Political geography of the mediaeval Bulgarian state.
Part II. From 1186 to 1396
A critical analysis, a juxtaposition of sources to hand and a variety of data show more completely the territorial side of development of the Bulgarian State as it was restored in 1186 after a century and a half of Byzantine rule. The precise localization of events and sites, its territorial structure and distribution, etc., clearly show that directly after her restoration Bulgaria took up her essential tasks: to set free all lands inhabited by the same Bulgarian population and unite them into the formerly existing and successfully developing political, economic and cultural community. The continuity of the latter as regards the restored Tsardom was emphasized not only by the name Bulgaria and the express manifestations in this sense of the new rulers, but also by a series of circumstances among which the following stand out:
1. The almost complete territorial coverage of their initial nuclei — along both banks of the Lower Danube, and the reestablishment of the State centre in Lower Moesia.
2. The identity of institutions and practices of the central power and of the military and administrative structure of the organization, government and defence of the State.
The latter becomes clearly apparent from the preservation of the central (capital) region and the provincial divisions which were already called chorae (“lands” or “regions”) instead of comitates and in the comptete similarity apparent in the manner of securing the capital, its region and the frontiers of the State in general. This was accomplished to the north by territories left at the disposal of an alien but allied and sub-ordinate population (Kumanians, and laler Ungrowallachians, Brodnici, Tartars, etc.), who had replaced the Pacinaks, while in other directions, by the provincial subdivisions of a complex and concentric system of graded lines of strongholds built in all parts of the country which performed the functions of the old fortifications (earthworks, etc.).
Last, but not least, in elucidating this continuity an important circumstance should be borne in mind: the restored Tsardom was immediately joined by the old Bulgarian population together with the aliens, who had intensely undergone the influence of the Bulgarians and their culture in the territories between the Carpathians and the Lower Danube, had not been subjected by the Byzantines or the Hungarians, and had taken an active part in the struggle for the liberation of their fellow-countrymen south of the great river. This was a regular and natural consequence which can be explained not only from the point of view of nationality, but also by the failure to appreciate to the full the fact that in these lands, in the 11th and 12th centuries the old formations of local self-government had not ceased to exist as a emanation of the Bulgarian State; they had been created in the structural and defence system of the Tsardom before it had been conquered in 1018. What is more, the data show that they survived after the restoration of the Tsardom's central government with the same purpose of creating conditions for drawing the alien population into the defence of the Tsardom on a very vulnerable part of the frontier and securing auxiliary detachments for the Tsar’s army.
Regardless of the essential preservation of the old, well-tried and established institutions and methods of governing and defending the State — a matter which has not been sufficiently elucidated in the history of the Bulgarian State law — certain differences between the former and the restored Tsardom are to be observed. On the one hand, they should be attributed to a certain impact which the imperial order had had during Byzantine rule, although the data indicate that actually these borrowings had been highly influenced by the changed local conditions and the marked striving to Bulgarianize them. On the other hand, above ail, the changes in the organization or rather the structure of the Tsardom were due to the already very advanced phase of socioeconomic relations in which the break away of the boyars. now rapidly advancing at the expense of the central government, played a special role, a feature which accompanied the development of feudalism.
Some of the Tărnovo tsars contributed much to intensifying this process by their personal policy of favouring their relatives, providing them with funds, ceding to them some of their prerogatives as rulers. their rights, etc. At the same time the tsars distributed lands and administrative posts to some of the more important notables with a view to ensuring their support in the defence and government of the State. Under the circumstances thus created, some of the important nobles turned the territories, offices and rights they had been given into hereditary ones, thus further strengthening their economic and political positions. Eloquent examples of this policy were Dobromir Hriz and the Comnenes in Macedonia, the Terters in the Dobrudža. the descendants of the Asenids in the Vidin region and other boyars in the northwestern regions, Ungrowallachian voivodes in the lands across the Danube, etc.
Along with the growing separatist strivings of the eminent boyars. the structural changes in the Bulgarian State and certain external factors also contributed to weakening the central government. Only quarter of a century after the restoration and the advance achieved under the first Asenids which brought back Bulgaria s outstanding position in the Balkans, from 1242 onwards the tsardom fell into a decline
and was subjected to tributary dependence on the Tartar invaders, losing a considerable part of its territory, seized by its neighbours in the same decade.
These changes were reflected not only on a number of military and administrative units but also on the essential relationships between the rulers, they weakened the central government and also considerably affected the defence of the country. Whole units from the system of fortifications of the capital dropped out, the local defence lines withdrew still closer to it, the Tsar's army was steadily reduced in numbers, while the participating auxiliary detachments of the subject population (Kumanians, Ungrowallachians, “Jassi”, etc.) and the mercenary allies (Tartars and the separatist boyars and voivodes) gradually came to demand increasingly greater concessions on the part of the Tărnovo ruler. In some cases he was even forced to cede territories to them or recognize their greater independence. all this increased decentralization in the Bulgarian State which also decisively weakened its power and changed its character as a united State.
Because of the dismemberment of the Tărnovo Tsardom the political history of the lands, which formerly formed part of it and were inhabited by a predominantly Bulgarian population, had in the last century and a half become chiefly the history of several feudal domains.
Judging by certain source data (such as titling the rulers of the Prilep, Dobrudža and Vidin domains Bulgarian tsars, despots, etc.) and particularly by the almost completely preserved “Bulgarian” character and organization of the Ungrowallachian and Moldavian Voivodates which continued to exist after the destruction of the Tărnovo Tsardom (i. e. in the 15th and following centuries), the conclusion should be drawn that in the 13th and 14th centuries all the remaining feudal domains in the Bulgarian lands south of the Danube were indisputably Bulgarian not only in national composition and general aspect but also in the organization introduced in them by force of the centuries-old traditions of the Bulgarian State. The degree of the great development and the firm establishment of these traditions are clearly apparent in certain sources materials and the documents which have come down to us which indicate that the order in the Bulgarian Tsardom and its institutions greatly influenced the other Balkan countries. This can be observed and traced in the Greek Empire of Salonika-Epiros over which Theodore Comnenus ruled, where “barbarian”, i. e. Bulgarian customs and order (according to G. Acropolites) were introduced. and in the Serbian Kingdom (whose rulers preserved in chrysobullae, codexes. etc., a number of regulations ordered by the Bulgarian Tsars in their codification and not only in the conquered territories at that). However, the lack of more concrete domestic and other sources and data does not for the present allow us to indicate in greater detail, or make a comparative analysis of the character, organization and territorial structure of the feudal states and domains, formed in the lands inhabited by Bulgarians in the 13th and 14th centuries, no matter how important and interesting this question may be.
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According to the information contained in the sources, the uprising headed by the Asenids in 1186/87 included the Moesian Lowlands and the mountain complex of the Haemus (the Balkan Range). In accordance with Greek geographical conceptions the latter included Sredna Gora, Strandža, Branica (Sakar) Mountains, adjacent to the Haemus, as well as the Bakadžik, Sveti Ilija, Manastir, Dervent and Čirpan Heights in Thrace which connected them. After repeated but fruitless attempts to crush it, and particularly after the unsuccessful siege of Loveč (about the middle of 1188), the Byzantine Empire was forced to recognize de facto the restoration of the Bulgarian State in its initial territories: to the watershed of the Velika Morava and Timok Rivers to the west; probably Tresibaba, the Čiprovec, Berkovica and Sofia Mountains with Murgaš and Ihtiman (Western), Sredna Gora to the south-west: the Săštinska and Sărnena Gora with the Čirpan Heights up to the “Erkesia” moat to the south, i. e. the lands which Byzantium had recognized to her by treaties during the reigns of the khans Asparouch and Tervel. In contrast to the 7th century, however, the Empire still held Belgrade, Braničevo, Niš, Sofia, Plovdiv, Boruj (today Stara Zagora), Varna and again the southern Black Sea ports of Nesebăr, Anhialo (today Pomorie) and Sozopol. To the north the Tsardom again reached the Carpathians and the North Moldavian (the Suceava and Starnişoara) Plateaux and respectively bordered on the Hungarian Kingdom and the Russian Halič Principality.
The defeat of the Greeks in the Trjavna Pass in 1191 was equal in importance to Krum's victory in 811 because it contributed to the strengthening of the restored Tsardom and enabled it to extend its work of liberation. That same year the Bulgarian troops drove the conquerors out of Sredec-Sofia, Niš and Gorna Struma (probably as far as Doganica, Osogovo Mountain and Rila); in the spring of 1195 they were driven out of the regions of Belgrade and Braničevo as far as the Danube, the Sava, the Lower Drina, the mountain chain of Jagodnja, Povljen, Maljen and Rudnik, Velika and Bulgarska (today Southern) Morava and Goljak Mountain; while in the summer of the same year out of the central reaches of Struma and Strumesnica (respectively, Strumica, Melnik and other forts) and Prosek on the Vardar, i. e. as far as Belasica, the southern spurs of Pirin, Sminica (today Phalakron) and the Western Rhodopes.
Until the third of the Asenid brothers, Kalojan (1197—1207), ascended the throne, Byzantium continued to rule over considerable parts of Thrace and Macedonia. After the assassination of his brothers the separatists Ivanko (in the Plovdiv and later the Rhodope region) and Dobromir Hriz set themselves up as local rulers, the latter had been sent from Tărnovo to Strumica and Prosek to bring the south-western Bulgarians into the uprising.
In 1201 Tsar Kalojan had already eliminated the only imperial support north of the Balkan Range — Varna, and had made for the south and the west. He availed himself of the difficulties for the Empire created by seceders to strengthen Bulgarian rule in Thracian Pomorie (up to the southern spurs of Branica-Sakar, the Dervent Heights and the crest of the Strandža and Cape Ineada); while in the following year 1202 he took the domains of Dobromir Hriz and liberated the major part of Central, Northern and Western Macedonia, Southern Metochia with Skopje and Prizren, etc.
The Latin Empire, created in Constantinople by the knights of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 to replace Byzantium, appeared not only as an obstacle to the completion of the Bulgarians' work of liberation, but also as a new threat because of the pretensions of its knights to the whole of their lands The Greeks, aristocrats and commoners alike, in the Balkan lands taken over by the Latins (not only in Thrace, but as is generally accepted also in Macedonia, Thessaly, Epiros and also the Arbanasian Lands, today Albania) already sought an alliance with and the protection of the Tărnovo tsar against the oppression of their new alien conquerors. The common struggle against them began with an uprising in Southeastern Thrace. The rebels, who had risen against Latin rule, concentrated their forces in Adrianople, and raised Kalojan's war standards on the towers of its fort. The Bulgarian troops defeated the Latins and took their Emperor Baldwin of Flanders prisoner on April 14, 1205. This irreparable blow dealt to the new Constantinople Empire put a stop to its expansion in the Balkans and raised the prestige of Bulgaria However, as the same time the further actions of Kalojan's troops, aided by the Kumanians gave the Greeks who had concentrated in Asia Minor and Epiros
the opportunity of creating their own state. The former succeeded in forming an empire with its capital in Nicea (today Ižnik), while the latter founded a despoty with its centre in Arta.
Although part of the Byzantine aristocracy showed treachery in its dealings with Kalojan and did not give him Adrianople, with others of his Greek allies who were loyal to him he continued the struggle against the crusaders who were still capable of resisting him. At that time they were only in possession of Stanimaka (today Asenovgrad), Rodosto (today Tekirdag), Silivria and certain other forts in Aegean Thrace. With the help of the local Bulgarian population Plovdiv and Northern Thrace up to the eastern spurs of the Rhodopes were set free. The Bulgarians directed their principal blow against the King of Salonika, Boniface de Montferrat. They seized Sjar (Seres), Ber (Veria) and South Macedonia, while the Voivod of Prosek, Čăsmen, seized its capital without its interior forth. The following clashes with the crusaders and the Greeks who had broken away from their alliance in Eastern Thrace did not bring an advantage to either of the warring parties, nor any change in the domination of the territories captured. The Bulgarians retained Northern Thrace while the Crusaders remained in possession of Adrianople and the cities along the lower reaches of the Marica and in the southeastern part of this region, handed over to them by the Greeks.
A local Bulgarian detachment slew the king of Salonika al Mosynopolis (near present-day Komotini) and in October 1207 the troops headed by Kalojan besieged his capital. Kalojan was assassinated at Lăgadina (today Langadas) and this put an end to his successful work of liberation by wars, which had led to his extending his lands to almost the whole of Thrace, Macedonia (without Salonika and its surroundings) and to some regions of present-day Albania (without Drač), Epiros and Thessaly. This is apparent from the data on the territorial expansion of the Bulgarian State under Tsar Kalojan in various written lives in which “Dalmatia” means the former, while the term “Neada” is used for New Hellas. i. e. the Sclavinians in the two latter regions who were still undergoing Hellenization at that time.
The subject Kumanians in the lands beyond the Danube were particularly soundly bound to the Tărnovo crown, there are source data on this indicating that they regularly took an active part in the campaigns of the Bulgarian troops and came under the jurisdiction of the Bulgarian Church. As early as 1204 Tsar Kalojan signed a Uniate with the papacy and received in exchange international recognition as a ruler, and the canonical right of independence for the primate of Tărnovo as a contribution.
Before possibilities came into being for Kalojan's nephew, Ivan-Asen II (1218—1241) once again to impose Bulgaria's position as the first power in this part of the world, the Tsardom had to undergo a temporary period of crisis. It continued for a whole decade during the reign of Boril who had seized the throne of Tărnovo. His attempts to continue the policy of his maternal uncle Kalojan ended in unsuccessful wars and loss of considerable territories: the regions of Belgrade and Braničevo seized by Hungary; Northern Thrace (minus the Stara Zagora region) and the Rhodopes seized by the Latin Empire; the southern parts of Macedonia captured by the Salonika Kingdom, while the western parts went to the Despoty of Epiros; the valley of Bulgarska Morava, part of Nišava and Southern Metochia with Prisren went to Serbia. This intensified the widespread dissatisfaction in the country, the first manifestations of which were the breakaway of Alexij Slav, Boril’s cousin, in the Western Rhodopes and the Pirin Mountains, and of his brother Strez in Macedonia as soon as Boril had seized the throne.
Boril was deposed and the throne was taken by Kalojan s legitimate heir, Ivan-Asen II (1218—1241), the son of Tsar Asen I. He made skilful use, on the one hand, of the difficulties of Hungary, to get back the Belgrade and Braničevo regions in 1218 and 1229, by way of a dowry through his marriage with the daughter of King Andrew II; and, on the other hand, he availed himself of the weakness of the Latin Empire and the conquest of Theodore Comnenus, Despot of Epiros, who had grown powerful (he proclaimed himself Emperor of Salonika in 1224) in the Aegean coast and Southeastern Thrace, to liberate Plovdiv and the northern part of its region in 1225 and 1229.
In the growing influence of the Bulgarian tsar over the Latins the emperor of Salonika saw a rival to his striving to capture Constantinople, and despite the alliance he had formed, he made for the Bulgarian frontiers; however, he suffered a total defeat and was taken prisoner on March 9, 1230 in the battle of Klokotnica. The predominantly Bulgarian population of the lands, captured by Theodore Comnenus, submitted voluntarily to the Bulgarian tsar, because of the humaneness and tolerance he showed to the Greeks. All Macedonia with Salonika, the Arbanasi lands or Albanon (today Albania) with Drač, Thessaly and Southern Thrace with Adrianople were now included in the Bulgarian State. The domains of Alexij Slav in the Pirin and Rhodopes region were also added to the Tsardom.
To Michael II, the son of Michael I Comnenus, Ivan-Asen left the domain of the Epiros Despoty with its capital Arta, while to his brother Constantine he gave Acarnania with Navpact. In the former capital of Theodore Comnenus the Bulgarian tsar placed the former's brother, Manuel Comnenus, husband of his own daughter Maria Beloslava, as his vassal and its ruler. The new Despoty of Salonika included the lower reaches of the Vardar, Ber and the region of Dobrošubica (Kompania or Slanica, today the Enidževardar or Gjanica region), Pieria, Thessaly and the western part of the Peninsula of Chalcidice (Kalamaria). The Peninsula of Mount Athos which was autonomously ruled by Protat was in a similar dependent position.
At the end of 1231 or the beginning of the following year Ivan-Asen II broke off the Uniate with the Pope and entered into an alliance with the Nicean Empire, with a view to acquiring the rank of patriarch for the head of the independent Bulgarian Church. This worsened his relations with Hungary and the Latin Empire against which the Tsardom engaged in hostilities, respectively, in 1232 / 33 in the territories along the Danube, and in Thrace and against Costantinople in 1235/36. In 1234 Tsar Ivan-Asen intervened in the civil war in Serbia, put Stefan Vladislav (1234—1243) on the throne, placing that country under his own political influence and on his dependence which is apparent from the data provided in a number of lives and from other facts. The Serbo-Bulgarian frontier of Tsar Kalojan's reign was probably restored then, i. e. Southern Metochia with Prizren were again liberated al that time, together with Kosovo Pole with the valley of the Bălgarska Morava and Nišava.
The balance of the change in political reorientation, respectively the return to Orthodoxy and the military operations engaged in against the neighbouring Catholic countries, shows that Bulgaria did not acquire any territorial or other advantages. The head of the actually independent Church obtained only formal recognition of his former patriarchal rank, while the Tsardom only received confirmation from Nicea of its power over the lands acquired after the victory at Klokotnica. What is more, the settlement of the Orthodox Bulgarian population and of the “Wallachians”, who had come to Hungary from the south, across the Carpathians in the Bulgarian territories beyond the Danube due to their persecution in the Magyar Kingdom after the Uniate of Tărnovo with Rome had come to an end, as well as the assistance given to Nicea in expanding its rule in Thrace, had extremely unfavourable consequences for the Bulgarian State and people. Gradually the “Wallachians” took over the
lands to the south and east of the Carpathians and in the course of centuries assimilated the Bulgarian population, while the strengthened Nicean State increased its influence in the Balkans in the following decades. In the final count this did much to assist the restoration of the Byzantine Empire in 1261, while around 1340, a century later, the voivodates in present-day Wallachia and Moldavia which depended on Tărnovo acquired their independence and conditions were created for the appearance of the Wallachian and Moldavian formations and nationalities.
In the last five years of his reign Ivan-Asen II implemented a new turn-round in his policy towards the Latin Empire. He appears to have grasped the real threat from Nicea and he tried to oppose the Western Greeks to those in Asia Minor with a view to maintaining a balance favourable to his own country. In his reorientation, the tsar probably bore in mind the new threat appearing from the northeast, the Tartars. The data show that their invasion of the lands across the Danube in 1241 — in the last year of the reign of Ivan-Asen II — was repelled. His reign marked the height of the political, economic and cultural development of the restored Bulgarian State. Its frontiers once again reached the shores of the Black, the White (Aegean) and the Blue (Adriatic) Seas and extended between the right banks of the lower reaches of the Drina and the Danube (from Srem to the Iron Gates), the crest of the Carpathians on the northwest; the Suceava and Starnişoara Plateaux, the Southern Albanian and Southern Macedonian Mountains on the southwest, while the Midia-Enos line formed the boundary on the southeast.
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After the death of Ivan-Asen II the positions of Bulgaria grew worse. Although under his heir, Kaliman I Asen, a minor (1241—1246), the Tsardom preserved its extensive territories intact, in 1242 it was already helpless and unable to ward off the blows of the Tartars returning from a devastating campaign in Central Europe, and in fell under the sway of their Khan. Dynastic squabbles also contributed to increasing the ruin during the rule of the regency of Kaliman's half-brother, Michael II Asen (1246—1257), who had seized the throne.
The Nicean Empire now rising at the expense of the Bulgarian Tsardom dealt a decisive blow to the Balkan possessions of the Comneni, and destroyed the balanced status quo between the rival east and west Greek factions created by Ivan-Assen II which had been favourable to Bulgaria. The Niceann Emperor, John Vatatzes, took advantage of the dynastic quarrel in Tărnovo and the Tsardom's lowered forces of resistance to add a considerable amount of the Tsardom's territories to its own without any military operations in 1246: annexing Southern Thrace and Adrianople, the Aegean coast and the Rhodopes up to the River Marica, the valley of the Mesta and a large part of that of the Struma with Seres, Melnik, Velbăžd (today Kjustendil) and also Eastern Macedonia, probably up to the Rila Mountains, Konjavska Mountain, Doganica, Kozjak, peak Sultan Tepe, Goljak Čuka, Plačkovica, Ogražden, Belasica and Kruša Mountain. In view of the process of disintegration, which had begun, present-day Albania, Western and Southwestern Macedonia including the valley of the Bistrica-Haliakmon, with the fort of Servia, i. e. the two whole zemli or chorae of Drač (the Arbanška land), the Devol chora with Ohrid and part of the Prilep chora (including Prilep and Bitolja) voluntarily submitted to Michael II, Despot of Epiros.
However, a careful analysis of the source material and the events which followed show that Bulgarian rule had been maintained over Northern and Central Macedonia up to the Eastern Albanian Mountains, Dešat, Jama, Bistra, Bukovik, Suha Gora, Karadžica, Babuna, Selecka, Nidže and Pajak, i.e. the region of Skopje, the rest of the Prilep region (with Veles. etc.) and also in Southern Metochia and Prizren, Kosovo Pole and the valleys of the Bulgarska Morava and Nišava. Vagueness of the style of G. Acropolites when writing about the Bulgarian lands occupied by the Greek states in 1246, and in T. Skoutariotes and monk Ephraim who later used his text, misled present-day historiographers in determining the actual territorial losses suffered by Bulgaria in Macedonia of today at that time.
The Magyars also seized part of the tsardom's lands across the Danube, probably the Severjan Banat where they settled knights of the Order of S. John (the Hospitaliers) to strengthen their power and guard the frontiers. The statement of Rubruk that “Wallachia is Asen's land” shows that the Tărnovo Tsardom had kept its possessions east of the River Oltul.
The discontent aroused by the inaction of the regency and the treaty it had signed with Nicea in 1246 confirming the severe territorial losses, led to the breakaway of part of the Boyars, those who were against the men responsible for the court coup d'etat. Kalojan in the region of Sredec, Konstantin Tih in that of Skopje, Jacob Svetoslav in the Western Balkan Range, and, probably, the Vranja region (i. e. the region along the Morava and the Nišava) and some others refused to submit to the rule of Tărnovo and ruled their domains independently.
In 1252 and the following year Joan Vatatzes respectively annexed the Despoty of Salonika, while Prilep and Veles (which Konstantin Tih had lost in the meanwhile) of the Despoty of Epiros and the notables in Ohrid, Devol, Kostur and the Arbanaška land submitted to him voluntarily.
In 1252 the regency sought compensation for the losses in an unsuccessful campaign against Serbia in an alliance with Dubrovnik and began operations against Nicea after the death of Joan Vatatzes. In spite of the support of the population in the Rhodopes, Central and Eastern Macedonia which rose in rebellion and voluntarily joined their own country, the new Emperor, Theodore II Lascaris (1255—1258) drove back the Bulgarian troops from Southeastern Thrace, recaptured almost all the lands which had seceded from Nicea and forced the Tărnovo government to the unfavourable Regina Peace in 1256. According to G. Acropolites, Nicephorus Gregoras, the circular message of the Emperor Theodore II and certain data in the poem of Manuel Phyles about the events that followed, it is apparent that the former status quo had been re-established, namely Nicea retained the occupied lands in Macedonia (probably without Veles) and Thrace. In the latter region the tsardom retained Plovdiv, Boruj (today Stara Zagora), Debelt and Agathopolis (today Achtopol), while the boyars who had broken away from Tărnovo kept their independence.
The increasing discontent led to a new court coup d'etat and the removal of Michael II Asen. The dynastic crisis came to an end with the election of the Skopje boyar, Konstantin Tih, as tsar (1257—1278). This restored the unity of the free Bulgarian lands, since the boyars, who had broken away in the western border regions, once more recognized the rule of Tărnovo. Only the pretenders to the throne whose claims had been set aside detached certain territories: the Russian Rostislav Mihailovic, the Magyar vassal and Ban of Mačva look some of the Vidin and probably of the Sredec regions, while Mico look Nesebăr.
To legitimize his power the new tsar married the daughter of Theodore II, who was the granddaughter of Ivan-Asen II, and took the name of the Tărnovo dynasty. Both rulers needed an understanding, for Konstantin Tih-Asen had to deal with the two pretenders to his throne, while the Niceans had first to deal with the coalition of the Despot of Epiros, the Sicilian King Manfred and the Achaean Prince Guillaume de Villehardouin, and ultimately with the Latin Empire.
Whereas the Niceans achieved their aims and restored the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople in 1261, the Bulgarian tsar not only failed to avail himself of the rivalry which had blazed up between the Greeks to continue Ivan-Asen's policy of letting them weaken each other and restore the Tsardom's position as a leading power. but did not even succeed in getting back any territories at all from his enemies. Mico shut himself up in Nesebăr, and with the help of the Magyars Rostislav kept the northwestern frontier regions: those of Belgrade, Braničevo, Vidin and Severin. After the latter's death in 1262, the Hungarian King left Vidin to the Bulgarian Despot Jacob Svetoslav, who became his vassal, and Rostislav's son, Bela, inherited the remaining lands.
Relations between Bulgaria and Byzantium grew worse when Michael VIII Palaeologus blinded his co-ruler Joan IV Lascaris, the brother of the Bulgarian tsaritsa, and proclaimed himself as the only basileus in Constantinople. Konstantin Tih-Asen took advantage of the civil war which had broken out in Hungary and the internal difficulties of the usurper and began successful operations against the Empire. During the following years of 1263/64, however, the Byzantines won back not only Stanimaka (today Asenovgrad), Vrizis (today Pănarhisar) and the other forts in the Rhodopes and Southeastern Thrace retaken by the Bulgarians, while Mico gave them back Nesebăr, but captured Plovdiv, Agathopolis, Sozopol, Debelt, Rosokastro and other forts of the Thracian Pomorie and up to the foothills of Sredna Gora. However, the Tărnovo Tsardom retained Boruj, Dăbilin-Diampolis (today Jambol), Aetos (today Ajtos) and other forts in Zagore, Sărnena Gora and the sub-Balkan plains; they had been taken later, during operations against Ivajlo, as is apparent from the data provided by the poem of Manuel Phyles. With the aid of the Magyars Jacob Svetoslav repelled the invasions of imperial troops in his lands. During the internecine struggles in Hungary he temporarily recognized the supremacy of the Bulgarian tsar.
Bulgaria did not succeed in getting back lost territories either during the operations in Thrace as a Tartar vassal, or after the improvement of relations with the Empire following the death of Tsaritsa Irina and Konstantin Tih-Asen's new dynastic marriage with the niece of Michael III Palaeologus. The latter did not return Nesebăr and Văchelo-Anchialo (today Pomorie) which had been promised as a dowry of the new tsaritsa.
The voilent death in 1273 of Jacob Svetoslav and Bela, the son of Rostislav, did not lead to the return of the northwestern frontier regions to the Tsardom. Other Bulgarian boyars settled in them as independent rulers: Šišman in the Vidin region and the brothers Dărman and Kudelin in the Belgrade and Braničevo regions with the fort of Ždrelo (today Gornjak) as their centre.
The internal situation of the Tărnovo Tsardom was also complicated by the anti-feudal rebellion headed by Ivajlo. After the death of Konstantin Tih-Asen in 1278 in a battle with the rebel forces, their leader was proclaimed tsar and undertook the defence of the country against the invasions of the Byzantines, and their allies the Tartars. The latter appear to have retained part of the Dobrudža and the lands across the Danube, Great Wallachia (to the east of the River Oltul) and the southern part of Moldavia, while the Greek troops seized the forts in Zagoré and the sub-Balkan plains, i.e. the whole of Thrace. As they were unable to overcome the defence system in the Balkan Range, they landed in Varna in February 1279 and imposed their own man, Mico's son who took the name of Ivan-Asen III, on the throne of Tărnovo. However, he was unable to keep power in his hands and fled to Byzantium, while the Bulgarians elected as their Tsar Georgi I Terter (1280—1292). At the beginmng of his reign his Tsardom had been reduced only to present-day Northeastern Bulgaria with part of the Dobrudža, the regions of Sofia and Niš, North and Central Macedonia, the valley of the Bulgarian (today the Southern) Morava, Kosovo Pole with Lipljan and Southern Metochia with Prizren. Like the Tsardom, the independent rulers Šišman, Dărman and Kudelin fell under the sway of Nogaj, the powerful khan of the Tartar “Golden Horde”.
Georgi Terter took part in the coalition formed against Byzantium in 1282 and followed the allied Serbian army to pass through his southwestern possessions. However, this army had to withdraw after the coalition disintegrated and at the danger from the Tartars who had been sent against Bulgaria by the Emperor Andronicus II (1282—1338), descendant to the Byzantine throne. As it was impossible for him to expand his kingdom which was rapidly increasing in strength within the lands ruled by Hungary and populated by Serbs, the new Serbian King Stefan Uroš II Milutin (1282—1321) turned his eyes to Bulgaria's western border lands. He successfully made use of the decaying Tărnovo rule and the Byzantine emperor's reluctance to go to war to accomplish his aims of conquest. In 1283 the Serbian troops invaded the Skopje region, Southern Metochia and Kosovo Pole, afterwards seized Debăr and Kičevo which were subjected to Byzantium at that time, and also seized Poreč the following year, 1294. The remaining Bulgarian possessions in Macedonia (Veles, Štip, Prosek, Ovče Pole, Strumica, Maglen, etc.) were thus completely cut off and were easily seized by Byzantium.
The two Nemanovici brothers correctly surmised that if they expand further in the Bulgarian lands they would meet по resistance on the part of the Tărnovo tsar, since Khan Nogaj had made him completely dependent on himself. In the meantime, when in 1291 they seized the domains of Dărman and Kudelin, Georgi Terter lost the khan's favour. Only Šišman showed any resistance in a campaign against the interior of Serbia, but he was left without the support of Smilec (1292—1298), the man Nogaj had placed on the Bulgarian throne. The khan only intervened when the Vidin ruler had lost even his capital; Nogaj gave it back to him and placed Serbia too under his rule to prevent that country from becoming too powerful.
When Ivan IV Stefan came to the throne as the heir of Smilec, Nogaj fell in battle against his rival Khan Toktu in 1299. Theodore Svetoslav Terter (1300—1322) won the victor's confidence and removed Čака, the son of Nogaj, from the Tărnovo throne which he had seized. To reward him Toktu gave the new tsar back the lands across the Danube as far as the Lower Dnester with Belgrade-Moncastro (today Belgorod Dnestrojskij). The Bulgarian domination of presentday Southern Bessarabia is apparent in certain Genoese documents, Abulfeda's Geography and the anonymous Description of Southeastern Europe, date 1308. An analysis of the latter and of the Old Russian List of Danubian Cilies shows that at that time the Tărnovo Tsardom had retained its possession of Southern Moldavia and the Ungrowallachian Voivodate to the east of the Oltul Present-day Lesser Wallachia (to the west of the same river) was within the boundaries of the independent Vidin region of Šišman. Source data and the events which followed show that his domains lay between the Carpathians (from the Černeva Kula Pass, Romanian Turnu Rošu to the Iron Gates), the Berkovica, Čiprovci, Vraca and Svărliška Mountains and the lower reaches of the River Ogosta. They also included lands along the left bank of the Bulgarska Morava up to Jastrebec Mountain, or its mouth in Velika Morava and along the nght bank of the latter south of Ravăn (today Čuprija).
In the very first year of his reign Theodore Svetoslav frustrated the attempts of the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus Il (1282—1328) to place by military force his own man on the Tărnovo throne and to turn the Tsar's uncle Eltimir against him. Eltimir was the autonomous ruler of the sub-Balkan Krăn region, between the Balkan Range and Sredna Gora from the saddle of Koznica to Sliven.
In 1304 the Tărnovo tsar liberated the regions of Zagore and Thracian Pomorie which Byzantium had seized, part of the forts submitting voluntarily to him. For the assistance he had given Theodore Svetoslav ceded to his uncle Eltimir Dăbilin (today Jambol) and Lardeja (probably near present-day Straldža). However, when Byzantium drew him to its own side in 1306, the tsar took the whole domain away from him and added it to his Tsardom. According to a treaty signed (probably in 1308), the Bulgaro-Byzantine frontier in Thrace now ran from the Black Sea coast south of Agathopolis (probably al Cape Ineada) and followed the crest of Strandža Mountain and its spurs, Pedinadag, the Dervent Heights, Sakar, the Manastir and Čirpan Heights and the southern foothills of Sredna Gora. Byzantium retained Midija (today Kăiköy), Viza, Skopelos (today Eskipolos), Adrianople, Konstancia (today the town of Simeonovgrad), Plovdiv, Cepena (today Dorkovo), Verbăzd and those parts of Macedonia seized between 1246 and 1284.
Georgi Terter II (1322—1323), Theodore Svetoslav's son, availed himself of the internecine strife in Byzantium and liberated Plovdiv with its region, but perished (probably during the campaign) without leaving an heir. In the interregnum which followed, Byzantium and Vojsil, the brother of Smilec, succeeded in seizing the territory between the Tundža and the sea.
The rule of a second dynasty of the Asenids began with the election of the Vidin ruler Michael III Šišman-Asen (1323—1330) to the Turnovo throne and an end was put to the existence of two separate Bulgarian states. Reinforced by auxiliary detachments of Ungrowallachians and Tartars, the royal army recaptured the towns in Northern Thrace which had been taken from the tsardom, without Plovdiv which had been taken by the Byzantines in the meantime, and Sozopol. The frontier was confirmed by treaties between the two sides signed at the beginning of August 1324 and the spring of 1328 by virtue of which the line established for the frontier once more left to Byzantium Midija, Skopelos, Adrianople with the nearly forts of Provaton, today Pravadi, and Vukel (today the village of Matočina, Haskovo District).
Michael III Šišman did not continue the work of liberating Thrace in order to secure an alliance with Byzantium for joint operations against Serbia. While the Emperor Andronicus III massed troops in Bitolja, the Tsar concentrated his forces near Velbŭžd (today Kjustendil). His aim was to liberate the territories in Macedonia seized by Stefan III Dečanski and his father, and to prevent the Byzantines from retaining the lands they had won.
Having broken the truce he had signed, on July 28, 1330 the Serbian troops surprised part of the Bulgarian detachments and defeated them at the present-day village of Šiškovci, where the Tărnovo ruler met his death. Intercepted by the Bulgarian detachments which had not taken part in the battle, the Serbian king gave up his intention to conquer the Tărnovo Tsardom and made instead for Macedonia from which the Byzantine emperor had already withdrawn. He hoped to expand his domains in this region as unimpededly as he had mastered Veles, Prosek and Štip which had been given up to him in 1328 by the local Byzantine governor Michael Asen, but he did not achieve his aim.
In the autumn of 1330 the Emperor Andronicus III ravaged the Thracian confines of Bulgaria and forced the towns of Văhelo (Anchialo), Nesebăr, Aetos, Ktenija (unspecified), Rosokastro and Dăbilin (Diampolis) to surrender to him. The territorial losses suffered created discontent against the inactive regency of Ivan Stefan. He was deposed in the early months of 1331. The boyars elected Ivan-Alexander-Asen, Michael III's nephew by his sister (1331—1371) and power passed into the hands of another branch of the dynasty of the Asenids
In the spring of that same year the new king availed himself of the fact that Byzantium was engaged with the Ottoman Turks in Asia Minor and recaptured the Thracian cities of the Zagore and Thracian Pomorie regions with the exception of Nesebăr. When the Greeks again invaded his country Ivan-Alexander proposed peace to the emperor and an alliance against the common threat from the Ottoman Turks. Andronicus III refused this offer and the renewed war led to the defeat of the Emperor's army at Rosokastro on July 18, 1331 The population in Nesebăr and the other forts “around the Haemus” slew the Byzantine garrisons and thus the whole of Pomorie was once more included in its own state.
At some time after 1331 (when we have the last data that Tartar auxiliary detachments had taken part in the royal army's operations against Byzantium and of Belaur's attempt at rebellion) but before 1339 (the end of the rule of Khan Uzbek), Southern Bessarabia appears to have remained under the Tartar rule. Written and cartographic sources only indicate under his rule that the western frontiers of the Tartar “Golden Horde” had reached the Danube and Vičina (today Ismail), i.e. its Delta. It is more acceptable to consider that this region had remained under the sovereignty of the Bulgarian tsars, including the early decades of the reign of Ivan-Alexander, than that Bulgarian rule had come to an end at the time of the death of Theodore Svetoslav who had won the region back.
Bulgarian troops intervened several times in the Byzantine civil wars which had broken out again in 1341, but achieved modest territorial gains only in 1344: Plovdiv with part of the North-western Phodopes, the forts of Cepena, Kričim, Peristica (today Peruštica), S. Justina (today the village of Ustina, Plovdiv District), Stanimaka, Aetos (on peak Sokolica near the present town of Smoljan), Beden and Kosnik (southeast of the present-day town of Rudozem), a total of 15 in all.
It was Stefan Dušan, the Serbian King, who obtained the greatest advantages from the dynastic quarrels in Byzantium and the Ottoman invasion of Thrace; he availed himself of the lack of government and the indifference of the population at the change of one alien rule for another to obtain without military operations not only those parts of Macedonia held by the Greeks (without Salonika), but also the Epiros (without Butrot, today Butrinti), Aetolia, Albania (without Drač, today Durasi) and almost the whole of Thessaly.
In the first decade and half of Ivan-Alexander's reign, the Tărnovo Tsardom achieved comparative internal unity, a certain economic advance and international recognition, while in 1344 also the last return of the territories lost in the mid-13th century and later. After this, however, under the impact of a number of internal and external factors an uncontainable decline set in.
The tsardom waged defensive wars only and began to lose territories irretrievably, either because of their breaking away in the extremely advanced phase of feudal relations, and as a result of the personal political mistakes of Ivan-Alexander (favouring relatives and powerful nobles by ceding prerogatives, lands, etc. to them as rewards for assistance he had received from them), or owing to the conquests of neighbouring countries or the Ottomans in an international situation which was growing increasingly complex. Large landowners, such as Balik and his brothers of the Terter family in the Dobrudža (since before 1345), the Ungrowallachian voivodes in the lands across the Danube, etc. had gradually been growing economically and politically stronger at the expense of the weakening central government to achieve more or less an independent state. Besides its age-old enemy Byzantium, the Tărnovo Tsardom was threatened once more, on the one hand, by the Hungarian Kingdom of which Ludwig I the Great had become king (1342—1382) and, on the other hand, by the Ottoman Turks who had gradually begun since 1344 to ravage its territories in Thrace.
In 1352 the Magyars formed a vassal voivodate in
Moldavia which included those southern parts of this region which had until then been under the Tărnovo Tsardom and the territories up to the Dnester which had been taken from the Tartars.
In that same year of 1352 the Ottoman Turks began to fight on their own account and captured the first Byzantine fort on the European shore, while in 1362—64 they violated the territory of the Bulgarian Tsardom as well, seizing Boruj, Plovdiv and other cities in Thrace.
In the spring of 1365 the Magyar troops placed under their own rule the region of Vidin which had until then been ruled by Ivan Sracimir, who had been proclaimed by his father as co-ruler with himself, while in 1366 the fleet of Amadeus VI of Savoy seized the Black Sea ports south of Varna and handed them over to the Byzantines the following year. As a reward for the assistance he had given in recapturing the Vidin region in 1369, Ivan-Alexander ceded Varna to the rulers of the Dobrudža, and the territories across the Danube up to the River Oltul (present-day Lesser Wallachia or Oltenia) to the Ungrowallachian voivode. The traditional autonomous rule of the Ungrowallachian Voivodate was probably extended when Ivan-Alexander ceded some of his prerogatives to his father-in-law, Ivanko Bessaraba. However, he retained his suzerainty over the Voivodate, because, according to the data in the Charter of Radu I, he continued to collect customs duties at Ruker in the Bran Pass of the Carpathians, while his son, Ivan Šišman, according to Ottoman and Western written sources, retained to the end of his reign the forts on the left bank of the Danube: Holăvnik (today Turnu Măgurele) and Malko Jorgovo (today Giurgiu). Through them he was able to control the voivodate which probably proclaimed its independence during his reign.
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After the death of Ivan-Alexander in 1371, Ivan-Sracimir did not recognize the rights of his half-brother Ivan Šišman (who had been placed on the Tărnovo throne by his father) and proclaimed himself the independent tsar of the Vidin region.
The process of disintegration did not spare the remaining Balkan states, particularly Stefan Dušan's kingdom which had an extremely short life. It finally disintegrated immediately after his death in 1355 because of its heterogeneous ethnic composition and the lack of state traditions.
The fragmentation was the greatest in the western Bulgarian lands, initially seized by the Greeks and later by Serbia. In present-day Macedonia, a number of independent rulers set themselves up: Vălkašin (in its northern and central parts with Prilep as its centre); his brother Ivan Ugleša (in its Aegean part with the Peninsula of Chalcidice and Southwestern Thrace up to the Marica with his capital in Seres); the Deyanov brothers (in Northeastern Macedonia with Velbažd, today Kjustendil, as their principal city); Andrej Gropa (in Ohrid and its region); Bogdan (along the Lower Vardar with his seat in Žensko, today Gynekokastron); Hlapen (in Southern Macedonia with his centre in Voden) and others. Radič Brannivič proclaimed his independence in Braničevo, while Vuk Brankovic did the same in Kosovo.
The feudal fragmentation of the lands populated by the Bulgarians, the most numerous nationality in the Balkans at that time, proved fatal for the whole of Eastern Europe because it prevented them from offering a common resistance. It also had a negative effect on the formation of a common Balkan front against the Ottoman Turkish conquerors. The mutual mistrust and egotistic interests of the individual feudal rulers was largely responsible for this. They did not achieve a decisive success in the struggle against the sultans because they acted separately or in restricted alliances.
The defeat at Černomen on September 26, 1371 of Vălkašin and Ugleša, who were left without real assistance from the other Christian rulers, led to the conquest of Southern Macedonia and Thrace, and also to the Vidin, Dobrudža, Velbazd and Prilep rulers' becoming dependent on the Sultan, and soon afterward the same fate befell the Tărnovo tsar and the Byzantine emperor.
The lack of agreement did not allow them to benefit from the victory at Pločnik in 1387 of the united forces of the Serbian Prince Lazar, Tvărdko, King of Bosnja, Ivan Šišman. Tsar of Tărnovo, and Ivanko, Despot of Karvuna, to avoid new conquests on the part of Ottomans. The following year Murad I concentrated his forces against the Tărnovo Tsardom which, despite its losses, still remained the largest state in the Balkans along with the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Turks succeeded in extending their conquest in Moesia capturing the forts in present-day Northeastern Bulgaria and then directed their attacks against the domains of Ivanko, Despot of the Dobrudža. The Ungrowallachian Voivode Mirčea soon had to exchange his dependence on the Tărnovo tsar for that on the sultan. He acted in the rear as the sultans's ally and captured the important fort of Drăstăr (today Silistra), but did not succeed in maintaining himself here and in 1391 was forced to surrender it to the sultan who made it the first Ottoman fort north of the Balkan Range.
The defeats of the Serbs and Bosnians at Kosovo Pole in 1389 placed their rulers under the sultan's dependence and set free the forces of Bajazid I against the Tărnovo Tsardom, also opening the road to Hungary. This forced its King Sigismund (1387—1437) to form an alliance with Ivan-Šišman and the Ungrowallachian voivode who had given up his allegiance to the sultan.
In the spring of 1393 the sultan's troops captured Tărnovo, and the tsar shut himself up in the fort of Nikopol to wait for his Hungarian ally. Bajazid I aided by his vassals (the Serbian ruler Lazar, the Prilep ruler Marko and the Velbăzd ruler Konstantin among others) dealt with the Voivode Mirčea at Rovine on May 17, 1393, after which he made for Nikopol where on June 9, 1395 he slew Ivan Šišman.
The Tărnovo Tsardom was completely conquered together with the territory ruled by the Despot Ivanko in the Dobrudža. Sultan Bajazid also annexed the lands belonging to the Velbăzd and Prilep rulers who had fallen at Rovine.
The crusade against the ottoman conquerors, headed by king Sigismund, came too late; it suffered defeat at Nikopol on September 25, 1396. Soon afterwards Sultan Bajazid also subjected the Vidin tsardom whose ruler Ivan-Sracimir rejected his dependence on the sultan when the Christian forces advanced and had joined in the struggle to drive the Ottoman turks out of the Balkans. The free existence of the last part of the mediaeval Bulgarian state came to an end with the destruction of the Vidin tsardom and Bulgaria left the stage of history for close on five centuries.
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