Василий I, 867-886
Born a simple peasant in the theme of Macedonia, he rose in the Imperial court. Earned the notice of Michael III by his abilities as a horse tamer and in winning a victory over a Bulgarian champion in a wrestling match; he soon became the Byzantine Emperor’s companion, confidant, and bodyguard. Symeon Magister describes Basil as “… most outstanding in bodily form and heavy set; his eyebrows grew together, he had large eyes and a broad chest, and a rather downcast expression”.
During Basil’s reign, an elaborate genealogy was produced that purported that his ancestors were not mere peasants, as everyone believed, but descendants of the Arsacid (Arshakuni) kings of Armenia. The historians Samuel of Ani and Stephen of Taron record that he hailed from the village of Thil in Taron.
Basil I became an effective and respected monarch, ruling for 19 years, despite being a man with no formal education and little military or administrative experience. During his reign Basil was heavily reliant on the support of Armenians in prominent positions within the Byzantine Empire.