Episode 36 – The End of Legitimacy

Coins depicting the legitimate King of Kings Khosrau II

Coins depicting the legitimate King of Kings Khosrau II

Maurice has a tough decision to make about his role in the Persian civil war. Once that is over he turns his attention to the Balkans. Success in the field is ruined by the cost of paying the army.

Period: 589-602

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Categories: Podcast | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Episode 36 – The End of Legitimacy

  1. Michael


    Maurice really was a tragic figure if there ever was one.

    I’m a little late with my question, but I’ll still give it a shot. How did the Byzantines refer to themselves and their lands? Romans? Byzantines? Or something else entirely?

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Thomas

    Brilliant episode, Robin. I honestly can’t believe how consistently good The History of Byzantium is – I always get excited when it appears in the feed. You’re doing a sterling job and deserve heaps of praise.

    It’s such a shame that there’s no contemporary historian and we have to piece together Maurice’s reign a little – what a tragic figure! He actually reminds me a little of Aurelian – military boss, strategic genius who rescued the Empire from multi-fronted doom, but was murdered by troops who couldn’t see past pettier concerns than long-term security. The only difference is that Aurelian’s successors weren’t awful (see Diocletian) while Phocas sounds disastrous.

    • You’re very kind. The comparison with Aurelian is a good one. Though the differences are instructive. The men who killed Aurelian were used to seeing Emperors deposed and so performed their coup out of habit. Obviously that’s a weird way to put it, but you see what I mean. The idea of the army killing off a leader to get a better deal was institutionally normal.

      In Maurice’s case the army had been largely loyal for centuries. Those men were used to being paid well and being treated well. They were also used to winning. I think that situation led to the overconfidence that they could now call the shots with who would be Emperor. The institutional memory was now gone about how disastrous this could be.

      And interestingly the results for the Empire were opposite. Aurelian’s murder came when the Empire was well on the way to recovery. While Maurice’s death came at a time of great strength and managed to knock the whole Empire off balance and down into a collapse.

      So yeah good call 🙂

  3. Thomas

    It’s a good point you make – by the time Aurelian was murdered, maybe the entire Empire was just getting “Third Century Fatigue”, and demagogues or opportunists who offered yet another civil war were less and less likely to be listened to. Or maybe Diocletian (and the rulers that followed him) were, as you say, less complacent after fifty years of Emperor bloodbath. It seems counter-intuitive, but there’s definitely a case to be made for confident, victorious troops being more likely to mutiny than exhausted troops when faced with a leader they don’t like. Certainly a lot to think about, and interesting to view their careers in parallel – in the tradition of Roman historians, of course!

  4. Richard


    I do see the logic of installing Kusroes II. However it seems to me that a divided Persia is much preferred than a united one. Civil wars are brilliant ways to keep your enemy distracted and perhaps the Empire can even peal territory in that bit by bit. Keeping an illegitimate ruler on the throne is like providing a greenhouse for civil wars. Considering what Kusroes later did with a united Persia (spoilers!) I would say Maurice did not make the right choice.

    • It’s possible that the civil wars would have benefited Byzantium. But you have to remember that peace had been the status quo for much of the previous century. Maurice wanted a return to that desperately. If Bahram had won the civil war and Maurice had taken Nisbis and various other cities then I’m sure there would have been more war. Any illegitimate successor would have felt the need to go to war to win glory to support their claim to the throne.

      We can not think ahead to what happened next as any kind of factor in Maurice’s decision. He could not possibly foresee his own death under those circumstances.

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