Bulgaria's civilized history dates back more than six millennia to a prehistoric time and place within the heart of its territory that marks the birth of Europe's and possibly the world's first literary culture. Though relatively small in terms of territory and population, Bulgaria's continuous historical wealth throughout prominent cyclical eras of growth, decline and medieval renaissance rivals that of the much larger and more populous countries of China, India and Egypt.
The reign of Ivan Alexander had begun promisingly enough with Bulgaria swiftly recovering from a major defeat (the battle of Velbăžd) and an acute succession crisis involving civil war and a foreign invasion. Ivan Alexander had energetically met opposition on two fronts and overcome it, although the elated praise of his triumph by the court writers was premature in retrospect. The period was a golden age for medieval Bulgarian literary, architectural, and artistic production, and a significant amount of the output has survived the ravages of time. In spite of the Black Death and foreign invasions, a large portion of Ivan Alexander's realm enjoyed peace and relative prosperity for four decades, and churches and monasteries were endowed on an unprecedented scale.
However, even at the height of his power in the mid-1340s, Ivan Alexander exhibited signs of weakness and vacillation, and his policy was characterized by alternating attempts at assertion and forced compromise. In his old age, Ivan Alexander was no longer able to fight off enemies on two fronts, or to exert effective control over some of his nobles (without major concessions in their favoкr).