The Campaigns of Emperor Herakleios (620-6), according to the Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor

Chronicle of Theophanes ConfessorThe Chronicle of Theophanes is the last and most extensive work in Greek in the genre of chronographic narrative established by Eusebius in the early fourth century AD. The work covers more than half a millennium from the accession of Diocletian (AD 284) down to the Byzantine emperor Michael I (813), but the Chronicle arose from an even more ambitious project: a complete account of universal history from the Creation, conceived and carried as far as Diocletian by Theophanes’ friend George Synkellos. Theophanes, according to his introduction, completed the remainder, using materials gathered by George, after George’s death. The narrative of Theophanes’ contribution therefore runs from the Roman imperial restoration of the Tetrarchs to the world of the iconoclast Byzantine emperors, the Abbasid caliphates, and the Carolingian emperors. Though the bulk of entries concerns imperial and ecclesiastical politics in Byzantine Constantinople, events in the late- and post- Roman West, Sassanian Persia, and Islamic Syria feature regularly. Theophanes covers much of the geographical and temporal spread of late Antiquity, and his Chronicle is a valuable companion to the study of the period. Much of the material in the latter part of the Chronicle is unique, but the earlier section, up to the beginning of the seventh century, consists largely of selections from sources (some of the most important of which were in turn compendia of earlier works) which are either extant or for which close comparanda exist. The whole is a rich and diverse mine of data. Despite the difficulties in using Theophanes, whose chronography is often brave but flawed, the Chronicle is a constant point of reference for much work in late antique or early Byzantine history if only because of its compass alone.

The following section, covering the years 620 to 626, are among the first writings by Theophanes where his material is unique and very valuable. They cover the military campaigns of the Byzantine Emperor Herakleios (also called Heraclius), who reigned from 610 to 641 AD. When Herakleios first came to the throne in 610, the Byzantine Empire was being attacked from numerous sides. In the west, the Avars and Slavs were expanding into the northern Balkans. The Slavs controlled the Danube regions, Thrace, Macedonia, and were soon invading Central Greece and the Peloponnesus. In the east, meanwhile, the Persians under the rule of Chosroes had begun a series of successful attacks on the empire resulting in the loss of Damascus in 613, Jerusalem in 614 (destroying the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and capturing the Holy Cross) and Egypt in 619. Recognizing the difficulty in fighting on two opposing fronts at the same time, Herakleios signed a peace treaty with the Avars in 619, and focused on the eastern half of the empire. In the spring of 622, Herakleios left Constantinople for Asia Minor and began training his troops over the summer, focusing on a more involved role for the Byzantine cavalry.

In the autumn, Herakleios’ army invaded Armenia and soon won several victories over the Persians. The Avars, in the meantime, became restless and Herakleios was forced to renegotiate the peace treaty with them at a much higher tribute level. Herakleios then returned to the army and for the next several years unsuccessfully attempted to break through the Persian army and into Persia. In August of 626 while Herakleios and his army were in Lazica away from Constantinople, a Persian army attacked the city from the east while an army of Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars attacked from the west and from the sea. On August 10, the Byzantine navy was able to defeat the opposing fleet and then rout the combined Slav and Avar land force. With the defeat of their allies, the Persians retreated to Syria.

In the autumn of 626 (or 627), Herakleios began to work his way into Persian territory winning an important battle in December at Nineveh during which most of the Persian army was destroyed. As Herakleios continued to move further into Persian territory, Chosroes was deposed and succeeded by his son Kavadh-Siroe whose first act was to secure a treaty with Herakleios. The treaty was very favorable to the Byzantines and returned all the former Byzantine territories to the empire. Please note that there are several errors in Theophanes’ dating of various events.

AD 620/1

In this year, on 4 April, indiction 10, the emperor Herakleios, after celebrating the Easter feast, straight away set out against Persia on Monday evening. Being short of funds he took on loan the moneys of religious establishments and he also took the candelabra and other vessels of the holy ministry from the Great Church, which he minted into a great quantity of gold and silver coin. He left his own son at Constantinople in the care of the patriarch Sergius to conduct the business of state along with the patrician Bonosos, a man of prudence, intelligence, and experience. He also wrote an exhortation to the Chagan of the Avars that the latter might assist the Roman state inasmuch as he had concluded a treaty of friendship with him, and he named the Chagan guardian of his son. Setting out from the Imperial City he went by ship to Pylai, as the place is called. From there he proceeded to the country of the themata, where he collected his armies and added new contingents to them. He began to train them and instruct them in military deeds. He divided the army into two and bade them draw up battle lines and attack each other without loss of blood; he taught them the battle cry, battle songs and shouts, and how to be on the alert so that, even if they found them­selves in a real war, they should not be frightened, but should courageously move against the enemy as if it were a game. Taking in his hands the likeness of the Man-God – the one that was not painted by hand, but which the Logos, who shapes and fashions everything, wrought like an image without recourse to painting, just as He experienced birth without seed – the emperor placed his trust in this image painted by God and began his endeavours after giving a pledge to his army that he would struggle with them unto death and would be united with them as with his own children; for he wished his authority to be derived not from fear, but rather from love. Having found, then, the army in a state of great sluggishness, cow­ardice, indiscipline, and disorder, and scattered over many parts of the earth, he speedily gathered everyone together. As by common agreement, everyone praised the might and courage of the emperor. And he spoke to them these words of encouragement: ‘You see, O my brethren and children, how the enemies of God have trampled upon our land, have laid our cities waste, have burnt our sanctuaries and have filled with the blood of murder the altars of the bloodless sacrifice; how they defile with their impassioned pleasures our churches, which do not admit of the passions.’ Once again he prepared the army for a warlike exercise and formed two armed contingents; and the trumpeters, the ranks of shield-bearers and men in armour stood by. When he had securely marshalled the two companies he bade them attack each other: there were violent collisions and mutual conflict, and a semblance of war was to be seen. One could observe a frightening sight, yet one without the fear of danger, murderous clashes without blood, the forms (of violence) without violence, so that each man might draw a lesson from that safe slaughter and remain more secure. Having in this manner fortified everyone, he bade them abstain from injustice and cleave to piety.

When he had reached the region of Armenia, he ordered (a band of picked men to take the van. The Saracens were then tributaries of the Persians,) and a multitude of their horsemen were intending to fall upon the emperor unawares. But the emperor’s advance party met them and brought their leader captive to Herakleios; and having routed them, killed a great number. Since winter had set in, and the emperor had turned aside (to) the region of Pontos, the barbarians decided (to besiege him) in his winter quarters. Evading the Persians, however, he turned round and invaded Persia. When the barbarians learnt of this, they were cast down by the unexpectedness of his invasion. As for Sarbaros, the Persian commander, he took his forces and came to Cilicia that he might turn the emperor round by his attack on Roman territory. Fearing, however, lest the emperor invade Persia by way of Armenia and cause disturbance therein, he could not make up his mind what to do. Even so, he was compelled to follow the Roman army from behind, seeking a chance to steal a fight and attack them on a dark night. But there was that night a full moon and he was foiled in his scheme and uttered imprecations against the moon whom he had previously worshipped; and it so happened that the moon suffered an eclipse that night. Because of this, Sarbaros was afraid to attack the emperor and he made for the mountains as the deer do, and observed from a height the beautifully ordered generalship of the Romans. When the emperor became aware of his cowardice, he boldly encamped in places affording ample repose and provoked him to war. Often the Persians would come secretly down from the mountains and engage in sporadic conflict, and on all occasions the Romans had the upper hand and their army was further emboldened by seeing the emperor dashing forward in front of all the others and fighting courageously. There was a certain Persian, who a short time previously had come as a runaway and joined the emperor’s army. This man escaped and went over to the Persians expecting them to destroy the Roman armament. But when he had perceived their cowardice, he returned to the emperor on the tenth day’ and reported to him exactly the barbarians’ timidity.

As for Sarbaros, he could not endure any longer his sojourn on the mountain and was compelled to rush into battle. He divided his army into three parts and suddenly came down at daybreak, before the sun had risen, all ready for war. But the emperor had foreseen this, and he, too, marshalled his army into three phalanxes and led them into battle. When the sun had risen, the emperor happened to be on the east side so that the sun’s rays blinded the Persians – those rays that they worshipped as a god. The emperor feigned that his men had turned to flight and the Persians broke their ranks to pursue them, as they thought, without restraint. But the Romans turned round and routed them valiantly; they killed many men and others they drove to the mountain and pushed them into precipices and inaccessible places and destroyed all of them. And in those precipices they remained like wild goats, while many were captured alive. The Persian camp and all their equipment were also taken. The Romans raised their arms aloft to give thanks to God and to praise earnestly their emperor who had led them well. For they, who previously had not dared to behold the Persians’ dust, now found their tents undisturbed and looted them. Who had expected that the hard-fighting race of the Persians would ever show their backs to the Romans? As for the emperor, he left the army with its commander to winter in Armenia, while he himself return to Byzantium.

AD 621/2

In this year, on 15 March, indiction 11, the emperor Herakleios set out from the Imperial City and speedily arrived in Armenia. As for Chosroes, the emperor of the Persians, he dispatched Sarbarazas, with his own army, to invade Roman territory. Herakleios wrote a letter to Chosroes bidding him embrace peace; if not, he would invade Persia with his army. But Chosroes neither embraced peace nor did he take any account of the statement that Herakleios would dare approach Persia. And on 20 April the emperor invaded Persia. When Chosroes learnt of this, he ordered Sarbarazas to turn back; and having gathered his armies from all of Persia, he entrusted them to Sain, whom he commanded to join Sarbarazas with all speed and so proceed against the emperor. As for Herakleios, he called together his troops and roused them with these words of exhortation: ‘Men, my brethren, let us keep in mind the fear of God and fight to avenge the insult done to God. Let us stand bravely against the enemy who have inflicted many terrible things on the Christians. Let us respect the sovereign state of the Romans and oppose the enemy who are armed with impiety. Let us be inspired with faith that defeats murder. Let us be mindful of the fact that we are within the Persian land and that flight carries a great danger. Let us avenge the rape of our virgins and be afflicted in our hearts as we see the severed limbs of our soldiers. The danger is not without recompense: nay, it leads to the eternal life. Let us stand bravely, and the Lord our God will assist us and destroy the enemy.’

When the emperor had spoken these and many other words of exhortation, they replied one and all: ‘Thou hast expanded our hearts, O Sire, by opening thy lips to encourage us. Thy words have sharpened our swords and imbued them with life. Thou hast given us wing by thy statements. We blush to see thee leading us in battle, and we follow thy commands.’

So the emperor took up his army and straight away made for the heart of Persia, burning the towns and villages. And there happened at this stage an awesome miracle. For at the time of the summer sol­stice the air became cool and refreshed the Roman army so that they became filled with fair hopes. And when Herakleios heard that Chosroes was in the town of Gazakko with 40,000 fighting men, he rushed against him. He sent forward some of his subject Saracens as an advance party and they encountered the watch of Chosroes, some of whom they killed, whilst others they captured and brought to the emperor together with their commander. When he had learnt of this, Chosroes abandoned the town and his army and took to flight. Herakleios gave pursuit, and some he overtook and killed, whilst the rest escaped and scattered. And when the emperor reached the town of Gazakos, (he restored his army in its suburbs. The Persians who had taken refuge with him said that Chosroes had destroyed with fire all the crops in those parts and had fled to the town of Thebarmais) in the east, wherein were the temple of Fire and the treasure of Croesus, king of Lydia, and the deceit of the coals. Setting out from Gazakos, the emperor reached Thebarmais, which he entered and burnt down the temple of Fire as well as the entire city; and he pursued Chosroes in the defiles of the land of the Medes. Chosroes went from place to place in this difficult terrain, whilst Herakleios, as he was pursuing him, captured many towns and lands. When winter had set in, he took counsel to decide where he should winter together with his army. Some said that they should do so in Albania, Mothers that they should push ahead against Chosroes himself. The emperor ordered that the army should purify itself for three days. He then opened the holy Gospel and found a passage that directed him to winter in Albania. So he immediately turned back and hastened to Albania. As he had with him numerous Persian captives, he was the object of several attacks by the Persian troops on the intervening journey, but with God’s help was victorious against all of them. In spite of the severe winter cold that overtook him on the way, he reached Albania with 50 000 captives whom, in his compassionate heart, he pitied and liberated. He granted them proper care and repose so that all of them prayed with tears in their eyes that he should become the saviour even of Persia and slay Chosroes, the destroyer of the world.

AD 622/3

In this year Chosroes, emperor of the Persians, appointed as his commander Sarablangas, an energetic man filled with great vanity; and having entrusted him with the contingents of the so-called Chosroegetai and Perozitai, sent him against Herakleios in Albania. They pushed ahead to the boundaries of Albania, but did not dare confront the emperor in battle; instead, they seized the passes that led to Persia in the belief that they would trap him. At the beginning of spring Herakleios set out from Albania and made his way towards Persia through level plains that provided an abundance of food, even if, by this lengthy detour, he was covering a great distance. Sarablangas, on the other hand, pushed ahead by the narrow and shorter way so as to anticipate him in Persian territory.

Herakleios exhorted his army with these words: ‘Let us be aware, O brethren, that the Persian army, as it wanders through difficult country, is exhausting and debilitating its horses. As for us, let us hasten with all speed against Chosroes so that, falling upon him unexpectedly, we may throw him into confusion.’ The troops, however, opposed this course, especially the Laz, Abasgian, and Iberian allies. For this reason they fell into misfortune. For Sarbarazas, too, had arrived with his troops, whom Chosroes had armed mightily and sent against Herakleios by way of Armenia. As for Sarablangas, he was following Herakleios from behind and did not engage him, expecting, as he did, to join Sarbarazas and then give battle. When the Romans had been apprised of the onset of Sarbarazas, they were seized by timidity and fell at the emperor’s feet, repenting with tears of their misguided disobedience; for they knew how great an evil it is when a servant does not yield to his master’s wishes. And they said: ‘Stretch out your hand, O lord, before we miserable ones perish. We obey you in whatever you command.’ Then the emperor hastened to engage Sarablangas before the latter had been joined by the army of Sarbarazas and, having made many sorties against him both by night and by day, reduced him to a state of timidity. Leaving both of them in his rear, he pushed on with all speed against Chosroes. Now two Romans deserted to the Persians and persuaded them that the Romans were fleeing out of cowardice. Another rumour had also reached them, namely that Sain, the Persian commander, was coming to their help with another army. When Sarablangas and Sarbarazas learnt this, they strove to engage Herakleios in battle before Sain had arrived and transferred to himself the glory of victory. Trusting also the deserters, they moved against Herakleios and, when they drew near to him, encamped, intending to engage him in the morning. But Herakleios set out in the evening and marched all night; and when he had gone a long distance from them, he found a grassy plain and encamped in it. The barbarians, thinking that he was fleeing out of cowardice, pushed on in a disorderly manner so as to overtake him. But he met them and gave battle. He occupied a certain wooded hill and, gathering there his army, routed the barbarians with God’s help and slew a multitude of them after pursuing them through the ravines. (Sarablangas fell, too, struck with a sword in his back.) As these struggles were going on, Sain also arrived with his army, and the emperor routed him and slew many of his men, whilst the rest he scattered as they were fleeing; and he captured their camp equipment. Sarbarazas then joined forces with Sain and gathered together the barbarians who had survived. And, once again, they made plans to move against Herakleios. As for the emperor, he pushed on to the land of the Huns, through the rough and inaccessible places of their difficult country, while the barbarians followed him from behind. Now the Lazi and the Abasgians took fright; they broke their alliance with the Romans and returned to their own country. Sain was pleased at this and, together with Sarbaros, eagerly pressed on against Herakleios. The emperor gathered his troops and gave them courage by assuaging them with these words of exhortation: Be not disturbed, O brethren, by the multitude (of the enemy). For when God wills it, one man will rout a thousand. So let us sacrifice ourselves to God for the salvation of our brothers. May we win the crown of martyrdom so that we maybe praised in the future and receive our recompense from God.’ Having with these and many other words encouraged the army, he arranged the battle order with joyful countenance. The two sides faced each other across a short distance from morning until evening, but did not engage. When evening had fallen, the emperor continued his march; and again the barbarians pressed on behind him. Wishing to overtake him, they took another route, but fell into marshy ground, went astray, and experienced great danger. So the emperor crossed over and went by the regions of Persarmenia. That country being under Persian control, many men joined Sarbarazas and so increased his army. And when it was winter, the multitude dispersed in their own lands so as to take rest (in their houses). When Herakleios learnt of this, he decided to steal a battle by night. The winter, then, having set in, and Sarbaros not suspecting anything, he selected the strongest horses and the bravest soldiers and divided them into two. The first part he ordered to move ahead against Sarbaros, whilst he himself followed behind with the rest. So they hastened through the night and reached the village Salbanon at the ninth hour of the night. The Persians who were there became aware of the attack: they rose up and rushed to resist, but the Romans slew all of them, except one who brought the news to Sarbaros. Rising up and mounting his horse, naked and unshod as he was, Sarbaros found his salvation in flight. His wives and the flower of the Persians, that is the commanders, satraps, and picked soldiers, were apprehended as they had climbed to the roofs of their houses and were preparing to fight. Herakleios brought them down by means of fire, and some he slew, others he burnt, whilst others were bound in fetters, so that nearly no one escaped except for Sarbaros. They took the arms of Sarbaros, namely his golden shield, his sword, lance, gold belt set with precious stones, and boots. When Herakleios had taken these things, he moved against the Persians who were scattered in the villages. These men, on learning of the flight of Sarbaros, also fled without restraint. He pursued them, killed or captured many of them, whilst the remainder returned to Persia in disgrace. As for the emperor, he joyfully collected his army and wintered in those parts.

AD 623/4

In this year, on 1 March, the emperor Herakleios collected his army and took counsel as to which road he should follow: for two roads lay before him, both narrow and difficult, one leading to Taranton, the other to the land of Syria. And whereas the one to Taranton was superior, it lacked every kind of food supply, whereas the one to Syria that went over the Tauros provided a plentiful abundance of food. Everyone gave preference to the latter, even though it was steeper and covered with much snow. So, after traversing it with great toil, they reached in seven days the river Tigris, which they crossed and arrived at Martyropolis and Amida. The army and the captives rested there. From there the emperor was able to send letters to Byzantium in which he described all his actions, thus causing great joy in the City. As for Sarbaros, he collected his scattered army and went after him. The emperor picked a band of soldiers and sent them to guard the passes leading to his position; and sallying forth to the eastward passages, he moved to confront Sarbaros. He crossed the Nymphios river and reached the Euphrates, where there was a pontoon bridge made of rope and boats. Sarbaros untied the ropes from one shore and shifted the whole bridge to the other. When the emperor came and was unable to cross by the bridge, he went by and found a ford which he safely traversed – an unexpected feat in the month of March – and so reached Samosata. Once again he went over the Tauros and arrived at Germanikeia; and, going by Adana, he came to the river Saros. Now Sarbaros stretched the bridge back to its former place and, crossing the Euphrates without hindrance, followed him from behind. The emperor crossed the bridge of the Saros and, finding a place to rest his army and horses, encamped there. Sarbaros, in the meantime, reached the opposite bank. He found the bridge and its forward bastions occupied by the Romans, so he encamped. Now many of the Romans made disorderly sorties across the bridge and attacked the Persians, among whom they caused much slaughter. The emperor forbade them to sally forth indiscriminately lest the enemy found a means of entering the bridge and crossing it at the same time they did, but the army did not obey the emperor. Now Sarbaros set up ambuscades and, feigning flight, drew many of the Romans to cross over in pursuit against the emperor’s wish. He then turned round and routed them, and killed as many as he overtook outside the bridge – a punishment of their disobedience. When the emperor saw that the barbarians had broken ranks in pursuit and that many of the Romans who were standing upon the bastions were being slain, he moved against them. A giant of a man confronted the emperor in the middle of the bridge and attacked him, but the emperor struck him and threw him into the river. When this man had fallen, the barbarians turned to flight land, because of the narrowness of the bridge, jumped into the river like frogs, whilst others were being killed by the sword. But the bulk of the barbarians poured over the river bank: they shot arrows and resisted the passage of the Romans. The emperor did cross to the other side and bravely opposed the barbarians with a few men of his guard. He fought in a superhuman manner so that even Sarbaros was astonished and said (to) one Kosmas (a runaway Roman and an apostate) who was standing close to him: ‘Do you see, O Kosmas, how boldly the Caesar stands in battle, how he fights alone against such a multitude and wards off blows like an anvil?’ For he was recognized by his purple boots, and received many blows, although none (of a serious nature in this battle. And after they had fought this battle all day,) when evening came, they drew apart. Sarbaros became frightened and retreated in the night. As for the emperor, he collected his army and hastened to the city of Sebasteia. After crossing the river Halys, he spent the whole winter in that land.

Chosroes in his rage sent emissaries to confiscate the treasure of all the churches that were under Persian rule. And he forced the Christians to convert to the religion of Nestorios so as to wound the emperor.

AD 624/5

In this year Chosroes, emperor of Persia, made a new levy by conscripting strangers, citizens, and slaves whom he selected from every nation. He placed this picked body under the command of Sain and gave him, in addition, another 50 000 men chosen from the phalanx of Sarbaros. He called them the Golden Spearmen and sent them against the emperor. As for Sarbaros, he dispatched him with his remaining army against Constantinople with a view to establishing an alliance between the western Huns (who are called Avars) and the Bulgars, Slavs, and Gepids, and so advancing on the City and laying siege to it. When the emperor learnt of this, he divided his army into three contingents: the first he sent to protect the City; the second he entrusted to his own brother Theodore, whom he ordered to fight Sain; the third part he took himself and advanced to Lazica. During his stay there he invited the eastern Turks, who are called Chazars, to become his allies. Now Sain with his newly recruited army overtook the emperor’s brother and prepared for battle. With God’s help (by the mediation of the all-praised Theotokos), when battle was joined a storm of hail fell unexpectedly on the barbarians and struck down many of them, whereas the Roman array enjoyed fair weather. So the Romans routed the Persians and slew a great multitude of them. When Chosroes learnt of this, he was angered at Sain. And Sain, because of his great despondency fell ill and died. By order of Chosroes his body was preserved in salt and conveyed to him; and, though it was dead, he subjected it to ill­treatment.

Now the Chazars broke through the Caspian Gates and invaded Persia, that is the land of Adraigan, under their commander Ziebe who was second in rank after the Chagan. And in all the lands they traversed .they made the Persians captive and burnt the towns and villages. The emperor, too, set out from Lazica and joined them. When Ziebel saw him, he rushed to meet him, kissed his neck, and did obeisance to him, while the Persians were looking on from the town of Tiphilios. And the entire army of the Turks fell flat on the ground and, stretched out on their faces, reverenced the emperor with an honour that is unknown among alien nations. Likewise, their commanders climbed on rocks and fell flat in the same manner. Ziebel also brought before the emperor his adolescent son, and he took as much pleasure in the emperor’s conversation as he was astonished by his appearance and wisdom. After picking 40,000 brave men, Ziebel gave them to the emperor as allies, while he himself returned to his own land. Taking these men along, the emperor advanced on Chosroes.

As for Sarbaros, he attacked Chalcedon, while the Avars approached the City by way of Thrace with a view to capturing it. They set in motion many engines against it and filled the gulf of the Horn with an immense multitude, beyond all number, whom they had brought from the Danube in carved boats. After investing the City by land and sea for ten days, they were vanquished by God’s might and help and by the intercession of the immaculate Virgin, the Mother of God. Having lost great numbers, both on land and on sea, they shamefully returned to their country. Sarbaros, however, who was besieging Chalcedon, did not depart, but wintered there, laying waste and pillaging the regions and towns across the strait.

AD 625/6

In this year the emperor Herakleios, by invading Persia together with the Turks starting in the month of September – an unexpected move, since it was winter – threw Chosroes into a state of distraction when the news had reached him. But the Turks, in view of the winter and the constant attacks of the Persians, could not bear to toil together with the emperor and started, little by little, to slip away until all of them had left and returned home. Now the emperor addressed his troops, saying: ‘Know, O brothers, that no one wishes to fight with us, except God and His Mother who bore Him without seed, and this that He may show His might, since salvation does not lie in the abundance of soldiers and weapons, but to those who trust in His mercy) He sends down His aid.’

As for Chosroes, he collected all his armies and appointed Razates commander over them, a most warlike and brave man, whom he sent against Herakleios. The emperor meanwhile was burning the towns and villages of Persia and putting to the sword the Persians he captured. On 9 October of the 15th indiction he reached the land of Chamaetha, where he rested his army for one week. As for Razates, he came to Gazakos, in the emperor’s rear, and followed him, while the Romans, in front, were destroying the crops. Trailing behind, like a hungry dog, he fed with difficulty on the emperor’s crumbs. On 1 December the emperor reached the Great Zabas river, which he crossed and encamped near the town of Nineveh. Following him, Razates, too, came to the ford and, going another three miles downstream, found another ford which he crossed. The emperor sent out the commander Baanes with a small body of picked soldiers; the latter encountered a company of Persians and, after killing their captain, brought back his head and his sword, which was all of gold. He killed many more and made twenty-six captive, among whom was the sword-bearer of Razates. This man announced to the emperor that Razates was intending to give battle on orders from Chosroes, who had sent him 3,000 armed men; but these had not yet arrived. When the emperor had been informed of this, he sent ahead his camp equipment and himself followed, seeking a place in which to give battle before the 3,000 had joined the enemy. And when he had found a plain suitable for fighting, he addressed his troops and drew them up in battle order. Upon arriving there, Razates also drew up his army in three dense formations and advanced on the emperor. Battle was given on Saturday, 12 December. The emperor sallied forward in front of everyone and met the commander of the Persians, and, by God’s might and the help of the Theotokos, threw him down; and those who had sallied forth with him were routed. Then the emperor met another Persian in combat and cast him down also. Yet a third assailed him and struck him with a spear, wounding his lip; but the emperor slew him, too. And when the trumpets had sounded, the two sides attacked each other and, as a violent battle was being waged, the emperor’s tawny horse called Dorkon, was wounded in the thigh by some infantryman who struck it with a spear. It also received several blows of the sword on the face, but, wearing as it did a cataphract made of sinew, it was not hurt, nor were the blows effective. Razates fell in battle, as did the three divisional commanders of the Persians, nearly all of their officers, and the greater part of their army. As for the Romans, fifty were killed and a considerable number wounded, but they did not die, save for another ten. That battle was waged from morning until the 11th hour. The Romans captured twenty-eight standards of the Persians, not counting those that had been broken, and, having despoiled the dead, took their corselets, helmets, and all their arms. And the two sides remained at a distance of two bowshots from one another, for there was no retreat. The Roman soldiers watered their horses at night and fed them. But the Persian horsemen stood until the 7th hour of the night over the bodies of their dead; and at the 8th hour of the night they set forth and returned to their camp; and taking it up, they went away and encamped in fear at the foot of a rugged mountain. The Romans took many gold swords and gold belts set with pearls, and the shield of Razates, which was all of gold and had 120 laminae, and his gold breastplate; and they brought in his caftan together with his head, and his bracelets and his gold saddle. And Barsamouses, the prince of the Iberians who are subject to Persia, was taken alive. (No one can remember such a battle being waged between Persians) and Romans inasmuch as it did not cease all day; and if the Romans won, they did so only by God’s help.

After encouraging his army, the emperor pushed on against Chosroes with a view to frightening him and making him recall Sarbaros from Byzantium [from Chalcedon]. On 21 December the emperor was informed that the army of Razates – as much of it as had escaped from the battle – had been joined by the 3,000 men dispatched by Chosroes and had reached Nineveh in pursuit of him. After crossing the Great Zabas, the emperor (dispatched the turmarch George with 1000 men to ride forward and seize the bridges of the Lesser Zabas) before Chosroes had become aware of it. After riding forty-eight miles, George seized the four bridges of the Lesser Zabas in the night and captured the Persians he found in the forts. On 23 December the emperor reached the bridges, crossed them, and encamped in the mansions of Iesdem; he rested both his army and his horses and celebrated the feast of Christ’s Nativity in that place. When Chosroes was informed that the Romans had seized the bridges of the Lesser Zabas, he sent a message to the army that had been under Razates that they should try very hard to overtake the emperor so as to join him. Making haste, they crossed the Lesser Zabas in another place and overtook the emperor, in front of whom they now marched. As for the emperor, he came upon (a palace called Dezeridan, which he destroyed and burnt, while the Persians crossed the bridge of the river Tornas and encamped there. The emperor came upon) a second palace of Chosroes called Rousa and this, too, he destroyed. He suspected that the enemy were going to fight him at the bridge of the river Tornas; but when they saw him, they abandoned the bridge and fled. So the emperor crossed without hindrance and reached another palace called Beklal; here a hippodrome had been built, and he destroyed it. Several of the Armenians who accompanied the Persians came to the emperor (at night) and said: ‘Chosroes with his elephants and his own army is encamped five miles on this side of the palace called Dastagerd, in a place called Barasroth, and he has given instructions that his forces should assemble there and fight you. There is a river there that is difficult to cross, and a narrow bridge, and many cramped spaces between buildings, and fetid streams.’ After taking counsel with his officers and his army, the emperor remained in the palace of Beklal. He found therein in one enclosure 300 corn-fed ostriches, and in another about 500 corn-fed gazelles, and in another 100 corn-fed wild asses, and all of these he gave to his soldiers. And they celebrated 1 January there. They also found sheep, pigs, and oxen without number, and the whole army rested contentedly and gave glory to God. They caught the herdsmen of these cattle and were exactly informed by them that Chosroes had learnt on 23 December that the emperor had crossed the bridge of the Tornas and forthwith set out from the palace of Dastagerd (making all speed for Ctesiphon, and all the money he had in the palace he loaded on the elephants, camels, and mules that were in his service, and he wrote to the army of Razates that they should enter that same palace and the houses of the noblemen and take away anything they found therein. So the emperor sent one half of his army to Dastagerd), while he himself went by a different road to another palace called Bebdarch. This, too, they destroyed and burnt, and they thanked God for having wrought such wonders by the intercession of the Theotokos. For who had expected that Chosroes would flee before the Roman emperor from his palace at Dastagerd and go off to Ctesiphon, when, for twenty-four years, he would not suffer to behold Ctesiphon, but had his royal residence at Dastagerd? In his palace of Dastagerd the Roman army found 300 Roman standards which the Persians had captured at different times. They also found the goods that had been left behind, namely a great quantity of aloes and big pieces of aloes wood, each weighing 70 or 80 lbs., much silk and pepper, more linen shirts than one could count, sugar, ginger, and many other goods. Others found silver, silken garments, woolen rugs, and woven carpets – a great quantity of them and very beautiful, but on account of their weight they burnt them all. They also burnt the tents of Chosroes and the porticoes he set up whenever he encamped in a plain, and many of his statues. They also found in this palace an infinite number of ostriches, gazelles, wild asses, peacocks, and pheasant, and in the hunting park huge live lions and tigers. Many of the captives from Edessa, Alexandria, and other cities – a great throng of them – sought with the emperor. The emperor celebrated at Dastagerd the feast of the Epiphany; he gladdened and restored his army while he destroyed the palaces of Chosroes. These priceless, wonderful and astonishing structures he demolished to the ground so that Chosroes might learn how great a pain the Romans had suffered when their cities were laid waste and burnt by him. Many of the palace diaitarii were also arrested and, on being interrogated as to when Chosroes had departed from Dastagerd, they said: ‘Nine days before your arrival he heard of your presence and secretly made a hole in the city wall near the palace. In this way he went out unhindered through the gardens, he with his wife and children, so there should not be a tumult in the city.’ Indeed, neither his army was aware of it nor his noblemen until he had gone five miles; at which point he announced that they should follow him in the direction of Ctesiphon. And this man who was incapable of travelling five miles in one day, travelled twenty-five in his flight. His wives and children, who previously had not laid eyes on one another, now fled in disorder, one jostling the other. When night had fallen, Chosroes took shelter in the house of an insignificant farmer whose door barely let him through. When, later, Herakleios saw that door, he was amazed. In three days Chosroes reached Ctesiphon. Twenty-four years earlier, when he besieged Daras in the days of the Roman emperor Phokas, he had been given an oracle by his magicians and astrologers, namely that he would perish at the time he went to Ctesiphon; and although he would not suffer to go one mile in that direction from Dastagerd, he now went to Ctesiphon as he fled. But even there he did not dare stop; nay, he crossed the pontoon bridge over the river Tigris to the town on the other side, which is called Seleukeia by the Romans and Gouedeser by the Persians. He deposited all his money there and remained there with his wife Seirem and three other women who were his daughters. His remaining wives and his many children he sent to a stronghold forty miles to the east.

Now some Persians spoke slanderously to Chosroes concerning Sarbaros, namely that the latter was on the side of the Romans and railed at him. So he sent one of his sword-bearers to Chalcedon with an order to Kardarigas, Sarbaros’ fellow-commander, in which he wrote that Kardarigas should kill Sarbaros and, taking along the Persian army, hasten to Persia to assist him. But the messenger who carried the letter was apprehended by the Romans in the area of Galatia. His captors, eluding the Persians, brought him to Byzantium and handed him over to the emperor’s son. When the young emperor had ascertained the truth from the courier, he straight away sent for Sarbaros, who came into the emperor’s presence. The emperor handed him the letter addressed to Kardarigas and showed him the messenger. Sarbaros read the letter and, being satisfied of its truth, immediately changed sides and made a covenant with the emperor’s son and the patriarch. He falsified Chosroes’ letter by inserting in it the instruction that, along with himself, another four hundred satraps, commanders, tribunes, and centurions should be killed, and he cunningly replaced the seal on it. He then convened his commanders and Kardarigas himself and, after reading the letter, said to Kardarigas: ‘Are you resolved to do this?’ The commanders were filled with anger and renounced Chosroes, and they made a peaceful settlement with the emperor. After taking common counsel, they decided to depart from Chalcedon and return home without causing any damage.

Now Herakleios wrote to Chosroes: ‘I am pursuing you as I hasten towards peace. For it is not of my free will that I am burning Persia, but constrained by you. Let us, therefore, throw down our arms even now and embrace peace. Let us extinguish the fire before it consumes everything.’ But Chosroes did not accept these proposals, and so the hatred of the Persian people grew against him. He conscripted all the retainers of his noblemen and all his servants and those of his wives and, having armed them, sent them to join the army of Razates and take a stand on the river Narbas, twelve miles from Ctesiphon. He commanded them that when the emperor had crossed the river, they should cut the pontoon bridge. As for the emperor, he set out from Dastagerd on 7 January and, after marching three days, encamped twelve miles from the river Narbas, where the Persian camp lay and where they had 200 elephants. The emperor sent George, turmarch of the Armeniacs; as far as the river to ascertain whether the Narbas had a ford. And when he had found that they had cut the bridges and that the Narbas had no ford, he returned to the emperor. Setting forth, the emperor came to Siazouros and, for the whole of the month of February, he went about burning the villages and the towns. In the month of March he came to a village called Barzan, where he spent seven days; and he dispatched the commander Mezezios on a foray. A certain Goundabousan, who was captain of a thousand men in the army of Sarbaros, went over to him together with five others, three of whom were captains and two officers of other rank; and he brought them to the emperor. This man Goundabousan announced some vital news to the emperor, saying that ‘When Chosroes fled from Dastagerd and went to Ctesiphon and Seleukeia, he contracted dysentery and wanted to crown his son Merdasan who was born to Seirem. And he crossed the river again and brought with him Merdasan along with Seirem and her other son Saliar. As for his firstborn son Siroes and his brothers and wives, he left them on the other side of the river. When Siroes was informed that Chosroes was intending to crown Merdasan, he was troubled and sent his foster-brother to Goundabousan with this message, “Come to the other side of the river that I may meet you.” But Goundabousan was afraid to cross on account of Chosroes and declared to him, “Write me whatever it is you wish through your foster-brother.” So Siroes wrote him the following: “You know how the Persian state has been destroyed by this evil man Chosroes, and now he intends to crown Merdasan and has scorned me, the firstborn. If you tell the army that they should accept me, I shall increase their pay and make peace with the Roman emperor (and with the Turks), and we shall live in plenty. So strive with your men that I should become king. I will then promote and support all of you, and yourself in particular.” I informed him through his foster-brother that I would speak to the army and strive to the best of my ability. And I spoke to twenty-two captains and won them over to my views, as well as many other officers and soldiers. I announced this to Siroes, who instructed me that on 23 March I should take some young regulars and meet him at the pon­toon bridge of the Tigris river, present him to the army, and set forth against Chosroes. And, furthermore, that Siroes had with him the two sons of Sarbarazas, the son of Iesdem, the son of Aram, and many other sons of noblemen – a select company. If they succeed in killing Chosroes, well and good; but if they fail, all of them, including Siroes, will go over to the emperor. He sent me to you, O lord, because he feels ashamed before the Roman Empire; for, once upon a time, it saved Chosroes and, on his account, the land of the Romans has suffered many ills. Because of his ingratitude, he says, the emperor will have no reason to trust me either.’

Now the emperor sent this man back to Siroes with the message that he should open the prisons and bring out the Romans confined therein, and give them arms, and so move against Chosroes. Siroes obeyed the emperor and, after releasing the prisoners, attacked his parricide father Chosroes. The latter tried to escape, but failed and was captured. They bound him securely with iron fetters, his elbows behind his back, and hung iron weights on his feet and his neck, and so cast him in the House of Darkness, which he himself had fortified and rebuilt to deposit his moneys therein; and they starved him by giving him a paltry amount of bread and water. For Siroes said, ‘Let him eat the gold he collected in vain, on account of which he starved many men and made the world desolate.’ He sent to him the satraps that they might insult him and spit upon him, and he brought Mardesan, whom he had wished to crown, and slew him in his presence, and all his remaining children were killed in front of him, and he sent all his enemies that they might insult him, strike him, and spit upon him. After doing this for five days, Siroes commanded that he should be killed with bow and arrows, and thus in slow pain he gave up his wicked soul. Then Siroes wrote to the emperor to give him the good tidings of the slaying of the foul Chosroes; and after making with him a permanent peace, he handed back to him all the imprisoned Christians and the captives held in every part of Persia together with the patriarch Zacharias and the precious and life-giving Cross that had been taken from Jerusalem by Sarbarazas, when the latter captured Jerusalem.

This translation is from The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor: Byzantine and Near Eastern History, AD 284-813, translated by Cyril Mango and Roger Scott (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997)


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