The Legend of Basil the Bulgar-Slayer

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The reign of Basil II (976-1025), the longest of any Byzantine emperor, has long been considered as a 'golden age', in which his greatest achievement was the annexation of Bulgaria. This, we have been told, was achieved through a long and bloody war of attrition which won Basil the grisly epithet Voulgartoktonos, 'the Bulgar-slayer'. In this 2003 study Paul Stephenson argues that neither of these beliefs is true. Instead, Basil fought far more sporadically in the Balkans and his reputation as 'Bulgar-slayer' was created only a century and a half later. Thereafter the 'Bulgar-slayer' was periodically to play a galvanizing role for the Byzantines, returning to centre-stage as Greeks struggled to establish a modern nation state. As Byzantium was embraced as the Greek past by scholars and politicians, the 'Bulgar-slayer' became an icon in the struggle for Macedonia (1904-1908) and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913).