Phokas (602–610)

Phokas (602–610)

Phokas rose to power over the corpses of the emperor Maurice and his family. Byzantium had grown accustomed to peaceful transitions of power—Phokas was the first usurper to seize the throne since Basiliscus in 475. Phokas needed to legitimize his new power and demonstrate that he was the rightful emperor. To this end the usurper's seals introduce two novelties, each designed to grant the new emperor the legitimacy that he lacked. The first is an attempt at realistic portraiture after a centuries-long procession of standardized imperial images. This reform, echoed on his coins, provides evidence of a conscious attempt by Phokas not only to promulgate his image, but to associate the imperial office with himself. The second is the appearance of the Byzantine imperial symbol par excellence, the globus cruciger. This cross–topped globe symbolized the emperor's divinely sanctioned rule over the Christian world. Although he was fondly thought of by the papacy, Phokas was remembered throughout Byzantine history as a tyrant who left a bloody legacy of torture at home and war abroad. After eight years he was overthrown by Herakleios, son of the Exarch of Carthage. Herakleios did much to erase the memory of Phokas, although for the next century the Herakleian family retained Phokas's innovation of portraiture on seals.

 
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