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Ioannes Zonaras

A well-known Byzantine chronicler, Ioannes Zonaras lived in the first half of the twelfth century. In his writings he recorded in detail the wars fought by the Bulgarian Tsar Samuil and the Byzantine Emperor Basilius II. The excerpt here recounts the infamous episode involving the blinding of Samnil's soldiers and the subsequent occupation of the country. The truth of the account is at-tested by Scylitzes, another contemporary Byzantine chronicler, and explains Basilius' nickname Bulgaroktonos, which means "Slayer of the Bulgars." The onginal is in Greek and comes from Zonaras's Epitomae Historiarum (1897).


The Emperor frequently attacked Bulgaria, caused damages and devastated it. Samuil, unable to oppose the Byzantine army, tried to block the roads for him by ditches, while barring the gorges with for-tifications and putting guards in them. And so the emperor came again and tried to enter by force but was repulsed by the guards who put up a valiant resistance. He did not give up his attempt, however, and remained there so as to take the fortification, sending one of the commanders with his subordinated detachment in another direction to see if he could make a detour and find some way for invasion. And he, passing across many mountains and steep slopes, attacked the guard of the fortification in the rear unnoticed by the Bulgarians, who, taken by surprise, did not care any longer for the defense of the fortification but thought only how to save themselves from ruin. Then the Byzantine army without fear broke the palisades, passed through and started a pursuit. Many were slain and many more were captured, and Samuil had a narrow escape. The Emperor gouged out the eyes of all prisoners, numbering about 15,000 men, save for one in every hundred to guide them and ordered them to go to their leader. On seeing them and unable to stand the pain, he lost con-sciousness and fell insensible to the ground. After recovering slightly, he was taken ill with heart trouble and died. The supreme power over the Bulgarians now passed on to his son Gavril Romanus, who, without having ruled even one year, was murdered by his uncle Aaron's son Ivan Vladislav, who also had two names. And so the Em-peror, having crossed, as I said, the fortification in the gorges, cap-tured many other fortified localities together with the Bulgarians in them and went to Mosynopole, where he was informed of Samuil's death. He then immediately moved on, attacked Bulgaria and cap-tured towns and fortresses. Samnil's son Gavril Romanus, who was not killed yet, sent envoys to the Emperor and promised to obey him. But after a certain time a servant of Ivan Vladislav's, the murderer of Gavril, arrived and announced the murder of Samuil's son and carried a letter promising submission to the Emperor. He was also joined by many prominent Bulgarians. Understanding that Vladislav had no intention of fulfilling his promise, the Emperor again set out against Bulgaria, ravaged much of her land, by siege took the town of Okhrid where the palaces of the Bulgarian Tsars stood, and through his military commanders seized other fortresses by siege, and then re-turned to Constantinople.

Last modified: December 23, 1997