Flavius Mauricius Tiberius Augustus (Φλάβιος Μαυρίκιος Τιβέριος Αύγουστος; Մավրիկ, Mavrig; 539 – november 27 602), known in English as Maurice and in Greek as Maurikios, was a Byzantine Emperor who ruled from 582-602. He was one of the most important rulers of the early 'Byzantine' era, whose reign was troubled by almost unending wars on all frontiers.
Persian War and accession to the throne
Maurice originated from Arabissus
and was a successful commander-in-chief
. He was adopted by his predecessor Tiberius II
, and succeeded him after the latter’s death. His reign is an accurately documented era of the late classical antiquity (most important source is the historian Theophylact Simocatta
). During a war with the Sassanid Empire
, already under way in 572 under Justin II
, Maurice was in service as commander-in-chief from 579 on. He scored a crushing victory against the Persians in 581. A year later, he married Constantina
, the Emperor’s daughter. On August 13th, he succeeded his father-in-law. At that time, he ruled a bankrupt Empire, paying extremely high tribute to the Avars
, its Balkan provinces thoroughly devastated by the Slavs
and at war with Persia.
Maurice had to continue the war against Persia. In 586, his troops defeated the Persians at Dara. Despite serious mutiny in 588, they managed to stand up to the Persians for two more years, until Prince Chosroes II and Persian commander-in-chief Bahram Chobin in 590 overthrew King Hormizd IV. Bahram Chobin pretended to the throne and defeated Chosroes II, who subsequently fled to the Byzantine court. Although the Senate advised against it one voice, Maurice lent an army of 70,000 men for Chosroes II to regain his throne. Maurice could finally bring the war to a successful conclusion by means of a new accession of Chosroes II and defeat of Bahram Chobin. As agreed upon, Chosroes II, probably adopted by Maurice who married his eldest daughter, Miriam to Chosroes II and had issue, rewarded the latter by ceding north eastern Mesopotamia and Armenia up to the capital Dvin and the Lake Van and Iberia (eastern Georgia) up to the capital Tbilisi. Afterwards, Maurice imposed a Union between the Armenian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
After his victory on the eastern frontier, Maurice focused on the Balkans
and transferred parts of Armenian nobility to south eastern Europe. The Slavs, having pillaged the Roman Balkan provinces for decades, possibly began settling the land from the 580’s on. The Avars took the strategically important fort of Sirmium
in 582, using it as a base of operations against several poorly defended forts alongside the Danube from 583 on. In 584 the Slavs threatened the capital and in 586 Avars besieged Thessaloniki
, while Slavs went as far as the Peloponnese
. Maurice launched several campaigns against Slavs and Avars from 591 on, with good prospect of turning the tide. In 592 his troops retook Singidunum
from the Avars. His commander-in-chief Priscus defeated Slavs, Avars and Gepids
in 593 on Roman territory south of the Danube, before he crossed the Danube into modern-day Wallachia
to continue his series of victories. Maurice replaced Priscos (594) with his rather inexperienced brother Peter
, who nonetheless scored another victory in Wallachia.
Priscos, again in command of another army further upstream, defeated the Avars (595). The latter only dared to attack again in 597 to score a success. In 598 a treaty was signed with the Avar leader Bayan, only to be broken for retaliation campaigns inside Avar homeland. In 599 and 601, the Byzantine forces wreaked havoc amongst the Avars and Gepids. In 602 the Slavs suffered a crucial defeat in Wallachia. The Byzantine troops were now able to hold the Danube line again. Meanwhile, Maurice was making plans for resettling devastated areas in the Balkans by using Armenian settlers.
Measures of domestic policy
In the west, he organized the threatened Byzantine dominions in Italy
into exarchates, ruled by military governors or exarchs
, being mentioned in 584 and 591 respectively. The exarchs had more or less complete military and civilian competences. This was remarkable due to the usual separation of civilian and military competences in that era. By founding the exarchate of Ravenna, Maurice managed to slow down the Lombard advance in Italy, if not to halt it.
In 597, an ailing Maurice wrote his last will, in which he described his ideas of governing the Empire. His eldest son, Theodosius, would be a ruler of the East from Constantinople
, the second one, Tiberius, of the West with the capital in Rome
. Some historians believe that two youngest sons were supposed to gain Illyricum
and North Africa
. But as he intended to maintain unity of the Empire, this idea bears a strong similarity with the Tetrarchy
of Diocletian, given the fact that Maurice also maintained claims on the former western provinces now ruled by Germanic tribes. Maurice's violent death thwarted these plans however.
In religious matters, he was very tolerant towards Monophysitism, although he was a supporter of the Council of Chalcedon. He clashed with Pope Gregory I over the latter's defence of Rome against the Lombards.
Summed up, his attempts to consolidate the Empire slowly but steadily met with success, last but not least thanks to the peace with Persia. His initial popularity apparently decreased during his reign, mostly because of his fiscal politics. In 588, his announcement to cut military wages by 25% led to serious mutiny of troops on the Persian front.
He is said to have refused to pay a very little ransom in 599 or 600 to deliver 12,000 Byzantine soldiers taken prisoners by the Avars. It is said that the prisoners were killed and a military delegation, headed by an officer named Phocas was humiliated and rejected in Constantinople.
In 602, Maurice, always dealing with the lack of money, decreed that the army should stay for winter beyond the Danube
, which would prove to be a serious mistake. The exhausted troops mutinied against the emperor. Probably misjudging the situation, Maurice repeatedly ordered his troops to start a new offensive rather than returning to winter quarters. After a while, his troops gained the impression that Maurice no longer mastered the situation, they proclaimed Phocas
their leader and demanded Maurice to abdicate and proclaim the successor either his son Theodosius or General Germanus. Both men were accused of treason, but the riots broke out in Constantinople and the emperor with his family left the city for Nicomedia
. Theodosius headed east to Persia, but historians are not sure whether he had been sent there by his father or if he had fled there. Phocas entered Constantinople in November, where he was crowned emperor, while his troops captured Maurice and his family.
Maurice was murdered on November 27, 602. It is said that the deposed emperor was forced to watch his three sons executed before his eyes, before he was beheaded himself. Empress Constantina and her three daughters were spared and sent to a monastery. The Persian King Chosroes II used this coup and the murder of his Patron as an excuse for a renewed war against the Byzantine Empire.
Maurice, whose court still used Latin
in the same way as the army and administration did, was in total an able emperor and commander-in-chief, even though Theophylact’s description may be a bit too glorifying. He possessed insight, public spirit and courage. He proved his expertise on military and foreign affairs during his campaigns against Persians and Avars/Slavs in the same way as during peace negotiations with Chosroes II. His administrative reforms portray him as a statesman with farsightedness, the more so since they outlasted his death by far and were the basis for the introduction of the themes as military districts.
He also promoted science and arts; Maurice is also the traditional author of the military treatise Strategikon which is praised in military circles as the first and only sophisticated combined arms theory until World War II. However, some historians now believe the Strategikon is the work of his brother or another general in his court.
His greatest weakness was his inability to judge how unpopular his decisions were. Or to cite the historian Previte-Orton, listing a number of character flaws in the emperor's personality:
His fault was too much faith in his own excellent judgment without regard to the disagreement and unpopularity which he provoked by decisions in themselves right and wise. He was a better judge of policy than of men.
It was this flaw that cost him throne and life and thwarted most of his efforts to prevent the disintegration of the great empire of Justinian I. It seems, as if Maurice attempted to have his way on behalf of Imperial pretension with respect to the old Imperium Romanum, but as his end shows, he met strong resistance.
His demise is a turning point in history, given the fact that the new war against Persia weakened both empires in a way enabling the Slavs to permanently settle the Balkans and paving the way for Arab/Muslim expansion. The English historian A.H.M. Jones concludes the final era of classical antiquity with Maurice’s death, as the turmoil which shattered the Byzantine Empire in the next four decades permanently and thoroughly changed society and politics.
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