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(21 Oct. 686–21 Sept. 687)

On the death of John V on 2 Aug. 686 the succession was hotly disputed between the clergy, who favoured the archpriest Peter, and the local militia, who wanted the priest Theodore. An impasse was reached when the soldiery, who had occupied S. Stefano Rotondo on the Caelian Hill, sent armed pickets to prevent the clergy from entering the Lateran basilica. Eventually, negotiations having come to nothing, the clergy abandoned Peter and put forward the elderly, uncommitted Conon, a priest, as a compromise candidate. As son of a general who had served with the Thracesian regiment stationed in Asia Minor, he was acceptable to the army; his election was thus carried through with the support of the civil and military authorities, and was duly ratified by Theodore, the imperial exarch at Ravenna.

Like several other popes of the period, Conon had been brought up in Sicily; on coming to Rome he had worked his way up the ranks of the ministry. Unworldly and of saintly appearance, he was simple-minded and continuously ill. The new emperor, Justinian II (685–95, 705–11), although reappointing the monothelite Theodore I (686–7) as patriarch, at first continued his father's policy of détente with Rome, and Conon received a letter (17 Feb. 687) from him announcing that all the high officers of the empire, civil and ecclesiastical, had solemnly endorsed the acts of the Sixth General Council (third council of Constantinople: 680–81); Justinian nevertheless made it clear that God had appointed him guardian of the church's immaculate faith. The emperor also gave notice of welcome reductions in the taxes levied on the papal patrimonies in Lucania and Calabria, and the release of peasants who had been sequestered by the government as security against arrears of tax. Nearer home, however, Conon got into trouble by nominating, on the advice of interested parties, a deacon of the Syracusan church, Constantine, as rector of the Sicilian patrimony, a lucrative responsibility normally assigned to a Roman cleric, and allowing him the use of the ceremonial saddle-cloths (mappuli) jealously reserved for the Roman clergy. The appointment proved doubly disastrous, for Constantine's extortionate regime soon provoked a revolt by the papal tenantry, and this led to the rector's arrest and deportation by the governor of Sicily. But the real mistake in the election of a weak and ailing pontiff, without the strength to carry out such routine functions as ordinations, was that (as became apparent even before his death) it left the tensions in the Roman church unresolved and festering dangerously.

Further Reading

JW i. 243LP i. 368–70 (Davis 1: 83–4)FD i n. 254–6Caspar ii. 620–23EC iv. 362 (P. Goggi)Levillain i. 412 (J. Durliat)NCE iv. 128–9 (R. Sullivan)Bertolini 396–9Seppelt ii. 80JR 206–8

Subjects: Christianity.

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