- Bardas Phocas
Bardas Phocas was an eminent Byzantine general who took a conspicuous part in three revolts pro and contra the ruling
Bardas's father, Leon Phocas, was a
Cappadocian curopalatesand brother to the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas. 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 Nicephorus, 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 Sklerus. 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 Psellus, "Chronographia".
If his military career was quick to peak, it was even quicker to collapse. Upon his uncle's death in 970, Phocas and his family rebelled against the new emperor and their own cousin,
John I Tzimisces. Bardas was proclaimed emperor by troops stationed at Caesaria, but their rebellion was extinguished by another skilled commander, Bardas Sklerus. Phocas and his relatives were captured and exiled to the island of Chios, where he would spend the following seven years.
Phocas versus Sklerus
In 978 Bardas was delivered from his prison cell by eunuch Basileios,
Basil II's uncle and de-facto regent. He was dispatched in disguise to his native Cappadociato stir up local aristocracy against Sklerus, who had revolted against imperial authorities and advanced to the Hellespont. Aided by the Georgian army led by Tornikios, Phocas eventually suppressed the revolt, gaining victory in a single combat against Sklerus 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 Aleppofrom the Saracens. Later, to quote Psellus, "he was given the privilege of a triumph and took his place among the personal friends of his sovereign".
Constantine VIIIwas easily swayed by his advisors, his brother Basil IIwas 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 Basileios and Phocas. In 987 they entered into secret negotiations with their former enemy, Sklerus, on understanding that the empire would be partitioned if they succeeded in their revolt against the emperors.
In a campaign that curiously mimicked Sklerus' revolt a decade earlier, Phocas 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 Psellus.
After relegating his colleague Sklerus 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 shape of Varangianmercenaries, from his brother-in-law Vladimir, the Russian prince of Kiev, and marched to Abydos.
The two armies were facing each other, when Basil galloped forward, seeking a personal combat with the Emperor who was riding in front of the lines. Phocas, just as he prepared to face him, 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 Phocas, was blinded by imperial authorities in 1025. It is believed that the Cretan family of the Phocaides descends from him.
Michael Psellus, [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/psellus-chrono01.html "Chronographia"]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.