Phokas (Latin: Flavius Focas Augustus; Greek: Φωκᾶς, Phokas; c. 547 – 5 October 610) was Byzantine emperor from 602 to 610. The early life of Phokas is largely unknown and buried in obscurity, but he rose to prominence in 602, as a leader in a revolt against Emperor Maurice Tiberius. Maurice had ordered the troops in the Balkans to campaign against the Avars across the Danube during the onset of winter, a very unpopular move. Also, there were deficiencies in their pay. Declaring the standard of revolt, a low ranking military officer named Phokas was raised on a shield and acclaimed emperor by the soldiers. Phokas marched on Constantinople with his army. He captured Constantinople and overthrew Maurice on 23 November 602, and officially declared himself emperor on the same day. Maurice and his sons Tiberius and Theodosius tried to flee, but were captured and executed. The Execution of Maurice Tiberius After assuming the purple, Phokas proclaimed chariot races in honor of his elevation and had his wife Leontia escorted to the city as his new Empress. They had already been married for some time. Phokas, reminiscent of Maximinus Thrax, deeply distrusted the military and political elite of Constantinople, and therefore he installed relatives in high military positions while brutally purging his opponents. Phokas was an incompetent leader, both of the administration and army, and under him the Byzantine Empire was threatened by multiple enemies on every side, with frequent raids in the Balkans from the Avars and Slavs, the Sassanid invasion of the eastern provinces, and the incursion into Italy by the Lombards. Ancient historians were unkind to Phokas’ legacy. Phokas was, and to a certain extent remains, one of the most maligned of all Byzantine emperors. Reasoning that "speaking of suffering is itself suffering," the Byzantine historian George of Pisidia who chronicled Heraclius’ reign thought it better to avoid mentioning Phokas' name whenever possible. On those occasions when he did refer to Phokas, George of Pisidia used such unflattering titles as "the terrestrial leviathan" and "the Gorgon-faced." The Byzantine author Theophlact Simocatta was just as unkind. Among other things Theophlact called Phokas a barbarian half-breed, a Cyclops and a Centaur. In an interesting parallel with the earlier revolt of the Gordians in Africa during the time of Maximinus, Phokas’ incompetence and brutality led the Exarch of Africa, Heraclius the Elder, to rebel against him. After mustering an army Heraclius the Elder's son, the future emperor Heraclius I advanced on Constantinople, taking the City on the 5th of October in the year 610. Phokas’ feeble support evaporated, and he was executed on the same day as Heraclius himself dealt the fatal blow with his sword before declaring himself emperor. The fate of the Augusta Leontia is unknown. An interesting development of the Phokas’ era was the re-introduction of the beard. Earlier Byzantine emperors had always been clean shaven. From then on rulers including Heraclius mostly were depicted in art and on the coinage wearing a beard with rare exceptions down to the end of the Empire. Phokas’ reign has yielded one remaining piece of architecture - the Column of Phokas in the Roman Forum, which stands 44 feet tall and is the last classical structure to be placed in the Forum during the age of Late Antiquity. Column of Phokas, adjacent to the Arch of Septimius Severus The inscription on the statue reads as follows: “To the best, most clement and pious ruler, our lord Phokas the perpetual emperor, crowned by God, the forever august triumphator, did Smaragdus, former praepositus sacri palatii and patricius and Exarch of Italy, devoted to His Clemency for the innumerable benefactions of His Piousness and for the peace acquired for Italy and its freedom preserved, this statue of His Majesty, sparkling from the splendor of gold here on this tallest column for his eternal glory erect and dedicate, on the first day of the month of August, in the eleventh indiction in the fifth year after the consulate of His Piousness.” He also managed to erect a colossal statue of himself in Constantinople which has not survived to the present day. The bronze coinage of Phokas is fairly plentiful in the lower denominations but often crude in style whereas the solidi evidence better workmanship. In many cases rather than the large M, folles are primarily engraved with four X’s representing 40 nummi as in the example below. Bibliography: Crawford, Peter (2013). The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam. Pen and Sword Gregory, Timothy E. (2005) A History of Byzantium, Blackwell Publishing Grierson, Phillip.(1968). Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and the Whittemore Collection: Vol II, Phocas to Theodosius III 602-717. Dumbarton Oaks Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium, Alfred A. Knopf Ostrogorsky, George (1969). History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press Parnell, David Alan (2016). Justinian's Men: Careers and Relationships of Byzantine Army Officers, 518-610. Springer. Treadgold, Warren T. (1997). A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford University Press Treadgold, Warren T. (1995). Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081, Stanford University Press Whitby, Mary.(1998). “Defender of the Cross: George of Pisidia on the Emperor Heraclius and his deputies,” in The Propaganda of Power: The Role of Panegyric in Late Antiquity, pg. 247-273, Brill And now, onto the coin: Attribution: Sear Byzantine 665 KYZB (Cyzicus) mint Date: 608 AD Obverse: DN FOCAS PERP AVG, crowned, mantled bust facing, holding mappa and cross, cross in left field Reverse: Large XXXX, ANNO to left, regnal year to right, mintmark KYZB Size: 30.16 mm Weight: 11.4 grams Thanks for looking! And as my old professor of Byzantine History at Berkeley Dr. Treadgold always said - "Best of Wishes from the Byzantine Empire." Please share any coins of Phokas or Heraclius or whatever is relevant from this most intriguing period in history.