Byzantine Empire: Amorian dynasty
The Byzantine Empire was ruled by the Amorian or Phrygian dynasty from 820 to 867. The Amorian dynasty continued the policy of restored iconoclasm (the "Second Iconoclasm") started by the previous non-dynastic emperor Leo V in 813, until its abolition by Empress Theodora with the help of Patriarch Methodios in 842. The continued iconoclasm further worsened relations between the East and the West, which were already bad following the papal coronations of a rival line of "Roman Emperors" beginning with Charlemagne in 800. Relations worsened even further during the so-called Photian Schism, when Pope Nicholas I challenged Photios' elevation to the patriarchate. However, the era also saw a revival in intellectual activity which was marked by the end of iconoclasm under Michael III, which contributed to the upcoming Macedonian Renaissance.
During the Second Iconoclasm, the Empire began to see systems resembling feudalism being put in place, with large and local landholders becoming increasingly prominent, receiving lands in return for military service to the central government. Similar systems had been in place in the Roman Empire ever since the reign of Severus Alexander during the third century, when Roman soldiers and their heirs were granted lands on the condition of service to the Emperor.
Table of Contents / Timeline
Reign of Michael IIEmirdağ, Afyonkarahisar, Turke
Michael II the Amorian, nicknamed the Stammerer, reigned as Byzantine Emperor from 25 December 820 to his death on 2 October 829, the first ruler of the Amorian dynasty.
Born in Amorium, Michael was a soldier, rising to high rank along with his colleague Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820). He helped Leo overthrow and take the place of Emperor Michael I Rangabe. However, after they fell out Leo sentenced Michael to death. Michael then masterminded a conspiracy which resulted in Leo's assassination at Christmas in 820. Immediately he faced the long revolt of Thomas the Slav, which almost cost him his throne and was not completely quelled until spring 824. The later years of his reign were marked by two major military disasters that had long-term effects: the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Sicily, and the loss of Crete to the Saracens. Domestically, he supported and strengthened the resumption of official iconoclasm, which had begun again under Leo V.
Revolt of Thomas the SlavLüleburgaz, Kırklareli, Turkey
After the murder of Leo and usurpation of the throne by Michael the Amorian, Thomas revolted, claiming the throne for himself. Thomas quickly secured support from most of the themes (provinces) and troops in Asia Minor, defeated Michael's initial counter-attack and concluded an alliance with the Abbasid Caliphate. After winning over the maritime themes and their ships as well, he crossed with his army to Europe and laid siege to Constantinople. The imperial capital withstood Thomas's attacks by land and sea, while Michael II called for help from the Bulgarian ruler khan Omurtag. Omurtag attacked Thomas's army, but although repelled, the Bulgarians inflicted heavy casualties on Thomas's men, who broke and fled when Michael took to the field a few months later. Thomas and his supporters sought refuge in Arcadiopolis, where he was soon blockaded by Michael's troops. In the end, Thomas's supporters surrendered him in exchange for a pardon, and he was executed.
Thomas's rebellion was one of the largest in the Byzantine Empire's history, but its precise circumstances are unclear due to competing historical narratives, which have come to include claims fabricated by Michael to blacken his opponent's name.
Loss of CreteCrete, Greece
In 823, a group of Andalusian exiles landed on Crete and began its conquest. Traditionally they have been described as the survivors of a failed revolt against the emir al-Hakam I of Córdoba in 818. As soon as Emperor Michael II learned of the Arab landing, and before the Andalusians had secured their control over the entire island, he reacted and sent successive expeditions to recover the island. Losses suffered during the revolt of Thomas the Slav hampered Byzantium's ability to respond, however, and if the landing occurred in 827/828, the diversion of ships and men to counter the gradual conquest of Sicily by the Tunisian Aghlabids also interfered.
The first expedition, under Photeinos, strategos of the Anatolic Theme, and Damian, Count of the Stable, was defeated in open battle, where Damian was killed. The next expedition was sent a year later and comprised 70 ships under the strategos of the Cibyrrhaeots Krateros. It was initially victorious, but the overconfident Byzantines were then routed in a night attack. Krateros managed to flee to Kos, but there he was captured by the Arabs and crucified.
Muslim conquest of SicilySicily, Italy
The occasion for the invasion of Sicily was provided by the rebellion of the Euphemius, commander of the island's fleet. Euphemius resolved to seek refuge among the Empire's enemies and with a few supporters sailed to Ifriqiya. There he sent a delegation to the Aghlabid court, which pleaded with the Aghlabid emir Ziyadat Allah for an army to help Euphemius conquer Sicily, after which he would pay the Aghlabids an annual tribute. Asad was placed at the head of the expedition. The Muslim expeditionary forces are said to have consisted of ten thousand foot soldiers and seven hundred cavalry, mostly Ifriqiyan Arabs and Berbers, but possibly also some Khurasanis. The fleet comprised seventy or a hundred ships, to which were added Euphemius' own vessels.
The Muslim conquest of Sicily began in June 827 and lasted until 902, when the last major Byzantine stronghold on the island, Taormina, fell. Isolated fortresses remained in Byzantine hands until 965, but the island was henceforth under Muslim rule until conquered in turn by the Normans in the 11th century.
Reign of Theophilosİstanbul, Turkey
Theophilos was the Byzantine Emperor from 829 until his death in 842. He was the second emperor of the Amorian dynasty and the last emperor to support iconoclasm. Theophilos personally led the armies in his long war against the Arabs, beginning in 831.
Loss of PalermoPalermo, PA, Italy
At the time of his accession, Theophilos was obliged to wage wars against the Arabs on two fronts. Sicily was once again invaded by the Arabs, who took Palermo after a year-long siege in 831, established the Emirate of Sicily, and gradually continued to expand across the island. The defence after the invasion of Anatolia by Al-Ma'mun the Abbasid Caliph in 830 was led by the Emperor himself, but the Byzantines were defeated and lost several fortresses.
Triumph and DefeatTarsus, Mersin, Turkey
In 831 Theophilos retaliated by leading a large army into Cilicia and capturing Tarsus. The Emperor returned to Constantinople in triumph, but in the autumn he was defeated in Cappadocia. Another defeat in the same province in 833 forced Theophilos to sue for peace (Theophilos offered 100,000 gold dinars and the return of 7,000 prisoners), which he obtained the next year, after the death of Al-Ma'mun.
Death of Al-Ma'mun and PeaceKemerhisar, Saray, Bahçeli/Bor
Theophilos wrote to al-Ma'mun. The Caliph replied that he carefully considered the Byzantine ruler's letter, noticed it blended suggestions of peace and trade with threats of war and offered Theophilos the options of accepting the shahada, paying tax or fighting. Al-Ma'mun made preparations for a major campaign, but died on the way while leading an expedition in Tyana.
Byzantine beacon systemAnatolia, Antalya, Turkey
In the 9th century, during the Arab–Byzantine wars, the Byzantine Empire used a semaphore system of beacons to transmit messages from the border with the Abbasid Caliphate across Asia Minor to the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. The main line of beacons stretched over some 720 km (450 mi). In the open spaces of central Asia Minor, the stations were placed over 97 km (60 mi) apart, while in Bithynia, with its more broken terrain, the intervals were reduced to ca. 56 km (35 mi). Based on modern experiments, a message could be transmitted the entire length of the line within an hour. The system was reportedly devised in the reign of Emperor Theophilos (ruled 829–842) by Leo the Mathematician, and functioned through two identical water clocks placed at the two terminal stations, Loulon and the Lighthouse. Different messages were assigned to each of twelve hours, so that the lighting of a bonfire on the first beacon on a particular hour signalled a specific event and was transmitted down the line to Constantinople.
Bulgars expand into MacedoniaPlovdiv, Bulgaria
In 836, following the expiration of the 20-year peace treaty between the Empire and Bulgaria, Theophilos ravaged the Bulgarian frontier. The Bulgarians retaliated, and under the leadership of Isbul they reached Adrianople. At this time, if not earlier, the Bulgarians annexed Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and its environs. Khan Malamir died in 836.
Theophilos war in MesopotamiaMalatya, Turkey
In 837 Theophilos led a vast army of 70,000 men towards Mesopotamia and captured Melitene and Arsamosata. The Emperor also took and destroyed Zapetra (Zibatra, Sozopetra), which some sources claim as the birthplace of Caliph al-Mu'tasim. Theophilos returned to Constantinople in triumph.
Battle of AnzenTurhal, Tokat, Turkey
Al-Mu'tasim decided to launch a major punitive expedition against Byzantium, aiming to capture the two major Byzantine cities of central Anatolia, Ancyra, and Amorion. The latter was probably the largest city in Anatolia at the time, as well as the birthplace of the reigning Amorian dynasty and consequently of particular symbolic importance; according to the chronicles, al-Mu'tasim's soldiers painted the word "Amorion" on their shields and banners. A vast army was gathered at Tarsus (80,000 men according to Treadgold), which was then divided into two main forces.
On the Byzantine side, Theophilos became soon aware of the Caliph's intentions and set out from Constantinople in early June. Theophilos personally led a Byzantine army of 25,000 to 40,000 men against the troops commanded by al-Afshin. Afshin withstood the Byzantine attack, counter-attacked, and won the battle. The Byzantine survivors fell back in disorder and did not interfere in the caliph's continuing campaign. The battle is remarkable for being the first confrontation of the middle Byzantine army with the Turkic nomads from Central Asia, whose descendants, the Seljuq Turks, would emerge as Byzantium's major antagonists from the mid-11th century on.
Sack of AmoriumEmirdağ, Afyonkarahisar, Turke
The Sack of Amorium by the Abbasid Caliphate in mid-August 838 was one of the major events in the long history of the Arab–Byzantine Wars. The Abbasid campaign was led personally by the Caliph al-Mu'tasim (r. 833–842), in retaliation to a virtually unopposed expedition launched by the Byzantine emperor Theophilos (r. 829–842) into the Caliphate's borderlands the previous year. Mu'tasim targeted Amorium, a Byzantine city in western Asia Minor, because it was the birthplace of the ruling Byzantine dynasty and, at the time, one of Byzantium's largest and most important cities. The caliph gathered an exceptionally large army, which he divided in two parts, which invaded from the northeast and the south. The northeastern army defeated the Byzantine forces under Theophilos at Anzen, allowing the Abbasids to penetrate deep into Byzantine Asia Minor and converge upon Ancyra, which they found abandoned. After sacking the city, they turned south to Amorium, where they arrived on 1 August. Faced with intrigues at Constantinople and the rebellion of the large Khurramite contingent of his army, Theophilos was unable to aid the city.
Amorium was strongly fortified and garrisoned, but a traitor revealed a weak spot in the wall, where the Abbasids concentrated their attack, effecting a breach. Unable to break through the besieging army, Boiditzes, the commander of the breached section privately attempted to negotiate with the Caliph without notifying his superiors. He concluded a local truce and left his post, which allowed the Arabs to take advantage, enter the city, and capture it. Amorium was systematically destroyed, never to recover its former prosperity. Many of its inhabitants were slaughtered, and the remainder driven off as slaves. Most of the survivors were released after a truce in 841, but prominent officials were taken to the caliph's capital of Samarra and executed years later after refusing to convert to Islam, becoming known as the 42 Martyrs of Amorium.
The conquest of Amorium was not only a major military disaster and a heavy personal blow for Theophilos, but also a traumatic event for the Byzantines, its impact resonating in later literature. The sack did not ultimately alter the balance of power, which was slowly shifting in Byzantium's favour, but it thoroughly discredited the theological doctrine of Iconoclasm, ardently supported by Theophilos. As Iconoclasm relied heavily on military success for its legitimization, the fall of Amorium contributed decisively to its abandonment shortly after Theophilos's death in 842.
According to Porphyrogenitus, the Bulgars wanted to continue their conquest of the Slavic lands and to force the Serbs into subjugation. Khan Presian (r. 836–852) launched an invasion into Serbian territory in 839, which led to a war that lasted for three years, in which the Serbs were victorious. The Bulgarian army was heavily defeated and lost many men. Presian made no territorial gains and was driven out by the army of Vlastimir. The Serbs held out in their hardly accessible forests and gorges, and knew how to fight in the hills. The war ended with the death of Theophilos in 842, which released Vlastimir from his obligations to the Byzantine Empire.
The defeat of the Bulgars, who had become one of the greater powers in the 9th century showed that Serbia was an organized state, fully capable of defending its borders; a very high military and administrative organizational frame to present such effective resistance.
Theophilos granted the Serbs independenceSerbia
The peace between the Serbs, Byzantine foederati, and the Bulgars lasted until 839. Vlastimir of Serbia united several tribes, and Theophilos granted the Serbs independence; Vlastimir acknowledged nominal overlordship of the Emperor. The annexation of western Macedonia by the Bulgars changed the political situation. Malamir or his successor may have seen a threat in the Serb consolidation and opted to subjugate them in the midst of the conquest of Slav lands. Another cause might have been that the Byzantines wanted to divert attention so that they could cope with the Slavic uprising in the Peloponnese, meaning they sent the Serbs to instigate the war. It is thought that the rapid extension of Bulgars over Slavs prompted the Serbs to unite into a state.
Venetian Failed ExpeditionVenice, Metropolitan City of V
Around 841, the Republic of Venice sent a fleet of 60 galleys (each carrying 200 men) to assist the Byzantines in driving the Arabs from Crotone, but it failed.
Al-Mu'tasim sends Invasion FleetDevecitasi Ada Island, Antalya
At the time of his death in 842, al-Mu'tasim was preparing yet another large-scale invasion, but the great fleet he had prepared to assault Constantinople was destroyed in a storm off Cape Chelidonia a few months later. Following al-Mu'tasim's death, warfare gradually died down, and the Battle of Mauropotamos in 844 was the last major Arab–Byzantine engagement for a decade.
Regency of Theodoraİstanbul, Turkey
Just as had happened after the death of emperor Leo IV in 780, Theophilos's death in 842 meant that an iconoclast emperor was succeeded by his iconophile wife and their underage son. Unlike Leo IV's wife Irene, who later ended up deposing her son Constantine VI and ruling as empress in her own right, Theodora was not as ruthless and did not need to use as drastic methods to retain power. Though she was only in her late twenties, she had several able and loyal advisors and was a capable leader who inspired loyalty. Theodora never remarried, which allowed her to maintain her own independence and authority.
By the end of Theodora's reign, the empire had gained the upper hand over both Bulgaria and the Abbasid Caliphate. At some point the Slavic tribes that had settled in the Peloponnese had also successfully been forced to pay tribute. Despite continuing a policy of high wages for the soldiers, instituted by Theophilos, Theodora maintained a small surplus in the imperial budget and even modestly increased the imperial gold reserves.
Theodora ends Second Iconoclasmİstanbul, Turkey
Theodora restored the veneration of icons in March 843, just fourteen months after Theophilos's death, ending the second Byzantine Iconoclasm.
Battle of MauropotamosAnatolia, Antalya, Turkey
The Battle of Mauropotamos between the armies of the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate, at Mauropotamos (either in northern Bithynia or in Cappadocia). After a failed Byzantine attempt to recover the Emirate of Crete in the previous year, the Abbasids launched a raid into Asia Minor. The Byzantine regent, Theoktistos, headed the army that went to meet the invasion but was heavily defeated, and many of his officers defected to the Arabs. Internal unrest prevented the Abbasids from exploiting their victory, however. A truce and a prisoner exchange were consequently agreed in 845, followed by a six-year cessation of hostilities, as both powers focused their attention elsewhere.
Bulgars raids failPlovdiv, Bulgaria
In 846, Khan Presian of Bulgaria raided Macedonia and Thrace due to the expiration of a thirty-year treaty with the empire, but he was repulsed and forced to sign a new treaty.
Theodora's Retaliation RaidDamietta Port, Egypt
In the summers of 851 to 854, Ali ibn Yahya al-Armani, emir of Tarsus, raided imperial territory, perhaps viewing the empire being governed by a young widow and her child as a sign of weakness. Though Ali's raids did little damage, Theodora decided to retaliate and sent raiding parties to raid the coastline of Egypt in 853 and 854. In 853, the Byzantine raiders burnt down the Egyptian city of Damietta and in 855, a Byzantine army invaded Ali's emirate and sacked the city of Anazarbus, taking 20,000 prisoners. On Theoktistos's orders, some of the prisoners who refused to convert to Christianity were executed. According to later chroniclers, these successes, particularly the sack of Anazarbus, impressed even the Arabs.
War with the BulgarsPlovdiv, Bulgaria
A conflict between the Byzantines and Bulgarian Empire occurred during 855 and 856. The Byzantine Empire wanted to regain its control over some areas of Thrace, including Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and the ports around the Gulf of Burgas on the Black Sea. Byzantine forces, led by the emperor and the caesar Bardas, were successful in reconquering a number of cities – Philippopolis, Develtus, Anchialus and Mesembria among them – as well as the region of Zagora. At the time of this campaign the Bulgarians were distracted by a war with the Franks under Louis the German and the Croatians. In 853 Boris had allied himself to Rastislav of Moravia against the Franks. The Bulgarians were heavily defeated by the Franks; following this, the Moravians changed sides and the Bulgarians then faced threats from Moravia.
Reign of Michael IIIİstanbul, Turkey
With the support of Bardas and another uncle, a successful general named Petronas, Michael III overthrew the regency on 15 March 856 and relegated his mother and sisters to a monastery in 857.
Michael III was Byzantine Emperor from 842 to 867. Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Amorian (or Phrygian) dynasty. He was given the disparaging epithet the Drunkard by the hostile historians of the succeeding Macedonian dynasty, but modern historical research has rehabilitated his reputation to some extent, demonstrating the vital role his reign played in the resurgence of Byzantine power in the 9th century.
Rus Siege of Constantinopleİstanbul, Turkey
The siege of Constantinople of 860 was the only major military expedition of the Rus' Khaganate recorded in Byzantine and Western European sources. The casus belli was the construction of the fortress Sarkel by Byzantine engineers, restricting the Rus' trade route along the Don River in favor of the Khazars.
It is known from Byzantine sources that the Rus' caught Constantinople unprepared, while the empire was preoccupied by the ongoing Arab–Byzantine wars and was unable to respond effectively to the attack, certainly initially. After pillaging the suburbs of the Byzantine capital, the Rus' retreated for the day and continued their siege in the night after exhausting the Byzantine troops and causing disorganization. The event gave rise to a later Orthodox Christian tradition, which ascribed the deliverance of Constantinople to a miraculous intervention by the Theotokos.
Mission to the SlavsMoravia, Czechia
In 862, the brothers began the work which would give them their historical importance. That year Prince Rastislav of Great Moravia requested that Emperor Michael III and the Patriarch Photius send missionaries to evangelize his Slavic subjects. His motives in doing so were probably more political than religious. Rastislav had become king with the support of the Frankish ruler Louis the German, but subsequently sought to assert his independence from the Franks. It is a common misconception that Cyril and Methodius were the first to bring Christianity to Moravia, but the letter from Rastislav to Michael III states clearly that Rastislav's people "had already rejected paganism and adhere to the Christian law." Rastislav is said to have expelled missionaries of the Roman Church and instead turned to Constantinople for ecclesiastical assistance and, presumably, a degree of political support. The Emperor quickly chose to send Cyril, accompanied by his brother Methodius. The request provided a convenient opportunity to expand Byzantine influence. Their first work seems to have been the training of assistants. In 863, they began the task of translating the Gospels and necessary liturgical books into the language now known as Old Church Slavonic and traveled to Great Moravia to promote it. They enjoyed considerable success in this endeavour. However, they came into conflict with German ecclesiastics who opposed their efforts to create a specifically Slavic liturgy.
Battle of LalakaonKastamonu, Kastamonu Merkez/Ka
The Battle of Lalakaon was fought in 863 between the Byzantine Empire and an invading Arab army in Paphlagonia (modern northern Turkey). The Byzantine army was led by Petronas, the uncle of Emperor Michael III (r. 842–867), although Arab sources also mention the presence of Emperor Michael. The Arabs were led by the emir of Melitene (Malatya), Umar al-Aqta (r. 830s–863).
Umar al-Aqta overcame initial Byzantine resistance to his invasion and reached the Black Sea. The Byzantines then mobilized their forces, encircling the Arab army near the Lalakaon river. The subsequent battle, ending in a Byzantine victory and the emir's death on the field, was followed by a successful Byzantine counteroffensive across the border. The Byzantine victories were decisive; the main threats to the Byzantine borderlands were eliminated, and the era of Byzantine ascendancy in the East (culminating in the 10th-century conquests) began.
The Byzantine success had another corollary: deliverance from constant Arab pressure on the eastern frontier allowed the Byzantine government to concentrate on affairs in Europe, particularly in neighboring Bulgaria.
Christianization of BulgariaBulgaria
The Christianization of Bulgaria was the process by which 9th-century medieval Bulgaria converted to Christianity. It reflected the need of unity within the religiously divided Bulgarian state as well as the need for equal acceptance on the international stage in Christian Europe. This process was characterized by the shifting political alliances of Boris I of Bulgaria (ruled 852-889) with the kingdom of the East Franks and with the Byzantine Empire, as well as his diplomatic correspondence with the Pope.
Because of Bulgaria's strategic position, the churches of both Rome and Constantinople each wanted Bulgaria in their sphere of influence. They regarded Christianization as a means of integrating Slavs into their region. After some overtures to each side, the Khan adopted Christianity from Constantinople in 870. As a result, he achieved his goal of gaining an independent Bulgarian national church and having an archbishop appointed to head it.
Baptism of Boris Iİstanbul, Turkey
Fearing the potential conversion of Boris I, khan of the Bulgars to Christianity under Frankish influence, Michael III and the Caesar Bardas invaded Bulgaria, imposing the conversion of Boris according to the Byzantine rite as part of the peace settlement in 864. Michael III stood as sponsor, by proxy, for Boris at his baptism. Boris took the additional name of Michael at the ceremony. The Byzantines also allowed the Bulgarians to reclaim the contested border region of Zagora. The conversion of the Bulgarians has been evaluated as one of the greatest cultural and political achievements of the Byzantine Empire.
Basil becomes co-emperorİstanbul, Turkey
Basil I the Macedonian entered into the service of Theophilitzes, a relative of Emperor Michael III, and was given a fortune by the wealthy Danielis. He gained the favour of Michael III, whose mistress he married on the emperor's orders, and was proclaimed co-emperor in 866.
Basil I assassinates Michael IIIİstanbul, Turkey
When Michael III started to favour another courtier, Basiliskianos, Basil decided that his position was being undermined. Michael threatened to invest Basiliskianos with the Imperial title and this induced Basil to pre-empt events by organizing the assassination of Michael on the night of 24 September 867. Michael and Basiliskianos were insensibly drunk following a banquet at the palace of Anthimos when Basil, with a small group of companions (including his father Bardas, brother Marinos, and cousin Ayleon), gained entry. The locks to the chamber doors had been tampered with and the chamberlain had not posted guards; both victims were then put to the sword. On Michael III's death, Basil, as an already acclaimed co-emperor, automatically became the ruling basileus.
Macedonian Renaissanceİstanbul, Turkey
Macedonian Renaissance is a historiographical term used for the blossoming of Byzantine culture in the 9th–11th centuries, under the eponymous Macedonian dynasty (867–1056), following the upheavals and transformations of the 7th–8th centuries, also known as the "Byzantine Dark Ages". The period is also known as the era of Byzantine encyclopedism, because of the attempts to systematically organize and codify knowledge, exemplified by the works of the scholar-emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos.
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