Nort cuicunque datum est habere nasum.
It is not given to just anyone to have a nose.
Constantine IV was barely seventeen when his wife Anastasia had given birth to their first-born son. Had he been a little older and wiser, he might not have named the baby Justinian; for the arrogant and obstreperous youth who, just sixteen years later, became lord and master of the Roman Empire was from the outset determined to model himself on his tremendous namesake and to leave, as Justinian I had left, the indelible imprint of his personality on every facet of the State. In some respects he was to succeed; intelligent, shrewd and politically perceptive, with all the driving energy of his great-great-grandfather, he showed in his youth all the makings of a capable and gifted ruler - perhaps even of a great one. His tragedy was to have inherited also, and in full measure, that streak of mental imbalance that had so clouded the last years of Heraclius and that was again apparent in the behaviour of the ageing Constans. If there was little sign of this defect in Constantine IV, this may be only because he died before it could become manifest; in his son Justinian, on the other hand, it appeared early and rapidly established its hold, robbing him of judgement and moderation alike and transforming him into an inhuman monster whose only attributes - apart from his spirit and undoubted courage - were a pathological suspicion of all those with whom he came in contact and an insatiable lust for blood.
The beginning of his reign was promising enough. Successful military expeditions to Armenia, Georgia and Syria led the fifth Caliph, Abdul-Malik - who had assumed supremacy over the Faithful in the same year as Justinian's own accession - to seek in 688 a renewal of the treaty concluded by Constantine IV with Muawiya. This new settlement was, from the Byzantine point of view, a distinct improvement on the old: in addition to the down payment of 1,000 nomismata, the tribute of horses and slaves was increased to one of each every Friday. It was also agreed, with regard to- the revenues of Armenia and Iberia1 on the one hand and Cyprus on the other, that these should in future be divided equally between the two signatories - an arrangement that resulted in the demilitarization of Cyprus and a state of enviable autonomy for its people which was to endure for the best part of the next three centuries.2 A more dubious provision of the treaty was that the marauding Mardaites should be evacuated from Mount Lebanon and resettled in Anatolia. For years these wild tribesmen had been a continual thorn in Saracen flesh, and had served the Empire well; and there were many Byzantines who feared that their removal would result in a dangerous weakening of the Syrian frontier. But Justinian believed - probably rightly - that by transferring them to Attalia (Antalya) and several other key points along the southern coast he was in fact strengthening his defences rather than the reverse.
Besides, he saw it as an integral part of a far larger and more ambitious plan: the repopulation of Anatolia, which had never really recovered from the depredations of his namesake Justinian the Great. This policy was not new; it had been spasmodically pursued ever since the introduction by Maurice of 30,000 Armenian cavalry a century before. But Justinian gave it new impetus, and it is in this light that we should probably see his large-scale military expedition of 688-9 into the Slav lands of the West. Having made a triumphal entry into Thessalonica, he somehow arranged for the transportation across the Aegean of vast numbers of Slav villagers and peasants, and for their resettlement in the Theme of Opsikion - the old Bithynia, occupying the entire south coast of the Sea of Marmara together with a considerable hinterland. In the year following he ordered several other similar transplantations of whole communities, from outlying lands in both East and West: it has been estimated that he was responsible, in the space of some five or six years, for the establishment of perhaps a quarter of a million new immigrants in Asia Minor.
Such immense movements of population could hardly fail to bring radical changes in their train. The backbone of the administrative structure remained the Themes, first introduced by Heraclius; but within
1. The region immediately to the north of Armenia, between the Black Sea and the Caspian.
2. They were, intre alia, exempt from compulsory military service, and would also be unaffected by the iconoclast persecutions of the eighth century.
them the social conditions were very different from those of his day. At the beginning of the century, the dominant influence was that of the great land-owners - the prototypes of the feudal barons of Western Europe; by the end, the emphasis is on the new class of free and independent peasants, cultivating their own fields but bound to their neighbours by the woods, meadows and pastures held in common. So sudden an improvement in living conditions led, predictably, to a rising birthrate and a steady increase in the amount of land under cultivation; and the growing population produced in its turn - since Heraclius's institution of compulsory military service for the head or eldest son of each family was firmly maintained - an ever-stronger provincial militia ready for action at short notice. This social revolution - for it was nothing less -is reflected in one of the two most revealing pieces of legislation to have come down to us from the period: the so-called 'Farmers' Law', which most modern scholars date to Justinian (though it may be slightly later). Though the punishments laid down for various misdemeanours in the village community are often savage - flogging or blinding for the theft of corn, loss of a hand for setting fire to a barn or granary - it gives a wonderfully vivid picture of rural life in the otherwise shadowy seventh century.1
By this time, too, it is clear that taxes were levied not on the individual villager but on the village as a whole. There was nothing wrong with this principle in itself; each man paid his share, in a proportion decided by the community. The trouble came only when Justinian began - as he very soon did - to make demands far above the ability of his subjects to fulfil. The majority of these subjects, it must be remembered, were foreigners recently arrived, uprooted against their will from their homeland and with no inborn feelings of loyalty to their Emperor. It was doubtless for this reason that, after the outbreak of fresh hostilities with the Arabs in 691, we find some 20,000 Slav soldiers deserting to the enemy - so ensuring a major defeat for the Empire at Sebastopolis2 in the following year and the consequent loss of Armenia. It was on this occasion, according to Theophanes, that Justinian gave the first proof of the savagery that was to make his name infamous. He is said to have rounded up all the Slav families in Bithynia - many hundred miles from the scene of the betrayal - on the shore of the Gulf of Nicomedia and then to have ordered a general massacre, with men, women and children
1 An English translation may be found in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. XXXII (1912), pp. 87— 95.
2 The present Sulusaray, between Sivas and Amasya.
by the thousand being slain in cold blood and flung into the sea.
It is only fair to record that some doubts have been cast on this allegation, as a result of the discovery of a lead seal datable to 694-5 -that is, two or three years after the massacre - and identifying its owner as an administrator of the Slav mercenaries in Bithynia. This certainly suggests that the Slavs in the region were not all murdered; on the other hand, it could equally easily be explained by a new influx of settlers, brought in to replace those who had been killed. One modern historian goes so far as to state categorically that 'Theophanes cannot be believed';1 alas, everything we know of the Emperor's later life suggests that his story may be all too true.
Fascinating as are the provisions of the Farmers' Law, there is one other document that tells us even more about the manners and customs prevailing in Justinian IPs day: the record of the great Synod of 165 Eastern bishops, summoned by the Emperor in 691 and known as the Quinisextum. The proclaimed purpose of this gathering - which explains, incidentally, its rather curious name - was to regulate all those matters left outstanding after the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils; but it was also yet another example of the Emperor's determination to leave his mark on ecclesiastical affairs as on every other branch of government. Thus, in the absence of any major issues to be discussed, the delegates were compelled to spend much of their time on matters of little real importance - and sometimes, indeed, of quite astonishing triviality.
They are, however, not a jot less interesting on that account. We read, for example, in Canon 3 that second marriages for the clergy are forbidden, and that no man who, after his baptism, has married a widow, a prostitute, a slave or an actress may enter the priesthood; in Canon 11, that no priest might consult a Jewish physician or take a bath in company with a Jew; in Canon 24, that the clergy were banned from the races and the theatre, and that if invited to weddings they must retire 'before the games began'; in Canon 42, that 'those hermits who dress in black, wear their hair long and go about the towns visiting laymen and women' must cut their hair and enter a monastery and, if they refuse, must be chased away to desert places; in Canon 50, that playing at dice, even for laymen, was punishable by excommunication; in Canon 61, that six years of penitence were to be imposed on all who consulted fortune-tellers, 'showed bears or other animals to deceive the simple', or sold lucky
1 Ostrogorsky, in the ist cd. of translation; in the and ed., the sentence has been amended (pp. 131-i) to read: 'It is not of course possible to credit Theophanes . . .' The change of nuance is intriguing.
charms and amulets; in Canon 62, that all pagan festivals such as the Bota (in honour of Pan) or the Brumalia (in honour of Bacchus) were prohibited, as were all dances by women and all by either sex in honour of pagan gods, all comic, tragic or satyrical masks, all transvestites, and all invocations to Bacchus during the grape harvest; in Canon 65, that it was forbidden to dance round bonfires at the new moon; in Canon 79, that Christmas presents were forbidden; in Canon 91, that abortionists and their patients should be punished in the same way as murderers; and in Canon 96, that the ban of the Church would fall on all those who 'curled their hair in a provocative or seductive manner'.
Now most of this was harmless enough, and we may be sure that the deliberations of the Quinisextum made little or no difference to the habits and superstitions of the country folk of Anatolia and the Balkans, who have maintained many of them up to the present day. All might have been well had not Justinian - who had not troubled to invite any special representatives from Rome to his Synod - sent the 102 approved Canons to Pope Sergius I, with somewhat peremptory instructions to endorse them. Since several of these Canons - such as those permitting marriage among the secular clergy or condemning fasts on Saturdays in Lent -were directly contrary to Roman usage, the Pope very naturally refused;1 whereupon Justinian ordered the Exarch of Ravenna, one Zacharias, to arrest him forthwith and bring him to Constantinople for judgement.
In doing so, he clearly had in mind his grandfather's treatment of Pope Martin and - even more, perhaps - the first Justinian, who had behaved in similar fashion to Pope Vigilius. But times had changed. Pope Sergius was a good deal more powerful, and more popular, than his tw'o unfortunate predecessors. On receiving their orders, the imperial militias of both Ravenna and Rome flatly refused to obey. Soon after Zacharias reached the Lateran Palace, the building was surrounded; and the unfortunate Exarch found himself a prisoner of his own troops and of the Roman populace, all hurling imprecations on the Emperor and himself for presuming to lay hands on the Pontiff. Only, we are told, after Sergius had personally intervened on his behalf could he be persuaded to emerge from under the papal bed and make good his escape.2
When the news reached Constantinople, Justinian flew into one of those ungovernable rages for which he was already famous. It is unlikely,
1 Another Canon to which the Pope took particular exception was that which forbade the popular metaphor of Christ as a Lamb. Sergius, we are told, had a special affection for this image, and expressed his displeasure by deliberately adding the Agnus Dei to the Mass. 1 Liber Pontificalis, I, J73-4.
however, that the majority of his subjects felt much sympathy. In the seven years since his accession the young Emperor - he was still barely twenty-three — had acquired a degree of unpopularity previously equalled, perhaps, only by Phocas. His high-handed treatment of the recent settlers had already, as we have seen, resulted in a massive mutiny that had cost him Armenia. The old aristocracy, fully aware of his hostility, had been obliged to stand impotently by while he had steadily shorn them of their powers and privileges in favour of a free peasantry responsible only to himself; and even that peasantry had been antagonized by his insatiable demands for money.
Here was the one field in which Justinian II could equal, or even surpass, his great namesake. He too had a passion for building, on a scale which threatened to reduce his subjects to penury. His tax-collectors - above all his Grand Logothete (and defrocked priest) Theodotus and his SacellariusStephen of Persia, a huge and hideous eunuch never seen without a whip in his hand - had quickly shown themselves to be as brutal and merciless as John of Cappadocia at his worst, thinking nothing of torturing their victims (often by hanging them over a slow fire and smoking them into unconsciousness) if they could thereby extract a few additional pieces of gold for their master. Inevitably, it was the wealthy aristocracy that suffered most: Justinian made no secret of the fact that he hated them and was determined to destroy them as a class. They bore the extortions till they could bear them no more; then they rose in revolt.
Their leader was one of themselves, a professional soldier named Leontius who, after distinguishing himself in the Armenian and Caucasian campaigns, had been disgraced in 692 - he may have commanded the army that had been defeated at Sebastopolis - and thrown into prison. While there, so the story goes, he had been visited by two monks, one of whom had foretold that he would one day wear the imperial diadem. This prophecy had so preyed on his mind that when in 695 he was suddenly set at liberty and nominated military governor of the new Theme of Hellas, he marched on the Praetorium, overpowered the Prefect and released all the prisoners that were being held there - many of them his old comrades-in-arms, who declared for him at once. Together they then moved on to St Sophia, calling on all whom they passed to gather at the Great Church. On their arrival the Patriarch, who had recently given the Emperor some offence and was already fearing the worst, unhesitatingly declared in their favour, with the words, 'Here is the day which the Lord hath ordained!' By morning, thanks to the enthusiastic support of the Blues, Leontius had been proclaimed Basileus and the revolution was over. Justinian was taken prisoner and led in chains round the Hippodrome, while his erstwhile subjects screamed insults and abuse. In token of the new Emperor's long friendship with his father Constantine IV, his life was spared; he suffered instead the by now usual mutilations to nose and tongue1 before being sent off to eternal exile in the Crimean city of Cherson. His rapacious ministers were less fortunate: tied by the feet to the backs of heavy wagons, they were then dragged down the Mese from the Augusteum to the Forum Bovis - the modern Aksaray - and there burnt alive.
Ten years and two Emperors later, the people of Byzantium would have bitter cause to regret that they had not consigned Justinian II to a similar fate.
The deeply undistinguished reign of Leontius is notable for one thing only: the capture of Carthage by the Saracens and the consequent extinction in 698 of the Exarchate of Africa. The upstart Emperor had done his best to save the situation, sending the largest fleet he could muster to the relief of the beleaguered city; ironically enough, it was this very fleet that overthrew him. Rather than return and report their failure, its leaders decided instead to rebel, acclaiming as Basileus one of their own number, a drungarius - the rank roughly corresponded to vice-admiral - whose Germanic name of Apsimar was hastily changed to Tiberius. When the fleet reached Constantinople, the Greens - who had never liked Leontius - upheld the cause of the mutineers, and their support proved decisive. The unhappy man lost - all too predictably -his nose, together with as much of his hair as was necessary to provide him with a tonsure, and was sent off to the monastery of Dalmatus.
Tiberius, for his part, proved a good deal more effective. With the help of his brother Heraclius he strengthened both the land and the sea defences of Anatolia, and in 700 actually invaded Saracen-held Syria, going on to regain - though unfortunately only for a brief period -parts of Armenia. Later, in 703 and 704, he beat back successive Arab invasions of Cilicia, inflicting heavy losses as he did so; indeed, had he only retained the imperial diadem, he might well have achieved still greater things, earning for himself a distinguished place on the roll of Byzantine Emperors. But he did not retain it. In 705 he in his turn was
1 The slitting of the tongue seems on this occasion to have been more symbolic than anything else: Justinian remained, so far as we can judge, an unusually talkative man all his life. The damage to his nose, on the other hand, resulted in lasting disfigurement: he was ever afterwards known as Rbinotmetus - 'Cut-Nose'.
overthrown. Justinian, after a decade in exile and despite his hideous mutilations, had returned to the capital - with his ambitions as strong as ever and vengeance in his heart.
The city of Cherson - now known as Korsun - consists today of a few excavated streets with the remains of a central square, a theatre and some rather good mosaic floors of the sixth century. Thirteen hundred years ago, on the other hand, it was a considerable community: a semi-autonomous dependency of the Empire with its own independent Hellenistic traditions, its own governing magistrate and its own senate. The small imperial garrison stationed there existed more for its protection than for its control. It was, however, useful to Byzantium in two ways. First, it was a valuable observation post, from which a watchful eye could be kept on the barbarian tribes - Alans and Avars, Bulgars and Slavs, Khazars and Petchenegs - who still led their old wandering lives through South Russia and the Caucasus; second, its remoteness made it an admirable place of exile - for Pope Martin among many others, who had died there just thirty years before the arrival of Justinian.1
The Emperor - still, it must be remembered, only twenty-six at the time of his banishment - had made it known from the start that he considered his stay in Cherson to be strictly temporary. Gradually he gathered round him a circle of loyal adherents who, as time went on, grew steadily more outspoken in their hostility to Leontius. When the usurper was dethroned in 698 they made no secret of their delight; and by 702 or early 703 Justinian had become such a liability to the local authorities that they decided to return him to Constantinople. Learning of their intentions just in time, however, he slipped out of the city and appealed for protection to the Khazar Khagan Ibuzir, who welcomed him with enthusiasm and immediately gave him his sister for a bride. The lady's first impressions of her new husband are, perhaps fortunately, not recorded; he cannot have been a pretty sight. But it is significant that he immediately renamed her Theodora. The two then settled in Phanagoria, at the entrance to the Sea of Azov, to await developments.
Their married life was soon interrupted. Clearly it was only a matter of time before the exiled Emperor's whereabouts became known in Constantinople, and at some point in 704 one of Theodora's handmaidens brought her the news that an imperial envoy had arrived at her brother's court, offering rich rewards for Justinian, dead or alive. Ibuzir, it appeared, had stood firm at first, but as the envoy's tone became
1 The Pope had hated it, and had complained bitterly about the living conditions. He even wrote to his friends asking them to send him bread, 'which is talked of, but has never been seen".
threatening he had slowly weakened; his brother-in-law was now in imminent danger of his life.
This report was confirmed a few days later when a detachment of soldiers suddenly appeared at Phanagoria, purporting to be a newly formed bodyguard. Justinian did not believe them for a moment. He soon singled out two officers as his potential assassins. Before they could strike, he invited them separately to his house; and then, as they entered, he leapt upon them and strangled them with his own hands. The immediate danger was averted; but there was still no time to be lost. Theodora, now heavily pregnant, had no choice but to return to her brother; Justinian himself slipped down to the harbour, commandeered - or, more probably, stole - a fishing-boat and sailed off into the night, back round the Crimean coast to Cherson. In doing so he was aware that he was risking his life; he was well known throughout the city, disguise - for him of all people - was impossible, and the authorities would never allow him to escape a second time. Somehow, however, he managed to contact his supporters and to summon them to a secret rendezvous -whence they all set sail together under cover of night, westward across the Black Sea.
The story is told of how, on their journey, their frail vessel was caught in a fearful tempest; and of how one of their number suggested to the Emperor that the divine anger might be assuaged by a promise that, if he regained his throne, he would spare all those who had formerly opposed him. Justinian's reaction had been entirely characteristic: 'If I spare a single one of them,' he had replied, 'may I be drowned on this instant.' Nothing happened; the storm subsided; and the little boat was carried safely to the Bulgar-held lands around the Danube delta.
The Bulgar King Tervel received Justinian as warmly as had the Khagan of the Khazars a year or two before, and readily agreed to his proposal: that he should provide all the military assistance necessary for the Emperor to regain his throne, in return for the title of Caesar and the hand of his daughter1 in marriage. Thus it was that in the spring of 705 the exiled Emperor appeared, at the head of an army of Slavs and Bulgars, before the walls of Constantinople. For three days he waited, while his peremptory demands for the gates to be opened to him were answered with derisive insults; then he took action. During those three days, his scouts had discovered an old water conduit, long disused, running beneath the walls into the city. On the night of the third day, accompanied only by a few picked volunteers, he managed to squeeze
1 The child of his first wife Eudocia, who had died young.
himself along it, finally emerging just outside the Palace of Blachernae at the northern extremity of the walls. The sleeping guards were taken by surprise, and within a few minutes the building was his. When the word spread the next morning that the Emperor had returned and had taken possession of his palace, Tiberius fled to Bithynia; and the citizens of Constantinople, faced with the alternatives of surrender or the immediate sack of their city at the hands of the barbarian hordes, very wisely chose the former.
If the Emperor had indeed sworn that fearful oath during his crossing of the Black Sea, those who had accompanied him would have had good cause to remember it in the days that followed. Tiberius himself was soon captured, and his predecessor Leontius was dragged, protesting, from his monastery; then, on 15 February 706, the two were paraded in chains through the city to the Hippodrome - just as Justinian had been ten years before - while their erstwhile subjects hurled abuse and pelted them with ordure. The prescribed circuit complete, they were flung down before the Emperor, who symbolically planted one purple-booted foot on the neck of each while the crowd chanted the Ninety-First Psalm, verse thirteen of which had seemed particularly appropriate:
Thou hast trodden on the asp and the basilisk:
The lion and the dragon hast thou trampled underfoot.1
Then they were taken away to the place of execution, where their heads were severed from their shoulders.
Meanwhile the Bulgar army was waiting at the gates. Not without difficulty had Tervel restrained his men from bursting into the city and giving themselves over to the rapine and looting to which they had been eagerly looking forward; and Justinian was well aware that his new ally would not lead them home before claiming his reward. Of the projected marriage of Tervel to his daughter nothing more is heard; since the chroniclers make no further mention of the girl herself, we can only conclude that she had followed her mother to an early grave. But the other half of the bargain was inescapable; and so it was that shortly after his return, in an impressive ceremony held before a vast concourse of spectators, he draped a purple robe across the shoulders of the Bulgar King, seated him at his side and formally proclaimed him Caesar. Many of those present were horrified: here was the highestetitle after that of the Emperor himself, one which had hitherto been invariably reserved
1 The point here is the play on words: 'the lion' is Lcontius, 'the asp’ Apsimar. (The English Authorized Version prefers 'adder' to 'asp', which rather spoils the joke - such as it is.)
for senior members of the imperial family; must they now be obliged to watch in silence while it was conferred not even on a citizen of the Empire, but on a barbarian brigand? Yes, was the short answer: they were. All too soon it was to be made plain to them that their Basileus was no respecter of tradition; and that whatever they felt about his decisions, they would do well to keep their opinions to themselves.
For now came the Terror: an orgy of blood-letting worse even than that initiated by Phocas a century before. As Paul the Deacon1 unpleasantly put it (in a snide reference to the Emperor's noselessness), 'as often as he wiped away the drops of rheum from his nostrils, almost as often did he order another one of those who had opposed him to be slain.' Tiberius's brother Heraclius - the best general in the Empire, a brilliant soldier whom Justinian could ill afford to lose - was hanged with all his staff officers on a row of gibbets erected along the Land Walls; others were tied up in weighted sacks and thrown into the sea. Patriarch Callinicus, who had crowned both the usurpers, was blinded and exiled to Rome - as a warning, it was murmured, to Pope John VII if he did not ratify the Quinisextum - and the countless other cases of torture and mutilation were by no means confined to those who had opposed Justinian in the past. To his contemporaries only one explanation was possible; the Emperor was mentally unhinged. By now he seemed totally oblivious of state affairs, or of the ever-worsening situation along the imperial borders. He wanted only two things. The first was blood - and if that blood were the life-blood of the Empire itself, he cared not a jot. The other was his wife.
It was two years now since he had seen her; he may not even have known whether she and her baby were dead or alive. Nor could he be certain that her brother would allow her to leave his court. In the event, however, he need not have worried. On hearing of the Emperor's reinstatement the Khagan Ibuzir had repented of his former faithlessness; he was now eager to resume their former friendship and to enjoy the perquisites of an imperial brother-in-law. Theodora arrived safely in Constantinople with her little boy - named, rather unfortunately, Tiberius - the first foreign-born Empress ever to ascend the throne of Byzantium. Justinian was at the quayside to greet them; and now the watching crowd gasped again as the truth slowly dawned: this ogre who was their Emperor, this monster of inhumanity who seemed to breathe only bitterness and hatred, was in love. Inevitably, there were those who shook their heads as they watched the Emperor lower the diadems on to
1 Historia Langobardorum, VI, xxxii.
the heads of his wife and son in St Sophia. The woman was, after all, not just a foreigner - though that would have been bad enough. She was a barbarian to boot - and her son, whom Justinian had named co-Emperor at the same time, was half-barbarian too.Mesalliances of this kind, they whispered, would have been unthinkable in former times.
But then, so would an Emperor without a nose. Such old-fashioned prejudices were no longer acceptable in Justinian's Constantinople. It was significant that he had not cut the noses of either of the upstart pretenders; having proved by his own example that an Emperor could be an Emperor whether he possessed a nose or not, there was simply no point in doing so. The only way to make sure that they would cause no further trouble was to eliminate them completely - which was what he had done. In consequence of this, the abominable practice of rhinokopia, as it was called, is hardly ever heard of again. By the same token, Theodora the Khazar was only the first of many Empresses born beyond the furthest confines of the Empire.
The Byzantium of the eighth century would be, in short, a very different place from the Byzantium of the seventh; and for that difference Justinian II was, for all his violence and his brutality, to be very largely responsible.
Justinian's elevation of Tervel was not his only attempt to improve relations with his neighbours. Soon after his restoration he liberated 6,000 Arab prisoners of war taken by his two predecessors; and a year or two later he sent the Caliph Walid I a vast quantity of gold, a team of skilled workmen and a huge consignment of mosaic tesserae for the embellishment of the great Mosque of Medina, then a-building. In return, Walid is said to have bestowed on him a whole 'houseful' of pepper, valued at 20,000 dinars.
But alas, no amount of extravagant gestures could keep the peace for very long on the imperial borders. Justinian's neighbours to both east and west soon realized that by his wholesale purges he had eliminated all his best officers, and they were not slow to take advantage of the fact. In 708 the Byzantines suffered a serious defeat at the hands of certain Bulgar tribes (who were, however, almost certainly not subject to Tervel) at Anchialos near the mouth of the Danube; and in 709 they sustained an even graver blow: the loss of the key stronghold of Tyana in Cappadocia to the Arabs, whose victory was to encourage them to make further and still deeper incursions into imperial territory.
That same year, 709, saw another incident far more damaging to Justinian's reputation than the loss of any number of fortresses. This was his punitive expedition against Ravenna. His motives remain a mystery. True, the city had defied him when he had tried to lay hands on Pope Sergius; but that was seventeen years before, and even his own ten-year exile is not quite enough to explain the delay. Our most vivid authority for this episode, a ninth-century Ravennate named Agnellus, suggests that it was certain of his fellow-citizens who had been responsible for the Emperor's rhinokopia;but this sounds even more unlikely.
There remains, however, a third possibility: that Ravenna was showing disturbing signs of rebelliousness towards Rome. Relations between the two were never entirely easy: as capital of the Exarchate, Ravenna always claimed a degree of ecclesiastical autonomy; she tended to resent Roman supremacy and, in particular, the special oath of obedience that all her archbishops, on their appointment, were required to swear to the Pope. Normally this resentment was allowed to smoulder quietly, doing little real harm; in 708,however, the new archbishop, Felix by name, categorically refused to sign the necessary undertaking. There followed a furious altercation, and it is this which may have persuaded the Emperor - or at least provided him with an excuse - to take the action he did. In the spring of 709 he sent a fleet to Ravenna under a certain Patrician named Theodore, with instructions to invite all the local dignitaries to a banquet in his name. Unsuspectingly, they presented themselves on the appointed day; whereupon they found themselves seized, fettered, loaded on to a ship and carried off to Constantinople, while Theodore's troops sacked and looted their city. On their arrival they were led before Justinian - seated, Agnellus tells us, on a throne of gold and emeralds and wearing a pearl-encrusted diadem fashioned for him by the Empress with her own hands - who unhesitatingly sentenced them to death. Only one life would he spare: that of the archbishop, in consequence of an admonitory dream that he had had the night before. Felix's sentence was commuted to one of blinding,1 after which he was exiled to Pontus. Only after Justinian's death was he permitted to return to his see.
In Ravenna, Justinian's action proved predictably disastrous. The smouldering discontent flared up - as well it might - into open insurrection,
1 The method employed was an interesting one: a huge silver dish was heated till it was red hot, after which 'the strongest vinegar' was poured over it. The Patriarch was obliged to stare directly into it for a long time, thereby utterly destroying his sight (Agnellus, p. 169).
followed by a campaign of civil disobedience which was to prove a source of considerable anxiety to succeeding Exarchs in the years to come. In Rome, by contrast, it seems hardly to have been noticed. Any Pope worthy of his tiara could have been expected to protest - and protest vociferously - at such outrageous treatment of his flock, and in particular of a consecrated prelate, insubordinate or not; from Pope Constantine I, however, there came not a word of remonstration. Subsequent events were to reveal why: at long last, Emperor and Pope together were hoping to solve the vexed question of the Quinisextum.
All through Justinian's exile, the 102 Canons approved by his Synod had remained without papal endorsement; and one of his first acts on his return had been to send two metropolitan bishops to the Pope (then John VII) suggesting that he give his approval at least to those Canons to which he had no objection. It was a reasonable enough request -especially coming from an autocrat like Justinian - but not, apparently, reasonable enough for the Pontiff, who refused his assent to the lot. The consequent stalemate might have continued indefinitely, had not John died in 707. His second successor - the first, an elderly Syrian called Sisinnius, reigned only three weeks before expiring in his turn - fortunately proved better disposed. This was Constantine, another Syrian, who in 710 accepted Justinian's invitation to come himself to the capital and settle matters once and for all.
Constantine arrived with a numerous retinue in the early spring of 711. Having travelled the last leg of the journey by land, he was met at the seventh milestone by an impressive delegation headed by the Patriarch and the co-Emperor Tiberius, Justinian's son, now aged six. Richly caparisoned horses with harnesses, of gold were put at their disposal, and the combined party made its formal entry into the city by the Golden Gate, before proceeding down the Mese to the Palace of Placidia, which had once again been made ready for a papal visitor. The Emperor, oddly enough, was not in the capital to greet his guest, being away in Nicaea; but he sent a cordial letter of welcome, suggesting that the two might meet at the half-way point of Nicomedia. Whether or not this was an attempt to gain a tactical advantage by forcing Constantine to come out to meet him must be a matter of conjecture; at all events the Pontiff willingly agreed - and was rewarded, when the meeting took place a day or two later, by the sight of Justinian, in full regalia including the imperial diadem, prostrating himself to kiss his foot. On the following Sunday the Basileus received the sacrament at the papal hands and sought general absolution for his sins; the two then returned together to Constantinople, where their discussions began.
Of the agreement that resulted, our knowledge is sadly sketchy: our two Greek sources obviously take no interest in the Western Church, while the author of the Liber Pontificalis dwells delightedly on the details of the Pope's reception and the ceremonies arranged in his honour, to the virtual exclusion of the theological and liturgical issues involved. All that can be said with any certainty is that concessions were made on both sides; that the Pope finally approved about half the Canons, on the understanding that the Emperor would drop the rest; that the two parted amicably, with Justinian 'renewing all the privileges of the Church' -whatever that might mean; and that the papal mission returned safely to Rome in October, just a year after it had set out.
It might have been expected - and, by the majority of his subjects, must devoutly have been hoped - that the Emperor, seeing the fury of the insurrection that had followed his punitive expedition to Ravenna, would have decided against any further adventures of the same kind. But Justinian was ever unpredictable, and early in 711 - it must have been just about the time he was conferring with the Pope - he struck again, this time against his former place of exile, Cherson in the Crimea. As with Ravenna, his reasons are hard to analyse. According to both Nicephorus and Theophanes, he was impelled solely by the desire to take vengeance on a city which had sought to surrender him to the usurping Emperor Tiberius; but if so, why did he wait six years after his reinstatement? There is, fortunately, another, more plausible, possibility. Some time after his departure from the Crimea, his brother-in-law the Khagan of the Khazars seems to have advanced to Cherson and - if he did not actually conquer the city - to have established a presence there in the person of a Khazar Tudun, or Governor. It may therefore have been this technical infringement of the imperial frontier - or at least of the Byzantine sphere of influence - that caused the Emperor to act as he did; in this event, his wrath would have been directed primarily at the Khazars rather than against the native inhabitants of the city.
Whatever his motives, his expeditionary force - which is reported to have numbered 100,000 men, though this is almost certainly an exaggeration - achieved its object well enough. Seven of the leading citizens were roasted alive, countless others were drowned in the approved manner (with weights attached) and some thirty - including the Tudun and the Greek mayor, Zoilos - were sent, with their families, in chains to Constantinople. An imperial Governor named Elias was appointed in the place of the Tudun and settled in the city with a much-enlarged garrison. But when the Emperor came to summon his army home, disaster struck: one of those storms for which the Black Sea has always been famous arose without warning and engulfed the entire fleet. Precise figures must, as always, be treated with suspicion, but the casualties were estimated at 73,000.
At this point both our sources report that Justinian, on being brought news of the catastrophe, burst into peals of laughter. If so, the most charitable interpretation is that he had suffered an attack of acute hysteria; otherwise it is hard to escape the conclusion that he had in turn fallen victim to the family madness. Almost immediately, he announced his intention of sending out a second expedition; before he could do so, however, he was pre-empted by messengers bringing further disquieting news: a Khazar army had arrived in Cherson to defend the city from Byzantine attack. Worse still, the imperial Governor Elias and the entire garrison, finding themselves hopelessly outnumbered and in imminent danger of their lives, had deserted en masse to the enemy.
Insane or not, Justinian now took the only possible course - that of diplomacy. He released both the Tudun and the mayor and sent them back, with an escort of 300 soldiers, to resume their former positions. With them went his own Grand Logothete, George of Syria, with instructions to present the Emperor's sincere apologies to the Khagan for all that had occurred. He was then to ask for the surrender of Elias, together with that of a leading Byzantine exile, a general of Armenian extraction named Vardan - Hellenized to Bardanes - whom, probably rightly, he blamed for the Governor's treachery.
But the citizens of Cherson were in no mood for conciliation. The Logothete and his entourage were put to death on their arrival; the Tudun, with his 300-strong escort, was dispatched to the Khagan. Unfortunately he died on the way; and the Khazars, taking the view that he would probably need his escort just as much on his journey to the next world as he had in this one, killed the lot of them. Cherson and the other cities of the Crimea now formally announced that they no longer recognized Justinian as their Emperor. Instead, they gave their allegiance to Bardanes the Armenian exile — who, adopting the fine old Roman name of Philippicus, forthwith proclaimed himself Basileus. Henceforth it was open war.
Justinian's anger when these developments were tremblingly reported to him was fearful to behold. At once he prepared a new armament under the command of the Patrician Maurus, with orders to raze Cherson to the ground, leaving no living thing within its walls. Thanks to the huge siege engines that he had brought with him, Maurus actually succeeded in destroying two of the city's defensive towers; but now a further body of Khazar troops arrived and he had no option but to make terms. Having done so, however, he knew that he could never return and report his failure to Justinian; he asked to be brought before Philippicus, and fell on his knees before him. The die was cast; there was no point in waiting any longer. The Byzantine fleet and what remained of the army sailed back to Constantinople with the new Emperor at its head.
Justinian, meanwhile, had made the cardinal mistake of leaving his capital - not in flight (for he had as yet no idea of these last developments) but in order to put down some minor rising in Armenia. He never got there: the moment the news was brought to him that a third would-be usurper of his throne was on his way across the Black Sea, he turned and, 'roaring like a lion', made all possible speed back to his capital. But he was too late. Philippicus arrived first, and the people of Constantinople received him with open arms. Justinian was arrested at the twelfth milestone by a body of troops under the command of Elias -the same officer, in all probability, whom he had appointed Governor of Cherson only months before - who claimed the privilege of performing the execution himself, striking off his head with a single blow and sending it to the new Emperor as a trophy. Subsequently, we are told, it was exhibited in Rome and Ravenna. Meanwhile the headless corpse, denied the dignity of a Christian burial, was flung unceremoniously into the Marmara.
When the news of Justinian's death was carried back to Constantinople his mother, the Empress Anastasia, seized her little grandson Tiberius and hurried him off to sanctuary in the Church of the Virgin at Blachernae. No sooner had they arrived there, however, than two agents of Philippicus presented themselves and demanded that the Prince be given into their custody. The old Empress tried to plead with them, and one of them seemed disposed to listen; but while he did so his companion -whose name was John Strouthos, 'the Sparrow' - advanced upon the terrified child, who stood clinging to the altar with one hand and clutching a fragment of the True Cross in the other. No Byzantine could possibly ignore so holy an object, but Strouthos was not to be deflected from his mission. Wrenching the fragment from Tiberius's grasp, he reverently laid it upon the altar. Next he untied a box of other saintly relics from the Prince's neck and transferred it to his own. Only then did he drag his small prisoner to the porch of a neighbouring church, where he stripped him of his clothing and, in the chronicler's graphic words, 'slaughtered him like a sheep'. Thus, with the cold-blooded murder of a little boy of six, was the Heraclian line extinguished for ever.
Running in direct succession through five Emperors, that line constitutes the first true dynasty in Byzantine history. It had begun magnificently; it ended, 101 years later, in butchery and shame. Justinian II was not, it must be emphasized, the unmitigated disaster that has often been suggested. In his first reign especially, he worked as hard as any of his predecessors to strengthen the defences of the Empire, still further developing the Theme system and, where necessary, moving whole populations in order to establish military colonies in strategic areas. Similarly, his Farmers' Law - if it was indeed his - did much to free the agricultural peasantry from their former bondage to the landed aristocracy, giving them independence, self-respect and, in future generations, the readiness to defend their territory against all comers. He strove, also, to improve relations with his two most dangerous neighbours, the Arabs on one side and the Bulgars on the other; and if in this field he was ultimately less successful, the attempts were nevertheless surely worth making. Finally, he left the Empire on excellent terms with the Church of Rome, living to receive the Pope as an honoured guest in his capital -the last elected Pontiff to set foot in the city for twelve and a half centuries.1
Such a record is far from contemptible, even if we leave aside the extraordinary courage and determination displayed by Justinian when, after nearly a decade of exile and horribly disfigured, he made his way back from the Crimea to reclaim his throne. Yet no amount of pleading can excuse the atrocities for which he was responsible nor diminish the incalculable number of his subjects, the majority of them completely innocent, who were put to death at his command. It has been plausibly suggested that the uncontrolled violence of his nature can be explained, at least in part, by the mutilation that he himself had suffered and the hideous - and humiliating - face which he was ever afterward obliged to present to the world: a face which can have been but little improved by the artificial nose of solid gold which he is said to have worn in his later years. That may be an explanation, but it is in no sense an excuse; it would certainly have been of small comfort to his victims and their
1 The next occasion was to be the visit by Pope Paul VI to Istanbul on 25 July 1967.
families, and it could not in any sense mitigate his conduct during his first reign which, though less unbridled than the second, was still intolerable enough to provoke a revolution.
His subjects, in short, were well rid of him. We may feel sympathy for his mother, Anastasia, who is said to have once been whipped by Stephen the Sacellarius without her son's lifting a finger in her defence or taking any punitive action afterwards; for his wife Theodora, of whose fate we know nothing but who was probably with her husband - since she was clearly not with her son - when the end came; and above all for his son: poor, frightened Tiberius, murdered for no good reason shortly before his seventh birthday. Justinian, on the other hand, was forty-two when he died; and of him it can only be said that his death, on 4 November 711, came not a moment too soon.