The brief reign of Emperor Basiliscus is a warning to never trust an ambitious brother-in-law. This particular ruler was a pompous arse who managed to lose a fleet, an army, his throne and eventually his life in a rapid cycle of events in the collapsing Roman World of the 5th century.
Basiliscus was the younger brother of Empress Verina who had married the Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I. His name means 'Little King' which suggests more a nickname than a given one. Later on Basiliscus liked to call himself 'Flavius' as well to boost his ego.
Being the brother-in-law of the emperor thrust Basiliscus into the palace feuds and intrigues at court. He seems to have followed Leo pretty faithfully. A few military commissions came his way until 'the big one' was offered. Basiliscus was to lead a co-imperial military force comprising of Western Romans and Eastern Romans against the Vandal king Genseric.
Basiliscus lead the armada out of Constantinople as it sailed towards Carthage. The army made a successful landing and started to look for the vandals. Though the Western Romans didn't turn up due to the assassination of their leader, Basiliscus had sufficient forces to crush the vandals. But then he appeared to hesitate and waited. The other commanders urged a quick march on Carthage. Basiliscus refused, hinting he was in 'negotiations with the Vandals.
The East Roman fleet meantime was anchored awaiting orders when a few nights later a vast fleet of burning ships were seen heading their way. The Roman ships went up like Roman candles whilst in the confusion, a Vandal army sneaked out of Carthage and attacked Basiliscus's army. It was a complete rout. Basiliscus got away but many didn't. For Genseric it was another victory for him.
Basiliscus ship eventually returned home. The Romans wanted to see him lynched, castrated and whipped for the failure against the Vandals. Empress Verina intervened to protect her brother. He was allowed to live but given no military command and essentially left a prisoner inside the Imperial palace.
Emperor Leo was upset to see the loss of his fleet but he was also happy to see Basiliscus receive a serious down grade. This benefitted another member of Leo I's family, namely Zeno. Basiliscus was placed in charge of the privy chambers (i.e. the shit houses).
In January 474 Emperor Leo I died. His grandson (and Basiliscus's great nephew) Leo II succeeded as the new ruler. The new emperor's father Zeno (him again) and mother Ariadne were initially sidelined by the Dowager Empress Verina but within a few weeks Zeno became co-emperor and it was Verina's fate to be shut out of power. She wanted revenge and recruited her brother to 'make trouble'.
In the November of 474 Leo II died which meant Zeno was now sole emperor. The Constantinople Mob considered Zeno an interloper and wanted a 'true Roman' as their emperor. In a rapid change of fortune, Zeno quickly found himself friendless and took the heroic option. He did a runner from his own capital in January 475 and ran all the way back to his home country of Isauria in Asia Minor. An alliance of Verina, her lover Patricius, her pet Goth Theodoric the Squinter, her general Illus and the blood brother turd called Basilicus had won. Verina cajoled everyone within earshot to make her boyfriend emperor but the Constantinople Senate chose Basiliscus. Why???
Basiliscus's promotion as Emperor just shows that being a colossal failure is no barrier to success. In a show of ingratitude (considering Verina had saved his hide earlier), he had her lover Patricius executed. Verina was sent into exile.
So far, so brutal but worse was to come. Basiliscus stirred up anti-Isaurian feeling so high that a massacre was instigated against them in Constantinople. This rather stupid act alienated the Isaurians like Illus who had helped to depose Zeno. Ilus now switched sides.
Closer to home, Basiliscus new 'right hand man' was his nephew Armatus. This chancer was very much like his uncle. He was also a creep who decided to name his own son 'Basiliscus' in honour of his patron and at the same time, carried on an affair with Empress Zenonis under the emperor's long nose.
Then, unwisely, Basiliscus got involved in a religious dispute. He was a Monophysite Christian (Jesus was all God and nothing else) whereas the local church was Nicene Orthodox (the Trinitarian God-in-Three-Roles doctrine.) This religious argument further reduced Basiliscus's support. He then topped this with insulting his Goth general Theodoric the Squinter.
A major fire in Constantinople was blamed on the emperor personally. Zeno and Illus returned to Constantinople. Basiliscus - deserted by all his allies - pleaded for mercy.
Basiliscus, Zenonis and their young son Marcus were spared the chop but in an oversight, the fallen idiot forgot to read the small writing. Zeno had agreed not to kill Basiliscus but at the same time, made no promise they could eat. In a turn of grim humour, Zeno had his rival walled up with his family inside a cistern. They were starved to death.
The Lizard KingEdit
Jim Morrison was known as the 'Lizard King'..i.e. 'Basiliscus'. I have the tattoo to prove it.
Zeno (in the East)