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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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With the heavy losses in the south and east caused by the Persian wars, there appeared another great menace to the Byzantine Empire from the north. The Avaro-Slavonic hordes of the Balkan peninsula, headed by the Khagan of the Avars, moved southward, pillaging and destroying the northern provinces and reaching as far as Constantinople, where they broke through the city walls. This expedition was not a campaign, but rather a series of raids, which furnished the Khagan with numerous captives and rich spoils which he carried off to the north. These invaders are mentioned in the writings of Heraclius' western contemporary, Isidore, bishop of Seville, who remarked in his chronicle that Heraclius entered upon the sixteenth (fifth) year of his reign, at the beginning of which the Slavs took Greece from the Romans, and the Persians took Syria, Egypt, and many provinces. At about this time (624) Byzantium was losing its last possessions in Spain, where the Visigoths conquest was completed by King Suinthila (Swinthila). The Balearic Islands remained in the hands of Heraclius.

After some hesitation the Emperor decided to begin war with Persia. In view of the exhaustion of the treasury, Heraclius had recourse to the valuables of the churches in the capital and the provinces, and ordered a large amount of gold and silver coins to be made from them. As he had anticipated, he was able to remove the menace of the Khagan of the Avars in the north by sending him distinguished hostages and a large sum of money. In the spring of 622 Heraclius crossed to Asia Minor, where he recruited a large number of soldiers and trained them for several months. The Persian campaign, which incidentally aimed at recovering the Holy Cross and the sacred city of Jerusalem, assumed the form of a crusade.

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