(Comprehensive Guide to Military History)

Article abstract: Military significance: A gifted Byzantine military leader and writer, Emperor Maurice won a two-front war in Asia and the Balkans.

As commander of the Byzantine army of the east from 572 to 581, Maurice distinguished himself campaigning in Persian Mesopotamia and Armenia. These victories, however, were virtually nullified by Byzantine defeats in southeastern Europe against the tribal armies of the Avars and their Slav vassals. Maurice’s skills—and Byzantium’s military peril—persuaded the dying Emperor Tiberius to designate him as his successor in 582.

Confronting Persians and Avars simultaneously, Emperor Maurice balanced demands on both fronts with holding actions, penetration raids, and bribery. In 590, Persia erupted in civil war, and Maurice threw his armies behind Shah Khasraw II. At Dara (590) and Lake Urmiah (591), Byzantine forces and Khasraw’s troops crushed the usurpers, and Maurice thereby won a peace guarantee and extensive land concessions from the grateful shah. The Byzantines then shifted to the Balkans, gradually reclaiming lost territory. Hard-pressed, the Avar khan launched a massive invasion in 597, marching south and taking Druzpara. Maurice spent a year assembling his forces and then drove the Avars back across the Danube in 599. His military governate system (the Exarchates) and astute diplomacy enabled him to retain Byzantine holdings in Italy, Tunisia, and southern Spain. Despite his successes, Emperor Maurice was unpopular with his troops, and he was overthrown and killed in 602 by his successor, Phocas. However, his work on military strategy, Strategikon (fifth century; Maurice’s Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy, 1984), written before he became emperor, continued to influence the Byzantine military for centuries.

Further Reading:

Maurice. Maurice’s Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

Treadgold, Warren. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Whitby, L. Micheal. The Emperor Maurice and His Historian: Theophylact Simocatta on Persian and Balkan Warfare. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.