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Heraclius, Byzantine Emperor


Reigned Oct. 5, 610, to Feb. 11, 641; b. Cappadocia, c. 575. Heraclius, son of Heraclius, Exarch of Africa, who was of Armenian origin, played a principal part in his father's revolt against the unpopular Emperor Phocas (602610). He sailed to Constantinople with an expeditionary force, overthrew and executed Phocas, and was proclaimed emperor. By his first marriage, to Eudoxia, he had a son, Heraclius Constantine, and a daughter, Eudocia. His second marriage, to his niece Martina (631), brought him both two additional sons, Heracleonas and David, and sharp ecclesiastical criticism.

Heraclius spent his entire reign in a struggle against grave external and internal dangers. In 611 the Persians overran successively Syria, Anatolia, Palestine and Egypt; and in 614 they took Jerusalem and removed the Holy Cross to Persia. In a series of brilliant campaigns (622628), Heraclius broke the Persian power in Anatolia and Armenia, carried the war into Persia (627), and caused the fall of Chrosroes and the accession of Kawadh, who consented (April 628) to restore occupied territory and the Holy Cross to the Byzantine Empire. Heraclius personally returned the Cross to Jerusalem amid popular rejoicing (March 21, 630). However, Heraclius not only was unable to prevent Slavic occupation of much of the Balkans, but also failed to check the Arab conquest of Palestine, Syria, and Egypt in the name of Islam (634642).

Heraclius may have attempted to generate a renewal of social and cultural aspects of the Byzantine state, including, perhaps, the establishment of the themes, or military districts. To conciliate his Monophysite subjects, he issued an edict (610) that was orthodox in appearance, but that cast doubt upon the Council of chalcedon. Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople induced him to accept monoenergism, which taught a unity of energy and activities in Christ as a consequence of the unity of wills (c. 621622). Heraclius imposed this doctrine upon reconquered Armenia and other eastern provinces in 626628, and in 631 persuaded the Jacobite bishops in a synod at Mabbug to accept monoenergism. In 633 he forced the Armenian Catholicos Ezras to accept this concept; and in the same year Cyrus, Patriarch of Alexandria, also agreed to this formula. Nevertheless, Monophysite opposition persisted in Egypt and Syria while the Chalcedonian position was strongly reaffirmed by Sophronius of Jerusalem and maximus the confessor. In 634 or 635 Heraclius forbade further discussion of the question.

Recognizing the failure of monoenergism, Heraclius officially proclaimed a new formula in his edict Ecthesis (638), asserting the doctrine of Monothelitism, which proclaimed a perfect harmony and unity of the divine and human will in Christ. Pope severinus refused to accept this explanation; and when, in reprisal, Heraclius's troops seized the papal treasures, Pope john iv openly condemned Monothelitism. The Monophysite Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyrus, accepted the doctrine, but most Copts and Jacobites did not follow him. Heraclius's interventions in ecclesiastical affairs ended in failure.

See Also: monothelitism.

Bibliography: h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959) 430432. o. volk, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 5:237238. f. dÖlger, Corpus der griechischen Urkunden des Mittelalters und der neueren Zeit (Munich 192432) 1:162217. l. brÉhier, a. fliche and v. martin eds., Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1935) 5:75150. a. pernice, L'Imperatore Eraclio (Florence 1905). g. ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State (New Brunswick NJ 1957) 83100. a. frolow, Revue des études byzantines 11 (1953) 88105, true Cross. p. lemerle, Studi medievali 3d ser. 1.2 (1960) 347361.

[w. e. kaegi, jr.]

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