History of the Macedonian People - The Period of Decline

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History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present

Part 16 - The Period of Decline

by Risto Stefov rstefov@hotmail.com

Justinian I's grand projects and campaigns during his reign may have greatly contributed to the glory of Pravoslavism (Christendom) but at the same time they bankrupt the empire's economy.

Justin II, overwhelmed by his failures, died in anguish. Tiberius had some success in achieving peace with the Persians but it did not last for too long. While Tiberius was campaigning in the west, the Avars, in the absence of Pravoslav (Byzantine) troops, overran the Balkans and demanded that Tiberius relinquish control of the city of Sirmium (near modern day Mitrovica in Serbia). When Tiberius refused they attacked. Quick to take advantage of the Pravoslav weakness, the Persians abandoned the peace treaty already in progress and resumed hostilities. Having been left without many choices, Tiberius dispatched Maurice, one of his commanders, to Persian controlled Armenia where, over the next few years, he conducted a series of successful campaigns. Forced to focus his military efforts on the Persians, Tiberius had no troops to repel the Avars and gave into their demands. In 582 AD Pravoslav control of Sirmium was relinquished to the Avars. In order to be allowed to evacuate the city's residents safely, Tiberius agreed to pay the Avars 240,000 solidi. This was the total of unpaid subsidies that they were owed for the last 3 years.

In 582 AD Tiberius became very ill and appointed Maurice and Germanus as his heirs. To give them legitimacy he had each engaged to one of his daughters and elevated to the rank of Caesar. But when it was time Tiberius only crowned Maurice as Augustus.

On August 14th, 582 AD Tiberius died and Maurice became sole emperor of the Pravoslav Empire.

Maurice, or Matricius as he was then known, began his career as a soldier under the Emperor Tiberius. He was the commander of a new legion formed from the ranks of allied barbarians with whom he fought, against the Persians. When he returned triumphant to Tsari Grad, Tiberius gave him his daughter Constantina in marriage.

After his accession Maurice discovered that, through the reckless extravagance of his predecessors, the empire's treasury was empty and the empire was bankrupt. To remedy the situation he cut court expenses, which unfortunately made him very unpopular with his administrators and eventually led to his fall. During the twenty years of his reign, Maurice witnessed his empire gradually decay. For the first ten years or so he was involved in a long drawn out war with the Persians which only ended because of internal problems in the Persian camp. The Avars and Slavs continued their invasion of the northern provinces unchecked and had penetrated the Balkan Peninsula down to the Peloponnesus. The Lombards ravaged Italy only because the empire did not have the resources to protect it.

To turn the tide, Maurice, in 584 AD, asked the Franks for help. Eagerly the Franks accepted Maurice's proposal and invaded Italy. With the Avars still being a problem, Maurice had to buy them off with a heavy bribe, which further strained his resources. By the time he was finished the emperor had become very unpopular with his people. He had depleted the empire's resources so badly that in 599 AD he could not even pay ransom for 12,000 of his soldiers taken prisoners by the Avars and allowed them all to be murdered.

The situation finally snapped when his own army turned on him. A revolt was started when, instead of giving his soldiers time off, he decided to send them into battle. The well-paid soldiers were usually sent home to rest during the winter. Unfortunately this particular winter emperor Maurice had different plans. Instead of a vacation he ordered his army to cross the frozen Danube and destroy the barbarian camps beyond. Winter was the safest time to cross the Danube, using its frozen surface as a bridge. What started out as an army revolt turned into a revolution when, in 602 AD, the soldiers kicked out their officers. They chose Phocas, a soldier from their own ranks, as their leader and marched on Tsari Grad. Unable to organize resistance, Maurice fled across the Bosporus with his family. He was overtaken at Chalcedon and murdered with his five sons.

Phocas, being chosen by the army in the Macedonian tradition, assumed the role of emperor and began his tyrannical reign which lasted from 602 to 610 AD.

It is important to mention at this point that the cohesion of the empire was held intact not because of the strong leadership exhibited by the Emperors but because of the will of the Christians and their loyalty to their Christian faith. Even at this point in time Christianity was a powerful force that bound people together. The empire was made up of a wide variety of ethnic and cultural groups bound together by their common faith. By this time paganism was viewed as a weakness and was on its way out. The sense that God and his saints would protect the Christians fighting the wicked pagans provided a common cause for soldiers of various ethnicities to fight together, especially against the non Christian Syrians. But as mentioned earlier it was not Christian might but a rebellion within the ranks of the Syrians that ended the Pravoslav-Persian war. Even though they were enemies, the rebellious Syrians asked the Pravoslavs for help. The Pravoslavs agreed to provide it in exchange for their lost territories which had been relinquished to the Persians over the years.

After a deal was reached, the rebel leader Khusro, aided by the Pravoslav army, returned to Persia and confronted the old order with a victorious and decisive battle. Khusro honoured the agreement and gave back Dara, Mytropolis, Arzanene, Iberia and most of Persian Armenia.

Unfortunately the long absence of the Pravoslav army from the Balkans had its consequences for the region. Undefended, the Balkans were left open to Avar invasions.

The Avars were a well-organized nomadic group of people with Mongolian origins who were probably driven out of Mongolia during the 550's. The Avars, it seems, were remnants of refugees from the rise of Turkish power, which pushed them across Eurasia. When they first appeared in the Ukrainian steppe they were a welcome sight by the Pravoslavs who saw them as leverage to control the Katrigurs and Utigurs of whom I made mention earlier. Unfortunately, the Avars conquered the Katrigurs and Utigurs and went on to conquer all other groups in the Ukrainian steppe. In 567 AD they allied themselves with the Lombards, destroyed the Gepids and occupied the Hungarian plains.

Besides the Avars, history has also recorded Slav movements in the Balkans at about the same time. The Pravoslav army, however, did not regard the Slavs as very dangerous opponents, even though they were fierce fighters, because they were not united and generally operated in small groups based on extended family units. In other words, the Slavs at this time were not soldiers but harmless farmers traveling together with their families looking for land to settle to cultivate their crops.

According to historic accounts the Slavs were not conquerors or marauders. They were very happy to settle in forested lands and marshes, places usually not suitable for crop farming. People whose main preoccupation was farming would not easily abandon their ancestral lands unless they were in grave danger. Why would the Slavs abandon their homes, endanger their lives by crossing the very difficult Danube River and settle in hostile and less than ideal lands?

In my opinion the Slavs did not cross the Danube at will but were forced to do so by the pressures of the invading barbarian tribes. The arrival of the Goths, Huns, Avars, etc., near the Danube forced the indigenous people to flee south and seek refuge. A great number of the Slav migrations recorded in history, are actually refugee movements of displaced indigenous people from the Danube River region. My supporting evidence for this, in part, is based on Professor Curta's findings which are based on archeological data derived from settlement excavations. "First, there is already enough evidence to move away from the migrationist model which has dominated the discipline of Slavic archaeology ever since its inception. A retreat from migrationism is necessary simply because the available data do not fit any of the current models for the study of (pre)historic migration." "It has become increasingly evident that migrations across ecological or cultural boundaries would require considerable planning on the part of the migrants, and should leave substantial and clear archaeological evidence." "Furthermore, the archaeological evidence... does not match any long-distance migratory pattern." (Page 307, Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs, History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500-700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

So, if the Slavs were not willing migrants as per Professor Curta's findings then what motivated them to travel south to the Balkans? The most logical and probable explanation, given the political situation of the time, is that the Slavs were war refugees forced out of their homes by the more aggressive invaders the Goths, Huns and Avars. There are those, including Falmerayer, who believe that the traveling Slavs were not allowed to settle in Macedonia and were driven to the south and west by the Pravoslav army. This can be substantiated by the fact that with the exception of one, found north of Skopje, there are no archeological Slav burial finds in Macedonia but a great number of them are found to the west and south of geographical Macedonia. There are also unconfirmed claims that the original Slavs who made their way from north of the Danube region did not speak the "Slav language" that is attributed to them. They learned that language from the indigenous people living south of the Danube.

And now back to Phocas's story.

With time it became clear that, in return for glory, Justinian had bestowed upon his successors the arduous burden of managing an over-extended empire whose resources he had drained and whose institutions and infrastructure proved too weak to meet the future challenges. The empire's inability to cope with its problems ultimately led to the rise of a different breed of illegitimate emperors. According to historian George of Pisidia, Phocas was, and to a certain extent remains, one of the most maligned of all Pravoslav emperors. Another Byzantine author Theophlact Simocatta, among other things, called Phocas a barbarian half-breed, a Cyclops and a Centaur. Phocas, however, cannot be blamed entirely for his actions without understanding the state of the empire he inherited. As I mentioned earlier, the imperial woes began around 565 AD, about the time of Justinian's death. By that time Justinian had expanded the empire to include Italy, Africa, and part of Spain. Unfortunately, the empire benefited far less from these conquests than Justinian had hoped. The ambitious emperor had dangerously overestimated the empire's capabilities. Thirty-five years or so late, the empire had still not recovered from its financial smarting. In fact it was getting worse. Phocas marched into Tsari Grad a hero but soon found himself plagued with the same sorts of crises that had brought down his predecessor. With the situation in the provinces already shaky, Phocas was quickly faced with a major threat along the eastern frontier of the empire.

Relations between the Pravoslavs and Persia soured when Phocas overthrew Maurice and the Persian king now had an honourable pretext for an attack. Presenting himself as the avenger of Maurice's murder, the Persian king seized the opportunity to recover the areas that he had earlier ceded to Maurice. In 603AD he started a war that would last for over two decades, critically weakening both empires. In 609 AD, Phocas was forced to withdraw most of the army from the Persian frontier in order to deal with a dangerous rebellion that had spread from the province of Africa to Egypt. The rebellion, it appears, was staged by a man named Heraclius who would eventually replace Phocas as emperor. No doubt encouraged by the commitment of the imperial army against the Persians, a Pravoslav rebel army invaded Egypt in the summer of 608 AD. Heraclius was confident that his supporters could achieve a quick victory in Egypt and gain control of its riches as well its navy.

Shortly after Heraclius's forces entered Egypt, riots broke out in cities throughout Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The people of these provinces had had enough of Phocas's rule and wanted change.

To crush the rebellion in Egypt, Phocas withdrew his army from the Persian war and unleashed it on the rebels in Egypt. Unfortunately, in so doing he left a void in his defenses.

Even with the aid of his army, Phocus was unable to stop the rebellion. The civil war in Egypt came to an end when Heraclius's supporters achieved victory. The end of the civil strife unfortunately came too late to salvage the situation with Persia.

In 609 AD all key Pravoslav fortresses and defenses along the eastern borders were captured by the Persian armies and the Pravoslavs were driven out of Armenia. In the meantime, while his forces were finishing up in Egypt, Heraclius and his fleet made their way to Tsari Grad. Phocas tried to put up resistance but quickly found himself in the same losing position as his predecessor Maurice. Deserted by his supporters, Phocas was seized and brought before Heraclius, who in turn executed him.

Heraclius's revolt marked a crucial turning point in Pravoslav history. In only slightly over two years his actions cost the empire thousands of lives, sapping the empire's manpower, finances and leaving the frontiers virtually undefended. His revolt cost the empire the loss of Syria, Palestine and Egypt.

Emperor Heraclius ruled the Byzantine Empire from 610 to 641 AD. His entry into Pravoslav affairs was at a time when the Empire was threatened on all fronts by many enemies. Leading citizens had had enough of the corrupt Emperor Phocas and wanted him out.

Heraclius's involvement with the Pravoslavs began when his father, General Heraclius of Carthage, was invited to oust Phocus. The general and his brother responded by sending their respective sons with well-equipped forces. By 610 AD Heraclius, the son, triumphantly entered Tsari Grad.

Heraclius, like his predecessors, found the empire's treasury empty. The empire actually worsened with his first few years of rule before it began to turn around.

Heraclius's first order of business was to strengthen the empire's defenses. He did that by dividing the empire into four military districts, each ruled by a military governor. By giving prospective soldiers land grants (themes), he recruited a considerable number of natives, thus minimizing the need for costly foreign mercenaries. On the economic side, he turned to the church for contributions and at the same time introduced new taxes. It took him twelve years before he was confident to go on the offensive. In the spring of 622 AD he led a powerful army into battle.

There are some who say that Heraclius risked his own life by personally participating in many battles. After six years of fighting, his new army was victorious and defeated the Persians. Unfortunately as soon as he arrived in Tsari Grad to celebrate his victories, in 628 AD, the armies of Islam began to advance on Persia. By 633 AD all the territories gained were lost.

Heraclius did try to stop the Islamic onslaught in 636 AD when he raised an army of 80,000 soldiers and met the Muslims by the river Yarmuk. Unfortunately, the climatic conditions were not favourable for the Pravoslavs when a violent sandstorm struck them head-on giving the Muslims, who were used to this kind of weather, battle advantage. The stressful situation was exhausting mentally and physically for Heraclius and caused him to fall seriously ill. Feeling that he may no longer be able to rule, Heraclius performed the ceremony of succession and appointed his two sons Constantine and Heraclonas as his successors in 638 AD.

With the succession settled, Heraclius spent the last years of his life trying to settle the debate between the monophysites and the monotheleties, centering on the nature of Christ. His efforts were unfortunately in vain and no resolution was reached before his death in 641 AD.

Heraclius is also known as the emperor who finally abolished the Latin language from his empire thus allowing the Macedonian language to begin its revival.

It is noteworthy to mention at this point that, while the Pravoslavs were fighting the Persians for dominion over the near east, a new power was growing in Arabia. By the late 620's the tribes of Arabia were uniting under the Prophet Mohamed and were beginning to raid Palestine. By about 633 AD most of the empire's eastern provinces were conquered and after the fall of Damascus in 635 AD, a large Pravoslav army was dispatched to stop the Muslim advance, but it failed.

After Heraclius's death more territories exchanged hands and Caesaria, on the Palestinian coast, was also lost after the Pravoslavs lost Egypt.

By the late 640's the Pravoslavs had again lost the fortress Dara, Edessa in the near-east, Antioch and Alexandria. By the early 650's the Muslims had launched attacks over the Taurus Mountains, through Azerbaijan and made their way into Armenia. By late 653 AD they were at the shores of the Bosporus on the other side of Tsari Grad.

The loss of the major cities and fortresses in the east was a major blow to the economy of the Pravoslavs, who for many years had become dependent on Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and the Caspian coastlands for their commerce. Although the economy did not entirely collapse, much of the progress experienced up to the seventh century ceased to exist. Grand projects including building new churches, repairs and renovations to aqueducts, walls, etc. were also abandoned. Many of the larger cities, excluding Solun and Tsari Grad, were emptied and their populations took on a rural village lifestyle, living off the land.

Being cut off from the rich eastern economies, the empire became poor and began to turn its attention inwards. The empire was no longer a superpower and would never again dominate the near-east. It was also during this period that the Pravoslavs chose to elevate Solun to a second capital city.

By the end of the seventh century AD, Islam, seated in Damascus, was becoming a superpower extending from the borders of India and Tibet to Spain and from southern Egypt and Arabia to Armenia. Islam, a powerful new religious force originating in Arabia, was taking over the near-east in rapid conquests following the Prophet Muhammad's death in 632 AD.

By this time both the Persian and Pravoslav empires had been weakened by their mutual wars and were experiencing devastating defeats at the hands of the Muslims.

While the Persian Empire quickly succumbed to the Muslim assault, the Pravoslavs were only saved because of Tsari Grad's strong triple wall fortifications. As mentioned earlier, the defensive wall construction of Tsari Grad was commissioned around 410 AD and was completed by 500 AD. The inner wall was about twelve meters high and about five and a half meters wide, defended by ninety-six polygonal towers rising more than ten meters above the wall. The second wall was about ten meters high defended by another ninety-six towers. On the outside was a moat about twenty meters wide and about six meters deep. Beyond the moat was a third low wall designed to act as a retaining wall for the moat. Also, one had to cross ten gates before entering the city.

The outer walls were approximately five and a half kilometers long and extended about a kilometer and a half beyond the original Constantinian wall. The large area between the walls was never built up and was used for farming and to supply the city with secure sources of water.

The existence of open farmland inside the city walls was a vital factor in the city's ability to resist sieges. Used to grow crops and graze animals, the land provided the city with a limited but secure source of food.

Europe and Christianity were saved because the Pravoslavs were able to withstand many waves of Muslim onslaught. Had Tsari Grad not been built to withstand the greatest of sieges, Islam would have overrun Europe, as it did Asia. Christianity and the world as we know it today would not have existed in the same way.

Before his death Heraclius elevated both his 28-year-old son Constantine, from his first wife Fabia-Eudocia, and his 15-year-old son Heraclonas, from his send wife Martina, to co-emperors. Unfortunately 28-year-old Constantine, or Constantine III as he was then known, died three months later.

In the absence of Constantine III, his brother Heraclonas crowned Constantine III's son, Constans II, as his co-emperor. But in September 641 AD the Senate deposed Heraclonas and his mother the Empress Martina. To make sure they would never rule again, Martina's tongue and Heraclonas's nose were cut off.

As Constans II was only eleven years old, the Senate held power in the interim and served as the supreme court of the empire.

Like his predecessors, Constans II inherited an empire full of problems. Although he did his best to solve them, he was more unsuccessful than not. His attempts to invade Asia Minor in 646 AD were met with difficulties. Not only did the Muslim Saracen repel his invasion, but the war was brought closer to Tsari Grad in the end. Year after year Muslim troops continued to raid deeper and deeper into Asia Minor, pushing nearer to the western limit of Asia, while Europe was threatened by losses to the Saracen fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. By 649 AD the Saracen fleet captured Cyprus and the Pravoslav fleet was driven out of Alexandria by 652 AD. In 655 AD the Pravoslav fleet faced its final defeat off Phoenix on the Lycian coast, in the heaviest sea-fight since Actium.

Constans, tired of watching his empire slowly erode, took his campaign north. In 658 AD he invaded the region north of the Danube which, at the time, was occupied by Slavs. He successfully defeated numerous tribes and forced them to resettle in Asia Minor. At the same time he began recruiting captive Slavs into his Anatolian forces. Soon afterwards, due to his unpopularity at home, he went west and in 662 AD set out on an expedition to campaign against the Lombards in Italy. On his way he took a southern route which landed him in Rome in 663 AD. Instead of continuing further north, he ended his campaign and retired in Syracuse on the island of Sicily. From there he directed his African campaigns against the attacking Saracens, who had assaulted and captured Carthage in 663 AD.

Even though his African campaigns were successful and his army was able to drive the Saracens as far back as Tripoli, Constans was not popular. Forcing the cost of the war on Syracuse and making the Sicilians pay for it made them very angry indeed. His unpopularity made him the victim of a conspiracy and in 668 AD he was murdered by a slave while bathing.

After Constans II's death, his son Constantine IV succeeded him as emperor. Before setting out on his campaigns in 654 AD, Constans II elevated his son Constantine IV to co-emperor and in 659 AD he did the same for his other two sons, Heraclius and Tiberius.

To ensure that there would be no problem with the dynastic succession, Constans had his younger brother Theodosius murdered. Theodosius, however, was popular with the court and raised public sentiment against Constans, causing him go to Italy.

Constantine IV was only eighteen years old when he became emperor and his first task was to suppress the rebellion in Syracuse and bring his father's murderers to justice.

The first major threat that Constantine faced was the advance of the Arabs. By 673 AD the Muslims had attacked Sicily, North Africa and had advanced north into Asia Minor. While in possession of the Asiatic shore of the Sea of Marmora in 674 AD, the Muslims began their assault upon Tsari Grad. By about the same time the Pravoslavs had invented a new weapon, a primitive flame-thrower consisting of a mixture of flammable oils blown-ejected with huge bellows. Armed with this revolutionary weapon, the Pravoslav fleet turned the tide on the Arab advance and recovered its mastery of the sea. The Saracens were driven off and their leader had no choice but to sue for peace. Constantine IV was able to negotiate a favourable treaty and the Arab leader agreed to pay an annual tribute of 3,000 pieces of gold.

The Pravoslav victories in the east allowed Constantine to turn his attention to the west. It was at this time that the Pravoslav army was dispatched to Solun to save the city from another barbarian siege. History has recorded this as a Slav siege but the leaderless Slavs never acted alone. It is most likely that the more aggressive Avars organized and conducted the siege with Slav help. After the siege was broken, the Avars sent ambassadors to Tsari Grad to acknowledge Pravoslav control over them.

This was not the first siege that Solun experienced during this period. With the Pravoslav army campaigning in far away lands, there were plenty of opportunities for organized barbarian hordes eager to take advantage of her, in the absence of the army.

In the sixth century Solun was the second largest city in the Pravoslav Empire and a very important commercial and cultural center. It was natural then that she would attract all kinds of loot seekers and adventurers. Solun, however, was a fortress protected by strong walls and by the spirit of St. Dimitrius. Armed with their Christian faith and self determination, the Macedonians of Solun succeeded in defending their city on their own, without armies.

Of the many attacks that took place against this majestic city only a few have been recorded in history. The first was a joint Avar-Slav attack that took place in October 584 AD, carried out by an army of nearly five thousand warriors. Two years later there was a second, more serious attack again led by the Avars. This time the enemy employed siege engines, catapults and other equipment. The siege lasted eight days before the Avars broke off the attack. This time it was not Solunian determination but the spirit of St. Dimitrius, which unleashed the plague on the eager invaders causing them to flee in panic.

The next attack took place in 616 AD, organized by a Slav alliance involving a fleet consisting of numerous boats fashioned from single tree-trunks. This time the Slavs came with their families and households intent upon an immediate settlement of the city. Unfortunately, when they came in contact with the Solunians, the Slavs suffered great losses and beat a hasty retreat. (It is most likely that this particular group of Slavs were refugees looking for a safe haven and were forcibly turned away. During campaigns soldiers did not bring their families to battle. Families and belongings were usually left at camp, a safe distance away from the battle).

Two years later, in 618 AD, the Avars came back, with Slav help. The allied armies appeared in front of the city walls and for thirty-three days attempted to forcibly enter the city, without success. Eventually they gave up and left.

The next wave of attacks came in 674 AD. The entire region nearby was looted for the next two years until the Pravoslav army, freed from its eastern campaigns, put an end to it. Even though Solun itself was placed under siege, the assailants were unable to penetrate her defenses and again were forced out empty handed.

The next barbarian menaces to enter Pravoslav affairs were the Bulgars. By 670 AD the Bulgars had consolidated their power under their leader Asparuch, who intended to eventually invade Pravoslav lands. In time the Bulgars invaded the Danube delta intending to move further south into Pravoslav territory. The Bulgars were a pagan people whom the Khazars, another barbarian tribe, had forced down toward the Danube delta in the latter part of the 7th century.

The Danube delta was considered, at the time, a Pravoslav protectorate and in 680 AD Constantine mounted a joint naval and land force expedition to expel the Bulgars. After several attempts, the Pravoslavs were unable to engage the Bulgars in battle. When the Pravoslavs attempted to retreat, the Bulgars mounted a counterattack and were able to inflict much damage upon them.

In the following year, because of his great losses, Constantine IV agreed to a Bulgar treaty. By virtue of this treaty signed in the same year, the Bulgars were recognized as an independent kingdom, occupying lands south of the Danube into the Thracian plain. Soon afterwards, the Bulgars established their capital at Pliska and gained control of access to the Danube.

To offset this, Constantine established the land grants (theme) of Thrace and settled Avar fugitives there to act as a buffer zone against the Bulgars.

With the Bulgars in check, Constantine's next concern was ensuring the succession of his son Justinian to the throne. To do that, however, he had to remove his brothers Heraclius and Tiberius from their positions as co-emperors. His decision to do so unfortunately caused protests among his Anatolian troops. It has been said that the soldiers of the time felt that the division of imperial power should be three in nature, the same as the trinity. Constantine unfortunately disagreed and acting quickly, arrested and executed the leaders of the protest. He also rescinded his orders to remove his brothers and left them as co-emperors. Afterwards, however, Constantine changed his mind and removed the brothers from their positions. To ensure that they would never again rule, he had their noses slit. After that he proclaimed his son Justinian II as co-emperor.

In 685AD Constantine IV died at the age of thirty-five and was succeeded by his seventeen year old son Justinian II. Justinian's reign was unfortunately plagued with problems. He waged a successful campaign against the Bulgars in 690 AD which gave him a false sense of confidence to try his luck against the Muslims. In 693 AD he invaded Syria through the Taurus Mountains only to meet with an overwhelming defeat.

History has recorded Justinian II as a brilliant but tempestuous and vindictive emperor who dealt very harshly with his unsuccessful generals and drastically taxed his subjects by monstrous methods. No wonder Leontius, one of his more successful generals, revolted against him, deposed him, slit his nose and sent him off to prison in the Crimea.

After deposing Justinian II, Leontius became emperor in 695 AD only to be deposed himself. In 698 AD a number of Pravoslav officers returned to Tsari Grad from Africa. Afraid of paying the ultimate penalty for losing Carthage to the Saracens, they struck first and captured Leontius, slit his nose, shut him up in a monastery and made Tiberius III emperor.

Tiberius III was made emperor by the army in the Macedonian tradition but did not fare well either. He at least did better than Justinian II against the Saracens by successfully penetrating into northern Syria. Unfortunately his luck ran out when Justinian II escaped from the Crimea in 705 AD. After his escape Justinian got help from the Bulgar king and seized the Tsari Grad palace. After he restored himself to the throne he had Leontius and Tiberius III executed.

Justinian was a vindictive man who indulged in an orgy of undiscriminating cruelty, which was only ended by a military insurrection. Having been sent to crush a revolt in the Crimea, instead general Philippicus joined the rebels and sailed back to Tsari Grad. In 711 AD he swept to power on a wave of popular support and had Justinian II, his wife and children killed.

Philippicus, plagued by conspiracies, only lasted as emperor from 711 to 713 AD and was replaced by Anastasius II. Anastasius, unable to cope with the Saracen tide, only lasted from 713 to 715 AD. Anastasius II fell and made way for Theodosius III to take his place in 715 AD.

While the emperors were rising and falling in the palace of the capital city, the Saracens were preparing for a massive campaign against Tsari Grad. A Saracen strike force was being readied in Asia Minor to move on the city. Fortunately a capable army commander named Leo happened to be stationed in Asia Minor and took matters into his own hands. For a while he engaged the Saracens and kept them at bay. Then he made a truce with them, turned around and marched on Tsari Grad himself. Upon his arrival he deposed Theodosius III and installed himself as emperor.

No sooner had Leo III taken control of the empire, in 716 AD, thousands of Arab and Persian warriors arrived at the Hellespont and began their siege of Tsari Grad. The Saracen fleets filled the Bosporus but were eventually beaten back by the Pravoslav flame-throwers.

After freeing the waterways, Leo dispatched troops to the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus and cut off the Saracen supply lines from the east. The besiegers now found themselves effectively besieged and in danger of starving. Another blow was delivered when news came that the Bulgar king was mobilizing a great force and was going to strike at the Saracens from the north.

With the aid of the Bulgars, Leo was able to turn back the Muslim assault. After receiving the bad news, the Saracens abandoned the siege and made their way back to Asia Minor. With the Moslem threat out of the way, at least for now, Leo had time to turn his attention to domestic affairs. Besides making reforms to the themes, he entered the great religious controversies giving them a new twist. Leo felt that the practice of using images and pictures or icons in worship, which at the time was common, tended to encourage idolatry. The practice was ridiculed and criticized by the Moslems which prompted Leo to put an end to it.

In 725 AD Leo banned idolatry and gave orders to remove all religious statues from the churches. All walls with icons and pictures of saints were to be whitewashed. Doing this was not as easy as Leo may have thought and caused a great deal of upset, which history has recorded as the famous iconoclastic controversy. No sooner had officials begun to enforce the edict than riots broke out, not just in Tsari Grad but throughout the entire empire. The Pope in Rome reacted strongly to Leo's initiatives by excommunicating all bishops who were in support of them. Even though Leo was unable to enforce his edict in the west, his actions did alienate the western Church eventually contributing to the eleventh century schism. The worst opposition, however, was yet to come and it was not going to be from outside the empire.

By Leo's time the empire's decline was leveling off, but in terms of territories much was lost. The Danube was no longer the empire's northern boundary. The interior of the Balkan Peninsula had seen its share of violence and occupations and now a Bulgar kingdom came into being where none existed before.

Leo III turned out to be an excellent administrator who revived prosperity and added prestige to his empire through the victories he delivered under his personal command. Leo III died in 741 AD and was succeeded by his son Constantine V.

By Leo's time, the themes (land grants) had taken root and, however dismal, the economic developments had permitted the empire to survive and provided a foundation for greater success in the centuries to come. Military service was a hereditary occupation where the eldest son assumed the burden of service and was supported primarily by revenues from the "granted lands" which were worked by other members of the family. The technological base of Pravoslav society during the 7th and 8th centuries was more advanced than that of contemporary western Europe. The Pravoslavs possessed iron tools that could even be found the villages. Water mills dotted the landscape and field-sown beans provided a diet rich in protein. None of these advances was to characterize western European agriculture until the 10th century AD.

Agriculture in the rural areas of Pravoslav society was taken very seriously and a tradition of careful farming was developed and persisted even through the darkest days. Having lost first its Egyptian granary and later its north African and Sicilian resources, the Pravoslavs had to live from whatever they could produce on the remaining lands. The villages and small peasant holdings seem to have been the main form of rural organization and collective agricultural practices during that time. In trade and commerce, after the loss of Egypt and North Africa, the grain fleets manned by hereditary shipmasters disappeared. In their place emerged the independent merchants who in time developed new trade routes and began to trade with the Bulgars in Thrace and through Cyprus, with the Arabs. With time, despite constant warfare, Pravoslav society was becoming more vibrant and healthier.

Constantine V became emperor in 741 AD after Leo III, his father, died. Constantine's first order of business was to fight his way to the throne by suppressing a revolt initiated by his brother-in-law. In the next few years, internal strife in the Muslim world allowed Constantine opportunities to campaign in Armenia and beyond the Taurus Range.

Constantine was victorious in northern Syria and was able to transfer prisoners to Thrace in preparation for a new war against the Bulgars. He fortified the passes of the Balkan range in an attempt to curb Bulgar aggression. Unfortunately, the Bulgar kings reacted by attacking the Pravoslav initiatives. Constantine in turn launched a counter attack and was able to repel the Bulgars. The only thing that prevented him from crushing them was a disastrous storm which wrecked his fleet. In no fewer than nine campaigns, Constantine undermined Bulgar strength and permanently weakened it. By doing so he cleared the region of brigands allowing merchants to operate safely.

Constantine V was considered a good emperor by many but he did make mistakes. Being a true zealot he searched out and penalized those who continued to practice image worship, even in private, by instituting harsh religious persecution. He even embarked on a campaign against monks and monasticism which by most was thought to be somewhat extreme.

Constantine V's reign lasted until 775 AD when he was succeeded by his son Leo IV. Leo IV unfortunately died prematurely in 780 AD. His 10-year-old son, Constantine VI, was left to assume the throne. But being too young to make his own decisions, he was left in the regency of the empress Irene.

For the next ten years empress Irene reigned in her son's name. Being an image worshiper (iconodule) herself, she somewhat relaxed the measures against the image worshippers by dismissing iconoclast (anti-icon) officials from civil and ecclesiastic duties and replacing them by iconodules. She was an ambitious iconodule but her iconodule policies unfortunately alienated many of her troops, who were still loyal to the memory of the great warrior emperor, Constantine V. To counter the troop alienation and still maintain her popularity among the icon defenders, she rebated taxes to the themes and also reduced the customs duties levied at the ports of Tsari Grad. Unfortunately, the consequent loss of taxes weighed heavily on the treasury, especially after victories won by the Arabs in Asia Minor in 781 AD and by the Bulgars in 792 AD, which led the victors to demand tributes as the price of peace.

In 797 AD Irene instigated a revolt against her own son. He was seized, had his eye gouged out and was imprisoned in a monastery. She then assumed the throne herself. A revolt in the palace in 802 AD led to Irene's deposition. She was exiled to the isle of Lesbos where she later died.

In the face of a Bulgar menace, Nicephorus I, the empire's finance minister, succeeded Irene to the throne in 802 AD. He re-imposed the taxes that the empress had remitted and also instituted some other money saving reforms. Then, in the tradition of Constantine V, Nicephorus strengthened the fortification of Thrace by settling more colonists from Asia Minor. He even led his troops in battle against the new Bulgar Khan, Krum. Unfortunately his career and life came to an abrupt end when his army was defeated in battle by the Bulgars. The Bulgar Khan Krum, after defeating Nicephorus, had his skull lined with silver (some say with gold) and used it as a drinking cup

Nicephorus I died in 811 AD and was succeeded by his son in law, Michael I. Nicephorus's son, Stauracius, was mortally wounded in battle during the Bulgar war and died on his way home. The succession was thus secured by his brother in law the incompetent Michael I.

Michael's lack of ability led his army into internal dissension just as he was about to face Krum in battle. His incapacity not only brought him defeat but also cost him the throne. He was deposed in 813 AD by an Armenian soldier named Leo.

Leo V as he was then known became emperor in 813 AD and faced another Bulgar attack from Krum. Luckily, Krum died a sudden death in 814 AD as he was preparing for the attack, which never materialized. Krum's son, Omurtag, in the meantime arranged a peace treaty with the Pravoslavs. Omurtag needed the Pravoslavs as allies in order to help him protect the western frontiers of his Bulgar empire against Frankish expansion under Charlemagne and his successors.

With the Bulgars in check, Leo decided to delve into the iconoclastic controversy. Like most soldiers he ended up on the unpopular side. Leo V was assassinated in 820 AD and was replaced by another Michael, Michael II who was also a soldier.

Michael II's reign began in 820 AD and was plagued by outbreaks of rebellion. His nine years of reign were mainly memorable for the loss of Crete to the Corsairs and the invasion of Sicily by the Aghlabids.

Michael II established the Phrygian dynasty and his son Theophilus and grandson Michael III each occupied the Pravoslav throne in turn.

Michael's son Theophilus reigned from 829 to 842 AD during which time hostilities between the Pravoslavs and Muslims were renewed. The Muslims invaded Cappadocia and Theophilus was forced to concentrate all his military efforts on the war against them. The consequence was that he could no longer support the campaign in Sicily and in 842 AD Sicily was lost to the Saracens. Meanwhile the war with the Muslims in the east raged on and neither side was able to gain advantage.

Theophilus died in 842 AD and the government was passed on to a council of regents on behalf of his four year old son, Michael III. At the head of the regency council was Michael's mother, the empress Theodora. Theodora was an image worshipper and did her best to reverse her late husband's iconoclast policies. In no time she began to persecute the iconoclasts.


When Michael reached the age of eighteen, in 856 AD, he removed his mother from active duty and ruled the empire with his disreputable drinking companion uncle Bardas, first as councilor than as colleague. When Michael became tired of Bardas he dropped him from council and promoted to Caesar another drinking companion, Basil the Macedonian. About a year later, Basil the Macedonian became tired of Michael and murdered him after a heavy drinking bout.

Already being Caesar, Basil in 867 AD assumed the position of emperor without any opposition, thus inaugurating the Macedonian dynasty, which reigned for nearly two centuries.

To be continued...

And now I leave you with this...

It is becoming clearer and clearer that the Greeks are not at all who they claim to be. History, it seems, is revealing more and more that the modern Greeks are more Slav than the modern Macedonians.

There is clear and more than ample evidence that shows that Greece was the dumping ground for Slav refugees during the first millennium AD.

If anyone does not deserve the ancient Greek heritage it's the modern Greeks. A large part of the modern Greek population, it seems, are not even indigenous to the region. They are Slavs from beyond the Danube planted in Greece by the Byzantine Emperors. Research your own history people!!!

How can a nation of people, so falsely, claim to be who they are not and at the same time deny others the right to be who they are?

I will stress again that the modern Greeks do not deserve the glory of ancient Greece because they are NOT who they claim to be!

How hypocritical of Greek historians to ignore real history and knowingly and falsely assume that they are the descendants of the ancient Greeks and at the same time deny the Macedonians their true heritage?

No imposed language, stolen culture and mythical history can keep the truth hidden forever!


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Mark Whittow, The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025, Los Angeles: University of California, 1996.

Jozko Šavli, Matej Bor, Ivan Tomazic, VENETI: First Builders of European Community, Boswell B.C., 1996.

Anthony Ambrozic, Adieu to Brittany: a transcription and translation of Venetic passages and toponyms. Toronto: Cythera Press, 1999.

Anthony Ambrozic, Gordian Knot Unbound. Toronto: Cythera Press, 2002.

Anthony Ambrozic, Journey Back to the Garumna. Toronto: Cythera Press, 2000.

Alexandar Donski, The Descendants of Alexander the Great of Macedon The Arguments and Evidence that Today's Macedonians are Descendants of the Ancient Macedonians (Part One - Folklore Elements), Shtip/Sydney - 2004.

Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity AD 150-750, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989.

A History of the Macedonian People, Institute of National History, Macedonian Review, Skopje, 1979.

Apostolos Papagiannopoulos, Monuments of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki: John Rekos & Co., 1980

Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, New York: Atheneum, 1976.

Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology, Western Australia, 1998.

H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, New York: Garden City Books, 1961.

You can contact the author at rstefov@hotmail.com