In 694, a man named Kallinikos became the Patriarch of Constantinople, making him the head of the imperial city’s Christian church, and the leader of the bishops and archbishops that recognized Constantinople’s religious authority. Kallinikos’ ascendance to the patriarchal office came well into the reign of the cruel and tyrannical (but militarily competent) Emperor Justinian II, who began his rule in 685. Patriarch Kallinikos and Emperor Justinian II quickly ran afoul of each other, and as soon as 695—one year after Kallinikos became patriarch—it was rumored that Justinian II was already plotting ways for the clergyman to be executed or assassinated. Nevertheless, Kallinikos was not the only man in the imperial city who was a target of intrigue and conspiracy at that time. In fact, before any harm could come to Patriarch Kallinikos, it was Emperor Justinian II who found his life in danger. Before 695 was over, a general named Leontios surprised the emperor with a sudden revolt and, as told by the chronicler Theophanes (c. 750s-818), “[Justinian II] was clubbed down, bound hand and foot by Leontios…When it was day they led Justinian into the hippodrome through the Sphendone, slit his nose, cut his tongue, and exiled him to Cherson” (Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6187 [695-696 CE]). Patrician Kallinikos, who had feared the emperor’s wrath, was greatly pleased with the ousting of Justinian. In particular, the patriarch was so jubilant at the emperor’s downfall that he wrote and delivered a sermon praising the coup against Justinian II.
Unfortunately for Patriarch Kallinikos and Constantinople, events in the empire became quite chaotic after Justinian’s removal from power. The usurper, Leontios, proclaimed himself emperor and ruled from 695 to 698, at which point he, too, fell to a revolt led by a certain Apsimaros. After imprisoning Leontios, Apsimaros successfully seized the throne and changed his name to Emperor Tiberius III. The new emperor led Constantinople until 705, when he was challenged by an invasion from the direction of Bulgaria. In command of the invasion was a familiar, but mutilated, face that had not been seen in Constantinople for a decade—to the horror of Patriarch Kallinikos, Justinian II had returned.
In 705, the exiled Justinian II led an army of Bulgarian and Slavic allies to the walls of Constantinople, and with their help, he successfully seized control of the imperial capital city and resumed his reign as emperor. Back on his throne, Justinian II embarked on a campaign of revenge against the usurpers and their applauders. Acting quickly, Justinian captured Tiberius III with a successful manhunt, and he curiously also found Leontios still imprisoned in the vicinity of Constantinople. Both men were paraded in chains, humiliated, and executed. With the men who had sat on his throne now dead, Justinian could move on to other figures in Constantinople who had stoked his ire. In particular, the emperor had never liked Patriarch Kallinikos, and his rage only grew when he discovered the celebratory sermon that the patriarch had delivered after Justinian’s exile. Acting upon this anger, the emperor had the patriarch arrested and punished. As told by the aforementioned chronicler, Theophanes (c. 750s-818), “Justinian blinded the patriarch Kallinikos and exiled him to Rome” (Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6198 [706-707 CE]).
With Kallinikos mutilated and banished, Emperor Justinian II appointed a man of his choice—a certain monk named Cyrus—to fill the vacated role of Patriarch of Constantinople. Unfortunately for Patriarch Cyrus, appointment by an unpopular emperor did not come with steady job security. Emperor Justinian II was killed in the year 711 while trying to resist yet another revolt. The rebel leader, Bardanes Philippikos, went on to seize the throne of Constantinople and the new emperor ousted Patriarch Cyrus by 712.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Byzantine era plaque (c. 900–1000) depicting the story of Joshua, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET.jpg).
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.