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Constantine V with his father Leo III the Isaurian. Image: http://www.cngcoins.com

Constantine V Kopronymos or Copronymus (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Ε΄, Kōnstantinos V ), (718–September 14, 775) was Byzantine emperor from 741 to 775.


Early life

Constantine was the son and successor of Emperor Leo III and Maria. His derogatory nickname Kopronymos derives from kopra (feces) and onoma (name). The nickname used by the hostile iconodule sources refers to him allegedly defecating in the baptismal font or the imperial purple cloth with which he was swaddled.

In August 720 he was associated on the throne by his father, who had him marry Tzitzak, daughter of the Khazar khagan Bihar. His new bride was baptized as Irene (Eirēnē, "peace") in 732. Constantine V succeeded his father as sole emperor on April 19, 741. The accession of the new emperor went as smoothly as expected, but his authority was soon to be challenged.

Civil war against Artabasdos

Constantine was crossing Asia Minor to campaign against the Umayyad Caliphate under Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik on the eastern frontier in June 741 or 742. But during this course Constantine was attacked by the forces of his brother-in-law Artabasdos, the stratēgos of the Armeniac theme. Defeated, Constantine sought refuge in Amorion, while the victor advanced on Constantinople and was accepted as emperor. While Constantine now received the support of the Anatolic and Thracesian themes, Artabasdos secured that of the themes of Thrace and Opsikion, in addition to his own Armeniac soldiers.

After the rival emperors had bided their time in military preparations, Artabasdos marched against Constantine, but was defeated in May 743. Three months later Constantine defeated Artabasdos' son Niketas and headed for Constantinople. In early November Constantine was admitted into the capital and immediately turned on his opponents, having them blinded or executed. Perhaps because Artabasdos' usurpation was interconnected with the restoration of image worship, Constantine now became an even more fervent iconoclast than his father.


In February 754 Constantine convened a synod at Hieria, which was attended entirely by Iconoclast bishops. The council approved of Constantine's religious policy and secured the election of a new Iconoclast patriarch. It was followed by a campaign to remove images from the walls of churches and to purge the court and bureaucracy from Iconodules.

Since monasteries tended to be strongholds of Iconophile sentiment, Constantine specifically targeted the monks, pairing them off and forcing them to marry nuns in the Hippodrome and expropriating monastic property for the benefit of the state or the army. The repressions against the monks (culminating in 766) were largely led by the emperor's general Michael Lachanodrakon, who threatened resilient monks with blinding and exile.

An iconodule abbot, Stephen Neos, was brutally lynched by a mob at the behest of the authorities. As a result many monks fled to Southern Italy and Sicily. By the end of Constantine's reign, Iconoclasm had gone as far as to brand relics and prayers to the saints as heretical.

Constantine was an able general and administrator. He reorganized the themes, the military districts of the empire, and created new field army divisions called tagmata. This organization was intended to minimize the threat of conspiracies and to enhance the defensive capabilities of the Empire. With this reorganized army he embarked on campaigns on the three major frontiers.

Campaigns against the Arabs and Bulgars

In 746, profiting by the unstable conditions in the Umayyad Caliphate which was falling apart under Marwan II, Constantine invaded Syria and captured Germanikeia (Maraş, his father's birthplace). He organized the resettlement of a part the local Christian population into imperial territory in Thrace. In 747 his fleet destroyed the Arab fleet off of Cyprus.

In 752 Constantine led an invasion into the new Abbasid Caliphate under As-Saffah. Constantine captured Theodosioupolis and Melitene (Malatya), and again resettled some of the population in the Balkans. These campaign failed to secure any concrete gains (apart from additional population employed to strengthen another frontier), but it is important to note that under Constantine V the Empire had gone on the offensive.

These successes made it possible to pursue an aggressive policy in the Balkans. With the resettlement of Christian populations from the East into Thrace, Constantine V aimed to enhance the prosperity and defense of this area. This caused concern to the Empire's northern neighbor, Bulgaria, and the two states clashed in 754. Kormisosh of Bulgaria raided as far as the Anastasian Wall, but was defeated in battle by Constantine V, who inaugurated a long series of successful campaigns against the Bulgarians. Constantine's victories, including that at the Anchialus in 763 caused considerable instablity in Bulgaria, where six monarchs lost their crowns on account of their failures.

This lucky streak ran out in 775, when Constantine was persuaded to reveal to the Bulgarian ruler Telerig the identities of his agents in Bulgaria. These were promptly eliminated, and Constantine began preparions for a new campaign against the Bulgarians, during the course of which he died on September 14, 775.

Iconophiles considered his death a divine punishment. They spread the rumour that he had defecated in his baptismal font as a baby, and began to refer to him as Kopronymos. In the 9th century he was disinterred and his remains were thrown into the sea.


By his first wife, Tzitzak ("Irene of Khazaria"), Constantine V had one son:

Leo IV, who succeeded as emperor.

By his second wife, Maria, Constantine V is not known to have had children.

By his third wife, Eudokia Melissene, Constantine V had five sons and a daughter, including:

  • Christopher, Caesar
  • Nikephoros, Caesar
  • Niketas, Nobelissimos
  • Eudokimos, Nobelissimos
  • Anthimos, Nobelissimos
  • Anthousa

Byzantine Emperor against Artabasdus (741-743)

Preceded by: Leo III

Succeeded by: Leo IV (775)

Ancient Greece

Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire

Modern Greece

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