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Samuil of Bulgaria

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Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria (d. October 6, 1014, reigned 976-1014) is today regarded by many in his homeland as a hero. Although ultimately unsuccessful in saving his country's independence from the incursions of Emperor Basil II of the Byzantine Empire, Samuil resisted him for decades and is the only man to ever defeat Basil II in battle.

Although he wasn't crowned as Tsar until 997, Samuil's reign actually dates from 976, when his predecessor Tsar Roman bestowed the power of the state, if not the crown, upon him. Already known as a successful general, Samuil now extended Bulgarian territory in all directions. Soon, the kingdom reigned supreme over virtually the entire Balkans, with only parts of Greece and Thrace remaining under Byzantine control. In 986, Samuil drove Basil II's army from the field at Troyanovi Vrata, and the emperor sooned turned to the east for new conquests. His victory prompted Pope Gregory V to recognize him as Tsar, and he was crowned in Rome in 997.

For the next fifteen years, Samuil and Basil prepared for the clash both men knew was coming. In 1002, full-scale war broke out. By this time, Basil's army was stronger after being tested in battle during his eastern campaigns, and Samuil was forced to retreat into his country's heartland. Still, by harassing the powerful Byzantine army, Samuil hoped to force Basil to the peace table. For a dozen years, his tactics maintained Bulgarian independence and even kept Basil away from the main Bulgarian cities, including the capital of Ohrid.

However, on July 29, 1014 at Kleidion (Belasitsa) in Macedonia, Basil II was able to corner the main Bulgarian army and force a battle while Samuil was away. He won a crushing victory and blinded 14,000 prisoners, leaving one man in every hundred with the sight in one eye to lead his comrades home. The sight was too much even for Samuil, who blamed himself for the defeat and died less than three months later, on October 6.

The independent Bulgarian kingdom survived him by less than four years, and didn't throw off Byzantine rule until 1185.


See also: History of Bulgaria - List of Bulgarian monarch



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