Leo I
Statue of Leo
Possible alabaster head of Leo on a modern bust[a][1]
Roman emperor
in the East
Reign7 February 457 – 18 January 474
Coronation7 February 457
SuccessorLeo II
Bornc. 401
Dacia Aureliana, Roman Empire
Died18 January 474 (aged 73)[2]
Constantinople, Eastern Roman Empire
IssueAriadne, Leontia, unnamed son
Regnal name
Latin: Imperator Caesar Flavius Leo Augustus
Greek: Αὐτοκράτωρ καῖσαρ Φλάβιος Λέων αὐγουστος[3][b]
ReligionChalcedonian Christianity

Leo the Great
16th cent. Russian icon depicting St. Leo's enshrinement of the Robe of the Theotokos in Sts. Peter and Mark church, Blachernae
Holy and Right-Believing Emperor of the Romans
Venerated inEastern Orthodoxy
Feast20 January
AttributesImperial attire

Leo I (Greek: Λέων, translit. Leōn; c. 401 – 18 January 474), also known as "the Thracian" (Latin: Thrax; Greek: ο Θραξ),[c] was Roman emperor of the East from 457 to 474. He was a native of Dacia Aureliana near historic Thrace. He is sometimes surnamed with the epithet "the Great" (Latin: Magnus; Greek: ὁ Μέγας), probably to distinguish him from his young grandson and co-augustus Leo II (Greek: ὁ Μικρός, translit. ho Mikrós, lit. "the Small").[d]

Leo proved to be a capable emperor who ruled the East for nearly 18 years. He oversaw many ambitious political and military plans, aimed mostly at aiding the faltering Western Roman Empire and recovering its former territories. He is notable for being the first Eastern Emperor to legislate in Koine Greek rather than Late Latin.[9] He is commemorated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, with his feast day on 20 January.[10][11]


The Roman Empire in 460 during the reign of Leo

He was born in Thracia or in Dacia Aureliana province in the year 401 to a Thraco-Roman family.[12] His Dacian origin[13] is mentioned by Candidus Isaurus,[14][15] while John Malalas believes that he was of Bessian stock.[14][16] He served in the Roman army, rising to the rank of comes rei militaris. Leo was the last of a series of emperors placed on the throne by Aspar, the Alan serving as commander-in-chief of the army, who thought Leo would be an easy puppet ruler. Instead, Leo became more and more independent from Aspar, causing tension that would culminate in Aspar's assassination.[7]

Leo's coronation as emperor on 7 February 457,[17] was the first to add a Christian element to the traditional Roman procedure, having been performed by the Patriarch of Constantinople,[18] a fact which symbolized the transformation of Roman imperial traditions into Medieval Roman and Christian ones. This Christian coronation ritual was later imitated by courts all over Europe,[19] especially in the West in the course of Late Antiquity.

Leo I made an alliance with the Isaurians and was thus able to eliminate Aspar. The price of the alliance was the marriage of Leo's daughter to Tarasicodissa, leader of the Isaurians, who, as Zeno, became emperor in 474.[7] In 469, Aspar attempted to assassinate Zeno[20] and very nearly succeeded. Finally, in 471, Aspar's son Ardabur was implicated in a plot against Leo but was killed by palace eunuchs acting on Leo's orders.[21]

Leo sometimes overestimated his abilities and made mistakes that threatened the internal order of the Empire. The Balkans were ravaged by the Ostrogoths, after a disagreement between the Emperor and the young chief Theodoric the Great, who had been raised at Leo's court in Constantinople, where he was steeped in Roman government and military tactics. There were also some raids by the Huns. However, these attackers were unable to take Constantinople thanks to the walls, which had been rebuilt and reinforced in the reign of Theodosius II and against which they possessed no suitable siege engines.[clarification needed]

Main article: Vandal War (461-468)

Leo's reign was also noteworthy for his influence in the Western Roman Empire, marked by his appointment of Anthemius as Western Roman emperor in 467. He attempted to build on this political achievement with an expedition against the Vandals in 468. 1,113 ships carrying 100,000 men participated in the expedition, which ended in defeat because of bad leadership from Leo's brother-in-law Basiliscus.[8] This disaster drained the Empire of men and money. Procopius estimated the costs of the expedition to be 130,000 pounds of gold; John the Lydian estimated the costs to be 65,000 pounds of gold and 750,000 pounds of silver.[22]

Leo died of dysentery at the age of 73 on 18 January 474.[23][24][25]

Marriage and children

Leo and Verina had three children. Their eldest daughter Ariadne was born prior to the death of Marcian (reigned 450 – 457).[26] Ariadne had a younger sister, Leontia. Leontia was first betrothed to Patricius, a son of Aspar, but their engagement was probably annulled when Aspar and another of his sons, Ardabur, were assassinated in 471.[citation needed] Leontia then married Marcian, a son of Emperor Anthemius and Marcia Euphemia. The couple led a failed revolt against Zeno in 478–479. They were exiled to Isauria following their defeat.[27]

An unknown son was born in 463. He died five months following his birth. The only sources about him are a horoscope by Rhetorius and a hagiography of Daniel the Stylite.[27] The Georgian Chronicle, a 13th-century compilation drawing from earlier sources, reports a marriage of Vakhtang I of Iberia to Princess Helena of Byzantium, identifying her as a daughter of the predecessor of Zeno.[28] This predecessor was probably Leo I, the tale attributing a third daughter to Leo. Cyril Toumanoff identified two children of this marriage: Mithridates of Iberia; and Leo of Iberia. This younger Leo was father of Guaram I of Iberia. The accuracy of the descent is unknown.

See also


  1. ^ http://laststatues.classics.ox.ac.uk/, LSA-593 (K. de Kersauson, R. Delbrueck)
  2. ^ Leo's full name is commonly given as Flavius Valerius Leo,[4][5][6] but this is not corroborated by either the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire[2] nor the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium.[7]
  3. ^ Despite the regular use of the nickname "Thrax" by modern sources,[8] this was not used by contemporary writers. Ancient sources rather call him "the Butcher" (Latin: Macellus; Greek: Μακέλλης), referencing the murder of Aspar and his son.[2][7]
  4. ^ Bury 1958, Chapter X: the reign of Leo I, p. 323, note 1. "After the coronation of the child the two Leos would be distinguished as Λέων ὁ Μέγας and Λέων ὁ Μικρός, and this I believe, must be the origin of the designation of Leo as 'the Great'; just as reversely Theodosius II. was called 'the Small', because in his infancy he had been known as ὁ μικρός βασιλεύς to distinguish him from Arcadius. Leo never did anything which could conceivably earn him the title of Great in the sense in which it was bestowed by posterity on Alexander or Constantine."


  1. ^ "Statue – Louvre Collections". Louvre Collections (in French). 450. Retrieved 6 February 2024.
  2. ^ a b c PLRE 2 p. 664
  3. ^ Rösch 1978, pp. 165.
  4. ^ Adkins, Lesley; Adkins, Roy A. (1994). Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 9780816074822.
  5. ^ Crawford, Peter (2019). Roman Emperor Zeno. Pen and Sword History. p. 45. ISBN 9781473859272.
  6. ^ Campbell, Brian; Tritle, Lawrence A., eds. (July 2017). The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World. Oxford University Press. p. 26. ISBN 9780190499136.
  7. ^ a b c d Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, pp. 1206–1207
  8. ^ a b "Leo I". Encyclopædia Britannica
  9. ^ Chris Wickham (2009). The Inheritance of Rome. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-02098-0. p. 90.
  10. ^ "Ὁ Ἅγιος Λέων Μακέλλης ὁ Μέγας" [Saint Leo Makelles the Great] (in Greek). Μεγασ Συναξαριστης [Great Synaxaristes].
  11. ^ Mother of God of the "Life-Giving Spring". Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
  12. ^ Friell 1998, pp. 170, 261.
  13. ^ Friell 1998, p. 170.
  14. ^ a b Bury 1958, p. 315.
  15. ^ Candidus, F.H.G. IV, p. 135
  16. ^ John Malalas, XIV, p. 369
  17. ^ Bury 1958.
  18. ^ Edward Gibbon (1952) [1789]. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1. Chapter XXXVI. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. p. 582. Bibl. Theophanes, p. 95 [ed. Par.; tom. i p. 170, ed. Bonn].
  19. ^ Herrin, Judith (2007). Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. Penguin. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-0713999976.
  20. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1989), Byzantium: The Early Centuries. pg 167
  21. ^ "Wace, Henry. Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresie". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  22. ^ Bury 1958, p. 337.
  23. ^ Auctarium Prosperi Havniense 474. "Leo maior defunctus est XV k. Febr."
  24. ^ John Malalas Book XIV, 46. "On the following 3rd February the emperor Leo the Elder was stricken with illness and died of dysentery at the age of 73."
  25. ^ Croke, Brian (2021). Roman Emperors in Context. Routledge. pp. 150–151. ISBN 9781000388305. The correct date must be 18 January [...] Theophanes says merely 'January'. As corroboration for 18 January, Cyril of Scythopolis notes that Euthymius died on 20 January 473 and that the emperor Leo I died 'at the end of the first year after the death of the great Euthymius'.
  26. ^ Hugh Elton, "Leo I (457–474 A.D.)"
  27. ^ a b Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2
  28. ^ "Georgian Chronicle", Chapters 13–14. Translation by Robert Bedrosian (1991)


Leo I (emperor) Leonid dynastyBorn: 400 / 401 Died: 18 January 474 Regnal titles Preceded byMarcian Eastern Roman emperor 457–474 Succeeded byLeo II Political offices Preceded byConstantinusRufus Roman consul 458with Majorian Augustus Succeeded byRicimerPatricius Preceded bySeverinusDagalaifus Roman consul 462with Libius Severus Augustus Succeeded byCaecina Decius BasiliusVivianus Preceded byHermenericusBasiliscus Roman consul 466with Tatianus (Gallia) Succeeded byPusaeusIohannes Preceded byMessius Phoebus SeverusIordanes Roman consul 471with Caelius Aconius Probianus Succeeded byRufius Postumius FestusMarcianus Preceded byRufius Postumius FestusMarcianus Roman consul 473 Succeeded byLeo junior Augustus