Badass of the Week.

Basil the Bulgar-Slayer

"It would be tiresome to recount the vicissitudes of this war; to narrate the cruelties which were perpetrated in detail would be disgusting; they can easily be imagined if one reflects that the Greeks, violent by nature and embittered by hatred, were frequently called on to exercise the right of retaliation, and they employed the rudest and most inhuman mercenaries for that purpose."

(Note: I am super proud to announce the release of the audiobook for Badass: Birth of a Legend. Since I wasn't able to find a publisher for it I worked on it myself along with narrator/producer Darren Todd, and I'm really proud of the way it came out. So check it out... it's free if you sign up for an account. Now on to the violence.)

Emperor Basil the Bulgar-Slayer was an asskicking colon annihilator so insanerballs fucking hardcore in his ability to de-face Bulgarian people that history remembers him solely for his relentless ability to gruesomely disfigure his enemies until every man who opposed him was left horribly mutilated beyond recognition and stumbling aimlessly around the wilderness vomiting uncontrollably.

When Basil inherited the throne of Byzantium in 963, he didn't really have a whole lot of badass shit going on for him. This is mostly because it's tough to be a bone-crushing warlord when you're three years old and your name is Basil. Thankfully Basil's dad was smart enough to set a regent up to look after him, but that dude – Basil the Chamberlain – while crafty, was also a court eunuch, and the commander of the Byzantine Army figured that dude wouldn't have the balls to fight, launched a rebellion aimed at overthrowing Baby Basil and installing himself as the Emperor, and besieged a major port city on the Byzantine coast. Basil the Chamberlain (sorry, but there is more Basil going on here than there is in the supply closet at a fucking Olive Garden), a true Lannister at heart, responded by recalling a great war hero named Phocas from exile, putting Phocas at the head of his army, then attacking the rogue commander's fleet and melting it to shit with a gigantic heaping portion of medieval napalm known as Greek Fire.

Ok, well that was fun, but Basil the Chamberlain eventually got a little too big for his pants and started deciding he was going to start running shit himself. He started acting like the emperor, giving orders, wearing the robes, and doing other bullshit stuff, while our friend Basil the Future Bulgar-Slayer just sat back and waited. The teenager was wise beyond his years, a true genius in the fine art of back-stabbing dicking people over, and he acted all weak and stupid and out of touch while he secretly consolidated his power. Just before he turned eighteen (the age at which he legally assumed the throne), Basil the Chamberlain tried to come up with some bullshit rumor about how our Basil was secretly working with the Muslims, but our friend B got the drop on that asshole, assume the throne a little earlier than expected (thanks to massive support from the army), had the Chamberlain and Phocas arrested as traitors, exiled, stripped of their lands and wealth, and then declared all of their "horseshit laws" torn out of every law book in the kingdom. Stuff that in your pipe and choke on it.

Medieval artwork depicting Greek Fire.
This masterpiece was discovered in 1453 on the back of a Trapper Keeper in the ruins of Constantinople.

Even though he was now the supreme undisputed ruler of the wealthiest empire on Earth, Basil the Bulgar-Slayer had himself a little bit of a problem. Namely, you guessed it, the Bulgars. You see, about a hundred years earlier some psychotic Bulgar motherfucker awesomely known as Khan Krum the Horrible had united the previously-scattered tribes of the Bulgars under one banner, assembled a massive horde of screaming rabid warriors, conquered a huge swath of land across the Balkans, and not only defeated three Byzantine Emperors in battle but killed one of them and turned his decapitated skull into a wine goblet that he made Byzantine diplomats drink out of every time they came to talk to him.

Now, under the leadership of Khan Samuel (seriously, what the fuck kind of name is that for a badass barbarian warlord?), the Bulgars were more powerful than ever, and they were having a tremendous time fucking laughing it up while attacking Byzantine towns and capturing all their land and valuables. This sort of was a problem for Basil the Bulgar-Slayer. So he took an army of six thousand men and marched them straight into Bulgar lands to give them a little scientific demonstration of exactly how far a man can fit his head inside his own anus. As you probably guessed, Emperor Basil the Bulgar-Slayer met the enemy head-on in battle, screaming like a madman, charging emphatically towards his foes with a shimmering sword in one hand and a murderous hatred in his eyes, and got the fucking shit kicked out of him.



So… while Basil's heart was in the right place, it turned out that this guy didn't really have any experience at leading armies in combat. The Bulgars retreated from him, he laid siege to the first city he could find, failed to take it, and then when he was marching home with his tail between his legs Khan Samuel ambushed him at the Gates of Trajan, crushed Basil's army, wounded him in combat, and captured the imperial seal. The beatdown was so impressive that the Pope (!) declared Samuel the new Tsar of Bulgaria – which was a huge insult because up to this point nobody really even recognized Bulgaria as it's own shit and they all kind of thought of it as like some uppity part of Byzantium.

Basil swore vengeance at all costs. Unfortunately he had other shit to worry about.

Yeah… so it turns out that when that Phocus asshole heard that Basil just got his pants beat inside-out by the Bulgars, he came swooping back into town already decked out in the purple Imperial robes and wearing a crown that looked like a knock-off of the Byzantine emperor's diadem. He convinced the entire Byzantine army to defect to him, marched into Constantinople without a fight, and started ordering everyone around like he owned the place, and when Basil got back to his hometown he received word that some other dude's ass was occupying Basil's personal throne.

This is the part of the film where it looks like all is hopelessly lost. Basil has been crushed by the Bulgars. His own army has deserted him. But Basil refused to give up. He just clenched his fist, listened to some fucking rad music, and decided to say fuck everyone – ok douchebags, you wanna play like that? I'm going to go get the Russians. And the Vikings. And we're going to fuck your shit up. With violence.

So Basil, who himself was Macedonian, married his own sister off to the King of Russia (Russia, at this time, was populated almost exclusively by the Viking descendents of Rurik), formed a gigantic mercenary army of battle-bearded axe-swinging motherfuckers, and proceeded to epically crush Phocas's stupid ass with fire, broadswords, and the massive weight of his own ironclad testicles. Running into battle carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary and a gigantic sword, Basil ran into the fray, defeated Phocas, massacred every noble who had supported the usurper, and then took his assembled army and personally marched it into the Middle East to beat the shit out of the Fatimids because, seriously, fuck those guys.

Basil's Viking army became known as the Varangian Guard.
These hulking Norsement would serve the Emperor's Bodyguard for the next 5 centuries.

As emperor, Basil taxed the shit out of the nobles, who he hated for betraying him, and gave huge tax breaks to the farmers, mostly because he knew those poor suckers were the ones who were going to join the army and fight for him. He didn't wear jewelry, never wore a crown, didn't don the opulent imperial robes, and lead his army from the battlefield instead of from his gold-plated palace. He never married, didn't have scores of babes running around all over the place, and didn't really think about anything other than how the fuck he was going to avenge himself on the Bulgars for kicking his ass.

He eventually found his chance. Tsar Samuel, who by this point still had zero respect for Basil or his half-Viking half-Byzantine army, continued to push his luck and launch raids to capture Byzantine lands, and once Basil had consolidated his power enough he decided it was time to exact blood vengeance on his enemies. He took a massive army – six times the size of the one he'd taken to Bulgaria before – and marched straight on into battle. The Bulgars, badly outnumbered, tried to fuck with him again. They fell back, refused to fight, then prepared another trap for the Byzantine Emperor aimed at destroying his ballsack yet again. In 1014 they set a trap in a valley, preparing to hold it Thermopylae-style. Unfortunately for them, instead of running into the valley like a dipshit Basil saw through their flimsy bullshit, marched half his army around, and attacked them from both sides at once. Fifteen thousand men surrendered. The rest were killed in battle.

Basil the Bulgar-Slayer decided to let his captives go free. But first he ordered his men to leave just one functioning eye for every hundred prisoners.

Every single fucking POW had his eyes burned or gouged out. The 140 lucky bastards with one eye remaining had to lead the rest of them home. When the procession got back to the castle, Tsar Samuel had a heart attack and died on the spot. By 1018, Basil had conquered the entire Bulgar Empire.

If you're Bulgarian now might be a good time to avert your eyes HAR HAR HAR

Interestingly, Basil wasn't actually a huge dick to the Bulgar people once he'd crushed their armies. The peasants were made full citizens of the Byzantine Empire, with all the rights and privileges that entails. The nobles were given positions in the Imperial court in Constantinople, a move that got them out of there country and put them somewhere that Basil could keep an eye on them (huh huh). He didn't destroy the Slavic Orthodox Church, but instead downgraded it and demoted their Patriarch to an Archbishop under the oversight of the church in Constantinople. His moves as a conqueror ensured that the Bulgar lands would be part of the Byzantine Empire for the next 170 years.

Basil II died in 1025 at the age of 65 while preparing an invasion of Sicily.




Introducing Basil II



Gibbon, Edward. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Everymans, 1993.

Myer, Will. People of the Storm God. Interlink, 2005.

Stephenson, Paul. The Legend of Basil the Bulgar-Slayer. University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Williams, Henry Smith. The Historians' History of the World. Outlook, 1904.

Wolcott, Martin G. The Evil 100. Citadel, 2004.


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