The Balkan Peninsula: Ethnological
The Balkan Peninsula
The Ottoman Empire
The authors of this volume have not worked in conjunction. Widely separated, engaged on other duties, and pressed for time, we have had no opportunity for interchange of views. Each must be held responsible, therefore, for his own section alone. If there be any discrepancies in our writings (it is not unlikely in so disputed a field of history) we can only regret an unfortunate result of the circumstances. Owing to rapid change in the relations of our country to the several Balkan peoples, the tone of a section written earlier may differ from that of another written later. It may be well to state that the sections on Serbia and Bulgaria were finished before the decisive Balkan developments of the past two months. Those on Greece and Rumania represent only a little later stage of the evolution. That on Turkey, compiled between one mission abroad and another, was the latest to be finished.
If our sympathies are not all the same, or given equally to friends and foes, none of us would find it possible to indite a Hymn of Hate about any Balkan people. Every one of these peoples, on whatever side he be fighting to-day, has a past worthy of more than our respect and interwoven in some intimate way with our history. That any one of them is arrayed against us to-day is not to be laid entirely or chiefly at its own door. They are all fine peoples who have not obtained their proper places in the sun. The best of the Osmanli nation, the Anatolian peasantry, has yet to make its physical and moral qualities felt under civilized conditions. As for the rest — the Serbs and the Bulgars, who have enjoyed brief moments of barbaric glory in their past, have still to find themselves in that future which shall be to the Slav. The Greeks, who were old when we were not as yet, are younger now than we. They are as incalculable a factor in a political forecast as another Chosen Race, the Jews. Their past is the world’s glory: the present in the Near East is theirs more than any people’s: the future — despite the laws of corporate being and decline, dare we say they will have no part in it? Of Rumania what are we to think? Her mixed people has had the start of the Balkan Slavs in modern civilization, and evidently her boundaries must grow wider yet. But the limits of her possible expansion are easier to set than those of the rest.
We hope we have dealt fairly with all these peoples. Mediaeval history, whether of the East or the West, is mostly a record of bloodshedding and cruelty; and the Middle Age has been prolonged to our own time in most parts of the Balkans, and is not yet over in some parts. There are certain things salutary to bear in mind when we think or speak of any part of that country to-day. First, that less than two hundred years ago, England had its highwaymen on all roads, and its smuggler dens and caravans, Scotland its caterans, and Ireland its moonlighters. Second, that religious fervour has rarely mitigated and generally increased our own savagery. Thirdly, that our own policy in Balkan matters has been none too wise, especially of late. In permitting the Treaty of Bucarest three years ago, we were parties to making much of the trouble that has ensued, and will ensue again. If we have not been able to write about the Near East under existing circumstances altogether sine ira et studio, we have tried to remember that each of its peoples has a case.
D. G. Hogarth.
The whole of what may be called the trunk or massif of the Balkan peninsula, bounded on the north by the rivers Save and Danube, on the west by the Adriatic, on the east by the Black Sea, and on the south by a very irregular line running from Antivari (on the coast of the Adriatic) and the lake of Scutari in the west, through lakes Okhrida and Prespa (in Macedonia) to the outskirts of Salonika and thence to Midia on the shores of the Black Sea, following the coast of the Aegean Sea some miles inland, is preponderatingly inhabited by Slavs. These Slavs are the Bulgarians in the east and centre, the Serbs and Croats (or Serbians and Croatians or Serbo-Croats) in the west, and the Slovenes in the extreme north-west, between Trieste and the Save; these nationalities compose the southern branch of the Slavonic race. The other inhabitants of the Balkan peninsula are, to the south of the Slavs, the Albanians in the west, the Greeks in the centre and south, and the Turks in the south-east, and, to the north, the Rumanians. All four of these nationalities are to be found in varying quantities within the limits of the Slav territory roughly outlined above, but greater numbers of them are outside it; on the other hand, there are a considerable number of Serbs living north of the rivers Save and Danube, in southern Hungary. Details of the ethnic distribution and boundaries will of course be gone into more fully later; meanwhile attention may be called to the significant fact that the name of Macedonia, the heart of the Balkan peninsula, has been long used by the French gastronomers to denote a dish, the principal characteristic of which is that its component parts are mixed up into quite inextricable confusion.
Of the three Slavonic nationalities already mentioned, the two first, the Bulgarians and the Serbo-Croats, occupy a much greater space, geographically and historically, than the third. The Slovenes, barely one and a half million in number, inhabiting the Austrian provinces of Carinthia and Carniola, have never been able to form a political state, though, with the growth of Trieste as a great port and the persistent efforts of Germany to make her influence if not her flag supreme on the shores of the Adriatic, this small people has from its geographical position and from its anti-German (and anti-Italian) attitude achieved considerable notoriety and some importance.
Of the Bulgars and Serbs it may be said that at the present moment the former control the eastern, and the latter, in alliance with the Greeks, the western half of the peninsula. It has always been the ambition of each of these three nationalities to dominate the whole, an ambition which has caused endless waste of blood and money and untold misery. If the question were to be settled purely on ethnical considerations, Bulgaria would acquire the greater part of the interior of Macedonia, the most numerous of the dozen nationalities of which is Bulgarian in sentiment if not in origin, and would thus undoubtedly attain the hegemony of the peninsula, while the centre of gravity of the Serbian nation would, as is ethnically just, move north-westwards. Political considerations, however, have until now always been against this solution of the difficulty, and, even if it solved in this sense, there would still remain the problem of the Greek nationality, whose distribution along all the coasts of the Aegean, both European and Asiatic, makes a delimitation of the Greek state on purely ethnical lines virtually impossible. It is curious that the Slavs, though masters of the interior of the peninsula and of parts of its eastern and western coasts, have never made the shores of the Aegean (the White Sea, as they call it) or the cities on them their own. The Adriatic is the only sea on the shore of which any Slavonic race has ever made its home. In view of this difficulty, namely, the interior of the peninsula being Slavonic while the coastal fringe is Greek, and of the approximately equal numerical strength of all three nations, it is almost inevitable that the ultimate solution of the problem and delimitation of political boundaries will have to be effected by means of territorial compromise. It can only be hoped that this ultimate compromise will be agreed upon by the three countries concerned, and will be more equitable than that which was forced on them by Rumania in 1913 and laid down in the Treaty of Bucarest of that year.
If no arrangement on a principle of give and take is made between them, the road to the East, which from the point of view of the Germanic powers lies through Serbia, will sooner or later inevitably be forced open, and the independence, first of Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania, and later of Bulgaria and Greece, will disappear, de facto if not in appearance, and both materially and morally they will become the slaves of the central empires. If the Balkan League could be reconstituted, Germany and Austria would never reach Salonika or Constantinople.
In the earlier historical times the whole of the eastern part of the Balkan peninsula between the Danube and the Aegean was known as Thracia, while the western part (north of the forty-first degree of latitude) was termed Illyricum; the lower basin of the river Vardar (the classical Axius) was called Macedonia. A number of the tribal and personal names of the early Illyrians and Thracians have been preserved. Philip of Macedonia subdued Thrace in the fourth century B.C. and in 342 founded the city of Philippopolis. Alexander’s first campaign was devoted to securing control of the peninsula, but during the Third century B.C. Thrace was invaded from the north and laid waste by the Celts, who had already visited Illyria. The Celts vanished by the end of that century, leaving a few place-names to mark their passage. The city of Belgrade was known until the seventh century A.D. by its Celtic name of Singidunum. Naissus, the modern Nish, is also possibly of Celtic origin. It was towards 230 B.C. that Rome came into contact with Illyricum, owing to the piratical proclivities of its inhabitants, but for a long time it only controlled the Dalmatian coast, so called after the Delmati or Dalmati, an Illyrian tribe. The reason for this was the formidable character of the mountains of Illyria, which run in several parallel and almost unbroken lines the whole length of the shore of the Adriatic and have always formed an effective barrier to invasion from the west. The interior was only very gradually subdued by the Romans after Macedonia had been occupied by them in 146 B.C. Throughout the first century B.C. conflicts raged with varying fortune between the invaders and all the native races living between the Adriatic and the Danube. They were attacked both from Aquileia in the north and from Macedonia in the south, but it was not till the early years of our era that the Danube became the frontier of the Roman Empire.
In the year A.D. 6 Moesia, which included a large part of the modern kingdom of Serbia and the northern half of that of Bulgaria between the Danube and the Balkan range (the classical Haemus), became an imperial province, and twenty years later Thrace, the country between the Balkan range and the Aegean, was incorporated in the empire, and was made a province by the Emperor Claudius in A.D. 46. The province of Illyricum or Dalmatia stretched between the Save and the Adriatic, and Pannonia lay between the Danube and the Save. In 107 A.D. the Emperor Trajan conquered the Dacians beyond the lower Danube, and organized a province of Dacia out of territory roughly equivalent to the modern Wallachia and Transylvania, This trans-Danubian territory did not remain attached to the empire for more than a hundred and fifty years; but within the river line a vast belt of country, stretching from the head of the Adriatic to the mouths of the Danube on the Black Sea, was Romanized through and through. The Emperor Trajan has been called the Charlemagne of the Balkan peninsula; all remains are attributed to him (he was nicknamed the Wallflower by Constantine the Great), and his reign marked the zenith of Roman power in this part of the world. The Balkan peninsula enjoyed the benefits of Roman civilization for three centuries, from the first to the fourth, but from the second century onwards the attitude of the Romans was defensive rather than offensive. The war against the Marcomanni under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, in the second half of this century, was the turning-point. Rome was still victorious, but no territory was added to the empire. The third century saw the southward movement of the Germanic peoples, who took the place of the Celts. The Goths invaded the peninsula, and in 251 the Emperor Decius was killed in battle against them near Odessus on the Black Sea (the modern Varna). The Goths reached the outskirts of Thessalonica (Salonika), but were defeated by the Emperor Claudius at Naissus (Nish) in 269; shortly afterwards, however, the Emperor Aurelian had definitively to relinquish Dacia to them. The Emperor Diocletian, a native of Dalmatia, who reigned from 284 to 305, carried out a redistribution of the imperial provinces. Pannonia and western Illyria, or Dalmatia, were assigned to the prefecture of Italy, Thrace to that of the Orient, while the whole centre of the peninsula, from the Danube to the Peloponnese, constituted the prefecture of Illyria, with Thessalonica as capital. The territory to the north of the Danube having been lost, what is now western Bulgaria was renamed Dacia, while Moesia, the modern kingdom of Serbia, was made very much smaller. Praevalis, or the southern part of Dalmatia, approximately the modern Montenegro and Albania, was detached from that province and added to the prefecture of Illyria. In this way the boundary between the province of Dalmatia and the Balkan peninsula proper ran from near the lake of Scutari in the south to the river Drinus (the modern Drina), whose course it followed till the Save was reached in the north.
An event of far-reaching importance in the following century was the elevation by Constantine the Great of the Greek colony of Byzantium into the imperial city of Constantinople in 325. This century also witnessed the arrival of the Huns in Europe from Asia. They overwhelmed the Ostrogoths, between the Dnieper and the Dniester, in 375, and the Visigoths, settled in Transylvania and the modern Rumania, moved southwards in sympathy with this event. The Emperor Valens lost his life fighting against these Goths in 378 at the great battle of Adrianople (a city established in Thrace by the Emperor Hadrian in the second century). His successor, the Emperor Theodosius, placated them with gifts and made them guardians of the northern frontier, but at his death, in 395, they overran and devastated the entire peninsula, after which they proceeded to Italy. After the death of the Emperor Theodosius the empire was divided, never to be joined into one whole again. The dividing line followed that, already mentioned, which separated the prefecture of Italy from those of Illyria and the Orient, that is to say, it began in the south, on the shore of the Adriatic near the Bocche di Cattaro, and went due north along the valley of the Drina till the confluence of that river with the Save. It will be seen that this division had consequences which have lasted to the present day. Generally speaking, the Western Empire was Latin in language and character, while the Eastern was Greek, though owing to the importance of the Danubian provinces to Rome from the military point of view, and the lively intercourse maintained between them, Latin influence in them was for a long time stronger than Greek. Its extent is proved by the fact that the people of modern Rumania are partly, and their language very largely, defended from those of the legions and colonies of the Emperor Trajan.
Latin influence, shipping, colonization, and art were always supreme on the eastern shores of the Adriatic, just as were those of Greece on the shores of the Black Sea. The Albanians even, descendants of the ancient Illyrians, were affected by the supremacy of the Latin language, from which no less than a quarter of their own meagre vocabulary is derived; though driven southwards by the Romans and northwards by the Greeks, they have remained in their mountain fastnesses to this day, impervious to any of the civilizations to which they have been exposed.
Christianity spread to the shores of the peninsula very early; Macedonia and Dalmatia were the parts where it was first established, and it took some time to penetrate into the interior. During the reign of Diocletian numerous martyrs suffered for the faith in the Danubian provinces, but with the accession of Constantine the Great persecution came to an end. As soon, however, as the Christians were left alone, they started persecuting each other, and during the fourth century the Arian controversy re-echoed throughout the peninsula.
In the fifth century the Huns moved from the shores of the Black Sea to the plains of the Danube and the Theiss; they devastated the Balkan peninsula, in spite of the tribute which they had levied on Constantinople in return for their promise of peace. After the death of Attila, in 453, they again retreated to Asia, and during the second half of the century the Goths were once more supreme in the peninsula. Theodoric occupied Singidunum (Belgrade) in 471 and, after plundering Macedonia and Greece, settled in Novae (the modern Svishtov), on the lower Danube, in 483, where he remained till he transferred the sphere of his activities to Italy ten years later. Towards the end of the fifth century Huns of various kinds returned to the lower Danube and devastated the peninsula several times, penetrating as far as Epirus and Thessaly.
The Balkan peninsula, which had been raised to a high level of security and prosperity during the Roman dominion, gradually relapsed into barbarism as a result of these endless invasions; the walled towns, such as Salonika and Constantinople, were the only safe places, and the country became waste and desolate. The process continued unabated throughout the three following centuries, and one is driven to one of two conclusions, either that these lands must have possessed very extraordinary powers of recuperation to make it worth while for invaders to pillage them so frequently, or, what is more probable, there can have been after some time little left to plunder, and consequently the Byzantine historians’ accounts of enormous drives of prisoners and booty are much exaggerated. It is impossible to count the number of times the tide of invasion and devastation swept southwards over the unfortunate peninsula. The emperors and their generals did what they could by means of defensive works on the frontiers, of punitive expeditions, and of trying to set the various hordes of barbarians at loggerheads with each other, but, as they had at the same time to defend an empire which stretched from Armenia to Spain, it is not surprising that they were not more successful. The growing riches of Constantinople and Salonika had an irresistible attraction for the wild men from the east and north, and unfortunately the Greek citizens were more inclined to spend their energy in theological disputes and their leisure in the circus than to devote either the one or the other to the defence of their country. It was only by dint of paying them huge sums of money that the invaders were kept away from the coast. The departure of the Huns and the Goths had made the way for fresh series of unwelcome visitors. In the sixth century the Slavs appear for the first time. From their original homes which were immediately north of the Carpathians, in Galicia and Poland, but may also have included parts of the modern Hungary, they moved southwards and south-eastwards. They were presumably in Dacia, north of the Danube, in the previous century, but they are first mentioned as having crossed that river during the reign of the Emperor Justin I (518-27). They were a loosely-knit congeries of tribes without any single leader or central authority; some say they merely possessed the instinct of anarchy, others that they were permeated with the ideals of democracy. What is certain is that amongst them neither leadership nor initiative was developed, and that they lacked both cohesion and organisation. The Eastern Slavs, the ancestors of the Russians, were only welded into anything approaching unity by the comparatively much smaller number of Scandinavian (Varangian) adventurers who came and took charge of their affairs at Kiev. Similarly the Southern Slavs were never of themselves able to form a united community, conscious of its aim and capable of persevering in its attainment.
The Slavs did not invade the Balkan peninsula alone but in the company of the Avars, a terrible and justly dreaded nation, who, like the Huns, were of Asiatic (Turkish or Mongol) origin. These invasions became more frequent during the reign of the Emperor Justinian I (527-65), and culminated in 559 in a great combined attack of all the invaders on Constantinople under a certain Zabergan, which was brilliantly defeated by the veteran Byzantine general Belisarius. The Avars were a nomad tribe, and the horse was their natural means of locomotion. The Slavs, on the other hand, moved about on foot, and seem to have been used as infantry by the more masterful Asiatics in their warlike expeditions. Generally speaking, the Avars, who must have been infinitely less numerous than the Slavs, were settled in Hungary, where Attila and the Huns had been settled a little more than a century previously; that is to say, they were north of the Danube, though they were always overrunning into Upper Moesia, the modern Serbia. The Slavs, whose numbers were without doubt very large, gradually settled all over the country south of the Danube, the rural parts of which, as a result of incessant invasion and retreat, had become waste and empty. During the second half of the sixth century all the military energies of Constantinople were diverted to Persia, so that the invaders of the Balkan peninsula had the field very much to themselves. It was during this time that the power of the Avars reached its height. They were masters of all the country up to the walls of Adrianople and Salonika, though they did not settle there. The peninsula seems to have been colonized by Slavs, who penetrated right down into Greece; but the Avars were throughout this time, both in politics and in war, the directing and dominating force. During another Persian war, which broke out in 622 and entailed the prolonged absence of the emperor from Constantinople, the Avars, not satisfied with the tribute extorted from the Greeks, made an alliance against them with the Persians, and in 626 collected a large army of Slavs and Asiatics and attacked Constantinople both by land and sea from the European side, while the Persians threatened it from Asia. But the walls of the city and the ships of the Greeks proved invincible, and, quarrels breaking out between the Slavs and the Avars, both had to save themselves in ignominious and precipitate retreat.
After this nothing more was heard of the Avars in the Balkan peninsula, though their power was only finally crushed by Charlemagne in 799. In Russia their downfall became proverbial, being crystallized in the saying, ‘they perished like Avars’. The Slavs, on the other hand, remained. Throughout these stormy times their penetration of the Balkan peninsula had been peacefully if unostentatiously proceeding; by the middle of the seventh century it was complete. The main streams of Slavonic immigration moved southwards and westwards. The first covered the whole of the country between the Danube and the Balkan range, overflowed into Macedonia, and filtered down into Greece. Southern Thrace in the east and Albania in the west were comparatively little affected, and in these districts the indigenous population maintained itself. The coasts of the Aegean and the great cities on or near them were too strongly held by the Greeks to be affected, and those Slavs who penetrated into Greece itself were soon absorbed by the local populations. The still stronger Slavonic stream, which moved westwards and turned up north-westwards, overran the whole country down to the shores of the Adriatic and as far as the sources of the Save and Drave in the Alps. From that point in the west to the shores of the Black Sea in the east became one solid mass of Slavs, and has remained so ever since. The few Slavs who were left north of the Danube in Dacia were gradually assimilated by the inhabitants of that province, who were the descendants of the Roman soldiers and colonists, and the ancestors of the modern Rumanians, but the fact that Slavonic influence there was strong is shown by the large number of words of Slavonic origin contained in the Rumanian language.
The Balkan Peninsula Ethnological
Place-names are a good index of the extent and strength of the tide of Slav immigration. All along the coast, from the mouth of the Danube to the head of the Adriatic, the Greek and Roman names have been retained though places have often been given alternative names by the Slavonic settlers. Thrace, especially the south-eastern part, and Albania have the fewest Slavonic place-names. In Macedonia and Lower Moesia (Bulgaria) very few classical names have survived, while in Upper Moesia (Serbia) and the interior of Dalmatia (Bosnia, Hercegovina, and Montenegro) they have entirely disappeared. The Slavs themselves, though their tribal names were known, were until the ninth century usually called collectively S(k)lavini ([Greek: Sklabaenoi]) by the Greeks, and all the inland parts of the peninsula were for long termed by them ‘the S(k)lavonias’ ([Greek: Sklabiniai]).
During the seventh century, dating from the defeat of the Slavs and Avars before the walls of Constantinople in 626 and the final triumph of the emperor over the Persians in 628, the influence and power of the Greeks began to reassert itself throughout the peninsula as far north as the Danube; this process was coincident with the decline of the might of the Avars. It was the custom of the astute Byzantine diplomacy to look on and speak of lands which had been occupied by the various barbarian invaders as grants made to them through the generosity of the emperor; by this means, by dint also of lavishing titles and substantial incomes to the invaders’ chiefs, by making the most of their mutual jealousies, and also by enlisting regiments of Slavonic mercenaries in the imperial armies, the supremacy of Constantinople was regained far more effectively than it could have been by the continual and exhausting use of force.
The progress of the Bulgars towards the Balkan peninsula, and indeed all their movements until their final establishment there in the seventh century, are involved in obscurity. They are first mentioned by name in classical and Armenian sources in 482 as living in the steppes to the north of the Black Sea amongst other Asiatic tribes, and it has been assumed by some that at the end of the fifth and throughout the sixth century they were associated first with the Huns and later with the Avars and Slavs in the various incursions into and invasions of the eastern empire which have already been enumerated. It is the tendency of Bulgarian historians, who scornfully point to the fact that the history of Russia only dates from the ninth century, to exaggerate the antiquity of their own and to claim as early a date as possible for the authentic appearance of their ancestors on the kaleidoscopic stage of the Balkan theatre. They are also unwilling to admit that they were anticipated by the Slavs; they prefer to think that the Slavs only insinuated themselves there thanks to the energy of the Bulgars’ offensive against the Greeks, and that as soon as the Bulgars had leisure to look about them they found all the best places already occupied by the anarchic Slavs.
Of course it is very difficult to say positively whether Bulgars were or were not present in the welter of Asiatic nations which swept westwards into Europe with little intermission throughout the fifth and sixth centuries, but even if they were, they do not seem to have settled down as early as that anywhere south of the Danube; it seems certain that they did not do so until the seventh century, and therefore that the Slavs were definitely installed in the Balkan peninsula a whole century before the Bulgars crossed the Danube for good.
The Bulgars, like the Huns and the Avars who preceded them, and like the Magyars and the Turks who followed them, were a tribe from eastern Asia, of the stock known as Mongol or Tartar. The tendency of all these peoples was to move westwards from Asia into Europe, and this they did at considerable and irregular intervals, though in alarming and apparently inexhaustible numbers, roughly from the fourth till the fourteenth centuries. The distance was great, but the journey, thanks to the flat, grassy, treeless, and well-watered character of the steppes of southern Russia which they had to cross, was easy. They often halted for considerable periods by the way, and some never moved further westwards than Russia. Thus at one time the Bulgars settled in large numbers on the Volga, near its confluence with the Kama, and it is presumed that they were well established there in the fifth century. They formed a community of considerable strength and importance, known as Great or White Bulgaria. These Bulgars fused with later Tartar immigrants from Asia and eventually were consolidated into the powerful kingdom of Kazan, which was only crushed by the Tsar Ivan IV in 1552. According to Bulgarian historians, the basins of the rivers Volga and Don and the steppes of eastern Russia proved too confined a space for the legitimate development of Bulgarian energy, and expansion to the west was decided on. A large number of Bulgars therefore detached themselves and began to move south-westwards. During the sixth century they seem to have been settled in the country to the north of the Black Sea, forming a colony known as Black Bulgaria. It is very doubtful whether the Bulgars did take part, as they are supposed to have done, in the ambitious but unsuccessful attack on Constantinople in 559 under Zabergan, chief of another Tartar tribe; but it is fairly certain that they did in the equally formidable but equally unsuccessful attacks by the Slavs and Avars against Salonika in 609 and Constantinople in 626.
During the last quarter of the sixth and the first of the seventh century the various branches of the Bulgar nation, stretching from the Volga to the Danube, were consolidated and kept in control by their prince Kubrat, who eventually fought on behalf of the Greeks against the Avars, and was actually baptized in Constantinople. The power of the Bulgars grew as that of the Avars declined, but at the death of Kubrat, in 638, his realm was divided amongst his sons. One of these established himself in Pannonia, where he joined forces with what was left of the Avars, and there the Bulgars maintained themselves till they were obliterated by the irruption of the Magyars in 893. Another son, Asparukh, or Isperikh, settled in Bessarabia, between the rivers Prut and Dniester, in 640, and some years later passed southwards. After desultory warfare with Constantinople, from 660 onwards, his successor finally overcame the Greeks, who were at that time at war with the Arabs, captured Varna, and definitely established himself between the Danube and the Balkan range in the year 679. From that year the Danube ceased to be the frontier of the eastern empire.
The numbers of the Bulgars who settled south of the Danube are not known, but what happened to them is notorious. The well-known process, by which the Franks in Gaul were absorbed by the far more numerous indigenous population which they had conquered, was repeated, and the Bulgars became fused with the Slavs. So complete was the fusion, and so preponderating the influence of the subject nationality, that beyond a few personal names no traces of the language of the Bulgars have survived. Modern Bulgarian, except for the Turkish words introduced into it later during the Ottoman rule, is purely Slavonic. Not so the Bulgarian nationality; as is so often the case with mongrel products, this race, compared with the Serbs, who are purely Slav, has shown considerably greater virility, cohesion, and driving-power, though it must be conceded that its problems have been infinitely simpler.
From the time of their establishment in the country to which they have given their name the Bulgars became a thorn in the side of the Greeks, and ever since both peoples have looked on one another as natural and hereditary enemies. The Bulgars, like all the barbarians who had preceded them, were fascinated by the honey-pot of Constantinople, and, though they never succeeded in taking it, they never grew tired of making the attempt.
For two hundred years after the death of Asparukh, in 661, the Bulgars were perpetually fighting either against the Greeks or else amongst themselves. At times a diversion was caused by the Bulgars taking the part of the Greeks, as in 718, when they ‘delivered’ Constantinople, at the invocation of the Emperor Leo, from the Arabs, who were besieging it. From about this time the Bulgarian monarchy, which had been hereditary, became elective, and the anarchy of the many, which the Bulgars found when they arrived, and which their first few autocratic rulers had been able to control, was replaced by an anarchy of the few. Prince succeeded prince, war followed war, at the will of the feudal nobles. This internal strife was naturally profitable to the Greeks, who lavishly subsidized the rival factions.
At the end of the eighth century the Bulgars south of the Danube joined forces with those to the north in the efforts of the latter against the Avars, who, beaten by Charlemagne, were again pressing south-eastwards towards the Danube. In this the Bulgars were completely successful under the leadership of one Krum, whom, in the elation of victory, they promptly elected to the throne. Krum was a far more capable ruler than they had bargained for, and he not only united all the Bulgars north and south of the Danube into one dominion, but also forcibly repressed the whims of the nobles and re-established the autocracy and the hereditary monarchy. Having finished with his enemies in the north, he turned his attention to the Greeks, with no less success. In 809 he captured from them the important city of Sofia (the Roman Sardica, known to the Slavs as Sredets), which is to-day the capital of Bulgaria. The loss of this city was a blow to the Greeks, because it was a great centre of commerce and also the point at which the commercial and strategic highways of the peninsula met and crossed. The Emperor Nikiphóros, who wished to take his revenge and recover his lost property, was totally defeated by the Bulgars and lost his life in the Balkan passes in 811. After further victories, at Mesembria (the modern Misivria) in 812 and Adrianople in 813, Krum appeared before the capital, where he nearly lost his life in an ambush while negotiating for peace. During preparations for a final assault on Constantinople he died suddenly in 815. Though Krum cannot be said to have introduced civilisation into Bulgaria, he at any rate increased its power and gave it some of the more essential organs of government. He framed a code of laws remarkable for their rigour, which was undoubtedly necessary in such a community and beneficial in its effect. He repressed civil strife, and by this means made possible the reawakening of commerce and agriculture. His successor, of uncertain identity, founded in 822 the city of Preslav (known to the Russians as Pereyaslav), situated in eastern Bulgaria, between Varna and Silistria, which was the capital until 972.
The reign of Prince Boris (852-88) is remarkable because it witnessed the definitive conversion to Christianity of Bulgaria and her ruler. It is within this period also that fell the activities of the two great ‘Slavonic’ missionaries and apostles, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, who are looked upon by all Slavs of the orthodox faith as the founders of their civilisation. Christianity had of course penetrated into Bulgaria (or Moesia, as it was then) long before the arrival of the Slavs and Bulgars, but the influx of one horde of barbarians after another was naturally not propitious to its growth. The conversion of Boris in 865, which was brought about largely by the influence of his sister, who had spent many years in Constantinople as a captive, was a triumph for Greek influence and for Byzantium. Though the Church was at this time still nominally one, yet the rivalry between Rome and Constantinople had already become acute, and the struggle for spheres of spiritual influence had begun. It was in the year 863 that the Prince of Moravia, anxious to introduce Christianity into his country in a form intelligible to his subjects, addressed himself to the Emperor Michael III for help. Rome could not provide any suitable missionaries with knowledge of Slavonic languages, and the German, or more exactly the Bavarian, hierarchy with which Rome entrusted the spiritual welfare of the Slavs of Moravia and Pannonia used its greater local knowledge for political and not religious ends. The Germans exploited their ecclesiastical influence in order completely to dominate the Slavs politically, and as a result the latter were only allowed to see the Church through Teutonic glasses.
In answer to this appeal the emperor sent the two brothers Cyril and Methodius, who were Greeks of Salonika and had considerable knowledge of Slavonic languages. They composed the Slavonic alphabet which is to-day used throughout Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro, and in many parts of Austria-Hungary and translated the gospels into Slavonic; it is for this reason that they are regarded with such veneration by all members of the Eastern Church. Their mission proved the greatest success (it must be remembered that at this time the various Slavonic tongues were probably less dissimilar than they are now), and the two brothers were warmly welcomed in Rome by Pope Adrian II, who formally consented to the use, for the benefit of the Slavs, of the Slavonic liturgy (a remarkable concession, confirmed by Pope John VIII). This triumph, however, was short-lived; St. Cyril died in 869 and St. Methodius in 885; subsequent Popes, notably Stephen V, were not so benevolent to the Slavonic cause; the machinations of the German hierarchy (which included, even in those days, the falsification of documents) were irresistible, and finally the invasion of the Magyars, in 893, destroyed what was left of the Slavonic Church in Moravia. The missionary brothers had probably passed through Bulgaria on their way north in 863, but without halting. Many of their disciples, driven from the Moravian kingdom by the Germans, came south and took refuge in Bulgaria in 886, and there carried on in more favourable circumstances the teachings of their masters. Prince Boris had found it easier to adopt Christianity himself than to induce all his subjects to do the same. Even when he had enforced his will on them at the price of numerous executions of recalcitrant nobles, he found himself only at the beginning of his difficulties. The Greeks had been glad enough to welcome Bulgaria into the fold, but they had no wish to set up an independent Church and hierarchy to rival their own. Boris, on the other hand, though no doubt full of genuine spiritual ardour, was above all impressed with the authority and prestige which the basileus derived from the Church of Constantinople; he also admired the pomp of ecclesiastical ceremony, and wished to have a patriarch of his own to crown him and a hierarchy of his own to serve him. Finding the Greeks unresponsive, he turned to Rome, and Pope Nicholas I sent him two bishops to superintend the ecclesiastical affairs of Bulgaria till the investiture of Boris at the hands of the Holy See could be arranged. These bishops set to work with a will, substituted the Latin for the Greek rite, and brought Bulgaria completely under Roman influence. But when it was discovered that Boris was aiming at the erection of an independent Church their enthusiasm abated and they were recalled to Rome in 867.
Adrian II proved no more sympathetic, and in 870, during the reign of the Emperor Basil I, it was decided without more ado that the Bulgarian Church should be directly under the Bishop of Constantinople, on the ground that the kingdom of Boris was a vassal-state of the basileus, and that from the Byzantine point of view, as opposed to that of Rome, the State came first and the Church next. The Moravian Gorazd, a disciple of Methodius, was appointed Metropolitan, and at his death he was succeeded by his fellow countryman and co-disciple Clement, who by means of the construction of numerous churches and monasteries did a great deal for the propagation of light and learning in Bulgaria. The definite subjection of the Bulgarian Church to that of Byzantium was an important and far-reaching event. Boris has been reproached with submitting himself and his country to Greek influence, but in those days it was either Constantinople or Rome (there was no third way); and in view of the proximity of Constantinople and the glamour which its civilization cast all over the Balkans, it is not surprising that the Greeks carried the day.
During the reign of Simeon, second son of Boris, which lasted from 893 to 927, Bulgaria reached a very high level of power and prosperity. Simeon, called the Great, is looked on by Bulgarians as their most capable monarch and his reign as the most brilliant period of their history. He had spent his childhood at Constantinople and been educated there, and he became such an admirer of Greek civilization that he was nicknamed Hèmiargos. His instructors had done their work so well that Simeon remained spellbound by the glamour of Constantinople throughout his life, and, although he might have laid the foundations of a solid empire in the Balkans, his one ambition was to conquer Byzantium and to be recognized as basileus — an ambition which was not to be fulfilled. His first campaign against the Greeks was not very fruitful, because the latter summoned the Magyars, already settled in Hungary, to their aid and they attacked Simeon from the north. Simeon in return called the Pechenegs, another fierce Tartar tribe, to his aid, but this merely resulted in their definite establishment in Rumania. During the twenty years of peace, which strange to say filled the middle of his reign (894-913), the internal development of Bulgaria made great strides. The administration was properly organized, commerce was encouraged, and agriculture flourished. In the wars against the Greeks which occupied his last years he was more successful, and inflicted a severe defeat on them at Anchialo (the modern Ahiolu) in 917; but he was still unable to get from them what he wanted, and at last, in 921, he was obliged to proclaim himself basileus and autocratōr of all Bulgars and Greeks, a title which nobody else recognized. He reappeared before Constantinople the same year, but effected nothing more than the customary devastation of the suburbs. The year 923 witnessed a solemn reconciliation between Rome and Constantinople; the Greeks were clever enough to prevent the Roman legates visiting Bulgaria on their return journey, and thereby administered a rebuff to Simeon, who was anxious to see them and enter into direct relations with Rome. In the same year Simeon tried to make an alliance with the Arabs, but the ambassadors of the latter were intercepted by the Greeks, who made it worth their while not to continue the journey to Bulgaria.
In 924 Simeon determined on a supreme effort against Constantinople and as a preliminary he ravaged Macedonia and Thrace. When, however, he arrived before the city the walls and the catapults made him hesitate, and he entered into negotiations, which, as usual, petered out and brought him no adequate reward for all his hopes and preparations. In the west his arms were more successful, and he subjected most of the eastern part of Serbia to his rule. From all this it can be seen that he was no diplomat, though not lacking in enterprise and ambition. The fact was that while he made his kingdom too powerful for the Greeks to subdue (indeed they were compelled to pay him tribute), yet Constantinople with its impregnable walls, well-organized army, powerful fleet, and cunning and experienced statesmen, was too hard a nut for him to crack.
Simeon extended the boundaries of his country considerably, and his dominion included most of the interior of the Balkan peninsula south of the Danube and east of the rivers Morava and Ibar in Serbia and of the Drin in Albania. The Byzantine Church greatly increased its influence in Bulgaria during his reign, and works of theology grew like mushrooms. This was the only kind of literature that was ever popular in Bulgaria, and although it is usual to throw contempt on the literary achievements of Constantinople, we should know but little of Bulgaria were it not for the Greek historians.
Simeon died in 927, and his son Peter, who succeeded him, was a lover of peace and comfort; he married a Byzantine princess, and during his reign (927-69) Greek influence grew ever stronger, in spite of several revolts on the part of the Bulgar nobles, while the capital Preslav became a miniature Constantinople. In 927 Rome recognized the kingdom and patriarchate of Bulgaria, and Peter was duly crowned by the Papal legate. This was viewed with disfavour by the Greeks, and they still called Peter only archōn or prince (knyaz in Bulgarian), which was the utmost title allowed to any foreign sovereign. It was not until 945 that they recognized Peter as basileus, the unique title possessed by their own emperors and till then never granted to any one else. Peter’s reign was one of misfortune for his country both at home and abroad. In 931 the Serbs broke loose under their leader Časlav, whom Simeon had captured but who effected his escape, and asserted their independence. In 963 a formidable revolt under one Shishman undermined the whole state fabric. He managed to subtract Macedonia and all western Bulgaria, including Sofia and Vidin, from Peter’s rule, and proclaimed himself independent tsar (tsar or caesar was a title often accorded by Byzantium to relatives of the emperor or to distinguished men of Greek or other nationality, and though it was originally the equivalent of the highest title, it had long since ceased to be so: the emperor’s designations were basileus and autocratōr). From this time there were two Bulgarias — eastern and western. The eastern half was now little more than a Byzantine province, and the western became the centre of national life and the focus of national aspirations.
Another factor which militated against the internal progress of Bulgaria was the spread of the Bogomil heresy in the tenth century. This remarkable doctrine, founded on the dualism of the Paulicians, who had become an important political force in the eastern empire, was preached in the Balkan peninsula by one Jeremiah Bogomil, for the rest a man of uncertain identity, who made Philippopolis the centre of his activity. Its principal features were of a negative character, and consequently it was very difficult successfully to apply force against them. The Bogomils recognized the authority neither of Church nor of State; the validity neither of oaths nor of human laws. They refused to pay taxes, to fight, or to obey; they sanctioned theft, but looked upon any kind of punishment as unjustifiable; they discountenanced marriage and were strict vegetarians. Naturally a heresy so alarming in its individualism shook to its foundations the not very firmly established Bulgarian society. Nevertheless it spread with rapidity in spite of all persecutions, and its popularity amongst the Bulgarians, and indeed amongst all the Slavs of the peninsula, is without doubt partly explained by political reasons. The hierarchy of the Greek Church, which supported the ruling classes of the country and lent them authority at the same time that it increased its own, was antipathetic to the Slavs, and the Bogomil heresy drew much strength from its nationalistic colouring and from the appeal which it made to the character of the Balkan Slavs, who have always been intolerant of government by the Church. But neither the civil nor the ecclesiastical authorities were able to cope with the problem; indeed they were apt to minimize its importance, and the heresy was never eradicated till the arrival on the scene of Islam, which proved as attractive to the schismatics as the well-regulated Orthodox Church had been the reverse.