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Leo II (emperor)

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Leo II
Icones imperatorvm romanorvm, ex priscis numismatibus ad viuum delineatae, and breui narratione historicâ (1645) (14560060739).jpg
Illustration of Leo II (right) with his grandfather Leo I (left) from the Icones Imperatorum Romanorum (1557), based on coins bearing their image
Roman emperor in the East
Reign18 January – 17 November 474
Coronation17 November 473
PredecessorLeo I
AlongsideLeo I (until 18 January)
Zeno (from 9 February)
Glycerius (West, 473–474)
Julius Nepos (West, 474)
BornSummer 469 AD[1][2]
Died17 November 474 (aged 5)
Solidus of Leo II, marked: d·n· leo et zeno p·p· aug·("Our Lords Leo and Zeno, Fathers of the Fatherland, Augusti")showing Leo and Zeno enthroned and nimbate and each holding a mappa on the reverse, marked: salus reipublicae ("the Health of the Republic")

Leo II (Greek: Λέων, Leōn; 469 – 17 November 474 AD), nicknamed "the Younger" or "the Small" (Greek: ὁ μικρός, translit. ho Mikrós),[3] was briefly Roman emperor in 474 when he was a child aged six or seven. He was the son of Zeno, the Isaurian general and future emperor, and Ariadne, a daughter of the emperor Leo I (r. 457–474), who ruled the eastern Roman empire. Leo II was made co-emperor with his grandfather Leo I on 17 November 473, and became sole emperor on 18 January 474 after Leo I died of dysentery. His father Zeno was made co-emperor by the Byzantine Senate on 29 January and they co-ruled for a short time before Leo II died ten months later,[4] probably on 17 November.[5]


Leo II was born in 469, the son of Zeno, an Isaurian general under Leo I, and Ariadne, the daughter of then emperor Leo I.[6] He was the maternal grandson of Emperor Leo I and Empress Verina.[7] Leo II was made caesar in late 472 and then augustus in 17 November 473,[1][2][4] and made him co-emperor alongside his grandfather.[6][7][8] He was crowned at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and the ceremony was presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch.[9] He was also appointed as the sole consul for 474 around this time.[8] When Leo I died of dysentery on 18 January 474, Leo II ascended the throne as sole augustus.[6][7][10][11] Some weeks later, the Byzantine Senate made his father Zeno co-augustus under Leo II, as Leo II was too young to sign official documents.[8][12] Leo II died soon after, on 17 November 474,[5][8][13] at the age of 5, leaving Zeno as the sole emperor.[6][7]

His death having occurred so soon after he became emperor has led to speculation among some modern scholars that he was poisoned by his mother Ariadne so that Zeno could ascend to the throne. However no contemporary sources raised this suggestion, even though Zeno was unpopular, thus it is considered likely that Leo II's death was natural, especially when the high child mortality rate of the time is considered.[6][7][10] Victor of Tonona, a 6th-century chronicler, says that Leo II did not actually die, but was rather taken by Ariadne and hidden at a monastery. This is very likely a confusion with Basiliscus, the son of the Byzantine commander Armatus. Basiliscus was crowned caesar in 476 and was almost executed in 477 after his father was murdered by Zeno, but was saved by Ariadne. The confusion likely stems from the fact that Basiliscus was renamed Leo in order to avoid association with the usurper who rose against Zeno.[14]

Zeno was vastly unpopular, due to a lack of dynastic prestige, with his only familial ties to the imperial throne being his marriage to Ariadne, the daughter of Leo I, and through his now-dead son Leo II. Additionally, because he was an Isaurian, he was seen as a foreigner by the Byzantine elite, and the treasury was empty on his ascension.[15] Zeno's sole rule was opposed by the Leonid dynasty, with Verina, the widow of Leo I, proclaiming her brother Basiliscus as emperor in January 475. Zeno fled, and for 20 months Basiliscus ruled before Zeno returned and retook the throne.[7][16] Zeno's rule was marked by constant unrest, and it was only through cunning and bribery that he managed to rule for 17 years, until his death on 9 April 491.[7][15][16]


Primary sources[edit]


  1. ^ a b Croke, Brian (2021). Roman Emperors in Context: Theodosius to Justinian. Routledge. pp. 139–152. ISBN 9781000388305.
  2. ^ a b Kosiński, Rafał (2003). "Leo II - Some chronological questions". A Journal of Ancient History. 3: 209–214.
  3. ^ Bury, J. B. (1958) [1889]. "Chapter X: the reign of Leo I". History of the Later Roman Empire. 1. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 323, note 1. ISBN 978-0-486-14338-5.
  4. ^ a b Elton, Hugh (2018). The Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. Cambridge University Press. p. 202. ISBN 9780521899314.
  5. ^ a b The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, p. 1207
  6. ^ a b c d e Carr 2015, p. 55.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Lee 2013, p. 100.
  8. ^ a b c d James 2013, p. 110.
  9. ^ Dagron 2003, pp. 81–82.
  10. ^ a b Adkins & Adkins 2004, p. 38.
  11. ^ Meijer 2004, p. 159.
  12. ^ Kosinski 2016, p. 148.
  13. ^ Allen, Pauline, ed. (2000). "Zeno and Basiliscus". The Cambridge Ancient History. XIV. p. 816. ISBN 9780521325912.
  14. ^ Shalev-Hurvitz 2015, p. 231.
  15. ^ a b Jones 2014, p. 91.
  16. ^ a b Freely 2010, p. 108.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Jones & Martindale 1980, p. 141.
  18. ^ a b c McClanan 2016, p. 67.
  19. ^ Jeffreys, Croke & Scott 2017, p. 33.
  20. ^ Jeffreys, Croke & Scott 2017, p. 2.
  21. ^ Jeffreys, Croke & Scott 2017, p. 142.


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  • Carr, John (2015). Fighting Emperors of Byzantium. Pen and Sword. ISBN 9781473856400.
  • Cooley, Alison E. (2012). The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84026-2.
  • Dagron, Gilbert (2003). Emperor and Priest: the Imperial Office in Byzantium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521801232.
  • Freely, John (2010). Children of Achilles: the Greeks in Asia Minor Since the Days of Troy. London: I. B. Tauris. ISBN 9781845119416.
  • James, Liz (2013). Wonderful things: Byzantium Through Its Art: Papers From the 42nd Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, London, 20-22 March 2009. Farnham: Ashgate Variorum. ISBN 9781409455141.
  • Jeffreys, Elizabeth; Croke, Brian; Scott, Roger (2017). Studies in John Malalas. BRILL. ISBN 9789004344624.
  • Jones, A.H.M. (2014). The Decline of the Ancient World. Routledge. ISBN 9781317873051.
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  • McClanan, A. (2016). Representations of Early Byzantine Empresses: Image and Empire. Springer. ISBN 9781137044693.
  • McEvoy, M. A. (2019). 'Leo II, Zeno, and the transfer of power from a son to his father in AD 474', in J.-W. Drijvers and N. Lenski (eds). The Fifth Century: Age of Transformation. Edipuglia.
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  • Shalev-Hurvitz, Vered (2015). Holy Sites Encircled: The Early Byzantine Concentric Churches of Jerusalem. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199653775.
Leo II (emperor)
Born: 469 Died: 17 November 474
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Leo I
Eastern Roman emperor
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Leo I
Roman consul
Succeeded by