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(BYZANTIUM and the SASSANIDS make way for ISLAM – continued)

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MAKING WAY for ISLAM (4 of 5)

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Mob slaughters Emperor Maurice and Family and Gregory applauds

In 561, Justin II and the Sassanid emperor, Khosrau I, agreed to a 50-year peace regarding their mutual frontier in Mesopotamia. Both were having trouble with others. Khosrau in 570 responded to a request from Arabs seeking assistance against conquerors from Ethiopia, and he led his army into Arabia.

Justin II and Khosrau didn't give up concerns with empire. In 570, in the Caucasus region, Armenians revolted against Sassanid rule, and Justin put the Armenians under his protection and sent troops. Constantinople sided with the Ethiopians (Abyssinians) on the Sassanid's southern frontier, and it allied with Turks on the Sassanid's eastern frontier and persuaded them to go on the attack.

The Sassanids went on the attack and invaded Constantinople's empire, and in November 573 they captured numerous cities, including Dara. The fall of Dara is said to have caused Justin a fit of insanity. He removed himself from office and went into retirement, by-passing his relatives and naming as his successor a general, Tiberius – to be known as Tiberius II.

In 582, after eight years of rule, a dying Tiberius, age 62, named his successor: an army commander who had displayed valor in warfare. This was Maurice – a man of Roman descent from Cappadocia (the middle of Asia Minor).

Emperor Maurice continued the war against the Sassanids, and he waged war against advancing Avars between Thrace and the Adriatic Sea. 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 the First 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. note4

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 imprisoned, 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 to 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. 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.

The benefits of reconciliation between the two empires were not given priority by Maurice's subjects. He 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 a non-commissioned army officer named Phocas.

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. It was their way of expressing themselves politically – an environment without electoral politics.

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. Empress Constantina and her three daughters, and many of the aristocracy were also slain, some of them after being tortured. In Italy, 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.

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