THE BULGARIAN NATIONALITY IN THE XV CENTURY
A Demographic and Ethnographic Study

CHRISTO GANDEV

Summary

The purpose of this book is to throw light upon both the demographic and ethnographic status of the Bulgarian nationality in the XV century. That is possible owing to the Ottoman feudal inventories and tax registers concerning the Bulgarian territories, the inventories being made up in the course of the different decades of the XV century. The author has taken into consideration all pertinent texts published and put in scientific circulation.

The basic Turkish archival funds concerning this matter have been assessed by the Turkish archivists and historians as an exclusive achievement of a considerable state and administrative maturity of the Ottoman feudal order which organized the subdued peoples on the Balkan Peninsula within the framework of a huge Empire in a manner unknown before. These documents do have extremely rich contents and it is for this reason that they are being published in Turkey as well as in our country, in Yugoslavia and in Greece. But this does not justify the scientific prejudice so created regarding the Turkish authorship of the registration system in question and regarding its uniqueness. This could be maintained only if the Byzantine feudal (fief) and tax administrative-territorial registration, well-known according to hundreds of documents in good preservation dating back from the XI to the XV century and used fairly well in all Balkan countries, is ignored. It is not a novelty in the least but a phenomenon with which the population has been familiar for centuries on end. And it is this very ancientness that attaches a comparatively greater documental strength to the information expressed in figures in the feudal inventory lists. The very initial Turkish description was based on the preceding Bulgarian feudal-administrative division, which was extremely uneven, with complicated configurations and boundaries messed about to a great extent. The Ottoman financial officials would not have been able to make up their registers if they had not used locally the Byzantine and Bulgarian documentation. The Ottoman registers continue the tradition of this sort of giving an account to the state concerning the taxable part of the population and the economic units (projects).

In the first section of the book light is thrown upon the influence of the Ottoman Conquest and the colonization of Bulgarian territories with Turkish population and with population that had been rendered Turkish; the consequences are pointed out resulting from these changes and influencing the status and the further development and fate of the Bulgarian nationality.

As a fundamental source can be used the documents concerning the condition of the settlement (colony) system and the degree of peopling of the country in the XV century.

A wide-ranged analysis like this is being done for first time, the method of the living organic watching of the process of the compact demographic status being used. In this way the characteristic of the individual geographic districts is found out.

The reader should not forget that the whole of the XV century will be presented before him because the conquering and the settling of this country by the Turks is not a single act taking place in the course of five or ten years, but an extremely long lasting process which took place between the fifties of the XIV century and the eighties of the XV century.

1304 villages in total have lost their population and become deserted in the course of that time, this involving 280 360 persons or 56 072 households five members each, the rate being 43 (3) households in a village. These inhabitants were partly exterminated, partly abducted as captives or slaves out of the country, partly deported (resettled) beyond the Danube by the chieftains of Wallachia and Moldavia.

Similar was the fate that afflicted the citizens all over the country. The towns put up resistance to that after the destroying of the Bulgarian state but that time it was done with the help of local forces. The resistance was continuous and tenacious in some places. Some towns and smaller fortresses were either taking part in local uprisings or were passing to the side of the anti-Turkish Crusaders' armies, organized by the West and Middle European countries, aided by the Wallachians (Rumanian) rulers. But the striving of the towns to escape from the Ottoman Conquest aggravated their fate down to their thorough catastrophe. Most of them were captured by assault, and others surrendered at the last moment having lost every hope for success. But all of them had the same disastrous end. Their strongholds were pulled down to such an extent that they could be no more used as defensive facilities, all public buildings being pulled down together with them. Not only the defenders of every stronghold but partly also men capable of carrying arms were, slayed right on the spot, the purpose of this being to subdue the spirit of resistance of the population. Those who survived were robbed of everything beforehand and then led into captivity and slavery of the country. In most of the cases the city residential quarters were either destroyed or set on fire. All that was done for a lot of reasons of both military and political nature.

One of the major reasons was to deprive completely the subdued nationality of its economic strength, political experience and social authority of the native inhabitants in order to render the rest of the Bulgarians into a submissive and-completely defenceless mass. That is why a special section treats the matter concerning the destroying of the native inhabitants of the major towns and a considerable number of minor ones. This both historical and demographic fact is very essential. The problem concerning the further fate of the Bulgarian nationality has been solved by its help. We have always to bear in mind that the population of the towns, information about which we can find in the registers from the XV century, is a secondary one, almost thoroughly new, having come in large numbers from villages either voluntarily or by force on the part of the Turks but their number was comparatively smaller than the original one. This difference in number discloses the whole strength of the demographic catastrophe which overtakes the towns in economical, administrative and cultural respect. They play no more their former part. As an example in this connection we can point out Silistra, Shoumen, Tirnovo, Vidin, Stara Zagora, Plovdiv, Sofia, Kyustendil, Skopje, Ohrid, Syar and other towns.

The Ottoman state did not create any new towns because it overtook a widely developed system of towns which could not even be utilized by the conquerors. That is why till the end of the XV century some towns were still uninhabited ruins and others turned into villages.

In a number of settlements (colonies) of the urban type and first of all in the major towns the Ottoman authorities accommodated quickly its colonists (settlers) who lent step-by-step a Turkish demographic and architectural appearance of the settlements.

For the reasons mentioned above the system of Bulgarian towns established before was destroyed and its economic and social potential brought down practically to naugth.

So the total number of the disappeared Bulgarian population is 360 000 people or 68 000, households 5 members each (without considering the Greek population in the country).

Why was all that done? The Ottoman human powers and material sources were insufficient for an immediate and quick breaking of the resistance on the part of the Balkan countries and peoples as well as for an economic and colonizers' assimilation of their lands. An obstacle for that were also the European anti-Turkish crusading armies which not for once had defeated the Turks; another hindrance were their own Ottoman struggles among dynasties and mutual destructive wars, the catastrophic failures of the Turks in their fight against other more powerful invaders in Asia Minor being another obstacle. There were periods of time when it was quite problematic for the Ottomans whether to remain or not. It is only natural that all those conditions made the conquerors desire to reinsure in their estates in Asia Minor, delaying the campaigns in the Balkan countries. That is why the subjugating of those countries was carried out in individual shorter phases within the limits of long intervals of time only under favourable political conditions. Every successful march brought along riches from the ruined towns and villages as well as scores of thousands of people, abducted as captives. They were used in different "ways. Most of them were sold as slaves somewhere at the markets of Asia Minor and Levanta. In this way the living persons were directly turned into financial resources, so much needed by both the Sultan, the generals and their officers. Other lots of captives were either employed as man-power in the feudal fiefs in Asia Minor or kept available at any time for the purposes of doing various artisan's jobs in some towns, in the army's rear and the Navy. It was an everyday occurrence for these slaves to serve as personal servants of the officers. All the captives who had remained for good in the conqueror's hands were slaves by civil statute; and the slaves had to adopt the Islam and the Turkish ways and manners of life. When slaves proved to de good workers they could be set free in order to be included into the Turkish nationality. In that way the Ottoman masses increased in number. In that way funds were accumulated as well as hands for the craftsmanship and unskilled working population, requisite for the preparation of the following military march. It is for this very reason that the Sultans and their generals considered necessary the capturing of large lots of peasants and citizens.

By these actions of theirs they were aiming at another important target too. After the forties of the XV century it was already sure for the Ottoman state that it would consolidate its hold if the Bulgarian lands which would be the natural and necessary hinterland of Constantinople [Tzarigrad]. It had already been determined as Byzantine capital and its becoming a residence (head office) of the Sultan was forthcoming. But the Ottoman authorities could not set up for sure without having adopted special measures. First of all the ethnical mass of the Bulgarians had to be reduced, a part of it being taken from it by force, releasing in this way a free space for Turkish colonies. They had to organize in separate places continuous blocks of settlers or at least considerable groups among the Bulgarians. The Turkish power had to be supported by its colonists who had taken up a strategic position not only in villages but in towns too. In this way was colonized the Eastern part of the Bulgarian territories, Aegean Thrace and a part of the Macedonian district. By that the colonization abilities of the Ottomans were exhausted.

The number of the settlers was not particularly large. It could not compensate the losses caused by the disappearance of the Bulgarian population. That is why the conversion to Mohammedanism of the Christians was applied continuously all over: in towns as well as in villages. These measures were of a particular importance in the towns, where not only a social support of the authorities had to be created, but a mass of artisans to provide for the urban economy and to satisty the needs of the Turkish landowners, living in a certain district. The Islamization is a political principle, sanctifield even by the Koran, which provided for a sacred war to be carried against the Christians, since they are infidels, doomed to extermination. That policy was efficient, because "those infidels" were deprived of elementary human rights. Wishing to save their life and property, their constant subsistence on the handicrafts, they were compelled to adopt the Islam, which altered suddenly and radically their legal and social position. In the middle of the XVI century in the Macedonian district may be half of the Turkish population in the towns was of Christian origin. The calculation concerning the remaining districts is available up to the seventies of the XV century and that is why the percentage of the Bulgarians converted into Mohammedans was between 20 and 30 per cent. But our criterion is of such a nature it concerns only the first generation of persons converted into Mohammedans, i.e. those who had been Christians and in the course of their lives have changed their while the following generations which are the sons or the grandsons of those made Turkish, are beyond any calculation.

The total value in figures of the human losses that the nationality has suffered is not measured only in absolute figures. That value should be brought into proper correlation with the total number of the population available towards the end of. the XV century (Bulgarian population, of course). The main document that we can use for the purposes of our calculations are the accounting pay rolls (pay bills) of the Ottoman fisc concerning the tax imposed on the Christians (the so called "djizie") towards 1490. After the analysis of this document the following figures are obtained: 890 000 people in 178 000 households. Upon comparing these figures with the losses of population, established hereabove 360 000 in 68 000 households it is evident that the nationality has suffered a demographic catastrophe towards the end of the XV century.

That is a real biological collapse of the nationality, which had an all-round influence on the development in the course of all the following centuries. A settlement and population vacuum is created and it does not disappear in the XVI and even in the XVII centuries.

By just adding in a total amount the figures 890 000 plus 360 000 people, it is not possible to calculate how much the Bulgarian population was in the XIV century and then in the XV century. This adding operation will be of no statistic value. That is because we are not aware of the distribution of losses of population in the XIV century and then in the XV century. Besides we are completely not aware of the absolute accretion of the population in the two centuries mentioned, the accretion being calculated per one thousand people. That is why we would prefer to leave the two statistic values in an ordinary juxtaposition.

However, the importance of the above mentioned data with respect to the future development of the nationality, is quite a different matter. If all the other conditions of the Ottoman domination over the Bulgarian territories till the Liberation of Bulgaria were unchanged, the loss amounting to 360 000 together with its natural increase during the centuries of slavery, would enable the nationality to come to the total of some 13 000 000 people.

We can fix the debulgarizing of the country conditionally at about 30 per cent. It gave birth to a number of internal transmigration movements, which started towards the end of the XV century and lasted till the Liberation from the Ottoman domination. Those movements were directed basically and mainly to the most depopulated and debulgarized regions, which are peopled for the second time mainly with peasants, who have come in large numbers from the regions not so much affected. In this way is partly renovated the population of North-West Bulgaria, of almost the whole of North-East Bulgaria, Northern Thrace, South-East Thrace and Aegean Thrace. The individual regional ethnographic groups mingled and new conditions were created for an integration of the nationality, where the regional characteristic features with respect to living conditions and culture blended and fused together. Almost unchanged remained only the big mass of the population in the middle part of West Bulgaria and the district around Blagoevgrad Nevrokop [Goce Delchev]. They were most densely and compactly populated and not affected by the Ottoman colonization in the villages. That is why the ethnographic and the folklore appearance of this district is more homogeneous and with a more intensive traces of the old. In the area mentioned above, is preserved a continuous ethnographic environment in its original appearance, for instance, from the XIV century. Other transmigration movements of a more limited range can be mentioned too. Here are two of them that are more typical. Somewhere in the period between the end of the XIV and the beginning of the XV century a group of the Paulician [Pavlikeni] population left the district of Plovdiv and resettled in the Northern part of Bulgaria where a number of villages and towns were formed. And in the XVI century a considerable number of peasants from the middle part of West Bulgaria settled on the uncultivated lands in the Eastern part of North Thrace.

The lack of a considerable part of the old inhabitants of the villages who had taken care of the agricultural work and in addition to that the old townspeople with their commercial capital, experience in crafts, material production basis and organization, had a very hard effect upon the economic condition of the country. The latter degraded from the economic point of view, the rate of production was reduced. As the producer was not in a very safe position in connection with his life he had not the particular desire to increase the yields. The high-ways and the markets concealed a lot of dangers. A dire necessity could be felt for (of) artisans. This backwardness was overcome in a slow and painful manner from XVI century on and it was done only with the interference of external economic factors since the Turks had no commercial funds available, no people, no time to be occupied with agriculture. They were constantly busy with military marches that absorbed the feudal rent, collected by the state as well as considerable human resources. That is why the Ottoman feudal power (authorities) transferred the restoration and development of the economy into the hands of the Jewish merchants, who in the last years of the XV century were admitted to the Empire and settled in groups in almost all towns possessing the rights of privileged municipalities. They came with certain funds available which were necessary for the commercial activities, they had a rich experience in organization, in creating and keeping connections with the producers, experience in arranging caravans for export of goods of agricultural origin to the European markets with which they were already familiar. A part of the Jewish settlers gave rise to some new crafts.

The merchants from Dubrovnik played an analogical positive part in the Bulgarian economy in the beginning of the XVI century. They built a wide network of colonies in the cities, established storehouses of their own and surrounded themselves with hundreds of constant Bulgarian agents and second successive buyers of goods from the villages. For the purposes of those activities being done, it was, of course, natural that the Ottoman authorities and their officials ruling the districts should maintain more or less the economic order and security as conditions, necessary for commerce. The activities of the Jewish and the Dubrovnik merchants were the factor, maintaining that order that untied the initiative of the farmers and the city artisans.

The Bulgarian people could use but a minimum of those favourable consequences of the renewed economic development, the reason for that being simple and namely the feudal rent and the feudal taxes were exported out of the country in order to satisfy the needs of the Empire, which were always great and not sufficiently satisfied. In this way a constant flowing out of people's wealth took place that intensified the continuous process of impoverishment.

Towards the end of the XIV century Bulgarian nationality represented by itself an organized integrity which was supported by number of mainstays. One of them was the tsar's power and the boyars. In spite of the fact that their power had a reverse effect because of its class-exploiting character it was a sort of connecting link. Together with the disappearance of the rulers and the feudals, their linking influence ceased to exist. But the disintegration of the social links got more complete with the disappearance of the hereditary city population, i.e. merchants and artisans with whom the peasants had often been in business and social intercourse. The city itself had lost its power of attraction as a centre of the region since it could function no more as the common bond that tied together the Bulgarian nationality. The Turks established themselves as a ruling nationality in it. The peasants felt somehow alien, frightened and depressed in that sort of city. We should not forget that this change affected not only the large cities but the small ones too, on the basis of which the administrative-territorial system had been built before the invasion of the Turks. In the XV century these centres either lost their importance of ruling places or were destroyed in the majority of cases. Thus Bulgaria of the Middle Ages was deprived of the linking social elements and disintegrated, losing at the same time its social orientation and the sense of integrity, security and dignity.

The insecurity of the Bulgarian was increased because one more support was lost that was the church. It was affected catastrophically, the monasteries being in the first place. They were robbed of everything, destroyed and deserted. It is with difficulty a monastery can be found that has not been affected by the devastation in the XV century, from Rila and Batchkovo monasteries (Rilsky and Bachkovski) to the smallest mountain cloisters. This concerns the lands of the East and Middle Bulgaria in particular. And monasteries played an important part in the spiritual life of the medieval man.

The system of the town churches was destroyed too, the churches becoming the victim of the deliberate anti-Christian and Islamisation policy of the Turks. That is why almost all of the medieval churches in the towns disappeared and they were never again restored. The divine services could be done in the private houses in. various quarters, that being the priest's house most often, who was at the same time an artisan. That physical, political and moral destroying of the church was overcome partially and slowly from the XVI century on and that was on the initiative of the people's masses. It was they that with their own means, labour and intercession succeed to a certain degree in strengthening this cultural institution.

If we summarize all consequences of the Ottoman conquest above-mentioned, we shall get a complicated and intricate pattern of deformation processes, influencing the Bulgarian nationality. In short, the Ottoman conquest and the subsequent Ottoman colonization delivered a very strong blow on the Bulgarian nationality, tearing off in this way for ever alive flesh and spirit from it. In the course of the centuries to come the Bulgarian nationality had to surmount the impact by which it had been thrown off back to the past and to recreate, as the master of its own destiny, again an independent society (within the limits of the Ottoman feudal state), bearing the endowments of the new in all manifestations of life.

The formation of the Turkish nationality takes place in the XIV XV centuries as a complicated process of forcible or voluntary conversion into Mohammedans and into Turks of a great number of national and ethnic (tribal) groups in Asia Minor. It is natural that in this Ottoman multitude one of the numerous components is the Byzantinized Christian population in the front part of Asia Minor. But the migrated to Bulgarian territories Ottoman-turkish ethnical groups and the congeneric Turkish tribes, known as Juruks (a general conditional name), suffer the secondary ethnical influence of the environment in which they get to live. The Islamization of the considerable groups of Bulgarians, Albanians, Greeks and Serbians complicate the national physiognomy of the local Turks. They acquire quite evidently some new ethnographic features, in material life (agriculture, cattle-breeding, home life), in customs and some elements of popular art (folklore). In this way the Ottoman Turks from the relevant Bulgarian districts become intimate either with the Bulgarian population or with Greeks and Albanians. And this local peculiarity of the Turks differentiates them considerably from their Asia Minor fellow countrymen.

Today, looking backwards, though grieved at the demographic and ethnographic changes that took place in the XIV and XV centuries, we are able to discuss them from an unbiased and scientifically objective point of view. But the Bulgarians living at that time could only suffer that national tragedy, suffer and endure it incessantly for a whole century. This tragedy has resulted in the social and moral shock that came upon the people's conscience.

The Bulgarians were losing numbers decade after decade until in the end the heavy balance got down to 680 000 people. All these people were driven away from their dwellings; lost their families, their property were sent away in capture and slavery, were subjected to conversion into Mohammedans, were sold at the markets as if they were cattle. Husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters separated for good. That destiny impended on those survived the disaster too; the disaster could overtake them during the following years.

On the basis of this social and moral shock the people's artistical imagination creates in the XV century a folklore, reflecting the misfortune of the people in all its aspects. This folklore has quite an open social and historical contents with a clear political tendency. The oral song tradition involves two ranges of themes. The first one can be called conditionally "Krali Marko (or some other hero) sets free three chains of slaves"; the second range covers songs about life of the people and it depicts all possible tragic situations in the private life of the individual families, parents or children. These songs were in the course of centuries widely spread in hundreds of versions which have been preserved up to this day. This is a sort of phenomenon that has no parallel in the folklore of the rest of the Southern Slavs. The contents of the songs reveals a social and phsychological feature in the spirit of the people. This accounts for a bitter awareness of the permanent presence of the evil and the necessity of its daily neutralizing. A tragic feature leaves a deep trace in the world outlook of every Bulgarian and this is related to the sense of self-defense and locking into one's own self. The severe result of this feature is the rebuff against the conqueror/weapon in hand, this being a constant vital reflex (reflex of life).

In this section we transfer our attention to the alive and survived part of the nationality, which bears single-handed the historical development during the following centuries.

Our documental material enables the raising and solving of several problems of different nature.

The first problem concerns the structure of the peasant family as a social and economic unit of the just ruined state and under the conditions of the Ottoman feudal system. The normal and absolutely everywhere existing in the Turkish feudal inventory lists, family unit, is the small family husband, wife and children (1 3). Rare are the cases where there are grandparents. Data whatsoever are absent as to the existence of the so called large family, united family, community or clan. What matters more is that this family structure was not provoked by any changes arisen under the Turkish domination, but it was existing as early as in the XIII century, according to the older Byzantine inventory lists. Their analysis reveals that statistically the average number of the members of one household is 5 persons, i.e. as much as it is in the Turkish feudal inventories from the XV century on. This number members in one household has been accepted by all research workers Ottomanists. It corresponds to the realistic figure concerning the population of Bulgaria by the end of the XVIII century. This rate is closely connected to the area covering the village fields and to the extremely low degree of a natural reproduction (increase) of the population because of the high death rate among children and adults in the Middle Ages. So that the complicated family forms of a great number of members in our country are rather late occurrences, related to economic reasons, resulting from the abolishing of the spahi feudal system and the striving of the peasants to cultivate larger quantities of free land. Still in the XIX century the complicated family patterns are not a rule but a local phenomenon in some districts, in separate villages and even among separate groups of families in the villages.

From the detailed feudal inventory lists concerning the villages and involving the names of the heads of households it is evident that in the medieval village under Ottoman rule there is no explicitly mentioned person or institution to take care of the social arrangements. Maybe some sorts of village organs were set up locally in the XVI century, particularly in the districts not affected by the Ottoman colonization, where it was not possible to support a Turkish official, representing and exercising power. But during the period of time in which we are concerned, it is evident from the lists that the people of consequence and well-to-do people rank in the initial places. The village priests are among them very often but they are not mentioned everywhere.

Out of the features of material culture in the country of a particular importance is the fact that the production of cereals (in their variety) has the following gradation. In the first place are the different sorts of wheat, followed by barley and oats, then rye and then millet is mentioned in the fifth place. This shows that the millet, so widely spread among the Slav people, has for a long time receded in the background. It is not even mentioned at all in some regions and districts.

Correspondingly a wide system of water-mills was developed in all villages and towns. Mass destroying or deserting of those mills is apparent in the most devastated districts of the country, where the households have probably used their domestic millstones.

From the vegetable crops the population was not familiar only with peas or at least those accounts are not mentioned. Despite this fact the land-owners from the most Southern districts had for a long time produced rice, cotton, anise and olives; silkworms were bred. Vines were widely spread in all those regions which are known even today as wine-producing, although the vineyards occupied small areas.

The information available concerning cattle-breeding is rather scarce and superficial. This creates the impression that this branch was fairly ruined and from that time on was restored.

* * *

The Slav-Bulgarian tradition in the Christian names may be used for cultural-historical and sociological interpretations which we could not attain otherwise because of the almost complete lack of other sources concerning the matters of our concern. As we use for the first time in the ethnographic science antroponymic material in a mass statistical scale as a means of cognition, the methodic arrangement of the investigation is of interest. The new method concerns the statistical bases of the antroponymic characteristics of the population combined with a historical and ethnographic evaluation. In this way the outstanding and dominating elements regarding some aspects of life and culture, get to the foreground; the national antroponymic structure of the XV century is defined. Structure involves the unintentional and invisible rules and regulations, valid for the whole country which maintain the priority in usage of one and the same names everywhere. In this case the antroponymic structure is dominated by five name stems: Rad-, Drag-, Stan-, Dobr- and Brat- with their variants which are over and above 200. It is evident that a considerable part of the population maintains a conservative, regularly transferred tradition in the intensive usage of these name stems. As a matter of fact this is a sort of manifestation of national preference. But those same name stems and variants have a moral and magic meaning for the personality as well as for society: they imply virtues, fighting qualities; they protect from disease and death.

In some individual cases the names and worships of some saints who also occupy wide place in the repertory of names, can serve as an indicator of specific phenomena in folk culture. Such is the case with the worship of St. Petka of Tirnovo which seems to have extinguished the people's worship to Kliment and Naum and to Cyril and Methodius.

The book closes with an account of the observations of the manifestations of conscious limitation of Bulgarians from the neighbouring and far off peoples (without mentioning the Turks here), with which they lived in peaceful coexistence or which he knows from fragmentary information. The national consciousness of Bulgarians is clearly fixed on the whole ethnical territory, distinguishing from the neighbouring peoples.

At the same time in the XV century completely arc missing the demarcating district names and geographic concepts from both the administrative documentation and practice, the names being such as Macedonia, Moesia and Thrace. Macedonia is not mentioned in the earliest centuries of the Middle Ages too. Instead of those concepts a popular terminology existed for meaning districts and far off regions, this terminology being used in administrative statements (acts). It is almost one and the same for all districts. Such were the words "Zagorie" (from beyond the mountains) and "Zaplanina" (from beyond the mountains) which occur also in the South-West part of the Macedonian district, in the Rhodopes district, in Thrace and in North-West Bulgaria. This departing from the official Byzantine geographic and historical terminology is rather significant. It is an indication of a uniform national approach to the district designations, which is related to roads and passages for caravans, uniting the separate parts of the country in a common system.
 

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