Rome at the time of Gregory the Great

Justinian was succeeded by his nephew, Justin II, who lived to see the conquest of the greater part of Italy by Alboin, king of the Lombards (568-570), the disaffection of the exarch, Narses, and the ruin of the Roman world.

During a period of 200 years Italy was unequally divided between the king of the Lombards and the exarchate of Ravenna Rome relapsed into a state of misery. The Campania was reduced to the state of a dreary wilderness.

The name of Rome, indeed, might have been erased from the earth had not a vague tradition declared that two Jewish teachers, a tent-maker and a fisherman, had formerly been executed in the circus of Nero. At the end of 500 years their genuine or fictitious relics were adored as the paladium of Christian Rome.

The power as well as virtue of the apostles resided, with living energy, in the breast of Gregory the Great, whose pontificate lasted from 590 to 604, and in whose administration of his spiritual and temporal duties his virtues and his success justified the appellation of Great. He reconciled the Arians of Italy and Spain to the Catholic Church, conquered Britain in the name of the Cross, and established his right to interfere in the management of the episcopal provinces of Greece, Spain and Gaul. The merits of Gregory were treated by the Byzantine court with reproach and insult, but in the attachment of a grateful people he found the best right of a sovereign.

The short and virtuous reign of Tiberius (578-582), which succeeded that of Justin, made way for that of Maurice. For twenty years Maurice ruled with his honour. But parsimony led to his undoing, and in 602 he was murdered.

A like fate befell the Emperor Phocas who succumbed in 610 to the fortunes of Heraclius, the son of Crispus, exarch of Africa. For thirty-two years Heraclius ruled the Roman world. In three campaigns he chastised the rising power of Persia, drove the armies of Chosroes from Syria, Palestine and Egypt, rescued Constantinople from the joint siege of the Avars and Persians (626), and finally reduced the Persian monarch to the defence of his kingdom. The murder of Chosroes by his son Siroes (628) concluded the successes of the emperor. A treaty of peace was arranged and Heraclius returned in triumph to Constantinople.

The next year he made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to restore the true Cross to the Holy Sepulchre. But while his triumphs were being proclaimed, an obscure town on the confines of Syria was pillaged by the Saracens, and some troops who had advanced to its release were cut in pieces-an ordinary and trifling occurrence had it not been the prelude of a mighty revolution. These robbers were the apostles of Mahomed; their fanatic valour had emerged from the desert, and in the last eight years of his reign Heraclius lost to the Arabs the same provinces which he had rescued from the Persians.

Heraclius died in 612. His descendants continued to fill the throne in the persons of Constantine III (641), Heracleonas (641), Constans II (641), Constantine IV (668), Justinian II (685), until 711, when an interval of six years, divided into three reigns, made way for the Isaurian dynasty.

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