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Heraclius
Emperor of the Romans
Heraclius 610-641.jpg
Solidus of Emperor Heraclius (aged 35-38). Constantinople mint. Struck 610-613. Helmeted and cuirassed facing bust, holding cross.
Reign October 5, 610 – February 11, 641
Coronation October 5, 610
Full name Flavius Heraclius
Born c. 575
Birthplace Cappadocia, present-day Turkey
Died February 11, 641 (aged 65 or 66)
Place of death Constantinople, Byzantine Empire
Predecessor Phocas
Successor Constantine III
Heraklonas
Consort to Eudokia
Martina
Children Constantine III
Heraklonas
John Athalarichos (illegitimate)
Martinos
Dynasty Heraclian Dynasty
Father Heraclius the Elder
Mother Epiphania

Heraclius (Latin: Flavius Heraclius Augustus, Greek: Φλάβιος Ἡράκλειος, Flavios Iraklios; c. 575 – February 11, 641) was the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 610 to 641. He was responsible for introducing Greek as the Byzantine Empire's official language. His rise to power began in 608, when he and his father, Heraclius the Elder, the exarch of Africa, led a revolt against the unpopular usurper Phocas.

Heraclius's reign was marked by several military campaigns. The year Heraclius came to power, the empire was threatened on multiple frontiers. Heraclius immediately took charge of the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628. The first battles of the campaign ended in defeat for the Byzantines; the Persian army fought their way to the Bosphorus but Constantinople was protected by impenetrable walls and a strong navy, and Heraclius was able to avoid total defeat. Soon after, he initiated reforms to rebuild and strengthen the military. Heraclius drove the Persians out of Asia Minor and pushed deep into their territory, defeating them decisively in 627 at the Battle of Nineveh. The Persian king Khosrow II was overthrown and executed by his son Kavadh II, who soon sued for a peace treaty, agreeing to withdraw from all occupied territory. This way peaceful relations were restored to the two deeply strained empires.

Heraclius soon experienced a new event, the Muslim conquests. Emerging from the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslims quickly conquered the Sasanian Empire. In 634 the Muslims marched into Roman Syria, defeating Heraclius's brother Theodore. Within a short period of time, the Arabs conquered Mesopotamia, Armenia and Egypt.

Heraclius entered diplomatic relations with the Croats and Serbs in the Balkans. He tried to repair the schism in the Christian church in regard to the Monophysites, by promoting a compromise doctrine called Monothelitism. The Church of the East (commonly called Nestorian) was also involved in the process. Eventually this project of unity was rejected by all sides of the dispute.

Origins

Heraclius was the eldest son of Heraclius the Elder and Epiphania, of a family of possible Armenian origin from Cappadocia, with speculative Arsacid descent. Beyond that, there is little specific information known about his ancestry. His father was a key general during Emperor Maurice's war with Bahram Chobin, usurper of the Sasanian Empire, during 590. After the war, Maurice appointed Heraclius the Elder to the position of Exarch of Africa.

Legacy

Piero della Francesca 021
Battle between Heraclius's army and Persians under Khosrau II. Fresco by Piero della Francesca, ca. 1452

Looking back at the reign of Heraclius, scholars have credited him with many accomplishments. He enlarged the Empire, and his reorganization of the government and military were great successes. His attempts at religious harmony failed, but he succeeded in returning the True Cross, one of the holiest Christian relics, to Jerusalem.

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