Michael III, Byzantine Emperor

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Byzantine emperor 842 to Sept. 23/24, 867; b. probably 836. Michael, the son of Emperor theophilos and the last emperor of the Amorian dynasty, succeeded his father when still a child, under the regency of his mother, the Empress Theodora. A woman of great energy and piety, she put an end to the last remnants of iconoclasm, restored the peace of the Church and took strong measures against the spread of the Paulician heresy (see bogomils) in Asia Minor.

The renewed war with the Arabs and simultaneous campaigns against the slavs threatening the Balkan provinces of the Empire called for an efficient military leadership that Theodora and her minister Theoctistos were unable to provide. In 856, Michael, aided by his maternal uncle, Bardas, overthrew Theodora's regency, forcing her into a convent. Bardas became the real ruler of the Empire and in 853 the Patriarch ignatius was compelled to resign and was replaced by photius, a close associate of Bardas.

Thus began the Photian Schism with all its disastrous religious and political consequences. The ever-increasing rift with the West, the wars with the Arabs and Balkan Slavs, and the beginning of Russian attacks from across the Black Sea (c. 860) made the position of the Empire extremely precarious. Michael III lacked an ability for government and military leadership. This capricious, cruel, and corrupt young man, always under the influence of favorites, soon tired of Bardas, and in 866 had him murdered in his presence by Basil the Macedonian who became co-emperor. In 867 Basil murdered Michael and thus became Emperor Basil I, founder of the Macedonian (Armenian) dynasty.

Bibliography: j. b. bury, A History of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I., A. D. 802867 (New York 1912). g. ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State tr. j. hussey (Oxford 1956). a. fliche and v. martin, Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqua'à nos jours (Paris 1935) v.6.

[c. toumanoff]

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Michael III, Byzantine Emperor

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