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already shown how the bishops of the Imperial provinces of Africa and Illyricum deferred to his judgment and decisions. Justly, then, may Gregory be styled the first Patriarch of the united West.
His successors were, for many generations, not men of mark. But by his work he had gained for them a temporal authority and a spiritual precedence which they were never again to lose. When he died, in 604, he left the Roman See exalted to a pitch of greatness which it had never before known, revered by all the Teutonic peoples of Europe, and half-freed from its allegiance to the rulers of Constantinople.
HERACLIUS AND MOHAMMED
Distress of the Empire in the early years of Heraclius—The letter .of Chosroes— Treachery of the Avars—Heraclius preaches a Crusade—His six victorious Campaigns — Great Siege of Constantinople — Persia vanquished— Triumph of Heraclius—Rise and Character of Mohammed—The Creed of Islam—Conquests of the Caliphs in Syria and Persia—Troubled old age of Heraclius.
When the tyrant Phocas had been handed over to the executioner to pay the penalty for his innumerable misdeeds, the Senate and army joined in offering the crown to the young Heraclius, the saviour whose advent had delivered them from such a depth of misery. He was duly crowned by the patriarch, and acclaimed by the people in the Hippodrome. But when the first rejoicings were over, and he turned to contemplate the state of the empire which he had just won, the prospect was not a very reassuring one. The Slavs were spreading all over the Balkan peninsula, as far as the gates of Thessalonica and the pass of Thermopylae. The Persian, securely established in northern Syria and Mesopotamia, was advancing to permanently reduce the lands of Asia Minor, which he had ravaged so fiercely in the two preceding years. The treasury was empty, and the army scattered and disorganised; for some years it had not dared to meet the Persian in the open field, and the officers whom Phocas had kept in command had never won its confidence.
The first ten years of the reign of Heraclius seemed little better than a continuation of the miseries of the time of
Phocas. The empire had gained, indeed, a good man instead of a bad as its ruler, but a change of fortune had not come with the change of sovereigns. It seemed that Heraclius would not be able to cope with the legacy of accumulated ills that had been left him. His predecessor's dying taunt, 'Will you rule the empire any better than I have done ?' must often have rung in his ears, when the never-ending tidings of battles lost, towns stormed, revenues decreasing, and starving provinces kept coming in to him. The imperial etiquette which had prevailed for the last two hundred years prescribed that the Augustus should never take the field in person, and this rule seems to have prevented Heraclius from heading his own armies.1 The generals to whom he delegated his power were uniformly unfortunate, and occasionally disloyal. He was obliged to depose Priscus, the officer who had betrayed Phocas, for arrogant disobedience to his orders. The absence of the emperor from the field was a grave misfortune; for he was much less of an administrator than of a fighting man. His form and face betrayed the warrior. 'He was of middle , stature, strongly built, and broad-chested, with a fair complexion, grey eyes, and yellow hair. He wore a bushy beard till he ascended the throne, when he shaved it, and did not let it grow again till he went to the wars ten years later.'
The military disasters of the first eight years of Heraclius' reign were terrible. In 613 the armies of Chosroes began to attack central Syria: Damascus fell, and then Persian sucthe general Shahrbarz pushed southward into cesses, 613-17. Palestine. In 614 the whole Christian world was seized with horror at learning that Jerusalem had been captured. Not only were 90,000 Christians slain in the Holy City, but— what was reckoned far worse—all the treasures of the church of the Holy Sepulchre fell into the hands of the fire-worshippers. Chief of them was the 'Sacred Wood,' the 'True Cross,' which the empress Helena, the mother of the great
1 Since Theodosius I., who died in 395, no reigning emperor had ever led an army in the field.
Constantine, had discovered in 327, and placed in her magnificent church. It was now carried into Persia, to be mocked by the blasphemous king Chosroes. This was not the end of the disasters of the empire. In 616 Shahrbarz forced his way across the sands of the isthmus of Suez, and attacked Egypt, the one Roman province which had not seen the horrors of war for three centuries. The unwarlike Egyptians submitted with hardly a blow; many of the heretical sects that swarmed in the Nile valley even welcomed the Persians as friends and deliverers. The loss of Egypt seemed a deathblow to the empire. It had been of late the chief source of revenue to the dwindling treasury of Heraclius, and on its corn the multitude of Constantinople had been wont to depend for their free dole of bread. This had now to be cut off, for the State finances did not permit of the provision being purchased elsewhere. In 617 the invasion of Asia Minor was resumed, and a Persian force seized Chalcedon, in very sight of the walls of Constantinople.
The darkest hour had arrived. It is a great testimonial to the popularity of Heraclius that the series of misfortunes which we have related did not cost him his throne. Any sovereign less well-intentioned, and less esteemed, would have lost life and crown. The direst moment of his humiliation The Letter of arrived when, after the loss of Egypt, the overChosroes. weening Chosroes sent him a formal letter, inviting him to lay down the sceptre which he could not wield. In language of arrogant condescension, which almost seems to have been borrowed from the letter of king Sennacherib in the Book of Kings, the Persian wrote :—
'Chosroes, greatest of gods, and master of the whole earth, to Heraclius, his vile and insensate slave. Why do you still refuse to submit to our rule, and call yourself a king? Have I not destroyed the Greeks? You say that you trust in your God. Why has he not delivered out of my hand Caesarea, Jerusalem, and Alexandria? And shall I not also destroy Constantinople? But I will pardon your faults if you will submit to me, and come hither with your wife and children; and I will give you lands, vineyards, and olive groves, and look upon you with a kindly aspect. Do not deceive yourself with vain hope in that Christ, who was not able even to save himself from the Jews, who killed him by nailing him to a cross. Even if you take refuge in the depths of the seas, I shall stretch out my hand and take you, so that you shall see me, whether you will or no."
For a moment it is said that Heraclius contemplated abandoning Constantinople, and taking refuge in his father's old stronghold of Carthage. But the very desperateness of the state of affairs brought its own remedy. Incensed at the arrogance of Chosroes, smarting under the loss of the Holy Cross, and pinched for every necessary of life, the Crusade of East-Romans were ready to strike one wild blow Heraclius. for existence. The Church took the lead, and declared the war to be a holy duty for all Christian men, the first of the Crusades. The patriarch Sergius bound the emperor by an oath not to abandon his people, and the clergy offered, as a war-loan, all the gold and silver plate of the churches of Constantinople. Heraclius" took heart, and, casting aside the trammels of imperial etiquette, swore that he would himself lead his army in the field. Thousands of volunteers were collected, and the treasures of the Church lavished on their equipment. By the end of 618 this effort of despair had given the empire once more a general, an army, and a military chest.
But an attack on the Persian host in Asia Minor did not turn out to be at once feasible. A sudden danger at home obliged Heraclius to delay his crusade. The Avars concentrated their ravages on Thrace, and their hordes rode up almost to the gates of Constantinople. It was necessary at all costs to free the city from the danger of attack in the rear before the army crossed over into Asia. Accord- Treachery of ingly the emperor sent to offer a subsidy to the the Av»rs' Chagan of the Avars if he would withdraw beyond the Danube. The Chagan proposed a conference at Heraclea,