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Basiliscus (475 - 476)

Flavius Basiliscus was the brother of Aelia Verina, Leo I's widow. He was married to Zenonis and they had a son, Marcus. Basiliscus had his military career under Leo I and he became, in AD 464, 'Master of Soldiers' in Thrace, where on several occasions he successfully defeated invaders and reached the consulate in 465. Basiliscus was also in command of the disastrous expedition against the Vandals in 468 were a large fleet was sent to deal with the Vandals of Northern Africa. The circumstances for this disaster remain clouded under some controversy but it seems certain that he accepted a bribe from Geiseric (boat full of gold) to halt the invasion, giving the Vandals time to recoup and start a counterattack and defeated Basiliscus men.

During the following investigation, Basiliscus managed to avoid being executed for the military blunder with the help of well-placed connections (Aelia Verina). Basiliscus then retired and settled in Heraclea (Marmara Ereglisi) in Thrace, but then in AD 474 emperor Leo I died and he was succeeded by his son-in-law Zeno, who was very unpopular, and it wasn't long before a conspiracy was launched against him, headed by Aelia Verina and supported by Theoderic Strabo, Illus and his nephew Armatus. It was the initial aim of the plot to replace Zeno with Aelia Verina's lover Patricius but the senate rejected this candidate once Zeno had been deposed. Instead they chose as emperor Basiliscus, who had also been party of the conspiracy (AD 475). Zeno then fled to Isauria, where he was pursued by troops loyal to Basiliscus.

After a good start, Basiliscus rapidly lost support in the capital . First a massive fire ravaged Constantinople, destroying homes, churches, countless art treasures as well as emperor Julian's library (120'000 books). Basiliscus favouritism toward the Christian Monophysite creed was not seen with delight by the people of Constantinople, and his quarreling with the patriarch of Constantinople didn't help matters either. Basiliscus also upset Theodoric Strabo, the powerful 'Master of Soldiers', by granting the same rank to Armatus, who was the empress Aelia Zenonis' lover. General Illus, who had originally been party to the plot against Zeno, now had had enough of Basiliscus reign. Appalled by what he saw as bad government, he rejoined Zeno. Zeno, with his old general back and all support simply draining away from Basiliscus, felt the moment was right to leave his exile in Isauria and march on Constantinople.

In August 476 Zeno marched on Constantinople. When they arrived there in late August, Zeno was able to exploit the tensions caused by Basiliscus' Encyclical to force him from power without fighting. Basiliscus and his family took refuge in a church. Zeno promised not to execute them, so he exiled them to Limnae in Cappadocia, enclosed them in a dry cistern and subsequently starved them to death.




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Ancient Roman Emperors - Anastasius
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Roman Emperor Basiliscus - Related Topic: Roman Navy


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