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Samuil of Bulgaria

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Title: Samuil of Bulgaria  
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Subject: Macedonia (region), History of the Republic of Macedonia, 11th century, 10th century, 1014, 976, 997, Samuel of Bulgaria, 958, List of Bulgarians
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Samuil of Bulgaria

"Samuil" redirects here. For the village and municipality in Bulgaria, see Samuil (village). For the Brythonic king ("Samuil of the Britons"), see Sawyl Penuchel. For the Hungarian king, see Samuel Aba.
Samuel (Samuil)
Tsar (Emperor) of Bulgaria
Reign 997 – 6 October 1014
Died 6 October 1014(1014-10-06)
Place of death Prilep, First Bulgarian Empire
Predecessor Roman of Bulgaria
Successor Gavril Radomir
Consort Kosara, Agatha
Issue Gavril Radomir
Theodora Kosara
Katun Anastazya
Royal House Cometopuli
Father Comita Nikola
Mother Ripsimia of Armenia

Samuel[1] (also Samuil, representing Bulgarian: Самуил, pronounced [samuˈil]) was the Tsar (Emperor) of the First Bulgarian Empire from 997 to 6 October 1014.[2] From 977 to 997, he was a general under Roman I of Bulgaria, the second surviving son of Emperor Peter I of Bulgaria, and co-ruled with him, as Roman bestowed upon him the command of the army and the effective royal authority.[3] As Samuel struggled to preserve his country's independence from the Byzantine Empire, his rule was characterized by constant warfare against the Byzantines and their equally ambitious ruler Basil II.

In his early years Samuel managed to inflict several major defeats on the Byzantines and to launch offensive campaigns into their territory.[4] In the late 10th century, the Bulgarian armies conquered the Serb principality of Duklja[5] and led campaigns against the Kingdoms of Croatia and Hungary. But from 1001, he was forced mainly to defend the Empire against the superior Byzantine armies. Samuel died of a heart attack on 6 October 1014, two months after the catastrophic battle of Kleidion, and Bulgaria was fully subjugated by Basil II four years later, ending the five decades-long Byzantine–Bulgarian conflict.[6]

Samuel was considered "invincible in power and unsurpassable in strength".[7][8] Similar comments were made even in Constantinople, where John Kyriotes penned a poem offering a punning comparison between the Bulgarian Emperor and a comet which appeared in 989.[9][10]

During Samuel's reign, Bulgaria gained control of most of the Balkans (with the notable exception of Thrace) as far as southern Greece. He moved the capital from Skopje to Ohrid,[4][11] which had been the cultural and military centre of southwestern Bulgaria since Boris I's rule,[12] and made the city the seat of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. Because of that, sometimes his realm is called Western Bulgarian Kingdom or Western Bulgarian Empire.[13][14]

Although Samuel's reign brought the end of the First Bulgarian Empire, he is regarded as a heroic ruler in Bulgaria.[15][16]

The rise of the Cometopuli

The Cometopuli

Samuel was the fourth[17] and youngest son of count (comita) Nikola, a Bulgarian noble, who might have been the Count of Sredets (Sofia),[18] although other sources suggest that he was a regional count somewhere in the region of today Macedonia.[19] His mother was Ripsimia of Armenia.[20] The actual name of the dynasty is not known. “Cometopuli” is the nickname which is used by Byzantine historians to address rulers from the dynasty as its founder. Samuel and the Cometopuli rose to power, out of the disorder that occurred the Bulgarian Empire from 966 to 971.

Russian invasion and deposition of Boris

During the reign of Peter I, Bulgaria prospered in a long-lasting peace with Byzantium. This was secured by the marriage of Peter with a Byzantine princess Maria Lakapina. However after Maria's death in 963, the truce had been shaken and Peter I sent his sons Boris and Roman in Constantinopole, as honorary hostages, to honor the new terms of the peace treaty.[21] During these years the Byzantines and Bulgarians had entangled themselves in a war with Kievan Rus prince Sviatoslav, who invaded Bulgaria several times. After a defeat from Sviatoslav, Peter I suffered a stroke and died shortly afterward in 969 (or 970). As both of his heirs were in the Byzantine capital the Bulgarian throne became empty. Boris was allowed back to Bulgaria to take his fathers throne, restore order and oppose Sviatoslav, but had little success. This was allegedly used by Samuil and his brothers, who were contemplating a revolt in 969.[22]

This forced Byzantine emperor John Tzimiskes to intervene. He quickly invaded Bulgaria, defeated the Rus, and conquered the Bulgarian capital Preslav in 970 (971). Boris II of Bulgaria was ritually divested of his imperial insignia in a public ceremony in Constantinople and he and his brother Roman of Bulgaria remained in captivity. Although the ceremony in 971 had been intended as a symbolic termination of the Bulgarian empire, the Byzantines were unable to assert their control over the western provinces of Bulgaria. Count Nikola, Samuil's father, who had close ties to the royal court in Preslav,[23] died in 970. In the same year[24] "the sons of the Count" Samuel, David, Moses and Aaron rebelled against John I Tzimiskes.[25] The series of events are not clear due to contradicting sources, but it is sure that after 971, Samuil and his brothers were the de facto rulers of the Western Bulgarian lands.

In 973, the Cometopuli sent envoys to the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I in Quedlinburg in an attempt to secure the protection of their lands.[26] The brothers ruled together in a tetrarchy.[27] David ruled the southernmost regions and led the defense of one of the most dangerous border areas, around Thessaloniki and Thessaly.[27] The centres of his possessions were Prespa and Kastoria. Moses ruled from Strumitsa,[27] which would be an outpost for attacks on the Aegean coast and Serres. Aaron ruled from Sredets,[27] and was to defend the main road from Adrianople to Belgrade, and to attack Thrace. Samuel ruled northwestern Bulgaria from the strong fortress of Vidin. He was also to organize the liberation of the conquered areas to the east, including the old capital Preslav.[28] Some records suggest that David played a major role in this tumultuous period of Bulgarian history.[29]

War with Byzantium

After John I Tzimiskes died on 11 January 976, the Cometopuli launched an assault along the whole border. Within a few weeks, however, David was killed by Vlach vagrants and Moses was fatally injured by a stone during the siege of Serres.[30] The brothers' actions to the south detained many Byzantine troops and eased Samuel's liberation of northeastern Bulgaria; the Byzantine commander was defeated and retreated to Crimea.[31][32] Any Bulgarian nobles and officials who had not opposed the Byzantine conquest of the region were executed, and the war continued north of the Danube until the enemy was scattered and Bulgarian rule was restored.[33]

After suffering these defeats in the Balkans, the Byzantine Empire descended into civil war. The commander of the Asian army, Bardas Scleros, rebelled in Asia Minor and sent troops under his son Romanus in Thrace to besiege Constantinople. The new Emperor Basil II did not have enough manpower to fight both the Bulgarians and the rebels and resorted to treason, conspiracy and complicated diplomatic plots.[34] Basil II made many promises to the Bulgarians and Scleros to divert them from allying against him.[35] Aaron, the eldest living Cometopulus, was tempted by an alliance with the Byzantines and the opportunity to seize power in Bulgaria for himself. He held land in Thrace, a region potentially subject to the Byzantines threat. Basil reached an agreement with Aaron, who asked to marry Basil's sister to seal it. Basil instead sent the wife of one of his officials with the bishop of Sebaste. However, the deceit was uncovered and the bishop was killed.[36] Nonetheless, negotiations proceeded and concluded in a peace agreement. The historian Scylitzes wrote that Aaron wanted sole power and "sympathized with the Romans".[37] Samuel learned of the conspiracy and the clash between the two brothers was inevitable. The quarrel broke out in the vicinity of Dupnitsa on 14 June 976 and ended with the annihilation of Aaron's family. Only his son, Ivan Vladislav, survived because Samuel's son Gavril Radomir pleaded on his behalf.[38] From that moment on, practically all power and authority in the state was held by Samuel and the danger of an internal conflict was all but eliminated.

However, another theory suggests that Aaron participated in the battle of the Gates of Trajan which took place ten years later. According to that theory Aaron was killed on 14 June 987 or 988.[39][40]

Co-rule with Roman

After the Byzantine plan to use Aaron to cause instability in Bulgaria failed, they tried to encourage the rightful heirs to the throne,[41] Boris II and Roman, to oppose Samuel. Basil II hoped that they would win the support of the nobles and isolate Samuel or perhaps even start a Bulgarian civil war.[42] Boris and Roman were sent back in 977[43] but while they were passing through a forest near the border, Boris was killed by Bulgarian guards who were misled by his Byzantine clothing. Roman, who was walking some distance behind, managed to identify himself to the guards.[44]

Roman was taken to Vidin, where he was proclaimed Emperor of Bulgaria.[45] Samuel became his first lieutenant and general and together they gathered an army and fought the Byzantines.[46] During his captivity, Roman had been castrated on the orders of John I Tzimiskes so that he would not have heirs. Thus Samuel was certain to eventually succeed Roman. The new emperor entrusted Samuel with the state administration and became occupied with church and religious affairs.[47]

As the main effort of Basil II were concentrated against the rebel Skleros, Samuel's armies attacked the European possessions of the Byzantine Empire. Samuel invaded not only Thrace and the area of Thessaloniki, but also Thessaly, Hellas and Peloponnese. Many Byzantine fortresses fell under Bulgarian rule.[48] Samuel wanted to seize the important fortress of Larissa, which controlled the key routes in Thessaly, and from 977 to 983, the town was blockaded. After starvation forced the Byzantines to surrender,[11] the population was deported to the interior of Bulgaria and the males were forced to enlist in the Bulgarian army.[49] Although Basil II sent forces to the region, they were defeated, and the conquest of Larissa marked the loss of an important Byzantine stronghold in that part of the peninsula. With this victory, Bulgaria had gained influence over most of the southwestern Balkans, although it did not occupy these territories. From Larissa, Samuel took the relics of Saint Achilleios, which were laid in a specially built church of the same name on an island in Lake Prespa.[50][51][52]

"Even if the sun would have come down, I would have never thought that the Moesian [Bulgarian] arrows were stronger than the Avzonian [Roman, Byzantine] spears.
... And when you, Phaethon [Sun], descend to the earth with your gold-shining chariot, tell the great soul of the Caesar: The Danube [Bulgaria] took the crown of Rome. The arrows of the Moesians broke the spears of the Avzonians."

John Kyriotes Geometres on the battle of the Gates of Trajan.[53]

The Bulgarian successes in the west raised fears in Constantinople, and after serious preparations, Basil II launched a campaign into the very centre of the Bulgarian Empire[54] to distract Samuel from southern Greece.[55][56] The Byzantine army passed through the mountains around Ihtiman and besieged Sofia in 986. For 20 days, the Byzantines assaulted the city, but their attacks proved fruitless and costly: several times, the Bulgarians came out of the city, killed many enemy soldiers and captured draught animals and horses. Eventually, the Bulgarian troops burned the siege equipment of the Byzantine army, forcing Basil II to withdraw to Thrace, but on 17 August 986,[57] while passing through the mountains, the Byzantine army was routed at the Trajan's Gates Pass. This was a significant blow for Basil,[58][59] who was one of the few to return to Constantinople; his personal treasure was captured by the victors.[60][61]

After the defeat, the rebellion of Bardas Phocas diverted the efforts of the Byzantine Empire into another civil war.[62][63][64] Samuel seized the opportunity and began to exert pressure on Thessaloniki.[65][66] Basil II sent a large army to the town and appointed a new governor, Gregorios Taronites,[67] but he was powerless to stop the Bulgarian advance. By 989, the Bulgarian troops had penetrated deep into Byzantine territory,[68] and seized many fortresses, including such important cities as Veria and Servia. In the south, the Bulgarians marched throughout Epirus and in the west they seized the area of modern Durrës (medieval Dyrrhachium or Drach) on the Adriatic Sea.[69][70][71]

In 989, Phocas was killed and his followers surrendered, and the following year Basil II reached an agreement with Skleros.[72] The Byzantines focused their attention on Bulgaria,[73] and counter-attacked in 991.[74][75] The Bulgarian army was defeated and Roman was captured while Samuel managed to escape.[76] The Byzantines conquered some areas; in 995, however, the Arabs invaded Asia Minor and Basil II was forced to move many of his troops to combat this new threat. Samuel quickly regained the lost lands and advanced south. In 996, he defeated the Byzantines in the battle of Thessaloniki. During the battle, Thessaloniki's governor, Gregorios, perished and his son Ashot was captured.[77] Elated by this success, the Bulgarians continued south. They marched through Thessaly, overcame the defensive wall at Thermopylae and entered the Peloponnese, devastating everything on their way.[78]

As a response, a Byzantine army under Nikephorus Uranos was sent after the Bulgarians, who returned north to meet it. The two armies met near the flooded river of Spercheios. The Byzantines found a place to ford, and on the night of 19 July 996 they surprised the unprepared Bulgarian army and routed it in the battle of Spercheios.[79] Samuel's arm was wounded and he barely escaped captivity; he and his son allegedly feigned death.[80] After nightfall they headed for Bulgaria and walked 400 kilometres (249 mi) home. Research of Samuel's grave suggests that the bone in his arm healed at an angle of 140° but remained crippled.[81]


In 997, Roman died in captivity in Constantinople, ending the line of rulers started by Krum. Because of the war with Byzantium, it was dangerous to leave the throne vacant for long, and Samuel was chosen as the new Emperor of Bulgaria because he had the closest relations to the deceased emperor and was Roman's long-standing military commander.[82] The presbyter of Duklja also marked the event: "By that time among the Bulgarian people rose one Samuel, who proclaimed himself Emperor. He led a long war against the Byzantines and expelled them from the whole territory of Bulgaria, so that the Byzantines did not dare to approach it."[83]

"Above the comet scorched the sky, below the comet[opoulos] (Samuel) burns the West."

John Kyriotes Geometres[9]

Constantinople would not recognize the new emperor, as for the Byzantines Boris II's abdication symbolized the official end of Bulgaria and Samuel was considered a mere rebel. Instead Samuel sought recognition from the Pope, which would be a serious blow to the position of the Byzantines in the Balkans and would weaken the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, thereby benefiting both the See of Rome and Bulgaria. Samuel possibly received his imperial crown from Pope Gregory V.[84]

War against Serbs and Croats

In 998, Samuel launched a major campaign against the Serbian principality of Duklja to prevent an alliance between Prince Jovan Vladimir and the Byzantines. When the Bulgarian troops reached Duklja, the Serbian prince and his people withdrew to the mountains. Samuel left part of the army at the foot of the mountains and led the remaining soldiers to besiege the coastal fortress of Ulcinj. In an effort to prevent bloodshed, he asked Jovan Vladimir to surrender. After the prince refused, some Serb nobles offered their services to the Bulgarians and, when it became clear that further resistance was fruitless, the Serbs surrendered. Jovan Vladimir was exiled to Samuel's palaces in Prespa.[85]

The Bulgarian troops proceeded to pass through Dalmatia, taking control of Kotor and journeying to Dubrovnik. Although they failed to take Dubrovnik, they devastated the surrounding villages. The Bulgarian army then attacked Croatia in support of the rebel princes Krešimir III and Gojslav and advanced northwest as far as Split, Trogir and Zadar, then northeast through Bosnia and Raška and returned to Bulgaria.[85] This Croato-Bulgarian War allowed Samuel to install vassal monarchs in Croatia.

Samuel's daughter Theodora Kosara fell in love with the captive Jovan Vladimir. The couple married after gaining Samuel's approval, and Jovan returned to his lands as a Bulgarian official along with his uncle Dragomir, whom Samuel trusted.[86] Meanwhile, Princess Miroslava fell in love with the Byzantine noble captive Ashot and threatened to commit suicide if she was not allowed to marry him. Samuel conceded and appointed Ashot governor of Dyrrhachium.[87] Samuel also sealed an alliance with the Magyars when his eldest son and heir, Gavril Radomir, married the daughter of the Hungarian Grand Prince Géza.[88]

Advance of the Byzantines

The beginning of the new millennium saw a turn in the course of Byzantine-Bulgarian warfare.[89] Basil II had amassed an army larger and stronger than that of the Bulgarians: determined to definitively conquer Bulgaria, he moved much of the battle-seasoned military forces from the eastern campaigns against the Arabs to the Balkans[90][91] and Samuel was forced to defend rather than attack.[92]

In 1001, Basil II sent a large army under the patrician Theodorokanos and Nicephorus Xiphias to the north of the Balkan Mountains to seize the main Bulgarian fortresses in the area. The Byzantine troops recaptured Preslav and Pliska,[93] putting north-eastern Bulgaria once again under Byzantine rule. The following year, they struck in the opposite direction, marching through Thessaloniki to tear off Thessaly and the southernmost parts of the Bulgarian Empire. Although the Bulgarian commander of the fortress of Veroia, Dobromir, was married to one of Samuel's nieces, he voluntarily surrendered the fort and joined the Byzantines.[94] The Byzantines also captured the fortress of Kolidron without a fight, but its commander Dimitar Tihon managed to retreat with his soldiers and join Samuel.[95] The next town, Servia, did not fall so easily; its governor Nikulitsa organized the defenders well. They fought until the Byzantines penetrated the walls and forced them to surrender.[96] Nikulitsa was taken to Constantinople and given the high court title of patrician, but he soon escaped and rejoined the Bulgarians. He attempted to retake Servia, but the siege was unsuccessful and he was captured again and imprisoned.[97]

Meanwhile, Basil II's campaign reconquered many towns in Thessaly. He forced the Bulgarian population of the conquered areas to resettle in the Voleron area between the Mesta and Maritsa rivers. Edessa resisted for weeks but was conquered following a long siege. The population was moved to Voleron and its governor Dragshan was taken to Thessaloniki, where he was betrothed to the daughter of a local noble. Unwilling to be married to an enemy, Dragshan three times tried to flee to Bulgaria and was eventually executed.[98]

War with Hungary

The Byzantine-Bulgarian conflict reached its apex in 1003, when Hungary became involved. Since the beginning of the 9th century, the Bulgarian territory had stretched beyond the Carpathian Mountains as far as the Tisza River and the middle Danube. During the reign of Samuel, the governor of these northwestern parts was Duke Ahtum, the grandson of Duke Glad, who had been defeated by the Hungarians in 930s. Ahtum commanded a strong army and firmly defended the northwestern borders of the Empire. He also built many churches and monasteries through which he spread Christianity in Transylvania.[99][100]

Although Gavril Radomir's marriage to the daughter of the Hungarian ruler had established friendly relations between the two strongest states of the Danube area, the relationship deteriorated after Géza's death. The Bulgarians supported Gyula and Koppány as rulers instead of Géza's son Stephen I. As a result of this conflict, the marriage between Gavril Radomir and the Hungarian princess was dissolved. The Hungarians then attacked Ahtum, who had directly backed the pretenders for the Hungarian crown. Stephen I convinced Hanadin, Ahtum's right-hand man, to help in the attack. When the conspiracy was uncovered Hanadin fled and joined the Hungarian forces.[101] At the same time, a strong Byzantine army besieged Vidin, Ahtum's seat. Although many soldiers were required to participate in the defense of the town, Ahtum was occupied with the war to the north. After several months he died in battle when his troops were defeated by the Hungarians.[102] As a result of the war, Bulgarian influence to the northwest of the Danube diminished.

Further Byzantine successes

The Byzantines took advantage of the Bulgarian troubles in the north. In 1003, Basil II led a large army to Vidin, northwestern Bulgaria's most important town. After an eight-month siege, the Byzantines ultimately captured the fortress,[103] allegedly due to betrayal by the local bishop.[104] The commanders of the town had repulsed all previous attempts to break their defence, including the use of Greek fire.[95] While Basil's forces were engaged there, Samuel struck in the opposite direction: on 15 August he attacked Adrianople and plundered the area.[105]

Basil II decided to return to Constantinople afterwards, but, fearing an encounter with the Bulgarian army on the main road to his capital, he used an alternate route. The Byzantines marched south through the Morava valley and reached a key Bulgarian city, Skopje, in 1004. The Bulgarian army was camping on the opposite side of the Vardar River. After finding a ford and crossing the river, Basil II attacked and defeated Samuel's unsuspecting army, using the same tactics employed at Spercheios.[106] The Byzantines continued east and besieged the fortress of Pernik. Its governor, Krakra, was not seduced by Basil's promises of a noble title and wealth, and successfully defended the fortress. The Byzantines withdrew to Thrace after suffering heavy losses.[103][107]

In the same year, Samuel undertook a march against Thessaloniki. His men ambushed and captured its governor, Ioannes Chaldus,[95][108] but this success could not compensate for the losses the Bulgarians had suffered in the past four years. The setbacks in the war demoralized some of Samuel's military commanders, especially the captured Byzantine nobles. Samuel's son-in-law Ashot, the governor of Dyrrhachium, made contact with the local Byzantines and the influential John Chryselios, Samuel's father-in-law. Ashot and his wife boarded one of the Byzantine ships that were beleaguering the town and fled to Constantinople. Meanwhile, Chryselios surrendered the city to the Byzantine commander Eustathios Daphnomeles in 1005, securing the title of patrician for his sons.[87][109]

In 1006 – 1007, Basil II penetrated deep into the Bulgarian-ruled lands[110] and in 1009 Samuel's forces were defeated at Kreta, east of Thessaloniki.[111] During the next years, Basil launched annual campaigns into Bulgarian territory, devastating everything on his way.[112] Although there was still no decisive battle, it was clear that the end of the Bulgarian resistance was drawing nearer; the evidence was the fierceness of the military engagements and the constant campaigns of both sides which devastated the Bulgarian and Byzantine realms.[111][113]

Disaster at Kleidion

Main article: Battle of Kleidion

In 1014, Samuel resolved to stop Basil before he could invade Bulgarian territory. Since the Byzantines usually used the valley of the Strumitsa River for their invasions into Bulgaria, Samuel built a thick wooden wall in the gorges around the village of Klyuch (also Kleidion, "key") to bar the enemy's way.

When Basil II launched his next campaign in the summer of 1014, his army suffered heavy casualties during the assaults of the wall. Meanwhile, Samuel sent forces under his general Nestoritsa to attack Thessaloniki so as to distract Basil's forces away from this campaign. Nestoritsa was defeated near the city[114] by its governor Botaniates, who later joined the main Byzantine army near Klyuch.[115] After several days of continuous attempts to break through the wall, one Byzantine commander, the governor of Plovdiv Nicephorus Xiphias, found a by-pass and, on 29 July, attacked the Bulgarians from the rear.[112] Despite the desperate resistance the Byzantines overwhelmed the Bulgarian army and captured around 14,000 soldiers,[116] according to some sources even 15,000[117] Basil II immediately sent forces under his favourite commander Theophylactus Botaniates to pursue the surviving Bulgarians, but the Byzantines were defeated in an ambush by Gavril Radomir, who personally killed Botaniates. After the Battle of Kleidion, on the order of Basil II the captured Bulgarian soldiers were blinded; one of every 100 men was left one-eyed so as to lead the rest home.[118][119] The blinded soldiers were sent back to Samuel who reportedly had a heart attack upon seeing them. He died two days later, on 15 October 1014.[112] This savagery gave the Byzantine emperor his byname Boulgaroktonos ("Bulgar-slayer" in Greek: Βουλγαροκτόνος). Some historians theorize it was the death of his favourite commander that infuriated Basil II to blind the captured soldiers.[120]

The battle of Kleidion had major political consequences. Although Samuel's son and successor, Gavril Radomir, was a talented military leader, he was unable to restore the Bulgarian Empire's previous power. After Samuel's death, many of his subordinates, including Krakra, surrendered to the Byzantines. In the deep north-northwest, the duke of Syrmia, Sermon, was deceived and killed by the Byzantines.[121] After a series of battles, the Bulgarian Empire was thoroughly conquered by the end of 1018, only four years after Samuel's death.[122] Most of its territory was incorporated within the new Theme of Bulgaria, with Skopje as its capital.[123] It was more than 150 years before Bulgaria was restored, with the rebellion of the brothers Peter and Asen in 1185.

Family, grave and legacy

Samuel's wife was called Kosara. The name of his second wife was Agatha. Samuel had five children: the successor Gavril Radomir and four daughters: Theodora Kosara, Miroslava, Katun Anastasiya and Agatha. Gavril Radomir married twice, to Ilona of Hungary and Irina from Larissa; Kosara married the Prince of Duklja, Jovan Vladimir; Miroslava married the captured Byzantine noble Ashot and Katun Anastasiya married the Hungarian noble Vazul.

After the fall of Bulgaria, Samuel's descendants assumed important positions in the Byzantine court after they were resettled and given lands in Asia Minor and Armenia. Оne of his granddaughters, Catherine, became empress of Byzantium. Another grandchild, Peter II Delyan, led an attempt to restore the Bulgarian Empire after a major uprising in 1040 – 1041. Two other women of the dynasty became Byzantine empresses,[124] while many nobles served in the army as strategos or became governors of various provinces.

of Armenia
of Bulgaria
Kosara of Bulgaria

There is also another version about Samuel's origin. The 11th-century historian Stepanos Asoghik wrote that Samuel had only one brother, stating they were both Armenians from the district of Derjan, an Armenian land incorporated into the Byzantine Empire. They were sent to fight the Bulgarians in Macedonia but ended up joining them.[125] This version is supported by the historian Nicholas Adontz, who analyzed the events and facts of the century and concluded that Samuel had only one brother, David.[126] Asoghik's version is also supported by the historian Jordan Ivanov;[127] furthermore, according to Samuel's Inscription, he had only one brother called David.

The Arab historian Yahya of Antioch claims that the son of Samuel, Gavril, was assassinated by the leader of the Bulgarians, son of Aaron, because Aaron belonged to the race that reigned over Bulgaria. Asoghik and Yahya clearly distinguish the race of Samuel from the one of Aaron or the race of the Cometopuli from the royal race. According to them, Moses and Aaron are not from the family of the Cometopuli. David and Samuel were of Armenian origin and Moses and Aaron were Armenian on their mother's side.[128]

Samuel's grave was found in 1965 by Greek professor Nikolaos Moutsopoulos in the Church of St Achillios on the eponymous island in Lake Prespa. Samuel had built the church for the relics of the saint of the same name.[129] What is thought to have been the coat of arms of the House of Cometopuli,[130] two perched parrots, was embroidered on his funeral garment.

His remains are kept in a secret location in Greece, but according to a recent agreement, they may be returned to Bulgaria and buried in the SS. Forty Martyrs Church in Veliko Tarnovo, to rest with the remains of emperors Kaloyan and Michael Shishman.[131]

Samuel's face was reconstructed to restore the appearance of the 70-year-old Bulgarian ruler. According to the reconstruction, he was a sharp-faced man, bald-headed, with a white beard and moustache.[132]

Samuel is among the most renowned Bulgarian rulers. His military struggle with the Byzantine Empire is marked as an epic period of Bulgarian history. The great number of monuments and memorials in Bulgaria and Republic of Macedonia, such as the ones in Petrich and Ohrid, signify the trail this historical figure has left in the memory of the people. Four Bulgarian villages bear his name, as well as Samuel Point[133] on Livingston Island, Antarctica. Samuel is the main figure in at least three major Bulgarian novels by authors Dimitar Talev,[134] Anton Donchev and Stefan Tsanev and also stars in the Greek novel "At the Times of the Bulgarian-Slayer" by Penelope Delta, who closely follows the narrative flow of events as presented by St. Runciman;[135] he is mentioned in the verse of Ivan Vazov,[136] Pencho Slaveykov,[137] and Atanas Dalchev as well.[138]


Samuel's empire had its heartlands around Ohrid, west and southwest of this earlier cultural center of the First Bulgarian Empire. Thus, the Yugoslav historian George Ostrogorsky distinguished Samuel's Empire from the Bulgarian Empire, referring to it as a "Macedonian Empire", although he claims that it was politically and ecclesiastically a direct descendant of the empire of Simeon and Peter, and it was regarded by Samuel and the Byzantines as being the Bulgarian Empire, itself.[139] Some historians of the same school, such as the Serbian scholar Anastasijević, claimed even that Samuel ruled a separate Slavic Empire founded as result of an anti-Bulgarian rebellion.[140] This Yugoslav theories are now rejected by the modern Serbian historians.[141][142] They are still tenaciously held only in the Republic of Macedonia, where the official state doctrine refers to a "Macedonian Slavic", or even to "Ethnic Macedonian" Empire.[143] However, this controversy is ahistorical, as it projects modern ethnic distinctions onto the past.[144]

See also


  • (French)
  • Fine, John V. A., Jr.. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991 Chapter 6:"Bulgaria after Symeon, 927–1018". pp. 188–200. ISBN 978-0-472-08149-3.
  • Lang, David Marshal, The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest. Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 1976. ISBN 0-89158-530-3
  • Ostrogorsky, George, History of the Byzantine State. tr. (from the German) by Joan Hussey, rev. ed., Rutgers Univ. Press, 1969.
  • Pavlov P., Samuil and the Bulgarian epopee (in Bulgarian), SofiaVeliko Tarnovo, 2002
  • Excerpt from the Bulgarian translation.
  • Treadgold, Warren. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, 1997, pb. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2

External links

  • (Russian) Летопис попа Дуклянина
  • (Russian) 7-17
  • (Russian) Отрывок из Иоанна Скилицы о битве у горы Беласица
  • (English) Detailed list of Bulgarian rulers (PDF)
  • (English)
  • (English) Catherine Holmes, Basil II (A.D. 976-1025)
  • (English) Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja
  • (English) Map of Europe in 1000.


1. Bulgarian ъ can be transliterated a, u, or sometimes â, as in български, balgarski (as below) or bulgarski.
2. The work of Vasil Zlatarski, History of the Bulgarian state in the Middle Ages has three editions. The first edition is from 1927 published in Sofia; the second edition is from 1971 and can be found here ISBN 954-430-299-9
Preceded by
Emperor of Bulgaria
(de facto since 976)
Succeeded by
Gavril Radomir

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