Michael III

Michael III
Michael III
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire

This coin struck during the regency of Theodora shows how Michael was less prominent than his mother, who is represented as ruler alone on the obverse, and even less than his sister Thecla, who is depicted together with the young Michael on the reverse of this coin.
Reign 842–867
Full name Michael III
Born January 19, 840
Died 23 /September 24, 867 (aged 27)
Place of death Constantinople
Predecessor Theophilos
Successor Basil I the Macedonian
Consort Eudokia Ingerina
Wife Eudokia Dekapolitissa
Dynasty Phrygian Dynasty

Michael III (Greek: Μιχαήλ Γ΄, Mikhaēl III ), (January 19, 840 – September 23–24, 867), Byzantine Emperor from 842 to 867. Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Phrygian Dynasty. He was given the disparaging moniker the Drunkard (ὀ Μέθυσος) by the hostile historians of the succeeding Macedonian dynasty, but modern historical research[who?] has largely rehabilitated[citation needed] him, demonstrating the vital role his reign played in the resurgence of Byzantine power in the 9th century.



Michael was the youngest child of Emperor Theophilos and Theodora. Already crowned co-ruler by his father in 840, Michael III had just turned two years old when he succeeded as sole emperor on January 20, 842.

During his minority, the empire was governed by his mother Theodora, her uncle Sergios, and the minister Theoktistos. The empress had iconodule sympathies and deposed Patriarch John VII of Constantinople and replaced him with the iconodule Methodios in 843. This put an end to the second spell of Iconoclasm. The internal stabilization of the state was not matched on the frontiers. The Byzantine forces were defeated in Pamphylia, Crete, and on the border with Syria by the Abbasids, but a Byzantine fleet of 85 ships did score a victory over the Arabs in 853, also there were many operations around the Aegean and off the Syrian coast by at least three more fleets, numbering 300 ships total. The imperial government undertook the resettlement of Paulicians from the eastern frontier into Thrace (thus cutting them off from their coreligionists and populating another border region) and launched an expedition against the Slavs in the Peloponnese.

As the emperor was growing up, the courtiers around him fought for influence. Increasingly fond of his uncle Bardas, Michael invested him as kaisar (Caesar) and allowed him to murder Theoktistos in November 855. With Bardas' support, Michael III overthrew the regency on March 15, 856, and relegated his mother and sisters to a monastery in 857.

A conflict between the Byzantines and Bulgarians started in 855–856. The Empire wanted to regain its control over some areas of Thrace, including Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and the ports around the Gulf of Burgas on the Black Sea. The Byzantine forces, led by the emperor and the caesar Bardas, were successful in the conflict and reconquered a number of cities, Philippopolis, Develtus, Anchialus and Mesembria being among them, and the region of Zagora was recovered.[1][2] At the time of this campaign the Bulgarians were distracted by a war with the Franks under Louis the German and the Croatians.

Michael III

Bardas justified his usurpation of the regency by introducing various internal reforms; Michael III took an active part in the wars against the Abbasids and their vassals on the eastern frontier in 856–863, especially in 857 when he sent an army of 50,000 men against the Emir of Melitene. In 859 he personally besieged Samosata, but in 860 he had to abandon his expedition to repel a Rus' attack on Constantinople. Michael was defeated by the Caliph al-Mutawakkil at Dazimon in 860, but in 863 his other uncle Petronas defeated and killed the amir of Melitene at the battle of Lalakaon and celebrated a triumph in the capital.

Under the influence of Bardas and Photios, Michael presided over the reconstruction of ruined cities and structures, the reopening of closed monasteries, and the reorganization of the imperial university at the Maganaura palace. Photios, originally a layman, had entered holy orders and was promoted to the position of patriarch on the dismissal of the troublesome Ignatios in 858. This created a schism within the Church and, although a Constantinopolitan synod in 861 confirmed Photios as patriarch, Ignatios appealed to Pope Nicholas I, who declared Photios illegitimate in 863. The conflict over the patriarchal throne and supreme authority within the church was exacerbated by the success of the active missionary efforts launched by Photios.

Under the guidance of Patriarch Photios, Michael sponsored the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodios to the Khazar Khagan in an effort to stop the expansion of Judaism among the Khazars. Although this mission was a failure, their next mission in 863 secured the conversion of Great Moravia and devised the Glagolitic alphabet for writing in Slavonic. Fearing the potential conversion of Boris I of Bulgaria to Christianity under Frankish influence, Michael III and the Caesar Bardas invaded Bulgaria and imposed Boris' conversion according to the Byzantine rite as part of the peace settlement in 864.[3]

Michael III's marriage with Eudokia Dekapolitissa was childless, but the emperor did not want to risk a scandal by attempting to marry his mistress Eudokia Ingerina, daughter of the Varangian (Danish) imperial guard Inger. The solution he chose was to have Ingerina marry his favorite courtier and chamberlain Basil the Macedonian. While Michael carried out his relationship with Ingerina, Basil was kept satisfied with the emperor's sister Thekla, whom her brother retrieved from a monastery. Basil gained increasing influence over Michael, and in April 866 he convinced the emperor that the Caesar Bardas was conspiring against him and was duly allowed to murder Bardas. Now without serious rivals, Basil was crowned co-emperor in May 867 and was adopted by the much younger Michael III. This curious development may have been intended to legitimize the eventual succession to the throne of Eudokia Ingerina's son Leo, who was widely believed to be Michael's son.

If this had been Michael's plan, it backfired. Ostensibly troubled by the favor Michael was beginning to show to another courtier, Basil had Michael assassinated in his bedroom in September 867, and succeeded as sole emperor. Due to his stabilization of the economy, Michael III succeeded in increasing the empire's annual revenues to 3,300,000 nomismata by the year AD 850.

Michael's unflattering reputation in later centuries was largely a result of Basil's propaganda, which sought to justify his usurpation of power.[citation needed]


Michael III had no children by his wife Eudokia Dekapolitissa, but was believed to have fathered one or two sons by his mistress Eudokia Ingerina, who was married to Basil I:

  • Leo VI, who succeeded as emperor in 886.
  • Stephen I, patriarch of Constantinople.
  • Godfather of Boris I


  1. ^ Gjuzelev, p. 130
  2. ^ Bulgarian historical review, v.33:no.1-4, p.9.
  3. ^ Fine, pp. 118–119


  • Bulgarian historical review (2005), United Center for Research and Training in History, Published by Pub. House of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, v.33:no.1-4.
  • John V.A. Fine Jr., The Early Medieval Balkans, Ann Arbor, 1983.
  • Gjuzelev, V., (1988) Medieval Bulgaria, Byzantine Empire, Black Sea, Venice, Genoa (Centre culturel du monde byzantin). Published by Verlag Baier.
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Cyril Mango, "Eudocia Ingerina, the Normans, and the Macedonian Dynasty," Zbornik radova Vizantoloskog Instituta, XIV-XV, 1973, 17–27.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Norwich, John J. (1991). Byzantium: The Apogee. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. ISBN 0-394-53779-3. 
Michael III
Phrygian Dynasty
Born: 19 January 840 Died: 23/24 September 867
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by
Basil I

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