Basil II and the government of Empire (976-1025)
The reign of Basil II (976-1025)is widely accepted as the high point of medieval Byzantium. When the emperor died, imperial frontiers were at their most far-flung since the seventh century. Yet despite the territorial significance of Byzantium in this period, there is no comprehensive modern history of the reign. This thesis develops two important foundation stones for a new narrative history of Basil II: a better understanding of the relevant medieval historiography, and an analysis of the economic and administrative structures which underpinned contemporary political society. The first three chapters analyse the main Greek narrative account of the reign composed by John Skylitzes at the end of the eleventh century. The first chapter is a detailed textual study. The second chapter explores the literary, social and political contexts behind Skylitzes' text. The third chapter compares Skylitzes' coverage of Basil's reign with the rest of the medieval historical record, and identifies a hitherto unacknowledged source in the Greek tradition. Read together, these chapters demonstrate how the demands of history writing in the later eleventh century conditioned Skylitzes' narrative. In order to gain a more contemporary view of the reign, chapters four to six examine the economy and administration of the eastern half of the Byzantine empire during the tenth and eleventh centuries. These chapters argue that from the middle of the tenth century onwards, the administration of the eastern half of the empire was predicated on an imperial desire to exploit increasing regional economic prosperity. However, successive emperors, most notably Basil II himself, recognised the substantial practical constraints on the penetration of imperial authority in the locality. As a result the administration of the Byzantine east was characterised by considerable flexibility, and was able to adapt with surprising ease to local conditions.