Battle of Versinikia

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Battle of Versinikia
Part of the Byzantine-Bulgarian Wars
Territorial expansion during the reign of Khan Krum (803-814).png
Bulgaria under Khan Krum including the most important campaigns and battles
Date 22 June 813
Location between Malamirovo, Bulgaria and Edirne, Turkey
Result Decisive Bulgarian victory
Belligerents
Bulgarian Empire Byzantine Empire
Commanders and leaders
Khan Krum Michael I Rangabe
Strength
~12,000 men[1] ~26,000 men[1]
Casualties and losses
Few Heavy

The Battle of Versinikia (Bulgarian: Битката при Версиникия, Greek: Μάχη της Βερσινικίας) was fought in 813 between the Byzantine Empire and the Bulgarian Empire, near the city of Adrianople (Edirne) in contemporary Turkey.

Despite being vastly outnumbered the Bulgarians were victorious, resulting in the dethroning of Michael I Rangabe (811-813) by Leo V the Armenian. The battle was a major success and further strengthened the Bulgarian position after their decisive victory over Nicephorus I two years earlier. In fact, after the battle they de facto took control of the whole of Eastern Thrace (until the Byzantine–Bulgarian Treaty of 815) with the exception of a few castles that remained in Byzantine control. For the first time in the Bulgarian history, the way to Constantinople was opened. Unfortunately for them, the great Khan Krum died in the height of the preparation for the final siege of the Byzantine capital on 13 April 814.

Prelude[edit]

After the great victory over the Byzantine army of emperor Nicephorus I in the battle of Pliska in 811, the Byzantine Empire found itself in a really difficult situation. Nicephorus' son (and legitimate heir) Staurakios, who was seriously wounded in the battle, was deposed in the autumn of the same year, after a palace coup d’état. Michael I Rangabe, curopalates (supervisor of the palace) during the reign of Nicephorus I, was proclaimed emperor.

Bulgaria, which also suffered heavy losses and great material damage during Nicephorus' campaign, also had to reorganize its army and resources and was not able to advance until next year. The Bulgarian attacks were concentrated mainly in Thrace but also along the valley of Strymōn (Struma) river. Many towns were seized and their population was sent far to the north in Bulgaria across the Danube. The attack created such panic among the Byzantine population that several towns were emptied even without being attacked by the Bulgarians. The attempts of Michael I to resist were fruitless - he organized an army but soon after he set off from Constantinople he had to go back due to a conspiracy.[2]

In the meantime the Bulgarians continued to strike Thrace but in the autumn of 812 they were offered peace. The Bulgarian delegation was led by Dobromir[3][4] but the Byzantine Emperor refused to conclude peace due to "his foul advisors' suggestions" as Theophanes says. However the real reason was most probably Item 3 in the Byzantine–Bulgarian Treaty of 716 which stated that "The refugees [emigrants, deserters] from both sides shall be mutually surrendered, if they are plotting against the authorities."[5] That item was important for the Byzantines during the 8th century because the authority of their Emperors was weakened but, after the crisis in Bulgaria in the mid 8th century, it became inconvenient for them.[6] In response to the refusal the Bulgarians besieged Mesembria (Nessebar). They had excellent siege machines built by an Arab emigrant and soon captured the town where they found 36 copper siphons used to throw the famous Greek fire and a large quantity of gold and silver.[7]

Preparations for battle[edit]

Despite the loss of Mesembria, the Byzantines were unwilling to settle peace.[4] During the winter of 812 - 813 Khan Krum started intense preparations for an attack against Byzantium and Michael I was preparing for defense. In February 813 Bulgarian forces made several investigation raids in Thrace but quickly pulled back after several clashes with the Byzantines. The retreat was considered by the Byzantine Emperor as a victory "according to God's providence"[8] and encouraged him to counter-attack.

The Byzantines again summoned an enormous army gathered from all themes of their Empire including the guards of the Syrian passes. Due to an unrest in the army, the campaign was delayed but finally they set off from Constantinople in May. The departure was a celebration and the population of the city including the Empress accompanied the troops outside the city wall. They even gave presents to the military commanders and invoked them to guard the Emperor and fight for the Christians.[9]

The battle[edit]

Development of the battle of Versinikia.

The Byzantine army marched to the north but did not take any actions to take back Mesembria. On 4 May there was a solar eclipse which frightened the Byzantine soldiers and lowered their morale. They encamped in the vicinity of Adrianople where the army looted and robbed its own country.[8] In May Khan Krum also headed to Adrianople.[9] In June both armies set their camps close to each other near the small fortress Versinikia to the north of Adrianople. Historical account (John Skylitzes in Synopsis Historion, etc.) stated that the Byzantine army was 10 times (some historians stated even 20 times) bigger than the Bulgarian hosts. That was probably overestimated but undoubtedly the Byzantine army was significantly larger than the Bulgarian. Therefore, the Bulgarians kept on a defensive position. Despite the numerical, logistic and strategic superiority the Byzantine army did not confront the adversary. Both armies got tense and anxious having waited in full armor for 13 days in the hot summer of Thrace. At the end the nerves of the Byzantine commanders failed the test of nerve and stamina. Some of them were eager to attack and on 22 June the strategos of Macedonia John Aplakes addressed Michael and said: "How much are we going to wait and die? I will attack first in the name of God and you will follow me bravely. And victory shall be ours because we are ten times more than them [the Bulgarians]."[10]

The battle was short: in the morning of the same day the Byzantines attacked and the squad of Aplakes engaged the Bulgarians first. It managed to inflict some casualties to the Bulgarians but since the very beginning most of the Byzantines were so frightened that they did not even engage their enemy. The Byzantines could not withstand even the first Bulgarian counter-attack and when Khan Krum advanced with the Bulgarian heavy cavalry against the left flank of Byzantines they immediately ran away. The Anatolian squad was the first to flee followed by the entire army. The soldiers of Aplakes were left behind and most of them perished, including their commander. The battle took place in a valley and when the Bulgarians saw the retreating enemy which was in the higher positions they at first suspected a trap. In fact they also did not expect to achieve success so quickly and at first did not chase them. But when the Bulgarians were certain that the enemy is fleeing in panic their heavy cavalry rushed after the Byzantines. Many of them perished during the flight, others hid in different fortresses which were taken by the Bulgarians one by one and the rest managed to reach Constantinople. The chief commanders of Byzantine army, including the Emperor Michael I Rangabe and Leo the Armenian, were the first to abandon the battlefield. The Bulgarians took the Byzantine camp and a rich prize including gold and weaponry.[11]

Later Byzantine chronographers Genesius[12] and Theophanes Continuatus[13] accused Leo the Armenian as primarily responsible for the defeat, claiming that he deliberately ordered the flight of the units that were still not engaged in the battle. This view is accepted by a large number of scholars (J.B. Bury, Steven Runciman, George Ostrogorsky, R.J.H. Jenkins, Warren Treadgold et al.), while others (Vasil Zlatarski and a number of Greek scholars) reject Leo's responsibility,[14] pointing to an alternative story Genesius[15] and Theophanes Continuatus[16] also included in their texts.

Aftermath[edit]

The victory at Versinikia further worsened the grim situation of Byzantium and gave the Bulgarian Khan an opportunity to launch attacks in the vicinity of the Byzantine capital itself. It also sealed the fate of Michael I Rangabe who was forced to abdicate and withdraw to a monastery. The Byzantine throne was taken by Leo V the Armenian (813-820) who was distinguished from his predecessor as a strong-charactered and energetic man. He immediately took hasty precautions for the defense of Constantinople because he expected a Bulgarian assault.[17]

The Bulgarians annihilate the Byzantine army ar Versinikia.
The battle of Versinikia from the 14th century Bulgarian copy of the Manasses Chronicle.

The way to Constantionople was clear and the Bulgarian army headed straight to the city without facing any resistance. There were still several fortresses in Thrace which remained in Byzantine hands, particularly Adrianople which was besieged by Krum's brother. On 17 July 813 Krum himself reached the walls of Constantinople and set his camp without hindrance.[17][18] Within the sight of the citizens of Constantinople, Krum who was also the high priest made a sacrifice to the Bulgar god Tangra, performed some pagan rituals, then the Bulgarians built trenches along the whole length of the city's walls and then suddenly Krum offered peace.[17]

Leo V agreed to negotiations but he intended to treacherously kill Khan Krum and eliminate the threat over the Byzantine Empire. During the negotiations, the Byzantines fired arrows on the Bulgarian delegation killing some of them, including the kavkhan or other high official, but Krum himself remained intact.[19]

Infuriated by the treachery of the Byzantines, Krum ordered all churches, monasteries and palaces outside Constantinople to be destroyed, the captured Byzantines were slain and the riches from the palaces were sent to Bulgaria on carts. After that all enemy fortresses in the surroundings of Constantinople and Marmara Sea were seized and razed to the ground. The castles and settlements in the interior of Eastern Thrace were looted and the whole region devastated.[20] Then Krum returned to Adrianople and strengthened the besieging forces. With the help of mangonels and battering rams he forced the city to surrender.[21] The Bulgarians captured 10,000 people who were resettled in Bulgaria across the Danube.[22] Further 50,000 from other settlements in Thrace were deported there. During the winter Krum returned to Bulgaria and launched serious preparation for the final assault on Constantinople. The siege machines had to be transported to Constantinople by 5,000 iron-covered carts hauled by 10,000 oxen. However, he died during the height of the preparations on 13 April 814.

Location of the battle[edit]

The exact location of the Versinikia fortress is unknown. According to Teophanes that castle was located at 60 km from Michael Rangabe's camp at Adrianople.[23] At that distance from the north is located the village of Malomirovo in whose surrounding was discovered an ancient Bulgarian inscription from the reign of Khan Krum. It is about the division of the Bulgarian army during the campaign in 813 - the left flank under kavkhan Irtais was concentrated on the coast at Anchialus (Pomorie) and Sozopol and the right flank's headquarters were in the area of Beroe (Stara Zagora) under the command of the ichirgu-boil Tuk.[24] The center under the personal command of Krum was probably located in the area of contemporary town of Elhovo which is close to Malamirovo. It likely that the Byzantine army took position along the Derventski Heights which are situated on the contemporary Bulgarian-Turkish border.[25][26]

Sources and references[edit]

  • Theophanes the Confessor, Chronicle, Ed. Carl de Boor, Leipzig.
  • Theophanes Continuatus, Chronographia, in Patrologia Graeca vol. 109, ed. J. P. Migne, Paris 1863.
  • Josephus Genesius, Vasiliai (Historia de Rebus Constantinopolitanis), in Patrologia Graeca vol. 109, ed. J.P. Migne, Paris 1863. This work is also known as Reges.
  • John Skylitzes, Synopsis Historion, translated by Paul Stephenson.
  • Васил Н. Златарски (Vasil N. Zlatarski), История на българската държава през средните векове, Част I, II изд., Наука и изкуство, София 1970.
  • Атанас Пейчев и колектив, 1300 години на стража, Военно издателство, София 1984.
  • Йордан Андреев, Милчо Лалков, Българските ханове и царе, Велико Търново, 1996.
  • Θεόδωρος Κορρές, Λέων Ε' ο Αρμένιος και η εποχή του - Μια κρίσιμη δεκαετία για το Βυζάντιο (811-820), εκδ. Βάνιας, Θεσσαλονίκη 1996.
  • John Haldon, The Byzantine Wars, Tempus, 2001. ISBN 0-7524-1795-9
  • Warren Treadgold, A history of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford University Press 1997, ISBN 0-8047-2630-2.
  • Battle of Versinikia (in Bulgarian)

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Haldon 2001, pp. 76-77
  2. ^ Ангелов, Д и колектив, История на България, Т. 2, БАН, София, 1981, с. 138
  3. ^ Theophanes Continuatus, Chronographia, p. 12
  4. ^ a b Josephus Genesius, Vasiliai (Reges), p. 12
  5. ^ Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia, p.497
  6. ^ Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia, p. 499
  7. ^ Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia, p. 489 - 499
  8. ^ a b Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia, p. 500
  9. ^ a b Scriptor Incertus, Historia, p. 336 — 337
  10. ^ Scriptor Incertus, Historia, p. 18
  11. ^ Златарски, И. История на България, Т 1, Ч 1, 268 - 269
  12. ^ Josephus Genesius, Vasiliai (Reges), col.992 (Patrologia Graeca, vol.109)
  13. ^ Theophanes Continuatus, Chronographia, col.28 (Patrologia Graeca, vol.109)
  14. ^ For a useful summary of the controversy over Leo's responsibility, see Theod. Korres, Leo V and his age, ed. Vanias, Salonica 1996 (Greek text)
  15. ^ Josephus Genesius, Vasiliai (Reges), col.993 (Patrologia Graeca, vol.109)
  16. ^ Theophanes Continuatus, Chronographia, col.29 (Patrologia Graeca, vol.109)
  17. ^ a b c Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia, p. 503
  18. ^ Scriptor Incertus, Historia, p. 342
  19. ^ Златарски, И. История на България, Т 1, Ч 1, 271 - 272
  20. ^ Scriptor Incertus, Historia, p. 342 - 344
  21. ^ Scriptor Incertus, Historia, p. 344 - 345
  22. ^ Georgius Monachus, Chronicon, col. 981
  23. ^ Theophanes Confessor, Chronographia, p.684
  24. ^ Бешелиев, В. Прабългарски епиграфски паметници, с. 37
  25. ^ Бешелиев, В. Прабългарски епиграфски паметници, с. 42
  26. ^ Curta, F. Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, p. 151