The Bulgarians. From pagan times to the Ottoman conquest

David Marshall Lang


- Foreword

- Chronological Table





This book is very much a labour of love, an attempt to repay the kindness and friendship which my family and I have received from Bulgarians of all walks of life, both in Bulgaria and abroad. My first visit to Bulgaria took place in 1967, when I was primarily concerned, as a specialist in Georgian and Caucasian studies, with studying the medieval Georgian monastery at Bachkovo. I later had the opportunity of visiting several of the Armenian communities in Bulgaria, where representatives of this highly cultured nation have been settled for well over a thousand years.


It soon became clear to me that Bulgaria’s medieval art and civilization present a picture of remarkable richness and variety, both in their own right, and as a part of what Professor Obolensky has aptly termed the culture of the Byzantine Commonwealth. It seemed to me that a concise presentation of the main stream of Bulgarian history and cultural life during the First and Second Empires, from about AD 680 to the Turkish conquest of 1393 -96, might present considerable interest to the Western reader, especially as Sir Steven Runciman’s history of the First Empire has long been out of print.


I am grateful to Professor Glyn Daniel for recommending and to the Publishers for accepting the work for inclusion in their ‘Ancient Peoples and Places’ series. Dr Vivian Pinto of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies has most unselfishly put me in touch with many of his Bulgarian friends and colleagues, as has Mrs Mercia MacDermott, author of two standard works on Bulgarian history. I owe a particular debt to the Bulgarian Committee for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, who invited me for two visits to Bulgaria, in 1967 and 1971. Among my hosts in that Committee I single out for special thanks Mrs E. Kamova, and my guide and close friend Mr A. Arsov, with whom I shared many scholarly experiences, and also a few hilarious adventures, after the style of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. The Committee has kindly sent me many books on Bulgarian history and archaeology, and secured for me permission to reproduce a number of drawings and photographs.





The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, through the good offices of Mr Robert Gulbenkian, made a generous contribution to my visit to Bulgaria in 1971, which enabled me to visit Armenian churches and other important historical monuments. I am also grateful to Sir William Harpham and the staff of the Great Britain-East Europe Centre for many valuable facilities.


I owe a special debt to Mr Gocho Chakalov of Dragalevtsi and his family for many kindnesses, and also for showing me the antiquities of Sozopol, the ancient Black Sea port. Among many eminent Bulgarian scholars who have encouraged me, I would like to thank especially Academician Vladimir Georgiev; Professor Ivan Duichev; Professor Dimitar Angelov, now Director of the National Archaeological Museum, Sofia; also Professor Veselin Beshevliev, and his talented geographer son, Boyan. Professor N. Todorov, director of the Institute of Balkan Studies, gave me much useful advice, as did his colleague, Madame V. Tăpkova-Zaimova. I am especially grateful to my friends and kind guides in Great Tărnovo, Mr Stefan Tzonev, and his wife Nina. I would like to thank His Excellency the Bulgarian Ambassador in London, Professor Alexander Yankov, and his staff, for their generous help and encouragement.


Miss Nina Clark deserves thanks for typing most of the manuscript, with great care and accuracy.


Having taken up the study of Bulgarian history and civilization rather late, and without the customary apprenticeship, I am conscious that my work cannot be free of errors of fact and interpretation. May I say by way of excuse that my mistakes spring perhaps from an excess of zeal, and a desire to convey to a wider public the special flavour of Bulgarian culture, both ancient and modern!







Chronological Table



Church council at Serdica (Sofia) AD 342

Hunnic invasions of Balkans 441-47

Emperor Zeno employs Bulgar mercenaries 481

Bulgars combat Theodoric, son of Triarius 487

Bulgars and Gepids fight Theodoric the Great at Sirmium 488

Reign of Anastasius; Bulgars invade Thrace 491-518

Slavonic Antae menace Balkan peninsula 520

Reign of Justinian; Slavonic invasions of Balkans 527-65

Bulgars overrun Dobrudja, Moesia and Thrace 539

Old Great Bulgaria dominant northeast of Black Sea c. 550-642

Kutrigurs invade Balkans and Greece 559

Bulgars under Lombard king Alboin invade Italy 568

Slavs attack Salonica four times 586-622

Bulgars defeat Byzantines at Anasamus 596

Seven Slav tribes control region from Yantra to Black Sea from 600

Further Bulgar migration into Italy 630

Death of Khan Kubrat of Old Great Bulgaria 642

Khan Asparukh and Bulgars established on Danube 650

Migration of Asparukh south of the Danube 679-81

Death of Asparukh 701

Bulgar Khan Tervel invades Thrace 712

Tervel signs treaty with Emperor Theodosius III 716

Tervel routs Arabs besieging Constantinople 717

Emperor Constantine Copronymus settles Armenian Paulicians in Thrace 755-62

House of Ukil overthrown and all members murdered at Pliska 761

Constantine Copronymus defeats Khan Telets at Anchialus 763

Khan Telerig flees to Byzantium 777

Empress Irene rebuilds Stara Zagora 784

Accession of Khan Krum 803

Emperor Nicephorus twice pillages Pliska 809, 811

Emperor Nicephorus defeated and slain by Khan Krum 811

Krum captures Nessebăr 812

Battle of Versinicia: Khan Krum routs Emperor Michael I 813

Sudden death of Krum 814





Khan Omurtag founds Preslav 821

Building of Aul of Omurtag 822

Omurtag invades Pannonia 827, 829

Death of Omurtag 8 31

Accession of Boris-Michael 852

Mission of Cyril and Methodius to Moravia 863

Conversion of Bulgaria to Christianity 864-65

St Cyril dies in Rome 869

Oecumenical Council in Constantinople; Bulgarian Church subordinated to Byzantium 869-70

Life and work of St John of Rila 876-946

Death of Methodius in Moravia; disciples go to Bulgaria 885

Abdication of Knyaz Boris-Michael 889

Accession of Tsar Symeon 893

War with Byzantium 894

Peace treaty signed 897

Golden Age of Old Bulgarian Literature: Preslav school flourishes c. 900

Renewal of war with Byzantium 912

Death of St Clement of Ohrida 916

Symeon reaches walls of Constantinople 924

Symeon proclaims himself Emperor and Autocrat 925

Independence of Bulgarian Orthodox Church 926

Death of Symeon 927

Magyars invade Bulgaria 934

Tomb of Mostich built, with important Slavonic inscription. Beginnings of Bogomil heresy 950

Diplomatic rupture with Byzantium 965

Russian prince Svyatoslav invades Bulgaria 967

Svyatoslav captures Great Preslav and threatens Constantinople 969

Pechenegs invade Bulgaria 970

Cosmos the Priest denounces the Bogomils c. 970

Emperor John Tzimiskes defeats Svyatoslav 971

Bulgarian tsar Boris II deposed by Tzimiskes 972

Tsar Samuel assumes Bulgarian imperial title and reigns in Macedonia 993

Samuel seizes northeastern Bulgaria from Byzantines 997

Emperor Basil II recovers Preslav region from Samuel 1001

Bulgarian army annihilated by Basil II: death of Tsar Samuel 1014

Tsar Ivan Vladislav killed at Dyrrachium; end of First Bulgarian Empire 1018





Pechenegs invade Bulgaria 1020-30

Revolt of Peter Delyan against Byzantines 1037-41

Uzes invade the Balkans 1064

General rebellion in Macedonia and Bulgaria: revolt of Georgi Voiteh 1072

Bogomil revolt in Sofia 1079

Foundation of Bachkovo monastery by Gregory Bakuriani 1083

Pechenegs in association with Bogomils ravage Balkans 1086

First Crusade crosses Bulgaria 1096

Revolt of brothers Peter and Assen at Great Tărnovo 1185

Third Crusade crosses Bulgaria 1189

Assen murdered by Ivanko 1196

Reign of Kaloyan 1197-1207

Crusaders seize Constantinople; Papal Legate re-establishes Bulgarian patriarchate 1204

Bulgarians defeat Latins near Adrianople: Emperor Baldwin captured 1205

Tsar Kaloyan assassinated near Thessalonica 1207

Church council of Tsar Boril: Bogomils condemned 1211

Boril deposed; accession of Ivan Assen II 1218

Battle of Klokotnitsa; Bulgarians defeat Theodore Angelus of Epirus 1230

Ivan Assen II rebuilds Assenova Krepost 1231

Mongols attack Bulgaria 1242

John III Vatatzes of Nicaea occupies southern Bulgaria 1246

Frescoes at Boyana painted 1259

Hungarians occupy Vidin region 1261

Emperor Michael Palaeologus occupies Black Sea ports 1263

Uprising of Ivailo the swineherd 1277

Birth of composer John Kukuzel c. 1280

Reign of Theodore Svetoslav; recovery of southern Bulgarian territories 1300-22

Shishman dynasty installed 1323

Accession of Tsar Ivan Alexander; revival of Bulgarian art and literature 1331

Khrelyo’s tower built in Rila monastery 1335

Bulgarian Manasses Chronicle copied 1344-45

Church councils held in Great Tărnovo 1350, 1360

New trade treaty with Venice 1352

London Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander copied 1355-56

Adrianople falls to Ottoman Turks 1362

Ottoman Turks capture Plovdiv; Byzantines take Anchialus 1364





Vidin occupied by Hungarians 1365-70

Amadeus of Savoy captures Nessebăr 1366

Reign of Tsar Ivan Shishman, last of the dynasty 1371-93

Euthymius elected Patriarch of Bulgaria 1375

Sofia falls to the Ottomans 1385

Ivan Shishman revolts against Turks 1387-88

Cyprian Tsamblak elected Metropolitan of Moscow 1390

Ottoman Turks capture Great Tărnovo 1393

Battle of Nicopolis; Ottoman Turks capture Vidin 1396



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