Heraclius is said to have accepted the crown with reluctance, and only after Phocas's son-in-law Priscus had refused it. Certainly ruling the Byzantine Empire had nevere been harder than it was after Phocas's executin. Even if the Byzantines still held most of the territory they had had under Maurice, nearly every frontier was in imminent peril. The Persians of Khusrau II held Byzantine Mesopotamia and threatened Byzantine Armenia, Syria, and Anatolia. The main eastern army that faced them was still in the hands of Phocas's brother Comentiolus. The Slavs already in Illyricum were looting it, and more of them had just invaded from the north.
Heraclius became emperor at the age of about thirty-six, with little experience of commanding or fighting except during the final and easiest phase of the civil war. His close associates in the capital were few; his father soon died in Africa, and his cousin Nicetas remained in the East. The new emperor had spent most of his adult life in Africa, though his family were Armenians from Cappadocia, and he had been betrothed to a young woman in Constantinople whom he married on the day of his coronation. He was prone to understandable fits of melancholy, but he had great gifts as a strategist and leader.
The Persian Conquests
Heraclius had gained much credit within the empire for overthrowing the unpoular Phocas. When the late emperor's brother Comentiolus planned to march on Constantinople from his winter quarters at Ancyra, some of his own men assassinated him. Heraclius named Priscus to succeed Comentiolus as commander of the troops in Anatolia, which apparently comprised the greater part of the eastern and Balkan armies. Khusrau, considering Heraclius no less a usurper than Phocas, kept pressing his invasion. The Balkans had to fend for themselves against the Slavs, since Khusrau was the more dangerous enemy.
In 611 two Persian forces advanced between Priscus's army in Anatolia and the southern army led by Heraclius's cousin Nicetas. Both Byzantine commanders, still regrouping their forces after the civil war, were far from ready to meet the Persian armies under Shahin and Shahrvaraz. Outmarching Priscus, Shahin seized Cappadocian Caesarea for the second time in two years. Well ahead of Nicetas, Shahrvaraz reached Antioch, where the Blues and Greens and Jews were running riot, and captured the great city as well. Having cut the Prefecture of the East in two, from Antioch he turned south and took Apamea and Emesa. The Persians plainly hoped to keep the broad band of northern Syria that they had taken, though in case they should fail they sent many of their Byzantine prisoners east.
That summer Priscus and Nicetas tried to expel the invaders. Nicetas brought Shahrvaraz to an indecisive battle near Emesa, which halted the Persians without driving them back. Nicetas then went to Constantinople to see Heraclius. Priscus, who seems to have had a much larger army than Nicetas, contrived to besiege Shahin in Caesarea over the winter. The capture of the Persians in Caesarea would have been a decisive counterblow; but Shahin broke out in the spring of 612. A troubled Heraclius went to Cappadocia to inspect Priscus's army, and that fall he summoned Priscus to the capital.
Evidently heraclius judged that his cousin had done as well as possible under the circumstances, but found Priscus delinquent. While returning Nicetas to his command, the emperor dismissed Priscus and forced him to become a monk. The new commander of the Anatolian army was Philippicus, one of Maurice's best generals, whom Phocas had forced to become a priest ten years before. Apparently not trusting even Philippicus, however, the emperor himself took command of much of the army in Asia Minor, A symbolic demonstration by the aged Justinian had been the only time a reigning emperor had marched against a foreign enemy for over two hundred years; but the emergency justified extraordinary measures.
In 613 Heraclius planned to attack the Persians in Syria from the north while Nicetas attacked them from the south. Philippicus kept a smaller force in Cappadocia to hold off Shahin's superior army. When Shahin took Melitene, Philippicus reacted by invading Persian-held Armenia, forcing Shahin to follow him over rugged terrain and suffer heavy losses. Meanwhile, in the main campaign, Heraclius fought a bloody but inconclusive battle with the Persians outside Antioch. They regrouped, defeated him, and forced him to abandon Cilicia. As Nicetas's campaign in the south came to nothing, Byzantium's fortunes continued to decline.
That fall Shahrvaraz captured Damascus and invaded Palestine. The Jews, who were numerous in the northern part of the country, joined him in a triumphal march to jerusalem. Apparently the Christians of Jerusalem surrendered to him, but in the spring, after he marched south, they expelled his garrison. Shahrvaraz turned back, besieged Jerusalem, and took it by storm. In retaliation for its revolt he deported most of its Christian population to Persia, destroyed the principal churches, and carried off the supposed True Cross of Christ. Then he allowed the Jews to settle and govern the city.
Although Nicetas had withdrawn to Egypt without stopping the Persians, Heraclius kept his cousin in office and continued to rely on his family. Since his first wife Eudocia had died in 612 after the birth of his son Heraclius Constantine, the emperor made a second marriage with his niece Martina. The patriarch Sergius objected that the marriage was incestuous, but Heraclius overruled him. Somewhat less incestuously, the little heir to the throne Heraclius Constantine was betrothed to Nicetas's daughter Gregoria. Presumably Heraclius hoped that blood relatives would be less likely than other connections to plot against his foundering government.
In the Balkans, the local garrison army still held the main strongholds near the Danube frontier, but between them and behind them the Slavs had conquered the greater part of Illyricum, including most of Epirus, Thessaly, and central Greece. They even took to the sea in canoes to attack the Cyclades. Although the Slavs belonged to different tribes, several of these united in an unsuccessful attempt to storm Thessalonica by land and sea, probably in 615. Around the same time, the Avars opened a general offensive to the empire's north, taking Salona, Naissus, and Serdica. Not long afterward, they deported many of the local Byzantines to Avar territory near Sirmium. After the Avars had shown their strength, the Slavs resumed cooperating with them against Byzantium.
By 615, the empire had lost nearly all of Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Cilicia to the Persians, and most of Illyricum and much of Thrace to the Avars and Slavs. About 615 the Visigoths also conquered most of the rest of Byzantine Spain. The only major Byzantine possessions that survived more or less intact were Africa, Egypt, and Anatolia, and the latter two faced imminent Persian invasions. Since even Maurice had found paying the army onerous, the imperial treasury must have been bare indeed after fourteen years of territorial losses, economic disruption, and intensifying warfare. The fisc could have coped thus far only because the empire's richest provinces remained, a good many soldiers had disappeared from the payroll, and pay was in arrears.
Probably in the spring of 616, financial necessity drove Heraclius to pay all his salaries, including military ones, at half the previous rate. Even these he paid not in gold, as was customary, but with a new silver coin minted for the occasion, the hexagram. In halving the soldires' pay, Heraclius appears to have made the change that Maurice had tried but failed to introduce in 594, substituting issues in kind for the soldiers' inflated arms and uniform allowances. Probably he similarly replaced the cavalrymen's allowances for fodder with the fodder itself. Civilian officials, less vital to the state and less able to cause trouble, seem simply to have lost half their pay. Heraclius could have succeeded in imposing such drastic measures only because the necessity was so obvious. The new hexadrams were inscribed, "God Help the Romans!"
By cutting his cash expenditures almost in half, Heraclius gave the treasury some hope of financing the long and ruinous war that stretched ahead of him. In the Exarchate of Italy, the unpaid soldiers had already assassinated the exarch John, and at Naples the rebel John of Conza had proclaimed himself emperor. After the reform of salaries had restored the treasury's solvency, Heraclius was able to send the new exarch Eleutherius with the pay that was overdue. Eleutherius soon restored a measure of order to Italy, and executed John of Conza.
Meanwhile, in the East, Shahin raided Anatolia in devastating force. Again Philippicus tried to divert Shahin by attacking Armenia, but Shahin continued his march. To judge from fairly clear archeological evidence, the main body of Persians went by way of Ancyra to Chalcedon, sacking both cities, while a raiding party sacked Sardis. At Chalcedon, however, Shahin agreed to conduct a Byzantine embassy under the praetorian prefect Olympius to King Khusrau to sue for peace. By now the Persians were in a position to dictate their terms, and had reason to fear overreaching themselves if they pursued the war. So confident, however, was Khusrau of further victories that he kept the ambassadors imprisoned and let them die in captivity.
Next Shahrvaraz invaded Egypt. The resistance was led by Nicetas, at the head of much of the Army of the East, and perhaps some of that of Africa. Nicetas had managed, with the help of the Chalceodnian patriarch of Alexandria John the Almsgiver, to negotiate a church union with the Monophysite majority, now that the Persian danger had inspired a rare spirit of cooperation among Egyptians. Nonetheless, Shahrvaraz met little opposition as he began a methodical conquest of the country.
Over the next several years, the Persians subjugated Egypt and digested their conquests in Syria and Palestine. They made some effort to placate the population, by favoring Monophysites and expelling the Jews from Jerusalem in 617 in favor of Christian settlers. The next year the Persian advance in Egypt and a fresh outbreak of plague forced Heraclius first to charge for the grain dole that had ben free since the time of Constantine, and then to suspend it altogether. In the meantime the Avars and Slavs only narrowly missed taking Thessalonica.
The wonder is that no one conspired to overthrow an emperor whose failures were unprecedented in the history of the eastern Roman Empire. Perhaps the officials in a position to conspire realized that in such an extremity any internal disorder risked destroying the state and leaving nothing to rule. The exarch of Ravenna Eleutherius did proclaim himself emperor in 619, but his ambition seems to have been limited to ruling an exarchate independent of the crumbling empire. His soldiers soon assassinated him.
By 619 the Persians were besieging Alexandria. Although the city itself should have been easy to defend, its large population could not be fed once it was cut off from the rest of Egypt. While the authorities might have evacuated civilians and kept up resistance, Nicetas and the patriarch John despaired of ultimate success. Nicetas left to become exarch of Carthage, John retired to Cyprus, and Alexandria surrendered to avoid starvation. The Persians, who courted the Egyptians by recognizing a purely Monophysite hierarchy, probably finished their conquest of Egypt before the end of 620.
At this point the Persians occupied allof Mesopotamia, Cilicia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, and most of Armenia. This was as much Byzantine territory as they could conquer or hold at all safely. Byzantine Africa lay across a desert and too far from the center of their power in Persia and Mesopotamia; Anatolia lay across the Taurus and too near the Byzantines' heartland around Constantinople. The empire's other main enemies, the Avars and Slavs, already held most of the Balkans, apart from some coastal outposts and lowland Thrace. These northern invaders had also reached their natural limits, since they could only take and keep the coasts and southern Thrace by making a reckless attempt to overmatch Byzantine sea power and capture Constantinople.
Yet the rump of the empire in Anatolia and southern Thrace, raided by the Persians and Avars and isolated from its faraway western possessions, had sunk so low as to tmept its enemies to aim at its total destruction. Because the empire had lost almost half its land, even paying state salaries at half the old rate was straining the treasury. Again and again the Byzantine army had retreated after failing to repel the enemy. In order to show both the Byzantines and their enemies that the empire could be saved, Heraclius desperately needed to take the offensive against his strongest adversary, the Persians.
Heraclius understood and acted. He obtained the necessary money from the patriarch of Constantinople Sergius, who lent the state a great mass of the Church's gold and silver for the duration of the war. This plate the government melted down into coins. The proceeds allowed the treasury to clear its arrears, recruit new troops, hire mercenaries, and meet payrolls for several years. Even bronze statues and ornaments were coined, although they must have been used to pay for military supplies, because woldiers drew pay in precious metal. After gaining this much financial relief, Heraclius turned to reorganizing the army.
The Army of Armenia and the aries in the Emperor's Presence were in Anatolia, and appear to hve kept the greater part of their manpower. The Army of the East must have suffered more, but at least half of it appears to have reached Anatolia, either byretreating overland from Syria or byembarking from Alexandria or Africa. Parts of the armies of Illyricum and Thrace mayhave remained in Anatolia since the reign of Phocas; the rest had been caught between the Slavs settled in the south and the Avars advancing from the north. As a result the Army of Illyricum mostly disintegrated, while the Army of Thrace retreated south with heavy losses. The Army of Africa faced the Persians in Egypt. The Army of Italy could scarcely hold its own exarchate. The Visigoths were about to swallow what little remained of both the Province and the Army of Spain.
In 621 Heraclius transferred what was left of the Army of Thrace to Anatolia to combine it with the troops that were already there. Although the armies retained their old identities, for the present Heraclius reinforced and reorganized them, drilled them together, and treated them as parts of a single force. He seems not to have changed the army's fundamental structure, but he must have needed to consolidate many subordinate commands to bring battlefield formations up to strength. Thus the emperor created a nobile force that probably numbered some fifty thousand men.
While Heraclius was busy in western Anatolia, Shahrvaraz raided eastern Anatolia with a Persian force that apparently spent the winter around Trebizond on the Black Sea coast. In the spring of 622, Heraclius made a truce with the Avars, promising them tribute in order to free himself for a campaign against the Persians. In July the emperor led his reorganized army to Cappadocia, where he found the Persian army under Shahrvaraz. The Persian general occupied the Cilician Gates to keep the emperor out of Syria; but when the Byzantines turned toward Armenia and threatened to outflank Shahrvaraz, he followed them. After some indecisive maneuvers, the armies came to a battle, n which Heraclius defeated Shahrvaraz. Although the fictory was not a crushing one, the Persians left Anatolia, and the effect on both sides' morale was considerable. It was the Byzantines' first defeat of the Persians in years.
Heraclius was apparently poised to invade Persian-held Armenia, when news arrived that the Avars had broken their truce and invaded southern Thrace. The emperor returned to Constantinople, hoping to appease the Avars and unwilling to transfer to Europe the army he needed to fight the Persians. In 623, advancing to the straits, the Avar khan proposed peace negotiations at Heraclea in Thrace. When Heraclius arrived, however, the Avars barely failed in an attempt to kidnap him, and raided up to Constantinople. After sending a vast haul of booty and prisoners back across the Danube, they extroted a yearly tribute of two hundred thousand nomismata in return for a truce that left their prisoners and the greatest part of Thrace in their hands. By now they had little left to take in Europe apart from the well-fortified coastal towns, which of course included the capital.
Possibly relying more on this fact than on the treaty, in 624 Heraclius prepared to depart for the East. His plan was, and may have been since 621, not to reconquer his lost provinces but to make a decisive thrust at the center of Persian power so as to force a favorable peace. His preparations show that he was ready for a long campaign. He left his twelve-year-old son Heraclius Constantine at Constantinople under the protection of the patriarch Sergius and the master of offices Bonus, and he took his wife Martina along with him.
The emperor marched purposefully to the East, where he first retook Theodosiopolis in what had been Byzantine Armenia. Then he advanced on Dvin, the capital of Persian Armenia, and surprised and sacked it. Ravaging and taking captives as he went, the emperor invaded the Persian province of Atropatene. His objective seems to have been to threaten the seat of the Persian court in central Mesopotamia, and by summer he had already come some three-quarters of the way. Seeing the danger, Khusrau II had already recalled Shahrvaraz from the west and mustered a reported forty thousand men. The king led them in person to Ganzaca, the capital of Atropatene; but there he concluded that Heaclius's army was too much stronger than his, and fled south through the Zagros range. heraclius stopped to sack Ganzaca and destroy its Zoroastrian temple, then pursued Khusrau south, taking the king's summer palace in the mountains.
By this time it was autumn, and the emperor had to decide whether to risk everything on an immediate invasion of Mesopotamia or to withdraw to winter quarters. Perhaps because he considered an invasion too perilous, perhaps because he hoped Khusrau would be ready to make peace, Heraclius chose to winter in the Persian protectorate of Albania, in the Caucasus north of Atropatene. After the emperor had sacked some Albanian towns, he was able to spend a quiet winter in the country. During his stay he released his prisoners and enlisted a number of mercenaries from Albania and neighboring Iberia, Lazica, and Abasgia, all of which were mostly Christian despite their recent domination by Persia. Heraclius also seems to have acquired some fine local scouts, because in the coming years he generally knew more about the Persians than they knew about him.
By the spring of 625 Khusrau had brought his chief generals and many of his soldiers from the west. The king sent them against Heraclius in three army groups, led by Shahrvaraz, Shahin, and a third general, Shahraplakan. The emperor marched south from Albania into Suinia, a district of Persian Armenia, while the enemy armies converged upon him. But he outmaneuvered them. He managed to defeat Shahraplakan just before Shahin arrived, then to rout Shahin's army and capture its camp. The remnants of the defeated Persian forces took refuge with Shahrvaraz.
Heraclius would probably have invaded Atropatene again if his Caucasian mercenaries had not departed, refusing to fight so far from their homelands. Without his mercenaries, Heraclius decided to retire for the winter to Byzantine Armenia and prepare an offensive for the following year. As he marched to the north of Lake Van, however, Shahrvaraz followed, encamping at Arces at the lake's northern end. From there the Persian general sent a contingent north to ambush the Byzantines. But the emperor discovered the plan in time, and launched surprise attacks that annihilated the ambushers and drove Shahrvaraz from Arces with heavy losses. Having beaten all three Persian generals, Heraclius wintered by Lake Van, not far north of Mesopotamia.
Unshakably opposed to making concessions needed for a peace, Khusrau now imitated Heraclius's strategy of threatening his adversary's base. He raised new taces, mobilized more soldiers, and came to an agreement with the Avars for a joint attack on Constantinople. In the spring of 626 he sent two armies to Anatolia, one under Shahrvaraz and the other under Shahin. Heraclius had just captured Amida in what had been byzantine Mesopotamia when, well informed as usual, he turned to intercept the advance of Shahrvaraz into Cappadocia.
Though Heraclius caught Shahrvaraz at a bridge over the upper Sarus River, after a drawn battle the Persian escaped him and pressed on toward Constantinople. Heraclius could hardly ignore the threat to his capital, but he would ot abandon the East, where the Turkish tribe of the Khazars had just invaded Persian Albania and Atropatene and seemed ideal to enlist as Byzantine allies. The emperor accordingly divided his army. Keeping a small contingent to lead to the Caucasus, he sent another part to reinforce Constantinople, and a third under his brother Theodore to stop Shahin. Heraclius's reinforcements arrived at Constantinople ahead of Shahrvaraz, and Theodore defeated and killed Shahin somewhere in eastern Anatolia.
A concerted and sustained siege by the Avars and Persians could still be a serious threat to Constantinople. By June 626 Shahrvaraz had encamped at Chalcedon, on the Asian side of the city, and the Avars and their Slavic allies had reached the land walls on the European side, cutting the Aqueduct of Valens and destroying the suburbs. The master of offices Bonus and the patriarch Sergius refused the Avar khan's demand for the capital's surrender. At the end of July the khan arrived before the city, assaulted the walls with siege machines, and prepared to ferry thousands of Persians across the Bosporus in the canoes of his Slavic followers.
This siege began to miscarry early in August. Although the Slavs succeeded in crossing to Asia, on their way back the Byzantine fleet sank their canoes and killed the Persians they carried. Next the victorious Byzantine army of Theodore arrived. By a stroke of luck, the authorities in the capital intercepted a message from Khusrau that ordered Shahrvaraz's execution. When they showed it to the general, he understandably began to plot against his distrustful king. The Avars ran out of supplies and interrupted their siege to forage. The Persians decamped, and the siege was over.
this was the turning point in the war. Shahrvaraz retired to Alexandria, kept control of his army and Egypt and Syria, and ceased to help Khusrau. Not long after the failure of the siege of Constantinople, the alliance between the Avars and Slavs broke down, and a great uprising of the Slavs crippled the Avar Khanate. By the summer of 627, the bulk of the Byzantine armies in Anatolia left to join Heraclius, who was completing the conquest of Iberia. Having made his alliance with the Khazars, with their help he defeated and killed the Persian commander Shahraplakan.
Toward the end of the summer, after his reinforcements arrived from Anatolia, the emperor had an army that was reckoned at seventy thousand men, including his Iberian and Lazican mercenaries; his Khazar allies came to tens of thousands more. With barely enough time to start a campaign before winter, Heraclius took his chance while he had it. He marched rapidly through Persian Armenia and Atropatene, undeterred even when the Khazars deserted him, and burst into Assyria. Khusrau had gathered all available Persian forces under a new general, Rahzad, who followed the Byzantines as best he oculd over land that they had stripped of provisions.
In December, in a major battle near the ruins of Nineveh, Heraclius defeated the Persians, killing Rahzad and many others and capturing many more. Although the remainder of the Persian forced retreated in some order, it was no match for the Byzantines. As the emperor advanced through Assyria burning royal palaces, Khusrau fled from his favorite palace at Dastagerd to his capital of Ctesiphon. At the beginning of 628 Heraclius seized Dastagerd, where he took immense plunder, much of it originally Byzantine, and freed a throng of Byzantine prisoners. Then he proposed peace.
Khusrau refused his offer. The emperor therefore burned Dastagerd and advanced on Ctesiphon, but found the Persian capital protected by a canal in high flood. Though he could have tried to force his way across at once, he chose to turn back to Atropatene to let the Persians ponder their position, aggravated as it was by the floods and an outbreak of plague. His decision proved sie. Before the Byzantines arrived at Ganzaca, Khusrau had been overthrown by his son Kavad II, who executed his father and sued for peace.
In little more than a month, both sides agreed to a treaty. It provided for the return of all prisoners and the restoration of the frontier between Byzantium and Persia as it had been in 602. These terms served the interests of both sides. Kavad had little control over Syria and Egypt, which wee in the hands of Shahrvaraz, and Heraclius had good reason not to humiliate a complaisant king by demanding further concessions. In early April, the emperor freed his prisoners and left for Armenia with his empress Martina, who had accompanied her husband through all his travails.
Intending now to deal with Shahrvaraz, Heraclius wintered at Amida, which he had taken two years before. As the virtual ruler of Syria and Egypt, the Persian general was not eager to surrender his satrapy to the empire. But Kavad II died in September, apparently of the plague, and was succeeded by his young son Ardashir III. After further maneuvering, the next summer Heraclius and Shahrvaraz met at Arabissus in southern Cappadocia and came to an agreement. Shahrvaraz would restore Egypt and Syria, along with the True Cross, which he had taken himself at Jerusalem. In return, Heraclius would give up his claim to Mesopotamia south of Amida and support the claim of Shahrvaraz to the Persian throne.
Thus the Byzantines reoccupied Egypt and Syria, and Heraclius brought the True Cross gloriously back to Jerusalem in March 630. Shahrvaraz led his army to Ctesiphon the next month, killed Ardashir III, and became king of Persia. But just two months later, conspirators assassinated the great general and replaced him with Khusrau's daughter Boran. Considering his agreement with Shahrvaraz moot, Heraclius took advantage of the confusion in Persia to reoccupy Byzantine Mesopotamia. He met with no opposition from Boran, or from the ephemeral kings who fought for power after her death in early 631. That year, the seventh after the beginning of his Persian campaign, the emperor and his faithful wife Martina returned to Constantinople for a richly deserved triumph.
Heraclius's victory over the Persians was an astonishing achievement, won by a combination of patience, determination, and skill. But restoring the empire's boundaries in the East was not the same thing as restoring the empire. The Slavs still held most of the Balkans. Much of the East was devastated after years of warfare, now followed by more plague. Shahrvaraz had put the Monophysites firmly in control of the egyptian, Syrian, and Armenian churches, aggravating their schism with Constantinople. The war had depleted and dispersed the army, and the loan that had to be repaid to the Church apparently exceeded the booty taken in Persia.
His success had at least made the emperor sure of his reputation and talents, and he confidently threw himself into the task of repairing the empire. After the reduction of the army's size and pay during the war, expenses probably approximated the empire's diminished revenues, so that Heraclius could and did begin to pay back what he had borrowed from the Church. But he was very short of money, and economized whenever he could. Since for the present he left the Slavs undisturbed in the Balkans, he could not send the battered Army of Thrace back to its old positions, and probably left it in western Anatolia. But he did return the eastern armies to their stations, and he apparently reassembled the eastern frontier troops, some of whom may even have continued to serve under the Persians. He seems to have put Syria and Mesopotamia under military governors like the dukes of Egypt, who had both civil powers and commands over fonrtier troops. For several years the emperor spent most of his time at Edessa, supervising the reintegration of Egypt and Syria into the empire.
Heraclius's zeal is particularly evident from his fresh attempt to heal the all but hopeless schism with the Monophysites. The doctrine that he proposed as a compromise between Monophysites and Chalcedonians became known as Monoenergism. While accepting the Chalceodnian formula that Crhist had two nature, Monoenergism ascribed to him only one energy, a deliberately vague term meaning something like "motivation." Though this was of course an attempt to blur the distinction between one and two natures, that distinction had always been much sharper in polemics than in theology.
The patriarch of Constantinople Sergius, a Syrian from a Monophysite family, favored Monoenergism. Athanasius, the Monophysite patriarch of Antioch since 595, accepted Monoenergism in 631 along with most of his hierarchy. That year Heraclius chose a new patriarch of Alexandria, Cyrus of Phasis, who endorsed Monoenergism; the emperor strengthened Cyrus's hand by making him not just patriarch but prefect of Egypt, with authority over its dukes. With the help of a little persecution, Cyrus managed to win the consent of most of the Egyptian church to Monoenergism at a council held at Alexandria in 633. meanwhile a council of the Armenian church joined the union as well, and the schism seemed to have come to a miraculous end.
That Heraclius succeeded even for a moment in reuniting the Church is a sign of his immense prestige at the time. Although the empire was exhausted and fragile, it seemed likely to have a respite of some years in which to recover its strength. Persia was more exhausted still, even after it regained a fairly stable government under King Yazdgird III in 632. The weakened Avars lost another battle to the Bulgars who lived north and east of the lower Danube; the Bulgar khan Kuvrat made a treaty with heraclius to keep their common enemy at bay. The Slavs were content to stay where they were in the Balkans, and with their divided leadership might yet be pushed back. The only significant attacks on the empire were some raids on Palestine by nomadic Arabs, who for centuries had been a mere nuisance.
The Arab Conquests
Yet the Arabs had recently become very different from what they had been. In 622, the year of Heraclius's first offensive against the Persians, Mohammed had made his Hegira to Medina. There he founded an Arab state, based on his new religion of Islam, that spread over most of the Arabian peninsula before his death in 632. Mohammed's followers then elected a new political and religious leader, the first caliph, Abu Bakr, who finished unifying Arabia within a year. Even after expanding so much so quickly, the Muslims looked for more to conquer. The only lands adjoining the Muslim Arab state were Byzantine Syria and Persian Mesopotamia, each of which, conveniently for the Muslims, had Arabs both inside and just outside its borders.
By the autumn of 633, Abu Bakr sent four Arab armies, totaling some twenty-four thosand men, into southern Palestine. They had the help of their fellow Arabs from the border region, whom the financially embarrassed empire had recently denied their usual subsidy. At first the arab armies merely raided the countryside in force, but they were too numerous to ignore. In early 634 the local commander Sergius, probably duke of Palestine, gathered his forces and attacked the raiders near Gaza. He lost, and died in the battle.
At Edessa Heraclius recognized the danger and mustered the Army of the East and other troops under his brother Theodore. Rather than withdraw the raiders, the caliph ordered an Arab army that was then raiding Persian Mesopotamia to reinforce them. It arrived under its energetic commander Khalid ibn al-Walid, who became the main leader of the invasion. He joined most of the other Arabs near Bostra, which surrendered to them. That summer Theodore met them in a battle between Gaza and Jerusalem, and was soundly defeated. He returned to Edessa to face his brother's wrath.
Heraclius's theological compromise began to founder along with his fortunes in arms. Strong opposition to Monoenergism had emerged among the Egyptian and Syrian Monophysites and the Palestinian Chalcedonians, the latter led by the patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius. Even the Constantinopolitan patriarch Sergius had become disenchanted with the theological ambiguities of Monoenergism and wrote to Pope Honorius for advice. The pope rejected Monoenergism, conceding only that Christ had one will, in the sense that he willed nothing self-contradictory. In deference to the Pope, Heraclius abandoned Monoenergism toward the end of 634. Instead he tried to regain divine favor by a halfhearted order to convert the Jews.
The next year Heraclius regrouped his forces in Syria under two new generals, Theodore the Sacellarius and Baanes. The empire's military position kept deteriorating. While the Byzantine commanders made their preparations, Damascus and Emesa surrendered to the Arabs. By early 636 the Byzantines had gathered some forty thousand soldiers and expelled the Arabs from both cities. But Khalid's Arabs then defeated Theodore, who apparently led the smaller force, near Emesa. After seeking refuge with Baanes, Theodore turned back at the news, true or false, that Baanes' army had proclaimed its general emperor. While the Byzantines were in disarray, the Arabs met baanes' army south of Damascus, by the canyon on the riveer Hieromyax - in arabic, Yarmuk. The Byzantines put up a desperate struggle, but in the end the arabs killed many of them and drove most of the rest over a precipice to their deaths. These overwhelming defeats left the Byzantine forces in Syria incapable of further resistance.
Now fully aware of the threat posed by the Arabs, Heraclius decided to abandon Syria for the present and to concentrate on saving Egypt. Apparently he reinforced Egypt with troops from one of the armies in the Emperor's Presence under their commander John. Part of the Army of the East may also have reached Egypt, while the rest of it retreated into Anatolia. Having done what he could for Egypt and his armies, the emperor left the East, ordering that the True Cross be sent to Constantinople for safekeeping.
Heraclius was now over sixty, aged by anxiety, ill with dropsy, and despondent at losing to the Arabs the lands that he had just reclaimed from the Persians. Some Byzantines, perhaps including the emperor himself, thought God was punishing him for his incestuous marriage to martina, since of their eleven children four had died and two were crippled. The emperor became so morbidly afraid of the sea that he remained at the Palace of Hieria on the Asian shore of the Bosporus, refusing to cross to the capital. He quarreled with his brother Theodore, and in late 637 punished his bastard son Athalaric and some associates for an alleged plot.
The victorious Arabs retook Damascus, advanced through Syria, and in 637 conquered its northern part, including Antioch and Beroea. At the same time they won a devastating victory over the Persians in Mesopotamia and captured Ctesiphon. Soon the new caliph 'Umar arrived to oversee the annexation of Syria to his domains. After the patriarch Sophronius sadly surrendered Jerusalem early in 638, the Arabs held all of Syria except for some beleaguered coastal cities. Egypt was isolated, and Byzantine Mesopotamia almost defenseless. The governor of Osrhoene John, who was probably its duke, agreed to pay the Arabs one hundred thousand nomismata a year from local revenues not to cross the Euphratse. But after John had made the first payment, the emperor dismissed and exiled him, evidently for exceeding his authority. The main restraint on the Arabs was the plague, which many of them caught from the Syrians and Egyptians.
Heraclius finally returned to his capital in 638, over a bridge of boats designed to allay his hydrophobia. In a last attempt to salvage his theological compromise, he issued a statement of faith prepared by the patriarch Sergius, the Ecthesis ("Exposition"). The Ecthesis affirmed the Council of Chalcedon and the two natures of Crhist, forbade further discussion of Christ's energies - which few wanted to discuss anyway - and declared, using language permitted by Pope Honorius, that Christ had one will. This doctrine of one will, or Monotheletism, differed from Monoenergism only in being slightly less muddled. Sergius died just after its promulgation, but the new patriarch Pyrrhus held a council that approved the Ecthesis.
In 639, after receiving no tribute from Byzantine Mesopotamia, the Arabs began their conquest of the country. They finished the task with little delay, accepting the surrender of Edessa and storming Dara. Late the same year, other Arabs invaded Egypt. The leader of this expedition, who seems already to have extorted tribute from the Egyptians, was 'Amr ibn al-'As, one of the conquerors of Syria. 'Amr is said to have led no more than four thousand men; once Heraclius's general John had arrived, Egypt was surely defended by more soldiers than this, even without counting the bedraggled garrison troops. But the country was still suffering from the plague, impoverished and demoralized. Since the Egyptian prefect and patriarch Cyrus had intensified his persecution of the Monophysites to force them to accept Monotheletism, a number of Egyptians were ready to cooperate with the invaders. Yet if properly defended the Nile presented the Arabs with a major obstacle.
'Amr easily took the coastal towns on his way, but met firm resistance near the Nile from John and the local dukes. After a furious battle in which John died, 'Amr had to appeal to the caliph 'Umar for reinforcements. John's successor was Theodore, perhaps the same general the Arabs had defeated near Emesa, and in any case a mediocre strategist. Before 'Amr's reinforcements arrived, Theodore and the patriarch Cyrus gathered their forces at the fortified town of Babylon on the Nile, near modern Cairo, but remained on the defensive. By the summer of 640, 'Amr's army had grown to about fifteen thousand men. With these 'Amr attacked the Byzantines north of Babylon, routed them, and besieged Cyrus in the city itself.
To reinforce Egypt, Heraclius sent soldiers from the displaced Army of Thrace under its commander Marianus. But the Arabs promptly defeated Marianus and destroyed much of his army. In these dire straits, the besieged patriarch Cyrus reached a tentative agreement to pay 'Amr tribute of two hundred thousand nomismata a year in return for a truce. Cyrus traveled to Constantinople to submit these terms to the emperor, but Heraclius angrily repudiated them and exiled Cyrus. The Arabs went on besieging Babylon, and defeated and killed Marianus in a second battle. As panicked Byzantine soldiers decamped from the Egyptian countryside and poured into Alexandria, the Arabs sealed their conquest of Palestine by taking Caesarea.
In Constantinople the plague had returned, and the emperor was dying of dropsy. Along with reports of Arab advances, he received word that Pope John IV had held a council that condemned the Ecthesis, which had already failed to appease the Monophysites and troubled many Chalcedonians. In January 641 the emperor died, an imposing but tragic figure, who had outlived his reputation and his success.
Recovering from early reverses that were understandable under the calamitous circumstances, Heraclius had dealt with the Persians remarkably well. His performance against the Arabs until their victory at the Yarmuk was respectable. Afterward, increasingly broken in spirit and body, he could probably have done ore to defend Syria and Mesopotamia, which were almost completely lost before his death, and Egypt, where only the coast and some isolated strongholds remained. A massive transfer of troops to Syria of the sort that Heraclius had achieved against the Persians in Armenia might possibly have overwhelmed the not very numerous Arabs. Failing that, or while that was done, paying more tribute might have further delayed or diverted the arab conquests. Heraclius had himself paid the avars; only in his later years did he become obsessed with refusing to make payments abroad, beginning with the modest subsidies to the Arab allies who afterward betrayed Palestine. In comparison with the cost of fighting the Arabs, not to speak of the lost revenues of Syria and Egypt, large payments could be justified.
Yet no tribute could have restrained the Arabs for very long, and Heraclius knew from experience that preparing shattered armies for a great offensive was a lengthy and difficult operation. He also knew that Anatolia was much more defensible than Syria and Egypt, and that its defense required a reserve of money and men, which were already in short supply. The field army, probably over 150,000 men in 602, by 641 seems to have fallen to some 109,000. Even these soldiers were going to be hard to pay without the revenues of Egypt and Syria. A total war against the Arabs would have left the Byzantines defenseless if it had failed.
It might well have failed against the Arabs as they were by 641. They still had all the fierceness of nomads, like the Germans, Huns, and Avars who had often defeated the empire but had been too divided and disorganized to destroy its eastern part. With the foundation of the caliphate, the Arabs had gained both cohesion and organizatoin, like the Persians who had recently come so close to destroying the empire. This combination was fearsome, especially when joined to religious fervor, and neither the Byzantines nor anyone else had yet learned how to slow its progress, let alone how to stop it.
Though Heraclius gave up some of his provinces to the Arabs, neither he nor his immediate successors lost his whole domain, as his contemporary Yazdgird III of Persia was soon to do. The failure of Yazdgird's desperate defense of Mesopotamia surely contributed to his later loss of Persia beyond the Zagros, which should have been at least as defensible as Anatolia beyond the Taurus. Even hindsight is insufficient to determine whether Heraclius's measured response to the Arab invasions was a major mistake, a minor mistake, or no mistake at all. It was in any case the decision of an informed, experienced, and intelligent strategist.
Constans II's Resistance
At a time when the prevailing crisis seemed to call for vigorous and united leadership, Heraclius willed the throne jointly to his eldest son, Heraclius Constantine, and his eldest surviving son by Martina, Heraclonas. Since Heraclonas was just fifteen, while Heraclius Constantine was about twenty-nine, the latter became the real ruler, as Constantine III. But Constantine suffered from an advanced case of tuberculosis. The real significance of the old emperor's will was that on Constantine's death the succesor would not be Constantine's ten-year-old son Heraclius, but Heraclonas, with Martina as regent. Such an arrangement was objectionable to many people, who considered Martina's incestuous marriage invalid and her children bastards, or in any case felt that the succesion should pass from eldest son to eldest son in accordance with custom. Yet Martina, as the widow of the late emperor, also had her partisans, including the patriarch Pyrrhus.
Among his other afflictions, Constantine III had therefore to worry about Martina. He leraned from the finance minister Philagrius that before dying Heraclius had set aside a secret fund from the treasury, administered by the patriarch Pyrrhus for Martina. This the emperor confiscated in time to meet the spring military payroll, to which the customary accessional donative added half as much again. Constantine won much good will by sending his soldiers a total of 2,016,000 nomismata in pay and accessional donatives, despite his straitened circumstances.
At the same time Constantine appointed Valentine, a subordinate of Philagrius, as commander of the main eastern army, which probably combined the armies of Armenia and the East. The emperor still hoped to salvage at least the coast of Egypt, perhaps by arranging a new truce. But the inept general Theodore, once again in command of whatever survived of the imperial forces, could not stop the Egyptians from squabling, let alone the Arabs from advancing. Constantine recalled the patriarch of Alexandria Cyrus from exile, consulted him, and prepared to return him to Egypt with an army. But before this army was ready, Egyptian Babylon surrendered to the Arabs, who then upt Alexandria under siege.
Constantine III died of his consumption after a reign of just over three months. His partisans spread the rumor that he had been poisoned by Martina, who took power as regent for her son Heraclonas. Yet her regime followed Constantine's plans, and sent Cyrus back to Alexandria with an army. The expedition apparently included most of the rest of the armies in the Emperor's Presence under their commander Constantine. To replace the praesental armies, the government summoned the rest of the Army of Thrace to the capital from its makeshift quarters in western Anatolia.
Martina badly needed military support, because the eastern armies under Valentine were ranged against her. Apparently she was in financial straits, because she failed to match the accessional donative that the soldiers had just received from Constantine III. Although she exiled Valentine's patron Philagrius to Africa, Valentine himself was beyond her reach in Anatolia. He soon led his men to Chalcedon to defend the interests of the late Constantine's young son. While the Arabs seem to have taken advantage of Valentine's absence to raid Anatolia for the first time, they were too busy elsewhere to undertake its conquest at once.
With Valentine's army encamped across the Bosporus, a mob formed in Constantinople to agitate against the government and for Constantine's son. They forced one concession after another. First the patriarch Pyrrhus had to crown young Heraclius, whom the demonstrators renamed Constans. Next the mob compelled Pyrrhus to abdicate, and his steward became patriarch as Paul II. In desperation Martina offered Valentine the title of count of the Excubitors, promised another donative for his soldiers, and recalled his friend Philagrius. Nevertheless, after more than a month of disorders, Valentine entered the city and deposed Martina and Heraclonas. Valentine apparently shrank from killing a woman and child who were not so obviously guilty of usurpation as Phocas had been. Instead, borrowing penalties that had previously been inflicted for ordinary crimes, the general slit Martina's tongue and Heraclonas's nose, assuming that such disfigurements would make them ineligible to rule.
The only emperor left was Constans II, still not quite eleven years old and dominated by Valentine. Just after young Constans' accession, the patriarch of Alexandria Cyrus agreed to surrender Egypt to 'Amr by the next autumn. During the intervening year, the Arabs were to allow the Byzantine army, and any Egyptians who so wished, to evacuate Egypt undisturbed, taking their movable property with them. All the Egyptians were to pay 'Amr tribute, and the Arabs guaranteed the property of the Egyptians who chose to remain. The Alexandrians were furious with Cyrus for his capitulation, but they could hardly resist further without more help from Constantinople.
No help came from Valentine, who had other concerns. Although the mob prevented him from assuming the imperial title along with Constans, the general remained the most powerful man in the empire. In early 642 he married his daughter Fausta to the pubescent emperor and resumed his command over the eastern armies. Then he departed to chase Arab raiders out of Armenia. Left with no choice but to honor the Egyptian truce, that fall Theodore and his army evacuated Alexandria, where Cyrus had already died, and sailed for Cyprus. 'Amr rounded off his conquest of Egypt by capturing the Libyas early the next year.
After losing Egypt, Valentine's regime mounted a poor defense of the remainder of the empire. Mu'awiyah, the Arabs' energetic governor of Syria and recently the conqueror of Palestinian Caesarea, began raiding Anatolia as far as Amorium, two-thirds of the way from the border to Constantinople. The Arabs of Atropatene - or Azerbaijan, as it began to be called - raided Armenia again; they wee only driven out by the Armenian prince Theodore Rshtuni, whom the empire recognized as ruler of Armenia. Meanwhile, in Italy the Lombards defeated and killed the exarch Isaac, and conquered Liguria in 644. Probably that fall, Valentine again tried to make himself emperor by leading his troops into the capital, but the patriarch Paul resisted him. The unlucky general was lynched by an angry mob loyal to Constans.
So it happened that Constans became effective ruler of the empire just before he turned fourteen. Surprisingly, he brought a speedy end to the weak rule that had hobbled the empire during the four unhappy years since Heraclius's death. At first the young emperor must have depended heavily on advises like his next commander of the eastern armies, another Armenian named Theodore. But despite his youth Constans soon showed all the determination and ingenuity of his grandfather, together with a sense of urgency that Heraclius had sometimes lacked.
After the latest disasters, the empire's territory consisted of scarcely more than Anatolia, Armenia, Africa, and part of Italy, all in grave danger. In Constans' eyes every province was precious. He paid special attention to his family's imperiled homeland of Armenia, and he favored Armenian generals and the Armenian prince Theodore Rshtuni. A year after Valentine's death, the emperor even tried to recover Egypt, where Arab rule had barely begun. As leader of the Egyptian expedition Constans chose yet another Armenian, Manuel, whom he gave the optimistic title of prefect of Egypt.
Since the Byzantines still controlled the sea, Manuel had no trouble sailing into Alexandria toward the end of 645. The Alexandrians hailed him as a liberator, having found that the caliphate levied heavier taxes than the empire and showed less respect for Monophysites. The new caliph 'Uthman had replaced 'Amr with a less capable governor, who failed to stop Manuel from advancing into the Nile delta. But Manuel squandered his time and popularity in plundering the countryside, and the caliph reappointed 'Amr. The vigorous Arab commander gathered fifteen thousand men, with whom he forced Manuel to retreat to Alexandria and then to embark for home.
The failure of Manuel's expedition, evidently a large and expensive one, left young Constans on the defensive for several years. Already in 646 Mu'awiyah managed to sack several fortified places in Cilicia, to make Cappadocian Caesarea capitulate, and to advance to Amorium again. He also started building a fleet for sea raids. Arabs from Egypt now raided the African Exarchate. Even worse, the African exarch Gregory, son of Heraclius's cousin Nicetas, chose this time to proclaim himself emperor. In 648 the Egyptian Arabs began a real invasion of Gregory's exarchate, while Mu'awiyah's fleet raided Cyprus.
Then Constans' fortunes improved somewhat. The imperial fleet drove the Arab raiders from Cyprus, and the Arab invaders of Africa defeated and killed the usurper Gregory without conquering the country. They withdrew after Gregory's successor Gennadius promised them an annual tribute of some 330,000 nomismata. Gennadius also sent the usual surplus of revenues over expenditures to Constantinople, but otherwise administered Africa as he liked. Constans had not appointed Gennadius, and could not easily replace him. Like Gregory, Gennadius relied on support from the African church, whose bishops were fiercely Chalcedonian. Maximus, an eloquent monk from Constantinople, had convinced them that the imperial government favored Monotheletism.
Although young Constans probably held no strong personal opinions on Monotheletism, he was trying desperately to hold together the Chalcedonian West, the central provinces, where few objected to Monotheletism, and Armenia, where Monotheletism was the chief alternative to Monophysitism. Constans tried to set a neutral course by issuing a statement known simply as the Type ("Edict"), which forbade discussion of how many wills or energies Christ had. But neutrality was not what Maximus and the western church wanted. Pope Martin I condemned both Monotheletism and the Type at a council attended by maximus in 649. When Constans sent a new exarch of Italy, Olympius, to compel the pope to accept the Type, Olympius sided with the pope and proclaimed himself emperor in 650. The next year Olympius set out for Sicily, but on the way he died of the plague and his rebellion collapsed.
Arab strength continued to increase. When Constans concluded a truce with Mu'awiyah in 651, the Arabs took advantage of it to finish off Persia and free their full energies to attack the empire. By 652 the Armenian prince Theodore Rshtuni, despairing of further resistance, accepted Mu'awiyah's suzerainty. But Constans was greatly attached to Armenia. He marshaled his forces and at the age of twenty-one led them in person to the East. Neither a plot in the capital by the Armenian commander of the Army of Thrace nor a raid on Cilicia by Mu'awiyah distracted the emperor from his campaign. He subjugated both Armenia and Iberia before returning to the capital to punish the plotters. Even when Mu'awiyah sent an army to restore Theodore Rshtuni the next year, the Byzantine commander Maurianus kept a hold on much of Armenia.
In the meantime Constans had reestablished his authority in Italy under the new exarch Theodore Calliopas, who arrested Pope Martin and Maximus and packed them off to Constantinople. They were charged with treason, which seems to have mattered much more to Constans than heresy or schism. An imperial court convicted Martin of abetting the usurpation of Olympius, and Maximus of supporting that of Gregory. Martin died in exile in the Crimea. The next pope, Eugenius I, neither accepted nor explicitly condemned the Type, and Constans was deliberately negligent in pressing the issue.
In 654 Mu'awiyah launched a major attack on the empire with his always dangerous army and increasingly formidable fleet. The tireless Arab governor sent naval detachments to attack Cyprus and Crete, and he himself sacked Rhodes, where he looted the wreck of the wondrous Colossus. In a wide-ranging campaign, his army plundered Ancyra, took Trebizond and Theodosiopolis, and drove the Byzantine general Maurianus out of Armenia and into the Caucasus. The Arabs also sent the untrustworthy Theodore Rshtuni to Damascus, where he died in captivity, and replaced him with another prince, Hamazasp. Rumor had it that Mu'awiyah planned an early assault on Constantinople by land and sea.
The next year Mu'awiyah invaded Cappadocia, and his fleet advanced along the southern coast of Anatolia. Constans must have considered the naval attack the more dangerous, because he sailed against it with a large fleet of his own. He met the Arabs off Phoenix in Caria, lost a battle with heavy casualties on both sides, and barely escaped to Constantinople. Although the Arab fleet retreated after its victory, and on land Mu'awiyah failed in an attempt to take Cappadocian Caesarea, the Arabs clearly retained the initiative.
But that summer a rebellion broke out against the caliph 'Uthman, who like Mu'awiyah was a member of the Umayyad family. The governor of Syria interrupted his campaigns against the empire to support his caliph, but within a year the rebels stormed Medina and killed 'Uthman. When the enemies of the Umayyads elected 'Ali the next caliph, Mu'awiyah began a civil war to avenge 'Uthman, and if possible to succeed him. Arab assaults on the empire ceased, leaving Constans with almost all the territory he had taken over in 644, except for the protectorate over Armenia. This alone was a substantial accomplishment in such terrible times for a man who only turned twenty-six in 656; but much more was needed to secure Byzantium's future.
Constans II and the Themes
At the time, Constans could hardly have known how long the Arab civil war would last, or how much damage it would do the Arabs. Since it racked the caliphate from end to end, its consequences wee sure to linger for at least two or three years, and the emperor prudently counted on no more than this. To judge from later events, however, he began to formulate plans for reorganizing the army that would need several years of peace to implement safely. As it was, the Byzantine army had shown an alarming tendency to disintegrate after its sharp defeats in Syria and Egypt, and a disturbing tendency to rebel, especially in the West. Paying it must always have been difficult, and would probably become impossible if the surplus revenue from Africa was lost for long.
Constans first turned his attention to Armenia, where Prince Hamazasp, though installed by the Arabs, appealed to Byzantium as soon as he had some hope of resisting them. With this help, aByzantine army reestablished its Armenian protectorate in 657. The next year Constans led the empire's first serious campaign against the Slavs in more than half a century. His limited objective was evidently not to make conquests but to protect the empire's remnant of southern Thrace by weakening the Slavs on its border. This much he achieved, taking many Slavs captive.
In 659 the Arab civil war still raged, and Mu'awiyah, afraid that Constans might exploit it further, made a generous truce with him. This time the Arabs would pay the tribute, at the daily rate of 1,000 nomismata, a horse, and a slave. While paying tribute was unprecedented for the Arabs, receiving it was quite exceptional for the empire; the Byzantines had long regarded tribute as something paid only to barbarians, but by now Constans must have needed the 365,000 nomismata a year. The treaty's best feature for the emperor was that he could depend on it for as long as chaos continued in the caliphate.
In all probability, Constans took this chance to make military arrangements for many years to come. Between 659 and 662, according to plausible guesswork, he reorganized his army into the commands that were to dominate the empire's military history for the next three centuries: the themes (themata). The Greek word is rather mysterious, but may mean something like "emplacements." The themes were simply the mobile armies of the previous period settled in specific districts, also called themes, which they served to defend. As the empire's territory had shrunk, most of its armies had retreated to new stations. Because all of Anatolia now needed defending, all of it received soldiers. Because Greek had become the empire's almost exclusive language, the armies acquired Hellenized names.
So the armies in the Emperor's presence, lately known as Obsequium ("retinue"), became the Opsician Theme, stationed much as before in southern Thrace and northwestern Anatolia. The Army of Armenia became the Armeniac Theme, stationed in most of its original territory in eastern Anatolia, to the west of the Armenian protectorate. The Army of the East became the Anatolic Theme; but since it had lost all its original territory except Cilicia and Isauria, most of its men had taken up quarters in central Anatolia. The Army of Thrace became the Thracesian Theme, settled in western Anatolia where Heraclius had withdrawn it. Constans also craeted a corps of marines, the Carabisian Theme, named after a Greek word for ship (karabis) and based in Greece and the Aegean islands, and on the southern shore of Anatolia. This appears to have been formed from the remains of the Army of Illyricum, whose territory had included Greece.
Within the boundaries of each theme, the soldiers received grants of land. From these the men were to support themselves and raise or buy their supplies, evidently including horses and fodder for the cavalry. To sell them their arms and other equipment, Constans seems to have relied on an expanded system of state warehouses that accepted goods as well as money in exchange. The land grants replaced the soldiers' issues of uniforms, arms, and horses and half of their former pay, which now fell to a mere five nomismata. Although the soldiers resided on their land grants, they were supposed to appear whenever they were summoned - at least every spring to be inspected, drilled, and paid - and to go on offensive and defensive campaigns.
Except for the count (komes) of the Opsician Theme, the commander of each theme was titled a strategus (strategos, "general"). The OPsician count had his headquarters at Ancyra, the Anatolic strategus at Amorium, the Armeniac strategus apparently at Euchaita, and the Thracesian strategus probably at Chonae, so that all four army commanders were based in central Anatolia. The naval strategus of the Carabisians had his base on the island of Samos. Subordinates of each strategus, called turmarchs (tourmarchai), commanded divisions of their soldiers and territory called turmae (tourmai). Under them drungaries (droungarioi) headed subdivisions called drungi (droungoi), each with a thousand soldiers. Although for a time the civil provinces continued to exist alongside the themes, they served mainly as circumscriptions for the collection of taxes and the franchising of state warehouses. For most purposes the strategus of a theme was the governor of its region.
The one source to date the organization of the themes attributes it to the immediate successors of Heraclius, among whom Constans is the only plausible candidate. The sources first mention themes by name after 662, when Constans left for a long campaign in the West with soldiers from the Opsician Theme, while the Armeniac Theme remained in the East. freferences to themes are frequent thereafter. The earliest surviving lead seal of a state warehouse that seems to have supplied the themes probably dates to 659. Afterward such seals are common. At the same time, coins of types minted after 658 are far less common at Anatolian archeological sites than earlier coins, a sign that the state was spending much less money there.
Settling the soldiers in the themes would have been possible only when they were not needed for active duty for several years, a condition that among the possible times applied only during the interval from 659 to 662. As the men took up their new places they would also have needed to fortify many of their posts; and many coins, most of them probably paid to soldiers, date a large number of Anatolian fortifications to the reign of Constans II, including new walls for Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, and Ancyra. A final consideration for dating the themes' origin is that for this period evidence of the empire's internal history is worse than for almost any other time, so that the sources' silence about such a momentous change is most easily explained if the change was made then. For it to have developed through any sort of gradual evolution is practically impossible.
If this conjectural date is right, during these four years soldiers and marines were settled all over Anatolia and southern Thrace on specific land grants. Much later sources put the value of a cavalryman's grant at a minimum of four pounds of gold and a marine's at a minimum of two; both minimums should have been enough to allow and indeed to require the men to keep tenants to do farm work for them. Infantrymen doubtless had farms that were smaller, but still big enough to support them adequately. When a soldier died, his land grant and his place on the rolls passed together to his heir, so that in principle every vacancy was filled at once.
The soldiers' grants may well have approached a fifth of the arable land of Anatolia. Some of this may have been confiscated from private owners, but most of it seems to have come from the old imperial estates, large tracts farmed by tenants that from now on practically disappear. Though handing out these estates would have deprived the treasury of their rents, eliminating half the military payroll and all the coss of military equipment should have saved considerably more. The state also saved itself the trouble of collecting the rents and distributing the equipment, because the state warehouses were apparently run by private contractors. Best of all, by spreading soldiers over the empire the system gave most regions their own defense against enemy raids. Yet the soldiers of the themes were still mobile, and form the first Constans probably planned to take many of them with him on his western expedition.
Anticipating his departure, the emperor took some preventive measures against potential troublemakers. In 661 he executed his brother Theodosius on suspicion of conspiracy, and he amputated the tongue and hand of the Chalcedonian theologian Maximus, who died in exile the next year. Though the original charge against Maximus had been political, his theology was in Constans' eyes a cause of the revolts of the western exarchs Gregory and Olympius - perhaps even of the suspected plot of Theodosius. Maximus earned the epithet "Confessor" by refusing to clear himself by accepting the Type. Yet Constans was not hostile to all Chalcedonians, and several years earlier he had confirmed the election of Pope Vitalian, who without accepting the Type remained on correct terms with the emperor.
For Byzantine purposes, the wrong side won the Arab civil war. In 661 'Ali was assassinated, and the victorious Mu'awiyah became caliph, restoring the Umayyad dynasty. Mu'awiyah moved the capital of the caliphate to Damascus, and resumed his plans against Byzantium with more determination than ever. When the new aliph sent an expedition to Armenia, the Armenians promptly accepted his dominion. Constans nonetheless decided that for the present he had done enough to defend the East, and prepared to leave for the West.
There the emperor meant to suppress the disturbing signs of independence in the exarchates, if possible to defeat the Lombards and Arabs who threatened them, and probably to introduce the system of military lands. Constans left his wife Fausta and his three sons behind in the capital. Although his eldest son Constantine was at most seventeen and more likely about thirteen, Constans probably saw him married before departing, and gave him real control over the government. Since Constans himself hd married at eleven and begun ruling at thirteen, for him precocity was a matter of course.
So in 662 Constans set sail for Thessalonica, not bothering to clear the land route from Constantinople of Slavs. From Thessalonica he marched overland to Athens and Corinth, perhaps to ready the Carabisian Theme for the expedition. The next spring Constans and much of the Opsician and Carabisian themes sailed to Tarentum in southern Italy, where they began a war against the local Lombards. The emperor exacted a nominal submission from the Lombard duke of Benevento, then marched by way of Naples to Rome. He and Pope Vitalian greeted each other cordially, but the emperor carried off a quantity of bronze ornaments from the city, presumably to buy supplies for his army. After a stay of just twelve days in the empire's ancient capital, he marched back to Naples and on to Rhegium, where his fleet carried his soldiers to Syracuse in the fall. This campaign was too rapid to accomplish much, but by showing the flag it deterred the Lombards from attacking and the Italians from rebelling for some time in the future.
Constans now took up residence in Syracuse. It was a good port within easy reach of Italy and Africa, in both of which Constans planned to strengthen his authority. Though in the East the Arabs had started raiding Anatolia again, their raids were no more than the themes could handle, and hardly required the emperor's return. In Sicily Constans began confiscating plate from the churches and levying taxes rigorously, not only from the island but from southern Italy, Sardinai, and Africa. In these regions, and perhaps also in northern Italy, he seems to have meant to establish military lands, and he managed to secure the loyalty of the Italian and African armies. When the self-appointed exarch of Carthage Gennadius refused to pay the additional sums Constans demanded, the exarch's own men overthrew him.
Gennadius, however, fled to Damascus and asked for aid from Mu'awiyah, to whom he had paid tribute for years. The caliph sent a sizable force with Gennadius to invade Africa in 665. Even though the deposed exarch died when he reached Alexandria, the Arabs marched on. From Sicily Constans dispatched an army to reinforce Africa, but its commander Nicephorus the Patrician lost a battle with the Arabs and reembarked. The Arabs plundered the southern part of the exarchate before withdrawing, and even then they kept Tripolitania as a new province of the caliphate. Yet Constans seems to have regained full control over the rest of Africa, and to have distributed military lands there.
While Mu'awiyah kept Constans occupied in the West, the caliph sent more raids into Anatolia. Each year between 665 and 668 Arab raiders wintered in imperial territory. The Arabs put most pressure on the new Armeniac Theme, where their raids extended from the region called the Hexapolis in the south to Colonia in the north. By 668 these Arab raids had exasperated the strategus of the Armeniacs Saborius, who noticed that Constans had been in Sicily for five years and showed no signs of returning. Saborius therefore proclaimed himself emperor near Militene, sending one of his turmarchs to solicit Mu'awiyah's support.
In the capital, young Constantine quickly dispatched his own envoy to the caliph to head off such a dangerous combination. Mu'awiyah nonetheless chose to ally with Saborius in return for a heavy tribute, and prepared an army to help the rebel. While not all of Saborius's officers joined the revolt, most of the theme seems to have followed its strategus. Constantine mustered his remaining forces under Nicephorus the Patrician. Probably this Nicephorus was the same who had fought in Africa three years before, and if so Constans had sent back some of his army in the interim.
Saborius and his men marched from Melitene to Hadrianopolis at his theme's northwestern corner, most of the way on the road to Constantinople. While drilling for battle, however, Saborius fell from his horse and died, and the leaderless Armeniacs submitted to Constantine. The caliph's reiinforcements arrived in the Hexapolis to find that the revolt was over. Yet it had been the first warning that Constans' creation of the themes gave their commanders a dangerous amount of power and autonomy.
Another such warning came the same summer, when a servant assassinated Constans in his bath at Syracuse, and conspirators proclaimed a usurper, the count of the Opsician Mizizius. Apart from the usual personal ambitions, the causes of the plot are obscure, but the emperor did have enemies in the West. Even if he had not persecuted Chalcedonians as such, he had punished Pope Martin and Maximus Confessor, both of whom Chalcedonians revered as saints. He had also punished others for associating with Martin, Maximus, and the usurpers Gregory and Olympius. Probably more to the point, Constans had demanded an extraordinary amount of revenue and obedience from the Sicilians and their neighbors, and kept many eastern soldiers away from their new homes for years.
In spite of all this, the rebellion of Mizizius dissipated even more quickly than that of Saborius. After the murder of Constans, many eastern soldiers refused to recognize the usurper, and the Carabisian strategus Severus apparently gathered his fleet and fled to the East. Loyal troops from Italy and Africa converged on Syracuse and captured Mizizius, while in Constantinople Constantine IV succeeded to the throne without challenge at the news of his father's demise. The conspirators had overestimated the emperor's unpopularity in the army, and underestimated the solidity of his work on the themes.
By the time of his death at age thirty-seven, Constans had halted an Arab advance that before him had surged out of control. He had also arrested the slow slide toward independence of Italy, the ancient center of the empire and still the seat of its chief bishop, and of Africa, a great producer of grain and wealth. By creating a new military system, he had enabled the empire to pay a large army without the revenues of Syria, Egypt, or even Africa. This reform came none too soon, since his confiscations and exactions toward the end of his reign indicate that the treasury had run very short of money.
In the longer run, the themes not only secured the empire's solvency but allowed the Byzantines to hold Anatolia for the indefinite future. If as a general Constans fell short of Heraclius's genius, in administrative insight he surpassed his grandfather. Between them, Constans and Heraclius had held off assaults that would easily have destroyed most states, and might well have overcome even Byzantium's reserves of strength. To those reserves Constans added soldiers who would fight hard to hold their land, and who would replace themselves indefinitely. As long as the themes lasted, the empire was safe from a repetition of its rapid collapse before the Persians and Arabs earlier in the century.