At the time of the birth of Mauritius Tiberius (known as Maurice to us), the Later Roman Empire was undergoing the far-reaching advances of Justinian’s reign. Born in Roman territory in Cappadocia (In modern-day Turkey), little is known of his childhood years. Joining the Byzantine military, he rose high in rank as an officer until he was so prominent as to be appointed the Emperor Tiberius II Constantine’s successor.
Justinian had been barely cold in his grave before his rebuilt Empire began to disintegrate. Displaced from their homes by the Avars, the Lombards invaded Italy in 568. In conjunction with this, in 575 the Visigoths renounced Roman suzerainty, and began the process of reducing the Imperial province in Spain. On top of this, the Balkan frontiers were being attacked by Slav settlers, and the Sassanid Persians were attacking in the east. In 481, Emperor Tiberius II Constantine had concluded a long campaign against the Persians; defeating their King, Hormizdas IV, after four years of fighting. After this, Maurice married Tiberius’ daughter, Constantia, to set Maurice’s succession in stone. Very soon after, in the year 582 A.D, Maurice’s father-in-law died, and Maurice became Emperor.
Because of the ravages of invasion and constant warring, the Byzantine state was virtually bankrupt upon Maurice’s succession. The lack of funds caused him to undertake extensive cost-cutting, which caused him to acquire a perhaps undeserved reputation for greed among the general populace, soldiers and mercenaries. With the most pressing threat of the Visigoths in Spain, Maurice had to take steps to ensure the security of the remaining Western provinces. He established the exarchates of Carthage and Ravenna, wherein the military and civil responsibilities were united under one authority. This system is considered a forerunner to the later Byzantine ‘theme’ system.
In conjunction with the eternal conflicts of the Byzantine church and the Monophysites, Maurice announced his decision to retain the resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon, thus undertaking further persecution of the Monophysites. This further persecution (including the execution of 400 monks who refused to renounce Monophysitism) led to strife with the Papacy in Rome, resulting in the Emperor not recognising the Pope (Gregory) in his position.Gregory, despairing of negotiating a peace between the religious sects and himself and the Emperor, turned to the Lombards. By conferring the title of King upon the Lombard ruler in Italy, (named Autari), the Pope threw up a formidable adversary to the Byzantines in Italy, heralding the birth and rise of an organised power in the region.
The situation for Maurice and the Byzantines worsened. The Balkans were repeatedly raided by the Avars, and Slav settlers immigrated in their wake, colonising and conquering a large amount of Byzantine territory. Campaigns against the Avars proved fruitless, and eventually a tribute to the Avars was negotiated.
Wars in Persia soon flared up over succession to the throne. In 591, Maurice intervened and re-established Chosrau, who had fled to Constantinople, to the Persian throne. The consequent peace treaty between the Persians and the Byzantines secured Byzantine control of Armenia and their frontier in Eastern Mesopotamia.
In 593 A.D, fed up with the perfidious Avars, Maurice undertook an offensive campaign across the Danube against them. When he realised the increasing cost of maintaining this army and the campaign, he ordered that they winter on the far side of the Danube. The worn out Byzantine soldiers revolted against this decision. An officer named Phocas used the mutiny to seize power in Constantinople. Maurice attempted to flee, but he was intercepted and beheaded, along with his three sons. His wife and daughters survived by entering a monastery.
This unfortunate mutiny had far-reaching affects on the Later Roman Empire. A strong, capable ruler, trying to prevent the disintegration of the great empire of Justinian, was deposed, and Byzantium was plunged into an era of tyranny and oppression. This deposition gave the Persian ruler, Chosrau II, the perfect excuse to wage war on the Byzantines, and would cause terrible instability; the Later Roman Empire appeared so weak that the Persians would set their eyes on nothing less than complete conquest until another great Byzantine ruler, named Heraclius, would change that.
Mauritius Tiberius was a capable and efficient ruler; if he appeared to be acting in a spend-thrift way, it was only because the Byzantines simply didn’t have the money to spend. He worked hard to delay or even stop the crumbling of Justinian’s Empire and attempted to pilot the Empire through one of its worst stages of instability. His military experience and wisdom was quite extensive; as is shown in a military handbook he authored called Strategikon, which is feted as the first and only advanced combined arms theory written until World War II. An advocate of literature and learning, he is also considered a Saint in the Orthodox Church. What he could have achieved had his Danube army not mutinied against him will never be known.
This article was written by forum member Tobias