Leo III the Isaurian

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Leo III the Isaurian, also Leo III the Syrian (Greek: Λέων Γ΄, Leōn III), was the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 717 to 741. While he ended a period of political instability in the empire and made a number of civil reforms, he issued a series of edicts against veneration of images that set the Orthodox Church in turmoil for next century.


Leo III was born in Germanicia in northern Syria about the year 680. His original name may have been Konon and, according to the chronicler and monk Theophanes the Confessor, the Konon family was resettled by the emperor Justinian II to Mesembria on the Black Sea coast where Leo was raised and entered into the service of Justinian II. After Justinian was deposed in a military revolt, Leo was appointed startegos of the Anatolic theme by emperor Anastasius II. After Theodosius III usurped the throne, Leo, with Artabasdus, the startegos of the Armeniac theme, overthrew Theodosius in 717, forcing him to abdicate. Leo was then crowned emperor as Leo III on March 25, 717.

During the following year, Leo was able to defeat the Arab forces that had taken advantage of the chaotic situation in the empire as well as end the instability within the empire. Leo also established a number of civil reforms concerning taxation, elevating serfs to a class of free tenants, and remodeled family and maritime law.

It was in religious matters that his reforms created much dissension. In 722, he enacted legislation to enforce baptism on Jews and Montanists in the empire, apparently with some success, and then beginning in 726 he issued a series of edicts concerning the veneration of images that in 730 required removal of all icons from the churches, enforced by military force. As an iconoclast, Leo came to clash with Patr. Germanus I, a strong iconodule. Not willing to acknowledge Leo's decree prohibiting images at a council summoned by Leo in 730, Patr. Germanus was forced to resign as patriarch.

In the place of Patr. Germanus, Leo appointed Anastasius, an iconoclast, as patriarch. Anastasius served as patriarch until 754. In retaliation for the opposition to iconoclasm by Popes Gregory II, who had summoned the 730 and 732 councils in Rome to anathematize and excommunicate the iconoclasts, and Gregory III, Leo transferred Southern Italy and Illyrium from the papal diocese to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople, a transfer that was largely ignored.

Emperor Leo III died on June 18, 741 and was succeeded on the throne by his son Constantine V, a confirmed iconoclast. Leo was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople.

Succession box:
Leo III the Isaurian
Preceded by:
Theodosius III
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by:
Constantine V
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