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Basil I

Basil I, known as the Macedonian, Roman emperor in the East, was born of a family of Armenian (not Slavonic) descent, settled in Macedonia.

He spent a part of his boyhood in captivity in Bulgaria, whither his family was carried by the Bulgarian prince Krum[?] in 813. He succeeded in escaping and was ultimately lucky enough to enter the service of Theophilitzes, a relative of the Caesar Bardas[?] (uncle of Michael III.), as groom. It seems that while serving in this capacity he visited Patrae with his master, and gained the favour of Danielis, a very wealthy lady of that place, who received him into her household and endowed him with a fortune. He earned the notice of Michael III by winning a victory in a wrestling match, and soon became the emperorís boon companion and was appointed chamberlain (parakoemomenos).

A man of his stamp, advancing unscrupulously on the road of fortune, had no hesitation, in divorcing his wife and marrying a mistress of Michael, Eudocia Ingerina, to please his master. It was commonly believed that Leo VI, Basilís successor and reputed son, was really the son of Michael. The next step was to murder the powerful Caesar Bardas[?], who, as the emperor was devoted to amusement, virtually ruled the empire; this was done with the emperorís consent by Basilís own hand (April 866), and a few weeks later Basil was raised to the imperial dignity. Hitherto few perhaps had divined in the unprincipled adventurer, who shared in the debauches of the imperial drunkard, the talents of a born ruler. On the throne he soon displayed the serious side of his nature and his exceptional capacities for administration. In September 867 he caused his worthless benefactor to be assassinated, and reigned alone.

He inaugurated a new age in the history of the empire, associated with the dynasty which he fouunded - "The Macedonian Dynasty" - it is usually called; it would be more instructive to call it "Armenian." It was a period of territorial expansion, during which the empire was the strongest power in Europe.

The great legislative work which Basil undertook and his successor completed, and which may be described as a revival of Justinianean law, entitles him to the designation of a second Justinian (the Basilica, a collection of laws in sixty books; and the manuals known as the Frochiron and Epanagoge). His financial administration was prudent.

His ecclesiastical policy was marked by a wish to keep on good terms with Rome. One of his first acts was to exile the patriarch Photius and restore his rival Ignatius[?], whose claims were supported by the pope. Yet he had no intention of yielding to Romeís pretensions beyond a certain point. The decision of the Bulgarian tsar Michael[?] to submit the new Bulgarian Church to the jurisdiction of Constantinople was a great blow to Rome, who had hoped to secure it for herself. In 877 Photius became patriarch again, and there was a virtual, though not a formal, breach with Rome. Thus the independence of the Greek Church may be said to date from the time of Basil.

His reign was marked by a troublesome war with the Paulician heretics, an inheritance from his predecessor; the death of their able chief Chrysochir led to the definite subjection of this little state, of which the chief stronghold was Tephrice on the upper Euphrates, and which the Saracens had helped to bid a long defiance to the government of Constantinople. There was the usual frontier warfare with the Saracens in Asia Minor. Cyprus was recovered, but only retained for seven years. Syracuse was lost, but Ban was won back and those parts of Calabria which had been occupied by the Saracens.

The last successes opened a new period of Byzantine domination in southern Italy. Above all, New Rome was again mistress of the sea, and especially of the gates of the Adriatic. Basil reigned nineteen years as sole sovereign. His death on August 29, 886 was due to a fever contracted in consequence of a serious accident in hunting. A stag dragged him from his horse by fixing its antlers in his belt. He was saved by an attendant who cut him loose with a knife. His last act was to cause his saviour to be beheaded, suspecting him of the intention to kill and not to rescue.

Basil is one of the most remarkable examples of a man, without education and exposed to the most demoralizing influences, manifesting extraordinary talents in the government of a great state, when he had climbed to the throne by acts of unscrupulous bloodshed.

Preceded by:
Michael III
Byzantine emperors Followed by:
Leo VI

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.



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