Second Arab attack upon Constantinople
On this occasion the Arabs send a war-fleet and army that outnumbers Byzantium’s entire armed forces. Once again Constantinople puts up a brave defence and the effects of a severe winter, Greek Fire, and mass desertion by many of their Christian sailors combine to deal the Arabs a severe defeat.
Accession of the Emperor Leo III
Leo, originally from the Syrian border, ends a period of political instability within the Empire and makes a major contribution to the defeat of the Arab attack upon Constantinople.
Beginning of the Iconoclast Controversy
Reflecting upon the near destruction of the Byzantine Empire, the Emperor Leo and his advisors conclude that a possible cause of such disasters may be divine displeasure. In an attempt to appease God, Leo hits upon the policy of removing or destroying religious images (Icons). Byzantine worship of icons has come uncomfortably close to idolatry and, possibly under the influence of Islamic thought, Leo aims to purify and abstract Christian worship by their removal.
The new policy of Iconoclasm ("image - breaking") meets with immediate opposition and will fiercely divide Byzantine society and politics for the next 120 years. Although primarily a religious controversy, support or rejection of Iconoclasm inevitably reinforces pre-existing antagonisms or divisions in Byzantium. The army, becomes a stronghold of Iconoclasm, whilst the church itself is largely Iconophile (in support of Icons) .
Foundation of Baghdad by the Caliph el-Mansur
The new Abbasid Caliphate, centred upon Baghdad, is a mighty cultural, economic and military power on Byzantium’s south-eastern border.
Regency of the Empress Irene
Irene, widow of Leo III’s grandson, reigns as regent for her son, Constantine VI. A controversial figure, Irene is a determined woman whose desire to retain political control leads the imprisonment and murder of her now-adult son in 797. Irene refers to herself as Basileos (King, or Emperor).