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  • Byzantine Emperor Leo VI died on May 11, 912.

    Beatriz Camino

    Byzantine Emperor Leo VI died on May 11, 912.

    Leo VI, also known as “Leo the Wise”, was emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 886 to 912.

    Early Life & Rise to Power

    Leo, officially recognized as the son and heir of Basil I (867-886), was widely speculated to be the son of Michael III (842-867). This stemmed from the fact that Leo’s mother, Eudokia Ingerina, had previously been Michael’s mistress. Basil had another son, Constantine, who was his eldest and preferred successor, but his untimely death in 879 under mysterious circumstances altered the course of succession.

    Leo’s relationship with his father, Basil, was strained. Forced into a marriage with Theophano, a young woman chosen by his father, Leo took Zoe Zautsina as a mistress, much to Basil’s disapproval. Basil attempted to end the relationship by banishing Zoe and confining Leo to a wing of the palace, resorting even to physical punishment.

    Following Basil I’s death in 886, officially attributed to a hunting accident, there were lingering suspicions regarding Leo’s potential involvement in the accident. Notably, one of Leo’s initial actions as the new emperor, now known as Leo VI, was to have Michael III’s body exhumed from its grave and reinterred with full imperial honours at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.

    Personal Life

    Upon the death of his first wife Theophano in 895, Leo seized the opportunity to marry Zoe in 898. Tragically, she passed away just a year into their marriage, leaving Leo without an heir. In an effort to secure his dynasty, Leo wed Eudokia Vaiana in 900. Tragically, misfortune struck once more when Eudokia and their newborn child died in childbirth in 901.

    Leo’s fourth marriage in 906 to his mistress Zoe Karvounopsina, sparked controversy within the Church. Their relationship had already resulted in the birth of a child out of wedlock, the future emperor Constantine VII, the previous year. Sensing the urgent need for a legitimate heir, Leo disregarded objections from the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nicholas I Mystikos, leading to a crisis known as the tetragamy. He further complicated matters by seeking endorsement from the Pope for his fourth marriage, exploiting the historic rivalry between Constantinople and Rome. Despite initial opposition, Leo eventually secured the Church’s approval for his union with Zoe. After the birth of a legitimate heir, he successfully averted the looming threat of a succession crisis upon his death, ensuring the stability of the empire.

    His Reign

    Leo’s reign was marked by significant military losses for the Byzantine Empire. Major defeats at the hands of Symeon, Tsar of the Bulgars (893-927), in the Balkans highlighted the dissatisfaction with Byzantine trade policies, leading to Symeon's invasion of Byzantine territory in 894. Although initially repelled with the help of Magyar allies, a subsequent withdrawal of Byzantine troops resulted in Symeon forming a new alliance with the Turkish Pechenegs and launching a renewed assault on Thrace. Constantinople was eventually forced to pay a significant tribute and renegotiate trade terms with the Bulgars.

    While there were some successes against the Arab Caliphate in Armenia and Syria, the Byzantines faced setbacks closer to home. Arab admiral Leo of Tripoli captured Abydos and Thessaloniki in 904, prompting the Byzantines to retaliate by sacking Arab-held Tarsus in 905. Further defeats in Sicily and the loss of Taormina weakened Byzantine influence in the region. In 907, Constantinople itself endured a siege by Oleg, Prince of Kiev (879 - c.912), though a subsequent treaty in 911 established trade relations. Additionally, attempts to reclaim Arab-held Crete in 911 failed and a Byzantine fleet was annihilated off the coast of Chios by Leo of Tripoli in 912.

    Amid these military setbacks, Leo pursued significant legal reforms, continuing the work initiated by his predecessor Basil. Updating the ancient Justinian law code, Leo’s reforms, collectively known as the Basilika or "Imperial Laws," were condensed into two handbooks: the Epanagogue (886) and Procheiron (907).

    Beyond his legal pursuits, Leo also demonstrated prolific literary skills, earning him the epithet “the Wise”. He engaged in diverse forms of writing, including homilies, poems, hymns, orations, and theological treatises. Notably, he authored the Taktika, a military manual advocating for guerrilla tactics and opportunistic attacks on enemy forces laden with plunder. Another significant work attributed to Leo is the Book of the Eparch (c. 911), which outlined regulations for trade and commerce. Additionally, he tasked Philotheos, the Eparch (Governor) of Constantinople, with compiling the Kletorologion, a catalogue detailing Byzantine court titles, offices, and protocols.

    Death & Succession

    Upon Leo’s death on May 11, 912, his sole male heir, Constantine VII, had already been crowned co-emperor by his father in 908, in accordance with tradition. However, due to his youth, Constantine’s uncle Alexander assumed the role of regent, exhibiting a reluctance to relinquish control over the reins of power. Following a succession of other regents, including his mother, Constantine eventually ascended to the throne in his own right in 945.


    BYZANTINE: Leo VI, The Wise, AD 886-912. AE Follis (25mm, 6.47g), Constantinopolis MintLeo VI the Wise and Constantine VII AR miliaresionLeo VI with Alexander AD 886-912. Constantinople Follis Æ

    Byzantine Empire. Basil I, with Constantine & Leo VI. Æ Follis.Leo VI and Alexander AE follis legend in four linesLeo VI (886-912). Æ 40 Nummi - Constantinople


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