Peter II of Bulgaria
Detail of the painting ″The uprising of Asen and Peter″, Georgi Bogdanov, 1961
Peter II, born Theodor, also known as Theodor-Peter (Bulgarian: Теодор-Петър; died in 1197) was the first emperor (or tsar) of the restored Bulgarian Empire from 1185 to 1197. He was the son of a wealthy shepherd from the mountains of the Byzantine theme (or district) of Paristrion. He and his younger brothers, Asen and Kaloyan, were mentioned as Vlachs in most primary sources, but they were most probably of mixed (Vlach, Bulgarian and Cuman) origin.
Theodor-Peter and Asen approached the Byzantine Emperor, Isaac II Angelos, in Thrace in 1185, demanding an estate in the Balkan Mountains. After the emperor refused and humiliated them, they decided to stir up a rebellion, taking advantage of the discontent that a new tax had caused among the Bulgarians and Vlachs. To convince their compatriots to join them, they hired native prophets who declared that Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki supported them. Before the end of the year, Theodor-Peter was crowned and adopted insignia that was used only by the emperors.
The Byzantine army defeated the rebels, forcing Theodor-Peter and Asen to flee to the Cumans in April 1186. They returned at the head of Cuman troops in autumn. They took control of Paristrion, thus their uprising ended with the establishment of a new state, regarded as the successor of the First Bulgarian Empire. The brothers made regular raids against the nearby Byzantine territories in the early 1190s. Conflicts between Isaac II and the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, during Barbarossa's crusade enabled Theodor-Peter to conquer new territories in 1190. Theodor-Peter and Asen divided their realm in 1192, with Theodor-Peter receiving Preslav and the northeastern region. He concluded a peace treaty with the Byzantine Empire. After Asen was murdered by a boyar in 1196, Theodor-Peter appointed Kaloyan to rule Asen's former realm. Theodor-Peter was murdered in the following year.
The Synodikon of Tzar Boril, composed in 1211, referred to him as "Theodor, called Peter", proving that Theodor was his original name. According to a widespread scholarly theory, he changed his name when he was crowned emperor most probably in memory of Peter I of Bulgaria who had been canonized in the early 11th century. Historian Alexandru Madgearu says, Theodor must have been adopted the new name in reference to two leaders of 11th-century anti-Byzantine rebellions, Peter Delyan and Constantine Bodin (or Peter), instead of Peter I, who attempted to maintain peace with the Byzantine Empire. Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch, called him "the rebel Slavopetros" in a poem. Two chronicles about Frederick Barbarossa's crusade referred to him as "Kalopeter" (from the Greek expression for "Peter the Handsome").
The year of the birth of Theodor-Peter is unknown. He was apparently the eldest son of a wealthy shepherd from the Haemus Mountains, according to Madgearu. On the other hand, no source recorded that he or his brother, Asen, owned cattle. Madgearu says, they may have administered an imperial horse farm, adding that their estates were most probably located near Tarnovo. Historian Ivan Dujčev writes that the brothers were local chieftains in the Balkan Mountains.
Theodor-Peter and his brothers were mentioned as Vlachs in sources written in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, but their ethnicity is subject to scholarly debates. The presence of many ethnic groups in the lands to the south of the Lower Danube in the 12th century is well documented, thus they were most likely of mixed (Vlach, Bulgarian and Cuman) origin.
Theodor-Peter and Asen approached the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos near Kypsela in Thrace (now İpsala in Turkey) in late 1185. They asked the emperor to recruite them in the imperial army and to grant them "by imperial rescript a certain estate situated in the vicinity of Mount Haimos, which would provide them with a little revenue", according to the Byzantine historian, Niketas Choniates. Choniates' words show that the brothers wanted to receive a pronoia grant (that is the revenues from an imperial estate in exchange for military service). According to a scholarly theory, the brothers actually tried to convince the emperor to make them the autonomous rulers of Moesia, because Choniates noted that at a later stage of their rebellion, they "were not content merely to preserve their own possessions and to assume control of the government" of Moesia. Whatever was their request, Isaac II refused them. Asen was also "struck across the face and rebuked for impudence" at the command of the emperor's uncle, John Doukas.
After their humiliation at Kypsela, Theodor-Peter and Asen returned to their homeland and decided to stir up a rebellion. A formal speech, delivered in praise of Isaac II in 1193, stated that Theodor-Peter had been the "first to rebel" against the emperor. Madgearu notes that Michael Choniates described Theodor-Peter as a "hateful and renegade slave", which also suggests that he was the instigator of the uprising.
The brothers knew that the collection of an extraordinary tax (which had been levied in the autumn of 1185) angered the population, especially in the region of Anchialos (now Pomorie in Bulgaria). However, initially they could not provoke the discontented people into rebellion, because their compatriots looked "askance at the magnitude of the undertaking", according to Choniates. Theodor-Peter and Asen decided to take advantage of the Bulgarians and Vlachs' devotion to the cult of the martyr saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki to persuade them to rise up against the Byzantine rule.
Theodor-Peter and Asen built a "house of prayer" dedicated to the saint and gathered Bulgarian and Vlach profets and profetesses. At the brothers' instruction, the soothsayers announced "in their ravings" that God had consented to the uprising against the Byzantines and Saint Demetrius would abandon Thessaloniki and "come over to them to be their helper and assistant" during the forthcoming rebellion. This "professional work of manipulation" was effective: all who were present willingly joined the brothers' movement. Niketas Choniates, who recorded these events, did not name the venue of the gathering, but Tarnovo is the most probable place, according to modern scholars' views.
Taking advantage of the war between the Byzantine Empire and the Normans of Sicily, the rebels invaded Thrace and persuaded other people to join them. Heartened by the victories, Theodor-Peter "bound his head with a gold chaplet and fashioned scarlet buskins to put on his feet", thus adopting insignia that had been used only by the emperors. Although Choniates did not mention that Theodor-Peter also styled himself emperor, the use of imperial insignia shows that he either had been proclaimed emperor, or at least laid claim to the title. Madgearu says, the coronation most probably took place before the end of 1185, because a priest, Basil, was allegedly made the head of the restored Bulgarian Orthodox Church in that year.
Theodor-Peter laid siege to Preslav, which had been the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire, but they could not capture it. The rebels again stormed into Thrace, carrying away "many free [people], much cattle and draft animals, and sheep and goats in no small number" in early 1186. To prevent the rebels from crossing the mountain passes, Isaac II launched a campaign against them, but they occupied "the rough ground and inaccessible places" and resisted the attacks. However, a sudden "blackness" (associated with the solar eclipse of 21 April 1186) rose up and "covered the mountains", enabling the Byzantines to inflict a severe defeat on the rebels.
Exile and return
After the Byzantine victory, a courtier stated that Theodor-Peter and Asen were soon forced to yield to the emperor, describing Theodor-Peter as a bull which had broken the yoke. However, the brothers fled across the Lower Danube and sought assistance from the Cumans. The imperial troops "set up fire to the crops gathered in heaps" by the local inhabitants, but made no major efforts to capture the rebels' fortresses which were "built on sheer cliffs and cloud-capped peaks".
Isaac II also failed to garrison the castles along the Lower Danube, enabling the refugees to return, accompanied by Cuman troops in the autumn of 1186. Theodor-Peter had promised rich booty and salary to the Cumans to talk them into supporting him, according to a letter that Niketas Choniates wrote on the emperor's name a year after the events. The same author attributed the leading role to Asen in the ensuing military campaign in his chronicle. The rebels and their Cuman allies invaded the Byzantine Empire and took control of Paristrion (or Moesia) between the Lower Danube and the mountains. Thereafter the unification of Moesia and Bulgaria "into one empire as of old" (namely, the restoration of the First Bulgarian Empire) became their principal goal. Around that time (in 1187 or 1188), Asen became Theodor-Peter's co-ruler.
According to a scholarly theory, Isaac II acknowledged the independence of the territories under the rule of Theodor-Peter and Asen in a peace treaty signed in the summer of 1188. John Van Antwerp Fine writes, the brothers' realm "included the territory between the Balkan Mountains and the Danube". Madgearu proposes, territories to the south of the mountains, as far as the line connecting Plovdiv, Stara Zagora and Ahtopol, were also incorporated into the new state. The supposed treaty was not mentioned by Choniates. Historian Paul Stephenson states that he has found no evidence in support of a treaty acknowledging the independence of the new state, but he also emphasizes that the territory to the north of the mountains was ruled by various Vlach, Bulgarian and Cuman lords who regarded Theodor-Peter and Asen as their sovereigns.
Significant number of Bulgarians and Vlachs remained under Byzantine rule after 1188. Bulgarians and Vlachs who were subjected to the Byzantine governor of Braničevo harassed the crusaders of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa in July 1189. Around that time, Stefan Nemanja, Grand Župan (or ruler) of Serbia, seized parts of the Byzantine theme (or district) of Bulgaria. Nemanja and Theodor-Peter concluded an agreement against the Byzantines.
Theodor-Peter wanted to take advantage of the crusaders' presence to expand his rule. He and his brother took control of "the region where the Danube flows into the sea" (present-day Dobruja) in the summer. He dispatched an embassy to Barbarosa to Niš already in July, offering him "due respect and a promise of faithful assistance against his enemies". He again sent an envoy to Barbarossa, who had come into conflict with Isaac II, to Adrianople (now Edirne in Turkey) in December, offering "forty thousand Vlachs and Cumans armed with bows and arrows" to fight against the Byzantines. He also announced his claim to "the imperial crown of the kingdom of the Greeks" (or the Byzantine Empire).
Barbarossa was indeed contemplating an attack against Constantinople, but he changed his mind and concluded a peace treaty with Isaac II in February 1190. On the day when the treaty was concluded, Isaac II's envoy tried to talk Barbarossa into a joint military action against the Vlachs, while Theodor-Peter's delegate again proposed an alliance against the Byzantines. However, Barbarossa, who wanted to continue the crusade towards the Holy Land, refuted both offers.
After Barbarossa left Thrace, Isaac II was able to make new attempts to recover the lands lost to Theodor-Peter and Asen. In July 1190, he invaded the brothers' realms across the Rish Pass and dispatched a fleet to the Lower Danube to prevent the Cumans from crossing the river. However, the brothers had already strengthened their fortification and avoided direct confrontations with the invaders. The emperor decided to return to his capital after he was informed that Cuman troops crossed the Lower Danube in September. The Vlachs and the Bulgarians ambushed the imperial army at a narrow pass and inflicted a major defeat on it. Isaac II escaped, but much of the army perished and the victors seized "the more valuable of the emperor's insignia", including his pyramidal crown and relics associated with the Virgin Mary.
The Vlachs, Bulgarians and Cumans resumed their raids against Byzantine territories. They sacked Varna and Pomorie; they destroyed Triaditsa and seized the relics of Ivan of Rila, a saint especially venerated by the Bulgarians. Isaac II routed Cuman marauders near Plovdiv in April 1191. He made his cousin, Constantine Doukas Angelos, the commander of Plovdiv in 1192. Constantine prevented Theodor-Peter and Asen from making frequent pillaging raids against Thrace, but he was blinded after he tried to dethrone the emperor. Theodor-Peter and Asen rejoiced over Constantine's fate and stated, they were ready to make "Isaac emperor over their own nation, for he could not have benefited the Vlachs more than gouging out Constantine's eyes", according to Choniates.
At least two eulogies delivered in 1193 evidence that Isaac had succeeded in creating a rift between Theodor-Peter and Asen. An orator mentioned that Theodor-Peter had concluded a peace treaty with the Byzantines; the other described him as "a stumbling block to his brother" and an enemy to his own family, while describing Asen as a "most reckless and obdurate rebel". George Akropolites recorded that Preslav, Provadia and the "area around them" was still known as "Peter's land" in the 13th century. The sources suggest that the brothers divided the territories under their rule into two, most probably in 1192, according to Madgearu. Receiving the northeastern region, Theodor-Peter set up his capital at Preslav. Fine says the strife between the brothers was most probably soon rectified, because they jointly ordered the invasion of Thrace in 1193.
Asen was murdered in Tarnovo by the boyar Ivanko in the fall of 1196. Theodor-Peter soon mustered his troops, hurried to the town and laid siege to it. Ivanko sent an envoy to Constantinople, urging the new Byzantine Emperor, Alexios III Angelos, to send reinforcements to him. The emperor dispatched Manuel Kamytzes to lead an army to Tarnovo, but fear of an ambush at the mountain passes led to an outbreak of mutiny and the troops forced him to return. Ivanko realized that he could not defend Tarnovo any more and fled from the town to Constantinople. Theodor-Peter entered Tarnovo. After making his younger brother Kaloyan the ruler of the town, he returned to Preslav.
Theodor-Peter was murdered "in obscure circumstances" in 1197. He was "run through by the sword of one of his countrymen", according to Choniates' record. Historian István Vásáry writes, Theodor-Peter was killed during a riot; Stephenson proposes, the native lords got rid of him, because of his close alliance with the Cumans.
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Peter II of BulgariaDied: 1197
Title last held byIvan Vladislav
| Emperor of Bulgaria
with Ivan Asen I
as sole emperor