A theater and film director who works intensively with individual and group psychology as well as with communication/language structures.
Dirty Satirical Anti-War View of History
Although the blind army sounds like a metaphor that can be used for any military-oriented group, it’s actually a literal historical incident of a captured army blinded to confuse and teach a lesson of horror.
GENERAL: What are we to do with all these captured Bulgarians? They are raping each other.
EMPEROR: Cut off their tongues and send them home. They will starve to death.
GENERAL: Will do.
EMPEROR: No! Cut off their ears. They will die of boredom.
GENERAL: Will do.
EMPEROR: No, wait! Cut off their eyes so they will not see communism coming.
GENERAL: Are you sure?
EMPEROR: Yeah, that sounds genius.
EMPEROR: Wait, there’s something missing, I want to send a message to future generations. A message that will spread for decades.
GENERAL: And how? They can’t find their way back blind.
EMPEROR (Laughs): I know, it’s so funny, I’m a genius!
GENERAL 2: Lord, the Bulgarians are in turmoil, they want meat and wine.
EMPEROR: Give them Russian vinegar and blind them. But! But leave one man in a hundred with one eye to lead the way back to their little tyrant.
EMPEROR: I wish I could see Sammy’s face when he meets his blind army. Have we invented the camera yet?
GENERAL: Working on it. I’ll bring the crystal ball.
This is a staggering story of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, who was born in purple and ruled for almost 50 years, from 976 to 1025, when the world was much darker and harsher, but also easier if you had an army and a piece of unoccupied territory.
The royal child Basil II was appointed co-emperor alongside his father Romanos II when he was only two years old.
He not only defeated the great Bulgarian Empire, which stretched from the Adriatic to the Black Sea and possessed territories that once belonged to Byzantium, but also reconquered Greece, won victories in Syria, doubled the size of the empire, and formed a powerful alliance with the mighty kingdom of Kievan Rus, which even agreed to convert to Christianity.
Born in Purple
Porphyrogennetos or “born in purple” — means born when your father was emperor. The origin of this term goes back to the fact that the Byzantine emperors wore the imperial purple, a luxury dye extracted from sea snails.
Since this dye was extraordinarily difficult to produce and therefore very expensive, it became a status symbol in Roman times. Until the 10th century, the dress code in the Byzantine Empire forbade all but the imperial household to wear this color.
EMPEROR: No one is to wear purple except me and my family! Ok?
SECRETARY: Sure. It’s a little strange that you are so interested in fashion, but it shows your royal sense of esthetics.
EMPEROR: Esthetics make life bearable.
SECRETARY: I thought it was the Ruling class.
EMPEROR: I just said that.
One man can change history for centuries to come. Don’t think you can’t do the same under the right circumstances.
Opportunity makes a thief, but it also makes a hero.
Back in the Old Days
Long ago, in the days of the Middle Ages, life was much simpler. There were no banks, no working hours, no supermarkets, and no childcare.
The main concern was how to stay clean and healthy without a toilet or running water.
And how to conquer more land and spread your empire.
EMPEROR: I’m fed up with these primitive Bulgarians. They have spread like a plague.
GENERAL: Down with the Bulgarians!
EMPEROR: Down with the arrogant barbarians. I don’t care how much it costs.
GENERAL: We have years to spend on senseless wars.
EMPEROR: I want my grandchildren to call me the Bulgarian Slayer!
GENERAL: They will be so proud of you.
But Who Was Basil II?
Basil II was a lonely, short, fat homosexual with bright, pale blue eyes, a round face, and full, bushy whiskers that he twirled in his fingers when he was angry or giving an audience.
He was a gruff orator who despised rhetoric, but was certainly witty and liked to laugh out loud.
History books, if they are to be believed, describe him as mean, stern, and irascible, who spent most of his time like a soldier on guard.
He knew only too well how dangerous any relaxation was.
Basil apparently commissioned religious works of art and had churches and monasteries rebuilt or completed in Boeotia and Athens, although this may also have been due to his conventional piety.
He seems never to have married or had children.
EMPEROR: Too bad none of my bastards survived. It would be fun to watch them destroy my legacy. Life sucks. Bring me some captured soldiers.
Basil II didn’t want to learn Greek and scoffed at education, which he considered a waste of time and resources. He considered himself “wise, just, and pious; others thought him severe, rapacious, cruel, and bigoted.”
The modern historian John Julius Norwich wrote of Basil, “No more solitary man ever ascended the Byzantine throne. And this is hardly surprising: Basil was ugly, dirty, coarse, uncouth, philistine, and almost pathologically mean. In short, he was profoundly un-Byzantine.”
However, he was a very successful soldier on horseback and proved himself an able general and strong ruler.
Basil cared only about the greatness of his empire. No wonder it reached its zenith under him.
EMPEROR: I want to restore the former territories of my Byzantine Empire now!
The Greatest Enemy
His greatest enemy was Samuel of Bulgaria, whom he fought for 30 years.
Bulgaria had been partially subdued by John I after the invasion of Svyatoslav I of Kyiv, but parts of the country had remained outside Byzantine control under the leadership of Samuel and his brothers.
The Bulgarians had been invading Byzantine territories since 976, and the Byzantine government attempted to sow discord among them by allowing the escape of their captured emperor, Boris II of Bulgaria.
This plan failed, and Basil took advantage of a respite from his conflict with the nobility to lead an army of 30,000 men into Bulgaria and besiege Sredets (Sofia) in 986.
After losses and out of concern for the loyalty of some of his governors, Basil lifted the siege and returned to Thrace, where, however, he was ambushed and suffered a heavy defeat in the battle at the gates of Trajan.
He escaped with the help of his giant Russian guard (the Varangian Guard) and tried to make up for his losses by turning Samuel’s brother Aron against him.
Aron was tempted by Basil’s offer to marry his sister Anna, but negotiations broke down when Aron discovered that the bride sent to him was an impostor.
EMPEROR: As if I would ever send him my real sister. Who the hell does he think he is?
By 987, King Samuel had eliminated his brother Aron.
EMPEROR: One down, two to go. Who is the greatest emperor of all time?
Another brother of Samuel, David, was killed in 976 between Prespa and Kastoria by the Vlachs, the guards of the caravans.
Although the titular emperor Roman of Bulgaria was captured in 991, Basil lost Mosesia to the Bulgarians.
While Basil was busy with internal rebellions and restoring the military situation on his eastern frontier, King Samuel had extended his rule from the Adriatic to the Black Sea and reconquered most of the territory controlled by Svyatoslav of Bulgaria before the invasion.
He also carried out damaging raids into Byzantine territory as far as central Greece.
In 996, the Byzantine general Nikephoros Ouranos repulsed a Bulgarian army at the Battle of Spercheios in Thessaly. Samuel and his son Gabriel narrowly escaped capture.
From the year 1000, Basil was finally able to concentrate on a war of conquest against Bulgaria, which he waged with tenacious perseverance and strategic understanding.
EMPEROR: It’s a showdown!
KING SAMUEL: You are on!
In the year 1000, Byzantine generals conquered the former Bulgarian capital of Greater Preslav, as well as the towns of Lesser Preslav and Pliskova.
In 1001 Basil regained control of Vodena, Verrhoia, and Servia from Thessaloniki.
EMPEROR: Now you are mine, Bulgary! I will take every gay man out of you!
The following year Basil deployed his army at Philippopolis and occupied the entire military road from the western Haemus Mountains to the Danube, severing the links between Samuel’s Macedonian heartland and Mesia.
EMPEROR: Let me see you send orders now!
After this success, Basil laid siege to the city of Vidin, which fell after a long resistance.
A Suprise Turn
Samuel responded to the Byzantine campaign with a large-scale attack in the heart of Byzantine Thrace, surprisingly capturing the major city of Adrianople.
EMPEROR: Whaaaaat?! Now I am really pissed off! I will go there personally.
After making his way home with his extensive booty, Samuel was intercepted near Skopje by a Byzantine army under the command of Basil, whose troops stormed the Bulgarian camp, defeated the Bulgarians, and recovered the booty from Adrianople.
Skopje surrendered shortly after the battle, and Basil treated his governor Romanos with open kindness.
EMPEROR: Do you want to try my new bath?
In 1005, the governor of Dyrrhachium Ashot Taronites surrendered his city to the Byzantines.
The loss of Dyrrhachium completed the isolation of Samuel’s heartlands in the highlands of western Macedonia.
Samuel was forced to adopt almost exclusively a defensive posture; he extensively fortified the passes and routes from the coasts and valleys held by the Byzantines to the areas still in his possession.
Climax Always Comes
Over the next few years, the Byzantine offensive slowed and no significant gains were made, although a counterattack by the Bulgarians in 1009 was defeated at the Battle of Crete, east of Thessalonica.
The exhausting and bitter war reached its climax in 1014, when Basil II defeated the Bulgarian army in the Battle of Kleidion, taking 15,000 prisoners and blinding almost all of them.
To make his victory even more evident, Basil II left only one one-eyed man in each cohort of 100 men to lead the way back to his ruler.
King Samuel of the First Bulgarian Empire suffered a heart attack when he saw the endless hordes of his blinded, defeated soldiers returning.
He reportedly died two days later.
At the same time, Basil II received his famous nickname Bulgaroktonos (Bulgarian Slayer).
The unusual cruelty of Basil II, reflected the traditional punishment of insurgents in the Near East.
Bulgaria continued to fight for four years, its resistance fueled by Basil’s cruelty, but in 1018 it submitted.
This submission was the result of sustained military pressure and a successful diplomatic campaign aimed at dividing and subduing the Bulgarian leadership.
With this victory over the Bulgarians and the later subjugation of the Serbs, one of Basil’s goals was achieved: the empire regained its old Danube border for the first time in 400 years.
EMPEROR: Who’s the greatest emperor!!! I want a party at Pantheon!
The rulers of neighboring Croatia, Krešimir III, and Gojslav, previously allied with Bulgaria, accepted the suzerainty of Basil to avoid the same fate as Bulgaria.
CROATS: Where’s the Byzantine flag? Let’s celebrate our new order!
Basil gratefully accepted their offers of fealty and bestowed upon them the honorary title of Patrikios.
Croatia remained a tributary state for Basil until his death in 1025.
Before returning to Constantinople, Basil celebrated his triumph in Athens.
In his treatment of the defeated Bulgarians, he showed great statesmanship and gave many former Bulgarian leaders court titles, positions in provincial administration, and high commands in the army.
In this way, he tried to integrate the Bulgarian elite into Byzantine society.
“It was a brilliant move, but I’d never have done it if they weren’t so gay.” BASIL II
Since Bulgaria didn’t have a monetary economy on the same scale as Byzantium, Basil decided to accept Bulgarian taxes in kind.
However, Basil’s successors reversed this policy, a decision that led to considerable Bulgarian discontent and rebellion later in the 11th century.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Irena Curik