Sei sulla pagina 1di 315



A detailed chronology of the
Christian Roman Empire of Constantinople,
AD 578-718




With extensive notes on

the Byzantine army
in the era of the emperors Maurice and Heraclius, AD 582–

mjor (at) velocitynet (dot)

Canberra Australia
March 2010

Within a century of the death (AD 632) of Muhammad, Muslim armies

swept across Roman North Africa and into Spain as far as the
Pyrenees. In the East too the Arabs swallowed up Roman Palestine
and Syria; but they failed to conquer Roman Asia Minor. Cilicia in SE
Asia Minor was the decisive line where the first jihad was
successfully resisted. It was the East Romans (“Byzantines”,
Rhomaioi) who were the only power in western Eurasia able to hold
back, or decisively hold back, the elsewhere irresistible Islamic tide.*

(*) The jihad ran out of steam in southern France (as it now is: held by
the Franks) and on the Volga River (held by the Khazars) in 727-32;
but as I read it, the ending of the jihad in those regions was a choice,
not a result forced upon the Caliphate.

This paper deals mainly with the usual battles between armies and the
familiar political machinations of the ruling castes. But I have also
inserted asides on those changes in material life that exemplify the
‘End of Antiquity’ in the Mediterranean basin. For example, in the
countryside we see the slow abandonment of professionally-crafted
pottery and ceramic roof tiles in rural areas in favour of home-made
wooden bowls and thatched roofs. We also observe—specifically in
Byzantine Italy—a process by which open, undefended settlements
gave way to the fortified hilltop sites that typify the early Middle Ages.

INTRODUCTION.......................................................................................................................................... 5

ITALY: CAMPAIGN BY THE LOMBARDS OF SPOLETO.................................................................. 8

THE AVARO-SLAV INVASION OF THE BALKANS...........................................................................10

THE SETTLING OF THE SLAVS IN GREECE .................................................................................... 14

FROM POTTERY TO WOOD...............................................................................................................................16
THE REIGN OF MAURICE, 582-602....................................................................................................... 19
THE DESTRUCTION OF ATHENS........................................................................................................................ 21
PAGAN SLAVS OCCUPY CHRISTIAN GREECE........................................................................................................25
FOURTH VISIT OF THE PLAGUE TO CONSTANTINOPLE........................................................................................... 26
MESOPOTAMIA: THE BATTLE OF SOLACHON, 586.............................................................................................. 27
FROM OPEN TOWNS TO FORTRESS-VILLAGES, 555-598..................................................................................... 40
SLAVERY CONTINUES......................................................................................................................................41
ITALY: CONTEST FOR THE VIA AMERINA...................................................................................... 44
THE ECLIPSE OF TRADE IN THE WEST............................................................................................................... 54
THE REIGN OF PHOCAS, 602-610.......................................................................................................... 57
LOMBARD AND BYZANTINE ITALY IN 603..........................................................................................................59
THE END OF ANTIQUITY: FORTIFIED HILLTOP VILLAGES IN ITALY........................................................................ 60
MUTILATION REPLACES EXECUTION.............................................................................................. 66
URBAN POPULATION DECLINE SINCE 550.......................................................................................................... 72
THE REIGN OF HERACLIUS, 610-641................................................................................................... 76

THE REDUCTION OF ROMAN DALMATIA........................................................................................ 78

COLLAPSE OF IMPERIAL RULE IN THE BALKANS..................................................................................................79
PUBLIC BATHS...............................................................................................................................................80
THE PERSIANS TAKE JERUSALEM, 614............................................................................................. 81

THE DEMISE OF ROMAN SPAIN........................................................................................................... 83

DARK AGES IN THE WEST...............................................................................................................................87
THE END OF ANTIQUITY ‘DELAYED’ ON CRETE, AD 620. ................................................................................. 89
PERSIAN CONQUEST OF ROMAN EGYPT......................................................................................... 94
THE ROME-RAVENNA AXIS.............................................................................................................................97
THE CHRONOLOGY OF HERACLIUS’S EASTERN CAMPAIGNS................................................................................ 100
THE LAND AND SEA SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE, 626...................................................................................... 110
FINAL DEFEAT OF THE PERSIANS.................................................................................................................... 113
CONTRACTION OF THE STATE APPARATUS ................................................................................118
BORDERS IN 633, ON THE EVE OF THE MUSLIM INVASIONS................................................................................. 120
FIRST MAJOR MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN BATTLE................................................................................122

MUTILATION: NOSE-SLITTING, BLINDING, CASTRATION.......................................................128

ROMAN JERUSALEM SURRENDERS TO THE MUSLIM ARABS, 637/38................................... 129

THE NEW FRONTIER IN THE EAST...................................................................................................131


BYZANTINE ARMS AND ARMOUR.....................................................................................................147

SCIENTIFIC WARFARE................................................................................................................................... 154
THE BATTLE OF YARMUK, 636 ..........................................................................................................155
THE 'END OF ANTIQUITY' AS A PROCESS OF RURALISATION................................................. 160
THE END OF LONG-DISTANCE TRADE: THE EVIDENCE OF POTTERY................................ 160
CITIES: GOING BACKWARDS.......................................................................................................................... 161
NUMBERS IN THE EAST ROMAN ARMY, 641-775............................................................................................ 163
THE REIGN OF CONSTANS II, 641-668............................................................................................... 167

ROMAN ALEXANDRIA FALLS TO THE MUSLIMS........................................................................ 169

A SIMPLER LIFE: WOOD DISPLACES CERAMICS IN THE WEST.............................................172

FIRST MUSLIM NAVAL RAID AGAINST SICILY, 652.................................................................... 185

EAST ROMAN MARINES................................................................................................................................ 188
THE CREATION OF THE THEMES (THEMATA).............................................................................195


EMPEROR CONSTANS’ ITALIAN EXPEDITION, 662-663...................................................................................... 201
THE DEEP DARK AGES, 650-850................................................................................................................. 211
THE REIGN OF CONSTANTINE IV, 668-685...................................................................................... 211
FURTHER LOSSES IN ITALY, 668-687.............................................................................................................214
GREEK FIRE................................................................................................................................................ 217
CHRISTENDOM’S DARKEST HOUR...................................................................................................218
SLAVIC GREECE?......................................................................................................................................... 219
THE ARAB ASSAULT OF 677.................................................................................................................224

THE FOUNDING OF BULGARIA.......................................................................................................... 228

THE DEFENCE OF THRACE AGAINST THE BULGARS................................................................ 230

ISLAM AND THE END OF CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY...................................................................... 234

150-600......................................................................................................................................................... 235

THE REIGN OF JUSTINIAN II: FIRST PERIOD, 685-695.................................................................238

REORGANISATION OF THE NAVY, 687-89....................................................................................... 244

MONOTHELITES AND MARONITES....................................................................................................................254
THE RESTORATION OF GREECE.......................................................................................................................258
THE REIGN OF LEONTIUS, 695-698.................................................................................................... 259
THE LAST EXPEDITION TO AFRICA................................................................................................................. 259
THE REIGN OF TIBERIUS III (APSIMAR), 698-705..........................................................................261

THE FALL OF ROMAN CARTHAGE, 698........................................................................................... 261

THE END OF ANTIQUITY: COINS, POTTERY AND TRADE.................................................................................... 264
MUSLIM NAVAL RAIDS IN THE WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN................................................269

JUSTINIAN II’S SECOND REIGN, 705-11............................................................................................ 271

THE REIGN OF PHILIPPICUS BARDANES, 711-13.......................................................................... 278

THE ARAB-BERBER INVASION OF SPAIN....................................................................................... 279

NO MORE BATH-TAKING?...............................................................................................................................282
REIGN OF ANASTASIUS II, 713-715.....................................................................................................283

THE REIGN OF THEODOSIUS III, 716-717.........................................................................................285

THE LAST GREAT ARAB ASSAULT................................................................................................... 287

THE REIGN OF LEO III, 718-741...........................................................................................................291

THE ARAB SIEGE OF 717-18........................................................................................................................ 292
SARDINIA AND CORSICA LOST TO THE EMPIRE.................................................................................................. 295
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..................................................................................................................................... 297
SOURCES AND REFERENCES..............................................................................................................298


“... the catastrophe of the seventh century is the central event of

Byzantine history.”

- Cyril Mango 1980: 4.

“The passion to go to heaven in the next life may have been

operative with some [Muslims], but the desire for the comforts and
luxuries of the civilized regions of the Fertile Crescent was just as
strong in the case of many.”

- Philip Hittti 1970: 144.

“The Arabs benefitted enormously from the ruinous war in which

the Byzantines and Persians had just worn each other out. The
Byzantines wisely kept many of their troops in reserve (the Persians
didn't), which allowed them to stop the Arabs at the first strong
natural barrier - the Taurus Mountains in southeast Anatolia.
Egypt, Syria, and North Africa were protected only by deserts,
which weren't barriers for the Arabs.

- Warren Treagold, interview 2005, at
warren-treadgold.php# (accessed 2010).

In late Sixth Century, the Christian Roman Empire of the Greeks, which we call
‘Byzantium’, continued to rule nearly the whole of the Mediterranean littoral. If
Constantinople was ‘The Rome That Had Not Fallen’, it nearly did go under
during the late Seventh and early Eighth centuries, as we shall presently see.
The only Mediterranean shores not controlled by the restored Roman Empire
in AD 575 were in present-day Morocco, which was held by various Berber
chiefdoms, and the Catalonia-Provence coast, which was divided between the
Visigoths (Catalonia) and the Franks (Provence).
In Spain there was a Byzantine province called Spania in the southeast. It
contended against the Visigothic kingdom that dominated most of Iberia. The
majority population of Ibero-Romans, and (in the south-east) their Greek
governors, differed in religion from the Visigoths: the former were Catholic
Christians, while the Goths were Arian* Christians. Or instead of Catholicism, we
might speak of ‘Athanasian Christianity’, the forerunner of modern Latin
Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

(*) Arianism, after the name of its formulator, Arius, was a Christological
view held by many in the early Christian Church. It claimed that the created
Jesus Christ and the uncreated God the Father were not always
contemporary. God the Father comes first and is superior to Christ.
Although the Son is a divine being, he was created by the Father (and thus
inferior to Him) at some point in time, before which he did not exist. Hence
Arianism is ‘non-trinitarian’.
The contrasting term is ‘Catholic’, the orthodox teaching that Christ the
Son is both fully divine and fully human, at once distinct from and similar
to God the Father - a “mutual indwelling” of three persons: Father, Son and
Holy Spirit. This trinitarian doctrine became the orthodox or prevailing

In North Africa, East Roman rule ran from Algeria through Libya to Egypt. In
Italy, the Empire still held about half the peninsula, Old Rome included, against a

new and sometimes energetic set of Germanic invaders, the Lombards. The
troops of one Lombard dux had already occupied the central-south (inland
Campania) around Benevento. And here again the Latin-Italians and their ‘Greek’
governors differed in religion from the Lombards: the former were Catholic
Christians while, the Lombards, like the Visigoths, were Arian Christians.
The whole East—from the NW Balkans through Greece (“Hellas”) and Asia
Minor to Syria, Palestine and Egypt—remained Roman (Greek: Rhomaike).
The two great powers opposing Byzantium were the Sassanian Persian empire
and the Avar Khanate. The Roman-Persian frontier cut north-south through
Upper Mesopotamia to NW Arabia. In eastern Europe, the Danube River was the
border. To the north the pastoralist horse-warriors known as the Avars (either a
Turkic-speaking people or an ethnically heterogenous grouping) controlled the
whole Transdanubian region from present-day Austria to modern Ukraine. Most
of the population under Avar suzerainty was German, Turkic (‘Hunno-Bulgar’)
and Slavic-speaking.


Spain: Visigoths vs Byzantium: The key source, John of Biclaro, relates that (1)
king Leovigild, 569-586, invaded Byzantium’s Hispanic territory in 570 and
devastated the regions of Baza [in today’s Granada province] and Malaga*; (2) in
571 he recovered from the Byzantines the town of Asidona in the far SSW; and (3)
following an autochthonous rebellion by the Ibero-Romans of Cordoba, Leovigild
occupied that town in 572 (NCMH, ed. Fouracre, p.184).

(*) A line drawn SW to NE runs from coastal Malaga through mountainous

Granada to inland Baza.

A series of four emperors, all without blood relation to their predecessors.

578-82: TIBERIUS II Constantine

Aged about 38 at accession. Of Thracian origin; friend of

emperor Justin II. Tiberius had served first as Count of the
Excubitors or commander of the palace regiment. In that
position he was instrumental in having Justin elevated to
emperor (565). De facto ruler from 573 as adviser to the
empress Sophia, and formally appointed "Caesar" or deputy
emperor in 574.

"Tiberius by the Arabs, and Maurice by the Italians, are

distinguished as the first of the Greek Caesars", says
Gibbon, citing the 13th century Christian Arab writer

‘Abulpharagius’ (Abu-l-Faraj, Bar Hebraeus) and the Italian

(Lombard) historian Paulus Diaconus, d.799. By this is
meant having Greek as their mother-tongue: Justinian I's
line, originating in Illyria, were by birth Latin-speaking.
One imagines that Tiberius was a Thracian Greek-speaker.
Maurice, emperor from 582, was an ‘Armeno-Greek’: a
Cappadocian of (probably) Armenian ancestry; he would
have spoken no Latin.

Tiberius’s coins show him as beardless. Phocas, acc. 602,

q.v.,was the first long-bearded emperor.

1. Having assumed the throne, Tiberius declines to marry the empress dowager,

2. (Treadgold 1997: 373 prefers a date of “ca 577”:). Theophanes relates that
Tiberius recruited 15,000 ‘federates’ for the army in the East. Whitby 1988: 268
proposes that they were the German (Gothic) mercenaries used in 574 by general
Justinian. Their formal enrolment enlarged the Army of the East to 35,000 men.
The commander, the ‘Count of the Federates’, was the future emperor, Maurice,
aged 39, hitherto Count of the Excubitors or palace guard commander (Whitby,
preface p. xx).

Italy: Campaign by the Lombards of Spoleto

3. NE Italy: Faroald of Spoleto’s* Lombards reduce the Byzantine fortresses of

Castel Trosino and Murro, E of Spoleto, and they besiege Ascoli Piceno, inland S
of Ancona, from several sides and plunder it (578). The Lombards strangle
citizens, demolish towers, destroy churches and palaces, dismantle the town
walls. (In Paul the Deacon’s History, Faroald first appears as duke of Spoleto in
579, but we assume he actually took the title some years earlier.)
“[Byzantine] Strategy was centred on the control of fortified places, both towns
and castella, controlling the routeways, passes, river crossings and ports; key
towns with strong garrisons and dukes as commanders generally formed the focal
point for defensive zones. Larger forts appear to have had dependent territories
to allow for closer defensive controls” (Christie p.371).

(*) A town, SE of Assisi, in the highlands about midway between Rome and
the Rimini-Ancona sector of the Adriatic coast. The ancient highway known
as the Via Flaminia, connecting Rome to the Adriatic coast, divided into two
legs at Narni, just inside modern Umbria. The newer and slightly longer
eastern leg, the Via Flaminia Nova, ran northwards through Terni and
Spoleto to Foligno. Whoever controlled Spoleto could potentially cut
communications between Ravenna, the political capital of Byzantine Italy,
and Rome, the seat of the Papacy. And being inland, Spoleto could not be
surprised by an imperial fleet arriving unannounced.

4. (578-80:) Slavs flood into the Balkans. In the year 578, when Tiberius
Constantine was in his fourth year as Caesar and co-ruler with Justin II, a horde
of some “100,000” Slavs, according to the historian Menander, fl. 582, gathered
in Thrace and ravaged it, together with “many other places”. Presumably they
entered Macedonia in 579. They apparently forced the pass of Thermopylae,
because they 'plundered Greece' in 580. Alternative dating: ca. 582.
Meanwhile the Rhomaniyans transported “60,000” allied Avar horsemen and
their khagan (monarch)—16,000 would be more credible—south across the
middle Danube. These allies repulsed the Slavs and freed thousands of Byzantine
prisoners. See 579, 582.

c. 578 or 579:
Campania: The future Pope Saint Gregory the Great, or whoever it was who wrote
them, relates in the Dialogues [3.27-28] two episodes in a persecution of
Catholics by the Lombards.
In one case, 40 imprisoned Italian peasants (“husbandmen”) were executed
for refusing to eat from meat sacrificed by the Lombards to their idols. The killers
were either a pagan minority element among the mainly Arian Christian
Lombards or more likely pagan allies of the Lombards such as the Gepids. In a
second incident, 400 prisoners were ordered to participate in the satanic worship
that the Lombards were conducting in sacrificing a goat’s head to the devil. The
Lombards demanded that the prisoners bow in adoration to the goat’s head, but
most refused to do so. The historicity of this is queried by Clark 2003: 130.

1. NE Italy: Lombards carved-out the duchy of Spoleto in the sector between
Rome and Ancona.
Spoleto is nearly half-way along a line drawn north-east from Rome to Ancona
on the Adriatic (western) coast; it is a little nearer to the former.

Faroald of Spoleto strengthened and extended the duchy with the aim of isolating
the other imperial territories from Rome (Paul the Deacon, Historia
Langobardorum III. 13). In 578-579 his Lombards besieged the imperial capital
Ravenna, occupied the port of Classis, and burned the fortresses of Petra Pertusa
and Foro Cornelio (Imola: on the Via Aemilia west of Ravenna). Then in 580 he
advanced into the Marche and Abruzzi occupying a number of fortress-towns,
namely Pontiano (Norcia: just east of Spoleto), Fermo, Ascoli (east of Imola),
Castel Trosino, Pens, Marsi (Rieti: S of Spoleto), Furcona (l'Aquila: SE of
Spoleto*), Valva [Sulmona: further SE from l’Aquila], Teramo [SE of Spoleto],
Camerino [NW of Spoleto], cutting off Frasassi [further NW, in the direction of
Ancona] and Rossa, and occupying the stronghold of Pierosara [also NW of
Spoleto, inland from Ancona]. See next.

(*) Rome, Spoleto and l’Aquila are points on an equilateral triangle.


2. Rome: In 578 and again in 580, the restored Senate, in its last recorded acts,
had to ask for the support of emperor Tiberius against the approaching Lombard
dukes, Faroald I of Spoleto and Zotto of Benevento.* In 580 a full-scale embassy
comprising representatives of both the senate and the pope went from Italy to
Constantinople (Menander Protector, cited by Hendy 1985: 409; Haldon 1990:
36; and Wikipedia, 2010, ‘Roman Senate’). See 579 – attempt on Rome. Also 582:
Franks subsidised to attack the Lombards.

(*) Inalnd Benevento was (is) strategically located on the ancient highway
that ran from Capua across the spine of the peninsula to Brindisi on the heel
of Italy.
The Appian Way divides at Benevento. The upper leg or Appia Traiana
goes east into north Apulia (Puglia): to Canosa and then SE to the coast at
Bari and thence down the ‘calf’ to Brindisi. The other leg, the older Via
Appia proper, ran from Benevento SE through the middle of S Italy to
Venosa, across the inland border of Puglia to Gravina, and on to the south
coast at Taranto and thence across the heel to Brindisi.

(or 579-85:) Gregory, aged 38-42: the future patriarch of Rome, served as Pope
Pelagius’s permanent envoy in Constantinople; probably his main mission was to
persuade the emperor to send aid to Italy against the Lombards. Cf 579.

Above: Avars as imagined by a modern illustrator.

The Avaro-Slav invasion of the Balkans


Greece: The Avaro-Slav invasions of, or raids into, the Balkan peninsula and
Greece (noted earlier) in the years 578-588 are recorded by Michael Syrus (the
Jacobite patriarch d. 1199) and the Chronicle of Monemvasia. Haldon 1990: 44
proposes that the raids began “before 577”.
Archaeology shows that other factors were also at work. In the case of
Peloponnesian Olympia, the ancient city* was apparently suddenly buried by a
deep deposit of riverine alluvium. This may have resulted from the blocking of
the river by the earthquakes of 522 and 557. The town’s* life may have largely
ended in 557; but we also have evidence of a small Justinanic [pre AD 565]
fortress at Olympia in which coins of 567 and 575 were found (Hodges &
Whitehouse p.57). So perhaps all that remained for the Slavs to capture was a
small fort.

(*) ‘City’ has an odd meaning in the writings of the historians. It does not mean
(as we use it) a large urban centre but rather any urban settlement, however
small, that also governed the region around it. I have frequently substituted the
word “town” as a reminder that there were few large centres . . .

The pagan Slavs, says Michael Syrus, took many prisoners and carried away
many objects from the churches, as, for example, the ciborium [large chalice-like
vessel] of the church of Corinth which their king used as a throne to sit on.
The Chronicle of Monemvasia says* that the invasions of the Peloponnesus by
the Avars prompted many of the Peloponnesians to emigrate, the Corinthians
going to the island of Aegina, which, of course, is not very far from Corinth
(offshore in the Aegean). The people of Argos went to the island of Orobê (in the
Argolic Gulf), the Spartans to the coastal fortress of Monemvasia, the inhabitants
of Patras to Calabria and the Lacedaemonians to Sicily. This was a token of the
permanent colonisation of Greece by Slavs.
Some have argued that Corinth and the eastern Peloponnese always remained
in imperial hands, and it was in the west, centre and south that the Slavs settled.
Athens too continued into the 600s (Hodges & Whitehouse 1983: 60; Fine 1991:
61, citing Charanis). If so, we must imagine that not all the Corinthians fled to
Aegina and/or that they returned thence to Corinth. As Curta 2005: 111 remarks,
the relatively large number of coins from Justin II to Phokas now in the collection
of the Patras museum is believed to demonstrate that one cannot take the
Chronicle of Monemvasia very seriously, since it is precisely during that period of
time that, according to the Chronicle, the inhabitants of Patras had moved to
Reggio Calabria.

(*) Quote: “In another incursion they [the Avars and Slavs] placed under their
control all of Thessaly and Greece, Old Epirus, Attica and Euboia. They attacked
and forcibly subjugated the Peloponnesus, expelling and destroying the noble
and Hellenic peoples, and they themselves settled there. Those Greeks who were
able to flee from the blood-stained hands of the Avars scattered themselves in
various places: the inhabitants of the city of Patras resettled in the area of
Rhegium Calabria, the Argives on that island called Orobe, and the Corinthians

came to dwell on the island named Aegina.”

The East: Spring: Death of the Persian shah Khusro I, and accession of his son
Hormisdas or Hormizd IV, r. 579-590.
Protracted peace negotiations (spring/summer 579). When negotiations fail,
the Byzantines prepare to renew the war (autumn/winter). See 580.
Negotiations are deliberately protracted by the Sassanians, preventing a major
campaign in 579. The 50,000 Byzantine troops in the East were becoming
difficult to pay and threatened mutiny when their pay was overdue (John of
Ephesus, VI. 28; Treadgold, 1997: 226).

2. First major Lombard attempt to take Byzantine Rome. Lombard

soldiers under duke Faroald of Spoleto besiege Rome. Emperor Tiberius sends
resources - men, money and materiel - to aid the local generals in Italy (and also
Spain: see 3 below). This included grain sent from Egypt, a nice illustration of
the enduring power of the empire (Maxwell-Stuart p.46).
Also c.579: The duke of Spoleto takes Classis, the port located alongside
Byzantine Ravenna (Paul the Deacon, History III.13, cited by Collins 1991: 190).
The taking of Classis, the port of Ravenna, by Faroald probably occurred about
579, while Longinus was still prefect. The ‘city’ (port-town) was afterwards (in the
580s) recovered from the Langobards by Droctulft, a ‘barbarian’ in imperial
service: “With the support of this Droctulft, … the soldiers of the Ravenna people
often fought against the Langobards, and after a fleet was built, they drove out
with his aid the Langobards who were holding the city of Classis” (Paulus
Diaconus III, 19).

Lombardo-Byzantine Coins

An exceptional issue - an early, rare imitative half-siliquae of Tiberius II – is best

attributed, due to its monogram, to Duke Farwald/Faroald of Spoleto. He
occupied Classis, the port of Ravenna, and held it for some 10 years (c. AD 579-
590?). This was no doubt the occasion for the issuing of coins, although the mint
was in the city proper (Paulus D. XIII; Grierson & Blackburn 2007: 63).

3. To relieve the pressure in Spain, Tiberius concludes an alliance with the Gothic
prince Hermenegild (aged about 15) who has converted [or will covert – in about
582?] to ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘Catholicism’ and was rebelling against his Arian father
king Liuvigild or Leovigild.* See 579-85.
Contemporary sources vary in their portrayal of Hermenegild, with most
painting him as a traitor who rebelled against his father for political gain.
Gregory the Great [aged about 39 in 579] as pope, 590-604, championed
Hermenegild as an exemplary martyr who had died in defence of the orthodox

(*) Isidore of Seville says that Leovigild, 569-586, was the first to sit upon
an elevated throne and wear royal (Byzantine-style) robes; hitherto the

Gothic kings preferred to wear the same everyday dress as their nobles. —
Wolfram 1997: 269.

Hermenigild renounced Arianism in 579 or in 582, was confirmed in the

‘othodox’ faith by Leander, the Catholic metropolitan of Seville, and took the
name of Joannes or John (Cath. Encyc., citing Greg. Tur. v. 39; Greg. Magn. Dial.
iii. 31; Paul. Diac. iii. 21).
Leander became at first a Benedictine monk, and then in 579 Bishop of Seville.
In the meantime he founded a celebrated school, which soon became a centre of
learning and orthodoxy. He assisted the 12 years old (sic: others offer 13 and 16)
princess Ingunthis, a Frank, to convert (ca. 579) her 15 years old husband prince
Hermenegild, the eldest son of Leovigild, and defended the convert against his
father's reprisals.

4. Tunisia: Gennadius, the 'Master of Soldiers' or military governor in Africa,

defeats the 'Moors' [Berbers] under their king Gurmul or Garmul. Peace resumes
in Africa.

5. The middle Danube: Seeing the emperor distracted in Persia [cf below: 580-
81], the Avars of “the Pontic-Caspian steppe”, i.e. the Danube-Black Sea region -
hitherto Byzantine allies - seek to extort control of Sirmium [west of Belgrade];
when this is refused they attack and capture the city (581; or siege 580-82). In
their wake come the Slavs, who will penetrate, in a form of permanent migration,
down into the Balkan peninsula as far as Greece (see 581-82).

Visigothic Spain is divided between Leovigild (at Toledo) and his elder son
Hermenigild (rival throne at Seville). The latter cooperated with the Byzantine
governors controlling the imperial enclave in the south. Cf 621-31. the struggle
shaped itself as a conflict of confessions and nationalities, of Arianism and
Catholicism, of Goth and Roman, although Leovigild had adherents among the
provincials, and Hermenigild counted some Gothic partisans.
In 579, soon after his marriage to a Frankish princess (Clovis, the king of the
Franks, had converted to Catholicism around the beginning of the sixth century),
Hermenigild declared himself the independent monarch over the southern part
of the peninsula. For three years, Leovigild seems to have accepted the situation,
making no attempt to regain control, while Hermenigild, for his part, did not seek
to expand the territory under his rule. Then, some time around 582, Hermenigild
converted to ‘Catholicism’ (trinitarian Christianity), under the influence of
Isidore’s brother Leander, or according to Gregory, Pope or archbishop of Rome,
he was converted by a friend of Leander.

Pope Pelagius II, an ethnic Goth, i.e. Italo-Goth, born in Rome, presumably
before 540. His father’s name was Unigild (Richards 1979: 166). He sent Gregory,
the future patriarch of Rome, to be his representative in Constantinople. See 584.

1. The East: Maurice’s 2nd campaign: To prevent mutiny, the army general
Maurice orders an advance against Persia, and raids beyond the Tigris. See 581.

The Settling of the Slavs in Greece

2. The NW Balkans: In 580 Bayan revealed his true colours, and his Avars
mounted a large-scale attack against Sirmium. As Byzantine forces tried to turn
back his assault, the Sklaveni descended into the Balkans en masse. An army of -
it is said - 100,000 "Slavonians" poured, ca. 581, into Thrace and Illyricum. By
586 they had penetrated as far south as the Peloponnesus. For the next ten years,
Byzantine forces appeared unable to dislodge either the Avars or the Slavs.
From this time dates the arrival in Greece of Slav settlers in large
numbers - as distinct from the earlier raiding expeditions. Thus says Heurtley
p. 39; also Kobylinski in CNMH ed Fouracre vol 1, p.541. See 581-82, 597 and

John of Ephesus specifically dates this to three years after the death of Justin II,
i.e. 581 (quoted in Fine 1991: 31).
The Slavic takeover can also be seen in the disappearance of coinage. The
latest coins in Macedonian coin hoards date to the reign of Justin II, d. 578, and
the latest in the Peloponnese to that of Constans II, acc. 641 (Kobylinski in
CNMH vol 1 p.542).
At Delphi, by around 580–590, the abandonment of patrician villas becomes
evident; pottery kilns were then installed within their walls and functioned until
610–620 (Morrisson & Sodini, ‘Sixth Century’ in Laiou ed., 2002). This may
reflect the departure of the Byzantine ruling caste and a takeover by Greek or Slav

How many Slavs were able to remain behind, after about 580, in permanent
settlements in Greece? This has been a much-disputed question since the early
19th century, but the numbers must have been reasonably large.
Evagrius writes thus: “The Avars, having twice made inroads as far as the so-
called Long Wall [inner Thrace], besieged and enslaved Singidunum (Belgrade),
which Justinian had restored and heavily fortified, Anchialus [on the Black Sea
coast: modern Bulgarian Pomorie], and indeed all Greece [kai thn 'Ellada
pasan], together with other cities and garrisons, destroying and burning
everything, while most of the armed forces were engaged in the East.”

c. 580:
1. Italy: The Lombards briefly captured Classis or Classe, the coastal town and
port, on the doorstep of Ravenna itself. Or earlier, in 578. Cf 582.

2. Spain: fl. the chronicler, John of Biclaro, ca 540-after 621. He was an ethnic
Visigoth born at Santarem in Lusitania (modern Portugal) who must have been
from a Catholic family, to judge from his name. He was educated at
Constantinople, where he devoted between seven and 17 years to the study of

Latin and Greek. After Leovigild's death in 586, John was released and founded a
Benedictine monastery at Biclaro (the exact site is undetermined), where he
presided as abbot and finished his Chronicle (in 590), before he was appointed
Catholic Bishop of Gerona in Catalonia under the new episcopal government. –
Wikipedia, 2009, ’John of Biclaro’; the text of his Chronicle can be found in Wolf

For John, in theory, the emperor still united all Christians under one monarchy
on earth, just as they would be in heaven. The great change of his Chronicle is
that Leovigild is portrayed as a legitimate ruler inside the kingdom of the Goths,
which is effectively Spain. There was now a second legitimate monarchy under
God, that of the Visigoths in the West.
In his writings, conflict with the Byzantines was minimised, so that the two
legitimate authorities were not seen to be in conflict. John mentions that
Leovigild recaptured all or some of the territory around Baza, Malaga, Sidonia,
and Cordoba (Cordoba [572] and Sidonia were retaken by the Visigoths but
Malaga itself remained in imperial hands). All of these places were part of the
Byzantine Empire, with the possible exception of Cordoba, which may have been
independent. But John does not mention that Leovigild took this territory from
the Byzantine Empire, so that Leovigild does not appear to be an enemy of the
Greco-Romans. —Map at; accessed 2009;
and discussion by Johnson, online 2009.

1. The East: Summer: The army general Maurice and the Arab king al-Mundhir
campaign down the Euphrates. The Sasanians ravage Upper Mesopotamia and
defeat the Byzantines in Armenia. Winter: Tiberius attempts to negotiate with
Iraq: Maurice and his Arab ally ‘Alamundarus’ [al-Mundhir] advance down the
Euphrates almost as far as the Persian winter capital ‘Ctesiphon’: Persian Tisfun,
on the Tigris south of modern Baghdad. A Persian flanking movement forces
Maurice to retire. He disavows the long-standing alliance with the Ghassanid
Arabs, which leaves the Eastern frontier exposed.

2. According to Norwich, 1988: 273, this was the year that Tiberius created a new
elite corps of 15,000 ‘barbarian’ feoderati (Federates). Others prefer 578: see
there. Source: Theophanes AM 6074; Bury LRE II: 80.

c. 581; between 577 and 584:

Italy: The Lombards of Benevento destroy the Benedictine abbey of Monte
Cassino [founded ca 529]. All the monks escaped to Rome. It would be more than
a century before they returned to M0nte Cassino.

Italy: The End of Antiquity and the Opening of the “Dark Ages”

While the Lombards did settle parts of the peninsula intensely, they spent the
first generation - 570-600 at least - in unremitted plunder. This had irreversible

consequences in ecological terms for Italy and southern Gaul.

In Gaul, inland cities reverted to towns because they were cut off both from
denuded countryside as well as from the Mediterranean coast, its trade and
culture. In Italy, remaining landowners fled in large numbers for coastal areas,
depriving cities [read: towns] of wealth and vitality. The old Roman
administrative structure and personnel were eliminated permanently, with only
Byzantine outposts, Lombard duchies, and Papal possessions remaining. The
countryside was abandoned by defenceless peasants, who fled to the mountain
It is from this time that the ancient terrace system of agriculture was
perforce abandoned, both in Italy and the Balkan areas afflicted by Slavs and
Bulgars. In the ensuing generations, terraces left untended due to Lombard
ravaging or plague-related mortality could not stop rains from causing continued
erosion. - On the interaction of human and natural factors, see Squatriti 199.

Alluvial deposits today called ‘younger fill’ swept down from mountains and
corrupted previously fertile soil.

From the 580s-620s, then, we can locate the onset of the Dark Ages
throughout the Mediterranean.” – Source: - accessed 2004.
Others would argue that, at least in the West, the onset came earlier. Wickham,
for example, sees the fatal weakening of the Western Empire taking place in the
half-century after the loss of Africa to the Vandals in the 430s (Early Middle
Ages 2005: 730). This “broke” the fiscal ‘spine’ of trade and taxation between
Roman Africa and Roman Italy. But if trade declined, it did continue in the West
until the 600s.

From Pottery to Wood

The literary evidence confirms a marked economic decline. In the 600s pottery
was replaced by wood. In Italy there is a sharp fall in the number of surviving
inscriptions and the disappearance of high quality glazed pottery (“African Red
Slip* Ware”). The late 500s see the appearance of wooden dishes, plates and
cups. Fired-clay amphorae [giant pitchers commonly of 39 litres] will give
way to wooden barrels (Brown 1984: 7; also Hodges & Whitehouse 1983: 25
ff). Or at least this was the case in the West; amphorae contained to be
manufactured at Ganos on the Thracian (western) shore of the Sea of Marmara
until the end of the empire (Jeffreys et al. 2008: 434).

(*) ‘Slipped” means colour-coated. ‘Slip’ is the slurry formed when water is
mixed with clay; the moulded vessel was immersed in the slip to form its
outer coat.
‘African Red Slip Ware’ was a type of decorated tableware produced from
the late first century AD until the mid seventh century in the area of modern

Tunisia and exported around all of the Mediterranean, reaching even to

Scotland in the north and Ethiopia in the south at the peak of its
distribution. Other ‘red slips’ were produced at Phocaea on the Aegean coast
of Asia Minor and near Paphos in Cyprus (”Cypriot Slip Ware”).

In the East many productions of both amphorae and fine table wares were to end
in the later seventh century; this was a systemic collapse. For example, it is now
definite that “Phocaean RS” (PRS: sophisticated ‘red slip’ ceramics from Phocaea
in the west Aegean), once traded across the whole Mediterranean, ceased to be
produced in the period 670-700, somewhat later than used to be thought. This is
clear from excavations at Emporio on Chios, Gortyn on Crete, and in the Crimea.
Trade in PRS had been contracting since the 500s, but the local RS [local types of
less sophisticated red slipware] productions did not replace it, for they ceased as
well. They were replaced by coarser types (Wickham 2005: 784 ff).
As we have said, however, amphorae contained to be manufactured at Ganos
on the Thracian (western) shore of the Sea of Marmara until the end of the
empire (Jeffreys et al. 2008: 434).

1. The middle Danube: As noted, after a siege of two years, the Avars took (581)
Sirmium, the major Roman fortress in the north-west, upstream from our
Belgrade. The following year Tiberius cedes Sirmium officially (582) and agrees
to pay outstanding payments to the Avars, namely 100,000 silver pieces.
Meanwhile the Slavs have pushed as far south as Athens, which they
sacked. —Goette 2001: 76 Cf 582, 586, 592.

Massive attack on the Balkans: Slavs and Avars invade the region around Athens,
c.582. John of Ephesus, also called John of Amida, reported that the Slavs
plundered all of Hellas and the regions around Thessalonica, taking many towns
and forts in the early 580s. The "city" (town) of Athens itself, although much
reduced, remained in imperial hands. But by 588, except for Corinth, all the
antique ‘cities’ (towns) of the Peloponnesus were "wiped out" (Mango’s
phrase: pp.24, 70; also Cameron p.160). It might be better to say: the already
faded Roman towns were now finally abandoned.

It is debated how much the few surviving urban centares contracted. Recent
studies of Arykanda, Athens, Corinth and other sites suggest that the
reduced wall circuits so common in late antiquity and the early Middle
Ages often bear little or no relationship to the inhabited extent and general
vitality of their associated urban centers. In many instances, such reduced
enceintes served as military strongholds and places of refuge in times of
invasion and strife, to be occupied only on an occasional basis by often
much greater populations which continued to live and work (often in some
style) in extensive residential and commercial neighbourhoods outside the
fortified circuits (see Henning 2007).

Browning, p.91, proposes that, in the north Balkans, the old classical cities had
already ceased to function effectively as cities before they were captured; and
sometimes the Slavs even found the city sites abandoned.
Slav settlers filled the vacuum left when the Avar army proceeded elsewhere.
Coin hoards and other evidence show that Slavs had settled—they were no longer
just raiding—as far as Hellas, east-central Greece as we know it, by 608-09
(Haldon 1984: 44).

3. d. Agathias, lawyer, historian and poet, aged about 46. His unfinished History
of the reign of Justinian starts where Procopius stopped, in 552, and goes on to
558, dealing mainly with the military operations of Narses and others against the
Ostrogoths, Vandals and Persians. In addition, about 100 of his poems, many of
them love poems, survive in the famous ‘Greek Anthology’.
The history of Menander ‘Protector’ or “Guardsman” covers the period to 582:
ed. and English trans. The History of Menander the Guardsman, trans. R.C.
Blockley, Liverpool 1985.

1. Famines in various parts of the empire. This was accompanied by an epidemic
in Syria (Stathakopoulos p.317).

2. The East: Summer: The Persian general Tamkhusro invades, but is defeated
and killed at Constantina, NE of Edessa (Whitby 1988: 272). Defeated Sasanian
troops camp near Dara. Death of Tiberius in Constantinople. Return and
accession of Maurice, r. 582-602. Autumn: John Mystacon is appointed
commander in the East. Campaign in Arzanene or eastern Armenia: N of modern
A Persian advance is defeated: defeat and death of Tamchosro at Constantia
(June). But Maurice cannot follow up, having to retire to the capital, where
Tiberius is dying. Maurice is crowned Augustus (emperor) the day before
Tiberius dies, 13 Aug 582. Autumn: campaign in Arzamene.
Prior to Tiberius' death in 582, it was Sophia who was consulted as to a
possible successor. Her recommendation of the general Maurice was adopted. If
she planned to marry Maurice, as Gregory of Tours states, then she was
outmanoeuvred. Maurice chose Tiberius' daughter Constantina.

3. Constantinople pays the Franks to attack the Lombards:

“[T]he emperor Maurice sent by his ambassadors to Childepert, king of the
Franks, 50,000 solidi to make an attack with his army upon the Langobards and
drive them from Italy, and Childepert suddenly entered Italy with a countless
multitude of Franks. The Langobards indeed entrenched themselves in their
towns and when messengers had passed between the parties and gifts had been
offered they made peace with Childepert. When he had returned to Gaul, the
emperor Maurice, having learned that he had made a treaty with the Langobards,
asked for the return of the solidi he had given in consideration of the overthrow
of the Langobards. But Childepert, relying upon the strength of his resources,
would not give an answer in this matter” (Paulus, Hist. Lang.. III.17).

Circa 582, as noted, there was temporary but devastating Slavic and Avar attack
on Athens. For over 200 years, from 587 to 805, the Slavs will control much of
the Peloponnesus.

From 582:
The Franks begin to dominate the Lombards of northern Italy.

* * *

To recap. The Rhomaioi reorganised their domains in Europe to resist the

invaders. Although the Lombards seized parts of the south of Italy, the imperial
governor was able for several decades to maintain a Byzantine corridor between
Rome and Ravenna. All the Balkans, however, except for some coastal cities, were
lost to the Avars, a powerful group of Eurasian nomads, and the Slavs who
came with them. Descending from the Danube River under the Khagan Bajan
(acc. 565), the Avars entered the empire in about 573, when the emperor [Justin
II 565-78] was preoccupied by his wars with Persia (572, 576-78 and 589). The
Avars besieged the key city of Sirmium and captured it in 582.

The Avars

The Avars fled westward after their Turkish vassals destroyed their great
Mongolia-based empire (552). They moved to what we know as the Russian
steppes, where the East Roman emperor Justinian paid them (574) to subjugate
the Huns and Slavs who had been raiding Roman provinces in the Balkans. The
empire of the Avars peaked at the end of the 6th century when it reached from
the upper Danube to the the Volga. They were partly responsible for the
southward migration of the Serbs and Croats.
The Avar state, weakened by internal dissent, was later destroyed by a
combined Frankish and Bulgarian attack in 796.

The status of the Avars as barbarians was confirmed for the Romanic/Byzantine
writers by their dress: the Avars wore long kaftans of leather or fur descending to
the knees, trousers, and moccasin-like boots (Browning p.189).

The Slavs, Greek: Sklavenoi, had occupied the whole northern side of the
Danube since as early as AD 400. In the next two centuries they formed part of
many mixed raiding parties that pressed into the empire. The first Slav siege of
Thessaloniki or Salonica dates to 586 (or perhaps 597) and another probably took
place in about 604, during the reign of Phocas.

The Reign of Maurice, 582-602


582–602: MAURICE. Greek: Mavrikios

In full: ‘Flavius Mauricius Tiberius’.

General of the army and son-in-law of the late emperor.

Aged about 43 at accession. Wife: Constantina, dau. of
Tiberius II. Son: Theodosius, co-emperor with his father ca.

The name itself comes from a possibly fictitious St Maurice,

a black (Sudanese) soldier believed to have been martyred
in ca. AD 287. The saint served in the empire’s Theban
[Egyptian] Legion. The name first occurs BC, in Ptolemaic
(Greek) Egypt: Cf Greek mauros, “dark, black” [Azia S.
Atiya, ed., The Coptic Encyclopedia, volume 5, p. 1572.
New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991].

As noted earlier, Lombard* and Syrian historians called the

Emperor Maurikios the first "Greek" emperor. Cf 584.-
Born in Cappadocia, but perhaps of either Armenian or
Italian descent, this would mean that Maurice spoke Greek
as his native tongue. Evagrius says he was of Latin lineage
[quoted by Whitby, preface p.xx]. (His predecessor was of
Thracian descent, and presumably spoke Latin as his
mother tongue, i.e. as well as Greek.) Redgate 2000: 237
doubts his Armenian ancestry, as this is asserted only by
much later writers.

(*) Paulus Diaconus, l. iii. c. 15 said: “primus ex Graecorum

genere in Imperio constitutus”, ‘the first one from (out of)
the Greeks by birth/descent appointed [constitutus] to the
Supreme Power’.

Maurice was a successful general when his father-in-law Tiberius II on his

deathbed proclaimed him emperor. He failed to halt the Lombards in Italy but
ended (591) the war with Persia, restored Khosru II to the throne, and defeated
the Avars.
Maurice obtained Armenia in 591 in return for restoring Chosroes II [Khusrau
Parviz] (590-628) to the Persian-Sassanian throne, stolen by a usurper.

Maurice and his generals eventually crushed the Avars in a series of sometimes
poorly-managed military campaigns from 591/593 to 601, and briefly restored
imperial control as far as the Danube. They then lost everything in a mutiny
which placed the incompetent Phocas, r. 602-10, on the throne. —See generally
Michael Whitby 1988.

His strict discipline and miserliness caused mutiny in the Danubian army and he

was obliged to flee. He was killed by order of the usurper Phocas, who was
deposed (610), in turn, by Heraclius I.

The historian A.H.M. Jones concludes the final era of classical antiquity with
Maurice’s death, reasoning that the turmoil which shattered the Byzantine
Empire in the next four decades permanently and thoroughly changed society
and politics.

The Destruction of Athens

ca. 582:
Greece: A raid by the Slavs, dated to 580 or 582, struck yet another blow at
The evidence for this raid consists of a layer of destruction in the ancient Agora
(market-square) in conjunction with the hoards of coins found in the stratum and
also outside the Agora, at the Dipylon Gate and on the Acropolis. During the two
centuries that followed, we have little historical testimony to the fate of Athens,
and excavations have yielded only scanty finds. —Kazanki-Lappa, ‘Medieval
Athens’, in Laiou, ed. 2002.
Our next reference to Hellas comes in 653: see there. It is not known if the
empire lost control of eastern Greece after 582; if it did, some kind of rule had
been re-established by 653.

Gothic Spain: As we noted earlier, Leander, an Ibero-Roman who was Catholic
bishop of Seville, together with the Catholic Frankish princess Ingunthis, aged 13
or 16, convinced (ca 582) her husband, prince Hermenegild, the eldest son of
king Liuvigild, to convert to Catholic Christianity, or so says pope Gregory
(Collins 1995: 47). Leander defended the convert in an uprising (583-584) that
occasioned his father's reprisals.
For an Arian monarch Catholicism was the religion of his Roman subjects and
Arianism was a rallying-point to counter his Byzantine enemies in the south; thus
conversion was a preamble to treason. Collins loc. cit. argues against the revolt
being a Catholic reaction against Arian tyranny; he proposes it was just a power
grab by the prince. But in any case the conversion of some of the principal Goths
certainly began at this time.
Liuvigild or Leovigild took the field against his son in 582 or 583, prevailed on
the Byzantines to betray Hermenigild for a sum of 30,000 gold solidi, besieged
the latter in Seville in 583, and captured the city after a siege of nearly two
years [584 or 585]. –Cath. Encyc., “Hermenigild”.
Gisgonza - also Gigonza, ancient Sagontia - was held by Byzantium until the
reign of Witteric (603–610). If we follow Thompson, The Goths in Spain (1969:
329 ff), Gigonza (Giguenza) was (is) on the road south from Seville and close to
Medina Sidonia [Asidona]. This may indicate that the whole south-west of the
province of Baetica was still Byzantine in 600, from Málaga west to the Atlantic at
the mouth of the Guadalete River near Cadiz [ancient Gades]. Perhaps Asidona
[Medina Sidonia], supposedly taken by the Visigoths already in 572 (571

according to the NCMH), was surrounded by Byzantine territory? Or was Gigonza

an imperial outpost in Visigoth-administered territory? (I can find no Website
that discusses this point.)

John ‘the Faster’, patriarch of Constantinople. See 595.

1. NE Balkans: The Avars demand (May 583) an increase in the tribute paid to
them. Then (summer) they invade the Balkans as far as Anchialus (midway down
the Black Sea coast). Autumn: embassy of Comentiolus and Elpidius to the Avar

2. The East: Summer: A new imperial campaign in Arzanene [SE Armenia]. The
Greek Romanics capture Akbas (John Eph., HE, VI.36). The Persians attacked
the fort of Aphumon, but arranged that their garrison at nearby Akbas
should signal them by fire if they were attacked by the Rhomaniyans. When
the latter did so, the Persians from Aphumon quickly responded to the
signal and returned, trapping the besiegers and forcing them to flee down a
mountainside with heavy casualties (Whtiby p. 277; Theoph.Sim., I.12,1-
Winter: The Sasanians open negotiations.

Gothic Spain: Catholics vs Arians. As we have noted, Hermenegild, the eldest son
of Leovigild, converted (579) to Catholic Christianity. Bishop Leander of Seville
defended the convert in an uprising, 583- 584, that occasioned Leovigild’s
After besieging and taking Byzantine Seville, Liuvigild took his son prisoner in
Córdoba and banished him safely north to Valencia, where he was murdered by
Liuvigild's agents (585).
While facing this rebellion in southern Spain (AD 583-584) Leovigild struck an
issue of tremisses (coins) with a cross on steps on the reverse, a design which had
been introduced for the very first time on Byzantine solidi by emperor Tiberius II,
AD 578-582. The mint was at Merida, well north of Seville.

The Balkans and Spain: Comentiolus was a Thracian officer who first appears in
583 on an embassy to the khan of the Avars. In the next year, he commands the
forces attempting to drive the Slavs from Thrace, and for the following five years
[cf below 584], he was active in the Balkans: the sources hereto are Byzantine
historians like Theophylact Simocatta and Theophanes. He then turns up in
Spain in 589 as patrikios and magister militum (military governor), where an
inscription from CIL (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum) records his work—or
that of another of the same name—strengthening the fortifications at Carthago
Nova or Cartagena (see discussion in Whitby 1988: 289-90).

c.584 (perhaps as early as 582):

Italy and Africa were raised to the status of Exarchates, or rather the governors of
these super-provinces were termed exarchs.* Significantly, 'Exarch' was a Greek
term, preferred to the Latin title 'Prefect'. The title is recorded for the first time
for Italy in 584; and for Africa in 591. Cf 592.
In his Strategikon, Maurice distinguishes between Latin, which he calls
‘Roman’ [Rhomaiesti, “in Latin”] and Greek which he calls ‘Hellenic’ [Elleniesti,
‘in Greek’]. The Greek language did not start to be called the Roman or Romaic
[Rhomaike] tongue until after his time.

(*) Brown, Gentlemen 1984: 49, notes that no source employs the term
exarchatus (the realm governed by the exarch) until after the collapse of
Byzantine power in 751; and even then it is applied only to the immediate
area around Ravenna, i.e. not to the rest of Italy or Africa.

Continuation of a (reduced) Money Economy in the “Inner” West

Changes were made in the coinage around this time. In 581-82 the Byzantine
mints at Carthage and Ravenna began to issue gold coins with dates on them; and
in 582-83 a new mint was opened at Catania in Sicily producing copper and
possibly also gold coins (Haldon 1990: 211).

The regular issuing of small change in the form of copper coins is, as distinct
from gold coinage, a token of a mercantile economy. In the “outer” West this had
ceased already during the 400s, i.e. in the parts of the western Roman empire
that were taken over by the Saxons, Franks, Burgundians and others. Barter
became the order of the day in most of what is today England, Germany, France
and northern Spain.
The new regimes in Vandal Africa and Ostrogothic Italy, however, continued to
produce Roman-style coins in copper until after 500. Copper coins were also
briefly issued in two other areas where we have reason to suppose that a
somewhat more sophisticated economy survived until about 525, namely in SW
Spain (Andalusia), at the heart of the Visigoth kingdom; and at Marseilles, the
Ostrogoth-ruled gateway-port of the Frankish kingdoms.
Byzantium defeated the Vandals and Ostrogoths in the mid-550s and new
copper coins continued to be produced, now by imperial authority, at the mints in
Ravenna, Rome, Sicily and Carthage. But coins are rarely found in excavations,
no doubt because they had only a limited production and circulation.
Vandal coins issued at Carthage until 533 circulated widely around the
Mediterranean, but after Justinian re-established the mint at Carthage, coins
from other mints in the eastern Mediterranean are a tiny fraction of the coinage
found in the West; this of course was a reflection of the continuing decline of
the East-West trade across the Mediterranean that took place in the sixth
century, i.e. before the Arab invasions (Hodges & Whitehouse 1983: 28).
Meanwhile minting had ceased in Gothic Andalusia and Marseilles. (Eventually
even barter-trade from the Mediterranean to the northern lands ceased, namely

during the early 600s: Hodges & Whitehouse p.91).

Only one city in the West, Byzantine Rome, shows evidence of an abundant
copper coinage after 600 (Ward-Perkins 2005: 113, 117).

1. The Balkans: Spring: Second embassy of Elpidius; conclusion of peace with the
Avars. - Maurice agrees to raise the tribute to the Avars to 100,000 gold pieces.
Spring/summer: Philippicus replaces John Mystacon as commander in the
East against the Persians and prepares to campaign. Autumn: Philippicus ravages
Beth Arabaye, the area west of our Mosul.
Summer: Slav invasions reach the Long Walls (in Thrace)*; Comentiolus’s
victory near the river Ergina/Ergene (Agrianes) which is the lowest northern
tributary of the Evros/Maritsa, ie near Arcadiopolis (Simocatta i.7.1-4; Whitby
1988: 90).

(*) Not to be confused with the city walls of Constantinople. The Long
Wall(s) were in inner Thrace. They ran for 56 km NNE across the isthmus of
Europe 65 km west of Constantinople. The southern end, on the Sea of
Marmara, lay six km west of Selymbria, modern Silivri.

2a. Italy: Failed Frankish invasion of Lombard Italy, subsidised by

Constantinople. The Lombards now decided that it was wise to reinstate a central
kingship and elected Authari/s, r. 584-90. The Pope appeals in vain to
Constantinople for help. Cf 585, 586.
The assumption of the title "king" in Italy by the Lombard Authari in 584 made
it clear that an organised power, with which Byzantium had to reckon, was
developing in Italy.
Pope Pelagius dispatched letter after letter urging Gregory, his legate in
Constantinople, to increase his exertions to persuade the emperor to send help.
Pelagius also implored Decius (584)—the first Byzantine governor at Ravenna to
bear the title ‘Exarch’—to come to Rome’s aid, but was told that he was unable to
protect the exarchate, still less Rome. - Pelagius writes that he has sent envoys to
Constantinople to beseech the aid of the emperor before the Lombards seize the
few places that are left to the imperial government. "The district [‘territory’]
about Rome is," he says, "in the main destitute of any defenders [‘completely
undefended’] and the Exarch writes [exarchus scribit] that he can provide no
remedy" (quoted by Loomis 1916; also Richards 1980: 12 and A Jones et al. 1992:
391: variant translation in brackets).

2b. Ravenna: Gregory’s letter [above] contains the first surviving use of the Greek
term Exarch* or ‘supreme governor’ of Italy, replacing the old Latin terms
Prefect and Magister Militum. An Exarch of Africa is first mentioned in 591.

(*) Gk. éxarkhos ‘leader, chief’, f. exárkhein ‘to take the lead’.

Intensification of Lombard rule in N and C Italy

The native Romano-Italian landowners had previously been taxed by the

Lombards only by payments in kind, and kept their estates. Now, however, they
were obliged to subdivide their land with their barbarian “guests” and so lost the
rents of many of their serfs. The Lombard dukes too lost the rents from various
lands, as some taxes were now appropriated by the restored Lombard monarchy
(Goffart pp.187 ff; Collins 1991: 192 ff).

4. Spain: The Visigoths retake the important city of Córdoba from the
King Leovigild was constantly at war with the Byzantines in S Spain and the
Suevi in the north-west. When these enemies supported the revolt of his son
Hermenegild, who had converted from Arianism to Catholicism, he finally
annexed (584–85) the kingdom of the Suevi. Meanwhile, after besieging and
taking (evidently by surrender) of Byzantine Seville in 584, Leovigild took his son
prisoner in Córdoba, and banished him safely north to Valencia, where he was
murdered by Leovigild's agents (585: John Bicl. 383-4; Gregory of Tours v. 39, vi.
43). Leovigild paid the Byzantine commander of Cordoba 30,000 nomismata to
hand over the Cordoba and Hermenegild with it (Gregory of Tours; Frassato
2003: 203).
At the end of Leovigild’s reign, the only non-Visigothic parts of Spain were two
small territories of the Byzantine Empire.

In 584 the Byzantines lost Cordoba definitively, probably by a change of loyalty

on the part of the local authorities. The Visigoths under Leovigild took over.
Cordoba would have dominated a good part of the formerly imperial territory
including probably the town of Ecija and the towns of Iliberis (Granada), Acci
(Guadix, near Granada) and Basti (Trick). It is not clear whether these towns
were always independent or were subordinated to the authority of Cordoba. With
the definitive change of loyalty of this important city in 584, the Visigoth border
was extended towards the coastal towns like Malaca (Malaga), Abdera [between
Malaga and Cartagena] and Urci [Aguilas, on the coast nearer Cartagena]. That is
to say, Malaga, Urci and Cartagena were the only significant towns still controlled
by the Byzantines, whose domain was now limited to the SE littoral from
Gibraltar and Malaga round to Cartagena (also the N African shore opposite
Gibraltar, where the key imperial towns were Tingis and Septem).

Pagan Slavs occupy Christian Greece

John of Ephesus writes: “That same year [581] . . . was famous also for the
invasion of an accursed people, called Slavonians, who overran the whole of
Greece, and the country of the Thessalonians [i.e. Macedonia: cf 586], and all
Thrace [cf below under 585], and captured the cities [read: towns], and took
numerous forts, and devastated and burnt, and reduced the people to slavery,
and made themselves masters of the whole country, and settled in it by main

force, and dwelt in it as though it had been their own without fear … . They still
[John was writing in 584] encamp and dwell there, and live in peace in the
Roman [Byzantine] territories, free from anxiety and fear, and lead captive and
slay and burn: and they have grown rich in gold and silver, and herds of horses,
and arms, and have learnt to fight better than the Romans, though at first they
were but rude savages, who did not venture to show themselves outside the
woods and the coverts of the trees; and as for arms, they did not even know what
they were, with the exception of two or three javelins or darts” (John of Ephesus,
432-33). Cf below, under 586: siege machinery.

1. Thrace: The junior general Comentiolus leads one of the Praesental armies
against the pagan Slavs: victory at the fortress of Ansinon north-west of
Adrianople. The ‘barbarians’ are briefly expelled from Thrace. See 587.
“The general tenor of the historian's account of these Slavonic depredations in
584 or 585 implies that the depredators were not Slavs who lived beyond the
Danube and returned thither after the invasion, but Slavs who were already
settled in Roman territory. Comentiolus' work consisted in clearing Astica [the
region between Phillippopolis and Adrianople] of these lawless settlers.” –Bury
LRE, II: 19.

2. Italy: The Franks, as allies subsidised by Byzantium, raid into Lombard N Italy.
The Exarch then reaches an accommodative truce with the Lombard leaders
under king Authari, r. 584-90 (Treadgold 1997: 229). Cf 586-87: further battles.

3. The year 585 is the last date in the Ecclesiastical History of the Monophysite
bishop John of Ephesus, written in Syriac. Much of it has not survived. The third
part, which opens with the beginning of the persecution under Justin II (571), has
come down to us, though not without some important gaps.

Fourth Visit of the Plague to Constantinople

Fourth visit of the plague to Constantinople.

Mesopotamia: Spring: The Persians renew peace negotiations. Then: the all-
cavalry battle of Solachon, near Dara, against the Persians in 586. The
commander was Philippicus. Heraclius senior, father of the future emperor, was
second in command; he replaced Philippicus the following year. See 3 below.
The Roman fortress-town of Dara or Justiniana Nova had been in Pesian hands
since the early 570s
The battle is described by John Haldon as an illustration of what a well-led
Byzantine army could do, against the odds, for they beat a larger Persian army in
(he proposes) around half an hour. Agathias states that the role of Byzantine
dismounted cavalry was vital (Haldon 2001, reviewed by Cornwell, 2003:; accessed 2005). See next.

Mesopotamia: The Battle of Solachon, 586

(Haldon’s account: 2001, pp. 52 ff)

The armies that clashed at Solachon, west of Dara, seem both to have consisted
wholly of cavalry. The smaller Byzantine army of Philippicus - some were Hun
‘mercenaries’ (salaried professionals) - comprised mixed units of lancers and
horse-archers, together with a force of allied Arab troops under their tribal
chieftains. The larger Persian army under Kardarigan was similarly composed of
units of lancers and horse-archers. Both sides may also have included heavily
armoured cataphract units (Byzantine horse armour is mentioned in Mauarice’s
Strategikon, dating to shortly after this time).
Philippicus’s divisional commanders were Heraclius [father of the future
emperor], Elifreda*, Vitalius and Apsich (a Hun). On the Persian side,
Kardarigan’s subordinate generals were his nephew Aphraates and Mebod.

(*) Presumably a rendering of the Gothic or Lombard name Alifreda.

Rejecting proposals for peace negotiations, Philippicus advanced south from

Amida as far as Bibas (Tel Besh) on the Arzamon (Zergan) River. Having crossed
the river, the imperial army encamped in the plain below Mardin (Gk Mardes) on
the Turkish side of today’s Syrian-Turkish border.
Location: Mardin, Dara and Nisibis lie on a notional line running from NW to
SE. Mardin and Solachon form the western side of an equilateral triangle whose
eastern point is Dara or Daras, 12 Roman miles [18 km] from Solachon. Nisibis
(Turkish Nusaybin) is located to the SE of this triangle.
The Persian army under Kardarigan—a title that translates as ‘the Black
Falcon’—came forward from Dara. With them they had a substantial camel train
bearing water-skins, as there was little or no water between the major
watercourses. Arab irregulars serving on the Byzantine side captured some
Persian scouts. So Philippicus knew of Kardarigan’s approach.
Hoping to surprise his Christian enemies at rest on the Sabbath, Kardarigan
came forward on a Sunday. He very unwisely ordered his troops to dump their
water-bags before combat began, expecting that this would encourage them to
fight well, knowing that plentiful water lay ahead in the Arzamon River, 15 km
behind the Byzantine line.
The Persians found the Byzantines already formed up on rising ground on the
plain of Solachon, looking down an incline up which the Persians would have to
advance. Philippicus’s left flank was well covered by the broken and hilly ground
at the foot of a mountain.
The Byzantines were deployed in three large divisions. Heraclius senior, father
of the future emperor of the same name, commanded the central division. As
Haldon maps it, there was a small unit of Huns under Apsich placed forward, in
front of the Byzantine left wing; when the battle opened, Apsich’s men moved off
to become the extreme left wing. Philippicus himself was stationed at the rear in
charge of a small reserve; the inclined ground meant that he could see over the
main line and thus observe the course of the battle. (There was no second line as

such, as there would be in later centuries.)

The Persians too formed into three large divisions, with Kardarigan
commanding the central division. He ordered a general advance and the Persians
pushed ahead straight toward the Byzantine line, firing arrows as they rode. The
Byzantines returned the arrow-barrage and made a counter-charge that brought
both armies to a halt – except on the Byzantine right. There the heavy cavalry in
Vitalius’s division succeeded in smashing into the Persian left division and broke
its formation. The Persian left was pushed back and around behind the Persian
central division.
Seeing some of Vitalius’s men begin to disengage towards the Persian baggage-
train, seeking plunder, Philippicus sent a herald to call them back under threat of
Meanwhile, in the centre, the Persians were able to rally, their former left
becoming part of an augmented central division. They began to force back
Heraclius’s central division. To prevent his centre collapsing, Philippicus ordered
Heraclius to dismount his men. The central division now formed a wall of
shields with spears projected forward, hedgehog-like. This was followed by an
order to fire at the Persians’ horses, a tactic that turned the tide of battle in the
favour of the Byzantines.
With the Persian centre now halted and in trouble, the Byzantine left under
Elifreda was able to mount a successful counter-charge and pushed back the
Persian right under Mebod. Presumably (this is not stated by Haldon), Apsich’s
Hun horse-archers played an important role here. Soon the Persian right broke
up, and, when the now rallied Byzantine right came back into the battle, a general
rout ensued.
The surviving Persians all fled towards Dara, except for a small remnant of
about 1,500 men under Kardarigan; they fell back to a nearby ridge or hillock and
resisted fiercely. After three or four days of harassment, the Byzantines, who did
not realise the Persian commander in chief was in charge of the survivors on the
ridge, simply left them to die of thirst. In the event, Kardarigan was able to escape
alive but with only a few hundred companions.

2. Summer: Philippicus invades Arzamene (Armenia) and besieges Chlomaron

(Arzan, modern Erzerum).

3. Autumn: Heraclius senior - father (as we have said) of the future emperor -
ravages Persian territory. In Europe, the Avars invade and sack several towns,
including probably Thessalonica – see below.

N Italy: Local imperial forces battle the Lombard king Authari. He won a major
victory in 586 but was defeated by the Exarch in 587 (Collins 1991: 194;
Treadgold 1997: 229).

c. 586/87
Greece: Or 597: the chronology is unclear; Treadgold 1997: 229 prefers 586.*

Avars and Slavs unsuccessfully besiege Thessalonica, which was already suffering
from both plague and famine (source: Anastasius, trans., Miracles of St.
Demetrius**). This was to be the first of several sieges of Thessalonica in this
period. Cf 591.

(*) John, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, was an eyewitness to the siege, and he

tells us that the pending arrival of the Avaro-Slavic army was announced to
the city's inhabitants on a Sunday, 22 September, in the reign of Maurice
"of blessed memory". A reckoning has shown that September 22 in the reign
of Maurice could have fallen on a Sunday only in 586 or in 597.

(**) The first section or book was written ca. 615 by John, Archbishop of
Thessalonica, and the second section dates from ca. 695 (Greek text).
Anastasius, fl. 872, the papal librarian, was the translator into Latin.
Miracula S. Demetrii, ed. P. Lemerle, Les plus anciens recueils des miracles
de saint Demitrius et la penetration des slaves dans les Balkans. Paris:
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1979.

The Defence of Thessaloniki, 586

The main source, John, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, states that the Avaro-Slavic
army was the largest army seen in his times, i.e. since the Justinianic plague of
the 540s, and he gives a graphic description of the desolation the ‘barbarians’
wreaked in their attempt to find provisions in the environs of the city (Vryonis
1981). Further, it was the first time that the city's inhabitants had seen the
armies of the ‘barbarians’. This may imply that earlier barbarian incursions had
gone more directly south into Thessaly, i.e, bypassing eastern Macedonia.
The inhabitants despaired of their salvation, for not only was the barbarian
army large but the numbers of the inhabitants of Thessaloniki had greatly
diminished as a result of an outbreak of plague which had lasted until the
previous July; many of the Thessalonians were outside the city's walls tending
their fields, and the army and officials were for the most part away.
Of particular interest is the ability of the ‘Avaro-Slavs’ to build and equip
themselves with siege machinery traditionally belonging to Byzantine military
science and tactics. They deployed 1,000 ‘tortoises’*, an unspecified number of
battering rams, and with a comparatively large number of petroboloi or
ballistae** - 50 were placed below the city's eastern walls. The text is specific
about the fact that these were built after the arrival of the ‘barbarian’ army in
front of the walls of Thessaloniki and so were built by the barbarians themselves
(Vryonis 1981).

(*) Tortoises were mobile sheds inside which battering rams were

(**) In Latin: ballista without the “r” (the original Greek form is ballistra
with an “r”). – The term is ordinarily used for artillery pieces in the form of
large crossbows. But as noted below, they may in fact have been sling-

catapults. Bachrach p.330 notes that the text says petrobolos (stone-
thrower), ballistrae being Vryonis’s suggested translation (see reference

In the following passage it seems that an onager is being described. It had only
one large torsion-skein placed horizontally within the frame with a short vertical
arm, usually with a short sling attached at its upper end. Or perhaps it is a rope-
pulled trebuchet***, which has a long arm and a long sling; this is suggested by
the phrase “pulling down”. If it were an onager, one might expect the phrase
“pulling back” to be used.
It has been proposed that catapults were used for their curved trajectory, while
the crossbow-like ballista were used for direct trajectory.

(***) The majority view is that trebuchets are not seen until 626 or later (see
there; also AD 663).

“[The siege engines] were tetragonal”, says The Miracles, “and rested on broader
bases, tapering to narrower extremities. Attached to them were thick cylinders
well clad in iron at the ends, and there were nailed to them timbers [i.e. arms]
like beams from a large house. These timbers had the slings hung from the back
side and from the front strong ropes, by which, pulling down and releasing the
sling, they propel the stones up high and with a loud noise. And on being fired
they sent up many great stones so that neither earth nor human constructions
could bear the impacts. They also covered those tetragonal ballistrae [sic!] with
boards on three sides only, so that those inside firing them might not be wounded
with arrows by those on the walls. And since one of these, with its boards, had
been burned to a char by a flaming arrow, they returned, carrying away the
On the following day they again brought these ballistrae covered with freshly
skinned hides [to prevent fire arrows setting them on fire] and with the boards,
and placing them closer to the walls, shooting, they hurled mountains and hills
against us. For what else might one term these extremely large stones?” —Saint
Demetrius text, p. 154.
There were some 50 of these catapults below the eastern walls and 12 siege
towers along the western walls of the city.

Miracles of St Demetrius:
“… knowing that the aforementioned metropolis lies in the heart of the
emperor because it shines forth through its virtues, and knowing that if it should
suffer something unexpected, he [the Avar khagan] would afflict the crowned
emperor no less than would the slaughter of children; he therefore summoned to
himself the entire beastly nation of the Sklavenoi, for the entire nation was
subject to him, also adding to them certain other barbarians, and ordered them
all to march against Thessaloniki, guarded by God.
…. on the following day, they prepared siege machines, iron battering rams,
catapults for throwing stones of enormous size, and the so-called tortoises, onto
which, along with the catapults, they placed dry skins, again having devised so

that they might not be harmed by fire or boiling pitch. They nailed bloodied hides
of newly slain oxen and camels onto these machines and they thus brought them
up near to the wall. From the third day, and thereafter, they hurled stones, or
rather mountains as they were in size, and the archers shot further, imitating the
winter snowflakes, with the result that no one on the wall was able to emerge
without danger and thus to see something outside. The tortoises were joined to
the wall outside and without restraint were digging up the foundations with
levers and axe-heads. I think that these [?diggers] numbered more than 1,000”
[Saint Demetrius, pp. 148-149.]

Byzantine Artillery

We know from Theophylactus Simocatta that the Avaro-Slavs acquired the

knowledge of siege machinery only in 587 and began using it to take cities in the
period between 587 and 597.
The author of the Strategikon (ca. 600) does not tell us when the new kind of
artillery was introduced into the Byzantine Empire, but the historian of Maurice's
reign, Theophylaktos Simokatta, does provide information about when it came
into use and what name the Byzantines gave the new weapon. Bousas, a
Byzantine soldier captured by the Avars, “taught them how to construct a siege
machine, for they were ignorant of such machines … . And so he prepared the
helepolis to shoot missiles: (. . .)” (Strategikon 2.16.10). With this fearsome and
skillful device . . . the Avars attacked many Byzantine cities, levelling the fortress
of Appiareia [present-day N Bulgaria] in 587 and 10 years later [or at about the
same time]* attacking Thessaloniki, which successfully resisted (2.16.11, 2.17.2).
Bousas, and other Byzantine artillerymen, therefore, must have learned how to
build and operate these weapons some years before 586-87. —Dennis 1998.

(*) Most historians date the siege of Thessalonica to 586 rather than 597.

When the Slavs and Avars first appear in the Balkans they do not possess the
technology of advanced siege warfare. This is clear from both Procopius and the
Strategicon of Maurice. Theophylactus confirms this in an unexpected but
decisive manner. He pinpoints the moment in time and place when they acquired
this technology: in 587*, before the gates of Appiareia (a town on the Danube: see
earlier). From that time the Avaro-Slavic threat to urban centres and
fortresses became much greater and no such establishment could
henceforth rely exclusively on the strength of its walls for security. —
Vryonis 1981.

(*) Vryonis would date the siege of Thessaloniki, described above, to 597 rather
than 586.

Gothic Spain: Reign of king Reccared. The new king was Arian at the time of his
succession, but quickly announced (587) his conversion to the imperial

‘orthodoxy’ of trinitarian Catholicism, adding the Roman-style imperial

‘praenom’ Flavius to his own (NCMH Fouracre ed. 2005: 348). On the second
anniversary of his older brother Hermenegild's death, he reconsecrated the main
Arian church in Toledo as a Catholic cathedral. See 589: Council of Toledo.
In January 587 Reccared renounced Arianism for Catholicism, the single great
event of his reign. Most Arian nobles and ecclesiastics followed his example,
certainly those around him at Toledo, but there were Arian uprisings, notably in
Septimania, his northernmost province beyond the Pyrenees (Wikipedia, 2009,
under ‘Reccared’).

1. The Balkans: The first priority for Byzantium remained the Persian frontier;
hence there were no strong forces in the Balkans able to prevent continued
advances by Slav tribes. See below: loss of lower Greece, 587-88.
Spring: Lower Danube: General Comentiolus leads 10,000 troops against the
Avars in the Dobrudja (delta region); after some success, he is forced back (see
the extended dissussion in Liebeschuetz 2007). The Avars pushed on south into
Thrace. A further Byzantine army under John Mystacon, with his second in
charge, Drocton, comes to his rescue, and the Avar counter-attack is halted near
Spring/summer: The Avars attack towns in Thrace; Drocton’s victory at
Adrianople (see next) persuades them to withdraw.

Theophylact, describing the siege of Appiaria on the Danube in 587, says that this
was the first occasion on which the Avars used siege machinery, and that a
Byzantine deserter, Busas, had passed on this knowledge. Or the second occasion,
if the siege of Thessalonica preceded that of Appiaria.
It is disputed whether this was the first appearance of the trebuchet or
traction-powered (rope-pulled) sling-catapult. The majority view is that
trebuchets are not seen until 626 or later (see there; also AD 663). The weapon
used by the Avars in 587 was probably a ballista or large bolt-firing crossbow.

2. The East: Summer: Rhomaniyans besiege Persian forts.

S Greece: This is the date given by a late source, the Chronicle of Monemvasia,
for the first penetration of Slavs into the Peloponnesus. As we noted
earlier, it is said that various Greek towns evacuated their populations to new
sites offshore: the population of Patras, the town at the western mouth of the Gulf
of Corinth, transferred to Italy; that of Argos, the town in NE Peloponnese, to the
east-side island called Orove; and the Corinthians, briefly at least, also went to a
nearby eastern island, namely Aegina. Only the east coast of Hellas remained
untouched, according to Mango 1980: 24. But as noted earlier under 582, there is
archaeological evidence of some destruction at Athens. Cf 608-10.
Monemvasia itself, the south-eastern town on a fortified rocky outcrop joined
to the Pelopennesian coast by a causeway, had been founded in 584 (Herrin
2007: 93).

The invasion represented a major upheaval: archaeologists have found no pre-7th

century building intact in the Peloponnesus (Fine p. 62). As we noted, all the
antique cities of the Peloponnesus were, in Mango’s words, "wiped out" by 588,
except for Corinth (Mango pp. 24, 70; also Cameron p.160; Fine 1991: 61).

Loss of lower Greece

We are told by a late source, the Chronicle of Monemvasia, that 'having taken
and settled in the Peloponnesus, the Avars [meaning Slavs initially under Avar
leadership] lasted in it for [over] 218 years, from 587 to 805'. But not in Corinth,
for Corinth with the eastern part of the Peloponnesus remained in the hands of
the Byzantines. And yet, according to the same chronicle, the Avars had also
taken Corinth as well as the Argolis, the region south of Corinth. This apparent
contradiction probably meant that Corinth, together with the Argolis, was
recovered by the Byzantines and that this recovery took place shortly before 587.
Certainly Corinth was in imperial hands by ca.600 when a governor was sent
there (Fine 1991: 60 ff). Emperor Constans II wintered there with his army in
Fine (p.63) argues that the Slavs remained a minority in the Peloponnesus,
even if they did settle in large numbers. Some fortified coastal towns remained in
Byzantine hands, while the ethnic Greek Christians living in the hinterland came
under the rule of pagan Slavic chiefs.

The Slavs in Central Greece

Pope Gregory’s correspondence suggests that by no means all of Greece was in

Slav hands before 600. He wrote letters to three Thessalian bishoprics: Larissa,
Thebes, and Demetrias, the modern port of Volos. Larisa (two ss in the Latin
name, one s in the Greek …) had a bishop from at least 592 to 599, when he was
invited to a Council at Constantinople. Thebes and Demetrias are also mnetioned
in 592. The bishop of Justiniana Prima in present-day Kosovo/NW Macedonia
(north of Skopje) acted in a disciplinary dispute between the bishops of Thebes
and Larisa in 592 (which means that communications between the major
centres were possible). And baptisms were carried out normally in Demetrias
around 592.
The fact that only the capital of the province and its two port-cities [were]
represented may be indicative of the more troublesome position of the
remaining, inland Thessalian bishoprics, to which (we may infer) regular
ecclesiastical administration no longer extended. That is to say, the other
bishoprics had been abandoned, presumably in the 580s. —Karagiorgou, ‘Late
Antique Thessaly’, 2001, Oxford University thesis, on line at olga/volume%201%20-%20text; accessed 2007.
See 615-16.

The density of Slav settlements in Greece was far from even; studies of Slav place

names suggest that the western parts both of peninsular Greece and of the
Peloponnesus received or retained a denser Slav population than the eastern.
Over 500 Slav place names are still identifiable in the area Epirus-Acarnania-
Aetolia, but only some 300 in the larger area of Thessaly-Attica. Similarly in the
Peloponnese there are about three times as many Slav place names in the western
as in the eastern half (Argolis, Laconia). —Vlasto 1970: 8; excerpt online at
“Serbianna” (sic) website, 2010.

The West: The Visigothic kingdom in Spain begins to switch from Arian to
Trinitarian (‘Catholic’) Christianity. The significance of this was that Arianism
could no longer be used as a Gothic rallying cry against the Greek Romanics;
conversely the ‘Greeks’ could no longer draw on the Catholic loyalties of their
Hispano-Roman subjects.

The announcement of Reccared’s conversion (587) was followed by the Council of

Toledo (589). This was, however, only the conversion of the monarchy and
nobility: local areas remained Arian for many years.
In January 587 Reccared I renounced Arianism for Catholicism, the single
great event of his reign and a turning point for Visigothic Hispania. Most Arian
nobles and ecclesiastics followed his example, certainly those around him at
Toledo, but there were Arian uprisings, notably in Septimania, his northernmost
province, beyond the Pyrenees. There the leader of the opposition was the Arian
bishop Athaloc, who had the reputation among his Catholic enemies of being
virtually a second Arius (Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Reccared’).


Constantinople now governed only the SE littoral)

The chief administrative official in Byzantine Spania was the magister

militum Spaniae, meaning "master of the soldiers (generalissimo) of Spain"
(Bury, LRE II, chap. 19; Fouracre et al 2005: 349). The office, although it only
appears in records (an inscription) for the first time in 589, was probably a
creation of Justinian, d.565, as was the mint, which issued provincial currency
until the end of the province (c. 625).

1. Syria: Massive earthquake in Antioch kills many thousands. (This will be
followed by a Persian conquest in 611/613, and then the Arab/Muslim conquest
in 636.)

2. The East: Winter/spring: Priscus is appointed to replace Philippicus as

commander in the East. He arrives at Monocarton [Monocartum: Tiberiopolis]
near Edessa at Easter; mutiny of the army. Seeking restoration of their pay, the

troops stoned Priscus who had to flee for his life. Philippicus is restored and
Priscus transferred (May 588) to the Balkans (Treadgold 1997: 229; Soward n.d.).
Mesopotamia: serious mutiny 588-89. Maurice orders military pay reduced by
a quarter in 588; this causes a revolt by unpaid troops of the Eastern army: the
mutiny ends when pay is restored in 589. Cf 594.
Maurice was at once miserly and a high taxer; for this he was hated by civilians
in the capital and the provinces as well as by his troops (Olster 1993: 50-51).
Interestingly, the army maintained its discipline and cohesion, and was able to
go on to win a battle with the Persians in 589.

Summer: Germanus’s successes against the Persians. Germanus defends

Constantina; Byzantine victory near Martyropolis in the border region of
medieval Armenia-Mesopotamia; NE of present-day Diyarbakir (Soward n.d.).

3. The Balkans: Spring: Avars demand an increase in imperial tribute payments

and prepare to invade. Priscus campaigns again them (summer).

4. Italy: Recovery of Classis from the Lombards (Richards 1980: 12).

5. NE Italy: The dispute continues over the ‘Three Chapters’ (tria kephalaia).*
The bishops of Istria (the north-east) in the 560s had refused to condemn the
Three Chapters and so remained in schism from Rome and Ravenna. Acting in
support of pope Pelagius II, the Exarch Smaragdus seized Severus, the successor
of Elias as bishop of Grado (Aquileia)**, and, by threats, compelled him to enter
into communion with the orthodox bishop, John of Ravenna (588). Smaragdus
went in person to Grado, seized Severus, who had succeeded Elias in the see,
together with three other bishops, in the church, carried them to Ravenna, and
forced them to communicate there with the bp. John.

(*) A set of writings that, from 544, loyal bishops were expected to condemn.
There was in fact no doctrinal difference among the bishops; just that the NE
Italian bishops wished not to be closely supervised by Rome.

(**) The archbishop of Aquileia (inland) had removed (568) his seat from
Aquileia to Grado (then an island) in the face of the Lombard threat. The
Lombards destroyed Aquileia in 590. Grado, which could be provisioned and
reinforced from the sea, remained in Byzantine hands.

6. Old Rome vs New Rome: When John the patriarch of Constantinople assumes
the title O‘ikoumenikòs Patriárches or "Ecumenical Patriarch", Pelagius the
Bishop of Rome objects: see discussion below under 595.

“In 588 John ‘the Faster’ held a synod at Constantinople to examine certain
charges against Gregory, Patriarch of Antioch ( - in this fact already one sees a
sign of the growing ambition of Constantinople: by what right could
Constantinople discuss the affairs of Antioch?). The Acts of this synod appear to
have been sent to Rome; and Pope Pelagius II (579-590) saw in them that John

was described as ‘archbishop and œcumenical patriarch’. It may be that this was
the first time that the use of the title was noticed at Rome; it appears, in any case,
to be the first time it was used officially as a title claimed – not merely a vague
compliment” (thus Encyc. Cath.).
Gregory I of Rome, 590-604, seems to have claimed for the Apostolic See, and
for himself as patriarch of Rome, a primacy not just of honour, but of supreme
authority over the Church Universal – or so the Cath. Encyc. author reads it. In
his letters—Epp., XIII, l and Epp., V, cliv—Gregory speaks of ‘the Apostolic See,
which is the head of all Churches’ and says: ‘I, albeit unworthy, have been set up
in command of the Church’. As successor of St. Peter, the patriarch of Rome had
received from God, so he believed, a primacy over all Churches (Epp., II, xlvi; III,
xxx; V, xxxvii; VII, xxxvii). His approval it was that gave force to the decrees of
councils or synods (Epp., IX, clvi), and his authority could annul them (Epp., V,
xxxix, xli, xliv). To him appeals might be made even against other patriarchs, and
by him bishops were judged and corrected if need be (Epp., II, l; III, lii, lxiii; IX,
xxvi, xxvii). This position naturally made it impossible for him to permit the use
of the title Ecumenical Bishop assumed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, John
the Faster, at a synod held in 588” (ibid.). See further 595.

1. The East: Easter: End of mutiny by the Byzantine Eastern army.
Summer/autumn: Campaign in Suania, part of Lazica, present-day Georgia.
Autumn: Comentiolus replaces Philippicus as commander in the East; Byzantine
victory at Sisarbarnon. The Persian noble Baram or Vahram revolts against shah
Hormisdas and marches to the Zab River in Upper Mesopotamia. Winter:
Comentiolus captures Akbas, also in Upper Mesopotamia (Theoph. Simocatta,
books iii and iv).

2. The Balkans: Spring/summer: Slavs ravage the Balkans.

3a. Italy: Romanus, d. 596 or 597, was Exarch of Ravenna, 589-596/7, replacing
Smaragdus who want insane (says Richards 1980: 12).
In 589 Romanus became exarch in place of the discredited Smaragdus. In
alliance with the Franks, who attacked across the Alps, the new commander
launched an offensive in which the towns of Modena, Reggio, Parma, Piacenza,
Altinum, and Mantua were (briefly) recovered from the Lombards. (source: the
Liber Pontificalis. Raymond Davis, trans., 1989: 61; Richards loc. cit.) The
direction of this offensive followed the route of the ancient Via Amelia. The
Franks failed to break through to join up with the Byzantines, and with the
Lombards holed up in their fortified towns, the northerners soon withdrew. In
590 Romanus advanced as far as Pavia but he too withdrew, i.e. to the Parma-
Bologna region. But see 603.
From west to east, the major towns in this region were/are: Pavia, on a N
tributary of the Po; Piacenza on the Po River; and, on the south side of the Po
River: Parma, Modena and Bologna. Mantua, on the north side, is about halfway
from Pavia towards the delta of the Po.
From Milan (the then Lombard capital), the Via Emilia or Aemilia ran SSE,

crossing the Po at Piacenza. From there it ran in a straight line SE away from the
Po via Parma and Modena to Bologna and thence to the coast at Rimini. The
Byzantine capital Ravenna lay on the coast north of Rimini, joined to the Aemilia
by a branch road.

Parma changed hands several times during 590-603 before being recovered
definitively by the Lombards. But the Byzantines still held Bologna as late as
700; it did not fall until 727-28. Thus the Parma-Modena-Bologna region became
a stable border for over a century after 603. Cf below under 643. —Bologna was
to remain Byzantine until 727.

— As far as is known, the Longobards or Lombards raided Byzantine Sardinia

only once (589), but did not obtain control of it.
— S Italy: Lombards under Zotto, Duke of Beneventum, again annihilated the
fortified monastery of Monte Cassino.

3b. Italy: Pope Pelagius fell a victim (8 February 590) to a terrible plague that
began to devastate Italy at the very end of 589. The Lombard king Autharis too
succumbed: 5 September 590 at Pavia. It reached Ravenna in 592-93 (Richards
1980: 13-15).
“The year 589 was one of widespread disaster throughout all the empire [in
Italy]. In Italy there was an unprecedented inundation. Farms and houses were
carried away by the floods. The Tiber overflowed its banks, destroying numerous
buildings, among them the granaries of the Church with all the store of corn
[read: wheat and other grains]. Pestilence followed on the floods, and Rome
became a very city of the dead. Business was at a standstill, and the streets were
deserted save for the wagons which bore forth countless corpses for burial in
common pits beyond the city walls.” —Cath. Encyc. under ‘Gregory I’. See also
under 589-93.

Gregory I, writing five years later, says that the waters flowed in over the walls of
the city and flooded most of it. Dialogi, HI, 19; Migne, Pat. Lat., vol. 77, cols. 268,
269. This is surprising given that in the 5th century remodelling had doubled the
height of the walls to 16 metres (52 ft) [see Amanda Claridge, 1998: Rome: An
Oxford Archaeological Guide, First, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998:
332-335]. Perhaps the waters broke through some decayed segments?

Gregory of Tours also relates the story. "Now in the 15th year of King Childebert
(590), our deacon came from the city of Rome with relics of the saints and
reported that in the ninth month (November) of the previous year the waters of
the Tiber had overspread Rome in such a flood that the ancient buildings had
been destroyed and the storehouses of the church wrecked, within which some
thousands of measures of wheat had been lost. . . . Thereupon followed a
pestilence, which they call 'inguinaria' [inguinal or “groin” plague]; it broke out
in the middle of the eleventh month (January 590) and first of all it attacked

Pelagius, the pope, and speedily he died [8 February 590]; and after his death
there was great mortality among the people by reason of this plague." —Gregory
of Tours, History of the Franks, quoted in Loomis p. 167; also Richards 1980: 41.

4. In Spain the Visigoths switch from Arian to Catholic Christianity: first church
council at Toledo 589. Or in January 587, if we follow Grant, p.112: the date of the
new king Reccared's own conversion (following the example of his older brother
Hemenegild, d. 585).
Spain: An inscription of New Carthage, of AD 589, records that Comentiolus,
sent by the Emperor Maurice to defend the small imperial province against the
Visigoths, bore the title of magister militum Spaniae (in CIL ii.3420).
Comentiolus repaired the gates of Cartagena in lieu of the "barbarians" (i.e. the
Visigoths) and left an inscription dated 1 September 589 in the city to this day. It
has since been removed to a museum.

Flood, famine and plague in Italy (as noted above). Christie 2006: 40, 500
describes the flood episodes along the Po valley in 589-90 as “disastrous”.
Paulus Diaconus: “There was a deluge of water in the territories of Venetia and
Liguria [the region around Genoa], and in other regions of Italy such as is
believed not to have existed since the time of Noah. Ruins were made of estates
and country seats, and at the same time a great destruction of men and animals.
The paths were obliterated, the highways demolished, and the river Athesis
(Adige) then rose so high that around the church of the blessed martyr Zeno,
which is situated outside the walls of the city of Verona, the water reached the
upper windows”. And, “following this flood came [AD 590] a virulent plague
called inguinaria [inguinal or “groin” plague]. This so devastated the population
that out of a vast multitude very few survived” (Paulus D., Hist. Long., III.23-24).
See 590 and 590-92 below.
- Llewellyn 1993: 97 has noted that the lower-lying parts in and around Rome
turned into unhealthy malaria-prone marshes as the drainage systems were
neglected and the Tiber's embankments fell into disrepair in the course of the
latter half of the sixth century.

By this time Italy was divided about half between the three Lombard rulers and
Byzantium; the latter still ruled about a third of the peninsula as well as Sicily.

1. Jan-March: Coup d’état in Persia: civil war follows; shah Hurmazd or
Hormidas is killed and his son Chosroes or Khusrau II flees to Byzantium. The
leading general takes the throne as shah Bahram VI. See 591.

Thus Sebeos, the Armenian historian: - “Chosrou sent men bearing costly gifts to
emperor Maurice, and he [Chosrou] wrote to him the following: "Give me the
throne and place of rule [which belonged] to my fathers and ancestors: dispatch
an army to assist me defeat my enemy; establish my reign and I shall be your
son. I shall give you the areas of the Syrians, Aruastan in its entirety as far as the

city of Nisibis and from the country of the Armenians, the land of Tanuterakan
rule [zyerkren Hayots' zashxarhn Tanuterakan ishxanut'ean] [extending] as far
as Ararat, and to the city of Dwin [Dvin], and as far as the shore of the Sea of
Bznunik' [Lake Van] and to Arhestawan [I shall also give] a large part of the land
of Iberia, as far as the city of Tiflis. Let there be an oath of peace between the two
of us, lasting until our deaths, and between our sons who rule after us". Thus; accessed 2010.

2. October: The European Black Sea coast: Maurice leads an expedition to

Anchialus to inspect damage caused by the Avars (Whitby 1988).

3a. PLAGUE in Italy. One of its victims was the pope or archbishop of Rome,
Pelagius. See 591.

3b. Italy: Failure of a combined Frankish-Byzantine attack on the northern

Lombard kingdom. This was a large-scale Frankish invasion which received aid
from the Exarch. Pavia, Milan - the Lombard capital - and other cities held out
until disease forced the Franks to withdraw.
In the course of the military operations led by the exarch Romanus against the
Lombards in 590, ending with the reconquista of some towns in northern Italy,
the imperial army was escorted by a certain number of dromons [warships]
‘sailing’ [i.e. being rowed] up the Po (letter sent by emperor Maurice to
Chilperich king of the Franks, in MGH [Monumenta Germaniae Historica], III, E
Austr., no.40: p.146; also Pryor & Jeffreys Dromon p.164).

3c. N Italy: Bishop Severus of Aquileia and three of his fellow bishops, upholders
of the Three Chapters, were taken by force to the exarch Smaragdus at Ravenna.
They were kept there for a whole year and were forced to submit to Roman
(papal) ecclesiastical authority.

3d. d. Authari, Lombard king. His widely respected widow, the Bavarian-born
Catholic Theodolinda, marries and thereby elevates duke Agilulf of Turin to the
kingship. The diadem from her crown has survived: a circular band of metal
(gold?) inlaid with Gothic-style jewel-work (Cathedral Treasury of Monza [near
Milan]: illustrated in Rice 1965 p.165).

In Frankish Gaul: fl. Gregory of Tours, Latin writer, bishop of Tours from 578.
Author of the Historia Francorum.

First of the Irish traveller-monks, Columbanus, reaches the continent … .

Plague, 590-92

The “fourth” wave of the plague broke out in Rome in 590 and remained in the
city for four months, January to April.
It reached Narni, NE of Rome, in summer 591 and then - moving north via the
imperial highway - Ravenna, Grado and Istria in 591-92. And in 592, as reported

by Evragius, it arrived in Antioch. —Stathakopoulos, Famine and Pestilence,


Evagrius, a lawyer and honorary prefect living in the city of Antioch, wrote his
Historia Ecclesiastica covering the years 431-594 at the end of the sixth century.
His is the most personal of the accounts of the plague, having contracted the
disease himself in 542 while still young. Although he eventually recovered, later
recurrences of the plague would deprive him of his first wife, several children, a
grandchild, and many servants of the family. It returned four times to Antioch in
the period 542-594 (Evagrius, trans. Walford).
– Little wonder, perhaps, that Syria fell so easily to the Persians – see 608.

Gregory I ‘the Great’, Patriarch of Rome, sometimes called "last of the Latin
Fathers" and "the first Pope". He was the first monk to assume the chair of St
Peter. Cf 595.
One of Gregory’s first acts was to banish all the lay attendants, pages, etc., from
the Lateran palace, and substitute clerics in their place. There was now no
magister militum (military commander) living in Rome, so the control even of
military matters fell to the patriarch of Rome. “The inroads of the Lombards had
filled the city with a multitude of indigent refugees, for whose support Gregory
made provision, using for this purpose the existing machinery of the ecclesiastical
districts, each of which had its deaconry or ‘office of alms’. The corn [read: wheat
and other grains] thus distributed came chiefly from Sicily and was supplied by
the estates of the Church” (Cath. Encyc. 1913).

From Open Towns to Fortress-Villages, 555-598

The Gothic and Lombard wars as the End of Antiquity

Moorhead, in CNMH vol 1, p.158, notes that in Cassiodorus’s works - floruit

before AD 535 - there are many references to open cities, while forts (castra,
castella) are barely mentioned. In pope Gregory’s [acc. 590] works, however, the
narrative is all forts.
At the end of the Gothic wars in 555, the ageing ex-senator and scholar
Cassiodorus founded his (open and undefended) monastery on his estate at
Squillace-Vivarium on the east coast of Calabria. By 598, however, just 30 years
after the arrival of the Lombards in N Italy, it had been transformed into what
pope Gregory describes as the castrum quod Scillacium dicitur, “the fortress that
is called Squillace”. It is represented today by remains on the mons Castellum or
“castle mount” beside the church of S. Maria del Mare (Christie p.462).

De-population and Contraction of town life in Italy, AD 540-687

In his Archaeology, Christie [2006: 60] notes that during the Gothic and
Lombard wars many urban centres were decimated and the survivors forced to
flee to, or encouraged to migrate to, alternative, better fortified and equipped

seats. Fully 42 bishoprics went out of existence. Perhaps surprisingly, southern

Italy – for the south is sometimes viewed as partly cushioned from the warfare –
was the most badly hit: thus no bishoprics appear in Lucania, the middle section
of the Italian boot, under pope Gregory (d. 604); and, of the 15 previously
attested in Apulia*, just one is recorded, namely at Sipontum (Manfredonia). The
formerly important see of Canosa/Canusium had no clergy at all in 591.

(*) The Lombards will push down to Taranto and Brindisi by 687.

Slavery Continues

“The papacy owned slaves, and the pope was their master. Some worked in
domestic settings, others on the papacy's vast landholdings. Of course free lessees
and coloni (serfs of various kinds) also worked on church land …
It is impossible to know how many slaves the papacy owned, or how much of its
property was farmed by slaves. But, while there may have been growth in tied
tenancy [serfdom] during the period, there is a growing consensus that there
was not a precipitous decline in the slave population. Papal slaves were not a
rarity.” —Adam Serfass, ‘Slavery and Pope Gregory’.
In 598 we have a report of Jewish merchants buying pagan and Christian slaves
in Gaul and bringing them, at the behest of imperial officials, to Naples for sale
(McCormick 2001: 625 note 29). Cf 593 above.

Reccared, acc. 586, the king of Visigothic Spain, eliminated the death penalty for
Jews convicted of proselytising among Christians and ignored the pope or
archbishop of Rome Gregory's request that the trade in Christian slaves at
Narbonne, in Visigoth Septimania, be forbidden to Jews (cf below, 593). –
Bachrach 1973.


A map of Italy at the turn of the sixth century can be found here: On the peninsula, the
Lombards held significantly more territory than the empire.

590-616: or 591-615:
r. Agilulf, Lombard king with his seat at Milan. Formerly duke of Milan, he was of
Thuringian (German) origin. - A gilded bronze helmet or visor inscribed with his
name has survived: the earliest known portrait of a Germanic ruler seated on a
As against Milan, the other kings before and after him preferred smaller centres
in which the Lombards would not be a minority. The most important royal
residences were at Verona and Pavia. There were others at Brescia and Cividale.
—Liebeschuetz 2000.

1. Persian civil war: With Byzantine help, Khusrau/Chosroes seeks to recover his

throne. The Byzantine force aiding Khusrau is said to have numbered 40,000.
Khusrau advances to Dara, and restores the town to Byzantium. Spring/summer:
he advances to the Tigris; Mebodes or Mebod captures various Persian royal
palaces. Summer: The Persians under king Vahram or Baram manoeuvre against
Chosroes in Azerbaijan. The combined Byzantine-Persian army of Chosroes
[Khosrau] defeats Baram (Chronicle of Se’ert, in Patrologia Orientalis XIII/4, p.
Byzantium acquires western Armenia, as a gift for restoring the Persian shah.

2. Pope Gregory orders grain to be sent from Sicily for Rome, which is affected by
famine, drought and plague.

From 591:
With peace in the East, Maurice is able to turn his full attention to his near north-
west. He successfully campaigns against the Avars in the NW Balkans and
recovers Sirmium (Fine 1991: 32). Cf 593, 596.
Although the Avars could operate at close range with lance and sword, like all
steppes-people their preferred method was long-range (horse) archery, retreats
and sudden returns. If an enemy fled, he was harried until completely destroyed
(Hyland 1994: 32, citing Maurice's Strategikon).

Pragmatic Relations in Italy

Brown, in Gentlemen and Officers, 1984: 73, notes that there was an imperial
policy of winning over dissident or greedy Lombards. And it was broadly
successful. No less than 14 or 54% of the 26 dukes and magistri militum -
military commanders - serving Byzantium in Italy between the Lombard
invasions and the death (604) of Gregory I were Germans (ethnic Lombards) by
birth. “The readiness of the Lombard dukes to transfer allegiance to the Empire
demonstrates the shakiness of the early Lombard kings’ authority”.

1. Sixth return of the plague to Constantinople and the East, as related, eg, by
Evagrius (Stathakopoulos p.118).

2a. Italy: In 592 the Roman patriarch Gregory “received a threatening letter from
Ariulf of Spoleto, which was followed almost immediately by the appearance of
that chief before the walls of Rome. At the same time Arichis [Latin Arogis] of
Benevento advanced on Naples, which happened at the moment to have no
bishop nor any officer of high rank in command of the garrison. Gregory at once
took the surprising step of appointing a tribune on his own authority to take
command of the city (Epp., II, xxxiv), and, when no notice of this strong action
was taken by the imperial authorities, the pope conceived the idea of himself
arranging a separate peace with the Lombards (Epp., II, xlv)”. —Cath Encyc.,
online, under ‘St Gregory’.

Ariulf of Spoleto attempts to take Rome. He succeeded only in taking several forts

on the highway from Ravenna to Rome, but this briefly divided the imperial-
Byzantine ("Greek") realm and momentarily united the Lombard realms.
Subsequently (see 593) the northern Lombards under King Agilulf will push
south and besiege Rome. The exarch was at Ravenna, so the defence of Rome was
managed by the local Byzantine commander ("magister militum") and the pope
or archbishop of Rome Gregory. Agilulf was paid money to withdraw (593).

2b. Italy: Pope Gregory I - the term is anachronistic, so better: the patriarch of
Rome - appealed to the exarch Romanus for help in assisting Naples, then under
Lombard attack. Romanus evidently thought it more prudent to remain in NE
Italy. Gregory then made peace with the Duchy of Spoleto, in order to relieve
Naples which was threatened by the Lombards of Benevento.

2c. Italy: Duke Ariulf of Spoleto continually threatened the communication route
between Rome and Ravenna and captured a number of other places belonging to
the empire; and in the south Arichis, duke of Benevento, co-operating with Ariulf,
pressed hard upon Naples.
About the end of July, Pope Gregory concluded a separate peace with Ariulf
which aroused great indignation at Ravenna and Constantinople because it
was beyond the authority of the Roman patriarch to make such peace with an
independent power. It would seem that it was this action which stirred the exarch
Romanus to a campaign (see 593).


We may imagine there was no real recovery as yet in the number of people; on
the contrary, the many revisitations of the plague no doubt continued to drive
down the size of the population.

On the other hand, the economic effect should have been positive, at least for
non-landowners. In the second half of the 14th century, the depopulation caused
by the Black Death led in western Europe to much higher wages for those who
survived, mainly because of the reduced supply of labour. The resulting jump in
prosperity is one of the paradoxes of the ‘Malthusian Trap’. In northern and
central Italy around AD 1425 the effect was dramatic: real wages reached their
pre-modern peak; in England the effect was less pronounced but still very
significant. Real wages began to decline about a century after the plague, and did
not return to the long run average until around 1500 in the case of Italy or 1600
in the case of a less urbanised England (Clark 2007: 47).
We would expect to see a similar outcome in Byzantium, and it should have
been visible at least by 590. There is evidence for such an effect in the immediate
aftermath the first plague of 542. But is it observable after 575? See the entry
below for 594: perhaps evidence that the effect was washed out by then.

1. Emperor Maurice issued an edict forbidding any serving soldiers to resign from

the army to enter monastic life. Cf 594. The Patriarch of Rome, Gregory,
circulates the edict but bitterly criticises it in correspondence with the emperor
(Duffy p.51).

2. Thrace and Illyria: Priscus’s 2nd Balkan campaign: in autumn, the Byzantine
army returns to Thrace for the winter; the Slavs ravage widely in the Balkans. The
Avars besiege Belgrade [ancient Singidunum] but fail to take it.
The ODB remarks that in two or three decades the Avars had transformed the
bands of Slavic frontiersmen into shipbuilders and formidable amphibious
troops. Already in 593, the Pannonian Sklavenoi built ships or boats for the Avars
as well as a bridge over the Sava River in present-day Serbia. —ODB ed. Pritsak
1991: III, 1916.

Italy: Contest for the Via Amerina

3a. Italy: The Exarch reasserts imperial authority along the Via Cassia and the Via
Amerina, key roads leading into Rome from the NE and north respectively. In all,
10 towns and villages were recaptured from the Lombards:

“Romanus the exarch . . . wholly ignoring the papal peace, ...

gathered all his troops, attacked and regained Perugia [on the Via Amerina
- from the Spoletan Lombards] (592), and then marched to Rome, where he
was received with imperial honours. The next spring, however, he quitted
(593) the city and took away its garrison with him, so that both pope and
citizens were now more exasperated against him than before.* Moreover,
the exarch's campaign had roused the Northern Lombards, and King Agilulf
marched on Rome, arriving there probably some time in June 593.” —Cath.

(*) Gregory [Ep. v.36] accused Romanus of ‘abandoning Rome so that

Perugia might be held’.

“Romanus, the patrician [patrikios, a court title] and exarch of Ravenna,

proceeded to Rome. During his return to Ravenna [via the Cassian and
Amerinan Ways*], he re-occupied the cities [read: fortress-villages] that
were [had been] held by the Langobards, of which the names are as follows:
1 Sutrium (modern Sutri,** on the Via Cassia NNW of Rome), 2
Polimartium (Bomarzo: NE of Viterbo),*** 3 Horta (Orte), [Via Amerina:]
4 Tuder (Todi: west of Spoleto), 5 Ameria (Amelia: NW of Narni)****, 6
Perusia (Perugia), 7 Luceolis (Cantiano, NE of Perugia), and some other
cities.” —Paulus D., 4.8.

(*) The Via Amerina ran from from Rome north to Orte, where its crossed
the upper Tiber, thence to Amelia and on to Todi and Perugia.

(**) The Via Cassia was one of several highways that ran from Tuscany to
Rome. Sutri was a key point on the Rome side (south-east) of Viterbo.

(***) Evidently Romanus’s troops proceeded up the Via Cassia beyond Sutri
about as far as our Viterbo and then left it, crossing east via Bomarzo to the
Via Amerina at Orte. The other towns mentioned are all on the Via Amerina.

(****) Both Orte and Amelia lay on the Via Amerina. Location: Bomarzo,
Orte and Amelia constitute a triangle NE of Viterbo, straddling the upper
Tiber valley and today’s A1 highway, on the Rome side of Orvieto. The Tiber
runs through Orte.
Narni, SE of Amelia, was the nodal point where the Via Falminia divided
into a western and an eastern leg. Lombard Spoleto lay on the eastern leg.

3b. Attempt by the Lombard king Agilulf to take Rome: a protracted siege of the
city ensued. As noted, the Exarch Romanus had left the city and taken its garrison
with him. The exarch's campaign had roused Agilulf, who, after re-taking Perugia,
marched on Rome, arriving there probably some time in June 593. Pope Gregory
knew that the city’s grain store was too small to old very long. And, from the
battlements of the city, he could see the captive Latins driven from the
Campagna - the valley of the lower Tiber, - roped together with halters around
their necks, on their way to slavery: "Romans tied by the neck [with ropes
around their necks] like dogs” - "and led off to be sold as slaves to the Franks”
(Letter V.40: variant translations).
The siege of the city was soon abandoned, however, and Agilulf retired.
Ignoring the Exarch in Ravenna, the patriarch of Rome, Gregory, used a large
gift of silver to obtain a treaty with Agilulf: first stirrings of political
independence by the papacy. Although Rome eluded him, Agilulf at this time, as
we have said, took control of Perugia, a key fortress town (Collins 1991: 197).
In a letter (V, xxxix) Gregory refers to himself as "the paymaster of the
Lombards", and apparently silver was the chief inducement to raise the siege
(Barry 2003: 50; also Wikipedia, 2010, under ‘Gregory’: relying heavily on the
Cath. Encyc.). "The emperor has a paymaster for his troops in Ravenna," he
wrote to the empress, "but he leaves me to be the paymaster of the Lombards in
Rome." The silver paid was equivalent to 500 Roman pounds of gold or 36,000

By this time, some Lombard notables had switched to Catholic Christianity, but
their kings remained resolutely Arian (although Agilulf’s own son was baptised as
a Catholic in about 604). In the Lombard kingdom, some towns had Catholic
bishops, although most were Arian (Richards p.40; also Collins p.197). Cf 661-62.

4. Slavery is the topic of a letter from pope Gregory to the praetor (civil governor)
of Sicily. The patriarch protests the sale of Christian slaves to Jewish merchants
(among other routes, they operated along the route from Narbonne and
Marseilles to Antioch). He offers no protest about non-Christian slaves such as
those traded from the Slavic lands (Rotman 2009: 73-74). As we have seen
[above: after 690], Gregory himself, or the church he headed, was a major slave-
owner. (On the church’s justification of slavery in the first millennium AD, see

Rotman 2009: 135 ff.)

5. Italy: Gregory writes an account of the long-dead Benedict, the monk who
founded the great monastery at Monte Cassino.

The Balkans: Emperor Maurice directs (593) the Balkans army to winter north of
the Danube and to subsist on the land (rather than receive pay): this will lead
(594) to near-mutiny. See next.
Maurice moved Byzantine military action to Slavic territory: the first crossing
of the Danube was made in 594.

1a. Maurice tried to avoid paying the troops in cash on the payday in 594
(payments were made annually at Easter) by offering them free uniforms and
arms in lieu of cash. To avoid a mutiny, his general Priscus had to rescind the
proposal (Theophylact VII.1.1.9).

1b. Edict allowing sons to inherit their fathers' jobs as soldiers in the field army:
this was strongly welcomed. Evidently opportunities outside the army were far
less attractive (Treadgold 1997: 283). The average annual pay of a soldier was 20
nomismata (gold coins).

2. Italy: The Lombard king Agilulf appoints Arichis I (a.k.a. Arigisus, Arechi)
duke of Benevento (alt. date: 591). During Arichis’ term he often found himself at
war with his neighbours, the Byzantine and other small southern Italian city-
states. Capua came under his control and he annexed considerable parts of
Campania and southern Abruzzi to his duchy. His long rule lasted until 641.

Gaul, realm of the Franks: d. Gregory of Tours, author of the Historiae

The Post-Antique West: Gregory's attitude toward pagan literature
was the conventional one of his age, namely fear of the demonic influences
embodied in it. He expresses it thus: "We ought not to relate their lying
fables lest we fall under sentence of eternal death." And we hear of bishops
who were illiterate. It is plain that the trend of the evidence is all in one
direction, namely that in Gaul by this time the liberal arts had disappeared
from education. Gregory knew he could not write the literary language but
in spite of this he made the attempt, and the result is what we have: a sort of
hybrid, halfway between the popular speech and the formally correct
literary language of Antiquity. Thus Ernest Brehaut, introduction to his 1916

Italy: Gregory, the patriarch of Rome, seeks to broker peace between the
Romanic-Byzantine Exarch and the Lombards, but fails (Richards, Popes p.173).

“Gregory began once again to mediate a private treaty even without the consent
of the Exarch Romanus. This threat was speedily reported to Constantinople and
the emperor Maurice responded with a violent letter, now lost, received in June
595. Luckily, Gregory's scathing reply has been preserved (Epistles V, xxxvi). Still,
Gregory seems to have realised that independent action could not secure what he
wished, and we hear no more about a separate peace” (Wikipedia, 2009, under
‘Gregory’). Cf 595.3a below.

1a. Spring/summer: Priscus’s 3rd Balkan campaign; the Avars ravage Dalmatia.
See 598.

1b. Italy and Slovenia: The ancestors of the Slovenes, still of course pagan, first
appear in the historical record in the Alps and on the Adriatic after the departure
of the Lombards for Italy as vassals of the Avars. The Slavic-Avar progress
towards the Eastern Alps is traceable on the basis of synodal records of the
Aquileian metropolitan church which reveal the decline of ancient dioceses:
Emona [Ljubljana], Celeia [Celye], Poetovio [Ptuj], Aguntum [Linz], Teurnia
[near Lendorf], the old capital of Roman Norcium, Virunum [in southern Austria
near the Slovene border], and Scarabantia [Odenburg]. The first specific date in
Slovene history is 595, when they fought an unsuccessful battle with the Bavarian
duke Tassilo at Toblach (Dobbiaco), SE of Innsbruck, just west of today’s Italo-
Austria border (Cath. Encyc. under ‘Slavs’). Cf 600.

2. Rome vs Constantinople: In 588 Patriarch John IV ‘the Faster’ had taken the
title of Ecumenical Patriarch - O‘ikoumenikòs: "world-wide", “universal” or
better: "imperial" patriarch. Old Rome’s protest against this was renewed by Pope
Gregory in 595 (Richards p. 175). cf 607.
The Council of Chalcedon, 451, had established Constantinople as a
patriarchate with jurisdiction over Asia Minor and Thrace and gave it the second
place after Rome (canon xxviii). The pope or archbishop of Rome Leo I, 440-61,
had declined to admit this canon, which was made in the absence of his legates;
and for centuries Rome would refuse to give the second place to Constantinople.
The Patriarch of Rome, Gregory, interpreted 'ecumenical' as meaning
'universal'. Richards p.11 attributes this to Rome's hyper-sensitivity about its
status. Gregory protested vehemently against it in a long correspondence
addressed first to John, then to the Emperor Maurice, and the Empress
Constantina and others.
Rome argued that "if one patriarch is called universal the title is thereby taken
from the others" (Epp., V, xviii, 740). To oppose it, Gregory assumed a title borne
since then by his successors. "He refuted the name 'universal' and first of all
began to write himself 'servant of the servants of God' at the beginning of his
letters, with sufficient humility, leaving to all his successors this hereditary
evidence of his meekness" (or so the Catholic Encyclopedia saw it: citing
Johannes Diaconus, "Vita S. Gregorii").

3a. Poor relations between Romanus the Exarch of Italy in Ravenna and Pope

Gregory in Rome. Writes Gregory: "I will only say that his [Romanus's] malice
towards us is worse than the swords of the Lombards. The enemies who kill us
outright are kinder than the State officials [magistrates of the commonwealth],
who wear us out with their malice, their robberies [plundering] and their frauds
[deceits]" (quoted in Richards p.171; brackets: variant translation).

The finances of the Byzantine regime in Italy were so critical in 595 that they
depended on the transfer of revenues from the less pressed islands of Corsica,
Sardinia and Sicily and subventions from the emperor himself. The reason,
presumably, was that, because of warfare with the Lombards, conditions on the
peninsula were so disturbed that few taxes were able to be generated or
collected (Brown 1984: 7). Cf below under 596-606 and 599.

Some scholars believe that fiscal pressure was felt as particularly unbearable by
the populations of Italian and African exarchates because their taxes were not
reinvested in the local economy, but sent to Constantinople. This process would
have involved a progressive impoverishment of the local societies of the empire.
This is possibly true, but it is worth noting that in a letter sent by pope Gregory to
the Augusta or empress Constantina in 595, it is clearly stated that the taxation
which was levied from Italy was used to cope with the military needs of the
Italian exarchate itself (Consentina, Byzantine Sardinia).

3b. Patriarch vs Emperor: In relation to the Lombards, the Cath. Encyc. proposes
that Gregory placed all his hopes on their Queen Theodelinda, a Catholic and a
personal friend. “The exarch, however, looked at the whole affair in another light,
and, when a whole year was passed in fruitless negotiations, Gregory began once
again to mediate a private treaty.” Accordingly, in May, 595, the pope wrote to a
friend at Ravenna a letter (Epp., V, xxxiv) threatening to make peace with Agilulf
even without the consent of the Exarch Romanus. “This threat was speedily
reported to Constantinople, where the exarch was in high favour, and the
Emperor Maurice at once sent off to Gregory a violent letter, now lost, accusing
him of being both a traitor and a fool. This letter Gregory received in June 595.
Luckily, the pope's answer has been preserved to us (Epp., V, xxxvi) . . . . Still, in
spite of his scathing reply, Gregory seems to have realised that independent
action could not secure what he wished, and we hear no more about a separate

Paganism in Byzantine Sardinia

“Of paganism in Sicily we find no trace, save that pagan slaves, doubtless not
natives of the island, were held by Jews. Herein is a contrast between Sicily and
Sardinia, where, according to a letter from [pope] Gregory to the empress
Constantina, wife of the emperor Maurice (594-595), praying for a lightening of
taxation in both islands, paganism still lingered”. —Encyc. Brit. 1911 edn, under


1. (Or 595:) Priscus recaptures Belgrade. See 599.

2. Italy: First historical mention of Amalfi as a Byzantine port; it was a castrum

[fortified village] already with its own bishop. This is also its last mention for a
further 200 years. It came under the Byzantine duke of Naples until 839 (Kreutz
1996: 80, citing pope Gregory).

Italy: Lombards vs the empire in the Po valley. The contest took place along the
axis of the old Via Aemilia. In Christie’s words, pp.40-41, “the local towns
faltered almost fatally and the lands (were) forcibly abandoned; a military
frontier may well have been imposed by the Byzantine armies, whose forces
exploited the walled centres as military camps and depots. There are clear
indications of islands of Italian-Byzantine resistance, either battered by the
Lombards or ignored until time was available to deal with these stragglers. . . . “
“By the time truces were drawn up between the Byzantine governor-general or
exarch and the Lombard king in 603, 604 and confirmed in 605, … pope Gregory
lamented that ‘now the cities have been depopulated, fortresses razed, churches
burned down, monasteries and nunneries destroyed, the fields abandoned by
mankind and, destitute of any cultivator of the land, lies empty and solitary. No
landholder lives on it; wild beasts occupy places once held by a multitude of
men’”. Cf 599.

The archaeology of Brescia around 600 has been described as follows. We may be
tempted to ascribe the town’s ravaged condition to the Lombard-Byzantine war,
but only some of it can be attributed to the struggles of AD 696-706; much of the
decay and devastation dates from the earlier Gothic-Byzantine wars of the 540s
and 550s:

“ ...Roman buildings destroyed by fire, collapsed masonry left in situ to

encumber streets and private places, blocked drains, ... makeshift houses
in wood or the requisition of abandoned rooms [in classical style buildings]
...burials scattered haphazardly amid the houses, and the reduction to
cultivation of large areas of the urban fabric.”
—Quoted in Muhlberger; cf Broglio’s book Brescia, cited in Wickham 2005.

In 603, Parma was re-taken definitively by the Lombards, while the imperials
retained Bologna. The Parma-Bologna region, centred on Modena, will remain
the borderland for over a century. —Italian Wikipedia under ‘Parma’, 2009,
citing Marzio Dall'Acqua and Marzio Lucchesi, Parma città d'oro, Parma:
Albertelli, 1979.

1. Dalmatia: The Avars sent a massive raid through Byzantine Illyria (Bosnia and
Dalmatia) which destroyed some 40 fortresses (Fine 1991: 32). Or in 598.

2. Slav siege of Byzantine Thessalonica, which fails, conducted by the Slav tribes
settled in the surrounding region of Macedonia. Or more probably in 586: see
there. See 609.
Most historians prefer 586, but the case for the year 597 is put thus by Vryonis
“The first major Avaro-Slavic attack on Thessaloniki: The Miracula of St.
Demetrius date the appearance of this army to Sunday, September 22, in the
reign of Maurice, i.e. either in September of 586 or in September of 597. … the
army besieging Thessaloniki on Sunday, September 22, in the reign of Maurice,
was fully possessed of a highly developed siege technology. According to
Theophylactus, they began to apply this technology only in 587; therefore the
evidence for dating the first major Avaro-Slavic attack on Thessaloniki in 597
rather than 586 is now much stronger.”

It is evident that by 600 all the country north of Thessaloniki was virtually lost to
the Empire and that the penetration of peninsular Greece followed at once.

597: (1) d. Columba, Irish missionary to pagan Pictish-Celtic Scotland. (2)

The prelate Augustine, sent from Rome, arrives in England to convert the
pagan Anglo-Saxons. First archbishop of Canterbury.
In the west, the ‘Romano-Britons’ of Powys and the other “Welsh”
principalities and the Irish were long since Christian, but the Anglo-
Saxons and Picts remained pagan into the 600s.

Italy: The emperor was preoccupied with wars on the Eastern borders and, with
the various succeeding exarchs unable to secure Rome from invasion, the
patriarch of Rome Gregory took a personal initiative of starting (579)
negotiations for a peace treaty with the Lombards. It was completed during the
autumn of 598, when Callincus was Exarch, and was only afterwards recognised
by Maurice. But it would last, or at least it remained in place, till the end of
Gregory’s reign (604). Cf 601-02: Callinicus captures Agiluf’s daughter.
Callincius completed the negotiations with Agilulf during 598, and in the
following year (599), after all parties had signed, a formal peace of two years'
time was recognised, where the Lombards were acknowledged as sovereign rulers
of their holdings. —A Jones et al. 1992: 264

Callinicus was exarch of Italy (A Jones et al. 1992: 264).

1. Balkan campaign renewed: Priscus is blockaded at Tomi, north of the Danube
on the Black Sea: modern Constantja in Rumania; truce with the Avars.
Comentiolus leads an expedition to relieve Priscus; but is routed (spring). The
Avars advance to Drizipera in Thrace. Maurice leads an expedition to the Long
Walls (in Thrace); Avar-Byzantine treaty. Complaints by the army against

Illyricum: The khan of the Avars advanced from Sirmium through Byzantine
Bosnia, devastated Dalmatia, and demolished 40 ‘cities’ (read: towns and
villages). Cf 599.

2. Walled monasteries: At the end of the Gothic-Byzantine wars in 555, the

ageing ex-senator and scholar Cassiodorus founded his open and undefended
monastery on his estate at Squillace-Vivarium in Calabria; by 598, however, 30
years after the arrival of the Lombards* in N Italy, it had been transformed into
the castrum quod Scillacium dicitur - “the fortress that is called Squillace” -
which has been identified with remains on the mons Castellum (“castle mount”)
beside the church of S. Maria del Mare (Christie p.462).

(*) Paulus Diaconus (4.18) inserts in his history the text of a letter to Arechis of
Benevento (acc. 591) from the ‘pope’ or archbishop of Rome Gregory, d. 604. The
Roman patriarch asks that the Lombard sub-commanders in Bruttium (our
Calabria) be directed to help with the transport of timber beams from that
province for the repair of churches in Rome. The Lombards were to supply oxen
to bring the beams to the coast whence they would be transported to Rome by
sea. But evidently Byzantium retained control of most of Calabria at the end of
Arechis’s long reign (d.641).

3. Byzantine Malta: Soldiers are mentioned in a letter concerning the Maltese

group of islands that Pope Gregory ‘the Great’ addressed to the Bishop of
Syracuse in October 598. This would suggest, says Buhagiar, that the islands had
some sort of military garrison. They might in fact have been governed by a
military ‘giunta’ of the type found in Italy and Sicily. This is suggested by a couple
of seals, one of which (of unknown provenance) commemorated the ‘archon and
droungarios’ [lord and senior officer] of Malta. —Mario Buhagiar 1997.

1. Italy: Leontius, fl. late 6th/early 7th centuries: Byzantine official. After serving
as quaestor [army quarter-master] with title of consul* in Sicily, he remained an
important figure. He received a number of letters from Pope Gregory I between
AD 598 and 601.

(*) Greek hypatos. An honorary rank rather than an office with a unique or
specific function. Typically it was a title borne by people in mid-level
administrative and fiscal posts (ODB 1991: 963-64).

2. Plague again in the East, Africa and Italy - Ravenna (598: the date given by
Richards 1980: 16) and Rome (599). It broke out at Constantinople in 599 and
moved thence into Asia Minor. This was its seventh visit to Constantinople. The
same year, 599, it was reported in Syria. It was in North Africa and Italy in 599-
600; at Ravenna in 600 [the date given by Stathakopoulos 2004: 333] and
Verona in 601.

1a. Balkans: Joint campaign by Priscus and Comentiolus on the upper Danube:
they lead (summer) a major expedition via Sirmium into the heartland of the
Avars north of the Danube. There they defeat the Avars in four battles. It is said
that “17,000” Avar prisoners were taken (Treadgold 1997: 234).

1b. Maurice refused ransom for Byzantine prisoners held by the Avars: “12,000”
Byzantine men are executed.

2a. The West: The exarch Callinicus fought in person against the Slav invaders of
Istria, the peninsula south of Trieste, today the western-most part of Croatia
(Brown 1984: 91).

2b. Italy: A treaty (it was confirmed in 605) was struck between Byzantium and
the Lombards: the Exarch Callinicus, ruling in Ravenna, agrees with king Agilulf
(ruling from Milan) to formally partition northern Italy. But no extra troops
were sent from Constantinople; evidently the Avar war had depleted the
treasury. Cf 602.
The grave economic malaise that afflicted Italy is indicated by the difficulty the
authorities had in raising relatively minor sums. In 599 the exarch was compelled
to borrow 600 pounds or litrai of gold [43,200 nomismata] from the archbishop
of Ravenna, and in the early years of the following century the authorities had
difficulties in meeting the demands of the Lombards for tribute payments
ranging from 12,000 to 36,000 solidi ( = up to 500 pounds) (Brown 1984: 7). Cf
above: AD 561.
Wickham says that in Italy the “local state was weaker [than in other parts of
the Empire] . . .; tax-raising slowly broke down even in Byzantine areas, as it had
done in the Lombard kingdom by 600” (Framing the Early Middle Ages).

3. Spain: During the rule of Reccared, 586-601, the Byzantines again took the
offensive and probably even regained, or gained, some ground. Reccared
recognised the legitimacy of the Byzantine frontier and wrote to Pope Gregory
requesting that a copy of the earliest treaty with the empire be obtained from the
Emperor Maurice. Gregory simply replied (August 599) that the text of the treaty
had been lost in a fire before Justinian’s death and warned Reccared that he
would not want it found because it would have granted the Rhomaniyans more
territory than they actually then possessed. —NCMH: New Cambridge Medieval
History, ed. Rosamund McKetterick et al., 1995: 349.

New Technology in the West: the Plough

The light sole-ard or scratch plough or “atratum” [Gk arotron] is replaced by the
heavy mouldboard (slicing) plough or “plovus”.

Lynn White dates the first indisputable appearance of the mouldboard plough to

after the Roman period, namely 643 AD, in a northern Italian (Lombard)
document: White, Medieval Technology, Oxford 1962, p. 50. On the other hand,
White describes the linguistic researches of B. Bratanic, who showed that 26
technical terms connected with the heavy plough and its use "are to be found in
all three of the great Slavic linguistic groups, the eastern, western and southern",
pointing to its adoption by these people before their division in the later sixth
century, and indicating that the mouldboard plough was invented by 600, then
introduced to western Europe.* Despite this, "Bratanic does not claim the
invention of the heavy plough for the Slavs, but for 'some northern peasant
culture' as yet unidentified”: White, Medieval Technology, pp. 49f.

(*) The mouldboard plough was never adopted by Byzantium, which continued
to use the scratch-plough it inherited from Antiquity: Harvey 1989: 122.

1. Peace treaty with the Avars: Maurice agrees to pay 120,000 nomismata (gold
coins) to the Khagan. The treaty did not hold (Fine 1991: 32). See 601.

2. (or 598:) An army delegation goes to Maurice to complain about their misuse
by the general Comentiolus. Among the party was one Phocas, a ‘centurion’, who
for his troubles was publicly humiliated (but later is elevated to emperor: see
By 600, Phocas was a non-commissioned officer or ‘subaltern’ (junior officer)
in the Roman army that served in the Balkans, and apparently was viewed as a
leader by his fellow soldiers. We may guess that he was the commander of a
bandon (arithmos, numerus, tagma) of 300 men, i.e. in our terms halfway
between a major and a lieutenant-colonel.
He was a member of a delegation sent by the army in that year to
Constantinople to submit grievances to the government about Comentiolus, the
army's commander. The delegation's complaints were rejected, and, according to
several sources, Phocas himself was mistreated (slapped etc) by prominent court
officials at this time (Olster 1993: 51).

3. The NW: Dalmatia was threatened by the Slavs, and Gregory, the pope or
archbishop of Rome, wrote in July of 600 to Bishop Maximus of Salona, near
Split, of the terrible anxiety he felt for the local bishop and his flock. Gregory also
mentioned that the Slavs were now finding their way into Italy. - "Et de
Slavorum gente, quæ vobis valde imminet, affligor vehementer et conturbor.
Affligor in his, quæ iam in vobis patior; conturbor quia per Istriæ aditum iam
Italiam intrare coeperunt". - ‘And by the people of the Slavs, who greatly threaten
you [Maximus], you are being vigorously afflicted and disquieted. You are being
afflicted by this, that already in (by) you is being suffered; you are being
confounded because (you) having been attacked through Istria already, they [the
Slavs] have begun to enter into Italy.’ – My poor translation: MO’R.

Coupled with the other disasters of the reign of Justinian, the plague may have

reduced the population of the Mediterranean world by the year 600 to no more
than 60 percent of its count a century earlier, says J. C. Russell, "That Earlier
Plague", Demography 5 (1968) 174-184.

c. 600:
1. Italy: Taxation and slavery are covered in a letter from the patriarch of
Rome, Gregory, to Constantinople:
“The island of Corsica is burdened with such an excess of exactions and
burdens [imperial taxation] that those who live in it are barely able to pay what is
demanded by selling their children. Hence it happens that, abandoning their own
dear country, the inhabitants of that land are forced to flee to that most cruel
nation, the Lombards. For what can they suffer from the barbarians that is more
burdensome and cruel than that they should be so reduced and straitened as to
be compelled to sell their own children? [sold in order to afford their taxes]”. —
Text in Cave & Coulson 1965: 356-357.

2. Italy: 73 fortresses and towns. A list attributed to George of Cyprus named 40

imperial castra or strong-holds and 33 other centres on the Italian mainland (not
including Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica).


In 600 "New Rome" (Byzantium) still dominated the whole Mediterranean basin,
from the Straits of Gibraltar to Egypt and Palestine. Only Greece and Italy had
seen serious losses to the imperium: the Lombards dominated north and north-
west Italy and there were two independent Lombard dukedoms or "duchies"
(Spoleto and Benevento) separating Byzantine Ravenna and Rome from the
Byzantine "boot" of Italy. Greece was being raided by the Avars and Slavs but still
remained under the control of Constantinople. Cf 603, 605.

The Eclipse of Trade in the West

By AD 600 pottery imports to Northern Italy were rare; ‘ARS” (‘African red
slipware’: fine table-ware from Byzantine Tunisia) is only occasional by now,
except in Friuli at the top of the Adriatic – traded via the Byzantine-controlled
ports of Aquileia and Grado. Wickham notes that ARS even reached what is now
southern Austria, via Aquilea or Grado and thence over the Alps, until the early
seventh century. But for the most part Lombard and Byzantine N Italy relied after
600 almost wholly on local production of ceramics: as seen for example in the
archaeology of Modena (Wickham, Early Middle Ages, 2005: 731).
One of the very last long-distance trade-ships still operating in the West was a
grain transport wrecked off southern France between 600 and 625 (Kingsley
2009: 33).
Likewise in south Italy, most ceramics were now domestically produced,
although Lombard Benevento, well inland, was still receiving some ARS into the
late seventh century. Pottery production in the South, e.g. at Byzantine Naples,

was overall of higher quality than in the North (ibid, pp.736 ff).

Troop Numbers and Total Population in Italy

Not all of the “73” centres noted earlier under c.600 can have been garrisoned
with troops. T S Brown guesses - there is no literary evidence - that the total
enrolled strength of the imperial army in Italy was 15,000. He deducts an
estimated 5,000 men at Ravenna and 2,000 each in Grado [the island port of
Aquilea, capital of Venetia-Istria, west of Trieste at the top of the Gulf of Venice],
Rome and Naples. That leaves only 3,000 for all the other castra. Allowing, say,
300 men - one numerus or bandon - per castrum, the 3,000 would be enough to
garrison just 10 minor strongholds (cf discussion in Brown 1984: 84).
Christie p.355 guesses that Grado may have had as few as 1,200 soldiers; but
proposes that certain strategic bases were garrisoned with “much grander” forces,
such as the 4,000 troops at Osimo, south of Ravenna near Ancona. He even
proposes that Liguria alone - the littoral province around Genoa - had 13,000
troops, arguing that each main centre was garrisoned by at least one numerus or
regiment of “500” men (p.372). This is not plausible when we note that major
expeditionary armies could number as few as 15,000 men.
Cf later after the entry for 641: Treadgold and others suggest that 10,000 is
more probable for the total troop numbers in Italy. Even if half the 73 centres
were garrisoned, the average per centre would hav been 278 soldiers.

Another way to approach this question is via the size of the total population,
noting that over the ‘Byzantine millennium’ troop numbers (see Treadgold, Army
pp. 161-63) fluctuated around the level of 1.2 to 2.4% of the population.
McEvedy & Jones, Population History, propose that in 600 Italy had only
about 3.5 million people, about half that of the heyday of the undivided empire
around AD 150. (There is good data for around AD 150, and certainly a fall of
50% by 600 is credible.) Allowing for the fact that some regions, e.g. Sicily and
the Po Valley, were more intensively settled than some others, e.g. the mainly
upland Lombard duchy of Spoleto, we can say very generally that in 600 about
half the population Italy was ruled by Byzantines (1.75 M) and half lived in the
Lombard realms (1.75 M).
Now 1.5% of 1.75 M is 26,250. That would represent the upper limit of the
number of the semi-professional troops able to be fielded by the empire in Italy.
Thus Brown’s guess of ‘15,000’ is sensible; and Christie’s figures for Liguria looks
very doubtful.

Estimates for the population of the city of old Rome in AD 600 range from as low
as 5,000 people to as high as 50,000 (Christie p.61). Holmes 2001: 26 proposes
that in the late 500s Rome might have had ‘30,000’ people, and so perhaps only
20,000 around 600.

Severe famines (Stathakapoulos p.337).

Illyria: In a campaign against the Avars and their Slav and Gepid subjects,
Byzantine armies under Priscus cross the Danube in the region of modern
Belgrade: the Morava and Tisza valleys (Fine 1991: 33).
The army of emperor Maurice turns the tide against the Avars. Sirmium was
relieved and the Avar khan Bayan was forced to retreat back across the Danube.
The East Romans followed and he was soundly defeated: "not since the days of
Trajan and Marcus Aurelius had Roman power asserted itself so effectively north
of the Danube", says Obolensky 1971; also in Smith,; accessed

To frustrate the Avar tactics of attacking from all sides, Priscus divided his army
into three large squares. At other times he formed three large crescents to
enclose the Avars when they were attacking frontally (Heath 1976: 50).

Let us imagine that he commanded 15,000 men, i.e. 5,000 in each of three
squares. If formed five men deep, a square was 250 men wide (or say 125 metres).
Presumably the crescents would have formed a less dense body: perhaps a
kilometre wide (5,000 men x five deep x one metre per man = 1,000 metres).

N Italy: In 601 an aggressive act on the part of the exarch Callinicus —he took
prisoner the daughter of the Lombard king Agilulf and her husband—led (602) to
war with Agilulf (A Jones et al. 1992: 264). (Cf below under 602-03.)
Callinicus’s successor, Smaragdus, from 603, will again made a peace with the
Lombards that endures until after pope Gregory's death in 604.

1. Constantinople: Famine and riots in the capital, which Maurice managed to
put down with difficulty (Treadgold 1997: 235). See next.

2a: The Danube: Avaric power seemed reduced to the point of dissolution when
the victorious general Priscus was once more relieved of his command by the
Emperor Maurice, early in 602. - It was probably at this time that Priscus
(Priskos) was made Count of the Excubitors, head of the palace regiment.

2b: A “disastrous” decree: Maurice orders the army to winter beyond the Danube
and live off the land, i.e. by requisitioning food from the local Slavs. Whitby 1988:
165 proposed that the Byzantines may already have collected enough supplies
and the plan may have been to continue campaigning as winter was the time the
Slavs were most vulnerable to defeat. At any rate the Balkan army mutinied and
there was a revolt in the capital, 22 November: execution – beheading - of
Maurice. His five sons also were beheaded. Accession, 27 November 602, of the
‘centurion’ Phocas, r. 602-610. Outbreak of a further Persian-Byzantine war:
Chosroes or Khusrau II invades Roman Mesopotamia.
Maurice was the first Eastern emperor to lose his crown since the foundation

of Constantinople. What seems to have tipped the army into revolt was a report,
or a rumour, that Maurice refused to ransom prisoners held by the Avars (Olster
1993: 51). Olster proposes, p.53, that the army may have only wished to protest
and it may not have decided to depose Maurice before it reached the city. The
issue was decided by the Excubitors, the imperial guard: they refused to defend
Maurice or to obey Comentiolus their commander.

The history of Theophylakt of Simokatta covers AD 582-602 and the reign of

Maurice: English trans. as The History of Theophylact of Simocatta: An English
Translation with Introduction and Notes, trans. Michael Whitby and Mary
Whitby, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986. An Egyptian Greek by birth, Theophylact
held high judicial office in Constantinople: “reliable but not profound”, say
Dudley & Lang, p. 209.
The term “Sklavinia” (tribal districts inhabited by Slavs) is first attested in the
History of Theophylact Simocatta, but the word was used especially by early
ninth-century authors, such as Theophanes Confessor.

Theophylact’s was the last of the series of classicising Greek histories that
stretched back to the third century. For the next few centuries, history would be
recorded only in uneducated chronicles. Cf 627.
More specifically, there are just two chronicles that cover the next few
centuries. The chronicle of patriarch Nicholas, written at the end of the 8th
century, covers the years 602-769, and the rather fuller Chronicle of Theophanes
the Confessor devotes 213 pages to the period 602-813. Mango, in Rice 1965,
writes thus:
“It would be futile to pretend that an adequate history of the Byzantine empire
in the 7th and 8th centuries can ever be written; all we have is a chronological
skeleton, a meagre outline of the doings of emperors, of wars and battles,
mentions of earthquakes and other portents, and much verbiage on theological
disputes. And yet it was precisely during these two centuries that witnessed the
transformation of the Later Roman Empire into a medieval state”

The Reign of Phocas, 602-610

602-610: PHOCAS,
afterwards called 'the Tyrant'

Age unknown; Treadgold 1997: 236 guesses “55”. He was a

“centurion” or junior officer of Greek-speaking Thracian
origin, raised to the throne by the mutinous Balkan army.
Wife: Leontia. Daughter: Domentzia, who was married,
probably in 605, to the general and patrikios Priscus.

Phocas was the first post-Antique emperor to wear a


beard, a custom that remained until the end of the empire

(Constance Head, 1980, ‘Physical descriptions of the
emperors’, Byzantion 50). A bronze folles minted at
Nicomedia in 603-4 bears a carefully drawn portrait of him,
showing that his beard was trimmed except at the chin
where it was pointed. His hair is medium to long, i.e. to
below the ears.

Constantinople: City-wide riots started due to a famine, the Green chariot racing
faction turned against Maurice, and a mutinous army under Phocas arrived
outside the gates. Olster (1993) downplays the role of the Blue and Green demes
in Phocas' seizure of power, rejecting Theophylact's account. He prefers John of
Antioch's account, which places greater emphasis on the role of the Balkan army,
located just outside the walls of Constantinople.
In any event the imperial family fled the city on 22 November; Phocas was
proclaimed emperor the following day. Maurice and his sons were captured and,
on 27 November, all were executed.
The patriarch Cyriacus appears to have shared in the unpopularity of the
emperor Maurice that caused the latter’s deposition and death. Cyriacus still,
however, had influence enough to exact from Phocas at his coronation a
confession of the orthodox faith and a pledge not to disturb the church
(Theophanes, Chronicle, A.M. 6094; Niceph. Callis. H. E. xviii. 40; Theophylact.
Hist. viii. 9).

1. Gothic Spain: In the spring of 602, Witteric, one of the conspirators with Sunna
de Mérida to reestablish Arianism in 589, was given command of the army to
repulse the Byzantines. From his position of power at the head of the army, he
surrounded himself with people in his confidence. When it came time to expel the
Byzantines, Witteric instead used his troops to strike at and depose the king
Liuva II (Spring 603).

2. Italy: Around the year 602 (or in 601: the date preferred by A Jones et al.) the
exarch Callinicus attempted to renew the peace, at the same time kidnapping the
Lombard king Agilulf's daughter and her husband in order to gain greater
negotiating leverage. Paulus Diaconus: “In these days the daughter of king Agilulf
was taken from the city of Parma, together with her husband named Gudescalc
(Gottschalk), by the army of the patrician [patrikios] Gallicinus (Callinicus), and
they were brought to the city of Ravenna.”
Agilulf responded by invading (602) Imperial Italy, destroying the border
town of Padua, west of our Venice, and capturing nearby Monselice [ancient
Mons Silicis], SE of Padua. After Padua’s Byzantine garrison was allowed to leave
for Ravenna, the town was levelled (Fanning 1970: 34; Richards, Popes p. 174).

The End of Antiquity: Beginning of the Middle Ages: Padua, sacked in

603, was rebuilt thereafter on an irregular pattern. —Greenhalgh 1989, ch 4.

Lombard and Byzantine Italy in 603

If we follow LaRocca 2002, the Italian peninsula was divided thus between the
Lombards and Byzantium:
— Most of the far north, from Turin across to modern-day Slovenia, was held by
the Lombard king; but not the middle section of the Po Valley below Cremona. Cf
entry below for 603.
— Byzantium held the coastal strip from Nice through Genoa (ancient Liguria:
lost in 640-643), to the edge of Tuscany. The latter, from Lucca to Viterbo, was
ruled by the Lombards.
According to LaRocca, disagreeing with Brown, the Lombards held a tongue of
country at the top of the Adriatic, including Aquilea and Grado, and there was no
land traffic from the mainland opposite Byzantine Venice to Byzantine Istria
(Trieste). The Cambridge Ancient History, 1970 p.537, concurs with LaRocca.
More specifically, inland Aquileia was held by the Lombards, while coastal Grado
was under Byzantine control.

Ruling from Ravenna, the Exarchate controlled the middle and lower Po Valley
from Cremona and Parma (until 603) down to the Pentapolis. Ancona, however,
was held by the Lombard duke of Spoleto. See next entry under 603: loss of

Tracking north from Rome, the Via Flaminia divides at Narni (Narnia); Spoleto
lies on the eastern leg known as the “Flaminia Nova”. The two legs rejoin as one
highway near modern Foligno - SE of Perugia and Assisi - before proceeding NE
to the Adriatic coast in the Pentapolis, namely at Fanum Fortunae (modern
Fano) between Ancona and Rimini.
The Exarchate controlled a narrow corridor that ran south along a different and
nearly parallel road, the Via Amerina, through Gubbio, Perugia and Todi to
Rome. Much of the eastern leg of the Flaminia (Flaminia Nova), however,
including Spoleto itself, was held by the Lombards. The Amerina of the
Byzantines lay a little west of the Lombard Flaminia.

North-west of Rome, the Lombards held Viterbo, while the fortress at Sutri to the
SE was garrisoned by imperial troops.

Rome and the whole of Latium down to Gaeta were Byzantine.

The territories of Spoleto, the Exarchate and Benevento met at a point east of
Rome – just east of the Liri valley (upper Garigliano) - about half-way across the
peninsula. The Liri valley fell to the Lombards only in 702 (see there).

In the south, the Lombard duke of Benevento held a tongue of coastal territory –
the whole Volturno valley - south of the Garigliano River. This included Capua. In
other words, there was no overland traffic from Rome to Byzantine Naples except
by permission from Benevento. This was probably no great disability: it was
always faster and cheaper to send heavy goods, including soldiers, by ship.

— The Rhomaniyans held about half of Campania including Naples and Amalfi.
Salerno, however, came under Lombardic Benevento. There was a further
imperial outpost around Paestum [south of Salerno: towards Calabria].
— Benevento ruled south as far as Cassano in northern Calabria and Lucania, the
top of the Gulf of Taranto between Cassano and Taranto. In other words there
was only sea traffic between Byzantine lower Calabria and Byzantine Puglia.
— All of Puglia, from the Ofanto River (Canosa) to Taranto and on to the point of
the heel was Byzantine.

The End of Antiquity: Fortified Hilltop Villages in Italy

Archaeologists have used pottery fragments to date the transition from the
Classical settlement pattern—large villas and small holdings in open or exposed
areas—to the Medieval pattern of walled villages located mostly on naturally
defensible hilltops. This process is called incastellamento.

(a) North of Rome

South Etruria is the name given to the region north of Rome to the right of the
Tiber river, including the Via Flaminia, and extending NW to the ‘lakes region’
around Nepi and Sutri.
Hodges & Whitehouse note that the size of the population here, as in Italy at
large, had been falling since as early as the second century, i.e. since well before
the barbarian incursions. A long secular decline continued over the succeeding
centuries into the Late Imperial and then Gothic eras. In the case of South
Etruria, the decline in the population reflected in part a migration to Rome, but
there was definitely an overall reduction in the population in Italy (and indeed in
North Africa). Rome itself actually saw periods of growth, notwithstanding the
overall fall in the ‘background’ rural population.
Several ancient highways ran through South Etruria to converge on Rome. On
the west, the Via Amerina – fortified against the Spoletan Lombards by the
Byzantines - came south through Nepi. Further along it joined the Via Cassia,
running from Sutri. Nearer the Tiber, the Via Flaminia ran almost straight and
nearly exactly north-south into Rome. In the Umbrian highlands it was under
Lombard control.

Pottery fragments show that the earliest hilltop settlements in this region
appeared precisely when we might expect, i.e. at the time of the Lombard
invasion. Presumably the exact date would be c.570-84: during the rule of the
first Lombard duke of Spoleto. At the 30-40 km mark from Rome, a zone of
fortified hilltop sites was established, east of Sutri and Nepi, between the lower
Via Amerina and lower Via Flaminia. These sites were “strategic hamlets” that
constituted a defence in depth.
Behind this protective screen, i.e. in the lowland zone immediately north of

Rome: within 25 km, many of the open, undefended settlements continued in use
(Hodges & Whitehouse pp 44 ff).

(b) Central Italy

The province of Molise, whose capital town is Campobasso, west of Foggia, is

located in south-central Italy, in the interior, north and NE of Naples, and
extends to the Adriatic coast. Its southern border is the border with Campania
and Apulia.
In Molise the large and open ‘classical’ sites were abandoned in favour of much
smaller hilltop locations at about the same time, i.e. in the 500s or perhaps the
early 600s. Cf first Lombard duke at Benevento: Zotto, from ca. 571.
Probably the Great Plaque of 542 was significant in reducing the population, or
perhaps better: speeding its continuing decline. If the key factor preventing
recovery after the plague was the levying of higher taxes by Justinian, then we
should expect to see the effects by around 580.
It would not be a coincidence that the troops of Zotto, the first Lombard dux of
Benevento, were active in the 570s and 580s. One may guess that the Benevantan
Lombards stood in the way of military aid coming from Byzantine Naples and
Rome to Molise, meaning that the locals had to defend themselves.
Marauding bands - whether Lombards or fellow Latins - could be more
effectively resisted if the now smaller population retreated to fortified hilltop
hamlets. But it took several centuries - not until about AD 950 - for the hilltop
pattern to become almost universal in central and south Italy; the process called
incastellamento was complete by that time (Hodges & Whitehouse pp. 46 ff).

(c) Calabria

At the end of the Gothic wars in 555, the ageing ex-senator and scholar
Cassiodorus set up his—open and undefended—monastery on his estate at
Squillace-Vivarium. By 598, however, 30 years after the arrival of the Lombards
in N Italy, it had been transformed into the castrum quod Scillacium dicitur, “the
fortress that is called Squillace”. It is represented today by remains on the mons
Castellum (“castle mount”) beside the church of S. Maria del Mare (Christie
2006: 462).

1a. Italy: Agilulf’s Lombards, with assistance from Slav allies sent by the Avar
khan, captured the Byzantine fortress-towns of Cremona (21 August); and
Volturnia: Vulturina or Valdoria, on the north bank of the Po near Parma; and
Mantua, modern Mantova (13 September) (Paulus, Hist Lang. IV.25). Cremona
was destroyed, being razed to the ground. These towns had resisted the invaders
for 33 years.
The Byzantine garrison of Mantua was allowed to leave for Ravenna. A truce
was struck, and Agilulf’s daugher and son-in-law were retruned.

In other words, the Lombards now seized the whole middle section of
the huge Po Valley.

The imperialists retained Bologna, and the Parma-Bologna region (centred on

Modena) will remain the borderland for over a century. —Italian Wikipedia
under ‘Parma’, 2009, citing Marzio Dall'Acqua and Marzio Lucchesi, Parma città
d'oro, Parma: Albertelli, 1979.

From west to east, the major towns in this region were /are/: (a) Pavia, on a N
tributary of the Po; (b) Piacenza on the Po River; (c) Cremona; and, on the
south side of the Po: (d) Parma, (e) Modena, and (f) Bologna, inland from
Ravenna. Mantova lies north of the Po, almost on the same longitude as
Measured from Milan, Mantova [Mantua] is about halfway towards the east

Paul the Deacon, 4.28: “Agilulf departed from [his capital] Mediolanum (Milan)
in the month of July, besieged the city of Cremona with the Slavs whom the
Cagan [khagan], king of the Avars, had sent to his assistance, and took it on the
12th day before the calends of September [21 August 603] and razed it to the
ground. In like manner he also assaulted Mantua, and having broken through its
walls with battering-rams, he entered it on the ides (l3th day) of September, and
granted the soldiers who were in it [i.e. the Byzantine garrison] the privilege of
returning to Ravenna. Then also the fortress which is called Vulturina [Valdoria
near Parma] surrendered to the Langobards; the soldiers indeed fled, setting fire
to the town of Brexillus [modern Brescello: NE of Parma]”.

Slavs were present at the successful sieges of Cremona and Mantua as allies of the
Lombards, who had requested help from the Avar Khagan in their struggle with
the Byzantines, under the terms of the ‘everlasting’ alliance concluded between
these two parties and the Franks.

At Mantua, battering rams were employed, their first recorded use by the
Lombards. It is tempting, says McCotter (2003), to believe they were brought by
the Slav contingent.

While frequently violent, the Lombard invasions were perhaps not all-
consuming: the upper class Romans were “neither wiped out nor reduced to
servitude. Only their tax exemption, if present, was terminated”, says Goffart
p.184. Others, eg Wickham, Early Medieval Italy p.66, contend that ownership
of much of the land did in fact go to the Lombards. See Wickham’s chapter in
Rosswein et al. 1998.

1b. Italy: Following these reverses, Callinicus is dismissed, and Smaragdus is re-

appointed Exarch. —A Jones et al 1992: 264.

2. Convenient date for the EARLY LOWPOINT OF THE DARK AGES IN THE
WEST: Midpoint between the death of the last important Latin philosopher,
Boethius, c.525, and the revival of Latin learning under Charlemagne. In 782
Alcuin will found a palace school in Charlemagne's capital.

The East: Revolt by Narses, the local Byzantine general, who captured Edessa.

Guilland: “Having revolted against the usurper Phocas (602-610) Narses seized
Edessa; he relied on the support of the King of Persia, Khosroes, in fighting
against Phocas. The latter sent an army under the command of the eunuch
Leontius to fight against the Persians and suppress Narses's uprising. Leontius
was defeated by Khosroes. Replaced by Domentziolus, the latter persuaded
Narses to surrender and promised to preserve his life. After being sent to
Byzantium, Narses was burned alive in 604 in spite of the promises made to him.
Narses was a valiant general, and his name alone spread terror among the ranks
of his enemies. (Theoph. Simocc. 112, 208, 213, 219; Theoph. 451 f.).” —Rodolphe
Guilland 1943.
Phokas sent general Germanos against him. Invited by Narses, the Persians
invade (603). They defeated Germanos, who was wounded and died. Then,
having reaffirmed his treaty with the Avars, Phokas transferred extra troops from
Europe to Asia and sent (604) them under Leontios, a eunuch general, towards
Edessa. Narses fled. Then at Arxamoun Leontios came up against a Persian army
led by shah Khosroes that included elephants. The Byzantines were defeated. The
Persians captured (605) Daras “and all Mesopotamia and Syria, taking
innumerable prisoners” (TCOT: 2-4). See 605.

“Popular riots in 603 and 605, a revolt in Edessa, and an alliance between
Narses, the rebel commander, and the Persians, bear witness to the immediate
antagonism to Phokas. But the new ruler commanded enough loyalty to uncover
and repress these plots”, writes Judith Herrin, 1987: 193.

Spain: Witteric (Spanish: Witerico) was king of the Visigoths in Hispania. He
spent time fighting the Byzantines during his reign, and one of his generals
occupied Sagontia (Gisgonza), probably in 605 (Thompson, Goths in Spain 1969:
158). Gisgonza - also Gigonza, ancient Sagontia: was located inland from Cadiz.
This suggests that the south-west quadrant of the province of Baetica was
completely Byzantine in 600, from Málaga west to the Atlantic at the mouth of
the Guadalete near Cadiz [Gades].
It was probably during his reign as well that Bigastrum—near Cehegin, in our
NW Murcia: inland NE of Cartagena—was taken, for its bishop appears in a
council of Toledo in 610 (Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Witteric’).


The Balkans were left in Slav hands. In the half-century from 602 to 657, the
Byzantine government made no serious efforts to reconquer the region. Indeed
troops were actually withdrawn from the Balkans in ca. 620 to augment the
Anatolian army. Italy too was left to its own devices. Cf entries for 615 and 616;
also 625-43 – exarch Isaac.
Of course there was much danger in the East, but the main reason that nothing
substantial was undertaken in the near west, even after the defeat of Persia, was
no doubt a lack of resources: money and trained manpower. Plainly the economy
was in very poor shape by 610. And, as we note below, the plague of 608-10 was
its eighth visit to the empire since the mid 500s; and in the 620s seven of 11
mints had ceased operating or were closed (see there).
Such trained manpower as was available was devoted either to civil war - see
608: army of Africa - or to holding back the Persians (cf 612 - Syria), and then the
Arabs (cf 644).

d. Pope Gregory.

Macedonia: The Slavs besiege Thessaloniki three times: in 604, 615 and 618. The
first siege, by 5,000 Slavs, probably in October 604, broke a longstanding peace
in the region (Treadgold 1997: 931, citing Lemerle).

1. The East: The army under Phocas’s relative Dom[n]entziolus ends Narses’
revolt and stems the Persian advance. Here our chronology follows Olster, 1993:
Domentziolus persuaded Narses to surrender and promised to preserve his life.
After being sent to Byzantium, Narses was burned alive in 604 or 605 in spite of
the promises made to him. Narses was an effective general, and his name alone
had spread terror among the ranks of his enemies (says Theoph. Simoc. 112, 208,
213, 219; Theoph. 451 f.; TCOT: 3).

2. Aged about 60, Priscus/Priskos, formerly Maurice’s general and still serving as
Count of the Excubitors, marries Phocas’s daughter, Domentzia. But due
probably to a misunderstanding, Phocas decided Priscus saw himself as his heir,
and was ready to kill him until the general was saved by the “mob” (spectators in
the hippodrome) (Olster 1993; Theophanes places this in 606-07).

3. Spain: One of Witteric’s generals captured Sagontia or ‘Gisgonza’, the

Byzantine outpost in the west, inland from Cadiz, probably in 605. It was
probably during his reign, 603-10, as well, that Bigastrum near Cartago Nova
(Cartagena) was taken, for its bishop appears in a council of Toledo in 610. See

Already by the year 600 Byzantine Spania had dwindled to little more than
Málaga and Cartagena and it extended no further north than the Sierra Nevada,

the range of mountains where Granada is located.

4a. Italy: The Lombards capture imperial ‘Balneus Regis’ (Bagnarea) and ‘Urbs
Vetus’ which is our Orvieto: W of Spoleto, SW of Perugia (Fanning 1970: 37;
Paulus 4.32).

4b. King Agilulf concluded a new treaty with the Byzantines in November 605
that established quasi-permanent borders with the exarchate, which scarcely
changed over the next century (the only major exception being the Lombard
conquest of the Ligurian coast in the early 640s and much of Apulia by 675). –
Encyclopaedia Britannica, current edition 2009, online, under ‘Lombards and
The price of peace was the return of Agilulf’s daughter and son-in-law and the
payment by the exarch Smaragdus of 12,000 solidi. A further truce operated in
607-10 (Paul the Deacon, 4.32; Fanning 1970: 37).

Italy in AD 605

In the north, the Lombard-imperial boundary lay in the lower-middle Po Valley

about half-way between Lombard Pavia (near Milan) and Byzantine Ravenna.
Byzantium also ruled the Ligurian coast west and east of Genoa; and the Venetian
coastal strip; and a solid belt of territory in central Italy running SW from
Ravenna and Ancona to Rome; and small areas in the far south and south-east on
the peninsula.
As we noted earlier, the Exarchate controlled a narrow corridor that ran south
from Ravenna along the Via Amerina through Gubbio, Perugia and Todi to
Rome. Much of the eastern leg of the Via Flaminia, however, including Spoleto
itself, was held by the Lombards. The Amerina of the Rhomaniyans lay a little to
the west of the Lombard Flaminia.

Under the Exarch, there were three ‘patricians’ [patrikioi, senior officials], based
at Rome, Naples* and in Sicily. If we imagine that each commanded 2,000
troops, we will not be far wrong. A smaller fifth force, commanded by a dux, was
based at Rimini further down the Adriatic coast, while at the northern end of the
Adriatic another Magister Militum had a few troops with which to defend Istria
[present-day SW Croatia] and Byzantium’s remaining foothold around Venice.
Thus we have, say, 6,000 troops in Ravenna, a total of 6,000 in Rome-Naples-
Sicily (2,000 each); 1,250 in Rimini and 750 at Grado for a total of (say) 15,000

(*) In the Letters of pope Gregory the Great (590-604), we read that the aqueduct
at Naples, which had been cut by Belisarius in 536, was again in working order by
598, and the port continued to serve as a centre of commerce. —Drinking water
commonly came from wells and cisterns; aqueducts were almost universally used
solely for bringing water to the baths and, to that extent, were just an urban
“refinement” (Ward-Perkins 1984: 122-25).

— A small land corridor along the Via Amerina connected Byzantine Ravenna to
Byzantine Rome (map in Brown 1984: 38).
— The large Lombard ‘duchy’ of Benevento sat between the three southern
imperial ‘duchies’ so-called: Byzantine Naples, old Calabria ( = our Apulia or
Puglia) and Bruttium ( = our Calabria). Brown 1984: 49 remarks that in the 600s
ducatus simply meant ‘ducal authority’; it was only in the course of the 700s that
it came to be applied to ‘the region administered by a dux’.
Curiously, LaRocca, 2002: Map 1, has the whole of the heel as far as
Hydruntus, modern Otranto, being lost to the Lombards between 604 and 616. If
so, it was restored to the empire thereafter (presumably in 663 by Constans).
— Sicily does not appear in the annals of war and famine, probably because this
was, for its people, an age of peace and prosperity. See 615-23.

Mutilation replaces Execution

605 or 606:
Mutilation: Informed of plots or alleged plots, Phokas has the dowager empress
Constantina tortured. She names two patricians, Romanos and Germanos, and a
third person Elphidios. The emperor orders Constantina and her three daughters
and Germanos executed (put to the sword). Romanos is decapitated. Elphidios’
hands and feet are cut off and he is burnt alive (TCOT: 5; Garland 1999).
For examples of mutilation in later reigns, see under 637-38. There is probably
a distinction to be drawn between those mutilated ahead of being killed and those
who were mutilated in order to live as a living demonstration of perfidy.

Phocas issues an edict to comfort Pope Boniface III, re-confirming Rome's
primacy among the patriarchs: "the See of Blessed Peter the Apostle should be
the head of all the Churches". This was an attempt to heal the "Gregorian quarrel"
(above: 595) (Brand p.11).
Boniface was an ethnic Greek born in Rome. He had known Phocas while
serving as papal representative in Constantinople.
On one view, the first Patriarch of Rome to bear the title of "Pope"
[Papa, Pappas]—but there is no such title—was Pope Boniface III in 607. It is
said, wrongly, that he assumed the title of "universal Bishop" [itself a
mistranslation of Gk o‘ikoumenikòs patriárches, ‘patriarch of the
imperium’] by decree of Emperor Phocas. In fact, by recognising the primacy of
Rome, Phocas was only saying, in effect, that such a title should no longer be used
by the archbishop of Constantinople (who did continue to use it: Richards,
Consul p. 221).
After all, papa simply means ‘father’. It is better to look to after 641, when
three of the four eastern patriarchates were submerged by Islam, for a ‘first pope’.
Or earlier, e.g. when Gregory I began acting independently of the secular
governor of Italy, the Exarch at Ravenna. Or later still, e.g. 800, when the Roman
archbishop crowned the king of the Franks as Emperor. Or earlier yet, in the

pontificate of Leo I (d. 461), perhaps the first to claim the universal jusidction of
the Roman bishop. . . .

The East: Four years campaigning by Khosrau’s Persians, in which they reduce all
the fortresses of East-Roman Mesopotamia. They seize upper Mesopotamia,
Syria (607), Palestine and afterwards push deep into Asia Minor before retiring
(TCOT: 6). Antioch held out. See 608 below.
A Rhomaioi field army was headquartered thereafter in Cappadocia in east-
central Anatolia (until 621).

From 607:
In Italy the Lombard dukes switch from Arian to Catholic Christianity.

1. The East: The Persians again cross the Euphrates and briefly re-capture
Byzantine Syria before (as noted) proceeding into Phoenicia and Palestine. But
some key fortresses and towns held out, e.g. Edessa and Apamea in Mesopotamia
(until 611), Antioch in Syria (also until 611), and Jerusalem until 614. The
Romaniyans recovered much of the Syrian hinterland, although not the major
fortress-towns of Dara [Gk: Daras, Mesopotamian Anastasiopolis, west of
Nisibis, modern Nusaybin] and Hesna* [Syriac: Hesna de Kepha, Turkish:
Hasankeyf, on the Tigris], and the year ended in stalemate (or so Olster 1993: 96
reads it).

(*) Hesna is in today’s ‘Turkish Syria’: between Diyabakir in Turkey and

Mosul in Iraq; nearer the former.

2. Africa: Together the father and son, the two Heracliuses,* as consuls, launched
a rebellion against Phocas in 608. They stopped the regular grain shipments from
Carthage to Constantinople (TCOT: 6; Olster 1993; Treadgold, State 1997 p.239).

(*) Heraclius senior, Exarch of Africa, had served as a general in Persia the
580s, and had been second in command to Philippicus; in the 590s he was a
general in Armenia.

The senior Heraclius bribes the garrison commander in Libya to his side and
dispatches an army under his nephew Nicetas east to invade Egypt in the spring
or early summer of 608; Alexandria and most of lower (northern) Egypt were
quickly taken (see 609). The first Heraclian coins minted at Alexandria date from
before September 608 (Olster 1993: 121).
John of Nikius says, in his ch. 109.24, quoted by Olster 1993: 124, that the
vanguard of the army dispatched from Carthage numbered 3,000 men. If so, then
possibly the whole provincial army of Africa (15,000 men) was sent to Egypt (15
K = Treadgold’s guesstimate: Army 1995 p.63).

The Heraclian revolt would mark, according to Olster, a crucial turning point in
Byzantine history. Lasting over two years and costing many thousands of lives,
the revolt sapped Byzantine manpower and finances and left the frontiers
largely undefended. This would facilitate the loss of Syria, Palestine and Egypt to
the Persians. Cf 609: Bonosus v. Nicetas.

3. Rome: The ‘Column of Phocas’ was the last monument to be built in the
Roman Forum. The inscription on the pedestal of the column indicates that the
gilded statue on top was dedicated in AD 608 by Smaragdus, the exarch
(governor) of Italy, to the Byzantine emperor Phocas. The emperor had earlier
been persuaded by the pope or archbishop of Rome, Boniface IV, to give the
great Pantheon temple to the church. It became (possibly as late as 613) the
church of Santa Maria ad Martyres (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, I.4).

Civil war between the Heraclii and Phocas’s generals.
Its disruptive effects, argues Olster, were such as to facilitate the massive
Persian conquests of the next decade, which (he proposes) ended Roman
[Byzantine] hegemony in the Mediterranean basin. In that sense, he argues,
Phocas’s reign “closed . . . the history of the Roman Empire” (1993: 21). Cf

Cf Foss: “The Persian war may be seen as the first stage in the process which
marked the end of Antiquity in Asia Minor. The Arabs continued the work”: Clive
Foss, quoted in Hodges & Whitehouse p.61.

1. PLAGUE and famine in Constantinople (608-09) (Theophanes, TCOT: 6). This
was the eighth visit of the plague since the middle 500s.

2. The Balkans: Coin hoards and other evidence confirm that the Slavs had by
now penetrated as far as Hellas or east-central Greece, as we know it. Likewise
the last coins from Olympia in the western Peloponnesus date from this time
(Haldon 1984: 44; Whitby 1988: 8; Fine 1991: 62).
Haldon 1990: 45 would date the permanent occupation of the Peloponnesus by
the Slavs to after 609/10. Cf 625.

3. Renewed attacks by the Persians (609-10): a large Romanic/Byzantine army is

routed. The Persians capture much of Asia Minor and (609 or later: see below)
reach Chalcedon, present-day Turkish Kadikoy, on the Bosphorus opposite the
capital. (Theophanes dates this to 608: TCOT: 6; Olster puts it in 616.)

THE END OF ANTIQUITY: The wheat supply from Egypt to the East
Roman capital was first temporarily interrupted in 608 during the Heraclian
revolt; by the Persians again in 619: see there; and finally terminated (by
the Arabs) in 641.

Heavy cavalry

The culmination of the development of cavalry in Iran can be seen in the famous
relief of Khusrau II, r. 591-628, at Taq-i Bustan near Kermanshah* in western
Iran. The sculpture shows a fully armoured knight, very close in appearance to
the mediaeval knights of Europe, and yet still without the stirrup - which it
seems was already in use in Byzantine armies. The horse’s head is protected
with a ‘chamfron’ (head armour) and below its head wears a double-layered front
‘bard’ of body protection, the top layer made of lamellar armour. The bard
covers only the front: most of the horse’s body is not protected by armour.**- The
evidence in Iran seems to contradict Lynn White's assertion that the stirrup was
an essential precursor of the heavily armoured knight, even though in Western
Europe it appears that White's thesis may hold true.

(*) Kirkuk and Baghdad in Iraq and Kermanshah in Iran are the points of an
equilateral triangle.

(**) Horse armour is not reported by the Byzantine sources in Justinian’s

time; but emperor Maurice’s Strategikon. c.600, does mention it. "The
horses”, he writes, “especially those of officers and the other special troops
[key NCOs], in particular those in the front ranks of the battle line should
have protective pieces of iron about their heads and breast plates of iron or
felt, or else breast and neck coverings such as the Avars use." (Emphasis
added: Whether the phrase ‘or else’ implies that Avar horse armour was
different or simpler is unclear.)
It seems that Byzantium adopted or re-adopted horse-armour after 580 in
imitation of the Avars. In the battle of 622 (see there) emperor Heraclius’s
horse wore barding of thick felt. And in 627 (see there) he rode a horse
protected by armour of “sinew”, presumably boiled leather.

Boniface IV, patriarch of Rome. He sought and gained permission from Phocas to
turn the Pantheon temple in Rome into a church. It was dedicated to St Maria ad
martyres and lavishly endowed by the emperor (Richards p.177).

1. Greece: Thessalonica holds out against another assault by the surrounding
Slavic tribes in Macedonia (Haldon 1990: 44).

2. Decisive year of the Persian War (opening phase). In the East, the war turned
irrevocably in the Persians' favour when Phocas was forced, or chose, to
withdraw most of the army from the frontiers in Armenia and Syria in order to
deal with a dangerous rebellion under Heraclius that had spread from the
province of Africa to Egypt.
Olster notes that Phocas’s general Bonosus, bearing the title “count of the
East”, proceeded by sea from Asia Minor to Egypt to face the Heraclian forces

under Nicetas and his deputy Bonakis. Travelling by ship, Bonosus was probably
able to bring few troops with him; and Olster rightly supposes that the rebel
Heraclians outnumbered him. Cf above: 608. Even so, Bonosus’s Phocaeans -
troops from the Asia Minor town of Phocaea - defeated the Heraclians and killed
Bonakis, whose beaten army retreated to safety behind the walls of Alexandria.
Next Nicetas (cousin of Heraclius jnr) counter-attacked and destroyed
Bonosus’s army. Olster argues that the struggle was very bitter and Bonosus’s
expedition represented a vast drain on imperial resources at a
critical moment (1993: 120, 125).

The defence of the eastern borders in Mesopotamia and Syria was entrusted to
the unreliable demes or urban militia, and now Persian armies captured all of the
Byzantines' key fortresses along their frontier and drove the Rhomaniyans from
Edessa fell to Khosrow II Parvez [parvez, ‘the ever victorious’] in his sweep
across Mesopotamia in 609 (Chronicon, p. 699; Olster prefers 611). Then,
according to some, the Persian general Shahin, having sacked the main
Cappadocian city Caesarea, raided all the way to Chalcedon, across the straits
from Constantinople. But there is no mention of this in one of the key sources,
The Life of Theodore. Olster, 1993: 90, therefore prefers to date the capture of
Anatolian Caesaraea to 611 and the raid to Chalcedon to after Theodore’s death,
i.e. in 616.
Byzantine Antioch: The Jewish community revolted and lynched Patriarch
Anastasios II. This revolt was provoked, says Herrin, as much by Phokas's efforts
to convert the Jews as by the proximity of the Persians, who did not succeed in
capturing the city until 611. – Herrin 1987.

The East: Caesarea as a Nodal Point

Nicolle 1993: 20 notes that there were only three passes large enough to take an
invading army into or out of eastern Anatolia: [1] south-north from/to Cilicia [the
part of Asai Minor nearest to Cyprus] north through the Taurus Mountains via
the Cilician Gates and thence to/from Caesarea (present-day Kayseri) and
Iconium (Konya); [2] north-east from Adana in Cilicia via the Seyhan River and
through the Anti-Taurus Mountains and thence to Kayseri/Caesarea; and [3]
westwards from Malatya (Melitene), through a further pass in the Anti-Taurus
Routes 2 and 3 joined at a point about midway between Caesarea and Melitene.
One might add a fourth: an ancient Roman road ran north-west from
Germanicia, present-day Marash or Karamanmanash, into the Anti-Taurus
range; this road too met the routes to/from Melitene and Adana at a point about
midway between Caesarea and Melitene.

Above: Map of Cilicia and the NE corner of the Mediterranean.

1. The East: “A large infantry force” under Gregoras marches overland from Egypt
to the capital and later troops under the command of Herakleios the younger sail
to Constantinople from Africa in “towered ships” (TCOT: 8).
“Only when Alexandria had been taken after fierce fighting with Phokas's
general Bonosos, and the Egyptian fleet brought under control (November 609),
was it possible for Herakleios (junior) the consul to embark for the capital. He
commanded the fleets of Mauretania and Africa manned by Mauroi, local
Berbers, and protected by the Virgin, whose icon was displayed on their
mastheads. Constantinople had not only been deprived of grain from Africa and
Egypt after 609, but the winter of 608-609 had been unusually harsh, causing
bad harvests, famine, and even freezing the sea” (thus Herrin 1987; Theophanes,
TCOT: 8, writes of “a large army from Africa and Mauretania”, i.e. the Maghreb).

2. The allies of Heraclius minted coins at Cyprus and Alexandretta in Syria;

September 609 is the earliest possible date, 1 September being the start of the
Byzantine year (Olster 1993).

Coin: Bronze follis of Alexandretta, Syria, AD 610, officina A, 8.75 g, 30 mm,

185º.- Obverse: δ mN ER(ACLI)OCONSULII [ = our lords, the Heracliuses,
consuls]; facing busts [looking forward] of Heraclius, on left, and his father, the
Exarch Heraclius, on right; both are bearded and bare-headed wearing
consular robes; between their heads, a cross. – Reverse: Large M* between A / N
/ N / O and X / IIII; above, cross; beneath A; in ex, (A∈XA)N∆ . [ =
Alexand+retta] DOC 16, MIB 16a.

(*) The Greek symbol for 40, i.e. the coin had a value of 40 nummi.

1. The capital: Phocas prepared a fleet to contest Heraclius’s entry to
Constantinople. A botched naval battle, fought “in the city”, i.e. in Sophia
Harbour [Harbour of Julian]* on the city’s southern shore, was followed by a
clash on land. The decisive point was that the imperial guard, the Excubitors, or
rather their commander, Priscus, switched from Phocas’s to Heraclius’s side.
According to Theophanes, Phokas was seized by the mob and burned to death in
the Forum of the Ox (TCOT: 9; Olster 1993: 136). As against this, John of
Antioch, cited by Kevin Crow [http://www.roman- ] says that Phocas was taken by the
Excubitors and handed to Heraclius who personally killed him. After cursing the
fallen emperor, his self-appointed successor kicked Phocas and beheaded him on
the spot. Phocas's right arm and hand were then cut off and his corpse was
disembowelled, thrown into a skiff and burned.

(*) The harbour nearest the Great Palace.

Heraclius was aged about 35 when he assumed the throne. The Chronicon
Paschale describes his arrival in the harbour of the capital in 610, his ‘golden
hair and white armour’ seeming to promise a return to the great days of
Rome. (As Vasiliev remarks, p. 143, light hair seems odd for a family of Armenian
ancestry; but perhaps his mother was a non-Armenian. She was from Carthage
but her racial background is not known; it is quite possible that she was of
Germanic, i.e. Vandal, blood.)

2. fl. Isidore, bishop of Seville, in Visigothic Spain, author of an important

encyclopaedia and chronicle. His statement, "the Slavs took Greece from the
Romans", although a simplification, was fundamentally correct. Cf 615.

Urban Population Decline since 550

Treadgold 1997: 279 puts the population of the capital at slightly over 200,000 in
AD 610, much down from perhaps 375,000 in 540, but higher than the
immediate post-plague size of 150,000 around 550. In 610 Alexandria probably
had over 100,000 people; and Antioch, following the earthquake of 588, perhaps
50,000. All the ‘cities’ in Greece (those not abandoned) were under 10,000
except Thessaloniki.
Rome at this time had about 50,000 people (according to Encyc. Brit. 15th edn;
also Christie p.61), or, more likely, far fewer than that.

According to Olster: “The cost of the (Heraclian) revolt, the mercenary [sic*]
army of Heraclius and its supply, the subsidies to the barbarians in Africa, and
the loss of the revenue of the eastern provinces (including Egypt where Nicetas
had given a three-year remission of taxes to gain the support of the inhabitants)
had bankrupted the Empire. Even George of Pisidia, Heraclius’s court poet, was

forced to admit that the money, the ‘nerves of war’, was exhausted and the coffers
empty” (1993: 137). Cf 616 – salaries halved.

(*) Olster must have had in mind the Berbers he recruited (see earlier under 609-
110). All soldiers were paid; evidently for Olster and some others a soldier who
does not speak Greek ipso facto becomes a mercenary.

* * *

To recap:
The pagan Slavs entered the empire with and behind the Avars during Bayan's
wars with the emperor Maurice and settled permanently. This was the period of
the 'de-hellenisation', or rather the de-Christianisation, of the Balkans and
Greece. "During some 30 years [582-612], the ethnic composition of the Balkan
peninsula was completely changed", writes Browning p.38. This conclusion,
however, is not supported by genetics: see the discussion below after AD 674.

The murder of Maurice in 602 provided the Persian shah Chosroes or Khusraw
with a very useful pretext for war with his patron’s successor. The Sassanian
'King of Kings' would now come closer to success than any other Persian
monarch in trying to destroy the Roman state. He invaded Asia Minor and
Mesopotamia each year for four years (607-10), and then, in an unprecedented
success, captured and sacked the great metropolis of Antioch (611), Damascus
(614) and the holy city Jerusalem (614/5). Chosroes removed the relic of the True
Cross from Jerusalem. He also advanced again into Asia Minor (612) and took
Byzantine Egypt (616/619). In 617 the Persians threatened Constantinople itself.
See there.

The End of Antiquity in the Balkans

Urban life collapsed in most of the Balkan peninsula in the half-

century from 580 to 630. Partly this reflected the devastation wrought by
successive waves of the plague (Soltysiak 2006). Sirmium, west of – just
upstream from - Belgrade, once an imperial capital, was completely deserted
after its surrender to the Avars in 582. (Belgrade seems to have held out for
several decades more: Constantine Porphyrogenitus mentions an imperial
governor of Belgrade negotiating with the Slavs in about 630: Fine 1991: 36.)
Thereafter practically the entire peninsula passed out of imperial
control for nearly two centuries. "Cities did not survive in the conquered
areas", says Browning (p.43).
Cyril Mango, 1980, argues that in Greece proper the Peloponnesian ‘cities’
(towns) were "wiped out". Browning for his part will say only that "many" of the
smaller inland cities were "probably" abandoned by their inhabitants and their
walls allowed to fall into ruin (1975: 44, 91). The last coins from Olympia in the
western Peloponnesus, for example, are from the reign of Phocas, 602-10 (Fine
1991: 62).
The Rhomaioi held only the Aegean coast and parts of central Greece, as it now

is, together with coastal cities elsewhere.

Further archaeological work will be required before we can judge whether the
literary sources are exaggerating. But certainly the pagan invaders devastated the
Balkans. Except in Salonika [Thessaloniki], besieged in by the Slavs in 586, and
the island of Paros in the S Aegean, the central island of the Cyclades or
Kikladhes group, "not a single Early Christian church remained standing
in all of Greece" by 625, writes Mango 1980: 69-70; also Fine 1991: 62.
In Italy a similar process had occurred somewhat earlier, during the period
540-590, as a result first of the long wars between Byzantium and the Goths and
then the Lombard invasion. Thus Pope Gregory wrote in 590: "Our cities are
destroyed, our fortress are overthrown; our fields laid waste; the land is become
a desert" (Richards p.47). It was also in this period that the old Roman senatorial
families were destroyed or dispersed (ibid, p.247).

Nothing could be done, in the short term, to restore the lost prosperity of the
destroyed, or superseded, city system. In the political domain, however, the
empire's fortunes were eventually restored by the new emperor Heraklios (610-
641). He crushed the Persians in one of the great epic campaigns of history, 622-

The Reign of Heraclius, 610-641

610-641: HERACLIUS or Herakleios.

English pronunciation: “hair-a-kleye-us”.
In full: Flavius Heraclius Augustus.

Heraclius junior, aged about 35, came to the throne in 610

by overthrowing the emperor Phocas. He was the son of
Heraclius senior, the Exarch of Carthage.
Wife: (1) Fabia-Eudocia, d. 612; and (2) Martina his
niece, m. 614, “the most detested empress of all time” (says
Garland). Sons: Heraclius Constantine and Heracleonas.

A solidus from about 640 depicts Heraclius with his son

Heraclius Constantine. The senior emperor has a large
pointed beard with a very wide moustache, possibly twirled
or shaped.

“Robust, with a broad chest, beautiful blue eyes, golden

hair, a fair complexion, and a wide thick beard." —Leo
Grammatikos’ description of Heraclius in his Historia. The
Chronicon Paschale, whose author was a contemporary,
likewise mentions his ‘golden’ hair. Presumably it means
light brown. (His mother was Carthage-born, so perhaps of
Germanic, Vandal descent.)

Heraclius tried unsuccessfully to win the Monophysite Christians back to the

Byzantine church by offering them a doctrinal compromise known as
Monothelitism: “Christ might have two Natures and Persons but only one Will or

Heraclius drove the invading Persians from Asia Minor, Egypt and Syria, and
forced the Avars back into central Europe. He recovered the Christian relic
regarded as the True Cross from the Persians and returned it to Jerusalem.
Gibbon: “Since the days of Scipio and Hannibal, no bolder enterprise has been
attempted than that which Heraclius achieved for the deliverance of the empire”.
But before the end of his reign, Syria, Palestine and Egypt fell to the newly
Muslimised Arabs (Gk Sarakenoi: "Saracens").

1a. The East: Chosroes/Khusraw directs successful Persian attacks on the Syria
and eastern Anatolian cities.
“Outmarching the Anatolian army of Priscus, [general] Shahin seized (611)
Cappadocian Caesarea for the second time in two years. And well ahead of

Nicetas’s army in the south-east, Shahrvaraz [lit. “Imperial Boar”]* 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.
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” (Treadgold 1997).

(*) The Persian general Khuriam or Farrokhan (Farrox) Shahrwaraz. His

name was Farrokhan; shahrbaraz was an honorific meaning ‘(Great) Boar
(i.e. most fearless) [waraz, varaz or baraz] of the City (Empire) [shahr,

Having taken the Roman outposts of Edesssa and Apamea in Mesopotamia (610),
the Persians advanced to the walls of Antioch where they defeated an East Roman
army (May 611: TCOT: 9). Late in 611, according to some sources, the Persians
proceeded into Armenia and Asia Minor. They captured Nicopolis;
Theodosiopolis which is modern Erzurum in old w. Armenia - present-day NE
Turkey; and Anatolian Caesarea: Byz. Kaisareia, modern Kayseri. Theophanes
says “tens of thousands” of Byzantines were taken prisoner at Cappadocian
Caesarea, most of them no doubt refugees from the wider region (TCOT: 10)
When Caesarea was recovered by the East Romans in 612, it had been reduced to
ruins. The Persians retained Syria and Armenia (see next).

1b. The East: Heraclius offers peace, but Chosroes rejects his offer. Heraclius then
(611) dispatches a presumably small army under Priscus* against the Persian
garrison in Caesarea. Priscus besieged the Persians for some months but they
defeated the East Roman besiegers and escaped (612). At about the same time,
the Persians on the Syrian side captured the important fortress of Melitene or
Malatya (Olster 1993: 85).

(*) The great survivor: he had served successive emperors since before 588.

2. Spain: Gundemar, the Visigoth king, 610-612, by edict (610) moved the
primatial see of Carthaginiensis [the east-central fifth of Hispania] from
Byzantine Cartagena to Visigothic Toledo and campaigned against Spania, the
Byzantine enclave, in 611; but to no effect (NCMH p.351). Cf 612-21 and 614-19.

From 611: GENERAL CRISIS. The Persians capture the great East Roman
metropolis of Syrian Antioch – in 611 or perhaps 613: the date is disputed -
and then Damascus, 613/14. An East Roman counter-offensive fails, 612 or 613.
Tarsus in Cilicia and Melitene or Malatyah in Mesopotamia were also lost.
Meanwhile the Slavs sweep into Greece and Dalmatia.

In Europe, the Avars and Slavs swept into the Balkans in all directions. As we

know from Isidore of Seville and the Miracles of St. Demetrius, they raided
Thessaly, Hellas, the Aegean Islands, Epirus and Achaia, which was the N part of
the Peloponnese. Isidore of Seville, in his Chronicon (Patrologia Latina 83, col.
1056), says that in the "5th year" of the emperor Heraclius [=?615] "the Slavs
took Greece from the Romans".*
The Avars and Slavs were also in action further west. Imperial rule in Dalmatia
was reduced (612-615) to just seven Romance-speaking coastal or island towns.
From NW to SE, they were: Osero, Veglia/Bekla, Arba/Arbe, Zara/Zadar, Trau
(Trogir), Spalato or Aspalaton (Split) and Ragusa or Dubrovnik. These urban
centres remained loyal to Byzantium for a further 500 years. Cf 613, 615.

The Reduction of Roman Dalmatia

(*) Isidore s.120: “Heraclius has completed five years of his imperial rule. At the
beginning, the Slavs took Greece from the Romans [Byzantines]; the Persians
took Syria, Egypt, and many provinces. Also in Spain, Sisebut [612-21], king of
the Goths [Visigoths], took certain cities from the same Roman [Byzantine]
‘militia’ and converted the Jews subject to his kingdom to the faith of Christ.”

Central Asia: The Turkish Khagan, ‘Shih Kuei’ - his Chinese name - re-
established central rule in the western Turkic regions. He maintained good
relations with the Byzantines in the west and the Chinese in the east.

1. The East: Nicetas, Heraclius’s cousin, leads a counter-attack from Egypt into
Persian-controlled Syria. This ends in a battle that supposedly claimed ‘20,000’
lives – presumably a Pyrrhic victory for the Persians (Olster 1993: 85, citing
Agapius of Menbidj). Cf 613.
Nicetas took part in the conquest of Egypt from Phocas, had been governor of
Egypt, and was famed for bringing the Holy Sponge and Holy Lance (‘Lance of
Longinus’) to Constantinople from Palestine in 612 (others say in 615). From 619
to 628/9 he appears to have been exarch of Africa. —Lynda Garland, ‘Gregoria’,
citing Chronicon Paschale, 703; Nicephorus, Short History, 2; and Theophanes,
Chronographia, AM 6102 [AD 609/10].

2. The empress Eudocia dies. Heraclius privately marries his niece Martina. The
marriage is not acknowledged until 614.

612 or 614: At the invitation of the Langobardic king Agilulf, the Irish
monk Columbanus establishes a monastery at Bobbio on the Trebbia River
NE of Genoa, south of Milan. The scriptorium there will become a
flourishing centre for the copying and illumination of sacred texts. The
earliest extant manuscripts with decorated initial letters come from
Bobbio, where the tradition may have originated.


Visigoths end Byzantine rule in SE Spain. See 615.

1. Date of a coin hoard of 264 gold coins found in the western wall of old
Jerusalem in 2008. The coins were minted at the beginning of Heraclius’ reign:
between the years AD 610-613, one year before the Persians conquered Byzantine
Jerusalem (AD 614). One may imagine they were hidden away when the Persian
army was approaching. Details at Cf 613-14 below.

2. The East: When Shahin took Melitene, general Philippicus reacted by invading
Persian-held Armenia, forcing Shahin to follow him over rugged terrain and
suffer heavy losses. Meanwhile, in the main campaign, a larger army under the
personal command of Heraclius* fought a bloody but inconclusive battle
with the Persians outside Antioch. They regrouped, defeated him, and forced him
to abandon Cilicia [the region of Asia Minor opposite Cyprus] (Treadgold 1997:

(*) It was almost unknown for Roman emperors after about AD 400 to
command armies in person; but this was an exceptional crisis.

Further counter-attack in Syria: A detachment of the Byzantine army, under

Philippicus, brother-in-law of the late Maurice, made a raid on Armenia,
diverting the Persians’ attention, while Heraclius leads the main army against
Antioch. In a major battle beneath its walls, Heraclius was decisively beaten; and
retreating into Asia Minor, he was caught and defeated once more by the
pursuing Persians (or so says the source called Pseudo-Sebeos: in Olster 1993:
Sebeos: “Together with his brother Theodosius, he [the emperor] assumed the
military command, assembled a multitude of troops, and crossed into Asorestan
[Syria] by way of Antioch. A great battle took place in the area of Asia, and the
blood of the generals coursed violently to the city of Antioch. The groupings and
clashings were severe and the slaughter was great in the agitation. Both sides
were worn and wearied in the fight. However, the Iranians grew stronger and
pursued the fleeing [Byzantines], receiving the victory, in addition to [the renown
of] bravery. Yet another battle took place close to the defile leading to Cilicia. The
Byzantines struck the Iranians in a front of 8,000 armed men. And they [the
Byzantines] turned and fled. The Iranians grew stronger, went and took the city
of Tarsus and all the inhabitants in the district of Cilicia”: Chronicle of Sebeos, at; accessed 2009.

Collapse of Imperial Rule in the Balkans

The Danubian limes or defended border, reestablished around the year 600 by
Maurice, gave way for good around 613-615. The last fortified points succumbed
to the Avars and Slavs: Naissus/Nish and Justiniana Prima in present-day

southern Serbia, and Sardica: modern Sofia in today’s Bulgaria. Thessaloniki

alone resisted the numerous Avaro-Slavian sieges (in 586, 615, 618). —Bouras in
Laiou 2002.
Some 400 years would elapse before Constantinople would again
assert its rule as far as the Danube.

The East: The Persian general Farrokhan, whose title was Sharbaraz, Gk:
Sarbaros, took Damascus and Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire in 613 and
614. The Holy Cross, or a large fragment of it, was carried away in triumph (614).
Theophanes (TCOT: 11) says that “90,000” Christians were killed by the
Persians and by the Jews who assisted them to take “Jordan, Palestine and its
holy city”. It is not clear if this means the number who died in Palestine or just in
Jerusalem. See discussion below under 614.

The East: According to Judith Herrin, 1987, “it was during the long campaign of
613-19 that many of the oldest urban centres [in Asia Minor] were overrun. The
classical way of life was brought to an abrupt end*; survivors took refuge
in citadels and new mountain settlements more like fortified villages than ancient

(*) More likely this was a slow process over the period 550-650. See the
discussion in Wickham 2005: 625-29 and passim.

Public Baths

Public baths seem to have gradually gone out of use in the period 600-800 in
most of the cities which survived in their original locations. Those towns that
were rebuilt or moved to a new location usually had none at all. But as late as 691,
the Quinisextum Council (canon 11) forbade priests to take a bath in company
with a Jew, indicating that baths were still in use, at least in Constantinople.
Evidently the major centres maintained the custom. Thus Theophanes mentions
bath-houses in Constantinople lacking water during the drought of 766-67,
implying that they were still in use. And we find references to upper class women
taking baths in the 9th and 10th centuries. Also the main bath at Thessalonica
continued in use into the second millennium (K. Dark in Harris 2005: 128).

In Lombard Italy the very form of ancient baths impressed king Liutprand, 712-
744, so much that he declared (in a lost inscription: Calderini 1975, 179) that he
was going to build one ‘with beautiful marbles and columns’ for his summer
palace in the countryside at Corteolona [Corte Olona, east of Pavia] (c. 729) - but
he then decided to build a church instead.

At Rome in the late eighth century, it was recorded that pope Hadrian made
deaconries and then processed from them ‘to the bath’. This was probably the one

in the atrium of S. Peter's, where the poor could bathe; it was evidently still in
use, and Hadrian is recorded as restoring it (2.506, 510). Needless to say, he also
restored pipelines and aqueducts* which fed water to the City. —Greenhalgh

(*) As we remarked earlier, drinking water came from wells and cisterns;
aqueducts were almost universally used solely for bringing water to the
baths and, to that extent, were just an urban “refinement” (Ward-Perkins
1984: 125).

Dalmatia: (or in 615:) Raiders, probably Avars rather than Slavs, sacked and
destroyed the provincial capital Salona [modern Solin] near Split.
Led by the local Romano-Illyrian secular and religious authorities, the
survivors fled to Diocletian’s old walled palace at nearby Split, some five km
south-west, which was able to hold out (Fine 1991: 34; Harris 2003: 25 – others
prefer to date the abandonment of Salona to 639: see there).
The Slavs, in the shape of the future Croats and Serbs, may have arrived a little
later, as part of an aggressive migration, in the 620s, of peoples from north of the
Carpathians (thus Harris).
When Salona was destroyed by an invasion of Avars and possibly Slavs shortly
after AD 612, some of the survivors took refuge in nearby Split. According to a
13th century writer, only the richer refugees built houses. The others took up
residence (by 639) in the towers and substructures of the old imperial palace (of
Diocletian, d. 305 AD).
Thus: from Roman palace to Roman ruin in three centuries.

2. The East: Having taken Damascus (613), the Persians under general
Farrokhan, called Shahr-Baraz, Gk: Sarbaros, invade Palestine and sack
Jerusalem (614). To please his Christian wife, Chosroes removes the True Cross
of Christ, or at least a fragment of it, to Persia.

Defeat meant Christ had failed to protect his faithful, and at least some Christians
concluded that weakness was the reason. Thus, we should not be surprised to
hear from Antiochus (an eyewitness) that "a few weak-minded" Christians
renounced Christ.

The Persians Take Jerusalem, 614

The Persian army under general Shahrbaraz marched on and took (613)
Damascus, and then (614) it was Jerusalem's turn.
After a brief but sharp resistance - a three-week siege - the Christian (and
Jewish) holy city fell on 22 May 614. There followed a massacre of the Christian
inhabitants in which the Jews took the lead (Horowitz 1998). The monk
Antiochos Strategos, cited by Armstrong 1996: 212, says that more than "67,000"
people were slaughtered (Conybeare 1910). For this to be credible we must
believe that the city’s basic population had been much augmented by refugees

from the countryside.

Khusroe's army, aided by “24,000” Jews from Tiberias, Nazareth and the
mountains of Galilee, besieged Jerusalem for several weeks, capturing it in May
or June 614. The conquest was a bloody affair in which ‘Parthians’ [sic:
Sassanians] and Jews massacred anywhere from “60,000 to 90,000” Christian
inhabitants of the city (90,000: Theophanes, TCOT: 11). A more likely estimate is
20,000; and the accounts of Jewish participation in the slaughter of Christians
are found exclusively in Christian sources, and thus perhaps suspect (but
accepted by Horovitz 1998). Another ‘35,000-37,000’ Christians were enslaved
and exiled to Persia. The city itself was sacked.

Incredibly large numbers: “As the Persians began to drive them away from the
Mount of Olives, where this sermon was given, Zacharias bade farewell to
Jerusalem: 'Peace to you, Sion, bride of Christ, peace to you, Jerusalem, holy city;
peace to you, Holy Anastasis, illuminated by the Lord . . . this is the last peace and
my final greeting to you; may I have hope and length of days that I may
eventually gain your vision again?' " Then the column of prisoners moved off,
35,000 according to the Armenian bishop Sebeos, leaving behind many
thousands of dead. Sebeos says 57,000 died; Strategikos, relying on Thomas, one
of the unfortunate survivors who had to bury the bodies, claims 66,509, and gives
a detailed breakdown of the figures by location. To contemporaries, the capture
of the holy places by the pagan [sic] Zoroastrians was an unparalleled
disaster”. —Judith Herrin, at
The loss of Jerusalem was the subject of a poem by George of Pisidia.

For some, the sack of Jerusalem in 614 was the central event in the destruction of
Christian Syria ‘from which the province was never to recover’. Even today, the
ruins of the churches destroyed by the Persians in 614 litter the Syrian

The sack of Jerusalem by the Persians (614) as narrated by a

Byzantine monk

“(The Persians) fought for 20 days. And they struck so hard with their ballistas
[large crossbow-like artillery pieces] that on the 21st day they razed the city walls.
Afterwards, the evil enemies entered the city in a fury, like frenzied wild animals
and angered snakes. Like rabid dogs they tore the flesh of the faithful with their
teeth, and they spared no-one, neither man nor woman, neither young nor old,
neither child nor baby, neither priest nor monk, neither virgin [i.e. nuns] nor
widow ..." —In Conybeare 1910.

2a. Asia Minor: The Persians may well have destroyed ancient Sardes or Sardis
[Gk Sardeis], present-day Sart, inland east of Izmir-Smyrna (or in 616). This is
deduced from the sudden ending of coin finds.

One of many classical Roman roads ran from Smyrna on the coast eastward to
Sardes and Philadelphia, thence across the upper Meander River to Laodicea. At
Apamea, the road divided into a northern route running NE to Amorium and
Ancyra. There the road divided again, the upper branch running north-east to
Sinope on the Black Sea coast. The other branch went SE to Caesarea.

2b. SW Asia Minor: Destruction of Ephesus, south of Izmir/Smyrna, probably

by earthquake (614; but possibly by fire and/or the Persian sack of 616). The city
survived, but on a lesser scale. In the late 600s, probably before 660, the
surviving population abandoned the classical site* and relocated to the nearby
hill of Ayasuluk. Thus in about 50 years Ephesus was reduced from a city to a
town and then from a town to a village.

(*) Ancient Ephesus, today one of Turkey’s most famous tourist attractions, is
considered by many the country’s most impressive archaeological site. The
Lonely Planet guide describes it as "the best-preserved classical city in the east
Mediterranean, and among the best places in the world to get a feel for what life
was like in [classical] Roman times".

3. fl. John Moschus [Ioannes Moskhos], an ethnic Greco-Syrian monk and

theologian, author of the Spiritual Meadow, stories of famous monks and
hermits. He lived most of his life in the East before coming to Rome in 614-15.
His compilation in Greek, the Leimõn ho Leimõnon, Latin: Pratum spirituale,
‘Spiritual Meadow’, is one of the earliest hagiological works. In it he narrates his
personal experiences with many great ascetics he met during his extensive travels
in the East, and repeats the edifying stories which these ascetics related to him.
The text acquaints us with the numerous heresies that threatened to disrupt the
Church in the East (thus Cath. Encyc.).
One story has a monk ascribing his infection with leprosy to his having lapsed
into fornication. He immediately returned to being a monk.

The Aegean: Rowing in their small boats, several Slavic tribes raid along the coast
of Thessaly, western Asia Minor and various Aegean islands. They launch a
combined sea and land attack against Thessaloniki (Fine 1991: 41). See discussion
under 615.
The Miracles specifically refers to refugees in Thessalonica from Nish and
Serdica (Sofia in modern Bulgaria), indicating that those towns had already fallen
to the Slavs.

The Demise of Roman Spain

Spain: King Sisebut, 612-620/21, was a highly literate monarch; a number of his
writings have survived; he was also an outstanding warrior. More than any
Gothic king before him, he became the scourge of the Byzantines in Spania. —

Fouracre et al., eds, New Cambridge Medieval History pp.351 ff.

In 614 and 615, presumably having learnt of Heraclius’s preoccupation with the
Persians and Avars, Sisebut launched two “massive” expeditions against the
Greeks and conquered the major centre Málaga and the lesser town of Assidio ca.
615: before 619, when its bishop appears at the Second Council of Seville (thus
Isidore and Fredegarius, cited in Kaegi 2003: 89). The Gotho-Hispanics
conquered as far as the Mediterranean coast and razed many centres to the
ground. Sisebut possibly also razed the Byzantine capital Cartagena, which was so
completely desolated that it never reappeared in Visigothic Spain (Foureacre et
al. think this did not occur until after 619). - This effectively ended the life of
Byzantine Spania.

In 621, the Rhomaniyans still held a few lesser towns, but Suinthila recovered
them shortly, and by 624 the entire province of Spania was in Visigothic hands,
save the Balearic Islands, which were an economic backwater in the seventh
century (Wikipedia, 2009, ‘Spania’).

c. 615:
1. The far West: As noted, the Visigotho-Spanish overrun most of the Imperial
territories in Spain (Treadgold 1997: 290, citing Thompson’s Goths in Spain). See
616, 621.

2a. The Balkans: Although the Slavs belonged to different tribes, several of them
united, probably in 615, in an unsuccessful attempt to storm Thessalonica by land
and sea. Around the same time, the Avars opened a general offensive in the
empire's north-west, taking Salona, Naissus (Nish), and Serdica (modern Sofia).
Not long afterward, they deported many of the local Byzantines to Avar territory
near Sirmium.

2b. Greece: After 610: As stated, Slavs from Thessaly and from the area around
Thessalonica attempted to storm Thessalonica by land and sea but they fail. The
Slavic boats were destroyed by a forceful wind which, of course, was believed to
be due to the city’s protector St Demetrius (Treadgold, State and Society 1997:
290). Cf 618.
This is said to have been the first time that the Slavs took to the sea using their
“monoxyla”, single or multi-log dug-out ‘sailing canoes’. Greek: mono (single)
+ xylon (tree). They would have rigged their dug-out boats with sails and
probably also added planks to the boat sides to increase the freeboard and put on
some kind of outrigger [rowing platform] to make the boat more seaworthy (‘The
Rus Project’, accessed 2009, at Cf 624, 626.

The date of 615 is approximate. Of the date of the first Slavic attack on
Thessalonica, recorded in Miracles, book 2, we are told only that it occurred

under the episcopate of John, the author of book 1. As Florin Curta has explained,
the description of the territories that the Slavs ravaged before turning against
Thessalonica is viewed by many as fitting into the picture of Heraclius’s early
regnal years, snapshots of which are given by Isidore of Seville and George of
Pisidia. In particular, the fact that the author of book 2 specifically refers to
maritime raids by ‘canoe’ (2.1.179; see also 2.4.253, 254) is reminiscent of George
of Pisidia’s reference to the “Sclavene wolves” (in his Bellum Avaricum 197–201).
Historians agree, therefore, in dating this attack to the first decade of Heraclius’s
reign. This time the ‘Sclavenes’ had brought with them their families, for “they
had promised to establish them in the city [of Thessalonica] after its conquest”
(Miracles 2.1.180). – Curta 2001 and 2005.

Italy: d. Agilulf, Lombard king.
Part of his funerary crown survives: an attractive cross in “barbarian” style,
illustrated in Rice 1965, p.164.

The net effect of Agilulf’s efforts was the conquest of the middle third of the Po
Valley downstream towards imperial Ravenna, and a modest parcel of territory in
SE Tuscany (map in Brown 1984: 38).
From the Lombard side, this might be seen as a modest, even disappointing,
achievement. But Brown 1984: 83 has suggested that the Lombards did not yet
have a decisive military advantage. Just 50 years after deaths of Justinian and
Belisarius, the Byzantines probably retained a superiority over the ‘barbarians’ in
weaponry, armour and discipline.
The mobility with which local units moved to different areas suggests, says
Brown, that the imperial army in Italy continued to consist mainly of cavalry. A
letter of Pope Martin, acc. 649, mentions that the Byzantino-Roman troops were
equipped with lance, sword, bow and shield, which is what one would expect
given the terms of best practice as set out in Maurice’s handbook or Strategikon,
c.600. Thus, says Brown, the imperial forces in Italy probably retained much of
the rigid discipline and sophisticated equipment and tactics exemplified by
Belisarius’ and Narses’ armies in the previous century.
On the Lombard side all males were available for military service (Christie
p.356). We will therefore guess that Lombard fighters normally outnumbered the
Byzantines, but equally they included many men of lesser military quality.

Maurice’s Strategikon, ca. 600, also notes the weakness of the Lombard
temperament and their mode of fighting. They fought with no discipline
(“impetuous and undisciplined”), little to no battle order (“they despise
good order, especially on horseback”) and generally had few if any of their
horsemen performing reconnaissance ahead of the army. Because “they
[did] not concern themselves at all with scouts”, they were easily ambushed
along the flanks and rear of their battle-line. They also failed to fortify their
camps at night. Their skill at fighting with the cavalry lance could be nullified by
the use of feints, ambushes, false negotiations and the choice of a difficult terrain

or fortified sites for battle (trans. Dennis p.119).

1. Asia Minor: Sassanid armies overrun Anatolia and sack Ancyra,
Sardis, Chalcedon etc: Persian occupation of Chalcedon, the town on the Asian
shore opposite Constantinople (616). The walls of Smyrna, however, refurbished
in the Justinianic period, proved strong enough to withstand the Persian
onslaught (Hodges & Whitehouse p.67).

At Sardis, most of the city was abandoned thereafter (before 700); only a
hilltop fortress continued into the Middle Ages. Moreover, in
archaeology, bronze coins, the small change of the economy, practically disappear
after this time (Mango 1980: 72-73). This reflected the near de-monetarisation of
the economy by 700.

The “End of Antiquity”

The effect of the Persian invasions is shown by coin finds at Sardis in W Asia
Minor: bronze coins are plentiful until 616; but very few thereafter, and almost
none dating from the 8th and 9th centuries (Mango p.73, citing Foss). But this
evidence is not by itself decisive, as after Constans II (d. 668) coin issues were
small until the 9th century.
Deurbanisation at Sardis certainly begins in the 610s, i.e. in the Persian period,
but (as against Foss) most archaeologists prefer to locate deurbanisation within a
longer period of disruption, i.e. over many decades or even a century. The Greek
islands, alone of all the sub-regions of the Byzantine heartland, were relatively
safe from attack, and there alone do we find significant seventh-century
monumental constructions. Thus it is fairly clear that in Asia Minor endemic
warfare and raiding was the major factor – the Sassanian (Persian) and then
Muslim (Arab) incursions. At most classical sites after 650 building work is only
occasional and then only in the form of fortifications and defences. The

population had become ruralised and the ‘centres of settlement’ were in fact
simply refuges, staging points or garrison centres. Examples include Sardis,
Ankara, Amorium, Prousa (Bursa), Pergamon and Myra (Wickham 2005: 628 ff).

2. The Persians attack Egypt, 616-19. Cf 617-19.

When the enemy invaded the Delta, the refugees were driven into Alexandria.
The city was thus crowded with a great multitude of people wholly dependent for
their support on charity. When the difficulty of feeding them, which fell chiefly
upon the patriarch John V ‘the Merciful’ or ‘the Almsgiver’, became an
impossibility, through a failure of the harvest, John fled to Cyprus with the
imperial general Niketas, and left the province of Egypt to the Persians (Milne

3. (or 616:) New style of silver coin, the miliarison or hexagram.

It was the emperor Heraclius who in 615, or a little later: see 616 and 619-21,
revived an effective silver coinage, drawing the metal for his abundant issues
mostly from the secularization of church plate during the crisis of the Persian
war. The new coins were known as hexagrams, since they weighed six grammata
(6.84 grams), a weight higher than any used for regular coinage during the entire
period of the Roman Empire. Diameter: around 23 mm. For comparion, an
Australian $2 coin weighs 6.6 g (diameter 20.5 mm) and a US quarter is 5.67 g
(diameter 24 mm).

4. Military reform: A new fighting force called THE OPSIKION, literally

“retinue”, was created by a regrouping of palatine soldiers. Or the Opsikion may
have been formed by combining the two ‘praesental’ armies that had for long
been based in and around the capital (Treadgold 1995: 74).
The regrouping seems to have been effective by 615, when a ‘count of the
Opsikion’ is recorded in the position previously held by the comes domesticorum
or ‘count of the domestics’.* The Opsikion troops evidently accompanied the
emperor on his military campaigns in the East and formed the nucleus of a new
regiment that was later to be based in Thrace and Bithynia, the north-western-
most region of Asia Minor, opposite Constantinople (thus Judith Herrin 1987).
See 659.

(*) Head of the imperial bodyguard: comes ‘companion, count’

domesticorum ‘of (from) the household (troops)’.

Dark Ages in the West

Two Irish dates are useful in marking out the Dark Ages in the Latin West: the
death of Columbanus (d. 615) and the birth of John Scotus Erigena (b. ca 810).
— In the West very few manuscripts were copied between 550 and 750. Literary
culture slid into a deep decline and was replaced with a primarily oral culture.
The fact that more than half of the few biblical commentaries surviving from
the period 650-850 were written by Irishmen shows how "dark" the times were
in "Latin" (Lombard) Italy and Merovingian Francia.

— Mid 6th century: Very unusually for a Westerner, Columbanus knew a little
Greek, having been tutored in it at the monastery of Bangor in Ulster by Comgall.
Columbanus reputedly knew Sappho's writings, as well as those of the Latins:
Virgil, Ovid etc; but it must be doubted that he had enough Greek to easily read
Sappho.* - Born in Leinster, SW Ireland, Columbanus was aged 20 in about
560/563. He proceeded to Frankish Gaul in 585 or 590, aged about 45/50 - with
the aim of converting the remaining Arian Christian Suevians of NW Spain to
Catholic Christianity. He went to newly-Catholic Lombard Northern Italy in 612,
where he founded the monastery of Bobbio, south of Milan.
9th century: Another Irishman, Erigena (aged 50 in about 860), was made
head of the palace school in Paris by Charles the Bald. He too is said to have
studied Greek; it is claimed that the only other Westerner with any real
knowledge of Greek was the papal librarian Anastasius.
The Christian East also experienced a dark age, albeit less dark – this is
discussed later: see before the chronology for 641 ff.

(*) Greek in Ireland

“On their green island and in the monasteries of Irish character on the
northern English coasts, they did not read Homer or Plato, but rather
learned [only] the Greek alphabet wholly or in part, excerpted Greek words
from late antique sources - Jerome, Macrobius, Boethius, Priscian, Isidore,
and others - and probably even participated in the transmission of
glossaries; as for complete texts, only short liturgical pieces were evidently
known. With a knowledge of Greek acquired in this manner, they could not
understand or translate longer Greek texts with which they were
unacquainted.” —Berschin 1988.

Greece: Coin hoards concealed at various places on the E side of Greece—
Solomos, Athens, Chalkida, modern-day Nea Anchialos [in Thessaly: on the coast
opposite the tip of Evvia/Euboea], Thessalonica, and Thasos in the north Aegean
—indicate that these coastal areas came under threat from the Slavs in 615-6 or a
little later (Metcalf 1962). This threat has been connected to sea-raids by the
pagan Slavs around the time of the siege of Thessalonica, as recorded in the
Miracles of St. Dêmêtrios. See below: 615-23.

Pope Deusdedit. - This period in Italy saw two uprisings against imperial rule,
which was financially burdensome and militarily inadequate. The Exarch was
killed in Ravenna, and a local military commander in the south declared himself
emperor and seized Naples. Constantinople quickly dispatched a new Exarch who
crushed the rebellion. See 616.

The Avars and Slavs take almost all of imperial Illyricum, our north-west
Balkans; and pagan Slavs ravage through Christian Greece. Cf 618.

— As noted earlier, Mango 1980: 69-70 says that "not a single Early Christian
church remained standing in all of Greece" by 625, except in Salonika
[Thessaloniki] and the island of Paros.
— To quote the much later ‘Chronicle’ of Monemvasia [ca. 1000], "In another
invasion they (the Avars) subjugated all of Thessaly and Greece . . . they made
also an incursion into Peloponnesus, conquered it by war, driving out the noble
and Hellenic nations. Those among the Greeks who succeeded in escaping …
dispersed themselves here and there. The city of Patras [south side of the Gulf of
Corinth] emigrated to the territory of Rhegium [Reggio in Calabria] … [and] some
sailed to the island of Sicily and they are still there in a place called Demena, call
themselves Demenitae instead of Lacedaemonitae [Spartans] and preserve their
own Laconian [south Peloponnesian] dialect". —Quoted by Mathews, ‘Naples’.

Italy: Reigning Dowager Queen Theodolina or Theodelinda, Bavarian-born
queen of the Lombards, 615-25. Co-ruler with her husbands, first king Autharis,
584-90, and second Agilulf, 591-615, she then ruled as regent for her son king
Adaloald or Adololdo [acc. 616, aged 14], who was deposed (626) by her son-in-
law, Arioald.
She was instrumental in commencing the restoration of Athanasian
Christianity - the ancestor of modern Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy
- to a position of primacy in Italy against its rival, Arian Christianity. Cf 636-52 –
king Rothari.

The End of Antiquity ‘delayed’ on Crete, AD 620.
Unlike many other parts of the empire, Crete thrived at this time, partly because
it was never occupied by the Slavs (although raided in 623).
Inscriptions dating to the reign of Herakleios, around 615, have long focussed
attention on the later stages of the Cretan ‘city’ or town of Gortyna. The town was
substantially rebuilt following an earthquake that occurred between 618 and 621.
The praetorium [square in front of the governor’s residence] was reconstructed
with a “superb” dedication to the emperors; the judiciary basilica was
reconstructed as a hypaethral (open, unroofed) chamber, with a raised apse at
the back. Herakleios’s officials also rebuilt the town’s water supply, creating an
aqueduct that ran alongside the praetorium from the south, culminating in a
castellum divisiorum [central pond, tank or tower for water distribution:
endpoint of an aqueduct], a “splendid” nymphaeum [artificial grotto or open
rotunda with a water shrine], and numerous fountains. Two colonnaded streets
crossed at the praetorium.
Following another earthquake around 666–670, however, the porticoes and the
main church collapsed. Now the town became a modest village: street paving was
covered with beaten earth, the rebuilt houses now sheltered the potters who
revived their production, and a church and several houses with their own oil
presses sprang up in the praetorium (Morrisson & Sodini, ‘Sixth Century’, in

Laiou ed., 2002).

As with Ephesus [see below under ca. 650], but for different reasons, in about
50 years Gortnya declined from a small city to a village.

1a. Or in 615 [Kaegi 1993: 89]: Beginnings of a Byzantine retreat in Spain: the
Visigoths capture most of the remaining Byzantine enclave in the south. Then by
617, peace was agreed. See 624.

1b. Spain: “Heraclius has completed [616] five years of his imperial rule. At the
beginning [see above under 608-10], the Slavs took Greece [Graecia*] from the
Romans; the Persians took Syria, Egypt [617-19: see there], and many provinces.
Also in Spain, Sisebut [d. 621: see 620], king of the Goths, took certain cities from
the same Roman ‘militia’ and converted the Jews subject to his kingdom to the
faith of Christ.” —Isidore of Seville, Chronica Maiora. There are two redactions;
hence the squashing together of many dates.

(*) The text called Miracles of St Demetrius mention that the Slavs
devastated Epirus and Achaia [the western Peloponnesus], so we can be
certain this meant Greece proper and not just Illyricum (the NW Balkans)
(Curta 2001: 107).

2. To deal with the crisis, Heraclius halved the salaries of soldiers and the
civilian bureaucracy (Paschal Chronicle, 706, cited by Treadgold 1995: 147;
also 1997: 380; and Haldon, Transformation, p.225).
The basic annual pay, probably 20 nomismata, was reduced to 10. In the case
of soldiers, probably arms and uniforms were provided free as a substitute for the
reduced cash allowances. A new silver coin, the hexagram, was minted for this
purpose: the new coins were inscribed “God help the Romans!” (Treadgold 1997:
About two-thirds of the Eastern field armies that Heraclius inherited when he
took over in 610 were maintained. "This was not only a remarkable
achievement but one vital to the empire's future survival", says
Treadgold 1995: 207. See 622.
Heraclius halved his outlays from perhaps two million nomismata in 610 to 1 M
by about 620 (rising to 1.5 M by 641). Over the longer term, the outlay from the
treasury fell from about four million nomismata in 565 to only about 1.5 million
by 641 (Treadgold 1995: 196).

3. Italy: In the Exarchate of Italy, unpaid soldiers had already assassinated the
exarch John, and at Naples a 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 (Treadgold 1997).

—In 616, the Neapolitan dux Cousinus [Giovanni Consino or John of Conza: Paul
the Deacon’s Consia] attempted to establish his independence, but the new
exarch Eleutherius defeated and killed him in the following year (or in 618: A
Jones et al. 1992: 436).
—The exarch Eleutherius, a eunuch, led his troops from Ravenna to Rome and
then on to Naples to defeat the rebel John of Conza (Paul the Deacon, 4.34).
Brown 1984: 91 cites this as evidence of the continuing mobility of the army in
Italy, which may indicate that it was a mainly cavalry force.
—Meanwhile, the Lombard dux Sondrar or Sundrarius had defeated Eleutherius,
and peace was gained only by the exarch agreeing to pay 500 Roman pounds
(litrai) of gold annually (ibid.) Now 500 litrai was 36,000 gold coins. How this
could be afforded on top of his troops’ pay is unclear, but in any event one
imagines that it was peace with the Lombards that allowed Eleutherius to take his
troops south against John of Conza’s rebels.

4. The end of Antiquity: The town of Sardis in western Asia Minor was
abandoned for a hilltop castle or acropolis after 616. Of the coins excavated at
Sardis, 1,011 derive from the years 491-616: eight for each year elapsed; 90 coins
from the yrs 616-700: about one per year; and just nine coins from yrs 700-900.
Thus; accessed

“…[Western Asia Minor:] One of the richest lands of classical civilisation was now
dominated by villages and fortresses.” –Foss, Ephesus after Antiquity, 1979,
quoted in Hodges & Whitehouse p.63.

The Case of Sardis

“During [the] late antique period”, writes Greenhalgh, “new building in Sardis
was either ecclesiastical or private: public building, the very backbone of
the classical city, disappears. Indeed, the excavators have guessed that,
after the Persian attack of 616 AD - and comparing what they found before this
date with what remained after it, - the population must have declined by about
90 per cent. In spite of this, Hanfmann, 1983: 214, remarks on the continuity
and the recurrent civic activity, with vigorous rebuilding and renovation - right
up to the destruction of 616 AD.” —Michael Greenhalgh, ‘The Greek & Roman
Cities of Western Turkey’.

Foss and Scott (2002) note that the entire nature of the town of Sardis changed
after 616.
The remains attest extensive destruction, followed by a total lack of evidence
for almost a half century. In addition, some time in the seventh century an
earthquake loosed a landslide from the acropolis that fell onto the lower town
(already abandoned) and covered part of the temple of Artemis and caused the

collapse of the gymnasium and other public buildings.

When evidence is again available [from 660], the city was fundamentally
different: the ancient metropolis (on the plain) had become a field for ruins,
while the new ‘city’ focused on a castle on the ancient acropolis (on the hill).

The first evidence for a medieval town at Sardis dates from the mid-seventh
century*, when the main east-west road was rebuilt. The large fortress (whose
exact extent cannot be determined because of subsequent erosion of the hill)
became and remained the centre of medieval Sardis. Its walls sheltered a
substantial settlement, much of it obliterated by later construction. Rebuilding of
the road shows that the place was not isolated but still stood on a major route of
communication between the coast and the interior of Asia Minor, i.e. from
Smyrna to Philadelphia. – Foss & Scott 2002. See 716 - sacked by Arabs.

(*) See entry for 660.

616: From Vandals to East-Romans to Saracens:


1. The East: The Persians re-take Syria, invade Egypt (617-19), and control most
of Asia Minor.
The Patriarch of Alexandria at this time was Cyprus-born John ‘the Almsgiver’;
his biography was afterwards written by the his friend Bishop Leontius (see
under 650).

2. Italy: The new exarch, the eunuch Eleutherius, 616-620, seems to have found
the now fragmentary imperial state in Italy in utter confusion, and indeed on the
verge of dissolution.
In about 616, as we noted earlier, the Lombard dux Sundrarius defeated him
and forced a treaty. Eleutherius bought peace by consenting (c. 617) to pay the
yearly tribute of 500 or 550 pounds of gold which perhaps pope Gregory had
promised when he made a separate peace with the Lombards in 593, when Rome
had been practically in the hands of the ‘barbarians’.
As noted earlier, Naples had been usurped by a certain Joannes of Compsa or
John of Conza. Ancient Compsa, modern Conza, was/is a town in the highlands
of eastern Campania, NE of Eboli, near the Lucania-Apulia border. Hutton calls
him "a wealthy Samnite landowner". He proclaimed himself lord in Naples, and it
is obvious that even in Ravenna there was grave discontent. Eleutherius soon
disposed (ca. 618) of the usurper of Naples (Paul the Deacon 4.36; A Jones et al.
1992: 436; also Hutton 1913: my chronology follows that of Jones et al.).

Italy: By this time the power of the Exarchs of Ravenna had so declined that they
were moving from an offensive policy in external affairs – seeking the recovery of
territory from the Lombards – to a defensive policy: preserving the empire’s
existing possessions (Brown 1984: 52). Cf 625-43 below.

616-40: Eadbald, Anglo-Saxon king ruler of Kent. He reverted to

‘paganism’, before coming back to Christianity.

The NW Balkans: According to the Miracula Sancti Demetrii or ‘Miracles of St
Demetrius’, written during these decades, entire provinces of Illyria were horribly
ravaged. In 617, according to the Miracula, "a new swarm of low-bred Slavs
settled further down [i.e. in what is now Serbia], and from there took incursions
in most of Prevalitania, Dardania [present-day Kosovo], New and Old Epirus and
Macedonia, and making the majority of towns and provinces uninhabitable". Cf
618: siege of Thessaloniki.

The East: The Persian general Shahrvaraz completed his devastating campaign by
capturing Egypt, the richest of the Byzantine provinces and the bread-basket of
Constantinople, along with its capital Alexandria, between 617 and 619. The
chronicles say that “Shahrvaraz invaded Egypt and, with much bloodshed,
subjected it with Alexandria to the Persians” (text in Palmer et al. 1993).
No real details of how Nicetas lost Egypt have survived; but Olster 1993: 120-21
is doubtless right in proposing that Egypt—or at least the local troops that he
commanded—had not recovered from the ravages of the earlier civil war of 609.

Gibbon, Decline and Fall: “Pelusium, the key of that impervious country [Egypt],
was surprised by the cavalry of the Persians: they passed, with impunity, the
innumerable channels of the Delta, and explored the long valley of the Nile, from
the pyramids of Memphis to the confines of Aethiopia. Alexandria might have
been relieved by a naval force, but the archbishop [John] and the praefect
[Nicetas] embarked for Cyprus; and Chosroes entered the second city of the
empire, which still preserved a wealthy remnant of industry and commerce. His
western trophy was erected, not on the walls of Carthage, but in the
neighbourhood of Tripoli [Libya]; the Greek colonies of Cyrene [Cyrenaica] were
finally extirpated [an exaggeration*]; and the conqueror, treading in the
footsteps of Alexander**, returned in triumph through the sands of the Libyan

(*) In fact, Greeks ruled in Cyrenaica until the Arab conquests of the 640s.

(**) Some 950 years earlier, in 331 BC, the original conquering Greek,
Alexander of Macedon, had made an excursion west to the great Siwa Oasis
in the Libyan desert, just inside the modern Egyptian border.

1. Macedonia: In 618 or perhaps around 620, a large Avaro-Slav army besieged
Thessalonica by land, but not by sea. Curta 2006: 73 says in “617 or, at the latest,
The assailants belonged to various Slavic tribes already resident in Macedonia
and Thessaly—the Droguvitai (“Drogubites”), Sagudatai, Velegezêtai
(“Belegezites”), Vaiounêtai (“Vajunetes”), Verzerêtai (”Berzetes”)—who agreed
unanimously to besiege Thessalonica under the leadership of a certain ‘chief’ (Gk:
archon) called Chatzôn. When he was killed, they send to the chagan of the Avars
for aid.
Their intentions were so clear that their wives and children camped in front of
the walls of the city, ready to occupy it as soon as it fell.
With the sea free, provisioning was assured. Moreover the Byzantines had
learnt how to neutralise the Avars’ siege engines. The siege was lifted after little
more than a month (33 days). This was to be the last serious threat to
Thessaloniki for some centuries (Fine 1991: 42; Burke and Scott 2000: 3).
Cf 619, 621.
The siege must have taken place in 617 or 618 at the latest, and appears to have
lasted just over a month. In the end, however, the Qagan (chagan) could not take
the city. Instead, he opened negotiations with the besieged to obtain monetary
compensation for withdrawing his troops (Miracles 2.2.215).

The truce struck between Byzantium and the Avars allowed the emperor to
transfer troops from Europe to Asia Minor. Thereafter (622) Heraclius was able
to launch a campaign against the Persians (Haldon, Transformation p.45).

2. The plague returns to Constantinople – its ninth visit (others say sixth)
since the mid 500s.

3. The Spanish Visigoths capture the African side of the Gibraltar strait from

PLAGUE again in New Rome (Constantinople), its sixth visit in 80 years:
Heraclius considers (618) removing the court to Carthage (Angold 2001: 43; also
Stathakopoulos 2004).

Persian Conquest of Roman Egypt

2. As the Persians advanced from Palestine, the imperial government decided to

end the free handouts of bread - made from Egyptian wheat - to residents of
Constantinople. After 619 grain supplies came from Thrace and elsewhere, but
now people had to pay for their bread (Fossier p.283; Treadgold State 1997
p.292; Herrin 2007: 26).
In the 400s, 80,000 loaves had been distributed daily in Constantinople:
Socrates Scholasticus, ii.13.


Under Justinian (d. 565), Egypt had supplied eight million artabae* of wheat or
enough to feed a population of one million (much of the grain was re-exported
from Constantinople, eg to Thessalonica). Grain sailing season from Alexandria
to Constantinople: September-October. Stock station at Tenedos, the small island
at the mouth of the Hellespont. Last grain shipment: 619. — Erdkamp 2005: 229;
Curta, Slavs 2001: 138.

(*) About 30 litres. An artabe or artaba of size 38 litres contained 30 litres

of wheat.

Abandoning the traditional free distributions of bread was a highly unpopular

measure. After the loss of Egypt in 618-19, the price of a loaf was set at three
folleis (bronze coins). When the official in charge of the new system, John,
nicknamed "the Earthquake", tried to more than double the price to eight folleis,
a crowd of protesters, led by some of the palace guards (Scholai: who in this
period were ceremonial guardsmen, not real fighters), advanced to St. Sophia “in
riotous ill humour” (Herrin 1987).

In 600 Constantinople was still principally fed from Egypt, by far the empire’s
richest province. Justinian’s reconquests had also restored to the empire the
other two great grain provinces, Sicily and ‘Africa’ (greater Tunisia). It is not clear
what proportion of grain was being transported from the West to the East, but
enough for Heraclius senior to be able, in 608, to blackmail Phocas, i.e. by
withholding the grain supply from Carthage. Even so, as Wickham explains,
2005: 124 ff, Egypt must have been of paramount importance to the Eastern
capital. This is the background to an understanding of the Persian and then Arab
conquests of the period 613-642.
The East Roman empire lost on two occasions two-thirds of its land area and
three-quarters of its wealth (Hendy’s remark, cited by Wickham p.125). It
managed once, but not twice, to defend itself, feed Constantinople, and re-
conquer the lost lands. The first loss of Egypt to the Persians in 618-19 was
immediate in its impact (people had to pay for their bread and the capital’s
population must have declined quickly), but Wickham thinks, disagreeing with
Olster, that the impact was not catastrophic. Probably Africa and Sicily increased
in importance in the three decades 618-48. The Arabs threatened Africa from the
640s, but did not succeed in taking the grain-lands of Proconsularis (northern
Tunisia) until the 690s.
But the loss of Egypt forced, or encouraged, the rulers of New Rome to make
fundamental adjustments to the way the army and state were run. Thus we may
now properly speak of a “Byzantine” state (Wickham p. 125).



Thrace: Avar campaign in Thrace in which it is said that they took a very
improbable “270,000” Christian captives (Fine 1991: 42, citing Nicephorus).
Even 27,000 sounds unlikely.
An Avar detachment rides on to Constantinople and threatens the capital, but
the walls defeat them.
Gibbon, citing the Paschal Chronicle and Nicephorus: “The chagan [monarch:
from Turkic khayan, ‘leader’] was encamped in the plains of Thrace [Kaegi 2003;
118 places this in 623]; but he dissembled his perfidious designs, and solicited an
interview with the emperor near the town of Heraclea. Their reconciliation was
celebrated with equestrian games; the senate and people, in their gayest apparel,
resorted to the festival of peace; and the Avars beheld, with envy and desire, the
spectacle of Roman luxury. On a sudden the hippodrome [of Heraclea] was
encompassed by the Scythian [Avar] cavalry, who had pressed their secret and
nocturnal march: the tremendous sound of the chagan's whip gave the signal of
the assault, and Heraclius, wrapping his diadem round his arm, was saved with
extreme hazard by the fleetness of his horse. So rapid was the pursuit that the
Avars almost entered the Golden Gate of Constantinople with the flying crowds:
but the plunder of the suburbs rewarded their treason, and they transported
beyond the Danube 270,000 captives.”
Thus the Avars raided the extramural suburbs of Constantinople, causing great
terror and panic among the local population. The patriarch Sergios agreed to a
loan of church plate to provide silver for a new coin. Some say this was struck to
buy a peace treaty with the Chagan. At this time supplies of other metals, even
bronze in the form of antique statues, were collected and melted down to be
minted as coin. “But normally the gold and silver in church liturgical vessels was
only sold to ransom Christian prisoners, and Sergios's innovation clearly
represented an unusual measure of support for secular matters” (Herrin loc. cit.).
Others propose that he offered the emperor the wealth of the Church to equip a
holy army to take the war into Persia.
At any rate, the emperor arranges a truce with the Avars, and transfers troops
from Europe to Asia. See 621-22.

3. The far north-east: Treaty with the Onogur Turks, living in the north
Caucasus: Heraclius secures an ally against the Avars and protects at the same
time the empire's northern flank against Persia (Obolensky p.89). Cf 627.

Italy: Revolt by the Exarch. Finding the situation in Italy to be unsatisfactory, and
taking advantage of Heraclius' preoccupation with the Sassanids, the eunuch
exarch Eleutherius proclaimed himself emperor at Ravenna in 619, with the
intent of setting up his capital in Rome. On the way from Ravenna to Rome in
620, however, while still deciding how to convince the new patriarch of Rome,
Boniface V, to grant him a crown, he was murdered by his own soldiers. They
were apparently still loyal to Heraclius. They sent his head to the emperor in
Constantinople (Liber Pont.: A Jones et al. 1992: 436).
The pretender was killed on the Via Flaminia-Amerina* between Cagli and
Gubbio, i.e. south of Urbino and north of Perugia; the Liber Pontificalis says “at

the castrum called Lucioli” or Luceoli, modern Cantiano, NE of Perugia (Paul the
Deacon 4.34; LP 71.2: Davis trans., p. 65).

(*) There were two nearly parallel highways running from Ravenna to
Rome. The western road called the Via Amerina ran south to Perugia and
was under Byzantine control. The other, the Via Flaminia, diverged into two
legs north of Gubbio; both legs - Spoleto being on the outer (easterrn) leg -
were under Lombard rule. See next.

The Rome-Ravenna Axis

When the incursions of Faroald (d. 584), the first Lombard Duke of Spoleto, had
originally cut the Via Flaminia, the lifeline between Rome and Ravenna, another
road, the Via Amerina – a little to the west - was improved and fortified at
intervals, works that represented some of the last road-building carried out in
Italy in Late Antiquity.
For a photograph of a surviving high watch-tower from the Amerina SE of
Narni, go here:; then scroll
down to La Toricella.

The Via Amerina was a highway that ran north to Perugia. The better known Via
Flaminia—or Viae: the ‘old’ Flaminia Vetus and the ‘new’ Flaminia Nova—
diverged at Narni. These roads ran on the east, broadly parallel with the Amerina.
Spoleto was located on the eastern leg, the Nova.
Tracking from Rome, one first took the Via Cassia, the ancient road via Viterbo
to Florence. The Amerina commenced as a branch road diverging from the Cassia
near Baccanae, SE of modern Sutri. It ran thence NE through Falerii – present-
day Civita Castellana: 65 km directly north of Rome - or in other words NE of
Nepi, SE of Viterbo. It then continued directly north through Orte to Tuder
[present-day Todi: west of Spoleto], and on through the valley of the Upper Tiber
to Perusia [modern Perugia] and then, after crossing the Tiber, went NNE to
Gubbio (Diehl, Etudes byzantines 1905: 70, citing the ‘Anonymous of Ravenna’).
From Todi to Perugia, the line of the highway was approximately that of the
modern E45 autostrada.
If one draws a line west-east through Todi to Spoleto, it crosses three south-
north roads in sucession: the Amerina at Todi (Byzantine), the Flaminia Vetus at
Masa Martana (Lombard) and the Flaminia Nova near Spoleto (Lombard).

As the new military and strategic route, the Via Amerina "became the
communications core of Imperial Italy and the chief support to the claim
that imperial Italy was still extant". —Hallenbeck 1982: 8.

2. The End of Antiquity in Asia Minor: Morrisson & Sodini, ‘Sixth Century’,
in Laiou ed. 2002, note that archaeologists have documented the decline of many
coastal cities or urban centres, such as Ephesos, and even of towns that were at

some remove from the sea, such as Sardis and Ankyra. The Persian attacks
accelerated, or at least coincided with, the end of the city of Antiquity and the
transformation of towns into ruralised villages. The fate of other cities is
comparable: Aphrodisias in south-west Asia Minor survived the plague of 541–
542, but suffered severe depredations “around 619–620” [or perhaps earlier: see
616], and died away thereafter, without having been conquered. It was simply

1. A bearded emperor: Image on a bronze dekanummium coin, from the mint at
Catania, Sicily, 619-620 AD: obverse D N HERACLIVS PP AVG, i.e. Latin
dominus nostrum Heraclius perpetuus Augustus: ‘Our master Heraclius
perpetual-eternal Augustus-holy ruler’.
The coin shows him crowned, draped and with a cuirassed bust facing with
short beard holding a ‘globus cruciger’ or globe topped with a cross in his right
hand. His predecessor Phocas seems to have been the first emperor to wear a
beard. Maurice, who Phocas had deposed, was clean-shaven.

2. Italy: Lombard coinage was initiated in Tuscany, probably c. AD 620, with the
issuing of imitative tremisses of Herakleios and later of Constans II, acc. 641,
with a ‘cross potent reverse’.

1. (or in 619) “Being short of funds [for war], he [the emperor] took on loan the
moneys of religious establishments [“the pious houses”] and he also took the
candelabra and other vessels of the holy ministry from the Great Church, which
he minted into a great quantity of gold and silver coin” (Theophanes).

2. Asia: “Sarbaros [Shahbaraz, a title meaning "the Boar of the Empire"], the
Persian commander, … took his forces and came to Cilicia that he might turn the
emperor round by his attack on Roman territory. Fearing, however, lest the
emperor invade Persia by way of Armenia and cause disturbance therein, he
could not make up his mind what to do” (ibid.) —The Chronicle of Theophanes,
trans. Cyril Mango and Roger Scott 1997.

3. Spain: King Sisebut, in a great campaign in perhaps 620 or 621, managed to

capture Carthago Spartaria (Cartagena), the Byzantine provincial capital, known
to the Rhomaniyans as Justina, the most important city of all the
provincbyzantine ciliciacilicie. The Spanish Wikipedia (2009) prefers to date this
to 622. The two versions of Isidore’s History allow various dates for this event:
615, 621, 622 and 625, the latter suggesting that Sisebut’s successor Suintila
captured the town. It fell by the treason of some of its inhabitants who opened the
gates of surrounded town to the Visigoths. The town was then razed.
After the fall of Carthago Spartaria several other towns fell to Sisebut, and
following his death in 621 [or earlier in 619], Malaga and the remaining coastal
towns of the Straits fell into the hands of his successor Suintila, i.e. by 624.

So far was Sisebut from being an illiterate barbarian that he tried his hand at
Latin poetry and wrote a life of St Desiderius of Vienne [France]. His Latin poem
on astronomy, Carmen de Luna or Praefatio de Libro Rotarum, is dedicated to a
friend, thought to be Isidore of Seville (Riche, … Occident Barbare, Paris 1962
pp. 268, 304).

The Balkans undefended: In ca. 620 (or perhaps 621-22), Heraclius moved all
troops from the Balkans to the Eastern front. This action seems to have allowed
the Avars a wider range of raiding and of control in the Balkans. In 623, or
earlier, they ambushed the emperor himself near the Long Wall in inner Thrace
(Theophanes dates this ambush to 619: TCOT: 12). Cf 623: Slav raid on Crete.

Among the troops brought to Anatolia were the 8,000 or so survivors of the old
Army of Thrace; they will in due course form the fighting force of a new
Thracesian province or “theme” (Treadgold, State p.374). —On the themes
[themata], see below under 659-62.

The East: After the peace treaty with the Avars (620 or 621), the emperor
transferred (621 or 622) what remained of the imperial troops in Europe (“his
European armies”) to Asia, despite evident Slavonic activity (TCOT: 13). New
recruits had been enrolled in the lists, armed, trained, instructed as to their
Christian role, and prepared for serious action.
In other words, Heraclius rebuilt the Byzantine army. He sails from the
capital [4 or 5 April 622] initially to Cilicia to prepare for his counteroffensive
against Sassanian Persia (June-July 622: Chronicle of Theophanes 1997: 437). He
was the first emperor since Theodosius I to personally lead an expedition (says
Norwich 1988: 189).

The Expedition to E Anatolia, 621-22

Heraclius drilled his troops on the parade grounds of Bithynia in NW Asia Minor
in late 621, combining new tactics with spiritual indoctrination. Thence he sent
them to central Anatolia: a single large army of possibly over 30,000* men is
brought together at or near Caesarea, and it trains for the coming offensive. Since
he sailed to Cilicia, we assume he travelled from there by land to meet up with the
army near Caesarea.

(*) Noting that the entire army reached 70,000 in 627 (see there), Treadgold
State p.294 proposes “50,000” for 621-22. But the 70,000 of 627 included a large
number of Khazars; so the number of Byzantines who came together in 621-22
may have been nearer 30,000.

After further training, the army proceeded (622) into Armenia before wintering
“in the vicinity of” the Black Sea coast. From there Heraclius invaded Persian

territory in the spring of 622. Others place this in 623. After much skirmishing he
defeated the Persians under Sarbaros [Shahvaraz]. It is not stated where, but,
because Theophanes mentions Sarbaros coming back out of the (Anti-Taurus)
mountains, presumably the battle took place in the western sector of upper
Mesopotamia. The training seems to have paid off: the victory was won using a
feigned retreat (TCOT: 14-15).

Treadgold 1997: “Heraclius made a truce with the Avars, promising them tribute
in order to free himself for a campaign against the Persians. In July [622**] 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
manoeuvres, the armies came to a battle [in 622, probably at the start of
August**], in which Heraclius defeated Shahrvaraz. Although the victory 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.”

(**) There was an eclipse of the moon on 28 July 622 which serves to correct
Theophanes’ chronology. He places the battle soon after the eclipse, meaning
that the true date is 622 (Theophanes’ Chronicle 1997 edn: 437).

Horse armour

The Persians, defeated in a skirmish probably in Cappadocia (or perhaps

Armenia), withdraw from Asia Minor. Describing this battle, Theophanes
mentions Heraclius’s horse-armour. The emperor’s horse “took a lance-thrust in
the flank and received many sword-blows to the face [but], because he [the horse]
was wearing armour of layered felt, he was unharmed, nor did the sword
have any effect”. In 627 (see there) the emperor rode a horse protected by armour
of “sinew”, presumably ‘boiled’ (hardened) leather, cuir bouilli. – Not literally
boiled but softened by soaking in water or wax, then shaped and let dry.

Suinthila or Swintila, Visigoth king of Spain. The Visigoths finally take the last
Byzantine foothold in south-east Spain. Suinthila’s troops eliminated the
Byzantine enclave in the period 621-25. Collins 2004: 77 suggests that Cartagena
fell “around 625”.
Post-Antique Latin: The historian and scholar Isidore, bishop of Seville, wrote
his encyclopaedic Etymologiae during this reign. He quotes from 154 authors,
both Christian and pagan. Many of the Christian authors he had read in the
originals; of the pagans, many he consulted only in current compilations.

The Chronology of Heraclius’s Eastern Campaigns

Here we contrast the chronology proposed by Treadgold, 1997: 294 ff, with that
of Nicolle 1994 who follows Theophanes.

The Army of Thrace is transferred to Asia, to bolster the troops already there.
Heraclius drills his forces to a high state of readiness.

622, July:
From Cilicia, the emperor leads his army into Cappadocia, against Shahrvaraz.
When the Byzantines turns towards Armenia, the Persian army follows. In
September Heraclius defeats Shahrvaraz (the date can be fixed absolutely from
an eclipse mentioned by Theophanes). Then Heraclius returns to Constantinople,
apparently leaving the army in or near Armenia. Nicolle concurs.

Winter 622-23:

Heraclius was in the West, dealing with the Avars.

Winter 623-24:
The Byzantine army wintered in Azerbaijan (ancient Albania).

Heraclius retakes Theodosiopolis in what had been Byzantine Armenia. Then he
proceeds against Dvin, the capital of Persian Armenia, which he sacked. (Nicolle,
following Theophanes, puts this in 623.) Next, he invaded the Persian province of
Atropatene, which is our southern Azerbaijan and N Iran. By summer, his army
was over halfway to Ctesiphon. The Persians came against him but pulled back.
Continuing on, the emperor stopped in N Iran to sack Ganzaca and destroy its
fire temples. Nicolle, following Theophanes, puts this in 623. Next he took the
shah’s summer palace in the mountains. By now it was autumn. Heraclius
decided to turn around and proceed to Caucasian Albania, formerly a Persian
protectorate, and go into winter quarters there.

Winter 624-25:
Albania (Azerbaijan).

625, spring:
Heraclius marches SW from Albania into Suinia [NE of Lake Van], a district of
Persian Armenia. There he was threatened by three separate Persian armies, and
routed them all. He decided to winter in Byzantine Armenia, and, as he withdrew
past Lake Van, the Persians followed. Another Byzantine victory followed, and
Heraclius took winter quarters beside Lake Van.

Winter 625-26:
Armenia (Lake Van).


Heraclius takes Amida in what had been Byzantine Mesopotamia. Learning that
the Persians are marching away from him towards Constantinople, he turned to
intercept Sharvaraz in Cappadocia. Nicolle appears to place this in 625. After an
inclusive clash, the emperor now divided his forces. One corps he led to the
Caucasus. A second corps (12,000 men) was sent to aid Constantinople and a
third, larger corps went into eastern Anatolia to check another Persian army
proceeding westwards. In June Shahrvaraz’s army reached the Sea of Marmara
opposite Constantinople. There a combined Avar-Slav siege was defeated. A large
part of the Persian corps perished.

Winter 626-27:
The three Byzantine corps wintered separately. Heraclius was in Iberia (modern-
day Georgia).

627, summer:
The bulk of the Byzantine forces in Anatolia marched to join the emperor in
Iberia. Meanwhile Heraclius’ own corps defeated and killed the Persian
commander Sharaplakan. Late summer: With Iberian and Lazican* allies,
Heraclius led a large combined army deep into Persian territory. Nicolle puts this
in 626. December, in Assyria: At Nineveh, near modern Mosul, the Byzantines
and their northern allies crushed the Persians in a major battle.

(*) From east and west Georgia respectively. Iberia lay inland; Lazica
bordered the Black Sea.

Winter 627-28:
The winter campaign continues. The Rhomaniyans capture Dastigerd, the shah’s
favourite palace. An offer of peace was rejected, so Heraclius proceeded towards
the enemy capital Ctesiphon. It was protected by a canal in high flood, so the
Byzantines turned back to Atropatene [i.e., NNE to northern Iran]. Khusrau was
rapidly overthrown.

(622:) Muhammad and Abu Bakr flee Mecca for Medina: the Muslim
"Hegira" or hijra, 'emigration'. This will become the base year for the
Islamic calendar. Cf 624.

NE Asia Minor: “In this year Chosroes, emperor of the Persians, appointed as his
commander Sarablangas [Pers. Sharaplakan], an energetic man filled with great
vanity; and having entrusted him with the contingents of the so-called
Chosroegetai and Perozitai [elite regiments], sent him against Herakleios in
Albania [modern Georgia].” – Theophanes, online at;
accessed 2009.
In late 622 when Heraclius moved further east—probably on the Satala*-
Theodosiopolis road—the Persian army had no other choice but to follow. In

February 623, after several failed attempts to come to grips with the Romans and
intense skirmishing, Shahrbaraz decided to attack. Defeated by Heraclius, he
The cleric and poet George of Pisidia was taken along as chaplain on this
expedition, expecting (as indeed happened) that George would glorify the
emperor in verse. A J Butler 1902: 123, perhaps unkindly called his poems
“tedious”. Tastes differ: Michael Psellus, fl. AD 1067, compares him with, and
even prefers him to, Euripides; but the later may not have been known in detail to
Psellus (Both the poets used iambic trimeters.)

(*) Satala was near today’s Gumushane, which is south of Trabzon.

Theodosiopolis is today’s Erzerum. In other words, the battle was fought
somewhere NW of Erzerum.

1. Anatolia: The Persians again briefly occupy Caesarea* and sack Ancyra. The
sequel exemplifies the >>THE END OF ANTIQUITY<<. When Ancyra was
reoccupied by the East Romans, they left most of the town empty, and it was
reconstituted thereafter as a hilltop fortress-village (Mango p.72).

(*) At about this time, Chosroes wrote thus to Heraclius: “Have I not destroyed
you Romans? You say you trust in God; why then has he not delivered out of my
hand Caesarea, Jerusalem, Alexandria? … Could I not also destroy
Constantinople?” (quoted in Norwich 1988: 284). Cf version below, under 624.
Indeed the attack on Constantinople was attempted in 626: see there.

2. The East: Heraclius sails to Trebizond and from there joins the army in Asia
Minor: the Persians withdraw. Theophanes says the Persian army numbered
Theophanes says that the emperor wintered (623-24) in Caucasian ‘Albania’
which is modern eastern Georgia-Azerbaijan..

3. Pagan Slav raiders attack Christian Crete. Source: Thomas of Emesa, also the
Book of the Caliphs: text in Palmer et al. 1993: 18; Obolensky, p.79.
Whether they came from the NW (via Cythera) or the north (via the Cyclades),
it was a long way across open ocean in the dug-out mono-hulls typically deployed
by the Slavs. Conceivably, of course, they could have commandeered some Greek
galleys and their crews. At a guess, via Cythera seems more likely, as the
Byzantines still controlled the Cyclades …

The East: Heraclius again invaded Armenia, defeated the Persians, and, as noted,
ravaged Azerbaijan (623–24 or more likely 624-25).
Theophanes’ chronology runs thus: March 623 to Armenia; 20 April: Heraclius
invades Persian territory and proceeds in pursuit of Khosroes towards Gazakon
or Ganzaka, modern-day Takab or Takòt-e Solayman, and then Thebarmais
(Thebarmes). Takab is in the far NW of present-day Iran. Treadgold dates this to

End of summer: Heraclius withdraws to Albania (the eastern Caucasus) for the
winter. Late 623: Persian troops under Sarablangas follow as the Byzantine army
retires to Albania but do not attack.
Spring 624: Heraclius again invades Persian territory, his Byzantine army now
strengthened by Lazikan, Abasgian and Iberian allies. Two Persian armies came
against him, but Heraclius pushed past them, only to be faced with a third
Persian army. All three were defeated. This seems to have taken place in the
borderlands between ‘Persarmenia’ or eastern Armenia and Mesopotamia
(TCOT: 19). Treadgold prefers to date this to 625.
The army under Khosroes that withdrew from Gazakon or Ganzaca in 623/24
numbered “40,000” (TCOT: 16)
Theophanes: “On 20 April [623 according to him] the emperor invaded Persia.
When Chosroes learnt of this, he ordered Sarbarazas [Sarbaros, Shahrvaraz] to
turn back; and, having gathered his armies from all of Persia, he entrusted them
to Sain [Shahin], whom he commanded to join Sarbarazas with all speed and so
proceed against the emperor”.

624: Muhammad designates Mecca, replacing Jerusalem, as the correct

direction in which to kneel for prayer.

c. 624:
1. The East: According to Sebeos, Chosroes wrote thus to Heraclius:
“You claim confidence in your God, yet how was it that your troops did not save
Caesarea, Jerusalem and great Antioch from my hands? And could it be that even
now you do not know that land and sea has been made obedient to me. Now it is
only Constantinople which I have been unable to dig up. Yet, I will forgive all
your faults. Bring your wife and children and come here, and I shall give you
fields, vineyards and olive-trees by which you may live; and we shall look upon
you affectionately. Do not deceive yourself with your vain hopes, for how can that
Christ who was unable to save himself from the Jews (but was crucified instead)
save you from me? For [even] if you descend to the bottom of the sea, I shall
stretch forth my hands and seize you.” —At;
accessed 2005.

2. Macedonia: Further Pagan Slavs enter the Aegean region in numbers.

Thessalonica is briefly invested, but a storm destroys the Slav dug-out boats or
'sail-canoes' (Browning p.38).

3. End of East Roman rule in Spain: Not until ca. 624 [or ?621] did a Visigothic
king (Suinthila) finally dislodge the empire from Cartagena and Malaga.


Browning 1992: 70 and Rautman p.49 note that in this period public baths
seem to have gradually gone out of use in those towns which survived in their

original locations. The towns that were rebuilt or moved to a new location usually
had none at all. The exception was in the Capital, where the public baths
continued, a further example of the gulf that was growing between the urban
population and the people of the provinces. –Magdalino 1990; also Yegül in
Caraher et al. 2008: 171-73.
There were still baths operating in Lombard Benevato around AD 810; but
again they may have been used just by the ruling caste (see Skinner 1997: 40)

Major campaign against Persia.
Proceeding from Caesarea, Heracles’s army ousts (624) the Persians from
Armenia and proceeds into present-day Azerbaijan andf N Iran. As we noted, his
troops systematically destroyed the fire temples of the Persian cities while
campaigning in this region, in revenge for the Persian desecration of Christian
Jerusalem. Notably they destroyed the temple at Thebarmes [Thebarmais], the
reputed birthplace* of Zoroaster. Thebarmes is usually considered the same as, or
near, Takht-i Sulaiman (Farsi: Takht-e Soleymân) about 30 km NNE of Takâb in
today’s West Azarbaijan province of Iran. Takab lies west of the southern point of
the Caspian Sea and SSE of Tabriz.

(*) Textual evidence conflicts in regard to the actual birthplace of Zoroaster

and so the location is much debated.
Yasnas 9 & 17 cite the Ditya River in Airyanem Vaejah (Pahlavi Eran
Wej), or "Homeland of the Aryans," as his home and the scene of his first
appearance, indicating broadly somewhere between the Caucasus and south
Asia. On the other hand, the Bundasisn or "Creation" (20, 32 and 24, 15)
places his birth and his father’s home near the Dhraja River. This same text
identifies Eran Wej, “the Iranian expanse”, with the district of Aran on the
river Aras (Araxes), close by the north-western frontier of the Medes. This
refers to the borderland between ancient Armenia and ancient Azerbaijan.
According to Yasna 59, 18, the zarathustrotema or supreme head of the
Zoroastrian priesthood, at a later time, namely during the Sassanid dynasty,
resided in Ragha (Rai), the Iranian city of Rayy, nowadays a suburb of
Tehran. The Persian Muslim writer Shahrastani has endeavoured to solve
the conflict by arguing that Zoroaster’s father was from Atropatene or
southern Azerbaijan, while his mother was from Rayy.

Thus Theophanes: “Setting out from Gazakos, the emperor reached Thebarmais,
which he entered and burnt down the temple of Fire as well as the entire city; and
he pursued Chosroes in the defiles of the land of the Medes. Chosroes went from
place to place in this difficult terrain, whilst Herakleios, as he was pursuing him,
captured many towns and lands.” – at

Khazars: Following the East Roman campaign against Persia (589), the Khazars
had reappeared in Armenia, though it was not till 625 that this people, long

known to Persians and Armenians as Khazirs and to the Romans as Akatzirs,

take their place as ‘Khazars’ in the Romanic annals. The khan or khakan, enticed
by the promise of an imperial princess, furnished (625 or 626) Heraclius with
(says Theophanes) “40,000” men for his Persian war, and shared in the victory
over Chosroes at Nineveh in today’s N Iraq. (Many deserted before the the battle
of Nineveh.)

c. 625:
1. The West: The Maltese islands get a separate mention in Descriptio orbis
Romani, the civil-geographical list of George of Cyprus, dated to around 600. He
places Melite [Malta] and Gaudos [Gozo] in the section of Sicily, thereby
implying a political dependence.
On the other hand, another early seventh century text, the Istoria Suntomos of
Patriarch Nicephorus, makes reference to the dux of the island of Gaudo-melete.
Gaudo-melete is obviously a compound word formed of the respective Byzantine
names of the two islands, though the fact that Gaudos precedes Melite may not be
without significance. The relevant passage in the Istoria projects a picture of the
Maltese Islands as an outpost of the Empire to which political dissidents were
banished. —Mario Buhagiar 1997.

2. Italy: Romanisation of Longobard dress after 628: Until then, “they had
their hair parted on either side of their forehead, hanging down their face as far
as the mouth”. —Paul the Deacon’s description of paintings in Theodolinda’s (d.
628) palace at Monza, near Milan. It is implied that by Paul’s own time (fl. 770)
the Lombards, including of course himself, no longer dressed differently from
other Italians.
In full, Paul 4.22: “They shaved the neck, and left it bare up to the back of the
head, having their hair hanging down on the face as far as the mouth and parting
it on either side by a part in the forehead. Their garments [this would refer to
long tunics] were loose and mostly linen, such as the Anglo-Saxons are wont to
wear, ornamented with broad borders woven in various colours. Their shoes,
indeed, were open almost up to the tip of the great toe, and were held on by shoe
latchets interlacing alternately. But later [?after Theodolinda’s time*] they began
to wear trousers, over which they put (?) leggings [and?] shaggy woollen cloth
[tubrugos birreos] when they rode. But they had taken that from a custom of the
Romans.” Or: “Later they began to use leggings (osae), over which they put
tubrugos [and?] birreos when riding.” Postea vero coeperunt osis uti, super quas
equitantes tubrugos [et?] birreos mittebant.
The word osae/osis/hosis could mean trousers, leggings or gaiters. One writer
speaks of Gothic-style linen hosa as “close-fitting leg-bags”. Christie, Lombards,
has even translated it as ‘thigh boots’. In Isidore of Seville (Etym. 19: 22: 30)
tubrucus means ‘legging(s) that cover trousers and shins’. But the exact meaning
of tubrugos birreos remains uncertain. Cf Latin birrus, birri ‘woollen rain-
Presumably the top half of the body was clothed by a shirt or short tunic.

(*) The monk of Salerno in the Chronicum Salernitanum says that


Theodolinda’s son, king Adaloald, AD 616-626, was the first who wore
trousers or leggings (osa). Iste primum calcavit [sic: ?calciavit**] osam
part[h]icam. “That one (he) first put on Parthian trousers”. Latin text in
Walter Pohl & Helmut Reimitz 1998: 44; my translation, MO’R.

(**) Calciavit: ‘he has put his feet in (something)’ vs calcavit ‘he has trod
under foot’.

Three Persian armies converge on Persian Armenia, but Heraclius defeats them
all (Treadgold 1997: 296). Cf 627.
The majority view would place the outmanoeuvring by Heraclius of the three
Persian generals sent to defeat him in 625, rather than 624. A new chronology of
Heraclius' movements put forward by Constantin Zuckerman, "Heraclius in 625,"
Revue des études byzantines 60 [2002], 189-97, compresses events normally
placed in 624 and 625 into the one year, 624.

Khusro raised three separate armies to trap the Greek Romanics, but, in “one of
the most remarkable campaigns of the ancient world”, Heraclius out-
manoeuvred all three, defeating each of them in turn - a feat the American
military historians Ernest and Trevor Dupuy have argued places the East Roman
emperor among the great captains of history, alongside Alexander, Hannibal and
Julius Caesar. —

Treadgold 1997: “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.”

The Campaign of 625

The sequence of events as related in Theophanes and with his chronology: March
625: From Syria Heraclius leads his army to the Tigris River and the fortress-
towns of Martryopolis and Amida. Meanwhile Sarabaros (Shahrvaraz) has
assembled a Persian army east of the Euphrates. Heraclius raids across the
Euphatres before retruning to Germaniceia. The two armies came at each other
on the opposite side of the Saraos River. After an inconclusive clash, the
Byzantines retire to Sebasteia before wintering in the upper Halys valley (TCOT:

Theophanes under 625: “As for Sarbaros, he collected his scattered army and
went after him. The emperor picked a band of soldiers and sent them to guard the
passes leading to his position; and sallying forth to the eastward passages, he

moved to confront Sarbaros. He crossed the Nymphios river and reached the
Euphrates, where there was a pontoon bridge made of rope and boats.”

The End of Antiquity

By 625: The Slavic invasions and plague had already brought about urban
collapse in the Balkans (Soltysiak 2006). Except for a number of towns whose
garrisons were maintained from the sea, and the east coast of the Peloponnesus,
the whole Greek peninsula was lost to Rhomaniya-Byzantium for
nearly two centuries. As noted above, except in Salonika [Thessaloniki] and
the island of Paros, "not a single Early Christian church remained standing in
all of Greece" (Obolensky p.80).

East Britain, or better ‘Anglo-Saxonia’: The second wife of the ‘pagan’ king
Edwin of Northumbria, the northernmost Anglo-Saxon realm, was
Ethelburga, died c. 647. She was the daughter of Ethelbert of Kent, a
‘pagan’, and his Christian wife Bertha, herself daughter of the Frankish
(Merovingian) king of Paris. Ethelburga’s marriage to Edwin in 625
triggered the conversion of the north of England to Christianity.
Edwin converted to the ‘Roman’ religion in 627; but this was not decisive:
his successor reverted to ‘paganism’ (or the True Faith as of course most
saw it). It was not until the reign of Ethelburga’s son Oswald, d.642, that the
whole ruling caste in Northumbria finally went over to Christianity
(Wikipedia, 2007,under ’Oswald’).
The enemies of the Anglo-Saxons in the west and north-west, the post-
imperial “Celts” or Britons of Wales and Strathclyde, or at least their ruling
stratum, had been Christian since late Roman times. A letter written already
by St Patrick, d. 493, to ‘king Coroticus’—if the latter was indeed a king in
‘Celtic’ Strathclyde—indicates that the Christianisation of southern Scotland
had made considerable progress by that time.

b. Heracleonas, future emperor, son of Heraclius and Martina.

The Exarch of Byzantine Italy was Isaac. According the Greek inscription in verse
on his funerary urn at Ravenna, he was an Armenian “of an illustrious family”,
“companion of kings in battle”, and “commanded the army of the east and of the
west” (translated in Cadell’s Journey in Cariniola, 1820 p.34; Isaac’s earlier
military career had been in the East with Heraclius). Overall, according to
Richards p.35, his governorship was a notable period of imperial consolidation
and military success against the Lombards. Cf 630.
Hutton, in his Ravenna, 1913, took a different view: “Isaac the Armenian was
appointed and he ruled, as his epitaph tells us, for 18 years, 625-643. Isaac's rule
[or its final year] was not fortunate for the imperialists. He is probably to be
acquitted of the murder [in 630/31] of Taso, Lombard duke of Tuscia, but it is
certain that Rothari [acc. 636: see there], the Lombard king in his time, [here

Hutton quotes Paulus Diaconus:] "took all the cities of the Romans which are
situated on the sea-coast from Luna in Tuscany to the boundary of the Franks [=
the greater Genoa region]; also he took and destroyed Opitergium [Oderzo], a
city between Treviso and Friuli [i.e. north of Venice], and with the Romans of
Ravenna he fought [AD 643] at the river of Aemilia which is called Scultenna
(our Panaro River) [= the Modena-Bologna region]. In this fight 8,000 fell on
the Roman [Byzantine] side, the rest fleeing away." Cf 636.

A different translation of Paulus 4.45 reads thus: “King Rothari [acc. 636] then
captured all the cities of the Romans [Byzantines] which were situated upon the
shore of the sea from the city of Luna (the port of Luni) in Tuscany up to the
boundaries of the Franks. Also he captured and destroyed Opitergium (Oderzo) a
city placed between Tarvisium (Treviso) and Forum Julii (Friuli: Cividale). He
waged war [in 643] with the Romans of Ravenna [led by the exarch Isaac] near
the river of Emilia [a tributary of the Po: near Modena] which is called the
Scultenna (Panaro). In this war 8,000 fell on the side of the Romans and the
remainder took to flight.” (Isaac was probably killed in this battle.)


In 626 Byzantium still ruled most of the Mediterranean basin, from North Africa
and Sicily to Asia Minor. The Eastern provinces - Syria, Palestine and Egypt -
were in the hands of the Persian shah, but as we know from hindsight, only
temporarily. Slavic tribes had irrupted into, and settled in, the Balkans.
Peninsular Italy was divided between the Lombards and the Empire. And in
present-day Spain, the Visigoths now had full control, having recently ousted the
Byzantines from their former south-eastern enclave.

1. The East: Even when pregnant, the empress Martina accompanied Heraclius.
Heraclonas, perhaps her fourth child, was born at Lazica in 626 while Heraclius
was on campaign against the Persians, and she was with him at Antioch (with a
child) when the news was received of the serious defeat by the Arabs at the river
Yarmuk in August 636 (Garland, ‘Martina’, 1999).

Persians, Avars and Slavs besiege Constantinople, 626

2. Siege of Constantinople: While the emperor is in the East with the army, two
armies: the first a Persian and then an Avar-Slav army approach the capital. The
latter supposedly comprised “80,000” men; 18,000 would be more credible
The patriarch Sergius led a litany to the monastery of the Panagia Odigitria or

Hodegetria: an icon, believed to have been painted by St Luke, of the “All-holy

Guide”, i.e. Our Lady ‘of the Sign’ [she points to the Redeemer], just before the
final attack of the Avars, and very soon a huge storm crushed the enemy fleet, and
so eventually saved Constantinople. The storm was credited as a miracle of the
Virgin Mary.

Sequence of events according to Theophanes (TCOT: 22ff):

Khosroes recruited more troops and gave an army each to his generals Sain or
Shahin and Sarbaros [Pers. Shahvaraz]. The larger force under Sain was
apparently as large as 75,000 men. Sarbaros is sent (before June 626) west to
attack Constantinople. Learning of this, the emperor divided his army into three
divisions. One was sent to aid Constantinople. Another, under his brother
Theodore, was sent against Sain’s army. Heracles himself took the third to Lazika
to negotiate an alliance with the Khazars.
Theodore defeated Sain’s army. Heraclius meanwhile joined up with a large
Khazar force of “40,000” men west or NW of Tiflis (Lazica: modern Georgia), and
the combined Khazar-imperial army proceeded south into Persian territory.
Meanwhile (June 626) Sarabaros reached Chalcedon and the Avars came
overland through Thrace to Constantinople while their, or rather the Slavs’, dug-
out boats came through the Bosporus and into the Golden Horn. After a “10-day”
siege the Avars withdrew but the Persians wintered around Chalcedon.
Theophanes, AD 626: “As for Sarbaros, he [the shah] dispatched him
[Sarbaros] with his remaining army against Constantinople with a view to
establishing an alliance between the western Huns who are called Avars and the
Bulgars, Slavs, and Gepids, and so advancing on the City and laying siege to it.
When the emperor learnt of this, he divided his army into three contingents: the
first he sent to protect the City; the second he entrusted to his own brother
Theodore, whom he ordered to fight Sain; the third part he took himself and
advanced to Lazica.”

Meanwhile, perhaps in September 626: but most modern scholars say 627,
Heraclius led his Rhomaniyans and Khazars into Persia territory, or rather some
of the Khazars: many deserted when they learnt the campaigning would continue
into winter. Khosroes dispatched an army under Rhazates against Heraclius.
From Gazakon, Rhazates’ army followed that of Heraclius toward Nineveh
(modern Iraq) which the emperor reached on 1 December 627. There on 12
December he crushed Rhazates in battle. 23 Dec: Khosroes withdraws from
Dastigard to Ctesiphon.

The Land and Sea Siege of Constantinople, 626

The Chronicon Paschale, a Byzantine chronicle, says that Shahr-Waraz, in Gk:

Sarbaros, arrived to take over the command of the Persians at Chalcedon in late
June 626, a few days before the arrival before Byzantium of the Avars and Slavs
led by the Khakân or khan* on 29 June 626. The Slavs are described as all on foot

and lacking armour (Fine 1991: 43). The Avars by contrast were of course a well-
equipped cavalry force,

(*) The name of this khan, unlike his predecessor Bayan II and his successor
Kubrat, has not survived in the written record.

The siege failed owing to the fact that the Rhomaniyan galleys retained their
command of the sea and so prevented the planned co-operation between the
Avars and the Persians. Thereupon the Khakân sullenly retired with his baffled
and starving troops.

See next: The term manganon was used to cover siege engines, but the more
technical term manganikon emerged in the seventh century. The word is first
used in the Chronicon Paschale describing the Avar machines at the siege of
Constantinople in 626. This itself is an early work, further reinforcing the belief
that the Avars were the people who introduced the trebuchet to the East
Romans. - Stephen McCotter 2003.

Theophanes Confessor: “As for Sarbaros, he attacked Chalcedon while the Avars
approached the City by way of Thrace with a view to capturing it. They set in
motion many engines against it and filled the gulf of the Horn with an immense
multitude [of men], beyond all number, whom they had brought from the
Danube in carved boats. After investing the City by land and sea for 10 days, they
were vanquished by God's might and help and by the intercession of the
immaculate Virgin, the Mother of God. Having lost great numbers, both on land
and on sea, they shamefully returned to their country.” - The Chronicle of
Theophanes Confessor, Byzantine and Near Eastern History AD 284-813,
translated by Cyril Mango and Roger Scott (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).

Gibbon: “Sarbar, the general of the third [Persian] army, penetrated through the
provinces of Asia to the well-known camp of Chalcedon [the Persians had come
this way before], and amused himself with the destruction of the sacred and
profane buildings of the Asiatic suburbs, while he impatiently waited the arrival
of his Scythian friends [the Avars] on the opposite side of the Bosphorus. On the
29th of June, 30,000 barbarians, the vanguard of the Avars, forced the Long
Wall* [in inner Thrace], and drove into the capital a promiscuous crowd of
peasants, citizens and soldiers. Four-score thousand [80,000] of his native
subjects, and of the vassal tribes of Gepidae, Russians, Bulgarians, and
Sclavonians, advanced under the standard of the Chagan [the khan of the Avars];
a month was spent in marches and negotiations, but the whole city was invested
on the 31st of July, from the suburbs of Pera and Galata to the Blachernae and
seven towers; and the inhabitants descried with terror the flaming signals of the
European and Asiatic shores.”

(*) The long wall in rural Thrace; not to be confused with the outer walls of
Constantinople. Also called the Long Walls or the Wall of Anastasios I, a
system of fortifications erected west of Constantinople and extending a distance

of two days journey. With a thickness of 3.3 metres and a height over five metres,
these walls were over 45 km long and extend from Selymbria on the Sea of
Marmara to the Black Sea. The wall is made of hard pinkish mortar with nodules
of brick. The wall has towers (rectangular and polygonal), forts with gateways
and an outer moat. Originally constructed by Anastasios, the wall proved
ineffective and was many times penetrated by invaders. It was no longer
maintained after about this time and became just another ruin in the

More prosaically we can say that a two-sided siege ensued as the Persians arrived
via Chalcedon (July). The ‘pagan’ Slavs in their “canoes” and ‘transport rafts’
crossed to the eastern shore of the Bosporus. There they picked up thousands of
Persian troops, but the Byzantine navy intercepted and sank them on their way
back. Meanwhile on the west, the Avars deployed 12 siege-towers; they failed to
breach the walls (7 August 626). Seeing the Avars fail to gain the surrender of
the City, the Persians decided in due course to withdraw (early 627). That is, the
Persians remained encamped on the Bosphoros, within sight of their objective
but unable to cross over to it, until the winter of 626-27.

Gibbon: “During 10 successive days, the capital was assaulted by the Avars, who
had made some progress in the science of attack; they advanced to sap or batter
the wall, under the cover of the impenetrable tortoise [infantry in a closed-shield
formation]; their engines discharged a perpetual volley of stones and darts; and
12 lofty towers of wood exalted the combatants to the height of the neighbouring
But the senate and people were animated by the spirit of Heraclius, who had
detached to their relief a body of 12,000 cuirassiers [armoured cavalry]; the
powers of fire and mechanics were used with superior art and success in the
defence of Constantinople; and the galleys, with two and three ranks of oars,
commanded the Bosphorus, and rendered the Persians the idle spectators of the
defeat of their allies. The Avars were repulsed; a fleet of Sclavonian canoes was
destroyed in the harbour; the vassals of the Chagan [khagan, Avar monarch]
threatened to desert, his provisions were exhausted, and, after burning his
engines, he gave the signal of a slow and formidable retreat.”
The available Byzantine soldiers for the defence of the city, including the last-
minute reinforcements, numbered about 12,000 men, perhaps more.* The walls
had been strengthened, and ample provisions had been made. Grain, now that
Egypt was lost, came from the rich, or perhaps better: least poor, province of
Africa, i.e. Tunisia.

(*) According to the Chron. Pasch., 718.18-22, there were some 12,000
cavalry soldiers in the city in 626, some of whom were Armenians (ibid.
724.11; cf. G. Pisid., Bell. Av. 280f). These must have been mostly those
troops sent by Heraclius. There is no report of their arrival, but they are
described as elite troops (Chron. Pasch., loc.cit.); while Heraclius' brother
Theodore arrived later, as the siege was raised (Chron. Pasch. 726.4-10),
having encountered and defeated the army of the Persian general Sahin in

the East (cf. Theophanes, 315.17-22).

The empire's naval forces, or those available at the capital, comprised 70

dromons or large oared war-galleys. On 7 August they prevented the Persians
linking up with the Avars.
The fleet was strong enough to intercept every attempt to cross the Bosphorus,
thereby cutting off the Persians from their comrades-in-arms, for the latter had
not brought with them (say from Syria or Egypt) any naval equipment or boats, a
fact that gives some strength to the conclusion that they did not really intend to
capture Constantinople themselves, but had made the move out of strategic
considerations, i.e. to compel Heraclius to withdraw his main force from

1. Seventh visit of the plague since 542. It hit Palestine in 626-27 and Persia in
628. —Stathakopoulos 2004: 120.

2. fl. the poet George of Pisidia.

His works include, to cite the Latin titles of the Greek originals: 1: "De
expeditione Heraclii imperatoris contra Persas, libri tres", ‘Concerning the
expedition of the emperor Heraclius against the Persians in three books’, an
account of the Persian war, which shows him to have been an eyewitness of it; 2:
"Bellum Avaricum" (or Avarica: ‘The Avar War’), describing the defeat of the
Avars who attacked Constantinople in 626, and were defeated, during the
absence of the emperor and his army; and 3: "Heraclias" or "De extremo
Chosroae Persarum regis excidio" (‘Concerning the final/distant defeat/military
ruin of king Chosroes of the Persians’) - written after the death of Chosroes, who
was assassinated by his mutinous soldiery at Ctesiphon, in 628. The latter poem
deals mainly the deeds of the emperor and does not contain very much about
Chosroes; it is valued today not so much for any literary merit (here modrn tastes
differ from medieval), as for being a principal source for the history of the reign
of Heraclius.

1a. The East: Twenty years of war had depleted Persia’s warrior class; in 627
Khosrow had to raise “an army of slaves and foreigners” (thus Theophanes, p.
263 A; and see detailed discussion and sources in Baynes, 1904, and Gerland,
1894 pp. 330ff).

Final Defeat of the Persians

1b. The Byzantine army left the vicinity of Tiflis in September 627 and surprised
Chosroes with a winter campaign (it was then united again with the forces
returned from Asia Minor).
Heraclius proceeds slowly down into Sassanid Persia, present-day northern

Iraq, and wins the Battle of Nineveh near present-day Mosul (NB: in winter:
December 627).
The Byzantine forces numbered “70,000” on this campaign according to
Tabari, and Theophanes puts the allied Khazars at 40,000 men (cited by
Treadgold 1997: 934). We may prefer to believe that the combined Byzantine-
Khazar army was perhaps as large as 70,000: say 35,000 “Romans” and 35,000
On 12 December 627, the main armies of Heraclius, in personal command, and
Khosrau's, commanded by the general Rhahzadh [Gk: Rhazates], met at Nineveh.
Counting both sides, well over 100,000 soldiers may have been engaged in the
battle. The battle, it is said, began with a personal combat between the emperor
(about 52 years old) and the Persian general, Rhazates, in which the latter was
killed, and ended with the destruction of the Persian army (Kaegi 2003: 167f).
At the height of the battle, or before it began, Rhahzadh suddenly challenged
Heraclius to single combat with the hope of forcing the Greeks to flee. Although
aged over 50, Heraclius accepted the challenge and, spurring his horse forward,
with a single blow struck off Rhahzadh's head, taking from the dead Persian his
shield of 120 gold plates and gold breastplate as trophies. Or so says one

Long-range Archery and Stirrups

Mark-Anthony Karantabias has proposed that at Nineveh Herakleios used an

ambush tactic, drawing the Persians onto the plain and taking advantage of the
mist to use the encirclement maneouvre that Maurice (AD 600) describes in his
Strategikon. Kantabias stresses, I believe rightly, that the imperial army probably
used its advantage in archery for long range attacks, as also mentioned in
Maurice. But we may query the writer’s claim that the stirrup-clad Byzantines
prevailed over the Persians only because the latter lacked stirrups. —
Karantabias 2006.


At Nineveh the emperor’s horse wore armour: “The emperor's tawny [or roan]
horse called Dorkon [‘Antelope’] was wounded in the thigh by some infantryman
who struck it with a spear. It [the horse] also received several blows of the sword
on the face, but, wearing as it did a cataphract made of sinew [?leather], it was
not hurt, nor were the blows effective” (thus Theophanes). Harry Turtledove
translates this passage thus: “There were also many sword strokes at its (the
horse’s) face but as it was wearing leather armour it was not harmed nor were
the blows effective” (TCOT: 24). The armour probably covered just the head and
front of the horse.

2. Approximate date of the anonymous Paschal Chronicle, a tabular history of the

world, written in non-literary Greek [which the Byzantines knew as Rhomaike:

the 'Roman language']:

From 600 to 627, that is, for the last years of the Emperor Maurice, the reign
of Phocas, and the first 17 years of the reign of Heraclius, the author of the
Paschal Chronicle is a contemporary historian, and his narrative is "in every way
quite interesting" (says the Catholic Encyclopaedia).

January: Dastagerd, the Sassanian royal residence, falls to the Byzantines. Then:
evacuation of the Persian capital Ctesiphon, Persian: Tisfun, on the Tigris south
of modern Baghdad, and overthrow of Chosroes/Khusrau II. Heraclius imposes
peace on Persia (Treadgold 1997: 298 f). Cf 635.

The East Romans entered Dastaegard, the King’s residence, on 4 or 6 January

628 [NB: during winter], where many Roman prisoners (and banners) were
liberated and much booty was taken. But not even now was Chosroes in a mood
to accept the peace proposals of Heraclius. He had fled to his capital, Ctesiphon,
assembling there his troops for a last-ditch stand.
Theophanes: “In his palace of Dastagerd the Roman army found 300 Roman
standards which the Persians had captured at different times. They also found the
goods that had been left behind, namely a great quantity of aloes and big pieces of
aloes wood, each weighing 70 or 80 lbs, much silk and pepper, more linen shirts
than one could count, sugar, ginger, and many other goods. Others found silver,
silken garments, woollen rugs, and woven carpets - a great quantity of them and
very beautiful, but on account of their weight they burnt them all. They also burnt
the tents of Chosroes and the porticoes he set up whenever he encamped in a
plain, and many of his statues. They also found in this palace an infinite number
of ostriches, gazelles, wild asses, peacocks, and pheasant, and in the hunting
park huge live lions and tigers” (emphasis added).

Chosroes was killed with the connivance of his son Shiroe [Gk: Siroes] at the end
of February 628. Shiroe took the name Kavad and ascended the throne as Kavad
II. He at once began peace negotiations with Heraclius and the status quo before
the war was restored with prisoners exchanged, relics and booty restored, and
Sassanian troops evacuated from all East Roman possessions. Cf 628-29:
Shahrbaraz usurps the throne.
Heraclius left Persia (8 April 628) and returned to Constantinople in triumph
(14 Sept 628). The True Cross was ceremonially presented in Hagia Sophia. See

2. Syria: Muhammad's legendary ‘Letter to Heraclius’: It was delivered, according

to pious legend, by Dihyah ibn Khalifah al Kalbi to the Byzantine governor of
Bostra, a town south of Damascus, and forwarded thence to Jerusalem. This
incident, if it were true, would have occurred in AD 628 when Heraclius was
returning victorious after defeating Chosroes II of Persia. He was at that time in
Homs [Emesa, Hims], from which (according to some) he made a pilgrimage on
foot to the Holy City [the preferred date for this is actually 630] in thanks to God

for the recovery of the Cross and other sacred items that had been lost.
We are told that Muhammad sent a letter to Heraclius inviting him to Islam
and that Heraclius responded. In summary, this pious tradition story tells of
Heraclius recognising, through his questioning of Abu Sufyan, Muhammad as
God's messenger and that he wanted to become a Muslim. However, faced with
pressure from his subjects, he changed his mind. The story is, of course, not
credible. See discussion in El Cheik 2004: 43-44.

Despite the final victory in 628, when the Byzantine forces marched back to
Constantinople, they traversed areas of the empire that had been permanently
and severely affected by the Persian campaign of 613-19. In particular, the
spacious classical cities of antiquity had been destroyed and abandoned, marking
the beginning, or culmination, of a complete change in living patterns.

Sources of Victory

Modern-day explanations for the Byzantine defeat of Persia tend to emphasise

Heraclius’s inspiring leadership, the quasi-crusading mentality of the campaign,
the economic support of the church, the harnessing of allies and the strategy he
pursued. —Howard-Johnson, 1999.

Edict by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius that all Jews will convert. This was one
of many such demands that were made periodically by emperors and other rulers
in Europe and the East. The very fact that demands such as these appear time
and again in the statute books means that they were more ineffective than
effective. Nevertheless, any such demand would mean difficult times for many of
the Jews who lived in the lands in question.

Persia: The general Shahrbaraz, Gk: Sarbaros, usurped the throne and killed
(April 629) the infant son of Kavad, Ardashir III, Gk: Ardaser, r. 628–629. But
after two months he was himself murdered (629), and Khosroes’ daughter
Bornae took the throne (Kaegi 2003: 185).

Heraclius meets Shahbaraz; the peace treaty was renewed (July 629). Armenia,
Syria, Palestine, Roman Mesopotamia and Egypt were restored to the empire.
The Holy Cross had already been handed over (628) to the Roman emissaries.
Heraclius himself brought it back to Jerusalem after an enthusiastic welcome in
Constantinople (629). The war was over, won at last.

1. Bearded Greeks: Heraclius replaced Latin imperial titles such as ‘Augustus’
with the Greek pistos en Christôi Basileus, "faithful in Christ, Sovereign" (strictly
speaking, in the plural: pistoi en Khrist’o Basileis, to include Heraclius’s son).
Basileus appears earlier in some official documents, but now on 21 March 629 for

the first time it appears in a novel (legal edict). —Kaegi 2003: 186.

The word basileus meant ‘king’ in Greek, and had been commonly used to
designate foreign rulers such as the king of the Persians, or even Attila.
Afterwards, however, Basileus came to mean more specifically the ruler of the
Roman (Byzantine) empire, and corresponded to the term ‘sovereign’ - until the
late 1100s when any king might be called thus. The term basileus Rhomaion first
appears on seals in the period 654-68 but not on coins until the time of Leo III,
acc. 717 (ODB under ‘basileus’).
Browning 1992: 38 notes that Heraclius was also the first legitimate emperor
for a long time to wear a beard: Justinian’s three successors, Justin II, Tiberius
and Maurice were depicted on their coins as clean-shaven. The usurper Phocas
was bearded, and beards were normal after Phocas’s and Heraclius’s time.

2a. Heraclius departs for Palestine with the fragment of the True Cross and with
his army marches into Jerusalem: probably on 21 March 629; some say in 630
(Kaegi, Heraclius p. 206; Treadgold 1997: 119; discussion in Grumel 1966).
According to one tradition, the 54 years old emperor walked the last stage, 200
Roman miles, into Jerusalem; another tradition has him entering the city on
horseback in imperial splendour.
The court poet George of Pisidia claimed that the Cross was superior to the Ark
of the Covenant, thereby declaring the superiority of Heraclius, the restorer of the
Cross, to David, who installed the Ark in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s Jewish inhabitants support him after a promise of amnesty. But
upon his entry into Jerusalem the local priests convince him that killing Jews is
a good deed. Hundreds of Jews are massacred, thousands flee to Egypt.
The Frankish King Dagobert I, encouraged by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius,
expels all Jews from Francia.

2b. The Persian garrison withdraws from Syria.

2c. The East: Pro-Byzantine Arab tribes defeat a Muslim raiding force at Mu’tah
[east of the Dead Sea, in modern Jordan]. One of the Muslim soldiers was Khalid
b. al-Walid, who would afterwards distinguish himself as the conqueror of the
Levant; he would became known as the ‘Sword of God’ (died 642: Kennedy 2008:
71, 76).

In Lombard Italy: d. Columbanus, first of the great Irish teacher-monks.

Heraclius and the True Cross - the latter “implausibly unharmed”, as Mango
notes - are received in Jerusalem on 21 March 630: or 629 according to some
(Mango in Rice 1965). As Haldon notes, this was seen as the crowning
achievement of the reign (Transformation p.46).

Muhammad is received in Mecca: unification of Arabia under the


Muslims. See 634.


2. Macedonia: Following a fire, the Church of St Demetrius in Thessaloniki was

almost entirely rebuilt. Its fine mosaics presumably date from the half-century
630-680. The style of dress depicted in the mosaic (c.640?) of St Demetrius,
flanked by the church's restorer Bishop John and its original founder, Leontius, is
late classical or ‘Justinianic’ rather than medieval Byzantine (Rice pp.65-66).

Armenia: When Heraclius had conquered the country and thus deprived the
Persians of their control for the second time (629), he obtained from the
Catholicos Ezr the condemnation of Nestorius and all ‘heretics’, without any
mention being made of the canons of Chalcedon. The union with the 'Greeks' thus
effected lasted during the lifetime of Heraclius (Kaegi 2003: 214). But at the
Synod of Tvin (Dvin, 645), Chalcedon would again be condemned.

By 630:

Contraction of the State Apparatus

General financial reorganisation, with centralisation of coin production: seven of

the lesser provincial mints originally founded in the previous century were
closed, namely, from west to east: Catania in Sicily [created in 582-83],
Thessalonica, Cyzicus near mod. Erdek on the southern side of the Sea of
Marmara, Nicomedia, Cherson (the Crimea), Cyprus and Antioch.
Just two in the West and two in the East were maintained: Carthage and
Ravenna, Constantinople and Alexandria (Haldon 1990: 186, 211, citing Hendy).
Nicomedia ceased to function after 627 or 629; Cyzicus and Thessalonica after
629. Not only did minting cease at Cyzicus; the town was, like many others,
abandoned later in the century, being superseded by a small settlement at Erdek
(Artakê) (probably in the 670s: see there) (Mango 1980: 71, 73; Morris in Laiou
ed., 2002).
The mints that were closed had specialised in the lesser currency of copper
coins, the medium of daily commerce. Silver had rarely been struck outside
Ravenna and Carthage, and gold had normally been limited to these mints and to
Constantinople, whose output far exceeded that of the Western mints.

Maximus: Some time after the accession of the emperor Heraclius in 610,
Maximus was made his private secretary. In 630, aged 50, he abandoned the
secular life and entered the monastery of Chrysopolis (Scutari), actuated, it was
believed, less by any longing for the life of a recluse than by the dissatisfaction he
felt with the Monothelite leanings of his master.
The date of his promotion to the abbacy is uncertain. In 633 he was one of the

party of Sophronius of Jerusalem, the chief original opponent of the

Monothelites, at the council of Alexandria; and in 645 he was again in Africa,
when he held in the presence of the governor and a number of bishops a
disputation with Pyrrhus, the deposed and banished patriarch of Constantinople,
which resulted in the (temporary) conversion of his interlocutor to the ‘orthodox’
Dyothelite view (Encyc. Brit. 1911 edn, under ‘Maximus’). See 653.

Gwent in modern SE Wales: Christian Britons beat back invading ‘pagan’

Anglo-Saxons. The Saxons under so-called ‘King’ Ceolwulf—better called
the ‘leading chief’ of the West Saxons—crossed the Severn River around
the year 630 and pressed hard upon the young king of Gwent, Meurig or
Maurikios (Maurice). The local monasteries were particularly badly hit by
their raids and the old retired king Tewdrig or Theodoric, until now a
hermit monk, decided to come out of retirement to defend the church and
help his son. They repelled the Saxons in a battle at Pont y Saeson or
‘Bridge of the Saxons’, near Tintern.
Modern historians question whether there was in fact a battle at Tintern,
and suggest instead that Tewdrig may have fought the Saxons near Bath,
on the eastern side of the Severn, and died on his way back to south Wales.

1. Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople opens discussion with other archbishops
about a new doctrine called Monoenergism, designed to unite the church. See

2. Persia: Khusraw's daughter Buran or Borandukht (630–631) ruled for a year.

On her death there was anarchy that seriously undermined the central authority
of the monarchy (631–632).

1. Heraclius celebrates a triumph in Constantinople.

2. Egypt: Cyrus, the Chalcedonian (non-Coptic)* bishop of Phasis, was appointed

by Heraclius as both the Melkite (imperial or ‘Greek’) patriarch of Egypt and as
the prefect in command of the military forces of that province of the empire. As
military commander, his duties included curbing religious separatism in the
province, by persuasion if possible but by arms if necessary. The Coptic ‘pope’ or
patriarch Benjamin, who was Cyrus's rival in the see of Alexandria, fled the area,
going from one isolated desert monastery to another to avoid capture. When
persuasion failed, Cyrus began to use force. The Copts were persecuted ruthlessly
and systematically (Kennedy 2008: 145).

(*) Chalcedonian or ‘dyophysite’ Christianity holds that Jesus Christ was or is one
person with two natures. Coptic or ‘monophysite’ Christianity holds that in Jesus
Christ the divine and the human are combined in one nature. Cyrus later (after
634) helped develop the compromise doctrine of monothelitism, in which the
two natures of Christ (divine and human) are combined in one will. Cf next.

3. Italy: (Or in 630:) The Lombard king Ariwald (Arioald) negotiated with the
exarch Isaac to have Isaac kill Taso, duke of Tuscany, a rival or suspected rival for
the throne. The quid pro quo was a promise by Ariwald to reduce by one-third the
annual tribute paid to him by the empire. Taso was lured to Ravenna and there
he was assassinated (A Jones et al. 1992: 720; also Fanning 1970: 44). How much
or how little the lower tribute (from three centenaria* to two) may have
contributed – if at all - to the largely successful tenure of Isaac, we do not know;
but the peace endured.

(*) A centenarium was a large leather bag containing 100 Roman pounds
(litrai) of gold, which could be made up of coins, ingots and/or plate. One
pound was equivalent to 72 standard gold coins or nomismata; thus, if paid
in coin, three centenaria represented 21,600 nomismata. The bag was
weighed so as not to have to count the coins . . .
At this time the annual pay of a soldier was 10 nomismata. So in principle
one centenarium would meet the salaries of just 720 soldiers (7,200 / 5).
But arms and equipment were extra. Morover the army of Italy (including
Sicily) might still have been as large as 16,000 . . . (Treadgold 1995: 147 and

1. Publication of the Monenergian or ‘one-energy’ doctrine: the emperor attempts
to mediate between ‘orthodoxy’ (dyophysitism) and the Monophysites. Later he
abandons monoergianism in favour of monothelitism. Cf 634, 638.

Death of Muhammad, 8 June 632. Abu Bakr is elected Muslim ruler or

Khalif or caliph: “successor”, i.e. Muslim monarch (632-34). Succeeded by
Umar I, Caliph 634-644.
According to dubious tradition, the Quran was edited and arranged, at
the direction of Abu Bakr, by Muhammad's secretary Zaid ibn Thabit.
“[Umar] sought to make the whole nation a great host of God; the Arabs
were to be soldiers and nothing else. They were forbidden to acquire landed
estates in the conquered countries; all land was either made state property
or was restored to the old owners subject to a perpetual tribute which
provided pay on a splendid scale to the army” (1911 ed of Encyc. Brit. under

Borders in 633, on the eve of the Muslim invasions

From map in Treadgold 1997: 302.

The border between the Muhammadan Arab empire and the Persian (Sassanian)
empire ran broadly along the lower Euphrates River. See 635.
The border between the Persians and Romans ran broadly south-north through
upper Mesopotamia: Persian Nisibis faced East Roman Dara. Cf 637 – Marash.
The border between Muslim Arabia and the Christian Roman or Byzantine
empire ran through what is now Jordan. Palestine and Syria were Roman:

Jerusalem, Bostra [Busra] and Damascus were Christian-Byzantine towns. Cf

633-34: Gaza.
Eastern Armenia, Iberia with its capital at Tiflis, and Lazica were Byzantine
protectorates; while Dvin was the capital of Persarmenia, a Persian protectorate
(our Azerbaijan). Cf 640.
Asia Minor was the heart and trunk of the empire. On the western Black Sea
coast, Byzantium ruled north as far as Mesembria [modern Nessebar] and Odessa
[Varna]. The lower Danube was a marchland contested between the Bulgars and
the Slavs. So weak was the Empire, that it was not until 658 (see there) that
Constantinople sought to reassert its authority in this region.

‘pagan’ Slav tribes occupied almost all of the Balkan interior - Illyricum, Epirus,
Thessaly and Thrace - with only part of the Peloponnesus and the coastal areas in
Byzantine hands. - The Slavs had been settled in Illyricum, modern-day Serbia-
Albania, since before 578, when Byzantium paid the Avars to come across the
Danube to punish them; the upshot of this ( - as we have seen) was the
elimination of imperial rule in the northern Balkans.
- In Thrace, imperial rule extended barely west of Arcadiopolis. Byzantium had
been struggling with the Slavs in Thrace since before 580. It is not clear
when Adrianople was abandoned by Byzantium, but the city was
not to be recovered until after 744. Cf 751.
- In Thessaly, Slav tribes controlled the whole coast. There was no overland
connection from Byzantine Thessaloniki to Byzantine Athens.

In the West, Byzantium ruled the Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia, the greater
Carthage region, Sicily and small parts of the Italian peninsula including Naples,
Rome and Ravenna. Most of the peninsula was ruled by the Lombard king and
several Lombard dukes, notably those at Spoleto and Benevento.

1. The East: The patriarchate of Jerusalem was held by Sophronius, the
Damascus-born Grecophone poet and historian. He lived to see the capture of the
town by the Muslim Arabs under Umar in 638.
In Palestine, antagonism to the ‘one-energy’ doctrine (monoenergism) found a
vociferous exponent in an elderly monk, Sophronios, who was acclaimed as
patriarch of Jerusalem by the clergy there, in late 633 or early in 634. He had
already travelled to Alexandria and Constantinople in an effort to prevent the
agreements reached by the other Melkite patriarchs Kyros (Cyrus) and Sergios,
who denounced him as a troublemaker.

(*) The name Melkite comes from the Syrian word malko, meaning "the
king's [men]", or Royalist, so called because they supported the Byzantine
Emperor by accepting the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

2. Muslim military expeditions: One Arab army drove the Persians from Bahrain
(633), while another penetrated into Palestine and occupied Byzantine Gaza
(winter of 633-34). See next: 634.2.

1. The patriarch of Jerusalem condemns the emperor’s new doctrine.
Monoenergism soon had vocal opponents, among them the orthodox
(dyophysite) monk Sophronius who became patriarch of Jerusalem in 634 AD.
The opposition to monoenergism would lead the patriarch of Constantinople,
Sergius, to propose a new doctrine, that of monotheletism, the belief in a single
will in Christ. Heraclius supported the new doctrine of Sergius and put it forth in
an edict known as the Ekthesis, and posted it in the narthex of Hagia Sophia in
638. This failed to settle the controversy as it was rejected by the Orthodox
(dyophysites), the Monophysites, and even (after some hesitation) the Church of

First Major Muslim-Christian Battle

2. Palestine and Syria: Muslim Arabs defeat the Romaics in a minor skirmish at
Dathin in Gaza (on 4 or 7 Feb), and again (July) at Ajnadayn, SW of Jerusalem, in
the first large scale Islamic-Christian battle (Kennedy 2008: 73ff). In the
meantime (May 634) they captured the major town of Bostra in SE Syria
(present-day Jordan), the first imperial stronghold to be taken. The Muslims
then proceeded to occupy all of southern Palestine except for Jerusalem and
Palestinian Caesarea.

At Ajnadayn, Khalid ibn al Walid's 15-18,000 Muslims defeated some 9-

10,000 Christians: East Romans, Armenians and Christian Arabs under
Baänes/Vahan and Theodore* (Nicolle 1994: 43). Or: nearly 20,000 Muslims
versus about 10,000 Romans (says Jandora 1990: 58. 133; Kennedy too, 2008:
78, says 20,000 Muslims). The few Byzantine survivors withdrew to Jerusalem
and other fortified sites. See 636: siege of Damascus.

(*) It is not clear whether this was Heraclius’s brother Theodore or the eunuch
sacellarius [provincial treasurer] Theodore Trithyrius. The sources differ. Tabari
says the Byzantine leader was a cubicularius, which suggests Trithyrius. For his
part, Nicolle, Yarmuk, p.49, believes the emperor’s brother was in command, and
that the sacellarius was given command only thereafter, when Heraclius ordered
his brother back to Constantinople in disgrace.

In his Christmas sermon of 634, the patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius focuses

on keeping the clergy in line with the Chalcedonian (dyophysite) view of God,
giving only the most conventional of warnings of the Muslim-Arab advance on
Palestine, commenting that the Arabs already controlled Bethlehem, just 10 km
away. He says: “As once that of the Philistines, so now the army of the godless
Saracens has captured the divine Bethlehem and bars our passage there,
threatening slaughter and destruction if we leave this holy city and dare to
approach our beloved and sacred Bethlehem.” Quoted by Kirby loc.cit.; also
Kennedy 2008: 345.

As related in a contemporary Syriac chronicle, “In the year 945, indiction 7, on

Friday 7 February ( = AD 634) at the ninth hour, there was a battle between the
Romans and the ‘Arabs of Muhammad’ (tayyaye d-M’h’m’t) in Palestine 12 miles
east of Gaza. The Romans fled, leaving behind the patrician Bryrdn, whom the
Arabs killed. Some 4,000 poor villagers of Palestine were killed there, Christians,
Jews and Samaritans. The Arabs ravaged the whole region”. —Thomas the
Presbyter, Chronicle, pp. 147-148 [p. 120], quoted by Peter Kirby 2003.

Battle of Ajnadyn

Day 1: According to Muslim accounts, the battle of Ajnadyn, near Jerusalem,

began with the action of the Roman (Byzantine) archers and slingers. The
Roman archers, with their better bows, out-ranged the Muslim bows, and to the
slingers the Muslims had no effective counter. Slings can launch lead pellets and
stones weighing 50 grams as far as 400 metres.
The Muslims, unable to do anything to offset this Rhomaic advantage, became
impatient to attack with sword and lance, but still their commander Khalid
restrained them. It was then decided to issue a challenge to individual combat,
the Arabs to be represented by a ‘champion’ named ‘Dhiraar’ or Zarrar ibn al-
Azwar. Because of the East Roman archers, Dhiraar kept on his coat of mail and
helmet, and in his hand carried a shield made of elephant hide, which had once
belonged to a Roman. Dhiraar killed several Romans, including two generals, one
of whom was the governor of Amman and the other the governor of Tiberius.
Now more champions came forward from both sides, some individually, others in
groups. Gradually, the duelling increased in extent and intensity, and continued
for about two hours, during which the Byzantine archers and slingers remained
inactive (Akram 1970).

The first day ended with an all-out clash that neither side won.

Day 2: Again there was duelling between champions. When Dhiraar killed one of
the imperial commanders, Theodore, the Muslims seized the opportunity to
charge. The Romans held them for some time until Khalid sent in his final
reserve. The Roman line soon collapsed under the weight of this final push. The
survivors fled in three directions (towards Gaza, Jaffa and Jerusalem). More were
killed during the subsequent pursuit than died in the main battle.

‘Romania Diminished’

“What do you think of the state of Romania? Does it stand as from the
beginning, or has it been diminished?”
“ … Caledonia, Britain, Spain, Egypt, and Africa; and those parts of Africa
where the feet of the bronze and marble steles of the Roman emperors can be still
observed, unquestionable signs of the domination the Romans at one time had
imposed, through the will of God, over all of the races. But today we see the
Romans humbled ...”
“The land of Persia ... Cappadocia ... Sicily will become desolate and her

inhabitants will meet slaughter and captivity. Hellas ... Romania [?Asia Minor]
will undergo destruction and her inhabitants put to flight. The islands of the sea
will become desolate and their inhabitants will perish through the sword and
captivity. Egypt, the East, and Syria will be loaded with an immeasurable yoke of
affliction.” —Thus the Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati, 634 AD, quoted in Jones
1986: 316 and various websites.
The Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizati, “The Teachings of James the Newly
Baptized”, is a 7th century Greek Christian anti-Jewish polemical tract. Although
set in Carthage in 634, it was written in Palestine sometime between 634 and 640
A.D. It contains a dialogue which purportedly took place on 13 July 634 between
Jacob, a recent compulsory convert to Christianity, and several Jews. The
mention of Syria may indicate that it was written after 636: see there.

Medina: Death of Caliph Abu Bakr (July). He is succeeded by Umar.

Armenia: In 628, after the fall of Khosrow, the Persians appointed an Armenian
noble Varaztirotz Bagratuni as governor of eastern Armenia. The Byzantine
section was also entrusted to an Armenian governor, Mezhezh (Mjej or Mezezius)
Gnouni. He quickly brought Armenia under Byzantine rule but was exiled for
plotting against Heraclius (635) [Encyc. Brit. 2005 under ‘Armenia’].

Palestine-Syria: Several clashes (635) between Muslim and imperial forces; then,
from March 636, first Muslim siege of Roman Damascus: the city falls after
perhaps six months but the Arabs soon withdraw - see 636 (Kennedy 2008: 78ff:
the various sources say the siege of Damascus lasted anything from four to 14
The Muslim commanders were Khalid b. al-Walid and Abu Ubayda.
Muslim sources tell us that as many as 30,000 troops were deployed in the
Syrian campaign but these seldom came together and they operated for most of
the time in smaller groups (Kennedy 2008: 57).


1. Palestine and Syria: The Byzantines reinforce their army in the East (May).
This included an expeditionary force sent from Thrace (Gellatin 1972: 143). In
response the Muslims abandon recently captured Damascus.
Then, on 20 August: Battle of the river Yarmuk, the Arabic rendering of the
Greek Hieromyax, on the present-day Israeli-Syrian border. It was a major
Muslim-Arab victory that led to the Greek (Byzantine) loss of Syria, including
Antioch (638). See later, below, before the entry for 641, for a description of the
December 636: In the wake of Yarmuk, Damascus falls again.

At Yarmuk, some 15,000 (?) Muslims under Khalid severely defeated a larger

Romanic force, perhaps 20,000 men, under Vahan, Gk: Baanes.

This was not an ethnic battle: there were Arabs on both sides.

The lowest estimate for Muslim side is al-Baladhuri’s 24,000 soldiers, but even
this is an overestimate. The more conservative modern estimates (Haldon 2001,
Kaegi 2003, Kennedy 2008) cluster around 15,000 men.

East Roman forces: The estimates in the most of the Muslim primary sources are
wildly exaggerated: 40-80,000 are at the low end of the Arabs’ estimates,
probably twice reality. Waqidi, d. AD 822, offers ‘30,000’ Romans who ‘used
chains’*, perhaps meaning infantry fighting in close order, not including cavalry.
Among modern writers, Donner says 20-40,000 men (p.221), while Kaegi 2003:
131 says just 15,000 to 20,000 imperials; but all agree that the Byzantines
outnumbered the Muslims.
Ethnic composition: Ghassanid Arabs (say 3,000?) under Jabala b. al-Ayham;
Armenians under Jarajis (Girgis = George): “12,000” Armenians in the army (al-
Tabari 1: 2347); plus some ethnic Greek/Byzantines (say 5,000?).

(*) ‘Chains’ are also mentioned in various battles with the Persians. Kennedy
2008: 22 proposes that it simply is a ‘topos’ (commonplace or traditional motif)
to show how the Muslims were inspired by faith while their opponents were
supposedly coerced by tyranny.

The whole of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria was in Muslim hands by

the end of 636 except for Jerusalem, Homs and Antioch. Nicolle comments that
"Syria was lost less because of Yarmuk than as a result of the urban population
failing to resist in the way they had previously resisted the Persians" (1994: 88).
That is, the various Byzantine towns and forts quickly gave in. “If not positively
welcoming the invaders, many of the inhabitants [of the Levant] displayed sullen
neutrality” (Browning 1992:17). Unlike in Egypt (641), however, there is no
record of the persecuted Monophysite Christians in the Levant actively aiding the
Muslims (Kennedy 2008: 167). Cf 637-42.

Heraclius' adieu to Syria. According to the later Arab historian al-Baladhuri,

when the emperor received the news about al-Yarmuk and the destruction of his
army by the Muslims, he retired via Antioch to the East Roman capital. As he
passed ad-D'arb, the pass into Anatolia, he turned and said, "Peace unto thee, O
Syria, and what an excellent country [or “rich country”] this is for the enemy!" -
referring to the numerous pastures in Syria.
It is actually not clear how prosperous or poor Syria and Palestine were at this
time. On the one hand, writers like Kennedy, 2008: 68, imagine that when the
Muslim conquerors entered the cities of the Levant in the 630s and 640s, they
may have found a region debilitated after successive waves of the plague: “they
may have walked through streets where the grass and thorns grew high between
the ancient columns and where the remaining inhabitants clustered in little
groups, squatting in the ruins of the great palatial house their ancestors had
enjoyed”. On the other hand, the archeologists tell us that, while Syria and

Palestine were already going backwards in the period after 600, “urban
recession” was still “relatively contained” until well after the Muslim conquest
(Wickham 2005: 631). That is to say, the Levant showed the least signs of strain
of any part of the empire in the 630s.

2. A possibly contemporary account of the loss of Syria has been published in

External References to Islam by Peter Kirby, 2003:
"On the front fly-leaf of a sixth-century Syriac manuscript containing the
Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Mark”, writes Kirby,
“are scribbled a few lines about the Arab conquest, now very faint. The following
entries are the most readable:
‘In January {the people of} Hims took the word for their lives and many
villages were ravaged by the killing of {the Arabs of} Muhammad (Muhmd) and
many people were slain and {taken} prisoner from Galilee as far as Beth. . . .
On the tw{enty-six}th of May the Saq{ila}ra went {. . .} from the vicinity of
Hims and the Romans chased them {. . .}.
On the 10th {of August} the Romans fled from the vicinity of Damascus {and
there were killed} many {people}, some 10,000. And at the turn {of the ye}ar the
Romans came. On the 20th of August in the year n{ine hundred and forty-}seven
[= AD 636] there gathered in Gabitha [Gab‘ot Ramta, al-Jäbiya] {a multitude of}
the Romans, and many people {of the R}omans were kil{led}, {s}ome 50,000.
Kirby p. 117: "Beyond this only scattered words are discernible. Wright, the
first to draw attention to the fragment, wrote that ‘it seems to be a nearly
contemporary notice’, a view to which Nöldeke also subscribed. Neither scholar
produced evidence to corroborate his assertion, but in its favour is the occurrence
of the words 'we saw' on l. 13, and the fact that it was a common practice to jot
down notes for commemorative purposes on the blank pages of a Gospel. It is of
some significance that the fragment accords with one of the dates given in Arabic
sources for the battle at Gabitha (assuming this is to be identified with Yarmuk),
namely 20 August AG 947 or 12 Rajab AH 15 (= AD 636), and bears resemblance
to certain notices in Theophanes; but Donner is right to advise caution given the
unknown provenance and frequent illegibility of the text" [Donner: in his Early
Islamic Conquests, Princeton, 1981).

6 December 636, or 6 December 637:

Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, on the Muslims:

“Why is Christ, who is the dispenser of all good things and the provider of this
joyousness of ours, blasphemed by ‘pagan’ mouths (ethnikois tois stomasi) so
that he justly cries out to us: ‘Because of you my name is blasphemed among the
pagans’, and this is the worst of all the terrible things that are happening to us.
That is why the vengeful and God-hating Saracens, the abomination of desolation
clearly foretold to us by the prophets, overrun the places which are not allowed
to them, plunder cities, devastate fields, burn down villages, set on fire the holy
churches, overturn the sacred monasteries, oppose the Roman [Byzantine]
armies arrayed against them, and in fighting raise up the trophies [of war] and

add victory to victory. Moreover, they are raised up more and more against us
and increase their blasphemy of Christ and the church, and utter wicked
blasphemies against God.” —Quoted by Peter Kirby 2003.

Late 636: Battle of al-Qadisiyyah, south of Baghdad: the Muslims defeat the
Sassanian Persians. Final collapse of the Sassanid Persian Empire.

Syria, winter of 636-37: Muslim siege of Byzantine Homs. An earthquake,
interpreted as God’s will, prompted the inhabitants to surrender (Kennedy 2008:

Iraq: The Muslim Arabs crush (probably in 636) the Persian army under the
general Rustam in a hard-fought four-day battle at Qadisiyya, near al-Hilla in
what is now south-central Iraq, south of present-day Baghdad (just SW of Kufa).
Arab arrows and the strangeness of their camels nullified the war-elephants of
the Sasanians. Rustam was killed.
The forces on both sides were curiously modest. The Muslims under Sa’d b. Abi
Waqqas numbered at most 12,000 and Rustam’s Persians perhaps 18,000
(Kennedy 2008: 108 ff).
In 637, after a siege using siege machines, the armies of Islam occupied the
capital Ctesiphon. Shah Yazdgir’s (or Yazgard) appeal for Chinese aid went
unanswered (638). By the end of 640 all of Iraq and western Persia (“Khuzistan”)
would be under Muslim rule, with garrisons stationed at Kufa, Basra and Mosul
(Kennedy p.137).

N Italy: r. Rothari, Lombard king. The kingdom was still officially Arian, although
some of its towns had Catholic bishops. See 698.

c. 637?
“Barbarous” Muslims:
Text by Maximus the Confessor, d. 662, from a letter to Peter, governor of
Numidia, then in Alexandria, between 634 and 640: “For indeed, what is more
dire than the evils which today afflict the world? What is more terrible for the
discerning than the unfolding events? What is more pitiable and frightening for
those who endure them? To see a barbarous people of the desert [Muslim Arabs]
overrunning another's lands as though they were their own; to see civilization
itself being ravaged by wild and untamed beasts whose form alone is human”
(Maximus, Ep. 14, PG [Patrologica Graeca] 91, 533-44 [pp. 77-78]).

Heraclius issued a general order to the Roman forces in the East, directing that
they maintain themselves in their quarters and bases; they were to defend their

positions against the Arabs but were not to go over to the offensive or risk open
battle. No major campaign was attempted (Gellatin p. 139; Haldon,
Transformation p. 219). But cf 638-40.

Mutilation: Nose-slitting, Blinding, Castration

Early example of mutilation: “A plot in 637 may have been influenced”, writes
Garland, “by [empress Martina’s] manoeuvres on behalf of her children. The
plotters included Heraclius' illegitimate son Atalarichus and his (the emperor’s)
nephew Theodore. The noses and hands of all conspirators were cut off. One of
Theodore's legs was also amputated. After this, they were exiled to Prinkipo, the
island in the Sea of Marmara,* (638).
One of the consequences was that Martina's 12 years old son Heracleonas
(officially Heraclius II) was crowned emperor in July 638, and his younger
brother David made Caesar. Heraclius also had his daughters Augustina and
Anastasia pronounced Augustae [empresses]”. —Lynda Garland, ‘Martina’, at; accessed 2006.

(*) Patriarch Nicephorus’ account of the events of 637 says to the Maltese Islands.
Emperor Heraclius exiled his brother’s son Theodorus, who was accused of
conspiracy, to the Maltese Islands after having his nose and hands cut off.
Theodorus was accompanied with a letter to the dux, the local military
commander on the island, who ordered one of his legs to be amputated upon his

In Warren Treadgold’s major work, History of the Byzantine State (1997), the
earliest mentions of various types of mutilation are as follows:
Slitting of the nose or tongue, 641: Following Heraclius’s example, the
rebel general Valentine ordered the ex-regent Martina’s tongue slit or cut out
(Theophanes says “cut out”) and the boy-emperor Heraclonas’s nose to be slit.
Later in that century Emperor Justinian II was deposed and had his nose slit (in
Blinding, 706 and 713: When Justinian II recovered the throne, he blinded
(706) the patriarch Callinicus in punishment for having crowned the two
successful interlopers Leontius and Tiberius. Then Justinian’s successor,
Philippicus, was blinded (713) by rebel soldiers, inflicting a mutilation harder to
ignore than slitting of the nose or tongue.
Castration, 813: Leo V castrated the sons of the deposed Michael I to prevent
their aspiring to the throne. (Herrin 2007: 164 seems mistaken in claiming
Maurice’s sons were castrated in the coup of 602.)

Norwich says that blindings began under Phocas (cf above: AD 605-06).
Certainly from the 700s blinding became routine for defeated plotters. Nose
amputation and blinding were meant to invalidate the victim’s claim to the
throne since an emperor, in the Byzantine view, must be free of all obvious
physical imperfections. Mutilation was also seen as less inhumane – more

Christian - than execution. And it had scriptural support: “And if your hand or
your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to
enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the
eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is
better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the
hell of fire” (Matthew 18: 8-9).

1. Arab conquest of Iraq, Armenia and Iran.
First mention (637) of Germanicea: In N Syria, today’s SE Turkey, the
Byzantine ("Greek") border fortress of Germanicea or Marash fell in 637. - To
locate Marash go inland due NE from the corner-point of the Mediterrranean. A
major road ran from Antioch NE to Marash.

2. Jerusalem offers to surrender but only to the Caliph in person (Sept 637); it is
said that Umar happily came and took the surrender in, probably, January 638.

Roman Jerusalem surrenders to the Muslim Arabs, 637/38

638 (or 637):

1. Surrender of Jerusalem to the Muslim Arabs. Or 637: the precise date is
The Caliph Umar was probably visiting present-day Jordan on other business
when a delegation arrived from Roman Jerusalem offering the city’s surrender.
Armstrong 1996: 228 pictures him entering the city on a white camel in his usual
shabby clothes, to be met by splendidly dressed Byzantines. Certainly he arrived
“clad in a filthy camel-hair garment”, if we may believe Theophanes (TCOT: 39;
discussion in Kennedy 2008: 91).*
Antioch likewise was taken, in late 638. This left Caesarea on the coast of
Palestine and Edessa in N Syria as the only remaining East Roman strongholds in
the Levant [see 640].

(*) If Umar really did visit Jerusalem, this is the only known occasion on
which any of the first caliphs – Abu Bakr, d. 634; Umar, d.644; and
Uthman, d.656 – ever left Medina, the political capital of the new state. And
none led Muslim armies in person (Kennedy 2008: 51).

Muslim tradition holds that Umar went up to Jerusalem by horse. He stepped

down from his steed and entered the holy city without any bloodshed. The
document known as the ‘Umari Treaty’ indicates that he called every single
religious leader from Christianity and Judaism to meet him. The text says, in
part: “It is . . . required of them [the non-Byzantine people of Jerusalem] to
remove [or “expel”] the Romans [i.e. the Greek-Byzantine ruling caste] from the
land; and whoever amongst the people of Illyaa’ [Jerusalem] that wishes to
depart with their selves and their money with the Romans, leaving their trading
goods and children behind, then their selves, their trading goods and their
children are secure until they reach their destination” (Wikipedia, 2009, under

‘Umariyya Covenant’; text in Kennedy 2008: 93).

Patriarch Sophronius: “The godless Saracens entered the holy city of Christ our
Lord, Jerusalem, with the permission of God and in punishment for our
negligence, which is considerable, and immediately proceeded in haste to the
place which is called the Capitol. They took with them men, some by force, others
by their own will, in order to clean that place [the Temple Mount: it had served as
a rubbish tip] and to build that cursed thing, intended for their prayer and which
they call a mosque (midzgitha).” —See discussion by Kennedy, 2008: 93;
Sophronius in Pratum spirituale, 100-102, p. 63, text in Kirby 2003.

2. The East: The Byzantines invade Syria from three directions. (1) A great
armada was employed to bring troops to the Syrian coast opposite Emesa,
present-day Homs. Which is to say: where the present-day Lebanon-Syria border
runs. (2) The governor of Mesopotamia, John ‘Cuteus’ [Gk: Katias, Kataeas], was
to launch an attack into Syria from the east. (3) Other armies were to descend
through Cilicia into northern Syria. The attack was a failure. Antioch was
recaptured and held briefly, but the expedition headed for Emesa apparently
achieved nothing at all. And the Byzantine governor of Mesopotamia, fearing
Arab reprisal attacks, made peace instead of war and offered to pay tribute
(Gellatin 1972: 139). See 639.

3. Heraclius crowns his and Martina’s son Heracleonas as co-emperor.

4. Believing they are plotting against him, Heraclius orders that his nephew
Theodore and his (Heraclius’s) bastard son John or Athalric (Atalarichos)* be
mutilated. As noted earlier, their noses and hands were cut off (Norwich 1988:

(*) Presumably of a Vandal mother?

5. Publication of Heraclius’s Ecthesis: Proclamation of the new Monothelete

The Ecthesis is a letter published in AD 638 by the Byzantine emperor
Heraclius which defined monotheletism (discussed below) as the official imperial
form of Christianity. It rejected the formula which the rivals Sophronius and
Maximus the Confessor had published at the synod of Cyprus in 634. The
emperor sent this as an edict to all four metropolitan sees. It was signed by Cyrus
of Alexandria and Arkadios II of Cyprus. But during 638 in Rome, Pope Honorius
I who had supported monothelitism died. His successor Pope Severinus, elected
638, held the dyophysite line and so was forbidden imperial confirmation of his
appointment until 640, whereupon he condemned the Ecthesis ex cathedra [as a
formal announcement].

Contending Christologies

Many in the Eastern areas, particularly Armenia, Syria, and Egypt, believed in

monophysitism, the teaching that Christ has one nature composed of both
divine and human elements, with the divine predominating. The other areas of
the empire followed the orthodox view expressed at the Council of Chalcedon in
451 where it was decreed that Christ has two natures united in one person
In an effort to bridge the gap between the two views and bring them back
together, the patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius, promoted (AD 632) the
concept of 'monoenergism' which proposed that the two natures of Christ had
one energy. This was received favourably at first, including by Rome, but
monoenergism soon had vocal opponents, among them Sophronius the patriarch
of Jerusalem. —Moore, ‘Heraclius’, online (2010) at http://www.roman-
The opposition to monoenergism led Sergius to propose a new doctrine, that of
monothelitism, the belief in a single will in Christ. Heraclius supported the
new doctrine of Sergius and put it forth in an edict known as the Ekthesis, and
posted it in the narthex of Hagia Sophia or Santa Sophia, the great cathedral of
Constantinople in 638. This failed to settle the controversy as it was rejected by
the Orthodox East, the Monophysites, and even the See of Rome.

(12 Oct 638:) The pope or archbishop of Rome Honorius I dies. Severinus is
elected to succeed him but Emperor Heraclius I refuses to confirm him unless he
signs the emperor’s Ecthesis, a document supporting Monothelitism.
Maurice, a Byzantine official (chartularius), is sent (639) from Ravenna to
Rome to negotiate with Severinus. Upon arriving, Maurice persuades the garrison
of Rome (“the Roman array”) to seize control of the Lateran Palace (in the SE: the
papal residence) and then sends word to his superior Isaac the Armenian, the
Byzantine Exarch of Ravenna, to come to Rome (probably in 640). Partly in an
effort to pressure Severinus, the two officials then sack the palace of its treasures
(Jones et al. prefer to say ‘confiscate’ them), prudently sending some to the
emperor in Constantinople. Another motive was to find a way to pay the local
troops, for Isaac had let their pay get into arrears. Isaac (it is said) took the
opportunity to acquire a vast fortune for himself (A Jones et al. 1992: 720;
Richards 1979: 183; also Fanning 1970: 47). The two ‘robber-lords’ later (643 or
644) had a falling out over another act of plunder, and Isaac had Maurice
arrested, brought to Ravenna and executed (Jones et al. p.721; Fanning 1970:

The New Frontier in the East

Romaic withdrawal from Cilicia: Heraclius orders garrisons to be stationed in the
Taurus mountains, which formed a new defensive line. See 640.
Haldon proposes that the ex-Thracian army was first stationed in eastern Asia
Minor at this time (Transformation p.216); but the actual military province or
Theme of the Thracesians in west Asia Minor was established more than a

decade later later: see 659. Cf 644-46.

1. Mesopotamia: The Byzantine general Ptolemaius, Cuteus’s [Kataeas]
replacement, surrendered Edessa to the advancing Arabs.

2. December: First Muslim raid into Byzantine Egypt.

3. Byzantine Dalmatia: In 639 and 656, the Avar-led Slavs destroyed the
flourishing Illyro-Latin communities of Salona and Epidaurum, a town near
modern Dubrovnik. The island-rock of Ragusa, our Dubrovnik, was colonised by
the survivors.
In 639 [or earlier: possibly in 614] Salona was destroyed by the ‘pagan’ Slavs.
In 647 the town of Spalato (Split) began to arise from the ruin of Salona
(abandoned around 614), and after an interregnum of 11 years, its archbishops
took over the territory of the archbishops of Salona.
Curta 2006, SE Europe p.74, has contested this date (639), which derives from
later sources such as Constantine Porphyrogenitus; Curta says Salona was more
likely destroyed later in the 600s.
The coastal parts of Dalmatia that the empire continued to control were
governed by a pro-consul based at Zadar (Harris 2003: 29). See 640-42: aid sent
by the patriarch of Rome.

Early Names for the Muslims

The Nestorian catholicus Isho'yahb III of Adiabene [Aramaic: Hidyab, in N

Mesopotamia] (d. 659) writes thus – “The heretics [meaning Monophysite
Christians] are deceiving you [when they say] there happens what happens by
order of the Arabs, which is certainly not the case. For the Muslim Arabs
(tayyaye mhaggre) do not aid those who say that God, Lord of all, suffered and
died. And if by chance they do help them for whatever reason, you can inform the
Muslims (mhaggre) and persuade them of this matter as it should be, if you care
about it at all. So perform all things wisely, my brothers: give unto Caesar what is
Caesar's, and to God what is God's” (Isho'yahb III, Ep. 48B, 97 [p. 179]).
Kirby: "The interest of this passage is twofold. Firstly, it is our earliest
reference to Christian dealings with Muslims, and it is clear that the
Monophysites and Nestorians vied for privileges from their new masters, much as
they had done in Sasanian times. As far as what should be rendered to Caesar,
bishops and monks alike sought tax concessions and other such favours for their
people; in matters concerning God they simply requested the freedom to conduct
their own affairs unmolested. Secondly, it gives us our earliest reference [as it
dates before AD 640] to the (Syriac) term Mhaggre. The equivalent Greek form
Magaritai is found in a bilingual papyrus of AH 22/643, which is a receipt from
the commander of the Arab forces in Egypt to the local inhabitants for goods
provided, and it was probably from such documents or from the scribes that
copied them that the Christians learned the term. In turn, the Greek derives from

the Arabic Muhajir*, which is the name by which the Arabs are designated on all
official documents of the first century of Islam." —Peter Kirby, External
References to Islam, September 11, 2003; at, accessed August
2006. Emphasis added.

(*) Literally ‘emigrant’, i.e. alluding to the departure of Muhammad and his
companions from Mecca in AD 622, the Muslim year zero.

Kirby notes that a second reference to the Muslims occurs in a letter addressed to
Simeon of Rewardashir, who Isho'yabb desperately exhorts to remain within the
fold of the church. He argues that the only possible explanation for the disasters
which have been afflicting the Persian and East Arabian Christians under
Simeon's authority, in particular the successes of some religious pretender, is
their attempt at secession:
“You alone of all the peoples of the earth have become estranged from every
one of them. And because of this estrangement from all these, the influence of the
present error came to prevail with ease among you. For the one who has seduced
you and uprooted your churches was first seen among us in the region of Radan,
where the pagans (hanpe) are more numerous than the Christians. Yet, due to the
praiseworthy conduct of the Christians, the pagans were not led astray by him.
Rather he was driven out from there in disgrace; not only did he not uproot the
churches, but he himself was extirpated. However, your region of Persia received
him, pagans and Christians, and he did with them as he willed, the pagans
consenting and obedient, the Christians inactive and silent. As for the Arabs, to
whom God has at this time given rule (shultana) over the world, you know well
how they act towards us. Not only do they not oppose Christianity, but they
praise our faith, honour the priests and saints of our Lord, and give aid to the
churches and monasteries. Why then do your Mrwnaye [inhabitants of a city in
Persia] reject their faith on a pretext of theirs? And this when the Mrwnaye
themselves admit that the Arabs have not compelled them to abandon their faith,
but only asked them to give up half of their possessions in order to keep their
faith. Yet they forsook their faith, which is forever, and retained the half of their
wealth, which is for a short time” (Isho'yahb III, Ep. 14C, 251 [pp. 180-181]).

”The Plague of Amwas”. Plague appeared in Syria and spread to Palestine where
it killed many among the Muslim armies based at Emmaus (Amwas), ENE of
Jerusalem. It reached Iraq but did not penetrate into Byzantine Egypt. See next.
—Stathokopoulos 2004: 349-50.

Conquest of Egypt by the Muslims led by ‘Amr ibn al-A'as.
12 Dec. 639: invasion of Egypt begins: `Amr at al-Arîsh (SW of Gaza: the
formal border of Egypt). Jan. 640: capture of the border town of Pelusium
(Farama), east of the delta. May 640: `Amr's raid into the Fayyûm, the large oasis

SW of Cairo. 6 June 640: arrival of reinforcements under Zubair. July 640: battle
of Heliopolis and capture of Misr (Fustat). 9 April 641: surrender of Egyptian
Babylon under (second) treaty. 13 May 641: capture of Nikiou or Naqyus: about a
third of the way from Babylon to Alexandria. End of June 641: Alexandria
attacked. 14 Sept. 641: return of Cyrus to Egypt. 8 Nov. 641: capitulation of

On 12 December 639, Amr arrived with an army of about 4,000 horsemen or

fewer (Kennedy 2008: 57 says ‘3,500-4,000’). They aimed to capture the
Byzantine fortress of Babylon-in-Egypt (Bab al Yun), today part of northern
Cairo, in order to advance safely up the Nile delta to the metropolis of Alexandria.
Babylon was a choke-point and whoever held it could control movement into the
delta from the south.
John, Bishop of Nikiu, offers some unique information, in particular that the
Arabs, “paying no attention to the fortified cities”, initially raided the Fayyum, an
important agricultural oasis to the south-west of Babylon/Fustat. In contrast the
later Muslim sources say the Arab commander Amr ibn al-'As “advanced directly
to Fustat”. John's reconstruction, that the Arabs first took possession of the
surrounding districts before proceeding to the city with its defensive fortress,
makes much more sense and also accords with what we know of Arab warfare
from other sources. —Peter Kirby, 2003, External References to Islam.

The precise chronology of the Arab conquests of Syria and Palestine is very
uncertain. On the whole, it seems that the occupation of the coastal towns was
more complicated and took more time for the newcomers than that of those of
the inner lands. The capture of Caesarea Maritima is placed in 18 AH / 639 AD,
19 AH / 640 AD or 20 AH / 641 AD by different Muslim traditions; the city
suffered a heavy siege which probably lasted, because its defenders could be
supplied from the sea, for seven years. Gaza was captured more or less at the
same time. Acre, Beirut, Laodicaea, Sidon were perhaps occupied (or raided) at
the beginning of the 640s, but Tripoli of Syria and Ascalon were not captured
until 643/644. —Cf Donner 1981: 153.
Kaegi 1992: 184, dates the capture of Caesarea to 640, but the generally
preferred date is 641.

1. The Levant: Arabs reduce most of the Romanic/Byzantine outposts on the
Palestine-Lebanon-Syrian coast (but Tripoli held out until 644). Then, Dec 639:
Muslim invasion of Egypt. Jan. 640: the Arabs capture Pelusium. May
640:`Amr's raid into the Fayûm. 6 June 640: arrival of reinforcements under
Zubair. July 640: Battle of Heliopolis and capture of Misr (Babylon or Fustat).

Battle of Heliopolis and the Fall of Egyptian Babylon, 640

At Heliopolis near the southern apex of the Nile delta north of present-day Cairo,
Arab forces numbering 15,000 or fewer - nearly all cavalry - under the

command of Amr ibn al-A'as met Byzantine forces numbering perhaps over
20,000 - mainly infantry - under Theodore, military commander of all Egypt.
The Muslim army—on this occasion mainly Yemenis or south Arabians
(Kennedy 2008: 26, 147)—had been reinforced in June 640, bringing their
number up to between 8,000 and 12,000. Treadgold 1997 and Kennedy 2008 say
Amr commanded some 15,000 Arabs. But if we follow Jandora, 1990: 86 and
137-38, the Arabs had perhaps 8,000 men – or no more than 10,000 - and were
only slightly outnumbered by the imperialists, say 10,000 or at most 13,000 men.
The Arab and Byzantine armies met on the plain of Heliopolis, Arabic Ayn [or
Ain] Shams, north-east of Babylon. The site is now a suburb of Cairo.
With the Byzantine army approaching, Amr split his army into three sections,
with one detachment (500 men) under the command of a lieutenant, Kharija,
heading east to nearby hills, and another detachment to the south. Once the
Byzantine forces made contact with Amr's forces and attacked them, the
detachment of Kharija fell on the Byzantine rear, causing turmoil among the
imperialist ranks. As Theodore's troops attempted to flee southward, they were
attacked by the third detachment, causing a final break-down and defeat of the
forces (source: Wikipedia 2006; Kennedy 2008: 151).

Jandora (1990) proposes that the Muslims had the advantage because they were
better equipped and much more experienced, especially the battle-hardened
troops from the Muslim army of Syria. An experienced professional Arab cavalry
force met a largely infantry force of part-timers.
The Muslim historiographical tradition stresses cultural or human factors, all
of which would appear to hold more than a kernel of truth. The Byzantines are
depicted as wealthy and complacent, unused to the rigours of desert warfare. The
heroic Arab - specifically he is a Yemeni - by contrast is presented as living a life
of privation and austerity in his tent. Unlike his enemies, he is an excellent
horseman. He is also, of course, a skilled and hardened spearman - with the
implication that the Byzantines lacked skill and were not battle-hardened
(Kennedy 2008: 26, citing al-Hakam: the Sassanian Persians are similarly seen
as luxury-loving and immoral: ibid: 63).

The imperialists were defeated and retreated back (south-west) to the ancient
fortress–town of Babylon (our Old Cairo). Its defenders numbered perhaps
5,000-6,000 troops (Kennedy 2008: 152). After a six month siege the massive
fortress—five hectares with four towers of 30 metres diameter—fell by surrender
on 9 April 641. One reason for the surrender may have been the news, which
reached the fortress in March, of the death of emperor Heraclius a month earlier.
Next to fall was Nikiu in the delta, on 13 May 641; the Muslims killed all its
inhabitants. The Copts, or some of them, were now actively assisting the
Muslims (with logistics) against the hated ‘Greek’ Melkites or dyophysites; at
other times, however, the ‘Romans’ (imperial Greeks) and Copts put aside
religious differences and cooperated to resist the Muslims* (Kennedy 2008: 155,
The Arab army next proceeded NW to Alexandria which soon surrendered and
a peace treaty was signed in November 641, giving the Muslims control over most

of Egypt. See under 641 for further discussion of this.

(*) Speaking generally about the Levant, Warren Treadgold has suggested that
Monophysitism had nothing to do with the Muslim conquest; most
Monophysites preferred Byzantine rule to Muslim rule, and they did nothing to
help the conquests. The Arabs benefitted enormously from the ruinous war in
which the Byzantines and Persians had just worn each other out. The Byzantines
wisely kept many of their troops in reserve (the Persians did not), which allowed
them to stop the Arabs at the first strong natural barrier - the Taurus Mountains
in southeast Anatolia. Egypt, Syria, and North Africa were protected only by
deserts, which were not barriers for the Arabs. —Treadgold, “Questions” 2005;
onlien 2010.

Babylon became the Arab capital and was renamed Al Fustat, a title derived
ultimately from Greek fossaton, ‘camp’: present-day Old Cairo. Misr al-Fustat
in Arabic means "The Tented City”: fustat, ‘encampment’, from Latin/Greek
fossaton, ‘camp’; or “Settlement of the Tent” (ODB ii: 809). The city became
known as Al-Fustat, while Misr today is the Arabic word for "Egypt".

- The Arab invasion had been preceded by several years of vicious persecution of
the monophysite Coptic Christians by Cyrus, the Chalcedonian or ‘Melkite’
(imperialist) patriarch of Alexandria. The native Egyptian (Coptic) population
was divided, some being loyal to Constantinople and others not. But all factions
favoured peace; hence the decision to negotiate rather than fight to the end.

- By 14 September Cyrus, who had been recalled from Egypt 10 months earlier by
the emperor Heraclius, was back with authority to conclude a peace. All factions
welcomed him back.

The Coptic-Egyptian bishop John of Nikiû - who wrote in both Greek and Coptic -
attributes the Muslim conquest "to the wickedness of the emperor Heraclius and
his persecution of the orthodox [meaning his fellow monophysites] through the
patriarch Cyrus" (Chronicle, 121.2).
Writing probably before 650, John laments apostasy, saying, "And now many
of the Egyptians who had been false Christians denied the holy orthodox faith
and lifegiving baptism, and embraced the religion of the Muslim, the enemies of
God, and accepted the detestable doctrine of the beast, this is, Muhammad, and
they erred together with those idolaters, and took arms in their hands and
fought against the Christians. And one of them, named John, ‘the Chalcedonian’
of the Convent of Sinai, embraced the faith of Islam, and quitting his monk's
habit he took up the sword, and persecuted the Christians who were faithful to
our Lord Jesus Christ" (Chronicle, 121.10-11). The chronicle ends with the capture
of Alexandria in 641.
Hoyland suggests a date of composition in the 640s because there is no
reference to any "monastic activities" such as would be expected from one who
"entered the church hierarchy, probably ca. 650" (p. 153). John claims in the
prologue to have been an eyewitness to some of the more recent events in his

chronicle; but not the conquest itself. —Hoyland 1997.

2. First, unsuccessful Arab raid into East Roman Armenia. Cf 642.

3. (Early 641:) Heraclius orders forcible conversion of Jews.

4. fl. George of Pisidia, poet, deacon and archivist of Hagia Sophia, “perfector of
the Byzantine 12-syllable metre”. His secular poems celebrate Heraclius’s wars
against the Persians.

5. Italy: Pope Severinus (640-?640): Elected in 638, he chose not to cooperate

with the Byzantine emperor Heraclius and the latter ordered the pontifical
treasury plundered for revenge. Heraclius initially refused (638-39) to consent to
his appointment because Severinus would not sign the Ecthesis, the emperor’s
Monothelite profession of faith. Isaac the Exarch plundered the Lateran. (See
above under 638.)

c. 640:
Greece: Some of the very few mosaics and wall paintings that survive from the
Byzantine ‘dark ages’ are preserved in the churches of Ayios [Hagios] Demetrios
and Ayia Sophia in Thessaloniki.
Between 629 and 634, Ayios Demetrios was burnt down, and upon its ruins a
new large, five-aisled basilica with transept was raised. Six of the new mosaics
(perhaps dated to around 640) that adorned the new church have survived,
principally depicting Saint Demetrios beside the new founders, clerics and
In one, an unbearded Saint Demetrios stands between the two founders of the
church, the eparch or provincial governor Leontios and bishop Ioannis (John),
both with beards. The style reminds one of the Ravenna mosaics of the mid-500s
more than the later Middle Ages.

GO HERE for a large image:

Britannnia: Baptism of the strongest West Saxon leader, Cynegils, by

bishop Birinus. This took place at the end of the 630s, perhaps in 640.
Birinus, himself a Frank from Genoa, was by then established as bishop of
the West Saxons, with his seat at Dorchester-on-Thames, near Oxford.
This was the first conversion to Christianity by a West Saxon ‘king’ or
better: leading chief, but it was not accompanied by the immediate
conversion of all the West Saxons. Cynegils' successor (and probably his
son), Cenwealh, who came to the throne in about 642, was still a ‘pagan’ at
his accession.

By 640:
Many Greek-speaking clerics have appeared in Rome: some were refugees from
the East; some came from the old Greek-speaking regions of Italy; and some by
ordinary transfer (Richards p.273).

Syria: Upon the death of Yazid in 640, Mu’awiyah was appointed governor of
Syria by Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab. Mu’awiyah gradually gained mastery over
the other areas of Syria, instilling a firm personal loyalty among his troops and
the people of the region. By 647 he had built a Syrian army strong enough to repel
a Byzantine attack.

Poem by Cavafy:
(note that the character is fictional)

Aemilianus Monae, Alexandrian, 628-655 A.D.

With words, with countenance, and with manners

I shall build an excellent panoply;
and in this way I shall face evil men
without having any fear or weakness.

They will want to harm me. But of those

who approach me none will know
where my wounds are, my vulnerable parts,
under all the lies that will cover me. --

Boastful words of Aemilianus Monae.

Did he ever build this panoply?
In any case, he did not wear it much.
He died in Sicily, at the age of twenty-seven.

1. Death of Heraclius, 11 Feb: aged about 66, followed by succession difficulties.

2. The Muslims take Palestinian Caesarea. Theophanes, TCOT: 41, says “7,000”
Byzantines were killed, which is possibly credible.

3. Egypt falls to the Arabs: the fortress-towns of Babylon and Nikiu

and finally the capital Alexandria. Alexandria surrendered on 8 November
641. Foundation of the future city of Fustat, present-day Cairo, ancient Babylon-
Chronology thus: 9 April 641: surrender of Babylon under (second) treaty; 13
May 641: capture of Nikiu; end of June 641: Alexandria attacked; 14 Sept. 641:
return of patriarch Cyrus to Egypt; October: negotiations between Cyrus and Amr
b. al-As; 8 Nov. 641: capitulation of Alexandria.

Cyrus went back to Alexandria as Prefect (governor) with an army in September

641. Treadgold (1997) proposes that the expedition included most of the rest of
the armies in the Emperor's Presence under their commander Constantine. But
Cyrus judged that the country was already lost. He agreed (negotiations were
opened in October: the treaty was finally accepted on 28 November) 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. Some, perhaps most, of
the Alexandrians were furious with Cyrus for his capitulation, but they could
hardly resist further without more help from Constantinople. None came. Left
with no choice but to honour the Egyptian truce, on 17 September 642 Theodore
and his army evacuated Alexandria, where Cyrus had already died (late 641 or
early 642), and sailed for Cyprus. Amr formally entered the city on 29 September
642, ending a thousand years of Graeco-Roman rule (Kennedy 2008: 160).

4. Muslim Arabs defeat the Sassanian Persians at the battle of Nihawand.

The next yearly entry, for 642, lies ahead several pages.

* * *

To recap. When Heraclius came to the throne in 610, the Romanic Empire was
being attacked from several sides. The Avars and Slavs were expanding into the
northern Balkans. The Slavs controlled the Danube regions, Thrace, Macedonia,
and were soon invading our Central Greece and the Peloponnese. In the East,
meanwhile, the Persians under the rule of Chosroes had begun a series of
successful attacks on the empire resulting in the loss of Damascus in 613,
Jerusalem in 614 (destroying the church of the Holy Sepulchre and capturing the
Holy Cross) and Egypt in 619.
Recognising the difficulty in fighting on two opposing fronts at the same time,
Heraclius signed a peace treaty with the Avars in 619, and concentrated on the
eastern half of the empire. In the spring of 622, he left Constantinople for Asia
Minor and began training his troops over the summer, focusing on a more
involved role for the East Roman cavalry. In the autumn, Heraclius' army
invaded Armenia and soon won several victories over the Persians. In the first
phase of the campaign, he took his armies from Anatolia to Abasgia [modern
Georgia] and Armenia and thence into the Persian heartland (622-23). Treadgold
believes (1997: 294) that he had assembled a large unified army totalling perhaps
50,000 men.
The Avars, in the meantime, became restless and Heraclius was forced to
renegotiate the peace treaty with them at a much higher tribute level. He then
returned to the army and for the next several years unsuccessfully attempted to
break through the Persian army and into Persia.
In August of 626 when Heraclius and his army were in Lazica far from
Constantinople, a Persian army attacked the city from the east while an army of
Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars attacked from the west and from the sea. It must not be
thought that the Avars were ignorant barbarians; on the contrary they deployed a

number of sophisticated siege engines and raised 12 assault towers to the height
of the city’s outer walls. But unsuccessfully: - when the Persians saw that the
Avars could not breach the city's defences, they retired (627). On August 10, the
Imperial navy was able to defeat the opposing fleet and then rout the combined
Slav and Avar land force. With the defeat of their allies, the Persians retreated to
Heraklios renewed the attack on the enemy's heartlands in the second phase of
his Persian war (627-28). In the autumn of 627, the emperor began to work his
way into Persian territory, winning an important battle in December at Nineveh
during which most of the Persian army was destroyed. The Rhomaioi, with their
allies the Turkish Khazars, won a great victory at Nineveh and captured Chosroes'
new capital of Dastigerd (627). Then they advanced on the former Sassanian
capital, Ctesiphon, near modern Baghdad. During the siege, Chosroes was killed
by his nobles (628).
As Heraclius continued to move further into Persian territory, Chosroes was
deposed and succeeded by his son Kavadh-Siroe, whose first act was to secure a
treaty with Heraclius. The treaty was very favourable to the East Romans and
returned all the former Byzantine territories to the empire. Within a few short
months, Kavadh-Siroe fell ill and died, after naming Heraclius as guardian of his
son, Chosroes II [Khusrau Parviz]. For all practical purposes, the Persian
Empire no longer existed. In 630 Heraclius travelled to Jerusalem where he
returned the Holy Cross to the city among much acclaim.

* * *
Heraklios recovered the holy relic of the True Cross from the Persians. He
restored Imperial rule in Syria, Palestine and Egypt. But he would live only to see
his re-unified empire ruptured by the Muslim ARABS or "Saracens".
The defeat of the Persians created a larger problem for the Romanic-Byzantine
empire. The struggle between the two powers had worn down both sides, and the
defeat of the Persians allowed the Muslim Arabs to quickly absorb what remained
of the Persian empire. It also removed the buffer between the Arabs and the
Rhomaioi, allowing the two powers to come into contact and conflict. In 634 the
Arab armies invaded Syria and defeated Theodore, the emperor's brother, in a
series of battles. Heraclius raised a large army that attacked the Arabs near the
Yarmuk, a tributary of the Jordan [the present-day Israeli-Syrian border], in the
autumn of 636. After a successful beginning, the larger Romanic army was
defeated, allowing the conquest of Syria. The Byzantine defeat also led to the
Arabs quickly taking Mesopotamia, Armenia and eventually Egypt.

THE ARMY OF MAURICE AND HERACLIUS: Troop Types, Armament, Tactics

The army of Byzantium as it appears in the Strategikon of the

emperor Maurice

First as a general, and later as emperor, AD 582-602, Maurice, Gk Maurikios, re-

organised the East Roman army, using the stirrup-equipped Avar army as his
model. His reforms, which increased the importance of cavalry, further
downgraded the status of the infantry.
Stirrups, Gk: skalai (lit. ‘steps, stairs’), are first mentioned in the Strategikon
[hereafter: SM], the military manual drawn up towards the end of his reign:
“attached to the saddles should be two iron stirrups” (SM: 12 = Strategikon, ed.
Dennis 1984, p.12).

The first mention of stirrups in the Chinese world dates to AD 477, about a
century before they were brought to Europe by the Avars (Hyland 1994, 11).
The Arabs and Franks too will adopt stirrups by about 750: cf 732 Charles
Martel’s stirrupless troops defeated Spanish Muslim invaders.

Nicolle, in Yarmuk 636 AD: The Muslim Conquest of Syria*, 1994, suggests that
probably not all East Roman horsemen were using stirrups by 636; indeed he
believes it possible that stirrups did not come into wide use until after Heraclius’s
reign. In 600, he believes, they were still limited to medical personnel who rode
to the aid of wounded men (pp. 29, 31). But the Byzantines drew on the Avar
model for both their equipment and tactics, so we must assume that stirrups had
already been adopted, at least by the elite cavalry if not by all horsemen. Certainly
Maurice mentions stirrups in a context where he is describing cavalry at large,
implying that stirrups were standard equipment (SM: 13).

(*) Referenced hereafter as ‘Nicolle, Yarmuk’; “NY29” means page 29 in Nicolle’s



In the whole army:

Treadgold has offered estimates - see earlier - of: [1] about 150,000 men enrolled
in the army at the end of Justinian’s reign, AD 565, and [2] “109,000” men for
the total army under Heraclius in 641. Nicolle, Yarmuk p.32, broadly agrees,
proposing that, at the end of Heraclius’s Persian campaign (630), there were
altogether some 100,000 troops in the East Roman army, distributed as set out
It will be seen that the forces in the West were smaller than in 565, while those
in the East have increased, except in Armenia, reflecting Heraclius’s recent effort
to defend and garrison the Asian side (against the Persians) at the expense of the
European sphere, largely ignoring the Slavs and Avars, following the Avars’
failure of 626: see there.

a. Byzantine Spain: 5 K (5,000) vs Visigoths in 565; nil in 630.


b. Africa 15 K in 565; but only 5-10 K in 630: vs the “Moors” or Berber tribes.

c. Italy 20 K, falling to perhaps as few as 5-10,000 in 630*: vs remnants of the

Goths; also the Franks and Bavarians in 565; vs the Lombards in 630. But in 630
there were also “5,000” troops in the Mediterranean islands (Balearics, Corsica
and Sardinia), no doubt the units previously stationed in Spain.

(*) Treadgold 1995: 147 will entertain as many as 16,000 men as late as 641.

d. Illyricum: 15 K vs Lombards, Gepids, Avars and Slavs. Nil in 630.

e. Thrace: 20 K vs Huns and Avars in 565; nil in 630.

When the Themes were created in the 650s, the little that the empire still held
in Thrace became part of the Opsikion Theme, itself a transmogrification of one
the Praesental armies: see next.

f. In and around Constantinople: Two ‘praesental’ armies, each of 20 K, total 40

K, in the “presence” of the emperor. All were elite forces, of whom up to 17,000
were elite guards-cavalrymen. In 630: down to 10-20 K; also 1-2,000 in Isauria*
and Cilicia.

(*) The inland region of south-central Asia Minor: the area between
ancient Pisidia and Lycaonia.

g. The East: 20,000 i.e. mostly in Syria, with detachments in Palestine and
Egypt: vs Persia. In 630: 25 K second rate troops in Egypt, according to Nicolle;
also 5,000 first class troops in Palestine and Arabia; 5,000 in northern Syria; and
8,000 in Upper Mesopotamia, for a total of 43,000.
The 5,000 men in Palestine-Arabia included a mobile unit of 200-300 men at
Caesarea. A typical Byzantine garrison was fewer than 200. In the 630s
Byzantium controlled only N Palestine; S Palestine was an ungoverned vacuum
between the Muslim Arabia and Byzantine Egypt.
The 5,000 troops in N Syria included a large garrison of 1,500 at Antioch and a
small fixed garrison of perhaps 200 at Chalcis west of Antioch.

h. Armenia: 15 K [12 K] also vs Persia.

Total: 90-118,000 troops in 630.

Size and composition of a field army

As presented in Haldon’s various books, a large field army at the start of the 7th
century numbered up to 24,000 troops. Nicolle too notes that 20-30,000 was
‘exceptionally large’ for an expeditionary force in this period. But major
expeditions could be as small as 15,000. For Emperor Maurice, a small field army
was one under 5,000 (SM: 26).
At Yarmuk in 636: see there, the Byzantine general Vahan commanded

probably 15-20,000 men.

The bulk of the troops in a field army would have consisted of ordinary troops:
simple infantrymen, soldiers of the line, and what we might call the basic cavalry
- say 17,000 men in a field army of 24,000. Added to this were (say) 7,000 men
from elite units and specialised troops.
In the army overall, the commonest troop types were the spear-infantry, but a
specially selected expeditionary army would have included a large proportion of
specialist troops such as foot archers.
The backbone of an expeditionary force would have come from the elite cavalry
regiments that Maurice had formalised into guards divisions: the Optimates
[Gk: Optimatoi], Federates [Phoideratoi] and Bucellarii
[Voukellarioi]. That is to say, these regiments ceased to be ‘mercenary’ units
personally employed and paid by generals and became part of the state
establishment, with their pay paid direct from the central treasury. Where once
they had been all foreigners - Goths and Lombards etc, - many were now
recruited from within the empire (Haldon 1990: 211, citing his earlier book
Praetorians). In an expeditionary army these guards regiments may have
contributed up to (say) 4,000 if the total enrolled was 10,000 men (Haldon's
figures); or perhaps as many as 8,000 if we follow Treadgold: he believes that
altogether 14,000 (or more)* served in the elite units (State, 1997).

(*) In his earlier book Byzantium and Its Army (1995), Treadgold proposed
that there were perhaps 17,000 elite troops: the Optimates numbered
possibly 2,000 , i.e. fewer than 5,000 but more than 1,000; and there were
15,000 Federates, Illyriciani and Vexillations (1995: 96).

At a guess, the ideal large field army of 24,000 might have comprised:

4,000 or more: Elite heavy and medium-heavy cavalry, from the regiments
headquartered in or near the capital: the Optimates, Federates and Bucellarii.

7,000 or fewer: Ordinary cavalry, i.e. regular units of the line called
Comitatenses. As in Justinian’s time, the composite bowman-lancer was
the predominant cavalry type in the East Roman army. So we may
imagine there were (say) 4,500 bowmen-lancers or “medium” cavalry and fewer
(say) 2,500 horse-archers or “light cavalry”. If 7,000 in all, they made up about
23 bandons/banda [squadrons].

5,000: Foot-archers.

8,000: Infantry spearmen. - Although body armour was generally worn by only a
minority of the infantry, we may imagine that, in an expeditionary force, all of the
spearmen would have been armoured.

In troop types, this hypothetical army translates as follows:


1,000: Heavy lancer cavalry: the elite Optimates.

2,500: Horse-archers.
5,000: Foot-archers.
7,500: Bow-and-lance cavalry, i.e. say 3,000 elite Federates and Bucellarii, and
say 4,500 line cavalry.
8,000: Infantry spearmen.

Importantly, over half this army (15,000 men)

would have deployed bows.

Troop Types

Let us now look a little more closely at the various troop types.

Main cavalry:

The Federates and Bucellarii and cavalry officers in general were expected to
wear “hooded coats of mail reaching to their ankles” should be worn by
(Maurice, SM: 12). The implication is that most cavalrymen wore lesser armour
(a corselet of mail) or even none at all. Ankle-length mail coats were also
mentioned in the mid 500s by Agathias, II, 8.4.
Barding or horse armour was used in AD 600, but only by a minority of the
cavalry. It is not mentioned in the sources for the period before 565. It was
known by the time of Maurice, having been copied or recopied from the Avars;
but it seems that only a minority of cavalry rode armoured mounts. To quote
Maurice’s Strategikon: “The horses, especially those of the officers and other
special troops [key NCOs], in particular those in the front ranks of the battle line,
should have protective pieces of iron armour about their heads and breastplates
or felt or else breast and neck coverings such as the Avars use” (in Dennis p.12).
As noted earlier, emperor Heraclius in 622 rode a horse armoured in layered felt
and one in 627 armoured in leather (“sinew”).
Barding was to be worn by the horses ridden by officers, key NCOs and the
“front ranks of the battle line” (SM: 13). In other words, the mounts of most
cavalry were not armoured.

The cavalry regiment of the Optimates ("Best Men") was composed of Byzantine
subjects descended from the old Goths. They were elite heavy cavalry who fought
only with "lances", or better: long pikes, in Gothic style. They did not use bows.
All other armoured cavalry—the elite Federates or Foideratoi [created by
Tiberius in 578], the Bucellarii who were originally household or guards
regiments, and the regular units of the line called Comitatenses—were “medium”
cavalry: bowmen-spearmen in the late Roman style. Other than the
Optimates, all main cavalry carried, or could carry, both the cavalry spear and a
bow and a quiver with “30 or 40” arrows (SM: 12).
The method used by cavalry to carry arrows shows nomadic influence, for they

were held point upwards in a barrel quiver hung from the belt. Infantry quivers
shown in manuscripts are round-bottomed cylinders which held the arrow point
downwards and were slung from a shoulder-strap. As stated, in both cases a man
normally carried 30 to 40 arrows at a time (SM: 139; Maurice’s Strategikon tr.
Dennis, p. 12).

Cf Procopius writing in the mid 500s: “The bowmen [cavalry] of the present time
go into battle wearing [mail] corselets and fitted out with greaves which extend
up to the knee. From the right side hang their arrows, from the other the sword.
And there are some who have a spear also attached to them and, at the
shoulders, a sort of small shield without a grip [i.e. a buckler worn on the upper
arm], such as to cover the region of the face and neck. They are expert horsemen,
and are able without difficulty to direct their bows to either side while riding at
full speed, and to shoot an opponent whether in pursuit or in flight.”

Armenians formed an important element in the Byzantine army, and under

Vahan at Yarmuk in 636 they formed the centre of the Byzantine line (Nicolle,
Yarmuk pp. 23, 66). Lombards and Persians were also used in small numbers.
And there were many Arab troops as well as Greek-speakers (Arabic “Rumi”) in
the army of the East. But this is just a point about their language or ethnicity:
those enrolled in the Comitatenses all fought in standard Byzantine equipment
and style.

Light cavalry:

This means mainly horse-archers but could include some mounted javelinists.
Nicolle, 1994: 22, notes that by Heraclius’s time most of the light troops came
from external allies or specialist warlike groups from within the empire: “Turco-
Hun nomads from p.d. Ukraine”, i.e. Avars, Slavs and Bulgars; Christian Arabs;
the Isaurians of Byzantine south-central Asia Minor; and others. The Isaurians
were famous as hardy light infantrymen.

Infantry spearmen:

Many infantry did not wear body armour. They relied on just a light helmet and a
large shield, according to Nicolle: NY31. But the following text may imply that
most did wear armour:
“If everyone in the phalanx cannot be equipped with [metal] breastplates and
shin guards [greaves], at least the men in the first, second and last ranks and
those in the files on the flanks should certainly wear them. … The rest of the
troops may be provided with zabai (mail corselets) and thorakai (breastplates)
and head coverings of felt or leather” (Three Treatises, ed. Dennis 1985: 55).
As we have said, moreover, even if generally only a lesser proportion of all
infantry wore body armour, one would expect that most if not all of the spearmen
in a pre-planned expeditionary force would have been armoured.

Heavy infantry wearing armour of mail were called Skoutatoi, literally “shield-

carriers”. The shield was large and round or oval - about 120 cm or four feet by
90 cm (three feet) (Heath 1976: 62).
The main weapon was the spear, but sometimes axes were carried.
Nicolle, 1994: 31, offers a reconstructed illustration of an elite guards-
infantryman with a large plumed helmet, wearing a short mail shirt to just below
the waist, and carrying a medium-large round shield, medium-size axe and a
short spear or javelin.

Foot archers:

Maurice states specifically that foot archers are to be trained in shooting rapidly
while carrying a small shield (SM: 138-29).
Their quivers were hung from the shoulder on a baldric rather than from the
belt, and they carried a small shield. They also used a ‘solenarion’ (explained
below) for firing darts with their bow.
As noted earlier, the infantry quiver was a round-bottomed cylinder slung from
a shoulder-strap (baldric) which held the arrows point downwards.
The Byzantines used the thumb to draw their bows, as did the steppes horse-
archers. The fingers are curled-in, while the thumb pulls the string back, and the
arrow rests on top of the thumb and against the side of the curled index finger.
Cf Procopius, writing in the mid-500s: “They [Byzantine archers] draw the
bowstring along by the forehead about opposite the right ear, thereby charging
the arrow with such an impetus as to kill whoever stands in the way, shield and
corselet alike having no power to check its force” (Wars, 2.1.1).
By contrast, the Persians and Westerners (Franks etc) used the weaker two-
finger draw: pulled with the two top fingers - index and adjacent – with the arrow
held in place by the thumb. Thus Persian archery was “rapid although not
powerful” (SM: 114: George T. Dennis (tr.), Maurice’s Strategikon, Philadelphia,
1984, pp. 11, 139).

Illustration of the various draw-styles:; accessed 2009.


Byzantium also employed slingers and foot-javelinists, generically called Psiloi; it

was normal for them to carry a small shield. Maurice seems to say that they each
carried a sling, several javelins and throwing darts (SM: 138-39).

Byzantine Arms and Armour

While soldiers’ dress was distinct from that of civilians, only the elite guards
cavalry units wore actual uniforms, according to Nicolle (Yarmuk p.30).



Heavy infantrymen in AD 600 carried a medium-large circular shield of the

order of 90 cm in diameter. Light infantry carried a smaller shield.
In the case of the cavalry, the illustrations in Nicolle’s Yarmuk are of a fairly
large round shield, again presumably of about 90 cm in diameter.
Cf 900 AD: The general infantry shield (skuta) was by that time oval and quite
large: three by four feet [0.90 x 1.20 metres] while the cavalry shield was typically
round and smaller: diameter 30 inches or 75 cm.


The preferred helmet for infantry was heavy and plumed: “small plumes and
tassels”, the plumes commonly being stiffened horsehair. Maurice mentions that
the helmets of heavy infantry incorporated cheek-guards (SM: 139). But, if we

follow Nicolle, a lighter and unplumed type of helmet was more common.
Evidently the commonest type was the “ridge helmet”, a flattened hemisphere,
constructed from two halves rivetted together along a central ‘ridge’; cheek-
guards and neck-protectors (aventails) were attached with leather and/or cloth
fabric (MacDowall 1994).


Horsemen wore helmets and what the Strategikon describes as "hooded coats of
mail reaching to their ankles, which can be caught up by thongs and rings".
The mail hauberk - lorikion or zaba - was the normal or ideal armour of a
cavalryman. It was quite long in this era: typically knee-length, sometimes
longer, and usually with short sleeves. It was worn over a felt shirt or doublet “a
finger thick” (Dennis, Three Treatises, p.54, quoted in Boss et al. 1993: 50).
Some foot-soldiers wore corselets of mail. An unknown proportion of infantry
went without armour, or at least without metal armour; as we noted earlier, mail
was primarily given to the first two ranks.

The Strategikon does not mention lamellar armour. According to Nicolle (p.31),
lamellar and scale armour were known but still little used in this
period. Dating from Antiquity, these types became more important in the later
Byzantine period.
One example of early Byzantine lamellar dated to the period 680-620 has been
found at Cartagena in Spain. The iron platelets are rectangular: around 6-7 cm
high and 2 cm wide, with six holes for thongs: four on the sides and two at the top
(Sanchez 2008).
Also used were leather, felt and quilt body-armours. We may guess, I suppose,
that non-metallic armour was commonest among light cavalry and light infantry.
As we have said, perhaps only a lesser proportion of infantry enrolled in the
whole army wore mail body-armour; but we may imagine that, in an
expeditionary force, all or most of the infantry spearmen would have been


Leg-defences - greaves or periknemides - were worn by only a few of the heavy

infantry, i.e. those in the front rank (Nicolle, NY: 31), or as stated above, the first
three ranks. Maurice says that iron or wooden greaves should be worn by, at a
minimum, the first and last soldier in each file (SM: 139).
Arm-guards or cheiromanika were worn only by the elite cavalry such as the

Horse armour

The lancers in the two front ranks also carried shields, and their mounts wore
barding, as we noted earlier: "The horses especially those of officers and the
other special troops, in particular those in the front ranks of the battle line

should have protective pieces of iron about their heads and breast plates of iron
or felt, or else breast and neck coverings such as the Avars use" (Strategikon
Book 1).
Horse-armour was not used in Justinian’s time, before 565, so again this was a
major innovation.



Cavalry carried the spathion or long sword of Avar or Persian origin first adopted
centuries earlier. Nicolle says that the infantry sword—spathion Erouliskion or
‘Herulian’ (German-style) sword—was somewhat shorter, i.e. of medium length.
One later depiction of the infantry spathion (a soapstone carving) reproduced
in Dawson 2007b: 19 allows it to be deduced as 85 cm long from the pommel to
the tip of the blade. Parani, Reconstructing the Reality of Images, 2003, p.131,
citing the 10th Century Syll. Tact. (s.38) says that by that time infantry swords
were 94 cm or “0.936” metres [sic: 36 inches] long from pommel to point.
Cavalry swords could be a little longer: up to 110 cm or 43 inches.

Lances, spears and javelins:

The typical cavalry weapon was the kontarion, a very long, light wooden spear or
“lance”. The best tag might be ‘light pike’, as it was used for thrusting and
Cf AD 900: By that time, the cavalry pike or kontarion was 12 feet or 3.7 metres
long, while the unarmoured horsemen called "trapezitoi" carried eight-foot [2.75
metre] javelins as well as a kontarion and sword.
In Maurice’s time infantrymen used shorter, i.e. medium length, spears;
and/or javelins (berutta).


In addition to their other weapons, heavy infantry carried lead-weighted darts

(“lead-pointed” darts: SM: 138) commonly called Lat. martiobarbuli, Gk
martzobãrboula. Looking like a short arrow, they were about 15 cm long and
weighed around 150 gm (cf 156-163 gm for a cricket ball). They were thrown by
hand (MacDowall loc. cit.). In Vegetius’s time (fl. AD 400), each man carried five
in the hollow of his shield.


Nicolle, Yarmuk p.28, notes that the heavier ‘Hunnic’ or Avar-style bow
(toxarion) was in use by 600, i.e. heavier than the bows of Roman Antiquity. As
noted, cavalrymen carried a 40-arrow quiver and often a separate bow-case. It is
not clear whether the infantry archers used a larger, heavier bow than horsemen;
but it is a fair guess that they did.

Avar-style cavalry bows were 120-140 cm long: Coulston1985.

The Byzantine heavy infantry bow of the the later 10th century was, says McGeer
pp.68, 207, capable of sending an arrow over 300 metres, with a killing distance
of perhaps 200 metres.
According to Bivar, in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 1972, the armour-piercing
range of a Byzantine arrow was 90 metres; ‘accurate target range’ 120 m, i.e.
maximum for hitting a large stationary target; ‘effective’ or potential wounding
range 230 m; and limit of flight distance 275 m (cited in Hyland 1994: 29). This
would seem to refer to the smaller cavalry bow and arrow. According to John
France 1994: 148, the effective, or killing, range of a Seljuq cavalry bow of the 11th
century, was “over 60 metres”.

The Solenarion

The solenarion or arrow-guide is first mentioned in Maurice’s textbook, the

Strategikon, which was written towards the end of the sixth century. It
recommended that light infantry be armed with bows and large quivers holding
30 or 40 arrows, small shields, and a wooden solenarion with small arrows and
small quivers (SM: 139). A reconstruction is presented in Tim Dawson’s
Byzantine Infantryman (Osprey 2007). Also D. Nishimura 1988.
The Strategikon and later texts describe the solenarion as an archer's
accessory, used with the normal bow to shoot short arrows or unweighted darts.
Such darts have about double the range of a full sized arrow and are harder to
see. They were used as harassing fire against approaching formations. A dart
would rarely cause a fatal injury, but striking a man or horse in the face or eye
would be a serious discouragement and helped to break up a formation.
Modern experiments with reconstructions have demonstrated high launch
speed and flat trajectory of the larger darts. Their effective range against massed
targets has been estimated as some 366 metres (thus
atrium/3696/archery/solenarion; accessed 2005; and; accessed
December 2001).

In the 10th century Sylloge and the Ambrosiana Paraphrase, the darts are called
“mice”: their size of between one and three fingers (i.e., around 15 cm) in length
is mentioned by Paul of Aegina in the seventh century. The earliest Arabic darts
to be specifically described were as big as the little finger (6-7 cm) from tip to
feathers, allowing them to be stacked in the arrow guide and shot four or five at
a time (thus Wiley, ‘The Solenarion’ [citing Nishimura 1988], at
er/Archery/solenarion.html; accessed 2010).
The lightness of the darts would have provided a higher initial velocity, while
short range penetration must have been increased by the greater stiffness and
their resistance to shattering and deflection. The treatises mention long range
and speed but not penetration at long range. Their ability to surprise is

mentioned, and that they were hard to spot and dodge because of their size and
speed, which would have led to the name "mice" and "flies".
The darts could be shot rapidly on the move, while when the need arose the
solenarion could be set aside and the regular arrows used for faster and closer
shooting. And finally the darts could not be re-used by an enemy who did not
have the required equipment to fire them back.

Formations and tactics

A field army was required to draw up for battle not just in one line, as before, but
in two lines, one of them arrayed behind the other with "about a third" of the
entire force. Or if the whole force were cavalry, there would be three lines, the
third being a small reserve (SM: 25).

The author of the Strategikon (SM) makes a forceful argument to justify this
change. "To form the whole army simply in one line … for a general cavalry battle
and to hold nothing in reserve for various eventualities in case of a reverse is the
mark of an inexperienced and absolutely reckless man", he writes. If the first line
"retreats or is pushed back, then the second line is there as a support and a place
of refuge. This makes it possible to rally the troops and get them to turn back on
their attackers."
In addition there were flankguards or detached units. "Two or three bandums"
(sic: banda, up to 900 men) were to be posted as flank guards to the left of the
first line, "where hostile outflanking and encircling movements may naturally be
expected" (against the weaponless left arms of the men on that side). A "bandum
[bandon] or two of archers, known as outflankers", were to be deployed to the
right side of the first line to turn the enemy's left flank, and an additional "three
or four" bandums were to be placed in concealed positions on both sides, from
where they could attack the enemy's rear.

Cavalry Formations

The basic cavalry unit was the bandon or tagma (regiment) of about 300 men
(SM 17: it could range in size from 200 to 400).
There were about 50 banda in an all-cavalry expedition of 15,000, formed up in
two, sometimes three, lines, with a distance between the lines of three to four
bowshots (up to 800 metres: SM II.1.19-27, pages 31, 50 of Dennis’s translation;
cited by Hyland p.29; cf McGeer p.281). Thus: first line 20 banda; second line
line 20 banda; plus 10 banda in reserve or with the commander. Ordinarily the
commanding general took his place in the centre of the second line (SM: 33).

As the elite among the elite, the Optimates drew up just five men deep (SM: 28).
That is: in 60 files five deep = one bandon of 300. The Federates and other units
drew up at most eight deep, while non-elite cavalry drew up 10 deep or less (SM:
28). That is: one bandon drew up in 30 files 10 men deep. The maximum depth
mentioned was 16 men but that was exceptional; the ordinary maximum depth
was 10 men (Haldon 1984: 98 ff; Treadgold 1995: 94-96; SM: 28).

Maurice says that in a cavalry unit 10 deep the first two lines “bear lances”; the
next seven are “archers without shields”, and the last line again are lancers (SM:
29). But we know that the ordinary cavalrymen commonly carried both lance and
bow; presumably the ‘archers without shield’ also carried lances but their main
function within the unit, as it advanced into battle, was to provide missile fire. In
his diagram of a cavalry bandon, however, Maurice actually has a man with bow
and shield in the final line (SM: 36).
Interestingly, by AD 900, in Leo's Taktika, it is the ordinary thematic cavalry
who commonly form up five deep, the first two ranks (rows) being lancers, then
two rows of archers and finally another row of lancers. But other sources in the
10th C also speak of units four men deep (elite Tagmatic regiments) and eight
deep (thematic troops).
In AD 600, there were 300 men in a cavalry bandon. Thus a typical formation
was 30 horsemen wide and 10 deep [say 45m x 20m]. - Thirty horsemen wide
(close order: say 1.5 metres per man) = unit width of 45m x 20 banda = an army’s
front line extended for about a kilometre [if it was an all-cavalry army] …


According to the Strategikon, infantry units were composed of both archers

and spearmen, and formed up in a rectangular formation. The default formation
was spearmen in front of foot-archers (SM: 143 ff). The manuals of the period AD
550-650 also mention files of eight men made up of six spearmen and, at the
back, two foot-archers; the latter fired over the heads of the former (Boss 1993:
50). Maurice speaks of infantry formations 16 men deep as normal (SM: 141.
At times – for example retreating in defence against encircling horsemen - an
empty square or hollow rectangle-ring would be formed: the foot archers and
slingers formed an outer ring or rectangle, with spearmen behind them and
javelinists behind them (Nicolle, Yarmuk 28-29).

Let us imagine an infantry bandon with 400 men - 300 spearmen and 100
archers - in a solid rectangle. This would represent eight ranks of 50 men of 16
ranks of 25 men. Tightly packed, the front of the formation would be just 25-30
metres wide.
Or let us also imagine a unit of 1,000 infantrymen. Assume that the square or
hollow rectangle is four men deep or thick (1,000/4 = 250). To allow for the four
sides of the square, we divide by 4 = 62 men. If we allow half a metre per man (as
in a shield-wall), this represents a square with a front/side of about 30 metres.
Or, if more loosely formed – one metre per man – about 60 metres square.

‘Phalanx’ with Shield-Wall

The infantry ‘fulcum’, Gk: phoulkon, was a compact formation in which the
overlapping shields of the front two or three ranks formed a “shield-wall”: two
ranks if engaging infantry; three if engaged by cavalry (SM: 146 ff). Its purpose
was to protect the front of the formation against missiles as it advanced. This

would have been particularly the case when fighting the Persians, whose archery
remained a tactical problem throughout the late Roman period. It was was not a
new development: in an engagement during the Eastern wars in 556/57, well-
armoured Byzantine troops advanced with linked shields to drive the enemy
centre back (Haldon 2001: 26).

Maurice explained that the fulcum could be used to attack enemy infantry and to
defend against enemy cavalry:

(1) Advancing to attack

When within one bowshot – 150-200 metres for the infantry bow - of the enemy
line, the Byzantine light infantry (foot-archers) began shooting arrows from the
rear at a high trajectory. If the heavy infantry at the front were armed with the
lead-weighted darts (“lead-pointed” darts: SM: 138) commonly called
martiobarbuli (martzobãrboula) or other missiles, the formation briefly halted,
while the front ranks, fixing their spears into the ground, showered the enemy
with these projectiles.

“They advance in a fulcum, whenever - as the battle lines are coming close
together, both ours and the enemy’s - the archery is about to commence and
those arrayed in the front line are not wearing mail coats or greaves. He [the
herald] orders, “ad fulco”. And those arrayed right at the very front mass their
shields together until they come shield-boss to shield-boss, completely covering
their stomachs almost to their shins. The men standing just behind them [the
second rank], raising their shields and resting them on the shield-bosses of those
in front, cover their chests and faces, and in this way they engage.” Thus the
shield-wall was high as well as wide. —Maurice, quoted in Rance 2004.

(2) Standing to defend

“If the enemy [cavalry], coming within a bow shot [under 100 metres in the case
of the cavalry bow], attempts to break or dislodge the phalanx ... then the infantry
close up in the regular manner. And the first, second and third man in each file
are to form themselves into a fulcum, that is, one shield upon another, and
having thrust their spears straight forward beyond their shields, fix them firmly
in the ground, so that those who dare to come close to them will readily be
impaled. They also lean their shoulders and put their weight against their shields
so that they might easily endure the pressure from those outside. The third man,
standing more upright, and the fourth, holding their spears like javelins either
stab those coming close or hurl them and draw their swords. And the light
infantry with the cavalry [in the rear ranks] shoot arrows.”
Rance proposes that in this formation the first and second ranks were lower,
probably kneeling and stooping respectively.
Horses are too intelligent to commit suicide; so a disciplined phoulkon would
ordinarily halt an enemy cavalry charge.

Scientific Warfare

Nicolle NY28 says that the most important offensive tactic was the use of
the bow, by both cavalry and infantry. If so, then tactics under Maurice
were basically similar to those under Justinian, d. 565.
Obolensky p.84 notes that Avar influence was especially noticeable in the
harassing tactics adopted by the Roman (Byzantine) horse-archers. And a
reliance on infantry archers of course goes back to before Narses (AD 552, the
battle of Taginae).

Varying tactics to the enemy’s strengths

A foe superior in infantry, i.e. spear-infantry, is to be enticed into the open but
not allowed to close, and hit from a safe distance with javelins.
Enemy armies who rely on the spear, i.e. spear-cavalry, are to be led onto
difficult terrain. Enemies who rely on the bow are to be confronted on open
terrain and forced into close hand to hand fighting (SM: 65).

Cavalry tactics

The cavalry were trained to fight both in extended (offensive) order and in close
(defensive) order and to make rapid changes from one to the other as conditions
required. During the ‘charge’, actually an advance at the trot (SM: 38), the
cavalry unit - a bandon or tagma of about 300 men - advanced in close order, the
horse-archers protected by the lancers ahead, and the lancers, in turn, by volleys
of suppressive fire from the horse-archers behind (Petersen, ‘Strategikon’).

If we follow Nicolle, there were basically two kinds of cavalry tactic. (1:) The light
cavalry - javelinists and horse-archers - would harass the enemy while the heavier
cavalry stood off as a threat against a counter charge. And (2:) The heavy cavalry
would go forward to attack the enemy formations, aiming to pin them down, and
so allow the light cavalry to advance via the flanks to the enemy’s rear.

“Well timed (cavalry) attacks against the enemy's flanks and rear are much more
effective and decisive than direct frontal charges and attacks. . . . [If the enemy
must be faced in open battle, therefore,] do not mass all your troops in front, and
even if the enemy is superior in numbers, direct your operations against his rear
or his flanks. For it is dangerous and uncertain under all conditions, and against
any people [nation], to engage in purely frontal combat” (SM: 27).

Infantry role

Nicolle p.29 has suggested that the infantry archers provided the offensive power
among the East Roman infantry, with the infantry spearmen generally serving as
a defensive force. As we noted above, the archers fired from behind the protection
of a shield-wall formed by the front ranks of spearmen.


The Battle of Yarmuk, 636

Here we follow Nicolle, Yarmuk, and the Wikipedia authors (2009) under
‘Battle of Yarmouk’. John Haldon’s analysis, 2001: 59 ff, is so different as
to merit separate presentation – see later below.
All the primary sources, including the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes,
draw their accounts from the Eastern - Arabic and Syriac - traditions.
There is no independent Byzantine tradition to provide a check on the
Arabic narratives (Kennedy 2008: 28, 83).

The Muslims were under the overall command once again of Khalid ibn al Walid;
or according to some, Abu ‘Ubayda was in command. The centre was led by
Sharhabeel bin Hasana. Abu ‘Ubayda ibn al Jarrah was probably the right
divisional commander. Another contingent was led by Yazid b. Abi Sufyãn. Amr
ibn al-A'as led the cavalry.

It seems that the Muslim army under Khalid was mainly infantry - say 8,000 foot
- including many archers; the cavalry led by Amr ibn al-A'as were in a distinct
minority and used as a mobile reserve: say 2,000 horse. This is a conservative
estimate: the modern authors’ guesstimates for the number of troops under
Khalid range from just 7,500 to as many as 40,000: median 20,000. Kennedy
2008: 83 offers “24,000”. The conventional view is that the Muslim force was
smaller, but this is by no means certain; many modern schalors believe the
armies were about the same size. Certainly the Muhammadans would have been
less well equipped. Helmets and coats of mail were worn by some Muslims but
quite possibly the majority wore no metal armour of any kind (cf Kennedy 2008:

The four Byzantine commanders were: 1. Far left: Jabala ibn al-Ayham, a
Ghassanid Christian Arab; 2. Left: an unnamed ethnic Slav officer called Ibn
Qanatir, lit: ‘arched bridges’, in the Arabic sources, but dervied from the Roman
title “Buccinator”.* Presumably this was his nickname, from the old Latin title
meaning “herald” or “messenger”, lit: “the trumpeter”. Haldon says he held the
rank of drungarius, i.e. equivalent to colonel; 3. Centre: Vahan or Baanes (or else
the centre was led by a fifth commander, Theodore Trithurios, with Vahan
serving as overall commander); and 4. Right: Jurjah, Jarajis, Gargis or George, a
Byzantino-Armenian general.

(*) One assumes that in this case Qanatir comes from the final syllables of
buccinator (cf Palmer et al., Chronicles p.156).

The total number on the Byzantine side was perhaps “15-20,000” men, according
to Walter E. Kaegi, Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium, Cambridge, 2003. Haldon
and Kennedy concur with this estimate. The imperial army was divided into four
large groupings or divisions, or rather three large mixed infantry-cavalry

divisions supported by a smaller all-cavalry force. Let us guess therefore that the
numbers were perhaps as follows: a small all-cavalry force of 2,000 under Jabala
on the far left; and three large divisions each of 5,000 combining both infantry
and cavalry under Vahan or Theodore, the Buccinator, and Gargis. Total: say
17,000. Many were ethnic Armenians, Slavs and Arabs.
Some poorly informed modern authors will allow up to ‘100,000’ imperial
troops, e.g. Moshe Gil and Ethel Broido, A History of Palestine, 634-1099,
Cambridge University Press, 1997. This can be rejected out of hand: the entire
enrolled army was only about that big (see the careful analysis of Treadgold 1995;
also Kennedy 2008: 83).

Gargis’ division, on the Byzantine right, was spearheaded by heavy infantry

drawn up in close formation: they formed up as a shield-wall by interlocking their
large shields. Nicolle, NY65, proposes that their role was that of anchor, allowing
the Byzantine far-left (mainly Christian-Arab auxiliary cavalry) to manoeuvre.
We assume that, if the East Romans overall outnumbered the Muslims, the
imperial left extended well beyond the Muslim right.

The Course of the Battle

According to Nicolle, the fighting took six days. This is not impossible if we
picture the fervour of the battle-hardened but light-armed Muslims being
matched by the perhaps larger numbers, heavier arms and discipline of the
imperial regulars. Haldon prefers to conclude, probably more credibly, that the
battle lasted just two days, 19-20 August. See later for his account.
In Nicolle’s account, the first day saw a slogging match on the Byzantine right
( = south) between infantrymen, the Byzantine divisional commander George or
Gargis having commenced battle by sending forward just his infantry, covered in
front by a shield wall (drawn up on the right = south). Many of the soldiers of the
Imperial army were unused to battle and were unable to press the attack as well
the Muslim veterans did.
Although the sources do not say so, presumably heavy arrow-fire was
exchanged by the foot archers on either side. But evidently Vahan did not or
could not unleash his cavalry on the left (= north). The first day ended in

On the second day, according to Nicolle, the whole Byzantine line - all four
divisions - attacked in a surprise dawn assault. Haldon puts this on the first day.
The Byzantine left (cavalry) pushed back the Muslim infantry there, but the
latter rallied. The same happened on the imperial right (made up of infantry);
here again the battle-hardened Muslims rallied.
On the left wing of the Byzantine army, the Slavic prince ‘Qanateer’ or ‘the
Buccinator’, commanding a force of mainly Slavs, attacked and forced the Muslim
infantry to retreat, after which Amr ibn al-A'as ordered his horsemen to counter-
attack, which checked the Byzantine advance and stabilised the battle line.
Khalid deployed his cavalry as a strategic reserve: operating in many small
squadrons (Arabic kardus), they came up first to support the Muslim right, then

switched to support the Muslim left (cf Kennedy 2008: 84). Following this, the
Muslim centre counter-attacked. This day too ended in stalemate.

Again, the Byzantine army had suffered slightly higher casualties than the
Muslim army, but it seems that the death of ‘Deirjan’ (a senior officer in the
Byzantine central division) and the initial failure of Vahan's battle plan left the
Imperial army relatively demoralised, whereas Khalid's successful counterattacks
emboldened his troops.

On the third day, the Byzantine left—mainly cavalry—led the attack, and the
Muslims were pushed back, until Khalid’s cavalry reserve again intervened to
save the day.
There was a famous flanking movement by the Muslim cavalry at some stage
in the battle, and it may have occurred on this day: or more probably on Day 4.
Again both sides withdrew to their original lines, the Muslims having suffered

The initial attacks were repulsed by the Muslims but soon the numerical
advantage of the Byzantine army begin to tell and the Muslim right wing
retreated toward their base camps, followed by the retreat of the right half of the
Muslim centre under the command of Sharhabeel bin Hasana.
Many on both sides fell in combat, but by dusk the Byzantines had been pushed
back to their own position and the situation restored as at the beginning of the

On Day Four (for Haldon this is still Day One), the imperial cavalry on the left,
the Armenians and allied Arabs, again made progress, partly because so many of
the Muslim foot-archers had earlier been eliminated. Again, however, the
Muslims rallied along their whole line (left, right and centre). The East Romans
pulled back in the centre and south, having sustained serious losses.
Meanwhile, on the northern side, the imperial cavalry seems to have advanced
too quickly and got separated from the infantry: Jabala’s cavalry - mainly Arab
Christian allies - fled. This allowed Khalid’s main cavalry force to break through a
weakened Byzantine northern line. Meanwhile a smaller Muslim cavalry
detachment pursued the fleeing imperial-Arab horsemen. The net effect was that
the Muslim cavalry got in behind the main Byzantine force, cutting it off from
its base camp. As noted, for Haldon, this is only Phase Two of the battle, and still
on Day One.
Meanwhile in the centre and south ( = Byzantine centre and right), the
imperials, particularly their archers, succeeded in doing serious damage to the
Arab infantry. We may guess that the East Roman horse archers played a large
part in this. The Arabs fell back, but then rallied.

More than a few Muslim soldiers lost their sight to Byzantine arrows on this day,
which thereafter came became famous by the name "Day of Lost Eyes".

At the end of the day the main Byzantine force remained separated from its base


Day Five saw no action; but both sides reassembled all their cavalry into single
large units.
Probably on the night of day five, the Muslims stormed the base camp behind
the main imperial line; its defenders fled. This caused alarm when it became
known the following day. (For Haldon this night attack is the end of Day One.)

On Day Six (or Day Two for Haldon), there was initial skirmishing on the south,
and the Byzantine divisional commander Gargis was killed. Khalid then ordered
a further all-out attack along the whole line. The effect was to push the northern
imperial division under ‘the Buccinator’ up against the Byzantine centre under
Soon the Byzantine cavalry broke contact and dispersed to the north, leaving
the infantry to its fate. This also included the mounted corps of Jabala which now
scattered towards Damascus.
Khalid turned his attentions to the main body of the Imperial army - the mainly
Armenian corps of Vahan - attacking them from the rear. The Armenians were
effective fighters who had come closest to defeating the Muslim army when they
broke through two days earlier, but under a three-pronged attack of Khalid's
cavalry from the rear, Amr’s infantry from the left and Shurhabeel’s infantry from
the front, and with no support, and their ranks already disturbed by the
retreating Slavs of ‘Qanateer’, they had no chance. The Armenian line broke and
they fell back.

The Byzantines now panicked, realising that their line of retreat (to the rear) had
during the night been cut off. The only line of escape was into the deep gullies on
the west and south, including that of the eponymous Yarmuk River. The panic
and desperate escape ended the battle. Many imperial soldiers were cut down in
and around the southern gullies.

John Haldon’s Presentation of the Battle of the Yarmuk

(Haldon 2001: 59 ff)

John Haldon argues that the Byzantines suffered from two major disadvantages.
First, the command of a composite army was fragmented by the discord and
disagreement among the several generals. Coordination was poor, and the
various divisions seem to have operated as separate commands during the battle.
This weakness was exacerbated by the mobility and speed of movement of the
Muslims, especially their cavalry; the Muslim foot and horse both managed to get
between and behind the separated imperial divisions.
The second disadvantage for the imperials was the broken and rugged terrain,
which the Muhammadan commanders exploited by feigned retreats and
ambushes. The imperials tried in vain to hold a unified single front. Moreover
many of the Byzantine troops were raw recruits or otherwise poorly trained and
unacclimatised to the East, the army having not yet fully recovered from the
Persian wars of the 620s, while the Muslims were mainly seasoned veterans.

Haldon proposes that the four Byzantine divisions were placed from left to right
as follows: (1) Extreme left (north): Jabala’s Ghassanids, formed up west of the
road from Damascus; while (2) the left division under the unnamed drungarius
guarded a bridge by which the Damascus road passed over the wadi called Wadi’l
Ruqqad. These two divisions faced the Muslim right. (3) The central imperial
division under Vahan was lined out along the road west of the wadi, the latter
separating it from the Muslim centre. (4) The imperial right division under
George was placed in the south, near where Wadi’l Ruqqad entered Wadi’l
Yarmuk. The latter ran between the Romanic and the Muslim lines.
As we mentioned earlier, George’s division on the Byzantine right was
spearheaded by heavy infantry drawn up in close formation: they formed a
shield-wall by interlocking their large shields.

Phase One: Following Muslim sorties and missile attacks, a command was issued
for a general advance by the whole Byzantine line.
In the north the two divisions of the imperial left (Jabala’s Ghassanids and the
Drungarius’s Byzantines) advanced, variously along and across the Damascus
road, to engage the Muhammadan right. Prominent in this push were Romanic
infantry units. The Muslims pulled back in a feigned retreat, and in the pursuit
the Byzantine cavalry were separated from their infantry. Phase Two: A joint
attack by Muslim foot and Khalid’s cavalry reserve put the Drungarius’s cavalry
to flight. This exposed the imperial infantry to attack from the enemy horse on
one side and enemy infantry in their rear. Now the Drungarius’s infantrymen
also broke and fled, along with Jabala’s Ghassanid cavalry. Some of the
Ghassanids fled; others defected to the Muslim side. This delivered control of the
bridge to the Muslims; they also captured the Byzantines’ northern base-camp
(there was another in the south).
Meanwhile, in the south, the Byzantine right and centre advanced across the
Wadi’l Ruqqad. They pushed back the Muhammadans but only for a short
distance; the Romanics apparently stopped or regrouped after reaching the line
of a lesser wadi, Wadi’l Allän, where the Muslims had originally stood. Perhaps
news of the defeat of the northern divisions had reached Vahan and George. Thus
ended Day One.
During the night, the Muslim left division made a surprise attack down and
across the Wadi’l Yarmuk, where it stormed and captured the southern base-
camp of the Byzantines. This placed the Muslim left division behind the imperial
divisions, while of course the line east of Wadi’l Allan was defended by the central
Muhammadan division. Thus, when Day Two dawned, the Byzantine southern
divisions were boxed in.

Phase Three: In the final phase the victorious northern Muslim forces turned
south to further box in the southern imperial forces. The surviving Byzantines
were not far from being surrounded on all sides. At about the same time as the
imperials realised they were being surrounded, a sand storm blew up. This
caused them further dismay, and very soon a rout set in. Vahan’s and George’s
men fled wherever they could, but in all directions lay broken country and

sections of ravines along the several wadis. The Muslims pursued mercilessly,
and very few imperials survived the rout. A few Byzantines managed to reach the
environs of distant Damascus, but were pursued even there. “The imperial army
effectively ceased to exist” (2001: 61).


Archaeologists and historians tend to conjure up differing images of the ‘end of

Rome’. Many of the former emphasise discontinuity, and argue that, at least in
Italy, hill-top settlements (castelli, kastra) replaced classical patterns of
(dispersed) settlement already in late Antiquity, i.e. during the 300s and 400s
AD. The latter, by contrast, see continuity of dispersed settlement up to the 10th
century, and date the incastellamento process - the replacement of “cities” by
fortress villages - from that time.
If we look at the region east of Rome itself, the region leading to the Sabine
hills, the evidence, both literary and archeological, suggests that Roman
settlement in the Farfa region of the Sabina (NE of Rome) peaked in the 1st- and
2nd-century AD. The end of the 2nd century, however, saw the beginning of a
decline in the number of datable sites. Few, if any, sites could be dated to the
Byzantine/Lombard period between 500 and 800, apparently confirming the
‘discontinuity’ argument which says that, at least in Italy, the ‘classical’
pattern of settlement had already collapsed, or largely collapsed, in
late Antiquity. – Thus Morland, ‘Farfa’. Also Wickham 2005.

The end of Long-Distance Trade: the Evidence of Pottery

Although long-distance trade was already seriously faltering by 600, its demise
was not reached until just before 700.
Many productions of both amphorae fine table wares ended in the later
seventh century; this was a systemic collapse. For example, it is now definite that
“Phocaean RS” (PRS: sophisticated ‘red slip’ ceramics from Phocaea in the east
Aegean) – once traded across the whole Mediterranean - ceased to be produced
in the period 670-700, somewhat later than used to be thought. This is clear from
excavations at Emporio on Chios, Gortyn on Crete, and in the Crimea. Trade in
PRS had been contracting since the 500s, but the local RS [local types of less
sophisticated red slipware] productions did not replace it, for they ceased as well.
They were replaced by coarser types (Wickham 2005: 784 ff).
160160160160160160160160160160 160160160160160160160160160160160
160160160160160160 160160160160160160160 160160160160
160160160160160160160160160160 160160160160160160160160160
160160160160160160160160160 160160160160160160160 160160160160160
160160160160160160 160160160160160160160160 160160160160160160
160160160160160160160160160160 160160160160160160160 160160160160
160160160 160160160160160160 160160160160 160160160160
160160160160160160160160160160 160160160 160160160160160160160

161161161161161161161161161161 161161161161161161
161161161161161161161161161 161161161161161161161161161
161161161161161161161161161161161 161161161161161161 161161161161161161161
161161161161 161161161161161161161161161161 161161161161161161161161161
161161161161161161161161161 161161161161161161161 161161161161161
161161161161161161 161161161161161161161161 161161161161161161
161161161161161161161161161161 161161161161161161161 161161161161 161161161
161161161161161161 161161161161 161161161161
161161161161161161161161161161161161161161 161161161161161161161161161161
161161161 161161161161161161161 161161161161161161161161161161
161161161161161161 161161161161161161161
With the creation of the Themes (Gk themata) – the regionally based and locally
recruited army units – in the 650s, soldiers would have been supplied locally.
Weapons, armour, horses, rations would have been obtained mostly from within
each Theme (albeit with coordination from Constantinople whenever a large
expedition was being organised). This no doubt hastened the end of the
interregional exchange network of Antiquity.

Cities: Going Backwards

Morrisson and Sodini write thus: “The progressive degradation of the cities is
clearly perceptible through excavation and is characterised by a break with ‘urban
logic’. Thoroughfares became dominated by shoddy and partitioned structures.
The intent of public monuments became subverted: baths and buildings of
importance did service as habitations or workshops: their marbles were torn out,
and heating stoves were installed nearby. Refuse and spolia [re-used material]
blocked certain areas of the sites or served as fill for floors of beaten earth.
Sewers and aqueducts were abandoned, and simple trenches took up the
functions of the former. Burials began to appear intra muros [inside the town
walls], and the walls of the city were no longer maintained. Houses suffered a
similar fate.”
“This typology, corresponding to a state of crisis that the city could overcome
only by transforming itself, finds confirmation throughout the Mediterranean
world. . . . What remains clear is that this urban withdrawal began [in the
East] in the course of the sixth century, with varying phases that may be
tied to geographic areas” (‘The Sixth Century Economy’, in Laiou ed., 2002 p.189;
emphasis added). Its culmination, of course, came in the 600s.

* * *

Cyril Mango, 1980: his chapter 3, has written at length on what he calls the
"disappearance" of the classical Greco-Roman city system in the East. A more
recent account can be found in Wickham 2005: 629 ff. The issue is much
debated, some saying cities actually disappeared, others that many survived,
albeit on a reduced scale (see Lightfoot 2010 for a summary of the debate on
various sides).
Mango for his part stresses that the great bubonic plague of 541-42, "the first of

its kind attested in history", was followed by six further epidemics before 600.
And plague and famine were followed, after 600, by the Persian and Avar-Slav
invasions. As a result, in the century 550-650, cities such as Athens and
Corinth contracted, or were reduced, to lesser settlements around a central fort.
In the Balkans, many of the ancient cities had simply disappeared by 650, the
end-result of a century of war, plague and famine. Chris Wickham, 2005: 630-31,
is less inclined to attribute the process to plague; but he agrees that there was
major “urban recession” in mainland Greece, mainly after 600, notably at Athens,
Corinth, Delphi and Butrint. Athens and Corinth at least survived, if only as large
villages; most urban centres were wholly abandoned: a “failure” rate (says
Wickham) of 80% in the wider Aegean region.
Wickham stresses, 2005: 626-27, that some regions, e.g. the outer Balkans, saw
economic and urban decline from as early as 550, while in other areas, e.g. Asia
Minor, there was little perceptible change up to the Persian attacks in the 610s.
Partly the economic and urban decline in the Balkans was due to successive
waves of the plague (Soltysiak 2006).
Urban revival began slowly only in the ninth century, meaning that most of
the empire was governed from fortress-outposts (Gk: kastra) in the
two centuries from 650 to 850 (2005: 631).

We must imagine, I suppose, that small villages continued to flourish, while the
larger towns and cities were left ruined and empty. Cf Haldon 1990: 120: “What
remained was instead a pattern of defended villages and fortresses, the strongest
of which often came to serve as the administrative and military centres; and, on
the coast of the Black Sea, the Aegean, the Adriatic and in south-west Asia Minor,
there are a few isolated ports and emporia”. Rautman p. 119 writes of “market
towns or fortified outposts of minor significance”.
Haldon, ibid: “The evidence of texts, numismatics and archaeology all point
uniformly in one direction: the effective disappearance of the late Antique
urban economies which [in the East] had survived up to the reign of Heraclius

When the Persians conquered Roman Alexandria in 619, New Rome

(Constantinople) could no longer import Egyptian wheat and barley. This was
only partly substituted for with new cereal fields in Thrace and, no doubt,
increased imports from Tunisia and Sicily (Browning pp.39, 82). In Asia Minor
many of the cities, such as Pergamum and Sardis, Amorium and Ancyra, were
either abandoned or much reduced in size after 622 as a result of the Persian
invasion (Hodges & Whitehouse p.61).
Browning p.93 says that “only a few” great cities retained the physical pattern
of the ancient city, with a long and fully maintained perimeter-wall. The point is
made more starkly by Mango, p.48: "Quite simply, the empire was
ruralised". Or as Haldon 1990 pp.111, 121, puts it, “the long-term decline of the
classical city [for Haldon, beginning in the 300s] was completed during the
seventh century”. Two centuries would elapse before the economy revived, i.e.
from around AD 825.
But others have questioned the thesis that the cities and towns of Anatolia

underwent catastrophic decline from the Sassanid raids of 611-628 (see, eg. in
Byzantion 52, 1982, 429 ff) and that the resultant damage meant the extinction
or the towns' corporate identity (see in Bvzantina kai Metabyzantina 4, 1985,
65ff). The majority view is that the Persian raids simply accelerated or
punctuated a longer-term development that took up to a century [from AD 565 to
665]. Cf 647-53.

Haldon summarises it well: “Some [poleis] were abandoned or destroyed; those

that survived shrank to insignificance, often surviving merely as
defended villages; others owed their continued existence to – and the
existence of a limited degree of commercial activity – to their function as military
and administrative centres, of both Church and state; yet others to their
geographical position in respect of trade routes and distance from enemy threat”
(1990: 113).
“What is crucial, and what indeed had actually occurred before the physical
destruction of the seventh century, is the change in the function of cities or towns
within the late Roman society and economy. They were quite simply no longer
relevant to the state or to the greater part of the ruling elite. Where they survived,
therefore, it was either because they could fulfill a function in respect to the
institutions of the church or state—as an administrative base for example—or in
respect of genuine economic and social patterns of demand” (Haldon 1990: 121,
emphasis added).

Rural Units

The empire’s population was still some seven to 10 million. As a mental

experiment, let us imagine that there was an average of (say) 300 inhabitants in
the sometimes extensive monastic estates, some surviving larger estates, the
multitudinous villages and military estates and various free peasant communes.
This gives us, in 650, an empire stretching from North Africa to eastern Anatolia
that was comprised of 23,000 to 33,000 dispersed ‘rural units’. Indeed the
number of ‘rural units’ was probably larger than that: the large estates should
visualized not so much as huge unbroken tracts as a great number of dispersed
plots held by a single owner and worked by distinct sets of tenants (Mango 1980:

* * *
Numbers in the East Roman Army, 641-775
According to Treadgold, Army 1995 and State 1997.

As presented in Haldon’s books, a field army of about AD 600 numbered up to

24,000 troops but could be as small as 15,000. The largest field army deployed
after 641 was 20,000 (Treadgold 1982: 92).

a. AD 641: Heraclius:
21,800 cavalry and 87,200 infantry: land troops 109,000. Only about a third of

the total under Justinian.

In 622-23 Heraklios took his armies from Anatolia to Armenia and Abasgia,
part of modern Georgia, and thence into the Persian heartland. Treadgold
believes (1997: 294) that he had assembled an extremely large unified army of
perhaps 50,000 men.

b. 668: Constans:
The same, i.e. 109,000.
c. 775: Constantine V:
12,000 elite cavalry in the Tagmata.** Perhaps 8,000 other cavalry? Infantry
perhaps 60,000 including 6,000 in the infantry Tagmata. Land troops total
80,000: the low-point in the military capability of early Byzantium
(before AD 1071).
Navy: 18,500 oarsmen including 2,000 each in the Themes of Cibyrrhaeots and
Hellas, manning perhaps around 125 warships in all. This may be compared with
30,000 oarsmen in 540.

(**) The Tagmata or central regiments were created by Constantine V in the 760s.
In 1982 Treadgold (p.117) preferred a figure of 18,000 for the Tagmata, that is,
4,000 in each of the three cavalry Tagmata: the SCHOOLS or Scholai,
EXCUBITORS and WATCH or Vigla; and 2,000 in each in the three infantry
Tagmata: the NUMERA, OPTIMATES*** and WALLS [Greek: Teiché or tagma
ton Teikheon]. Haldon prefers a figure of 10,000 for the Tagmata. In 1997 (p.373)
Treadgold evidently counts the Optimates (non-combat infantry support troops)
among the Themes rather than as Tagmata. Certainly the Optimates functioned
virtually like a theme, having their own lands in Bithynia, across the Bosphorus
from the capital, i.e. around the Gulf of Nicomedia.

(***) Not be confused with the earlier cavalry unit of the same name.
The Optimates (the elite cavalry regiment of AD 600) seem to have been
absorbed into the large Opsikion army that Heraclius and Constans II created
from the old praesental armies in the period 615-659. The Opsikion was perhaps
created as early as 615 but it did not become a Theme, holding land, until
probably about 659, when Constans further reduced pay in favour of land grants.
Later (from 681) the Opsikion theme was subdivided and its troops were split
between new Themes: Thrace in about 681 and then the Buccellarion about 766
(or perhaps as early as 745: see in main text). The lands held by the new infantry
Optimates, created presumably about 766/745, were in Bithynia.
In short, the old cavalry Optimates had long disappeared when the new
Optimates infantry were created in the 760s. But there may have been a
continuity through the land: possibly the same estates in Bithynia held by the ex-
Optimates (now Opsikion) cavalry from 659 were in about 766 given to the ex-
Opsikion foot-soldiers who were enrolled in the (new) Optimates. Cf Treadgold
Army pp.70 ff.

The Watch

Treadgold believes that the regiment of The Watch – in Greek: Bigla or Vigla,
from the Latin Vigilia - was created not under Irene, acc. 797, as Haldon argues,
but earlier under Constantine V (Treadgold 1982: 138 note 314; Haldon 1984).
The oldest surviving reference to the office of commander of the Watch,
drungarios tes Vigles, dates to 791 (ODB: 663). On campaign, the Watch
performed special duties, guarding the emperor's tent at night and conveying his
orders; it was also responsible for prisoners of war.


- Heraclian (from 610).
- Syrian or 'Isaurian'.
- Amorian (to 867).

The restored empire of Heraklios was to enjoy a respite of only eight years of
peace: 629-636. The Muslim Arabs would quickly pick up the pieces from the
titanic struggle between New Rome and Persia.
Arab expansion had begun under the prophet Muhammad (570-632), as for
example in a victory against the Persians in 610. At Muhammad's death, his
followers controlled the whole western half of the Arabian peninsula.
Muslim armies subsequently advanced irresistibly in all directions (or rather,
in all directions except one): through Palestine and Egypt (635-40) and thence
across North Africa to Spain (642-711, Carthage 698); and east through Persia to
what is now Afghanistan and southern Pakistan: Persia 637-49, Bukhara,
Samarkand and Kabul 661-80; and then to present-day Pakistan 711.
Only in one place did they fail to conquer, namely East Roman Anatolia.

Three of the five great seats of Christianity fell to the infidel - Jerusalem [637 or
38], Antioch [638], and Alexandria [641]. This left Constantinople and
Rome as the only Christian Patriarchates under Imperial rule.


Haldon comments that “there is, after the late 620s and early 630s, and up until
the later 8th or early 9th century [630-820], a more or less complete
disappearance of secular literary forms within the Empire . . . " -
"Similarly this period provides no examples of geographical, philosophical or
philological literature . . . Interest in the secular, pre-Constantinian, much less
the pre-Christian culture of the past, was for a century or so a rarity" (Haldon:
quoted by Gutas p.177).

It was likewise with other aspects of cultural life for several centuries. As
Mango p.265 notes, "the history of Byzantine art [mosaics, icons etc] from about
650 until about 850 is pretty much of a blank".
Certainly literacy contracted in depth and breadth, but it must not be thought
that literacy ended. Rather, the tiny educated stratum among the Greek
Romanics preferred new Christian styles of literature: the homily, the
disputation, quaestiones, florilegia*, miracle stories and hagiography (idealised
lives of the saints).

(*) Florilegia - Lat. florilegium, an anthology - were systematic collections

of excerpts, more or less copious, from the works of the Fathers and other
ecclesiastical writers of the early period, compiled with a view to serving
dogmatic or ethical purposes. These encyclopedic compilations – ‘Patristic
anthologies’ as they may be styled - are a characteristic product of the later
Romanic-Byzantine theological school.

641: - a year that saw four emperors on the throne:

1. Upon [1] Heraclius' death on 11 February 641, his will declared his two sons:
[2] Heraclius Constantine or Constantine III, aged 29, and [3] Heraclonas,
aged 15, as co-emperors. It stipulated that the half-brothers should have equal
status and rights in managing the government. The fourth emperor was the late
emperor’s grandson, Heraclius Constantine's youngest son, the 11 years old [4]
Constans II.
Constantine III during his brief reign from 12 February to 25 May appointed
Valentine, a Greco-Armenian general, as commander of the army of the East.

2. Heraclonas and Martina brought the army of Thrace to Constantinople to

replace a praesental army or regiment under the command of general
Constantine which was being sent (Aug-Sept 641) to Egypt as an escort for the
returning Egyptian patriarch Cyrus. —John of Nikiu, cited by Gellatin 1972: 143.

3. Heraclius Constantine [III] died only a few months after his father, in May 641.
The rumours that Martina, the unpopular dowager empress, mother of
Heraclonas, had brought about Heraclius Constantine's death by poison, and the
new Monothelete policies, caused the people and the Senate to turn against
Heraclonas and Martina.
Valentinus Arsacidus [Arm. Arshakuni], a general of Armenian descent, who
had been appointed commander-in-chief of the East by Constantine, now fired
the soldiery against Martina and her regime. With the assistance of the troops
stationed in Asia Minor, Valentine, the protege of the late Heraclius Constantine,
marched to Chalcedon on the Asian shore opposite the capital. This show of
strength against him forced Heraclonas to name Heraclius Constantine's young
son, the 11 year old Constans II, as co-emperor in September 641.

Haldon 1990 proposes that it was ideological (religious) motives that caused the

troops to support Constans II. However that may be, following Constantine's
instructions, Valentinus distributed the money sent by the imperial treasurer
Philagrius and prevailed on the troops throughout the provinces to act against
Martina and her sons and ignore the empress' orders, as well as orchestrating a
march on Constantinople (thus Garland, “Martina”).
This, however, failed to ease the discontent against young Heraclonas, and by
the end of the month the Senate deposed him. His nose was slit and Martina's
tongue cut out. Then Heraclonas and Martina were exiled to the island of Rhodes
(Oct 641). Moore notes that this is believed to be the first time that the so-called
"oriental" [read: non-Western] practice of mutilation was practised by the Greek
Romanics. But see above: 637-38. We must remember the East Romans were
devout Christians: mutilation was seen as more humane, or at least less sinful,
than execution.
Constans, aged 11, was married to Valentinus’s daughter Fausta, also aged
about 11.

The Reign of Constans II, 641-668

641-668: Constantine Pogonatus,

‘the bearded’,
known as CONSTANS II

In the 19th century scholars believed that the nickname

Pogonatos (‘bearded’ from pogon, ‘beard’) belonged to his
son Constantine IV, but the current view is that it actually
referred to Constans II. – Thus Moore, ‘Constantine IV’ at, accessed 2009.

Constans was a nickname meaning “little Constantine”. He

is called Constantine in the Liber Pontificalis and in
Constantine Porphyrogenitus’s De Ceremoniis. But
although officially his name was Constantine, it is his father
Constantine “III” and his son Constantine “IV” who are
counted thus.

Son of Constantine III and grandson of Heraclius; aged 11 at

accession. Constans was too young to rule: collegial rule
641-50 by the senate, which no doubt took advice from his
mother the dowager empress Gregoria.
Wife: Fausta, daughter of the army commander
Valentine. Three sons, including the future emperor
Constantine IV, born ca. 649.

Constans modelled his gold Byzantine coins after those of

his grandfather, Heraclius. He changed his coin portrait as
he aged from beardless to wearing a short beard, and finally

to wearing a very long, very full beard. He also retained

the ‘potent cross on the steps’ on the reverse - an equilateral
cross standing on a pyramid of steps. Massive beard: see
image here from one of his coins:

Greek words - complementing, not yet replacing, Latin

inscriptions - began to be used on coins in the seventh
century, namely EN TOUTO NIKA [Gk: ε ν τ ο ’υ τ ω
ν ι κ α ]- "in this sign conquer"** - on the bronze folles of
Constans II.

(**) The slogan of Constantine the Great.

“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 [see discussion under AD 659-62: the Themes]. 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” (Treadgold 1997).

Pope John IV, a Dalmatian: Troubles in his native land, caused by invasions of
‘pagan’ Slavs, directed John's attention there. To alleviate the distress of the
inhabitants, John sent the abbot Martin into Istria [present-day SW Croatia
opposite Italy] and Dalmatia with large sums of money for the redemption of
captives. As the ruined churches could not be rebuilt, the relics of some of the
more important Dalmatian saints were brought to Rome. —Kobylinski, in
McKetterick ed., Cambridge New Medieval History 1995: 542.

1. Constantinople: During the period prior to 650, the boy-emperor’s mother
Gregoria (widow of Constantine III) must have played an important role as
regent for her son. She was not only the widow of Heraclius Constantine, and
thus empress-dowager, but, as the daughter of Heraclius's cousin Niketas, a
member of the Heraclean dynasty in her own right. As such she must have been
involved in the conflicts between her husband and his step-mother and between
the champions of her son Constans and those of his uncle Heraclonas (Lynda
Garland, ‘Gregoria’, online 2009). Cf 644-45: killing of Valentinus.

2. The Muslim Arabs defeat the Persians. Al-Tabari claims that at Nihawand
(641) the Persians advanced "... like mountains of steel ..." and "in units of seven”,
while al-Baladhuri says they were drawn up in "... in tens and fives ...". Whatever

the case, a high degree of tactical organisation is indicated.

Roman Alexandria Falls to the Muslims


Hellenism and empire": end of the grain supply from Egypt, and no more cheap
papyrus. Papyrus is eventually superseded by expensive parchment, made
from stretched and dried calf skin.
Parchment had become more important than papyrus by about AD 250; and
exports of papyrus from Egypt greatly declined. Oikonomides (2002) notes that
the last chrysobull (imperial charter) written on papyrus dates from as late as

Chronology thus: 9 April, 641: surrender of Babylon under (the second) treaty -
13 May 641: capture of Nikiou. - End of June 641: Alexandria attacked; 14 Sept.
641: return of Cyrus to Egypt - 8 Nov. 641: capitulation of Alexandria; Sept 642:
the Byzantine ruling caste departs.


In June 640, reinforcements for the Arab army arrived in Egypt, increasing Amr's
forces to between 8,000 and 12,000 men. As related earlier, in July 640 the
Arab and Byzantine armies met on the plains of Heliopolis. Although the
Byzantine army was routed, the results were inconclusive because the Byzantine
troops were able to flee to the fortress of Babylon (Bab al Yun).
Finally, after a six-month siege, Babylon fell to the Arabs on 9 April 641. The
Arab army then marched to Alexandria, which was not prepared to resist despite
its well fortified condition. Consequently, the governor of Alexandria agreed to
surrender, and a treaty was signed in November 641. The following year, the
Byzantines broke the treaty and attempted unsuccessfully to retake the city.
The East Romans evacuated Alexandria in September 642 in accordance with a
treaty negotiated under Heraclonas' reign. The Arab leader ‘Amr occupied the
city and began to advance through North Africa (Libya), taking Pentapolis and
Tripolis in 643. The Romanics were able to retake Alexandria in 645, but they
were able to hold the city only for a year and were soon expelled permanently
from the region. (To be more exact, we could say that the Christian Greco-Coptic
population went from being ruled by Greeks to being ruled by Muslim Arabs.)
With Palestine and Syria already lost, the effect was a loss of many of the *“15”
Eastern imperial weapons factories, leaving only those at Cappadocian Caesarea,
Sardis, Nicomedia, the Capital, Adrianople and Thessalonica (says Haldon 1990:

(*) Strictly, “15” was the total in around AD 400, in the Notitia Dignitatum. The
Slavs had already ravaged through the Balkans, resulting in the loss of the
factories at Marcianopolis (Thrace), Naissus, Ratiaria and Horreum Margi, in

what is now Bulgaria. – And it is most unlikely that arms were still able to be
produced at the much reduced fortress-town of Sardis.

From Papyrus to Parchment

The so-called ‘four disappearances’—better: their near disappearance from the

Latin West—in the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages were: 1 papyrus,
2 oriental luxury textiles, 3 spices and 4 gold currency. In the Christian and
Muslim East these things endured: see, for example under 687-92.
Papyrus continued to be used by the Byzantines after the loss of Egypt in 641
but parchment became much more important. —Reynolds & Wilson 1991: 59.
With the end of the trade in papyrus to Western Europe, parchment became
the main material for books in the West. Brown, 1997 p. 217, notes that in the
time of Pope Gregory, d. 604, it took the skins of over 500 calves to make just
one major Bible. Gregory’s own collected works took up 2,100 parchment folios
in 11 volumes.

1a. Armenia: Muslim Arabs attack Byzantine Armenia and pillage Dvin.

1b. (spring:) The emperor’s father-in-law General Valentine campaigns against

the Arabs. This turned out badly. Overcome by fear in the face of the Arabs, his
army retreated in such haste that the entire baggage train was lost to the enemy
(Gellatin 1972: 152, citing the Syriac chronicle).

2. Italy: ca 642: Lombards capture Byzantine-held Genoa, which Epstein 2002:14

imagines was little more than a sleepy fishing village. The importance of the
event was that it put an end to an imperial enclave hitherto surrounded by
Lombard domains.

1. Libya: The Muslim Arabs under general ‘Amr ibn al-A'as occupy Byzantine
Cyrenaica (late 642) and Tripolitania (643: modern Libya). See 647.
Cyrenaica is the eastern ‘bump’ on the map of Libya. The first incursion took
the Muslims past Tobruk into central Cyrenaica but not quite as far as Benghazi
(classical Berenice). Then in 643 they pushed on along the coast of the Syrtic Gulf
to the western town of Tripoli, which they briefly captured but failed to hold.
They penetrated as far as Leptis Magna (modern Labla) which they also briefly
took, before retiring to Egypt to sell the booty they had collected. A small garrison
was left at Barca. Western Libya reverted to imperial or local administration.
There will be another incursion in 645, but no further conquests are attempted
until 647 (Kennedy 2008: 207).

Byzantine control over Libya was restricted to a few lightly defended coastal
strongholds, and the Arab horsemen who first crossed into the Pentapolis,
Cyrenaica, in September 642 encountered little resistance. Under the command
of Amr ibn al-A'as, the soldiers of Islam entered Cyrenaica, later renaming the

Pentapolis region Burqa or Barqah (from the Latin Barca, name of the region’s
capital: modern Al Marj). The Byzantine garrison at Barca decamped without a
fight, and the local Berbers agreed to pay tribute (Kennedy 2008: 206).
It has been argued that the Arabs were able to neutralise the “extraordinarily
impressive” defences of Byzantine Cyrenaica because they were welcomed by the
local Copts [monophysite Christians], who naively expected Arab support against
the ‘orthodox’, dyophysite Byzantines (Goodchild, quoted in Hodges &
Whitehouse p. 60).
‘Africa’ proper, greater Tunisia as we know it, remained safe for so long as the
empire controlled the sea. Soon, however, Byzantium would nearly lose that
control …. See 648-49 below.

2. First Arab raids against present-day Georgia and into Byzantine

Asia Minor. —Kaegi 1995: 192.

Theodore I, a Greek-speaking refugee from Palestine, was Patriarch of Rome or
"Pope". He purported to excommunicate two Patriarchs of Constantinople for
accepting the Ekthesis, Heraclius’s monothelite formula of 638. Cf 648 – the

642-51: The East: The Arab armies swept over the Iranian plateau and
wiped out the imperial Sassanian army at Nihavand (642). The Persian shah
Yazdgird fled to Merv in the far NE, where he was murdered while hiding in
a mill (651).

1. The Armenian governor of Byzantine Armenia defeats an Arab invasion;
Constans appoints him commander in chief of the local Byzantine-Armenian
(imperial) regiment.

2a. Internal revolt in Romanic/Byzantine Italy. Maurice the chartularius

[‘custodian of charters’, the senior military administrator] rebelled and prepared
to set out for Ravenna with the assembled village garrisons of the Roman duchy
(“from all the walled towns around Rome”). The exarch Isaac sent Donus the
Magister Militum (his field commander) and his treasurer to Rome with “an
army”, doubtless a considerable body of troops. This caused the Roman
adherents of Maurice to abandon his cause. Maurice was captured and taken to
Ravenna, or rather he was executed outside Ravenna and his head caried into the
city and displayed in the hippodrome (Liber Pontificalis 75.2, trans. Davis p.69).

2b. N Italy: In the same year, imperial troops fought a pitched battle against an
invading army of the Lombard king Rothari on the river Panaro near Modena,*
NW of Bologna—about two-thirds of the way from the Lombard capital Pavia to
the imperialist capital Ravenna; the Exarch Isaac was killed at the battle of

Panaro. See 646.

Rothari conquered all of the imperial possessions in Liguria, as well as much
of Emilia, in around 643. A battle fought between the Lombards and troops of
the Exarchate near the Panaro [a tributary of the Po: near Modena] ended in
defeat for the East Romans, with several thousand soldiers killed (“8,000”
according to Paulus**). Isaac himself probably met his death fighting the
Lombards (Fanning 1970: 46).

(*) The Panaro enters the Po from the south below Modena.

(**) There may have been as many as 16,000 soldiers altogether in the
Byzantine army of Italy at this time (Treadgold 1995: 147). But most would
surely have been stationed away from Ravenna, i.e. along the corridor from
Ravenna to Rome, in Rome, Naples, Apulia, Calabria and Sicily. One is
thefore inclined to imagine that a zero should be dropped off the number of
deaths in this battle, i.e. 800 killed rather than 8,000.

The Lombards also take the Ligurian coast - west and east of present-day Genoa:
from Luna in Tuscany to the Frankish border. Others, e.g. LaRocca 2002, would
date this to 638. The walls of the captured towns were demolished, and they were
thereafter re-labelled villages instead of ‘cities’.

A Romanised Germanic minority in Italy

“The Lombard settlement seems to have been largely to the north of the Po
River, the area with the majority of Lombard place-names and Germanic-style
archaeological finds (mostly from cemetery sites). But even there Lombards must
have been in a minority, and they must have been even more so farther south.
There were probably few concentrations of Germanic settlers entirely immune to
Roman cultural influence. The Lombard language seems to have disappeared by
the 8th century [i.e. around 725], leaving few loanwords in the Italian language.
The impression conveyed is of a gradual Romanisation of the society and culture
of the Lombards, within the framework of their continuing political dominance.”
– ‘Italy’ (2006). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 2009 from
Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service:

A Simpler Life: Wood Displaces Ceramics in the West

Gradual Romanisation of the Lombards did not mean any return to the
prosperity of the period before AD 400, when it was quite usual for a peasant in
upland central Italy to eat off a fine pottery bowl manufactured in North Africa
(Ward-Perkins 2006).
Archaeology shows that in the high Roman times people had used many
different types of ceramic vessels for cooking, serving and eating: jugs, plates,
bowls, serving dishes, mixing and grinding bowls, casseroles, lids, amphorae and
others. By the 7th century, however, the standard vessel of northern Italy was the

metal (brass) olla, a simple bulbous cooking pot (Ward-Perkins 1984: 106).

In the West, where in high Roman times even the poorer half of the rural
population had had tiles on their roofs, there are virtually no surviving ceramic
roof tiles already from the 400s, suggesting the use of wooden shingles or thatch,
which can easily catch fire, leak and harbour insects (see the discussion in Ward-
Perkins 2005: 95 ff).
“The scale and quality of buildings, even of churches, shrank dramatically—so
that, for instance, tiled roofs, which were common in Roman times even in a
peasant context, became a great rarity and luxury. In the 6th and 7th-century
West the vast majority of people lived in tiny houses with beaten earth floors,
drafty wooden walls, and insect-infested thatch roofs; whereas, in Roman times,
people from the same level of society might well have enjoyed the comfort of solid
brick or stone floors, mortared walls, and tiled roofs” (Ward-Perkins, interview

In Italy, as was noted earlier, already in the late 500s we see a sharp fall in the
number of surviving inscriptions and the disappearance of high quality glazed
pottery (“African Red Slip Ware”). This appears to confirm the literary evidence
for a marked economic decline. In the 600s even low-quality pottery was
replaced by wooden dishes, plates and cups. The end of the trade in pottery
meant that most household goods were wooden by about 650. Amphorae gave
way to wooden barrels, or rather they gave way entirely to barrels, for wooden
casks had long been used for transporting wine in NW Europe (Brown 1984: 7).
And so too vintage wines finally disappeared, as barrels were not airtight.
In the East, the rich continued to use fine ceramics. Glazed ‘white ware’
pottery replaced red slipware in the period 650-750 but it was not much traded
outside Constantinople. Glazed pottery also began to be produced at Corinth
from before 700. Other glazed types have been found at various towns around
the Aegean shore, but probably they were locally produced (Laiou and Morrisson
2007: 75).

The reasons for decline in the West are not hard to find:

“By the later sixth century [in Italy], the regular market was both a thing of
the past and of the future. Clearly when towns declined the markets
declined with them and the rurally based ceramic production sites became
anti-economical for professional potters. Though their position had been
based on primary resource location (clay, wood, water, etc.), this was with
the guarantee that large markets were readily at hand through an efficient
(Roman) communication network. However, the collapse of many pottery
industries in the fifth and sixth centuries is probably not only to be
explained by cessation in demand (although demand presumably
diminished with diminishing population levels) or by rising marketing
costs, but also by internal costs. As population levels dropped and intensive
agriculture diminished, agricultural surplus became increasingly restricted
and more highly valued as an exchange commodity. It would therefore be

used primarily for exchange with money to pay taxes or for exchange with
other basic goods. In this context we could expect the emergence of an
economic system directed principally towards fundamental needs. Pottery
could, instead, be made by the household or by a household industry for
group use and this seems to be a pattern that emerges with the development
of the village community.” –P Arthur & H Patterson, ‘Ceramics and early
medieval central and southern Italy: "a potted history"’, in Francovich R.,
Noyé G. (a cura di), La storia dell'alto-medioevo italiano (VI-X secolo) alla
luce dell'archeologia, Firenze 1994, pp. 409-441.

1. Syria: The Byzantine navy had been very active in the struggle with the
Muslims, especially in keeping supplies delivered to the threatened coastal ‘cities’
(towns) of Palestine-Lebanon-Syria. It is reported by al-Balâdhurî and al-Athîr,
that when Syrian Tripoli (Atrâbulus) fell (644), its inhabitants were evacuated
thanks to a fleet or flotilla sent by the emperor (Gil 1997: 58).

2. Italy: The Edict of Rothari, first written legal code of the Lombards. It shows
some Roman influences, but is a largely Germanic code, although written in
Physical injuries were all minutely catalogued, with a price (fine) for each
tooth, finger or toe. Property was a concern: many laws dealt specially with
injuries to an aldius, the half-free, ex-serf, poor peasant villager; cf Latin colonus;
or to a household slave. A still lower class, according to their assigned values,
were the agricultural slaves. Roman slaves had lower value in regard to fines
than Germanic slaves "of the nations".
Lombard law governed Lombards solely. The Roman population expected to
live under long-codified Roman law. It was declared that foreigners who came to
settle in Lombard territories were expected to live according to the laws of the
Lombards unless they obtained from the king the right to live according to some
other law.

Asia Minor: First recorded Arab attack on Amorium - effectively the geographical
centre-point of western Asia Minor.

According to Nicolle, 1993: 8, the total armed forces of the Caliphate under Umar
may have reached 50,000 men (regulars and irregulars) by 644. This was still
only about half the size of the enrolment of the Byzantine army: see table above
[before entry for 641].
Jandora 1990: 99 proposes that by this time the Arabs’ armaments had much
improved. The light-armed troops of earlier years became less important, with
the major role now given to heavy cavalry and heavy infantry (as in the Byzantine
and Sassanian armies).

2. Antioch: The earliest Syriac ‘dispute text’ in the Islamic milieu may well be the

report from the early eighth century which purports to be an account of the
interrogation of Patriarch John III (631-648) of Antioch by a Muslim emir,
‘Umayr ibn Sa’d al-Anbãrî, on Sunday, 9 May 644. –Reinink 1993.

1. Contest for the throne: Valentinus, father-in-law of the emperor and
commander-in-chief of the East, if not of the entire army, retained an extremely
influential position - perhaps too much so for the Constantinopolitans. At any
rate, in 644 or 645 his soldiers' activities in the city, apparently relating to
another bid by Valentinus for the throne, sparked off a riot which led to his being
lynched by the mob (Garland, ‘Fausta’).

2. Damascus: Assassination of Umar I, 644.

Uthman is elected Caliph (644-656). The governor of Syria and future caliph
Mu'awiya [Mu‘awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, Uthman's second cousin] commences
construction of an ‘Arab’ fleet, i.e. with the caliph’s Christian subjects supplying
the oarsmen, and Muslims the marines and commanders. The first squadron was
formed at Syrian Tripoli/Tarabulus in 645; first action in 649 (Dromon, p.25) Cf
649, 655.

3. Syria: Mu’âwiyah ordered, AH 24 / AD Nov. 644–Oct. 645, a certain number of

fortifications to be constructed on the Syrian littoral, undoubtedly to prevent
Byzantine attacks from the sea.

Africa: The Muslims under Amr re-invade Byzantine Cyrenaica with help from
various Libyan tribes and an Egyptian (Christian) naval detachment under the
Coptic duke [doux, ‘commander’] Sanutius. The ‘duke’ may have aided the
Muslims in return for a measure of tolerance or independence for the
Monophysite (“Jacobite”, Coptic) church (Fage 1979: 499).

c.645 (or 646-47):

S Italy: The Lombards take Salerno, the coastal ‘city’ or fortified village SE of

1. The East: Further Arab campaigns in Armenia under Maslama and in
Cappadocia under Mu’awiya. It is said that in 646 the Arabs penetrated into Asia
Minor as far as Amorium in Phrygia and Pisidian Antioch (Gellatin 1972: 156).

2. [Or 644-46:] An East Roman fleet under an Armenian commander named

Manuel sails to Egypt and reoccupies Alexandria (645). Treadgold, 1997: 312,
explains the welcome given to Manuel by noting that (as stated by John of Nikiu)
the caliphate levied higher taxes than the empire and showed even less respect to
Monophysitism than had the empire. Indeed taxes were doubled (John of Nikiu,
cited by Kennedy 2008: 353).

Recapture and Final Loss of Alexandria

Manuel advanced into the Nile delta, but the Arab general Amr - recalled to win
Egypt a second time - at the head of 15,000 men defeats him and retakes
Alexandria (646).
The battle took place at the small fortified town of Nikiu, about two-thirds of
the way from Alexandria to Fustat, with the Arab forces numbering around
15,000, against a larger Romanic force. Despite a hard fight, with one of their
champions being slain in single combat, the Arabs prevailed, and the Byzantine
forces retreated in disarray back to Alexandria, pursued by the Arabs. Manuel re-
embarked for Constantinople.
The failure of Manuel's expedition, evidently a large and expensive one, left
young Constans on the defensive for several years.

Cf al-Baladhuri, text online at

“The Greeks [of Egypt] wrote to Constantine, son [sic: grandson] of Heraclius,
who was their king at that time, telling him how few the Muslims in Alexandria
were, and how humiliating the Greeks' condition was, and how they had to pay
poll-tax. Constantine sent one of his men, called Manuwil [Manuel], with 300
ships full of fighters. Manuwil entered Alexandria and killed all the [Muslim]
guard that was in it, with the exception of a few who by the use of subtle means
took to flight and escaped. This took place in the year 25 [AD 646-47].
“Hearing the news, 'Amr set out at the head of 15,000 men and found the
Greek fighters doing mischief in the Egyptian villages next to Alexandria. The
Muslims met them and for one hour were subjected to a shower of arrows,
during which they were covered by their shields. They then advanced boldly and
the battle raged with great ferocity until the "polytheists" [Christians] were
routed; and nothing could divert or stop them before they reached Alexandria.
Here they fortified themselves and set mangonels [torsion catapults]. 'Amr made
a heavy assault, set the ballistae [crossbow-powered catapults firing spear-like
bolts] and destroyed the walls of the city. He pressed the fight so hard until he
entered the city by assault, killed the fighters and carried away the children as
captives. Some of its Greek inhabitants left to join the Greeks somewhere else;
and Allah's enemy, Manuwil, was killed [sic: an error]. Amr and the Muslims
destroyed the wall of Alexandria in pursuance of a vow that 'Amr had made to
that effect, in case he reduced the city.”

Lombard southern Italy: Slavic plunderers landed near Siponto, on the Adriatic
coast near Manfredonia. Aiulf of Benevento personally led his forces against the
intruders, but his horse fell into a pit dug by the Slavs around their camp and he
was surrounded and killed (Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Romuald’).

1. Muslims attack western Libya.

In late 646, the patrikios Gregory, Exarch of Carthage, with the support of the
Orthodox population in the exarchate and the aid of nearby Moorish tribes,
rebelled against Constans II, citing religious reasons. Fortunately for the
emperor, who was unprepared for this sudden challenge to his authority, Gregory
was - according to Baladhuri, in his Kitab futuh al-Buldan - soon distracted (647)
by an invading Arab army and killed. The Christian sources, e.g. Mich. Syr. II
440-441, say he survived and submitted to the emperor. If the Exarch was in fact
killed it is perhaps puzzling that the Muslims should withdraw, albeit after
levying tribute from the Christians. - Michael the Syrian; also TCOT: 43. See 647

In 647 the new governor of Egypt, Abdallah ibn Sallah [recte: Abd Allah b. Sa’d b.
Abi Sarh], led some 7,500 Arabs (Yemenis and other southern Arabians) into
Libya. They bypassed Byzantine Tripoli and marched along the coast towards
what is now southern Tunisia. Hearing of this, Gregory proceeded to Sbeitla in
today’s north-central Tunisia with an army of Afro-Romans and Berbers. Gregory
is said to have led “120,000” men, an impossibly large number; 12,000 troops
would be more credible. In a battle fought outside the town, the imperials were
definitely and decisively defeated and Gregory was possibly killed. As we have
noted, the sources differ on whether he survived (Kennedy 2008: 207; cf
Treadgold 1995: 147: perhaps 15,000 men in the Byzantine army of Africa in

2. S. Italy: The now-Catholic Lombards take Salerno, the port-town south-east of

Naples, and annex it to the Duchy of Benevento. See 662.

1. Arab incursion into Asia Minor, led by Caliph Uthman himself: they raid into
Cappadocia and besiege Caesarea. —Louth, in New Cambridge Medieval History
[NCMH], 1995, ed. Rosamund McKetterick et al., p.298.

2. Africa: Muslims attack Romanic Tunisia. As noted, the Exarch of Carthage,

Gregory, perhaps in a religiously tinged revolt, declares himself emperor (646);
but as also noted, he was defeated and apparently killed (647) in battle with the
Arabs. See 652.
The support of his troops was probably genuinely motivated by religious
concerns. By now pay and conditions were no longer a source of grievance as
soldiers were mainly self-supporting: cf Haldon 1990: 371.
After successfully consolidating earlier Arab conquests in Egypt, in early 647 an
Arab army under the command of Abdallah ibn Sallah or ibn al Sa’ad invaded
western Tripolitania [Libya]. Gregory gathered an army and forced a battle, and
was defeated and (perhaps) killed. The encounter took place on the plains near
Sufetula, Arabic Sbeitla, in north-central Tunisia, SW of present-day Kairouan,
well S of Tunis.
Most of Tunisia was abandoned by the empire, and left for the Berbers and
Arabs to contest. The surviving Byzantine soldiers withdrew behind the walls of
Carthage (Kennedy 2008: 208).

c.647 (or ?649):

East Mediterranean and Aegean: First naval expedition by the Caliphate
sent by Mu’awiyah, the governor of Syria, sailing from Acre to Cyprus and Crete,
probably in 649 (Kennedy 2008: 326). The island of Cyprus, an important
way-station for Mediterranean trade, is briefly occupied by Arab forces.
The capital Constantia was taken by storm.
Later Cyprus took on a neutral role, with neither imperial nor Arab forces
based there. It reverted to Byzantine rule in 659 under a treaty between Constans
and Mu’awiya but later again reverted to neutrality (Dromon p.25). See 649-50.

In 648/49 ("in the year 960 of Alexander": Chron. of 1234*) the caliphate
launched a naval attack on Cyprus with a large fleet—“1,700” ships according to
Theophanes: 170 would be more credible—drawn from both Syria and Egypt. The
Muslims captured and sacked Konstantia and much of the island (Theophanes
says “the whole island”) before returning home when winter approached: Chron.
of 1234, §131 (pp. 268-270) ("the emir Mu`âwiya"), Theoph. AM 6140. When
Romaic reinforcements approached under the chamberlain Kakorhizos (not
mentioned in Chron. 1234), Mu`âwiya withdrew. Then he laid siege to Arados,
the island off the Syrian coast, trying to take the fortress Kastellon or Castellus;
he failed and finally retired to Damascus as winter approached: Theoph. AM
6140, Chron. of 1234, §132, p. 273 (PBW under ‘Mu’awiya’).

(*) The Chronicle of 1234, Latin: Anonymi auctoris Chronicon ad annum

Christi 1234 pertinens, compiled by an anonymous West Syriac writer or
writers, is a universal history from Creation until AD 1234; hence the name.

The East: In 647 the Arabs entered Armenia and Cappadocia, and sacked
Anatolian Caesarea. In 648 they raided into Phrygia and in 649 launched their
first maritime expedition (see next) against Crete. A major Arab offensive into
Cilicia and Isauria in 650–651 forced the emperor to enter into negotiations with
the Caliphate's governor of Syria, Mu’awiyah.

Eastern Mediterranean: The Muslim governor of Egypt, 'Abd Allah or ‘Abdullah
ibn Sa'd ibn Abi Sarh, was the co-founder, with the Syrian governor and future
caliph Mu'awiyah, of the first Muslim navy. Mu’awiyah’s fleet seized Cyprus or
at least its capital Constantia [Salamis] (c. 647–649: probably in 649), Rhodes,
and Cos or Kos, one of the Dodecanese Islands: NE of Rhodes, off the coast from
modern Bodrum; and ‘Abdullah’s ships defeated a Byzantine fleet off Alexandria
in 652 (Fouracre et al. 2005: 298). See 655.

The Disappearance and Survival of Cities and Towns, AD 575-675


In the case of S Asia Minor, Ken Dark, in Harris 2005: 173, nominates
Anemourion as the best archaeologically analysed example of a ‘city’ (township)
that shows urban decline in the 7th century. It was located on the coast of
southern Asia Minor directly north of the western end of Cyprus, about halfway
between present-day Anatalya and Silfke.
“The failure of the inhabitants to repair or rebuild structures affected by the
earthquake [in ca. 580] clearly reflects the city’s impoverished state. This
condition was perhaps exacerbated by a serious loss of population and by the
increasingly turbulent conditions that attended the long Persian War (611–628)
and the subsequent depredations of marauders that plagued the Anatolian
coast in the aftermath of the Arab invasions of Cyprus in 649 and 653/654.”
Russell: “The marked break in the series of coin finds that occurs around 660,
especially when associated with evidence for the abandonment of the various
seventh-century houses explored, indicates that human activity on the site during
the last decades of the seventh century [from 680] was much reduced and had
probably ceased completely by the early eighth century [c. 710]. … Compared to
the flourishing city of the early Roman Empire or the Christian city of the fifth
and early sixth centuries, the community of Anemourion in the final decades of
its existence (ca. 580–660) was a sadly diminished shadow of its predecessors”
(James Russell, in Laiou ed, 2002, Economic History of Byzantium; online at emphasis added). Cf below, c.650: Ephesus and

On the other hand, F R Trombley has argued that evidence from Gortyna, the
administrative capital of Crete; Soloi on Cyprus; and Druinopolis in Epirus Nova
show that towns had not disappeared or at least not everywhere. In each
instance, texts, epigraphy and/or site reports provide clear evidence of continuity
and indeed re-building.
For Gortyna, the capital of Byzantine Crete, ongoing excavations in the
praetorium complex of the lower town match reports of considerable
administrative and ecclesiastical facilities in 8th century sources (e.g. Vita S.
Andrei, BHG 113), and their survival despite Arab sea raids. Similarly relevant
are two inscriptions from Soloi on Cyprus dated 647/8 and 653/4 which record
the consequences of an Arab sea raid which nearly depopulated the island and of
an earthquake, after which many buildings, including the basilica, were rebuilt
(Soloi, ed. J. des Gagniers). Neither at Gortyna nor Soloi were the lower
cities abandoned in favour of akropoleis [hilltop forts] for the purpose
of habitation, despite the proximity of the sites to Arab-infested seas.
—Trombley, 1988.

1. The East: Rhomaniya / Byzantium pays ‘330,000’ nomismata [or 331,200:
4,600 Roman pounds] in tribute to the caliph ‘Uthman. Treadgold 1997: 411
observes that, if the empire could afford this, then its annual budget must have
been of the order of one million nomismata, rising to perhaps two million by the
end of Constans' reign. See below: table near 668.

2. Africa and Cyprus: The African exarch Gregory, son of Heraclius's cousin
Nicetas, had been proclaimed emperor. In 648 the Egypt-based Arabs began a
real invasion of Gregory's exarchate, while Mu'awiyah's fleet raided Cyprus
(Treadgold 1997: 312: see below). 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 was self-appointed, but
formally he acknowledged Constans.) Cf 665.

3. Following a theological disagreement between the Pope and the Patriarch,

Constans issues his Typos, a religious edict forbidding all discussion of two wills
or two energies. This would inaugurate a new phase in the theological battle. See
649-52 (Armenia).

End of the “East Roman Lake”: The Arabs create a navy in order to break
the Byzantine empire’s monopoly on sea-power: as noted, they raided
East Roman Cyprus (or in 647). Buoyed by this initial success, the Arabs
continued their naval efforts and were rewarded by successful attacks at Rhodes,
Cos, and Crete. See 655.

In 648/649 AD - probably in 649 - Arabs sailed against Cyprus with a big

armada, said by Theophanes to number 1,700* ships and boats, under the
leadership of Mu’awiyah, governor of Syria. The sailors and oarsmen were
Christian Egyptians (Copts) and Syrians, while all the marines were Muslim
soldiers (Jandora 1990: 98; Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 91). After a brief siege,
they conquered and sacked the capital Salamis-Constantia, on the east coast
opposite Lebanon, and pillaged the rest of the island. Cf 652.

(*) The number of ships may seem impossibly large, but we also hear of an
Arab fleet of 1,800 vessels in 717 (see there). Even so, a more credible figure
would surely be just 170 major vessels.

After sacking Cyprus for the first time in 649, the Muslim navy continued the
journey but, according to Sebeos (trans. Howard 1999: 111–112), was intercepted
off the Lycian coasts (east of Rhodes) by a Byzantine squadron and destroyed.
In 649/650 Mu’awiya again attacked Arados, Arabic Arwad, the island off the
Syrian coast. This time the defenders surrendered it on condition that the
inhabitants could settle wherever they wished; he burnt the town, razed the walls
and made the island uninhabitable: Chron. of 1234, §132 p. 273; Theoph. AM
6141 placed in the same year as the Council of Rome, i.e. 649 (PBW under

1. Asia: It seems that the Army of Thrace was still serving in Cilicia in 649

(Gellatin 1972: 159); it was afterwards allocated land in western Asia Minor in the
region that would become the ‘Thrakesion’ theme – see 659.

2. Italy: The anti-monothelite Martin I is consecrated as 'pope', i.e. patriarch of

Rome, without first receiving the emperor's concurrence. Martin convenes a
synod in Rome (‘Lateran synod’) to denounce Monothelitism. Interestingly, the
senior papal notaries at the synod were freely and fluently translating from Greek
into Latin, a token of the influx of Greek-educated émigré clergy since 600. See
653 (arrest of Martin).
Before 649: The Greek-speaking monastery in Rome, San Saba, was
established by refugees from Roman Palestine. It is first attested to in the Acts of
the Lateran Synod of 649, at which Monothelitism (which had the support of the
emperor) was debated, with the patriarch of Rome, Martin, presiding (r. 649-53;
d. 655 in exile at Chersonesus [Sevastopol] in the Crimea).

1. Constans, aged 19, leads an army to Armenia to re-impose orthodoxy. See 654.

2. Revolt of the exarch Olympius in Italy.

Rome: At the Lateran council in 649, under the guidance of the pope or
archbishop of Rome Martin, the assembled bishops condemned both the
Ekthesis of Heraclius and the Typos of Constans, as well as the successive
Constantinopolitan patriarchs Sergius, Pyrrhus and Paul. Constans ordered (649)
Olympius to travel (from Ravenna) to Rome and arrest Pope Martin and force the
bishops to accept and sign the Typos. Unable to coerce the bishops into accepting
the Typos and unable to gain support from local (Roman) forces against the
pope, Olympius sided with the patriarch of Rome Martin and soon declared
himself emperor. “A reconciliation took place between Exarch and Pope, so
complete as to give some colour to the charge that
Olympius aimed at making himself Emperor, and that
Martin countenanced him in his treason” (Hodgkin).
Even if Olympius was a self-serving cynic (which we cannot know), probably
the troops who did support him were genuinely motivated by religious discontent
(cf Haldon 1990: 373).
He soon gathered an army together from elsewhere in Italy and crossed into
Sicily in 652, either to fight the Saracens or (more probably) the local Byzantine
forces. His army was stricken by an unknown disease, which killed Olympius that
same year. —Liber Pontificalis, trans. Davis 1989: 69f.

Old Rome: This period saw many Easterners and Greek-speakers elevated to the
papacy. The so-called “Greek” popes were: Theodore I died 649, Agatho +681,
Leo II +683, Joannes/John VI +705, John VII +707, and Zacharias +752. The
Syrian popes were: John V (+687), Sergius I (701), Sisinnius (708), Constantine I
(715), and Gregory III (+732).


1. Possible date of the first deportation (forced resettlement) of Slavs from the
Balkan peninsula to Asia Minor (Bithynia), as reflected in a seal inscribed ton
andras donton [or andrapodon, ‘captive, slave’] ton Sklavoon tes Bithynon
eparchias. The date on the seal (“eighth indiction”) indicates either 649/5 or
694/5. It is recorded that 5,000 Slavs deserted from the Byzantine side to the
Arabs in 664/5, so the more likely date for the seal would be 649/50 (Toynbee
p.90, citing Charanis).

2. New city walls erected at Ephesus, but around a much smaller site than in
Antiquity. Archaeologically, the sequence of coin-finds at Ephesus almost peters
out by 650. – Which is to say: not only did the ‘city’ fail to recover properly from
the Persian war of the early 600s, it actually went backwards.
Greenhalgh: “At Ephesus, as might be expected, the Byzantine walls took in
much less ground than Lysimachus’ Hellenistic defences, and made great use of
spolia [out-takes, removed material] from adjacent monuments, some of which
might have been conveniently demolished by earthquake.
At some later date, the (surely small) population moved about two km to the
north, to the settlement now called Seljuk [Ayasuluk]. This was still strictly
within the purlieu of Ephesus even if outside the walls, the most conspicuous
monument being a Byzantine fortress containing the 7th century Basilica of St.
John [on Ayasuluk hill]. The entrance to this fortress, perhaps of the mid-seventh
century with a mid-eight century rebuild, is liberally decorated with spolia, as are
walls adjacent to the basilica with columnae caelatae from the archaic and late
classical builds of the Temple of Diana, in what is arguably an evocation of the
grandeur of the past, while sculptures from the same location have been found in
the fortress walls' backfill. On even higher ground is the citadel.
At Ephesus and Seljuk, then, the newer settlement is built with spolia from the
old. The town of Seljuk is entirely composed of materials from Ephesus, and the
old castle and mosque walls have become in their turn our quarry for relics of
antiquity. For Foss [the archaeologist], the walls of Seljuk [four metres thick] are
seventh century, like those of Pergamum and Sardis, which he ascribes to the
time of Constans II (641-668)” (thus writes Greenhalgh, Survival of Roman
Antiquities, online at
survival.publish/chap6.html; emphasis added; also discsssuion in Hodges &
Whitehouse p.62).

2. Greece: Minting at Thessalonica ceased under Constans II, acc. 641, and
minting was not revived there during the Byzantine 'dark ages', when the Balkans
and Greece were subjected to invasions and settlement by Slavs and Bulgars.
Nevertheless, central Greece – at least the coastal regions - remained under
Byzantine control and continued to maintain an economy at least partly based on
the circulation of money throughout the eighth and ninth centuries.
St. Ghislenus, who died at Hainault in present-day Belgium, was an Athenian
by birth; he tells us that he studied ‘philosophy’, meaning Christian patristics, in
Athens as a young man, ca. 650. And Theodore of Tarsus, who in 668 became
archbishop of Canterbury, had likewise studied in Athens, according to a letter of
Pope Zacharias to Boniface. This suggests that Athens, however impoverished,

was still operating as a town in the mid 7th cent. —Cf 662: visit by emperor

4. d. Leontius, theologian and bishop of Neapolis in Byzantine Cyprus. Author of

two important ‘hagiographies’ or Lives of the Saints.

5. ‘pagan’ Khazars, a Turkic nation, dominate the Caucasus.

Emperor Constans II is 20 years old.

From c. 650:
Eastern Anatolia: Underground villages or ‘troglodyte cities’ built or rather
extended (some date from Hittite times or earlier) in Cappadocia, e.g. at
Kaymakli, as refuges against Arab raiders. Kaymakli lies N of Nigde, S of

Territorial review

The two great powers of western Eurasia were: (1) the Muslim Arab Caliphate,
ruling from Medina and then - after 661 - Damascus; and (2) the Christian East
or New Roman Empire, ruling from Constantinople.
The Caliphate controlled as far as what is now eastern Libya, while Cyprus was
a co-dominion from which both the caliph and the emperor drew taxes.
In the West, the Lombard king and several dukes ruled rather more of Italy
than the Empire; and most of the Balkans was in the hands of Slavic tribes. On
the other hand, viewed more widely, the imperial domains of N Italy, Corsica,
Sardinia, N Africa, Sicily and the “shoe” of Italy were overall significantly larger
than the Lombard realms. Lombard Spoleto and Lombard Benevento were
surrounded on all sides by the Empire.

The Empire comprised, from west to east: 1. Greater Tunisia: vs pagan and
Christian Berbers; 2. Sardinia; 3. Sicily (see below: 652) and 4. the toe and just
half the heel of Italy (vs the still mainly Arian Lombards: cf 652); and 5. part of
central Italy: Rome-Ravenna - also vs the Lombards; 6. the Dalmatian coast and
7. just small parts of present-day Greece (vs ‘pagan’ Slavs); 8. Crete; 9. inner
Thrace (vs Slavs and soon also the Danube Bulgars); 10. the tip of Crimea (vs
‘pagan’ Khazars); 11. coastal Georgia (Lazica); and 12. the immense imperial
heartland of Asia Minor, which extended to Armenia and Cilicia. In the NE sector
of Asia Minor, the Empire faced the Christian Armenians; in the SE sector, the
Muslim Caliphate.
As noted, Slavic tribes controlled nearly the entire Balkan peninsula. But the
empire still dominated nearly the whole Mediterranean Sea, from Sicily, Tunisia,
Sardinia and the Balearics in the West to Cyprus in the East. See 652, 654.
The longest continuous land axis was in Asia Minor: from Ephesus in the
south-east to Trabzond [med. Trebizond] in the north-west.

Above: Italy in AD 650.

1. Future emperors: Fausta and Constans had three sons, Constantine (IV),
Heraclius and Tiberius, of whom the eldest, Constantine, was born c. 650 and
proclaimed co-emperor in April 654; in 659 his two younger brothers were also

2. Muslim conquest of Persia. Arab armies push east through Iran and into
Central Asia. Death (651) of the last Persian shah, Yazdgard III.

(alt. date 652:) According to some sources, the first-ever Saracen raid on Sicily
(from the East) took place about this time. The commander was 'Abd-Allah ibn-
Qais. Others say 652: see there.
Saracen armies and navies had been particularly active over the first half of the
7th Century in the eastern Mediterranean, seizing the provinces of the Eastern
Roman Empire. Another line of assault was through North Africa, conquering
Egypt and Tripoli. See next.

1a. Internal revolt in Byzantine Italy.
The Exarch of Italy, Olympius, was unable to coerce the bishops into accepting
the Typos, and unable to gain support from local forces against Martin, the
patriarch of Rome. So he took Martin’s side. As noted earlier, he soon (650)
gathered an army together and crossed into Sicily in 651/652 where he declared
himself emperor (see next). The Liber pontificalis [papal chronicle] reported that
this movement towards Sicily was to attack the Saracens (see next) and that a
mysterious disease (probably plague) attacked his army and eventually killed
Olympius later the same year [652] (Richards, Popes p.188; Treadgold 1997:
313). Modern scholars have suggested that the attack on Sicily was more likely an
attempt to drive off loyal Byzantine forces there and separate Italy from the
control of Constans II.

First Muslim naval raid against Sicily, 652

1b. Islamic fleets plundered the Sicilian coast for the first time.
The governor of Syria Mu’awiya b. Abi-Sufyan sent his namesake Mu’awiya b.
Khudayj to raid Sicily. A fleet of “200” ships originating from distant Syria
commanded by the latter was the first to explore the possibilities that the great
island offered. The expedition was a simple reconnaissance and, after facing the
troops of the exarch of Ravenna Olympios, it retired undisturbed. An epidemic
broke out in the Byzantine forces and killed Olympios; but the Arabs could not
gain much success and returned to Syria with some booty and captives (Ahmad
p.2; Kennedy 2008: 332). See 667.

2. d. Lombard king Rothari, last Arian Christian king of N Italy, and one of the
most energetic From this time, all Lombard kings were Catholic (Collins 1991:
After this time Byzantine officials could no longer use Catholic orthodoxy as a
rallying cry against the ‘heretic’ Lombards.

1a. Armenia: “Constans was greatly attached to Armenia. He marshalled his
forces and at the age of 21 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”
(Treadgold 1997).

1b. Truce between Constans and the Muslim governor of Syria, Mu'awiyah.
Armenia briefly passed to Arab suzerainty, but under a local governor.

After a truce with Mu'awiyah, Constans voluntarily surrendered Armenia to the

Arabs, who granted it virtual autonomy and appointed Theodore as governor

2. Sicily: Olympius' rebellion fell apart after his death in 652, and by June of 653
Theodore Calliopas, the new Exarch of Ravenna, arrived at Rome and fulfilled
Olympius' original orders by arresting Pope Martin. See 653 below.

3. S Italy: The old classical name Calabria (Gk for ‘pinetree land’) originally
meant the Salento peninsula, i.e. the heel or lower Puglia. It became a Byzantine
province under that name in about 653, when Martin I Pope, 649-655, mentions
it as well-defined political reality; but at this time it still meant the heel (our
Puglia) and the toe: see 677 concerning the transfer or delimiting of the name.

By 653:
Arabs control Armenia and Caucasian Iberia [modern Georgia].

1,000th anniversary of the death of the ancient philosopher Plato, first
and greatest of Greek prose writers.

2. The new Exarch of Italy, Theodore, descends with his troops from Ravenna to
Rome (15 June), arrests the Roman patriarch Martin I, who is taken to
Constantinople, where he is tried. The aged and ill pope was almost dead when he
arrived there (17 September).
The patriarch of Rome Martin I: Constans II, thwarted in his plans, sent as
exarch Theodore Calliopas (who had earlier served in this office) with orders to
bring Martin to Constantinople. Calliopas arrived in Rome on 15 June 653, and,
entering the Lateran Basilica two days later, informed the clergy that Martin had
been deposed as an unworthy intruder, that he must be brought to
Constantinople and that another was to be chosen in his place.
“Martin was accused of having corresponded with the Saracens (doubtless the
Saracen invaders of Sicily), an well as of being irregularly elected, of changing the
faith delivered to the saints, and of showing insufficient reverence to the Virgin
Mary” (Hodgkin). The proceedings proved awkward because the ‘pope’ spoke no
Greek and his judges no Latin (Richards 1979: 188-90; Hodgkin vol 4).
Perhaps influenced by the death of Paul, Patriarch of Constantinople, Constans
did not sentence the pope to death, but to exile in the Crimea. He was put on
board a ship, 26 March 654 (or 655) and arrived at his destination on 15 May.

3. Rome: Almost simultaneously, by Constans' order the orthodox theologian and

critic of monothelitism, the venerable monk Maximus Confessor [age 73], was
arrested in Rome. Maximus has been called 'the last independent thinker in the
Eastern church' [Daiches et al. 1969: 200] (presumably for his defiance of the
emperor: the phrase ‘Eastern church’ is an anachronism).
Constans, although he did not condemn Monotheletism, persecuted pope
Martin and Maximum because they abetted rebellions in Italy and Africa not

because they were ‘orthodox’ Chalcedonians (Mango Oxford History 2002: 133).
Possibly born in Palestine, the son of a Samaritan, a weaver by trade, and a
Persian slave, Maximus rose to become an aide to emperor Heraclius. Others say
he was born a Byzantine blueblood from the capital. Maximus was subsequently a
monk in Africa and Rome. He was brought from Rome to Constantinople, was
tried and banished to Thrace, then mutilated (654) and exiled to the East [Lazica]
where he eventually died (662). (First his tongue was cut out; he continued to
spread his opinions by writing letters and then his right hand was cut off and
finally, when he persisted in writing with the other hand, his left also was cut off!)
The emperor was a 'Monothelite', believer in Christ with two dimensions but a
single will.

In 649, after the accession of Martin I, Maximus had gone to Rome, and did
much to fan the zeal of the new pope, who in October of that year held the (first)
Lateran synod. The bishops anathematized not only the Monothelite doctrine
but also the moderating ecthesis of Heraclius and typus of Constans II.
About 653 Maximus, for the part he had taken against the latter document
especially, was apprehended (together with the pope) by order of Constans and
carried a prisoner to Constantinople. In 655, after repeated examinations, in
which he strongly maintained his theological opinions, he was banished to Byzia
in Thrace, and afterwards further out to Perberis on the Black Sea coast. In 662
he was again brought to Constantinople and was condemned by a synod to be
scourged, to have his tongue cut out by the root, and to have his right hand
chopped off. After this sentence had been carried out, he was again banished to
Lazica, where he died on 13 August 662.

4. Lead seals (used to seal official letters): the earliest is the seal of an official
involved in foreign or interregional trade and, perhaps, the collection of taxes, in
Hellas (named Constantine, ca. 653/4).

McEvedy & Jones, Population History, 1978: 113, put the population of Greece
within its modern boundaries at some 750,000 people in about 650. Since
Byzantium ruled no more than about one-quarter, Byzantine Hellas would have
contained only of the order of 185,000 people.

5. Lombard Italians convert from Arian to Catholic Christianity. See below: king
Aripert, 653-61.

1. The East: The Arabs re-conquer Cyprus and sack Rhodes [Gk Rodhos] and Kos
(654). The Muslim fleet is said to have consisted of 500 ships and carried 12,000
regulars or professional soldiers [av. just 24 per ship: suggesting that most of
the vessels were small galleys] (Kennedy 2008: 326).
The Arabs are supposed (the tradition is doubtful) to have broken up and
removed the remains of the already long-fallen Colossus of Rhodes. The 10th C
scholar-emperor Constantine VII says that Mu’awiyah “destroyed” the Colossus
of Rhodes (but it had already fallen), and led an expedition against

Constantinople, and ravaged Ephesos, Halikarnassos and Smyrna with the rest of
Ionia: Const. Porph., DAI 20; also Theophanes, TCOT: 44.

Cyprus: A second Arab invasion took place (654) that devastated the island again.
This time, however, a large garrison or salaried occupation force of 12,000 men
(or more likely: fewer than that) was left in Cyprus, and mosques were built, an
indication of the Caliph ’Uthman’s (or Mu’awiyah’s) intention to incorporate it
into the Muslim world. See 683.

East Roman Marines

2. Asia Minor: John Haldon, 1984: 239, 253, would date the creation of the
naval, or better “maritime”, Theme of Caravisiani or ‘Karabisians’ to this
time (Haldon, Praetorians; also his Transformation 1990: 217). Toynbee places
it even earlier. Treadgold prefers a little later. See 659/662. The commander was
the stratêghós ton Karávon (commander “of the ships”) or ton Karavisianón (“of
the marines”, lit. ‘ship-men’).
The Karabisians were a force of Romanic/Byzantine marines based in S Asia
Minor; they were transported in ships that were rowed by oarsmen of the central
or imperial fleet. That is to say, there was no separate fleet dedicated to the
Karabisians. Or it might be better to say that the navy was a unitary force at this
time and in the 650s its marines, the Karabisians, received lands in Asia Minor.
The oldest surviving text in which they are mentioned dates to 687 (Toynbee
1973: 324; cf Treadgold 1995: 29, 72-73).

r. Lombard-Italian king Aripert I. A Catholic, he attempted to proscribe
Arianism, which was still the majority faith among his subjects or at least among
the ethnic Lombards among his subjects. Even the Arian bishop of the Lombard
capital, Ticinum (Pavia), converted (Richards, Popes p.43). Catholicism would
triumph fully by the end of the century. Cf next.

653-72: Recceswith, Visigothic king of Spain. His votive crown has

survived, held today at Madrid’s Arch. Museum; illus. in Rice 1965: 181.
The votive crown was one of three discovered in 1858 near Toledo.
The Visigoths were converted to Catholic Christianity in this period
(from Arian Christianity).


A photograph of a coin of Constans II, struck about 654 can be found at Notable is his
massive beard. His moustache seem to be shaped into a straight horizontal, and
his hair balloons down to below his ears.

1. Tunisia: 1st Muslim naval raid on Byzantine North Africa (Ibn ‘Abd al-

Hakam, cited by Heck 206: 308).

2a. Asia Minor and Armenia: In a wide-ranging campaign, Mu’awiyah’s army

plundered Ancyra, took Trebizond and Theodosiopolis, and drove the forces of
the Byzantine general Maurianus out of Armenia and into the Caucasus
(Treadgold 1997: 313).

2b. Present-day Georgia: The caliphate establishes a subordinate emirate at

Tbilisi (Ar. al-Tefelis). See 655.

2. Constantine, a baby aged two, is made co-emperor with his father.

The Armenian writer Sebeos, text online at,

records in detail a supposed Arab attack on the Byzantine capital in 654, which
ended in disastrous failure. (Cf below: presumably, if it occurred at all, the attack
took place in 655 in the aftermath of the Battle of the Masts.) No parallel
accounts are known, and Sebeos' report has not been universally accepted. Yet
Sebeos, otherwise known to be a reliable author, was writing only shortly after
the supposed event. The event is plausible in its historical context. Allusions to it
in several historical sources may well be remnants of written records, parallel to
Sebeos' account, which disappeared after the condemnation of Monotheletism in
680-1. Indirect evidence of the attack from several other Christian sources and, to
a lesser degree, from the Islamic tradition also tends to confirm Sebeos' report. Cf
next: ‘Battle of the Masts’.

1. The deposed patriarch of Rome or ‘Pope’, Martin, is sent from Constantinople
to exile in the Crimea, where he dies (655).

2. Arab attack fails to reach Constantinople: The combined Egyptian and

Syrian fleets under ‘Abd Allah ibn Sa’d sailed, or rowed, from Tripoli in Lebanon
to the coast of Asia Minor: first serious defeat of the imperial navy, personally
commanded by Constans, in the naval battle off Phoenix or Phoinikous*, south-
west of Attaleia-Antlaya. In Arabic it is "Dhat al-sawari", the "Battle of the Masts"
[655]. —Tabari, trans. Humphreys 1990: 74.
This was the first and only time that a Byzantine emperor personally
commanded the fleet (Cosentino 2008: 577).

(*) In the gulf today called Finike Korfezi. Finike is also the name of a town on the
western side of the gulf, between Rhodes and Antalya: nearer the latter.

Ephesus, Smyrna: Modern Izmir and Halicarnassus were then ravaged (655), and
the islands of Rhodes and Cos taken, but the expedition proved abortive … Arab
and Armenian forces meanwhile sacked Trebizond, the imperial city on the NE
Black Sea coast. Cf 657.

‘Battle of the Masts’, 655 (or possibly in the summer of 654)

We have several detailed reports about the course of the battle, but it is difficult
to interpret them (cf Kennedy’s discussion, 2008: 327). The main source, the
Chronicle of Theophilus, was also re-used in the Kitâb al-unwân by the Arabic
Christian writer ‘Agapius’ (Mahbub ibn Qustantin, ca. 950). Muslim tradition is
different and depends on other sources than Theophilus. It counts against the
Muslim accounts that none of authors handing down to us some account of the
battle (al-Wâkidî, al-Kindî, al-Balâdhurî, al-Tabarî, al-Hakâm) wrote before the
second half of the ninth century or the beginning of the tenth.

The battle was fought off southern Asia Minor. It was a decisive Muslim victory
over the imperial navy and saw the near death-flight of Constans II. The name
derives from the fact that the Arabs chained their ships together to prevent their
line being broken.

This was the first real hammer-blow to the maritime integrity of the
Mediterranean. It opened the central Sea to Muslim attack, even if the Muslims
did suffer heavily in it and Cyprus reverted to Byzantine rule under a treaty in
659 (Dromon p.25).

“Battle of the Masts”: Recognising the threat, Constans gathered a large fleet and
attacked the smaller Muslim force of “200” ships commanded by the governor of
Egypt, Ibn Abi Sarh [Abdullah bin Sa'ad bin Abi'l Sarh] at Phoenix - present-day
Finike on the SW coast of Turkey - in 655. The Muslim ships were crewed mainly
by Christian Egyptians (Copts). Constans suffered a severe defeat and was forced
to flee to Constantinople.
— Theophanes says that the Byzantines were defeated because the emperor did
not arrange his fleet in proper battle order; but this may just reflect his hostility
to Constans.

Constans assembled a fleet of supposedly "500 or 600" ships (“500” in Tabari;

one Arab source even says “1,000”) in the Sea of Marmara which then sailed
down the Asia Minor coast and moored in Finike Bay. Whatever the number, it
was the most powerful imperial fleet the Muslims had ever known (Kennedy
2008: 327-28). Evidently the emperor, still only 24 years old, commanded in
person because of the seriousness of the threat: he knew (says Theophanes) that
the Muslims were sailing to attack Constantinople itself, or, as others propose, he
was seeking to frustrate the Muslim threat to North Africa [cf 662-63: Constans’
expedition to Sicily].
At Finike Bay the Romanic-Byzantine fleet had sheltered moorings, access to
fresh water, food and communications, and here it awaited news of the Arab fleet.
In due course the two fleets met off the port of Finike, in a battle called in the
Muslim sources "Dhat al-Sawari" or the Battle of the Masts. The battle raged
with bows and arrows, and then, when the Muslim fleet tied itself to the Christian

one (or more likely: to itself), it was decided with spears and swords. The longest
Arab account of the battle, that of al-Hakam, implies that the Byzantines would
have won if the Arabs had not managed to turn it into a hand-to-hand fight
(Kennedy p.328). The Romaic fleet of ‘500’ ships was all but destroyed, and the
emperor, who was wounded, escaped by exchanging his imperial uniform with a
common sailor who was subsequently killed.

The Battle of the Masts in Finike Bay was, if we discount the clash off Alexandria
in 652, the first naval victory in the history of Islam.

Fortunately for Constans, civil war between Mu’awiyah and ‘Ali broke out
following the murder of ‘Othman (656). The emperor was able to negotiate a
tenuous treaty with Mu’awiya in 659 that lasted until 661/2. This allowed
Constans to refocus his attention on the Balkans.

E Asia Minor: As vassals of the Caliph, the Armenians had to provide an army of
15,000 cavalrymen for the Arabs. T'oros R'atuni received the office of “marzban
(governor) of Armenia, Georgia and Aghwank”, as the first Armenian governor
for the Arabs, and participated in an Arab offensive against Byzantine
Theodosiopolis in 655. They thoroughly sacked Byzantine Trebizond (Haldon
1990: 110). See 657 below.

655: Anglo-Saxon England: d. Penda, last ‘pagan’ king of Mercia, the

central-western realm. Christianity was first introduced into Mercia,
through Irish and Northumbrian influence, in the 650s. (Ireland of course
had been Christained during the 400s; Northumbria during the early

From 655: Britain: Contest for dominance between the Anglo-Saxon

kingdoms of (already Christian) Northumbria and (‘post-pagan’) Mercia -
eventually won by the latter, 679. The ‘Romano-Celtic’ Christian kingdoms
of Wales and Strathclyde, also the Christian ‘Scots’ (the Irish of western
Scotland, Dal Riata) and Christian Picts, generally held back the Anglo-
Saxons in this period.

Byzantium paid "tribute" money to the Muslim Khalifate in return for peace. A
formal treaty of peace was struck in 659.

From 656:
Caliph 'Uthman is killed (17 June 656). This leads to a Muslim civil war (to 661):
The elected caliph ‘Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, is challenged by the
Umayyad clan under Mu’awiya ('Uthman's cousin) and Muhammad’s widow. Cf
‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, aged about 57, was a cousin of the prophet, also son-in-law
by virtue of his marriage to Muhammad's daughter, Fatima. Ali moved (January

657) the Arab capital from Medina to Kufa in today’s southern Iraq. His sons
were Husayn (killed in 680) and Hasan (who died in 669).

(or 658:) Thrace: Constans II began attacking the ‘pagan’ Slavs, first in the
hinterland of Constantinople in 656/7. The sources are Theophanes, Elias of
Nisibis, and Agapios of Manbij. See 658.
Constans is known to have made an expedition, in 657-658 according to
Theophanes (actually in 656-57), “into Sclavinia [meaning Thrace and perhaps
NE Greece], and he took many prisoners, and subdued the land”; or “brought
many people under his control” (TCOT: 46).
A military expedition, possibly as far as the Greek peninsula, in 656/7 was
directed perhaps against the Slavs living along the N Aegean coast and its
hinterland, i.e. Thrace, and perhaps the sector of Macedonia to the north-east of
Thessalonica. During this expedition, apart from outright military conquest,
Constans II inaugurated a new imperial policy by transferring many of the
subjugated Slavs to Asia Minor. See 687.
Greece: Some even contend that Corinth was recovered - from the Onogur
Bulgars - by Constans in 657-658.

Asia Minor: New fortress-villages, or the “retreat to the acropolis”. It was
probably in this period, in the breathing space offered by the Muslim civil war,
that a small new citadel was built at Ancyra (Ankara). It was erected within the
old city walls using spolia - outtakes, removed material - robbed from the old
city. At just 487,500 sq m: about 700 x 700 m, which is only 120 acres or 49
hectares, it could probably accommodate, if tightly packed in, only about 2,000
families. And yet Ancyra was one of the most important settlements in all of
Byzantine Asia (Haldon 1990: 113, citing al-Tabari and Foss).
When the Theme system came into place (see 659-62), Ancyra becomes the
seat of the strategos of the Opsikion theme; when the Opsikon was later broken
up, Ancyra will become the capital of the new Bucellarion theme (Treadgold 1997:

a. The East: Taking advantage of the Muslim civil war, a Byzantine army (briefly)
re-established imperial influence in Christian Armenia, which had hitherto been
dominated by the Caliphate. Arab authority was restored by 661 (Whittow, The
Making p.210).

b. Constantine of Mananalis (near Samosata), an Armenian calling himself

Silvanus, founded what appears to be the first Paulician (dualist) community at
Kibossa, near Colonia in western Armenia [SW of Trebizond]. He began to teach
in about 657. Constantine-Silvanus, having preached for 27 years and having
spread his sect into the western part of Asia Minor, was arrested (684) by the
Imperial authorities (by Symeon), tried for heresy and stoned to death. See 684.

Their doctrines are summarised as follows in Adrian Fortescue, "Paulicians" in

The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 7
Jun. 2009 <>.

“The cardinal point of the Paulician heresy is a distinction between the

God who made and governs the material world and the God of heaven who
created souls, who alone should be adored. . . . They rejected the Old
Testament; there was no Incarnation, Christ was an angel sent into the
world by God, his real mother was the heavenly Jerusalem. His work
consisted only in his teaching; to believe in him saves men from judgment.
The true baptism and Eucharist consist in hearing his word, as in John
4:10. . . . They rejected St. Peter's epistles because he had denied Christ.
They referred always to the "Gospel and Apostle", apparently only St Luke
and St. Paul.”

Muslim Civil War: Battle of Siffin, 657: fought by the armies of Ali ibn Abi
Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, and Mu’awiyah, a brother in
law of the Prophet and Governor of Syria since 640, on the banks of the
Euphrates river, in what is now Syria. Ali and Muawiyah’s general, the
elderly Amr ibn al-A'as (in his earlier career the conqueror of Egypt), were
fighting for control of the Caliphate, and the right to lead the growing
Muslim empire. However, the battle was indecisive. See 661.

658: Amr’s third conquest of Egypt. The ageing general Amr b. al-As, who
had won, lost and re-won Roman Egypt for the Muslims in 641 and 645-
46, was sent back by Mu’awiya to take the province from the supporters of
Mu’awiya’s rival Ali.

1. Judging that the empire has recovered its strength a little and well aware of the
Arab civil war, Constans ends the payment of tribute to the Caliphate. Cf 659.

2. (or 656:) Thrace: Constans leads the first serious campaign or punitive
expedition against the Slavs in 50 years. Large numbers of Slav captives were
transported to Asia Minor, evidently to serve in the imperial army (NCMH
The emperor invaded ‘Sklavinia’, meaning the regions occupied by Slavs
including outer Thrace, and defeated numerous tribes. He then forced the
conquered tribes to resettle in Asia Minor and probably began recruiting captive
Slavs into his Asian forces.

Peace treaty: The claimant caliph Mu’awiyah, embroiled in civil war with the
Prophet’s nephew Ali, paid a large tribute of 1,000 gold coins a day to Byzantium
to avoid an external war (TCOT: 46). Cyprus reverted to Byzantine rule. Cf 661.
This allowed Constans to focus his efforts on Europe: see 662-63.

659: Midpoint in the Lombard period of Italian history: halfway from

their arrival in Italy to their final capture of the imperial capital, Ravenna.

The “Byzantine Dark Age”: Contraction of trade and a transition to

exchange in kind

There was no radical break in trade, but the period 550-700 saw a “relentless
contraction” of the economic networks inherited from Antiquity (Loseby in
NCMH vol. 1, pp.616, 639).
A feature of the seventh century was the constant decline in the weight of the
standard copper coin called the follis, which decreased from an average 12 gm
under Phokas to 3.60 gm* by ca. 660, while its value in carats slid from 1⁄20 to
1⁄40 in 621 and perhaps 1⁄96 by ca. 660. Each particular debasement of the weight
and nominal value of the follis was related to political and military vicissitudes.

(*) Cf weights of modern Australian coins: five cents, 2.83 gm; 10 cents,
5.65 gm; and 20 cents, 11.3 gm.

Cécile Morrisson has noted that the fall in the purchasing power of low-value
coinage can be followed with certainty, albeit too imperfectly, in the documents
and is marked by the progressive disappearance of the subdivisions of the follis.
The follis, the largest of the copper coins, was worth 40 nummi or 1/288 of a
nomisma in Justinian’s time. (This is approximate since the actual weight and
hence the relative values of coins fluctuated at different times.) There were no
nummi after emperor Maurice, d.602, and the last pentanoummia - coins worth
five nummi* - were those of Constantine IV, d. 685. —Morrisson, in Laiou ed.

(*) Copper coinage varied considerably during different periods: one

Nomisma or Solidus = 2 Semissis = 3 Tremissis = 7,200 Nummus = ~180 to
~300 Folles (depending on the period) = 12 Miliresia.

The lesser copper coinage, used for trade, virtually disappears after 658 in
archaeological sites, and copper coins do not reappear in Anatolian sites until
the 800s (Haldon 1984: 226). The gold coinage continued: it was used mainly for
paying state taxes and such state salaries as were still being paid.
Morrisson: A few examples sum up the well-known and frequently
commented-on monetary gap that reveals the process of decline and
impoverishment whereby “towns” were reduced to the role of places of refuge:
at Ankyra, no coins found that were minted between Constans II [d.668] and a
single follis of Leo IV [d.780]; at Aphrodisias [inland SW Asia Minor] no coins
between Constans II and Theophilos [acc.829]; at Pergamon, none between 715
and 820; at Kenchreai [Corinth], nothing between Constans II and Leo VI
[acc.886]; and in the Albanian finds, no bronze pieces between 668 and 802. See
Even in peaceful Carthage, where there was some new building after the
Byzantine conquest (AD 534), the new quarters were filled with rubbish and huts

already by the early seventh century. From the mid 600s the city suffered what
has been described as a ‘monumental meltdown’: shacks clustered into the circus
and the round harbour was abandoned (Wickham 2005: 641).

The Creation of the Themes (Themata)

Probable date, following Treadgold, of the re-organisation of the army and
CREATION OF THE FIRST ‘THEMES’, Gk themata: literally
‘emplacements’: provincial armies organised around military land-holdings.
Haldon 1990: 217 prefers a date of “by the mid-650s”, but he and Treadgold
agree that this happened before Constans’ departure for Italy (661-62). The date
is drawn partly from numismatic evidence: copper coins effectively disappear by
668, reflecting the near abolition of soldiers’ salaries (Haldon 1990: 226, citing

The first themes were those of: (1) the Opsician or Opsikion, extending from
inner Thrace across to NW Asia Minor: HQ in Ancyra/Ankara in Asia Minor; (2)
the Armeniac in NE Anatolia with its seat at Euchaita, today’s Avkhat, S of
Sinope; (3) Anatolics [Anatolikoí, Anatolikon], HQ at Amorium; and (4)
the Thracesians [Thrakësioi] in SW Asia Minor, ruled from inland Chonae.
And in the southern Aegean: (5) the naval or 'marine' theme of the ‘ship
troops’ or Karabisianoi or Caravisiani with its meropolis kai archon or
‘command-post and leader’ situated probably at Samos in the eastern Aegean.
Haldon 2001: 66 suggests that Rhodes was the first seat of the Karabisians.
Somewhat later – by 695 – eastern Greece was separated from the administration
of the Caravisian theme and constituted as the theme of Hellas (Toynbee p.260;
Haldon, Transformation p.217; Treadgold 1997).

The Carabisians were fighting men (marines), not unarmed oarsmen, They seem
to have been transported by the central fleet until 687, when they received their
own dedicated oarsmen. Karabis was the name of a type of ship; hence
karabisianoi, “ship-borne soldiers”. The marines held farmlands in eastern
Greece, the Aegean islands and S Anatolia.
“Carabisian": from carabos or karabis, a type of ship (Baynes p.304; Treadgold
Army p.23). In late Greek “b” is pronounced as “v”, hence in Latin form the name
becomes Caravisiani. The navy commander was the stratêghós ton Karávon
(“general of the ships”) or ton Karavisianón (“of the shipmen”).

Also new walls were built or re-built at many Asian towns, including Ephesus,
Pergamum, Sardis in the west: see 660, and Ancyra in the centre, the seat of the
Opsikion: cf above, under 659. Often the new walls were built around a citadel or
acropolis; thus these centres now became large fortress-villages.

Island Fortresses

Morrisson & Sodini, in Laiou ed. 2002, note that, unlike the continental regions
and the Balkans in particular, certain islands demonstrated a considerable
vitality during the seventh century.
The clearest cases are Samos and Chios off the coast of western Asia Minor. In
their opinion, the two undoubtedly functioned as places of refuge, as did the little
islands of the Saronic Gulf on the other side of the Aegean: to the north-east of
the Peloponnesus. But unlike these islands, Samos and Chios also played an
important strategic role, as is demonstrated by the fortress of Emporio - Gk
Emborios, at the S tip - on Chios, built probably in the 640s. Military
expenditures must have stimulated the regional economy, a conclusion for which
there is evidence in the plentiful coinage and coin finds of Constans II.
A maritime theme of Hellas, or theme “of the Helladikoi”: our east or SE
Greece, was formed by separation from the Carabisians. It is first mentioned in
695 but was probably formed in 689 (Fine 1991: 71; Treadgold 1995: 26).
Administratively, Athens was part of the theme of Hellas whose capital was
Thebes. However, it can perhaps be deduced from an inscription on one of the
columns in the Parthenon and concerning the death of Leo, strategos of the
theme of Hellas, in August 848, that during the first half of the ninth century
Athens may have become the seat of the theme.

Soldier-Farmers, Military Lands, Salaries and Equipment

The soldiers of the Themes, or marines in the case of the Carabisians, received
extensive land grants and equipment.
In return - and despite the windfall in Arab gold: see above, 659, - their cash
pay was reduced by half. That is, military pay was halved again. Probably 20
nomismata until 616, it was then reduced to 10, and now to just five nomismata
per year. This was offset by giving soldiers generous land grants (Treadgold
Army p.145).
As Haldon notes, 1990: 227, the size of the district allotted to each theme or
army shows that land-grants were taken into account from the beginning. The
forces occupying the more fertile regions, e.g. the Thrakesion, received smaller
districts overall, while the Armeniakon and other less fertile regions were larger.
(He thinks planning began in the 640s, with full implementation in the 650s.)

The thémata or Themes were made up of stratiôtes, farmer-soldiers assigned to

the defence of their own military province, the Theme, but also called up as
required for expeditionary forces.
The advantages were that the State did not need to maintain a significant
standing army, as the stratiôtes provided their own equipment, and horses for
the cavalrymen. And these militiamen or semi-professional soldiers
would defend their own province, knowing why and for what they
were fighting. Also, the army was in effect reproduced naturally, the themes
supplying the Empire with a regular and constant flow of soldiers. Internally, this
class of farmer-militiamen would serve to counterbalance the influence of the
magnates, the large landowners, whose power and greed threatened the small-

scale farming class while defying the central authority and its tax collectors.

The stratiôtes were, as Alain Ducellier says, "representatives of families who were
exempted from military taxes but required to register their goods on a specific tax
roll, known as the ‘stratiotic’, and created to ensure a cavalry and infantry force"
(Byzantines, history and culture, p.109).
The cavalrymen at least were far from being poor peasants. The land of an
average thematic cavalryman would have supported many families; and required
probably at least seven men to work it, perhaps up to 30 men (Treadgold, Army
The land-grant to a cavalryman was worth at least four pounds (litrae) of gold
or 288 nomismata in the 10th Century. This could buy 144 acres [58 hectares] of
plough-land, enough to support a half-dozen families of relatives, tenants, hired
hands or slaves.* It was they who produced the cavalrymen's food, horses and
fodder (Treadgold State 1997: 381) As Treadgold remarks, a man with seven or
more tenants, or relatives, and hired hands and slaves working for him was not
needed constantly on his farm and could be called up for service at any time
(Army 1995: 175).
As Browning notes, p.83, the actual soldier might or might not be the owner of
the military holding; often he was the owner's son. The holding of a cavalryman
had to supply not just the soldier himself but also two horses and presumably a

(*) The sentimental but wholly false view is that Christianity abolished slavery.
To the contrary, although the church sometimes discouraged it, slavery continued
through the whole history of Byzantium. But there is no certain example known
of a slave plantation in Italy after about 300. From that time nearly all rural
workers were free or unfree tenants; chattel slaves and wage labourers were
quite uncommon in the post-Antique era (Wickham 2005: 275-77).

References to wage labourers occur continuously from the seventh century to the
end of the Byzantine period. The number is never specified, and their occupation
only rarely; they can be woodcutters, shepherds, or millers and employed in
agricultural work on a seasonal or permanent basis. But the greater part of the
arable land, whether in the context of estate or village, was not cultivated by wage
labourers but by the family head himself with the help of his wife and children,
who constituted a hearth (Lefort in Laiou ed., 2002: 242).

The stratiôtes or farmer-soldiers seem to have been required to supply their own
arms and equipment, but they did so by purchasing them ( - or perhaps
receiving them free) from licensed dealers called commerciarii (Gk:
kommerkiarioi). The thematic troops may have purchased their equipment by
bartering farm goods or animals, not by spending money, for the commerciarii
were middlemen who also dealt in silk, gold and slaves.* Alternatively the
kommerkiarioi may have levied weapons and clothing etc from local producers
and craftsmen as a kind of tax. If the latter, then the weapons and clothing etc
were probably issued at the regular musters of each theme’s troops (Treadgold,

Army pp.182 ff vs Haldon, Transformation 1990: 240).

(*) A correlation between the presence of seals and absence of coins has
been noted by Archibald Dunn. He suggests that the presence of
kommerkiarioi made sense only where and when taxes and payments to the
army had not (yet) been converted into cash and were made largely in kind.
—Dunn, 1993: 14.

More recently Oikonomides has referenced two texts from the mid-eighth
century, c.750—a paragraph in the Ecloga of the Isaurians, and a court decision
attributed to Leo III or Constantine V. They refer to soldiers who were owners or
joint owners of land, who bought and maintained their armament from the
money produced by their land, and who contributed the salary (roga or rhogai)
that they earned when on campaign to the family budget. In other words, these
were soldiers from rural areas who relied on their landholdings to maintain
themselves. Their status as soldiers may have secured them certain privileges,
perhaps diversion of tenant-farmers’ taxes, to which we have no testimony for the
period in question but which are known to us in later times (Oikonomides, ‘Role
of the state’, in Laiou ed., Economic History of Byzantium 2002).

Haldon and others have noted that in archaeology there are few coin hoards from
this period, either gold or copper, and copper coinage virtually disappears after
about 658. This signals a low-point in the empire’s monetary economy.
Salaries for the lower ranks of the bureaucracy were largely discontinued by this
time, and, as noted, the state was increasingly financing its military forces with
payment in kind: produce, equipment and so on, in place of gold coins. Soldiers
continued to be paid partly with gold coins but only every three years or so
(Mango 1980: 73; Haldon 1984: pp. 118, 119, 226; Haldon 1990: 226; also
Treadgold 1995: 156). - Not until the 760s were full salaries reintroduced.

Road Construction

Roads and bridges were usually constructed for military purposes. The road at
Sardis, inland from Smyrna in the valley of the Hermos, was constructed by the
troops of Constans II around 660; it was paved and had a width of some 15 m; the
fortifications of Sardis – its acropolis - were repaired at the same time. —Anna
Avramea, in Laiou et al. eds., Economic History of Byzantium, at

1. 2nd Muslim naval raid on North Africa (Heck 2006: 308).

2. Italy: New permanent mint established at Byzantine Naples, perhaps created

by direct order of Constans in 663 (see there); it sporadically issues imperial and
post-imperial coinage until 842. Its mint-make was “NE” (Neapolis).
In 763 Naples will switch from the Eastern emperor as its suzerain to the Latin

patriarch of Rome; the Roman pope first issued his own coins after 772, but
Naples continued to use its own Byzantine-style currency. Then in the 820s the
local duke began to place his own initials on the coins of Naples in place of the
emperor’s, a clear signal of full independence from the empire. But back to the
600s ….

Naples is the only ‘living’ city in southern Italy today which retains a substantial
part of its Graeco-Roman street plan, suggesting that it remained a major urban
centre throughout the Middle Ages – but a town rather than a city. Recent
excavation of the Roman bath in Vico Carminiello ai Mannesi shows that coins
and imported foodstuffs continued to arrive in Naples in the mid 7th century
(Arthur 1985: 250-5). The food—olive oil and wine—arrived in amphorae from
Byzantine North Africa (19-23% of the sample), distant Muslim-ruled Gaza (14-
15%) and other parts of the Mediterranean. — Arthur 1985. As we shall later see,
effectively all trade across the Mediterranean would cease by around 700.

2. Emperor Constans turns 30.

1. Italy: Lombards briefly capture Taranto. Others say it was lost to the Lombards
in 658 (Italian Wikipedia, 2009: ‘Storia di Taranto’). Cf 662-63: Constans’ Italian

Damascus replaces Medina as the capital of the Caliphate

2. End of the Muslim civil war. The Prophet's son-in-law Ali is assassinated at
Kufa in present-day Iraq; Mu’awiya is accepted as caliph. This creates the
Umayyad dynasty, and the capital is moved from Medina to Damascus. See 663,
The ‘Kharijites’ (seceders or dissenters, as their opponents called them)
assassinated Ali, and the Muslim empire was reunited, with Muawiyah elected as
Today Ali is still the one true imam of the Shi’ites. He was murdered by the
Kharijites in Kufa in 661 and buried in the nearby city of Najaf, a major shrine for

When Ali was assassinated in 661, Mu'awiyah, as commander of the largest force
in the Muslim Empire, had the strongest claim to the Caliphate. Ali's son Hasan
ibn Ali, after an initial six-month defiance of Mu'awiyah, signed a truce and
retired to private life in Medina. According to Shi’a sources, the conditions of the
truce were that after Mu'awiya's death, the Caliphate should return to the
Prophet's family. But, on this view, Mu'awiyah violated the truce by ordering the
poisoning of Hasan and appointing his own son Yazid [aged 16 in 661] as the next

3. Arab suzerainty was re-established over Armenia.


NW Spain, 661: dedication by Recceswith of the church of S. Juan de

Banos or Banyos, at Banos de Cerrato, NE of Valladolid, the finest
surviving example of Visigothic architecture.

Italy: King Grimwald or Grimoald I - pinnacle of Lombard power in Italy. He
had been duke of Benevento. When the sons of Aripert, d.661, fought among
themselves, he intervened and took the throne.
— Aripert I had ended Arianism at the Pavia court. Monasteries were established
at Monza, Milan and Pavia. Aripert divided the Lombard kingdom between his
two sons; Pectarit made Milan his seat, while Godepert ruled from Pavia. The
Beneventan duke Grimwald, r. 661/622-67, entered Pavia ostensibly to help
Godebert but killed him, causing his older brother Perctarit at Milan to flee to the
— Under Grimwald the Lombards successfully fought the Franks and the East
Romans, the latter personally in the form of the emperor Constans. See 662-63.

Caliphate of Mu’awiya.

c. 662:
Arab naval attack on Constantinople? - The Armenian chronicler Sebeos, fl. 662,
lived through many of the events that he relates: “he maintains that the account
of the Arab conquests derives from fugitives 'who had been eyewitnesses thereof'
and, speaking of happenings in 652, declares that the Armenian faith has
prevailed 'until now'. Gero considers that Sebeos' notice on the launching of a
fleet by Mu'awiya to attack Constantinople must refer to 'the great siege in 674-
78'. But the text describes a single assault rather than a long siege, and the event
is clearly to be identified with that reported by a mid-eighth-century Syriac
source. Both emphasise that a great force of ships was readied and that the
expedition took place in the thirteenth year of Constans (654). Sebeos concludes
with Mu'awiya's ascendancy in the first Arab civil war (656-61), and the above
points would suggest that the author was writing very soon after this date." -
Peter Kirby, External References to Islam (2003) at, accessed August

1. Syria: Mu'awiyah transfers some ex-Sassanian Persian cavalry to Antioch and
attempts to repopulate the war-torn Amanus mountains, the borderland with
Byzantium, to the north of Antioch.
— The Amanus range is a spur from the Taurus Mountains of present-day Turkey
that extends toward the south, i.e. north of Antioch. Where the Amanus meets
the Mediterranean Sea, the deep Bay of Iskenderun (Alexandretta) is formed
along its west frontline. See next; also 667.

2. The West: Constans temporarily transfers his headquarters to Italy, partly in

order to shore up the crumbling structure of imperial rule there. Pryor & Jeffreys
rightly call this a “curious episode” (Dromon p.25); certainly it was unique for an
emperor to visit the West and stay there.
We may guess he planned to subjugate the Lombards in Italy and reorganise
the defence of Africa against the Arabs, or perhaps he meant just to issue a
short, sharp reminder to the barbarians that the empire was still a
force to be reckoned with (Richards p.195 vs Haldon 1990: 60). Chris
Wickham has noted that Africa was under threat from the Arabs and its loss
would leave Sicily as the only or certainly the preeminent grain province of the
empire.* This may explain what otherwise looks like a quixotic decision to move
his capital there (Wickham 2005: 125).
Before long, at any rate, the emperor set up a court in Sicily, at Syracuse. Sicily
had always (since pre-Roman times) been Greek-speaking; Latin remained the
lesser language, especially in the eastern half of the island.
Wickham, Italy p.43, had earlier noted that for most of the next 60 years
(see 726) there was peace in the north between the Lombards and
Byzantium. How much this can be attributed to Constans’ sojourn in Sicily is
unclear. Certainly the struggle continued on the south – see 664, Matera, and
668, Brindisi and Taranto.

(*) An exceptional cluster of seven seventh-century wrecks off Syracuse

would seem to echo the beleaguered Byzantine government’s deepening
reliance on Sicily to finance the desperate wars against the all-conquering
Muslims in these dark decades. –McCormick 1998.

Emperor Constans’ Italian Expedition, 662-663

With troops drawn from the Opsician army and (probably) the Anatolikon—
possibly 20,000* men in all—Constans II proceeded to Greece and thence to
Italy. The emperor was aged 32.

(*) At Naples in 663 Constans had under him at least 20,000 armed men
and perhaps as many as 30,000: see below. It is possible that the figure of
20,000 included originally unarmed rowers (naval oarsmen) who had been
issued with weapons once they arrived in Italy. If so, then the number of
specialist land-soldiers may have been as few as 6-7,000. (Cf Belisarius’s
western expedition of AD 533, which took place in a much more prosperous
age: 30- or 32,000 rowers plus some 18- or 19,000 fighting men: about
50,000 in all. –Treadgold 1995: 90 and 1997: 183.) It would seem less likely
that the emperor left Greece with such a large number as 20,000 fighting
men. And we may imagine that once he reached Italy, a few local Greco-
Italian (imperial) troops would have joined him (cf Brown 1984: 84).
Treadgold, 1997: 319, proposes that Constans would have collected some
Carabisian marines in Greece. So the numbers sailing to Italy may have
been made up something like this: 500 Carabisians, 1,000 Opsikians and

6,000 from other themes including the Anatolics. We then add some
12,500+ armed oarsmen and Italian militiamen to reach the “20,000+” that
he commanded at Naples. —This is of course just an educated guess.

Andrew Ekonomou says that elements of the expeditionary force were drawn
from four themes: the Armeniakon, Anatolikon, Thrakesian and Opsikion
(Ekonomou 2007: 69). Mizizius, Mzez in Armenian, was the army commander
who accompanied the emperor; he is variously called comes Obsequium or count
of the Opsikion and commander of the Anatolics (Gellatin 1972: 175).
Although “20,000”- if that truly was the number of troops who departed with
Constans- was a very substantial force by the standards of the 7th century, it was
not quite “the bulk” of the Eastern army as Angold 2001: 47 imagines. The
Opsicians and the Anatolics did indeed, at that time, make up the bulk of the
Eastern troops (Treadgold, Army p.74), but the emperor can hardly have taken
all of them (52,000), as the Arabs were constantly making incursions into Asia

Some propose that they sailed (661/62) from Constantinople to Thessalonica,

bypassing Slav-controlled territory, while others (relying on the Liber
Pontificalis: see reference below to McCormick) suggest that the army marched
overland. Treadgold believes that they sailed (were rowed): “not bothering to
clear the land route from Constantinople of Slavs” (1997, Ch 9).
All agree that the emperor next led his men overland from Thessalonica to
Athens and Corinth, and spent the winter of 662-63 in Athens, as recorded in the
Liber Pontificalis and Paul the Deacon, cited by Cordi 1983: 111.
The Liber Pontificalis says that the army travelled along the shore to reach
Athens (“de regia urbe per litoraria in Athenas”). McCormick, 2001: 220, I think
rightly, interprets this as overland travel, all the way from Constantinople,
through Thessalonica to Athens. He also imagines - I believe wrongly - that the
statement means that already the Via Egnatia, which ran initially from
Constantinople to Thessalonica, had been eclipsed, i.e by a land route nearer the
shore. This is difficult to follow. The Via Egnatia from Constantinople to
Thessalonica (whence it turns west, inland) runs near enough to the coast of
Thrace. And the coast would have been followed also, for the most part, through
Macedonia and Thessaly, from Thessalonica to Athens; - after all, the usual route
south from Thessalonica today, as in ancient times, is mostly coastal.

The sojourn at Athens shows that not all of Greece had fallen to the Slavs.
His longish stay in Greece may indicate that Constans II’s primary concern was
the reconfirmation of Byzantine authority in the areas he visited and the
subjugation - but not the expulsion - of the local Slavs.
There is archaeological confirmation of the stay in coin finds. The troops
accompanying the emperor left behind a relatively large number of half-folles, all
minted in a single year (659/60), whereas, with just one exception (Catalogue no.
38), this denomination is not known from anywhere else in the Balkans. The
evidence suggests that in Greece or at least in Athens, small change was suddenly
put into circulation on the eve of the Italian campaign. The coins seem to cluster

along the axis of the Panathenaic Way [the ancient street running NW-SE past
the Agora to the Acropolis], which may indicate the existence of a “military or
paramilitary encampment” on or near the Areopagus [the hill S of the Agora, W
of the Acropolis]. —thus Curta 2005b.

The following year, 663, probably having added some of the Carabisian marines
to his army, Constans sailed (rowed), says Paul the Deacon, “from Athens”. This
probably meant from Corinth, or perhaps from Patras, out through the Gulf of
Corinth and across the mouth of the Adriatic to Taranto (Treadgold 1997: 319).
There he began to attack the Lombards in the duchy of Benevento, under
Grimoald’s son Romuald.
Evidence for Constans’ activity in Italy is meagre, and limited substantially to
Paul the Deacon the Life of Pope Vitalianus (657–672) preserved in the Liber
Pontificalis. Curiously, neither Greek, nor Syriac, nor Arabic writers speak about
this episode. Theophanes says simply that Constans ‘moved to Sicilian Syracuse’,
without relating any details.
As it appears, Constans led his army northwards into N Puglia and thence back
again to S Puglia. The sources are limited, but it seems that the Byzantines
assaulted Lombard-ruled Bari and reconquered it (Burman 1991: 109).
Ekonomou, 2007: 170, guesses, no doubt rightly, that the Byzantines went first of
all up the Via Traiana from Bari. In the north, they destroyed Lucera, NE of
today’s Foggia. They took Bovino too, south of Foggia; most of its ancient Roman
works were destroyed in the assault.
The Lombards of Sipontum [near modern Manfredonia] attributed a victory on
8 May 663 over the Byzantines to the dramatic intercession of St Michael, whose
shrine was at Monte Gargano [inland north of Manfredonia]. The archangel is
said to have appeared with flaming sword atop the mountain in the midst of a
storm on the eve of the battle. Evidently this refers not to a local event but to the
battle of Forino, which was actually fought on the other side of the peninsula, on
the road from Benevento to Naples (see below).

After some time, Constans led his army into the interior along the Via Traiana.
The first inland town or fortress-village to be attacked seems to have been
Acerenza; it lies on the Via Traiana NW of Gravina. The Byzantines then
continued NW to Benevento itself, where Romuald awaited their attack.
King Grimoald, himself lately dux of Benevento, had given the rule of
Benevento to his son Romuald in 662 when he (Grimoald) made himself king of
(all) the Lombards.

Paul the Deacon says that Constans “took by storm Luceria [Lucera], a rich city of
Apulia, destroyed it and levelled it to the ground. Agerentia [our Acerenza: in the
central-south], however, he could not at all take on account of the highly fortified
position of the place. Thereupon he surrounded Beneventum with all his army
and began to reduce it energetically”. War-machines were deployed.
Thus Paulus v.7: “Beneventanorum fines invasit omnesque pene per quas
venerat Langobardorum civitates cepit. Luceriam quoque, opulentam Apuliae
civitatem, expugnatam fortius invadens diruit, ad solum usque prostravit.

Agerentia sane propter munitissimam loci positionem capere minime potuit.” -

‘He invaded the lands of the Beneventans and those (?) through which he
comes /had come/ he takes /has seized/ all the towns of the Lombards. Lucera
likewise, a wealthy city of [north] Apulia, is strongly assaulted, (and) he takes and
demolishes (has razed) it, laying it low (pulling it completely to the ground, ad
solum). Acerenza, however, on account of its fortifications and the position of the
place, he is insufficiently (minime) able to capture.’ –My translation, MO’R.

During the campaign the Byzantine army destroyed Aeclanum, which is modern
Mirabella Eclano, a town on the Appian Way, on the SE approach to Benevento;
it survived thereafter in much reduced form as a poor village: called
Quintodecimo because it was 15 Roman miles from Benevento (Cordi 1983: 130).
The Byzantines had come to Benevento from the east along the Via Traiana.
Aeclanum, however, lies to the south-east on the other branch of the ancient
highway, i.e. the Via Appia proper. Presumably Aecalamun was destroyed to
prevent its serving as a refuge for any Lombards escaping from Benevento in that
direction along the Via proper.
The main fortress-town of Benevento itself held out, and Constans preferred to
strike a truce with Romuald, or perhaps the latter offered a treaty to buy time.
Evidently the duke did not know that reinforcements under his father were quite
close. This may explain why Romuald betrothed his sister Gisa or Gysa to the
emperor; or else gave her as a hostage*: she died a little later in Sicily. Romuald's
vigorous defence of the city was failing when his father Grimoald, or some of the
latter’s troops, showed up and routed the Byzantine menace.

(*) Ekonomou loc.cit. Cf Paulus, v.8: “Acceptaque obside Romualdi sororem, cui
nomen Gisa fuit, cum eodem pacem fecit.” - ‘And pleased with [or: it having been
accepted] the pledge of the sister of Romuald, whose name was Gisa, he
[Constans] makes peace with them’. Latin obside: ‘as lesser hostage; with the
pledge of; for security’.

St Barbatus, 612-682: Sent to Benevento as a missionary, he made many converts

among the still largely ‘pagan’ population of the interior. It is claimed that
in AD 663, when the Byzantine emperor Constans II was besieging Benevento,
Barbatus correctly predicted that the assault would fail. After the withdrawal of
the Byzantines, the Beneventans elected Barbatus as their bishop. He attended
the Council of Constantinople in AD 680.

From Benevento, Constans retired south-westwards to Naples. Romuald then re-

took Taranto and Brindisi, much limiting the Byzantine influence in the region.
Thus Paulus, Historia Langobardorum, v.10. But the imperialists held Bari until
One of the leading notables with the army of the emperor Constans II at Naples
in 663 was Saburrus: "unus ex eius optimatibus, cui nomen Saburrus erat”: ‘one
of his best men whose name was Saburrus’ [possibly a Latin rendering of the
Persian name Shahpuhr]. He offered to lead “20,000” of the emperor's troops
back inland against Romoald and defeat him. The implication may be that the

total force Constans commanded was a good deal larger than 20,000.
From Naples Saburrus took his men to Forinus where he made camp. This is
our Forino, east of Naples, inland N of Salerno, S of Benevento. Romoald
attacked him on 8 May 663 with his own men and some of the troops of his
father Grimoald, and inflicted a crushing defeat on Saburrus, who returned to the
emperor at Naples in disgrace and with supposedly only a few of his troops
surviving: thus Paul. Diac., Hist. Lang. V.10; Cordi 1983: 140. Paulus Diaconus
also says that this battle, or a different one, was fought on 8 May 663 near the
Calore River, an affluent of the river Volturno and the commander was Mitolas,
count of Capua (Wikipedia, 2009, under ‘Constans II’). Paul, 5.ix: “the emperor,
fearing the sudden approach of king Grimuald, broke up the siege of Beneventum
and set out for Neapolis (Naples). Mitola, however, the Count of Capua, forcibly
defeated his army near the river Calor (Calore), in the place which up to the
present time is called Pugna (the fight).”

Next Constans went on to Rome: the last ever visit by an emperor.

After about a month in Naples, Constans led his troops, or at least a detachment
of his army, towards Rome along the Via Appia as far as Terracina, on the coast
about halfway from Naples to Rome. As they approached Old Rome, at the sixth
milestone [ = nine km], pope Vitalian and his retinue came out along the Via
Appia to greet them on 5 July 663.
The emperor stayed just 12 days at Rome (described in detail by Ekonomou
2007: 173-75). His troops were ordered to strip antique buildings including the
great Pantheon and latter-day churches of their roof-copper (or gilded bronze
plates) and statuary, to raise or make money. This was not mere vandalism or
mindless greed. The copper was later struck into coins. Evidently lead was also
taken from roofs, to be moulded it into pellets for military slings. Then he
returned south to Naples by ship and led his army overland through Calabria to
Reggio and across the straits of Messina to Sicily in September 663. He set up
court at Syracuse (Paulus V.11; Cordi 1983: 156 ff).
His rule became increasingly unpopular in Sicily, while the considerable
opposition in Constantinople to his plan to transfer the government to Sicily on a
permanent basis resulted in his wife and three sons being prevented from joining
him by the demes (city factions) and government officials. See 668.

1. The East: While the Byzantine court was in Sicily, Arab armies wintered each
year deep inside East Roman Asia Minor. "Though the Themes won few battles”,
says Treadgold, State 1997: 382, “their main accomplishment was to survive
raids rather than to prevent them."

Resistance by the Byzantine fortress-towns of west-central Asia-Minor

McCotter notes that the introduction of the trebuchet meant that relatively
simple weapons capable of discharging ammunition heavy enough to batter

through (some*) walls could be constructed in situ during a siege. “This was its
real potential value. It is not clear when this was realised, nor is it clear when**
these weapons entered service, but the siege of Synnada*** [in Phrygia, in
central-western Anatolia: at a point where two great roads crossed] in 663
witnessed the deployment of heavy weapons by both the Byzantines and Arabs.”
—McCotter 2003.

(*) Others argue that the early trebuchet could not break stone or masonry
walls and was a mainly anti-personnel weapon.

(**) See discussion earlier under 586/97.

(***) Modern-day Suhut, south of Afyon.

2. Sicily simmered under the exactions of the emperor’s tax collectors. Paulus
Diaconus writes that Constans “put such afflictions upon the people - the
inhabitants and land owners of Calabria, Sicily, Africa [greater Tunisia], and
Sardinia - as were never heard of before, so that even wives were separated from
their husbands and children from their parents”, i.e. they were sold into slavery
to satisfy the demands of the tax gatherers. —Text of Paulus online (2010) at

1a. Muslim raid on the island of ‘Qaswarah’ [cf Arabic qaswara, ‘lion’], off Sicily:
modern Pantelleria (al-Bakri and other sources, cited by Heck 2006: 308). The
distance to Pantelleria is about 150 km, sailing from Tunis around Tunisia’s NE
cape, including an open-sea crossing of some 65 km.

1b. 2nd Muslim naval raid on Sicily (Theophanes and Arab sources: ibid). See

2. The heel of Italy: After the departure of Constans to Sicily, the Lombards take
Matera. Bari, then an unimportant town, fell in 668-69. Romuald died in 677; by
that time, according to Paulus Diaconus, 6:1, Taranto and Brindisi had been

Pakistan-India, 664: Arabs invade the Punjab, and a Muslim state was
established in Sindh by 712.

664: Ionans vs Anglo-Saxons at the Synod of Whitby in Northumbria: The

Northumbrian king favours the newer Roman (Mediterranean) way of
calculating the date of Easter and Roman rites, e.g. monastic tonsure, over
those followed by a part of the Irish church (the form of Iona). NB: Most of
Ireland had already switched to the newer style.
At this time the Anglo-Saxons ruled England and Northumbria, and
Celtic kings ruled the west: the Britons in what is now Wales, the Scots
(Irish) in what is now western Scotland, the Picts in northern Scotland and

Irish kings in Ireland. The whole region, except Sussex, was Christian (see

The West: Constans seems to have intended to establish military lands, and he
managed to secure the loyalty of the Italian and African armies. When Gennadius
the self-appointed exarch of Carthage refused to pay the additional sums that
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 sizeable force with Gennadius to invade Africa in 665
(Treadgold 1997: 9). See next.

Africa: East Romans failed to prevent a Muslim invasion of western Libya. See
“The caliph sent a sizable force with [the renegade exarch] Gennadius to invade
Africa in 665. Even though the deposed exarch died when he reached Alexandria,
the Arabs marched on. From Sicily, Constans [now aged 35] dispatched an army
to reinforce Africa, but its commander Nicephorus the Patrician [patrikios, a
court title] 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” (Treadgold 1997).

Western Mediterranean: “On the basis of a passage preserved in Pseudo-
Methodius’ Apocalypse, Walter Kaegi has convincingly argued that a ‘Muslim’
raid against Sardinia took place [from Egypt*] in the second half of the seventh
century. This is an important contribution, because until now scholars commonly
believe the first Arab raids against Sardinia to have taken place [from Tunisia] in
703. It is impossible to determine when precisely it took place; probably the
expedition targeted the town of Olbia. Maybe it has to be placed just after the
expedition led by Mu’awiya ibn Hudayi in 665/6 AD, against what is today the
south coast of Tunisia” (thus Cosentino).

(*) The rowers were probably Copts, so one should probably write ‘Muslim-led’.
The number of Muslim-Arabs in Egypt was perhaps 100,000 among probably
three million non-Arabic Christians (cf Kennedy 2008: 165).

600s: The End of Antiquity: Banning the Theatre

The Miracles of St Artemius, a text from the 660s that refers to aspects of life in
'dark age' Constantinople, mentions baths and the hippodrome* - located beside
the palace - but not theatres (Mango pp.78-79). We know that theatres continued
to operate, however, because they are mentioned in the canons of the church
council of 691: the clergy were banned from attending the theatres and horse

The staple fare at the theatre was the mime, involving obscene burlesque. So
theatre was considered the embodiment of immorality already in the sixth
century, and by the end of the seventh century the Church would succeed in
banning it entirely (says Evans, ‘Theodora’, at http://www.roman-, accessed 2009).

(*) Good coloured drawings of the hippodrome online:, accessed 2010. This
excellent site is highly recommended.


A map showing the Hippodrome in relation to the Palace and Hagia Sophia can
be found here:

667, 711 and 719:

Trade with China: According to Tang-Chinese sources, the Eastern Roman or
Byzantine empire ("Fu-Lin") sent embassies to the Chinese court. This is not
confirmed by Romanic/Byzantine sources. So the 'ambassadors' were probably
traders claiming to be envoys of the Christian emperor (Hirth 1885).

NE Italy: The Lombards conquered the Byzantine fortress at Opitergium
(modern Oderzo: inland, NNE of Venice) and took possession of practically all of
Veneto (and Friuli) except for Venice and Grado. Grimoald’s troops destroyed
Oderzo [Paulus D. 5. xxviii]; much of its population fled further down the Piave
valley to the nearby town of Heraclea (modern Eraclea, near the coast), still
under Byzantine control. Most of its territory passed to the Count of Ceneda
[modern Vittoro Veneto: NW of Oderzo].
Cf 668 – “soldiers from Istria”.

c. 667:
Syria: The Mardaïtes or ‘Jarajima’, who appear later as Christian enemies of the
Caliph, were according to David Woods originally deserters from the Byzantine
side. Mu’awiya settled them at and around Antioch and Cyrrhus in Syria. Cyrrhus
lay north of Aleppo on the road from Antioch to Edessa.
Among the Syriac population of Syria, says Woods, they were tagged with the
title maridoye or maradat, ‘rebels’ [i.e. rebels against the empire], a name that
after 18 years became Graecized as Mardaite (marda+ite: Mardaïte). Their
Arabic name, Jarajima, evidently derives from a place-name in the Alexandretta-
Antioch region. —Toynbee p. 86; and Woods, ‘Corruption and Mistranslation’.
+ See 685.

Sicily: When the emperor announced his plans to make Sicily his permanent
headquarters, it was quite unpopular with both the local inhabitants and the
populace of Constantinople. On 15 September 668 while bathing he was
murdered with a marble or metal soapdish by a valet or cubicularius: Gk
koubikoularios,* eunuch house-servant (Theophanes AM 6160: trans. Turtledove
p.50; Cordi 1983: 197).

(*) Cubicularii were eunuchs who undertook the duties that in other
households were undertaken by women: managing finances, writing letters,
tending the wardrobe, serving meals and cooking (Rautman p.88).

“By the time of his death at age 37, 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 centre 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.” (Treadgold 1997 Ch 9, emphasis added).

1. Anatolia: The Arabs capture Amorium and garrison it with 5,000 men; but it
was soon reoccupied by the Greek Romanics (Stratos 1980: 239).

2. Eastern Anatolia: Revolt in Asia Minor by the Armeniac theme, whose general
Saborius strikes an alliance with the caliph.
Prince Constantine mustered his remaining forces under Nicephorus the
Patrician. Probably this Nicephorus was the same person who had fought in
Africa three years before, and if so, then Constans had sent back some of his army
from Sicily in the interim.
Saborius and his Armeniac rebels marched from (Muslim-ruled) Melitene to
(Asian) Hadrianopolis at his theme's northwestern corner, most of the way on the
old Roman road. While drilling for battle, however, Saborius fell from his horse
and died, and the leaderless Armeniacs submitted to Nicephorus. The caliph's
reinforcements arrived in the Hexapolis, the region south of Caesarea, to find
that the revolt was over (Treadgold 1997).

3. As noted, Constans, aged 37 or 38, was assassinated on 15 July 668 in

Syracuse by or on behalf of rebels.
The military commander Mezezius or Mizizios - an ethnic Armenian:* Mzez
Gnouni in Armenian, - the count or komes of the Opsikion and/or strategos of the
Anatolikon theme, is proclaimed emperor in Sicily (Cordi 1983: 204; Haldon,
Transformation p. 214). This quickly became known on the Italian peninsula.
The Exarch of Italy marches, or more likely he sails, from Ravenna to Sicily to
suppress the revolt there. Evidently he called together contingents from all over:

“The soldiers of Italy, others throughout Istria**, others through the territories of
Campania and others from the regions of Africa and Sardinia, came to Syracuse
against him and deprived him [Mezezius] of life” (thus Paulus Diac. 5.XII).
According to the Liber Pontificalis, Mezezius "erat in Sicilia cum exercitu
Orientali”: ‘was in Sicily with the Eastern army’ [meaning the Anatolics] - when
he rebelled and seized the throne. The army of Italy ("exercitus Italiae"),
however, seized Syracuse and killed Mezezius; “many” of his officials or senior
supporters (“judges”) were mutilated and taken to Constantinople, and his own
head was taken there. —Lib. Pont. 79. 2; trans. Evans p.74.

(*) Treadgold has stated that most Byzantines seem not to have cared much
about what we would call ethnicity. Byzantium was essentially a ‘monocultural
melting pot’. That is to say, new arrivals learned Greek, called themselves
"Romans" (we would call them "Byzantines"), married Byzantines, and practically
forgot their origins in a generation or two. —

(**) Istria was the peninsula east of the Gulf of Venice; now the western-most
part of Croatia. Campania is the region centred on Naples.

100th anniversary of the arrival of the Lombards in N. Italy.


Source: Treadgold 1995: 198.

641, Heraclius 668, Constans 775,

Constantine V

Population of 10.5 million 7 million 8 million

the empire:

Total state 3.7 million 2.0 million 1.9 million

revenues: nomismata; less
than half that at
the end of
Justinian's reign.

Treadgold Army p.208 presents a map that shows the vital importance of the
theme system to the survival of Byzantium. Between 668 and 900
Byzantium held onto the core of its empire from S Italy to E Anatolia.
The only net losses after 668, although they were significant, were in the far
west: N Italy and much of Sicily; the far north: part of the Black Sea coast (lost to
the Bulgarians); and in the far east: Cilicia, Upper Mesopotamia and the regions
east of the Taurus/Anti-Taurus Mountains.

Much ground would be lost in S Italy, but the losses were recouped by 900.
There was a major advance in the inner west: Byzantium reconquered much of
the Balkans from the Slavs by 900.
The stability of the middle empire can be illustrated by the examples of
Rhegium (Reggio), the town on the toe-tip of Italy, HQ of the westernmost theme
in 900; and Trebizond, the HQ of the theme of Chaldia, the easternmost theme in
900. - If we use a base-date of 659 for the creation of the theme system, we find
that Byzantium controlled Rhegium for 402 years, i.e. until the Normans took it
in 1061; and Trebizond for 413 years, until c.1072 which saw a brief period of
Seljuk rule. Trebizond was soon recovered: although the theme system was dead
by 1100, the town remained Greek until after 1453: i.e. for some 800 years.

The Deep Dark Ages, 650-850

Archaeology reveals that commerce reached an early low-point in the mid 7th
century, a trough that persisted through the 8th century and beyond. This is seen
in archaeological finds of copper coins which were used as small change. Except
at Constantinople itself, in the Aegean sector such coins nearly disappear. For
example the coins found at Athens dating from Justinian’s reign, d. 565, average
about 30 per year of the reign compared with just two per year for the reign of
Constantine IV, d. 685. Ephesus: from five to zero. In the further East the
position is hardly better: at Antioch, from 26 coins under Justinian down to one
per year for Heraclius’s reign (Antioch having been captured by the Persians and
finally lost to the Muslim Arabs in that reign).
At Athens some coins survive from Basil I’s reign, acc. 867, but it is not until
the reign of Leo VI, 886-912, that we see enough copper coins to
believe that monetary trade has fully reappeared across the Aegean
(Ward-Perkins 2005: 115).

The Reign of Constantine IV, 668-685

misnamed Pogonatus, "the Bearded"

Son of Constans, Constantine was aged about 19 (or 16

according to some) at accession. His two brothers,
Heraclius and Tiberius were co-emperors up to 681.
Wife: Anastasia. Children: Justinian, born 668/69, the
future Justinian II.

In the 19th century scholars believed that the nickname

Pogonatos (‘bearded’) belonged to Constantine IV, but the
current view is that it actually referred to his father,
Constans II. —see Moore, at www.roman-, accessed 2009.

The mosaic of him in Sant’Apollinare in Classe at

Ravenna, dating to the 670s, depicts the teenage emperor
with his younger brothers. Constantine appears either
beardless or with the faintest of trimmed beards; his hair
falls, or rather it balloons, to below the ears at the back of
the neck, covering the back of the ears while leaving the
front part of the ears uncovered. A coin of c. 680 shows him
with a substantial but neatly trimmed beard and what looks
like a mullet hairstyle.

Bronze coins: 'Class I' coins show a youthful, beardless cuirassed bust of the still
young emperor wearing a helmet with a plume and in his right hand a globus
cruciger or sphere of the world surmounted by a cross. This is also the most
common type for Constantine IV’s folles, issued from 668-673 AD. They
represented a coinage reform evidently designed to leave no one wanting the old
small folles of Constans II. Good money drives out bad and they were probably in
great demand. - See 674: the emperor’s effigy on coins acquires a beard.

The empire fell to an early low-point in terms of population after 668:

perhaps about seven million people, thereafter recovering slightly to perhaps
about eight million by 775. But tax revenues were higher in 668 than they would
be in 775: in other words, the economic low point was reached somewhat later, in
the 700s. In terms of territory, the major change comes after this reign: the loss
of Africa (Libya-Tunisia-Algeria) to the Arabs from 692, and, the final fall of NE
Italy to the Lombards, 720-751.
Geographically, the nearest enemies to Constantinople were the Slavs in
western and northern Thrace. But they were more passive enemies than
aggressive neighbours: cf 688-89.

The major BORDER PROVINCES OF THE EMPIRE in 668 were [after

Treadgold 1997: 321]:

(a) The province or Exarchate of Africa, capital at Carthage, included the

Balearics, Sardinia and Corsica. Tunisia was ruled by the Emperor, while
Tripolitana (Libya) answered to the Caliph.

(b) The Exarchate of Italy, capital Ravenna, ran from the NE - greater Ravenna -
down to Sicily. The Lombards of Spoleto and Benevento dominated half or more
of the central-south of the peninsula, where imperial rule will shortly be limited
to the front foot - lower Calabria - and lower heel - later known as the ‘Land of
Otranto’. Cf 670.

(c) Coastal Macedonia: The hinterlands around Thessalonica were a ‘land-island’

within a Slav-dominated Balkan ‘ocean’. Cf below under 670-72.

(d) Inner Thrace: The Opsikion theme, with its HQ in Asia Minor, extended into
Europe, incorporating a small area of the Marmara and Black Sea littoral, centred

on Arcadiopolis. Adrianople, in Slav-controlled territory, was, one imagines, a

large ghost-town. (Adrianople was not to be definitely recovered until around
750: Treadgold 1997: 360. But cf 718: Adrianople as a contested border-point.)

(e) The Carabisian naval or marine theme, with its HQ at Samos in the E
Aegean, ran from Corinth and Athens across the Aegean Sea to the coast of Asia
Minor above Cyprus. Most of inland Greece was controlled by various Slavic
tribes. Crete and Cyprus came under direct imperial rule, i.e. not under the

(f) The Anatolic theme, capital Amorium, extended SE to Byzantine Cilicia.

Syrian Antioch (modern Antakya) was a Muslim stronghold.

(g) The Armeniac theme, which extended beyond Trebizond into Armenia and W
upper Mesopotamia. The seat of the Armeniac commander was at Euchaita,
modern Çorum or Chorum, east of Ankara: halfway between Sinope and
Caesarea. Byzantium dominated the Anti-Taurus mountains, while the upper
plains of Mesopotamia - the triangle formed by the towns of Germanica,
Samosata [see 698-99] and Melitene [see 712] - were a marchland between the
Empire and the Caliphate.


1. Sicily: Following the assassination of Constans, as we saw, Mizizius or
Mezezius, the komes (count) of the Opsikion regiment, was proclaimed emperor
in Sicily.
The news of Constans' assassination did not reach Constantinople until
November or December 668, when pressure was placed on the exarch of Syracuse
to proclaim Constantine IV, son of Constans II, as emperor. As we have noted,
loyalist units were rushed (directly by ship, one imagines) from Istria and
Campania to crush the rebellion: Mezezius was deposed and exiled in 669.
Some scholars - but not Treadgold 1997: 323 - reject the story recorded by
Theophanes the Confessor (the eighth century chronicler) in his Chronographia
352.4-7, that Constantine IV, son and heir to Constans II, personally gathered a
fleet and proceeded to Sicily, where he captured and executed [669] Mezezius
and those responsible for his father's murder. Pryor & Jeffreys will allow that the
new emperor “most probably” sailed to Sicily (Dromon p.25).

2. Italy: At about this time the Beneventans under Romuald returned to Apulia
and reconquered Bari (Burman 1991: 109).

3. The West: Theodore of Tarsus, a ‘Greek’ from Cilicia, is appointed by the

patriarch of Rome to be the first archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglo-Saxon
kingdom of Mercia, part of a future England.
Theodore had received an excellent training in the classics in both Tarsus and
Athens. When he was appointed Archbishop to the ‘English’, pope Vitalian, who

consecrated him in 668, expressed fear and doubt of Theodore's orthodoxy. The
Roman pontiff charged Abbot Hadrian to accompany Theodore to Britain and,
says Bede, to keep "a diligent eye on Theodore lest he teach anything contrary to
the true faith after the manner of the [ancient] Greeks".

Further Losses in Italy, 668-687

668-76 :
The Lombards advance in SE Italy, taking most of Apulia, including
Taranto and Brindisi: by 676 according to Treadgold, State p.326; also ODB
i:325. Others date this to 686. Stranieri, 2000: 7, dates this expedition more
generally to the period between 674 and 687. Evidently Bari, which in the 7th
century was a small and unimportant town, had been taken a little earlier, in 668-
69; but it was soon recovered by the Byzantines.

“Romuald, duke of the Beneventines, after he had collected a great multitude of

an army, attacked and captured Tarentum (Taranto) and in like manner
Brundisium (Brindisi) and subjugated to his dominion all that very extensive
region which surrounds them” (Paulus D: 6:1). This reduced East Roman
territory to the lower heel around Otranto and the toe in present-day S Calabria
(map in Christie, p.43). Tunisia and all of Sicily of course remained in imperial
hands. Cf 675, 677.
Brown 1984: 114 guesses that the heavy taxation imposed in 660s by Constans
may have been a factor in this loss, i.e., why fight when surrender brings you
lower taxes.
“From this moment, the ‘line of the frontier’ would have been joined up
(sposata) in the northern Salento [top of the heel], but the sources are limited on
the events of the two succeeding centuries. Probably the Lombards took over
(raggiunta) the line of the Appian Way in 675 and were also masters of Otranto
for a time between 710 and 758, but never controlled the zone of the Gallipoli
region” (my poor translation: MO’R). —Stranieri p.7, citing the Liber Pontificialis
and Cod. Carol.

Le Centoporte near Otranto is an example of a fortified monastery, marked by

blocking up of doors, and dated to the late 7th or early 8th century (Christie

(or less likely in 667:)
SE Sicily: Arab sea-raiders from Egypt led by ‘Abd’Allah b. Qays briefly take and
devastate Syracuse. “They carried off also great booty and all that artwork in
brass and different materials which the emperor Constantine [i.e. Constans II, d.
668] had taken away from Rome” (Paulus, Hist. Lang.). But Sicily stayed safe for
another 30 years: see 700.

The expedition arrived from Alexandria with almost 200 ships, taking advantage
of the confusion after the murder of Constans II in Syracuse the previous year.

Syracuse was besieged and taken. Having pillaged the country for a month and
obtained rich booty, the Arab fleet returned again to its base without incident. Cf
670 – Tunisia; also 681-82.
Paulus, 5.xiii: “The nation of the Saracens that had already spread through
Alexandria and Egypt, hearing these things, came suddenly with many ships,
invaded Sicily, entered Syracuse and made a great slaughter of the people - a few
only escaping with difficulty who had fled to the strongest fortresses and the
mountain ranges - and they carried off also great booty and all that art work in
brass and different materials which the emperor Constantine [Constans II, d.
668] had taken away from Rome; and thus they returned to Alexandria.”

2. Constantine IV puts down a revolt by several Asian regiments.

1. Sea of Marmara: Soon it was clear to the emperor that Mu’awiya was focused
on bringing his forces to bear against the capital city of Constantinople itself. In
670/71 Arab naval forces under 'Fudhala' (Fadala/Fadhala b. 'Ubayd) occupied
the Cyzicus peninsula on the southern side of the Sea of Marmara and established
a base for future attacks against the city, and in 672/73 his men captured Smyrna.
In 674 (see there) the Arab fleet will begin the assault upon Constantinople itself.

2. 3rd Muslim naval raid on North Africa (Heck 2006: 309, citing Ibn Taghri
Birdi etc). An Arab fleet carries a large force along the N African coast to Tunisia.
There Kairouan - in Arabic, Qayrawan, the "fortified town", or perhaps from
Persian karavan ‘resting place’ - is founded as a base camp for the conquest of
Roman North Africa (Arabic “Ifriqiya”). Located inland, well S of Carthage/Tunis,
it was to keep in check the (Christian) Berber 'hordes' and was located far from
the sea where it was safe from attack. It will later become a major city. See 679,

c. 670:
100th anniversary of the founding of the Lombard duchy of Spoleto.

Demographic Contraction in Italy

The Lombard invasions resulted in what Wickham has called the “annihilation”
of the great majority of Catholic episcopal sees in the South of Italy.
In the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento, out of some 100 bishoprics, only 10
survived in 700. Partly this reflected the animosity towards Catholicism by the
Arian Lombards, but the more important factor was probably the economic and
demographic fragility of post-Gothic Italy. Most of the small towns, really just
large villages, that had supporting a bishop in 550 were located in the hill
country. “Any slight dislocation, a war or a hostile duke, would have sufficed to
bring them down” (Wickham p.148).

Caliph Mu’awiya leads further Arab invasions of Asia Minor: Arab land forces

wintered each year deep in imperial territory.

- In 670 Arab naval forces occupied Cyzicus and established a base for future
attacks against the city, and in 672 captured Smyrna. In 674 the Arab fleet began
its assault upon Constantinople.
- In 670 the Arab fleet seized first the large island of Chios or Khios in the
eastern Aegean near Smyrna, then sailed up the Hellespont and finally took the
town of Cyzicus near modern Erdek, on the southern coast of the Sea of
Marmara. Then, as we have said, Smyrna itself was taken in 672, as a prelude to a
grand attack on the Christian capital. See 674.

2. The Balkans: With the emperor's attention focused on the Arabs, the Slav
chieftain Perbundus, chief of the tribe of Rynchinians, made plans to capture
Thessalonica. When Constantine learned of Perbundus' plans, he had him
executed. The Slavs, angered by the execution, still attacked the city and laid
siege to it. Cf 677.

Security Only Behind Walls

At Thessalonica during the seventh and eighth centuries the extra muros
cemeteries at Thessalonica - in the suburbs outside the walls - ceased to be used
regularly and burials appeared inside the city. The insecurity of the extra muros
areas, the development of the neighbourhoods, together with the new
microcosmic perception of the city, were all factors contributing to this
development. For this reason, among the commonest finds during rescue
excavations inside Thessalonike are Byzantine graves, which are found almost
everywhere: in monastery courtyards, around churches, wherever space was
available. —Bazirkis, in Talbot ed., ‘Late Byzantine Thessalonike’, Dumbarton
Oaks Papers, 2003; accessed online 2007.

Ugba b. Nafi serves as Muslim governor of Libya.
He led 10,000 Egyptian Arab horsemen and an unknown number of convert
Berbers into central Tunisia, where (as we have seen) he established a forward
base or camp at Qayrawan (Kairouan). It was located inland so as to be out of
easy reach of any Byzantine fleet. Imperial rule extended only to several days’
ride beyond Carthage, so Uqba’s tasks was to subdue and convert the (Christian)
Berbers in the interior, by the sword or by persuasion. Qayrawan was very much
a forward base: there was a permanent garrison there, but Uqba himself was
based in Libya, visiting Qayrawan only when it was useful or necessary to do so
(Kennedy 2008: 211). See 675.
It was also at this time that the slave trade from North Africa to the Islamic
East was commenced (ibid: 215). Slaves had to be brought from outside into the
Caliphate because the Quran forbade the enslavement of a fellow Muslim.

The End of Long Distance: “Phocaean RS” (PRS: sophisticated ‘red slip’ ceramics

from Phocaea in the west Aegean) – once traded across the whole Mediterranean
- ceased to be produced in the period 670-700 – somewhat later than used to be
thought. This is clear from excavations at Emporio on Chios, Gortyn on Crete,
and in the Crimea. Trade in PRS had been contracting since the 500s, but the
local RS [local types of less sophisticated red slipware] productions did not
replace it, for they ceased as well. They were replaced by coarser types (Wickham
2005: 784 ff).

1. Muslim Egypt: The imperial navy raids the coastal town of Burullus (Borolus),
NE of Alexandria. The garrison commander was killed. It seems that this
prompted the Muslim authorities to establish a shipbuilding centre in the
interior, i.e. on an island in the Nile at the capital Fustat [Cairo]. The river was of
course big enough to accommodate the small ocean-going galleys of this era
(Kennedy 2008: 338).

Greek Fire

2. The Capital: Learning that the Arabs were gearing up (see next) to attack
Constantinople, Constantine orders the construction of a large fleet, both large
biremes (Theophanes’ “two-storied warships”) and smaller swifter dromons
equipped with metal tubes or siphons for ‘GREEK FIRE’ (this is a Western
term: the East Romans called it “liquid fire”, “sea fire” or “wet fire”). There were
small hand siphons as well as large fixed noozle-points; Greek Fire was also
launched from catapults and in grenades (Tsangadas 1980: 111, 126, 295, citing
Theophanes AM 6163, Nicephorus and Const. Porphyr.; cf Partington 1960).
A much later source illustrates a hand-siphon: a 10th century redaction of
Heron’s Parangelmata shows a soldier on a flying bridge attacking the top of the
walls of a town with a hand-held flame-thrower described in the text as a
“swivelling, fire-throwing, hand-held (instrument)” (Dromon p.620).

3. An Arab fleet captures Rhodes; it is garrisoned with 12,000 men.

Cf al-Baladhuri: “Mu'awiyah ibn-abi-Sufyan sent expeditions by sea and by
land. He sent Junadah ibn-abi-Umaiyah-i-Azdi to Rudis [Gk Rhodos, Rhodes].
Junadah . . . took Rhodes by force. Rhodes was a thicket in the sea. In pursuance
of Mu'awiyah's order, Junadah caused Muslims to settle in it. This took place in
the year 52 [AD 673-74]. … The Muslims occupied Rhodes for seven years, living
in a fort made for them. At the death of Mu'awiyah [in 680], Yazid [the new
caliph] wrote to Junadah ordering him to destroy the fort and return. Mu'awiyah
used to alternate its occupants, making them live there in turns.”

Studying Greek Fire

John Haldon (2006) has carried out experiments aimed at reconstructing and
testing siphons using medieval methods and materials.
He proposes that the hand-siphon was little more than a single-piston syringe:
a bronze tube with a piston of wood and leather, probably supplied with oil from

an attached small tank or tube-shaped reservoir.

He and his colleagues also built a large fire-projector for naval warfare in the
form of a two-man double-cylinder force-pump, with a reservoir for the oil
(petroleum), and a swivel nozzle of bronze that could be operated by a single
individual. They found that a fierce flame could be directed for some seconds at a
target up to 15 metres away. This fits with the tactic of ramming the enemy ship
in the stern and then pumping fire over it, as related in Anna Comnena’s Alexiad
(Partington p.19).
Haldon used unrefined crude oil mixed with wood resin. He found that pre-
heating the oil (while inside the reservoir) using a brazier produced a more
effective weapon because it reduced the viscosity of the oil; but this is a
speculative solution as the sources are silent on this point.
According to the 10th century De Administrando (DAI), the empire drew its
supplies of petroleum from the northern foothills of the Caucasus, specifically the
north-western and Georgian districts of the Azov-Kuban subfield of the North
Caucasus field. In the 7th century, this was Khazar territory. In what is now
Georgia, a tiny Abasgian kingdom emerged after 750, and later a larger kingdom
of Iberia. By 1030 the region was divided between the ‘pagan’ Alans, Christian
Georgians and Jewish Khazars – all usually Byzantine allies.


Various reconstructions of Byzantine ships and a hypothetical sketch by Haldon

of a push-pump can be found here:

Cilicia and Syria: Toynbee p. 87 and Treadgold 1997: 327, have proposed that the
Mardaïtes (Marda-ites) were Christian (monothelite) freebooters, based in the
Amanus mountains north of Antioch, who raided both Byzantine Cilicia and
Muslim-ruled Syria. Although under Muslim rule, Syria’s population of course
remained almost entirely Christian.
When the Caliphate conquered into Cilicia in 673, the Mardaites were cut off. It
seems that some remained in the Amanus mountains while others departed south
beyond Antioch into the mountains of Lebanon. There, joined by “thousands” of
native mountaineers, escaped slaves and escaped Byzantine prisoners from Syria,
they began plundering as far as northern Palestine (Theophanes, AM 6169).
Evidently Byzantium began to encourage and support them at some stage
during the Arab siege of Constantinople, 674-78, probably before 677. Their
depredations were one factor, probably a lesser factor, in the decision by
Mu’awiya in 679 to open negotiations with Byzantium for a treaty. See 677.

Christendom’s Darkest Hour

“CHRISTENDOM’S DARKEST HOUR” – a weak empire faces an energetic

Arab blockade of the imperial capital: naval siege for four summers.
The whole campaign lasted seven years, 674-80, but not all of the fighting
occurred at or near Constantinople. And the word ‘siege’ is perhaps misleading,
as the Arab fleet seems to have retired to Cyzicus during each of the four winters
[674-77]. It is perhaps better to see it as a series of discrete land and sea
engagements that took place over some five years; the first such clash may have
taken place as early as 669 if we follow al-Tabari. Blankinship 1994: 286 argues
that most of the fighting took place in the sector Crete-Lycia-Rhodes-Pamphylia,
and only twice in seven years was Constantinople itself threatened.
— In 674, the date given by the Greek sources, three Arab fleets came together
under the admiral Chaleb in the Aegean as a prelude to a first assault on the city.
Our sources do not supply numbers, but Tsangadas, 1980: 117, hazards an
estimate of 400 ships. Having proceeded through the Hellespont and across the
Sea of Marmara, they reached Constantinople early in April 674 and anchored
along the shore adjoining the ‘Hebdomon’, i.e. on the European side south-west
of the city.
— The Muslim fleet had its anchorage thereafter at Cyzicus near modern Erdek
on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara: April 674-677. A final Arab attack,
from the sea, was repulsed in 677-78 with Greek Fire, said to have been
invented in 671 by Kallinikos.
— The second Arab “siege” so-called (674-80) was directed by Mu'awiyah's son
Yazid, during Mu'awiyah's reign as caliph, and combined a land assault with a
naval blockade and attacks on the city. The assault was launched on the city from
the captured and fortified peninsular city of Cyzicus on the southern coast of the
Sea of Marmara on today’s Kapidagi or Erdek peninsula. The campaign finally
ended following the death (680) of Mu'awiyah, as Yazid wished to secure the
support of the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate, Damascus.
— Large land forces were also engaged in Asia Minor, but again no figures are
available, except that in one battle (see 677) we are told that an imperial army
lead by generals Cyprianus, Florus and Petronas defeated a Muslim army under
Sophian and “30,000” Arab troops were killed (Tsangadas 1980: 117, citing
Theophanes). A figure of 3,000 would surely be more credible; but this may refer
to losses during the entire campaign.

Greece: Profiting from the Muslim siege of the imperial capital, a body of Slavs
called the Velegezetes - whose name survives in the place-name Velestinon -
moved in to settle in the rich plains of Thessaly (Heurtley et al. 1967: 40). See
677. —Velestinon is in lower Thessaly, SE of Larissa.

Slavic Greece?

Tamara Rice, in Rice 1965: 150, hypothesises that “by soon after 650” the ‘pagan’
Slavs constituted a “definite” majority in the Balkans. Cf below, 675: Thessalonica

Genetic research casts doubt on this, at least in relation to the lower Balkans.
An educated guess, based on DNA testing, would be that only 5% of haplotype
R1a lineages in Greece are of Slavic origin, while the ancient Slavs had R1a in a
frequency of 75%. Overall, says Dienekes, the Slavonic influence in Greece turns
out to be perhaps 7%, an almost exact match for the guesstimate given by Vasiliev
in his History of the Byzantine Empire based on demographic considerations. —
Dienekes 2003.
Ornella Semino et al. (2000) in Science 290: 1155 showed that the haplotype
R1a in Greece is not the majority and is about 11.6%; for comparison the
percentage for Syria is 10% and Poland 60%. In today’s Bulgaria the frequency of
the proposed Slavic haplogroup R1a1 ranges to 14.7%, suggesting that there too
most of the population descends from genetically pre-Slavic people.

Dienekes Pontikos also cites DNA evidence that northern populations, including
Slavs and Albanians are contrasted to modern Greeks in various genetic marker
systems: mtDNA, Y chromosomes, and autosomal DNA. Modern Greeks retain
characteristics of a southern European population of indigenous, pre-Slavic,
Balkan origin. Thus in both in its crudest form (complete annihilation) and in its
weaker form (significant northern admixture) the Fallmerayer thesis* has been
falsified by anthropological evidence. Some admixture probably did take place,
although this was not sufficient to alter the genetic characteristics of the previous
inhabitants of Greece. —Dienekes Pontikos 200; also Pericic et al. in Molecular
Biology and Evolution 2005 22(10).

(*) The German scholar J P Fallmerayer, 1790-1861, argued that the ancient
"Hellenic" population of the south Balkans had been replaced during the
Migration Period by Slavic peoples.

It is worth adding that genetics tell us nothing about language, religion and
politics. A person with ‘Greek genes’ could acquire or inherit a Slavic language
and ‘pagan’ beliefs. And her descendants much later could acquire – do we say
‘reacquire’? – the Romaic or “Greek” language and Christianity when Imperial
rule was reimposed. We know that generally it takes many centuries for colonised
or conquered nations to change their language and religion (e.g. from Romance
and Christianity to Arabic and Islam in Moorish Spain: see Bulliet 1979); so
probably most Romaics in Greece retained their Greek language and Christian
beliefs through 200+ years of Slav rule.

From 674:
Bronze coins: "Class VI" were the second most common type of the large folles of
Constantine IV. They were issued from 674 to 681, depicting the emperor as
before but now with the bearded 3/4 bust, armoured, and holding his spear. Now
too he displays a shield on his side which earlier Justinian had used on his large
This is the last type where we see Constantine IV depicted with his brothers
Heraclius and Tiberius on the reverse of his folles.

Muslim fleets or flotillas attack or harass Crete on five occasions (al-Tabari etc,
cited in Heck 2006: 309).

1. An Arab fleet plunders Crete and winters there.

2. Ifriqiya: Abu’l-Mujahir, a non-Arab, replaces Uqba b. Nafi as Muslim governor

of Libya and south Tunisia.
The new governor engaged with, perhaps even fought, the strongest of the
Berber kings, Kusayla or Kasila, whose mainly Christian realm ran from present-
day Algeria into Morocco. Kusayla’s power base was at Tlemcen in modern
Morocco. Abu’l-Mujahir somehow persuaded Kusayla to convert to Islam, and
allied with him (by about 677) against Byzantine Carthage (Kennedy 2008: 212).
See 678.

Hellas: fl. Paul of Aegina or Paulus Aegineta (625?– 690?), ‘last of the Greek
eclectic compliers’.
He was a 7th-century Byzantine Greek physician, originally from Alexandria,
or who lived for a while in Alexandria, best known for writing the medical
encyclopedia Medical Compendium in Seven Books. Aegina is the island nearest
to Athens; it is assumed to be his birthplace. It is also assumed that Paul worked
in Constantinople.
For many years in the Byzantine Empire this work contained the sum of all
Greco-Roman medical knowledge and was unrivalled in its accuracy and
completeness. The sixth book on surgery in particular was later referenced in
Western Europe and the Arab world throughout the Middle Ages and is of special
interest for surgical history. It contains novel descriptions of tracheotomy,
tonsillectomy, catheterization of the bladder, lithotomy [removal of bladder
stones], inguinal hernia repair, abdominal paracentesis [needle drainage] for
ascites [peritoneal fluid excess or abdominal dropsy], and many other surgical
procedures including reduction of breast size! —See Gurunluoglu R &
Gurunluoglu A., ‘Paul of Aegina: landmark in surgical progress’, World J Surg.
2003 Jan; 27(1): 18-25.

c. 670? or 675? (before 679):

Jerusalem: Emperor Constantine IV and Mua’wiya, caliph from AD 666, are
ementioned in the memoirs of ‘Arculf’: probably a mis-transcription of Arnulf, fl.
670s, an Anglo-Gallic pilgrim and later bishop.
Arculf was a monk of Gaul, or a bishop according to Bede ("Galliarum
episcopus"). In Bede's History of the Church in England (V, 15), he is
shipwrecked on the shore of Iona, Scotland, on his return from a pilgrimage to
the Holy Land, and was hospitably received by Adomnán, the Irish-born abbot of
the island monastery from 679 to 704. Arculf gave him a detailed narrative of his
travels. Adomnán, with aid from some further sources, was able to produce a

descriptive work in three ‘books’ (chapters), dealing with Jerusalem, Bethlehem,

and other places in Palestine, and briefly with Alexandria and Constantinople.
The text was called De locis sanctis, "Concerning the Sacred Places".

Arculf, or rather Adomnán, describes Constantine IV, d. 685, as “the emperor of

the world” (book 3). The caliph at Damascus, Mu’awiya, d. 680, he calls Mavias
in Greek style [Latin ‘Mavius’], the “king of the Saracens”.

Although Jerusalem had a mosque, it is clear from Arculf’s account that it was
still an entirely Christian town. This is hardly surprising seeing that it had fallen
to the Muslim empire only about 40 years earlier, in 636-37 (Angold 2001: 62):

“In that famous place where once stood the magnificently constructed
Temple, near the eastern wall, the Saracens now frequent a rectangular
house of prayer which they have built in a crude manner, constructing it
from raised planks and large beams over some remains of ruins. This house
can, as it is said, accommodate at least 3,000 people” (Adomnan, De locis
sanctis; p. 221).

Arculf saw the Basilica of Mount Sion, Mount Olivet and the Tomb of Lazarus at
Bethany. Everywhere his description attests to the flocks of pilgrims at the
Christian holy places.
After extending his travels as far as Tyre and Damascus, and returning to
Jerusalem, Arculf sailed from Joppa [Jaffa, Yafo] to Alexandria, taking a very
leisurely 40 days to accomplish the voyage. From Egypt he passed to Crete,
spending some days there, and thence to Constantinople, where he stayed for
some months - from Easter to Christmas. On his voyage homewards he visited
Sicily and proceeded to Rome.

c. 675; or perhaps c. 690: Early Christian Britain: the Lindisfarne Gospel,

illuminated manuscript. Also the Book of Durrow, sometimes called the
oldest of the fully illuminated western Gospel Books. Cf 695.

N Africa: The Byzantines ruled the N and E sectors of our Tunisia, while the
Imazighen or Berbers contested the interior with the Arab Muslims.
The Arabs already had an advance camp at Kairouan. The first Muslim
commander to station himself there permanently, rather than returning to Egypt
in the off-season, was Abu al-Muhajir Dinar. In the period 675-82 he led
successive and repeated attacks on the villages of the lower Numidian
agricultural valleys, forcing the uncoordinated Numidian (Berber) tribes to
eventually work out a modus vivendi through Kusaila, a Numidian chief who now
converted to Islam, on behalf of an extensive confederation of Christian
Imazighen (Berbers) (Wikipedia 2009: ‘Berbers and Islam’). See 678 and 682.

Italian lowpoint: “Probably the Lombards took over (raggiunta) the line of the
Appian Way [to the Adriatic coast at Bari] in 675 and were also masters of
Otranto for a time between 710 and 758, but never controlled the zone of the
Gallipoli region” (my poor translation: MO’R). —Stranieri 2000:7, citing the
Liber Pontificalis and Cod. Carol.
See 677.2: loss of Taranto and Brindisi.

677 (676-78):
1. Slav siege(s) of Thessalonica; and Slav pirates active against the western
Aegean coastal lands. Cf 678, 680.
— There were numerous Slavic pirates in the Sea of Marmara, reaching as close to
Constantinople as the island of Proconnesus, the present-day Marmara Island –
about 2/3 way from the City to the Dardanelles (Curta 2001: 112).
— Three Slavic tribes, the Rynchines, Sagudates and Drugubites (Strymonians),
besieged Thessalonica in 676-678 (the date argued by Lemerle 1981). At that
time, a fourth tribe, the Velegezetes or Belegezites, lived in Thessaly and
produced grain and beans in sufficient quantities to provide supplies for the
besieged city: see details below (source: Archbishop John I of Thessalonica,
‘Miracles of St. Demetrius’; online at
— Ten Constantinopolitan warships arrived at Thessalonica at some point before
the beginning of a major three-day attack in 677. The marines on these ships (or
perhaps all the crew) sold supplies to the famished inhabitants of the city by
demanding in return all of the citizens’ valuables: jewelry, clothes, even bed linen.

The anonymous author of Book II of the Miracles of Saint Dêmêtrios narrates the
two-year siege of Thessalonica by the combined forces of three Slavic tribes, the
Sagoudates, Strymonians and Runchines. The siege started on 25 July 676 and
ended in the summer of 678. During this time the citizens of Thessalonica were
suffering so much from famine that both the authorities and the people of the city
decided (July 677) to send a mission to the Velegezêtes Slavs, who were residing
to the south in the region of Thebes and Demetrias, in search of supplies. The
Thessalonians decided to go ahead with this mission because “they had the
impression (but not the certainty)” that they were, at that time, at peace with the
Velegezêtes. The mission had the character of a military expedition, perhaps
because other Slav tribes in Thessaly were hostile. At any event it included the 10
Constantinopolitan warships that had arrived in the city at some point earlier
during the siege, and all other available vessels, manned with young and strong
men of the established fighting ability. The ‘other’ vessels included some Slav-
style “monoxyla”, i.e. vessels manufactured by carving a single tree trunk. The
ships returned after two weeks loaded with wheat and pulses.* Thus Karagiorgou,
‘Late Antique Thessaly’, 2001, online at:
olga/volume%201%20-%20text; accessed 2010.

(*) Pulses are podded seeds: dry beans, chickpeas, lentils etc, etc.

2. S Italy: By this time, the already Catholic Lombards had conquered most of the
heel of Byzantine Italy nearly to Otranto.
“Romuald [d. 677], duke of the Beneventines, after he had collected a great
multitude of an army, attacked and captured Tarentum (Taranto) and in
like manner Brundisium (Brindisi) and subjugated to his dominion all that
very extensive region which surrounds them” (Paulus Diaconus 6:1).
Many Rhomaioi fled from the heel to the toe of Italy, hitherto known as
Bruttium, taking the name “Calabria” with them (Cordi 1983: 194; Treadgold
1997: 326). More exactly, the old name Calabria had earlier been extended to
cover both the heel and the toe; and when the northern part of heel was lost to
the Lombards in the 670s, the toe alone kept the name. ‘Calabria’ now became
the toe plus just the bottom of the heel east of Taranto including Otranto (1911
edn of Encyc. Brit. under ‘Bruttii’; Treadgold 1997: 936 note 3). Cf 680.

Meanwhile, under Agilulf, the main Lombard Kingdom expanded into central
Italy and was consolidated in the north. He reached a settlement with the Franks
and put down a rebellion by some of the Lombard dukes before resuming the
struggle with Byzantium. Several years of fighting followed until the empire
accepted that it could never recover the whole of Italy, and the situation
stabilised. By the 680s, Catholic orthodoxy was well-established amongst the
Lombards, which helped the empire to swallow an enduring peace. Cf 710:
capture of Otranto.

The Arab Assault of 677

1. Marmara Sea: The naval Battle of Cyzicus or Syllaeum, Gk: Syllaion, in the Sea
of Marmara, was fought between the Arabs and the Byzantine Empire in 677 in
coordination with a series of land battles in Anatolia and Syria (Treadgold 1997:
The Arab fleet had continually harassed the Byzantine navy for five years,
starting in 672. In 677 the Muslims launched raids along the coast of Anatolia,
into the Sea of Marmara, and besieged Constantinople itself, while at the same
time an army raided Anatolia. Meanwhile the Slavs were attacking Thessalonica
by land, so that the East Roman army was distracted on two fronts.

The Byzantines, using Greek fire, were finally able (677) to defeat the Arab navy
and force them to withdraw.
Greek Fire is the Western term. To the Byzantines it was hygron pyr, “liquid
fire” (Rautman p. 212; Leo the Deacon trans. Talbot & Dennis 2005: 5). It was
invented by Callinicus of Heliopolis, a Christian refugee from Syria, and was
pumped through a siphon onto enemy ships and burst into flames upon contact
with the timbers, or more likely it was ignited as it exited the siphon. The
knowledge of the ingredients for making this flammable liquid was considered a
state secret by the Byzantines, and was so zealously guarded that the essential
elements remain unknown to this day.

Much of the enemy flotilla, manned mostly by Christian Syrians and Egyptians
(‘Copts’), was burned at sea. As the surviving ships retreated, they were caught in
a storm* that sank nearly all of them. Those few that escaped were attacked and
destroyed by a Byzantine admiral in command of the Cibyrrhaiot fleet
(Tsangadas 1980: 112). Theophanes, TCOT: 53, put the losses at ‘30,000’ men,
although his figures are likely overstated (but remotely possible: 150 ships x 20o
rowers and soldiers each = 30,000).
Meanwhile, in Asia Minor the Byzantine army pursued the Arabs back to Syria
and defeated them there. The Arab army, without support for supplies by sea,
withdraws by land through Anatolia and is ambushed by the combined armies of
three Byzantine themes and defeated. This ended the immediate Arab threat to
eastern Europe.

(*) All galleys rode low in the water, and so risked being swamped in heavy
weather. For this reason they tried always to sail close to land, so that they
could beach ashore during storms.

2. Syria: The Caliph Mu’awiya decided to sign a peace treaty in 677 and to pay a
‘tribute’ to the Mardaites—the Christian rebels or insurgents in Muslim-ruled
Lebanon—and/or to the Emperor of Constantinople so as to ensure good
behaviour on the part of the Mardaites. Some identify them with the latter-day
Maronites, but this is a minority view among scholars.
Woods argues that the Mardaites - the Graecized version of the Syriac word
maridoye, ‘rebel’ - were Byzantine soldiers and civilians who had gone over to the
Muslim side during Mua’wiya’s various crossings of Asia before and during 667.
Thus (he says) they were originally rebels against the empire. Between 667 and
673 they were Christian freebooters who raided both Byzantine Cilicia and
Muslim Syria. When the Arabs conquered into Cilicia in 673, the Mardaites’
attacks became focused wholly on Muslim settlements. At some stage during the
Arab siege of Constantinople (674 or after) they began to receive support and
encouragement from the Byzantine government. By about 677 they were raiding
and settling as far south as Lebanon (see next). —Toynbee p. 87, and Woods,
‘Corruption and Mistranslation’.

1. Ifriqiya: Abu’l-Mujahir, from his base at Qayrawan, moves to establish a
blockade of Byzantine Carthage; although the city did not fall at this time,
Romaic rule was now confined to its immediate surroundings (Kennedy 2008:

2. The East: At about the same time as their naval success (above), the Byzantines
were able to win a major land battle against the Arabs in Anatolia.
The combination of these two victories forced Mu'awiya to recall (679 or 680:
see there) both his land and naval forces and to seek a peace treaty. Constantine
IV was able to negotiate a favourable treaty with the Muslim Khalif, who agreed
to pay a large annual tribute of 3,000 pounds [litrai] of gold (679) (Stratos 1980:
46). This was equivalent to 216,000 gold coins, i.e. nearly 600 coins per day.

A number of historians such as Ostrogorsky have hailed Constantine IV as a

saviour of Europe (sic: meaning Christendom: there was as yet no concept of
Europe v. Asia as a civilisational divide).

The Mardaïtes and the Treaty with the Caliph

In his chronicle, Theophanes introduces the Mardaïtes (NB: three syllables: mar-
da-ites) under the year 677-78. The Mardaites are not to be identified with the
Maronites, who appear later in history (see 694).
The caliph Mua’wiya, he says, was obliged to seek a treaty because of the highly
successful rebellion by the Mardaïtes in Lebanon, who were, or had now become,
allied to Byzantium. The sources seem to say - which is hard to credit, albeit not
totally impossible - that the Mardaïtes took over most of Syria and N Palestine
(TCOT: 53-54).
Nicephorus more plausibly says that it was the Byzantine victory at Syllaeum
(above) that prompted the treaty of 679.

Treadgold, 1997: 327, says that the Mardaites were Christian freebooters based in
the Amanus mountains, who raided both the empire and the caliphate. As noted
earlier, they were cut off when the Arabs conquered into Cilicia in 673. Some
remained in the Amanus mountains while others departed south beyond Antioch
to Mountain Lebanon. There, joined by native mountaineers, escaped slaves and
escaped Byzantine prisoners from Syria, they began plundering as far as northern
Palestine. Their depredations were one factor in the decision by Mu’awiya to
open negotiations (679) with Byzantium for a treaty.
Or such is the usual reading of the sources. More exactly, perhaps, if we follow
Woods, the Mardaites were originally army deserters from the Byzantine side
who arrived in the Amanus mountains from Cilicia in the 670s. He proposes that
under Mu’awiya in about 677 they had moved to - settled at and around - Antioch
and Cyrrhus in Syria. Among the Syriac population of Syria they were tagged with
the title maridoye, ‘rebels’ [i.e. rebels against the empire], a tag which after 18
years – by 685 (see there) - became Graecized as ‘Mardaite’. At any event they
were certainly Christian rebels or bandits operating well inside the caliphate in
the late 670s (David Woods, ‘Corruption and Mistranslation’).
See 684: cooperation with Byzantium.

3. Marmara Sea: Numerous Slavic pirates operated in the Sea of Marmara, or at

least its SE sector, reaching as close to Constantinople as the island of
Proconnesus (Curta 2001: 112) . On land the turbulent tribes active near
Thessalonica annoyed Emperor Constantine IV and he organised an expedition
against them in 678.

4. The emperor writes to the the pope or archbishop of Rome proposing a general
council; it took place in 680: see there.
Cath. Encyc.: “The Sixth General Council was summoned in 678 by Emperor
Constantine …, with a view to restoring between East and West the religious
harmony that had been troubled by the Monothelistic controversies, and

particularly by the violence of his predecessor Constans II, whose imperial edict,
known as the Typus (648-49) was a practical suppression of the orthodox truth.”
It would be better to say that there were differing shades of interpretation of the
orthodox truth.

The patriarch of Rome was Agatho, an aged Greco-Sicilian, a monk from
Palermo. The major event of his pontificate was the Sixth Ecumenical Council
(680-81: see there). It ended the Monothelite ‘heresy’ that had been tolerated by
previous popes. Also: temporary loss of Carthage, 679.

1. Asia Minor: Arab forces wintered deep in imperial territory once again. Then,
as noted, a truce was signed, with tribute paid to Byzantium. This brought
Constantine’s prestige to its height.

2. The Balkans: According to Theophanes and the Patriarch Nicephorus, whose

accounts are derived from some common source, the Danube Bulgars came
south into N Thrace, to remain, in the year 679 (actually 680). Cf 680-81.

c. 679: The Khazars, ‘pagan’ Turks, penetrate west to the eastern shore of
the Black Sea.

Slav-dominated Greece: Around 680, the commander of the Byzantine fleet,
Sissinios, stopped over on the island of Skiathos (north of Euboea) on his way
north from tes Hellados meros [‘the part/district/country/coast of Hellas’] to the
major imperial city of Thessalonica. He found that the Thessalian island had been
deserted for many years. It is not known whether the depopulation of the island
was a result of the Slavic sea-raids around 615-20 or the doing of Arab pirates
more recently, who were increasingly active in the Aegean from the middle of the
7th c. —Karagiorgou, ‘Late Antique Thessaly’, 2001, on line at: olga/volume%201%20-%20text; accessed 2007.

Tenth Visit of the Plague

1. Stathakopoulos’s (2004) “tenth” wave of the plague in the Mediterranean
basin: in Italy it hit Rome and Pavia.
Paul the Deacon (Hist. Long. VI.5, cited in Wickham’s Early Middle Ages)
describes the devastation of the epidemic at Pavia in terms of vegetation being
allowed to grow on the forum and plateae [the paved major street-ways] of the
city: an image of the country invading a dead city.

2. Ifriqiya: Following the death of caliph Mu’awiya, Uqba b. Nafi returns to the

governorship. He arrests both his predecessor Abu’l-Mujahir and the latter’s

Muslim-Berber ally Kusayla. Abu’l-Mujahir’s conciliatory policy towards the still
mainly Christian Berbers is reversed.
From Qayrawan, Uqba led a expedition - probably only a few thousand men -
to the far west, where no Muslim had yet travelled, fighting off contingents of
Byzantines and Berbers as they rode across what is now Algeria. The
expeditioners eventually reached Tangier on the Atlantic side of the Gibraltar
straits. There the local ruler or Byzantine governor, one “Julian” [Arabic Ilyan],
‘lord of Ceuta’, an ethnic Berber, is said to have directed Uqba away from the
direction of Spain and further down the Atlantic coast into Mauritania, where the
local Berber chiefs still retained old Roman (Latin) names and titles. (Julian
appears again in the story of the Muslim conquest of Spain from 711.)
Uqba’s Arabs crossed over the Atlas mountains beyond the former borders of
Old Rome before returning north to near present-day Marrakesh, all the while
fighting off the locals. Next they went back west to the Atlantic itself, where the
Arab chroniclers have Uqba riding his horse into the surf neck-high, to show he
would have gone further still if only Allah or nature had allowed (Kennedy 2008:

3. Italy: The Lombards take the remaining imperial outposts in Friuli, the region
adjoining modern Slovenia, between the Gulf of Venice and Austria. The
remaining eastern section of Istria—our eastern Slovenia and the far NW of
Croatia—stayed with the empire until 751. Although the population was mainly
Romano-Italian, there were some settlements of ‘pagan’ Slavs under Byzantine
rule (ODB ii:1020).

4. (cf above: 677) In Calabria the Byzantine towns included Locri, Thurii,
Laureana, Tropea and Bivona.* They declared themselves as belonging to the
“eparchia” or province** of Calabria in a letter sent during council of Rome (680)
by the patriarch of Rome Agatho to Constantine IV [source:; in Italian: accessed 2009].

(*) All are coastal towns. Thurii is on the west side of the Gulf of Taranto.
Locri is on the sole of the boot, near the toe. Laureana, Tropea and Bivona
are on the lower instep.

(**) More exactly, the region subject to a Metropolitan or senior bishop.

5. Italy: The Lombard Duchy of Benevento started minting coins: possibly c. AD

680-690, with an anonymous imitative issue modelled on solidi of Constantine
IV (d. 685).

680: Yazid becomes caliph; revolt by Ali’s son Husayn. Husayn is

martyred: origin of the Shi'a, meaning "party", as in 'party of Ali'.

The Founding of Bulgaria


1. Danube delta: ‘Pagan’ Bulgars cross the Danube: Constantine personally leads
the navy against them, while an army proceeds on land. Fruitless East Roman
naval campaign against them: in a moment of panic, Constantine’s army flees in
A joint naval and land force expedition under Constantine's command crossed
to the north of the Danube delta in an attempt to remove the Bulgars from the
area, but was unable to force a battle. When the Byzantine land army finally
attempted to retreat from the region, the Bulgars attacked them and were able to
inflict much damage upon them, turning their orderly exodus from the region
into a rout (Head 1972: 32; Whittow p.271).
Under the "disgraceful" - certainly humiliating - treaty of 681, the Bulgars
under khan Asparuch are allowed to settle inside the imperial borders and are
paid a subsidy or tribute: see 705, 712. The Bulgar capital was now, or a little
later, moved south of the Danube to Pliska (inland from Varna). "For the first
time in its history the [Eastern] empire was compelled formally to relinquish
sovereignty over a significant fragment of the Balkan peninsula" (Obolensky
p.91). - Much had already been relinquished, informally of course, to the Slavs.

- A late source puts the number of Bulgars at just 10,000 fighting men
(Browning p.46), which is definitely plausible.
- The first European theme, that of Thrace, HQ at Arcadiopolis*, was obviously
created as a defensive move. It is first recorded in 687 but Constantine
Porphyrogenitus’s Book of Themes credits it to Constantine IV (d. 685), so it
must date from the years 681-85 (Fine 1991: 70).

(*) Adrianople at this time lay in the Slav-controlled marchland between the
Bulgars and the empire.

2. Constantine presides at a General Council, at Constantinople, 680-681: Sixth

General Council; ‘Constantinople III’.
The emperor, recognising that something needed to be done about the religious
dissension in the empire, convened the sixth ecumenical council
(“Constantinople III”) that met from November 680 until September 681.
All five patriarchs were represented: Antioch and Constantinople in person,
and Rome, Alexandria and Jerusalem by legates. The Roman patriarch sent as his
representatives a party of Greek-speaking clergy resident in Rome. Significantly,
they signed the canons in Greek rather than in Latin (although they would also
have known Latin) (Richards, Popes p.275). Cf 682.
The council, attended in the beginning by 100 bishops, later by 174, was
opened 7 November 680 in a domed hall (trullus) of the imperial palace and was
attended by three papal legates who brought to the council a long dogmatic letter
of Pope Agatho and another of similar import from a Roman synod held in the
spring of 680. Quote:

“May the supernal Majesty [i.e. God] restore to the benign rule of your
[imperial] government through the most heroic and unconquerable

labours of your God-strengthened clemency, the whole Christian

commonwealth, and may He subdue hostile nations to your mighty

As a token of the loss of empire, just four bishops attended from lower Greece:
Athens, Corinth, Argos and Lakedaiomon; and only 12 from Macedonia. Cf 809.
- Athens at this time had been reduced to a small town or large village almost
wholly confined to the Acropolis; the main area of the ancient city had long been
deserted (Mango 1980: 70).

During its 18 sittings, 12 of which were actually led by Constantine himself, the
council succeeded in bringing about a reconciliation - or rather, it confirmed the
reconciliation that had already emerged - between the orthodox dyophysite
Western bishops and the recently monothelete Byzantine bishops.

The doctrines of Monophysitism (Jesus Christ has "one nature") and

Monothelitism (He has "one will") were condemned. The true teaching was
confirmed as: Christ is of two wills and two energies but without division,
alteration, separation or confusion. “We confess His [Christ’s] two natures, to wit
the divine and the human, of which and in which He, even after the wonderful
and inseparable union, subsists”.
Rome was thus reconciled with Constantinople, but the
Monophysite churches of Armenia, Syria and Egypt seceded.
At the Sixth General Council, in 680, two florilegia (collections of excerpts)
played a very prominent role: one, constructed by Macarius, the Patriarch of
Antioch, in favour of the Monothelites, and the other, a counter collection
presented by the legates of Pope Agatho.

The Defence of Thrace against the Bulgars

As noted earlier, Constantine VI created the theme of Thrace in this period, as
a defensive measure against the Bulgars who had now settled south of the
Danube. As we have said, it was first mentioned in contemporary documents in
687 (Stavridou-Zafraka, in Burke and Scott 2000, citing Const. Porph. De Them.
The seat of military governor was at Arcadiopolis [modern Lüleburgaz], 140
km from Constantinople as the crow flies or 170 km by road. The Theme
consisted of a littoral strip some 80 km wide, bounded by the N Aegean, the
Marmara and the lower Black Sea coast. The wedge in the middle was controlled
by Slavs. Adrianople, modern Edirne, remained within the Slav-ruled sector; it
was not to be brought back into the empire until after 744 (Treadgold 1997: 375).
The new theme’s 6,000 troops came from a subdivision of the old, large
Opsikion theme which had straddled both sides of the Marmara. The reduced
Opsikion was now limited to the Asian side.


Erwig, king of Visigothic Spain, was the son of a Byzantine. Or perhaps better: his
father was a ‘Greco-Goth’ raised in Constantinople.
According to the ninth-century Chronicle of Alfonso III, Erwig was the son of
Ardabast (Gk Artabastos), who was in turn the son of the exiled prince
Athanagild, only son of Hermenegild, the Gothic king. Athanagild was still an
infant when his father was killed, i.e. in 585. Ardabast, b. in Cosntainople ca 611,
Athanagild’s son by his Byzantine wife Flavia Juliana, journeyed from
Constantinople to Spain during the time of king Chindasuinth (acc. 642), i.e. a
generation after the end of Byzantine colony of Spania. There he married
Chindasuinth's niece Goda and fathered Erwig, born presumably around 645.

Truce with the Caliphate (but broken in 684 by Constantine: see there).

Constantinople: The Liber Pontificalis, the record of popes' reigns kept in Rome,
proudly mentions a Latin mass celebrated in Hagia Sophia by the bishop of Porto.
The significance of this was that Latin was long since dead as an official
language in Greek-speaking Constantinople (McCormick p.240, n39).

For the first time, an Arab army winters in Transoxiana (Central Asia).


1. N Africa: Using Sicily as a base, the Byzantines attack the Arabs at Barqa
(Ahmad p.2). With assistance from Amazigh (Berber) allies led by the aggrieved
(and possibly Muslim) ‘king’ Kusaila ait Lamazm, chief of the Awraba, the
Byzantine exarch defeated the forces of the caliphal commander Uqba ibn Nafi at
the battle of Biskra (in modern Algeria), fought near Biskra in 682 or 683 AD.
Uqba ibn Nafi or Nafia is killed.
If Kusaila really was a Muslim, most of his army was Christian (as of course
were the Byzantines). But the Encyclopedia of Islam (Brill 1980: vol 12: 103,
under ‘Awraba’) proposes that he was “probably” a Christian.
The victory caused the Muslim forces to retreat to Libya, giving the moribund
Exarchate a decade's respite. Cf 693-94.

2. Acc. the patriarch of Rome, Leo II. - Following the recent Council, imperial
confirmation (approval) of papal elections was from this time given by the
emperor, rather than as before by the Exarch of Ravenna.
A Greek-speaking Sicilian by birth, the pope or archbishop of Rome Leo
translated the proceedings of the 6th Council from Greek into Latin.
De facto papal state: Lodged between the northern Kingdom of the Lombards
and the southern Lombard duchies of Spoleto and Benevento, the papal
dominion was no longer under effective imperial rule, the pope having begun to
assumed the authority the Empire could no longer sustain or at least not
continuously (cf AD 687). In lower Italy, Byzantine dominion had been reduced

to the Naples region and the bare toe and lower heel. This left Sicily and N Africa
as the mainstays of East Roman rule in the West [see 699-700].

Leo II, Greco-Sicilian pope. In apparent response to Lombard raids, Leo
transferred the relics of a number of martyrs from the catacombs to churches
inside the walls of Rome.

NE Anatolia: The bishop of Colonia, under the orders of the Emperor, arranged
for the burning at the stake - others saying stoning - of the first documented head
of the Paulician sect, Constantine, an Armenian from near Samaosata, in 682 or
684. Constantine took the name Silvanus (after one of St Paul’s disciples). His
successor, Symeon, suffered the same fate in 688 or 690. Cf 684-85.

Caliph Marwan I, aged 61 at accession.

683, 688:
Cyprus: In 683 the Muslim garrison was withdrawn, and in 688 the island of
Cyprus was declared neutral, with no garrisons stationed in it, the collected taxes
being divided among the Caliph and the Emperor. This arrangement endured for
several centuries. —Jenkins 1987: 278 Cf 725.

N Africa’s history is rather confused in this period. One version says that the
Romano-Berber prince, Kusaila, having (in the 670s) converted to Islam, revolted
in ca. 683, killed his persecutor the Arab commander ‘Uqba, and then governed
Ifriqiya (inland Tunisia) for five years until his defeat and disappearance in ca.
688. He ruled from Kairouan, 684-88.
The Liber Pontificalis records that in 685-86 “the province of Africa was
subjugated and restored to the Roman empire”. Since no Byzantine expedition is
known, this probably means that the rule of Kusaila was recognized by the empire
and his actions interpreted as those of a representative of Byzantium.
Others say ‘Uqba’s deputy Zuhair b. Qais overturned Kusaila's Berber or
Romano-Berber kingdom as early as 686. See 688.

1. The East: The new caliph Marwan inherited a civil war. This encouraged
Constantine in 684 to dispatch a fleet that raided the coast of Syria and Palestine,
sacking Acre, Caesarea-in-Palestine and Ascalon. Meanwhile Mardaites made
their own raids on land from the Lebanese mountains. The following year
Constantine (aged 33) personally led an army that took much of Cilicia including
the town of Mopsuestia [20 km east of present-day Adana] and the ‘Armenian
Hexapolis’, the region to the NE of Cilicia, i.e. to the south of Anatolian Caesarea
in the Armeniac theme (Treadgold State p. 330). See entry for 685 below.
Cf Theophanes [trans 1997: 506] on the year 684-85: “The Mardaites were

attacking the regions of the Lebanon . . . all the cities along the border [in Cilicia]
that are now [by 686] inhabited by Arabs, from Mopsuestia to the 4th Armenia,
were then [in early 685] weak and uninhabited because of the assaults of the
Mardaites”. Cf below under 685.

2. The Paulicians: The emperor Constantine sent an officer, Symeon, for the
arrest and execution of the Paulician founder and leader, Constantine-Sylvanus.
The latter was stoned to death in 684, and his congregation scattered. But
Symeon was struck and converted by the "serene courage" of Constantine-
Sylvanus. He retuned to Cibossa [near Colonea, SW of Trebizond] and revived the
congregation, ruling it under the name of Titus. When Justinian II heard of it, he
condemned Symeon-Titus and the other leaders to death by fire (690), in line
with the laws against the Manichaeans (Obolensky reprint 2004).
Constantine was martyred, 684, by Simeon who the emperor had sent to
repress the movement. His victim's death so impressed him that he was
converted, became head of the sect, and was in turn martyred in 690 by Justinian

1. Asia: The new caliph Abd al-Malik offers Constantine, and the emperor
accepts, an increased annual tribute of 365,000 nomismata (1,000 per day), 365
slaves and 365 horses (i.e. one per day) (Treadgold 1997: 330).
Under this treaty the Mardaïtes left the region of Antioch and Cyrrhus and
returned - or were taken back - into the Byzantine empire, where they joined the
navy (see below under 687-88). Woods believes they were former deserters from
the Byzantine army who had long settled in Muslim Syria, and were at first, after
their return to the empire, compelled to serve as oarsmen (David Woods,
‘Corruption and Mistranslation’). See further under Justinian’s reign, below.

2. d. Constantine, aged 35 or 36 (others say 33) - his birth date was around 650.
In 685, at the age of about 35, Constantine IV died from dysentery and was
succeeded by his 17 (or 16) years old son (Moore, online 2010:

Although successful everywhere else, from North Africa to Central Asia, Islam
met defeat in its near north-west, in Anatolia. The Arab Caliphate based in
Damascus had first directed attacks into Asia Minor in 647. But the Muslims
failed to capture the imperial city in two great sieges: the land and naval siege of
673-78 and a naval siege of 717-18. They did break through, however, into East
Roman Tunisia (696) and then into Visigothic Spain (711).

The Rhomaioi of Anatolia were unique in their successful resistance to

Islam. After weathering the two great sieges, the empire fought back in
offensives against the emirs of Mesopotamia (see AD 687) and secured
a fairly permanent border with the Caliphate. The Muslims controlled

Mesopotamia, while the Rhomaioi held Asia Minor. This secured the
future of Christendom for 700 years.

From this time Asia Minor formed the heartland of a basically Greek
empire - which of course still called itself Roman (Gk: Rhomaike).


By destroying the Sassanian Persian empire and absorbing its riches, by robbing
Rhomaniya or ‘Byzantium’ of some of its wealthiest provinces, and by advancing
in central Asia to the Chinese frontier, Islam completely changed the balance of
power in Eurasia. Moreover, by gaining control of large parts of the
Mediterranean for 300 years, the Muslims helped sever the last tenuous political
links between Western Europe and Byzantium.
But we must disagree with Henri Pirenne, the early 20th century French
scholar, who argued that the Islamic conquests brought about the end of the
Roman empire. It seems better to say that, at least in the West, the classical
system had already come to an end before AD 630. In that sense, the Arab
advance after 630 was not the cause of the catastrophe but, at least in Spain and
France, its consequence. This is discussed at length in Hodges & Whitehouse’s
book, Mohammed, Charlemagne and the Origins of Europe: Archaeology and
the Pirenne Thesis (1983: pp 51 ff, 75 ff).
Of course there is also a sense in which the Arab advance capped off a process
of decay in the Roman East that was underway but not complete. We have
already noted the de-monetisation of the Eastern Roman economy in the 600s,
with payment in kind replacing or supplementing gold coins for many in the
bureaucracy and army. As mentioned earlier, the lesser copper coinage, used for
trade, virtually disappears after 658 in archaeological sites, and copper coins do
not reappear in Anatolian sites until the 800s (Haldon 1984: 226).
As part of the same process, we see the ancient cities of the East abandoned, or
left abandoned, and at best surviving only as fortress villages.

Islamic armies or raiders captured, recaptured or otherwise devastated the

following towns three or more times during the late 600s:
Acroinum, Amorium (taken and re-taken eight times!), Ancyra (**), Caesarea,
Chalcedon, Heraclaea (**), Kamacha [NE from Melitene], Melitene, Pergamum
(**), Smyrna, Tarsus and Tyana (inland from Tarsus) (++).
Sardis (**) and Nicomedia never fell to the Arabs but their hinterlands were
several times ravaged (Haldon 1984: 107).

** = Archaeology shows urban shrinkage. Cf under 659-61.

++ = Tyana: city abandoned by 700.

"The social foundations of [Byzantium's] renewal manifestly lie in the broadening

of the peasant base of village autonomy within the empire, whether or not
facilitated by the Theme system: the extreme concern of later emperors to

preserve small-holder communities for their fiscal and military value to the State
leaves no doubt about this. East Roman society thus survived through the Dark
Ages of the West but with virtually the whole superstructural panoply of Classical
Antiquity intact" (Perry Anderson p.270).


COSTUME, AD 150-600

Among the pre-Christian Greeks, both short and long styles were worn: men wore
either the chiton, a loose-belted short linen tunic with a chlamys or short trapeze-
shaped cloak fastened with a large pin or brooch [fibula], or otherwise a long
loose unbelted himation, the Mediterranean body-cloak or ‘Greek toga’: a very
long rectangular piece of cloth wound around the body. In Polyeuktos’ sculpture
of Demosthenes [d. BC 322], for example, Demosthenes wears an ankle-length
himation wound around his abdomen and draped back over his left shoulder,
leaving his right shoulder bare.
Among the early Romans, the generic term for ‘wrapped’ outer clothes,
including the toga, was amictus. The unpinned toga was a specific type of
amictus. Thus the Roman emperors of the first centuries AD, as for example in
the Louvre’s statues of Augustus and Tiberius, were often portrayed officially in
togas and sandals, or sometimes ‘patrician’ shoes called the calceus patricius: a
low leather shoe with binding straps high up the leg.
By about AD 300, this had given way to a shorter type of toga called the
pallium which was worn over a long-sleeved thigh-length tunic.

The picture within the early Roman Empire is complicated by often contrasting
dress patterns: the lower classes v. the higher classes; civilians v. military; and
secular dress as opposed to ceremonial and religious dress. But, if we confine
ourselves to stereotypes, upper class men wore togas, while lower class men wore
short tunics with short sleeves.

The upper-class Classical stereotype of long and loose dress also hides a longer
development over the best part of a millennium, 400 BC to 500 AD, in which
long ‘draped’ styles of clothing were first joined by, and then largely displaced by,
shorter ‘fitted’ styles influenced by the fashions of the Persians and various
steppe peoples such as the Scythians and Huns: these were sewn garments fitting
closely to the body, namely relatively tight short tunics and relatively tight short
or long breeches (Boucher, pp. 72, 142). This style of dress was much more
appropriate for horse riders ( - or came to be considered so). Indeed Alexander
the Great had already fitted out his cavalry in long Scythian breeches as early as
the 3rd century BCE.
Speaking generally, the change to sewn ‘fitted’ styles was driven most obviously
by “barbarian” military fashions (Scythians, Persians, Goths), and it reached the
Eastern Empire before it reached the Western Empire. The new style was

adopted first by soldiers and the imperial courts, spreading only gradually to the
world of ordinary civilians, including those in the Roman West.

From about AD 100, half-length trousers - breeches extending to just below the
knee - were adopted by soldiers (worn under their tunic) and by the emperor
(under his toga), especially in winter. Called femoralia, these half-trousers
entered civilian costume under Trajan (i.e. in the period 100-175 AD)
(Boucher p.119: cf images on Trajan’s Column, Rome).

The famous red porphyry statue of the military ‘Tetrarchs’ or four joint emperors,
now in Venice, - showing the senior and junior emperors of the early 4th Century;
a statue in a later century stolen from Constantinople by the Venetians, - has the
emperors wearing low, strapped leather shoes. Evidently it was only after about
AD 350 that high boots of soft leather became general. One might guess that the
use of boots reflected the growing importance of cavalry in the Late Antique-
Early Byzantine period.
For a long time the older ‘draped’ style continued to coexist with the newer
‘fitted’ style. Indeed as late as the time of Justinian, d. 565, the emperor would
still on rare occasions wear the toga; but the usual male dress of the 6th century
was knee-high boots; breeches tucked into the boots; a thigh-length
belted tunic with long tight sleeves [the paragaudion]; and an ankle-
length pinned outer cloak. Women continued to wear full-length belted
tunics or robes not unlike modern-day floor-length dresses.

In short, by 600 the term “Roman dress” had come to mean not the classical
undecorated toga but rather the originally Persian-style of low and high boots in
soft leather (often to the knee), with embroidered long breeches or trousers,
belted tunic, and a long, highly decorated covering-cloak typically pinned at the
right shoulder (to leave the sword arm unhampered).

For example, the frescoes of the Romanic/Byzantine monastery of Bawit (Egypt)

(ca AD 550-650) show figures variously in sandals and boots, ankle-length
trousers, and short and long tunics; but all the people depicted have their tunics
decorated with large embroidered insets and all wear a long open pinned cloak
(in Boucher pp.146 ff).

As far as coins go, in the 600s military dress fell out of fashion and was replaced
by either civil or consular dress. Civil dress consisted of the chlamys, a cloak
similar in appearance to the paludamentum, which was fastened at the right
shoulder with a distinctive fibula (large pin) incorporating three hanging
The chlamys [pin-fastened short trapeze-shaped cloak**] was first introduced
on coins under Heraclius (AD 610-41) and became the pre-eminent form of
imperial dress used on solidi during the seventh century. The consular
type of costume was based on a revival of the distinctive toga-like dress originally
worn by holders of the office of consul. With the demise of this office in the sixth
century, the characteristic dress, known as the loros, fell out of use until it was

revived at the end of the seventh century under Justinian II. The loros was at first
a long piece of ornately embroidered and decorated cloth that was wrapped
around the body in a complicated fashion. After its revival by Justinian II, the
loros, together with the chlamys, became the customary form of imperial dress
used on solidi. Later the loros developed into a kind of jewelled scarf.

(**) The chlamys was always decorated with the tablion, a rectangular patch of
contrasting-colour fabric which was embroidered in court dress, on the front and
back edges.

Above: A cloak decorated with tablia.

Loros: The triumphal garb of the Emperor in the Middle Period was as follows: a
gold scaramangion or silk tunic with belt and long sleeves; a short-sleeved,
golden purple outer tunic or dibitsion; purple boots; and the uniquely East
Roman loros - a long strip of cloth heavily studded with gems, enamels and pearls
that is draped around the upper body so that one end hangs to the hem in front
and the other end is caught up from behind and thrown over the left arm.
Chalmys and loros are worn with the stemma, or crested crown of gold plaques
enamelled with figures; with a cluster of pearls called pendilia, hanging from the
stemma to the shoulder from each side. Thus
accessed 2002 [dead link 2009].

The following summary is quoted from the same site:


East Roman clothing generally consists of several layers of loose tunics

and mantles (chlamys, himation). The simplest is a knee-length belted
tunic or chiton with short sleeves, which is worn by labourers, shepherds
and children. Slightly more formal dress is a full-length tunic (i.e. to
below the knees) with tight sleeves and an embroidered hem and collar.
This is the usual costume for ordinary city dwellers or provincial
dignitaries. Over this can be thrown a mantle, whose form varies with the
sex and social status of the wearer. Trousers, a Germanic and Eastern
fashion, are rarely depicted in art, but texts suggest that they were worn
"occasionally"; men also wear tight leather hose. … For footwear, men
wear boots reaching to mid-calf rather than sandals.

Imperial dress from the middle period, 900-1100, is described thus by the same
The triumphal garb comprises a gold scaramangion, a short-sleeved, golden
purple outer tunic or dibitsion, purple outer tunic, purple boots and the uniquely
Byzantine loros - a long strip of cloth heavily studded with gems, enamels and
pearls that is draped around the upper body so that one end hangs to the hem in
front and the other end is caught up from behind and thrown over the left arm.
Chalmys and loros are worn with the stemma, or crested crown of gold plaques
enamelled with figures; a cluster of pearls called pendilia, hanging to the
shoulder from each side.


The turban, Gk: phakeolis or phakiolon, would gain popularity among

Byzantine men in the eighth century and persisted for centuries. Later it was also
taken up by women. The turban was never quite accepted as properly Byzantine
and so, despite being referred to quite often in literature, it is relatively rarely
illustrated. Thus Dawson, online 2010 at; also his ‘Oriental costumes in the
Byzantine Court Reconsidered’, Byzantion 75 (2006).

The Reign of Justinian II: first period, 685-695

685-695: First period of rule by

JUSTINIAN II, afterwards called ‘Slitnose’, Gk
his face was mutilated when he was deposed in 695.

Following the death of Constantine IV at the early age of 35

in September 685, his 16-years-old son, Justinian II,

assumed sole power. First wife Eudocia, no son: she dies

before 695. Second wife: Theodora. Son: Tiberius, born

He was the first to have (from 692: see there) the figure of
Christ stamped on his coins. Herrin 2007: 96 calls this
Early Byzantine coins continue the late Roman
conventions: on the obverse the head of the Emperor, now
full face rather than in profile, and on the reverse, usually a
Christian symbol such as the cross, or a Victory or an angel
(the two tending to merge into one another). The gold coins
of Justinian II departed from these stable conventions by
putting a bust of Christ on the obverse, and a half or full-
length portrait of the Emperor on the reverse (Wikipedia
2009 under ‘Justinian II’).

1. Syria and Lebanon: The caliph al-Malik was not only engaged in a difficult war
with the Shi’ites under the ‘anti-caliph’ Ibn al-Zubayr, but also preoccupied with
the revolt of the Umayyad commander he (al-Malik) had left in command of
Damascus. Taking advantage of this, the emperor Justinian II sent, or
encouraged, the Mardaïtes, militant local Christians, to plunder Muslim east
Cilicia and Syria.
Al-Baluduri reports that ‘Greek’ cavalry, under the command of a Byzantine
officer, came into the Amanus district - the mountains north of Antioch - and
then advanced south as far as present-day Lebanon, and that this force was
joined by large numbers of Mardaites, native peasants and runaway slaves. (Or
perhaps: the swelling of Mardaite numbers had already occurred, in the period
To put an end to the attacks of these adventurers, the caliph was (it is said)
compelled to sign a treaty with them, guaranteeing a weekly payment of 1,000
dinars. Then he offered the emperor peace on the same terms as his predecessor
Mu’awiya. Theophanes also mentions this treaty, in connection with two
particular years, AM 6176 / AD 684 and 6178 / AD 686, the latter possibly being
a renewal. See 686.
The treaty provided for the Mardaites to leave the region of Antioch and
Cyrrhus and go to, or be taken back into, the East Roman empire, where 12,000
of them joined the navy (see below under 687-88). These 12,000 were able-
bodied men, so we may imagine the total population transfer of children, women
and men would have numbered perhaps 70,000. Woods believes they were
former deserters from the Byzantine army long-settled in Muslim Syria, and were
at first, after their return to the empire, compelled to serve as oarsmen (David
Woods, ‘Corruption and Mistranslation: The Common Syriac Source on the
Origin of the Mardaites’, at

2. East Mediterranean: To avoid a war, the Caliph al-Malik agrees with the
Basileus to share the tax revenues from Cyprus, which is declared neutral, and
also from Armenia. This brought peace to Cyprus for many decades. Cf 693, 696
– gold coins. —See further: Constance Head 1972.

3. John V, patriarch of Rome, 685-865, was a Syrian from Antioch (Ekonomou

2007: 210). If we imagine he was 60 years old in 685, then he was born around
635, i.e. at the time of the Muslim conquest of Syria.

c. 685 (AH 63):

Syria: Fraternisation between Christians and Muslims is described by Athanasius
of Balad, Patriarch of Antioch (683-687):
“For a terrible report about dissipated Christians has come to the hearing of
our humble self. Greedy men, who are slaves of the belly, are heedlessly and
senselessly taking part with the pagans [i.e. Muslims] in feasts together,
wretched women mingle anyhow with the pagans unlawfully and indecently, and
all at times eat without distinction from their sacrifices. They are going astray in
their neglect of the prescriptions and exhortations of the apostles who often
would cry out about this to those who believe in Christ, that they should distance
themselves from fornication, from what is strangled and from blood, and from
the food of pagan sacrifices, lest they be by this associates of the demons and of
their unclean table” (Athanasius of Balad, Letter, 128-129 [p. 148]). —External
References to Islam by Peter Kirby, 11 September 2003, at Cf 687.

Khalif Abd al-Malik. It was in al-Malik's reign that Arabic replaced Greek or
‘Rum’, 'the Roman language', as the language of administration in the
Caliphate. (Theophanes places this a little later, in 707-08, during the reign of
Walid: TCOT: 73.) Cf 691.

The first years of al-Malik’s reign were occupied by troubles in northern Syria,
where, instigated by Byzantium, the Mardaites [rebel Christians] of the Amanus
mountains, called Jarajima by the Arabs, penetrated south into Lebanon. They
descended from the hills in guerilla-type raids. Or such is the common reading of
the sources.
Bar Hebraeus says that Constantine sent ‘brigands’ called Lipore, or in Syriac
Gargumaye [Jarjuma], to attack the lands from Galilee to “the Black Mountain”
(Antioch), including the Lebanon: Bar Hebr., Chronography, trans Budge 2003
p. 101.
Ahmad al-Baladhuri the Arab historian (d. 892) located Jarjuma in the Black
Mountain between Bayyas and Buqa. Bayyas is a small town north of Antioch
near Iskandarun (Alexandretta) and Buqa is a citadel near Antioch in present day
Turkish Syria. The exact denomination of the Jarjuma is not exactly known but
most historians agree that the Jarajima were Christians.
As we noted earlier, the Caliph was obliged, or chose, to conclude an
unfavourable treaty first with them, later with the emperor of Constantinople.

The Mardaites then emigrated, or were taken back, into the empire (see 686).

From 685:
A series of "Greek" popes in Rome, i.e. Syrians and others who were refugees or
the sons of refugees from the East. —A person aged five in late 638 when Antioch
fell to the Arabs was aged 52 in 685. See next.

John V, pope or patriarch of Rome, a Syrian, was born in Antioch. Before his
election, he was the representative of the pope at Constantinople. He was a
peacemaker and obtained tax exemption for the papal domains of Sicily and
Calabria from the Emperor.

685-87: Islam: Civil war in the form of a ‘Shi’ite’ revolt, by the followers of
Ali, d. 661 - above. Shia means ‘party’, as in ‘party of Ali’. Cf 686.

1. Italy: Romuald or Romoaldus of Benevento in 686 took Taranto and Brindisi
from the imperial army. (Others say ca.670.) In the heel of Italy the empire was
reduced to just the ‘land of Otranto’, the lower heel. (Lower Calabria and Sicily
continued under imperial rule.)

2. Eastern Cilicia: Mopsuestia was taken by the Arabs at the very beginning of
686; then all the surrounding forts were occupied by them and in 700 they
fortified the town itself (Theophanes, "Chronogr.", A. M. 6178, 6193).

3a. Justinian II sent Leontius, the strategos of Anatolikon, to campaign against

the Arabs in Armenia and “Iberia”, present-day central Georgia, in 686.
Defeating the Arab raiders, Leontius campaigned successfully into Azerbaijan
and ‘Albania’ (Iberia), gathering loot and gaining a reputation for cruelty. This
campaign convinced the Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik to renew his treaty with the
Byzantines, originally signed during the reign of Constantine IV, with more
favourable terms for the Byzantine Empire. The Caliph agreed (688-89) to share
the income from Armenia, Iberia and Cyprus and increased the amount of yearly
tribute paid to the East Romans. The annual tribute was 52,000 gold pieces
(Head 1972: 33 ff; Moore, “Leontius” at;
accessed 2005).

3b. In ca.686 ‘Abdul-Malik’ (Abd al-Malik) made or renewed a peace treaty with
the new emperor Justinian II, under which (as noted earlier) the Mardaïtai were
to leave Lebanon and the caliphate would make payments to the Romans for ten
years: Chron. of 1234, §146 (p. 292), Theoph. AM 6178, Zon. XIV 22. 4.
The Mardaites, including 12,000 able-bodied men, leave Lebanon and Syria
and go to Armenia and thence to Attaleia (Antalya) on the south coast of Asia
Minor. There they are inducted into the Byzantine navy (Toynbee p.87). Adding
boys, older men, girls and women and babies, the total must have been of the
order of 70,000 people. See 687.

4. Rome: Imperial approval for papal elections is reestablished. After the death of
the patriarch of Rome John V (685-686), the clergy championed the archpriest
Peter as the pope or archbishop of Rome and the army proposed Theodore, a
Roman presbyter and military chaplain. After numerous attempts to reconcile
both parties, both competitors were discarded and an exemplary priest and old
man, the Greco-Sicilian Conon (686-687), was elected, evidently because of his
military connections. His father was a soldier, no doubt a senior officer, of the
Thracesian theme who had come to Italy with emperor Constans in the 660s
(Ekonomu, Byzantine Rome p. 190). See 687.
In order to reaffirm the peace among the factions and make his election
uncontested, Conon sent a delegation to the exarch of Ravenna, Theodore,
representative of Emperor Justinian II, to obtain the latter’s support. The
emperor gladly agreed, reclaiming the right of placet [‘it pleases me’] that his
father had relinquished. Cf 687.

686: Sussex, the last ‘pagan’ kingdom in England, converts to Christianity.

Arwald, died 686 CE, was the last Jutish King of the Isle of Wight and last
‘pagan’ king in or of England until the Vikings in the 9th century.

Winfrith or Wynfrid, the future St Boniface, and 'Apostle of the Germans', ie

to the ‘pagan’ East Franks beyond the Rhine, was born in England in 680 or

At this time Christendom (in the sense of that part of the world paying taxes
to Christian kings) was actually contracting in net terms. Pagan Slavs had
penetrated down through Christian Greece during the 580s; Christian Egypt
had come under Muslim rule from 642; and Islamic armies advanced across
Christian N Africa thereafter, reaching what is now Spain by 711. These
reverses were not offset by the gains for Christianity made in England and N
Scotland (Pictia). – Of course since nearly everyone in Greece, Egypt and N
Africa remained Christian, the actual number of believers in Christ probably
increased marginally . . .

1. Romanic campaigns against the Arabs in E Asia Minor and Cilicia: then truce
with the Arabs. Cf 688.

2. First mention of the theme of Thrace*: comprising the eastern Thracian

plain nearest the capital, for defence against the ‘pagan’ Bulgars and Slavs:
established perhaps as early as 660. It is not clear how much of Thrace was
controlled by Byzantium; the treaty of 681 gave the Bulgars only the area north of
the Balkan Mountains; presumably the Philippopolis-Berrhoia-Adrianople sector

south of the Range was a marchland contested between the Slavs and the East
Romans (Fine 1991: 74). AS we noted earlier, Treadgold, 1997: 375, has proposed
that the Theme was just a littoral strip some 80 km wide, bounded by the N
Aegean, the Marmara and the lower Black Sea coast. Cf 695 and 784.

(*) Vasiliev (1928) notes that the Latin message of Justinian II to the pope, dating
from the year 687, regarding the confirmation of the Sixth Ecumenical Council,
contains a list of the military districts of that period, not yet referred to as
themes, but denoted by the Latin word exercitus (army). In historical sources of
that time the Latin word exercitus and the Greek word stratos or strateuma
sometimes were often used in the sense of a territory or province with military

3. Italy: The new exarch Ioannes (John) Platyn arrived in Rome with his
commanders (judices) and, it may be assumed, a sizeable military contingent, in
order to settle the disputed papal election (Brown 1984: 91, citing the Liber
Pope John V reigned for only a few months, when there followed two disputed
elections, those of Conon, d. 687, and of Sergius. In the latter election Ioannes
Platyn the exarch played a “miserable and disastrous” part. For he suddenly
appeared in Rome as the partisan of Paschal, the rival of Sergius, who had
obtained his support by a promise of 100 pounds of gold if he would help him to
the papal throne (Liber P., ed. Davis 2000: 85; also Fanning 1970: 66). On his
advent in Rome, however, the exarch found that he must abandon Paschal and
consent to the election of Sergius, in which all concurred. He refused, however, to
abandon his bribe which he now demanded of the new the patriarch of Rome.
Sergius replied that he had never promised anything to the exarch and that he
could not pay the sum demanded. And he brought forth in the sight of the people
the holy vessels of S. Peter, saying these were all he had. As the pope doubtless
intended, the Romans were enraged against the exarch, the money was scraped
together, and the holy vessels rescued (thus Hutton 1913). Fanning 1970: 66 says
more prosaically that the Roman church raised the necessary sum to get the
exarch out of the city.

4. The East: John (Ioannan) bar Penkaye, writing around AD 687-690 [AH 65-
68], was an East Syrian Christian (Nestorian) monk who lived in N Mesopotamia
during the reign of the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik. At this time, of course,
nearly the whole population remained Christian. He pictured the original Muslim
conquerors as “naked men, riding without armour or shield” (quoted in Kaegi
1995: 216); one imagines this image is drawn from the lightly armed local
garrisons of his own time.
John is noticeably unhostile towards Muslim-Arab rule. Despite a sprinkling of
stock abusive phrases such as "a barbarian people" and "hatred and wrath is their
food", John notes the leniency of the Arabs towards the Christian population.
The Christian religion and its members were respected: "Before calling them,
(God) had prepared them beforehand to hold Christians in honour; thus they

also had a special commandment from God concerning our monastic station, that
they should hold it in honour". No attempts were made by the Arabs at forced
conversion: "Their robber bands went annually to distant parts and to the
islands, bringing back captives [slaves] from all the peoples under the heavens.
Of each person they required only tribute (Syriac: madatta), allowing him to
remain in whatever faith he wished." And of Mu'awiya's rule John says: "Justice
flourished in his time and there was great peace in the regions under his control;
he allowed everyone to live as they wanted"; and later adds that crops were
bountiful and trade doubled. In fact, his only criticism was the lack of
persecution: "There was no distinction between pagan and Christian," he
laments, "the faithful was not known from a Jew" (in Kirby, loc. cit.).

Campaign against the Bulgars.

Reorganisation of the Navy, 687-89

At this time or a little later, Justinian II divided the Carabisian theme into two. In
the west, he created a new theme of Hellas or ‘of the Helladians’: Helladikoi. It
is first mentioned 695, with its headquarters at Corinth. In the east a
(territorially) reduced new Carabisian theme took in the east Aegean islands,
where it was headquartered, and thence eastwards along the S coast of Anatolia.
Each theme was allocated 2,000 marines.
The extent of “Hellas” is not known. Opinions differ as to whether it comprised
only central Greece (Ostrogorsky’s view); just the E parts of central Greece
(Charanês); the whole of central Greece together with Peloponnese and Thessaly
(Zakythênos); or, finally, whether the areas W of Pindos, overlooking Epirus and
the Ionian Sea, were also part of it (Bury and Diehl). In short, some consider it
was centred on Thessaly and may not have extended even as far south as Athens,
while others locate it in the eastern Peloponnese and Attica, taking in both
Corinth - considered the seat of the strategos - and Athens (Toynbee 1973: 265;
Fine 1991: 71; Treadgold 1997: 368; and Stavridou-Zafraka, in Burke and Scott
2000). Cf 688-89.

The Carabisian hitherto had been a force of Romanic-Byzantine marines

transported in ships rowed by oarsmen of the central imperial fleet or local levies
of civilians. Now, as part of the treaty with the Caliph (mentioned earlier), 12,000
Christian refugees, or returnees, from the caliphate called "Mardaïtes" - Syrian or
possibly Lebanese Monothelites - were assigned to be oarsmen for the marine
theme of Carabisia in the southern Aegean and probably also for the new theme
of Hellas, which is first mentioned in 695. —Moosa 1969: 597; Head 1972: 35,
citing the De Ceremoniis of Constantine VII; Fine 1991: 71; Treadgold Army 1995
pp.29, 72-73; and Treadgold State p.332. - See 695.

Initially the strategos of the Carabisians was commander of the fleet overall,
including the central Imperial fleet at Constantinople; the naval detachments in

Sicily, Ravenna and Hellas also answered to him (Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 93).

Treadgold proposes that Justinian ordered new ships built to accommodate the
enlarged naval themes, thus freeing the central fleet to serve mainly as a troop-
carrying fleet. (Using an average of 150 rowers per ship,* 12,000 new oarsmen
might have meant at least 80 additional ships.) He calls this “a doubling of the
empire’s navy”, and proposes that it may have led to the improved naval
performance observed after this time, e.g. in 717 (Army p.74).
The Caliphate had dominated the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean since
655: the new ships are evidence of a slow re-emergence of Byzantine naval power:
see 696-97, fleet sent to Carthage.

(*) Starr, Roman Imperial Navy p.53. Hocker in Gardiner 2004: 94 notes
that smaller dromons had 100 oarsmen while the larger type (chelandion
and ‘dromon proper’) had 200 rowers.

687-91: Pepin the Younger unites the Frankish kingdoms: then Clovis II
becomes king of all the Franks from 691.

The Caliphate asserts its ideological independence: papyrus and vestments
supplied to the empire in 687 still carried Christian and imperial markings; by
692 Muslim symbols were substituted (Fossier p.202). Cf 691-93 – ‘affair of the
At the same time in Jerusalem the Dome of the Rock was built (687-91) for
Caliph Abd al-Malik by Byzantine craftsmen from Constantinople sent by the
Emperor. It is in the shape of a Byzantine martyrium, a structure intended for
the housing and veneration of saintly relics, and is an excellent example of middle
Byzantine art.

Rome: Sergius I, first of a further long series of Greek-speaking popes from
Syria, Greece and Byzantine Sicily.
Between 687 and 752, only two native Rome-Romans became popes; the rest
were Greek-speaking: two Sicilians, four Syrians and five 'Greeks' (meaning
Easterners in a general sense). Some were the sons of imperial functionaries
stationed in Italy, while others were refugees or the sons of refugees from the
Arab conquests (Richards p.270 ff).
Sergius had been born in Antioch; others say in Palermo of a Syrian family
from Antioch (Maxwell-Stuart 1997). Pope Leo II appointed him the titular priest
of the Church of St. Suzanna (he was responsible for its restoration). He
championed the presumed prerogatives of St. Peter against the East Roman
emperor Justinian II. As the pope or archbishop of Rome, he encouraged
missionary work in France, England and Ireland. He baptized the wounded King
of Wessex, Caedwalla, who travelled to Rome expressly for this and died soon

Italy: This period saw the weakening of the power of the Exarch of Ravenna. He
was to lose effective control over the local army units in the various parts of Italy:
they began to act independently; and also his power to appoint the local
commanders such as the dukes of Rome, Naples etc: they would become locally
elected (Brown 1984: 51). Cf 693.

1. Cyprus: Renewal of the truce between Byzantium and the Caliphate. The
Byzantines and Arabs agree to share the taxes raised in Cyprus. or perhaps we
should say the Cypriots had to pay tribute to both the empire and the caliphate.
The island became a "condominium" or perhaps better, a no-man’s land. Both
Greek and Arab tax collectors operated there.
From this time urban life began to fade on Cyprus. Morrisson & Sodini (in
Laiou ed. 2002, p.192) have observed that the Arab attacks of the mid 7th century
did not entail the wholesale abandonment of urban life on Crete and Cyprus;
rather, this took place as a generalised process toward the beginning of the
eighth century, i.e. by about 690. These islands became entirely ruralized, but the
ruralization occurred much later than it did elsewhere.

2. Ifriqiya: The caliph appoints Zuhayr to lead an expedition from Libya to

recover Qayrawan from the Berber king Kusayla. One source says the force
consisted of just 4,000 Arabs and 2,000 Berbers (but this order of magnitude is
entirely consistent with other events of this period). As they approached the still
unwalled town, Kusayla withdrew west into the Aurès mountains. There Zuhayr’s
army defeated and killed him.
The Byzantines seem not to have offered Kusayla any support, but their fleet
now sailed from Carthage to Libya, where it captured the Muslim stronghold of
Barqa. Zuhayr hurried back but the imperial forces defeated his small army and
he in turn was killed in a battle outside the town. This was a low point and
indeed seemed at the time to signal the end of Muslim hopes of conquering North
Africa (Kennedy 2008: 216). See 694.

The Lombard State

N. Italy: The reign of king Cunincpert, 688–700, was characterized by an attempt

to make the (northern) Lombard state of Pavia function as one of the developed
states of that time, with structural patterns closer to the Roman/Byzantine
model, rather than the early medieval Regna (petty kingdoms). These included
the gradual appearance of written testimonies, the introduction of a more
formalised and elaborate coronation process, the pacification of the external
frontier with the Exarchate, largely attributed to his father Perctarit, and religious
unity which seemed at last effected (Antonopoulos 2005).

The royal name appears on Lombard coinage (regal series both for Lombardy
and Tuscany) only during the reign of Cunincpert, r. AD 688-700.

The Lombards did not mint coins in the name of their king until the reign of
Cunincpert, 688-700. Grierson notes that examples of this tremissis type may be
Lombard imitations, stating, "there is no firm line between such imitations and
the imperial originals…”.
At exactly the same time that Cunincpert issued his coins, duke Gisulf of
Benevento, 689–706, issued a series of pseudo-imperial coins, with the Byzantine
Emperor’s bust on them. This action not only shows the strong commercial ties
between Byzantium and the southern duchy, but also the rivalry of the dukes with
their king at Pavia.

1. The East: With tacit support from the Caliph, a Byzantine army campaigns
against mutual enemies in Armenia and the Caucasus including our Azerbaijan.
The Christian statelets in this region had been weakened by raids by the Khazars.
In 688, the East Roman general Leontius led an expedition into Armenia and
Iberia in a successful attempt to quell local unrest and, from the empire’s
pespective, to bring peace to the region (Golden et al. 2007 17-8: 431).

2. The Balkans: Justinian II, aged 19, personally leads (spring or summer 688) a
successful expedition against the Slavs in Thrace and Macedonia, and makes a
triumphal entry into Thessaloniki. He sent (687) “the cavalry themata” or “the
thematic cavalry” —presumably cavalry detachments from the Asian themes—to
Thrace in a preparatory move and then (688) campaigned first against the
Bulgars in Thrace and then in Macedonia against the “Sklavinias” (Slavic tribes)
(TCOT: 62; Theophanes 1997: 507).

Campaign against the ‘pagan’ Slavs of Macedonia: the emperor saves

Thessalonica (thanks, as he saw it, to the intercession of St Demetrius); and
communications with the capital are briefly re-established along the ancient
Roman road, the Via Egnatia. Many Slavs were made prisoners of war and
transferred (689) to Bithynia (the Opsikion theme) and Cappadocia. If the figure
of “100,000” transplantees is to be credited, then the number must have included
women and children. The Slavic troops he enrolled in 691 numbered supposedly
30,000 men (Theophanes 1997: 507, 511; and Head 1972: 42, citing Jenkins); but
3,000 would be surely more credible. Cf 691/92: battle of Sebastopolis.

The fact that Justinian had to fight his way along the ancient highway
from Constantinople to the empire’s second city shows just how delimited was
the imperial writ in the Balkans. Cf 695. This was a temporary success: Slavs
would continue to control the Macedonian-Thracian coast for centuries yet … cf
786-89 and 809.
As Obolensky 1971 notes, this and the earlier campaign by Constans in 658 are
the only recorded examples of a successful Byzantine counter-offensive against
the Slavs between 626 and the late 8th century.

Justinian’s army won easy victories over the local Slavs on the way to

Thessalonica, but on the return leg it was attacked and severely handled by the
Bulgars in a pass. They were operating far from their northern strongholds. Thus,
as Toynbee says, this was an ominous portent, because it was only nine years
after the Bulgars had lodged themselves permanently on the south side of the
Danube (Head 1972: 36, and Toynbee 1973: 91, citing Theophanes: TCOT, p.62).

It took time to reassert imperial rule in the large areas of the Balkans that had
been lost to the Bulgars and Slavs. The 'theme' or militarised province of Hellas
[modern east-central Greece] is first mentioned in 695 and was probably
established at this time. It was not until 783, however, that the empire would try
to re-assert its rule in lower Greece.

Jerusalem: Building of the Dome of the Rock, the oldest still-standing Muslim
building. East-Roman craftsmen were employed. (The Dome of the Rock is
actually a reliquary or shrine, not a mosque. It is distinct from the somewhat later
Al-Aqsa mosque, which lies a little south of the Dome.)
The Dome was intended to outshine the various Christian buildings, asserting
that Islam was here to stay. It bears an inscription: "Do not say God is a trinity; . .
. God is but One God" (Armstrong 1996: 237).

According to the geographer al-Maqdisi or al-Muqadassi, fl. AD 995, the caliph

Abd al-Malik “beheld Syria to be a country that had long been occupied by the
Christians, and he noted there are beautiful churches still belonging to them, so
enchantingly fair, and so renowned for their splendour, as are the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre, and the churches of Lydda and Edessa. So he sought to build for
the Muslims a mosque that should be unique and a wonder to the world. And in
like manner is it not evident that Caliph Abd al-Malik, seeing the greatness of the
martyrium of the Holy Sepulchre and its magnificence was moved lest it should
dazzle the minds of Muslims and hence erected above the Rock the dome which is
now seen there”.

Italy: Lombard king Cunipert or Cunincpert. In this reign gold coins began to
bear the name of the king; the mint was at Pavia.
Aged about 28 at accession, he fell in love, or rather: in lust, with Theodote, a
‘Roman’, i.e. non-Lombard Italian noblewoman, who his wife Hermelinda
admired at the no doubt gender-segregated baths. As described to him by
Hermelinda, Theodote was “of graceful body and adorned with flaxen hair almost
to the feet”. Cunincpert made her sleep with him and later sent her away to a
nunnery (Paul the Deacon 5.37; Wickham p.43).

This shows that the antique practice of bathing continued until this time in the N
Italian cities, at least among the upper classes.
Cf 691-92: mention of baths in the decrees of a church council.

689: Italy: Battle of Coronate. The army of Cunincpert, king of the

Lombards, defeats the followers of the usurper Alahis on the Adda River
which enters the Po near Cremona.

c. 690: Early Irish manuscript: the Gospels of St Willibrord (Paris:

Bibliotheque National).

S Italy: The Lombard troops of the teenage duke Gisulf I of Benevento, or rather
those of his mother Theodrada/Theuderata, who was the regent, capture imperial
Bari in Apulia - at this time not yet a major town - from the Byzantines. A gastald
(district governor) is installed. The Lombards will hold the city for 157 years:
until 847, when it will be captured by African Muslims. (I have no authoritative
source for this: this entry is drawn from various source-less amateur websites.)

1. ‘Affair of the coins’: Justinian refuses tribute coins without an image of Christ
on them; the Muslims refuse to mint such coins. This gave a pretext for the
emperor to break the peace (Treadgold 1997: 335): see battle of Sebastopolis 692.
Abdul [Abd-al] Malik protested to Justinian II when the emperor refused to
accept the new Muslim dinars and also when he broke the treaty with regard to
Cyprus in 690 ("in the year 1002 of the Greeks") and attempted to transport new
settlers to the island: Chron. 1234, §150, p. 296, Theoph. AM 6183. He ordered
his brother Muhammad to begin raids into Roman territory: Chron. 1234, §150 p.

2. Jerusalem: completion of the Dome of the Rock.

Syria: The ”affair of the coins”* (above: 691) prompts the caliph to produce the
first Muslim gold coins (c.693). At about the same time, the production of
gold coins ceased in the Latin/Frankish West, e.g. at Marseilles, in favour of
silver deniers. Soon only Muslim Spain and Lombardy were left using gold coins
in the West (also Byzantine S Italy of course).

(*) The caliph sent coinage with a new type of stamp by way of payment of the
tribute owed to the East Roman empire. Justinian refused (691 0r 692) to accept
it. The caliph answered by making it clear that he would not accept the
circulation (692/93) in his dominion of new Byzantine coins featuring Christ’s
likeness. He knew that his subjects - only a small minority were Muslims -
pointed to the Byzantine emperor’s image on the coinage and used it as proof of
his continuing authority over the lands of Islam. Thus it was a struggle by Islam
to find a religious vocabulary to express its pre-eminence at the expense of the
older power. Justinian’s new iconography, with its claim to what Angold calls
“the imperialism of Christ”, was a challenge to Islam which ‘Abd al-Malik took up
(Angold, Bridge 2001: 58). Cf 696-97: new Muslim coinage.

Constantinople: Justinian II calls (691) an Ecumenical council in New Rome, the
so-called “Quinisext [Greek: penthekte] Council”, which he chaired (692). Also
known as the ‘Trullan’ Council, after the Domed (trullan) Hall of the Imperial

Unlike his father, Justinian II was not willing to compromise with Rome
concerning the supremacy of the see of Constantinople over the see of Rome. In
691 he called for an ecumenical council to be held in the domed hall of the
imperial palace. The ‘In Trullo’ council was also known in later years as the
Quinisext council, which is Latin for "five-six": Greek penthekte. It was so named
because it dealt with matters discussed at the fifth ecumenical council of 553
(“Constantinople II”) and the sixth ecumenical council of 680 ("Constantinople
The Council's 102 canons largely dealt with matters of church discipline. They
included several anti-Jewish rulings: Christians on pain of excommunication
were forbidden to bathe in public baths with Jews or socialise with Jews.
Christians were not to use Jewish doctors; Christian-Jewish marriages were to be
punishable by death; building of new synagogues was forbidden; and Jews were
not allowed to own Christian slaves (but of course Christians were: see for
example the evidence for slavery in Byzantine Italy set out in Brown 1984: 202-

Canon 36: “ … we decree that the see of Constantinople shall have equal
privileges with the see of Old Rome, and shall be highly regarded in ecclesiastical
matters as that is, and shall be second after it. After Constantinople shall be
ranked the See of Alexandria, then that of Antioch, and afterwards the See of
Jerusalem.” All three of the latter were under Muslim rule.

Disaffection in Italy

The council was attended by the four Eastern patriarchs and an ostensible papal
legate; but its canons were ignored by the Western patriarch himself in Rome.
This allowed later Western writers to criticise it. So Bede calls it, in his De sexta
mundi aetate, a