State in the northern Balkans. Founded in 681 by Asparugh, Bulgaria included former Roman territory between the Danube, the Black Sea, the Balkan range, and the river Iskur.

It was populated by Slavs, Bulgars, Vlachs, and some remaining Greek inhabitants. The capital was established at Pliska.

The Slav and Bulgar occupation led to the deurbanization of the region and the expulsion of the Christian church with its hierarchy built upon urban foundations.

The focal point of domestic development in the late 7th-9th century was the union of Slavs and Bulgars into a single ethnos that used the Slavic language, a Bulgar administrative system, and the Greek alphabet for the Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions. This unity was reinforced by the christianization of the country by 864/5.

Even though Bulgaria profited from the defeat of the Avars by Charlemagne and extended its power to the northwest as far as the river Theiss, Bulgarian northern policy was primarily defensive: Bulgaria had to protect its northern frontier from the Germans, the Rus’, and later the Tatars.

Bulgaria’s policy in the south was more active, and Bulgarians were often involved in Byzantine affairs, sometimes as allies (Tervel supported Justinian II), sometimes as dangerous adversaries (especially under Krum and Symeon of Bulgaria). The periods of war were interrupted by peace treaties (the 30-year treaty under Omurtag), and sometimes Byzantium managed to exercise considerable influence on Bulgaria, as happened in the reign of Boris I.

Despite the arrival in 885 of pupils of Constantine the Philosopher and Methodios who brought the Slavic alphabet and incipient Slavic literature and liturgy, Byzantine administrative and cultural influence on Bulgaria increased from the end of the 9th century onward.

Bulgarian rulers accepted Byzantine imperial and ceremonial titulature ('basileus' for the former 'khan', 'patriarch' for the 'archbishop', etc.); the new capital Preslav, harbored a significant artisan population; and a substantial selection of Greek theological literature was translated into Church Slavonic. Trade and intermarriage (e.g. Tsar Peter and Maria, Romanos I's granddaughter) helped consolidate Bulgaro-Byzantine links.

From the second half of the 10th century Byzantium began to gain the upper hand in the Balkans. After the plan to subjugate Bulgaria with the assistance of Svjatoslav of Kieb had miscarried, John I Tzimiskes evicted Svjatoslav from Bulgaria, annexed a substantial part of the country, and abolished the autocephalous Bulgarian patriarchate.

The struggle of the Kometopouloi and Samuel of Bulgaria against Basil II, despite temporary success, was lost; by 1018 the whole of Bulgaria had been incorporated in Byzantium and formed several themes -Bulgaria, Paradounavion, Dyrrachion, etc.

The imposition of the "Byzantine yoke" strengthened the Byzantine impact on Bulgaria. The Byzantine system of taxation was extended to the new themes, along with Byzantine secular and ecclesiastical administration and Byzantine forms of peasant dependence (paroikoi, etc.). Intensified trade and the mass penetration of Byzantine coinage accompanied the development of urban life.

On the other hand, the Bulgarian aristocracy entered the ranks of the Byzantine ruling class; Bulgarian topics were treated in Byzantine literature; and specific Bulgarian forms of ideology, such as the Bogomil heresy, gained a strong hold in Byzantium.

The Byzantine domination over Bulgaria was several times challenged in the 11th century (revolts of Deljan and George Voitech, the Bogomil rebellion in 1086).

In 1185 a new revolt broke out, and by 1188 the weakened Byzantine government has recognized the independence of Bulgaria north of the Balkan range, with its capital in Turnovo. The Bulgarian victory at Arkadiopolis in 1193 led to the annexation of much of central Thrace. A new Bulgaria emerged, usually called the Second Bulgarian Empire.


At first (under Kalojan, Boril and John Asen II) Bulgaria profited from the disarray resulting from the Fourth Crusade to occupy more of Trace and most of Macedonia, and after the Bulgarian victory over Epiros at Klokotnica in 1230 extended its rule to the Adriatic at Dyrrachion. The marriage of John Asen's daughter to Theodore II Laskaris of Nicaea and the creation of a Bulgarian patriarchate in 1235 mark the apogee of Bulgarian power.

This zenith was of short duration: the state faced serious domestic and international problems. The country lacked economic unity. The towns of the Danube, such as Vidin, were more connected with central Europe, those of the Black Sea were involved in Italian trade, and western Bulgaria tended towards Dubrovnik.

While ca.1200 Bulgaria profited from alliance with the Cumans, later the Tatar settlement in the steppe created a serious menace, heightened by constant conflicts with Byzantium and Serbia and especially by the Ottoman invasion of the 14th century. The internal instability found its expression in revolts, such as the mutiny of Ivajlo. By the end of the 13th century only northeastern Bulgaria recognized Tsar Georgij Terter I.

For a short period Theodore Svetoslav, Michael III Sisman, and Ivan Alexander reunited Bulgaria, and the country, despte certain military losses, enjoyed relative peace and prosperity.

From 1370 onward, however, the increasing encroachment of the Ottomans on the Balkans threatened the very existence of Bulgaria. In 1373 Bulgaria became a virtual Ottoman vassal, and in 1393 Murad I invaded and annexed it.


Of all the Slavic countries Bulgaria was the closest to Byzantium. Their interrelationship was very complex, ranging from military rivalry to trade connections (Bulgaria exporting to Constantinople flax and cattle) to religious and cultural exchange; some Greek regions were absorbed by Bulgaria and for almost two centuries Bulgaria was incorporated by Byzantium.

The Bulgarian state was formed both under Byzantine impact and in a constant resistance to the threat of "hellenization". The material interpenetration did not abolish mutual mistrust, and political alliance was sporadic and short-lived.

On the other hand, Bulgaria transmitted Byzantine civilization to the other Orthodox peoples, particularly Rumanians and Muscovite Russia (in the 14th century).

The absorption of Byzantine culture was selective.

It was this filtered Byzantine culture that was passed on to the non-Greek Orthodox world.




Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (1991), vol.1, pp.332-334