A emperor (474-491). An Isaurian chieftain by birth, he came to Constantinople and in 466 or 467 married the daughter of Emperor LEO I (457-474). He changed his almost unpronounceable name, Tarasicodissa, to Zeno; and when Leo I died in February 474, he maneuvered his way into becoming a joint ruler with his young son, Leo II. The latter died in November 474, and became sole emperor. Within three months he was displaced by a court intrigue headed by his mother-in-law, Empress Verina, and was forced to find refuge in his native Isauria (9 January 475). Verina set her brother, Basiliscus, on the throne, and for eighteen months Zeno’s chances of regaining power seemed dim.

Basiliscus and his wife, Zenonis, however, were both strongly anti-Chalcedonian. They were influenced by TIMOTHY AELURUS II “the Cat,” the anti-Chalcedonian who had come to Constantinople to plead his cause against his rival. Basiliscus threw his weight against his own patriarch, Acacius (471-489), to the extent of allowing the bishoprics of Asia, including Ephesus, to withdraw from control of the patriarchate of Constantinople. Citizens and clergy were outraged, and though Basiliscus recalled the most anti-Chalcedonian of his decrees (spring 476), the populace, spurred on by the Stylite, became increasingly restless. In August 476 returned to his capital in triumph; Basiliscus was arrested and eventually put to death. On 17 December 476 an edict restored the status quo and prerogatives of the see of Constantinople, now described as “the mother of our Piety and of all Christians of the orthodox religion” (Codex Justinianus 1.2.16). The bond between emperor and patriarch was sealed as never before, and was determined not to travel again.

The problems remained, especially those connected with Egypt. In the next two years the main opponents of Chalcedon in the provinces were exiled, and on 31 July 477 Timothy “the Cat” died in Alexandria before he suffered a similar fate. However, the anti- line was continued in the person of PETER III MONGUS (477-488). The first reaction of Acacius to his election was to refuse Mongus recognition and to denounce him to Pope Simplicius (468-483) as a “friend of darkness” and one who had “subverted the canons of the fathers” (Acacius, ed. Schwartz, 1934, pp. 4-5). Second thoughts, however, prevailed. Peter Mongus was supported by a considerable proportion of the monks in Egypt, and it was clear that some reconciliation between Alexandria and Constantinople must take place if a threat to the unity of the eastern provinces of the empire was to be avoided.

In 480 patched up relations with the Vandal kingdom in North Africa (Vitensis, 7.2.2-6). A Catholic bishop was allowed to function in Carthage once more, though only for three years. In 481 Zeno turned to the situation in Egypt. At the end of 481, the aging patriarch of Alexandria, TIMOTHY SALOFACIOLUS, sent his fellow Pachomian monk John Talaia to the capital to discuss the succession to the see. The request that John brought was that the successor should be sought from among the Egyptian clergy who were loyal to CHALCEDON, among whom John himself, as oeconomus to the patriarch, would have been a strong candidate (Evagrius Historia ecclesiastica 3.12). To this the emperor agreed. Unfortunately, John Talaia also approached Zeno’s potential rival for the throne, the powerful Isaurian general Illus. This was discovered, and before he left Constantinople, John was forced to swear an oath that he would not accept the patriarchate for himself.

Timothy died in February 482, but John went back on his word and, helped by liberal use of money, had himself elected patriarch in the succession (Evagrius 3.12; Liberatus Breviarium 15.2.111). The result was that the emperor and his patriarch decided that John was impossible, and that agreement must be sought with Peter Mongus. In June, John Talaia fled Alexandria for Rome and the emperor accepted Peter Mongus as patriarch of Alexandria, on condition that he admit the pro-Chalcedonians to communion and subscribe to a document known as the HENOTICON.

This instrument of union took the form of an edict addressed, on 28 July 482, to “the bishops and clergy and monks and laity” of Alexandria, Egypt, and Cyrenaica. Peace and the restoration of communion between Alexandria and Constantinople were to be established on the basis of a common acceptance of the councils of NICAEA, CONSTANTINOPLE, and EPHESUS, together with the Twelve Anathemas of Cyril. and EUTYCHES were condemned, and Chalcedon was relegated to the status of a disciplinary council concerned with their condemnation. The emperor went as far as he could to accept the one-nature theology of Alexandria without condemning Chalcedon explicitly.

Broadly speaking, the Henoticon preserved the unity of the east provinces for thirty-five years. Secure in their loyalty, was able to attend to external threats to his authority. The Ostrogoths under their young king, Theodoric, were first bribed into accepting settlement in parts of Dacia (modern Romania) and Moesia (modern Bulgaria) and in 489 were diverted into Italy to wrest the kingdom from the Herulian king Odovacar (Odoacer).

A year earlier, in 488, had at last disposed of a formidable coalition consisting of Illus, the dowager empress Verina, and the patrician Leontius. Though Zeno left no direct heir, and his personal character was regarded as despicable, he showed a statesmanlike instinct in consolidating the empire around its eastern provinces both politically and ecclesiastically. The latter was based on harmony between Constantinople and Alexandria, and the dominance of the theology of Cyril. On his death, on 9 April 491, his successor, Anastasius, continued his policies.


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  • Stein, E. Histoire du Bas-empire, Vol. 2. Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, 1949.