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The Mediterranean world and the Middle East at the beginning of the 7th century
This map is part of a series of 7 animated maps showing the history of Origins of Islam and the Arabo-Muslim Empire.
At the beginning of the Middle Ages, two major empires, at war with each other for several centuries, dominated the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The Eastern Roman Empire, which we now call the Byzantine Empire, covered Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Its capital was Constantinople. Its literary and administrative language was Greek and the dominant religion was Christianity. Following the Council of Chalcedon in 451, Christians were divided into the &ldquochalcedonians&rdquo, also known as &ldquodiophysites&rdquo, who believed that Christ was both divine and human and the &ldquomonophysites&rdquo who believed that the Christ was solely divine. In addition, there were numerous Jewish communities in the Byzantine Empire.
The other great empire was that of Persia. Governed at this time by the Sassanid dynasty, it stretched from Mesopotamia to today&rsquos Pakistan. Its capital was Ctesiphon. The main language was Persian. The official religion was Zoroastrianism, a monotheism which celebrated fire as a divine symbol. Many Jews and Christians also lived in the Persian Empire.
To the South, as the land gradually gave way to desert, the inhabitants were mostly nomadic or semi-nomadic Bedouins, although some tribes lived in the towns. They spoke an early form of Arabic. While most of the inhabitants were polytheists, believing in several gods, Christian and Jewish tribes could also be found in their midst.
In order to strengthen their positions, the Byzantines and the Persians sought to establish alliances: both empires wanted the Arab tribes on their side and enlisted nomadic warriors in their armies.
In the first decades of the 7th century, war between the two Empires broke out once more. The Persian armies captured Syria and Palestine and then Egypt and went on to threaten Constantinople. Meanwhile, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius and his army invaded Mesopotamia and reached Ctesiphon, the heart of Sassanid power, before taking back control of territories previously lost to the Persians.
These wars greatly weakened both empires, especially Persia, and as a result, the Arab tribes launched raids along their southern frontiers.
During the 3rd century, three crises threatened the Roman Empire: external invasions, internal civil wars and an economy riddled with weaknesses and problems.  The city of Rome gradually became less important as an administrative centre. The crisis of the 3rd century displayed the defects of the heterogeneous system of government that Augustus had established to administer his immense dominion. His successors had introduced some modifications, but events made it clearer that a new, more centralized and more uniform system was required. 
Diocletian was responsible for creating a new administrative system (the tetrarchy).  He associated himself with a co-emperor, or Augustus. Each Augustus was then to adopt a young colleague, or Caesar, to share in the rule and eventually to succeed the senior partner. After the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian, however, the tetrachy collapsed, and Constantine I replaced it with the dynastic principle of hereditary succession. 
Constantine moved the seat of the Empire, and introduced important changes into its civil and religious constitution.  In 330, he founded Constantinople as a second Rome on the site of Byzantium, which was well-positioned astride the trade routes between East and West it was a superb base from which to guard the Danube river, and was reasonably close to the Eastern frontiers. Constantine also began the building of the great fortified walls, which were expanded and rebuilt in subsequent ages. J. B. Bury asserts that "the foundation of Constantinople [. ] inaugurated a permanent division between the Eastern and Western, the Greek and the Latin, halves of the Empire—a division to which events had already pointed—and affected decisively the whole subsequent history of Europe." 
Constantine built upon the administrative reforms introduced by Diocletian.  He stabilized the coinage (the gold solidus that he introduced became a highly prized and stable currency  ), and made changes to the structure of the army. Under Constantine, the Empire had recovered much of its military strength and enjoyed a period of stability and prosperity. He also reconquered southern parts of Dacia, after defeating the Visigoths in 332,  and he was planning a campaign against Sassanid Persia as well. To divide administrative responsibilities, Constantine replaced the single praetorian prefect, who had traditionally exercised both military and civil functions, with regional prefects enjoying civil authority alone. In the course of the 4th century, four great sections emerged from these Constantinian beginnings, and the practice of separating civil from military authority persisted until the 7th century. 
Constantine the Great inaugurated the Constantine's Bridge (Danube) at Sucidava, (today Celei in Romania)  in 328, in order to reconquer Dacia, a province that had been abandoned under Aurelian. He won a victory in the war and extended his control over the South Dacia, as remains of camps and fortifications in the region indicate. 
Under Constantine, Christianity did not become the exclusive religion of the state, but enjoyed imperial preference, since the Emperor supported it with generous privileges: clerics were exempted from personal services and taxation, Christians were preferred for administrative posts, and bishops were entrusted with judicial responsibilities.  Constantine established the principle that emperors should not settle questions of doctrine, but should summon general ecclesiastical councils for that purpose. The Synod of Arles was convened by Constantine, and the First Council of Nicaea showcased his claim to be head of the Church. 
The state of the Empire in 395 may be described in terms of the outcome of Constantine's work. The dynastic principle was established so firmly that the emperor who died in that year, Theodosius I, could bequeath the imperial office jointly to his sons: Arcadius in the East and Honorius in the West. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over the full extent of the empire in both its halves. 
The Eastern Empire was largely spared the difficulties faced by the West in the third and fourth centuries, due in part to a more firmly established urban culture and greater financial resources, which allowed it to placate invaders with tribute and pay foreign mercenaries. Throughout the fifth century, various invading armies overran the Western Empire but spared the east. Theodosius II further fortified the walls of Constantinople, leaving the city impervious to most attacks the walls were not breached until 1204. To fend off the Huns of Attila, Theodosius gave them subsidies (purportedly 300 kg (700 lb) of gold).  Moreover, he favored merchants living in Constantinople who traded with the Huns and other foreign groups.
His successor, Marcian, refused to continue to pay this exorbitant sum. However, Attila had already diverted his attention to the Western Roman Empire.  After he died in 453, his empire collapsed and Constantinople initiated a profitable relationship with the remaining Huns, who would eventually fight as mercenaries in Byzantine armies. 
Leo I succeeded Marcian as emperor, and after the fall of Attila, the true chief in Constantinople was the Alan general Aspar. Leo I managed to free himself from the influence of the non-Orthodox chief by supporting the rise of the Isaurians, a semi-barbarian tribe living in southern Anatolia. Aspar and his son Ardabur were murdered in a riot in 471, and henceforth, Constantinople restored Orthodox leadership for centuries. 
Leo was also the first emperor to receive the crown not from a military leader, but from the Patriarch of Constantinople, representing the ecclesiastical hierarchy. This change became permanent, and in the Middle Ages the religious characteristic of the coronation completely supplanted the old military form. In 468, Leo unsuccessfully attempted to reconquer North Africa from the Vandals.  By that time, the Western Roman Empire was restricted to Italy and the lands south of the Danube as far as the Balkans (the Angles and Saxons had been invading and settling Britain since the early decades of the 5th century the Visigoths and Suebi had possessed portions of Hispania since 417, and the Vandals had entered Africa in 429 Gaul was contested by the Franks under Clovis I, Burgundians, Bretons, Visigoths and some Roman remnants and Theodoric was destined to rule in Italy until 526  ).
In 466, as a condition of his Isaurian alliance, Leo married his daughter Ariadne to the Isaurian Tarasicodissa, who took the name Zeno. When Leo died in 474, Zeno and Ariadne's younger son succeeded to the throne as Leo II, with Zeno as regent. When Leo II died later that year, Zeno became emperor. The end of the Western Empire is sometimes dated to 476, early in Zeno's reign, when the Germanic Roman general Odoacer deposed the titular Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus, but declined to replace him with another puppet.
To recover Italy, Zeno could only negotiate with the Ostrogoths of Theodoric, who had settled in Moesia. He sent the gothic king to Italy as magister militum per Italiam ("commander in chief for Italy"). After the fall of Odoacer in 493, Theodoric, who had lived in Constantinople during his youth, ruled Italy on his own. Thus, by suggesting that Theodoric conquer Italy as his Ostrogothic kingdom, Zeno maintained at least a nominal supremacy in that western land while ridding the Eastern Empire of an unruly subordinate. 
In 475, Zeno was deposed by Basiliscus, the general who led Leo I's 468 invasion of North Africa, but he recovered the throne twenty months later. However, he faced a new threat from another Isaurian, Leontius, who was also elected rival emperor. In 491 Anastasius I, an aged civil officer of Roman origin, became emperor, but it was not until 498 that the forces of the new emperor effectively took the measure of Isaurian resistance.  Anastasius revealed himself to be an energetic reformer and an able administrator. He perfected Constantine I's coinage system by definitively setting the weight of the copper follis, the coin used in most everyday transactions.  He also reformed the tax system, and permanently abolished the hated chrysargyron tax. The State Treasury contained the enormous sum of 145,150 kg (320,000 lbs) of gold when he died.
Justinian I, who assumed the throne in 527, oversaw a period of Byzantine expansion into former Roman territories. Justinian, the son of an Illyrian peasant, may already have exerted effective control during the reign of his uncle, Justin I (518–527).   In 532, attempting to secure his eastern frontier, Justinian signed a peace treaty with Khosrau I of Persia agreeing to pay a large annual tribute to the Sassinids. In the same year, Justinian survived a revolt in Constantinople (the Nika riots) which ended with the death of (allegedly) thirty thousand rioters. This victory solidified Justinian's power. 
The western conquests began in 533, as Justinian sent his general Belisarius to reclaim the former province of Africa from the Vandals who had been in control since 429 with their capital at Carthage.  Their success came with surprising ease, but it was not until 548 that the major local tribes were subdued.  In Ostrogothic Italy, the deaths of Theodoric, his nephew and heir Athalaric, and his daughter Amalasuntha had left her murderer, Theodahad (r. 534–536), on the throne despite his weakened authority. In 535, a small Byzantine expedition to Sicily was met with easy success, but the Goths soon stiffened their resistance, and victory did not come until 540, when Belisarius captured Ravenna, after successful sieges of Naples and Rome.  In 535–536, Pope Agapetus I was sent to Constantinople by Theodahad in order to request the removal of Byzantine forces from Sicily, Dalmatia, and Italy. Although Agapetus failed in his mission to sign a peace with Justinian, he succeeded in having the Monophysite Patriarch Anthimus I of Constantinople denounced, despite empress Theodora's support and protection. 
Nevertheless, the Ostrogoths were soon reunited under the command of Totila and captured Rome on 17 December 546 Belisarius was eventually recalled by Justinian in early 549.  The arrival of the Armenian eunuch Narses in Italy (late 551) with an army of some 35,000 men marked another shift in Gothic fortunes. Totila was defeated and died at the Battle of Busta Gallorum. His successor, Teia, was likewise defeated at the Battle of Mons Lactarius (October 552). Despite continuing resistance from a few Goth garrisons and two subsequent invasions by the Franks and Alamanni, the war for the Italian peninsula was at an end.  In 551, a noble of Visigothic Hispania, Athanagild, sought Justinian's help in a rebellion against the king, and the emperor dispatched a force under Liberius, who, although elderly, proved himself a successful military commander. The Byzantine empire held on to a small slice of the Spania coast until the reign of Heraclius. 
In the east, Roman–Persian Wars continued until 561 when Justinian's and Khusro's envoys agreed on a 50-year peace. By the mid-550s, Justinian had won victories in most theatres of operation, with the notable exception of the Balkans, which were subjected to repeated incursions from the Slavs. In 559, the Empire faced a great invasion of Kutrigurs and Sclaveni. Justinian called Belisarius out of retirement, but once the immediate danger was over, the emperor took charge himself. The news that Justinian was reinforcing his Danube fleet made the Kutrigurs anxious, and they agreed to a treaty which gave them a subsidy and safe passage back across the river. 
Justinian became universally famous because of his legislative work, remarkable for its sweeping character.  In 529 a ten-man commission chaired by John the Cappadocian revised the ancient Roman legal code, creating the new Corpus Juris Civilis, a collection of laws that came to be referred to as "Justinian's Code". In the Pandects, completed under Tribonian's direction in 533, order and system were found in the contradictory rulings of the great Roman jurists, and a textbook, the Institutiones, was issued to facilitate instruction in the law schools. The fourth book, the Novellae, consisted of collections of imperial edicts promulgated between 534 and 565. Because of his ecclesiastical policies, Justinian came into collision with the Jews, the pagans, and various Christian sects. The latter included the Manichaeans, the Nestorians, the Monophysites, and the Arians. In order to completely eradicate paganism, Justinian closed the famous philosophic school in Athens in 529. 
During the 6th century, the traditional Greco-Roman culture was still influential in the Eastern empire with prominent representatives such as the natural philosopher John Philoponus. Nevertheless, the Christian philosophy and culture were in the ascendant and began to dominate the older culture. Hymns written by Romanos the Melode marked the development of the Divine Liturgy, while architects and builders worked to complete the new Church of the Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, designed to replace an older church destroyed in the course of the Nika revolt. Hagia Sophia stands today as one of the major monuments of architectural history.  During the 6th and 7th centuries the Empire was struck by a series of epidemics, which would greatly devastate the population, contributing to a significant economic decline and weakening of the Empire. 
After Justinian died in 565, his successor, Justin II refused to pay the large tribute to the Persians. Meanwhile, the Germanic Lombards invaded Italy by the end of the century only a third of Italy was in Byzantine hands. Justin's successor, Tiberius II, choosing between his enemies, awarded subsidies to the Avars while taking military action against the Persians. Though Tiberius' general, Maurice, led an effective campaign on the eastern frontier, subsidies failed to restrain the Avars. They captured the Balkan fortress of Sirmium in 582, while the Slavs began to make inroads across the Danube. Maurice, who meanwhile succeeded Tiberius, intervened in a Persian civil war, placed the legitimate Khosrau II back on the throne and married his daughter to him. Maurice's treaty with his new brother-in-law enlarged the territories of the Empire to the East and allowed the energetic Emperor to focus on the Balkans. By 602 a series of successful Byzantine campaigns had pushed the Avars and Slavs back across the Danube. 
After Maurice's murder by Phocas, Khosrau used the pretext to reconquer the Roman province of Mesopotamia.  Phocas, an unpopular ruler who is invariably described in Byzantine sources as a "tyrant", was the target of a number of senate-led plots. He was eventually deposed in 610 by Heraclius, who sailed to Constantinople from Carthage with an icon affixed to the prow of his ship.  Following the ascension of Heraclius, the Sassanid advance pushed deep into Asia Minor, also occupying Damascus and Jerusalem and removing the True Cross to Ctesiphon.  The counter-offensive of Heraclius took on the character of a holy war, and an acheiropoietos image of Christ was carried as a military standard.  Similarly, when Constantinople was saved from an Avar siege in 626, the victory was attributed to the icons of the Virgin which were led in procession by Patriarch Sergius about the walls of the city.  The main Sassanid force was destroyed at Nineveh in 627, and in 629 Heraclius restored the True Cross to Jerusalem in a majestic ceremony.  The war had exhausted both the Byzantine and Sassanid Empire, and left them extremely vulnerable to the Arab forces which emerged in the following years.  The Byzantines suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636, and Ctesiphon fell in 634. 
In an attempt to heal the doctrinal divide between Chalcedonian and monophysite Christians, Heraclius proposed monotheletism as a compromise. In 638 the new doctrine was posted in the narthex of Hagia Sophia as part of a text called the Ekthesis, which also forbade further discussion of the issue. By this time, however, Syria and Palestine, both hotbeds of monophysite belief, had fallen to the Arabs, and another monophysite center, Egypt, fell by 642. Ambivalence toward Byzantine rule on the part of monophysites may have lessened local resistance to the Arab expansion. 
Heraclius did succeed in establishing a dynasty, and his descendants held onto the throne, with some interruption, until 711. Their reigns were marked both by major external threats, from the west and the east, which reduced the territory of the empire to a fraction of its 6th-century extent, and by significant internal turmoil and cultural transformation.
The Arabs, now firmly in control of Syria and the Levant, sent frequent raiding parties deep into Asia Minor, and in 674–678 laid siege to Constantinople itself. The Arab fleet was finally repulsed through the use of Greek fire, and a thirty-years' truce was signed between the Empire and the Umayyad Caliphate.  However, the Anatolian raids continued unabated, and accelerated the demise of classical urban culture, with the inhabitants of many cities either refortifying much smaller areas within the old city walls, or relocating entirely to nearby fortresses.  Constantinople itself dropped substantially in size, from 500,000 inhabitants to just 40,000–70,000, and, like other urban centers, it was partly ruralised. The city also lost the free grain shipments in 618, after Egypt fell first to the Persians and then to the Arabs, and public wheat distribution ceased.  The void left by the disappearance of the old semi-autonomous civic institutions was filled by the theme system, which entailed the division of Asia Minor into "provinces" occupied by distinct armies which assumed civil authority and answered directly to the imperial administration. This system may have had its roots in certain ad hoc measures taken by Heraclius, but over the course of the 7th century it developed into an entirely new system of imperial governance. 
The withdrawal of massive numbers of troops from the Balkans to combat the Persians and then the Arabs in the east opened the door for the gradual southward expansion of Slavic peoples into the peninsula, and, as in Anatolia, many cities shrank to small fortified settlements.  In the 670s the Bulgars were pushed south of the Danube by the arrival of the Khazars, and in 680 Byzantine forces which had been sent to disperse these new settlements were defeated. In the next year Constantine IV signed a treaty with the Bulgar khan Asparukh, and the new Bulgarian state assumed sovereignty over a number of Slavic tribes which had previously, at least in name, recognized Byzantine rule.  In 687–688, the emperor Justinian II led an expedition against the Slavs and Bulgars which made significant gains, although the fact that he had to fight his way from Thrace to Macedonia demonstrates the degree to which Byzantine power in the north Balkans had declined. 
The one Byzantine city that remained relatively unaffected, despite a significant drop in population and at least two outbreaks of the plague, was Constantinople.  However, the imperial capital was marked by its own variety of conflict, both political and religious. Constans II continued the monothelite policy of his grandfather, Heraclius, meeting with significant opposition from laity and clergy alike. The most vocal opponents, Maximus the Confessor and Pope Martin I were arrested, brought to Constantinople, tried, tortured, and exiled.  Constans seems to have become immensely unpopular in the capital, and moved his residence to Syracuse, Sicily, where he was ultimately murdered by a member of his court.  The Senate experienced a revival in importance in the seventh century and clashed with the emperors on numerous occasions.  The final Heraclian emperor, Justinian II, attempted to break the power of the urban aristocracy through severe taxation and the appointment of "outsiders" to administrative posts. He was driven from power in 695, and took shelter first with the Khazars and then with the Bulgars. In 705 he returned to Constantinople with the armies of the Bulgar khan Tervel, retook the throne, and instituted a reign of terror against his enemies. With his final overthrow in 711, supported once more by the urban aristocracy, the Heraclian dynasty came to an end. 
The 7th century was a period of radical transformation. The empire which had once stretched from Spain to Jerusalem was now reduced to Anatolia, Chersonesos, and some fragments of Italy and the Balkans. The territorial losses were accompanied by a cultural shift urban civilization was massively disrupted, classical literary genres were abandoned in favor of theological treatises,  and a new "radically abstract" style emerged in the visual arts.  That the empire survived this period at all is somewhat surprising, especially given the total collapse of the Sassanid Empire in the face of the Arab expansion, but a remarkably coherent military reorganization helped to withstand the exterior pressures and laid the groundwork for the gains of the following dynasty.  However, the massive cultural and institutional restructuring of the Empire consequent on the loss of territory in the seventh century has been said to have caused a decisive break in east Mediterranean Romanness and that the Byzantine state is subsequently best understood as another successor state rather than a real continuation of the Roman Empire. 
There also seem to have been interactions between the Byzantine realm and China at this time. Byzantine Greek historian Procopius stated that two Nestorian Christian monks eventually uncovered how silk was made. From this revelation monks were sent by Justinian I as spies on the Silk Road from Constantinople to China and back to steal the silkworm eggs.  This resulted in silk production in the Mediterranean, particularly in Thrace, in northern Greece,  and giving the Byzantine Empire a monopoly on silk production in medieval Europe until the loss of its territories in Southern Italy. The Byzantine historian Theophylact Simocatta, writing during the reign of Heraclius (r. 610–641), relayed information about China's geography, its capital city Khubdan (Old Turkic: Khumdan, i.e. Chang'an), its current ruler Taisson whose name meant "Son of God" (Chinese: Tianzi, although this could be derived from the name of Emperor Taizong of Tang), and correctly pointed to its reunification by the Sui Dynasty (581–618) as occurring during the reign of Maurice, noting that China had previously been divided politically along the Yangzi River by two warring nations.  This seems to match the conquest of the Chen dynasty in southern China by Emperor Wen of Sui (r. 581–604).  The Chinese Old Book of Tang and New Book of Tang mention several embassies made by Fu lin (拂菻 i.e. Byzantium), which they equated with Daqin (i.e. the Roman Empire), beginning in 643 with an embassy sent by the king Boduoli (波多力, i.e. Constans II Pogonatos) to Emperor Taizong of Tang, bearing gifts such as red glass.  These histories also provided cursory descriptions of Constantinople, its walls, and how it was besieged by Da shi (大食 the Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate) and their commander "Mo-yi" (摩拽伐之 i.e. Muawiyah I, governor of Syria before becoming caliph), who forced them to pay tribute.   Henry Yule highlights the fact that Yazdegerd III (r. 632–651), last ruler of the Sasanian Empire, sent diplomats to China for securing aid from Emperor Taizong (considered the suzerain over Ferghana in Central Asia) during the loss of the Persian heartland to the Islamic Rashidun Caliphate, which may have also prompted the Byzantines to send envoys to China amid their recent loss of Syria to the Muslims.  Tang Chinese sources also recorded how Sassanid prince Peroz III (636–679) fled to Tang China following the conquest of Persia by the growing Islamic caliphate.  Other Byzantine embassies in Tang China are recorded as arriving in 711, 719, and 742.   From Chinese records it is known that Michael VII Doukas (Mie li sha ling kai sa 滅力沙靈改撒) of Fu lin dispatched a diplomatic mission to China's Song dynasty that arrived in 1081, during the reign of Emperor Shenzong of Song.  
Leo III the Isaurian (717–741 AD) turned back the Muslim assault in 718, and achieved victory with the major help of the Bulgarian khan Tervel, who killed 32,000 Arabs with his army in 740.  Raids by the Arabs against Byzantium would plague the Empire all during the reign of Leo III. However, the threat against the Empire from the Arabs would never again be as great as it was during this first attack of Leo's reign.  In just over twelve years, Leo the Isaurian had raised himself from being a simple Syrian peasant to being the Emperor of Byzantium.  Now, Leo set about the task of reorganizing and consolidating the themes in Asia Minor. Additionally, in 726 AD, Leo III, ordered the removal of the great golden icon of Christ that decorated the Chalke Gate or vestibule to the Great Palace of Byzantium. "Chalke" means bronze in the Greek language and the Chalke Gate derived its name from the great bronze doors that formed the ceremonial entrance to the Great Palace.
Built in reign of Anastasius I (491–518 AD), the Chalke Gates were meant to celebrate the Byzantium victory in the Isaurian War of 492–497 AD. The Chalke Gates had been destroyed in the Nika riots of 532 AD.  When the gates were rebuilt again by Justinian I (527–565 AD) and his wife Theodora, a large golden statue of Christ was positioned over the doors. At the beginning of the eighth century (the 700s AD) there arose a feeling among some people of Byzantine Empire that religious statues and religious paintings that decorated churches were becoming the object of worship in and of themselves rather that the worship of God. Thus, the images, or icons, were interfering with the true goal of worship. Thus, an "iconoclast" movement arose which sought to "cleanse" the church by destroying all religions icons. The primary icon of all Byzantium was the golden Christ over the Chalke Gates. Iconoclasm was more popular among people of Anatolia and the Levant as rather than the European portion of the Byzantine Empire. Although, Leo III was Syrian, there is no evidence that he was given to tendencies toward iconoclasm.  Leo's order for the removal of the golden Christ over the Chalke Gates and its replacement with a simple cross was motivated by the need to mollify the rising tide of popular objection to all religious icons. In 730 AD, Leo III issued an edict which made iconoclasm official policy throughout the Empire.  Thus, the destruction of the golden Christ over the Chalke Gates in 726 AD marks the beginning of the period of time in Byzantine history that is known as the "first iconoclast period." Iconoclasm would remain a strong trend throughout the reigns of Leo III's successors particularly, his son Constantine V.  Indeed, Constantine V's iconoclastic policies caused a revolt led by the iconodule Artabasdus in 742 AD. Artabasdus (742 AD) actually overthrew Constantine V and ruled as Emperor for a few months before Constantine V was restored to power.
Leo III's son, Constantine V (741–775 AD), won noteworthy victories in northern Syria, and also thoroughly undermined Bulgar strength during his reign. Like his father, Constantine V, Leo IV (775–780 AD) was an iconoclast.  However, Leo IV was dominated by his wife Irene who tended toward iconodulism and supported religious statues and images. Upon the death of Leo IV in 780 AD, his 10-year-old son, Constantine VI (780–797 AD) succeeded to the Byzantine throne under the regency of his mother Irene. However, before Constantine VI could come of age and rule in his own right, his mother usurped the throne for herself.  Irene (797–802 AD) reinstated a policy of iconodulism and in 787 AD at the Council of Nicaea, iconodulism was made official church policy, thus revoking Leo III's official policy of 730 AD. Accordingly, the period of time called the "first iconoclasm" dating from 726 AD through 787, came to an end. An intervening period of iconodulism was initiated which would last through the reigns of Irene and her successors, Nicephorus I (802–811 AD) Stauracius (811 AD) and Michael I Rhagabe (811–813 AD).
In the beginning of the 9th century the Arabs captured Crete, and successfully attacked Sicily, but on 3 September 863, general Petronas attained a huge victory against the emir of Melitene. Under the leadership of Krum the Bulgar threat also reemerged, but in 814 Krum's son, Omortag, arranged a peace with the Byzantine Empire. 
As noted above, the 8th and 9th centuries were also dominated by controversy and religious division over Iconoclasm. Also as noted above, Icons were banned by Leo and Constantine, leading to revolts by iconodules (supporters of icons) throughout the empire. After the efforts of Empress Irene, the Second Council of Nicaea met in 787, and affirmed that icons could be venerated but not worshiped.
Irene made determined efforts to stamp out iconoclasm everywhere in the Empire including within the ranks of the army.  During Irene's reign the Arabs were continuing to raid into and despoil the small farms of the Anatolian section of the Empire. These small farmers of Anatolia owed a military obligation to the Byzantine throne. Indeed, the Byzantine army and the defense of the Empire was largely based on this obligation and the Anatolian farmers. The iconodule policy drove these farmers out of the army and thus off their farms. Thus, the army was weakened and was unable to protect Anatolia from the Arab raids.  Many of the remaining farmers of Anatolia were driven from the farm to settle in the city of Byzantium, thus, further reducing the army's ability to raise soldiers. Additionally, the abandoned farms fell from the tax rolls and reduced the amount of income that government received. These farms were taken over by the largest land owner in the Byzantine Empire—the monasteries. To make the situation even worse, Irene had exempted all monasteries from all taxation.
Given the financial ruin into which the Empire was headed, it was no wonder, then, that Irene was, eventually, deposed by her own Logothete of the Treasury. The leader of this successful revolt against Irene replaced her on the Byzantine throne under the name Nicephorus I. 
Nicephorus I (802–811 AD) was of Arab extraction. Although he moved immediately to set the Byzantine economy on a better financial footing by countermanding Irene's tax exemptions and to strengthen the army, by drafting the destitute small land holders, Nicephorus I, nonetheless, continued Irene's iconodule policy.  Nicephorus I was killed in 811 AD, while battling the Bulgars under their King Krum. Nicephorous' son and successor to the throne, Stauracius (811 AD), was severely wounded in the same battle. Stauracius died just six months after the battle. Nicephorus I's daughter, Procopia, was married to Michael Rhangabe, who now became Emperor as Michael I. 
Irene is said to have endeavored to negotiate a marriage between herself and Charlemagne, but, according to Theophanes the Confessor, the scheme was frustrated by Aetios, one of her favourites.  During the reign of Michael I (811–813 AD) foreign policy initiatives involving Charlemagne, again, took front stage. Since being crowned by Pope Leo III as Emperor on Christmas Day, 800 AD in Rome, Charlemagne had been laying claims to the Eastern Empire. Nicephorus I had refused to recognise Charlemagne's position and had merely ignored these claims by Charlemagne.  This inflexible policy by Nicephorus I had resulted in a naval war with Franks which indirectly led to the official separation of the city of Venice from the Byzantine Empire. (In fact, Venice had been acting under a "de facto" independence since 727 AD. This de facto independence was recognised by the Pax Nicephori of 802 AD. Nonetheless, despite this de facto independence, Venice had officially remained a part of the Byzantine Empire until 811 AD.)
The threat posed by the Bulgars under their King Krum which had become very evident in the crisis of 811 AD forced Michael I to reverse the policy of non-recognition of Charlemagne. As noted above, Nicephorus I had died in battle in 811 AD and his son, Stauracious, had been severely wounded in the same battle and died a short time later in 811 AD. The Bulgar threat required Michael I to reverse Nicephorus' policy and recognise Charlemagne and open peace negotiations with him in order to avoid war with both the Franks under Charlemagne and with the Bulgars at the same time. This reversal of policy and the agreement reached with Charlemagne had long range implications. Under the terms of the treaty between Charlemagne and the Byzantine Empire, Charlemagne received recognition of his imperial title to the lands he held in the west and, in exchange, Charlemagne dropped all his claims to the throne or any part of the Byzantine Empire.  This treaty of 811 AD was a watershed. Until this date, despite the centuries of separation, there had always remained the forlorn hope that the two parts of the old Roman Empire might eventually be reconciled. From 811 AD on this hope was finally given up. There was, no longer any hope or idea of merging the two parts of the old Roman Empire.
Michael I had been forced into this treaty with Charlemagne because of the Bulgar threat. His failure to achieve success against the Bulgar would cause a revolt against him which would end his reign in 813 AD. The military would rise up against Michael I. The leader of this revolt was the Armenian commander of the army who would take the throne under the name of Leo V. 
In 813 Leo V the Armenian (813–820 AD) restored the policy of iconoclasm.  This started the period of history called the "Second Iconclasm" which would last from 813 until 842 AD. Only in 843, would Empress Theodora restore the veneration of the icons with the help of Patriarch Methodios.  Iconoclasm played its part in the further alienation of East from West, which worsened during the so-called Photian Schism, when Pope Nicholas I challenged Photios' elevation to the patriarchate.
However, iconoclasm may have been influential in the rise of feudalism in the Byzantine Empire. Feudalism is characterized and, indeed, defined as the decline of central governmental power as power is handed over to private, local, large landholders. In any given locality these private individuals become the new governmental power over the common people working and living in the area. The private land holders owe only a duty of military service to the central government when they are called upon by the central authority. This duty is called patronage and in exchange for the patronage, the land holders are granted immunity in their rule over the locality.  Ever since the reign of Emperor Severus Alexander (222–235 AD), lands on the frontiers of the Roman Empire which had been taken from enemies, were granted to Roman soldiers and their heirs on the condition that the duty for military service to the Emperor would also be hereditary and on the condition that the lands would never be sold, but would remain in the family.  This was the true beginning of feudalism in the Byzantine Empire. With the advent of iconoclasm, many monasteries were despoiled and church lands were seized by the Emperor. These lands were handed over to private individuals. Patronage for these individuals was once again the duty of military service to the Emperor. As noted above, some of these lands were restored to the monasteries under Empress Irene. However, feudalism had really been allowed to take root by the private control of these monastery lands.
The Byzantine Empire reached its height under the Macedonian emperors (of Armenian and Greek descent) of the late 9th, 10th, and early 11th centuries, when it gained control over the Adriatic Sea, southern Italy, and all of the territory of tsar Samuel of Bulgaria. The cities of the empire expanded, and affluence spread across the provinces because of the new-found security. The population rose, and production increased, stimulating new demand while also helping to encourage trade. Culturally, there was considerable growth in education and learning. Ancient texts were preserved and patiently re-copied. Byzantine art flourished, and brilliant mosaics graced the interiors of the many new churches.  Though the empire was significantly smaller than during the reign of Justinian, it was also stronger, as the remaining territories were less geographically dispersed and more politically and culturally integrated.
Internal developments Edit
Although traditionally attributed to Basil I (867–886 AD), initiator of the Macedonian dynasty, the Macedonian Renaissance has been more recently ascribed to the reforms of his predecessor, Michael III (842–867 AD) and his wife's counsellor, the erudite Theoktistos. The latter in particular favoured culture at the court, and, with a careful financial policy, steadily increased the gold reserves of the Empire. The rise of the Macedonian dynasty coincided with internal developments which strengthened the religious unity of the empire.  The iconoclast movement was experiencing a steep decline: this favoured its soft suppression by the emperors and the reconciliation of the religious strife that had drained the imperial resources in the previous centuries. Despite occasional tactical defeats, the administrative, legislative, cultural and economic situation continued to improve under Basil's successors, especially with Romanos I Lekapenos (920–944 AD). The theme system reached its definitive form in this period. Once the government was safely back in iconodule hands and the monastery lands and privileges were restored again, the church establishment, once again, became a strong loyal supporter of the imperial cause.  Most of the Macedonian emperors (867–1056 AD) were opposed to the interests of the aristocracy. They created much legislation to protect and favour of small agricultural landholders as opposed to the aristocracy.  Prior to the Macedonian emperors, the large landholders had made up a controlling force in the society and owned most of the farm land. Since owners of the land owed military obligations to the Byzantine throne, large numbers of small landholders created larger armies than did small numbers of large land holders. Thus support for the small landholders created a stronger military force for the Empire.  These favourable policies of the Macedonian emperors contributed to the increasing ability of the emperors to wage war against the Arabs.
Wars against the Muslims Edit
By 867, the empire had re-stabilised its position in both the east and the west, and the efficiency of its defensive military structure enabled its emperors to begin planning wars of reconquest in the east.  The process of reconquest began with variable fortunes. The temporary reconquest of Crete (843 AD) was followed by a crushing Byzantine defeat on the Bosporus, while the emperors were unable to prevent the ongoing Muslim conquest of Sicily (827–902 AD).  Using present day Tunisia as their launching pad, the Muslims conquered Palermo in 831 AD, Messina in 842 AD, Enna in 859 AD, Syracuse in 878 AD, Catania in 900 AD and the final Byzantine stronghold, the fortress of Taormina, in 902 AD.
These drawbacks were later counterbalanced by a victorious expedition against Damietta in Egypt (856), the defeat of the Emir of Melitene (863), the confirmation of the imperial authority over Dalmatia (867), and Basil I's offensives towards the Euphrates (870s). Unlike the deteriorating situation in Sicily, Basil I handled the situation in southern Italy well enough and the province would remain in Byzantine hands for the next 200 years.
In the early years of Basil I's reign, Arab raids on the coasts of Dalmatia were successfully repelled, and the region once again came under secure Byzantine control. This enabled Byzantine missionaries to penetrate to the interior and convert the Serbs and the principalities of modern-day Herzegovina and Montenegro to Orthodox Christianity. The attempt to retake Malta ended disastrously, however, when the local population sided with the Arabs and massacred the Byzantine garrison. By contrast, the Byzantine position in Southern Italy was gradually consolidated so that by 873 Bari had once again come under Byzantine rule, and most of Southern Italy would remain in the Empire for the next 200 years.  On the more important eastern front, the Empire rebuilt its defenses and went on the offensive. The Paulicians were defeated and their capital of Tephrike (Divrigi) taken, while the offensive against the Abbasid Caliphate began with the recapture of Samosata.
Under Michael's son and successor, Leo VI the Wise, the gains in the east against the now weak Abbasid Caliphate continued. However, Sicily was lost to the Arabs in 902, and in 904 Thessaloniki, the Empire's second city, was sacked by an Arab fleet. The weakness of the Empire in the naval sphere was quickly rectified so that a few years later a Byzantine fleet had re-occupied Cyprus, lost in the 7th century, and also stormed Laodicea in Syria. Despite this revenge, the Byzantines were still unable to strike a decisive blow against the Muslims, who inflicted a crushing defeat on the imperial forces when they attempted to regain Crete in 911. 
The death of the Bulgarian tsar Simeon I in 927 severely weakened the Bulgarians, allowing the Byzantines to concentrate on the eastern front.  The situation on the border with the Arab territories remained fluid, with the Byzantines alternatively on the offensive or defensive. The Varangians (later known as the Russians), who attacked Constantinople for the first time in 860, constituted another new challenge.  In 941 the Russians appeared on the Asian shore of the Bosporus, but this time they were crushed, showing the improvements in the Byzantine military position after 907, when only diplomacy had been able to push back the invaders. The vanquisher of the Varangians/Russians was the famous general John Kourkouas, who continued the offensive with other noteworthy victories in Mesopotamia (943). These Byzantine victories culminated in the reconquest of Edessa (944), which was especially celebrated for the return to Constantinople of the venerated Mandylion, a relic purportedly imprinted with a portrait of Jesus. 
The soldier-emperors Nikephoros II Phokas (reigned 963–969 AD) and John I Tzimiskes (969–976 AD) expanded the empire well into Syria, defeating the emirs of north-west Iraq and reconquering Crete and Cyprus.  At one point under John, the empire's armies even threatened Jerusalem, far to the south.  The emirate of Aleppo and its neighbours became vassals of the empire in the east, where the greatest threat to the empire was Caliph Hakim of the Fatimid caliphate.  After much campaigning, the last Arab threat to Byzantium was defeated when Basil II rapidly drew 40,000 mounted soldiers to relieve Roman Syria. With a surplus of resources and victories thanks to the Bulgar and Syrian campaigns, Basil II planned an expedition against Sicily to re-take it from the Arabs there. After his death in 1025, the expedition set off in the 1040s and was met with initial, but stunted success.
Wars against the Bulgarians Edit
The traditional struggle with the See of Rome continued through the Macedonian period, spurred by the question of religious supremacy over the newly Christianised state of Bulgaria. Ending 80 years of peace between the two states, the powerful Bulgarian tsar Simeon I invaded in 894 but was pushed back by the Byzantines, who used their fleet to sail up the Black Sea to attack the Bulgarian rear, enlisting the support of the Hungarians.  The Byzantines were defeated at the Battle of Boulgarophygon in 896, however, and agreed to pay annual subsidies to the Bulgarians. 
Leo the Wise died in 912, and hostilities soon resumed as Simeon marched to Constantinople at the head of a large army.  Though the walls of the city were impregnable, the Byzantine administration was in disarray and Simeon was invited into the city, where he was granted the crown of basileus (emperor) of Bulgaria and had the young emperor Constantine VII marry one of his daughters. When a revolt in Constantinople halted his dynastic project, he again invaded Thrace and conquered Adrianople.  The Empire now faced the problem of a powerful Christian state within a few days' marching distance from Constantinople, as well as having to fight on two fronts. 
A great imperial expedition under Leo Phocas and Romanos I Lekapenos ended with another crushing Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Achelous in 917, and the following year the Bulgarians were free to ravage northern Greece. Adrianople was plundered again in 923, and a Bulgarian army laid siege to Constantinople in 924. Simeon died suddenly in 927, however, and Bulgarian power collapsed with him. Bulgaria and Byzantium entered a long period of peaceful relations, and the Empire was now free to concentrate on the eastern front against the Muslims.  In 968, Bulgaria was overrun by the Rus' under Sviatoslav I of Kiev, but three years later, John I Tzimiskes defeated the Rus' and re-incorporated Eastern Bulgaria into the Byzantine Empire. 
Bulgarian resistance revived under the leadership of the Cometopuli dynasty, but the new emperor Basil II (reigned 976–1025 AD) made the submission of the Bulgarians his primary goal. Basil's first expedition against Bulgaria however resulted in a humiliating defeat at the Gates of Trajan. For the next few years, the emperor would be preoccupied with internal revolts in Anatolia, while the Bulgarians expanded their realm in the Balkans. The war was to drag on for nearly twenty years. The Byzantine victories of Spercheios and Skopje decisively weakened the Bulgarian army, and in annual campaigns, Basil methodically reduced the Bulgarian strongholds. Eventually, at the Battle of Kleidion in 1014 the Bulgarians were completely defeated.  The Bulgarian army was captured, and it is said that 99 out of every 100 men were blinded, with the remaining hundredth man left with one eye so as to lead his compatriots home. When Tsar Samuil saw the broken remains of his once gallant army, he died of shock. By 1018, the last Bulgarian strongholds had surrendered, and the country became part of the empire. This epic victory restored the Danube frontier, which had not been held since the days of the emperor Heraclius. 
Byzantine & Persian Empires in the 7th Century - History
The Muslims of Arabian Peninsula were immersed in the depths of darkness in the period of ignorance in Pre-Islamic era from some Arab tribes which were burying their daughters alive, tribalistic warfare over petty issues, constant fighting amongst themselves which continues till generations, ultimately being disunited with each other. Out of that darkness came a new light. Prophet Muhammad was born in a time of Ignorance in Arabia. Prophet Muhammad has successfully abolished the tribal hierarchy by uniting people under God and His Messenger.
The Muslims also feared that the rise of Islam would catch the attention of the Romans and the Persians, who presumably had the power to crush any newly-established power in the Arabian peninsula. After the unification of Arabia under Islam, now it has threatened the hegemony of the Persian and Roman Empires. Both powers were also in constant warfare with each other for centuries especially the Byzantine-Sasanian War of 602-628 has exhausted both empires.
In the early 7th century, the two most powerful empires at the time were the Byzantine and Persian Empires. In the years 613 - 614 C.E the two Empires went to war, with the Byzantines suffering a severe defeat at the hands of the Persians. Damascus and Jerusalem both fell to the Persian Empire. The Romans, in the Holy Quran, it is stated that the Byzantines had met with a great defeat but would soon gain victory.
These prophecies, above, were revealed around 620 C.E, almost 7 years after the severe defeat of the Christian Byzantines at the hands of the idolater Persians in 613 – 614 C.E, that the Byzantines would shortly be victorious. In fact, Byzantine had been so heavily defeated that it seemed impossible for the Empire to even maintain its very existence, let alone be victorious again.
Around 7 years after the revelation of the first verses of The Romans, in December, 627 C.E, a decisive battle between The Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire was fought in the area around the Dead Sea, and this time it was the Byzantine army which surprisingly defeated the Persians. A few months later, the Persians had to make an agreement with the Byzantines which obliged them to return the territories they had taken from them. So, in the end, the victory of the Romans proclaimed by God in the Quran miraculously came through.
"The Romans have been defeated in the lowest land, but after their defeat they will soon be victorious. Within three to nine years. The decision of the matter, before and after, is with God." (Quran 30:2-4)
The constant warfare between both empires has led to instability throughout the regions and at the same time, a new emerging foe is awaiting in the south.
Muslim Victories against Romans and Persians, has constantly being teased in both the Quran and Hadith. These prophecies were revealed at the time when Muslims were weak politically and polytheists used to mock Muslims on how can these Bedouins defeat the world superpowers of that time.
Imam at-Tabari (rh) reports in his 'Tarikh' that Sahabi Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud (ra) said when the ayah "This is nothing but a reminder to the 'alamin " [ 68: 52] was revealed they knew then, even though they were a small handful of Muslims at that time, that Islam would come to dominate the world! Even the mushrikin(polytehist) knew the vision they had, so they mocked the early handful of Sahaba (ra), "Here are the masters of the Earth who will defeat Chosroes (of Persia) and Caesar (of Rome)" [Raheeq al Makhtoom].
There are Numerous reports on the prophecy of Conquering Rome and the Persian Empire.
تَغْزُونَ جَزِيرَةَ الْعَرَبِ فَيَفْتَحُهَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ فَارِسَ فَيَفْتَحُهَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ تَغْزُونَ الرُّومَ فَيَفْتَحُهَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ تَغْزُونَ الدَّجَّالَ فَيَفْتَحُهُ اللَّهُ . قَالَ فَقَالَ نَافِعٌ يَا جَابِرُ لاَ نَرَى الدَّجَّالَ يَخْرُجُ حَتَّى تُفْتَحَ الرُّومُ
You will attack Arabia and Allah will enable you to conquer it, then you would attack Persia and He would make you to Conquer it. Then you would attack Rome and Allah will enable you to conquer it, then you would attack the Dajjal and Allah will enable you to conquer him. Nafi' said: Jabir, we thought that the Dajjal would appear after Rome (Syrian territories) would be conquered. (Saheeh Muslim, Book 54, Hadith 50)
The Arab force could best be described as 'irregular' and with cavalry having high mobility. The Persians and Romans, with a larger and better-equipped army, were overconfident, with a sense of superiority over the tribal Arab Bedouins.
In 610, the Arabs worshipped stone idols, fragmented into a thousand competing tribes and seen as sub-humans by the Persians and Byzantines. Within a few decades, Muslim Arabs and non-Arabs unified under Islam, united the Arabian peninsula and defeated the Persian and Roman Empire and taken Iraq, Persia, Syria and Egypt.
Their advanced infantry and heavy cavalry attacks were stopped by the Arabs who were highly mobile nomads and fielded an army of light cavalry. And so the larger army, surrounded by a smaller with high morale and psychological warfare tactics, which resulted in the defeat of the army, which was 20 times bigger than of there own. The Persians and Romans cavalries would get a large chunk of food and luxury which hinders their movement whereas Arabs were quite simpleton, they use camel instead of horse or elephants. Due to their experience with the desert, they can hold their hunger and urge to thirst for a quite longer time and they could also survive on dates only in the time of calamities.
In a secular way, the Arabs had some of the finest commanders operating in the field while the Caliph at the time was very hands-on in his approach towards the conquest campaigns. Companions like Khalid bin Walid, Abu Ubaida bin Jarrah, Amr ibn Al-As, Yazeed bin Abu Sufyan, Saad bin Abi Waqqas, Nu'man ibn Muqarrin managed to lead their respective armies to victory over forces that were almost always larger than their own. While back in Medina, the Caliph Umar bin Khattab RA and Abu Bakr RA would direct campaigns to the smallest detail, constantly getting updates from the armies on the march and in the field.
Abu Ishaaq Al-Fazaaree
The enemy was never able to stand up to the Companions of Allah's Messenger
, so when the news of the defeat of the Romans came to Heraclius at Antioch he asked [his people], "Woe to you, tell me about these people who fight you, are they not humans like you?" They replied, "Indeed, they are." He asked, "So are you more in number or them?" They replied, "We outnumber them greatly in all places." He said, "So how is it that you are defeated whenever you confront them?"
A senior and esteemed elder amongst them replied, "Because they stand in prayer at night, fast during the day, fulfill their agreements and promises, enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil, they are fair and just amongst themselves and because we drink wine, fornicate, disobey, break our agreements, steal, oppress and do injustice, enjoin the committing of what angers God and forbid what pleases God, the Mighty and Majestic, and we cause evil and corruption in the land."
Heraclius said, "You are the one who has spoken the truth."
[Abu Bakr Al-Daynooree, Al-Mujaalasah wa Jawaahir Al-'Ilm 4:91]
The divine back-end and the immense sacrificial nature of the companions have led the destruction of two mighty empires from which the Islamic Caliphate later expanded from sore of Portugal to Sindh(India).
The Muslims had several key advantages, including:
- A skilful army, commanded by generals like Khalid ibn Al-Walid RA
- Two exhausted Empires having political tensions and civil wars.
- A dissatisfied populace among Superpowers.
- A spiritual divine back-end which has made them motivated throughout the conquests.
The unifying of various Arab tribes force emerged in Arabia, has instantly overcome the war-torn empires which are hollow and weak politically and socially. Islam has united the whole of Arabia and further extends it towards the non-Arabs. So the tribalist under the banner of Islam becomes a coherent and directed force onwards and conquered two superpowers of that time.
Kennedy, Hugh. The Great Arab Conquest
Gibbon, Edward.Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
If ethnic hostility within the empire was less a menace about the year 500 than it had often been in the past, dissensions stemming from religious controversy seriously threatened imperial unity, and the political history of the next century cannot be understood without some examination of the so-called Nestorian and monophysite controversies. Following the dispute over Arian Christology (the doctrine of Christ), those disputes became stigmatized as the great heresies to afflict the Eastern Empire. If the Church Fathers of the 4th century quarreled over the relations between God the Father and God the Son, those of the 5th century faced the problem of defining the relationship of the two natures—the human and the divine—within God the Son, Christ Jesus.
After Trinitarian Christianity became widely accepted as orthodoxy, Eastern Christological dispute was centred in two cities: Alexandria and Antioch. The theologians of Alexandria generally held that the divine and human natures were united indistinguishably within a single nature, though the questions of how they were related and whether in fact they were distinguishable were not settled immediately. The theologians of Antioch taught that two natures coexisted separately in Christ, the latter being “the chosen vessel of the Godhead…the man born of Mary.” In the course of the 5th century, those two contrasting theological positions became the subject of a struggle for supremacy between the rival sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome. When Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople in 428, adopted the Antiochene formula in his argument that the Virgin Mary could not rightly be called Theotokos (literally “God-bearer”), or the mother of Christ’s divine nature, he was perceived as stressing the human nature of Christ to the neglect of the divine. His opponents—first the Alexandrian patriarch, Cyril, and later Cyril’s successor, Dioscorus, and a monk named Eutyches—in reaction stressed Christ’s divinity and its relationship with Christ’s human nature through the Incarnation. Cyril and Dioscorus became exemplary advocates of the Christological position called miaphysitism, which held, in Cyril’s words, that in Christ the human and the divine were incarnated within a single (Greek mia) nature (physis). Eutyches took the more-radical position, in denouncing so-called Nestorianism, that Christ’s divinity was greatly more significant than, and overwhelmed, his human nature. Neither Cyril nor Dioscorus held that position, and with the latter’s approval Eutyches was anathematized. Eutyches soon convinced Dioscorus (apparently via subterfuge) that he had seen the error of his ways and recanted his perspective on Christ’s humanity Dioscorus subsequently endorsed Eutyches (causing some controversy) for reinstatement to the Christian fold.
Meanwhile, the claim of the Roman church was made by Pope Leo I, who in contrast declared for dyophysitism—i.e., the Christological position that two natures, perfect and perfectly distinct, existed in the single person of Christ. That struggle for power and legitimacy between Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome came to a head at the Council of Chalcedon (451). There the pope’s view triumphed, thanks to the support of Constantinople, which condemned both Nestorius for his extreme emphasis on the human nature of Christ and Eutyches (and, by extension, Dioscorus) for Eutyches’ purported monophysitism.
Chalcedon produced an indelible effect on Christian history beyond its immediate impact upon the purported orthodoxy of the Chalcedonian churches affiliated with Rome and Constantinople. The miaphysite, or non-Chalcedonian, churches—particularly the Coptic ( Egyptian) and Syrian churches within the empire—were stigmatized as heretics, a situation that was not resolved until formal discussions in the late 20th century resolved many of the ancient disputes. (Ironically, both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches invoked Cyril in their claims to Christian orthodoxy.)
More important for the purposes of military and political history than the theological details of the conflict was the impact miaphysitism produced on the several regions of the Mediterranean world. Partly because it provided a formula to express resistance to Constantinople’s imperial rule, miaphysitism persisted in Egypt and Syria. Until those two provinces were lost to Islam in the 7th century, each Eastern emperor had to somehow cope with their separatist tendencies as expressed in the heresy. He had either to take arms against miaphysitism and attempt to extirpate it by force, to formulate a creed that would somehow blend it with dyophysitism, or to frankly adopt this position as his own belief. None of those three alternatives proved successful, and religious hostility was not the least of the disaffections that led Egypt and Syria to yield, rather readily, to the Arab conqueror. If ever the East Roman emperor was to reassert his authority in the West, he necessarily had to discover a formula that would satisfy Western orthodoxy while not alienating non-Chalcedonian Christians.
Decline of Byzantine Empire and Rise of Islam. Are the two connected?
The Byzantine Empire achieved one of its greatest triumphs when Emperor Heraclius defeated their longstanding rival, the Sassanian Empire, in a war that lasted almost 20 years. (Image: Piero della Francesca/Public domain)
Soon after Emperor Justinian, another key figure in Byzantine history came to the fore. In the early 7th century, the reign of Emperor Heraclius began. He was a general who rebelled against the then current emperor, Phocas, and deposed him.
Byzantine Empire Vs. Sassanian Empire
Heraclius led the Byzantine Empire to one of its greatest triumphs over its longstanding Persian rival—the Sassanian Empire. Heraclius was a gifted general and led a vigorous series of campaigns against the Sassanians, who themselves were governed at the time by a particularly able and aggressive king, Khosrow II.
The war between these two men lasted almost 20 years, and included a number of spectacular successes and disasters on both sides. Khosrow II began by capturing much of Byzantium’s eastern territories, and at one point, in alliance with the Avars, even besieged Constantinople itself.
Heraclius directed a series of counterattacks, and unusually, often fought in the front rank alongside his soldiers. This was risky behavior, but it earned him the respect and admiration of his troops.
One of Heraclius’s greatest victories took place in December 627 A.D., when he invaded the Sassanian heartland and thoroughly smashed their main army at the Battle of Nineveh, located in modern Iraq.
In this climactic battle of the long war, Heraclius allegedly personally slew several foes, suffering a wound to his face in return. Khosrow was not present at this battle, but with his army destroyed, his power was compromised and he was assassinated two months later.
Heraclius acquired a considerable war bounty, supposedly including the fragments of the True Cross, which had been seized by Khosrow when he had earlier captured Jerusalem. This holy relic was borne in triumph back to Constantinople.
This is a transcript from the video series The Roman Empire: From Augustus to the Fall of Rome. Watch it now, Wondrium.
The Founding and Rise of Islam
If Heraclius had died ,then, he probably would have gone down in history as one of the greatest Roman emperors. However, it was his misfortune to live longer and witness the loss of much of his empire to a new and apparently irresistible force.
While the Byzantines and Sassanians were bleeding each other dry over the course of their prolonged and bitter struggle, a new power had emerged from one of the most obscure corners of the Mediterranean that, in a remarkably short period of time, would explode onto the scene and sweep away much of the previous world order.
In 610 A.D., a middle-aged merchant in the town of Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula began to experience visions in which the angel Gabriel appeared to him, imparted to him a series of revelations from God, and commanded him to recite them back. This man, of course, was Mohammed, the collected lessons became known as the Qur’an—literally, ‘the Recitations’—and the religion that he founded was Islam.
In 610 A.D., a middle-aged merchant named Mohammed in the town of Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula began to experience visions in which the angel Gabriel appeared to him and imparted to him a series of revelations from God, and commanded him to recite them back. These collected lessons came to be known as the Qur’an, and the religion that he founded was Islam. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)
The religion established by Mohammed advocated a stark form of monotheism in which the primacy of God as the one and only deity was stressed, and nothing was allowed to come between God and the worshipper. Acknowledgment of God’s omnipotence and submitting oneself to his will were all-important this concept is reflected in the word ‘Islam’, which can be translated as ‘submission’.
Mohammed identified God or, in Arabic, Allah, as the same God who was revered by the Jews and the Christians. And in Islam, figures such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are venerated as human prophets who had received earlier divine revelations.
Mohammed, then, was believed to be the last in this line of prophets, and had been granted the fullest and most accurate version of God’s message.
Mohammed gathered around him a group from Mecca of converts to the new religion, but the people among whom Islam really took hold were the hardy nomadic Arab tribes of the surrounding desert.
By the time of Mohammed’s death in 632 A.D., Islam had spread throughout these tribes, and over the next 30 years, under the leadership of Mohammed’s four caliphs, or ‘successors’, these tribes erupted into the Mediterranean world and conquered vast territories. Mounted on swift-moving camels, these raiders rolled irresistibly over their opponents.
Decline of Byzantine Empire
The long Byzantine-Sassanian wars had exhausted both sides, and left these once-powerful empires vulnerable. Heraclius fought gamely, but was unable to stem the tide, and had to endure watching one section of his empire lost after another.
In 636 A.D., at the Battle of Yarmouk, the Byzantine Army was decisively defeated, and in the very same year, the Sassanians were crushed at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah, leaving the entire East open to invasion and conquest by the Arabs.
In 636 A.D., Byzantium lost Jerusalem, the most sacred city in Christendom, and soon after, the entire Sassanian Empire crumbled and was brushed aside by the newcomers. Egypt fell in 642 A.D., and the southern Mediterranean coast, encompassing what is today Libya and Tunisia, soon followed.
The Byzantine Empire still held Constantinople and sections of the Balkans and Anatolia, and this much-reduced version of the empire would manage to continue for another 800 years.
Heraclius lived to witness most of these losses, finally dying in 641 A.D. This great wave of subjugation finally subsided in the mid-8th century, by which time, in the West, the remainder of North Africa and Spain had been subdued, and in the East, the Islamic armies had reached the borders of India.
The Arabic conquests fundamentally reshaped the Mediterranean world and created religious, cultural, and linguistic boundaries that persist even today.
Common Questions about the Decline of the Byzantine Empire and Rise of Islam
Heraclius led the Byzantine Empire to one of its greatest triumphs over its longstanding Persian rival, the Sassanian Empire.
Lazic War [ edit | edit source ]
The Byzantine-Persian border at the time of Justinian's death in 565 AD.
In early 548 AD, king Gubaz of Lazica, having found Persian protection oppressive, asked Justinian to restore the Roman protectorate. The emperor seized the chance, and in 548/549 AD combined Roman and Lazic forces under Gubaz and the magister militum of Armenia Dagistheus won a series of victories against Persian armies under Mihr-Mihroe and Khorianes, but failed in repeated attempts to take the fort of Petra. ⎹] In 551 AD, general Bassas who replaced Dagistheus put Abasgia and the rest of Lazica under control, and finally subjected Petra, demolishing its fortifications. ⎺]
In the same year, however, a Persian army under Mihr-Mihroe but was defeated with heavy losses. ⎻] That year the truce which had been established in 545 AD was renewed outside Lazica for a further five years, with the Romans paying 2,000 lbs of gold each year. ⎼] The Romans failed to completely expel the Sassanids from Lazica, and in 554 AD Mihr-Mihroe launched a new attack, and captured the fortress of Telephis, which was commanded by general Martin. ⎻] In 557 AD Khusro, who had now to deal with the White Huns, dispatched his envoy Izedh Gushnap to Constantinople and renewed the truce, this time without excluding Lazica, where they kept only a toehold negotiations continued for a definite peace treaty. ⎽] Finally, in 561 AD, Justinian's envoy, Peter the Patrician, and Izedh Gushnap put together a 50-year peace. The Persians agreed to evacuate Lazica, and received an annual subsidy of 30,000 nomismata annually. Both sides agreed not to build new fortifications near the frontier and to ease restrictions on diplomacy and trade between the two empires. ⎾]
Events (p. 69) The standard work for the period remains John F. Haldon’s Byzantium in the seventh century: the transformation of a culture (Cambridge: CUP, 2nd ed., 1997). ¶ On Herakleios see The reign of Heraclius (610-641): crisis and confrontation, edited by G. J. Reinink and B. H. Stolte (Leuven : Peeters, 2002) and Walter E. Kaegi, Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium (Cambridge: CUP, 2003) on the Persian wars see The Roman eastern frontier and the Persian Wars part II (as in chapter 2).
(p. 70) ¶ On Muhammad and early Muslim communities see The Qur’an in its Historical Context, edited by G. Reynolds (Oxford: OUP, 2007) The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad, edited by J. E. Brockopp (Cambridge: CUP, 2010).
On the siege of 626 see James Howard-Johnston, ‘The siege of Constantinople in 626,’ in Constantinople and its Hinterland, edited by C. Mango and G. Dagron (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1995) 131-42 the poem traditionally connected with the siege is the second Proimion to the Akathistos Hymn (which was composed earlier), although it is possible that it was also composed earlier or performed at a later unsuccessful siege of Constantinople, see Leslie Brubaker and John F. Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast era c. 680–850: a History (Cambridge: CUP, 2011) 93. The poem praises Mary as defender of her city: To you, our leader in battle and defender, O Theotokos, I, your city, delivered from sufferings, ascribe hymns of victory and thanksgiving. Since you are invincible in power, free me from all kinds of dangers, that I may cry to you: “Hail, bride unwedded”. The translation is taken from Leena Mari Peltomaa, The Image of the Virgin Mary in the Akathistos Hymn (Leiden, Boston and Cologne: Brill, 2001) 3.
(p. 71) On the rise of Islam the authoritative studies are by Fred M. Donner, The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981) and Hugh Kennedy, The Great Arab Conquests. How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007) these should be consulted together with Walter E. Kaegi, Byzantium and the early Islamic Conquests (Cambridge: CUP, 1992), and more recently James Howard Johnston, Witnesses to a World Crisis: Historians and Histories of the Middle East in the Seventh Century (Oxford: OUP, 2010) as well as The Encounter of Eastern Christianity with Early Islam, edited by E. Grypeou, M. Swanson and D. Thomas, (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006). ¶ See also G.W. Bowersock, Empires in Collision in Late Antiquity (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2012) for an ingenious reading that links the Persian Wars and the early Islamic conquests.
(p. 72) On Monothelitism see Judith Herrin, The Formation of Christendom (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1997), which is a key work on the period from the sixth to the ninth century Marek Jankowiak, La controverse monothélite. Une histoire politique (Paris, forthcoming) and Phil Booth, Crisis of Empire: Doctrine and Dissent at the End of Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013) on naval warfare in the period see E.M. Jeffreys and J.H. Pryor, The Age of the Dromon, The Byzantine Navy ca 500-1204 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006)
(p. 73) ¶ On the Umayyads see G.R. Hawting, The first dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad caliphate, AD 661-750 (London and New York: Routledge, 2nd ed. 2000). On their capital, Damascus, see Nancy Khalek, Damascus after the Muslim Conquest. Text and Image in Early Islam (Oxford: OUP, 2011) On Maximos and pope Martin I see Maximus the Confessor and his Companions: Documents from Exile, edited and translated by P. Allen and B. Neil (Oxford: OUP, 2002).
(pp. 73-74) ¶ On Constans II in Italy see Constantin Zuckerman, ‘Learning from the Enemy and More: Studies in “Dark Centuries” Byzantium,’ Millenium 2 (2005), 79–135 and Vivien Prigent, ‘La Sicile de Constant II: l’apport des sources sigillographiques,’ in La Sicile byzantine de Byzance à L’Islam, edited by A. Nef and V. Prigent (Paris: De Boccard, 2010) 157-87.
(p. 74) ¶ For a recent overview on Greek Fire see John Haldon, Haldon, ‘”Greek fire” revisited: recent and current research,’ in Byzantine Style, Religion and Civilization: In Honour of Sir Steven Runciman, edited by Elizabeth Jeffreys (Cambridge: CUP, 2006) 290–325.
(p. 75) On the Bulgars see Florin Curta, ‘Qagan, khan, or king? Power in early medieval Bulgaria (seventh to ninth century),’ Viator 37 (2006) 1-31 as well as East Central and Eastern Europe in the early Middle Ages, edited by F. Curta (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005) on the Slavs see Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, c.500–700, (Cambridge: CUP, 2001).
(pp. 75-76) The battle of propaganda over coins is discussed most recently in Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, edited by Helen C. Evans (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012).
(p. 77) The councils of the seventh century are analyzed by Judith Herrin, ‘The Quinisext Council (692) as a Continuation of Chalcedon,’ in Chalcedon in Context (as in Chapter 1), 148-68. ¶ Christel Kessler, ‘Abd Al-Malik’s Inscription in the Dome of the Rock: A Reconsideration,’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1 (1970) 2-14 discusses the anti-Christian message of the inscriptions in this key Muslim monument.
Infrastructures (p. 78) ¶ On the frequent transfers of population in the period see Hans Ditten, Ethnische Verschiebungen zwischen der Balkanhalbinsel und Kleinasien vom Ende des 6. bis zur zweiten Hälfte des 9. Jh. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1993).
(p. 79) ¶ On the measures of Constans II see Vivien Prigent, ‘Le rôle des provinces d’Occident dans l’approvisionnement de Constantinople (618-717). Témoignages numismatiques et sigillographiques,’ Mélanges de l’École française de Rome. Moyen Âge 118 (2006) 269-99 and his ‘Notes sur l’évolution de l’administration byzantine en Adriatique (VIIIe-IXe siècle),’ Mélanges de l’École française de Rome. Moyen Âge 120 (2008) 393-417. On the economy in the period see Angeliki E. Laiou and Cecille Morrisson, The Byzantine Economy (Cambridge: CUP, 2007) and the chapters by Jaques Lefort and Gilbert Dagron in the Economic History of Byzantium (as in the Introduction).
(pp. 79-80) There is a lively debate on the question of administrative changes in the Byzantine Empire after the Arab conquests. The definitive interpretation is found in Zuckerman, ‘Learning from the enemy,’ (as above) and (in much more detail) in Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast era c. 680–850: a History (as above). Both these works should be consulted for the following chapter as well.
(p. 80) The key question of the social developments in the period has been explored by Telemachos Lounghis, ‘Some Gaps in a Social Evolution Theory as Research Directions,’ in The Dark Centuries of Byzantium (7 th –9th c.), edited by E. Kountoura-Galake (Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, 2001) 411–20 ¶ and in much more detail in his ‘Δοκίμιο για την κοινωνική εξέλιξη στη διάρκεια των λεγόμενων «σκοτεινών αιώνων»,’ Symmeikta 6 (1985) 139-222, which goes up to the ninth century and should be consulted for the following chapter as well. See also Mark Whittow, ‘Early Medieval Byzantium and the End of the Ancient World,’ Journal of Agrarian Change 9 (2009) 134-53. John Haldon, ‘Introduction: Greater Syria in the seventh century: context and background,’ in Money, Power and Politics in Early Islamic Syria, edited by J. Haldon (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010) 1-20, Petra M. Sijpesteijn, ‘Landholding Patterns in Early Egypt,’ Journal of Agrarian Change 9 (2009) 120–133, Chase F. Robinson, Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest. The transformation of Northern Mesopotamia (Cambridge: CUP, 2000) and M.I. Kister, ‘Land Property and Jihād: A Discussion of Some Early Traditions,’ Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 34 (1991) 270-311 discuss the key topic of what happened in the areas conquered by the Muslims.
(p. 81) On the transformation of cities see Marlia Mundell Mango, ‘Monumentality versus economic vitality: was a balance struck in the late antique city?’ in Proceedings of the 22nd International Congress of Byzantine Studies, vol I (Sofia: Bulgarian Historical Heritage Foundation, 2011) 240-62 Clive Foss, ‘Syria in transition, AD 550–750: An archaeological approach’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 51 (1997), 189–269 and Archibald Dunn, ‘The transition from polis to kastron in the Balkans (III-VII cc.): general and regional perspectives,’ Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 18 (1994), 60–81.
(p. 82) On migrations from the East see Marie France Auzépy, ‘Le rôle des émigrés orientaux à Constantinople et dans l’Empire (634-843): acquis et perspectives,’ Al-Qantara 33 (2012) 475-503 on the Greek popes in the period see Andrew J. Ekonomou, Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern influences on Rome and the Papacy from Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590-752 (Plymouth, Lexington Books, 2009) on Constantinople see Paul Magdalino, Studies on the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).
(p. 83) On the Farmer’s Law see Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages (as in chapter 1).
Environment (p. 83) On the wars of Herakleios often erroneously labeled as ‘holy wars’ see Ioannis Stouraitis, ‘‘Just War’ and ‘Holy War’ in the Middle Ages. Rethinking Theory through the Byzantine Case-Study,’ Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 62 (2012) 227-64
(p. 84) On the David Plates see Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (as above)
(p. 85) On the eschatological reading of disasters see Gerrit J. Reinink, ‘Pseudo-Methodius: A Concept of History in Response to the Rise of Islam’, in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, edited by A. Cameron and L. Conrad (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 149–87 and his ‘Alexander the Great in Seventh-Century Syriac “Apocalyptic” Texts,’ Byzantinorossica 2 (2003), 150–78. ¶ On Muhammad’s alleged letter of protection for Sinai, see Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (as above) On interaction with Islam see Khalek, Damascus after the Muslim Conquest (as above) and the somewhat outdated article by John Meyendorff, ‘Byzantine Views of Islam’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964), 113–32.
(p. 86) On Anastasios of Sinai see: Joseph A. Munitiz (trans.), Anastasios of Sinai: Questions and Answers (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011) and Yannis Papadogiannakis, ‘Christian Identity in the Seventh-Century Byzantium: The Case of Anastasius of Sinai,’ in Religion, Politics, and Society from Constantine to Charlemagne: Collected Essays in Ηonor of Peter Brown, edited by Jamie Kreiner and Helmut Reimitz, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014).
1740: The Second Global War begins after Prussia invades Silesia as result of Maria Theresa's and defended by Pragmatic Sanction, they start a war between the them and Austria.
1759: After 19 years of fighting, the Treaty of Paris is signed on February 10, ending the Second Global War, and ending in a victory for the Byzantium Pact.
1775: The British Army, in an attempt to seize colonial militia supplies in Massachusetts march towards the city of Concord. However, upon reaching the city of Lexington, they meet armed resistance from the local militia, warned of their advance by Boston silversmith Paul Revere. After suffering only light casualties, the British advance on to Concord, where they find almost the entire colonial arms stash seems to have disappeared. Upon exiting the town, they are met with new colonial resistance at the local North Bridge. There they are defeated by colonial militiamen, and are forced to retreat back to Boston, but remained constantly harassed the entire way back. As news rings out of this across the colonies, the colonial militiamen across the area rise up in arms, and the American War of Independence begins.
1776: The American Continental Congress signs the Declaration of Independence, officially declaring the United States of America free from the British Empire. But they face setbacks as the British gain control of New York City, and then move further on into New Jersey. But they manage to save their revolution at the Battles of Iron Works Hill and at Trenton.
1777: The American Continental Army under the command of general Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold defeat the British Army under General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. Showing they are able to defeating the British decisively by themselves, the Byzantine Empire and her allies agree to help the American Revolution. In the aftermath of the battle however, Horatio Gates is demoted and sent to the Southern Theatre, whilst his former subordinate, Benedict Arnold, is promoted to the rank of Major General.
1778: The Continental Army under Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery launch an invasion of the British colony of Canada. Advancing out of Vermont, and accompanied by 3,000 Byzantine soldiers, they manage to advance deep into the British colonial possession.
1779: At the Battle of Quebec, the Continental Army captures the colonial city, and with it, the colony of Canada, winning a major victory for the American cause, and securing the American's northern flank.
1780: Lord Charles Cornwallis leads his British Army to conquer the southern United States, where the support for the British is strongest. They receive help and supplies from many southern loyalists, but remain constantly hampered by the colonial troops. At the Battle of Camden, Cornwallis decisively beat the Continental Army under Horatio Gates, and managed to conquer all of South Carolina. But his victory at Charlotte, North Carolina, manages to save North Carolina from the British threat.
1781: At the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, the Americans under Daniel Morgan and Horatio Gates won an outstanding victory over the British, resulting in their retreat to the north. Upon Cornwallis arriving in the port city of Yorktown, many believed the end of the war had finally come. If Cornwallis held the city, he had more options, if he didn't, his army would be destroyed. After the battle ended in a colonial victory, the British sought a treaty with the Americans and their allies to end the war.
1783: The Treaty of Paris is signed between Britain, America, and each sides respectful allies, officially ending the American Revolutionary War. Britain agrees to recognize the United States of America, who adopt the Articles of Confederation as their new government, set out to prove the world what an independent republic can do.
1789: The United States adopts a new Constitution granting far more power to the federal government, and establishing the office of President of the United States as the chief-executive. This same year, George Washington, hero of the American Revolution, is elected the first President of the United States. But meanwhile, halfway across the world, the Byzantine populace stages an open revolution across the Empire, overthrowing the absolute monarchy, which they deem an unjust system.