Sunday, February 27, 2011

Great Byzantine defeats - Part III - Battle of Vărbitsa Pass

Battle of Vărbitsa Pass (July 26,  811)

When Charlemagne destroyed the Avar state in Pannonia, at the beginning of the 9th century, the Bulgarians gained their freedom. Soon, the head of Pannonian Bulgars - warlike Krum, took the Bulgarian throne. In 809, he attacked Byzantine Serdica (Sofia), destroyed the fortress and killed everyone who served there.

Emperor Nicephorus I (ruled from 802-811) immediately replied – he penetrated to the Bulgarian capital Pliska, and then restored the destroyed fortifications. However, the main campaign came after two years of extensive preparation, in the spring of 811.

As reported by the chronicler Theophanes, confident emperor ignored the advices of astrologers who warned him that the arrangement of stars is not favorable. With his army, he entered Bulgaria through the mountain passes in July 20, at the time of unfortunate ascent of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and the main star in the constellation of The Great Dog, when she can be seen at the east, at dawn.

However, the way the campaign was developing, the emperor had every right to think that this time he will completely destroy the Bulgarian state. Frightened Krum begged for peace, but Byzantine emperor refused the offer. He concentrated on the capital Pliska, which he destroyed, and then he took all the valuables from Khan Krum’s court and then burned it. Nicephorus was totally convinced that he holds everything in his hands and that it was now only a matter of time before he breaks the Bulgarian resistance. Therefore, with arrogant disdain he once again rejected Krum’s peaceful offer and moved on.

While the Byzantines were busy devastating their country, the Bulgarians retreated to the canyons of the mountain Balkan. Aware that it could be hard to withstand Roman attack in the open field, they made an ambush in the Vărbitsa Pass and waited quietly.

Byzantine army progressed confidently, not expecting that the Bulgarians would dare get in the battle. However, on July 26, 811, a very fast and sudden attack in Vărbitsa Pass occurred. 

When he saw what happened, emperor Nicephorus, in panic and desperation, allegedly said: "Even if we have had wings we could not have escaped from peril!"

In the chaos that swept of the Byzantines ranks, a horrific massacre occurred. Almost the entire Roman army was killed, the Byzantine nobility elite, and the emperor himself.

Byzantine chronicler Theophanes dejectedly and bitterly concluded that "the flower of Christianity was destroyed!" Let me remind you that, at that time, the Bulgarians were still pagans, and that they received Christianity half a century later.

Krum chopped the head of the dead emperor, put it on the long stick and for days ostentatiously and triumphantly showed it to the tribes that came to him. Then he took the emperor's skull, cleaned it to the bone, lined with silver on the outside and made a cup from which he drank at his feasts.

It was the first time since the battle of Adrianople and Valens' death - after over almost four and a half centuries! - that a Byzantine emperor lost his life in a war battle. Moreover, the king's son and heir, Staurakios, was badly wounded and immediately transferred to Edirne, but it was obvious that he will not recover. He died several months later, on January 11, 812, in Constantinople, but before that, on October 1, 811, he had to relinquish the throne and receive monastic vows.

This was followed by three difficult years for the Byzantine Empire, filled with anxiety and restlessness.

And just when he was preparing to attack Constantinople, the Bulgarian Khan Krum died suddenly from a stroke, in April 814.

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2 comments: on "Great Byzantine defeats - Part III - Battle of Vărbitsa Pass"

Solum said...

Parabéns, adorei!

Aleksandar Kan said...

Bulgarian warriors gave the arrogant Nikephoros a lesson . Battle of Pliska deserves to be on the list of worst Byzantine defeats

Khan Krum the Fearsome

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