Episode 156 – The Half Blind Leading the Blind

Reconstruction of Samuil of Bulgaria

Reconstruction of Samuil of Bulgaria

We discuss campaigning in the Balkans, the end of the Bulgarian war and the legend of the Bulgar Slayer.

Period: 1004-1019

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Basil II at the walls of Ohrid (pinterest)

Basil II at the walls of Ohrid (pinterest)

Categories: Podcast | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Episode 156 – The Half Blind Leading the Blind

  1. As we move towards another end of the century podcast, I have to ask, to what extent were the Byzantines aware of the Seljuks at this point? Did they have any interactions with them?

  2. Also, how robust was the Byzantine crown’s intelligence services? Did their record match their reputation?

  3. Mystikos

    I have to confess, the myth-busting on the half-blind leading the blind is a bit of a let-down, though of course truth is better than legend.

    But isn’t there also a similar story from maybe the Ancient Greek-Persian Wars era of a mass of blinded prisoners? I can’t find it now, but I swear this is not the only instance in history I’ve heard about this – and that would lend credence to the apocryphal nature of the story, since it would be a callback to an earlier time.

  4. Vanco.Ar

    Hello Robin, I’m a great fan of Byzantine history and the podcast and was eagerly expecting this part of the narrative as it covers an important part of my people’s history. I’m from the Republic of Macedonia, where the seat of Samuel’s state was and I’m sure you are very familiar with the controversies over his and his state’s nationality and you handled it with class, covering all the sides and theories but not allowing yourself to get bogged down in projecting modern nations and their biased historical views (I’m not sparing my country’s view here either) on the past which just leads to huge divisions among today’s Balkan nations and believe me you don’t want to take any part in that.

    Anyway I loved your objective research and assessment of the facts especially around the myths of the battle of Kleidion and the realistic approach to the legend of the mass blinding of the captured soldiers, I agree that the number of captives is probably greatly exaggerated.

    However, it has remained deeply impressed in the consciousness of the local population. As an example there are some toponyms here that are connected to the legend – an old village named Vodocha near the site of the battle (which sounds similar to “blinding”, or “taking eyes out” – there is a theory that that is the place where the prisoners were blinded), and several old villages in the central parts of what is today Republic of Macedonia named Slepche (meaning ‘Blind one’, the theory being that this areas is where great part of the blinded captives were from). And today, here Basill II is the most infamous and only Byzantine emperor that the common people know about thanks to his cruelty. Here the Byzantines, or Romans, have always been perceived as aggressors and invaders who came to take the native land and the legacy of the antagonisms between the Bulgarian Empire and the Slavs on one and the Byzantines (and their cultural successors the Greeks) on the other side sadly still remains to this day.

  5. Vancho A.

    By the way, listening to your narrative and seeing how the army played such a big role in Byzantine society of the period I just wanted to post an end of the century question:

    – How did the actual recruitment system in Byzantium in this period work. Specifically did they have like drafters that went from settlement to settlement like in modern times, and how long was the soldiers term. What did the logistics system look like, the army must have been sustained by a great number of cooks for example, I find this very curious as it has never been in the focus of historians nor you can see it in the movies but it’s an essential part of keeping an army in the field. Come to think of it, this required great organization and could explain Basil’s constant absence from the capital and presence in the army headquarters, as it seems that he was he was involved in the micromanagement of the army.

    Also what was the soldiers everyday life and duties like, (I loved your episode of a soldiers life on the eastern frontier during the Arabs raids.) if you can shed some light on this I would be very grateful.

    My complements and keep up the good work 👍

  6. dustz92

    Being from Barcelona, I had heard this same story about the half blind leading the blind but from the battle of les Formigues (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Les_Formigues) during the war of the Sicilian vespers in 1285. In this case the Aragonese fleet sunk the French fleet and all but one of the captured sailors were blinded. In this case it looks more believable, as there were supposed to be only 300 of them.

    However if you dive a bit into it it starts to fall apart too. This information comes mostly from the chronicle of Ramon Muntaner, who after the war would join the Catalan Company during its “merry” adventures in Byzantium (I guess we will see them in about 100 episodes) So it’s quite likely that he heard Basil’s story during his stay in the empire and copied it for his chronicle.

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