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7-08-2015, 20:57


Two emperors dominate the generation or so following iconoclasm, Michael III the Amorian (842–67) and Basil I the Macedonian (867–86).1 The story of this pair is intimately intertwined, although it climaxed with the assassination of the former at the instigation of the latter on the night of 23 September 867 in Michael’s bedroom in the palace of St Mamas. Thus began the long ascendancy of the Macedonian dynasty, which witnessed the peak of Byzantium’s power. A clear understanding of the reigns ofMichael and Basil is, however, fraught with difficulty given the nature of our main narrative sources. These are both late – dating to the mid-tenth century – and polarised.2 The Macedonians were naturally keen to justify the ousting of Michael III, so he is depicted in Theophanes Continuatus andGenesios as unworthy of imperial power and deserving of his fate.3 The Macedonians were also concerned to present Basil in the best possible light, as God-favoured and preordained to rule.4 The most famous expression of this is the Life of Basil (which forms book five of Theophanes Continuatus’ chronicle), written in the reign of his grandson Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (945–59), though we also have Leo VI’s Funeral oration for Basil I (dated to 888) and poems and artefacts from Basil’s reign.5 However, a hostile view of Basil is provided by the chronicle of Symeon the Logothete, which also treatsMichael more ambiguously.6 Despite these sources’ polarity and emphasis on court politics it is clear that there was continuity in the goals of the two regimes. The security of the east was paramount, although the west was still of concern. The government also had to cope with the Arab naval menace and the potential Bulgar threat from the north. New opportunities were seized when they arose, amongMoravians, Armenians and the Rus. Such were the achievements of an era that it is usually characterised as a decisive turning-point, if not a belle ´epoque. But it is clear that they followed upon an already advancing recovery, as much a cultural as a political revival. One should also recognise that this was not a period of unbroken success.