Vita Basilii

The Vita Basilii (Greek: Βίος Βασιλείου, "Life of Basil") is an anonymous biography of the Emperor Basil I, the first Byzantine emperor of the Macedonian dynasty. It is the second work in the collection known as Theophanes Continuatus.[1] It may have been written around 950 by the emperor's grandson, the Emperor Constantine VII,[1] or perhaps by Theodore Daphnopates.[2]

The Vita Basilii is a panegyric devoted to extolling Basil, both his personal virtues and his benevolent government. Although he was the first of his family on the throne, he is said to have noble ancestry. He is contrasted with the heroes of antiquity, rather than compared to them. Michael III, the emperor that Basil replaced, is portrayed as the anti-Basil and "the embodiment of evil".[1]

Under his benign rule, the peasants tilled their fields in peace. The emperor himself, in his capacity as a judge, is said to have protected the poor from unjust tax collectors. In general officials, such as tax collectors and especially eunuchs, are portrayed negatively. Constantine seeks to contrast the rule of his grandfather with that of Constantine's own father-in-law and co-emperor, Romanos I (920–45), who was not a Macedonian but a Lekapenos.[1]

The portrayal of Basil in the Vita is of a wise and just ruler and not a victorious soldier. His military career is described sparingly and his defeats are not glossed over. His architectural feats, however, such as his work on the Great Palace of Constantinople, are described in detail.[1]

The Vita was influenced by the biographies in Plutarch's Parallel Lives, mainly that of Mark Antony and possibly that of Nero, which is now lost. It was either used as a source by the contemporary historian Joseph Genesius or else there lies behind both a common source, now lost.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kazhdan, Alexander; Cutler, Anthony (1991). "Vita Basilii". In Kazhdan, Alexander (ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504652-8.
  2. ^ Warren Treadgold, The Middle Byzantine Historians (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 178.