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Origin and Ethnicity of Czar Samuel
George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers University Press, (p.301-2), 1969.
An English translation of a originally published in German Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates


Nothing definite is known about the early history of the Cometopuli. The contemporary Armenian historian Stephen of Taron (Asolik), trans. Gelzer and Burckhardt (1907), 185 f., says that they were of Armenian descent. In spite of N. Adontz, 'Samuel l'Armenien' 3 ff., it remains doubtful how much weight can be given to the statement of this Armenian historian whose information on Samuel is full of obvious errors. N. P. Blegmv, 'Bratjata David, Moisej, Aaron i Samuil' (The brothers David, Moses, Aaron and Samuel), Godisnik na Sofijsk. Univ., Jurid. Fak. 37, 14 (1941-2), 28 ff., considers that Count Nicholas was a descendant of the proto-Bulgar Asparuch, and his wife Ripsimia, the mother of the Cometopuli, a daughter of the czar Symeon, which is entirely without foundation. His 'Teorijata za Zapadno bulgarsko carstvo' (Theories on the West Bulgarian Empire), ibid. 16 ff., contains equally fantastic views.

The history of the origin of Samuel's empire is a much debated question. Scholars no longer support Drinov's theory of a West Bulgarian empire of the Sigmanids founded in 963, and today two different and conflicting views are current. One view holds that by 969 a West Bulgarian (Macedonian) kingdom under the Cometopuli had split off from the empire of the tzar Peter and that this existed independently side by side with the East Bulgarian empire (on the Danube) ; further, they consider that it was on the eastern part which was conquered by Tzimisces, while the western part continued and formed the nucleus of Samuel's empire. The second view, worked out in detail by D. Anastasijevic, 'L'hypothese de la Bulgaric Occidentale', Recueil Uspenskij I (1930), 20 ff., insists that there was no separation between an eastern and western Bulgaria, and that Tzimisces conquered the whole of Bulgaria which only regained its independence with the Cometopuli's revolt in 976 and the foundation of a new empire in Macedonia. This latter interpretation seems to me to be in the main correct, though both theories appear to go astray in so far as they imply that the subjection of the country took the form of a regular occupation of the whole countryside. Anastasijevic rightly emphasizes that the sources give practically no ground for the assumption that an independent West Bulgaria ever existed side by side with an East Bulgaria, and they afford equally slight evidence for the statement that there was a revolt of the Cometopuli before 976. The frequently quoted statement in Scylitzes-Cedren. II, 347, dated rather arbitrarily to the year 969 and equally arbitrarily regarded as an account of a revolt of the Cometopuli said to have broken out in this year, is in reality only a casual comment, by way of an aside, which anticipates the events it refers to (cf. the doubts of Runciman, Bulgarian Empire 218, and Adontz, 'Samuel I'Armenien', 5 ff.). On the other hand, the sources make it quite clear that Tzimisces-like Sviatoslav-never set foot in Macedonia (the entirely unsupported statement of the later Priest of Dioclea who says that Tzimisces took possession of Serbia, and consequently Macedonia as well, is of no importance). The capture of the capital and the deposition of the ruler signified the subjection of the country without any need to conquer its territory inch by inch. It is, however, true that control which was limited to occupying the centre could in certain circumstances easily be overthrown from the periphery, and this was in fact what happened after the death of John Tzimisces and the outbreak of internal conflicts in Byzantium. This problem has been recently discussed by Litavrin, Bolgarya i Vizantija 26 I ff., who does not, however, advance any new or compelling arguments for the view he adopts, i.e. that 'Bulgaria continued its existence in the West'. He concludes: 'The period from 969 to 976 was in Western Bulgaria a time when its forces were consolidated under the rule of the Cometopuli. . . .' But, as our observations above make clear, this assertion has not the slightest foundation in the sources.


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