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7-08-2015, 23:39

Basil victorious – and magnanimous to outsiders

Basil’s settlement of Bulgaria should be viewed against this background. Ohrid and the other residences of Samuel and John Vladislav were divested of their royal trappings. John’s widow,Maria, and her children were drawn into Basil’s court circle, receiving titles. Several of the males eventually rose to high office in the imperial administration. Basil is credited with the desire ‘not to innovate at all’,93 letting revenues be raised in grain and wine rather than coin. It is most probable that these and other administrative duties were, in the remoter regions, left to local notables bedecked with titles and offices. Basil had never recognised the patriarchal rank of Bulgaria’s head churchman, but now he reaffirmed the special status of the Bulgarian church. Basil’s appointee as archbishop was a Bulgarian monk named John, a concession to his new subjects’ sensibilities, and his concern for the church’s well-being is expressed in three imperial charters confirming its rights. That of 1020 sternly forbids other metropolitans (subject to the Constantinopolitan patriarch) from encroaching into the Bulgarian province. Archbishop John is to have authority over the same number of sees as his precursors in the time of ‘Peter the emperor and Samuel’.94 Imperial officials, including tax-collectors, were forbidden to interfere in the churches’ or monasteries’ affairs on pain of the ‘great and pitiless . . . wrath of our majesty’.95 To the north-west, Basil consolidated his possession ofVidin, and pushed further north-westwards. The recalcitrant potentate who controlled Sirmium was assassinated and the town became the headquarters of a new Byzantine theme. Even the Croats, a people hitherto only spasmodically connected with Byzantium, now came within its orbit. The ruling brothers, Gojslav and Kreˇsimir III, formally submitted to Basil and received court titles, thus acknowledging his commanding position in the Balkans and beyond. King Stephen of Hungary was now his ally and may well have taken part in the last stages of the campaign against John Vladislav and the final occupation of Ohrid in 1018. That same year, Doge Otto Orseolo of Venice drove the Croats back from the region of Zara, and imposed tribute on some of the cities on islands off the Dalmatian coast. The Croats were hemmed in by Byzantium’s possessions, allies and vassals. Basil showed no signs of being prepared to let his ‘spear lie still’ after his subjugation of the Balkans. Although now well into his sixties, he embarked on a massive expedition to Caucasia in 1021 and 1022.He superintended the takeover of the administration of Vaspurakan, whose lord, Sennacherim- John Artsruni, had been induced to cede his realm to Basil (see also pp. 360, 696). He fought a series of engagements against King George I of Georgia, in order to retrieve all the forts and lands claimed as the inheritance of David of Tao. After George had renounced all title to Tao, Basil returned to Constantinople. His energies now swung towards the central Mediterranean and still more aggressive campaigning. He was about to embark with reinforcements for an invasion of Sicily when he fell ill and died, on 13 or 15 December 1025.