Basil II part 2


Although he was born of the same father as the father of Basil and Constantine, on his mother’s side he came of different stock. In early infancy he had suffered castration–a natural precaution against a concubine’s son, for under those circumstances he could never hope to usurp the throne from a legitimate heir. Actually he was resigned to his fate and was genuinely attached to the imperial house–after all, it was his own family. He was particularly devoted to his nephew Basil, embracing the young man in the most affectionate manner and watching over his progress like some kindly fosterparent. It is not surprising, then, that Basil placed on this man’s shoulders the burden of Empire. The older man’s serious nature, too, had its influence on the emperor’s character.

Following in the other’s footsteps

The parakoimomenus, in fact, was like an athlete competing at the gamest while Basil the emperor watched him as a spectator, not a spectator present merely to cheer on the victor, but rather one who trained himself in the running and took part in the contests himself, following in the other’s footsteps and imitating his style. So the parakoimomenus had the whole world at his feet. It was to him that the civilian population looked, to him that the army turned and he was responsible, indeed solely responsible, for the administration of public finance and the direction of government. In this task he was constantly assisted by the emperor, both in word and deeds for Basil not only backed up his minister’s measures, but even confirmed them in writing.

4. To most men of our generation who saw the emperor Basil he seemed austere and abrupt in manner, an irascible man who did not quickly change his mind, sober in his daily habits and averse to all effeminacy, but if I am to believe the historians of that period who wrote about him, he was not at all like that when his reign began. A change took place in his character after he acceded to the throne, and instead of leading his former dissolute, voluptuous sort of life, he became a man of great energy.

It was the pressure of events that brought about this complete alteration in the course of his life. His character stiffened, so to speak. Feebleness gave way to strength and the old slackness disappeared before a new fixity of purpose. In his early days he used to feast quite openly, and frequently indulged in the pleasures of love. His main concern was with his banqueting and his life was spent in the gay, indolent atmosphere of the court. The combination of youth and unlimited power gave him opportunities for self-indulgence and he enjoyed them to the full.

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