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Originally named Konon; Leo III was born on c. 685 in Germanikeia in the Syrian province of Commagene (modern Kahramanmaraş in Turkey). Little is known about his childhood but according to the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes, have claimed that Konon’s family had been resettled in Thrace, where he entered the service of Emperor Justinian II when the latter was advancing on Constantinople with an army of loyalist followers, and horsemen provided by Tervel of Bulgaria in 705.
It is likely that Leo was a Jacobite Christian, but would have converted to the Chalcedonian creed upon joining the Byzantine hierarchy. Leo was fluent in Arabic, possibly as a native language, and was described by Theophanes as “the Saracen minded.”
Konon was appointed commander (stratēgos) of the Anatolic Theme by Emperor Anastasius II. On his deposition, Konon joined with his colleague Artabasdus, the stratēgos of the Armeniac Theme, in conspiring to overthrow the new Emperor Theodosius III. Artabasdus was betrothed to Anna, daughter of Leo as part of the agreement. Leo entered Constantinople on 25 March 717 and forced the abdication of Theodosios III, becoming emperor as Leo III. At this time Maria enters the historical record as his Empress consort and out of this union they had four children; his successor, Constantine V; Anna, who married Artabasdus; Irene; and Kosmo.
Careful preparations, begun three years earlier under Anastasius II, and the stubborn resistance put up by Leo wore out the invaders. An important factor in the victory of the Byzantines was their use of Greek fire The Arab forces also fell victim to Bulgarian reinforcements arriving to aid the Byzantines. Leo was allied with the Bulgarians but the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor was uncertain if they were still serving under Tervel of Bulgaria or his eventual successor Kormesiy of Bulgaria. Unable to continue the siege in the face of the Bulgarian onslaught, the impenetrability of Constantinople’s walls, and their own exhausted provisions, the Arabs were forced to abandon the siege in August, 718.
Having saved the Empire from extinction, Leo proceeded in consolidating its administration, which was completely disorganized from the previous years of anarchy. Leo also undertook a set of civil reforms including the abolition of the prepaying tax system which weighed heavily on the wealthier proprietors, the elevation of serfs into a class of free tenants, and remodeled Family law, maritime law, and criminal law, notably substituting mutilation in many cases for the death penalty. These new measures were embodied in a new code called the Ecloga (Selection), published in 726, met with some opposition from the nobles and higher clergy. He also reorganized the theme structure by creating new themata in the Aegean region.
Leo’s most noteworthy legislative reforms dealt with religious matters, especially iconoclasm. After successfully enforcing the baptism of all Jews and Montanists in the empire, he issued a series of edicts against the veneration of images. which cost him a great loss against Popes Gregory II and later Gregory III on behalf of image-veneration. His southern Italian subjects successfully defied his religious edicts, and the Exarchate of Ravenna became effectively detached from the Empire.
- Kleinhenz, Christopher (2016). Routledge Revivals: Medieval Italy (2004): An Encyclopedia – Volume II. Taylor & Francis. p. 631. ISBN 978-1-351-66443-1.
- Hussey, J. M. (2010). The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire. Oxford University Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-19-161488-0.
- Hitti, Philip (2002). History of The Arabs. Red Globe Press. p. 203. ISBN 0333631420.
- Ball, Warwick (2002). Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire. Routledge. p. 489. ISBN 0415243572.
- History of the Byzantine Empire, 324-1453, Volume 1. University of Wisconsin Press. 1964. p. 255.
- Treadgold, Warren (1997). A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford: University of Stanford Press. p. 346. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2.
- Treadgold. History of the Byzantine State, p. 347.
- Ladner, Gerhart. “Origin and Significance of the Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy.” Mediaeval Studies, 2, 1940, pp. 127–149.
- Treadgold. History of the Byzantine State, pp. 350, 352–353
ALSO ON THIS DAY
815 – In defiance of Emperor Leo, who rejects the use of icons, Theodore the Studite has his monks march on Palm Sunday through their monastery vineyard in Constantinople, holding up icons so that they can be seen over the walls, eliciting a rebuke from the emperor.
1586 – (Annunciation Day) Martyrdom of Margaret Clitherow (a Roman Catholic) at York, England, by crushing beneath a heavy oak door. She had hidden Catholic priests but refused to enter a plea so that her children would not be forced to testify under torture at a trial. As her ribs crack she cries, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Have mercy on me.” Her body will be left under the weights for six hours then stuffed secretly in a rubbish heap.
1643 – John Eudes establishes the Society of Jesus and Mary for the education of priests and for missionary work.
1783 – Five Anglican clergymen gather secretly at Woodbury, Connecticut, and choose Samuel Seabury as their prospective bishop. He will have to sail to Britain to obtain ordination.
1883 – Sister Elizabeth Fedde sails from Norway to New York where she will establish a deaconess ministry.
*Accessed ChristianHistoryInstitute.org 24 March 2022.