Decline of the Bulgarian State

Under Simeon’s successor, Tsar Peter, the Bulgarian state began to decline irresistibly. The Magyars took away the Bulgarian lands north of the Danube. The Serbians rose to arms and won their independence. Chaos reigned in the country. Encouraged by Bogomil preachers, the peasants refused to pay taxes and to perform the diverse corvees. The number of feudal lords (boyars) who refused to obey the Tsar was growing, which weakened the central power.

The Byzantine Empire could hardly have found a more opportune moment to square accounts with its dangerous northern neighbour. In 968, summoned by the Byzantine Emperor, Russian contingents of the Kiev Prince Svyatoslav invaded North-Eastern Bulgaria. The Byzantines, however, were taken by surprise when Svyatoslav signed an agreement with the Bulgarian Tsar Boris II for joint struggle against Byzantium. In face of this fresh menace, the Empire gathered forces and in 971 managed to defeat the Russian and Bulgarian troops. Boris II was taken prisoner and brought to Constantino-ple, but this was not the end of the Bulgarian state. After the fall of the Bulgarian capital and of the eastern parts of the country, the other regions continued to offer stubborn resistance for another half century. The sons of Komit Nikola – David, Moses, Aaron and Samuil – played an exceptional role during the years of this resistance. They were rulers of southwestern Bulgaria. The first two were killed in battle, Aaron as bribed by the Byzantines and Samuil killed him for this treason.

Samuil proclaimed himself as Tsar of Bulgaria and Prespa (today in Yugoslavia) – as his capital. He waged a manly struggle against the Byzantines for almost thirty years, and for a short period of time he even enlarged his state by liberating the country’s northeastern part and conquering the whole of Thessaly, present-day Albania, and some Serbian territories. In 986 Samuil dealt a crushing blow on the Byzantine Emperor Basil II at the Trayanova Vrata Pass (Trayan’s Gate) near the town of Ihtiman. The Emperor saved himself by some miracle and for a long time had no desire whatever to fight the Bulgarians. Almost twenty years had passed before he ventured again to attack Bulgaria in 1014.

Armies of Bulgaria and Byzantium

The armies of Bulgaria and Byzantium, led by the two rulers, met at the northern foothills of the Belassitsa Mountains, not far from the present-day town of Petrich. The front attack brought the Byzantines no success, so they used roundabout paths, appeared in the Bulgarians’ rear and routed the army. Basil had his revenge for the defeat at Trayanovi Vrata, but he was not satisfied. In order to break the morale of the Bulgarians and make them give up all further resistance, he ordered all 14,000 Bulgarian soldiers taken prisoner to be blinded and sent them back to Samuil in Prespa through the winter bliz-zards. He had left one soldier with one eye in every 100 blinded men to show them the way. For his cruelty which had no equal even in those cruel times, Basil II was nicknamed Bulgaroctonos — Slayer of the Bulgarians.