Page 1009

1009 ROME-THE ICONOCLASTS.

Pretending ignorance of the conspiracy

against him, Irene joined the Emperor abroad,

and persuaded him to return: but on approaching the city they were, according to

preconcerted arrangement, met by emissaries,

who seized him and shut him up in the palace.

A council of state was now convened, and it

was decreed that Constantine should be forever incapacitated for the throne by the loss

of his sight. His eyes were accordingly put

out, and Irene held undisputed sway for a

period of five years. The court became splendid under her patronage. The Empress was

driven in state through the city in her golden

chariot, drawn by four white horses, and attended by a band of patrician eunuchs. One of

these, the treasurer Nicephorus, treacherously

conspired against his benefactress, and was

himself secretly invested with the insignia of

Empire. His co-conspirators gained possession

of the palace, and Nicephorus was crowned in

the church of Saint Sophia. Irene was seized

and sent into banishment in the island of

Lesbos, where, reduced to penury and compelled to maintain here if by spinning, she

died within a year. The usurpation of Nicephorus was recognized by the Senate, and

the Isaurian dynasty was at an end.

The character of the new monarch was such

as to make him abhorred by the people. He

is represented as a hypocrite, ingrate, and miser; nor were these odious vices in any wise

redeemed by great talents or manly exploits.

His reign of nine years was marked with disasters and humiliations. In a war with the

Saracens the army of the Empire was vanquished; and in a conflict which presently

ensued with the Bulgarians a still more ruinous defeat was inflicted. Nicephorus himself

was killed, and his son Stauracius received a

wound, of which he died after a reign of six

months. In the mean time his sister Procopia

had been married to Michael, who now

ascended the throne, and reigned for the brief

space of two years.

The abilities of this prince as a ruler were

of a low order, and his reign was barely redeemed from contempt by the masculine valor

and ambition of Procopia. These qualities in

woman, however, were poorly appreciated by

the age, and especially by the Greeks. The

soldiers were little disposed to obey or even

respect a female commander. So great was

the displeasure on the Thracian frontier that

the army mutinied and marched on the capital

with the purpose of dethroning both the Emperor and the queen. The spirit of Michael,

however, was not of a temper to maintain supremacy by force and bloodshed. When the

insurgents approached the city the patient

sovereign, though backed by the clergy and

the Senate, went forth and delivered to the

mutineers the keys of the city and the palace.

An act so unusual and magnanimous half won the loyalty of the soldiers, and the Emperor who could abdicate in order to avoid the

destruction of human life was permitted to retain his own and his sight.

The crown of the Emperor now fell to Leo

V., surnamed the Armenian, who at that time

was general of the Asiatic army. He it was

who had lately commanded in the Bulgarian

campaign which resulted so disastrously to the

arms of Nicephorus. Nor was the suspicion

wanting that the disaster inflicted by the barbarians was partly attributable to the connivance of Leo, who was willing that the Emperor should be destroyed to make way for

himself. An Asiatic prophetess had already

foretold that Leo should wear the purple, and

the prediction was now fulfilled. The new

Emperor was a soldier by profession, and the

methods which he employed in his government

were military and exacting. In religious matters he espoused the cause of the Iconoclasts,

but his opinions were so inconstant and changeful as to gain for him, at the hand of the

church father, the epithet of the Chameleon.

It appears that the soothsayers of the East

had included with Leo in the prophecy of

greatness a certain other general named Michael, and surnamed the Phrygian. On coming to power Leo remembered his companion

in arms, and heaped upon him the favors of

the court. But the ambitious Phrygian, in

whose ear the call of destiny had already

sounded, was dissatisfied with favors shown

him by one greater than himself. He accordingly conspired to overthrow his benefactor

and usurp the throne of empire. Leo was