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Asen dynasty

Asen dynasty

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The Asen dynasty ruled a medieval Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

n state, called in modern historiography the Second Bulgarian Empire
Second Bulgarian Empire
The Second Bulgarian Empire was a medieval Bulgarian state which existed between 1185 and 1396 . A successor of the First Bulgarian Empire, it reached the peak of its power under Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II before gradually being conquered by the Ottomans in the late 14th-early 15th century...

, between 1187 and 1280.

The Asen dynasty and the Second Bulgarian Empire rose as the leaders of a rebellion against the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 at the turn of the year 1185/1186 caused by the increase in the Imperial taxes.

Early rulers from the Asen dynasty (particularly Kaloyan) referred to themselves as "Emperor
An emperor is a monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife or a woman who rules in her own right...

s of Bulgarians and Vlachs
Vlach is a blanket term covering several modern Latin peoples descending from the Latinised population in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. English variations on the name include: Walla, Wlachs, Wallachs, Vlahs, Olahs or Ulahs...

". Later rulers, especially the successful Ivan Asen II, styled themselves "Tsar
Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

s (Emperor
An emperor is a monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife or a woman who rules in her own right...

s) of Bulgarians and Greeks".

Some members of the Asen family entered Byzantine service in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries.The name also occurs as a family name in modern Greek, and could go back to the same name.

Rulers from the Asen dynasty

Ivan Asen I (Asen) 1187 - 1196
Teodor I Peter IV 1186 - 1197
Kaloyan (Ioanitsa) 1197 - 1207
Boril of Bulgaria
Boril reigned as emperor of Bulgaria from 1207 to 1218. He was the son of an unnamed sister of his predecessor Kaloyan.-Biography:It is unclear whether Boril was party to the murder of Kaloyan in front of the walls of Thessalonica in 1207, but Kaloyan's intended heirs, his nephews Ivan Asen and...

(Boril Kaliman)
1207 - 1218
Ivan Asen II 1218 - 1241
Kaliman I Asen
Kaliman I of Bulgaria
Kaliman Asen I , reigned as emperor of Bulgaria from 1241 to 1246. Kaliman Asen I was the son of Ivan Asen II and Anna Maria of Hungary. His maternal grandparents were Andrew II of Hungary and Gertrude of Merania....

1241 - 1246
Michael II Asen 1246 - 1256
Kaliman II Asen
Kaliman II of Bulgaria
Kaliman Asen II , or commonly, but less accurately Koloman Asen II, ruled as emperor of Bulgaria for a short time in 1256. The year of his birth is unknown....

Mitso Asen 1256 - 1257
Constantine Asen
Constantine Tikh of Bulgaria
Constantine I , which includes the shortened form of the name of his father as a patronymic), ruled as emperor of Bulgaria from 1257 to 1277....

(Konstantin Tih)
1257 - 1277
Ivan Asen III 1279 - 1280


The origins of the dynasty, especially the ethnic background of the three Asen brothers (Teodor I Peter IV, Ivan Asen I
Ivan Asen I of Bulgaria
Ivan Asen I ruled as emperor of Bulgaria 1189–1196. The year of his birth is unknown.-Life:...

 and Kaloyan) are still a source of much controversy, debated between historians. There are three main hypothesis regarding their origins:
  1. Bulgarian origin, a view that is common among the Bulgarian historians who reckon that all native sources use predominantly the terms Bulgaria, Bulgarians and Bulgarian, that tsar Kaloyan claimed provenance from the rulers of the First Bulgarian Empire
    First Bulgarian Empire
    The First Bulgarian Empire was a medieval Bulgarian state founded in the north-eastern Balkans in c. 680 by the Bulgars, uniting with seven South Slavic tribes...

     and that it's just a matter of terminology and for certain period by "Vlach" the medieval sources meant "Bulgarian".
  2. Vlach origin, a view supported by historians who base their claims on mentions in some chronicles.
  3. Cuman origin, as some of the names in the dynasty, including Asen and Belgun (nickname of Ivan Asen I
    Ivan Asen I of Bulgaria
    Ivan Asen I ruled as emperor of Bulgaria 1189–1196. The year of his birth is unknown.-Life:...

    ) are derived from Cuman language
    Cuman language
    Cuman was a Kipchak Turkic language spoken by the Cumans and Kipchaks; the language was similar to the today's Crimean Tatar language...


In their own administrative documents and correspondence, the three rulers viewed themselves as descendants and successors of the Bulgarian Tsars Samuil
Samuil of Bulgaria
Samuel was the Emperor of the First Bulgarian Empire from 997 to 6 October 1014. From 980 to 997, he was a general under Roman I of Bulgaria, the second surviving son of Emperor Peter I of Bulgaria, and co-ruled with him, as Roman bestowed upon him the command of the army and the effective royal...

, Peter I
Peter I of Bulgaria
Peter I was emperor of Bulgaria from 27 May 927 to 969.-Early reign:Peter I was the son of Simeon I of Bulgaria by his second marriage to Maria Sursuvul, the sister of George Sursuvul. Peter had been born early in the 10th century, but it appears that his maternal uncle was very influential at...

 and Simeon I
Simeon I of Bulgaria
Simeon I the Great ruled over Bulgaria from 893 to 927, during the First Bulgarian Empire. Simeon's successful campaigns against the Byzantines, Magyars and Serbs led Bulgaria to its greatest territorial expansion ever, making it the most powerful state in contemporary Eastern Europe...

, and the state they founded as a continuation of the First Bulgarian Empire. However, this could be just a way to proclaim their legitimacy for the throne of the Empire.

In a correspondence, of 1199, the Pope talks about the "Roman descent" of Kaloyan. However, considering the actual text says "Nos autem audito quod de nobili urbis Romae prosapia progenitores tui originem traxerint" ("We heard that your forefathers come from a noble family from the city of Rome"), it's usually dismissed as simply a hidden compliment of the Pope to Kaloyan.

Pope Innocent III in his letter to the Bulgarian King John (Calojoannes) in 1204 addressed him “King of Bulgarians and Vlachs (Bulgarorum and Blacorum rex) ; in answering the Pope, John calls himself “imperator omnium Bulgarorum et Blachorum” but signs himself “imperator Bulgariae Calojoannes” the archbishop of Trnovo calls himself “totius Bulgariae et Blaciae Primas"

It has also been speculated a Hungarian origin (and therefore "Roman Catholic"), but there's no evidence to support that claim.


The name of the dynasty comes from one of the brothers, namely Asen I.
The etymology is most likely of Cuman Turkic origin, derived from "esen" which meant "safe, sound, healthy" and the Belgun nickname seems to be derived from Turkic "bilgün", which meant "wise".

Alternatively, the name could also be of Pecheneg
Pecheneg language
Pecheneg language is the extinct Turkic language spoken by the Pechenegs in Eastern Europe.It is most likely a member of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic family, but the poor documentation to it and the absence of any descendant languages of Pecheneg has prevented linguists from making a definite...

 origin, since that language was rather similar to Cuman, however this hypothesis is less likely.
Another version is that Asen cames from the name of Ashina clan of protobulgarian rivals of Dulo rulers.
There is possible link between the Bulgarian name Assen and the Arabic name Hassan. There is evidence that the name Assen has a Turkic origin coming from the Proto-Bulgarian's or Cuman's Turkic origin. Therefore both the Arabic name Hassan that is very popular in the Turkic speaking nations, sometimes written as Assan and the Bulgarian name Assen can be of similar or even the same origin. See Hassan (given name)
Hassan (given name)
Hassan is a masculine Arabic given...

The etymology could also be an Indo-European one. There was an older attested Latin name Asinarius.

See also

  • History of Bulgaria
    History of Bulgaria
    The history of Bulgaria spans from the first settlements on the lands of modern Bulgaria to its formation as a nation-state and includes the history of the Bulgarian people and their origin. The first traces of human presence on what is today Bulgaria date from 44,000 BC...

  • List of Bulgarian monarchs