A history of the First Bulgarian Empire

Steven Runciman




Appendix VII

Leo the Armenian’s successful campaign



Historians have been unwilling to give Leo V credit even for the one successful campaign that is claimed for him—his campaign near Mesembria in 813.





This campaign is only noticed in Genesius, in Theophanes Continuatus, and in the later chronicles derived from them; the Continuator’s account is much the most detailed. Theophanes, the Scriptor Incertus, Ignatius the biographer of Nicephorus, and Georgius Hamartolus, the four contemporary, or almost contemporary, historians, mention nothing about it. Their silence has convinced Hirsch and other modern writers that the story is a myth, invented by the source that Genesius and the Continuator used, to explain the name of the place Βουνϊ Λοντος—the Hill of Leo. [1]


But, as Bury has pointed out, [2] Theophanes ended his chronicle with the capture of Adrianople, which was certainly before this campaign; Georgius Hamartolus never took any interest in external affairs: while all of them were so violently anti-iconoclastic, and therefore so disliked Leo, that their silence about an event so creditable to him is easily understood. Ignatius and the Scriptor Incertus are particularly venomous against him. On the other hand, the detailed account in Theophanes Continuatus does not seem like a later invention.


Zlatarski accepts the existence of the campaign, but places it at Burdizus (Baba-Eski) in Thrace, not near Mesembria, and dates it after Krum’s death. His reasons are: (i.) only the Continuator mentions a place in connection with the campaign, and all the accounts imply that it took place on Imperial territory; (ii.) even the Continuator says that it took place on Imperial territory; (iii.) Mesembria and its district were captured by Krum in 812; (iv.) it would hardly be possible for Leo and his army to reach Mesembria so quickly, when shortly before the troops were at Arcadiopolis. [3]


These objections depend on the assumption that Mesembria was in Bulgar hands. But there is no evidence that Krum left any garrison in Mesembria after its



1. Hirsch, Byzantinische Studien, pp. 125-6.


2. Bury, Eastern Roman Empire, pp. 356-7.


3. Zlatarski, Istoriya, i., 1, pp. 425–32, esp. p. 429.





capture; he seems merely to have destroyed it and deserted it—his usual practice with enemy fortresses—e.g. Adrianople. Whenever Mesembria reappears in history it is as an Imperial city. [1] Moreover, the coast-line of the Gulf of Burgas was not entirely ceded to Bulgaria till Theodora’s regency. [2] Mesembria was a very important town for the Imperialists: who certainly would make an early attempt to recover it; and Leo’s campaign was obviously undertaken with that object and the additional intention of then attacking Bulgaria in the flank; and the troops would be certainly moved by sea, which could be done with extreme speed if the weather was favourable. Moreover, troops working with Mesembria as their’ base would keep in close touch with Constantinople by sea, and so would suffer no shortage: whereas the countryside, ravaged by Krum in the previous year and probably uncultivated this season, might well produce no supplies to feed the Bulgarian army. I think, therefore, that Zlatarski’s objections can easily be met, and it is unnecessary to improve upon the already quite convincing account of the Continuator. The most probable date is the autumn of 813, before Krum’s death. It is, however, just possible that the campaign is the successful campaign promised to Leo by Sabbatius next year; but the story seems to show that that campaign was never undertaken. [3]



1. It certainly was Imperial when next it is mentioned, in Basil I’s reign (Theophanes Continuatus, p. 308).


2. See above, p. 90.


3. See above, p. 72.


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