Basil II part 5

The Revolt of Bardas Phocas

10. Meanwhile Bardas Phocas returned to the emperor. He was given the privilege of a triumph and took his place among the personal friends of his sovereign. So ended the first revolt. Apparently Basil was now freed from all his troubles, but this seeming collapse of the opposition proved to be only a prelude to the host of evils that were to follow. Phocas, after receiving high honours when he first returned to Byzantium, later found himself neglected. His ambitions appeared to be once more slipping from his grasp. This kind of treatment, in his opinion, was undeserved. He had not betrayed the trust reposed in him: he had entered into an agreement, on specific terms, and he had faithfully kept it.

So, disgruntled, he broke away in revolt–a revolt more serious and more difficult to counter than the previous attempt of Sclerus–with the greater part of the army ranged beside him in opposition to Basil.**9 Having won over the leading and most powerful families, he decided to proclaim himself an open enemy of the regime. An army of Iberians was conscripted, fierce, proud warriors standing up to ten feet in height.* [* i.e. very tall. A Byzantine saying.] It was no longer in imagination, but in very truth, that he put on the imperial robes, with the emperor’s crown and the royal insignia of purple.

11. I will describe what happened next. A foreign war surprised the Babylonian, that same king Chosroes to whom Sclerus and his army had fled and from whom they had hoped for assistance. Those hopes, as I have said, had already been dashed. Well, this war proved to be a terrible strain on the king’s resources and great numbers of armed men were involved in the struggle. It was impossible for Chosroes to feel any confidence in his own native forces without foreign aid. So he turned for help to the exiled Romans.

They were at once released from their bonds, brought out of their prisons, strongly armed and set in battle-array against his enemies. They (Sclerus and his men), being virile and warlike soldiers, acquainted with the disposition of infantry in battle, arranged themselves in two groups, one on either flank. Then, charging on horseback in mass-formation and shouting their war-cry, they killed some of the enemy there on the spot and others they put to flight. The pursuit continued as far as the earthworks and the foe was completely annihilated.**10 On their way back the Romans, as if inspired with one common idea, took to flight themselves.

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