The Early Years of Bulgaria and the Introduction of Christianity, 700-893
From the time of their establishment in the country to which they have given their name the Bulgars became a thorn in the side of the Greeks, and ever since both peoples have looked on one another as natural and hereditary enemies. The Bulgars, like all the barbarians who had preceded them, were fascinated by the honey-pot of Constantinople, and, though they never succeeded in taking it, they never grew tired of making the attempt. For two hundred years after the death of Asparukh, in 661, the Bulgars were perpetually fighting either against the Greeks or else amongst themselves. At times a diversion was caused by the Bulgars taking the part of the Greeks, as in 718, when they 'delivered' Constantinople, at the invocation of the Emperor Leo, from the Arabs, who were besieging it. From about this time the Bulgarian monarchy, which had been hereditary, became elective, and the anarchy of the many, which the Bulgars found when they arrived, and which their first few autocratic rulers had been able to control, was replaced by an anarchy of the few. Prince succeeded prince, war followed war, at the will of the feudal nobles. This internal strife was naturally profitable to the Greeks, who lavishly subsidized the rival factions. At the end of the eighth century the Bulgars south of the Danube joined forces with those to the north in the efforts of the latter against the Avars, who, beaten by Charlemagne, were again pressing south-eastwards towards the Danube. In this the Bulgars were completely successful under the leadership of one Krum, whom, in the elation of victory, they promptly elected to the throne. Krum was a far more capable ruler than they had bargained for, and he not only united all the Bulgars north and south of the Danube into one dominion, but also forcibly repressed the whims of the nobles and re-established the autocracy and the hereditary monarchy. Having finished with his enemies in the north, he turned his attention to the Greeks, with no less success. In 809 he captured from them the important city of Sofia (the Roman Sardica, known to the Slavs as Sredets), which is to-day the capital of Bulgaria. The loss of this city was a blow to the Greeks, because it was a great centre of commerce and also the point at which the commercial and strategic highways of the peninsula met and crossed. The Emperor Nikiphoros, who wished to take his revenge and recover his lost property, was totally defeated by the Bulgars and lost his life in the Balkan passes in 811. After further victories, at Mesembria (the modern Misivria) in 812 and Adrianople in 813, Krum appeared before the capital, where he nearly lost his life in an ambush while negotiating for peace. During preparations for a final assault on Constantinople he died suddenly in 815. Though Krum cannot be said to have introduced civilisation into Bulgaria, he at any rate increased its power and gave it some of the more essential organs of government. He framed a code of laws remarkable for their rigour, which was undoubtedly necessary in such a community and beneficial in its effect. He repressed civil strife, and by this means made possible the reawakening of commerce and agriculture. His successor, of uncertain identity, founded in 822 the city of Preslav (known to the Russians as Pereyaslav), situated in eastern Bulgaria, between Varna and Silistria, which was the capital until 972. The reign of Prince Boris (852-88) is remarkable because it witnessed the definitive conversion to Christianity of Bulgaria and her ruler. It is within this period also that fell the activities of the two great 'Slavonic' missionaries and apostles, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, who are looked upon by all Slavs of the orthodox faith as the founders of their civilisation. Christianity had of course penetrated into Bulgaria (or Moesia, as it was then) long before the arrival of the Slavs and Bulgars, but the influx of one horde of barbarians after another was naturally not propitious to its growth. The conversion of Boris in 865, which was brought about largely by the influence of his sister, who had spent many years in Constantinople as a captive, was a triumph for Greek influence and for Byzantium. Though the Church was at this time still nominally one, yet the rivalry between Rome and Constantinople had already become acute, and the struggle for spheres of spiritual influence had begun. It was in the year 863 that the Prince of Moravia, anxious to introduce Christianity into his country in a form intelligible to his subjects, addressed himself to the Emperor Michael III for help. Rome could not provide any suitable missionaries with knowledge of Slavonic languages, and the German, or more exactly the Bavarian, hierarchy with which Rome entrusted the spiritual welfare of the Slavs of Moravia and Pannonia used its greater local knowledge for political and not religious ends. The Germans exploited their ecclesiastical influence in order completely to dominate the Slavs politically, and as a result the latter were only allowed to see the Church through Teutonic glasses. In answer to this appeal the emperor sent the two brothers Cyril and Methodius, who were Greeks of Salonika and had considerable knowledge of Slavonic languages. They composed the Slavonic alphabet which is to-day used throughout Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro, and in many parts of Austria-Hungary and translated the gospels into Slavonic; it is for this reason that they are regarded with such veneration by all members of the Eastern Church. Their mission proved the greatest success (it must be remembered that at this time the various Slavonic tongues were probably less dissimilar than they are now), and the two brothers were warmly welcomed in Rome by Pope Adrian II, who formally consented to the use, for the benefit of the Slavs, of the Slavonic liturgy (a remarkable concession, confirmed by Pope John VIII). This triumph, however, was short-lived; St. Cyril died in 869 and St. Methodius in 885; subsequent Popes, notably Stephen V, were not so benevolent to the Slavonic cause; the machinations of the German hierarchy (which included, even in those days, the falsification of documents) were irresistible, and finally the invasion of the Magyars, in 893, destroyed what was left of the Slavonic Church in Moravia. The missionary brothers had probably passed through Bulgaria on their way north in 863, but without halting. Many of their disciples, driven from the Moravian kingdom by the Germans, came south and took refuge in Bulgaria in 886, and there carried on in more favourable circumstances the teachings of their masters. Prince Boris had found it easier to adopt Christianity himself than to induce all his subjects to do the same. Even when he had enforced his will on them at the price of numerous executions of recalcitrant nobles, he found himself only at the beginning of his difficulties. The Greeks had been glad enough to welcome Bulgaria into the fold, but they had no wish to set up an independent Church and hierarchy to rival their own. Boris, on the other hand, though no doubt full of genuine spiritual ardour, was above all impressed with the authority and prestige which the basileus derived from the Church of Constantinople; he also admired the pomp of ecclesiastical ceremony, and wished to have a patriarch of his own to crown him and a hierarchy of his own to serve him. Finding the Greeks unresponsive, he turned to Rome, and Pope Nicholas I sent him two bishops to superintend the ecclesiastical affairs of Bulgaria till the investiture of Boris at the hands of the Holy See could be arranged. These bishops set to work with a will, substituted the Latin for the Greek rite, and brought Bulgaria completely under Roman influence. But when it was discovered that Boris was aiming at the erection of an independent Church their enthusiasm abated and they were recalled to Rome in 867. Adrian II proved no more sympathetic, and in 870, during the reign of the Emperor Basil I, it was decided without more ado that the Bulgarian Church should be directly under the Bishop of Constantinople, on the ground that the kingdom of Boris was a vassal-state of the basileus, and that from the Byzantine point of view, as opposed to that of Rome, the State came first and the Church next. The Moravian Gorazd, a disciple of Methodius, was appointed Metropolitan, and at his death he was succeeded by his fellow countryman and co-disciple Clement, who by means of the construction of numerous churches and monasteries did a great deal for the propagation of light and learning in Bulgaria. The definite subjection of the Bulgarian Church to that of Byzantium was an important and far-reaching event. Boris has been reproached with submitting himself and his country to Greek influence, but in those days it was either Constantinople or Rome (there was no third way); and in view of the proximity of Constantinople and the glamour which its civilization cast all over the Balkans, it is not surprising that the Greeks carried the day.