A history of the First Bulgarian Empire

Steven Runciman




Appendix I

Original sources for early Bulgarian history



The original sources for a history of the First Bulgarian Empire do not, on the whole, present any great problems, except for their paucity, which obliges us to remember that we have only a one-sided account of almost every event, and that we must therefore use them cautiously, ready to discount prejudice and ignorance wherever our judgement raises our suspicions. The main sources are provided by the writers, chroniclers, hagiographers, and letter-writers of Constantinople and the Empire, writing for the most part (and after the seventh century entirely) in Greek. Indeed, with the one important exception of the Bulgarian Princes’ List, which I discuss in Appendix II, we are absolutely dependent on them until the ninth century. For the pre-Balkan history of the Bulgars we have occasional references in the rich crop of histories written during or shortly after the reign of Justinian I, such as those of Procopius, Agathias, Menander, Malalas, &c. As regards Bulgarian history these need no comment; the other problems that they raise are admirably summarized in Bury’s Appendix I to the fourth volume of his edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. From the middle of the seventh century onward till the ninth, we are almost entirely reduced to two Greek histories, those written by the Patriarch Nicephorus and Saint Theophanes, who both wrote in the early ninth century. For this period both seem to have used the same source or sources, now lost to us. This is the more unfortunate, in that both had the same strong anti-iconoclastic views. Nicephorus’s history ends in the year 769; it is a poor piece of work, clearly written with the aim







of pleasing the populace; and it is valuable only because of the general dearth of contemporary histories. Theophanes is a much abler writer; though the later part of his Chronography, which extends to 813, is so coloured by his anti-iconoclastic opinions as to leave out events that reflected credit on his opponents. The extent of his high-minded dishonesty during these last years is equalled by that of a very valuable fragment known as Scriptor Incertus de Leone Armenio, [1] a work of additional importance to students of Bulgarian history in that it deals largely with Krum’s later campaigns. Theophanes’ dating also is unsatisfactory; he employs a system of mentioning the Annus Mundi, the Indiction year, and the regnal year of the Emperor and the Calif (earlier, that of the Persian King). As each year began on a different day, the results do not always coincide as well as they should. [2]


With the ninth century our information becomes fuller, as both Latin and native Bulgarian records begin to be of value. Setting them aside for the moment, we must notice the increased activity of the Greek chroniclers towards the end of the ninth and beginning of the tenth centuries, who treated of the ninth century. The oldest is George the Monk, who based his work on Theophanes, but continued it to 842; but his ecclesiastical interests make him tend to ignore foreign politics. But the main sources for the century are two groups of chronicles, both written in the middle of the tenth century. The one consists of the history of Genesius, which extends to 886—an important but prejudiced work, bearing the obvious marks of official patronage—and the work known as the Continuation of Theophanes, Books i. to v., also written at the behest of the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetus, who himself contributed a chapter on his grandfather, Basil I; the other consists of the synoptic chroniclers, based on the



1. An example of the necessity for corroborative evidence to the Scriptor Incertus is given in Appendix VII.


2. For two periods, during most of the seventh century and again for the middle of the eighth century, hfrdatings do not coincide. See the references given above, p. 41, n. 2.





chronicle of the mysterious Logothete, who wrote a work reaching down to 948. This work is unpublished, but its Slavonic translation and the redactions of Leo Grammaticus and Theodosius of Melitene probably represent with fair accuracy its original form, and the Continuation of George the Monk is closely akin. Book vi. of the Continuation of Theophanes is, as far as the year 948, based on the Logothete, with a few current traditions added; from 948 to 961 it apparently depends on contemporary knowledge. [1]


After 961 the chroniclers again become fewer. For the reigns of Nicephorus Phocas, John Tzimisces, and the early years of Basil II we have the valuable testimony of a contemporary, Leo Diaconus. Otherwise, for Samuel’s reign and Basil II’s Bulgarian war, we are dependent solely on the chronicle written by John Scylitzes in the middle of the eleventh century, dealing with the period 811 to 1079. He derived his material from all the previous chronicles that covered the period, but claimed to have seen through their prejudices—that is to say, he introduced fresh prejudices. He also made use of one or more sources now lost to us. His work (as far as 1057) was copied out word for word (about the year 1100) by Cedrenus in an otherwise unimportant compilation, and is most easily accessible in that form. But there is also a MS. of Scylitzes copied by the Bulgarian bishop, Michael of Devol, who inserted various addenda, such as names and dates, all of great importance to Bulgarian historians, of which we would otherwise be ignorant. [2] The remaining Greek chroniclers that cover the period of the Bulgarian Empire, epitomes such as Zonaras, Manasses, Glycas, &c, are of no great importance to us here.



1. During the ‘synoptic’ period I refer to Theophanes Continuatus rather than the others, as its account is the fullest. But there are occasions when its story is embroidered by legends that must be taken with caution—e.g. over the death of Symeon, where its details run counter to the Logothete’s account. On such occasions I refer also to the older version.


2. These very important additions are tabulated in Prokič’s Zusätze in der Handschrift des Johannes Skylitzes, and further discussed in his Jovan Skilitza.





Besides the chronicles, there are throughout the period various Greek hagiographical biographies. By far the most important are the works of Theophylact, Greek Archbishop of Ochrida in the late eleventh century. Theophylact wrote a work on the early Bulgarian martyrs, and edited the life of Saint Clement, the famous apostle of Cyril and Methodius. For both of these he must have drawn on local Bulgarian traditions, and possibly written sources; and they, therefore, must rank as the first native examples of Bulgarian historical literature. There are other purely Imperial works, which by casual references throw very valuable sidelights on Bulgarian history—lives of Patriarchs such as the Vita Nicephori by Ignatius, the Vita Ignatii by Nicetas, or the very important anonymous Vita Euthymii, or of local saints such as the Vita S. Lucae Junioris, the Vita S. Niconis Metanoeite, the Vita S. Mariae Novae, &c. The incidental nature of their evidence makes it all the more reliable: though all the local biographers are sparing in their use of dates. Even more important, though few in number, are the collections of letters written by various Greek ecclesiastics and statesmen—the letters of the Patriarchs Photius and Nicholas Mysticus (the latter of immense importance for Symeon’s career) and Theophylact, of the Emperor Romanus Lecapenus, and, most interesting of all, the correspondence of the Imperial ambassador Leo the Magister, which includes some of Symeon of Bulgaria’s replies. With regard to these letters, it must all the while be remembered that their authors were engaged in politics and held strong views and desired definite results; their evidence is therefore highly partial. This is particularly true of the great Patriarchs. With these hagiographical writings must be included the List of Bulgarian Archbishops (quoted in Ducange) and the ordinances of Basil II about the Bulgarian Church after his conquest of the country. Finally, there are various Greek treatises, of which the best known and most important are the works of the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetus, especially





that strange compendium of history, ethnography, and diplomatic advice known as the De Administrando Imperio. Unfortunately and curiously, Constantine never deals directly with Bulgaria, a subject on which he must have had copious information. [1] Almost as important, in that they deal with the obscure period of Samuel’s reign, are the two treatises joined together under the name of the Strategicon of Cecaumenus, one by Cecaumenus and the other by a relative of his, probably surnamed Niculitzes. Of the authors we know little, except that their relatives played considerable parts in Basil II’s Bulgarian wars. The treatises contain a number of general precepts, with frequent citations of historical examples and precedents. There are also references to the Bulgarians in the curious Lexicon compiled in the tenth century by Suidas. [2]


The few Oriental sources must be taken in connection with the Greek. The Arab geographers took little interest in Balkan Bulgaria; and the Arab and Armenian chroniclers only repeat, very occasionally, items that trickled through to them from the Empire: though the Armenians took a flickering and unreliable interest in the adventures of Armenian soldiers in Basil II’s Bulgarian wars. Only two of the Oriental chroniclers were really interested in Balkan affairs. Eutychius, the Patriarch of Alexandria, as a Christian, kept watch on events at the Imperial Court. [3] His chronicle ends at the year 937, and he died in 940. His continuator, Yachya of Antioch, who died in 1040, is more important. When he wrote, Antioch was a Christian city under the Empire; he therefore was in touch with all the contemporary history of the Empire. He makes frequent and important references to Basil II’s Bulgarian wars; but their importance has, I think, been exaggerated. [4] Our anxiety



1. For Constantine Porphyrogennetus’s works, see Bury’s commentaries, the treatise De Administrando Imperio, and The Ceremonial Book.


2. There is also an unsatisfactory but clearly significant reference to the Bulgarians in Gameniates’s description of the sack of Thessalonica.


3. e.g. his interest in Symeon’s marriage scheme. See Appendix X.


4. By Rosen, who practically discovered him, and by Zlatarski. Uspenski and Schlumberger take a more temperate view.





for additional evidence for this dark period should not blind us to the fact that Yachya is undeniably muddle-headed about Bulgarian affairs, e.g. on the relations between the Comitopuli and the sons of Peter, of which he obviously had no clear idea himself; his information probably came from hearsay and underwent alterations before it reached Antioch. Yachya’s great value lies in his accuracy on Basil’s eastern campaigns, his clear dating of which enables us to amend the dating of the Bulgarian campaigns. Latin sources are non-existent till the ninth century: except for those early Imperial historians—e.g. Ennodius or the Goth Jordanes—who occasionally mention the pre-Balkan Bulgars. In the ninth century the westward expansion of Bulgaria resulted in connections with the Western Empire. The Carolingian chroniclers begin to make simple, but well-dated, references to Bulgarian wars and embassies. After the coming of the Hungarians at the end of the century these references practically cease. However, the conversion of Bulgaria and Boris’s ecclesiastical policy brought the country into close relations with Rome, and for a while Papal correspondence lights up Bulgarian history. Most important among these is the long letter written by Nicholas I to answer Boris’s questions as to the desirability of various Bulgarian habits and customs. At the same time, Bulgarian affairs are recorded in the official lives of the Popes. [1] After Boris reverted to the Eastern Church these Papal sources soon cease, but occasional mention is still made of the Bulgarians in Italian chroniclers, e.g. Lupus Protospatharius, who wrote at the Imperial city of Bari, and in Venetian and Dalmatian writers, especially when, in Samuel’s reign, Bulgarian influences extended up the Adriatic, and later, retrospectively, by the first Hungarian historians. Besides these chroniclers and ecclesiastical writers, there is one Latin author who, from his personal



1. Information on the Bogomils is given fitfully in various of the later Latin authors who wrote on the Albigenses; but they lie somewhat outside of our scope.





experience of politics in the East, deserves special mention, Liudprand, Bishop of Cremona, whose relatives and who himself went often on embassies to Constantinople. Liudprand was a gossipy and unreliable historian with a taste for sensational rumours; but he was a contemporary, he liked vivid details, and, until his second embassy, he was interested and unprejudiced. He therefore ranks among the most important authorities.


The Slavonic sources are few, but most of them are of great importance. I deal with the Princes’ List below; apart from it we have no Slavonic evidence on Bulgarian history till the Conversion. The literature of the Conversion of Moravia, the lives of Cyril and of Methodius, touch on Bulgarian affairs, and are the beginnings of a stream of Slavonic hagiographical writings, all of considerable importance. For the First Empire I would cite particularly the Life of Saint Nahum, and, to a less degree, The Miracles of Saint George. The birth of Bulgarian literature naturally introduces a valuable new element, though most of the works were merely translations from the Greek. [1] But prefaces and epilogues supply, not only an occasional date, but also a picture of the civilization at the time; there are also original works of great significance, such as Khrabr’s and Kozma’s. I have dealt with them more fully above (p. 139). In addition to these sources there is the important Russian chronicle known, certainly wrongly, as The Chronicle of Nestor. It is derived partly from a Bulgarian translation of George the Monk and his continuator, partly from various Greek and Slavonic religious writings, partly from oral information and native Russian records. [2] Where it touches on Bulgarian history its value is obvious; but it also requires notice with regard to its dating, which I discuss in connection with the Princes’ List. The native writings of the Bogomils,



1. These Slavonic hagiographical works have been carefully edited by various Slavonic savants, and any problems that they present are there discussed.


2. For ‘Nestor’s’ sources, see the preface to Léger’s La Chronique dite de Nestor.





though for the most part they belong to a later date, are important for the light that they throw on the political situation of the sect.



Besides the literary sources, there are various archaeological sources. By these I mean the excavations that have been undertaken at various important old Bulgarian sites. Those at Preslav-on-the-Danube have produced little results, but at Pliska the work has thrown great light on the civilization of the ninth-century Khans. The work at Great Preslav has not yet produced results of the value that had been hoped. I also include in these sources the inscriptions written in crude Greek by which the ninth-century Khans recorded on columns or stones various events of importance. The significance of these sources is obvious. [1] It is always possible that new excavations and the discovery of more inscriptions may necessitate considerable emendations in our present knowledge of early Bulgarian history.



1. The Pliska excavations and most of these inscriptions have been fully recorded in the volume Aboba-Pliska, compiled by MM. Uspenski and Shkorpil.


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