Uprising of Ivaylo
|Uprising of Ivaylo|
Bulgaria in the late 13th century. The area of Ivailo's uprising are marked with red dots.
|Bulgarians under Ivaylo|| Bulgarian nobility
|Commanders and leaders|
|Ivaylo of Bulgaria|| Constantine Tikh
Ivan Asen III
Michael VIII Palaiologos
The Uprising of Ivaylo (Bulgarian: Въстанието на Ивайло) was an uprising of the Bulgarian peasantry against the Emperor Constantine Tikh and the Bulgarian nobility. The revolt was fuelled by resentment at the beginning feudalization of the Bulgarian Empire, as well as by the failure to confront the Mongol menace over north-eastern Bulgaria, especially the region of Dobrudzha. Ivaylo proved to be a successful general, defeating the Mongols and the Tsar's armies, and forced the nobility to recognize him as Emperor of Bulgaria.
The Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos tried to exploit this situation and to help the nobility to quell the rebellion, but the Byzantines suffered two major defeats at the hands of Ivaylo. The Mongol intervention however forced him to flee to the important fortress of Drastar (Silistra), where he was besieged. Thereupon, the nobility used his absence from the capital Tarnovo to proclaim George Terter I as emperor. Surrounded by enemies and with diminished support, Ivaylo had to flee to Nogai Khan and was later murdered by the Mongols.
After the death of Ivan Asen II in 1241, the large Bulgarian Empire began to decline. Following a succession of infant emperors, the country lost large portions of Thrace and Macedonia to the Nicaean Empire, and lands to the north-west, including Belgrade and Severin Banat, to the Kingdom of Hungary. The country failed to cope with the constant Mongol invasions after the 1240s and the regency of Kaliman I Asen (1241–1246) was forced to pay an annual tribute to the Mongols. Between 1256 and 1257 the country descended into a civil war out of which the bolyar of Skopie Constantine Tikh emerged as victor. His 20 year-long reign however did not bring stability to Bulgaria. After he broke his leg during hunting, Constantine Tikh fell under the influence of his second wife Irene Doukaina Laskarina, who was constantly involved in intrigues with her relatives in the Byzantine court. Later he left the state affairs to his third wife, Maria Palaiologina Kantakouzene. Throughout that period, the Mongols regularly campaigned in north-eastern Bulgaria looting the countryside and paralyzing the economy. In parallel with that the development of feudalism in Bulgaria during the second half of the 13th century led to a sharp change in the situation for the peasantry for the worse. Not only were the peasants dependent on the central government, the nobility and the Church but they were constantly losing personal freedoms. The Mongol invasions shattered the pillars of the state institutions in Dobrudzha. and facilitated the break out of the uprising and its fast development.
In this situation Ivaylo, a peasant from north-eastern Bulgaria, began to incite the population to a revolt, claiming that God had given him signs to lead the people against the nobility. In fact his mysticism was deliberately used to gain followers among the religious peasants and the rebellion was carefully prepared. The people considered Ivaylo to be the "Good Tsar" - the ideal ruler who would spread equality between rich and poor. Thus he managed to gather many supporters for short time.
Course of the rebellion
The rebellion began in the spring or as late as the summer of 1277. The rebels first marched against the Mongols who plundered the Bulgarian people due to the passiveness of the state. The uprising began in the regions where the Mongol invasions were strongest. In the summer of that year, Ivaylo's forces defeated a Mongol unit looting the north-east and soon after that scored another victory against them. Having achieved a feat that had eluded the Bulgarian arms for decades, his popularity rose quickly. By the autumn of 1277, the Mongols were completely driven out of Bulgarian territory. Ivaylo was hailed as Emperor by the people and many areas came under his control.
In the end of 1277, Constantine Tikh finally launched a campaign against the rebels. His small army moved slowly because of his leg pains. Ivaylo ambushed this force, killing many of the Emperor's close associates, while the rest of the army joined the rebels. Ivaylo personally killed Constantine Tikh, justifying his act with the claim that the Emperor did nothing in the battle to keep his honour. After his triumph, Ivaylo began to seize the country's fortified cities, which surrendered and recognized him as Emperor one by one. Soon only Tarnovo remained under the control of Empress Maria.
The death of the Bulgarian ruler was a shock for the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, who had previously left Constantinople for Adrianople in order to monitor the situation in Bulgaria closely. He had plans to exploit the crisis in Bulgaria for his own purposes, but after it became clear that the rebellion was a struggle between the classes, he prepared to help the Bulgarian nobility out of fear that this might spread to Byzantium as well. Michael VIII found a pretender to the Bulgarian throne - Ivan, son of Mitso Asen, who lived in the Byzantine Empire. Ivan was married to Michael's daughter, Irene Palaiologina, and proclaimed Emperor of Bulgaria under the name Ivan Asen III. The Byzantines sent ambassadors to Tarnovo to persuade Empress Maria to give up the throne, while the Byzantine army headed to the north.
What happened next came as a surprise for the Byzantines. Maria started negotiations with Ivaylo and offered him her hand and the Bulgarian crown. The Byzantine historians accused her of ignoring her moral duty to her dead husband, but her decision was driven by her hatred towards her uncle Michael VIII, as well as her desire to hang on to power. At first she wanted to rule alone, but eventually she conceded sharing the authority with Ivaylo, on condition that he would guarantee the rights of her son Michael Asen II as sole successor. Ivaylo on the other hand was reluctant to make a deal, claiming that Maria was giving him what he was about to take by force. He further feared that such agreement would run counter to the social aims of the uprising, and would be seen as a betrayal by his followers. However, eventually Ivaylo accepted "because of the peace and the will not to shed blood in internecine war".
Recognition of Ivaylo and campaigns against Byzantines and Mongols
On the summer of 1278 Ivaylo entered the capital triumphantly and received the imperial insignia. Bulgaria was united under the rule of the people's Tsar, but the country's problems were far from over. The Byzantine Emperor continued with his attempts to depose Ivaylo and sent armies under the famous general Michael Glabas, who was defeated twice by the Bulgarians. At the same time he persuaded the Mongols to invade Bulgaria from the north. In the capital the situation was also grim - Ivaylo failed to gain the support of the nobility and often quarreled with his wife.
In the beginning of his new campaign Ivaylo managed to push the Mongols back to the north of the Danube. However, the Byzantines were more dangerous and attacked on a wide front from the Shipka Pass to the Black Sea. Despite his tactical talent, Michael Glabas failed to achieve any victory - the Bulgarian castles in the Balkan Mountains, led by Ivaylo's generals Mimchil, Kuman, Damyan, Kancho and Stan, repulsed all attacks. The struggle between Bulgarians and Byzantines was bitter, with Ivaylo taking no prisoners. Despite their huge efforts, the Byzantine troops were defeated in the summer and autumn of 1278.
After Ivaylo consolidated his positions in the south, he again had to turn northwards to face the Mongols. This time the war was hard and long. Unlike before, now Ivaylo faced the elite forces of Nogai Khan. The Mongols prevailed and Ivaylo took refuge in the fortress of Drastar (Silistra) where he was besieged for three months. That setback led to the betrayal of the Tarnovo nobility. Upon the news of the defeat, and amidst rumours that Ivaylo had perished, the bolyars declared themselves for Ivan Asen III. Empress Maria, who was pregnant by Ivaylo, was deposed and sent to exile in Constantinople.
A few months later however, Ivaylo managed to break through the Mongol blockade. His army appeared in the outskirts of Tarnovo and Ivan Asen III was blockaded in the capital. Michael VIII immediately took measures to protect his son-in-law and in the summer of 1279 a 10,000-strong Byzantine army under the protovestiarios Murin headed to Bulgaria. On 17 July Ivaylo charged the Byzantines at Devina, where, despite being outnumbered, the Bulgarians scored a victory. Many Byzantines perished on the battlefield and the captives were killed by orders of Ivaylo. Only a month later the Byzantine Emperor sent another army of 5,000 troops under the protovestiarios Aprin. The exact location of the battle is unknown - according to the Byzantine historians it took place in the mountain passes of eastern Stara Planina - but on 15 August the invaders were crushed after a long fight and their leader was killed. Ivaylo personally commanded his army in both battles.
End of the rebellion
The position of Ivan Asen III was shaken and he had to flee from Tarnovo, while the Bulgarian nobility proclaimed the bolyar of Cherven, George Terter I, one of the country's most powerful and influential nobles, for Emperor. Those events were crucial to Ivaylo's fate: the peasant Tsar faced the united forces of the Bulgarian feudal lords, while morale in his army was low and his support among the people, disappointed by the endless wars, waning. With only a few loyal supporters left, in the end of 1280 Ivaylo was forced to flee to Nogai Khan and ask for help to regain his crown. Although Nogai initially favoured Ivaylo, eventually he had him assassinated after a plea from his ally, Michael VIII.
Although ultimately unsuccessful, the uprising of Ivaylo had achieved a recognition of his leader as Emperor, an aim in which all other peasant uprisings in medieval Europe failed. Despite his inability to establish a new social order in favour of the ordinary people, Ivaylo remained in the memory of the Bulgarian people as a fighter for justice, freedom and equality. He was also famous among his contemporaries and later several other popular rebellions in the Balkans were led by a "Fake Ivaylo".
For Bulgaria the two decades that followed the death of Ivaylo marked the lowest point of decline of the Second Empire, with constant Mongol interference in the state's internal affairs and progressive disintegration of the central authority in favour of feudal magnates. During that period the Byzantines occupied most of the remaining Bulgarian possessions in Thrace. From 1300 however the country revived under the rule of Theodore Svetoslav.
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