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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe


Danubian Bulgaria / (First) Kingdom of Bulgaria (Turko-Slavics)
c.AD 681 - 889

During the fifth and sixth centuries AD the Pontic steppe on the northern shore of the Black Sea was a confused mix of various early tribes which had an early Turkic heritage. The situation was highly changeable and mobile following the collapse of the Hunnic empire which had driven many of these tribes there. A good deal of internecine conflict followed, before a tribal confederation known as 'Patria Onoguria' began to impose peace, with one large and powerful unit being the early Bulgars.

That confederation evolved quickly into the tribal state of Great Bulgaria, founded by Qaghan Koubrat, which managed to dominate the Pontic steppe for about three decades. Following the death of its founder around AD 651, continuity was initially supplied by his eldest son in the face of growing Khazar opposition.

A massive Khazar raid in 668 destroyed the confederation. Its various groups dissipated into the surrounding population in early Ukraine or migrated outwards. While some Bulgars elected to remain where they were and accept domination by the hostile Khazars, another large group headed northwards to form the Volga Bulgar state (Volga Bulgaria). A third large group headed westwards (others also followed this route) to settle in the Balkans as the Danubian Bulgars.

The 'Danubian Kingdom' which would eventually become the modern Bulgarian republic was formed by this third group of Bulgars. They were led by the tribal chieftain, Asparukh, who followed the Pontic coast to reach the Danube at the beginning of the last quarter of the seventh century. There, he founded an independent kingdom in what is now Romania, and set about harassing and seizing territory from the Eastern Roman empire while it was engaged in fighting the Islamic empire in the east and south.

The Bulgars expelled recently-settled groups of Slavs (or at least their leaders - principally of the Antes tribe), and probably also conquered local tribes which had been settled there for two or three centuries, such as the Bastarnae, and any remnants of the Goths and the Huns. Some Slavs remained though, enough to be integrated into the new kingdom, to add a Slavic layer of culture to it, and to replace Turkic as the main language.

A number of other tribal names have been associated with that of the Bulgars. Some medieval documents mention that Asparukh also led a people named 'v.n.n.tr' (in Khazar sources) or 'Unogundur' (in Eastern Roman sources). This ethnonym has been related by historians to the names 'Venender', 'Vhndur', and 'Onogur' which appear in other texts. The latter form at least can be connected with the Utigurs.

This name in its Khazar form is very similar to references to the same people in 982 and 1094 - strongly suggesting that they are the Venedi, Eastern Celts who may, if they were migrating with Asparukh, had ventured far further east than has previously been suspected. By this stage though, and with the possible confusion with Onogurs and Utigurs, they could hardly have been carrying much of their Celtic culture and language with them.

The Bulgar rulers were known as khans, in the Turkic tradition. They remained independent of the powerful Eastern Romans until 1018. There is some archaeological evidence to suggest an element of continuity between this people and the rule of the Huns and their many subject groups which had previously conquered the region. The most characteristic weapon of both peoples, their long bows, are almost identical.

The same Bulgars are responsible for forming the Balkan-Danubian culture (see below, at AD 701). As is often the case, the modern Bulgarian term for this shared culture differs from that of its Romanian equivalent, being known as Pliska-Preslav and Dridu culture respectively.

Qaghan Kubrat, founder of the first Bulgar state

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information 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 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), from the Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans (containing the names of the early Bulgarian khans), from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), and from External Links: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it), and Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen).)

c.668 - 680

With Qaghan Koubrat dead, Great Bulgaria disintegrates following a massive Khazar attack during their period of expansion in the second half of the seventh century. According to tradition, Koubrat's sons, Bat Bayan and his brothers, part company, each leading their own Bulgar followers.

Qaghan Koubrat of Great Bulgaria and his warrior sons
This modern illustration of Qaghan Koubrat and his warrior sons show them at the height of their power, probably around the AD 650 point in time

The third of Koubrat's five sons is Asparukh (Asparouh). He leads between thirty to fifty thousand people westwards from the Ergeni Hills (the Hippian Mountains) in northern present-day Kalmykia (in Russia, on the north-western coast of the Caspian Sea), towards the northern coast of the Black Sea.

In time they reach an area to the north of the Danubian delta known as the Ongal (precise location unspecified), from where they launch annual raids into Eastern Roman territory in the form of Danubian Bulgarians.

They also develop close bonds with the local Slav population which has been in the region for up to two centuries by now. This population is formed by the tribe or confederation of the Severians, along with what is known as the 'Seven Clans' or 'Seven Slavic Tribes'. This union of Slavs forms on the Danubian plain in the mid-seventh century, around the same time at which the Bulgars arrive.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 632-665
In AD 632, Qaghan Koubrat came to power as the head of an Onogur-Bulgar confederation, and three years later he was able to throw off Avar domination to found Great Bulgaria (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Kuber, the fourth son of the late Qaghan Koubrat of the Pontic Bulgars of Great Bulgaria, supposedly arrives in the Carpathian Basin around this time with his fleeing people. Killing or exiling the incumbent ruler of the 'Second Khaganate' of Avars, they integrate and attempt to dominate the Avars and a rag-tag group of leftovers which include Eastern Romans, Germans, and Slavs.

In the same year, Asparukh and his Bulgars along with their many Slav allied forces meet Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine IV at the Battle of Ongal. The location, whilst unknown, is near the Black Sea coast (where naval support lies), approximately midway between Varna (in modern Bulgaria) and Odessa (in modern Ukraine).

The resultant Bulgar victory allows them to carve out the beginnings of a kingdom which straddles the Danube in a broad oval between the Black Sea and Vidin.

The Avars pictured here are on their way to conquer Sirmium from the Eastern Romans, which they successfully managed in AD 582, fourteen years after the confirmed founding of their khaganate in the Carpathian Basin

c.681 - 694

Qaghan Asparukh / Asparouh / Isperikh

Kubrat's fifth son in Great Bulgaria. Founded Danubian state.


Within a few years of their arrival in the 'Second Khaganate', Kuber's Bulgars revolt against him, and Kuber is forced to flee to Danubian Bulgaria and safety with his brother, Asparukh (also given as Asparouh, Isperikh, or even Ispor). His Bulgars, it would seem, are assimilated into an Avar khaganate which is renewed again within five years under the rule of an unnamed leader.


The Khazars who had destroyed Great Bulgaria are now utterly dominant on the Pontic steppe. They force their way westwards towards the Danube, intent on subjugating the Bulgars there who had escaped them three decades before.

Asparukh is killed fighting in one such battle, but his Bulgarians hold firm (an alternative date of 701 is sometimes given for this particular death). To improve their defences they construct several great ditches between the River Timok (which connects with the right bank of the Danube) and the Black Sea.

The Madara horseman
The 'Madara Horseman' is a large rock relief which was carved on the Madara plateau to the east of Shumen in north-eastern Bulgaria - it can be dated to the very end of the seventh or start of the eighth century, during the reign of Bulgar Khan Tervel

c.694 - 715

Tervel / Tarvel / Terbelis

Son. Named 'Caesar' by Justinian II. Baptised.


Tervel and his immediate successors are responsible for the formation and spread of the Balkan-Danubian culture. The modern Bulgarian term for this shared culture is Pliska-Preslav, while in Romania the name Dridu culture is used. It flourishes until the eleventh century, no doubt coinciding with the annexation of the Cometopuli Bulgarian state by the Eastern Roman empire.

704 - 705

The deposed and banished former Eastern Roman emperor, Justinian II Rinotmetus, secures help and support from the powerful Danubian Bulgars to reclaim his throne. He does so in 705, with the Bulgars riding into Constantinople behind their khan, Tervel.

Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian II
This coin which was issued during the restored reign of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian II is a gold solidus from Constantinople, with a facing bust of Christ (left) holding the gospels and raising a right hand in benediction, and a bust of Justinian holding a cross potent and globus cruciger

The usurpers Leontius and Tiberius and many of their supporters are executed, while Tervel is granted the title 'Caesar', the first non-Eastern Roman to be so honoured.


Having had a change of heart about the territory which he had ceded to the Bulgars, Emperor Justinian II Rinotmetus now attempts to reclaim them militarily. Tervel puts him firmly in his place with a Bulgarian victory at the Battle of Anchialus (close to today's Pomorie in south-eastern Bulgaria).


Ayyar / Ajjar

Brother? Entry in Nominalia removed or damaged.

c.715 - 721

Kormesiy / Kormesij

Nephew? Entry in Nominalia removed or damaged.

717 - 718

During the reign of the Islamic empire's Caliph Sulayman, the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople is placed under a protracted siege. Emperor Leo calls to the Danubian Bulgars for help based on established ties of cooperation, and they send a large army.

Together the allies inflict several crushing defeats on the Arab army, forcing it to lift the siege and leave. This marks the end of any serious Islamic ambitions to conquer the Eastern Roman empire.

The Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, with construction by the Islamic empire having been completed in 691 on the site of the lost Judean Second Temple

c.721 - 737


Of the Dulo clan, but precise relationship unclear.

c.737 - 754

Kormesios / Kormisosh

First of the Ukil/Vokil clan. Removed after Roman defeat?


The accession of Kormesios sees the end of the Dulo clan on the Bulgarian throne and the rise of the Ukil (or Vokil) clan. The circumstances surrounding this change of clan are unknown, but it coincides with a sudden worsening in relations with the Eastern Romans regarding their shared frontier after what would seem to be thirty years of peace and cooperation.

c.754 - 760

Vinekh / Vineh

Ukil/Vokil clan ruler. Murdered for accepting Roman peace.

c.760 - 763

Teletz / Telets / Telec

Ugain clan ruler. Defeated and lynched.


Teletz belongs to a different faction of Bulgarian leaders, one which may have been involved in the murder of Vinekh of which details are unknown. He leads a well-trained Bulgarian army in a series of devastating raids across the Eastern Roman frontier zone.

Bulgarian troops of the eighth century
Oguric-speaking warriors on the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the sixth century would have been largely indistinguishable from each other but, under Eastern Roman influence, some would have begun to resemble the Romans just like the eighth century Bulgars shown here

Challenging Emperor Constantine V to a contest of strength, he is defeated in battle at Anchialus when his Slav auxiliaries switch sides. The emperor does not press his victory, instead returning home in triumph. Teletz and his supporters have been discredited by the loss, so his Slavo-Bulgarian populace lynch them.

c.763 - 765

Sabin or Baian

Name omitted from the Nominalia. Related to Kormesios.


Firmly in the 'peace with Constantinople' camp, Sabin attempts secret negotiations with Constantine V. When the secret is exposed, his people reject him, forcing him to flee to the Eastern Romans for protection. He remains an exile for his lifetime. His successor, Umor, may also be a supporter of the 'peace' camp.


Umar / Umor

Ukil clan ruler. Reigned for 40 days. Ejected like Sabin?

c.765 - 766

Tokt / Toktu

Ugain clan ruler. Fled north in the face of rebellion. Killed.

c.766 - 767


Son of Vinekh. Expelled and murdered.


Pagan attends peace talks with Constantine V and the two reach an agreement, only for Constantine to invade the Bulgarian lands. Several villages around the capital at Pliska are set on fire and the Eastern Romans are able to deal with the Bulgarian defenders before returning home in victory. Yet again a Bulgarian ruler is chased from his seat of power only to be murdered, this time by his servants.

Coin of Constantine V of the Eastern Roman empire
Two sides of a coin issued during the reign of Constantine V Copronymus, with the beardless Leo IV shown beside him as his associate ruler from 751, the coin being a solidus of circa 757-775, while the reverse contains a bust of Leo III wearing a crown and loros

c.767 - 777


Son of Tervel. Forced to seek exile in Constantinople.


Constantine V launches a major expedition against the Bulgarians. The Black Sea fleet successfully lands its mounted troops but the advantage is not pressed. It would seem that this is another of the emperor's displays of power against a new Bulgarian khan.

Despite Telerig later tricking the emperor into revealing the names of his informants in Bulgarian lands, the khan still feels the need to seek permanent refuge in Constantinople.

c.777 - 796/797


Clan unknown. Relatively successful but already aged.

791 - 796

Kardam's reign sees proper order restored in Bulgarian lands, with the khan's authority being respected as he grinds out a peace agreement with Constantine VI regarding Eastern Roman payments of annual tribute.

796/797 - 814

Krum 'Strashni / 'the Dreadful'

Killed Eastern Roman Emperor Nicephorus.


Krum's powerful Bulgarian kingdom conquers the south-eastern Avar lands of Transylvania and south-eastern Pannonia as far as the Middle Danube. Many Avars become subjects of the Bulgarians, despite their Khagan Theodorus requesting help from the Eastern Romans.

Map of the Frankish Empire in AD 800
Under Charlemagne's leadership, the Franks greatly expanded their borders eastwards, engulfing tribal states, the Bavarian state and its satellite, Khorushka, and much of northern Italy, with the Avars now an eastern neighbour (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Bulgarian territory is virtually doubled as a result of the gains, and the beginnings of a true state are laid down during Krum's reign. However, the Bulgars now have a border which is shared with the powerful Franks.


Stung by constant Bulgarian raiding and the capture of pockets of frontier territory, Eastern Roman Emperor Nicephorus I launches a major raid which sees the Bulgarian capital pillaged and burned.

On their way back to the empire, the imperial army is surprised by a scratch-force of soldiers and peasants, led by Krum. The army is destroyed, the emperor is killed, and his son is paralysed, with the result that his own position is usurped later in the year.

812 - 813

During 812, Krum seizes towns in Thrace, forcing Eastern Roman Emperor Michael I Rhangabé into a confrontation at Versinikia, on the route towards Adrianople. The battle, when it comes on 22 June 813, is a complete Bulgarian success. Constantinople is besieged, with the result that Michael abdicates to become a monk.


Krum consolidates his control of the Bulgars of Pannonia and Macedonia within the kingdom. These had been led westwards in the mid-seventh century by Kuber following the disintegration of Great Bulgaria where they had integrated into a ragtag of groups - Eastern Romans, Germans, and Slavs - as part of the Avar khaganate.

Pannonian plains
The plains of Pannonia (now western Hungary) were not under Hunnic domination for very long before the divided subjects of the Huns were largely forced back towards the Pontic steppe, but many groups also stayed, or arrived later in this ideal grassland territory



Governed briefly (possibly Omurtag or a regent).

814 - 815

Ditzevg / Ditseng

A second lord, and possible regent.



A third lord, and possible regent.

815 - 831

Omurtag / Omortag 'the Builder'

Son of Krum. Young at accession.

818 - 827

Following a short period of potential instability following the death of Khan Krum, Omurtag proves to be a capable leader. With a long-term peace agreement signed with Constantinople, he is largely free to look to his northern and western borders.

In 818, three Slavic tribes rebel in their territories along the middle Danube in what recently had been Avar territory. The Abodrites, Braničevci, and Timočani oppose increasingly centralised Bulgarian suzerainty. They seek support from Frankish Emperor Louis 'the Pious'.

The Franks are reluctant to negotiate, so Omurtag enforces his dominion with military victories in 826 and 827, and increased resources being added to the region. He ends Slav autonomy throughout the khanate, and divides it into districts (comitati) and sub-districts (zhupi ), thereby further centralising what is now a solid medieval kingdom rather than a tribal state.

Basil I meets Serb and Croat delegations
It would be another half a century or so after the Bulgars were beaten back by Knez Vlastimir of the Serbs that Serb and Croat delegations would be received by Eastern Roman Emperor Basil I

831 - 836


Son. Slavic/Indo-Iranian name. Took more Roman towns.

836 - 852

Presian I

Nephew. Captured more Slav towns.

839 - 842

Various Slavic tribes have recently been united into a single confederation under Vlastimir, the knez of Serbia. Eastern Roman Emperor Theophilus I has granted them independence (a tacit recognition of a fact which he is unable to change), in return for which he receives an acknowledgement of nominal overlordship for his lifetime.

Worried about the creation of a new Slav state on his south-western border, Presian invades. The Serbs, though, know their terrain. Vlastimir expels Presian with the latter making no territorial gains and suffering heavy losses. The death of Emperor Theophilus signals the end of the war.


Prince Pribina, a Slav noble and adventurer who had been chased out of Great Moravia by Mojmir I, is granted the eastern section of former Avar territory - in Lower Pannonia - as the principality of Balaton, with his headquarters near Lake Balaton on the River Zala (close to the modern village of Zalavár, in Zala County in Hungary, surrounded by forests and a swamp).

Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton today lies within the borders of Hungary, with landscapes, nature reserves, beaches, and folklore which make it focal point of the country's tourism trade

As dux of the eastern march and prince of Balaton, Pribina's main duty is to hem in the territorial ambitions both of Great Moravia and Bulgaria. Having himself been a victim of Moravia's ambitions, Pribina is only too happy to play a large role in Eastern Frankish campaigns against that state.

852 - 889

Boris / Mihail / Michael I

Son. Baptised in 864. Abdicated to become a monk.

853 or 854

Seeking revenge for the Bulgarian defeat of 842, an army is led into Serb lands by Vladimir 'Rasate', son of Boris I. Under the command of Mutimir and his two brothers, the Serbs again defeat the Bulgarians, capturing Vladimir and twelve boyars (nobles). Conflict is ended by a peace agreement.


With tensions increasing along the Frankish-Slavic border, Boris is persuaded by Rastislav of Great Moravia to attack the Eastern Franks in support of him. The campaign is a complete failure

Subsequent retribution involves Louis 'the German' invading Bulgaria at the same time as it is attacked by previously-peaceful Croats (possibly a diversionary tactic organised by Louis). Peace is soon agreed, without necessarily harming Boris' standing at home.

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
King Louis 'the Pious' of the Frankish empire attempted to leave the empire intact for his eldest son, Lothar, but the others rebelled at the idea. The treaty of Verdun in AD 843 confirmed the official division of the empire between Charlemagne's three surviving grandsons (click or tap on map to view full sized)

869 - 870

The conversion of Bulgaria is announced at the Eighth Church Council in Constantinople, thwarting several attempts by the Catholic Church at Rome to convert the Bulgarians on their on behalf. Knyaz ('ruler, prince') Boris takes the Christian name Michael to mark his conversion.


Following the death of Methodius in Great Moravia, the Roman Catholic religion is adopted and Cyrillic script is replaced by the Latin alphabet. The disciples of Cyril and Methodius are expelled, finding refuge in a Bulgaria which adopts their Cyrillic script, maintaining it to this day.

889 - 893

Vladimir 'Rasate' / 'the Shaved'

Son. Failed to reintroduce paganism. Deposed by Boris.

893 - 913

Simeon I

Brother. Raised principality to (First) Bulgarian empire.


Simeon has to cope with a two-pronged attack which is organised by Eastern Roman Emperor Leo VI. Having arranged for the Eastern Franks under Arnulf of Carinthia to avoid offering support to the Bulgarians, the Eastern Roman navy is active in the Danubian delta while the Magyars attack from the north. Despite a couple of minor defeats against the latter, Simeon emerges with his territories largely intact.

Berengar of Friuli
The determined Berengar of Friuli not only controlled the march territory between Italy proper and the Avars and Magyars to the east, but also claimed the Italian throne no less than three times during his eventful life


Anarchy in the Eastern Roman empire and the non-payment of the Bulgarian tribute allows Simeon to besiege Constantinople until its internal struggle to find a new emperor also results in Simeon himself being accepted as emperor of the Bulgarians.

He now exchanges the title of knyaz, meaning 'ruler' or 'prince', for 'tsar' in the style of the Roman model, raising the principality of Bulgaria to the '(First) Bulgarian Empire'.

First Bulgarian Empire (Danubian Bulgaria)
AD 913 - 971

The Danubian Bulgar kingdom was first formed in the late seventh century AD. Its people followed the tribal chieftain, Asparukh, son of the late ruler of Great Bulgaria. Wanting to avoid Khazar domination following their termination of this state, he led his large train of tribal Bulgars westwards from the Pontic steppe region which lies to the north of the Sea of Azov.

In what is now Romania, they set up a tribal kingdom close to the mouth of the Danube as the Danubian Bulgarians, and set about harassing and seizing territory from the Eastern Roman empire while it was engaged in fighting the Islamic empire in the east and south.

These Danubian Bulgars expelled recently-settled groups of Slavs (or at least their leaders - principally of the Antes tribe), and probably also conquered other tribes which had been settled there for two or three centuries, such as the Bastarnae, and any remnants of the Goths and the Huns.

More than enough Slavs remained though, enough to be integrated into the new kingdom, to add a Slavic layer of culture to it, and to replace Turkic as the main language. Principally these Slavs involved the Severians, along with what was known as the 'Seven Clans' or 'Seven Slavic Tribes'.

The Danubian kingdom largely prospered during the eighth and ninth centuries, gradually solidifying into a medieval state. It expanded outwards to occupy much of the Balkans, especially eastern and central regions. Anarchy in the Eastern Roman empire and the non-payment of the Bulgarian tribute allowed the knyaz, 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. The knyaz ('prince' or 'ruler') swapped that title for 'emperor', using the former Western Roman term of Caesar, in the abbreviated form of 'tsar' (originally 'tsěsar') which was, in theory, subtly junior to the Latin 'imperator' and Greek 'basileus' (both also meaning 'emperor'), but which was generally rendered in Slavonic as 'Cěsar/Car' ('tsar').

The Balkans Mountains in Albania, by wiredforadventure.com

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information 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 Istorija Khazar, M I Artamonov (Leningrad, 1962), 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 Link: Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen), and Turkic History.)

913 - 927

Simeon I 'Veliki' / 'the Great'

Previously knyaz of Bulgaria. Bulgaria's 'Golden Age'.


Shortly after Simeon has happily accepted the title of 'tsar' from Patriarch Nicholas, Zoe, the powerful mother of the young Emperor Constantine VII, returns to the Eastern Roman court. The regents are removed, Zoe takes control of the throne, and the patrician is entirely sidelined from his office. Recognition of Simeon as 'tsar' is negated, even by removing it from some official documents.

Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus
The shy, young Emperor Constantine VII of the Eastern Roman empire ruled with some reluctance, preferring the peace of his studies to the hurly-burly of court life


The promised war between Zoe's Constantinople and Simeon now erupts. Leo Phokas 'the Elder' invades Bulgaria with naval support. His forces stop en route to rest, close to the River Acheloos, and also close to the port of Anchialos (today's Pomorie).

This is where Simeon finds them, unprepared, and slaughters them. The Eastern Romans are utterly routed, with the Bulgarians chasing them to the outskirts of Constantinople. Another victory sees some of the last remaining cohesive Eastern Roman military units destroyed.

Immediately afterwards, Simeon sends two commanders to trick Petar Gojniković, ruler of the Serbs, into handing himself over for having intended to mobilise in support of the Eastern Romans. He is duly seized and imprisoned. Simeon replaces him with a Serb exile by the name of Pavle Branović who had been living at the Bulgarian court.

919 - 924

With Zoe now removed from power and sent back to a monastery, her replacement is Romanus I Lecapenus, equally powerful and politically wily. He marries his daughter - once promised to Simeon - to Constantine VII and creates himself co-emperor in 920.

This artist's reconstruction shows the Roman city of Singidunum, the name originating in the preceding Celtic town, while the Serbs would settle it from the 520s, making it their on-off capital of Belgrade

Now unable to seal peace through marriage with Constantinople, Simeon instead wages a long and bloody war against the Eastern Romans. Zaharije Pribisavljević in Serbia is persuaded by the imperial court to rebel in 924.

He already has the support of many Bulgarians who have tired of the unceasing campaigning. An initial force of loyal Bulgarians is routed, but a larger force deposes Zaharije, while much of the leading Serb nobility is beheaded. Simeon takes direct control of Serbia.

927 - 969

Petăr / Peter I

Son. Ruled a generally peaceful empire. Suffered a stroke.

930 - 933

There are two family-led rebellions: one in 930 by a younger brother named Ivan, and then a second, more serious attempt by Tsar Peter's elder half-brother, Michael. Taking advantage of the tsar possibly being unsettled, the Serbs in 933 successfully rebel under the leadership of Prince Časlav Klonimirović, re-establishing the independence of the Serb state.

Coin of Bulgarian Tsar Peter I
This lead bulla seal depicting the Bulgarian 'First Empire' Tsar Peter I was reportedly found together with a hoard of solidi of Romanus I, Constantine II, and Romanus II, with the seal perhaps being tied a leather bag which contained the coins, possibly to make a Bulgarian imperial payment

By the 930s some Magyar groups in what is becoming Hungary are further incurring into the Bulgarian empire but, after some initial disturbance, Tsar Peter is able to accept them and even employ them against the Serbs and Eastern Romans.

These groups are allowed to settle in Bulgarian territory on the northern side of the Danube, where they initially remain outside the control of the leading Magyar Árpád dynasty.


Around a decade after her own conversion to Christianity when visiting Constantinople, the pagan son of the late Grand Princess Olga of the Rus - Svyatoslav - now fights against the Danubian Bulgars, having ended the threat posed by the once-mighty Khazars. His latest campaign is at the request of the Eastern Romans, who promise an advance payment of fifteen hundred pounds of gold.

Khazars in battle
At the peak of its prosperity the nomadic Turkic Khazar state controlled the northern Caucasus, the lower and Middle Volga regions, part of Kazakhstan, and part of what is now Ukraine, including Crimea


The Pechenegs invade Rus territory for the first time, besieging Kyiv with a large army at the encouragement of the Bulgarians. According to tradition they are tricked into raising the siege by local forces who then assure them that Svyatoslav himself has just arrived to finish the job.

The Pechenegs withdraw in good order without having fought anybody, but the pressure on the Bulgarians has at least been temporarily lifted.

969 - 971

Boris II

Son. Roman prisoner from 971. Freed in 977.

970 - 971

Having just defeated the Bulgarians again (in 969), Svyatoslav of Kyiv finally breaks the long peace with the Eastern Romans which had been encouraged and supported by his late mother (who has only just died). He launches an invasion of the lower Danube in 970 and engages the Eastern Roman armies there in major battles between then and 971.

Unfortunately for him, the forces of Emperor John I Tzimisces are stronger than his. Tsar Boris of Bulgaria, his own forces unable to beat off the Rus, has become an unwilling Rus ally, and it is his capital which bears the brunt of the Eastern Roman attack.

The Bulgarian tsar is captured there and is taken to Constantinople where he is divested of his imperial title and given a replacement honorary one.

Byzantine Emperor John I Zimiskes with the captive Emperor Boris II of Bulgaria
Eastern Roman Emperor John I Zimiskes returns in glory to Constantinople, with the captured Preslav icon and Tsar Boris II of Bulgaria (second from right)

The (first) empire of Bulgaria is ended, with lower Moesia and Thrace now in the hands of Eastern Roman governors. Only western Bulgaria remains independent. This is led by the 'sons of the count', the Cometopuli, in the name of the captive Tsar Boris.

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