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Martina (fl. 600s)

Martina (fl. 600s)

Byzantine empress . Flourished during the 600s; second wife of Herakleos also known as Heraclius I of Carthage, Byzantine emperor (r. 610–641); children: ten, including Heraklonas also known as Heraclonas II, Byzantine emperor (r. 641).

The Byzantine Empire that Heraclius I of Carthage inherited in 610 was sadly reduced from its former glory and still being decimated by enemies. These included Slavs, Avars, Lombards, and the Persians, who soon captured Palestine and Syria and removed the True Cross from Jerusalem. Although moody and subject to phobias, Heraclius rallied his armies, retook much of the land that had been lost, and restored the holy relic to Jerusalem. Martina, his second wife, traveled with him on his campaigns, and gave birth to some of their ten children at far-flung military outposts. The royal couple appear to have been devoted to each other; they were also related by blood, for Martina was Heraclius' niece, and many Byzantines believed the marriage to be incestuous. This does not seem to have harmed the emperor's high standing with his subjects, but it made Martina widely scorned and unpopular.

By the early 630s, Heraclius had vanquished his foes, and the empire seemed set for prosperity. Then the warriors of the new religion of Islam swept into Byzantium. Jerusalem fell to their onslaught in 637, and by the end of the decade Islamic forces had conquered the Byzantine provinces of Palestine and Syria, and Heraclius was suffering from a crisis of nerves that rendered him virtually unable to rule. Martina remained by his side throughout. Heraclius' designated successor was Heraclonas-Constantine, his son with his first wife Fabia-Eudocia , but Martina's influence over her husband was such that before his death in 641 she was able to secure a joint kingship for their 15-year-old son Heraclonas II. Heraclius agreed to this arrangement in part due to the poor health of Heraclonas-Constantine, and, indeed, the new co-emperor died, probably of tuberculosis, after just three months on the throne. Martina's enemies in the imperial court spread rumors that she had poisoned him so her son Heraclonas II could rule as sole emperor. Despite the fact that Heraclonas II promptly raised his nephew Constantine III to the status of co-emperor, those same enemies took Martina and her son into custody a few months later. Martina's tongue was cut out, Heraclonas' nose was mutilated, and they were banished to the island of Rhodes. Nothing further is known of Martina's fate.


Head, Constance. Imperial Byzantine Portraits. New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers, 1982.

Grant Eldridge , freelance editor, Pontiac, Michigan

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