Basil I

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Basil I, called the Macedonian (Greek: Βασίλειος ὁ Μακεδών, Basíleios hō Makedṓn; 830/835 – 29 August 886) was a Byzantine emperor of Armenian descent who reigned from 867 to 886. Born a simple peasant in Thrace, he rose in the imperial court, and usurped the imperial throne from Michael III. Despite his humble origins, he showed great ability in running the affairs of state, leading a revival of imperial power and to a renaissance of Byzantine art. He was perceived by the Byzantines as one of their greatest emperors, and the dynasty he founded, the Macedonian (Greek: Μακεδονική δυναστεία), ruled over what is regarded as Byzantium's most glorious and prosperous era.


From peasant to emperor

Basil was born to Armenian parents in the 830s in the Byzantine theme of Macedonia (an administrative division corresponding to the area of Adrianople in Thrace).[2] While one source has claimed him to be of Slavic descent, such assumptions have been dismissed as fiction by the scholarly world.[3] The sole foundation of the Slavonic theory is that Arabic writers designate him as a Slav; this is explained by the Arabic view that all Macedonians were Slavs.[4] Basil's first language was Armenian, and he spoke Greek with a heavy accent.[5] A later story asserted that he had spent a part of his childhood in captivity in Bulgaria, where his family had, allegedly, been carried off as captives of the Khan Krum in 813 – however, Basil most likely was not born that early, but rather in the 830s. Basil lived there until 836, when he and several others escaped to Byzantine-held territory in Thrace.[6]

Basil was ultimately lucky enough to enter the service of Theophilitzes, a relative of the Caesar Bardas (the uncle of Emperor Michael III), as groom. While serving Theophilitzes, he visited the city of Patras, where he gained the favor of Danielis, a wealthy woman who took him into her household and endowed him with a fortune. He also earned the notice of Michael III by winning a victory over a Bulgarian champion in a wrestling match, and soon became the emperor's companion and bodyguard (parakoimomenos).

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