Around 622, Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople (r. 610-641) marched his troops into Armenia, from where he intended to launch invasions against the Persians, led at that time by Khosrow II (r. 591-628). Heraclius’ incursion was quickly confronted by a Persian army, but the Persians were defeated in the battle, emboldening the emperor of Constantinople’s forces. After halting for the winter, Emperor Heraclius resumed his campaign against the Persians in 623. That year, the emperor benefited from a well-functioning intelligence network, and with the information his spies collected, Emperor Heraclius was able to put Khosrow II on a defensive footing.
As told by the chroniclers of Constantinople, Heraclius had eyes, ears and informants on the ground during his campaign against Persia that could fairly accurately pinpoint the locations of Khosrow II and his Persian armies. Early in 623, Heraclius’ agents were able to discover that Khosrow was located in a city known to writers of Constantinople as Gazakon. Learning this, Emperor Heraclius reportedly decided to dispatch a special group of warriors made up of men who could blend into the Persian population. The broad mission of this band of stealthy fighters was allegedly surveillance and scouting, but they were capable of doing much more, as they proved during their adventure. A chronicler named Theophanes (c. 750s-818) recorded the tale of these stealthy fighters, writing, “When Herakleios [aka Heraclius] heard that Khosroes [Khosrow] was in the city of Gazakon with 40,000 warlike men, he hastened against him, sending some of his Saracens ahead to scout. They met Khosroes’ guard-force, slew some, and bound the rest (including their general) and brought them to the Emperor” (Theophanes, Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6114).
The scouts, in their ambush and capture of the Persian guardsmen, must have captured a trove of valuable information, for when Khosrow II learned of the disappearance of the squad of guards, he decided to leave Gazakon as quickly as possible. Heraclius chased Khosrow from Gazakon to another city known to the writers of Constantinople as Thebarmaïs. Khosrow slipped away, so the emperor’s forces made due with pillaging and burning the region before withdrawing back to the Caucasus for the winter.
Written by C. Keith Hansely
Picture Attribution: (Cropped illustration labeled Faribus doodt Kulbad, by an anonymous artist, dated c. 1500 – 1600, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum.jpg).
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.