For the Empire of Constantinople, the 640s began with uncertainty and chaos. The long and stabilizing rule of Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) came to a close when the aging emperor died of illness at the beginning of the decade. Heraclius was succeeded by his two sons, Constantine III and Heraclonas, who were both in their twenties at the time and had different mothers. The brothers ascended to the throne as co-rulers, but Emperor Constatine III quickly died (likely of tuberculosis) before the year 641 was over. After the death of his brother, Heraclonas was left as the sole ruler of the empire, but he would not be able to enjoy power for long. Unfortunately, Emperor Heraclonas and his mother, Empress Martina, were accused (most likely wrongfully) of poisoning the late Emperor Constantine III. Based on these rumors, Emperor Heraclonas was promptly ejected from power by his political rivals and enemies—and this, too, occurred in that busy year of 641. Following the arrest, mutilation, and imprisonment of Heraclonas, the ousted emperor’s nephew, Constans (son of Constantine III), took power in Constantinople as Emperor Constans II. Such political chaos in the royal court, combined with the empire’s recent losses of territory around that time—in the west by the Lombards and in the south and east by Arab expansion—understandably put great stress and tension on people living in the empire. Simply put, the atmosphere in Constans’ troubled realm was rife for unrest and rebellion. Indeed, just a few years after Emepror Constans II took the throne, a powerful man named Valentinian pulled together an army to rebel against the emperor.
Valentinian’s rebellion occurred around the year 644. Little is known about the man’s backstory other than that he had the social rank of patrician and wielded enough military and political clout to muster an army that he believed would fight on his behalf against the emperor. Valentinian’s ambitions and mobilization, however, did not escape the notice of Emperor Constans II’s agents and informants. When the emperor heard of the situation, he acted swiftly and ruthlessly, immediately delegating a trusted loyalist with the task of removing the threat of Valentinian. The identity or occupation of the loyal subordinate is unclear, but be he an assassin or a general with an imperial army, he ultimately had little trouble neutralizing Valentinian’s rebellion. The incident was recorded by the chronicler, Theophanes (c. 750s-818), who wrote, “In this year Valentinian the patrician rebelled against Constans. The Emperor dispatched a man who killed him and brought his army back to its allegiance” (Theophanes, Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6136). As the quote conveys, Valentinian’s assassination or execution caused the army that he had been trying to mobilize to now disband, ending the threat to Emperor Constans II (r. 641-668).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Cropped scenes from the Biblical story of Joshua, made by Byzantine artists c. 10th–11th century, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.