Constantine IV

Constantine IV
Constantine IV
Κωνσταντίνος Δ'
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire

Constantine IV and his retinue, mosaic in basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe (Ravenna)
Reign 668 – September 685
Born 652
Birthplace Constantinople
Died September 685 (aged 33)
Place of death Constantinople
Predecessor Mezezius
Constans II
Successor Justinian II
Consort Anastasia
Offspring Justinian II
Dynasty Heraclian Dynasty
Father Constans II
Mother Fausta

Constantine IV (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Δ', Kōnstantinos IV, Latin: Constantinus IV), (c. 652 - September 685), sometimes incorrectly called Pogonatos, "the Bearded", by confusion with his father;[1] was Byzantine emperor from 668 to 685. His reign saw the first serious check to nearly 50 years of uninterrupted Islamic expansion, while his calling of the Sixth Ecumenical Council saw the end of the monothelitism controversy in the Byzantine Empire.


Early career

The eldest son of Constans II, Constantine IV had been named a co-emperor with his father in 654.[2] He had been given the responsibility of managing the affairs at Constantinople during his father’s extended absence in Italy[3] and became senior emperor when Constans was assassinated in 668.[4] His mother was Fausta, daughter of patrician Valentinus.[5]

The first task before the new emperor was the suppression of the military revolt in Sicily under Mezezius which had led to his father's death.[6] Within 7 months of his accession, Constantine IV had dealt with the insurgency with the support of Pope Vitalian.[7] But this success was overshadowed by troubles in the east.

As early as 668 the Caliph Muawiyah I, after receiving an invitation from Saborios, the commander of the troops in Armenia to help him overthrow the emperor at Constantinople,[8] sent an army under his son Yazid against the Eastern Roman Empire. Yazid reached as far as Chalcedon and took the important Byzantine center Amorion.[9] Although the city was quickly recovered, the Arabs next attacked Carthage and Sicily in 669.[10] In 670 the Arabs captured Cyzicus and set up a base from which to launch further attacks into the heart of the Empire.[4] Their fleet captured Smyrna and other coastal cities in 672.[11] Finally, in 672, the Arabs sent a large fleet to attack Constantinople by sea.[11] While Constantine was distracted by this, the Slavs unsuccessfully attacked Thessalonika.[4]

The Siege of Constantinople: 674-678

Coin issued by Constantine

Then, commencing in 674, the Arabs launched the long awaited siege of Constantinople.[3] The great fleet that had been assembled set sail under the command of Abd ar-Rahman[10] before the end of the year; and during the winter months some of the ships anchored at Smyrna, the rest off the coast of Cilicia.[10] Additional squadrons reinforced the forces of Abd ar-Rahman before they proceeded to the Hellespont, into which they sailed in about April 674.[10] From April to September 674 the fleet lay moored from the promontory of Hebdomon, on the Propontis, as far as the promontory of Kyklobios, near the Golden Gate, and throughout those months continued to engage with the Byzantine fleet which defended the harbour continued from morning to evening.[10]

Knowing that it was only a matter of time before Constantinople was under siege, Constantine had ensured that the city was well provisioned.[10] He also constructed a large number of fireships and fast-sailing boats provided with tubes or siphons for squirting fire. This is the first known use of Greek fire in combat,[11] which was one of the key advantages that the Byzantines possessed. In September, the Arabs having failed in their attempts to take the city, sailed to Cyzicus, which they made their winter quarters.[12] Over the following five years, the Arabs would return each spring to continue the siege of Constantinople, but with the same results.[10] The city survived and finally in 678, the Arabs were forced to raise the siege.[3] The Arabs withdrew, and were almost simultaneously defeated on land in Lycia in Anatolia.[4] This unexpected reverse forced Muawiyah I to seek a truce with Constantine. This involved the Arabs evacuating the islands in the Aegean they had recently taken, as well as an annual tribute to the emperor consisting of fifty slaves, fifty horses and 3,000 pounds of gold.[12] The raising of the siege allowed Constantine to go to the relief of Thessalonika, still under siege from the Slavs.[4]

Later Reign

A solidus showing Constantine and his brothers, minted before 681 when the latter were mutilated.

With the temporary passing of the Arab threat, Constantine had to turn his attention to the Church, torn between Monothelitism and Orthodoxy.[13] In November 680 Constantine convened the Sixth Ecumenical Council (also known as the Third Council of Constantinople).[4] Constantine presided in person during the formal aspects of the proceedings (the first eleven sittings and then the eighteenth), surrounded by his court officials, but took no active role in the theological discussions.[14] The Council reaffirmed the Orthodox doctrines of the Council of Chalcedon in 451.[15] This solved the controversy over monothelitism; conveniently for the empire, most monothelites were now under the control of the Umayyad Caliphate.[4] The council closed in September 681.[16]

Due to the ongoing concerns with the Arabs during the 670s, in the west, Constantine had been forced to conclude treaties with the Lombards, who had captured Brindisi and Taranto.[17] As well, in 670 the Bulgars under Asparukh crossed the Danube into nominally imperial territory and began to subject the local communities and Slavic tribes.[4] In 680, Constantine IV led a combined land and sea operation against the invaders and besieged their fortified camp in Dobruja.[18] Suffering from bad health, the emperor had to leave the army, which allowed itself to panic and be defeated by the Bulgars.[19] In 681, Constantine was forced to acknowledge the Bulgar state in Moesia and to pay protection money to avoid further inroads into Byzantine Thrace.[13] Consequently, Constantine created the Theme of Thrace.[17]

His brothers Heraclius and Tiberius had been crowned with him as Augusti during the reign of their father,[20] and this was confirmed by the demand of the populace,[21] but in 681 Constantine had them mutilated so they would be ineligible to rule.[4] At the same time he associated on the throne his own young son Justinian II. Constantine died of dysentery in September 685.[22]


By his wife Anastasia, Constantine IV had at least two sons:


Primary Sources

Theophanes, Chronographia.

Secondary Sources


  1. ^ Norwich, pg. 316
  2. ^ Kazhdan, pg. 500
  3. ^ a b c Canduci, pg. 197
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Moore, Constantine IV
  5. ^ Kazhdan, pg. 496
  6. ^ Bury, pg. 303
  7. ^ Bury, pg. 315
  8. ^ Bury, pg. 306
  9. ^ Bury, pg. 307
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Bury, pg. 310
  11. ^ a b c Norwich, pg. 323
  12. ^ a b Norwich, pg. 324
  13. ^ a b Norwich, pg. 326
  14. ^ Bury, pg. 317
  15. ^ Canduci, pg. 198
  16. ^ Bury, pg. 316
  17. ^ a b Kazhdan, pg. 501
  18. ^ Bury, pp.333-334
  19. ^ Norwich, pg. 325
  20. ^ Dumbarton Oaks, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Vol. II, Part 2 (1968), pg. 513
  21. ^ Bury, pg. 308
  22. ^ Norwich, pg. 327

Media related to Constantine IV at Wikimedia Commons

Constantine IV
Heraclian Dynasty
Born: 652 Died: 685
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Constans II
Byzantine Emperor
with Constans II, 654–668
Heraclius and Tiberius, 659–681
Succeeded by
Justinian II

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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