Formation and strengthening of the Bulgarian state (end of VII century – mid IX century)
At the end of the VI century the West Turkic Khanate conquered the proto-Bulgarian tribes, living in Caucasus. At the beginning of the VII century, the proto-Bulgarians led by khan Kubrat from house Dulo succeeded to free themselves. Thus were created the grounds of Great Bulgaria. When khan Kubrat died (651) his three sons took in different directions.
The youngest son – Asparuh – and the Bulgarians under his leadership, settled in the Ongеl area, near Byzantium. The Bulgarians were interested in the Byzantine lands south of the river Danube. In order to keep his lands, the Byzantine emperor organized a military campaign. However, it was unsuccessful. The peace treaty, which was signed in 681, was considered as the beginning of the Bulgarian state. Khan Asparuh took the lead and Pliska was selected as a capital city.
Most of the population that the Bulgarians found in their new lands were Slavs. The Slavs are a part of the Indo-European peoples. The main income of the Slavs came from agriculture. They were good craftsmen, created labor tools and household items. The Slavs led a sedentary life. Their villages were not fortified. They lived in dugouts and semi-dugouts.
The proto-Bulgarians’ origin is controversial. Different theories exist. Most researchers assign them to the Turkic-Altaic ethnic group. The proto-Bulgarians lived off of livestock breeding, mainly horses. They were nomads. They lived in yurts, made of animal skins. They used to position their settlements close to rivers. The proto-Bulgarians usually led battles on horse-back and they were good bow-men.
Christianity had been spread within the contemporary Bulgarian lands before the settlement of Slavs and Bulgarians. When the Bulgarians appeared pagan beliefs quickly spread out. The Bulgarian rulers rejected Christianity. For them it was a hostile religion.
The proto-Bulgarians bowed before the natural forces. Their main god was Tangra (the word derives from the word “sky”). In his honor they built their temples. Sacrifices were taking place there. Totemism was largely spread among the proto-Bulgarians – each house originated from a different animal (totems – rabbit, wolf, dog). There was a cult also to the Sun and Moon. The chief priest of the Bulgarians was the Khan. They believed in the afterlife and buried the dead with food and tools. The noble Bulgarian chiefs were buried with their weapons and horses. Characteristic for the Bulgarians is that they used their own calendar. „The name-book of Bulgarian Khans“ is proof for a well-developed early Bulgarian society.
The Slav’s chief god was Perun – the God of thunder. Besides him they worshiped also: Volos – God of the herds, Dajbog – God of fertility, Svarog – God of fire and crafts, Lada – Goddess of beautify, Morena – Goddess of death. The Slavs also worshiped water spirits, mermaids, fairies and other supernatural creatures. Similarly to the proto-Bulgarians, the Slavs also believed in the life after death. They burned their dead and placed their ashes in ceramic pots. They also placed personal belongings, jewelry and food in the graves. The princes were buried with great honors. Precious objects were placed in their graves.
The proto-Bulgarian state appeared as a union between proto-Bulgarians and Slavs. Despite the differences between them, they were not hostile towards each other. At first they inhabited only their own territories. More and more Slavs and Bulgarians were living together in the capital city and other big cities. Each of the two peoples freely worshiped their Gods. The different religions did not hinder their unity. They went to war together, defending themselves from external threats.
The proto-Bulgarians governed the State. It was so because of their high cultural level and military power. The proto-Bulgarian aristocracy kept its domination and the state was called Bulgaria. The new state’s border to the south was Stara planina. It was a natural boundary between Bulgarians and Byzantines. To the east it was bordered by the Black sea. The cities – Tomis (today’s Constanta in Romania) and Odesos (today’s Varna in Bulgaria) remained Byzantine. To the north-east the river Dniester was the boundary, separating the Bulgarians from their old enemy – the Khazars. To the north-west the Carpathian Mountains were the boundary between Bulgaria and the Avar Haganate. To the west the Bulgarian boundary was the river Timok.
The Slavs accepted the chief authority of khan Asparuh, but kept their autonomy.
The zones they inhabited were ruled by Slav princes. The proto-Bulgarians protected the state from side of the Black sea. The Slavs took the protection to the south (Byzantium), as well as to the west and north-west. In order to protect its territories Bulgaria led many wars. Its military power consisted in Bulgarian cavalry and Slav infantry. The Slavs were very good at fighting in mountainous and tough terrains, while the Bulgarians were unbeatable in the plains. Shortly after the formation of the Bulgarian state, the Bulgarians were at war with the Avars. They pushed them further away to the west. Another Slav tribe – Timochani – joined Bulgaria. In 689 the Byzantine emperor Justinian II undertook military action against the Slavs living nearby Thessaloniki. His actions were successful but on his way back. But his army was intercepted and defeated by the Bulgarians. According to the “Bulgarian apocrypha history“ khan Asparuh was the last one to lead the war against the Khazars for protecting the Bulgarian boundaries. He lost his life in this war (700 or 701).
After Asparuh’s death, khan Tervel was the new ruler of the state. He successfully combined military power with diplomacy. His aim was to broaden the boundaries of the Bulgarian state and to confirm the sovereignty of the Khan. During 705 he helped emperor Justinian II to regain power. As the emperor had been removed from the throne. The grateful emperor gave the Zagore area to khan Tervel (todays Sliven, Yambol and Aitos). This territory was of strategic and economic importance. In addition to that, Tervel was entitled “Caesar”- the second important title after the emperor.
During 708 Justinian II decided to take back Zagore. His campaign was unsuccessful. During 711 the emperor was again removed from the throne and he asked for khan Tervel’s help for the second time. The Bulgarian khan sent him an army of three thousand, but this did not help and the emperor was killed. The problems in the Byzantine Empire continued. Khan Tervel took advantage of the situation and attacked Thrace. The Bulgarians returned with great spoils. The advances of the Bulgarians forced the new emperor to plead for peace. A peace treaty was thus signed during 716. It outlined the Bulgarian-Byzantine borders. The Zagore area officially became a Bulgarian territory. Byzantium had to pay an annual tax to Bulgaria. The two rulers had to exchange political fugitives. The treaty also settled the trade relations between the two states.
During 717 Constantinople was attacked by sea and land by the Arabs. The emperor asked for Tervel’s help. The Bulgarian khan promised to attack the Arabs and he did. The Bulgarian army defeated the Arabs. There were about 30 thousand victims. Thanks to Tervel, Byzantium was saved. Southeastern Europe was protected from an Arab invasion and Islamization. According to some historians, Tervel ruled by the year 718, while others claim it was by 721.
After Tervel’s ruling, tough times came for the Bulgarian state. Fight for power between various houses. The long reign of house Dulo was terminated. The rulers constantly changed. At the same time the relations with Byzantium worsened. Bulgaria was in a political crisis. Emperor Constantin V Kopronim (741-775) took advantage of the situation. He started a succession of long wars with Bulgaria. He managed to organize nine campaigns against Bulgaria. The constantly changing khans barely withheld his attacks. The crisis started with the beginning of the reign of khan Vineh and deepened at his successors – Telets, Sabin, Umor, Toktu and Pagan. In addition, Byzantium skillfully fueled the new contradictions between Slavs and Bulgarians.
The stabilization of the Bulgarian state started with khan Telerig (768-777). He succeeded in preventing a new attack by Byzantium. He even undertook advances in district Verzilia. These actions on his behalf were however neutralized. Taking a lesson from this, he decided to be cunning. Under the pretext that he wanted to desert from the throne and run away to Byzantium, he received a list of all the emperor’s spies in Bulgaria. Telerig captured all of them and had them executed.
Complete overcoming of the political crisis was reached during the ruling of khan Kardam (777-803). Characteristic for his ruling was the overcoming of inner fights and the strengthening of the central governance. Indisputably the Bulgarian khan managed to achieve it. He took the state out of the crisis situation.
Khan Kardam was followed by khan Krum (803 – 814). During his first year of ruling he managed to overtake a part of the Avar Haganate. In 805 he conquered other vast territories to the north of the river Danube. These lands were rich and densely populated by Slavs. The Byzantine emperor Nicephorus I Genik had the aim to destroy the Bulgarian state. In response to this, during 809 khan Krum defeated the emperor’s army and overtook Serdika. The city was an important strategic center. It opened the access to the Slav tribes in Macedonia.
The Byzantine emperor undertook a campaign against the Bulgarians. Khan Krum offered peace, which was rejected. Nicephorus I managed to take, plunder and burn the capital city of Pliska. Khan Krum then mobilized all his forces. During the night of the 25-26 July 811 in the area of Varbishki pass, he surrounded and attacked the Byzantine forces. Nicephorus’ army suffered a substantial defeat. The emperor himself was killed. The Bulgarian ruler ordered the emperor’s head to be severed. Nicephorus’ skull was later on coated with silver. Khan Krum raised toasts at big celebrations with it (image 2.6), as a symbol of the great victory.
“Khan Krum with his army before a campaign“, artist D. Gyudzhenov, source
After the Varbishki pass battle, Bulgaria was equally powerful together with the Byzantine and the Frankish empire. The Bulgarian ruler continued his expansion. During 812 he took the Black sea city of Messembria (Nessebar) and the Develt fortress. On June 22nd, 813 around the Versinika fortress the Byzantine armies suffered another defeat. After this the new emperor became Leo V Armenian.
“Khan Krum raising a toast with Nicephorous’ skull”, source
This victory was not enough for Krum and he advanced towards Constantinople. He understood well that the fortress walls of the Byzantine capital are hard to breach. Therefore he did not attack, but started peace negotiations, initiated by the Byzantine emperor. Leo V Armenian used cunning and tried to kill khan Krum during the negotiations meeting. The Bulgarian ruler foresaw these intentions and ran away. Outraged by the emperor’s deed, at the beginning of 814 khan Krum attacked and devastated Thrace – a strategic base of Byzantium. It protected the advances towards Constantinople. At the end of 813 the preparations for a new attack towards the Byzantine capital started. Those were terminated in April, when khan Krum died, most probably from a heart attack.
In addition to being a great army leader, khan Krum was also a wise politician. He introduced the first written laws. They became obligatory for all. Thus the governance was centralized and the differences between Slavs and proto-Bulgarians were neutralized. Krum’s laws protected private property and saved the poor families from losing everything. The laws sentenced the liars, the thieves and the slanderers. All vines were rooted in order for drinking to be stopped. During khan Krum’s ruling the Slavs joined the state government. Krum was the founder of the strongest dynasty. He was ruling the country until the end of the X century.
After khan Krum’s death, his son – khan Omurtag (816-831) – became the new ruler. He led a peaceful foreign policy. After an unsuccessful campaign towards Byzantium, in 815 he signed a 30 year peace treaty. The treaty determined the boundaries between the two states. Also the exchange of captives of war and fugitives, as well as the faith of the Slavs. They were living in the Black sea area and Eastern Thrace.
Omurtag focused his efforts in the direction of internal stabilization of the state. He was against the decentralized governing of the khan state and removed the autonomy of Slavs and Bulgarians. The state was divided into districts, called comitati. Those were rules by trusted governors, appointed directly by the Khan. Smaller administrative areas, called zhupi and ruled by zhupans, were introduced. Thus the power was centralized and the authority of the Bulgarian ruler grew. The subjects considered him as main military leader, law enforcer and priest – a ruler defined by God.
Khan Omurtag’s was not called “the Builder” for nothing. He restored the burned and devastated Pliska residence. A new khan palace with a throne hall, a temple of Tangra and an alley with stone pillars were built, together with new palaces throughout the entire state.
In the beginning of the IX century throughout Bulgarian lands began the spreading of Christianity. This was due to the conquering of territories inhabited by already Christened Slavs as well as to the stronger Byzantine influence. Christianity was infiltrated both among the ordinary people, as well as among the Bulgarian elite. Such was the case also of Omurtag’s oldest son – Enravota, who became a Christian. Christians were persecuted. Enravota was denied the right to inherit the throne and suffered a death punishment.
After Omurtag died, he was followed by his youngest son Malamir (831 – 836). Enravota was denied this right and Zvinitsa (the second son) died very young. Malamir was under aged and a kavkhan – Isbul – was assigned as his regent. Malamir led a peaceful foreign policy towards Byzantium and the Frankish empire. At the end of his ruling the Byzantine empire violated the peace treaty. The Bulgarian ruler led successful battles for adjoining Bulgarians and Slavs from Thrace and Macedonia. The Bulgarian forces led by kavkhan Isbul managed to take important centers such as Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) and Vereya (today’s Stara Zagora).
Khan Malamir died unexpectedly (probably from an illness), without leaving any heirs. This is the reason why the throne was given to Zvinitsa’s son – Presiyan(836–852). Khan Presiyan continued the policy for adjoining southeastern Slavs. During 837 a Slav tribe in the Western Rhodopes – smolyani – rose against the Byzantine empire. Led by kavkhan Isbul the Bulgarian army went to their aid. Khan Presiyan undertook an advance in the Aegean Sea zone. After he took Philipi he conquered Macedonia. In response to this, Byzantium turned the Serbian tribes against the Bulgarian state. The war conflicts between Bulgarians and Serbians continued for three years, which led to no territorial changes.
ChristianizationandpoliticaldevelopmentofBulgaria(second half of the IX century – the first three decades of the X century)
After khan Presiyan, the ruling passed on to KhanBoris (852 – 889). During this time Bulgaria was big in size and military power. Still it was not considered equal by the other Christian states, since it was pagan. Christianity was the leading religion in Europe. Accepting Christianity would have strengthened the authority of the Bulgarian state among the rest of the Christian world. Khan Boris led the state within a complex foreign policy situation. Large Slav groups in the central and southeastern part of the continent were establishing their own states – Great Moravia, a Serbian state, a Croatian state. This resulted into the appearance of strong rivalry between the Constantinople patriarchy and the Roman Catholic church for domination over them. This rivalry grew into a fight for political power between the Byzantine Empire and the German kingdom. In an attempt to limit the German influence, the Bulgarian state joined a union with Great Moravia. As a result of this, during 853 the armies of Ludwig German attacked and devastated the Bulgarian lands. The suffered loss forced Khan Boris to sign a union with the German Kingdom against Great Moravia.
During 855-856 a new war started between Bulgaria and Byzantium. The successful military actions of emperor Michael III led to the conquering of vast territories – Philipopolis, Zagore, the Black sea cities Develt, Anhialo and Nessebar. A peace treaty was signed in 856. During 862 Bulgaria entered a military union with the German Kingdom. The Bulgarian ruler accepted to be Christened by German priests. At the same time Great Moravia entered a union with Byzantium.
During 863 the Byzantine Empire undertook a campaign against Bulgaria. Khan Boris could not counteract due to the frequent earthquakes and hunger, which were tormenting Bulgarian lands. He offered peace, which the empire accepted. Thus in the autumn of 863 was signed a 30 year peace treaty. According to this treaty Bulgaria was obliged to accept Christianity from the Constantinople patriarchy. In return the Byzantine Empire had to give back the Zagore district to the Bulgarians.
Bulgaria under the rule of Prince Boris I, source: By Kandi – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bulgaria_under_rule_of_Boris_I.png, CC BY 3.0
During 864 Khan Boris and his closest nobles were christened by Byzantine priests. The Bulgarian ruler took the name of his godfather – the Byzantine emperor at the time – Michael. Boris was given the title Archon. It was later on changed with the Slav title – prince.
“The Christening of Preslav court”, artist Nikolay Pavlovich, source
The mass christening of Bulgarians was a hard process. The Bulgarian aristocracy took the adoption of Christianity from Byzantium – the eternal enemy – as an act of shame. They refused to accept the growing Byzantine cultural and political influence in the state. This led to an uprising against the Christening. The unhappy nobles started towards the capital city of Pliska in full armor. Prince Boris managed to stop the rebels. He punished with death 52 nobles and their families.
The growing influence of the Byzantine empire was threatening the independent development of the Bulgarian state. Christian philosophy failed to reach the minds of ordinary Bulgarian people because it was preached in an unknown language. The Bulgarian ruler understood the necessity for an independent church. Prince Boris started negotiations for independence of the Bulgarian church with the patriarch of Constantinople – Photius. This however led to no definitive results. Then Boris turned towards Rome with a plea for the Byzantine priests to be replaced. The pope satisfied the request of the Bulgarian ruler. However, a specific response on the issue of the independence of the Bulgarian church was still missing. Thus the relations with Rome gradually worsened. The Bulgarian prince restarted his communication with Constantinople. During 870 at the 8th ecumenical council in Constantinople, the Bulgarian church issue was solved – it became independent in its internal church deeds.
During the IX century Byzantium was politically, economically and culturally flourishing. Its urge for influencing and adjoining the Slav tribes to Christianity required the creation of Slavic writing.
The creation of the Slavic writing is connected with the life and work of the brothers Constantine-Cyril and Methodius. They were born in Thessaloniki. Their father was the aid of the local city manager and their mother was a Slav. Methodius, born in 815, took his father’s work. He was assigned to be manager of a Byzantine district, inhabited by Slavs. Constantine, born in 826, was an exceptional student. At the age of 17 he went to the famous Magnaur School – a prestigious high school in Byzantium.
Remnants of the Magnaura school, today in Istanbul, Turkey, source
He devoted himself to literary activity. Recommended by patriarch Photius he became a teacher in philosophy in the Magnaur School. There he gained the nickname “philosopher”. During 851 he became a monk. During 855 Constantine left his secular activities. He joined his brother in the “Polychron” monastery. The reason was the creation of the Slavic alphabet, called Glagolitic. Many church books were translated into the Slav language. The two brothers from Thessaloniki actively started preaching and teaching.
After being ill, on Feb 14th, 869 Constantine died. Before his death he took the monk name Cyril. Methodius continued to teach and educate. He died on April 6th, 885. After his death the students of the two brothers suffered persecution.
During 886 a part of those who survived the persecution – Naum, Clement and Angelarius – reached Bulgarian lands. They were very well accepted by prince Boris. Shortly after their arrival Angelarius died. A decision was taken for the establishment of two centers for the development of literary and educational activities. One was in the southwestern Bulgarian lands – Ohrid – where Clement worked. The other – in Southeastern Bulgaria – Pliska – where Naum worked. At the end of the IX century Clement of Ohrid changed the alphabet created by Cyril and Methodius by introducing a new style of writing the letters. The improved alphabet was named „Cyrillic“, after Constantine-Cyril Philosopher. Thanks to the activities of the literary schools in Ohrid and Pliska, the Bulgarian state transformed into a spiritual, cultural and literary center of the Slav countries.
During the last years of his life, Tsar Boris went to a monastery. The throne was taken by his first born son Vladimir(889-893). His ruling is connected with an attempt for restoring the pagan traditions. He even took back his pagan name – Rasate. During the autumn of 893 prince Boris left the monastery, removed Vladimir-Rasate from the throne and blinded him. That same year a church gathering was called in Preslav. There it was decided that the ruling of the state would pass on to prince Boris’ third son – Simeon. It was also decided that the capital city would change from Pliska to Preslav. The Slavic language was announced as the official language of the state and the church. Boris left again and went to a monastery where he died on May 2nd, 907. After his death, the Bulgarian church canonized him as a saint.
A XIX century icon of St. Prince Boris of Bulgaria, unknown author, source
TsarSimeon(see the image underneath) was taught at the Magnaur School. He learned Greek perfectly and new the ancient Hellenic and the contemporary Byzantine culture in details. This is why he was called half Greek. He came back to Bulgaria together with Cyril and Methodius’ students. Together with Naum he worked actively in the literary school in Pliska. During 893 he sat on the Bulgarian throne. He considered himself an equal of the Byzantine emperor.
Simeon wanted to rule in peace and good relations with the neighbors. The 30 year peace treaty with Byzantium was however violated after a market for Bulgarian goods was moved from Constantinople to Thessaloniki. This inflicted a serious damage on Bulgarian trade interests. The diplomatic negotiations led to no solution of the problem. In response, during 894, Bulgarian armies invaded Eastern Thrace and defeated the Byzantine army several times. In order to counteract to the Bulgarian attack, during 895, Byzantium, together with the Magyars, created a plan to attack Bulgaria. The Magyars organized two devastating campaigns in Eastern Bulgaria. The Byzantine army on the other hand attacked Bulgaria via Eastern Thrace and their navy – via the Danube estuaries. In order to save time, Simeon started peace negotiations. During this time he entered into a union with the Pechenegs. With their help, he pushed away the Magyars.
Tsar Simeon stopped the peace negotiations and invaded Eastern Thrace. During 896 at Bulgarofigon the Byzantine armies suffered a major defeat by the Bulgarians. A peace treaty was signed. The market was returned to Constantinople and the Byzantine empire had to pay an annual tax to Bulgaria.
During 904 the Arabs surrounded Byzantine Thessaloniki. Tsar Simeon took the opportunity and also headed south with his armies in an attempt to take over the city. Another peace treaty was signed. It legalized a great part of Simeon’s conquers – to the south from Strandzha to the Black sea city Midia, a part of the Drach area (Southern Albania) and Southern Macedonia. Bulgaria was spreading twenty kilometers from Thessaloniki.
During May 912 the Byzantine emperor Leo VI died. His place was taken by the minor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos. He ruled together with his uncle Alexander. The political situation in the empire worsened. Dynasty fights for power began. Tsar Simeon decided to take advantage of the crisis. His foreign policy entered a new stage. The Bulgarian Tsar’s attacks had no more territorial objectives but the overtaking of Constantinople and destruction of the Byzantine empire. In August 913 tsar Simeon invaded the empire. He reached the walls of Constantinople. In the meanwhile Alexander died and the emperor’s regency was taken by patriarch Nicholas I Mystikos. He started peace negotiations and accepted all requests made by Simeon. An official welcome for Simeon was organized for him. At this welcoming the patriarch Nicholas I Mystikos crowned Simeon as Vassilevs (tsar) of Bulgaria. This title however was not equal with the emperor’s one. This title gave no right to Simeon to the throne. Which was why Simeon proposed a marriage between his daughter and the emperor. This marriage would have brought him the title Vassileopator. Also the possibility to stand in the lead of the empire as a co-emperor.
A great part of the Byzantine aristocracy considered this peace treaty as humiliating. There is a coup and the management of the empire is taken by Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos’ mother – Zoya. The peace treaty with Bulgaria was violated. The empress organized a coalition against the Bulgarians together with Magyars, Pechenegs and Serbs. Tsar Simeon managed to break this anti-Bulgarian coalition. He even drew to his side the Magyars and the Pechenegs. During 917 a strong Byzantine army started towards the Bulgarian lands. It was led by the skillful general Leo Foka. It was aimed at Anhialo (today’s Pomorie). At the same time the Byzantine fleet started towards the Danube estuaries. The decisive battle took place on August 20th, 917 when the Byzantine army suffered a serious defeat. This was also contributed to by the fact that the Byzantine fleet failed to attack the Bulgarian army in the rear as was the initial plan. Leo Foka gained new forces, but at Katasirti they were defeated once more.
After the Simeon’s victories another coup takes place in Byzantium. The power was taken by the commander of the fleet – Roman Lakapin. The Bulgarian tsar disliked this. He sought the aid of the Arabs. They agreed to join him in an attack of Constantinople. These plans were however ruined by Byzantine diplomacy. Nevertheless Simeon started a campaign on his own. He reached the walls of the Byzantine capital one more time. Simeon understood that it cannot be taken from the land only. The intimidating Bulgarian army forced the Byzantine emperor to start peace negotiations with Simeon. They were unsuccessful. During the time of the negotiations the Bulgarian ruler managed to adjoin to the Bulgarian state also the Serbian lands. During 927 Simeon started preparation for another campaign against Constantinople. Unfortunately, on 27th May, 927 he died of a heart attack. His dream of Constantinople remained unrealized. Simeon left a powerful and large state to his heirs. It reached three seas – from the Carpathians to the Aegean and from the Black sea to the Adriatic.
Bulgaria under the rule of Tsar Simeon – Wars of tsar Simeon I, source: By Kandi – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wars_of_tsar_Simeon_I.png, CC BY 3.0
Besides political might, during Simeon’s ruling the Bulgarian state experienced a remarkable cultural advance, called “The golden age”. This highly educated Bulgarian ruler actively supported literary and cultural activities. Thanks to Slavic writing, Bulgarian culture reached the peak achievements of mediaeval culture. The cultural upheaval was the result of the work of Cyril and Methodius’ students. Thanks to them the spoken language of the Bulgarian nation also became its written language. A number of original works were written. A literary circle was established. The book became a part of the people’s life. The most renown authors of that time were Constantine of Preslav, Chernorizets Hrabar, Joan Exarch and others.
Together with the literary work, great progress was also seen in Bulgarian art, construction and architecture. The capital Preslav could compete with Constantinople. It was fortified with strong walls. The city had an outer and an inner part. The outer city had exquisite churches and monasteries. The most remarkable of all was the so called Golden church. The inner city had the tsar palace and the patriarch’s complex. The architecture was developing also in other Bulgarian cities – Ohrid, Sredets.
The Golden Church at the ancient Bulgarian capital, Preslav (partial reconstruction), source: By Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece – The Golden Church, CC BY 2.0
After Simeon’s unexpected death, the heir to the throne was his second son – Peter (927–970). The new tsar was facing a tough choice – to continue his father’s wars or to choose peace with Byzantium. The new tsar chose peace. The Bulgarian borders were endangered from all sides. At the beginning of 927 a ten year peace treaty was signed, fortified by marriage between the Bulgarian tsar and Roman Lakapin’s granddaughter – Maria. The emperor confirmed Peter’s title “tsar of the Bulgarians”. The peace treaty was not well accepted by a part of Bulgarian aristocracy, who preferred Simeon’s war policy. There were inner fights, which were terminated by tsar Peter. During that time changes in the Byzantine government started, shaking its stability. After a period of stabilization, the Byzantine Empire deliberately exacerbated the relations with Bulgaria. Pushed by Byzantine diplomacy, during 968, the Kiev prince Svetoslav attacked and took over a part of the northeastern Bulgarian lands. During the following year the Russians prepared another campaign against Bulgaria. When he learned about this, Tsar Peter had a heart attack and died on Jan 30th, 970.
The throne was taken by Peter’s son – BorisII (970-972). During 970 while the Russians were campaigning in southeastern Bulgaria, led by prince Svetoslav, they were defeated by the Byzantine army. After this, the new Byzantine emperor Joan Tsimiski attacked the capital city Great Preslav and conquered. Tsar Boris II and his family were taken as hostages.
Four of the remaining Bulgarian nobles – Moses, David, Aron and Samuil – tried to protect what was left of the Bulgarian state. They were related to the tsar’s dynasty on their mother’s side. After the death of the Byzantine emperor, Boris II and Roman managed to escape from Constantinople. On the border Boris II was killed. Roman managed to reach northwestern Bulgaria. It was guarded by Samuil. Roman was announced tsar. Still the entire power was in Samuil’s hands. Ohrid was selected to be capital.
Dynastic fights started again in the Byzantine Empire. Taking advantage of the situation Samuil strengthened Bulgarian authority in southern Thrace, Misia, Bulgarian lands north of the Danube and Southern Macedonia. During 997, after seven years in prison in Constantinople, tsar Roman died. The Bulgarian aristocracy pronounced Samuil as tsar (997-1014).
Tsar Samuil made efforts to strengthen the back of the Bulgarian state. During 998 his armies attacked the Serbian lands and took Kotor and Dalmatia. With Hungary the Bulgarian ruler used diplomacy. The two states made a union, strengthened by а dynasty marriage. During the year 1000 the Byzantine emperor Basil II took his mighty army towards Bulgaria. He quickly conquered the lands to the south and north of Stara planina. Tsar Samuil replied by attacking Adrianople, making his way towards Thessaloniki. During 1014 Basil’s armies advanced towards Bulgaria one more time. Near to the village of Klyuch on July 29th the Bulgarian forces tried to counteract. They were defeated though. 14 000 Bulgarian soldiers were captured. Following the orders of the Byzantine emperor they were blinded. One of every 100 men had one good eye to lead the rest. The blinded soldiers were sent back to Samuil. When the tsar saw his tormented men, he had a stroke. He died on October 6th, 1014. For this cruelty, Basil II was called the “Bulgar-slayer”.
„Samuel’s blinded soldiers“, artist Vasil Goranov, source
After Samuil’s death, his son GavrailRadomir (1014 – 1015) became tsar. A fierce fight for power started though. The new Bulgarian tsar was killed by his cousin Joan Vladislav, who took the throne. Bulgarian fortresses fell one after the other under Byzantine attacks. During 1018 tsar Joan Vladislav died in battle. The Bulgarian state was falling apart and in the autumn of 1018 it stopped existing.
After Byzantium conquered the Bulgarian state, the Bulgarian lands became a part of the Byzantine military-administrative system. Several districts were formed – district Bulgaria (the lands between Ohrid and Sredets), district Paristrion (the lands between the Danube and Stara planina), district Danube cities (northwestern Bulgarian lands). The southern Bulgarian territories became a part of the already existing Byzantine districts. These areas were governed by Byzantines. The Bulgarian church also lost its independence. The Ohrid archbishop was proclaimed independent. The Greek language became official and clerical. Bulgarians were paying taxes to Byzantium – at first in kind and after 1040 – pecuniary. The pecuniary taxes were disliked by the Bulgarians. They had no money to pay with and were forced to sell what they were producing.
These conditions led to several uprisings against Byzantine authority. Among the most substantial ones are the uprising of Peter Delyan (1040-1041). He was Samuil’s grandson and the uprising of Georgi Voyteh (1072-1073). Both were unsuccessful.
During the last decades of the ХII century the Byzantine empire started losing its power. In 1185 a coup d’etat took place. The new emperor imposed a higher tax and the dissatisfaction among the Bulgarian population grew. This provoked the brothers Teodor (Peter) and Asen (Belgun – “wise one”) to lead the people towards rebellion.
“Asen’s and Peter’s uprising” artist Vasil Goranov, source
It was initiated during the consecration of the newly built church “St. Dimiter” in Tarnovo in the autumn of 1185. Teodor became tsar under the name of Peter II, as a symbol of the restoration of the Bulgarian state. The uprising managed to liberate northern Bulgaria, after which the rebels advanced towards Thrace and Macedonia. The Byzantine campaigns against the Bulgarians were unsuccessful. The Byzantine emperor had no other choice but to admit the independence of the Second Bulgarian kingdom. Tarnovo became the capital city. A monk called Vasilius became archbishop. He was the one to crown Tsar Asen. Still Peter kept his title as a ruler of northeastern Bulgaria and Dobrudzha. Tsar Asen continued the liberation in order to unite all Bulgarians. Another aim he had was the acceptance of the authority of the Bulgarian tsar.
Tsarevets fortress in Tarnovo, the capital city of the second Bulgarian kingdom, source
A part of Bulgarian aristocracy did not approve of the centralized government of the two brothers. An internal fight for power started. During 1196 Tsar Asen was killed by his cousin Ivanko, who became the new tsar. He did not remain such for long. Tsar Peter quickly surrounded Tarnovo. This forced Ivanko to run away to Byzantium. The full power was again Tsar Peter’s. In 1197 he also fell victim to a conspiracy. The new tsar was Asen’s and Peter’s younger brother – Kaloyan (1197 – 1207). He had been kept hostage in Constantinople.
Kaloyan stood ahead of the Bulgarian state at a moment of intra-political contradictions. Because of this he was initially avoiding direct conflict with Byzantium. He was trying to attract to his side the feudal lords that have split from the Byzantine empire. Tsar Kaloyan managed to handle their dissatisfaction. He united them against Byzantium. An advance started. The Constanta and Varna fortresses were conquered. Thus in 1202 a peace treaty was signed between Bulgaria and Byzantium. Bulgaria regained its territories from the time before it fell under Byzantine governance. Still, the question of the recognition of the tsar title and the independence of Bulgarian church remained unsolved. High authority recognition was necessary. Kaloyan was a great diplomat. He started negotiations with the Roman church. After almost five years, on November 8th, 1204 cardinal Leo crowned Kaloyan as “Tsar of Bulgarians and Vlachs”. He gave him a scepter, a crown and a banner. The Bulgarian ruler obtained the right to cut coins with his face on them. The Tarnovo archbishop Vasilius was proclaimed as the “primacy” of the Bulgarian church. It acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope but remained Orthodox.
An anthropological restoration of tsar Kaloyan’s face, elaborated by prof. Yordan Yordanov, source: By Vassia Atanassova – Spiritia
During 1204 the knights from the IV crusade conquered Constantinople. They put an end to the Byzantine empire. The Latin Empire was created. New states appeared in different Byzantine territories – the empire of Nicaea, the despotism of Epirus and the Trapezuntine Empire. The relations between Bulgaria and the new states became more complex. During the summer of 1204 the Latin Empire attacked Bulgaria. Vast territories were conquered. In response to that Tsar Kaloyan decided to unite with the Byzantine themselves and make them turn against their conqueror. With the help of the Cumans and the rebellious Byzantines, Tsar Kaloyan inflicted a serious defeat on the so far invincible Latin knights. During 1207 Kaloyan surrounded Thessaloniki. He failed to conquer the city. The noble opposition had risen again. The Tsar fell victim to a conspiracy. He was killed in October 1207.
The Latin empire after the IV Crusade, source: By Kandi – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The conspiracy was organized by his nephew Boril (1207 -1218). He took over the power. Boril organized persecutions against supporters of the Asen dynasty. The rightful heirs – the sons of Asen I – Ivan Asen and Alexander were forced to leave the state. The new Bulgarian tsar was a poor manager. The state fell into an internal and foreign policy crises. During 1217 Ivan Asen II returned to Bulgaria. With the help of nobles, he managed to take the capital city of Tarnovo. The nobles were not happy with Boril’s way of government. Tsar Ivan Asen II(1218 – 1241) was crowned.
Tsar Ivan Asen was an exceptional manager and diplomat. During his time, the Latin empire and the Greek state of Epirus stood to the south of Bulgaria. Hungary was spreading to the northwest. Serbia was getting stronger to the west. The Bulgarian tsar decided to use centralized ruling, skillful diplomacy and dynastic marriages. He wanted to fortify the international authority of Bulgaria. During 1221 he signed a peace treaty with the king of Hungary – Andrey II. Ivan Asen got married to his daughter Anna-Maria. As a wedding gift Ivan Asen received back the Belgrade and Branichevska districts. Ivan Asen II secured the northern boundaries of the state with this marriage.
Portrait of Tsar Ivan Assen II from G. Danchoff, source
The Epirus despotism was a serious threat for Bulgaria to the south. Tsar Ivan Asen II decided to maintain good relations with the ruler of Epirus – Theodore Komnenos. A peace treaty between the two states was signed in 1224. One of the Bulgarian tsar’s daughters – Maria – married Theodore’s brother – despot Manuel. During 1228 Ivan Asen was however invited to become the guardian and regent of the under-aged Latin emperor Baldwin II. When Theodore Komnenos learned about these negotiations, he violated the peace treaty and invaded Bulgarian lands. The most important battle between the Bulgarian and Epirian armies took place on March 9th 1230 at Klokotnitsa fortress. The Epirus despotism suffered a great defeat. Many soldiers were captured, as was Theodore Komnenos himself, together with his family and closest nobles. The ordinary soldiers were set free. This act won respect for the Bulgarian tsar. The skillful combining of good diplomacy, dynasty marriages and military power transformed the Bulgarian state into a real military and political hegemon.
Bulgaria under the rule of Tsar Ivan Asen II, source: By Kandi – Own work, Public Domain
The territorial growth of Bulgaria had a positive influence on the state economy. Crafts and trade were developing very fast. Tsar Ivan Asen II created conditions for free trade. Gold coins were being cut with the tsar’s face. Churches and monasteries were being built. Clerical books were copied and translated. Original literary works were also being created.
During 1235 a union was signed between the Bulgarian state and the Nicaean empire. It was fortified with a dynasty marriage. The Bulgarian patriarchy was restored during an ecumenical council in Lampsak following the peace treaty. During the last years of Ivan Asen’s ruling the Bulgarian state is in good relations with all neighbors. At that time in southeastern Europe a massive Tatar invasion was approaching. Tsar Ivan II died on June 24th, 1241.
After his death, hard times come for the mighty Bulgarian state. The nobles started fighting for power. The Bulgarian lands were attacked by Tatars. This tough period was skillfully used by Byzantium. It managed to conquer many Bulgarian territories. In 1331 the Bulgarian state had a new ruler – tsar Ivan Alexander (1331-1371). An heir of the Asen’s dynasty.
At the beginning of his reign the tsar took to stabilizing the state first. He neutralized the internal fights. He led successful wars with Byzantium. As a result of that he broadened the Bulgarian lands into the Thracian and Rhodopean districts. Ivan Alexander managed to settle the Bulgarian-Serbian relations. He married his sister Elena to the Serbian king – Stefan Dušan.
During 1354 began the Ottoman Turks’ advance towards the Balkans. Among the first conquered Bulgarian lands were those in Thrace. The Bulgarian ruler tried to counteract the Ottoman attacks. He joined an anti-Ottoman union together with Byzantium. It was unsuccessful. The Ottoman armies reached Sredets. The Bulgarian tsar’s sons died in the battle.
Internal fights started between Ivan Alexander’s heirs. The unity of the state was called into question. In order to neutralize the internal tension, the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander himself announced Ivan Shishman as his heir to the throne. Ivan Shishman took the Tarnovo Tsardom. During 1356 Ivan Sratsimir took the independent governance of the Vidin Tsardom. Dobrudzha was ruled by despot Dobrotitsa. Tsar Ivan Alexander died on 17.02.1371. Until his last day he kept his authority over the entire Bulgaria. After that however the Bulgarian nation fell under the ruling of different Bulgarian rulers. The fight for power between them only helped the Ottoman advance. The main objective of the Ottomans was to conquer Constantinople.
Tsar Ivan Alexander was an exceptional patron of culture, art and literature. Some of the most remarkable and exquisitely decorated books preserved ever, come from his time. The Bulgarian tsar was very generous in his donations to churches and monasteries. The time of his ruling was known as the “second golden age” of Bulgarian literature and culture.
The Ottoman sultan Murad I did not have enough power to conquer Constantinople, so he directed his attention towards the Bulgarian lands. He advanced towards Thrace. Murad I conquered its northern parts – the Rhodopes, Kostenets, Ihtiman and Samokov. In order to stop the invasion tsar Ivan Shishman (1317 – 1395) started peace negotiations. At the Sultan’s request, the Bulgarian tsar gave him his sister Kera Tamara as a wife. At the beginning of the 80s of the XIV century ambitions towards Bulgarian lands rose again. The Turkish army, led by Lala Şahin, advanced towards Sofia. Despite all the efforts of the Bulgarians, in 1385 the city fell.
During 1387 at the town of Plochnik the joined forces of Serbia and Bosnia defeated the Ottomans. The Bulgarian tsar stopped his vassal relations with Murad. He refused to send armies to support the Turks. In response in 1388 the sultan sent an army of 30 thousand towards the Bulgarian lands. Lovech, Shumen, Madara and Tutrakan were taken. The Turks placed under siege also the well-fortified fortress of Nikopolis, where the Bulgarian tsar was residing. The long siege forced the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Shishman to ask for peace. The Ottoman empire received Silistra. The northeastern boundaries of Bulgaria narrowed considerably. The Vidin tsar Ivan Sratsimir was forced to become a vassal of the Turks.
During 1393 the new sultan – Bayezid – surrounded Tarnovo. The Bulgarian resistance was led by patriarch Evtimiy. It was not an equal fight however. The Turkish army was much bigger and managed to enter the Tsarevets fortress. The residents of Tarnovo suffered great cruelties. The city was devastated. The Bulgarian patriarch was sent in exile to Bachkovo monastery and the nobles were killed. During July 1393 Tarnovo was conquered by the Turks. The Bulgarian tsar fortified himself in Nikopolis. Sultan Bayezid conquered also the Nikopolis fortress. On June 3rd, 1395 Ivan Shishman was beheaded. Thus the Tarnovo kingdom fell.
The Vidin kingdom survived three more years under the rule of the Ivan Alexander’s second son – Ivan Sratsimir (1356 – 1397). The Hungarian king Sigismund managed to organize a campaign against the Ottomans. The 60 thousand strong army was joined by Poles, French, Germans and English. During 1396 it reached Vidin. Together with the Bulgarian army it continued towards Nikopolis. On Sept 25th, 1396 the Western army suffered a great defeat. The Turkish sultan advanced towards Vidin and took it. Tsar Ivan Sratsimir was sent in exile in Minor Asia. where in 1397 he was probably strangled. Thus also the Vidin kingdom fell under Ottoman rule.
Bulgarian fall under Ottoman yoke stopped the development of mediaeval Bulgarian civilization. Bulgarian lands became a part of a new, different world, which is in conflict with the Bulgarian social, economic, cultural, religious, linguistic specifics. Together with the Bulgarian statehood, the Bulgarian patriarchy also became an object of destruction. Islamization covered to a different extent all Bulgarian territories. Bulgaria became an Ottoman province, while the Bulgarian people were forced to fight for their physical survival. The Bulgarians were paying unbearable taxes to the Ottoman empire. The cultural and spiritual traditions managed to preserve themselves only in monasteries. Those maintained the spirit of the enslaved Bulgarian people.
In the long years of the yoke the fight of the Bulgarian people against the enslaver did not cease. It was conducted in various forms and with various means, but always with the purpose of restoring the Bulgarian state. In the period XVI-XVII century the resistance against Turkish authorities took the form of several uprisings. None of those were successful.
The processes marked the beginning of the Revival epoch. They took place in Bulgarian society at the end of the XVII and the beginning of the XVIII century. The Bulgarian bourgeois appeared. The revival epoch manifested itself in the economic and social changes. The upheaval in the national feeling reflected on the spirituality of Bulgarians. They started being interested not only in their present, but also in the past of their nation and country. This change was expressed also in the fight for new Bulgarian education. Also for independence of the church and for restoration of the Bulgarian state.
These schools developed as parts of monasteries and churches. The teachers were monks and priests. The students were obtaining basic writing, reading and calculus skills. They mainly were learning from clerical books. During the Revival mainly amongst the bourgeois appeared the need for secular knowledge – geography, history, natural sciences. Thus in the beginning of the XIX century Greek secular schools began to appear throughout the Bulgarian lands. The threat of losing Bulgarian identity though led to the opening of new Hellenic-Bulgarian schools. Those responded to the needs for secular education in Bulgarian language. They also provided education in Greek language. The first Hellenic-Bulgarian school was opened in 1815 by Emanuel Vaskidovich in Svishtov. After this such schools were opened in Kotel, Smirna and Sliven. These schools assisted the spiritual and educational revival of the Bulgarian people in the conditions of a foreign ruling. A movement for new Bulgarian education was created. Peter Beron played an extremely important role for its development. He compiled the so called “Fish Primer”. The book was written in spoken Bulgarian language and issued in 1824 in Brasov. The „Fish Primer“ represented a “small encyclopedia. In it the author had gathered basic language knowledge, prayers, moral lessons, good advice, fables, physical exercises, arithmetic knowledge…“
After the primer, Peter Beron’s idea for an independent Bulgarian education found greater support. Thus in the beginning of 1835, Vasil Aprilov’s idea (Bulgarian educator and patron) resulted in the opening of the first new Bulgarian school in Gabrovo. The teacher was Neophit Rilski – a renowned educator, one of the founders of new Bulgarian education. During the years to follow, a number of other mutual schools were opened throughout the Bulgarian lands. School books and teaching aids were printed for the needs of the schools. Gradually a considerable society of famous teachers was built – Nayden Gerov, Neophit Rilski, Hristaki Pavlovich, Botyo Petkov, Yoakim Gruev, Iliya Bluskov and others. During the 40s of the XIX century, the first class school opened doors in Koprivshtitsa. It was following the initiative of Nayden Gerov.
The first class school in Koprivshtitsa, source: By Michael Desnoyelles – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The class schools were the next step in the development of the new Bulgarian education. By the time of the Crimean War, throughout the Bulgarian lands already existed a number of class schools. They were situated in Plovdiv, Tarnovo, Gabrovo, Ruse and elsewhere.
The first high school in Gabrovo, source: By BeshevI – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The Bulgarian education movement slowed its pace during the 50s and the 60s of the XIX century. After the Crimean war (1853-1856), there were changes in Bulgarian society. They affected the educational work. The pace of its development quickened. The level of Bulgarian education reached the level of education of the remaining peoples on the Balkan Peninsula. Graduates of Bulgarian schools studied in western European and Russian high schools. The costs related to the maintenance of the schools were entirely borne by the Bulgarian bourgeois. It took care also for the development and growth of the school network. As a result of this, during the years before the Liberation, Bulgarian villages without a school were a real rarity. After the Crimean war the high school became a part of the Bulgarian educational system. The first Bulgarian high school was opened in 1859 in Bolgrad – Bessarabia. After that, high schools were opened also in Plovdiv and Gabrovo. The first Bulgarian specialized schools were created – pedagogical schools in Shtip and Prilep, a trade school in Svishtov, a religious school in Lyaskovets monastery, a seminary in Samokov. There were even discussions about a Bulgarian university.
For the success of new Bulgarian education contributed also the so called chitalishta. Those were equipped with libraries, reading rooms, Sunday schools. The beginning of this cultural institution – chitalishte – took place in Shumen, Svishtov and Lom. Their number gradually grew. The educational movement played the most important role in the formation of a national self-consciousness.
Bulgarian culture during the Revival.
Together with the developed Bulgarian education, culture flourished as well during the Revival. The grounds were placed during the XVIII century by such Bulgarian artists as Hristofor Zhefarovich, Krastyo Peykich and Parteniy Pavlovich. Their activity was continued by Paisiy Hilendarski and Sophroniy Vrachanski. Peak moments in the development of Bulgarian culture took place during the second and third quarters of the ХIХ century.
The validation of a uniform national written language played a decisive role for the development of Bulgarian literature. A great part of the Revival artists and teachers were also writers, poets, publishers. With the appearance of modern printing started also the dissemination of Bulgarian printed books. At first all books were printed abroad. With the development of Bulgarian literature, local print-houses started to appear.
During 1842-1844 in Smirna, Constantine Photinov printed the “Lyuboslovie” magazine. It marked the beginning of Bulgarian periodical publications. Several years later (1846), in Leipzig, Ivan Bogorov started issuing the first Bulgarian newspaper “Bulgarian eagle”. Bulgarian periodicals appeared after the end of the Crimean war. The number of issued newspapers and magazines quickly grew. Specialized periodicals on education, science, politics, trade and crafts appeared. The main printing centers for Bulgarian periodicals were Tsarigrad, Bucharest and Braila. For the needs of Bulgarian education, study books on the different studies were being printed. The most active authors in that direction were Petko Slaveykov, Dobri Voynikov, Constantine Photinov, Hristo Danov, Botyo Petkov.
During the XVIII century the work of Joseph Bradati, Hristofor Zhefarovich, Parteniy Pavlovich, Paisiy Hilendarski and Sofroniy Vrachanski created the base of Bulgarian literature. During the first half of the XIX century new genres such as poetry, journalism, fiction, drama started to appear. Teacher poetry and school book literature were mainly developing.
The beginning of new Bulgarian poetry was marked by the poem “Stoyan and Rada”, written by Nayden Gerov back in 1845. His example was followed by Petko Slaveykov, Georgi Rakovski, Ivan Vazov, Hristo Botev, Stefan Stambolov and others.
During the 60s of the XIX century Bulgarian fiction and drama were born with such authors as Vasil Drumev, Lyuben Karavelov, Iliya Blaskov, Sava Dobroplodni, Teodosiy Ikonomov, Dobri Voinikov and others.
Science also quickly attracted Bulgarian Revivalists. This was particularly relevant for the field of history. The Bulgarian past was of interest for many teachers and activists such as Vaisl Aprilov, Georgi Rakovski, Nayden Gerov and Petko Slaveykov. A number of history school books were issued. Serious development was visible also in the field of language, philosophy, natural sciences.
As a result of the active work of Bulgarian emigrants, the Bulgarian literary company was created in 1896 in Braila. Its objective was to inform the Bulgarian people about the successes in various scientific fields. The company issued a periodical magazine.
The general cultural upheaval did not omit the arts, music, architecture and construction spheres. Exquisite churches and monasteries were built – Rila monastery, Troyan monastery, Preobrazhene monastery.
A new type of city architecture appears. Together with the traditional stone bridges, water fountains and shops, the city environment is joined also by clock towers, cultural clubs, schools, cafes. Housing construction takes an entirely new look. The most remarkable examples of Bulgarian Revival housing architecture are preserved in Koprivshtitsa, Plovdiv, Tryavna, Elena, Veliko Tarnovoand other places.
Most remarkable developments are seen in painting and wood-carving. Different crafts schools appear – in Samokov, Tryavna, Debar and Bansko.
Struggle for Bulgarian church independence during the Revival.
After the fall of the Tarnovo kingdom back in 1393 the independent Bulgarian church ceased to exist. The clergy was persecuted. Similar was the faith of the other Orthodox churches on the Balkans. The Ottoman empire allowed only the functioning of the Constantinople patriarchy. It played the role of official representative of Orthodox Christians within the boundaries of the empire. Initially there were no contradictions between the Bulgarian people and the patriarchy. With the advance of the revival processes in the Greek society in the beginning of the XVIII century the patriarchy policy changed. Among the Greek clergy appeared the idea for the restoration of the Byzantine empire. This idea was based on the understanding that all Orthodox Christians, living inside the boundaries of the previous Byzantium, are Greeks – regardless of their language and ethnicity. A propaganda for Gersification of the orthodox population inside the Ottoman empire began. This, together with the grown national self-consciousness and self-esteem of the Bulgarians, generated a Bulgarian-Greek conflict. This confrontation grew into a movement for an independent Bulgarian church.
The first actions of Bulgarians against the Greek clergy were sporadic. Their objective was the replacement of Greek bishops with Bulgarian ones (in Vratsa, Samokov and Skopie). These first sparks marked the start of an organized movement for clerical independence. Its first initiators were Neophit Bozveli and Ilarion Makariopolski.
During 1839 the Turkish sultan proclaimed a reform act – Gulhan Hatsherif. It announced equality among all subjects of the Empire. This act created conditions for broadening the scope of the struggle for clerical independence of Bulgarians. Tsarigrad turned into a leading center of the organized actions. Neophit Bozveli and Ilarion Makariopolski prepared claims. The claims were passed on to the Ottoman empire. Those included: the placement of Bulgarian bishops and lesser priests; clerical service in Bulgarian language; fixing the salaries of the bishops; Bulgarian representative in Constantinople (called Tsarigrad by Bulgarians) for direct contact with the Turkish authorities; construction of a church in Tsarigrad; publishing Bulgarian books and newspaper and others.
The Greek patriarchy reacted by exiling Neophit Bozveli and Ilarion Makariopolski to Mount Athos. Bozveli died there in 1848. Despite this, the Bulgarian efforts resulted into visible results – a school for Bulgarian clergy was established. Ivan Bogorov began issuing a Bulgarian newspaper – Tsarigrad newspaper (1848). Thanks to a donation made by Stefan Bogoridi a Bulgarian church was built in Tsarigrad. It was sanctified in October 1849. The successes achieved by Bulgarians in Tsarigrad encouraged the growth of the clerical movement in all Bulgarian territories. There was discontent against the Greek bishops in Tarnovo, Lovech, Vidin and Vratsa areas.
In the beginning of 1856 the Ottoman emperor adopted a new reform act. According to this act each ethnic or religious community could have its own representation in Tsarigrad. The Bulgarians prepared new claims to the sultan for an independent church. They also prepared a representation before the Sublime Porte (as was called the Divan – the highest law enforcing, executive and council body in the Ottoman empire). Their efforts led to no specific results. At that time, during Easter mass on April 3rd, 1860 Ilarion Makariopolski failed to mention the name of the Tsarigrad patriarch. This deed, according to the canon, meant separation of the Bulgarians from the Tsarigrad patriarchy. The example of Bulgarians in Tsarigrad was followed in all Bulgarian lands. All Bulgarian municipalities denied Greek clergy and acknowledged Makariopolski as the Bulgarian spiritual leader.
During 1869 the Sublime Porte was again addressed by requests from Bulgarians in Tsarigrad. In response, on Feb 28th, 1870 the Turkish sultan issued an act. It permitted the Bulgarians to restore their clerical independence in the form of an Exarchate. It covered all territories inhabited by Bulgarians. During March 1870 a Provisional council was established. It was responsible for the development of a draft of the articles of association of the Bulgarian Exarchate. On Feb 23rd, 1871 was organized a church ecumenical, during which the articles of association were adopted. They were presented before the Sublime Porte for approval. On Feb 16th, 1872 elections for head of Bulgarian church took place – the Vidin bishop Antim I was elected. The restoration of church independence was a great success for the Bulgarians. Their national self-confidence strengthened and created conditions for the Bulgarian national-liberation movement.
The national-liberation movement
During the second half of the XVIII century and the beginning of the XIX century the urge of Bulgarians for rejecting the oppressor authority took real dimensions. Hundreds of Bulgarians expressed their readiness and will to participate in the wars. Russia led against the Ottoman empire. They actively joined the uprisings in the neighboring Balkan nations. There were also local Bulgarian attempts for casting away the Ottoman yoke. Those first attempts were unsuccessful.
During 1853 the Crimean war started. It involved Russia and Turkey in coalition with England, France, the Sardinian kingdom and the Nassau county. The conflict between these countries arose in connection with the influence of the Ottoman empire in the Middle East. During the first stage of the Russian-Turkish war the Bulgarians took the opportunity to activate their liberation ideas. Supported by noble Bulgarian tradesmen in Tsarigrad, Georgi Rakovski created an illegal organization “Secret society“. Its purpose was to prepare Bulgarians for joint military actions with Russia against Turkey.
The Bulgarian emigration to the Vlach territory and Southern Russia was also activated. In Bucharest was created a political formation – Epitropia. During 1854 it transformed into a committee. Its function was to attract volunteers for joining the Russian-Turkish war. During the same time a Bulgarian board of trustees was organized. The objective of that board was to support the Russian army. In March 1854 the Russian army organized a landing to the south of the Danube river. The Bulgarian volunteers were ready to join the military actions. The Ottoman empire thwarted these plans. The battle field was shifted towards Crimea. The Bulgarian troupes were dismissed. The Russian-Turkish war ended in favor of the Ottoman empire. During March 1856 the Paris peace treaty was signed, as a result of which Russia suffered serious limitations. Despite the loss of Russia, the Bulgarian-Russian relations strengthen. In the years to follow the issue of Bulgarian independence became an important part of Russian policy.
After the end of the Crimean war, Georgi Rakovski settled in Odessa. He prepared an action plan against the Turkish ruling. He envisaged the outbreak of a nationwide uprising with a lead center, called the “Secret office”. This plan overcame the randomness of Bulgarian liberation actions. Parallel with that Rakovski developed active literary activities on political and revolutionary topics.
During 1860 the relations between Serbia and the Ottoman empire worsened. Due to that Georgi Rakovski headed for Belgrade with a specific political purpose – preparation for an uprising in the Bulgarian lands. A year later he created a new liberation plan. He developed further the ideas in the first plan. This time the Bulgarian uprising had to take place at the same time with Serbian actions against Turkey. A Bulgarian rebel troop had to be formed on Serbian territory (a legion of 1000 men) to be transferred to Bulgarian lands. Rakovski managed to form the first Bulgarian legion. In 1862 the relations between Serbia and Turkey improved. This legion had to be dismissed. Despite this Rakovski continued to search for opportunities for uniting the Balkan people against the Ottoman empire. Those ended without success. Rakovski was disappointed by the indecisive policy of the Balkan nations. He became convinced that for their liberation, Bulgarians had to rely on themselves only. Thus the most influential Bulgarian revolutionary of that time got to the third plan for liberation. Rakovski developed this plan during 1866 and entitled it “Standing law for the people’s forest rebel troops during the year 1867”. A national uprising was envisaged in it, but this time it was going to rely on Bulgarian military force only. A supreme command was envisaged to be created. It would have been responsible for organizing a united army of rebel troops, including separate units. Those were supposed to be formed in the neighboring Balkan countries and to invade the Bulgarian lands. Together with the local population were supposed to rise against the Ottoman governance. The lack of means created problems for the establishment of the rebel army. In the meanwhile Rakovski got sick from tuberculosis and died on October 9th, 1867. His merits for the development of the national liberation movement of Bulgarians were exceptional. His actions helped for the preparation of a number of active revolutionaries. They approached the topic of national liberation with the same zeal.
Parallel with Rakovski, Bulgarian emigrants in the Vlach lands, Southern Russia and Tsarigrad also took active participation in the liberation fights of the Bulgarian people. During 1862 in Bucharest, “Epitropia” was renamed into the “Righteous rebel troop”. In included a number of activists, a part of whom – the “group of the old revolutionaries” – proposed the creation of a Bulgarian-Turkish dual state. This idea received no support either from the Great powers or from the Bulgarian revolutionary emigration (the “group of the young revolutionaries”, led by Vasil Levski). Contradictions in the liberation movement arose. The Odessa board of trustees also continued its activities. It mainly supported the ideas and activities of the “young”.
In the spring of 1866, the “Sacred coalition between Romanians and Bulgarians” for cooperation against the Ottoman empire was signed. The Bulgarian emigration to Bucharest created a secret Bulgarian central committee. The establishment of similar committees in Bulgarian lands, Romania and Russia began. However the Romanian government withdrew its support. The activity of the committee declined. It fell apart due to internal contradictions and the lack of funding.
During the summer of 1868 the active members of the committee created a new political organization, called “Bulgarian society”. It initiated the preparation and sending of a rebel troop. It was supposed to provoke an uprising in the Bulgarian lands. On June 6th, almost 130 rebels, led by Hadji Dimitar and Stefan Karadja, stepped on the Bulgarian coast of Yantra river and started towards Silistra. Heavy battles took place. Stefan Karadja was captured during one of those. The rest of the soldiers continued forward. On July 18th they were surrounded by the Turks. In the battle that commenced, they all died together with their leader – Hadji Dimitar.
During November 1869 in Bucharest, Lyuben Karavelov started publishing the “Freedom” newspaper. A circle of supportive revolutionary artists formed around him. The Bulgarian revolutionary central committee was thus established. Lyuben Karavelov was its chairman. Vasil Levski was one of the members. Karavelov prepared the programme documents for the committee. He placed the topic of political liberation of Bulgaria again as a main objective. He had certain hesitations concerning the means of its achievement – peaceful or military. His hesitation led to discontent among a part of the committee members. Vasil Levski was the most irreconcilable of all. According to him revolutionary preparations had to be initiated within Bulgarian lands.
In May 1870 Levski transferred to Bulgaria. Over one year he managed to create a huge network of committees throughout the entire country. Thus the Internal revolutionary organization (IRO) was initiated with a center in the Lovech committee. With the aid of Angel Kanchev and Dimitar Obshti, Vasil Levski conducted active propaganda. The objective was the political liberation of the Bulgarian people and the establishment of a democratic republic.
Unity was necessary for the success of the liberation movement. So during 1871 the central revolutionary committee led by Karavelov and the IRO led by Levski organized a common meeting. This meeting took place from April 29th till May 5th 1872 in Bucharest. In the name of the common deed Levski had to compromise with Karavelov’s ideas. Still Levski’s plan for internal action inside the country was confirmed. It was decided that a common central committee (in Bucharest) and a commission of representatives of the private committees would be created. This commission would controll the organization. Levski was authorized to represent the Bulgarian revolutionary central committee.
In June 1872 Levski returned to Bulgaria in order to prepare the forthcoming uprising. He broadened the committee network. It required the establishment of district centers. A secret police, monitoring the work of the separate committees was also created. The communication between the separate units took place via secret post. On Levski’s orders the revolutionaries started accumulating funds for weapons. In addition to that, he also prepared military leaders to head the uprising. The effective work of the IRO was endangered by the deeds of Levski’s first aid – Dimitar Obshti. Levski asked the central committee to remove Obshti, but to no avail. On 22nd Sept 1872, despite Levski’s prohibition, Obshti robbed the Turkish post in Arabakonak. The Turkish police reacted immediately and captured him together with his accomplices. Obshti revealed information about committees and revolutionaries he knew. This led to the destruction and neutralizing of a number of revolutionaries and the IRO started falling apart.
At the same time Levski was in Southern Bulgaria. He left towards Bucharest to discuss the situation with the central revolutionary committee. Meanwhile he warned the committees. On Dec 25th, 1872 he arrived in Lovech, but it was not possible to meet with the local chairman – pop Krastyo. So he collected the committee archive. He wanted to prevent it from being discovered by the Turks. He went to spend the night at Hristo Tsonev’s inn in the village of Kukrina. On the next day he was captured by the Turkish police (image 2.37) and taken first to Lovech, then to Tarnovo and Sofia. The court sentenced him to death. Levski was hanged outside Sofia on Feb 19th, 1873. He was the most devoted and prominent organizer. Vasil Levski was also a politician and ideologist of the Bulgarian national liberation movement.
Levski’s death seriously shook the revolutionary movement. The central committee fell into a crisis. The contradictions between the two main directions deepened. The old ones insisted that the revolution is not possible without external help. The young ones were defending the opposite position.
At the end of 1874 the Bulgarian revolutionary movement was seriously influenced by Hristo Botev’s ideas. He was selected as a member of the central committee. He was a follower of Levski and believed that the liberation was in Bulgarian hands. Despite that, he did not deny the possibility for a joint fight of the Balkan people against Turkey. Unlike Levski, Botev did not give as great a tribute to the importance of preliminary preparations. According to him, the people were always ready to fight. They just needed to be summoned by someone.
In March 1875 Hristo Botev became the chair of the central committee.
Several months later Turkey fell into another crisis. This happened after an uprising in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At a meeting of the central committee in August 1875 in Bucharest, a decision was taken for preparation of a people’s uprising. Bulgaria was divided into several revolutionary districts. Those were supposed to be led by the apostles Stefan Stambolov, Stanyo Dragnev, Sava Tanasov, Panayot Volov, Nikola Obretenov, Stoyan Drumev. They had to enter Bulgaria secretly and together with the local committees to urge the people to rebel on 16 Sept. Hristo Botev had the task to collect money from Bulgarian bourgeois in Southern Russia. Georgi Benkovski and Stoyan Zaimov had to cause riot in Tsarigrad in order to distract the Turkish authorities. The lack of good coordination between the committees and the contradictions between a part of the local revolutionaries made these plans unsuccessful. Only in Stara Zagora Stefan Stambolov managed to carry out a more appropriate organization. The local revolutionary committee attacked the city. On the fixed date of Sept 16th only a few rebels gathered. Several battles took place, but the failure of the uprising a whole was a fact. During that time similar attempts for an uprising were also made by the Bulgarian revolutionaries in Ruse and Shumen. They also failed. The failure of the people’s uprising is the reason for Hristo Botev to leave the central committee. That committee fell apart shortly after.
The April uprising
At the end of 1875 the survivors from the Stara Zagora uprising – Nikola Obretenov, Stefan Stambolov, Panayot Volov, Georgi Benkovski and others – arrived in Giurgiu. They created a new center for the Bulgarian revolutionary movement – the Giurgiu revolutionary committee. A decision was taken for the preparation and organization of a common people’s uprising during the following spring. Bulgaria was divided into 4 revolutionary districts – Tarnovo (Northern Bulgaria, Gabrovo and Sevlievo). It was led by Stefan Stambolov; Sliven (Sliven, Yambol, Kotel), led by Ilarion Dragostinov; Vratsa (Northwestern Bulgaria, a part of Sofia region and Macedonia), led by Stoyan Zaimov; Plovdiv (Sredna gora, Thracian valley and the Northern Rhodopes), led by Panayot Volov. The leaders had to restore the committee network in the country, to provide weapons and to mobilize all able rebels. The fights had to take place in the mountainous regions, with support of external rebel troops. After this plan was made, the Giurgiu committee dissolved. At the beginning of 1876 the leaders of the different districts were transferred to Bulgaria. They started serious preparations for the uprising. On April 14th in the Oborishte area took place the first national gathering of representatives of all committees. It was decided for Benkovski to develop an operational action plan. The date for the uprising was also decided – 1 May 1876.
Treason caused the uprising to start earlier – on 20th April in Koprivshtitsa. Todor Kableshkov sent to Panagyurishte a letter known as the “blood letter”. It signaled the locals to start the uprising. Goergi Benkovski gathered a cavalry there – called the “flying cavalry”. With that cavalry he went around the villages and urged the people to fight.
“Benkovski’s flying cavalry”, artist prof. Dimitar Gyudzhenov, source
After Koprivshtitsa and Panagyurishte, Klisura and Strelcha also rose. In response to that the Turks mobilized their troops. Bloody battles commenced. On April 25th the Turks defeated the rebels from Strelcha. On the next day Klisura fell as well. The battles for Panagyurishte began. The two was soon burned and devastated by the Turks.
The uprising started also in the Rhodope villages Bratsigovo, Perushtitsa, Berkovitsa, Batak. Led by V. Petleshkov, the defense of Bratsigovo withheld the Turkish attacks for almost a week. After that however negotiations started. Petleshkov was arrested and tortured. The uprising was put to an end. After the Ottoman armies invaded Perushtitsa, the population that remained after the bloody battles hid in the church and in the school. In order not to allow their wives and children to become captives of the Turks many rebels killed their families and themselves. They were following the example of the leaders Kocho Chestimenski and Spas Ginev. The faith of Batak is even worse. The Turks cut and burn more than 3000 people. This is how the bloody resistance of the Plovdiv revolutionary district ended. Benkovski’s cavalry was intercepted in the Kostina area, where Benkovski was killed.
In the Tarnovo and Sliven revolutionary districts the uprising failed to acquire a mass character. The local revolutionary activists organized groups with rebels. They were hoping to oppose the Turks. After heavy battles both districts were defeated.
In the Vratsa district Stoyan Zaimov’s attempt to start an uprising was unsuccessful. After the receipt of the “blood letter” the committee leaders undertook no actions. They focused their efforts towards the transfer of the Hristo Botev’s legion to Bulgarian land. On May 16th Botev and his rebels took over the Austrian passenger ship “Radetski”. They got to the other side of the Danube, nearby Kozloduiy. From there the legion continued towards the Vratsa Balkan in order to attract new followers. The rebels got no support. They were forced to enter fierce battles on their own on the mountain peaks Kamarata, Kupena and Okolchitsa. On June 2nd near to peak Vola, Botev was killed in battle. His death disturbed his rebels. They divided into groups, each of which was captured and destroyed. A few of the rebels succeeded to escape and save themselves in Serbia and Romania. These battles marked the end of the April uprising.
Despite its failure, the April uprising was a peak in the fight of the Bulgarian people against Ottoman ruling. The ferocity triggered a strong international reaction in favor of the Bulgarians. Due to the cruelty the uprising was crushed. Victor Hugo, Lev Tolstoy, Feodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Dmitri Mendeleev, Charles Darwin, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Otto von Bismarck, William Gladstone are just a few of the great minds of the XIX century, who supported the Bulgarian people. This situation forced the Great powers to consider the Eastern issue once again – the faith of the Balkan nations enslaved by the Turks. The strongest reactions towards the events in Bulgarian lands were provoked in Russia. A great part of the protectors of the Bulgarian people encouraged the Russian government to start a war against the Ottoman empire. All the events within the period 1876-1878, ultimately led to the liberation of the Bulgarian state. The center of that period was the April uprising.
The Russian-Turkish war 1877-1878 – Liberation of Bulgaria
After the April uprising, the Eastern crisis deepened. During 1876 Serbia and Montenegro led unsuccessful military actions against the Ottoman empire. This situation forced the Great powers to summon an international conference in Tsarigrad in search of a way out of the crisis. The Tsarigrad conference reached a decision for Bulgaria to obtain administrative autonomy and to be divided into two regions. The Ottoman empire refused to accept this decision. This encouraged Russia to put an ultimatum on the Turks and to declare partial mobilization. On April 12th, 1877 the Russian emperor Alexander II declared war upon Turkey.
This war was also joined by Serbia, Montenegro and Romania. At the end of 1876 among the Bulgarian emigrants to Russia and the Vlach territories arose the idea for a Bulgarian resistance. It was a formation of Bulgarian battalions to support the Russian actions against the Ottoman empire. The military actions took place on two fronts – Danube and Caucasus. The Bulgarian resistance including 12 battalions joined the Danube army. The army was led by general Stoletov. On June 15th 1877 the Russian army succeeded to force the river Danube at Svishtov and to get transferred to the Bulgarian shore. It divided into three parts – a western battalion (35 000 men), led by general Kridener, which headed towards Vidin; an eastern battalion (70 000 men) with commander prince Alexander Alexandrovich, which headed towards the rectangle fortified by the Turks – Silistra, Ruse, Shumen, Varna; and a frontal battalion, including the Bulgarian troops (12 000 men), led by general Gurko, which headed towards Tarnovo, the Balkan, Plovdiv and Edirne.
In the beginning of the war, the front battalion liberated the old Bulgarian capital – Tarnovo. It managed to hold the Shipka pass, allowing free passage from Northern to Southern Bulgaria and vice versa. The Russian-Bulgarian army led by general Gurko also managed to liberate Stara Zagora on July 10th, 1877.
On July 16th the Western battalion took over Nikopol. Due to a delay, the Turkish warlord Osman pasha succeeded to transfer his troupes from Vidin to Pleven. Osman pasha organized a good defense and pushed the Russian armies away twice.
In the meanwhile the Turkish military command transferred an army of 40 000 in Thrace. This army was led by Sulejman pasha. The objective was to go to Northern Bulgaria through the Shipka pass. There the Russian army was to be pushed away to the North of the Danube. The Turkish army and general Gurko’s forces, together with the Bulgarian rebels, led a heavy battle around Stara Zagora. The Russian army was forced to get back to the Shipka pass. The defense of the pass was undertaken by 6500 Russian soldiers and 5 Bulgarian battalions, facing an Ottoman army of 30 000. With unseen heroism and self-sacrifice on 9, 10 and 11 August 1877, the armies of general Stoletov managed to push the Turks away. They were supported by a small battalion led by general Radetski
„The battle for Shipka“, artist Dimitar Gyudzhenov, source
At the end of August the Western battalion, supported by Romanian forces, continued its advance towards Pleven. Under the command of general Totleben, the Russian army surrounded the city. Osman pasha surrendered and gave himself up on December 11th, 1877. Pleven was liberated. On Dec 28th, 1877 Sofia was also liberated. A bit later Plovdiv and Edirne were also free.
The Ottoman empire was pushed in the corner and asked for peace. Under the pressure of the Great powers, truce was signed in Edirne on 19.01.1878. On Feb 19th (new style – March 3rd) the two sides signed a preliminary peace treaty in San Stefano. According to this treaty an autonomous tributary (dependent, paying taxes) state – the Principality Bulgaria – with a Christian government and national militia was established. It encompassed the Bulgarian lands in Misia, Thrace and Macedonia with some exceptions. Despite being territorially wronged in comparison with their Balkan neighbors, the Bulgarians were happy with the clauses of the San Stefano treaty.
The preliminary San Stefano peace treaty had to be approved also by the rest of the Great powers. Intimidated by the strengthened Russian influence on the Balkans and by the establishment of a big Balkan country – Bulgaria – they asked for the treaty to be reviewed. Hence the Berlin congress of June 13th, 1878. A decision was taken for Bulgaria to be broken down into two – a tributary Bulgarian Principality, including Northern Bulgaria and Sofia district and an autonomous province under the direct authority of the Turkish Sultan – Eastern Rumelia (Southern Bulgaria). Eastern Thrace and Macedonia were returned to the Ottoman empire. The Russian government had to support Bulgaria for the formation of the Bulgarian institutions and army for a period of nine months. The unjust decisions of the Berlin congress tore Bulgaria apart and brought the issue of its unification. Still, after centuries under Ottoman yoke, the Bulgarian state was restored.