversion, besides, was to be rewarded by an increase of territory, he made his decision. He asked to be baptized into the Orthodox Church, receiving the Christian name of Michael (864); and the Patriarch Photius, realizing to the full the importance of the event, delightedly hailed the neophyte as “the fairest jewel of his efforts”. Despite the resistance of the Bulgarian aristocracy, the Tsar compelled his people to adopt Christianity with him. But he was soon made uneasy by the apparent intention of Constantinople to keep him in too strict a dependence, and so turned towards Rome, requesting the Pope, Nicholas I, to set up the Latin rite in his kingdom. The Pope welcomed these advances, and Roman priests, under the direction of Formosus, began to labor in Bulgaria (866-867). This did not suit Byzantine calculations; the imperial government had no intention of loosing its hold upon Bulgaria. In the council of 869 Rome was obliged to yield to the protests of the Greeks; the Orthodox clergy were reinstated in Bulgarian territory, and the Tsar had to reconcile himself to re-entering the sphere of action of the Greek Empire.



External dangers


The government of Bardas had thus to a remarkable degree increased the prestige of the Empire. Beyond the frontier, however, Arab successes provided the shadows in the picture. The piracies of the Mussulmans of Crete brought desolation to the Aegean, and the great expedition which the Logothete Theoctistus led against them in person (843) had produced no better results than did the enterprise attempted against Egypt, despite the temporary success achieved by the capture of Damietta (853). In Sicily the infidels were proceeding successfully with the conquest of the island; Messina fell into their hands in 843, and Leontini in 847; Castrogiovanni, the great Byzantine fortress in the middle of Sicily, yielded in 859, and the Greek expedition sent to reconquer the province (860) was completely foiled. In Asia, where the defection of the Paulicians had been a heavy blow to the Empire, affairs prospered no better. It is true that, in 856, Petronas, brother of the Empress Theodora, made his way into the country of Samosata and Amida, and attacked Tephrice. But in 859 the Byzantine army, commanded by the Emperor himself, was beaten before Samosata, and not long afterwards (860) at Chonarium, near Dazimon. In 863 Omar, the Emir of Melitene, took Amisus. This time the Greeks braced themselves for a great effort, and the brilliant victory won by Petronas at Poson, near the Halys (863), restored for the moment the reputation of the imperial arms.

Whilst these events were taking place, a serious and unforeseen danger had menaced Constantinople. While the Emperor was in Asia and the imperial fleet busied in Sicily, some Russian pirates had unexpectedly crossed the Bosphorus and attacked the capital (860). In this emergency, the Patriarch Photius nobly sustained the spirit of the people, and it was rather to his energy than to the supposed intervention of the Blessed Virgin, that the capital owed its safety. Further, the approach of the army from Asia Minor, returning by forced marches, determined the barbarians upon a retreat which proved disastrous to them. And the treaty not long afterwards concluded with the Russians, lately settled at Kiev, opened up, towards the north, vast future prospects to the Empire.

One last event, pregnant with future consequences, marked the administration of Bardas. This was the breach with Rome. For some considerable time the chief minister had been on bad terms with the Patriarch Ignatius, that son of the Emperor Michael Rangabé who, having been tonsured on the death of his father, had in 847 been raised to the patriarchate. On the feast of the Epiphany (January 858) the prelate had thought it his duty to refuse communion to Bardas, and this the latter never forgave. He therefore set to work to implicate Ignatius in an alleged treasonable plot. The Patriarch was arrested and deported to the Princes Islands, while in his place the minister procured the election of Photius, a layman, who within six days received all the ecclesiastical orders, and on 25 December 858 celebrated a Solemn High Mass at St Sophia. The accession to the patriarchate of this man of mark, who was, however, of consummate ambition, prodigious arrogance, and unsurpassed political skill, was to bring about a formidable crisis in the Church. Ignatius, in fact, though evil-intreated and dragged from one place of exile to another, resolutely declined to abdicate, and his supporters, above all the monks of the Studion, violently resisted the usurpation of Photius. The latter, in order to compel their submission, attempted to obtain recognition from Rome, and, by means of a most diplomatic letter, entered into communication with Nicholas I. The Pope eagerly seized the opportunity to interfere in the dispute. But the legates whom he sent to Constantinople allowed themselves to be led astray by Photius, and the council which met in their presence at the church of the Holy Apostles (861) summoned Ignatius before it, deposed him, and confirmed the election of Photius. Nicholas I was not the man to see his wishes thus ignored. Ignatius, besides, appealed to Rome against his condemnation. At the Lateran synod (April 863) Photius and his partisans were excommunicated, and were called upon to resign their usurped functions immediately; Ignatius, on the other hand, was declared restored to the patriarchal throne.

It was the wonderful astuteness of Photius which turned a purely personal question into an affair of national importance. Most skillfully he turned to account the ancient grudges of the Greek Church against the West, the suspicion and dread always aroused in it by the claims of Rome to the primacy. He made even greater play with the ambitious and imprudent designs of Nicholas I upon the young Bulgarian Church; and he won over the whole of public opinion to his side by posing as the champion of the national cause against the Papal usurpers. The encyclical, which in 867 Photius addressed to the other patriarchs of the East, summed up eloquently the grievances of the Byzantines against Rome. The council, which was held soon after at Constantinople under the presidency of the Emperor, made the rupture complete (867). It replied to the condemnations pronounced by Nicholas I by anathematizing and deposing the Pope, and condemning the heretical doctrines and customs of the Western Church. The breach between Rome and Constantinople was complete, the schism was consummated, and Photius, to all appearance, triumphant. But his triumph was to be short-lived. The murder of Michael III, by raising Basil the Macedonian to the throne, was suddenly to overthrow the Patriarch’s fortunes.

While these events, portending such serious consequences, were taking place, Michael III continued in his course of pleasure, folly, and debauchery. By degrees, however, he became weary of the all-powerful influence wielded by Bardas. From the year 858 or 859 the Emperor had a favorite. This was an adventurer, the son of a poor Armenian family which circumstances had transplanted to Macedonia, a certain Basil, whose bodily strength and skill in breaking horses had endeared him to Michael III. This man became chief equerry, and in 862 grand chamberlain and patrician. His obliging conduct in marrying the Emperor's mistress, Eudocia Ingerina, put the finishing touch to the favor he enjoyed. His rapid advance could not fail to disquiet Bardas, all the more because Basil was unquestionably clever, and obviously extremely ambitious. Thus it was not long before the two men were engaged in a bitter struggle.

It ended in 866 by the murder of Bardas, who, during a campaign in Asia, was slaughtered by his enemies under the very eyes of the Emperor. Thus Basil was victorious. Some weeks later the Emperor adopted him and raised him to the dignity of Magister; soon after, he associated him in the Empire (May 866). But with a prince such as Michael III favor, however apparently secure, was still always uncertain, and Basil was well aware of it. The Emperor, more addicted than ever to wine, was now surpassing himself in wild follies and cruelties. Basil, knowing that many were jealous of him and attempting to undermine him with the Emperor, must have been perpetually in fear for his power and even for his life. An incident which revealed the precariousness of his situation decided him on taking action. On 23 September 867, with the help of some faithful followers, Basil, in the palace of St Mamas, murdered the wretched Emperor who had made him great, and, next morning, having gained possession of the Sacred Palace, seized upon power. It seems plain that the Empire joyfully acquiesced in the disappearance of the capricious and cruel tyrant that Michael III had become. But Basil was more than a skillful and lucky aspirant, he was a great statesman; by setting a new dynasty on the throne, he was destined, through his vigorous government, to usher in for the Empire two centuries of glory and renown.