The Eternal Empire: Emperor Maurice dies before being overthrown

Part 1: Emperor Theodosius III
Yes, another Byzantine TL. But hopefully approached from at least a semi-original angle. I'm trying to mimic more of a podcast type tone, in particular the History of Byzantium podcast by Robin Pierson. Don't hold that against him though, as his work is better than mine. So anyway, here's my first attempt at a TL I've posted on here:

Part I: Emperor Theodosius​

…And so when the army’s mutinous letter arrived, demanding the abdication of Maurice and the elevation of either Theodosius or Germanus as the new Emperor they discovered to their great delight that the now over sixty-year old Emperor had recently falled ill, and died before they had reached the capital. The disgruntled soldiers presented their grievances to the now Emperor Theodosius, who made promises of better treatment and ascension bonuses. Most importantly however, he ordered the army to return south of the Hemus mountains and remain in Roman territory over the winter.

Theodosius did all of this because he was looking east rather than north. His father might have secured Khosrow II as an ally, but that did not mean the Persian king would not attempt to assert his own authority now that Maurice was dead. But in this Theodosius worried for nothing. It would not be another decade until Khosrow made a move at overturning Roman hegemony. But we will discuss that topic later.

For now our attention must turn back to the West, where the army was set to the task of settling Armenian settlers into the depopulated parts of the Balkans, and ensuring the new Slavic migrants were on their best behavior. Roman troops also maintained their vigil against the Avars, but for now this was unnecessary.

The Avars had turned their own attention Westwards toward the Franks and the Lombards, and in a major battle in Verona a Lombard army was virtually annihilated. This victory secured the Avar khan a significant amount of treasure and a position that had been shaken badly by the Roman victories of prior years. Subsequently the Avars dealt a second defeat to the Lombards, including killing Agilulf, the Lombard king, and much of his nobility. The Lombards failed to elect a replacement king even with the Avar threat on their doorstep, and were a badly divided people. Temperorary measures put a king who’s name is lost to time in place after several months, and he dealt a minor defeat to the Avar khan, but was subsequently defeated near Milan. The Avars withdrew at the end of the year, taking a great deal of plunder and captives with them.

As soon as they withdrew the Lombard king was assassinated, and the surviving chieftains turned on one another in a civil war that would last the better part of the next decade.

While the Avars looked west Theodosius had made contact with Slavic leaders among the new migrants, and recruited many of them to act as envoys to their people who remained under Avar control. Sending these men north with gold he did his best to woo the Slavs to his side rather than the Avars. More importantly however, Roman diplomats used these channels to contact a more powerful tribe that the Avars had subjugated, the Bulgars. The Bulgars were a people from near the Black Sea who had long been dominated by Turkic tribes in the region, but as the power of those tribes had declined found themselves dominated by the Avars in the late 500s. The Bulgars were still the strongest of the Avar dominated tribes, and were willing to listen to Roman offers of friendship and support should the Bulgar khan turn on his overlords.

Flush with their victories in Italy the Avars turned their attention back toward the Romans, and invaded again in 608. Theodosius, now firmly entrenched in power sent his father-in-law Germanus to command the Roman field army in the Balkans against the attack. The Avars broke through the Roman fortresses along the Danube and advanced toward Thessaloniki once again.

The Roman army was slightly outnumbered on paper, but their diplomatic efforts paid off greatly when the Bulgar forces among the Avar army sent private emissaries to Germanus, indicating a willingness to switch sides. Germanus paid them off and sent similar gifts to the Slavic chiefs the Empire had been courting, securing their alliance as well.

Knowing how the battle would be lined up Germanus left only a token force on the Avar right, where the Bulgars and Slavs had assembled, concentrating all of his heavy cavalry on his own right, the Avar left. His heavy infantry was placed firmly in the center to act as the anvil of the battle.

The subsequent fight was a slaughter. As agreed the Bulgars and Slavs turned on their overlords as fighting commenced, ravaging the unsuspecting Avar flank and rear with arrows and charges. This had the effect of driving the Avar center forward and to the left, directly into the attacking Roman cavalry. Disorder set in among the Avars, and those who could escaped, but most were trapped inside the tightening noose of Germanus. The Roman Center held firm, allowing the Avars to be smashed against their shields and lances.

Firm numbers are of course impossible to come by, but the Avar khan was captured, as were thousands of his people, and dozens of nobles. Many captives were given to the Bulgars and Slavs who withdrew North of the Danube, where the Bulgars would subsequently destroy the Avar Khanate over the next few years. Eventually the Bulgars would set up their own kingdom in what had been Avar territory, settling near the Carpates mountains, and giving the modern region of Bulgari its modern name.

The Khan himself was put in chains alongside many of his remaining men and taken back to Constantinople, where they were paraded through the city and into the Circus Maximus. There are two versions of what happened next. In the first version, Theodosius had one eye of each Avar captive put out. Then he made them draw lots to determine whether he would remove their second eye or right hand. They were then unceremoniously thrown from the city and left to wander their way back home.

This is almost certainly a fabrication of later authors. The story does not appear until the early 1300s, and was a clear reference to Constantine X’s famous treatment of the survivors of the attempt to capture Constantinople half a century before. More likely is the second explanation, in which Theodosius had the Khan publicly executed and then had his body thrown into the Hellespont. The men were sold into slavery.

Regardless of which is true however, the Avar threat, and indeed any threat from the North was over. The Bulgars would remain north of the Danube for most of the century consolidating their new domain and raiding into the easier territory of the Franks, who were currently embroiled in one of their frequent civil wars. Theodosius’s successors would pay for peace with the Bulgars, which the khans were more than willing to accept.

With the Balkans secured, the Lombards in chaos, and the Persians still quiet Theodosius settled into what he hoped would be a long and peaceful reign. This time of peace was critical for what was coming. Over the previous decades war had drained the treasury once again, and while the Empire was not quite broke, it was becoming more and more difficult to pay the army on time and in full. Without the need to send soldiers out campaigning each year Theodosius saved money by stationing soldiers who were in the more devastated regions of the Balkans to setting up new farms and settlements, from which the soldiers could extract additional money.

As land was still something many soldiers dreamed of on retirement this quieted most of the grumblings about pay. This system would directly provide the foundation for the theme systems which would eventually come to infuse Anatolia and Egypt in the coming centuries. Well, maybe. There is some debate about whether Theodosius did any such thing. Certainly, some historians have argued that the army Theodosius inherited had already mutinied more than once over money, and likely wouldn’t have taken any cut in pay peacefully, suggesting instead that he had simply settled retired soldiers in the region, a long-standing Roman practice. Regardless of which interpretation is true, these new communities were in place, and expenses did decrease.

Eventually of course the Bulgars would become one of the empire’s most intractable opponents, and the Lombards would regroup. But until then Theodosius had bought nearly fifty years of peace for the Western parts of the Empire. This time would allow Italy in particular to recover from the near century of war that had ravaged the peninsula. The Lombards remained in control of the North, save for Roman holdout cities, but they would not be in a position to challenge Roman control south of the Tiber for many years.

At home Theodosius continued his father’s policy of tolerance toward the Monophosites, and cultivated better relations with the Pope in Italy. Much of his success in that area can be directly traced to the Lombards being distracted by their own internal affairs rather than the Emperor’s own actions however.

We know little of the rest of his domestic policies however. The economic problems that were present in the early years of Theodosius’s reign prevented any great architectural work, and the two wars that would define the end of his reign left little time or money for such things in the Emperor’s final years. Whatever these were Theodosius prevented the state from falling into bankruptcy, secured the Balkans to a greater extent than they had been in the past century, and even built up a reserve of gold for future emergencies. Emergencies that were rapidly approaching.

With the aid of his father’s old advisors Theodosius was turning out to be a decent emperor. Not great, but certainly not a tyrant or a madman. Unfortunately, much was about to change.

When Maurice had died his will had technically split the Empire between his heirs. While Theodosius would retain primacy of power his younger brothers were supposed to have received territories as well. But Theodosius had taken one look at this plan and disinherited his brothers. Not publically of course, but they had been underage on his ascension, and so he had been able to claim to be stewarding their territories. Now though Tiberius was a man, and Petrus was approaching his maturity as well. And both were agitating for control over their own realms of the Empire.

Finally, in 614 a plot was uncovered by Theodosius to have him killed and have his younger brothers split the Empire. In a rage the Emperor ordered his siblings seized, and ordered Tiberius himself killed. When Theodosius’s soldiers arrived however an overzealous soldier killed Tiberius and a younger brother named Paulus both, and in the subsequent struggle most of the rest of the Emperor’s siblings died. Only Petrus survived, and with the help of a eunuch he fled the palace, and eventually Constantinople and headed East. Initially, he likely planned to try and rally support in Syria, but the governor of Syria was Priscus, the general who had initially had such success against the Avars during the reign of Maurice.

Priscus had done well under the current Emperor, and had no interest in starting a rebellion. And so when his initial offers were rebuffed Petrus went further east to the his last hope for aid, the Sassanids. Khosrow took Petrus in eagerly, as the Persian King was looking for an excuse to go to war with the Romans, as a means of restoring his legitimacy if nothing else. But beyond that, Khosrow wanted nothing less than to conquer the entire territory of the Romans, and restore the old Achaemenid empire in its entirety, and if he could also to push on and secure the Roman territories as well.

In early 615 the Persians stormed out of their lands and in the south besieged Dara, while another, smaller force smashed through Roman Armenia and were soon besieging the key city of Theodosiopolis.

The Last Roman/Persian War had begun.
 
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Part 2: The Last Persian War
Part II: The Last Persian War​

Priscus responded rapidly to the siege of Dara, marching a field army out of Antioch and gathering forces along the way. He also called on the army of Mesopotamia under Narses to meet him, and Narses complied. This force totaled perhaps thirty thousand men, and met the Persians near Dara a month into the siege.

Priscus’s army was smaller than the Persian force, but the more professional Roman troops were, he hoped enough to give him the advantage. The Persian cavalry however outmatched their Roman foes and drove off their counterparts after an extended battle, and turned on the Roman infantry. The Romans held their ground however and fought the Persians to a standstill until nightfall. Both armies withdrew and prepared for the next day’s fighting. Priscus’s cavalry returned, but it was clear that victory was unlikely. Priscus withdrew the next day.

While Khosrow sent token forces after the Roman general, he did not pursue himself, staying behind to accept the surrender of Dara before turning and marching on Amida. That city gave up without a fight, and Khosrow then marched on Edessa. Narses fled, as his own army had gone to Antioch with Priscus during the retreat. After a siege Edessa fell, leading to widespread shock in the Roman world. It had been widely believed that Christ would never allow the city to fall, but now it had. In Constantinople Theodosius was forced to take large numbers of troops from the Balkans, Italy, and Africa and dispatch them to reinforce his eastern possessions. He sent the son of the Exarch of Africa, Heraclius north to relieve Theodosiopolis. The Emperor himself took a larger force toward Syria.

Priscus, considering his situation carefully had come to the conclusion it was untenable. Khosrow had reinforced his positions in Mesopotamia thoroughly, and was leading a significantly larger army toward Antioch. With no hope of victory in the field, and wanting to avoid the loss of his entire force should he be trapped in a siege the Imperial army retreated from Antioch to Tarsus, leaving behind a garrison large enough to hold the city until help could come. It would not come in time however and Khosrow took Antioch in early 616.

Thinking victory was in his grasp Khosrow pursued, missing the news that Heraclius, who war from the Caucuses and had many conncetions to the region and surrounding areas, in the north had smashed his invasion force of Armenia and had retaken all of the territory up to Lake Van. The general had then advanced past Roman Armenia and launched an invasion of Sassanid territory, looting the Persian countryside along the way.

None of this was known yet however, and Khosrow reached Priscus near the city of Adana, and a major battle was fought. This time the Roman cavalry managed to hold their Sassanid counterparts, leaving the battle as a bloody stalemate. When the sun set nearly ten thousand men on both sides were dead, and neither had been driven from the field. The next day however Persian reinforcements arrived, and Priscus retreated again.

He withdrew past the Cilician gates. It was here that he finally met the Emperor’s advancing army. Theodosius gave overall command to his father-in-law, Germanus who determined that Khosrow would soon be advancing again. But the Persian king was not aware the Priscus had been reinforced, and so Germanus laid a trap for him.

He set an ambush in the mountains around the Cilician gates, setting up Priscus’s force across a pass, and laying the Emperor’s troops in the terrain above. When the Persian king arrived, he found what appeared to be Priscus’s army fortified in a good position, ready to make a stand. Knowing he outnumbered the Roman general Khosrow arrayed his men so that the heaviest troops were on the flanks of his army, to smash the Roman wings and rout the center. The battle began well enough, with the Roman forces on either flanks being driven back by the heavily armed and armored Daylam infantry Khosrow had raised for his war. But at a signal Germanus called the men in hiding to emerge, and the fell upon the flanks of the Persian forces. The tables turned Khosrow ordered his cavalry in to salvage the battle, but after a fierce battle the Persian cavalry was routed by the combination of Roman cavalry and the advancing infantry. Khosrow ordered a retreat before his force could be destroyed.

But he left twenty-five thousand men dead or captured on the field. The Persians withdrew from Antioch and other captured cities, taking their garrisons with them. Khosrow settled into Edessa to await reinforcements when he received far worse news. Heraclius had advanced out of the Caucuses and was advancing toward Dastgird.

The loss of the city would be a complete disaster for the Sassanids. Not only would it leave a major royal center of power under Roman control, but it would also leave the road to Ctesiphon wide open. Khosrow was forced to abandon Edessa as well and rush toward his capital. By the time he reached Nisibis he got the news that Dastgird was under siege.

Gathering an army of thirty thousand Khosrow moved to block the path onward.

Behind the Persian King the Roman army was sweeping out of Antioch, retaking all of the territory lost in the initial stages of the war. They reached Dara near the end of 616 and settled in for a siege of Nisibis, using the promise of spoils from the city to keep the troops on campaign through the winter. Khosrow meanwhile had reached Ctesiphon and then marched out to meet Heraclius’s army to the north.

They arrived two days after the city had surrendered. The Romans had plundered the city of its wealth, and had set up camp outside the city in preparation to move south. But Khosrow’s advance had changed that, and now Heraclius prepared for a full battle.

The Roman army had been strengthened by a force of Gokturks from north of the Caucuses whom Heraclius had had dealings with in the past, and who had sent a force of nearly twenty-thousand after the promise of Roman gold and plunder from the war. In a sign of magnanimity Heraclius had already granted their khans much of the treasure taken at Dastgird, and the soldiers had been preparing to withdraw back to their homes with their prizes when the prospect of capturing the Persian king himself, the greatest prize of all, had presented itself. And so, Heraclius was able to convince the Gokturks to stay, if only for a few more days.

This force would be critical, as Heraclius’s force of fifteen thousand would have been completely outmatched by Khosrow’s army otherwise. Heraclius’s Roman forces were virtually all infantry, as the Emperor had taken the cavalry with his own army. Most of this infantry was arrayed at the center of the Roman line, with the ten thousand Gokturks on either wing. Heraclius had also peeled off five thousand of his infantry, and posted twenty-five hundred behind the Gokturk lines, with spacing to allow the horsemen to move between them. The Persians however, could not see these hidden lines of Roman infantry.

The Sassanids had separated their army into three equal components, with ten thousand in the center and on each flank. When battle was joined the Gokturks rode ahead and began pelting the Sassanid forces with arrows and javelins, beginning a full scale battle between these men and the Aswaran who made up the Sassanid cavalry.

The Roman center held firm against the Persian infantry, all of whom were of the lighter Paighan. On the flanks the Gokturks steadily gave ground before the heavier Aswaran, before finally performing a favorite trick of later nomadic groups, the feigned rout. Riding along pre-ordered lines the nomads fell back behind the Roman infantry, and the Persians collided with the wall of spears, shields, and axes without realized their mistake. The horses crashed into one another in the sudden stop, and the Gokturks circled back around, and turned their attention on the Sassanid archers who had been sheltered among the heavy cavalry. These forces were no match for their foes, and ran when they realized the situation. The Gokturkik khan kept his men under control, and whirled to hit the Aswaran from behind, killing many and taking even more prisoner. With their flanks in ruins the Persian infantry had seen enough, they threw down their weapons and fled the field. The remainder of the Persian cavalry followed, Khosrow among them. The Goturks pursued for a time, killing many more, but returned before the sun set for the division of spoils.

In total the Persians had lost nearly twenty-thousand men during the fighting. Of this the infantry had suffered some ten thousand losses, and ten thousand were from the cavalry. The loss of cavalry was by far the larger blow to the Sassanid Empire, as their horsemen were the greatest advantage enjoyed over the Romans in battle. Worse than the dead however were the captured, of whom there were three thousand of the Aswaran.

These were not Persian conscripts, they were the cream of the Sassanid army, the best of the best. They were made up high nobility, much as the Roman cavalry of the early Republic had been. Their capture was a disaster on the scale of Dastgird.

The war was effectively over.

But Khosrow wouldn’t admit it. He retreated back to Ctesiphon and ordered the bridges linking the city to the north be destroyed to stop Heraclius from taking the capital. His army however had been destroyed. Those who hadn’t been captured had scattered, returning to their homes rather than returning to their king to fight on.

From the West news came that Nisibis had given up after no help had come, and now Theodosius was personally marching on Ctesiphon as well, and later in 617 the Roman army had arrived. Theodosius led nearly forty thousand men, and laid siege to the Sassanid capital in June. From out of the north Heraclius meanwhile had pillaged the countryside of all he could, sent the Gokturks home with their plunder, and joined up with the Emperor.

The now fifty thousand strong Roman army stormed Ctesiphon in early July.

The city fell after a brutal three day battle, during which Khosrow was captured and Petrus, the brother of the Emperor committed suicide.

The Persian capital was sacked, and then burned before the Emperor withdrew. In retaliation for the war Theodosius deposed Khosrow and put his son Kavad on the throne. The following peace was effectively dictated to the Persians by the Emperor. Nisibis was forfeited to the Romans, as was all of the territory from Lake Van to the Caspian Sea. Most of this territory wasn’t directly Roman of course, but the small kingdoms there had been fought over by the two Empires for centuries, and now they were all under Roman domination. Furthermore, the Persians were forbidden to build any fortresses within fifty miles of the Roman border.

He extracted ransoms from most of Heraclius’s prisoners, and returned to Roman territory victorious. The treasures brought back from the East were vast, and when Theodosius returned to Constantinople he held a spectacular triumph for himself. At this triumph Khosrow was marched through the city in chains and beheaded for the crowd. It was an ignomonius end for the man who had been the King of Kings.

The war had been hard for both empires. Enormous amounts of treasure had been spent to keep the armies going, and the Romans had to send even more gold to the Bulgars in the north to keep them out of the Empire, and after it was over sent gifts to the Gokturks as reward for their aid in the war, and to keep the nomads out of the Caucuses. The Romans had gained total control the Caucuses, but this would be theoretical domination in many cases. The kings of the region were largely considered heretics by the religious authorities in Constantinople and in Rome, leading to conflict in the future.

With all of this in mind we must pause to ask why did Khosrow made such a horrible blunder. To answer this question there are three important facts to keep in mind. First, across the previous century the Sassanids and the Romans had often fought over the Eastern provinces, with Sassanid arms triumphing over the Romans on a fair number of occasions. Second, Khosrow believed that the Romans were divided between Theodosius and Petrus, and might be incited to civil war should early battles go against the Emperor. Theodosius himself certainly seemed to be aware of this risk as well, his stripping of the Balkans would be an army both to battle the Persians and also to deprive rebels at home of support should they attempt to overthrow him. Finally, Khosrow may have thought he had no choice. His legitimacy was extremely shaky, having been put on his throne by the hated Romans the king of kings struggled to secure support among the nobles of the Sassanid Empire, and taking advantage of Constantinople’s apparent division provided the best option for him to strike.

And it is also important to remember, Khosrow was likely not completely wrong. Had the Romans been divided it might have been years before a full response could be marched to face him. But in this his most important miscalculation occurred. Rather than being divided the Roman army were united behind Theodosius. Germanus was the Emperor’s father-in-law, Priscus and Narses had been granted important positions within the regime, and had no reason to turn on their Emperor. Of the major Roman generals who fought in the war only Heraclius had no direct tie to the Imperial Court, but he had no reason to support Petrus either, and so he stayed loyal.

All of this still may have been enough to see Persian victory if not for one key fact, the Danube was quiet. The Avars had been crushed at Thessaloniki, and both the Bulgars and Slavs were still friendly to the Romans. And so, when Theodosius desperately needed more soldiers to hold the East he could strip the Balkans to the bare minimum without fear of invasion from the north.

The Sassanids had always done best against the Romans when Imperial attention was divided. But when Constantinople could focus its attention the Persians did poorly.

The war was also effectively ended of the Sassanid Empire as a major power. While it would limp on for another few centuries its time as the great challenge to the Roman Empire was over. Kavad would be forced to fight a civil war for the next decade to secure his place on the throne, and when the Arabs came he would be driven behind the Zagros mountains, there to desperately cling to what remained of his territory, surviving on Roman gold and hoping that the Arabs were never able to turn their full attention east. The once great Empire was reduced to just another kingdom, and in time would become effectively just another Roman client state.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, Theodosius settled down to enjoy the peace and turn his attention to a problem that eventually loomed for all Emperors, succession.
 
Do they have the troops to garrison Mesopotamia? Besides, the Romans are a bit busy in Spain right now with their extra troops.
The conquest would pay for itself. Besides, Mesopotamia>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Spain. I think most veterans would rather settle in Mesopotamia than somewhere in Italy,Spain or the Balkans.
 
Why didn’t they conquer Mesopotamia?

Fears of overextension from needing to garrison the region. They've already gained the Caucuses, and holding Mesopotamia would take too many men and too much money. Its also a lot closer to the Persian heartland than to Roman power. And the fact that the Sassanids will never again be a threat to Constantinople is not apparent yet. While it might be a wealthy area, it would extend the Roman frontier too far, and the troops Theodorus brought into the East have to go back to the Balkans now that the war is over.

Besides, the Romans are a bit busy in Spain right now with their extra troops.

Also this. I'm planning to cover the declining situation in Spain next as well.
 
Fears of overextension from needing to garrison the region. They've already gained the Caucuses, and holding Mesopotamia would take too many men and too much money. Its also a lot closer to the Persian heartland than to Roman power. And the fact that the Sassanids will never again be a threat to Constantinople is not apparent yet. While it might be a wealthy area, it would extend the Roman frontier too far, and the troops Theodorus brought into the East have to go back to the Balkans now that the war is over.



Also this. I'm planning to cover the declining situation in Spain next as well.
What was the point of getting the Caucasus? Sure they are more defensible but at the same time it’s mostly mountain territory. Not a great place to farm and get tax revenues from.The Caucasian territories gained under Maurice should already be a fantastic frontier.
 
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What was the point of getting the Caucasus? Sure they are more defensible but at the same time it’s mostly mountain territory. Not a great place to farm and get tax revenues from.The Caucasian territories gained under Maurice should already be a fantastic frontier.
Several reasons. First of all, the kingdoms in the region had long been fought over by the Romans and the Persians. First the Parthians, then the Sassanids. This back and forth in the Caucuses was the cause of a lot of fighting. By securing the region completely for the Romans Theodorus aims to ensure that he both has a secure region from which he can launch further campaigns into Sassanid territory should it be necessary, and also to cease the quarrels over the kings of the region. If Rome simply is the hegemon of the Caucuses it will be harder for those kings to flip back and forth based on their ambitions and whims. The territory taken corresponds basically to Corduene, Albania, and the remainder of Armenia out to Lake Matianus or so.

Second, the Caucuses is an excellent source of soldiers for the Empire. Armenia was one of the Empire's prime recruiting grounds for men, alongside places like Isauria and Illyria. At this point in history the historians consistently point to Armenian soldiers as being the best in the Roman army. The scholarii for instance are specifically noted by Procopius to all be Armenian. By securing the entire region this source of soldiers will also be brought fully under Roman control, and recruitment can hopefully extend to the entire region.
 
I might be getting ahead of myself here depending on the date, but things in eastern Europe will be getting interesting soon. Ideally, the byzantines will be able to play the bulgars and avars off each other like they used to do with the gepids and ostrogoths, and if things play out similarly to OTL then it would also pay to sponsor Samo's kingdom/proto-great moravia to check frankish eastward expansion.


Also don't forget, byzantine emperors set religious policy in the empire, meaning that its very easy to start up a schism, especially when the Pope gets involed. Which he definitely will if it means advancing papal power
 
Without the Persian Occupation, it also means that the Miaphysites will continue to decline in Egypt, as Orthodoxy was rapidly gaining traction there until the Persian occupation restored the Miaphysite power.
 
Part 3: The Interwar Years
Part III: The Interwar Years​

With the Sassanids dealt with in the East we must turn our attention back to the West, specifically to the Roman province of Spania in southern Hispani. In the campaigns of Justinian the Emperor had conquered small parts of the Gothic kingdom, sometimes called the Visigoths, but due to the horrible overextension of the time had been unable to push onward. Since that time Spania had been a long neglected part of the Empire. It was theoretically part of the Exarchate of Africa, but was far away from the center of African power at Carthage, and Imperial attention had been constantly pulled East over the centuries in any case.

The province was small, consisting mostly of coastal towns and cities, centered around the provincial capital at Carthago Spartaria, the renamed city of Carthago Nova. As time had passed the province had shrunk as more cities and towns were retaken by the Goths. By any reasonable expectation Roman rule should have ended during the reign of Maurice, but Gothic incompetence at siegecraft, which would continue as the Gothic military declined over the centuries, had kept the fortified areas under the Romans safe. Nevertheless, by the reign of Theodosius the province had been reduced from territory as far north as Cordoba to only a thin strip of land along the coast.

Roman soldiers were in place to garrison these cities, but were stripped away as emergencies elsewhere caused the Emperors to decide that Spania was the less important concern.

This was once again the case in 616.

As part of his muster Theodosius had called on Africa to provide several thousand men for his Eastern campaign, and Exarch Heraclius, father of the general who had been so successful in the East stripped Spania of three quarters of its soldiers to help fill the Emperor’s call. He did this both to keep his own internal position in Carthage strong, but also to ensure as many soldiers as possible would be available to battle Moorish raiders should these forces threaten the far more wealthy province of Africa.

With the Roman garrisons virtually gone the Gothic king, Sisebut laid siege to Carthago Spartaria, and successfully took the city in 617. He held the city for some time, but when news of the Roman victories in the East came Sisebut ordered the city’s walls destroyed and the city itself burned so that it could not be retaken and used as a strongpoint by the Romans in future.

This decision proved to be prescient as the Emperor dispatched Heraclius along with the soldiers taken from Africa to stabilize Spania. Heraclius attempted a landing at the old capital, but was forced to change plans on seeing the destroyed city. Instead he departed for the second major city remaining under Roman control, Malaca. The Roman general had only a small force of twelve thousand men with him, a force of nine thousand infantry and three thousand cavalry. Arrayed against him was the entire military force that king Sisebut could raise from among his Goths.

Direct battle would have been hopeless, so instead Heraclius embarked on a Fabian policy toward the Goths. His soldiers raided Gothic towns and farms throughout late 618, before retiring behind the walls of Malaca for the winter. Four thousand reinforcements arrived when spring came, mostly Slavic mercenaries from north of the Danube, and Heraclius felt confident enough to engage in a battle. The Gothic forces were divided into two armies, one under King Sisebut, and a second, smaller force under the king’s brother-in-law Suintila.

No records remain of the battle that followed, but Heraclius would claim that the Goths were numbered some twenty thousand against his own force of fifteen thousand. Modern scholarship confirms the Roman numbers, but puts the Goths at closer to ten thousand. Whatever the real numbers, the Romans defeated and captured much of the Gothic army, including Suintila. The cost was heavy however, as Heraclius is thought to have lost five thousand men in the fighting, men who could not be replaced.

With part of the force opposing him defeated Heraclius returned to his strategy of raiding Gothic territory, both enriching himself and his soldiers, and sending portions of the plunder back to Constantinople for the Emperor. The rest of 619 passed without another major battle. Over the winter of 620 however the Roman general entered into talks with Suintila. It was clear that the Romans, while safe in their strongholds, could not reverse the gains that the Goths had made, nor were continuing to make. Heraclius’s raiding did little to slow Sisebut’s methodical envelopment of Spania.

Urci had fallen, and the Goths had taken all of the territory to its East over the year. Heraclius therefore turned to that old Roman cure-all, diplomacy. Suintila desired the throne of the Hispani, and was convinced to challenge Sisebut for the crown, with Roman backing. In December the Gothic general was allowed to escape and he set about gathering supporters who were tired of Sisebut’s rule, and who were suspicious of his attempts to force the Gothic nobles to accept his son Reccared as successor.

When Heraclius emerged from winter quarters in 620 he joined a Gothic force of fifteen thousand that Sisebut had raised, and marched on Toletum with them. Sisebut was put to siege inside his capital, and the Roman engineers did their work, breaching the walls in April. The combined force stormed the city, with the Roman soldiers plundering what they could before Heraclius ordered a halt to ensure the temporary allies would not have a falling out over the matter.

Sisebut took refuge inside a church, and was allowed to take monastic vows and be sent to Italy to live out life in a monastery rather than face death. Suintila granted Heraclius a golden plate that according to legend had been gifted to the Goths by the Roman general Aetius two centuries before. They then made peace, and Heraclius withdrew from Malaca.

Six months later, per secret terms of the treaty, Imperial agents left the gates of both Malaca and Asidona unlocked, and the Goths stormed both cities. The Imperial province of Spania was gone.

Theodosius put as good a face on the move as he could, but the reality was that the Spanish province was always doomed. Constantinople had neither the soldiers, nor money, to spare on a backwater so far from their centers of power in the East. This will not be the last we hear of Spania however, as in a few centuries time the Goths will do the unthinkable and beg the resurgent Romans to return and assist them against a more local foe, the Franks.

That however is still far in the future. For now the Empire was, mercifully, at peace.

Externally at least. Internally Theodosius’s policy of tolerance for the Christian heresies was straining. While their heresy had been ont eh decline, the Miaphysites in Egypt had grown bolder as first Maurice, and now Theodosius attempted to ignore the issue, but the issue came to a head when the current Imperial archbishop, then called the Patriarch, John died. The Alexandrians clammered for the head of the local Coptic Church, Benjamin, to be appointed as the new Archbishop. There were fears of riots in the city if this was not granted, but Theodosius moderated the issue by having a bishop named Cyrus elevated. He also may have had Benjamin poisoned as the Coptic leader died shortly after Cyrus’s arrival, but witnesses at the time claimed it was natural causes.

Cyrus was a moderate on the topic, and came to Alexandria seeking compromise with the local Miaphysites. The details are irrelevant to the larger topic, as the idea did not survive Cyrus himself, but fundamentally the Miaphysites agreed, in theory to Christ having only a single energy with which he interacted with the world, but two natures behind that energy.

For our purposes, the primary impact of Cyrus’s doctrine was that it lured a significant number of the remaining heretics away from their old practices and into communion with the Chalcedonians. The issue had not been settled by any means, and had Egypt remained so vital to the Empire’s finances it is difficult to see how a further compromise could have been avoided. External events would soon render the religious distinctions of Egypt and the rest of the Empire to be far less important.

This issue being worked on Theodosius again could hope for a rest, but it was alas not to be. On 17 June 626 the Emperor came down with a fever, and was wracked by chills. Soon there was swelling across his body, and Theodosius was confined to a bed. Realizing he would likely die Theodosius undertook his final act. He had no sons, but had three daughters, of whom the oldest had entered a convent, and the youngest two were unmarried.

He had few good options available, and so chose the least bad. He ordered the general Heraclius’s oldest son, Constantine to divorce his wife, and then married him to his second daughter, Maria. Then he formally adopted the young man as his son. This done, Theodosius died on 1 July, 626. He had been the Emperor for 24 years.

Theodosius cannot be argued to be anything but a great Emperor. Not a Trajan, an Augustus, a Hadrian, a Constantine (I or X), a Leo IV, a Manuel II, or a Julius II, but great regardless. This was due to no little talent of his own of course, but when we look at Theodosius’s record he did little by himself. At every step of the way he was assisted by more capable men who could be trusted to do what he needed them to, and to be loyal. Priscus, Germanus, Heraclius, and finally Constantine IV. Without them Theodosius’s rule would likely have been a failure.

With them though he was able to accomplish much, building on everything that his father had done. The Avars were destroyed, and the Sassanids beaten more soundly than any Emperor in all of Roman history had accomplished. The treasury was full after five full years of peace, and the army was happy.

Constantine was accepted as the new Emperor with surprise by the people of Constantinople, and not a small amount of hostility. He was Armenia by heritage, and his original marriage to a cousin had been scandalous at the time for being incestuous. But his divorce, on those grounds no less, quieted many who disliked the son of Heraclius, and Maria was a popular princess.

The army meanwhile loved him. Constantine was a soldier, having followed his father into the army as an officer. The new Emperor was young at only 22, and had served on his father’s staff as the war was winding down in Spania. He had however seen no battles, and then returned to Constantinople to serve in the Scholoi, possibly as a means of Theodosius to test for succession even then.

As it was Theodosius’s death left him no choice but to elevate the young man. Some accounts of the time period pointed to other possibilities, such as Priscus or even Heraclius himself. But both were away from the capital, Heraclius in Africa, and Priscus in Armenia. Indeed, Priscus himself would be dead before news reached him of the succession. Heraclius meanwhile would be co-Emperor in all but name until his own death in 629.

The Emperor originally simply continued the policies of Theodosius, but in the process he allowed the border forts on the Danube to decline, and shrank the army in the East to save money. Both were policies that would haunt both him and his successors.

Finally, in 632 a message came from the province of Arabia. The Ghassanids had flooded into the Empire, fleeing from some foe that had arisen to the south. Soon more messages came, that all of Arabia was united and marching under the crescent and the cross. The First Arabic Caliphate had arrived.
 
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Wait what happened to the rest of Maurice's sons?
Several of them plotted to get Maurice's will enforced (ie to divide the Empire up between them), so Theodosius had them kille...I mean they were accidentally killed when soldiers went to arrest the conspirators. One of them survived and started the war with Persia, and he subsequently committed suicide when that failed.
 
Several of them plotted to get Maurice's will enforced (ie to divide the Empire up between them), so Theodosius had them kille...I mean they were accidentally killed when soldiers went to arrest the conspirators. One of them survived and started the war with Persia, and he subsequently committed suicide when that failed.
Huh, must've missed that. Anyways I suspect the Persians will more or less collapse the same way as OTL, but maybe the Romans might be able to hold the upper Levant and still lose Egypt or something else?
 
Interesting TL so far... gotta admit, not a lot of Byzantine TLs that follow them at the Empire's near peak, so this could be very different.
 
Part 4: Arabia Wakes
Part IV: Arabia Wakes​

To rewind a little the first question most will have are, who are the Arabs, and why did they arise when they did.

Arabia had long been an area ignored by the Romans. The province of Arabia was conquered by Trajan in the second century, and arranged into a province called Arabia Petraea. This was then moved into the Diocese of the East under Diocleatian, and by the time of Constantine IV had been split into two territories. The official Arabia province was put in the north, in the territory on the Eastern border of Palestine, and the southern territories were made into the province of Palaestina Salutaris. On the immediate border of this province lay the kingdom of the Ghassanids.

The Ghassanids were a local tribe who had long been allied with Rome against the Persians, and Persia’s own vassals in the Lakhmids. To their south lay the region of the Hejaz, where our primary focus will be. Hejaz was a desert region, as with virtually all of the peninsula, with agriculture clustered around oases. Local life was spent in either the sedentary settlements of the region, or as keepers of flocks of animals, constantly seeking sources of water and forage. Raiding was commonplace among this latter group as well.

Within that region lay the city of Mecca, home of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Mecca was one of the most important cities in Arabia, acting as a commercial hub for the many tribes of the region, including the Qushyt, the tribe Muhammad belonged to, who were dominant in the region. According to Islamic tradition Muhammad was a merchant who conducted trade between the ports on the Indian Ocean, and those connected to the Red Sea, through which goods flowed north to the Romans.

Much of this is speculation, as the Book of Muhammud, or Qur’an as his followers call often call it, is vague about his life, and even his claimed revelation. Biographies of Muhammud’s life also offer little concrete information, as they were written hundreds of years after the initial conquests, by which point Islamic holdings were already on their rapid decline. Few of these biographies even survived. Tradition however holds that in Muhammud’s forties he took to praying alone in caves near to Mecca, and on one such journey the Christ appeared to him, and bade him to remember all that was said.

This apparition claimed that both the Jews of Israel, and the Christians of Rome had strayed from the word of God, and that a new faith would be needed to guide the children of God into glory. At first this prophet was afraid, and fled from the apparition, but it appeared to him again, and yet again before he would accept its words. Returning to Mecca he began to preach as it had instructed, but he was mocked and harassed by those he tried to help, and so was driven out of the city to a nearby agricultural center called Medina. There Muhammud raised an army of followers, and took Mecca by force, putting many of the inhabitants to the sword and forming a kingdom from the rest.

That at least is the Roman version. The Arabic version holds that his reconquest of Mecca was virtually bloodless, and that only a small number of the worst offenders were put to death. When considering the actions of Arab armies, and the tolerance shown when they invaded the north, it seems likely that the Arab version is closer to the truth.

Whichever is accurate, Muhammud then launched a campaign to conquer the rest of the Hejazz, defeating other tribes in the process. By the time of Muhammud’s death in 631 his kingdom ruled all of southern Arabia, and Islamic Christianity was no a major player on the world stage.

Though, it should be noted, there is evidence that at this stage Islam was not a sect of Christianity at all, and was in many ways closer to Judaism. Some early versions of the Qu’ran also imply that the being which Muhammud claimed to have spoken to was not the Christ, but instead an archangel. The modern version does not appear until the First Caliphate was in its rapid decline one hundred years hence. That argument points out that virtually all writing on Islam originates in the heavily Christian regions they conquered from the Romans, and then in territories later retaken by the Empire. It would fall to the later Second Caliphate to sort through the details and determine the final Orthodox positions of the Muslims.

Here it should also be noted that for the First Caliphate the title Caliph was a religious title, similar to Pope, or the old Patriarchs, as well as a political one. So that is what should be kept in mind, the pope and Emperor in a single unified office.

This was not a choice which led to stability when the Caliphs ceased to be successful on the battlefield.

All of that out of the way, it might seem time to actually look at the Arab invasions, but no. Next we must also look East, where the flailing Sassanid Empire was finally beginning to settle down. After the Romans withdrew from Mesopotamia revolts had flared up across the Sassanid Empire. The Eastern territories, bordering Hindi, these territories would form their own petty kingdoms, which would occasionally raid the reduced Persian Empire for the next two three centuries, until they were all crushed by the power that replaced the Sassanid as the great power on the Persian Plateau. It should also be noted that in the West an Arabic tribe called the Lakhmids successfully won independence as well.

Kavad set about reordering his house, but met with limited success as nobles were at an all time high in their power compared to the government in the new capital at Seleukia, rebuilding Ctesiphon after the Romans had wrecked it was deemed too expensive at the current time.

Kavad was assassinated in 624 by an ambitious general named Shahbaraz, who seized Mesopotamia and established a capital for himself at Seleukia, throwing the entire empire into chaos once more. Loyalists focused around the brother of Kavad II, named Shahriyar.

Shahriyar retreated onto the Persian Plateau, and established himself at a new capital located at Isfahan. Both sides readied themselves for a civil war, but in a rather amusing twist Shahbaraz was assassinated by his own nobles mere weeks after his coup. Apparently, the would-be king was a cruel and petty man, and rapidly alienated everyone around him when he got into power.

Another round of civil war had been avoided.

Shahriyar was the disputed king of Persia. He built up a respectable treasury through heavier taxes on the Silk Road, and used what spare money he could to buy off key nobles and get the government in something resembling working order. Shockingly however, he began to court the Roman court, trying to sell the project as a great rapproachment between East and West, and also as a source of hard cash for the still recovering treasury.

His nobles grumbled at this, and ultimately decided it was better to increase their own contributions to the royal purse rather than be subordinated by the Romans. Few of them would live to see the irony of their decision.

We are now finally ready to turn our attention fully to Judea, right after mentioning that the Gokturks that were so critical to Heraclius’s victory of Khosrow, had by now grown distracted by wars with the Tang Dynasty in far away Hani, and would soon begin the transformation into the Khazars who would alternate between foes and allies of Byzantium, but more usually allies, for the next two hundred years.

In 631 Muhammud died, and was succeeded in his position as Caliph his son-in-law Ali. The new Caliph looked to expand the dominions of the Caliphate to all of Arabia first, and that meant war with both the Lakhmids, and the Ghassanids. And that meant war with both Constantinople and Persia. Early in 632 therefore Ali drove into the territory of the Ghassanids, and decisively defeated their king, who was forced to flee the field. Ali captured the king and extracted from him a promise of fealty and conversion. The king did so, but as soon as he was free he gathered all of his people he could and ran to the Romans for asylum. The governor of Palaestina Salutaris allowed the Ghasanids inside his territory, and sent a message to Constantinople for additional instructions. Before those instructions could arrive Arabic raiders began striking at the territory. Local forces were quickly routed, and by the end of the year the capital at Petra had been overrun. Messages now flew every which way from Palaestine. Help was desperately needed.

The garrisons of the remainder of Palaestine were whoefully inadequate, and messages were rapidly sent to Antioch, where the Emperor himself was visiting. Constantine, who had little military experience remember, reacted rather slowly, only calling together his field armies at the urging of his brother, future Emperor Heraklanos. It was not until nearly the end of 633 that the Emperor had gathered a relief army for Palaestine, by which point the Arabs had overrun not just the Eastern parts of Salutaris, but also Arabia, Palaestina I, and Palaestina II. I hope I’m not giving anything away by saying that all of these provinces would be out of Imperial hands for the next century and a half.

Only Jerusalem itself had refused to surrender and instead been subjected to a siege, and it was here that the Emperor planned to march and crush the Arabs once and for all. The city itself had only held out so long as it had because the Arabs were less than zealous about the siege of a city they considered almost as holy as the Christian defenders did. Defender and attacker interacted often, and supplies were not just snuck in, but according to Arab sources, openly purchased from Caliphal armies. The 1246 Siege of Constantinople this was not.

The Emperor left Antioch with his army in March of 634, and moved south at…well not exactly a sluggish pace, but certainly not one that impressed on anyone how seriously he was taking this. The subsequent planning was just as lax. Approaching Jerusalem Constantine seemed to be half under the impressions that the Arabs would simply break and run the moment they saw his force approach. They did not.

Instead on May 12, an Arab force ambushed the Emperor’s army near Neapolis, and scattered large segments of it, forcing a regroup. In the meantime the main Arab leader, one Khalid ibn al-Walid, probably the best commander of anyone in these invasions.

Al-Whalid broke off the siege of Jerusalem, and moved his entire army north toward the Roman force, preparing for a full scale battle to be fought. The armies prepared to meet near Neapolis again, with both sides well aware of the terrain and layout of their enemy. The Muslim army numbered about 30,000. Most of this was made up of archers on foot, or lighter cavalry. The heavy infantry was armed and armored in a manner similar to that of their Roman foes, but the foot archers were far superior to their opposite number, and also critically to the Roman horse archers. The Roman force numbered about 40,000 and was made up of three quarters infantry, and the final third were cavalry.

However, part of the reason that the army had moved slowly was the difficulty of transporting enough supplies to keep this force going. The Romans had typically used smaller armies in the past century, with Theodosius’s campaign being the only major exception. This early in the year the army had to be fed through a complex series of logistical links, and many soldiers were ill-fed, and miserable when the battle began. Worse still, the Eastern armies hadn’t seen significant combat in nearly twenty years now, not since the defeat of the Persians.

The Arabs by contrast had just overrun their entire homeland, or at the very least been fighting against those same men. They had also crushed the local forces in Palaestine. All of this together mean the Romans frankly, stood no chance despite their greater numbers. Perhaps under a more able commander they would have won, but Constantine IV was no great commander. He deployed his horse archer ahead of his army, while holding the heavier cavalry as a reserve force.

These archers engaged in a duel with their arab counterparts, but the longer range and power of the Arab bows routed the Romans. Arrows were then loosed on the main Roman lines, who formed up into Testudos to survive the barrage. As they did so the Arab infantry advanced, and soon set upon the Roman infantry. In the Testudo formation they were far more vulnerable than might otherwise have been the case, and attempt to exit the formation failed.

It was at this point that Constantine ordered his Cataphracts into the fighting. But the commander, seeing how the battle was going took the first of many actions that would cause him to be openly despised by the Romans of his day. That man was Heraklanos, and he withdrew from the field, leaving the army behind to be slaughtered.

Among the dead was Constantine IV, who died alongside his men, who were killed to the last man. The Arabs lost barely five thousand men in the fighting. Heraklanos withdrew back to Antioch, where he was coldly greeted by the population, who were then alarmed to learn that he was abandoning them to return to Constantinople. The armies of the East had just been destroyed, and there was now nothing stopping the Arabs from overrunning the entire Diocese.

It is easy to condemn Heraklanos for this choice, as with virtually every other choice he was about to make. But the reality is he kept the Empire together. Every modern reading of the Battle of Neapolis puts the Romans in a far weaker position than they seemed on paper, and Heraklanos’s retreat kept the heavy cavalry who were so essential to the army intact. Had those forces been lost it is difficult to see how the Arabs could have been as well contained as they eventually were.

Manuel II famously said in his great history of the Arab Wars that “Sometimes an army must be sacrificed to save an empire.” Manuel was indeed an admirer of Heraklanos, and if the man who duels Augustus for the position of greatest ruler in Roman history is willing to grant the benefit of the doubt, I do not see why I should judge him more harshly.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

For now, Constantine IV was 30 years old, and had been Emperor for eight years. He was a forgettable ruler in peace, and an utter disaster the moment a crisis loomed. It is to the benefit of all that he made his greatest contribution to the Empire of his life, and died in the first great battle of the Arab Wars. If only he hadn’t taken thirty thousand men to the grave with him.
 
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