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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

Summary of the activities of the Isaurian dynasty


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 2

While recognizing unusual energy and some administrative genius on the part of the first two iconoclastic emperors, and admitting that Leo III unquestionably saved the Empire, one must, on the basis of all the available historical materials, abstain from excessive praise of the Isaurian dynasty. For their policy, no matter how sincere on their part, introduced great internal troubles into the life of the Empire, which was seriously disturbed for more than a hundred years. Even in its first period in the eighth century the iconoclastic movement alienated Italy and brought about very strained relations with the pope, who excommunicated the iconoclasts and turned to the West for aid and protection. The resulting friendship with the Frankish rulers initiated a new and extremely significant period of medieval history. At the same time the foundation for the future final rupture between the churches was gradually being laid. During the Isaurian period the Byzantine Empire lost middle Italy, including the Ravenna exarchate, which was conquered in the middle of the eighth century by the Lombards and later handed over to the pope by Pippin the Short.

However, no complete history of the Isaurian dynasty has yet been written, and many significant problems of this period still remain unsolved. For example, the question of the reduction of the number of monks and monasteries and of the apparently frequent secularization of monasterial lands calls for investigation, A more thorough study of the social aspect of the iconoclastic policy of the Isaurian emperors is at present one of the essential problems of Byzantine history. Careful research into this question may throw much new light upon the entire so-called iconoclastic epoch and disclose in it more profound meaning and still greater universal historical significance

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