Theophilus the Iconoclast

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Theophilus the Iconoclast (Greek: Θεόφιλος) was the Byzantine emperor from 829 to 842. He was the second emperor of the Amorian dynasty. He was a fervent iconoclast, but was married to Theodora, who showed herself to be a devoted iconodule after Theophilius' death.


Theophilus was born in 813 to Michael, later Emperor Michael II, and his wife Thekla. His godfather was Emperor Leo V the Armenian. Theophilus received an extensive education, including the arts. In 822, he was crowned co-emperor by his father, Michael II. He succeeded his father as sole emperor on October 2, 829.

By his marriage to Theodora, Theophilus had seven children. Two were sons: Constantine, who was co-emperor from 833 to 835; and Michael, who succeeded Theophilus as emperor Michael III. The couple also had five daughters: Maria, who married Caesar Alexios Mouseles; Thekla, who was a mistress of Emperor Basil I the Macedonian; Anna; Anastasia; and Pulcheria.

From the time of his accession to the throne, Theophilus was confronted with war both in the east and west of the empire. In 830, his forces were defeated by Abbasid Arabs in Anatolia, but in 831 he won a victory in Ciclicia. Meanwhile in the West, Arab forces landed on Sicily in 831 and slowly moved across the island. In 831 and 833, the Byzantine forces were again defeated, and Theophilus was forced to sue for peace. Returning to the offensive in 837, Theophilus was initially successful against the Caliph al-Mu’tasim in Mesopotamia but was defeated when al-Mu’tasim returned in 838 to defeat the Byzantines, personally led by Theophilius, in Anatolia.

Although large sums were spent on the wars against the Arabs in the East, commerce, industry, and finances flourished, due largely to the highly efficient administration of the government. His government, however, retained the restored iconoclastic policies that had been initiated by Leo V in 813. These policies were not ended until 843, a year after his death in 842, when his wife Theodora became regent for her son Michael III. With the backing of a church council, the proclamation of 843 restored veneration of icons and initiated the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

Theophilus never recovered from the defeats of the late 830s. His health slowly faded, and he died on January 20, 842.

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Succession box:
Theophilus the Iconoclast
Preceded by:
Michael II
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by:
Michael III
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