The Byzantine Empire was taken over by Emperor Heraclius in 610 who ruled until 641. He came to power by overthrowing his predecessor Phocas. He undertook comprehensive reforms of the army and state administration.

Administration and Reforms

In Asia Minor Emperor Heraclius introduced specific areas – Theme in which military and civilian rule were in the hands of military commanders. In these Themes, the land is given to soldiers for permanent use in exchange for military service and payment of taxes. By doing this, Byzantium reduced the cost of a mercenary army, which proved unreliable in the earlier period. At the same time, free rural municipalities were established, which, as a community, paid taxes and shared ownership of the land.

At the time of his reign, Heraclius allowed settling of Croats and Serbs in the Balkans. Having beaten the Avars, he allowed them to settle the former Roman province of Dalmatia.

Heraclius was the son of Heraclius the Elder, Exarch of Africa. , who distinguished himself for his victories over the Persians, He had ancestry of another Heraclius (from Edessa), thanks to which the province of Tripolitania was regained from the Vandal during the reign of Lav I.

Heraclius Younger was born in Cappadocia about 575 AD. Little is known about his earlier life, but it is easy to assume that he proved valuable to his ancestors, since in 610 his father determined him to overthrow Phocas’s unbearable tyranny.

This ruler, the murderer of the emperor of Mauritius, whose throne he usurped, committed such egregious atrocities and ill-managed state in such a terrible way that conspiracies were made in all the provinces to get him out of power. The main conspirator was Crisp, Phokas’s father-in-law, who encouraged Heraclius Elder to join the venture. For two years he refused to go in an open rebellion but expressed his hostile intentions by banning the export of wheat from Africa and Egypt to Constantinople. This created discontent among residents of the capital, who were almost completely dependent on the wheat of Africa. Then he denied the imperial treasury from the income of his province and finally promised open support to Crisp, who offered him the imperial crown. However, Heraclius Elder refused it, referring to his older years. Instead of getting involved, he sent his son Heraclius with the fleet, and the cousin Nikita and his assistant Gregory with the army. They were supposed to continue through Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor. They left Cartagena in the autumn of 610. There is a strange story that the one who first arrives in Constantinople needs to become an Emperor. But the fleet takes only twenty days or two weeks from Africa to Bosphorus, while a never-ending army cannot reach from Carthage to Constantinople in less than three months. When Heraclius appeared with the fleet in front of Constantinople, Crisp rose up. Heraclius penetrated into the Golden Horn by force, and the emperor, abandoned by his mercenaries, hid in the palace. When Phokas was brought to Heraclius, the winner exclaimed, “Woe, is it that you managed the Empire in such a way?” “Manage him better,” he was a firm answer. In the wake of the vulgar passion, Heraclius punched the Imperial prisoner with a fist on the ground and stabbed him with his feet.

In the politics of the Church, the Emperor Heraclius is known for the fact that he helped the Patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius try to overcome the fragmentation of the neighboring Churches of the empire, arose from the theological conflict of the Council of Chalcedon.

The meaning of his reforms was to find consensus among the supporters and opponents of the Council of Chalcedon.

At the time of his rising to power, Byzantium was economically and financially exhausted. The Balkans were ruled by Avars and the Slavs, and in Asia Minor by Persians. The Danube provinces and almost all of Macedonia fell into the hands of the barbarians. Thrace is devastated, with attacks on Thessaloniki. Slavs attacked Central Greece, Peloponnese, and even Greek islands. About 614, they destroyed Salon, the center of the Byzantine administration in Dalmatia. The Byzantine Balkans broke into a series of state formations that the Byzantines called Sklavinias.

Military Campaigns

At the same time, the Persians advanced in Asia, conquering Antioch in 613, and next year, Jerusalem. The true cross was taken to Ktesiphon on that occasion. Persians advances in Asia Minor. In the spring of 619, the conquest of Egypt began. Heraclius himself almost escaped the assassination in 619 during a meeting with the Avar kagan.

The results of the reforms he took were starting to pay off against the Persians. In 619 Heraclius made peace with the Avars and personally led the army to the east, leaving Patriarch Sergius in the capital. The Persian military leader was badly defeated and Asia Minor was liberated. Heraclius went into Armenia in 623 and crushed the Zaratustra temple. Persians in alliance with the Avars attacked Constantinople in year 626 where Sergius managed to defend the city. In the east, Heraclius made an alliance with the Khazar Khaganate. A decisive battle was conducted in 627 at Nineveh. Persian power was broken at Nineveh. Heraclius entered the residence of the Persian emperor. The symbolic end of the war is the restoration of the True Cross in Jerusalem.

Emperor Heraclius carries the Holy Cross on his shoulders

The defeat of Avar in front of the walls of Constantinople had led to a decline of their power. Western Slavs under the leadership of Prince Sam established a strong tribal alliance. At the same time, an alliance of Bulgarian tribes was formed.

The Greek replaced Latin as the official language in the Empire, and the Emperor replaced the Latin title of August with the title of Vasilevs.

The fruits of the Heraclius War in the East were quickly lost in the Arabian attack. During the Byzantine-Persian War, Muhammad paved the foundations for the political and religious unification of the Arab world. In the first blow, Byzantium lost the eastern provinces. Kalif Omar defeated Byzantium in Jarmuk in 636. Soon after he attacked Antioch, Jerusalem, and Persia.