A history of the First Bulgarian Empire

Steven Runciman





Emperor of the Bulgars and the Romans



By his wife, christened Maria, Boris had six children —Vladimir, Gabriel, Symeon, Jacob, Eupraxia, and Anna. [1] Gabriel probably died young, and possibly Jacob also; Eupraxia became a nun, and Anna no doubt married—it may be, into the Moravian royal house [2]; Symeon had entered the church; and Vladimir was to succeed his father on the throne.


Vladimir had been a crown prince for too long. He must now have been nearing his fortieth year, for he had accompanied his father to the Serbian war in the old heathen days. And, like all impatient crown princes, he was filled with the spirit of opposition to his father’s policy. Of the inward history of his reign we know little, save that he received an embassy from King Arnulf of Germany in 892. [3] It seems that no sooner was Boris safely hidden from the world in his monastery than the new Khan upset all his reforms. The old Bulgar aristocracy, that Boris had so firmly cut down, had grown up again to an effective height; and Vladimir fell under its influence. The bоyars  had disliked Boris’s Christianity, with its austere



1. The names of the royal family are given in the marginal notes to the Cividale gospel as patronising some monastery (Rački, Documenta Historiae Chroaticae, pp. 382-3). Vladimir is called there Rosate, probably his pre-Christian name.


2. The Anonymous Hungarian historian says that King Salanus (Svatopulk II) of Moravia was connected by marriage with the Bulgar king (at that time Symeon). Such a statement from him must naturally be taken with reserve; but if, as is quite likely, there was such a connection, it would almost certainly be through one of Symeon’s sisters marrying the Moravian King. It is unlikely that Symeon’s first wife could have been a Moravian princess (Anonymi Historia Ducum Hungariae, p. xli.).


3. Annales Fuldenses, p. 408. The envoys entered Bulgaria down the River Save. Vladimir is called Landimir or Laodimir.







and autocratic tendencies. In contrast, Court life became extravagant and debauched, and there was even an official attempt to reintroduce the old pagan rites and idolatries.


But Vladimir and his boyars had reckoned without Boris. Immured though he was in his monastery, he knew what was going on outside. For four years he let them be; then, when he saw his life-work being too seriously endangered, he emerged. His prestige as a terrible saint was enormous; with the help of a few older statesmen he easily took possession of the Government. Once again in power, he sacrificed his paternal feelings for the good of his country. Vladimir was summarily deposed and blinded, and so passes out of history. [1]


This was the last attempt of a pagan revival—its dying throe. It was doomed to fail; no one could expect the lower and middle classes to revert to a cruder and more oppressive religion at the behest of semi-alien overlords, and the overlords themselves were guided more by political than by spiritual motives. Boris had only to reappear to cause the whole business to collapse. But it was rather a delicate situation for Boris. In dethroning his son he had saved Christianity, but he had endangered its corollary. He acted warily. Summoning a congress from all his kingdom (how it was composed we cannot tell—probably of the Court nobility, the provincial governors or their representatives, the ecclesiastical authorities, and any other outstanding citizen), he justified his interference on the grounds of religion, and then bade them accept as their monarch his younger son, the monk Symeon. [2]



1. Regino, p. 580: Manegold, p. 364: Sigebert, p. 341: Theophylact, Archbishop of Bulgaria, Historia XV Martyrum, p. 213; Chudo Sv. Georgiya, pp. 19-20.


2. Regino, loc. cit. Boris threatened Symeon that he would treat him similarly should he relapse—a needless threat to a pious monk, but one probably calculated to show that only on religious grounds could the monarch be deposed, and only Boris as an ex-monarch could effect the deposition.





At the same time, he took the opportunity of the presence of the congress to complete his last great reform. The seed that Clement was sowing in Macedonia—work uninterrupted, it seems, by Vladimir’s reign—and that Nahum was sowing nearer to the capital, had taken root sufficiently; it was time to replace the Greek tongue by the Slavonic throughout the Bulgarian Church. [1] There were several reasons for doing this now; it is probable that there was a vacancy in the Bulgarian archiepiscopate; it is possible that the Greek clergy was too closely connected with the Court aristocracy; and certainly it was a good moment for a measure that might displease the Empire—Basil and Photius were dead, and the Emperor Leo and his brother the Patriarch were too indifferent and weak to oppose the fulfilment of a movement that even their great predecessors had regarded as inevitable. Moreover, Boris calculated, the enforcing of Slavonic as the one national language of Bulgaria would submerge for ever the conscious exclusiveness and superiority of the old Bulgars. The Children of the Huns were to lose their identity; Bulgarian was to mean now Slav and Bulgar alike, any subject of the Bulgarian monarch—who was the Sublime Khan no longer, but the Knyaz, the Slavonic Prince. With the change in the language, it is probable that the organization of the Bulgar Church was completed, to fit the new state of things. Some time about now the country was divided up between seven metropolitans under the Archbishop of Bulgaria—the metropolitans of Dristra, Philippopolis, Sardica, Provadia, Margum (or Morava), Bregalnitsa, and Ochrida. [2] Most of their dioceses had



1. See Zlatarski, Istoriya i., 2, pp. 254 ff. It is inherently probable that the change was effected now and his arguments are, I think, conclusive, though I think that the process was more gradual than he allows; the Greek language did not fall entirely into disuse.


2. Zlatarski, op. cit., pp. 207 ff., dates their creation in 864; but it seems obvious from Saint Clement’s career that Ochrida at least dates from later.





been organized before, particularly those in Eastern Bulgaria; the diocese of Bregalnitsa was being organized in 889. [1] The diocese of Ochrida had probably not yet come into being—Macedonia was still too wild. But Clement’s missionary work had advanced now far enough for a bishopric to be created for him. He became bishop of the dual see of Debritsa (Drembitsa) and Belitsa, two small towns between Ochrida and Prilep. [2] Later their importance was overshadowed by Ochrida.


In connection with these ecclesiastical reforms another great change was made. Joseph, the new Archbishop of Bulgaria, had his archiepiscopal seat not at Pliska, but at Preslav. [3] The capital was being moved. [4] Pliska, the Hunnish capital, with its memories of the great heathen Khans, was no longer suitable. The Christian Prince should dwell at Preslav, close by the monastery of the Panteleimon and the Christian college of Nahum.


When all this was done, Boris returned to his cloister. His work was really finished now. Before, he had rested too soon; Vladimir had been a broken reed. But this time he was certain. He could devote himself for ever now to religion; nor would he help his country ever again save by his prayers. He had helped it enough already— enough to have his name everlastingly revered as the greatest of all its benefactors.



1. See above, p. 129. Boris’s transference of relics from the Greek town of Tiberiupolis to Bregalnitsa was clearly incidental to the founding of the new diocese.


2. Vita S. Clementis, p. 1228. Zlatarski (op. cit., pp. 269 ff.) identifies Drembitsa and Belitsa. The Vita S. Clementis says that Clement was ap pointed by Symeon (who succeeds Vladimir on Vladimir’s death, which is mentioned without comment), but that he was the first Slav bishop—i.e. his was probably the first appointment made after the change of language, or else the Archbishop Joseph was of Greek origin.


3. His name is supplied in the Sinodik Tsaria Borisa (ed. Popruzhenko, Odessa 1899), pp. 74-5, and in the Chudo Sv. Georgiya, loc. cit. For the whole question see Zlatarski, Bulgarski Arkhiepiscopi Patriarsi, passim.


4. A note to a copy of the Book of Isaiah informs us that Symeon moved the capital.





The new Prince, Symeon, was a far better son than Vladimir. He was about thirty years of age. [1] Much of his life had been spent at Constantinople, living, it seems, in the precincts of the Palace and studying probably not only at Photius’s Slavonic college but also at the University. Certainly he became a proficient Greek scholar, with a taste for the works of Aristotle and Demosthenes. Indeed, he was sometimes known as Hemi-Argus, the half-Greek. [2] Of recent years he had taken monastic orders, being, it may be, designed by his father for a Bulgar patriarchate, and was living in a Bulgarian monastery, probably with his father in the Panteleimon. His Christian zeal was undoubted. Nevertheless, there were some unfavourable comments when he renounced his vows and resumed a very secular life in order to ascend the throne. [3]


If the statesmen at Constantinople had hoped that the accession of the ‘half-Greek’ meant the revival of their influence in Bulgaria, they were sadly disappointed. Symeon’s devotion to Greek literature only had the effect of making him wish for it to be translated into the vernacular. The decade following the official adoption of the Slavonic language and alphabet bore an amazing crop of literature. The Bulgarian people, long restricted in their writing to Greek characters and language or perhaps a few runic signs, [4] suddenly had found a means of expression. But the blossoming was not altogether spontaneous; a heathen illiterate empire, however great, will not at once turn into a vigorous bed of flowering culture. Bulgarian



1. Nicholas Mysticus (Ep. xxix., p. 181) calculated in 923 that Symeon was then over 60.


2. Liudprand, Antapodosis, p. 87.


3. Liudprand (loc. cit.) speaks of the incident with disapproval; but he gathered his material about Symeon in Constantinople, after Symeon’s wars against the Empire.


4. Khrabr implies that the Slavs employed such signs, but certainly no traces of them survive in the Balkans.





literature only became a natural growth a century later, when Christianity and letters had had time to permeate through. [1] At present it was called into being by the active patronage of the Prince. Symeon wished his people to enjoy the treasures of Byzantine civilization; he encouraged translations to be made not only of holy and patristic works, but also of suitable romances. Consequently the first Bulgarian writers were mainly translators; and their work has that somewhat artificial air given when the matter is more sophisticated than the language.


Nevertheless, it was a creditable beginning for any literature. Already, ever since he had settled in Macedonia, Clement had been busily translating. He had found himself greatly handicapped by the prevalent ignorance of Greek; and the people were very stupid. [2] The only hope lay in copious translations. But Clement was indefatigable. He could draw on the works of his great masters, Cyril and Methodius, and he supplemented them as best he could. By the end of the century he had made Ochrida one of the most renowned centres for the dissemination of Christianity and culture; and when he began to retire from active life his work was amply carried on by his old fellow-disciple, Nahum, who came over from Preslav to take on the bishopric of Ochrida. [3]


But at present Clement’s Macedonian school was overshadowed by the royal school of Preslav. There translations were being made on all sides. Symeon himself even superintended a collection of explanatory extracts from the Fathers; and the preface paid a flattering tribute to



1. The Bogomil legends really represent the first spontaneous Bulgarian literature.


2. Vita S. Clementis, p. 1229.


3. Vita S. Clementis, loc. cit. and ff.: Zhitya Sv. Naum, pp. 4—5: Zlatarski, Istoriya, i., 2, pp. 351 ff.





his patronage, calling him the ‘new Ptolemy, who like the industrious bee gathers the juice of all the flowers, to spread it over the bоyars.’ [1] A Bishop Constantine translated some homilies for holy days and the works of Saint Athanasius [2]; the Presbyter Gregory translated the chronicle of John Malalas, and also a romantic tale of Troy for the ‘book-loving Prince.’ [3] John the Exarch, at the behest of the royal monk Duks, brother of Boris, translated John Damascene and wrote a Shestodniev, an adaptation of Saint Basil’s Hexameron. John, writing probably a little later than the others, was more adventurous, and wrote chapters of his own composition. To his John Damascene he wrote a preface that gave a short history of Slavonic letters and discoursed on the difficulties of a translator—what is one to do when the words are of different genders in Greek and in Slavonic?—and to his Shestodniev he added an epilogue praising the glories of Symeon’s Court at Preslav. [4] Even the royal family produced an author, Tudor (or Theodore), son of Duks; but only a small prologue of his survives. [5]


But all these translations were valueless unless the public could be persuaded that Slavonic was a suitable medium for literature. It was to justify its use that the first original Bulgarian work was written. Shortly after the adoption of the Slavonic liturgy the monk Khrabr wrote a little apologia on the Slavonic alphabet, in which he pointed out that though Hebrew, Greek, and Latin



1. Sbornik na Tsar Simeona, preface.


2. Given in Archbishop Antony’s Ep. Konstantin Preslavski. I do not think that Constantine’s see can be identified; it cannot have been Preslav, which had other occupants.


3. Kalaïdovitch, Ioann Eksarkh, pp. 138 ff.


4. Idem, op. cit., p. 138: John the Exarch, Shestodniev, which gives full text.


5. Given in Pripiskata na Tudora Chernorizets Doksov, by Gorky i Nevostruev, pp. 32—3. His relationship to Symeon has been worked out by Zlatarski, Koi e bil Tudor Chernorizets Doksov (see Bibliography).





were the languages sanctified by their use in the Scriptures and by the Fathers, that did not exclude the permissibility of Slavonic; for, after all, the Greeks once used the Phoenician alphabet, and, anyhow, the Greek alphabet was created by a heathen, whereas the Slavonic was created by that Christian saint, Constantine or Cyril. The treatise is a conscientious piece of polemic writing, occasionally naive in style and argument, and just occasionally bearing the mark of one who felt that the ice was thin. But it must have served its purpose well, making the advocates of the new alphabet feel that they had divine sanction in adopting it. [1]


There was, however, one more difficulty about the new alphabet; but it seems to have died a natural death. Saint Cyril’s ingenious brain had evolved two alphabets, those known to-day as Cyrillic and Glagolitic. The former was based on the Greek alphabet supplemented by the Hebrew, and probably represented his first attempt, destined for the Balkan Slavs near his home at Thessalonica. But when he arrived in Moravia, where anything suggesting Greek propaganda was deeply suspect, he found his alphabet a liability, and began again, arbitrarily distorting the Greek letters, to disguise their origin, and generally elaborating the whole affair. This was the alphabet to which Clement had been educated; he brought it to Bulgaria with him, and in it some of the earliest Bulgarian manuscripts were written. But in a land where Greek culture was not suspect, but, on the contrary, highly fashionable, there was no reason for the existence of Glagolitic. Cyrillic, the alphabet that was no



1. Khrabr, in Kalaïdovitch, op. cit. pp. 190—2 passim. Zlatarski, Istoriya, i., 2, pp. 853 ff. discusses his identity, deciding that he was neither John the Exarch (Ilinsky’s theory) nor a disciple of the school of Ochrida (Mazon’s theory). But his suggestion that he was Symeon in his monastic days (ibid., p. 860) seems to me too fanciful. Also I think he is wrong in dating the work before 893. It seems to me to have the unmistakable air of an apologia after the event.





doubt taught at the Slavonic college at Constantinople, was far simpler and far more practical. Glagolitic inevitably gave way before it; but whether the victory of Cyrillic was in any way hastened by official action we cannot tell. [1]


The literary richness was balanced by a growth of the arts and luxuries. Symeon had seen in Constantinople the aureole of splendour that surrounded the Emperor and emphasized his sanctity as the Viceroy of God; he understood its value for the cause of autocracy. In his new capital of Preslav, Great Preslav, the renowned, [2] he attempted to magnify himself likewise. The city began to blossom with churches and with the palaces built by the courtiers who followed the prince’s lead. But the royal palace was the centre of it all; the glory radiated from Symeon. The effect was the more overwhelming in that it was so suddenly created; nothing had ever been seen like it in Bulgaria before. John the Exarch, in the dedicatory chapter of the Shestodniev, attempted to describe the sensations of a visitor from the provinces, how he would be overcome by the sight of all the great buildings, with their marbles and their frescoes—‘the sights of heaven adorned with stars, sun, and moon, earth with the grass and trees, and the fishes of the sea of all sorts, come upon him, and his mind is lost. He comes back despising his own home and wishes to build himself as high as heaven.’ [3] In the midst of it all sat Symeon, ‘in a garment studded with pearls, a chain of medals round his neck and bracelets on his wrists, girt with a purple girdle, and a golden sword by his side.’ [4] John’s eloquence breaks down under the strain of describing it



1. For the Cyrillic-Glagolitic question, see Appendix IX.


2. Preslav means renowned. The name was frequently given to cities all over the Slav world.


3. John Exarch, Shestodniev, p. 47.


4. Ibid., p. 46.





all; he can only complain that he is guilty of understatement. His visitor departs to exclaim to his friends that ‘it is impossible to tell of the splendour, beauty, and orderliness, and each of you must see it for yourselves.’ [1] Symeon’s object seems, therefore, to have been achieved; but it is doubtful if beneath this surface gorgeousness there was what to the eyes of Constantinople would have seemed a respectable standard of civilization and comfort. [2] Moreover, outside the capital there were no luxuries to be found; John the Exarch’s visitor lived in a house of straw. [3] Even in Ochrida the oldest stone-built churches date from a century later. [4] But that perhaps was not unintended. Symeon wished Preslav to be the centre of Bulgaria, even as Constantinople was of the Empire. His hope was forlorn; his capital, like his literature, had been artificially forced. Geography, that had made Constantinople the greatest port and market of the mediaeval world, had given no such lasting advantages to the little inland valley among the low mountains where Preslav lay. To-day of that great city, which even three centuries later [5] covered an area far greater than any other Balkan town, only a few meaningless ruins remain.


Indeed, though the traveller to-day may still marvel at the greatness of the site, [6] it is hard for him to envisage its past glory. Of Symeon’s vast palace little has been



1. John Exarch, Shestodniev, p. 46.


2. Certainly in 927 Maria Lecapena took all her furniture, etc., with her to Bulgaria. See below, p. 179.


3. John Exarch, op. cit., p. 46.


4. Probably coastal towns such as Anchialus or Develtus, built and still largely inhabited by Greeks and Armenians, had higher standards; and the formerly Imperial fortresses inland probably retained a few buildings; the Red Church at Philippopolis seems to date at least from the early ninth century. The first Ochridian churches date from Samuel’s reign.


5. In the days of Nicetas Acominatus (p. 486).


6. It was shaped roughly as a solid pentagon, its sides averaging some 2 kms. in length. The Great Palace or Inner City occupied about 1/8 th of the whole area. The walls of both cities can be traced, the latter’s still in part standing.





unearthed, but what is bare reveals only foundations and a few marble columns. The city has for centuries been a quarry for the Turks, just as it itself was probably built from old Roman cities, such as Marcianopolis. [1] The churches that have been excavated—Symeon’s in the outer city [2] and Boris’s at Patleïna—bear greater traces of splendour. To anyone coming from Constantinople, their size is unimpressive and their decoration must have seemed coarse. It consisted of marble slabs and mosaics, applied, as far as can be judged, without much delicacy; but its main characteristic was the copious use of ceramic tiles, some plain, others ornamented with simple patterns singularly free from Byzantine influence, resembling rather peasant art as it is found throughout the world. But at Patleïna a ceramic icon of St. Theodore has been found, quite Byzantine in feeling and showing a high state of technique. To-day it stands unique, but whether it was always a unique climax of the art of Symeon’s Golden Age, we cannot now know. [3]


Though literature and refinement might need an artificial stimulus, Bulgarian trade and commerce were flourishing naturally. The main industry of the country was agriculture, and probably Bulgarian cereals and beasts helped to feed the Imperial cities of the coast and Constantinople itself. Mines were worked, and their produce swelled the royal revenues. Moreover, the Bulgarian dominions lay across great trade routes. The busy trade that passed between the Steppes of Russia and Constantinople went as a rule by the sea along the western shore of the Black Sea; but some of it must have



1. The marble is certainly from Asia Minor. Symeon may have added to his stores in his raids on the suburbs of Constantinople.


2. Built, according to a MS. at Moscow, in 907.


3. Now in the museum at Preslav. The workmanship seems to me to be certainly native. The circumstances of its discovery clearly indicate that it dates from the first monastery on the site, i.e. before A.D. 900.





travelled overland through Preslav and Adrianople or by a coast road, and some through Dristra to Thessalonica. There was another trade route, almost equally important, which could not avoid Bulgaria; this was the route from Central Europe, which entered the Balkan peninsula at Belgrade and, like the railway to-day, forked at Nish, one branch leading through Sardica (Sofia) and Philippopolis to Adrianople and Constantinople, the other cutting due south across to Thessalonica. This meant a steady flow of merchandise passing through Bulgaria, and enriching on its way the Bulgarian traders or the Greek and Armenian subjects of the Prince. [1]


Symeon watched with care over his country’s commercial welfare; and, early in his reign, his intervention in its interests set going a train of circumstances which for a moment seemed likely to destroy Bulgaria and all its new-born culture, and which in the end served to confirm for ever the Balkan destiny that Boris had planned for his country. Ever since Tervel’s day trade between Bulgaria and the Empire had been carefully organized, and by now the Bulgarians had their counters at Constantinople (probably in the Saint Mamas quarter, along with the Russian counters) where they took their merchandise to distribute it to the Imperial merchants. In the year 894 [2] an intrigue in the Imperial Court resulted in two Greek merchants, Stauracius and Cosmas, securing the monopoly of the Bulgarian trade. They thereupon not only put heavy duties on the goods, but also insisted on moving the counters to Thessalonica—corruption was easier to manage at some distance from the capital. All this naturally upset the Bulgarians, and they complained to Symeon. He at once made representations before the



1. The trade routes are given by Constantine Porphyrogennetus, De Administrando Imperio, pp. 79, 177. The Thessalonican routes must, however, be considered in connection with the episode related below.


2. I discuss the date below.





Emperor. But the dishonest Greek merchants were under the protection of Zaützes, the Basileopator, the all-powerful father-in-law of the Emperor; Leo therefore ignored Symeon’s embassy and the scandal went on. Symeon thereupon decided to have recourse to arms, and prepared to invade Thrace. The main Imperial armies, under Nicephorus Phocas, the hero of the Italian wars, were away in the East fighting the Saracens; Leo could only send against the invaders unseasoned troops, under Procopius Grenites and an Armenian, Curticius. These, in spite of their numbers, Symeon had no difficulty in routing; the two generals were slain in battle, and the captives had their noses slit. The Bulgars then advanced through Thrace up to the capital itself.


Leo next tried diplomacy. He had sent that year an embassy to Ratisbon to King Arnulf—probably before the war broke out, as a counterblast to Arnulf’s embassy to Vladimir in 892—but his ambassador was not well received. [1] But now he had a far better plan. Ever since the days of Omortag the wild Magyars had been established on the Steppes right up to the Bulgarian frontier on the River Dniester, if not by now to the Pruth. In 895 he sent the patrician Nicetas Sclerus to the Magyar settlements and proposed to the Magyar chieftains, Arpad and Kurson, that they should invade Bulgaria; he promised that ships should be sent to convey them across the Danube. The Magyars gladly agreed, especially as they were feeling somewhat pressed on their eastern borders by an even wilder nation, the Petchenegs; they gave hostages and the treaty was concluded. Leo then summoned Nicephorus Phocas from Asia and fitted out the Imperial fleet under the Admiral Eustathius. These



1. Annales Fuldenses, p. 410. The ambassador had only one audience, and left the same day. There was a second and more successful embassy in 896, but it is doubtful if it had any great bearing on the Bulgarian war (ibid., p. 413).





latter preparations were really intended just to overawe the Bulgarians. Now that Symeon was going to have the Magyars to deal with, Leo would have preferred not to fight; he had no wish to magnify Magyar power at the expense of Bulgarian, and, besides, his tender Christian conscience made him dislike to fight fellow-believers. He sent the Quaestor Constantinacius to warn Symeon of the coming Magyar invasion and to suggest a peace treaty. But Symeon was suspicious and truculent; he had learnt in Constantinople how subtle Imperial diplomacy could be, and probably he disbelieved in the story about the Magyars. Constantinacius was put in custody, and no answer was returned.


Symeon was soon disillusioned. As he prepared to meet Nicephorus Phocas in Thrace, news came to him that the Magyars had arrived. He hurried north to meet them, but was defeated. In despair he retreated to the strong fortress of Dristra. [1] The Magyars advanced, pillaging and destroying. At the gates of Preslav they met Nicephorus Phocas, to whom they sold Bulgarian captives in thousands. The Bulgarians were in despair. They sent to Boris in his monastery to ask for advice; but he could only suggest a three days’ fast and offered to pray for his country. The situation was saved by far less reputable means—by Symeon’s diplomatic trickery.


When he realized the seriousness of his state, he sent through Eustathius to ask the Emperor for peace. Leo was glad to comply. He ordered Phocas and Eustathius to retire, and sent the Magister Leo Choerosphactus to discuss terms. This was exactly what Symeon had wished. When the Magister Leo arrived he was detained under guard at the fortress of Mundraga: while Symeon, free of the embarrassment of half of his enemies, set out to



1. Dorostolum, the modern Silistria.





attack the remainder, the Magyars. In a great battle he succeeded in defeating them and driving them back across the Danube. The struggle was so bloodthirsty that even the Bulgarians were said to have lost 20,000 knights. Victorious over the Magyars, Symeon informed the Magister Leo that his terms now included the release of all Bulgarian captives recently bought by Phocas from the Magyars. The unhappy ambassador, who had not been able meanwhile to communicate with his Government, returned to Constantinople, along with a certain Theodore, a familiar of Symeon’s, to see what could be done.


Leo wished for peace, and was prepared to give up the prisoners. He had never regarded the war with enthusiasm, and just recently he had lost the services of Nicephorus Phocas, another victim to his evil genius, Zaützes. Symeon, discovering this, determined to fight on. He waited until all the prisoners were returned to him, then, declaring that some had been kept back, he appeared again in full force on the Thracian frontier. The new Imperial commander, Catacalon, lacked Phocas’s ability. He came with the main Imperial army upon Symeon at Bulgarophygon, and was utterly routed. His second-in-command, the Protovestiarius Theodosius, was killed; he himself barely escaped with a few refugees. The battle had been so ghastly that one of the Imperial soldiers determined thereupon to renounce the world, and retired to receive beatitude later under the name of Luke the Stylite. [1] It was now the year 897.


Symeon was again master of the situation; and Leo Choerosphactus again set out to make the best peace that he could. It was a thankless task. Much of his correspondence with Symeon and with his own Government survives, and shows the trials that he had to face. Symeon



1. Vie de Luc le Stylite, pp. 300-1.





was in turns cunning, arrogant, and suspicious; he felt, it seems, that his adversaries were his mental superiors, and so he mistrusted their every gesture lest it should hold some sinister further meaning that he did not see. His letters would contain phrases on the verge of being offensive; he declared that ‘neither your Emperor nor his meteorologist can know the future’—a remark very galling to a monarch who prided himself on his prophecies. [1] The chief difficulty was that Symeon was unwilling to give up, even at a price, the prisoners, estimated at 120,000, that he had recently taken. Ό Magister Leo,’ he wrote, Ί promised nothing about the prisoners. I never said so to you. I shall not send them back, particularly as I don’t clearly see the future.’ [2] But the prisoners were eventually returned, and the ambassador secured a better peace than might have been expected. The Emperor agreed to pay a yearly subsidy, probably not large, but we do not know its size, to the Bulgarian Court [3]; but Symeon, so far from making any new annexation of territory, gave back thirty fortresses that his lieutenants had captured in the theme of Dyrrhachium [4]; and the Bulgarian counters apparently remained at Thessalonica. [5]


The reason for this moderation was not far to seek. The contemporary Arab historian Tabari told a story of how the ‘Greeks’ were at war with the ‘Slavs,’ and the Greek



1. Leo Choerosphactus, Ep. iii. (Symeon to Leo), p. 381. The Emperor Leo prophesied correctly his brother’s reign, and had a great reputation for his predictions, whence came his surname ‘The Wise.’


2. Ibid., Ep. v. (Symeon to Leo), p. 382. This was the complete letter.


3. That this tribute existed we know from Alexander’s refusal to continue the arrangement made by Leo (Theophanes Continuatus, p. 378, and Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. vii., p. 57). He suggests that the arrears should be paid up.


4. Leo Choerosphactus, Ep. xviii. (to the Emperor Leo), p. 396.


5. In the De Administrando (loc. cit.) the trade routes are calculated from Thessalonica.





Emperor was reduced to the expedient of arming his Moslem captives, who defeated the Slavs, but were thereupon promptly disarmed again. [1] The story is obviously fanciful; at most the Emperor may have provided arms for the duration of the emergency to the settlements of Asiatics in Thrace. Symeon was held in restraint by events from a very different quarter. When the Emperor called in the Magyars against him, Symeon decided that he too would draw on diplomacy, and he bribed the Petchenegs that lay beyond to attack the Magyars in the rear. The result was not altogether what he had wished. When the Magyars, defeated in Bulgaria, returned to their homes—the lands across the Dniester that they called Atelkuz—they found them occupied by the Petchenegs, the one race of which they were mortally afraid. They had to migrate; and so with all their families and all their belongings they crossed the rivers once more and then moved to the west, over the Carpathian mountains into the Central Danubian plain, to the banks of the Theiss, the frontier between the Bulgarian and Moravian dominions. It was a suitable time for them. The great King Svatopulk had died in 894, and his successors were effete and quarrelsome. Their opposition was easily overcome. By the year 906 the Magyars were lords of the whole plain, from Croatia to the Austrian marches and Bohemia. [2]


Symeon could not let this pass unchallenged. Transylvania and the valley of the Theiss were of no great importance to him, save for their salt-mines, whose produce was a great Bulgarian export. But no proud king can



1. Tabari in Vasiliev, Vizantiya i Araby, vol. ii., Prilozheniya, p. n. Dvornik (op. cit., pp. 304-5) places credence in this story and follows Marquart (Osteuroäische Streifzüge, pp. 517 ff.) in doubting the account given in the De Administrando of the Petchenegs—Dvornik doing so on the grounds that the Annals of Fulda do not mention it. But on diplomatic matters Constantine Porphyrogennetus is by far the most reliable writer of the time.


2. Constantine Porphyrogennetus, De Administrando Imperio, pp. 168 ff.





endure to lose vast provinces without striking a blow. But, though we know that his troops fought the Magyars, of the extent of the fighting we know nothing. According to the Magyars, the Greeks helped the Bulgarians, but they were both defeated. [1] Probably after a few unsuccessful skirmishes Symeon cut his losses and evacuated the land. His vast trans-Danubian Empire was reduced to the plain of Wallachia. [2]


The coming of the Magyars had far-reaching effects on Bulgaria and the whole of Europe. At the moment and for nearly a century their presence seemed to their neighbours—Slav, Frank, and Greek alike—an unmitigated nuisance; they were chiefly remarkable for their efficient and incorrigible raiding. But far-sighted Frankish and Greek statesmen could see them as a deliverance and a blessing. Hitherto there had been a solid and prolific mass of Slavs spreading from Greece and Italy to the Baltic. Were they ever to unite—and that was not inconceivable—their predominance in Europe was assured. But now a wedge had been driven right in the midst of them; the Northern and the Southern Slavs were separated for ever. They would each go their own way now. With this new enemy in their midst, they could not expand further. The neighbouring races were saved.


But though the Slav world in the end was to lose by it, on Bulgaria the effect of the Magyars was as a stimulant. Boris had laid down that Bulgaria should be an Eastern Power. Now there was no alternative. She was cut off entirely from the middle Danube and the West; it was



1. Anonymi Historia Ducum Hungariae, p. xli.


2. In the absence of any definitive statement, it seems best to assume that Symeon only retained Wallachia, which he lost a few years later to the Petchenegs. The Magyars certainly acquired Bulgarian Transylvania and Pannonia; Moldavia, over which Symeon’s hold was weak, probably fell to the Petchenegs.





useless to sigh over hopeless ambitions there. Bulgarian ambassadors were no more to journey to Aachen or to Ratisbon; the road was blocked, and so they would forget it. Symeon’s longings for greater power must be realized now in the Balkans. He turned his eyes hungrily on Serbia and Croatia, and most of all upon the Eastern Empire. And certainly strange things were happening there.


The years immediately following the war were spent peacefully enough, in the adorning of Preslav and the literary blossoming that Symeon patronized; but the relations between Bulgaria and the Empire were at times somewhat strained. This was chiefly due to minor acts of Bulgar aggression in Macedonia. The Bulgarians obliged the Greek cities of the Macedonian plain to pay them tribute, and were accustomed to pillage the countryside if this was not forthcoming. [1] In the year 904 the Arab pirate, Leo of Tripoli, already famous for his raids on the coasts of the Aegean, suddenly descended upon the great city of Thessalonica. There was no time to organize a proper resistance; the city was taken and sacked, and vast numbers of the population killed or made prisoners. It so happened that at the time there were two officials passing through Thessalonica, the one the Cubicularius Rhodophyles, a eunuch, carrying gold to the troops in Sicily, the other the Asecretis Symeon, carrying gold destined for the Bulgarians, the tribute sent on behalf of the Macedonian cities. During the disaster they hid their gold. Rhodophyles was captured by the Saracens and ordered to reveal the hiding-place; but refusing to betray his trust, he suffered a martyr’s death. Symeon was less heroic, but wiser. He offered the whole of the hoard to Leo of Tripoli on condition that he destroyed the city no further and sailed away. The bargain



1. John Gameniates, De Excidio Thessalonicae, p. 496.





was successfully struck and kept, and the asecretis was rewarded by the Emperor. [1]


But the Bulgarians in Macedonia forwent their tribute. In revenge they moved down into the plain and began to settle. The Greek population had been enfeebled and reduced by its terrible experience; it appealed to Constantinople. The ambassador Leo Choerosphactus set out once more to the Bulgarian Court to protest. Symeon did not want a war just then, so he agreed to withdraw his people. [2] But he insisted on a fresh delineation of the frontier; the new line ran within fifteen miles of Thessalonica itself. [3]


This restraint on Symeon’s part may have been due to his father’s influence; but Symeon was soon to lose his advice for ever. On May 2nd, 907, Boris died. [4] Outside Bulgaria no one noticed it; he had retired so long ago, and Germany, where men had told of him with awe, was far too far away now that the Magyars roamed between, and in Constantinople the busy Greeks thought of other things. Yet it was the end of one of the greatest lives in history. Clement survived his great patron for



1. John Gameniates, op. cit., pp. 569 ff., 574 ff. Vita Euthymii, pp. 53—4: Theophanes Continuatus, p. 368: Cedrenus ii., pp. 262-3. The story is a little muddled; only the Vita Euthymii (which is, however, one of the most reliable authorities) mentions that Symeon was bearing tribute to the Bulgars—he calls it ‘ φιλικὴν δεξίωσιν ’—the others merely connect Symeon with Rhodophyles, who was bound for Sicily. It seems clear that the two officials were travelling together. The fact the Symeon was at Thessalonica shows that this was not the yearly tribute to Preslav, but a local tribute which was, however, paid from Constantinople.


2. Leo Choerosphactus, Ep. xviii. (to Emperor Leo), p. 396.


3. This is proved by two columns, dated A.M. 6142 (A.D. 904), found on the river Narish (22 Km. from Thessalonica). The columns were placed by the Olgu Tarkan Theodore. (Uspenski, in Izviestiya Russk. Arkhaeolog. Inst. v Konstantinopolie, vol. iii., pp. 184 ff.). Zlatarski (Istoriya, i., 2, pp. 340 ff.) gives a rough frontier-line, but bases it on the list of bishoprics in Leo VI’s reign: which is not conclusive—e.g. Develtus is at this time included as an Imperial bishopric, though it was certainly a Bulgarian town. Probably its Greek population used the Greek rite and so did not depend on the Bulgarian archbishop, but directly on the Patriarch.


4. Tudor Doksov, pp. 32-3.





nine years, dying in harness in 916. Nahum, who left Preslav to retire to a monastery that he founded at Ochrida, had died in 906. [1]


Peace lasted a few years more, varied only by a small Magyar raid through the west of Bulgaria to Dyrrhachium [2]; but meanwhile Symeon was watching with eager interest the curious happenings at the Court of Constantinople. The Emperor Leo the Wise was most unfortunate in his marriages. His first wife, a saint whom he disliked, had died without surviving issue; his second wife, the daughter of Zautzes and his mistress for many previous years, died leaving only a daughter. Of his two brothers, one, the Patriarch Stephen, had died in 893, the other, the co-Emperor Alexander, was childless and debauched. A third marriage was against ecclesiastical law, and Leo himself had denounced it in his codification; but under the circumstances he felt justified in considering himself above the law. But his third wife also died leaving no child behind; and soon, it seems, his only daughter followed to the grave. Leo, in despair, might have then resigned himself to the extinction of his dynasty—a judgement on its bloodstained, adulterous origin; but suddenly a new factor arose. He fell in love with a dark-eyed lady, Zoe Carbopsina, of the family of Saint Theophanes. At first he only took her to the Palace as his acknowledged mistress; but late in the year 905 she bore him a son, Constantine surnamed Porphyrogennetus. Leo found it now imperative to marry Zoe and so legitimize his heir. But in Nicholas Mysticus, the friend that he had placed on the Patriarchal throne, he met unbending opposition; Nicholas as Patriarch could not condone anything so outrageous as a fourth marriage. At last he suggested a



1. Vita S. Clementis, p. 1236. Zhitie Sv. Nauma, ed. Lavrov, p. 41.


2. The Magyar leaders lost their way and never returned (Anonymi Historia Ducum Hungariae, p. 46). Nestor, p. 19, mentions this raid as having reached the neighbourhood of Thessalonica.





compromise. His terms, offering to baptize and recognize the boy on condition that the mother left the Court, were accepted, but broken by the Emperor. Three days after the baptism, in January 906, Leo quietly married his mistress and crowned her Augusta. This was a direct challenge; and Nicholas—proud, domineering, and fearless—took it up. All attempts to patch a peace failed. Leo secured the support of the Pope and of the other Eastern Patriarchs, all of them jealous of the see of Constantinople; but Nicholas remained obdurate, and on Christmas Day closed the doors of Saint Sophia in the Emperor’s face. Leo retorted a few weeks later by arresting him and sending him into exile. His place was taken by a gentler, more subservient monk, Euthymius the Syncellus.


Leo had triumphed, but by force, in the face of pious opinion. There were many that believed that God’s viceroy the Emperor was above all law, but many others believed that even he was bound by the laws of God’s Church. Once more the whole question of Church and State was raised, and Constantinople was rent with controversy. Leo’s triumph was ephemeral and superficial. Nicholas’s exile to half the city was martyrdom, and his party was thereby heartened. Besides, Leo’s health was poor; he would die soon. Alexander, his brother, hated him and all his ways. But he was sunk in dissipation; he too would die soon. Even the little boy on whom the future hung was very delicate. Wherever men looked, the sky was overcast; a storm was blowing up. [1]


Symeon, in the new-made glories of his palace at Preslav, was well informed of what was happening. He waited for the waters to be troubled; and schemes and ambitions flitted through his mind.



1. Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 360 ff.: Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xxxii., pp. 197 ff.: Vita Euthymii, passim. I have dealt more fully with the episode in my Emperor Romanus Lecapenus, pp. 40 ff.





On May 11, 912, the Emperor Leo the Wise died, and the Emperor Alexander took over the government of the Empire. Everything at once was reversed. Nicholas came back from exile and Euthymius was sent out in his place; a new martyrdom succeeded to the old, and embittered the conflict. The Empress Zoe retired from the Palace; her son was only saved from castration by friends insisting on the poorness of his health. All the ministers of the old regime were dismissed, some to die in prison. Meanwhile Alexander enjoyed himself, with drink and idolatry and gaming and his favourites. [1]


A few months after Alexander’s accession a Bulgarian embassy arrived in Constantinople. Symeon, very correctly, was sending to congratulate the new Emperor and to ask for a renewal of the treaty concluded with Leo. Alexander received them immediately after indulging in an orgy, and, with drunken bravado, he sent them away, curtly refusing to pay any tribute. The ambassadors returned to Symeon to tell of their reception. He can hardly have been distressed; he had an excellent reason now to break the peace, and the Empire, under this dying drunkard, would never be able to withstand him. He prepared for war. [2]


There was no need to hurry; the Empire was going from bad to worse. Alexander died on June 4, 913, leaving the government in the hands of a Regency Council, dominated by the Patriarch Nicholas. [3] This was all to Symeon’s advantage. Nicholas, fearless foe though he was to the Emperor, was always anxious to conciliate Symeon; he never forgot that he was Oecumenical Patriarch, spiritual father of the Bulgarian Church; he was determined to leave the patriarchate no weaker



1. Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 377 ff. : Vita Euthymii, pp. 61 ff.


2. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 378.


3. Ibid., p. 380: Vita Euthymii, pp. 69, 70.





than he had found it. Clearly he would have therefore to pacify the Bulgar monarch and keep him from the temptations of independence or of Rome. It was to this anxiety that we owe the long series of letters, sometimes reproachful, but almost all pleading, that he addressed to the Court of Preslav—letters whose delicately varying temper form the main source of the history of these years.


In August 913, Symeon in full force invaded the Empire. Nicholas, in vain, had tried to dissuade him, appealing to his better nature not to attack a little child, and to his worse nature by offering to send the arrears of the tribute at once to Develtus. [1] But neither appeal could move the Bulgar. His aims were far higher.


His invasion followed on the heels of a military rebellion, [2] and the Imperial Government was in no position to oppose him. Marching quickly through Thrace, he appeared before Constantinople and stretched his great army along the line of the land walls from the Golden Horn to the Marmora. But the sight of the city’s huge fortifications daunted him; it was the first time that he had seen them with the eyes of an enemy, and he realised how impregnable they were. He decided to negotiate.


Nicholas was delighted. There followed a series of friendly interviews. First Symeon sent his ambassador Theodore into the city to see the Regents; then the Regents and the young Emperor in person entertained Symeon’s sons at a feast at Blachernae [3]; and finally Nicholas went out to visit Symeon himself, and was received with marked



1. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. v.—vii., pp. 45—60, esp. pp. 53, 57.


2. The revolt of Constantine Ducas, Domestic of the Schools.


3. Scylitzes (Cedrenus, ii., p. 282) says that Symeon himself was entertained at this feast, but the earlier chronicles agree that only Symeon’s sons came (see references below). Byzantine etiquette rarely permitted foreign monarchs to enter Constantinople. Even Peter of Bulgaria, who married Maria Lecapena, was only allowed inside the city for one brief interview (see below, p. 179), and then only to the Blachernae Palace, adjoining the walls.





respect. Meanwhile terms were discussed. Symeon was moderate in his demands; he received the arrears of the tribute and a great many presents, and a promise that the Emperor should marry one of his daughters. With these he returned to Bulgaria. [1]


These terms require a little explanation. Their key lies in the fact that it was now, I think, that Symeon first definitely formulated to himself the ambition that soon came to dominate him. He aimed at nothing less than becoming Emperor. Already his refusal to be contented with the usual tribute showed that he was hoping for greater things; and now, through this marriage, he was going to get a legitimate foothold in the Palace. The idea was not so fantastic as it might seem. The Empire was still a universal international conception; men of many diverse races had climbed on to the throne. None, it is true, had been already seated upon foreign thrones; but that surely would act to their advantage. And the present was so hopeful a time. With the Imperial family reduced to one delicate boy, the future seemed to lie with the strongest person at hand. And no one would be stronger than Symeon, with a daughter established in the Palace, the Patriarch as his friend, and his huge armies ready at any moment to descend upon Thrace; and, once Constantinople was his, the Empire would be his, for Constantinople was the Empire. His was by no means an impossible ambition. Fortune, however, did not favour him: though thereby Bulgaria was fortunate. For these dreams were a betrayal of Boris’s policy. Boris’s Bulgaria, with its national language and national Church, was too immature as yet to stand absorption with the Empire. A century later it was different; Bulgaria was an established



1. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 385. Logothete (Slavonic version), p. 126. I discuss the marriage question (which certainly dates from these negotiations) below in Appendix X.





nation. But now the various Slav tribes and the Bulgars would have fallen apart, and the Greek Imperial spirit would have triumphed. Boris’s work would have been undone.


But these speculations are idle; for Symeon made a miscalculation. He did not realize how precarious the Patriarch’s Government was. Nicholas was regent for a child whose legitimacy he could scarcely recognize, and, Patriarch though he was, he was only a party leader. The other party had a leader whose claim to the regency was far stronger and far more logical. The Empress Zoe, mother of the Emperor, though now she was temporarily in unwilling retirement as a nun, had a large following; and soon Nicholas’s fellow-regents, tired of his domination, came round to her side. Hardly had Symeon arrived back in Bulgaria, when Zoe emerged from her retreat and took charge of the Government. [1]


Zoe had none of Nicholas’s preoccupations. It mattered nothing to her if he lost his titular headship over the Bulgarian Church. And she was determined that her boy should not marry a barbarian. Nicholas remained on in the patriarchal chair, but he had no voice now in the Government. All Symeon’s moderation and cajolery were wasted. He had recourse to arms once more. In vain Nicholas wrote to him reminding him of his promise of peace. Symeon considered himself released from his obligations; the new Imperial Government carefully forgot the clause about the marriage. [2]


In September, 914, Bulgarian forces appeared before Adrianople; and the Armenian governor of the fortress was induced to betray it into their hands. But the Empress was a vigorous ruler. At once she sent men and



1. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 383: Vita Euthymii, p. 73.


2. Nicholas never mentions it in his letters to Symeon till after Romanus’s accession, when .we hear that Symeon had been demanding it for a long time before.





money to recover it; and the Bulgarians found it more prudent to retire. [1] After this essay of the Empress’s temper, Symeon waited a little. The history of the next two years is very obscure. Symeon made no move against Constantinople; but, in 916, if not in 915, his troops were actively engaged in raiding the provinces farther to the west, by Dyrrhachium and Thessalonica. [2] In 916 they even penetrated as far as the Gulf of Corinth, and intermittently remained in the neighbouring districts for about ten years. Their presence did not tend for comfort; even Saint Luke the Less, famed for his asceticism and mortification of the flesh, migrated for that period to Patras. [3]


But Constantinople was Symeon’s real objective. By 917 he was again amassing an army on the Thracian frontier. [4] He even attempted to win the support of the Petchenegs, his friends of the previous war; but his ambassadors were outbid by the Imperial agent, John Bogas, whose financial resources were no doubt larger. Under the circumstances the Empress decided to strike first. The time seemed well chosen; she was flushed with the triumphs of her troops in Armenia and Italy; and now there came the news that the Petchenegs were prepared to invade Bulgaria from the north. Her fleet sailed to the Danube to carry them across, and the full Imperial army marched up through Thrace to the frontier. [5]


Symeon was caught. The Petchenegs were far worse



1. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 384. The governor was abetted by the Archbishop Stephen Bees, Epidromai Boulgaron, pp. 368-9.


2. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. ix., p. 76.


3. Vita S. Lucae Minoris, p. 449. Saint Luke lived ten years in Patras, and only returned after Symeon’s death. But I do not think that the ten years should be taken too literally; for Bulgarian armies were busy elsewhere in 917 (when Diehl, in Choses et Gens de Byzance, pp. 3-4, dates this invasion) over the Achelous campaign, and in 918 in Serbia. It seems better to connect the invasion with the acts of aggression reported in 916 from Thessalonica.


4. Nicholas Mysticus, loc. cit., p. 672.


5. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 387. For Zoe’s successful foreign policy see my Emperor Romanus Lecapenus, p. 53, and elsewhere.





than the Magyars, and he could scarcely hope to repeat his cunning diplomacy of twenty years ago. But fortune favoured him, so unexpectedly that we can hardly doubt that he supplemented fortune by bribery. John Bogas arrived at the Danube, guiding the Petcheneg hordes; but there he quarrelled with the Imperial admiral, Romanus Lecapenus, and Romanus refused to transport the barbarians. They, weary of the delay, would not wait; after devastating and probably half-occupying Wallachia, they returned to their homes. Contemporary opinion suspected Romanus of some sort of double-dealing. Nothing was proved. Romanus was certainly ambitious and unscrupulous in his ambitions; one must suspect that Symeon’s gold also affected his actions. [1]


Saved from the Petchenegs, Symeon could face the future more confidently. He had probably, it is true, lost his last province across the Danube, but the loss was of very little consequence; the Danube made a far better frontier. Still, the whole main army of the Empire was nothing negligible. But fortune was kind to Symeon once more. The Empress was a poor judge of a soldier. Her commander-in-chief, the Domestic of the Schools, was Leo Phocas, son of the great soldier Nicephorus, but quite without his father’s ability. His campaign was well enough planned. After the fiasco on the Danube, the Imperial fleet had come down the coast to Mesembria, the peninsula-port beyond the frontier-line, still held by the Empire. Thither Phocas directed his army, hoping probably for reinforcements before he struck inland to Preslav.


Symeon waited on the hills, watching for an opportunity. It came as the Imperial troops rounded the head of the Gulf of Burgas, and turned north-west towards



1. Theophanes Continuatus, loc. cit., and ff. There is no means of telling definitely when Bulgaria lost Wallachia, but it seems to have been overrun by Petchenegs well before Symeon’s death, probably from now; in 917 the Petchenegs had, one gathers, to come some distance to the Danube.





Mesembria. There was a little stream called the Achelous, close to Anchialus. On August 20, Phocas halted there, leaving his troops carelessly disposed. Suddenly Symeon swept down from the hills on to the unsuspecting army. What exactly happened no one knew, save that there was a panic and almost the whole Imperial army was slaughtered. The bones lay bleaching on the field for half a century. Only Phocas and a few miserable fugitives ever reached Mesembria. Many of the soldiers had fled to the coast; but the fleet which should have been at hand to rescue them had sailed already for theBosphorus. [1]


The triumph revived all Symeon’s ambitions. He came marching down through Thrace towards the capital. Zoe gathered together another army, but again she put it under Leo Phocas. Again Phocas led it to disaster. As it lay at Catasyrtae, in the suburbs of the city, the Bulgarians attacked it by night, and destroyed it. [2]


After this second victory Symeon might almost have attacked the city successfully, but he did not dare; and even the Greeks had confidence that their walls were impregnable. Negotiations were impossible; Symeon demanded what Zoe could not possibly give. And Nicholas, though for the sake of the patriarchate he dissociated himself from Zoe’s policy, seems to have regarded Symeon’s terms as being unthinkable. [3] But no further attacks were



1. Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 388 ff.: Cedrenus, ii., p. 286: Zonaras, iii., p. 465. Scylitzes (Cedrenus) says that Leo Phocas was bathing at the time, and his riderless horse took fright and caused a panic among the troops, who thought their general dead. This is quite possibly true. It is clear that the army was taken utterly by surprise. Leo Diaconus (p. 124) tells that the bones were still to be seen in his day. The Slavonic version of the Logothete (p. 12) calls the river the Tutkhonestia. It is foolish to assume that Achelous must be a mistake for Anchialus, just because there is a river Achelous in Greece.


2. Ibid., p. 390. No date is given for the battle, but it apparently followed close on the Achelous.


3. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. ix., p. 69. He says that he was not consulted about the campaign, but he claims that it was justified. However, he seems to regard any prospect of arriving at terms as impossible and is very despondent in tone.





made just yet. It was very late in the year; and Symeon retired to winter in Bulgaria.


The year 918 passed sadly and wildly in Constantinople. Zoe was falling from power. She had always had enemies, and now her disasters had cost her the love of the populace. There was a scramble to take her place. It would have been an excellent opportunity for Symeon to appear before the city; and in the atmosphere of disloyalty and intrigue he might easily have won admittance inside the walls. But Symeon never came. Zoe, despite her failures, had achieved one great triumph; she had entangled Symeon elsewhere. For over half a century Bulgaria had lived peacefully with her Serbian neighbours. During these years Serbia acquired the benefits of Christianity, and looked to Bulgaria as the source of her culture. Of late, under her Prince Peter, she had increased her territory in Bosnia and had reached a certain standard of prosperity. In 917, just after the Achelous, an embassy from the Empress reached Peter’s Court and pointed out to him the dangers of too great a Bulgaria. Peter was convinced by the argument, and undertook to attack Symeon unexpectedly in the rear. But Peter had rivals; Serbia’s growth alarmed the cognate maritime principalities, now under the hegemony of Michael, Prince of Zachlumia, an unscrupulous pirate and brigand whose territory stretched along the coast to the north of Ragusa. Michael already once had shown his enmity to the Empire by capturing the son of the Venetian doge on his return from a visit of respect to Constantinople, and sending him to Symeon, from whom the Venetians had to ransom him. [1] Now he heard of the alliance, and at once passed the information on to Symeon. Symeon determined to strike first; accordingly, in 918, his Generals Marmaëm and Sigritze invaded Serbia. They succeeded



1. Dandolo, Chronicum Venetum, p. 198.





in overrunning the country; and when Peter came to make peace with them they treacherously seized him and carried him off to Bulgaria. In his place they set up his cousin Paul, a prince who had long been a hostage at the Bulgarian Court. [1]


How long this Serbian war lasted we cannot tell; but apparently it occupied the whole campaigning season of 918. Symeon, with his troops engaged in the west, could do nothing against Constantinople. Possibly, also, he was being troubled by the Petchenegs; possibly he was ill-informed about the true, desperate state of affairs at the Imperial Court. Certainly it was not till the next year that he was able to march his armies southward again. And then it was too late. Romanus Lecapenus had won the race for power. In March 919 he took possession of the Imperial Palace; in April his daughter Helena was married to the young Emperor. He called himself Basileopator; later, in September, he would take the title of Caesar; and before the year was out he would be Emperor.


The war was lost. All Symeon’s victories availed him nothing. Romanus Lecapenus, a discredited admiral of peasant origin, had climbed on to the throne by the very steps that Symeon had hoped to use. [2] It would have



1. Constantine Porphyrogennetus, De Administrando Imperio, pp. 156—7. Constantine does not date the war, but says that the Imperial negotiations with Peter took place at the time of the Achelous. The negotiations may have been begun previous to the disaster, but it seems to me impossible to explain Symeon’s inaction against Constantinople in 918, save by a Serbian war. And even though Symeon did not go to Serbia himself (he never went campaigning in the west in person), I do not think he could have sent an expedition to Serbia big enough to overrun the country in 917. The three years’ intervals that Constantine gives between the Serbo-Bulgarian wars need not, I think, all be taken as infallibly accurate.


2. Zlatarski (Istoriya, i., 2, pp. 399 ff.) says that in 918 Symeon took an Imperial title and raised the Bulgarian archbishopric to a patriarchate. I cannot discover on what he bases this. It is incredible that we should have no reference to such an action in Nicholas’s voluminous correspondence. Romanus’s letters to Symeon protesting against his Imperial title date from after the two monarchs’ interview (924, see below, p. 172); and it is clear from Symeon’s offensive joke at the interview (see below, p. 170) that he still regarded Nicholas as the official spiritual father of Bulgaria. It is quite possible, as Zlatarski suggests, that the Archbishop Joseph died in 918, and the Archbishop Leontius succeeded him; but, even though Leontius was created Patriarch by Symeon, we need not assume that that happened the very moment of his installation. Leo Diaconus’s words about Symeon taking the title of Autocrat (pp. 122-3) provide no chronological data.





been well for Bulgaria had Symeon admitted his failure and sought to make the best peace possible. Romanus would gladly have given very favourable terms; he eagerly wished for peace, so as to consolidate his own position. But Symeon no longer showed the moderation of his youth. Ambition, fed by his victories, dominated him now, and blunted his statecraft. He was very angry, and determined to revenge himself on the usurper; and so the war went on.


In the late summer of 919 Symeon invaded Thrace once more, and penetrated to the Hellespont, encamping opposite to Lampsacus. Nicholas wrote offering, if his health permitted, to come out and interview Symeon; but the suggestion was not accepted. The Bulgarians met with no opposition; after wasting the countryside, they returned to winter in Bulgaria. [1]


All through 920 Nicholas wrote anxious letters to the Court at Preslav, not only to Symeon, but also to the Bulgarian Archbishop and to Symeon’s chief Minister, urging a peace. In July he wrote to tell Symeon of the end of the schism caused by Leo’s fourth marriage—he tactfully assumed that Symeon would be delighted to hear of this triumph of Romanus’s Government—and to point out that Romanus had no connection with the previous Government (Zoe’s) and was not responsible for its follies. [2] Next he reverted to Symeon’s old desire for a marriage-alliance; Romanus, he said, was very willing for such a



1. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xcv., p. 301, written to Romanus when he was Caesar (Sept. to Dec. 919): Ep. xi., p. 84, written to Symeon.


2. Ibid., Ep. xiv., p. 100.





union. He affected to ignore the fact that the only marriage that Symeon desired was now impossible. [1] Symeon returned no answer. Nevertheless, he did not invade Thrace that year. His troops were engaged in Serbia once more. Romanus had sent the Serbian Prince, Zacharias, a refugee at Constantinople, to stir up trouble against the Bulgarian client, Prince Paul. Zacharias was defeated, owing to the intervention of the Bulgarians, and was carried off captive to Bulgaria, to be used against Paul, should he be insubordinate. [2] Encouraged by Symeon’s preoccupation with Serbia, Romanus talked of himself leading an expedition into Bulgaria; but nothing came of it. [3]


In 921, after writing to Nicholas that his terms involved the deposition of Romanus, [4] Symeon marched again on Constantinople; but at Catasyrtae, the scene of his victory four years before, Imperial troops under a certain Michael, son of Moroleon, took him by surprise. The Bulgarians probably suffered no great losses, but they decided to retire back on Heraclea and Selymbria. [5] In response to a further letter from Symeon, Nicholas offered to go out and interview him there [6]; but Symeon did not encourage him. He made it abundantly clear that he did not want gold, or costly gifts, or even territory [7]; he insisted on Romanus’s deposition. It was something quite easy to do, he maintained, not like raising his Bulgar soldiers from the dead. [8] But Romanus was unlikely to consent to depose himself; and the Patriarch realised that he



1. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xvi., p. 112.


2. Constantine Porphyrogennetus, loc. cit. He says Paul had reigned three years, but, in view of the sequence of events of these years, it would be more correct to say that Paul was in the third year of his reign.


3. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xvii., pp. 113 ff.     4. Ibid., Ep. xviii., pp. 121 ff.


5. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 400.


6. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xix., pp. 125 ff.     7. Ibid., Ep. xviii., pp. 121 ff.      8. Ibid., loc. cit.





was being mocked. [1] After spending the summer in Thrace, Symeon went back to winter in his own country.


In 922 Symeon again appeared in the neighbourhood of the city. Romanus was anxious to save from his devastation his palace at Pegae on the Bosphorus; he sent out an army to guard it; but as it lay in the narrow valley there, the Bulgarians swooped down and massacred it or drove it into the sea. After their victory Symeon lingered throughout the summer in Thrace; but, later in the year the Greeks made a successful sortie and destroyed his camp. [2] Again he had to retire, leaving nothing permanent behind him. During the winter his letters grew slightly more pacific in tone; he even asked Nicholas to send him an accredited ambassador. [3]


These gestures, however, were probably only the reflection of Symeon’s more despondent moments. Even while he made them he was arming himself. [4] In the spring of 923 he was ready to fight again, and laid siege to Adrianople. The great fortress was valiantly defended by its governor, Moroleon, but no relief force came from Constantinople; famine forced the garrison to surrender. Symeon, thereupon, gave vent to his disappointed anger against the Empire; Moroleon was brutally tortured to death. [5] But Symeon was unable to advance further. Trouble broke out again in Serbia. It was always easy for Greek diplomats to point out how unnatural was an



1. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xix., pp. 125 ff.


2. Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 401-3. No date is given for the sortie but it almost certainly happened now. The Empress Theodora’s death, (Feb. 922), Sophia’s coronation (that month), and the visit of the Curopalates (τηνικαῦτα) are inserted in the chronicles between the account of the battle of Pegae and it, but probably the three social events were taken together to make a paragraph, irrespective of their accurate dating.


3. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xxii., pp. 148-9.


4. Ibid, Ep. xxi., pp. 137 ff.


5. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 404. Undated, but almost certainly early in 923. It was probably during this year that Symeon captured the city of Bizya (Veza) in Thrace, as is mentioned in the Vita S. Mariae Junioris.





alliance between Serbia and Bulgaria; and Prince Paul saw the truth of it. But his attempt to escape from Bulgarian tutelage failed; Symeon’s armies deposed him and set up Prince Zacharias in his stead. [1]


The distraction made Symeon more amenable to negotiation, while at Constantinople men felt correspondingly more cheerful. Romanus had gradually come round to a new policy, well illustrated in his failure to try to relieve Adrianople. He would let Symeon invade Thrace as often as he pleased, confident himself behind the walls of Constantinople, and hopeful that in the end Bulgaria would exhaust herself by her efforts. Meanwhile, his main armies were sent to fight more profitably in the east; he would employ foreign troops against Symeon. The Serbs, it was true, were always being defeated, but he was negotiating, with every prospect of success, with the Russians (now firmly established almost as far south as the mouth of the Dnieper), the Petchenegs, and the Magyars. Under the circumstances he was less anxious for peace than the Patriarch. And even Nicholas, writing to tell of these negotiations and of the defeat of the Saracen pirate, Leo of Tripoli, adopted a new, patronizing air. [2] But, with Serbia crushed, Symeon reverted as usual to his old insolence. He asked for an ambassador, but he made clear that he clung to impossible terms. [3]



1. Constantine Porphyrogennetus, loc. cit., p. 157, dated three years after Zacharias’s revolt. Henceforward my dating is radically different from Zlatarski’s (op. cit., pp. 427 ff.), as he dates the interview between Symeon and Romanus in 923 instead of 924.


2. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 405: Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xxiii., pp. 149, 156. He says that it was seventeen or eighteen years since Leo’s victory at Thessalonica. As he was calculating roughly, there is no reason to prefer either seventeen or eighteen to nineteen. He also says that it is only in deference to his wishes that the Emperors are not attacking Bulgaria themselves.


3. Ibid., Ep. xxvii., p. 173. Symeon’s previous letters, answered by Nicholas (Ep. xxiv.-xxv., pp. 157 ff.), were apparently more encouraging.





Nicholas then tried a new method. Since Zoe’s fall relations between Rome and Constantinople had been strained, but in 923 the Pope was at last induced to send two legates, Theophylact and Carus, to Constantinople, and then to Bulgaria, to use their influence in favour of peace. Nicholas, in his anxiety, forgot his patriarchal pride so far as to welcome this intervention, and wrote to Symeon begging him to respect the Papal representatives. [1] But Symeon had his own scheme for dealing with the Pope. He knew the fragility of the alliance between Old and New Rome. So he greeted Theophylact and Carus amicably enough, but his conversations, as the sequence was to show, were very different from what Nicholas hoped. And meanwhile he was planning one more great attempt against Constantinople. [2]


The attack was timed for the summer of 924. [3] Symeon was wiser now; he realized that the land walls of the city were impregnable. But Bulgaria had no fleet; he was obliged to look round for an ally. The Fatimid Calif of Africa was at war with the Empire and possessed many ships. Symeon sent an embassy to the Court of Mehdia, to suggest an alliance whereby the necessary sea power should be loaned to him. The affair was successfully arranged without the knowledge of the Greeks, and the



1. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xxviii., p. 176.


2. According to Maçoudi (Prairies d’Or, ii., p. 14), the Black Bulgars in 923 invaded the Empire as far as ‘Phenedia’ on the ‘Greek Sea,’ where they met Arab raiders from Tarsus. If, as is probable, Phenedia was some Greek town on the Aegean, the Black Bulgars must have passed through Balkan Bulgaria. But whether they came as raiders to Bulgaria also or as allies to their distant cousins we cannot tell. The raid seems to have been of very little importance: though it inspired Professor Vasiliev (Vizantiya i Araby, ii., p. 222) to see Symeon in relations with the Arabs of Tarsus.


3. For my reasons for this date see my Emperor Romanus Lecapenus, pp. 246 ff. In that discussion I omitted to mention Zlatarski’s argument that the date is proved by the A.M. date in Nestor’s chronicle, which by his interpretation of Bulgar dating (with which I agree) comes to 923. But why Nestor’s A.M. should be right when no one else’s is and even his indiction is wrong, I do not know. I do not think it can stand against the external evidence.





Bulgarian ambassadors were returning with the African representatives, when the ship in which they were travelling was captured off the South Italian coast by an Imperial squadron. The Emperor at once sent to the Calif and offered him a profitable peace; which was gladly accepted—for the Africans had no desire to fight unnecessarily in the distant north-east; and he kept the Bulgarians prisoners. [1] But, at the same time, seriously alarmed by Symeon’s preparations, he sent also to Bagdad, to the other Calif, to arange a truce, so that his main armies could come back to Thrace. [2]


In September Symeon in his panoply arrived before the walls of Constantinople. Once more the sight of them daunted him. Probably only then did he learn that the African fleet was never coming, and that, instead, the Imperial army was marching from the east. Once more, as eleven years before, while the city awaited his onslaught, he merely sent to ask to see the Patriarch.


Hostages were exchanged and Nicholas hurried out to meet him. Symeon, enjoying this subservience, demanded now that the Emperor should come instead. And even the Emperor came, though Imperial Majesty would not hurry and elaborate preparations had to be made. A strong, fortified pier was built out into the Golden Horn at Cosmidium and a wall erected across the middle; over the wall the monarchs would converse. But the delay made Symeon impatient. To show how terrible he was, how little awed by the venerability of the Empire, he spent the time wasting the countryside, and even burning one of its holiest sanctuaries, the old Church of the Mother of God at Pegae.


The interview took place on Thursday, September 9. Symeon came on to the pier by land, surrounded by a



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 536, undated, but clearly just before the 924 campaign.


2. Ibn-al-Asir (in Vasiliev, op. cit., Prilozheniya, p. 106).





glittering escort, some to guard his person and some to test the works of the Greeks—for Symeon was mindful of Krum’s experience—and others as interpreters; for Symeon would not pay lip-service to the Empire by using the Imperial language. When hostages had been exchanged he advanced to the wall. The Emperor Romanus was waiting there. His coming had been in contrast; he arrived with the Patriarch by water, in his yacht, with a humble mien, clad in the holy cloak of the Virgin, and with few attendants—for he knew that he was attended by all the glory and tradition of Imperial Rome.


Over the wall the monarchs greeted each other. Symeon began to talk flippantly, teasing the Patriarch for being unable to keep his flock from quarrelling. [1] But Romanus brought the conversation to a higher level, addressing a little speech to the Bulgar. It was a kindly homily to a foolish inferior, telling of the duties of a Christian and the punishments in store for the wrongdoer. Symeon was growing old now [2]; ‘to-morrow you are dust,’ warned the Emperor: ‘how will you face the terrible just Judge?’ Moral considerations insisted that Symeon should cease from staining his hands with the blood of fellow-Christians; but at the same time Romanus hinted that peace would be made financially advantageous to the Bulgarian Prince. [3]


Symeon was very much impressed. Indeed, peace was now the only practicable policy. He had won many victories; from the walls of Corinth and Dyrrhachium to the walls of Constantinople he controlled the countryside. But the city was strong and he had no ships. He had



1. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xxxi., p. 189.


2. Symeon was over sixty, according to Nicholas (Ep. xxix., p. 151, written in the winter of 923—4).


3. I quote the speech in full in my Emperor Romanus Lecapenus, p. 92.





arrived at the furthest limit of success within his reach, and it was not enough. And, faced with the Emperor’s person, he was for a while overcome by the majesty of the Empire and the eternity of New Rome. Hemiargus, half-Greek, as he was, he learnt in his youth the magnificence, in conception and in execution, of the Imperial idea, which had lasted through the centuries before ever the Bulgars were heard of; but he realized now that he could never be more than half-Greek or half-Imperial. The other half was ineradicably Bulgarian, newly risen from barbarous heathendom. Boris had been wiser and more fortunate; he never tried to be, nor could have been, more than a Bulgarian prince; his aims were utterly opposite to Symeon’s, national, not international. In his dealings with the Empire he was like a child, but an un-selfconscious child who hopes to grow up soon, and meanwhile means to help himself as best he can, by himself or through his elders. Symeon was like a clever, naughty child, who knows what a nuisance he makes himself and how gladly the adults would like him to keep quiet, who sees through their devices and understands their weaknesses and thoroughly enjoys annoying them, but who all the while is conscious that he is a child and they are adult, with something about them far beyond his grasp; and so he feels foiled and cheated and resentful. Similarly, as a naughty child is awed by a dignified scolding, so Symeon was awed by Romanus’s speech. But, after a little while, the effect wears off, and the conscious naughtiness begins once more.


Meanwhile, as the monarchs conversed, Providence sent a symbol. High over their heads two eagles met and then parted again, the one to fly over the towers of Constantinople, the other turning towards the mountains of Thrace. The message was both to Symeon and to Romanus, to tell them that there would be two Empires





now in the Balkan peninsula—for a while, at least; but eagles die. [1]


Forced now to recognize each other’s independent existence, Symeon and Romanus agreed on terms for a truce. Possibly they even discussed them in person at this conversation, but more probably the details were arranged by their diplomats. In return for a large amount of bullion and other valuable gifts and a yearly present of 100 scaramangia—robes richly embroidered, one of the most luxurious articles manufactured in Constantinople— Symeon agreed to evacuate Imperial territory, especially the fortified cities on the Black Sea that he had captured, Agathopolis and Sozopolis, and possibly even Develtus and Anchialus, so as to allow the Emperor a route by land to his city of Mesembria. [2] After these arrangements were made Symeon retired peacefully home.


To some extent the peace was permanent; Symeon never invaded Thrace again. But he showed himself to be in no hurry to hand over his conquests on the Black Sea. Romanus wrote more than once to demand their restitution, and even refused to hand over the large consignment of gifts till it was effected; he was, however, willing to pay the yearly scaramangia if Symeon withheld from invasions. Symeon was quite agreeable to this. His



1. Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 405—7: Georgius Monachus, pp. 898-9: Georgius Harmartolus, pp. 824 ff., etc.: Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xxx., xxxi., pp. 185 ff.


2. Romanus Lecapenus, Ep. i., ii. (ed. Sakkelion, pp. 40-5): Zlatarski, Pismata na Romana Lakapena, pp. 8 ff., 10 ff. The names of the Black Sea fortresses are never given. The simplest solution is to say that they were Agathopolis and Sozopolis, which may well have been captured by Symeon in 924 or at some previous date since 917. But I am inclined to think that Develtus and Anchialus were restored to the Empire in 927 (see below, p. 180), and they may well have been mentioned now. That would give a more cogent reason for Symeon’s preferring to forfeit valuable gifts rather than give them up. Agathopolis and Sozopolis had no importance for him; but from Develtus an enterprising enemy could easily strike at Preslav.





retention of the Black Sea fortresses was hardly more than a gesture; the moral effect of the interview was wearing off, and he wished to show himself unawed by the Empire. Actually his policy was being completely altered. He could only be a Balkan monarch, but at least he would be Emperor of the Balkans. Hitherto, as one who hoped to sit on the Imperial throne, he had been punctilious in his use of titles, and willing also to recognize the spiritual suzerainty of the Patriarch; his future Government would thus escape complications. But now he had no such restraint. He decided to be Imperial even though he could not reign at Constantinople. Some time in 925 he proclaimed himself Emperor of the Romans and the Bulgars, [1] a title conceived to glorify himself and insult his enemies. The Emperor Romanus was extremely angry and wrote to protest; but Symeon did not answer. [2] Instead, he sent to Rome for confirmation of the dignity; and Rome, recently victorious over Greek interests in Illyricum, complied—the Popes had never quite lost hope of securing Bulgaria. In 926 a Papal legate, Madalbert, arrived at Preslav, bearing the Pope’s recognition of Symeon as Emperor. [3] This was the fruit borne by that visit of Theophylact and Carus, of which Nicholas had had such sanguine hopes. But Nicholas had been already disillusioned. The interview had shattered his belief in Symeon’s heart, and he understood that Symeon had no more use for him now. He wrote twice to Symeon after the interview, but both were the letters of an angry, bitter, ill old man. Then in May 925 a merciful Providence gathered him to his fathers, before he could learn of the



1. ‘ Βασιλεὺς καὶ αὐτοκράτωρ τῶν Ρωμαίων καὶ Βουλγάρων. ’


2. Romanus Lecapenus, Ep., loc. cit.


3. Innocentius III Papa, Ep. cxv., pp. 1112-3, referring to the fact that Symeon, Peter, and Samuel asked for and received Imperial crowns from Rome: Farlati, Illyricum Sacrum, iii., p. 103, telling of Madalbert’s embassy. Madalbert held a synod at Spalato in 927 on his way home. See below, p. 176.





further enormities that his once beloved son would commit. [1]


The Emperor of the Romans and the Bulgars, whose cumbrous title was shortened by his people to the Slavonic word ‘Tsar,’ [2] determined to have his own Patriarch also. His negotiations with Rome delayed the appointment—for the Pope could scarcely be expected to approve —consequently it was probably not till after Madalbert’s departure, late in 926, that Symeon raised the Archbishop of Bulgaria, Leontius of Preslav, to the rank of a Patriarch. This presumption passed unnoticed at Constantinople. The Patriarch Nicholas was dead; his successor, Stephen, was the tool of the Emperor Romanus, who did not much care. [3]


Symeon’s new policy not unnaturally terrified the Serbs. It was obviously to the west that Symeon would now seek to expand. This was indicated by his failure to evacuate Northern Greece, where Bulgarian marauders remained till his death, raiding to the Adriatic coast and even invading and occupying parts of the Peloponnese. [4] Under



1. Nicholas Mysticus, Ep. xxx. and xxxi., pp. 185 ff.: Theophanes Continuatus, p. 410.


2. Tsar is derived from Caesar, but probably came into use among the Slavs from the West when Caesar or Kaiser was the same as Emperor. At Constantinople it was a lower title.


3. The foundation of the Patriarchate provides a difficult problem: the Sinodik na Tsar Borisa clearly shows that Leontius was the first Patriarch and had his seat at Preslav; but, according to the List of Bulgarian Archbishops, Damian of Dristra was the first. As I explain below (p. 182), Damian was the first Patriarch recognized by Constantinople, in 927. Leontius must therefore have been appointed by Symeon previously. But, in spite of Zlatarski’s conjectures, it seems quite impossible that a Pope as well informed and aggressive as John X should have sent a legate to Bulgaria and humoured Symeon’s desire for a crown, had Symeon already appointed an autonomous Patriarch. The appointment must therefore have been made after Madalbert’s departure, probably late in 926, but before Symeon’s death (May 927). Leontius thus only held his new post for a few months.


4. See Bees, op. cit. passim, quoting a biography of St. Peter of Argos. He is also undoubtedly right in placing here the episode of the raid on the village of Galaxidi (on the Gulf of Lepanto), which took place in the time of the ‘Emperor Constantine Romanus’—i.e., the Emperors Constantine VII and Romanus I. Sathas, Chronique de Galaxidi, places the raid in about the year 996 (see below, p. 230), but in view of the Emperors’ names, his arguments are unconvincing.





the circumstances very little Greek diplomacy was needed to induce Zacharias of Serbia to take the offensive, in 925. Symeon sent his generals, Marmaëm and Sigritze, the previous conquerors of the country, against him; but Zacharias was luckier than his forerunners. The Bulgars were routed, and the generals’ heads sent as a pleasant gift to Constantinople. Symeon was unaccustomed to such an experience, and he would not let it go uncorrected. There was still another Serbian Prince living as hostage in Bulgaria, Tzeesthlav (Cheslav), whose mother was a Bulgar. In 926 a second expedition set out against Zacharias, accompanied by Tseesthlav. This time it was too much for the Serbian prince; he fled for refuge beyond the mountains to Croatia. The Serbian lords and zhupans were then summoned by the Bulgars to come and recognize Tseesthlav as their Prince. Under the promise of safe-conduct they came, only to be taken, prince and all, into captivity in Bulgaria. The Bulgar armies then set about unopposed the conquest and devastation of Serbia. The work was done thoroughly; the country became a wilderness and a desert. The inhabitants escaped if they could over the frontiers; those that remained were butchered. Symeon added a new but lifeless province to his Empire. [1]


It would have been well to stop now, but Symeon never knew when to stop. The annexation of Serbia brought him into direct contact with the Kingdom of Croatia. Croatia was a well-ordered State, with a great army at its beck; its king, Tomislav, was a figure of international importance. He had no quarrel with Symeon; his relations with Constantinople were cold, while he was closely in touch with Symeon’s new friend, the Pope. There



1. Constantine Porphyrogennetus, op. cit., pp. 157—8. The generals in command of the second expedition were called Cnenus, Hemnecus, and Etzboclia. No dates are given, but 925-6 seems correct.





might be a few Serbian refugees in Croatia, but they were not dangerous; the mountains made a satisfactory boundary-line. But Symeon, it seems, was jealous; he hated a neighbour to be powerful. His imagination had always been too grandiose, and now it verged on wanton megalomania. Determined to crush this rival, he ordered his general, Alogobatur, in the autumn of 926 to lead the Bulgarian armies into Croatia. Alogobatur crossed the mountains, but his war-worn troops were no match for the great Croatian levies. Their defeat was overwhelming; the general was slain with most of the army. A few fugitives survived to flee back and tell their fate to Symeon. [1]


The disaster came as a dreadful shock to Symeon. His health was failing, and his nerve began to go. With unaccustomed prudence he sought to make peace. The legate Madalbert was passing through Croatia on his return from Preslav, and he lent his services and goodwill. A peace was arranged, apparently on the lines of a status quo. [2] But Symeon never properly recovered.


Men believed at the time that everyone had an inanimate double [3]: that there was some object, a piece of statuary or a column, that was mysteriously bound up



1.  Constantine Porphyrogennetus, op. cit., p. 158: Georgius Monachus, p. 904. Theophanes Continuatus, written later, connects the war with Symeon’s death (see below, p. 177). The Croatian war apparently happened close after the conquest of Serbia, probably in the same year, as Madalbert was able to make peace certainly before the second Synod of Spalato (927), and apparently before Symeon’s death (May 927). It is pointless to explain the war as the result of a Greco-Croatian alliance as Drinov (Yuzhnie Slavyane i Vizantiya, p. 53), and Zlatarski (Istoriya, i. 2, p. 500) and others do. Constantinople had no relations with Croatia during these years; otherwise Constantine Porphyrogennetus would certainly have mentioned Tomislav. (I disregard the modern Croatian historians that say that Constantine knew all about him, but were mistaken about his name, as in that case Constantine must also have known the future a year or so ahead. (See my Emperor Romanus Lecapenus, pp. 208 ff.)) Symeon’s megalomania provides a quite satisfactory reason. It is a well-known phenomenon for autocrats, particularly among races newly raised from barbarism, to be intoxicated by their power and so to reach a stage of semi-madness. For the name Alogobatur, see below p. 285.


2. Šišič. Priručnik, p. 222. Farlati, loc. cit.


3. The Greek word employed for this double was ‘ στοιχεῖον.’





with each human life, so that any harm that befell it was reproduced in its living correspondent. In May 927 an astrologer told the Emperor Romanus that Symeon’s double was a certain column in the Forum. On May 27 Romanus, with his patriotic, experimental mind, had the column decapitated. At that very hour the old Tsar’s heart gave out and he died. [1]



It was as though the light had gone out, and Bulgaria was left fumbling in the dark. Symeon had foreseen that chaos might follow, and had tried to make arrangements that would last. He left four sons, the issue of two marriages. His eldest son, the first wife’s child, Michael, he considered unsuitable to succeed him; possibly Michael’s mother had been of inferior birth, or possibly Michael himself resembled his uncle Vladimir. At any rate, he was compelled to retire into a monastery. Symeon’s successor was to be Peter, the eldest of the second family, a child still; his maternal uncle, George Sursubul, was to act as regent for him and as guardian of his younger brothers, John and Benjamin. Symeon’s testamentary wishes passed unchallenged; Peter mounted the throne, and George Sursubul took over the government. [2]


The Regent’s position was by no means enviable. So long as he lived, Symeon’s personality and prestige awed all his enemies abroad and silenced all opposition at home. But now everyone knew that the terrible Tsar could harm them no more; he was dead, and his Empire a corpse for



1. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 412, which says that Symeon led his army to its defeat in Croatia in person, and just escaped with his life, and died soon after his return. Unfortunately none of the older chroniclers, e.g. Georgius Monachus, p. 904, nor the Logothete (Slavonic version), p. 136, mention the story of the ‘ στοιχεῖον, ’ which must therefore be dismissed as a later invention.


2. Theophanes Continuatus, loc. cit. All the chroniclers tell us that John and Benjamin ‘ already wore the Bulgar robe. ’ The meaning of the phrase is very obscure. Possibly ‘Bulgar’ is used in contrast to the ‘Roman’ or Imperial robe worn by the Tsar, and the two princes wore it as a gesture against Peter’s policy.





vultures to feed upon. The neighbouring nations—Croats, Magyars, and Petchenegs—gathered on the frontiers and threatened invasion; even the Emperor Romanus was said to be preparing an expedition. George collected troops and sent them to make a demonstration in Thrace; but after fourteen years of unbroken warfare, marching to and fro over the wild Balkan mountains, and after the disaster in Croatia so few months before, the Bulgarian army, though it committed several atrocities, [1] was no longer really imposing. The Emperor Romanus continued his preparations. George saw that he must sue for peace.


There was apparently still a war-party in Bulgaria. Probably the remnant of the old Bulgar nobility was chiefly occupied in holding military posts, and feared for its existence in times of peace. At any rate, the Regent moved cautiously, and sent his first envoy, an Armenian monk, in the utmost secrecy to Constantinople, to suggest a treaty and a marriage-alliance. The Emperor agreed, and a peace conference was summoned to sit at Mesembria. The Imperial embassy sailed there by sea, and met the representatives that George, acting openly now, had sent. A truce was declared and terms roughly arranged; then the conference decided to adjourn to Constantinople, where the treaty should be ratified by the Emperor and the Regent in person. The Imperial ambassadors returned by land, through Bulgaria, accompanied by Stephen the Bulgar, a relative of the Tsar; George Sursubul, accompanied by the late Tsar’s brother-in-law, Symeon, the Calutarkan and Sampses, and many of his nobility, followed shortly afterwards. At Constantinople George was permitted to see Maria Lecapena, Romanus’s eldest granddaughter, the daughter of the co-Emperor



1. Vita S. Mariae Novae, p. 300, which mentions the raid as being particularly barbarous.





Christopher. Well satisfied with her appearance, George summoned the young Tsar. Peter set out at once, and on approaching the city was met with honour by the Patrician Nicetas, Maria’s maternal grandfather. He was allowed in to the Blachernae quarter, where Romanus interviewed him and greeted him with a kiss.


The royal marriage took place on October 8, 927, in the Church of the Mother of God at Pegae—the new church that replaced the victim of Symeon’s wanton barbarism three years before. The Patriarch Stephen conducted the service; the witness on the bridegroom’s side was his uncle the Regent, on the bride’s the Protovestiarius Theophanes, chief Minister of the Empire. At the same time Maria was rechristened Irene, as a symbol of the peace. After the ceremony the bride returned with Theophanes to Constantinople; the Tsar, on the other hand, was not allowed to come within the walls. But three days later there was a reunion; Romanus held a sumptuous wedding feast at Pegae, at which Maria rejoined her husband. When the feast was over, she said good-bye to her relatives; her parents and Theophanes accompanied her as far as Hebdomum, and there they left her to her husband’s sole care. The parting was very sorrowful; her parents grieved to see her go, and she wept to leave them for a strange country. But she dried her tears, remembering that her husband was an emperor and she the Tsaritsa of the Bulgarians. With her she took huge consignments of goods, luxuries and furniture, that she might not miss the comforts of her home. [1]


The marriage was a triumph to Bulgarian prestige. It was the first time for half a millennium that an Emperor’s daughter had married out of the Empire; Bulgaria was shown to be no longer now a barbarous State with whose



1. Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 412-5: Georgius Monachus, pp. 904-6: Logothete (Slavonic version), pp. 136—7.





people it was unseemly to be connected. Old-fashioned politicians in Constantinople regretted it as a degradation of the blood Imperial; but now that the Emperor had consented there was no more to be said. [1] The peace treaty, signed contemporaneously with the marriage, also increased Bulgarian self-importance and pride. Its final provisions, the work in the main of the Protovestiarius Theophanes, [2] fell under three headings—territorial, financial and titular.


The territorial settlement seems to have involved little change. Possibly the Bulgarians acquired a few towns in Macedonia, but the Empire recovered Sozopolis and Agathopolis and, apparently, the whole coastline to a river called the Ditzina, beyond Mesembria: though perhaps Develtus, right at the head of the Gulf of Burgas, remained in the Tsar’s possession. [3]


About the financial settlement it is even harder to discover the truth. The Emperor apparently undertook to send some sort of yearly income to the Bulgarian Court—possibly the gift of 100 scaramangia promised to Symeon. This was apparently paid till the days of the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, whose arbitrary refusal to do so gave rise to a war. But during that war the Bulgarians were



1. Constantine Porphyrogennetus (De Administrando Imperio, pp. 87-8) deplores the marriage, and says that it was due to Romanus’s lack of education that he permitted it; it must not be repeated. Actually, however, it created a precedent; Constantine’s two granddaughters were married similarly—one to Otto II of the West, the other to Vladimir of Russia.


2. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 413.


3. Constantine Porphyrogennetus (op. cit., p. 79): talking of the Russians sailing along the Black Sea coast to Constantinople, says that from the Danube they ‘ καταλαμβάνουσιν εἰς τὸν Κωνοπάν, καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ Κωνοπᾶ εἰς Κωνσταντίαν (Costanza), εἰς τὸν ποταμὸν Βάρνας (Varna), καὶ απὸ Βάρνας  ἔρχονται εἰς τὸν ποταμόν τὴν Διτζίναν, ἅπερ πάντα εἰσὶ γῆς τῆς Βουλγαρίας. Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς Διτζίνας εἰς τὰ τῆς Μεσημβρίας μέρη καταλαμβάνουσιν . . .’ Clearly this implies that the whole coastline from the Ditzina, north of Mesembria, was Imperial except possibly for Develtus, which would lie out of the Russians’ route. Zlatarski (op. cit., p. 525) says that the frontier remained the same as in 896 and 904, save that the Empire gave up Agathopolis, Sozopolis, and Develtus. He gives no references, nor can I find any reason for such a statement.





not the aggressors; the Emperor attacked Bulgaria by means of his Russian allies. [1] Another account of that time, mentioning no specific war, says that Peter, after his wife’s death, sent humbly to renew the peace with Constantinople. [2] It is, therefore, probable that the gifts or tribute was only to be paid during the lifetime of the Tsaritsa—that it was a yearly income paid to the Imperial princess to help her to keep herself in the dignity that befitted her birth; and Peter was to put himself in the wrong by demanding the payment to be continued after her death. In connection with the financial settlement the Emperor received back a large number of prisoners. Whether they were ransomed at a price we do not know; Constantine Porphyrogennetus implies that they were released by the Tsar as a gift to Romanus in return for his granddaughter’s hand. [3]


The arrangement of the question of titles was settled very satisfactorily for the Bulgars. The Imperial Court agreed to recognize Peter as an Emperor, and the head of the Bulgarian Church as an autonomous Patriarch. But it insisted on certain modifications. The patriarchal see must not be situated at Preslav, but at some other ecclesiastical metropolis. The Bulgarian patriarchate thus was to be dissociated from the Bulgarian Imperial Court, and so, it was hoped at Constantinople, would lose some of its national character and would, anyhow, escape a little from the lay control of the Tsar. It would even be possible to say that there were two patriarchal sees in the Balkan peninsula, not because Bulgaria insisted on spiritual independence, but because the increased number of civilized Christians necessitated such an arrangement. Thus Leontius of Preslav was degraded from



1. Leo Diaconus, pp. 61, 80.


2. Cedrenus, ii., p. 346. I return to this question below, p. 199.


3. Constantine Porphyrogennetus, op. cit., p. 88.





his home-made patriarchate, and Damian of Dristra instead was elevated as a Patriarch, whose dignity and autonomy were recognized throughout the Eastern Christian world. [1]


A somewhat similar excuse could be given at Constantinople for Peter’s Imperial title. The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus was generous in his bestowal of the Imperial dignity. His son-in-law was an Emperor before him, but he elevated no fewer than three of his own sons, and contemplated elevating a grandson. There was no reason, therefore, why he should not elevate his grandson-in-law: and the fact that the grandson-in-law already was an important independent monarch could be treated as irrelevant. Romanus also considered himself justified in withholding the title should Peter misbehave; indeed, it is possible that later for a time he did so. [2] The Bulgarians, however, did not see it in that light. They only knew that he was the first and only foreign potentate to be recognized as Emperor at New Rome; and, even if he had confirmed the title by marrying an Emperor’s daughter, there was nothing derogatory in that.


A third concession was that Bulgarian ambassadors at Constantinople should have precedence over all other ambassadors for ever more. This was a natural corollary of the Imperial title; it much gratified the Bulgarians



1. This, as Zlatarski (Bolgarski Arkhiepiskopi-Patriarsi, passim) suggests, is the only explanation of the List of Archbishops of Bulgaria, in which Damian of Dristra is named as first autonomous Patriarch, so recognized by Romanus Lecapenus, and as living till the time of John Tzimisces’s conquest, and the Sinodik na Tsar Borisa, in which Leontius, Demetrius, Sergius and Gregory, as Patriarchs of Preslav. It is unlikely that Damian could hold the office for forty-five years. Probably on his death, at some earlier date, the Tsar restored the patriarchate to Preslav, but Constantinople never recognized the Patriarchs of Preslav.


2. That Romanus recognized the title now is proved by the words, almost identical in all the chroniclers, that Maria rejoiced on reflecting that she was going to marry a ‘Βασίλεύς.’ I deal with the more complicated question raised by the De Ceremoniis, as to whether the title was taken away, in Appendix XI.





and it cost the Empire nothing: though later it was to offend touchy envoys from the Franks. [1]


Such were the fruits of Symeon’s long war. Bulgaria had gained little land and little material wealth, but she owed now spiritual allegiance to no foreign pontiff, and her ruler was an Emperor, the acknowledged equal of the anointed autocrats of Rome, ranking far above all other princes, even the Frankish monarchs, the soi-disant Emperors in the West. And that was all the fruit; was it worth while? An Imperial mantle is a cumbrous thing to wear for shoulders that are wasted.


For it had been won at a heavy cost. For fourteen years the war had lasted; for fourteen years Bulgarian soldiers had tramped from battlefield to battlefield, and at last to their death-trap in Croatia. What was left of Symeon’s armies was now almost ridiculous. [2] The war must also have stupefied Bulgarian commerce; for many seasons the merchants trading in the Black Sea ports or conveying their caravans from the Danube to Thessalonica must have been delayed and thwarted and driven out of business. The Empire, with its widely flung interests, could afford such losses; but Bulgaria needed all its trade. [3] And, now that peace had come, the whole land was weary and discontented. Symeon by the force of his personality had stamped his will on his subjects; for all his wantonness, not one of them had lifted a finger against him. But he was dead, his heir a child, the Regent only a regent, not even of royal blood; and it was apparent to everyone how profitless the war had been. Tsar Peter had a hard task before him. His father had bought him his honour at a very heavy price.



1. Liudprand, Legatio, p. 186.


2. George Sursubul’s demonstration in Thrace in 927 had been quite in effective, and the Bulgars made no attempt to oppose the Serbian revolt in 931.


3. e.g. Symeon’s care for the trade early in his reign—going to war in its interests.


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