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Default On a Pillar of Sand – The Myth of “Bulgarian Roots” in Macedonia

On a Pillar of Sand – The Myth of “Bulgarian Roots” in Macedonia


Once More into the Fray

To the objective observer who has followed the unending contamination of politics in Macedonia, the events that have unfolded in the country since independence can only be viewed as an absolute tragedy. In addition to being held back from economic development, the Macedonians have been robbed of their dignity and cultural heritage. The culprits responsible for this predicament are found both inside and outside of Macedonia. Although diminishing by the day, the hope of those Macedonians who have maintained their integrity is to end this nightmare as soon as possible so they can right the wrongs inflicted upon them and take back control of their destiny. However, the nightmare is not yet over. The perpetual cowardice of politicians in Macedonia has given way to greed and treachery, leading them back into the footsteps of Judas to beg for another 30 pieces. Only this time, the malevolence of Caiaphas comes not in the form of a rapacious Greece, which has quenched its predatory thirst for now, but as a covetous Bulgaria instead, reigniting the concerns that were encapsulated almost 120 years ago by Krste Misirkov, a prominent Macedonian intellectual.[1] Having traded away the political right of claim to Macedonian antiquity (a part of history that is inseparable from Macedonian popular culture and can never be erased, much to the chagrin of the elites, their collaborators and subordinates), the politicians of Macedonia are now engaged in a similar ploy to officially relinquish the remainder of the country’s distant past.

Calls for the Macedonians to recognise the “Bulgarian roots” of their nation and language continue to emanate from Bulgaria. They grow increasingly louder, as the politicians of Macedonia, eager to seal a deal, plot how best to conceal defeat and humiliation with a façade of false triumph and progress. The phrase “Bulgarian roots,” thrown around haphazardly by Bulgarian historians and their political accomplices, has been a clever use of duplicitous vocabulary that has enabled such charlatans to mask their mendacity for many years. That the actual root of the adjective in that phrase represents a culture and language they would consider totally alien today, matters very little to them. That the people to whom that heritage belonged bear even less relevance to Macedonia is a fact they continuously ignore. Nowhere is the irony more visible than in the actions of Bulgaria’s former Prime Minister. On 1 August, 2019, Boyko Borisov was in Skopje to lay a wreath at the tomb of the legendary Macedonian revolutionary, Goce Delčev. A few months earlier, however, he was celebrating an exhibition of artefacts from the Middle Ages that purportedly belonged to a Turkic ruler who lived in what is today Ukraine.[2] What should be immediately obvious, aside from the fact that neither of them hailed from what is today Bulgaria, is that these historical figures are not even remotely bonded by a common background. Nevertheless, the broad duality of “Bulgarian roots” is such, that it enjoys the propensity to often range from improbability to outright absurdity. Borisov’s statement in relation to the Turkic ruler is another example, where he deliberately blurs the modern distinction between a Bulgarian and a Bulgar for the sake of political expediency. Such a tendency is not uncommon. On 18 August, 2001, Bulgarians from Ukraine erected a monument in Mala Pereshchepina, the village in which the artefacts were found. It was dedicated to Kubrat, a Bulgar from the 7th century, alleged to be the Turkic ruler in question. However, Slavic-speaking Bulgarians only began to settle in Ukraine at the end of the 18th century and most live in the south of the country, at a distance from Mala Pereshchepina. The odd initiative, therefore, would be somewhat analogous to individuals among the Slavic-speaking Russian minority in Gothenburg, who settled in Sweden during the first quarter of the 20th century, dedicating a monument in Roslagen to the ancestors of Rurik, the Scandinavian chieftain who established the original Rus people in what is today Russia.

The ethnonym of the modern Bulgarians derives from the Bulgars, who, as indicated above, were a people of Turkic origin. Nowadays, the “Bulgar” designation is used solely to denote the Turkic Bulgars.[3] The relatively new “Bulgarian” designation,[4] which only gained traction after 1930, is used to denote the descendants of those same Bulgars (and their subjects) who became Christians and adopted the Slavonic language and letters from the disciples of the Macedonian brothers, Cyril and Methodius. These pivotal events are said to have facilitated the integration of diverse populations in Bulgaria,[5] blending the dichotomy of “Bulgarian roots” as a precursor to Bulgarian “ethnogenesis.” This transformative phase,[6] however, also coincided with the period of time that saw much of Macedonia fall within the orbit of Bulgaria, which, by no small measure, contributed to the declining influence of the Bulgar elite.[7] There are some important reasons why this predicament becomes an immediate challenge for the narrative touted by Bulgarian historians. In the short interval between Macedonia coming under the political control of Bulgaria and the advent of Slavonic literacy, a generation had not yet passed in whom the Bulgar identity could take firm root, nor was there a substantial migration of Bulgars into Macedonia. There is also little to be said of an earlier Bulgar element, whose disconcerting presence, like in most of southeast Europe, was either temporary or negligible. Only in Moesia were the Bulgars numerous enough to create a political structure they could dominate themselves. Therein lies an unavoidable problem. By definition, “Bulgarian roots” cannot exist without a pervasive Bulgar element. This simply did not exist in Macedonia. Instead, the developments of that period demonstrate that the appropriation of Macedonia and its personalities, along with the literary language that was based on a southeast Macedonian dialect,[8] were foundational to the establishment of “Bulgarian roots.” Essentially, the Bulgars became Bulgarians in Bulgaria because of Macedonia. The imposition of a superficial Bulgarian (or more accurately, Bulgar) identity on the people and language of Macedonia, on the other hand, had more to do with the politics of Constantinople than it did with the Bulgars themselves.

Since the 19th century, Macedonian and Bulgarian activists have increasingly disagreed about their opposing perspectives on history.[9] Much of the debate has inevitably led back to how people were identified during the Middle Ages and the Ottoman era. The terminology in southeast Europe throughout these periods, whether affiliated with a state, an administrative unit, a religious grouping, a social milieu or within a cultural context, can be misleading, with several historical examples exhibiting a lack of congruency between identities and ancestries.[10] These complexities have often been manipulated by Bulgarian historians, whose outward focus with regard to Macedonia has enabled them to secrete their hypocrisy and evade any real scrutiny. These circumstances, along with the current political debacle, require a shift in the Macedonian position, away from a defensive posture. Instead, they demand a probe into the history of Bulgaria, to unpack the layered mess of shallow talking points and expose the flimsy relationship between the Bulgars, who are the integral component of the “Bulgarian roots” we hear so much about, and Macedonia.


Sons of a Horde and a State That Never Was

The Bulgars were part of a wave of steppe peoples that migrated westward towards Europe during the early Middle Ages. Their language belonged to the Oghur branch of Turkic, which is survived by the Chuvash language spoken in Russia. A number of other Oghur influences continue to exist among the Tatars and Hungarians.[11] The Bulgars were often associated with the Huns, Onogurs, Khazars and other tribes from the Turco-Mongol cultural sphere. Their first mention was in relation to a conflict with the Goths that occurred at the end of the 5th century.[12] In the years that followed, Bulgar mercenaries served as both allies and enemies of the Roman Empire,[13] much like the others who were agitating along the Danube frontier or raiding further south. As the bulk of their people were located further east, these particular Bulgars were either from the western fringe of their settlements on the steppe or former inhabitants of the Hunnic Empire, which met its demise at the hands of Germanic tribes. At some point, they became subjects of the Avars, who had emerged as the dominant force in the Danube basin after defeating the Gepids in the middle of the 6th century and gaining control over a vast realm that roughly corresponded to the core of the earlier Hunnic Empire. The failed siege of Constantinople in 626 eventually led to an increase in tension between the Avars and some of their subject peoples. The Sclavenes in the Avar Khaganate managed to seize part of its western territories around Moravia and create a state under the leadership of Samo.[14]

Perhaps emboldened by the instability to the west and the turbulence occurring in the Western Turkic Khaganate to the east, an individual named Kubrat also rose up against the Avars. This occurred in the mid-630s, around the time of the early encounters between the Roman Empire and Rashidun Caliphate, although it took some years for Kubrat to impose his control on the surrounding tribes. He sent an embassy to Emperor Heraclius to secure a peace treaty and was granted the title of patrician.[15] As he consolidated his power northeast of the Black Sea, Kubrat became the head of a state, referred to by Roman chroniclers as Great Bulgaria.[16] Much has been made about the life of Kubrat and his supposed upbringing. A historical account that associates the Bulgars with the Huns elsewhere, tells a story about an earlier Hunnic chieftain who, together with his nobility, went to Constantinople and accepted Christianity. The chieftain was assigned the rank of patrician before he and his entourage returned to their abode. This may have occurred in 619, as reference to a subsequent event involving Heraclius and the Avars generally aligns with the details of another historical account from the same period.[17] In the mid-620s, during the last years of the war against the Sassanid Empire, Heraclius was known to have temporarily retreated to “the country of the Huns.”[18] Based on the geography of the war, these lands were located east of Anatolia and towards the Caucasus, where a group of Huns was known to reside. Diplomatic relations established only recently would have made it possible for Heraclius to find respite among his new allies. Although some have attempted to identify the aforementioned Hunnic chieftain with Organa, the uncle of Kubrat, neither of them is mentioned in the story. A related hypothesis asserting that Kubrat was baptised as a Christian and spent his childhood in Constantinople is also speculative and based on a flawed interpretation.[19]

After his death, possibly in the mid-660s,[20] the five sons of Kubrat failed to preserve their unity. As their short-lived state disintegrated, four of the brothers took their subordinates and scattered, whereas those that remained with the eldest brother were subdued by the invading Khazars.[21] There are two groups among those who dispersed that warrant particular attention. One was led by Asparukh, who was fortunate to encounter a beleaguered Roman Empire that had recently withstood the sieges at Salonika and Constantinople. Asparukh defeated the Roman troops sent against him and established Bulgaria in 681, a new state located northwest of the Black Sea. Given his ability to take and hold territory around the lower Danube, to subjugate the local Sclavenes and resettle them to the Roman and Avar frontiers, his forces may have numbered at least 10,000 men,[22] although his horde was undoubtedly augmented by accompanying families and later arrivals. Recognising the growing threat, Emperor Constantine IV was obliged to sue for peace and pay Asparukh an annual tribute.[23] The other group of Bulgars found refuge in Pannonia and became subjects of the Avars. The historical accounts do not identify their leader by name, instead only mentioning that both he and Asparukh were sons of Kubrat.[24] This uncertainty spawned a concerted effort on the part of Bulgarian historians to tie the unnamed brother with an obscure individual known as Kuber, for reasons that will become clear in due course.

By the early 7th century, the Roman Empire had endured several incursions into its territory. One historical account refers to an occasion where the Avars and their allies took several captives back to Sirmium, which was located within the Avar Khaganate.[25] Over time, the captives intermarried with Avars, Bulgars and others and passed on the Christian faith to their offspring. After about 60 years had passed, the descendants of this conglomerate, in addition to what remained of the former captives and their partners, became an identifiable group known as the Sermesians (based on their settlement in Sirmium), so the Avars assigned them a chieftain – the aforementioned Kuber. As many of his new subordinates yearned to return to their ancestral homelands, the ambitious Kuber supported the group in a rebellion against the Avars, then led them across the Danube to the Keramesian plain. Bulgarian historians have long argued, incorrectly, that this plain was located in Bitola. The account in question, which was from the perspective of a resident in Salonika, clearly states that Kuber and his group “came to our regions” and occupied the plain, meaning it was in the vicinity of the city.[26] This is further corroborated when it specifies that the Drugoviti tribe (see below) were “situated near us.” Another passage refers to a Roman encampment in the regions west of Salonika so that “the Keramesians, who wished to get away from the Sclavenes and come here, might do so freely and without fear.” That may point to the Salonika plain, which is also west of the city. In any case, having made the long journey, the people wanted to disband the group and continue on to their own cities, some to Salonika, others to Constantinople and elsewhere in Thrace. However, Kuber was unwilling to relinquish his grip on power. At first, he secured an arrangement with the Romans to retain control of the people under his rule and receive provisions from the Drugoviti.[27] However, when most of the people went to obtain the provisions, the majority of those with roots in the region, along with their families, took the opportunity to escape the clutches of Kuber and entered Salonika. With his forces severely depleted, Kuber then planned to take Salonika by deception and deployed an agent named Mauros to the city, with the covert purpose of causing a civil war. Although the latter managed to receive the trust of the Romans, was given command of the people that escaped Kuber and was even honoured with titles, the plot eventually failed. Mauros was stripped of his position and confined to a suburb in Constantinople,[28] whereas Kuber disappeared from history.

The events concerning Kuber became the foundational tale that inspired Bulgarian historians to grasp at new heights of creative extrapolation, surpassing even the usual Balkan standards. Thus, not content with Kuber being the mere son of Kubrat who fled to Pannonia, they also claim he founded a Bulgar “state” in Macedonia around the same time that Asparukh, his alleged brother, established Bulgaria. In what can only be described as an astounding display of naive compliance, one western scholar has accepted this possibility, despite the absence of corroborative evidence.[29] The political motivation behind such an unsubstantiated claim is overt and the implication apparent – it is a shameless attempt to advance an analogous backstory through a link to the Bulgars that would bind Macedonia with Bulgaria at the earliest possible stage. As these assertions have no basis in fact, an array of circumstantial factors is highlighted instead. For example, the activities of Kuber are generally dated to ca. 680. As this broadly coincides with the period following the departure of Kubrat’s sons from Great Bulgaria, it is speculated that Kuber, as a supposed prince, must have been appointed chieftain of the Sermesians shortly after his arrival in the Avar Khaganate. Yet, Kuber is referred to neither as a prince nor as a recent arrival. Moreover, as Kubrat may have revolted against the Avars decades earlier, it is unlikely his son would be afforded such a privileged position so soon after appearing in Pannonia. There is, instead, a higher probability that Kuber arose from among the Bulgars that had been living in the Avar Khaganate long before the fall of Great Bulgaria. Another argument relates to nomenclature and the likeness of Kuber and Kubrat, alluding to a familial connection. This, however, proves nothing beyond a superficial similarity of two names that were likely to have been used by other Bulgars at the time. In the end, one is left to wonder if such emphasis would have been placed on Kuber had the protagonist in the story possessed a different name. Then there is the matter of the non-existent entity.

Following military successes in Asia during the late 680s, Emperor Justinian II broke the unfavourable peace treaty that Constantine IV made with Asparukh, transferred part of his forces from Anatolia to Thrace and campaigned against the Bulgars and the sclavinias,[30] scoring a number of victories as he reached Salonika. As he withdrew back to Constantinople, he was ambushed by the Bulgars and barely escaped with his life.[31] In the following years, Justinian II was deposed and Asparukh was succeeded by Tervel. In 705, Tervel helped restore Justinian II back to the throne. Bulgarian historians and the aforementioned western scholar have used this change in Bulgar policy to argue that Asparukh’s horde did not engage the Romans during the earlier campaign of Justinian II, doubting that Tervel would lend his support to the man who made war on his predecessor. Bulgaria, which was at a distance from the trail the emperor may have taken in Thrace, supposedly enjoyed warm relations with the Roman Empire throughout this period. The assumption, therefore, is that the ambush must have been carried out by Bulgars from the “state” created by Kuber, a revenge attack for their failure to capture Salonika about a decade prior.[32] Setting aside the fact that no such “state” was ever recorded, the sketchy information about the incident could mean the perpetrators were remnants from the times of Kuber and Mauros, or simply rogue marauders. However, given that he had recently established his own state inside of Roman territory as a fait accompli, Asparukh was also capable of deploying raiders to harass the Romans. The unilateral termination of a treaty is an ideal catalyst for conflict and, on that point, the historical accounts are clear. The tenuous relationship between Justinian II and Tervel serves as a cautionary example of just how fickle treaties could be during that period. After being restored to the throne, Justinian II heaped many rewards upon Tervel. However, a few years later, the emperor broke the peace once more. In 711, Tervel came to his aid yet again, although with less enthusiasm than before.[33] The fluid transition between war and diplomacy would remain a common feature in the political interactions between the Roman Empire and Bulgaria.

So, what of Kuber? If the only historical account that mentions him is to be trusted, he and his depleted group of followers were personae non gratae in both the Roman Empire and the Avar Khaganate. That left them with few choices: Bulgaria, the sclavinias or roam and plunder. Given that history is silent about their fates, one could only speculate what became of them, but their obscurity and curious absence in other historical accounts indicates that they were not nearly as significant as made out by Bulgarian historians. Even if one were to grant that Kuber was indeed the unnamed son of Kubrat, it is illogical to suggest that the existence of Asparukh’s state was acknowledged, despite being located on the frontier of the Roman Empire, yet a “state” created by Kuber was never mentioned, even though it apparently bordered on a prominent city like Salonika. The ostensible familial connection and non-existent entity propagated by Bulgarian historians,[34] therefore, amount to nothing more than an attempt to fabricate cohesion for a pretentious narrative. This, of course, has not discouraged misguided enthusiasts, and today, there are maps in circulation from Bulgaria that even outline (!) the location of Kuber’s imaginary “state,” conveniently centred on the Pelagonia plain. When all of the whimsical conjecture is put aside, however, the facts are rather straightforward – there is no evidence that Kuber is Kubrat’s unnamed son and neither of them created a separate Bulgar “state” in Macedonia. Yet, this is not the end of the Kuber saga.


The Madara Horseman and the Perpetually Missing Link

The Madara relief contains an equestrian image carved into the rock of a plateau near the eponymous village in northeast Bulgaria. Around the image are Greek inscriptions that appear to refer to three Bulgar rulers.[35] Earlier scholars considered the relief to be the work of Thracians, among whom the horseman cult featured prominently. However, as one of the inscriptions seems to mentions Tervel, later scholars presumed the image was created at the beginning of the 8th century, thus attributing it to the early Bulgars. To support this thesis, certain nuances have been highlighted to magnify parallels with horseman images from Asian cultures. Yet, the obvious similarity to other depictions of the Thracian horseman is inescapable, leading some to opine that the image at Madara may have stemmed from a hybrid of cultures, namely, Thracian and Bulgar.[36] The inscriptions around the image are not symmetrical and appear as something of an attempt at appropriation by graffiti. Moreover, other equestrian images created by the Bulgars from that period are mediocre and lack the same magnificence and artistic detail that radiates from the image at Madara.[37] Ultimately, the relief cannot be definitively dated and it is doubtful that it would have been associated with the Bulgars had not the Greek inscriptions been present at the site.

According to Bulgarian historians, the inscription to the right of the image describes how Justinian II sought and received the assistance of Tervel to regain his throne in 705, and how he made similar overtures to the uncles of Tervel in Salonika, who refused to provide their support due to a lack of trust. As the theory goes, Kuber was the brother of Asparukh and thus the uncle of the latter’s successor, Tervel. In keeping with the earlier theme, Kuber or his followers refused to lend their support because they had clashed with the emperor around 16 years earlier. This interpretation presents some challenges. To begin with, it presumes that Kuber or his followers were a known presence to be reckoned with, long after their failure to take Salonika 25 years earlier and despite their subsequent disappearance. It also suggests that after they had given up on the Keramesian plain, they settled in Kissos, east of Salonika, for which there is no evidence. There are other issues that raise questions, such as an insulting reference to the emperor as “slit-nosed” in an inscription that is meant to commemorate a successful joint venture,[38] the omission of the accolade that Tervel received in return for his support, upon which he was given the title of Caesar (positioning him next in line for the throne), the rebuke by the uncles without reference to their names or that of their supposed dominion, and the lack of coordination between Tervel and the uncles as it relates to their dealings with Justinian II.

The proposed decipherment, on which this interpretation is based, is also fraught with difficulties. Due to erosion, several letters are either absent or barely legible, whereas sections of the purported context are incoherent. A lack of word dividers and the odd grammar add to the ambiguity.[39] It has been suggested that each of the three Bulgar rulers mentioned at the Madara relief commissioned their own inscriptions. All of them appear to be written in the 3rd person. However, the use of the possessive pronoun in “my uncles” has the inscription about Tervel momentarily switching to the 1st person. This peculiarity has been put down to either writing style or an effort to avoid confusion when multiple persons are referred to in a certain event. Whilst there are similar examples from other inscriptions,[40] it does not explain the feasibility of the same writing style being utilised by different craftsmen separated by over a century. Furthermore, the effort that would have been required for it to be etched at an elevation of over 20 metres up a cliffside does not correlate with the limited importance of a message, per its modern interpretation, that betrays a level of politicisation and seeks to highlight an alleged connection between the early Bulgars and Macedonia through Kuber. This interpretation reads the inscription in isolation or in combination with the even more equivocal inscription to the left of the image, whilst excluding those beneath. However, if all of the inscriptions are understood as being parts of a broader story told by one ruler, then a collective reading may offer the requisite context. This turns the focus to Krum and his successor, Omurtag.

Weakened by internal divisions and encroachment from the outside, most of the Avar Khaganate was conquered by the Franks towards the end of the 8th century and shortly afterwards, Bulgaria subjugated the rest. Located along a common thoroughfare that became a gateway into southeast Europe, Bulgaria was fertile ground for other steppe peoples, who were drawn to the state like they were to its predecessors, the Avar Khaganate and Hunnic Empire, either as a place of refuge, as a staging point to conduct further incursions into the Roman Empire or for other nefarious reasons. This would continue for centuries. The Pechenegs were neighbours of Bulgaria and the confederation that succeeded them was dominated by the Cumans (and Kipchaks). They, in turn, were conquered by the Mongols, whose empire, at its greatest extent, was within striking distance of Bulgaria and facilitated the arrival of the Tatars. All of the above either invaded, settled or had exchanges with Bulgaria, replenishing or reinforcing the Turkic element at various stages. Krum is one such individual who is thought by some to have arrived from Pannonia during the dying days of the Avar Khaganate. If that were indeed the case, it would be ironic given that it was during the reigns of Krum and Omurtag that Bulgaria would acquire the parts of Pannonia and Transylvania that would finally extinguish the last vestiges of Avar sovereignty. Although nothing certain is known about Krum’s past or how he became the ruler of Bulgaria at the turn of the 9th century, some postulate that he was related to the founding dynasty through a mystifying individual named Kermek.[41] The sole reference to the latter comes from a controversial text that was produced by a Volga Tatar. Much of the text is widely regarded as a fabrication, although it is still popular in some Bulgarian circles. In an effort to outdo themselves by way of irresponsible historical adventurism and poor critique, some have even flirted with the notion that Krum is a descendant of Kubrat through an unattested son that Kuber may have left behind once he departed from the Avar Khaganate, disregarding the 120-year time gap.[42] Neither claim, as presented, can be taken seriously. There is no evidence that Krum’s ancestral lineage reached back to the founding dynasty of Bulgaria. As ruler, Krum was in regular conflict with the Roman Empire. Some particular occurrences are worth highlighting. On one occasion, he asked Emperor Michael Rangabe about the terms of the peace treaty established in ca. 716 between Emperor Theodosius III and Kormesios, who was Tervel’s successor. The historical account that refers to this event mentions Tervel again after the reign of Theodosius III, thus, it is possible the former served as co-ruler with Kormesios during the treaty or as his senior advisor who maintained a network in Constantinople.[43] In another instance, Krum was ambushed during peace talks at the behest of Emperor Leo V, but although wounded, he managed to survive and exact his revenge by ravaging Thrace.[44] Afterwards, Krum sent the captured booty back to Bulgaria, where much of it was used for construction and the restoration of areas that had been devastated by war. Most of this work was carried out under the auspices of Omurtag,[45] after peace was restored with the Roman Empire.[46] There is much that can be deduced from these events as it relates to the inscriptions at the Madara relief.

The name Kroumesis (Κρουμεσις) appears to be carved into one of the inscriptions beneath the image. Some assert that it refers to Krum,[47] although one would expect to find the name rendered as Kroumos (Κρουμος) instead.[48] Also, the suggestion of a tribute payment in the same iscription doesn’t align with the dealings that Krum had with the Roman Empire. Others claim it is in reference to the aforementioned Kormesios (Κορμέσιος) and even try to merge him with an obscure character named Kormisosh. The sole reference to the latter comes from another historical account with a penchant for embellishment. In it, Avitohol and Irnik, the supposed ancestors of the early Bulgar rulers who appear to be identified with Attila the Hun and his son, Ernak, lived a combined 450 years.[49] Those who support the Kormesios-Kormisosh theory posit that he reigned as a co-ruler with Tervel and his descendants for an improbable 48 years before becoming sole ruler.[50] Fiction aside, it is worth noting that no single historical account refers to both Kormesios and Kormisosh. The account that mentions the treaty from ca. 716 also refers to the “former lord Kormesios” as the brother-in-law of Sabin, who was involved in the dynastic changes that occurred 45 years later (see below) and ruled briefly before fleeing to the Romans. If Kormesios was still alive at the time, he would have been at an advanced age. This passage may be the source for the figment or character that is Kormisosh. As for the name Kroumesis that appears in the inscription beneath the image, it can be arguably identified with Kormesios when the subtle differences are explained by metathesis and sound changes, for which there are other examples during that period.[51]

It is conceivable that the inscriptions tell of one or more peace treaties arranged by Tervel and Kormesios, both of whom are presumed to have belonged to the original ruling dynasty that established Bulgaria. After the treaty with Theodosius III, the Bulgars managed to maintain peace with the Roman Empire for decades, despite almost becoming embroiled in a coup against Emperor Leo III.[52] An example of these amicable relations is evidenced by the Bulgar slaughter of thousands of soldiers from the Umayyad Caliphate that were besieging Constantinople.[53] However, the inscriptions may also allude to an eventual worsening of relations, possibly connected to the resumption of hostilities in ca. 755, as after a long period of relative calm, tensions arose when Emperor Constantine V, himself of Syrian heritage, settled Syrians and Armenians in Thrace, for whom he built fortified towns. Among the settlers were several Paulicians, a peculiar Christian sect that would, in later years, be reinforced with further population transfers into Thrace and come to influence the Bogomils. Considering the new towns as a potential threat, the Bulgars demanded taxes from the emperor, but after being rebuked, they raided Thrace in retaliation.[54] In ca. 761, they also revolted against their own rulers, prompting many of the Sclavenes to flee to the Roman Empire and triggering a further reaction from Constantine V, who moved against the Bulgars.[55] Around a decade later the Bulgars made an attempt to capture Berzitia. The toponym appears to be related to the name of the Berzites, a tribe who had a presence near Salonika, however, the location of Berzitia is not specified. It may have been in Macedonia or western Thrace, where the administrative unit known as the Macedonia theme was established not long after.[56] The aim of the expedition was to transfer the inhabitants to Bulgaria, however, it was repelled by the Romans. Afterwards, Constantine V referred to the intervention as a “noble war” on account of meeting no resistance and there being no shedding of Christian blood.[57] Several more battles would ensue over the following years until 815, when, coinciding with the return of Iconoclasm in the Roman Empire, Leo V secured a new peace treaty with Omurtag. It is, therefore, quite telling that Omurtag is the third and final Bulgar ruler that appears to be mentioned at the Madara relief, his name partially carved into an inscription on the right corner beneath the image, likely signifying the last part of the overall message and the terminus post quem.

The notion that three separate Bulgar rulers ordered their own respective inscriptions, whilst essential for the narrative of Bulgarian historians, is problematic for practical reasons. It presupposes that in the approximately 100 years between the reigns of Tervel and Omurtag, during which there were alleged to have been up to a dozen other Bulgar rulers according to some estimates, only one decided to add his name at the Madara relief. It also does not explain why a tradition that supposedly began with Tervel was sparsely practiced and suddenly came to a halt with Omurtag. Based on the information available, a far more logical explanation can be deduced, suggesting that Omurtag was responsible for all of the inscriptions at the Madara relief. As cited earlier, Omurtag had undertaken significant building projects in Bulgaria. It is entirely possible that he came across the impressive image at the Madara relief during this process and used it to showcase a storyboard that would magnify his ascent by likening a peace treaty after a long period of conflict and mistrust with similar circumstances endured by the founding dynasty of Bulgaria. If the acknowledgement and parallel was an attempt to affirm his own legitimacy, it may also explain the affectionate reference to “uncles” in one of the inscriptions. The adjusted spelling of Kormesios to Kroumesis, resembling the name of his immediate predecessor, Kroumos (Krum), may also point to an association with Omurtag. Whilst some question the amount of people in Bulgaria capable of reading Greek and propose that the inscriptions at the Madara relief and elsewhere were for a Roman audience, the overwhelming majority of them are in the same language, and as most were located deep in Bulgar territory and far removed from the Roman frontier, it is reasonable to assume that at least part of the population, however limited, could understand what had been written.[58] If Roman dignitaries were the primary target audience at the Madara relief, which they very well may have been, it would make more sense for Omurtag to have been the ruler who commissioned all of the inscriptions, given the mocking reference that was aimed at an emperor whose time had long passed, rather than at one of his contemporaries with whom he enjoyed peaceful relations. The argument that Tervel was responsible for one of the inscriptions due to parallels of sarcasm between the reference to Justinian II as the “slit-nosed” emperor and a later inscription by Krum that refers to Emperor Nicephorus I as the “old bald” emperor,[59] is frail. The two are not sufficiently analogous, as the former is purportedly in reference to collaboration with an emperor and the insult is out of context, whereas the latter is overtly hostile towards an emperor, making the insult clearly in context.

The use of archon as a title, which was applied to all three Bulgar rulers, is likewise revealing. As indicated earlier, the events in the inscription about Tervel led to him being bestowed with the more prestigious title of Caesar by Justinian II – a notable detail that one would not expect to have been omitted if Tervel had been responsible for the inscription himself, particularly given the fact that a lead seal was struck with the same title for that very purpose.[60] As the inscription was obviously created after these events, it made little sense for Tervel to lower his own status on such a grand stage, essentially demoting himself to a governor or a chieftain in the eyes of Constantinople. The idea that Tervel was being self-deprecating to enhance the irony of his reference to the “slit-nosed” emperor, apparently as a jest to disproportionately rebuke Justinian II for their brief confrontation after the latter regained the throne,[61] is difficult to accept. He did, after all, lend his support to the same emperor again a few years later. To think that Tervel would go to such an extent for a cheap piece of comedy, given the location of the Madara relief, seems both remarkable and unlikely. More realistic is the notion that he would have held firm to his claim as presumptive heir to the throne in Constantinople, even if the commitment did turn out to be disingenuous on the part of Justinian II. At the very least, the effort would have been worth the exhibition of sarcasm. It would also be contemporaneous. If Omurtag was responsible for the inscription, on the other hand, his omission of this detail is understandable, for, whilst the “slit-nosed” reference to Justinian II lived on for centuries,[62] the same measure of fame did not come with the accolade that was given to Tervel. In all likelihood, Omurtag was not even aware it, hence the reason why he opted for archon instead, a more familiar term that the Romans had used to designate Bulgar rulers. Another small but important distinction is that Omurtag is the only ruler “by God” mentioned in the inscriptions at the Madara relief. Lastly, and perhaps most compelling, is an artefact found near the Madara relief that contains an inscription bearing the names of Omurtag and Tengri, the Turco-Mongol deity.[63] There are no corresponding examples relative to the two other rulers in the area. On the artefact, Omurtag is referred to as kanasubigi rather than archon. As the former is a Bulgar title, it points to his own people as the target audience.

Whilst this assessment, like the other theories, is largely based on a handful of words that are subject to varied interpretations, it does a have a level of contextual backing. In the end, when predefined notions tainted by political undertones are discarded, it is clear that aside from a few lead seals, which are irrelevant to Bulgar literacy given that they were most likely struck by Roman craftsmen in Constantinople,[64] there is little evidence to suggest that any Bulgar ruler had their name inscribed (in Greek) on a piece of rock, let alone something more prominent like a column or plateau, before the 9th century. Indeed, if the dubious assumptions about the Madara relief are rejected, one would have to accept that the practice began in earnest with Krum and Omurtag, who were the most prolific among the pre-Christian Bulgar rulers when it came to sanctioning inscriptions. As it stands, the current premise of Bulgarian historians with respect to the image and inscriptions at the Madara relief is, quite simply, insufficient. The interpretation is too cryptic to be definitive and does nothing to prove the existence of a Bulgar “state” in Macedonia. There are also no Greek inscriptions commissioned by pre-Christian Bulgar rulers found in Macedonia.[65] At most, there may have been some Bulgars present in a few of the settlements near Salonika during the period in question. Even if new findings are unearthed, it would still leave many questions unanswered.


Saint Trivelius and Crossing the Rubicon

The fixation on Tervel and how he features in the narrative of Bulgarian historians, has one more angle. Around the time of the Renaissance, which was marked by a revived interest in classical history, a tale about a Bulgar ruler-baptiser began to be cultivated in the Catholic west. The character of the story is referred to as Trebelius, a Latin name that also resembles that of a Roman senator from the time of Emperor Nero. Although Boris was the first active ruler of Bulgaria to be baptised and impose Christianity on his subjects, the myth that was propagated in western accounts had Trebelius, an apparent king, facilitating the baptism of the Bulgars. One can only speculate how this obvious error came to be, but the most likely explanation may also be the simplest, namely, somebody jumbled the details about Tervel and Boris when they wrote on the subject of baptism in Bulgaria, inadvertently conjuring a morphed character. Irrespective, the blunder was copied and repeated successively.[66] Such was the common acceptance of this misreading, that Trebelius, as a ruler-baptiser, appears to have become more popular than Boris among some in western Europe. However, the general uniformity of events recorded by western writers, such as the baptism, the retirement to the monastery, the deposition of the older son who wanted to return to paganism and the appointment of the younger son who stayed true to the Christian faith, leaves no doubt that the story is in reference to Boris. In addition to these fables, many of which were produced by members of the Jesuit order, there exists a Benedictine version where, similarly, Trebelius is a Bulgar ruler who became a monk and was subsequently canonised (despite Tervel being neither a martyr nor confessor), further confirming the life of Boris as the source of this concoction.

In the 18th century, the myth about Trebelius found its way to the Orthodox east, where it was further developed. To track the progression, it is important to first understand the background. One of the earliest references to Trebelius as a Bulgar ruler-baptiser was made by Marcus Sabellicus, an Italian historian who wrote the Enneades sive Rhapsodia historiarum at the turn of the 16th century. His work influenced the Croatian historian Vinko Pribojević, who wrote a speech entitled De origine successibusque Slavorum a few decades later. The ideology in that speech inspired other Croats such as Mauro Orbini, who, in 1601, produced a book in Italian known as Il Regno de gli Slavi. In 1701, this moved Pavao Ritter Vitezović to publish his Stemmatographia. In 1741, the latter was translated from Latin to Church Slavonic by Hristofor Žefarovič, an artist from Dojran, Macedonia. In his illustrated Stemmatographia, Žefarovič presented two figures standing by each other, with the captions “Saint David Bulgar Tsar” and “Saint Theoctistus” above them. In this sense, Theoctistus means God-given, i.e., baptiser. This was followed by Paisius of Hilandar and his Slavo-Bulgarian History from 1762, a work that is riddled with historical and chronological inaccuracies, and in some cases, is outright inventive. Paisius wrote of a “Tsar Saint David” and a “King Saint Trivelius” that assumed the mantle of Theoctistus. Not only did he preserve the myth of Trebelius (now Trivelius) by conflating the lives of Tervel and Boris, he referred to the latter as a separate character named Michael-John, né Murtagon (aka Omurtag), inexplicably stating that Bulgaria was baptised twice. To collect material in preparation for his work, Paisius spent time at both the Hilandar and Zograf monasteries in Mount Athos and travelled to the Habsburg Empire. Moreover, he likely had access to both the Stemmatographia of Žefarovič and the Russian translation of Il Regno de gli Slavi that was made in 1722 on the orders of Peter the Great. The myth of Trivelius also permeated some of the Orthodox monasteries in Mount Athos and Bulgaria, where 19th century paintings and frescoes portray him as a monarch and a saint.[67] The common denominator between Žefarovič, Paisius and the iconographers is their religious and monastic affiliation, which meant that they were not only exposed to similar influences, but also to many of the same sources, such as those that perpetuated the myth about Trebelius/Trivelius.

In the 20th century, Bulgarian historians became more aware of this obscure “saint” and have since combined western accounts with their derivatives from the east in an effort to validate the fictitious story about Trivelius. Some have also attempted to highlight the supposed “Christian” aspects in the life of Tervel with the aim of inferring a connection between the two. In pursuit of this goal, they point to Tervel’s collaboration with Justinian II, the offer to marry the emperor’s daughter, the time he spent in Constantinople, the title of Caesar and the lead seal. In addition, the assistance provided to Leo III against the Arabs who were besieging Constantinople is also emphasised.[68] All of this is meant to demonstrate what no historical account ever mentioned in the approximately 800 years between the life of Tervel and the advent of Trebelius, namely, that the former renounced paganism, received his baptism and lived as a Christian. There is no evidence any of that ever occurred. Furthermore, the arguments used to support the thesis are derisory.

Roman emperors often collaborated with non-Christian rulers and solicited their support, there is no indication that the marriage with Anastasia eventuated, and Tervel’s presence in Constantinople, like that of a Khazar ruler, was mostly for collecting tribute.[69] The title of Caesar, having lost its earlier supremacy, was, at that time, applied to the intended successor of the emperor. Such an honour, therefore, was reserved for Christians. This made the case of Tervel unique. Yet, despite however serious Tervel may have viewed the gesture, Justinian II primarily meant it as a snub against his fellow Romans, who, after having earlier betrayed him, were less than welcoming upon his return to Constantinople. Indeed, after their victory, Justinian II had Tervel sit by his side and ordered the Romans to pay homage to them jointly, an insult that was subsequently amplified by the vengeful destruction he inflicted upon his own citizens.[70] It is, of course, possible that Tervel was to be baptised at some point or that Justinian II had a desire for him to become a friendly Christian ally, but if such aspirations existed, they never materialised. Nor are they mentioned in the earliest and most reliable historical accounts that frequently make reference to the baptism of others, such as Telerig, a former Bulgar ruler who fled to the Romans.[71] That Justinian II was never really sincere about Tervel being his heir can be seen in the actions he took after resuming his place on the throne. Once the latter was back in his abode, the emperor crowned his Khazar wife and young son, basically outranking Tervel.[72] All further doubt was erased when Justinian II instigated an armed conflict against the Bulgars a few years later.[73] Tervel, therefore, was not designated as Caesar because of his religion, but in spite of it. As for the lead seal, with the invocative monogram representing “Mother of God, lend Thy aid,” the inscription that reads “Tervel Caesar” and the image depicting him in imperial garb, closely resembling emperors Constantine IV and Tiberius III,[74] its Christian symbolism was clearly a product of Roman propaganda and thus superficial relative to Tervel. A somewhat comparable item can be found in the golden medallion of Omurtag, where his image in imperial attire, with a cross in the right hand, is also modelled on Roman emperors such as Nicephorus I and Michael II. Contrary to the lead seal of Tervel, however, the medallion of Omurtag appears to have been struck in Bulgaria rather than Constantinople, uses a combination of Latin and Greek letters, and refers to Omurtag as kanasubigi, the same Bulgar title on the artefact that was found near the Madara relief.[75] This was clearly an attempt to emulate the culturally advanced Romans, and whilst the Christian symbolism is palpable, it remains superficial, as Omurtag was known to have worshipped Tengri and had severely persecuted Christians in Bulgaria.[76]

Notwithstanding all of the above, some Bulgarian historians continue to lend credence to both the myth about Trivelius and the superfluities about Tervel. Others still, insist that the conjured amalgamation was a defender of the Christian faith and of Europe itself. The latter view is particularly noticeable among the religious community in Bulgaria. In 2011, beneath the heading Holy Bulgarian Tsar Trivelius (Theoctistus) - Khan Tervel, the official website of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church went so far as to announce the consecration of a newly built temple in honour of this fabricated abomination.[77] It was the first of its kind and unsurprisingly, the designated location was the village of Madara. Devoid of any logic or historical accuracy, part of the announcement states that this character was proclaimed Caesar for repelling the invasion of the Arabs, even though Tervel received the title from Justinian II over a decade before the siege of Constantinople that occurred during the reign of Leo III. Shortly after its self-inflicted exposé, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church doubled down by supporting an exhibition where Tervel-Trivelius was lauded as the “saviour of Europe.”[78] With the delusion being contagious, the following year saw the establishment of the Saint Trivelius Christian Institute, a Protestant-inspired entity based in Sofia, Bulgaria, considered to be a continuation of an earlier bible academy and theological faculty. In offering up an explanation on the choice of name for this entity, its leader refers to Paisius and regurgitates much of the same drivel that one has come to expect from the creative “intellectuals” associated with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Thus, not only is Tervel known as Trivelius, he is honoured in the Catholic and Orthodox worlds as a protector saint of Europe, who, at the height of his power, decided to forsake glory for humility by retreating to a monastery near Ohrid in Macedonia so he could live out the remainder of his days as a monk.[79] There is, of course, no evidence that Tervel ever stepped foot inside of Macedonia, let alone retire to some imaginary monastery in Ohrid. Astonishingly, the vision of the Saint Trivelius Christian Institute is to become a “world-class institution of higher education.” Any benign thought of characterising this spectacle as ignorance, therefore, must make way for the sober realisation that what we have here is an initiative that is motivated by sinister intentions. Ultimately, all efforts to present Tervel as a “Christian” ruler have been futile and scant inferences about the supposed canonisation of Trivelius are feeble, for good reason. Given the original story about Trebelius and its unquestionable link with Boris, who actually was awarded with sainthood after his death, the very concept of a “saint” Trivelius who is identified with Tervel appears to be one of the more resilient frauds in church history that is wholly embraced by members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and some of their Protestant colleagues.

These days, the Bulgarian narrative casts a wide net. Quite often, it is held together by the thinnest of threads, or not at all. To be sure, national histories are seldom clear-cut. It is fairly normal for a country to rely on some estimation to elucidate their narrative, so long as the context provided behind certain events and developments is reasonable and tied to demonstrable outcomes. This is not the case with Bulgaria. The mental gymnastics required to articulate the subterfuge about Kuber and Tervel, with the deceptive purpose of making them appear fundamental to the study of Macedonian history, is all too evident. Not only do such farcical assertions bank on a patchwork of insinuations and half-truths, they are marred by a medley of nationalistic innuendo and patent irredentism. No matter how they are presented, they cannot be tied up in a neat little bow. Alas, having been engineered over many years, these inadequately challenged renditions have infested Bulgarian society and are now lore in the country. Bulgarian historians and their political accomplices, skilled at projecting whilst concealing their own flaws, have weaponised this dogma and caused irreparable damage to the mentality of their fellow citizens, forever poisoning their minds about Macedonia. Few among them will ever bother to seek the actual truth. Those and others that do will inevitably reach a conclusion that departs from the fallacious narrative about the so-called “Bulgarian roots” in Macedonia.


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Notes and References

[1] Krste Petkov Misirkov, On Macedonian Matters, p. 60.
[2] In a Twitter post on 24 May, 2019, Borisov wrote of “our roots,” “our culture,” and “symbols of the [sic] Bulgarian origin” in reference to the so-called Pereshchepina Treasure, unearthed near Poltava, Ukraine in 1912. A number of the objects have been dated to the 7th century, a period in which Turkic peoples such as the Bulgars and Khazars were a dominant element in the area.
[3] Uwe Fiedler, The Other Europe in the Middle Ages, Bulgars in the Lower Danube region. A survey of the archaeological evidence and of the state of current research, p. 151 n. 1.
[4] The variation from “Bulgar” to “Bulgarian” cannot be found in Slavonic, Latin and Greek documents from the Middle Ages or in the Balkan languages of the modern period. Not even speakers of the modern Bulgarian language use such a variation, instead they add a (proto-) prefix to differentiate between the two.
[5] Fiedler, Other Europe, p. 151.
[6] Vasil Zlatarski, History of the First Bulgarian Empire, V1, P2, p. 66.
[7] Zlatarski, History, V1, P2, p. 76.
[8] Horace Lunt, Old Church Slavonic Grammar, p. 3.
[9] Petko Rachev Slaveykov, The Macedonian Question, Newspaper Makedonija, Istanbul, 18/01/1871.
[10] For example, in the Middle Ages, many among the Christian aristocracy from the east and west of Europe referred to themselves as Romans, despite very few of them having a genuine Roman ancestry. In turn, they disparagingly referred to each other as Greeks and Latins, despite the majority of their subjects possessing different ethno-linguistic origins. During the Ottoman era, people within the empire were often associated with a religious group whereas those in the west of Europe were referred to as Franks, despite their varied backgrounds.
[11] Peter Golden, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, pp. 95-97, 260, 393-395; Peter Golden, Studies on the Peoples and Cultures of the Eurasian Steppes, pp. 30, 164.
[12] The first written reference to the Bulgars in relation to these events came from chroniclers who wrote in the 6th century, such as Ennodius of Pavia, Cassiodorus Senator and Marcellinus Comes.
[13] Despite being referred to as the Byzantine Empire by modern historians, the eastern part of the Roman Empire considered itself as the continuation and legitimate successor of the earlier unified Roman Empire.
[14] Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs, p. 109.
[15] Patriarch Nicephorus I of Constantinople, Short History, 22.
[16] Nicephorus, Short History, 35; Theophanes the Confessor, The Chronicle, 357.
[17] Nicephorus, Short History, 9; Theophanes, Chronicle, 301.
[18] Theophanes, Chronicle, 310.
[19] Shamil Mingazov, Kubrat – Ruler of Great Bulgaria, Qetrades - Character of John of Nikiu, pp. 25-28.
[20] Among other objects from the aforementioned Pereshchepina Treasure, there are rings inscribed with monograms, one purportedly referring to Kubrat and another to his status as a patrician. The idea that the artefacts were part of Kubrat’s tomb was advanced by German archaeologist Joachim Werner, see Fiedler, Other Europe, p. 152. Those who agree with Werner also concede there are critics who reject his interpretation, see Georgios Karadas, Byzantium and the Avars, 6th–9th Century AD, p. 100 n. 76; Péter Somogyi, The Other Europe in the Middle Ages, New remarks on the flow of Byzantine coins in Avaria and Walachia during the second half of the seventh century, p. 128 n. 150. For an alternative view and reading of the monograms, the conjecture surrounding the current decipherment and provenance of the rings, see Oleksii Komar, A Gold Buckle from Bohdan Khanenko’s Collection, Notes on the History of the Mala Pereshchepina Complex (2018).
[21] Nicephorus, Short History, 35; Theophanes, Chronicle, 358.
[22] Zlatarski, History, V1, P1, p. 188; Dimitar Angelov, Formation of the Bulgarian nation, pp. 203-204.
[23] Nicephorus, Short History, 36; Theophanes, Chronicle, 359.
[24] Nicephorus, Short History, 35; Theophanes, Chronicle, 357.
[25] Miracles of Saint Demetrius, Book II.
[26] John Fine, The Early Medieval Balkans, p. 45.
[27] Tomo Tomoski, Records about the Drugoviti in Macedonia (1996). Initially opposed to the Roman Empire, the Drugoviti, identified as a tribe of Sclavenes, were eventually associated with a bishopric and administrative unit. Centuries later, their name would be recorded as far as the Polog Valley, in northwest Macedonia.
[28] A lead seal bearing the inscription “Mauros, Patrician and Archon of the Sermesians and Bulgars,” may be from ca. 700 or possibly later, see Nicolas Oikonomides, A collection of dated Byzantine lead seals, p. 38. Another reference to a patrician named Mauros was made in relation to events that occurred in ca. 711, see Nicephorus, Short History, 45; Theophanes, Chronicle, 379. It has been suggested that both are linked to Kuber’s agent, Mauros, despite the lapse in time and fate of the latter in Miracles, Book II. An alternative view is that these cases refer to Mauros’ son or a completely different character with the same name.
[29] Fine, Medieval Balkans, p. 72.
[30] Sclavinias were autonomous enclaves in southeast Europe, linked to the name of the Sclavenes. They later became tributaries to other entities in the region until they were eventually absorbed by the surrounding states.
[31] Nicephorus, Short History, 38; Theophanes, Chronicle, 364. There is no reference to the ambush by the former. The latter states it occurred on the road at a narrow mountain pass.
[32] Fine, Medieval Balkans, p. 72.
[33] Nicephorus, Short History, 45.
[34] Zlatarski, History, V1, P1, pp. 173-174, 207-209. Zlatarski was one of the earliest proponents of the exaggerated Kuber fable and his perspective has since become an article of faith for Bulgarian historians.
[35] The majority of pre-Christian Bulgar inscriptions were written in Greek. Those supposedly in the Bulgar language with Greek script are rare. Other inscriptions containing runes that resemble the Orkhon-Yenisei Turkic script remain largely undeciphered, see Fiedler, Other Europe, p. 191.
[36] Slavi Donchev, The Madara Horseman (1981).
[37] Veselin Beshevliev, Bulgar Inscriptions, Appendices 190-191.
[38] The inscription appears to include the word “rinokopimenon” (ῥινοκοπιμένον), i.e., slit-nosed, allegedly in reference to Justinian II. He was also known as “rinotmetos” (ῥινότμητος), with the same meaning. This disparaging moniker was conjured after he was deposed and disfigured by the same political opponents that Tervel helped him defeat.
[39] Although there are various interpretations of the inscriptions at the Madara relief, today, many scholars who study the period simply defer to Beshevliev’s reading, even though a substantial amount of conjecture has been built into his interpretation so it can align with historical accounts from the Middle Ages.
[40] Beshevliev, Inscriptions, p. 58. Most of the comparative examples introduce the ruler in the 3rd person, then continue the rest of the inscription in the 1st person. Some are completely in the 3rd person. Only two are somewhat analogous with the writing style of the inscription about Tervel. One of them is about Omurtag only so the alteration between the 3rd person and 1st person is used for a reason other than avoiding confusion, see Beshevliev, Inscriptions, pp. 207-215. no. 56. The other one is only applicable if attributed to Malamir rather than another child or dependant of Omurtag, see Beshevliev, Inscriptions, pp. 135-140. no. 13. In all three cases, the aforementioned writing style is, either directly or indirectly, associated with Omurtag.
[41] Cäğfär Taríxı (ca. 17th century).
[42] Fine, Medieval Balkans, p. 94. Whilst acknowledging it as idle speculation, Fine states it is “tempting to associate” Krum with Kubrat and Kuber, emboldening others to perpetuate such baseless theories.
[43] Theophanes, Chronicle, 400, 497. Theophanes refers to Kormesios as κύριος when Krum (whom he refers to as ἄρχηγός) enquires about the earlier peace treaty with Theodosius III, which may suggest that Kormesios held a junior position compared to Tervel, see Beshevliev, Inscriptions, p. 113.
[44] Theophanes, Chronicle, 503.
[45] Beshevliev, Inscriptions, pp. 207-224. nos. 56, 57.
[46] Beshevliev, Inscriptions, pp. 164-175. no. 41. For further reference to the 30-year peace treaty, see Theophanes Continuatus, Reign of Leo the Armenian, 20; John Scylitzes, Synopsis of History, 37.
[47] Kiril Petkov, The Voices of Medieval Bulgaria, Seventh-Fifteenth Century, p. 5. Petkov’s interpretation should be treated with caution given his specious take on a certain “Tarasius, Hypatos and Archon of the Kibyrraiotai” (spelt Κυβεριοτῶν in the relevant lead seal). He claims that Tarasius defected from Kuber and identifies the Kibyrraiotai with the “Kouberians” (i.e., followers of Kuber), even constructing a fanciful backstory, see Petkov, Medieval Bulgaria, p. 2. In actual fact, Tarasius and the Kibyrraiotai were associated with an administrative unit in Anatolia, see Dumbarton Oaks, Online Catalogue of Byzantine Seals, BZS.1955.1.663.
[48] Beshevliev, Inscriptions, pp. 117, 136. nos. 2, 12.
[49] Nominalia of Bulgar Rulers, Uvarov Transcript (ca. 15th century). Notable discrepancies exist between the Nominalia, Cäğfär, Short History and Chronicle. The Nominalia and Cäğfär (which mentions a character named Korumdjes) may have either referred to vague (or invented) figures or their creators misinterpreted information from other sources. The Roman chronicles, on the other hand, are from an earlier period and generally more consistent.
[50] Beshevliev, Inscriptions, p. 114.
[51] Beshevliev, Inscriptions, p. 111.
[52] Nicephorus, Short History, 57; Theophanes, Chronicle, 400.
[53] Theophanes, Chronicle, 397.
[54] Nicephorus, Short History, 73; Theophanes, Chronicle, 429.
[55] Nicephorus, Short History, 75-77; Theophanes, Chronicle, 432-433.
[56] Florin Curta, Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250, p. 88; Florin Curta, Were there any Slavs in seventh-century Macedonia? Journal of History, p. 64.
[57] Theophanes, Chronicle, 447.
[58] Florin Curta, Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages 500–1300, p. 577; Fiedler, Other Europe, p. 191.
[59] Curta, Eastern Europe, p. 577; Beshevliev, Inscriptions, p. 122; Petkov, Medieval Bulgaria, p. 6. Beshevliev believes Krum was referring to Nicephorus I due to the latter’s advanced age at the time, whereas Petkov suggests it was in reference to Michael Rangabe.
[60] Nicephorus, Short History, 42; Dumbarton Oaks, Online Catalogue of Byzantine Seals, BZS.1958.106.4932.
[61] Curta, Eastern Europe, p. 78 with n. 4.
[62] Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio, 22.
[63] Beshevliev, Inscriptions, pp. 131-132.
[64] In addition to Mauros, lead seals with the title of patrician were also given to other Bulgars. For Bayan, possibly the brother of a Bulgar ruler named Toktu, who was appointed by Constantine V, see Beshevliev, Inscriptions, p. 248; Nicephorus, Short History, 79. For Telerig, the former Bulgar ruler who fled to Leo IV, see Beshevliev, Inscriptions, p. 247; Theophanes, Chronicle, 451. Tervel’s lead seal is the only one of its kind for an active Bulgar ruler, see Fiedler, Other Europe, p. 191.
[65] A late inscription (currently survived in plaster print only) unearthed near Balshi, Albania, appears to commemorate the baptism of Boris and the Bulgars. If it was created in the same area, it may suggest Macedonia was part of Boris’ realm by that stage.
[66] Perhaps unrelated, but erroneous theories also exist about the establishment of Bulgaria. One infers that Tervel (although not mentioned by name, clearly him given the emperor and events in question) was its first ruler, see Leo the Deacon, The History, 6, 9.
[67] Vesselina Vachkova, The Bulgarian Theme in Constantinople’s Monuments, p. 12.
[68] Vachkova, Bulgarian Theme, pp. 6-16; Raya Zaimova, The Catholic Khan Tervel? (2005).
[69] Curta, Eastern Europe, p. 132; Scriptores Originum Constantinopolitanarum, pp. 39–40.
[70] Nicephorus, Short History, 42.
[71] Theophanes, Chronicle, 451.
[72] Nicephorus, Short History, 42; Theophanes, Chronicle, 375.
[73] Nicephorus, Short History, 43; Theophanes, Chronicle, 376.
[74] Fiedler, Other Europe, p. 192.
[75] Fiedler, Other Europe, p. 192-193.
[76] Scylitzes, History, 117.
[77] See https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/44398
[78] See https://bg-patriarshia.bg/news/46594
[79] See http://trivelius.com/?page=about&id=36&lang=2
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Old 09-14-2021, 01:20 AM   #2
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Very interesting read, covered a lot I had no clue about. Is this an original piece of yours SoM?
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Old 09-14-2021, 02:41 AM   #3
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Yes, it is. Which parts were you previously not aware of? I'd be interested to know.
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Old 09-14-2021, 05:14 AM   #4
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Very well researched and worded on your part then, deserves publication.

I was not really aware of any of the medieval history of Bulgaria, especially their historical claims of a "Bulgarian state" under Kuber in Macedonia.
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Old 09-23-2021, 01:53 AM   #5
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A state that never existed, fabricated genealogies, dubious baptisms, and an urge to bridge the gaps of reality with fiction. That is what one may expect to find when breaking down the modern Bulgar (“Bulgarian”) narrative about the early Bulgars. The case of the imaginary Bulgar “state” in Macedonia is an outstanding example of lunacy. There is no documented record to prove it existed. Not even a hint. Nor is it certain where Kuber and the Sermesians settled (or for how long). The Miracles of Saint Demetrius, which is the only source that mentions Kuber, appears to point to a location near Salonika. Yet, modern Bulgar historians like Vasil Zlatarski, who is largely responsible for the fabricated Kubrat-Kuber affiliation and the lie about a Bulgar “state” in Macedonia, prefer Bitola as the candidate because they think it strengthens their claim to the Macedonian heartland. To be fair, they aren’t the only ones to have put forth such groundless assertions. Ivan Mikulčić, a Croatian archaeologist who moved to Macedonia during Yugoslav times, claimed that Kuber went to Prilep and then settled in southeast Albania. He bases this on findings that are dated to the 7th and 8th centuries, claiming those in Prilep “probably” belonged to the Kutrigurs and those in southeast Albania were treasures that Kuber captured from the Avars. The Kutrigurs, like the Bulgars, were a Turkic horde that also invaded southeast Europe, ergo, they must have been Kuber’s people. A great story, except the Miracles of Saint Demetrius mentions neither Avar treasures nor Kutrigurs in relation to Kuber’s activities in Macedonia. The work that Mikulčić has done in the field of archaeology may be commendable, but his attempt to tie such findings to certain historical events is intellectually lazy and relies on the opinion of others such as Joachim Werner, the German archaeologist who associated Kubrat with the Pereshchepina treasure in Ukraine.

I am not particularly concerned by the possibility that some early Bulgars may have had a presence in Macedonia at some point (although which groups and their precise locations are questionable, as outlined above), as their Turkic kinsmen raided across much of southeast Europe at various stages and everywhere, bar Moesia, they melted away into irrelevance. What bothers me is how this one particular group that disappeared into obscurity is afforded a disproportionate amount of devotion, all because some people who present themselves as objective scholars have decided to place contemporary irredentism ahead of historical reality. I spent a considerable amount of time reading through primary accounts and secondary sources. The former didn't contain a single piece of evidence to support the existence of a separate Bulgar “state” in Macedonia. The latter offered a staggering magnitude of conjecture. I would challenge anybody with an interest in the topic that has read the initial write-up on this thread to conduct their own research and determine if it is possible to characterise this charade about Kuber as anything other than an absurd lie.
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Old 10-12-2021, 07:15 PM   #6
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You should publish this somewhere!
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Old 10-14-2021, 05:29 AM   #7
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This is only one part of a broader project. There are two more instalments in progress that are due to be posted in the coming months and will cover subsequent historical periods. They will likely be published at some point down the track (with modifications), but for now, they can serve as a collective example of serious research here at the MTO. Appreciate the suggestion nonetheless. It is a shame that more scholars from Macedonia have not taken this approach towards the history of Bulgaria. They have dedicated a disproportionate amount of time being defensive when they should have directed some of the effort at exposing the foundations of the weak narrative used to attack Macedonia. Hence the title.
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Old 10-14-2021, 07:39 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Soldier of Macedon View Post
This is only one part of a broader project. There are two more instalments in progress that are due to be posted in the coming months and will cover subsequent historical periods. They will likely be published at some point down the track (with modifications), but for now, they can serve as a collective example of serious research here at the MTO. Appreciate the suggestion nonetheless. It is a shame that more scholars from Macedonia have not taken this approach towards the history of Bulgaria. They have dedicated a disproportionate amount of time being defensive when they should have directed some of the effort at exposing the foundations of the weak narrative used to attack Macedonia. Hence the title.
Well highlighted.
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