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Constantine V (Greek: Κωνσταντῖνος Ε΄; July, 718 AD – September 14, 775 AD), denigrated by his enemies as Kopronymos or Copronymus, meaning the dung-named, was Byzantine emperor from 741 to 775. His reign saw a consolidation of Byzantine security from external threats. As an able military leader, Constantine took advantage of Muslim disunity to make limited offensives on the Arab frontier. With his eastern frontier secure, he undertook repeated campaigns against the Bulgars in the Balkans. His military activity, and policy of settling Christian populations from the Arab frontier in Thrace, made Byzantium's hold on its Balkan territories more secure. His fervent support of Iconoclasm led to his vilification by later Byzantine historians and writers.

Constantine V
Emperor of the Romans
Solidus of Constantine V Copronymus.jpg
Constantine V - gold solidus
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Reign18 June 741–14 September 775
PredecessorLeo III the Isaurian
SuccessorLeo IV the Khazar
BornJuly 718
Died14 September 775 (aged 57)
IssueLeo IV
Nikephoros, Caesar,
Christopher, Caesar
Niketas, Nobelissimos,
Eudokimos, Nobelissimos,
Anthimos, Nobelissimos,
Anthousa (Saint Anthousa)
DynastyIsaurian dynasty
FatherLeo III the Isaurian
Isaurian or Syrian dynasty
Leo III 717–741
with Constantine V as co-emperor, 720–751
Constantine V 741–775
with Leo IV as co-emperor, 751–775
Artabasdos' usurpation 741–743
Leo IV 775–780
with Constantine VI as co-emperor, 776–780
Constantine VI 780–797
under Irene as regent, 780–790, and with her as co-regent, 792–797
Irene as empress regnant 797–802
Preceded by
Twenty Years' Anarchy
Followed by
Nikephorian dynasty


Early lifeEdit

Constantine was born in Constantinople, the son and successor of Emperor Leo III and Maria. In August 720 he was associated on the throne by his father, and appointed co-emperor. In 726 his father issued the Ecloga, a revised legal code, it was attributed to both Leo and Constantine jointly. Constantine married Tzitzak, daughter of the Khazar khagan Bihar, an important Byzantine ally. His new bride was baptized Irene (Eirēnē, "peace") in 732. Constantine V succeeded his father as sole emperor on 18 June 741.[1]

Civil war against ArtabasdosEdit

In June 742, while Constantine was crossing Asia Minor to campaign on the eastern frontier against the Umayyad Caliphate under Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, his brother-in-law Artabasdos, husband of his older sister, Anna, rebelled. Artabasdos was the stratēgos (military governor) of the Armeniac theme. Having been defeated in battle, Constantine sought refuge in Amorion, where he was enthusiastically welcomed by the local soldiers, who had been commanded by Leo III before he became emperor. Meanwhile, Artabasdos advanced on Constantinople and, with the support of Theophanes Monutes (Constantine's regent) and Patriarch Anastasius, was accepted and crowned emperor. Constantine received the support of the Anatolic and Thracesian themes; Artabasdos secured the support of the themes of Thrace and Opsikion, in addition to his own Armeniac soldiers.[2][3]

The rival emperors bided their time making military preparations. Artabasdos marched against Constantine at Sardis in May 743 but was defeated. Three months later Constantine defeated Artabasdos' son Niketas at Modrina and headed for Constantinople. In early November Constantine was admitted into the capital, following a siege, and immediately turned on his opponents, having them blinded or executed. Patriarch Anastasius was paraded on the back of an ass around the hippodrome to the jeers of the Constantinopolitan mob, though he was subsequently allowed to stay in office.[4][5]

The usurpation of Artabasdos was connected with restoring the veneration of images, leading Constantine to become perhaps an even more fervent iconoclast than his father. Constantine's avowed enemies over this bitterly contested religious issue, the iconodules, applied to him the derogatory epithet Kopronymos ("dung-named", from kopros, meaning "feces" or "animal dung", and onoma, "name"). Using this obscene name, they spread the rumour that as an infant he had defecated in his baptismal font, or on the imperial purple cloth with which he was swaddled.[6]

Domestic policies and administrationEdit

Gold solidus, Constantine V (left) and his son and co-emperor Leo IV (right)

Constantine was assiduous in courting popularity with the populace of Constantinople. He consciously employed the circus factions and the hippodrome, scene of the ever-popular chariot races, to mobilise and influence the people. The hippodrome became the setting of rituals of humiliation for war captives and political enemies, in which the mob took active delight. Constantine's sources of support were the people and the army, and he used them against his iconodule opponents in the monasteries and in the bureaucracy of the capital. Iconoclasm was not purely an imperial heresy, it had considerable popular support, some of Constantine's actions against the iconodules may have been motivated by a desire to retain the approval of the people. Bureaucrats and monks were the writers of history, and the later triumph of the iconodule party ensured the vilification of Constantine V's memory.[7][8]

Constantine V carried forward the administrative and fiscal reforms instigated by his father Leo III. The military governors (strategoi) were powerful figures, whose access to the resources of their extensive provinces often provided the means of rebellion. Constantine reduced the size of the theme (province) situated nearest to the capital within Asia Minor, the Opsikion theme, dividing from it the Bucellarian and, perhaps, the Optimaton themes.[9]

Constantine was responsible for the creation of a small central army of fully professional soldiers, the imperial tagmata (literally: 'the regiments'). He achieved this by training for serious warfare what had previously been, largely ornamental, palatine parade units and expanding their numbers. This force was designed to form the core of field armies and was composed of better drilled, paid and equipped soldiers than were found in the provincial themata units, whose troops were part-time soldier-farmers. Being largely based at the capital, the tagmata were under the immediate control of the emperor and were free of the regional loyalties that had been behind so many military rebellions.[10][11]

The fiscal administration of Constantine V was highly competent. This drew from his enemies accusations of being a merciless and rapacious extractor of taxes and oppressor of the rural population. However, the empire was prosperous and Constantine left a very full treasury for his successor. The area of cultivated land within the Empire was extended and food became cheaper, between 718 and c.800 the corn (wheat) production of Thrace trebled. Constantine's court was opulent, with splendid buildings and he consciously promoted the patronage of secular art to replace the religious art that he removed.[12][13]

With the impetus of having fathered numerous offspring, Constantine codified the court titles given to members of the imperial family. He associated only his eldest son, Leo, with the throne as co-emperor, but gave his younger sons the titles of caesar and nobelissimos.[14]

Constantine's support of iconoclasmEdit

Soldiers destroy images on a church on the orders of Constantine V (left), Manasses Chronicle - 14th century manuscript
Persecution of a bishop during the iconoclastic era. Skylitzes Chronicle

Constantine's position on Iconoclasm was clear, he questioned the legitimacy of any representation of God or Christ. Building on Church father John Damascene's use of the term 'uncircumscribable' in relation to the depiction of God, Constantine argued: as God is uncircumscribable and Christ is God, He is also uncircumscribable. As the uncircumscribable cannot be depicted, then Christ cannot be legitimately represented in an image.[15] The emperor was personally active in the theological debate, writing no less than thirteen treatises, two of which survive in fragmentary form.[16] In February 754 Constantine convened a synod at Hieria, which was attended entirely by Iconoclast bishops. The council approved of Constantine's religious policy on images and secured the election of a new Iconoclast patriarch. However, it refused to follow in all of Constantine's views, which were against the veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus and the saints. The council confirmed the status of Mary as Theotokos, or Mother of God, reinforced the use of the terms "saint" and "holy" as legitimate, and condemned the desecration, burning, or looting of churches in the quest to suppress icon veneration.[17][18]

The synod was followed by a campaign to remove images from the walls of churches and to purge the court and bureaucracy of Iconodules. Since monasteries tended to be strongholds of Iconophile sentiment, Constantine specifically targeted the monks, pairing them off and forcing them to marry nuns in the hippodrome and expropriating monastic property for the benefit of the state or the army. The repressions against the monks (culminating in 766) were largely led by the Emperor's general Michael Lachanodrakon, who threatened resistant monks with blinding and exile. An iconodule abbot, Stephen Neos, was brutally lynched by a mob at the behest of the authorities. As a result, many monks fled to southern Italy and Sicily.[19] The implacable resistance of iconodule monks and their supporters led to their propaganda reaching those close to the emperor. Fearing a conspiracy directed at himself, Constantine reacted with savagery; in 765 eighteen high dignitaries were paraded in the hippodrome charged with treason, they were variously executed, blinded or exiled. The patriarch Constantine was implicated and deposed from office, the following year he was tortured and finally beheaded.[20]

By the end of Constantine's reign, Iconoclasm had gone as far as to brand relics and prayers to the saints as heretical. Ultimately, iconophiles considered his death a divine punishment. In the 9th century his remains were removed from the imperial sepulchre in the Church of the Holy Apostles.[21]

Campaigns against the ArabsEdit

In 746, profiting by the unstable conditions in the Umayyad Caliphate, which was falling apart under Marwan II, Constantine V invaded Syria and captured Germanikeia (modern Marash, his father's birthplace), and recaptured Cyprus. He organised the resettlement of part of the local Christian population to Imperial territory in Thrace. In 747 his fleet destroyed the Arab fleet off Cyprus. The same year saw a serious outbreak of plague in Constantinople, which caused a pause in Constantine's military operations.[22] In 751 he led an invasion into the new Abbasid Caliphate under As-Saffah. Constantine captured Theodosioupolis and Melitene (Malatya) and again resettled some of the population in the Balkans. These campaigns failed to secure any concrete gains (apart from additional population employed to strengthen another frontier), but it is important to note that under Constantine V the Empire had gone on the offensive. His military reputation was such that, in 757, the mere rumour of his presence caused an Arab army to retreat. In the same year he agreed a truce and exchange of prisoners with the Arabs, freeing his army for offensive campaigning in the Balkans.[23][24][25]

Events in ItalyEdit

With Constantine militarily occupied elsewhere, and the continuance of imperial influence in the West being given a low priority, the Lombard king Aistulf captured Ravenna in 755, ending over two centuries of Byzantine rule in central Italy.[26][27] The lack of interest Constantine showed in Italian affairs had profound and lasting consequences. Pope Stephen II, seeking protection from the aggression of the Lombards, appealed to the Frankish king Pepin the Short. Pepin cowed Aistulf and restored Stephen to Rome at the head of an army. This began the Frankish involvement in Italy that eventually established Pepin's son Charlemagne as Western Roman Emperor, and also instigated papal temporal rule in Italy with the creation of the Papal States.[28]

Repeated campaigns against the BulgariansEdit

Byzantine and Bulgarian campaigns during the reign of Constantine V (741–775)

The successes in the east made it possible to pursue an aggressive policy in the Balkans. Constantine V aimed to enhance the prosperity and defence of Thrace by the resettlement there of Christian populations transplanted from the East. This influx of settlers, allied to an active re-fortification of the border, caused concern to the Empire's northern neighbour, Bulgaria, leading the two states to clash in 755. Kormisosh of Bulgaria raided as far as the Anastasian Wall but was defeated in battle by Constantine V, who inaugurated a long series of nine successful campaigns against the Bulgarians in the next year, scoring a victory over Kormisosh's successor Vinekh at Marcellae. In 759, Constantine was defeated in the battle of the Rishki Pass, but the Bulgarians did not exploit their success.[29][30]

Constantine campaigned against the Slav tribes of Thrace and Macedonia in 762, deporting some tribes to the Opsician theme in Anatolia, though some voluntarily requested relocation away from the troubled Bulgarian border region.[31][32]

A year later he sailed to Anchialus with 800 ships carrying 9,600 cavalry and some infantry, gaining a victory over Khan Telets. Many Bulgar nobles were captured in the battle, and were later slaughtered outside the Golden Gate in Constantinople. The cumulative effect of Constantine's repeated offensive campaigns and numerous victories caused considerable instability in Bulgaria, where six monarchs lost their crowns due their failures in war.[33][34][35]

In 775, Constantine was persuaded to reveal to the Bulgarian ruler Telerig the identities of his agents in Bulgaria, and they were promptly eliminated. In response, Constantine set out on a new campaign against the Bulgarians, during which he developed carbuncles on his legs. He died during his return journey to Constantinople, on 14 September, 775. Though Constantine was unable to destroy the Bulgar state, or impose a lasting peace, he restored imperial prestige in the Balkans.[36][37][38]

Assessment and legacyEdit

The tomb of Constantine V, Skylitzes Chronicle

Constantine V was a highly capable ruler, he continued the reforms, fiscal, administrative and military, of his father. He was also a successful general, not only consolidating the empire's borders, but actively campaigning beyond those borders, both East and West. In concentrating on the security of the empire's core territories he tacitly abandoned some peripheral regions, notably in Italy, which were lost. However, the hostile reaction of the Roman Church and the Italian people to iconoclasm had probably doomed imperial influence in central Italy, regardless of any possible military intervention. Due to his espousal of iconoclasm Constantine was damned in the eyes of contemporary iconodule writers and subsequent generations of Orthodox historians. Typical of this demonisation are the descriptions of Constantine in the writings of Theophanes the Confessor: "a monster athirst for blood", "a ferocious beast", "unclean and bloodstained magician taking pleasure in envoking demons", "a precursor of Antichrist". However, to his army and people he was "the victorious and prophetic Emperor". A dispassionate analysis of his life and actions shows Constantine V to have been an effective administrator and gifted general, but he was also autocratic, uncompromising and sometimes needlessly harsh.[39][40]


By his first wife, Tzitzak ("Irene of Khazaria"), Constantine V had one son:[41]

  • Leo IV, who succeeded as emperor.

By his second wife, Maria, Constantine V is not known to have had children.

By his third wife, Eudokia, Constantine V had five sons and a daughter:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ostrogorsky, p. 165
  2. ^ Bury, p. 10
  3. ^ Ostrogorsky, pp. 165-166
  4. ^ Bury, p. 10
  5. ^ Ostrogorsky, p. 166
  6. ^ Bury, p. 9
  7. ^ Angold, Ch. 5, 'Constantine V', paragraph 7
  8. ^ Magdalino, pp. 177-178
  9. ^ Bury, p. 3
  10. ^ Haldon, p. 78
  11. ^ Magdalino, p. 177
  12. ^ Bury, p. 11
  13. ^ Jenkins, p. 72
  14. ^ Jeffreys, Haldon and Cormack, p. 505
  15. ^ Barnard, p. 13
  16. ^ Ostrogorsky, p. 171
  17. ^ Ostrogorsky, pp. 171-173
  18. ^ Pelikan, pp. 111-112
  19. ^ Ostrogorsky, pp. 173-175
  20. ^ Bury, p. 14
  21. ^ Ostrogorsky, p. 175
  22. ^ Treadgold, p. 360
  23. ^ Bury, p. 10
  24. ^ Ostrogorsky, p. 167
  25. ^ Treadgold, p. 362
  26. ^ Moffat 2017, p. 55.
  27. ^ Ostrogorsky, pp. 169-170
  28. ^ Jenkins, p. 71
  29. ^ Bury, p. 11
  30. ^ Jenkins, pp. 71-72
  31. ^ Bury, p. 10
  32. ^ Ostrogorsky, p. 168
  33. ^ Bury, p. 11
  34. ^ Treadgold, p. 363
  35. ^ Curta, pp. 85-86
  36. ^ Bury, p. 11
  37. ^ Ostrogorsky, p. 169
  38. ^ Curta, p. 88
  39. ^ Bury, pp. 9-10 (including quotations from contemporary sources)
  40. ^ Ostrogorsky, p. 167, 175
  41. ^ Dagron, p. 32 (for the wives and sons)
  42. ^ Talbot, pp. 21-24


  • Angold, M. (2012) Byzantium: The Bridge from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Hachette, UK
  • Barnard, L. (1977) The Theology of Images, in Iconoclasm, Bryer, A. and Herrin, J. (eds.), Centre for Byzantine Studies University of Birmingham, pp. 7–13. ISBN 0-7044-0226-2
  • Bury, J.B. (1923) The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 4: The Eastern Roman Empire, Cambridge University Press.
  • Curta, Florin (2006). Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dagron, G. (2003) Emperor and Priest: The Imperial Office in Byzantium, Cambridge University Press
  • Haldon, John F. (1999). Warfare, state and society in the Byzantine world, 565–1204. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-494-1.
  • Jeffreys, E., Haldon, J.F. and Cormack, R. (eds.)(2008) The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, Oxford University Press
  • Jenkins, R.J.H. (1966) Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries, AD 610-1071, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • Magdalino, P. (2015) The People and the Palace, in The Emperor's House: Palaces from Augustus to the Age of Absolutism, Fethersone, M., Spieser, J-M., Tanman, G. and Wulf-Rheidt, U. (eds.), Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Göttingen. ISBN 978-3-11-033176-9
  • Moffat, Ann (2017). "The Orient Express:Abbot John's Rapid trip from Constantinople to Ravenna c. AD 700". In Brown, Amelia Robertson; Neil, Bronwen (eds.). Byzantine Culture in Translation. Brill.
  • Ostrogorsky, G. (1980) History of the Byzantine State, Basil Blackwell, Oxford
  • Pelikan, J. (1977) The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700), University of Chicago Press
  • Talbot, A-M.M. (1998) Byzantine Defenders of Images: Eight Saints' Lives in English Translation, Dumbarton Oaks
  • Treadgold, W.T. (1997) A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press


External linksEdit

  Media related to Constantine V at Wikimedia Commons

Constantine V
Born: 718 Died: 14 September 775
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Emperor
18 June 741–14 September 775
Succeeded by
Leo IV