Consolidation of the Bulgarian state

At the end of the 7th century Bulgaria occupied a comparatively small territory - the lands extending to both banks of the lower Danube, between the ridges of the Carpathians and the Balkan Range and reaching the lower course of the Dniepr in the east. Its limited human, economic and military resources did not promise particularly good future to the infant state with its borders cornered by ten times as much powerful enemies such as Byzantium in the south, the Avar khanate in the heartland of Europe and the steppe peoples dashing at Europe from the east. In the tangle of interstate relations in this part of Europe during the 8th century, the Bulgarian statesmen showed surprising political tact in steering the state boat to a salutary coast. Dramatic incidents, however, failed them: right at the beginning of 8th century the Arab invasion extended to Europe via Gibraltar and the Bosphorus. In the west, the fanatical warriors of Mohammed conquered the Iberian Peninsula to be checked only by Charles Martel in the battle at Poitiers in 732 AD. It was going to take a few hundred years to drive them out of Spain. The situation in the east was even more dramatic. About 716 AD the whole of Byzantium was trodden over by Arab cavalry hooves and its capital squeezed in the steel belt of siege and starvation ready to surrender. At this point, although not threatened yet, the Bulgarians put their oar in the conflict which had created such a frightful menace to the medieval European civilization. In that same year, 716 AD, the Bulgarian heavy cavalry under the command of khan Tervel came forward at the porte of Constantinople. After the two- year-long fighting the Bulgarians and the Byzantines succeeded in crippling the Arab horse-mounted troops. In a crucial battle in 718 AD the Bulgarian cavalry defeated the Arabs. The rest of the Arab army was finished off by the Bulgarians in the next couple of days. This blow put an end to the Arabs attempting to penetrate into the Old Continent through the Balkan Peninsula. It earned the Bulgarians and their ruler khan Tervel enormous popularity in the eyes of the European political and cultural circles. An evidence of this is the fact that right until the 17th century West European authors, unaware of the details in the Bulgarian history, used to associate khan Tervel's name with important political and cultural events which had taken place in Bulgaria, but at a different time.

Still more fateful events took place during the second half of the 8th century. In 756 AD Byzantium concentrated all its forces into one campaign of a series of assaults, aiming at the destruction of the Bulgarian state. In the course of several dozens of years, fierce battles took place in the plains of Thrace and in the Balkan Range passes. Towards the end of the 8th century, at the cost of great efforts, the Bulgarians succeeded in withstanding the Byzantine aggression and in coming out of this 'duel' with insignificant territorial losses.

These events served as an unmistakable indication to the Bulgarian state rulers that there was need for a new state and political conception which should be capable of reducing the perennial menace to the independence of Bulgaria. The basic principles of this new line were formulated during the rule of khan Krum (803- 814). They had strictly been observed for over half a century by most of the Bulgarian political minds during the rule of khan Omurtag (814-831), khan Malamir (831-837) and khan Presian (837-852). These principles emphasized the need for Bulgaria to become a state equal in territory, population, economy and military strength to the European political giants which had taken shape in those times, e.g. the empire of the Franks. About the year 800 AD it had conquered to the west all barbarian state formations which had mushroomed on to the ruins of the Roman empire and to the east - Byzantium which, by then, had reconquered or rather retrieved its possessions in Asia Minor and the Balkans that were swept over by Arabs and Slavs in the 6th and 7th centuries. The Bulgarian state leadership visualized the specific ways and means for the implementation of this idea as follows: joining forces with the Slavs on the Balkans and in Central Europe which were still under Avar, - Frank, Byzantine and Khazar domination; abolishing the federatae of the existing state structure; and, turning the state into centralized he in monarchy. Evidently, this idea was based on the natural gravitation of the Slav and the Bulgarian tribes, still under foreign rule, towards the Bulgarian state.

The recantation of the moderate wait-and-see policy in favour of the cleverly calculated expansion gave its results. At the very end of the 8th century and at the beginning of the 9th century Bulgaria joined forces with the Frankish empire of Charles the Great in destroying the Avar khanate in Central Europe and annexing its lands inhabited by Bulgarians and Slavs in Transilvania. In 807 AD Bulgaria attacked Byzantium and after a dramatic battle that lasted nearly seven years, it had Thrace and Northern Macedonia detached from the empire of the Romans. During the reign of khan Omurtag (814-831) the Bulgarians took the offensive against the empire of the Franks. Under the peace treaty of 831 Pannonia (present-day Hungary) which was conquered in 829, remained within the borders of Bulgaria. Khan Malamir (831-837) and khan Presian (837-852) renewed the expansion campaign against Byzantium which led to their annexing to Bulgaria its present-day mountains to the south: Rhodopes, Rila and Pirin, as well as the northern coast of the Aegian and Macedonia. Thus by 852 Bulgaria, comprising the territories of Panonnia (present-day Hungary), Transilvania, Wallachia (present-day Romania), Moldavia, Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia with their numerous inhabitants, was already a European super-power.

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