1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leo (emperors)
LEO, the name of six emperors of the East.
Leo I., variously surnamed Thrax, Magnus and Makelles, emperor of the East, 457–474, was born in Thrace about 400. From his position as military tribune he was raised to the throne by the soldiery and recognized both by senate and clergy; his coronation by the patriarch of Constantinople is said to have been the earliest instance of such a ceremony. Leo owed his elevation mainly to Aspar, the commander of the guards, who was debarred by his Arianism from becoming emperor in his own person, but hoped to exercise a virtual autocracy through his former steward and dependant. But Leo, following the traditions of his predecessor Marcian, set himself to curtail the domination of the great nobles and repeatedly acted in defiance of Aspar. Thus he vigorously suppressed the Eutychian heresy in Egypt, and by exchanging his Germanic bodyguard for Isaurians removed the chief basis of Aspar’s power. With the help of his generals Anthemius and Anagastus, he repelled invasions of the Huns into Dacia (466 and 468). In 467 Leo had Anthemius elected emperor of the West, and in concert with him equipped an armament of more than 1100 ships and 100,000 men against the pirate empire of the Vandals in Africa. Through the remissness of Leo’s brother-in-law Basiliscus, who commanded the expedition, the fleet was surprised by the Vandal king, Genseric, and half of its vessels sunk or burnt (468). This failure was made a pretext by Leo for killing Aspar as a traitor (471), and Aspar’s murder served the Goths in turn as an excuse for ravaging Thrace up to the walls of the capital. In 473 the emperor associated with himself his infant grandson, Leo II., who, however, survived him by only a few months. His surnames Magnus (Great) and Makelles (butcher) respectively reflect the attitude of the Orthodox and the Arians towards his religious policy.
Leo III. (c. 680–740), surnamed The Isaurian, emperor of the East, 717–740. Born about 680 in the Syrian province of Commagene, he rose to distinction in the military service, and under Anastasius II. was invested with the command of the eastern army. In 717 he revolted against the usurper Theodosius III. and, marching upon Constantinople, was elected emperor in his stead. The first year of Leo’s reign saw a memorable siege of his capital by the Saracens, who had taken advantage of the civil discord in the Roman empire to bring up a force of 80,000 men to the Bosporus. By his stubborn defence the new ruler wore out the invaders who, after a twelve months’ investment, withdrew their forces. An important factor in the victory of the Romans was their use of Greek fire. Having thus preserved the empire from extinction, Leo proceeded to consolidate its administration, which in the previous years of anarchy had become completely disorganized. He secured its frontiers by inviting Slavonic settlers into the depopulated districts and by restoring the army to efficiency; when the Arabs renewed their invasions in 726 and 739 they were decisively beaten. His civil reforms include the abolition of the system of prepaying taxes which had weighed heavily upon the wealthier proprietors, the elevation of the serfs into a class of free tenants, the remodelling of family and of maritime law. These measures, which were embodied in a new code published in 740, met with some opposition on the part of the nobles and higher clergy. But Leo’s most striking legislative reforms dealt with religious matters. After an apparently successful attempt to enforce the baptism of all Jews and Montanists in his realm (722), he issued a series of edicts against the worship of images (726–729). This prohibition of a custom which had undoubtedly given rise to grave abuses seems to have been inspired by a genuine desire to improve public morality, and received the support of the official aristocracy and a section of the clergy. But a majority of the theologians and all the monks opposed these measures with uncompromising hostility, and in the western parts of the empire the people refused to obey the edict. A revolt which broke out in Greece, mainly on religious grounds, was crushed by the imperial fleet (727), and two years later, by deposing the patriarch of Constantinople, Leo suppressed the overt opposition of the capital. In Italy the defiant attitude of Popes Gregory II. and III. on behalf of image-worship led to a fierce quarrel with the emperor. The former summoned councils in Rome to anathematize and excommunicate the image-breakers (730, 732); Leo retaliated by transferring southern Italy and Greece from the papal diocese to that of the patriarch. The struggle was accompanied by an armed outbreak in the exarchate of Ravenna (727), which Leo finally endeavoured to subdue by means of a large fleet. But the destruction of the armament by a storm decided the issue against him; his south Italian subjects successfully defied his religious edicts, and the province of Ravenna became detached from the empire. In spite of this partial failure Leo must be reckoned as one of the greatest of the later Roman emperors. By his resolute stand against the Saracens he delivered all eastern Europe from a great danger, and by his thorough-going reforms he not only saved the empire from collapse, but invested it with a stability which enabled it to survive all further shocks for a space of five centuries.
See E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (ed. Bury, 1896), v. 185 seq., 251 seq. and appendices, vi. 6-12, J. B. Bury, The Later Roman Empire (1889), ii. 401-449; K. Schenk, Kaiser Leo III. (Halle, 1880), and in Byzantinische Zeitschrift (1896), v. 257-301; T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders (1892, &c.), bk. vii., chs. 11, 12. See also Iconoclasts.
Leo IV., called Chozar, succeeded his father, Constantine V., as emperor of the East in 775. In 776 he associated his young son, Constantine, with himself in the empire, and suppressed a rising led by his five step-brothers which broke out as a result of this proceeding. Leo was largely under the influence of his wife Irene (q.v.), and when he died in 780 he left her as the guardian of his successor, Constantine VI.
Leo V., surnamed The Armenian, emperor of the East, 813–820, was a distinguished general of Nicephorus I. and Michael I. After rendering good service on behalf of the latter in a war with the Arabs (812), he was summoned in 813 to co-operate in a campaign against the Bulgarians. Taking advantage of the disaffection prevalent among the troops, he left Michael in the lurch at the battle of Adrianople and subsequently led a successful revolution against him. Leo justified his usurpation by repeatedly defeating the Bulgarians who had been contemplating the siege of Constantinople (814–817). By his vigorous measures of repression against the Paulicians and image-worshippers he roused considerable opposition, and after a conspiracy under his friend Michael Psellus had been foiled by the imprisonment of its leader, he was assassinated in the palace chapel on Christmas Eve, 820.
See E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (ed. Bury, 1896), v. 193-195. (M. O. B. C.)
Leo VI., surnamed The Wise and The Philosopher, Byzantine emperor, 886–911. He was a weak-minded ruler, chiefly occupied with unimportant wars with barbarians and struggles with churchmen. The chief event of his reign was the capture of Thessalonica (904) by Mahommedan pirates (described in The Capture of Thessalonica by John Cameniata) under the renegade Leo of Tripolis. In Sicily and Lower Italy the imperial arms were unsuccessful, and the Bulgarian Symeon, who assumed the title of “Czar of the Bulgarians and autocrat of the Romaei” secured the independence of his church by the establishment of a patriarchate. Leo’s somewhat absurd surname may be explained by the facts that he “was less ignorant than the greater part of his contemporaries in church and state, that his education had been directed by the learned Photius, and that several books of profane and ecclesiastical science were composed by the pen, or in the name, of the imperial philosopher” (Gibbon). His works include seventeen Oracula, in iambic verse, on the destinies of future emperors and patriarchs of Constantinople; thirty-three Orations, chiefly on theological subjects (such as church festivals); Basilica, the completion of the digest of the laws of Justinian, begun by Basil I., the father of Leo; some epigrams in the Greek Anthology; an iambic lament on the melancholy condition of the empire; and some palindromic verses, curiously called καρκίνοι (crabs). The treatise on military tactics, attributed to him, is probably by Leo III., the Isaurian.
Complete edition in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, cvii.; for the literature of individual works see C. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur (1897). (J. H. F.)