The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.

On this page: Heraclius


o.v6s; Fabric. Bill. Gr. vol. il p. 626, iii. p. 519, vi. p. 727.) [J. C. M.]

HERACLIUS ('Hpa/cAeios), a Roman emperor of the East, reigned from a. d. 610 to 641. The character of this extraordinary man is a problem ; his reign, signalised by both splendid victories and awful defeats, is the last epoch of ancient Roman grandeur: he crushed Persia, the hereditary enemy of Rome, and he vainly opposed his sword to the rise and progress of another enemy, whose followers achieved their prophet's prediction, -the extermina­tion of the Roman empire in the East.

Heraclius was the son of Heraclius the elder, 'exarch or governor-general of Africa, who was renowned for his victories over the Persians, and who was descended from another Heraclius, of Edessa, who wrested the province of Tripolitana from the Vandals during the reign of the emperor Leo the Great. Heraclius the younger, the sub­ject of this notice, was born in Cappadocia, about a. d. 575. We know little of his earlier life, but we must suppose that he showed himself worthy of fiw ancestors, since in a. d. 610, his father destined him to. put an end to the insupportable tyranny of the emperor Phocas. This prince, the assassin of the emperor Mauritius, whose throne he had usurped, committed such unheard-of cruelties, and misgoverned the empire ijjt so frightful a manner, that conspiracies were formed iBr $11 the provinces to deprive him of his ill-gotten croisfju The prin­cipal conspirator was Crispus, the soB-in.-law of Phocas, who urged Heraclius the elder to join him in the undertaking. During two years the prudejtt exarch declined rising in open rebellion, but he manifested his hostile intentions by prohibiting the export of corn from Africa and Egypt into Constan­tinople, thus creating discontent among the inhabit­ants of the capital, who depended almost entirely upon the harvests of Africa. He then withheld from the imperial treasury the revenue of his pro­vince, and at last promised, open assistance to Cris­pus, who had offered him the imperial crown. This, however, the exarch declined, alleging his advanced age. In his stead he sent his son Hera­clius with a fleet, and Nicetas, the son of his brother, and his lieutenant, Gregorius or Gregoras, with an army, with which they were to proceed through Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor. They started from Carthage in the autumn of a. d. 610. There is a strange story that tfye one who should first arrive at Constantinople should be emperor. But a fleet requires only twelve days or a fortnight to sail from Africa to the Bosporus, and no army can march from Carthage to Constantinople in less than three months. When Heraclius with his fleet appeared off Constantinople, Crispus rose in re volt; .Heraclius forced the entrance of the Golden Horn ; and the emperor, abandoned fey his mercenaries, hid himself in his palace. The ignominious death, which Phocas suffered from the infuriated mob, is related in the life of that emperor [phocas]. When Phocas was conducted before Heraclius, " Is it thus, wretch," exclaimed the victor, " that thou misgovernest the empire ?" " Govern it better," was the sturdy answer ; and Heraclius, in a fit of vulgar passion, knocked the royal captive down with his fist, and trampled upon him with his feet.

Constantinople was then agitated by two fac-i tions, the blue and the green. The green saluted Heraclius as emperor; the greater part of the popu-



lation followed their example ; and whatever might have been the secret designs of Crispus, he had no chance of prevailing upon the people while a con­queror filled their souls with admiration and grati­tude. No enmity, however, arose between Hera­clius and Crispus, who was rewarded with riches and honours, and entrusted with the supreme com­mand against the Persians. Nicetas, of course, arrived long after the downfal of the tyrant; but as he could not traverse so many provinces without preparing the people for the revolution, he received his share, likewise, in the favours of the new em­peror, with whom he continued to live in the most intimate friendship.

The Eastern empire was then in a miserable condition. Torn to pieces by political factions, attacked and ravaged in all quarters by barbarous and implacable enemies, its ruin was imminent, and a great monarch only could prevent its down­fal. Heraclius was a great man, and yet he accom­plished nothing. He had certainly great defects: his love of pleasure was unbounded, but his virtues were still greater; yet we search in vain for a single powerful exertion to extricate himself and his subjects from their awful position. This seems strange arid wholly unaccountable ; but when we call to mind his heroic exploits in a subsequent part of his reign, we have every reason for believing that he could not act vigorously on account of the circumstances in which he was placed, and there­fore we are not justified in condemning his inac­tivity.

The following was the state of the empire: the European provinces between the Bosporus, and the Danube were laid waste by the Bulgarians, Slavo­nians, and especially the Avars, who, in 619, overran and plundered all the country as far as Constantinople. Heraclius tried all the means within his power to persuade them to retreat; and having at last found their king disposed to return to his native wildernesses, lie went into his camp, which was pitched in the neighbourhood of Con­stantinople, for the purpose of concluding a definite truce through a personal interview. The barbarian having pledged his word to refrain from all hos­tilities, the gates of Constantinople were left open, and a motley crowd of soldiers, citizens, and women left the town to witness the interview. No sooner had Heraclius entered the camp of the Avars, than he was suddenly surrounded by their horsemen, who sabred his escort, and would have made him a prisoner but for the swiftness of his horse. He succeeded in reaching the town, but the immense crowd of spectators were less fortu­nate. Many of them were unmercifully slain, others trampled down by the horses, and such was the flight and the eagerness of the pursuit, that the gates were closed before the last of the fugi­tives were in safety, as there was the greatest danger lest the pursuers should enter the town together with the flying Greeks, and make them­selves masters of the capital. The barbarian then withdrew, with 250,000 prisoners, into his king­dom beyond the Danube. As the part of Illyri-cum between the Haemus, the Danube, the Adriatic sea, and the frontier of Italy was laid waste and most of its inhabitants slain or carried off, Heraclius allotted it to the Servians and Creates, with a view of making them serve as a barrier against the Avars, and those nations have ever since continued to live in that part of Europe. In Italy the ex-

d d 2

About | First



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of