A history of the First Bulgarian Empire

Steven Runciman





The end of an empire



In the west of Bulgaria, at the time of the Russian invasions, there lived a count or provincial governor called Nicholas. By his wife Rhipsimé he had four sons, whom he named David, Moses, Aaron, and Samuel; to the world they were collectively known as the Comitopuli, the Count’s children. [1] Of what province Nicholas was governor we do not know, nor when he died. By the time of the abdication of Tsar Boris, his sons had succeeded to his influence; and to them the Western Bulgarians looked to preserve their independence.


Of the history of this revolution we know nothing. The Emperor John Tzimisces was apparently unconcerned by troubles in Bulgaria after his victory at Dristra. His attention was mainly turned to his eastern frontier. We only hear that, following the old Imperial policy, he established large numbers of Armenians, Paulician heretics, round Philippopolis and on the borders of Thrace. [2] This would dilute and weaken the Slavs; but it weakened them chiefly in the one way which as a pious Emperor he might regret—it increased the vigour of the Dualist heresy. To the provinces further to the west he paid no attention. It



1. In Drinov (op. cit., p. 88) and Jireček (Geschichte, pp. 173, 186, 189), and other works, we hear of a certain Shishman who was the father of the Comitopuli. His existence is deduced solely from a list of the Tsars of Bulgaria interpolated probably as late as the eighteenth century, in the Register of Zographus (see Zlatarski, op. cit., pp. 638-9). The Charter of Pincius (see Farlati’s Illyricum Sacrum, iii., pp. 111-12), calling the Tsar ‘Stephen’ in 974, is equally suspicious (Zlatarski, loc. cit.). The names Nicholas and Rhipsimé are given in a deed of Samuel’s (op. cit., p. 637), and in Bishop Michael of Devol’s MS. of Scylitzes (Prokič, Die Zusätze in der Handschrift des Johan. Scylitzes, p. 28.)


2. Cedrenus, ii., p. 382.







was only after his death, in January 976, that statesmen at Constantinople fully realized the fact that, not only were there large numbers of Bulgarians quite unconquered, but they were restively and aggressively airing their independence. [1]


Already they had looked around for foreign support. At Easter time in 973 the old Western Emperor, Otto I, was at Quedlinburg, receiving embassies from many varied nations; and among them were envoys from the Bulgarians. But Otto was dying, and his son had other cares. Nothing came of this mission. [2]


Meanwhile, at home, Samuel, the youngest of the Comitopuli, was establishing himself in sole supremacy. How the brothers organized the independent kingdom is uncertain; possibly they each took over a quarter of the country and ruled it as some form of a confederacy, with David, the eldest, as their head. [3] Fortune, however, favoured Samuel. David was soon killed by Vlach brigands at a spot called the Fair Oak Wood, between Castoria and Prespa, in the extreme south of the kingdom. Moses set out to besiege the Imperial town of Serrae (Seres), probably in 976, on the news of the death of the terrible Emperor John; there a stray stone cast by the defenders ended his life. [4] Aaron had a gentler temperament



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 434, says that the Comitopuli revolted on John Tzimisces’s death; but we know that they were independent in 973 (see below). Probably the West Bulgarian question lay dormant, till on John’s death the Bulgarians became actively aggressive. Drinov’s theory (loc. cit.) of an independent Western Bulgaria that seceded in 963 depends on the existence of the mythical Shishman and on a paragraph in Cedrenus, ii., p. 347, which has clearly been interpolated out of place. Drinov has, however, been copied by Jireček and Schlumberger and the Cambridge Mediaeval History.


2. Annales Hildesheimenses, p. 62. An embassy from Constantinople arrived at the same time.


3. Zlatarski (op. cit., p. 640) definitely divides up the country between them. I think that rather too confident.


4. Cedrenus, ii., p. 435. He mentions Aaron’s death at the same time as David’s and Moses’s, though actually it occurred later. The legend of David’s retirement, as the sainted Tsar David, into a monastery, given in Païssius (Istoriya Slaveno-bolgarskaya, pp. 33, 63, 66, 70), and in Zhepharovitch’s Stemmatigraphion (eighteenth-century works, though compiled from older sources), is obviously of no historical value. See Zlatarski (op. cit., pp. 646-7).





than his brothers, it seems, for it was his pacifism that was to prove his ruin in the end. At the moment he was content to play second fiddle to Samuel, who probably by the year 980, if not before, was enjoying the title of Tsar. [1]


From the Peace of Dristra till his death in 976 the Emperor John had ignored the west, though probably he intended to deal with it later, when an occasion should arise. On his death the young Basil II, already for thirteen years a nominal Emperor, succeeded to the full authority. But for four years Basil’s hands were tied by the great rebellion of Bardas Sclerus in Asia. Even till 985 his position was insecure; he himself was gay and careless, while all his ministers and generals plotted against him.


These years gave Samuel his opportunity. Already in 976 the Comitopuli had been aggressive enough to attack Seres; and, though that attack failed, under cover of such action they were able to establish themselves over all of Peter’s former Empire west of a line drawn south from the Danube considerably to the eastward of Sofia; though Philippopolis lay to the east of it. At the same time Samuel sought to add prestige and spiritual force to his dominion by refusing to acquiesce in the extinction of the independent patriarchate. The old seats, Dristra and Preslav, were no longer available; but, it seems, a Patriarch, called Gabriel or Germanus, was established first in Sofia, and later moved to Vodena, and thence to Moglena and to Prespa; on his death his successor, Philip, had his



1. For Aaron’s career see below, pp. 230-1. With regard to Samuel, I think that he already called himself Tsar by the time of Boris’s and Romanus’s escape (see below, pp. 220-1); but Constantinople never recognized the title.





seat at Ochrida. [1] These peregrinations probably coincided with the movements of Samuel’s Court, which, after visiting Sofia and Vodena, settled for about the last fifteen years of the century at Prespa, and soon after 1000 moved to Ochrida, the holy city of Clement and of Nahum, the real centre of Western Bulgarian civilization. [2] The presence of a patriarchate under his close control must have greatly strengthened Samuel’s hands, especially as Samuel, unlike Peter, could not be suspected of leanings towards the Greeks. But Samuel also seems to have dealt tactfully with the Bogomils. We have no direct evidence; but throughout his career he seems never to have come into collision with the people. Probably the aristocracy of his realm was more Slav than Bulgar, and therefore there was less cause for friction than there had been in Peter’s reign, round the old Bulgar capitals. Possibly, too, the Bogomil heresy never penetrated far into Macedonia, where Clement had established the orthodox faith on more popular foundations.


Samuel’s consolidation was very nearly wrecked by an embarrassing escapade on the part of the sons of Peter. Soon after the Emperor John’s death the ex-Tsar Boris and his brother Romanus escaped from Constantinople and set out for Samuel’s court at Vodena. It would have been difficult for Samuel to know how to receive his former sovereign; and Boris probably did not realize that he was seeking refuge with a rebel. However, fate intervened.



1. In Ducange’s List of Bulgarian Archbishops (op. cit., p. 175), Gabriel-Germanus, the first after 972, resided at Vodena, then Prespa. In Basil II’s ordinances about the Bulgarian Church, quoted in Gelzer (in Byzantinische Zeitschrift, ii., pp. 44—5), Sofia (Sardica, Triaditza, or Sreditza), Vodena, Moglena, and Prespa appear as having been seats of the patriarchate. Gabriel’s successor, Philip, is placed in Ducange’s list (loc. cit.) at Ochrida.


2. Zlatarski (op. cit., p. 640) makes Sofia Aaron’s capital; but I do not think that the land was divided up so definitely. I think that the capital moved with the patriarchate. By 986 (the capture of Larissa), Samuel’s capital was Prespa (see below, p. 222; also Presbyter Diocleae, p. 294). By 1002 it was Ochrida (see Zlatarski, Istoriya, i., 2, pp. 702-3).





As the brothers reached a wood on the frontier, a Bulgarian outpost took them to be Imperial spies; and Boris was shot dead by a Bulgarian arrow. Romanus managed to save his life, hastily explaining who he was. At first the soldiers received him with enthusiasm as their Tsar. But their zeal died down when they learnt that he was a eunuch, and they took him to Samuel. It has always been a cardinal principle that no eunuch can sit upon a throne, so Romanus by himself presented no difficulty. Samuel took him into his service and gave him various honourable positions. [1]


Secure in his own dominions, Samuel soon indulged in further aggressions abroad. All along the frontier, in Thrace and Macedonia and on the Adriatic coast, there were ceaseless and destructive Bulgarian raids. But from the year 980 onwards he concentrated particularly on the Greek peninsula, directing his main attention against the city of Larissa in Thessaly. Every spring, before the harvest was reaped, he led his army down into the fertile plain and sat before the city. But Larissa was defended by a wily soldier. In 980 a certain Cecaumenus, of Armenian origin, was appointed Strategus of Hellas—the theme in which Larissa was included. Each year, as Samuel approached, Cecaumenus hastily made his submission to him: until such time as the season’s harvest was gathered and the city amply provisioned; then Larissa



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 435, who tells of the brothers’ escape and of Boris’s death, and announces that he will tell more of Romanus later, which he does on p. 455. Yachya of Antioch (translated in Rosen, Imperator Vasilii Bolgaroboïtsa, pp. 20-1) amplifies the story by saying that Romanus was proclaimed Tsar, and proceeds as though it was Romanus who conducted the war against Basil. But Yachya apparently did not realize that Romanus was a eunuch, which would prevent him occupying the throne. Zlatarski (op. cit., pp. 650—60) assumes from Yachya that Romanus was Tsar with ‘Comitopulus’ working for him; but it was unheard of that a eunuch should reign; moreover, Yachya, writing at a distance, clearly mistook Romanus for Samuel most of the time, especially with regard to his death (p. 58), which is an utter muddle. I think that Uspenski is right, in his review of Rosen’s book, not to take Yachya too seriously.





reannounced its allegiance to the Emperor, who highly approved of this manoeuvre. Samuel, who could not, or did not wish to, attempt to storm the city, thus found it, on its revolt from him, in a fit state to stand a protracted siege. And so for three years he was foiled in his ambitions against it. But in 983 Cecaumenus was recalled, and the new strategus was unwise and honest in his loyalty. When next Samuel invaded Thessaly he found the country openly hostile; so he destroyed all the crops. After three seasons of such treatment, in 986 Thessaly was more or less in a state of famine; and when that summer he began a close blockade on Larissa, the city was soon face to face with starvation. To such straits were the inhabitants reduced that a woman was found eating the thigh of her late husband: whereupon the authorities decided to surrender. Samuel treated the population with severity, selling them all as slaves, with the exception of the family of Niculitzes, one of the local gentry. For some reason Niculitzes, who was a connection of Cecaumenus, was spared, and showed his gratitude by taking service under Samuel. [1] Amongst the captives was a little girl called Irene, whose beauty was later to raise her to a fatal eminence. Along with the population, Samuel transferred the city’s holiest relics, the bones of its bishop, Saint Achilleus, to decorate and sanctify his new capital at Prespa. [2]


The capture of Larissa scandalized Constantinople. Already there had been growing anxiety there about the Bulgarian menace. In 985, when a great comet trailed across the sky, the poet John Geometrus wrote an ode



1. Cecaumeni, Strategicon, ed. Vassilievsky and Jernstedt, pp. 65-6, written by the Strategus’s grandson. The date is fixed by evidence provided by an anonymous writer in the same MS., whose grandfather, Niculitzes, probably the father of the turncoat of Larissa (ibid. p. 96), was Strategus of Hellas in 980. See preface (ibid., pp. 4, 7) and the excellent account in Schlumberger, op. cit., pp. 622 ff.


2. Cedrenus, ii., p. 436.





entitled with grim punning ‘To The Comitopulus’ in which he presaged woe and called for his great hero, the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, to rise from the dead and save his Empire. [1] But, though Nicephorus was gone for ever, the Emperor Basil was ready to act as his stepfather’s substitute. In 985 he had disgraced the great Paracoemomenus Basil, on the suspicion of some vast plot, the secret of which has never been unravelled. [2] The strain of the experience utterly changed the young Emperor’s character. He was now aged twenty-seven. Hitherto Basil had been gay and dissipated and idle; henceforward he threw all that aside, and schooled himself into a state of relentless asceticism, unrivalled in Byzantium save among the holiest saints. He hardened his body to welcome discomfort and his mind to distrust culture. Henceforward his energy was unflagging; he thought nothing of campaigning at seasons when armies usually reposed in winter quarters; he was unmoved by horrors or by pity. He became a terrible figure, chaste and severe, eating and sleeping sparsely, clad in unrelieved dark garments, never even wearing the purple cloak nor the diadem on his head. He concentrated on one thing only, the establishment and consolidation of his own personal power, as Emperor, for the harmony of the Empire. [3] Tsar Samuel, a Bulgarian rebel in the Emperor’s eyes, [4] might well fear such an adversary, for all his own boldness and ruthlessness. But as yet the



1. Joannes Geometrus, Carmina, p. 920.


2. This episode is admirably told in Schlumberger, op. cit., pp. 573 ff.


3. Psellus, Chronographia, pp. 16—19—a portrait and character sketch of Basil II.


4. Cecaumenus, in his correspondence with the central Government, talks of the ‘Rebel Samuel’ (Strategicon, p. 65). According to Matthew of Edessa (p. 34), Basil ordered the Bulgarian rebels to submit in 986. Asoghic (pp. 124–5) traces the war to a story of the Bulgarian king asking fcr an Imperial wife and having a substitute foisted off on to him. This must be a complete legend.





change brought no result. The Emperor was young and untried.


Moreover, his first trial of strength against Bulgaria was disastrous. In the summer of 986, as soon as possible after the news from Larissa had reached him, he set out with a large army into the heart of the Balkans, along the old Roman road past Philippopolis. His objective was Sofia, the capture of which would prevent the Bulgarians from expanding into their old eastern provinces. The Emperor’s approach brought Samuel hurrying back from Thessaly, and, with Aaron and the eunuch-prince Romanus, he marched up to defend the city. The Imperial troops successfully passed up the River Maritsa, and through the Gate of Trajan (the Pass of Kapulu Derbend) into the plain in which Sofia lies; there they encamped at a village called Stoponium, just beyond the pass, some forty miles from Sofia, to wait for the rearguard to come up. Meanwhile Samuel had time to occupy the mountains near the city. At last, at the end of July, Basil moved on again and reached the walls of Sofia. But his attempted siege was marked with ill success. Owing to mismanagement or lethargy—it was the height of summer—or mere treachery, his soldiers conducted themselves half-heartedly: while a surprise Bulgarian attack on his foraging parties made the whole army short of provisions. After only twenty days Basil gave the order to retreat. Already discouraged and depressed, he had heard disquieting rumours. He had left the Magister Leo Melissenus to guard the passes through which he came. The Domestic Contostephanus now spread a report that Melissenus, of whom he was desperately jealous, was engaged in deserting his post and betraying the Emperor. Melissenus had played a somewhat equivocal part in Syria shortly before ; and so the Emperor’s suspicions were easily roused against him. Basil would





not risk his throne by remaining in the depths of Bulgaria.


The first day of the retreat passed quietly enough; but the Imperial army, encamping that night in a wood, was reduced almost to panic by a rumour that the Bulgarians were in possession of the passes and by the passage of a brilliant meteor across the sky. Next day, Tuesday, August 17, as it entered the defiles, Samuel suddenly swooped down from the mountains. The carnage was tremendous, and all the Imperial baggage was captured. The author, Leo Diaconus, was only saved by the agility of his horse. It was with a pathetically small remnant of his army that the Emperor Basil reached Philippopolis. On his way he discovered that Melissenus had remained at the passes with perfect loyalty, and that the perfidious conspirator was Contostephanus. Humiliated and angry, Basil reached Constantinople, vowing that some day he would be avenged. Giving voice to the disappointment of the Empire, John Geometrus wrote another ode, entitled ‘To the Woe of the Romans in the Bulgarian Defile.’ [1]


Of the next years we know little. Samuel apparently followed up his victory by overrunning Eastern Bulgaria, capturing the old capitals, Preslav and Pliska, and establishing his power as far as the Black Sea coast. [2] Soon afterwards he turned his attention to the west, against the great Imperial city of Dyrrhachium. How, or exactly



1. Joannes Geometrus, Carmina, p. 934. Leo Diaconus took part himself in the campaign, of which he gives a vivid account (pp. 171–3), though he does not mention the treachery of Contostephanus. That is told by Scylitzes (Cedrenus, ii., pp. 436–8). Leo’s failure to mention it does not, I think, render the story suspect. Basil would certainly try to keep it at the time from his soldiers. Moreover, Leo mentions that there was a rumour that the passes were in Bulgarian hands. Asoghic mentions the campaign, but with fictitious details.


2. Basil had to recapture them in his 1001 campaign (see below, p. 235). They were probably occupied now; indeed, Basil’s attack on Sofia seems to imply that Samuel was known to be contemplating an eastern campaign.





when, it fell into his hands we do not know; probably it was before the year 989. The government of the city was given to the Tsar’s father-in-law, John Chryselius. [1] The capture of Dyrrhachium gave Bulgaria an outlet on the Adriatic, and put the country in direct touch with the West. Samuel had, it seems, already received a confirmation of his Imperial title from the Pope—probably from some creature of Saxon Emperors such as Benedict VII, at the time of the Emperor Otto II’s wars against the Eastern Empire in 981 or 982; certainly the Pope did not, or could not, insist that his recognition should be accompanied by a declaration of his spiritual suzerainty. [2] At present, however, Samuel could hope for little aid from the West. The ruler of the West was a Greek, the Empress-Mother Theophano, sister to the Eastern Emperor Basil.


Basil had been unable to prevent Samuel’s expansion. From 986 to 989 he was distracted again by great rebellions in Asia, those of Bardas Phocas and Bardas Sclerus. The year 989 was the gloomiest of all at Constantinople. On April 7 the Aurora Borealis lit up the sky with terrible pillars of fire, presaging woe; and soon news came that the Russians had captured Cherson and the Bulgarians had captured Berrhoea. [3] The Russians soon gave up their conquest, tamed by conversion to Christianity and appeased by the gift of an Imperial bride to their Great Prince—Basil’s own sister Anna was sacrificed in marriage to Vladimir, son of the savage Svyatoslav. But Basil could not so easily dispose of the Bulgarians.


Berrhoea, situated among the foothills of Macedonia,



1. Yachya (p. 27) and Joannes Geometrus, Carmina, p. 955, both make allusions to Samuel’s aggressions in the west about 988–9. Probably these refer especially to the capture of Dyrrhachium, which remained in Samuel’s hands till 1005. (See below, p. 239.)


2. Innocent III (Ep., p. 1112) refers to Samuel as having been papally recognized as Emperor.


3. Leo Diaconus, p. 175.





was one of the strongest fortresses that guarded the approach to Thessalonica; and it was soon clear that the great seaport was the object of Samuel’s present ambitions. After Berrhoea, the Bulgarians, under Samuel’s lieutenant, Demetrius Polemarchius, managed by a ruse to capture the fortress of Serbia (Selfidje) [1]; and Bulgarian marauders began to occupy the countryside right down to the Aegean coast. Things became so serious that Basil was forced into fresh action. Already in 988 he had attempted to guard against Bulgarian encroachments by establishing colonies of Armenians on the Macedonian frontier; but they had proved ineffectual. By the end of 990, however, his troubles in Asia and with the Russians were settled, and he could plan more drastic steps.


Early next spring the Emperor set out for Thessalonica. At the end of February he passed through the Thracian village of Didymotichum, where the old rebel Bardas Sclerus was living now in retirement. Basil went to interview him, and invited him to come to the war; but Bardas refused, on the plea of old age and infirmity—with justification, for he died a few days later, on March 7. [2] Meanwhile Basil reached Thessalonica, where he paid his vows at the altar of Saint Demetrius, patron of the city and one of the most helpful of all the saints that watched over the Empire. He also won the support of a living local saint, called Photius, who prayed for him nightly throughout his campaigns. [3]


But of these campaigns we know nothing, save that for four years the Emperor remained in Macedonia, capturing many cities, razing some and garrisoning others, and



1. Cecaumenus, Strategicon, pp. 28–9—undated, but this seems to be the most probable occasion. Demetrius caught the Imperial commanders bathing outside the walls.


2. Yachya, p. 27.


3. Encomium of Saint Photius of Thessalonica, quoted in Vasilievski, Odin iz Grecheskikh Sbornikov, p. 100— 1.





eventually returned to Constantinople with a large amount of prisoners and booty. Among the recaptured cities was Berrhoea. [1] It is to be doubted that Basil spent all four years in the field; probably he made frequent journeys to his capital to superintend the government. We are told of various Armenian warriors who took over the command in the Emperor’s absence. All seem to have fought bravely, but in the end were worsted by the Bulgar. Foremost amongst them were princes of the dispossessed house of Taron, which for some time past had intermarried with the aristocracy of the Empire. Samuel’s movements during these years are very obscure. Probably he kept to the mountains, following the old Bulgar practice of avoiding a pitched battle save when the enemy should be caught in a difficult position, in some valley or defile. But Basil, wilier now, never gave him the opportunity. This caution, however, kept Basil from completing his work. He never risked advancing into the wild country that Samuel made his headquarters [2]; and so, for all his booty and captured fortresses, the Bulgarian menace was only very slightly lessened when in 995 the Emperor was summoned again on urgent business to the east.


Basil left behind him, as commander on the Thessalonican front, Gregory, Prince of Taron. [3] On the news of the Emperor’s departure, Samuel came down from the mountains and advanced to Thessalonica. Deceived by the meagre force with which Samuel demonstrated before the walls, Gregory sent his young son Ashot, with too few troops, out to meet him. They were ambushed



1. Yachya, pp. 27-8. Scylitzes (Cedrenus, ii., p. 447) merely says that Basil visited Thessalonica, to see to its defences and pray to Saint Demetrius. Asoghic (ii., p. 145) refers to the recapture of Berrhoea and tells of the Armenian soldiers.


2. Ibn-al-Asir (Rosen, op. cit., p. 246) says that Basil reached the centre of Bulgaria. This probably refers to his previous campaign against Sofia, then known as Sredetz (the centre).


3. Cedrenus, loc. cit.





by the main Bulgarian army and for the most part slain; Ashot himself was taken alive. Gregory, hearing of it, lost his head and rashly hurried out to rescue his son. But he too fell into a Bulgarian trap, and was butchered with almost all his army, fighting bravely. [1]


This disaster to the garrison was very serious, but Samuel did not venture to attack Thessalonica itself. Instead, after ravaging the countryside and recapturing Berrhoea, he took his prisoners back to his capital. Basil was too busy to come back to Europe himself; but he sent one of his ablest generals to command against the Bulgarians, Nicephorus Uranus, who arrived with reinforcements at Thessalonica in the course of the year 996. [2]


Samuel was spending the season of 996 in the Greek peninsula. He had held its gateway Larissa for ten years now, and he was able to advance unopposed up the Vale of Tempe and through Thermopylae and Boeotia and Attica to the Isthmus of Corinth. There was a panic in the Peloponnese; even the Strategus Apocaucus was affected by it, and fell ill from worry and uncertainty as to how he could organize a defence. It needed all the tact and spiritual gifts of Saint Nicon Metanoitë to soothe his shattered nerves. But, as everyone waited anxiously for the attack, the news came that the Bulgarian army was in full retreat for the north. [3]


Nicephorus Uranus had followed Samuel into the peninsula, and succeeded in recapturing the fortress of Larissa. Leaving his heavier accoutrements there, he passed on through Pharsalia and over the hills of Othrys to the valley of the Spercheus. On the far bank of the river the



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 449.


2. Ibid., loc. cit.: Berrhoea, retaken by Basil in 991, had to be again retaken in 1003. Samuel must therefore have recaptured it now.


3. Ibid., loc. cit.: Nicon Metanoite, ed. Lampros, pp. 74-5. This incident must occur now (not, as Schlumberger says, in 986)—the only occasion when we know that Samuel advanced on the Isthmus of Corinth.





Bulgarians were encamped, laden with the spoils of Greece. The river was flooded from the summer thunder-showers; and Samuel thought himself secure. But by night the Imperial troops forced their way through the turgid torrent and fell upon his camp. The Bulgarians were slaughtered as they slept. Samuel and his son Gabriel-Radomir were wounded, and only just managed to escape with a few followers. Their losses were terrible; all their booty was recovered, and all their prisoners released. Uranus returned in triumph to Thessalonica, and later to celebrate in Constantinople the glory of having driven out the invaders from Greece. [1]


Yet, despite this victory, Basil could not venture on a final crushing campaign; he was still too heavily committed in Asia. And so the next few years remained probably the most splendid in Samuel’s career. After the first shock of his defeat he had written to the Emperor offering to submit on terms; but soon he withdrew his offer, realizing that he was not at the moment to be attacked. According to a rumour current in Antioch, he was negotiating when he heard that the rightful Tsar (Romanus, son of Peter) had died in captivity at Constantinople. He at once broke off the negotiations and proclaimed himself Tsar. But Romanus, so far from being a Tsar imprisoned in Constantinople, was a eunuch in Samuel’s own service, and lived on for many more years. Probably it is now that we must place the story told earlier by Scylitzes of Samuel’s last surviving brother, Aaron. Aaron, more peaceful than Samuel, urged for terms to be made with the Empire, and probably succeeded in winning the support of a large proportion of the Bulgarians. His influence and his policy were alike distasteful to



1. Cedrenus, loc. cit. Sathas, Chronique de Galaxidi, and Schlumberger (op. cit., ii., pp. 139 ff.) place here the story of the Bulgarian attack on the village of Galaxidi on the Gulf of Lepanto. See above, p. 174.





Samuel; and so he was taken and summarily put to death with all his children, save one son only, John Vladislav, who was saved by his cousin Gabriel-Radomir. Thus Samuel was left sole and undisputed Tsar; but the news reached the eastern frontier of the Empire in a rather vague form, which the local historians amended in their own imaginative way. [1] Samuel’s ruthlessness cowed the peace party; and so when he decided to break off relations again with the Emperor there was no opposition left. The internal history of Samuel’s reign is a blank to us. We only know of his system of taxation, namely that every man to possess a yoke of oxen was obliged to pay yearly a measure of corn, a measure of millet, and a flagon of wine. [2] This was no doubt a very old Bulgarian system. It seems that the people, Bogomils as well as orthodox, made no complaint against his rule, either from indifference or from terror. His lieutenants, on the other hand, used all too frequently to betray him. This was probably due to the greater prospects of material comfort and luxury that the Empire could offer; for Samuel’s Court in the Macedonian mountains was lacking somewhat in refinement. The Comitopuli do not seem to have extended the same patronage over letters and culture as did the monarchs of the house of Krum. On the other hand, Samuel was a great builder. Not only did he throw great fortifications round his strongholds; but from these years date several churches, still standing in part to this day. Near Prespa the Church of Saint Germanus, and the church built on the island to hold the relics of Saint Achilleus from Larissa, and in Ochrida—which became



1. Yachya (in Rosen), p. 34: Cedrenus, ii., p. 435. I do not think that Yachya deserves much credence with regard to Bulgarian affairs. Scylitzes’s account is much more likely to be true. We know that Aaron was living in 986 (from Michael’s MS. of Scylitzes, Prokič, p. 29). This seems to be the most likely occasion for his pro-Greek policy to have been a menace, and also his death may well provide the origin of Yachya’s story.


2. Cedrenus, ii., p. 530. Basil continued this system.





his capital soon after the turn of the century—the Churches of Saints Constantine and Helena and Saint Sophia show his architectural zeal. The devastations and improvements of subsequent generations make it hard now to pronounce upon their style. They appear to belong in temper to the provincial Byzantine school, as opposed to the Imperial school of Constantinople—a school in close touch with Armenian architecture. Possibly Samuel’s architects were Armenian captives from the colonies in Macedonia; but more probably these churches represent the first ambitious artistic efforts of the native Bulgarian-Slavs.


Comforts might be crude, but there was romance too in the Bulgarian Court. The Tsar, by his wife Agatha Chryselia, had several children whose wild passions brought love into Bulgarian history. Samuel had brought Ashot, the captive Prince of Taron, to his capital and kept him there imprisoned. But Miroslava, the Tsar’s eldest daughter, caught sight of him and lost her heart. Vowing to kill herself unless she became his bride, she secured his release. After their marriage, Ashot was sent by his father-in-law to help in the government of Dyrrhachium. They betrayed the Tsar later. [1]


About the same time—probably in 998—Samuel, checked for the moment in the south and the east, determined to expand to the north-west, along the Adriatic coast; the possession of Dyrrhachium showed him the value of being an Adriatic Power. He was too cautious to attempt, like his predecessors, to conquer the valleys of inland Serbia; instead he kept to the coast, where an excellent opportunity was given to him. The principality of Dioclea, modern Montenegro, was suffering from the weak rule of a child, Vladimir. Samuel invaded his country, capturing the town of Dulcigno and the person



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 451: Prokič, p. 29.





of the young Prince without any effective opposition. Vladimir was sent into captivity at Prespa, and Samuel moved northward and made himself suzerain of Terbunia, the principality that lay next along the coast. In consequence of this Bulgarian aggrandizement, the Emperor Basil, who could not afford to maintain squadrons so far away, formally handed over the policing of the Adriatic to his loyal vassal-state of Venice. [1]


Again one of Samuel’s daughters intervened. Like her sister, the Princess Kosara was stirred by the thought of a handsome young captive; and before long she fell in love with the Dioclean prince. Samuel listened to Kosara’s prayers; Vladimir was released and restored to his throne, with Kosara as his consort. At the same time Vladimir’s uncle, Dragomir, was established in Terbunia. Both the princes acknowledged the overlordship of the Bulgarians, and Vladimir at least abode loyally by his fealty. [2]


The fame of Samuel’s prowess reached even to the Magyars; and their king, Saint Stephen of Hungary, sent to make an alliance with Bulgaria. Its terms were somewhat vague, but they were sealed by a marriage-alliance; Stephen sent his daughter to wed Samuel’s son and heir, Gabriel-Radomir. But the Hungarian girl was not as lucky in love as were her sisters-in-law. There was at the court of Ochrida a slave called Irene, who had been captured as a child at the fall of Larissa, a creature of marvellous beauty. The Princess, probably all too well endowed with the looks of her father’s race, the race that gave its name to ogres, could never hope to rival the radiant Greek captive. Gabriel-Radomir forgot his wife’s high lineage, that her father was a king and her



1. Presbyter Diocleae, pp. 294-5. Undated, but it probably was the cause of Basil’s formal cession of the Adriatic to Venice (Dandolo, p. 227).


2. Ibid., loc. cit.





mother a princess of the Imperial blood of the West, and left her for the low-born Irene. Samuel, always sympathetic to his children’s passions, condoned the desertion and recognized the marriage with Irene—the Hungarian alliance was of very little value. Of the further fate of the Princess, nothing is known. Deserted and divorced, in this wild Court far from her home, she probably sought refuge in a convent. One son was born of her marriage, Peter Delean, who probably died young; many years later, after the fall of his dynasty, he was impersonated by an ambitious but unsuccessful rebel against the Emperor. [1] But while these love-dramas were still incomplete, probably even before the Hungarian marriage, the Emperor Basil returned to the field. In about 998 Samuel’s cause had seemed so flourishing that several of the European nobility of the Empire contemplated deserting to his allegiance. Basil was informed, and arrested two of them at Thessalonica, the Magister Paul Bobus and the Protospatharius Malacenus, and deported them—the latter to Asia, the former to Constantinople; whereupon some of the intending traitors at Adrianople, Vatatzes and Basil Glabas, fled at once to Samuel. Basil imprisoned Glabas’s son for three years, but could take no other action. [2] It is probable that Nicephorus Uranus continued to lead yearly expeditions against the Bulgarians, but we know nothing of them. In the spring of 1001, however, Basil made peace on his eastern frontier and was able to turn his full attention to the west. For four years he campaigned regularly in Samuel’s dominions. [3]


The first of these campaigns, in 1001, was directed



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 529: Prokič, pp. 31, 36.


2. Cedrenus, ii., pp. 451-a.


3. In Cedrenus (ii., p. 452) the first campaign is dated 999; but we know from Yachya (in Rosen, p. 42), who is very reliable about eastern affairs, that Basil did not leave the east till 1001. Cedrenus must therefore be two years out throughout these four years.





against Sofia. Making Philippopolis his starting-point— he left it strongly garrisoned under the Patrician Theodorocanus—he marched through the Gates of Trajan, and captured many castles round Sofia, though he did not attack the city itself, before retiring to winter at Mosynopolis, the modern Gumuldjina, in south-western Thrace. The reason of this campaign was to cut Samuel off from his eastern provinces; and so next year Basil sent a large army under Theodorocanus and the Protospatharius Nicephorus Xiphias to conquer the districts between the Lower Danube and the Black Sea, the old centre of Bulgaria. He himself probably waited near to Sofia, to intercept any help that Samuel might send. The manoeuvre was successful; the former capitals, Little Preslav, Pliska, and Great Preslav fell once more into the Emperor’s hands. [1]


In 1003 Basil struck in Macedonia. As his great armament approached Berrhoea, Dobromir, the Bulgarian governor, took fright and surrendered without a struggle. Basil always attempted to attach former Bulgarian commanders to the Empire by giving them titles, and sometimes posts in provinces far enough away for them to be able to do no harm. Dobromir was honoured with the dignity of Anthypatus and sent to Constantinople. From Berrhoea the Emperor attacked Serbia. The town was defended by Niculitzes, the traitor that Samuel had spared at Larissa. Niculitzes made a valiant resistance, but in the end the town was taken. Basil treated the defenders leniently; despite Niculitzes’s past history, he was made a Patrician, and accompanied the Emperor back to Constantinople, some time in the summer of 1003, when Basil thought it advisable, after his recent successes, to pay a short visit to his capital.


But the fierce traitor could not be won by a title. After



1. Cedrenus, loc. cit.





a few days he escaped and made his way back to Samuel. Samuel, in the orthodox Bulgarian fashion, had remained in the mountains during the Emperor’s invasion, resolutely avoiding any pitched battle. On Basil’s departure he came down with his army, and with Niculitzes, attempted to recover Serbia. But Basil was well informed, and moved swiftly. Forced marches brought him back to the borders of Thessaly; and Samuel and Niculitzes fled. The latter was soon captured in an ambush and sent to imprisonment in Constantinople. A few years later he escaped once more. The Emperor spent the next month or two in Thessaly, rebuilding the castles that the Bulgarians had destroyed and recapturing those that they still held. The Bulgarian garrisons were sent to colonize the district of Volerus, where the Maritsa flows into the Aegean Sea. From Thessaly Basil turned northward, to the great fortress of Vodena, placed on the edge of the high Macedonian plateau, by where the river of Ostrovo falls in grand cascades into the valley below. A Bulgarian called Draxan made a valiant defence, but in the end was forced to surrender, probably in the late autumn. The garrison was sent to fill up the colony at Volerus, but Draxan obtained permission to reside at Thessalonica. There he married the daughter of one of the chief clergy that attended to the shrine of Saint Demetrius. His subsequent history was strange. After two children had been born to his wife, he suddenly fled to the Bulgarian Court. He was soon recaptured and pardoned, on his father-in-law’s intercession. But shortly afterwards he repeated his flight, with the same result. He then waited in Thessalonica until two more children were born: whereupon he fled once more. This time the Emperor’s patience was exhausted. When he was recaptured, he was summarily impaled.


In 1004 Basil determined to complete the conquest of





Danubian Bulgaria, and very early in the year [1] set out to besiege Vidin, on the Danube, the easternmost fortress left to Samuel. Against these well-organized and carefully led expeditions Samuel could do nothing, but now he attempted a diversion that almost succeeded in forcing the Emperor to raise the siege. On August 15, when the citizens of Adrianople were on holiday, celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, the Bulgarians suddenly fell upon the city. Adrianople was utterly taken by surprise; no one had ever expected Samuel to advance so far from his centre. He massacred and destroyed without hindrance, and then retired as suddenly as he had come, with a long train of prisoners and booty. But this brilliant foray was too late; Vidin, after an eight months’ siege, was on the point of falling. Basil waited until he could storm the city, probably early in September; then, garrisoning it strongly, he hastened southward to catch the Bulgarians on their return. His march, up the Timok and the Morava, through hostile, unconquered country, was as bold an achievement as Samuel’s to Adrianople.


The Emperor caught up the Tsar and his army near Skopie (Uskub), on the banks of the Vardar. The river was in flood; and Samuel had not learnt his lesson sufficiently at the Spercheus. The two armies encamped on either bank, the Imperial troops with due precaution, the Bulgarians with an insolent carelessness, confident that the river could not be crossed. But a Greek soldier found a ford that was passable; and the Emperor crept over secretly at the head of his troops. The Bulgarians were too suddenly surprised to attempt to fight; they all hastily fled in confusion, Samuel amidst them. The Tsar’s own



1. Probably in January, as Vidin fell after an eight months’ siege soon after the raid on Adrianople. Basil, as Psellus tells us, thought nothing of campaigning in the depths of winter.





tent was captured, and the camp, with all the booty from Adrianople, fell into the Emperor’s hands.


After the battle, the Bulgarian governor of Skopie came down to hand over the keys of his city to the Emperor. It was Romanus, the eunuch son of Peter, last scion of the house of Krum. [1] Basil received him gently and created him a Patrician. He finished his strange career as governor of Abydos.


From Skopie Basil marched eastwards to attack the castle of Pernik, which commanded the upper valley of the Struma. But Pernik was impregnably placed and magnificently defended by the ablest of Samuel’s generals, Krakra. Basil, after losing many of his men, and finding Krakra to be incorruptible, abandoned the siege and moved back, late in the winter of 1004, to his headquarters at Philippopolis. Thence he soon returned to Constantinople. [2]


Thus in four years Samuel had lost half his Empire. From the Iron Gate of the Danube to Thessalonica all the east of the Balkan peninsula was in the Emperor’s hands, except only for Sofia and Strumitsa and a few castles around Pernik and Melnik in the western slopes of Rhodope; and Imperial garrisons were stationed on the borders of Thessaly and along the River Vardar. The campaign had been among the most glorious in the history of Byzantine arms; it had shown that the Imperial troops, when they were ably led, were still the finest machine for warfare that the world at that day knew; it had shown that the Bulgarians, for all their courage and ardour, their ruses and their traps, were no match for them now. Samuel, like every great Bulgar general, had avoided pitched battles, trusting to his speed and to



1. We hear now that he was also called Symeon, after his grandfather; but there is no reason to suspect him of being any other son of Peter than the eunuch Romanus.


2. Cedrenus, ii., pp. 452-6, for the whole campaign.





ambushes and sudden descents; but now he had to face an adversary that could make forced marches across the wildest enemy country and yet never now be caught unguarded in a valley or a mountain-pass—an adversary, too that had rid himself of distractions, that had determined not to cease from fighting till Bulgaria should be no more.


Even Samuel’s own followers were beginning to see the true state of things. In 998 Imperial magistrates had broken their allegiance to pay homage to him, as the rising sun; but now, with treacherous foresight, his own officials were beginning to transfer their services to the Emperor. Every desertion was a heavy blow to him; it was on his governors and generals and the soldiers that they commanded that his whole strength lay. The common people, it seems, were too poor or too indifferent or, as Bogomils, too conscientiously passive, to help or to hinder his cause. [1] Samuel, though as yet no foreign army had reached the high lakes where he held his Court, might well feel apprehensive of the future.


In 1005 the canker of treachery entered into the heart of his family. His daughter Miroslava and her husband, Ashot the Taronite, fled from Dyrrhachium, where he held a command, to Constantinople. Ashot had long yearned to return to his former home, and had persuaded the Princess that a wife’s duty ranked before a daughter’s. But Miroslava was not the only traitor in the family. Ashot brought with him to the Emperor a letter from the Tsar’s own father-in-law, John Chryselius, who was left in charge of the fortress. John offered to hand Dyrrhachium over to Imperial troops in return for money for himself and the title of Patrician for both his sons. The



1. The whole internal history of Samuel’s reign is so unknown that even such generalizations must be qualified. It seems, however, that Samuel never became nor has become a popular national hero, as Symeon did: though Symeon did infinitely more harm to his country.





offer was accepted; and the Patrician Eustathius Daphnomelas took a fleet to the Adriatic and received back the city. Ashot was made a Magister, and Miroslava a Girdled Patrician, becoming thus one of the greatest ladies at the Imperial Court. [1]


The loss of Dyrrhachium hit Samuel hard, both in his affections and his power. He had no outlet now to the western sea, save through Dioclea, the territory of his faithful son-in-law, Vladimir.


The story of the next nine years is lost in obscurity. From 1006 onwards it seems that the Emperor Basil yearly invaded Bulgaria [2]; and in 1009 there was a battle at a village called Creta, probably somewhere near Thessalonica, where he heavily defeated Samuel. [3] All through these years the Imperial troops were pressing nearer and nearer to the centre of the Tsar’s dominions. Only the mountains of Upper Macedonia and Albania remained in Samuel’s hands, and the valley of the Upper Struma, where Krakra held out. It was probably from Krakra that Samuel learnt that the Emperor journeyed each year on his way to the war through the narrow pass of Cimbalongus, or Clidion, that led from Seres into the upper valley of the Struma. Samuel conceived the plan of occupying this pass, and thus either checking the Emperor on his way or forcing him to make a détour that would leave



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 451. He tells of it out of its place, after talking of Ashot’s capture and marriage. The date, however, is supplied by Lupus Protospatharius, writing at Bari, just across the sea (ad. ann. 1005, p. 41). The Theodore whom he mentions as having carried out the transaction was no doubt a son of the aged John Chryselius. It is uncertain who really commanded Dyrrhachium. It seems unlikely that John was placed under his foreign grandson-in-law, though Cedrenus implies so, merely calling Ghryselius one of the chief magistrates, though in Bishop Michael’s MS. of Scylitzes he is ‘ πρωτεύων. ’ Probably he was retired, as he must have been old.


2. Cedrenus, ii., p. 457, says Basil invaded the country yearly. Matthew of Edessa (p. 37) talks of Basil inaugurating a long war against the Bulgars in 1006.


3. Reported in the life of Saint Nicon Metanoeite (Vasilievski, op. cit., loc. cit.). See Zlatarski (op. cit., pp. 849-50).





the enemy strongly entrenched in his rear. In 1014 Samuel carried out his scheme, and took possession of the pass, fortifying its entrance with wooden palisades. Meanwhile he sent other troops, under Nestoritsa, to create a diversion near Thessalonica. But Nestoritsa was routed by the Imperial strategus, Theophylact Boteniates, who then was able to join the Emperor’s army as it approached Cimbalongus.


At the sight of the strong Bulgarian palisades, Basil hesitated, and, after a few futile attacks, was in despair. But his lieutenant, the strategus of Philippopolis, the general Nicephorus Xiphias, suggested taking a detachment over the forest-covered mountainside and attacking Samuel in the rear; he thought that it was just feasible. Basil agreed, and Xiphias set out through the forest of Balathistes (the Sultanina Planina of to-day), and at last managed to arrive behind the Bulgarian army. On July 29 Basil made a grand onslaught on the palisades. At the same moment Xiphias fell unexpectedly on Samuel’s rear. The Bulgarians were taken by surprise and caught. Many were slain, and many more were captured. Samuel himself was only saved by the endurance and the bravery of his son, and fled away to his fortress of Prilep. The captives numbered fourteen or fifteen thousand. Basil, whose clemency had come to an end, determined to teach the Tsar a bitter lesson. All the captives were deprived of their sight, save for one in every hundred, who had one eye left to him. Then, with these one-eyed men to guide them, they were set free to grope their way back to their master. [1]


Meanwhile Basil turned to the north, to clean up the districts of Western Rhodope, where Krakra valiantly



1. Cedrenus, ii., pp. 457, 459. He numbers the prisoners at 15,000; Cecaumenus (Strategicon, p. 18) numbering the prisoners at 14,000. Michael Attaliates (p. 229) also refers to the battle.





held out. He advanced to Strumitsa, and captured the neighbouring castle of Matrucium. Thence he sent Boteniates with some troops to burn the palisades that the Bulgarians had thrown across the road to Thessalonica. Boteniates performed his task successfully, but on his return fell into a Bulgarian ambush, where he perished with all his men. This victory heartened the Bulgarians, but it was of little avail. The Emperor continued in the district—one of the many called Zagoria, ‘across the mountains’—and even its strongest fortress, the impregnable castle of Melnik, surrendered itself to him. After its capture he retired for a while to Mosynopolis; and there, on the 24th of October, joyful news reached the Imperial camp. [1]


The blind victims of Cimbalongus at last found their way back to the Tsar. Samuel was at Prespa, ill with anxiety and fear. The ghastly procession of his former grand army was too much for him. He fell to the ground in an apoplectic fit. A glass of cold water brought him to his senses for a moment, but he passed again into unconsciousness, and two days later, on October 6, 1014, he died. [2]


It was the end now. The last red streak of sunset had shone on Bulgaria in the defiles of Cimbalongus. Now it was twilight, and dim figures hurried to and fro to ward off the inevitable darkness. Nine days after Samuel’s death, his son Gabriel-Radomir, whom the Greeks called Gabriel-Romanus, was proclaimed Tsar; he had probably been away with the army at the time of his father’s death, and it took him some time to reach the Court. Gabriel-Radomir, for all his valour and his magnificent physique, had none of his father’s greatness. He could command



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 460.


2. Ibid., ii., p. 458. The date of the death is given in Bishop Michael’s MS. (Prokič, p. 30). Lupus Protospatharius refers to it (p. 41, ad ann. 1015).





none of the same awe and respect; and almost at once his throne began to totter. [1]


On the news of the great Tsar’s death, Basil at once recommenced his campaign. Leaving Mosynopolis, he marched to the valley of the Cherna, as far as the great town of Bitolia (Monastir) where Gabriel-Radomir had a palace. The destruction of this palace was the only act of violence that the Emperor now committed. From Bitolia Basil turned back—to advance on higher in the depths of winter would be unwise—and he descended the Cherna, while his troops captured Prilep and Shchip (Ishtip, Stypeum). Thence he returned by way of Vodena to Thessalonica, where he arrived on January 9, 1015.


At the beginning of spring he set out again. Through treachery the Bulgarians had recovered Vodena; so Basil at once flung his whole army at it and terrorized it into submission. Again its garrison was transported to the colony at Volerus, while, to keep it securely in his hands, he built two castles to over-awe it, one called Cardia, the other Saint Elias. He then went back to Thessalonica. As he sojourned there, a Greek soldier called Chirotmetus (as he had lost one hand) came to the Emperor with a letter from the Tsar promising his submission. But Basil feared a ruse, and dismissed Chirotmetus without an answer. Instead he sent his army under Nicephorus Xiphias and Constantine Diogenes to besiege the city of Moglena, one of the strongest cities left to the Bulgarians in Macedonia. Moglena was under the command of the local governor, Elitzes, and the Kavkan Dometian, one of the Tsar’s most intimate counsellors. So firmly was



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 458–9. He says that Gabriel-Radomir was proclaimed on Sept. 15, Ind. xiii., i.e. Sept. 15, 1015; but that must be a mistake for Oct. 15, Ind. xiii., i.e. Oct. 15, 1014. This date fits with Oct. 6 as the date of Samuel’s death, and Oct. 24 as the date when Basil heard the news. Cedrenus is wrong here about the slave girl of Larissa. As Michael’s MS. shows (see above, p. 234), she was Gabriel-Radomir’s wife, not Samuel’s.





the fortress defended that Basil himself had to come and conduct operations. It was only when he had diverted the river that surrounded the city and undermined its walls that the garrison was driven to surrender. The Emperor deported them far away, to the borders of Armenia; the city was destroyed and burnt, and the same fate befell the neighbouring castle of Enotia. [1]


Five days after the fall of Moglena, in August 1016, Chirotmetus again appeared at the Emperor’s camp, this time with a more sensational story. The Tsar Gabriel-Radomir had been murdered while out hunting at the village of Petrisk on the Lake of Ostrovo, by his cousin, Prince John-Vladislav, Aaron’s son, whose life he once had saved [2]; and John-Vladislav was master of the remnant of Bulgaria. With Gabriel-Radomir had perished his wife, the lovely Irene of Larissa. [3] Chirotmetus brought with him various servants of the new Tsar and letters offering submission. Basil was at first half convinced, but about the same time another kavkan, the brother of the Kavkan Dometian, joined the Emperor, by whom he was well received; and probably he explained the duplicity of the letters. Basil at once set out for the enemy country, and moved up into the Macedonian highlands, past Ostrovo and Sosk, blinding every Bulgarian that he captured. [4]



1. Cedrenus, ii., pp. 461—2.


2. Ibid., ii., pp. 459, 462. Petriscus is not Petrich in the Struma valley; there is a fifteenth-century MS. at Rila in praise of Saint Demetrius which gives a full account of the death, and makes it occur at Sosk (Zlatarski, op. cit., pp. 850-2). No doubt the Tsar was residing at Sosk, but hunting in the neighbourhood of the village of Petrisk on Lake Ostrovo, where the murder occurred. Yachya (in Rosen, pp. 58—9) has a confused account where he gives the protagonists their fathers’ names. The date must be c. Aug. 1015, as Gabriel-Radomir reigned for less than a year.


3. Ibid., p. 469.


4. Ibid., ii., p. 462. Presbyter Diocleae, p. 295, referring to the murder, says that it was due to Basil’s intriguing. The account in Scylitzes seems definitely to contradict this; the priest probably had heard of the subsequent negotiations, though there was certainly a good deal of treachery at the Bulgarian Court.





Gabriel-Radomir’s death threw the country into further disorder. John-Vladislav was a usurper, probably little more than a party leader; and in the chaos every Bulgarian general began to consider his own interests. But John-Vladislav had a considerable ruthless energy. He retired to the north-west before the Emperor, into the Albanian mountains, to rally his forces. There he summoned Vladimir of Dioclea as his vassal to consult with him; he probably wished to secure a safe retreat there, and was angry that Vladimir’s gentle nature inclined towards peace with the Emperor. The good prince wished to go, but his wife, Kosara, Samuel’s daughter, distrusted her brother’s murderer, and, fearing for her husband’s life, determined to go in his stead. John-Vladislav received Kosara with such cordiality that at last, on a safe-conduct guaranteed by David, [1] the Bulgarian Patriarch, Vladimir set out to the Tsar’s Court. When he arrived he was summarily beheaded, on May 22, 1016, and his body was denied burial, till it performed so many miracles that even his murderer was impressed. Kosara received permission to bury it at Kraina, by Lake Scutari; and she herself, broken-hearted, took the veil in a convent close by. [2] The murder removed the danger of treachery in the rear, but otherwise it did little save to add to the general disorder. The Bulgarians soon lost their hold over Dioclea.


Meanwhile the Emperor had penetrated far into the heart of the Macedonian mountains, into that mysterious land of high lakes and valleys where Samuel had held his Court. In the early autumn of 1015 he reached Ochrida, the capital. But barely had he occupied the city when he



1. The Patriarch David, who features several times in Cedrenus (see below, passim), is not mentioned in Ducange’s list, but he is almost certainly the same as John, who succeeded Philip (see above, p. 219). In Michael of Devol’s MS. he is called John, both here and when he subsequently appears (Prokič, op. cit., pp. 32, 33, also his Jovan Skilitsa, p. 146).


2. Cedrenus, ii., p. 463: Presbyter Diocleae, pp. 295–6, giving date May 22. The year must be 1016.





heard that John-Vladislav was attacking Dyrrhachium. At once Basil left a garrison in Ochrida and marched down to save the great seaport. But there worse news arrived. On his march to Ochrida he had left the Strategus George Gonitziates, and the Protospatharius Orestes, with a considerable army, to remain in the foothills guarding the road to the mountains. But George had been led into an ambush by the Bulgarian general, Ivatsa, a soldier of notorious brilliance, and had been butchered at the head of all his army. Basil was forced to leave Dyrrhachium to its fate—a fate which, however, was averted—and hurried across the mountains in pursuit of Ivatsa, to reopen the road. But Ivatsa avoided his path and retired to the south; he managed, however, to recover Ochrida for the Tsar, and to re-establish the Court there. The Emperor returned to Thessalonica and thence to Mosynopolis. There he divided his forces into two portions; one he sent under David Arianites to attack Strumitsa, the other under Xiphias against Sofia. Arianites succeeded in capturing a fort near Strumitsa called Thermitsa, and Xiphias various castles near Sofia, including Boyana. The Emperor himself went to Constantinople, where he arrived in January 1016.


Later in the year Basil returned to the field, and himself led an expedition against the Bulgarian districts of the Upper Struma. The centre of resistance was Pernik, where the brave and loyal Krakra—he was loyal to each Tsar in succession—still held out. Once again Basil attempted to storm the stronghold; and once again his attempts cost him so many men that he gave up the siege. As autumn came on he turned south, to winter and to refresh his men at Mosynopolis.


In the first fine days of 1017 the old Emperor took the field again. He sent David Arianites and Constantine Diogenes to raid on the Upper Vardar; he himself took





the castle of Longus. [1] The Imperial armies captured vast numbers of men and herds of cattle and sheep—the chief wealth of the country. The prisoners were divided into three portions; one was shared by Imperial troops, one went to the Russian auxiliaries—the beginnings of the famous Varangian Guard—and the third to the Emperor himself. From Longus, Basil moved southward to besiege Castoria. But as he lay before its strong walls he received a letter from the Strategus of Dristra, to announce that John-Vladislav and his viceroy in Rhodope, Krakra, were attempting to negotiate with the Petchenegs, who roamed in strength beyond the Danube. Basil took no risks. At once he lifted the siege and hastened northward to be at hand should anything occur. As he passed by, he stormed and burnt the castle of Bosograd or Vishegrad, [2] and ordered the ruined walls of Berrhoea to be rebuilt, and then, coming up to Ostrovo and Moliscus, [3] destroyed every Bulgarian castle that he found still standing. When he arrived there he heard that the Tsar’s alliance with the Petchenegs had failed; the Petchenegs would not risk arousing the enmity of the terrible old Emperor.


Basil returned southward again, and captured the town of Setaena (the present village of Setina on the Brod, on the edge of the valley of the Cherna). Samuel had had a palace there; and Basil found great stores of provisions. The palace was burnt and the food distributed to the troops. The Tsar and his army came hurrying to the neighbourhood, to see what might be done: whereupon Basil sent out to find him Constantine Diogenes and the troops of the European themes. But Constantine fell into a trap laid by John-Vladislav, and was on the point of perishing, when Basil, who somehow had heard of it and



1. Its position is unknown—probably not far to the north of Castoria.


2. Probably not far to the north of Gastoria.


3. Presumably near Ostrovo.





was anxious, suddenly rode up with a picked band of soldiers and joined in the battle. The Bulgarians, well-nigh victorious, were aghast: ‘Fly, fly ! The Emperor !’ [1] they cried, and all followed that advice. In the rout, many were left dead on the field; two hundred fully armed horsemen were captured, with all the baggage of the Tsar and his nephew.


After this victory Basil moved to Vodena and strengthened its garrison; then, in January 1018, he returned to his capital. [2]


Every season the Emperor was more firmly established in Bulgaria; but John-Vladislav, in his restless energy, did not despair. No sooner had Basil left the field, than he came down from the mountains to attack with all his remaining strength the city of Dyrrhachium. It was his last effort. As he fought before the walls a warrior attacked him, in whom he suddenly thought that he recognized Vladimir of Dioclea, the saint that he had murdered. In a mad frenzy he cried for help, but none could reach him. And so the unknown warrior, were he a spectre, or some casual Greek, or even a Bulgarian traitor, struck the Tsar dead. [3]


His death meant the end of Bulgaria. His sons were young and inexperienced, and even the most fervent Bulgarian leaders began to see that further resistance was hopeless. The Emperor, on the news, set out from Constantinople. As he journeyed across the peninsula, various of his old opponents came to make their peace. At Adrianople he met the son and the brother of Krakra, who brought him news of the great general’s submission and the surrender of his impregnable fortress Pernik. Basil



1. ‘Βεξεῖτε, ὸ Τσαῖσαρ,’ i.e. Begaite, Tsesar—fly, the Tsar.


2. Cedrenus, ii., pp. 462—8. Who the nephew of the Tsar was, we do not know.


3. Ibid., pp. 466-7: Presbyter Diocleae, p. 266, giving the miraculous intervention of Vladimir.





received them kindly and gave them high Imperial dignities; Krakra was created a Patrician. At Mosynopolis, legates came from Bitolia, Morovizd, and Liplyan, [1] handing over the keys of their towns. At Seres, Krakra himself joined the Emperor, with the commanders of the thirty-five castles that he had held; he was shortly followed by Dragomuzh, the governor of Strumitsa. Dragomuzh brought with him John the Chaldee, who had been captured by Samuel twenty-two years before, when the Taronites were routed. The Emperor made Dragomuzh a Patrician, and moved towards Strumitsa. As he approached the city a new embassy came up to him, headed by David, the Patriarch of Bulgaria.


On John-Vladislav’s death, his widow Maria took over the government, and at the Patriarch’s advice decided to surrender, on a few conditions as to her family’s safety. Her eldest son Prusian and two of his brothers objected to this policy, and left Ochrida for the mountains; but the bulk of her Court agreed with her. David was now bearing her letters to the Emperor. At the same time a high official called Bogdan arrived; he was commander of the ‘inner castles,’ and had favoured the Imperial cause to the extent of slaying his warlike son-in-law. As a reward he became a Patrician.


From Strumitsa Basil crossed to Skopie, where he stationed David Arianites with a strong garrison. He himself, in a triumphant progress, moved back to Shchip, and thence to Prosek on the Vardar, and passed on southward and then westward, and so up to Ochrida. At the city gates the Tsaritsa herself met the Emperor, bringing with her all the royal family that was at the Court—three of her sons and her six daughters, a bastard son of Samuel,



1. Bitolia is called here Pelagonia, after the district of which it was chief town. The other towns, ‘Morobisdus’ and ‘Lipenius,’ were situated close by Bitolia.





and the two daughters of Gabriel-Radomir and his five sons, one of whom had been blinded. Basil received them kindly and accepted their submission. He found there too the treasury of the Tsars, which he had not had time to open during his former brief occupation. It was filled with golden pieces, and garments sown with gold and golden diadems set with pearls. The money, to the extent of a hundred centenaria, he divided amongst his troops. Then, leaving the city well garrisoned under Eustathius Daphnomelus, he set out southward. More Bulgarians joined his camp—Nestoritsa and the younger Dobromir, with all their men. Even Prusian and his brothers, the Tsaritsa’s elder sons, came down from the wild slopes of Mount Tomor, whither Basil had sent to pursue them, and threw themselves on his mercy. Basil received them at Prespa. Prusian he created Magister, the others Patricians. It was now the middle of August.


At Prespa Basil received another distinguished, but less willing supplicant. The general Ivatsa had been living in proud independence in his castle on the Devol, surrounded with fair gardens. For nearly two months the Emperor had been negotiating with him, seeking his bloodless submission; but Ivatsa had grandiose ambitions to be Tsar and was only playing for time. In August Ivatsa, as he had always done, invited his friends and relatives to celebrate with him the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin. As the negotiations were still being carried on, Eustathius Daphnomelus asked to be allowed to come too. Ivatsa was surprised, but delighted, that an enemy should place himself in his hands, and welcomed Eustathius with outward cordiality. After the feast was over, Eustathius demanded a private interview with Ivatsa. It was held in a distant orchard, for secrecy’s sake. There, when they were alone, the Greek suddenly overpowered the Bulgarian, and gagged him and put out his eyes. Two





servants of Ivatsa heard his first smothered cries and summoned the company. The Bulgarians rushed up, enraged at this abuse of hospitality against their friend. But Eustathius waited for them calmly, and as they approached harangued them for their folly in opposing the Empire. His words and his confidence impressed them, and they realized their ultimate impotence against the mighty Emperor. Prudently they bowed to fate and accompanied Eustathius and the blind Ivatsa back to the Emperor at Prespa. As a reward Eustathius was made Strategus of Dyrrhachium and given all Ivatsa’s possessions.


At the same time Niculitzes, the traitor of Larissa, who had been hiding in the mountains and now found himself deserted by his followers, wearily gave himself up one night into the Emperor’s hands. Basil, however, would not see him, but sent him to a prison in Thessalonica.


From Prespa Basil made a détour, to arrange things in Dyrrhachium, Colonea, and Dryinopolis in Epirus, and then came to Castoria. There he found two daughters of Tsar Samuel, who were brought to his camp. When they saw there the Tsaritsa Maria, their rage knew no bounds. It was with difficulty that they were kept from doing her serious bodily harm. To relieve himself from further distressing scenes of this type, Basil sent the captive royal family to Constantinople. The Tsaritsa was appointed, as the Princess Kosara had been, a Girdled Patrician. The Emperor himself journeyed southward, his work over, to visit his province of Hellas. As he passed through Thessaly he saw the bones of the Bulgarians bleaching on the banks of the Spercheus, where Uranus had slain them in their thousands, and he marvelled at the great fortifications built after that battle to guard the narrows of Thermopylae; and then he came through Boeotia to the glorious city of Athens. [1]



1. Cedrenus, ii., pp. 470–6.





Meanwhile Xiphias received the homage of the remaining free Bulgarians. He strengthened the garrisons of Serbia and Sosk, and as he waited at Stagi in Thessaly, the last of the unconquered generals, Elemagus of Berat (Belograd) made his submission. Bulgarian independence was dead, save only in the distant north, where Sermon, governor of Sirmium, established himself for a few months longer as an independent prince, even striking his own coins. But in 1019 Constantine Diogenes extinguished this last flicker [1]; and even the princes of Serbia and Croatia hastened to announce their vassaldom. [2]


The Emperor Basil saw his life-work finished. All his reign, for more than forty years, he had striven to destroy the Empire of the Bulgarians. At last it was done, and he would be famous throughout the coming ages as Bulgaroctonus, the Bulgar-Slayer. Here in Athens, in the Church of the Mother of God, he rendered up his thanks to his Creator—in the church known, in an earlier Virgin’s honour, as the Parthenon. [3]



1. Cedrenus, ii., p. 477. For Sermon’s coins see Schlumberger (op. cit., p. 417)·


2. Ibid., p. 476: Lucius, p. 297.


3. Cedrenus, loc. cit.


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