Heresies in the early Byzantine Empire: Imperial policies and the Arab conquest of the Near East
ODETALLAH KHOURI, Rashad (University of Yarmuk, Irbid, Jordan)
Collectanea Christiana Orientalia 4 (2007)
On the eve of the Arab conquest, the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire were riddled by numerous heresies which were considered by a number of modern scholars as disguised nationalistic movements expressed by the local peoples against the central authority of Constantinople. Our aim in the present article is to offer new evidences to demonstrate that those heretic movements contributed little to the easy Moslem conquest of the Near East. This conquest was due, in essence, to several military and social factors.
The aim of this paper is to present a cursory introduction of heresies in the Early Byzantine Empire, and to relate them to the reaction of the central government in Constantinople, inspired mainly by political considerations. Moreover, the paper will discuss the possible relationship which may have existed between the so-called nationalistic tendencies of the local populations where the heresies appeared and their detrimental effects on the Byzantine defense against the Arab conquest in the Near East and in particular in Egypt.
The enormous size of the Early Byzantine Empire included a large variety of people of different origins who spoke a multitude of languages. At the time of Constantine the Great, 4th c. A.D., which is considered either the beginning of the Byzantine Empire or Late Roman period, a number of separatist religious movements appeared and multiplied especially in the Near East. The Fathers of the Church, anxious to secure the unity of the Church and of the Empire, labeled “heresy” (αίρεσις, lit. “sect”) any dissident movement contrary to the officially accepted Christian dogma. Bishop Epiphanius (5th c. AD) estimated their number to eighty. According to Epiphanius, the first who actually started the heresies, as early as in the apostolic times, was Simon the magician who believed that he was “the Great Power of God”, and engaged himself in miracles.