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Basil II (976-1025) The Bulgar Slayer and His Great Rule

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Basil II nicknamed the Bulgar Slayer is a Byzantine Emperor from the Macedonian dynasty 958 – 1025 , the son of Emperor Romanos II and successor to John I Tzimiskes.Basil II was born in 958 in Constantinople (or possibly in the town of Didimotiho, west of the capital), in the family of the Byzantine emperor Roman II and Theophano. By origin, Basil had Armenian roots along his father’s bloodline.

Early Reign and Fight Against Samuel

Basil II ruled with his brother Konstantin VIII (who practically did not interfere in the affairs of the state administration). He was considered emperor-co-ruler since childhood, but actually gained the throne at the age of 17 or 18 years after the death of John I Tzimiskes (January 976). In 985, he removed from power eunuch Basil Lekapenos, who was the first minister with several previous emperors.

Known mainly for the wars that he led to protect the empire from numerous enemies: the Emperor Otto III, the Langobard Dukes of Benevent and the Slavs, and especially Samuel. The struggle against the latter was extremely stubborn and bitter, accompanied by atrocities on both sides.

In 986 Samuel, won a decisive battle at the Trajan’s Gate. Almost the entire Byzantine army was destroyed in the battle, the entire convoy was lost, and the emperor himself narrowly escaped capture.

Sharply in need of ships for the rapid transfer of troops to various parts of the empire, Basil entered into negotiations with the Venice. In 992, a large Venice embassy arrived in Constantinople, which achieved a seven-fold reduction in customs duties. Vasily issued a special order, which initiated the exclusive status of the Venetians in Constantinople. The alliance with Venice brought benefits to the empire: in 1000, a punitive raid was carried out against the pirates of Dalmatia. In 1002, the Venetian fleet liberated the city of Bari from the siege by the troops of the Caliphate. Thus, Basil received a military foothold in southern Italy. The reverse side was the growing dependence of the Byzantine economy on Venice.

In 1014, in a bloody battle of Kleidion against Samuel (also known as the Battle of Belasitsa), Basil defeated the army, and took 15,000 soldiers captive, he ordered all of them to be blinded and then released to freedom, where every 100th soldier was a guide with vision in only one eye. This and other victories, which earned him the nickname Bulgar Slayer, helped him conquer the lands to the Danube after the war, stretching from 981 to 1018 years.

Other Campaigns and Reforms

In 1021-1022 he waged war with the king of Iberia (west of Georgia) George I and also defeated him. At the same time, Basil secured the Trebizond Agreement from his ally, the Emperor of Armenia, who was forced to settle his kingdom to Byzantium after his death. Thus, under Basil II, the Armenian lands were annexed to the Byzantine Empire, and plans for further annexation were created. He is credited with the posthumous order to Constantine VIII to take care of the Armenian people and their princes.

In his time the baptism of Rus was conducted, after that Basil II agreed to extradite his sister Anna to the prince of Kiev, provided that Russia accepted Christianity and rendered military support to the empire. During the mutiny, Prince Vladimir sent to the Emperor 6,000 soldiers who later formed the basis of the Varangian guard.

Fight Against The Nobility and His End

Led by personal hatred for the landlord families, Emperor Basil II led a very sharp anti-aristocratic agrarian policy. Breaking down the political aspirations of the aristocrats in the bloody civil wars, he stepped in the way of the economic strengthening of the feudal aristocracy. Basil had a moderate policy towards the conquered countries. Keeping in mind the customs of his subjects, he did not ask the population to pay taxes in money but agreed to accept payment for goods.

Basil II tried to limit the expansion of the monastery’s land. After the breakup of Samuel’s Empire, Patriarchate of Ohrid was put at the rank of Archbishop. The Archbishop of Ohrid was not subordinate to the Constantinople Patriarchate but to the Emperor.

Basil led the ascetic life of the warrior. Unlike the vast majority of monarchs, especially the medieval, Basil II, who lived a long life (and at that time 69 or 67 years old – very old age), he remained a bachelor. Nothing is known about any extramarital affairs or children.

Regardless of the emperor’s complete political success, he became aware of his final defeat at the end of his reign. Whether there was an agreement between him and Constantine VIII is impossible to know, but the fact remains that he never married and the descendants should have been left by his brother. This did not happen in the end, which is why in the aftermath of 1021 there is a general concern about inheritance, so the elderly Emperor walked several times along the streets of Constantinople to convince the inhabitants that he was alive. The only successors in 1025 were Zoe (born in 978) and Theodora (born in 980), Constantine’s daughters who were in court custody. Basil II lived in fear that his brother’s daughters would, after a potential wedding for the Byzantine nobility, undermine the stability of the Empire. This decision proved catastrophic in the end because it led to the fall of the dynasty.

At the end of Basil’s life, all the border problems of the Byzantine Empire were settled, with the exception of Sicily whose Arab rulers reject peace agreements. In order to “regulate” this relationship satisfactorily, Byzantium began to invade, which was supposed to begin in 1026 on the fiftieth anniversary of independent rule. Before the invasion became reality, Basil II died on December 15, 1025.Although during his reign he prepared himself for a burial in the Constantine Mausoleum in the Church of the Holy Apostles, he decided to change that decision and to be buried in the monastery of St. John the Evangelist, located in the immediate vicinity of the barracks, so that he could watch his brave soldiers.

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