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Book VII
Note D

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Book VII
Chapter 12

Book VII (continued)

Vol. VI
p415
Chapter XI

Iconoclasm

Authorities

Sources: —

Our chief authorities here are Theophanes and Nicephorus, who were both born in the year 758. The former died about 817, and the latter in 828. They are thus all but contemporary authorities for the period now under review, and as far as the outline of persons and events at Constantinople is concerned, they may be safely trusted. The colour which they give to them must be regarded with much more suspicion, for both were ecclesiastics passionately committed to one side of the iconoclastic controversy, the opposite side to that taken by Leo III and Constantine V. Theophanes especially can scarcely speak of either Emperor without prefixing an 'impious' to his name. The lives of these two men give us a vivid picture of the religious history of the times.

Theophanes, a nobleman of Constantinople, a relation of the Emperor and an officer in the Imperial guard, lived a monastic life notwithstanding a nominal marriage, and like Gregory the Great turned his ancestral estates into convents, of one of which he became abbot. At the Second Council of Nicaea (Seventh General Council, 787), whither he proceeded on an ass and clothed in a garment of hair, he vehemently defended the worship of images. Under Leo the Armenian (813‑820), as he refused to conform to the dominant iconoclasm, he suffered imprisonment and exile, and eventually died in the island of Samothrace, whither he had been banished. His sufferings in the cause of image-worship procured him the title of Confessor.

Nicephorus, who is also sometimes called Confessor, but more commonly, from his office, Patriarch, was also of noble birth,  p416 and held the high position of Notarius under Constantine VI and his mother Irene. He too was present and defended the cause of the image-worshippers at the Second Council at Nicaea. After spending some years in a convent he became in 806 Patriarch of Constantinople, but on account of his opposition to iconoclasm was deposed by Leo the Armenian in 815. The discussions between Patriarch and Emperor which preceded this deposition are narrated at some length by the biographer of the former, Ignatius. Nicephorus was allowed to re‑enter the monastery of St. Theodore, on an island in the Sea of Marmora, where he had dwelt previous to his elevation to the Patriarchate, and died there after more than thirteen years of seclusion, on the 2nd of June, 828.

His 'Apologeticus pro Sacris Imaginibus' and other controversial works on the question of iconoclasm are very voluminous,1 but are considered to present the best-argued case of any of the writers on that side of the controversy. For historical purposes the short but careful work called 'A Concise History from the Reign of the Emperor Maurice'2 is his most important production. It extends from the death of Maurice (602) to the marriage of Leo IV and Irene (768).

For a discussion of the sources (evidently to a large extent identical) from which Theophanes and Nicephorus drew the materials for their histories, and of the relation of these two writers to one another, see Bury, II.281 and 352. It will be noticed that Theophanes, though valuable and to a certain extent trustworthy for the events happening in the Eastern Empire, is extremely ill‑informed as to the transactions in Western Europe. He places the flight of Pope Stephen into France in the year 725, twenty-five years before that Pope's elevation. He knows nothing of Pope Gregory III, and makes Zacharias the immediate successor of Gregory II, whose elevation to the Papacy he dates in 725 instead of 715. Strangest of all his errors, he makes Constantine, the one Pope about whom he might have been expected to be well-informed by reason of his triumphal entry into Constantinople, succeed to the pontificate in 762,  p417 fifty-four years after the true date. After these blunders we are hardly surprised to find that Theophanes attributes Charles Martel's great victory over the Saracens to his son Pippin the Short. Evidently for Western affairs Theophanes is no safe guide, and this is the more unfortunate because he has been extensively copied by later Greek historians, especially Cedrenus.3

Another source of some importance is the Vita S. Stephani Junioris, composed by his namesake the deacon Stephen in the year 808, forty‑two years after the martyrdom of Stephen the Monk under the reign of Constantine Copronymus. Like most of the ecclesiastical biographies of the time it is intolerably diffuse, passionate and one‑sided, but it is possible to extract from it a few grains of valuable historical information.

Guides: —

Gibbon (chapter xlix); Milman, 'History of Latin Christianity' (Book IV chap. vii: an admirable review of an important controversy); Bury, 'History of the Later Roman Empire' (Book VI: it should be observed that I generally accept his reconstruction of the chronology of the period); Schlosser, 'Geschichte der Bilder­stürmenden Kaiser,' and Finlay, 'History of the Byzantine Empire' (Book I). The two last-named authors were the first to call attention to the great political merits of the much maligned Isaurian Emperors.

On the purely ecclesiastical aspects of Iconoclasm useful light is thrown by Hefele's 'Concilien­geschichte,' vol. III: but his acceptance of the so‑called letters of Gregory II to the Emperor Leo III detracts, according to my view of the case, from the soundness of his conclusions.

In tracing the history of the Lombard kings and that of the contemporary Popes and Emperors we have now overstepped the threshold of the eighth  p418 century. I do not propose to give an outline of the European history of this century as I did of its predecessor: in fact, only half of it will be traversed before the end of this volume is reached: but something may be said here as to the four greatest events by which it was distinguished. These are the Mohammedan conquest of Spain, the assumption of the title of King of the Franks by an Austrasian Mayor of the Palace, the conversion of the Germans beyond the Rhine, and the Iconoclastic Controversy. On examination we discover that almost all of these events had a close connection with one another, and that they unconsciously conspired towards one great result, the exaltation of the power of the Roman pontiff. St. Boniface, Charles Martel, Muza, and Leo the Isaurian, each in his different sphere co‑operated towards the creation of that new, mediaeval Europe at the head of which was the Pope of Rome, a very different person politically from his predecessors, all of whom, whether great or small, had been the submissive subjects of the Eastern Caesar.

Saracen conquest of Spain, 711. (1) In 711, a year before Ansprand returned from his long exile in Bavaria and wrested the kingdom from Aripert, Tarik with his host of Arabs and Moors crossed the Straits which have ever since borne his name,4 defeated Roderic king of the Visigoths in the battle of Xeres de la Frontera, and began that conquest of Spain which was completed by his superior the Arabian Emir of Cairwan, Muza. We cannot help feeling some surprise at the small apparent effect  p419 produced on the rest of Europe by the loss of so important a member of the great Christian commonwealth. Paulus Diaconus devotes but one short dry sentence5 to the conquest of Spain, and the Liber Pontificalis mentions it not at all. One would say that the heresy of the Emperor Philippicus and his disfigurement of the picture of the Sixth Council at Constantinople affected the minds of the people of Rome more profoundly than the conquest by Asiatics of one of the finest regions of Western Europe. And yet that slow and difficult re‑conquest of Spain by the refugees in the mountains of the Asturias, which, as we know, did eventually take place, can hardly have been foreseen by these writers, since it was more than three centuries before half of the peninsula was recovered, and nearly eight centuries before 1492 'the last sigh of the Moors' bewailed their expulsion from their lovely Granada.

Saracen invasion of Gaul. In the first fervour of their conquering zeal the Saracens crossed the Pyrenees and made the Gothic provinces of Septimania their own. Many students of history hardly realise the fact that 716 (?)-759 for something like half a century parts of Languedoc and Provence were actually subject to the Moorish yoke, that Narbonne, Arles, and Avignon all heard the Muezzin's cry, and called at the hour of prayer on Allah the Merciful and the Mighty.

Resistance to the Saracens, It did not however need fifty years to reassure affrighted Europe by the conviction that Gaul would at any rate not fall as easy a prey as Spain to the turbaned hordes of the believers in the Prophet. , by Eudo of Aquitaine, Already in 721 the valiant Eudo of Aquitaine defeated  p420 them in a bloody battle under the walls of Toulouse, and eleven years later, after he himself had been vanquished, the remnant of his troops shared in the glorious victory which the stout Austrasians from beyond the Rhine achieved by Charles Martel, 732. under the leadership of Charles Martel on the plains of Poictiers, far from the spot where, two hundred and twenty-five years before, the battle of the Campus Vogladensis gave to the Frank instead of the Visigoth the dominion over Southern Gaul.

Charles Martel and the uprise of the Arnulfings. (2) This battle of Poictiers was, as every one knows, one of 'the decisive battles of the world,' as important as Marathon or Salamis for the decision of the question whether Asia or Europe was to be the chosen home of empire in the centuries that were to follow. And for the victory thus won by Christendom over Islam, Europe was mainly indebted (and well did she know her obligation) to the bright and vigorous personality of Charles, surnamed the Hammer. 714 When his father Pippin 'of Heristal'6 died, the Frankish kingdom seemed to be falling asunder in ruin, a ruin even more hopeless, as springing from internal dissensions, than the collapse of Visigothic Spain. Aquitaine, Thuringia, Bavaria, all the great subordinate duchies were falling off from the central monarchy; Neustria and Austrasia were becoming two hostile kingdoms; and, to complete the confusion, the aged Pippin, passing by his son Charles who was in the vigour of youthful manhood, had bequeathed the Mayoralty of the Palace, as if it had been an estate, to his little grandson Theudwald, a child of six years old, under the regency of his mother  p421 Plectrude, by whose evil counsel this unwise disposition had been made. A Merovingian king,7 incapable as all these later Merovingians were of doing a single stroke of business on his own account, a baby Prime Minister, with a greedy and unscrupulous woman as regent over him, — these were certainly poor materials out of which to form a strong and well-compacted state. But the young Charles, whom his step-mother had only dared to imprison, not to slay, first escaped from his confinement, then defeated the rival, Neustrian, Mayor of the Palace,8 got hold of a Merovingian child,9 and in his name ruled, like his father, as Mayor of the Palace over the three kingdoms, Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy. He subdued the savage Frisians, set up in Bavaria a duke who was willing to be his humble dependent, chastised Eudo of Aquitaine (who was aiming at independence and had well-nigh acquired it), and then having chastised, assisted him as we have seen, and protected his territory against the overflowing flood of Moorish invasion. Consolidator of France and saviour of Europe, Charles Martel was the real founder of the Arnulfing or Carolingian dynasty. But warned by the fate of his great-uncle Grimwald,10 he did not himself stretch forth a hand to grasp the royal sceptre. As long as his puppet lived, he left him the name and the trappings of royalty. When that puppet died, he did not indeed think it worth while to replace him by a successor, yet he did not change his own title. For the last four years of his life (737‑741) there was literally 'no king in the land'; a Mayor of the royal Palace, but no king inside it.

 p422  Charles Martel, 715‑741. The reign, for such we may truly call it, of Charles Martel was nearly contemporaneous with that of Liutprand, with whom he had much intercourse, all of a friendly kind. The chain of events which enabled his son Pippin to assume the name as well as the reality of kingly power, 751 and which brought him over the Alps to interfere in the affairs of Italy, will have to be related in a future volume. We only note them here as truly central events in that eighth century upon which we have now entered.

Conversion of Germany by English missionaries. (3) Politically the eighth century is one of the least interesting in English history. The great days of the Northumbrian kingdom are over, and the day of Wessex has not yet dawned. But from a literary or religious point of view the century is more attractive. During the first third of its course Baeda, decidedly the most learned man of his time, perhaps we might say the most learned man of all the early mediaeval period, was compiling his text-books, his commentaries, and his Ecclesiastical History of the English nation. And at the same time the English, who so lately had been receiving missionaries from Rome and from Iona, were sending out missionaries of their own, able, energetic and courageous men, to convert the still remaining idolaters of Germany. Willibrord and Boniface. Chief among these missionaries were the Northumbrian Willibrord, who for forty years laboured for the conversion of the Frisians, and the Devonshireman Winfrith, who received from the Pope the name of Boniface, and who from 718 to 753 wrought at the organisation of the half-formed Churches of Bavaria and Thuringia, preached to the heathen Hessians, hewing down an aged oak to which they paid idolatrous  p423 reverence, directed from his Archiepiscopal see at Maintz the religious life of all central Germany, and finally in his old age received the martyr's crown from the hands of the still unconverted Frisians. This great work of the Christianisation of Germany is alien to our present subject, and must not here be further enlarged upon, but it may be noticed how closely it was connected with the other leading events of the eighth century. It is not improbable that the zeal of these English missionaries was partly quickened by the tidings of the rapid advances of Mohammedanism.11 It is certain that the work of proselytism was aided by the arms of Pippin and Charles Martel. As their frontier advanced across the Rhine, Christianity went forward: where it fell back for a time, heathenism triumphed, and the missionaries became the martyrs. The close connection of the German mission with the exaltation of the Arnulfing house is symbolized by the fact that Boniface either actually took part in the coronation of Pippin, or at least used his powerful influence with the Pope to bring about that result. And lastly, it is obvious how greatly the addition of the wide regions between the Rhine and the Elbe to the area of Western Christendom must have  p424 strengthened the authority of the Pope. The Byzantine Emperor in his dwindling realm, hemmed in by Saracens and Bulgarians, might issue what decrees he would to his servile Greek diocesans. Here in Western Europe, in England and in Germany, were mighty nations, young and full of conscious strength and promise of the future, who had received their Christianity from the hands of devoted adherents of the Pope, and would recognise no authority but his.

The Iconoclastic Controversy. (4) This thought brings us to the last great event of the eighth century, the outbreak of the Iconoclastic Controversy. This will need a somewhat more detailed notice than the others.

Accession of Leo III (the Isaurian), 717. To the shadow-Emperors whose reigns filled six anarchic years after the death of Justinian II succeeded, in March, 717, Leo III, commonly called Leo the Isaurian. Here was at last a man at the helm of the State, and one who, though his name is scarcely ever mentioned without a curse by the monkish chroniclers of the time, came at the fortunate — I would rather say at the Providential — moment to save Eastern Europe from the Saracen yoke, and to preserve for Christianity in any shape, whether enlightened or superstitious, some influence on the future destinies of Europe.12 Leo (whose original name is said to have  p425 been Conon) was born in Asia Minor, either at Germanicia in Commagene,13 or, as is more probable, in those Isaurian highlands which in the fifth century sent adventurers to Constantinople to disturb and trouble the Empire,14 but now sent a race of heroes to deliver it. The year of his birth is not apparently mentioned, but we may conjecture it to have been somewhere about 670. In his youth he and his parents were removed from their Asiatic home to Mesembria in Thrace, and here, when Justinian was marching with his Bulgarian allies to recover his throne, 705 Leo met him with a present of 500 sheep. The grateful Emperor rewarded him by a place in his life-guards, and announced that he regarded him as 'one of his true friends.'15 Before long, however, jealousy and suspicion entered his soul, and he sent his 'true friend' on a desperate mission to the Alans in the Caucasus, a mission which occupied several years, and from which only by the exercise of extraordinary ingenuity as well as courage did he at last return alive.16 When he returned to the abodes of civilised men he found Justinian deposed and Anastasius reigning, who appointed him general of the Anatolian theme. In this district, which comprehended the central portion of Asia Minor, Leo for some years, by guile rather than force, kept at bay the Saracen general Moslemah, brother of the  p426 Caliph, who was threatening the city of Amorium. 716 It was known that the Saracens were preparing for a grand assault on Constantinople, and it was generally felt that the so‑called Theodosius III, a government clerk who had been forced against his will to assume the purple, was quite unable to cope with the emergency. In the autumn of 716 Leo proclaimed himself a candidate for the diadem and the avenger of his patron Anastasius, who had been deposed by the mutinous authors of the elevation of Theodosius. After defeating the Emperor's son at Nicomedia, and apparently spending the winter in Bithynia, he moved on to Constantinople, where the Patriarch and the Senate welcomed him as Emperor. There was no further conflict: Theodosius recognised his unfitness for the diadem, and having with his son assumed the clerical garment, retired into safe obscurity.

The Saracens besiege Constantinople. The change of rulers had come only just in time to save the state. By the 1st of September, 717, the fleets and armies of the Saracen Caliph, constituting an armament apparently more formidable than that which Moawiyah had sent against the city forty years before, appeared in the Sea of Marmara. It is not necessary to give here the details of this memorable siege, in which, as in Napoleon's Russian campaign, fire and frost combined to defeat the forces of the invader. The besieged sent their ships laden with 'Greek fire' into the fleet of the affrighted Saracens, burning many of their vessels and striking panic into the crews which escaped. The wind blew cold from Thrace; frost and snow covered the ground for a hundred days, and the camels and cattle of the besieging army perished by thousands. Famine followed as the natural consequence;  p427 the Saracens fed on disgusting preparations of human flesh, and pestilence of course followed famine. 718 Upon the top of all their other calamities came an onslaught of the Bulgarians, who in this extremity of danger were willing to help their old foe, the Caesar of Constantinople. At length on the 15th of August, 718, the remits of the once mighty armament melted away; the cavalry from the Bithynian plain, the ships from the waters of the Bosphorus. Constantinople was saved, and the Paradise promised to the first army of the faithful that should take the city of Caesar was not yet won.

Great qualities of Leo III. It was no marvel that such a great deliverance should be attributed to supernatural causes, and especially, by the monkish historians, to the prayers of the Mother of God. But it is certain that that statesmanlike foresight, the mingled astuteness and courage of the great Isaurian Emperor, had also much to do with the triumph of Christendom. As soon as the Saracen invader was repelled, he began that reorganisation of the Empire to which adequate justice was not rendered till our own day, and one of the chief monuments of which is the Ecloga, a kind of handbook of Imperial law for the use of the people, which has lately attracted the careful and admiring study of European jurists.17

 p428  Rebellion of Sicily. Thus early in his reign Leo was called upon to face the rebellion of a Western province, the result doubtless of the miserable anarchy into which the State had been plunged by his predecessors. The Duke of Sicily, who was an officer of high rank in the Imperial guard named Sergius, hearing of the siege of Constantinople by the Saracens, decided to create an Emperor of his own, and invested with the purple a certain Sicilian, sprung from Constantinople, named Basil, to whom he gave the Imperial name of Tiberius. For a short time the new Emperor played at promoting officers and appointing judges under the advice of his patron Sergius; and then Paulus, the cartularius of the Emperor Leo, arrived, apparently with a single ship and with a letter from his master, in the harbour of Syracuse. The mere news of his arrival was sufficient. The conscience-stricken Sergius escaped to the Lombards of Benevento. The Sicilian army was collected to hear the 'sacred' letter read, and when they received the tidings of the destruction of the mighty armaments of the Saracens they burst into loud applause and gladly surrendered Basil and his new‑made courtiers into the hands of Paulus. The usurper and his general-in‑chief were at once beheaded. Of his adherents, some were flogged, others were shaved as priests, others had their noses slit, others were fined and sent into banishment, and thus order reigned once more in Sicily.18

The first eight years of the reign of Leo seem to have passed, with the exception of this trifling rebellion in Sicily, in internal peace and tranquillity, though not undisturbed by wars with the Saracens, notwithstanding the repulse of their great Armada.

 p429  Religious zeal of Leo. Thus far he had done nothing to tarnish his fair fame to which he was entitled from ecclesiastical historians as a zealous defender of the Christian world against the warriors of Islam; nay, he had even given proof of his orthodoxy after the fashion of the age by vain attempts to compel Jews and heretics to enter the fold of the Church. The Jews outwardly conformed, but in secret washed off the water of baptism as an unholy thing. The Montanist heretics, in whom still lived the uncompromising spirit of their great predecessor Tertullian, solemnly assembled on an appointed day in their churches, and gave themselves over to the flames, rather than abandon the faith of their fathers.

Beginnings of Iconoclasm. At last in the ninth year of his reign Leo began that warfare against images by which, even more than by his gallant defence of Constantinople, his name is made memorable in history. Strangely enough this attempted revolution in ecclesiastical polity seems to have been connected with, perhaps derived from, a similar attempt on the part of a Saracen ruler. Story of Yezid II. Yezid II, the Ommiade Caliph of Damascus (720‑724), had received, according to Theophanes, an assurance from a Jewish magician of Tiberias that his reign should be prolonged for thirty years if he would only compel his Christian subjects to obliterate the pictures in their churches. His brother and predecessor Caliph Omar II, had already enforced on the Christians one precept of the Koran by forbidding them the use of wine,19 and now Yezid would enforce another of the Prophet's commands by taking away from them the temptations to idolatry. His attempt failed, and as his promised thirty years ended in an early death after a reign of  p430 only four years, his son Welid II put the lying soothsayer to death.20 The story is probably more or less fabulous, but contains this kernel of truth — that it was the contact with Mohammedanism which opened the eyes of Leo and the men who stood round his throne, ecclesiastics as well as laymen, to the degrading and idolatrous superstitions that had crept into the church and were overlaying the life of a religion which, at its proclamation the purest and most spiritual, was fast becoming one of the most superstitious and materialistic that the world had ever seen. Shrinking at first from any representation whatever of visible objects, then allowing herself the use of beautiful and pathetic emblems (such as the Good Shepherd), in the fourth century the Christian Church sought to instruct the converts whom her victory under Constantine was bringing to her in myriads, by representations on the walls of the churches of the chief event of Scripture history. From this the transition to specially reverenced pictures of Christ, the Virgin and the Saints, was natural and easy. The crowning absurdity and blasphemy, the representation of the Almighty Maker of the Universe as a bearded old man, floating in the sky, was not yet perpetrated, nor was to be dared till the human race had taken several steps downward into the darkness of the Middle Ages; but enough had been already done to show whither the Church was tending, and to give point to the sarcasm of the  p431 followers of the Prophet when they hurled the epithet 'idolaters' at the craven and servile populations of Egypt and Syria.21

 p432  The question mooted by Leo, 725. It was in the year 725, according to Theophanes, that 'the irreligious Emperor first began to stir the question of the destruction of the holy and venerable images.' Eruption in the Archipelago, 726. In the following year, about harvest-time, a volcano burst forth in the Archipelago close to the island of Thera. A heavy cloud of vapour hung over the Aegean, and pumice-stones were hurled over all the neighbouring coasts of Asia Minor and Macedon. In this portent Leo saw the rebuke of Heaven for his slackness in dealing with the sin of idolatry, Decree against Image-worship. and the decree which had been before talked of was now formally issued. There can be little doubt that this decree was for the actual destruction of the idolatrous emblems. The statement which is generally made, that the Emperor's first decree only ordered that the pictures should be raised higher on the walls of the  p433 churches to remove the temptation to kiss and idolatrously adore them, is in itself improbable (for most of the pictures at this time were mosaics, which could not be so easily removed), and rests apparently on very doubtful authority.22 On the contrary, Leo seems to have set about his self-imposed task with an almost brutal disregard of the feelings of his subjects. Undoubtedly there are times in the history of the world when the holiest and most necessary work that can be performed is that of the Iconoclast. The slow deposit of ages of superstition encrusts so thickly the souls of men that the letters originally traced thereon by the Divine Finger are not at all or but dimly legible. In such a case he who with wise and gentle hand supplies the mordant acid and clears away the gathered fallacies of ages may do as useful a work, even as religious a work, as he who brings a fresh revelation from the Most High. But even in doing it he must remember and allow for the love and reverence which for generations have clustered round certain forms or words against which it may be his duty to wage war; and he will, if he is wise, gently loosen the grasp of faith, rather than with ruthless hand break both the worshipped image and the heart of the worshipper.

Harshness of the Iconoclastic Emperors. Such, unfortunately, was not the policy of the Isaurian Emperor, inheriting as he did the evil traditions of four centuries of Imperial legislators, whose  p434 fixed principle it had been that whithersoever the Emperor went in the regions of religious speculation or practice, thither all his subjects were bound to follow him. The destruction or obliteration of the sacred images and pictures was promptly begun, and all opposition was stamped out with relentless severity. One tragic event which occurred at Constantinople was probably the counterpart of many others of which no record has been preserved. Destruction of the great picture of Christ over the gate of the palace. Over the great gateway of the Imperial palace (which from the brazen tiles that formed its roof had received the name Chalcé)23 had been placed a great effigy of Our Saviour, which, perhaps from the refulgent mosaics of which it was composed, had received the same name of Chalcé.24 The command went forth that this picture, probably one of the best known most revered in all Constantinople, was to be destroyed; and hatchet in hand an Imperial life-guardsman mounted a ladder and  p435 began the work of destruction. Some women who had clustered below called out to him to cease his unholy work. In vain: the hatchet fell again and again on the loved and worshipped countenance. Thereat the women (likened by later ecclesiastical writers to the devout women who carried spices to the tomb of the Saviour) shook the ladder and brought the life-guardsman to the ground. He still breathed notwithstanding his fall, but 'those holy women' (as the martyrologist calls them), with such rude weapons as they may have had at their disposal, stabbed him to death. Something like a popular insurrection followed, which was suppressed with a strong hand, and was followed by the deaths, banishments, and mutilations of the women and their sympathisers.

Attempted revolution in Greece. The news of this attempted religious revolution deeply stirred the minds of the subjects of the Empire. In Greece and the islands of the Archipelago there was an immediate outburst of insurrectionary fury.25 A great fleet was prepared, a certain Cosmas was named Emperor, and on the 18th of April, 727, the rebels arrived before Constantinople. But the 'liquid fire' which had destroyed the Saracen Armada proved equally fatal to the Image-worshippers. Cosmas and one of his generals-in‑chief escaped execution by leaping, clad in full armour, into the sea: the cause of Iconoclasm was for the time triumphant. The Silentium of 729. In the year 729 Leo called what Western nations would have described as a Parliament, but what the loquacious Greeks quaintly named a Silentium, in  p436 order to confirm and regulate the suppression of image-worship. At this assembly, Germanus the Patriarch of Constantinople, with whom Leo had been for five years vainly pleading for assistance in his religious war, formally laid down his office. 'I am Jonah,' said the aged Patriarch; 'cast me into the sea. But know, oh Emperor! that without a General Council thou canst not make any innovations in the faith.' Deposition of the Patriarch Germanus. Germanus was deposed and allowed to spend the remainder of his life (he was already ninety years of age) in peace. His private chaplain26 Anastasius, whom the old man had long felt to be treading on his heels, but who seems to have been sincere in his professions of Iconoclasm, was made Patriarch in the room of Germanus, and for fifteen years governed the church of Constantinople.

Lull in the controversy in the East. During the remaining ten years of the reign of Leo III we do not hear much as to the details of the Iconoclastic Controversy. The Emperor's attention was probably occupied by the repeated Saracen invasions of Asia Minor, but there is no reason to suppose that he abandoned the Iconoclastic position, though martyrdoms and mutilations of the Image-worshippers are little spoken of. Apparently the latter party had for the time accepted their defeat, and those who were most zealous on behalf of the forbidden worship emigrated in vast numbers to Southern Italy and Sicily. It is for us now to consider what effect the religious war thus kindled by the Isaurian Emperor had on the fortunes of Italy.


The Author's Notes:

1 With the Latin translation appended they occupy 340 closely printed pages of Migne's Patrologia.

2 Ἱστορία σύντομος ἀπὸ τῆς Μαυρικίου βασιλείας.

3 It should be mentioned that Theophanes gives us for the events related by him both 'the year of the world' (placing the Creation at 5500 B.C.) and the year from the Birth of Christ. As however his A.D. differs from that now in general use by a period of seven or eight years, it is more convenient in references to him to quote the Annus Mundi.

4 GibraltarJebel Tarik, the mountain of Tarik. See p5 of this volume, where this event has already been slightly alluded to.

5 H. L. VI.46.

6 See p4.

7 Dagobert III.

8 At Vincy, 717.

9 Theodoric IV (720‑737).

10 See p3.

11 This is the opinion of Ranke, whose gaze over the wide field of world-history is so true and piercing. 'We ought not consider the Christianisation of Germany only from the point of view of religious belief and teaching. However important these may be, it was of world-historical importance that some counteracting influence should be prepared against Islamism, which was pressed ever deeper and deeper into the continent of Europe. Boniface knew right well what had happened in Spain: the work of conversion which he was carrying on was the chief cause why the same events did not repeat themselves in Gaul and Germany .' (Ranke, 'Weltgeschichte,' V.1.286‑7).

12 There is a certain correspondence between the careers of Leo III and Charles Martel. Both came to supreme power after a time of anarchy and bewilderment in their respective countries: both dealt crushing blows at the Saracens and saved Europe from their onward advance; and both were censured by ecclesiastical writers, Leo for his iconoclasm, Charles for the high-handed way in which he appropriated church property in order to reward his veterans. (See the passages in Waitz's Verfassungs­geschichte, III.16, 2nd ed.)

13 About 100 miles north-east of Antioch.

14 See vol. III pp39‑40.

15 Καὶ εἶχεν αὐτὸν ὡς γνήσιον φίλον (Theophanes, A.M. 6209).

16 Prof. Bury (II.375‑378) extracts from Theophanes the curious description of Leo's adventures in Alania. The work of the chronicler would have been more interesting if he had explained with what motive anything was done by any of the actors in the story.

17 I take the word 'handbook' from Prof. Bury. 'Leo met the imperative need of his subjects by preparing a handbook in Greek for popular use, containing a short compendium of the most important laws on the chief relations of life. It was entitled an Ecloga, and was not published until the last year of Leo's reign (740), but doubtless several years were spent in its preparation, which involved long preliminary studies' ('Later Roman Empire,' II.412).

18 Theophanes, A.M. 6210.

19 Theophanes, A.M. 6210.

20 This story was told by the monk John at the Council of Nicaea, 787. (See Hefele, III.374.) If there is any truth in it at all, we should probably for 'son' substitute 'successor.' Yezid II was succeeded in the caliphate by his brother Hischam, who ruled from 724 to 743. (Ranke's 'Weltgeschichte,' V.2.61‑62.) After him came Welid II.

21 This is not the place for describing in detail the growth of Image-worship in the Christian Church. The chief stages of the process, as enumerated by Schaff, Scudamore (in the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities), Farrar, and others, are as follows: —

(1) The Ante-Nicene Church had a decided aversion to Sculpture and Painting, and was disposed to construe literally the command, 'Thou shalt not make unto thee the likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath' (Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, &c.).

(2) But in the tombs and in the Catacombs there was a tendency to represent Christian emblems, such as the Cross, the Shepherd, the Lamb, the Ram, the Fisherman, the Fish (all emblems of Christ), the Dove, the Ship, the Palm-branch, the Lyre, the Cock, the Hart, the Phoenix (emblems of the life of the Christian believer).

(3) Thus it may be said that Christian art was born in the tombs and passed thence into the churches. Some typical Old Testament scenes, like the Sacrifice of Isaac, were painted in the Catacombs, perhaps as early as the third century. It is noteworthy that even as late as the sixth century the scenes depicted in the church of S. Vitale at Ravenna are almost all taken from the Old Testament.

(4) There is no trace of a likeness of Christ before the time of Constantine, except among the Gnostic Carpocratians and the alleged statue of Christ in the chapel of Severus Alexander.

(5) Early in the fourth century there was an attempt to transfer the pictures of Scripture scenes from private houses and tombs into the churches. The canon of the Council of Eliberis about 306, 'Placuit picturas in ecclesiis esse non debere. Ne quod colitur et adoratur in parietibus depingatur,' is surely directed against this practice (notwithstanding Hefele's counter-argument, I.170).

(6) In 326 Eusebius replies with some heat to the request of Constantia, sister of Constantine, that he will send her a likeness of Christ: 'What, and what kind of likeness of Christ is there? Such images are forbidden by the second commandment.'

(7) By the middle of the fourth century not merely the painting of pictures but the reverence for them seems pretty well established, at any rate among the later, Athanasian, Christians. Basil (who died 379) says, 'I receive besides the Son of God and holy Mary, also the holy Apostles, and Prophets, and Martyrs. Their likenesses I revere and kiss with homage, for they are handed down from the holy Apostles, and are not forbidden, but are on the contrary painted in all our churches.'

(8) A century later a great impulse to the worship of pictures was given by the legends which began to be circulated about miraculous pictures of Christ (εἰκόνες ἀχειροποίητοι), especially those said to have belonged to Abgarus king of Edessa and St. Veronica.

(9) The further downward steps of the process need not be traced. In a letter addressed by the Emperor Michael II (about 820) to Louis the Pious (or Debonair), it is said that some persons dressed the images of the saints in linen, and made them stand sponsors for their children. Monks receiving the tonsure caused their hair to fall into the lap of the image. Priests scratched off a little of the paint from the image and mixed it with the Eucharist, which they then handed forth to the kneeling worshippers, or else placed the Eucharist itself in the image's hands out of which the communicants received it. (I borrow this quotation from Dahmen's Pontifikat Gregors II, p59.)

22 That of the Latin version of the Life of Stephen, martyr under Constantine Copronymus. The Greek version of the Life contains no such statement. Hefele, whose conclusion here seems to me sound, though I cannot agree with all the arguments by which he supports it, says, 'diese lateinische Uebersetzung hat gar wenig Autorität' (Concilien­geschichte, III.378).

23 See Paspate, Τὰ Βυζαντινὰ Ἀνάκτορα, p239.

24 Our two chief authorities are here slightly at variance. Theophanes calls it εἰκόνα τὴν ἐπὶ τῆς μεγάλης Χαλκῆς πύλης: the author of the Life of Stephanus, who was of somewhat later date, and probably less acquainted with the locality, calls it εἰκόνα . . . ἱδρυμένην ὕπερθεν τῶν βασιλικῶν πυλῶν ἐν αἷσπερ διὰ τὸν χαρακτῆρα ἡ ἁγία Χαλκῆ λέγεται: the meaning of which seems to be that the picture itself was called Χαλκῆ. The description of Theophanes seems to suggest the idea, in itself probable, of a mosaic picture; while the martyrologist talks of burning, as if it were a wooden image. Theophanes puts the event in 726, the martyrologist at least three years later, for he makes Anastasius Patriarch instead of Germanus at the time when it occurred. The alleged letter of Pope Gregory II (in the genuineness of which I do not believe) says that the image was called Antiphonetes; and this has been translated by some, 'Guarantor,' and connected with a legend like that told at Ravenna of the picture called Brachium Fortis. (See vol. I pp489‑493, ed. 1; p902, ed. 2.)

25 Prof. Bury (II.437) thinks that oppressive taxation was partly the cause of this revolt, and that it was not solely due to resentment against the Iconoclastic decrees.

26 So we may perhaps translate syncellus.


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