THE GOLDEN AGE OF MEDIAEVAL BULGARIA
The third son of Kniaz Boris I - Simeon (893 - 927) is the first Bulgarian ruler educated in the Christian tradition. After his primary schooling, he was sent to Constantinople to study the disciplines of the so-called first cycle of scholarship - grammar, poetry and rhetoric. Later he went to the famous Magnaur School where he mastered the classical subjects - literature, arithmetic, astronomy and music. But his plans for a church career failed.
In 893 fate destined him to be head of state. In the Bulgarian throne sat an erudite ruler who knew perfectly well the government in Constantinople and the goals of Byzantine policy.
In the first ten years the Bulgarian kniaz expanded the territory to the south and the southwest. For the first time Bulgarian frontiers reached up to the Adriatic Sea.
In 894 Simeon started "the first economic war in mediaeval Europe" with the Empire for the transfer of the Bulgarian market-place from Constantinople to Thessalonica. It ended with a peace treaty in 904, according to which the Emperor of Byzantium Leo VI pledged to pay a yearly tax to the Bulgarian sovereign. The frontier of Bulgaria with Byzantium was moved to the town of Thessalonica. Thus, at the beginning of the 10th c., the Bulgarian state dominated over the entire Balkan Peninsula.
Simeon decided to be a Byzantine emperor and to build a Bulgarian-Byzantine Empire. In 913 his army reached Constantinople. Unable to resist, the Byzantines started negotiations. In one of the palaces of the Byzantine capital the Patriarch of Constantinople bestowed on Simeon the title "King of the Bulgarians", equal to that of emperor. For the first time a Slavic ruler had the title of king.
Not long after that Byzantium rejected the agreement and military actions were resumed. The Bulgarian kingdom and the Byzantine Empire faced a decisive battle.
In the summer of 917 the large Byzantine army started its march against Bulgaria. On 20 August, near the River Aheloy (by the village of the same name near Burgas), the Bulgarian army defeated the Byzantines in a bloody battle. This terrible made Byzantium look for the help of the Serbs in order to divert the attention of the Bulgarian king. But after a few punitive attacks, in 924 Simeon conquered Serbia as well. The Bulgarian kingdom reached its greatest territorial expansion. It bordered on the shores of the Black, the Aegean and the Adriatic Sea.
During the preparation for a new march, Simeon died on 27 May 927. With his military victories he deserved the name of Simeon the Great. His deeds became a model for many successive Bulgarian rulers.
His reign is marked also by a rapid flourish of Bulgarian culture. Many churches and monasteries were built all over his kingdom and they became I centres of Bulgarian literature, art and crafts.
Within 27 years he erected the new capital - Great Preslav. The town was built in the place of an old settlement, an aul. During Simeon's rule its fortified area was additionally expanded and new protective structures were added. In the Inner town, surrounded with a high solid wall, appeared a magnificent court complex. During that period were created masterpieces of church architecture. Probably the most interesting of them is the Circular Church. Its major part, the so-called naos, is round and covered with a dome, supported by 12 marble columns. The interior is richly decorated with mosaics and painted tiles, karst cornices and variegated marble details. Several monasteries existed in the capital in the 10th c. In some of them were developed workshops, which produced the famous Preslav painted ceramic. It was used predominantly for internal decoration of church and public buildings and the tiles were arranged in colourful panels of various sizes. One of the most beautiful products of this style is the large ceramic icon of St. Theodore Stratilates, which is kept in the Archeological Museum in Sofia.
There were also workshops for the production of exquisite gold and silver objects. An impressive proof of the perfect craftsmanship of the goldsmiths is the Preslav gold treasure, discovered in 1978. It includes 150 gold and gilded silver objects.
The admiration for Preslav and its ruler has found best expression in the "Shestodnev" by the mediaeval educator loan Exarch (10th c.): "When a stranger or a poor foreigner comes to the towers of the king's palace and sees it, he is dumbfounded. Stepping up to the gates he is spellbound and entering the town, seeing the buildings on both sides, decorated with stone and wood, he is deprived of words.
And when he enters the palace and sees the magnificent constructions and the churches richly decorated with stone, wood and various colours on the outside and on the inside - with copper, silver and gold, he cannot compare them to anything because he has seen nothing but straw huts. The poor man is left stupefied and without words.
If he happens to see the king, sitting in his mantle covered with pearls, with a gold chain round his neck, bracelets on his hands, wearing a velvet sash and the sword hanging by his thigh, boyars with gold necklaces, bracelets and sashes, sitting on both sides, when he goes back to his homeland and when asked: "What did you see there?", he would answer: "I don't know what to say. You can enjoy that beauty and order only with your own eyes".
Great Preslav and the whole area turned into a centre of a new culture, based on the Slavic language, which was established as an official language and language of service. The books written by the disciples of Cyril and Methodius and their students in Bulgaria set the foundations of Old Bulgarian literature. Simeon himself took part in this spiritual enterprise not only as an inspirer but also as a competent writer. The cultural achievements of the "Golden Age" of King Simeon the Great completely transformed Bulgaria from a "barbaric" state into a Christian kingdom.
The successor of King Simeon the Great, King Peter (927 - 969) started a new policy towards Byzantium. In 927 he concluded a peace treaty with the Empire, fastened together by marriage with the granddaughter of Emperor Roman I Lakapin - Maria. His title of king was recognized and the Bulgarian Church became a Patriarchy. Byzantium was to pay him yearly tax and for 40 years peace settled between the two countries. Under King Peter Bulgaria waged wars with the Hungarians and lost part of its territories beyond the Danube. In 968 - 969, incited by the Byzantine Emperor Nikoforas II Foca (963 - 969), the Prince of Kiev Svetoslav I (945 - 972) led his army in a march south of the Danube. Various heretic teachings like the Bogomil movement and hermits spread in the country.