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Basiliscus
Dominus Noster Perpetuus Augustus

Solidus celebrating Basiliscus as Augustus of the Byzantine Empire and his victories http://www.cngcoins.com)

Reign January 9, 475 - August 476
Full name Flavius Basiliscus
Died winter 476-477 Cappadocia

Predecessor Zeno, deposed
Successor Zeno, restored
Wife/wives Aelia Zenonis
Issue Marcus, Caesar and later joint Augustus

Royal House House of Leo

Flavius Basiliscus [1] (d. 476/477) was a Byzantine Emperor of the House of Leo, who ruled briefly (9 January 475-August 476), when Emperor Zeno had been forced out of Constantinople by a revolt.

Basiliscus was the brother of Empress Aelia Verina, the wife of Emperor Leo I (457-474). His relationship with the emperor allowed him to pursue a military career that, after minor initial successes, ended in 468, when he led the disastrous Byzantine invasion of Vandal Africa, in one of the largest military operations of Late Antiquity.

Basiliscus succeeded in seizing power in 475, exploiting the unpopularity of Emperor Zeno, the "barbarian" successor to Leo, and a plot organized by Verina that had caused Zeno to flee Constantinople. However, during his short rule, Basiliscus alienated the fundamental support of the Church and the people of Constantinople, promoting the Monophysite christological position in opposition to the widely accepted Chalcedonian faith. Also, his policy of securing his power through the appointment of loyal men to key roles antagonized many important figures in the imperial court, including his sister Verina. So, when Zeno tried to regain his empire, he found virtually no opposition, triumphally entering Constantinople, and capturing and killing Basiliscus and his family.

The struggle between Basiliscus and Zeno impeded the intervention of the Eastern Empire in the fall of the Western Roman Empire, which happened in early September 476. When the chieftain of the Heruli, Odoacer, deposed Western Emperor Romulus Augustus, sending the imperial regalia to Constantinople, Zeno had just regained his throne, and he could only appoint Odoacer dux of Italy. So the Western Roman Empire ended.

Origins and early career

Probably of Balkan origin,[2] Basiliscus was the brother of Aelia Verina, wife of Leo I. It has been argued that Basiliscus was uncle to the chieftain of the Heruli, Odoacer. This link is based on the interpretation of a fragment by John of Antioch (209.1), which states that Odoacer and Armatus, Basiliscus' nephew, were brothers.[3] However, not all scholars accept this interpretation, since sources do not say anything about the foreign origin of Basiliscus.[4] It is known that Basiliscus had a wife, Zenonis, and at least one son, Marcus.



Basiliscus' military career started under Leo I. The emperor conferred upon his brother-in-law the dignities of dux, or commander-in-chief, in Thrace.[5] In this country Basiliscus led a successful military campaign against the Bulgars in 463. He succeeded Rusticius as Magister militum per Thracias (464), and had several successes against the Goths and Huns (466 or 467).[6]

Basiliscus's value rose in Leo's consideration. Verina's intercession in favour of her brother helped Basiliscus' military and political career, with the conferral of the consulship in 465 and possibly of the rank of patricius.[7] His rise was soon to meet, however, a serious reversal.[2]

Disastrous expedition against the Vandals

Cap Bon, in modern Tunisia is the place were the Byzantine fleet led by Basiliscus landed to launch an attack to the Vandal capital of Carthage (NASA).

In 468, Leo chose Basiliscus as leader of the famous military expedition against Carthage. The invasion of the kingdom of the Vandals was one of the greatest military undertakings recorded in the an­nals of history, a combined amphibious operation with over ten thousand ships and one hundred thousand soldiers. The purpose of the operation was to punish the Vandal king Geiseric for the Sack of Rome (455), in which the former capital of the Western Roman Empire had been depredated, and the Empress Licinia Eudoxia (widow of Emperor Valentinian III) and her daughters had been taken as hostages.[2][5]

The plan was concerted between Eastern Emperor Leo, Western Emperor Anthemius, and General Marcellinus, who enjoyed independence in Illyricum. Basiliscus was ordered to sail directly to Carthage, while Marcellinus attacked and took Sardinia, and a third army, commanded by Heraclius of Edessa, landed on the Libyan coast east of Carthage, making rapid progress. It appears that the combined forces met in Sicily, whence the three fleets moved at different periods.[5]

Ancient and modern historians provided different estimations for the number of ships and troops under the command of Basiliscus, as well as for the expenses of the expedition. Both were enor­mous; Nicephorus Gregoras speaks of one hundred thousand ships, the more reliable Cedrenus says that the fleet that attacked Carthage consisted of eleven hundred and thirteen ships, having each one hun­dred men on board.[8] The most conservative estimation for expedition expenses is of 64,000 pounds of gold, a sum that exceeded a whole year's revenue.[9]

Sardinia and Libya were already conquered by Marcellinus and Heraclius, when Basiliscus cast anchor off the Promontorium Mercurii, now Cap Bon, opposite Sicily, about forty miles from Carthage. Geiseric requested Basiliscus to allow him five days in order to draw up the conditions of a peace.[10] During the negotiations, Genseric gathered his ships and suddenly attacked the Roman fleet. The Vandals had filled many vessels with combustible materials. During the night, these fire ships were propelled against the unguarded and unsuspecting Roman fleet. The Byzantine commanders tried to rescue some ships from destruction, but these manouvres were blocked by the attack of other Vandal vessels.[5]

Basiliscus fled in the heat of the battle.[11] One half of the Roman fleet was burned, sunk, or captured, and the other half followed the fugitive Basilis­cus. The whole expedition had failed. Heraclius effected his retreat through the desert into Tripolitania, holding the position for two years until recalled; Marcellinus retired to Sicily, where he was reached by Basiliscus;[12] the general was, however, assassinated, perhaps at the instigation of Ricimer, by one of his own captains; and the king of the Vandals expressed his surprise and satisfaction, that the Romans themselves would remove from the world his most formidable antagonists.[5]

Hagia Sophia as it appears today (mainly the 4 minarets added by the Ottomans) protected Basiliscus from the emperor's wrath, after the disastrous campaign against the Vandals. Basiliscus chose a church as hideout twice in his life, but this saved his life only once.

After returning to Constantinople, Basiliscus hid in the church of Hagia Sophia to escape the wrath of the people and the revenge of the emperor. By the mediation of Verina, Basiliscus obtained the imperial pardon, and was punished merely with banishment to Heraclea Sintica, in Thrace.[13]

Rise to power

In 471 and 472, Basiliscus helped Leo I to get rid of the Germanic influence in his court, helping in the murder of the Alan Magister militum Aspar. The death of Aspar caused a revolt in Thrace, led by the Thracian Ostrogoth Theodoric Strabo, and Basiliscus was dispatched to suppress the revolt, something he successfully did with the aid of his nephew Armatus. In 474 he received the rank of caput senatus, "first among the senators".[6]

At the death of Leo, Zeno, who was a "barbarian" of Isaurian stock, but at the same time son-in-law of Leo, ascended to emperor, after a short reign of his own son Leo II (474). The "barbarian" origins of the emperor caused antipathy towards Zeno in the people of Constantinople. Furthermore, the continuing strength of Germanic portion of the military, led by Theodoric Strabo, did not like the Isaurian officers that Leo I brought to reduce his dependency on the Ostrogoths. Finally, Zeno succeeded in alienating the support of his fellow Isaurian general Illus, who was bribed by Basiliscus. In the middle of the conspiracy was Verina, who fomented a popular revolt against the emperor. The uprising, supported by Theodoric Strabo, Illus and Armatus, was successful, and Verina convinced the emperor to leave the city. Zeno fled to his native lands, bringing with him some of the Isaurians living in Constantinople, as well as the imperial treasury. Basiliscus was then acclaimed as Augustus on 9 January 475[14] at the Hebdomon palace, by the palace ministers and the Senate.[15] The mob of Constantinople got its revenge against Zeno killing almost all of the Isaurians left in the city.[13][12]

In the beginning, everything seemed to go well for the new emperor, who even tried to set up a new dynasty by conferring the title of Augusta upon his wife Aelia Zenonis and creating his son Marcus, Caesar, and later Augustus.[16] However, due to his mismanagement as emperor, Basiliscus quickly lost most of his supporters.


Rule

Corruption and the fire of Constantinople

The most urgent of the problems the new emperor was to face was the scarcity of resources left in the imperial treasury. Basiliscus was then forced to raise heavy taxes, and to revert to the practice of auctioning the offices, obviously causing a diffuse discontent in the population. He also extorted money from the church, with the help of the Prefect Epinicus, Verina's long-time favourite.[12]

Early in his reign, Constantinople suffered a massive fire, which destroyed houses, churches, as well as completely incinerated the huge library built by Emperor Julian.[17] The fire was seen as a bad omen for the rule of Basiliscus.[13]


Contrasts with his collaborators

Basiliscus had relied on the support of some major figures of the court in his bid for power. However, he quickly lost most of them. First, Basiliscus alienated his own sister Verina's support, executing the Magister Officiorum Patricius. Patricius was the lover of Verina, and the empress had planned to raise him to the imperial rank and to marry him: the very revolt against Zeno had been organized to make Patricius emperor. Basiliscus, however, had out-witted his sister, and, after the flight of Zeno, had the ministers and the Senate choose him, and not Patricius, as Byzantine ruler. Basiliscus ordered the death of Patricius, as the officer was a natural candidate to overthrow the new emperor; as a consequence, Verina later intrigued against Basiliscus, because of her lover's execution.[18]

Also Theodoric Strabo, whose hatred against the Isaurian Zeno had compelled him to support Basiliscus' revolt, left the new emperor's side. Basiliscus had in fact raised his own nephew Armatus, who was rumoured to be also the lover of Basiliscus' wife, to the rank of magister militum, the same held by Strabo. Finally, the support of Illus was most likely wavering, given the massacre of the Isaurians allowed by Basiliscus.[5][12]


Religious controversies

In that time, the Christian faith was shaken by the contrast between Monophysites and Chalcedonians. These were two opposing christological positions; the Monophysites claimed Christ had only the divine nature, the Chalcedonians maintained that he had both human and divine natures. The Council of Chalcedon, convoked by Emperor Marcian in 451, had ruled out Monophysitism, with the support of the pope in the West and many bishops in the East. However, the Monophysite position was still strong: the two Monophysite Patriarchs Timothy Aelurus of Alexandria and Peter Fullo of Antioch were deposed.[19]

Since the beginning of his rule, Basiliscus showed his support for the Monophysites. Zacharias Scholasticus reports how a group of Egyptian Monophysite monks, having heard of Emperor Leo's death, had moved from Alexandria to Constantinople to petition Zeno in favour of Timothy, but at their arrival in the capital, they found the newly elected Basiliscus instead. The Magister Officiorum Theoctistus, the former physician of Basiliscus, was the brother of one of the monks, so the delegation obtained an audience with Basiliscus, and, with the support of Theoctistus and of the empress, they convinced Basiliscus to recall from exile the banished Monophysite Patriarchs.[20]

Basiliscus re-instated Timothy Aelurus and Peter Fullo to their sees,[21] and by persuasion of the former issued (9 April 475) a circular letter (Enkyklikon) to the bishops calling them to accept as valid only the first three ecumenical synods, and reject the Council of Chalcedon.[19] All bishops were to sign the edict. While most of the Eastern bishops accepted the letter, Patriarch Acacius of Constantinople refused, with the support of the population of the city, clearly showing his disdain towards Basiliscus by draping the icons in Hagia Sophia in black.[22]


Fall and death

Tremissis issued by Emperor Zeno. Zeno, whose original name was Tarasicodissa, was of Isaurian origin, and thus considered a "barbarian" and not loved by the people of Constantinople. Basiliscus successfully exploited his unpopularity to get the purple for himself, only to become unpopular in his turn, mainly for his religious belief. http://www.cngcoins.com

Soon after his elevation, Basiliscus had despatched Illus and his brother Trocundus against Zeno, who, now in his native fortresses, had resumed the life of an Isaurian chieftain. Basiliscus, however, failed to fulfil the promises he made to the two generals; furthermore, they received letters from some of the leading ministers at the court, urging them to secure the return of Zeno, for the city now preferred a restored Isaurian to a Monophysite whose unpopularity increased with the fiscal rapacity of his ministers.[13]

During his operations in Isauria, Illus took Zeno's brother, Longinus, prisoner and kept him in an Isaurian fortress. Because he thought he would have had a great influence over a restored Zeno, he changed sides and marched with Zeno towards Constantinople in the summer of 476. When Basiliscus received news of this danger, he hastened to recall his ecclesiastical edicts and to conciliate the Patriarch and the people, but it was too late.[13]

Armatus, as magister militum, was sent with all available forces in Asia Minor, to oppose the advancing army of the Isaurians, but secret messages from Zeno, who promised to give him the title of magister militum for life and to confer the rank of Caesar on his son, induced him to betray his master.[23] Armatus avoided the road by which Zeno was advancing and marched into Isauria by another way. This betrayal decided the fate of Basiliscus.[13]

In August 476, Zeno besieged Constantinople.[24] The Senate opened the gates of the city to the Isaurian, allowing the deposed emperor to resume the throne. Basiliscus fled to sanctuary in a church, but he was betrayed by Acacius and surrendered himself and his family after extracting a solemn promise from Zeno not to shed their blood. Basiliscus, his wife Aelia Zenonis and his son Marcus were sent to a fortress in Cappadocia,[25] where Zeno had them enclosed in a dry cistern, and die from exposure.[2][26]

Basiliscus had been ruling for twenty months. He is described by sources as a successful general, but of slow understanding and easy to deceive.[6]


Notes

  1. ^ His full name is known only through the Fasti consulares; elsewhere, he is known simply as Basiliscus (Martindale).
  2. ^ a b c d Elton.
  3. ^ Krautschick.
  4. ^ Macgeorge.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Smith.
  6. ^ a b c Martindale.
  7. ^ Martindale. It is also possible that he attained the rank of patricius in 471/472, for helping Leo to get rid of the Germanic influence in his court, but there is a reference to Basiliscus as patricius earlier, in 468.
  8. ^ Georgius Cedrenus, throught Smith.
  9. ^ Boardman.
  10. ^ Procopius suggests that Geiseric supported his request for a truce with a bribery.
  11. ^ Basiliscus' lieutenant, Joannes, when overpow­ered by the Vandals, refused the pardon that was promised him by Genso, the son of Genseric, and leaped overboard in heavy armor and drowned himself in the sea. His last words were that he could not bear to surrender to those "impious dogs" of the Vandals — the Vandals, in fact, were Arians (Procopius).
  12. ^ a b c d Friell.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Bury.
  14. ^ There exists a horoscope made on the day of Basiliscus' coronation —12 January 475, at 9 am—, probably by a supporter of Zeno. The horoscope, preserved with the horoscopes of other two usurpers of Zeno through Arab sources, correctly predicts the end of Basiliscus' rule in two years. See Barton, Tamsyn (Dec 2002). Power and knowledge: Astrology, physiognomics, and medicine under the Roman Empire. University of Michigan Press, p. 60. ISBN 0-472-08852-1.
  15. ^ The tradition allowed the Senate to recognize an usurper, thus Basiliscus was the new lawful ruler. However it was the first military-based succession in the last one hundred years (Friell).
  16. ^ Basiliscus also issued coins celebrating the joint rule with his son Marcus;[1] Also, gold and bronze coins were minted in honour of Aelia Zenonis, Augusta.[2] The coins bear the legend AVGGG, with the three 'G' referring to the three Augusti. See Yonge Akerman, John [1834] (2002). A Descriptive Catalogue of Rare and Unedited Roman Coins. Adamant Media Corporation, p. 383. ISBN 1-4021-9224-X.
  17. ^ This library, which was housed within a basilica next to the underground cisterna built by Justinian I, contained 120,000 volumes, including the famous parchment, 35 m long, upon which were inscribed Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in golden letters.
  18. ^ Bury. According to Candidus, after the death of Patricius, Verina intrigued in favour of Zeno, but her plan was discovered by Basiliscus, and only the intercession of Armatus spared her life.
  19. ^ a b "Pope St. Simplicius", Catholic Encyclopedia.
  20. ^ Zacharias Scholasticus.
  21. ^ Samuel.
  22. ^ Evagrius Scholasticus.
  23. ^ According to Procopius, Armatus surrendered his army to Zeno, on the condition that Zeno would appoint Armatus' son Basiliscus as Caesar, and recognize him as successor to the throne upon his death. After Zeno had regained the empire, he carried out his pledge to Armatus by appointing his son, named Basiliscus, Caesar, but not long afterwards he both stripped him of the office and put Armatus to death.
  24. ^ The leader of the Pannonian Goths, Theodoric the Amal (later known as Theodoric the Great) had allied to Zeno. Theodoric would have attacked Basiliscus and his Thracian Goth foederati led by Theodoric Strabo, receiving, in exchange, the title of magister militum held by Strabo and the payments previously given to the Thracian Goths. It has been suggested that Constantinople was defensless during Zeno siege because the Magister Militum Strabo had moved to North to counter this menace. See Heather, Peter (May 1998). Goths. Blackwell Publishing, pp. 158-159. ISBN 0-631-20932-8.
  25. ^ Elton refers that the name of the stronghold was Limnae, while Smith has Cucusus, and Evagrius Scholasticus reports Acusus.
  26. ^ Procopius.

References

Primary sources

  • Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia Ecclesiae iii. 4-8
  • Georgius Cedrenus (1647). Goar and Fabrot ed.: Com­pendium Historiarum ab Orbe Condita ad Isaacum Comnenum (1057) (in Latin), pp. 349-350.
  • Procopius, Bellum Vandalicum i.6-8
  • Zacharias Scholasticus, Syriac Chronicle, v.1 [3].

Secondary sources

  • Boardman, John (1982). The Cambridge Ancient History. Cambridge University Press, p. 49. ISBN 0-521-32591-9.
  • Bury, John Bagnall [1923] (1958). “XII.1 The Usurpation of Basiliscus (A.D. 475 to 476)”, History of the Later Roman Empire. Dover Books, pp. 389-395. Retrieved on 2006-08-23.
  • Elton, Hugh (1998-06-10). Flavius Basiliscus (AD 475-476). De Imperatoribus Romanis. Retrieved on 2006-08-23.
  • Friell, Gerard; and Stephen Williams (December 1998). The Rome That Did Not Fall. Routledge, pp. 184-186. ISBN 0-415-15403-0.
  • Krautschick, Stephen (1986). "Zwei Aspekte des Jahres 476". Historia (35): pp. 344-371.
  • Macgeorge, Penny (2003). Late Roman Warlords. Oxford University Press, pp. 284-285. ISBN 0-19-925244-0.
  • Martindale, J.R. (1980). The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Cambridge University Press, pp. 212-214. ISBN 0-521-20159-4.
  • "Pope St. Simplicius". Catholic Encyclopedia. (1917). Retrieved on 2006-08-23.
  • Samuel, Vilakuvel Cherian (2001). The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined. Xlibris Corporation, pp. 134-139. ISBN 1-4010-1644-8.
  • Smith, William [1870]. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Boston: C. Little and J. Brown, p. 466. Retrieved on 2006-08-23.

Links

  • Coinage of Basiliscus: [4] [5]

Preceded by Zeno
Byzantine Emperor 475 to 476 with Marcus (since 475)
Succeeded by Zeno

Preceded by Flavius Rusticius, Flavius Anicius Olybrius
Consul of the Roman Empire 465 with Flavius Hermenericus
Succeeded by Imp. Caesar Flavius Valerius Leo Augustus III, Tatianus (Gallia)

Preceded by Imp. Caesar Flavius Zeno Augustus II, Post consulatum Leonis Augusti (East)
Consul of the Roman Empire 476 with Flavius Armatus
Succeeded by Post consulatum Basilisci Augusti II et Armati

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