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Basil II part 19

15. Psellus seems to have misunderstood the chronology of Basil’s reign, for the Lord Chamberlain was deposed in 985 and died in exile soon after. Cedrenus (699, p. 443) implies that his downfall coincided with the rise of Romanus, son of Sclerus. This young man was sent by his father to the emperor immediately after his (Sclerus’s) escape from Baghdad. He realized that he would never carry out a successful coup d’etat without the assistance of Phocas.

At the same time he secretly sent Romanus to the capital, pretending that his son was a deserter from his own army. He calculated that if Phocas beat the emperor he would probably be able to save the young man- on the other hand, if Basil won the son would be able to save him. Basil, after the Lord Chamberlain had been dismissed, did in fact welcome Romanus and appears to have relied much on his judgments.

16. Sclerus’s second revolt lasted only a few months, for the reconciliation between t

Basil II part 18

3. Basil the Lord Chamberlain (parakoimomenus) was the illegitimate son off Romanus I Lecapenus (9l9-944) and had been promoted to his high office by Nicephorus II Phocas, with the additional title of President of the Senate. He afterwards sided with Tzimisces in the revolt of 969 which ended with the death of Nicephorus. The historians agree that Basil was a man of great energy and ability.

4. Bardas Sclerus had been brother-in-law of John I Tzimisces, who had married his sister Maria. He had expected to succeed John for he had been promised the throne by the emperor on his death-bed.

5. The Phocas family had its origin in Cappadocia and for several generations had enjoyed high repute in the Empire as soldiers. The father of Bardas Phocas was that Leo who had won military fame under the emperor Romanus II. His uncle Nicephorus was an even greater soldier and had himself ascended the throne im 963, when he married Theophano. The family was banished from the capit

Basil II part 17

When he gave rein to his horse and rode in the assault, he was erect and firm in his saddle, riding uphill and downhill alike, and when he checked his steed, reining it in, he would leap on high as though he had wings, and he mounted or dismounted alike with equal grace. In his old age the beard under his chin went bald, but the hair from his cheeks poured down, the growth on either side being thick and very profuse, so that wound round on both sides it was made into a perfect circle and he appeared to possess a full beard.

It was a habit of his to roll it between his fingers, a gesture to which he was particularly prone when roused to anger or giving audience, or when he was engaged in deep thought. That was a frequent habit; another was to put his fingers on his hips, arms akimbo. He was not a fluent speaker. The phrases were not rounded off, nor were they lengthened out into periods. In fact, he clipped his words, with little pauses between them, more like a peasant tha

Basil II part 16

34. Basil’s character was two-fold, for he readily adapted himself no less to the crises of war than to the calm of peace. Really, if the truth be told, he was more of a villain in wartime, more of an emperor in time of peace. Outbursts of wrath he controlled, and like the proverbial ‘fire under the ashes’, kept anger hid in his heart, but if his orders were disobeyed in war, on his return to the palace he would kindle his wrath and reveal it. Terrible then was the vengeance he took on the miscreant. Generally, he persisted in his opinions, but there were occasions when he did change his mind. In many cases, too, he traced crimes back to their original causes, and the final links in the chain were exonerated.

So most defaulters obtained forgiveness, either through his sympathetic understanding, or because he showed some other interest in their affairs. He was slow to adopt any course of action, but never would he willingly alter the decision, once it was

Basil II part 15

His experience of army matters went further than that: the duties of the protostate,**20 the duties of the hemilochites, **21 the tasks proper to the rank immediately junior to them– all these were no mysteries to Basil, and the knowledge stood him in good stead in his wars. Accordingly, jobs appropriate to these ranks were not devolved on others, and the emperor, being personally conversant with the character and combat duties of each individual, knowing to what each man was fitted either by temperament or by training, used him in this capacity and made him serve there.

33. Moreover, he knew the various formations suited to his men. Some he had read of in books, others he devised himself during the operations of war, the result of his own intuition. He professed to conduct his wars and draw up the troops in line of battle, himself planning each campaign, but he preferred not to engage in combat personally.

A sudden retreat might otherwise prove embarrassin

Basil II part 14

31. By humbling the pride or jealousy of his people, Basil made his own road to power an easy one. He was careful, moreover, to close the exit-doors on the monies contributed to the treasury. So a huge sum of money was built up, partly by the exercise of strict economy, partly by fresh additions from abroad. Actually, the sum accumulated in the imperial treasury reached the grand total of 200,000 talents.**19 As for the rest of his gains, it would indeed be hard to find words adequately to describe them. All the treasures amassed in Iberia and Arabia, all the riches found among the Celts or contained in the land of the Scyths– in brief, all the wealth of the barbarians who surround our borders– all were gathered together in one place and deposited in the emperor’s coffers.

After the Egyptian style

In addition to this, he carried off to his treasure-chambers and sequestrated there, all the money of those who rebelled against him and were afterw

Basil II part 13

29. On this note their conversation came to an end. Sclerus went off to the country estate which had been apportioned him, and soon afterwards he died. We will leave him and return to the emperor. In his dealings with his subjects, Basil behaved with extraordinary circumspection.

For the civil administration

It is perfectly true that the great reputation he built up as a ruler was founded rather on terror than on loyalty. As he grew older and became more experienced he relied less on the judgment of men wiser than himself. He alone introduced new measures, he alone disposed his military forces. As for the civil administration, he governed, not in accordance with the written laws, but following the unwritten dictates of his own intuition, which was most excellently equipped by nature for the purpose.

Consequently he paid no attention to men of learning: on the contrary, he affected utter scorn — towards the learned folk, I mean. It seems to me a

Basil II part 12

27. Agreement was reached on these conditions, and the emperor set out from the capital to one of his most magnificent estates, there to receive the rebel and ratify the treaty.**17 Basil seated himself in the [23] royal tent. Sclerus, some distance away, was introduced by the guards. They led him into the emperor’s presence, without preliminaries, not riding on horseback, but escorted on foot. Sclerus was a very tall man, but he was also an aged man, and he came in supported by guards on either side.

Unable to walk by himself

The emperors seeing him approaching some way off, turned to the bystanders and made his celebrated remark (everyone knows the story): ‘Look, the man whom I feared! A suppliant dotard, unable to walk by himself!’ As for Sclerus, whether because of his eagerness, or because in any case he had forgotten them, he had kept on his feet the sandals of purple when he laid aside the other insignia of power. It seemed that he was

Basil II part 11

No attempt was made to overwhelm the enemy in actual operations, but his transports were invariably stopped in convoys, he was cut off from free use of the roads, all merchandise being conveyed to the capital from abroad was impounded– to the great advantage of Sclerus’s own army. Moreover, by maintaining strict vigilance, orders transmitted through state couriers were intercepted and never carried out.

25. The rebellion began in the summer and dragged on into the autumn. A whole year passed by, and the intrigue was still not crushed. As a matter of fact, this evil troubled the state for many years to come. The truth was, the men who had enrolled in Sclerus’s army were no longer divided in their loyalties: every one of them was a declared rebel.

Reconciled their differences

Their leader inspired them with his own resolute determination and bound them into one coherent body. By favours he won their loyalty, by his kindliness he earned

Basil II part 10

22. Let us return to the emperor. Now that he observed the diverse character of his dominions, and saw that it was no easy matter to wield such tremendous power, Basil abjured all selfindulgence. He even went so far as to scorn bodily ornaments. His neck was unadorned by collars, his head by diadems. He refused to make himself conspicuous in purple-coloured cloaks. He put away superfluous rings, even clothes of different colours.

On the other hand, he took great pains to ensure that the various departments of the government should be centralized in himself, and that they should work without friction. He adopted a supercilious manner, not only in his dealings with other men, but even towards his brother. Ta Constantine he allotted a mere handful of guards, as though he grudged him protection of a more dignified or imposing character.

Having first straitened himself, so to speak, and having cheerfully stripped off the proud contraptions of monarchy in his own case,

Basil II part 9

One would imagine he had never ascended the throne, but shared authority on equal terms with another man, or held inferior rank in the government. He gave the subject considerable thought, and it was only after much vacillation that he finally made up his mind. Once the decision was taken, however, he dismissed the parakoimomenus and deposed him at one blow. What made it worse was the fact that this change in the latter’s fortunes was not softened by any sign of respect: in fact, the emperor’s action was incredibly cruel, for he shipped him off into exile.

20. Nor did this disgrace prove to be the end of Basil’s troubles. Rather was it the prelude to further misfortunes, for the emperor next proceeded to review the events of his reign ever since he acceded to the throne and the parakoimomenus began to govern the Empire.

He examined the various measures that had been taken during all that period. Whatever happened to contribute to his own (the em

Basil II part 8

After he had galloped forward some distance from his own men, Phocas suddenly slipped from his saddle and was thrown to the ground. At this point the accounts of different authors become contradictory. Some contend that he was hit by the javelin-throwers and fell mortally wounded. Others aver that he was overcome by a sudden faintness, the effect of a stomach disorder, and so fell down from the saddle. Whatever the true explanation may have been, Constantine arrogated to himself the proud distinction of having slain the rebel.

The usual story, however, and the one considered to be most probable, is that the whole affair was the result of an intrigue. Poison was mixed, Phocas drank it, and when he moved about, the potion became suddenly effective, deprived him of his powers of reason, and caused the giddiness that led to his downfall. The original idea was Basil’s, the ministering hand that of Phocas’s cupbearer. For my own part, I prefer to express no opinion o

Basil II part 7

14. Basil personally took part in these operations with the Roman army. He had just begun to grow a beard and was learning the art of war from experience in actual combat. Even his brother Constantine took his place in the battle-line, armed with breastplate and long spear.

15. So the two faced one another: on the one side, by the sea, the emperor’s forces; on the higher parts, the rebels, with a great space between. When Phocas discovered that Basil and Constantine were in the enemy’s ranks, he no longer put off the battle.**13 That day, he decided, was to be the turning-point of the war, the day which was to determine the future of the Empire. So he committed his cause to fortune. It was contrary to the advice of the astrologers in his retinue, for they would have dissuaded him from fighting.

Their sacrifices clearly showed the folly of it, but he gave rein to his horse and obstinately refused to listen. It is said that signs of ill-omen appeared to

Basil II part 6

The reason for this was that they feared Chosroes. They expected little consideration from him and they believed that he would throw them back into prison. So they made off, with all the speed they could muster, and they covered a great distance before the Assyrians noticed they had gone. (These operations took place in Assyria.) Chosroes, whose army had now reassembled, immediately issued an order that all soldiers of the Assyrian army who met these Romans were to join in pursuing them.

A great multitude did in fact fall upon them from the rear, but they soon discovered how inferior they were to the Roman soldier, for the runaways suddenly wheeled about and defeated their pursuers. Indeed, the enemy suffered such losses that they retreated fewer in number than the Romans, although they had vastly outnumbered them when the engagement started.

Opportunity to revive his struggle for power

12. Here, Sclerus decided, was the opportunity to revive his stru

Basil II part 5

The Revolt of Bardas Phocas

10. Meanwhile Bardas Phocas returned to the emperor. He was given the privilege of a triumph and took his place among the personal friends of his sovereign. So ended the first revolt. Apparently Basil was now freed from all his troubles, but this seeming collapse of the opposition proved to be only a prelude to the host of evils that were to follow. Phocas, after receiving high honours when he first returned to Byzantium, later found himself neglected. His ambitions appeared to be once more slipping from his grasp. This kind of treatment, in his opinion, was undeserved. He had not betrayed the trust reposed in him: he had entered into an agreement, on specific terms, and he had faithfully kept it.

So, disgruntled, he broke away in revolt–a revolt more serious and more difficult to counter than the previous attempt of Sclerus–with the greater part of the army ranged beside him in opposition to Basil.**9 Having won over the

Basil II part 4

7. According to the historians, this man Bardas reminded people of his uncle, the emperor Nicephorus, for he was always wrapped in gloom, and watchful, capable of foreseeing all eventualities, of comprehending everything at a glance. Far from being ignorant of warlike manoeuvres, there was no aspect of siege warfare, no trick of ambush nor tactic of pitched battle, in which he was not thoroughly versed.

In the matter of physical prowess, moreover, Bardas was more energetic and virile than Sclerus. In fact, anyone who received a blow at his hand was a dead man straightway, and whole armies trembled even when he shouted from afar. He now divided up his forces, arranging them in battalions, and more than once–indeed, on several occasions–put his opponents to flight, despite their numbers. In truth, Bardas seemed to surpass his enemies, in skill and strategy and vigour, in inverse proportion to his own inferiority in numbers.

8. Each side was confident in

Basil II part 3

The complete change in his mode of living dates from the attempted revolutions of the notorious Sclerus**4 and of Phocas.**5 Sclerus twice raised the standard of revolt and there were other aspirants to the throne, with two parties in opposition to the emperor. From that time onward, Basil’s carefree existence was forgotten and he wholeheartedly applied himself to serious objects. Once the first blow had been struck against those members of his family who had seized power, he set himself resolutely to compass their utter destruction.**6

The Rebellion of Sclerus

5. A policy so drastic, not unnaturally, stirred the nephews of Nicephorus Phocas to bitter revolt. The trouble began with Sclerus, a man who was not only a competent planner, but extremely clever in carrying out his schemes, possessed of vast wealth (no mean asset in one who aimed at a throne), with the prestige of royal blood and of success in great wars, with all the military caste at his side t

Basil II part 2

Although he was born of the same father as the father of Basil and Constantine, on his mother’s side he came of different stock. In early infancy he had suffered castration–a natural precaution against a concubine’s son, for under those circumstances he could never hope to usurp the throne from a legitimate heir. Actually he was resigned to his fate and was genuinely attached to the imperial house–after all, it was his own family. He was particularly devoted to his nephew Basil, embracing the young man in the most affectionate manner and watching over his progress like some kindly fosterparent. It is not surprising, then, that Basil placed on this man’s shoulders the burden of Empire. The older man’s serious nature, too, had its influence on the emperor’s character.

Following in the other’s footsteps

The parakoimomenus, in fact, was like an athlete competing at the gamest while Basil the emperor watched him as a s