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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

The Isaurian or Syrian Dynasty 


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Until recently the Emperor Leo III (717-741), the originator of the new dynasty, was called an Isaurian in historical writings, and his descendants were usually referred to as the Isaurian dynasty. However, at the close of the nineteenth century the opinion was advanced that Leo III was not an Isaurian by birth, but a Syrian. This view is at present accepted by some scholars but is rejected by others. The confusion on this point can be traced back to the early ninth century chronicler Theophanes, author of the main source on Leo's origin. He wrote; Leo the Isaurian was a native of Germanicea, and was in reality from Isauria. The papal librarian Anastasius, who translated Theophanes into Latin in the second half of the ninth century, made no mention of Isauria but stated that Leo came from the people of Germanicea and was a Syrian by birth (genere Syrus). The Life of Stephen the Younger also calls Leo a Syrian by birth (συρογενής). Germanicea was situated within the northern boundaries of Syria, east of Cilicia. An Arabian source referred to Leo as a Christian citizen of Marash, i.e. Germanicea, who could speak fluently and correctly both the Arabic and Roman languages. There is no reason to suppose that Theophanes confused the Syrian Germanicea with Germanicopolis, a city of the Isaurian province. The Syrian origin of Leo is quite probable.

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