Petr Mihaylovich Bitsilli

Written by Никола Р. Казански
Petr Mihaylovich Bitsilli Petr Mihaylovich Bitsilli

13.09.1879 – 25.08.1953

Russian and Bulgarian historian, scholar of art history and literature, philologist. Bitsilli is considered the founder of art history studies in Bulgaria. His students included most of the outstanding Bulgarian historians of the first half of the 20th century.


Bitsilli was born in Odessa, in a noble family of Italian descent. He graduated from the Second Odessa Classical High School and then, in 1910, with a master’s degree from the Department of History and Philology at Novorossiysk University as a student of Y. N. Shchepkin (1860-1920). In 1912 he defended a thesis at the University of St. Petersburg on the subject of “Салимбене. Очерки итальянской культуры XIII века” (Salimbene. Readings in 13th Century Italian Culture). He specialized in Italy and France and was familiar with Greek, Latin and seven contemporary foreign languages. Bitsilli was appointed as associate professor and then as professor at the Novorossiysk University in Odessa. He also taught West European history at the Odessa Higher Courses for Women. In 1920 Bitsilli emigrated to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes where he was a librarian in the city of Vranje (Pčinja District) and taught at the University of Skopje. In 1924, with determined insistence on the part of Prof. Ervin Grimm (1870-1940), who then held the Chair of Modern and Contemporary History at Sofia University (and after he had been allowed to return to Russia), Bitsilli was invited to take his place. He held the position of regular professor (also at the recommendation of Academician N. P. Kondakov) until 1948, when he was dismissed for ideological reasons. Forced to live in poverty, which hastened his demise, he died in Sofia.

Bitsilli is considered the founder of art history studies in Bulgaria. He read over 80 courses as a professor. His students included most of the outstanding Bulgarian historians of the first half of the 20th century such as Hristo Gandev, Ivan Dujčev, Alexander Burmov, Dimiter Kosev, Dimiter Angelov, Tsvetana Georgieva, Virzhinia Paskaleva, Kroumka Sharova, Peter Petrov, Borislav Primov, Evlogi Bouzhashki and Peter Tivchev, among others.

Member of the Russian Academic Society in Bulgaria (1921). Secretary of the Union of Russian Writers and Journalists (1926). Chairman of the Academic Committee of the Russian Popular University in Sofia (1927).

Awarded the St. Alexander Order 4th (1938) and 3rd Degree (1943).

He was the author of 27 monographs, 30 studies, 144 articles and 118 reviews. His works were published in the most authoritative Bulgarian academic publication, Yearbook of Sofia University, in the journals Bulgarska Misul (ed. Mihail Arnaudov), Bulgarski Pregled (ed. Stoyan Romanski), Iztok (ed. K. Gulubov and Ch. Moutafov), Prosveta (ed. Peter Moutafchiev), Rodina (ed. Boris Yotsov), Filosofski Pregled (ed. Dimiter Mihalchev), and the newspapers Literaturen Glas and Literaturni Novini. He was an active contributor to Russian émigré publications like Sovremennie Zapiski, Zveno, Noviy Grad, Put’, Rossiya i Slavyanstvo, Russkie Zapiski, Chisla and others. He also published in authoritative foreign journals like Slavia (Prague), Zeitschrift für Slavische Philologie (Heidelberg), Revue des études slaves (Paris), Seminarium Kondakovianum (Belgrade), Revue de la literature compare (Paris), Tierre firme (Madrid), as well as others. He was the most proliferous author in the emblematic émigré journal Современные записки, where he was also one of the most authoritative contributors with 30 articles and 75 reviews.

Bitsilli’s work can be divided into the following thematic groups:

1. Antiquity and Middle Ages.
Here we cannot but mention Bitsilli’s dissertation Salimbene (1916), The Fall of the Roman Empire and Elements of Medieval Culture appearing in 1919. These support his basic thesis that “man is a direct subject of history” and that “history should seek the common ground of the historical process as movement of man and of masses of people”.

2. General history.

Bitsilli’s idea of “the historical synthesis through which historical universum is achieved” is outlined in the monographs Introduction to World History (1923), Introduction to the Study of Modern and Most Recent History (1927) and Basic Trends in the Historical Development of Europe (1940).

3. Theory of historical science and historiography
The author’s credo that “a historian is inevitably subjective, but that does not mean that history is not a real science or that the subjectivity of historical knowledge does not preclude its objectivity” was mainly upheld in Readings on the Theory of Historical Science (1925), as well as in numerous articles of methodological character.

4. Classical Russian literature
Stepping on the premise that “the more a person is a genius the more that person is vital and close to real life”, Bitsilli generated a number of brilliant analyses of the works of Gogol, Lermontov, Nekrasov, Dostoevsky, L. N. Tolstoy and Chekhov. Here we should mention the Etudes on Russian Poetry (1926), Chekhov’s Work: An Attempt at Stylistic Analysis (1942) and On the Matter of the Inner Form of the Novel in Dostoevsky (1946). There are indicative examples of his conclusions such as those that “classical comedy presents a parody of life, but with Gogol life itself is presented as a parody of comedy”, or that “Dostoevsky’s classical comedy presents a parody of life, but in Gogol life itself is presented as a parody of comedy”, or that “Dostoevsky’s ‘puppet’ ideology comes out from Gogol’s ‘Overmask’.”

5. Philosophical anthropology.
Numerous studies on national issues say that “the meaning of history, just as that of human existence, lies in the tragic outlines of its existential choice.

6. Russian history and Russian culture and civilization.
His idea that “Russia provided the creative synthesis between eastern and western cultures” is developed in his Russian History: from the Beginning of the 19th Century to the Second Revolution (1917) (1947).

7. Theory and history of Russian and world literature.
In Etudes on Russian Poetry (1926) and Short History of Russian Literature (1934) Bistsilli developed the idea that “romantic individualism is key to the understanding of historicism in general.”

8. Russian literary language and folklore.
Here we have the distinctive monographs of Notes on the Role of Folklore in the Development of Modern Russian Language and Russian Literature (1944), as well as Notes on Some Peculiarities in the Development of Modern Russian Literary Language (1954).

9. Bulgarian and Slavic studies.
According to Bitsilli, all Slavic languages originated from ancient Bulgarian. The conclusions that “albeit the latest, the Bulgarian National Revival was the most educated and the most exemplary of all European renaissances is it was a veritable national epopee,” “Choudomir and Alexander Bozhinov are true Bulgarian classics” and “yaz’ik in Old Bulgarian means both the language and the people” are indicative of the depth of his Bulgarian and Slavic studies.

10. Social and cultural studies.
A series of works propound the theses that “culture is a compendium of individual creative efforts” and that “civilization embodies the general level of culture and the corresponding system of designatable symbols”. These laid the foundations of cultural studies in Bulgaria.

11. Pushkin studies
Pushkin studies abound in the Etudes on Russian Poetry (1926), Pushkin and Vyazemsky (1939), Pushkin and the Problem of Pure Poetry (1945), as well as in over more than 30 articles and reviews.

12. Modern Russian writers.
Bitsilli revealed himself as an in-depth analyst of both Russian classics and modern Russian authors such as I. Bunin, A. Block, V. Shkovsky, M. Aldanov, Y. German, Zoshchenko, Tefi, and others. It is with good reason that he is thought to have discovered the talent of Vladimir Nabokov, who himself said Bitsilli was the first to ‘decipher’ his profound essence as an author and thinker.



  • Салимбене: Очерки итальянской жизни ХIII века. Одесса, 1916.
  • Падение Римской империи. Одесса, 1919.
  • Элементы средневековой культуры. Одесса, 1919.
  • Увод у светску историjу. Београд, 1923.
  • Очерки теории исторической науки. Прага, 1925.
  • Этюды о русской поэзии: Эволюция русского стиха. Поэзия Пушкина. Место Лермонтова в истории русской поэзии. Прага, 1926.
  • Увод в изучаването на новата и най-новата история : Опит за периодизация. София, 1927.
  • Краткая история русской литературы: От Пушкина до нашего времени. София, 1934.
  • Основни насоки в историческото развитие на Европа : От началото на християнската ера до наше време. София, 1940.
  • История на Русия: От началото на ХІХ-ия век до втората революция (1917 г.) : Вътрешна политика и обществени движения. София, 1947.
  • Anton P. Cechov: Das Werk und Sein Stil. München, 1966.
  • Основни насоки в историческото развитие на Европа : От началото на християнската ера до наше време. София, 1993.
  • Увод в изучаването на новата и най-новата история : Опит за периодизация. София, 1993.
  • Европейската култура и Ренесансът: Избрани студии. София, 1994.
  • Очерци върху теорията на историческата наука. София, 1994.
  • Класическото изкуство: Стилови изследвания. София, 1995.
  • Элементы средневековой культуры. Москва, 1995.
  • Избранные труды по филологии. Москва, 1996.
  • Место Ренессанса в истории культуры. Санкт-Петербург, 1996.
  • Трагедия русской культуры: Исследования, статьи, реценции. Москва, 2000.
  • Малки творби. София, 2003.
  • Нация и култура. София, 2004.
  • Въведение в световната история. София, 2007.


  • Болгария и Русь. – Россия и славянство (Париж), 1929, № 18, с. 4.
  • Краят на европейския културен свят (мисли на един художник, тъмен поради излишната си яснота). – Философски преглед, 1931, № 5, 445–448.
  • Народ, народност и народностно съзнание. – Философски преглед, 1933, № 4, 301–307.
  • Кризата на демокрацията. – Философски преглед, 1936, № 4, 333–341.
  • Основни проблеми на теорията и историята. – Родина, 1, 1938, 93–104.
  • Творчество Чехова. – Годишник на СУ. Историко-филологически факултет, 38, 1942, 1–138.
  • Заметки о роли фольклора в развитии современного русского языка и русской литературы. – Годишник на СУ. Историко-филологически факултет, 40, 1944, 1–53.
  • Пушкин и проблема чистой поэзии. – Годишник на СУ. Историко-филологически факултет, 41, 1945, 1–61.
  • К вопросу о внутренней форме романа Достоевского. – Годишник на СУ. Историко-филологически факултет, 42, 1946, 1–72.
  • Заметки о Чеховском „Рассказе неизвестного человека“. – Годишник на СУ. Историко-филологически факултет, 44, 1948, № 4, Езикознание и литература, 1–13.
  • Проблема человека у Гоголя. – Годишник на СУ. Историко-филологически факултет, 44, 1948, № 4, Езикознание и литература, 14–32.
  • Заметки о некоторых особенностях развития русского литературного языка. – Годишник на СУ. Историко-филологически факултет, 47, 1954, 201–236.
  • Пушкин и руският роман. – Болгарская русистика, 1993, № 1, 63–68.
  • Творчеството на Чудомир и българският хумор. – Летописи, 1994, № 11–12, 51–62.


  • Гандев, Хр. Проф. Петър М. Бицилли: Некролог. – Исторически преглед, 1953, № 5.
  • Мещерский, А.П. Незивестные письма И. Бунина. – Русская литература, 1961, № 4, 152–158.
  • Bicilli P. – Bicilli P. M. Anton P. Cechov: Das Werk und Sein Stil. München, 1966, 239–243.
  • Гандев, Хр. Проф. Петър М. Бицилли. – Векове, 1980, № 2, 38–42.
  • Струве, Г. Русская литература в изгнании. Нью-Йорк, 1984, с. 56.
  • Алманах на Софийския университет : Т. 2. София, 1988, 212–213.
  • Каганович, Б. С. П. М. Бицилли как литературовед. – Studia Slavica Hungarica, 34, 1988, № 1–4, с. 205, 218, 220.
  • Туниманов, В.А. Вступительная статья к „П. М. Бицилли. Статьи : История, культура, литература“. – Русская литература, 1990, № 2, 135–153.
  • Галчева, Т., Хр. Манолакев, Г. Петкова. Непубликувани писма на И.А. Бунин до проф. П. М. Бицилли. – Век 21, 1991, № 18.
  • Harris, J. G. A Humanist Reading of Tolstoy: The Writings of Petr M. Bitsilli. – Tolstoy Studies Journal, 4, 1991, 73–96.
  • Галчева Т. Н. П. М. Бицилли - опыт возвращения. – Бицилли П. М. Избранное. София, 1993, 7-4.
  • Каганович, Б. П. М. Бицилли как историк средневековой и ренессансной культуры. – Бицилли П. М. Культура Возрождения и средние века. Москва, 1993, 186–197.
  • Недков, З. Набоков и Бицилли. – Литературен форум, 17–23 февр. 1993.
  • Пантев, А. Завръщането на професор Бицили. – Бицили, П. Увод в изучаването на новата и най-новата история. София, 1993, V–VIII.
  • Делчев, К. Мястото на Бицили в културфилософията на Ренесанса. – Философски алтернативи, 1994, № 2, 118–121.
  • Каганович Б. С. П. М. Бицилли как историк культуры. – Одиссей: Человек в истории. Москва, 1994, 256–271.
  • Нерознак В. П. Петр Бицилли - ещё одно возвращение на Родину. – Вестник РАН, 64, 1994, № 6, 524–536.
  • Свинтила, Вл. Спомени за Бицили. – Философски алтернативи, 1994, № 2, 122–125.
  • Veleva М. Problèmes de la théorie de l'histoire dans l'œuvre du prof. P. Bicilli. – Bulgarian Historical Review, 1994, № 3, 122–135.
  • Велева, М. П. М. Бицилли в Софийския университет. – Минало, 1995, № 1, 81–92.
  • Велева, М. Из архивното наследство на П. М. Бицили. – Български ежегодник : Т. 2. Харьков–София, 1996, 201–221.
  • Бирман, М.А. П. М. Бицилли (1879–1953). – Славяноведение, 1997, № 4, с. 49, 62–63.
  • Димитрова, П. Познатият и непознатият Бицилли. – Историческо бъдеще, 1997, № 2, 182–184.
  • Тончев, Ал. Пётр Михайлович Бицилли и понятие „исторический синтез“. – Бялата емиграция в България. София, 2001, 180–185.
  • Велева, М. Българската съдба на проф. П. М. Бицилли. София, 2004.
  • Бирман, М. А. П. М. Бицилли (1879–1953): Штрихи к портрету ученого. – П. М. Бицилли. Избранные труды по средневековой истории : Россия и Запад. Москва, 2006, 633–712.
  • Галчева, Т. Н., Голубович, И. В. Понемногу приспособляюсь к “независящим обстоятельствам“: П. М. Бицилли и семья Флоровских в первые годы эмиграции. София, 2015.
  • Бирман, М. А. П. М. Бицилли (1879–1953): Жизнь и творчество. Москва, 2018.


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