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Icon Destruction in the Byzantine Empire

Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction within a culture of the culture’s own religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually for religious or political motives. … The Byzantine term for the debate over religious imagery, “iconomachy,” means “struggle over images” or “image struggle”.

Between the 8th and 9th centuries AD, the declining Byzantine Empire turned its contradictions into its own interior. Although there were repeated battles in the border areas, the handling of internal issues was gradually pushed to the first place. The resulting destruction of the iconostasis movement will not only change the history of the empire but will also cause a major change in the relationship between Byzantium and other Christian countries.

Since the tragic defeat of the Battle of the Yamuk River, the Byzantine Empire has collapsed in all directions. Not only the rapid fall of Syria, Canaan, and Egypt, but also Rhode Island, which once possessed the Seven Wonders, was thrown to the Arab Navy.

When Carthage in the west fell, entire North Africa fell into the hands of Muslim conquerors. In 718, Emperor Leo III relied on Greek fire and Bulgarian reinforcements to defeat the Arabs after a whole year of hard work. But the empire’s territory lost 2/3 of its previous territory, and more than half of the population fell into the hands of the enemy.

Since then, all strata of the empire began to find a theoretical basis for the rise of the Muslim world and the decline of Byzantine orthodoxy. Some people feel that the victory of Islam stems from their refusal to worship any idols. Although according to the quaint Moses’ ten commandments, Christians cannot engage in idolatry. But the worship of the icon has become very popular.

Especially in the 6th century when Emperor Justinian ruled, the imperial subjects became more and more convinced of the divine power of the Eucharist and the saint’s relics. I think that visualizing the Holy Spirit and saints means that we can communicate with them directly. This is undoubtedly a fusion of the achievements of the church and classical art, but it can’t stand the thorns in the bones of the decline of the country.

On the surface, Leo III launched the icon destruction campaign only out of fierce opposition to idolatry. But its root lies in the fierce confrontation between secular power and the church. Through the icon destruction movement, the church can immediately compete for population resources and make up for the huge losses caused by defeat.

Because in the empire at that time, the church generally owned a large number of manors. There are not only agricultural land and real estate, but also many olive groves, vineyards, hillside pastures, small handicraft workshops, farmers and herds. The output of this type of land did not need to pay taxes to the secular kingship, which caused great damage to the empire’s finances. A large number of young and middle-aged people became monks, and they could not be recruited by the emperor to join the army, and it was not conducive to the development of agricultural activities.

Imperial Religious Work Conference personally presided over by the emperor

In 726 AD, Leo III promulgated the “Law on Prohibition of Idol Worship” and began to suspend idolatry activities in various provinces. Icons, relics, sacred bones and vestments across the country were collectively destroyed, a large number of church lands were confiscated by the opportunity, and the emperor had to pay taxes to the remaining part. There are also a large number of monks who have been forced to marry again. Subsequently, Leo III announced the confiscation of tithes in southern Italy.

Because this tax was paid by the church before. Four years later, the emperor held another religious work conference. The Grand Master Germanus of the opposition movement was replaced and replaced by the Grand Master Anastasius who supported the resolution. Relevant religious regulations were also formulated, which provided theological theoretical basis for the destruction of the iconocracy.

With the full development of the movement, the military strength of the Byzantine Empire has been greatly improved in a short period of time. For example, in the Battle of Acroinon in 740 AD, Leo III used an ambush to annihilate the 20,000 vanguard forces of the Arab general Batal, thus completely ending their era of threat to the empire. In 746 AD, Emperor Constantine V regained Gaimanichamakaya in northern Syria. The following year, the reactionary moved to the depths of Armenia and Mesopotamia. Subsequently, the emperor launched a fierce attack on the Bolgars in the north for decades and regained a large area on the Danube.

However, this predatory strategy aimed at strengthening imperial power and military power has been resisted by the people in many places. Because in many areas with strong classical customs, the spread of Christianity itself is dependent on specific traditions.

For the local people, destroying the icon is equivalent to trampling on the cornerstone of their faith. For example, the Greek city of Ephesus, located on the peninsula of Asia Minor, had a profound worship of the goddess Diana in ancient times, and later the object was changed to the Virgin Mary. The emperor’s one-size-fits-all order was undoubtedly met with unanimous opposition from most people in the city.

A similar situation also occurred in the Byzantine-controlled area of ​​Italy. The policy of destroying the icon has provoked popular riots and the murder of Governor Ravenna. Pope Gregory II in Rome also announced that he would stop paying taxes to the Byzantine Empire.

The stalemate between the two sides eventually resulted in the establishment of an independent Papal State and the subsequent movement of Charlemagne’s Frankish army to the south. Some northern Italian cities are more direct, choosing to go to the Germanic Lombards and sever their allegiance to the Constantinople authorities.

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