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made himself with the army, that he found that he could not trust even his household troops, and in despair armed the Blue and Green factions, and set them to guard the city walls. But the factions were a broken reed when disciplined troops Rebellion had to be faced, and Maurice soon found himself of Phoe” deserted by every one. He fled to Chalcedon, hoping to raise aid in the Asiatic provinces, where he was less unpopular than in Europe. Meanwhile, the army entered the capital, and proclaimed Phocas as emperor, though he was but a rough uncultured boor, who had headed the mutineers simply in virtue of having louder lungs and a heavier hand than his comrades. The usurper sent officers to seize his unfortunate predecessor, and caused him to be beheaded, along with his four sons, the youngest of whom was a mere infant in arms. Maurice met his death with a courage and dignity that moved the hearts of those who had so lately reviled him. “Just art Thou, O Lord God, and just are Thy judgments,’ he exclaimed,as the executioner raised his sword, and died with a prayer on his lips. From the foundation of Constantinople down to the death of Maurice the Eastern crown had never before been the prize of successful rebellion, nor had any legitimate emperor fallen by the hands of his subjects. Revolts there had been, but they had never gained permanent success. It was an evil day for the empire when the army sound that they could make an emperor, and the orderly succession of elective Caesars, chosen by their predecessors or by the Senate, came to an end. The new ruler of Constantinople proved to be a brutal ruffian, beside whose vices the faults of Maurice seemed shining virtues. Ignorant, cruel, licentious, and thriftless, he made his lusts his masters, and soon became the detestation of all his subjects. Phocas showed ability in one thing only, he was most successful in tracking out and frustrating the numerous conspiracies which were ere long framed against his life. All whom he rightly or wrongly suspected were visited 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 Dar
danelles 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.
DECLINE AND DECAY OF THE MEROVINGIANS
The sons of Chlothar divide the Frankish realm—Wars of Sigibert and Chilperich—The fortunes of Brunhildis—Continued wars of Neustria and Austrasia–Tyranny of Chilperich and Fredegundis–Decay of the Royal Power among the Franks—The House of St. Arnulf and Pippin—Brunhildis regent in Austrasia — Wars of her grandsons—Her death— Chlothar II. sole king—His weakness—His successor Dagobert I, last free king of the Merovingian line—Rise of the Mayors of the Palace.
AFTER the first eighty years of its existence, the Frankish kingdom, which under three generations of warlike monarchs had continued to extend its borders so fast and so far, ceased suddenly to grow, and was given up for a century and a half to ruinous civil wars, as objectless as they were tedious and confused. In surrendering their primitive Teutonic freedom to their royal house, in return for the glory and aggrandisement which union under a single despotic hand gave to their hitherto weak and scattered tribes, the Franks had bartered away their future. As long as the house of Chlodovech were able and active, their subjects could console themselves for submitting to an autocrat by sharing in the power and plunder which a century of successful war brought in to them. But when the Merovings, though still retaining their despotic authority, grew weak and incapable, showing no trace of their
ancestor's qualities, save an inveterate tendency to treachery