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Basil II

Basil II

The Byzantine emperor Basil II (ca. 958-1025) ruled from 963 to 1025 and was called Bulgaroctonus (Bulgar-Slayer). He was the last and greatest of the emperors who brought Byzantium to its military zenith.

The elder son of Emperor Romanus II, Basil and his younger brother, Constantine, succeeded in title as children upon their father's death in 963. Their position was exploited by two successive military usurpers, Nicephorus Phocas (963-969) and John I Tzimisces (969-976). Upon John's death, while Constantine remained in the background, Basil attempted to rule but became dependent upon his great-uncle, the eunuch Basil the Chamberlain. A cunning politician of long experience, the chamberlain helped Basil face the challenges of two more would-be usurpers, the aristocrats Bardas Sclerus and Bardas Phocas. Amid these struggles the chamberlain's tutelage became intolerable, and Basil drove him from office.

The rebellions of the two Bardases eventually drove Basil to seek military help from Prince Vladimir of Kiev; this alliance led to Russia's subsequent conversion to Byzantine Christianity. The unit of Russian soldiers sent by Vladimir helped Basil stop Bardas Phocas in 989, and Bardas Sclerus capitulated shortly afterward. These long struggles to guarantee his throne left deep scars on Basil's personality. Easygoing and dissipated in his youth, he was turned by his ordeals into a dour, stern, self-denying ascetic. His experiences with ambitious warlords also bred in him a passionate hatred for the aristocrats and a determination to curb them.

With the aristocracy dominating the military high commands, Basil decided early to establish his own reputation as a soldier. An initial attempt at campaigning against Bulgaria, the deadly northern enemy of Byzantium, in 986 had proved an embarrassing failure. In 990, however, Basil resumed his efforts against Bulgaria, which would become the prime target of his mature military efforts. The 25 years of bitter war between King Samuel of Bulgaria and Basil that followed became both a personal duel and a fight to the death between the two enemy states.

With victories, devastation, and bold strategy, Basil wore Samuel down, segmented his territories, and crippled Bulgarian strength. The climax was reached in 1014, when the Byzantines captured the main Bulgarian army of some 14, 000 men. Basil had these men blinded but left one in every hundred with one eye to serve as a guide. He sent them back to Samuel, who died from shock at the sight. Basil completed the annexation of Bulgaria and its incorporation into the empire with singular moderation and pragmatic wisdom.

The next years of the tireless Emperor's reign were spent in settling the empire's interests in eastern Asia Minor and the Caucasus. He began the dismemberment and annexation of independent Armenia. Then, still restless, Basil turned his attentions further westward. He planned an expedition to reconquer Sicily and expand Byzantine authority in Italy; but before he could undertake this campaign, Basil suddenly took ill and died on Dec. 15, 1025. A bachelor, Basil left the throne to his younger brother, Constantine VIII, during whose reign (1025-1028) began the rapid erosion of the strength Basil had built up.

Further Reading

The chief scholarly study of Basil II is in French. Good general accounts in English are in George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State (1940; trans. 1956; rev. ed. 1969), and in Romilly Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries, A.D. 610-1071 (1966), part of which is reproduced in J. M. Hussey, ed., The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 4 (2d ed. 1966), pt. 1. □

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Basil II

BASIL II

(14151462), grand prince of Moscow from 1425 to 1462 (with intervals).

Basil II, third son and successor to Basil I (two elder sons of the latter died in childhood), ascended the Muscovite throne at the age of ten. Until he attained his majority, three persons shared the real power: his mother Sophia (the daughter of Vitautas, the grand prince of Lithuania), metropolitan Photius, and a boyar, Ivan Vsevolozhsky. In 1425 the intercession of Photius stopped the outbreak of dynastic war: When Basil's uncle Yuri Dmitrievich, the prince of Galich and Zvenigorod, laid claim to the grand-princely throne, the metropolitan made Yuri reconcile with his nephew. Basil II also owed much to Vsevolozhsky. When in 1431 the dispute over the Muscovite throne was transferred to the Golden Horde, this boyar managed to obtain the judgment of the khan favorable to Basil II.

Basil's first actions on his own were far less successful. In spring 1433 he could not stop his uncle Yuri's march on Moscow, and in the battle at Klazma River on April 25 Basil was completely defeated. Yuri seized grand-princely power, and only his unexpected death on June 5, 1434, allowed Basil II to supersede this strong rival.

Having grown up in the atmosphere of dynastic war, Basil II became suspicious and ruthless: He ordered the blinding of Vsevolozhsky, suspecting him of contacts with prince Yuri's party. In 1436, having captured his rebellious cousin Basil the Cross-Eyed, Basil II also had him blinded. Later, the same means of political elimination was applied to Basil II.

The mid-1440s were the most troublesome years in Basil's life. On July 7, 1445, in the battle at Kamenka River (near Suzdal), the Kazan Tatars defeated his army; he was wounded and captured. Having gotten this news, his cousin Dmitry Shemyaka proclaimed himself the grand prince of Moscow. Only in October 1445 was Basil II released (on condition of paying a huge ransom) and returned to Moscow. Shemyaka fled but was prompt enough to organize a broad opposition to the grand prince, spreading rumors about the commitments undertaken by Basil II in captivity. As a result of a conspiracy, in February 1446 Shemyaka occupied Moscow, and Basil II was captured in the Trinity monastery (where he went for prayers) and blinded. Though exiled to Uglich (later to Vologda), the blind prince in February 1447 managed to return to Moscow as a victor.

The causes of Basil's II final victory are open to debate. Alexander Zimin, the author of the most detailed account of his reign (1991), maintained that Basil was "a nobody" and that the victory of the blind prince was entirely due to his loyal servicemen. This social explanation seems highly probable, but the personal role of Basil II in the events should not be neglected. Though he lacked the abilities of a military leader, his courage, persistence, and devotion to his cause must be taken into account.

See also: basil i; basil iii; civil war of 14251450; golden horde; grand prince; metropolitan

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 II

Basil II, c.958–1025, Byzantine emperor (976–1025), surnamed Bulgaroktonos [Bulgar slayer]. With his brother, Constantine VIII, he nominally succeeded his father, Romanus II, in 963, but had no share in the government during the rule of the usurping generals Nicephorus II (963–69) and John I (969–76). Primarily a soldier, Basil exercised virtually sole rule from 976, while his debauched brother was emperor only in name. Basil suppressed (976–89) a series of revolts of the great landowners led by Bardus Sclerus and revived and strengthened the laws directed against them by Romanus I. He annexed (1018) Bulgaria, although leaving it some measure of autonomy, and later extended the eastern frontier of his empire to the Caucasus. During his reign the schism between the Roman and the Eastern churches widened. Basil was succeeded by Constantine VIII (reigned 1025–28) and by Constantine's daughter Zoë.

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Basil II

Basil II (c.958–1025) Byzantine Emperor (976–1025), nicknamed ‘Bulgaroctonus’ (‘Bulgar-slayer’). One of Byzantium's ablest rulers, Basil reigned during the heyday of the empire. He is best known for his military victory over the Bulgarian Tsar Samuel in 1014, which brought the entire Balkan peninsula under Byzantine control. During Basil's reign, Byzantium's sphere of influence was extended by the conversion of Kievan Russia to Orthodox Christianity.

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