Phocas

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Flavius Phocas (Φωκάς, Phokas) was Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor from 602 to 610. He usurped the throne from the Emperor Maurice, and was himself overthrown by Heraclius after losing a civil war.

Contents

Origins

Almost nothing is known of Phocas's early life, although he may have been a native of Thrace. The name of his father is unknown. His mother was named Domentia (or Domentzia). He had at least two brothers, Comentiolus and Domentziolus.[1]

By 600, he was a subaltern officer in the Byzantine army that served during Maurice's Balkan campaigns, and apparently was viewed as a leader by his fellow soldiers. He was a member of a delegation sent by the army in that year to Constantinople to submit grievances to the government. The Avars had defeated the Byzantines in 598, had taken a large number of prisoners, and demanded a ransom. Maurice refused to pay and all the prisoners were killed, causing consternation among the army. The delegation's complaints were rejected, and, according to several sources, Phocas himself was slapped and humiliated by prominent court officials at this time.

Accession

In 602, having created unrest in the legions by reforms intended to reduce the expenses of their maintenance, Maurice ordered the Balkan army, then campaigning against the Avars, to winter on the north side of the Danube, the unprotected far side of the river's protective boundary. The army almost immediately revolted and marched on the capital, with Phocas at its head. Within a month, Maurice's government had collapsed, the emperor abdicated and fled the city, and the "Green" faction in Constantinople acclaimed Phocas as emperor. He was crowned in the Church of St. John the Baptist and his wife Leontia was invested with the rank of Augusta. Maurice, who represented little genuine threat, was dragged from his monastic sanctuary at Chalcedon, and killed along with his five sons. It is said that he had to watch as his sons were executed in front of his eyes. The bodies were thrown in the sea and the heads of all were exhibited in Constantinople before Phocas made arrangements for a Christian burial for the relics of his deeply pious predecessor.

Phocas's rule was welcomed at first by many because he lowered taxes, which had been high during the reign of Maurice. Fulsome letters of courtly praise from Pope Gregory I are attested. The pope, Saint Gregory, appreciated his acceptance of the reforms he had begun. The agrarian reforms of the Church in Italy and particularly in Sicily had been followed in Egypt by the Orthodox Patriarchs. The reform consisted in naming "rectores" as administrators of the latifunds and eliminating all sort of contractors and parasites who exploited the tenant farmers, reducing them to misery, while undermining the income of the owners.

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