Royal Shenanigans, 8 Month Old Made Co-Emperor of Byzantium

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A Brief History

On January 22, 613, in the capital city of Constantinople, Emperor Heraclius of the Byzantine Empire declared his 8 month old son, Constantine, Co-Emperor, or in the vernacular of the day, “Caesar.”  Perhaps you recall our related article, “The Beheading of a Byzantine Emperor by Another Byzantine Emperor!?” (October 4, 2013) that details how Heraclius seized power from the reigning Emperor, Phocas, by personally chopping off Phocas’ head!  Apparently, Heraclius was not quite done with doing outrageous things, such as making a baby Co-Emperor.

Digging Deeper

Heraclius had inherited a tough war by seizing power, a war called the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628.  Like his predecessor, Heraclius was unable to defeat the Persians and eventually suffered many defeats until finally expelling the Persians from Asia Minor.  The rise of Arab and Islamic power soon cut into the Byzantine Empire and Heraclius lost much of the territory gained from the Persians, including the Holy Lands, Syria and Egypt.

Another failed venture by Heraclius was his attempt to heal the rift between the Eastern and Western branches of the Christian Church by offering a compromise doctrine he called “Monothelitism.”  Both sides of the Christian schism (which became profound by 1054) rejected the religious theory of Heraclius.  (Note: Religious theory is definitely NOT the forte of this author.  For more information about the schism between Eastern and Western branches of Christianity see the “further reading” portion after the article.)

Heraclius married in 610, but his first wife died only 2 years later.  He then took his niece, Martina, as his second wife in 613, an obvious case of incest that rankled the Patriarch of the Eastern Church.  No matter!  Heraclius was not deterred and refused to acknowledge calls for an annulment.  Martina was apparently a meddlesome wife and accompanied Heraclius even on military campaigns.  When the sons of Heraclius later became Emperor (named Heraclius Constantine and Constantine Heraclius, kind of a clue about Dad’s vanity) she was an annoying influence on their reigns.  The public hated her.  Heraclius had stipulated in his will that his 2 sons would rule as Co-Emperors, and that Martina would have a role as Regent with the title “Empress.”

The first son, Heraclius Constantine, became Emperor Constantine III when Heraclius died in 641, but ruled only for 4 months, in fact the shortest reign of any Byzantine Emperor.  The second of Heraclius’ sons to assume the throne was Constantine Heraclius, who reigned as Emperor Heraklonas for only about 5 months, barely edging out his brother for brevity of reign champion.  Although Constantine III was a product of the first marriage of Heraclius, Heraklonas was the son of Martina.  Not surprisingly, considering the incestuous second marriage, a couple of the offspring of Heraclius and Martina had birth defects.

Constantine III died at the age of about 39, supposedly of tuberculosis, but rumored to have been poisoned by his step-mother, Martina, so that Heraklonas could be sole Emperor.  Before dying young, Constantine III had fathered 2 children, one of which succeeded Heraklonas as Emperor.  The reign of Heraklonas was as troubled as that of Constantine III, with the public chafing under the influence of Martina.  A general of Armenian descent, Valentinus, overthrew Heraklonas and installed the son of Constantine III, Constans II on the throne.  Valentinus drove home the point of usurping Heraklonas by also cutting off the deposed Emperor’s nose before being sent into exile on the island of Rhodes, where he died soon after arrival.  (At least Constans II reigned for a relatively lengthy 27 years.)

History is replete with incredible acts of depravity, deception, death, decapitation, disunity, dismemberment, dethroning, discrepancy, and just about every word that starts with a “D” that has a negative connotation regarding monarchs and the various monarchies in virtually all lands ruled at one time or another by monarchs.  So called “royal” families often claim divine right, as their thrones are given to them through the will of whatever God they tell you to worship, and often enough, these monarchs have decided that they too, should also be worshipped.  The reality of monarchies is that these royal families are often inbred defective people of poor moral character, prone to the same foibles, faults and faux pas as other “common” humans.  Not just the British monarchy, but al monarchies are inherently contrary to concepts of the equality of humans.

If our valued readers get the impression that this author has a negative view toward so called “royalty,” you would be correct.  On the other hand, if our valued readers have contrary opinions, we welcome your comments extolling the virtues of maintaining monarchies in the modern world, and heartily welcome all opinions on the subject!

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you believe monarchies should be abolished?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Herman, Thomas. The History of the Christian Church Until the Great Schism of 1054. AuthorHouse, 2004.

Shepard, Jonathan. The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c.500-1492.  Cambridge University Press, 2019.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (http://www.cngcoins.com) of a solidus of Emperor Constantine III (right) with his father Heraclius (left), is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.