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Constantine IV › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 17 January 2018
Constantine IV (Unknown Artist)

Constantine IV ruled as emperor of the Byzantine empire from 668 to 685 CE. His reign is best remembered today for the five-year Arab siege of Constantinople from 674 CE, which the Byzantines resisted thanks to their strong fortifications and the secret weapon of Greek Fire. Although not hugely successful in other theatres, the reign of Constantine would at least stabilize the Empire, perpetuate the rule of Christianity in the East, and permit something of a revival of Byzantine fortunes under subsequent emperors.


Constantine was the eldest son of Constans II (r. 641-668 CE) and he had been crowned co-emperor, as was customary for the chosen heir, in 654 CE. Constans was unpopular with the Church for his failure to reconcile the two sides of the raging debate on dogma and on whether Christ had one will and one energy, or two of both. He did not win any admirers for his military record, either, as the Arab Caliphate inflicted a series of defeats on Byzantine armies throughout his reign. When the emperor relocated to Syracuse on Sicily for greater safety it was the last straw for the Byzantine aristocracy who envisaged their abandonment in Constantinople, the capital. It was no surprise, then, that Constans was assassinated - the deed done, while he took his bath, by one of his own military entourage on 15 September 668 CE, with a soap dish as the inglorious weapon.


Constantine IV at first ruled alongside his brothers Herakleios and Tiberios as co-emperors. Constantine travelled to Sicily where he put down the rebellion led by Mizizios, one of the conspirators who had murdered his father. It was in the east, though, with the now annual incursions of Byzantine Asia Minor by the Arab Caliphate, that the empire was most threatened.Fortunately for the Byzantines, Constantine would prove to be,
…a wise statesman and born leader of men, the first decade of whose reign marked a watershed in the history of Christendom: the moment when, for the first time, the armies of the Crescent were turned and put to flight by those of the Cross.
(Norwich, 101)


One of the most persistent attacks in Constantinople's long history came with the Arab siege of 674-678 CE. Muawiya (r. 661-680 CE), the caliph and founder of the Umayyad Caliphate, had already enjoyed victories against Byzantine armies during the reign of Constans II and in 670 CE the Muslim fleet took Cyprus, Rhodes and Kos, and then moved into the northern Aegean. Next, they attacked Kyzikos (Cyzicus) on the south coast of the Sea of Marmara. Now possessing a handy peninsula from which to launch attacks, Constantinople was the next major target in 674 CE. The city ’s legendary fortifications, the Theodosian Walls, and the Byzantine secret incendiary weapon of Greek Fire (a highly inflammable liquid sprayed from ships) meant that, ultimately, the five-year siege was unsuccessful.
Greek Fire

Greek Fire

During the siege, every summer the city resisted siege engines and artillery fire from huge catapults, to the frustration of the army of Muawiya. Meanwhile, the Caliphate's armies in Asia Minor had been suffering setbacks - for example, there were attacks by the Mardaites tribesmen of Lebanon (encouraged by Constantine) - and so when his fleet was torched by Greek Fire, the caliph was forced to sign a 30-year truce with Byzantium. It was the first major defeat the Arabs had suffered since the rise of Islam. In 679 CE Muawiya was obliged to give up the Aegean islands he had conquered and pay an annual tribute which included 3,000 gold coins, 50 slaves and 50 thoroughbred horses.
Constantine had preserved Christendom. If the capital had fallen then the Caliphate would have pushed on through the unprotected Balkans, across central Europe and probably even captured Rome. Consequently, Europe may very well have had a different religion if the 7th century CE siege of Constantinople had been as successful as that of the 15th century CE when the armies of Islam had sacked the jewel of the old Eastern Roman Empire.


Constantine still faced problems elsewhere, though. The Empire had fast been crumbling at the edges throughout the first half of the 7th century CE. Now the Arabs in North Africa were steadily increasing their territory at the expense of the empire and the Bulgars, led by Asparuch, were also flexing their military muscle south of the Danube. On top of that, the Slavs had attacked Thessaloniki, the empire's second most important city. Thessaloniki was successfully defended but, after a failed Byzantine naval mission in 680 CE, the Bulgar kingdom became the first in Byzantine territory which an emperor was obliged to recognise as independent. Constantine, preferring to concentrate his armies in Asia, was constrained to sign a treaty in 681 CE which necessitated the emperor paying a handsome annual tribute to the Bulgars as a price for peace. Constantine, in any case, created a new military province ( theme ) in Thrace, to create a buffer defence against any future Bulgar incursions.
In Italy, meanwhile, Constantine was obliged to sign a peace treaty with the ambitious Lombards who had captured Byzantine territory in the south. A similar treaty was signed with the Avars in central Europe. Greater success was enjoyed in Cilicia in 684 CE and most of the lands of the Armenians became a Byzantine protectorate at their own request. The empire had found its military feet again and stopped the rot after half a century of serious setbacks but it was still far from being secure against all-comers.
The Byzantine Empire, c. 650 CE.

The Byzantine Empire, c. 650 CE.


Another notable event of Constantine's reign was the Sixth Ecumenical Council of 680-681 CE. Constantine had communicated with Pope Agatho (678-681 CE) who enthusiastically agreed that a decision needed to be made on the Christian Church's fundamental principles regarding the two natures of Jesus Christ, the embodiment of both the human and divine spirit. Accordingly, 174 delegates representing the Church from all parts of the empire gathered in the Domed Hall of the royal palace in Constantinople. The Council, meeting 18 times over ten months and presided over by the emperor himself, condemned both Monotheletism (the idea that Jesus Christ had a single will) and Monoenergism (that Christ had a single energy or force). Anyone who had or still disagreed with that view was condemned as a heretic. Fortunately, since the empire's loss of Armenia and eastern territories, there were few adherents to the mono-position left anyway. The decree of the council finally reconciled the long-standing rift between the eastern and western churches.


Constantine died of dysentery aged just 33 in 685 CE and was succeeded by his son and chosen heir Justinian II (r. 685-695 CE). Constantine left the empire in the best state it had been in for the whole of the 7th century CE. The new emperor was only 16 but, nevertheless, he enjoyed some military success during his reign. Then the usurper Leontios (r. 695-698 CE), an ambitious general backed by a wave of popular discontent at Justinian's heavy taxes, slit the nose of the young emperor, exiled him and grabbed the throne for himself. Justinian would return, though, in 705 CE after besieging Constantinople and so ending the reign of Tiberios III. The emperor's second spell of rule (705-711 CE) revealed him as a nasty tyrant and he proved ineffective in stopping the Arabs overrunning much of Asia Minor.

Olympia › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 02 July 2012
Stadium Entrance, Olympia ()

Located in the western Peloponnese, Olympia was an ancient Greek sanctuary site dedicated to the worship of Zeus, in whose honour Pan - Hellenic Games were held every four years from 776 BCE to 393 CE.
First inhabited in the second millennium BCE, the first archaeological record of dwellings dates from 1900 to 1600 BCE. The Kronion hill at the site was perhaps the first place of worship, dedicated to Kronos. However, other sacred buildings at the foot of the hill in the sacred grove of wild olive trees, or Altis, indicate other deities were worshipped such as Gaia, Themis, Aphrodite, and Pelops. With the descent of western Greek tribes into the Peloponnese, though, it was Zeus, father of the Olympian gods, who would become the dominant cult figure at Olympia.
The first large building on the site was the Heraion, a temple dedicated to Hera built around 650-600 BCE. In the 5th century BCE the sanctuary reached its peak of prosperity, and a massive Doric 6 x 13 column temple was completed in 457 BCE in order to house a hug e cult statue of Zeus. Designed by Libon of Elis, the temple was the biggest in Greece at that time and measured 64.12 mx 27.68 m with columns 10.53 m in height. The pediments of the temple displayed magnificent sculpture: on the east side the mythical chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos, and on the western pediment a Centauromachy with the majestic central figure of Apollo. Metopes from the temple represented the labours of Hercules. The statue of Zeus within the temple was by Phidias (who had worked on the Parthenon and its statue of Athena ) and was a 12 m high goldand ivory representation of Zeus seated on a throne and regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Other important building projects over the centuries included baths and a swimming pool (5th century BCE), the new stadium with embankments for spectators (mid-4th century BCE), a palaistra (3rd century BCE), a gymnasion (2nd century BCE), hippodrome (780 m long), the large Leonidaion or guest houses (330 BCE), and the Theikoloi (priest's residence).


Sporting events were originally associated with funeral rituals, for example the funeral games instigated by Achilles in honour of Patroklos in Homer ’s Iliad. Some mythological accounts credit Zeus with beginning the Games to celebrate his victory over Kronos; other accounts state Pelops began them in honour of Oinomaos. In any case, sport, a healthy body and the competitive spirit were a large part of Greek education, and so it is hardly surprising that organised athletic competitions would at some point be created.
The first Olympic Games were held in 776 BCE at the first full moon after the summer solstice. The winner of the first and only event, the stadion foot-race (one length of the stadium track, 600 feet or 192 m), was Koroibos of Elis, and from then on every victor was recorded and each Olympiad named after them, thus giving us the first accurate chronology of the Greek world.During a three month Pan-Hellenic truce, athletes and as many as 40,000 spectators came from all over Greece to participate in the Games. Individuals and city -states brought offerings to Zeus which included money, statues (including the magnificent Nike of Paionios, c. 424 BCE, and the Hermes of Praxiteles, late 4th century BCE), bronze tripods, shields, helmets, and weapons resulting in Olympia becoming a living museum of Greek art and culture. Many cities also built treasuries - small but impressive buildings to house their offerings and raise the prestige of their city.
Over time other events were added to the Games such as longer foot-races, wrestling, boxing, chariot racing, discus, javelin, jumping, and the pentathlon. At its peak there were 18 events spread over five days. However, it was always the original stadion which remained the most important event. Victors won crowns of olive leaves and an olive branch cut from the scared grove, but much more importantly they won glory, fame, and in a very real sense historical immortality.
The Philippeion of Olympia

The Philippeion of Olympia

A second important event held at Olympia was the Heraia Games for women, held every four years in honour of the goddess, Hera. Children, adolescents, and young women ran in separate foot-races over 500 feet of the stadium track (160 m). Prizes for victors included olive crowns and the right to set up a portrait of themselves on the site. The responsibility for the organisation of both Games and for maintenance of the site when not in use lay with the Eleans.
The Games continued through the Hellenistic period with the notable architectural addition of the Philippeion, a circular colonnaded building erected by Philip II of Macedonia which contained gold statues of the royal family (c. 338 BCE). The Romans, whilst giving little importance to the religious significance of the Games, continued to hold them in high regard and despite the attempt by Sulla in 80 BCE to permanently move the Games to Rome, continued to embellish Olympia with new buildings, heated baths, fountains (notably the Nymphaion of Herodes Atticus, 150 CE), and statues. Most famously, emperor Nero strove to win the glory of Olympic victory in 67 CE, competing in, and unsurprisingly winning, every event he entered.
With Emperor Theodosios' decree to prohibit all cult practices, the Games came to an end in 393 CE after a run of 293 Olympics over more than a millennium. The site gradually fell into decline, was partially destroyed under the decree of emperor Theodosios II in 426 CE, and was taken over by a Christian community who built a basilica on the site in the early Byzantine period. Earthquakes in 522 and 551 CE destroyed much of the remaining ruins, and silt from the nearby rivers Alpheios and Kladeos eventually covered the site until its rediscovery in 1829 CE by the French Archaeological Mission and systematic excavation by the German Archaeological Institute from 1875 CE.



Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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