Timeline: The fight to survive (7th to 9th Centuries)

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Herakleios I becomes Emperor

Herakleios is crowned after a period of disastrous misrule by Phocas, a brutal ex-soldier.

Herakleios re-organises previously ineffective Byzantine resistance against a major Persian invasion. Wars between the two superpowers, Byzantium and Persia, had previously been limited in scope and punctuated by periods of uneasy peace. This latest war develops instead into a death-struggle. For the first time Byzantiumís continued existence as a political entity is seriously threatened.


Constantinople besieged by the Avars

A massive barbarian army, working in co-operation with the Persians, lays siege to Constantinople whilst Herakleios is away campaigning in the east. Inspired by the charismatic Patriarch Sergios, the Byzantines successfully resist the attack upon their capital city.


Sassanid Persia defeated by the Byzantines

The successful defence of Constantinople represents a turning point in the war against the Persians. Herakleios is later able to defeat all armies sent against him and forces a favourable peace upon the gravely weakened Persians.


Battle of the River Yarmuk

Inspired by their new religious faith (the Prophet Mohammed had only died in 632) Arab armies advance upon both the Persian Empire, which is soon absorbed, and the Byzantine Empire.

At first slow to react, the Byzantines finally mobilise a large army against the Arabs. Badly handled and out-fought, the Byzantine Army is destroyed by the Arabs at the Battle of Yarmuk, in Syria.

Already ravaged by the Persian war, Byzantine provinces in the Middle East and North Africa fall quickly to the Arabs. The Byzantines fall back, holding the mountain passes of eastern Asia Minor against further Arab encroachment.

The Arabs establish a powerful state, the Omayyad Caliphate, based around the capital city of Damascus.


First Arab attack upon Constantinople

The "Saracens" (Arabs) have built up a powerful war-fleet. They lay a determined sea-born siege upon Constantinople which lasts for five years. For the first time the Byzantines are able to inflict a severe defeat upon the Arabs, who finally withdraw with heavy losses in 678.

An important factor in Byzantine success is the use of a secret weapon - Greek Fire. An explosive and incendiary substance, with sulphur, pitch and petroleum as chief ingredients, Greek Fire is squirted from bellows-operated flamethrowers mounted on Byzantine warships.


Second Arab attack upon Constantinople

On this occasion the Arabs send a war-fleet and army that outnumbers Byzantiumís entire armed forces. Once again Constantinople puts up a brave defence and the effects of a severe winter, Greek Fire, and mass desertion by many of their Christian sailors combine to deal the Arabs a severe defeat.


Accession of the Emperor Leo III

Leo, originally from the Syrian border, ends a period of political instability within the Empire and makes a major contribution to the defeat of the Arab attack upon Constantinople.


Beginning of the Iconoclast Controversy

Reflecting upon the near destruction of the Byzantine Empire, the Emperor Leo and his advisors conclude that a possible cause of such disasters may be divine displeasure. In an attempt to appease God, Leo hits upon the policy of removing or destroying religious images (Icons). Byzantine worship of icons has come uncomfortably close to idolatry and, possibly under the influence of Islamic thought, Leo aims to purify and abstract Christian worship by their removal.

The new policy of Iconoclasm ("image - breaking") meets with immediate opposition and will fiercely divide Byzantine society and politics for the next 120 years. Although primarily a religious controversy, support or rejection of Iconoclasm inevitably reinforces pre-existing antagonisms or divisions in Byzantium. The army, becomes a stronghold of Iconoclasm, whilst the church itself is largely Iconophile (in support of Icons) .


Foundation of Baghdad by the Caliph el-Mansur

The new Abbasid Caliphate, centred upon Baghdad, is a mighty cultural, economic and military power on Byzantiumís south-eastern border.


Regency of the Empress Irene

Irene, widow of Leo IIIís grandson, reigns as regent for her son, Constantine VI. A controversial figure, Irene is a determined woman whose desire to retain political control leads the imprisonment and murder of her now-adult son in 797. Irene refers to herself as Basileos (King, or Emperor).


Irene is deposed by the Logothete Nikephoros

The Emperor Nikephoros I is a far-sighted political and financial planner. He places the Empire upon a sound financial footing, Byzantine re-settlement of much of Greece, lost to the Empire for the past two centuries, gains apace during his reign.


Defeat and death of Nikephoros I

Nikephoros meets a gruesome end when his army is defeated by the Bulgar Khan Krum. Originally a Turkic people ruling over Slavic subjects, the Bulgars are a constant worry for Byzantine Emperors and their advisors.

Krum, a formidable adversary, mounts Nikephorosí skull in silver for use as a drinking cup!

829 to 842

Reign of the Emperor Theophilos

Despite on-going military conflict, the reign of Theophilos is notable for a significant level of cultural contact between Byzantium and the Abbasid Caliphate.

Byzantiumís economic health continues to improve, with on-going expansion of trade and the Empireís money supply. The Byzantine military is reformed and expanded.


The end of Iconoclasm

Theophilos is the last Iconoclast emperor. Upon his death his widow, Theodora takes control as regent for their young son, Michael III. Theodora presides over the restoration of Icons as an accepted form of Orthodox worship.

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