Heraclius was a great man, but a dirty old man

The Emperor Heraclius is someone who more people should know. He saved the Byzantine Empire before it truly became the Byzantine Empire in a mature form. When he took power the Persians were on the march, and ruled vast swaths of the Asian and African possessions of the East Roman Empire. Theodore of Tarsus, one of the early Archbishops of Canterbury, grew up under Persian rule. Like Hannibal’s early victories Heraclius’ defeat of the Persians is a tour de force of strategic brilliance. I’ll leave it to the reader to find out why themselves (I recommend A History of the Byzantine State and Society to any reader).

But this post is inspired by pop-culture. People are talking about nephew-aunt relations right now. As it happens Heraclius’ second wife was his niece, Martina. Here is something I found on Wikipedia: “He had two children with Fabia and at least nine with Martina, most of whom were sickly children…Fabius (Flavius) had a paralyzed neck and Theodosios, who was a deaf-mute….” The history of this period can be patchy and unreliable. So I’m not sure there were nine children and most were sickly…but probably inbreeding was causing some serious issues.

3 thoughts on “Heraclius was a great man, but a dirty old man

  1. The Greeks didn’t approve of the union either. It was remembered as infamous up to Nicephorus if not beyond.

    When the heir to the throne (not Martina’s) Constantine III died a few months after his father, it was widely believed that Martina had something to do with it. Her own son Flavius Constantinus Heraclius became emperor but he was mocked as Heraclonas – they meant it as “little Heraclius”, but we can call him HeraClone because, genetically, he kind of was.

    HeraClone didn’t last long either. There was a mutiny and the mutineers lopped off HeraClone’s nose.

  2. Was there some pre-existing inbreeding going on? That sounds pretty bad for a single uncle-niece pairing. It took multiple generations of inbreeding in the Spanish Habsburgs to get someone as screwed-up as Charles II.

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