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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

Successors of the Isaurians and the Phrygian Dynasty (820-867) 


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The emperors from 802 to 867 and their origin. The time from the beginning of the ninth century until the accession of the Macedonian dynasty in the year 867 has been viewed by historians as a transitional period from the epoch of the revival of the Empire under the Isaurian emperors to the brilliant time of the Macedonian emperors. But the most recent studies show that this period is not a mere epilogue and is much more than a prologue. It appears to have an importance of its own and signifies a new phase in Byzantine culture.

The revolution of the year 802 deposed Irene and raised Nicephorus I (802-11) to the Byzantine throne. According to oriental sources, Nicephorus was of Arabian origin. One of his ancestors must have migrated into Pisidia, a province in Asia Minor, where Nicephorus was later born. The revolution of 802 was in its nature very rare in the annals of Byzantine history. An overwhelming majority of political uprisings in the Byzantine Empire were organized and led by military generals, leaders of the army. The case of Nicephorus was an exception to this general rule, for he was in no way connected with the army and held only the high post of minister of finance. This emperor fell in battle with the Bulgarians in the year 811, and the throne passed, for a few months, to his son Stauracius, who had also been severely wounded in the Bulgarian campaign. Stauracius died in the same year (811), but even before his death he was deposed in favor of the curopalates Michael I, a member of the Greek family of Rangabe, married to Procopia, a sister of the unfortunate Strauracius and a daughter of Nicephorus I. But Michael I also ruled only for a short period of time (811-13), for he was deposed, chiefly because of his unsuccessful campaign against the Bulgarians, by the military commander Leo, an Armenian by birth, known in history as Leo V the Armenian (813-20). In the year 820 Leo V was killed and the throne passed to one of the commanders of the guards, Michael II (820-29), surnamed the Stammerer. He came from the fortress of Amorion in Phrygia, a province of Asia Minor; hence his dynasty (820-67), represented by three rulers, is called the Amorian or Phrygian dynasty. He was a coarse and ignorant provincial who had spent his youth in Phrygia among heretics, Hebrews, and half-hellenized Phrygians. One late Syrian source asserts even that he was a Jew by birth. When he died the throne passed to his son, Theophilus (829-42), who was married to the famous restorer of orthodoxy, Theodora, from Paphlagonia in Asia Minor. The last member of this dynasty was their son, the corrupt and incapable Michael III (842-67), who has come down through the ages with the despicable surname of Drunkard.

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