Byzantium: Heraclius 

The early 6CAD the location, Cyprus near the modern village of Akrotiri. A small church is going about its daily routine, when suddenly armed men appear through the bushes attacking, looting and burning as they go. This was indeed a violent time. The Eastern Roman Empire which has survived the onslaught of the barbarians now faces a new threat, the Sassanids (Persians). 

 In 610AD a revolt led to the Emporor Phocas being overthrown by the governor of Africa, Heraclius. This remarkable man is one of those few people in history who have stood at a turning point. He replaced Latin with Greek as the main language of the empire, setting the stone for the Byzantine Empire.

When Heraclius came to the thrown he was immediately faced with several enemies, the most feared being the Sassanids. The Byzantines were initially defeated and the Sassanids conquered most of the provinces right up to the city of Constantinople itself; which was only saved by its immense walls. It appeared as though the Eastern Roman Empire would like its western counterpart succumb to enemy forces.

Above: Made of porphyry and thought to contain the remains of Roman Emporors.

In 632 AD Heraclius left Constantinople and gathered his forces in Asia Minor. He then launched a counter offensive which decisively defeated the Sassanids at the Battle of Nineveh. In a remarkable turn of affairs he managed to recapture all of the lost provinces of Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor.  This remarkable victory was overturned by other events.  A new threat emerged from the south east, the Muslims. 

Both the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires were exhausted by endless wars and the Muslims thus had little trouble defeating Heraclius brother Theodore. The provinces of Mesopotania, Egypt and Armenia were conquered as was the Sassanid Empire itself. A thousand years of warfare between the Greeks and Persians was at an end.

 What brings me on to this subject? a long interest in Byzantium and first hand experience on the excavation of the church which I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

The Walls of Constantinople: These bastions of stone withstood countless sieges from Arabs, Bulgars, Slavs and Persians. 

Author: Jeremy Hallatt

All photos taken by author


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