A history of the First Bulgarian Empire

Steven Runciman




Appendix XII

The chronology of the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas’s Bulgarian wars



The chronology of Nicephorus Phocas’s Bulgarian wars has often been muddled by historians’ persistent attempts to co-identify the accounts given by Leo Diaconus and by Scylitzes, who, with ‘Nestor,’ are the only fundamental sources for them. Actually each chronicler deals mainly with separate events. According to Leo, the Bulgarian embassy demanding tribute came to Constantinople shortly after Nicephorus’s triumphant return from Tarsus (which took place in October 965).





Nicephorus followed up his dismissal of it by making a demonstration over the frontier and capturing one or two forts; he would not, however, embark on a serious campaign in Bulgaria. At the same time he instituted diplomatic intrigues with the Russians, which he continued to keep up. [1] Then Leo reverts to the main interest of the reign—the eastern campaigns. Later, after the Russians invaded Bulgaria (in 967, according to ‘Nestor’), he sent an embassy to Bulgaria suggesting the marriage of the Bulgar princesses to the young Emperors, and the Bulgarians begged for Imperial help against the Russians. Nicephorus, however, went off to the East, and on his return he was murdered. [2] In Scylitzes, who throughout the reign is clearly using some lost independent source, we first find a paragraph telling that Peter, after his wife’s death, sent to renew the peace and gave his sons to the Emperor as hostages; it then goes on to tell of his death and of the Comitopuli—this part is certainly an interpolation. [3] Later we hear that, in June 967, Nicephorus complained to the Bulgarian Court that it allowed Hungarian invaders to pass through Bulgaria into the Empire; at the same time he marched to the frontier (to the Great Fence) and looked into the defences of the Thracian cities. Shortly afterwards the Russians invaded Bulgaria— Scylitzes here inserts an account of Calocyras’s mission —in August 968 (Indiction XL), and they came again next year. [4]


From another source, however (Liudprand, Legatio, p. 185), we know that there was a Bulgarian embassy in Constantinople in June 968. This must have been after the Russian invasion; therefore ‘Nestor’s’ date, rather than Scylitzes’s, must be correct. The invasion no doubt lasted into September 967, i.e. the Indiction XL; and Scylitzes muddled the Indictions.


The key to the chronology lies in the fact—which



1. Leo Diaconus, pp. 61–3.


2. Ibid., pp. 77-81.


3. Cedrenus, ii., p. 346.


4. Ibid., p. 37a.





neither Leo nor Scylitzes singly makes clear—that Nicephorus twice declared war; in 965 he was furious at the Bulgarians’ demands; in 967 he simply wished for a pretext to justify him in calling in the Russians. Briefly tabulated, the sequence of events is as follows:


965 (after October): Bulgarian embassy to Constantinople demanding tribute (Leo). It was just after the Tsaritsa’s death (Scylitzes).


966 (early spring): Nicephorus invades Southern Bulgaria (Leo), (soon afterwards): Peter asks for peace and sends his sons as hostages (Scylitzes).


966 onwards: Calocyras intrigues with the Russians (Leo and Scylitzes).


967 (June): Russians being ready, Nicephorus picks a quarrel with the Bulgarians, and fortifies his frontier lest the Russians should penetrate too far (Scylitzes).


967 (August): Russians invade Bulgaria (‘Nestor,’ Scylitzes, and Leo). Peter falls ill (Leo).


968 (late spring): Renewed Russian invasion (Scylitzes—a year after the previous invasion). (June): Bulgarian embassy to Constantinople (Liud-prand). It is ineffectual.


969 (January): Death of Peter. (in the course of the year): Calocyras’s treachery becomes evident. So (autumn): Nicephorus sends embassy to Bulgaria suggesting a marriage alliance. It is about the time of the capture of Antioch, i.e. October 969 (Leo). Fresh Russian invasion (‘Nestor’ and Leo).


(December): Death of Nicephorus.


Thenceforward the chronology presents no great difficulty, and we can read without hindrance of the wars that overwhelmed the First Bulgarian Empire.


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