Battle of Bulgarophygon
The Battle of Boulgarophygon or Battle of Bulgarophygon ( or Битка при Българофигон) was fought in the summer of 896 near the town of Bulgarophygon, modern Babaeski
Babaeski is a town and district of Kırklareli Province in the Marmara region of Turkey. The countyship has a population of 27,712 and the total area of the district is 652 km².-Name:...

 in Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

, between 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...

 and 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...

. The result was an annihilation of the Byzantine army which determined the Bulgarian victory in the trade war of 894–896.

Despite the initial difficulties in the war against the Magyars, who acted as Byzantine allies, the battle of Boulgarophygon proved to be the first decisive victory of the young and ambitious Bulgarian ruler 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...

 against the Byzantine Empire. Simeon would go on to inflict a number of defeats on the Byzantines in pursuit of his ultimate goal, the throne in Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

. The peace treaty that was signed as a result of the battle confirmed the Bulgarian domination in the Balkans.


During the rule of Boris I
Boris I of Bulgaria
Boris I, also known as Boris-Mihail and Bogoris was the Knyaz of First Bulgarian Empire in 852–889. At the time of his baptism in 864, Boris was named Michael after his godfather, Emperor Michael III...

 (852–889), Bulgaria underwent major changes – the Christianization of the country
Christianization of Bulgaria
The Christianization of Bulgaria was the process by which 9th-century medieval Bulgaria converted to Christianity. It was influenced by the khan's shifting political alliances with the kingdom of the East Franks and the Byzantine Empire, as well as his reception by the Pope of the Roman Catholic...

 and the admission of the disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius
Saints Cyril and Methodius
Saints Cyril and Methodius were two Byzantine Greek brothers born in Thessaloniki in the 9th century. They became missionaries of Christianity among the Slavic peoples of Bulgaria, Great Moravia and Pannonia. Through their work they influenced the cultural development of all Slavs, for which they...

, which marked the beginning of the creation and consolidation of the medieval Bulgarian literature and alphabet. Despite a number of military setbacks against most neighbouring countries, Boris I managed to preserve Bulgarian territorial integrity. During the Council of Preslav
Council of Preslav
The People's Council of Preslav took place in 893. It was among the most important events in the history of the First Bulgarian Empire and was a cornerstone of the Christianization of Bulgaria under prince Boris I.-Background and sources:...

 in 893, assembled after the unsuccessful attempt of Boris I's eldest son Vladimir-Rasate
Vladimir of Bulgaria
Vladimir-Rasate was the ruler of Bulgaria from 889 to 893.He became ruler of Bulgaria when his father Boris-Mihail I decided to retire to a monastery after a reign of 36 years...

 to restore the traditional Bulgar religion of Tengriism
Tengriism is a Central Asian religion that incorporates elements of shamanism, animism, totemism and ancestor worship. Despite still being active in some minorities, it was, in old times, the major belief of Turkic peoples , Bulgars, Hungarians and Mongols...

, it was decided that Old Bulgarian
Old Church Slavonic
Old Church Slavonic or Old Church Slavic was the first literary Slavic language, first developed by the 9th century Byzantine Greek missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius who were credited with standardizing the language and using it for translating the Bible and other Ancient Greek...

 was to replace Greek as a language of the church and the Byzantine clergy was to be banished and replaced with Bulgarians. The Council sealed Boris I's ambitions for cultural and religious independence and calmed down the concerns among the nobility, who feared any strong Byzantine influence in the internal affairs of Bulgaria. It was also decided that his third son Simeon, born after the Christianization and called child of peace, was to become the next Prince of Bulgaria.

These events ruined the Byzantine hopes to exert influence over the newly Christianized country, and emperor Leo VI
Leo VI the Wise
Leo VI, surnamed the Wise or the Philosopher , was Byzantine emperor from 886 to 912. The second ruler of the Macedonian dynasty , he was very well-read, leading to his surname...

 (r. 886–912) soon had a chance to retaliate. Some members of the Byzantine court had an interest in moving the market of the Bulgarian goods from Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 to Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki , historically also known as Thessalonica, Salonika or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia as well as the capital of the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace...

, which meant that the Bulgarian merchants would have to pay higher taxes. That move affected not only private interests but also the international commercial importance of Bulgaria, regulated with the Treaty of 716
Treaty of 716
The Treaty of 716 was an agreement between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire. It was signed by the son of the ruling Bulgarian Khan Tervel, Kormesiy and the Byzantine Emperor Theodosios III.- Background :...

. The ousting of the merchants from Constantinople, which was a major destination of trade routes from all over Europe and Asia, was a heavy blow for Bulgarian economic interests. The merchants complained to Simeon I, who in turn raised the issue with Leo VI, but the appeal was left unanswered. Simeon, who was seeking a pretext to declare war and begin implementing his plans, launched an invasion of Byzantine Thrace, resulting in what has sometimes been called the first commercial war in Europe.

Magyar intervention

The Byzantines hastily assembled a large army under the generals Prokopios Krenites and Kourtikios, which included the Imperial Guard that consisted of Khazar
The Khazars were semi-nomadic Turkic people who established one of the largest polities of medieval Eurasia, with the capital of Atil and territory comprising much of modern-day European Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, large portions of the northern Caucasus , parts of...

 mercenaries. In the ensuing battle in the Theme of Macedonia (modern Eastern Thrace), probably around Adrianople
Edirne is a city in Eastern Thrace, the northwestern part of Turkey, close to the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. Edirne served as the capital city of the Ottoman Empire from 1365 to 1453, before Constantinople became the empire's new capital. At present, Edirne is the capital of the Edirne...

, the Byzantines were defeated and their commanders perished. Most of the Khazars were captured and Simeon had their noses cut and "sent them in the capital for shame of the Romans [i.e the Byzantines]".

Since the main Byzantine forces were engaged in the east against the Arabs, Leo VI turned to the well-tried methods of Byzantine diplomacy and sent envoys with rich gifts to the Magyars, who in that time inhabited the steppes to the north-east of Bulgaria. When Simeon I refused to conclude peace and imprisoned the Byzantine envoy Konstantinakios, at the end of 894 the Byzantine navy
Byzantine navy
The Byzantine navy was the naval force of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. Like the empire it served, it was a direct continuation from its imperial Roman predecessor, but played a far greater role in the defense and survival of the state then its earlier iterations...

 was used to ferry the Magyars across the Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

, despite the fact that the Bulgarians had barred the river with chains and ropes. Simeon I, who was at the Byzantine-Bulgarian border facing the general Nikephoros Phokas
Nikephoros Phokas the Elder
Nikephoros Phokas the Elder was one of the great generals in the service of the Eastern Roman Emperor Basil I.Descended from the Phokas family, one of the large land-holding families of Anatolia, Nikephoros Phokas rose to the positions of patrikios and domestikos ton scholon. He succeeded in...

, had to march northwards to confront them. His army was defeated by the Magyars somewhere in Dobruja
Dobruja is a historical region shared by Bulgaria and Romania, located between the lower Danube river and the Black Sea, including the Danube Delta, Romanian coast and the northernmost part of the Bulgarian coast...

 and Simeon himself had to flee to the strong fortress Drastar
Silistra is a port city of northeastern Bulgaria, lying on the southern bank of the lower Danube at the country's border with Romania. Silistra is the administrative centre of Silistra Province and one of the important cities of the historical region of Southern Dobrudzha...

. The Magyars looted and pillaged unopposed, reaching the outskirts of the capital Preslav
Preslav was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire from 893 to 972 and one of the most important cities of medieval Southeastern Europe. The ruins of the city are situated in modern northeastern Bulgaria, some 20 kilometres southwest of the regional capital of Shumen, and are currently a...

, and after they sold the captives to the Byzantines they retreated to the north of the Danube. Then Simeon pretended that he wanted to negotiate and put forward the issue of prisoner exchange. The Byzantines sent Leo Choirosphaktes
Leo Choirosphaktes
Leo Choirosphaktes, sometimes Latinized as Choerosphactes and also known as Leo Magistros or Leo Magister, was a Byzantine official who rose to high office under Basil I the Macedonian and served as an envoy under Emperor Leo VI the Wise to Bulgaria and the Abbasid Caliphate...

 in Preslav to negotiate the terms. As Simeon needed time to address the Magyar threat, he deliberately prolonged the negotiations and Choirosphaktes was repeatedly refused an audience. In the meantime Simeon allied with the Pechenegs, while the people even appealed to his father Boris I, who had become a monk, to assume the command of the army. In the decisive battle the Magyars suffered a devastating defeat, but the victorious Bulgarians were themselves said to have lost 20,000 riders. That was the only victory in the battlefield Boris I ever achieved. As a result of this defeat, the Magyars had to move westwards and settle in Pannonia
Pannonia was an ancient province of the Roman Empire bounded north and east by the Danube, coterminous westward with Noricum and upper Italy, and southward with Dalmatia and upper Moesia....

, where they later established the Kingdom of Hungary
Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages
The Kingdom of Hungary was formed from the previous Principality of Hungarywith the coronation of Stephen I in AD 1000. This was a result of the conversion of Géza of Hungary to the Western Church in the 970s....


The battle

When Simeon I returned to Preslav "proud of the victory" he broke the negotiations with Choirosphaktes and once again invaded Byzantine Thrace, further encouraged by the death of the capable general Nikephoros Phokas. The Byzantines transferred "all themes and tagmata
Tagma (military)
The tagma is a term for a military unit of battalion or regiment size. The best-known and most technical use of the term however refers to the elite regiments formed by Byzantine emperor Constantine V and comprising the central army of the Byzantine Empire in the 8th–11th centuries.-History and...

", i. e. all forces that were fighting the Arabs, to Europe. The army was commanded by the Domestic of the Schools
Domestic of the Schools
The Domestic of the Schools was a senior Byzantine military office, extant from the 8th century until at least the early 14th century. Originally simply the commander of the Scholai, the senior of the elite tagmata regiments, the Domestic quickly rose in prominence: by the mid-9th century, its...

 Leo Katakalon, who lacked the ability of Phokas. The two armies clashed at Boulgarophygon in the summer of 896 and the Byzantines were thoroughly routed. A Byzantine historian wrote:

Among the casualties was the protovestiarios
Protovestiarios was a high Byzantine court position, originally reserved for eunuchs.-History and functions:The title is first attested in 412, as the comes sacrae vestis, an official in charge of the Byzantine emperor's "sacred wardrobe" , coming under the praepositus sacri cubiculi...

Theodosius, the second-in-command of the army, while Leo Katakalon managed to escape with a few other survivors. The Byzantine defeat was so grave that one their soldiers retired from society and became an ascetic under the name of Luke the Stylite
Luke the Stylite
Venerable Luke the Stylite lived in Constantinople in the 10th century. He served as a soldier during the reign Constantine Porphyrogenitus the Byzantine Emperor. During battle against the Bulgarians Luke witnessed the death of several thousands of people, but he survived...


Gaining the upper hand, Simeon I led the Bulgarian troops to Constantinople, burning villages en route. According to the Muslim historian al-Tabari
Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari
Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari was a prominent and influential Sunni scholar and exegete of the Qur'an from Persia...

, Leo VI was desperate after the consecutive refusals of peace, and was forced to gather an army of Arab prisoners of war and send them against the Bulgarians with the promise of freedom. The Bulgarians were stopped just outside Constantinople and Simeon I agreed to negotiate.


The war ended with a peace treaty which formally lasted until around Leo VI's death in 912, and under which Byzantium was obliged to pay Bulgaria an annual tribute in exchange for the return of allegedly 120,000 captured Byzantine soldiers and civilians. Under the treaty, the Byzantines also ceded an area between the Black Sea and Strandzha
Strandzha is a mountain massif in southeastern Bulgaria and the European part of Turkey, in the southeastern part of the Balkans between the plains of Thrace to the west, the lowlands near Burgas to the north and the Black Sea to the east. Its highest peak is Mahya Dağı in Turkey, while the...

 to the Bulgarian Empire, while the Bulgarians also promised not to invade Byzantine territory.

Simeon I was content with results and considered that he had superiority over the Byzantine Empire. Despite the success, he realized that there was still a lot to do before prevailing over the Empire for good. He needed his own political and ideological base, and he consequently launched an ambitious construction program in Preslav so that it could rival Constantinople. In the meanwhile, Simeon I had also imposed his authority over Serbia in return for recognizing Petar Gojniković as its ruler. That was an important move towards reducing Byzantine influence over the Western Balkans.

Simeon also learned the lesson of how vulnerable Bulgaria was to the northern tribes neighbouring his realm, when they were influenced by Byzantine diplomacy. That experience paid off in 917, when Simeon managed to counter the Byzantine efforts to ally with the Serbs
The Serbs are a South Slavic ethnic group of the Balkans and southern Central Europe. Serbs are located mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and form a sizable minority in Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia. Likewise, Serbs are an officially recognized minority in...

 or the Pechenegs, and forced them to fight alone in the battle of Achelous, where the Byzantines were soundly defeated in one of the biggest disasters in Byzantine history.


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