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Uprising of Asen and Peter

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Title: Uprising of Asen and Peter  
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Subject: Second Bulgarian Empire, Index of Bulgarian Empire-related articles, First Bulgarian Empire, Bulgarian Empire, Military history of the Cumans
Collection: 1185 in Europe, 1185 in the Byzantine Empire, 1204 in Europe, 1204 in the Byzantine Empire, 12Th Century in Bulgaria, 12Th Century in the Byzantine Empire, 12Th-Century Conflicts, Bulgarian Rebellions, Byzantine–bulgarian Wars, First Bulgarian Empire, History of Eastern Romance People, Medieval Rebellions in Europe, Medieval Thrace, Military History of the Cumans, Rebellions Against the Byzantine Empire, Second Bulgarian Empire, Wars of Independence
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Uprising of Asen and Peter

Uprising of Asen and Peter

Bulgaria during the uprising.
Date 1185–1204
Location Balkan peninsula
Result Decisive Bulgarian victory, reestablishment of the Bulgarian Empire
Bulgarian Empire Byzantine Empire
Commanders and leaders
Ivan Asen I
Peter IV
Isaac II Angelos
Alexios III Angelos

The Uprising of Asen and Peter (Bulgarian: Въстание на Асен и Петър) was a revolt of Bulgarians and Vlachs[1][2] living in the theme of Paristrion of the Byzantine Empire, caused by a tax increase. It began on 26 October 1185, the feast day of St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki, and ended with the creation of the Second Bulgarian Empire, ruled by the Asen dynasty.

Isaac II Angelus, in order to raise money for the wedding of the daughter of King Bela III of Hungary, levied a new tax which fell heavily on the population of the Haemus Mountains.[3] They sent two leaders (Peter and Asen) to negotiate with the emperor at Kypsella (now İpsala) in Thrace. They asked to be added to the roll of the Byzantine army and to be granted land near Haemus to provide the monetary income needed to pay the tax. This was refused, and Peter and Asen were treated roughly. Their response was to threaten revolt.

After their return, many of the protesters were unwilling to join the rebellion. The brothers Peter and Asen built the Church of St Demetrius of Thessaloniki in Tarnovo, dedicated to Saint Demetrius, who was traditionally considered a patron of the Byzantine city of Thessaloniki, and claimed that the Saint had ceased to favour the Byzantines: "God had decided to free the Bulgarians and the Vlach people and to lift the yoke that they had borne for so long".[4] This persuaded their followers to attack Byzantine cities, seizing prisoners and cattle. Preslav, capital of the First Bulgarian Empire, was raided, and it was after this symbolic incident that Peter assumed the insignia of Tsar (or Emperor).

In the spring of 1186, Isaac started a counter-offensive. It was successful at first. During the solar eclipse of 21 April 1186, the Byzantines successfully attacked the rebels, many of whom fled north of the Danube, making contact with the Cumans. In a symbolic gesture, Isaac II entered Peter's house and took the icon of Saint Demetrius, thus regaining the saint's favour. Still under threat of ambush from the hills, Isaac returned hastily to Constantinople to celebrate his victory. Thus, when the armies of Bulgarians and the Vlachs[5] returned, reinforced with their Cuman allies, they found the region undefended and regained not only their old territory but the whole of Moesia, a considerable step towards the establishment of a new Bulgarian state.

The Emperor now entrusted the war to his uncle, John the sebastocrator, who gained several victories against the rebels but then himself rebelled. He was replaced with the emperor's brother-in-law, John Kantakouzenos, a good strategist but unfamiliar with the guerrilla tactics used by the mountaineers. His army was ambushed, suffering heavy losses, after unwisely pursuing the enemy into the mountains.

The third general in charge of fighting the rebels was Alexius Branas, who, in turn, rebelled and turned on Constantinople. Isaac defeated him with the help of a second brother-in-law, Conrad of Montferrat, but this civil strife had diverted attention from the rebels and Isaac was able to send out a new army only in September 1187. The Byzantines obtained a few minor victories before winter, but the rebels, helped by the Cumans and employing their mountain tactics, still held the advantage.

In the spring of 1187, Isaac attacked the fortress of Lovech, but failed to capture it after a three-month siege. The lands between the Haemus and the Danube were now lost to the Byzantine Empire. The Emperor's only consolation was to hold, as hostages, Asen's wife and a certain John (future Kaloyan of Bulgaria), brother of the two new leaders of the Bulgarian state.


  1. ^ The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest, John Van Antwerp Fine, University of Michigan Press, 1994, ISBN 0-472-08260-4, p. 12
  2. ^ History of the Byzantine Empire, 324-1453, History of the Byzantine Empire, 324-1453, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Vasilʹev, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1952, ISBN 0-299-80926-9, p. 442.
  3. ^ Niketas Choniates p. 368 van Dieten.
  4. ^ Niketas Choniates p. 371-372 van Dieten. This is the point at which the sources begin to name "Bulgarians" alongside "Vlachs".
  5. ^ Byzantium's Balkan frontier: a political study of the Northern Balkans, 900-1204, Paul Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 2000; ISBN 0-521-77017-3, p. 290.


  • Nicetas Choniates, Historia, ed. J.-L. Van Dieten, 2 vols. (Berlin and New York, 1975), pp. 368–9, 371-7, 394-9; trans. as O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniates, by H.J. Magoulias (Detroit; Wayne State University Press, 1984).

External links

  • Foreign policy of the Angeli from A History of the Byzantine Empire by Al. Vasilief


  • Paul Stephenson, Byzantium's Balkan Frontier. A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900–1204 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) pp. 289–300.
  • R. L. Wolff, "The Second Bulgarian Empire. Its origin and history to 1204". Speculum 24 (1949): 167-206.
  • George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State. Rutgers University Press, 1969.
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