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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe

 

Cometopuli (Kometopouloi) Bulgarian State / Western Bulgarian Empire
AD 971 - 1018

The Danubian '(First) Bulgarian Kingdom' kingdom formed in the late seventh century, following a mass migration from the eastern Pontic steppe. The collapse of Great Bulgaria had resulted in a large number of Bulgars who wanted to avoid Khazar domination. While some headed northwards to become the Volga Bulgars, many resettled in what is now Romania, close to the mouth of the Danube to become Danubian Bulgarians.

There they seized territory from the Eastern Roman empire of the dynasty of Heraclius, and integrated themselves into existing Slavic settlements as a new ruling elite with a mixed Indo-Iranian and Turkic heritage of their own.

Their kingdom largely prospered during the eighth and ninth centuries. It gradually solidified into a medieval state, expanding outwards to occupy much of the Balkans, especially eastern and central regions. Early tenth century anarchy in the Macedonian-dynasty Eastern Roman empire allowed the ruling prince, Simeon, to besiege Constantinople in 913 until its internal struggle to find a new emperor also resulted in Simeon himself being accepted as emperor of the Bulgarians.

His kingdom was now raised to become the '(First) Bulgarian Empire'. Simeon soon found the Romans backtracking on promises of alliance, sparking a trail of warfare throughout the rest of his reign. Largely his empire was successful in the fight, expanding even further and bringing the early Serb state under his direct control.

When Pannonia's recently-arrived Magyars began venturing southwards to raid into Bulgaria, Simeon was able to tame them too. He set them up in client territory on the northern bank of the Danube. The Kievan Rus proved a far more difficult prospect, however.

Bulgaria seemed to be at a loss when it came to defeating them, so Simeon's second successor, Boris II, was left with no choice but to ally himself with them. Disaster followed, with a Roman-Rus war being fought out around the Bulgarian capital, destroying it and seeing Boris captured. The empire was ended.

With much of Bulgaria now under Eastern Roman control, only the west remained independent. Bulgarian governors still maintained control there, most notably under a noble family which was led by four brothers. They were the cometopuli, the 'sons of the count', and they ruled in the name of the captive Tsar Boris.

For these reasons, along with geography, the state is known either as the 'Cometopuli' or the 'Western Bulgarian Empire'. The late count himself was Nicholas, either comes (count) or governor of the Sredets region (which contains modern Bulgaria's capital of Sofia), or perhaps the Prespa region. He had been killed by 972, so his four sons commanded in his stead, each controlling a region of his vast territory.

The Balkans Mountains in Albania, by wiredforadventure.com

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes, from the Chronicle of Fredegar / Latin Chronicle (author unknown but the work has been attributed to Fredegar since the sixteenth century thanks to his name being written in the margin), from Viking-Rus Mercenaries in the Byzantine-Arab Wars of the 950s-960s: the Numismatic Evidence, Roman K Kovalev, from Istorija Khazar, M I Artamonov (Leningrad, 1962), from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from the work of Theophilactus Simocatta, from Istorija Khazar, M I Artamonov (Leningrad, 1962), from Izvestija o sarmatah, burtasah, bolgarah, mad'jarah, slavjanah I russkih Abu-Ali-Ahmeda ben Omara ibn Dasta, D A Hvol'son (1869), from Etnicheskaja istorija Severnogo Kavkaza, A V Gadlo, from Derbend-Nameh, Mirza A Kasem-Beg (translated from select Turkish versions with texts and notes in Memoires de l'Academie imperiale des Sciences, St Petersburg, 1861), from Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, András Róna-Tas (Central European University Press, 1999), and from External Links: Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen), and Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions, and Turkic History.)

971 - 977

Boris II

Former ruler of Bulgarian empire. Killed by accident.

c.969 - 972

Nicholas

Count in western Bulgaria. Killed.

971 - 976

While Tsar Boris, last emperor of a fully independent and intact 'Bulgarian Empire', is held in loose captivity in Constantinople, western Bulgaria remains the last free stronghold. One of the governors here is Count Nicholas, but he is killed in battle by 972, and possibly in 971.

His four sons command in his place, each of them governing a segment of his territory, holding it in the name of the emperor and fighting against the Eastern Romans.

Map of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Bulgaria, and Greece AD 1000
The (First) Bulgarian empire had controlled a great swathe of the Balkans during its existence, but its termination in 971 resulted in only its western territories remaining independent (within the dashed line), governed by the cometopuli (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.972 - 976

David

Son. Killed by Vlachs prior to battle with Eastern Romans.

c.972 - 976

Moses

Brother. Died during the siege of Serres.

c.972 - 976

Aron / Aaron

Brother. Executed by Samuel.

c.972 - 997

Samuel / Samuil

Brother. Became emperor in 997.

976

Before the Eastern Romans can be subjected to a major attack by the cometopuli, David is killed by a nomadic group of Vlachs. The multi-pronged attack goes ahead however, with Moses leading a siege of the Macedonian town of Serres in which he is also killed. North-eastern Bulgaria is recaptured in a notable territorial gain for the sons of the counts.

Emperor Basil II is also fighting a rebellion in the east which is led by a general called Bardas Skleros. So he resorts to subterfuge with his Bulgarian adversaries by negotiating with Aron to secure peace with him alone, and offering his sister's hand in marriage to sweeten the deal.

Samuel discovers the deceit, executing Aron and his entire family. Only his son, Ivan Vladislav, is saved, thanks to Gavril Radomir (Samuel's own son) pleading for his life.

South Struma Valley
The South Struma Valley, former Scordisci tribal territory, today lies within south-western Bulgaria, but at the time of the cometopuli it probably formed part of their eastern border

977

As another part of his warfare against the cometopuli, Emperor Basil II releases the captive Tsar Boris and his brother Romanus, allowing them to head towards western Bulgaria and perhaps cause division and disagreement.

The two reach safety, with Basil dismounting his horse to avoid being perceived as a threat to the border guards. Unfortunately he is killed by a deaf-mute guard before he can identify himself. Romanus succeeds him as emperor, but Samuel ensures he remains little more than a figurehead.

977 - 997

Romanus

Brother. Figurehead tsar. Captured again in 991. Died 997.

988 - 991

Bulgaria takes the Eastern Roman region of Epirus, along with Thrace and, soon after, the Serb province of Duklja. The successes are aided by the fact that Emperor Basil II is occupied in putting down the rebellion of Bardas Phokas 'the Younger' in Asia Minor.

However, despite major Bulgarian successes, Basil is still often able to raid deep into Bulgarian territory. In 991 he manages to capture Tsar Romanus, taking him to Constantinople as his prisoner. Samuel continues much as before, striving to extend the Bulgarian state amid successes and reverses, and only assuming the title of tsar when Romanus has died (with Papal recognition).

Pope Sylvester II
Pope Sylvester II - happy to recognise a Bulgarian emperor if it meant scoring a success over the Orthodox Church - began the process of reintroducing from the Islamic empire much of that which had been lost since the fall of the Roman empire

997 - 1014

Samuel

Formerly Count Samuel. Army annihilated by Basil II.

1010

As part of a major campaign to denude the Eastern Romans of support in the Balkans, Samuel enters the Serb Duklja province. Its ruler, Jovan Vladimir, is forced to acquiesce to Bulgarian overlordship.

After Theodora Kosara, Samuel's own daughter - it is alleged by a medieval writer - had fallen in love with Vladimir she begs for his life. His largely peaceful rule of his people continues, and he plays no part in the conflict against the Eastern Romans.

1014

Worn down by incessant Eastern Roman raiding every year, Samuel builds a long wooden defensive wall across their favoured line of advance through the Strumitsa river valley. At first the defence proves to be highly successful, but the Eastern Romans eventually find a way around. The main Bulgarian army is surprised and defeated.

Emperor Basil II gains the epithet 'Bulgar Slayer' when he captures and blinds most of the 15,000-strong army on 29 July. The defeat fatally weakens the Bulgar state, and Samuel too. He reputedly suffers a heart attack when he sees his mutilated army return home.

Byzantine Emperor Basil II 'Bulgar Slayer'
In Eastern Roman Emperor Basil II the Bulgarians found themselves an implacable, unrelenting enemy who would not give up until their state had been destroyed

1014 - 1015

Gabriel / Gavril Radomir

Son. Murdered.

1015

Gavril Radomir proves to be a worthy and successful successor when it comes to punishing the Eastern Romans for the horrors of 1014. His first major raid even reaches the outskirts of Constantinople. Unfortunately he is soon murdered by Ivan Vladislav in revenge for Gavril's father having executed the rest of Ivan's family in 976. Then Ivan seizes the throne.

1015 - 1018

John / Ivan Vladislav

Son of Count Aron. Usurper. Killed in battle.

1018 - 1019

Ivan Vladislav is killed while attacking the Eastern Romans during the Battle of Dyrrhachium in 1018 (now Durrës in Albania). Exhausted by the war and lacking a suitable successor, his widow, Maria, and a good many Bulgarian regional governors surrender to Basil II who then annexes Bulgaria to the empire.

Berat in Albania
With twenty-first century Albania reinventing itself as a democratic country which values sexual equality and free and fair elections (albeit with improvements yet to be made), it is also becoming a tourist hot-spot, with Berat (shown here) highly prized for its location

The sons of Ivan Vladislav - Aaron, Alusian, and Presian - surrender a brief time later and are taken to Constantinople where they are drawn into the court nobility. Duke Sermon, the governor of the north-western province of Syrmia, manages to hold out until he is killed by Eastern Romans in 1019. Ivan's daughter, Catherine, later marries Isaac I Comnenus, founder of the subsequent Comneni dynasty of emperors.

1019 - 1040

Bulgaria as an independent state in any form has been extinguished. Its provinces are largely merged into the Eastern Roman themes (administrative divisions) of Bulgaria and Macedonia, while the heart of the original kingdom is now the theme of Paristrion.

1040 - 1041

Delyan / Petăr / Peter II

Delyan, son (?) of Gavril Radomir. Led rebellion. Mutilated.

1040 - 1041

Peter leads a Bulgarian rebellion within the theme of Bulgaria against Eastern Roman rule. His claim to be Delyan, son of Gavril Radomir, remains unsubstantiated - he could equally be a commoner or minor lord who makes the claim to secure the title of tsar.

Bulgarian Emperor Delyan
Petăr Delyan was nominated for the position of Cometopuli-era Bulgarian emperor by a group of Bulgarian nobles, but the legitimacy of his claim remained in doubt

Emperor Michael IV is surprised in Thessalonica, being forced to flee without his treasury. The theme of Macedonia also falls, sparking other rebellions. However, failure comes at the hands of Alusian, son of Ivan Vladislav, who had been in disgrace at the Roman court. One night he mutilates and blinds a drunk Delyan, and is proclaimed tsar in his place.

1041

Alusian

Son of Ivan Vladislav. Defected to Romans.

1041

Alusian's only thought, it seems, is to use his newfound position of power to be re-admitted to the Eastern Roman court. Leading his army towards battle, he instead defects to the enemy in a pre-arranged plot which seems him restored at court and rewarded with the senior title of magistros. The still-functional Delyan is able to resume command.

1041

Delyan / Petăr / Peter II

Restored. Defeated in battle. Executed or imprisoned.

1041 - 1072

As Tsar Peter II, Delyan is captured in 1041 by the forces of Michael IV at the Battle of Ostrovo (now in northern Greece). His fate is unclear, perhaps being executed or 'imprisoned' as a monk in an isolated monastery. The Bulgarians are again subsumed within Eastern Roman themes until 1072.

Alousian meets Bulgarian Tsar Delyan
Fleeing in 1040 from disgrace in the imperial court at Constantinople, Alouisian meets Tsar Delyan at Ostrovo on the edges of Bulgarian territory, the scene of the final cometopuli defeat just the following year

1072 - 1073

Constantine Bodin / Peter III

Serb prince of Duklja. Crowned tsar. Captured.

1072 - 1185

The Bulgarians request that Constantine Bodin become their leader in rebellion. He is the son of the ruling Serb prince of Duklja, Mihailo, with a theorised familial connection to the late Tsar Samuel. Their rebellion takes the theme of Bulgaria.

Warfare erupts in the Balkans, largely in what is now Serbia and Kosovo. Fortunes fluctuate as both sides operate multiple smaller armies, but Bodin is captured and sent to Constantinople in 1073.

He is freed by paid Venetians some years later, but returns peacefully to his father's lands to become co-ruler there. The defeated Bulgarians remain submissive until 1185 and the rise of the 'Asens of Bulgaria'.

 
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