Heraclius or Flavius Heraclius Augustus was a Byzantine Emperor. He ruled the Eastern Roman Empire during the first half of the seventh century. He along with his father Heraclius the Elder, Exarch (governor) of Africa led a campaign against the unpopular and despotic Byzantine Emperor, Phocas.
His reign was marred by chaotic military campaigns against Persians and later Arab Muslims from Arabian Peninsula. He is credited with improving the royal administration in Eastern Empire and introducing Greek as the official language of Byzantine Empire. He is however; remembered for his failure to save important territories like Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia from going into Arab hands.
Early Life: Heraclius was born in 575 in Cappadocia (present day Turkey). He belonged to an Armenian family. His father Heraclius the Elder was in the army of Emperor Maurice, which defeated Sassanid army in 590. For his role in the victory, Heraclius the Elder was appointed Exarch of Africa by Emperor Maurice.
Heraclius’ mother’s name was Epiphania, who was also of Armenian descent. He was trained in military arts right from an early age. In 602, Phocus deposed Emperor Maurice and took over as Byzantine Emperor. Heraclius the Elder also pledged allegiance to Phocas. In 608, Heraclius the Elder relinquished his loyalty to Phocas and started a military campaign against him. Heraclius joined his father in the cause. His cousin, Nicetas launched an attack on Egypt simultaneously and invaded it by 609.
Heraclius sailed through Sicily and Cyprus and reached Constantinople. In 610, he entered the city as victor and deposed Phocas. Heraclius executed his incompetent predecessor with his own hands in a fit of rage. He then assumed the mantle of Eastern Roman Emperor on October 5, 610.
Reign: Right from the very beginning, Heraclius’ reign was faced with disturbances and military campaigns. His immediate problem was the ongoing Byzantine-Sassanid war. Persians invaded Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia. By 617, they reached the outskirts of Constantinople. The Eastern Empire was at the verge of collapse.
Heraclius sued for peace and agreed to pay a hefty tribute to the Persians in exchange for peace. In 622, he re-organized his forces and launched his counter offensive military campaign against Persians. He took back Armenia first and then in 624, he defeated a strong Persian army to take further territories in Caucus. However, Heraclius lost Cartagena, an important city in Western Byzantine, to Visigoths the same year.
Heraclius however; continued his campaign against Persians and secured a major victory against them in 627 at Battle of Nineveh. In 629, he restored The True Cross in Jerusalem. This victory was hailed as his greatest. The long standing feud with Persians ended with terrible defeat for Persians but it also weakened the Eastern Empire as well.
By 629, the nomadic Arab tribes had united under Islam and had become a force to reckon with under the command of Prophet Muhammad. Arab forces launched large scale attacks against Byzantine territories in 630. They invaded vast tracts of eastern territories and finally inflicted a crushing defeat upon Byzantine forces in Battle of Yarmouk in 636. Muslim forces had annexed Syria, Palestine, Armenia and Egypt by the time Heraclius died in 641.
Later Life and Death: Heraclius was troubled by frail health during his last years. It is contended that he suffered from an enlarged prostate gland. He married twice. Heraclius’ first wife was Fabia Eudokia who died in 612.
Heraclius then married his niece Martina, with whom he had nine children. He was succeeded by his sons, Constantine III and Heraklonas.