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Old October 19th, 2016, 06:44 AM   #11

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By the way, you have to keep in mind that Phocas and Heraclius squabbled and Phocas had used all resources, so there were not much Heraclius had to counter attack the Persians immediately to start with. So it is not like Heraclius took the throne with a full treasure chest and a stabile state, and just lost Syria and Egypt because of ineptitude. Rather he had to deal with Phocas and an empty chest from day one.
Phocas certainly hadn't left a good situation behind; on the other hand, it took Heraclius twelve years to actually launch his major counter-attacks against the Persian Empire. Meanwhile, the Persians were able to just rampage around the Romans' wealthiest provinces unchecked. Even if Heraclius was facing financial difficulties, he would surely have realised that letting the Empire's wealthiest lands fall into enemy hands would make it far harder for Constantinople to recover its financial position.

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Phokas is hard to judge, since almost everything that we have on him was produced under the Herakleian regime and is quite vitriolic. Phokas inherited a poor financial situation and was faced with a major revolt in the east that further sapped his resources.
And in the west, as well -- the revolt of the Heraclii can hardly have helped Phocas' war effort against the Sassanids.

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Regarding Constans' apparent success when compared to that of Heraclius, as far as defense against the Arabs, are there any accounts that discuss a possible transformation in Heraclius's character; a transformation that might have made him unfit to be emperor later in his life. We do know that he entered into what contemporaries considered to be a scandalous marriage. We do know that, while he sailed forth from Carthage, he had trouble returning to Constantinople because he feared seeing the water. So, could he possibly have suffered, later in his rule, from either depression or PTSD?
That's quite possible. Burn-out might be another cause -- Heraclius has just won this massive, difficult war against the Persians... And a couple of years later a new enemy suddenly appears out of nowhere and starts conquering the same lands. It wouldn't be surprising if Heraclius just couldn't cope with the prospect of fighting another huge war just when he thought he'd restored peace to the Empire.
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Old October 19th, 2016, 07:12 AM   #12

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Please understand that I am not personally taking a position. Still, the question of who takes the credit for the theme system is debated. Yes, many people have credited Heraclius. On the other hand, Warren Treadgold, in "A History of the Byzantine State and Society", page 315, credits Constans II.
Treadgold expounds this point in his Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081. It's quite problematic, actually, since the basis for the argument is that we have a few years where Constans isn't recorded as doing anything else, so therefore he must have been creating the theme system. This does not strike me as a particularly secure line of argumentation.

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Thanks, Kirialax.

Regarding Phocas and the Byzantine position in the Balkans, yes, the problems existed under Maurice. And, this is why he ultimately lost his life, right?

One story goes that his Balkans campaign was arduous and, yet, victory was within sight. The rebellion was spurred on by his economizing, which included ordering the army to quarter, for the winter, on the harsh pannonian plain.
I'm not really up on the latest scholarship on Maurikios, but yes, that's my impression.

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The eastern rebellion, I think Treadgold says, came from a pretender after the fall of Maurice and was used as a pretext by Persia for the invasion.

So, while I am not actively forcefully arguing that the "blame" for these things goes to Phocas, to the casual observer, things can appear to be this way.
I'm actually somewhat inclined to think that Maurikios' son Theodosios did indeed escape to Persia. Theophylact Simocatta goes to great length to detail the extinguishing of Maurikios's line, to the point where it gets suspicious. Simocatta wrote under Herakleios, and had Theodosios been around Herakleios' war would have been unjust. We have to remember that Khusro was perhaps not unsympathetic to putting him back on the throne, as he owed his own throne to aid that had been provided by Maurikios.

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I am currently reading Haldon's book on Eastern Roman survival and am looking to see what he will say.
An excellent book! Really a great summary of much of Haldon's work over the years, and fully updated with recent scholarship and his new thoughts.
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Old October 19th, 2016, 07:35 AM   #13

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Treadgold expounds this point in his Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081. It's quite problematic, actually, since the basis for the argument is that we have a few years where Constans isn't recorded as doing anything else, so therefore he must have been creating the theme system. This does not strike me as a particularly secure line of argumentation.
One piece of (admittedly circumstantial) evidence against Heraclius creating the theme system would be that the themata were primarily defensive in nature, whereas during the Byzantine-Sassanid War (when Heraclius was supposed to have created them, IIRC) the Romans were planning to go on a counter-offensive, not sit tight and defend. So it would make more sense for the theme system to be set up during a later period, when it became clear that the Byzantines weren't going to reconquer their lost lands in Syria and Egypt and the focus of their strategy had moved from reconquest to minimising further losses.
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Old October 19th, 2016, 07:38 AM   #14

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I am currently reading Haldon's book on Eastern Roman survival and am looking to see what he will say.
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An excellent book! Really a great summary of much of Haldon's work over the years, and fully updated with recent scholarship and his new thoughts.
Sounds good -- do either of you have the title?
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Old October 19th, 2016, 07:43 AM   #15

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Regarding possible eastern disaffection, I see your point and it makes sense. My question is based on a supposition that I recognize that I have limited ability to defend...That a large, densely populated region will be extremely difficult for an enemy to subjugate and pacify, longterm, without either the disaffection of its people for its previous rulers or without the support for its people for its new rulers.
Partly it might be that the population as a whole was demilitarised, with defence being almost entirely in the hands of the professional army. This would mean that, once the army was defeated, there was very little to stop the invaders from taking over. Compare that with the situation in feudal Europe, where defence was largely in the hands of local lords, their retainers and their levies. This made it harder for the central government to impose its will on the provinces, but it also meant that it was much more difficult to actually conquer large swathes of land because, even if you defeated your enemy's army, you still had to conquer each of the seventy bajilion castles dotting their territory.

Also, with the exception of the upper classes and big cities, the populations of Egypt and the Levant were generally quite different culturally from their Greek rulers. Swapping one foreign overlord for another generally doesn't cause much disaffection, even if the people weren't actively hostile towards their previous rulers.
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Old October 19th, 2016, 09:04 AM   #16
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The book is "The Empire that Would Not Die: The Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640-740"
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Old October 19th, 2016, 11:01 AM   #17

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Phocas certainly hadn't left a good situation behind; on the other hand, it took Heraclius twelve years to actually launch his major counter-attacks against the Persian Empire. Meanwhile, the Persians were able to just rampage around the Romans' wealthiest provinces unchecked. Even if Heraclius was facing financial difficulties, he would surely have realised that letting the Empire's wealthiest lands fall into enemy hands would make it far harder for Constantinople to recover its financial position.
You're criticizing him for taking too long to counter attack, but I think that it's quite remarkable he successfully counter attacked in the first place. The Roman empire was essentially in the same position it was in at the dawn of the first crusade, with the exarchates having their own issues to deal with, but in this situation the Romans were facing a much stronger unified-ish enemy (at first at least).

I think that instead of chastising Heraclius for letting the Persians take control of Asia minor, past a certain point trying would have just been suicide, we should instead praise him for not letting the Persians reach the Balkans, and using those small amount of resources he had left, pushing them back.
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Old October 19th, 2016, 11:03 AM   #18
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Obey Bayezid is indeed right regarding the Themes-system, and perhaps I should have clarified myself better. I did realize that it is debatable when exactly the Themes-system may have been incorporated for the first time, but the earliest time when it was introduced could be during Heraclius’ time and it may have developed further the next 100 years. That was why I said he “initiated”, not “established”.

I did not know that the effort of bringing a new doctrine (monothelitism) caused more damage to the relationships between the various groups. I have understood this as an attempt by Heraclius to unite them but in which failed in the long end. If this is true that Heraclius’ monothelitism caused more damage then it is a minus to Heraclius.

Regarding Heraclius’ lost of Egypt and Syria initially there could be other explanations than pure ineptitude as the chest was empty which was the reason why Heraclius forced the church to give its’ resources and silverware(to struck silver coins), a civil war with Phocas crippled it, and persecution of monophysites prevailed under Phocas. I am not entirely sure that the lost of Egypt and Syria was caused because of ineptitude as there could be other explanations.
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Old October 19th, 2016, 12:29 PM   #19

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You're criticizing him for taking too long to counter attack, but I think that it's quite remarkable he successfully counter attacked in the first place. The Roman empire was essentially in the same position it was in at the dawn of the first crusade, with the exarchates having their own issues to deal with, but in this situation the Romans were facing a much stronger unified-ish enemy (at first at least).

I think that instead of chastising Heraclius for letting the Persians take control of Asia minor, past a certain point trying would have just been suicide, we should instead praise him for not letting the Persians reach the Balkans, and using those small amount of resources he had left, pushing them back.

I agree with JeanDukeofAlencon's position, and may I just add a little something about Heraclius' counter? Sure, he may have been ponderous, but once he attacked, his movements were crippling. He essentially took out the Sassanid Empire, leaving it far too weak and divided to face the Muslims 10-15 years later. The Sassanids went through 10 monarchs in just 4 years, an almost unprecedented state of anarchy in Persia's 1,000 year history.
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Old October 19th, 2016, 09:27 PM   #20
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You have to remember that Persia had been one-by-one picking off the Roman strongholds and bases on the Eastern border throughout the latter 6th century without any real effective retaliation - that was the price of Justinian's Western conquests - there simply wasn't enough Roman soldiers to protect Italy, Africa, Balkans and the core Eastern provinces all at once.

Antioch was sacked while Justinians soldiers were in the West, The Persians met no resistance whatsoever in Syria, took the city and burned to the ground and depopulated it during the time of Justinian and it never recovered.

Belisarius in retaliation was unable to take Nisibis which he really needed to do to even the score.

Khosrow conquered Dara after a 4 month siege in 573 (so in 4 months the Romans failed to be able to lift the siege - that should tell something about their weakened military position). Then they moved on and destroyed Apamea and other cities in Syria.

This alone wasn't a complete catastrophre for East Rome, they could still quite effectively attack Persian territory - in fact it may have been easier. With less valuable front-line cities to defend it meant that the Roman army was less spread out and could concentrate itself more easily to raid Persia.

However the issue was that I think the repeated Persian raids into Syria had taken their toll and the region progressively became harder for the Romans to defend.

As others pointed out the East Roman Empire by 550 onwards was basically a large city-state, the over-extension of its borders under Justinian allowed enemies closer to home to sack tens of cities across the Empire from the 540s-600

Remember also that Maurice had signed a highly favorable peace treaty with Persia over the succession issue after Khosrau 1 - this was a get out of jail free card for the Romans and could have perhaps meant lasting peace between the two powers.

After this peace treaty the bulk of the Roman troops were redeployed to the Balkans which they were steadily reconsolidating under imperial authority. When Phocas rebelled and killed Maurice, Khosrau 2 ended the peace treaty with Byzantium (supposedly to revenge Maurice). The Roman army was probably in poor morale and disorganised after this and was clearly not capable of fighting a war on its Eastern border & holding the Avar tribes off. At this point with little military infrastructure left in Syria (after the Persians had sacked multiple cities) the Romans had very little home-ground advantage left.

Last edited by Redaxe; October 19th, 2016 at 09:31 PM.
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