Constantine VI

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Constantine VI
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Menologion of Basil 024.jpg
Constantine VI (right to the cross) presiding over the Second Council of Nicaea. Miniature from early 11th century.
Reign 776–797
Predecessor Leo IV
Successor Irene Charlemagne (replaced as Holy Roman Emperor)
Born 771
Died before 805
Issue Euphrosyne
Dynasty Isaurian Dynasty
Father Leo IV
Mother Irene
Isaurian dynasty
Leo III 717–741
with Constantine V as co-emperor, 720–751
Constantine V 741–775
with Leo IV as co-emperor, 751–775
Artabasdos' usurpation 741–743
Leo IV 775–780
with Constantine VI as co-emperor, 776–780
Constantine VI 780–797
under Irene as regent, 780–790, and with her as co-regent, 792–797
Irene as empress regnant 797–802
Preceded by
Twenty Years' Anarchy
Followed by
Nikephorian dynasty

Constantine VI (Ancient Greek: Κωνσταντῖνος Ϛ΄, Kōnstantinos VI; 14 January 771 – before 805[1]) was Byzantine Emperor from 780 to 797.

Early life and the regency of Irene

Constantine VI was the only child of Emperor Leo IV and Irene. Constantine was crowned co-emperor by his father in 776, and succeeded as sole emperor in 780, at the age of nine. Due to his minority, Irene and her chief minister Staurakios exercised a regency over him.[1]

In 787 Constantine had signed the decrees of the Second Council of Nicaea, but he appears to have had iconoclast sympathies.[1] By then Constantine had turned 16 years old, but his mother did not relinquish executive authority to him.

In 788, Irene herself broke off the engagement of Constantine with Rotrude, a daughter of Charlemagne. Turning against Charlemagne, the Byzantines now supported Lombard pretender Adalgis, who had been forced into exile after the Frankish invasion of Italy. Adalgis was given command of a Byzantine expeditionary corps, landing in Calabria towards the end of 788 but was defeated by the united armies of the Lombard dukes Hildeprand of Spoleto and Grimoald III of Benevento as well as Frankish troops under Winiges.[2]

After a conspiracy against Irene was suppressed in the spring of 790 she attempted to get official recognition as empress. This backfired and with military support Constantine finally came to actual power in 790, after the Armeniacs rebelled against Irene. Nevertheless, she was allowed to keep the title of Empress, which was confirmed in 792.


Once in control of the state, Constantine proved incapable of sound governance. His army was defeated by the Arabs, and Constantine himself suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Kardam of Bulgaria in the 792 Battle of Marcellae.[1] A movement developed in favor of his uncle, the Caesar Nikephoros. Constantine had his uncle's eyes put out and the tongues of his father's four other half-brothers cut off. His former Armenian supporters revolted after he had blinded their general Alexios Mosele. He crushed this revolt with extreme cruelty in 793.[1]

He then divorced his wife Maria of Amnia, who had failed to provide him with a male heir, and married his mistress Theodote, an unpopular and canonically illegal act which sparked off the so-called "Moechian Controversy". Although the Patriarch Tarasios did not publicly speak against it, he also refused to officiate the marriage. Popular disapproval was expressed by Theodote's uncle, Plato of Sakkoudion, who even broke communion with Tarasios for his passive stance. Plato's intransigence led to his own imprisonment, while his monastic supporters were persecuted and exiled to Thessalonica. The "Moechian Controversy" cost Constantine what popularity he had left, especially in the church establishment, which Irene took care to vocally support against her own son.[1][3][4]

On 19 April 797 Constantine was captured, blinded, and imprisoned by the supporters of his mother, who had organized a conspiracy, leaving Irene to be crowned as first Empress regnant of Constantinople. It is unknown when exactly Constantine died; it was certainly before 805, but he very likely died of his wounds shortly after being blinded. He was buried in the Monastery of St. Euphrosyne, which Irene had founded.[1][3][5]

In the early 820s, the rebel Thomas the Slav claimed to be Constantine VI in an effort to gain support against Michael II.[6]


Constantine VI and his father Leo IV.

By his first wife Maria of Amnia, Constantine VI had two daughters:

  • Euphrosyne (790 – after 836), who married Emperor Michael II
  • Irene (789 – after July 796), who became a nun

By his mistress and then second wife Theodote, Constantine VI had two sons, both of whom died young:

  • Leo (7 October 796 – 1 May 797)
  • son (posthumously 797/8 – between 802 and 808)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Cutler & Hollingsworth (1991), pp. 501–502
  2. Ottorino Bertolini, "Adelchi, re dei Longobardi", Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani 1 (1960).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Treadgold (1997), p. 422
  4. Garland (1999), pp. 84–85
  5. Garland (1999), pp. 85–87, 260 (Note 67)
  6. Treadgold (1997), p. 435


  • Cutler, Anthony; Hollingsworth, Paul A. (1991). "Constantine VI". The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 501–502. ISBN 0-19-504652-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Garland, Lynda (1999). Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium, AD 527–1204. New York and London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-14688-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Treadgold, Warren (1997). A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dominique Barbe, Irène de Byzance: La femme empereur, Paris, 1990.
Constantine VI
Born: 771 Died: before 805
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Leo IV
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by