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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Heraclian epoch (610-717)

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The Persian wars and the campaigns of Avars and Slavs 


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Heraclius, a very gifted and active emperor, seemed practically a model ruler after the tyrannical Phocas. He proclaimed that power must shine more in love than in terror, reported the poet George of Pisidia, a contemporary, who described in good verse the emperor's Persian campaigns and the invasion of the Avars. Heraclius was the creator of Mediaeval Byzantium, Ostrogorsky said, whose state conception is Roman, whose language and culture are Greek, whose faith is Christian. Heraclius' achievements are the more noteworthy because at the time of his accession the position of the Empire was extremely dangerous. The Persians were menacing it from the east, the Avars and Slavs from the north, and internal affairs, after the unfortunate reign of Phocas, were in a state of complete anarchy. The new Emperor had neither money nor sufficient military force, and profound disturbances shook the Empire during the early part of his reign.

In the year 611 the Persians undertook to conquer Syria and they occupied Antioch, the main city of the eastern Byzantine provinces. Soon after they seized Damascus. Upon completing the conquest of Syria, they moved on to Palestine, and in the year 614 began the siege of Jerusalem, which lasted for twenty days. Then the Persian towers and battering-rams broke through the city wall, and, as one source put it, the evil enemies entered the city with a rage which resembled that of infuriated beasts and irritated dragons. They pillaged the city and destroyed the Christian sanctuaries. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, erected by Constantine the Great and Helen, was robbed of its treasures and set on fire. The Christians were exposed to merciless violence and slaughter. The Jews of Jerusalem sided with the Persians and took active part in the massacres, during which, according to some sources, 60,000 Christians perished. Many treasures from the sacred city were transported to Persia, and one of the dearest relics of Christendom, the Holy Cross, was taken to Ctesiphon. Numerous prisoners were sent to Persia, including the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Zacharias.  

This devastating Persian conquest of Palestine and the pillage of Jerusalem represent a turning point in the history of this province.

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