Tiberius III
Emperor of the Romans
An illustration of Tiberius III, written with bronze and black ink upon paper
Solidus bearing the image of Tiberius III. The inscription reads dn tiberius pe av.
Byzantine emperor
SuccessorJustinian II
Diedc. 15 February 706
(now Istanbul, Turkey)
Tiberius Apsimarus
DynastyTwenty Years' Anarchy

Tiberius III (Latin: Tiberius; Greek: Τιβέριος, romanizedTiberios) was Byzantine emperor from 698 to 705 AD. Little is known about his early life, other than that he was droungarios, a mid-level commander, of the Cibyrrhaeots, and that his birth name was Apsimar. In 696, Tiberius was part of an army led by John the Patrician sent by Byzantine Emperor Leontios to retake the city of Carthage in the Exarchate of Africa, which had been captured by the Arab Umayyads. After seizing the city, this army was pushed back by Umayyad reinforcements and retreated to the island of Crete; some of the officers, fearing the wrath of Leontios, killed John and declared Tiberius emperor. Tiberius swiftly gathered a fleet, sailed for Constantinople, and deposed Leontios. Tiberius did not attempt to retake Byzantine Africa from the Umayyads, but campaigned against them along the eastern border with some success. In 705 former Emperor Justinian II, who had been deposed by Leontios, led an army of Slavs and Bulgars to Constantinople, and after entering the city secretly, deposed Tiberius. Tiberius fled to Bithynia, but was captured several months later and beheaded between August 705 and February 706. His body was initially thrown into the sea, but was later recovered and buried in a church on the island of Prote.


Early life

Very little is known of Tiberius before the reign of Byzantine Emperor Leontios (r. 695–698), except that his birth name was the Germanic name Apsimar[a] and that he was a droungarios (a commander of about a thousand men) of the Cibyrrhaeot Theme, a military province in southern Anatolia.[3][4] Some scholars, such as Alexander Vasiliev, have speculated that Tiberius was of Gotho-Greek origin.[5] The Byzantist Walter Kaegi states that Tiberius had some unspecified victories over the Slavs in the Balkans during his early military career, which granted him a degree of popularity.[6][7]


Starting in 680 AD the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate, the primary rival of the Byzantine Empire, erupted into a civil war known as the Second Fitna. The civil war in the Umayyad Caliphate provided an opportunity for the Byzantine Empire to attack its weakened rival, and in 686, Emperor Justinian II sent Leontios to invade Umayyad territory in Armenia and the region of Iberia, where he campaigned against them successfully before leading troops in the region of Azerbaijan and Caucasian Albania.[3][8] Leontios' successful campaigns compelled Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan to sue for peace in 688.[3]

Justinian renewed his invasion of the Caliphate in 692, feeling that it was still in a weak position, but was repulsed at the Battle of Sebastopolis, where a large number of Slavs defected to the Umayyads, ensuring the Byzantine defeat. Afterward, the Umayyads renewed their invasion of North Africa, aimed at seizing the city of Carthage in the Exarchate of Africa. Justinian blamed Leontios for these defeats, and had him imprisoned.[3][9][10] However, after further setbacks in the war Justinian had Leontios released in 695, hoping that he could turn the tide of the war and prevent Carthage from being taken;[3][9][11] once freed Leontios seized the Byzantine throne and exiled Justinian to Cherson, a Byzantine exclave in the Crimea, after having his nose cut off.[3][11][12]

In 696, the Umayyads renewed their attack upon the Byzantine Exarchate of Africa, focused upon seizing the city of Carthage and managed to capture it in 697. Leontios sent John the Patrician with an army to retake the city, which John accomplished after launching a surprise attack on its harbor. Despite this initial success, the city was swiftly retaken by Umayyad reinforcements, which forced John to retreat to Crete to regroup. A group of officers who feared Leontios's wrath for failing to recapture Carthage killed John, and declared Apsimar, who took the regnal name Tiberius,[b] emperor.[3] Tiberius gathered a fleet and allied himself with the Green faction (one of the Hippodrome factions), before sailing for Constantinople, which was enduring an outbreak of the bubonic plague.[3] Tiberius and his troops landed at the port of Sykai on the Golden Horn, and then proceeded to lay siege to the city.[14] After several months of siege, the gates of Constantinople were opened for Tiberius's forces by members of the Green faction, allowing Tiberius to seize the city and depose Leontios;[3][14][15][16] however, this surrender did not prevent his troops from plundering the city.[17] Tiberius had Leontios's nose slit, and sent him to live in the Monastery of Psamathion in Constantinople.[3][15][16] According to chronicler Michael the Syrian, himself citing an unnamed contemporary Syriac source, Tiberius justified his coup by saying:[18]

Just as Justinian [II] because of his mismanagement of the Roman empire, especially for pillaging Cyprus and breaking the peace with the Arabs, thus ruining many Roman lands, and other such things, was deprived of rule, so Leontios, though he had been enthroned for being one of the great men, has been cast out for lapsing into similar folly.[18]


Map of the Byzantine Empire and the Balkans in 700 AD
Map of the Byzantine Empire and the Balkans in 700 AD

Tiberius was crowned by Patriarch Callinicus shortly after seizing control of Constantinople and deposing Leontios.[4] Once in power, Tiberius did not attempt to retake Byzantine Africa from the Umayyads but rather focused his attention upon the eastern border of his empire. Tiberius appointed his brother, Heraclius,[c] as patrikios and monostrategos (head general) of the Anatolian themes.[20][21][22][23] Heraclius invaded the Umayyads in late autumn of 698, crossing into the mountain passes of the Taurus Mountains into Cilicia before marching for northern Syria. Heraclius defeated an Arab army sent from Antioch, then raided as far as Samosata before pulling back to the safety of Byzantine lands in spring of 699.[23][24][22]

Heraclius' military successes led to a series of punitive Arab attacks, with the Umayyad generals Muhammad ibn Marwan and Abdallah ibn Abd al-Malik launching a string of campaigns which conquered the remainder of Byzantine Armenia, which Heraclius was unable to effectively respond to.[24] However, the Armenians launched a large revolt against the Umayyads in 702, requesting Byzantine aid. Abdallah ibn Abd al-Malik launched a campaign to reconquer Armenia in 704 but was attacked by Heraclius in Cilicia. Heraclius defeated the Arab army of 10,000–12,000 men led by Yazid ibn Hunain at Sisium, killing most and enslaving the rest; however, Heraclius was not able to stop Abdallah ibn Abd al-Malik from reconquering Armenia.[24][21][16]

Tiberius attempted to strengthen the Byzantine military by reorganizing its structure, as well as reorganizing the Cibyrrhaeotic Theme,[16][25] and repairing the sea walls of Constantinople.[26] Tiberius also focused his attention on the island of Cyprus, which had been underpopulated since much of the populace was moved to the region of Cyzicus under Justinian:[16][25] Tiberius successfully negotiated with Abd al-Malik in 698/699 to allow the Cypriots who had been moved to Propontis, and those who had been captured by the Arabs and brought to Syria, to return to their homelands,[4][16][25] as well as strengthened the garrison of the island with Mardaite troops from the Taurus Mountains.[25] Tiberius attempted to contain the Arabs at sea by way of creating new military provinces, with the creation of the Theme of Sardinia and separating the Theme of Sicily from the Exarchate of Ravenna.[27] Tiberius also banished the future emperor Philippikos Bardanes, the son of a patrician, to the island of Cephalonia,[28] according to Byzantine chronicler Theophanes the Confessor he was exiled for spreading word that he had had a dream in which he was emperor.[29]

In 693 Justinian escaped from Cherson and gained the support of Khagan Busir, leader of the Khazars, who gave Justinian his sister Theodora as a bride, and welcomed him to his court in Phanagoria. In 703 reports that Justinian was attempting to gain support to retake the throne reached Tiberius, who swiftly sent envoys to the Khazars demanding that Justinian be handed over to the Byzantines, dead or alive. Justinian eluded capture, and sought the support of the Bulgar king Tervel.[26] In 705 Justinian led an army of Slavs and Bulgars to Constantinople and laid siege to it for three days before scouts discovered an old and disused conduit which ran under the walls of the city. Later, Justinian and a small detachment of soldiers used this route to gain access to the city, exiting at the northern edge of the wall near the Palace of Blachernae, and quickly seizing the building. Tiberius fled to the city of Sozopolis in Bithynia, and eluded his pursuers for several months before being captured.[16] The exact timing of Justinian's siege and Tiberius' capture is convoluted. According to the numismatist Philip Grierson, Justinian entered the city on 21 August,[30][31] however, according to Byzantist Constance Head, Justinian seized the city on 10 July, and the 21 August date is instead the date where Tiberius was captured in Sozopolis, or else the date when he was transported back to Constantinople.[30] Six months later, probably on 15 February,[23] Justinian had both Leontios and Tiberius dragged to the Hippodrome and publicly humiliated, before being taken away to the Cynegion and beheaded.[3][4][26][31] Their bodies were initially thrown into the sea, but were later recovered and buried in a church on the island of Prote.[4]


Tiberius had a son, Theodosius, who became bishop of Ephesus by 729, presided over the Council of Hieria in 754,[32][33] and was a confidant of Emperors Leo III (r. 717–741) and Constantine V (r. 741–775).[34] Byzantine Historian Graham Sumner has suggested that this Theodosius may be the same person as later Emperor Theodosius III (r. 715–717). Sumner presents the evidence that both figures held the Bishopric of Ephesus at similar times: Emperor Theodosius became bishop after 716, according to the Chronicon Altinate, and Theodosius the son of Tiberius became bishop by 729, suggesting they may be the same person.[33] Byzantine historians Cyril Mango and Roger Scott do not view this theory as likely, as it would mean that Emperor Theodosius had to have lived for thirty more years after his abdication.[35]

See also



  1. ^ The Byzantinists Anthony Bryer and Judith Herrin have suggested that the name Apsimar may be Slavic in origin,[1] and scholars Leslie Brubaker and John Haldon have suggested a Turkic origin.[2]
  2. ^ Tiberius is often referred to as Tiberius III by modern conventions, and is also sometimes called Tiberius II, when the original Tiberius is excluded from the regnal count.[13]
  3. ^ Some scholars, such as Walter Kaegi, identify Heraclius as Tiberius' son, rather than his brother.[19]


  1. ^ Bryer & Herrin 1977, p. 16.
  2. ^ Brubaker & Haldon 2011, p. 72.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Moore 1999a.
  4. ^ a b c d e PmbZ, Tiberius III (#8483/corr.).
  5. ^ Vasilev 1980, p. 194.
  6. ^ Kaegi 1981, p. 189 & 207.
  7. ^ Kaegi 1981, p. 318.
  8. ^ Brubaker & Haldon 2011, p. 586.
  9. ^ a b Bacharach 2010, p. 15.
  10. ^ Rosser 2001, p. 2.
  11. ^ a b Penna & Morrison 2016, p. 27.
  12. ^ Ostrogorsky 1956, pp. 116–122.
  13. ^ Rosser 2001, p. 473.
  14. ^ a b Haldon 2016, p. 49.
  15. ^ a b Garland 2017, p. 2.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Moore 1999b.
  17. ^ Haldon 2016, p. 185.
  18. ^ a b Haldon 2016, p. 93.
  19. ^ Kaegi 1981, p. 189.
  20. ^ Brubaker & Haldon 2011, p. 738.
  21. ^ a b PmbZ, Herakleios (#2558).
  22. ^ a b Bury 1889, p. 355.
  23. ^ a b c Kazhdan 1991, "Tiberios II" (P. A. Hollingsworth), p. 2084.
  24. ^ a b c Treadgold 1997, p. 339.
  25. ^ a b c d Bury 1889, p. 356.
  26. ^ a b c Kazhdan 1991, p. 2084.
  27. ^ Treadgold 1995, p. 26.
  28. ^ Bury 1889, p. 357.
  29. ^ Sumner 1976, p. 287.
  30. ^ a b Head 1969, p. 105.
  31. ^ a b Grierson, Mango & Ševčenko 1962, p. 51.
  32. ^ Bryer & Herrin 1977, p. 3.
  33. ^ a b Sumner 1976, p. 292.
  34. ^ Head 1970, p. 15.
  35. ^ Neil 2000.


Tiberius III Born: 7th century Died: 15 February 706 Regnal titles Preceded byLeontius Byzantine Emperor 698–705 Succeeded byJustinian II Political offices Preceded byJustinian II in 686, then lapsed Consul of the Roman Empire 699 Succeeded byLapsed,Philippikos Bardanes in 711