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Michael II
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Solidus-Michael II Theophilus-sb1640.jpg
Michael II and his son Theophilos, founders of the Amorian dynasty.
Reign December 25, 820 – October 2, 829
Born 770
Birthplace Amorium
Died October 2, 829 (aged 59)
Predecessor Leo V the Armenian
Successor Theophilos
Consort Thekla
Euphrosyne
Offspring Theophilos
Dynasty Phrygian Dynasty

Michael II the Amorian (Greek: Μιχαήλ Β', Mikhaēl II), also called Traulos or Psellos (Τραυλός, Ψηλλος, Latin Psellus), meaning "the Stammerer", (died October 2, 829) reigned as Byzantine emperor from 820 to his death.

Michael was born in 770 in Amorium in Phrygia, into a family of professional soldier peasants who received for their military service land from government. His family belonged to Judeo-Christian sect of athinganoi whose members were Cappadocians who adopted Jewish rituals. ref> Athinganoi were numerous in Anatolia and together with the Greeks and Armenians formed the backbone of the Byzantine army of that era. Michael began his career as a private soldier, but taking part in many of the Byzantine wars, he rose by his talents to the rank of general. He married Thekla, daughter of his superior, the theme commander general Bardanes Tourkos who was of Armenian. His friend during these years was an ambitious officer of Armenian descent, the future Emperor Leo V the Armenian who was married to another daughter of Bardanes Tourkos. Michael and Leo abandoned Bardanes Tourkos when he rebelled against Emperor Nikephoros I in 803. Michael was instrumental in the overthrow (by Leo) of Michael I Rangabe in 813 after Rhangabe’s continuing military defeats against the Bulgarians, and under Leo V, Michael rose to second after the Emperor in command of Imperial army. He became disgruntled with Leo V, however, when the Emperor divorced Michael's sister-in-law. On Christmas Eve 820, Leo V accused him of conspiracy, jailed him and sentenced him to death but postponed the execution until after Christmas. Michael was more popular in the army than Leo V, and his partisans freed him. Michael organized the assassination of Leo V during the Christmas mass in Hagia Sophia.

Michael was immediately proclaimed Emperor, still wearing the chains from the prison in his hands. Later the same day, he was crowned by Patriarch Theodotos I of Constantinople. In his internal policy, Michael II supported iconoclasm, but tacitly encouraged reconciliation with the iconodules, whom he generally stopped persecuting and allowed to return from exile. These included the former Patriarch Nikephoros and Theodore of Stoudios, who failed, however, to influence the emperor to abandon iconoclasm. One of the few victims of the emperor's policy was the future patriarch Methodios I.

Michael's accession whetted the appetite of his former comrade-in-arms Thomas the Slav, who set himself up as rival emperor in Anatolia and successfully transferred his forces into Thrace, effectively besieging the capital in December 821. Although Thomas did not obtain the support of some of the Anatolian themes, he secured the support of the naval theme and their ships, allowing him to tighten his grip on Constantinople. In his quest for support, Thomas presented himself as the champion of the poor, reduced taxation, and concluded an alliance with Al-Ma'mun of the Abbasid Caliphate, having himself crowned emperor by the Patriarch of Antioch Job.

Michael II gained the support of former Byzantine enemy Omurtag of Bulgaria who came to his aid. Michael II forced Thomas to lift his siege of Constantinople in the spring of 823. Michael besieged Thomas in Arkadioupolis (Lüleburgaz)and forced his surrender in October. Michael inherited a seriously weakened military, and was unable to prevent the conquest of Crete by 10,000 Arabs (who had 40 ships)[1] in 824, or to recover the island with an expedition in 826. In 827 the Arabs also invaded Sicily, taking advantage of local infighting, and besieged Syracuse. By 829 their invasion had failed and they were expelled from the island.

After the death of Thekla, in c. 823, Michael II married Euphrosyne, a daughter of Constantine VI and Maria of Amnia. This marriage was probably intended to strengthen Michael's position as emperor, but it incurred the opposition of the clergy, as Euphrosyne had previously become a nun. Michael II died on October 2, 829.

Because of his Judeo-Christian origin and iconoclasm, Michael II was not popular among Orthodox clergy, who depicted him as an ignorant and poorly educated peasant, but Michael II was a competent statesman and administrator. He brought stability to most of the Byzantine Empire for the first time in many generations and began restoration of Byzantine military. The system of government and military built by Michael II enabled the Empire under his grandson Michael III to gain the Byzantines the ascendency in their struggles with the Abbasid Caliphate and to withstand all the vicissitudes of Byzantine palace life; Michael II's direct descendants, the Amorian dynasty followed by the so-called Macedonian dynasty, ruled the Empire for more than two centuries, inaugurating the Byzantine Renaissance of the ninth and tenth centuries.

Footnotes

  1. ^ J. Norwich, Byzantium: The Apogee, 37

References

Michael II
Born: 770 Died: 2 October 829
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Leo V
Byzantine Emperor
820–829
Succeeded by
Theophilos
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