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Marinow (2014 Congress)

Kirił Marinow
(Department of Byzantine History, University of Łódź, Poland)
“The Empire’s Heart:  The Significance of the Capital Tărnovo in the History of Late Medieval Bulgaria”

Abstract of Paper Intended for the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 2014)
Session on “A Neglected Empire:  Bulgaria between the Late Twelfth and Late Fourteenth Centuries”
Part II:  “Engaging in Empire, From Center to Periphery and Beyond”

Co-sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida
Organized by Mildred Budny (Research Group on Manuscript Evidence) and Florin Curta (University of Florida)
2014 Congress Accomplished

[First published on our first website on 20 March 2014, with updates]

[Please note:  Prof. Marinow was unable to travel to the Congress to present his paper.  We post his Abstract as a description of the subject and scope of his contribution to the discourse in our two sessions (Parts I and II) on this theme.]

Between 1185/86 and 1393, and from the mid-fourteenth century of the Tărnovo Tsardom, Tărnovo was the capital of the Bulgarian Empire.  Different factors were decisive for its history in different decades.  When it became a city in the 12th century, with its territory greatly limited, it fulfilled functions that were mainly defensive, and to a lesser degree, also economic.  The renewal of Bulgarian statehood at the end of the century made it the most important center of the country.  The years 1185/86–1235, that is the era from the proclamation of the Tsardom to the restoration of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria, witnessed the expansion of the capital and its prestige.  Relics of saints brought to the city by the rulers, as well as churches founded to commemorate those saints, played an important role in that process — enhancing the sanctification of the City.  The name of the city was added to the list of official titles of Bulgarian patriarchs; it also appeared in the titles of the rulers.

Significant was the fact that the latter was the rulers’ choice of the city as the place of permanent residence.  The rulers were accompanied by officials and the court, whose structure was understood as the earthly counterpart of heavenly order, created by God himself.  From that time onward, it was there where state affairs would be decided, from there that new cultural currents spread all over the country.  Above all, it was the place from which the whole official ideology of the Empire was created.  T?rnovo reflected the Constantinopolitan (that is the Byzantine) idea of a capital city, both formally (in court ceremonies, offices and institutions) and ideologically (with the cult of the capital viewed as the city of Providence, and the whole ideology of the state).  Those conditions explain how it is that everyone who sought to become a legal ruler (tsar/emperor) of the Bulgarian state, had to capture the city, and become crowned by the patriarch in one of the emperor’s churches.

As it was then understood, independence of the city would guarantee the existence of the country itself, while its collapse would inevitably lead to its end.  Characteristic of Tărnovo was its role as the central point in both the secular and ecclesiastic administration of the Bulgarian State.  But the fragmentation of Bulgarian lands in the mid-fourteenth century negatively affected impacted its political significance.  Nevertheless, it remained the most important cultural and ecclesiastical center of the country until the end of the Second Bulgarian State, that is, between the late twelfth and late fourteenth centuries.

The downfall of the Byzantine capital in 1204, accompanied both by the religious policy of Michael VIII Palaiologos (the close ally of the Holy See) and the weakness of the Byzantines in the mid-fourteenth century (the period of the civil wars), allowed the Bulgarian capital to lay claim to ascendance in the whole Orthodox world.  By belonging to the cultural circle in which the ideas of the past were particularly remembered and valued, the role which was assigned to Tărnovo and that which it actually played, differed very little from its Constantinopolitan model, although the city itself was not the perfect exact copy, as its location and architectural shape differed considerably from that those of Constantinople.  Tărnovo as a capital city was also one of the mightiest of Late-Medieval Bulgarian fortresses, as well as the economic center of the country, from the points of view of both local and foreign trade, with districts of Latin tradesmen, including Venetians, Genoese, and Ragusans.  It was not by accident that the ethnic and social structure of its inhabitants reflected the diversity of all subjects, from the poorest to the wealthiest representatives of the higher aristocratic circles, whom the Bulgarian rulers ruled.  The capture of the city by the Ottomans in 1393 put an end to the flourishing history of this city as the country’s capital.  Throughout the previous period, however, examination of the evidence demonstrates that, paraphrasing the well-known Roman saying, “all roads in Bulgaria led to Tărnovo”.

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Website Editor’s Note:

Prof. Marinow presented a paper for another of our co-sponsored Sessions at the Congress in a subsequent year:
Marinow (2016 Congress Booklet).

We thank him for his expert contributions to our co-sponsored Sessions. See also the 2016 Congress Report.

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  1. […] [Kirił Marinow (Department of Byzantine History, University of Łódź, Poland) “The Empire’s Heart: The Significance of the Capital Tărnovo in the History of Late Medieval Bulgaria” (Abstract / Marinow (2014 Congress))] […]