Constantine V

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Constantine V Kopronymos or Copronymus (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Ε΄, Konstantinos V ), was Byzantine emperor from 741 to 775. He was a confirmed iconoclast.


Constantine was born in 718, the son and successor of Emperor Leo III and Maria. His derogatory nickname Kopronymos derives from kopra (feces) and onoma (name). This nickname, given to him by iconodule sources (with whom he had many conflicts), refers to him allegedly defecating in the baptismal font or the imperial purple cloth with which he was swaddled.

In August of 720 he was associated on the throne by his father, who had him marry a Khazar princess, baptized Irene of Athens (Eirēnē, "peace") in 732. Constantine V then succeeded his father as sole emperor on April 19, 741.

Shortly after becoming emperor, Constantine found himself in a civil war with his brother-in-law Artabasdos, a supporter of the restoration of images. Perhaps because of this, Constantine now became an even more fervent iconoclast than his father.


In February 754 Constantine convened a synod at Hieria, which was attended entirely by Iconoclast bishops. The council approved of Constantine's religious policy and secured the election of a new Iconoclast patriarch, Constantine II, after the death of Patr. Anastasius. It was followed by a campaign to remove images from the walls of churches and to purge the court and bureaucracy of Iconodules.

Since monasteries tended to be strongholds of Iconophile sentiment, Constantine specifically targeted the monks, pairing them off and forcing them to marry nuns in the Hippodrome and expropriating monastic property for the benefit of the state or the army. The repressions against the monks (culminating in 766) were largely led by the emperor's general Michael Lachanodrakon, who threatened resilient monks with blinding and exile.

An iconodule abbot, Stephen Neos, was brutally lynched by a mob at the behest of the authorities. As a result many monks fled to southern Italy and Sicily. By the end of Constantine's reign, Iconoclasm had gone as far as to brand relics and prayers to the saints as heretical.

Later Reign

His reign was also marked by the return of the Empire to the offensive against the Umayyad Caliphate. He made it a policy of resettling Syrian and Anatolian Christians from reconquered territories into the depopulated Balkans. This provided a much needed resurgence and replenishment of people into parishes devastated by war.

Constantine died from a fever on September 14, 775 while on a campaign against Bulgaria.

Iconophiles considered his death a divine punishment. They spread the rumour that he had defecated in his baptismal font as a baby, and began to refer to him as Kopronymos. In the 9th century he was disinterred and his remains were thrown into the sea.


  • The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.

Succession box:
Constantine V
Preceded by:
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by:
Leo IV
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