Be wary of friendsthey will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.
In the mid-ninth century A.D., a young man named Michael III assumed the dirone of the Byzantine Empire. His mother, the Empress Theodora, had been banished to a nunnery, and her lover, Theoctistus, had been murdered; at the head of the conspiracy to depose Theodora and enthrone Michael had been Michael’s uncle, Bardas, a man of intelligence and ambition. Michael was now a young, inexperienced ruler, surrounded by intriguers, murderers, and profligates. In this time of peril he needed someone he could trust as his councillor, and his tiioughts turned to Basilius, his best friend. Basilius had no experience whatsoever in government and politicsin fact, he was the head of the royal stablesbut he had proven his love and gratitude time and again.
They had met a few years before, when Michael had been visiting the stables just as a wild horse got loose. Basilius, a young groom from peasant Macedonian stock, had saved Michael’s life. The groom’s strength and courage had impressed Michael, who immediately raised Basilius from die obscurity of being a horse trainer to die position of head of die stables. He loaded his friend with gifts and favors and tiiey became inseparable. Basilius was sent to the finest school in Byzantium, and the crude peasant became a cultured and sophisticated courtier.
Now Michael was emperor, and in need of someone loyal. Who could he better trust with the post of chamberlain and chief councillor than a young man who owed him everything
Basilius could be trained for the job and Michael loved him like a brother. Ignoring die advice of those who recommended die much more qualified Bardas, Michael chose his friend.
Basilius learned well and was soon advising the emperor on all matters of state. The only problem seemed to be moneyBasilius never had enough. Exposure to the splendor of Byzantine court life made him avaricious for the perks of power. Michael doubled, then tripled his salary, ennobled him, and married him off to his own mistress, Eudoxia Ingerina. Keeping such a trusted friend and adviser satisfied was worth any price. But more trouble was to come. Bardas was now head of die army, and Basilius convinced Michael diat die man was hopelessly ambitious. Under die illusion diat he could control his nephew, Bardas had conspired to put him on the dirone, and he could conspire again, diis time to get rid of Michael and assume die crown himself. Basilius poured poison into Michael’s ear until the emperor agreed to have his uncle murdered. During a great horse race, Basilius closed in on Bardas in the crowd and stabbed him to death. Soon after, Basilius asked that he replace Bardas as head of the army, where he could keep control of die realm and quell rebellion. This was granted.
Now Basilius’s power and wealdi only grew, and a few years later Michael, in financial straits from his own extravagance, asked him to pay back some of die money he had borrowed over the years. To Michael’s shock and astonishment, Basilius refused, wiui a look of such impudence that me emperor suddenly realized his predicament: The former stable boy had more money, more allies in the army and senate, and in the end more power than the emperor himself. A few weeks later, after a night of heavy drinking, Michael awoke to find himself surrounded by soldiers. Basilius watched as they stabbed the emperor to death. Then, after proclaiming himself emperor, he rode his horse through the streets of Byzantium, brandishing the head of his former benefactor and best friend at die end of a long pike.