LIKE the Serbs, but unlike the Albanians, the Bulgarians are not autochthonous inhabitants of the Balkan country to which they have given their name. It was not till 679 that this Finnish or Tartar race, after numerous previous incursions into the Balkan provinces of the Byzantine Empire, definitely abandoned the triangle formed by the Black Sea, the Dnieper, and the Danube (the modern Bessarabia), and settled between the Danube and the Balkans (the ancient Moesia). Thus, the first Bulgarian state practically coincided with the Bulgarian principality created 1200 years later by the Treaty of Berlin. The Finnish or Tartar invaders found this country already peopled with Slays, immigrants like themselves but of different customs and language. As time went on, the conquered, as so often happens, absorbed the conquerors; the Bulgarians adopted the Slav speech of the vanquished; the country received the name of the invaders, and became known to all time as "Bulgaria." Still, after the lapse of more than twelve centuries, the “Bulgarians”, as this amalgam of races came to be called, possess qualities differing from those of their purely Slav neighbors, and during the recent European war Bulgarian political writers reminded the world that the Bulgarian people was not of Slavonic origin.

The Patriarch Nicephorus has left the earliest account of this Bulgarian invasion and settlement. He tells how the Bulgarians originally lived on the shores of the Sea of Azov and on the banks of the river Kuban; how their chief, Kovrat (identified with the “Kurt” of the earliest list of Bulgarian rulers), left five sons, the third of whom, Asparuch (or Isparich), migrated to Bessarabia. There he and his Bulgarians might have remained, had not the Emperor Constantine IV Pogonatus undertaken an expedition for the purpose of punishing them for their raids into the borderlands of his dominions. The strength of the Bulgarian position in a difficult country and an attack of gout obliged the Emperor to retire to Mesembria. A panic seized the troops left behind to continue the siege; the Bulgarians pursued them across the Danube as far as Varna. Neither Greeks nor Slays offered resistance; the Emperor had to make peace and pay a tribute, in order to save Thrace from invasion.

The Bulgarians established their first capital in an entrenched camp at Pliska, the modern Turkish village of Aboba to the north-east of Shumla. Recent excavations have unearthed this previously unknown portion of Bulgarian history, and have laid bare the great fortifications, the inner stronghold, and the palace of the “Sublime Khan”, as the primitive ruler was called. Unlike modern Bulgaria, early Bulgaria was an aristocratic state, with two grades of nobility, the boljarin and the ugain, but leading nobles of both orders bore the coveted title of bagatur (“hero”). As in Albania today, the clan was the basis of the social system. The official language of the primitive Bulgarian Chancery was Greek, but not exactly the Greek of Byzantium—a native tribute to the far more advanced culture of the Empire. The first two centuries of Bulgarian history down to the introduction of Christianity are an almost continuous series of campaigns against the Byzantine Empire, for which, with scarcely an exception, our sources are exclusively Greek or Frankish. Justinian II began these Greco-Bulgarian wars by refusing to pay the tribute to Isparich, and narrowly escaped from a Bulgarian ambuscade. Yet this same Emperor, after his deposition and banishment to the Crimea, owed his restoration to the aid of Isparich’s successor Tervel. Escaping to Bulgaria, he promised his daughter to Tervel as the price of his assistance, and bestowed upon his benefactor a royal robe and the honorary title of “Caesar”. Three years later, however, in 707, he so far forgot the benefits received as to break the peace and again invade Bulgaria, only to receive a severe defeat at Anchialus, whence he was forced to flee by sea to Constantinople. Once more we find him appealing, not in vain, for Tervel’s assistance, and during the brief reigns of Justinian II’s three successors hostilities were spasmodic. But when Leo the Isaurian had firmly established himself on the throne, Tervel found it useless to renew the part of king-maker and attempt to restore the fallen Emperor, Anastasius II. Indeed, after Tervel’s day and the reigns of two shadowy rulers, the overthrow of the Bulgarian reigning dynasty of Dulo (to which Kurt and his successors had belonged) by the usurper Kormisosh of the clan of Ukil, led to civil war, which weakened the hitherto flourishing Bulgarian state at the time when an energetic Emperor, Constantine V Copronymus, sat upon the Byzantine throne.

In the intervals of his struggle with the monks, the Iconoclast Emperor conducted seven campaigns against the Bulgarians, whom he had alarmed by planting Syrian and Armenian colonists in Thrace. He took vengeance for a Bulgarian raid to Constantinople by invading Bulgaria, but on a second invasion suffered a severe defeat at Veregava (now the Vrbitsa pass between Shumla and Yamboli). Another dynastic revolution prevented the victors from reaping the fruits of their victory. The usurper disappeared from history, but the old dynasty did not profit by his removal from the scene. On the contrary, a general massacre of the house of Dulo ensued, and a certain Telets of the clan of Ugain was proclaimed Khan. Telets was, however, defeated by the Emperor near Anchialus, and his disillusioned countrymen put him to death, and restored the dynasty of Kormisosh in the person of his son-in-law Sabin. The latter's attempt to make peace with the Emperor was followed, however, by his deposition, and it was reserved for his successor, Bayan, to come to terms with Byzantium, where Sabin had taken refuge. But Bayan had a rival in his own country, Umar, Sabin's nominee, and to support him the Emperor invaded Bulgaria, and defeated Bayan's brother and successor Toktu in the woods near the Danube in 765. Both brothers were slain, most of the country was plundered, and the villages laid in ashes. Next year, however, the Greek fleet was almost destroyed by a storm in the Black Sea, but the Emperor routed the Bulgarians at Lithosoria during a further punitive expedition known as “the noble war”, because no Christians fell. These sudden reverses of fortune are characteristic of Bulgarian history. The next Bulgarian Khan, Telerig, warned by these events of the existence of a Byzantine party in Bulgaria, obtained by a ruse from the Emperor the names of the latter’s adherents, whom he put to death. Constantine was in an ecstasy of rage, but died in the course of a fresh expedition against the barbarian who had outwitted him. Telerig, however, was obliged to seek refuge with the next Emperor, Leo IV, who conferred upon him the rank of patrician and the hand of an imperial princess, besides acting as his godfather when he embraced Christianity. Telerig’s successor, Kardam, after defeating Constantine VI, wrote to him an insolent letter, threatening to march to the Golden Gate of Constantinople unless the Emperor paid the promised tribute. Constantine sarcastically replied that he would not trouble an old man to undertake so long a journey, but that he would come himself—with an army. The Bulgarian fled before him, and for ten years there was peace between the Greeks and their already dangerous rivals.


In the first decade of the ninth century the first striking figure in Bulgarian history mounted the throne of Pliska. This was Krum—a name still familiar to readers of Balkan polemics. Krum, whose realm at his accession embraced Danubian Bulgaria and Wallachia, “Bulgaria beyond the Danube”, coveted Macedonia—the goal of so many Bulgarian ambitions in all ages. He invaded the district watered by the Strymon, defeated the Greek garrisons, and seized a large sum of money intended as pay for the soldiers. More important still, in 809 he captured Sardica, the modern Sofia, then the northernmost outpost of the Empire against Bulgaria, put the garrison to death, and destroyed the fortifications. The Emperor Nicephorus I retaliated by spending Easter in Krum’s palace at Pliska, which he plundered; he foresaw Bulgarian designs upon Macedonia and endeavored to check the growth of the Slav population there by compulsory colonization from other provinces. He then resolved to crush his enemy, and, after long preparation, marched against him in 811. Proudly rejecting Krum’s offer of peace, he again occupied Pliska, set his seal on the Bulgarian treasury, and loftily disregarded the humble petition of Krum: “Lo, thou hast conquered; take what pleaseth thee, and go in peace”. Krum, driven to desperation, closed the Balkan passes in the enemy's rear, and the invaders found themselves caught, as in a trap, in an enclosed valley, perhaps that still called “the Greek Hollow” near Razboina. Nicephorus saw that there was no hope: “Even if we become birds”, he exclaimed, “none of us can escape!”. On 26 July the Greek army was annihilated; no prisoners were taken; for the first time since the death of Valens four centuries earlier an Emperor had fallen in battle; and, to add to the disgrace, his head, after being exposed on a lance, was lined with silver and used as a goblet, in which the savage Bulgarian pledged his nobles at state banquets. Yet the lexicographer Suidas would have us believe that this primitive savage was the author of a code of laws—one of which ordered the uprooting of every vine in Bulgaria, to prevent drunkenness, while another bade his subjects give to a beggar sufficient to prevent him ever feeling the pinch of want again. To complete the disaster, Nicephorus’ son, the Emperor Stauracius, died of his wounds.

This was not Krum’s only triumph over the Greeks. In 812 he captured Develtus and Mesembria, as the war party at Constantinople, headed by Theodore of Studion, declined to renew an old Greco-Bulgarian commercial treaty of some fifty years earlier, which had permitted merchants duly provided with seals and passports to carry on trade in either state, and under which the Bulgarian ruler was entitled to a gift of clothing and 30 lbs. of red-dyed skins. The treaty also fixed the Greco-Bulgarian frontier at the hills of Meleona, well to the south of the Balkans, and stipulated for the extradition of deserters. When the Emperor Michael I marched against him in 813, Krum inflicted a severe defeat at Versinicia near Hadrianople, and the rare circumstance of the Bulgarians defeating the trained hosts of Byzantium in the open country led to the suspicion of treachery on the part of the general, Leo the Armenian. At any rate, he profited by the disaster, for he supplanted Michael on the throne, and thus the rude Bulgarian could boast that he had slain one Roman Emperor and caused the death of another and the dethronement of a third. He now burned to take the Imperial city; but this was a task beyond his powers. His strange human sacrifices before the Golden Gate, his public ablutions, and the homage of his harem, did not compensate for lack of experience in so formidable a siege. He then claimed to erect his lance over the Golden Gate, and, when that insolent request was refused, demanded an annual tribute, a quantity of fine raiment, and a certain number of picked damsels. The new Emperor, Leo V, offered to discuss these last proposals, in order to set an ambush for his enemy. Krum unsuspectingly accepted the offer, and narrowly escaped assassination, thanks, so a monkish chronicler expresses it, to the sins of his would-be assassins. The smoking suburbs of Byzantium were the testimony of his revenge; the palace of St Mamas perished in the flames; the shores of the Hellespont and the interior of Thrace were devastated. Exactly a thousand years later, another Bulgarian army reached Chatalja, the last bulwark of Constantinople, and the Bulgarian siege of 813 was exhumed as an historical precedent.


Hadrianople succumbed to hunger; its inhabitants and those of other Thracian towns were carried off to “Bulgaria beyond the Danube”, among them the future Emperor, Basil I. But, by one of those sudden changes of fortune with which recent Bulgarian history has familiarized us, Leo inflicted such a crushing defeat upon the Bulgarians near Mesembria, that the spot where he had lain in wait was long pointed out as "Leo's hill." To avenge this disaster, Krum prepared for another siege of Constantinople, and this time intended to appear with a complete siege train before the walls. But, as in the case of the great Serbian Tsar, Stephen Dugan, death cut short the Bulgarian’s enterprise. On 14 April 814 Krum burst a blood-vessel. After a brief period of civil war, Krum’s son, Omurtag, became “Sublime Khan”, and concluded a thirty years' peace with the Empire, of which a summary has been preserved. By this treaty Thrace was partitioned between the Greeks and the Bulgarians, and the frontier ran from Develtus to the fortress of Makrolivada, between Hadrianople and Philippopolis, whence it turned northward to the Balkans. It was not a paper frontier such as diplomacy loves to trace on maps, but consisted of a rampart and trench, known to Byzantine historians as “the Great Fence” and to the modern peasants, who still tell strange stories of how it was made, as the Erkesiya, from a Turkish word meaning a “cutting in the earth”.

Thus guaranteed against a conflict with the Greeks, the Bulgarians turned their attention westward, and for the first time came into touch with the Frankish Empire, which had established its authority as far south as Croatia. In 824 a Bulgarian embassy appeared at the court of Louis the Pious, in order to regulate the Franco-Bulgarian frontiers, which marched together near Belgrade. The Western Emperor, knowing nothing about the Bulgarians and their geographical claims, sent an envoy of his own to make inquiries on the spot, and, after keeping the Bulgarian mission waiting at Aix-la-Chapelle, finally sent it back without any definite reply. Omurtag, anxious to maintain his prestige over the Slays beyond the Danube, who had shown signs of placing themselves under the protection of his powerful neighbor, invaded Pannonia and set up Bulgarian governors there. In fact, Syrmia and eastern Hungary remained Bulgarian till the Magyar conquest.

A Greek inscription on a pillar of the church of the Forty Martyrs at Trnovo commemorates the works of “the Sublime Khan Omurtag” ­ the “house of high renown” which he “built on the Danube”, and the “sepulcher” which he “made mid-way” between that and his “old house” at Pliska. Of these two constructions the former has been identified with the ruined fortress of Kadykei near Turtukai on the Danube (the Bulgaro-Roumanian frontier according to the Treaty of Bucharest of 1913), the latter with a mound near the village of Mumdzhilar. Another Greek inscription, recently discovered at Chatalar, records a still more important creation of this ruler—“a palace on the river Tutsa” intended to overawe the Greeks. This “palace”, founded, as the inscription informs us, in 821-22, was none other than the future capital of Bulgaria, Great Preslav, or “the Glorious”, a little to the south-west of Shumla. Despite the prayer uttered in this inscription that “the divine ruler may press down the Emperor with his foot”, Omurtag, so far from attacking the Greek Empire, actually aided Michael II in 823 against the rebel Thomas, who was besieging Constantinople. Thus Byzantium, besieged by one Bulgarian ruler, was, ten years later, relieved by another. There is little continuity of policy in the Balkans.

First Serbo-Bulgarian War. Conversion of the Bulgarians

Omurtag, who was still alive in 827, was succeeded by his son Presiam, or Malomir as he was called in the increasingly important Slavonic idiom of Bulgaria. His reign is important historically because it was unfortunately marred by the first of the long series of Serbo­Bulgarian wars, of which our own generation has seen three. Characteristically it seems to have arisen out of the Bulgarian occupation of western Macedonia. The Serbian prince, Vlastimir, during a three years' struggle, inflicted heavy losses on the Bulgarians. Presiam’s nephew and successor, the famous Boris, who began his long reign in 852, was again defeated by Vlastimir’s three sons, and his own son Vladimir with twelve great nobles was captured. Boris had to sue for peace to save the prisoners; he was no more fortunate in his quarrel with the Croats, and he maintained towards the Greeks the pacific policy of Omurtag.

The name of Boris is indelibly connected with the conversion of the Bulgarians to Christianity. Sporadic attempts at conversion had already been made, and with sufficient success to provoke persecution by Omurtag, whose eldest son is even said to have become a proselyte. But in the time of Boris Christianity became the State religion. In the Near East politics and religion are inextricably mingled, and it is probable that political considerations may have helped to influence the Bulgarian ruler. Boris, placed midway between the Western and the Eastern Empire, had played an equivocal part between Louis the German and Rostislav of Moravia, now supporting the German, now the Slav. The Moravian prince pointed out to Byzantium the danger to the whole Balkan peninsula of a Bulgaro-German alliance, especially if Boris, as his German ally desired, adopted the Western faith. Michael III at once saw the gravity of the situation; he made a hostile demonstration against Bulgaria, whose ruler submitted without a blow, agreed to accept the Orthodox form of Christianity, thus becoming ecclesiastically dependent on the Ecumenical Patriarch, and received, as a slight concession, a small rectification of his frontier in the shape of an uninhabited district. Boris was baptized in 864-65, the Emperor acted as his sponsor, and the convert took his sponsor's name of Michael. Other less mundane reasons for his conversion are given. It is said that, during a severe famine, he was moved by the appeals of his sister (who had embraced Christianity during her captivity in Constantinople) and by the arguments of a captive monk, Theodore Koupharas, to become a Christian. Another story represents him as terrified into acceptance of the faith by the realistic picture of the Last Judgment painted for him by a Greek artist, Methodius. His attempt, however, to force baptism upon his heathen subjects led to a revolt of the nobles. He put down this insurrection with the utmost severity; he executed 52 nobles with their wives and families, while sparing the common folk. The celebrated Patriarch Photius sent a literary essay to his “well-beloved son” on the heresies that beset, and the duties that await, a model Christian prince, and missionaries—Greeks, Armenians, and others—flooded Bulgaria. Perplexed by their different precepts and alarmed at the reluctance of the Patriarch to appoint a bishop for Bulgaria, Boris craftily sent an embassy to Pope Nicholas I, asking him to send a bishop and priests, and propounding a list of 106 theological and social questions, upon which he desired the Pope's authoritative opinion. This singular catalogue of doubts included such diverse subjects as the desirability of wearing drawers (which the Pope pronounced to be immaterial), the expediency of the sovereign dining alone (which was declared to be bad manners), the right way with pagans and apostates, and the appointment of a Bulgarian Patriarch. Nicholas I sent Formosus, afterwards Pope, and another bishop as his legates to Bulgaria with replies to these questions, denouncing the practice of torturing prisoners and other barbarous customs, but putting aside for the present the awkward question of a Patriarch; Bulgaria was, however, to have a bishop, and later on an archbishop. Photius in reply denounced the proceedings of the Roman Church in Bulgaria, and the reluctance of the new Pope Hadrian II to nominate as archbishop a person recommended by Boris made the indignant Bulgarian abandon Rome for Byzantium, which gladly sent him an archbishop and ten bishops. The Archbishop of Bulgaria took the next place after the Patriarch at festivities; Boris’ son, the future Tsar Simeon, was sent to study Demosthenes and Aristotle at Constantinople. One further step towards the popularization of Christianity in Bulgaria remained to be taken—the introduction of the Slavonic liturgy and books of devotion. This was, towards the end of Boris’ reign, the work of the disciples of Methodius, one of the two famous “Slavonic Apostles”, when they were driven from Moravia. Boris in 888 retired into a cloister, whence four years later he temporarily emerged to depose his elder son Vladimir, whose excesses had endangered the state. After placing his younger son Simeon on the throne in 893, Boris lived on till 907, and died in the odor of sanctity, the first of Bulgaria’s national saints.

Simeon’s love of learning 

With Simeon began again the struggle between Greeks and Bulgarians. Two Greek merchants, who had obtained from the Emperor Leo VI the monopoly of the Bulgarian trade, diverted it from Constantinople to Salonica, and placed heavy duties upon the Bulgarian traders. The latter complained to Simeon, and Simeon to the Emperor, but backstairs influence at the palace prevented his complaints from being heard, and forced him to resort to arms. He defeated the imperial forces, and sent back the captives with their noses cut off. Leo summoned the Magyars across the Danube to his aid; Simeon was defeated and his country devastated up to the gates of Preslav. But, when the Magyars withdrew, he defeated a Greek army at Bulgardphygos near Hadrianople and ravaged the homes of the Magyars during their absence on a distant expedition. An interval of peace ensued, during which the classically educated ruler endeavored to acclimatize Byzantine literature among his recalcitrant subjects. Simeon collected and had translated 135 speeches of Chrysostom; Constantine, a pupil of the “Apostle” Methodius, translated another collection of homilies, and, at Simeon’s command, four orations of St Athanasius; John the Exarch dedicated to Simeon his Shestodnev (or “Hexameron”), a compilation describing the creation from Aristotle and the Fathers; a monk Grigori translated for him the chronicle of John Malalas with additions; while several unknown writers drew up an encyclopaedia of the contemporary knowledge of Byzantium. There was nothing original in this literature; but, if it was not the natural product of the Bulgarian spirit, it diffused a certain culture among the few, and reflected credit upon the royal patron, whom his contemporaries likened to the Ptolemies for his promotion of learning. Simeon had learned also at Constantinople the love of magnificence as well as of literature. If we may believe his contemporary, John the Exarch, his residence at Great Preslav, whither the capital had now been removed from Pliska, was a marvel to behold, with its palaces and churches, its paintings, its marble, copper, gold, and silver ornaments. In the palace sat the sovereign “in a garment studded with pearls, a chain of coins round his neck and bracelets on his wrists, girt about with a purple girdle, and with a golden sword at his side”. Of all this splendor, and of a city which Nicetas in the thirteenth century described as “having the largest circuit of any in the Balkans”, a few scanty ruins remain.

A Bulgarian Tsar and Patriarch

Alexander, the successor of Leo VI, mortally offended Simeon by rejecting his offer to renew the treaty concluded with his father. The accession of the child Constantine Porphyrogenitus gave him his opportunity for revenge. In 913, a century after Krum, he appeared with an army before Constantinople; next year he obtained Hadrianople by treachery; and, on 20 August 917, he annihilated the Byzantine army at Anchialus, where half a century later the bones of the slain were still visible. Bulgaria by this victory became for a brief period the dominant power of the Balkan peninsula. Simeon’s dominions stretched from the Black to the Ionian Sea, except for a few Byzantine fortresses on the Albanian coast; Nis and Belgrade were Bulgarian; but the Aegean coast remained Greek. In 923 Simeon besieged Constantinople, and Hadrianople again surrendered to the Bulgarians. The title of “Sublime Khan” or even that of “Prince” seemed inadequate for the ruler of such a vast realm; accordingly Simeon assumed the style of “Tsar of the Bulgarians and Greeks”, receiving his crown from Rome, while, as a natural concomitant of the imperial dignity, the head of the Bulgarian Church became Patriarch of Preslav, with his residence at Silistria.

Simeon’s career closed in the midst of wars against the Serbs and Croats, in the course of which he had laid Serbia waste but had been defeated by the Croats. He died in 927, and, like most strong Balkan rulers, was succeeded by a weak man. He had excluded his eldest son Michael from the succession and confined him in a monastery; but his second son, Tsar Peter, had the temperament of a pacifist. His first act was to marry the grand-daughter of the Byzantine co-Emperor, Romanus I Lecapenus, thus introducing for the first time a Greek Tsaritsa into the Bulgarian court. He obtained by this marriage the recognition of his imperial title and of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. But the war-party in Bulgaria, headed by the Tsar’s younger brother John, revolted against what they considered a policy of concession to the Greeks; and, when John was defeated, Simeon’s eldest son emerged from his cell to lead a fresh rebellion. Upon his death, a far more serious opponent arose in the person of the noble, Shishman of Trnovo, and his sons. Shishman separated Macedonia and Albania from old Bulgaria, and established a second Bulgarian Empire in the western provinces. Torn asunder by these rivalries, Bulgaria was also menaced by her neighbors, the Serbs, the Patzinaks, and the Magyars, while the Bogomile heresy spread through the land from the two parent Churches of the Bulgarians proper and of the Macedonian or Thracian Dragovitchi. In Bulgaria, as in Bosnia, the Bogomile tenets aroused vehement opposition, the leader of which was the presbyter Cosmas. Apart from their beliefs, the Bogomiles, by the mere fact of dividing the nation into two contending religious factions, weakened its unity and prepared the way for the Turkish conquest. Even today the name of the Babuni, as the Bulgarian Bogomiles were called, lingers in the Babuna mountains near Prilep, the scene of fighting between the Bulgarians and the Allies in the late war. Simultaneously with this important religious and social movement there arose a race of ascetic hermits, of whom the chief, John of Rila, became the patron saint of Bulgaria. Native of a village near Sofia and a simple herdsman, he lived for twenty years now in the hollow of an oak, now in a cave of the Rila mountains, an hour’s climb above the famous monastery which bears his name. Here the pious Tsar Peter visited him, and here he died in 946. His body was removed by Peter to Sofia, but restored to Rila in 1469.

The Bogomile Heresy

The last years of Peter’s weak reign coincided with the great revival of Byzantine military power upon the accession of Nicephorus II Phokas. The Bulgarians had the tactlessness to demand from the conqueror of Crete, just returned from his triumphs in Asia, “the customary tribute” which Byzantium had paid to the strong Tsar Simeon. The victorious Emperor—so the historian of his reign informs us—“although not easily moved to anger”, was so greatly incensed at this impertinent demand that he raised his voice and exclaimed that “the Greeks must, indeed, be in a sorry plight, if, after defeating every enemy in arms, they were to pay tribute like slaves to a race of Scythians, poor and filthy to boot”. Suiting the action to the word, he ordered the envoys to be beaten, and bade them tell their master that the most mighty Emperor of the Romans would forthwith visit his country and pay the tribute in person. When, however, the soldierly Emperor had seen with his own eyes what a difficult country Bulgaria was, he thought it imprudent to expose his own army to the risks which had befallen his namesake and predecessor in the Balkan passes. He therefore contented himself with taking a few frontier-forts, and invited the Russians, on payment of a subvention, to invade Bulgaria from the north and settle permanently there. Svyatoslav, the Russian Prince, was only too delighted to undertake this task. He landed in 967 at the mouth of the Danube, drove the Bulgarians back into Silistria, and took many of their towns. This Russian success made Nicephorus reflect that a Russian-Bulgaria might be more dangerous to Constantinople than a weak native state—the same argument led to the Berlin treaty—so he offered to help the Bulgarians to expel his Russian allies, and requested that two Bulgarian princesses should be sent to Byzantium to be affianced to the sons of the late Emperor Romanus, one of whom was destined to be “the slayer of the Bulgarians”. Peter sent the princesses and his two sons as hostages, but his death, the assassination of Nicephorus, and the withdrawal of the Russians in 969, menaced by the Patzinaks at home, ended this episode. The biblically-named sons of Shishman—David, Moses, Aaron, and Samuel—endeavored to avail themselves of the absence of the lawful heir, Boris II, to reunite eastern and western Bulgaria under their dynasty, but the arrival of Boris frustrated their attempt. It was reserved for the new Byzantine Emperor, John I Tzimisces, to end the eastern Bulgarian Empire.

Svyatoslav had been so greatly charmed with the riches and fertility of Bulgaria that he returned there, no longer as a Byzantine ally but on his own account, preferring, as he said, to establish his throne on the Danube rather than at Kiev. He captured the Bulgarian capital and the Tsar, crossed the Balkans, took and impaled the inhabitants of Philippopolis, and bade the Greek government either pay him compensation or leave Europe. The warlike Armenian who sat on the Greek throne invaded Bulgaria in 971, traversed the unguarded Balkan passes, took Great Preslav, and released Boris and his family from Russian captivity, saying that he had “come to avenge the Bulgarians for what they had suffered from the Russians”. But when Silistria, the last Russian stronghold, fell, and the Russians had evacuated Bulgaria, Tzimisces deposed Boris and the Bulgarian Patriarch, and annexed eastern Bulgaria to the Byzantine Empire. Boris was compelled to divest himself of his regalia, and received a Byzantine court title; his brother was made an eunuch. Great Preslav was baptized Ioannotipolis after its conqueror; the eastern Bulgarian Empire was at an end. Western Bulgaria under the sons of Shishman remained, however, independent for 47 years longer. Of these four sons, the so-called Comitopouloi (or “Young Counts”), David was killed by some wandering Wallachs, Moses was slain while besieging Seres, and Aaron with most of his family was executed for his Greek sympathies by his remaining brother Samuel, who thus became sole Bulgarian Tsar. His realm, at the period of its greatest extent (before the Greek campaigns of 1000-1002), included a considerable part of Danubian Bulgaria, with the towns of Great Preslav, Vidin, and Sofia, and much of Serbia and Albania, but was essentially Macedonian, and his capital, after a brief residence at Sofia, was moved to Moglena, Yodel and Vodená (where an island in the lake still preserves the name of his “castle”), and finally to the lake of Ochrida, the swamps of which he drained by 100 canals into the river Drin.

Upon the death of Tzimisces in 976, the Bulgarians rose; both Boris II and his brother, Roman, escaped from Constantinople, but the former was shot by a Bulgarian in mistake for a Greek, while the latter, being harmless, received a post from Samuel, who overran Thrace, the country round Salonica, and Thessaly, and carried off from Larissa to his capital at Prespa the remains of St Achilleus, Bishop of Larissa in the time of Constantine the Great. The ruined monastery of the island of Ahil in the lake still preserves the memory of this translation. Samuel even marched into continental Greece and threatened the Peloponnese, but was recalled by the news that the young Emperor Basil II had invaded Bulgaria. The first of his Bulgarian campaigns, that of 981, ended, however, ingloriously for the future conqueror of the Bulgarians. Whilst on his way to besiege Sofia, he was defeated at Shtiponye near Ikhtiman and with difficulty escaped to Philippopolis. Fifteen years of peace between the hereditary enemies ensued, which Samuel employed in making war upon John Vladimir, the saintly Serbian Prince of Dioclea, in ravaging Dalmatia, and in occupying Durazzo. Bulgaria thus for a brief space—for Durazzo was soon recovered by the Greeks—became an Adriatic power. The Serbian prince, carried captive to Prespa, won the heart of Samuel's daughter Kosara, who begged her father to release him and allow her to marry him. Samuel not only consented, but allowed him to return and rule over his conquered land.

Samuel and Basil II

In 996 began the second war between Basil II and the Bulgarians. Basil, free at last from the cares of the civil wars, had appointed Taronites governor of Salonica for the special purpose of checking Samuel's raids. The new governor, however, fell with his son into a Bulgarian ambush and was killed; whereupon Basil sent Nicephorus Uranus to take his place. Meanwhile Samuel, elated at his success, had marched again through the vale of Tempe as far as the Peloponnese, ravaging and plundering as he went. But this time he was not to return unscathed. On his way back Uranus waited for him on the bank of the swollen Spercheus, and, crossing in the night, fell upon the sleeping Bulgarian soldiers, who had believed it impossible to ford the river. Samuel and his son, Gabriel Radomir Roman, were wounded and only escaped capture by lying as if dead among the corpses which strewed the field, fleeing, when it was dark, to the passes of Pindus. From that moment Samuel's fortune turned. His next loss was that of Durazzo, betrayed to the Greeks by his father-in-law, the chief man of the place, and by the captive son of Taronites, who had obtained the affections of another of the Tsar's susceptible daughters, and had been allowed to marry her and had received a command at that important position. The Greeks everywhere took the offensive. In 1000 they entered and again subdued Danubian Bulgaria, taking Great and Little Preslav and Pliska, which is now mentioned after a long interval. Next year Basil cleared the Bulgarian garrisons out of the south Macedonian towns of Berrhoea, Servia, and Vodená and out of the Thessalian castles, removing them to Voleros at the mouth of the Maritza. To this campaign we owe the first description, which enlivens the prose of Cedrenus, of the waterfall of Vodená—the Tivoli of Macedonia. In 1002 Vidin and Skoplje fell, and Samuel, believing that the Vardar could not be crossed, once again nearly became the prisoner of the Greeks. Hostilities dragged on, and Basil for the next twelve years annually invaded the western Bulgarian Empire, which was now reduced to part of Macedonia, Albania, and the mountains round Sofia. But in 1014 the third and last Bulgarian war of the reign broke out. On 29 July Nicephorus Xiphias turned the strong Bulgarian position of Kleidion (“the key”) in the Struma valley, near the scene of King Constantine’s victories over the Bulgarians 900 years later. Samuel escaped, thanks to his son's assistance, to Prilep, but Basil blinded the 15,000 Bulgarian captives, leaving one man in every hundred with one eye, so that he might guide his totally blinded comrades to tell the tale to the fugitive Tsar. Samuel fainted at the ghastly sight and two days later expired.

The western Bulgarian Empire survived him only four years. His son, Gabriel Roman, by a captive from Larissa succeeded him, but excelled him in physique alone. Barely a year later Gabriel was murdered by his cousin John Vladislav, Aaron’s son, whose life he had begged his father to spare when Aaron and the rest of his family were put to death. The ungrateful wretch likewise assassinated his cousin’s wife, blinded her eldest son, and invited the Serbian Prince, John Vladimir, to be his guest at Prespa and there had him beheaded. Having thus removed all possible rivals in his own family, the new Tsar began to treat with Basil, whose vassal he offered to become. Basil, mistrusting the murderer, marched upon his capital of Ochrida, blinding all the Bulgarians whom he took prisoners on the way. He captured Ochrida and was on his way to relieve Durazzo, which was invested by the Bulgarians, when a sudden defeat, inflicted upon a detachment of his army by the Bulgarian noble, Ivats, caused him to retire on Salonica. The Bulgarians continued to make a vigorous defence of their difficult country; Pernik successfully resisted a siege of 88 days; the Tsar even endeavored to make an alliance with the Patzinaks from beyond the Danube against the Greeks. But he fell by an unknown hand while besieging Durazzo in 1018. Bulgaria, left without a head, was divided into two parties—one, headed by the widowed Tsaritsa Maria, the Patriarch David, and Bogdan, “the commander of the inner fortresses”; the other and weaker party, led by the late Tsar’s son Fruyin, and the soldierly Ivats. Upon the news of the Tsar’s death, Basil marched into Bulgaria to complete the subjection of the country. At Strumitsa the Patriarch met him with a letter from the Tsaritsa, offering on certain conditions to surrender Bulgaria. Bogdan was rewarded with a Byzantine title for his treachery, and then the Emperor proceeded to Ochrida, where he confiscated the rich treasury of the Tsars. In his camp outside there waited upon him the Tsaritsa with her six daughters and three of her sons, a bastard son of Samuel, and the five sons and two daughters of Gabriel Radomir Roman. The conqueror received her kindly, as well as the notables who made their submission. Her three other sons, however, of whom Fruyin was the most prominent, had fled to Mt. Tomor near Berat, where they endeavored to maintain the independence of Bulgaria in the Albanian highlands, while Ivats held out in his castle of Pronishta in the same mountainous region. The young princes, however, were forced to surrender and compensated with court titles; the brave Ivats was treacherously seized and blinded. The last two nobles who stilll held out then surrendered. After nearly 40 years of fighting, Bulgaria was subdued.

The “Bulgar-slayer”, as Basil II is known in history, celebrated his triumph in the noblest of all existing churches, the majestic Parthenon, then Our Lady of Athens. On his march he gazed upon the bleaching bones of the Bulgarians who had fallen by the Spercheus twenty-two years before, and upon the walls erected in the pass of Thermopylae to repel their invasions. The great cathedral he enriched with offerings out of the Bulgarian treasury, and 900 years later the Athenians were reminded of his triumph there. Thence he returned to Constantinople, where the ex-Tsaritsa, Samuel’s daughters, and the rest of the Bulgarians were led through the Golden Gate before him.


Bulgaria remained for 168 years a Byzantine province. Her nobles had lost their leaders, her princes and princesses had disappeared amidst the pompous functionaries of the Byzantine Court. Only her Church remained autonomous, but that only on condition that the Patriarchate, which during the period of the western Bulgarian Empire had had its seat successively at Vodená, Prespa, and finally at Ochrida, was reduced to the rank of an Archbishopric. In 1020 Basil II issued three charters confirming the rights of “the Archbishop of Bulgaria”—the additional title of “Justiniana Prima” was added in 1157—whose residence continued to be at Ochrida, whither it had been moved by Simeon. He expressly maintained intact the rights and area of its jurisdiction as it had been in the times of both Peter and Samuel, which therefore included 30 bishoprics and towns, such as Ochrida, Kastoria, Monastir, and Skoplje in Macedonia; Sofia and Vidin in old Bulgaria; Belgrade, Nis, Prizren, and Rasa in what is now Jugoslavia; Canina (above Avlona), Cheimarra, Butrinto, and Joánnina in South Albania and Northern Epirus; and Stagi (the modern Kalabaka) in Thessaly. We may therefore safely assume that in the palmy days of Peter and of Samuel these places were included within their respective Empires. In 1020 these thirty bishoprics contained 685 ecclesiastics and 655 serfs. But after Basil II's reign the number of the suffragans was reduced practically to what it had been in the time of Samuel, and after the first archbishop no more Bulgarians were appointed to the see of Ochrida during the Byzantine period. The head of the autonomous Bulgarian Church was always a Greek and often a priest from St Sophia itself, except on one occasion when a Jew was nominated, and the list includes the distinguished theologian and letter-writer, Theophylact of Euboea, who felt as an exile his separation from culture in the wilds of Bulgaria, and John Camaterus, afterwards Ecumenical Patriarch at the time of the Latin conquest of Constantinople. The Bogomile heresy made great progress during this period, especially round Philippopolis, despite its persecution by the Emperor Alexius I. For the civil and military administration of Bulgaria a new (Bulgarian) theme was created under a Pronoetes and also a duchy of Paristrium, while the neighbouring themes had their territory enlarged. The various governors, holding office usually for only a year, made as much out of their districts as possible in the customary Oriental fashion; but the local communities retained a considerable measure of autonomy, and we are expressly told that Basil left the taxes as they had been in the time of Samuel, payable in kind.

The Bulgarians did not, however, remain inactive during this long period of Byzantine rule. A succession of weak rulers and court intrigues followed the death of Basil “the Bulgar-slayer”. The Bulgarian prince Fruyin, and his mother the ex-Tsaritsa, were mixed up in these intrigues, both imprisoned in monasteries, and the former blinded. In 1040 a more serious movement arose. Simultaneous insurrections broke out among the Serbs of what is now Montenegro and the Bulgarians, who found a leader in a certain Peter Delyan, who gave himself out to be a son of the Tsar Gabriel Radomir Roman. Greeted enthusiastically as Tsar, he had the country at his feet, so lively was the memory of the old dynasty. But a rival appeared in the person of the warlike Tikhomir, who was acclaimed Tsar by the Slavs of Durazzo. Delyan invited his rival and the Bulgarians that were with him to a meeting, at which he told them that “one bush could not nourish two redbreasts”, and bade them choose between Tikhomir and the grandson of Samuel, promising to abide loyally by their decision. Loud applause greeted his speech; the people stoned Tikhomir and proclaimed Delyan their sole sovereign. He marched upon Salonica, whence the Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian fled, while his chamberlain, Ivats, perhaps a son of the Bulgarian patriot, went over with his war chest to the insurgents. One Bulgarian army took Durazzo; another invaded Greece and defeated the imperial forces before Thebes; the entire province of Nicopolis (except Naupactus) joined the Bulgarians, infuriated at the exactions of the Byzantine tax-collector and at the substitution, by the unpopular finance minister, John, the Emperor’s brother, of cash payments for payments in kind. But another Bulgarian leader now appeared in the person of Alusian, younger brother of the Tsar John Vladislav, and Delyan’s cousin, whom the grasping minister's greed had also driven to revolt. Delyan wisely offered to share the first place with this undoubted scion of the stock of Shishman—for his own claims to the blood royal were impugned. But a great defeat of the Bulgarians before Salonica, which was ascribed to the intervention of that city's patron saint, St Demetrius, led to recriminations and suspicions. Alusian invited his rival to a banquet, made him drunk, and blinded him. The double-dyed traitor then betrayed his country to the Emperor, the revolt was speedily crushed, and Delyan and Ivats were led in triumph to Constantinople.

Another Bulgarian rising took place in 1073, and from the same cause—the exactions of the imperial treasury, which continued to ignore the wise practice of Basil II and the lessons of the last rebellion. Having no prominent leader of their own to put on the throne, the Bulgarian chiefs begged Michael, first King of the Serbian state of Dioclea, to send them his son, Constantine Bodin, whom they proclaimed “Tsar of the Bulgarians” at Prizren under the popular name of Peter, formerly borne by Simeon's saintly son. But there was a party among the Bulgarians hostile to what was doubtless regarded as a foreign movement; the insurgents made the mistake, after their initial successes, of dividing their forces, and were defeated at Paun (“the peacock” castle) on the historic field of Kossovo, where Bodin was taken prisoner. Frankish mercenaries in Byzantine employ completed the destruction by burning down the palace of the Tsars on the island in the lake of Prespa and sacking the church of St Achilleus. Worse still were the frequent raids of the Patzinaks and Cumans, while Macedonia was the theatre of the Norman invasion. But, except for occasional and quickly suppressed risings of Bulgarians and Bogomiles, there was no further serious insurrection for over 100 years. Under the Comnenian dynasty the Bulgarians were better governed, and they lacked local leaders to face a series of energetic Emperors.