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Heraclius (Latin: Flavius Heraclius Augustus; Greek: Ἡράκλειος Hērakleios) was Emperor of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire from October 5, 610, to February 11, 641. Often he was also referred to as Heraclius I. Heraclius reorganized the government of the empire after its decay under his predecessors and was able to recover lands lost to the Persians. In an attempt to encourage unity between the Orthodox and the Monophysites, he promoted the compromise doctrine called Monothelitism. He also changed the official language of the empire from Latin to Greek.


Heraclius was born about 575, the son of Heraclius the Elder who was a distinguished general under Emperor Maurice. After a successful war in 590, Maurice appointed Heraclius the Elder to the position of Exarch of Africa where Heraclius grew up. Heraclius' birth place is not known.

In 602, Heraclius the Elder declared his loyalty to Phocas when Phocas became emperor after Maurice was overthrown by the army. In 608, Heraclius the Elder renounced his allegiance to Phocas and with his son began a campaign to obtain emperorship. In 609, the young Heraclius led a naval expedition to Constantinople which he took with the aid of leading aristocrats and the imperial guard in the city. Once in the city Heraclius was crowned and acclaimed emperor. After capturing Phocas, Heraclius personally executed him.

On October 5, 610, he was again crowned and married Fabia, who had taken the name Eudoxia. In 613, Heraclius married his niece Martina, after the death of Eudoxia in 612. Considered incestuous, the marriage was very unpopular; Heraclius fended off attempts by Patriarch Sergius I to dissolve the marriage and took her with him on his campaigns.

The revolt led by Phocas had seriously weakened the Balkan and Persian frontiers, resulting in the advance of the Persians under Chosroes II into Syria. The Persians took Damascus in 613, Jerusalem in 614, and advanced into Anatolia as far as Chalcedon. Heraclius considered moving the capital to Carthage, but he was dissuaded by Patriarch Sergius I. He began reorganized the Roman army as part of his general reorganization efforts. Heraclius then led the reorganized army back into Persia in late 627. In December 627, the Roman army won a devastating victory over the Persians at a battle at Nineveh.

The population of the provinces recovered from the Persians were followers of the Monophysite heresy, To strengthen his government, Heraclius led an attempt at religious unity by proposing a compromise doctrine called Monothelitism. The compromise was formulated by Patriarch Sergius. Initially, Sergius proposed that Christ did all things through action of a single divine-human energy, in a single mode of activity (energeia), but Sophronius, later patriarch of Jerusalem, objected. Sergius then adopting a term "one will" (mia thelesis) used by Pope Honorius in an earlier letter to him. This formula was used in the Ecthesis drawn up by Sergius and promulgated by Heraclius in 638. Initially accepted by the bishops in Constantinople, it fell into disfavor with the rejection of formula by the successors of Honorius. This compromise remained an issue through Heraclius' successions and was finally settled by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680. The decision of the Council was the anathematizing of the leaders of the Monothelite formula, including the dead Pope Honorius, and reaffirming the Chalcedonian definition.

In 629, Heraclius took the Greek title basileus in place of the former Latin tile of augustus as part of the shift in the language of government from Latin to Greek. Basilius would remain the title of the Roman emperors until the end of the empire.

To improve the defensive organization in Anatolia, Heraclius introduced the concept of themata, a hereditary military service based on land grants to divisions of soldiers who were governed under military administration with each theme commanded by a military governor (strategos).

In the 630s, the Arab tribes, unified under Muhammad, became a formidable force that attacked Syria and Palestine. Heraclius had to depend upon his generals for the defense against these attacks as he had become ill after his triumph over the Persians and could not personally lead his army. In this his generals failed him. Palestine and Syria were attacked in 634. In 636, the larger Roman force was crushed in the Battle of Yarmuk, and by 639 Syria and Palestine were lost. At the time of his death, most of Egypt was under the control of the Muslim Arabs.

Heraclius died in Constantinople on February 11, 641. He was succeeded by his sons Constantine III and Heraklonas.


Between his two wives, Heraclius sired at least twelve children. Of these, two from his second marriage to Martina are known to be handicapped, seen at the time as punishment for his illegal marriage. He had at least one illegitimate son, Atalarichos. Atalarichos participated in a plot with his cousin the magister Theodorus and an Armenian noble Davis Saharuni against Heraclius. After the plot failed in 637 Atalarichos was mutilated and exiled. When Heraclius learned in his last years of life of the struggle between his son Heraclius Constantine and his wife Martina in which she was trying to position her son Heraklonas in line to the throne, Heraclius wrote his will making both Heraclius Constantine and Heraklonas his joint successors with Martina as Empress.

His children by Fabia Edoxia:

Eudoxia Epiphania, Augusta.
Heraclius Constantine (Constantine III).

His children by Martina:

Fabius, who was paralyzed.
Theodosios, a deaf-mute, who married Nike, the daughter of the Persian general Shahrbaraz.
Constantine Heraclius (Heraklonas).
David (Tiberios), Caesar.
Martinos or Marinos.
Augoustina, Augusta.
Anastasia and/or Martina, Augusta.
Succession box:
Preceded by:
Roman (Byzantine) Emperor
Succeeded by:
Constantine III and Heraklonas
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