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Basil I

Basil I

The Byzantine emperor Basil I (ca. 812-886), also known as Basil the Macedonian, ruled from 867 to 886. Despite his unsavory rise to power, he was a gifted statesman who gave the empire new vigor and began its most durable dynasty.

Of obscure Armenian parentage, Basil was born in Thrace. According to one tradition, he was carried off into captivity by the Bulgars while an infant; escaping in his 20s, he sought his fortune in Constantinople and took service with a kinsman of the Caesar Bardas, uncle and guiding influence of Emperor Michael III. About 858 Basil attracted the attention of the Emperor through his great physical strength and his way with horses. He rapidly rose to high ranks, became Michael's boon companion, and in an arrangement of convenience married the Emperor's mistress.

Basil's influence grew, and his ambition was kindled. In May 866 Michael proclaimed Basil his co-emperor. Allegedly because of Michael's incapacity but apparently more out of fear of his whims, Basil murdered his benefactor on Sept. 24, 867, and seized the throne. He also deposed the great patriarch Photius, who was then embroiled in a struggle with the papacy which deeply split Church sentiments in the Byzantine Empire.

For all his ruthless opportunism and brutality, Basil displayed genuine ability and a lofty sense of his office. Though he replaced Photius, he abided by Photius's policies of Eastern Church independence from Rome and of the Byzantine orientation of the newly converted Bulgarian Church. He later reconciled himself with Photius and restored him in the patriarchate in 877. Active as builder and patron, Basil scored his greatest domestic achievement by initiating a reform of the legal system. This grand project was not completed by Basil, but it was taken up and realized by his son and successor, Leo VI. Basil's legal work opened a brilliant new phase in the Byzantine extension of the living Roman law.

Basil's reign was active militarily. In the 870s his forces broke the heretical sect of the Paulicians, whose strongholds had weakened the eastern frontiers. His armies also pushed successfully against the Arabs, beginning the great momentum that Byzantium would develop in territorial reconquest in the next century. Basil's fleet reestablished Byzantine authority in Dalmatia, and he was the first emperor in perhaps 2 centuries to reassert Byzantine interest in Italy. His dispatch of the general Nicephorus Phocas (the Elder) to Italy inaugurated a new era of Byzantine recovery in the peninsula's southern territories.

Determined to establish his family on the throne, Basil made his three eldest sons his co-emperors. But in 879 Constantine, the eldest and Basil's favorite, died, and Basil was left emotionally shattered and mentally unhinged. Increasingly manipulated by Photius and alienated from his heir, Leo, Basil died on Aug. 29, 886, reportedly of a hunting accident.

Further Reading

The only full-length study of Basil I is by Albert Vogt in French. Vogt wrote the account of Basil in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 4 (1923). See also George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State (1940; trans. 1956; rev. ed. 1969); The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 4 (2d ed. 1966), pt. 1, edited by J. M. Hussey; and Romilly Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries, A.D. 610-1071 (1966). □

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Basil I

BASIL I

(13711425), grand prince of Vladimir and Moscow (from 1389).

The eldest son and successor to grand prince Dmitry Ivanovich ("Donskoi"), Basil assumed the power as the obedient servant of Khan Tokhtamysh. In 1392, when the latter was engaged in the war with emir Timur and needed financial resources, Basil visited the Horde and bought patents for the principalities of Nizhny Novgorod, Murom, Gorodets, Tarusa, and Meshchera. Using his armed force and the khan's support, Basil I seized Nizhny Novgorod. But Suzdalian princes did not give up, and the struggle for Nizhny Novgorod was resumed in the 1410s.

In 1397 Basil attempted to annex the Dvina land (in the valley of the Northern Dvina River), a province of Great Novgorod. In order to gain the support of the inhabitants, Basil gave a special charter to this land, but his rule there did not last long. In 1498 the Novgorodians recovered their province.

In the 1390s, Basil I entered into alliance with the mighty duke of Lithuania, Vytautas (in 1391 Basil married his daughter, Sophia). The Muscovite prince allowed his ally and father-in-law to conquer Vyazma (1403) and Smolensk (1404); only when Vytautas marched on Pskov (1406) did Basil I declare war on Lithuania. However, during this war (1406-1408) no decisive battles took place. Peaceful relations with Lithuania were restored (1408), and later in his testament (1423) Basil I entrusted his minor son and heir, Basil II, to the protection of Vytautas.

After the final defeat of Tokhtamysh by Timur (1395), Basil I broke relations with the Golden Horde and stopped paying tribute. In 1408 Moscow suffered a severe blow from emir Edigey, the ruler of the Horde, who besieged the capital for three weeks, and, having taken an indemnity of three thousand rubles, withdrew, ravaging the land and leading away thousands of captives. Basil I made no attempt to face the enemy: He retired to Kostroma and waited there for the invasion to pass.

One of consequences of Edigey's raid was that Suzdalian princes recovered Nizhny Novgorod (c.1410), and only in 1414 did Basil I manage to recapture this city.

It is characteristic of Basil's relations with the Tartars that he did not acknowledge the power of Edigey, who was not a Chingizid; but as soon as the legitimate khan Jelal-ad-din (son of Tokhtamysh) seized power in the Horde (1412), Basil immediately paid him a visit and resumed the payment of tribute.

For the lack of evidence, the last decade of Basil's I rule remains obscure. For the same reason, it is hardly possible to assess his personality. As Robert Crummey aptly remarked, Basil I "is a shadowy figure. The sources on his long reign give us little sense of his character, except to hint that he was a cautious and indecisive man" (p. 62).

See also: basil ii; donskoy, dmitry ivanovich; golden horde; grand prince; novgorod the great; yarlyk

bibliography

Crummey, Robert O. (1987). The Formation of Muscovy, 13041613. London: Longman.

Presniakov, A. E. (1970). The Formation of the Great Russian State: A Study of Russian History in the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Centuries, tr. A. E. Moorhouse. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

Mikhail M. Krom

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Basil I

Basil I (Basil the Macedonian) (băz´əl, bā´zəl), c.813–886, Byzantine emperor (867–86). His ancestors probably were Armenians or Slavs who settled in Macedonia. He became (c.856) the favorite of Emperor Michael III. In 886, Basil, with the aid of Michael, assassinated Michael's uncle and chief minister, Bardas, and was made coemperor. Michael's feeling toward Basil began to change and in 867 Basil had him murdered and had himself proclaimed emperor. Thus the Macedonian dynasty of the East, which lasted until 1056, was founded. A capable ruler, Basil reformed the finances; modernized the law of Justinian I by introducing a new code, the Basilica; protected the poorer classes; and restored the military prestige of the empire. Byzantine art and architecture entered their second golden age during his rule. A major event of his reign was the dissension between the Roman and the Eastern churches. In order to prevent an open break, Basil restored (867) to the patriarchate Ignatius of Constantinople, who had been deposed in favor of Photius. On Ignatius' death, Basil reinstated (877) Photius, causing strained relations but not a full break with Rome. Basil in 865 had divorced his wife and married the mistress of Michael III. He was succeeded by his son Leo VI.

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Basil I

Basil I (c.813–86) Byzantine Emperor (r.867–86) and founder of the Macedonian dynasty. Emperor Michael III assisted Basil in his rise to power. After Michael designated him co-emperor, Basil had his former patron murdered and assumed sole power in Byzantium. Basil's most effective policies include: the conversion of the Bulgars to Orthodox Christianity, military campaigns against the Paulician religious sect in Asia Minor, and a revision of Roman legal codes.

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