The Old Bulgarian artist's representation of the last hours of the life of Tsar Samuil (997-1014), during which time the Tsar received his blinded soldiers, will turn out to be more of a legendary character; drawing on page 183 in the Turnovo transcript of the Manasseh Chronicle, XNUMXth century, Vatican Library

1009 years since the death of King Samuel (997-1014), October 6, 1014.
"The Superior General"{1} dies at an advanced age

The last decades of the First Bulgarian Kingdom {2} were a time of heroic struggle for the preservation of Bulgarian statehood. On the other hand, this time - the last three decades of the 3th century and the first two decades of the XNUMXth century - is a time for which the modern Bulgarian historical science has to fight a separate insane battle with the North Macedonian propagandists to defend the historical truth. Indeed, nowadays it is practically universally accepted {XNUMX} everywhere in the world that Bulgarian statehood was recognized until the last months of the existence of Samuilova's Bulgaria, but this in no way implies a reduction in the efforts of the Bulgarian historical community to defend the historical truth.

In recent years, however, another battle has emerged that needs to be fought - for the final proof and permanent establishment in public opinion of the thesis about the legendary nature of the "blinding" of Samuel's warriors (15 thousand, according to Skilitsa, and 14 thousand, according to Kekavmen; see below). The beginning has already been set {4} and we are deeply confident that here too historical truth will find a way to overcome medieval propaganda. The victory of the Byzantine army in the Battle of Klyuch (July 29, 1014) is undoubted, as is the capture of Bulgarian soldiers there. But the battle at Klyuch was only the first of the Battle of Belasishka - in the second battle southeast of the strong fortress of Strumica, a little later, the Byzantine army was completely defeated. Thus, in the Belasishka battle, the victory was entirely for the Bulgarian army. And the legend of the "blinding" is probably later Byzantine propaganda that has nothing to do with historical truth.

We had to recall the legend of the "blinded" warriors of Samuel, because it is presented in some historical sources (see again below) as directly related to the death of King Samuel (997-1014):

"And the emperor [that is, Basil II Bagryanorodni (976-1025)] blinded the captured Bulgarians [in the battle of Klyuch on July 29, 1014] - about 15 thousand, as they say, and having ordered that every hundred blinded be led by one one-eyed, sent them to Samuel. And he, seeing them coming in rows with an equal number of men, could not bear this suffering bravely and calmly, and he became black and black and fell to the ground. The bystanders, who struggled to restore his breathing with water and incense [μύροις], managed to revive him a little. And he [King Samuel], when he came to himself, asked for a drink of cold water, but when he took it and drank, he had a heart attack [καρδιαγμᾣ=heart rupture] and after two days he died [October 6; according to an addition by Bishop Mihail Devolski, who, it seems, as well as his other additions to the manuscript of Ioan Skilitsa's "History", used Bulgarian sources for the events under consideration. Before the reading of the additions of Bishop Michael Devolski in the margins of the Viennese transcript of the "History" of John Skilitsa, the death of Tsar Samuil was referred to in September 1014 due to an error of Skilitsa himself in the text of his "History"]."{5 }

As we will see, the tearful story, allegedly described by Skilitsa, hardly corresponds to the truth. Katakalon Caekavmenus, another Byzantine author, had not even heard of any blinding – and he was the grandson of Demetrius Polemarchus, who was his mother's father. Demetrius Polemarchus was one of the prominent voivodes at the time of King Samuel and his successors, and was a direct witness to the events preceding the king's death:

"The Emperor Vasiliy [II] of Bagrania captured 14 [ιδ´] thousand Bulgarians in the barrier [δέμα] in [the region of] Zagore, although they were led by the superior general [cf. note {1}] Samuel”{6}

So this is how the events leading up to Samuel's death unfolded. Kekawmen, who probably heard about them from his own grandfather—to repeat that he was an eyewitness to the events—knows nothing of any blinding. Indeed, a certain number of Bulgarian soldiers were captured at the Battle of Klyuchka, there is no war without losses - it seems that the Bulgarian defense of the Klyuchka fortification line underestimated the possibility of the Byzantine army to bypass the Belasish ridge on the overgrown with dense vegetation and almost impassable southern slopes of the mountain.

Although Kekavmen's "Strategikon" was composed in the middle of the second half of the XNUMXth century, its author was born only a few years after the Battle of Belasis, and his childhood was spent in the surrounding lands. This is the reason why we have complete confidence in him for the events he narrated.

Our first doubts about Ioan Skilitsa's story about the blinded Bulgarians are based precisely on Kekavmen's work - the Battle of Belasishka is part of the family history of this author. And no dazzles and tearful dramas are to be found there.

The issue of the number of captured Bulgarian soldiers is quite separate, in the Byzantine texts letter designations were adopted for the numbers by which the numbers were represented. So it is with the number "14", because in the original "thousands" is written with a word. For now this is enough, to be precise we will claim that a certain number of Bulgarian soldiers - several thousand in fact - were undoubtedly captured during the Byzantine breakthrough in the Klyuchka Narrows.

The second important information about the captured Bulgarians is from Ioan Skilitsa, there they are estimated at 15 thousand, and in addition they were mercilessly blinded. One would have to cast reasonable doubt on Skilitsa's data. First of all, because of Kekavmen's complete ignorance of the matter, and his grandfather, we will mention, is a direct participant in the events. There are also a number of reasons to doubt the reliability of the palace chronicler Ioan Skilitsa, he also occupies a very high place in the Byzantine palace ladder, he is a Kuropalat. It should also not be forgotten that the original of Skilitsa's "History" has not reached our days. only her transcripts are known.

Indeed, Skilitsa's description is too detailed, even too detailed - and this undoubtedly makes us wary. Skilitsa's "diagnosis" of Samuil's death - rupture of the heart, that is, a heart attack, according to today's concepts, is, of course, conditional. The near-death symptoms of the king modern neurologists, with whom we shared the description of the springs, define as more typical of a stroke, that is, a stroke. Let's not forget the sequence of events in Skilitsa - the immediate cause of death he points to was the glass of "cold water", preceded by inhalation of "fragrance", which makes it necessary not to exclude poisoning - a well-known Byzantine "specialty".

The assumptions briefly described will remain only hypotheses that can hardly ever be fully proven. What is absolutely certain, however, is the advanced age of King Samuel - by the fall of 1014, he must have been over 70 years old, even in the middle of his seventh decade of life, as shown by the examination of the bone remains from grave no. 3 in the church "St. Achilles" in the Little Prespa lake.

Although he is the youngest among the sons of Comte Nicholas and his wife Ripsimia, his birth can hardly be attributed to the middle of the 927th century, because in the events surrounding the death of King Peter (969-970/970) he is already mentioned equally with his older brothers, so it must be expected that he was either already of age or at least close to age of majority. Moreover, since nowhere in the sources is there any mention of the participation of the commeat Nicholas in the events, we will have to assume that he was no longer alive by 1014, which makes Samuel even older. But even without the last assumption, which is quite conjectural, the year 65 is sufficiently distant in time from the middle of the XNUMXth century, and to claim that Samuel was at least XNUMX years old at his death, and even significantly older, is completely justified.

The question of the age of King Samuel is an important one, as we seek to prove that it did not need any particularly unfavorable confluence of circumstances for a man to pass from this world, already an old man even by our present conceptions.

However, a comparison with the contemporaries of King Samuel will be useful. The average age of the population in Medieval Bulgaria has not been the subject of a proper authoritative study, but we know what the average age of the population in neighboring Byzantium is - half of its population does not live to the age of 35 {7}. Emperors, intellectuals and hermits live longest – and this is to be expected. The emperors of the Macedonian ruling family (867-1056), contemporaries of Samuel, reached an average age of 59 years. For comparison, their contemporary representatives of the Saxon ruling family (before 866-1024) in Germany barely reached an average age of 40,5 years. The relatively longer life of the emperors can be explained by the good nutrition {8}, as well as by the best medical care for its time. It should not be forgotten, however, that quite a few Byzantine emperors died prematurely in accidents, in wars or in conspiracies - put to the sword, poisoned, torn apart.

On average, intellectuals lived 12 years longer in Byzantium - for the period from the 71th to the 80th century, they lived to the age of 90 on average. Somewhat unexpectedly for us, the hermits lived the longest in Byzantium at that time - often up to XNUMX and sometimes up to XNUMX years of age. In fact, this should not surprise us, because we know exactly what and how much most of them ate - bread, wine (probably diluted) and whatever they could obtain through gathering, hunting and fishing from the nature around them.

As must have been evident, King Samuel reached a considerable age for his contemporaries, and no further inducements, such as the heart-rending sights of thousands of blinded soldiers, were needed to make him pass from this world {9}.

All these details are probably of interest primarily to specialists. For all of us, what King Samuil leaves behind is of paramount importance - a mighty Bulgaria that determines the destinies of the entire Balkan Peninsula. Despite the merciless battles with Byzantium.

Author's card
Copy of the famous Bitola inscription of his nephew Tsar Ivan Vladislav (1015-1018)

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