Constantin Zuckerman

Heraclius in 625
In: Revue des études byzantines, tome 60, 2002. pp. 189-197.

Résumé L'itinéraire d'Héraclius et la chronologie de ses batailles durant deux années clef de la campagne perse, 625-626, subissent ici une révision, le témoignage de Théophane étant revu à la lumière de celui de Pseudo-Sébéos. Une année de campagne, placée par Théophane sub a.m. 61 15, se réduit désormais à deux mois d'hostilités durant l'hiver 625, et les événements décrits sub a.m. 6116 se placent dans les mois qui suivent. Cette analyse tenant compte tant des réalités du terrain que des données des sources élimine les contradictions du récit de Théophane qui ont jusqu'ici défié les commentateurs. Abstract REB 60 2002 France p. 189-197 Constantin Zuckerman, He radius in 625. — Comparing the evidence of the Ps. -Sebeos with that of Theophanes, the author revises the itinerary of Heraclius and the chronology of his battles during the key years of the Persian campaign (625-626). One year's campaign in Theophanes, A. M. 61 15, is reduced to two months of hostilities during the winter of 625, and the events described in A. M. 61 16 to the following two months. This analysis eliminates certain contradictions in Theophanes's account which have hitherto puzzled commentators.

Citer ce document / Cite this document : Zuckerman Constantin. Heraclius in 625. In: Revue des études byzantines, tome 60, 2002. pp. 189-197. doi : 10.3406/rebyz.2002.2261


Constantine Zuckerman

Résumé : L'itinéraire d'Héraclius et la chronologie de ses batailles durant deux années clef de la campagne perse, 625-626, subissent ici une révision, le témoignage de Théophane étant revu à la lumière de celui de Pseudo-Sébéos. Une année de campagne, placée par Théophane sub a.m. 61 15, se réduit désormais à deux mois d'hostilités durant l'hiver 625, et les événements décrits sub a.m. 61 16 se placent dans les mois qui suivent. Cette analyse tenant compte tant des réalités du terrain que des données des sources él imine les contradictions du récit de Théophane qui ont jusqu'ici défié les commentateurs. Theophanes, our main source for the last phase of Heraclius' epic struggle against the Shah Khusro II, is notoriously weak on chronology. His chronological errors often stem from the necessity to "cut and paste" his data, derived from a variety of sources, into yearly entries arranged by anni mundi. An error of this kind is at the origin of a confused sequence of events at a crucial stage of Heraclius' Persian campaign. The events described by Theophanes in the entries for the a.m. 61146118 = a.d. 621/2-625/6 actually took place between 624 and 628. This chronological framework, defined by Heraclius' departure from Constantinople on 25 March 624 and Khusro II's death on 29 February 628, has been established by Ernst Gerland and later defended by Andreas Stratos and by James Ho ward-Johnston.1 Despite an occasional dissent, it does not need to be argued here anew.2 The distribution of the material between the yearly entries is problematic, however. Cyril Mango summarizes part of the problem in a note to the entry for a.m. 6116=623/4 which he believes to describe the events of 626: 1. E. Gerland, Die persischen Feldzüge des Kaisers Herakleios, BZ 3, 1894, p. 330373, on p. 332-337 ; A. N. Stratos, Byzantium in the Seventh Century, 1 : 602-634, Amsterdam 1968, p. 151-153, 363-365; J. Howard- Johnston, Heraclius' Persian Campaigns and the Revival of the East Roman Empire, 622-630, War in History 6, 1999, p. 1-44, see p. 16. 2. See, recently, P. Speck, Épiphania et Martine sur les monnaies d'Héraclius, Revue numismatique 152, 1997, p. 457-465, on p. 459-461, and C. Zuckerman, Au sujet de la petite augusta sur les monnaies d'Héraclius, ibid., p. 473-478, on p. 476-477. Revue des Études Byzantines 60, 2002, p. 189-197.



"Theophanes started the offensive against Persia one year too early [in 623] and so had extra time to fill".3 Similar problems beset the previous entry for a.m. 6115=622/3, i.e. 625. They make Stratos affirm that "it is extremely difficult either to place or time the operations which took place in 625", the evidence "leaving many blanks, which we cannot sup plement with the present state of the sources."4 The problems of the two successive entries are related and, as we argue in this study, find a common solution. The military activity that the entries describe does not spread over two years, as stated by Theophanes and the commentators who follow him, but over four or five months. Theophanes did not understand that most of the fighting took place dur ing the winter, early in 625, and so he allocated to it a regular campaign season, starting in the spring and ending in a winter pause (a.m. 6115). Consequently, he moved the events of the spring 625 to the next yearly entry (a.m. 6116). Theophanes' editorial error can be demonstrated on two levels. The Armenian chronicle of Pseudo-Sebeos describes the same events in more detail and in the right order, while stating explicitly that the fighting went on through the winter. We will present this data graphically, with help of a map, in order to show its coherence. But it can also be shown that Theophanes' entry for a.m. 6115 is all but coherent and contains a clear indication that the hostilities took place in winter, despite the initial statement that they only started in spring. Retaining the version of Pseudo-Sebeos removes a major hurdle in reconstructing the Heraclian chronology. The value of our source material for the years 624-626 is thus vindicated, as it allows us to follow Heraclius' movements continu ously almost month by month. * * *

In the summer and the fall of 624, the emperor Heraclius profited from a massive engagement of the Persian army in Asia Minor in order to carry out a daring raid in the Persian rear, wreaking havoc in Media and threatening from afar the capital, Ctesiphon. According to PseudoSebeos,5 Khusro II then urgently recalled the general Shahr Varaz from Asia Minor. Once Heraclius learned of the arrival of the Persian army to Nisibis, he stopped his offensive and retreated with booty and captives to Caucasian Albania (Aiuank'). A seventh-century source, the Eulogy of 3. C. Mango and R. Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor. Byzantine and Near Eastern History AD 284-813, Oxford 1997, p. 446. 4. Stratos (cited n. 1), p. 159. 5. All quotations from Pseudo-Sebeos in this paper are from The Armenian History attributed to Sebeos, translated by R. W. Thomson with a historical commentary by J. Howard-Johnston, Liverpool 1999, p. 81-83 (= p. 125-126 of G. V. Abgaryan's critical edition, Erevan 1979).



the Albanian prince Juanser (670), used by the late-tenth-century Albanian historian Movsës Dasxuranc'i, provides the important indica tion that Heraclius first set his winter camp in the village of Kalankatuk' and then moved it to the village of Diwtakan.6 According to PseudoSebeos, Khusro II "was informed that Heraclius (...) was intending to pass into Iberia via Aluank'". Our map shows that Heraclius was indeed well positioned, in Kalankatuk', for an eventual retreat, through the valley of the Kur, to Iberia where he had allies. But Pseudo-Sebeos further claims that Shahr Varaz wasted no time : "He rapidly came to Ayrarat, crossed into Gardman to oppose <Heraclius>, and camped opposite him at the other Tigranakert. Shahën with 30,000 troops arrived and camped behind Heraclius in the town of Tigranakert. So the latter were camped on this side, and the former on that side ; and the camp of Heraclius was between the two." The commonly proposed localization of Tigranakert south of Partaw and of the "other Tigranakert" north of Gardman, as indicated on our map, shows how dangerous Heraclius' position sud became.7 Exposed to a pincer movement of the two Persian denly armies, he could no longer retreat to Iberia for fear of being attacked by Shahr Varaz from the flank. Pseudo-Sebeos errs in indicating that the second Persian army was commanded by Shahën. The source of Movsës Dasxuranc'i identifies the commander of the "New Army" that besieged Heraclius in Albania as Shahraplakan. The same name, Sarablangas, is given by Theophanes to the general who was expected to attack Heraclius in Albania in conjunct ion with Shahr Varaz. Theophanes reports, moreover, that Shahën brought another, third army from Persia at a later stage in the campaign, and this explains the error of Pseudo-Sebeos (who ignores Shahraplakan entirely).8 This omission notwithstanding, Pseudo-Sebeos provides a very coherent view of the further events. Surrounded by the Persian troops from east and west, precluded from advancing to the north as it was his intention, Heraclius surprised the Persians again. According to Pseudo-Sebeos, "he turned against the army in his rear (that of Shahën). He struck promptly with force, and routed them. He marched through Tslukk', and escaped through the 6. Movsës Dasxurançi, The History of the Caucasian Albanians, II, 10, tr. C.J.F. Dowsett, Oxford 1961, p. 80-81 (= p. 132-133 of the critical edition by V. Arak'elyan : Movsës Kalankatuac'i, Patmut'iwn Aiuanic' asharhi, Erevan 1983). On Movsës' sev enth-century sources, see C. Zuckerman, Byzantium and the Khazars - The First Encounter, to appear in the Proceedings of the International Colloquium on the Khazars, Jerusalem 2002 (Russian translation : Hazarija i Vizantija : pervye kontakty, Materialy po arheologii, istorii i etnografii Tavrii 8, Simferopol 2001, p. 312-333). 7. For this admittedly hypothetical localization, see most recently R. H. Hewsen, Armenia : A Historical Atlas, Chicago 2001, map 52. 8. All quotations from Theophanes are in Mango's translation (supra, n. 3), p. 438-447 (=p. 306-314 of the critical edition of C. De Boor: Theophanes, Chronographia, I, Leipzig 1883).



mountainous terrain to the plain of Nakhchawan in the winter time". The indication that all this maneuvering and fighting took place in the winter is essential. As to the direction of Heraclius' escape — through Ciukk' which is a district of Siwnik'-Siunia — it is confirmed by the source of Movsës Dasxuranc'i which indicates that the Persian armies chased Heraclius through the country of Siwnik'. Theophanes claims that Heraclius only set out from Albania at the beginning of spring. He admits that Heraclius was threatened at the time by two Persian armies, of Shahr Varaz and of Sarablangas (Shahraplakan), yet presents his move as the beginning of a new attack against Persia. Thus it is clear that Heraclius moved south and that the situation described, with less geographical details, by Theophanes is the same as in Pseudo-Sebeos. started, according to Theophanes, by a Heraclius' march south "lengthy detour" through "level plains that provided an abundance of food". This description must refer to the road along the valley of the Trtu and the southern edge of the Lake Sevan (Gelakuni), which then turns south to Salat and Naxcawan. By way of contrast, Shahraplakan pushed ahead through difficult country in order to overtake Heraclius, and the troops of Shahr Varaz were doing the same. The Persian generals, left behind by Heraclius' daring move, had to prevent his escape at all price and, most importantly, stop him from invading Persia again. This fear, as well as Heraclius' superior tactical skill, explain why Shahraplakan accepted battle on a difficult ground and was utterly defeated. Shahën, who arrived with a fresh army from Persia just after this defeat, con fronted Heraclius in his turn and suffered bad losses. He could then join forces with the troops of Shahr Varaz that were pursuing Heraclius, while the latter "pushed on to the land of the Huns". Obviously, Heraclius was still moving south and, therefore, his Laz and Abasgian allies, who objected from the start to a new raid against Persia, aban doned him at that point (taking no doubt the northwestern route along the Araxes, see the map). After the allies had left, Heraclius managed to break away from the Persians, who were pursuing him the whole time ; then "the emperor crossed over and went by the regions of Persarmenia." Theophanes' description of Heraclius' flight joins at this point that of Pseudo-Sebeos. The latter indicates that Heraclius, pursued by "Shahr Varaz with his army and Shahën with his survivors (...), crossed the ford of the Araxes river at the town of Vrnjunik'." Thus he could detach hims elf from the Persians and reach the country of Bagrewand (Theophanes' Persarmenia). That Theophanes and Pseudo-Sebeos describe one and the same itinerary has been observed by Hakop Manandjan who pertinently corrected Theophanes' "land of the Huns" (Οϋννων χώραν) in the "land of Siwnik'" (Σύννων χώραν), actually traversed by Heraclius after he had left Albania and before he crossed the Araxes near Naxcawan.9 None of 9. Ja. A. Manandjan, Marsruty persidskih pohodov imperatora Iraklija, W 3, 1950, p. 133-153, on p. 141.



the scholars who maintain the reading "Huns" can localize their land in a way compatible with Heraclius' attested itinerary.10 After having mentioned the "crossing" and Heraclius' passage to Persarmenia, Theophanes provides a most unexpected detail. It turns out that it is already winter (χειμώνος δε γεγονότος) and that the Armenian soldiers of Shahr Varaz are "dispersed in their own lands so as to take rest in their houses". Therefore, Heraclius decides to attack Shahr Varaz in his winter camp, captures it together with the general's wives and trea sures, and destroys many Persian soldiers. The next annual entry, a.m. 6116=623/4, starts with Heraclius' deliberation on March 1st, at the place of his victory, as to the road to take. This description is patently disturbed. Theophanes situates Heraclius' departure from Albania in the spring and makes it clear that until the emperor crossed into Persarmenia, he was hotly pursued by the Persian troops. This close pur suit could not last long. In fact, the Laz and the Abasgian allies, who decide to leave Heraclius at the start of his march, actually desert him Heraclius' pursuit is reached Persarmenia Theophanes' own logic, when the should havenearly over. Thus, inby the late spring. And yet the next scene takes place in the middle of the winter. Hence Stratos' complaint of the evidence "leaving many blanks" (supra), the blank cor responding to the major part of the year 625. There are good reasons to reject Theophanes' construction. The town of Arcës — where, according to Pseudo-Sebeos, Shahr Varaz had set his winter camp that was captured by Heraclius — is localized on the north eastern shore of the Lake Van. Coherent geographical indications pro Heraclius' vided by Pseudo-Sebeos map itinerary from the crossing of the Araxes south of Naxcawan to the Lake Van. Arcës is only 300 km to the west, as the crow flies, from Heraclius' camp in Diwtakan, an unlikely short net distance for Heraclius to cover in a year of continuous maneuvering. It is even less probable that two entirely independent sources, Theophanes and Pseudo-Sebeos, would have a "blank" in the very same portion of Heraclius' itinerary. Both bring Heraclius from Albania to the crossing of the Araxes (although the river is not named in Theophanes), both sent him then to Persarmenia to confront Shahr Varaz. While Theophanes does not add a single valid geographical indication to the itinerary of Pseudo-Sebeos, his chronology leaves Heraclius with so much time on his hands that Ho ward- Johnston sends Heraclius north,

10. I. S. CiCurov, Ο kavkazskom pohode imperatora Iraklija, in Vostocnaja Evropa ν drevnosti i srednevekov'e, Moscow 1978, p. 261-266, dissociates the descriptions of Theophanes and of Pseudo-Sebeos (relating them to distinct episodes of Heraclius' cam paign) and identifies the land of Huns as the country of the Western Turks in the Northern Caucasus ; S. G. Kljastornyj, "Narod Asparuha", gunny Kavkaza i drevnetjurkskij Olimp, in Drevnejsie gosudarstva Vosiocnoj Evropy 1998, Moscow 2000, p. 120-125, localizes the Huns in Daghestan. Both localizations leave open the question how could Heraclius force his way back to Transcaucasia after having moved his army to the Northern Caucasus.



suggesting that he "crossed some rugged country to come within striking distance of the Black Sea coastlands, <then> marched south across Siunia to the middle Araxes valley (past Naxcawan once again)," etc.11 However, Heraclius' itinerary in Pseudo-Sebeos is coherent and clear, and there is nothing in Theophanes to make us modify it. What is more, a year of maneuvering and fighting in Persarmenia by two major armies would have left the country destroyed, a fact that Pseudo-Sebeos would be unlikely to omit. Our map shows Heraclius' itinerary from Kaiankatuk' and Diwtakan to Arcës according to the geographical indications of Pseudo-Sebeos (and of Theophanes when available) ; it follows the layout of the Armenian roads as reconstructed by S. T. Eremyan.12 The whole itiner ary extends over about 600 km and suggests a rather tight schedule. After his speedy retreat from Persia, Heraclius must have reached Albania by the late November. But his winter rest was short since the Persians did not rest either. He was soon surrounded by a detachment of Shahr Varaz's troops — the Persian general could hardly bring to the mountains of Albania his whole army — and by Shahraplakan's soldiers. It would have been utterly implausible to expect the Persian generals — as modern scholars do — to stay and wait, only a few miles from their pray, through the rude winter months, despite their superiority in numb ers. Therefore, Heraclius had to find an escape very soon, no later than the end of December. And that he brilliantly did, presenting his flight as a new attack on Persia despite the fact that it started by a "long detour". The attempts of the Persian generals to stop him in the mountains of Siwnik' brought upon them heavy losses and Heraclius would have probably continued south, if he had not been abandoned by his Caucasian allies. Weakened by their desertion, he did not dare to take the remaining troops farther south, deep into the enemy territory, and changed the direction abruptly. His rapid march north-east, to Bagrewand, must have convinced Shahr Varaz that Heraclius seeks to escape to his own land, but Heraclius' sharp turnaround proved him wrong. The attack on Arcës, which caught the Persians off their guard, took place late in February 625. The events from the March 1st on are rather coherently described by Theophanes (a. m. 6116). Heraclius marches west, confronts Shahr Varaz in several battles and inflicts more losses on the Persians, which provoke their retreat. Later Heraclius takes his winter quarters in the region of Sebasteia. The version of Pseudo-Sebeos is shorter but in no way contra dictory. After the destruction of his camp, Shahr Varaz continued to harass Heraclius for a while, "but because his army was weary, he 1 1. Howard- Johnston (cited n. 1), p. 18. 12. We use a map by S. T. Eremjan, Armenija i sopredel'nye strany ν 701-862 gg. inserted in Iovannes Drashanakertci, Istorija Armenii, trans. M. O. Darbinjan-Melikjan, Erevan 1986. His reconstruction of the ancient roads differs slightly from the one pro posed by Manandjan (cited n. 9).



decided to interpose [between them] many provinces so that his army could rest and reequip". Scholars who accept Theophanes' scheme of the campaign seasons face an inextricable chronological problem. Those who date, correctly, the beginning of the campaign (a.m. 6114) in 624 are then obliged to place the events described sub a. m. 6116 in 626, which is the year of the Avar siege of Constantinople. But there is no way to fit all the events presented sub a. m. 6116 before the siege that took place in the summer and that is duly described by Theophanes in the next yearly entry (a. m. 6117). Hence the claim that Theophanes creates, in these entries, "such contradictions as at times to be incomprehensible" (Stratos) and that "frightful muddles ensue when Theophanes reaches the year 626" (Howard-Johnston). The historical reconstruction based on this assumpt ion radically revises Theophanes' narrative : it involves eliminating the summer, the fall and the winter that separate Heraclius' victories over Shahr Varaz from the siege of Constantinople and compacting the latter events in one year, 626. 13 This reconstruction has the drawback of destroying a coherent narrative which describes the separation of forces after Heraclius' victories, the emperor's winter quarters in Sebasteia, the raising of a new Persian army and the new invasion by Shahën, etc. This radical amputation is not supported by any parallel source. Placing the beginning of the campaign in 623 as argued by Norman H. Baynes,14 allows to recover the missing year but ultimately creates even worse contradictions. Our solution, as argued above, has the support of Pseudo-Sebeos and removes an inner contradiction in Theophanes' narrative. It basically consists in eliminating the winter pauses which open and close the entry for a. in. 6115. Thus the events described in this entry pull together the previous and the following entry and take not a year but merely two months, January-February 625. 15 The entry for a. m. 6116 describes the rest of the fighting in 625 that ends in the late spring or the early summer by a voluntary separation of forces, both sides being exhausted by cam paigning through the winter. Heraclius clearly profited from the long pause in fighting for raising and training more troops: according to Theophanes (a. m. 6117), he could divide his people — early in 626 — in three functional armies. At this point, there is again a major confusion in Theophanes. He claims that Heraclius moved to Lazica with the army that he commanded in per13. Stratos (cited n. 1), p. 165 ; Howard-Johnston (cited n. 1), p. 11. 14. N. H. Baynes, The date of the Avar surprise, BZ 21, 1912, p. 1 10-128, see p. 115, cf. P. Speck, Das geteilte Dossier (POIKILA ΒΥΖΑΝΤΙΝΑ 9), Bonn 1988, p. 129-131 15. A very similar mistake — separating consecutive events by a winter pause — occurs in Theophanes' narrative of Heraclius' campaign of 622, the source of which, George of Pisidia's Expeditio Persica, is fortunately preserved, see J. Howard-Johnston, The Official History of Heraclius' Persian Campaigns, in E. Dabrowa ed., The Roman and Byzantine Army in the East, Cracovie 1994, p. 57-87, on p. 60, n. 7.



son and joined forces with his allies the Turks. Such move was, in fact, foreseen in 626. The Turks invaded Persia in anticipation of Heraclius' arrival, but the massive Persian invasion and the threat to Constantinople prevented the emperor from joining them, and the Turks withdrew. The allies could only meet and attack Persia together in 627. Such chronologi cal mix-ups are common in Theophanes. In a study that discusses this episode in detail, we show how Theophanes also displaces the Turks' subsequent departure from Heraclius' camp from March 628 to October 627, thus distorting the picture of the last assault on Persia.16 The revised chronology of the years 625-626 sheds a new light on Heraclius' military genius. The traditional chronological scheme imposed a somewhat surrealistic view of Heraclius fleeing like a rabbit from the troops of Shahr Varaz during the entire year 625. No wonder that Stratos affirmed, quoting Kulakovskij, that "the results <of this stage of the Persian campaign> were meager" and that "Heraclios' successes were far less than they seem in the telling of Theophanes". 17 Our analys is rather different. Heraclius' victories over Shahraplakan, Shahën is and Shahr Varaz, achieved in a quick succession, wore down the Persian troops, established Heraclius in the control of the major part of Asia Minor and granted him a welcome reprieve from fighting which he promptly used for strengthening his forces (thus being able to detach a part of them for the defense of Constantinople in 626). He also used this time to negotiate with the Turks the joint invasion of Persia that eventua lly brought it to its knees. Constantine Zuckerman Collège de France - UMR 7572

16. Zuckerman (cited n. 6). The number and the nature of chronological errors in Theophanes show the trouble he had in extracting this information from his sources and Heraclius' campaigns, he had by Howard-Johnston (cited n. 15). make it unlikely that as argued at his disposal a neatly arranged "official history" of 17. Stratos (cited n. 1), p. 164.



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