Post-classical history

Basil the Macedonian

[867-86]

I doubt whether any other family has ever been so much favoured by God as [that of the Macedonians] has been: which is strange when one considers the criminal manner of its coming to power, and how it was born of murder and bloodshed. And yet the plant took root, and sent out such mighty shoots, each bearing imperial fruit, that no other can be compared with it for beauty and splendour.

Michael Psellus

Relieved at last of the dead weight of his co-ruler, Basil lost no time in setting the Empire on a radically different course. Michael's body was hardly cold before Photius was dismissed from the Patriarchate. It was not an unpopular decision. Photius had not raised a finger in condemnation of the murder of Caesar Bardas, nor of the obscene and sacrilegious cavortings of the pitiable Emperor - whom, it was rumoured, he had once challenged to a drinking-bout and had beaten by sixty cups to fifty; distinguished churchmen who had stood next to him during Mass were ready to swear that he would murmur passages of secular Greek poetry instead of the liturgy; and the majority of thinking Byzantines had been deeply shocked by his cynical willingness to grant Lewis II imperial recognition in return for ephemeral advantage. For the Patriarch, none the less, it was a stab in the back, delivered at precisely the moment when his plans were coming to fruition and his long battle with Pope Nicholas almost won. His humiliation was further intensified by the reinstatement two months later of his old adversary Ignatius, whose bigotry he deplored and whose intellect he despised.

What were the reasons for this dramatic volte-face? Basil had presided, with his co-Emperor, over the Council at which the Pope had been anathematized and Photius had attained all his immediate objectives. Why, the moment he found himself his own master, did he initiate a policy that could be interpreted as an effective recognition of papal supremacy - one that ran, moreover, directly counter to everything on which he had set his seal less than two months before? Simply because for him, materialist and man of action that he was, there were issues more important than the right of patriarchal selection; and foremost among these issues was the recovery of the Empire's western provinces. For the first time since Justinian - we can discount the ineffectual and mildly ridiculous attempt of Constans II in the seventh century - the Byzantine throne was occupied by a ruler who had thought long and hard about reconquest and was determined to achieve it. That task, he knew, would be immeasurably helped by papal support, and for such support the reinstatement of Ignatius was a small enough price to pay. Already by the time Photius was informed of his dismissal, imperial legates were on their way to Rome.

Whether or not Pope Nicholas would have been prepared to accept the Emperor's sudden change of heart we cannot tell; he died on 13 November 867. His successor Hadrian II shared his views, but was of a milder, less tempestuous character; besides, he had not himself been the victim of any personal attack. He therefore interpreted Basil's friendly overtures as a sign of contrition and willingly accepted his invitation to send delegates to yet another Council at Constantinople, by which the schism so regrettably engineered by Photius would be healed at last. When, however, this new assembly held its opening session at the beginning of October 869, the papal delegates at once discovered that Basil was neither contrite nor particularly submissive. Their assumption that they would be invited to preside was firmly corrected; the basileus himself, or his accredited representative, would take the chair.1 Later, when they finally reached the most important item on the agenda - the fate of Photius - Basil refused to accept their demand for his immediate condemnation unheard, insisting that the former Patriarch be permitted to stand before them and speak in his own defence. In fact, when Photius did appear, he wisely refused to say a word; and he continued silent when, on 5 November, sentence of anathema was pronounced upon him. But this hardly mattered. Where Basil was concerned, two important points of principle had been made: first, that the correct Byzantine - not Roman — legal procedure had been complied with in every detail, leaving the accused no grounds on which to appeal; second, that he himself - and not the papal legates - had delivered the verdict.

1 Of the ten sessions of the Council, the Emperor in fact attended only the sixth, seventh, eighth and last; during all the others his place was taken by the propositus Baanes.

The Council continued to sit, sporadically, until February 870; shortly before it closed, however, two separate embassies arrived in Constantinople within a few days of each other. The first had been sent by Boris of Bulgaria. He was still dissatisfied. Converting his people to Christianity was proving a good deal more troublesome than he had imagined. In the four and a half years since his baptism he had been obliged to put down a rebellion of local boyars that had almost cost him his throne; he had quarrelled with Byzantium over Photius's high-handed and patronizing attitude and his refusal to grant him a Bulgar Patriarch; and although he had been initially delighted with Pope Nicholas's more generous response to his approaches, it was gradually becoming clear to him that his honeymoon with Rome was over. Bishop Formosus - his particular friend - and Paul of Populonia had been recalled; the Roman missionaries were rapidly making themselves every bit as disliked as their Orthodox predecessors. Worst of all, the new Pope, Hadrian, seemed even more determined than Nicholas not to allow him his Patriarch, or even an archbishop. Once already he had turned the Roman-Byzantine dispute to his advantage; despite the ostensible reconciliation, there might be a chance of doing so again. His envoys had one question only to ask the Council, but that question was the one which, more than any other, could be guaranteed to sow the maximum dissension among the delegates: if he were to have no Patriarch of his own, to which see did Bulgaria belong, Constantinople or Rome?

Basil himself forbore to reply. Instead, he referred the question to the theoretically neutral representatives of the other three Patriarchates: Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Neither he nor anyone else present had any doubt as to what the answer would be. The papal legates, in a minority of two, protested as forcibly as they could; but nobody took much notice. In the highest possible dudgeon they took ship for Rome; and their tempers could hardly have been improved when, as their vessel entered the Adriatic, they were seized by Dalmatian pirates who stripped them of all that they possessed and held them for nine months before allowing them to continue on their journey.

And so Bulgaria returned to the Orthodox fold, in which it has remained to the present day; and with Photius out of the way Boris had no difficulty in finally getting what he wanted. In St Sophia on 4 March, Ignatius consecrated a Bulgarian archbishop and several bishops. Technically they were to remain under the authority of Constantinople, but in the day-to-day running of their affairs they were to be autonomous. Basil had given his full approval; he was fully conscious, however, of the price he had had to pay - his recentrapprochement with Rome, for which Photius had been sacrificed in vain.

The second embassy to arrive on the Bosphorus that February carried a letter from Lewis II. Its tone was distinctly unpleasant. The Emperor of the West considered that he had been insulted, and was writing to express his indignation. Two years before, while he had been unsuccessfully laying siege to Muslim-held Bari, Basil had offered him the services of the Byzantine navy, proposing at the same time a marriage between his eldest son Constantine and Lewis's daughter Hermingarde. Lewis had sent a favourable reply, and in 869 the fleet had set sail for Bari. It had arrived, however, only after the Franks had gone into their winter quarters, and the Byzantine admiral Nicetas had been horrified to find his new allies not only far fewer in number than he had been led to expect but roaring drunk into the bargain. He had immediately sought out the Emperor and, scarcely bothering to conceal his contempt, had addressed him as King of the Franks. Lewis had protested and a furious argument had ensued, in consequence of which Nicetas and most of the fleet had returned at once to Constantinople, the Frankish envoys following shortly afterwards. Admitted to Basil's presence, they left him in no doubt of their master's wrath - simultaneously emphasizing his claim, not just to the title of Emperor of the Franks but to another, more resonant still, which the Byzantines had withheld even from Charlemagne: Imperator Romanorum, Emperor of the Romans.1

Thus, within a matter of weeks, Basil had antagonized both his prospective allies. Where the Pope was concerned, the recovery of Bulgaria had been a worthwhile quid pro quo; but the quarrel with Lewis brought no compensating advantage — only an acrimonious correspondence over his claim, in the course of which both parties became more and more deeply entrenched in the positions that they already held. Since both were also rivals for the possession of south Italy, their relations might easily have deteriorated still further, to the point of open war; fortunately, however; the Emperor fell foul of Adelchis, the Lombard Duke of Benevento, by whom in 871 he and his wife were both taken prisoner; they were given their freedom only after Lewis had sworn on the Gospels that he would never again enter the territory of the Duchy under arms. He soon obtained papal dispensation from his enforced oath and in 872 actually managed to drive the Saracens from Capua; but thereafter his strength began to fail and he retired to the north, where three years later he died near Brescia, leaving no male heir.

While the Byzantine fleet was occupied - or, more accurately, unoccupied - in the Adriatic, the bulk of the army was engaged in the East. Here the Empire had not one enemy but two: the Saracens and the Paulicians, whose numbers were once again on the increase and who were now spreading westward across Asia Minor. In two whirlwind campaigns Basil and his brother-in-law Christopher drove deep into their heartland, and in 872 destroyed the fortified city of Tephrike, the principal base for their raiding operations, killing their leader Chrysocheirus. Then, having effectively eliminated the Paulician threat in the region, they turned their attention to the Saracens, for the next ten years keeping up a continual pressure which won them Zapetra and Samosata, together with several other strongholds in the Euphrates Valley. Admittedly there were failures too: Melitene, always a trouble spot, stubbornly resisted all attempts to take it by storm, and in 883 the imperial forces suffered a serious setback near Tarsus which briefly robbed them of their momentum. But not for long: those first victories by Bardas and Petronas almost thirty years before could now be seen for what they were: not just a few neglible flashes in the pan, but the beginning of a sustained and spectacular advance which would reach its climax only with the campaigns of the Emperors Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces, a hundred years into the future.

In Western Europe, Byzantine successes were on much the same scale. True, Basil failed in his attempts to recover Crete and Sicily — whose last major stronghold, Syracuse, was to fall in 878; but he was able to expel the Saracens from the entire Dalmatian coast (which became an imperial Theme) and in 873 established his suzerainty over Adelchis of Benevento. The same year saw the recovery of Otranto, and three years later Bari too recognized him as its overlord. With this vital bridgehead under his control he was able to launch a major offensive in the following decade as a result of which, thanks to the brilliant general Nicephorus Phocas,2 virtually the whole of south Italy was restored to Byzantine authority before the end of the century. To the Papacy and the Western Empire alike, there could be no clearer indication that Byzantium had surrendered

1 The modern Divrigi - where, three and a half centuries later, the Seljuk Turks were to build one of the most remarkable mosques in all Anatolia.

2 Not, of course, to be confused with his grandson the Emperor.

none of its claims to Italian dominion. Nor were these victories confined to operations on land. The imperial navy, after a long period of neglect, had been taken in hand by Theoctistus and Bardas, who had made it once again a force to be reckoned with; Basil now energetically continued the work that they had begun, and it was thanks above all to him - and to his son and grandson after him - that it was to become the envy of all their rivals, the most efficient and highly trained that the world had ever seen, patrolling the coasts, policing the high seas and attacking the Saracen raiding parties whenever and wherever they might be found.

Missionary work too went on apace. One by one the Slav tribes of the Balkans embraced the Christian faith; and although Roman influence was to prevail in Croatia and the northern part of the Dalmatian coast -and also in Moravia, where Cyril and Methodius had had to admit defeat - in Serbia, Macedonia and Greece the Orthodox rule and the supremacy of Constantinople were alike enthusiastically adopted.

Much of this success can be dated to the second Patriarchate of Ignatius. Paradoxically, however, it was precisely these ecclesiastical triumphs which led to the return of Photius from exile. His recall is unlikely to have caused him much surprise. He knew that his followers were just as numerous as those of his rival, and a good deal more intelligent; and during his seven-year banishment it became patently obvious that the sudden and dramatic expansion of the Orthodox faith was creating huge problems, both theological and administrative, with which the ill-educated old Patriarch was totally unfitted to deal. Ignatius had watched, helpless but perhaps secretly relieved, as more and more self-confessed Photians were promoted to key positions in the hierarchy; he seems to have raised no objection when, in 874 or 875, their leader himself was recalled to the capital, given charge of the University of The Magnaura and, in a surely conclusive demonstration of confidence, entrusted with the education of the Emperor's sons; and when, on 23 October877, he finally expired at the age of eighty, it was Photius who for the second time assumed the patriarchal throne1 and who three

1 The Continuator tells an extraordinary story of how Photius engineered his own recall by fabricating a document that purported to trace Basil's descent from the Parthians of ancient Persia. This he arranged to be placed in the imperial library and produced, as if by chance, during a visit by the Emperor - who, when he sought an interpretation, was to be told that only Photius was sufficiently learned to provide one. This story could just possibly be true: Basil was for ever trying to glorify his ancestry, and Photius was certainly more than capable of such a deception.

years later received — not that he particularly wanted it - official recognition from Pope John VIII.

During this Indian summer of his extraordinary career, Photius composed what must be considered a form of testament, setting out for posterity his view of the office of Patriarch and its relationship with the imperial throne. To place this in its proper context, however, we must look for a moment at another of Basil's achievements, and a particularly remarkable one for the illiterate 'Macedonian' that he was: his revision of Roman law. Such a revision, on such a scale, had not been attempted since the days of Justinian, over three centuries before; and although Leo III had produced a short work known as the Ecloga, designed as a practical companion for working judges, this itself was now inadequate and obsolete. Basil's intention was to produce a mighty compendium which he described as an anacatharsis - or purification — of the old laws, which would once again be collected, collated and where necessary reconciled; but it was never completed in his lifetime, nor ever as originally conceived. What did appear was a shorter work known as the Procheiron, or Handbook, which contained a resume of the most important and regularly applicable legislation, grouped for convenience under forty principal headings. This was followed, towards the end of Basil's reign - indeed it bears the names of his sons Leo and Alexander as well as his own - by the Epanagoge, or Summary. Much of this second work is little more than a rearrangement of the first, but it is supplemented by a body of new material dealing with the rights and responsibilities of the Emperor, the Patriarch and various other high dignitaries of Church and State; and in it the hand of Photius is unmistakable. According to the theory there propounded, the Byzantine Empire is a single polity headed joindy by Emperor and Patriarch, working together in parallel for the material and spiritual well-being of their subjects. Such, it is true, had by no means been the pattern during most of the past century; but though the hypothesis might represent an ideal dispensation rather than the real one it was no less valid on that account. The pity was that it was not to enjoy universal endorsement - as the Patriarch was soon to discover to his cost.

There seems little doubt that — at least during the final decade of his reign - Basil began to see himself as another Justinian and to act accordingly. He was reconquering Italy; he was collecting and revising the laws; and he had also embarked on a vast building programme, with all the enthusiasm of his illustrious exemplar and on a similarly ambitious scale. There had been few new constructions under the ninth-century iconoclasts until the days of Theophilus, who had deliberately restricted his own programme to domestic architecture. Not only had no new churches been built; many of the older ones had been culpably neglected and were now in urgent need of repair — including St Sophia itself, where the great western arch had been damaged in the severe earthquake of 9January 869 and was now in imminent danger of collapse. Basil saved it in the nick of time, and adorned it with a mosaic of the Virgin and Child, flanked by SS. Peter and Paul.' The old Church of the Holy Apostles was in a still sorrier state. Originally founded by Constantine, it had been completely rebuilt by Justinian; but the foundations had always been inadequate and it was now crumbling again. Basil repaired it from top to bottom, revetting the lower walls with slabs of polychrome marble and covering the upper parts with mosaics depicting the entire life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Passion. Many other, humbler shrines were similarly restored and in several cases re-roofed, the old wooden roofs - always a dangerous fire risk - being replaced by new ones of stone, frequently domed.

But the Emperor's greatest architectural triumph was his new church which - although formally dedicated to St Michael, the Prophet Elijah,2 the Mother of God and St Nicholas - was always called just that: the Nea. It stood within the precincts of the Great Palace, immediately to the east of the Emperor's private apartments, and no expense was spared on either its construction or its decoration. If Basil was the Justinian of his day, this was his St Sophia. Its cluster of gilded domes could be seen from all over the city and from far out at sea; within the central rotunda was a dazzling mosaic of Christ Pantocrator - the Ruler of All - while the others carried representations of angels and archangels, martyrs and apostles, patriarchs and prophets. Most sumptuous of all - according to Photius, who has left us a detailed description of the whole church - was the iconostasis, which was of gold and silver, studded with precious stones. Behind it, the high altar was 'of a material more precious than gold' - presumably it too was set with jewels and enamels - and surmounted by a ciborium on columns of silver-gilt. Of the three apses

1 This was to be destroyed, aias, in the even greater earthquake of 26 October 989. See C. Mango, The Mosaics of St Sophia at Istanbul, pp. 76-80.

2 Who was said to have appeared to Basil's mother in a dream, encouraging her to allow her son to travel to Constantinople, where a glorious future awaited him.

that closed the east end, the central one contained a mosaic of the Virgin 'extending her pure hands towards us and granting to the Emperor long life and victory over his enemies'.

For the Great Palace itself, Basil provided a new treasury, resplendent new baths and another triclinium; he also largely rebuilt the Chalke, endowing it with new marbles and mosaics appropriate to what was, after all, the principal gateway into the imperial residence. It was the same with the other palaces - the Mangana, the Magnaura, the Eleuthera, the Hieria, St Mamas: none escaped his attention. Few Emperors if any did more to ensure that Constantinople remained what it had always been - the most opulent city in the world, a vast treasure-house that was itself a treasure. It is a sad irony indeed that, in the whole of that city, there now survives of his work not one stone resting on another.

By the high summer of the year 879, Basil the Macedonian could look back on twelve years of quite remarkable success. His armed forces were stronger than they had ever been. To both east and west, the Saracens were in retreat. The Paulicians had been crushed. The Bulgars and the Serbs had been converted, and had entered the Orthodox fold. The Photian schism was over, having effectively proved to the Pope in Rome that Byzantium was not to be trifled with. The revision of the laws was well under way, with theProcheiron already published and work on the Epanagogeproceeding apace. The principal buildings of the capital had been restored and embellished, while at the point where the grounds of the Palace swept down to the Marmara his own great church, the Nea, rose tall and triumphant, a continuing reminder to the world of the majesty and magnificence of its founder. In little over a decade the coarse and illiterate Armenian peasant, who had reached the throne by way of two of the vilest murders that even Byzantine history could recall, had proved himself the greatest Emperor since Justinian.

And Justinian had had no son to succeed him; Basil, truthfully or not, could claim four. For the three younger ones he cared litde - his second, Leo, he loathed — but his eldest son, Constantine, the only child of his first wife Maria, was the apple of his eye: the only human being, perhaps, whom he ever really loved. Outstandingly handsome and possessed of all Basil's superb physique, Constantine had been little more than a boy when he had first accompanied his father into battle, mounted on a snow-white horse and wearing, we are told, golden armour. In 869 he had been crowned co-Emperor and, if the preliminary negotiations had not turned sour, might well have married the daughter of Lewis II, thus uniting both Eastern and Western Empires under his sway. He nevertheless showed high promise of proving himself, in the fullness of time, as great a ruler as his father - perhaps even greater.

And then, suddenly, at the beginning of September 879, he was dead. The circumstances of his death are unknown, but Basil never recovered from the blow. This, as he saw it, was divine retribution — God's punishment for the murder of His anointed. Despite all that he had achieved, despite even the building of the most resplendent church in Christendom, he had not been forgiven. From that moment he began to withdraw further and further into himself, lapsing into deep depressions which occasionally led to bouts of insanity. At such times, one man only could hope to control him: Photius. He would humour the distracted Emperor by arranging ever more elaborate Masses for the soul of Constantine, whom he ultimately went so far as to canonize; when that was no longer enough, he and his close friend Theodore Santabarenus, Archbishop of Euchaites, even engineered a seance in which Basil was confronted with what he believed to be the shade of his son on a white charger, carrying a lance and clad from head to foot in gold — only to see the apparition fade away as he approached to embrace it.1

In all these activities, if the Continuator is to be believed, the Patriarch had one overriding object in view: to prevent the succession of Basil's second son and now his heir apparent, Leo. We do not know why this should be: the boy was quick-tempered and generally judged to be somewhat overfond of women - his relationship with the beautiful Zoe Zautsina was already causing much clicking of tongues - but there was no reason to think that he might not make a fine basileus, nor is it easy to accept the theory that Photius was working for the restoration of the Amorian dynasty, to which he was related only distantly and by marriage. However that may be, he did all he could to work on Basil's known dislike of his son - and to considerable effect.

When Leo was just sixteen he had been married off, much against his will, to a relative of Eudocia's, an ill-favoured girl of asphyxiating piety named Theophano; he had, however, steadfastly refused to give up Zoe. Theophano had complained to Basil, who had flown into a fury and flogged his son with his own hands till the blood came, Zoe for her part being banished from the capital and married off in turn to a certain

1 However this trick was performed, there can be little doubt that the story itself is true, since Basil is known to have built a church on the spot where he saw the vision.

Theodore Gutzuniates, of whom little is known — or needs to be. Meanwhile the Patriarch continued his whispering campaign, dropping ever darker hints of conspiracies and treachery. Given his mental and emotional state, the old Emperor proved all too easily persuaded. Only a year or so later, the young prince was arrested and imprisoned without trial, narrowly escaping with his eyes. He remained a captive for the next three months,1 after which his father reluctantly freed him.

What prompted his release is unclear. Leo himself attributed it to the merciful intervention of the Prophet Elijah; hardly more probable is the claim of certain chroniclers that the Emperor's decision was largely due to a parrot, persistently squawking 'Alas, poor Leo!' from its cage in the imperial dining hall: such a lamentation, one suspects, would have been far more likely to result in Basil's wringing the bird's neck with his own hands. More probably he simply gave in to public pressure, for Leo was highly popular everywhere outside his immediate family and had never been charged with any crime. The Emperor, however, remained unconvinced: not long afterwards when his son, restored to his honours and dignities and marching in a state procession, was suddenly greeted by the crowd with a round of applause, the old man could not resist shouting back to them that their cheers were unjustified, since the boy would surely cause them much sorrow and distress in the future.

In these last tormented years, Basil found some slight relief from his sufferings in the chase; and it was while hunting near his country palace of Apamea in the summer of 886 that he met his end. How he did so remains a mystery. Most of the chroniclers record that he died as a result of a hunting accident, and leave it at that; two, Simeon the Logothete and the anonymous author of the Vita S. Euthymii, give us a detailed account of what they claim to have occurred, but the story they tell is so improbable that our suspicions are immediately aroused. According to their version Basil was riding alone — 'for his companions were tired' -when he surprised an enormous stag drinking at a stream. He spurred his horse towards it, but the animal suddenly turned and charged, somehow contriving to hook its antlers under his belt and pull him from

1 The fourteenth-century chronicler Nicephorus Gregoras, whose history does not cover this period, mentions in passing that Leo's imprisonment lasted three years - a statement that has been almost universally accepted by modern historians. Our tenth-century sources, on the other hand, either give its duration as three months or take refuge in vague phrases which nevertheless suggest a relatively short period. See Vogt, 'La Jeunesse de Leon VI le Sage' in Revue Historique, Vol. clxxiv, p. 424.

his saddle. It then galloped off into the forest, dragging the helpless Emperor with it.

The rest of the party were unaware of what had happened until they saw their master's riderless horse approaching; a small group of Farghanese1 then started off in pursuit and finally caught up with the stag, surrounding it and slowly closing in until one of them was able to cut Basil free with his sword. The Emperor fell senseless to the ground, and while the others crowded round him the stag escaped. (It was never caught.) When he recovered consciousness, his first act was to order the immediate execution of the guard who had freed him, on the grounds that he had raised his sword against his sovereign; he next commanded that the distance should be measured from the place where the accident had occurred. (This was later calculated to be sixteen miles.) Only then would he allow himself to be carried back to the Palace, where he was found to have suffered a severe haemorrhage of the stomach. After lingering nine days in agony, he died on 29 August. He was seventy-four years old.

What are we to make of this absurd farrago? Why, first of all, in the name of elementary prudence - let alone imperial protocol - was a mentally disturbed Emperor in his middle seventies left completely unattended? How, experienced hunter that he was, did he allow such an accident to occur? Why did he not himself slash through his belt, with the knife that he always carried? Why, come to that, did the stag not free itself from its burden before making its escape? And, having failed to do so, could it really have dragged a man famous for his colossal physique sixteen miles across rough forest country? All this sounds suspicious enough; but it becomes still more so when we discover that the rescue party was led by the Armenian Stylian Zautses, father of the mistress of young Leo and soon to be the most powerful man in the Empire after the Emperor himself.

And so we come to the last and most important question of all: did Basil the Macedonian meet his death, as the chroniclers claim, through an unfortunate (and extremely improbable) hunting accident, or was he murdered by Stylian - presumably with the knowledge and approval of his son Leo? Motives, certainly, would not have been lacking. The old man was growing increasingly unbalanced. Once already he had thrown Leo into prison; and he was perfectly capable, from one moment to the next, of ordering his execution. Stylian was in similar danger; he was

1 The Emperor's Turkish bodyguard, composed of slaves imported from the lands beyond the Oxus. So many of them came from Farghana that the name was indiscriminately applied to them all.

known to be one of the closest associates of the young prince who, if he were to replace his father on the throne, would almost certainly manage to rid himself of the insufferable Theophano and make Stylian's daughter Zoe his Empress - as indeed he subsequendy did.

But for none of this do we have any hard evidence, let alone a shred of proof; and the verdict must remain open. We can only say that, if there is ever any possible justification for patricide - always assuming that Basil was in fact his father - Leo might have claimed it; and that none of the benefits that the old man had conferred upon his Empire -his military victories, his settlement of religious conflicts, his legal revisions, his financial and administrative reforms, the political stability that he created, the arts and sciences that he encouraged, the superb buildings with which he adorned his capital and, by no means least, the vastly increased prestige that he won for Byzantium in both the East and the West - could mitigate the brutality and bloodshed by which he had come to power. If, as seems likely, he himself died by an assassin's hand, his fate was not undeserved.

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