(BYZANTIUM and the SASSANIDS make way for ISLAM – continued)
Justinian's successor, Justin II, became involved in an expensive and wasteful war against Persia that increased hatred and engendered atrocities on both sides. Justin's war against Persia began while he was losing Italy to the Lombards. That portion of Armenia governed by Persia revolted and requested help from Constantinople. This and other events led Justin II to invade the Persian empire. Then in 570, at the request of Arabs seeking assistance against conquerors from Ethiopia, Khosrau led his army into Arabia. War between Persia and Constantinople was renewed as Constantinople sided with the Abyssinians and allied themselves with the Turks on Persia's eastern frontier, whom they persuaded to attack Persia. The Persians repelled Justin's forces and invaded Constantinople's empire, capturing numerous cities, including Dara in November 573, the fall of which is said to have caused Justin to lose his sanity. He had been suffering from temporary fits of insanity, and during a period of sanity he removed himself from office and went into retirement, by-passing his relatives and naming as his successor a general – Tiberius.
In 582, a dying emperor in Constantinople, Tiberius II, declared as his successor an army commander who had displayed valor in warfare. This was Maurice – a man of Roman descent from Cappadocia. As emperor, Maurice continued with the war against the Sassanids of Persia, and he waged war against advancing Avars – a herding Turkic people on horseback who had entered Europe in the middle of the century. The Avars had settled in the basin that extended north of the Danube River, from which they had been raiding, to the empire's second largest commercial port, Thessaloniki, and they began to settle south of the Danube. Maurice was in desperate need of soldiers, but he received little support from his Christian subjects, thousands of whom entered monasteries to escape from the danger posed by the Avars. Maurice forbade the monasteries to receive new members until the danger from the Avars was over, and monks reacted by clamoring for Maurice's fall. In Rome, Pope Gregory I sided with the monks and those wishing to avoid military service. And more dislike for Maurice emerged from his persecuting Monophysite Christians, including exiling Monophysite bishops, some of whom had been popular in their diocese. [note]
Maurice became involved in Persia's succession troubles. Khosrau I died in 579 and was succeeded by his son, Hormizd IV. Hormizd came into conflict with Persia's nobles, and a general named Vahram overthrew him, imprisoned and blinded him and later had him executed. Vahram put Hormizd's son on the throne, Khosrau II, but aristocrats were opposed to Khosrau II, and Zoroastrian religious leaders were opposed to Khosrau's tolerance towards Christians. A conflict erupted between Khosrau II and Vahram, and Khosrau was forced to flee into Constantinople's empire and put himself at the mercy of Maurice. In exchange for land, Maurice helped Khosrau II destroy Vahram and return to power.
Both Maurice and Khosrau saw the war between their two countries as troublesome. The Persians, moreover, were being invaded from the east by Turks. And Maurice's help to Khosrau II brought peace between Constantinople and Persia, with Khosrau II marrying a Christian princess from Constantinople and maintaining good relations with Maurice.
Maurice had defeated the advance by the Avars, but his government was short of money, and he angered his soldiers by reducing their pay and obliging them to pay for their own arms and clothing. Maurice's frugality also angered his civilian subjects. They had no use for the asceticism in Maurice that they admired in Jesus Christ. That the government was short of money concerned them less than their having been denied benefits from government spending, and they made Maurice the target of their frustration. In 602, Maurice's army mutinied in response to his order to winter beyond the Danube River – a mutiny led by Phocas, a non-commissioned army officer who (like corporal Hitler) was to make a mark in history.
Phocas' army marched on Constantinople and seized the city. Common folk joined the revolt, aiming their hostilities not only against Maurice but also against anyone who was wealthy. Phocas sided with the civilians against the wealthy, and wealthy Christians had their homes looted and were killed by their poorer fellow Christians. The rebels offered the throne to Maurice's son, Theodosius, who refused. With others vying for the throne, the army chose Phocas, and Constantinople's senate obediently elected Phocas as emperor. Phocas then sought the destruction of Maurice and his family. Maurice's five sons were butchered, one at a time in front of him, while Maurice prayed. Then Maurice was beheaded. Their six heads were hung up as a spectacle for the people of Constantinople, and the bodies of Maurice and his sons were cast into the sea. The empress Constantina and her three daughters, and many of the aristocracy, were also slain, some of them after being tortured. Pope Gregory joyfully applauded Maurice's demise, and he described the coming to power of Phocas as the work of Providence. He called on Catholics to pray that Phocas might be strengthened against all his enemies.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.