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MEDIEVAL BULGARIAN HISTORY ~ AS EXTRACTED FROM LEBEAU'S

Author: Charles Le Beau; translated by Hristo Stambolski

 

INTRODUCTION TO BYZANTINE STUDIES

The nineteenth century witnessed no more important development in the field of scholarship than the revival of interest in the Eastern Empire. Byzantine studies were founded in the seventeenth century by Ducange; but the seed did not germinate for two hundred years. The eighteenth century, unjust to the Middle Ages as a whole, showed itself particularly hostile to the Greek Empire. For Voltaire Byzantine history was a series of horrible and disgusting facts, for Montesquieu a tissue of rebellion, seditions and perfidy. The vast compilation of their countryman Lebeau confirmed the popular impression of its repulsive dullness, and his unhappy title, the "Lower Empire," has stuck. Worse than all Gibbon failed to realize its true character and importance. The chapters on Justinian are incomparable; but after Heraclius his interest wanes, and he marches a long series of colourless figures wearily across the stage. It is a "tedious and uniform tale of weakness and misery," a corrupt and effeminate State with a thin veneer of civilization. Of its services to civilization, of the greatness of many of its figures, of its busy intellectual life, he had no conception.

General interest was first aroused by a controversy as to the racial derivation of modern Greeks. The War of Independence had won the sympathy of Europe; and it was a rude shock both to Greece and to her champions when Fallmerayer announced, that her inhabitants were virtually Slavs. The race of the Hellenes, he declared in his "History of Morea," was rooted out, and Athens was unoccupied from the sixth to the tenth century. Only its literature and a few ruins survived to tell that the Greek people had ever existed. What the Slavs had begun the Albanians had completed. Scholars had been so busy with the ancient Greeks that they had never inquired what had become of them. Leake had discovered a great number of Slavonic place names, but he had drawn no conclusions. "I now lay the foundations of a new view of Greek history and of the whole peninsula." He recalls the invasions of the Huns, the Bulgars and the Slavs, and the second volume shows the Morea flooded by Albanian colonists and finally conquered by the Turks. Modern Athens was an Albanian city, and Greece was on the level of Europe
in the Middle Ages. The attack was naturally resented with intense bitterness by the Greeks; and the excitement in the world of scholarship was scarcely less. For a time his array of evidence carried conviction; and though his works are no longer read except by the curious student, his place among the founders of Byzantine studies is secure.

Reviewing his critics in later life Fallmerayer declared that Finlay, unlike his own countrymen, wrote like a gentleman; and he was among the first to hail the work of the English historian. Owing in part to his friendship with a Greek fellow-student at Gottingen, Finlay resolved to visit Greece and judge for himself the condition of the people and the chances of the war. In 1823 he was with Byron in Missolonghi. "You are young and enthusiastic," said the poet, " and you are sure to be disappointed when you know the Greeks as well as I do." The prophecy was to come true. When independence was achieved he bought an estate in Attica. "I lost my money and my labour, but I learned how the system of tenths has produced a state of society and habits of cultivation against which one man can do nothing. When I had wasted as much money as I possessed, I turned my attention to study." His life-work appeared as a series of monographs between 1844 and 1861. His closing years were devoted to a thorough revision, and to the continuation of the narrative to 1864. After his death his volumes were issued as a single work under the title of "History of Greece, from its Conquest by the Romans."

Freeman, his editor and successor of Chair, boldly described Finlay's work as the greatest of English historical literature since Gibbon, and the most original history in the language. He debated that Finlay courageously chose an unpopular subject and claimed attention for it. Beginning where historians of classical Greece left off, he surveyed the Byzantine Empire from beginning to end, and continued his story for four centuries after its fall. Though Greece is always in the foreground, he offers a fairly complete summary of the history of the Eastern Empire. The author showed that government reached a far higher standard than any other State during the Middle Ages, and maintained that the moral condition of the people under the Iconoclasts was superior to that of any equal number of human beings, at the time or earlier, in any part of the world. Law was highly developed, order was fairly maintained, justice was tolerably administered. On the other hand he freely admits the fiscal oppression and the unprogressive centralization which sterilized the Empire. The most novel feature of the work was the emphasis on social and economic conditions. He was, indeed, rather a student of law and economics than a professed historical scholar, and his personal knowledge of the evils of independent Greece led him to trace their influence back through the centuries. He wrote without any exaggerated sympathy for the Greek people. He relates the capture of Constantinople in 1453 without emotion, praises Mohammed II, and proclaims the moral superiority of the Turks at the time of the conquest. But he draws a sinister picture of Turkish rule, of which the tribute of Christian children was the keystone. In the account of the War of Independence he castigates the leaders, while admiring the patriotism and endurance of the people. Though his picture of contemporary Greece is highly critical, he concludes by admitting that her progress since the war was as great as could reasonably be hoped.

Finlay pointed out the speculative character of much of Fallmerayer's evidence; but it was the work of Hopf, who begins with Alaric's invasion, to refute the contention of wholesale racial displacement. His profound researches were buried in "Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopaedia," and are in consequence entirely unknown to the general reader; yet no one has done so much to place the study of the Greek Middle Ages on a secure foundation, and his narrative of the Frank domination is still indispensable. His results have filtered into the text-books through the medium of Hertzberg, whose "History of Greece" presents the researches of other men in a well-ordered narrative. The same story has been told from a Greek standpoint by Paparrigopoulos. His "Byzantine Histories," edited with the help of his lecture notes after his death, contain a mass of material illustrating the life of the Empire before the Crusades.

The epoch of narratives gave way to the epoch of monographs about 1870. The lead in Byzantine studies, which had hitherto been taken by Germany and England, now reverted to France with the publication of Rambaud's "Constantine Porphyrogenitus." Though only a study of a single ruler, the book embodied a definite conception of Byzantine history. Autocracy and administrative centralization, he declared, were essential, as the Empire was always on a war footing; the union of Church and State was necessary, because the Empire could only disarm the barbarians by Christianity; its rulers were often compelled to bribery and deceit, as they had to deal with barbarous and faithless tribes. "We have been pitiless for its vices without noticing the virtues which it must have possessed to survive the Western Empire for a thousand years." No European State, he adds, had to meet such assaults. Rambaud possessed every qualification for the historian of the Byzantine Empire; but he turned to other studies and seldom revisited the field where he won his fame. His lead was followed by Schlumberger, who, after winning reputation by a treatise on the "Coins of the Latin Orient," published his sumptuous work on "Byzantine Sigillography" in 1884. The volume, enriched by over a thousand illustrations, proved of immense value for iconography, the dignitaries and ceremonies of the Court, the geography and administrative divisions of the Empire. It was largely with the aid of monumental sources that he carried out the series of richly illustrated monographs on Byzantine rulers by which he is best known. The first was devoted to Nicephorus Phocas, whom he rescues from the absurd imputations of Liutprand; a second to the towering personality of Basil, the "Slayer of the Bulgarians"; the final volume to Basil's successors. Though these great biographies only cover a century, they reveal every aspect of the life of the Empire and are amply sufficient to destroy the tradition of a nerveless and decadent State. The third French scholar to dedicate himself to the Eastern Empire is Diehl, who was trained in the French Schools at Athens and Rome. Beginning with studies of administration in the Exarchate of Ravenna and in Africa, he wrote a superbly illustrated survey of Justinian and the civilization of the sixth century. A separate monograph on Theodora pictures a woman of strong will and rare intelligence, outliving her stormy youth and leaving a memory deeply cherished by Justinian. His study of Byzantine art is the best survey of a fascinating territory. No scholar has done more to popularize Byzantine history, and his work has been rewarded by his appointment as first holder of the Chair of Byzantine History created at the Sorbonne in 1899.

In England Byzantine studies have been little pursued since Finlay; but Professor Bury and his erudite edition of Gibbon give him a place in the front rank of scholars. Bussell has discussed the constitutional history of the Empire. William Miller and Rennell Rodd have illumined the darkness of mediaeval Greece, and Edwin Pears has reconstructed the tragedies of 1204 and 1453. Heyd has made an exhaustive investigation of Levantine trade illustrating the commercial history of the Empire and the fortunes of the foreign settlements.

By far the greatest of German Byzantinists was Krumbacher, for whom a Chair was founded in Munich in 1892. His encyclopaedic survey of Byzantine Literature is beyond comparison the most important single work in the field of Byzantine study. Far from being a mere analytical catalogue of writers, it throws light on every aspect of the Empire. Of no less service was his creation of the "Byzantinische Zeitschrift". In a long series of works Zacharia von Lingenthal explored the territory, unknown even to Savigny, of Byzantine Law. Pichler traced the separation of the Eastern and Western Churches, and Hergenrother wrote a mighty monograph on Photius that threw light on every part of the early history of the Empire. Gelzer investigated the Byzantine chronograph and Hirsch the chroniclers of the ninth and tenth centuries. Gregorovius related the fortunes of mediaeval Athens, and Rohricht devoted a laborious life to the Crusades.

In Slavonic Europe interest grew apace when it was realized that the history of the Slavs is unintelligible without a knowledge of Byzantine culture. A "Byzantine Review" was founded by Russian scholars in 1894, and an Institute of Archaeology was created at Constantinople. The most original treatises on Byzantine Art are the work of Strzygowski, an Austrian Pole, and Professor at Vienna, whose claims for the wide extension of Byzantine influence in the West have led to prolonged discussion.

Byzantine studies have made immense progress in the last half-century; but the territory is so vast that there is even now no more promising field of historical research. The "Byzantine Corpus", which began to appear at Bonn under the auspices of Niebuhr, was so imperfectly edited as to be of slender value; and it is only in the last three decades that scholarly editions of the sources have become available. No work has been the subject of so much controversy as the "Historia Secreta"; but Dahn's view that it was indeed the work of Procopius is now generally accepted. In 1904 the International Association of Academies determined on a Corpus of Greek mediaeval charters. There are now Byzantine Chairs at Paris and Munich, Leyden and Leipzig, St. Petersburg, Odessa, and Budapest. From the scholarship of two generations a new Byzantium has emerged, not inert and decadent, but the mother of great statesmen and soldiers, the home of culture while central and western Europe was plunged in darkness, the rampart of Christian Europe for a thousand years, the civilizer of the Slavonic races. Byzantium is no longer a degenerate descendant of Greece or a parody of Rome, but a Christian State with her own individuality. The virile Isaurians hold their own beside any dynasty of the West. Freeman truly remarked that it was for ages the only regular and systematic government in the world. Nothing but a centralized bureaucracy could have held together so many countries and races. Its administrative machine was the most elaborate that the world had seen, and the Byzantine Court was to mediaeval Europe what Louis XIV was to the rulers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Travelers and ambassadors marveled at the wealth and splendour of the capital, and felt themselves in presence of a more complex and highly organized civilization. Yet there is no disposition to pass from the extreme of depreciation to exaggerated eulogy. The Eastern Empire was a bureaucratic despotism in which liberty was unknown. In literature it was imitative and produced no
masterpiece. In the region of the arts alone was it creative. "The mission of Christian Constantinople," declares Bikelas with truth, "was not to create but to save." To preserve Greek culture during the barbarism of the Middle Ages and to defend it against the assaults of Islam was to deserve well of civilization.

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PREFACE TO "BULGARIA IN THE PAST"

The present volume treats and delineates the most important phenomenon in the social life of the Bulgarians, side by side, as far as that is expedient, with that of their neighbouring peoples to whom they are intellectually and organically related. Being a first attempt of its kind among us, it may not be free from omissions or other defects which seem almost unavoidable in the sketching out of so numerous and so various facts and events, persons and ideas. But in order to neutralize any tendency to subjectivity which, as a rule, underestimates when it tries to overestimate, the explanation of the principal facts, events, persons, and ideas has been leveled to a criterium already established by native and foreign writers, authorities on the question.

It would be a great moral satisfaction to the author if the present work succeeds in emphasizing the fact, that in our past, so little known, there is still a good deal of ore in which undoubtedly many precious metals lie hidden. It remains for the ore to pass through the smelting process of scientific investigation, through which may be obtained the pure elements which, refined by objective criticism, may regain their genuine brilliancy. But that will be the aim of those who would devote their energy in a more fundamental manner to the study of the history of the past, and who would give a more thorough scientific sifting to the facts, events, ideas, and persons.

One thing is evident a purple clue, dipped in the blood of martyrs, links together all facts and events, and testifies of a persistent struggle of a democratic people to work out its destiny through culture, and of an unceasing effort to come to an understanding with its neighbouring states, and to federate with them. In the string of the recorded events the largest beads standing out most conspicuously are the literature and culture created in Bulgaria, known as Slavic, and the idea of democracy and reformation to which Bulgaria gave birth. In the same string shines out the most resplendent personality not only in the annals of Bulgarian history, but also in those of the history of south-eastern Slavdom, that of Tzar Simeon. Indeed for a time he did check the development of the Slavic spirit of democracy nevertheless, without his firm autocracy, without his fine education and love for learning, without his extensive efforts Bulgaria, Saint Clement and the host of Bulgarian writers would not have succeeded in laying the foundation of Slavic Literature. A patron strong and enlightened, and a state powerful and well organized were needed in the Balkans in order to facilitate and promote the growth of the Slavic alphabet and letters originated by St. Cyril and Methodius, and to stake Slavic civilization to the front. Such a man was Simeon, and such a state was Bulgaria in the IX century. On this all foreign writers of weight, who have studied up this question, are unanimous.

All the more striking is the fact that ten centuries later the same Bulgarian peasant people, with their hands on the plough, rise up to a new life, open up schools, restore their literature and national church, impose their name and ethnical boundaries upon Europe, and win an important place among the nations of the world. This is the grandest and most sympathetic phenomenon in the history of Bulgaria which brings on the scene new facts and new men of action. The new epoch broadens up the Bulgarian horizon and enlarges the list of historical themes which are awaiting the investigation of the diligent student.

On this question, however, as well as on the book's contents in general, it is for the objective criticism to pronounce its verdict. Its comments will be listened to with gratefulness and carefully profited by, whenever an occasion presents itself.

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Addendum I: We shall present a short overview on Byzantine studies in Bulgaria, while having in mind that this is a difficult job and subject matter of much controversies. A Chair in Byzantology still doesn't exist in Bulgarian universities and never did throughout the XX century. The "Lower Empire" or Etat du Bas, as coined by french historiography, was never much popular among the narratives of Bulgarian history which were subjective enough to point out the role of the Bulgarians and not vice-versa in the main storyline. Thus in the domain of Slavdom and mainly within the writings of Russian historians from XIX century, subsequently, the image of Bulgaria in the Middle Ages was that of conceptualizing re-birth and revival, as was traditional for the period of romanticism and revolt. This image was firstly created by antiquarians and then followed by trained historians in various universities of educated Europe. Sometimes it was even work in the hands of artists, as represented in their Renaissance paintings and sculptures. But still a serious work in the literature annals, which aimed to present an arguable well written narrative on Byzantium and its neighboring states lacked in the Slavic historiography by the early 1900s.

So how shall we treat the theme of Byzantine studies in Bulgaria less the heritage of the Western scholarship? Prof. Marin Drinov as first professional historian for Bulgaria was rather parsimonious in his treatment of Byzantium. His mentors in Kharkov russian professors M. Pogodin, O. Bodyanski, I. Sreznevski and others wrote fragmentary on the history of the Middle Ages and mainly themselves using secondary sources. Prof. Konstantin Jirechek from Vienna, holding some administrative chairs in newly liberated Principality of Bulgaria, himself was overburdened by the bias of Slavism and that of his teachers J. Dobrovsky, P. Shafarik, etc. Those first bulgarian professors were good, but not very good in terms of peer criticism that ruled the scientific milieu of pre-modern academic setting. Besides they suffered from deficiency of classical philology training that prevented them to study the original sources in Greek and Latin languages.

In that case we come to the first university scholars of late 19th century Bulgaria. Most of them received their education from abroad and came back to freshly opened Chairs of scholarship. By the official recognition of Kingdom of Bulgaria (1908), Sofia University has become a hearth of well known intellectuals and internationally acknowledged study center. This gave rise to some excellent achievements specifically in the field of Medieval historiography and among them is the four volumes "History of Bulgaria" (1918-1940) from Prof. Vasil Zlatarski, which was collective effort and remained to be studied by students for long years to come. Its appendices contain the most valuable instances on Byzantine history as compared from perspective of bulgarian chronology.

It comes time lately after the WWII to socialist historiography and their concerted effort to present events from Marxist-Leninist approach. There remained some stigma from the pre-capitalist period which was reflected mainly in the works of professors V. Besheliev and I. Dujchev, who were trained classicists and made many contributory articles that appeared in publications abroad. But the central body of knowledge was centered around Prof. Dimitar Angelov and collaborators that wrote voluminous paperwork on Medieval Bulgaria and its relationship, war and diplomatic, with the Byzantine Empire. Thus appeared the first properly named history written by bulgarian author and recalling events on Byzantium D. Angelov's "History of Byzantine State" in three volumes, initially published 1948 and with some revisions until the 1970s.

Thus we come to ethnogenesis and back again. Whatever efforts were made by bulgarian historians in the XX century and this couldn't obliterate the labours of their predecessors. Otherwise said in plain words, some books never die. We should enumerate here three works that were never republished by Bulgarian Academia for many reasons and not least because they were classics. Commentaries on these titles are elsewhere in the booklist but since time evolved and we read through them, new details appear constantly viz., 1) "Yuri Venelin. Critical research on Bulgarian history, from ancient times until year 968. Zemun, 1853". Very precious book, difficult to obtain. The author died young, while visiting Bulgaria in the 1830s remained a dream. Venelin seems to have used many sources, but most important are the Latin originals where among other things he cites lavishly from Einhart's "Life of Charlemagne" and give details from boundary history of the Frankish state in 800 A.D. with bulgarian hordes in the Hungarian plains; 2) "Gavril Krustevich. History of Hunno-Bulgarians. Tzarigrad, 1869". Printed in Turkey, but with bulgarian and greek fonts. It is still difficult to recognize the main authority on Huns history, but obviously french literati De Guignes put the beginning of the Byzantine-Turkic theme. Besides the history of Attila's progeny, the origins of the Bulgarians are traced from his son Irnik; 3) "Hristo Stambolski. Medieval Bulgarian History, as extracted from Lebeau's. Sofia, 1914". Never cited in any catalogue. Le Beau published his "Histoire du Bas-Empire" in 27 vols. from 1756-1779. Stambolski adapted this magnum course while using only the paragraphs where Bulgarians were mentioned and added op. cit. with occasional notes. Amazingly this compilation gave a coherent structure for the medieval Bulgarian kingdom from 450 A.D. when the tribal union was first reported by Movses Khorenatsi of Armenia until year 1462 and the fall of Trapezund.

Two more words to end this article. Alongside the many flaws of the title at hand, we wish to cite an opinion from Le Beau on the the politics of the Byzantines. He called ephemeral states as Bulgaria "Etat Tampon" and added that whomever occurred to be a ruler on the Balkans should learn how to bleed, op. cit.

 

Addendum II: On the occasion of the Treaty of Peace between the Allied Powers and Bulgaria, signed at Neuilly-sur-Seine on 27 November 1919, the Bulgarian government issued three books in English language on the history and culture of that country. These paperbacks were written by outstanding Bulgarian intellectuals and printed in Switzerland. Not so much as courtesy to foreigners but rather as token for scholarly achievement and accomplishment, the titles we are listing bellow were primer for good research, well balanced between national and foreign reference literature and for specific reason giving most up-to-date historical and geographical information.

Mishew, D. Bulgarians in the Past. Lausanne: Librarie Centrale des Nationalites, 1919, 478 pp.

Stephanove, C. Bulgarians and Anglo-Saxondom. Berne: Paul Haupt, 1919, 384 pp.

Rizoff, D. Bulgarians in their Historical, Ethnographical and Political Frontiers (Atlas with 40 Maps). Berlin: Konigliche Hoflithographie, 1919, 74 pp.

The publications of the Bulgarian government remained unwelcome by the conservative community in the state and abroad. King Ferdinand had already abdicated from the country and agrarian government of Alexander Stamboliski lingered for some time before the counter revolution re-established the monarchy again. On international plan Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Russia disintegrated as empire forces, while creating myriad of small satellite states with doubtful political stability. A motto for Eastern Europe became, as expressed by Prof. P. R. Radosavljevich in his book "Who are the Slavs?", that Bulgaria and Hungary are traitors for the Slav world, ditto.

 

Pictures 1 & 2: Sample illustrations on the text above.

(i). "Mishew, D. Bulgarians in the Past. Lausanne: Librarie Centrale des Nationalites, 1919, 478 pp".

 

(ii). "Stephanove, C. Bulgarians and Anglo-Saxondom. Berne: Paul Haupt, 1919, 384 pp".

 

 

Copyright 2009 by the author.