Czar Samuel of Bulgaria

The remains of the Basilica of Agios Achillios in Lake Prespa, where Samuil’s grave was found


Seemingly the youngest of the Kometopouloi; tsar of Bulgaria; died Prilep 6 Oct. 1014.

He ruled the area of Ohrid with his brothers, then alone after 987 or 988 -as ‘basileus’ after 996 or 997.

He reestablished the Bulgarian patriarchate at Ohrid.

Primarily, he struggled for independence against Byzantium. P.Tivcev (BBulg 3 [1969] 42) hypothesizes that ca.981 Samuel invaded Greece, then (between 982 and 986, according to G.Litavrin Kek.512) Thessaly, where he seized Larissa. Exploiting Basil II’s involvement in the struggle with Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas, Samuel expanded his realm. The peak of his success was his victory over Basil at Trajan’s Gate.

From 991 Basil waged systematic war against Samuel. Despite the victory of Nikephoros Ouranos over Samuel at the Spercheios River (996 or 997), the struggle was indecisive. Basil tried to attract the Serbs as allies against him (G.Ostrogorsky, Byzantion 19 [1949] 187-94) and made generous promises to Bulgarian aristocrats.

From 1001 the Byzantine offensive was continuous. Basil invaded the regions of Serdica, Macedonia, Vidin, Skopje (1004), and Dyrrachion (1005). The decisive blow fell in July 1014, when Basil annihilated the Bulgarian army as Belasica (Greek: Kleidion); allegedly 14,000 captives were blinded and sent to Samuel. Unable to endure the sight of this sorrowful procession, he died in two days.

The controversy over whether Samuel created a Macedonian, West Bulgarian, or Bulgarian state is ahistorical, as it projects modern ethnic distinctions onto the past.

A.Kazhdan, C.M.Brand,

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (1991), vol.3

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