A history of the First Bulgarian Empire

Steven Runciman




Appendix V

Bulgar titles



A little light is thrown on to the administration of the early Bulgar Empire by our knowledge of the names of several Bulgar titles; though it is impossible to draw many conclusions from them, as it is difficult to tell which titles represent offices and which mere ornamental dignities.


The ruler in all his inscriptions is the Khan or the Sublime Khan—κάνας or κάννας, with the epithet βιγή or βηγη—a word which is clearly the Cuman öweghü = high, renowned. [1] The inscriptions often add the title ὁ ἐκ θεοῦ ἄρχων, probably introduced by the Greek scribes, who considered that a necessary qualification for every prince. The title of Khan disappears after the introduction of Christianity and the Slavonic alphabet, to be replaced by Knyaz, and later by Tsar.


The main class of the nobility was the boyars—βοιλάδες or βοηλάδες—a name that became general among the Eastern Slavs. In the tenth century there were three classes of boyars, the six Great Boyars, the Outer Boyars, and the Inner Boyars [2]; in the mid-ninth century there were twelve Great Boyars. [3] The Great Boyars probably comprised the Khan’s confidential Cabinet; the Inner Boyars were probably the Court officers, the Outer Boyars provincial officers. [4] Many of the individuals mentioned on the ninth-century inscriptions were boyars. The Kavkan Isbules and the Bagatur Tsepa were both boyars; but I am inclined to think that the boyars were civil officers.



1. Marquart, Die Chronologie, p. 40.


2. Constantine Porphyrogennetus, De Ceremoniis, i., p. 681. At the reception of Bulgarian ambassadors it was correct to inquire after their healths.


3. Idem, De Administrando Imperio, p. 154. They were captured along with the Crown Prince Vladimir by the Serbians.


4. I follow Zlatarski’s solution—Kvi sâ bili Vâtrieshini i Vunshni Bolyari, passim.







The second class of the nobility, probably inferior, was the bagaïns. These, I conjecture, were a military caste; but their name only occurs in inscriptions, collectively (Omortag gave his boyars and bagaïns presents on one occasion), or singly where it is usually coupled with the title bagatur. [1] In addition to these ranks, almost every Bulgarian subject commemorated on an inscription was a θρεπτς νθρωπος of the Khan. The θρεπτοὶ ἄνθρωποι were, no doubt, a rough order of knighthood, a nominal body guard of the Khans. [2]


The title bagatur—βαγατουρ or βογοτορ—is several times found on the inscriptions; while the Bulgarian general who was defeated in Croatia in 927 is called by Constantine λογοβοτουρ, obviously for λο-βογοτουρ. [3] This word is the Turkish bagadur, found in Russian as bogatyr = a hero. It probably represents a military rank. The prefix alo may mean ‘chief or ‘head’ (Bang equates it with the Turkish alp, alyp [4]) or merely be a proper name. The title vagantur, found in the list of Bulgarian legates at Constantinople in 869—70 (see below), is clearly the same as bagatur.


Colobrus—καλοβρός or κουλουβρός—found only in the inscriptions, was probably a title of rank, derived from the Turkish golaghuz, a guide. [5] The Boyar Tsepa was a colobrus as well as a bagatur.


Zhupan, once as ζουπάν and once as κοπνος, occurs in the inscriptions. On both occasions the family of the bearer is mentioned. Among the Southern Slavs generally, zhupan meant the head of a tribe; so Uspenski and Bury plausibly take it to mean the head of one of the Bulgar clans. [6]



1. e.g. those quoted in Aboba-Pliska, pp. 201–2, 190–2. Enravotas, Malamir’s brother, who was also called Boïnos, may have been a bagaïn (Theophylact, Historia XV. Martyrum, p. 193).


2. See Aboba-Pliska, pp. 204 ff. Uspenski reaches this conclusion.


3. Aboba-Pliska, pp. 190–2: Constantine Porphyrogennetus, op. cit., p. 158.


4. Marquart, op. cit., p. 40 n.


5. Ibid., p. 41.


6. Aboba-Pliska, p. 199: Bury, Eastern Roman Empire, p. 334.





Sampses—σαμψής—does not appear on the inscription, but Saint Clement’s host in Pliska was Eschatzes, σαμψ τὸ εξίωμα, two of the legates of 869—70 were sampses, and Symeon, Tsar Symeon’s brother-in-law, the ambassador in 927, was οσάμψος or οσάμψις, which is obviously a variant. [1] Presumably the sampses held a post about the Court.


The title tarkan probably represented a high military post. It was of Turkish origin; a Turkish ambassador to the Court of the Emperor Justin II (c. A.D. 570) was called tagma, ‘ ἀξίωμα δε αυτ ταρχάν. ’ [2] Onegavon, who was drowned in the River Theiss, was a tarkan; so was the Zhupan Okhsun. [3] When Saint Clement arrived at Belgrade he was greeted by Boritacanus ‘ τῷ τότε φυλάσσοντι, ’ the ‘ποστράτηγος’ of the Khan Boris. [4] Boritacanus must mean the Tarkan Boris; his position was clearly equivalent to an Imperial strategus, i.e. he was the military governor of a province. I therefore hazard the conjecture that the tarkan may be equated with the Imperial strategus. The Bulgarian provincial governors—there were ten in Boris’s reign—were called by Greek and Latin writers counts. [5] We cannot tell if this represents a translation of some Bulgar title, or if the Bulgars came to adopt the word κόμης. In 927 the Ambassador Symeon the sampses, the late Tsar’s brother-in-law, was also called the καλουτερκάνος: while polite questions were to be put to Bulgarian ambassadors in the tenth century as to the healths of their ruler’s ‘sons,’ ‘ ο κανάρτι κείνος καὶ ὁ βουλας ταρκάνος.’ [6]



1. Vita S. Clementis, p. 1224: Anastasius Bibliothecarius, ref. given below: Theophanes Continuatus, p. 413.


2. Menander, Fragmenta, p. 53.


3. Aboba-Pliska, pp. 190, 191.


4. Vita S. Clementis, p. 1221.


5. ‘ Ταριδῆνα κόμητα, ’ Theophylact, op. cit., p. 201; the Bulgar who opposed the return of the Adrianopolitan captives was the κόμης of the district (Georgius Monachus Continuatus, p. 818), the father of Samuel and his brothers was a comes (Cedrenus, ii., p. 434), νς τν παρὰ Βουλγάροις μέγα δυνηθντων κόμητο; Bulgaria was divided ‘intra decern comitatus’ (Annales Bertiniani, p. 85, ad ann. 866).


6. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 413: Constantine Porphyrogennetus, De Ceremoniis, p. 681.





I think that we must obviously equate καλοντερκανος with καναρτικεινος; both the kalutarkan and the buliastarkan were officers at the head of the tarkans, and their posts were probably reserved to members of the royal family. Bulias may be connected with the word bоyar; but by itself the identification is of little value.


The most important military officer of the realm was the kavkan. In Malamir’s reign the Kavkan Isbules, the Khan’s παλαιὸς βοϊλς (senior boyar ?) was clearly the next most important person to the Khan in Bulgaria. He built the Khan an aqueduct at his own expense and accompanied the Khan to battle, apparently as his general-in-chief. [1] In 922 we hear of Symeon being accompanied by his kavkan. [2] A century later there were two kavkans, Dometian and his brother; but they may not have been simultaneous. Dometian was captured by Basil II, and his brother soon after deserted the Bulgarian cause. Dometian was the συμπαρεδρος of the Tsar Gabriel-Radomir. [3]


The title tabare, or perhaps iltabare (the old Turkish ältäbär), [4] only occurs among the ambassadors of 869–70. The name Μηνικός occurs more than once. Symeon in 922 is accompanied μα κανκάν κα μηνικ. In 926 the Bulgarian generals Cnenus, Hemnecus, and Etzboclia invaded Serbia. In 927 the Bulgarian embassy, besides George Sursubul and the Kalutarkan Symeon, included a royal relative, Stephen, and Magotinus, Cronus, and Menicus. [5] Zlatarski makes Hemnecus a person, but Menicus a title. [6] Personally, I think that the first passage should run μα κανκάν Μηνικῷ—Menicus, miscalled Hemnecus by Constantine, being the kavkan of the period. The other names that appear in the course of the history of the First Empire we must assume, from lack of evidence to the contrary, to be proper names, not titles.



1. Aboba-Pliska, pp. 2301, 233.


2. Theophanes Continuatus, p. 401.


3. Cedrenus, ii., p. 462.


4. See Marquart, op. cit., p. 41.


5. Theophanes Continuatus, loc. cit., and p. 413: Constantine Porphyrogennetus, De Administrando Imperio, p. 158.


6. Zlatarski, Istoriya, i., 2, pp. 421–2, 475–6, 523–4.





In connection with these titles a word must be said about Anastasius Bibliothecarius’s list of the Bulgarian legates at the Council of 869–70 at Constantinople. According to him, they were ‘stasiszerco borlas nesundicus vagantur il vestrannatabare praesti zisunas campsis et Alexius sampsi Hunno[1]; ‘. . . zerco borlas’ and ‘nesundicus’ are clearly Cerbula and Sundica, the Bulgarian statesmen to whom Pope John VIII wrote a letter, and who feature in the Cividale gospel as Zergobula and Sondoke—‘borlas’ is not a misprint for ‘boëlas[2]; ‘vagantur’ is ‘bagatur,’ Sundicus’s title. ‘Il vestrannatabare’ probably is Vestranna the iltabare. Campsis and sampi are both clearly sampses. The list therefore should run ‘Stasis, Cerbula, Sundica the bagatur, Vestranna the iltabare, Praestizisunas the sampses, and Alexius Hunno the sampses’ Hunno is probably a surname. Zlatarski identifies Stasis with Peter, and Praestizisunas with the Bulgar name Presiam or Prusian. The latter identification is plausible; but the fact of Peter often appearing as Boris’s chief ambassador with regard to ecclesiastical affairs does not necessarily mean that he must be Stasis.



1. Anastasius Bibliothecarius, Praefatio in Synodum VIII., p. 148.


2. See Zlatarski, loc. cit., pp. 794-800, an appendix dealing with the question.


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