Peter (diplomat)

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kavhan (?)
Noble family Krum's dynasty
Born 9th century
Died 9th century

Peter (Bulgarian: Петър) (fl. 860s–870s) was a Bulgarian noble and relative of knyaz (khan) Boris I (r. 852–889) who was in charge of diplomatic missions during the Christianization of Bulgaria. His position in the Bulgarian administrative hierarchy is unknown but it has been suggested that he had the title kavhan, i. e. the second person in the state after the monarch.

Historical background[edit]

A map of the Bulgarian Empire in the mid 9th century
Map of Bulgaria in the 860s.

When Boris I assumed the throne of Bulgaria in 852, the country was still pagan, with the ruling Bulgar elite being Tengriists while the Slavic population practised its own religion. Christianity was already widespread in Bulgaria as the country was established on former territories of the Byzantine Empire, and seems to have been influential. Even one of the sons of Khan Omurtag (r. 814–831), Enravota, converted to Christianity.[1] The Bulgarian nobility was strongly opposed to any form of Byzantine influence in the country and was therefore hostile to Christianity as it was directly associated with the Byzantine Empire. Boris I, however, had many reasons to consider conversion — Bulgaria was situated between two powerful Christian empires, Byzantium and East Francia; Christian doctrine particularly favoured the position of the monarch as God's representative on Earth; and finally, Boris also saw Christianity as a way to overcome the differences between Bulgars and Slavs.[2][3] The geopolitical situation in the mid 9th century was also favourable because of the increasing friction and rivalry between the Papacy in Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for influence in Central Europe.[4] That struggle between the two churches would give the Bulgarian ruler the opportunity to manoeuvre and negotiate with both, thus extracting favourable concessions while keeping the country out of direct foreign influence.[5] When the Byzantines invaded Bulgaria in the autumn of 863 and demanded conversion to Christianity from Constantinople as the single condition to retreat, Boris I readily accepted and was baptised in the beginning of 864, assuming the Christian name Michael after his spiritual godfather, the Byzantine Emperor Michael III.[3] That step was very unpopular among the nobility, but when they rebelled Boris I dealt decisively with them and executed 52 magnates along with their whole families.[6] When in the following year the Byzantines sturdily demonstrated their determination not to allow the existence of an autocephalous Bulgarian Church, Boris I decided to turn to the Papacy.[7]

Missions to Rome[edit]

According to the historical sources there were three Bulgarian missions to the Pope with the participation of Peter, the first one being in the summer of 866. The interest of Boris I in the Roman Church was caused by the reluctance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to accept his request to appoint an independent patriarch (or at least an archbishop) for the Bulgarian diocese in order to retain it subordinated to Constantinople. Boris I was determined to make Bulgaria Christian while keeping the country's religious and political independence.[8] Since the end of the 850s the churches of Rome and Constantinople were in a period of a heated competition for influence over the Slavs and the Ecumenical Church power.[9] This rivalry favoured Boris' plans, as it gave him the opportunity to play one side off against the other and choose. The new orientation of the Bulgarian policy also allowed Boris I to calm down the nobility of the boyars, which was cautious and hostile to the increased Byzantine influence in the country after the Christianization.[10]

First mission[edit]

The first Bulgarian delegation arrived before Pope Nicholas I on 29 August 866[11] — the very same year during which Boris quelled the rebellion of the boyars against Christianization. Among the gifts presented to the Pope by the delegation was the weapon of Boris "with which [he] was armed when in the name of Christ he celebrated over his enemies".[11] The Bulgarians also brought a document with questions by their ruler to the Pope. The content of the questions is reproduced on paragraph 106 of the "Answers of Pope Nicolas to the questions of the Bulgarians".[12] The arrival of the Bulgarian envoys in Rome was a very important event. The Pope enthusiastically spread the news in a letter to Hincmar of Reims and the other archbishops of the Frankish Empire.[11][13]

A medieval cloister
The cloister of the Lateran Palace.

That Bulgarian mission was mentioned thirteen years later (June 879) in a letter to Boris I, with which Pope John VIII tried to prevent Bulgaria from returning to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. That letter proves Peter's participation in the mission of 866:[14][15][16]

The Bulgarian envoys received the answers of Pope Nicolas I at a ceremony in the Lateran Palace on 13 November 866.[17] Soon after that Peter and the other envoys returned to their country along with the papal emissaries Formosus of Portus and Paul of Populona. Both bishops exercised educative activities in Bulgaria. Along with Peter departed other Papal envoys, the bishop of Ostia Donatus, the presbyter Leo and the deacon of the apostolic episcopacy Marinus, who had to continue to Constantinople and there clarify the policy of Rome to the Bulgarians.[17][18]

Second mission[edit]

A page of a medieval manuscript
A page of the Cividale gospel.

The abilities and the efforts of Formosus of Portus impressed Boris I.[19][20][21] No later than a year after his first mission in Rome, Peter was put in charge of a second one in order to arrange the ordination of Formosus as Bulgarian archbishop.[22] The Bulgarian delegation arrived in Rome in the second half of 867.[23] Nicolas I declined the proposal concerning Formosus and accepted only the other request of Boris I — to send more presbyters to Bulgaria. The curia prepared a group of clerics led by Dominic of Trivena and Gromuald of Polymartis.[24] The unexpected death of Nicolas I on 13 November 867 postponed the papal response and the departure of the group.[24] Peter and the other Bulgarian diplomats participated in the burial of the deceased Pope and waited in Rome until the election of a new pontiff.[24] The new Pope Hadrian II confirmed the decisions of his predecessor.[24] In the middle of December the delegation headed back for the Bulgarian capital Pliska by land, with letters to the Bulgarian prince written by Nicolas I. En route to Bulgaria the delegation stayed in the monastery of the town Aquileia, an event noted in the Cividale gospel[25] in which an unknown monk wrote down the names of the Bulgarian envoys and the members of their families:[25][26]

The delegation arrived in Pliska in the beginning of 868.[27] Boris I learned that the Pope had offered him to choose the archbishop of the Bulgarian Church from among the presbyters he had sent.[28] By order Hadrian II, Formosus of Portus and Paul of Populona returned to Rome as early as February in the same year,[27] accompanied by Peter.[27][29][30] Boris I was disappointed with the Pope's answers and decided to end the negotiations with Rome.[28]

Third mission[edit]

The historical source for the positions of the Bulgarian ruler is the biography of Pope Hadrian II, written by the Vatican librarian Anastasius:[31][32]

It is certain that the idea for the application of Marinus was suggested to Boris I by Formosus of Portus.[31] Formosus and Marinus were friends and close associates.[33][34] Marinus was an influential diplomat who participated in many missions between Rome and Constantinople. However, Hadrian II did not approve of him and suggested for the office one of his trusted men — the subdeacon Silvester.[28][33] With his decision the Pope underestimated the ambitions of Boris I for independent church policy,[35] which led to the alienation of the Bulgarian ruler from Rome[36] and indirectly helped the Patriarchate of Constantinople in its efforts to influence the events in Bulgaria.[37]

When in the beginning of 868 Peter and Formosus arrived in Rome, the brothers Cyril and Methodius and their disciples were there on invitation by the Pope.[38] Formosus and bishop Gauderig of Veletria ordained many of the brothers' disciples for priests, deacons and subdeacons.[38] It has been suggested that Peter was among the first high-ranking Bulgarians who were acquainted with the ideas of Cyril and Methodius and brought the news to Bulgaria.[38]

The refusal of Hadrian II to ordain a candidate approved by Boris exhausted the patience of the Bulgarian prince.[39] After a three-month stay in Bulgaria Silvester returned to Rome with a letter to the Pope[29] in which for the last time Boris I insisted that either Formosus or Marinus be ordained, but the Pope declined the proposal once again.[40] During that time the Bulgarian ruler had already started negotiations with the Patriarch of Constantinople Ignatius,[39] who was trying to improve the relations with Rome, which had been strained after the mutual anathemas made in 863 by his predecessor Photios I and Pope Nicolas I.[41] Just like Photios, however, Ignatius did not want to allow a permanent establishment of the Roman Church in Bulgaria.[42] In order to settle the differences between the two Churches, the Eighth Ecumenical Council was planned to be held in Constantinople in 869.[43] After a long stay in Rome (868–869), Peter returned to Bulgaria and was immediately sent to participate in the council.[44]

Mission to Constantinople[edit]

The Eighth Ecumenical Council was inaugurated on 5 October 869.[45] Besides the representatives of Rome and Constantinople, the event was attended by envoys of the Eastern Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch.[45] The Papal legates were unaware of the secret negotiations between Bulgaria and Byzantium and did not expect to discuss the status of the Bulgarian Church on the council.[45][46] As a result they were very surprised too see high-ranking Bulgarian envoys attending the official closure of the Council on 28 February 870: the ichirgu-boil Stazis, khan-bagatur Sondoke, khan-tarkan Iliya, sampsis Persiyan and sampsis Alexius Hunol.[45][47]

On 4 March 870, three days after the Council's final session, Emperor Basil I invited the participants to the Imperial Palace: Patriarch Ignatius, the Papal legates Donatus of Ostia, Stephen of Nep and deacon Marinus, as well as the representatives of the Eastern Patriarchs archdeacon Joseph (from Alexandria), bishop Thomas of Tyre (from Antioch) and presbyter Elijah (from Jerusalem), telling them that Peter was bringing gifts from the Bulgarian Prince.[48] After the exchange of greetings Peter, who had been instructed in advance, raised the issue of the jurisdiction over the Bulgarian Church[49] and turned to the assembled men:[50]

The Roman legates answered:[51]

In order to take decision the envoys of the Eastern Patriarchs asked the Bulgarian delegated the following question:[45][51] "When you took [your] Motherland, tell us under which authority it used to be and were there Latin or Greek priests?". They gave the prepared answer:[45][51] "We took [our] Motherland with arms from the rule of the Greeks and there we found not Latin but Greek priests." In compliance with the response of the Bulgarian envoys, the Eastern Patriarchates pronounced their decision:[45][51] "If you have found Greek priests, it is clear that this land was under the rule of Constantinople... Therefore we adjudge, because the Bulgarian motherland, as we got to know, was previously under Greek ruler and had Greek priests, to be now returned again through Christianity to the holy Church of Constantinople, from which it was separated through paganism." The protests of the Roman legates were futile.[52] They forged a letter in which the Pope allegedly warned the Patriarch of Constantinople not to interfere with the Bulgarian matters, but Ignatius ignored it.[52][53] After the Council (in the very same year) the Latin priests had to leave Bulgaria and were substituted by Byzantine missionaries.[52][54]


In the historical literature Peter is thought to have been: boyar,[55][56][57] great boil,[58] comita,[59] ichirgu-boil[60] and kavhan (conditional[61] or unconditional[57][62]). The discussion on the title (or office) of Peter is part of the scientific discussion on the place of the ichirgu-boil and the kavhan in the administration of the First Bulgarian Empire. The starting point of those discussions is that there were one kavhan and one ichirgu-boil at the same time and that the kavhan is the higher office.[63] The different views on the functions of Peter comes from the different interpretation of the historical sources (the letters of Pope John VIII, the notes of the Cividale gospel and the story of Anastasius Bibliothecarius about the Council of Constantinople).

In 879 Pope John VIII appealed not only to Boris I but also to his close associates, including Peter. The letter was addressed to "Petro Cerbule et Sundice ceterisque optimatibus et consiliariis dilecti filii nostri Michaelis regis Vulgarorum" ("To Peter, Tserbula and Sundika, and the other boyars and advisers of our favourite son, the Bulgarian prince Michael").[64] The idea that Cerbule is the personal name Tserbula (Zergobula) is supported by Zlatarski.[65][66] Veselin Beshevliev interprets that as a title to the personal name of Peter Petro cerbulae (Peter ichirgu-boil).[66][67] According to Ivan Venedikov in 879 Peter was ichirgu-boil, having replaced Stazis.[68][69] The connection of Cerbule to Petro has been rejected by Vasil Gyuzelev. He suggests that Cerbule is related to Stazis. The omission of his personal name is explained with the fact that the Roman administration could not always cope with the Bulgarian anthroponymy and used titles instead of personal names.[70]

The historians are also not unanimous about who led the missions to Rome and Constantinople. According to Yordan Ivanov the second mission was led by Sondoke,[71] while Venedikov suggests it was Stazis.[72] According to Gyuzelev the leading person in the Bulgarian delegation was Peter which was made clear during the Council of Constantinople.[73] He emphasizes that according to the story of Anastasius Bibliothecarius the gifts to the Roman legates were sent through Peter.[74][75] Peter is the person of the Bulgarian delegation in Constantinople who spoke at the Council. Gyuzelev also pays attention to the letters of Pope John VIII. Letters were sent to Boris I (16 April 878[76] and May 879[77]), to Doks — brother of Boris I (April 878[78]), to Peter (16 April 878[79]) and to high ranking boils including Peter (in the letter of May 879[64]).[80] In the letter of April 878 addressed personally to Peter the Pope called him comita (Petrum comitem).[66][79] It has been suggested that under comita the Pope did not mean a regional governor but comes palatii, i. e. the first person in the court of the ruler.[81] Gyuzelev concludes that Peter's role in the events between 866 and 879 is more important than that of the ichirgu-boil Stazis and therefore Peter must have been kavhan at least during that period.[58]


  1. ^ Andreev, p. 67
  2. ^ Andreev, pp. 73-74
  3. ^ a b Fine, p. 118
  4. ^ Runciman, pp. 99-101
  5. ^ Andreev, p. 77
  6. ^ Fine, p. 119
  7. ^ Fine, p. 120
  8. ^ Beck, 1980, p. 104
  9. ^ Sabev, pp. 198-201
  10. ^ Fine, 1983, pp. 120-121
  11. ^ a b c Gyuzelev, 1969, pp. 197-199
  12. ^ Zlatarski, p. 107
  13. ^ LIBI, II., pp. 63-64
  14. ^ Zlatarski, p. 105, note 2
  15. ^ LIBI, II., pp. 164-165
  16. ^ Bozhilov, Gyuzelev, p. 189
  17. ^ a b Gyuzelev, p. 209-210
  18. ^ Zlatarski, pp. 125-126
  19. ^ Zlatarski, p. 129
  20. ^ Gyuzelev, p. 225
  21. ^ Later the opponents of Formosus accused him that he took advantage of Boris' trust and forced him to swear that he would propose him to the Pope for archbishop of the Bulgarians (see Hergenröther, p. 616)
  22. ^ Gyuzelev notes that the request of Boris I was put forward by the Bulgarian embassy in the second half of 867 (see Gyuzelev, p 226). According to Zlatarski the Pope was informed of the requests of the Bulgarian ruler in written from and the lack of an answer led to the new mission.
  23. ^ Gyuzelev p. 226
  24. ^ a b c d Gyuzelev, pp. 228-230
  25. ^ a b Gyuzelev, pp. 230-231
  26. ^ Ivanov, Y., The Bulgarian Names in the Cividale Gospel in Collection in honour of Professor L. Miletich, Macedonian Scientific Institute, 1933, p. 630
  27. ^ a b c Gyuzelev, pp. 233-235
  28. ^ a b c Sabev p. 210
  29. ^ a b Bozhilov, Gyuzelev, p. 183
  30. ^ Zlatarski gives another chronology, pp. 141-142. See also GIBI, V, p. 16
  31. ^ a b Gyuzelev, p. 234
  32. ^ LIBI pp. 193-194
  33. ^ a b Gyuzelev, p. 236
  34. ^ After Marinus was elected Pope in 882, he revoked the oath of Formosus never to set foot in Rome and returned his holy orders taken during a synod in 876 by Pope John VIII (See Gregorovius F., Rühl F., Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter, vol. 3, 1862, p. 225 and Friedrich Wilhelm Bautz (1990). "Formosus, Papst". In Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 2. Hamm: Bautz. cols. 70–71. ISBN 3-88309-032-8. ).
  35. ^ Gyuzelev pp. 234-236
  36. ^ Fine, p. 123
  37. ^ Beck, p. 109 and Schubert H. v., Geschichte der christlichen Kirche im Frühmittelalter. Ein Handbuch., Tübingen, 1921, p. 517
  38. ^ a b c Bozhilov, Gyuzelev, p. 205
  39. ^ a b Litavrin, p. 53
  40. ^ See Bozhilov, Gyuzelev, p. 183. There is a hypothesis that Silvester was accompanied by Peter in his trip to Bulgaria and back to Rome and the refusal was delivered to Peter (i. e., he had at least four travels to Rome, see Gyuzelev, p 144)
  41. ^ In 863 Photios was anathematized by a Roman council and in the same year he pronounced anathema against the Pope (See Litavrin, p. 54).
  42. ^ Litavrin, p. 52
  43. ^ Gyuzelev, p. 246
  44. ^ Gyuzelev, p. 144
  45. ^ a b c d e f g Bozhilov, Gyuzelev, pp. 184-185
  46. ^ The Papal delegates were concentrated on the following issues — recognition of the Pope's supremacy, condemnation of the Iconoclasts, Photios and his supporters, recognition of the Roman decisions concerning Ignatius, rejection of all decisions against him in all councils organized by Photios and full recognition of Ignatius as a Patriarch. (See Zlatarski, p. 147)
  47. ^ The historical source for the names of the Bulgarian envoys comes from Anastasius Bibliothecarius. He possessed a personal copy of the last session which he later translated into Latin (See Zlatarski, pp. 753-754). The translation reads "...similiter et gloriosissimi iudices Michaelis sublimissi principis Bulgariae Stasiszerco borlas nesundicus vgantus il vetrannabare, preastit zisunas campsis, et Alexios Sampsi..." ("...on the same way [were seated] also the most glorious judges of the Bulgarian Prince Michael Stasiszerco borlas nesundicus vgantus il vetrannabare, preastit zisunas campsis, et Alexios Sampsi...", see LIBI, II, p. 208). According to Zlatarski the fact that Peter is not mentioned is due either to a deliberate or to an unintentional error of the translator. He suggests that Stasis is in fact Peter pointing out that the names Stasis and Petrus contain the same number of letters (see Zlatarski pp. 755-756).
  48. ^ Sabev, pp. 213-214
  49. ^ Fine, p. 124
  50. ^ Anastasius Bibliothecarius, Biography of Pope Hadrian II, cited by Zlatarski, pp. 149-153 (see also LIBI, II, pp. 188-195)
  51. ^ a b c d Zlatarski, pp. 149-153
  52. ^ a b c Beck, p. 109
  53. ^ From indirect evidence it can be concluded that the Pope considered the non-interference of Constantinople in the issue on Bulgarian Church as a condition for the recognition of Ignatius as a Patriarch, a fact the latter had obviously ignored (Beck, p. 109).
  54. ^ Zlatarski, p. 159
  55. ^ Irechek, K., History of the Bulgarians, p. 661; Zlatarski, p. 859; Kosev D. and Co., History of Bulgaria, Edition of the Bulgarian Academy of Science, Sofia, 1981, vol. 2, p. 472
  56. ^ LIBI, II, pp. 281, 395
  57. ^ a b Andreev, Y., Lazarov, Iv., Pavlov, Pl., Who is who in Medieval Bulgaria, Izdatelska kashta "Petar Beron", Sofia, 1999, ISBN 954-402-047-0, pp. 311-312
  58. ^ a b Gyuzelev, p. 155
  59. ^ LIBI, II, p. 395
  60. ^ Beshevliev, p. 176
  61. ^ Gyuzelev, p. 317, note 48
  62. ^ Sabev, p. 213; Fine, p. 121
  63. ^ see Gyuzelev, p. 114; Besevliev V., Die protobulgarische Periode der bulgarischen Geschichte, Verlag Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, 1980, p. 349; Cholova, Ts., On the co-ruler of the monarch of the First Bulgarian State in the collection Bulgaria 1300. Institutions and state tradition, Bulgarian Historical Society, Sofia, 1982, vol. II, pp. 209-214, and also: Presian Inscription
  64. ^ a b LIBI, II, p. 161
  65. ^ Zlatarski, p. 754
  66. ^ a b c Gyuzelev, p. 152
  67. ^ Beshevliev, p. 81
  68. ^ Venedikov, I., Preslav, before it became capital of Bulgaria in collection Preslav, I., Izdatelstvo balgarski hudozhnik, Sofia, 1968, pp. 41-42
  69. ^ see also Gyuzelev, pp. 152-153
  70. ^ Gyuzelev, p. 153
  71. ^ Ivanov, p. 632; Gyuzelev adds to Ivanov's arguments the fact that Sondoke is pointed as the first one who entered the monastery near Aquilea (Gyuzelev, p. 146).
  72. ^ Venedikov highlights the fact that the name of Stazis in the Cividale gospel is written down immediately after the family of Boris I (see also Gyuzelev, p. 146).
  73. ^ Gyuzelev, p. 149
  74. ^ Gyuzelev. p. 150
  75. ^ "...principes Bulgarorum eis litteras et dona per Petrum aliosque derexerubt..." ("...they heard that the Bulgarian notables had sent them letters through Peter and the others...", LIBI, II, p. 188)
  76. ^ LIBI, II, p. 147
  77. ^ LIBI, II, p. 160
  78. ^ LIBI, II, p. 154
  79. ^ a b LIBI, II, p. 157
  80. ^ Gyuzelev, pp. 151-152
  81. ^ Gyuzelev, p. 154