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Todorova (2014 Congress)

Elisaveta Todorova
(University of Cinncinati)
“The Second Bulgarian Empire and the Mediterranean”

Abstract of Paper Presented at 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 I:  “Shaping, Defining, and Reshaping an Empire”

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 Florin Curta (University of Florida) and Mildred Budny (Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
2014 Congress Accomplished

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

The Second Bulgarian Empire came into existence through an anti-Byzantine uprising in the northeastern part of the Balkans in 1186.  Aware of their people’s past, its leaders, the Assenids, recreated not just a Bulgarian state but the Second Bulgarian Empire and so asked the pope to recognize both the state and their imperial title.  The population over which the Assenids ruled was heterogeneous, similar to the First Empire, albeit with certain new components; yet the core of state remained Bulgarian, incorporating peoples willing to strive for a shared political vision.  During the two hundred years of this empire’s existence, shifting borders and diverse coalitions extended Bulgarian control over much of the Balkan Peninsula.

After the initial military victories, culminating in the defeat of Theodor Komnenus at Klokotnitsa in 1230, Emperor John Assen II opened his state to the international trade, which at that time then was ascending in the Mediterranean, by allowing Ragusan merchants to engage in business in his realm.  In 1253, Michael Assen, John II’s successor, confirmed these trading rights as he granted toll exemption to the merchants of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and a permission to settle colonies in his lands; he requested similar conditions for Bulgarian merchants in the city of Dubrovnik as well.  From then on, the position of Dubrovnik in Bulgarian trade remained constant until the fall of the state to the Ottomans and after it.

Dubrovnik was a Venetian dependency between 1205 and 1358.  It appears that when the Venetians entered the Black Sea after the establishment of the Latin Empire in Constantinople, they benefitted from Dubrovnik’s trade privileges in their own maritime trade, at the same time as restricting Dubrovnik merchants to overland trade alone.  After 1261, when Venice had to compete with Genoa in the Pontic region, the Senate of the Serenissima took matter in its own hands and acted decisively in 1347 as it signed a treaty with the Bulgarian Emperor John Alexander, with the regulation of trade relations and the permission for founding a Venetian colony in Varna.  This main port of Zagora (one of the medieval names for Bulgaria in the West), remained a Venetian outlet for trading in grain, silver, and silk as late as 1450.

The Genoese, the perennial competitor of Venice elsewhere in the Mediterranean as well as in the Black Sea, established their monopoly for exporting Bulgarian products on the Bulgarian–Tatar border on the lower Danube, by founding colonies and exporting from there large amounts of grain, wax, honey, hides, and other goods.  When the Bulgarian state tried to obtain a share from the lucrative trade passing through Vicina, Kilia, and Licostomo by confiscating Genoese cargoes, the Ligurian republic issued an embargo on trade and visits to Bulgarian ports, including Varna, Mesembria, and Sozopol.  It seems the ban was not effective, as the Genoese continued to conduct their business in the region during the first half of the fourteenth century and later.

When the eastern provinces of the Bulgarian state separated from its imperial core centered in Tărnovo, the attempts by Despot Dobrotitsa to protect his state’s interest by attacking Genoese vessels engaged in exporting commodities from the Danube ports were interpreted in Genoa as a war against the republic, so that a navy was readied in Caffa to fight with him.  This “war” ended once his son and successor, Ivanko, agreed in 1387 to sign a contract legitimizing Genoese presence in Dobrudja.

Such tactics show that the Second Bulgarian Empire was an active participant in international trade by exchanging the products of its lands for luxuries it did not possess, through the participation its own merchants or recognized international traders, those of the Mediterranean trading republics of Dubrovnik, Venice, and Genoa.