The Heraclian Dynasty (610-711)
Victories over the Sassanid Persians-, the Rise of Islam
Constantine III, Constans I, Theme System created, Constantine IV, Arab Invasion
Usurpation of Leontius, Anarchy, Carthage Falls,
Restoration of Justinian II, Reign of Terror, Justinian II beheaded, more Anarchy
map of the Byzantine Empire in 600 AD
Under Justinian's successors a prolonged war was waged with the Persians and the Balkans were repeatedly ravaged by hordes of Avars and Slavs. It was not until Heraclius assumed the throne in 610 that the Byzantines were able to turn the tide. In the beginning of his reign the Avars penetrated to the walls of Constantinople and the Persians conquered most of Syria,Asia Minor and invaded Egypt.
How Emperor Heraclius Saved the western World
The Byzantine--Sassanid War of 602--628 was the final and most devastating of the series of wars fought between the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire and the Sassanid Empire of Persia. The previous war between the two powers had ended in 591 after Emperor Maurice helped the Sassanian king Khosrau II regain his throne. In 602 Maurice was murdered by his political rival Phocas. Khosrau proceeded to declare war, ostensibly to avenge the death of Maurice. This became a decades-long conflict, the longest war in the series, and was fought throughout the Middle East and eastern Europe: in Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, the Caucasus, Anatolia, and even before the walls of Constantinople itself.
One of the most remarkable rulers in Byzantine history was Emperor Heraclius. He overthrew his predecessor and inherited a ruined empire. Nevertheless he was able to reorganize and reform Byzantium and beat the Sassanid Persians decisively. It was his personal tragedy that his success was overshadowed by the rise and spread of Islam. With Heraclius reign Late Antiquity finally ended and Byzantium's early Middle Age began.
video of message of Muhammad for Heraclius
By 619 the situation was so desperate that Heraclius bought off the Avars and devoted his resources to going to war with the Persians. For the first twelve years of his reign he remained at Constantinople, endeavouring to reorganize the empire, and to defend at any rate the frontiers of Thrace and Asia Minor. The more distant provinces he hardly seems to have hoped to save, and the chronicle of his early years is filled with the catalogue of the losses of the empire. Mesopotamia and North Syria had already been lost by Phocas, but in 613, while the imperial armies were endeavouring to defend Cappadocia, the Persian general Shahrbarz turned southwards and attacked Central Syria. The great town of Damascus fell into his hands In a great offensive from 622-28 Heraclius was able to defeat the Persians .
Byzantine Rulers Part 10 Heraclius
However, these gains were short lived as the Byzantines and Persians so weakened each other that Arab infused with the new religion of Islam were able to sweep in. Within a decade all of Heraclius conquests were lost to the new Arab power. The Persian Empire was overrun and the Arab armies reached the gates of Constantinople. They were later driven from Asia Minor but retained Syria,Egypt and Africa. The last attack on Constantinople was repulsed in 718 by Leo III. At this point the empire only held the Balkans,Asia Minor,Sicily and coastal areas of Italy. Leo III and his Isurian dynasty brought a revival of strength which stopped the advances of the Bulgarians and Moslems. Leo began a campaign against the use of images and pictures in Christian worship, producing religious strife within the empire and driving a wedge between the eastern and western churches. The struggle came to an end in 843 with an imperial edict that restored images .During this period most of Italy and Sicily were lost, the feudal, landed aristocracy grew in power and the bureaucracy grew over-complex.
The Walls of Constantinople were some of the most elaborate defensive systems built in antiquity. The walls were started by Constantine with a new set of walls built Theodosius II, and thwarted many a siege by its enemies. Some argue the walls deflected the Germanic invasions to the west, saving the Easter Roman empire. The Turks were able to demolish the walls with the advent of gunpowder and large cannons . The modern name for Constantinople, Istanbul ,comes from a corruption of the Greek ' Eis tein polein' 'to the city.' The walls are being rebuilt .
The Arab Invasion
The details of the Arab conquest
of Syria have not been preserved by the East- Roman historians,
who seem to have hated the idea of recording the disasters
of Christendom. The Moslems, on the other hand, had not yet
commenced to write, and ere historians arose among them, the
tale of the invasion had been intertwined with a whole cycle
of romantic legends, fitter for the " Arabian Nights
" than the sober pages of a chronicle.
The tale of the last years of Heraclius is most melancholy. The Emperor lay at Constantinople slowly dying of dropsy ( edema ), and his eldest son Constantine had to take the field in his stead. But the young prince received a crushing defeat in 638, when he attempted to recover North Syria, and next year the Arabs, under Amrou, pressed westward across the Isthmus of Suez, and threw themselves upon Egypt. Two years more of fighting sufficed to conquer the granary of the Roman Empire ; and in February, 641, when Heraclius died, the single port of Alexandria was the sole remaining possession of the Romans in Egypt.
End of the Sassasn Kingdom
The ten years' war which had torn Syria and Egypt from the hands of the unfortunate Heraclius had been even more fatal to his Eastern neighbour. The Arabs had attacked the Persian kingdom at the same moment that they fell on Syria : two great battles at Kadesia  and Yalulah  sufficed to place all Western Persia in the hands of the Moslems. King Yazdgerd III, the last of the Sassanian line, raised his last army in 641, and saw it cut to pieces at the decisive Battle of al-Qadisiyyah. He fled away to dwell as an exile among the Turks, and all his kingdom as far as the borders of India became the prey of the conquerors.
Heraclius had married twice ; by his first wife, Eudocia, he left a single son, Constantine, who should have been his sole heir. But he had taken a second ivife, and this wife was his own niece Martina. The incestuous choice had provoked much scandal, and was the one grave offence which could be brought against Heraclius, whose life was in other respects blameless. Martina, an ambitious and intriguing woman, prevailed on her aged husband to make her eldest son, Heracleonas, joint-heir with his half-brother Constantine.
This arrangement, as might have been expected, worked very badly. The court and army was at once split up between the adherents of the two young Emperors, and while the defence of the empire against the Saracens should have been the sole care of the East- Romans, they found themselves distracted by fierce Court intrigues. Armed strife between the Emperors seemed destined to break out, but after reigning only a few months Constantine III. died. It was rumoured far and wide that his step-mother had poisoned him, to make the way clear for her own son Heracleonas, who immediately proclaimed himself sole emperor. The senate and the Byzantine popu- lace were both highly indignant at this usurpation, for the deceased Constantine left a young son named Constans, who was thus excluded from the throne to which he was the natural heir. Heracleonas had reigned alone no more than a few weeks when the army of the East and the mob of Constantinople were heard demanding in angry tones that Constans should be crowned as his uncle's colleague. Hera- cleonas was frightened into compliance, but his submission only saved him for a year. In the summer of 642 the senate decreed his deposition, and he was seized by the adherents of Constans and sent into exile, along with his mother Martina. The victorious faction very cruelly ordered the tongue of the mother and the nose of the son to be slit — the first instance of that hateful Oriental practice being applied to members of the royal house, but not the last.
Constans II was sole emperor from 642 to 66S, and his son and successor, Constantine IV., reigned from 668 to 685. They were both strong, hard- headed warrior princes, fit descendants of the gallant Heraclius. Their main credit lies in the fact that they fought unceasingly against the Saracen, and preserved as a permanent possession of the empire nearly every province that they had still remained Roman at the death of Heraclius. During the minority indeed of Constans IL, Alexandria ^ and Aradus, the two last ports preserved by the Romans in Egypt and Syria were lost. But the Saracens advanced no further by land ; the sands of the African desert and the passes of Taurus were destined to hold them back for many years. The times, how- ever, were still dangerous till the murder of the Caliph Othman in 656, after which the outbreak of the first civil war among the Moslems — the contest of AH and Moawiah for the Caliphate — gave the empire a respite. Moawiah, who held the lands on the Roman frontier — his rival's power lying further to the east — secured a free hand against Ali, by making peace with Constans. He even consented to pay him a small annual subsidy so long as the truce should last. This agreement was invaluable to the empire. After twenty-seven years of incessant war the mangled realm at last obtained an interval of repose. It was something, too, that the Saracens were induced to pause, and saw that the extension of their conquests was not destined to spread at once over the whole world. When they realized that their victories were not to go on for ever, they lost the first keenness of the fanatical courage which had made them so terrible.
Freed from the Saracen war, which had threatened not merely to curtail, but to extinguish the empire, Constans was at liberty to turn his attention to other matters. It seems probable that it was at this moment that the reorganization of the provinces of the empire took place, which we find in existence in the second half of the seventh century. The old Roman names and boundaries, which had endured since Diocletian's time, now disappear, and the empire is found divided into new provinces with strange denominations. They were military in theme^ origin, and each consisted of the district covered by a large unit of soldiery — what we should call an army corps. " Theme " meant both the corps and the district which it defended, and the corps-commander was also the provincial governor. There were six corps in Asia, called the Armeniac, Anatolic, Thrace- sian, Bucellarian, Cibyrrhaeot, and Obsequian themes. Of these the first two explain themselves, they were the *' army of Armenia " and the " army of the East "
The western half of the empire seems to have had six " Themes " also ; they bear however old and familiar names — Thrace, Hellas, Thessalonica, Ravenna, Sicily, and Africa, and their names explain their boundaries. In both halves of the empire there were, beside the great themes, smaller districts under the command of military governors, who had charge of outlying posts, such as the passes of Taurus, or the islands of Cyprus and Sardinia. Some of these after- wards grew into independent themes.
Thus came to an end the old imperial system of dividing military authority and civil jurisdiction, which Augustus had invented and Diocletian perpetuated. Under stress of the fearful Saracenic invasion the civil governors disappear, and for the future a commander chosen for his military capacity has also to discharge civil functions.
Constans next endeavour to drive the Lombards out of Italy. Falling on the Duchy of Benevento, he took many towns, and even laid siege to the capital. But he failed to take it, and passed on to Rome, which had not seen the face of an emperor for two hundred years. When an emperor did appear he brought no luck, for Constans signalized his visit by taking down the bronze tiles of the Pantheon and sending them off to Constantinople
The Emperor lingered no less than five years in the West, busied with the affairs of Italy and Africa, till the Constantinopolitans began to fear that he would make Rome or Syracuse his capital. But in 665 he was assassinated in a most strange manner. " As he bathed in the baths called Daphne, Andreas his bathing attendant smote him on the head with his soap- box, and fled away." The blow was fatal, Constans died, and Constantine his son reigned in his stead.
Constantine IV, known as Pogonatus, '* the Bearded," reigned for seventeen years, of which more than half were spent in one long struggle with the Saracens. Moawiah, the first of the Ommeyades, had now made himself sole Caliph ; the civil wars of the Arabs were now over, and once more they fell on the empire. Constantine's reign opened disastrously, with simultaneous attacks by the armies and fleets of Moawiah on Africa, Sicily, and Asia Minor. But this was only the prelude the Caliph made ready an expedition, the like of which had n-ever yet been undertaken by the Saracens. A great fleet and land army started from Syria to undertake the siege of Constantinople itself, an enterprise which the Moslems had not yet attempted. It was headed by the general Abderrahman, and accompanied by Yezid, the Caliph's son and heir. The fleet beat the im- perial navy off the sea, forced the passage of tha Dardanelles, and took Cyzicus. Using that city as its base, it proceeded to blockade the Bosphorus.
The great glory of Constantine IV. is that he withstood, defeated, and drove away the mighty armament of Moawiah. For four years the investment of. Constantinople lingered on, and the stubborn, resis- tance of the garrison seemed unable to do more than slave off the evil day. But the happy invention of fire-tubes for squirting inflammable liquids (probably the famous •" Greek-fire " of which we first hear at this time), gave the Emperor's fleet the superiority in a decisive naval battle. At the same time a great victory was won on land and thirty thousand Arabs slain. Abderrahman had fallen during the siege, and his successors had to lead back the mere wrecks of a fleet and army to the disheartened Caliph .
It is a thousand pities that the details of this, the second great siege of Constantinople, are not better known. But there is no good contemporary historian to give us the desired information. If he had but met with his " sacred bard," Constantine IV. might have gone down to posterity in company with Hera- clius and Leo the Isaurian, as the third great hero of the East-Roman Empire.
Ere he had reached his twenty-first year Justinian had plunged into war with the Bulgarians. He attacked them suddenly, inflicted several defeats on their king, and took no less than thirty thousand prisoners, whom he sent over to Asia, and forced to enlist in the army of Armenia. He next picked a quarrel with the Saracen Caliph on the most frivolous grounds. The annual tribute due by the treaty of 679 had hitherto been paid in Roman solidly but in 692 Abdalmalik tendered it in new gold coins of his own mintage, bearing verses of the Koran. Justinian refused to receive them, and declared war
His second venture in the field was disastrous: his unwilling recruits from Bulgaria deserted to the enemy, when he met the Saracens at Sebastopolis in Cilicia, and the Roman army was routed with great slaughter. The two subsequent campaigns were equally unsuccessful, and the troops of the Caliph harried Cappadocia far and wide.
Justinian's wars depleted his treasury ; yet he per- sisted in plunging into expensive schemes of building at the same time, and was driven to collect money by the most reckless extortion. He employed two unscrupulous ministers, The^otus, the accountant general — an ex-abbot who had deserted his monastery — and the eunuch Stephanus, the keeper of the privy purse. These men were to Justinian what Ralph Flambard was to William Rufus, or Empson and Dudley to Henry VH : they raised him funds by flagrant extortion and illegal stretching of the law. Both were violent and cruel : Theodotus is said to have hung recalcitrant tax-payers up by ropes above smoky fires till they were nearly stifled. Stephanus thrashed and stoned every one who fell into his hands ; he is reported to have actually administered a whipping to the empress-dowager during the absence of her son, and Justinian did not punish him when he returned. While the emperor's financial expedients were making him hated by the moneyed classes, he was rendering himself no less unpopular in the army.
After his ill-success in the Saracen war, he began to execute or imprison his officers, and to decimate his beaten troops : to be employed by him in high command was almost as dangerous as it was to be appointed a general-in- chief during the dictatorship of Robespierre.
In 695 the cup of Justinian's iniquities was full. An officer named Leontius being appointed, to his great dismay, general of the " theme " of Hellas, was about to set out to assume his command. As he parted from his friends he exclaimed that his days were numbered, and that he should be expecting the order for his execution to arrive at any moment. Then a certain monk named Paul stood forth, and bade him save himself by a bold stroke ; if he would aim a blow at Justinian he would find the people and the army ready to follow him.
Twenty years of anarchy followed the usurpation of Leontius. The new emperor was not a man of capacity, and had been driven into rebellion by his fears rather than his ambition. He held the throne barely three years, amid constant revolts at home and defeats abroad. The Asiatic frontier was ravaged by the armies of Abdalmalik, and at the same time a great disaster befel the western half of the empire. A Saracen army from Egypt forced its way into Africa, where the Romans had still maintained themselves by hard fighting while the emperors of the house of Heraclius reigned. They reduced all its fortresses one after the other, and finally took Carthage in 697 — a hundred and sixty-five years after it had been restored to the empire by Belisarius.
The larger part of the army of Africa escaped by sea from Carthage when the city fell. The officers in command sailed for Constantinople, and during their voyage plotted to dethrone Leontius. They enlisted in their scheme Tiberius Apsimarus, who commanded the imperial fleet in the Aegean, and pro- claimed him emperor when he joined them with his galleys. The troops of Leontius betrayed the gates of the capital to the followers of the rebel admiral, and Apsimarus seized Constantinople. He pro- claimed himself emperor by the title of Tiberius, third of that name, and condemned his captive rival to the same fate that he himself had inflicted on Justinian II. Accordingly the nose of Leontius was slit, and he was placed in confinement in a monastery.
Tiberius III was more fortunate in his reign than his predecessor : his troops gained several victories over the Saracens, recovered the frontier districts which Justinian II. and Leontius had lost, and even invaded Northern Syria. But these successes did not save Tiberius from suffering the same doom which had fallen on Justinian and Leontius. The people and army were out of hand, the ephemeral emperor could count on no loyalty, and any shock was sufficient to upset his precarious throne. We must now turn to the banished Justinian, who had been sent into exile with his nose mutilated. He had been transported to Cherson, the Greek town in the Crimea, close to the modern Sebastopol, which formed the northernmost outpost of civilization, and enjoyed municipal liberty under the suzerainty of the empire. Justinian displayed in his day of adversity a degree of capacity which astonished his con- temporaries. He fled from Cherson and took refuge with the Khan of the Khazars, the Tartar tribe who dwelt east of the Sea of Azof. With this prince the exile so ingratiated himself that he received in marriage his sister, who was baptized and christened Theodora.
empire, and found it in the pretence of supporting the exiled monarch. With a Bulgarian army at his back Justinian appeared before Constantinople, and obtained an entrance af night near the gate of Blachernae. There was no fighting, for the adherents of Tiberius were as unready to strike a blow for their master as the followers of Leontius had been [705 A.D.]
So Justinian recovered his throne without fighting, for the people had by this time half forgotten his tyranny, and regretted the rule of the house of Heraclius. But they were soon to find out that they had erred in submitting to the exile, and should have resisted him at all hazards. Justinian came back in a relentless mood, bent on nothing but revenging his mutilated nose and his ten years of exile. His first act was to send for the two usurpers who had sat on his throne : Leontius was brought out from his monastery, and Tiberius caught as he tried to flee into Asia. Justinian had them led round the city in chains, and then bound them side by side before his throne in the Cathisma, the imperial box at "the Hippodrome. There he sat in state, using their pros- trate bodies as a footstool, while his adherents chanted the verse from the ninety-first Psalm, " Thou shalt tread on the lion and asp : the young lion and dragon shalt thou trample under thy feet." The allusion was to the names of the usurpers, the Lion and Asp being Leontius and Apsimarus !
These atrocities were mere samples of the general conduct of Justinian. In a few years he had made himself so much detested that it might be said that he had been comparatively popular in the days of his first reign. The end came into 711, when a general named Philippicus took arms, and seized Constantinople while Justinian was absent at Sinope. The army of the tyrant laid down their arms when Philippicus approached, and he was led forth and beheaded without further delay — an end too good for such a monster. The conqueror also sought out and slew his little son Tiberius, whom the sister of the Khan of the Khazars had borne to him during his exile. So ended the house of Heraclius, after it had sat for five generations and one hundred and one years on the throne of Constantinople.
The six years which followed were purely anarchical. Everything in the army and the state was completely disorganized and out of gear. It required a hero to restore the machinery of govern- ment and evolve order out of chaos. But the hero was not at once forthcoming, and the confusion went on increasing.
To replace Justinian by Philippiciis was only to substitute King Log for King Stork. The new emperor was a mere man of pleasure, and spent his time in personal enjoyment, letting affairs of state slide on as best they might. In less than two years he was upset by a conspiracy which placed on the throne Artemius Anastasius, his own chief secretary. Philippicus was blinded, and compelled to exchange the pleasures of the palace for the rigours of a monastery. But the Court intrigue which dethroned Philippicus did not please the army, and within two years Anastasius was overthrown by the soldiers of the Obsequian theme, who gave the imperial crown to Theodosius of Adrammytium, a respectable but obscure commissioner of taxes. More merciful than any of his ephemeral predecessors, Theodosiojs III. dis- missed Anastasius unharmed, after compelling him to take holy orders,
Caliph Welid was so impressed with the opportunity offered to him, that he commenced to equip a great armament in the ports of Syria with the express pur- pose of laying siege to Constantinople. No one hindered him, for the army raised to serve against him turned aside to engage in the civil war between Anastasius and Theodosius. The landmarks of the Saracens' conquests by land are found in the falls of the great cities of Tyana , Amasia , and Antioch-in-Pisidia . They had penetrated into Phrygia by 716, and were besieging the fortress of Amorium with every expectation of success, when at last there appeared the man who was destined to save the East- Roman Empire from a premature dis- memberment.
This was Leo the Isaurian, one of the few military officers who had made a great reputation amid the fearful disasters of the last ten years.