Tiberius II Constantine
|Tiberius II Constantine|
Tremissis of Emperor Tiberius II Constantine
|Emperor of the Byzantine Empire|
|Died||14 August 582 (aged 62)|
Early Career and the Avar War of 570
Born in Thrace in the mid-sixth century, Tiberius was appointed to the post of Notarius where sometime after 552 he was introduced by the Patriarch Eutychius to the future emperor Justin II with whom he became firm friends. Under Justin’s patronage, Tiberius was promoted to the position of Comes excubitorum, which he held from approximately 565 through to 574. He was present during Justin’s Imperial accession on 14 November 565 and also attended the Emperor’s inauguration as Consul on 1 January 566.
Justin ceased making payments to the Avars implemented by his predecessor Justinian. In 569, he appointed Tiberius to the post of Magister utriusque militiae with instructions to deal with the Avars and their demands. After a series of negotiations, Tiberius agreed to allow the Avars to settle on Roman territory in the Balkans in exchange for male hostages taken from various Avar chiefs. Justin, however, rejected this agreement, insisting on taking hostages from the family of the Avar Khan himself. This condition was rejected by the Avars, so Tiberius mobilized for war. In 570 he defeated an Avar army in Thrace and returned to Constantinople. While attempting to follow up this victory, however, in late 570 or early 571 Tiberius was defeated in a subsequent battle where he narrowly escaped death as the army was fleeing the battlefield. Agreeing to a truce, Tiberius provided an escort to the Avar envoys to discuss the terms of a treaty with Justin. On their return, the Avar envoys were attacked and robbed by local tribesmen, prompting them to appeal to Tiberius for help. He tracked down the group responsible and returned the stolen goods.
In 574 Justin had a mental breakdown, forcing the empress Sophia to turn to Tiberius to manage the empire, which was fighting the Persians to the east and dealing with the internal crisis of the plague. To achieve a measure of breathing space, Tiberius and Sophia agreed to a one-year truce with the Persians, at the cost of 45,000 nomismata. On December 7, 574, Justin, in one of his more lucid moments, had Tiberius proclaimed Caesar and adopted him as his own son. Tiberius added the name Constantine to his own. Although his position was now official, he was still subordinate to Justin. Sophia was determined to remain in power and kept Tiberius tightly controlled until Justin died in 578.
Elevation as Caesar (574–578)
The day after his appointment as Caesar, the plague abated, giving Tiberius more freedom of movement than Justin was able to achieve. Tiberius also charted a very different course from his predecessor, and proceeded to spend the money which Justin had doggedly saved in order to defend the imperial frontiers and win over the populace who had turned against Justin. According to Paul the Deacon, Tiberius found two treasures: the treasure of Narses and 1,000 centenaria, that is 100,000 pounds of gold or 7,200,000 solidi (nomismata), under a slab. These treasures were given away to the poor, to the consternation of Sophia.
Alongside generous donations, he also proceeded to reduce state revenue by removing taxes on wine and bread instituted by Justinian I. He continued the official ban on the sale of governorships, which was highly popular. He also negotiated a truce with the Avars, paying them 80,000 nomismata per year, for which the Avars agreed to defend the Danube frontier, thereby allowing Tiberius to transfer troops across to the east for a planned renewal of the conflict against the Persians.
In 575 Tiberius began moving the armies of Thrace and Illyricum to the eastern provinces. Buying time to make the necessary preparations, he agreed to a three-year truce with the Persians, paying 30,000 nomismata, though the truce excluded action in the region around Armenia. Not content with making preparations, Tiberius also used this period to send reinforcements to Italy under the command of Baduarius with orders to stem the Lombard invasion. He saved Rome from the Lombards and allied the Empire with Childebert II, the King of the Franks, in order to defeat them. Unfortunately, Baduarius was defeated and killed in 576, allowing even more imperial territory in Italy to slip away. Tiberius was unable to respond as the Persian Sassanid Emperor Khosrau I struck at the Empire’s Armenian provinces in 576, sacking Melitene and Sebastea. Shifting his attention eastward, Tiberius sent his general Justinian with the eastern armies to push the Persians back across the Euphrates. The Byzantines followed, and pushed deep into Persian territory, culminating in a raid on Atropatene. In 577, however, Justinian was defeated in Persian Armenia, forcing a Byzantine withdrawal. In response to this defeat, Tiberius replaced Justinian with the future emperor Maurice. During the truce which Tiberius concluded with Khosrau, he busily enhanced the army of the east, not only with transfers from his western armies but also through barbarian recruits, which he formed into a new Foederati unit, amounting to some 15,000 troops by the end of his reign.
Throughout 577 and into 578, Tiberius avoided all other entanglements which would have distracted him from the approaching Persian conflict. He appeased, quite successfully, both Chalcedonian and Monophysite Christians by the use of strategic appointments and the easing of persecutions. He paid the Lombard tribal chieftains some 200,000 nomismata in an attempt to keep them divided and prevent the election of a king. When the Slavs invaded Illyricum, he transported Avar armies to attack them and force their retreat. Consequently, when Khosrau invaded Roman Mesopotamia in 578, his general Maurice was able to invade Persian Arzanene and Mesopotamia, sacking a number of key towns and forcing the Persians to abandon their advance and defend their own territory. It was during this period that the ailing Emperor Justin finally died in early October 578.
Reign as Augustus (578–582)
On 26 September 578 Tiberius was made Augustus by the rapidly failing Justin. He used this opportunity to give away 7,200 pounds of gold, a practice which he continued annually throughout the four years of his reign.
Sophia, Justin's widow, tried to maintain her power and influence by marrying the new emperor Tiberius, but he refused her proposal because he was already married to Ino. When Tiberius had first been raised to the rank of Caesar, Sophia had refused the request for Ino and her children to move into the Imperial palace with her husband, forcing them to reside in a small residence nearby and prohibiting them from entering the palace. Once Tiberius was elevated to the rank of Augustus, however, he had his family moved into the palace and renamed Ino as Anastasia, much to Sophia’s great resentment. Therefore, Sophia sought revenge, and a secret pact was made between the dowager empress and the general Justinian, whom Tiberius had replaced the year before. They conspired to overthrow the Emperor: if the plot had been successful, Justinian would have become the new Emperor. The conspiracy failed, however, and Sophia was reduced to a modest allowance; Justinian was forgiven by Tiberius.
The ongoing success against the Persians in the east once again allowed Tiberius to turn his gaze westward. In 579 he again extended his military activities into the remnants of the Western Roman Empire – he sent money and troops to Italy to reinforce Ravenna and to retake the port of Classis. He formed an alliance with one of the Visigothic princes in Spain who was fomenting rebellion, and his generals defeated the Berbers in North Africa. He also intervened in Frankish affairs in the former province of Gaul, which had been largely free of imperial contacts for close to a century. Consequently, he might have been the basis for the fictional emperor Lucius Tiberius of Arthurian legend, who sent envoys to former Roman provinces after a long period without an Imperial presence.
The reality, however, was that the Empire was seriously overextended. In 579, with Tiberius occupied elsewhere, the Avars decided to take advantage of the lack of troops in the Balkans by besieging Sirmium. At the same time, the Slavs began to migrate into Thrace, Macedonia and Greece, which Tiberius was unable to halt as the Persians refused to agree to a peace in the east, which remained the Emperor’s main priority. To top it all off, the Army of the East was beginning to become restless, as they hadn’t been paid, to the point where they threatened to mutiny.
In 580, the general Maurice launched a new offensive, raiding well beyond the Tigris. The following year (581), he again invaded Persian Armenia, and succeeded in almost reaching the Persian capital at Ctesiphon before a Persian counter-invasion of Byzantine Mesopotamia forced him to retreat back to deal with this threat. By 582, with no apparent end to the Persian war in sight, Tiberius was forced to come to terms with the Avars, to whom he agreed to pay an indemnity and to hand over the vital city of Sirmium, which the Avars then destroyed. Unfortunately, the migration of the Slavs continued, with their incursions reaching as far south as Athens. Although a new Persian invasion was halted with a significant defeat at Constantina in June 582, by this stage Tiberius was dying, apparently having eaten some poorly prepared, or possibly deliberately poisoned, food.
In this state, Tiberius initially named two heirs, each of whom married one of his daughters – Maurice was betrothed to Constantina, while Germanus, related through blood to the great emperor Justinian, was married to Charito. It appears that his plan was to divide the empire in two, with Maurice receiving the eastern provinces and Germanus the western provinces. This plan was never implemented, and on 13 August 582 he elevated Maurice to the rank of Augustus.
Let my sovereignty be delivered to thee with this girl. Be happy in the use of it, mindful always to love equity and justice.
Character and legacy
A native of the Latin-speaking part of Thrace, Tiberius was nonetheless distinguished as the first of the "Greek [-speaking] Caesars" by Edward Gibbon, citing the 13th century Syriac Orthodox patriarch and writer Bar Hebraeus. Tiberius was reportedly tall and handsome and possessed a regal bearing. He was gentle and humane, both as a man and a ruler, with a reputation for generosity. Unlike his predecessor, he largely refrained from persecuting his Monophysite subjects, although his Arian subjects in the west did not fare as well. He also spent a good deal of money on building projects, most notably the continued expansion of the Great Palace of Constantinople.
According to Edward Gibbon, Tiberius II was a good emperor:
With the odious name of Tiberius, he assumed the more popular appellation of Constantine, and imitated the purer virtues of the Antonines. After recording the vice or folly of so many Roman princes, it is pleasing to repose, for a moment, on a character conspicuous by the qualities of humanity, justice, temperance, and fortitude; to contemplate a sovereign affable in his palace, pious in the church, impartial on the seat of judgment, and victorious, at least by his generals, in the Persian war. The most glorious trophy of his victory consisted in a multitude of captives, whom Tiberius entertained, redeemed, and dismissed to their native homes with the charitable spirit of a Christian hero. The merit or misfortunes of his own subjects had a dearer claim to his beneficence, and he measured his bounty not so much by their expectations as by his own dignity. This maxim, however dangerous in a trustee of the public wealth, was balanced by a principle of humanity and justice, which taught him to abhor, as of the basest alloy, the gold that was extracted from the tears of the people. For their relief, as often as they had suffered by natural or hostile calamities, he was impatient to remit the arrears of the past, or the demands of future taxes: he sternly rejected the servile offerings of his ministers, which were compensated by tenfold oppression; and the wise and equitable laws of Tiberius excited the praise and regret of succeeding times. Constantinople believed that the emperor had discovered a treasure: but his genuine treasure consisted in the practice of liberal economy, and the contempt of all vain and superfluous expense. The Romans of the East would have been happy, if the best gift of Heaven, a patriot king, had been confirmed as a proper and permanent blessing. But in less than four years after the death of Justin, his worthy successor sunk into a mortal disease, which left him only sufficient time to restore the diadem, according to the tenure by which he held it, to the most deserving of his fellow-citizens.
This opinion was not shared by John Bagnall Bury, who commented:
But though he might have made a very good minister of war, Tiberius did not make a good Emperor. It was natural that his first acts should be reactionary, as Justin's government had been extremely unpopular. He removed the duty on the "political bread," and remitted a fourth part of the taxes throughout the Empire. Had he been contented with this he might deserve praise, but he began a system of most injudicious extravagance. He gratified the soldiers with large and frequent Augustatica, and he granted donations to members of all the professions scholastics or jurists ("a very numerous profession"), physicians, silversmiths, bankers. This liberality soon emptied the treasury of its wealth. The result was that by the end of the first year of his reign he had spent 7200 pounds of gold, beside silver and silk in abundance; and before he died he was obliged to have recourse to the reserve fund which the prudent economy of Anastasius had laid by, to be used in the case of an extreme emergency. And, notwithstanding these financial difficulties, he laid out money on new buildings in the palace. The consequence of this recklessness was that when Maurice came to the throne he found the exchequer empty and the State bankrupt. There is considerable reason, I think, to remove Tiberius from his pedestal.
Originally betrothed as a young man to the daughter of Ino, Tiberius eventually married Ino after her daughter and husband died. She took on the name Anastasia in 578 after his accession to the throne. They had three children together, one of whom died before Tiberius was created Caesar in 574. Of his other two, both daughters, Constantina was married to Tiberius’s successor, Maurice, while Charito was married to Germanus. His wife and two daughters all outlived him.
- Kazhdan, pg. 2083
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- Bury, pg. 80
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Media related to Tiberius II Constantine at Wikimedia Commons
- Gibbon, "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" Chapter 45 Online
- Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum, Book III, Chapters 11–15
Tiberius II ConstantineBorn: c. 520 Died: 14 August 582
with Justin II (574–578)
| Succeeded by|
Imp. Caesar Flavius Iustinus Augustus in 566, then lapsed
|Consul of the Roman Empire
| Succeeded by|
Lapsed, Imp. Caesar Flavius Mauricius Tiberius Augustus in 583