LAST TIME : 36) Sappho, of the island of Lesbos, was a lyric poet of Ancient Greece who wrote about marriage using allusions to the heroic 37) Achilles, who spent several years disguised as a women before going to the Trojan War and falling in love with 38) Patroclus. Although Sappho was exiled from Lesbos several Byzantine emperors were exiled to Lesbos, including the ancestor of 35) the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814). Other emperors, like 39) Emperor Mikhael III (840-867), weren’t so lucky – they were assassinated.
Emperor Mikhael III has
come down to us with the nickname “the Drunkard” and he was accused of many
things, including grave robbing. He was also the emperor at the centre of the
final split between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.
One innovation introduced
during his reign is one of those things which makes Russia different from
Western Europe. In 863 the pagan ruler of Slavic Moravia asked the Emperor to send
some teachers to convert his people to Christianity. The Moravians had no
written alphabet, so to translate the Bible into Slavic the Byzantine teachers
created a new alphabet called Glagolitic. Later Slavic converts, the Rus of
Kiev, likewise had no written alphabet so they adapted Glagolitic and named it
after the man who created it, St. Cyril. The alphabet is still called the
Cyrillic. I wonder if President Putin or any of those Russian homophobes
realise that their laws against the lgbt community are written in letters that
are directly derived from the actions of an lgbt emperor.
Mikhael III had no
legitimate children. One of the most important things any successor to an emperor
had to be was to be born “porphyrogenitos”, or “born in the purple”. In an age
of assassinations it would help your rightful claim to the throne if you were
“porphyrogenitos”, and you have to thank the shell of a sea snail for that.
I’ll explain why later, but we’ll return to Mikhael III’s attempt to produce a
rightful heir. Rather than create a scandal and dump his childless wife to
marry his mistress, Mikhael married his mistress off to his court chamberlain Basileois,
the man who was to succeed him as 40)
Emperor Basileois I (d.886).
Basileios was a peasant
who arrived in Byzantium penniless. He was rescued from the streets by a priest
who took him in and married him (the Greek Orthodox Church had a same-sex union
ceremony). Basileios then caught the eye of a relative of Emperor Mikhael III
who liked well-built peasant lads like Basileios, and began working as his
groom. A little while later Basileios met a wealthy widow who insisted on
marrying him to her son. That’s 2 same-sex marriages and a sugar-daddy in just a
couple of years. Not bad going for a peasant.
Basileios came to the
personal attention of Emperor Mikhael at one of the sporting events that were
the remnants of religious festivals like the Olympics. The Bulgarians present
boasted about being better athletes than anyone else. Mikhael spotted the hunky
groom of his relative, Basilieos, and chose him to fight against the best
Bulgarian wrestler. Basileios won. After that Basileios and Emperor Mikhael
were virtually inseparable.
Basileios found himself
being elevated into official court ranks, which was unusual for someone who was
just a peasant. In no time at all he was made the court chamberlain, the person
responsible for access to the emperor, and after uncovering a plot to overthrow
Mikhael Basileois was rewarded with the title of Caesar. In 866 he became
Co-Emperor (one of the other good things to be if you need to prove your later
claim to be sole emperor). At the same time Mikhael adopted Basileios as his
own son, yet another good thing for a future emperor. You can see where this is
heading, can’t you? But what is most unusual about the adoption is that
Basileios was about 10 years older than his new adopted father!
Emperor Mikhael was also beginning
to show a great deal of interest in a new young man at court by this stage and
Basileios was sure he was going to be “retired to Lesbos” like other Byzantine
officials were. He decided to do something about it. After a banquet in which
Mikhael, living up to his nickname, got himself and his new toy-boy totally
stoned, Basileios just walked into the chamber with a group of companions (he
was in control of access to the emperor remember) and killed the couple. As
Co-Emperor and adopted son of Emperor Mikhael III Basilieos now became 40) Emperor Basileois I of Byzantium.
But there was one thing
Basileios could never be, and that was the thing I mentioned earlier –
“porphyrogenitos”, “born in the purple”. It was a title used for all children
born to a reigning emperor, even becoming part of the name of some of them.
This links us back to 35) the Marquis de
Sade, because his imperial ancestors were born “porphyrogenitos”, and all
of Emperor Basileios I’s children would be also, even if he wasn’t.
But why are these children
called “born in the purple”? In the medieval period there were strict laws on
who could wear what item of clothing and in what colour. Purple was only
allowed for the highest ranks of royalty. The reason being that the only purple
dye that gave a strong, lasting colour was very expensive to produce. It was
called Tyrean purple, and came from those shells of sea snails I mentioned.
These sea snails could
only be found around one of the Greek islands, Kythira. It was the legendary
birthplace of Aphrodite, specifically her incarnation of Aphrodite Urania which
I wrote about a couple of years ago. The famous painting by Botticelli shows
her arising from the sea at Kythira, and one of Aphrodite’s oldest temples was
situated on the island.
Kythira was also the place
where one of Aphrodite’s main attendants was venerated. This other god attended
her when she arose from the waves, and he’s a god we’re encountered many times
on this blog because he’s the Ancient Greek god of gay sex – 41) Eros.
Next time we see how
Kythira and Eros are connection to the Mutiny on the Bounty.