Basil II, the Killer of Bulgarians –

There are many historical facts worthy (this is a curious dignity) to be included in that extensive and unfinished list of barbarities committed by human beings. Taking this for granted, and knowing that on more than one occasion we will use it for that recommended exercise of not forgetting the mistakes of the past, today we focus on the figure of the Byzantine emperor Basil II and more specifically in the facts that earned him the qualification of Killer of Bulgarians.

It was the year 1014 and the energetic Basil II was about to complete one of his purposes: subdue the uncomfortable Bulgarians, who for years had harassed the Byzantine Empirereaching the gates of Constantinople on more than one occasion.

The Byzantine armies had managed to corner the troops of Samuel (king of the Bulgarians in those days) in the Greek region of Thessaly, forcing them to fight in unfavorable conditions in the battle of kleidion. The result would be a landslide Byzantine victory and the capture of 15,000 Bulgarian soldiers.

Basil II, who had no Geneva Convention to abide by and wishing to apply a final solution to the Bulgarian problem, he ordered the prisoners to be blinded, leaving one one-eyed man for every hundred blind so that he could guide his companions back home. The chronicles tell that the Bulgarian king Samuel, who had been announced the return of the remains of his defeated army, went out to meet him, being horrified to see more than fourteen thousand blind men led by a few one-eyed men. Such was the horror that, according to legend, Samuel suffered a stroke and would die two days later.

What we do know is that the first Bulgarian kingdom would eventually become a Byzantine province and that Basil II found the tranquility he needed on this side of the Empire to pursue other pursuits in the East. We also know that when Basil returned to Constantinople as the victor he was acclaimed by the populace as Basil bulgaroctonsthe Killer of Bulgarians. This is what war crimes have, that they hurt less when the other party suffers them.

In the end, Basil II would be one of the great Byzantine emperors, reaching the Empire under his reign at the height of its apogee, bridging the gap with Justinian. Even so, every time I try to put myself in the flesh of Samuel and try to visualize that endless row of blind men whose only crime was losing a war decided by others, something inside me stirs.