Basil II
Basil II known in his time as Basil the Porphyrogenitus and Basil the Young to distinguish him from his ancestor Basil I the Macedonian, was a Byzantine emperor from the Macedonian dynasty
Macedonian dynasty
The Macedonian dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056, following the Amorian dynasty. During this period, the Byzantine state reached its greatest expanse since the Muslim conquests, and the Macedonian Renaissance in letters and arts began. The dynasty was named after its founder,...

 who reigned from 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025.

The first part of his long reign was dominated by civil war against powerful generals from the Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

n aristocracy. Following their submission, Basil oversaw the stabilization and expansion of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

's eastern frontier, and above all, the final and complete subjugation of Bulgaria
First Bulgarian Empire
The First Bulgarian Empire was a medieval Bulgarian state founded in the north-eastern Balkans in c. 680 by the Bulgars, uniting with seven South Slavic tribes...

, the Empire's foremost European foe, after a prolonged struggle. For this he was nicknamed by later authors as "the Bulgar-slayer" , by which he is popularly known. At his death, the Empire stretched from Southern Italy to the Caucasus and from the Danube to the borders of Palestine, its greatest territorial extent since the Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests also referred to as the Islamic conquests or Arab conquests, began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Muslim power.They...

, four centuries earlier.

Despite near-constant warfare, Basil also showed himself a capable administrator, reducing the power of the great land-owning families who dominated the Empire's administration and military, and filling the Empire's treasury. Of far-reaching importance was Basil's decision to offer the hand of his sister Anna to Vladimir I of Kiev in exchange for military support, which led to the Christianization of the Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus was a medieval polity in Eastern Europe, from the late 9th to the mid 13th century, when it disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240....

, and the incorporation of Russia within the Byzantine cultural sphere.

Birth and childhood

Basil was the son of Emperor Romanos II and Empress Theophano
Theophano (Byzantine Empress)
Theophano was a Byzantine empress. She was the daughter-in-law of Constantine VII; wife of Romanos II; wife of Nikephoros II Phokas; lover of John I Tzimiskes; the mother of Basil II, Constantine VIII and the princess Anna Porphyrogenita, who later married Kievan prince Vladimir. Theophano played...

, whose maternal family was of Laconian Greek origin originating in the Peloponnesian
The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus , is a large peninsula , located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth...

 region of Laconia
Laconia , also known as Lacedaemonia, is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. Its administrative capital is Sparti...

, possibly from the city of Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

. His paternal ancestry is of uncertain origins, his putative ancestor Basil I, the founder of the dynasty, being variously attributed Armenian, Slavic or Greek ancestry. Indeed the biological father of Leo VI the Wise
Leo VI the Wise
Leo VI, surnamed the Wise or the Philosopher , was Byzantine emperor from 886 to 912. The second ruler of the Macedonian dynasty , he was very well-read, leading to his surname...

 (Basil IIs great-grandfather) was probably not Basil I, but Michael III
Michael III
Michael III , , Byzantine Emperor from 842 to 867. Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Amorian-Phrygian Dynasty...

. The family of Michael III were Anatolians from Phrygia and of Greek speech and culture, though originally of the Melchisedechian
The Melchisedechians, also known as Athingani were a 9th-century sect of Monarchians located in Phrygia, founded by Theodotus the banker....

 heretical faith. In 960, Basil was associated on the throne by his father, but the latter died in 963, when Basil was only five years old. Because he and his brother, the future Emperor Constantine VIII (ruled 1025–1028), were too young to reign in their own right, Basil's mother Theophano
Theophano (Byzantine Empress)
Theophano was a Byzantine empress. She was the daughter-in-law of Constantine VII; wife of Romanos II; wife of Nikephoros II Phokas; lover of John I Tzimiskes; the mother of Basil II, Constantine VIII and the princess Anna Porphyrogenita, who later married Kievan prince Vladimir. Theophano played...

 married one of Romanos' leading generals, who took the throne as the Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas several months later in 963. Nikephoros was murdered in 969 by his nephew John I Tzimisces, who then became emperor and reigned for seven years. Finally, when John died on January 10, 976, Basil II took the throne as senior emperor.

Asian rebellions and alliance with Rus'

Basil was a brave soldier and a superb horseman; he was to prove himself a strong ruler and an able general. He did not at first display the full extent of his energy. In the early years of his reign, the administration remained in the hands of the eunuch
A eunuch is a person born male most commonly castrated, typically early enough in his life for this change to have major hormonal consequences...

 Basil Lekapenos
Basil Lekapenos
Basil Lekapenos was the chief administrator of the Byzantine Empire from 945 until 985.An illegitimate son of the emperor Romanos I Lekapenos, he was castrated when young....

 (an illegitimate son of Emperor Romanos I), president of the senate, a wily and gifted man, who hoped that the young emperors would be his puppets. Basil waited and watched without interfering, and devoted himself to learning the details of administrative business and instructing himself in military science.

Even though Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes were brilliant military commanders, both had proven to be lax administrators. Towards the end of his reign John had belatedly planned to curb the power of the great landowners, and his death, coming soon after his speaking out against them, led to rumours that he had been poisoned by Basil Lekapenos, who had acquired vast estates illegally and feared an investigation and punishment.

As a result of the failures of his immediate predecessors, Basil II found himself with a serious problem at the very outset of his effective reign as two members of the wealthy military elite of Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

, Bardas Skleros
Bardas Skleros
Bardas Skleros or Sclerus was a Byzantine general who led a wide-scale Asian rebellion against Emperor Basil II in 976–979.-Background:...

 and Bardas Phokas
Bardas Phocas
Bardas Phokas was an eminent Byzantine general who took a conspicuous part in three revolts for and against the ruling Macedonian dynasty.- First rebellion :...

, had sufficient means to undertake open rebellion against central authority. The chief motive of these men, both of whom were experienced generals, was that they wished to assume the imperial position that Nikephoros II and John I had held, and thus return Basil to the role of impotent cypher. Basil, showing the penchant for ruthlessness that would become his trademark, took the field himself and suppressed the rebellions of both Skleros (979) and Phokas (989)

These rebellions had a profound effect on Basil's outlook and methods of governance. The historian Psellus describes the defeated Bardas Skleros giving Basil the following advice: "Cut down the governors who become over-proud. Let no generals on campaign have too many resources. Exhaust them with unjust exactions, to keep them busied with their own affairs. Admit no woman to the imperial councils. Be accessible to no one. Share with few your most intimate plans." Basil, it would appear, took this advice very much to heart.

In order to defeat these dangerous revolts, Basil formed an alliance with Prince Vladimir I of Kiev, who in 988 CE had captured Chersonesos, the main imperial base in the Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

. Vladimir offered to evacuate Chersonesos and to supply 6,000 of his soldiers as reinforcements to Basil. In exchange he demanded to be married to Basil's younger sister Anna (963–1011). At first, Basil hesitated. The Byzantines viewed all the nations of Northern Europe, be they Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 or Slavs, as barbarian
Barbarian and savage are terms used to refer to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized. The word is often used either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization either viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage...

s. Anna herself objected to marrying a barbarian ruler, as such a marriage would have no precedence in imperial annals.

Vladimir had conducted long-running research into different religions, including sending delegates to various countries. Marriage was not his primary reason for choosing the Orthodox religion. When Vladimir promised to baptize himself and to convert his people to Christianity, Basil finally agreed. Vladimir and Anna were married in the Crimea in 989. The Rus' recruitments were instrumental in ending the rebellion, and they were later organized into the Varangian Guard. This marriage had important long-term implications, marking the beginning of the process by which the Grand Duchy of Moscow
Grand Duchy of Moscow
The Grand Duchy of Moscow or Grand Principality of Moscow, also known in English simply as Muscovy , was a late medieval Rus' principality centered on Moscow, and the predecessor state of the early modern Tsardom of Russia....

 many centuries later would proclaim itself "The Third Rome
Third Rome
The term Third Rome describes the idea that some European city, state, or country is the successor to the legacy of the Roman Empire and its successor state, the Byzantine Empire ....

" and claim the political and cultural heritage of the Byzantine Empire.

The fall of Basil Lekapenos followed the rebellions. He was accused of plotting with the rebels and punished with exile and the confiscation of his enormous property. Seeking to protect the lower and middle classes, Basil II made ruthless war upon the system of immense estates which had grown up in Asia Minor and which his predecessor, Romanos I, had endeavored to check.

Campaigns against the Arabs

Having put an end to the internal strife, Basil II then turned his attention to the Empire's other enemies. The Byzantine civil wars had weakened the Empire's position in the east and the gains of Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes came close to being lost to the Fatimids. Following two heavy defeats of the doux of Antioch, Michael Bourtzes
Michael Bourtzes
Michael Bourtzes was a leading Byzantine general of the latter 10th century. He became notable for his capture of Antioch in 969, but fell into disgrace by the Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas . Resentful at the slight, Bourtzes joined forces with the conspirators who assassinated Phokas a few weeks...

, in 992 and 994, Aleppo
Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. With an official population of 2,301,570 , expanding to over 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is also one of the largest cities in the Levant...

 was being besieged and Antioch was threatened by the enemy. In 995 Basil II, with an army of 40,000 men (with 80,000 mules), launched a campaign against the Fatimids, relieving Aleppo, taking over the Orontes valley, and raiding further south, sacking all of the cities from Emesa to Tripoli
Tripoli, Lebanon
Tripoli is the largest city in northern Lebanon and the second-largest city in Lebanon. Situated 85 km north of the capital Beirut, Tripoli is the capital of the North Governorate and the Tripoli District. Geographically located on the east of the Mediterranean, the city's history dates back...


Although he did not have sufficient forces to drive into Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 and reclaim Jerusalem, his victories did restore much of Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

 to the Empire. No emperor since Heraclius
Heraclius was Byzantine Emperor from 610 to 641.He was responsible for introducing Greek as the empire's official language. His rise to power began in 608, when he and his father, Heraclius the Elder, the exarch of Africa, successfully led a revolt against the unpopular usurper Phocas.Heraclius'...

 had been able to hold these lands for any length of time, and they remained part of the Empire for the next 75 years.

Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria

Basil also wanted to restore to the Empire territories that it had long lost. At the start of the second millennium, he took on his greatest adversary, Samuel of Bulgaria. Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

 had been partly subjugated by John I Tzimiskes, but parts of the country had remained outside Byzantine control, under the leadership of Samuel and his brothers.

Since the Bulgars had been raiding Byzantine lands since 976, the Byzantine government sought to cause dissension amongst them by first allowing the escape of their captive emperor Boris II of Bulgaria.

This having failed, Basil used a respite from his conflict with the nobility to lead an army of 30,000 men into Bulgaria and besiege Sredets (Sofia
Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1.27 million people. It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha and approximately at the centre of the Balkan Peninsula.Prehistoric settlements were excavated...

) in 986. Taking losses and worried about the loyalty of some of his governors, Basil lifted the siege and headed back for Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

 but fell into an ambush and suffered a serious defeat at the Battle of the Gates of Trajan
Battle of the Gates of Trajan
The Battle of the Gates of Trajan was a battle between Byzantine and Bulgarian forces in the year 986. It took place in the pass of the same name, modern Trayanovi Vrata, in Sofia Province, Bulgaria. It was the largest defeat of the Byzantines under Emperor Basil II...


Basil escaped with the help of his Varangian Guard
Varangian Guard
The Varangian Guard was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army in 10th to the 14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards of the Byzantine Emperors....

 and attempted to make up his losses by turning Samuel's brother Aaron against him. Aaron was tempted with Basil's offer of his own sister Anna in marriage (the same Anna wed to Vladimir I of Kiev, two years later), but the negotiations failed when Aaron discovered that the bride he was sent was a fake.

By 987 Aaron had been eliminated by Samuel, and Basil was busy fighting both Skleros and Phokas in Asia Minor. Although the titular emperor Roman of Bulgaria
Roman of Bulgaria
Roman was emperor of Bulgaria from 977 to 997 .-Reign:Roman was the second surviving son of Emperor Peter I of Bulgaria by his marriage with Maria Lakapene, the granddaughter of the Byzantine Emperor Romanos I Lakapenos...

 was captured in 991, Basil lost Moesia
Moesia was an ancient region and later Roman province situated in the Balkans, along the south bank of the Danube River. It included territories of modern-day Southern Serbia , Northern Republic of Macedonia, Northern Bulgaria, Romanian Dobrudja, Southern Moldova, and Budjak .-History:In ancient...

 to the Bulgarians.

In 992, Basil II concluded a treaty with Pietro Orseolo II by the terms that Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

's custom duties in Constantinople would be reduced from 30 nomismata to 17 nomismata in return for the Venetians agreeing to transport Byzantine troops to southern Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 in times of war.
In the years of Basil's distraction with internal rebellions and recovering the military situation on his eastern frontier Samuel had extended his rule from the Adriatic Sea
Adriatic Sea
The Adriatic Sea is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkan peninsula, and the system of the Apennine Mountains from that of the Dinaric Alps and adjacent ranges...

 to the Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

, recovering most of the lands which had been Bulgarian before the invasion of Svyatoslav I of Kiev. He also conducted damaging raids into Byzantine territory as far as central Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

. The turning of the tide of the conflict occurred in 996 when the Byzantine general Nikephoros Ouranos
Nikephoros Ouranos
Nikephoros Ouranos was a high-ranking Byzantine official and general during the reign of Emperor Basil II. One of the emperor's closest associates, he was active in Europe in the wars against the Bulgarians, scoring a major victory at Spercheios, and against the Arabs in Syria, where he held...

 inflicted a crushing defeat on a raiding Bulgarian army at a battle on the River Spercheios
Battle of Spercheios
The Battle of Spercheios took place in 997 AD, on the shores of the river of the same name in present-day central Greece. It was fought between a Bulgarian army led by Tsar Samuil, that in the previous year had penetrated far south into Greece, and a Byzantine army under the command of Nikephoros...

 (Sperchius) in Thessaly. Samuel and his son Gabriel were lucky to escape capture.

From 1000, Basil II was free to focus on a war of outright conquest against Bulgaria, a war he prosecuted with grinding persistence and strategic insight. In 1000 the Byzantine generals Nikephoros Xiphias and Theodorokan took the old Bulgarian capital of Great Preslav
Preslav was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire from 893 to 972 and one of the most important cities of medieval Southeastern Europe. The ruins of the city are situated in modern northeastern Bulgaria, some 20 kilometres southwest of the regional capital of Shumen, and are currently a...

, and the towns of Lesser Preslav and Pliskova. In 1001 Basil himself, his army operating from Thessalonica, was able to regain control of Vodena, Verrhoia and Servia. The following year Basil based his army in Philippopolis
The term Philippopolis , which translates as "Philip's Town," may refer to the following cities:*Plovdiv, Bulgaria *Shahba, Syria...

 and occupied the length of the military road from the western Haemus Mountains to the Danube, thereby cutting off Samuel's communications between his Macedonian heartland and Moesia. Following up this success he laid siege to Vidin
Vidin is a port town on the southern bank of the Danube in northwestern Bulgaria. It is close to the borders with Serbia and Romania, and is also the administrative centre of Vidin Province, as well as of the Metropolitan of Vidin...

, which eventually fell following a prolonged resistance. Samuel reacted to the Byzantine campaign with a daring stroke; he launched a large-scale raid into the heart of Byzantine Thrace and surprised the major city of Adrianople.

On returning homeward with his extensive plunder Samuel was intercepted near the town of Skopje by a Byzantine army commanded by the emperor. Basil's forces stormed the Bulgarian camp, inflicting a severe defeat on the Bulgarians and recovering the plunder of Adrianople. Skopje surrendered shortly after the battle; its governor, Romanos, was treated with overt kindness by the Emperor. In 1005, the governor of Durazzo, Ashot Taronites, surrendered his city to the Byzantines. The defection of Durazzo to the Byzantines completed the isolation of Samuel's core territories in the highlands of western Macedonia. Samuel was forced into an almost entirely defensive stance and he extensively fortified the passes and routes from the Byzantine held coastlands and valleys into the territory remaining in his possession. During the next few years, the Byzantine offensive slowed and no significant gains were made, though in 1009 an attempt by the Bulgarians to counterattack was defeated at the Battle of Kreta
Battle of Kreta
The Battle of Kreta occurred in 1009 near the village of Kreta to the east of Thessaloníki. Since the fall of the Bulgarian capital Preslav under Byzantine rule in 971, there was a constant state of war between the two Empires...

, which was fought to the east of Thessalonica.

In 1014 Basil was ready to launch a campaign aimed at destroying Bulgarian resistance. On July 29, 1014, Basil II and his general Nikephoros Xiphias outmanoeuvred the Bulgarian army, which was defending one of the fortified passes, in the Battle of Kleidion
Battle of Kleidion
The Battle of Kleidion took place on July 29, 1014 between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire...

. Samuel avoided capture only through the valour of his son Gabriel. Having crushed the Bulgarians, Basil was said to have captured 15,000 prisoners and blinded 99 of every 100 men, leaving 150 one-eyed men to lead them back to their ruler. Samuel was physically struck down by the dreadful apparition of his blinded army, and he died two days later after suffering a stroke. Although the extent of Basil's mistreatment of the Bulgarian prisoners may have been exaggerated, this incident helped to give rise to Basil's nickname of Boulgaroktonos, "the Bulgar-slayer", in later tradition.

Bulgaria fought on for four more years, its resistance fired by Basil's cruelty, but it finally submitted in 1018. This submission was the result of continued military pressure and a successful diplomatic campaign aimed at dividing and suborning the Bulgarian leadership. This victory over the Bulgarians, and the later submission of the Serbs
The Serbs are a South Slavic ethnic group of the Balkans and southern Central Europe. Serbs are located mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and form a sizable minority in Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia. Likewise, Serbs are an officially recognized minority in...

, fulfilled one of Basil's goals, as the Empire regained its ancient Danubian frontier for the first time in 400 years. Before returning to Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, Basil II celebrated his triumph in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

. Basil showed considerable statesmanship in his treatment of the defeated Bulgarians; he gave many former Bulgarian leaders court titles, positions in provincial administration, and high commands in the army. In this way he sought to absorb the Bulgarian elite into Byzantine society. Bulgaria did not have a monetary economy to the same extent as was found in Byzantium, and Basil made the wise decision to accept Bulgarian taxes in kind. Basil's successors reversed this policy; a decision which led to considerable Bulgarian discontent, and rebellion, later in the 11th century.

Khazar campaign

Although the power of the Khazar Khaganate had been broken by the Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus was a medieval polity in Eastern Europe, from the late 9th to the mid 13th century, when it disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240....

 in the 960s, the Byzantines had not been able to fully exploit the power vacuum
Power vacuum
A power vacuum is, in its broadest sense, an expression for a condition that exists when someone has lost control of something and no one has replaced them. It is usually used to refer to a political situation that can occur when a government has no identifiable central authority...

 and restore their dominion over the Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

 and other areas around the Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...


In 1016, Byzantine armies
Byzantine army
The Byzantine army was the primary military body of the Byzantine armed forces, serving alongside the Byzantine navy. A direct descendant of the Roman army, the Byzantine army maintained a similar level of discipline, strategic prowess and organization...

, in conjunction with Mstislav of Chernigov
Mstislav of Chernigov
Mstislav of Chernigov was the earliest attested ruler of Chernigov . He was Vladimir the Great's son, probably by Rogneda of Polotsk, although his exact position in the family has been disputed. It is not clear, for instance, whether Yaroslav the Wise was his younger or elder brother...

, attacked the Crimea, much of which had fallen under the sway of the Khazar successor kingdom of George Tzoul
Georgius Tzul
Georgius Tzul was a Khazar warlord against whom the Byzantine Empire and Mstislav of Tmutarakan launched a joint expedition in 1016....

, based at Kerch
Kerch is a city on the Kerch Peninsula of eastern Crimea, an important industrial, transport and tourist centre of Ukraine. Kerch, founded 2600 years ago, is considered as one of the most ancient cities in Ukraine.-Ancient times:...

. Kedrenos
George Kedrenos or Cedrenus was a Byzantine historian. In the 1050s he compiled A concise history of the world, which spanned the time from the biblical account of creation to his own day. Kedrenos is one of the few sources that discuss Khazar polities in existence after the sack of Atil in 969...

 reports that George Tzoul was captured and the Khazar successor-state was destroyed. Subsequently the Byzantines occupied the southern Crimea.

Later years

Basil II returned in triumph to Constantinople, then promptly went east and attacked the Georgian ruler in Tayk
Tayk was a historical province of the Greater Armenia, one of its 15 ashkars . Tayk consisted of 8 cantons:* Kogh* Berdats por* Partizats por* Tchakatk* Bokha* Vokaghe* Azordats por* Arsiats por....

, and later secured the annexation of the sub-kingdoms of Armenia
Bagratuni Kingdom of Armenia
The medieval Kingdom of Armenia, also known as Bagratid Armenia , was an independent state established by Ashot I Bagratuni in 885 following nearly two centuries of foreign domination of Greater Armenia under Arab Umayyad and Abbasid rule...

 (and a promise to have its capital and surrounding regions to be willed to Byzantium following the death of its king Hovhannes-Smbat). Basil created in those highlands a strongly fortified frontier, which, if his successors had been capable, should have proved an effective barrier against the invasions of the Seljuk Turks.

In the meantime, other Byzantine forces restored much of Southern Italy, lost over the previous 150 years, to the Empire's control. When Basil finally died on December 15, 1025, he was planning a military expedition to recover the island of Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...


Basil was to be buried in the last sarcophagus available in the rotunda of Constantine I in the Church of the Holy Apostles. However, he later asked his brother and successor Constantine VIII to be buried in the Church of St. John the Theologian (i.e. the Evangelist), at the Hebdomon Palace complex, outside the walls of Constantinople. The epitaph on the tomb
Epitaph on the tomb of Basil II
The long reign of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II saw continuous warfare in both East and West . A true soldier-emperor, Basil led most of these campaigns himself, something reflected in his epitaph. His complete subjugation of the Bulgarian state earned him the epithet "Bulgar-Slayer" by later...

 celebrated Basil's campaigns and victories. During the pillage of 1204, Basil's grave was ravaged by the invading Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade
Fourth Crusade
The Fourth Crusade was originally intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt. Instead, in April 1204, the Crusaders of Western Europe invaded and conquered the Christian city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire...



Basil was a stocky man of less than average stature who, nevertheless, cut a majestic figure on horseback. He had light blue eyes and strongly arched eyebrows; in later life his beard became scant but his sidewhiskers were luxuriant and he had a habit of rolling his whiskers between his fingers when deep in thought or angry. He was not a fluent speaker and had a loud laugh which convulsed his whole frame. As a mature man he had ascetic tastes, and cared little for the pomp and ceremony of the imperial court, and typically held court dressed in military regalia. Still, he was a capable administrator, who, uniquely among the soldier-emperors, left a full treasury upon his death. Basil despised literary culture and affected an utter scorn for the learned classes of Byzantium; however, numerous orators and philosophers were active during his reign.

He was worshipped by his army, as he spent most of his reign campaigning with them instead of sending orders from the distant palaces of Constantinople, as had most of his predecessors. He lived the life of a soldier to the point of eating the same daily rations as any other member of the army. He also took the children of deceased officers of his army under his protection, and offered them shelter, food and education. Many of them later became his soldiers and officers, and came to think of him as a father.

Besides being called the "Father of the Army", he was also popular with country farmers. This class produced most of his army's supplies and soldiers. To assure that this continued, Basil's laws protected small agrarian property and lowered their taxes. His reign was considered an era of relative prosperity for the class, despite the almost constant wars. On the other hand, Basil increased the taxes of the nobility and the church and looked to decrease their power and wealth. Though understandably unpopular with them, neither of them had the power to effectively oppose the army-supported Emperor.

Basil never married or had children. As a young man he was a womanizer, but when he became emperor, he chose to devote himself to the duties of state. Psellus ascribes Basil's radical change from a dissolute youth to a grim autocrat to the circumstances of the rebellions of Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas. Unfortunately, Basil's asceticism meant that he was succeeded by his brother and his family, who proved to be ineffective rulers. Nevertheless, 50 years of prosperity and intellectual growth followed because the funds of state were full, the borders were not in danger from exterior intruders, and the empire remained the most powerful political entity of the Middle Ages. Also, under Basil II, the Byzantine Empire probably had a population of about 18 million people. By AD 1025, Basil II (with an annual revenue of 7,000,000 nomismata) was able to amass 14,400,000 nomismata (or 200,000 pounds of gold) for the imperial treasury due to his prudent management.

In literature

During the 20th century in Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, interest in the prominent emperor led to a number of biographies and historical novels about him. Arguably the most popular is Basil Bulgaroktonus (1964) by historical fiction writer Kostas Kyriazis (b. 1920). Written as a sequel to his previous work Theophano (1963), focusing on Basil's mother, it examines Basil's life from childhood till his death at an advanced age, through the eyes of three fictional narrators. It has been continuously reprinted since 1964.

For his part, commentator Alexander Kiossev, wrote in "Understanding the Balkans: "The hero of one nation might be the villain of its neighbour (...) The Byzantine emperor Basil the Murderer (sic) of Bulgarians, a crucial figure in the Greek pantheon of heroes, is no less important as a subject of hatred for our [Bulgarian] national mythology "

Penelope Delta
Penelope Delta
Penelope Delta was a Greek author of books for children. Practically the first Greek children's books writer, her historical novels have been widely read and influenced Greek popular perceptions on national identity and history...

's second novel, Ton Kairo tou Voulgaroktonou (In the Years of the Bulgar-Slayer), is also set during the reign of Basil II. It was inspired by correspondance with the historian Gustave Schlumberger
Gustave Schlumberger
Léon Gustave Schlumberger was a French historian and numismatist who specialised in the era of the crusades and the Byzantine Empire. His is still considered the principal work on the coinage of the crusades....

, a renowned specialist on the Byzantine Empire, and published in the early years of the 20th Century, a time when the Struggle for Macedonia once again set Greeks and Bulgarians in bitter enmity with each other.

Ion Dragoumis
Ion Dragoumis
Ion Dragoumis was a Greek diplomat, writer and revolutionary.Born in Athens, Dragoumis was the son of Stephanos Dragoumis who was foreign minister under Charilaos Trikoupis. The family originated in Vogatsiko in Kastoria...

, who was Delta's lover and was deeply involved in that struggle, in 1907 published the book Martyron kai Iroon Aima (Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Blood), which was full of resentment towards everything Bulgarian. He urges Greeks to follow the example of Basil II: "(...)Instead of blinding so many people, Basil
Basil, or Sweet Basil, is a common name for the culinary herb Ocimum basilicum , of the family Lamiaceae , sometimes known as Saint Joseph's Wort in some English-speaking countries....

 should have better killed them instead. On one hand these people would not suffer as eyeless survivors, on the other the sheer number of Bulgarians would have diminished by 15 000, which is something very useful." Later in the same book, Dragoumis foresaw the appearance of "new Basils" who would "cross the entire country and will look for Bulgarians in mountains, caves, villages and forests and will make them flee in refuge or kill them".

Rosemary Sutcliff
Rosemary Sutcliff
Rosemary Sutcliff CBE was a British novelist, and writer for children, best known as a writer of historical fiction and children's literature. Although she was primarily a children's author, the quality and depth of her writing also appeals to adults; Sutcliff herself once commented that she wrote...

's 1976 historical fiction novel Blood Feud
Blood Feud (novel)
Blood Feud is a historical novel for children written by Rosemary Sutcliff and published in 1976.It begins in 10th Century England, and tells the tale of an orphaned child of a Celtic father and Saxon mother, who is caught up with the Vikings and ultimately journeys all the way to Constantinople...

depicts Basil II from the point of view of a member of his recently created Varangian Guard.

External links

  • A more detailed profile of the Emperor:
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