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

Kaloyan and Desislava from the Boyana Church.
The Painting of the Tarnovo Artistic School was the mainstream of the Bulgarian fine arts between 13th and 14th centuries named after the capital and the main cultural center of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Tarnovo. Although it was influenced by some tendencies of the Palaeogan Renaissance in the Byzantine Empire, the Tarnovo painting had its own unique features which makes it a separate Artistic School. Depending on whether it was mural decoration of the churches or easel painting it could be divided into two types: Mural painting and Iconography. Little remains of mosaics were found during archaeological excavation which shows that this technique was rarely used in the Bulgarian Empire. The works of that school have some extent of realism, portrait individualism and psychology.

For the first time in Eastern Europe the Tempera method became wide-spread in the murals of the Tarnovo School of Art. That technique allowed the work to proceed slower than the fresco method as well brighter and more saturated colouring and had potential for more additional colours. The fresco technique continued to be used, for instance in the beautiful frescoes of the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo and the chapel of the Hrelyo Tower in the Rila Monastery. The splendid frescoes in the Boyana Church are considered as forerunners of the Renaissance.

Selected Biography

Reconstruction of Samuil's face.
Samuil (Bulgarian: Самуил; [samuˈiɫ]) was the Emperor (Tsar) of the First Bulgarian Empire from 997 to 6 October 1014. From 976 to 997, he was a general for Roman, the second surviving son of Emperor Peter I of Bulgaria, and at least de facto co-ruled with him, as Roman bestowed him command of the army and the real authority. An energetic ruler, Samuil struggled to preserve his country's independence from Byzantium. His rule was characterized by constant war against the Byzantine Empire and its similarly ambitious ruler Basil II.

During his reign, Bulgaria gained control of most of the Balkans except Thrace and southern Greece. He moved the capital from Skopje to Ohrid, which had been the cultural and military centre of southwestern Bulgaria since Boris I's rule, and also made the city the seat of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. Although Samuil's reign brought the end of the First Bulgarian Empire, he is regarded as a heroic ruler.

Selected Picture

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

Prespa was an important Bulgarian city, situated in the region of the homonymous lake. It is presumed that it was situated on the island of Saint Achilles in the Little Prespa Lake. The city might have been a capital of the First Bulgarian Empire and seat of the Bulgarian Patriarchate for a time.

Did You Know?

St. Theodor.jpg
  • ... that the Byzantine Emperor Basil I spent his childhood in Bulgarian captivity after Krum's campaign in 813?
  • ... that the Icon of St Theodor (pictured) from Preslav is among the few ceramics icon ever found?
  • ... that Ivailo who became Emperor of Bulgaria in 1277 and defeated the Tatars and the Byzantines was a swineherd?


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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