), emperor of the East, was the elder son of Romanus II., of the Macedonian dynasty, and was born in A. D. 958; he had a younger brother, Constantine, and two sisters, Anna and Theophano or Theophania. Romanus ordered that, after his death, which took place in 963, his infant sons should reign together, under the guardianship of their mother, Theophano or Theophania; but she married Nicephorus Phocas, the conqueror of Creta, and raised him to the throne, which he occupied till 969, when he was murdered by Joannes Zimisces, who succeeded to his place. Towards the end of 975, Zimisces received poison in Cilicia, and died in Constantinople in the month of January, 976.
After his death, Basil and Constantine ascended the throne; but Constantine, with the exception of some military expeditions, in which he distinguished himself, led a luxurious life in his palace in Constantinople, and the care of the government devolved upon Basil, who, after having spent his youth in luxuries and extravagances of every description, shewed himself worthy of his ancestor, Basil I., and was one of the greatest emperors that ruled over the Roman empire in the East.
The reign of Basil II. was an almost uninterrupted series of civil troubles and wars, in which, however, the imperial arms obtained extraordinary success.
The emperor generally commanded his armies in person, and became renowned as one of the greatest generals of his time. No sooner was he seated on the throne, than his authority was shaken by a revolt of Sclerus, who, after bringing the emperor to the brink of ruin, was at last defeated by the imperial general, Phocas, and obliged to take refuge among the Arabs. Otho II., emperor of Germany, who had married Theophania, the sister of Basil, claimed Calabria and Apulia, which belonged to the Greeks, but had been promised as a dower with Theophania. Basil, unable to send sufficient forces to Italy, excited the Arabs of Sicily against Otho, who, after obtaining great successes, lost an engagement with the Arabs, and on his flight was taken prisoner by a Greek galley, but nevertheless escaped, and was making preparations for a new expedition, when he was poisoned. (982.)
In consequence of his death, Basil was enabled to consolidate his authority in Southern Italy.
In different wars with Al-masin, the khalif of Baghdád, and the Arabs of Sicily, who were the scourge of the sea-towns of Southern Italy, the Greeks made some valuable conquests, although they were no adequate reward either for the expenses incurred or sacrifices made in these expeditions. Basil's greatest glory was the destruction of the kingdom of Bulgaria, which, as Gibbon says, was the most important triumph of the Roman arms since the time of Belisarius. Basil opened the war, which lasted, with a few interruptions, till 1018, with a successful campaign in 987; and, during the following years, he made conquest after conquest in the south-western part of that kingdom, to which Epeirus and a considerable part of Macedonia belonged. In 996, however, Samuel, the king of the Bulgarians, overran all Macedonia, laid siege to Thessalonica, conquered Thessaly, and penetrated into the Peloponnesus. Having marched back into Thessaly, in order to meet with the Greeks, who advanced in his rear, he was routed on the banks of the Sperchius, and hardly escaped death or captivity; his army was destroyed. In 999, the lieutenant of Basil, Nicephorus Xiphias, took the towns of Pliscova and Parasthlava in Bulgaria Proper.
But as early as 1002, Samuel again invaded Thrace and took Adrianople.
He was, however, driven back; and during the twelve following years the war seems to have been carried on with but little energy by either party.
It broke out again in 1014, and was signalized by an extraordinary success of the Greeks, who were commanded by their emperor and Nicephorus Xiphias. The Bulgarians were routed at Zetunium. Being incumbered on his march by a band of 15,000 prisoners, Basil gave the cruel order to put their eyes out, sparing one in a hundred, who was to lead one hundred of his blind companions to their native country. When Samuel beheld his unhappy warriors, thus mutilated and filling his camp with their cries, he fell senseless on the ground, and died two days afterwards. Bulgaria was not entirely subdued till 1017 and 1018, when it was degraded into a Greek thema, and governed by dukes.
This conquest continued a province of the Eastern empire till the reign of Isaac Angelus. (1185-1195.)
Among the other events by which the reign of Basil was signalised, the most remarkable were, a new revolt of Sclerus in 987, who was made prisoner by Phocas, but persuaded his victor to make common cause with him against the emperor, which Phocas did, whereupon they were both attacked by Basil, who killed Phocas in a battle, and granted a full pardon to the cunning Sclerus; the cession of Southern Iberia to the Greeks by its king David in 991; a glorious expedition against the Arabs in Syria and Phoenicia; a successful campaign of Basil in 1022 against the king of Northern Iberia, who was supported by the Arabs; and a dangerous mutiny of Sclerus and Phocas, the son of Nicephorus Phocas mentioned above, who rebelled during the absence of Basil in Iberia, but who were speedily brought to obedience. Notwithstanding his advanced age, Basil meditated the conquest of Sicily from the Arabs, and had almost terminated his preparations, when he died in the month of December, 1025, without leaving issue. His successor was his brother and co-regent, Constantine IX., who died in 1028.
It is said, and it cannot be doubted, that Basil, in order to expiate the sins of his youth, promised to become a monk, that he bore the frock of a monk under his imperial dress, and that he took a vow of abstinence.
He was of course much praised by the clergy; but he impoverished his subjects by his continual wars, which could not be carried on without heavy taxes ; he was besides very rapacious in accumulating treasures for himself; and it is said that he left the enormous sum of 200,000 pounds of gold, or nearly eight million pounds sterling. Zonaras (vol. ii. p. 225) multiplies the sum by changing pounds into talents; but this is either an enormous exaggeration, or the error of a copyist. Basil, though great as a general, was an unlettered, ignorant man, and during his long reign the arts and literature yielded to the power of the sword. (Cedren. p. 645, &c. ed. Paris; Glycas, p. 305, &c. ed. Paris; Zonar. vol. ii. p. 197, &c. ed. Paris; Theophan. p. 458, &c. ed. Paris.)