Michael II (820–829)
Michael, of humble birth, rose through the ranks under Nikephoros I and Leo V, despite a checkered history of personal loyalty. After being arrested on charges of treason in 820, he escaped execution, and his co-conspirators murdered Leo V on Christmas Day. Michael was proclaimed emperor, and immediately faced a revolt by Thomas the Slav, a fellow beneficiary of Leo V’s patronage. It is uncertain whether Thomas rebelled first against Leo or only after Michael became emperor, but he claimed the support of almost all the eastern and naval themes, and had the backing of the Arab caliph. Michael, with the support of the Bulgar khan Omurtag, was able to repel Thomas from the siege of Constantinople and force him to seek refuge in Arkadioupolis, where he was handed over in October 823 to be executed. Subsequently, Arabs from Spain, who had briefly sought a home in Egypt before being forced from there as well, captured Crete (826/7), a loss which would remain a thorn in the empire’s side for almost a century and a half. Further west another group of Spanish Arabs landed in Sicily (827–29), beginning a long struggle for control of the island. In theological matters, Michael supported a tepid Iconoclasm, restoring most iconophiles whom Leo V had previously attacked or exiled, and banning discussion of the whole issue of icons.
There are two groups of seals for Michael II: the first (820–21) from before his son Theophilos was associated with him, depicting a bust of the emperor holding a cross potent on a base in his right hand, and the second (821–29)a restoration of the traditional aniconic Iconoclast series with the names of both Michael and Theophilos.
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