Leo I the Thracian

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Leo I
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Leo I Louvre Ma1012 n2.jpg
Imperial portrait of Leo I
at the Louvre Museum
Reign 457–474
Coronation 7 February 457
Predecessor Marcian
Successor Leo II
Born 401
Died 18 January 474(474-01-18) (aged 73)
Issue Ariadne, Leontia, unnamed son
Full name
Leo Marcellus (from birth to accession) Flavius Valerius Leo (as emperor)

Leo I (Latin: Flavius Valerius Leo Augustus; 401 – 18 January 474) was Byzantine Emperor from 457 to 474. A native of Dacia Aureliana near historic Thrace,[1] he was known as Leo the Thracian (Greek: Λέων Α' ὁ Θρᾷξ).

Ruling the Eastern Empire for nearly 20 years, Leo proved to be a capable ruler. He oversaw many ambitious political and military plans, aimed mostly for the aid of the faltering Western Roman Empire and recovering its former territories. He is notable for being the first Eastern Emperor to legislate in Greek rather than Latin.[2]

He is commemorated as a Saint in the Orthodox Church, with his feast day on January 20.[3][4]


The Roman Empire in 460 during the reign of Leo

He was born Leo Marcellus in Thracia or in Dacia Aureliana province in the year 401 to a Thraco-Roman family.[5] His Dacian origin[6] is mentioned by Candidus Isaurus,[7][8] while John Malalas believes that he was of Bessian stock.[7][9] He served in the Roman army, rising to the rank of comes. Leo was the last of a series of emperors placed on the throne by Aspar, the Alan serving as commander-in-chief of the army, who thought Leo would be an easy puppet ruler. Instead, Leo became more and more independent from Aspar, causing tension that would culminate in the assassination of the latter.

Leo's coronation as emperor on 7 February 457,[10][1] was the first known to involve the Patriarch of Constantinople.[11] Leo I made an alliance with the Isaurians and was thus able to eliminate Aspar. The price of the alliance was the marriage of Leo's daughter to Tarasicodissa, leader of the Isaurians who, as Zeno, became emperor in 474. In 469, Aspar attempted to assassinate Zeno[12] and very nearly succeeded. Finally, in 471, Aspar's son Ardabur was implicated in a plot against Leo and both were killed by palace eunuchs acting on Leo's orders.[13]

Leo overestimated his capacities and he made some errors that menaced the internal order of the Empire. The Balkans were ravaged by the Ostrogoths, after a disagreement between the Emperor and the young chief Theodoric the Great who had been raised at Leo's court in Constantinople, where he was steeped in Roman government and military tactics. There were also some raids by the Huns. However, these attackers were unable to take Constantinople thanks to the walls, which had been rebuilt and reinforced in the reign of Theodosius II and against which they possessed no suitable siege engines.

Gold solidus of Leo I, struck 462–473 AD at Constantinople.

Leo's reign was also noteworthy for his influence in the Western Roman Empire, marked by his appointment of Anthemius as Western Roman Emperor in 467. He attempted to build on this political achievement with an expedition against the Vandals in 468, which was defeated due to the arrogance of Leo's brother-in-law Basiliscus. This disaster drained the Empire of men and money. The expedition, which cost 130,000 pounds of gold and 700 pounds of silver,[citation needed] consisted of 1,113 ships carrying 100,000 men, but in the end lost 600 ships. After this defeat, Vandals raided Greek coasts until a costly peace agreement was signed between Leo and Genseric.

Leo became very unpopular in his last days as Emperor for abolishing any non-religious celebration or event on Sundays.[citation needed]

Leo died of dysentery at the age of 73 on 18 January 474.

Marriage and children

Leo and Verina had three children. Their eldest daughter Ariadne was born prior to the death of Marcian (reigned 450 – 457).[14] Ariadne had a younger sister, Leontia. Leontia was first betrothed to Patricius, a son of Aspar, but their engagement was probably annulled when Aspar and another of his sons, Ardabur, were assassinated in 471.[citation needed] Leontia then married Marcian, a son of Emperor Anthemius and Marcia Euphemia. The couple led a failed revolt against Zeno in 478–479. They were exiled to Isauria following their defeat.[15]

An unknown son was born in 463. He died five months following his birth. The only sources about him are a horoscope by Rhetorius and a hagiography of Daniel the Stylite.[15]

The Georgian Chronicle, a 13th-century compilation drawing from earlier sources, reports a marriage of Vakhtang I of Iberia to Princess Helena of Byzantium, identifying her as a daughter of the predecessor of Zeno.[16] This predecessor was probably Leo I, the tale attributing a third daughter to Leo. Cyril Toumanoff identified two children of this marriage: Mithridates of Iberia; and Leo of Iberia. This younger Leo was father of Guaram I of Iberia. The accuracy of the descent is unknown.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bury 1958.
  2. The Inheritance of Rome, Chris Wickham, Penguin Books Ltd. 2009, ISBN 978-0-670-02098-0 (page 90)
  3. Great Synaxaristes (Greek): Ὁ Ἅγιος Λέων Μακέλλης ὁ Μέγας. 20 Ιανουαρίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  4. Mother of God of the "Life-Giving Spring". Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Retrieved: 27 October 2012.
  5. Friell 1998, pp. 170, 261.
  6. Friell 1998, pp. 170.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bury 1958, p. 315.
  8. Candidus, F.H.G. IV, p.135
  9. John Malalas, XIV, p.369
  10. Edward A. Thompson, "Leo I", Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 13 (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1973), p. 959. Bibl. J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, vol. i, ch. 10 (1923).
  11. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I, Chap. XXXVI (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), p. 582. Bibl. Theophanes, p. 95 [ed. Par.; tom. i p. 170, ed. Bonn].
  12. Norwich, John Julius, 'Byzantium: The Early Centuries', pg 167
  13. Wace, Henry. Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresie
  14. Hugh Elton, "Leo I (457–474 A.D.)"
  15. 15.0 15.1 Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2
  16. "Georgian Chronicle", Chapters 13–14. Translation by Robert Bedrosian (1991)


External links

Leo I the Thracian
Born: 401 Died: 18 January 474
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by
Leo II
Political offices
Preceded by
Flavius Constantinus,
Flavius Rufus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Imp. Caesar Iulius Maiorianus Augustus
Succeeded by
Flavius Ricimerus,
Preceded by
Flavius Severinus,
Flavius Dagalaiphus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Imp. Caesar Libius Severus Augustus
Succeeded by
Flavius Caecina Decius Basilius,
Flavius Vivianus
Preceded by
Flavius Hermenericus,
Flavius Basiliscus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Tatianus (Gallia)
Succeeded by
Illustrius Pusaeus,
Preceded by
Messius Phoebus Severus,
Flavius Iordanes
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Caelius Aconius Probianus
Succeeded by
Flavius Rufius Postumius Festus,
Flavius Marcianus
Preceded by
Flavius Rufius Postumius Festus,
Flavius Marcianus
Consul of the Roman Empire
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Leo Iunior Augustus (alone)