Byzantium and Bulgaria. A comparative study across the early medieval frontier

Robert Browning





1. There is no book which systematically examines the institutions and way of life of the Byzantine empire and Bulgaria during the crucial ninth and tenth centuries from a comparative standpoint, though there are many discussions of their political relations and of Byzantine policy on the northern frontier. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 (pp. 69-163) of D. Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe 500-1453, London, 1971 provide a penetrating and thought-provoking treatment of some of the topics of the present book.


·       P. Mutafchiev, ‘Der Byzantinismus im mittelalterlichen Bulgarien’, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 30 (1929-30), 387-94,

·       D. Angelov, ‘Die gegenseitigen Beziehungen und Einflüsse zwischen Byzanz und dem mittelalterlichen Bulgarien’, Byzantino-Slavica 20 ( 1959), 40-49;

·       id., ‘Vizantijski vlijanija vŭrkhu srednovekovna Bŭlgarija', Istoricheski Pregled 4 (1947-8), 401-16, and 5 (1948-9), 587-601

pose questions rather than suggest answers. The geographical background is still best set out by J. Cvijic, La péninsule balkanique: géographie humaine, Paris, 1918, particularly pp. 45-79.


2. There are many general histories of the Byzantine empire. The best is G. Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, trans. by Joan Hussey, second edn, Oxford, 1968; Ostrogorsky confines himself to political history.

More wide-ranging, though less sure in judgement, are

·       A.A. Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, 2 vols. Madison, Wisconsin, 1958;

·       L. Bréhier, Le monde byzantin, 3 vols., Paris, 1947-50 (paperback reprint now available);

·       S. D. Skazkin (ed.), Istorija Vizantii, 3 vols., Moscow, 1967 (a German translation of this important Marxist work is in preparation);

·       K. A. Amantos, Historia tou Byzantinou Kratous, 2 vols., second/third edn, Athens, 1957-63;

·       J. M. Hussey (ed.), The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV, 2 parts, Cambridge, 1966, 1967 (a work of collaboration, of very uneven merit, and occasionally out of date);

·       D. A. Zakythinos, Hē Byzantins Autokratoria 324-1071, Athens, 1969;

·       D. Angelov, Istorija na Vizantija, 3 vols., Sofia, 1959-67 (interesting as giving a Bulgarian Marxist point of view).

·       R. J. H. Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries, London, 1966 deals with the period from 610 to 1071.

·       P. Whitting (ed.), Byzantium: An Introduction, Oxford, 1971 is based on a series of lectures broadcast by the B.B.C. in 1968.


3. Among studies of Byzantine civilisation, which presume at least an outline knowledge of Byzantine history, there are several excellent short works by English scholars.

·       N. H. Baynes, The Byzantine Empire, London, 1925 and

·       S. Runciman, Byzantine Civilisation, London, 1933.





Both date slightly, but are nevertheless essential reading. N. H. Baynes and H. St. L. B. Moss (eds.), Byzantium, Oxford, 1948 has the unevenness characteristic of books written by many hands. J. M. Hussey, The Byzantine World, London, 1957 is perhaps the best introduction. Ch. Diehl, Les grands problèmes de l’histoire byzantine, Paris, 1943 is a disappointing work written by a great scholar in his old age and during the occupation of his country. H. Hunger, Das Reich der neuen Mitte, Graz-Vienna-Cologne, 1965 is long and suggestive, but rather narrowly concerned with religion. H. Haussig, A History of Byzantine Civilisation, trans. by J. M. Hussey, London, 1971 is unhistorical and confused, but for those who read with critical alertness contains many striking observations. A. P. Kazhdan, Vizantijskaja kul’tura, Moscow, 1968, is an unpretentious but first-class examination of the distinguishing traits of Byzantine civilisation. Ph. Koukoulès, Byzantinōn bios kai politismos, 6 vols., Athens, 1948-57 is an impressive compilation of material from Byzantine literature on a great variety of topics; the author tends to put together side by side evidence from the fourth and the fourteenth centuries without distinction; but for those who can make their own distinctions this unwieldy work is an inexhaustible mine of information.


4. The economic history of the Byzantine empire is given rather stepmotherly treatment in general economic histories of the Middle Ages, such as

·       R. H. Bautier, The Economic Development of Medieval Europe, London, 1971;

·       G. A. J. Hodgett, Social and Economic History of Medieval Europe, London, 1972.


There are useful chapters in the Cambridge Economic History of Europe vols. I-III, 1954-61. Many important studies are collected in G. Ostrogorsky, Privreda i društvo u vizantiskom carstvu, Belgrade, 1969. Of basic importance for land tenure and agrarian economy is P. Lemerle, ‘Esquisse pour une histoire agraire de Byzance. Les sources et les problèmes’, Revue Historique 219 ( 1958), 32-74, 254-84, and 220 (1958), 43-94. Leo VI's Book of the Prefect has given rise to several important studies, of which the most valuable are

·       Stöckle, Spätrömische und byzantinische Zünfte, Leipzig, 1911;

·       G. Mickwitz, Die Kartellfunkionen der Zünfte und ihre Bedeutung bei der Entstehung des Zunftwesens, Helsinki, 1936; and

·       M. Ja. Szuzjumov, Vizantijskaja Kniga Eparkha, Moscow, 1967.


A. P. Kazhdan, Derevnja i gorod v Vizantii IX-X vv, Moscow, 1960 is illuminating on many matters concerning the economic life of the middle Byzantine period. On taxation see

·       F. Dölger, Beiträge zur Geschichte der byzantinischen Finanzverwaltung, Leipzig, 1927;

·       G. Ostrogorsky, Die ländliche Steuergemeinde des byzantinischen Reiches im 10 ten Jahrhundert, second edn, Amsterdam, 1969;

·       E. Schilbach, Byzantinische Metrologie, Munich, 1970, 248-63.


On coinage see P. Grierson, ‘Coinage and Money in the Byzantine Empire 498-c. 1090’, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo VIII, Spoleto, 1961, 411-53.





5. The administrative structure of the Byzantine empire in the period under review is the subject of two admirable studies:

·       J. B. Bury, The Imperial Administrative System in the Ninth Century, London, 1911 and

·       Hélène Glykatzi-Ahrweiler, ‘Recherches sur l’administration de l’empire byzantin aux IXE-XIe siècles’, Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 84 (1960), 1-109.


There is much useful information on the administration of the European provinces in A. Bon, Le Péloponnèse byzantin jusqu 'en 1204, Paris, 1951. On imperial ideology see O. Treitinger, Die oströmische Kaiser und Reichsidee, Jena, 1938, reprinted Darmstadt, 1956. An unpublished Oxford thesis by Dr J. D. Howard-Johnston, ‘Studies in the Organisation of the Byzantine Army in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries’ provides the best treatment of problems concerning the Byzantine army. On the navy cf. Hélène Ahrweiler, Byzance et la mer, Paris, 1966.


6. On science, literature and thought in the middle Byzantine empire see

·       J. M. Hussey, Church and Learning in the Byzantine Empire 867-1185, London, 1937;

·       P. Tatakis, La philosophie byzantine, Paris, 1949;

·       P. Lemerle, Le premier humanisme byzantin, Paris, 1971;

·       K. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur, second edn, Munich, 1897 (indispensable as a reference book, though now out of date in many respects);

·       H. G. Beck, Kirche und theologische Literature im byzantinischen Reich, Munich, 1959;

·       Gy. Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, vol. I, second edn, Berlin, 1958 (on the Byzantine historians).


On the visual arts there are many books available, such as

·       D. Talbot Rice, Art of the Byzantine Era, London, 1963;

·       id., The Appreciation of Byzantine Art, London, 1972;

·       C. Delvoye, L’art byzantin, Paris, 1967;

·       V. Lazarev, Storia della pittura bizantina, Turin, 1967;

·       J. Beckwith, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, London, 1970;

·       W. F. Volbach and J. Lafontaine-Dosogne, Byzanz und der christliche Osten, (Propylaen-Kunstgeschichte Bd. 3), Berlin, 1968.

There is much important material on the classical tradition in Byzantine art in K. Weitzmann, Studies in Classical and Byzantine Manuscript Illumination, Chicago, 1971.


7. Works dealing particularly with Byzantium during the period under study include

·       S. Runciman, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his Reign, Cambridge, 1929;

·       E. E. Lipshits, Ocherki istorii vizantijskogo obshchestva i kul’tury: VIII—pervaja polovina IX veka, Moscow, 1961;

·       Vasiliev, The Russian Attack on Constantinople, Cambridge, Mass., 1946;

·       F. Dvornik, The Photian Schism: History and Legend, Cambridge, 1948;

·       G. Kolias, Léon Choerosphactès, Athens, 1939;

·       Toynbee, Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his Age, London, 1973.


8. On the invasions and settlements of barbarian peoples in the Balkans in the sixth and seventh centuries the best outline is given by





P. Lemerle, 'Invasions et migrations dans les Balkans depuis la fin de l’époque romaine jusqu’au VIIIe siècle’, Revue Historique 211 (1954), 265-308.


V. I. Velkov, Gradŭt v Trakija i Dakija prez kŭsnata antichnost, Sofia, 1959 surveys the literary and archaeological evidence concerning the cities of the northern Balkans from the fourth to the sixth century; an English translation is announced for publication.


On the Huns cf. E. A. Thompson, A History of Attila and the Huns, Oxford, 1948; L. Hambis, Attila et les Huns, Paris, 1972. The problems regarding the Avars are fully discussed by A. Kollautz and H. Myakawa, Geschichte und Kultur eines völkerwanderungszeitlichen Nomadenvolkes. Die Jou-Jan der Mongolei und die Awaren in Mitteleuropa, 2 vols., Klagenfurt, 1970.


The literature on the Slavonic settlements in the Balkans is vast.

·       F. Dvornik, The Slavs: Their early History and Civilisation, Boston, 1959 provides a good introduction.

·       M. Vasmer, Die Slaven in Griechenland, Berlin, 1941 surveys the evidence on Slav settlement in Greece.

·       V. Tŭpkova-Zajmova, ‘Sur les rapports entre la population indigène des régions balkaniques et les barbares au VIe-VIIe siècles’, Byzantinobulgarica 1 ( 1962), 67-78 and

·       V. I. Velkov, ‘Les campagnes et la population rurale en Thrace au IVe-VIe siècle’, ibid., 1966 deal particularly with the territory of future Bulgaria.

·       An international symposium on ‘The Slavs and the Mediterranean World’ was held in Sofia in 1970; the proceedings have not yet been published.


J. Herrmann, ‘Byzanz und die Slawen am äussersten Ende des westlichen Ozeans’, Klio 54 (1972), 309-19 draws attention to Byzantine influences among the western Slavs in the sixth and seventh centuries. The history and civilisation of these western Slavs, particularly in present-day Germany, is exhaustively studied in J. Herrmann (ed.), Die Slawen in Deutschland, second edn, Berlin, 1972; new datings obtained by pollen-analysis, dendrochronology and the C14 method make most earlier studies unreliable.


9. The starting point for all serious study of medieval Bulgaria is V. N. Zlatarski’s monumental Istorija na bŭlgarskata dŭrzhava prez srednite vekove, 4 vols., Sofia, 1918-40. It covers the period from the beginning of the Bulgarian Kingdom to 1280. The first two volumes are concerned with the period under study. Zlatarski provides a detailed historical narrative supported by an exhaustive and critical examination of the sources. He is interested in what the French call 'histoire évenementielle' rather than in institutions, still less in social or economic history. Archaeological evidence thus hardly falls within his field of view. But within the limits set by his time and the school to which he belonged—he lived from 1866 to 1935 and studied at St Petersburg under Lamansky and Vasilevsky — he did first class work on which all subsequent studies inevitably depend.


The best account available in English of early Bulgarian history is S. Runciman, A History of the First Bulgarian Empire, London, 1930.





It gives a lively and lucid picture, based principally on Zlatarski. More recent works include

·       P. Mutafchiev, Istorija na bŭlgarskija narod vol. I, Sofia, 1943 (often polemical in tone, and like Zlatarski uninterested in structures);

·       N. S. Derzhavin, Istorija Bolgarii vols. 1 and 2, Moscow, 1945, 1946 (an uneven but often illuminating treatment by a distinguished Russian Slavist who sometimes neglects events in favour of structures);

·       P. N. Tret’jakov (ed.), Istorija Bolgarii, vol. 1, Moscow, 1954 (brief but clear);

·       D. Kosev (ed.), Istorija na Bŭlgarija, vol. 1, Sofia, 1914 (rather disappointing collective work by Bulgarian Marxist scholars, whose interests lie mainly in a later period.

D. Angelov and M. Andreev, Istorija na bŭlgarskata feodalna dŭrzhava i pravo, Sofia, 1968 discusses the political structure and legal system of medieval Bulgaria. A new work by V. Beševliev, Die protobulgarische Periode der bulgarischen Geschichte, is reported in course of printing.


10. The economic and social history of medieval Bulgaria is treated by Derzhavin, Tret’jakov and Kosev.


I. Sakăzov, Bulgarische Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Berlin-Leipzig, 1929 provides a useful summary of the little that we know, though he does not make adequate use of archaeological evidence. D. Angelov, Obrazuvane na bŭlgarskata narodnost, Sofia, 1971 provides a full and many-sided discussion of the development of Bulgarian nationality in the middle ages, with references to the extensive Bulgarian literature on the subject; students who know Bulgarian should not fail to read this book, which will introduce them to all the current problems. See also the collective work Etnogenezis i kulturno nasledstvo na bŭlgarskija narod, Sofia, 1971.


S. Lishev's works—Za stokovoto proizvodstvo vŭv feodalna Bŭlgarija, Sofia, 1957; Za genezisa na feodalizma v Bŭlgarija, Sofia, 1963; Bŭlgarskijat srednovekoven grad, 1970—are remarkable for their sophisticated use of archaeological material. They deal mainly with a later period than that under review, but the early chapters of each book are relevant.


X. Tŭpkova-Zajmova, Nashestvija i etnicheski promeni na Balkanite prez VI-VII v, Sofia, 1966, makes a careful examination of the literary and archaeological sources on the movements of peoples in the Balkans before and up to the foundation of the Bulgarian Kingdom. The same subject is treated more briefly but authoritatively by P. Lemerle, ‘Invasions et migrations dans les Balkans depuis la fin de l'époque romaine jusqu’au VIIIe siècle’, Revue Historique 211(1954), 265-308.


11. On the religious history of Bulgaria in the Middle Ages the best guides are the relevant chapters of

·       Dvornik, Les Slaves, Byzance et Rome au IXe siècle, Paris, 1926;

·       P. Vlasto, The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom, Cambridge, 1970;

·       F. Dvornik, Byzantine Missions among the Slavs: SS. Constantine-Cyril and Methodius, New Brunswick, N. J., 1970.





On Clement of Ohrid and his influence see

·       I. Snegarov, Sveti Kliment Okhridski, Sofia, 1927;

·       Y. S. Kiselkov, Sveti Kliment Okhridski, Sofia, 1941;

·       D. Angelov (ed), Kliment Okhridski, Sofia, 1968 (an uneven but valuable collective work).


On the Bogomil movement the best introductions are

·       D. Obolensky, The Bogomils: a Study in Balkan Neo-Manichaeism, Cambridge, 1948 and

·       D. Angelov, Bogomilstvoto v Bŭlgarija, third edn. Sofia, 1969.


12. The archaeological material is scattered through a variety of publications. On the material remains of the early Slavs in Europe see

·       L. Niederle, Manuel de l’antiquité slave. 2 vols., Paris, 1923-6;

·       Marija Gimbutas, The Slavs, London, 1971.


V. Beševliev and J. Irmscher (eds.), Antike und Mittelalter in Bulgarien, Berlin, 1960 provides a good introduction to medieval archaeology in Bulgaria with full references to the literature. Important publications since 1960 include

·       Zh. Vŭzharova, Slavjanski i slavjanobŭlgarski selishta v bŭlgarskite zemi ot kraja na VI-XI v, Sofia, 1965;

·       S. Michailov, Pliska, die Hauptstadt des ersten bulgarischen Reiches, Berlin, 1960;

·       S. Stanchev, Veliki Preslav, 2 vols., Sofia, 1966;

·       Sbornik Preslav, 2 vols., Sofia, 1968.


Reports of current archaeological work in Bulgaria are published in the periodical Arkheologija. On medieval Bulgarian costume see J. Ivanov, ‘Le costume des anciens Bulgares’, L’art byzantin chez les Slaves: Recueil Th. Uspensky, I, Paris, 1930, 325-51.


13. On medieval Bulgarian literature and art see

·       E. Georgiev, Raztsvetŭt na bŭlgarskata literatura v IX-X v, Sofia, 1962;

·       P. Dinekov (ed.), Istorija na bŭlgarskata literatura. I: Starobŭlgarskata literatura, Sofia, 1962;

·       B. D. Filow, Geschichte der altbulgarischen Kunst bis zur Eroberung des bulgarischen Reichs durch die Türken, Berlin-Leipzig, 1932;

·       N. Mavrodinov, Starobŭlgarskata zhivopis, Sofia, 1946;

·       N. Mavrodinov, Starobŭlgarskoto izkustvo, Sofia, 1959;

·       K. Mijatev, Arkhitekturata v srednovekovna Bŭlgarija, Sofia, 1965;

·       W. F. Volbach and J. Lafontaine-Dosogne, Byzanz und der christliche Osten (Propyläen-Kunstgeschichte Bd. 3), Berlin, 1968, 241-57, Abb. 192-215;

·       M. Bitchev, L'architecture en Bulgarie, Sofia, 1961;

·       Medieval Bulgarian Culture, Sofia, 1964;

·       Ts. Kristanov and I. Dujchev, Estestvoznanieto v srednovekovna Bŭlgarija, Sofia, 1954.


14. A corpus of the written sources for the history of Bulgaria in the Middle Ages is in course of publication: Izvori za bŭlgarskata istorija, Sofia, 1954. The texts in Greek, Latin, Slavonic or oriental languages are accompanied by a Bulgarian translation. Another collection of source material relevant to the theme of this book is F. Barišić and others (eds.), Vizantiski izvori za istoriju naroda Jugoslavije, tom 1, Belgrade, 1955. The inscriptions of the first Bulgarian Kingdom are published with full introduction and commentary by V. N. Beševliev, Die protobulgariscben Inschriften, Berlin, 1963;





the editor’s rich annotation is a mine of information on early Bulgarian history. Much miscellaneous source material is published by J. Ivanov, Bŭlgarski starini iz Makedonija, second edn, Sofia, 1931. The earliest Bulgarian legal code is edited by V. Ganev, Zakon sudnyj ljudĭm, Sofia, 1959. I. Dujchev, Iz starata bŭlgarska knizhnina, 2 vols., Sofia, 1943 is a handy collection of Old Slavonic texts with valuable introductions and modern Bulgarian translations.


15. Among monographs dealing with short periods or topics in early Bulgarian history V. Gjuzelev, Knjaz Boris pŭrvi, Sofia, 1969 is a popular but well-founded account of the life and times of Boris, beautifully illustrated. G. Sergheraert (Christian Gérard), Syméon le Grand (895-927), Paris, 1960 is a much inferior study of Symeon, to be used with caution. Alkmene Stavridou-Zaphraka, Hē synantēsē Symeōn kai Nikolaou Mystikou (Augoustos 913) sta plaisia ton Byzantinoboulgarikou antagōnismou, Thessalonika, 1972 examines in detail the problems connected with the ‘coronation’ of Symeon by the Patriarch in Constantinople in 913.


The numerous studies of I. Dujchev on medieval Bulgarian history and literature touch on every aspect of the subjects and are models of careful scholarship. They are collected in

·       Prouchvanija vŭrkhu bŭlgarskoto srednovekovie, Sofia, 1945;

·       Medioevo bizantino-slavo, 3 vols., Rome, 1965-9;

·       Slavia Ortbodoxa, London, 1970.


G. G. Litavrin, Bolgarija i Vizantija v XI-XII vv, Moscow, 1960 deals primarily with the period of Byzantine occupation of Bulgaria, but contains much of interest concerning the period of Bulgarian independence. F. Dölger, Byzanz und die europäische Staatenwelt, Ettal, 1953 includes several important studies of Byzantine-Bulgarian political relations in the late ninth and early tenth centuries.


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