Michael III the Amorian

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Michael III the Amorian (Greek: Μιχαήλ Γ) was the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) from 842 to 867. His reign marked the restoration of the use of icons in the Orthodox Christian Church.


Michael was born in Constantinople on January 19, 840, the youngest child of seven children of emperor Theophilus and empress Theodora. Crowned co-ruler by his father in 840, Michael had just turned two years old when he succeeded his father as sole emperor on January 20, 842. During his minority, the empire was governed by a regency headed by his mother Theodora, her uncle Sergius, and the minister Theoctistus. Theodora was an iconodule and deposed the iconoclast Patriarch John VII and replaced him with the iconodule Patriarch Methodius in 843, thus ending the second period of Iconoclasm.

As Michael grew up, he became increasingly close to his maternal uncle Bardas, investing him with the title of caesar, a title second only to emperor and, in November 855, allowed him to murder Theoctistus. Then, with the support of Bardas and another uncle, the general Petronas, Michael overthrew the regency on March 15, 856. In 857, Michael relegated his mother and sisters to a monastery when she attempted to resume power.

With Bardas the moving spirit in the new regime, Patriarch Ignatius, who had been appointed patriarch by Theodora in 847, was pressured into resigning in 858. His followers appealed, in 863, to Pope Nicholas I, who ordered his reinstatement. As Michael refused to depose the new patriarch, Photius, a schism developed with Rome when Michael convened a synod in 867 in which Patr. Photius and the other eastern patriarchs excommunicated Nicholas I.

Guided by Patr. Photios, Michael sponsored the mission of Ss. Cyril and Methodius to the Khazar Khagan in an effort to stop the expansion of Judaism among the Khazars. Although this mission failed, the brothers' next mission in 863 secured the conversion of Great Moravia as they devised the Glagolitic alphabet for writing in Slavonic thus allowing Slavic-speaking peoples to approach conversion to Orthodox Christianity through their own rather than an alien tongue.[1]

During Michael's reign, the forces of the Eastern Empire gained the initiative over the Arabs under the leadership of Petronas and Michael. Fearing the potential conversion of Boris I of Bulgaria to Christianity under the influence of the Franks, Michael and the Caesar Bardas invaded Bulgaria. As part of the peace settlement in 864, Boris accepted conversion to Orthodox Christianity. By proxy, Michael stood as sponsor for Boris at his baptism taking the name of Michael at the ceremony. The Eastern Romans also allowed the Bulgarians to reclaim the border region of Zagora.[2] The conversion of the Bulgarians has been evaluated as one of the major cultural and political achievements of the Eastern Empire.[3]

Michael's marriage with Eudokia Dekapolitissa was childless. Not wanting to risk a scandal by attempting to marry his mistress Eudokia Ingerina, daughter of the Varangian imperial guard Inger, he chose to have Ingerina marry his favorite courtier and chamberlain, Basil the Macedonian, who was kept satisfied with the emperor's sister Thekla, whom Michael had retrieved from a monastery. Through this arrangement Basil gained increasing influence over Michael. In April 866, he convinced Michael that the Caesar Bardas was conspiring against him and gained permission to murder Bardas. Without serious rivals, Basil was crowned co-emperor in May 867 and was adopted by the much younger emperor Michael.

Troubled by the favor Michael began to show to another courtier, named Basiliskianos (Basiliskian), who had been raised as another co-emperor, Basil had Michael assassinated, in September 867, when he lay insensible in his bedchamber following a drinking bout. Michael came to a grisly end. A man named John of Chaldia killed him, cutting off both of Michael's hands with a sword before a final thrust to his heart. With Basiliskianos, having been killed at the same time as Michael, Basil, as the sole remaining emperor, automatically succeeded as the ruling basileus.[4]

Michael's remains were buried in the Philippikos Monastery at Chrysopolis on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. When Leo VI became ruling emperor in 886 one of his first acts was to have Michael's body exhumed and reburied, with great ceremony, in the imperial mausoleum in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.[5]

Succession box:
Michael III the Amorian
Preceded by:
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor
842 - 867
Succeeded by:
Basil I
Help with box


  1. Treadgold, p.452
  2. Fine, pp. 118–119
  3. Gregory, p. 240
  4. Finlay, pp. 180–181.
  5. Tougher, p. 62.


  • Treadgold, Warren (1997). A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2.
  • Fine, John, V.A. (1983), The Early Medieval Balkans, Ann Arbor.
  • Gregory, Timothy E. (2010). A History of Byzantium. Malden, Massachusetts and West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-8471-X.
  • Finlay, G. (1856), History of the Byzantine Empire from DCCXVI to MLVII, 2nd Edition, Published by W. Blackwood.
  • Tougher, S. (1997) The Reign of Leo VI (886 912): Politics and People. Brill, Leiden.