Uprising of Ivaylo
|Uprising of Ivaylo|
|Part of the Byzantine–Bulgarian wars|
Bulgaria in the late 13th century. The area of Ivaylo'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 a rebellion of the Bulgarian peasantry against the incompetent rule of emperor Constantine Tikh and the Bulgarian nobility. The revolt was fuelled mainly by the failure of the central authorities to confront the Mongol menace over north-eastern Bulgaria, who had looted and ravaged the Bulgarian population for decades, especially in the region of Dobrudzha. The weakness of the state institutions was a result of the accelerating process of feudalisation of the Bulgarian Empire.
The peasants' leader Ivaylo, said to had been a swineherd by the contemporary Byzantine chroniclers, proved to be a successful general and charismatic leader. In the first months of the rebellion he defeated the Mongols and the Tsar's armies and personally killed Constantine Tikh in battle. Later he made a triumphant entry in the capital Tarnovo, married the widow of the late emperor Maria and forced the nobility to recognize him as Emperor of Bulgaria.
The Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos tried to exploit this situation to his favour and intervened in Bulgaria. He sent Ivan Asen III, son of former emperor Mitso Asen, to claim the Bulgarian throne at the head of a large Byzantine army. Simultaneously, Michael VIII incited the Mongols to attack from the north, forcing Ivaylo to fight on two fronts. Ivaylo was defeated by the Mongols and besieged in important fortress of Drastar and in his absence the nobility in Tarnovo opened the gates to Ivan Asen III. However, Ivaylo managed to break the siege and Ivan Asen III fled back to the Byzantine empire. Michael sent two large armies in an attempt to turn the fortunes of the war but they were both defeated by the Bulgarian rebels in the Balkan mountains.
In the meantime the nobility in the capital had proclaimed one of their own, the magnate George Terter I, as emperor. Surrounded by enemies and with diminished support due to the constant warfare, Ivaylo fled to the court of Nogai Khan to seek aid and was later murdered by the Mongols. The legacy of the rebellion endured and years after the demise of the peasant emperor two "Pseudo-Ivaylos" appeared in the Byzantine empire and enjoyed wide support by the populace.
- 1 Background
- 2 Course of the rebellion
- 3 Aftermath
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Timeline
- 6 See also
- 7 Footnotes
- 8 Sources
Political situation of Bulgaria
Following the demise of Ivan Asen II (r. 1218–1241), the large Bulgarian Empire began to decline as a result of a succession of infant emperors and internal struggles among the nobility. To the north the country faced constant Mongol invasions after the 1240s and although shortly before his death Ivan Asen II defeated the Mongols, the regency of Kaliman I Asen (r. 1241–1246) agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Mongols to avoid devastation. The Mongol invasion led to the collapse of the loosely–held Cuman state and the foundation of the Mongol Golden Horde which had long–term political and strategic consequences for Bulgaria — the Cumans were Bulgarian allies and often supplied the Bulgarian army with auxiliary cavalry while the Golden Horde was hostile. To the south Bulgaria lost large portions of Thrace and Macedonia to the Nicaean Empire, which escaped the initial Mongol attacks. The lands to the north-west, including Belgrade, Braničevo and Severin Banat, were conquered by the Kingdom of Hungary.
In 1256 Bulgaria descended into a civil war between Mitso Asen (r. 1256–1257), a relative of Ivan Asen II, who established himself in south-eastern Bulgaria, and the bolyar of Skopje Constantine Tikh (r. 1257–1277), who was proclaimed emperor by the nobility in Tarnovo. Simultaneously, the Hungarian dignitary of Rus' princely origin Rostislav Mikhailovich established himself in Vidin and also claimed the title Emperor of Bulgaria and was recognized as such by the Kingdom of Hungary. By 1261 Constantine Tikh had emerged as victor but his 20–year-long reign did not bring stability to Bulgaria: Vidin remained separated from the central authorities in Tarnovo, the Mongols regularly campaigned in north-eastern Bulgaria looting the countryside and paralysing the economy. That same year Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1259–1282) seized Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire as a major adversary of Bulgaria to the south. Following a hunting accident during which he broke his leg, Constantine Tikh remained paralysed from the waist down for life and 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 — a scandalous intriguer whose actions to secure the succession of her son was alienating the nobility.
Internal situation and rise of Ivaylo
The internal political development and feudalisation of Bulgaria in the 13th century resulted in raising number of personally dependent peasants, as well as in an increased power of the landed nobility. This, in turn, led to aspirations for more self-rule among the most influential nobles who established semi-independent fiefdoms that nominally recognized the emperor in Tarnovo and greatly reduced the capacity of the central authorities to deal with the external threats. Life conditions among the peasantry worsened in the second half of the 13th century worsen as they were losing personal privileges in favour of the secular and religious feudals. In parallel, the inability of Constantine Tikh to terminate the constant Mongol incursions to the north-east of the country shattered the pillars of the state institutions in Dobrudzha and contributed to the outbreak of the uprising and its swift success. The Mongol raids were carried out by the semi-independent chief Nogai Khan who was more powerful than the legitimate ruler of the Golden Horde, Mengu-Timur (r. 1266–1280), and ruled over the steppes of modern Moldova and Ukraine.
In this situation one Ivaylo, a native of north-eastern Bulgaria, most likely the area near Provadia, began to incite the population to a revolt. He was called by the contemporary Byzantine chroniclers by the name Bardovka (lettuce) or Lakhanas (vegetable) and his real name is known only from a note, attached to the Svarlig gospel. The Byzantine historian George Pachymeres stated that he was a swineherd who took care of pigs for money. However, the historian John Fine notes that pigs were a major livestock product at the time and the possessor of a large herd could have been part of the elite of the local community. Ivaylo claimed that he had visions from God to lead the people and that he was in contact with heaven and the saints. In fact, his mysticism was deliberately used to gain followers among the religious villagers and quickly gained him followers. He came to be seem by many Bulgarians as a God-given saviour.
Course of the rebellion
|“||Lakhanas engaged a Mongol falanga, attacked it with the men he led, crushed them thoroughly and again attacked another unit. Thus, in a few days he covered with glory.||”|
—George Pachymeres on the victory of Ivaylo over the Mongols.
The rebellion broke out in the spring or summer of 1277 in north-eastern Bulgaria where the Mongol devastation was strongest. In the summer of 1277 Ivaylo confronted a plundering Mongol unit and defeated it. Another victory followed soon and by autumn all Mongols were driven out of Bulgarian territory. Having achieved what had eluded the Bulgarian arms for decades, his popularity and reputation rose quickly. Among his followers were an increasing number of nobles who were discontent with the intrigues of empress Maria. Ivaylo was hailed as Emperor by the people and many regions came under his control.
In the end of 1277 Constantine Tikh finally launched a campaign against the rebels. He gathered a small army and advanced slowly as he had to travel in a chariot because of his injury. Ivaylo attacked and defeated this force, killing many of the emperor's close associates, while the rest of the army joined the rebels. Ivaylo personally killed Constantine Tikh, claiming that the emperor did nothing to keep his honour in the battle. After his triumph, Ivaylo began to seize the country's fortified cities, which surrendered and recognized him as emperor one by one. By the spring of 1278 only the capital Tarnovo remained under the control of empress Maria.
Byzantine intervention and recognition of Ivaylo
Meanwhile, the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos left Constantinople for Adrianople close to the border with Bulgaria in order to monitor the events and to exploit the situation in Bulgaria in his favour. The demise of Constantine Tikh came as a shock for the Byzantines. Initially Michael VIII had intended to marry his daughter to Ivaylo but eventually decided that it would be more favourable to install a protégé of his own. His candidate was Ivan, son of the former emperor Mitso Asen, who had sought asylum in Byzantium and possessed estates in Asia Minor. Ivan promptly married Michael VIII's daughter Irene, made an oath of loyalty to Michael VIII and was proclaimed emperor of Bulgaria as Ivan Asen III. The Byzantines sent gifts to the Bulgarian nobles to incite them to support Ivan Asen III and dispatched envoys to Tarnovo to arrange his recognition and the surrender of empress Maria. In the meantime, Ivan Asen III marched north at the head of a Byzantine army while Ivaylo was besieging Tarnovo.
Faced with two adversaries, Maria initially tried to negotiate with Michael VIII the succession of her son Michael Asen but the Byzantine emperor insisted on an unconditional surrender. Much to the surprise for the Byzantines, Maria then entered in negotiations with Ivaylo and offered him her hand and the Bulgarian crown on condition that he would guarantee the rights of her Michael Asen as his sole successor. George Pachymeres accuses her of "ignoring the moral duty to her late husband" but in fact her decision was driven by her hatred towards her uncle Michael VIII whom she considered a heretic, as well as by her desire to hang on to power. At first Ivaylo was reluctant to accept the proposal claiming that Maria was offering what he was about to take by force but eventually conceded "because of the peace and to avoid bloodshed in a civil war". However, Ivaylo made it clear that he was the one giving clemency, not the one receiving it.
In the spring of 1278 Ivaylo entered Tarnovo in triumph, married Maria and was proclaimed emperor of Bulgaria. However, since he was inexperienced in state affair, Ivaylo failed to consolidate his authority over the nobility in the capital, who was concerned for their own influence, and often quarrelled with Maria. He still had to deal with overwhelming challenges — the Byzantines dispatched many troops under the command of Michael Glabas in support of Ivan Asen III and incited the Mongols to attack from the north to open war on two fronts. Yet, Ivaylo vigorously prepared his forces to counter the adversaries and managed to gain support among many nobles.
Campaigns against Byzantines and Mongols
Ivaylo left Tarnovo in the summer of 1278, marched northwards and defeated the Mongols, pushing them across the Danube river. The situation to the south was more dangerous. The Byzantines launched an attack on a wide front along the Balkan Mountains from the Shipka Pass to the Black Sea. The Byzantines failed to cross the mountains as the defenders held on until the Mongols were defeated and reinforcement could be sent. Despite the huge efforts and numerical superiority the Byzantines made few gains at very high cost. For instance the fortress of Ktenia was seized after many assaults, the castles of Kran and Maglizh fell with heavy casualties on the invaders. The Bulgarian commander Stan fell valiantly during the defence of Boruy and many other of Ivaylo's associates distinguished themselves in the war — Momchil, Kuman, Damyan, Kancho. All battles led personally by Ivaylo were successful — he fought at Studena and Pirgitsa — and by the autumn of 1278 the Bulgarians gained the upper hand and the Byzantines had to abandon the campaign. The Byzantines morale was very low because Ivaylo gave no quarter. George Pachymeres wrote that "to fall in the hands of Lakhanas was equivalent to death".
With the situation to the south under control, Ivaylo had confront a second Mongol attack to the north. This time the Bulgarians forced the elite forces of Nogai Khan. The Mongols prevailed and Ivaylo was besieged in the important city of Drastar where he withheld a three-month siege. While bulk of the rebel army was engaged to the north Michael VIII started negotiations with the nobility of Tarnovo and convinced the local dignitaries to recognize the claim of Ivan Asen III. In the beginning of 1279 a Byzantine army under Michael Glabas landed near Varna and set off to the capital, supported by a Mongol unit commanded by Kasim beg. The elite of Tarnovo spread rumours that Ivaylo had perished fighting the Mongols and opened the gates to the Byzantines and their protégé. Ivan Asen III was proclaimed emperor and Maria, who at the time bore Ivaylo's child, was exiled to Constantinople. To consolidate the support of the nobility the new monarch married his sister Kira Maria to George Terter, one of Bulgaria's most powerful and influential feudal lords whose estates were centred at Cherven. Kasim beg, who had been awarded the high court title protostrator, felt that the rise of George Terter was at his expense, deserted Ivan Asen III and joined the cause of Ivaylo.
In the meantime fighting between the rebels and the Byzantines continued. Although the Bulgarian forces were cut in two following the Byzantine landing at Varna, heavy clashes erupted in the eastern Balkan mountains with new vigour, especially around the Kotel Pass and the Varbitsa Pass. The Bulgarian positions there were surrounded both to the north and the south. The Byzantines had to besiege and take the fortresses one by one which cost time and casualties. Many strongholds remained unconquered and permanently engaged large Byzantine forces.
In the spring of 1279 Ivaylo managed to break through the Mongol blockade at Drastar and besieged Tarnovo. This advance took Ivan Asen III and his supporters by surprise. Michael VIII took measures to protect his protégé and in the summer of 1279 sent a 10,000-strong army under the command of the protovestiarios Murin. Ivaylo did not linger in Tarnovo and engaged the invading host on 17 June 1279 in the Kotel Pass. Despite being outnumbered, in the ensuing battle near the fortress of Devina the Bulgarians achieved a complete victory. Part of the Byzantines perished in the battle along with their commander, the rest were captured and killed by orders of Ivaylo. A month later the Byzantines sent another army of 5,000 troops led by the protovestiarios Aprin. Ivaylo engaged them in the eastern Balkan Mountains on 15 August 1279 and after a long combat defeated the Byzantines, personally killing Aprin in the process. Ivaylo was said to have "fought with fury, achieving many feats" in both battles.
End of the rebellion and demise of Ivaylo
With the Byzantines defeated, the authority of Ivan Asen III was shaken. He and his wife Irene secretly fled Tarnovo taking the Byzantine imperial insignia kept in the treasury since the Bulgarian victory in the battle of Tryavna in 1190. Michael VIII was infuriate with the cowardliness of the couple and refused the audience for day. In Tarnovo George Terter was elected emperor by the nobility which had unfavourable effect on the rebels. By then the Ivaylo's followers, disillusioned with the endless wars, began to abandon his cause. With diminished support, in 1280 Ivaylo crossed the Danube with a few loyal associates including Kasim beg to seek aid from Nogai Khan.
Ivaylo was received well by Nogai Khan. When news of his whereabouts reached Constantinople, Michael VIII sent Ivan Asen III with rich gifts to the Mongol court to ask assistance. Nogai Khan expressed interest in the issue and for several months kept promising help to both men. Eventually the Byzantine influence prevailed because the Mongol leader was married to the illegitimate daughter of Michael VIII, Euphrosyne Palaiologina. On a feast, in which Ivaylo and Ivan Asen III seated on both sides of Nogai Khan, he pointed at Ivaylo with the words "He is an enemy of my father, the emperor [Michael VIII], and does not deserve to live" and ordered his execution. Ivaylo, along with Kasim beg, was duly murdered on the spot. Ivan Asen III was lucky to avoid similar fate due to the advocacy of Euphrosyne and eventually returned to his estates in Asia Minor, where he died in 1303.
|“||...the peasants left their lands and agrarian labour and under their own will became soldiers [...], determined to line up under the banner of Lakhanas, confident that they will win with him.||”|
—George Pachymeres on Pseudo-Ivaylo.
Ivaylo's legacy enjoyed huge popularity beyond the borders of Bulgaria years after his death. At least two "Pseudo-Ivaylos" appeared in the Byzantine Empire. In 1284 a Bulgarian who claimed to had been Ivaylo arrived in Constantinople and offered his services to emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos to fight against the Turks. Andronikos II asked the ex-empress Maria to verify if the man was her husband and she exposed him as an imposter. Pseudo-Ivaylo was detained but the populace demanded his release since the Turks "feared the barbarian [Ivaylo]". The Byzantine emperor calculated that there was nothing to lose and allowed him to march against the Turks. "Ivaylo" gathered a huge army of peasants, much to the concern of the Byzantine nobility which feared a revolt or coup. The emperor then summoned Pseudo-Ivaylo under some pretext and had him imprisoned. A few years later another Bulgarian (whose real name was Ivan) appeared in the Byzantine Empire claiming he was Ivaylo. He was given an army to combat the Turks but after a few victories he was captured and killed.
In Bulgaria, the two decades following the end of the rebellion marked the lowest point of decline of the Second Empire. The reign of George Terter I (r. 1280–1292) and his successor Smilets (r. 1292–1298) was characterised with constant Mongol interference in the state's internal affairs and progressive disintegration of the central authority in favour of the feudal magnates. Bulgaria had lost almost all lands to the south of the Balkan mountains to the Byzantines and was in no position to regain these regions. The fortunes of the country changed for the better under George Terter I's son, Theordore Svetoslav (r. 1300–1321), when Bulgaria acquired Bessarabia from the Mongols and reconquered Northern Thrace from the Byzantines, bringing stability and prosperity.
The rebellion failed because the rebels had to fight against overwhelming odds — not only the Byzantines and the Mongols, but also much of the Bulgarian nobility. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the uprising of Ivaylo had achieved a recognition of its leader as emperor, an aim in which all other popular revolts in medieval Europe failed. In Socialist Bulgaria the rebellion was portrayed as a social movement against the feudal iniquity and the foreign invaders. In modern Bulgaria Ivaylo is still revered as a fighter for social justice. However, there is no evidence that Ivaylo and his followers had plans for social reforms. The fact that the rebellion was supported by some nobles and that Ivaylo married the hated empress Maria also indicates that the main factor was the incompetent rule of emperor Constantine Tikh. The Bulgarian historians praise the heroism of the rebels evaluate the uprising as a bright patriotic achievement of the Bulgarian people because Ivaylo was able to gather wide support from all social classes of Bulgaria to defend the then-troubled country against the external enemies. Ivaylo is remembered as a heroic ruler and a tragic figure who represented the ideal of the "Good Tsar".
The rebellion of Ivaylo is among the most highly valued Bulgarian historical events with numerous pieces of art dedicated to it. The 1959 opera "Ivaylo" by the composer Marin Goleminov, based on the overture of the same name by Dobri Hristov, was inspired by the "revolutionary pathos and tragedy of the epoch". Dedicated to the uprising are also the 1964 colour feature film "Ivaylo" by the director Nikola Valchev, based on the novel "The Smouldering Ember" by Evgeni Konstantinov, and the 1921 drama "The Throne" by the prominent Bulgarian poet and writer Ivan Vazov. The town of Ivaylovgrad in modern southern Bulgaria and the village of Ivaylo near Pazardzhik are named after the rebel leader. There are statues in several cities dedicated to him, as well as a monument commemorating the victory over the Byzantines in the battle of Devina, situated at 5 km to the south-east of the town of Kotel. That memorial, named "The Stone Guard", was listed in the top ten emblematic monuments on the history of Bulgaria.
- summer of 1277 — The Mongols are defeated
- autumn of 1277 — The are driven out of Bulgaria
- end of 1277 — The army of Constantine Tikh is defeated; the emperor is killed by Ivaylo
- spring of 1278 — Ivaylo enters the capital Tarnovo; marries Constantine Tikh's life Maria; crowned emperor of Bulgaria
- summer and autumn of 1278 — Warfare against Byzantines and Mongols; victory over the Byzantines; defeat against the Mongols; Ivaylo is besieged in Drastar
- beginning of 1279 — The nobility in Tarnovo opens the gates to the Byzantine-supported pretender Ivan Asen III
- spring of 1279 — Ivaylo breaks the Mongol blockade at Drastar; besieges Tarnovo; Ivan Asen III flees to Constantinople
- 17 June 1279 — A 10,000-strong Byzantine army is defeated in the battle of Devina
- 15 August 1279 — A 10,000-strong Byzantine army is defeated in the eastern Balkan Mountains
- beginning of 1280 — George Terter I is elected emperor by the nobility
- 1280 — Ivaylo flees to Nogai Khan and is eventually murdered
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- Fine 1987, pp. 154–155
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