Leontius (emperor)

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Leontios or Leontius (Greek: Λεόντιος), (d. 705), was Byzantine emperor from 695 to 698. His actual and official name was Leo (Λέων, Leōn), but he is known by the name used for him in Byzantine chronicles.

Leontios was born in Isauria originally a successful general in the army of Byzantium; Emperor Constantine IV appointed him strategos of the Anatolic theme, and it was Leontios whom Justinian II sent to turn back the Arabs in Georgia and Armenia in 686. Using ruthless and cruel (even by the day's standards) tactics, Leontios carried the war into Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Caucasus. Indeed, it was largely because of Leontios that the Caliph Abd al-Malik renewed the treaty with Byzantium, giving some favorable concessions to boot. Leontios was imprisoned by Justinian after losing to the Arabs at the Battle of Sebastopolis in 693 when a large Slavic contingent deserted, turning the tide of the battle. During Leontios' imprisonment, the war against the Arabs flared up again, and Justinian was getting the worst of it. So he freed Leontios in 695 and appointed him stategos of the Helladic theme, but Leontios immediately organized a revolt against the emperor. With the help of the Blue faction, Patriarch Kallinikos, and his own military prowess and fame, Leontios soon deposed Justinian, exiling him to Cherson in the Crimea (after having his nose and tongue slit).

During his unpopular reign, Leontios (formally "Leo"), refrained from most military operations, attempting to consolidate the empire; this inactivity and defensive posture led to Abd al-Malik dispatching an expedition to take Carthage, which fell in 697. Now Leontios sent the admiral John the Patrician to retake Carthage; while he initially succeeded in capturing the harbor and most of the city, Arab reinforcements pushed his forces back to Crete. Fearful of Leontios' punishment, the soldiers mutinied against John, raising up Apsimaros, the drungary of the Cibyrrhaeots, and launched a rebellion against Leontios in 698; it succeeded in its siege of Constantinople, as the plague-wracked capital opened its gates to the rebels. The emperor was deposed and mutilated by Tiberios III (Apsimaros' regnal name) and imprisoned in monastery of Psamathion in Constantinople. Leontios was later paraded through the streets and executed when Justinian II returned to power in 705.

A description of the rise and fall of Leontios, and specifically the desertion of the Slavic troops at Sebastopolis, can be found in the novel Justinian by H. N. Turteltaub.


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

External links

Preceded by:
Justinian II
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by:
Tiberios III

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