Maurice (emperor)

Maurice (emperor)
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire

Semissis of Emperor Maurice.
Reign August 13, 582 – November 27, 602
(&1000000000000002000000020 years, &10000000000000106000000106 days)
Full name Flavius Mauricius Tiberius Augustus
Born 539
Birthplace Arabissus, Cappadocia
Died November 27, 602 (aged 63)
Place of death Constantinople
Predecessor Tiberius II Constantine
Successor Phocas
Consort Constantina
Dynasty Justinian Dynasty
Father Paul

Maurice (Latin: Flavius Mauricius Tiberius Augustus; Greek: Φλάβιος Μαυρίκιος Τιβέριος Αὔγουστος) (539 – 27 November 602) was Byzantine Emperor from 582 to 602.

A prominent general in his youth, Maurice fought with success against the Sassanid Persians. Once he became Emperor, he brought the war with Persia to a victorious conclusion: expanding the eastern frontier dramatically and marrying his daughter to Khosrau II, the Persian king.

Maurice also campaigned extensively in the Balkans against the Avars - pushing them back across the Danube by 599. He also conducted campaigns across the Danube, the first Emperor to do so in over two hundred years. In the West, Maurice established two large semi-autonomous provinces called exarchates, ruled by exarchs, viceroys, of the emperor.

In Italy, Maurice established the Exarchate of Ravenna in 584, the first real effort by the Empire to halt the advance of the Lombards. With the creation of the Exarchate of Africa in 590, Maurice further solidified the empire's hold on the western Mediterranean.

His reign was troubled by financial difficulties and almost constant warfare. In 602, a dissatisfied general named Phocas usurped the throne, having Maurice and his six sons executed. This event would prove cataclysmic for the Empire, sparking a devastating war with Persia that would leave both empires helpless in the wake of the Muslim invasions.

His reign is a relatively accurately documented era of Late Antiquity; in particular by the historian Theophylact Simocatta. Maurice also authored the Strategikon, a manual of war which influenced European militaries for nearly a millennium. Maurice stands out as one of the last Emperors whose Empire still bore a strong resemblance to the Roman Empire of previous centuries.



Origins and early life

Maurice was born in Arabissus in Cappadocia in 539, the son of a certain Paul. He had one brother, Peter, and two sisters, Theoctista and Gordia, later the wife of the general Philippicus.[1] According to a legend, he was of Armenian origin, but the issue cannot be determined in any way.[2] The historian Evagrius Scholasticus records a (likely invented) descent from old Rome.[1]

Maurice first came to Constantinople as a notarius, and came to serve as a secretary to the comes excubitorum (commander of the Excubitors, the imperial bodyguard) Tiberius, the future Tiberius II (r. 578–582). When Tiberius was named Caesar in 574, Maurice, was appointed to succeed him as comes excubitorum.[1][3]

Persian War and accession to the throne

Map of the Roman-Persian frontier showing Maurice's gains after he reinstated Sassanid king Khosrau II on the throne in 591

In late 577, despite his complete lack of military experience, he was named as magister militum per Orientem, effectively commander-in-chief of the Byzantine army in the East, in the ongoing war against Sassanid Persia, succeeding the general Justinian. At about the same time, he was raised to the rank of patricius.[4] He scored a decisive victory against the Persians in 581. A year later, he married Constantina, the Emperor's daughter. On August 13, he succeeded his father-in-law as Emperor. Upon his ascension he ruled a bankrupt Empire. At war with Persia, paying extremely high tribute to the Avars, and the Balkan provinces thoroughly devastated by the Slavs, Maurice's situation was tumultuous at best.

Maurice had to continue the war against Persia. In 586, his troops defeated the Persians at Dara. Despite a serious mutiny in 588, the army managed to continue the war. In 590, Prince Khosrau II and Persian commander-in-chief Bahram Chobin overthrew king Hormizd IV. Bahram Chobin claimed the throne for himself and defeated Khosrau, who subsequently fled to the Roman court. Although the Senate advised against it with one voice, Maurice assisted Khosrau to regain his throne with an army of 35,000 men. In 591 the combined Roman-Persian army under generals John Mystacon and Narses defeated Bahram Chobin's forces near Ganzak at the Battle of Blarathon. The victory was decisive; Maurice finally brought the war to a successful conclusion by means of a new accession of Khosrau.

Subsequently, Khosrau married Maurice's eldest daughter Miriam and was probably adopted by the emperor. Khosrau further rewarded Maurice by ceding to the Empire western Armenia up to the lakes Van and Sevan, including the large cities of Martyropolis, Tigranokert, Manzikert, Ani, and Yerevan. Maurice's treaty with his new son-in-law brought a new status-quo to the east territorially, enlarged to an extent never before achieved by the Empire, and much cheaper to defend during this new perpetual peace – millions of solidi were saved by the remission of tribute to the Persians alone. Afterwards, Maurice imposed a union between the Armenian Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Balkan warfare

After his victory on the eastern frontier, Maurice was free to focus on the Balkans. The Slavs, having pillaged the Byzantine Balkan provinces for decades, probably began settling the land from the 580s on. The Avars took the strategically important fort of Sirmium in 582, using it as a base of operations against several poorly defended forts alongside the Danube. In 584 the Slavs threatened the capital and in 586 Avars besieged Thessalonica, while Slavs went as far as the Peloponnese. In 591 Maurice launched several campaigns against Slavs and Avars – with good prospect of turning the tide.

In 592 his troops retook Singidunum from the Avars. His commander-in-chief Priscus defeated Slavs, Avars and Gepids south of the Danube in 593. The same year he crossed the Danube into modern-day Wallachia to continue his series of victories. In 594 Maurice replaced Priscus with his rather inexperienced brother Peter, who despite initial failures, nonetheless scored another victory in Wallachia. Priscus, now in command of another army further upstream, defeated the Avars again in 595. The latter only dared to attack again peripherally in Dalmatia two years later. In 598 a treaty was signed with the Avar leader Bayan I, only to be broken for retaliation campaigns inside Avar homeland. In 599 and 601, the Byzantine forces wreaked havoc amongst the Avars and Gepids. In 602 the Slavs suffered a crushing defeat in Wallachia. The Byzantine troops were now able to hold the Danube line again. Meanwhile, Maurice was making plans for resettling devastated areas in the Balkans by using Armenian settlers.[5]

Measures of domestic policy

The Roman Empire in 600 AD.
A coin with Maurice in consular uniform.

In the west, he organized the threatened Byzantine dominions in Italy and Africa into exarchates, ruled by military governors or exarchs, being mentioned in 584 and 591 respectively. The exarchs had more or less complete military and civilian competences. This was remarkable due to the usual separation of civilian and military competences in that era. By founding the Exarchate of Ravenna, Maurice managed to slow down the Lombard advance in Italy, if not to halt it.

In 597, an ailing Maurice wrote his last will, in which he described his ideas of governing the Empire. His eldest son, Theodosius, would be a ruler of the East from Constantinople, the second one, Tiberius, of the West with the capital in Rome. Some historians believe his younger sons were to rule from Alexandria, Carthage, and Antioch. His intent was to maintain unity of the Empire, making this idea bear a strong resemblance with the Tetrarchy of Diocletian. However, Maurice's violent death prevented any of these plans from coming to fruition.

In religious matters, he was very tolerant towards Monophysitism, although he was a supporter of the Council of Chalcedon. He clashed with Pope Gregory I over the latter's defense of Rome against the Lombards.[6]

Maurice's attempts to consolidate the Empire slowly but steadily met with success, last but not least thanks to the peace with Persia. His initial popularity apparently decreased during his reign, mostly because of his fiscal politics. In 588, his announcement to cut military wages by 25% led to serious mutiny of troops on the Persian front. He is said to have refused to pay a very little ransom in 599 or 600 to deliver 12,000 Byzantine soldiers taken prisoners by the Avars. It is said that the prisoners were killed and a military delegation, headed by an officer named Phocas was humiliated and rejected in Constantinople.


In 602, Maurice, always dealing with the lack of money, decreed that the army should stay for winter beyond the Danube, which would prove to be a serious mistake. The exhausted troops mutinied against the Emperor. Probably misjudging the situation, Maurice repeatedly ordered his troops to start a new offensive rather than returning to winter quarters. After a while, his troops gained the impression that Maurice no longer mastered the situation, they proclaimed Phocas their leader and demanded Maurice to abdicate and proclaim the successor either his son Theodosius or General Germanus. Both men were accused of treason, but the riots broke out in Constantinople and the emperor with his family left the city for Nicomedia. Theodosius headed east to Persia, but historians are not sure whether he had been sent there by his father or if he had fled there. Phocas entered Constantinople in November, where he was crowned Emperor, while his troops captured Maurice and his family.

Maurice was murdered on November 27 (some say November 23), 602. It is said that the deposed emperor was forced to watch his six sons executed before his eyes, before he was beheaded himself. Empress Constantina and her three daughters were spared and sent to a monastery. The Persian King Chosroes II used this coup and the murder of his Patron as an excuse for a renewed war against the Empire.


Obverse of a Gold tremissis of Maurice.

Maurice, whose court still used Latin in the same way as the army and administration did, was in total an able emperor and commander-in-chief, even though Theophylact's description may be a bit too glorifying. He possessed insight, public spirit and courage. He proved his expertise on military and foreign affairs during his campaigns against Persians and Avars/Slavs in the same way as during peace negotiations with Khosrau II. His administrative reforms portray him as a statesman with farsightedness, the more so since they outlasted his death by far and were the basis for the introduction of the themes as military districts.

He also promoted science and arts; Maurice is also the traditional author of the military treatise Strategikon which is praised in military circles as the only sophisticated combined arms theory until World War II. However, some historians now believe the Strategikon is the work of his brother or another general in his court.

His greatest weakness was his inability to judge how unpopular his decisions were. Or to cite the historian Previte-Orton, listing a number of character flaws in the emperor's personality:

His fault was too much faith in his own excellent judgment without regard to the disagreement and unpopularity which he provoked by decisions in themselves right and wise. He was a better judge of policy than of men.[7]

It was this flaw that cost him throne and life and thwarted most of his efforts to prevent the disintegration of the great empire of Justinian I. It seems, as if Maurice attempted to have his way on behalf of Imperial pretension with respect to the old Imperium Romanum, but as his end shows, he met strong resistance.

His demise is a turning point in history, given the fact that the new war against Persia weakened both empires in a way enabling the Slavs to permanently settle the Balkans and paving the way for Arab/Muslim expansion. The English historian A.H.M. Jones concludes the final era of classical antiquity with Maurice's death, as the turmoil which shattered the Empire in the next four decades permanently and thoroughly changed society and politics.

Family relations

Maurice's marriage was fertile and produced nine known children:

  • Theodosius (4 August 583/585 – after 27 November 602). According to John of Ephesus, he was the first heir born to a reigning emperor since the reign of Theodosius II (408–450).[8] He was appointed Caesar in 587 and co-emperor on 26 March 590.
  • Tiberius (d. 27 November 602).
  • Petrus (d. 27 November 602).
  • Paulus (d. 27 November 602).
  • Justin (d. 27 November 602).
  • Justinian (d. 27 November 602).
  • Anastasia (d. circa 605).
  • Theoctista (d. circa 605).
  • Cleopatra (d. circa 605).

A daughter Miriam/Maria is recorded by the 12th-century chronicler Michael the Syrian as married to Khosrau II.

His brother Petrus (c. 550 – 602) became the curopalates and was killed at the same time of his brother. He married Anastasia Aerobinda (b. ca 570), daughter of Areobindus (b. c. 550) and wife, and had female issue.

His sister Theoctista (c. 540 – aft. 582) married a husband who died before 582 and had a daughter Gordia (c. 560 – aft. 597), who married Marinus (c. 555 – aft. 597), son of Nerses (c. 530 – aft. 595) and wife Hesychia (b. c. 535), by whom she had a daughter Theoctista (c. 575/c. 580 – aft. 597), married to Christodorus or Christodoros (b. c. 570) and had issue.

His sister Gordia (c. 550 – aft. 602) married Philippicus (c. 550 – Chrysopolis, 614), General, comes excubitorum and magister militum in 582, by whom she had a daughter, who married Artabastus (Artavazd) Mamikonian (b. ca 565), and had issue.


  • Bury, John Bagnell (1889). History of the Later Roman Empire. New York. 
  • Charles, R. H. (1916) The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Zotenberg's Ethiopic Text, Reprinted 2007. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-87-9. [1]; also available free online [2]
  • Ostrogorski, G; History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers University Press (July 1986)
  • Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. (1991), Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6 
  • Martindale, John R.; Jones, A.H.M.; Morris, John (1992), The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire – Volume III, AD 527–641, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521201608 
  • Shlosser, Franziska E. (1994). The Reign of the Emperor Maurikios (582–602). A reassessment (Historical Monographs 14). Athens. 
  • Schreiner, Peter (1985). Theophylaktes Simokates: Geschichte. Stuttgart. 
  • Christian Settipani, Continuite Gentilice et Continuite Familiale Dans Les Familles Senatoriales Romaines, A L'Epoque Imperiale, Mythe et Realite. Linacre, UK: Prosopographica et Genealogica, 2000. ILL. NYPL ASY (Rome) 03-983.
  • Christian Settipani, Continuité gentilice et continuité familiale dans les familles sénatoriales romaines à l'époque impériale: mythe et réalité, Prosopographica et Genealogica vol. 2 (Linacre College, Oxford, 2000), Addenda et Corrigenda
  • Treadgold, Warren T. (1997), A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, ISBN 0804726302 
  • Walford, Edward, transl. (1846) The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius: A History of the Church from AD 431 to AD 594, Reprinted 2008. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-88-6. [3]
  • Whitby, Michael (1998), The Emperor Maurice and his Historian – Theophylact Simocatta on Persian and Balkan Warfare, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198229453, 


  1. ^ a b c Martindale, Jones & Morris (1992), p. 855
  2. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 1318
  3. ^ Martindale, Jones & Morris (1992), p. 856
  4. ^ Martindale, Jones & Morris (1992), p. 856–857
  5. ^ The Armenian History attributed to Sebēos, Part 1, translation and notes, trans. R.W. Thomson; comm. J.D. Howard-Johnston, Translated Texts for Historians 31 (Liverpool, 1999) p.56
  6. ^  "Maurice". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  7. ^ Previte-Orton, Charles William, The shorter Cambridge medieval history (Cambridge: University Press, 1952), p. 203.
  8. ^ Lynda Garland, "Constantina, Wife of Maurice"

External links

Media related to Maurice at Wikimedia Commons

Maurice (emperor)
Born: 539 Died: 602
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Tiberius II Constantine
Byzantine Emperor
with Tiberius II Constantine (582)
Theodosius (590–602)
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Tiberius Constantinus Augustus in 579,
then lapsed
Consul of the Roman Empire
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Phocas Augustus in 603

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