A history of the First Bulgarian Empire

Steven Runciman




Appendix VIII

Malamir and Presiam



A war has been waged by the two great authorities on ninth-century Bulgarian history, Zlatarski and Bury, over the nomenclature and the duration of the reign





of the Khan Malamir. According to Bury—who followed Jireček’s unelaborated theory—he reigned from Omortag’s death in about 831–2 till 852 (Boris’s accession), and he also had a Bulgar name, Presiam, which he discarded in the course of his reign; according to Zlatarski he reigned from 831 to 836, and was succeeded by his nephew Presiam, who reigned till 852. [1]


That Malamir existed we know, not only from inscriptions, but also from the account given by Theophylact of Ochrida, the only historian to attempt a connected account of the reigns and relationships of the Khans of Krum’s family; he clearly had access to some older source now lost. He says that Omortag had three sons, Enravotas, Zvenitzes, and Malamir (Μαλλομηρός); Malamir succeeded his father, and was succeeded by his nephew, the son of Zvenitzes; a few lines below this second item he speaks of the Bulgarian Khan as ‘ ριθὴς Βωρίσης ’ [2] — a phrase that has usually been emended as ‘ ὁ ῥηθεὶς Βωρίσης. ’ Malamir is also mentioned as Baldimer or Vladimir in the account given of the exiles of Adrianople by the Logothete: which a few lines below suddenly mentions Michael (Boris) as Khan. But all the Logothete’s information is misty; Baldimer is called the father of Symeon. [3]


This evidence provides no difficulty in assuming that Malamir was Omortag’s successor and Boris’s predecessor. But an inscription [4] found at Philippi speaks of ‘—ἀνος ὁ ἐκ Θεοῦ ἄρχων,’ who is mentioned along with the Kavkan Isbules; and Constantine Porphyrogennetus talks, far more disquietingly, of ‘ Πρεσιμ ὁ ἀρχν Βουλγαρίας, ’ who fought against the Serbians about 840. Boris-Michael was, he says, Presiam’s son. [5] Presiam, or more probably



1. Bury, op. cit., pp. 481-4: Zlatarski, Izviestiya, pp. 49 ff. Istoriya, i., I, pp. 44757 (a reply to Bury’s objections to his Izviestiya suggestions).


2. Theophylact, Historia XV. Martyrum, pp. 193, 197.


3. Leo Grammaticus, pp. 231-2 (Βαλδίμερ): Logothete (Slavonic version), pp. 101–2 (Vladimir).


4. Villoison’s inscription, see above, p. 89.


5. Constantine Porphyrogennetus, De Administrando Imperio, p. 154.





Presian or Prusian (a well-known Bulgar name), [1] seems, therefore, to have been a definite Khan, the—άνος of the Philippi inscription.


On this evidence, Bury and Zlatarski each formed his theory—and each supported it by his interpretation of the Shumla inscription, an inscription which mentions Malamir. Zlatarski rejected the ‘ ὁ ῥηθείς ’ reading in Theophylact, saying that, as Boris’s name had not yet been mentioned, it cannot be ‘ ηθείς ’; Malamir was succeeded by his nephew, certainly, but that was Presiam: while Boris, as Constantine says, was Presiam’s son. He took the sudden appearance of Michael’s name in the story of Cordyles in A.D. 835–6 to indicate a change of Khan at that point, Michael being a misprint for Presiam. With the additional aid of the Shumla inscription, he thus built up a Khan Presiam who succeeded in 836.


Bury, however, accepted the ‘ ὁ ῥηθείς ’ reading— indeed, Zlatarski provides no adequate substitute, and his complaint as to the name not having been mentioned savours of quibbling. He showed that it is odd of Theophylact to ignore utterly a reign of some sixteen years— years probably vital for the growth of Bulgarian Christianity—and to make so much of a reign of five years, or at most ten years (Omortag might have died any time after 827); and he threw reasonable doubt on the value of any argument based on the Logothete’s account. He also disagreed with Zlatarski’s version of the Shumla inscription. His solution is that Malamir was Presiam, but took the official and Slavonic name of Malamir about the year 847, just after the Philippi inscription, which he agreed with Zlatarski in dating about that period. He explained Constantine’s account of the Khan’s relationships by saying that Boris was adopted by Presiam Malamir.


Zlatarski replied by reiterating his points, and showing up a weakness in Bury’s chronology. Presiam must, in



1. Zlatarski (loc. cit.) easily shows that Presiam is more probably Presian.





Bury’s view, have changed his name between the Philippi and the Shumla inscriptions, that is to say in 847; and all the inscriptions bearing the name of Malamir must be dated in the short period 847-52. [1] Here, however, he is unfair; he only gave Malamir a reign of five years himself. He also has difficulty in believing that any Khan took an ‘official’ name in the middle of his reign.


But the main battle is over the Shumla inscription. [2] This, written (as both agree) about the year 847, tells of a Khan’s invasion of Thrace with the Kavkan Isbules. After talking of ‘ Κρομος πάππα, μου, ’ and of how ‘my father Omortag’ made peace with the Greeks and lived well (καλά) with them, it proceeds (line four, in the middle)


καὶ οἱ Γρικοὶ ἐρήμωσα

Μαλαμρ μετ() το καυχάνου σβολου ἐπ

. . . (αλα) . . . (εἰς) τος γρίκος το προβάτον το κασ


—and then proceeds to tell of obviously military operations, mentioning Isbules again in line nine with a deleted passage earlier in the line. Zlatarski supplies παρχε as the last word of line five. At the beginning of line six he says that after ‘αλα’ he can read ‘ε. . . ισεις, ’ and so supplies ‘ καλὰ ἔζησε εἰς. ’ He therefore presumes that Malamir, too, lived in peace, and the warlike operations belong to a different Khan, i.e. Presiam. On the fascimile of the inscription in the Aboba-Pliska Album (pi. xlv.) αλα and εις (the sign for ‘ ε ’ may also represent ‘ κα’ ) are clearly visible. But, if the rest of the letters that Zlatarski sees are correct, they must certainly be completed in some other manner. Bury’s objections, I think, hold good: (i.) Malamir’s ‘ καλὰ ἔζησε ’ would precede ‘ οἱ Γρικοὶ ἐρήμωσαν ’ which mark the opening of a war. (ii.) καλὰ ἔζησε does not make sense with the words that certainly follow —Zlatarski’s emendation of them is unconvincing. (iii.)



1. Actually there are only three—the Shumla, the aqueduct, and Tsepa’s memorial.


2. Aboba-Pliska, pp. 230 ff.





The mention of Isbules clearly implies military operations. All this, combined with the reference to Krum as the Khan’s grandfather and Omortag as the Khan’s father, seems to make it certain that the inscription was made by Malamir.


For this reason and for Bury’s reasons given above, I disbelieve in Zlatarski’s Khan Presiam, who reigned from 836 to 852. There is another slight reason against it. Isbules, when he made Malamir an aqueduct, is called παλαις ατο βοϊλς, so presumably he was of some considerable age, probably the doyen of the boyars. But, according to Zlatarski, the aqueduct was built before 836; but in 847 onward Isbules went out on more than one campaign. I prefer to think of him being allowed to retire when he was ‘ παλαιός ’ and not having to endure ten more years’ active service.


But I am equally doubtful of an adoption by Khan Presiam of an official Slavonic name Malamir. Rulers do not usually change their names in the middle of their reigns, except when, like Boris, they adopt a new religion. This gesture towards his Slavonic subjects on the part of the Khan makes an unconvincing story. The evidence for there having been any Khan called Presiam seems to me to be thin. The Philippi inscription is of small account; there are other words that end in ανος besides Presianos; the proper name does not always immediately precede the title ‘ ὁ ἐκ θεοῦ ἀρχν. ’ The word might well be κάνας misspelt. Constantine’s evidence is more important. But it is at complete variance with Theophylact’s, who never mentions Presiam. Constantine was here writing Serbian history taken from Serbian sources; he never correlated these passages with any work on Bulgarian history, a subject which he ignored. The Serbs, as yet a backward race, might well mistake a splendid Bulgar general for the prince himself—and to defeat the prince sounded far more impressive. Moreover, when the next prince invaded, they would naturally assume him to be the son of the former invader. The presence of





Isbules’s name on both the war-inscriptions of the time implies that Malamir himself was not the general of his armies; probably, in fact, he did not even accompany them. It is unlikely, I think, that he should spend three years campaigning in Serbia. He left no son at a polygamous Court; and so his health may well have been poor. I believe that Presiam was a high military officer of the realm, a scion, probably, of the blood royal; but he was given a princely crown and a princely son only in the ignorant imagination of the Serbs.


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