History Repeats: Basil the Bulgar Slayer

History-Propaganda with footnotes?
History-Propaganda with footnotes?

When you were in school, did you find history boring? I sometimes think they have to work hard to make it boring so we won’t bother to learn that everything that is happening now has happened before. Were your history classes like mine-ODBAA? One Damn Battle After Another?

Though I went to college, took two American History classes and got A’s in both, I found I was incredibly ignorant about American History. World history? Forget it. But history is about humans being human and the effect that the choices of regular humans had on other humans and the world, and that’s not only very interesting, but instructive for what’s going on in the world today.

How about going to Yale for some history classes? For free? Try Early Modern England for a background in American History. We are a baby nation (China, for example, has been going for thousands of years) and we got a lot of our ideas from our big mama, aka Britain.  Or check out the American Revolution which is both informative and often, funny.

The Great Courses are, well, great, but they cost. A few that are available on Youtube are simply fascinating. Did you know Swedes sort of founded Russia? Did you know the word slavery comes from “Slavs”-simple forest folk who were rounded up and sold in slave markets, mostly in what we now call the Middle East? Blue-eyed blonde girls were particularly valuable. As a descendant of Slavs, with three pretty daughters and three pretty grand daughters, I rather resent this practice. By the way, this human trafficking continues to our day.

Here’s a tidbit from Great Courses: Basil the Bulgar Slayer. He lived around 1000 AD and was the Byzantine emperor. He fought against his own military men who were also big landowners and thus were a threat to his position, kind of like the military men in Egypt proved to be a threat to Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. Basil did “land reform” taking the elite’s land and distributing it around to commoners, not because he particularly liked commoners, but to weaken his rivals.

Interesting how many historians label mass murderers “great” and brutal occupiers as “effective.” This utilitarian morality is still the modus operandi in many foreign policy decisions today; Henry Kissinger called it “realpolitik.” Basil subjugated the neighboring Bulgars, which was “effective” and earned him the title of Basil the Bulgar Slayer.

He not only slew them, he gouged out the eyes of those who surrendered, leaving one eye per hundred men, so the hundredth one-eyed soldier could lead the rest back to their king. Sometimes a vivid imagination can be a curse, as in this case when I imagined Basil’s “effective” eye-gouging tactic.

History, they say, is written by the victors. Basil may have been the Bulgar Slayer in Byzantium, but I imagine the Bulgars called him Rat Bast**d Basil, don’t you?



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