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4 Devastating Surprise Attacks In Military History
In War, surprise attacks, traps and ambushes can help to even the odds in an otherwise uneven fight. Guerrilla fighters can cause terrible damage both militarily and politically with well-timed attacks. When numbers are more even, a surprise attack can cause so much devastation in one battle that it can end a war. Other surprise attacks were covered here and future articles will likely cover more. Here are a few examples throughout history.
Today in history
23 July 2020 (MIA)
811 – Byzantine emperor Nikephoros I plunders the Bulgarian capital of Pliska and captures khan Krum’s treasury.
1319 – A Knights Hospitaller fleet scores a crushing victory over an Aydinid fleet off Chios.
1632 – Three hundred colonists bound for New France depart from Dieppe, France.
1677 – Scanian War: Denmark–Norway captures the harbor town of Marstrand from Sweden.
1793 – Kingdom of Prussia re-conquers Mainz from France.
1821 – While the Mora Rebellion continues, Greeks capture Monemvasia Castle. Turkish troops and citizens are transferred to Minor Asia coasts.
1829 – In the United States, William Austin Burt patents the typographer, a precursor to the typewriter.
1840 – The Province of Canada is created by the Act of Union.
1862 – American Civil War: Henry Halleck takes command of the Union Army.
1874 – Aires de Ornelas e Vasconcelos is appointed the Archbishop of the Portuguese colonial enclave of Goa, India.
1881 – The Boundary Treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina is signed in Buenos Aires.
1903 – The Ford Motor Company sells its first car.
1908 – The Second Constitution accepted by the Ottomans.
1914 – Austria-Hungary issues a series of demands in an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia demanding Serbia to allow the Austrians to determine who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Serbia accepts all but one of those demands and Austria declares war on July 28.
1915 – Macedonia’s national hero Tihomir Milosevski was born in the Bituse village near Gostivar. He was the first commander of the Macedonian military units during the national liberation war in Macedonia.
1921 – The Communist Party of China (CPC) launched the first time of founding National Congress, Communist party in China are established.
1926 – Fox Film buys the patents of the Movietone sound system for recording sound onto film.
1927 – The first station of the Indian Broadcasting Company goes on the air in Bombay.
1929 – The Fascist government in Italy bans the use of foreign words.
1936 – In Catalonia, Spain, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia is founded through the merger of Socialist and Communist parties.
1940 – The United States’ Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles issues a declaration on the U.S. non-recognition policy of the Soviet annexation and incorporation of three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
1942 – The Holocaust: The Treblinka extermination camp is opened.
1942 – World War II: The German offensives Operation Edelweiss and Operation Braunschweig begin.
1942 – Bulgarian fascists shot poet and patriot Nikola Jonkov Vapcarov, revolutionary and writer Anton Popov-Donco, and patriot Atanas Romanov in Sofia.
1943 – World War II: The British destroyers HMS Eclipse and HMS Laforey sink the Italian submarine Ascianghi in the Mediterranean after she torpedoes the cruiser HMS Newfoundland.
1945 – The post-war legal processes against Philippe Pétain begin.
1952 – The European Coal and Steel Community is established.
1952 – General Muhammad Naguib leads the Free Officers Movement (formed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the real power behind the coup) in overthrowing King Farouk of Egypt.
1961 – The Sandinista National Liberation Front is founded in Nicaragua.
1962 – Telstar relays the first publicly transmitted, live trans-Atlantic television program, featuring Walter Cronkite.
1962 – The International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos is signed.
1967 – 12th Street Riot: In Detroit, one of the worst riots in United States history begins on 12th Street in the predominantly African American inner city. It ultimately kills 43 people, injures 342 and burns about 1,400 buildings.
1968 – Glenville shootout: In Cleveland, Ohio, a violent shootout between a Black Militant organization and the Cleveland Police Department occurs. During the shootout, a riot begins and lasts for five days.
1968 – The only successful hijacking of an El Al aircraft takes place when a Boeing 707 carrying ten crew and 38 passengers is taken over by three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The aircraft was en route from Rome, to Lod, Israel
1970 – Qaboos bin Said al Said becomes Sultan of Oman after overthrowing his father, Said bin Taimur initiating massive reforms, modernization programs and end to a decade long civil war.
1972 – The United States launches Landsat 1, the first Earth-resources satellite.
1974 – The Greek military junta collapses, and former Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis is invited to lead the new government, beginning Greece’s metapolitefsi era.
1982 – The International Whaling Commission decides to end commercial whaling by 1985-86.
1983 – Thirteen Sri Lanka Army soldiers are killed after a deadly ambush by the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
1983 – Gimli Glider: Air Canada Flight 143 runs out of fuel and makes a deadstick landing at Gimli, Manitoba.
1984 – Vanessa Williams becomes the first Miss America to resign when she surrenders her crown after nude photos of her appeared in Penthouse magazine.
1986 – In London, England, Prince Andrew, Duke of York marries Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey.
1988 – General Ne Win, effective ruler of Burma since 1962, resigns after pro-democracy protests.
1992 – Abkhazia declares independence from Georgia.
1992 – The Chamber of private capital of Macedonia was formed.
1993 – The Republic of Macedonia became the 138th member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
1995 – Comet Hale–Bopp is discovered it becomes visible to the naked eye on Earth nearly a year later.
1997 – Digital Equipment Corporation files antitrust charges against chipmaker Intel.
1999 – ANA Flight 61 is hijacked in Tokyo, Japan by Yuji Nishizawa.
2005 – Three bombs explode in the Naama Bay area of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, killing 88 people.
Epic World History
Slavs made up an overwhelming part of the population of the new state, but its leadership was Bulgar. What differentiated the Bulgars from the Slavs, apart from language and ethnicity, was their highly developed sense of political organization, in addition to a formidable military reputation. The assimilatory processes between the two groups were long and not always smooth, but by the 10th century the Slavic language had become the official language of the state, while Bulgarian became its official appellation.
The study of the Bulgarian Empire is generally divided into two periods: the First Bulgarian Empire (681) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185). In both periods, the Bulgarian Empire had to contend with external pressures coming from Byzantium in the south and various migratory invaders from the north, as well as domestic dissent among the aristocracy.
The First Bulgarian Empire
Initially the First Bulgarian Empire enjoyed almost a century of expansion. After Asparuh’s death, supreme power passed to Khan Tervel (700). He not only continued to expand the new state in the Balkans but also intervened in the internal affairs of Byzantium. Tervel sheltered the exiled Emperor Justinian II and assisted him to regain his throne in Constantinople in 704. In 716 Tervel forced a treaty on Byzantium, which awarded northern Thrace to Bulgaria and reiterated Constantinople’s annual tribute.
Because of this treaty, Tervel came to the aid of Byzantium during the Arab siege of the town in 717, crucial to averting the fall of Constantinople. Tervel’s attack surprised the Arab forces, and many of them were slaughtered (some count 100,000). After Tervel’s death the remainder of the eighth century was a time of internal strife, until the rule of Khan Kardam (777).
Kardam inflicted a number of severe defeats on the Byzantine army and in 796 forced Constantinople to renew its annual tribute to Bulgaria. It was Kardam’s successor Khan Krum (803) who achieved one of the greatest expanses of the First Bulgarian Empire.
Krum is believed to have spent his youth establishing his authority over large swaths of modern-day Hungary and Transylvania. When he became khan, Krum added these territories to Bulgaria. Thus his realm stretched from Thrace to the northern Carpathians and from the lower Sava River to the Dniester, and bordered the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne along the river Tisza. Krum’s expansionist policy brought him into conflict with Byzantium.
In 809 he sacked the newly fortified town of Serdica (present-day Sofia) and surged into the territory of Macedonia. The imperial army destroyed the Bulgarian capital at Pliska. Krum, however, besieged the Byzantine troops in a mountain pass, where most of them were massacred. Emperor Nikephoros I lost his life, and Krum ordered that Nikephoros’s skull be encrusted in silver and used it as a drinking cup.
After his military success Krum unleashed a total war against Byzantium, laying waste to most of its territory outside the protected walls of Constantinople. He died unexpectedly in 814 in the midst of preparations for an attack on the metropolis.
The emphasis on Krum’s military prowess often neglects his prescience as state-builder. He was the first Bulgarian ruler that began centralizing his empire by providing a common administrative and legal framework. His son Khan Omurtag (r. 814) followed his father in further consolidating the state. Omurtag’s main achievement was to improve the legal system developed by Krum. He was also an avid builder of fortresses.
Under Omurtag’s successors, Malamir (r. 831) and Pressian (r. 836), the First Bulgarian Empire penetrated further into Macedonia. Their reign, however, saw an increase in the internal crisis of the state because of the spread of Christianity. Both the Slavs and the Bulgars practiced paganism, but a large number of the Slavs had begun converting to Christianity.
However, the Bulgars and especially their boyars (the aristocracy) remained zealously pagan. Krum and, in particular, Omurtag became notorious for their persecution of Christians. A new era in the history of the First Bulgarian Empire was inaugurated with the accession of Khan Boris (r. 852).
Boris confronted the social tensions within his state as a result of the distinct religious beliefs of the population. In 864 he accepted Christianity for himself and his country. With this act, Boris increased the cohesion of his people. Internationally he also ensured the recognition of his empire, as all the powers of the day were Christian.
In 888 Boris abdicated and retired to a monastery. The throne passed to his eldest son, Vladimir (r. 889), who immediately abandoned Christianity and reverted to paganism, forcing Boris to come out of his retirement in 893. He removed and blinded Vladimir and installed his second son, Simeon, to the throne.
The reign of Simeon the Great (893) is known as a golden age. Simeon extended the boundaries of the Bulgarian Empire west to the Adriatic, south to the Aegean, and northwest to incorporate most of present-day Serbia and Montenegro.
He besieged Constantinople twice, and Byzantium had to recognize him as basileus (czar, or emperor) the only other ruler to whom Constantinople extended such recognition was the Holy Roman Emperor. In order to indicate the break with the pagan past, Simeon moved the Bulgarian capital from Pliska to nearby Preslav. In Preslav, Bulgarian art and literature flourished with unprecedented brilliance.
Despite these exceptional developments, Simeon’s reign was followed by a period of political and social decay. His son Petar (927) was involved in almost constant warfare the nobility was engaged in factionalist strife, and the church fell to corruption. The general corrosion of the state was reflected by the spread of heresies among the Bulgarians.
By the end of the 10th century the Bulgarian Empire was in rapid decline. In 971 the capital, Preslav, and much of eastern Bulgaria was conquered by Byzantium. Under the leadership of Czar Samuil (997), Bulgaria had a momentary resurgence, with the capital moving to Ohrid. Under Samuil the country expanded into present-day Albania, Montenegro, and parts of Thrace.
However, in 1014 Emperor Basil II “Bulgaroktonus” (the Bulgarian-slayer) captured 15,000 Bulgarian troops and blinded 99 out of every 100 the remainder were left with one eye to guide their comrades back to their czar. When Samuil saw his blinded soldiers he immediately died. By 1018 the last remnants of Bulgarian resistance were quashed and the First Bulgarian Empire came to an end.
The Second Bulgarian Empire
|Second Bulgarian empire|
The Bulgarian state disappeared until 1185, when the brothers Petar and Asen organized a rebellion against Byzantium. The revolt initiated the Second Bulgarian Empire, whose capital became Turnovo (present-day Veliko Turnovo). In a pattern that became characteristic of the reconstituted state, first Asen and then Petar were assassinated by disgruntled boyars. It was their youngest brother, Kaloyan (r. 1197), who managed to introduce temporary stability to Bulgaria.
At the time, most of the troubles in the Balkans were coming from the crusaders. In 1204 they captured Constantinople and proclaimed that the Bulgarian czar was their vassal. Offended, Kaloyan marched against the armies of the Fourth Crusade and defeated them in a battle near Adrianople (present-day Edirne).
Kaloyan captured Emperor Baldwin and took him as prisoner to his capital, Turnovo, where he died. The Bulgarian forces also decapitated the leader of the Fourth Crusade, Boniface. Kaloyan himself was assassinated shortly afterwards, by dissident nobles, while besieging Thessalonica.
After Kaloyan, Boril took the throne (1207). In 1218 the son of Asen, Ivan Asen II, returned from exile and deposed Boril. His reign (1218) saw the greatest expansion of the Second Bulgarian Empire which reached the Adriatic and the Aegean.
Besides his military successes, Ivan Asen II also reorganized the financial system of Bulgaria and was the first Bulgarian ruler to mint his own coins. After his death, decline quickly set in. The external sources for this decay were the Mongol onslaught of Europe and the rise of Serbia as a major power in the Balkans.
The royal palace in Turnovo saw 13 czars in less than a century. Perhaps the most colorful of those was the swine-herder Ivailo, who rose from a common peasant to the Bulgarian throne. With a band of determined followers, he managed to defeat local detachments of the Mongol Golden Horde and push them across the Danube. In 1277 he entered Turnovo and personally killed the czar. His rule lasted only two years, and he was removed by troops dispatched from Constantinople.
|The defeat of the anti-Ottoman coalition in the battle of Nicopolis in 1396 |
was the final blow leading to the fall of the Bulgarian Empire.
The end of the Second Bulgarian Empire came during the rule of Czar Ivan Alexander (1331). He managed to consolidate the territory of Bulgaria, and the country enjoyed economic recovery. Ivan Alexander was also a great patron of the arts. However, he contributed to the breakup of the Bulgarian realm. He separated the region of Vidin from the Bulgarian monarchy and set up his eldest son, Ivan Stratsimir, as a ruler there.
He proclaimed the son from his second marriage, Ivan Shishman, as the inheritor of the Bulgarian throne. As czar, Ivan Shishman (1371) fought a losing battle both against the Ottoman Turks and against the breakaway ambitions of Bulgarian boyars. Turnovo fell to the Ottomans in 1393, and three years later Vidin also succumbed, causing the end of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Pliska [Vǎrbitsa Pass] 811
The Turkic Bulgars appeared in the sixth century, first as a rump of the so-called Old Bulgarian Empire, the Kutrigurs, defeated by Belisarius outside Constantinople in 559, settled north of the Danube and were absorbed by the Avars. Following the collapse of Avar power in the eighth century, new Bulgar arrivals and existing elites in Transdanubia gradually formed the Bulgar khanate, which adopted Slavic language and customs. Given their cultural origins in the Eurasian steppe, it is unsurprising that throughout the medieval period the Bulgarian social elite fought mostly as heavy armed cavalry lancers. Bulgaria formed the most important state to the north of the empire. Though there were long stretches of peace between the two peoples and even alliance, Byzantine-Bulgar relations were strained by their fundamental conflicting goals—both empires sought to dominate the Balkans and each considered the presence of the other unacceptable. Thus the Bulgars sought to capture Constantinople or subjugate the Byzantines militarily, while the latter sought to contain or even annex Bulgaria outright.
Initially the Bulgars organized themselves along the lines of most steppe empires, with “inner” and “outer” tribes whose power relationships were articulated through marriage alliances, genealogies, and material exchange. Beneath the outer tribes in the pecking order were subject groups like Slavs, Greeks, and the mélange of Avar, Hunnic, and Germanic remnants that rendered the rich cultural matrix of the Danube basin. The khan stood at the pinnacle of an increasingly sophisticated hierarchy that developed under steppe and Byzantine influence. Senior “inner” nobles, called boilas (often Anglicized as “boyar”), and junior “outer” nobles, bagains, formed the elite of the Bulgar state and provided both the military leadership and elite troops of the khanate. The Bulgars matched their Byzantine foe with a strong hierarchical military organization with the khan in overall command while his leading generals, the tarqan, commanded his administrative regional center and presumably took the center of the battle line as well. The targan’s subordinates included komites (sing. komes), after Byzantine usage, who commanded the wings of the army. The highest-ranking Bulgar nobles were heavily equipped cavalry with barded mounts and relied on heavy household cavalry and lighter armed horse archers as did their steppe nomad ancestors.
Methods of Warfare
The Bulgars employed mass conscription to fill out the ranks for their armies. Fear was the main tool used to compel men to enlist and show up equipped for the occasion. Khan Boris Michael (d. 907) ordered that men who arrived for muster without proper equipment or unprepared for campaign were to be executed, as were those who deserted before or during battle. The rank and file included many Slavs who fought as light infantry, carrying shields and javelins. Bulgar cavalry resembled both their Byzantine enemy and other steppe nomads. The Bulgars were expert in their use of terrain, relying on ambush and surprise in their confrontation with the enemy. They demonstrated a high level of strategic planning, strong discipline, and military cohesion, and on numerous occasions were able to confront and defeat imperial field armies, as they did at Vǎrbitsa Pass in 811 when they trapped a large force led by the emperor Nikephoros I and destroyed it by hemming the Byzantines against a wooden palisade and surrounding it. The emperor himself was killed and his heir mortally wounded. The Bulgars were intimately acquainted with Byzantine military strategy and tactics and, unlike the fragmented Arab emirates to the east, formed a more unified foe unbowed by the shock of repeated defeats.
The Byzantines dealt with the Bulgars via a full range of economic, diplomatic, and military strategies. Trade was limited by treaty to designated zones and monitored by imperial officials. Spies were maintained at the Bulgar court at Pliska the Bulgar khan Telerig (768–77) tricked the emperor into revealing the identity of Byzantine agents among the Bulgars by the ruse of his promised defection, then slaughtered those in the pay of the empire. Byzantine failures against the Bulgars were often due to weakness in strategic and battlefield intelligence that resulted in the surprise of imperial field forces. Experienced and cautious commanders found warfare in Bulgaria perilous. Thus, in the ongoing dispute over control of lands in Thrace and Mesembria on the Black Sea coast, the emperor Nikephoros II Phokas mounted a brief campaign in which he found the Bulgars’ skillful use of the mountainous terrain and difficulties of supply and communication hard to overcome. Nikephoros therefore induced Sviatoslav I of Kiev to invade Bulgaria the Rus’ captured scores of Bulgarian towns and fortresses and overwhelmed Bulgar resistance, which led to a direct confrontation between the Rus’ and their new Bulgar subjects and Byzantium. John I Tzimiskes’s defeat of the Rus’ at Dorostolon in 971 opened the way for Byzantine annexation of Bulgaria.
The Bulgars and the Byzantines had a joint history of battles in barricaded passes. In 811 the Byzantine Emperor Nicephoras I laid waste to Bulgaria and burnt the capital Pliska of Krum Khan of Bulgaria. On hearing that the Bulgarians were defending the passes, Nicephoras set out for the Vǎrbitsa Pass on the route back to Constantinople where the Bulgars had built a wooden wall. The Byzantines tried to burn the barricade and were either themselves burned or drowned in the moat built behind the wall.
Nikephoros had evidently mobilized imperial forces on the largest possible scale to defeat Krum as the Romans might have done, with overwhelming force. To add more mass to the trained, drilled, and organized thematic forces, he had also recruited untrained irregulars fighting for cash (“many poor men”). Mass worked.
“The Byzantine Chronicle of the Year 811.” The Chronicle:
When . . . the Bulghars learned of the size of the army he brought with him, and since apparently they were unable to resist, they abandoned everything they had with them and fled into the mountains.
In an exemplary tale of the downfall of the wicked, there must be spurned opportunities for salvation:
Frightened by this multitude . . . Kroummos asked for peace. The emperor, however, . . . refused. After making many detours through impassable country [a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of maneuver warfare] the rash coward recklessly entered Bulgaria on 20 July. For three days after the first encounters the emperor appeared to be successful, but did not ascribe his victory to God.
The Chronicle adds numbers, even if too large given the earlier assertion that the Bulghars had fled into the mountains:
[Nikephoros found] there an army of hand-picked and armed Bulghars who had been left behind to guard the place, up to 12,000, he engaged battle with them and killed them all. Next in similar fashion he faced another 50,000 in battle, and having clashed with them, destroyed them all.
Subsequent events do indicate that the casualties of Krum’s palace guards and elite forces were indeed heavy.
Next came the looting of Krum’s palace, made of wood but more than the rustic hall of a barbarian chief-the Chronicle says of Nikephoros that while “strolling up the paths of the palace . . . and walking on the terraces of the houses, he exalted and exclaimed `Behold, God has given me all this.'” Moreover, the palace was filled with the accumulated riches of past depredations. Unwilling to give Nikephoros any credit for having conquered Krum’s capital and treasury, Theophanes instead stresses his avarice: “He placed locks and seals on the treasury of Kroummos and secured it as if it was his own.” The Chronicle to the contrary presents a generous Nikephoros:
[He] found great spoils which he commanded be distributed among his army as per the troop roster. . . . When he opened the storehouses of [Krum’s] wine he distributed it so that everyone could drink his fill.
What ensued was pillage and destruction. The Chronicle:
[Nikephoros] left impious Krum’s palace, and on his departure burnt all the buildings and the surrounding wall, which were built of wood. Next, not concerned with a swift departure, he marched through the midst of Bulgaria. . . .
The army . . . plundered unsparingly, burning fields that were not harvested. They hamstrung cows and ripped the tendons from their loins as the animals wailed loudly and struggled convulsively. They slaughtered sheep and pigs, and committed impermissible acts [rape].
Theophanes inserts another missed opportunity to avert disaster:
[Krum] . . . was greatly humbled and declared: “Behold you have won. Take, therefore, anything you desire and depart in peace.” But the enemy of peace would not approve of peace whereupon, the other [Krum] became vexed and gave instructions to secure the entrances and exits of his country with wooden barriers.
Evidently Krum was able to rally the Bulghar warriors who had fled into the mountains, and others too from farther afield. In the Chronicle, Nikephoros proceeds from hubris to lethargy, conceding the initiative to Krum:
After he had spent fifteen days entirely neglecting his affairs, and his wits and judgment had departed him, he was no longer himself, but was completely confused. Seized by the torpor of false pretension, he no longer left his tent nor gave anyone an instruction or order. . . . Therefore, the Bulghars seized their opportunity. . . . They hired the Avars [a remnant by then] and neighboring Slav tribes [Sklavinias].
Krum’s forces converging on the leaderless Byzantines, who had scattered to loot, employed a characteristic and unique Bulghar technique: the rapid assembly and emplacement of wooden palisades of logs bound with twine across the full width of narrow valleys, erecting “a fearsome and impenetrable fence out of tree trunks, in the manner of a wall” according to the Chronicle. These palisades were not fortifications that could resist a siege, but they could protect troops launching missiles from behind them, essentially negating the archery of the Byzantines while allowing the Bulghars to use their own bows through slits in the palisades-as former steppe nomads, many Bulghars must have retained both composite reflex bows and the skill to use them. Fighting barriers like expedient obstacles are efficient insofar as they are not easily circumvented. But according to the Chronicle, the Bulghars did not wait for the Byzantines to run into their palisade ambushes on their way home instead they attacked, achieving complete surprise that induced a panic flight that in turn ended in massacre:
They fell on [Byzantine soldiers] still half asleep, who arose and, arming themselves, in haste, joined battle. But since [the forces] were encamped a great distance from one another, they did not know immediately what was happening. For they [the Bulghars] fell only upon the imperial encampment, which began to be cut to pieces. When few resisted, and none strongly, but many were slaughtered, the rest who saw it gave themselves to flight. At this same place there was also a river that was very swampy and difficult to cross. When they did not immediately find a ford to cross the river, . . . they threw themselves into the river. Entering with their horses and not being able to get out, they sank into the swamp, and were trampled by those coming from behind. And some men fell on the others, so that the river was so full of men and horses that the enemies crossed on top of them unharmed and pursued the rest.
According to the Chronicle, there was but one palisade, which only intercepted fleeing remnants and was unmanned, rather than a fighting barrier:
Those who thought they had escaped from the carnage of the river came up against the fence that the Bulghars had constructed, which was strong and exceedingly difficult to cross. . . . They abandoned their horses and, having climbed up with their own hands and feet, hurled themselves headlong on the other side. But there was a deep excavated trench on the other side, so that those who hurled themselves from the top broke their limbs. Some of them died immediately, while the others progressed a short distance, but did not have the strength to walk. . . . In other places, men set fire to the fence, and when the bonds [which held the logs together] burned through and the fence collapsed above the trench, those fleeing were unexpectedly thrown down and fell into the pit of the trench of fire, both themselves and their horses. . . . On that same day the Emperor Nikephoros was killed during the first assault, and nobody is able to relate the manner of his death. Injured also was his son Staurakios, who suffered a mortal wound to the spinal vertebrae from which he died after having ruled the Romans for two months.
Nikephoros was the first Roman emperor to die in battle since the Goths killed Valens on August 9, 378, at Adrianople, but the catastrophe of July 811 was even more dangerous because there was no spare emperor ready to exercise control, as the western emperor Gratian did in 378 until he appointed Theodosius as Augustus of the east in January 379. Moreover, the victorious Bulghars were within two hundred miles of Constantinople, unlike the Goths, who were a very long way from Rome when they won their victory.
As Krum offered barbarian toasts from the skull of Nikephoros, lined with silver in the usual manner, all seemed lost. Nikephoros had gathered every mobile force to overwhelm the Bulghars, so there was nothing left to stop them from seizing Constantinople after his ruinous defeat.
But there is a lot of ruination in an empire. In the east, the Abbasid caliphate, the greatest threat of all under the formidable HarÄn al-RashAd till his death in 809, was paralyzed by the war of his son Abu Jafar alMaUmun (“Belief”) ibn Harun against his other son, the reigning caliph Muhammad al-Amin (“Faith”) ibn Harun, whom he beheaded in 813. Hence field forces from the Armeniakon and Anatolikon themes could be summoned to help defend against the Bulghars. To lead them, there was at first only the badly wounded and unpopular Staurakios, son of Nikephoros, hastily proclaimed emperor in Adrianople on July 26 but on October 2, 811, he was forced to abdicate in favor of his brother-inlaw Michael I Rangabe, chief palace official (kouropalates), who gained the favor of Theophanes by repudiating Nikephoros to embrace Orthodox piety, by gifts of fifty pounds of gold to the patriarch and twentyfive pounds to the clergy, and by ordering the execution of heretics.
Michael readily went to fight, but unsuccessfully, and on July 11, 813, he abdicated in favor of the wily and battle-experienced Leon V (813- 820), former strategos of the Anatolikon theme, who allowed Michael and his family to live peacefully as monks and nuns, after castrating his sons. So by the time Krum tried to attack Constantinople in earnest, there was a fighting emperor ready to defend the city.
One reason why Krum delayed so long was that he had lost many or most of the troops who had guarded his palace-probably his only veritable soldiers, as opposed to Bulghar warriors who might be summoned to war and fight very well, but who were not “hand-picked and armed” and readily commanded. A second reason is that Krum could not attack Constantinople effectively without a fleet to blockade the city and starve it out eventually, or siege engines and the siegecraft to use them to breach the Theodosian Wall. The Bulghars were former mounted warriors of the plains who had also learned to fight very well on foot and in the mountains, but ships, shipping, and naval warfare remained outside their ken. Byzantine defectors were duly found and hired to provide the necessary siegecraft-Theophanes mentions a converted Arab expert, antagonized by the avarice of Nikephoros, of course-but it all took much time, and the necessary machinery was not constructed and ready until April 814, too late for Krum, who died on April 13, leaving an ineffectual successor. By then he had won another major battle at Versinikia on June 22, 813, overrun much Byzantine territory in what is now again Bulgaria, and Thrace, conquering its largest city of Adrianople and many smaller places but the empire survived, and would one day recover all its lost territories.
The defeat of 811 was not caused by a lack of training or equipment, nor by tactical incompetence or even operational-level shortcomings. It was a fundamental error at the higher level of theater strategy that placed the Byzantine forces at a very great disadvantage, which only prompt and fully successful operation-level actions could have compensated and overcome. Carl von Clausewitz explains in his On War why no defense against a serious enemy should ever be conducted in mountains, if it is at all possible to defend in front of them instead or even behind them, if necessary conceding the intervening territory to temporary enemy occupation.
It is true that mountain terrain offers many opportunities to establish easily defended strongholds, and narrow valleys offer many opportunities for ambushes. Both strongholds and ambushes can magnify the tactical strength of defending forces, allowing the few to prevail against the many at any one place. But if the army is thus fragmented by mountain terrain into many separate holding units and ambush teams, even if each one of them is tactically very strong, the overall defense is bound to be very weak against enemy forces that remain concentrated in one or two vectors of advance. The few defenders holding each place would then confront massed enemy attackers who can break through ambushes and overrun strongholds to advance right through the mountains, leaving most defending forces on either side marooned in their separate strongholds and ambush positions that were not attacked at all.
When the field army of Nikephoros advanced irresistibly all the way to Krum’s capital at Pliska, it left Bulghar forces impotently scattered in mountains and valleys. In their tactically strong but strategically useless positions, they could not resist the Byzantine advance nor defend Krum’s rustic palace. But they also remained unmolested by the Byzantine advance, and could therefore rally into action once they were summoned for Krum’s counteroffensive against the Byzantines, now cut off a long way from home by the Bulghars in between. None of this could have happened if Nikephoros had read his Clausewitz, therefore concentrating all his efforts against Krum’s army instead of Krum’s palace. With Bulghar strength destroyed, Nikephoros could have had the palace and everything else without fear of a counteroffensive. Having mobilized the tagmata, thematic field forces, and irregulars and led them into Thrace, Nikephoros should have slowed down his advance or even stopped altogether for long enough to allow Krum to assemble his own forces. The resulting frontal battle of attrition would have been hard, no doubt, with heavy casualties, but given their numerical superiority if nothing else, the Byzantines would have won. Then Nikephoros could have settled down to reorganize the newly regained lands into taxpaying territories, confident that no significant Bulghar forces remained behind to attack him.
Alternatively, if Krum refused combat, Nikephoros could have advanced on Pliska to seize the palace just as he did, but then he should have swiftly retreated back into imperial territory, before the Bulghars could gather to interpose themselves between the Byzantine army and its home bases. That retreat, moreover, would have had to be conducted as carefully as if it were an advance, with scouts ahead and flanking forces to counter ambushes, and battle groups ready to break through Bulghar palisades.
The only way of remaining in Pliska and the conquered lands even though most Bulghar forces remained undefeated would have been to keep the Byzantine army concentrated and ready for combat at all times, to fight off any and all Bulghar attacks. But it is hard for occupation troops tempted by easy looting to retain their combat readiness, and such a choice would have been very dangerous strategically in any case, given that the empire had other enemies besides the Bulghars, starting with the Muslim Arabs whenever they were not divided by civil war.
Because in the event Nikephoros did not redeem his fundamental error of theater strategy, the untrained “poor men” with their clubs and slings were just as good or just as bad as the finest tagma in the field: both were equally cut off strategically and outmaneuvered operationally by Krum’s Bulghars.
Victory went the other way in 1014 when Bulgar Khan Samuil built a wooden wall across the pass at the village of Klyuch, or Kleidion meaning key, in the Haemus Mountains which provided the main invasion route into Bulgaria. In the summer of 1014 the army of Basil II was repelled at the wall. Again, a path behind the wall was found and the Bulgarians were overwhelmed.
The subjugation of Bulgaria took decades, however, with persistent and arduous campaigning by the emperor Basil II, who reduced each quarter of the Bulgar state through sieges and attrition, finally grinding down Bulgar resistance. Bulgaria provided another test for Byzantine strategies of attritive warfare: imperial forces used sieges, scorched earth, and incremental capture-and-hold methods to gradually expand their bases of operations and finally wear out a formidable, skillful, and disciplined opponent. Although the empire possessed a dominant position in Bulgaria by the death of Basil II in 1025, serious resistance continued to the death of the Bulgarian tsar Peter II in 1041. Byzantine control of Bulgaria, won over decades of bitter warfare, lasted for nearly a century and a half.
In 811 Nikephoros invaded Bulgaria , defeated Krum twice, and sacked the Bulgarian capital Pliska . The Chronicle of 12th-century patriarch of the Syrian Jacobites, Michael the Syrian , describes the brutalities and atrocities of Nikephoros: "Nikephoros, emperor of the Byzantine empire, walked into the Bulgarians' land: he was victorious and killed great number of them. He reached their capital, seized it and devastated it. His savagery went to the point that he ordered to bring their small children, got them tied down on earth and made thresh grain stones to smash them." During Nikephoros' retreat, the imperial army was ambushed and destroyed in Varbishki mountain passes on July 26 by Krum . Nikephoros was captured during the battle and sent to Pliska , where Krum ordered his decapitation. Krum is said to have made a drinking-cup of Nikephoros' skull .
1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa.
2 And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons.
3 And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him and he was sore wounded of the archers.
4 Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.
5 And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
6 So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.
7 And when the men of Israel that [were] on the other side of the valley, and [they] that [were] on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.
8 And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.
9 And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish [it in] the house of their idols, and among the people.
10 And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.
11 And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul
12 All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.
1 And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother's brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying,
2 Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, Whether [is] better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, [which are] threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you? remember also that I [am] your bone and your flesh.
3 And his mother's brethren spake of him in the ears of all the men of Shechem all these words: and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech for they said, He [is] our brother.
4 And they gave him threescore and ten [pieces] of silver out of the house of Baalberith, wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him.
5 And he went unto his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal, [being] threescore and ten persons, upon one stone: notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left for he hid himself.
6 And all the men of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and went, and made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar that [was] in Shechem.
7 And when they told [it] to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.
8 The trees went forth [on a time] to anoint a king over them and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
9 But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, [and] reign over us.
11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
12 Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, [and] reign over us.
13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, [and] reign over us.
15 And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, [then] come [and] put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
16 Now therefore, if ye have done truly and sincerely, in that ye have made Abimelech king, and if ye have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done unto him according to the deserving of his hands
17 (For my father fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian:
18 And ye are risen up against my father's house this day, and have slain his sons, threescore and ten persons, upon one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his maidservant, king over the men of Shechem, because he [is] your brother)
19 If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, [then] rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you:
20 But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.
21 And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.
22 When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel,
23 Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:
24 That the cruelty [done] to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother, which slew them and upon the men of Shechem, which aided him in the killing of his brethren.
25 And the men of Shechem set liers in wait for him in the top of the mountains, and they robbed all that came along that way by them: and it was told Abimelech.
26 And Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brethren, and went over to Shechem: and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him.
27 And they went out into the fields, and gathered their vineyards, and trode [the grapes], and made merry, and went into the house of their god, and did eat and drink, and cursed Abimelech.
28 And Gaal the son of Ebed said, Who [is] Abimelech, and who [is] Shechem, that we should serve him? [is] not [he] the son of Jerubbaal? and Zebul his officer? serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem: for why should we serve him?
29 And would to God this people were under my hand! then would I remove Abimelech. And he said to Abimelech, Increase thine army, and come out.
30 And when Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was kindled.
31 And he sent messengers unto Abimelech privily, saying, Behold, Gaal the son of Ebed and his brethren be come to Shechem and, behold, they fortify the city against thee.
32 Now therefore up by night, thou and the people that [is] with thee, and lie in wait in the field:
33 And it shall be, [that] in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, thou shalt rise early, and set upon the city: and, behold, [when] he and the people that [is] with him come out against thee, then mayest thou do to them as thou shalt find occasion.
34 And Abimelech rose up, and all the people that [were] with him, by night, and they laid wait against Shechem in four companies.
35 And Gaal the son of Ebed went out, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and Abimelech rose up, and the people that [were] with him, from lying in wait.
36 And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains. And Zebul said unto him, Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as [if they were] men.
37 And Gaal spake again and said, See there come people down by the middle of the land, and another company come along by the plain of Meonenim.
38 Then said Zebul unto him, Where [is] now thy mouth, wherewith thou saidst, Who [is] Abimelech, that we should serve him? [is] not this the people that thou hast despised? go out, I pray now, and fight with them.
39 And Gaal went out before the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech.
40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him, and many were overthrown [and] wounded, [even] unto the entering of the gate.
41 And Abimelech dwelt at Arumah: and Zebul thrust out Gaal and his brethren, that they should not dwell in Shechem.
42 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people went out into the field and they told Abimelech.
43 And he took the people, and divided them into three companies, and laid wait in the field, and looked, and, behold, the people [were] come forth out of the city and he rose up against them, and smote them.
44 And Abimelech, and the company that [was] with him, rushed forward, and stood in the entering of the gate of the city: and the two [other] companies ran upon all [the people] that [were] in the fields, and slew them.
45 And Abimelech fought against the city all that day and he took the city, and slew the people that [was] therein, and beat down the city, and sowed it with salt.
46 And when all the men of the tower of Shechem heard [that], they entered into an hold of the house of the god Berith.
47 And it was told Abimelech, that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together.
48 And Abimelech gat him up to mount Zalmon, he and all the people that [were] with him and Abimelech took an axe in his hand, and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it, and laid [it] on his shoulder, and said unto the people that [were] with him, What ye have seen me do, make haste, [and] do as I [have done].
49 And all the people likewise cut down every man his bough, and followed Abimelech, and put [them] to the hold, and set the hold on fire upon them so that all the men of the tower of Shechem died also, about a thousand men and women.
50 Then went Abimelech to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it.
51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut [it] to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower.
52 And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire.
53 And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to brake his skull .
54 Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died.
55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed every man unto his place.
56 Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren:
In 629 AD the Eastern Roman Empire has reached perhaps the peak of its power. The ancient enemy of Rome, the Persian Empire, had been totally crushed and Roman rule was restored from the Pillars of Hercules to the Euphrates River.
It was not to last. The year 629 saw the first invasions of militant Jihadist Arab armies that ultimately conquered the Roman Middle East, North Africa and besieged Constantinople itself.
While the Arabs were pressing Roman forces in the south, in 681 AD a new pagan enemy appeared - The Bulgarians.
Though Roman armies managed to win a number of victories, the Bulgarians steadily pressed beyond the Danube River frontier deeper and deeper into Roman territory.
The Bulgarians won a great victory over the Romans at the Battle of Pliska in 811. The Roman Emperor Nikephoros I led the army into battle. D uring Nikephoros' retreat, the Byzantine army was ambushed and destroyed in the mountain passes by Bulgarian Khan Krum . Nikephoros was killed in the battle, the second Eastern Emperor to suffer this fate since Valens in the Battle of Adrianople (August 9, 378). Krum is said to have made a drinking-cup of Nikephoros' skull.
|The Bulgarian Kahn Krum is said to have made a drinking cup out|
of the skull of Roman Emperor Nikephoros.
The Emperor is dead, long live . . . somebody.
Controlled anarchy. That is as good a description as any of the Byzantine system of government. Rule by thuggery if you will. If you had enough troops then you too could be Emperor. Watching your back was a full time occupation.
In the time period we are addressing, Byzantium had four Emperors in three years. Paranoia in the ruling class would have been on hyperdrive.
- (811 died) Nikephoros I, who became a drinking cup, was killed with almost his entire army a the Battle of Pliska.
- (811) Nikephoros' son, Staurakios, served as Emperor for an entire two months. Staurakios has been paralyzed by a sword wound near his neck at Pliska and was saved by the Imperial guard which retreated from the battlefield towards the safety of Adrianople . There was also a popular rumor that Staurakios planned to abolish the Empire and re-establish a republic. In any case, Staurakios retired to a monastery where he died from the effects of his wound on January 11, 812.
- (811 - 813) Michael I Rangabe survived Nikephoros' disastrous campaign against Krum of Bulgaria , and was considered a more appropriate candidate for the throne than his severely injured brother-in-law Staurakios . Michael went on to be defeated at the Battle of Versinikia.
- (813) Leo V the Armenian assumed the throne. He ended the decade-long war with the Bulgars .
|Bulgarian Warrior Reenactor|
| The Growing Bulgarian Empire |
The Eastern Romans did not have enough on their hands with the Muslim Arab invasions of the Middle East, Africa and two massive sieges of Constantinople itself. Staring in 681 AD the pagan Bulgarian tribes appeared on the norther Danube frontier and aggressively pushed deeper and deeper into Roman territory.
|Bulgarian armies were marching up to the |
gates of Constantinople itself.
Preparations for Battle
The 811 Battle of Pliska was one of the worst defeats in Byzantine history. An huge army of perhaps 60,000 troops has been gathered for the attack on the Bulgarians. Based on past Byzantine campaigns I think that the number of troops is too high. But virtually the entire royal family joined in on the march so maybe the number is not inflated too much.
More important is virtually the entire Byzantine army was slaughtered. That massive defeat deterred Byzantine rulers from sending their troops north of the Balkans for more than 150 years afterwards, which increased the influence and spread of the Bulgarians to the west and south of the Balkan Peninsula, resulting in a great territorial enlargement of the First Bulgarian Empire .
Despite the loss of land and soldiers to the Bulgars, the Byzantines were unwilling to settle peace. During the winter of 812 - 813 Khan Krum started intense preparations for an attack against Byzantium and Michael I was preparing for defense. In February 813 Bulgarian forces made several investigation raids in Thrace but quickly pulled back after several clashes with the Byzantines. The retreat was considered by the Byzantine Emperor as a victory "according to God's providence" and encouraged him to counter-attack.
The Byzantines again summoned an enormous army gathered from all themes of their Empire including the guards of the Syrian passes. These kleisourai from Syria were called Lykoanians, Cilicians, Isuarians, Cappadocians and Galatians.
|The battle of Versinikia from the 14th century Bulgarian |
copy of the Manasses Chronicle.
That the Emperor had to strip troops from the far away Syrian front is not good. On the plus side, the Arab Caliphate was in the middle of a civil war. In 812 Baghdad was being besieged by one Arab faction allowing the Emperor to transfer large thematic contingents from Asia Minor to the Balkans. The levy of troops from the themes included recent recruits. They were ordered to march into Thrace before spring.
The Byzantines had some recent successes against the Arabs. It was hoped that the higher morale among the Asian troops would swing the psychological advantage back to the Byzantines.
Whatever morale advantage the Asian troops brought might have been offset by being so far away from home and all the tales being told of the 811 slaughter of the Byzantine army. Add in that many of these soldiers were part-time. They would have been worried about missing the spring crop planting season back home.
It was reported that the Armeniacs and the Cappadocians openly expressed their resentments to the Emperor.
The Emperor pulling troops from far away sounds like a thoughtless campaign of revenge or panic or both. The new Emperor may have felt the political need to prove himself to the ruling class and military or risk being murdered and replaced by someone willing to fight.
As it is there was unrest in the army, and the campaign was delayed. But the troops finally set off from Constantinople in May. The departure was a celebration and the population of the city including the Empress accompanied the troops outside the city wall. They even gave presents to the military commanders and invoked them to guard the Emperor and fight for the Christians.
The fact that "presents" were given to the commanders to do what they were supposed to be doing anyway says a lot about the political situation.
|Byzantine infantry reenactor|
At this point the rest of the Byzantine army was to join the Thracian and Macedonian contingents to prevent the Bulgars from regrouping and then defeat them. That never happened. Michael may have never given the order or the timid Byzantine troops failed to move.
The uncommitted Bulgar heavy cavalry in the center rallied to support the troops in the front and counter charged the Byzantines. Seeing this, the Bulgar mobile cavalry on both wings swept into Aplakes' rear completing an encircling movement.
| Gold solidus of |
Leo the Armenian
Surrounded and outnumbered the Byzantines began to fall back and were cut to pieces. Aplakes himself was among the fallen, although some of his men were able to escape.
These developments caused the rest of the army to lose heart. The troops were watching the massacre of Aplakes' men right in front of them while the Emperor stood by hesitating to act. The Anatolikon units broke ranks and fled.
Seeing what was happening on his left, Leo the Armenian ordered his own panicking troops on the right to withdraw. We can guess that Leo wanted to keep his own troops together and organized against any Bulgar attack.
But that was not the case with the thematic contingents in the center where all semblance of cohesion was lost. Even the Emperor and his elite guards retreated in confusion.
Kahn Krum at first thought the Byzantines had feigned retreat, in classic steppe warfare style, in order to draw the Bulgars into a trap. But when he saw the retreat was real he ordered the pursuit.
One ancient account tells a graphic tale of Byzantine panic. It speaks of fleeing Byzantines trampling each other. Every time they heard hooves or feet behind them they would run even faster. Horses weak from lack of water falling dead. Soldiers casting aside arms and armor that was collected by the Bulgarians.
The Bulgarians did not advance much beyond the Imperial encampment. There they looted the Byzantine baggage train.
The actual Byzantine casualties were on the lighter side. The Thracian and Macedonian contingents under Aplakes were hit hard and may have lost 2,000 to 3,000 men. But the Emperor's guard escaped and the division under Leo the Armenian marched back to Constantinople in good order. A number of Byzantine infantry units that were separated from their cavalry support hid in different fortresses which were taken by the Bulgarians one by one. The remaining infantry managed to find their way back to Constantinople.
What about Leo?
Later Byzantine historians Genesius and Theophanes Continuatus accused Leo the Armenian (the next Emperor) as primarily responsible for the defeat, claiming that he deliberately ordered the flight of the units that were still not engaged in the battle. This view is accepted by a large number of scholars, while others reject Leo's responsibility.
I would say that most Roman generals would never let opportunity pass them by. The new Emperor Michael was obviously weak. Opportunity was knocking on Leo's door.
The Roman army was collapsing on its own right in front of Leo. With his own troops wavering it is doubtful that Leo could have saved the rest of the army from defeat all by himself. What he could do is save his own division from slaughter in order to fight another day.
It was a long march back to Constantinople, and Leo had the only organized armed force in the area. I don't believe Leo planned in advance to lose the battle, but he must have thought deeply about the danger the empire was in under Michael's weak leadership.
The contemporary account Scriptor incertus de Leone says the Emperor Michael blamed himself for the defeat and blamed the troops who refused to fight.
The First Bulgarian Empire
Initially the First Bulgarian Empire enjoyed almost a century of expansion. After Asparuh’s death, supreme power passed to Khan Tervel (700–721). He not only continued to expand the new state in the Balkans but also intervened in the internal affairs of Byzantium. Tervel sheltered the exiled Emperor Justinian II and assisted him to regain his throne in Constantinople in 704. In 716 Tervel forced a treaty on Byzantium, which awarded northern Thrace to Bulgaria and reiterated Constantinople’s annual tribute.
Because of this treaty, Tervel came to the aid of Byzantium during the Arab siege of the town in 717, crucial to averting the fall of Constantinople. Tervel’s attack surprised the Arab forces, and many of them were slaughtered (some count 100,000). After Tervel’s death the remainder of the eighth century was a time of internal strife, until the rule of Khan Kardam (777–802). Kardam inflicted a number of severe defeats on the Byzantine army and in 796 forced Constantinople to renew its annual tribute to Bulgaria. It was Kardam’s successor Khan Krum (803–814) who achieved one of the greatest expanses of the First Bulgarian Empire.
Krum is believed to have spent his youth establishing his authority over large swaths of modern-day Hungary and Transylvania. When he became khan, Krum added these territories to Bulgaria. Thus his realm stretched from Thrace to the northern Carpathians and from the lower Sava River to the Dniester, and bordered the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne along the river Tisza. Krum’s expansionist policy brought him into conflict with Byzantium. In 809 he sacked the newly fortified town of Serdica (present-day Sofia) and surged into the territory of Macedonia. The imperial army destroyed the Bulgarian capital at Pliska. Krum, however, besieged the Byzantine troops in a mountain pass, where most of them were massacred. Emperor Nikephoros I lost his life, and Krum ordered that Nikephoros’s skull be encrusted in silver and used it as a drinking cup. After his military success Krum unleashed a total war against Byzantium, laying waste to most of its territory outside the protected walls of Constantinople. He died unexpectedly in 814 in the midst of preparations for an attack on the metropolis.
The emphasis on Krum’s military prowess often neglects his prescience as state-builder. He was the first Bulgarian ruler that began centralizing his empire by providing a common administrative and legal framework. His son Khan Omurtag (r. 814–831) followed his father in further consolidating the state. Omurtag’s main achievement was to improve the legal system developed by Krum. He was also an avid builder of fortresses.
Under Omurtag’s successors, Malamir (r. 831–836) and Pressian (r. 836–852), the First Bulgarian Empire penetrated further into Macedonia. Their reign, however, saw an increase in the internal crisis of the state because of the spread of Christianity. Both the Slavs and the Bulgars practiced paganism, but a large number of the Slavs had begun converting to Christianity. However, the Bulgars and especially their boyars (the aristocracy) remained zealously pagan. Krum and, in particular, Omurtag became notorious for their persecution of Christians. A new era in the history of the First Bulgarian Empire was inaugurated with the accession of Khan Boris (r. 852–888). Boris confronted the social tensions within his state as a result of the distinct religious beliefs of the population. In 864 he accepted Christianity for himself and his country. With this act, Boris increased the cohesion of his people. Internationally he also ensured the recognition of his empire, as all the powers of the day were Christian.
In 888 Boris abdicated and retired to a monastery. The throne passed to his eldest son, Vladimir (r. 889–893), who immediately abandoned Christianity and reverted to paganism, forcing Boris to come out of his retirement in 893. He removed and blinded Vladimir and installed his second son, Simeon, to the throne. The reign of Simeon the Great (893–927) is known as a golden age. Simeon extended the boundaries of the Bulgarian Empire west to the Adriatic, south to the Aegean, and northwest to incorporate most of present-day Serbia and Montenegro. He besieged Constantinople twice, and Byzantium had to recognize him as basileus (czar, or emperor) the only other ruler to whom Constantinople extended such recognition was the Holy Roman Emperor. In order to indicate the break with the pagan past, Simeon moved the Bulgarian capital from Pliska to nearby Preslav. In Preslav, Bulgarian art and literature flourished with unprecedented brilliance.
Despite these exceptional developments, Simeon’s reign was followed by a period of political and social decay. His son Petar (927–970) was involved in almost constant warfare the nobility was engaged in factionalist strife, and the church fell to corruption. The general corrosion of the state was reflected by the spread of heresies among the Bulgarians. By the end of the 10th century the Bulgarian Empire was in rapid decline. In 971 the capital, Preslav, and much of eastern Bulgaria was conquered by Byzantium. Under the leadership of Czar Samuil (997–1014), Bulgaria had a momentary resurgence, with the capital moving to Ohrid. Under Samuil the country expanded into present-day Albania, Montenegro, and parts of Thrace. However, in 1014 Emperor Basil II “Bulgaroktonus” (the Bulgarian-slayer) captured 15,000 Bulgarian troops and blinded 99 out of every 100 the remainder were left with one eye to guide their comrades back to their czar. When Samuil saw his blinded soldiers he immediately died. By 1018 the last remnants of Bulgarian resistance were quashed and the First Bulgarian Empire came to an end.
It's History Time!
The Bulgars were originally a Turkic peoples of the Central Asian steppe. However, they did not have a polity of their own, but rather lived as distinct tribes who were aligned with other Turkish or Central Asian polities.
A Bulgar leader named Kubrat put an end to this. In A.D. 632, he unified the Bulgars and created a single Bulgar polity, which we now call Great Bulgaria. This was not where modern Bulgaria is rather, it was in the Crimean peninsula and the areas just north and east of it. Kubrat was a member of the Dulo Clan, which had previously been just one of many ruling clans among the Bulgars . After him, the House of Dulo would rule over other Bulgars for centuries.
After Kubrat's death, Great Bulgaria disintegrated. There were two reasons. First, the Khazars invaded. Second, Kubrat had five sons, some of whom wanted to take their followers and establish their own polity.
One such son was Asparukh . Asparukh left the Bulgar homeland and invaded the Byzantine Empire. At the Battle of Ongal , Asparukh defeated the Byzantines and carved out a new Bulgar homeland in the Balkans. This is the area that 21st century maps simply call "Bulgaria" historians sometimes call it "Danubian Bulgaria" to distinguish it from Great Bulgaria, or from other Bulgar polities that different sons of Kubrat founded elsewhere. This polity is also called the First Bulgarian Empire, because it was the first empire to exist in Bulgaria.
Asparukh's successor was Tervel . Tervel obtained Byzantine recognition of Bulgaria. Indeed, when the Arabs besieged Constantinople during the reign of Leo the Isaurian in A.D. 717, it was Tervel who sent a Bulgar force that helped defeat the Arabs.
The next notable Dulo ruler of Bulgaria was Krum . Krum is primarily notable for winning the 811 Battle of Pliska against the Byzantines. Pliska was one of the greatest victories the Bulgarians ever won against the Byzantine empire. The Byzantine emperor Nikephoros I (who had seized power from Empress Irene of Iconoclasm controversy fame) was slain in the battle. According to legend, Krum made a drinking cup from Nikephoros's skull. Nikephoros's son and successor, Staurakios , was wounded and paralyzed during the battle. This led to a period of instability in Byzantium, as a paralyzed emperor was seen as weak.
According to Andrew Yaphe , Krum was the greatest Bulgar to ever live. But I disagree with this claim see below.
The next notable Dulo ruler of Bulgaria was Simeon the Great. Simeon, the only Bulgar ruler to be called The Great, is my pick for greatest Bulgar to ever live.
Simeon is notable for his cultural achievements as an educated ruler, he promoted literature and religious scholarship. Simeon also made the Bulgarian Orthodox Church autocephalous , making it independent of the control of any other Orthodox Church. But Simeon is also notable for presiding over Bulgaria during the height of its military power.
Simeon was so powerful that the Byzantines allied with Hungary against him. This forced Simeon to fight a two-front war against his southern and northern neighbors. But Simeon not only defended Bulgaria from this double threat, he also invaded both of his rivals and captured the Byzantine city of Adrianople and the Hungarian city of Pest.
Simeon also extended Bulgar control to modern-day Serbia, Croatia, and even Albania.
So extensive were Simeon the Great's conquests that Bulgarians refer to his rule as the "Era of the Three Seas", because Bulgaria gained coastlines along the Adriatic, Agean , and Black seas. His reign is also known as the Golden Age of Bulgaria. Indeed, when I was in Bulgaria, I purchased a t-shirt with Simeon's portrait on it and "GOLDEN AGE" written above it in large letters.
Simeon's successor was Peter I. Peter I is notable because it was during his reign that the Bogomil Heresy emerged in Bulgaria. Bogomilism , named for its founder, a priest named Bogomil , was a dualistic and somewhat mystical heresy influenced by the earlier Anatolian heresy of Paulicianism . Bogomilism is perhaps most notable today for the fact that it influenced Catharism (a.k.a. Albigenisanism ), a much more famous heresy in southern France.
When Peter I died, his succession was neither stable nor orderly. He left two sons, but real power was in the hands of a group of four brothers known as the Comitopuli . This is a Greek name for them their actual family name is unknown.
Eventually, one of the Comitopuli became emperor, ending the Dulo dynasty and starting the short-lived Comitopuli dynasty. This ruler was Samuel I or Samueli I. He is most notable for losing a war to the Byzantine Emperor Basil II.
Basil II defeated Samueli's army at the Battle of Kleidion in 1014. Famously, Basil blinded 99 out of every 100 Bulgarian captives, then left the remaining captives with one eye and ordered them to march their blinded colleagues back to Bulgaria and inform every man, woman, and child in Bulgaria that Basil was now their master. According to legend, upon hearing the news of Kleidion , Samueli died of a heart attack. This is not true, but by the end of the decade the Comitopuli dynasty was over and Bulgaria was a Byzantine province. For this, Basil II earned his famous nickname, Basil the Bulgar-Slayer.
Sunday, 4 April 2021
Battle of Gallipoli
The Battle of Gallipoli occurred on 29 May 1416 between a squadron of the Venetian navy and the fleet of the Ottoman Empire off the Ottoman naval base of Gallipoli. The battle was the main episode of a brief conflict between the two powers, resulting from Ottoman attacks against Venetian possessions and shipping in the Aegean Sea in late 1415.
|14th-century painting of a light galley, from an icon now |
at the Byzantine and Christian Museum at Athens
he Venetian fleet, under Pietro Loredan, was charged with transporting Venetian envoys to the Sultan, but was authorized to attack if the Ottomans refused to negotiate. The Ottomans exchanged fire with the Venetian ships as soon as the Venetian fleet approached Gallipoli, forcing the Venetians to withdraw.
On the next day, the two fleets manoeuvred and fought off Gallipoli, but during the evening, Loredan managed to contact the Ottoman authorities and inform them of his diplomatic mission. Despite assurances that the Ottomans would welcome the envoys, when the Venetian fleet approached the city on the next day, the Ottoman fleet sailed to meet the Venetians and the two sides quickly became embroiled in battle.
The Venetians scored a crushing victory, killing the Ottoman admiral, capturing a large part of the Ottoman fleet, and taking large numbers prisoner, of whom many—particularly the Christians serving voluntarily in the Ottoman fleet—were executed.
The Venetians then retired to Tenedos to replenish their supplies and rest. Although a crushing Venetian victory, which confirmed Venetian naval superiority in the Aegean Sea for the next few decades, the settlement of the conflict was delayed until a peace treaty was signed in 1419.