|Emperor of the Byzantine Empire|
Theophilus, in the Chronicle of John Skylitzes
|Reign||2 October 829 – 20 January 842|
|Died||20 January 842 (aged 28)|
|Issue||Constantine, Michael III, Maria, Thekla, Anna, Anastasia, Pulcheria|
|Amorian or Phrygian dynasty|
|with Theophilos as co-emperor, 822–829|
|with Constantine (c. 833–835) and Michael III (840–842) as co-emperors|
|under Theodora and Theoktistos as regents, 842–855, and with Basil I the Macedonian as co-emperor 866–867|
Leo V and the Nikephorian dynasty
Theophilos (Greek: Θεόφιλος; 813 – 20 January 842) was the Byzantine Emperor from 829 until his death in 842. He was the second emperor of the Phrygian dynasty and the last emperor to support iconoclasm. Theophilos personally led the armies in his lifelong war against the Arabs, beginning in 831.
Theophilos was the son of the Byzantine Emperor Michael II and his wife Thekla, and the godson of Emperor Leo V the Armenian. Michael II crowned Theophilos co-emperor in 822, shortly after his own accession. Unlike his father, Theophilos received an extensive education and showed interest in the arts. On 2 October 829, Theophilos succeeded his father as sole emperor.
Theophilos continued in his predecessors' iconoclasm, though without his father's more conciliatory tone, issuing an edict in 832 forbidding the veneration of icons. He also saw himself as the champion of justice, which he served most ostentatiously by executing his father's co-conspirators against Leo V immediately after his accession. His reputation as a judge endured, and in the literary composition Timarion Theophilos is featured as one of the judges in the Netherworld.
War against the Arabs
At the time of his accession, Theophilos was obliged to wage wars against the Arabs on two fronts. Sicily was once again invaded by the Arabs, who took Palermo after a year-long siege in 831, established the Emirate of Sicily, and gradually continued to expand across the island. The invasion of Anatolia by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun in 830 was led by the Emperor himself, but the Byzantines were defeated and lost several fortresses. In 831 Theophilos retaliated by leading a large army into Cilicia and capturing Tarsus. The Emperor returned to Constantinople in triumph, but in the Autumn he was defeated in Cappadocia. Another defeat in the same province in 833 forced Theophilos to sue for peace (Theophilos offered 100,000 gold dinars and the return of 7,000 prisoners), which he obtained the next year, after the death of Al-Ma'mun.
During the respite from the war against the Abbasids, Theophilos arranged for the abduction of the Byzantine captives settled north of the Danube by Krum of Bulgaria. The rescue operation was carried out with success in c. 836, and the peace between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire was quickly restored. However, it proved impossible to maintain peace in the East. Theophilos had given asylum to a number of refugees from the east in 834, including Nasr, a Persian. He baptized Theophobos, who married the Emperor's aunt Irene and became one of his generals. As relations with the Abbasids deteriorated, Theophilos prepared for a new war.
In 837 Theophilos led a vast army of 70,000 men towards Mesopotamia and captured Melitene and Arsamosata. The Emperor also took and destroyed Zapetra (Zibatra, Sozopetra), which some sources claim as the birthplace of Caliph al-Mu'tasim. Theophilos returned to Constantinople in triumph. Eager for revenge, Al-Mu'tasim assembled a vast army and launched a two-pronged invasion of Anatolia in 838. Theophilos decided to strike one division of the caliph's army before they could combine. On 21 July 838 at the Battle of Anzen in Dazimon, Theophilos personally led a Byzantine army of 25,000 to 40,000 men against the troops commanded by Afshin. Afshin withstood the Byzantine attack, counter-attacked, and won the battle. The Byzantine survivors fell back in disorder and did not interfere in the caliph's continuing campaign.
Al-Mu'tasim took Ancyra, and Al-Afshin joined him there. The full Abbasid army advanced against Amorium, the cradle of the dynasty. Initially there was determined resistance. Then a Muslim captive escaped and informed the caliph where there was a section of the wall that had only a front facade. Al-Mu'tasim concentrated his bombardment on this section, and the wall was breached. Having heroically held for fifty-five days, the city now fell to al-Mu'tasim on 12 or 15 August 838.
In 838, in order to impress the Caliph of Baghdad, Theophilus had John the Grammarian distribute 36,000 nomismata to the citizens of Baghdad. Around 841, the Republic of Venice sent a fleet of 60 galleys (each carrying 200 men) to assist the Byzantines in driving the Arabs from Crotone, but it failed.
During this campaign Al-Mu'tasim discovered that some of his top generals were plotting against him. Many of these leading commanders were arrested and some executed before he arrived home. Al-Afshin seems not to have been involved in this, but he was detected in other intrigues and died in prison in the spring of 841. Caliph al-Mu'tasim fell sick in October 841 and died on 5 January 842.
Relations with Bulgaria and Serbia
In 836, after the expiration of the 20-year peace treaty between the Empire and Bulgaria, Theophilos ravaged the Bulgarian frontier. The Bulgarians retaliated, and under the leadership of Isbul they reached Adrianople. At this time, if not earlier, the Bulgarians annexed Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and its environs. Khan Malamir died in 836.
The Serbs, Byzantine foederati, and the Bulgars lived in peace until 839. Vlastimir of Serbia united several tribes, and Theophilos granted the Serbs independence; Vlastimir acknowledged nominal overlordship of the Emperor. The annexation of western Macedonia by the Bulgars changed the political situation. Malamir or his successor may have seen a threat in the Serb consolidation and opted to subjugate them in the midst of the conquest of Slav lands. Another cause might have been that the Byzantines wanted to divert attention so that they could cope with the Slavic uprising in the Peloponnese, meaning they sent the Serbs to instigate the war. It is thought that the rapid extension of Bulgars over Slavs prompted the Serbs to unite into a state.
Khan Presian I (r. 836–852) invaded Serbian territory in 839 (see Bulgarian–Serbian Wars). The invasion led to a three-year war, in which Vlastimir was victorious; Presian was heavily defeated, made no territorial gains, and lost many of his men. The Serbs had a tactical advantage in the hills, and the Bulgars were driven out by the army of Vlastimir. The war ended with the death of Theophilos, which released Vlastimir from his obligations to the Byzantine Empire.
Death and aftermath
The health of Theophilos gradually failed, and he died on 20 January 842. His character has been the subject of considerable discussion, some regarding him as one of the best Byzantine Emperors, others as an ordinary and not a particularly significant ruler. There is no doubt that he did his best to check corruption and oppression on the part of his officials, and that he administered justice with strict impartiality. His personal leadership into battle with his troops indicates he was not afraid to command and put his life alongside that of his soldiers.
Despite the drain of the war in Asia and the large sums spent by Theophilos on building, commerce, and industry, the finances of the Empire flourished, largely due to highly efficient administration. Theophilos had received an excellent education from John Hylilas, the grammarian, and was a great admirer of music and art. He strengthened the Walls of Constantinople and built a hospital, which continued in existence until the twilight of the Byzantine Empire.
By his marriage with Theodora, Theophilos had seven children:
- Constantine, co-emperor from c. 833 until his death in c. 835.
- Michael III, who succeeded as emperor.
- Maria, who married the Caesar Alexios Mousele.
- Thekla, who was a mistress of Emperor Basil I the Macedonian.
- J. Norwich, Byzantium: The Apogee, 47
- I. Sevcenko, Review of New Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, Slavic Review, p. 111, 1968.
- W. Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society, 440
- The claim that Sozopetra or Arsamosata was Mu'tasim's native city is found only in Byzantine sources. This claim is dismissed by most scholars as a later invention, i.e. as a parallel to Amorium, the likely birthplace of Theophilos. It was probably added deliberately to balance and lessen the effect of the blow that the latter's fall represented. Bury 1912, p. 262 (Note #6); Treadgold 1988, p. 440 (Note #401); Vasiliev 1935, p. 141. Kiapidou 2003, Note 1.
- J. Haldon, The Byzantine Wars, 83
- W. Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society, 441
- J. Norwich, Byzantium: The Apogee, 43
- J. Norwich, A History of Venice, 32
- Bury 2008, p. 372
- L. Kovacevic & L. Jovanovic, Историjа српскога народа, Belgrade, 1894, Book 2, p. 38—39
- S. Stanojevic, Историjа српскога народа, Belgrade, 1910, p. 46—47
- Известия за българите, p. 42—43
- Fine 1991, p. 108
- Fine 1991, p. 110
- Runciman 1930, p. 88
- Houtsma 1993, p. 199
- Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari History v. 33 "Storm and Stress along the Northern frontiers of the Abbasid Caliphate, transl. C. E. Bosworth, SUNY, Albany, 1991
- John Bagot Glubb The Empire of the Arabs, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1963
- The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Haldon, John (2008). The Byzantine Wars. The History Press.
- Treadgold, Warren (1997). A History of the Byzantine State and Society. The Stanford Press.
- Bury, J. B. (2008). History of the Eastern Empire from the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil: A.D. 802–867. ISBN 1-60520-421-8.
- Fine, John Van Antwerp (1991). The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08149-7.
- Runciman, Steven (1930). A history of the First Bulgarian Empire. London: G. Bell & Sons.
Media related to Theophilos at Wikimedia Commons
Theophilos (emperor)Born: 813 Died: 20 January 842