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 on the subject and ascribe all the glory to the Mother of the Word.

17. At all events, he fell, he who until then could neither be wounded nor taken alive, a piteous and mournful sight. As soon as the rival armies saw what had happened, the one was immediately split up and retreated, their close-packed ranks broken, their rout complete. The emperor’s forces, on the other hand, immediately after Phocas’s collapse, leapt upon him, scattered his Iberian body- [19] guard, and chopped him in pieces with repeated sword-blows. His head was cut off and brought to Basil.**14

18. The complete change in the emperor’s character dates from that time. While he rejoiced at the death of his enemy, he was no less grieved by the sad condition of his own affairs, with the result that he became suspicious of everyone, a haughty and secretive man, ill-tempered, and irate with those who failed to carry out his wishes.

The Fall And Banishment of the Parakoimomenus Basil **15

19. Far from allowing the parakoimomenus Basil to continue in his general supervision of the government, the emperor, from now on, decided to supervise himself. Further, he proceeded to pursue his minister with a relentless hatred, which he showed in all manner of ways, and refused to see him.

Although the parakoimomenus was a relative, although the emperor was greatly indebted to him and the minister had done good service, at no little inconvenience to himself, and despite the very high office in the state that he held, Basil regarded him as an enemy. Nothing on earth would persuade him to change this attitude. The truth is, it offended his pride to think that he, the emperor and a full-grown man, should be allowed only a share in the government, as if he were an ordinary citizen.

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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 him, as well as to the astrologers, for no sooner had he mounted his horse than the charger slipped under him, and when he seated himself on a second, that too, a few paces further on, suffered the same fate. His skin, moreover, changed colour, his heart was filled with foreboding, and his head was troubled with giddiness. Phocas, however, was not the man to give way once he had set himself to a task, so, riding at the head of his army, and being already somewhat near the emperor’s forces, he gathered about him some foot-soldiers.

Finest fighters among the Iberians

The men I refer to were the finest fighters among the Iberians, all of them young men, just growing their first beards, in the flower of their youth, tall men and men of equal height, as though they had been measured off with a ruler, armed on their right with swords, and irresistible when they charged. With these warriors about him, under one standard, Phocas moved foreward to attack in front of his army. Gathering speed, he made straight for the emperor with a wild war-cry, his sword uplifted in his right hand, as if he intended to kill the emperor there and then.

16. While Phocas was so boldly charging towards him, Basil rode out in front of his army too. He took his stand there, sword in hand. In his left hand he clasped the image of the Saviour’s Mother, thinking this ikon the surest protection against his opponent’s terrific onslaught. Phocas swept on, like a cloud driven on by violent winds, whirling over the plain. Meanwhile those who were stationed on either flanks hurled their javelins at him. Among others, slightly in front of the main army, was the emperor Constantine, brandishing a long spear.

Read More about Basil II part 13


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 struggle for power. The whole Empire, he thought, was ripe for the plucking, for Phocas had already gone away to Anatolia and all the emperor’s forces were scattered. Having arrived at the Roman frontier, however, he learnt that Phocas had designs on the throne himself, and since he was in no position to take on both the emperor and his rival, he indulged in a fresh outburst of insolence at the expense of the former, while he presented himself to the latter in the guise of vassal.

Phocas’s hegemony was recognized and Sclerus agreed to serve under him. Thereupon their forces were divided in two and the rebel army was greatly strengthened. Full of confidence in their soldiers and military dispositions, they came down as far as the Propontis and strongpoints on the seashore, made their entrenchments secure and all but tried to leap over the sea itself.

13. The emperor Basil was well aware of disloyalty among the Romans, but not long before this a picked band of Scythians had come to help him from the Taurus, and a fine body of men they were.**11 He had these men trained in a separate corps, combined with them another mercenary force, divided by companies, and sent them out to fight the rebels. They came upon the insurgents unexpectedly, when they were off their guard seated at table and drinking, and after they had destroyed not a few of them, scattered the rest in all directions.**12 The remnants of the enemy actually banded together and opposed Phocas himself, with considerable enthusiasm.

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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 leading and most powerful families, he decided to proclaim himself an open enemy of the regime. An army of Iberians was conscripted, fierce, proud warriors standing up to ten feet in height.* [* i.e. very tall. A Byzantine saying.] It was no longer in imagination, but in very truth, that he put on the imperial robes, with the emperor’s crown and the royal insignia of purple.

11. I will describe what happened next. A foreign war surprised the Babylonian, that same king Chosroes to whom Sclerus and his army had fled and from whom they had hoped for assistance. Those hopes, as I have said, had already been dashed. Well, this war proved to be a terrible strain on the king’s resources and great numbers of armed men were involved in the struggle. It was impossible for Chosroes to feel any confidence in his own native forces without foreign aid. So he turned for help to the exiled Romans.

They were at once released from their bonds, brought out of their prisons, strongly armed and set in battle-array against his enemies. They (Sclerus and his men), being virile and warlike soldiers, acquainted with the disposition of infantry in battle, arranged themselves in two groups, one on either flank. Then, charging on horseback in mass-formation and shouting their war-cry, they killed some of the enemy there on the spot and others they put to flight. The pursuit continued as far as the earthworks and the foe was completely annihilated.**10 On their way back the Romans, as if inspired with one common idea, took to flight themselves.

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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 face of its foes, and the two leaders, by common consent, decided to engage in single combat.**8 So, riding out to the space that divided the two lines of battle, they spied one another and without more ado came to close quarters. The rebel Sclerus, unable to curb his natural impetuosity, broke the rules of this kind of fighting, and as he approached Phocas struck him with all his might on the head.

The latter thereupon lost interest

The blow gained additional power because it was delivered on the charge. Phocas, dumbfounded at the unexpectedness of this stroke, momentarily lost control of his reins, but collecting his wits again, he returned the blow, on the same part of his adversary’s body. The latter thereupon lost interest in the combat and rode away in flight.

9. Both patriots and rebels were convinced that here was the decisive point in the war. Certainly no event contributed more to the emperor’s victory, for Sclerus was completely embarrassed. He could no longer withstand Phocas in battle. He was too ashamed to beg terms from the emperor.

In these circumstances he adopted a policy which was neither very wise nor very safe, transferring his whole army from Roman territories to Assyria. There he made himself known to the king Chosroes and roused his suspicions, for Chosroes feared the great numbers of his army, and possibly he was nervous, too, in case the Romans planned some sudden attack on himself. The upshot of the matter was that all Sclerus’s men were made prisoners and carried off to gaol.

Read More about Basil II part 2


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 to help on his enterprise.

Sclerus’s attempted coup d’état found considerable support. It was the first of these daring efforts to depose Basil, but the pretender was very confident of victory. He marched against the emperor in full force, with cavalry and foot-soldiers, thinking he had but to stretch forth his hand to seize the Empire. Actually, the heavy-armed infantry had rallied to Sclerus en bloc and the emperor’s advisers, knowing this, at first believed their cause to be hopeless.

On second thoughts, however, they changed their minds and the whole affair took on a different aspect. Despair gave way to courage when in a certain Bardas they thought they had discovered a worthy opponent for the rebel.**7 To them Bardas represented a safe anchorage, a shelter from the storm. He was, indeed, a man of noble birth and great valour, nephew of the emperor Nicephorus. So they entrusted to this Bardas whatever forces still remained. He was made commander-in-chief and sent forth to do battle with the common enemy.

6. Their immediate difficulties were thus overcome, but their new general was no less formidable than Sclerus. He was descended from an emperor. In all probability he would never be content to occupy a subordinate position. So they stripped him of his citizen’s robes and all insignia of royalty, and forced him to enter the Church.

Then they bound him by the most fearful oaths never to be guilty of treason, never to transgress the promises he had made. Having taken these precautions against any ambitious schemes he might entertain in the future, they sent him out with the whole of the emperor’s forces.

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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 spectator, not a spectator present merely to cheer on the victor, but rather one who trained himself in the running and took part in the contests himself, following in the other’s footsteps and imitating his style. So the parakoimomenus had the whole world at his feet. It was to him that the civilian population looked, to him that the army turned and he was responsible, indeed solely responsible, for the administration of public finance and the direction of government. In this task he was constantly assisted by the emperor, both in word and deeds for Basil not only backed up his minister’s measures, but even confirmed them in writing.

4. To most men of our generation who saw the emperor Basil he seemed austere and abrupt in manner, an irascible man who did not quickly change his mind, sober in his daily habits and averse to all effeminacy, but if I am to believe the historians of that period who wrote about him, he was not at all like that when his reign began. A change took place in his character after he acceded to the throne, and instead of leading his former dissolute, voluptuous sort of life, he became a man of great energy.

It was the pressure of events that brought about this complete alteration in the course of his life. His character stiffened, so to speak. Feebleness gave way to strength and the old slackness disappeared before a new fixity of purpose. In his early days he used to feast quite openly, and frequently indulged in the pleasures of love. His main concern was with his banqueting and his life was spent in the gay, indolent atmosphere of the court. The combination of youth and unlimited power gave him opportunities for self-indulgence and he enjoyed them to the full.

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Basil II part 1

Basil II 976 – 1025

1. The circumstances in which the emperor John Tzimisces met his death have already been described (in the history of Leo Diaconus).**1 Basil and Constantine, the sons of Romanus,**2 were now the legitimate heirs to an Empire which through the efforts of their predecessor had won many triumphs and greatly increased its power.

2. Both princes had seen the last of their boyhood days, but their interests lay far apart, for whereas Basil, the elder of the two, always gave an impression of alertness, intelligence, and thoughtfulness, his brother was to all appearances apathetic, passing a lazy existence, and devoted to a life of luxury. It was natural, therefore, that they should abandon the idea of a diarchy. By mutual consent all real power was vested in Basil, and Constantine was associated with him as emperor in name only.

It was a wise decision, for if the Empire was to be well governed it was essential that the older and more experienced brother should inherit the highest position in the state. There is perhaps something admirable in Constantine’s renunciation of most of his privileges on this occasion, because legally he was entitled to share his father’s inheritance on equal terms with his brother–and by ‘inheritance’ I mean the Empire.

What makes his decision the more remarkable is the fact that he was very young at the time, just at the age, in fact, when lust for power is most easily kindled. One must remember, too, that Basil, far from being already a full-grown man, was still a mere stripling: to use the common expressions he was still ‘growing his first beard’, and yet Constantine [12] allowed him to take precedence. It is only right, therefore, that I should pay this tribute to the younger brother at the outset of this history.

3. Once invested with supreme power over the Romans, Basil was loath to share his designs with anyone else or to accept advice on the conduct of public affairs. On the other hand, having had no previous experience of military matters or of good civil administration, he discovered that he was unable to rely on his own judgment alone, and he was therefore compelled to turn for assistance to the parakoimomenus* [* Lord Chamberlain.] Basil.**3 Now this man happened to be at that time the most remarkable person in the Roman Empire, both for the depth of his intellect and for his bodily stature and regal appearance.

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The Priest`s Tale part 8

I josep time in going up to his room, and fortunately found him in one of his intervals of quiet. He was sitting on the floor with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. The furniture was all in dis- order, and broken dishes were lying about. I admit I was a little frightened. It was rash to go in alone, but I could not turn back even if I had wished; so I went up to him, and laying my hand on his head repeated a prayer.

`When I was done he made the sign of the cross, and kissed my hand. `You are not very comfortable here, my dear Christos,` said I. Come, let us go to your uncle`s; the house is empty, and you`ll be better there. Won`t you come?`

“He rose without a word, and then said quietly: `I don`t want anybody to see me; please ask them to stay away.`

“I opened the door, and although there was no one there, I cried

“`Go away, all of you; go home!—There, Christos, the street is empty; let us go.`

“ `I can`t bear the light, father; it hurts me.

“The sun was near its setting, and its rays streamed into the room through the open door. Christos put on his cloak, and pulling the hood over his eyes, gave me his hand. He followed me to his uncle`s house. I stayed with him a long time, trying my best to comfort him, and it was night when I came away.

“As I opened the door to go out, I thought I saw men with guns standing there in the darkness.

Friend and comrade

“I shut the door and locked it, taking the key with me. The peasants gathered about me and plied me with questions about Christos. 1 told them he was going to die, and implored them in the name of the merciful Father to let him die in peace. The poor men were not heartless- in their way they sincerely pitied their friend and comrade; but the instinct of self-preservation is stronger than pity, and fear fills the heart of the ignorant with the passion of wild beasts.”

Just then the ladies came in to join us, for the cool evening air had driven them in from the balcony.

“What are you still in the dark!” said my sister. Father Seraphim s story must have been very interesting. Won`t you tell us about it? I m sure we should be interested too.” And she ordered the lights “What became of Christos?” asked Andrew, in a whisper.

The priest closed his eyes and stretched out his hand.

I do not care to dwell upon the meaning of this gesture. Was he allowed to die in quiet—or did they kill him?

The servant came in with the lighted candles, and we talked of other things.

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The Priest`s Tale part 7

These causes of themselves often produce tetanus, and hydrophobia and tetanus have many points of resemblance. This is what the doctors tell us. But what good does that do, it they cannot give us at the same time some means of controlling or getting rid of this secret fear? I am waiting to hear from our medical friends on this point. But I beg your pardon, father, for interrupting.

Without ever having read anything of the kind,” replied the priest, “I have often thought of that.

“Meanwhile the weeks passed by, and the peasants were beginning to forget what had happened, or at least had stopped talking about it, when suddenly one morning toward the end of September the boy`s father came to tell me that Christos was not well.

` `What`s the matter with him?`

“ `I don`t know; he`s feverish, and has no appetite.`

Little milk

“I went to see him without delay, and found him lying on the floor wPh his cloak under him. He was quiet, but pale and troubled about himself. He told me that he couldn`t breathe, and that he felt stifled every now and then for lack of air. I offered him a little milk, and urged him to drink it. He sat up and took the cup in his hands; but as soon as he brought it near his lips, he began to shiver with disgust. I had barely cup from him when he was seized with terrible spasms, he was dying; but gradually he came to himself.

Ah! he cried, it s my father`s fault; if he had only got the mad plant for me, I shouldn`t be dying now—mad!`

I tried to persuade him that it was a mere derangement of the stomach, and said all I could to comfort him, but, alas! without believing what I said. Then I left him, promising to come back in the evening—-for I had to perform the marriage service in the most distant village of my parish. Such is the life of a priest: sorrow and joy marriage and death —ah, well—

“Before I reached home that evening I heard that Christos was delirious and violent. His father was waiting for me at the parsonage, and wanted me to help to move the poor boy to another house, where he could be on the ground-floor. The neighbors insisted on this; they were afraid he would get out on the street and bite every one he met. Where he was they could not prevent him from jumping out of the window, and they wished to have him on the ground-floor—where they could keep better watch. The peasants were afraid, and their fear made them savage. I saw that if Christos became dangerous they might shoot him without mercy.

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