Bulgarian-Russian relations reflected in historical literature

Written by Деница Петрова
Титулна страница на изданието на Никоновската летопис от 1904 г. Титулна страница на изданието на Никоновската летопис от 1904 г.

The way early Bulgarian historiography penetrated in Russia can be reconstructed based on the transcripts in the so-called Archival Chronograph, also known as the Jewish Chronograph (Истрин 1893) or as Bulgarian Chronograph (Горина 2005) from the 15th century (Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts, f. 181, No. 279/685), Vilna Chronograph from the 17th century (Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Vilnius, No. 19/109) and Warsaw Chronograph from the late 15th–early 16th century (National Library of Poland, Warsaw, BOZ cim 83).


The main corpus of works is not in its entirety, but is shaped by the so-called chronograph block of works (Славова 2009: 294), which includes the Chronicle of John Malalas, the Compendious Chronicle by George Hamartolos (parts inserted between the Book 7 and Book 8 of Malalas’ chronicle), and the Alexander Romance by Pseudo-Callisthenes.

In Russian literature, information about the Bulgarians appeared relatively early. In the earliest Russian chronicle Tale of Bygone Years (12th c., also known as Primary Chronicle, Nestor’s Chronicle) significant events in Bulgarian history during the 7th –11th centuries have found their place – settlement of Asparuh Bulgarians by the Danube River, the march of Emperor Michael III of Byzantium against Bulgaria, the conversion of the Bulgarians, the invention of the Slavic script and its spread among other peoples, the Bulgarian-Byzantine relations under Tsar Simeon, the reign of his son Petar, the campaigns of Russian Prince Sviatoslav in the Bulgarian land. The work focuses mainly on the time of Boris-Michail (852–889) and Simeon (893–927). The events are not listed in exact order of chronology, but this does not diminish their value. M. Kaymakamova noted that the records about Bulgarians are a source of information about Bulgarian-Russian literary links in the 10th–12th centuries and the interaction between the chronicle genres in the literatures of the two peoples, as well as about the active participation of Bulgaria in the spread of Christianity in Russia. Probably the author of the Tale had been aware of Bulgarian historical and chronicle works, made by representatives of the Preslav Literary School. It is supposed that, in addition to the translation of the Chronicle of George Hamartolos (Compendium), of the Chronicle of John Malala, among the known sources have also been the short historical work Letopisec vkratce [Chronicle in short] (preserved in Simeon’s Miscellany of 1073); Istorikii [Histories] in the translation by Constantine of Preslav; the compilation known as the Slavic version of the Chronicle of George Synkellos, works by Clement of Ohrid, Constantine of Preslav and Monk Khrabr, the vitae of Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, the first translation of the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, Commentary on the Prophet Daniel by Hippolytus of Rome, and eventually the story The Miracle of St George with a Bulgarian.

Information on Bulgarian-Russian relations appeared in later texts as well. A notice in the 16th-century Nikon Chronicle reports that Prince Askold was killed by Bulgarians, but that should rather be referred to Volga Bulgaria. Other passages in the text point to the thought of contacts between the rulers of Novgorod and Danube Bulgaria. The same essay contains information about the invention of the Slavic script.

According to the 18th-century Yoakim’s Chronicle, Prince Oleg fought with the Bulgarians. The reference to волоти – Vlahs, suggests military action in the Danube region, but most researchers believe that the chronicle refers to the so-called Black Bulgars in the Lower Dnieper region. According to the same story, during the reign of Prince Vladimir I, Bulgarian Tsar Simeon had sent ‘educated clergymen and priests.’ The chronological inaccuracy can be explained by some displacement of the text by the transcriber. The arrival of Bulgarian priests and liturgical books is likely to be related to the period immediately after the baptism of the Russians. The name of Tsar Simeon is a testimony to the penetration of Bulgarian literature on Russian soil even before the adoption of Christianity in Russia.

A transcript of the Russian Chronograph of 1679 contains a report that the Novgorod district was populated by Slavs, Scythians, Bulgarians and other peoples who had come from the Danube region. Researchers consider this as legendary information and rarely dwell on it. Most probably, the author has adhered to the theory of the Danube origin of the Slavic peoples and has tried to enrich the exposition by inserting other peoples from Southeastern Europe along with the Slavs.

The chronograph contains valuable information about different periods of Bulgarian history, starting with the settlement of Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians in the Balkans. Information is given about the rule of Boris, Simeon, to whom a separate paragraph has been devoted, and Petar. The taking of the Bulgarian Empire by Byzantium is described in detail. In the first edition of 1512 and in that of 1617, the main source of information has been the Bulgarian translation of the Chronicle of Manasses with the short Bulgarian chronicle added thereto. The events are summed up, emphasizing the role of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. It is stated that the Bulgarians remained under Byzantine rule until the time of Bulgarian Tsar Asen I. In the West Russian edition of the Chronograph, the conquest of the Bulgarian Empire is reported according to the Extracts of History of John Zonaras. The story begins with information about the Cometopuli Dynasty, tells about the rule of Gavril Radomir and Ivan Vladislav; the fall of the Bulgarian fortress of Pernik is especially noted. Further, a separate paragraph entitled ‘About the Bulgarian Empire’ refers to tsars Kaloyan and Boril. Another paragraph is dedicated to the reign of Tsar Ivan Asen II. The story tells about Michail III Shishman and his death in the battle against the Serbs in 1330. Some transcripts also contain brief information about the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule. Bulgarian translations of Byzantine chronicles were used as sources for writing the Chronograph – of John Malalas, of George Hamartolos and his successor, of John Zonaras in its two versions, full and abbreviated (Extracts of History), of Konstantin Manasess together with the Bulgarian additions to the translation, as well as the vitae of St Hilarion of Maglen, St Petka, St Philotea and St John of Rila, written by Partiarch Euthymius of Tarnovo, and the Vita of Stefan of Decani by Gregory Tsamblak.

In Bulgarian historiography, information about the Russ is scarce. In the Bulgarian additions to the Chronicle of Manasses there is record of their baptism during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Basil I the Macedonian. A valuable piece of information about the Bulgarian-Russian cultural ties is the letter of Despot Yakov Svetoslav to Archbishop Cyril to send to Russia a copy of Nomocanon, which unfortunately is not preserved in the original. The contaminated version of Povest polezna za latinite [A Useful Novel for Latins] includes a story about the conversion of Bulgarians and Russians, extracted from the Extracts of History by John Zonaras. More reports about Russia are found in Ottoman periodicals. Bulgarian men-of-letters paid particular attention to the wars between the Russian and Ottoman empires.

The issue of Bulgarian-Russian relations attracted the attention of researchers as early as the 18th century. The first was the Russian amateur historian Ivan Elagin (1725–1794). As he maintained, Prince Oleg was in alliance with the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon. Incited by Byzantium, the Magyars invaded Bulgaria, which has been the reason for Oleg’s march against Byzantium. The beginning of the systemic study of the relations between the two peoples was put by Yuri Venelin (1802–1839) with his books Древние и нынешние болгаре [Ancient and Present Bulgarians] and Критическия изследования об истории болгар [Critical Studies on the History of the Bulgarians], which, although not at a high scientific level, exerted a strong impact on the Bulgarian intelligentsia during the Revival Period. Peter Lavrovski (1827–1886) in his book Изследование о летописи Якимовской [Research on the Yakimovsky Chronicles] (1855) linked the conversion of Russians to the enlightening role of Bulgaria. Mikhail Obolensky (1805–1873) defended the unconvincing thesis that the first Russian chronicle was written by the Bulgarian man-of-letters Grigoriy. Similar were the views of German Barac (1835–1922), who saw considerable Bulgarian influence at the inception of Russian historiography. According to Archimandrite Leonid Kavelin (1822–1891), Princess Olga was of Bulgarian in origin, but later the scientist denounced this thesis. Dmitry Ilovayski (1832–1920) also claimed that the Russian princess was of Bulgarian royal lineage. Interestingly, the opinion of Prof Pavel Milyukov (1859–1943) was that for some time the Tivertsi and Ulichi tribes living in the Dniester River area were under the rule of Tsar Simeon. The studies of Academician Mikhail Speranski (1863–1938) are important. In his article Откуда идут старейшие памятники русской письменности и литературы? [Where do the oldest monuments of Russian writing and literature come from?] (1928), he found traces of a Bulgarian source in the oldest Russian literary monuments and related the period of Bulgarian literature penetration in Russia to the onset of Christianity among the East Slavs. Academician Sergey Obnorsky (1888–1962) also shared this view in his publication Язык договоров русских с греками [The Language of the Treaties of the Russians with the Greeks] (1936). Prof George Telberg (1881–1954) believed that the intensified trade relations between Russians and Bulgarians have been the factor that contributed to the penetration of the Slavic Bulgarian Christian tradition in Russia. In his book Заря христианства на Руси [The Dawn of Christianity in Russia] (1939), he devoted a special chapter on this topic, entitled ‘Russia and Bulgaria in the 9th–10th centuries.’

Academician Nikolay Derzhavin (1877–1953) started his systemic studies of Bulgarian-Russian relations with his book Племенные и культурные связи болгарского и русского народов [Tribal and Cultural Relations of the Bulgarian and Russian Peoples] (1944). From the point of view of modern science, he allowed some inaccurate presumptions that were corrected by Academician Mikhail Tikhomirov (1893–1965) in his book Исторические связи русского народа с южными славянами с древнейших времен до половины XVII в. [Historical Relations of the Russian People with the South Slavs from Ancient Times to the First Half of the 17th Century].

In Bulgarian science, the topic of Bulgarian-Russian relations first concerned Academician Dimitar Angelov (1917–1996) with his book Руси и българи в историята [Russians and Bulgarians in History], published in 1945. His reflections on the place of Bulgarian-Russian economic links in the relations between the two peoples are valuable for science.

Russian scientist Peter Tretyakov (1909–1976) suggested in the monograph Восточнославянские черты в быту населения Придунайской Болгарии [East Slavic traits in the everyday life of the population of Danube Bulgaria] (1948) that the Bulgarians were of East Slavic origin. In his book Славянобългарският фактор в християнизацията на Киевска Русия [The Slavic-Bulgarian Factor in the Christianization of Kievan Russ] (1949) Prof Vsevolod Nikolaev (1909–1987) argued that the Bulgarians had converted Russia during the reign of Tsar Simeon. Among the most significant works on the topic is the study Духовно-културни връзки между България и Русия през средните векове (X–XV в.) [Spiritual-cultural relations between Bulgaria and Russia in the Middle Ages (10th–15th century)] (1950) by Academician Ivan Snegarov (1883–1971). The author made a thorough analysis of known sources and corrected some inaccuracies made by previous researchers. In 1955 appeared the book Връзките между българското и руското изкуство [Relations between Bulgarian and Russian Art] by Prof Nikola Mavrodinov (1904–1958), which deals with the interactions between East and Bulgarian Slavs until the 10th century. In 1957, published was the book Българо-руски стопански отношения и връзки до освобождението ни от турско иго [Bulgarian-Russian economic relations and links until our liberation from the Turkish yoke] by Academician Veselin Hadzhinikolov (1917–2003), which was the first study dedicated specifically to Bulgarian-Russian economic relations. Of important scientific value is the article of Prof Bonyu Angelov (1915–1989) К вопросу о начале русско-болгарских литературных связей [On the Issue of the Beginning of Russian-Bulgarian Literary Links], which proves that the Old Bulgarian literature had begun to penetrate in Russia before the time when Russians were baptized. Borislav Primov (1918–1984) again touched on the topic of Bulgarian-Russian economic relations in his article За икономическата и политическата роля на Първата българска държава в международните отношения на Средновековна Европа [On the Economic and Political Role of the First Bulgarian Empire] in the International Relations of Medieval Europe] (1961).

The publication of Prof Vladimir Moshin (1894–1987) О периодизации русскоюжнославянских литературных связей X–XV вв. [On the Periodization of Russian-Slavic Literary Links of the 10th–15th Centuries] is valuable and further elaborates the ideas of M. Tikhomirov and B. Angelov. Of interest is his attempt to identify the types of books coming from Bulgaria to Russia. In the book Внешняя политика Древней Руси [Foreign Policy of Ancient Russia] (1968), Prof Vladimir Pashuto (1918–1983) proved that Tsar Simeon was not in contractual relations with Russia. Literary critic Engels Zikov (1934–1976), in his article Заметки о русско-болгарских литературных связах старшей поры (X–XI вв.) [Notes on the Russian-Bulgarian Literary Links in Ancient Times (10th–11th century), pointed out that Bulgarian literature has penetrated in Russian land in the late 9th – the early 10th century. His article Известия о Болгарии в ‘Повести временных лет и их источник’ [Reports on Bulgaria in ‘Tale of Bygone Years’ and their source] is among the first publications in Bulgarian history devoted to Russian sources. Individual aspects of Russian-Bulgarian relations have been the concern of Russian historians Andrey Sakharov and Valery Perhavko. A significant contribution was made by Genady Litavrin, who in his monographs Древняя Русь, Болгария и Византия в IX–X вв [Ancient Russia, Bulgaria and Byzantium in the 9th–10th centuries] (1983), Болгария и Византия в XI–XII вв. [Bulgaria and Byzantium in the 11th–12th centuries] (1960) and Византия, Болгария, Древняя Русь (IX–начало XII в.) [Byzantium, Bulgaria, Ancient Russia (IX – beginning of XII c.)] (2000) substantiated the thesis of that lasting cultural ties have been established between Bulgarians and Russians since the early 10th century.

In 1990, the book of Prof Emil Mihaylov (1930–2004) Руси и българи през ранното Средновековие [Russians and Bulgarians in the Early Middle Ages] was published, which summarized the studies that have been published so far and clarified a number of controversial points. The author has contributed with an in-depth study of various written sources. Anatoly Turilov studied medieval sources in detail and analysed the work of Bulgarian writers. He examined the cultural and literary connections between Russians, Bulgarians, and Serbs during the First and Second South Slavic influences in some of his articles, and in his books as well, Slavia Cyrillomethodiana: Источниковедение истории и культуры южных славян и Древней Руси. Межславянские культурные связи эпохи средневековья [Slavia Cyrillomethodiana: A Source for the History and Culture of South Slavs and Ancient Russians. Inter-Slavic Cultural Relations of the Middle Ages] (2010), От Кирилла Философа до Константина Костенецкого и Василия Софиянина. История и культура славян IX-XVII веков [From Cyril the Philosopher to Konstantin of Kostenets and Vasily the Sofian. History and Culture of Slavs of the 9th–17th Century (2011) and Межславянские связи эпохи Средневековья и источниковедение истории и культуры славян [Inter-Slavic Relations of the Middle Ages and the Source Study of Slavic History and Culture] (2012).


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SESDiva ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 – S&T

SESDiva. Project № 156

SESDiva aims at creating a virtual museum of written culture in relation to the social, religious, cultural, and ideological environment and relations between the South and East Slavs throughout the centuries from the 11th to the beginning of the 20th century.

Duration: 2018-2020
Program: ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 ‐ S&T Projects