Maurice (MAURICIUS, Maurikios), Roman Emperor, b. in 539; d. in November, 602. He sprang from an old Roman (Latin) family settled in Cappadocia, and began his career as a soldier. Under the Emperor Tiberius II (578-582) he was made commander of a new legion levied from allied barbarians, with which he did good service against the Persians. When he returned triumphant to Constantinople, Tiberius gave him his daughter Constantin in marriage and appointed him his successor (578). Almost immediately afterwards (Theophylact, infra, says the next day) Tiberius died and Maurice succeeded peaceably. At his accession he found that through the reckless extravagance of his predecessor the exchequer was empty and the State bankrupt. In order to remedy this Maurice established the expenses of the court on a basis of strict economy. He gained a reputation for parsimony that made him very unpopular and led eventually to his fall. The twenty years of his reign do not in any way stand out conspicuously from early Byzantine history. The forces at work since Justinian, or even Constantine, continued the gradual decay of the Empire under Maurice, as under Tiberius his predecessor and Phocas his successor. For the first ten years the long war with the Persians continued; then a revolution among the enemy brought a respite and the Roman Emperor was invoked by Chosroes II to restore him to his throne. Unfortunately Maurice was not clever enough to draw any profit for the Empire from this situation. The Avars and Slays continued their invasion of the northern provinces. The Slays penetrated even to the Peloponnesus. The Lombards ravaged Italy with impunity. As the Empire could do nothing to protect the Italians, they invited the Franks to their help (584). This first invasion of Italy by the Franks began the process that was to end in the separation of all the West from the old Empire and the establishment of the rival line of Emperors with Charles the Great (800). Maurice had to buy off the Avars with a heavy bribe that further reduced his scanty resources and made economy still more imperative. The emperor became more and more unpopular. In 599 he could not or would not ransom 12,000 Roman soldiers taken prisoners by the Avars, and they were all murdered. Further harassing regulations made for the army with a view to more economy caused a revolt that became a revolution. In 602 the soldiers drove away their officers, made a certain centurion, Phocas, their leader and marched on Constantinople. Maurice, finding that he could not organize a resistance, fled across the Bosporus with his family. He was overtaken at Chalcedon and murdered with his five sons. Phocas then began his tyrannical reign (602-610).
In Church history Maurice has some importance through his relations with Gregory I (590-604). As soon as Gregory was elected, he wrote to the emperor begging him to annul the election. The fact has often been quoted as showing Gregory’s acceptance of an imperial right of veto. Later the pope’s organization of resistance against the Lombards was very displeasing to the emperor, though the government at Constantinople did nothing to protect Italy. Further trouble was caused by the tyranny of the imperial exarch at Ravenna, Romanus. Against this person the pope took the Italians under his protection. On the other hand the exarch and the emperor protected the bishops in the North of Italy who still kept up the schism that began with the Three Chapters quarrel (Pope Vigilius, 540-555). The assumption of the title of “ecumenical patriarch” by John IV of Constantinople (see John the Faster) caused more friction. All this explains St. Gregory’s unfriendly feeling towards Maurice; and it also helps to explain his ready and friendly recognition of Phocas which has been alleged by some to be a blot in the great pope’s career. But it is quite probable that the pope was misinformed and not placed in full possession of all the circumstances attending the change of government in the distant East.