By the 640s, Constantinople’s imperial holdings in North Africa came to be overseen by a certain patrician named Gregory. The region he commanded had always been an important piece of the empire—in fact, the formidable emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) had launched his bid for the throne from a base of power in North Africa. All this aside, Patrician Gregory, despite residing in North Africa with its importance to Constantinople and the ruling dynasty, likely soon felt vulnerable in his position. This was because the empire was starting to face increasing danger while Constantinople was simultaneously becoming less and less able to adequately defend its empire, especially the farthest reaches of its territory, such as North Africa.
Patrician Gregory’s era of the 7th century was a chaotic time for Constantinople, to say the least. The Lombards were chipping away at Constantinople’s control in Italy, and that conflict predated and overlapped with the great war that erupted between Constantinople and Persia in 602. Emperor Heraclius inherited that war with Persia in 610 and succeeded in finally winning the conflict in 628. Although the war with Persia was over, another great war was unfortunately just beginning. While the age-old rivals of the Roman Empire and Persia had been squandering each other’s resources and manpower between 602 and 628, Islam had come into being in Arabia and it was now time for aggressive Arab armies to wreak havoc on the exhausted realms of Constantinople and Persia.
During the reign of the first caliph, Abū Bakr (r. 632-634), Arab armies began expanding into the regions of Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Iraq, and these expansionist wars increased dramatically during the reign of the second caliph, Umar I (r. 634-644). Emperor Heraclius was operating defensively by this point, trying to mitigate the damage of invasion, while also striving to fortify and garrison Anatolia. The able emperor, however, sickened and died in 641, and his immediate successors proved to be a destabilizing and ineffective bunch. Heraclius was succeeded by his sons, Constantine III and Heraclonas. Constantine III quickly died (likely of tuberculosis) before the year 641 was over, leaving his brother as the sole ruler. Yet, Emperor Heraclonas and his mother, Empress Martina, were soon accused (most likely wrongfully) of poisoning the late Emperor Constantine III, and these rumors caused Emperor Heraclonas to be ejected from power by his political rivals and enemies. 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 (r. 641-668). With such a peculiar rise to power, in addition to the ongoing threat and reality of invasions at that time, it is not surprising that Constans II’s reign was plagued by many mutinies, revolts and rebellions—including one led by Patrician Gregory in North Africa.
Gregory, whether out of disillusionment, opportunism or anger, rebelled against the authority of Constantinople around 646 or 647 and decided to go it alone. Constans II’s reaction to the rebellion was slow and minimal, allowing Patrician Gregory to maintain his autonomy for the time being. Yet, Gregory’s momentary independence also left him as a vulnerable target for the observant Arab forces, and it was these outsiders who would ultimately prove to be Patrician Gregory’s undoing. On the downfall of the rebel, a chronicler from Constantinople named Theophanes (c. 750s-818), wrote, “In this year [Annus Mundi 6139 / 647-648 CE] the Saracens attacked Africa; they engaged and routed the rebel Gregory, slew his men, and drove him from Africa. After levying tribute on the Africans, they withdrew” (Theophanes, Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6139). Such was the fate of Gregory’s rebellion. As was stated in Theophanes’ quote, Patrician Gregory evidently survived the destruction of his rebellion, but whatever he chose to do next after his escape was not recorded by the chroniclers of Constantinople.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Byzantine mosaic wall with scenes from the lives of Matthew and Bartholomew).
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.