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The Second Bulgarian Empire (Bulgarian: Второ българско царство, Vtorо Bălgarskо Tsartsvo) was a medieval Bulgarianmarker state which existed between 1185 and 1396 (or 1422). A successor of the First Bulgarian Empire, it reached the peak of its power under Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II before gradually declining to be conquered by the Ottomans in the late 14th-early 15th century. It was succeeded by the Principality and later Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1878.

Up to 1256 the Second Bulgarian Empire was the dominant power in the Balkans. The Byzantines were defeated in several major battles and in 1205 the newly-established Latin Empire was crushed in the battle of Adrianople by Emperor Kaloyan. His nephew Ivan Asen II (1218-1241) defeated the Despotate of Epiros and made Bulgaria a regional power once again. However, in the late 13th century the Empire declined under the constant invasions of Tatars, Byzantines, Hungarians and internal instability and revolts. In the late 14th and the beginning of the 15th century the country was overrun by the Ottoman Turks who ruined Bulgaria's economy and infrastructure, depopulated large areas and killed the nobility.

Culturally the Bulgarian Empire was among the most advanced states in contemporary Europe. Despite the strong Byzantine influence, the Bulgarian artists and architects managed to create their own distinct style. Literature and art flourished in the 14th century and a large part of the Bulgarian population was literate.


The Byzantines ruled Bulgaria from 1018, when they conquered the First Bulgarian Empire, to 1185, although initially it was not fully integrated into the Byzantine Empire, for example preserving the existing tax levels and the power of the low-ranking nobility. The independent Bulgarian Orthodox Church was subordinated to the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinoplemarker, and the Bulgarian aristocracy and tsar's relatives were given various Byzantine titles and transferred to the Asian parts of the Empire. There were rebellions against Byzantine rule in 1040-41, the 1070s and the 1080s, but these ultimately failed.


By the late 12th century the Byzantines were in decline after a series of wars with the Hungarians and the Serbs. In 1185 Peter and Asen (described in some contemporary accounts to be of Cuman or Vlach origin) led a revolt against Byzantine rule and Peter declared himself Tsar Peter IV (also known as Theodore Peter), firmly claiming to inherit the authority of the First Bulgarian Empire. After little more than a year of warfare the Byzantines were forced to acknowledge Bulgaria's independence, though fighting continued. The peoples who took part in the rebellion and formed part of the new state certainly included Slavic-speaking Bulgarians and, alongside them, Cumans, Vlachs and Greeks: Peter styled himself "Tsar of the Bulgars, Greeks and Vlachs".

The war between 1185 and 1197

In the summer of 1185 a miraculous icon of Saint Demetrius of Salonica was found in Tarnovo and the Asen brothers claimed that the saint had abandoned Salonica in order to help the Bulgarian cause. That had a large psychological impact on the religious population. Between the autumn of 1185 and the spring of 1186 the whole northern Bulgaria, with the exception of Varnamarker, was liberated. In the summer the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos managed to overcome the mountain passes and invaded Moesia. Asen retreated to the north of the Danube; when the Byzantines went back to Constantinoplemarker he returned with more Cuman auxiliaries and soon the war continued to the south in Thrace. A skillful general, Asen struck swiftly and constantly harassed the larger Byzantine armies. After an unsuccessful siege of Lovechmarker in 1187, the Byzantines were forced to plead for a truce. Three years later they were decisively defeated near Tryavna, Isaac II Angelos barely escaping, leaving the Imperial crown and cross. In the next five years the Bulgarian held the initiative and reconquered more towns and castles in northern Thrace and Macedonia, especially after the major victory at Arcadiopolis in 1194. In 1196 the Byzantines were defeated at Serres but soon after that event Asen was murdered by his cousin Ivanko, incited by the Byzantines. He usurped the throne but could not stay in the capital, which was besieged by Peter; he fled to the Byzantine Empire, where he was made a governor of Plovdivmarker. However, only a year later Peter IV became victim of another plot and was succeeded by the youngest brother Kaloyan.

Balkan power

Resurrected Bulgaria occupied the territory between the Black Seamarker, the Danube and Stara Planinamarker, including a part of eastern Macedonia and the valley of the Morava. It also exercised influence over Wallachia and Moldovamarker. During the rule of two of Bulgaria's most successive rulers, Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II, the country emerged as a regional power with considerable military and economic strength. Between 1204 and 1261, during the Latin Empire, the Bulgarian civil and religious authorities saw themselves as a Byzantine successor in preserving the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church with numerous important relics being collected in the capital Tarnovo.


Tsar Kaloyan (1197–1207) entered a union with the Papacy, thereby securing the recognition of his title of "Rex" although he desired to be recognized as "Emperor" or "Tsar". He waged wars against the Byzantine Empire and (after 1204) on the Knights of the Fourth Crusade, conquering large parts of Thrace, the Rhodopes, as well as the whole of Macedonia. He decisively defeated the newly created Latin Empire in the Battle of Adrianople and thus crushed its power in the very first year of its creation and prevented their influence on the larger parts of the Balkans. Their Emperor Baldwin I was captured in the battle and later died in captivity in Tarnovomarker. In the next year the Latins suffered another heavy defeat in the battle of Rusion. At first his struggle was supported by the Byzantine nobility but then they betrayed the Bulgarians and allied with the Crusaders. Kaloyan was infuriated and killed tens of thousands of Byzantines. At the siege of Varna he ordered the whole Byzantine population of the city to be buried alive. He wanted revenge for Samuil's 14,000 blinded soldiers and called himself Romanoktonos (Roman-slayer) as Basil II was called Bulgaroktonos (Bulgarian-slayer).

To the west and north-west he fought against the Hungarians and defeated them several times.

Ivan Asen II

Bulgaria under Ivan Asen II.

After the death of Kaloyan during the reign of his cousin Boril (1207–1218), the country lost significant territories to Hungary, the Latin Empire and the Despotate of Epirus.

Under Ivan Asen II (1218–1241), Bulgarian fortunes improved, reconquering the lost lands and occupying Odrinmarker and Albaniamarker. In the beginning of his reign he peacefully regained Belgrademarker and Branicevo which were lost to Hungary and some lands from the Latin Empire. After the major success at Klokotnitsa in 1230 the Epirus Despotate became a vassal tributary to Bulgaria. In an inscription from Tarnovomarker in 1230 he entitled himself "In Christ the Lord faithful Tsar and autocrat of the Bulgarians, son of the old Asen". The Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchate was restored in 1235 with approval of all eastern Patriarchates, thus putting an end to the union with the Papacy. Ivan Asen II had a reputation as a wise and humane ruler, and opened relations with the Catholic west, especially Venicemarker and Genoamarker, to diversify the trade of his country. The country enjoyed a flourishing economy, trade relations were diversified and around 1235 Bulgaria had an organised Navy. In the last year of his reign he defeated a detachment of Tatars who attacked Bulgaria after their devastating raid in Hungary. But after his death Bulgar authorities recognized Mongol supremacy thanks to Kadan.

Constantine Tikh, emperor of Bulgaria (1257–1277).


Under Ivan Asen II's successors, Bulgaria declined. The Mongols raided the Balkans in the early 13th century, devastating Bulgaria in 1242, and Bulgaria was forced to pay tribute to the Khans of the Golden Horde. After 1256 the Empire of Nicaea annexed southern Macedonia, Rhodope mountains and part of Thrace. The Hungarian kingdom occupied the province of Belgrademarker. Gradually Bulgaria lost control and traditional significant political influence over Wallachia, where the power of the regional nobles was strengthened and subsequently were established local principalities. By the reign of Michael II Asen (1246–1256), Bulgaria had lost significant territories to its enemies without any major military disaster, mostly due of the disloyal nobles who surrendered territories for personal enrichment. Under Constantine I Tikh the country lost northern and central Macedonia to Byzantium as well as Severin Banat to Hungary and the crisis drove to peasant war, raised by the swineherd Ivailo, who managed to sit on the Bulgarian throne from 1277 to 1280.

Bulgaria in the second half of the 13th century.
The red points show the range of the Ivailo Uprising.

Ivailo achieved great military success against the external enemies: defeated the Byzantines in two major battles and temporarily drove away the Tatars from the northeastern parts of the Empire. However, he failed to cope with the aristocracy and was later killed. The Tatar hegemony continued to 1300, when after the death of Nogai Khan their khan Toktu ceded Bessarabiamarker the new Bulgarian Emperor Theodore Svetoslav. But the Horde's claim on Bulgaria was still strong. This had positive economic effect. During the reign of Theodore Svetoslav Bulgaria regained much of its former strength and prestige. After a successful war against Byzantium he signed peace with continued to his death in 1322. Ozbeg Khan (1313-41) repeatedly raided Thrace, partly in service of Bulgaria's war against both Byzantium and Serbiamarker from 1319. His armies pillaged Thrace for 40 days in 1324 and for 15 days in 1337,taking 300,000 captives. After Ozbeg's death in 1341, his successors did not continue his aggressive policy and contacts with Bulgaria lapsed.

Ivan Alexander and fall of Bulgaria

The withdrawal of the Mongols from Europe in the early 14th century stabilized the situation in the Balkans and Bulgaria reassumed something like its modern borders. It was however threatened by the rising powers of Hungary to the north and Serbia to the west. In 1330 the Bulgarians under Michael III were heavily defeated by the Serbs at Velbuzhd, and some parts of the Empire came under Serbian sway. Under Ivan IV (Ivan Alexander; 1331–1371) Serbian threat ended, and the Byzantines were defeated at Rusokastromarker. The territorial expansion included the Rhodope mountains and several important towns on the Black Seamarker coast. This was a period known as Second Golden Age because of its thriving cultural life. After Ivan Alexander's death Bulgaria was left divided into rival states; one of the two largest ones was based at Veliko Tarnovomarker, and the other at Vidinmarker, ruled by Ivan's two sons.

The two brothers and despot Dobrotitsa from the Principality of Carvuna did not make an attempt to unite and they were even engaged in a military conflict for Sofia.Weakened Bulgaria was thus no match for a new threat from the south, the Ottoman Turks, who crossed into Europe in 1354. In 1362 they captured Philippopolis (Plovdivmarker), taking Sofia in 1382. The Ottomans then turned their attention to the Serbs, whom they routed at Kosovo Pole in 1389. In 1393 the Ottomans occupied Tarnovomarker after a three-month siege. In the next year the Ottomans captured the Carvuna Principality and Nikopol — the last town of the Tarnovo tsardom — fell in 1395. Next year the Kingdom of Vidinmarker was also occupied, bringing the Second Bulgarian Empire and Bulgarian independence to an end.


In many ways, the Bulgarian administration and court took example of the Byzantine equivalents. The supreme power in the country belonged to the Emperor, whose official title was: "In Christ the God faithful Emperor and Autocrat of all Bulgarians", at times with the addition off "Romans" (i.e. Byzantine Greeks) and Vlachs. The most significant meaning was that he was Emperor of the whole Bulgarian people, even to those beyond the borders of the Empire. The legislative and executive powers were concentrated in his hands. If the heir of the ruler was under age, the regency was headed by the mother-Empress.

The Bolyar Council, called also Sinklit (from Greek Synklētos, "Senate") included the Great Bolyars and the Patriarch. Their task was to discuss important questions about the external and internal policy such as declaration of war, formation of alliance or signing peace. The last word always belonged to the Emperor. Sometimes Councils with extended membership were assembled, where the nobility, the clergy and "the other people" usually gathered to discuss condemnation of heresies: 1211, 1350, 1360. The only right the ordinary people had was to approve the decisions made by the nobility.

The main administrative unit in 13-14th centuries was the hora ( ) which replaced the komitat of the First Bulgarian Empire. Its governor was called Duke or Kefaliya (from Greek kephalē, "head") and was usually appointed by the Emperor; the hora was further divided into katepanika (sing. katepanikon, cf. the Byzantine katepanikion) which were ruled by Katepans who were directly subordinated to the Dukes.


The Medieval Bulgarian economy did not differ much from the other Eastern European states and relied mainly on agriculture, mining, traditional crafts and trade.


Map of medieval Tarnovo.
The main agricultural regions of the country were the Danubian plain and Thrace. The most widespread grains were wheat, barley and millet. From the 13th century the importance of vegetables, orchards and grapes grew. The main wine-producing areas were the Black Seamarker coast, along the Strumamarker, southern Macedonia. Livestock breeding was well developed. There were many sheep, pigs and cattle. The pastures were divided into two groups: winter pastures (valleys) and summer pastures (mountains). In the 14th century apiculture and sericulture became profitable branches.

The dense forests were also divided into two types: woods for cutting ( ) and fenced forests ( ) in which cutting was banned.

Metallurgy and crafts

The 12th-14th centuries gave a strong impetus to metallurgy and mining. Bulgarian smiths produced hammers, pliers, axes, saws, looms; different arms and armours. In the 13th century Saxonmarker miners, who made ore extracting more efficient and introduced new mining methods, arrived in western Bulgaria. They inhabited mainly the regions of Chiprovtsimarker and Kyustendilmarker. There used to be gold mines in the Eastern Rhodope.

About 50 different types of handicraft were known in Medieval Bulgariamarker, the most important being leathermaking, shoemaking, carpentry, weaving; production of food and drinks (bread, butter, cheese, wine). Vast quantity of catapults, battering-rams and other siege equipment were made, and the army had skilled siege engineers. The main centres were the capital Tarnovo, Cherven, Sofia (copper).


Culture of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

In the 13th and 14th centuries Bulgaria became a thriving cultural centre. The flowering of the Tarnovo school of art was related to the construction of palaces and churches, to literary activity in the royal court and the monasteries, and to the development of handicrafts. Remarkable achievements of this school have been preserved down to this day: the murals of the Boyars' houses in Trapezitsa and Saint Forty Martyrs Churchmarker in Veliko Tarnovomarker, the Boyana Churchmarker (1259) and the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovomarker. Book illuminations also developed, examples include the Manasses Chronicle, the Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander and the Tomich Psalter. Many relics of Orthodox martyrs and saints were kept in the numerous churches in the capital Turnovo, which earned the capital the byname "second Constantinople".Most of the architectural monuments from that period include churches, monasteries and fortresses. The Bulgarians usually built small churches with short doors to show humbleness and homage to God. They were often richly decorated with blind niches, various geometrical patterns from bricks, stone cubes, ceramics; while from the inside they were painted with marvelous frescoes which from the 13th century began to draw away from the canon and became realistic.

In the 14th century many new monasteries were built under the patronage of Ivan Alexander on the northern slopes of Stara Planinamarker, especially in a area near the capital Tarnovo which became known as "Sveta Gora" (Holy Forest) - a name also used to refer to Mount Athos. The numerous monasteries across the Empire were the very centre of the cultural, educational and spiritual life of the Bulgarian society. Ather the mid 14th centuries, many monasteries began to build fortifications under the thread of Turk invasions, such as the famous Tower of Hrelyu in the Rila monasterymarker.

There used to be a perfectly organised defensive network of fortresses which consisted of several lines along the Danube, the Balkan mountainsmarker, the Rhodope, the coast. The main fortress was Turnovo. Other major castles included Vidinmarker, Silistramarker, Cherven, Lovechmarker, Sofiamarker, Plovdivmarker, Lyutitsamarker, Ustramarker and many others.

Image: Boyana Angel.jpg|A fresco depicting St. Nicholas, Boyana Churchmarker
Image: Desislava.jpg|Frescoes from the Boyana Churchmarker (1259): Desislava
Image: Ival-ivanovo-mural.jpg|Contemporary mural portrait of Ivan Alexander from the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovomarker
Image: Constantine KeraThamara Keratsa Desislava Tetraevangelia Ivan Alexander.jpg|A miniature from the Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander
Image: Nessebar Pantocrator.jpg|Christ Pantocrator, one of Nessebarmarker's 40 churches.
Image: Ikon Venecia.JPG| Church of St Demetrius of Thessalonikimarker, Veliko Tarnovo
Image: Patriarshia Tarnovo Bulgaria.JPG|Patriarshia in Veliko Tarnovo
Image: Miriams Tanz.jpg|A miniature from the Tomić Psalter

See also


  1. Bulgaria history
  2. The frescoes of the Boyana Church - predecessors of the European Renaissance
  3. Нетинфо - Учени: Подписът не е на Боянския майстор
  4. Canev, Bǎlgarski hroniki, p. 310
  5. Canev, Bǎlgarski hroniki, p. 314-315
  6. H.H.Howorth-History of the Mongols, d.II: pt.II, p.136
  7. H.H.Howorth-History of the Mongols, d.II: pt.II
  8. Christopher P. Atwood-Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.73
  9. Мрачка грамота, Рилска грамота, Витошка грамота
  10. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica Very rarely, the state is called by historians the "Vlach-Bulgarian Empire", although the empire was never called this during its existence. That term was invented in the 19th century by Romanian historians based on the fact that Kaloyan called himself Emperor of Bulgarians and Vlachs.
  11. Синодник царя Борила, с.90
  12. Ангелов, Д. История на Византия, 1972, с.97
  13. Ангелов, Д. По въпроса за стопанския облик на българските земи през XI-XII век ИП, 1950, с.429
  14. Georgius Acropolita. Historia, p.18
  15. Сакъзов, Ив. Средновековното манастирско стопанство в България- СБИД, 22, 1923/1924, с.221
  16. Ангелов, Д. По въпроса за стопанския облик на българските земи през XI-XII век ИП, 1950, с.431
  17. Nicetas Choniata. Historia, p.835
  18. Снегаров, Ив. Неиздадени старобългаски жития- БДА, 3, 1953, 163-167
  19. Лишев Стр. Българския средновековен град, с.9


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