{E2 GUIDE TO BULGARIA}

THE BULGARIAN LANDS UNDER BYZANTINE RULE (1018-1185)

The subjection of Bulgaria to direct Byzantine rule had, undoubtedly, grave consequences for the Bulgarian people. It had been deprived of opportunities to manifest itself as one of the nations in human history and its line of independent political, cultural and economic development had been interrupted.

It must be conceded that the Byzantine emperor issued an order that the tax system of the Old Bulgarian kingdom continue to be applied in the occupied Bulgarian lands. It was, undeniably, much fairer than its Byzantine analogue. The Bulgarian patriarchal was downgraded to an archbishopric. Called Ohridska, meaning 'of or belonging to Ohrida', it retained its autocephalous status. Hundreds of Bulgarian aristocracy retained their position of landlords in their feudal possessions. Moreover, the better part of the Bulgarian lands, comprising mainly the lands of Macedonia, was joined in administrative districts called 'Bulgaria themes'. Troops were recruited mainly from the Bulgarian population.

Only ten years later the Byzantine tax system was introduced into the Bulgarian lands, too. Strangers were appointed incumbents of the Ohrida archbishopric. The Bulgarian literacy, liturgy and traditions were subjected to ruthless persecution. The greed and selfishness of the Byzantine officials, commissioned to work in the Bulgarian lands, gradually ruined the local economy. To most of them the years of service there meant no more than a golden opportunity to make a fortune.

The Bulgarian aristocracy had slowly but consistently been removed from its lands. Many of them were sent on 'assignments' in other realms of the empire remote enough from the Balkans, while others were bribed to pass over to the Byzantines.

This situation gave rise to discontent among all Bulgarian population strata. Mass rebellions aimed at restoring the Bulgarian state broke out. The first one rose in Belgrade (present-day capital of Serbia) in 1040. It was headed by Peter Delyan, grandson of glorious Tsar Samuel and it ended with his being proclaimed a Bulgarian tsar. Peter Delyan reigned for two years (1040-1041) and succeeded in liberating a great part of the Bulgarian lands. The insurrection collapsed quickly when the tsar was treacherously blinded by one of his relatives aspiring to the Bulgarian throne.

Another massive insurgence broke out in 1072. Its standard was raised by Georgi Voiteh in the town of Skopje (present-day capital of Macedonia). It took two years of fighting before it was crushed. In 1074-1078 and in 1084-1086 fresh revolts broke out in the areas of modern Silistra, Plovdiv and Nessebur. These were also put down by the Byzantine authorities.

At the end of the 11th century the Byzantine domains in the Balkans which, for nearly a century, had comprised chiefly Bulgarian lands, became the arena of fierce hostilities: the Normans invading from the south and the knights of the First (1096-1097) and then the Second (1146-1147) crusade advancing along the trans- European route with swords drawn and fire blazing. Most frightful of all, however, were the renewed raids of the barbarians from the steppes, raids unseen in those lands since the 7th century. In times gone the Bulgarian state had reliably safeguarded not only Byzantium but also the whole of Europe against the raids of bellicose Nomads. The now emasculate Byzantine imperium was no longer in the position to effectively defend the territory of the empire, so the burden of safeguarding the metropolitan mainstays fell on Bulgarian shoulders. During the 11th century all attempts at organizing a liberation movement had stopped. The Bulgarians were busy organizing their life-and-death struggle to keep body and soul together. At the cost of numerous lives lost they managed to restrict, within certain limits, the advance of the crusaders along their mapped-out routes and to crush or beat off the raids of the Uzes, the Pechenegs and the Cumans. A paradoxical situation arose at the end of the 12th century. Formally Byzantium was the sovereign of the Bulgarian lands, but whole areas (Moesia, Dobrudja and Macedonia) the Byzantine power was nominal. There ruled representatives of the Bulgarian aristocracy - harsh warriors who had been through dozens of battles. The population, inured to the privations of war and inspired by spurious accounts, supported them. Some fabulous chronicles told of how intelligent patriots wistfully imagined the Bulgarian kingdom by idealistically representing it as a piece of Eden.

The insurgent sea of patriotism pervades some of the political pamphlets which have come down to us, naturally in the form of religious prophecies. Their spirit is of Messianic nature as it is sustained in them that out of the three kingdoms in the world - the Alemanic (German), the Roman (Byzantine) and the Bulgarian, the first two would go to rack and ruin as they had departed from Christian canons and had lapsed into depravity. Resurrection and eternal life were awaiting the Bulgarian kingdom which would have the mission to redeem and, then, render imperishable the values of the Christian civilization.

In this atmosphere, at the end of the 12th century just a spark was needed to flare up a fresh liberation uprising.


- Translated from the book "Bulgaria Illustrated History" by Maria Nikolotva
- Bulgarian text by Bojidar Dimitrov, PhD.
- Published by BORIANA Publishing House, Sofia, Bulgaria

text used here with permission from translator, save modifications for noding

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