Timeline: The Byzantine high tide (9th-11th Centuries)

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842 to 867

Reign of the Emperor Michael III

Michael is a notorious drunkard and makes little personal contribution to his empire. But his reign is marked by a vital cultural life, increased Byzantine prestige, and by the careers of several remarkable individuals - most notably the Emperorís uncle, Bardas Caesar, the Patriarch Photios, and the missionaries Cyril and Methodios.

Cyril and Methodios are crucial figures in the history of Byzantine influence on Slavic culture and religion. Keen to introduce Christian worship to the Slavs in their own language, Cyril develops the first Slavic alphabet. Bulgaria formally converts to Christianity during the 860s.


First Russian attack upon Constantinople

The Rhos, as they are known to the Byzantines, are a combination of northern Slavs with their Viking overlords. They make their first major appearance in Byzantine history with an abortive attack upon Constantinople.


Michael III is killed. He is succeeded by his murderer, Basil I (the Macedonian)

Basil, Michaelís former favourite, is an ex-peasant and stablehand who worked his way up through the social world of the Byzantine Imperial Court. He founds the long-lived Macedonian dynasty although, ironically enough, it appears that his Ďsoní - the future emperor Leo VI, may have in fact been fathered by Michael (Basilís wife, Eudokia Ingerina, was Michaelís former mistress).

886 to 912

Reign of Leo VI ("the wise")

Leo sponsors an extensive programme of writing and publication on a range of different topics, most notably on the law, on diplomatic and court protocol, and on military strategy and tactics. In particular, Byzantine law is recodified in the sixty books of the Basilica, or "Imperial Code".

Leo is spectacularly unlucky in his attempts at marriage and production of a male heir. His first two wives die without children and he has to achieve a dispensation from the church to marry a third time. Leoís third wife, Eudokia Baena, dies in childbirth (their child, a son, died a few days later).

The church forbids Leo to marry a fourth time, so he takes a mistress, Zoë Karbonopsina ("coal - dark eyes"). They have a son, and Leo marries Zoë in order to secure legitimate succession - resulting in a sharp religious and political controversy.


Romanos I Lekapenos is crowned Emperor

Zoë and her young son, Constantine Porphyrogenitos, are left at the centre of a volatile political situation - which results eventually in the usurpation of Romanos Lekapenos.

Previously a high ranking naval officer, Romanos is a basically humane individual who also happens to be a very shrewd politician. He does not formally depose Constantine, but reigns instead as senior emperor.

Romanosís reign is notable for the first strong indications of a shift in Byzantine politics and society: Land is increasingly accumulated in the hands of powerful officials and military aristocrats. Romanos is plainly worried by this development, which threatens Byzantiumís centralised and tax gathering state structure. He attempts legislation in favour of peasant land-owners, but these measures are largely ineffective.

934 to 976

Conquests on the Eastern Frontier and elsewhere

During this period Byzantium produces a series of fearsomely effective military commanders, including John Kourkuas, Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes. They lead armies which have become increasingly adapted to the needs of offensive, rather than defensive, warfare.

Arab emirates on the Byzantine border find they can no longer rely upon support from the near-defunct Abbasid Caliphate. The Byzantine advance is delayed for some time, by the talented Hamdanid Arab general Sayf-al-Dawlah, but by the end of the tenth century the entire Arab border zone is under Byzantine control for the first time in over three hundred years.

The Byzantines also consolidate their position in Italy and, in 961, an invasion force led by Nikephoros Phokas succeeds in the reconquest of Crete.


Basil II begins independent rule as Emperor

Basil, grandson of Constantine Porphyrogenitos and legitimate Emperor, had been kept in the political background during the rule of the two usurping soldier-emperors Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes. At the age of 18 he becomes sole effective ruler of the Empire, only to face serious rebellions from senior members of the military aristocracy.

Basil survives the challenge to his throne, but this experience renders him permanently suspicious of the great provincial families of Asia Minor.


Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, is baptised

Vladimirís baptism, and marriage to the Byzantine princess Anna, seals an alliance between Basil and the Russian prince. It is also an important milestone for Byzantiumís great cultural influence over Russia.

6,000 Russian warriors are enrolled into the Byzantine Army as the Varangian Guard.


Basil defeats and annexes the Bulgarian Empire

Despite Bulgariaís conversion to Orthodox Christianity, Byzantium and Bulgaria remain at loggerheads - Byzantium never quite managing to gain a decisive advantage over its nearest and potentially most dangerous enemy.

For much of his reign Basil had waged war against the Bulgars, who are led by Samuel - their brave and capable Tsar. Basil intends primarily not to destroy the Bulgarian empire, but instead to reduce the Bulgars to client status, dependent upon Byzantine favour. However the final collapse of Bulgarian resistance presents the Byzantines with an opportunity too good to miss.

Bulgaria is formally absorbed into the Byzantine Empire, but is allowed to retain a degree of self-determination.


Death of Basil II

Basilís death marks the high tide of Byzantiumís status as a medieval superpower - the strongest and wealthiest state in all of Europe and the Middle East. Despite the annexation of Bulgaria, and other territorial advances in Georgia and Armenia, Basil did not seek conquest for its own sake. Instead he attempted to secure the Empireís existing borders by exhaustion and defeat of its enemies.

Basil commits one cardinal error by failing to properly provide for his succession. He dies unmarried, survived only by his ineffectual brother Constantine, and Constantine's daughters, Zoë and Theodora.

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