Basil II (the Bulgar-Slayer) (958 - 15/12/1025)

Basil II (the Bulgar-Slayer) Basil II was a Byzantine emperor who ruled from 976 to 1025. He was also known as Basil the Bulgar-slayer and Basil the Porphyrogenitus (“born in the purple”, an honorific title granted to some children of Byzantine emperors).

Born in Constantinople in 958, he was the son of Emperor Romanos II and Empress Theophano. When he was only two years old, his father anointed him co-emperor. In 963, his father died but Basil and his brother were too young to rule, so their mother married one of her late husband’s generals, Nikiphoros Fokas, who became emperor. Fokas was later murdered by his nephew, Ioannis Tsimiskis, who then ruled for 7 years. Finally, after Tsimiskis’ death, Basil took the throne at age 18.

Because of some mistakes of his predecessors, Basil was faced with a serious problem; two rich generals had the means to challenge the central authority and take the throne. He decided to suppress the rebels himself, which he successfully did, showing immense ruthlessness which would later form his governance. To win in the battles, he formed a pact with Prince Vladimir I of Kiev; however, Vladimir requested that he marry Basil’s sister, Anna. Basil was hesitant as the nations of Northern Europe were considered barbarians, but finally accepted after Vladimir was baptized Christian and said he would convert his people as well.

After quenching the rebellions, Basil turned against the Arabs and conquered the lands all the way to Syria. These lands remained in the empire for the next 75 years. Afterwards, he decided to crush his biggest enemy, Samuel of Bulgaria. Basil initially tried to use the “divide and conquer” method in Bulgaria, but was unsuccessful. He later besieged the city Serdiki, modern Sofia, but he suffered considerable losses, a fact that marked his policy against Bulgarians for the rest of his reign.

From 1000 onwards, Basil focused exclusively on the war against Bulgaria, having successive victorious battles in Vodena, Veroia and Servia. Samuel responded fiercely by attacking Adrianoupolis, which he plundered. On his return, though, he was intercepted by Basil’s army near Skopje and was crushed. Skopje surrendered after the battle. In the following years, there were not any major battles, but for an unsuccessful attempt by the Bulgarians to counterattack near Thessaloniki in 1009.

In 1014, Basil crushed his opponent’s army again, but Samuel escaped. However, having captured over 15,000 soldiers, he blinded 99 of every 100 men, leaving an one-eyed man to lead them back to Samuel. When Samuel saw his army, he was shocked and died of a stroke two days later. The extent of Basil’s brutality may be exaggerated, but this is how he got the nickname “Bulgar-slayer” in later times. After more successful battles, he finally emerged victorious; after this war, he showed incredible political skills, offering titles and important positions to former Bulgarian leaders, in an effort to assimilate the Bulgarian elite in the empire.

He returned triumphant in Constantinople and planned battles and war against other nations. After attacking Georgia and Armenia, he started planning to regain Sicily, but died in 1025 before executing his plan. At the time of his death, the empire expanded over the lands from Spain to Baghdad. He was buried on the outskirts of Constantinople, but his tomb was later pillaged in 1204 by crusaders during the Fourth Crusade.

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