Beginning of Bulgaria’s Golden Age Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The beginning of Bulgaria’s golden age, from the ascension of Symeon to the end of his reign in 927, witnessed Bulgaria’s cultural and intellectual flowering, its territorial expansion, and its aspirations to capture the imperial city of Constantinople.

Summary of Event

Bulgaria’s golden age began with the reign of Symeon Symeon , following a church council convened in Preslav in 893. Boris I Boris I of Bulgaria , the Bulgarian ruler who had first accepted Christianity in 864, left his kingdom to his eldest son Vladimir Vladimir (ruler of Bulgaria) in 889 in order to retire to a monastery. Vladimir, however, consorted with the aristocratic Bulgar boyars to overturn the Christian religion that Boris had introduced. Clergy were persecuted, the alliance with Byzantium was dropped in favor of one with King Arnulf of Germany, and a revival of paganism seemed imminent. [kw]Beginning of Bulgaria’s Golden Age (893) [kw]Bulgaria’s Golden Age, Beginning of (893) Bulgaria Bulgaria;893: Beginning of Bulgaria’s Golden Age[1070] Cultural and intellectual history;893: Beginning of Bulgaria’s Golden Age[1070] Expansion and land acquisition;893: Beginning of Bulgaria’s Golden Age[1070] Government and politics;893: Beginning of Bulgaria’s Golden Age[1070] Boris I of Bulgaria Symeon Leo VI Alexander (870-913) Nicholas the Mystic Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus Zoe Karbonopsina Romanus I Lecapenus

After four years of this retrograde regime, Boris reappeared in Pliska, the capital, recovered the crown, and deposed and blinded his son. Boris then called a church council in 893, which recognized Vladimir’s deposition and proclaimed Symeon Symeon the new ruler and Christianity the state religion, with Slavonic the state language instead of Greek. The new capital was to be Preslav instead of the former capital Pliska.

Symeon, the younger son of Boris, was trained for a religious vocation, having spent almost ten years as a novice at a Byzantine monastery in Constantinople. While there, he had also received a secular education and was well versed in the philosophical and literary culture of his day. He had returned to Bulgaria in 888 to pursue Greek studies and to oversee the translation of Greek religious and historical texts into Bulgarian. In 893, he became czar of Bulgaria.

By this time also, the Slavicization of the Turkic Bulgars, the conquerors of the indigenous Slavic population, was practically complete, the more numerous Slavs Slavs;Bulgars and having assimilated the Bulgars both linguistically and culturally. This assimilation had come about through intermarriage, trade, Christianization, and the numerical superiority of the Slavs.

Soon after his accession, Symeon came into conflict with the Byzantine Empire Byzantine Empire;Bulgars and over the expulsion from Constantinople of Bulgarian merchants trading there. He invaded the imperial domains in Thrace and let his troops lay waste to the countryside. When the Byzantine emperor retaliated, his troops were defeated by those of Symeon. The emperor then mobilized a larger force, including the Magyars, which caused Symeon to sue for peace. Symeon’s secret negotiations with the Pechenegs, a central Asian nomadic people, however, served to divert the Magyars from the Bulgarian flank and enabled him to continue his quarrel with Leo VI Leo VI (Byzantine emperor) , the Byzantine emperor. Symeon demanded the return of all Bulgarian captives and, unsatisfied, engaged the imperial army at Bulgarophygon in Thrace and triumphed.

The Bulgarians and Byzantines signed a treaty in 897, whereby the Byzantines agreed to pay the Bulgarians tribute, commercial rights of Bulgarian traders were restored in Constantinople, and Symeon was given some territory along the frontier.

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From 902 to 904, the Arabs were depredating the Aegean area, especially the coast of Thessaly and the Peloponnesus. In 904, they captured Thessaloniki but later withdrew with prisoners and booty. Symeon used this opportunity to garner further territory from the Byzantine Empire in return for refraining from attacking the devastated city. He acquired parts of Thrace and obtained Byzantine recognition for Bulgarian dominion over most of Macedonia. This allowed Bulgaria to claim sovereignty over Slavic tribes west of the original Bulgarian state.

With Emperor Leo VI’s death in 912 and the ascension of his brother Alexander Alexander (Byzantine emperor) , a number of new political figures came into power, among them the former patriarch Nicholas the Mystic Nicholas the Mystic . Nicholas had been deposed by Leo for refusing to acknowledge his fourth marriage, from which the future emperor, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus , had sprung.

Alexander alienated Symeon by refusing to pay tribute to his envoys under the terms of the 897 treaty. This refusal gave Symeon the pretext he needed for launching an attack on Byzantium, which he did by spring of 913. Shortly thereafter, the degenerate Byzantine emperor Alexander died, leaving the seven-year-old Constantine VII under the regency of Nicholas the Mystic, with Constantine’s mother Zoe Karbonopsina Zoe Karbonopsina exiled to a monastery.

In August of 913, Symeon led his army to the massive walls surrounding Constantinople, claiming the emperor’s crown for himself. Symeon, educated in Constantinople, sometimes called the half-Greek, and filled with imperial ambition, wished to be recognized as the sole “Roman” emperor of a combined Greek-Bulgarian state. Like so many of his precursors, however, Symeon was unable to break through the thick walls surrounding the city.

The patriarch and regent Nicholas agreed to meet and confer with Symeon, and, in so doing, placed a crown on Symeon’s head. Nicholas also agreed to a marriage between the young Constantine and Symeon’s daughter. Whether this coronation was genuine or a sham is disputed by scholars, as is the nature of the crown with which Symeon was honored. At any rate, Symeon believed that he, as future father-in-law of the future Byzantine emperor, had come closer to the throne of the Byzantine Empire, his ultimate goal.

Shortly after this “coronation” early in 914, Constantine’s mother Zoe Karbonopsina returned to the capital, led a palace coup, replaced Nicholas as regent, and reversed Symeon’s marriage plans for her son. The infuriated Symeon, frustrated in his hopes, retaliated by resuming his war against the empire, which he continued for the next decade.

For the next five years, Symeon’s campaign in the Balkans was largely successful as he moved from one conquest to another. Symeon and the Byzantine army clashed at Anchialos on the Black Sea on August 20, 917. The Byzantines were routed. Then Symeon invaded Serbia, which had earlier been consorting with the Byzantines, and placed his own candidate, Pavel, on the Serbian throne. He then proceeded to attack Greece.

Then, in 919, the regent Zoe was deposed in Byzantium by the admiral Romanus I Lecapenus Romanus I Lecapenus , who married his own daughter to the hapless Constantine. He then had himself crowned coemperor with Constantine VII in December, 920.

Disappointed in his own imperial ambitions, Symeon overran Thrace. Now the Serbian crown went to Zaharije Zaharije , the Bulgarian’s candidate. Zaharije, however, proved to be unreliable and turned against his kingmaker, defeating Symeon’s troops and beheading his officers.

Symeon then attempted to create a navy by proposing an alliance with the Fāṭimid Dynasty in North Africa. When the Byzantines subverted this plan, he finally agreed to meet with Romanus. His imperial designs foiled, Symeon turned a large army against Serbia in 924 and annexed it, greatly increasing his state, and reoccupied several cities in Thrace. In 926, he launched an invasion against his new neighbor to the west, Croatia, then at the height of its fortunes under its king, Tomislav Tomislav . This attack was repelled, and Symeon made peace with Tomislav.

In 927, Symeon set out once again against the Byzantine Empire, but died on the road, never having achieved his ultimate goal of becoming emperor of the Romans.

Significance

Under Symeon’s military leadership, Bulgaria failed to capture Constantinople, but in the cultural realm, Symeon’s reign saw the flourishing of the new Bulgarian capital Preslav, which became a monastic, cultural, and crafts center. Also, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Orthodox Church;Bulgaria first became independent of Greek clergy. Symeon fully supported the adaptation of Greek liturgical texts to the Slavic vernacular, as well as the translation of numerous secular literary texts. Bulgaria at this time was experiencing a flourishing of the literary arts, not only continuing and expanding on the mission of the disciples Cyril and Methodius but even carrying this work to other Slavic nations within the Byzantine sphere of influence. The new capital, Preslav, rivaled Constantinople in the splendor of its royal palace, which the new czar constructed by importing builders and artists from the imperial capital.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Browning, Robert. Byzantium and Bulgaria: A Comparative Study Across the Early Medieval Frontier. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975. Focuses on the ninth and tenth centuries and the relationship between Byzantium and Bulgaria.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crampton, R. J. A Concise History of Bulgaria. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Includes a brief discussion of Symeon in the chapter on medieval Bulgaria.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fine, John. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983. A scholarly work stressing the many uncertainties about the historical sources for the earliest Bulgarian period. Chapter 5 examines the reign of Symeon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Obolensky, Dimitri. The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500-1453. New York: Praeger, 1971. Historical and geographical study of the nations of Eastern Europe, particularly the Slavs, during the Byzantine Empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Runciman, Steven. A History of the First Bulgarian Empire. London: Bell, 1930. A classic history of the first Bulgarian Empire, focusing on religious and political developments from the earliest times to 1014.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shepard, Jonathan. “The Ruler as Instructor, Pastor, and Wise: Leo VI of Byzantium and Simeon of Bulgaria.” In Alfred the Great: Papers from the Eleventh-Centenary Conferences, edited by Timothy Reuter. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2003. A discussion of the relationship between the two rulers and their governance of their respective peoples.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tzvetkov, Plamen. A History of the Balkans: A Regional Overview from a Bulgarian Perspective. 2 vols. San Francisco: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993. Volume 1 covers the early period, giving the Bulgarian version of the historical events.

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