Episode 110 – The Four Wives of Leo VI

Leo (kneeling) venerating Christ from a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia

Leo (kneeling) venerating Christ from a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia

Leo enters the second half of his reign desperate to leave the Empire to a healthy son. Meanwhile his military are successful on land but suffer at sea.

Period: 900-912

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Categories: Podcast | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Episode 110 – The Four Wives of Leo VI

  1. At the beginning of the episode, Mark Painter made reference to a story that he’d heard from Robin: that during the First Balkan War, some Aegean Islanders self-identified as Romans when Greek soldiers landed.

    This is fascinating, and I’d love to learn more about the incident. Does a resource exist that could shed light on it?

    • I related that story in Episode 41 so you can go listen and hear more. The quote came from Peter Charanis as reported by Anthony Kaldellis in his book “Hellenism in Byzantium.”

  2. ArcticXerxes

    As a Protestant Christian, I find it really hard to imagine how the Byzantine church could defend a rule like that. If I were Leo VI, I would support my wish to re-marry by showing that no rule against third or fourth re-marriages can be found in Scripture.

    Romans 7:
    1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?
    2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.
    3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

    • Church law clearly played a big part in Byzantine Christianity. The church as a body certainly promoted their own canons as being backed by God’s authority. In Roman culture this was a natural continuation of the influence priests had in pagan religious practices. As you know Protestantism aimed to strip away these apparently man-made rules. But for the Byzantines it would have been bizarre to dismiss centuries of church scholarship.

      • Ryan

        Did the romans who were settled north of the Danube have anything to do with the naming of the modern state of Romania?

    • matejcepltest

      I am a Protestant as well, and of course I do not believe there is anything wrong with a widower marrying again (or is it better to have a sex “on the side”?), however I can see the way how to get out of this verse: Paul here speaks about (one can assume) a first marriage. Yes, I can logically assume the same applies recursively to all subsequent marriages, but that’s my logic, the Bible does not say anywhere “and the same goes if that second wife dies again”. And I can imagine, you can create this strange result if you mix to your thinking a good does of asceticism (read some Desert Fathers, there is a lot of misogyny mixed with the straight anti-marriage sentiment as well; yes, 1 Timothy 4:3, but that’s another discussion; and remember only the lowest level priests could be ordained while married in the Orthodox church, all these patriarchs and bishops were celibate, often originally monks).

  3. Richard


    Fantastic podcast! For this century, with the caliphate in decline, was there ever a desire to retake and keep the eastern provinces that were part of the Roman Empire? Especially the cities of Antioch and Damascus, Jerusalem or was there too much pressure from the Bulgars and Ostrgoths from The north? Also, can you comment on why the christianized Germanic tribes were not incorporated into the empire as citizens- were they not considered civilized by Byzantine society.

    Thanks in advance

  4. zblount

    I am not sure what the argument behind the prohibition of fourth marriages is in the Orthodox church. However, such an argument is somewhat anachronistic, as it presupposes the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. In Orthodoxy, as in Catholicism, the Church is the final formal authority on what is and is not properly Christian, and not the Bible, the interpretation of which is held to be the province of the Church, in any case. That is my understanding, at the least.

    • matejcepltest

      Yes, but to the defense of Catholics and Orthodox (I am a Protestant myself), it doesn’t mean that Bible means nothing. I am certain they had to have some way how to deal with this verse (and 1 Timothy 4:3), however stretched their logic may be.

  5. gpodolec

    I was wondering, who are our sources for this time period? Are we up to more sources than just the 2 of the previous century.

  6. Shawn

    Another question for the end-of-century podcast: How much did Byzantium and the powers of Western Europe communicate? Was it a regular stream of correspondence, or had it become more sporadic?

  7. pscommercial

    A perennial end-of-century question I have is, What is going on in mainland Greece? A couple of isolated enclaves like Athens? Or is Byzantine rule pretty solid across the land at this point? What are the demographics? Hellenized/Romanized slavs?

  8. @Ryan. After the Fall of Constantinopole (1453), a part of the Byzantine elite fled in various direction, some of them to Italy, to other Christian states and, of course, to Wallachia and Moldavia. They were calling themselves “Romanoi” (Romans) though they were Greek-speakers.
    But, at the same time, that the people at the north of the Danube were also calling themselves “romani” (Romanians) and their country “Romanian land” or “Romanian country”, and tthey were saying that their ancestors came from Italy with Trajan’s troupes, according to a tradition recorded by foreign travelers during Middle Ages. These people were speaking a popular variant of Latin, which eventually evolved to modern Romanian language.
    Name of “Romania”, applied to the modern state, started being used by foreigners in the late 19th century and has nothing to do with medieval “Romania”, as the Byzantines called their empire.
    In the Middle Ages, there were many “Romanies” (understood as ancient territories of Rome): one was at the north of Danube, another one was in modern-day Bulgaria, and another in Asia Minor (province of Rum, east of Ankara, Turkey). Only one Romania survived and that is the state you know today.
    It’s good to know that people of Wallachia always called their country “Tara Romaneasca” (The Romanian Country). So this name of Wallachia seemed to many very odd, but was accepted by officials during Middle Ages, just like Albanians nowadays accept their country to be named “Albania” by the foreigners whilst they internally call it “Shquiperia”.
    In short: 1) The Latin-speaking people from the north of Danube called themselves Romanians since Antiquity, and so their land.
    2) It has nothing to do with medieval Greek-speaking Romania (or the late Roman Empire), which was Byzantine Empire.
    3) The Gypsies are referred sometimes as “Romani”, which (interestingly) it has to do with Greek-speaking “Romania”. Being a population with Indian ancestry, they came into the Byzantine Empire in the early Middle Ages. They establish in Asia Minor and in Thracia and became people of “Romania”, Byzantine Empire that is. When a gypsy says he is “Romani”, he means that he is from Greek-speaking “Romania” (though he might not be aware of this meaning). Anyway, the Byzantines called them “Tziganes” (I think it means “to not be touched”) and made them slaves. Most of this Gypsies established in all Southeastern Europe after the Fall of Constantinopole.

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