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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Macedonian epoch (867-1081)

The origin of the dynasty 


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Basil's life previous to his election to the throne was very unusual. As an unknown youth he came to Constantinople to seek his fortune, and there attracted the attention of courtiers by his tall stature, his enormous strength, and his ability to break in the wildest horses. Stories of young Basil reached Emperor Michael III. He took him to court and later became completely subject to his new favorite, who was soon proclaimed co-ruler and crowned with the imperial crown in the temple of St. Sophia. He repaid these favors received from the Emperor very brutally: When he noticed that Michael was becoming suspicious of him, he ordered his men to slay his benefactor, and then proclaimed himself emperor (867-86). After him the throne passed on to his sons, Leo VI the Philosopher or the Wise (886-912), and Alexander (886-913). Leo's son, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-59), remained indifferent to affairs of state and devoted all his time to literary work, in the midst of the most learned men of his time. The administrative power was in the hands of his father-in-law, the skillful and energetic admiral, Romanus Lecapenus (919-44). In the year 944 the sons of Romanus Lecapenus forced their father to abdicate and retire to a monastery, and declared themselves emperors. They were deposed in 945 by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who ruled independently from 945 until 959.

His son, Romanus II, reigned only four years (959-63), leaving at his death his widow Theophano with two minor sons, Basil and Constantine. Theophano married the capable general, Nicephorus Phocas, who was proclaimed emperor (Nicephorus II Phocas, 963-69). His reign ceased when he was slain, and the throne passed to John Tzimisces (969-76), who claimed the imperial title because he had married Theodora, a sister of Romanus II and a daughter of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. Only after the death of John Tzimisces did the two sons of Romanus II, Basil II, surnamed Bulgaroctonus (the Bulgar-Slayer, 976-1025) and Constantine VIII (976-1028), become rulers of the Empire. Administrative power was concentrated mainly in the hands of Basil II, under whom the Empire rose to its highest power and glory. With his death began the period of decline for the Macedonian dynasty.

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