Basil I the Macedonian(867-886)

Basil (Vasileios the 1st) the Macedonian was the founder of the Macedonian dynasty which ruled the Greek Empire of Byzantium from 866 to 1057. Vasileios came from a poor family of villagers from Charioupolis in Macedonia. His father's name was Constantine and his mother's name was Pagkalo. His family was captured by the Bulgarian king Kroumos but they managed to escape and return to Macedonia. Vasileios was a handsome and physically powerful man, who thanks to his skills and his strength, after his arrival to the Greek capital (860), he attracted the attention of the nobleman Theophilos (Theofilitzes) and he soon became his personal servant. Later he gained the trust of the Greek Emperor with his abilities as a horse tamer, as he tamed a wild horse, the same way as Alexander the Great had tamed Voukefalas and with his winning a victory over a Bulgarian champion in a wrestling match. So, he became Michael's companion and his personal guard (parakoimomenos). Vasileios helped Michael III to execute his uncle, Caesar Bardas, in 866, an event that led to his coronation as a co-emperor in the same year. At the same time he got married to Eudokia Ingerina. On 24th September 867, at the Saint Mammas palace at Pera, Vasileios with his brother Symbatios murdered Michael III the Methisos (Drunkard) as he was sleeping unconcious after heavy drinking in his bedchamber. So Vasileios remained the sole ruler of the Greek Empire.

Active and ambitious, the Greek Emperor had to confront many state issues. He dethroned Patriarch Photios and substituted him with Ignatios, in his effort to improve his relation with Rome. That way, Vasileios gained Rome's support, which would last for many years, until the Greek Emperor reinstated Patriarch Photios to his throne, appointing him as his sons' tutor. Vasileios crowned his eldest son Constantine as a co-emperor, and in 870 he crowned Leo as a co-emperor too.Leo had been born in 866 in his marriage with Eudokia Ingerina. His third son, Stephan Porphyrogennetos, was born soon after his fatherís accession to the throne while his fourth son Alexander was born two years later and was crowned as a co-emperor in 879, after the death of the eldest son Constantine. Stephan became Patriarch of the Greek capital right after his brother's Leo VI undertaking of power in 886. Vasileios' mistress was a very rich widow from Patras called Danielis. She was an extremely wealthy landowner, owning a significant part of the northern Peloponnese, as well as a flourishing silk and textile industry. Danielis became acquainted with the future emperor Basil I the Macedonian during a visit he made in Patras when he was still an attendant of an imperial delegate. She offered Vasileios lavish gifts and land property and those gifts laid the foundations of Basil's fortune. Later Danielis would travel to Constantinople with a large escort of 3000 servants, in order to visit the Greek Emperor and the chronicles describe it as an extravagant journey. Her loyalty to the throne was rewarded with the title of King's Mother (Basilometor).

The main problem in the Foreign Affairs policy of the Greek Emperor, the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, was the eternal struggle with the Muslim world. Conditions were favorable for great victories in the struggle against the Muslim invaders, because in his time the Greek Empire maintained peaceful relations with Armenia in the east, with Russia and Bulgaria in the north, and with Venice and the Roman Emperor in the west. Moreover, Vasileios proved to be a valliant soldier and a brave military leader. He took the iniative to fight against the Muslims on the eastern borders of Asia Minor. He successfully continued the attacks made during Michael III's reign against the Arabs and their allies, the dangerous heretical Paulicians, pushing them to the east. In Cilicia, the Greek general Nicephorus Phocas (grandfather of the future emperor) defeated the Emir of Tarsus forcing thus the Arabs to retreat to the south but unfortunately he failed to liberate the city of Melitene (Malatya).

However, there were far more serious problems with the western Arabs, who occupied Sicily and some important ports and cities in southern Italy, which had been heavily populated with Greeks fifteen centuries ago. Vasileios formed a Christian alliance with the Roman Emperor Louis II, the great-grandson of Charlemagne in order to drive the Muslims out of Italy and Sicily. After the death of Louis, the Greeks liberated the cities of southern Italy (Vari, Ydrous, Kallipolis, Tarantas, Vrindision) but the island of Melitene (Malta) and some cities in Sicily, such as Syracuse, remained under the Arabic yoke. An interesting description of the siege of Syracuse was written by an eyewitness, the monk Theodosius, who was imprisoned by the Arabs in Panormos (Palermo) after the fall of the city (20 May 878). He wrote that during the siege, a famine raged in the city, and the Greeks were forced to eat grass, skins of animals and even corpses.

The reign of Basil I was also marked by a number of attempts to spread Christianity among pagans especially in Croatia and Servia, after his admiral Niketas Horyfas had sunk the arabic fleet in the Adriatic Sea and had removed the muslim terror away from the Slavs of Dalmatian coast. The Mediterranean Sea was a Greek Sea, as the Greek ships (dromon and helandion) with the Greek Fire (Hygron Pyr) were sailing from Cyprus to Italy and from Crete to Eyxeinos Pontos (Black Sea), spreading the terror to the enemies of the Greek Empire. Niketas Horyfas burnt the Arabic fleet, which was hiding in the Gulf of Patras, with the Hygron Pyr, after he had dragged his ships through the land of Isthmus of Corinth (diolkos). Vasileios also baptised the Slavonic tribes that had settled in the mountains of Taygetus in the Peloponnese as well as the last Pagan Greeks living in the peninsula of Maina (Mani), who still believed in the twelve Olympian gods. According to his son Leon IV the Sofos (Wise Man), Basil turned the Slavic Nations of Taygetos Mountain into Greeks (ekgrekosen). During the reign of Basil I peaceful relations were maintained with Bulgaria. Immediately after the death of Michael III the negotiations concerning the restoration of the union between the Bulgarian and Greek churches resulted in success. Furthermore, the Bulgarian King Boris sent his son, Simeon, to be educated in Constantinople.

The time of the Macedonian dynasty was a period of introducing new laws. Basil I planned to revive the legislative work of Justinian by adapting it to the new era. So, because of this great legislative work, he is often called the "Second Justinian." Basil published a work entitled the Prochiron, a manual of the science of law. This was to provide people interested in legal works with a brief account of the laws by which the Empire was to be ruled. Another work called the Basilika, was consisted of sixty books and some smaller legal manuals known as the Epanagoge. Leo VI was responsible for completing these legal works. The Basilika remained the Legal Code of the Greek Empire for many centuries..

The Byzantine Emperor also initiated an extensive building program in Constantinople. Basil through his building activity pointed out the exceptional position and significance of the Theofylaktos city, since the more than thirty newly erected churches were all situated inside the city. Until 1056, when Theodora, the last representative of Macedonian dynasty, died, the appearance of Constantinople was a lot more different than two centuries earlier, when Basil had assumed power. The most important architectural work was the construction of Nea Ekklesia (New Church) in Constantinople in 880. It was the first monumental church built in the Greek capital after the Hagia Sophia in the 6th century, and that marks the beginning of the middle period of Byzantine architecture. It remained in use until the Palaiologan period. The Ottoman invaders destroyed the building in 1490 after it had been struck by lightning.

Basil was deeply depressed, when his eldest and favorite son Constantine died. The Greek Emperor disliked the intellectual Leo and their relations were very tense. Basil I died on August 29, 886 from a fever contracted after a serious hunting accident. The 11th-century historian Psellus wrote of his dynasty as "more blessed by God than any other family known to me." The Greek Empire left by the Macedonian ruler was stronger and more imposing than the one he had received. He was perceived by the Byzantines one of their greatest emperors, and the Macedonian dynasty, which he founded, ruled over what is regarded as the most glorious and prosperous era of the Greek Empire of Constantinople.

Bibliography Encyclopaedia Britannica