Portal:Bulgarian Empire

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The Bulgarian Empire in its expansion in the 13th century

The Bulgarian Empire (Bulgarian: Българско царство, Balgarsko tsarstvo [ˈbəlɡɐrskʊ ˈt͡sarstvʊ]) existed in two distinct periods: between the seventh and eleventh centuries, and again between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.

The First Bulgarian Empire was the first country of the modern Bulgarian people located in Southeastern Europe. Since its foundation it occupied a large part of the Balkan Peninsula and struggled with the Byzantine Empire for control of the region. Founded as a crude form of a confederacy between Bulgars, Slavs and Thracians in 681 on the two banks of the Danube river, it became the first Slavic country and is the oldest state still in existence in Europe. In 802-805 it destroyed the Avar Khanate and expanded its territory twice covering the whole area of what is now Romania. In the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century in the course of the Byzantine–Bulgarian wars the Bulgarians took control of most of the Balkans. However, in the mid 10th century the Empire suffered disastrous invasions of Magyars, Pechenegs and wars with Kievan Rus' and after a 50-year struggle it was destroyed by the Byzantines in 1018.

After the Christianization of Bulgaria the country became a major centre of culture and learning. Literature flourished in the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools. The Bulgarian scholar Clement of Ohrid ([840-916), who was a student of Saints Cyril and Methodius, invented the Cyrillic alphabet which carries the name of one of his teachers. Old Bulgarian became the lingua franca of much of Eastern Europe and it came to be known as Old Church Slavonic. The beauty and wealth of the capital Preslav was compared by some contemporaries with Constantinople. In the 10th century in Bulgaria emerged one of the major heretic movements in Medieval Europe, the Bogomils.

The Second Bulgarian Empire was established in 1185 as a result of the Uprising of Asen and Peter. Until 1256, the Second Bulgarian Empire was the dominant power in the Balkans, defeating the Byzantine Empire in several major battles. In 1205 Emperor Kaloyan defeated the newly established Latin Empire in the Battle of Adrianople. His nephew Ivan Asen II defeated the Despotate of Epirus and made Bulgaria a regional power again. During his reign, Bulgaria spread from the Adriatic to the Black Sea and the economy flourished. In the late 13th century, however, the Empire declined under constant invasions by Mongols, Byzantines, Hungarians, and Serbs, as well as internal unrest and revolts. The 14th century saw a temporary recovery and stability, but also the peak of Balkan feudalism as central authorities gradually lost power in many regions. Bulgaria was divided into three parts on the eve of the Ottoman invasion.

Despite strong Byzantine influence, Bulgarian artists and architects created their own distinctive style. In the 14th century, during the period known as the Second Golden Age of Bulgarian culture, literature and art flourished. The capital city Tarnovo, which was considered a "New Constantinople", became the country's main cultural hub and the centre of the Eastern Orthodox world for contemporary Bulgarians. After the Ottoman conquest, many Bulgarian clerics and scholars emigrated to Serbia, Wallachia, Moldavia, and Russian principalities, where they introduced Bulgarian culture, books, and hesychastic ideas.

Selected Article

A detail from St Dimitar of Solun Church in Tarnovo.
The Architecture of the Tarnovo Artistic School is a definition for the development of architecture during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). In the 13th and 14th centuries the capital Tarnovo determined the progress of the Bulgarian Architecture with many edifices preserved or reconstructed which show the skills of the Medieval Bulgarian architects and the construction and decorative techniques they used. With its diverse architecture, the Tarnovo School may be separated to several branched according to the function of the buildings.

The churches were usually small. Typical of the Tarnovo School of Architecture were relatively small cruciform dome churches or basilicas. At the expense of their small length and width, the churches rose to height. The churches were richly painted with colourful frescoes and from the outside they had beautiful decorative ornaments.

During the Second Empire the fortresses were usually built on locations which were difficult to access (hills or plateaus) and thus they sharply differed from the monumental construction in the north-east of the country from the period of the First Bulgarian Empire. The walls of the fortresses were built from stones welded together with plaster; they had two faces and the space between them was filled with a mixture of gravel and plaster (blockage). A wooden scaffolding was built from the inside which protected the walls from collapse until the blockage dried up. The height and thickness of the walls varied depending on the terrain and in the different parts of one castle complex they could vary. The top of the walls and the towers had pinnacles. Counterforts were used as additional protection from landslip

Selected Biography

Shishman, Despot of Vidin (Bulgarian: Шишман; fl. 1270s/1280s — before 1308/1313) was a Bulgarian noble (boyar) who ruled a semi-independent realm based out of the Danubian fortress of Vidin in the late 13th and early 14th century. Shishman, who was bestowed the title of "despot" by Bulgarian emperor George Terter I, was of Cuman extraction, and may have been established as lord of Vidin as early as the 1270s.

In 1291, he came under Tatar suzerainty and in 1292 he was in charge of an unsuccessful campaign against neighbouring Serbia. Even though the Serbs captured Vidin in their counter-offensive, perhaps thanks to Tatar influence Shishman was placed once more as the ruler of the region, this time as a Serbian vassal. However, he continued to rule his lands largely independently. As his son and successor as despot of Vidin Michael Shishman acceded to the Bulgarian throne in 1323, Shishman was the progenitor of the last medieval Bulgarian royal dynasty, the Shishman dynasty.

Selected Picture

The ruins of the Basilica of Saint Achilles in Prespa.
Credit: Edal

Ruins of the fortress in the Gate of Trajan pass. In the battle of the Gates of Trajan in 986 the Bulgarians under Samuel heavily defeated the Byzantines led by Basil II who barely escaped.

Did You Know?

Seal of Petar I.png
  • ... that Peter I (his seal pictured) had the longest reign among all Bulgarian rulers (42 years) in the 1300-year history of Bulgaria?
  • ... that the battle of Klokotnitsa (1230) is considered among the luckiest battles in the Bulgarian military history?
  • ... that Plovdiv was incorporated in Bulgaria for the first time during the reign of Khan Malamir (r. 831–836)?


Battles Rulers
Byzantine–Bulgarian wars
Bulgarian–Hungarian wars
Croatian–Bulgarian wars
Bulgarian–Rus' wars
Bulgarian–Latin wars
Bulgarian–Serbian wars
Bulgarian–Ottoman wars
Tsars (Emperors)







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