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861-1207 - Bulgarian Macedonia

Towards the middle of the ninth century the Bulgars began to attack Byzantium in the direction of Macedonia. About the year 861, under their Tsar Boris (852-888), they conquered part of Macedonia. By the wars waged by the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon (893-927) against Byzantium, the Bulgars succeeded in gaining possession of the whole of Macedonia. Coming in this manner under the sway of the Bulgars, the Macedonian Slavs maintained the same relations towards them which they had hitherto observed towards Byzantium. The Slav tribes, under the rule of their native princes or chieftains, retained their independent domestic organization, only their allegiance was transferred to their new masters.

The change of allegiance did not, therefore, interfere with the domestic life of the Macedonian Slavs. Likewise it exercised no influence on the ethnical evolution of the Macedonians either. The Bulgars did not come as settlers, but as conquerors. As, only the towns in which the whole of their military strength was concentrated came under their direct rule, they never came into contact with the Macedonian Slavs; because in the towns the population was preponderantly Greek and not Slav.

The lot of the Macedonian Slavs under the Bulgars was not a pleasant one. The Bulgars and the Macedonian Slavs represented not only two social classes one of which was the ruling and the other the ruled, but also two nations, two religions, and two civilizations. It is true that the Bulgars had already approximated themselves considerably to the conquered Slavs in Bulgarian territory, but to all intents and purposes they were in the main Bulgars. Although they were nominally converted, they were far from being really Christians. Even in 9G8 a Bulgarian envoy in Constantinople wore his hair cut in the Barbarian style like an "Ungar"; he wore an iron chain, and he was a catechumen not yet baptized. Brought up under the influence of still unsoftened barbarous Turanian qualities, the Bulgars were not popular masters with the peaceable Slavs of the cultivated and prosperous Macedonian provinces of Byzantium, whose ancient intellectual centres were Salonica, Justiniana Prima, and other cities.

Dissatisfaction with the Bulgarian rule manifested itself very early among the Macedonian Slavs. Two insurrections, one in 929 and a second in 931, although unsuccessful, show clearly what were the feelings of the Macedonian Slavs towards the Bulgarian conquerors. A third insurrection broke out in 969. The leaders of this insurrection were four brothers, sons of a /Slav prince in Macedonia. This insurrection was finally successful, and the Macedonian Slavs drove out the Bulgars and established an independent State of their own. In 973 the young Macedonian State fell once more under the domination of Byzantium; but already in 976 the same four brothers who freed Macedonia from the Bulgars succeeded in liberating her from the Greeks. Macedonia once more became independent, and one of the four brothers, Samuel by name, proclaimed himself Tsar (976-1014). Thus by the end of the tenth century the Macedonian Slavs had likewise established their State.

Young, fresh and full of energy, the new Southern Slav State expanded rapidly. In 986 Tsar Samuel successfully deprived Byzantium of Bulgaria, which the Byzantine Emperor John Zimisces had added to his empire in 971. Hereafter Samuel conquered Albania, and then the Serbian States of Duklja, Zeta, and eventually Travunia, Zahumlje, Neretva, RaSka, and Bosnia. The frontiers of Samuel's State comprised all the Serbian principalities and the whole of Bulgaria.

Over so vast an empire Samuel failed to maintain his hold. Bulgaria remained in his hands only for fourteen years (986-1000). Then Byzantium wrested it from Samuel and reconquered it. As ruler over the greater part of the conquered Serbian States Samuel appointed Jovan Vladimir, the deposed Serbian Prince of Zeta and Duklja, after giving him his daughter to wife. Samuel retained only Macedonia and the countries directly adjoining the principality.

The Bulgars were for a certain time masters of Macedonia; but on the strength of this rule of theirs the Bulgars are scarcely entitled to lay claim to Macedonia. On the contrary, the Macedonians always looked upon the Bulgars as foreign conquerors; they rebelled against them and drove them out.

As their power gradually increased the Bulgars awaited a suitable opportunity for embarking upon conquests. This opportunity arrived in 1202. In that year the Latins besieged Constantinople. While the siege was proceeding the Bulgarian Tsar Kalojan " took advantage of the general confusion and overran the western part of the Byzantine Empire from Sofia to the frontiers of Thessaly, taking the towns of Skoplje, Ochrida, and Ber, and even Prizren." 1 Not feeling secure in the territory they had conquered, the Bulgarians expelled all the Greek bishops and replaced them by Bulgarian ecclesiastics. They likewise transported all Greek suspects to the Danubian regions. Serbia was at the time powerless to prevent Bulgarian aggression and violence in Macedonia. The struggle for the throne, which was fomented by Hungary, absorbed all Serbia's strength and attention.

This Bulgarian domination in Macedonia did not last long, only until the death of Kalojan in 1207. Then internal dissensions broke out among the Bulgarian princes, and Bulgaria was divided. Part of Macedonia came to be ruled by a relative of Kalojan, Strez by name, but under Serbian suzerainty. Strez died in 1215; part of his lands was taken by the Latins of Salonica, and part by the Greeks of Epirus. Thus every trace of Bulgarian rule in Macedonia was obliterated once more.

In 1223 Macedonia was ruled by Theodore Komnenus, Despot of Epirus, who presently proclaimed himself Emperor. His lieutenants—Greeks, Slavs, and Albanians — administered the provinces of Macedonia and Albania right up to the Serbian frontier, which ran north of Arban, Debar, and Skoplje. Towards the east, Theodore Komnenus extended his power even over Thrace with its capital of Adrianople. Theodore ruled over Macedonia for seven years in all. In 1230 he was suddenly attacked, defeated, and made prisoner by the Bulgarian Tsar Asen II, near the village of Klokotnica (now Semisdze), on the road from Philippopolis to Adrianople.

There was one more Bulgarian invasion of Eastern Macedonia as far as the Vardar, which lasted from the end of 1254 until 1256, and was also "carried out without difficulty"; but it is hardly worth mentioning.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2012 16:22:30 ZULU