Starting in AD 867 and continuing until 1056, the Byzantine empire was ruled under a stretch of emperors known as the Macedonian dynasty. Initiated by Basil I the Macedonian, this period of rule saw the Byzantine empire expand its territory to its greatest point since the Muslim conquests of the early 7th and 8th centuries. It also ushered in what was regarded as the Macedonian Renaissance, which caused a profound interest in classical scholarship and utilizing motifs of the same nature within Orthodox Christian artwork.
Though there is controversy as to his ethnic origin, the influence that Basil I had on Byzantine history is undeniable. Born a peasant in AD 811 and persevering through a series of fortuitous events, he eventually came into the favor of Emperor Michael III, esteemed as a confidant, bodyguard, and even co-emperor, a title he received in AD 866. When he learned of Michael’s intent to grant the Imperial title to another courtier, Basiliskianos, Basil orchestrated the assassination of both me and came to rule the Byzantine empire, undisputed.
Ruling as emperor for the next 19 years until his death in AD 886, Basil oversaw great expansion of the Byzantine empire and developed it into what was regarded as a great world power with its territories stretching as far as the eastern Mediterranean. Despite possessing no formal education, he maintained amicable relations with the Holy Roman Empire despite historical schisms that separated the East from the West in many religious aspects, even allying with Rome in battle against Arab forces. In domestic policy, he was regarded as the second Justinian, codifying laws within the empire that lasted until its downfall to the Ottoman empire. His reign solidified the foundation of the Macedonian dynasty in Byzantine archives.
The crowning event during the Macedonian dynasty was its nurturing of scholastic achievements and, led by the examples of Basil I, a reform in law, education, and artistic endeavors during the Macedonian Renaissance. Where artists were banned from depicting religious figures, icons and classical themes thrived under the Macedonian dynasty. Some believe this even gave inspiration as far as Italian artists before the Italian Renaissance even took place. Along with art, website literature saw a great revival. Works such as De Ceremoniis outlined government, diplomacy and major customs of the time, Chronographia written by the scholar Michael Psellus documented the histories of fourteen separate Byzantine rulers. Education flourished in the University of Constantinople and Magnaura, the latter overseen by Leo the Mathematician. Law reform further protected the citizens of the Byzantine empire, some laws regulating growth through the use of trade guilds headed by the state to counter large land owners’ efforts to monopolize growth opportunity.
The line of the Macedonian dynasty ended in AD 1056 with the death of Theodora, who had assumed sole power for one year after the death of Constantine IX, despite the efforts of his advisers to convince him to grant the title to the Duke of Bulgaria. Theodora had supposedly retired to a convent by this point, following the death of her sister, with whom she co-ruled as empress for two months in 1042 before Zoe’s marriage to Constantine. Upon the news of Constantine’s illness, Theodora returned and asserted her authority to rule, followed quickly by the dismissal of several high-ranking officials, most of whom were speculated to oppose Theodora’s rule. When she became ill and passed, the Macedonian line was broken and the Byzantine empire fell into turmoil as rising houses within the nobility attempted to stake their claim for the Imperial throne. This matter would not see itself settled for another 25 years, when the beginning of the Komnenian dynasty took root.