A man named Pasagnathes commanded troops and land in Armenia around the year 650 at the behest of the emperors of Constantinople. It was a bittersweet job for Pasagnathes. Although holding a post as governor of an imperial province was prestigious and powerful, it was also a tumultuous and dangerous occupation, especially in the chaotic and war-torn 7th century that Constantinople was experiencing. In Pasagnathes’ century, the Lombards were chipping away at Constantinople’s control in Italy, and this Italian conflict predated and overlapped with the much greater war that erupted between Constantinople and Persia in 602. Formidable Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) inherited the war with Persia and succeeded in finally winning the conflict in 628. Nevertheless, although the war with Persia was over, another great war was just beginning. While the age-old rival Romans and Persians had been squandering each other’s resources and manpower between 602 and 628, Islam had come into being in Arabia and aggressive Arab armies left their peninsula 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 reigns of Umar I (r. 634-644) and Uthman (r. 644-656). Emperor Heraclius was operating defensively by this point, trying to mitigate the damage of invasion, while also striving to fortify and garrison Anatolia. Under his leadership, Constantinople’s hopes and morale were still relatively high, but the able emperor sickened and died in 641, throwing Pasagnathes and other regional leadership figures into a new round of panicked turmoil.
Emperor Heraclius’ immediate successors proved to be a destabilizing and ineffective bunch. Heraclius was succeeded by his sons, Constantine III and Heraclonas, but Constantine quickly died (likely of tuberculosis) before the year 641 was over, leaving his brother as the sole ruler. Succession drama did not end there, however, for 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 no surprise that Constans II’s reign became plagued by many mutinies, revolts and rebellions.
Pasagnathes, from his post in Armenia, watched from the sidelines as at least two rebellions erupted in the first years of Emperor Constans II’s reign. Around 644, a patrician official named Valentinian rebelled against the emperor, but the rebellion was dispersed by loyalist forces. Contrastingly, a different patrician named Gregory led a rebellion in North Africa around 646 or 647, and he had more success remaining independent from the emperor. Nevertheless, Gregory’s brief period of rule in Africa was crushed by Arab invaders, who defeated Gregory’s forces around 647 or 648. Pasagnathes studied these two rebels and learned from their mistakes when he, too, eventually decided to break away from Emperor Constans II. Instead of letting himself be crushed by Emperor Constans’ forces or by opportunistic Arab armies, Pasagnathes decided to have a plan in place before he made his moves, a plan that could give him some safety against both sides. In the end, instead of simply rebelling, Pasagnathes decided to make strong alliances with Constans’ enemies. Pasagnathes’ rebellion, dated to 651 or 652, was recorded by a chronicler named Theophanes (c. 750s-818), who wrote, “In this year Pasagnathes the patrician of the Armenians rebelled against the Emperor. He made agreements with Muawiyah and even gave him his own son. When the Emperor heard this he advanced as far as Kappadokian Cesarea but, losing hope for Armenia, returned” (Theophanes, Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6142). Pasagnathes, therefore, made an alliance with the Arabs, particularly the leading general, Muawiyah (also known as Mu’awiya), who would later become the first Umayyad ruler. As the quote hinted, Pasagnathes’ alliance with the Arabs was too much for Emperor Cosntans II to overcome. Curiously, however, Pasagnathes’ rebellion in Armenia was not a complete success. Portions of the region remained hostile to the encroaching Arab forces, and Armenia continued to host skirmishes and battles between the armies of Constantinople and the Arabs. As for Pasagnathes, after his rebellion or defection, he evidently did not play a conspicuous role in the conflict between Constantinople and the Arabs, for chroniclers such as Theophanes did not mention him again in the history of the region.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scene of The Crucifixion by Andreas Pavias (c. 15th century), [Public Domain] via Europeana and the National Gallery (Alexandros Soutsos Museum)).
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.