|Emperor of the Romans|
A 17th century illustration of Leontius, based on coins bearing his image
|Emperor of the Byzantine Empire|
|Died||probably February 706|
|Twenty Years' Anarchy|
|with Tiberius as co-emperor, 706–711|
Leontios or Leontius (Greek: Λεόντιος, Latin: Leontius; c. 660 – August 705/February 706) was Byzantine emperor from 695 to 698. Little is known of his early life, other than that he was born in Isauria. He was given the title of patrikios, and made strategos of the Anatolic Theme under Emperor Constantine IV. He led forces against the Umayyads during the early years of Justinian II's reign, securing victory and forcing the Umayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, to sue for peace.
In 692, Justinian declared war upon the Umayyads again, and sent Leontios to campaign against them. However, he was defeated decisively after the Battle of Sebastopolis, and imprisoned for his failure by Justinian. He was released in 695, and given the title of strategos of Hellas. After being released, he led a rebellion against Justinian, and seized power, becoming emperor in the same year.
He ruled until 697, when he was overthrown by Apsimar, a droungarios who had taken part in a failed expedition that had been launched by Leontios, to recover Carthage. After seizing Constantinople, Apsimar took the name Tiberius III, and had Leontios' nose and tongue cut off. He was sent to the Monastery of Dalmatou, where he remained until February 706. By this time Justinian had retaken the throne. Both Leontios and Tiberius were executed.
Origin and early life
Little of Leontios' early life is known, other than that he was from Isauria, possibly of Armenian descent. He was appointed as strategos of the Anatolic Theme, at the time the most senior military command of the Byzantine Empire, and patrikios by Emperor Constantine IV, possibly c. 682 AD.
Starting in 680, the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate erupted into a civil war, known as the Second Fitna. Umayyad authority was challenged even in their metropolitan province of Syria, while most of the Caliphate recognized Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr instead. Under Marwan I and his son Abd al-Malik, however, the Umayyads gained the upper hand, although the Zubayrids were not finally defeated until 692.
The civil war in the Umayyad Caliphate provided an opportunity for the Byzantine Empire to attack its weakened rival, and, in 686, Emperor Justinian II sent Leontios to invade Umayyad territory in Armenia and Iberia, where he campaigned successfully before leading troops in Adharbayjan and Caucasian Albania; during these campaigns he gathered loot. Leontios' successful campaigns compelled the Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, to sue for peace in 688, agreeing to tender part of the taxes from Umayyad territory in Armenia, Iberia, and Cyprus, and to renew a treaty signed originally under Constantine IV, providing for a weekly tribute of 1,000 pieces of gold, one horse, and one slave.
Justinian invaded the Caliphate again in 692, feeling that the Umayyads were in a weak position, but was repulsed at the Battle of Sebastopolis, where a large number of Slavs defected to the Umayyads, ensuring the Byzantine defeat. After this, the Umayyads renewed their invasion of North Africa, aimed at taking the city of Carthage in the Exarchate of Africa, and also invaded Anatolia. Around this time, Justinian imprisoned Leontios. Some Byzantine sources, such as Nikephoros and Theophanes, suggest that Justinian did so because he believed that Leontios was seeking to take the throne, but it is possible that the crushing defeat at Sebastopolis played a part in his imprisonment; as strategos of the Anatolic Theme, he likely served in the battle, and may have even been the main Byzantine commander in it.
After further setbacks in the war, Justinian released Leontios because he feared losing control of Carthage, and appointed him strategos of Hellas. During his captivity, Leontios was cared for by two monks, Gregorios and Paulos, who prophesied his rise to the throne, and encouraged him to rise against Justinian after his release. Leontios, once free, quickly raised a rebellion against Justinian. Leontios had wide support from the aristocracy, who opposed Justinian's land policies, which restricted the aristocracy's ability to acquire land from peasant freeholders, and the peasantry, who opposed Justinian's tax policies, as well as the Blue faction (one of the Hippodrome factions), and the patriarch Callinicus. Leontios and his supporters seized Justinian and brought him to the Hippodrome, where Justinian's nose was cut off, a common practice in Byzantine culture, done in order to remove threats to the throne, as mutilated people were traditionally barred from becoming emperor; however, Leontios did not kill Justinian, out of reverence for Constantine IV. After Justinian's nose was cut off, Leontios exiled him to Cherson, a Byzantine exclave in the Crimea.
Reign and downfall
Upon his coronation, Leontios took the name Leo, and adopted a moderate political stance. He restricted the activity of the Byzantine army, allowing small raids against the border of the Byzantine empire to proceed without reprisal, and instead focused upon consolidation. Very little is known of his domestic policy, except that he had the port of Neorion in Constantinople cleared, which allegedly lead to a four-month outbreak of plague.
The Umayyads, emboldened by Leontios' perceived weakness, invaded Byzantine Africa in 696, capturing Carthage in 697. Leontios sent the patrikios John to retake the city. John was able to seize Carthage after a surprise attack on its harbor. However, Umayyad reinforcements soon retook the city, forcing John to retreat to Crete and regroup. A group of officers, fearing the Emperor's punishment for their failure, revolted and proclaimed Apsimar, a droungarios (mid-level commander) of the Cibyrrhaeots, as emperor.
Apsimar took the regnal name Tiberius III, gathered a fleet and allied himself with the Green faction, before sailing for Constantinople, which was enduring the bubonic plague. After several months of siege, Constantinople surrendered to Tiberius. Tiberius captured Leontios, and had his nose slit before imprisoning him in the Monastery of Psamathion. Leontios stayed in the monastery under guard until Justinian retook the throne with the assistance of the Bulgar king Tervel in 705. Justinian then had both Leontios and Tiberius dragged to the Hippodrome and publicly humiliated, before being taken away and beheaded. The exact date of the executions is unknown: it may have occurred any time between August 705 to February 706, with the latter date favoured by most modern scholars. It is said the body of Leontios was thrown into the sea alongside Tiberius, but was later recovered and buried in a church on the island of Prote.
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LeontiosBorn: Unknown Died: February 706
| Byzantine Emperor