Constantine VI

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Constantine VI was the emperor of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire from 780 to 797. Under the regency of his mother, Irene, iconoclasm was suppressed and the Seventh Ecumenical Council was convened under a decree signed by Constantine.


Constantine was the only child of Emperor Leo IV and his wife Irene of Athens. He was born in 771 and was crowned co-emperor by his father in 776. Upon the death of his father on September 8, 780, nine-year-old Constantine succeeded as the sole emperor under the regency of his mother, Irene.

With the ascendancy of his mother Irene as regent, the iconoclastic policies of Leo IV and Leo's father, Constantine V, were overturned, even though Constantine VI appeared to sympathize with the iconoclastic ideas of his father and grandfather.

Under arrangements by his mother, Constantine was engaged in 782 to Rotrude, a daughter of Charlemagne by his third wife, Hildegard. However, in 788 Irene broke off the engagement. Irene then arranged a marriage for Constantine to Maria of Amnia in November 788. Constantine and Maria had two daughters, Euphrosyne and Irene. The marriage between Constantine and Maria was not a smooth one, and since Maria had not produced a male heir Constantine forced her to become a nun in 793. This allowed Constantine to marry his mistress, Theodote, who was a lady-in-waiting for Irene. The marriage produced a son, Leo, who died in 797. This marriage, whose legality was seriously questioned, was very unpopular with the Church, although the patriarch Tarasius, ignored it. Through this marriage and ongoing palace intrigues, Constantine lost support of both the ruling Orthodox parties and the iconoclastic opposition.

Under the regency of Irene, Constantine signed in 787 the decrees that convened the Church council that as the Seventh Ecumenical Council affirmed the veneration of images, thus overturning the iconoclastic policies of his father and grandfather.

When Constantine reached sixteen, the age at which he could rule in his own right, his mother, Irene, did not relinquish the executive authority she held. This stirred up conspiracies against her. Following the suppression of one such conspiracy, Irene attempted to get official recognition as empress. In this she was not successful initially, and with military support Constantine came to power in 790. However, Constantine, having reconciled with his mother, confirmed the title of empress for Irene in 792.

Constantine's actions after he came into power began to contribute to dissatisfaction among his supporters. Defeats in military campaigns in 791 and 792 against Kardam in Bulgaria encouraged movements favoring his uncle, Caesar Nikephoros, to replace Constantine. To forestall such an action, Constantine had Nikephoros blinded and the tongues of four other uncles cut off. This was followed by a revolt among his Armenian supporters when Constantine had their general, Alexios Mosele, blinded. This revolt Constantine cruelly suppressed in 793.

Conspiracies continued, and Constantine found it necessary to flee Constantinople. In 797, supporters of Irene captured Constantine and blinded him. While he may have immediately died from the attack, various claims rose that he outlived his mother, dying as late as 805.

Succession box:
Constantine VI
Preceded by:
Leo IV
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by:
Irene of Athens
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