Posted by Powee Celdran
“Nothos, the second part of the Basil: Basileus series once more does an excellent job in bringing the complex history and politics of the 10th century Byzantine Empire to life whether it be with the luxuries of the imperial palace or the intensity of the civil war battles. It truly gives a feel of what Byzantine life was like especially for those in power such as the emperor Basil II and the power behind his rule being his uncle Basil Lekapenos as well as those like Bardas Skelros who have ambitions for the imperial throne.” -Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
If you do not want any spoilers, please order Basil: Basileus part 2 on the site of Byzantine Tales.
Welcome back to another article by the Byzantium Blogger! It’s been such a long time since I last posted an article on this site, but now I’m back after 3 months with a new special edition article being a review on the Byzantine graphic novel and second part of the Basil: Basileus series entitled Nothos– a fancy word for “bastard”- by no other than Byzantine Tales, the creators of the Byzantine graphic novels Theophano: A Byzantine Tale and its sequel Basil: Basileus Part 1- A Test of Loyalty in which I have already read both before, check the links here to see my reviews on them (For Basil: Basileus Part 1, For Theophano). Now this novel that I will be reviewing here is the second instalment of the “Basil: Basileus” comic book series and therefore the follow-up to “Basil: Basileus Part 1- A Test of Loyalty” which therefore was a direct sequel to the previous hit graphic novel “Theophano: A Byzantine Tale”, and of course since this article which will be reviewing the book will contain SPOILERS, it’s best you check out their site and order a copy of it before you read this. As the title of this novel suggests, it is about the famous Byzantine emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025) who is best remembered as the “Bulgar-slayer” for conquering the entire Bulgarian Empire, however being the second part of this series, it is set during Basil II’s younger years in the 970s when he had just come to power as the senior emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Just like the two novels mentioned earlier, this one again is written by Spyros Theocharis (follow on Instagram @spyrosem) and illustrated by Chrysa Sakel (follow on Instagram @chrysasakel). With this being the second instalment of the Basil series, the story once more revolves around the famous Byzantine emperor in his younger years wherein his character is developing from a weak palace prince to a more decisive ruler making his own decisions, however obstacles get in his way namely the real power behind the empire which is his great-uncle Basil Lekapenos who restrains the young emperor from being his own man all while in the east, a massive rebellion is launched by the general Bardas Skleros who is putting his claim on the throne. This novel being the second part of the series now has a rather unique angle to it as it is told from a certain point of view, here by the eunuch Basil Lekapenos- the “Nothos” as the title suggests- who is really the real power behind Basil II’s empire. At the same time, the second part of the series features another epic action-packed story with epic battles all coinciding with the intrigues and luxuries of the palace and the personal struggles of the lead characters, namely its title character the emperor Basil II. Other than that, all characters in the story are given their fair share of story from the young emperor Basil II, to his uncle Basil Lekapenos, to the members of the ruling Macedonian Dynasty, and even the enemy general Bardas Skleros and his allies as well as even the minor characters. To make a long story short, this novel as the second part of the “Basil: Basileus” series follows a historical timeline, thus it set in the span of only 2 years from 976 to 978 starting off where Basil II at 18 is crowned as the senior emperor of the Byzantine Empire following the death of his predecessor Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976) where the previous novel ended. Although only set within 2 years, a lot of action takes place in this story which again includes the rebellion of Bardas Skleros and his march to Constantinople all while internal power struggles happen within the palace, while at the same time it also features a number of flashback scenes to give a bit more context to the story. Although Basil II is who this story again revolves around- just as it did in the first volume- the character now that is mostly driving the story is his uncle and power behind his rule Basil Lekapenos, hence Lekapenos is the largest character on the book’s cover wherein he is hovering above Basil II who is seated on the throne which is symbolic of Lekapenos being the power behind the emperor and on opposite sides of Basil II is his trusted general Nikephoros Ouranos (left) and fictional love-interest Ariadne (right). This article now will be discussing some perfect reasons on why to read this novel, some opinions I have on it, and my recommendations too. It will also include a short Q&A with the creators wherein I asked them about some elements in creating the novel, as well as a few strategies in marketing Byzantine history. Just like the article I made for the first part of the “Basil: Basileus” series, this article will basically be just reviewing the second chapter in this series, therefore no fan casting like I did when reviewing the previous “Theophano: A Byzantine Tale” novel. For the Basil series, I will only do a fan casting for its characters once the entire series is completed.
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Byzantine Tale’s first novel “Theophano” which came out about 2 years ago was no doubt an excellent graphic novel with a Byzantine setting, hence I couldn’t wait for its sequel to be released, and when “Basil: Basileus” part 1 was earlier this year, I true enough got a signed copy of it, and just like “Theophano” it too was a great Byzantine graphic novel.
Since the first part of the Basil series was much shorter than Theophano, I was so hooked that I was true enough excited for its follow-up, and the moment the English version of “Basil: Basileus” part 2 was released- as it was first released in Greek- I once again ordered a signed copy of it. Just recently, I received my signed copy of “Basil: Basileus” part 2 which came with a note too as well as 2 free stickers. Just like the first book of the series, this one being the second part was also another quick and easy read which just took a few days to finish. Although this novel was a rather short one with its main storyline taking place only within 2 years, it had quite a lot of substance wherein every page of the book had something exciting happening in it. More so, the second part of the series really does bring the riches and complexities of Byzantium to life from the opulence of the imperial palace and lavish lives of the people living in it to the action and adventure taking place in the rest of the empire including the bloody battles. Now when it comes to its story, it’s is actually told in pretty good way as it is linear and therefore easy enough to understand- if the reader is familiar with Byzantine history- while parts which are supposed to be flashbacks are explained clearly too that they are flashbacks. It too is highly climactic in story as true enough the first 2 years of Basil II’s reign were very challenging and thrilling times. Now for this article, some of the information I will put were based on a few questions I’ve asked the creators, though a lot of the story in this novel were basically based off on primary Byzantine era sources as well as secondary sources by modern day Byzantine history scholars and academics.
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Reasons to buy and read Basil: Basileus Part 2
It is concise yet full of excitement at almost every moment despite its rather short time period of only 2 years. From beginning to end it is action-packed, not just in battle scenes but in exciting plots. Although this novel had quite a fair share of battle scenes mostly between the imperial forces of Basil II against the rebel forces of Bardas Skleros; in this novel a lot of the action also takes place within the palace including all the plots, ceremonies, and complex Byzantine politics. The palace scenes although without much real “action” are still very intense especially when seeing the young emperor Basil II himself on the throne, all the ceremonies such as weddings and feasts, and even just the everyday lives of Basil II and his family members. Other than that, the battle scenes in this novel too are really intense to the point of showing decapitated heads, sword duels, and cities under siege. Basically, the story here is divided into two parts, not literally but side-by-side with each other- just like cross-cutting editing in movies- where the epic battles between the imperial forces and those of Bardas Skleros coincide with life in the palace and the capital Constantinople. The story now as I said is basically narrated by the eunuch Basil Lekapenos- who is the “Nothos” or bastard- who in the main setting is the empire’s prime-minister and head of the Byzantine Senate and basically the most powerful man in the empire as not only did he amass a lot of wealth but that he was literally the power behind the throne. To give a bit of context to his character, the story begins with Lekapenos narrating his story wherein he has lived in the imperial palace all his life serving in the regimes of the past emperors beginning with his father Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944). The story then proceeds to the main setting in 976 where the previous novel ended, and here the emperor John I Tzimiskes had already died and therefore the 18-year-old Basil II comes to power as the senior emperor whereas his younger brother Constantine VIII remains as his co-emperor, and here Lekapenos claims that he was responsible for putting Basil II in power following the death of John I. The beginning of the novel features the opulent life in Constantinople’s imperial palace before it cuts to Bardas Skleros now marching west after beginning his rebellion in the city of Melitene in the east, and once Skleros wins his first battle against the forces loyal to Basil II and the eunuch Basil Lekapenos whereas his soldiers proclaim him as emperor, he then proceeds west in an attempt to capture Constantinople and become emperor basically because he felt that it was his right to take the throne feeling that he was the late John I’s successor due to Bardas being John I’s top general and right-hand-man- as seen in the previous novel. The story then returns to Basil II who is now in a dangerous position as Skleros’ rebellion is growing ever larger all while Basil is starting to realize that he is his uncle’s puppet in which he no longer wants to be. The story then returns to the action scenes wherein Basil II’s forces bravely hold out against Skleros culminating in Skleros’ siege of Nicaea in 978. The whole story culminates at an epic naval battle wherein the imperial forces win at the end despite Skleros’ threat being still around. The story ends wherein Basil Lekapenos releases a powerful prisoner, being the general Bardas Phokas the Younger who is therefore sent to challenge the rebel Skleros.
The illustrations truly bring the greatness of Byzantium to life. Once again, the artist Chrysa Sakel has done a great job with the illustrations bringing the rich history of Byzantium to life. In this novel, a lot of the characters and their outfits appear in a very vibrant and bold way and so does the armor of the soldiers and generals, the weapons, the imperial robes and crowns, ships, and even the landmarks found in Constantinople and in the different parts of the Byzantine Empire.
In my opinion, I really liked how the novel vibrantly brought the grandness of 10th century Byzantine Constantinople to life, despite most of the scenes here taking place in the imperial palace. However, since a lot of us don’t really have any clear image of what the imperial palace of Constantinople was like, this novel does indeed give us a clear and vivid look at the palace and its opulence from its hallways decorated with marble and other precious stones like porphyry, it fountains, courtyards, mosaics and columns, dining hall, throne room, library, and even its bedrooms. Other than that, the one feature I really like in the palace as seen in this novel was the illustration which recreated the stunning 9th century church of Nea Ekklesia found within the palace complex built in the reign of Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (867-886) in which we have no clear idea of what it looked like as this church exploded during the Ottoman era, though in the novel it was recreated so beautifully. Other than the landmarks, the riches of 10th century Byzantium truly comes to life here in the attire worn by the people especially when seeing the elaborateness of the imperial robes worn by Basil II and his brother and co-emperor Constantine VIII as well as their crowns and imperial regalia. According to the artist Chrysa, she says that all the locations as well as the costumes of characters were actually based on doing research and therefore recreated to match the historical setting rather than just being copied from other images or plainly based on imagination. Truly, Chrysa has once again done an excellent job in visualizing Byzantium and its riches… And this is definitely the reason to why I chose her to illustrate the art for my upcoming Byzantine era board game “Battle for Byzantium”!
It features a lot of adventure and new locations in Byzantine Asia Minor that we only hear in history books. Now when we read about Byzantine history in history books, we often come across the names of so many locations in which we don’t get any image of when searching online for them. This novel however surely did bring a lot of these places we hear in history books to life by visualizing it, again thanks to Chrysa for doing so! Since half of the story features Bardas Skleros’ rebellion which took place in Asia Minor, a lot of the scenes that aren’t in the palace or in Constantinople takes place across the camps and cities of Asia Minor. True enough, the novel doesn’t really feature much on Constantinople as the previous 2 in my opinion had already done the job of bringing Byzantine Constantinople to life, thus in this one most of what is in Constantinople takes place within the massive palace complex. The scenes here now that don’t take place in the imperial palace in Constantinople take place across Byzantine Asia Minor where the epic battles between the forces of Bardas Skleros and Basil II take place. The first scene outside the palace in the novel takes place in a place in Eastern Asia Minor known as Lykandos where the first battle between Basil II’s and Skleros’ forces takes place wherein Skleros wins routing the imperial army all while the general Michael Bourtzes who was seemingly loyal to the emperor defected to Skleros who he now recognizes as emperor. Following this, one panel depicts the coastal city of Attaleia in Southern Asia Minor- today’s Antalya-which is the base of the fleet, as here the navy based there joins the rebellion of Skleros. The next scene outside Constantinople takes place in the city of Kotyaion in 977 where Basil II’s army meets up before battling Skleros’ forces at Rageai in 977 too wherein the loyalist general Petros Phokas- who helped recapture Antioch with Michael Bourtzes in 969- is killed in battle being decapitated by Skleros himself. Following this, the opposing armies later meet up in the important city of Nicaea in 978 which at the end is surrendered to Skleros who laid siege to it. The climax scene then takes place in the Sea of Marmara with a major naval battle- although history records 2 rather than one naval battle- again between the loyalist imperial forces and Skleros’ rebels which the loyalists win at the end. Personally, my favorite location in the story that was recreated was Nicaea as here its ancient powerful double-layered walls and the church of the Hagia Sophia of Nicaea are really shown in great detail. True enough, as Chrysa said, her artworks here especially for the landmarks were not just copied from existing images but were well researched in order to recreate how it appeared back in the Byzantine era. Other than that, the first page features a map of the Byzantine Empire in 976 which true enough helps readers know where these said locations are and where the story is going. Overall, the great part of this novel is really that it shows these locations we just hear in history books come to life as an actual location with things happening. True enough, the review found on the back cover of the book by archaeologist Nikolaos Tsivikis says that Byzantium does really come to life in this comic, especially the sites in Asia Minor and its landscape. Because Chrysa was able to recreate these locations in the novel so well by research, in my upcoming board game, she also recreated a number of landmarks from important Byzantine cities in which we have no idea on what it looks like today, therefore she recreated the images of these cities based on research to look like how they did back in the Byzantine era.
Action scenes if not almost all scenes are very intense and even rather gruesome and graphic in which a lot of them are the battle scenes in which this novel shows them at such wider scales as compared to the previous 2 books in the series. Unlike in the first 2 Byzantine era comics of Byzantine Tales which show a number of battle scenes, the battle scenes in this novel are far grander than those in the previous 2 as here it shows large armies- especially the Byzantine infantrymen or Skoutatoi– in combat, horses galloping, arrows flying in the air, dead bodies on the ground, heads decapitated, cities under siege seen on a full scale, and ships burning and crashing during the naval battle in the climax. Other than the action scenes, the dialogue in this second instalment of the “Basil” series too is intense wherein you can really feel the emotions of the characters while other scenes in the novel too appear to be so intense that it could make it already “R rated” as seen in the beginning where the child Basil Lekapenos is turned into a eunuch and later on where you see Basil and his beautiful love interest Ariadne practically naked on the bed- except of course not showing their private parts- before Basil gets dressed which therefore makes this novel somewhat questionable for children to read! For me however, the most intense and gruesome scene in the whole novel was the general Petros Phokas getting his head chopped off by Badas Skleros when charging against him. This novel in particular has scenes so intense that here you hardly get to see anything about everyday life or even slices of life in the Byzantine Empire the way the previous two novels did. When asking the creators about this, they simply said that there was more action as they were really following the plot of this time in history while they too wanted to add in more action as compared to the previous 2 novels which had more dialogue.
It is told from a certain point of view that you would least expect as it is told from the perspective of a highly unlikely character which here is the eunuch minister and state administrator Basil Lekapenos, the illegitimate son of the former emperor Romanos I Lekapenos- the “Nothos” of the story- therefore we get to see a different angle of Byzantium, here from that of a politician rather than from a general, emperor, or common man.
The novel thus starts with Basil the eunuch narrating his story, first with a flashback scene of himself as a child in the palace being the illegitimate son of the emperor Romanos I, and here as a child we get to see his origin story of himself being turned into a eunuch. Following this, Lekapenos narrates his story where he says that he lived and served for decades under different emperors beginning with his father Romanos I until the latter was overthrown in 944- whose image briefly appears at the start of the story- then after him under the next emperor being the scholar Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos of the Macedonian Dynasty until his death in 959- who had a major appearance in the “Theophano” novel- then after that under the short lived Romanos II (r. 959-963) who was Constantine VII’s son and also a major character in the “Theophano” novel, then under the general turned emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969) who again was another major character in the “Theophano” novel. Here Basil Lekapenos narrates that all these 4 emperors he served all died while he as an administrator survived them all, and all while the generals of the empire were fighting for dominance and glory, Lekapenos says that he was taking care of the state’s administration which is the most vital part of the empire yet not appreciated much. This role therefore gave Lekapenos such power and influence as he literally ran the empire.
In the novel’s present setting beginning 976, the emperor John I Tzimiskes who Lekapenos also served had just died, yet Lekapenos once again serves as the power behind the throne for the young Basil II who is now the new senior emperor. The beginning of the story too shows a number of flashbacks from this series’ first novel “Theophano” showing Basil Lekapenos and John Tzimiskes orchestrating the murder of Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas in 969 wherein Theophano is framed for it and banished. The main sequence of the story then opens in 976 where Basil II now is emperor while his mother Theophano returns to Constantinople from exile, which was the exact same final scene of the “Theophano” novel. The rest of the story is thus narrated by Lekapenos- at least in most parts- as he manipulates his way through the imperial court’s politics to make things go his way, and as the story ends, he is still in power.
Basil II as the title character displays a good character arc as here in the second part of the “Basil” series, we get to see Basil’s character development from a being a puppet to becoming his own man. It true enough does frequently appear in this story where you get to see moments of Basil II complaining about how he is being influenced by palace officials like his uncle Basil Lekapenos.
Other than that, we get to see him making his own decisions for this first time such as earlier on in the story where he orders that the imperial army must head east to defend Asia Minor against the rebel Bardas Skleros despite the Bulgarians attacking Byzantine Greece. Here, we too get to see Basil transforming into his own man by forming his own network of people consisting of his fictional lover Ariadne, the general Nikephoros Ouranos, and his Viking (Varangian) protector Sigurd, who became his loyal protector in the previous novel. In the meantime, the same emperor Basil II that we know off as a cold and tough leader in his older years, is done justice here by being given a whole different angle here being someone more human with emotions and insecurities as seen when he feels insecure because of people calling him crude and illiterate behind his back due to showing no interest in intellectual pursuits, while he appears to have such a human side here as seen when actually having Ariadne as his lover, though just like in real history Basil in this story never gets married even if his younger brother Constantine already did. Where the story ends however, despite Basil II’s forces defeating the rebel fleet of Bardas Skleros at a naval battle and being hailed as a hero, he is still not yet free of his uncle’s influence and therefore still naïve whereas the threat of Bardas Skleros still looms. Although at this point Basil is at least seen having a say in the decisions made by his uncle, and despite his mother Theophano advising Basil to not trust Lekapenos, Basil still agrees to listen to his uncle believing it would help him stay in power. Now where this story ends, Basil II is not yet the strong and ruthless military emperor we would remember him as since he still has a long way to go!
All characters in the story are given a great amount of substance. True enough despite the emperor Basil II and his eunuch uncle and minister Basil Lekapenos being the two characters that basically drive the story, everyone else in it doeshave quite a part to play.
Such characters include the emperor’s mother Theophano now back from exile who is now no longer the beautiful young empress involved in plots and schemes but now someone much older and wiser after many years in exile in a nunnery, though now still the empress or Augusta wherein she now plays a role advising Basil while also reconciling with Lekapenos who banished her in the first place, though in this novel despite having no such ambitions anymore, Theophano’s only concern here is that her sons being Basil II and his younger brother and co-emperor Constantine stay in power. Members of the imperial family in this story such as Basil II’s younger brother and co-emperor Constantine VIII also play quite a major role rather than just being side characters as here we get to at least see some story from Constantine being a co-emperor as someone who prefers to enjoy the luxurious life of the palace while already being married, and although his older brother thinks that Constantine acts like he doesn’t care, Constantine is true enough afraid of either being overthrown by an ambitious general like Skleros or poisoned just how his father Romanos II and grandfather Constantine VII were, therefore making him someone willing to live life to the fullest before everything comes crashing down.
Constantine VIII here true enough appears to be very much like how history portrays him as someone who simply wanted to rule as emperor and have all its benefits yet not care about his duties and responsibilities, very much like how his father Emperor Romanos II was like, unlike Basil II who really wants to be more than an emperor in name only. Basil and Constantine’s younger sister Anna also plays quite a part in the story where you get to see how she feels about her life wherein she cannot marry someone of her own choice but someone assigned to her, while we also get a bit of a glimpse into her future about marrying a Rus barbarian as true enough, she would later marry the prince of the Kievan Rus’ Vladimir I the Great (r. 980-1015).
The fictional Viking warrior and loyal protector of Basil being Sigurd who was a leading character in the previous novel too makes a comeback here again serving as the emperor’s loyal protector as well as his teacher in combat. Here in this story, we get to see Sigurd get more and more accustomed to the sophisticated life in the Byzantine Empire especially in the part where he is curious about books from Byzantium kept in the imperial palace’s library while in the story’s climax we really get to see the Viking warrior Sigurd in combat during the epic naval battle wherein he almost dies. Two other characters with a good story arc include Nikephoros Ouranos who throughout the story is a general undyingly loyal to Basil II as well as Ariadne, being Basil II’s fictional lover during his younger years, and together both Ouranos and Ariadne happen to be Basil’s trusted people due to Basil trying to build his own power base with people answering to him and not to his uncle Basil, however at the end due to the manipulation of Basil Lekapenos, both Ouranos and Ariadne disappear.
On the other side of the story, we get to see more interesting character arcs from the military commanders on both sides of the civil war, such as for instance the rebel general Bardas Skleros who in this story develops into someone like the main antagonist where he appears to have an antagonistic, violent, and power-hungry personality now that his singular objective is the Byzantine throne. The other generals in the story that also have quite a part to play include the untrustworthy Michael Bourtzes, the eunuch Petros Phokas who dies in battle against Skleros, the elder general Eustathios Maleinos, and a new character introduced to this story being Manuel Komnenos who is first introduced as the commander of Nicaea who then turns out to be an ally of the young Basil II. For me, I liked the addition of Manuel Komnenos to the story as after all the Komnenos Dynasty which was founded by Manuel’s son Isaac I in 1057 has roots going back to Basil II’s time wherein the first Komnenos being Manuel who was a general gained power and influence due to loyally serving Basil II.
The story is full of twists and turns you wouldn’t expect would happen which therefore gives it an element of suspense that would get you hooked when reading it. Part of the many twists and turns here is the sudden return of Theophano, the mother of the title’s character Basil II who was the title character of the first novel, and surprisingly the former empress Theophano plays a major role in this story advising her son, although she is less active in politics as compared to the first novel. True enough in real history, Theophano did return from exile- after she was banished in 969 by Emperor John I Tzimiskes- although she is no longer mentioned much in the sources anymore when she returned from exile when her son Basil II became emperor in 976.
Another surprise in the story I found shocking was the betrayal of the general Michael Bourtzes who at first seemed to be loyal to the new emperor Basil II suddenly betraying his men and joining forces with the enemy, Bardas Skleros. Later on, more surprises are seen such as when two of Basil’s trusted people being his lover Ariadne and trusted general Nikephoros Ouranos suddenly disappear wherein the former is banished by Lekapenos and the latter drowns in the sea during the climax’s epic naval battle, though it still remains unclear whether Ouranos is already dead or not! As true enough in real history, Ouranos appears in Basil II’s later campaigns many years later. The ending scene though was the biggest surprise wherein the general Bardas Phokas the Younger- nephew of the former emperor Nikephoros II (r. 963-969)- is released from prison, which was therefore something we have all been waiting for! This is certainly because Phokas was a famous figure of this time and also a key player in Basil II’s civil wars.
It contains a fair share of Easter eggs from the Byzantine Empire during this period from objects, to certain rooms and features in the Great Palace, crowns, weapons, and the superweapon Greek Fire itself! Truly, I would say that the strength of the Byzantine Tales comics is in bringing Byzantium to life visually, and this is mostly by showing Byzantine Easter eggs of this certain period, and this was true enough very obvious in their 2 previous novels. In this novel, some of the best known Easter eggs you would come across would be the mosaics decorating the imperial palace in which some are even on the floor, porphyry and jasper columns seen in the palace complex, the luxurious ornaments and icons seen in the churches, the ornate golden chalices and crowns, and the famous golden mechanical throne in which Basil is sitting in here. When the book begins on the other hand, you will already see one large Easter egg being an illustration of Basil Lekapenos’ gold ring with a large emerald. The other Easter eggs in the story that I’ve noticed too and vividly remember included a caravan transporting tribute money from Byzantium’s Arab vassal Aleppo to Constantinople, the library in the imperial palace with books including Nikephoros Phokas’ Praecepta Militaria and Constantine VII’s De Administrando Imperio, Sigurd’s carvings of runes on the imperial palace’s walls which I can tell is a reference to the Viking runes found in the Hagia Sophia, the outfits of the Byzantine senators and courtiers which consist of large white turbans, the porphyry tombs of the Byzantine emperors, the hall or Triclinium of the 19 couches, the women’s quarters of the palace, the secret passageways within the palace complex that allowed the emperor and courtiers access to different parts of the palace, the Byzantine army camps across the countryside which I can tell that the tents it has was based off on their appearance from the Madrid Skylitzes manuscript, the Byzantine siege engines, and last but not least Greek Fire mounted on warships known as dromons being used in a naval battle! What could be more epic for a Byzantine story than fire on the sea!
It’s so engaging that you can finish reading in less than a day! This is mostly due to it having only a few pages, though the story itself as I mentioned earlier was so action packed with lots of surprises that you as a reader will simply be so hooked to it. According to someone I know of, she actually finished the entire novel in just 30 minutes! In my case however, it took me less than a week to read as I really wanted to look deep into the story and not just skim over it. True enough the very vivid yet neat illustrations as well as the fast and easy to understand dialogue will sure allow you to read it without stopping that little would you know that you already finished reading the entire thing! It is certainly the action scenes that make the story so engaging but so are the story arcs of the characters as I mentioned earlier too. However, in order to appreciate this particular novel and all its action scenes, you must read the previous two novels to understand the context and characters, otherwise you would get lost reading it. For example, to understand Basil II’s story arc here as well as that of Basil Lekapenos, Theophano, Constantine VIII, Anna Porphyrogenita, Bardas Skleros, Nikephoros Ouranos, Ariadne, and Sigurd, you must read both the previous novels as it is there where their story is explained as in this one being the second part, the characters have already been established except for new ones like Manuel Komnenos and at the end Bardas Phokas the Younger.
It remains very authentic to the era and is based on a large number of primary and secondary sources that once again, the word “Byzantine” or “Byzantium” is never at all mentioned in the story the same way as it was in the previous 2 novels. The term “Byzantine” or “Byzantium” true enough only first appeared in the 16th century after the fall of the Byzantine Empire itself (1453), therefore the story is more authentic wherein the Byzantines are called “Romans” which they really called themselves to show they were the same Roman Empire of ancient times continued. Despite Greek becoming the Byzantine Empire’s language, the Byzantines still called themselves “Romans” using the Greek word Romaioi and the empire itself as Basileia ton Rhomaion, and in this novel, foreign characters like the Viking Sigurd even refer to the Byzantines as Romans. Although the novel has a number of historical inaccuracies such as Nikephoros Ouranos already being in the scene despite his career being not yet recorded in the 970s and Ariadne who is more or less a fictional character as well as Sigurd. However, according to one of the latest posts on social media by the creators, Ouranos’ part in the story was to simplify things in order to avoid adding too many characters of the same name as true enough the Byzantines were not very creative in names! As for Ariadne and Sigurd, I believe that their addition to the story was simply to add more substance wherein Sigurd’s part shows us a foreigner’s view of Byzantium while Ariadne was to add a more human side to Basil II being his lover. Another fictional angle in the story too is Theophano’s major role behind her son’s reign which the creators say was entirely fictional, although it is known that in real history, Theophano returned from exile when her son Basil II became emperor, though she is never really mentioned in the sources anymore. In the meantime, when it comes to research using both primary and secondary sources, I really have to hand that to Byzantine Tales that they do a good job in it wherein again, they don’t just copy images of characters and landmarks but do extensive research on them to recreate what they more or less looked like.
Now when it comes to the primary sources, I could tell the author Spyros did a lot of good research on them and these sources include the Chronographies of Leo the Deacon which explains a lot about the events of 10th century Byzantium, the 12th century Madrid Skylitzes manuscript which shows in full detail illustrations of Byzantium from the 9th to 11th centuries which also includes this novel’s setting, and lastly the book De Ceremoniis by Basil II’s grandfather Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos which is a really valuable source for court ceremonies and procedures in 10th century Byzantium. On the other hand, a lot more research for this novel was done through so many secondary sources which are all labelled in the last page wherein a total of 22 were listed! Of course, I cannot name all the secondary sources but a lot of them that were used for this novel are really extensive ones by historians explaining in detail Byzantium during that era including the military tactics and uniforms, the politics and governance of Byzantium, the wars fought during this time, the great palace of Constantinople, and so much more. One of the most notable secondary sources for this novel is Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis which I too read myself which true enough really explains the complex politics and situations of Byzantium during the 10th and 11th centuries. Other than that, since this novel is originally in Greek while I read the English version of it, the one person to be thanked for translating to English is the author Eileen Stephenson. Overall, the usage of a large number of secondary sources and a few primary sources really shows that a lot of effort was made into creating the graphic novel with its storyline and dialogue and not just the illustrations.
It once again has a suspenseful ending that will once again make you anticipate its sequel and this is a true fact because this second instalment to the “Basil” series only ends in 978 being only the third year in Basil II’s long reign. The story’s climax part begins wherein Nicaea was surrendered to Bardas Skleros and his rebels therefore growing his rebellion now that he had secured the fleet of the naval Theme of the empire. This then leads to a major naval battle between Basil II’s forces and the rebels of Skleros at the Sea of Marmara near Constantinople to prevent Skleros and his forces from crossing over into Europe. This naval battle did in fact happen in real history, although when asking the creators, they say the sources mention 2 naval battles, but to keep things concise they merged it into one battle only. The naval battle was indeed so intense that it featured ships crashing into each other, Greek Fire blown out from ships, people drowning, and Basil II’s loyal general Nikephoros Ouranos too disappearing in battle when drowning thus leaving us readers to question if he is still alive or not. The battle despite ending with a victory for Basil II’s side still did not end the rebellion of Bardas Skleros, rather it just stopped him from crossing over to Europe as his rebellion is still at large in Asia Minor. The novel ends wherein Basil II and Basil Lekapenos have to make a risky decision of releasing a former enemy general from prison as this is what they believe would be the only way to beat Skleros, though this causes a lot of tension within the imperial family especially with Basil II’s mother Theophano who knew that based on her experience that a member of the Phokas clan cannot be trusted. At the end of the story though, Bardas Skleros is still alive and his rebellion still at full-swing, though the story ends where the general Bardas Phokas the Younger is released from prison agreeing to serve Basil II and beat Skleros, thus giving the novel a cliffhanger ending that anticipates us for what is to happen next! Although for those who know Byzantine history, Bardas Phokas true enough defeated Skleros in 979 therefore ending Skleros’ rebellion forcing Skleros to flee to Baghdad until one day both Skleros and Phokas teamed up in rebellion against Basil II, but that’s a story for another time. When asking the creators, they too said that the “Basil” series will be divided into 4 parts, hence this said scene will come soon as this particular novel had to end with a cliffhanger, which here is the appearance of a new character being Bardas Phokas.
Opinions, Suggestions for upcoming novels, and Conclusion
To put it short, the second volume in the “Basil” series known as “Nothos” was really a great read in many ways as it showed so much action and activity in such a short period of time. Overall, it was very well-written as a sequel to the first volume of the Basil series being “A Test of Loyalty” as it really shows a lot of continuity in terms of the story arcs of the many characters who appeared in the previous novel.
Part of the continuity this novel too has from the previous 2 ones is the consistency of elements especially when showing the lavishness of the Byzantine court, the intensity of the battle scenes, and of course the complex Byzantine court politics. At the same time as the themes and elements in this novel are consistent with the previous 2, it is not repetitive due to more characters being introduced as well as new locations that in this novel being the second part, we in fact get to see more of the opulence of Constantinople’s imperial palace more than we get to see the streets of Constantinople. In the meantime, what I really liked about the second novel was how all characters get their own story and not just being talked about briefly. On the other hand, this novel too allows us as readers to not just get a clear image of what Byzantine Constantinople looks like, rather we get to see what the Byzantine Empire is meaning not only opulence and luxury but complex politics, intense battles, countrymen fighting against each other, and of course the vast landscape and locations of Asia Minor, the Byzantine heartland especially during the period the novel is set in. To sum it all up, as Byzantium by the late 10th century was on its way to becoming the military and cultural superpower of the medieval world, therefore the novel is able to show Byzantium as such except not yet as the empire itself isn’t yet politically stable due to all the civil wars and eunuchs namely Basil Lekapenos manipulating everything, though despite all this, the novel really does show that Byzantium is a dominant power and no longer one fighting on the defensive especially now that in the novel, the empire is able to have civil wars and no longer care about being destroyed by a foreign power outside. However, I wouldn’t say that this novel is the right one to get readers to be oriented with Byzantium as this one is after all the second part of the series, thus if one wants to get oriented with Byzantium, it is best to read the first two novels being “Theophano” and “Basil Part 1” as both these previous ones are really the ones that will get viewers oriented with the Byzantine setting of the series. Although for those who aren’t really familiar with Byzantium or haven’t read the previous 2 novels yet, one may simply find this second instalment to the Basil series very exciting with what’s going on whether in the palace or in the battlefield. What I really found interesting though in this novel was how intense the story was as well as it’s quick pace with all the battles all coinciding with life in the imperial palace, therefore showing a lot of contrast. To me, this novel being the second part of the “Basil” series kind of reminds me of some of the Star Wars films due to having epic battles all coinciding with politics and dialogues, and if anyone would ask me what the story of the second part of the “Basil” series was like, I would simply say that it’s like Star Wars in the Middle Ages.
Now as much as I enjoyed the second instalment to the “Basil” series, I have a few disappointments about it too, and the first of these is its title “Nothos” meaning “bastard” which is an obscure synonym of it originating from both Latin and Greek which no one might understand, hence in order to make this second installment more appealing, it should have used a subtitle people would understand more which matches the story such “the manipulator” if it is after all referring to the eunuch Basil Lekapenos who is the largest character in the cover. The disappointments I have now with the story itself is that it does not really show any slices of real life in the Byzantine Empire except in the army camps unlike how the previous 2 novels of the series did, and this is for me disappointing as in order to really bring the Byzantine Empire to life, you should not just show the lives of the emperor, imperial court, and important people like generals and senators but rather the everyday lives of common people in the streets, markets, taverns, Hippodrome, and other locations. However, the problem too is that historical sources written in the Byzantine era do not really mention much about everyday life and what ordinary people did but rather only the epic events and things going on in the lives of emperors and generals. Hence if this second instalment did not really feature everyday life in Byzantium, I could say that it was really patterned after Byzantine sources which tend to prefer only focusing on the big events revolving around people in power. Another disappointment I had here was that I found the novel itself too short and its ending not really satisfying as it only ended with Bardas Phokas introduced in order to battle the rebel general Bardas Skleros. If that were me, I would end the story with Phokas actually defeating Skleros in battle which did indeed happen in 979, just a year after this novel ended just to end the story with some closure as after all the main conflict was really Bardas Skleros’ rebellion, so if it were to have a defined ending it would have to be his rebellion being crushed.
Other than that, a slight disappointment I had was with Theophano aging so much when she was only exiled for 7 years, thus if I were to correct it I wouldn’t make her appear too old. Lastly, what I have also found disappointing in this novel was how it tended to be confusing at times meaning that the story itself wasn’t very defined as some parts felt like it was a family or political drama while on the other hand it shifts to being an action epic, very much like how the “Star Wars” prequel films were. Here in this novel, what I found confusing was whether Basil Lekapenos was really narrating the story or not as in some parts you as the reader would end up tending to forget that the eunuch Basil Lekapenos is actually narrating the story. Therefore, if I were to suggest some things for their upcoming novels in this series of Basil, I would suggest that the title should be something easy to understand rather than using an obscure word while the story too has to be more straightforward and defined, thus if it were to be an action story most of the plot has to mostly involve battle scenes and adventure, while if it is a political drama most of the story must involve dialogue and scenes in the palace. Other than what I mentioned, everything else was impressive and I don’t see any need to change them. Of course, the events of this novel more or less show just the beginning as Basil II himself has more or less more than 40 years of ruling the Byzantine Empire which saw so much happening in them!
And now I have come to the very end of this article reviewing “Basil: Basileus” part2, and before finishing off I would have to say once again that it was more or less a job well done in bringing the Byzantium of the 10th century to life despite all the disappointments I mentioned earlier.
I could also say that its very intense and colorful visuals can certainly do a great job in marketing Byzantine history to those unfamiliar with it as these visuals can surely get viewers stunned and therefore interested to know more about this historical setting. With the type of story this novel features, I can say it is really targeted towards teenagers and young adults who are into history or those of this age group that would want to get to know more about Byzantium, and I would say it is targeted for this age group and not to younger ones due to the gruesome and graphic scenes it contains. To put it simply, the visuals of this novel surely does once again bring Byzantium to life to the point that it will not only just attract scholars and historians but rather everyday people too, and thus this is certainly a good start to get Byzantium out of its scholarly perception and make it more accessible to everyday people. Once again, I would like to congratulate the author Spyros Theocharis and artist Chrysa Sakel for doing another excellent job in bringing Byzantium to life with this novel, while I would also like to thank them for answering the few questions I had which were instrumental to writing this article. Of course, this is not yet it as with the artist Chrysa, I do have another project to be done with her… which will be the board game “Battle for Byzantium” wherein she will illustrate the characters, box design, and other features. Like the comics of her series, this game will have more or less the same setting which is in the year 1025, ironically taking place when this novel’s titular character the emperor Basil II died. My game’s setting will be set some decades after this novel by the time Basil II had already grown Byzantium into the dominant power of the Middle Ages following his conquest of the entire Bulgarian Empire, and certainly I would say that the 10th and 11th centuries would be the perfect time period in Byzantium to create products on such as Byzantine Tales’ comics and my upcoming board game as this is the best time to project the Byzantine Empire as a military and cultural superpower during medieval times, especially if you want to attract those interested in medieval history. Once again, I highly recommend this novel to those who like Byzantine history or want to familiarize themselves with it, so this is all for this special edition article reviewing “Basil: Basileus” part2, and thank you all for reading!