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Compiled by

Michael O’Rourke
Canberra, Australia
July 2010

List of Roman (‘Byzantine’) Emperors

717-41: Leo III ‘the Syrian’ (mistitled “the Isaurian”)

741-75: Constantine V ‘Copronymus’
741-43: Artavasdus, rival emperor at Constantinople
775-80: Leo IV ‘the Khazar’
780-97: Empress Irene, regent for Constantine VI ‘the Blinded’
797-802: Empress Irene, ruling in her own name
802-11: Nicephorus I
811-13: Michael I Rhangabe
813-20: Leo V ‘the Armenian’

This paper includes mini-essays on:

‘The Lombard Advance in NW Latium’: placed before the entry for 739.
‘A Ruralised Empire with Few Urban Centres’: after the entry for 775.
‘The Reorganised Armed Forces of 770’: after 775.
‘The Empire in 780: Territorial Review’.
‘Iconoclasm Rejected, 786-87’.
‘Empires and Kingdoms in 799’: after 802.
‘Emperor Nicephorus vs Khan Krum, 811’.
‘The Battle of Versinikia, 813’.

The ‘Christian Roman Empire of the Greeks’ in AD 717

Based on the map in Haldon 1990: 81.

Byzantium’s neighbours and rivals in the 8th century were: [1] The Umayyad
(Arab) Caliphate in the western, southern and eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The Empire ruled the key islands, namely Sardinia, Sicily, Crete and Rhodes,


while North Africa was entirely Muslim, or rather, Muslim-ruled: the local
populations of course continued to be almost entirely Christian.
In the Levant, the Arab-Greek border was marked by the Taurus Mountains
in what is now south-central Turkey, north of Cyprus. Cyprus itself was a sort
of condominium or ‘both men’s land’, from which the Emperor and the Caliph
both took tribute.
In Europe [2] the so-called ‘Danube Bulgars’ or Bulgarian Khanate ruled the
larger part of present-day Bulgaria and Rumania, while [3] many independent
Slavic tribes controlled most of the rest of the Balkans: west to what is now
Slovenia and south as far as what is now southern Greece. The Empire was
still dominant in the Adriatic Sea and along its Balkan coast. In Italy, however,
the Byzantines looked to be close to losing their long struggle with [4] the
‘proto-Romance’-speaking Lombards.*

(*) The Lombardic language, a Germanic tongue, was effectively dead

by the 8th century (except for pockets of speakers in the NW of Italy)
[NCMH 1995: 8]. Thus ‘Lombards’ becomes little more than a tag for
‘non-Greeks’ or ‘Romance-speaking Italians’, or at least those subject
to Romance-speaking kings and dukes bearing Germanic names.

It is useful to list also several nations that did not abut the Empire but who
were sometimes allied with or against it:

 The Khazars: a Turkic-speaking people occupying the Transcaucasian

region between the Black and Caspian Seas, including the lower Volga
River. They adopted Judaism in the period 775-825, or at least the
ruling caste did.

 The ‘Volga Bulgars’ and ‘Onogur Bulgars’: other Turkic-speaking

peoples dominating respectively the Upper Volga and the Donetz-
Dneiper steppe.

 The Avars: a formerly powerful Turkic-speaking people, now declining

in power, who ruled what is now greater Hungary. Most of their
subjects were speakers of Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages.

 The Franks: in what is now France and western Germany. Under the
Merovingian kings, the actual rulers were the Mayors of the Palace
[maior domus] who also took the title dux et princeps Francorum, Duke
and Prince of the Franks.

Let us now look in more detail at this picture.

(a). The Lombards were dominant in Italy, although, in the entire region, if we
count Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, the Empire nominally held roughly the
same extent of territory as the Lombards. (Sardinia and Corsica were lost
soon after 717.)
The enclave around imperial Ravenna - Venetia and the Exarchate proper -
was separated from a smaller imperial enclave around papal Rome by a large


swathe of Lombard domains under the ‘duchy’ [ducatus, domain of a dux] of

Spoleto. The town of Spoleto in Umbria lay at a strategic point SE of Perugia
on the eastern branch of the Via Flaminia.
More than half the south of the peninsula, including modern Basilicata to
the Gulf of Taranto and nearly all Puglia/Apulia, was now under Lombard
(Beneventan) rule. The Romanics held nearly all of Calabria, an imperial
duchy, but only the barest tip of the heel around Otranto. The latter was
governed from imperial Cephalonia. Others say the Lombards even controlled
modern Otranto itself, medieval Hydrus, from about 711 (Brown in NCMH vol
2 p.344; also Stranieri 2007). The Times Atlas 1994: 57 and McEvedy’s New
Atlas have the Land of Otranto still in imperial hands in the 730s.
In the West, the only really large and well-populated region controlled by
the empire was Sicily.
—For the population of Sardinia, Sicily and peninsular Italy in AD 700,
McEvedy & Jones 1978: 107 offer 3.75 million. We may guess that some
1.125 M lived in Sicily and perhaps 750,000 in the Byzantine-administered
portions of the peninsula.

(b). Nearly the whole of the Balkans was in “barbarian” hands, with Byzantine
rule restricted to parts of the coastal fringe.
Slav tribes controlled all of present-day Croatia except for the seven port-
towns of Dalmatia, and all of Albania and Epirus except for a few imperial
outposts such as as Dyrrhachion (present-day Durres) and Cephalonia. The
Theme [thema: province] of Hellas comprised (probably) the eastern
Peloponnesus and Athens; but the larger part (two-thirds) of the
Peloponnesus was Slavic. That is only to say: the imperial tax-gatherers did
not operate there. The majority population of Greeks and the minority
population of Slavs in that region either governed themselves or they paid
some limited taxes to local Slav chieftains. Likewise all of Thessaly and
Macedonia were in the hands of the Slavs, except for a pocket of imperial
territory around Thessalonica. Alternatively, if we follow the Times Atlas of
1994, Byzantium held all the littoral from Athens through Thessalonica to

(c). Nearly all of Thrace, including the hinterland of Adrianople (modern

Edirne), was dominated by the Slavs (western Thrace) and the Bulgars
(northern Thrace) – these were the enemies located nearest to the imperial

Following a treaty of 716 with Bulgaria, Byzantium held only the coastal
hinterlands along the lower Black Sea coast and the western littoral of Sea of
Marmara. (By contrast the Times Atlas has Byzantium still controlling most of
Thrace to beyond Philippopolis in 732; McEvedy 1992 limits imperial territory
to inner Thrace, i.e. excluding Philippopolis.)
McEvedy & Jones, Population Atlas, put the population of Inner Thrace
(modern Turkey in Europe) in this era at 300,000.

(d). There was a Byzantine outpost at Cherson or Chersonesus on the

southern tip of Crimea. The Onogur Bulgars controlled present-day Ukraine.
The Khazars ruled the Caucasus.


(e). Nearly all of Asia Minor remained East Roman, but from 712 (see there)
the caliphate controlled all of Cilicia as far west as Alanya (Antalya was
Byzantine). The Times Atlas, however, has Byzantium still ruling western
Cilicia in 732.
The Anti-Taurus Range was a marchland, while Northern Syria (present-day
SE Turkey) and upper Mesopotamia were largely in Muslim hands. The
Byzantines held only a short section of the west bank of the far Upper
Euphrates in the Divrigi (Tephrice)-Erzincan region.
In short, the size of Byzantine Anatolia was some 2/3 that of modern
Turkey-in-Asia. McEvedy & Jones offer a guesstimate of 6,000,000 for the
population in 800.

(f). Crete was Byzantine, with Cyprus paying taxes to both the empoer and
the caliph.

Above: The Empire in 717.

Not shown is corridor between Ravenna and Rome along the Via Amerina.*
1. Ravenna. 2. Venetia and Istria. 3. Duchy of Rome (nominally subject to
Ravenna). 4. Duchy of Naples 5. Thema [province] of Sicily including Calabria.
6. Thema of Hellas. 7. Thema of Thrace. 8. Thema of the Opsikion. 9. Thema
of Thrakesion. 10. Thema of Anatolikon. 11. Thema of the Karabisianoi. 12.
Thema of Armeniakon.

(*) The Via Amerina was a highway that ran north to Perugia. The better
known Via Flaminia - or Viae: the ‘old’ Flaminia Vetus and the ‘new’ Flaminia
Nova - diverged at Narni. These roads ran to the east, broadly parallel with
the Amerina. Spoleto was located on the eastern-most leg, the Nova.
The southern end of the Amerina broke off from the Via Cassia, the ancient
road from Rome via Viterbo to Florence, near Baccanae, SE of modern Sutri.
It ran thence NE through Falerii – present-day Civita Castellana: 65 km


directly north of Rome - or in other words NE of Nepi. From Civita Castellana

it then continued directly north through Orte on the middle Tiber to Tuder
[present-day Todi: west of Spoleto], and on through the valley of the Upper
Tiber to Perusia [modern Perugia] and, after crossing the upper Tiber, NNE to
Gubbio (Diehl, Etudes byzantines 1905: 69-70, citing the ‘Anonymous of
Ravenna’). There were Byzantine garrisons at Nepi, Orte, Fano (where it
reached the Adriatic) and elsewhere (Potter 1990: 216).
If one draws a line west-east through Todi to Spoleto, it crosses three
south-north roads in succession: the Amerina at Todi, the Flaminia Vetus at
Masa Martana and the Flaminia Nova at Spoleto.

As the new military and strategic route, the Via Amerina "became [had
become] the communications core of Imperial Italy and the chief
support to the claim that imperial Italy was still extant". —Hallenbeck, 1982.


A Post-Antique World of Wood and Thatch

Before AD 400, it had been quite usual for a peasant in upland central Italy to
eat off a fine pottery bowl manufactured in North Africa (Ward-Perkins 2006).
Archaeology shows that in the high Roman times people had used many
different types of ceramic vessels for cooking, serving and eating: jugs,
plates, bowls, serving dishes, mixing and grinding bowls, casseroles, lids,
amphorae and others. Already by the 7th century, however, the standard
vessel of northern Italy had become the metal (brass) olla, a simple bulbous
cooking pot (Ward-Perkins 1984: 106).

In the West, where in high Roman times even the poorer half of the rural
population had had tiles on their roofs, there are virtually no surviving
ceramic roof tiles already from the 400s, suggesting the use of wooden
shingles or thatch, which can easily catch fire, leak and harbour insects
(see the discussion in Ward-Perkins 2005: 95 ff).
“The scale and quality of buildings, even of churches, shrank dramatically
—so that, for instance, tiled roofs, which were common in Roman times even
in a peasant context, became a great rarity and luxury. In the 6th and 7th-
century West the vast majority of people lived in tiny houses with beaten
earth floors, drafty wooden walls, and insect-infested thatch roofs; whereas,
in Roman times, people from the same level of society might well have
enjoyed the comfort of solid brick or stone floors, mortared walls, and tiled
roofs” (Ward-Perkins, interview 2006).

In Italy, then, we see, already in the late 500s, a sharp fall in the number of
surviving inscriptions and the disappearance of high quality glazed pottery
(“African Red Slip Ware”). This appears to confirm the literary evidence for a
marked economic decline by 600. In the 600s even low-quality pottery was
replaced by wooden dishes, plates and cups. The end of the trade in pottery
meant that most household goods were wooden by about 650. Amphorae


gave way to wooden barrels, or rather they gave way entirely to barrels, for
wooden casks had long been used for transporting wine in NW Europe (Brown
1984: 7). And so too vintage wines finally disappeared, as barrels were not

Pottery had been replaced by wood in the 600s. In Italy there was a sharp fall
in the number of surviving inscriptions and the disappearance of high quality
glazed pottery (“African Red Slip* Ware”). The late 500s had seen the
appearance of wooden dishes, plates and cups. Fired-clay amphorae -
giant pitchers commonly of 39 litres - gave way to wooden barrels (Brown
1984: 7; also Hodges & Whitehouse 1983: 25 ff). Or at least this was the case
in the West; amphorae contained to be manufactured at Ganos on the
Thracian (western) shore of the Sea of Marmara until the end of the empire
(Jeffreys et al. 2008: 434).

(*) ‘Slipped” means colour-coated. ‘Slip’ is the slurry formed when water
is mixed with clay; the moulded vessel was immersed in the slip to form
its outer coat.
‘African Red Slip Ware’ was a type of decorated tableware produced
from the late first century AD until the mid seventh century in the area
of modern Tunisia and exported around all of the Mediterranean,
reaching even to Scotland in the north and Ethiopia in the south at the
peak of its distribution. Other ‘red slips’ were produced at Phocaea on
the Aegean coast of Asia Minor and near Paphos in Cyprus (”Cypriot Slip

In the East many productions of both amphorae and fine table wares ended in
the later seventh century; this was a systemic collapse. For example, it is
now definite that “Phocaean RS” (PRS: sophisticated ‘red slip’ ceramics from
Phocaea in the west Aegean), once traded across the whole Mediterranean,
ceased to be produced in the period 670-700, somewhat later than used to
be thought. This is clear from excavations at Emporio on Chios, Gortyn on
Crete, and in the Crimea. Trade in PRS had been contracting since the 500s,
but the local RS [local types of less sophisticated red slipware] productions
did not replace it, for they ceased as well. They were replaced by coarser
types of pottery (Wickham 2005: 784 ff).

As we have said, however, amphorae contained to be manufactured at Ganos

on the Thracian (western) shore of the Sea of Marmara until the end of the
empire (Jeffreys et al. 2008: 434).

The reasons for decline in the West are not hard to find:

“By the later sixth century [in Byzantine Italy], the regular market was
both a thing of the past and of the future. Clearly when towns declined
the markets declined with them and the rurally based ceramic
production sites became anti-economical for professional potters.
Though their position had been based on primary resource location
(clay, wood, water, etc.), this was with the guarantee that large
markets were readily at hand through an efficient (Roman)


communication network. However, the collapse of many pottery

industries in the fifth and sixth centuries is probably not only to be
explained by cessation in demand (although demand presumably
diminished with diminishing population levels) or by rising marketing
costs, but also by internal costs. As population levels dropped and
intensive agriculture diminished, agricultural surplus became
increasingly restricted and more highly valued as an exchange
commodity. It would therefore be used primarily for exchange with
money to pay taxes or for exchange with other basic goods. In this
context we could expect the emergence of an economic system
directed principally towards fundamental needs. Pottery could, instead,
be made by the household or by a household industry for group use
and this seems to be a pattern that emerges with the development of
the village community.” –Arthur and Patterson 1994.

In the East, the rich continued to use fine ceramics but only the rich. Glazed
‘white ware’ pottery replaced red slipware in the period 650-750 but it
was not much traded outside Constantinople. Glazed pottery also began
to be produced at Corinth from before 700. Other glazed types have
been found at various towns around the Aegean shore, but probably
they too were locally produced (Laiou and Morrisson 2007: 75).

Contraction of trade and a transition to exchange in kind

There had been no radical break in trade, but the period 550-700 saw a
“relentless contraction” of the economic networks inherited from Antiquity
(Loseby in NCMH vol. 1, pp.616, 639).
A feature of the seventh century had been the constant decline in the
weight of the standard copper coin called the follis, which decreased from an
average 12 gm under emperor Phokas to 3.60 gm* by ca. 660, while its value
in carats slid from 1⁄20 to 1⁄40 in 621 and perhaps 1⁄96 by ca. 660.
The lesser copper coinage, used for trade, had virtually
disappeared after 658 in archaeological sites, and copper coins do not
reappear in Anatolian sites until the 800s (Haldon 1984: 226). The gold
coinage continued: it was used mainly for paying state taxes and such state
salaries as were still being paid.

Morrisson (2002) gives a few examples sum up the well-known and

frequently commented-on monetary gap that reveals the process of
decline and impoverishment whereby “towns” were reduced to the role of
places of refuge: at Ankyra, no coins found that were minted between
Constans II [d. 668] and a single follis of Leo IV [d. 780]; yet Ankyra was
sufficient of a town to be made a provincial capital – the seat of the
Bucellarion theme – in the 760s. At Aphrodisias in inland SW Asia Minor no
coins have been found between Constans II and Theophilos [acc. 829]; at
Pergamon, none between 715 and 820; at Kenchreai [Corinth], nothing
between Constans II and Leo VI [acc. 886]; and in the Albanian finds, no
bronze pieces between 668 and 802.
Even in peaceful Carthage, where there had been some new building after
the Byzantine conquest (AD 534), the new quarters were filled with rubbish


and huts already by the early seventh century. From the mid 600s the city
suffered what has been described as a ‘monumental meltdown’: shacks
clustered into the circus and the round harbour was abandoned (Wickham
2005: 641). Such was the ‘city’ that had fallen to the Arabs in 698.

The End of Antiquity: Coins, Pottery and Trade

The nadir of sea-trade and sea-communication between the West and East
across the Mediterranean was reached around AD 700. But there was still a
certain amount of naval traffic.
Curta (2005) has noted that until about AD 700 coins from Italy had
continued to reach the Balkans. Many copper coins of Constantine IV, acc.
668, as well as of his successors Justinian II and Tiberius III, acc. 698, have
been found in coastal regions, including the five folles of Constantine IV
minted in Sicily and retrieved from excavations in the southern Agora of
Corinth. This indicates some naval traffic across the Adriatic at least – into
the Gulf of Corinth. Curta has proposed that the presence of small change in
Greece indicates that oarsmen or sailors of either commercial or war ships
could rely on constant supplies of fresh food in certain ports along the coast.
And the coins struck in Carthage, Rome, or Syracuse found in Dobrudja - the
Danube delta - must be explained with reference to the navy. —Curta, ‘Dark
Age’, 2005b.

Brown in NCMH, vol 2, p.357 (also Wickham 2005 passim), says, citing
archaeological evidence of pottery types, that trade “almost dried up” around
700, partly due to Muslim sea raids, including against Italy from as far as
Egypt. A Muslim fleet operated from Tunisia. But the main factor was the long
term decline in demand for luxury goods. As Kennedy neatly puts it (2008:
203), western Mediterranean markets had become too poor to import much,
while the eastern Mediterranean could survive without African products.


The “final eclipse of the ancient Mediterranean economic system” can

be seen, according to Loseby, in two ‘ceramic assemblages’ or sets of
excavated amphorae [large pitchers] at Old Rome. The first, from
c.690, is composed 80% of vessels from outside Italy, mainly from
Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, while the latter, from c.720, is
mainly locally made, the most distant being sourced from Sicily. None of
the amphorae of AD 720 come from Africa or the East. Moreover,
following the loss of Carthage to the Muslims Arabs (698),
Constantinople no longer took imports from the West, but drew its
supplies from the Black Sea region and the northern Aegean (Loseby in
NCMH vol 1, pp.635, 637; a similar analysis can be found in Wickham
2005: 712-13).

Wickham emphasises that trade in Africa amphorae and fine tableware was
already effectively dead before the Arabs took control of northern
Tunisia in 698. In the longer-term view we can see trade starting a long
downturn from as far back as 450, following the Vandal takeover of
Carthage. Trade had continued between Vandal Africa and Gothic Italy,
but at a lower level. The Byzantine recapture of Tunisia and Italy in the
500s did not lead to a revival of the commercial networks that had
existed before 450. To the contrary, local economies became steadily
more self-reliant, which is to say: imports to Italy from Byzantine Africa
had become more marginal. In the 600s they were limited mostly to
Naples, Rome and Marseilles.
Thus it was entirely coincidental and not causal that, after a half-
millennium of history, the trade in African productions to Italy came its
final end just as Carthage fell to the Muslims (Wickham 2005: 712).
Thus, although some trade continued into and even through the ‘Dark
Ages’, it cannot be denied that it declined both in volume and distance,
with even the ‘regional’ networks probably eventually giving way to
much more localised exchange. Thus the African imports to Italy do not
continue into the eighth century, giving way to very local production, as
seen in the amphorae kiln found at Misenum on the Bay of Naples.
Similarly at Constantinople ‘ARSW’ [African red slip ware], ‘PRSW’
[Phocaean red slip ware from Phocaea in Asia Minor*] and Cypriot RSW
were completely superseded by the local glazed-wares by about 710. –
Anon.,‘Trade in the Byzantine Empire’,; accessed 2009.

(*) The Muslims took control in Tunisia for good in 698, but as we have said,
the sea trade from the Aegean was already effectively dead. Likewise
the trade from Cyprus would have been affected by Muslim sea raids;
but the collapse of the trade from Phocaea presumably not. Thus we
must imagine a failure in demand during the century 600-700.
This seems confirmed by the fact that, putting Italy to one side, in Gaul
and Spain African goods were not replaced by local or other foregn
goods of the same quality. The fall in demand in the West was global
already by 600 (cf Wickham 2005: 713).


717-741: LEO III ‘the Syrian’ or "Isaurian"

Gibbon writes of the “wisdom of his administration and the purity

of his manners”. Treadgold 1997: 346, 356 calls him vigorous, with
good diplomatic and military skills, and judges his reign as
“successful by recent standards”. Norwich, Early Centuries p.352,
calls him “the greatest emperor since Heraclius [d. 641]”.

Birth-name Konon. Formerly general of the Anatolikon theme

[province], Leo was aged about 40 or 42 at accession. Dies aged
about 66.
He is known, although his initial intentions are unclear, as the
first of the Iconoclast emperors (Gk eikonoklasmos, "image-

Founder of the so-called "Isaurian" dynasty, Leo was not of Asia

Minor provenance as the erroneous epithet "the Isaurian" suggests,
but was born in Germanicia, North Syria, circa 685. According to
Theophanes, his family had been removed by Justinian II to Thrace,
i.e. Mesembria, on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, where he was
raised. (Mesembria lies about half way between the mouth of the
Danube and Constantinople).

Wife: Maria. Children: Anna, who married Leo's colleague

Artavasdos, general of the Armenaikon theme; and Constantine,
the future emperor Constantine V.

The 'Isaurian' Dynasty so-called, 717-802, was Greek-speaking from the start.
In the course of the 700s, "Dominus Noster" [Latin: ‘Our Lord’] disappeared
from Imperial coins. The words "Perpetvus Augustus" [Latin: ‘eternal
emperor’] also began to fade in the same era, replaced by "Basileus", Greek
for ‘king’ or ‘emperor’.

The style Basileus ton Rhomaiôn ('Emperor of the Romans') briefly appears
on seals of Leo III, but its usage remains quite rare until 812, i.e. not until the
Franks' claim to a Western imperium was recognised.

The Byzantine exarch (governor) of N Italy, based at Ravenna, was

The patriarch Germanus I (August 715 - January 730), was a eunuch. Son of


the patrician Justinian, an accomplice in the assassination of Emperor

Constans II (668), Germanus had been made a eunuch by order of
Constantine IV (668-685), although he had already passed the age in which
the operation was usually performed (Zonaras III 222, cited by Guilland

1. Constantinople: Leo and Artavasdus, commanders, respectively, of the two
most important themata, the Anatolic and the Armeniac, combined forces.
Theodosius voluntarily abdicated, and again the throne of Constantine was
occupied by a strong ruler, well fitted for his position, Leo of Germanicia (now
Marash in old Northern Syria, part of modern Turkey).
After Leo's capture of Theodosius’s son in Nicomedia, Theodosius took the
advice of Patriarch Germanus and the ‘senate’ [the magnates] and abdicated
in favour of Leo III on 25 March 717. Along with his son, he subsequently
entered the clergy and became bishop of Ephesus.
The senate comprised the chief palatine officials, both civil and military. In
earlier years it had had a largely Latino-Greek membership. By this time,
however, it included many ’non-Greeks’, i.e. Armenians and Caucasians
(Haldon 1990: 169).

2. New Rome: The strengthening of the capital’s land and sea walls ordered
by Leo in 717 was the first large-scale construction project since the
early ‘dark age’ of the 600s. Cf 767: restoration of the main aqueduct.
“The western walls, those of the great gates, were restored under Leo the
Great and Pious (Leo III); on that occasion they also held a religious
procession and chanted the 'Kyrie eleison' [‘praise the Lord’] 40 times, and
the demos [faction] of the Greens shouted 'Leo has surpassed Constantine'.”
—Thus the Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai -; accessed
To keep out ships, the narrow entrance to the Golden Horn was traversed
by a chain [Gk: alysis] strung from towers on either side and supported in
the water with wooden floats. It is first mentioned in connection with the
siege in 717-18 when Leo lowered it in the hope of enticing the Arab fleet into
the harbour (Turnbull 2004: 16; Dromon p.31).
Made of giant wooden links that were joined by immense nails and heavy
iron shackles, the chain could be deployed in an emergency by means of a
ship hauling it across the Golden Horn from the Kentenarion Tower in the
south to the Castle of Galata on the north bank. Securely anchored on both
ends, with its length guarded by Romaic warships at anchor in the harbour,
the great chain was a formidable obstacle and a vital element of the city's
defences. —Plummer, ‘Constantinople’, at;
accessed October 2009.

The Arab Siege of 717-18

3. The formal dates for the Arab siege are 15 August 717 to 15 August 718.

Proceeding from Pergamum, as we noted earlier, Maslama crosses the


Hellespont at Abydus (July 717) and arrives at Constantinople (15 August

717), which he besieges by land and sea. His land forces are said to have
numbered 80,000 while his fleet numbered “1,800” ships and boats
(Theophanes’ figure: Norwich 1988: 352; also Kennedy 2008: 331).
Drawn mainly from Greater Syria, the Arab forces threatening the imperial
capital are said, by Mas'udi, to have numbered 80,000 or 120,000 troops and,
according to Theophanes, "1,800" war galleys and transporter sailing-ships
(TCOT: 88; Treadgold State p.346; Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 91). Presumably
the number reached 120,000 men after being reinforced in 718. This was
more men than were enrolled in the entire Romanic-Byzantine army.

Caliph Sulayman’s navy, led by a general of the same name, Sulayman*, had
occupied Rhodes in 717 while Maslama’s land troops proceeded to capture
the (by now) "fortress-villages" of Sardis and Pergamum [mod. Bergama] in
eastern Asia Minor. At the same time, part of the Arab land forces crossed
into Thrace and besieged the capital from the land side (the west). This
was briefly complemented by a sea blockade, Sulayman’s fleet having arrived
arrived on 1 September 717. The Arab fleet was divided into two squadrons:
one was stationed on the Asiatic coast, in the ports of Eutropius and
Anthimus, the two harbours near Chalcedon, to prevent supplies arriving from
the Archipelago; the other occupied the bays in the European shore of the
Bosphorus above the point of Galata, in order to cut off all communication
with the Black Sea and the cities of Cherson and Trebizond.

(*) The Greek sources confused the caliph Sulayman, brother of

Maslama and son of `Abd al-Aziz, with the general Sulayman who was
son of Mu`ad.

Sept: The Arab fleet under Suleiman attempts to blockade the city by sea, but
is driven off by the Byzantine fleet with Greek Fire* and fire-ships; the Arab
fleet refuses any major engagement with the Byzantines. His fleet was
scattered by adverse winds and largely destroyed by the use of Greek
Fire; it is said that only “five” galleys reached their home-port of Alexandria.
(The caliph of the same name, Sulayman, died on 8 October 717, and was
succeeded as caliph by Omar: Theoph. AM 6209, pp. 395-396).

(*) This is a Western term: the East Romans called it “liquid fire”, “sea
fire” or “wet fire”. There were small hand siphons as well as large fixed
noozle-points on war galleys; Greek Fire was also launched from
catapults and in grenades (Tsangadas 1980: 111, 126, 295, citing
Theophanes AM 6163, Nicephorus and Const. Porphyr.; cf Partington

Ibn Asakir, quoting an eyewitness on the Muslim side: “Maslama had drawn
up the Muslims in a line (I had never seen one longer) with the many
squadrons. Leo, the autocrat of Rûm, sat on the tower of the gate of
Constantinople with its towers. He drew up the foot soldiers in a long line
between the wall and the sea opposite the Muslim shore. We showed arms in
a thousand [sic] ships, light ships, big ships in which there were stores of
Egyptian clothing, etc, and galleys with the fighting men … 'Umar and some


of those from the ships were afraid to advance against the harbour mouth,
fearing for their lives. When the Rum saw this, galleys and light ships came
out of the harbour mouth [the Golden Horn] against us and one of them went
to the nearest Muslim ship, threw on it grapnels with chains and towed it with
its crew into Constantinople. We lost heart”. —Text in S. Tritton, D. N.
Mackenzie, J. Duncan, M. Derrett, ‘Siege of Constantinople’ Bulletin of the
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 22, No. 1/3
(1959), pp. 350-358.


4a. S Italy: The Lombards take Cumae near Naples; but local imperial troops,
encouraged by the pope, recover the town.

4b. N Italy: In the 570s, when the incursions of Faroald, the Lombard Duke of
Spoleto, first cut the Via Flaminia, the lifeline between Rome and Ravenna,
the Via Amerina – a little to the west - was improved and fortified at intervals.
Apparently the Byzantines controlled the Amerina until the end.
Brown says that the empire, or in other words: Ravenna, permanently* lost
the town of Narni, north of Rome, where the Via Flaminia divides into its ‘old’
and ‘new’ routes, half-way to Perugia and Assisi, to the Lombards of Spoleto
in 717-18 (Brown in NCMH vol 2 p.324). Cf below under 717-26: collusion
against the tax-gatherers of Ravenna by papal Rome and Lombard Spoleto.

(*) If the Lombards controlled the Flaminian at Narni, one might expect
this to prevent the exarch asserting any control over Byzantine Rome;
but as will be seen, he did – until about 740. Presumably his troops
bypassed Narni, travelling down the Amerina.

5. Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem completed. Note, by the way, that the Dome
of the Rock is not itself a mosque.

End of the Siege, July-August 718

The new Caliph ‘Umar II sent reinforcements by sea and land. Sophiam of
Sufyan brought 400 grain-ships and dromons [large warships] from Egypt;
and Yezid followed with 360 transports from Africa (Tunisia) carrying arms
and provisions (Tsangadas 1980: 143; Kennedy p.331).
The caliph’s younger son Yezid was commander of an Arab fleet of “260”
merchantmen which brought fresh supplies from Africa to the Arabs during
the siege of Constantinople in spring and summer 718 (Nicephorus: Nic.
Brev., de Boor edn 54). Through fear of Greek fire, he put in on the Asian side
of the Marmara at Satyros (and Bryas and as far as the village of Kartalimen,
adds Theophanes), where his fleet was destroyed in an East Roman attack
after the desertion of Egyptian sailors: Nic. Brev. de Boor 54, Theoph. AM
6209. “He (Leo III) readied fire-carrying siphons and put them aboard
warships and “two-storied” (bireme) ships, then dispatched them against the
two (Arab) fleets” (Theophanes).
Many of the Christian Egyptians and Africans serving in the Muslim navy
defected to the Byzantine side. Leo’s forces captured the grain, provisions


and arms they had brought. As a result, the Arab land forces faced starvation
and disease. Consequently on 15 August 718 the Caliph ordered withdrawal
(Haldon 1990: 83; Kennedy p.331).
This brought the last great Muslim siege of the imperial capital to an end.
Cf 739-40 and 806.

Bulgarian alliance: Leo III was aided (July 718) in his defeat of the combined
forces of the Arab army, led by Maslama, and the enemy navy led by
Sulayman, by the help of the Bulgarian khan Tervel. Following the example of
Patriarch Sergius (610-638), who had carried an icon of Mary around the city
walls during the Avar siege of Constantinople in 626, Patriarch Germanus
faced the Arab siege with the power of an icon of the Theotokos.
Miraculously, the city was saved, though Leo's role in the affair is played
down by iconophile sources.
The Arabs, weary from the long attrition of siege warfare, thinned out by
disease and hunger, and demoralized by the lack of success in assaulting the
city, were devastated by a Bulgarian attack against their land forces in July
718. Contemporary chroniclers report at least 30,000 - Theophanes says
22,000 - Arabs died in the first Bulgar attack.

Italy: (The exact date is obscure:) Opposition to Leo's heavy taxation** - for
his wars - emerges in Italy. The patriarch of Rome or ‘pope’, Gregory II, 715-
31, is reluctantly drawn in. When Scholasticus, the Byzantine Exarch,
intervened, the local, Rome-based imperial troops and the Lombards of
Spoleto opposed him. The Ravennate troops retired. Cf 732.

(**) “The unfortunate colonus [serf] was deprived of about a third of

his yield in tax, on top of which he had to pay rent to his landlord”
(Mango 1980: 44).

The West: It was at about this time - before 733 - that Sardinia and Corsica
were lost to the empire. Treadgold 1997: 938n4 observes that in 733 (see
there) Leo was able to confiscate the papal estates of Sicily and Calabria but
not those of Sardinia and Corsica. Whether the latter two were taken by the
Lombards or became effectively independent is unclear.
Significantly, the last coins known to have been minted at the Cagliari
mint date from 720. See 720: Arab attack on Sardinia. Also ca. 725: Corsica
apparently captured by the Lombards.

1. Thrace: From his exile, the former emperor Anastasius tried to regain the
throne, seeking the help the Bulgars and writing to Theoktistos and Niketas at
Constantinople for their support; but at Herakleia the Bulgars turned against
him and they surrendered him to the emperor Leo III. He was beheaded in the
Kynegion amphitheatre (the old arena or theatre near the easternmost point
of the city used for animal fight-shows in Antiquity)* and his head paraded in
the hippodrome with that of a supporter, the bishop of Thessalonike
(Anonymus 179): Nic. Brev. 55-56, Mango 57, Theoph. AM 6211, Zon. XV 2.
15-18 (cf. Also Niketas).


(*) Where the Topkapi Palace now is. The document called the
Parastaseis Syntomoi Chronikai reveals that the Kynegion and many
other antique buildings to have been in a ruinous condition already at
this time (Cameron and Herrin 1984: 201).

2. 15 August: As related earlier, the Arabs break the siege of Constantinople

and withdraw; their army marches safely through Anatolia; their fleet is
partially destroyed in a storm in the Sea of Marmara and later burnt by ash
from the volcano at Thera in the Aegean. Allegedly only “10” ships survived;
five were captured by the Byzantine fleet and just five made it back to the
caliphate (TCOT: 91).

The patriarch Germanus alludes to Islam in his sermon commemorating the

Constantinopolitans' deliverance in 718 from the Arab siege of their city. It is
a celebration of the role of the Virgin, who "alone defeated the Saracens and
prevented their aim, which was not just to capture the city, but also to
overthrow the royal majesty of Christ".
Throughout the oration the Christians are presented as the Israelites,
"who with the eyes of faith see Christ as God and therefore confess that it is
truly the Theotokos who bore him". The Muslims, on the other hand, are cast
in the role of the impious [monophysite] Egyptians, "who say regarding
Christ: 'I do not know the Lord,' and think concerning his mother: 'She is by
nature a woman; she can in no way come to the aid of those who glory in her
assistance'." The sermon ends on a hopeful note, for like the Egyptians, the
Muslims are cast into the sea and the Christians live to fight another day. —
Kirby 2003.

2. Opsikion troops are again in revolt. A Bulgarian force took part in the
revolt, advancing from around Thessaloniki to Herakleia, on the Sea of
Marmara, 80 km from Constantinople, by land and sea, using dug-out sail-
boats, presumably built by their Slav allies or subjects (Browning p.139, citing
the chronicler Nicephorus).

3. First reference to the Walls regiment [Greek: Teiché], a special infantry

unit guarding the Hippodrome area and the walls surrounding the imperial
palace.* Its commander was called the archon tou Teichon or tou Teichou.
The regiment will become part of the the elite Tagmata in the 760s; its
commander rose from archon to komes (‘count’) (see there).

(*) For a good illustration of the section of the city containing the
palace, hippodrome and Hagia Sophia, see page 60 of the Time-Life
book (1989).

5. b. Constantine, future emperor, son of Leo III.

719: East Francia, our S Germany: Boniface, the English-born monk

Winfrith or Wynfrid, is active in Bavaria and Thuringia, christianising
pagans. See 730.


1. A new and more lasting return to silver was made in 720. Leo III, formally
in association with his infant son Constantine V, 720–741, introduced a coin
known as a miliaresion.

2. Arabs under Muhammad b. Aws al-Ansari raid Byzantine Sardinia

(Blankinship p.139). They held parts of the west coast, i.e. Arborea in the SW,
for over 100 years. Cf 725: Corsica, and 727: Sicily.
Significantly, the last coins known to have been minted at the Cagliari mint
date from 720.

Caliph Yazid II.

Leo III orders forced baptism for all Jews and Muslims living within the empire
(Theophanes a.m. 6214). Many Jews fled to Syria and other Islamic-ruled
lands. Cf 732.

721: Major Christian victory in present-day France: Muslims from Spain

under the governor-general Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani enter
Occitania in early spring, 721, and immediately march NW toward
Frankish Toulouse. The siege of Toulouse, with its near-impregnable
walls, lasted until early summer. The defending Franks, short of
provisions, were close to surrendering when, around 9 June 721, Eudes
of Aquitaine returned at the head of a large force, hurled himself at al-
Samh's rear, and launched a highly successful encircling movement.
So serious was the Muslim defeat that, each year for the following 450
years, those who died at Balat al-Shuhada' (‘Plateau of the Martyrs’)
were honoured in a special remembrance ceremony.

Asia Minor: Caria (the SW corner of Asia Minior) would become (after 727: see
there) part of the theme [province] of Kibyrrhaiotai or ‘Cibyrrhaeots’; it is
mentioned as a distinct province as late as 722, when it appears as belonging
to the apotheke (lit. “storehouse”, i.e. supply-district) of ‘Asia, Caria and the
Islands and the Hellespont’, organised to collect the trade tax and supply the
army. Presumably this kommerkiariate [tax and trading concession*] covered
part of the Carabisian and Thracesian themes. See 729-31.

(*) The private entrepreneurs contracted (or, later, public officials

employed) to collect the tax on goods - import and circulation taxes -
were called kommerkiarioi. It was not sales that were taxed but the
movement of goods, including slaves. “The customs system in 7th and
8th C Byzantium allowed the empire not only to control the commercial
routes . . . but also to preserve something of a monopoly on the
slave trade” that passed through it (Rotman 2009: 70).
Oikonomides notes that each kommerkiarios (government tax
collector and supply contractor) seems to have been in charge of an
establishment called an apotheke (lit. “storehouse”); there was usually


one of these in each province (or group of provinces) under his control.
The word apotheke is thus an abstract term referring to an institution
rather than a specific building and it covered a broad geographical
area (rather than being confined to cities, harbours, or roads) (in Laiou
ed., Economic History of Byzantium 2002; also in Laiou 2008: 985).

Slavic Greece: 723-730: Key sources show the presence of Slavs and Avars in
central and southern Greece:

(a) In c. 723 (between 723 and 728) bishop Willibald of Eichstatt (Bavaria)
travelled from Syracuse to Constantinople and stopped at Monemvasia, at
the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese; he called the place "the Slavic land"
or ‘the land of Slavinia’ (MGH SS 15:93: The Life of St Willibald, Monumenta
Germaniae Historica, Script. xv, i, p. 93);
- Monemvasia was recovred from the pagan Slavs sometime btween the
720s and 780s, as we know that the bishop of Monemvasia attended the
Council of Nicaea in 787.

(b) Perhaps in the 730s (the date given by Ekonomou 2007): The Life of St.
Pancratius records that a Byzantine warlord from Taormina (Sicily), or else
the strategos [military governor], organised an expedition across the sea; he
took a number of prisoners from among the pagan “Avars” living in the
province of Athens. Others would date the writing of this text to around 710
(Curta 2006: 105).

The standard view is that the Slavic tribes ruled the interior, while the
‘Greeks’ continued to control much of the coastal fringe. Thus the Time Atlas
1994: 56 shows imperial rule along the whole coast of the Balkans except in
the southwest (west Peloponnesian coast) and in the far west (part of the
coast of Epirus).

Willibald’s Eastern Pilgrimage, c.721-c.728

A good overview of the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean is embedded

in the reminiscences of the Bavarian bishop Willibald: Life of St Willibald,
Monumenta Germaniae Historica, text in C. H. Talbot 1954, pp 160 ff:

“They went on board a ship [galley] and crossed over the sea to Naples,
where they left the ship in which they had sailed and stayed for two weeks.
These cities [the towns of Campania] belong to the Romans [i.e. Byzantines]:
they are in [surrounded by] the territory of Benevento, but owe allegiance to
the Romans.” —Byzantine Campania lay between the emerging semi-
independent imperial Duchy of Rome or nascent Papal State and the
Lombard duchy of Benevento.
“And at once, as is usual when the mercy of God is at work, their fondest
hopes were fulfilled, for [at Naples] they chanced upon a ship that had come
from [Muslim-ruled] Egypt, so they embarked on it and set sail [i.e. rowed] for
a town called Reggio in [Byzantine] Calabria.”
“Sailing from [Byzantine] Syracuse, they crossed the [mouth of the]


Adriatic and reached the city [read: port-village] of Monembasia, in the land
of Slavinia, and from there they sailed to Chios, leaving Corinth on the port
side.” —Byzantium controlled some coastal areas in Greece but most of the
Balkans was ruled by Slav chieftains.
“Sailing on from there, they passed [Byzantine] Samos and sped on
towards Asia, to the city of Ephesus, which stands about a mile from the sea.”
—This indicates that the silting-up of the River Cayster, the modern Küçük
Menderes, was already well-advanced. Ephesus today is about six km from
the coast.
“Sailing from there [Miletos], they reached the island of Cyprus, which lies
between the Greeks [Byzantines] and the Saracens, and went to the city of
Pamphos, where they stayed three weeks.” —Cyprus was a condominium, co-
ruled by the Byzantines and Caliphate.
“Once more they set sail and reached the town of Antarados [Tartus on the
coast of Syria, south of Latakia] which lies near the sea in the territory of the
Saracens.” —The Byzantine-Caliphate border ran through Cilicia.
Palestine: The ‘king of the Saracens’ is named as “Emiral Mummenim”.
This was of course his title: Amir al-Mu'minin, ‘Commander of the Faithful’ or
Caliph. The incumbent was Yazid bin Abd al-Malik or Yazid II, 720-24,
succeeded by Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, 724-43.
Willibald’s party visited, among many other places, Mar Saba, the
Monastery of St Sabas near Bethlehem. It was, or it became, the home of the
great iconodule (“icon-slave”) John of Damascus (aged about 46 in 722),
called the “last of the Greek Fathers” of the Church. He wrote his On Holy
Images in about 730. It is not known when John retired from the court at
Damascus to Mar Saba, but many believe it was before 715 as by that time
Arabic had replaced Greek as the language of the Caliph’s chancery. —
Griffith 2008.

Later in Syria: “His [Willibald’s] companions, who were in his party, went
forward to the King of the Saracens, named Murmumni [recte: Amir al-
Mu'minin], to ask him to give them a letter of safe conduct, but they could
not meet him because he himself had withdrawn from that region on account
of the sickness and pestilence that infested the country.”
After visiting Constantinople and Nicaea, Willibald sailed back to Syracuse.
“After two years they set sail from there [Constantinople] with the envoys of
the Pope and the Emperor and went to the city of Syracuse in the island of
Sicily.” —The envoys were carrying the hostile correspondence conducted
between pope Gregory II, 715-31, and Emperor Leo about iconoclasm.
Willibald reached central Italy again seven years after leaving it.

fl. Winfrith or Wynfrid, born 680 or 683, the future St Boniface. An

English-born monk, he was afterwards known as the 'Apostle of the
Germans', i.e. to the pagan East Franks beyond the Rhine.
Pagan Germany: In 723, Boniface felled the holy oak tree dedicated
to the god Thornear [Thor] at the present-day town of Fritzlar, near
Gottiningen in northern Hesse, NW of Frankfurt. He built a chapel from
its wood at the site where today stands the cathedral of Fritzlar, and
later established the first bishopric in Germany north of the old Roman
limes or fortified frontier at the Frankish fortress of Büraburg, on a


prominent hill facing the town across the Eder river.

The felling Thor's Oak is commonly regarded as the beginning of
German christianization.- All of what is now southern and central
Germany, then eastern Francia, was quickly Christianised; the only
remaining pagan region was in the north, i.e. Saxony. It remained
obdurate and had to be converted by the sword: by Charlemagne from
772 (see there).

724-43: Caliph Hisham.

In this reign the main Muslim naval base was moved from Acre in
Palestine to Tyre in Syria, where a large new ‘arsenal’ (ship repair workshop)
was built inside a walled harbour. Acre was again reconstituted as the main
naval base in 861 (Kennedy 2008: 335. citing al-Baladhuri). Cf 747: major
defeat at the hands of the Byzantines.



The denominations were as follows from c. 725: one gold solidus or nomisma
(4.55 g) = 12 silver miliaresia = 288 bronze folles [singular: follis]. And 1
silver miliaresion = 2 silver siliquae or keratia (an accounting unit) = 24
bronze folles.
Coin portraits, already for a long time far less finely rendered than during
the times of Constantine the Great and his successors, become now even
cruder or at least ‘further stylised’ - a state that will last for about another
200 years.

Above: Coin depicting emperor Leo III.



1. The East: Arabs raid Cyprus, presumably as punishment for non-payment

of taxes or for molesting the local Muslims. The island remained a de facto
condominium in line with the treaty of 688; there was no intention to occupy
or annex it.

2. The Aegean: The theme of Hellas - “the men of the themes of Hellas and
the Cyclades”, presumably iconodules - revolted in 725/6 against the
iconoclastic emperor Leo III, and sent (727) a large fleet under the command
of an officer called Agallianos, the turmarch or deputy commander of Hellas.
But the imperial fleet destroyed the rebel fleet with “artificial [Greek] fire”
near Constantinople (Theophanes: TCOT: 97). See 727.
Kosmas was with them as their candidate for the crown. Theophanes
writes thus: “Agallianos (the turmarch of the theme of Hellas) and Stephen
led their army. They neared the imperial city on 18 April of the 10th indiction
[727] and . . . were defeated because their ships were consumed by the
artificial fire. Some men went to the bottom of the sea, among them
Agallianos, who drowned himself in his armour, but the survivors went over to
the victors. Kosmas and Stephen were beheaded, the impious Leo was
strengthened in his evil ways, and his faction stepped up its persecution of

3. Italy: The exarch Paul assembled troops from the strongholds around
Ravenna and sent them to Rome to depose the patriarch of Rome Gregory II
for his boycott of imperial taxes. The local army detachment at Rome sided
with the pope and prevented this (Liber Pontificalis, cited in Brown 1984: 91).

Italy c. 725: “There were probably few concentrations of Germanic settlers

entirely immune to Roman cultural influence. The Lombard language seems
to have disappeared by the 8th century, leaving few loanwords in the Italian
language. The impression conveyed is of a gradual Romanization of the
society and culture of the Lombards within the framework of their continuing
political dominance.” – ‘Italy’ (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved
June 24, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service:

c. 725:
1. Italy: The Lombards occupy Byzantine Corsica. Or perhaps earlier – by
about 700? (cf Noble p.172.) Acting as the protector of the catholic church
and its faithful, Liutprand subjected the island to Lombard government (c.
725), though it was nominally under Byzantine authority. Corsica remained
with the Lombard kingdom even after the Frankish conquest, by which time
Lombard landholders and churches had established a significant presence on
the island (Wikipedia, 2009, ‘Luitprand’).

2. Text: the Parastaseis syntomai chronikai. The title of this work may be
translated as ‘brief historical notes’ or ‘expositions’, i.e. an antiquarian
discussion of the sights of Constantinople, explaining the origin and
significance of the many statues and other “spectacles” found throughout the
city. References are made to emperors living as long ago as 500+ years in
the past, and to oral history.


It is clear that many of the buildings and monuments of Antiquity had fallen
into disrepair or were long since abandoned and that large areas of the city
within the walls were deserted.

The document was written in the early eighth century, although the text is
preserved in only one 11th-century manuscript. Cameron and Herrin call it "a
rare source of knowledge of the late antique and early medieval city ...
[which] offers intriguing insights into the cultural world of an age from which
very little other literary evidence has survived". —Averil Cameron & Judith
Herrin ed. & tr., Constantinople in the early eighth century (Leiden, 1984),
online at
topicid=112.topic; accessed 2010.

1. Cappadocia: Arabs sack Caesarea. This began a period of almost annual
raids into Byzantine Asia Minor.

2. DARK AGE: The Ecloga, a revision of the law, was issued in 726 according
to the usual dating; others say in 740. It was not superseded until the 870s,
after the restoration of 'Iconodule' or pro-icon orthodoxy.
Its date is 741 according to L Burgmann (1983), Ecloga. Das Gesetzbuch
Leons III. und Konstantinos' V, Frankfurt am Main: Löwenklau-Gesellschaft.
The law codes were distilled into a summary or ‘selection’, Gk Ekloga. So
far had standards of literacy fallen, however, that even the most expert
officials had trouble understanding some of the older law texts (Treadgold
1997: 398 ff).
Mutilation is formally recognised for the first time in the Ecloga. But, as we
have said, the practice had begun about a century earlier. The contemporary
view was that blinding and castration (see 813) were less un-Christian
than execution. Theft could be punished by the loss of a hand, and lying by
the cutting of the tongue.
Likewise the Farmer’s Law [Gk: Nomos Georgikos], not clearly dated but
probably from the period c.775-825, also notes punishments that we would
see as harsh and barbarous: amputation of hands or tongue, blinding,
impalement, and death by fire (Mango 1980: 47). For example: “If a (free)
man finds an ox in a wood and kills it, and takes the carcass let his hand be
cut off. If a slave kills one ox or ass or ram in a wood, his master shall make it
good” [with, we assume, the slave being left to the private mercy of his

Officials and Officers

According to Treadgold, State, p.384, there were some 2,500 officials in the
early period; but by the eighth century, say by AD 750, the central
bureaucracy in Constantinople shrank to about 600 men, while the provincial
officials, once around 15,000, dwindled to mere hundreds when the strategoi
(generals) of the themes and their military subordinates became the real


administrators. If we count 20 senior military men in each of 12 themes and

fleets in 773, and guess that they were supported by 10 lesser officials,
administrators and clerks in each jurisdiction, then we have a ruling stratum
of just 360 men outside the capital.

From 726:
Conventional date for the beginning of ICONOCLASM. The emperor
ordered an icon of Christ to be removed from its display over the Chalke
(“bronze") gate to the palace - the entry point into the palace from Hagia
It is reported that at the very beginning of the iconoclastic period, when a
soldier was dispatched to destroy the image of Christ above the Chalke Gate
at the Great Palace, a group of nuns led by St. Theodosia (as she became)
pulled down the ladder on which he was standing. These women were the
first iconodule (pro-icon) martyrs, as they were all executed by order of
Leo III. Theodosia was executed by having a ram's horn hammered through
her neck (Alexander Van Millingen, 1912: Byzantine Churches of
Constantinople. London: MacMillan & Co).
It has been proposed that, at first, the banning of religious icons was
enforced only in the Capital; certainly it was not until 754 (see there) that the
veneration of icons was declared a heresy. Cf 730.

Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether Leo III fairly deserves to be called

"the first Iconoclast emperor" (cf Angold 2001: 72). It is noteworthy that he is
not known as an iconoclast in contemporary Muslim and Armenian sources.
Leo's actions in Italy in the mid-720s, which antagonised the the pope or
archbishop of Rome, seem to have more to do with punishing tax evasion
than imposing the destruction of icons. But, whether prompted by iconoclasm
or by resentment at Leo's interference in Italian affairs, or both, the pope
protested and attacked the idea that the emperor could have authority in
making doctrinal pronouncements.
“Together with the territorial losses suffered by the empire during his early
reign, the devastating underwater earthquake at Thera and Therasia [north of
Crete] in 726 [see there] was interpreted by Leo as a sign of divine
displeasure, and as a warning to turn back to the "real protector of the
empire in its full greatness", i.e. to Christ. It was at around this time, either in
726 or 730 - the sources are divided as to whether the ruling patriarch was
Germanus or his successor Anastasius - that he replaced the relief of Christ
on the Chalke Gate at the entrance to the imperial palace with a cross
bearing the inscription "I drive out the enemies and kill the barbarians." –
Bronwen Neill, “Leo III”, at; 2006.

The Beginning and End of Iconoclasm

Sunk in its own even darker Dark Age, 'barbarian' Western Europe remained
tied to the developed East by a shared faith in Christianity. The East,
however, fell under an enthusiasm for Iconoclasm - the rejection of religious
images - for more than a century (ca. 729-843). According to Herrin 2007:
109, the primary aim (better: its vindication) of iconoclasm was regaining
divine favour in battle. Hence the inscription "I drive out the enemies and kill


the barbarians."
It was far from being a widely 'popular' movement, being imposed and
then removed by imperial diktat. As Mango puts it, the absolutism of the East
Roman state meant that "the will of the government dictated the suppression
of Iconoclasm in 787, its reintroduction in 814 and its final liquidation in 843"
(1980: 99). Even so, there were popular elements to iconoclasm: the letters
of Germanos the patriarch of Constantinople during the mid to late 720s
reveal that there was considerable agitation against images in western Asia
Minor (Angold 2001: 72). Cf 726.
The Bishop of Rome purported to excommunicate (731) the first of the
iconoclast emperors, Leo III, 717-41, and placed the icons under papal
protection. In response, Leo strengthened the position of the Patriarch of
Constantinople. The provinces of south Italy, Greece and parts of the Balkans
were transferred from Rome’s religious jurisdiction to that of Constantinople.
* * *
To recap.
Militarily strong, the empire remained weak economically. As we have said,
it had become "ruralised". Its territories comprised hardly more than Asia
Minor, Thrace, parts of lower Greece, Crete and Sicily. In Italy proper, the
empire controlled just the toe and heel and several coastal towns around
Naples (also in theory Sardinia and Corsica). The empire was hemmed
around by enemies: Muslims, Bulgars, Slavs and Lombards. The Muslims
dominated the coast of the southern Mediterranean Sea, but the empire still
controlled the central and northern sectors: from Sardinia to Sicily, Crete and
Asia Minor.

The army consisted of many semi-professional units drawn from the

"Themes" (Greek Themata), the famous Romanic-Byzantine administrative
structure of militarised provinces, each with locally raised troops, and ( —
from AD 760) a number of highly trained standing regiments called the
Tagmata, based in the capital.

The navy relied on 'Greek Fire': chemical warfare in the shape of war-galleys
armed with fire catapults and large flame-throwers. Greek Fire was used both
offensively and defensively.

GREEK FIRE was said to have been invented by a Syrian engineer,

Callinicus, a refugee from Maalbek, in the seventh century (673 AD): It was
a flammable composition possibly consisting of sulphur, naphtha, and
quicklime; other say oil (petroleum). Rumours about its composition include
such chemicals as liquid petroleum, naphtha, burning pitch, sulphur, resin,
quicklime and bitumen, along with some other "secret ingredient". The exact
composition, however, remains unknown. Although perhaps known in
antiquity, it was first employed on a large scale by the Greek Romanics.
Bronze tubes ("siphons") that emitted jets of liquid fire were mounted on the
prows of their galleys and on the walls of Constantinople. The Romanics in
678 and again in 717–18 destroyed two Saracen fleets with Greek fire.
The "liquid fire", as the Byzantines called it, hurled on to the ships of
enemies from siphons, burst into flames on contact. Reputed to be
inextinguishable and able to burn even on water, it caused panic and dread.


Its introduction into the warfare of its time has been compared (perhaps
extravagantly) in its demoralising influence to the introduction of nuclear
weapons in our time. Certainly both Arab and ‘Greek’ [Rhomaioi: Byzantine]
sources agree that it surpassed all incendiary weapons in destruction. The
secret behind the Greek fire was handed down from one emperor to the next
for centuries.

A further important event was the formation of an aggressive Bulgar state

on the inner, or southern, side of the lower Danube, 681-685. The pagan
Bulgarians were to be, for many centuries, the empire's mortal enemy. They
had a fairly sophisticated political system, with a centralised monarchical
state, unlike many of the nomadic peoples of the steppe who invaded eastern
Europe in the Middle Ages (see Browning 1975).
Originally a Turkic people, the pagan Bulgars were relatively quickly
assimilated by the Slavonic population of the sub-Danube region. The ruling
caste was subsumed, becoming in effect another group of Slavs. They were
to adopt eastern-style Christianity in the late 9th century (from AD 864).

The Bulgar Khan had intervened in the Empire's dynastic disputes in 705 and
raided to the walls of the City itself in 712. Under a treaty of 716 the Bulgars
gained more territory from the empire, extending their rule as far as northern
Thrace. Later they extended their control westward, eventually to Belgrade,
after the destruction of the Avar state by the Franks (796).

REIGN OF LEO III ‘the Syrian’ (continued)

1. The western Aegean: The volcano of Santorini (Thera) lies SE of Athens. As
we have said, its spectacular explosion was taken by Leo III and others as a
sign: the veneration of images was to be further attacked, or at least their
improper use as magical healing powers was now forbidden (Angold 2001:
73; Herrin 2007: 108). Cf 730: decree against icons.

Theophanes the Confessor, writing at the end of 8th century, and George
Kedrinos, 11th century, record that in AD 726 people on Mount Athos in NE
Greece—the future “holy mountain” dotted with monasteries—saw the
eruption of Santorini (Thera) volcano on Santorini which lies SE of Athens.
Santorini is the southernmost island of the Cyclades group (N of Crete).
Pumice stone fell as far away as Crete and the shores of western Asia Minor.
This proves, as one would expect, that at that time there were inhabitants
on the Mt Athos peninsula, although whether there were already monks there
is not established.

2. Italy: fl. Liutprand, king of the Lombards, 712-44.

End of 60 years of peace with Byzantium in the north.

Under Liutprand’s rule the Lombard-Italian kingdom reaches its zenith,

surrounding the remnants of the Byzantine ("Greek") Exarchate. He favoured


Roman (Latin) law and institutions, and centralised power in his kingdom. And
by now the Germanic, Lombard, language has been overtaken by Late Latin
or early proto-Italian.
Liutprand kept a firm hand on the Lombard dukes, and from 726 moved
aggressively against the other powers on the peninsula:
— 726-7 (see there) he invaded the Exarchate of Ravenna as far as Ancona
and Ravenna’s port Classis;
— 733 he set his own nephew over Benevento;
— 739 he expelled the Lombard duke of Spoleto and occupied four towns of
the 'Roman patrimony' [papal domains] in response to a hostile alliance
between Spoleto, Benevento and the papacy; and
— 743 [or 738] he briefly took the city of Ravenna (soon recovered by

The only place where Lombard-Italian art survives in full appearance is at

Cividale in Friuli, NW of Trieste, near the Slovenian-Italian border. The Church
of S Maria-in-Valle, has six female figures, a series of very high relief
sculptures, which are quite sophisticated and ‘un-barbarian’ (illustrated in
Rice 1965: 166).

1. Asia: Arabs resume their annual raids on Asia Minor: brief siege of Nicaea,
Gk Nikaia, which is modern Iznik (Whittow p.140, Treadgold 1997: 353).
Theophanes: “Amr went ahead with 15,000 light armed men to surround
the unprepared city, while Mua’wiyah followed with another 85,000 [sic].
Even after a long siege and the partial destruction of the walls, they could not
enter Nikaia's sacred precinct of the honoured and holy fathers because of its
inhabitants' prayers, which were acceptable to God” (TCOT: 97).
It is near to incredible that a small fortress-town could resist 100,000
besiegers, - unless the latter were short of supplies. If we drop one zero, the
numbers become credible: 1,500 light troops and 8,500 in the main force.

2a. Tax revolt in Italy: Sometime between 723 and 726, Leo III had increased
taxes in Italy, apparently in an attempt to help pay to defend the Empire from
the Arabs. The patriarch or pope, Gregory II, 715-31, was the largest
landowner in Italy. He was therefore the most affected by the tax decree. He
refused to pay. Most of the rest of Byzantine Italy followed suit. Some, a few
loyal to the Emperor, plotted to kill the pope. Before this plot could be carried
through, however, a new Exarch, Paul, gov. 726-27, was sent to Ravenna,
supposedly with orders to kill Gregory II.
The new exarch Paulus attempted (727) to arrest Gregory, but was
prevented by the joint action of the Romans and the Lombards, and met his
death at the hands of the people of Ravenna during a riot. Thus the entire
Exarchate rose in revolt in response to imposition of iconoclasm - and
probably more importantly: higher taxes - in 727; the Lombards, the papacy,
and the Italian cities all moved to eliminate Byzantine authority. See next.

2b. Italy: The Roman patriarch Gregory II ordered (726) the people to resist
the emperor’s iconoclastic decree. Meanwhile in Naples the Byzantine duke,
Exhiliratus, was killed by a mob while trying to carry out the imperial


command to destroy all the icons. The Lombard king Liutprand chose this
time of division to strike at the Byzantine possessions in Emilia. In 727, he
crossed the Po and took Bologna, inland from Ravenna, and Osimo and
Rimini on the coast below Ravenna, and Ancona, along with the other cities of
Emilia and the Pentapolis, to the south of Ravenna. He took Classis, the
seaport of Ravenna, but could not take high-walled Ravenna from the exarch
Paul (Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Liutprand’). See 728.

As a result, Byzantium now controlled only a long narrow corridor running

north-south from present-day Venice to Ravenna and thence via Perusia
[near mod. Perugia] along the Via Amerina to Rome.

2c. Dalmatia: Between 726 and 727 the Exarch Paul’s orders ceased being
received in Spalato (Split), and there followed three years in which Ravenna
and Dalmatia were virtually independent (Praga, Dalmatia p. 50). See 727:
The exarch is killed in a revolt.

2d. Italy: Venice elected its first duke (doge), which some today see as a
gesture of revolt against Byzantine iconoclasm. - When the patriarch of Rome
resisted the emperor’s iconoclastic edict, the troops of Byzantine Italy
proclaimed their own dukes; in Venice this may have been Orso, third in the
traditional (but unreliable) list of doges. Cf 727-29: Venice helps recover
Ravenna; and 740.

Malaria in Italy

The gradual spread of malaria in mainland Italy clearly occurred in historical

times, as Sallares et al. note (2004). The final step in this process did not
happen until the medieval period, by about 600, when endemic malaria
emerged in the Po delta region of northeastern Italy, presumably as a result
of the arrival of the mosquito Anopheles sacharovi, the dominant vector in
recent times in that region. The spread of malaria to northeastern Italy
occurred at a time when Ravenna and the emerging commercial centre of
Venice were closely associated with the Byzantine Empire, as McCormick has
pointed out (cited by Sallares et al.). It is significant that it was the
predominantly an eastern Mediterranean species A. sacharovi, rather than
the western Mediterranean A. labranchiae that became dominant in
northeastern Italy.

Modern Italian epidemiology of the genetic blood disorder beta-thalassaemia

(a form of sickle-cell anaemia) reveals that its distribution matches the
borders of Byzantine Italy as they were in about 600. This suggests that, on a
molecular level, Italo-Byzantines may have enjoyed a superior resistance to
malaria, compared with other inhabitants of the peninsula. Those with β -
thalassaemia have a 50% decreased chance of getting clinical malaria.
McCormick, 1998: 30, speculates that it may have been their resistancne to
malaria that allowed the Byzantines to hold the lower the Po Valley for so



1. Sea of Marmara: Leo deployed the central fleet* at the capital, armed with
Greek Fire, to defeat a rebellion by the thematic navies of Hellas and
A revolt broke out in Greece, fueled mainly by religious greivances, but it
was was crushed by the imperial fleet in the Sea of Marmara (727), and three
years later, by deposing Germanus the patriarch of Constantinople (he was
forced to resign), Leo suppressed the overt opposition in the capital.

(*) Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 99 notes that there is evidence that Greek
fire was not widely distributed throughout the navy, but was usually
limited to the Imperial fleet at Constantinople.

The revolt was, at bottom, religious. The chronicler Theophanes writes thus:
“The men of the themes of Hellas and the Cyclades islands [the western
segment of the Carabisian theme], impelled by holy zeal, entered into
agreements with each other and rebelled against Leo in a great sea-
campaign. Kosmas was with them as their candidate for the crown;
Agallianos [the turmarch of the theme of Hellas; literally “of the Helladics”**]
and Stephen led their army. They neared the imperial city on April 18 of the
tenth indiction [AD 727] and engaged the Romans [Byzantines], but were
defeated because their ships were consumed by the artificial fire.”

(**) It is possible that the ranking officer in the theme of Hellas held
the lesser rank of turmarch rather than the higher rank of strategos
(Mango & Scott, notes to Theophanes 1997: 561).

Hocker (p. 91) argues that this brief civil war seriously weakened the
maritime power of Byzantium so that in 742 (see there) the Italian city-states
had to help out the imperial fleet.

After the revolt of 727, the HQ of the Carabisian* theme was moved from
Samos to Cibyra in southern Anatolia (to be further away from the capital);
the theme was renamed the Cibyrrhaeot, Gk Kibyrrhaiotai or Kivyrrhaiótai,*
theme, a name first mentioned in 732. A little later Attalia became the seat
of the Cibyrrhaeots (Toynbee p.260; Treadgold, Army p.27 and State p.352).
The lands of the Cibyrrhaeots stretched across the whole southern coast of
Asia Minor from the SE Aegean (the Dodecanese islands) past modern
Bodrum to medieval Sycae in Cilicia (map in Treadgold, Army p.30). The
Cyclades were part of the theme of Hellas.

(*) Beta (β ) is pronounced as v in later Greek; cf the Latin form


2. Western Mediterranean: Bishr b. Safwan sent an Arab raiding party to

Sicily, took a large number of prisoners and made a truce with the
Byzantines, but the truce was not observed: see 728 (Blankiship 1994: 139;
Ahmad p.3).

3. The Patriarch of Rome, Gregory, replies to emperor Leo. Answering Leo's

threat that he will come to Rome, break the statue of St. Peter—apparently


the famous bronze statue in St. Peter's—and take the pope prisoner, Gregory
answers by pointing out that he can easily escape into the Campagna, and by
reminding the emperor how futile and abhorrent to all Christians was
Constans's persecution - in the previous century - of Martin I (Cath. Encyc.
under ‘Iconoclasm’). See next: 727-29.

4. Italy: “When in 727 the order for the destruction of the images was
renewed, [pope] Gregory armed himself against the emperor. The people
now elected dukes for themselves in different parts of Italy and proposed to
elect a new emperor, but the Pope restrained them, not wishing perhaps to
have an emperor close at his side or possibly fearing a greater danger from
the Langobards. Italy was distracted by internal struggles; the Pope, aided by
the Spoletans and Beneventans, prevailed, and the exarch Paul was killed”
(Paulus Diaconus).
Ravenna: The new (and last) exarch of Italy, Eutychius, caused a storm by
his seizure of church property soon after his arrival in 727, most probably in
retaliation for local resistance to iconoclasm (Brown 1984: 114). See next.

Italy: Liutprand attacked the Exarchate, and, before the end of AD 727, the
whole of it (in the north) was in his hands, with very little fighting. The
recently appointed new exarch, Eutychius, however, escaped to Venice, now
rising to prominence in the security of her lagoons, and in AD 729 his troops
recovered Ravenna by a surprise attack in Liutprand's absence [others say in
738]. Eutychius then marched on Rome to bring Gregory to reason. Cf next:

Correspondence between emperor Leo and pope Gregory II; the pope is not
persuaded to support iconoclasm.
Italy was heavily taxed by Constantinople but received little or no
protection in return. The patriarch of Rome led the Romano-Italians in their
resistance to the empire's tax demands. Cf 731, 737. It is only fair to point
out, however, that, in the same period, the pope spent a great deal of money
on beautifying Rome's churches (Duffy p.62; also Richards pp.220 and 226).

The Lombards wrest permanent control of north-central Italy—the region
between Florence and Ravenna—from the empire. Cf 728, 729. First, in 727
or 728, Luitprand crossed the Po and took Bologna, Osimo, Rimini [until
735] and Ancona, along with the other towns of Emilia and the Pentapolis.
He took Classis, the seaport of Ravenna, but could not take Ravenna itself
from the exarch Paul (killed 727). And the Byzantines later recovered Classis
(Wikipedia, 2010, ‘Liutprand’) Cf 728 ff.

1a. Italy: (Or 727:) Rimini, along with many other ‘cities’ (read: fortress-
villages), was taken by the Lombard King Liutprand but it and some others
returned to the Byzantines about 735 (Wikipedia, 2010, ‘Rimini’).


Luitprand took Bologna, Osimo, Rimini and Ancona, along with the
other towns of Emilia and the Pentapolis. He took Classis, the seaport of
Ravenna, but could not take Ravenna itself from the exarch Paul (Paulus D.,
book VI).

1b. Italy, NNE of Rome: The Lombard king Liutprand took the fortress of Sutri,
west of Nepi, which dominated the highway node near Nepi - where the Via
Cassia, which came from Tuscany SE into Rome via Sutri, met the Via
Amerina coming south from Perugia into Rome.* He held in for only 140 days.
For the king, a Catholic Christian, was softened by the entreaties of Pope
Gregory II, and restored Sutri "as a gift to the blessed Apostles Peter and

(*) Sutri, NNE of Rome, lies between the Vicolo and Bracciano Lakes.
The Via Cassia ran from Tuscany SE to Rome. The Via Amerina, which
ran south from Umbria, joined the Via Cassia near Sutri. Thus Sutri was
on the Via Cassia, while Nepi was on the Via Amerina.

Liutprand advanced from Tuscany SSE towards Rome along the Via Cassia;
he was met at the ancient ‘city’ (read: fortress-village) of Sutri by Pope
Gregory II (728). There the two reached an agreement by which Sutri and
some hill towns (villages) in NW Latium, e.g. Vetralla further out - on the Via
Clodia, were given to the Papacy, says the Liber Pontificalis: "as a gift to the
blessed Apostles Peter and Paul". At Ventralla the ancient Roman posting
station was on the Via Cassia; the medieval village lies two kilometres
distant. These acquisitions were the first extension of Papal territory
beyond the confines of the Duchy of Rome. (At this time there was serious
tension between the imperial Exarch at Ravenna and the pope in Rome. See
729. )


Above: Italy after the Emilia/Bologna stretch of the Po Valley had been lost to
the Lombards.
In the 730s emperor Leo III was unable to confiscate the papal estates in
Sardinia, a signal that it had now slipped from the empire in practice if not in
theory. And also the pope ruled independently in the Duchy of Rome,
although formally he still recognised the emperor. The last pope to seek
imperial confirmation of his election was Gregory III, elected in 731.

Africa-Sicily: In successive years raids were conducted against Sicily by the
Muslims, but without achieving any considerable results (Ahmad p.3). See

729 (or 728):

1. Italy: The Exarch Eutychius promised the Lombard King Liutprand
assistance in subjecting the Lombard duchies of Benevento and Spoleto to his
authority in exchange for the king's help in removing the pope (Noble p.36).
Thus the Lombards under Liutprand, aided by the imperial Exarch, besieged
iconodule Rome, but the Pope shamed the Lombard king into withdrawal. See
more under 729-30.
Exarch Eutychius recovers Ravenna by a surprise attack. A temporary
truce between the Lombards and Eastern Romans in northern Italy now put
papal Rome in jeopardy. Bizarre as it must seem to us, the Lombard king and
the Byzantine Exarch Eutychius agreed to mount a joint attack on Papal
Rome. Laying siege to the city, they hoped to force Pope Gregory II into
surrender. Gregory, however, went to Liutprand and confronted the king. As a
result of the meeting, Liutprand agreed to lift the siege and offered his
weapons and armour at the tomb of St. Peter (then outside the walls). In
return, Gregory agreed to condemn Tiberius Petasius, a rival claimant to the


Lombard throne. Without Liutprand, Eutychius was forced to withdraw as

well. —Noble p.36, citing the Liber Pont.

2. Italy: (Or 732-33:) Emperor Leo III orders the confiscation of the papal
‘patrimonies’ or revenue-producing land holdings in Sicily and Calabria. The
chronicler Theophanes said their annual income or revenues was a
surprisingly high 250,000 solidi or nomismata (Richards p.307). For
comparison, Treadgold estimates the entire revenue of the secular state or
imperial administration and army in 775 as 1.9 million solidi.

In peninsular Italy, the Byzantine-ruled territories were by now confined to

just the Ravenna-Rome corridor; Sardinia (nominally); the region of greater
Naples; and the bare toe and heel: S Calabria and the ‘Land of Otranto’. The
Lombard duchy of Benevento ruled most of Apulia including Brindisi.

Italy: Rome asserts independence from Byzantium: Pope Gregory II
inaugurates a new policy of using the Lombard dukes and the militia of Rome
to assert his independence or autonomy from both the Lombard king in Pavia
[near Milan] and the Empire in the person of the Exarch of Ravenna. To this
end Gregory struck an alliance with Duchy of Spoleto and the Duchy of
Benevento in 728 or 729 (Noble 1984: 35).
In response, the Exarch Eutychius made an agreement (729) whereby
Liutprand, the Lombard king at Pavia, would attack the pope if Eutychius’s
‘Greeks’ aided him – Liutprand - in subjugating Spoleto and Benevento.
Because he possessed very few troops, Eutychius was very much the junior
partner; Luitprand made an arrangement with the exarch probably only to
give himself a sort of imperial legitimacy.
The dukes surrendered at Spoleto - though control of the two duchies from
Pavia was not to endure for long - and the king and the exarch marched,
possibly together, on Rome (Noble p.36). At Rome, Liutprand camped in the
"Field of Nero" - on the right bank of the Tiber, outside the walls - and
arbitrated, returning to the Exarch the city of Ravenna alone among the
Byzantine territories and prevailing on Gregory II, the patriarch of Rome, to
restore his (the pope’s) allegiance to the emperor by promising to reconcile
with the Exarch (730) (Wikipedia, 2010, under ‘Luitprand’).
In fact no such reconciliation took place, and the imperial doctrine of
iconoclasm was not imposed. Iconcodule Rome and the papacy remained
autonomus by the grace of Luitprand. The pope nevertheless lent his Roman
militia to aid the Exarch’s troops in suppressing an anti-papal, anti-imperial
rebellion under Tiberius Petasius in southern Tuscany (Noble p.37).

Kommerkiarioi were private contractors managing the state’s taxes and
purchasing activities. Primarily they were entrepreneurs engaged in the
silk trade but also dealing in other goods and collecting custom duties [import
and trade circulation taxes] (Oikonomides in Laiou 2008: 987). Their seals
bearing the imperial portrait are found until the year 728/729. As noted
earlier, one of their main activities was selling arms and uniforms to the
thematic troops; the soldiers purchased them using cash or, probably more


often, they paid in kind (Treadgold, Army p.185; Oikonomides in Laiou 2008:
984, note 30, disputes that they were arms-procurers).
After 730/731, however, a radical change takes place: the seals of the
traders or kommerkiarioi and the depots or apothekai – a term covering
supply regions, store-bases and warehouses - of the provinces disappear and
are replaced by seals with the impersonal inscription “of the imperial
kommerkia” followed by the name of the province or city. It seems clear that
the custom of leasing the kommerkia or state trading licences to private
citizens had fallen into abeyance, and that they were being managed directly
by officials of the state (Oikonomides in Laiou, ed., Economic History of
Byzantium 2002; and in Laiou ed. 2008: 987). Cf 785.
The system ended soon after 840 when soldiers were again receiving
enough cash pay to be able to do without it.

1. Date of the edict commonly seen as the 'first universal edict against
Germanus, the long-serving patriarch, protested against the edict and
appealed to the patriarch of Rome. But the emperor deposed Germanus as a
traitor (730) and had Anastasius (730-54), formerly syncellus of the
patriarchal Court, and a willing instrument of the Government, appointed in
his place.
Opposition to Islam: As will be seen, the new patriarch was well informed
about the other more distant enemy: “With respect to the Saracens [he
wrote], since they also seem to be among those who urge these charges
against us, it will be quite enough for their shame and confusion to allege
against them their invocation which even to this day they make in the
wilderness to a lifeless stone, namely that which is called Chobar [the Ka'bah
stone at Mecca], and the rest of their vain conversation received by tradition
from their fathers as, for instance, the ludicrous mysteries of their solemn
festivals” (Germanus, Patr. Gr. 98).

2. Prince Constantine, aged 12, was betrothed by his father to the daughter
of the (pagan) khagan of the Khazars. See below: c.730 – Judaism.

730: fl. Boniface, the English-born Benedictine monk, later known as

the "Apostle of Germany". He was archbishop of Mainz from 746.
Paganism in Germany is superseded by Christianity: See 739.730: The
Khazars achieve a major victory over the Muslims on the plains of
The Arabs were also defeated in the battle of Tours in what is now
France (732). The Pyrenees and the Caucasus remained henceforth the
extreme limits of Islam and Christendom.

c. 730:
1. Persecution: George Limnaiotes, an iconodule martyr, is known only from
short synaxarion notices (a synaxarion is a liturgical book). In his youth he
became a monk on Mt Olympos in NW Asia Minor; under emperor Leo III, ca.
730, he was tortured to death for his iconodule beliefs, having his nose slit
and his head burned (perhaps with burning coals, as in the case of Anthousa


of Mantineon). He supposedly died at age 95, and therefore may have been
born ca. 635. – Hagiography database by Kazdhan et al., at Transcaucasia: The pagan Khazar king converts
to Judaism. See 737.

c.731: Northumbria: Bede completes his Historia Ecclesia, a history of

the church in England.
There were three kingdoms in Anglo-Saxon England: Northumbria,
Mercia and Wessex.

Italy: In 730, emperor Leo III issued a second Iconoclast edict which fared no
better than the first. The pope or patriarch of Rome Gregory III denounced it
immediately upon his accession to the papacy in March 731. Gregory also
summoned, in November, a synod in Italy which pronounced (12 April 732)
Iconoclasm heresy and affected to excommunicate the emperor (Ekonomou
2007: 246).The Exarch Eutychius was not even able to prevent the
Archbishop of Ravenna from attending the synod.
Infuriated, Leo III sent (see 732) a fleet to Ravenna but this show of force
failed when the fleet was shipwrecked in a storm.

Rome slips from the empire: The “Greek” pope Gregory III, a Benedictine of
Greco-Syrian origin, was the last to obtain the Imperial mandate before
his consecration as Pope. Cf 752.

As Gregory was not consecrated for more than a month after his election, it is
presumed that he waited for the confirmation of his election by the exarch at
A great missionary pope, he organized the religious structure of Germany
under St. Boniface as Metropolitan. In 732, he condemned the Iconoclastic
heresy and proclaimed his veneration for the holy images and relics by
building an oratory, dedicated to all the saints, at Rome. It was he who
obtained the political sovereignty of Rome (with himself as temporal ruler)
from Pepin the Short. —Cath. Encyc. under Gregory III. See below: 732-33.

Papal resistance to Constantinople: A synod of Italian bishops in Rome
denounces iconoclasm and authorises letters of protest to the emperor. Cf
732/33, 737.
Elected by popular acclamation, Gregory was - as we have said - the last
pope to seek the Byzantine exarch's mandate. He immediately appealed to
Emperor Leo III to moderate his position on the iconoclastic controversy.
When this elicited no response, Gregory called a synod in November 731,
denouncing iconoclasm and excommunicating destroyers of icons.
In 731 Gregory III held a synod of 93 bishops at St. Peter's in which all who
‘broke, defiled, or took’ images of Christ, of His Mother, the Apostles or other
saints were declared excommunicate. Another legate, Constantine, was sent
with a copy of the decree and of its application to the emperor, but was again
arrested and imprisoned in Sicily (Cath. Encyc. under ‘Iconoclasm’).


The demonstrated inability of the Exarch in Ravenna to prevent or interrupt

the Roman Synod of AD 731, at which iconoclasm and the emperor were
formally condemned, and the failure of Constantine V to either prevent or
disrupt the Franco-papal alliance of AD 754, effectively signified the
permanisation of the papal ‘secession’ from the empire. Theophanes
writes of “the defection of Italy” (TCOT: 101).


Italy in 732
After The Times Atlas 1994: 59.

The Lombards controlled nearly the entire peninsula. All the north including
Tuscany was Lombard; but Venice still belonged to the empire. Byzantium
controlled a long narrow corridor, running north-south from present-day
Venice to Ravenna and thence via Perusia [near mod. Perugia] along the
ancient Via Amerina to Rome (cf 733 below.)
The Naples area and Amalfi were also under imperial rule, along with just
the bare heel and toe of Italy. Otherwise Lombard (Beneventan) control
extended south as far as the Gulf of Taranto [mod. Basilicata] and N Calabria.
The heel-tip (Otranto), S Calabria, Sardinia and Sicily continued under
imperial rule.
Corsica was in Lombard hands (conquered c.725 or earlier), but the
Balearics and, as noted, Sardinia still formally acknowledged Constantinople,
or perhaps better: had not repudiated the emperor.

1. W Mediterranean: raids by the Muslims of Ifriqiya. ‘Abd al-Malik b. Qatan
raids Byzantine Sicily to seize booty and prisoners; and ‘Abd-Allah b. Ziyad
makes an incursion into Sardinia (Ahmad p.3). See 733.

2. Aegean-Anatolian coast: First mention of the re-badged maritime theme

of the Cibyrrhaeots, Greek: Kibyrrhaiotai, named for Cibyra, the port east
of Attalia (opposite the western tip of Cyrprus). It was the renamed old
Carabisian. See 770.
Leo sends a large fleet under Manes, general of the Cibyrrhaeots, to Italy
to re-assert control over Rome and the papacy, but his ships are shipwrecked
in the Adriatic. This was the last attempt to assert effective imperial
control over N Italy (Collins 1991: 216, citing Theophanes a.m. 6224: TCOT
But where he could do so, Leo punished the pope. He confiscated [729-32]
all of the papal ‘patrimonies’* in southern Italy and Sicily, the main source of
the Pope's income and the only areas where imperial authority still remained
strong. Cf 737. As we noted earlier, he was able to confiscate the papal
estates of Sicily and Calabria but not those of Sardinia and Corsica, a signal
that the latter two islands had effectively been lost to the empire.

(*) A patrimony, governed by a rector, was a collection of estates

leased by the church to tenants who paid rent and farmed the land.


The estates also supplied grain, horses and timber.

The Papal patrimonies in the Naples region (Campania), Apulia and

Calabria and elsewhere are first attested under pope Pelagius I [acc. 556],
but probably they date from much earlier. There were altogether 11
patrimonies in the mid 500s, but by 729 many had been lost to or curtailed
by the Lombard invasions (Richards p.312).3. Khazar alliance: The emperor's
son, the future Basileus Constantine, marries the daughter of the (Jewish)
Khazar khagan. Cf 737.
Prince Constantine, aged 14, was betrothed to the Khazar Chagan's
daughter, still a child, who became a Christian and was renamed Irene [Gk
Eirene, ‘peace’]. In 750, having grown into a woman, she will provide
Constantine with his son and heir Leo IV, who was thus half-Khazar.
The Byzantine emperor Leo III married his son Constantine (later
Constantine V Kopronymos) to the Khazar princess Tzitzak, daughter of the
Khagan Bihar, as part of the alliance between the two powers. Tzitzak, who
was baptized as Irene, became famous for her wedding gown, which started a
fashion craze in Constantinople for a type of robe or mantle (for men) called
tzitzakion (Constant. Porph. De Cerimoniis, Book 2, cc.1-2 ). Their son Leo
(Leo IV) would be better known as "Leo the Khazar".
"The deed and the guilt of Constantine Copronymus [“name of dung”]
were acknowledged. The Isaurian heretic, who [allegedly] sullied [shat in] the
baptismal font, and declared war against the holy images, had indeed
embraced a Barbarian wife. By this impious alliance he accomplished the
measure of his crimes, and was devoted to the just censure of the church and
of posterity" (- so declaims Gibbon, ch 53).

732: The Franks and Burgundians under Charles, called Martel: "the
Hammer”, defeat an Arab incursion north of the Pyrenees near
Poitiers in what is now west-central France. As well as Arabs, there
were Berbers and subject Visigoths in the Muslim-led army.
Watson notes that the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 describes the
battle in greater detail than any other Latin or Arabic source: the
Franks drew themselves into a large infantry square, so that they were
"like an immovable wall" and a "glacier". The Muslims, who included
mailed cavalry, threw themselves at the Frankish square in fruitless
attempts to break the formation. Many Muslims were cut down by
Frankish swordsmen. The Arab cavalry several times broke into the
interior of the Frankish square, but it held. The Muslim assault,
however, ceased when night fell. The discipline and resolve of the
Franks was apparently too much for the Muslims, as Frankish scouts
discovered on the following morning that the Muslim camp had been
abandoned in haste during the night, with a great deal of plunder
having been left behind in the tents. - William E. Watson, in
Providence: Studies in Western Civilization v.2 n.1 (1993).
Much has been made in the West of how this battle saved
Christendom. But it is noteworthy that Tabari (d. 923), the greatest
Arab historian, and Ibn al-Qutiyya (d. 977), the first historian of Muslim
Spain, make no mention at all of the Battle of Tours/Poitiers (Lewis
1982: 19).


1. Italy: The troops of the Byzantine garrison of Venice marched to Ravenna
to recover the capital from the Lombards (Brown 1984: 91). Or later: see 737-
38. Treadgold 1997: 355 dates the loss and recapture of Ravenna to the one
same year, 738.

2. Off Sicily: A Byzantine flotilla using Greek Fire (“naptha”) destroys several
ships of a corsair expedition led by Abu-Bakr b. Suwad. The battle took place
off Trapani on the western side (Blankinship p.193; Ahmad p.3; Kennedy
2008: 334). See 734.

734: Visigoths, Arabs and Franks in Occitania: The Muslim governor of

Narbonne, Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri, concluded agreements
with several Visigoth-ruled towns on common defence arrangements
against the encroachments of the Franks under Charles Martel, who
had systematically and brutally brought the south to heel as he
extended his domains. Charles failed in his attempt to take Narbonne
in 737, when the city was jointly defended by its Muslim Arab and
Christian Visigoth citizens.

Francia: After 732, according to some writers, Charles Martel began

the integration of Arab-style heavy cavalry, using the stirrup and
mailed armour, into his army, and trained his infantry to fight in
conjunction with cavalry, a tactic which stood him in good stead during
his campaigns of 736-7, especially at the Battle of Narbonne. Others
have noted that there is no mention of stirrups in inventories, literary
sources or military manuals even as late as Charlemagne's reign (fl.
791). Stirrups first appear in Frankish graves in the 800s. – Butt 2002.

Sicily: Unsuccessful attack by Muslims from Africa; Byzantine ships intercept
the Muslim fleet and take many prisoners. The expedition to Sicily in 116/734
under 'Uthman b. Abi 'Ubayda al-Fihri was apparently a considerable disaster,
as the Byzantine fleet again intercepted the Muslims at sea on their return,
capturing 'Uthman's two sons (Blankinship 1994:194; Ahmad p.3; Kennedy
2008: 334).
See next and 740.

1. Iberia [present-day Georgia]: It was not until 735 that the Arabs succeeded
in establishing their firm control over a large portion of the country. In that
year, Marwan, governor of Armenia, took hold of Tbilisi and much of the
neighbouring lands and installed there an Arab emir, who was to be
confirmed by the Caliph of Baghdad or, occasionally, by the Wali of Armenia.

2. Muslim raid on Byzantine Sardinia.

735: d. Venerable Bede, the "English", i.e. Northumbrian, monk and

historian. What is now England was still divided among the Anglo-


Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria.

The caliphate: Mu’awiya, the son of Hisham, whose descendants reigned later
in Spain, was in command of the Muslim army until AH 118 (AD 736), when
he met his death accidentally in Asia Minor by a fall from his horse. After his
death, Suleiman, another son of the caliph, took the supreme command. Cf

Territory in 737

The Umayyad Caliphate dominated the whole ‘bottom’ half of the

Mediterranean, from Provence [vs the Franks] and Spain across North Africa
to Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Armenia and Georgia.
Byzantium ruled Sicily, but nearly all of the Italian peninsula was
controlled by the Romance-speaking Germano-Italian Lombards. The duchy of
Rome, no longer securely connected by land with the imperial outpost at
Ravenna, was de facto a vassal of the Lombards.
Slavic tribes controlled or dominated most of the Balkans, including our
Greece, although nearly all of Thrace was under imperial rule as far as
Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv in Bulgaria).
Sicily, Thrace, Crete and Asia Minor were the only large areas
wholly under imperial rule [cf 751 – Thrace]. But, because its navy
remained relatively strong, Byzantium still dominated, or could in principle
dominate, the seas: from the Balearics, Sardinia and Corsica to the heel of
Italy, and from Venice and the Dalmatian coast to what is now eastern
Greece, Crete and Rhodes. Cf 739 and 739-40.

1. The emperor transfers religious control of South Italy from Rome to
Constantinople: cf 800.
Cath. Encyc.: “When . . . Leo the Isaurian, by a stroke of his pen, withdrew
Southern Italy from the patriarchal jurisdiction of Rome and gave it to the
Patriarch of Constantinople, the process of hellenization became more rapid;
it received a further impulse when, on account of the Saracenic occupation of
Sicily, Greeks and hellenized Sicilians repaired [escaped] to Calabria and
Apulia.” - This statement must not be read too literally. Calabria was already
deeply hellenised, and most of Apulia continued to be Romance-speaking
(late Latin/proto Italian) to beyond AD 1,000.

2. Venice: Orso Ipato [Ursus surnamed Hypatos, ‘consul’], 726-737, was

traditionally the third doge (elected dux) but probably in fact the first.
Commander of the imperial garrison at Venice, he received the title of
‘consul’ from the emperor for recapturing Ravenna. He rebelled against
Constantinople in not accepting iconoclasm. He was chosen as dux by the
clergy and people. He eventually surrendered and was murdered. For five
years, 737-742, the doge was replaced by a magister militum (‘master of
soldiers’ or general) named Domenico Leoni, strictly controlled by the
After Orso's violent death (assassinated perhaps at the instigation of


Eutychius, Exarch of Ravenna), there was a brief interregnum before his son,
Teodato, was elected as the second historical doge of Venice. Cf below: 737,

(*) The post of dux had been an imperial appointment since 697; it
appears that Orso was the first local to be elected leader by the
Venetian ruling caste. Emperor Leo awarded him the title of ‘consul’
(hypatos), which evidently was de facto recognition of Venice’s
independence only from the Exarch. Venice was seen, at least from the
time of the second doge, Teodato, as self-ruling but still an imperial
province under imperial authority (Nicol 1992: 11).

3. In Transcaucasia the Khazar homeland is invaded by Muslim Arabs. But the

Alans withdrew and the Khazars (allied with Byzantium) maintained their
control of Transcaucasia.
— The Arabs defeated the Khazars and drove them north of the Caucacus. An
Arab army then sacked the Khazarian capital before withdrawing south of the
Caucasus, effectively establishing that mountain range as their boundary.
— The Umayyad commander and future caliph, Marwan b. Muhammad, in AH
120/AD 737 made a daring advance into Khazar territory, capturing the city
of “al-Bay's" (probably Sarkel on the Don). Proceeding further, he “attacked
the al-Saliba [Slavs] and the various infidels [Alans] who lived beyond them”,
taking prisoner some 20,000 families. Marwan continued his advance and
made camp on the “River of the Slavs” (nahr al-al’Saliba), possibly the Volga.
— During the 720s, the Khazars had moved their capital to Samandar, a
coastal town in the north Caucasus noted for its gardens and vineyards. In
750, the capital would be moved to the "city" (town) of Itil (Atil) on the edge
of the Volga River at the top of the Caspian Sea. The name "Itil" also
designated the Volga River in the medieval age. Itil would remain the Khazar
capital for at least another 200 years.

737: The Franks under Charles Martel drove south along the Rhone
River in 737 seeking to dislodge the Muslims from their receently
established bases at Lyon, Avignon, Carcassonne, and Nimes. Although
he decisively established Frankish supremacy in the Rhone valley,
Charles was unable to capture Narbonne.

1. The Eastern marches: The Caliph went to Melitene* where his son
Sulayman was raiding Romaniyan territory and carried away many captives:
‘Chron. of 1234’, §165 (p. 312). = Chronicon Anonymi ad annum 1234
pertinens, ed. and tr. J.-B. Chabot, I = CSCO 81-82 (Paris, 1916-20), II = CSCO
109 (Louvain, 1937).

(*) Samosata (Sumaysat) was the strategic crossing point on the upper
Euphrates, whence Arab armies from the east proceeded to the main
frontier outposts of Malatya (Melitene), Hadath (Adata) and Mar’ash
(Germanicia) (Kennedy 1981: 22).

2. Georgia: The town of Archaeopolis [modern Nokalakevi] in Lazica or Egrisi


was destroyed by the Arab commander, the governor of Armenia and

Azerbaijan and future caliph, Marwan ibn-Muhammad. He became known to
the Georgians as Murvan Kru (Murvan the Deaf) because he was oblivious to
their pleas for mercy in his rampage throughout Georgia (Wikipedia 2010
under ‘Nokalakevi’).

737 or 738-740:
Italy: Luitprand’s Lombards briefly seize Ravenna (?737 or 738), but the
Byzantine Exarch, aided by the Venetians, recovers the city (possibly in 740).
Treadgold 1997: 355, citing Noble 1984, places its loss and recapture in the
one same year, 738.
The pope encouraged Orso, the dux or doge of Venice, to aid the exarch
Eutychius. While the exarch led troops from Imola to besiege the landward
side, Orso led a small squadron of ships to blockage Ravenna’s port Classis.
The Lombard garrison that Liutprand had left in place was surprised and
This success could not disguise that Byzantine authority in Italy was falling
apart, an inevitability that in 739 caused the pope to appeal (in vain) to
Charles Martel of the Franks.
Further warfare erupted in 739. Pope Gregory III had supported the dukes
of Benevento and Spoleto against Liutprand, causing the latter to invade
central Italy. The exarchate, as well as the Duchy of Rome, was ravaged.

N Italy: In 738 the Lombard duke Transamund or Thrasimund of Spoleto,
without reference tio King Liutprand, captured the papal ‘castle’ (fortress) of
Gallese, N of Rome: east of Viterbo, which protected the papal-imperial road
north from Nepi to Perugia and onwards, i.e. the Via Amerina (Noble p.43).
Gallese is halfway between Civita Castellana (the nodal point where the Via
Amerina touched the Via Flaminia) and Orte.
By the payment of a large sum of money, the Roman patriarch Gregory III
induced the duke to restore the castle to him or at least to the Duchy of
Rome. He acted without reference to the exarch or emperor. The pope then
sought by an alliance with Transamund to protect himself against King

Lombard Advance in NW Latium

Pope Gregory III had supported the dukes of Benevento and Spoleto against
king Liutprand, causing the latter to invade central Italy. The Exarchate,
which is to say: the Ravenna-Venice region, as well as the Duchy of Rome,
was ravaged. Liutrand sacks Ravenna (738).
Luitprand’s troops ravaged the exarchate proper around Ravenna, and he
himself marched south to bring to subjection his vassals, the dukes of Spoleto
and Benevento, and the ex-imperial duchy of Rome. Transamund of Spoleto
fled to Rome, and Gregory implored (739 or 740) the aid of the great Frankish
chief, Charles Martel. At length ambassadors from Charles, the subregulus or
viceroy of the Franks, appeared in Rome (739/40). Their arrival, or the
summer heat, brought a momentary peace. But in the following year,
Liutprand again took the field.


The following year Liutprand expelled the Lombard duke of Spoleto and
occupied four towns, or better: fortified villages, of the 'Roman patrimony'
[papal domains] in response to a hostile alliance between Spoleto, Benevento
and the papacy. Liutprand conquered (739) Spoleto, besieged Rome, laid
waste the Duchy of Rome, and when he withdrew north kept hold of four
important frontier fortresses in the region around Viterbo: *[Note 1 below]
Blera [medieval Bieda], [2] Orte, [3] Bomarzo, and [4] Amelia (Noble p.45).
These towns were recovered after 741: see there.

Amelia and Orte lay on the Via Amerina. Thus the Lombards had nearly* cut
off Rome from communication with Perugia and Ravenna. And Blera lay on
the Via Clodia, one of several highways into Rome from Tuscany. In this
exigency the pope now (739) for the first time turned to the powerful
Frankish kingdom for aid. Noble p.48 imagines that the pope and his
advisers had decided that a papal republic protected by the Franks must
replace the old Byzantine Duchy of Rome.

(*) Since about 600 it was the Via Amerina and its forts that had been "the
communications core of Imperial Italy and the chief support to the claim that
imperial Italy was still extant". —Hallenbeck 1982: 8.
The Via Amerina was a road that broke off from the Via Cassia, the ancient
road via Viterbo to Florence, near Baccanae [SE of Sutri]. It ran thence NE
through Falerii [modern Civita Castellana: 65 km directly north of Rome, i.e.
NE of Nepi, SE of Viterbo], and then north to Orte/Horta and Tuder [present-
day Todi: west of Spoleto], and on to Perusia [modern Perugia].

Rome (s), Spoleto (n), Viterbo (w) and l’Aquila (e) form the points of a cross:

[Note 1] Orte, on the Tiber east of Viterbo, was a key fortress on the route
south from Umbria to Rome along the Via Amerina. Location: With
Bomarzo and Amelia, it forms a triangle staddling the Tiber and the
modern A1 highway from Rome to Orvieto.
[2] Bomarzo, ancient Polymartium: Bomarzo is a small town, located NW of
Viterbo and NW of Orte.
[3] Amelia: directly north of Orte on the Via Amerina; NW of Narni; west of the
Via Flaminia. Location: About halfway between Viterbo and Spoleto.
[4] Blera, SE of Viterbo, was a key point on the route from Tuscany to Rome
along the Via Clodia.

The Via Clodia was an ancient high-road of Italy. Its course, for the first 18 km
out of Rome, was the same as that of the Via Cassia; it then diverged to the
NNW and ran on the W side of the Lacus Sabatinus, past Forum Clodii and
Blera. The Via Cassia ran past the other, E side of the lake, and thence NNW.

The eastern leg of the ancient Roman highway, the Via Flaminia Nova, ran
from Spoleto roughly SE through Terni and Narni and on to Rome. The older
western leg, the Via Flaminia Vetus, joined it at Narni. Thus the fortresses in
question lay between two key highways to and from Rome: the Via Clodia
through Blera, linking Tuscany to Rome; and the Via Flaminia, linking Umbria
to Rome.


Most of Italy was lost to imperial rule by this time. Rhomaniya was supreme
at sea, but on the peninsula it ruled only the toe and heel of Italy and the
coastal sector at the top of the Adriatic in the Ravenna-Venice region. Sicily
was the great Byzantine bastion.
The independent Romano-Greek 'cities' (towns) of Naples, Amalfi, Venice,
and a tiny Papal State based on Rome, contended almost unaided against the
Lombard kings and dukes who controlled most of the peninsula.

1. Lombard Italy: A panegyric on the city of Milan, written in 739 by an
anonymous author, proclaims proudly that “the building on the forum is
most beautiful, and all the network of streets is solidly paved; the water for
the baths runs across an aqueduct” (trans. Wickham 1981: 82). 0r: “it takes
water through a channel to the baths” (Ward-Perkins) - which suggests the
whole scheme was still functioning (thus Greenhalgh 1989). Ward-Perkins
1984: 129 doubts that the water was for secular communal bathing and more
likely it was used for ecclesiastical purposes; but if we follow Squatriti 2002:
16, 48 ff this may be wrong: more likely the baths were used communally by
the ruling caste.

2. Egypt: According to Ibn Khaldun and others, a fleet of “360” Imperial ships
attacked Damietta in Egypt. If correct, this number must have included many
small boats (Dromon p.33).

3. Egypt: First of several revolts by Copts, i.e. local Christians, against Muslim
rule. (We may guess that the population was still about 80% Christian.)

739: Central Europe: The English-born monk Boniface establishes a

bishopric at Salzburg in pagan Slav territory (present-day Austria). It
was not until later in the century that the Franks would extend their
rule to Austria …

c. 740: The Khazars - between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea -
adopt Judaism. The instability of the Umayyad regime made a
permanent occupation impossible; the Arab armies withdrew and
Khazar independence was re-asserted. It has been speculated that the
adoption of Judaism - which in this theory would have taken place
around 740 - was part of this re-assertion of independence. Others
prefer to date the adoption to the later 700s (Wikipedia, 2006, under

Offensive strategy resumed in the East: Leo leads out an army which
includes the Thematic forces: battle of Acroinion or Acroenus which is today’s
Afyon, SW of Amorium and NE of the Lakes District in west-central Asia Minor.
Leo ascribes the decisive imperial victory (740) over the Umayyad armies to
God’s approval of Iconoclasm. He renames Acroenus ‘Nicopolis’, ‘victory-
city’.“Leo's actions were dictated by an overriding concern for the unity of the
empire, which was under threat from the Arabs, against whom he joined


forces with the Khazars and the Georgians: the victory against Arab
forces led by Sayyid al-Battal at Akroinon, a Phrygian city of the Anatolikon
theme: modern Afyon, in 740 proved decisive in halting the Umayyad
advance in Asia Minor.” – Bronwen Neill, “Leo III”, www.roman-; accessed 2006.

As Angold notes, 2001: 77, this victory, and the disintegration of Umayyad
rule the subsequent civil war: see 743-50, gave the Byzantines nearly 40
years of peace along the Eastern frontier.

The Victory of 740

An Umayyad Arab army under the caliph’s son Suleiman invaded Asia Minor
and plundered widely in several detachments.
In May 740 he mounted an attack on the empire jointly with the three
generals: Gamer or Ghamr; ‘Melich’ or Malik, a name meaning ‘kingly’; and
‘Batal’: Abdallah b. Hosain, called al-Battal, “the brave”. (1) Ghamr led
10,000 light-armed troops into Anatolia; (2) Malik and Battal with 20,000
cavalry proceeded to Akroinos; and (3) Suleiman himself led “60,000” troops
through the Cilician Gates to Tyana (TCOT).
Theophanes says that Sulayman with "60,000" men attacked the district
around Tyana in S. Cappadocia. “He captured many men and women and
animals and returned safely but [another army or large detachment under]
Melich (Malik) and Batal (al-Battal) suffered a major defeat near Akroinon and
only a few of their men survived and managed to join Sulayman and return
safely to Syria”: Theoph., Chronicle AM 6231 (TCOT: 103).

Leo’s victory (740) against Arab forces led by Sayyid al-Battal at Akroinon, a
Phrygian town or village of the Anatolikon theme: near modern Afyon
Karahissar, in west-central Anatolia*, proved decisive in halting the Umayyad
advance in Asia Minor. The Arab army of "20,000" men, mainly Syrians, was
hampered by the amount of booty it was carrying; and, cornered at Acroinion,
it was virtually exterminated. Theophanes says that 6,800 escaped and
survived, implying that 13,200 died or were captured.

(*) At the centre of the triangle formed by Ephesus, Dorylaeum and

Iconium. Renamed Nicopolis or ‘victory city’ in 740.

One part of the raiders was defeated by Leo III and his son Constantine at
Acroinon, on the western edge of the Anatolian plateau. Although the East
Romans had won some smaller victories over Arab raiders in the preceding
decades, this victory left Constantine well-placed to take advantage of the
collapse of the Umayyad dynasty in the ensuing Muslim Civil War, 743-48.

2. Across Thrace-Constantinople-Bithynia: A series of earthquakes: the

ancient land walls of the Capital had to be repaired. At least one tower wholly
collapsed and had to be rebuilt from its foundations (Tsangadas 1980: 62).
Nicomedia, once an imperial capital city, was wrecked by the same
earthquake; it was left mostly in ruins.
After 740: Hagia Eirene ('Holy Peace'), in Constantinople, the renowned


Iconoclastic-period church, is rebuilt following its destruction in this

earthquake. Decoration is restricted to non-figural mosaics, including the
apse mosaic representing the Cross.

The period 740-47, which saw a great earthquake followed by a severe

plague, would constitute, according to Mango (1980: 79), the greatest
crisis that Constantinople ever faced. – But, through it Constantine V (acc.
741) maintained an offensive policy against the Muslim Khalifate.

3. Italy: When the Lombard king Liutprand captured Ravenna in 740, the
exarch took refuge on the Venetian lagoon, from where he recaptured his
capital with the help of the Venetici (Noble p.42; or in 738 according to
As we noted earlier, the exarch Eutychius and pope Gregory appealed to
Venice to liberate Ravenna, which they succeeded in doing. Nevertheless, it
was clear the Byzantine authority in Italy was falling apart, an inevitability
that caused the pope to appeal to Charles Martel of the Franks that same
year (739).

4. Sicily: The first governor of N Africa to contemplate the actual conquest of

Byzantine Sicily was ‘Ubayd-Allah b. Habhab.
The Saracens launch (740: see next) an attack in strength against Sicily.
Led by ‘prince’ Habib, a young commander called Habib b. Abi-‘Ubayda, who
had participated to the 728 attack, and the governor’s son Abd-ar-Rahman,
the Saracens tried to capture Syracuse by siege and planned to use the city
as a base to conquer the rest of Sicily. Their plans were thwarted when a
revolt (in Tangier) by the Maysata or Matghara tribe of Berbers—‘the Great
Berber Revolt’—forced them to return to Tunisia (Ahmad p.4). See 753.

The West: The Muslims of Ifriqiya launch a large scale campaign against
Byzantine Sicily. The objective was Syracuse, capital of the province, and the
Arabs brought horses with them (an interesting early example of the use of
horse-transporter ships: cf AD 827). It failed, and it was not followed up
because the next year, 740-41, saw a massive Berber revolt in North Africa
against Arab tax gatherers and slavers (Kennedy 2008: 334).

Imperial Territory

With the loss of Tunisia to the Arabs, 670-702, and with nearly the whole of
the Balkans still controlled by Slavic tribes, Byzantium had reached its early
low-point in terms of territory ruled.

Losses since 650: N Africa - Kairouan and Carthage - to the Caliphate; central
Italy to the Lombards; part of N Balkans to the Bulgars; S Caucasus to the
Caliphate [cf Muslims vs Khazars 737]; and Cilicia Minor to the Caliphate.
In the West, only Sardinia (notionally), Sicily, the region of Campania
around Naples, along with the front foot and lower heel of Italy,


acknowledged Byzantine rule. The only large imperial province in the West
was Sicily.
All of central and N Italy was Lombard except for several tiny parcels
around Ravenna and Venice and at the top of the Adriatic. The Duchy of
Rome, under the popes, was efefctively independent.
Other borders: around Thessalonica and along the Dalmatian coast, vs
Asia Minor of course constituted the immense heartland of the empire.


New Rome (Constantinople) remained by far the largest city in the

Mediterranean sphere. Among the cities or towns of the second rank, just
three were Christian: Byzantine Thessalonica; Byzantine Venice, surrounded
by Lombard-ruled territory; and papal Rome: also dominated by surrounding
Lombard domains.
All the other significant cities, perhaps 11 in number, were under Muslim
(Abbasid) rule: North African Kairouan, Alexandria in Egypt, Damascus (the
seat of the Caliphate), Antioch, Syrian Aleppo, Kufa [Edessa] in present-day
far E Turkey, Wasit, Basra, Hamadan, Persian Istakhr and Merv in Khurasan.
In his New Atlas, 1992, McEvedy lists 14 major cities and towns in the
caliphate: he would delete Kairouan, Aleppo, Istakhr and Merv as still quite
small; and he would add Toledo in Spain, Fustat [modern Cairo], Mosul,
Ctesiphon, Shiraz, Rayy [modern Teheran] and Nishapur to the list of second-
rank cities.

Above: Constantine V.
Miniature from the ‘Modena Zonaras’, a manuscript of the 12th century
chronicler Zonaras in the Biblioteca Estense, Modena. Although the
manuscript is a copy made in the 1400s, the miniatures are similar to


contemporary coin portraits of the emperors, and therefore perhaps accurate


741-775: CONSTANTINE V ‘Copronymus’

Copronymus or “dung-name” was a nickname applied afterwards

by his icon-loving enemies. As a baby he was supposed to have
shat in the baptismal font.

Son of Leo III, Constantine was aged 22 at accession. First wife,

marr. 732: Irene (birth name Chichak) ‘the Khazar’, dau. of the
khagan, d. 750, mother of the future emperor Leo IV, born 749.
Second wife: Maria, d. 751. Third wife: Eudocia/Eudoxia.

Gibbon accepts that Constantine was “dissolute and cruel”,

notwithstanding the unfairness of his detractors, but even they
reluctantly praised his activity and courage. Treadgold, 1997: 356,
calls him “astute and active”.
They agree that his success was decidedly mixed. His armies
won notable victories in Syria against the Muslims; and East Roman
expeditions raided into Mesopotamia on several occasions: see
751, 752, and 776. In nine campaigns from 756 to 775 he virtually
destroyed the Bulgarian army, and yet (says Treadgold 1997: 366),
he gained no decisive advantage against Bulgaria and added only a
little territory in Thrace (from the Slavs). And in horthern Italy
nothing was done, probably because nothing worthwhile could
have been done, to save the tiny remnant of the empire that was

Constantine's succession was contested by his brother-in-law, Artavasdus -

married to Constantine's sister Anna, - who defeated Constantine in battle
and was proclaimed emperor and reigned for nearly two years, 741-43. But in
743 Constantine recaptured the capital, executed Artavasdus and his son,
and ascended the throne. Nicknamed ‘dung-name’ by his outraged
opponents, he vigorously carried out the Iconoclast program by waging open
warfare on the monastic establishments. He confiscated properties, martyred
monks, drafted others into the army and forced many to marry nuns. He also
crushed the Bulgarians, fought off the Arabs and completed his father's
financial and administrative reforms. Notably, in the 760s, he reformed the
The sources are mostly hostile to Constantine, so we do not know how
unfair Theophanes is when he says that the emperor “enjoyed kithara*-
playing and drinking bouts, and educated the men around him to foul
language and dancing” (TCOT s.a. 768, when the emperor was aged 50).

(*) Not a guitar, but rather the seven stringed sound-boxed lyre
inherited from Antiquity. Because it is played with a rigid plectrum it
can sound like a guitar. Cf sound samples (2008) at

O’ROURKE: BYZANTIUM IN THE 8TH CENTURY; ‘Ancient Greek Music’ website of the

Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Violently cruel and savage, Constantine was also a first-rate general and a
personally brave man.
He died of natural causes. In later years the people of Constantinople
would stand on his tomb imploring his aid against enemies who imperilled the
city's defences, or, as Gibbon puts it: "the Christian hero [was supposed to
have] appeared on a milk-white steed, brandishing his lance against the
pagans of Bulgaria". This refers to 813 (38 years after his death: see there)
when the populace broke into the imperial mausoleum at Holy Apostles and
threw themselves before his tomb and beseeched him to return and save the
empire from the Bulgarians.

740-42: Berber rebellion in Muslim-ruled Africa.

By 741:
Italy: The gold coins minted at Syracuse were restored to their previous
fineness, i.e. back to 80% gold, while the mints of Rome and Ravenna
continued to reduce the amount of gold in their coins. This reign saw the last
gold nomismata minted at Rome (McCormick in NCMH vol 2 p.543; Rome:
Grierson, Byz Coinage 1982).

Above: Gold nomisma or solidus (4.41 g) minted at Constantinople.

Facing busts of Constantine V and son Leo IV; above, cross. Reverse:
Facing bust of Leo III holding cross potent.

Palestine and Syria: At this time the strongest regional armies of the
Caliphate, those of Hims/Emesa, Damascus, Jordan and Palestine, were
organised much like the Romanic themes, and each could muster 6,000
cavalry and infantry. Cf 747.

Italy: The Greco-Calabrian Zachary or Zacharias, “the last Greek pope”, 741-
52, was born in Santa Severina. He became Roman patriarch in December


741 just when the Lombards under king Luitprand were preparing to attack
the ducatus of Rome. Zacharias sent an embassy and persuaded the king to
abandon his plans and to promise the return of certain towns recently seized
by the Lombards. Shortly afterwards (742) the Lombards mounted an
expedition jointly with troops from Rome against Thrasimund, the dux of
Spoleto, who was deposed. The towns were returned to the papacy. —Lib.
Pont. 93. 5. See more detail below under 741-52.

“The real ruler of the city and of the Roman duchy, who conducted affairs,
who commanded because he paid, was the Pope. The Liber Pontificalis
relates that Zacharias having to make a journey, set out from Rome
>>leaving the government to the duke and patrician [Gk patrikios*]
Stephen.<< That phrase sums up the situation.” —Lagard 1915.

(*) Patrikios was a court title, not a rank or post. The last known
Byzantine duke of Rome was Eustathios, ca. 752-56 (Ekonomu 2007: 65,
note 5).

Civil war: Initially successful revolt by the Opsikion troops of NW Asia Minor
under their "count" [Gk komes], i.e. commander-general, Artabasdus or
Artavazdhos. Artavasdos represented his rebellion as a campaign for the
restoration of Christian orthodoxy.
Cf Angold 2001: 56: “The theme system, as it is called, is always held to
be a major source of strength of medieval Byzantium. . . . In the early 8th
century, however, it was more of a liability, as the different armies struggled
to secure Constantinople [for their rebellious commanders]”.

General Artavasdos was the son in law of Leo II, married to Anna, sister of
Constantine V. He seized the capital and held it for over two years.
Constantine opposed him with the Thrakesion and Anatolikon forces. This
revolt may well have prompted the reforms of the 760s (which reduced the
political power of the thematic generals) – see below.
The late emperor Leo’s chamberlain (and son in law) Artabasdus attacked
Constantine's army while they were on campaign against the Arabs in
Anatolia. Artabasdus declared that Constantine had been killed in battle and
seized power in Constantinople. Constantine, however, fled to Isauria, rallied
his surporters, and besieged the capital in 742. (Initially lacking a fleet,
Constantine brought his forces to the Bosphoros in 742 but could not cross
it.) By the end of 743, however, he had retaken the city and had Artabasdus
In June 741 or 742, after the accession of Leo's son Constantine V on the
throne, Artabasdos resolved to seize the throne and attacked his brother-in-
law while the latter was traversing Asia Minor to fight the Arabs on the
eastern frontier. While Constantine fled to Amorion, Artabasdos seized
Constantinople amid popular support and was crowned emperor.
- The emperor Constantine V takes refuge in Amorium (741/42) during the
revolt of Artavasdos. - Constantine had to seek refuge in Amorion, though he
secured the support of the Anatolikon and Thrakesion armies, the latter being
commanded by Sisinnios, his cousin (Theophanes AM 6235). In a series of


campaigns, Constantine came off better, and eventually reoccupied

Constantinople in 743 after besieging the city.

Pope Zacharias or Zachary, last of the 13 "Greek" popes: an ethnic Greek
from Calabria.

Papal Independence

The last pope to submit his name to the exarch of Ravenna for scrutiny was
Gregory III, acc. 731. Gregory’s successor, Zachariah or Zacharias, 741-52,
though of Greco-Calabrian descent (Const. Porph. says Athenian), omitted the
step altogether, and was ordained on the day of his election. The letters he
subsequently wrote to notify the eastern Patriarch and the Emperor
Constantine V of his election contained no request for imperial endorsement
(Noble p.49).
As Berschin 1989 notes, Zacharias translated the most famous work of
Gregory the Great, the Dialogi, into Greek.

Cath. Encyc.: - “When Zachary/Zacharias ascended the papal throne, the

position of the city and Duchy of Rome was a very serious one. Luitprand,
King of the Lombards, was preparing a new incursion into Roman territory.
Duke Trasamund of Spoleto, with whom Roman patriarch Gregory III had
formed an alliance against Luitprand, did not keep his promise to aid the
Romans in regaining the cities taken by the Lombards. Consequently Zachary
abandoned the alliance with Trasamund and sought to protect the interests
of Rome and Roman territory by personal influence over Luitprand. A 20-year
truce was agreed in 742.”

As king Liutprand marched on Rome, the papal policy changed. The cause of
the rebel Duke of Spoleto was abandoned. The king now promised to
evacuate the Roman territory, and to restore the captured towns; and the
Roman (papal) army joined with his to attack Spoleto.
Liutprand again planned to capture Ravenna. Pope Zacharias, however,
travelled north; he met the exarch Eutychius near Rimini, and then entered
Ravenna to the joy of the local citizenry. Continuing on to the Lombard
capital of Pavia, Zacharias convinced Liutprand to abort the expedition, and
to restore some of the territory he had captured.

Zacharias persuaded Liutprand to restore the four ‘cities’ (villages) seized by

the Lombards in 739, and the king also agreed to restore to the pope certain
estates (five in all) formerly part of the papal patrimonium and to enter into a
peace agreement for 20 years with the ‘ducatus Romanus’ (de facto papal
state), and to release all his Roman prisoners, “those he was holding, from
diverse Roman provinces": "quos detenebat ex diversis provinciis Romanis”.
Pope Zachary returned to Rome, escorted by Agriprand (nephew of the
Lombard king; future duke of Spoleto), Tacipert, Ramning and Gromoald who
were authorised to restore to him the four captured fortress-villages of: [1]
America: modern Amelia in Umbria, [2] Horta: our Orte, [3] Polymartium:
Bomarzo, NE of Virterbo, and [4] Blera, SW of Virterbo, as they passed


through them; he returned to Rome to general rejoicing: Lib. Pont. 93. 11.
This all occurred in 742, before the end of August (in the tenth indiction): Lib.
Pont. 93.12.
The restored partrimonies or estates were: (a) the patrimony of Sabina [NE
of Rome: the modern province of Rieti], “that for 30 years had been taken
away” [by the Lombards of Spoleto]; (b) Narni; (c) Osimo on the Adriatic
coast; and (d) Ancona also on the Adriatic coast; and (e) Humanates and its
surrounds which are called ‘the Great’ (Valle Magna: great estate), located in
the territory of Sutri.
- In Latin: "[1] Savinense [Sabina] patrimonium qui per annos prope XX fuerat
abstultum atque [2] Narniensem (Narni) etiam et [3] Ausimanum (Osimo),
atque [4] Anconitanum (Ancona) necnon et [5] Humanatem, et vallem qui
vocatur Magna, sitam in territorio Sutrino (Sutri)". —Lib. Pont. 93.6-9. Online
2010 at Also Noble p.51.

In The Vita of Zachary, describing his return to Rome in 742, we now find the
Duchy of Rome for the first time unambiguously called a republic (reipublica)
or independent state (Noble p.52).

Muslim-ruled Palestine: fl. John of Damascus, retired official and now monk at
the monastery of St Sabas or Mar Saba, 13 km SE of Jerusalem, and east of
Bethlehem. It was there that he wrote his chief works. He had become a
monk perhaps as early as 725 or shortly after 730 [then aged about 55].* His
earliest work dates to before 730 while he was still an official at the court of
the Caliph. Toward the end of his life (died 749) he gave his writings a careful

(*) His second Apologetic Treatise presupposes the situation of 730

when Leo had deposed the Patriarch Germanus, while the third may
have been written or revised after John became a monk; it is to some
extent a compilation of the other two.

For the Eastern Church his great work, the "Fount of Knowledge" (MPG, xciv.
521 sqq.) became the standard. The work is dedicated to John's brother by
adoption, Cosmas, at one time a monk of Mar Saba, later (743?) bishop of
Majumas, the port of Gaza. One chapter entitled Heresy of the Ishmaelites,
deals with Islam: it is one of the first Christian polemical writings against
Islam, and the first one written by a Greek Orthodox/Melkite.
John is not only the most renowned theologian of the Eastern Church, but,
with his brother Cosmas, he is also its most esteemed hymn-writer.


1. Western Asia Minor: Artavasdos advances with his forces, but Constantine
defeats him near Sardis and pursues him northwards to Cyzicus (Theophanes
trans 1997: 578; TCOT: 108). In a second battle, Constantine also defeats a
further army under Artavasdos' son, Nicetas, near Modrene, modern
Mudurnu, east of medieval Nicaea, in Bithynia. Constantine’s Thrakesians and
Anatolics defeated Nicetas’s Armenians and Armeniacs. (These were largest
of the themes, each having from 8,000 to 18,000 men enrolled.*) Meanwhile
Artavasdos escaped by ship from Cyzicus to the capital. Constantine then
besieges Artavasdos in Constantinople, the siege lasting for over a year.
Constantine's fleet, the Cibyrrhaeots, defeated a fleet sent from the capital
seeking food supplies from the caliphate.
Artabasdos marched against Constantine, but was defeated in May 742.
Three months later Constantine defeated Artabasdos' son Niketas and
headed for Constantinople. In early November 743 Constantine was admitted
into the capital and immediately turned on his opponents, having them
blinded or executed.

(*) They would not often be called out. Haldon in Pryor 2006: 60 notes
that Byzantine field armies deployed in Asia Minor against the Arabs
rarely exceeded 12,000 men in the centuries 650-950.

2. Sulayman commanded the Arab forces which took advantage of the civil
war between Artabasdos and the emperor Constantine V (Konstantinos) and
carried off a large number of Romans into captivity: Theoph. AM 6233.

The doge of Venice was Teodato Ipato - also rendered Diodato or Deusdedit,
Latin: Theodatus Ursus + Ipato, a surname derived from Gk hypatos,

By 743: The Benedictine rule had become the dominant form of


monasticism in the West.

1. Syria: The metropolitan bishop of Damascus, Peter, in 743 spoke out
strongly against "the impiety of the Arabs and the Manichees". For this the
caliph al-Walid II had his tongue cut out and banished him to Arabia Felix
where he died a martyr's death: Theoph. AM 6234. Cf. Chron. of 1234, §168,
p. 314: "In this year the bishop of the Chalcedonians of Damascos, who had
insulted the prophet of the Arabs, was delivered up to Walid the king. His
tongue was cut out, and he was exiled to the land of Yemen".

2. Cyprus: Walid’s troops carried off many Cypriot Christians to Syria “on
suspicion”. Cyprus was a condominium or no man’s land, so he was seeking
only to punish them because they had, or perhaps were threatening to,
refuse to pay taxes or molest Cypriot Muslims. The caliph had no intention to
occupy or annex the island. Cf 806.

3a. The capital: Constantine’s land army, including the Thrakesians, crushed
the forces of Artavasdos when they sallied out through the city gates, and his
Cibyrrhaeot fleet drove off Artavasdos’s “two-storied ships [i.e. with oars
double-banked] which bore Greek Fire” (TCOT: 110). Constantine takes the
capital on 2 November 743, and blinds Artavasdos and his sons.
A triumph was held to celebrate Constantine's resumption of power. But
rather than Artavasdos' head, it was the head of one of his chief supporters,
Baktnagios, that was hung in public for three days (on the Arch of the Milion,
the defining milestone situated in the monumental heart of Constantinople).
As a prelude to the traditional horse races which followed, staged in the great
Hippodrome, the vanquished and blinded usurper, his sons and their friends
were publicly humiliated in the arena, being marched along the race track.
The patriarch Anastasius, considered guilty of having collaborated with
Artabasdos, was publicly beaten and also paraded through the arena, seated
backward on an ass (McCormick 1986: 134).

3. Italy: The Lombards threaten the Byzantine Exarch in Ravenna, but (as
already related) they withdraw following an appeal from the pope. By this
time the Exarchate had been reduced to a tiny sector of the Adriatic littoral
immediately north and south of the Ravenna. See 750, 751.
Pope Zachary travelled from Rome first to Ravenna, being met en route at
Aquila by the exarch Eutychius and citizens of Ravenna, and then, from
Ravenna, sending ahead Stephen and Ambrose to announce his approach, he
travelled to meet Luitprand in Ticinum (modern Pavia), reaching the river Po
on 28 June (743) and entering the city; on the next day (29 June) he
celebrated the Feast of St Peter there, at the king's request; he then
persuaded Luitprand to restore to Ravenna the territories belonging to it that
he had seized, apart from Caesena, of which the king returned only two
thirds, the other third being his as security by agreement until his envoys
returned from Constantinople on 1 June (i.e. in 744); Zacharias was then
escorted as far as the river Po by Luitprand and sent on his way with an
escort and representatives who were to deliver to him the captured territories
as agreed: Lib. Pont. 93.12-16.


4. Italy: After Constantine V had overthrown his rival, the envoys of the pope
presented to him the papal letter in which Zachary exhorted the emperor to
restore the doctrine and practice of the Church in respect to the worship of
images. The emperor received the envoys in a friendly manner. Partly as a
reward for the recovery of the frontier forts from the Lombards [above],
Constantine presented the Roman Church with the villages of Nympha [Ninfa,
Nainf] and Normia or Norma (Norba) in modern Lazio: about 50 km SE of
Rome, whose territories extended to the sea. That is to say, the grant was a
grant of a large swathe of southern Lazio/Latium, east of Anzio: Norma is a
fortified clifftop town with an acropolis; Ninfa lies in the valley immediately
below. – Cath. Encyc., ‘Pope Zachary’; accessed 2010.

It was possibly at this time that Constantine broke up the large Opsician
theme; a little later it will be succeeded by the Tagmata as the strongest
element of the army (see 745, and early 760s).

Umayyad Civil War and the Abbasid Revolution: Walid is succeeded by Yazid
who is succeeded in turn by Marwan II: the Byzantines profited from Arab
weakness. Cf 745.
In 743, the death of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham provoked a civil war in
the Islamic Empire. There were battles at Hims, Kufa and Mosul; in Khurasan
and the Hijaz.
Abu al-‘Abbas [whence “Abbasid”], supported by Shi'as, Kharijis, and the
residents of Khurasan, led his forces to victory over the Umayyads and
ultimately deposed the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II in 750.

N Italy: Ratchis was the Duke of Friuli, 739-744, and King of the Lombards,
The ‘Altar of Ratchis’, one of the best known sculptures belonging to the
Langobard period, was donated by the Duke of Friuli Ratchis to the church of
St. Giovanni of Cividale. The altar is characterised, from a stylistic point of
view, by crude or deformed and abstract figures, far from the classical
canons and with Eastern influences.

The East: A Romanic/Byzantine offensive commences. Imperial forces invade
Muslim Syria.
Treadgold 1995: 28-29 suggests that Constantine may have created the
first elite Tagma regiment by this time: cf below, under 760s. Tagmatic or
proto-Tagmatic troops were stationed in Thrace, and the border there was
advanced a little against the Slavs by 746 (Treadgold, State p.359).

1. Last imperial garrison withdraws from the Peloponnese. Cf 781-83 and


LAST VISITATION OF THE PLAGUE IN THE EAST: It appeared initially in Islamic

Iraq and Syria in 744; Stathakopoulos counts this as the 18th visitation
since 542.
Spreading thereafter – carried by ship – it spread within the Romaic empire
from west to east, from Sicily, AD 745 or 746, to Rome (745) and east to the
Peloponnese (746), and only then to Constantinople (spring 747) and Asia
Minor. It was active in the City until summer 748 (Stathakopoulos 2004: 122).
Mortality, especially in the towns, seems to have been extremely high.
Possibly a third of the already modest population died. This reduced the
capital and the empire to its LOWEST EBB - but recovery will commence
from about 755. See also 767.
— This final visit of the plague put a line under the dark age of Byzantium.
Very slowly, recovery began, at first invisibly. Within a century some
substantial prosperity will return to the Empire (and we assume there was a
similar and even more disguised recovery in the Caliphate: disguised by the
profligacy with which the caliphs spent their tax revenues).

Warren Treadgold, 1997: 403, proposes that the empire’s population under
Phocas in AD 605, i.e. before the Arab conquests, had been about 17 million
people. The empire probably had only about seven million subjects under Leo
IV, d. AD 780, almost the entire decrease being accounted for by enemy
conquests of imperial territory since 605. About four of the seven millions
were in Asia Minor (cf McEvedy & Jones 1978: 135).

Dagron, in Laiou ed., 2002, proposes that Constantinople witnessed a

significant demographic decline as its population dropped from 500,000 in
the 6th century to perhaps 40,000 or 50,000. Magdalino and Mango (cited in
Wickham 2005) offer respectively 70,000 and 40,000 as the population
low-point. Mango p.80 suggests that after 747 the population of the capital
fell to below 50,000 - perhaps even as few as 25,000! The urban environment
changed profoundly: the capacity of the harbour declined; of the old public
granaries, only one survived. But whatever the figure, the emperor later
decided - see AD 755 - that the capital needed repopulating with settlers
from Greece and the Aegean Islands.
Treadgold 1997: 405 agrees in general terms, noting that the population of
the capital rose quickly after the plague, reaching about 100,000 by 780.

Many skilled workers fled from Greece to the capital, further opening the
lower Balkans to Slavic domination. The plague would kill many Greeks and,
as a result, said the 10th century emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus "all
the open country [in the Peloponnese] was Slavonised [slavonicised] and
became barbarous [turned barbarian], when the plagues were threatening
the whole world" (De Thematibus, II, 53: quoted by Heurtley p.41; in square
brackets: different translation in Curta 2006: 97).

Inland western Asia Minor: The Paulician leader Joseph evangelised Phrygia;
he died near Antioch-in-Pisidia, south-central Anatolia, in 775. Cf 751: In
that year Constantine V transplanted many Paulicians from further east -


Germanicia, Doliche, Melitene and Theodosiupolis (Erzerum) - to Thrace, to

defend the empire from Bulgarians and ‘Sclavonians’ (TCOT: 118).

1. The East: First successful land invasion of the Caliphate since 718:
Campaign of Constantine V in North Syria, perhaps the first time that the new
Tagmatic troops were used. Arabic sources say the expedition numbered
20,000 troops, which represented about one-quarter of the entire enrolled
land forces.
Constantine briefly took the frontier fortress-town of Germanicia, modern
Kahraman-Marash, 160 km SE of Kayseri, his father's birthplace, and several
other towns, before returning with booty and a body of rescued Christians
(Monophysites), who were resettled in Thrace (TCOT: 112; Toynbee p.86).
“It was the first time for a century that the Byzantines had operated
successfully in Muslim territory and the [domestic] impact of the victory was
immense. To the doubters it was evidence that the young [28 years old]
emperor’s theology was acceptable to God. To the soldiers it was a signal
that at last they had a brilliant and imaginative commander” (Browning 1992:

Al-Baladhuri: “In the year 123 [AD 745], some 20,000 Greeks made a descent
on Malatyah [Melitene]. Its inhabitants closed the gates; and the women
appeared on the wall with turbans on their heads and took part in the fight.
The people of Malatyah then sent a messenger to appeal for help. He rode on
a post-mule and came to [the caliph] Hisham ibn- 'Abd-al-Malik who was then
at ar-Rusafah [site of the future eastern suburb of Baghdad]. Hisham
summoned the Muslims to the help of Malatyah, but hearing that the Greeks
had withdrawn from it, he communicated the news to the messenger and
sent him with horsemen to remain at the frontier in readiness for the enemy.”

2. Cyprus is regained from Muslims 746-47, or more likely: briefly occupied. It

continued later as a no man’s land or tax-condominion. – After 747, see
there, East Roman ("Greek") naval power was to continue dominant in the
Mediterranean for a further century.

3. (or 747:) In Muslim Jerusalem, an earthquake destroyed the "Nea" church;

it was never rebuilt. Also damaged were the eastern and western sides of the
Dome of the Rock; al-Walid's mosque; and the Umayyad palace.


Above: Byzantine war-galley (Gk dromon).

1. Eastern Mediterranean: The Imperial navy had recovered its strength.
Using Greek Fire, the galleys of the Kibyrrhaeots Theme defeat the main
force of the Ummayad navy—the combined Egyptian-Syrian fleet—at Cyprus,
putting it out of action for some years. Cyprus was a staging point, used at
will by both sides, to take on water and supplies or as a rendezvous point.
The Muslim fleet was caught in harbour on its way to attack the Byzantine
mainland. Theophanes s.424; TCOT: 113, says the Muslim fleet numbered
“1,000” ships, of which only ‘three’ got away, but this number is hardly
credible, even if we imagine that many were small non-galley types.
According to Toynbee 1973: 324, the East Roman navy regained the upper
hand temporarily from 747 to 827, i.e. until Crete was lost to non-Egyptian
Muslims (see 827).

We do not hear again of an Egyptian fleet until the 900s; but the naval base
at Acre in Palestine seems to have continued in operation. And another naval
base was established at or near Tarsus in Cilicia in about 780 (Hocker in
Gardiner 2004: 91; Kennedy 2008: 335-36).

2. As noted earlier, plague reaches the capital from the west - from Italy
via Greece and the Aegean.* It raged in Constantinople for a year, until
summer 748 (Treadgold 1997: 360, citing the Antirrheticus of the patriarch
Nicephorus). The next major military expedition does not come until 751: see
The capital's population fell to well below 100,000. Brown 1997: 237
suggests it was about 60,000 people. As we have seen, Mango 1980: 80
suggests that the population of the capital fell to below 50,000 - perhaps
even as few as 25,000!!


(*) On a boomerang course: this last wave of the bubonic plague had
actually originated in the East in 743-44, namely in Mesopotamia. —
McCormick 2001: 871.

3. North Africa: Temporary end of caliphal rule: the local Fihrid dynasty briefly
takes control in Ifriqiyah.

4. A description of the Muslim army, written by caliph Marwan for the heir
apparent: already it was an established tactic, when the army was
outnumbered, for the infantry to form protective squares around the cavalry.



747-50: ‘The Abbasid Revolution’ and civil war in the caliphate. An Iraqi
pretender, Abu al-‘Abbas, puts an end to the Umayyad line of Caliphs.
See 756, 762.
The Abbasid forces, although they are called 'Khurasanis'* - from
eastern Iran as it now is -, were mainly Arab-Khurasanis rather than
indigenous Persians.

(*) Khurasan: west of the Oxus River, centred on the triangle formed by
Nishapur, Merv and Herat. That is to say: east of the bottom of the
Caspian; around the intersection point of modern Iran, Turkmenistan
and Afghanistan. Nishapur (Neyshabur) is in Iran; Merv or Mary
[“murree”], the capital of medieval Khorasan, is in Turkmenistan; and
Herat is in Afghanistan.

Temporary cessation of Byzantine army expeditions, due to the plague …

The fading of Umayyad naval power, and the dynasty’s replacement by the
Abbasids, leaves the empire with virtually the only naval forces in the
Mediterranean until about 800 (Dromon p.33). On land, the first major
Muslim riposte did not come until 757 (see there).


Slavery in the West: On one occasion, around 748, a body of Venetian

merchants came to Rome, where they were active in the slave market,
buying Christians for shipment to the ‘pagan infidels’ (Muslims) in Africa.
Conceivably there was a shortage of pagan slaves brought from the Slav
tribes in the Balkans. At any rate, this angered the last ‘Greek’ pope,
Zachary, 741–52. He closed the market and redeemed as many slaves as he
could, a virtuous deed which is the only reason why his biographer, in the
Liber Pontificalis, mentions the slave market in the first place.


We must guess that what worried the pope was only that Christians were
being sold to infidels. Slaves, mostly born into slavery from local slave
parents (condumae, lit. “of the farm”, servile farm-labouring families), and
owned by large landholders, still cultivated some of the lands of Italy,
although free tenant farmers and free small-owners were more predominant.
Slavery persisted into the 900s and later, but it was perhaps diminishing
by 950, the proportion of free cultivators becoming much larger (Wickham

1. Italy: The Lombards again threaten Byzantine Ravenna, but again they
withdraw following an appeal from the Roman patriarch. Ratchis’ troops
atacked Perugia and several towns in the Pentapolis (south of Ravenna). Pope
Zachary treavelled to Perugia to negotiate, and Ratchis, a deeply religious
man, abdicated and became a monk. —Noble, p.56.

2. b. Constantine [VI], future emperor.

Italy: Astolfo/Aistulph, 22nd Lombard king, 749-756; reckoned by some the
‘1st King of Italy’ (752) upon his capture of the final remnant of the Byzantine
Exarchate. He married Giseltrude, sister of Eutychius, the last Exarch of
Ravenna. That the Greek exarch’s sister should bear a Germanic name says it
all. See 751.

750: Zacharias, the last “Greek” (Byzantine Calabrian) patriarch of

Rome, gave the correct answer to a query from Pippin or Pepin ‘the
Short’, mayor [maior domus] of the Frankish court. Pepin, aged 54, was
son of Charles Martel and father of Charlemagne. Pepin had written
asking: "Is it right that the royal power sit with the person with the title
of King, or the person who makes the decisions as King?" The Frankish
army, against the wishes of the nobility, then acclaimed Pepin king in
place of the official monarch Childeric III (Wikipedia, 2010, ‘Pepin the

1. d. Irene ‘the Khazar’, first wife of Constantine V, mother of the future
emperor Leo IV.

2. End of the Muslim civil war: The Abbasid armies - loyal to Abu'l-'Abbas al-
Saffah - defeat Marwan II at the river Zab in present-day Iraq and proceed to
Syria, where they enter the capital Damascus on 23 April 750. Marwan, last of
the Umayyad caliphs, is afterwards defeated and killed in Egypt.

c. 750:
1. Asia Minor: New towers built on the walls of Ephesus.

2. Lombards briefly take Venice. The Franks intervene: cf 751.


3. Some impressive Byzantine silk textiles survive from the 700s, for example
one showing hunters spearing lions and other big cats. They show eastern
(post-Sassanian Persian) influence [Vatican Museum: picture in Rice p.70].

4. The tradition of luxurious communal bathing, was abandoned by the

populace during the eighth century, although it remained a peculiar privilege
of emperors. —C. Mango, "Daily Life in Byzantium," Jahrbuch der
Österreichischen Byzantinischen Gesellschaft, 31/1 (1981) (1981), 338-41.

5. The turban gained popularity among Byzantine men in the eighth century
and persisted for centuries. It was never quite accepted as properly
Byzantine (no doubt because it was originally inspired by Muslim dress) and
so, despite being referred to quite often in literature, it is relatively rarely
illustrated. Thus Tim Dawson: http://www-

Treadgold, 1997: 375, notes that Constantine recovered the inland plain
of Thrace in the period 744-59; in the process, various towns were rebuilt
and repopulated, including Adrianople. This reconstituted Thrace as a buffer
zone and a major source of food for the capital. Also, in the two decades 755-
75, Constantine regularly led expeditions from Thrace northwards against the
Bulgarians and westwards against the Slavs.

1. Upper Mesopotamia: Profiting from the disorder of the recent Arab civil
war, Constantine captures the important stronghold of Melitene (Malatya) in
Muslim upper Mesopotamia.
Constantine probably had no intention of permanently occupying the
border-fortresses such as Germanicia, Melitene and Thesodosiopolis (modern
Erzurum). The purpose of the expeditions was to destroy staging points for
Muslim raids into Asia Minor (see discussion in Mitchell 1983: 220 ff).
Large numbers of Christians from the region were resettled in Thrace, no
doubt to promote recovery from the plague; it was probably at this time too
that Adrianople was recovered from the Slavs and fortified.

Constantine V transplanted many Paulicians from Germanicia, Doliche,

Melitene and Theodosiupolis (Erzerum) to Thrace, to defend the empire from
Bulgarians and Sclavonians (TCOT: 118).

2. End of the Eastern imperium in N Italy: King Aistulf's Lombards take

Byzantine Ravenna for good = 183 years after their first appearance in Italy.
Evidently the exarch Eutychius handed it over without a fight (Noble p.57).
(Cf 752: the Franks intervene again from 754.) In the north, only the tiny
enclaves of Venetia and Istria* remained in imperial hands.


Over subsequent years, Constantine sent many embassies to the

Lombards, Franks and the pope complaining about the takeover, but never
sent a military expedition, preferring - or feeling obliged - to concentrate his
efforts in the East.

(*) The peninsula at the top of the Adriatic, divided today between Italy,
Slovenia and Croatia.

751-2 :
East Roman army vs. Arabs in the East: Taking advantage of the Muslim civil
war, the imperial armies invaded south-eastern Armenia and Mesopotamia in
751/752, where they captured respectively Theodosiopolis and Melitene (the
latter fell in 751 according to Treadgold 1997: 360). However, the Emperor
was distracted from his Eastern campaigns by the Bulgarian threat against

1. Ex-Byzantine Rome: d. Zacharias or Zachary, last of the so-called
"Greek" (non-Latin) popes, born in Byzantine Calabria. He was succeeded
by a Latin, the Roman aristocrat, Stephen II.
By his personal prestige Zacharias had forced Luitprand, king of the
Lombards, to restore some towns he had taken from the papacy. He
sanctioned the assumption by Pippin or Pepin (Pippin) ‘the Short’ of the
Frankish crown, thus beginning the cordial relations between Pepin's house
and the papacy.

2. Lombard Italy: The Lombards under Aistulf besiege Rome. The new Pope
Stephen appeals in vain to the emperor in Constantinople for help; in 753
Stephen will turn to the king of Francia: the first ‘Carolingian’, Pippin III.
Although probably the ‘city’ - better: fortress-town - could have been
taken, Aistulf made a 40-year treaty of peace with the pope, probably
because the Lombards preferred to see the papacy neutralised. See 754,
756. The harassment of Rome and its dependent towns by the Lombards
prompted Stephen to send an embassy to Aistulf consisting of his brother
Paul and a senior official the primicerius Ambrosius, bearing gifts and seeking
peace; they returned with a peace treaty for 40 years; the date of the
embassy was probably in June 752, in the third month after Stephen became
pope ("tertio apostolatus ordinationis suae mense": ‘his ordination into the
apostolate’): Lib. Pont. 94. 5.
Four months later Aistulf broke the treaty and demanded the subjection of
Rome and its dependent forts; Stephen sent the abbots of the monasteries of
St Vincent and St Benedict to him, without success. Stephen then placed the
fortunes of the Roman cause in the hands of God: Lib. Pont. 94. 6-7. Shortly
afterwards he sent his brother Paul to accompany the Byzantine envoy, John,
to Ravenna to ask Aistulf to restore the imperial places he had seized, but
again with no success. He then sent his own representatives back to
Constantinople with Ioannes (John) to ask the emperor Constantine V to come
and help in every way possible to liberate Italy from the Lombard threat
("ut ... modis omnibus adveniret et de iniquitatis filii morsibus Romanam


hanc urbem vel cunctam Italiam provinciam liberaret" – ‘that in all ways he
may come and liberate this Roman city and the whole of provincial Italy from
the iniquity of the painful/biting sons’: Lib. Pont. 94. 8-9, quoted in PBW,
2007, at See

Iconoclasm: “There is no doubt”, writes Tougher, “about Constantine's
personal commitment to Iconoclasm. Around 752 the emperor began to
espouse the cause in audiences in Constantinople, and also produced his own
tracts on the subject, the Peuseis ('Inquiries'), of which some fragments
survive. But it is his summoning of a council in 754 [see there] and its
development of the argument against icons to encompass Christology for
which Constantine is most famous.
The council is known as the Council of Hiereia due to the location [the
palace on the Asian side near Chalcedon] at which it largely sat, from 10
February until 8 August.” —Shaun Tougher at http://www.roman-

Sicily: A strong Muslim expedition from Ifriqiya achived some success, but it
had to be recalled owing to Berber revolts.

This was the last serious attack for nearly half a century. From now until well
after the end of Constantine V’s rule (d. 775), the stationing of a strong
Byzantine fleet in Western waters, or its frequent excursions there, and the
creation of new ports and fortifications in S Italy and on Sicily and Sardinia,
nearly eliminated the Muslim threat. The offensive passed to the empire,
whose ships new reversed the direction of the raiding (Ahmad p.4). Cf 796. A
further factor, no doubt, was the emergence of a shore-based threat in the
west - the Maghreb passed from Abbasid to local Berber control, notably the
Idrisids of Morocco-Algeria, after 773.

Under Pope Stephen II the papacy turns from Byzantium to reliance on the
Franks. See 753/54.
Seeing no possibility of effective help from the emperor, Stephanos did
what his predecessors had done and sent a secret message to the ruler of the
Franks, Pepin, asking for help and seeking an opportunity to visit him: Lib.
Pont. 94.15. Stephen received favourable replies, delivered by Abbot
Droctegang of Jumièges and by another, unnamed, messenger: Lib. Pont. 94.
16. Then, in late summer 753, further Frankish envoys, Chrodegang and
Autchar, reached Rome to escort Stephen to Pepin in Francia, at the same
time as orders arrived from the emperor Constantine that Stephen should
visit the Lombard king Aistulf for further talks: Lib. Pont. 94. 17-18.

d. John of Damascus or St John Damascene, the defender of icons. He was a


Greek-educated Arab or Aramean Christian: John, son of Mansur, son of

Sergius: Yahnah or Yohanna ibn Mansur ibn Sargun, called the "last of the
Greek Fathers”. But in truth his works only became well-known in
Constantinople after 843, once iconoclasm was defeated. Cf 754, Council of
The Damascus-born son of a high official under the Umayyads, John
entered the St Sabas monastery near Jerusalem, and became theological
adviser to successive orthodox* patriarchs of Jerusalem and Antioch. Greek
was possibly his native tongue, but he also knew Arabic, as is indicated by his
accurate citations of the Quran. As well as polemics against Islam, he wrote
many important hymns. With a strong command of late classical culture, “he
stands heads and shoulders above his fellows in a dark age” (Dudley & Lang
He was the earliest Christian writer to concern himself at any length and in
a systematic way with Islam.

(*) Only the patriarch of Jerusalem presided over a see that was mostly
‘orthodox’, i.e. ”Melkite” or dyophysite; in Alexandria there were both
Melkite and Coptic or monophysite patriarchs; and in Antioch, Melkite
and Jacobite [Syriac-monophysite] patriarchs.

GO HERE for a map of the Empire in 754:
As will be seen, the largest elements were Sicily-Calabria and Asia Minor.
Nearly all of peninsular Italy and the Balkans had been lost to the Lombards
and Slavs.

1. Iconoclasm: A Church council, the "Synod of Hiera", was held in the Hiera
palace, on the Asian shore opposite the capital near Chalcedon. It was
convened specifically to condemn images.
Constantine, taking up his father's original idea, summoned a great synod
at Constantinople that was to count as the seventh General Council. Some
338 bishops attended. As the See of Constantinople was vacant by the death
of Anastasius, Theodosius of Ephesus and Pastilias of Perge presided.
Called in 753, it met in 754. The Pope and the three eastern patriarchs
declined to send representatives. The synod condemned the iconodules,
especially the late patriarch Germanus, d. 730, and John of Damascus. Cf
The largest measure of the council's spleen was reserved for John of
Damascus. He was called a "cursed favourer of Saracens", a "traitorous
worshipper of images", a "wronger of Jesus Christ", a "teacher of impiety",
and a "bad interpreter of the Scriptures" (Cath. Encyc. under ‘St John
Damascene’).Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem all refused to send
legates, since it was clear that the bishops were summoned merely to carry
out the emperor's commands.The Council declared that it was impossible to
depict Christ in art as to do so was heretical. It also went on to argue that
images of the saints and the Theotokos (“Mother of God”) were unnecessary.
“Whoever, then, makes an image of Christ, either depicts the Godhead


which cannot be depicted, and mingles it with the manhood (like the
Monophysites), or he represents the body of Christ as not made divine and
separate and as a person apart, like the Nestorians. The only admissible
figure of the humanity of Christ, however, is bread and wine in the holy
Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has He chosen to
represent His incarnation . . .”

2. Italy: The Frankish king Pepin or Pippin 'the Short' offered to seize and give
to Pope Stephen II the now Lombard-ruled (but formerly imperial) exarchate
of Ravenna and ‘the Pentapolis’ - the region south of Ravenna - in 754
(confirmed 756). Over these territories the popes were long unable to
exercise effective temporal sovereignty. Like Pope Zacharias, the
archbishop of Rome or “pope” Stephen II had recognised Pepin as rightful
king of the Franks, and Pepin now needed papal assistance against the
Lombards. See 756 and 772 (Charlemagne).

3. Muslim civil war: Revolt by ‘Abd Allah (Abdullah) b.’Ali (“Alid revolt”) vs the
caliphal (Abbasid) general Abu Muslim [Abu Muslim Abd al-Rahman ibn
Muslim al-Khorasani]. The former’s troops were mainly Syrian Arabs, while
the latter’s were mainly Khurasanis (Iranians), so that some observers see
the conflict as ethnically driven. Abu Muslim’s Iranians crushed ‘Abd Allah’s
Syrians (Kennedy 1981: 60).

4. Acc. Caliph al-Mansur, born Abu Jaafar [Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad
al-Mansur]: Mansur means 'The Victorious', a name he took later in his reign:
i.e., victory over the Shi'ites: see 762-63.
— Arab historians say he sent to the Emperor Constantine asking for
translations of Greek works, notably Euclid. (Cf 770.)
— The earliest known military manual in Arabic was written during this reign.
— The caliphal army numbered, not counting unpaid irregulars or volunteers,
well in excess of 100,000 paid, professional soldiers, including probably more
than 25,000 stationed on the Byzantine frontier, i.e. in Cilicia-Syria-Armenia.
The majority seem to have been Khurasanis (Iranians) (Kennedy 1981: 77).
— Paper was being introduced to the Islamic world at this time (learnt from
Chinese prisoners of war); and it was in wide use by about 780. Byzantium by
contrast still used parchment and vellum (made from animal skins). Cf 794.

754: d. Boniface, English-born founder of the Frankish-German church.

Eastern campaign, taking advantage of the Muslim civil war. Evidently the
aim was mainly to obtain Christian settlers for resettlement in Thrace. In the
period 755-57, Constantine will transfer large numbers of Paulicians from
Theodosiopolis and Malatiyah (Melitene) to Thrace (Toynbee p.86).
Constantine crosses the border of the caliphate and penetrates as far as
Theodosiopolis, present-day Erzerum, in medieval western Armenia. Turning
south, the Imperials overrun the stronghold of Malatya-Melitene and raze its
fortifications, but it was soon recovered [see 757] by the Muslims (Shaban
p.12, citing Tabari, Athir and others).
Al-Baladhuri: “The people of Kamkh [Gk Kamacha, a fortress on the upper


Euphrates] having sent a call to the people of Malatyah for succour, 800
horsemen sallied forth from it to meet the Greeks [Rum]. The Greek cavalry
defeated them after a battle, and Constantine camped around Malatyah and
invested it. At this time, Mesopotamia was the scene of a civil war and its
'amil (ruler) Musa ibn-Ka'b was at Harran. Therefore, when the people of
Malatyah sent a messenger soliciting aid, nobody came. … so he [the
emperor] set the mangonels (large catapults). The siege was pressed so hard
and the inhabitants were so exhausted that they asked Constantine for safe-
conduct, which request he accepted. … Malatyah was then razed to the
ground by the Greeks, who left nothing but a granary of which only one side
was damaged.
“After stopping in Malatyah in the year 133 [AD 755], Constantine ‘the
tyrant’ camped around Shimshat [Arsamosata: modern Elazig] with hostile
intentions, but effected nothing. After making a raid on the surrounding
places, he departed.”

In 755 Emperor Constantine V also decided to move families from Hellas

(“the islands, Greece and the southerly regions”) to Constantinople, to help
re-populate the city devastated by the plague of 746 (says Theophanes,
TCOT: 119). This may suggest that Hellas-Greece-the Aegean islands was a
well-populated region; alternatively we may prefer to see it as still an area of
under-population, albeit less strained than the capital. Cf 766/67.

755-59: Civil war in the caliphate: Arabs defeat Persian revolts. But the
result was a new Persian-style caliphate.

1. Thrace: Bulgarian raiders reach the outskirts of the capital. They retreat
when the emperor assembles the East Roman army.

2a. Italy: Aistulf again threatens Rome; the Frankish king Pepin III comes to
the pope's aid, marching to Pavia.

2b. 'Donation of Pepin/Pippin': ex-Byzantine Ravenna and ex-Lombard

Bologna were granted “to St Peter”: creation of a Papal State. Pope Stephen
II's treaty with Pippin was partly pragmatic and partly the result of a Western
aversion to imperial Romaniyan iconoclasm … Messengers of Pepin visited
the various towns of the former exarchate and of the Pentapolis, demanded
and received the keys to them, and brought the magnates of these ‘cities’ to
Rome. Pepin executed a new deed of gift for the towns thus surrendered to
the pope, which together with their keys were deposited on the grave of St.
Peter (‘Second Donation’ of 756).

3. Muslim Spain: Creation of an Umayyad Emirate by Abd al-Rahman, the sole

surviving Umayyad prince; he proclaims independence from the Abbasids. Or
rather: he claims that he is the legitimate commander of the faithful and the
Abbasid leader is a ‘rebel’.

Bulgarian wars: In nine campaigns, Constantine seeks to annihilate the


"barbarians". The many Slav chiefdoms of the Balkans held much more
former Roman territory than the Bulgarian khanate, but the latter was the
nearest unified and organized enemy.
In three campaigns the Byzantines deployed, first, ‘500’ ships and boats -
large galleys, small galleys and sail-boats - on the Danube; then in 763 ‘800’
vessels; and finally in 773 ‘2,000’ vessels (Toynbee 1973: 339). Presumably
very few were large galleys; nearly all must have been modest river-boats.

The Bulgarian army of this period relied heavily on Slav infantrymen armed
with either javelin or bow. At most only a third of the force would consist of
the more effective Bulgarian cavalry.

1. The East: Indecisive Byzantine-Arab skirmishing in Cilicia: the emperor
agrees to a truce and an exchange of prisoners.
Melitene: “In 750-751 the emperor Constantine … had unsuccessfully
blockaded Malatia [Melitene]; but five years later [or in 755] he took it by
force and razed its wall to the ground. Mansur now sent in 757 an army of
70,000 men [mainly Khorasanis] under the command of his cousin Abdal-
wahhab, the son of Ibrahim the Imam, whom he had made governor of
Mesopotamia, the real chief being Hasan b. Qalflaba. They rebuilt all that the
emperor had destroyed [see 755], and made this key of [read: departure
point for] Asia Minor stronger than ever before. [It was garrisoned with
Syrians and Mesopotamians.] The Muslims then made a raid by the pass of
Hadath (Adata) and invaded the land of the Byzantines. Two aunts of the
caliph took part in this expedition, having made a vow that if the dominion of
the Omayyads were ended they would wage war in the path of God.
Constantine advanced with a numerous army, but was afraid of attacking the
invaders” (1911 edn of Encyc. Brit; also Shaban p.13).

2. Early origins of 'Bogomilism' in the Balkans: Paulicians* among the

empire’s Armenian and Syrian troops, transferred to the garrisons of Thrace,
begin spreading "heresy".(*) Their name was said by their Greek (Byzantine)
opponents to be derived from two brothers, Paul and John, sons of a
Manichean woman Kallinike, in Samosata. More probably, as latter-day
historians argue, the name reflects their preference for St. Paul who they
placed highest among the Apostles.

3. Church music: Traditional date at which the East Roman wind organ was
exported to W Europe (where only water organs were known).
‘Everybody loves loud music’: In 757 a Byzantine embassy arrived at King
Pepin’s court [French Pépin, German Pippin] with a proposal for a grand
alliance against the Lombards. The ambassadors brought as a gift an organ
“with great leaden pipes” (so possibly in fact a water organ). Angold 2001:
118 says it made a “colossal” impression, and emphasized the technological
superiority of the Byzantines. Within 50 years, however, the Carolingians
were able to construct their own organs without recourse to Byzantine aid,
which Angold sees (wrongly in my view, MO’R) as a symbol of their reaching
cultural parity with the East.
“More than strictly symbolising superior technology, a Byzantine organ was


a strictly secular instrument used [in the hippodrome*] chiefly in ceremonies

glorifying the emperor. Its ostentatious presentation to the usurper king
[Pepin] at the assembly of his unruly magnates suggests that Byzantium
[sought his] favour by supplying the means to magnify [his] nascent
monarchy” (says McCormick, 1995: 365).

(*) The Hippodrome had two bellow-type organs: one played by the
Greens the other by the Blues.


GO HERE for a photograph of a mosaic from ca. AD 250 showing a Roman


‘Celtic’ Wales vs Anglo-Saxon ‘England’: Offa became king of Anglo-

Saxon Mercia in 757. The best known relic associated with Offa's time is
Offa's Dyke, a great earthen barrier that ran approximately along the
border between England and the Welsh kingdoms including Powys. In
places, it is up to 65 feet (20 m) wide including its surrounding ditch and
8 feet (2.5 m) high. There are settlements to the west of the dyke
that have names that imply they were Anglo-Saxon by the eighth
century. Thus in choosing the location of the barrier, possibly the
Mercians were consciously surrendering some territory to the native
Britons. Alternatively it may be that these settlements had already been
retaken by the Welsh, implying a defensive role for the barrier.

S Italy: Arichis, duke of Benevento, leads his Lombards, to briefly occupy
Romaniyan Otranto, 758-87. Others say that the Lombards had held Otranto
from earlier, that is from c.711 to 758, when it was recovered by the
empire (Brown in NCMH vol 2 p.344; Stranieri 2000: 7, citing the Liber
Pontificialis and Cod. Carol.).

In Italy, Byzantium and the Lombards combine against Francia and the
Papacy: Pope Paul (acc. 757) wrote to the Frankish ruler Pepin informing him
of the hostile action of the Lombard king Desiderius, who had failed to deliver
- as promised at his coronation 756 - the towns of Imola, Osimo, Ancona, and
Bologna, formerly part of the Exarchate, to Rome. Desiderius had also
devastated the Pentapolis (claimed by the papacy) on his expedition against
the rebellious dukes of Spoleto and Benevento. The two duchies were
conquered and annexed by Desiderius (758). At Benevento or in Naples
Desiderius had a conference with the Greek (Byzantine) ambassador
Georgios or George, and agreed on an alliance of Byzantines and Lombards in
central Italy. —Cath. Encyc., ‘Pope Paul I’.




1. Constantine aged 40. Victory over, first, the Bulgarians in N Thrace, and
then the Slav chiefdoms in W Thrace. The latter are described as “the
Slavonias [Sklavinias] in Macedonia”. He “captured the Macedonian
sklavinias and subjected the rest of them” (Theophanes AM 6250; TCOT:
119). Many captives were deported to Asia Minor. – It will be noticed how
Armenians are transplanted to Thrace and Slavs to Asia Minor.

2. Greece: A Byzantine fleet was anchored in Skiathos harbour, the island

near the northern tip of Euboea: it sped to the rescue of Thessalonica, where
a Bulgarian and Slav attack was imminent. —thus ‘History of Skiathos’, at, accessed 2010.

759: Europe: Arabs lose the town of Narbonne, just inside modern
France, their furthest and last conquest into Frankish territory.
In capturing this city, Pippin III (Pepin ‘the Short’) ends the Muslim
incursions in what is now France.
Narbonne finally fell, by treachery, in 759 to Pepin the Short, one of
Charles Martel's sons, and the Arabs ultimately decided to withdraw
from all of Septimania [the region NE of the Pyrenees], due in part to
insecurity caused by the political troubles of the Umayyad caliphate in
Damascus, as well as to a desire to concentrate available Arab and
Berber manpower back in the heartland of al-Andalus.

1. Roads: The services of the dromos or oxys dromos [highway management]
were controlled by the ‘logothete of the dromos’, a post first mentioned in the
sources in 760. A English rendering would be ‘minister for transport and
mail’. With his staff, he was responsible, among other things, for maintaining
the road network and operating the imperial postal service. The
chartoularioi [officials] of the dromos made sure that the stations were
equipped with animals and staffed, and looked after the maintenance of the
roads ( - Avramea, “Communications”, in Laiou ed., 2002, at, accessed 2010).
By this time only the major roads were still being maintained, notably
those linking the several aplëkta, the ‘marching camps’ or military supply
depots or ”staging areas”. Many ancient roads had fallen into disrepair,
becoming mere tracks or paths (Haldon in Pryor 2006: 138-141).

2. Constantine invades Bulgaria. His fleet ravages the Danube delta, while he
leads an army to “the pass at Bergaba” near Marcellae, which is modern
Karnobat, NW of Burgas. There battle was joined. On the balance of
probability the battle was in effect a draw, and Constantine agreed to peace.
Theophanes, however, who is anti-Constantine, implies that it was a defeat
for Byzantium (TCOT: 120).
Bulgaria: Although their capital was at Pliska to the south, the Danube
River formed the heartland of Bulgarian territory at this time. Marcellae was
located inland from Mesembria, in a stretch of Slav-dominated country
forming a contested marchland between Bulgarian and Byzantine territory.


3. Arabs raid into the Armeniac theme and kill its general.

4. Italy: The Byzantine ambassador Georgios had gone (759) from southern
Italy to the court of Pepin and had there won over a papal envoy, Marinus.
With all his efforts Georgios could not move Pepin. In 760 a report spread
through Italy that a large Byzantine fleet was under sail for Rome and the
Frankish kingdom. Later it was reported that the Byzantines intended to send
an army to Rome and Ravenna. The Archbishop Sergius of Ravenna received
a letter from the Byzantine emperor, in which the latter sought,
unsuccessfully, to obtain the voluntary submission of the inhabitants of
Ravenna. The same attempt was also made in Venice. —Cath. Encyc., ‘Pope
Paul I’.

The Church of Santa Sofia in Benevento was erected in 760 by Duke

Arechis II. It preserves Lombard frescoes on the walls and even
Lombard capitals on the columns.

Light in a dark age: The future imperial secretary and later patriarch,
Tarasios, was born in about 750. Thus he was undergoing his primary
education at this time. He later taught the metres of classical poetry to the
deacon Ignatius. And, as Browning notes,1992: 84, it would be impossible to
teach poetic metres without actually carefully reading some of the poems of

We know that the population of the capital rose quickly after the plague of
747, reaching probably about 100,000 by 780, according to Treadgold 1997:
- The ‘elite of the elite’ families would have numbered perhaps 5,000 people –
which might have included some 1,000 adult men. If we imagine that 10% of
these men were interested in reading and/or capable of reading the ancient
poets, then we have just 100 well-educated people in the whole empire . . .
More than enough!

From 760:
Persecution: The emperor fights the battle for iconoclasm as a battle against
the monks. See 761, 764.

1. Persecution of the iconodules: Constantine put to torture the Cretan hermit
Andrew Calybites; he is whipped to death (TCOT: 120; Baynes p.161). Cf 764.
“A monk Peter was scourged to death on 7 June 761; the Abbot of
Monagria, John, who refused to trample on an icon, was tied up in a sack and
thrown into the sea on 7 June 761; in 767 Andrew, a Cretan monk, was
flogged and lacerated till he died . . . ; in November of the same year a great
number of monks were tortured to death in various ways” (thus the Cath.
Encyc.). Cf 765.


2. Textile: In 761 Pepin donated an imported textile to the Mozac monastery

[Auvergne, now central France]. It was a ‘calamanco’ or glossy wool textile
illustrated with counterposed hunting emperors flanking a horn. Preserved
size: 73.5 cm; in the Lyons: Mus. hist. Tissus. - While the piece is inspired by
Sassanid silk imports from Egypt, it reflects some East Mediterranean
naturalism, and the hunters are wearing Byzantine court regalia. Image at:; accessed 2009.

761-62: Ifriqiya [N Africa] is taken for the Abbasids by the leading

Khurasani (Iranian) commander Muh. b. al-Ash’ath al-Khaza’i. Many of
his army of “40,000” settled there, later producing their own dynasty,
the Aghlabids (Kennedy 1981: 77).

Italy: Duke Stephen II of Naples, a loyal imperialist, refuses (761) to allow
Bishop Paul, the papal envoy, to enter Naples because the latter was an
enemy of iconoclasm.
At this time, the Byzantine Empire, of which Naples was then a part, was
controlled by iconoclastic emperors. Naples continues its allegiance to the
Byzantines. Stephen for his part acknowledges (763) the higher authority of
the ‘patrician’ (patrikios) Antiochos, the Byzantine governor of Sicily,
addressing him in correspondence as “our lord” and “most excellent patrician
and protostrategos”. Antiochus himself was an iconodule and will later (see
766) die a martyr’s death. Whether he influenced Stephen we do not know,
but at any rate, Stephen of Naples now switches (764) his allegiance from
Constantinople to Rome. Rejecting the imperial iconoclastic policy, Stephen
acknowledges the Pope as his suzerain instead of the Emperor. Bishop Paul,
who had been shut out of the city in 761, was now allowed to take
ecclesiastical control of the city of Naples.

1. Civil war in Bulgaria: New Bulgarian leaders take power, causing large
numbers of Slavs to flee into Romanic/Imperial Thrace.
Toynbee guesses that they fled to the empire to avoid being conscripted
into the Bulgar armies. Constantine resettles them in Bithynia, specifically in
the region between Constantinople and Nicomedia. One source says that a
massive “208,000” Slavs refugees emigrated there (Toynbee p. 90 and Vine
1991: 76, citing Theophanes and Nic. Patr.).

2. Italy: The small (24 m diameter) Church of Santa Sofia in Benevento is an

original example of the architecture of the early Middle Ages. The plan was
very original for the times: it consists of a central hexagon with, at each
vertex [corner point], columns taken from the temple of Isis; these are
connected by arches which support the cupola. The inner hexagon is in turn
enclosed in a decagonal ring with eight white limestone pilasters [embedded
ornamental pseudo-columns] and two columns next to the entrance.
It was dedicated in AD 762 by Arichis II Duke of Benevento to hold the
relics of the saints that protected the Lombards.


762-67: The East: Following al-Mansur's final victory over the Shi'ites
and the defeat of the ‘Alid’ revolt, the Abbasid Caliphate moves (762)
its court from Damascus to Baghdad. There Mansur founds a “city of
peace” or Madinat al-Salam. Sited just upstream from the old Sasanian
capital of Ctesiphon, the new capital—its walls were completed 766-67
—symbolised a new imperial conception for a new Caliphate.
At Baghdad the inner wall was 18 metres high (cf Constantinople:
10-13m), with towers rising to 21 metres* (C’ple: 19-20 metres).
The dome of the Palace of the Golden Gate rose to 42 metres (cf
dome of Hagia Sofia: 56+ metres).

(*) Data from Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture, London 1968.

Early 760s (by 763?):

CONSTANTINE V RE-ORGANISED THE ARMY. In particular he created a
new central elite fighting force known as THE TAGMATA. These new
standing regiments were drawn partly from the Opsician theme; partly from
pre-existing guards units and ceremonial parade-ground troops; and were
partly created by new recruitment; but mostly from the old Opsician theme if
we follow Treadgold 1995: 71, 107.
The Tagmatic troops, although they were mainly based in or near the
capital, held farms like those of the themes. But being fulltime soldiers, they
may not have actually worked on their farms (Treadgold, Army pp.174 ff and
State p.359).

By 773, there were perhaps 18,000 men enrolled in the Tagmata in six
regiments: three cavalry divisions each of 4,000: (1) the Schools or Scholae
or Skholaí: first mentioned in 767; (2) the Excubitors or Exkoúvitoi [see AD
765]; and (3) the Watch or Vigla. And three infantry regiments each of 2,000
men: (4) the Numera [Noúmeroi]; (5) the Walls; and (6) the Optimates.
On campaign, the Watch performed special duties, guarding the
emperor's tent at night and conveying his orders; it was also responsible for
prisoners of war.
The Numera had duties throughout the city, while the Walls regiment
guarded especially the sector of Palace and the Hippodrome. A little later -
after 773, but before 798 - , the Optimates regiment was converted into a
baggage corps, i.e. a non-combatant regiment of specialised logistics and
support troops using mules and carts. They numbered probably 2,000 men,
but perhaps up to 6,000, and held farms in NW Bithynia. They answered to
the ‘Logothete of the Herds’, the minister for the imperial horse-farms.

In Guilland’s (1969) reconstruction of the palace complex, we find the

barracks of the Schools, Excubitors and Numera in the palace’s northern
section: the Numera in the NW section between Hagia Sophia and the
Hippodrome, and the Excubitors and Schools in the north-central sections
near the Magnaura palace.

1. Two-pronged attack on Bulgaria: “Crushing” victory, 30 June 763, over the
Bulgarians at Anchialus, present-day Burgas: Constantine's greatest military


feat (Vine 1991: 77; Browning 1992: 57; Treadgold 1997: 363). Cf 770-73 and

Victory at Anchialus

A force of 9,000 men, drawn probably from the Tagmata, was shipped to the
Danube delta, while Constantine led another, presumably larger and mainly
Thematic, force overland to Anchialus on the Black Sea coast.
9,000 men: Theophanes mentions a fleet of about 800 chelandia [wide-
bodied galleys] with 12 horses each*, which would have provided mounts –
horses and mules - for about 9,600 men (TCOT: 122; Toynbee 1973: 339;
Dromon p.307). Treadgold, 1997: 940 n20, proposes that this represents two
cavalry tagmata (8,250) plus some Optimates (1,320 support troops with
mules** for their baggage).
It was around this time that the Optimates ceased being a fighting force
and became a specialised logistics or transport corps. Or, were they founded
already as a transport corps? Cf above: creation of the Tagmata by 763.

(*) For comparison, in the 1200s, Genoese-built horse-transports were

36 metres long, beam 4.1 metres at the wale, and carried 20 horses
(Gardiner 2004: 114).

(**) Haldon in Pryor ed. 2006:158 has calculated that some 9,000
mules were needed to carry provisions—human food, plus grain and
hay for horses—for an army of 10,000 men (6,000 infantry and 4,000
cavalry). The provisions will last for 24 days, but longer if foraging is
allowed for. Applying an average marching rate, this was enough for a
return journey of 240 km out and 240 km back. [Cf 225 km from
Constantinople to Adrianople.] As noted, however, foraging and
transport ships supplemented whatever supplies the mules were able
to carry. And food would have been confiscated from the Bulgarian
villages that were passed.

- The victory was celebrated with a dual triumph. First, Constantine entered
the city fully armed, accompanied by the army. The parade featured
Bulgarian prisoners yoked in wooden shackles. As the emperor passed, he
was acclaimed in antique Roman style by the organised factions ("demes") of
the city. The next stage took place in the Hippodrome, where a further
parade was held to display the booty taken during the campaign. This was
followed by the customary horse (chariot) races.
Constantine also created lasting monuments to his military successes in
the form of "pictures" and murals (which have not survived, although they
may have lasted beyond the end of the 8th century) (McCormick pp.136-37).

2. Persecution: An ardent iconodule or ‘icon-slave’, Stephen ‘the Younger’

refused to accept the edicts of the Council of Hiereia of 754. Constantine V
ordered the destruction of Stephen’s monastery in 763, and the arrest of the
future saint. After exile to Prokonnesos and imprisonment in Constantinople,
he was tortured (scourged), dragged through the streets and executed by
stoning (in 764 or 765: see next).


M.-F. Auzépy has argued that he was martyred more for his role in
instigating – or launching - the conspiracy against the emperor Constantine V
(see under 766) than for his support of icons. Nonetheless, thanks to hisVita,
he is remembered primarily as one of the prominent iconodule martyrs of the
first period of iconoclasm. —From a review of Auzépy’s Byzance en Europe, at; accessed 2007.

1. Constantine again raids into Bulgaria. The Byzantines burned various
Bulgarian “courts” but these are not thought to have been at Pliska, which
emegres as the seat of the khanate only after this period (Curta 2006: 90).

2. Death of the most famous iconodule martyr. Egged on by the emperor, a

mob kills (765) the iconodule monk Stephen ‘the Younger’, aged about 52.
Stephen had founded a monastery on Mt Auxentios near Chalcedon in
Bithynia; he was arrested in 764 and gaoled in Constantinople for criticising
the rulings of the Synod of the Hieria of 754. He found hundreds of others
already in gaol, many of them mutilated by the authorities. His Vita is
translated in Alice-Mary Talbot, Byzantine Defenders of Images, Washington,
D.C., 1998.
Stephen’s death opened a campaign against iconodules and monks in
general. Cf 766.
According to Angold 2001: 81, Constantine’s more brutal implementation
of his iconoclast policies may have owed something to the need to please his
supporters. Thus iconoclasm enjoyed some popular support and was far from
being just an ‘imperial heresy’.

The Cool and the Cold

3. Severe winter: The northern sector of the Black Sea freezes over! The sea
froze as far south as Mesembria. Evidently even parts of the Sea of Marmara
froze. In February 764 Theophanes the Confessor, then still a boy, observed
an unusual phenomena: the Sea of Marmara was covered with ice and snow
so that people could walk to its islands!
- Later, in the thaw, icebergs detached and came down through the Bosporus
into the Marmara. One huge iceberg was swept against and shattered the
quay below the old Acropolis, i.e. at the eastern point or nose of the city.
Even after breaking into three, it still towered over the sea-walls of the city. A
young Theophanes, with 30 other children, climbed onto one iceberg and
played on it (TCOT: 123).

The latitude of 44 degrees crosses Crimea, while Istanbul-Constantinople lies

at latitude 41 degrees North. In the southern hemisphere, Hobart is nearly 43
degrees South which is similar to the Crimea, while Launceston and northern
Tasmania are at 41 degrees, as for Constantinople.
Even snow is entirely rare at sea level in Tasmania.
Of course the comparison is not apt, because Hobart is at the top of the
Southern Ocean while the Crimea abuts the Eurasian steppe. But who knows?
- Perhaps icebergs also came towards the site of modern Hobart in AD 764 or


First mention of the post of Domestic of the Excubitors, domestikos ton
Exkoubiton, the commanding officer of the Tagma of that name (ODB 1:646).
See 767.

1. Western Black Sea coast: A further land-sea campaign against Bulgaria.
The fleet, “from all the themes”, supposedly “2,600” boats and ships
(chelandia), is wrecked - “almost all of them were beaten to bits” - in a
savage storm while beached near Achialos, and Constantine orders his land
forces back to the capital, 17 July 766 (Toynbee 1973: 339, citing Nic. Patr.
and Theophanes trans. 1997: 605; TCOT: 126).
Again (see 763), if we apply the figure of 12 horses to every boat, we have
31,200 cavalry – which is far too large a figure to accept. It is more likely that
only about 8,000 horses (for the Scholai and Excubitors) were transported by
sea. Most of the vessels would have served as supply-ships and pure
warships, i.e. platforms for Greek Fire.

2. The emperor discovers a plot against him by 19 high officials, associates

and admirers of the martyred Stephen. The conspirators included the
commander of the Excubitors; the internal security minister or 'postal
logothete'; and the strategoi of the Opsicians, Thrace and Sicily. The
ringleaders were variously beheaded or blinded. Constantine now unleashed
a further persecution of iconophiles.
It was probably at this time that the Bucellarion theme – east of the
Sangarius River and around Ankara - was created, by a further division of the
Opsician (Treadgold State p.365; Toynbee p.272 prefers a little earlier, after
743: the new theme is first mentioned under AD 765/66 in Theophanes). A
new HQ for the reduced Opsikion was established at Nicaea.* Cf 767.

(*) In the 760s, we are told, in the chronicle of Nicephoros the patriarch,
that “208,000” Slavs came to live in Bithynia “of their own accord”
(Mango p.26).

2. The Caliphate resumes its summer raids on Romanic territory. Cf 770.

The Caliph’s heterogeneous army In recruiting barbarians from the

"martial races" beyond the frontiers into their imperial armies, the
Arabs were doing what the Romans and the Chinese had done
centuries before them. In the scale of this recruitment, however, and
the preponderant role acquired by these recruits in the imperial and
eventually metropolitan forces, Muslim rulers went far beyond any
precedent. As early as 766 a Christian clergyman writing in Syriac
spoke of the "locust swarm" of unconverted barbarians who served in
the caliph's army - Alans, Khazars, Turks, Sindhis and others. –Lewis,
1994, chap 9.

Caliphate: Completion of the walls and moats of the 'Round City', i.e.
Baghdad. Cf 775.


Aachen, on the German side of today’s Franco-German border,

becomes the seat of the Frankish monarchy. See 768, Charlemagne.

From 766:
Beginning of the period of harshest persecutions of iconodules. On one
occasion in 766 a group of abbots was brought into the Hippodrome in the
capital and there publicly forced to takes wives (TCOT: 126).
Iconodule martyrs from Sicily: Antiochus, governor of Sicily, and others
who refused to submit to what they considered an heretical domination, were
martyred in the Hippodrome at Constantinople in the year 766, “with a
cruelty that might have satisfied Nero”, says Crawford.

In 772, Jacob, Bishop of Catania (Sicily), will die a martyr's death; Methodius
of Syracuse was scourged, and confined for seven years in a subterranean
prison with two thieves, and when one of the latter died, the jailors refused to
remove his body. —Crawford 1900: 66.
Among others, Michael Lachanodrakon, the strategos or commander-
governor of the Thrakesion theme, persecutes iconodule monks and nuns. In
770 according to Theophanes (trans. 1997: 609; TCOT: 132), Lachandrakon
carried out the forced marriage of a large number of monks and nuns at
Ephesus on the polo ground, i.e. in the ancient stadium. Many submitted;
many did not and became iconodule martyrs, being blinded and sent to exile
on Cyprus. See 767, 772.

next century will see very slow but steady economic recovery and growth
across the whole empire and among its neighbours.

2. The Capital: To remedy a drought that had emptied (767) the cisterns of
Constantinople, Constantine V restored (768) the so-called Aqueduct of
Valens*, cut in 626, which until then had brought in water from the distant
mountains of Thrace. “The reservoirs [cisterns] and the bath-houses were
empty”, says Theophanes, “and not only these, but also the spring-fed rivers
which had formerly flowed at all times” (TCOT: 128). In Antiquity the major
use of aqueducts had been for the baths; Theophanes perhaps implies that in
this case the aqueduct was repaired partly as an auxiliary drinking-water
Or such is the received account. Wickham 2005 notes that the city
possessed water supplies adequate to last out the sieges of 674-78 and 717-
18, and for that reason queries whether the aqueduct can really have been
out of use for 140 years.
At any rate, to obtain favour with the largely iconophile population, the
common account has Constantine ordering the restoration of the massive
Aqueduct of Valens in the East Roman capital (ruined since 626). This was
also probably a response to population re-growth after the earlier plague of
747, and perhaps reflected the emperor’s wish to stimulate further growth.
But the ravages of the past century were epitomised by the fact that there
were insufficient artisans available in the capital to repair the aqueduct, and


many had to be imported from the provinces.

Constantine was only able to carry out the work at great expense in
767/68 by bringing in 6,700 labourers or building workers from Asia and the
Pontos, Thrace, and Greece (“Hellas and the islands”), especially masons and
brick-makers: “1,000 homebuilders and 200 plasterers from Asia and Pontos;
500 tile-makers from Greece and the islands; and 5,000 workmen and 200
potters from Thrace”. —Theophanes, trans 1997: 608; TCOT: 128.

(*) The great aqueduct, completed in AD 368, was a vast and complex
system that had supplied the city with water from a variety of sources in
Thrace. At over 250 km, it is the longest water supply line known from
the ancient world and it remains one of the greatest achievements of
hydraulic engineering. The known system is at least two and half times the
length of the next longest recorded Roman aqueducts at Carthage and
Cologne. More than 30 stone water bridges and many kilometres of
underground tunnels carried the water over mountain and plain from the
plentiful springs of the Istranja (Istranca or Yildiz) mountains near Vize [Bizye,
in Turkish Thrace] straight into the heart of the city. —University of
Newcastle, UK: ‘Water supply of Constantinople’, accessed 2009: at; also Crow et al. 2001.

Some historians have interpreted this 150-year hiatus - the period in which
the aqueduct was out of use - as marking the end of the 'classical water
system', with dire consequences for the maintenance of a large urban
population (Mango 1995). Magdalino (1996) adopts a less pessimistic position
and has recently questioned this interpretation of the city's demographic
decline. Neither account, however, considers the possibility that the sources
closer to the city were continuously (or even increasingly) exploited during
this period. —Mango 1995.

Constantinople: The patriarch Nicetas I, November 766-February 780, was not
only a eunuch but also of servile Slavic origin and totally illiterate, if one
credits Zonaras (III 277; cf. Glycas 527). He was raised to the patriarchal
throne against the ecclesiastical canons by the will of Constantine V (Theoph.
680) while he was a priest in the church of the Holy Apostles (Nic. de CP 85-
86; Theoph. 686). —Guilland, ‘Les Eunuques’.

Height of Iconoclasm: Emperor Constantine orders the beheading of the
deposed Patriarch Constantine (Nicetas’ predecessor); and persecutes the
monasteries while currying favour with the Tagmata and the people of the
Capital. Those not killed had their noses slit (TCOT: 129).
In the Thracesian theme, which was the most densely populated province,
the strategus (governor and general) Michael Lachanodracon forced so many
monks and nuns to marry that by 772 he had succeeded in eradicating
monasticism within his theme, an achievement not quite accomplished
elsewhere (Treadgold, State p.365).


1. Asia Minor: First mention of the theme of Bucellarion or the Voukellárioi,
established in north-central Anatolia probably in 766-67. Created from the
former western half of the old Opsician theme, the Bucellarion's seat or
capital was at Ancyra. Its strength was 6,000 men. See 772/23.
The excision from the Opsician of the new Bucellarion was in part a
punishment of the former for its revolt in 766 and perhaps its earlier revolts
(Treadgold, Army p.28).
Also: first mention of the post of domestikos ton Scholon, the
commanding officer of the senior Tagma of the Scholae or ‘Schools’
(Theophanes trans. 1997: 608; ODB 1:646). The Tagmata had been formed in
the early 760s.

767: d. Muhamad ibn Ishaq. His biography of the Prophet is the first to
identify Jerusalem as the site of the ascension: the Prophet’s “Night
Journey'' from Mecca to Jerusalem, whence the Prophet briefly
ascended into heaven.


1. The Aegean: The old Slav habit of raiding, two centuries old, was always
liable to break out afresh: a typical case is noted in 768 when Constantine V
had to ransom Christian prisoners taken by the Slavs from various North
Aegean islands inucding Samothrace, Imros and Tenedos; “2,500” Greeks
were enslaved. The emperor ransomed them with 2,500 silk robes (Lopez
1959; Vlasto p.9).

2. Italy: Duke Arichis of Benevento, 758-87, friend of the future chronicler

Paulus Diaconus [see 770], understood how to maintain his duchy between
the ‘Greeks’ and Franks, and founded a Sophia church in Benevento on the
model of Hagia Sophia, into which he transferred the relics of St. Mercurius
(among others) from Aeclanum in 768 [Aeclanum: an ancient town of
Samnium, Italy, 15 km ESE of Beneventum, on the Via Appia near the modern
Mirabella]. —Berschin, ‘Early Byzantine Italy’.

768-814: 'Charlemagne' or Charles the Great [Latin Karolus Magnus],

king and emperor of the Franks.
The oldest surviving ecclesiastical verse in old German, the
'Wessobrunn Prayer', dates from 781. Cf 800 - coronation.

1. Exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and the East Roman
Empire; Theophanes does not specify the numbers involved (Toynbee 1973:

2. Constantine crowns his third wife Eudocia as Augusta or ruling empress.

Empresses were addressed as "Eusebestati Augousta" (= Most Pious
Augusta), and were also called Kyria (= my Lady) or Despoina (‘Mistress’, the


female form of "despotes").

3. Constantine's son Leo, aged 19, marries 16 years old Irene: Greek "Eirene",
meaning Peace. She was brought from Greece to the capital with an escort of
warships decked with silk mantlings (drapery); she is crowned as a second
Augusta (TCOT: 132). See 780.
The Sarantapechos family to which Irene belonged was from central
Greece (Athens region) and must have been relatively prominent. While Irene
was an orphan, her uncle Constantine Sarantapechos was a patrician
(patrikios) and possibly strategos (commander of the theme) of the Helladics
(Theme of Hellas). His son and her nephew Theophylact, a spatharius (a court
title) - presumably a title given by Irene herself - is mentioned in connection
with the suppression of a revolt centering around Constantine V's sons in 799
(Garland, ‘Constantine and Irene’, DIR, citing Theophanes).


The state attempted to run a command economy, whereby a very

considerable part of the surplus (in proportions that varied with time) was
appropriated by the state and redistributed in the form of salaries, a system
that facilitated monetisation in the countryside. In what is perhaps the first
sign of impending recovery (this was 22 years after the final viist by the
Plague), the state ordered the payment of taxes in cash already in 769
(Laiou in Laiou, ed., 2002 p.1169).
“The chroniclers tell us that in 769 Constantine V, like ‘some new Midas’,
resolved to collect all the precious metals of the empire; the farmers, who did
not possess gold coins, were ruined, for they were compelled to sell their
harvest off cheaply so as to be able to pay their taxes, while in the cities
goods were plentiful and cheap. It seems clear that Constantine had, for the
first time, required that taxes be paid by all in gold coinage. This first attempt
to bring about the complete monetisation of the state economy encountered
problems, …. After that time, however, the land tax in Byzantium was always
paid in gold coinage. Complete monetisation of taxation seems to have
been achieved as early as the late eighth century [say by 790].” (- thus

1. Origins of Arabic alchemy:* ‘Umara ibn Hamza, secretary to al-Mansur,
returns to Baghdad after a lengthy stay in Constantinople. He tells the Caliph
about what the Rhomaniyans could assertedly do to turn base materials into
precious metals. The source for this is a late one: AD 902, in the writings of
Ibn al-Faqih al-Hamadani and so the story may be apocryphal. It was perhaps
this that eventually set in train the great movement of translating ancient
Greek works into Arabic. Cf 790s: absence of astrology in Byzantium.

(*) The Shi’ite Imam, Ja'far Al-Sadiq, fl. AD 752, according to some, was
a teacher of the first Islamic alchemist, Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan, fl.
771, afterwards known in Europe as ‘Geber’. Although born in Iran, Jabir
himself grew up in Yemen.


2. fl. ‘Paul the Deacon’, c. 720–13 April 800, also known as Warnefred, Paulus
Diaconus and Cassinensis, i.e. "of Monte Cassino", Benedictine monk and
Lombard, the first important medieval historian in the West.
He lived at the court of Benevento; possibly taking refuge when Pavia was
taken by Charlemagne in 774, but his residence there may be more probably
dated to several years before that event. The chief work of Paul is his Historia
gentis Langobardorum. This incomplete history in six books was written after
787 and at any rate no later than 795/96, maybe at Montecassino. It covers
the story of the Lombards from 568 to the death of King Liutprand in 747,
and contains much information about the Byzantine empire, the Franks and

1. Asia Minor: During the reign of Mansur the annual raids against the Greek
Romanics had taken place almost without intermission, but the only feat of
importance had been Ma’yuf b. Yahya’s capture in the year 770 of Laodicea,
thereafter called "the burnt" (Encyc. Brit. 1911 ed., under ‘Caliphate’).
Laodicea was located in SW Asia Minor.

2. The Frankish king Charlemagne marries the daughter of the Lombard king
(divorced after a year). See 772.

Height of the persecution of iconodule monks in the Thracesian theme by the
strategus Michael Lachanodracon (Treadgold 1997: 365).

Asia: The Muslim offensive resumes with Arab victories in the Anatolicon
theme and against the Cibyrrhaeot theme. The generals in charge of the
Anatolics, Bukellarii and Armeniacs, sent againt the Arabs, were Michael,
Manes and Bardanes respectively. The Kibyrrhaiot fleet was commanded by
Petronas (TCOT: 132).
Arab historians say "6,000" East Roman (Rumi: "Greek") women and
children were captured and sold into slavery (men being killed). See 771.

The Slave Trade

In the antique Roman world, the slave population had been occasionally
recruited from outside when a new territory was conquered or a barbarian
invasion repelled. But mostly slaves came from internal sources. This was not
possible in the Islamic empire, where, although slavery was maintained,
enslavement was banned, i.e. Muslims were forbidden to enslave fellow
Muslims (and Christian subjects were protected). The result was an
increasingly massive importation of slaves from the outside. —Bernard
Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, Oxford Univ Press 1994, chap. 1.
Slavery endured too in the Byzantine empire, but on a lesser scale. Cf after
775 below: slaves are barely mentioned in The Farmer’s Law.

The Balkans: The Bulgarians have recovered from the crushing defeat of 763


and resume their raids into imperial territory. But once again, in 773,
Constantine was able to defeat them decisively (Browning 1992: 57).

The most obscure period in Byzantine historiography. We have
effectively just one Greek source, the chronicler Theophanes Confessor
(Mango 1980: 242).
In this document, “TCOT” means Turtledove’s translation of ‘The Chronicle
of Theophanes’, 1982. There is also a translation by Mango and Scott (1997).

1. The East: Further Arab raid into Asia Minor, which the Imperials answered
by raiding Muslim-ruled Armenia.
Responding to an “invasion” by Abd al-Wahhab (“ibn Wakkas”), the
nephew of al-Mansur, the Byzantines dispatch (771) a combined naval and
land attack. The fleet of the Kibyrrhaiots sailed to Cilicia and invested the
port of Sykes, 15 km east of the river Anemourion, while “the cavalry
themata” from the themes of the Anatolics, Bucellarii and Armeniacs*
attacked Armenia by land. The Byzantines seized “the rugged pass which was
[Wahhab’s] exit-route”, but the Arabs “routed” the imperial army
(Theophanes dates this to 771: trans 1997: 614; TCOT p.132; Treadgold
prefers a date of 772/73: see there).

(*) In the 770s there were some 38,000 troops, including infantry,
enrolled in the Anatolic, Bucellarian and Armeniac themes (Treadgold
1995: 67). Dispensing with infantry, an all-cavalry expedition may have
numbered of the order of 9,500 (one quarter of the roll).

2. Africa: Following a Berber rebellion (770), the Muslim Khalifate dispatches

a large army from Palestine to restore order in Ifriqiya; and the Berbers are
defeated (772). A large contingent of Khurasaniyya—Khorasanis from NE Iran
—was stationed at Qayrawan or Kairouan (Shaban p.12, citing Tabari and
But this marked the western limit of Abbasid caliphal control. Thereafter
Qayrawan was the westernmost Abbasid centre, with the Maghreb under
local Berber control, notably the Shi’ite Idrisids of Morocco-Algeria (from 788).

Territorial review

In 771 the core of the 'New Roman' Empire of Byzantium lay along the axis
Sicily-Crete-Asia Minor.
Sicily was the mainstay in the West. The Lombards ruled nearly the whole
of the Italian peninsula, leaving only the bare Toe and bare Heel paying taxes
to the emperor in Constantinople
Slavic tribes continued to occupy most of the Balkans, leaving little more
than the Aegean coast of present-day Greece in imperial hands. The
Bulgarian-Byzantine border lay along a line about halfway between
Constantinople and the Danube: cf 772. Thus the Bulgarians were the nearest


Asia Minor was, as always, the largest area acknowledging the emperor.
The Muslim powers controlled the whole southern shore of the
Mediterranean: in the far West the Umayyad Emirate ruled in Iberia, al-
Andalus, while the Abbasid Caliphate ruled (until 772) from Morocco to Syria
and further east.

Unsuccessful revolt against the caliphate by Christian Armenia.

771 or 773: Sindhi (Muslim-Indian) embassy to Baghdad. This was

instrumental in creating an interest among the Arabs in astronomy,
although the great days of Arab astronomy lay many decades the
future. Cf 828 - decimal numerals reach Baghdad from India.

Persecution of iconodules continues. In the Thrakesian theme and elsewhere
many monks are blinded and the contents of the monasteries sold to increase
the state treasury. Monasticism is effectively abolished in west-central Asia
Minor (TCOT: 133).

1. The Christian patrikios governing (Byzantine) western Armenia is said to
have had over ‘100,000’ slaves in 772-3. He was killed that year and his
property confiscated by al-Mansur. —Chabot, Chronique de Denys, 148 [180];
Harrak, Chronicle of Zuqnin, 278.
This would be a great exaggeration; even 10,000 would be incredible. The
figure may have represented the number of free and unfree people that he

2. Southern Asia Minor: Arabs advance by land to besiege the town of Sycae
(Syke) in the Cibyrrhaeot theme on the coast N from Cyprus. Constantine
orders an attack by the combined forces of the Anatolicon, Buccellarion and
Armeniac themes, but they are routed by the Arabs (TCOT: 133; Treadgold,
State p.365).

3a. Further Bulgar war. First Constantine V sent a large fleet up the Black Sea
coast past Varna. This induced the Bulgarians to sign a peace treaty without
It is stated that the fleet carried 12,000 “cavalry”, but this may mean just
the cavalrymen; it is not stated that the horses went by sea. It is possible that
most or all of the horses went overland from Thrace along with an infantry
force (cf Toynbee 1973: 339; also Dromon p.307). Theophanes says that
“2,000” chelandia (ships and boats) were deployed via Varna towards the
mouth of the Danube (TCOT: 133). This gives us an average of just six
cavalrymen and/or horses per vessel. Presumably there was capacity for
some of the infantry too (in addition to marines) to have travelled by sea.

3b. Thrace: According to Theophanes, when a little later the Bulgarians broke
the peace and sent “12,000” men on a raid into Slavic Macedonia, the


emperor called up a large army and it annihilated the Bulgarian force.

The site of the battle was Lithosoria, near modern Kirklareli in eastern
Thrace north of Arcadiopolis (Tk: Lüleburgaz). “He [Constantine] fell on the
Bulgars without sounding his trumpets [i.e. it was an ambush] and routed
them: a great victory” (TCOT: 134). Theophanes says that “80,000” men,
including from the Tagmata and the Asian themes of the Optimaton
(Bithynia) and Thrakesion (“units from the thematic armies, the Thrakesians,
the Optimatoi and the palace guards”), were brought together in Thrace
(trans 1997: 616; TCOT: 134); but this figure is surely far too large.
Treadgold, Army pp. 64 ff, proposes that this was actually the total size of the
enrolled land forces of the empire.
In any event we must imagine that the actual expeditionary force
contained more infantry than cavalry, as was traditional for field armies in the
Balkans. If so, then its true size may have been (this must be a guess) more
like 20-30,000 men – possibly comprised of 4,500 to 9,000 tagmatic cavalry,
1,500-3,000 thematic cavalry and 9-18,000 infantry.
Presumably this victory showed the value of his newly created Tagmata. It
is the first and indeed the last occasion on which the Optimaton theme
(formed before 763) appears as a fighting corps. It became thereafter a
specialised logistics or transport corps using mules; indeed it may already
have had this role before 773, perhaps being briefly re-armed for the 773
campaign (Toynbee p.272; Heath p.19).

(a). The Franks under Charlemagne invade Lombard Italy.

(b). Charlemagne launched a 30-year campaign that conquered and

Christianised the powerful pagan Saxons in Northern Europe.
If there were 20,000 men enrolled in the whole Frankish army, then
a large field army would not usually exceed 10,000 men. Estimates of
those enrolled range from 5,000 (which seems far too low) to 35,000
(Cross p.66; Hooper et al. Atlas of Warfare 1996: 13). Fossier p.433
posits that by 811 there were four field armies each of up to 13,000
men, an enrolled total of the order of 40,000.

773-74: Lombards besiege papal Rome: Pope Hadrian appeals to

Charlemagne (773), who invades Italy and captures the Lombard
capital Pavia (774). Charlemagne then visits Rome, where he is
received by Hadrian. The king confirmed his father’s donation of
Central Italy to the papacy (the future papal state).

1. (or earlier:*) Further successful move against the Bulgarians. As we have
seen, a fleet carrying the Tagmata sailed towards the Danube delta, while the
cavalry from the themes - 12,000 men - advanced by land. Initially a truce
was agreed without battle, but, quickly finding a pretext to break it, later in
the year Constantine attacked and crushed the Bulgarian army. See 777.
Shaun Tougher notes that Theophanes is more negative about
Constantine's record than Nikephoros, but it is still clear that the emperor
scored major victories at Anchialos in 763 and Lithosoria near modern
Kirklareli in eastern Thrace in 774. —Tougher, ‘Constantine V’ at


(*) Theophanes places in 773-74 the ‘2,000-ship’ expedition to Varna;

the land victory at Lithosoria; and the sea expedition carrying 12,000
cavalrymen to Mesembria. The description of the ships being smashed
to pieces at Mesembria, however, seems to repeat or mirror his entry
for 766 concerning the fleet wrecked at Achialos (see there).

2. End of the Lombard kingdom: Called by the archbishop of Rome or “pope”

to his aid, the Franks take the Lombard capital Pavia and annex northern
Italy. The Lombard king fled to Constantinople. Cf 781.
The Duke of Spoleto Ildeprand submits his duchy to the Church and shaves
his beard as a sign of submission, according to the Roman custom (774). As a
sign of recognition for his gesture, and in spite of the Longobard defeat by
the Franks, pope Adrian reinstates the duke in his position on the condition
that he submits to Charlemagne. The duke now began calling himself

3. Italy: The historian Paulus Diaconus lived at the court of Benevento;

possibly taking refuge when Pavia was taken by Charlemagne in 774, but his
residence there probably dated to several years before that event. Soon he
entered a monastery on Lake Como, and before 782 he had become a
resident at the great Benedictine house of Monte Cassino, where he made
the acquaintance of Charlemagne.

c.775: One of the oldest texts in German is the Hildebrandslied, a

fragment of heroic verse in Old High German. Set in Italy: a Frank
attempts to recover the lost Gothic kingdom of Italy. At this time the
Franks ruled what is now France and western Germany. N Italy was
about to pass from the Lombards to the Franks. Latin was the
dominant language of education: cf Alcuin, AD 785.
By the year 900 the Frankish tongue will evolve into Old Low
Franconian, including Old Dutch, in the area that was originally held by
Franks of the 4th century, while in Valois and the Île-de-France (around
Paris) it was replaced by Old French as the dominating language.

1. The East: The Paulician leader Joseph, d. 775, founded communities all
over Asia Minor. He was succeeded by Baanes or Vahan; d. 801. See 835.2.
The Balkans: Further land and sea campaign against Bulgaria. In the first
phase, a storm destroyed much of the imperial fleet off Mesembria, and
Constantine with the land army withdrew. Returning to the attack in the late
summer, the emperor had only reached Arcadiopolis when he fell ill. He took
sick while on campaign against the Bulgars in 775 and died on board ship
after putting in at the fort of Strongylon on his return: Theoph. AM 6267, Zon.
XV 8. 16-17.
Death of Constantine V aged 57.
The emperor was known as a great saver and left a reserve of well over 3.6
million nomismata at his death (Treadgold 1995: 193).


775: The population of Baghdad reached one million, according to

Tertius Chandler's Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical
Census. This is difficult to accept, given that the city had only recently
been founded, albeit growing rapidly. A better figure might be 250,000
- rising to perhaps 500,000 by 800.

Imperial Territory in 770

There was a small western segment and a much larger eastern half,
separated by a swathe of Slav-ruled lands that extended through the Balkans
to the tip of the Peloponnesus.

(a) The western elements comprised Sardinia; Sicily: governor at Syracuse;

and just the toe and heel of Italy (vs. Lombards); also Venice, parts of the
Dalmatian coast and Cephalonia (vs. Slavs). Only the bare toe and just the
lower heel of Italy (‘Land of Otranto’) were under imperial rule: Bari and
Tarentum (Taranto) were at this time under Lombard rule.
Nearly the whole of Italy was under Frankish or Lombard rule, with the
Lombard duchies of Benevento and Spoleto in the south separated from the
main Lombard kingdom in the north (under Frankish rule from 774) by the
‘papal state’, ruling from Ravenna to Rome.
Slavic tribes and the Bulgar state dominated most of the Balkans, so
there was only a sea link between west and east. Byzantium held
Dyrrhachium or Durres, on the coast of modern Albania, and Thessaloniki,
respectively the western and eastern ends of the Via Egnatia, but the ancient
highway was mostly in Slavic hands. Western Thrace was controlled by the
Bulgarians and Slavs.

(b) The empire’s eastern segments comprised Crete; Hellas [HQ at Corinth];
Thessalonica (coastal eastern Greece as it now is); eastern Thrace [HQ at
Arcadiopolis]; and New Rome (Constantinople); and of course the massive
heartland of Asia Minor.
The Peloponnesus was divided about half between the Slavs and the
empire (“Hellas”).
In Asia Minor there were perhaps five million subjects of the emperor. The
most populous theme was the Thracesian, including the fortress-towns of
Adramyttium, Pergamum, Sardis, Ephesus and Miletus; its governor
(strategos) was based at the inland town of Chonae. The eastern-most theme
was the Armenaic, whose strategos was based at Euchaita south of Sinope.
There was a no-man’s land between Christian and Muslim rule east and
south of Byzantine Caesarea - on the eastern side of the Adata Pass in the
Anti-Taurus Mountains and south of the Cilician Gates in the Taurus
Mountains respectively. The nearest Muslim-ruled towns were Melitene
(Malatya) and Germanicea (Mar’ash) in the east [Mesopotamia] and Tarsus in
Cilicia (Treadgold, State, map p.368).
Cyprus was a no man's land or condominion from which both
Constantinople and Baghdad drew taxes.

A Ruralised Empire with Few Urban Centres


The low point in the medieval history of Constantinople was reached,

according to Cyril Mango, in AD 747, a plague year of “extraordinary
severity”. —Mango 1980: 78.
Mango gives no estimate, but the capital's population fell to well below
100,000. Indeed it has been suggested that it was only about 60,000 people
(Brown 1997: 237)! The entire empire recovered to perhaps seven million
people in about 775, so presumably it fell to below six million in 747
(Treadgold 1995: 162 and 1997: 403). Coins of small denomination had
"almost disappeared", says Mango, from the provincial 'cities' - or rather from
the few remaining fortress-towns, Gk kastra, as they are better described.
Indeed only five or a few more* urban centres survived as true cities in Asia
Minor (Mango pp.70-72, Browning p.72, Treadgold 1997 p.404). The empire
"consisted largely of a mosaic of free peasant communes and military
estates; there were some surviving larger estates, worked by tenants, slaves
or wage-labourers and of course there were extensive monastic estates"
(Browning p.84).
Slaves were probably not common outside the large estates, as they are
barely mentioned in the 8th century Farmer’s Law, a document produced
probably in Thrace or Macedonia (Vine 1991: 85, 88).

(*) Five or a few more cities: The survival or otherwise of “cities” in Asia Minor
is a much debated issue.
Mango (1980) holds that there were only five true urban centres in Asia
Minor by about 750. Treadgold (1997) prefers to say seven, each, he thinks,
with at least 10,000 people, namely: Nicaea, HQ of the Opsician theme;
Smyrna in the Thracesian theme; Ephesus also in the Thracesian theme;
Amorium [Anatolic]; Ancyra [Bucellarian]; Attalia in the Cibyrrhaeot theme;
and Trebizond [not on Treadgold’s map but within the Armeniac theme]. For
a first-class discussion of the issues, see Wickham 2005: 629 ff.
Even in AD 333, there had been only 11 cities and major towns along the
diagonal from Chalcedon to the borders of Cilicia (Jones 1964: II p.831, citing
the Bordeaux Itinerary). On the route called the “Pilgrim’s Road”, the places
called “cities” in AD 333 were: 1 Nicomedia, 2 Nicaea, 3 Juliopolis (the
Gordion of pre-Roman times), 4 Ankara, 5 Aspona - evidently only a small
town or “fortress-village” in middle Byzantine times, when it was the seat of a
bandon, i.e. a unit of 200 soldiers; 6 Colonia in Cappadocia/Galatia, 7 Tyana,
8 Faustinopolis just north of the Cilician Gates, and 9 Tarsus (cf Avramea

If we suppose that in all of Asia Minor there were 20 true urban centres in AD
333, then it would appear that up to three-quarters had disappeared - faded,
were abandoned or destroyed - in the two centuries from AD 550 to AD 750.
Wickham goes further: he proposes that “centres with genuine urban
activity” dropped by “perhaps fourth-fifths” (2005: 630).

It is important to underline that some if not all of the surviving centres were
more than just large fortress-villages: archaeology shows that Amorium, HQ


of the Anatolic theme, was “not just a fortified administrative centre occupied
by soldiers, clerics, and imperial officials but a real city, filled with a whole
host of different craftsmen and trades people. As such it must have
functioned as an important commercial entrepôt and a major source of both
skilled and casual labour.” —Lightfoot 2005.

Much depends also on what one means by ‘city’. Compare the remarks of the
Muslim traveller Ibn Hawkal, concerning the period around AD 960: “Rich
cities [Arabic madinah] are few in their [the Byzantines’] kingdom and
country, despite its situation, size and the length of their rule. This is because
most of it [presumably he means Anatolia] consists of mountains, castles
[qila’, qala’, kala], fortresses [husun, khusun], cave dwellings and villages
dug out of rock or buried under the earth”. —Quoted in Haldon 1990: 112
Hawkal left Baghdad on his first journey in 943; he visited Armenia in 955
and Sicily in 973.


In the post-plague period after 747, neither the imperial government nor the
local inhabitants had the power to restore the damaged Italian towns to their
old status. In many places the old ruling class had been dispersed. Both the
greater and lesser aristocrats were killed, driven into exile or financially
ruined. After the Lombard invasion, the town councils of Italy, which for many
centuries had been the key local governmental institutions, disappeared.
Even the Roman Senate, well over 1,100 years old, ceased to meet. The
towns of Italy had not just been impoverished; an important thread of
tradition had been broken. Thus the same crumbling of the antique
Roman infrastructure, seen earlier in Britain and other borderlands in the
600s, was now affecting the (Western) Mediterranean heartland. —thus
Muhlberger, ORB website.
* * *
To recap.
Leo and his successor Constantine V, 741-75, were strong emperors,
popular with the army because of their military victories against the Arabs.
Constantine retook Cyprus (746) and enjoyed regular successes against the
Bulgarians (756-63).
On the Asian side, the new Abbasid Caliphate, now established at
Baghdad (from AD 762), maintained usually cordial diplomatic relations with
the Christian emperor, althugh it also raided Byzantine territory regularly.
The Muslims called the Basileus's domain Rum, Arabic for "Rome".
On the European side, this period is marked by re-consolidation in Imperial
Sicily; the final loss of northern Italy to the Lombards (751); and, importantly,
the re-incorporation of parts of Greece. The theme of Hellas, based on
Athens, is first mentioned in 695.
Stephen of Surozh, future bishop of Sogdaia, made a pilgrimage to Athens
in the mid-700s, and conversed with ‘rhetoricians and philosophers’ (Greek
Synaxarion, 73). This presumably meant Christian clerics who had some basic
understanding of ancient philosophy.
Latins in Sicily (a minority) and Slavs in Greece (a large minority there) -


those who joined the Romanic/Byzantine elite - now had to learn Greek. But
the re-Christianisation of Greece and the Balkans was would be completed
only after 950 (Obolensky p.112). Cf 998. At the same time, the now-Catholic
Lombards under king Luitprand, 712-44, threatened all of Italy, including the
western patriarch or "Pope" in Rome and the Imperial governor isolated in
Ravenna. The last Byzantine outpost in northern Italy, Ravenna,
would finally fall in 751.
The Roman 'Pope' looked to the Kingdom of the Franks as the guarantor of
papal privileges rather than to iconoclastic Constantinople. He appealed to
the Frankish kings Pepin and Charlemagne. They entered Italy and destroyed
the power of the Lombards (754-56, and again in 773-4).
- The Franks gave to the western patriarch a larger Papal state, granting him
the former Byzantine corridor to Ravenna. As a reward for Charlemagne’s
help, the Patriarch of Rome presumed in 800 to anoint the Frankish king with
the title "emperor of the Romans". The Byzantine government immediately
protested. This was the title for centuries past reserved for the emperor at


John Haldon and Warren Treadgold have analysed the army reforms
introduced by Constantine V, emperor 741-775.
The main effect was to establish or reinforce a distinction between a new
Tagmata of the City, a reorganised and expanded set of elite regiments, and
the provincial troops of the old-established Themes. According to Haldon, the
elite Tagmatic troops were paid at least twice as much as the provincial
Thematic troops (Haldon 1984: 309, 314; also Haldon 1999: 128). Treadgold
per contra proposes that salaries were paid annually and that both thematic
and tagmatic soldiers received the same basic pay, i.e. five nomismata per
year. Unlike the thematic troops, however, the Tagmata did not have to pay
for their own arms, rations, horses and fodder* (Treadgold Army pp.125, 177;
State p.412).

(*) Although East Roman army mounts would gain some sustenance
from free grazing while on the march, basically they were stall-fed with
grain, hay and/or cut grass (Pryor 2006: 15).

There were up to 8,000 troops enrolled in the Tagmata, according to Haldon

(and Heath 1979); or as many as 18,000 if we follow Treadgold. Much
depends on whether older units such as the Arithmos and Federates were
abolished or retained and whether the Optimates are included in or excluded
from the Tagmata. Here the main sources are Arabic: Kudama,
Khurradadhbih and Ya’kubi: see Haldon 1984: 278 ff.
Treadgold proposes that there were six units totalling 18,000 men: three
cavalry divisions, the 1. Scholae, 2. Excubitors and 3. the Watch (Vigla),
each with 4,000 men; two elite infantry garrison units, 4. the Walls and 5.
the Numera [or Arithmos] with 2,000 each; and 6. the Optimates. Originally
a fighting force, the Optimates were demoted by the end of Constantine’s
reign, and became a new specialist regiment of 2,000 mule-drivers or


infantry logistics and transport troops (or up to 6,000 Optimates according to

Haldon, 1984: 225). Treadgold proposes that all of the “2,000” Optimates
were previously enrolled in the old Theme of the Opsikion, which was now
reduced to just 4,000 men (Army p.74).
Although now of somewhat higher quality, the army fell to a low-point in
numbers: only 80,000 fighting men - soldiers and naval marines - in all. The
largest field army deployed in this period was 20,000 (Treadgold 1982: 92).

STRENGTH OF THE THEMES IN 773 (Treadgold, Army p.67)

Anatolic (Amorium): 18,000 men

Armeniac (Euchaita – S 14,000

of Sinope)

Thracesian (Chona – 8,000


Bucellarion (Ancyra) 6,000

Thrace (Arcadiopolis) 6,000

Opsician (Nicaea) 4,000

Cibyrrhaeot (Attalia) 2,000 marines + 12,300 oarsmen, of whom

6,500 in the east (the lower Aegean); and 6,000
in the west, i.e. in southern Asia Minor (called
“the Gulf”).

Hellas (Corinth) 2,000 marines + 6,500 oarsmen

S Italy-Sicily (Syracuse) 2,000

[+ The Central Fleet: 19,600 oarsmen].

If we assume, with Treadgold, that the entire Scholae and Excubitors went
out on expedition with the emperor, then we might have a large field army
typically comprised as follows:

8,000: Elite cavalry from the Tagmata, i.e. the entire Scholai and
12,000: From the Themes: say 4,000 cavalry and 8,000 infantry.

According to one presentation by Treadgold, in 775 the navy was divided

between the themes of Hellas with its HQ at Corinth and the Cibyrrhaeots
with its HQ at Attaleia or Attalia in southern Asia Minor. There were probably
6,500 oarsmen in what is now eastern Greece and the western Aegean
(Hellas); 6,000 in the eastern Aegean: Rhodes and the Dodecanese Islands;
and 6,000 in the southern littoral of Asia Minor (“The Gulf”), i.e. 12,000 in the
Cibyrrhaeots altogether, for an overall total of 18,500 (Treadgold 1997: 376,


412). Curiously, he does not count any oarsmen in the Imperial (central)
Fleet.(*) At, say, 200 men per ship, this represents respectively 33, 30 and 30
war-galleys, total 93. Or, using 150 rowers as the average per vessel: as
many as 123 ships.
In an earlier presentation, he had the oarsmen distributed as follows: a
central, imperial fleet at Constantinople with 19,600 men; Cibyrrhaeots
12,300; and Hellas 6,500 for an overall total of 38,400 oarsmen (Treadgold
1995: 67). If we divide by 200, we have figures of respectively 98 galleys, 62
and 33 galleys; total 193 ships. Or, using 150 as the average: 256 ships. Cf
reports by Ibn Khaldun and others that a fleet of “360” Imperial ships
attacked Damietta in Egypt in 739. This number probably included many
small boats (Dromon p.33).

(*) There is a seeming contradiction in his 1995 book that I do not

understand: at 1995:196 he lists only18,500 oarsmen in the state
payroll for ca. 775, yet at 1995:67 he has 38,400 oarsmen enrolled,
including 19,600 in the Imperial (central) Fleet in 773.

The Size of Field Armies: Imperial and Enemy

It is often difficult to credit the reported size of expeditionary armies. Here we

simply list promiscuously various exaggerated and some more realistic

Reputed size Army Year + Notes and discussion

135,000 Arab and 806: Invasion of Al-Tabari’s figure. Commonly
Iranian Asia Minor under regarded as the largest ever
Harun that sent against Byzantium.
reached the Black According to Theophanes,
Sea east of “60,000” men, just part of the
Constantinople. total, marched on Ancyra.

100,000 Byzantine 778: Not credible; greater than the

(Theophanes) Lachanodracon’s entire number enrolled in the
expedaion into N whole army. The expedition was
Syria drawn from five Themes and
presumably also from the
Tagmata, suggesting a total
more like 25,000.

“95,793” Arab 782: Expedition

under Harun that
reached Asian
shore of the

80,000 (al- Byzantine 778: Not credible.

Baladhuri) Lachanodracon’s
expedition into N


80,000 Byzantine 772: Assembled in Not credible.

(Theophanes) Thrace for an
attack on the

50-75,000 Arab 780: Harun’s Possible.

invasion of
Byzantine Asia

50,000 Bulgar 811: One of two Not credible.

enemy armies
crushed by

30,000 Bulgar Number of elite, Presumably non-elite types

(contemporary mail-armoured, number as many again.
Greek source) troops employed
by Khan Krum.

26,000 Byzantine 813: Under Haldon’s guesstimate, noting

emperor Michael that detachments were drawn
at Versinikia from “all” the Themes.

25,000 Byzantine Very large

(Haldon) expeditionary
forces –

20,000 Byzantine 797: Number

assembled for an
aborted attack on
an Arab invasion

20,000 (al- Byzantine 745-46: Attack on

Baladhuri) N Syria by
Constantine V.

12,000 Byzantine Typical maximum Haldon, in Pryor 2006: 135.

(Haldon) for a field army
operating in the

12,000 Bulgar 813: At Versinikia. Haldon’s guesstimate.

12,000 Bulgar 773: Incursion into

Slavic Macedonia

12,000 Bulgar 811: The smaller

of two armies
crushed by



The world's largest cities were to be found in West and East Asia. The
sequence of the largest city ran thus, according to Tertius Chandler's (1987)
Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census, Lewiston, NY:
The Edwin Mellen Press:

i. Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, 340-570 CE: 400,000 people by

500. The Christian Roman Empire; much reduced by the 8th century. Cf the
entry for 745-47 below (nadir following the plague).

ii. Then: overtaken by Ctesiphon, Iraq 570-637. Capital of the Zoroastrian

empire of Sassanian Persia. Or so says Chandler: In truth, it is doubtful that
Ctesiphon ever equalled Constantinople.

iii. China, Tang dynasty: Chang’an (Xi'an), by 637: - rising from 400,000
people (in 622) to 600,000 (in 800) according to Chandler. Probably under-
estimates in both cases. - Contemporary Chinese sources put Chang’an at
well over 1.5 million in 742 (Alfred Schinz, The magic square: cities in ancient
China. Editions Axel Menges, 1996 p.175).

iv. Abbasid BAGHDAD, Iraq, by 775: First city over one million since antique
Rome? Then down to 700,000 (in 800)? Probably an over-estimate for 775,
the city having been only recently founded; but certainly it became distinctly
larger than contemporary Constantinople.
Lapidus 2002: 59 offers ‘400,000’ for the population in the 800s, which he
considers was twice that of Constantinople.

In India, the Pala empire was founded by Gopala, r. ca.750-70. His capital was
on the lower Ganges at Pataliputra (modern Patna). The city had been
largely in ruins when visited (AD 637) by Hsüan-tsang, but was restored in
the 700s.

775-780: LEO IV ‘the Khazar’

On Constantine V's death in August 775, his son Leo IV succeeded

to the throne at the age of 25 years. He crowned his own five-year
old son Constantine VI soon after his accession, on Easter Sunday,
14 April 776.

Leo is sometimes known as ‘the Khazar’ because his mother Irene,

died 750, was born a Khazar. (The Khazars adopted Judaism in
about 740; presumably Irene herself was raised a pagan.) Irene the
mother is not to be confused with Irene, Leo’s wife, born c.755 or

Gibbon describes Leo as “of a feeble constitution both of mind and


body”. McCormick, Triumphal p. 140, suggests that the poor health

of the emperor was a factor in the re-emergence of the thematic
generals as an independent political force.

c.775: N Italy: Lombard Spoleto acknowledges Francia’s suzerainty.

Benevento remained independent. See 781.

Large Landowners and Communally-owned Village-Estates

Although the Neo-Roman empire was, as we have said, “ruralised”, it by no

means consisted all of small peasant villages.
Evidence of magnates and large estates is available for the 700s. St
Philaretos of Paphlagonia in N Asia Minor, born 702, who gave away his
worldly possessions, had 12,000 sheep on 48 “domains” – an average 250
sheep per domain - spread across Paphlagonia, Galatia and Pontus. His
holdings also supported 600 head of cattle, 100 teams of oxen [NB: average
two per ‘domain’], 800 mares and 80 mules and packhorses.
The chronicler Theophanes Confessor, born about 760, grew up as a
wealthy young man: he too, deciding to become a monk, gave away all his
worldly goods, which included estates in Bithynia and many slaves. He paid
for the construction of a fort at Cyzicus at his own expense; and, when he
became a monk, he still possessed sufficient capital to found an extensive
monastery (Mango p.48, Rautman p.165).

Although our information is not very reliable, by the seventh century,

probably the greater part of agricultural production was undertaken by
villagers, the village being the context in which the rural economy gradually
picked up. There was more to a village than the sum of its holdings. It was
also a community or commune (koinotes tou choriou), which administered a
territory that could often be vast. As a commune, the village itself owned
land, often plots that had fallen into escheat and would eventually be
reattributed to a villager in order to meet the “requirements of the fisc”, i.e.
taxation by the state (Lefort in Laiou, ed. 2002).

Caliph al-Mahdi.* This was a sobriquet, his birth name being Abu ‘Abd Allah b.
‘Abd Allah.
In contrast to his father, the new caliph participated personally in
campaigns against the Byzantines, or at least until 780. Thereafter his son
Harun was the nominal commander of expeditions against the Byzantines
(Kennedy 1981: 97, 106).

(*) Meaning ‘guided [by God], ‘the rightly guided one’.

1. Anatolia: The Arab summer raid penetrates into Asia Minor as far as

2. The East: Romanic raid into Muslim Mesopotamia: the Byzantines ravage
the countryside and sack Samosata, the fortress-town on the upper


Euphrates. Cf 778 – Germanicia, and 779 – Hadath.

From the Arabs’ point of view, Samosata (Sumaysat) was the strategic
crossing point on the upper Euphrates, whence they proceeded to the main
frontier outposts of Malatya (Melitene), Hadath and Mar’ash (Germanicia)
(Kennedy 1981: 22). See 787, 779.

3. Leo continued Constantine's development of the Tagmata, the central

regiments in Constantinople, as an elite force in the field. Partly this was to
offset the power of the Thematic generals.
In 776, shortly after his accession, he transferred a number of soldiers
from the theme armies into the Tagmata which Theophanes calls “the
imperial guards”. This caused army unrest: officers of the theme armies
marched with their troops into Constantinople and were only pacified with
difficulty (TCOT: 136; Grierson 1962: 54).

McCormick, Triumphal p. 140, suggests that the poor health of the emperor
was a factor in the re-emergence of the thematic generals as an independent
political force.

4. S Italy: The dire situation in Campania (or it may be Tuscany that is

referenced) is illustrated in a letter from Pope Hadrian to Charlemagne; he
says that the inhabitants of the Campanian littoral, or some of them, were so
desperate with hunger that they actually volunteered for enslavement when
“Greek” slavers appeared (Kreutz p.13). Presumably the latter were Sicilo-
Byzantines; but McCormick (see below) thinks they may have been
Neapolitan Greeks. Cf 778: Gaeta.
Hadrian or Adrian I denies that it was the people of Rome who were selling
slaves to the Saracens. Instead, he tells Charlemagne, the Lombards (here
meaning non-Greek Italians) were selling slaves, ordinarily pagan Slavs
brought south via Pavia, to the Venetians and the masters of visiting
Byzantine ships (“the unspeakable Greeks”: necdicendi Greci). The Greeks
on-sold the slaves to the Muslims. The Pope claimed to have asked duke Allo
of Lucca to send a fleet against the Byzantine slavers, but Allo declined or
lacked the resources. The pope claims that he himself did what he could,
burning several Greek slave-ships in “our city of Civitavecchia” [the port on
the coast WNW of Rome]. —Quoted in Philips 1985: 62; also McCormick
2001: 630.

Quote: “It is true”, writes Hadrian, “that the unspeakable Greeks have
traded along the Lombard shore and bought families from thence, and
have formed a friendship for slave-trading purposes with the Lombards
themselves. Wherefore we ordered duke Alio [Allo] to prepare many
ships that he might capture the Greeks and burn their fleet, but he
refused to obey our commands. As for us, we have neither ships nor
sailors to catch them with.” . . . “the Lombards themselves, as we have
been told, constrained by hunger have sold many families into slavery.
And others of the Lombards have of their own accord gone on board
the slave-ships of the Greeks, because they had no other hope of a
livelihood” (quoted in Hodgkin III: 45-46).


776: One of the first Western illustrations of the stirrup, in a text from
N Spain: Beatus’ Commentary on the Apocalypse (Hyland p.11; also
Nic Fields & Christa Hook, The Huns: Scourge of God, Osprey Books
2006). The stirrup was first mentioned in a Byantine text about 600, so
we may guess that it reached the Latin West around 700. But perhaps
it was introduced later: via Christian N Spain from Muslim Spain after
the Islamic conquest of al-Andalus, i.e. by about 750.

The pagan Bulgar khan Telerig, exiled in Constantinople, is baptised in the
imperial city (Theophanes AM 6269), but Christianisation of Bulgaria does not
proceed. Cf 860s.

To 778:
See 778: Armenian army officers in Imperial service. The powerful
Mamikonean family lost their power, influence and territories after the
unsuccessful and defeated rebellion of Musegh Mamikonean and Smbat
Bagratuni, i.e. particularly after the battle at Bagrawand in 775, They had to
flee to Byzantium, and with them, several naxarar (noble) families too. Only
the lesser naxarar families and the ancient aristocracy stayed in Armenia,
and their existence there depended on the settlement of the Arabs. –
Horvath, ‘Armenian Noble Families’, at

1. Syria: Leo's strategy in Asia Minor against the Arabs has been seen as both
successful and primarily defensive, i.e. securing Byzantine-held fortresses
and hindering Arab raiding parties, while avoiding direct conflict. Cf 779-80.
In 778, while the Muslims were assembling for their summer raid into the
empire, a large** thematic army was assembled, drawn, says Theophanes,
from the Opsikians, the Thrakesians, the Anatolics and the Armeniacs. Led by
Michael Lachanodracon, strategos of the Thrakesians, it proceeded into N
Syria where it besieged Mar’ash or Germanicia, which it failed to capture.
Having pillaged the countryside, the East Romans withdrew.

The Eastern Expedition of 778

Little has survived, writes Garland, about Leo's activities as ruler, although
according to Theophanes he sent an army "100,000" strong - doubtless a
great exaggeration** - against the Arabs in northern Syria under the
command of the committed iconoclast general Michael Lachanodracon in 778
(TCOT: 138; Lynda Garland, ‘Leo IV’:,
accessed Feb 2005). Lachanodracon was general of the Thracesion theme.
The other themes involved were the Anatolikon, Bucellarion, Armeniakon and
Opsikion, five in all, commanded respectively by the ethnic Armenians
Artabasdos, Tatzes, Barsisterotzes (‘Karisterotzes’ in Theophanes) ; and the
“Greek” Gregory, son of Muselakios.

(**) Haldon, in Pryor 2006: 135, says that Byzantine field armies


marching in and from Asia Minor typically numbered under 12,000

men, sometimes as few as 4,000. It was “exceptional” to field as many
as 25,000.

For the campaign of 778 we may imagine that 5,000 troops were drawn the
Tagmata, which is conservative, and that each of the themes in question also
supplied 5,000, for a total of perhaps 30,000 men. The total troops enrolled
in the whole army came to only about 80,000.

Cf al-Baladhuri: “Mikha'il [Michael] set out from Darb al-Hadath [Adata] at the
head of 80,000 [sic!] men and came to 'Amk Mar'ash [Germanicia], killing,
burning and carrying away the Muslims as captives. Thence he advanced to
the gate of the city of Mar'ash in which there was 'Isa ibn-'Ali who in that year
was on an expedition. The freed-men of 'Isa together with the inhabitants of
the city and their troops sallied out against Michael and showered on him
their lancets [?javelins] and arrows. Michael gave way before them and they
followed him until they were outside the city range; at which he turned upon
them, killing eight of 'Isa's freedmen and chasing the rest back to the city.
Having gone in, they closed its gates and Michael, after investing the city,
departed and stopped at Jaihan.” The multi-theme expedition of 778
besieged Germanicia [Marash] - though Theophanes, a biassed source, claims
that the Arabs bribed Lachanodracon to withdraw - and achieved some
success against an Arab army in an engagement in which ‘five emirs and
2,000 Arabs’ were said to have fallen. The generals were awarded a triumph
for this victory. The expedition was also involved in capturing 'heretical'
Syrian Jacobites who were then resettled in Thrace.

The triumph or celebration was poorly recorded and seems to have been
quite unlike earlier triumphs, being held far from downtown Constantinople,
across the water in the Asiatic suburbs of the city. Although performed in
front of the co-emperors Leo and his son, it celebrated the regiments rather
than the emperor or a single general. It may be that Leo was seeking to gain
the support for the succession of his son, which was being challenged by
Leo's half-brothers (McCormick pp.137, 140).

2. Italy: The Byzantine patrician of Sicily [i.e. its governor who held the court
title of patrikios] establishes his headquarters at Gaeta during his campaign
against the Saracens in Campania. The patrician of Sicily came to Gaeta
partly to lure the towns of Campania away from pope Hadrian's authority and
back to Byzantine allegiance: Cod. Car., 61. —Brown 1984: 130.

3. The Franks under Charlemagne intervene in northern Spain - nominally to

aid the emir of Zaragoza against the emir of Cordoba. The Song of Roland is a
later (and distorted) account of the return journey.

Asia: From 778 the caliphate sent a series of increasingly aggressive summer
expeditions into Byzantine territory (Shaban p.25).


The Byzantine defensive policy continued to be successful in 779, when a

large Arab army – Theophanes writes of “Black-cloaks, Syrians and
Mesopotamians” - was halted at Dorylaeum, halfway between Nicaea and
Amorium: west of modern Ankara, and a further success was again achieved
by Michael Lachanodracon against an Arab raiding party in 780 (TCOT: 138,
“black-cloaks” being a term for Abbasids). The Byzantines avoided pitched
battles, preferring to “dog the Arabs’ heels”, burn the pastures ahead of and
behind them, and retire into strongly garrisoned forts.
Old N Syria, today’s SE Turkey: The Byzantines take Muslim Hadath, north-
east of Marash, and destroy its walls. Hadath lay west of the upper
Euphrates, within the triangle formed by the cities Marash, Malatya/Melitene
and Samsat/Samosata. In response, the army of the Caliph penetrated (779)
deep into central Asia Minor, raiding as far as Dorylaeum [med. Dorylaion:
present-day Turkish Eskisehir - west of Ankara] between Amorium and

“Dogging the Arabs’ Heels”, 779

Defensive policy: "The emperor”, wrote Theophanes, “ordered the strategoi

[generals] not to fight an open war, but to make the forts secure by
stationing garrisons of soldiers in them. [The emperor arranged with his
generals that they should not meet the Arabs in the field but secure the
fortresses and bring in men to guard them.] He appointed high-ranking
officers at each fort and instructed them to take each 3,000 chosen men and
to follow the Arabs so as to prevent them from spreading out on pillaging
raids, while burning in advance the horses' pasture and whatever other
supplies were to be found.” [He also sent high-ranking officers to each
fortress who were to take about 3,000 select soldiers to dog the Arabs’ heels
so that their raiding party would not break up. Even before this they were to
burn whatever fodder was to be found for the Arabs’ horses.] . . . After the
Arabs had remained 15 days at Dorylaion, they ran short of necessities and
their horses were hungry and many of them perished. Turning back, they
besieged Amorion for one day. But finding it fortified and well-armed, they
withdrew without achieving any success." – Theophanes, AM 6272 [AD
779/80]; trans. Mango & Scott (1997) p. 624; with Turtledove’s translation
interpolated in square brackets.

779-96: fl. Offa, king of Mercia in central England. Conqueror of Essex

and Sussex, i.e. eastwards and southwards. In 779 he defeated Essex,
giving Mercia domination in southern Britain (Wessex being the lesser
kingdom in the south). “Offa’s Dyke” was a border frontier against the
‘Celtic’ Britons (“Welsh”).
A third Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Northumbria, ruled in the north.

The caliphate: Patriarchate of Timothy I, greatest of the Nestorian patriarchs
under the Arab Caliphate. Metropolitans are appointed for Armenia and Syria,
and the Khaghan of the Turks in Central Asia is said to have been converted.



1. Anatolia: Arab raiding is escalated to full-scale war. Prince Harun, age 14,
leads, or rather he nominally leads, a large expedition, including many
Khorasani troops, against the empire (Kennedy 1981: 106). The first leg of
the expedition was led by the caliph Mahdi himself; having established a new
base at Raqqa in eastern Syria, ancient Kallinikos, on the Euphrates east of
Aleppo, he delegated to young Harun the formal responsibility of taking the
army into the empire (Shaban p.25).
“Harun invaded the Armenaic theme [the valley of the Halys]* and
besieged the fortress of Semalouos [Samalu, in the Bucellarian theme] all
summer long; in September he took it on terms [i.e. by surrender]. He sent
50,000 men to Asia [i.e. western Asia Minor] under Thumama” (TCOT: 139).
This may imply that Harun’s entire force numbered more like 75,000.

(*) In 780 the headquarters of the Armeniac theme was at Euchaita, on

the lower Halys River inland from Sinope.

There were two major passes into the empire through the Anti-Taurus
Mountains: (a) the Pass of Adata, NE of Caesarea; and (b) the Pass of
Melitene, SE of Sebastea (Treadgold, Army p.30).

2. In 780, when the 'Slav eunuch' (ethnic Slav) Patriarch Nicetas died, Leo
appointed Paul of Cyprus to the patriarchate.
Paul is depicted by Theophanes as having iconophile sympathies and only
accepting the appointment under duress. It is hardly likely, however, that Leo
would have chosen a patriarch hostile to his policies. Paul was more
moderate than his predecessors. Nevertheless, shortly afterwards, Leo seems
to have renewed the persecution of iconophiles which Constantine V had
instituted in the 760s.
Leo, though an iconoclast, originally pursued a policy of moderation
towards iconophiles, but his policies became much harsher in August 780,
shortly before his death. A number of courtiers were punished for icon-
veneration: the most prominent among them, Theophanes the cubicularius
and parakoimomenos [lit. ‘he who sleeps beside’, i.e. the head chamberlain],
died as a result.
In August 780, a number of prominent courtiers were arrested, scourged,
tonsured and imprisoned; we are told that Theophanes the cubicularius and
parakoimomenus [high chamberlain and bedroom bodyguard] died under the
treatment. (Koubikoularios was a generic term for eunuch chamberlain. The
parakoimomenos, the highest ranking eunuch, supervised the personal safety
of the emperor by locking himself within his bedchamber at night; specifically
he slept across the door of the bedchamber (Rautman p.89; Herrin 2007:

3. Leo IV dies unexpectedly; aged only 31.

Leo's death of a fever on 8 September 780, while campaigning against the
Bulgarians, allowed the empress Irene to reverse his policies at the earliest
possible opportunity. The rumour was current - perhaps put about by Irene or
her supporters - that Leo had died of an illness contracted after taking and
wearing the jewelled ecclesiastical crown from the Great Church of St Sophia,
which had been dedicated there by Maurice or Heraclius. "On 8 September of


the 4th indiction, Constantine's son Leo died in the following manner. Being
inordinately addicted to precious stones, he became enamoured of the crown
of the Great Church, which he took and wore on his head. His head developed
carbuncles and, seized by a violent fever, he died after a reign of 5 years less
6 days" (writes Theophanes, AM 6272).
Treadgold 1997: 370 proposes that this was simply a story put about by his
wife, who was probably responsible for his death.

The Empire in 780: Territorial Review

After the map in Treadgold 1997: 368.

Since 737 there have been further Balkan losses to the Bulgarians.
Independent Slavic tribes—lacking a state structure—continued to hold most
of the Balkans including present-day Albania and western and central Greece.
In NE Italy the the Lombards have taken the remains of the Exarchate around
Ravenna. And a small Papal State has emerged in central Italy, with the
Franks as its guarantors against Lombard interference.

The empire comprised:

— part of Sardinia (a duchy or ducate); the whole of Sicily (a province or
theme); the toe and the bare heel of Italy (the ducate of Calabria). The seat
of the Theme of Sicily, which included Calabria, was Syracuse;
— Venice and several outposts on the Dalmatian coast and in south-western
Greece [Cephalonia]. The key towns or fortress-villages were Venice (Ducate
of Venetia), Jadera (Ducate of Dalmatia), Dyrrhachium (Archontate* of
Dyrrhachium), and Panormus (Archontate of Cephalonia).

(*) A territory smaller than a Theme; from archon, ‘leader, local


— eastern Greece except Thessaly; also Thessaloniki and southern Thrace.

Part of the Peloponnesus too was under imperial authority, this being
indicated by the fact that bishops from Patras, Corinth and Monemvasia
attended the Council of Nicaea in 787.
Corinth was the seat of the Theme of Hellas; Thessalonica was the seat of
the Archontate of Thessalonica; and Arcadiopolis was the seat of the Theme
of Thrace;
— Crete, an archontate governed from Gortyn;
— Cyprus: an archontate ruled from Constantia. It sent five bishops to the
Council of 787;
— eastern Thrace [theme of Thrace] and the capital; and
— almost all of Asia Minor (as far as the Anti-Taurus mountains and excluding
There was also a Rhomaion toe-hold in the Crimea called “Cherson”.

From west to east, the Themes of Asia Minor and their seats were: the
Opsikion (administered from Nicaea), the Thracesian (inland Chonae), the
Cibyrrhaeot (Attalia), the Anatolic – extending to Cappadocia and western
Cilicia (Amorium), the Bucellarian (Ancyra), and the Armeniac – extending to


Pontus (managed from Euchaïta on the Halys south of Sinope).

In S Italy, an expanded Lombard duchy of Benevento - it will come under
Frankish suzerainty from 787 - extended down to the Gulf of Taranto
[present-day Basilicata], including (since 686) the town of Tarentum/Taranto,
separating the Byzantine toe from the Byzantine heel. The empire ruled only
the bare lower heel of Apulia, ‘the Land of Otranto’ (recovered from the
Lombards in the mid 700s).
Slavic tribes controlled the whole western half of the Peloponnesus and
part of the Gulf of Corinth. Slavs also controlled a section of the NE coast of
Greece between Thessalonica and Adrianople, where the Strymon River
enters the Aegean. Thus the ‘archontate’ or lesser province of Thessalonica
was surrounded by Slav tribes on all sides and there was no land link
between East and West. But in any case it was faster to use sea travel
from southern Italy via the Ionian Sea to the Aegean, eg from Syracuse in
Sicily around the bottom of Greece to Athens, and thence to the capital.
It was not until 867 (see there) that land communications were restored
across the N Balkans between Constantinople and Rome. Northern Thrace
was divided between Slav tribes, the Bulgarians and Byzantium. A line from
Versinica, north of Adrianople, to Mesembria marked approximately the
border of Byzantine Thrace. Although the Bulgarian capital was at Pliska,
south of the lower Danube, the larger part of Bulgarian territory still lay north
of the river.
The longest land axis of imperial rule was the transect across Asia Minor,
from the coast of the Opsician theme, opposite the Hellespont, to the Black
Sea coast near Abasgia in modern Georgia.
The largest cluster of towns and cities, which included Smyrna [modern
Izmir] and Ephesus, was to be found in the Thracesian Theme, i.e. the south-
west quarter of Asia Minor (maps in Treadgold 1997: 368, 404).

To recapitulate, the provincial capitals or governors' seats were as follows: 1.

theme of Sicily, which included Calabria: ruled from SYRACUSE; 2. the ducate
of Venetia: ruled from VENICE; 3. ducate of Dalmatia: JADERA or Dhiadhera or
Zadar in present-day coastal Croatia; 4. Cephalonia (*) from PANORMUS or
Phiscardium, a town on Corfu; 5. Dyrrhachium (*): seat at DYRRHACHIUM; 6.
the theme of Hellas: CORINTH; 7. Crete (*): GORTYN, 45 km SW of Iraklion; 8.
Thessalonica (*): THESSALONICA; 9. the theme of Thrace: ARCADIOPOLIS; 10.
Opsician: NICAEA; 11. Thracesian: inland CHONAE; 12. Bucellarion: ANCYRA
[Ankara]; 14. Anatolic in central Anatolia: AMORIUM; 15. Cibyrrhaeot:
ATTALIA; 16. Cyprus (*): CONSTANTIA; 17. Armeniac: EUCHAITA, between
Ankara and Sinope; and 18. Cherson (*): CHERSON (Treadgold State 1997,
map at p.368).

* = Minor provinces called ‘archontates’, with just 100 soldiers each.


Above: Irene. 10th C illustration.

780-802: IRENE, Gk: EIRENE, regent for CONSTANTINE VI to

797, and from 797 sole ruler in her own right.

Born in Athens c. 755 (or 752), Eirene was aged about 25 when her
husband Leo IV died, or was killed, in 780. Their son, Constantine
VI, aged nine or perhaps 10, already formally crowned co-emperor
by his late father, became sole emperor under the regency of his
mother. Her regency gave the signal for monastic liberation (from

Gibbon says Irene performed the role of regent ably and

assiduously, and her period of sole rule was “crowned with external
splendour”. Treadgold says she had keen political instinct and a
strong will, but she seems to have lost much of her old spirit by the
time she and her allies removed her son from the throne. “On the
whole the results [of her 22 years’ rule] served the empire rather
well” (1997: 424).

1. The East: As noted, Harun, the Muslim Khalif's second son, leads, or at
least he nominally leads, the annual summer raid into the Romanic or
Byzantine empire. The Caliph accompanied the expedition from Baghdad as
far as Syria. This and the later expedition of 782 were the “largest and most


far reaching” conducted since Umayyad times (Kennedy 1981: 106; also
Arvites 1983).

2. A plot was discovered and the following conspirators were punished: 1

Gregory, the ‘logothete of the drome’ or minister for communications:
manager of the state highways an imperial mail; 2 Bardas, the general of the
Armeniacs; 3 Constantine, the domesticus of the Excubitors; 4 Theophylactus
Rhangabe, the ‘drungarius of the Dodekanese’, i.e. a ‘commodore’ or sub-
commander within the Cibyrrhaeot fleet; and others (TCOT: 140).3.

The population of the capital rose quickly after the plague of 747, reaching
probably about 100,000 by 780, according to Treadgold 1997: 405.
In the Romaniyan empire, only in the capital did one find educated men,
schools, rewards for scholarship, and collections of books. In the provinces,
those who could read and write—priests, military officers, tax collectors, land
owners, traders etc—probably limited themselves to reading simple texts
such as saints’ lives and writing simple records and accounts (Treadgold
1984: 81).

The libraries of Byzantium were still comprehensive in 780, if little used. They
included not only all the ancient Greek literature that has been directly
transmitted to us, but about as much again. In other words, about half was
lost after 780 (ibid.) – which is to say: not during the Dark Age.

c. 780:
Cilicia: The caliphate establishes a naval base at or near Tarsus in Cilicia in
about 780; the ships were presumably moored in the estuary of the river that
connects the town to the sea (Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 91; Kennedy 2008:
335-37). Cf 805-06: Byzantine sack of Tarsus and Muslim naval riposte from
Syria (Acre).

From 780:
Empress Irene recalls the iconoclast exiles: the effect was a sponsoring of
patristic research. The scholars were directed to lay the theological
groundwork for a final condemnation of iconoclasm (see Council of 786-87).
—Treadgold, Revival, 1979.

For this period the chronicler Theophanes Confessor becomes a primary
source, valuable for the court politics of Constantinople and for the relations
of the Byzantine empire with the Caliphate, the Bulgarians and the early

1. Anatolia: The Arabs' summer raid into Byzantine territory was made
through the route to Caesarea from Hadath – ‘the Pass of Adata’ - through
the Anti-Taurus, NE of Byzantine Caesarea. The raiders were intercepted by a
large Byzantine force at a place called “Melon” soon after crossing the


mountains, and forced to withdraw (TCOT: 141). Cf 782.

Approximately 7,000 people were taken captive (enslaved) by the Arabs in
the region of Ephesus in “781”. The Byzantine emperor, Leo, retaliated by
sending an army that took Syrian Christians (monophysites)* captive and
resettled them in Thrace (source: Michael the Syrian, Chronique, III, 2, IV,
497). This would have been Leo IV (775-80), already dead. Michael's
chronology is at least one year off at this point. Theophanes puts this event in
770. The people would not have been Chalcedonians, but from Michael's
point of view, Syrian Orthodox Christians.

(*) Muslims as yet constituted only a small proportion of the caliph’s


2. Sicily: Elpidius, the newly appointed strategos of Sicily, joined (April 781)
the Caesars' faction against Irene: when the rebel Sicilians would not return
him to Constantinople, Irene had his wife and sons scourged, tonsured and
imprisoned. A large fleet under the eunuch patrician Theodore succeeded
(782) in defeating the Sicilians, and Elpidius fled to Africa where he defected
to the Arabs (TCOT: 141;

3a. The Patriarch (“pope”) of Rome anoints the Frankish ruler Charlemagne
as "king of Italy". Cf 787, 799 and 800.
In this year also, the Northumbrian [English] scholar named Ealhwine or
Alcuin enters Charlemagne's service: this is the conventional date for the
beginning of a revival of learning in the West, called today 'the Carolingian
Renaissance' [781-831]. Note that Charlemagne himself was illiterate. Cf
Einhard: “He also tried to write, and used to keep tablets and blanks in bed
under his pillow, that at leisure hours he might accustom his hand to form the
letters; however, as he did not begin his efforts in due season, but late in life,
they met with ill success”. On the other hand, he spoke Latin well, and
understood some Greek. He was “such a master of Latin that he could speak
it as well as his native tongue; but he could understand Greek better than he
could speak it” (ibid.). Not too bad for a barbarian!

3b. Irene dispatched (before 25 May 781) a marriage embassy to Francia to

propose that her son Constantine should marry Erythro (properly: Rotrud or
Rotrude, meaning “red”), the daughter of king Karoulos (Charles, afterwards
‘Charlemagne’). The embassy reached Francia in 802.
Interestingly Theophanes (trans. 1997: 629; TCOT: 141) refers to the
Byzantine tongue that Rotrud was to be taught as ton Graikon grammata kai
ten glossan (“Greek letters and language” or “letters and language of the
Greeks”). At this time Rhomaike glossa, ‘the Roman language’, which came
to mean Byzantine Greek, still meant Latin.

100th anniversary of the treaty that allowed the Bulgars to settle south of the
Danube …. see 784.

781: The West: King Elfwald of Northumbria sent Alcuin (English

Ealhwine) to Rome to petition the Pope for official confirmation of


York’s status as an archbishopric and to confirm the election of a new

archbishop, Eanbald I. It was at Parma, on his way home, that Alcuin
met Charles, king of the Franks. From 782 to 790, Alcuin had as pupils
Charlemagne himself, his sons Pepin and Louis, the young men sent for
their education to the court, and the young clerics attached to the
palace chapel.

1. Asia Minor: To avenge the embarrassment of 781, the 19-years old prince
Harun led - or again was nominally in charge of - a massive Muslim
expedition that proceeded across Romanic Asia Minor to the Bosphorus at
Chalcedon, or rather to nearby Chrysopolis (Theophanes, trans. 1997: 629;
TCOT: 142).

Tabari says that Harun's field army of 782 numbered "95,793" [sic!] paid
soldiers and other unpaid volunteers in addition. Or perhaps this was the
total including ‘volunteers’ (muttawi’ah). Either way, it was more men than
were enrolled in the entire Byzantine army (Treadgold 1997: 418; Kennedy
1981: 77; Shaban p.25, citing Tabari iii, 503, and Azdi).

Having reached the Opsikion theme, the Arab army divided into three corps:
Harun’s corps marched to Bithynia and reached Chrysopolis; Ibn Junus’s
corps unsucessfully laid siege to Nacolia or Nakoleia in Phrygia [near modern
Eskisehir]; and Yahya ibn Khalid’s (Barmaki’s) corps entered the Thrakesian

Michael the Syrian says that some 7,000 people (civilians) were taken captive
by the Arabs in the region of Ephesus in “781” (ie by Yahya in 762).
Meanwhile the Tagmata (“the imperial guards”) under Antonius came out as
far as Bane, modern Sapanca, east of Nicomedia.

The patrician Nicetas, count of the Opsikion, who sought to oppose Harun’s
march, was defeated by Harun's general, Yazid b. Mazyad*, and put to flight.
Harun then marched against Nicomedia, where he vanquished Antonius the
Domesticus, the chief commander of the ‘Greek’ forces, and pitched his camp
on the shores of the Bosphorus opposite Constantinople.

(*) Yazid b. Mazyad al-Shaybani, governor of Azerbaijan, Armenia,

Arran, Sharvan and Bab al-Abwab.

In one battle “at a place called Darenos” in which Yahya’s corps perhaps
defeated the Thrakesian troops under Lachanodrakon, the enemy forces
numbered “30,000”, says Theophanes (TCOT: 142). They killed, says Michael
the Syrian, “10,000” Byzantine soldiers. Theophanes says, however, that
Lachanodrakon killed “15,000” of the enemy force of “30,000”, implying a
Byzantine victory. Given that the Thrakesians numbered only 8,000 men
(Treadgold Army p. 67), Lachanodrakon plainly had charge of a multi-theme
force. Cf 806.


Stauracius was sent to negotiate with the Arabs when Harun asked for peace
negotiations. Due to their failure to take adequate precautions, the
negotiators were seized, the Bucellarion troops joined their general Tatzates
in defecting, and Irene had to agree to a three-year truce for which she paid a
huge annual tribute of 70 or 90,000 dinars (160,000 nomismata) to the
Arabs; give them 10,000 silk garments; and provide them with guides,
provisions and access to markets during their withdrawal from the empire.
Also much booty was taken.

2. Staurakios was the eunuch minister for foreign affairs, literally ‘the
logothetes of the oxys dromos’ [“swift course”], which means manager of the
state highways and state messenger service. He went with Petros and
Antonios to negotiate peace with the Arabs under prince Harun (Aaron);
through carelessness for their own safety they fell into Harun’s hands; the
peace that was subsequently made strongly favoured the Arabs: PBW, citing
Theoph. AM 6274.

Aristotle's Topics is translated into Arabic by order of the caliph al-
Mansur (d.785).
Al-Mansur is also the first Muslim known to have defended Islam in public
debate with a Christian prelate. Cf 790 below.
Cf Angold, Bridge 2001: 39: “Though the cultural dominance of Byzantium
waned from the end of the 6th century, it remained a factor into the 9th
century, by which time the Carolingian West [the Frankish realms of
Charlemagne] and the Abbasid caliphate sought to emulate and surpass
Byzantium rather than [simply] emulate it”. The Franks failed; the Abbasids

From 782: Beginnings of medieval Germany: The Christian Franks

under Charlemagne conquer pagan Saxony.
Gibbon, Decline & Fall v.5, and Trager, People's Chronology, say that
the Franks beheaded ‘4,500’ Saxon hostages in AD 782 in the
‘massacre of Verden’ in what is now NW Germany. They had been
caught practising paganism after converting to Christianity. More
likely, through a copying error the Latin delocabat, meaning ‘exiled’ or
‘displaced’, became for more decollabat, meaning ‘beheaded’.

The lower Balkans: Stauricius or Stavrákios, the eunuch “logothete of the
imperial drome [tou dromou]” or minister for foreign affairs, with Tagmatic
and thematic forces, campaigns against the pagan Slavs—“the Sklavinian
tribes”—near Thessalonica, in central Greece [Hellas] and in the
Peloponnesus. Theophanes relates that an army under the logothete "tou
dromou" (‘of the Swift Course’ or Highway), Staurikios, advanced to
Thessalonica and Hellas, where he subdued the Slavs and made them pay
the tribute to the emperor; he then moved into the Peloponnese and took
many captives (Treadgold 1997: 418). He “subjected them all” (TCOT: 142).
The surrender of the Slavs of Thessaly, Hellas, and the Peloponnesus was


secured at long last by the patrician Staurakios heading a large army in 782–
783; a few pockets of resistance were afterwards defeated by the strategos
Skleros in 805. Cf 784: march into Slavic western Thrace.

(*) Logothetes tou dromou (‘Postal Logothete’) – the head of diplomacy

and the state highway-postal-transport service: ‘minister for
communications and foreign affairs’.

Staurakios was patrikios and logothetes of the oxys dromos, Latin: cursus
velox, or ‘manager of the state highways and state messenger service’; thus
foreign minister. He was sent by the empress Eirene against the Slav tribes at
Thessalonike and in Hellas. He subdued and made them tributary to the
Byzantine empire; he also entered the Peloponnesos from where he took
many prisoners and much booty back to the empire: Theoph. AM 6275. He
returned from his success over the Slav tribes in January 784 and celebrated
his victory in a triumphal procession to the hippodrome. —PBW, citing
Theoph. AM 6276.
Subsequently, around AD 800, perhaps in 805, a new theme was created
in the Peloponnese. It seems that in 783 the Byzantines either chose not to,
or were unable to, put in place any government structure over the
Peloponnesus. In other words, Staurikios’s incursion was just a raid (Vine
1991: 79-80). Cf 805.

This was the first time since the temporary collapse of the empire in 602 (180
years earlier) that an East Roman army succeeded in marching right through
from Constantinople to the Peloponnesus (Toynbee p.92). = First attempt
to subdue the Slavic tribes in central and southern Greece. Cf 789,

1. Constantinople: As mentioned, a parade or triumph is held, January 784, to
celebrate Stauricius' military incursion into the Peloponnese. It is poorly
recorded, but is known to have featured (as usual) horse races. Offering glory
to a eunuch was permitted because his condition excluded him from the
emperorship (McCormick p.142).
Irene usually drew her commanders from outside the ranks of the
professional military, because she feared that an army led by professionals
might depose her.

2. N Balkans: Irene, age 29, and Constantine parade at the head of the army
(“a large force”) from the Black Sea port of Anchialus westwards into pagan
Bulgarian and Slav-controlled territory. There she visits the ruined fortress-
village of Berrhoea (Beroe, in far western Thrace: modern Stara Zagora),
which she now rebuilds and christens Irenopolis, ‘city of Irene’ (Treadgold
1997: 419).
- An ancient Roman road ran directly west from Mesembria on the Black
Sea inland to Beroe; presumably she took that route. Distance: about
100 miles/160 km.

She also rebuilt or repaired the port of Anchialos itself and went “all the way”


SW across outer Thrace to Philippopolis in the Slav-occupied lands “without

any harm whatever” before retiring (TCOT: 143).
- “The empress had gained in a year as much Thracian tetritory as
Constantine V had won in his whole reign” (Treadgold 1997: 419). Cf
Byzantium held Adrianople; the upper Maritza [Hebrus] valley was ruled by
various Slavic chiefs and sometimes raided by the Bulgars coming south
beyond the Balkan Mountains.

Tarasius, the first in a line of patriarchs showing some basic exposure to
ancient philosophy: evidence of a revival of learning.

GO HERE for an icon showing Tarasius with a long forked beard:

The Empress writes to the the archbishop of Rome or “pope” inviting him to
send delegates to a Church Council in Constantinople. See 786-77.

c.785: Francia: fl. Alcuin, English-born Latin writer at the court of

Charlemagne. Born in York, he was appointed (781-82) Abbot of St
Martin's at Tours and head of the palace school at Paris.

1. Asia: Arab incursion deep into imperial territory; they reached Malagina,
the aplekton (“fortress supply-base”) SE of Nicaea (ODB ii:1274). See 798.

2. Cilicia: Hearing that floods had damaged the walls of Adana, the Arabs’
base fortress in central Cilicia, the strategus of the Armeniacs took his chance
to sally south and destroy the fortress town. See 786-87.

3a. Church Council at Constantinople: It was broken up by dissident pro-

iconoclast troops described by Theophanes (trans. 1997: 634) as “the host of
the Scholarii [the senior Tagma regiment] and Excubitors and of the other
Tagmata” (Turtledove has: “rest of the imperial guards”). A little later, Irene
arranged for Staurakios to bring in loyal troops from the Asian themes
against the rebellious Tagmata; the latter surendered to the empress.
PBW: After the disruption of the Ecumenical Council in Constantinople by
troops of the tagmata, Staurakios, patrikios and logothetes, was sent to
Thrace by the empress Eirene to the peratic themes (i.e, the coastal or Asia
Minor armies of the themata bordering the Sea of Marmara, who were at this
time stationed in Thrace) where he persuaded them to support her and expel
from Constantinople the troops who still supported iconoclasm: Theoph. AM

3b. Europe: Irene and Constantine accompanied an army to Thrace where

they continued pushing back the Slavs. Cf 789: theme of Macedonia.



Reign of Harun ‘ar-Rashid’, “Aaron the upright”: Abu Ja’far Harun b.

He is considered by some the greatest of the Abbasid caliphs. Noting,
however, that he failed to use his talents and energies to the best advantage,
it may be better to say that Harun was the caliph when the caliphate was at
its greatest (Kennedy 1981: 116).
Be that as it may, certainly, as al-Tabari said, "he raided the Romans
/Byzantines/ seven times and equipped 20 expeditions to fight them by land
and sea". —Tabari, trans. Williams.
Kennedy, 1981: 116, notes that he was the first of the Abbasids to devote
any attention to naval warfare. Cf 790.

1. Charlemagne declines to send his daughter to marry Irene’s son.


of the veneration of images: 7th Ecumenical Council, the 2nd at Nicaea: first
session in Constantinople August 786, then resumed in Nicaea September
787 following a failed riot (late 786) by Tagmatic troops against the
iconodule* or pro-icon Empress Regent.

(*) Iconodulia: paying respect to the images, i.e. the Holy Icons. Gr.
Eikon + douleia, servitude, from douleuein, to be subject, to serve.

Staurikios was still patrikios and logothetes of the dromos; he was present at
the eighth and final session of the Second Council of Nikaia (the Seventh
Ecumenical Council), held on 21 November 787 in the palace of the Magnaura
in Constantinople, at which Irene presdided. After she and emperor
Constantine had signed the statement of the faith, Staurakios delivered it
back to the patriarch Tarasios (Garland, ‘Constantine and Irene’, www.; and PBW, citing Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum
Collectio, XIII 416).

Last Ecumenical Council

The seventh Christian council, held at Nicaea in Asia Minor in 787 (resumed),
at which Iconoclasm was first condemned, turned out to be the last council
that both Constantinople and Rome would recognise. Rome had begun to
prefer the patronage of the Frankish kings. Even so, the first open schism - in
the following century: 863-869 - between the Eastern and Western churches
was to be quickly healed.
Resistance by iconoclast soldiers (AD 786): As we have said, Irene
cashiered (787) some 1,200 or 1,500 disloyal Tagmatic troops, and recruited
others in their place.
When the Tagmata revolted and dissolved the Council, Irene's response
was, with Stauracius' assistance, to remove iconoclast troops from the city.
The rebellious troops were dispatched first to Malagina, a fortress, depot and
staging point (aplekton) SE of Nicaea, on the pretext of an expedition against
the Arabs and then posted to the provinces (TCOT: 146: this is the earliest
surviving explicit mention of Malagina as an aplekton).* They were replaced


by regiments from Thrace and Bithynia, a high proportion of whom would

have been ethnic Slavs without strong iconoclast views.

(*) In the lead-up to the Arab siege of Constantinople in the 670s,

Malagina was mentioned (in the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius) as
one of three chosen wintering spots for the Arab army, the other two
being Ephesus and Pergamum. This suggests that it was already an
important military base.

Garland, citing Haldon, suggests that it may also have been at this time that
Irene created the personal guard called the Vigla or 'Watch', an infantry
regiment whose primary role was to protect the palace: Lynda Garland,
‘Constantine VI and Irene’ at; accessed 2006.
Treadgold believes that the regiment of the Watch—Greek Vigla, from the
Latin Vigilia—was created not under Irene, acc. 797, as Haldon argues, but
earlier under Constantine V (Treadgold 1982: 138 note 314; Haldon 1984).
The Council resumed at Nicaea in May 787. Empress Irene invited the
fathers of the council to conduct the final eighth session in Constantinople at
the Magnaura Palace. She personally addressed the council, had the
definition of faith read and proclaimed, and then signed it, prior to the signing
by her son Constantine VI and the two papal legates: December 787.

From the Canons of the Council:

“We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired
authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic [universal]
Church - for, as we all knoweth, Holy Spirit in-dwells her, - define with all
certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving
Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic
as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and
on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures
both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and
Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless [Immaculate] Lady, the Mother of God, of
the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people. For by so much
more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much more
readily are men [people] lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a
longing after them; and to these should be given due salutation and
honourable reverence [and] not indeed that true worship of faith which
pertains alone to the divine nature …”
“Anathema to the calumniators of the Christians, that is to the image
breakers … Anathema to those who apply the words of Holy Scripture which
were spoken against idols, to the venerable images. …. Anathema to those
who do not salute the holy and venerable images .… Anathema to those who
say that Christians have recourse to the images as to gods. …. Anathema to
those who call the sacred images idols. …”.

Towns and Bishoprics

Treadgold, 1997: 404, maps all the many cities, towns and larger settlements
represented by bishops at the Council. Most were, in our terms, villages. They
were concentrated above all in western Asia Minor, especially in the


Thrakesian theme and the western half of the Anatolikon.

He proposes that there were only 10 centres with more than 10,000
people: the metropolises of (1) Thessaloniki and (2) Constantinople; and the
larger towns or ‘cities’ of (3) Adrianople, (4) Nicaea, (5) Smyrna, (6) Ephesus,
(7) Amorium, (8) Attalia, (9) Ancyra and (10) Trebizond.
Seven of the 10 cities were located on the coast, reflecting, of course, the
fact that sea trade and travel - because faster, cheaper, safer - was superior
to land travel. And Adrianople could be reached by river traffic.
Representatives sent to the council from the smaller towns included, from
the S Balkans, the metropolitans of Corinth and Athens, and the bishops of
Nikopolis in Epirus and Patras in the Peloponnese. The latter two towns were
Greek enclaves on the edge of Slav-ruled lands. Cf 805-07: reconquest of the
western Peloponnesus.
Sicily sent 13 bishops.

Horses and Mules

In 787 a number of the ‘holy fathers’ (bishops) travelling to the Seventh

Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in Bithynia “rode horses and mules, served by
slaves and post horses”. Thus Theophanes, quoted by Avramea. ‘Post horses’
means those supplied by the State along the main public highways.

The Muslim East: Harun orders the Cilician fortress towns of Adata and Tarsus
to be re-fortified.

S Italy: The Franks under Charlemagne attack the Lombard duchy of
Benevento which submits. Benevento recognised Charlemagne as overlord,
but retained its independence.

- The Byzantine-Lombard border at this time ran through central Calabria and
central Apulia, with the Byzantines controlling lower Calabria and parts of
Apulia. Cf 788.
Otranto had returned to imperial rule in 758. Then, from the late 700s into
the early 800s, the Byzantines set up fortified centres on and near the
Adriatic such as Bisceglie on the coast above Bari; Terlizzi, inland west of
Bari; and Conversano, SE of Bari; while the Lombards remained masters of
Brindisi, Taranto and Oria (Stranieri 2000: 340).

Venice: Giovanni Galbaio, "Iohannes Mauricii filius” (John son of Maurice), was
elected Doge in 787 to succeed his father. He associated his son with the
Dogeship in 796. He was deposed in 804 by a popular uprising triggered by
dissatisfaction with his pro-Byzantine policy.

This half-century saw a slow revival of education and learning in
Constantinople, prompted in part by the struggle with iconoclasm. The
Iconophiles find that a knowledge of ancient literature helps them in their


fight with the iconoclasts …. —see Treadgold, ‘Revival’, 1979.

1. Imperial armies are defeated in the West by the Bulgarians and in the East
(in the Anatolic theme) by the Arabs. See 792.
Khan Kardam (or a predecessor) defeated a Byzantine army in the valley of
the Struma (Strymon) river in Macedonia.* The local Slavic tribe of
‘Strimonians’ welcomed the Khan and his warriors.

(*) In present-day terms, the upper Struma runs through far western
Bulgaria and thence into Greek Macedonia.

2. Calabria: The Annales Regni Francorum record that, in 788, Grimoald of

Benevento won an overwhelming victory over Byzantine forces in Calabria.
In support of the Lombard pretender Adelchis (a refugee in Constantinople
since 774), a Romaniyan army from southern Italy attacks the Lombard
duchy of Benevento. These were troops from the East under the army
logothete and eunuch* John, supported by local thematic troops under
Theodore, the strategos of Sicily (who also governed Calabria). But they are
pushed back by Frankish forces and John is killed (Theophanes trans 1997:
636). Irene then struck a treaty with the Lombards of Benevento.

(*) Eunuch generals: Under Constantine VI, 780-797, the eunuch John, a
sacellarius or private pursekeeper of the emperor: senor state finance
officer, fought against the Arabs in Sicily and achieved some success
(Theoph. 704). In 788, John, by then logothetos [paymaster] of the army,
led an expedition from Calabria, assisted by the patrician Theodorus, a
general of Sicily. John was defeated and killed (Theoph. 718). The
patrician Theodorus, also a eunuch, had previously suppressed the
revolt of Elpidius in Sicily (Theoph. 705). —Guilland 1943.

3. The City: Irene broke off the projected marriage of her son to
Charlemagne's daughter—a decision which reportedly distressed Constantine
—and selected another bride for him by means of a bride-show. This is the
first recorded case of a ‘bride-show’ (the next being in AD 807/8, when
Irene's relative Theophano was married to Stauracius, son of Nicephorus I).

The First Bride-Show

Irene, who presumably instituted the custom, may well have used it as
propaganda for her regime, implying that Byzantine emperors had no need of
foreign alliances. Irene is said to have dispatched a panel of judges, equipped
with a set of ideal standards, to travel through the empire selecting
candidates. The girls' height, the size of their feet and probably their waists
were measured by the commissioners. The winning candidate was Maria of
Amnia. The protospatharius(*) Theophanes had her escorted from
Paphlagonia. The girls selected were naturally from suitable iconophile
families, and empress Irene of course ensured that Constantine was not
allowed freedom of choice even among these carefully picked possibilities.
The 'winner', Maria, was the granddaughter of Philaretus, a magnate(**) from


the Armeniac theme (thus Garland, “Irene”, at www.roman-, accessed 2006). Cf below: ‘Seclusion of higher caste

(*) A high court title awarded to commanders, officials and allied

rulers. It was not an office or post.

(**) Before he gave them away in philanthropy, Philaretus had owned

12,000 sheep, 800 horse, 600 bullocks, 100 pairs of oxen, and 80 pack
animals (pack-horses, mules and donkeys). —Haldon 1990b: 131.

Herrin 2007: 172 ff queries whether a show actually took place, or at least
whether it was an actual contest in which beauty was the deciding factor.
Marriage, after all, was a matter of politics not personal choice. The decision
was probably taken by discussion and negotiation, with beauty as only one
consideration. But however it worked, several relatively undistinguished
provincial families did supply empresses in the 800s and 900s.

Seclusion of Higher Caste Women

Information on the activities of Byzantine girls before marriage is extremely

limited but it appears that unmarried maidens spent most of their time in the
seclusion of their homes, protected from the gaze of strange men and from
threats to their virginity. Thus when imperial messengers arrived at the home
of (Saint) Philaretos ‘the Merciful’ in search of a suitable bride for Emperor
Constantine VI, r. 780-97, Philaretos was distressed when they asked to see
his grand-daughters, "for even though we are poor, our daughters have
never left their chambers". —Byzantine Women, at

788: Charlemagne annexes the Frankish duchy of Bavaria, hitherto ruled

by his cousin. Direct rule is imposed.

After 789:
Irene creates a new Theme of 'Macedonia', so-called—actually located in
western Thrace—by sub-division of the Theme of Thrace. Fine 1991: 79 says
the date was between 789 and 802. The seat of the strategos was at
Today’s Greek Macedonia fell mainly in the older theme, or rather, the
archontate, ‘lesser province or lordship’, of Thessalonica.
It is not clear when the empire was able to resume control along the entire
Aegean littoral in Macedonia and Thrace. There are reports of Slavs living on
the lower reaches of the Strymon who were very active as pirates as late as
around 820. The old city of Amphipolis was located where the Via Egnatia
crosses the Strymon; but presumably it had been abandoned. The Byzantines
later founded a new town called Chrysoupolis or Christoupolis, afterwards
Kavala, lower down - at the mouth of the river - before 900. (Mt Athos, it
should be noted, post-dates this time: first official recognition in 833.)


789-926: First-ever Shi’ite dynasty in North Africa, the Idrisids of

Morocco. See 793.

1. Eastern Mediterranean, south-central coast of Anatolia: The Saracen navy
makes its rendezvous as usual at Cyprus and moves thence against Romania;
a battle was fought in the Gulf of Attaleia. The Cibbyrrhaeot admiral,
Theophilos, was taken prisoner and, having refused to defect - presumably he
refused to convert to Islam - , was executed (Theophanes s.465; TCOT: 149).
Pryor & Jeffreys p.385 list this as one of the more disastrous defeats
suffered by the imperial navy.

2. The City: Faced by a challenge from her 19 years old son Constantine,
Irene decrees that she will be the senior ruler ahead of him. This provokes an
army revolt against her in favour of the young emperor; the latter briefly took
sole charge. Irene is confined to her palace.
In September 790, the theme of the Armeniacs refused to swear allegiance
and insisted on keeping Constantine's name before that of Irene. When
Alexius Mousele (or Mousoulem), the commander of the Watch*, was sent to
deal with them, they imprisoned their own general, appointed Mousele their
commander, and acclaimed Constantine as sole emperor. The men of the
other themes followed their example by imprisoning their strategoi, Irene's
appointees, and acclaiming Constantine. In October 790 all these mutinous
regiments, more than half of the entire army, assembled at Atroa in Bithynia
and demanded that Constantine, who was now 19, be sent to them (Garland
1999: 82). See 792, 793.

(*) Theophanes, trans 1997 p.642: the earliest surviving mention of

this post, although the Watch had almost certainly existed since the

3. A plot was formed by the emperor and some close allies – Damianos,
Petros and Theodoros - to overthrow Staurakios and exile him to Sicily, but
early in 790 it was uncovered and Staurakios obtained the support of the
empress Eirene to punish and exile those involved and to chastise the
emperor: Theoph. AM 6282, cf. Zon. XV 11. 17 (attempts were made to
remove him; he is called Staura’kion to’n patri’kion kai’ logothe/thn ta’ pa’nta
duna’menon: “the all-capable patrician and logothete”). In December 790 the
tables were turned after the armies of Asia Minor gave their support to
Constantine VI, and Staurakios was flogged and tonsured and sent into exile
in the thema of the Armeniakoi. —PBW, citing Theoph. AM 6283, cf. Zon. XV
11. 27 (exiled).

c. 790:
First translation into Arabic of Aristotle's Physics. Theological disagreements
in Islam would now begin to take shape in an Aristotelian vocabulary
(Gutas pp.72 ff). See below: ca.791.

PBW: The future emperor Michael II (accession 811) was aged 20 in about


790. Born in Phyrgia, he had grown up up in grinding poverty from which he

was determined to escape; he therefore presented himself, with his stammer,
to his local strategos, who accepted him and one other man on the
recommendation of one of the Athinagnoi who was close to the strategos.
The Athinganoi were a subset of the Paulician sect, who in later centuries
came to earn their living as magicians, soothsayers and serpent-charmers.
This man foretold that Michael and the other man would become famous and
rise to the imperial throne; the story continues that the strategos promptly
and unexpectedly married his daughters to these two men on the strength of
this prophecy: Theoph. Cont. II 5 (pp. 44-45), cf. Genesius II 1, Zon. XV 22.
This story as it stands is implausible, but it is possible that the strategos
was the ethnic Armenian general, Bardanes Tourkos, strategos of the
Anatolikon, the soon to become domestikos of the scholai, and that Michael
became a soldier who showed ability and was recommended to Bardanes by
a co-religionist and who was then enrolled on his staff, later marrying a
daughter of his. Eventually Michael rose to the rank of general.

Jewish Turks

Transcaucasia: At some point in the last decades of the 8th century or

the early 9th century, the Khazar royalty and nobility converted to
Judaism, and part of the general population followed. The extent of the
conversion (nobles vs commoners) is debated. Recently discovered
numismatic evidence suggests that Judaism was the established state
religion by c. 830. Judging by interment evidence, by 950 Judaism had
become widespread among all classes of Khazar society (Wikipedia,
2009, under ‘Khazars’).

The East: The Arab summer raid into Asia Minor penetrated to Caesarea. A
Romanic/Byzantine riposte failed. But, returning with its plunder, the Muslim
army was badly mauled by a blizzard in the high Taurus.

Stephanus the Philosopher, a Persian, visiting Constantinople from Baghdad,
remarks on the absence of astronomic and astrological sciences in New
Rome. But by 792 Constantine VI's court astrologer was using information
brought by Stephanus to cast a horoscope (Gutas p.181). Cf remarks below
on the 'Ninth Century Renaissance'.
A manuscript of Rhetorius' Greek compendium from the 6th C was
apparently brought to Byzantium by Stephanus, student of the Levantine
Greek teacher Thaufil al-Rumi [Theophilus of Edessa, d.785], the court
astrologer to al-Mahdi, in about 790; from this archetype are descended the
several Byzantine epitomes and reworkings of portions of this text. —Pingee
We are told by Khalfa that the Caliph al Mansur, 754-775, sent a mission to
the Byzantine Emperor and obtained from him a copy of Euclid's Geometry,
among other Greek books. Again later, the Caliph al Ma'mun (acc. 813) will
obtain manuscripts of Euclid, among others, from the Romaniyans.


791-96: Charlemagne invades Avar territory in Pannonia (south of the

upper Danube) and finally destroys their power. By 796 the Franks
have established a border with the Bulgarians.

791-842: Spain was now mainly under Muslim rule. A small Christian-
ruled enclave, called by historians ‘the Kingdom of Galicia’, remained
on the northern seaboard under King Alfonso II 'the Chaste' of the
Asturias. He moved his capital to Oviedo.

1. Military disaster: The Bulgar khan Kardam defeats Constantine VI at
Marcellae (Gk: Markellai), inland from Mesembria, in the stretch of Slav-
dominated territory that separated Bulgaria from Byzantine territory.
In July the emperor made a further expedition against the Bulgarians, in
the process reinforcing the fortress of Marcellae. Khan Kardamos and his
army came to meet him, and “persuaded by false prophets that the victory
would be his, the emperor joined battle without plan or order and was
severely beaten”. In this engagement, not only did Constantine lose a large
part of his army, but the great iconoclast general Michael Lachandrakon, the
former strategoi (thematic generals) Nicetas and Theognostus, and a number
of other notables, including the 'false prophet and astronomer' Pancratius
who had prophesied his victory, also fell in battle. The Bulgarians captured
the whole baggage train, including the emperor's tent (Garland: www.roman-, quoting Theophanes; TCOT: 151).

Constantine failed to achieve any notable military successes and suffered a

severe defeat against the Bulgars at Markellai in July 792. This caused
concern to the army, and the Tagmata in Constantinople decided to bring
Constantine's uncle, the Caesar Nicephorus, out of retirement and make him
emperor (Garland:
The Tagmata attempted to depose the emperor: in response, Constantine
blinded his uncle the Caesar Nicephorus (who had been proclaimed emperor
by the Tagmata) and restored his mother to co-rule. Others had their
tongues cut out. The emperor thereby alienates powerful forces in the
shape of the Armeniac theme and many monks. The rebel Armeniacs defeat
a first punitive expedition sent against them. See 793.
Constantine recalled his mother as his co-ruler and restored her title of
empress. For the next five years, Irene appears on the obverse of the gold
coinage with the title 'Irene Augusta (Empress)', and Constantine is shown on
the reverse with the title of basileus (emperor), but as a beardless youth.
Stauracius was recalled from exile and Mousele was replaced as strategos of
the Armeniacs. See next: 792-93.
An expedition made against the Armeniacs by a multi-theme force in
November 792 was defeated and both of Constantine's commanders are
blinded. The revolt was finally quelled in May 793 by Constantine at the head
of all the other themata. A thousand captives were taken to Constantinople to
be paraded.


2. The crisis caused by the blinding of Nicephorus (792) is exacerbated by

Constantine divorcing his wife and marrying his mistress.

792: Francia and England: Alcuin was back at Charlemagne's court by

at least mid 792, writing a series of letters to Aethelraed of
Northumbria, to Hygbald, Bishop of Lindisfarne, and to Aethelheard,
Archbishop of Canterbury in the succeeding months, which deal with
the attack on Lindisfarne by Viking raiders in July 792. These letters,
and Alcuin's poem on the subject De clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii,
provide the only significant contemporary account of these events.

1. The East: The Caliphate took many captives again in 792 and 793 in
Byzantine Anatolia, particularly in Cappadocia, at the beginning of the reign
of ar-Rashid. —Michael the Syrian, III, 8; IV, 483.

2. Asia Minor: The Armeniacs were displeased with the turn of events and
imprisoned Theodore Kamoulianos, who had been sent to them as their new
strategos. As noted, an expedition made against them in November 792
(winter) was defeated, and both of Constantine's commanders blinded.
As also noted, Constantine's campaigns against the Armeniac rebels were
concluded satisfactorily. After his generals Constantine Artaser and
Chrysocheres, strategos of the theme of the Bucellarii, were captured and
blinded in 792, Constantine led an expedition at the head of all the other
themata. With the aid of the treachery of the Armenians serving with them,
he defeated the rebels on 26 May 793, putting their leaders to death. The
rest were subjected to fines and confiscations, and 1,000 men brought into
the city in chains with their faces ‘tattooed’ (in ink) with the words 'Armeniac
plotter', and then banished to Sicily and other islands (Lynda Garland,, accessed 2005; citing Theophanes). See

Constantinople: The victorious young emperor staged (24 June) a triumphal
entry into the capital. It took place not through the traditional victory
entrance, the Golden Gate in the far south-west, but through the Blachernae
gate in the far north-west.
He was preceded by 1,000 defeated Armeniakon rebels with their faces
disfigured (tattooed in ink). The Blachernai gate was used probably because
it was the eve of the celebrations for the deliverance of the city in 678, which
was ascribed to the Virgin, whose major shrine was near the Blachernae.
Constantine may also have been signalling that he supported the toleration
of icons (cf 787 above) (McCormick p.143).

793: In present-day Morocco, the Idrisid rulers (Shi’ites) found the

future city of Fez.

793 or 792: First Viking raid on England. Cf 871.

793-94: Charlemagne reforms the coinage of Francia. The silver


content of the denier was increased, and people were exhorted to use
coin, i.e. not barter, as the medium of exchange.

1. State paper mill set up in Baghdad. Byzantium continued to rely wholly on
papyrus and parchment for many more centuries. The last chrysobull known
to have been written on papyrus is the Typikon [monastery charter] of
Gregory Pakourianos of 1083.

2. Western Church Council at Frankfurt, called by Charlemagne: Frankish

prelates condemn Byzantine iconoclasm.

794-98: Building of the palace of the Frankish kings at Aachen in

present-day Germany, near the modern Franco-German border.

1a. The East: Constantine personally led a further expedition against the
Arabs in April 795, and on 8 May at Anusan or Anousan - not located, but
within several days’ march of Ephesus - he engaged and defeated an Arab
raiding party. The battle was fought on the feast day of Ephesus’ patron saint
John the Evangelist; if the fair at Ephesus (see next) lasted, say, a week, then
the site cannot have been very far to the east (Theophanes AM 6287).

1b. Following the battle, Constantine proceeded to Ephesus, whose annual

fair was held on and around 8 May. Theophanes mentions that the customs
or excise levied on the fair amounted to a massive 100 litrai or Roman
pounds of gold, i.e. 72,000 nomismata or coins.The chronicler Theophanes
records that Emperor Constantine VI exempted the church of St. John the
Divine in Ephesos from the kommerkion on its fair, amounting to 100 litrai
(7,200 nomismata) of gold.
This was the first appearance of the kommerkion, a new form of state
revenue which was undoubtedly connected with trade. We do not know to
what percentage of the merchandise the kommerkion corresponded at that
time. However, later sources tell us that the kommerkion was still levied on
fairs and that it usually corresponded to 10% of the value of the transactions
that took place (Oikonomides, in Laiou ed., Economic History 2002; also
Herrin 2007: 148). Thus the value of the goods sold was probably around
72,000 nomismata - a very large figure. For comparison, the typical soldier
(who also held land free of tax) received an annual salary was five
nomismata, while the general commanding a guards regiment (Tagma) in
Constantinople was paid 12 litrai or 864 nomismata for his salary and
expenses. Thus the turnover at Ephesus was equivalent to the salaries of 80

2. The emperor remarries. In 795 Constantine VI, aged about 25, publicly
abandoned his first wife and bullied his way with the Patriarch Tarasius (784-
806) until the latter allowed a priest, Joseph, to perform the ceremony in
which Constantine married Theodote, one of the ladies-in-waiting
[koubikoularia] to the empress, his mother. Theodote was also formally raised
to Augusta or reigning empress.


Constantine VI divorced his wife, Maria of Amnia, and patriarch Tarasios

reluctantly condoned the divorce. The monks were scandalised by the
patriarch's consent. The leaders of the protest, Abbot Plato and his nephew
Theodore the Studite, were exiled, but the uproar continued. Much of the
anger was directed at Tarasios for allowing the subsequent marriage of the
emperor to Theodote to take place, although he had refused to officiate.
The more tolerant churchmen who supported Constantine's second
marriage became known as the Moechianists, from moicheia, ‘adultery’. The
Moechian Schism pitted the more tolerant churchmen against the hard-liners
who actively criticised Constantine VI.



As noted, Constantine divorces his first wife and remarries: this of course was
a great scandal. Popular disaffection and the lack of confidence in him on the
part of key officials and generals will soon allow his mother to regain sole rule
(see 797).

Central Europe: The Franks under Charlemagne’s son Pepin, aided by

the Bulgarians, crush the Avars, who now disappear from history. That is
to say, they adopted Christianity and merged with the underlying local
populations, Slavic and Magyar, living in what are now Austria and

796: Caliph Harun ar-Rashid decided to move his court and the
government to Ar Raqqah, Greek Callinicum, east of Aleppo on the
middle Euphrates. Here he spent 12 years, most of his reign. Only once
did he return to Baghdad for a short visit.

Ifriqiya: For defence against Byzantine naval attacks, the Abbasid governor
Harthama b. A’yan* builds a maritime rampart at Tripoli and a ribat or
military hospice at Monastir in NE Tunisia (Ahmad p.4).

(*) Afterwards governor of Egypt, Harthama wrote a military treatise,

‘the Brief Policy of War’; he states that field armies in this era
commonly did not exceed 12,000 men (Haldon 1999: 103).

2. Central Asia Minor: An Arab force advances to Amorium, seat of the

Anatolic theme, but withdraws without gaining any success, except for a few
captives (TCOT: 153). - It is reported that Harun al-Rashid wrote Constantine
a letter (text in El Cheikh 2004: 92) in which he highlights the benefits of
peace if Constantine will pay tribute, as Irene did to Harun’s predecessor al-
Mahdi (above: 782). The letter contrasts the prosperity that comes from
peace with the desolation of war. Constantine ignores these arguments: see

3. Thrace: Constantine called Kardamos' bluff (the Bulgarian khan) by


advancing to Versinikia in the region of Adrianople [Bersinikia, N of

Adrianople], where he waited out the defiance of the Bulgarians for 17 days.
Kardamos did not dare to give battle and withdrew (Theophanes AM 6288). Cf

797-802: Empress IRENE 'the Athenian'

Aged 42 in 797, widow of Leo IV. Mother of Constantine

VI, aged 27 in 797.

1. Exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and the East Roman
Empire. Mas’udi does not specify the numbers involved (Toynbee 1973: 390).

2. Asia Minor: In AH 181, AD 797, Harun al-Rashid profited by the Byzantine

internal troubles as well as their conflict with the Bulgarians. A division of his
army penetrated as far as Ancyra, seat of the Bucellarian theme. (See further
below.) As noted below, a Byzantine riposte was aborted for political reasons.
The empress Irene, who became the real ruler of the Byzantine State (from
August 797), demanded a peace treaty which al-Rashid first refused and
subsequently accepted because of the Khazar menace.

The Aborted Campaign of 797

In response to the raid against Ankara, emperor Constantine VI, accompanied

by Stauracius, marched out against the Arabs with 20,000 men, or a quarter
of the whole army (“20,000 lightly armed men picked from all the themata”:
Theophanes, trans. 1997: 643; TCOT: 154).
Irene and Stauracius were evidently unwilling to allow him to gain a major
victory. When he led 20,000 men east to attack the Arabs in March 797, the
campaign was aborted by misinformation and bribery, or so the chronicler
Theophanes has it: “The supporters of Stauracius, being aware of the ardour
of the army and of the emperor, were afraid lest he prove victorious in war
and they fail in their plot against him. So they bribed the scouts and caused
them to lie that the Saracens had departed. The emperor, for his part, was
much saddened and returned to the City empty-handed” (thus Theophanes.
AM 6289).
PBW: Staurikios accompanied the emperor Constantine VI when he set out
on an expedition against the Arabs; he and other close allies of the empress
Eirene allegedly feared that the zeal of the troops and of the emperor might
result in a victory for Constantine VI and make of no effect the plans of Eirene
to overthrow him; they therefore bribed members of the Vigla [the tagma of
The Watch] to report that the Arabs had fled home, so that the expedition
was cancelled: Theoph. AM 6289.

When Constantine VI discovered his mother's treachery, he left the East


Roman capital in 797 to round up loyal troops. He was captured by Irene's

forces, however, and brought back to the palace.
When Constantine fled his mother's plot in July, Irene's supporters feared
that army support for Constantine would render their plans fruitless, and
indeed Theophanes reports that the army was collecting around the emperor.
This almost caused Irene to capitulate, though in the event she preferred
(August) to blackmail her supporters into dealing terminally with the emperor
(Theophanes AM 6289). See next.

The news that an army was gathering around Constantine almost caused her
to send a delegation of bishops requesting a promise of safety. Instead,
however, she wrote to her adherents in the emperor's retinue threatening to
tell Constantine of their designs against him unless he were handed over to
her. As a result they seized him, put him on board the imperial galley, and
brought him to the city where he was confined in the Porphyra, the purple
palace where he was born. This took place on 15 - or more probably 19 -
August 797. Constantine was now aged 26 years. He was there blinded 'in a
cruel and grievous manner, with a view to making him die, at the behest of
his mother and her advisers' (Theophanes trans 1997: 649).

2. Irene deposes [15-19 August 797] and blinds her 26 years old son
Constantine: sole rule by Irene (aged 42).
The Muslim writer al-Mas’udi reports that he was blinded by having a
heated metal mirror placed close to his eyes. Theophanes says the intention
was not just to blind him but to kill him. He was exiled but died shortly

The emperor's crushing of a rebellion in 790 and his later illegal marriage to
his mistress in 793 had caused him to lose the support of both the army and
the church. Irene launched a conspiracy to regain the throne. Upon its
success, she had her son's eyes put out and him exiled (as related by
Theophanes, ss.154-155).
The Arab sources discount Irene’s own political ambitions. She deposed
and blinded Constantine because, for them, she believed the interests of the
empire came before everything including her son. Specifically, his deposition,
in the eyes of the Arab writers, avoided a disastrous war with the Caliphate
(El Cheikh 2004: 91).

"Irene had achieved her aim; she was sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire. She
was the first woman to control the Empire as an independent ruler in
her own right and not as regent for an Emperor who was a minor or unfitted
to rule" (Ostrogorsky, p.161).

3. Baghdad: Possible first mission dispatched by Charlemagne to the caliph's

court in 797, the first of three embassies supposedly sent to the caliphate
(the others set out in 802 and 807 respectively). Cf 801 – Harun’s gift of an
An exchange of embassies and gifts is alleged to have taken place


between Harun al-Rashid and Charlemagne, which resulted in giving

Charlemagne rights of protection over Jerusalem. Nothing has yet been found
in Arabic sources to substantiate this allegation, and although they may have
had political interests in common, there seems to be no truth in it.

4. The western Aegean: Ships sailed to Lemnos and from there toward the
peninsula of Chalkidike, along the west coast of which they would approach
Thessalonike. There was a long tradition behind this itinerary, described in a
letter of Theodore of Stoudios dating from 797. From the exit of the Straits at
Elaious to Lemnos was some 80 or 90 km, which, when the winds were
favourable, could be covered in nine hours. From Lemnos to Kanastron in
Pallene (east of Thessalonica) was a further 13 hours (Avramea in Laiou, ed.

Bithynia: A major Arab army defeats (798) the Opsikion forces and
penetrates farther than for many years. One half of the Arab army proceeds
(799) to Ephesus, the coastal town in SW Asia Minor, while the other half
(“light-armed troops”) sacks the fortress-town and supply-base of Malagina,
SE of Nicaea in the Opsikion theme (TCOT: 156; Treadgold 1997: 423). The
latter region was also the site of the major imperial horse ranches (metata) in
Asia Minor.
PBW: The imperial stables at Malagina (in Bithynia) were seized and horses
owned by Staurakios were driven off, as well as the imperial carriage.
On the imperial side, the Opsikion regiments (4,000 were enrolled,
including 800 cavalry) were supported by the Optimatoi corps of supply and
transport troops (2,000 men).

From the time Irene assumed sole power, military activity was kept to a
minimum and Byzantium tacitly acknowledged the dominance of the Arab
leader Harun ar-Rashid on the eastern frontier: in 798 the Arabs even
advanced as far as Malagina in Bithynia, the first large station of the imperial
armies in Asia Minor on the road from Constantinople to Dorylæum - and
succeeded in capturing the herd of imperial war horses (managed by the
official called the Logothetes ton Agelon). This humiliating episode was
followed by other raiding parties, including an expedition in 798/9 which
inflicted a severe defeat on the soldiers of the Opsikion theme and captured
their camp equipment. Harun then consented to a four-year truce for which
Irene had to pay an annual tribute.

2. Theodore [aged 29], an iconodule monk from Asia Minor, becomes Abbot
of Studios, a centre of monastic reform in Constantinople. In 815, when
Iconoclasm recommences, he will become the leading propagandist of
image-veneration. Cf 815.

3. Naval rivalry in the West: Andalusian (Muslim) ships attack the Balearic
Islands; and it may have been this same fleet that was defeated off Byzantine
Naples later in the same year (Dromon p.42). The nominally Byzantine
Balearics put themselves under Frankish protection and the Annales
regni Francorum report that the Frankish defenders of the islands defeated


(799) the Arab pirates: the insignia or standards of the defeated Arab ships
were sent to the Frankish capital Aachen (McCormick 1990: 376 and 2001:

798: Charlemagne is said to have dispatched an embassy to Baghdad

with orders to seek an alliance with Harun al-Rashid. Harun ar-Rashid,
who was also interested in negotiation, decided, so the story goes, to
send Charlemagne a very special gift - a gift, he said, in his note to the
Imperial Council, that few in Europe had seen since Hannibal and his
Carthaginians marched across the Alps. The gift, said the Caliph, would
be an elephant. See 801: the elephant is delivered.
Between 979 and 807 there are supposed to have been two
embassies from Charles’ court to Baghdad and two from Harun’s court
to Aaachen. The Arab chroniclers make no mention of this, so many
have doubted the historicity of these events (Lewis 1982: 92).

1. Slavs of Thessaly revolt. - Revolt in Byzantine Athens in support of
Constantine V's sons (i.e. the uncles of the empress's late son) who were
imprisoned there: Irene orders the plotters blinded.
At this time, most of present-day Greece was still in the hands of pagan
Slavs ... See 805/809.
At the urging of the Byzantine troops of Hellas, a certain Akamiros or
Akameros, leader of the Slavs in Vel(ge)zetia or Belzetia, i.e. eastern
Thessaly, revolted in 798/9 against Empress Irene, but the rebels were
defeated by an expedition sent from Constantinople. Many of the rebels were
blinded (Theophanes: TCOT p.156; Curta 2006: 110).

2. Pomp and glory: Irene's financial policies during this period might be seen
to have been an attempt to buy her popularity. On 1 April 799, Easter
Monday, she processed from the Church of the Holy Apostles in her chariot
drawn by four white horses led by patricians, scattering gold coins to the
people in an attempt to perhaps maintain public support.
PBW: On Easter Monday (1 April) 799 the future domesticus of the scholai
Bardanes (then strategos of the Thrakesians) was one of four patrikioi who
led the four white horses drawing the carriage of the empress Eirene in
procession from the church of the Holy Apostles; he was at the time
strategos of the Thrakesioi: Theoph. AM 6291. The other three were the
strategos of Thrace, Sissinios; the then domestikos of the Scholai, Niketas
(brother of Sissinios), and a person whose position in not known: Constantine

3. d. Paul the Deacon, author of the Historia Langobardorum.

By 800:
Baghdad's population reaches perhaps 500,000 people, says Treadgold.
Others say one million.
Not only were the caliphate's subjects far more numerous than the
empire's, they also paid higher taxes. Thus the caliph's revenues, drawn from
an empire extending from Spain to Turkestan, were equivalent to some 35


million nomismata, compared to the emperor's two (sic!) million: the latter
mostly collected in Asia Minor (Treadgold 1995: 210). Cf 840s below: new
caliphal capital at Samarra.

ca. 800: The Book of Kells, the great illuminated manuscript, produced
in Christian Ireland.
Western Christianity at this time was restricted to Italy, Francia,
Bavaria and the various Celtic and Anglo-Saxon statelets of the British
Isles. Spain was largely Islamic and Germany mostly still pagan.

1. Staurakios, the long-serving eunich patrician, planned a rebellion in
Constantinople, suborning the regiments of the Scholarioi and the
Exkoubitores and their officers.
The empress forbade all government servants to associate with him, and
her close associates the eunuch general Aetios and Niketas with others
resisted him. Staurikios fell ill, coughing up blood from his chest and lungs,
but was apparently convinced by his supporters - who included doctors,
monks (described as ‘not real monks’) and soothsayers - that he would
survive and become emperor himself, and he planned a revolt based in
Cappadocia against Aetios; however he died on 3 June 800, and the revolt
collapsed and his supporters were punished and exiled: PBW, citing Theoph.
AM 6292 and 6294.

2. Asia Minor: Aetius led the Anatolic and Opsikion themes to a victory over
the Arabs in 800, though he was defeated in the next year (Theophanes AM
6293: AD 800/01), cf. AM 6289, cited in
Aetius, a protospatharius and then patrician (patrikios),* who exerted great
influence on Irene, was a eunuch (Theoph. 722, 733f). Irene placed him in
charge of the important eastern provinces of the Anatolikon and Opsikion
(Theoph. 737).

(*) Court titles rather than posts. A patrikios ranked higher than a

3. The West: The Frankish king Charles is perhaps reluctantly crowned

"emperor" in Rome (25 December 800). While visiting Rome at Christmas
time, Charles entered the basilica of St Peter in the Vatican, where the Latin
patriarch Leo III bestowed on him the title of Imperator, much to his surprise
and displeasure (or so says his biographer Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni, par.
28), not least because it would complicate his relations with Rhomaniya-
Byzantium. (Charlemagne's "protests" about his not being willing came later,
and Duffy, p.77, thinks that in 800 he had been willing enough to be seen as
emperor.) Cf 810 ff.
The Frankish ruler had recognised Irene as sovereign of the Roman Empire
in a treaty only two years before, but the pope now argued that a woman was
ineligible to be emperor and that Charlemagne was simply filling a vacancy
(Treadgold 1997: 423). Cf 802.

Kings, Emperors and Tsars


Alcuin’s letter of June 799 to Charles: “Hitherto there have been three exalted
persons in the world. (The first is) the Apostolic sublimity [the pope] who
rules in his stead the see of the blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles.
Another is the imperial dignitary and secular possessor of the second Rome
[Constantinople]; but the report of how wickedly the ruler of that empire was
dethroned [see earlier: 797], not through aliens but through his own citizens,
spreads everywhere. The third is (the possessor of) the royal dignity which
the will of our Lord Jesus Christ has bestowed upon you …”

The title of Charles in his own documents was Imperator Augustus Romanum
gubernans Imperium, 'august emperor governing the Roman empire', or
serenissimus Augustus a Deo coronatus, magnus pacificus Imperator
Romanum gubernans imperium, ‘Augustus most bright crowned by God,
great peaceful [sic!] emperor governing the Roman empire’. Noble p. 296 has
proposed that ‘Romanum gubernans imperium’ meantt only that Romano-
Italians were included in his empire and not that he imagined himself to be a
successor to or replacement of the Byzantine emperors. For Noble, his empire
was a Frankish one only.
In 800 the East Roman government under Empress Irene, 797-802,
objected only to the tag 'of the Romans'. Her successor Michael I would agree
later (in 812) that Charlemagne could be allowed the plain title of basileus,
the Greek for "emperor", provided that it was always understood that
Basileus ton Rhomaion, Emperor of the Romans, was the unique title for the
ruler of New Rome (Constantinople).
Even the Bulgarian khan was permitted the title basileus in due course:
basileus Boulgarias, 'emperor of Bulgaria', in AD 913: Slavic Tsar.
The title 'Roman emperor', however, which the German kings re-assumed
in the late 900s, was always anathema to the Rhomaioi, save as applied to
the true heirs of Constantine. The Germans knew they could insult
Constantinople by calling its ruler 'emperor of the Greeks' (Obolensky pp.353

North Africa: First Aghlabid ruler of Ifriqiya, Ibrahim I b. al-Aghlab. Harun ar-
Rashid made him the autonomous governor in return for an annual tribute or
tax of 40,000 dinars. See 801 and 827.
To protect his coastal traders, Ibrahim concluded an unpopular peace treaty
with Constantine, the Byzantine patrician in Sicily; both sides undertook to
cease raiding the other’s shipping. The treaty was respected for some years,
but it did not extend to the Umayyads of Spain and the Idrisids of Morocco,
who raided Frankish-governed Corsica and Byzantine-oriented Sardinia
between 806 and 821.

801: The Franks take Barcelona from the Muslims. Catalonia became a
"march" or borderland contested between Christians and 'Moors' —
Moors: Latin Maurus, Gk Mauros: native north Africans, in this era more
generally meaning simply ‘Muslim’, including Hispanics.

801: The Milan-Turin region: Muslim envoys, possibly from Harun and


certainly from the governor of Ifriqiya, land at Pisa and present their
credentials to Charlemagne at a camp between Vercelli and Ivrea
(Ahmad p.5). Vercelli lies between Milan and Turin; Ivrea too is near

The elephant allegedly sent by Harun as a gift to Charlemagne arrives

in Italy from Tunisia.
“In the spring of 801 the huge creature lumbered patiently down the
streets of Aachen, an old Roman town in western Germany near
today's border between Belgium and Holland—a town newly
prosperous since Charlemagne, ruling King of the Franks and recently
crowned Holy Roman Emperor [sic*], had chosen it as his residence a
few years earlier.” –Mandaville 2010.

(*) The title ‘Holy Roman Emperor’ is not recorded until the 13th
century; in fact Charlemagne had been crowned just ‘emperor’.

1. Irene remitted civic taxes for the capital and cancelled the customs dues,
commercia, of Abydos and Hieron, which controlled traffic reaching
Constantinople by sea. These measures, and “many other liberalities” have
generally been assumed to have been made, like her donation of gold coins
in 799, for the sake of maintaining popularity, though there is also evidence
that she was also concerned with philanthropic measures. —Garland, DIR site

2. In the autumn 801, Irene put to Charlemagne [Gk: Karoulos], or elicited

from him, the proposal of a matrimonial union intended to reunify the Roman
Empire. The Byzantine aristocracy, hostile to Irene, seeing in this project an
act of sacrilege, organised a coup d'etat in October 802. The financial
logothete Nicephorus was proclaimed Emperor by an assembly of senior
The Frankish king or emperor Charlemagne at first planned an attack in
force on Byzantine Sicily, but then changed his mind and sent envoys to
Eirene at Constantinople, in 801/802 (indiction 10), with a proposal of
marriage: Theoph. AM 6293.

In 801/802 the envoys of Karoulos and pope Leo reached Constantinople with
proposals for the marriage of Eirene and Karoulos and the unification of the
East and the West; the proposals were acceptable to Eirene but were
opposed and prevented by the eunuch Aetios: Theoph. AM 6294, Zon. XV 13.
22-23. Charles’ envoys were present in Constantinople in October and
November 802 and witnessed the overthrow of Eirene by Nikephoros I:
Theoph. AM 6295. –Garland 1999: 89-90.

3. Irene’s adviser, the eunuch general Aetius, was now essentially in charge
of the government and army, and in 801-02 he tried to make his brother Leo
emperor: he appointed him strategos of Thrace and Macedonia*, while he
himself controlled the key Asiatic themes (the Anatolic and Opsikion). These
four themes were strategically close to Constantinople and possessed a third


or more of the empire's troops (Garland, “Irene”, www.roman-; accessed 2010).

(*) Theophanes mentions ‘Macedonia’ as a theme in 802; this is the

first surviving mention of the theme of that name. Geographically it
was western Thrace. It may have been created as early as 789
(Treadgold, Army p. 29).

PBW, citing TCOT: 157: The patrikios, Aetios, once free of Straurakios, in
801/802 began scheming to transfer the imperial authority to his own
brother, Leo; he made his brother sole strategos of both Thrace and
Macedonia while he himself took the "peratic" themes (i.e. those across the
water, on the Asiatic side), the Anatolikoi and the Opsikion; he was
presumably strategos of the Anatolikoi and "komes of the Opsikion; he
allegedly despised the other members of the government who took umbrage
at him and revolted against the empress.

As noted, Charlemagne offered (801) to marry the no longer young Irene:
aged about 47. But, on 31 October 802, while the Frankish emperor's
ambassadors were still in the city, the empress was deposed. She was
exiled to Lesbos where she died the following year
(; accessed 2010).
While the ambassadors from Charlemagne were still in the city - and
presumably the timing was deliberately chosen, - at dawn on 31 October 802,
the General Logothete Nicephorus assumed power. He was backed by a
number of high-ranking conspirators, including the domestic of the Scholae
[Gk dhoméstikos ton Skholón] or army commander Nicetas Triphyllius; the
quaestor; and a relative of Irene's, Leo Sarantapechys (TCOT: 158; Treadgold
1997: 424; Garland, Irene, at, accessed
2009; also DIR site 2010).

801 or 802: It is said that a correspondence took place between the

caliph Harun and Charlemagne; and in 802 Harun sent him presents
consisting of silks, brass candelabra, perfume, slaves, balsam, ivory
chessmen, a colossal tent with many-coloured curtains, and a water
clock that marked the hours by dropping bronze balls into a bowl, as
mechanical knights - each one for each hour - emerged from little
doors which shut behind them, and an elephant. As we noted earlier,
there is no record of this in Muslim sources.

* * *
To recap.
The first imperial expedition to penetrate continental Greece and the
Peloponnese took place, as noted earlier, in 783, and those parts were
treated as enemy territory. East Roman writers considered that the end of
the Slav occupation of the Peloponnese was signalled by the defeat of the
Slavs at Patras in Greece - med. Patrai, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth - in
the reign of Nikephoros I (802-11). Nikephoros forcibly transferred colonies of
Christians to the Balkans (Obolensky p.106).


Closer to the capital, the theme of "Macedonia" - in reality western

Thrace - was set up in about 790. Its main 'cities', or to be more accurate,
its fortress-towns, were the seat of the strategos, Adrianople, now Edirne in
European Turkey; and Philippopolis, modern Plovdiv, in present-day Bulgaria.



Around 800, Greek secular manuscripts began to be copied again in the

Empire, after a hiatus of apparently over 150 years. Manuscripts written in
the old, large "uncial" or "majuscule" handwriting were now copied in a new,
smaller "minuscule" hand. Examples include Ptolemy's Almagest, Euclid's
Elements [geometry]; some books from Aristotle's Physics and Metaphysics;
and Proclus' commentary on Plato's Republic.
It is due to this movement that "most" classical literature has
been preserved into our own day (Gutas pp.180 ff). The heritage of the
ancient, early Christian and medieval Greek worlds would have been lost if
Romanic/Byzantine scholars, intellectuals and church people in the later
centuries of the Empire had not pursued, and funded, the copying of
According to Halsall, at,
approximately 55,000 Greek manuscripts survive, and over 300,000 Latin
MSS. Of the 55,000 in Greek, about 40,000 date from the Byzantine period,
the vast majority from the tenth century and later.
Gutas ascribes the 'ninth century renaissance' in Byzantium to the
influence and example of the Muslim Khalifate, where science had been
renewed or re-invented using translations from ancient Greek sources.


Numbers from McEvedy & Jones.

The major powers of western Eurasia were:

[1] the Abbasid Caliphate: 10 M people - if we count only the populations of

the Mediterranean provinces of the Baghdad (Abbasid) Caliphate; or
some 20 M altogether if one includes Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan;
[2] Romanic-Byzantine Empire: 8 M people;
[3] Frankish Empire: 7-8 M; and
[4] Spanish (Umayyad) Emirate: some 3.6 M.

a. Our Spain and Portugal, 4 M:

Divided between the Umayyad Emirate, independent from the Caliph since
756: see there; a small Christian kingdom of Galicia; and various Christian
Basque tribes. Probably 3.6 M people under the Emirate and, we may guess,
400 k in the Christian realms. Toledo was the biggest city in the Umayyad

b. The Maghreb, 4 M:
All under the Abbasid Empire or Caliphate of Baghdad. From 793, Baghdad


began losing its control over the Maghreb: emergence of the Idrisids in
Morocco [see below under 809] and Aghlabids in Tunisia.
c. The East Mediterranean domains of the Caliphate, about 10 M: including
Libya 0.4; Egypt <4 M; Israel-Palestine-Jordan: 0.6; and Syria-Lebanon 1.5.
Also part of Asia Minor.
The border between the Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire fell in what in
now SE Turkey (Cilicia was under Muslim rule).

d. Total for the entire Caliphate, about 20 M:

including the Arabian peninsula [4-5M]; all of Iraq 2.5; Iran 4; and our
Afghanistan 2+ M.
Iraq was the most urbanised part of the Arab empire, the biggest towns
there being Mosul, Baghdad, Kufa, Wasit and Basra.

e. Turkey in Asia: 6 M:
Of which about 5 M subject to Byzantium; about 1 M to the Caliphate.
f. Balkans, 3 M:
About 1.5 M subject to Byzantium; the rest pagan Slav tribes and the pagan
Bulgar khanate. This was a period of re-expansion by the Byzantine empire
(reconquest of peninsular Greece: see 804, 807 below); so by 830 perhaps 2
M came under Constantinople.
The population of Bulgaria [modern boundaries] was perhaps 0.4 M. Even
when the Bulgarian khan took control of ex-Avar Hungary, he ruled only
perhaps 0.8 M people.

g. Italy: 4 M:
About 1/3 each between Byzantium [i.e. 1.3 M], the Lombard duchy of
Benevento and Frankish North Italy (including the Papal State).

h. Total for the Byzantine Empire about 8 M:

Made up of 5M in Asia Minor; 1.5M in the Balkans; and 1.3M in Italy.
i. Germany, present-day boundaries: 3.5 M:
Partly Frankish and partly pagan Slavic. The west (pagan Saxony and
Christian Bavaria) came under Charlemagne’s Frankish empire. Pagan
Saxony was finally conquered in 804.

j. France, present-day borders: 5 M:

All Frankish empire. Total for Charlemagne’s empire c.800 say 7-8 M.

Indian subcontinent, 64 m [sic!]

Dharmapala (770-781) made the Palas a dominant power of northern India.
The Pratiharas, also called the Gurjara-Pratiharas, were an Indian dynasty
who ruled kingdoms in Rajasthan and NW India from the sixth to the eleventh
centuries. South and East: The Rashtrakutas ruled nearly all of Karnataka,
Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh for several centuries. Dhruva, 780 AD-793
AD considerably expanded the kingdom.

Indonesia/Malay Archipelago: 3.5 M.

China Proper, Tang dynasty: 50 M.


Japan: 4 M.

Above: Nicephorus I.

Arabic: "Nikfoor" or “Naqfur”; called 'the General Logothete'.

Age unknown but over 50; born at Pisidian Seleucia in south-central

Asia Minor. The new emperor had been minister for finance or
General Logothete under Irene.
Son: Stauricius, briefly emperor in 811. Daughter: Prokopia,
marr. Michael Rhangabe, the future emperor.

Gibbon, Vol 6, who follows the judgement of the chroniclers, calls

him a tyrant and convicts him of hypocrisy, ingratitude and avarice.
Looking at what he achieved, Treadgold 1997: 424, perhaps more
fairly, says Nicephorus had great ability and was “active and
inventive” as well as pious.

“He was above middle height, with broad shoulders, had a big
belly, thick hair, thick lips, broad face and very white beard, plump,
very clever, sly, shrewd — especially about affairs of state —
scarce of words and greedy for money which brought him [his]
eternal destruction”. —Text known as the “Scriptor Incertus”. Cf
811: the emperor dies in battle.

Coinage: The decline of bronze coinage further continues, as

money from this era becomes rather scarce (indicating reduced


mint output), and fractional denominations largely disappear.

1. A coup d'etat deposed Irene in October 802. The logothetes tou genikou or
finance minister, Nicephorus, was proclaimed Emperor by an assembly of
senior officials.

2. The East: The Muslim writer al-Tabari quotes a rude letter from Nicephorus
to Harun al-Rashid in which the new emperor denounces the truce signed by
his predecessor, Irene, and threatens war (El Cheikh 2004: 96). See 803.
“The Empress who preceded me considered you a rook [Arabic rukh] and
herself a pawn [baidaq].(*) She agreed to pay a tribute that was twice what
you yourself should have been paying to her. So much for a woman's
weakness and stupidity! Now, as soon as you have read my letter, refund to
us all that you have received from Irene, and in addition send as much more
as possible, as a ransom. For if you do not, the sword shall divide us!”
The caliph famously replied in equally rude terms thus: “In the Name of the
most merciful God: Harun al-Rashid, Commander of the Faithful, to
Nicephorus, Roman dog [kalb al-Rum]: I have read your letter, O son of an
unbelieving mother. You will behold my answer before you hear it.” See 803.

(*) Chess was played in Persia in the 500s according to al-Masudi: see
Charles Wilkinson, May 1943: “Chessmen and Chess", The
Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin New Series 1 [9]: 271–279.
Presumably the game reached Byzantium as early as the 600s; but al-
Tabari’s quoting of Nicephorus’s letter is the first known mention of it
west of India. What is perhaps the earliest reference to the game in
Arabic occurs in ca. 728. The earliest known work mentioning chess in
Christian Western Europe, is a document from what is now Switzerland,
a poem called the Versus de scachis, dated to 997 (Wikipedia, 2010,
‘Timeline of Chess’).

Acc. Krum, Bulgarian khan, r. 803-14.
In his reign the ex-Turkic Bulgars and the local Slavs reached approximate
social and legal equality. The highest offices were now open to Slavs. For
example, his ambassador to Constantinople in 812 was a man named

A "time of troubles": the Bulgarians and Arabs mount several serious threats
to the empire.

1. Failed negotiations between Nicephorus and Charlemagne. The former was
seeking withdrawal of Frankish claims to Venetia and Dalmatia; the latter was
seeling recognition of his imperial title. Cf 812.

2. Asia Minor: “A rebellion against Nicephorus in July 803, in which Bardanes

Tourkos, strategos of the Anatolics, was proclaimed emperor by his men, may


have been in support of Irene, though Theophanes does not say so; Bardanes
as domestic of the Scholae [chief army general] had been one of Irene's main
supporters in bringing her to power and had been one of the four patricians
who led her horses in her triumphal procession in 799. The revolt was not
popular and Bardanes withdrew (805) to a monastery”. –Garland, ‘Irene’.
Bardanes besieged Chrysopolis opposite the capital, but the town resisted
and, hearing news of the death of the exiled Irene, he withdrew his forces
into Bithynia, to Malagina (Treadgold 1997: 425). Nicephorus promised not to
punish the thematic troops who supported Bardanes, and the latter then
retired to a monastery. But the emperor broke his word and arrested “all the
officers and property owners(*) of the themes” and “he let the whole army go
unpaid”. A little later he sent men to Bardanes’ monastery and they blinded
him (TCOT: 161).

(*) It was often the sons of the owners of the military estates in the
themes who performed the required military service.

3. Responding to Nicephorus’s threat, Harun marched into Asia Minor.

Nicephorus was dealing with the rebellion by the ex-domestic Bardanes, so
he offered to pay tribute and Harun retired (the promise was not kept - El
Cheikh loc. cit.). See 805-06.

Italy: The Franks under Pippin failed to conquer Venice; a treaty was
subsequently signed (812) by Charlemagne and Emperor Michael I Rhangabé,
confirming the sovereignty of Constantinople over Venetia and Dalmatia.
Charlemange’s biographer Einhard states that the Franks conquered “both
Pannonias, Dacia beyond the Danube, and Istria, Liburnia [the upper
Dalmatian littoral], and Dalmatia, except the cities on the coast, which he
[Charles] left to the Greek Emperor for friendship's sake” (Einhard’s Life,
edition of 1960, p.41, Univ. of Michigan Press). See next.

The Croats of Dalmatia switch allegiance from the Byzantines to the Franks.
Cf 806, 810, 878.
The doge of Venice too briefly acknowledged Charlemagne's claim to be
emperor of the West (805/06). See next.

1. Dalmatia: Bishop Donatus III of Zara, an Irishman by birth, accompanied by
Beato the Doge (junior or associate doge) of Venice, travelled in 804 as
envoy from Charlemagne to the Emperor Nicephorus at Constantinople. Thye
were sent to compose the quarrel that had arisen between the empires out of
the Franks’ conquest of Dalmatia.
Then the two doges Obelerio and Beato did homage to Charlemagne in
Aachen on Christmas Day 805. Obelerio also chose a Frankish bride, the first
In the year 806 Donatus again visited the court of Charlemagne at
Thionville [between Verdun and Trier: south of Luxembourg] in company with
'Paulus dux Jaderae' [Paul, dux of Zara] as an envoy from the Dalmatians,


bringing their submission and laden with offerings to their new master. —
Jackson, Dalmatia, Oxford: Calrendon, 1887.

2. Exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and the East Roman
Empire. Tabari does not specify the numbers involved (Toynbee 1973: 390).

804-09: (or 805:)

Reconquest of the western Peloponnesus.
The strategos of Hellas, based probably at Corinth, defeated the Slavs and
(809) resettled Greeks who claimed descent from those who had left the
region two centuries earlier (Vine 1991: 80; Treadgold, State p.425). It would
appear that the theme of the Peloponnesus was created at that time
(c.805) (Toynbee p.262; Vine 1991: 81). Cf 807: Patras.

Originally Athens was part of the theme of Hellas formed in the late seventh
century with its capital in Thebes, later Corinth. However, it can perhaps be
deduced from an inscription on one of the columns in the Parthenon
concerning the death of Leo, strategos of the theme of Hellas, in August 848,
that during the first half of the ninth century Athens may have become the
seat of the theme. Other inscriptions on the columns tell us that the bishopric
of Athens was elevated to the rank of archbishopric before the middle of the
ninth century (Kazanaki-Lappa, in Laiou ed. 2002).

Sicily: The Aglabid governor of Africa, Ibrahim, and Constantine, the patrikios
governing Sicily, agreed to a truce of 10 years, although the political
instability in North Africa - with the Idrisíds taking power in Morocco [see 809]
and the Umayyads sacking the islands of Corsica and Sardinia - made the
truce ineffective. Luckily for the Byzantines, the Umayyads, Idrisíds and
Aglabíds were too occupied fighting each other to form a common front. Cf
806: Corsica.

fl. the chronicler Theophanes.
His chronicle preserves a vibrant childhood memory of icebergs created
from the thawing of the frozen Black Sea, and floating past Constantinople in
February of 764 (see there). Under Leo V he received the title of spatharios
[deputy commander of the imperial guard, in this case probably an honorary
award]. He later founded a monastery near Sigiane on the Asian side of the
Sea of Marmara, where he lived until his death. His chronicle of world events,
from AD 284 (the point where the chronicle of George Syncellus ends) to 813,
is invaluable for preserving the materials of Byzantine history that otherwise
would be lost for the seventh and eighth centuries.

1. With Harun absent in the farther East, two Romaniyan armies attack
respectively attack Melitene and raid into Cilicia, where they sack Tarsus. In
response, Harun invades (806) and enters Cappadocia; meanwhile (805), as
we noted, a rebellion by Bardanes is crushed.


Harun’s admiral in Syria, Humayd b. Ma’yuf al-Hamdani, attacked rebels on

Cyprus (806) in concert with the land invasion.
This massive Arab invasion led by Harun was the most spectacular of his
reign. With 135,000 men, it was also probably the largest ever sent
against Byzantium. Evidently this figure comprised just his regular troops,
with volunteer irregulars and camp-followers adding to the host (Tabari, cited
by Kennedy 1981: 77, 131; Treadgold 1997: 426). The proportion of regular
soldiers to irregulars (Ar. muttawi’ah, ‘volunteers’) is not known. Theophanes
offers the most unlikely total figure of “300,000”.

Harun had recruited "50,000" indigenous non-Arabic Iranian-Khurasanis to

strengthen his army. They would have included many heavily armoured
horse-archers. Theophanes also mentions Libyans, Palestinians and Syrians
(TCOT: 163).
Leading separate commands, his generals took one Byzantine stronghold
after the other. According to Theophanes, “60,000” men marched on Ancyra,
but withdrew without attacking it.
The Muslims penetrate to Heraclea in SE Asia Minor: presentday Eregli in
Cappadocia west of Tyana (not to be confused with Heraclea on the Asian
Black Sea coast north-east of Nicomedia) (June). Heraclea was burnt to the
ground, but the emperor bought peace with the caliph for a modest tribute of
30,006 nomismata (July) [Treadgold 1997: 426].
The capture of Heraclea was a great victory and made Harun al-Rashid's
triumph complete. Meanwhile admiral Homaid or Khoumeid, i.e. Humayd b.
Ma’yuf al-Hamdani, sailed (806) his fleet to a Cyprus in revolt, landed on the
island, took possession of it, and led “17,000” (or 16,000) prisoners back into
Syria. [Let us imagine the 16,000 captives were ferried in two runs: if 100
prisoners were crammed into each ship, then 80 ships would have been
required.] Some were sold for ransom, the rest perhaps enslaved (Kennedy
2008: 327). Theophanes says Harun “resettled” the Cypriots which may imply
they became free peasants rather than slaves.

Humiliation: The terms of the treaty required Nicephorus to acknowledge that

formally he and the empire were now under Muslim protection or even
vassalage. This is signalled by payment of a personal tax, the jizya. When
Theophanes is describing the humiliation of Emperor Nikephoros by Caliph
Harun al-Rashid (805/06), he tells us that the Byzantine emperor (whom he
profoundly disliked) undertook to pay the caliph 30,000 gold coins per annum
for the state plus three nomismata as his own poll tax [Arabic jizya,
‘capitation tax’] and a further three for his son Stavrakios. The Arab sources
say, in dinars: 50,000 + four + two respectively. It is clear that by this pact
the Byzantines were compelled to accept a public humiliation much more
painful than any financial loss would have been; yet the loss itself was not so
terrible if we bear in mind that to have fought a major campaign against the
caliphate (with very little chance of success, as things stood at that time)
would have cost a great deal more (thus Oikonomides 2002; also El Cheikh
2004: 97).

2. Byzantine Venetia and Dalmatia, present-day coastal Croatia, briefly defect


to Charlemagne. See next.

The West: Defecting from the Byzantine side, the Doge of Venice, Obelerio,
and his brother Beato did homage to Charlemagne in Aachen on Christmas
Day 805. Obelerio even chose a Frankish bride, the first dogaressa. This act
precipitated a war with Byzantium. In 809, a Greek fleet from Constantinople
led by the prefect of Cephalonia, the dux Paul, or rather a detachment from
his fleet, landed in the Venetian lagoon and attacked a Frankish flotilla at
Comacchio at the mouth of the Po but was defeated (Haywood 1991: 111).
The Franks under Charlemagne’s son Pepin launched a long, but
unsuccessful siege of Venice in 810. The siege lasted six months and Pepin's
army was ravaged by the diseases of the local swamps and was forced to
withdraw. A few months later Pepin died.

Dalmatia: The Frankish annals mention the Irish-born cleric Donatus from 805
as an ambassador of the Dalmatian cities to Charlemagne in Thionville
[Diedenhofen, south of today’s Luxembourg]. According to tradition, Donatus
(later Saint Donatus ‘of Zadar’) brought the relics to Zadar from
Constantinope, when he was there with the Venetian ‘associate or deputy
doge’ Beato, the brother of the doge Obelerio. They had been ordered by
Charlemagne to negotiate the border between the Byzantine Empire and
Croatian territories that were in dominion of Frankish Empire of Charlemagne.
See 812.

1. The Adriatic: Byzantium with a strong fleet brought Venetia and Dalmatia
back into line and thus restored in 806 its supremacy in the Adriatic,
according to Dvornik, The Slavs, 92–94, 160–167, citing Cosmas Pragensis, I
27: MGHSS, ns, II 49 sq.. Cf below: 806/07.

2. Corsica: A long contest begins for control of the Western Mediterranean:

African Muslims - Umayyads from Spain and Idrisids from Morocco - raid
Carolingian (Frankish-ruled) Corsica. The Muslims won a major naval
engagement in 806, but the following year the Christians prevailed (Pryor
1988: 104). Cf 846.
Sardinia remained nominally Byzantine, although in practice self-ruling. - A
peace treaty was in force between Byzantine Sicily and Aghlabid Ifriqiya; and
for some years (perhaps until 812) the Tunisians refrained from attacking
Christian shipping (Ahmad p.5). Cf below: raids from 807.

Contest for the Mediterranean, AD 806-961

Pryor 1988: 104 lists 28 major naval engagements across the Mediterranean
from AD 800 to 1000. The Christians won 16, the Muslims 12. But
strategically the contest went to the Muslims because during the 800s they
took control of most of the key islands along the trunk routes, or rather, what
used to be the main sea lanes: there was little east-west trade in the 700s. In
particular the Empire lost, or began to lose, Crete from 825 and western Sicily


from 827; eastern Sicily including Syracuse held out until 878. The low point
for the Christians in terms of maritime weakness was to come with the
Muslim conquest of parts of peninsular Italy - Byzantine Taranto and Lombard
Bari - in 840: for a generation the Muslims will, at that time, dominate the the
Straits of Otranto, the entrance to the Adriatic.
But Bari will be recovered in 871 and Taranto in 880. It was not until after
Crete was retaken in 961, however, that Byzantium would be able to restore
relatively safe trading routes from Italy to the East.

Nicephorus, aged about 36, patriarch of Constantinople: a former bureaucrat
and a historian. He produced a short chronicle of the period 602-769 in
impressive Attic-style Greek, an early signal of the revival of learning.

1. Europe: An East Roman fleet brought Venetia and Dalmatia back into line,
and the emperor led an army into the Balkans. There the region of Serdica,
modern Sofia, was briefly recovered from the Slavs. See 807-08 – lost to the
“In the spring of A.D. 807 the Emperor Nicephorus dispatched a fleet to
recall the rebellious dependency to its allegiance. The patrician Nicetas, who
was in command, encountered no resistance; the Dukes submitted;
Obelierius was confirmed in his office and created a spathar (spatharius); his
brother was carried as a hostage to Constantinople along with the bishop of
Olivolo. Fortunatus, who had been reinstated at Grado, fled to Charles. Thus
Venice was recovered without bloodshed.” – Bury 1912. See 809.

2. Arab attacks on Cyprus (806) and Rhodes: Gk Rodhos (807). Harun laid
waste to Cyprus “because the people ... had broken the treaty” [of 688]. That
is to say, they had either refused to pay taxes or molested the Cypriot
Muslims, or both.
The attack on Rhodes by admiral Khoumeid (Homaid) was less successful.
Although the island was devastated, the Byzantine garrison held out, and the
Muslim fleet withdrew. On the return voyage, a wild storm came up. Off Myra
- near modern Kale or Demre on the middle southern coast of Asia Minor, i.e.
about halfway between Rhodes and Alanya – the storm sank a large number
of the fleet’s ships (TCOT: 164).

Greece: Muslim pirates link up with rebellious Slavs. The Peloponnesian Slavs,
conspiring with the Saracens—"Saracens and Africans" is the phrase used by
Constantine Porphyrogenitus—launch a major attack on the Romanic outpost
of Patras (probably already the new thematic capital) but are defeated.
Probably Patras had been rebuilt in 805 or 806, and this revolt by the Slavs
took place sometime in the period 807-11 (Vine 1991: 81; Herrin 2007: 94
dates the siege or attack to 806).
The Byzantine punitive expeditions that followed led to the definitive
reconquest of the Peloponnesus. See 809; also 810-11. Because Patras
resisted the attacks of the Slavs, its bishopric received the title of
Metropolitan (senior) See from the Emperor Nicephorus I.


Pagan Slavs, aided by Arab ships, attack Patras in Greece: at the (western)
mouth of the Gulf of Corinth, but are repulsed (805-807).
The Slavic revolt of 805/807 in the Peloponnese, during which the ‘city’
(read: fortress-town) of Patras was threatened, was put down by the Imperial
army, an outcome that the Christian or Rhomaion: Byzantine population
attributed to the intervention of Saint Andrew, the protector of Patras. This
victory signified also the permanent re-establishment of Imperial
authority in the southern regions of the Greek peninsula.
Colonies of Christians were later (809) sent to re-settle parts of the
Peloponnese. Peninsular Greece proper was returned to imperial rule by 810.

1. The East: Summer raid by Arab forces. The Arab historians say that Harun
ordered the destruction of all churches in the frontier area of Cilicia because
the local Christians, still a majority, were thought to be acting as a fifth
column for the enemy (Kennedy 1981: 131).

2. Historiography: George the Syncellus served under the Patriarch Tarasius,

784-806, but he did not follow the usual path and succeed Tarasius upon the
Patriarch's death. Instead he retired to a monastery, where he composed the
work which was to be his claim to fame, the Eklogê Chronographias, or the
‘Selection of Chronography’. Syncellus apparently intended to bring the work
down to his own day but was prevented by his death in 810, and his labours
were later completed by his associate Theophanes Confessor.

From 807:
Byzantine or ex-Byzantine Sardinia: The second wave of Muslim naval
expeditions against the region coincides with the growth of the Aghlabite
emirate in Ifriqiyah and the consolidation of the Umayyads in Spain.
In the first two decades of the ninth century we can enumerate five raids
on Sardinia: in 807, 809, 813, 816–817, and 821–822. But after 822 the
Muslims will apparently stop raiding Sardinia until 934–935, probably because
their energies were by then wholly devoted to conquering Sicily (Cosentino,
Byz Sardinia). Cf 819-22.

1. Exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and the East Roman
Empire; al-Tabari does not specify the numbers involved (Toynbee 1973:

2. Thrace: With the caliph pre-occupied in distant Khurasan, the basileus

Nicephorus takes the opportunity to open hostilities against pagan Bulgaria,
sucessfully pushing west as far as Serdica, where he installed a garrsion
(807). But a Byzantine army is subsequently defeated (809) by Krum near
Strymon, the present-day Struma River which crosses the modern Bulgarian-
Greek border.
Theophanes said that "the Bulgarians captured (in 808) more than 1,000
pounds of gold directed for the soldiers’ salaries in Macedonia and liquidated
the strategos and a lot of soldiers". Or in Turtledove’s translation, “they took


away 1,100 pounds of gold and killed a great number of soldiers, including
the army’s general and officers. Not a few regimental officers from the other
themes [presumably meaning Thrace] were also present and every one of
them who was there was lost” (TCOT: 165).
Next, around Easter 809, Krum takes and razes the outlying Romanic-
Byzantine fortress-outpost of Serdica, today’s Sofia, where the Byzantine
garrison of “6,000” was “slaughtered” (idem; also Norwich, Apogee p. 7). This
took place in the borderlands of Slavic Macedonia, western Bulgaria and
imperial Thrace. Nicephorus responded by leading a further army to the
region, and initially planned to rebuild the sacked fortress. His troops
rebelled, however, as they would have to do the rebuilding, and the excursion
ended (TCOT: 166). Two years later Nicephorus will succeed in punishing the
Bulgars by sacking and burning their capital Pliska (see 811).
Serdica, its walls razed, was left abandoned thereafter; and in due course -
by 864 - a Slavonic settlement will grow up beside the old Roman fortress
(TCOT: 165; Vine 1991: 95; Browning p.99).The fighting between the Empire
and Bulgaria in the period 809-814 centred on the three imperial land
fortresses at Serdica/Sofia, Philippopolis/Plovdiv and Adrianople; and the sea-
port of Develtus [modern Debelt, near Burgas] – which is to say, across the
southern half of present-day Bulgaria. (From south to north, the ports on the
Black Sea coast were: Sozopolis, Develtus, Anchialus, Mesembria and Varna.)

1. Nicephorus rescinded Irene’s tax cuts (see 801) and added a special tax on
the circulation of slaves. This was particularly targeted at slaves being traded
to the East from western Europe through the Dodecanese (Rotman 2009: 70).

2. The Adriatic: A Byzantine fleet anchored off Venice in 809, attacked a

Frankish flotilla based at Comacchio but retired beaten to Cephalonia. The
doge Obelerio then invited Pepin the Frankish King of Italy to occupy Venice,
but the Venetians resisted and deposed Obelerio in 810.
“A Greek fleet arrived, under the patrician Paulus, strategos of
Kephallenia, wintered in Venice, and in spring (809) attacked Comacchio, the
chief market of the Po trade. The attack was repelled, and Paulus treated with
Pippin [the Frankish king], but the negotiations were frustrated by the
intrigues of the Dukes, who perhaps saw in the continuance of hostilities a
means for establishing their own independence between the two rival
powers. Paulus departed, and in the autumn Pippin descended upon Venetia
[the greater Venice region] in force. He attacked it from the north and from
the south, both by land and by sea. His operations lasted through the winter.
In the north he took Heracliana, in the south the fort of Brondolo on the
Brenta; then Chioggia, Palestrina, and Albiola ; finally Malamocco”. —Bury

2. Emperor Nikephoros created a new fourth cavalry tagma, or standing

regiment, the Hikanatoi division, in about 809. Greek: tagma ton Hikanaton,
meaning the "Worthies" or “Able Ones”. This brought the total in the seven
central regiments to 22,000 men: 4,000 each in the cavalry Watch, Scholae,
Excubitors and Hicanati; and 2,000 each in the infantry Walls, Optimates and
Numera (Treadgold 1995). Altogether, including new thematic troops


recruited and sent to the southern Balkans [see next], this enlarged the
army by 10,000 men (Treadgold 1997: 428).

According to Haldon, 1984: 256, it was during this reign (by 811) that the
cavalry Tagmata began regularly to campaign together as the leading
element in the emperor’s forces. Cf 811.

Morocco: Idris II, 809-28, the first Idrisid, makes Fez his capital. The
Idrisids were Shi’ites.

Greece: Byzantine reconquest or reoccupation of the southern
Balkans completed. Although there was some fighting, most of the
expansion was by peaceful occupation at the expense of unwarlike - or
should we say 'prudent'? - Slavs.
This is signalled by Thessalonica and Cephalonia, the latter meaning
the Ionian Islands and coastal Epirus, being expanded and raised from
“archontates” (minor governorships) into full Themes, each with probably
2,000 soldiers. The Peloponnese was created, or more likely confirmed, as a
new theme, also with probably 2,000 soldiers.
Together with the extension of the theme of Hellas to include Thessaly,
this meant that nearly the whole of present-day Greece was now returned to
Byzantine rule. Thousands of Christian families were forcibly resettled there
from Asia Minor (Theophanes says “of every theme”), and new troops
recruited (TCOT: 166 ff).

The new units of 1,000 soldiers—a drungus commanded by a drungary—

seem to have been placed as follows, in or after 809: two in greater
Thessalonica [i.e. Macedonia and Thessaly]; one or two in the Peloponnesus;
and two in the new theme of Cephalonia, which included mainland Epirus.
Most of these units were drawn from the 4,000 Mardaïte [Marda-ite] or Greco-
Mardaite ex-oarsman from the naval themes of Hellas, who were now
converted from naval rowers to infantry and called “the Mardaites of the
West” (Toynbee p. 87; Treadgold Army pp. 29,72; map in Treadgold 1997:
444). The Syrian Mardaites had first settled in Hellas some 120 years before
and must by now have been entirely ‘hellenised’.
The villages where these units were headquartered, including Corinth,
Patras [Patrai] and Lacedaemon, would grow into new "medieval"-style
fortress-towns by 850.
“He [Nicephorus I] built de novo the town of Lacedaimon and settled in it a
mixed population, namely Kafirs [converts from Islam], Thrakesians [from
western Asia Minor], Armenians and others, gathered from different places
and towns, and made it into a bishopric” (Chronicle of Monembasia, quoted
by Mango 1980: 28).

The reconquest was insecure for some decades. Even as late as c.820, as we
learn from the travels of St Gregory the Decapolite [d. 842], it was virtually
impossible to cross the central Balkans by land without falling into the hands
of Slavic brigands (Mango in Rice 1965: 111). In Macedonia the Slavs living on
the lower reaches of the Strymon were very active as pirates and no doubt


still pagan. Evidently the Slav chiefdoms dominated the middle segments of
the ancient highway (Via Egnatia) from Constantinople to Thessalonica, and
presumably almost all traffic to Greece went by sea, although we may guess
that large parties well escorted by troops could travel overland from the
Land traffic east-west across the centre of the peninsula – from Macedonia
to Albania along the interior sector of the Via Egnatia – was not securely re-
established until 867.

With Patras securely controlling the western reaches of the Gulf of Corinth,
maritime trade via Kenchreai [modern Kechries], the port of
Corinth*, through the Gulf with Italy seems to have an increased markedly.
This was a faster and safer route than going right around the lower
Peloponnesus, and would explain the “spectacular” growth in coins dated
810-830 found archaeologically at Corinth (Curta 2005: 117).

(*) Corinth had two ports: Kenchreai on the east on the Saronic Gulf,
and Lechaio(n) on the west on the shore of the Gulf of Corinth.
Reviewing the archaeological evidence, Wickham 2007: 631 has
proposed that ‘Corinth’ around 800 was not so much a town as several
discrete fortified villages (kastra) in the one district; the ancient city
centre was probably uninhabited.

Caliph al-Amin, son of Harun ar-Rashid. His reign was contested by his
brother, Ma’mun. The Muslim civil war allowed Byzantium to focus on
Bulgaria (see 811). Cf 810.
Between 809 and 813 Iraq and Persia engaged in a civil war that pitted two
of Harun al-Rashid's sons, Amin and Ma'mun, against each other. So total was
the destruction of Baghdad that it was not until six years later, in 819, that
Ma'mun, who had succeeded his father, reentered the city and began its

The Balkans: The contest between the Bulgarians and Byzantium centred on
the semi-circle of imperial fortresses south of the Balkan Mountains, i.e. along
the line of the Maritsa valley: Serdica (Sofia), Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and
Adrianople; and Develtus on the Black Sea coast (Obolensky 1971: 95). See
811 and 812.

1. The East: Exchange of prisoners between the Eastern Muslims and the East
Roman Empire; Tabari does not specify the numbers involved (Toynbee 1973:

2. Italy: Franco-Italian forces attack Rhomaniyan Venice and Istria. A further

Byzantine fleet is dispatched to reassert Imperial control over Dalmatia and
The doge Obelierius pursued a policy of alliance with the Franks, and
helped them to gain possession of the maritime centres of Istria; but a


Byzantine fleet came to the aid of the Byzantine party in Venice and expelled
Obelierius, and Angelo I Participazzo was made doge (810). The Franks under
Pipin, son of Charlemagne, then attempted the conquest of the Venetian
Lagoon; the islands of Brondolo and Malamocco fell into his hands, but the
Venetians defeated the Franks on Rialto, the present site of Venice itself.
(Until 811 the ducal seat was located on the southern island of Malamocco;
after 811 it was relocated to Rialto.)
Charlemagne's son, Pippin, king of Italy, attacked Dalmatia and the
Venetian lagoon, which belonged at least in name to Byzantium and the
Byzantine-Roman cultural tradition (although Romance rather than Greek in
language). Pippin was severely beaten by the Venetici (Venetians) on the
lagoon in 810.
Byzantium and the Franks eventually signed a peace treaty (814) that
placed Venice under nominal Byzantine control but guaranteed the city
freedom to trade with the kingdoms of the western Mediterranean. A short
time later, the relics of Saint Mark are transferred (828) from Alexandria to
Venice, increasing the city's prestige. The security of the Venetian islands
had attracted settlers during the Langobardic era.

2. Embassy to Charlemagne's court: inconclusive. See 812.

After 810:
d. George ‘Syncellus’, the Palestine-based monk and chronicler, author of a
chronicle extending from Creation to AD 284: an important source of data
about ancient Rome and early Christianity.
Wikipedia 2010: “He had lived many years in Palestine as a monk, and
came to Constantinople to fill the important post of syncellus (secretary) to
Tarasius, patriarch of Constantinople. The syncellus served as the patriarch's
private secretary, was generally a bishop, and was the most important
ecclesiastical person in the capital after the patriarch himself, and often the
patriarch's successor.”

Greece: Date (as corrected) given by Theophanes for the forcible transfer of
Christian settlers, mainly from Asia Minor, to the “Sclavinias” - reconquered
areas of former Slav rule - including in the west Peloponnesus. Theophanes
says settlers were resettled from “every” province of the empire. The
Chronicle of Monemvasia speaks of Thracians and Armenians being sent to
the Peloponnesus (Vine 1991: 80-81; Treadgold 1997: 427).

Chronicle-writing: At the urgent request of his friend George Syncellus,
Theophanes undertook the continuation of his chronicle, during the years
810-15 (Patr. Gr. (*), CVIII, 55), making use of material already prepared by
Syncellus, probably also the extracts from the works of Socrates Scholasticus,
Sozomenus, and Theodoret, made by Theodore Lector, and the city chronicle
of Constantinople. Cf 813.

(*) The Patrologia Graeca (or Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series

Graeca) is an edited collection of writings in Greek by the Christian


Church Fathers and various secular writers. It consists of 161 volumes,

produced in 1857–1866 by J. P. Migne's Imprimerie Catholique. MPG =
Migne, Patrologica Graeca.

1. The East: At Eukhaita, the seat of the Armeniac theme on the lower Halys
River south of Sinope, Arab raiders captured the pay-chest of the Armeniacs -
on the first Saturday of Lent, i.e. about a month before Easter. (The annual
payday was in Holy Week, i.e. the last week before Easter, so presumably the
pay-chest had recently arrived.) Treadgold, 1995: 141, says that Theophanes
lists the the amount lost as 1,300 pounds of gold or 93,600 nomismata; but
curiously the amount is not mentioned in Turtledove’s edition of Theophanes
(TCOT: 170).

2. NE Balkans: Nicephorus leads a large army into Bulgaria and plunders and
burns (timber-built) Pliska; but in the Bulgarian mountains, Krum’s men
defeat and kill the emperor [25/26 July]. This was the first time in over 400
years that a Roman emperor had been killed in battle.
Krum had the Emperor's skull lined with silver and used it as a drinking

Extensive stone foundations remain at Pliska: photograph in Fossier p.329.

The palace itself would have been built of wood.

Emperor Nicephorus vs Khan Krum, 811

The army led by Nicephorus was large, as it was drawn from the Asian
themes as well as that of Thrace; but Theophanes notes that it also included
some irregulars: “many poor men armed with their own hunting slings and
clubs”. We may guess these latter were local Christian Thracians accustomed
to mountain warfare.
When the Byzantines reached Marcellae, NW of Burgas near modern
Karnobat, i.e. while still south of the mountains, Krum asked for peace. This
was refused, and the Byzantines crossed the range and easily destroyed in
turn two Bulgarian armies of “12,000” and “50,000” men near Pliska. The
town was burnt down. To quote the Scriptor Incertus, “he found some army of
elite armed Bulgars, about 12,000, left to defend the place, fought against
them, and killed all of them. Also, another 50,000 [Bulgars] met him which he
fought and killed all of them.” And, “having spent several days there, he
[Nicephorus] left impious Krum’s palace, and on his departure burnt all the
buildings and the surrounding wall, which were built of wood.”
Krum responded by recruiting troops from among the Slavs and Avars.
They helped the surviving Bulgarians to fortify with “fences” (log-walls) the
mountain passes in the rear of the Byzantines, sealing off their exit.
The Wikipedia authors (2010) argue that the ambush took place in either
the Chalaka or the Varbitsa [Vurbishki] Pass, both directly south of Preslav.
There, on 26 July 811 (Theophanes’ date), the Bulgarians killed the emperor
and a large number of Byzantine troops and their officers including the
domestic of the Excubitors, the drungary of the Watch, and the strategoi of
the Anatolics and Thrace. Among those not killed was the domestic of the


Scholae, Stephen (TCOT: 171-72).

Some say it was one of the most lethal defeats ever for Byzantium, with
allegedly “70,000” casualties (Wikipedia 2010, ‘Battle of Pliska’). This is not
credible, as the entire enrolled strength of the imperial army, serving from
Sicily to Chaldia, was only 90,000 men (Treadgold Army p.67). But let us
imagine that fully half the entire Tagmata was lost: that would be 11,000
men. So Byzantine casualties of up to 20,000 are possibly credible.

The imperial army was defeated because—contravening established practice

—it had not properly encamped. As described in a contemporary document:
“The Bulgars had constructed a fearsome and impenetrable fence out of tree
trunks, in the manner of a wall. [Or, as another translation has it, “a terrible
and impassable wall-like rampart from large tree trunks”.] Therefore, the
Bulgars seized their opportunity, observing from the mountains that those
who had deserted [Nikephoros’ army] were wandering. They hired the Avars
and neighbouring Slav tribes (Sklavênias), arming even the women like men,
and on the 15th day since their [the Romaniyans’] invasion, as Saturday
dawned on 23 [sic] July, they fell on those [Byzantine soldiers] still half
asleep, who arose and, arming themselves, in haste, joined battle. But since
the regiments were encamped a great distance from one another, they did
not know immediately what was happening. For they [the Bulgarians and
their allies] fell only upon the imperial encampment, which began to be cut to
pieces. When few resisted, and none strongly, but many were slaughtered,
the rest who saw it gave themselves to flight” (the Scriptor Incertus, a
fragmentary document: translated at, 2009; also
Vine 1991: 97).

John Haldon’s account of the defeat near Pliska (Haldon 2001: 71 ff)

A large force was assembled, drawn from the Tagmata, the Eastern themes
and the Western themes. So confident of victory was Nicephorus that he
allowed large numbers of courtiers and palace officials to come along.
The army reached the frontier at Markellai, modern Karnobat, on 10 July
811. (The Scriptor Incertus speaks of a campaign of “15” days, i.e. 11-26 July,
although the same source says that 23 July was the 15th day.) After several
feints aimed at confusing the enemy, the attack was launched more than a
week later, on 19 or 20 July, according to Haldon (Theophanes gives 20 July
Julian = 24 July Gregorian as the date that the army entered Bulgarian
territory). Several columns entered Bulgaria separately through “difficult
passes” plural (TCOT: 170). Haldon imagines, plausibly, that one column went
up the coastal side while – not so plausible - another proceeded inland across
the eastern edge of the Sredna Gora (the range south of the Balkans proper)
and through the Shipka pass, reuniting near Pliska. (This is a curious
proposal, as the inland column would have had to march a long way west:
Shipka lies NW of Stara Zagora, ancient Beroe, in central Bulgaria. The Shipka
pass takes one through the main Balkan range to Gabrovo, the very centre-
point of modern Bulgaria. From there it is a very long way to Pliska in the


In Haldon’s account the re-combined army reached Pliska on 22 or 23 July.

There Nicephorus destroyed the Bulgarian garrison and defeated a large
relief force sent by Krum. The emperor ordered Krum’s palace to be burned
and the surrounding countryside devastated.
The Byzantine army now departed inland, marching SW and then west in
the general direction of Serdica (Sofia), in pursuit of the remaining Bulgarian
forces, all the while devastating enemy settlements and farms.
On 24 July, with Pliska not far behind them, they entered one of the many
wooded river-valleys that run down from the Balkan Mountains.
(Theophanes’s date is 25 July.) According to the Wikipedia authors (2010),
this was the valley of the Ticha River, south of Preslav. The exit pass they
were headed for is called Varbitsa. Because of over-confidence, discipline
was relaxed or even non-existent in some corps, and insufficient attention
had been paid to scouting the line of march. Nicephorus declined to heed the
advice of his leading officers to advance more cautiously.
To hinder the Byzantine advance, the Bulgarians had quickly moved to
build heavy log-walls - palisades of felled trees - across the mouth of several
of the most important passes through the Sredna Gora mountains. Fronted by
a ditch, such a palisade would detain an army only briefly, but long enough
for an attack to be made from above and on the flanks. And on 24 or 25 July
Byzantine forward scouts duly reported that one such palisade blocked the
exit from the valley along which the army was marching southwest-wards. It
was clear to all that they had blundered into a trap.
Krum had scratched together a small force of Bulgarians and some allied
Avar and Slav troops. This small army manned the palisaded valley in which
Nicephorus now found himself.
Dusk was falling when the scouts reported the palisade positioned ahead.
Instead of turning back to retrace its steps, however, the army was ordered
to halt. The several divisions of the Byzantine army made camp separately
some distance apart. Nicephorous’s own encampment included all the
dignitaries and the Tagmata. It was identified and singled out in the attack
that Krum launched before dawn on 26 July.
The Byzantine sentries were asleep, and the Bulgarians and their allies
managed to break into the perimeter of the emperor’s camp. There was some
resistance from the tagma of The Watch but they were soon cut to pieces in
the chaos, noise and semi-darkness. The emperor himself was killed in the
first moments of the attack; and it was perhaps the news of his death that
caused the troops of The Watch to break and flee.
The sound of fighting alerted the nearest camps of the thematic divisions
but the darkness prevented them from intervening effectively. Learning from
the fleeing guardsmen of the Watch that the emperoer was already dead,
they too turned and fled. As the Bulgarians came forward, the whole
Byzantine army rapidly dissolved.
Many perished in the along the river marshes and while trying to cross to
the other side of the river to escape. To quote the Scriptor Incertus, “the river
became so filled with people and horses that the enemy passed over them
safely and pursued the rest who, naturally, thought that they would escape”.
Those who fled on horseback further forward into the valley found
themselves up against the wooden palisade and trench built by the


Bulgarians. The soldiers who managed to climb the log-wall fell off it to their
death, and the attempt of others to burn it down simply led to their falling
through the collapsed, burning timbers into the ditch. Scriptor Incertus: “At
other places, the rampart was put on fire. When the ties burned and the
rampart fell upon the moat, the running soldiers unwarily fell down and came
into the moat together with the fire”.
Many did escape, but many more were died than got away (Haldon 2001:
75). If the expedition numbered 30,000 men then perhaps 20,000 died. As we
noted earlier, contemporary sources claimed “70,000” dead, which is far too
large a figure. In any event, Byzantium was well resourced enough to send a
further strong army against Krum as early as 813: see there.
* * *
To recap.
The Caliphs still held the dream of conquering Constantinople. So Harun
ar-Rashid, perhaps the greatest of the Abbasid rulers, attacked Asia Minor
and Cyprus (804-06) and then mounted an immense assault that he hoped
would finally destroy the Christian Empire (806-07). The Saracen
expeditionary force is said to have numbered 135,000 men, the largest
ever sent against Byzantium (Treadgold 1982: 92 and 1997: 426). But this
death-blow, like all others before it, failed. The Rhomaioi afterwards
campaigned again into Mesopotamia, maintaining their grip on Asia Minor.
Harun became the fifth caliph of the Abbasid dynasty in 786. Under his rule
the Muslim Khalifate reached the height of its power. His court at Baghdad
was famous for its splendour. His empire extended from Spain to the edge of
India. Harun was a patron of the arts and of learning. He is remembered
especially as the leading character in the tales of the 'Arabian Nights'.

The main struggle in Europe was against the well-organised Bulgarian state.
"The process of replacing Slavonic tribal administration by Bulgarian state
administration (writes Browning p.129) was probably a slow one, begun by
Khan Krum [803-14] but only completed by his successors." Greek was the
official written language of the Bulgarian state until the later 800s (Obolenksy
1971: 115).
According to one East Roman source, cited by Browning, Krum was able to
field "30,000" men in armour (i.e. mail) [Gk holosideroi] and 5,000 wagons
with iron tyres. If so, it is perhaps not surprising that he regularly humiliated
the empire in a series of military clashes. In 811 he even succeeded in killing
the Basileus Nikephoros himself. As noted, this was the first time for nearly
600 years that a Roman emperor had been killed in battle.
"What is happening is that a semi-professional military body is separating
out from the mass levy of peasants, and is being brought under centralised
state control" (Browning p.134).

811-813: MICHAEL I ‘Rhangabe’ or Rangavis.

Son-in-law of Nicephorus I and from 802 a high official: curoplates,

supervisor of the palace. Age unknown, but probably in his late 30s
at accession, he was “handsome and cultivated . . . amiable to a
fault, lacking in judgement and easily led” (Treadgold 1997: 429).


Wife: Prokopia, daughter of Nicephorus.

Rhangabe was a family name, probably Hellenised from a Slavic

name: rokavu. In Greek, “b” is pronounced as we pronounce “v”.
Others say it was Armenian.
His father was Theophylact Rhangabe, the ‘drungarios of the
Dodekanese’, i.e. sub-admiral or commodore of the (north) Aegean
fleet, a unit of the Theme of the Cibyrrhaeots.

He supported orthodoxy against iconoclasm and recalled Theodore

of Studium from exile. He recognised (812) Charlemagne's claim to
be western emperor. Defeated by the Bulgarians, he was deposed
and exiled.

1. When Michael's wife Prokopia failed to persuade her brother to name his
son-in-law Michael as his successor, Michael's supporters forced Staurakios to
abdicate in Rhangabe’s favour on 1-2 October 811.
The emperor’s son Stauricius, wounded in the battle near Pliska, died after
about five months. Knowing he was dying, Stauricius abdicated in favour of
his brother-in-law, the palace official, Michael Rhangabe, or as others say he
was forced to abdicate. Cf 816.
On 1 October “all the senate and the guard regiments” acclaimed Michael
in the hippodrome (Theophanes, TCOT: 173). Then on 2 October 811 he was
formally raised to the throne in a ceremony at Hagia Sophia. The new
emperor promised, in writing, to defend the faith and to protect both clergy
and monks, and was crowned with much solemnity by the Patriarch

2. Dalmatia: By 810 or 811 it was felt necessary for the Byzantine and
Frankish rulers to make a general settlement defining their respective
spheres of interest in the north-west Balkans: the Treaty of Aix or "Peace of
Aachen", signed 812.
Einhard in his biography of Charlemagne writes that the emperor extended
Frankish power to Istria where today the Italian-Croatia border runs, Liburnia
or western Dalmatia, and Dalmatia proper (our Croatia), except for the
coastal towns which he left to the Byzantine emperor “for the sake of good
relations” and in accordance with a peace treaty concluded in 810 and
ratified in 812.
The dividing-line was drawn at Croatia, specifically the line of the River
Cetina (*), a short way south of Split. But this affected only the hinterlands.
Constantinople retained a theoretical suzerainty over all the offshore islands
of Dalmatia and over the Italian coastal settlements from Venice to Grado.
Thus the Croats of both (inland) Pannonia and (coastal) Dalmatia came more
and more under Frankish influence in the ninth century. Politically, however,
the pagan chiefdoms of inland Croatia and what is now Serbia remained
independent despite being wedged between the Frankish empire, the Italo-
Byzantine towns of Dalmatia and the Bulgarian khanate.

(*) The river runs from NW to SE and exits below Split. Thus the Trogir


(Trau)-Split region was the borderland between the Croat subjects of the
Western Empire; the proto-Serbian Narentine “pirates” of Pagania
(below Split); and the Eastern Empire. Trogir and Split recognized the
Eastern Empire.

811: A Frankish campaign to Pannonia, present-day Austria, in 811

defeated the Avars, who were forced to convert to Latin Christianity. The
Avar realms was divided between the Christian Franks of Austria and the
pagan Bulgarians in present-day Hungary. See below: Treaty of
Aix/Aachen, 812, and for pagan piety: 813.

After 811:
Venice: During the reign of doge Agnello Particiaco, 811-827, the ducal seat
was moved from the exposed island of Malamocco north to the highly
protected island called Rialto (Rivoalto, "High Shore"), the current location of
Venice. Bridges were built, even across the Brenta River (which exits into the
lagoon of Venice); and the Grand Canal was born. Still, at this time, the town
was mainly constructed of wood, the few stone buildings being fortresses or

1. Black Sea coast: Krum, the Bulgarian khan, captured the Byzantine port-
town of Develtus (Debeltos) and transported its inhabitants into Bulgaria.
Michael was unable to deal with the Bulgarians immediately because of an
Iconoclast revolt (June 812) that aimed to replace him with a son of the
former emperor Constantine V. The revolt was led by the officers of the
Thrakesian and Opsikion themes; evidently they refused to join Michael for a
march on Develtos. This allowed Krum to seize more of Thrace, including
Philippopolis [in 813], and part of Macedonia (TCOT: 175). After Michael had
suppressed the insurrection, however, Krum offered to conclude peace, but
the terms offered seemed unacceptable to Theodore Studites, and on his
advice Michael declined the proposal. Krum then (October 812) renewed
hostilities, capturing the city of Mesembria, modern Nessebar, in November
812. —Encyc. Brit. ‘Michael I’,
Khan Krum used ships or boats to seize several Byzantine fortresses in the
Southern Black Sea Coast, most notably Nesebar (medieval Mesembria).
Images of these or other ships have been found depicted on the walls of
Pliska and Preslav.

Bulgarian military science was still under-developed at this time. The siege
operations against Mesembria using “siege engines and helepoleis
[trebuchets]” were organised by an Arab engineer* who had defected from
Romanic/Byzantine service to that of the Bulgarians. Krum captured 36
bronze 'siphons' - naval flame-throwers - and a considerable quantity of
Greek Fire (“liquid fire”) at Mesembria, but, happily for the Byzantines, he
was unable to do anything with it (TCOT: 177-78; Browning pp.50, 134, 138;
Davidson p.279).


(*) The Muslims had been using sieges engines since as early as 712 if
not earlier; indeed probably they had learnt how to build them from
the Byuzantines during the later 600s (Kennedy 2008: 61).

2. Italy: End of the peace treaty betwen Ifriqiya and the empire. Abdallah I,
the son and successor of Ibrahim I ibn al-Aghlab [Abu-l-‘Abbas ‘Abd-Allah I],
Aghlabid emir of Saracen Ifriqiya (our Tunisia), gathers a large fleet and army
with the intention of conquering Sicily and the Italian south.
Emperor Leo III calls on the towns of the duchy of Naples to send ships to
join the imperial fleet for a campaign against the Saracens in Sicilian waters.
The imperial fleet was commanded by an unnamed patrikios. Duke Anthimius
of Naples ignores the order although the semi-autonomous cities of Amalfi
and Gaeta (nominally ruled by Naples) do send ships. An Arab fleet of 13
ships first destroys a squadron of seven Byzantines ships, but is then
defeated by the combined Italo-Byzantine fleet off Lampedusa. Meanwhile 40
more “Moorish” ships attack Ponza and Ischia. —McCormick 2001: 898.

When Leo III the Isaurian called (812) for the fleet of the entire ducatus of
Naples to aid the Byzantine admiral in combatting the Saracen pirates
preying on Sicily, Duke Anthimus could ignore the order; only Amalfi and
Gaeta responded with contingents. Apparently, the Neapolitans felt
themselves practically independent already and their underlings felt
themselves independent of Naples.

The Muslim invasion fleet manages to seize the island of Lampedusa, midway
between Tunisia, Malta and Sicily, and to raid Sicily, Reggio Calabria, Ischia
(the island off Naples), Ponza in the Pontine Islands west of Naples, Sardinia,
Corsica, and Nice (to 813). The invaders are ultimately defeated thanks to the
fleets of Amalfi and Gaeta, as well as a great storm which sinks many
Saracen ships.
Thereafter a new peace treaty was struck (813) with Gregory, the
Byzantine patrician of Sicily (Ahmad p.5).

1. Further Romaniyan embassy to Charlemagne's court. The "Peace of
Aachen" was signed (13 January 812), by which Michael recognises Charles'
title as (Western) "emperor". Michael's envoys acclaimed Charlemagne as
Emperor - but not Emperor of the Romans - in both Greek and Latin at
Aachen in 812, although the exchange of treaties was not completed until
814 (Whittow 1996: 305). See 824.

Michael’s legates at Charles' court in Aachen addressed him as Imperator and

Basileus (says the Annales Regni Francorum). This recognition was renewed
by the next Byzantine emperor Leo V in 814 for Charles, and in 815 for his
son and successor Louis the Pious (Ostrogorsky p.198).
The Peace of Aachen 812 allowed for the Franks to dominate most of our
Slovenia and inland Croatia while the Byzantines retained suzerainty over the
coastal towns and islands of Dalmatia, namely Krk [Gk Vekla], Osor, Rab,


Zadar, Trogir, Split, Dubrovnik, Svac, Ulcinj and Bar. Cf 815.

The signed treaty was carried by ship to Constantinople by a Frankish

delegation, led by Amalarius of Metz, arriving August 812. The route was:
Aachen-Zadar-Dyrrachium-Aigina-Attica-Constantinople (McCormick 2001:

2. Thrace: An army is sent against Krum. It was levied from “all the themes”,
including Cappadocia and the Armeniacs (TCOT: 178). The outcome was one
of the worst-ever defeats for Byzantium, at least in terms of lost confidence
and prestige. The numbers killed were not massively large.
Led by emperor Michael and General Leo ‘the Armenian’, the new strategos
of the Anatolics, the expedition is initially successful. In a first battle, when
the Bulgarians defeat his first line, Leo brings up his reserve, which saves the
day. But a few days later at the battle of Versinicia, the town north of
Adrianople, Leo betrays Michael, or so later accounts have it: the Byzantine
army collapses (22 June 813). Michael then abdicates (11 July) in favour of
Leo. Krum marches to Constantinople (16 July).

Versinikia/Bersinikia: Haldon – see below - has proposed that the Byzantine

field army was about 26,000 strong. This is more plausible than the “60-
80,000” offered by the Wikipedia authors. In any event the Bulgarian force
was much smaller (2010, ‘Battle of Versinikia’).

Map: GO HERE for a map
The Wikipedia authors (2010) place the battle itself a little to the SE of
Versinikia, east of the river Taja.

John Haldon’s account of the Battle of Versinikia, 813 (Haldon 2001:

76 ff)

Provincial forces from Asia Minor, the remaining European forces and the
Tagmata were ordered to assemble for an expedition. The Asian forces
crossed to Europe but had to spend most of May in Thrace awaiting the
Tagmata, meanwhile consuming much of the local surplus for their
Haldon says that Michael commanded the Byzantine centre, perhaps
4,000 men from the Tagmata and 6,000 from the Thrakesion and Opsikion
themes. On one wing there were perhaps 8,000 westerners - Thracians and
Macedonians - under John Aplakes, strategos of “Macedonia” so-called (this
theme was actually western Thrace). Leo, strategos of the Anatolikon, led the
other wing, perhaps 8,000 easterners - Anatolics, Cappadocians and Leo’s
household troops (Armenians). This made up a total of possibly 26,000 men
in all.
At the end of May, Michael led the army past Adrianople, making camp at
Versinikia just north of the present-day Turkish-Bulgarian border. A much
smaller Bulgarian army under Krum came out against them, reaching the
Versinikia region on 7 June, where they camped 25 km from the Byzantines –
on lower ground. We must guess how many troops Krum had, because the


sources say only that his forces were anxious not to make the first move
because of the superior numbers on the imperial side. Haldon offers
“12,000” men, which seems reasonable.
Two weeks (or perhaps more than a month: cf Treadgold 1997: 431)
elapsed while the Byzantine commanders tried, but failed, to agree on how to
proceed. Low morale, indiscipline and disease set in, weakening Michael’s
army. One day, a frustrated John Aplakes decided he would lead out a part of
his wing to attack, without orders to do so. He took his Macedonians, say
5,000 men, down the slopes of the ridge along which the imperial forces were
drawn up. In the initial impact the Bulgarians were pushed back, but rallied
and counter-charged. The Thracians now entered the fray, and together
Aplakes’ two contingents began to push the Bulgarians back towards the
latter’s camp.
Michael chose not to order in his centre and other wing to exploit this
development. They simply watched as the Bulgarian centre went to the aid of
the Bulgarian wing. Worse: Leo and his Anatolikons now began to pull back,
leaving the field of battle in some disorder. This alarmed the Byzantine
central formations under Michael, and they too abandoned their positions.
The withdrawal of Leo’s wing appears not to have been (as later writers
would claim) an act deliberate treachery on his part, but simply cowardice in
his men, many of whom were raw recruits who had lost whatever morale they
arrived with during the weeks of waiting for battle. It must be remembered
that only two years earlier the ‘barbarians’ had killed the then emperor
Krum at first believed he was faced with a feigned retreat to draw his men
on. Soon, however, the Bulgarians realised the Byzantines were indeed
fleeing. Krum’s army now pursued with vigour. Many of Aplakes’ troops
managed to get away safely but the commander himself died in battle.
Now the remaining Byzantine units that had formed the centre and the
other wing redoubled their efforts to get away. Many men and horses died in
the pursuit; others took refuge in the fortresses along the route back into
Byzantine territory.
The defeat was ignominious, but, because the Bulgars were also weakened
by the weeks of waiting, fewer imperial troops were lost then might be
expected in a disorderly retreat. A number of Anatolikon units made it
unscathed as far as Constantinople, and there they rebelled, proclaiming Leo
as the new emperor. Michael promptly abdicated.
Next Krum advanced (July) to Constantinople.

While the capital was under siege, Adrianople and Arcadiopolis

surrendered to the Bulgarians (813): Adrianople's entire population of
"10,000" - some sources say "40,000", including refugees from rural Thrace -
was carried away into slavery. The normal population of the city, without
refugees, may have been as large as 20,000 (Treadgold, State pp.432, 572;
also Browning p.50 and Norwich p.19).

After the complete defeat, 22 June 813, in the war against the Bulgarians,
Michael lost all authority. With the assent of the patriarch he resigned and


entered a monastery with his children.

With conspiracy in the air, Michael preempted events by abdicating in
favour of the general Leo the Armenian and becoming a monk (under the
name Athanasios). His sons were castrated(*) and relegated into
monasteries, one of them, Niketas (renamed Ignatios), eventually becoming
Patriarch of Constantinople.

(*) First mention of political castration in this chronology.

4. Western Mediterranean: Saracen pirates, probably Berbers or Mauri, raid

the port of Rome (Civitavecchia) and Nice. —Kreutz p.167; NCMH 1995: 263,
citing the Vita Karoli.

5. Acc. Caliph Ma’mun. Initially proclaimed caliph in 812/813 in his Khurasani

or eastern Iranian capital of Merv, while his elder brother was ruling in
Baghdad. It was not until 819 that Al-'Ma'mun entered Baghdad as caliph.

813: At Aachen, Charlemagne crowns his son. For him, "the new
Romans were the Franks and Rome from now on was at Aachen", or so
says Fossier p.391. And certainly his biographer Einhard does use the
phrase ‘new Rome’ to describe Aachen; but Charles’ own aspirations
may have been more modest. See discussion by Schutz 2004: 75ff.
The emerging importance and widespread use of vernacular
languages in Latin Europe is marked by a Council held at Tours, 755.
By giving priests the right to pronounce sermons in the common
tongue ("rusticam"), particularly in French ("gallicam") and German
("teudiscam", thiotiscam), the council sought to mediate a crisis in
preaching by closing the linguistic gap that had developed between
the clergy and the lay people.
At a later Council of Tours in 813, priests were ordered to preach in
the vernacular language — either in the rustica lingua romanica (proto-
French) or in the Germanic vernaculars — since the common people
could no longer understand formal Latin. Within a generation, the
Oaths of Strasbourg (842), a treaty between Charlemagne's grandsons
Charles the Bald and Louis the German, was proffered and recorded in
a language that was already distinguished from Latin. —Herman 2000.


Above: Leo V.

813-820: LEO V ‘the Armenian’

Aged in his late 30s at accession, Leo had been general of the
Armeniac and then the Anatolikon themes. “Shrewd and dynamic,
he had few principles but many talents”, says Treadgold 1977:
Blamed by Nicephoros, and banished, he was recalled by
Michael I and appointed general of the Anatolics. When in 813 the
army failed against the Bulgarians, Michael fled: as we have seen,
Leo was proclaimed by his soldiers, and Michael abdicated. It was a
forced abdication, so we may say that he was “deposed”.
First wife: Barca, divorced ca. 813. Second wife Theodosia, marr.
ca. 813. He had children by both wives, but none of them had a
career of any note.

1. Constantinople: Leo strengthens the landwalls in the Blachernae sector or
north-west (Tsangadas 1980: 31).

2. Chronology: (SL) = that of SYMEON THE LOGOTHETE:

Bulgarians besiege Constantinople, 16 July 813; Bulgarians sack Adrianople
early autumn 813. —Jenkins 1987: 125.
July: As noted, Krum’s army briefly appeared before Constantinople.
At the capital, presumably to terrify the people of Constantinople, but
perhaps also as pagan piety, Krum sacrificed humans and animals before
the horrified eyes of the East Romans (Curta 2006: 187; Browning p.140).
In 813, says Theophanes, Khan Krum drank with his Slav boyars from the


skull of the late Emperor Nicephorus I. Plainly this was not a soft and gentle
Theophanes also says the city folk were so terrified that some broke into
the imperial cemetery vaults and threw themselves on the sarcophagus of
the late great military emperor Constantine V [died 775], crying "Rise up!
Save the collapsing state!" Or as translated by Turtledove: “Arise and help
the state, which is being destroyed”: TCOT, p.179. Some even claimed to
have seen him ride out of his tomb to defeat the ‘barbarians’.
The populace broke into the imperial mausoleum at the Holy Apostles and
threw themselves before the tomb of the warrior-emperor Constantine V
[dead for 38 years] and beseeched him to return and save the empire from
the Bulgarians (Tougher, DIR).

Leo, who has now replaced Michael as emperor, negotiates with Krum and
tries to assassinate him. Understanding that the city is impregnable, Krum
decides to retire (autumn 813). As noted earlier, the Bulgarians sacked
Adrianople early autumn 813. Krum burns the suburbs of Constantinople
and ravages Thrace, capturing Adrianople and taking "40,000" captives,
including many refugees from wider Thrace who had sought shelter in the
city. The Bulgarians’ use of various siege engines and machines at Adrianople
convinced the city’s governors to surrender. The captives were transferred as
a colony to Bulgarian territory.
The Bulgarians were militant pagans: Persecutions of Byzantine Christians
continued. Several bishops were martyred, including Manuel, Bishop of
Adrianople, who had been deported to Bulgaria when Krum took that city.
And in front of the walls of Constantinople, as we have noted, Krum
“celebrated bloody, demonic sacrifices in the small stream that flowed from
the Golden Gate to the sea” [i.e. at the SW corner of the city] (TCOT: 181).

It is said that the future emperor Basileios [Basil I] was newly born when in
813 the Bulgar ruler Krum captured Adrianopolis and carried the inhabitants
off into captivity, among them Basil's parents and the infant Basil; during
their captivity many of Basil's kinsmen perished as martyrs for their Christian
He remained under the Bulgars with the other captives through the reigns
of Leo V and Michael II: thus Leo Gramm. 233. He was 25 years old in 838
when the captives returned under the reign of the emperor Theophilos. That
is to say, he grew up under the Bulgars, but with his family in a community of
Byzantine captives from Adrianoupolis; and eventually returned to live in the
empire in c. 836/838.

Leo divorces his first wife Barca and marries Theodosia, daughter of the
patrician Arsaber, an ethnic-Armenian official who had rebelled
unsuccessfully against Nicephorus in 808.


From 813:


Chronicle: ‘Theophanes Continuatus’ is the name conventionally applied to a

collection of texts preserved in a single 11th-century manuscript (Vat. gr.
167). It comprises four separate sections covering the period AD 813-961.
The first section (813-67) continues Theophanes Confessor.

Renewal of Iconoclasm

Theodotus Cassiteras, an elderly officer or court official, lately a confidant of

Michael I, and a monk, the Abbot John Grammaticus, persuaded the new
emperor Leo that all the misfortunes of the empire were a judgment of God
on the idolatry of image-worship. Leo, once persuaded, used all his power to
put down the icons, and so all the trouble began again. In 814/15 the
Iconoclasts assembled at the palace and prepared an elaborate attack
against images, repeating almost exactly the arguments of the synod of 754.
See 815: Synod. Theodotus was appointed patriarch.

The West: Truce between Muslim Ifriqiya and imperial Sicily.

c. 814:
d. George [the] Syncellus, Christian Greek historian, from Muslim-ruled
George became private secretary to Tarasius, patriarch of Constantinople
784-806, thus acquiring the title of 'Cellmate' or Syncellus, an official
Byzantine position of cleric confidant to a high ecclesiastic. After the death of
Tarasius (806), George retired to a monastery and composed his Chronicle,
which treats extensively of Christ's birth and the New Testament period but
gives scant attention to the post-apostolic age. Together with the parallel
work by Eusebius of Caesarea, George's work constitutes the prime
instrument for interpreting Christian chronography concerning the primitive

1. Europe: Khan Krum continues his attacks in Thrace, sacking further towns
including Arcadiopolis. But, before he can again attack Constantinople, he
dies (13 April 814) of a cerebral haemorrhage (stroke). Cf 815.
The siege train Krum assembled in April 814 is said to have included 5,000
wagons drawn by 10,000 oxen (Archer et al. 2008: 121). Commenting on
Krum's achievements, Obolensky observes: "a country which 50 years before
had seemed on the verge of extinction was now one of the great military
powers" (p.96). This is rather overstated.
- The three most powerful states of the Mediterranean world were: 1. the
Abbasid Caliphate; 2. Nea Roma or Byzantium; and 3. the Frankish Empire. In
truth, pagan Bulgaria was in the second rank, along with the several Muslim
splinter states: the Umayyad Emirate in Spain, the Idrisid 'Caliphate' in
Morocco and the Aghlabid Emirate of present-day Tunisia.

2. Venice as a rising power: At the request of doge Pietro of Venice, the

Frankish-Byzantine treaty of mutual respect of territory (814) was renewed
by a decree of the Western or German emperor Lothar. It is significant that it


was Venice, by now autonomous, and not Byzantium which was the
signatory, and equally significant that the terms of the treaty entrusted the
Venetian fleet with the defence of the sea (since there was no Frankish
imperial fleet, and the Byzantine fleet was elsewhere), thus implicitly
recognising Venice's right of control over the Adriatic.

3. d. Charlemagne.

A Tour of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire in 814

Compared to the catastrophe of the Seventh Century, the century following

the last Arab siege—the long Eighth Century, 718-817—was a period of
stability for the Empire.
Except in the West, Byzantium kept what it held. In the Levant,
although there were many military incursions, the Arab expansion was
securely halted, and Asia Minor formed the greater portion of the Empire. In
eastern Europe, despite more than a few reverses, the Empire held back the
Bulgar Khanate. And in the Lower Balkans, it even expanded, taking back
present-day Greece and Albania from the Slavic tribes. This was a major
In the West, the great bastion of Sicily was maintained, but the Byzantium
lost its remaining lands in north-east Italy and its hold over Corsica and the
Balearics. The gain represented by the reconquest of Greece and Albania did
not perhaps compensate for the loss of NE Italy and Corsica (to the
Lombards, who in turn came under Frankish domination) and the Balearics
(to the Muslims of Spain and then the Franks).

The Frankish Empire—Hamburg to Rome; Pamplona to Salzburg—looked on

paper to be the second strongest power in the Mediterranean basin after the
Abbasids in 814 (Times Atlas 1994: 61). In practice it was less organised and
more loosely governed and so weaker than Byzantium.

Let us now proceed on a tour across the Empire, from west to east – from
Sardinia and Sicily to Armenia:

(a) Italy: Sardinia was still nominally Byzantine but in practice independent.
The Franks dominated Corsica and N Italy, with the Lombard principality of
Benevento lodged between Frankish N Italy and Byzantine S Italy, including
Sicily: see 827.

(b) The Adriatic and the Balkans: Nominally Byzantine Venice and Dalmatia
were separated from Byzantine inner Macedonia by Frankish-dominated
Slovenia-Croatia (to give the region its modern name) and the Slavic tribes of
‘Bosnia-Serbia’ - as we may anachronistically call the region. There was as
yet no Serbian state in 814. Nominally the Serbs came under Byzantine
suzerainty but in practice they were autonomous. Outer Macedonia was
likewise ruled by Slavic chiefs (or in certain regions: Romance-speaking
The Empire ruled Crete, almost all of present-day Greece, and Thrace,
while the Bulgarians controlled the eastern two-thirds of present-day Bulgaria


and an even larger territory north of the lower Danube. Until 814 the
Bulgarian-Byzantine frontier lay just beyond Adrianople.

GO HERE for a map showing the Bulgarian-Byzantine frontier:

(c) Anatolia remained the empire’s heartland. In the east, the frontier with
the Abbasids was the Taurus Mountains, with nearly all of Cilicia under
Muslim rule. Cyprus paid taxes to both the Empire and the Caliphate.


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