Bardas Phokas the Younger
|Died||April 13, 989|
|Battles/wars||Battle of Pankalia|
Bardas was a scion of the Phokas family, the most prominent Byzantine aristocratic clan in the 10th century. His father Leo Phokas the Younger was a curopalates and brother to the Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas. Even as a young man, Bardas gained a reputation for his great expertise in the science of war:
According to the historians, this man Bardas reminded people of his uncle, the emperor Nikephoros, for he was always wrapped in gloom, and watchful, capable of foreseeing all eventualities, of comprehending everything at a glance. Far from being ignorant of warlike manoeuvres, there was no aspect of siege warfare, no trick of ambush nor tactic of pitched battle, in which he was not thoroughly versed. In the matter of physical prowess, moreover, Bardas was more energetic and virile than Skleros. In fact, anyone who received a blow at his hand was a dead man straightway, and whole armies trembled even when he shouted from afar. — Michael Psellos, Chronographia.
If his military career was quick to peak, it was even quicker to collapse. Upon his uncle's death in 970, Phokas and his family rebelled against the new emperor and their own cousin, John I Tzimiskes. Bardas was proclaimed emperor by troops stationed at Caesarea, but their rebellion was extinguished by another skilled commander, Bardas Skleros. Phokas and his relatives were captured and exiled to the island of Chios, where he would spend the following seven years.
Phokas versus Skleros
In 978 Bardas was delivered from his prison cell by the eunuch Basil Lekapenos, Basil II's uncle and de facto regent. He was dispatched in disguise to his native Cappadocia to stir up local aristocracy against Skleros, who had revolted against imperial authorities and advanced to the Hellespont. Aided by the Georgian army led by Tornikios, Phokas eventually suppressed the revolt, gaining victory in a single combat against Skleros at the Battle of Pankalia, despite several previous setbacks. For his vital services to the crown, he was rewarded with a coveted office of Domestic of the Scholae and at once led the Byzantine armies to reconquer Aleppo from the Saracens. Later, to quote Psellos, "he was given the privilege of a triumph and took his place among the personal friends of his sovereign."
While Constantine VIII was easily swayed by his advisers, his brother Basil II was apparently irked by their supremacy. Basil's energy showed that he was determined to take the administration into his own hands and personally control the army. His growing independence alarmed both Basil and Phokas. In 987 they entered into secret negotiations with their former enemy, Skleros, on understanding that the empire would be partitioned if they succeeded in their revolt against the emperors.
In a campaign that curiously mimicked Skleros' revolt a decade earlier, Phokas proclaimed himself emperor and overran most of Asia Minor. "It was no longer in imagination, but in very truth, that he put on the imperial robes, with the emperor's crown and the royal insignia of purple", says Psellos.
After relegating his colleague Skleros to a prison, he proceeded to lay siege to Abydos, thus threatening to blockade the Dardanelles. At this point Basil II obtained timely aid, in the form of Varangian mercenaries, from his brother-in-law Vladimir, the Russian prince of Kiev, and marched to Abydos.
The two armies were facing each other, when Phokas galloped forward, seeking personal combat with the Emperor who was riding in front of the lines. Just as he prepared to face the Basil, however, Phokas suffered a seizure, fell from his horse, and was found to be dead (April 13, 989). His head was cut off and brought to Basil. This ended the rebellion.
By his marriage to a cousin, one Adralestina, Bardas left two sons, Leo and Nicholas (+1012). His grandson and namesake, Bardas Phokas, was blinded by imperial authorities in 1025. It is believed that the Cretan family of the Phokades descends from him.
- Michael Psellos, Chronographia
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Basil II". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press