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The legend of Basil the Bulgar-slayer

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2016

Paul Stephenson
Historisches Seminar V: Byzantinistik, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz


This article surveys the reputation of the emperor Basil II as the Bulgar-slayer from the twentieth to the eleventh century. Basil featured in a number of historical and literary works at the time of the ‘Macedonian Struggle’ (1904-8). In the nineteenth century Basil was considered a key historical figure by those seeking to establish hellenic continuity: he had a particular connection with both Athens and Constantinople, the two poles of hellenism. Basil was largely ignored during the Tourkokratia, but for four centuries before 1453 he was considered an exemplary ruler. Stories of Basil’s martial prowess, particularly against the Bulgarians, circulated widely after his death in 1025. However, he was not called Voulgaroktonos until Byzantine struggles with Bulgaria recommenced, more than 150 years later.

Copyright © The Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham 2000

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15. Mango, ‘Byzantinism and Romantic Hellenism’, 42. Cf. Magdalino, ‘Hellenism and Nationalism’, 13-15, for the rediscovery of Athens, and hellenism, in twelfth-century Byzantium.

16. Paparrigopoulos, Istoria tou elliniki ethnous [1853], 105-6.

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26. These, amongst others, are noted by Laordas, V., I Pinelopi Delta kai i Makedonia (Thessaloniki 1958) 35 Google Scholar.

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33. Toynbee, Mediaeval and Modern Greece, 22-3.

34. Toynbee, Mediaeval and Modern Greece, 11. Toynbee was well aware that several such maps had been produced in the preceding years. The most thorough examples are contained in Cvijić, J.;, La péninsule balkanique. Géographie humaine (Paris 1918)Google Scholar.

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36. Clogg, R., Politics and the Academy. Arnold Toynbee and the Koraes Chair (London 1986)Google Scholar. Toynbee rapidly revised his findings for publication as The Western Question in Greece and Turkey. A study in the contact of civilisations (London 1922). Given the clear discrepancy between Toynbee’s and Miller’s sentiments at this time it is interesting to note that Miller had been the first-choice candidate for the Koraes Chair.

37. C. Mango, ‘The Phanariots and the Byzantine tradition’, in Clogg, ed., The Struggle for Greek Independence, 41-66, 50. Mango’s view may be contrasted with that held by his predecessor in Oxford’s Bywater and Sotheby Chair of Medieval and Modern Greek Language and Literature: Trypanis, C.A., ‘Greek literature since the Fall of Constantinople in 1453’, in C., & Jelavich, B., eds., The Balkans in Transition. Essays on the development of Balkan life and politics since the eighteenth century (Berkeley 1963) 227-57Google Scholar. For a less rosy, but generally positive view see the essays in Yiannis, J., ed., The Byzantine Tradition after the Fall of Constantinople (Charlottesville & Oxford 1991)Google Scholar.

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67. Grumel, Regestes, ed. Darrouzès, nos. 1002-3.

68. Beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur, 619; Michel, Humbert und Kerullarios, I, 20-3. These both seem to rely on Leib, B., Deux inédits byzantins sur les azymes au début du Xlle siècle (Orientalia Christiana 9. Paris 1924) 17-18Google Scholar, 53. However, Leib’s attribution was based on a second text written by Nicetas of Nicaea, on azymes. Others are less certain that both texts were written by the same author. See, for example, Runciman, S., The Eastern Schism. A study of the papacy and the eastern Churches during the Xlth and Xllth centuries (Oxford 1955) 33 Google Scholar.

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71. Michel, Humbert und Kerullarios, I, 20.

72. Hergenröther, Photius, Patriarch von Constantinopel, III, 248, 870-1; Michel, Humbert und Kerullarios, I, 30.

73. Mai, Novae Patrium Bibliothecae, 6/2, 448; MPG 719B: ‘…peri ton Latinon aitiamaton’. Tia Kolbaba drew this to my attention.

74. Grumel, Regestes, ed. Darrouzès, 330.

75. Hergenröther, J., ed., Monumenta Graeca ad Photium ejusque historiom pertinentia (Regensberg 1869; reprinted 1969) 171-81Google Scholar, from Cod. Marc. Gr. 575, fol. 380 seq., and Cod. Mon. Gr. 28, fol. 290 seq. I am grateful to Ruth Macrides for bringing this text to my attention.

76. Hergenröther, Photius, Patriarch von Constantinopel, III, 728, n. 110, judged to be incorrect in Grumel, Regestes, ed. Darrouzès, 329. For an overview of religious polemic of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, see Beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur, 663-89; Krumbacher, Geschichte des byzantinischen Literatur, 93-5, 113-15. Tia Kolbaba has indicated to me that the work in question almost certainly was composed after 1276. The author refers to ‘some people’ who claim that Photios started the schism when he wrote against the Franks in Bulgaria. This claim was made for the first time around the time of the Second Council of Lyon. I am very grateful to Dr. Kolbaba for her help in this matter, and in general for sharing with me her expertise on theological texts of this period.

77. Georgii Acropolitae Opera, ed. Heisenberg, A. (Leipzig 1903) I, 18.19-20Google Scholar; 23.16-19.

78. Nicetae Choniatae historiae, 373-4. This was written 1195-1203, and therefore pre-dates the second use of the epithet Voulgaroktonos by Michael Choniates in 1204.

79. Michail Akominatou tou Choniatou ta sozomena, ed. Lampros, S., 2 vols. (Athens 1880) II, 354 Google Scholar. This is noted by Loukaki, M., O Vasileios B’ Voulgaroktonos kai i Pinelopi Delta (Athens 1996) 46 Google Scholar. I am grateful to Peter Mackridge for his kindness in buying me a copy of this useful pamphlet, which appeared in the series Vyzantini pragmatikotita kai neoellinikes ermineies, referred to above (n. 12).

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81. Mango, C., ‘The conciliar edict of 1166’, DOP 17 (1963) 317-30Google Scholar, 324; Magdalino, Empire of Manuel Komnenos, 88, 287-8, 461-2.

82. Buck, CD. & Petersen, W., A Reverse Index of Greek Nouns and Adjectives (Chicago 1944) 282-3Google Scholar, lists 102 compound adjectives with the nasal termination ‘-ktonos’ (and 71 more with ‘-phonos’), many of which were used by more than one author. The list includes seven examples used in the twelfth century by John Tzetzes and Theodore Balsamon. A further notable, but unfortunately anonymous, Byzantine example is Kritoktonos. I am grateful to Adrian Hollis for providing me with this reference.

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84. Anthologia Graeca, ed. Beckby, H., 4 vols., 2nd ed. (Munich 1965) IV, 334 Google Scholar; Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire, 312-1453 (Englewood Cliffs 1972) 117-18Google Scholar, provides an English translation of the inscriptions and identifies the donors.

85. Georges Pachymérès. Relations historiques, ed. Failler, A., trans. Laurent, V., 4 vols. (CFHB 24. Paris 1984) I, 174-7Google Scholar; Loukaki, Vasileios Voulgaroktonos, 47.

86. Mercati, ‘Suli’epitafio’, 230-1.

87. Georgii Acropolitae Annales, 20, 26. Cf. Ephraem Aenii historia chronica, ed. Lampsides, O. (CFHB 27. Athens 1990) 109 Google Scholar; Nicephori Gregorae Byzantina historia, ed. Schopen, L., 3 vols. (CSHB. Bonn 1829-55) I, 27 Google Scholar. Cf.Panagiotis, N.M., ‘Fragments of a lost eleventh century historical work’, in ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝ. Studies in Honour of Robert Browning, eds. Constantinides, C. et al. (Venice 1996) 321-57Google Scholar. An interesting comparison is offered by the juxtaposition of two twelfth-century texts and one of the fourteenth century. All, it is argued, draw on the same lost eleventh-century history. Only the latest text adds Voulgaroktonos.

88. Schöpflin, G., ‘The functions of myth and a taxonomy of myths’, in Hosking, G. & Schöpflin, G., eds., Myths and Nationhood (London 1997) 19-35Google Scholar.

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91. Maro Douka, interview in Diavazo, 358, cited in translation by Spanaki, ‘Byzantium and the novel’, 124-5.

92. Arveler, E. [Ahrweiler, H.], Elliniki synecheia. Poiimata istorias (Athens 1998) 22-3Google Scholar, 28-9.

93. Interview in To Vinta, 6 December 1998. I am grateful to Despina Christodoulou for drawing this to my attention.

94. Antoljak, S., Samuel and his State (Skopje 1985)Google Scholar; Tashkovski, D., The Macedonian Nation (Skopje 1976) 28-56Google Scholar. For a critical slant: Troebst, S., ‘IMRO+100=FYROM? The politics of Macedonian historiography’, in Pettifer, J., ed., The New Macedonian Question (London 1999) 60-78CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A recent Yugoslavian perspective: Pirivatrić, S., Samuilova Država. Obim i Karakter (Belgrade 1997)Google Scholar.

95. J, . & Pavlovski, M., Makedonija vecera i denes (Skopje 1996) 83-4Google Scholar. Cf. Macedonia through the Ages [].

96. I am grateful to Despina Christodoulou for her comments on the first draft of this paper, and for drawing my attention to a number of works in Greek which I would otherwise have missed. I must also thank the British Academy and Keble College, Oxford, for supporting my research, and the numerous scholars, cited in previous notes, who provided insights and references.

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