The Heraclian Line


Mais le Vile siecle n'en marque pas moins pour l'Orient grec la fin du monde antique; et, a ce titre, peut-etre vaut-il la peine de montrer par quelques exemples ce que furent les ames, desequilibrees et troubles, des hommes qui virent s'accomplir cette grande evolution.

Charles Diehl, Choses et Gens de Byzance

The death of Heraclius, long expected as it was, threw Byzantium into chaos; and the cause of all the trouble was Martina. Not content with persuading her husband to crown their son Heraclonas co-Emperor, she had also forced him to draw up a will entrusting the Empire jointly to his eldest son and true heir Constantine III, to Heraclonas and to herself. One of the first acts of her widowhood was to hold a public rally in the Hippodrome, at which she announced the terms of the will, making it clear to all present that it was she who proposed to exercise the effective power.

But the Byzantines would have none of it. They had long mistrusted Martina for her scheming ambition; many, too, held her responsible for her husband's decline and death. Their worst suspicions now seemed confirmed. How, they demanded, could a woman receive or reply to foreign ambassadors, let alone administer an Empire? The very idea was preposterous. They would be happy to accord her the respect due to an Empress Mother, but their obedience would be given only to her son and stepson. Martina, baffled and furious, had no alternative but to retreat into the palace; but she was not beaten yet. Soon afterwards Constantine, the senior Emperor, fell sick. Possibly for a change of air, but more likely to distance himself from his stepmother, he crossed the Bosphorus to the palace at Chalcedon, but the move was of no avail: he died on 25 May 641, after a reign of just three and a half months.

Was he killed by Martina? We cannot say for certain. In the absence of any contemporary records we are obliged to rely, for what little information we have, principally on Nicephorus and Theophanes, both writing in the early ninth century; and of these Nicephorus (whose account is the more detailed of the two) makes no such suggestion. Constantine had long been in ill health, and could well have died of natural causes. On the other hand the circumstances and above all the timing of his death are, at the very least, suspicious. Moreover, as we shall very shortly see, his son and successor did not hesitate to accuse the Empress, in the strongest possible terms, of his murder.

It also seems undeniable that Constantine himself had felt threatened. Why, otherwise, having first moved to the Asiatic shore, should he have appealed to the army from his deathbed to protect his infant heir, Heraclius, and his other children, and to uphold their rights of succession? As it happened, he need not have worried. The people of Constantinople, already overwhelmingly in favour of the senior branch of the family, were outraged by the way in which Martina, scarcely before her stepson's body was cold, openly sent all his ministers into exile and, ignoring her own son, assumed full imperial authority; and they were still more incensed by her enthusiastic support of monothelitism, a by now plainly unsuccessful doctrine which had never found popular favour and which Constantine had been doing his best to sweep away. In the summer of 641, in response to increasingly insistent demonstrations, little Heraclius had been crowned Emperor, and his name - presumably to avoid confusion with his grandfather - changed to Constans; and in September of the same year, by command of the Senate, Martina and Heraclonas were suddenly arrested. Her tongue was cut out; his nose was slit;1 and the two were exiled to the island of Rhodes, never to return to the capital. If the Empress's only crime was her overweening ambition, she had paid a heavy price for it; if she and her son were regicides, they were lucky to have escaped so lightly.

My father Constantine reigned with Heraclius, his father and my grandfather, for a considerable time; but after the latter's death for only a very short period. For the envy of his stepmother Martina brought his high hopes to nothing and deprived him of his life - and all for the sake of Heraclonas, the son of her incestuous union with Heraclius. Your vote above all contributed to the just

1 The slitting - effectively the amputation - of the nose was an ancient oriental practice, introduced for the first time in Byzantium when Heraclius had thus punished Theodore and Athalaric for their suspected conspiracy a few years before (sec p. 308). Its purpose was to invalidate the victim's claim to the throne since an Emperor, in the Byzantine view, must be free of all obvious physical imperfections.

deposition of her and her son from the imperial dignity, in order that the Roman Empire should not be obliged to countenance so grave an insult to the Law. Of this your noble eminences are fully aware; and I therefore invite you to assist me by your advice and judgement, in providing for the general safety of my subjects.1

With these words the eleven-year-old Constans II, now sole ruler of Byzantium, addressed the assembled Senate early in 642, entrusting it with the care of the Empire during his minority. During the years following the death of Justinian the Senate had grown rapidly in power and prestige. It was now as influential as ever it had been, serving both as adviser to the sovereign and as the supreme court of justice; and it was, in the absence of any senior member of the imperial family, the obvious body to assume the regency. But Constans was to mature into a determined and self-willed autocrat; he was not to accept its tutelage for long.

His twenty-seven-year reign was overshadowed from beginning to end by his constant struggle with the seemingly invincible Saracens. Already at the time of his accession they were advancing relentlessly through Egypt, which his stepmother during her brief period of power had virtually surrendered to them; and in 642 the Byzantine garrison sailed obediently out of Alexandria, leaving the country in the hands of the great Arab general Amr. When, two years later after the death of the Caliph Omar, his successor Othman recalled Amr to Medina, the Byzantines saw an opportunity for a counter-offensive and sent out a fleet, which managed briefly to recapture Alexandria; but as soon as the news reached Amr he hurried back to Egypt, and by the summer of 646 was once again in control. Razing the walls of Alexandria to the ground, he established a new capital, at the southern end of the delta and consequently less vulnerable to attack, in a village known as Fostat, later to be renamed Cairo. The popular tradition that the Muslim armies put the torch to the famous Library of Alexandria - the greatest in the world of late antiquity - is unfounded; that had already been destroyed by the Christians, in the anti-Arian riots of 391. Nor did they take any vengeance on the local populations - most of whom, like their Syrian and Palestinian neighbours, seem to have found their conquerors a welcome change from the Byzantines. Having thus successfully deprived the Empire of its richest and most valuable province, they then drove westward along the North African coast -in 647 inflicting a disastrous defeat on Gregory, Exarch of Carthage, who had advanced against them with an army (we are told) of 120,000 men.

The new Caliph Othman was a weaker, less effectual leader than the

1 Theophancs, 6134.

austerely magnificent Omar; in one respect, however, he proved considerably more far-sighted. Omar, with the desert-dweller's deep-rooted mistrust of the sea, had steadfastly refused to allow the building of a fleet; Othman, at the continued insistence of Muawiya, the Arab governor of Syria, gave his consent. Inevitably, the ship-building programme which was immediately initiated took several years to complete: Muawiya filled in the time leading major offensives into Armenia and - in 647 - as far west as Cappadocia, where he captured Caesarea (now Kaiseri). Only two years later, however, his fleet was ready, his seamen trained; and he at once flung the full force of it against Cyprus, with himself in command. The target was well chosen: Cyprus was one of the Empire's chief naval bases, and though Muawiya had not sufficient manpower to occupy it permanently he was able to take its capital Constantia1 by storm, sack the city, destroy the port and harbour installations and ravage vast tracts of the surrounding country.

In 650 it was the turn of Aradus (now Ruad), a prosperous merchant city on an island off the Syrian coast, which was burnt to ashes and left uninhabitable, its people driven away to seek refuge where they might. After that, Constans was able to negotiate a two-year truce; but this only freed Muawiya to concentrate on more ship-building, so that in 654 he was able to launch a still more formidable expedition against the island of Rhodes. The extent of the damage wrought on this occasion is not recorded, though it must have been considerable; our best source, Theophanes, is understandably more interested to tell us of the fate of the celebrated Colossus. This hundred-foot-high bronze statue of Helios the sun god - one of the Seven Wonders of the World - had been commissioned from a local sculptor, Chares of Lindos, in 304 BC, and proudly set up beside the entrance to the harbour;2 but alas, only a century later an earthquake brought it crashing to the ground. The heartbroken Rhodians never tried to re-erect it, but left it for nearly nine more centuries lying where it had fallen. It was only now, during the temporary Arab occupation of the island, that Muawiya had it broken up and sold for scrap. The metal was ultimately sold to a Jewish merchant from Edessa; he needed 900 camels to carry it away.

1.   Better known nowadays by its original Greek name of Salamis, Constantia lies about 5 km north of Famagusta. Although later rebuilt and refortified, it was to suffer several further raids and a serious earthquake, as a result of which the harbour silted up and became unusable. It was then abandoned, its ruined buildings making it a convenient quarry for Famagusta in its fourteenth-century heyday.

2.   Contrary to the popular legend, never straddling it.

The capture of Rhodes - and of its neighbour Cos soon afterwards -persuaded Constans that he must take the initiative: left to himself, Muawiya would obviously continue to add island after island to his chain of conquests until it extended to Constantinople itself. In 655, therefore, an imperial fleet sailed out of the Marmara and southward down the coast. It met the Saracens off Phoenicus - the modern Finike -in Lycia, and immediately battle was joined. This was the first of a whole millennium of sea fights between Christian and Muslim, and it was a catastrophe. The Byzantine navy was shattered, and Constans himself escaped only by changing clothes with one of his men - who was subsequently killed in the fighting.

The situation now looked grave indeed; but the next year saw a momentous event which prevented Muawiya from following up his advantage. On 17 June 656 the Caliph Othman was assassinated in his house at Medina, while reading the Koran. Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law, was elected his successor on the spot, and was supported by the tribesmen of Mesopotamia; Muawiya, on the other hand, who had been simultaneously proclaimed in Syria, accused Ali of complicity in the murder and, hanging Othman's bloodstained shirt on the mimber1 of the Great Mosque of Damascus, swore vengeance. The ensuing strife continued until 661, when Ali's own assassination left Muawiya supreme. For the next five years the Muslim world would be in ferment - and Byzantium could breathe again.

The Emperor — whose heavily hirsute appearance had by now earned him the nickname of Pogonatus, 'the Bearded'2 - doubtless welcomed the respite, and in 659 was more than happy to accept Muawiya's offer of 1,000 nomismata in return for a cessation of hostilities, with the additional bonus of a horse and a slave for every day that the peace between them should last. The question arises, all the same, why he had waited fourteen years after his accession, until the year 655, before taking any action at all against his enemy. Much the same question, it will be remembered, had been asked of his grandfather Heraclius, and to some extent the same

1.   The hooded pulpit, reached by a long flight of steps, from which the Friday sermon is delivered.

2.   This nickname was long mistakenly attributed to Constans's son, Constantinc IV. The confusion was finally cleared up by E. W. Brooks in his monograph 'Who was Constantine Pogonatus?' in Byzantiniscbe Zeitscbrift, Vol. xvii O908), pp. 460-62. All the Emperors at this period wore beards; a glance at their coins, on the other hand, makes it clear that the luxuriant growth on the face of Constans was, even by seventh-century standards, something rather special.

answer can be given: he needed time to prepare his forces. But for Constans there was another requirement too. The ill feeling engendered by the monothelite controversy and the intrigues of Martina had left Constantinople dangerously split. It was of the first importance that he should somehow re-establish - at least so far as he could - religious and political unity.

He himself had never had any time for theological speculation: of the doctrine of the Single Will he probably understood little and cared less. Originally intended as a constructive compromise, it had only added to the prevailing bitterness and confusion. The sensible thing, clearly, would be to forget all about it and pretend that it had never been put forward. Unfortunately, however, it still had influential adherents in the capital, led by the Patriarch Paul in person, while a vociferous opposition had been organized in Africa by an alarmingly articulate monk known as Maximus the Confessor. Early in 646 Maximus arranged for a manifesto condemning the heresy to be endorsed by a synod of African bishops and forwarded to Pope Theodore; and the Pope, understandably irritated that his predecessor's action of only six years before should have had so little effect, wrote to the Patriarch demanding a full statement of his beliefs. Paul replied, defending the offending doctrine in the strongest possible terms, whereupon Theodore promptly excommunicated him.

Constans was still only seventeen, but his reaction was so characteristic of him that it must clearly have been his own initiative. Whereas his grandfather would have defended his Patriarch in a long and closely reasoned document - as Paul doubtless urged him to do - he remained determinedly impartial, while contriving at the same time to be both firm and decisive. Early in 648 he published an edict known as the Typos, or Type. It did not seek to weigh the pros and cons of monothelitism, still less to pronounce on its validity; it simply decreed that the whole dispute should be consigned to oblivion, and that the state of affairs that had prevailed before it began should continue 'as if the issue had never arisen'. If a bishop or a clerk should dare even to raise the subject, he would be immediately deposed; if a monk, he would be excommunicated; if a member of the army or civil service, he would be deprived of his rank or office; if a senator or the equivalent, he would lose his property; if a private person, he would be flogged and banished.

It is hard not to sympathize with Constans; at the same time he should have known, even at his age, that it is impossible to put back the clock. The problem would not go away, and the Typos satisfied nobody. In

October 649 Pope Theodore's successor, Martin I, summoned a Council of 105 bishops in the Lateran Palace which duly condemned it; he then sent the Emperor a full report of the Council's findings, considerately translated into Greek for his benefit, under cover of a letter of studied politeness in which he required him formally to express his abhorrence of the monothelite dogma.

Constans, it need hardly be said, had no intention of doing any such thing. Little did Pope Martin know that before his letter was even written the newly appointed Byzantine Exarch of Ravenna, Olympius, was on his way to Italy with a small armed force, bearing orders to arrest the Pontiff - on the somewhat shaky grounds that his recent election had not been submitted to Constantinople for approval. Anastasius, Pope Martin's biographer, claims that Olympius had decided to kill the Pope rather than take him prisoner but, being continually thwarted in his attempts to do so, concluded that his intended victim was under divine protection and made a complete confession to him; what is beyond doubt is the fact that he then tried to take advantage of the widespread anti-Byzantine feeling in Italy to detach the whole province from the Empire and seize the secular power for himself. He did not succeed, but retired with his army to Sicily where he died three years later.

One year after his death, however, in June 653, his successor as Exarch, a certain Theodore Calliopas, landed in Italy. Theodore had similar instructions, and was determined to carry them out. Within days of his arrival, Pope Martin - already a sick man - had been duly arrested and put on board the ship that was to carry him to face trial in Constantinople. For some unexplained reason he was not taken there directly, but was held for a year on the island of Naxos; only in September 654 did he reach the Bosphorus - to find that his tribulations had hardly begun. Arriving early in the morning, he was obliged to remain on board till sunset, being subjected throughout the day to the jeers and mockery of the populace. At nightfall he was taken off to the prison of Prandearia, where he was held for the next ninety-three days. Finally, half-starving, freezing cold (for it was now mid-winter) and unable to walk, he was brought before the tribunal.

To the original charge of having assumed the Papacy without imperial consent, a new and graver one had now been added: the Pope was accused of having conspired with Olympius against the Emperor. He naturally denied all the allegations, but the outcome was a foregone conclusion: he was found guilty, sentenced to death and led out into a large open courtyard where, in the presence of a dense crowd, his papal robes were torn from his shoulders. Even his undershirt was ripped from top to bottom, 'so that he was naked in several places'. An iron chain was then flung around his neck and he was marched through the streets to the Praetorium - the imperial prison - with the executioner's sword carried before him. On arrival there he was obliged to share a cell with murderers and common criminals, and was treated with such brutality that his legs were badly cut and the floor of the cell was stained with his blood.

Patriarch Paul, meanwhile, was on his deathbed. There he was visited by Constans, who gave him - presumably in an attempt to raise his spirits - a full account of Martin's trial and his subsequent sufferings. To the Emperor's surprise, the dying man was much distressed. 'Alas,' he murmured, 'this too must I answer for'; and he begged the Emperor as his last wish that the Pope should be subjected to no further ill treatment and that his life should be spared. His request was granted - though only after Martin had spent another eighty-five days in prison - and the sentence commuted from death to banishment. The old man was sent off to Cherson in the Crimea where, less than six months later, on 16 September 655, he died. Nor was he the only martyr to the doctrine of the Single Will: soon after his condemnation it was the turn of Maximus the Confessor. He too was brought from Italy to stand trial in Constantinople, where he was subjected to unspeakable brutalities - including the removal of his tongue and the cutting off of his right hand - in attempts to force him to recant. But like Martin he stood firm and -thanks largely to his immense reputation as a theologian1 - also escaped execution, finally dying a natural death in 662 in his place of exile, at the age of eighty.

As the eastern provinces of his Empire fell one by one to the Arab invaders, Constans began to turn his thoughts increasingly towards those of the West. In the past half-century they had given his predecessors and himself little enough trouble; his grandfather Heraclius had hardly needed to spare them a thought. He knew, however, that this happy state of affairs could not last. In the Balkans, the Slav settlers were

1 Maximus, even more than Pope Martin, had been the spiritual leader of the opposition both to the Ekthesis and the Typos. Indeed he had gone even further, maintaining that the Emperor as a layman had no right to pronounce on theological matters. The author of no less than ninety major works, he was in many respects the forerunner of those medieval fathers who were to uphold the claims of the Church against the State in centuries to come.

growing restive and making difficulties over their annual tribute; in Italy, especially after the arrest and trial of Pope Martin, Byzantium was more unpopular than ever it had been; Sicily, meanwhile, was in very real danger from the Saracens, who had first attacked it as early as 652 and had since occupied still more of the North African coast, from which they would doubtless be launching further expeditions before long. If, in short, preventive measures were not taken, the western provinces might drop away from the Empire just as surely as those in the East had done.

The respite afforded by Muawiya's preoccupations with the Caliphate gave the Emperor precisely the chance he needed. Already in 658 we find him leading a punitive expedition against the Balkan Slavs, large numbers of whom he transported and resettled in Asia Minor; but it was only in 662 that he took the decision which might have changed the whole future history of the Roman Empire: to leave Constantinople for ever and establish his court permanently in the West. His grandfather Heraclius had had the same idea nearly half a century before, and had been dissuaded only by the combined entreaties of Patriarch and people. Heraclius, however, had been an outstandingly popular ruler; his grandson was not. Constans had antagonized the monophysite and monothelitist communities by refusing to give them the support they had hoped for, and the orthodox by his treatment of Martin and Maximus; worse still, in 660 he had shamelessly ordered the murder of his brother Theodosius, having previously forced him into the priesthood - not, as he claimed, because Theodosius had been conspiring against him but, as everybody knew, because he was under pressure to crown him co-Emperor and could not bear to contemplate any sharing of his own authority.

We can probably discount the suggestion by later historians that the Emperor fled his capital to escape from the hideous visions of his bloodstained brother which haunted his midnight hours; nor, surely, can his decision be attributed to his unpopularity in the city - even though this may go some way to explain why the inhabitants seem to have raised no objections.1 He had never made any effort to be popular and, so long as his position remained secure, the degree to which he was loved by his subjects was a matter of supreme indifference to him. In any case his primary purpose in leaving was a far more honourable one: to protect Italy, Sicily and what was left of his African province from Saracen

1 Another reason for their apathy may have been that they did not know his true intentions and simply assumed that he was leaving on an extended tour of his western dominions rather than deserting them for ever.

conquest. If in addition he could drive the Lombards from Italy - or at least from the southern half of the peninsula - then so much the better.

Leaving his wife and three sons in Constantinople, the Emperor sailed in early 662 for Greece, where he seemed to have found more to do than he had expected. He remained there, first in Thessalonica and then in Athens, for a full year; and it was not until the spring of 663 that he finally crossed the Adriatic and landed with his army at Tarentum — now Taranto. The Lombards put up what opposition they could, but their local militias were small: Constans was able to advance without too much difficulty as far as Benevento, to which he laid siege. Unfortunately for him, the city had already sent an urgent appeal for aid to the Lombard King Grimuald in his capital at Pavia, and Grimuald had at once dispatched a relief force of considerable strength; if Benevento could hold out until its arrival, it would be the Byzantines who found themselves outnumbered.

At this point, as the Lombard army was advancing rapidly southwards, a messenger who had been sent on ahead by Grimuald to inform the Beneventans of its approach was captured and brought before Constans. Cunningly, the Emperor offered to spare his life if he would deliver a contrary message, to the effect that no help was to be forthcoming. The messenger - his name was Sesuald - agreed; but when he was brought beneath the walls he shouted, before his captors could silence him, that the army was indeed on its way and had already reached the Sangro River. He barely had time to add a plea for the protection of his wife and children before his head was struck from his shoulders; shortly afterwards it was loaded into a catapult and hurled over the walls.

But Sesuald had saved Benevento, and the imperial army had no course but to go on to Naples - which was a Greek city, and therefore friendly - and thence to Rome where Constans, despite his treatment of Martin, was accorded a formal welcome by Pope Vitalian and solemnly escorted into the city - the first Emperor to set foot in it since the fall of the Western Empire nearly two centuries before. The Liber Pontificalis describes approvingly how he spent the next twelve days visiting all the major churches; but the Romans were a good deal less gratified when he began stripping their city of what few valuables it still possessed -including even the copper from the roof of the Pantheon - and shipping them back to Constantinople. Great must have been their relief when, on 12July, he returned to Naples.

In the autumn, having marched slowly south through Calabria, Constans crossed the Straits of Messina to Sicily; and for the next five years he kept his court at Syracuse. For the Sicilians, those five years were one protracted nightmare. The honour, such as it was, of finding their island selected for the capital of the Roman Empire was as nothing in comparison with the extortions of the imperial tax-gatherers - for the satisfaction of whom, we are told, husbands were sold into slavery, wives forced into prostitution, children separated from their parents. Nor can we tell how long these depredations might have continued had not the Emperor unexpectedly come to a sudden, violent and somewhat humiliating end. There was, so far as we know, no preconceived plan to assassinate him, far less any deeply hatched conspiracy; but on 15 September 668, while he was innocently lathering himself in his bath, one of his Greek attendants - in what we can only assume to have been a fit of uncontrollable nostalgia - felled him with the soap-dish.

During the Emperor's long absence from Constantinople, the remaining eastern provinces had been administered by the eldest of his three sons, who now succeeded him as Constantine IV. Owing to our continued -and deeply frustrating - lack of contemporary historians, we know little about his appearance or character; an incident occurring soon after his accession, however, hardly predisposes us in his favour. In 669 certain regiments from Asia Minor marched on the capital, demanding that Constantine should crown his two younger brothers co-rulers with himself, on the curious grounds that since Heaven was ruled by a Trinity, so should the Earth be also. The firmness and promptness of the Emperor's reaction showed, as clearly as anything could, how he intended to govern: he invited the leaders to a conference in his palace, and immediately on their arrival had them seized and summarily executed - after which, as Gibbon tells the story, 'the prospect of their bodies hanging on the gibbet in the suburb of Galata reconciled their companions to the unity of the reign of Constantine'. Opinions differ as to whether or not the two young princes had instigated the uprising; but their brother was not in the mood to give them the benefit of the doubt. In conformity with the practice now growing distressingly frequent in Byzantine political life, their noses were slit - not just a punishment and a warning for the future, but a silent proclamation, to army and people alike, of their unfitness to rule.

Such a charge, despite his periodic outbursts of brutality, could never be levelled against Constantine. On the contrary, he was to prove a wise statesman and, like his great-grandfather, a born leader of men. Admittedly he had inherited from Heraclius a superbly organized state - at least where its Anatolian heartland was concerned; one might argue, too, that he enjoyed more than his fair share of good luck. But what cannot be questioned is the fact that the first decade of his reign marked a watershed in the history, not only of the Byzantine Empire, but of all Christendom: the moment when, for the first time, the armies of the Crescent were checked, turned and put to flight by those of the Cross.

The brief respite was over. In 661 the Caliph Ali had been assassinated outside the mosque at his headquarters in Kufa; since then, Muawiya had reigned supreme. One of his first decisions had been to establish his capital at Damascus, where he founded the dynasty of Omayyad Caliphs that was to endure for the next eighty years. An old and venerable city, it was moreover incomparably better placed than the remote townships of the Arabian Hejaz for the achievement of his prime objective: the annihilation of the Roman Empire. With the vastly increased resources now at his command, he had resumed those tactics that had served him so well in the previous decade, every year dispatching a new army into Anatolia and a new fleet up the Ionian coast, plucking off the imperial cities and islands one by one. After Cos came Chios; after Chios, Smyrna; finally, in 672, the Saracens sailed up the Hellespont and into the Marmara, where they captured the peninsula of Cyzicus on the Bithynian shore - only some fifty miles across the water from Constantinople itself-and began to fortify it as their principal bridgehead. Two years later the siege began.

Most of the previous attacks against the city of Constantine had been launched from the landward side: this one came from the sea. The Saracen ships carried heavy siege engines and huge catapults with which to bombard the walls and their defenders alike. But the fortifications, both along the Marmara and the Golden Horn, were proof against all their assaults - while the Byzantines for their part were able to create havoc among the attackers by means of a secret weapon invented a few years before by a certain Callinicus, an architect and chemist from the Syrian city of Heliopolis (more familiar to us nowadays as Baalbek). It was a secret so well guarded that to this day we are uncertain of the precise composition of what was known throughout the middle ages as 'Greek fire'.1Sometimes it was sprayed, by means of a pump or syphon, over an enemy vessel; sometimes it was poured into long, narrow

1 Marcus Graecus, a writer of the tenth century, gives a rough recipe: 'Take pure sulphur, tartar, sarcocolla [Persian gum], pitch, dissolved nitre, petroleum [obtainable from surface deposits in Mesopotamia and the Caucasus] and pine resin; boil these together, then saturate tow with the result and set fire to it. The conflagration will spread, and can be extinguished only by urine, vinegar or sand' - a property which, if true, would give a completely new dimension to the technique of fire-fighting.

cartridges and catapulted against its objective. The results were almost invariably catastrophic - particularly since the flaming liquid, being oil-based, would float upon the surface of the sea, frequently igniting the wooden hulls of the ships and causing an additional hazard to those who tried to save themselves by jumping overboard.

But the Muslims, unaccustomed to such opposition, refused to admit defeat. Retiring with the approach of winter to Cyzicus, they called up further reinforcements from Syria and spent the next few months repairing and refitting their ships. With the coming of spring they returned to the attack; but the second year of the siege did not prove any more successful than the first. Nor did the third, nor the fourth; it was only after the fifth year of frustration, in 678, that the siege was finally raised and the battered remnants of the Saracen fleet turned about and headed for home. Even then their tribulations were not over; returning along the coast of Pamphylia, they ran into a freak autumn storm which accounted for yet further losses.

While Muawiya's navy was hammering in vain against the walls of Constantinople, his army had sustained similar reverses nearer home. Here his enemies were not the Byzantines but the so-called Mardaites -bands of Christian freebooters who, from their original redoubts high in the Taurus Mountains, had spread south into Syria and Mount Lebanon, where they were waging a ceaseless guerrilla war against the Arabs as far south as Jerusalem and even the Dead Sea. To the Caliph, already seriously worried by his inability to control these brigands, the news of the humiliation of his fleet came as a shattering blow. The Empire, it seemed, was invincible after all, under the divine protection of its Christian God. In 679, discouraged and demoralized, he accepted Constantine's offer of peace - under terms which, a few years before, he would have considered ignoble: the evacuation of the Aegean islands that he had so recently conquered, plus an annual tribute to the Emperor of fifty slaves, fifty horses and 5,000 pounds of gold. A year later he was dead.

Constantine, on the other hand, was at the height of his popularity and prestige. He had inspired his subjects with the courage and the morale to withstand five years of siege by a power hitherto considered irresistible, and in doing so he had saved Western civilization. Blocked from Europe by the impregnable walls of Constantinople and the unyielding spirit of the Emperor and his people, the armies of the Prophet were obliged to travel the entire length of the Mediterranean to the Straits of Gibraltar before they could invade the continent - thus extending their lines of communication and supply almost to breaking point and rendering impossible any permanent conquests beyond the Pyrenees. Had they captured Constantinople in the seventh century rather than the fifteenth, all Europe - and America - might be Muslim today.

And Western civilization recognized its saviour. It was not only the Khagan of the Avars and the Slav tribal leaders in the Balkans who sent Constantine embassies of congratulation, with requests for assurances of peace and friendship: it was also the Lombard and Frankish princes of the West. He was, after all, the sole Emperor of the Christian world: a ruler with whom they might disagree or even on occasion wage war, but whose precedence they would never have questioned; and he had shown himself worthy of his title.

With the Saracens finally in retreat, Constantine could turn his attention to another, lesser, enemy - the Bulgars. These warlike pagan tribesmen were not in fact Slavs - as their descendants, largely for linguistic reasons, are generally considered today - but of Turkic origin; they had, however, left their ancient home in the lands between the lower reaches of the Volga and the Don and had migrated westward to the north bank of the Danube, whence more and more of them were trickling across the river into imperial territory. In 680 a large squadron of Byzantine ships, with the Emperor himself in command, sailed up the Bosphorus into the Black Sea and landed an army just north of the Danube delta. Unfortunately, the region had not been reconnoitred in advance: the swampy terrain made any organized advance impossible, while Constantine himself suffered an agonizing attack of gout which obliged him to retire for a few days to Mesembria nearby. Such a minor incapacity should not have affected the campaign unduly; for some reason, however, the rumour spread through the army that the Emperor had taken flight. In the ensuing panic his men turned and fled - while the Bulgars, seeing their chance, pursued them across the Danube into the former province of Moesia, killing all those whom they captured.

The net result of the expedition was thus precisely the opposite of what had been intended: instead of forcing back the Bulgars, it facilitated and encouraged their further penetration of the Empire. The invaders quickly realized that the new region in which they found themselves, an unusually fertile land protected by the Danube to the north, the Balkan Mountains to the south and the Black Sea to the east, was far preferable to that which they had just left. Easily subduing the seven Slavonic tribes who had already settled there, they rapidly established a strong

Bulgar state - which, in a somewhat different form, survives to this day - and even obliged the Emperor to agree to the annual payment of protection money to their King.

It was, in fact, more of a humiliation than a real disaster. Given the strength of the Bulgars along the frontier, some such arrangement would sooner or later have been inevitable. It had, moreover, the advantage of cementing a general peace which was to endure to the end of Constantine's reign and which allowed him to tackle the most stubborn of all his internal problems. The doctrine of the Single Will of Christ had sustained several severe blows during his father's time, but had obstinately refused to die. Already in 678 the Emperor had written to the Pope, proposing an ecumenical council of the Church to settle the matter once and for all; and the Pope, after summoning a preliminary synod in Rome to ensure that the Western representatives at least should speak with one voice, enthusiastically agreed. All through the early autumn of 680 the delegates poured in - 174 of them, from every corner of the Christian world. The Italian party, which consisted of the Bishops of Palermo, Reggio and Porto and their suites, together with a priest named Theodore representing the Greek Church of Ravenna, were received with particular honours and accommodated in the Palace of Placidia at the Emperor's expense. By the beginning of November most of them had arrived, and a week later the Sixth Ecumenical Council of the Church held its first session in the Trullos, or Domed Hall, of the imperial palace.

The Council was to hold eighteen plenary sessions, spread out over the next ten months. Constantine himself presided over the first eleven of them - though he was careful to remain impartial throughout and to express no opinions of his own - and again over the last, when on 16 September 681 he formally endorsed the almost unanimous findings. The doctrine of the Single Will, the Council decided, was incompatible with that of the humanity of the Saviour - who possessed, on the contrary, 'two natural Wills and two natural Energies, without division, alteration, separation or confusion'. Those who had maintained otherwise were condemned and cursed - including the now defunct Pope Honorius, who had given his somewhat lukewarm approval half a century before.

The problem of a canonically elected Pope being anathematized by his own successors has been a perennial source of embarrassment to Roman Catholic theologians - particularly those who have had to defend the later doctrine of papal infallibility; but it caused no anxiety to those gathered in the Domed Hall who, after the Emperor's closing speech, cheered him to the echo - hailing him as the Light of the World, the new Constantine the Great, the new Marcian,1 the new Justinian, and the Destroyer of all Heretics. None of these accolades were altogether justified, least of all the last; but when, four years later, Constantine died of a sudden dysentery at the age of just thirty-three, he could congratulate himself not only that he was leaving his Empire stronger, more peaceful and more united than at any time in the century, but that he had dealt the monothelite heresy a blow from which it would never recover.

1 It was Marcian who summoned the Council of Chalccdon in 451, when the monophysites were first condemned (see Chapter 7).

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