From 976 to 1025 CE, Basil II, also known as Basilius II, reigned as emperor of the Byzantine Empire. After his terrible defeat at Trajan’s Gate, he earned the nickname Bulgar-Slayer for his exploits in capturing ancient Bulgaria. But did you know what cruel punishment Basil II had for his Bulgarian prisoners?
In 1014, thousands of Bulgarian warriors were taken prisoner by the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, who divided them into groups of 100 and blinded 99 of each group. The remaining soldiers were told to guide their blind friends home even though they had only lost one eye to a gouge. Tsar Samuel had a heart attack when he saw this.
Basil II, the Bulgarian Blinder
The Byzantines launched an offensive against the powerful Bulgarian empire to increase their control over the Balkans. Even though the fight lasted for just over 675 years, we will concentrate on the closing stages of the conflict, where the Byzantines held the advantage over the collapsing Bulgar empire.
The Battle of Kleidion was one of this war’s most important engagements. Basil II, the then-leader of the Byzantines, engaged Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria in combat during this conflict. Basil had an estimated 45,000 or more soldiers when the Tsar entered the battle with about 15,000 soldiers. Without a doubt, the war resulted in a massacre for the Bulgarians. The Byzantines seized almost its entire army of Samuel. Because of the convicts’ treatment, Basil earned the moniker Bulgar-Killer.
Basil ordered all the prisoners to be gathered and divided into 100-person groups after the battle. Ninety-nine of the inmates would be blinded, leaving one to lead the other 99 prisoners back to their homes.
This treatment was given to all 15,000 Bulgar warriors captured by the Byzantines. Following this, the soldiers were allowed to return home under the guidance of the fortunate handful who had avoided the cruel punishment. Their arrival back in Bulgaria was a horrifying sight.
The battle listed above marked the beginning of the Bulgarian Empire’s demise. The punishment meted out to the warriors had brought morale to an all-time low, and with a large portion of the army rendered helplessly, the empire was powerless to repel the Byzantine forces. The Bulgar dominion over the Balkans ended in 1018 when Samuel II died, and the Byzantines conquered the entire land of the Bulgars. (Source: Oxford Academic)
Basil II and His Legacy
The Byzantine Empire was at its height thanks to Basil’s nearly 50-year rule.
With Basil having no offspring, Constantine, who ruled Constantine VIII from 1025 to 1028 CE, and his daughters Zoe and Theodora, once again assumed the title of emperor. Sadly, Basil’s heirs would waste their inheritance within a generation or two. The declining gold content of Byzantine coins was the most obvious and symbolic sign that the once-great empire’s fortunes were waning. Sadly, Basil II’s 24-carat heyday would never be duplicated.
The Chronographia of the Byzantine historian Michael Psellos from the 11th century CE contains a biography of this titan of Byzantine history. (Source: Oxford Academic)
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