Basil II part 7

14. Basil personally took part in these operations with the Roman army. He had just begun to grow a beard and was learning the art of war from experience in actual combat. Even his brother Constantine took his place in the battle-line, armed with breastplate and long spear.

15. So the two faced one another: on the one side, by the sea, the emperor’s forces; on the higher parts, the rebels, with a great space between. When Phocas discovered that Basil and Constantine were in the enemy’s ranks, he no longer put off the battle.**13 That day, he decided, was to be the turning-point of the war, the day which was to determine the future of the Empire. So he committed his cause to fortune. It was contrary to the advice of the astrologers in his retinue, for they would have dissuaded him from fighting.

Their sacrifices clearly showed the folly of it, but he gave rein to his horse and obstinately refused to listen. It is said that signs of ill-omen appeared to him, as well as to the astrologers, for no sooner had he mounted his horse than the charger slipped under him, and when he seated himself on a second, that too, a few paces further on, suffered the same fate. His skin, moreover, changed colour, his heart was filled with foreboding, and his head was troubled with giddiness. Phocas, however, was not the man to give way once he had set himself to a task, so, riding at the head of his army, and being already somewhat near the emperor’s forces, he gathered about him some foot-soldiers.

Finest fighters among the Iberians

The men I refer to were the finest fighters among the Iberians, all of them young men, just growing their first beards, in the flower of their youth, tall men and men of equal height, as though they had been measured off with a ruler, armed on their right with swords, and irresistible when they charged. With these warriors about him, under one standard, Phocas moved foreward to attack in front of his army. Gathering speed, he made straight for the emperor with a wild war-cry, his sword uplifted in his right hand, as if he intended to kill the emperor there and then.

16. While Phocas was so boldly charging towards him, Basil rode out in front of his army too. He took his stand there, sword in hand. In his left hand he clasped the image of the Saviour’s Mother, thinking this ikon the surest protection against his opponent’s terrific onslaught. Phocas swept on, like a cloud driven on by violent winds, whirling over the plain. Meanwhile those who were stationed on either flanks hurled their javelins at him. Among others, slightly in front of the main army, was the emperor Constantine, brandishing a long spear.

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