Leo V the Armenian

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Leo V the Armenian (Greek: Λέων Ε΄, Leōn V; Armenian: Լեւոն Ե, Lewon Yech) (775 – 25 December 820) was emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 813 to 820. A senior general, he forced his predecessor, Michael I Rangabe, to abdicate and assumed the throne. He ended the decade-long war with the Bulgars, and initiated the second period of Byzantine Iconoclasm. He was assassinated by supporters of Michael the Amorian, one of his most trusted generals, who succeeded him on the throne.



Leo was the son of the patrician Bardas, who was of Armenian descent (according to a later source, Leo was also of Assyrian descent[1]). Leo served in 803 under the rebel general Bardanes Tourkos, whom he deserted in favor of Emperor Nikephoros I. The emperor rewarded Leo with two palaces, but later exiled him for marrying the daughter of another rebel, the patrician Arsaber. On the other hand, a contemporary source [2] says that one general Leo of the Armeniakon theme was punished for his humiliating defeat by the Arabs during which he also lost the salaries of his thematic units[3] (a modern scholar[4] suggests that this Leo is not the same with the emperor). Punishment also included depriving of his military rank, beating and hair cutting[5].

Recalled by Michael I Rangabe in 811, Leo became governor of the Anatolic theme and conducted himself well in a war against the Arabs in 812. Leo survived the Battle of Versinikia in 813 by abandoning the battlefield, but nevertheless took advantage of this defeat to force the abdication of Michael I in his favor on July 11, 813. In a diplomatist move, he wrote a letter[6] to Patriarch Nikephoros in order to reassure him of his orthodoxy (Nicephorus being obviously afraid of a possible iconoclasm revival). One month later, during his entrance to the Palace quarter, he kneeled before the icon of Christ at the Chalke Gate[7]. A further step in preventing future usurpations was the castration of Michael's sons[8].

With Krum of Bulgaria blockading Constantinople by land, Leo V had inherited a precarious situation. He offered to negotiate in person with the invader and attempted to have him killed in an ambush. The stratagem failed, and although Krum abandoned his siege of the capital, he captured and depopulated Adrianople and Arkadioupolis (Lüleburgaz). When Krum died in spring 814, Leo V defeated the Bulgarians in the environs of Mesembria (Nesebar) and the two states concluded a 30-year peace in 815. According to some sources[9][10], Krum participated in the battle and abandoned the battlefield heavily injured.

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