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27 Jul

Second Bulgarian Empire (13th – 15th c.)

Portrait of Ivan Asen II

Ivan Asen II

Kaloyan’s successor Boril (1207-1218) failed to pursue his predecessor’s policy and great part of Bulgarian territory was captured by Hungary, Latin Empire and the Despotate of Epirus. In 1218, Boril was captured and blinded by Ivan Asen II (1218-1241) who proclaimed himself tsar and made the Second Bulgarian Empire the dominant power in the Balkan Peninsula. He strengthened the central power, captured Thrace from the Latin Empire and made the despotate of Epirus a Bulgarian vassal state after defeating Theodore Komnenos Doukas of Epirus in the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230. Ivan Asen II captured Belgrade and Branicevo from Hungary by the end of his rule and gained great political influence in Serbia through marriage of his daughter Beloslava to Stefan Vladislav I of Serbia.

The Second Bulgarian Empire fell into severe crisis and lost all the lands that were conquered by Ivan Asen II under his successors Kaliman Asen I (1241-1246), Michael Asen I (1246-1256), Kaliman Asen II (1256), Mitso Asen (1256-1257) and Constantine I (1257-1277). Decline of central power was taken advantage by local nobles who established local principalities, while Mongol raids from the 1270’s onwards caused economic instability leading to the peasant revolt led by Ivailo (1277-1280) in 1277. The rebellion failed but Ivailo established himself as tsar. He married the widowed Empress Maria Kantakouzena and was crowned Emperor of Bulgaria in 1278 without deposing or disinheriting the minor Michael Asen II (1277-1279). Ivailo temporally stopped the Mongol raids and repulsed the Byzantine attempts to install Ivan Asen III, a descendant of Bulgarian ruling dynasty married to the Byzantine Princess Eirene. However, when rumors occurred that he had died the Bulgarian nobility proclaimed Ivan Asen III (1279-1280) the Bulgarian tsar, while Maria Kantakouzena and Michael Asen II were sent into exile. Ivailo appeared before Tarnovo with an army in 1279 but he failed to capture the city.

Ivan Asen III fled to the Byzantine Empire in 1280 and Bulgarian throne was seized by his brother-in-law George Terter I (1280-1292). His reign was characterized by further decline of the Second Bulgarian Empire although he managed to retain the throne for more than a decade. The Mongol overlordship collapsed during the reign of Theodore Svetoslav (1300-1322) who managed to strengthen the central power and recover some of the lost lands. His son and successor George Terter II (1322-1323) died one year after ascending to the Bulgarian throne. He was succeeded by his distant cousin Michael Asen III (1323-1330) who was threatened by the rising power of Hungary on the north and Serbia on the west. His campaign against Serbia failed and Bulgarian army was decisively defeated by the Serbian forces in 1330. Michael Asen III was severely wounded during the battle and died shortly afterwards.

Medieval miniature depicting Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria.

Ivan Alexander

Michael Asen III was succeeded by Ivan Stefan (1330-1331) who was overthrown within one year. He was succeeded by Ivan Alexander (1331-1371) whose reign was marked by a cultural renaissance sometimes referred as the Second Golden Age. He established friendly relations with Serbia and married his sister Helena to the new Serbian King Stefan Uros IV Dusan. Ivan Alexander defeated the Byzantine forces in the Battle of Rusokastro, recaptured the lost lands in Thrace and restored the Bulgarian Empire as one of the leading powers in the Balkans. However, his successful foreign policy came to an end by the middle of the 1340’s when southern Bulgaria was invaded and raided by the Ottoman Turks. Ivan Alexander prepared for a joined action with Serbia against the Ottomans but he died before launching the campaign. He was succeeded by his sons Ivan Sratsimir (1356-1397) in Vidin and Ivan Sisman in Tarnovo (1371-1395) who did not manage to withstand the Ottoman expansion in the Balkans. Tarnovo was occupied by Ottomans in 1393, while Vidin fell in 1396. The Second Bulgarian Empire came to an end and Bulgaria fell under the Ottoman yoke until 1878.

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