Although the bible forbade icons, Christians have used them for centuries for two reasons. First, the largest progression of the Christian religion happened during the expansion of the Holy Roman Empire. As the conquering Romans took over new territory, they adopted some of the symbols of the resident pagan religions into the fabric of Christianity to help ease the transition of the newly conquered into the fold of Christianity and ensure adoption of the new religion. Second, the concept that the bible expressly forbids icons is open to interpretation. A very literal interpretation of the commandment forbidding the worship of idols leads to iconoclasm however, the commandment could have originated to forbid the worship of non-Christian idols. As Christians entered into the Byzantine era, icons became the focus of religious and political disputes and the conflict led to the destruction of many pieces of religious art, with the exception of some biblical mosaics located at the S. Apollonare Nuovo.
The reign of Byzantine emperors between Heraclias and Leo III was short and brutal. Between the years of 641AD and 717AD, eleven emperors attempted to rule the Byzantine Empire. The history of this period is sprinkled with military revolts, political coups and the occasional poisoning as the battle for the emperorship raged. Wars with the Sasanian King Khosrau II raged on for decades, and while it is hard to believe that any ruler was in place long enough to have a lasting impact, Constans II ruled from 641 to 668 and was able to steer a neutral course in the religious battles. His laissez faire style helped protect religious relicts from further destruction. Constans II was assassinated and succeeded by his son Constantine IV. Constantine IV stopped the spread of Islam in the empire and protected Constantinople for four years as the Arabs laid siege to the city. Justinian II replaced Constantine IV and he did support land rights for peasants but also placed a heavy tax burden on the empire to support his despotic rule. While the emperors of this time were short-lived, they made contributions that continued to shape the Byzantine era.