Leo VI the Wise, also known as Leo VI the Philosopher (Greek: Λέων ΣΤ΄, Leōn VI) was the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 886 to 912. Domestically, his reign produced one of the most brilliant periods of the empire’s history. In foreign affairs, his reign was not as successful. His numerous marriages produced a major scandal and incited the wrath of the Church.
Leo was born, on September 19, 866, to Eudokia Ingerina who at the time was the wife of the Caesar, Basil the Macedonian, and also the mistress of the Emperor Michael III. While Basil acknowledged Leo as his son, his later treatment of Leo was such as to suggest that Leo was Michael’s son. Leo was Basil’s second oldest son,
A year later, in 867, Michael was assassinated by Basil who then succeeded as Emperor Basil I. In 870, Basil placed Leo in the line of succession after his older half brother Constantine. Leo was educated by Patriarch Photius and developed into more of a scholar than a warrior. With the death of Constantine in 879, Leo became the direct heir to the throne. However, Leo and his father hated each other, to the point that Basil almost had Leo blinded as a teenager. On August 29, 886, Leo came to the throne when Basil died after an accident while hunting. Basil on his death bed claimed the accident was an assassination attempt in which Leo possibly was involved.
Among Leo VI’s first action, after his succession, was the reburial of Michael III in Constantinople. This action may have contributed to the suspicion that Michael was his father. Leo was selective in his appointments of officials in his government and, although there were some conflicts, was able to control the great aristocratic families. He completed work on the ‘’Basilica’’, an update of Justinian I’s code that was begun by Basil I. The Basilica was written in Greek. Leo disliked dishonesty. Bishop Liutprand of Cremona related how Leo would disguise himself and walk that capital looking for corruption and injustice.
In 886, with his accession to the throne, Leo dismissed Patr. Photius for having taken Basil’s side during Leo’s altercations with Basil. In December 886, Leo replaced Photius with his brother, Stephanus I. After Stephanus’ death in 893, Leo placed Antony II Kauleas on the patriarchal throne. Then, after his death, Antony was succeeded by Leo’s imperial secretary, Nicholas I Mysticus, in 901.
In foreign affairs, Leo was less successful. He was forced to make commercial concessions and pay tribute to Simeon I of Bulgaria in 896. He lost the last Roman outpost in Sicily in 902. Oleg of Novgorod attacked Constantinople in 907 in an attempt to force Leo to grant him trading rights, but was beaten back. After a second attack in 911, Leo finally signed a trade agreement with Oleg.
It was the scandal with his marriages that soured his relations with the Church. Theophano was his first wife, a marriage forced by Basil. She died in 897 without producing an heir. His second wife was Zoe Zaoutzaine, who died in 899, again without an heir. While the Church would not bless more than two marriages, Leo again married, his third wife was Eudokia Baiana who died in 901. To avoid a greater sin by marrying a fourth time, Leo took Zoe Karbonopsina as his mistress and then married her when she gave birth to a son in 905. This incurred the wrath of Patr. Nicholas Mysticus. After replacing Nicholas as patriarch with Euthymius I Syncellus, Leo’s fourth marriage was recognized by the patriarch. This action opened a conflict within the Church. Leo aggravated the situation greatly by appealing to the Bishop of Rome to obtain papal consent, thus providing an opening for papal intervention into affairs of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Even though his marriages created problems for him with the Church, Leo initiated the translation of the relics of St. Lazarus to Constantinople in 890 and is credited with composing several stichera that are chanted on Lazarus Saturday.
Having obtained an heir with Zoe Karbonopsina, which Leo legitimized through his uncanonical marriage, Leo strengthen the position of his son, the future Constantine VII, for succession, by making him co-emperor on May 15, 908. Constantine was two years old. Leo VI died on May 11, 912 and was succeeded by his younger brother Alexander who had been co-emperor since 879.
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