Infobox Monarch
name =Heraclius
title =Emperor of the Byzantine Empire

caption =Heraclius and Heraclius Constantine
reign =October 5, 610February 11, 641
coronation =October 5, 610
full name =Flavius Heraclius Augustus
predecessor =Phocas
successor =Constantine III
consort =Eudokia
issue =Constantine III
dynasty =Heraclian Dynasty
father =Heraclius the Elder
date of birth =c. 575
place of birth = Cappadocia, present-day Turkey
date of death =February 11, 641|

Heraclius, or Herakleios ( _la. Flavius Heraclius Augustus; _el. Polytonic|Ἡράκλειος), (c. 575 - February 11, 641) was a Byzantine Emperor, who ruled the East Roman Empire for over thirty years, from October 5, 610 to February 11, 641. His rise to power began in 608, when he and his father, the viceregal Exarch of Africa, successfully led a revolt against the unpopular usurper Phocas. Heraclius' reign was marked by several military campaigns, and he was remembered in future generations both for his battles against the Sassanian Persian king Khosrau Parvez, and as the first of the Byzantine emperors to engage the Muslims (though probably indirectly; notwithstanding the Battle of Tabouk.) He is also remembered for abandoning the use of Latin in official documents, further hellenizing the Empire. He was also traditionally credited with establishing the Thematic system, though modern scholarship marginalizes his role in this development.


Heraclius was born into an Armenian family from Cappadocia, [Treadgold, Warren. "A History of Byzantine State and Society". Stanford: University of Stanford Press, 1997, p. 287 ISBN 0-8047-2630-2] although beyond that, there is little specific information known about his ancestry. He was the son and namesake of Heraclius (generally referred to retrospectively as Heraclius the Elder), who had been a key general of Emperor Maurice's in the 590 AD war with Bahram Chobin, usurper of the Sassanid Empire. His mother was named Epiphania. After the war, Maurice appointed Heraclius the Elder to the position of Exarch of Africa. Though the younger Heraclius' birthplace is unknown, he grew up in Roman Africa; according to one tradition, he engaged in gladiatorial combat with lions as a youth.

Revolt against Phocas and the accession of Heraclius

In 608 Heraclius the Elder renounced his loyalty to the Emperor Phocas, who had overthrown Maurice six years earlier. The rebels issued coins showing both Heraclii dressed as consuls, though neither of them explicitly claimed the imperial title at this time. The younger Heraclius' cousin Niketas launched an overland invasion of Egypt; by 609, he had defeated Phocas' general Bonosus and secured the province. Meanwhile, the younger Heraclius sailed eastward with another force via Sicily and Cyprus.

As he approached Constantinople, he made contact with leading aristocrats in the city, and soon arranged a ceremony where he was crowned and acclaimed as emperor. When he reached the capital, the Excubitors, an elite imperial guard unit led by Phocas' son-in-law Priscus, deserted to Heraclius, and he entered the city without serious resistance. Heraclius personally executed Phocas.

On October 5, 610, Heraclius was crowned for a second time, this time in the Chapel of St. Stephen within the Great Palace, and at the same time married Fabia, who took the name Eudokia. After her death in 612, he married his niece Martina in 613; this second marriage was considered incestuous and was very unpopular.

In the reign of Heraclius' two sons, the divisive Martina was to become the center of power and political intrigue. Despite widespread hatred for Martina in Constantinople, Heraclius took her on campaigns with him and refused attempts by Patriarch Sergius to prevent and later dissolve the marriage. [Kaegli, Walter. "Heraclis: Emperor of Byzantium."]

War against Persia

When Heraclius took power the Empire was in a desperate situation. Phocas' initial revolt had stripped the Danube frontier of troops, leaving most of the Balkans at the mercy of the Avars.

Khosrau II (Chosroes) of the Sassanid Empire had been restored to his throne by Maurice and they had remained allies. He had used the death of his ally Maurice as an excuse to launch a war against the Romans. Chosroes had at his court a man who claimed to be Maurice's son Theodosius, and Chosroes demanded that the Romans accept him as Emperor.

The Persians had slowly gained the upper hand in Mesopotamia over the course of Phocas' reign; when Heraclius' revolt resulted in civil war, the Persians took advantage of the internal conflict to advance deep into Syria.

Heraclius offered peace terms to the Persians upon his accession, but Chosroes refused to treat with him, viewing him as an usurper of Theodosius' throne. Heraclius' initial military moves against the Persians ended disastrously, and the Persians rapidly advanced westward.

In 613, the Persian army took Damascus with the help of the Jews, took Jerusalem in 614, damaging the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and capturing the Holy Cross and Egypt in the process.

They made raids deep into Anatolia as far as Chalcedon, a town lying almost opposite of Constantinople across the Bosphorus. The Persians were also in communication with the Avars.

The situation was so grave that Heraclius reportedly considered moving the capital from Constantinople to Carthage, but was dissuaded by Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople. According to the trend in more recent scholarship, the theme system, often attributed to Heraclius, was actually developed by Heraclius' successors, most notably his grandson Constans II. However, the blueprint for it was provided by the exarchates set up by Maurice at Carthage and Ravenna.

Once he had rebuilt the army, Heraclius took the field himself in 621; he was the first emperor to campaign against a foreign enemy in person since Theodosius I. Confident that Constantinople was well defended and unwilling to engage in a war of attrition over the lost eastern provinces, he and his army of 50,000 men marched across Asia Minor and invaded Persia itself.W. Treadgold, "A History of the Byzantine State and Society", 294] He would stay on campaign for several years.

In 626 Constantinople itself was besieged by the Avars but Persian attempts to cross the Bosporus and aid the Avars were repulsed by the Roman navy. The Avars, now busy fighting Croats who recently arrived in Dalmatia, withdrew.

Meanwhile, Heraclius acquired the assistance of the Western Turkic Khaganate and its leader, Ziebel, who invaded Persian Transcaucasia. Heraclius also exploited divisions within the Persian Empire, keeping the Persian general Shahrbaraz neutral by convincing him that Chosroes had grown jealous of him and ordered his execution.

A Byzantine army of 70,000 men defeated the Persians under Rhahzadh at the Battle of Nineveh in 627.W. Treadgold, "A History of the Byzantine State and Society", 298] Heraclius personally defeated and killed Rhahzadh in the battle.

When Chosroes still refused to make peace, Heraclius continued his campaign; as he approached the Persian capital of Ctesiphon, the Persian aristocracy deposed Chosroes. His successor Kavadh II made peace with Heraclius by restoring all the empire's former territories.

The Persian Sassanid dynasty never recovered from this war; it took years for a strong king to emerge from a series of coups, and soon the Muslim Arab Caliphate overwhelmed the sinking state.

Heraclius took for himself the ancient Persian title of "King of Kings", virtually dropping the traditional Roman imperial title of "Augustus". Later on, starting in 629, he styled himself simply as "Basileus", the standard Greek word for "monarch", and that title was used by the Roman emperors for the next 800 years.

Heraclius also Hellenised the Empire by largely discontinuing the use of Latin as its official language, replacing it with Greek. The empire continued to call itself Roman throughout the rest of its history, but the term also increasingly came to be used as an autonym by the Greeks. In 630, he reached the height of his power, marching barefoot as a pious Christian pilgrim into Jerusalem and restoring the True Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

War against the Arabs

Muhammad had recently succeeded in unifying all the nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs, who had been too divided in the past to pose a military threat, now comprised one of the most powerful states in the region, and were animated by their new conversion to Islam. Heraclius fell ill soon after his triumph over the Persians and never took the field again. When the Muslim Arabs attacked Syria and Palestine 634, he was unable to oppose them personally, and his generals failed him. The Battle of Yarmuk in 636 resulted in a crushing defeat for the larger Roman army and within three years, Syria and Palestine were lost again. By the time of Heraclius' death, most of Egypt had fallen as well.


for another 60 years, saving a core from which the empire's strength could be rebuilt.

The recovery of the eastern areas of the Roman Empire from the Persians once again raised the problem of religious unity centering around the understanding of the true nature of Christ. Most of the inhabitants of these provinces were Monophysites who rejected the Council of Chalcedon.

Heraclius tried to promote a compromise doctrine called Monothelitism; however, this philosophy was rejected as heretical by both sides of the dispute. For this reason, Heraclius was viewed as a heretic and bad ruler by some later religious writers. After the Monophysite provinces were finally lost to the Muslims, Monotheletism rather lost its raison d'être and was eventually abandoned.

Perhaps the most important legacy of Heraclius was changing the official language of the East Roman Empire from Latin to Greek in 620 "Europe: A History". Oxford: Oxford University Press 1996. ISBN 978-0-19-820171-7] , thus strengthening the process of Hellenization in what was to become known in the West later on as the Byzantine Empire, which had a distinctively Greek culture. For this reason, some historians tend to start the "Byzantine" Empire with the reign of Heraclius, defining the period before him as "Late Roman".

Owing to his role as the Byzantine emperor at the time Islam emerged, he was remembered in Arabic literature, such as the Islamic hadith and sira. His wars against King Chosroes were celebrated in the (still extant) "Heraclias" or "Heracliad" by his court poet George Pisida.

The Swahili "Utendi wa Tambuka", an epic poem composed in 1728 at Pate Island (off the shore of present-day Kenya) and depicting the wars between the Muslims and Byzantines from the former's point of view, is also known as "Kyuo kya Hereḳali" ("The book of Heraclius"). This reflects the considerable impression which this Emperor made on his Muslim foes, being still prominently remembered by Muslims more than a millennium after his death and at a considerable geographical and cultural distance.


Heraclius and Fabia Eudokia, a daughter of Rogatus, had two children:
* Eudokia Epiphania, Augusta
* Heraclius Constantine (Constantine III), Emperor in 641

With his second wife, Martina, the Emperor had at least 10 children, though the names and order of these children are questions for debate:
* Constantine
* Fabius (Flavius), who had a paralyzed neck
* Theodosios, who was a deaf-mute, married Nike, daughter of Persian general Shahrbaraz or daughter of Niketas, cousin of Heraclius.
* Constantine Heraclius (Heraklonas), Emperor 638 – 641
* David (Tiberios), proclaimed Caesar in 638
* Martinos or Marinos
* Augoustina, Augusta
* Anastasia and/or Martina, Augusta
* FebroniaOf these at least two were handicapped, which was seen as punishment for the illegality of the marriage.

He also had at least one illegitimate son, Ioannes Atalarichos, who conspired a plot against Heraclius with his cousin, the magister Theodorus, and the Armenian noble David Saharuni. He was mutilated and exiled to Prinkipo, one of the Princes' Islands, in 637.

During the last years of Heraclius' life, it became evident that a struggle was taking place between Heraclius Constantine and Martina, who was trying to position her son Heraklonas in line for the throne. When Heraclius died, in his will he left the empire to both Heraclius Constantine and Heraklonas to rule jointly with Martina as Empress.



* "The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium", Oxford University Press, 1991.
* (primary source) Charles, R. H. "The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Zotenberg's Ethiopic Text", 1916. Reprinted 2007. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-87-9. [http://www.evolpub.com/CRE/CREseries.html#CRE4]
* W. Kaegi, "Heraclius Emperor of Byzantium", Cambridge University Press, 2003.
* (primary source) C. Mango & R. Scott (trans.), "The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor", Oxford University Press, 1997.
* (primary source) C. Mango (trans.), "Nikephoros Patriarch of Constantinople. Short History", Dumbarton Oaks Texts 10, 1990.

See also

* Aslim Taslam
* Non-Muslims Interactants with Muslims During Muhammad's Era
* Hadith of the prediction in Sura al-Rum
* Revolt against Heraclius

External links

* [http://www.roman-emperors.org/heraclis.htm De Imperatoribus Romanis: an online encyclopedia of Roman Emperors]
* [http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/14591/sample/9780521814591ws.pdf Heraclius - Emperor of Byzantium, Walter E. Kaegi. Oxford University Press]

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