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Maria (wife of Leo III)

Lynda Garland

University of New England, New South Wales

Maria gave birth to Constantine V, son and heir of Leo III, in July 718, during the second Arab siege of Constantinople, some 15 months after Leo's accession[[1]] The couple had previously had a daughter Anna, who married the Armenian Artabasdus, general of the Armeniac theme, who was later to rebel against Constantine after his accession: Theophanes dates Leo's betrothal of Anna to Artabasdus to the year 715, following the accession of Theodosius III.[[2]]

On 25 December, an auspicious choice of date, Maria was formally given the rank of empress, following which her son, the heir to the throne, was baptised. First Maria was crowned Augusta in the Augusteus hall of the palace,[[3]] and she then processed to St Sophia without the emperor. In the Great Church she prayed in front of the sanctuary doors and proceeded to the Great Baptistery. Her husband and some members of his household were already waiting for her there and the baptism of their son was then celebrated by the patriarch Germanus. Iconophile sources such as Theophanes report a highly symbolic, and doubtless apocryphal, incident during the six-month-old baby's immersion, which denoted the evil that Constantine was to cause the empire: 'a terrible and evil-smelling sign was manifested in his very infancy, for he defecated in the holy font, as affirmed by actual eyewitnesses'.[[4]] Apparently undisturbed by her son's relevation of himself as a closet iconoclast in the face of orthodox liturgical proceedings, Maria is recorded as then processing back with Constantine to the Great Palace, while she distributed largess on her way from the church to the Chalke gate.[[5]] Constantine was crowned co-emperor on Easter Day 720.[[6]]


Theophanes, Chronographia, trans. C. Mango & R. Scott, with G. Greatrex, The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor: Byzantine and Near Eastern History AD 284-813, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.


[[1]]Nicephorus 56 records the Arabs as departing on 15 August; cf. Theophanes AM 6211 [AD 718/19].

[[2]]Theophanes AM 6207, cf. 6209 [AD 714/5, 716/17].

[[3]]The empress was traditionally crowned here: Constantine Porphyrogenitus, de ceremoniis, 1.40.

[[4]] Theophanes AM 6211 [AD 718/19]. The incident is also reported in Against Constantine Caballinus, ed. J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 95, 337AB and the Life of the iconophile monk St Nicetas of Medicion (V. Nicetae Medic.), AASS, Apr. I, xxviiiE.

[[5]]For the ceremonial associated with the baptism of imperial princes, see Constantine Porphyrogenitus, de ceremoniis, 2.22.

[[6]]Theophanes AM 6212 [AD 720/21].

Copyright (C), Lynda Garland. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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