), emperor of Constantinople from A. D. 602 to 610.
The circumstances under which this monster was raised to the throne are related at the end of the life of the emperor MAURICIUS. Phocas was of base extraction, and a native of Cappadocia. For some time he was groom to the celebrated general Priscus, and at the time of his accession he held the humble office of a centurion. His brutal courage had gained him a name among the common soldiers, and among those of his companions who liked warfare as the art of butchering mankind. His coronation took place on the 23d of November 602; his wife Leontia was likewise crowned.
After he had momentarily quenched his thirst for revenge and murder in the blood of Mauricius, of his five sons, and of his most eminent adherents, such as Constantine Lardys, Comentiolus and others, he bought an ignoble peace from the Avars, but was prevented from enjoying it by a fierce attack of the Persian king Chosroes.
This prince considered the accession of a despicable murderer to the Byzantine throne as a fair opportunity of avenging himself for the many defeats he had suffered from Mallritius; and he was still more urged to take up arms by Narses, a faithful adherent of the late emperor, and then commanderin-chief on the Persian frontier. Anxious to escape the fite of so many of his friends, Narses made overtures to Chosrocs, left the head-quarters of his army, and remained in a sort of neutral position at Hierapolis. Thus a war broke out with Persia which lasted twenty-four years, the first eighteen of which presented an uninterrupted series of misfortunes to the Romans, and which was decidedly the most disastrous that was ever carried on between the two empires. Asia Minor from the Euphrates to the very shores of the Bosporus was laid waste by the Persians; a great number of its populous and fllorishing cities was laid in ashes; and hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants were carried off into slavery beyond the Tigris.
But for this war Asia Minor would have better withstood the attacks of the Arabs, who some years later achieved what the Persians had begun. Afraid to lose his crown if he absented himself from Constantinople, and feeling, as it seems, the inferiority of his military capacities, Phocas remained in his capital to enjoy executions and beastly pleasures, while the eunuch Leontiau started for the theatre of the war with a motley army composed of the most incongruous elements, He thus encountered the Persian veterans commanded by their king Chosroes, the greatest man of the East. At Dara the eunuch was utterly defeated. His successor Domentiolus, the emperor's brother, was not able to stop the progress of the enemy, and from the Black Sea to the confines of Egypt the Persians ravaged the country. During this time Domentiolus entered into negotiations with Narses with a view of reconciling hint with the emperor. Beguiled by the brilliant promises of Domentiolus, Narses imprudently left his stronghold, and finally proceeded to Constantinople. While he hoped to be placed again at the head of the Roman armies, he was suddenly arrested, and without further inquiries condemned to death.
He was burnt alive. Thus perished the worthy namesake of the great Narses, with whom he has often been confounded, although the one was a centenarian when the other first tried his sword against the Persians. This Narses was so much feared by the Persians that mothers used to frighten their children with his name. His murder increased the unpopularity of the emperor. Germanus, the father-in-law of the unfortunate Theodosius, the eldest son of Mauricius, who had once had a chance of obtaining the crown, now persuaded the captive empress Constantina to form a plot against the life of the tyrant.
She consented, being under the impression that her son Theodosius was still alive, and accompanied by one Scholasticus, who seems to have been the scape-goat in this affair, she left her dwelling, together with her three daughters, and followed him to the church of St. Sophia.
At her aspect the people were moved with pity. They took up arms, and a terrible riot ensued.
But for the bad will of John, the leader of the Greens, who paid for his conduct by being burnt alive by the mob, the outbreak would have been crowned with success.
As it was, however, Phocas had the upper hand.
The riot was quelled; Scholasticus was put to death; and Germnanus was forced to take the monastic habit : he had managed things so cleverly that no evidence could be produced against him : else he would have paid for the plot with his life.
The empress Constantine found a protector in the person of the patriarch Cyriacus, and her life was spared; but she was confined in a monastery with her three daughters.
The general hatred against Phocas, however, was so great that Constantina braved the dangers of another conspiracy which broke out in 607, and in which she interested several of the principal personages of the empire : she still believed that her son Constantine was alive.
A woman contrived this plot, and a woman frustrated it.
This was Petronea who, being in the entire confidence of the empress, was employed by her as a messenger between the different parties, and who sold the secret to Phocas as soon as she had gathered sufficient evidence against its leaders.
The tyrant quelled the plot by bloody, but decisive measures. Constantina and her three daughters had their heads cut off at Chalcedon, on the same spot where her husband and her five sons had suffered death. Among those of her chief adherents who paid for their rashness with their lives were Georgius, governor of Cappadocia; Romanis, advocates curiae; Theodorus praefectus Orientis; Joannes, primus e secretariis; Athanasius, the minister of finances; David, master of the palace, and many others besides great numbers of inferior people, who all suffered death under the most horrible torments.
The tyrant's fury, the devastations of the Avars, the alarming success of the Persians, threw the empire into consternation and despair. Dara, the bulwark of the empire towards the Tigris, was taken by Chosroes in 606; Edessa, of no less importance, shared its fate; Syria was a heap of ruins; Mesopotamia yielded to the king; whosoever was suspected of having been a friend to Mauricius, or of being opposed to the present state of things, was seen bleeding under the axe of the executioner.
At last Phocas insulted his former favourite Crispus, the husband of his only daughter Domentia, who had vainly endeavored to produce a change in the conduct of the emperor. Crispus, a sensible and well-disposed man, looked out for assistance, and fully aware of the chances which any conspiracy ran that was carried on in the corrupted capital, he sought it at the farthest extremity of the empire, in Mauritania. Heraclius, exarch of Africa, was the person upon whom his choice fell. Confiding in his strength and the love of the Africans, Heraclius entered into the plans of Crispus, and began to show his sentiments by prohibiting the exportation of corn from the ports of Africa and Egypt, from whence Constantinople used to draw its principal supplies.
The consequence was, as was expected, discontent in the capital. Although urged by Crispus to declare himself openly, Heraclius wisely continued his policy during two years. Meanwhile, the name of Phocas was execrated throughout the whole empire; and owing to a mad order which he gave for the baptism of all the Jews in his dominions, a terrible riot broke out in Alexandria. Shortly before this, the Persians, after having routed Domentiolus near Edessa, inundated all Asia Minor, appeared at Chalcedon, opposite Constantinople, and laden with booty retired at the approach of the winter (609-610).
This led to riots in Constantinople, and a bloody strife between the Blues and the Greens. Phocas was insulted by the populace, and the means he chose to restore quiet were only calculated to increase the troubles; for by a formal decree he incapacitated every adherent of the green faction from holding any office, either civil or military. Now, at the proper moment, Heraclius, the eldest son of the exarch Heraclius, left the shores of Africa with a fleet, and his cousin Nicetas set out at the head of an army for Constantinople, where Crispus was ready to receive and assist them without the tyrant having the slightest presentiment of the approaching storm. Their success is related in the life of HERACLIUS. On the third of October, 610, Constantinople was in the hands of Heraclius, after a sharp contest with the mercenaries of Phocas, who spent the ensuing night in a fortified palace, which was defended by a strong body.
The guard fled during the night. Early in the morning the senator Photins approached it with a small band, and finding the place unguarded, entered and seized upon Phocas, whom they put into a boat and paraded through the fleet.
He was then brought before Heraclius on board the imperial galley. Heraclus, forgetting his dignity, felled the captive monster to the ground, trampled upon him with his feet, and charged him with his abominable government. "Wilt thou govern better," was the insolent answer of the fallen tyrant.
After suffering many tortures and insults, Phocas had his head struck off. His body was dragged through the streets, and afterwards burned, together with that of Domentiolus, who had fallen in the battle. Phocas, the most blood-thirsty tyrant that ever disgraced the throne of Constantinople, was as ugly in body as monstrous in mind.
He was short, beardless, with red hair, shaggy eyebrows; and a great scar disfigured his face all the more, as it became black when his passions were roused. Heraclius was crowned immediately after the death of his rival. (Theoph. p. 244, &c.; Cedren. p. 399, &c.; Chron. Pasch. p. 379-383; Zonar. vol. ii. p. 77, &c. in the Paris ed.; Simocatta, 8.100.7, &c.)