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BASIL

Sclerus, whom the eunuch deposed from his post of general in the East. He belonged to the powerful landed aristocracy of Asia Minor, whose pretensions were a perpetual menace to the throne. He made himself master of the Asiatic provinces and threatened Constantinople. To oppose him, Bardas Phocas, another general who had revolted in the previous reign and been interned in a monastery, was recalled. Defeated in two battles, he was victorious in a third and the revolt was suppressed (979). Phocas remained general in the East till 987, when he rebelled and was proclaimed emperor by his troops. It seems that the minister Basileios was privy to this act, and the cause was dissatisfaction at the energy which was displayed by the emperor, who showed that he was determined to take the administration into his own hands and personally to control the army. Phocas advanced to the Hellespont and besieged Abydos. Basil obtained timely aid, in the shape of Varangian mercenaries, from his brother-in-law Vladimir, the Russian prince of Kiev, and marched to Abydos. The two armies were facing each other, when Basil galloped forward, seeking a personal combat with the usurper who was riding in front of his lines. Phocas, just as he prepared to face him, fell from his horse and was found to be dead. This ended the rebellion.

The fall of Basileios followed; he was punished with exile and the confiscation of his enormous property. Basil made ruthless war upon the system of immense estates which had grown up in Asia Minor and which his predecessor, Romanus I., had endeavoured to check. (For this evil and the legislation which was aimed at it see Roman Empire, Later.) He sought to protect the lower and middle classes.

Basil gained some successes against the Saracens (995); but his most important work in the East was the annexation of the principalities of Armenia. He created in those highlands a strongly fortified frontier, which, if his successors had been capable, should have proved an effective barrier against the invasions of the Seljuk Turks. The greatest achievement of the reign was the subjugation of Bulgaria. After the death of Tzimisces (who had reduced only the eastern part of the Bulgarian kingdom), the power of Bulgaria was restored by the Tsar Samuel, in whom Basil found a worthy foe. The emperor's first efforts against him were unsuccessful (981), and the war was not resumed till 996, Samuel in the meantime extending his rule along the Adriatic coast and imposing his lordship on Servia. Eastern Bulgaria was finally recovered in 1000; but the war continued with varying successes till 1014, when the Bulgarian army suffered an overwhelming defeat. Basil blinded 15,000 prisoners, leaving a one-eyed man to every hundred to lead them to their tsar, who fainted at the sight and died two days later. The last sparks of resistance were extinguished in 1018, and the great Slavonic realm lay in the dust. The power of Byzantium controlled once more the Illyrian peninsula. Basil died in December 1025 in the midst of preparations to send a naval expedition to recover Sicily from the Saracens.

Basil's reign marks the highest point of the power of the Eastern empire since Justinian I. Part of the credit is due to his predecessors Nicephorus and Tzimisces, but the greater part belongs to him. He dedicated himself unsparingly to the laborious duties of ruling, and he had to reckon throughout with the ill-will of a rich and powerful section of his subjects. He was hard and cruel, without any refinement or interest in culture. In a contemporary psalter (preserved in the library of St Mark at Venice) there is a portrait of him, with a grey beard, crowned and robed in imperial costume.

Authorities—Leo Diaconus (ed. Bonn, 1828); Psellus, History (ed. Sathas, London, 1899); George Cedrenus (Chronicle, transcribed from the work of John Scylitzes, vol. ii., ed. Bonn, 1839); Zonaras, bk. xvii. (ed. Bonn, vol. iii., 1897); Cecaumenus, Strategikon (ed. Vasilievski and Jernstedt, St Petersburg, 1896); Yahyā of Antioch (contemporary Asiatic chronicle), extracts with Russian translation by Rosen (St Petersburg, 1883); Al Mekin (Elmacinus), Historia Saracenica, (ed. with Latin translation by Erpenius, Leiden, 1625); "Laws (Novellae) of Basil" (ed. Zachariä von Lingenthal, in Jus Graeco-Romanum, vol. iii., 1853); Finlay, Hist. of Greece; Gibbon, Decline and Fall; G. Schlumberger, L'Épopée byzantine, part i. and part ii. (Paris, 1896, 1900).

 (J. B. B.) 


BASIL (Russ. Vasily), the name of four grand-dukes of Moscow and tsars of Muscovy.

Basil I. Dmitrevich (1371-1425), son of Dmitri (Demetrius) Donskoi, whom he succeeded in 1389, married Sophia, the daughter of Vitovt, grand-duke of Lithuania. In his reign the grand-duchy of Muscovy became practically hereditary, and asserted its supremacy over all the surrounding principalities. Nevertheless Basil received his yarluik, or investiture, from the Golden Horde and was compelled to pay tribute to the grand khan, Tokhtamuish. He annexed the principality of Suzdal to Moscovy, together with Murom, Kozelsk Peremyshl, and other places; reduced the grand-duchy of Rostov to a state of vassalage; and acquired territory from the republic of Great Novgorod by treaty. In his reign occurred the invasion of Timur (1395), who ruined the Volgan regions, but did not penetrate so far as Moscow. Indeed Timur's raid was of service to the Russian prince as it all but wiped out the Golden Horde, which for the next twelve years was in a state of anarchy. During the whole of this time no tribute was paid to the khan, though vast sums of money were collected in the Moscow treasury for military purposes. In 1408 the Mirza Edigei ravaged Muscovite territory, but was unable to take Moscow. In 1412, however, Basil found it necessary to pay the long-deferred visit of submission to the Horde. The most important ecclesiastical event of the reign was the elevation of the Bulgarian, Gregory Tsamblak, to the metropolitan see of Kiev (1425) by Vitovt, grand-duke of Lithuania; the immediate political consequence of which was the weakening of the hold of Muscovy on the south-western Russian states. During Basil's reign a terrible visitation of the "Black Death" decimated the population.

See T. Schiemann, Russland bis ins 17. Jahrkundert (Gotha, 1885-1887).

Basil II., called Temny ("the Blind") (1415-1462), son of the preceding, succeeded his father as grand-duke of Moscow in 1425. He was a man of small ability and unusual timidity, though not without tenacity of purpose. Nevertheless, during his reign Moscow steadily increased in power, as if to show that the personality of the grand-dukes had become quite a subordinate factor in its development. In 1430 Basil was seized by his uncle, George of Halicz, and sent a prisoner to Kostroma; but the nation, dissatisfied with George, released Basil and in 1433 he returned in triumph to Moscow. George, however, took the field against him and Basil fled to Novgorod. On the death of George, Basil was at constant variance with George's children, one of whom, Basil, he had blinded; but in 1445 the grand-duke fell into the hands of blind Basil's brother, Shemyak, and was himself deprived of his sight and banished to Uglich (1445). The clergy and people, however, being devoted to the grand-duke, assisted him not only to recover his throne a second time, but to put Shemyak to flight, and to seize Halicz, his patrimony. During the remainder of Basil II.'s reign he slowly and unobtrusively added district after district to the grand-duchy of Muscovy, so that, in fine, only the republics of Novgorod and Pskov and the principalities of Tver and Vereya remained independent of Moscow. Yet all this time the realm was overrun continually by the Tatars and Lithuanians, and suffered severely from their depredations. Basil's reign saw the foundation of the Solovetsk monastery and the rise of the khanate of the Crimea. In 1448 the north Russian Church became virtually independent of the patriarchal see of Constantinople by adopting the practice of selecting its metropolitan from among native priests and prelates exclusively.

See S. M. Solovev, History of Russia (Russ.), (Petersburg, 1895).

Basil III., Ivanovich (1479-1533), tsar of Muscovy, son of Ivan III. and Sophia Palaeologa, succeeded his father in 1505. A crafty prince, with all the tenacity of his race, Basil succeeded in incorporating with Muscovy the last remnants of the ancient independent principalities, by accusing the princes of Ryazan and Syeversk of conspiracy against him, seizing their persons, and annexing their domains (1517-1523). Seven years earlier (24th of January 1510) the last free republic of old Russia, Pskov, was deprived of its charter and assembly-bell, which were sent