Basil I, called the Macedonian was a Byzantine Emperor who reigned from 867 to 886.
Basil was born to Armenian peasant parents in 811 at Charioupolis in the Byzantine theme of Macedonia. His family had been settled in Thrace, then taken captive of the Khan Krum (reigned 803-814) in 813 before being transported across the Danube to 'Macedonia'. This of course was not the Macedonia in Northern Greece, but an area probably so named because of the number of Macedonians that had been re-located there.
Basil obtained service with Theophilitzes, a relative of the Caesar Bardas as a groom. Bardas was the uncle of Emperor Michael III and was made Caesar under him in 862 and was considered to be the Emperor in waiting. Basil earned the notice of Michael III by his abilities as a horse tamer and in winning a victory over a Bulgarian champion in a wrestling match. He soon received rapid promotion and became High Chamberlain, as well as Michael's friend.
In order for Michael to get his favourite mistress into the palace, he persuaded Basil to divorce his wife Maria and marry Eudokia Ingerina, in around 865. In 866 Eudokia gave birth to a boy, Leo (the future Emperor, Leo VI). Ostensibly, the boy was Basil's son, but many believed he was Michael's.
Bardas was now an obstacle to Basil's rise. He began to poison Michael's mind, and during the preparations for an expedition against the Arabs, Basil convinced Michael III that his uncle Bardas coveted the Byzantine throne, and subsequently murdered Bardas with Michael's approval on April 21st, 866. On May 26th 866, Basil was made Caesar and co-Emperor.
Basil now made up his mind to do away with Michael. On the night of September 23rd/24th, 867, Basil was dining with Michael and Basil's wife, Eudocia, when Basil made an excuse and slipped away. He then bent the latch on Michael's bedchamber so that the door could not be locked. When Michael was asleep, with one Basiliskianos, a drinking partner, sleeping in the same room, Basil crept in with co-conspirators and killed them both. Basil was now sole emperor.
In spite of the two murders he committed to achieve high office, Basil I became an effective and respected Emperor, ruling for 19 years and founding the so-called "Macedonian dynasty". This dynasty oversaw a period of territorial expansion, during which Byzantium was the strongest power in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean.
To secure his family on the throne, Basil I raised his eldest son Constantine (in 869) and his second son Leo (in 870) to the position of co-emperor.
Like Justinian before him, Basil undertook to codify the laws. The resulting works written in 60 books was known as the Basilika, which remained the law of the Byzantine Empire down to its conquest by the Ottomans. Basil also initiated an extensive building program in Constantinople, crowned by the construction of the Nea Ekklesia cathedral.
Initially Basil's ecclesiastical policy was marked by good relations with Rome. One of his first acts was to exile the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photios, and restore his rival Ignatios, whose claims were supported by Pope Adrian II. However, the decision of Boris I of Bulgaria to align the new Bulgarian Church with Constantinople was a great blow to Rome. On the death of Ignatios in 877, Photios became patriarch again. This ultimately led to the Great Schism that produced the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church as separate ecclesiastical entities.
Emperor Basil's reign was marked by war with the heretical Paulicians, centred on the upper Euphrates, who rebelled, and in alliance with the Arabs, and raided as far as Nicaea, sacking Ephesus. The Paulicians were defeated in 872.The island of Cyprus was recovered, but held for only seven years.
Basil pursued an active policy to restore the Empire's power in the West. He allied with the Holy Roman Emperor Louis II (reigned 850-875) against the Arabs and sent a fleet of 139 ships to clear the Adriatic Sea of their raids. With Byzantine help, Louis II captured Bari from the Arabs in 871 and the city eventually became Byzantine territory in 876. However, the Byzantine position on Sicily deteriorated, and Syracuse fell to the Emirate of Sicily in 878. But the general Nikephoros Phokas (the Elder) succeeded in taking Taranto and much of Calabria in 880.
In 879 Basil's eldest and favourite son Constantine died. Basil now raised his youngest son, Alexander, to the rank of co-emperor. Basil disliked the Leo, who he probably suspected of being the son of Michael III. Leo was imprisoned by Basil after the detection of a suspected plot, but the imprisonment resulted in public rioting and Leo was eventually released after three years.
Basil died on August 29, 886 from a fever contracted after a serious hunting accident when his belt was caught in the antlers of a deer, and he was allegedly dragged 16 miles through the woods. He was saved by an attendant who cut him loose with a knife, but he suspected the attendant of trying to assassinate him and had the man executed shortly before he himself died.