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Mar 25 The emperor who became a monk

Today in 717 we travel to Constantinople when Emperor Theodosius III abdicated and retired to a monastery with his son. In the podcast below we look at the rise of the Byzantine Empire and also touch upon the tragic fourth crusade which got out of control and ended up in the sacking of Constantinople, which sealed the schism between the eastern and western churches.

Theodosius had been a reluctant emperor in the first place, an obscure tax collector of southwestern Asia Minor who was proclaimed emperor against his will by the rebelling troops of the Opsikion from Turkey. His supporters successfully captured Constantinople, but Theodosius was quite unsuited to imperial office and in 717 was forced to abdicate by the able commander of the troops, Leo the Isaurian, and ended his life in a monastery at Ephesus.

The Byzantine empire is also sometimes referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, as it was a continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. It was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe for many centuries. Constantine had reorganised the empire in the fourth century, making Constantinople the new capital and legalised Christianity, soon Christianity became the state religion and other religious practices were proscribed. Byzantium survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. The borders of the empire fluctuated through several cycles of decline and recovery. Arabs, sent frequent raiding parties and in 674–678 laid siege to Constantinople itself. The Arab fleet was finally repulsed through the use of Greek fire, hut Constantinople itself dropped substantially in size, from 500,000 inhabitants to just 40,000–70,000. The void left by the disappearance of the old semi-autonomous civic institutions was filled by the system called theme, which entailed dividing Asia Minor into "provinces" occupied by distinct armies that assumed civil authority and answered directly to the imperial administration. Many themes refused to recognize the legitimacy of Theodosius, believing him to be a puppet of the Opsicians, especially the Anatolics under their generals Leo the Isaurian.

Leo declared himself emperor in the summer of 716 and allied himself with the Umayyad Caliphate; Theodosius allied himself with the Bulgarians under Khan Tervel, setting a firm border at Thrace. Leo then marched his troops to Constantinople, seizing the city of Nicomedia, capturing many officials, including Theodosius' son. With his son in captivity, Theodosius took the advice of Patriarch Germanus and the Byzantine Senate, and negotiated with Leo agreeing to abdicate and recognize Leo as emperor. Leo entered Constantinople and definitively seized power on 25 March 717, allowing Theodosius and his son to retire to a monastery as monks. Theodosius became bishop of Ephesus, and died at some point after.

We move forward 500 years when Pope Innocent III called for The Fourth Crusade to recapture the Muslim-controlled city of Jerusalem, by first conquering the powerful Egyptian Ayyubid Sultanate, the strongest Muslim state of the time. However, a sequence of economic and political events culminated in the Crusader army's 1204 Sack of Constantinople, rather than Egypt as originally planned. This brutal sacking and pillaging of Constantinople by the knights of the Fourth Crusade, desecrating altars and stealing countless relics and other holy objects sealed the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Pope Innocent III, the man who had unintentionally launched the ill-fated expedition, was appalled, and spoke against the crusaders. The Fourth Crusade was one of the last of the major crusades to be launched by the Papacy, though it quickly fell out of Papal control later crusades were directed by individual monarchs, mostly against Egypt. One subsequent crusade, the Sixth, succeeded in restoring Jerusalem to Christian rule for 15 years.

Eight hundred years later, Pope John Paul II twice expressed sorrow for the events of the Fourth Crusade. In 2001, he wrote to Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens, and then In 2004, while Bartholomew , Patriarch of Constantinople, was visiting the Vatican, he asked, "How can we not share, at a distance of eight centuries, the pain and disgust." Patriarch Bartholomew formally accepted the apology in a later speech. "The spirit of reconciliation is stronger than hatred, The spirit of reconciliation of the resurrection... incites us toward reconciliation of our churches”


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