Zeno (emperor)

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Flavius Zeno was emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 474 until his death in 491, except for the period from January 475 to August 476. During his reign the western part of the Roman Empire fell to the Goths. His issuance of the Henotikon as an attempt to conciliate the Monophysite heresy that was still major religious issue in the Eastern Empire provoked the first schism between the Churches of Constantinople and Rome.


Zeno was born about the year 425 in Rusumblada in the province of Isauria in southern eastern Asia Minor. He was known as Tarasicodissa when he was young. He gained his fame as a warrior. In the mid 460s he came to the attention of Emperor Leo I when the emperor was attempting to find an alternative among the Isaurians to the unreliable Germanic and Alan mercenaries that formed much of the Roman army. In 466, Tarasicodissa exposed the treachery of Ardabur, raising himself in Leo’s attention. Ardabur was the son of the magister militum (Master of Soldiers) Aspar, and by 468, Tarasicodissa had become the magister militum. To identify himself to the Roman hierarchy in culturally Greek Constantinople, Tarasicodissa changed his name to Zeno.

In 468, Zeno married Emperor Leo’s eldest daughter, Aelia Ariadne, who soon brought them a son who would become the future Leo II. Zeno gained considerable success leading the armies of the eastern empire. He drove the Vandals from Eprius. He dispersed the Huns and Gepids in their incursions south of the Danube river.

In October 473, Leo I made his grandson co-emperor. On January 18, 474, Leo I died, leaving the five year old Leo II as sole emperor. The next month, on February 9, the senate appointed Zeno as co-augustus. Before the end of the year, Leo II died, and Zeno became the sole emperor.

In January 475, Zeno fled the capital in the face of a conspiracy by Leo I’s wife, Verina, and her brother Basiliscus that placed Basiliscus on throne. Basiliscus sent an army under Illus after Zeno, But when Basiliscus failed to follow through on his promises to Illus, Illus turned his allegiance and helped restore Zeno to power. Basiliscus’ rule of little over a year, until August 476, was disastrously poor and unpopular, and Zeno met no resistance when he re-entered Constantinople.

The ascendancy of Basiliscus to the throne also re-awakened the Christological disputes that were behind the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Basiliscus favored Monophysitism and as a consequence the clergy who followed the heresy enjoyed some success during his reign, particularly in Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Upon returning to power, Zeno was presented with a severely divided empire. He tried to defuse the situation and reunite the Monophysites with the Orthodox Church. To accomplish this he turned to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, who was Orthodox. Acacius had been a vocal advocate of the Orthodox position and had the backing of Pope Simplicius of Rome. Acacius, supporting Zeno desire to end the dispute, prepared a letter in which he attempted to establish a uniting position for all parties.

The letter, known as the Henoticon, endorsed the decrees of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils which were held at Nicea and Constantinople respectively. The heretics Nestorius, Eutyches, and their followers were condemned and the anathemas of Cyril of Alexandria were approved. The decrees of Chalcedon, however, were not mentioned, deliberately, as a concession to the Monophysites. The letter met with mixed reactions. Some Monophysite leaders accepted the letter, while other, hardline Monophysites completely rejected it, as did the Church of Rome. Regardless of the differing reactions, Zeno published the letter in 482 and proceeded to depose those bishops from the Church of Rome and Monophysites who refused to accept his compromise.

After attempts to reconcile the issues between Rome and Constantinople failed, Pope Felix III convened a council in 484 in which Felix deposed Acacius. Acacius, in return, struck Felix’ name from his diptychs. With these actions by the two patriarchs a schism began that lasted until 519. During the remaining years of Zeno’s reign all attempts to reconcile the schism failed which continued through the reign of Zeno’s successor, Anastasius, until his successor, Justin, a staunch Orthodox, and Patriarch John of Cappadocia began negotiations with Rome that proved useful.

Zeno died in Constantinople on April 9, 491. As his children had preceded him in death, his successor, Anastasius a member of the imperial court, was chosen by Zeno’s widow, Ariadne.

Succession box:
Zeno (emperor)
Preceded by:
Leo II
Eastern Roman Emperor
Succeeded by:
Anastasius I
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External link

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07218b.htm Catholic Encyclopedia: Henoticon]