The Byzantine Empire under Leo III 717–41

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Map Code: Ax02390

In the 8th century Eastern Christianity, reeling from the Islamic assault and in a crisis of self-confidence, experienced the convulsion known as iconoclasm, which was officially promulgated by Emperor Leo III (717–41). Icons are works of religious art, commonly depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints and angels, which date back to the early 3rd century. Leo’s edicts against the veneration of these images may have been inspired by Islamic influence – Islam repudiates the worship of images – and, on a pragmatic level, may have been motivated by a desire to appease non-Christians within his empire. His iconoclastic edicts were strenuously opposed by both the Pope, Gregory II, and the patriarch of Constantinople. Leo simply deposed the patriarch and used the destruction of icons as a pretext for seizing church property. When his subjects in the Exarchate of Ravenna joined an armed uprising in 727 Leo sent a large fleet to subdue them. When his fleet was badly damaged in a storm the issue was decided; Ravenna became detached from the Empire and Rome, and hence the pope was no longer under Byzantine rule.

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