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seemed to draw on endless reserves of strength, as horde after horde slipped across the Danube, and threw itself into the glens of the Balkans. The effect of these invasions is well described by a contemporary chronicler, John of Ephesus: ‘The first years of Maurice were famous for the invasion of the accursed people called Slavonians, who overran Greece and all the lands about Thessalonica and Thrace, plundering many towns, and devastating and burning, and reducing the people to slavery. They have made themselves masters of the whole country, and settled in it by main force, and dwell in it as though it were their own. Four years have now passed, and still they live at their ease in the land, and spread themselves abroad, as far as God permits them, and ravage and burn and take captive, and still they encamp and dwell there.” Ever since the Persian war ended, the reign of Maurice had been one unbroken series of misfortunes; the only remedy that the emperor could find for the evil times was an economy that verged on avarice. This foible at last caused his ruin. In 599 the Chagan of the Avars demanded of him ransommoney for 12, ooo Roman prisoners who had fallen into his hands; the emperor refused to pay it, though he had the required sum of solidi ready at hand. The Chagan thereupon massacred the whole body of prisoners. The Roman world raised a cry of horror, and threw the blame upon the avarice of Maurice, not the savagery of the Avars. Henceforth his throne was unsafe; but the crowning blow to his power was given by another piece of unwise economy. After a successful campaign against the Slavs in 601, the army of the Balkans had pursued them across the Danube. Maurice sent orders that the victorious troops should winter in the open field, upon the bleak townless plains of Wallachia, in order to save supplies. Instead of obeying, the soldiery drove away their generals, placed a Thracian centurion named Phocas at their head, and marched on Constantinople, loudly proclaiming that they were coming to depose the emperor. So unpopular had Maurice
made himself with the army, that he found that she could not
with cruel deaths; among others he slew his predecessor's widow, Constantina, and her three little daughters, because he found that their names were often used as a rallying cry by plotters. On mere suspicion he seized and burnt alive Narses, the general of the East, the most distinguished officer in the army. Other objects of his dread were flogged to death, strangled, or cruelly mutilated. Meanwhile, the reign of terror at home was accompanied by disaster without. The decaying military and financial strength of the empire suddenly collapsed into utter ruin under the rule of the vicious boor who had replaced the economic Maurice. The Slavs and Avars wrought their wicked will unhindered on the European provinces, and pushed their ravages up to the wall of Anastasius. In the East matters fared even worse. The young and able king of Persia made the murder of his benefactor Maurice a casus belli, and took arms to avenge his ‘friend and father.” From the first opening of the war the Romans fared badly; never had such an unbroken series of disasters met their arms. Early in the struggle Phocas had provoked the Eastern army by recalling and burning alive their commander Narses. They fought feebly, were ill-supplied by the incapable tyrant, and badly led by his creatures who were placed at their head. In 606 there came a sudden collapse; the great frontier fortress of Daras fell, and from that moment the Persians pushed on without meeting a check. They overran all Mesopotamia, Disastrous ravaged northern Syria, and pushed their incur- Persian War, sions into Asia Minor, where no enemy had been ** seen for a century. The armies of Phocas seem to have dispersed, or shut themselves up within city walls, for we hear of no resistance to the invader. In 608 matters grew worse still; from their base in Mesopotamia and north Syria the Persians struck out boldly towards Constantinople. Overrunning Cappadocia, Galatia, and Bithynia their raiding bands crossed the whole peninsula, and even penetrated to Chalcedon and eyed the imperial city across the Bosphorus. Phocas, instead of hastening to organise new troops, contented himself with ordering a persecution of the Jews, whom he accused of having betrayed to the Persians some of the towns of Syria. In 609 the enemy once more overran Asia Minor, capturing among other places the great city of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Again they met with little or no opposition; the emperor's attention was entirely taken up with real or imaginary plots in the capital. It seemed that he would allow the empire to be torn from him piecemeal, without striking a blow. But relief was at last about to come to the suffering people of New Rome. In Africa there ruled as exarch Heraclius, the veteran officer whose victories had closed the old Persian wars of the time of Maurice. He was capable and much beloved both by the provincials and by his army; under his able rule Africa, alone among the provinces of the empire, enjoyed peace and prosperity. In 609 Heraclius received emissaries from Priscus, the commander of the imperial guard, one of the innumerable persons who had fallen under the suspicion of Phocas. The messengers bade Heraclius strike boldly at Constantinople, for Phocas was universally detested, and no one would raise an arm in his defence. At the same moment the exarch learnt that his tyrannical master had already conceived doubts of his loyalty, and had thrown his wife and daughter into prison. Seeing that he must strike hard or be crushed, Heraclius determined to rebel. He spent the winter of 609-10 in fitting out a fleet, and launched it against Constantinople before Rebellion of Phocas had learnt of his revolt. The command Heraclius was given to his eldest son, who also bore the name of Heraclius, for the exarch himself was old and ailing. At the same time, to make a diversion, he sent a body of cavalry under his nephew, Nicetas, to invade Egypt by land; they were to follow the line of the long coast-road through Tripoli and Cyrene. When the fleet of the younger Heraclius reached the Dardanelles it met with no resistance; on the news of its arrival, Priscus brought the imperial guard to join the rebels, and the emperor found himself deserted by all his soldiery. He strove, like his predecessor Maurice, to arm the factions of the Blues and Greens; but no one would strike a blow in behalf of such a worthless tyrant. Heraclius sailed unopposed to the Bosphorus, and as he arrived off the palace he met a boat containing the wretched Phocas, whom a private enemy had seized and cast into chains. The prisoner was brought on deck and cast at the feet of his conqueror. ‘Is it thus,’ cried Heraclius, ‘that you have governed the empire?’ ‘Will you,' the fallen tyrant replied, ‘govern it any better?' Heraclius spurned him with his foot, and promptly consigned him to the headsman. Thus perished the first, but by no means the last, military usurper who sat on the Constantinopolitan throne, overthrown, as he had been elevated, by an armed rebellion. All the world with singular unanimity testified to the worthlessness of Phocas, save one single adherent; but this was no less a person than Pope Gregory the Great. Much to his discredit the great pontiff had been a supporter, nay, even a flatterer, of the Thracian boor who wore the eastern diadem with such ill grace. But Gregory had been an enemy of the unfortunate Maurice, because that prince—though orthodox in matters of doctrine—had shown scant respect to the See of Rome. He had called some of Gregory's epistles ‘fatuous,” and had allowed John ‘the Faster,’ patriarch of Constantinople, to assume the title of ‘oecumenical bishop,' a style which filled Gregory with horror, and caused him to exclaim that the times of Antichrist were at hand. Gregory therefore looked on Maurice's murderer as the avenger of the outraged dignity of the See of Rome, and did not shrink from heaping upon him epithets of unseemly adulation; the choirs of angels, he said, sang with joy in heaven at the accession of such a worthy Caesar! Truly this was a painful episode in the life of a man who, in spite of all his faults, has been justly hailed as a saint.