Second Bulgarian Empire

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Second Bulgarian Empire
ц︢рьство блъгарское
Flag of Palaeologus Dynasty.svg
1186-1395 Ottoman flag.svg
Flag of tsar Constantine Tikh emblem of tsar Ivan Shishman
Bulgaria during the reign of Ivan Asen II, 13th century
Capital Tarnovo
Vidin & Nikopol
Languages Middle Bulgarian
Religion Bulgarian Orthodox
(1185–1204 / 1235–1422)
Roman Catholic
Government Feudal monarchy
Emperor of Bulgaria
 -  1186-1196 John I Asen
 -  1196-1197 Peter II Asen
 -  1280-1292 George I Terter
 -  1323-1330 Michael III Shishman
Historical era Middle Ages
 -  Bulgarian Uprising 1185
 -  Mongol vassal, 1285
 -  Siege of Tarnovo 17 July 1393
 -  Battle of Nicopolis 25 September 1396
 -  13th century 400,000 km² (154,441 sq mi)
 -  13th century est. 14,000,000 
     Density 35 /km²  (90.6 /sq mi)
Today part of

The Second Bulgarian Empire (Bulgarian: Второ българско царство, Vtorо Bǎlgarskо Cartsvo, for alternative names see Names section) was a medieval Bulgarian state which existed between 1185 and 1422. A successor of the First Bulgarian Empire, it reached the peak of its power under Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II.

Up until 1256, the Second Bulgarian Empire was the dominant power in the Balkans.[1] The Byzantines were defeated in several major battles, and in 1205 the newly established Latin Empire was crushed in the battle of Adrianople by Emperor Kaloyan. His nephew, Ivan Asen II (1218–1241), defeated the Despotate of Epiros and made Bulgaria a regional power once again. However, in the late 13th century the Empire declined under the constant invasions of Tatars, Byzantines, Hungarians, Serbs, and internal instability and revolts. After the empire was divided into several independent small states (Kingdom of Tarnovo, Tsardom of Vidin, Despotate of Dobruja) in the late 14th and early 15th century, they were conquered by the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the strong Byzantine influence, the Bulgarian artists and architects managed to create their own distinct style. Literature and art flourished in the 14th century and a large part of the Bulgarian population was literate.[2]


The most used name by contemporaries was Bulgaria. During Kaloyan's reign the state was sometimes called as both of Bulgarians and Vlachs. Pope Innocent III[3] and other foreigners such as the Latin emperor Henry[4] mentioned the state as Bulgaria and Bulgarian Empire in official letters.

In modern historiography the state is called the Second Bulgarian Empire, Second Bulgarian Tsardom or the Second Bulgarian Kingdom[5] (to distinguish it from the First Bulgarian Empire). An alternative name (used in connection with the pre-mid 13th century period) is the Empire of Bulgarians and Vlachs,[6] whose different variants include the Bulgarian-Vlach Empire,[7] the Bulgarian-Wallachian Empire.[8] or the Romanian-Bulgarian Empire (the last one exclusively in Romanian historiography)[9][10]


The Byzantines ruled Bulgaria from 1018, when they conquered the First Bulgarian Empire, to 1185, although initially it was not fully integrated into the Byzantine Empire, for example preserving the existing tax levels and the power of the low-ranking nobility. The independent Bulgarian Orthodox Church was subordinated to the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, and the Bulgarian aristocracy and tsar's relatives were given various Byzantine titles and transferred to the Asian parts of the Empire. There were rebellions against Byzantine rule in 1040-41, the 1070s and the 1080s, but these ultimately failed.


By the late 12th century Byzantine dominance in the Balkans declined after the Emperor Manuel I Komnenus (whose forces had defeated the Hungarians at Sirmium in 1167) died (1180) and power in Constantinople passed to Andronikus I Komnenus (reigned 1183-1185) and then to a series of incompetent emperors. In 1185 the brothers Peter and Ivan Asen led a revolt against Byzantine rule and Peter declared himself Tsar Peter IV (also known as Theodore Peter), firmly claiming to inherit the authority of the First Bulgarian Empire. After little more than a year of warfare the Byzantines had to acknowledge Bulgaria's independence, though fighting continued. The liberation movement was originated and vigorously prosecuted by Vlachs - either an alternative name for the inhabitants of Moesia or the ancestors of today's Vlachs; the Bulgarians joined in the struggle.[11] The peoples who took part in the rebellion and formed part of the new state certainly included Slavic-speaking Bulgarians and, alongside them, Cumans, Vlachs and Greeks: Peter styled himself "Tsar of the Bulgarians and Greeks". The Cumans played a fundamental[12] role in the liberation. Istvan Vassary states that without the active participation of the Cumans, the Vlakho-Bulgarian rebels could never have gained the upper hand over the Byzantines, and ultimately without the military support of the Cumans, the process of Bulgarian restoration could never have succeeded.[13][14][15] The Cuman participation in the creation of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185 and thereafter brought about basic changes in the political and ethnic sphere of Bulgaria and the Balkans.[13]

The war between 1185 and 1197[edit]

In the summer of 1185 a miraculous icon of Saint Demetrius of Salonica was found in Tarnovo and the Asen brothers claimed that the saint had abandoned Salonica in order to help the Bulgarian cause. That had a large psychological impact on the religious population. Between the autumn of 1185 and the spring of 1186 the rebels liberated the whole of northern Bulgaria, with the exception of Varna. In the summer the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos managed to overcome the mountain passes and invaded Moesia. Asen retreated to the north of the Danube; when the Byzantines went back to Constantinople he returned with more Cuman auxiliaries and soon the war continued to the south in Thrace. A skillful general, Asen struck swiftly and constantly harassed the larger Byzantine armies. After an unsuccessful siege of Lovech in 1187, the Byzantines had to sue for a truce. Three years later Ivan Asen decisively defeated them near Tryavna, Isaac II Angelos barely escaping, abandoning the Imperial crown and cross. For the next five years the Bulgarians maintained the initiative and reconquered more towns and castles in northern Thrace and Macedonia, especially after the major Bulgarian victory at Arcadiopolis in 1194. In 1196 Ivan Asen defeated the Byzantines at Serres but soon after that event his cousin Ivanko, incited by the Byzantines, murdered him. Ivanko usurped the throne but could not stay in the capital, which Peter besieged; Ivanko fled to the Byzantine Empire, where he was made a governor of Plovdiv. However, only a year later Peter IV became victim of another plot (1197) and the youngest Asen brother, Kaloyan, succeeded to the throne.

Balkan power[edit]

Resurrected Bulgaria occupied the territory between the Black Sea, the Danube, and Stara Planina, including a part of eastern Macedonia and the valley of the Morava. It also exercised influence in Wallachia and Moldova. During the rule of two of Bulgaria's most successful rulers, Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II, the country emerged as a regional power with considerable military and economic strength. Between 1204 and 1261, during the Latin Empire, the Bulgarian civil and religious authorities saw themselves as a Byzantine successor in preserving the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church with numerous important relics being collected in the capital Tarnovo.


Tsar Kaloyan (1197–1207) entered a union with the Papacy, thereby securing the recognition of his title of "Rex", although he desired to be recognized as "Emperor" or "Tsar". He and his Cuman allies waged wars against the Byzantine Empire and (after 1204) on the Knights of the Fourth Crusade, conquering large parts of Thrace, the Rhodopes, as well as the whole of Macedonia. He decisively defeated the newly created Latin Empire in the Battle of Adrianople (1205) and thus crushed its power in the very first year of its creation and prevented its influence on the larger parts of the Balkans. Emperor Baldwin I was captured in the battle and later died in captivity in Tarnovo. In the next year the Latins suffered another heavy defeat in the battle of Rusion. Kaloyan's struggle was initially supported by the Byzantine nobility, but then they betrayed the Bulgarians and allied with the Crusaders. Kaloyan was infuriated and killed tens of thousands of Byzantines.[16] At the siege of Varna (1201) he ordered the whole Byzantine population of the city to be buried alive.[17] He wanted revenge for Samuil's 14,000 blinded soldiers and called himself Romanoktonos (Roman-slayer), as Basil II had been called Bulgaroktonos (Bulgarian-slayer).

To the west and north-west he fought against the Hungarians and defeated them several times.[citation needed]

Ivan Asen II[edit]

Bulgaria under Ivan Asen II

After the death of Kaloyan, his cousin Boril (1207–1218) took the throne, but during his reign the country lost significant territories to Hungary, the Latin Empire, and the Despotate of Epirus. Boril lost support and was overthrown by another cousin, Ivan Asen.

Under Ivan Asen II (1218–1241), Bulgarian fortunes improved, reconquering the lost lands and occupying Odrin and Albania. In the beginning of his reign he peacefully regained Belgrade and Branicevo, which had been lost to Hungary, and some lands from the Latin Empire. After the major success at Klokotnitsa in 1230 the Epirus Despotate became a vassal tributary to Bulgaria. In an inscription from Tarnovo in 1230 Ivan entitled himself "In Christ the Lord faithful Tsar and autocrat of the Bulgarians, son of the old Asen". The Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchate was restored in 1235 with approval of all eastern Patriarchates, thus putting an end to the union with the Papacy.

Ivan Asen II had a reputation as a wise and humane ruler, and he opened relations with the Catholic west, especially Venice and Genoa, to diversify trade. The country enjoyed a flourishing economy, and around 1235 Bulgaria had an organised Navy. In the last year of his reign he defeated a detachment of Tatars, who attacked Bulgaria after their devastating raid in Hungary. After his death, however, Bulgarian authorities recognized Mongol supremacy thanks to Kadan.


Under the successors of Ivan Asen II, Bulgaria declined. In 1242 the Mongols raided the Balkans in the early 13th century, devastating Bulgaria and forcing it to pay tribute to the Khans of the Golden Horde. After 1256 the Empire of Nicaea annexed southern Macedonia, Rhodope mountains, and part of Thrace. The Hungarian kingdom occupied the province of Belgrade. Gradually Bulgaria lost control and traditional significant political influence over Wallachia, where the power of the regional nobles was strengthened, and subsequently local kingdoms were established. By the reign of Michael II Asen (1246–1256), Bulgaria had lost significant territories to its enemies without any major military disaster, mostly due to the disloyal nobles who surrendered territories for personal enrichment. Under Constantine I Tikh the country lost northern and central Macedonia to Byzantium as well as Severin Banat to Hungary. The crisis led to a peasant war, raised by the swineherd Ivailo, who managed to sit on the Bulgarian throne from 1277 to 1280.

Bulgaria in the 13th century.

Ivailo achieved great military success against the external enemies, defeating the Byzantines in two major battles and temporarily driving away the Tatars from the northeastern parts of the Empire. He failed to cope with the aristocracy, however, and was later killed. The Tatar hegemony continued to 1300, when after the death of Nogai Khan, khan Toktu ceded Bessarabia to the new Bulgarian Emperor Theodore Svetoslav. But the Horde's claim on Bulgaria was still strong.[18] This had positive economic effect. During the reign of Theodore Svetoslav Bulgaria regained much of its former strength and prestige. After a successful war against Byzantium he signed a peace agreement that continued to his death in 1322. Ozbeg Khan (1313–41) repeatedly raided Thrace, partly in service of Bulgaria's war against both Byzantium and Serbia from 1319. His armies pillaged Thrace for 40 days in 1324 and for 15 days in 1337, taking 300,000 captives.[19] After Ozbeg's death in 1341, his successors did not continue his aggressive policy and contacts with Bulgaria lapsed.[20]

Ivan Alexander and fall of Bulgaria[edit]

The withdrawal of the Mongols from Europe in the early 14th century stabilized the situation in the Balkans, and Bulgaria reassumed something like its modern borders. It was threatened, however, by the rising powers of Hungary to the north and Serbia to the west. In 1330 the Bulgarians under Michael III were heavily defeated by the Kingdom of Serbia at Velbuzhd, and some parts of the Empire came under Serbian sway. Under Ivan Alexander (1331–71) the Serbian threat ended, and the Byzantines were defeated at Rusokastro. The territorial expansion included the Rhodope Mountains and several important towns on the Black Sea coast. This was a period known as Second Golden Age because of its thriving cultural life. After Ivan Alexander's death Bulgaria was left divided into rival states; one of the two largest ones was based at Veliko Tarnovo, and the other at Vidin, ruled by Ivan's two sons.

The two brothers and despot Dobrotitsa from the Principality of Carvuna did not make an attempt to unite and they were even engaged in a military conflict for Sofia. Weakened Bulgaria was thus no match for a new threat from the south, the Ottoman Turks, who crossed into Europe in 1354. In 1362 they captured Philippopolis (Plovdiv), taking Sofia in 1382. The Ottomans then turned their attention to the Serbs, whom they routed at Kosovo Pole in 1389. In 1393 the Ottomans occupied Tarnovo after a three-month siege. In the next year the Ottomans captured the Carvuna Principality and Nikopol — the last town of the Tarnovo tsardom — fell in 1395. The next year Ivan Sratsimir, the ruler of the Tsardom of Vidin, was executed after the Battle of Nicopolis and the last possessions of his son, emperor Constantine II of Bulgaria, were annexed in 1422, bringing an end to the Bulgarian states.

North of the Danube, where a significant number of Bulgarian nobility and common folk remained, the population was under the jurisdiction of various Christian autonomous, predominately Wallachian led principalities, where the Cyrillic alphabet continued to be used [21] and many cities kept their Bulgarian names, like the Wallachian capital of Targovishte. The nobility in the Christian principalities north of the Danube, continued to be known by their Bulgarian titles of Boyars and regularly helped Bulgarian population to continue to migrate north, as part of their military campaigns south of the Danube.[22] Thus, Bulgarian population north of the Danube never came under Ottoman occupation, which greatly helped the National revival south of the Danube in later centuries.


In many ways, the Bulgarian administration and court took example of the Byzantine equivalents. The supreme power in the country belonged to the Emperor, whose official title was: "In Christ the God faithful Emperor and Autocrat of all Bulgarians", at times with the addition of "Romans" (i.e. Byzantine Greeks)[23] and Vlachs.[24] The most significant meaning was that he was Emperor of the whole Bulgarian people, even to those beyond the borders of the Empire. The legislative and executive powers were concentrated in his hands. If the heir of the ruler was under age, the regency was headed by the mother-Empress.

The Bolyar Council included the Great Bolyars and the Patriarch. Their task was to discuss important questions about the external and internal policy such as declaration of war, formation of alliance or signing peace. The last word always belonged to the Emperor. Sometimes Councils with extended membership were assembled, where the nobility, the clergy and "the other people" usually gathered to discuss condemnation of heresies:[25] 1211, 1350, 1360. The only right the ordinary people had was to approve the decisions made by the nobility.

The main administrative unit in 13-14th centuries was the hora (хорá) which replaced the komitat of the First Bulgarian Empire. Its governor was called Duke and was usually appointed by the Emperor; the hora was further divided into katepanika (sing. katepanikon, cf. the Byzantine katepanikion) which were ruled by Katepans who were directly subordinated to the Dukes.[26]


The Medieval Bulgarian economy did not differ much from the other European states and relied mainly on agriculture, mining, traditional crafts and trade.


Map of medieval Tarnovo.

The main agricultural regions of the country were the Danubian plain and Thrace. The most widespread grains were wheat, barley and millet. From the 13th century the importance of vegetables, orchards and grapes grew.[27] The main wine-producing areas were the Black Sea coast, along the Struma, southern Macedonia. Livestock breeding was well developed. There were many sheep, pigs and cattle.[28] The pastures were divided into two groups: winter pastures (valleys) and summer pastures (mountains). In the 14th century apiculture and sericulture became profitable branches.[29]

The dense forests were also divided into two types: woods for cutting (бранища) and fenced forests (забели) in which cutting was banned.[30]

Metallurgy and crafts[edit]

The 12th-14th centuries gave a strong impetus to metallurgy and mining. Bulgarian smiths produced hammers, pliers, axes, saws, looms; different arms and armours. In the 13th century Saxon miners, who made ore extracting more efficient and introduced new mining methods, arrived in western Bulgaria. They inhabited mainly the regions of Chiprovtsi and Kyustendil. There used to be gold mines in the Eastern Rhodopes.

About 50 different types of handicraft were known in Medieval Bulgaria, the most important being leathermaking, shoemaking, carpentry, weaving; production of food and drinks (bread, butter, cheese, wine). Vast quantity of catapults, battering-rams and other siege equipment were made, and the army had skilled siege engineers.[31] The main centres were the capital Tarnovo, Cherven,[32] Sofia (copper).[33]


Culture of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

In the 13th and 14th centuries Bulgaria became a thriving cultural centre. The flowering of the Tarnovo school of art was related to the construction of palaces and churches, to literary activity in the royal court and the monasteries, and to the development of handicrafts. Remarkable achievements of this school have been preserved down to this day: the murals of the Boyars' houses in Trapezitsa and Saint Forty Martyrs Church in Veliko Tarnovo, the Boyana Church (1259) and the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo. Book illuminations also developed, examples include the Manasses Chronicle, the Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander and the Tomich Psalter. Many relics of Orthodox martyrs and saints were kept in the numerous churches in the capital Turnovo, which earned the capital the byname "second Constantinople". Most of the architectural monuments from that period include churches, monasteries and fortresses. The Bulgarians usually built small churches with short doors to show humbleness and homage to God. They were often richly decorated with blind niches, various geometrical patterns from bricks, stone cubes, ceramics; while from the inside they were painted with marvelous frescoes which from the 13th century began to draw away from the canon and became realistic.

In the 14th century many new monasteries were built under the patronage of Ivan Alexander on the northern slopes of Stara Planina, especially in an area near the capital Tarnovo which became known as "Sveta Gora" (Holy Forest) - a name also used to refer to Mount Athos. The numerous monasteries across the Empire were the very centre of the cultural, educational and spiritual life of the Bulgarian society. Ather the mid 14th centuries, many monasteries began to build fortifications under the thread of Turk invasions, such as the famous Tower of Hrelyu in the Rila monastery.

There used to be a perfectly organised defensive network of fortresses which consisted of several lines along the Danube, the Balkan mountains, the Rhodope, the coast. The main fortress was Turnovo. Other major castles included Vidin, Silistra, Cherven, Lovech, Sofia, Plovdiv, Lyutitsa, Ustra and many others.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bulgaria history
  2. ^ "Учени: Подписът не е на Боянския майстор". 
  3. ^ "LIBI, t. IV (1981) (4_015.png)". 
  4. ^ "LIBI, t. IV (1981) (4_016.png)". 
  5. ^ "Gypsies". 
  6. ^ "Vlach". Encyclopedia Britannica. 
  7. ^ "British Documents on Foreign Affairs--reports and Papers from the Foreign ... - Kenneth Bourne, David Stevenson, Donald Cameron Watt, John F. V. Keiger - Google Books". 
  8. ^ "Myths and Realities in Eastern Europe". 
  9. ^ Romania: borderland of Europe, by Lucian Boia, p.62
  10. ^ "Romanians and Hungarians from the 9th to the 14th century". 
  11. ^ History of the Byzantine Empire, A. A. Vasiliev 1935
  12. ^ István Vásáry, Cumans and Tatars Oriental Military in the Pre-Ottoman Balkans 1185-1365, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.xii.
  13. ^ a b István Vásáry (2005) Cumans and Tatars, Cambridge University Press pg 73.
  14. ^ Bulgarian Folk Customs, Mercia MacDermott, pg 27
  15. ^ In his History of the Byzantine Empire (ISBN 978-0-299-80925-6, 1935), Russian historian A. A. Vasiliev concluded in this matter, "The liberating movement of the second half of the 12th century in the Balkans was originated and vigorously prosecuted by the Wallachians, ancestors of the Romanians of today; it was joined by the Bulgarians, and to some extent by the Cumans from beyond the Danube."
  16. ^ Canev, Bǎlgarski hroniki, p. 310
  17. ^ Canev, Bǎlgarski hroniki, p. 314-315
  18. ^ H.H.Howorth-History of the Mongols, d.II: pt.II, p.136
  19. ^ H.H.Howorth-History of the Mongols, d.II: pt.II
  20. ^ Christopher P. Atwood-Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.73
  21. ^ "Omniglot, Romanian language". 
  22. ^ "Vlad the Impaler – Explore". 
  23. ^ Мрачка грамота, Рилска грамота, Витошка грамота
  24. ^ "Vlach". Encyclopedia Britannica. 
  25. ^ Синодник царя Борила, с.90
  26. ^ Ангелов, Д. История на Византия, 1972, с.97
  27. ^ Ангелов, Д. По въпроса за стопанския облик на българските земи през XI-XII век ИП, 1950, с.429
  28. ^ Georgius Acropolita. Historia, p.18
  29. ^ Сакъзов, Ив. Средновековното манастирско стопанство в България- СБИД, 22, 1923/1924, с.221
  30. ^ Ангелов, Д. По въпроса за стопанския облик на българските земи през XI-XII век ИП, 1950, с.431
  31. ^ Nicetas Choniata. Historia, p.835
  32. ^ Снегаров, Ив. Неиздадени старобългаски жития- БДА, 3, 1953, 163-167
  33. ^ Лишев Стр. Българския средновековен град, с.9


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