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Peter IV (in Bulgarian Petăr IV, or commonly but less accurately Petăr II) ( ) ruled as emperor (tsar) of Bulgariamarker 1185-1197. The names of his parents are unknown, and before he was proclaimed emperor in 1185, Peter IV was named Theodore (Todor). The change of name indicates an attempt to seek legitimacy through a connection with the sainted Emperor Peter I of Bulgaria, whose name was also adopted by earlier rebels against Byzantine rule in 1040 and 1072. The name appears augmented as Slavopetăr ("glorious Peter") and Kalopetăr ("good Peter") in some sources.

Revolutionary leader

In 1185 Theodore and his younger brother Ivan Asen appeared before the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos at Kypsela to request a pronoia, but their request was dismissively refused and Ivan Asen was slapped in the ensuing argument. The insulted brothers returned home to Moesia and, taking advantage of discontent caused by the heavy taxation imposed by the Byzantine emperor to finance his campaigns against William II of Sicily and to celebrate his marriage to Margaret of Hungary, raised a revolt against Byzantine rule.

The rebellion failed to immediately capture Bulgaria's historic capital Preslavmarker, but established a new capital city at Tărnovomarker, presumably the center of the revolt. In 1186 the rebels suffered a defeat, but Isaac II Angelos failed to exploit his victory and returned to Constantinoplemarker. With the help of the chiefly Cuman population north of the Danube, Peter IV and Ivan Asen recovered their positions and raided into Thrace. When Isaac II Angelos penetrated into Moesia again in 1187 he failed to capture either Tărnovo or Lovečmarker, and he signed a treaty effectively recognizing the Second Bulgarian Empire.

Emperor of Bulgaria

During the Third Crusade, as relations between Isaac II Angelos and Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor deteriorated, Peter IV and Ivan Asen offered military assistance to the German crusaders at Nišmarker in 1189. In 1190 Isaac II Angelos managed to advance on Tărnovo again and besieged it, but was forced to retreat because of the progress of Cuman reinforcements from the north. During his retreat, the Byzantine emperor was ambushed by Ivan Asen, who had taken over the Balkan passes, and Isaac II barely escaped with his life, losing much of his army and treasures.

The victory over the Byzantines brought Ivan Asen to the fore, and Peter IV had apparently already crowned him co-emperor in 1189. With Ivan Asen I left in charge of Tărnovo and the campaigns against the Byzantines, Peter IV retired to Preslav without abdicating the throne. After the murder of Ivan Asen I in 1196, Peter IV marched on Tărnovo, besieged the murderer Ivanko, and forced him to flee to the Byzantines. About a year later, in 1197, Peter IV was also murdered. He was succeeded by his younger brother Ivan (nicknamed Kaloyan or Ivanica/Ioanica), whom he had apparently associated on the throne in 1196.

Disputed origins

While the person of Peter IV remains little known and enigmatic, the ethnic nature of the rebellion which he headed together with his brothers has been hotly disputed in the age of nationalism. Bulgarian historians insist on the Bulgarian origin of the rebellion and its leaders, while Romanian historians want to see them as proto-Romanian Vlachs (Wallachians).

The main source on the restoration of the Second Bulgarian Empire is the Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates. Choniates refers to the people of Peter and Ivan Asen as "the barbarians around Mount Haimos, who were earlier called Mysoi, and are now called Blachoi" (Choniates, 482 [p. 368 van Dieten]). The designation "Mysians" is derived from the Roman province of Moesia, corresponding to the territory between the Balkan (Haimos/Haemus) mountains and the Lower Danube.

The term Mysians had been used to designate the Bulgarians by classicizing Byzantine historians since at least Leo the Deacon in the second half of the 10th century. (In the same classicizing vein, Byzantine authors were want to call the Russians "Scythians" and the Serbs "Triballoi".) To add to the confusion, elsewhere in Choniates' history, the subjects of Peter IV and Ivan Asen I are on occasion called "Mysians", "Vlachs" or two different but conjoined peoples, "the people [génos] of the Bulgarians and Vlachs" (Choniates, 485 [p. 371 van Dieten]). The contemporary German (Austrian) chronicler Ansbert mentions "the Vlach Kalopetrus and his brother Assanius" (33), and calls Peter Blacorum et maxime partis Bulgarorum in hortis Tracie dominus, "ruler of the Vlachs and the greatest part of the Bulgarians in the gardens of Thrace" (58).

The eminent Bulgarian historian Vasil Zlatarski has drawn attention to the fact that under Byzantine rule Bulgaria proper was divided between a theme of Bulgaria (in the west) and a theme called Paradounabion/Paristrion and later Moesia (in the east). Since Niketas Choniates explicitly states that "the Mysians ... are now called Vlachs", Zlatarski concludes that the conjoint terms Bulgarians and Vlachs found in the sources indicate the extension of Peter IV and Ivan Asen I's control over the population of both themes, Bulgaria and Moesia. This conclusion is supported by the testimony of Ansbert, who would be correct to identify Peter IV as master of (all) Moesia (as ruler of the Vlachs) and of (a part) of Bulgaria (as ruler of the greater part—superlative!--of the Bulgarians). However, Zlatarski's analysis glosses over the important implication that in order for the Mysians to be called Vlachs in Choniates' time, there must have been very significant Vlach (Wallachian) population on the territory of Moesia itself. This means that even if the medieval description of the population is based primarily on the administrative division of the themes, the popular support for the rebellion of Peter IV and Ivan Asen I consisted of both Bulgarians and Vlachs, rather than exclusively one group or the other.

While the primarily Cuman-populated area between the Danube and the Carpathians fell under Bulgarian suzerainty after the restoration of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Wallachia proper was not yet in existence (it was established in the 13th century). This means that the "Vlachia" in the titles of "king/emperor of Bulgarians and Vlachs" or "king/emperor of Bulgaria and Vlachia" found in the correspondence between Peter IV's successor Kaloyan and Pope Innocent III is probably still the Byzantine theme of Moesia. It should also be noted that these titles never occur in Bulgarian sources, and are found exclusively in the foreign, Latin-language diplomatic correspondence of Kaloyan's reign. The Bulgarian title reads "emperor and autocrat of the Bulgarians", later expanded to include "all Bulgarians and Greeks". Nevertheless the characterization of the state in the imperial title need not correspond completely to its ethnic composition, as it hearkened back to First Bulgarian Empire, which had been conquered by the Byzantines in 1018.

The ethnic origin of Peter IV, Ivan Asen I, and Kaloyan has been subjected to the same nationalist controversy. In his correspondence with Pope Innocent III, Kaloyan followed up the pope's flattering suggestion and called the earlier Bulgarian emperors Simeon I, Peter I, and Samuel his "ancestors". This descent is most likely nothing more than a legitimizing fiction. The "Vlachian" origin of the brothers attested in the sources may simply confirm what is already known, that they lived in Moesia. Nothing in the historical evidence allows us to identify them as either specifically Vlachs or Bulgarians. However, the non-Christian name of Ivan Asen I and his sobriquet Belgun seem to indicate Turkic, perhaps Cuman origin. This is a likely option, as large numbers of Cumans had settled in Moesia in the 12th century, and continued to do so in the 13th. If that is correct, then the nationalist controversy becomes obsolete, as the Cumans are an extinct people, which is neither Bulgarian nor Romanian, and has intermixed with both.


  • John V.A. Fine, Jr., The Late Medieval Balkans, Ann Arbor, 1987.

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