Sunday, October 09, 2011

From a Groom to an Emperor – Part IV – Basil the Noble.

Basil I the Macedonian (867-886) showed during his two decades of reign that he was worthy of the crown of the Byzantine emperor. With skillful and prudent policy, both internal and external, he had greatly improved the Empire. 

In order to somewhat mitigate Basil’s dark and violent rise to the throne of Constantinople, his descendant – son Leo VI the Wise (886-912) and grandson Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (912-959) – and almost the entire official historiography of the Macedonian dynasty with them, reached for fictional genealogy. 

In Basil, on one hand, they saw a distant descendant of Arsacid, known Parthian royal house that was in the 3rd century BC founded by Arsaces I, and later, with kindred, connected to Persian Sassanid Empire, as well as young Armenian state. From his mother’s side, Basil was allegedly associated with Constantine the Great, and by some with Alexander the Great. 

It is interesting to note that the later Byzantine writers have, in different ways, accepted these incredible assumptions. For example, in the 11th century, John Skylitzes gives them, without any intellectual doubt, an unconditional trust. Unlike Skylitzes, John Zonaras (first half of the 12th century) dismisses the whole story of Basil’s ancient nobility and notes that the founder of the Macedonian dynasty comes from Macedonia, from insignificant and unknown fathers, regardless the fact that some of those who wrote about him made up that he was a descendant of Arsacid.

Another legend, that sounds tempting but suffers from a lack of historical credibility, contributes to a new mystery around Basil I the Macedonian. It is a famous word BECLAS, an acronym of Basil’s closest family -  in the first place Basil himself, then his wife Eudokia, and, finally, his sons Constantine, Leo, Alexander and Stephen. This acrostic is recorded by Patriarch Photius (858-867, 877-886) who wrote many stories about Basil’s “nobility”. 

As written by the Byzantine writer Niketas David Paphlagon, the genealogy of the founder of Macedonian dynasty was put together by Photius, who, with the help of some priest, wrote a great number of lies with Alexandrian literate on the oldest paper, to imitate an ancient manuscript.  He then put an ancient cover on it that he took from some ancient book, and secretly placed his work among other books in the royal library.

Leaving aside the veracity of this interesting story by Niketas David Paphlagon, it is probably possible that the Byzantines themselves were well aware that genealogy could be forged, and that many of them are indeed forged.

Invention of legends is not typical just for Byzantine Empire, but also for a number of other states of the medieval world. Furthermore, it is not exaggeration if we say that false genealogies are being created even in our time. Unfortunately, a great number of people is blindly convinced in such forged genealogies.

Whatever the case, the assumption that Basil I the Macedonian, man who was capable and discerning enough to become emperor from a groom, was not familiar with the compilation of "fabricated" genealogy that celebrates antiquity of his imperial home, seems unlikely.

To return to Part III – „The one who sleeps beside”, click HERE.

To return to Part I – A boy named Basil, click HERE.

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