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Medieval Bulgarian literature

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A page from a 14th-century Bulgarian manuscript Tomić Psalter.
A page from a 14th-century Bulgarian manuscript Tomić Psalter.

Medieval Bulgarian literature is Bulgarian literature in the Middle Ages.

With the Bulgarian Empire welcoming the disciples of Cyril and Methodius after they were expelled from Great Moravia, the country became a centre of rich literary activity during what is known as the Golden Age of medieval Bulgarian culture. In the late 9th, the 10th and early 11th century literature in Bulgaria prospered, with many books being translated from Byzantine Greek, but also new works being created. Many scholars worked in the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools, creating the Cyrillic script for their needs. Bulgarian scholars and works influenced most of the Slavic world, spreading Old Church Slavonic, the Cyrillic and the Glagolithic alphabet to Kievan Rus', medieval Serbia and medieval Croatia.

As the Bulgarian Empire was subjugated by the Byzantines in 1018, Bulgarian literary activity declined. However, after the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire followed another period of upsurge during the time of Patriarch Evtimiy in the 14th century. Evtimiy founded the Tarnovo Literary School that had a significant impact on the literature of Serbia and Muscovite Russia, as some writers fled the Bulgarian-Ottoman Wars. Bulgarian literature continued in the Ottoman empire.

Medieval Bulgarian literature was dominated by religious themes, most works being hymns, treatises, religious miscellanies, apocrypha and hagiographies, most often heroic and instructive.

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After the legalisation of Christianity under the Byzantine Empire in the 4th Century, the region of what we now call Bulgaria went through a long period of relative stability. Bulgaria remained a profitable part of the Byzantine Empire, churches were built across the country, and cities like Sofia and Plovdiv continued to thrive.In the 5th Century, Attila the Hun did try to shake things up a bit. For four years from 443 - 447 AD Attila the Hun’s forces ravaged the Byzantine — or Eastern Roman — Empire and the Western Roman Empire. Attila the Hun was from an area called Pannonia on the fringes of the Roman Empire in what is now western Hungary, eastern Austria, northern Croatia, north-western Serbia, northern Slovenia, western Slovakia and northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. As you tell by the long list of borders which now divide up Attila the Hun’s homeland, he and his troops’ long lasting impact on Europe isn’t all that great. However, Attila the Hun’s attempt to destroy the Eastern and Western Roman Empires — while sacking what are now the cities of Sofia and Plovdiv in Bulgaria as well as other cities — reveals many things.Firstly, it goes to show how important Plovdiv and Sofia were to the Byzantine Empire during this period. If those cities weren’t important, old Attila wouldn’t have bothered lacing up his boots. Secondly, it goes to show how stable Byzantine rule made Bulgaria during this period. For a few hundred years, Attila the Hun was the only real threat to the Byzantine Empire. After Attila the Hun’s death, the Byzantine Empire was so secure that it began to surpass the falling Roman Empire, which was being ravaged by Germanic tribes to the west.By the end 5th Century, the Roman Empire was long forgotten relic — having fallen in 476 — and Byzantine Empire was a thriving thing.Still, while Attila the Hun’s attack on what is now Bulgaria and what was then part of the Byzantine empire was a complete failure, it foreshadows the event which most defines modern Bulgaria: the invasion of the Bulgars.Like Attila the Hun and his troops, the Bulgars were nomadic people. Unlike Attila the Hun and his troops, however, the Bulgars weren’t just from the fringes of the Roman Empire. They were from completely outside it. Also, unlike Attila the Hun, the Bulgars didn’t fail to conquer Bulgaria. Like, the country is called Bulgaria because of the Bulgars’ success.Historians and experts believe that the Bulgars would have travelled to Bulgaria on horseback from somewhere in “Central Asia” — a vague area which now consists of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. However, it’s very difficult to be much more accurate than that because nomads like the Bulgars didn’t tend to build stuff. They’re too busy riding on horseback and drinking from the skulls of their enemies.Oh, we’ll get to the skull drinking later.By and large, modern day Bulgarians are the descendants of the Bulgars and they arrived in what was then the Byzantine Empire in the late 7th Century. This was good timing from their point of view because by then the once strong Byzantine Empire was beginning to crack.The Justinian Dynasty was long over, the Byzantine Army was stretched fighting and losing battles on the fringes of its empire, and the Umayyad Caliphate had laid siege to Constantinople from 674 to 678 AD. So, when the Bulgars arrived just three years later in 681 AD, the Byzantines must have been exhausted. As such, for the next 700 years, the Bulgars carved out — more or less — the borders of modern day Bulgaria with the rise and fall of the First Bulgarian Empire and the rise and fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire.During all this time, the main enemy of the army of the Bulgars was the army of the Byzantine Empire. Bulgaria in 2017 is the result of this longstanding conflict as it is a fusion of the history and culture of both empires.By the 9th Century, the First Bulgarian Empire was at its peak as the Byzantine Empire shrunk. The success of the Bulgars is often attributed to brutal men like Khan Krum “The Dreadful”. He’s the one famous for drinking wine from the skulls of his enemies and for making visiting diplomats also drink from these skulls.Of course, while gruesome details like that are perhaps interesting, the First Bulgarian Empire wasn’t all violence and bloodshed. In 814 AD, Khan Krum “The Dreadful” died. And, pretty much as a direct result of the skull drinking tyrant’s death, the Bulgarian Empire and Byzantine Empire made peace two years later. Had he lived, Khan Krum’s plan was to invade Constantinople. Presumably so he could add more skulls to his wine glass collection. — — —Khan Krum “The Dreadful” was followed Khan Omurtag and Khan Presian. These guys weren’t given the moniker “The Dreadful” and they weren’t known for drinking from the skulls of their enemies, but they weren’t exactly peaceful either. They helped to expand Bulgaria’s borders into what is now Romania, Moldova, Macedonia, and parts of Greece. This brought many new ethnicities into the Bulgarian empire.Presian’s son, Boris I, remains one of the most famous Bulgarian rulers because of two things.First, in 864, under Boris’ rule, the Bulgarian Empire officially adopted Orthodox Christianity as its main religion — after being courted by both representatives of Catholicism from the Western Roman empire — or what was the Western Roman Empire — and Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire. Rome — the capital of the what was the Western Roman Empire — and Constantinople — the capital of the Byzantine Empire — both wanted spiritual influence over Bulgaria because, at the time, the First Bulgarian Empire was quite strong.In the end, the Bulgarians chose the Byzantine religion of Orthodox Christianity, choosing to answer to a Patriarch in Constantinople rather than a Pope in Rome. The Byzantines Empire may have seen this as a victory, but in 2017 Bulgaria stills exists and the Byzantine Empire does not. The Byzantines may have won a spiritual battle, but the Bulgarians won the war.Then again, you could argue that the legacy of Byzantine Empire lives on in Bulgarian churches. As mentioned earlier, Modern Bulgaria is a result of the fusion between Byzantine and Bulgar culture.The second thing Boris I did was to preside over the invention the Bulgarian language. I say “invention” because it really was an invention. The Cyrillic alphabet was created under Boris’ rule and it’s often attributed to two monks: Cyril — from who we get the word Cyrillic — and his brother Methodius.They were monks on a mission to convert Slavs in what is now Slovakia to Orthodox Christianity. After being banished from Great Morovia, an empire which lasted from 833 AD to 907 AD, Boris I gave them refuge and the resources to continue their mission.In order to do this, they had to translate the bible into an understandable written language. It was as a result of this that the Cyrillic alphabet was born. In turn, this lead to the development of the Bulgarian language, Bulgarian literature, and — by extension — Bulgarian culture and national identity. ——— However, some historians have pointed out that — while Cyril and Methodius and indeed Boris deserve some credit for their work — the students of Cyril and Methodius also deserve a lot of credit for helping to develop the Cyrillic alphabet which eventually became the backbone of the Bulgarian language.Like, if you found it frustrating that your manager Jerry at work got all the praise for designing the new budget spreadsheet you helped to design, imagine how furious you’d be at the two guys who got all the praise for the entire freaking alphabet that you helped design. Today, the Cyrillic alphabet is used by 252 million people in 12 different countries — officially. It’s also used unofficially in many other countries. Because of the alphabet’s huge influence, it’s only fair that those students get a nod of approval.So, well done guys.The Cyrillic alphabet was also important politically as it gave the Bulgarians more independence from the Byzantine Empire, even in matters of the church. With a written language which was understood by the locals of the Bulgarian Empire, the text of the bible was no longer foreign to Bulgarians. As such, the Bulgarians could develop a much more complex and independent relationship with their faith and with their national identity than they had before.———When Boris I tried to retire to monastery in 889, he handed power over to his son, Vladimir. However, Vladimir was a moron. Against the will of both the general population and the aristocracy, he tried to reverse the Christianization of Bulgaria change the state religion back to Tengrianism, which was the religion of the Bulgars before they arrived in Europe.And so it was that Boris I came out of retirement in the monastery and — like an ageing hero in the fifth act of an 80s action movie — rose up against his son, took the throne from him, and placed his other son, Simeon, in charge. So, alls well that ends well……Except for Vladimir, who was then blinded by Boris and spent the rest of his rest in a dungeon.Anyway, Simeon proved to be a much better ruler than his blinded, dungeon-dwelling brother. From the beginning of his rule in 893, he helped Bulgaria to expand its borders even further and — by the end of his rule in 927 — the Bulgarian Empire was the biggest it ever has been. During his reign, there was a Golden Age of writing, art, and architecture.But, as great as the beginning of the 10th Century was for the First Bulgarian Empire, the good times wouldn’t last. If they had, I wouldn’t be talking about the First Bulgarian Empire. I’d be talking about the only Bulgarian Empire. There is a rule in human history that is so well-observed it’s almost a science: Empires fall. In just this one video, I’ve mentioned the fall of the Roman Empire, the fall of the Moravian Empire, and though I’ve not mentioned the fall of Byzantine Empire, that too would cede to the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century. And, in turn, the Ottoman Empire would fall as well. Some would argue that the First Bulgarian Empire is no different. It too fell around 11th Century and, though there was an attempt at a Second Bulgarian Empire, that fell apart as well.On the other hand, the nation state which is now called Bulgaria sits in the same place where the Bulgarian Empire once was. Most of the people who live there are native Bulgarians who speak the Bulgarian language, worship the same religion as Boris I, and share a culture and history which is intimately tied with the Bulgarian Empire.So, Empires rise and Empires fall. But people, stories, history, and culture: these things live on. And that’s good thing because, in the end, those things are a lot more important.All of which is important to bear in mind next time when I’ll be talking about the fall of the First Bulgarian Empire, the rise and fall of Second Bulgarian Empire, and the arrival of Ottoman Empire. For now, however, thanks for watching.

See also


  • "Старобългарска литература",Донка Петканова
  • Илиев, И. Епитетът в славянобългарската агиография от 14-15 век. Пловдив. Пигмалион. 2005
  • Епитетът в славянобългарската агиография от 14-15 век
This page was last edited on 3 January 2020, at 20:19
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