Theophilus (828-842) - Michael III (842-867)

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Theophilus: Emperor of the Empire of Byzantium (829-842), the last advocate of the Iconoclasm (the abolition of religious images) in a reign characterized by Arab invasions.
The son of the emperor Michael II, of the Phrygian dynasty traditionally favourable to Iconoclasm, Theophilus was liberally educated by the Byzantine scholar and ardent Iconoclast Ioannes Grammatikos. Ioannes Grammatikos tought to his student, that the greatest virtue of a governor is justice. He was also much influenced by the learned court of the early 9th-century caliph of Baghdad Harun ar-Rashid.


Theophilus was crowned as co-emperor in 820 and shortly thereafter married Theodora, chosen from a group of candidates. Theofilos with a golden apple in his hands, had decided to give it to Eikasia (Kassiani.) When he said to her that "all the bad things come from the woman" meaning Eva, Kassiani replied "but also all the good things come from woman", meaning the Virgin Mary. Theofilus became angry and gave the apple to Theodora, choosing so her instead of Kassiani. Kassiani very sad, had a monastery built, became nun and wrote many poems and psalms, and the most famous, Troparion tis Kassianis is chanted every Good Tuesday, Megali Triti. Kassiani is considered to be the medieval Sappho.

Theofilos was against the worship of icons and was in constant dispute with his wife Theodora, who was for the worship of icons (iconolatry). Theofilos was austere and also fair. He did his best to check corruption and oppression on the part of his officials. It is said that when he was informed that a ship had carried in the port of his palace, goods from Syria, Theofilos asked the captain to whom they belonged. The captain answered that they had been ordered by the empress. Theofilos had the ship burnt and told to his wife that whatever she desired, she should go to the market of Constantinople and buy it, because she deprived the taxes and the duties from the State.

On becoming sole emperor in 829, he emulated Harun ar-Rashid by wandering about the capital informally, listening to his subjects' complaints. An intelligent financier and administrator, he dispatched architects and engineers to construct fortresses which would anchor Byzantium's northern defenses against the Vikings and the Magyars. He also constructed a fortress at the Herson peninsula (modern Crimea) to withhold the attacks of asian barbarian tribes. He also bolstered his defenses, east and west, against the Muslims. Theophilus established many local mints, promoting commerce in the regions. His sound fiscal policies greatly enriched the Imperial treasury, and allowed him to embark on numerous building projects. Among these were major expansions to the Great Palace. Despite his interest in their culture, Theophilus was compelled to war with the Muslims throughout his reign. Theophilus, who afforded an asylum to a number of Persian refugees, one of whom, called Theophobus after his conversion to Christianity, married the emperor's sister Helena, and became one of his generals.

On 831, Theofilos sent a delegation to Baghdad, with precious presents for Al-Mamun, signing so a peace treaty which lasted three years. Al-Mamun died in 833 and his successor caliph Al-Mutassem struck at the most important centres of Asia Minor on the route to Constantinople. The emperor organized a huge campaign against the Arabs and marched to Eufrates river, at Mesopotamia. He destroyed many Arab cities and also Sozopetra, the birthplace of Al-Mutassem. Al-Mutassem swore for revenge. With his turn, he organized a huge army of more than 200 thousands men and had them written on their shields, the name Amorion, the capital of Frygia, which was the homeland of the Greek emperor. Theophilus was defeated in a bloody battle at Dasymon, in July 838. His competent general, the Armenian Manuel was killed and the Byzantine army retreated to Amaseia. After a brave resistance of fifty-five days, Amorion fell into Al-Mutassem's hands through treachery on September 23, 838. So one of the empire's chief fortresses and the home of Theophilus' dynasty was razed to the ground and most of the population was slaughtered. The Greek generals Aetios, Krateros, Melissinos, the protospatharios Theodoros, the tourmarhis Kallistos, the througgarios Konstantinos and many other political and military noblemen were captured and tortured to death. The fall of Amorion shocked the Greek populations who for many centuries sung folkloric songs mourning the loss of Amorion, Kastron tis Marous. Exploiting dissension within the Arab camp, however, Theophilus in 841, with the help of Spanish Moors, captured Melitene on the Armenian border, forcing Al-Mutassem to sign a truce.

Under Theophilus, Iconoclasm was given full rein. To weaken the political influence of Greek Orthodox monasticism, the Emperor and Ioannes Grammatikos (who had become patriarch of Constantinople) mounted a persecution against the users of icons in Orthodox liturgy and devotion. Theophilus never recovered from the Arab blow; his health gradually failed, and he died on 20 January 842. His wife, Theodora who had always been iconolatre, restored the legitimacy of venerating icons to the Byzantine Empire. The decision was ratified by a synod on 19 February 842, and Methodios who was iconolater succeeded Grammatikos as Ecumenical Patriarch. Since then, all Orthodox christians celebrate the first Sunday of fast (Sarakosti), as Kuriaki tis Orthodoxias,

The Byzantine cultural revival stimulated by Theophilus included two significant advances in the area of classical studies: the gradual substitution of the minuscule, or smaller, cursive hand for the uncial, or larger, script, and the increase in the number of scriptoria,or copyists' workshops. Theophilus also restored the University of Constantinople after its 8th-century decline and appointed the brilliant Byzantine teacher Leo the Mathematician as its new rector.

Michael III (842-867), the son of Theofilus, was only 3 years old, when his father died. His education and instruction was not proper because the young emperor was neglected by his mother and was influenced by his uncle, the logothetis Vardas. As a result, Michael became salacious and debauchee. His only care was the hunting, the women and the feasts. He was spenting public capitals and didn't care for his people. He entrusted the government to his capable uncle, whose administration was marked by the missions of saints Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs and by the conversion of Czar Boris I of Bulgaria (864). Those missions were conducted by Patriarch Photius, who was one of the most eminent intellectuals of the Greek empire. He was born at Constantinople in 816, and according to Nikitas, bishop of Paflagonia, Photios was expert in Philology, Poesy, Rhetoric, Philosophy and even Medicine. He became Patriarch of Constantinople on 25 December 857, succeeding Ignatios.

On 849, logothetis Bardas founded the University of Magnaura. Among the professors were Photios who taught Greek Philosophy, Theodoros who taught Geometry, Theodoghios, who taught Astronomy Kometas who taught Greek Philology.

The war campaigns of the Greek emperor were unsuccessful. Logothetis Theoktistos failed to recapture Crete from Saracens who continued their raids into the empire and extended their conquests in Sicily, although their eastward expansion was temporarily stopped. The Slavic tribes of Moreas revolted against the empire but they were defeated by the protospatharios Theoktistos Vriennion on 849. During a conflict with the Arabs of the Euphrates, the emperor sustained a personal defeat (860), which was retrieved by a great victory on the part of his uncle Petronas, brother of Theodora, who in 862, defeated the Paulician heretics with their Arab allies at Minor Asia. In 865 the first pillaging expedition of the Russians endangered the Bosporus. Their small ships, trohantiria as were called by the byzantines were destroyed by a sudden windstorm.

Michael made Basil of Macedonia (later Vasilios I) one of his favorites. Vasilios was born at Andrianople in 812 but was taken prisoner by the Bulgarians, who under Kroumos, had raided Macedonia and Thrace. He was liberated in 837, came in Constantinople and worked as groom for a rich aristocrat named Theofiltsis. After his visit to Patras where he met Danielis, a very rich proprietor of silk industry, Vasilios became famous and came in the service of Michael. Together they had Vardas assassinated in 866. Vasilios the Macedonian was made coemperor. Dissatisfied by the perverted behavior and the wicked mind of the emperor he decided to ged rid of him. In 23 September 867, Vailios murdered Michael and became sole emperor.

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