Macedonia and Byzantium
It is indisputable that the incorporation of Macedonia within the borders of the Byzantine Empire of Basil II and his successors enabled and even strengthened the development of feudal relations in Macedonia. The free rural communities, which had always represented the danger of organized resistance to the authorities, began to dissolve. Although it was a gradual process, their dissolution was accelerated by the increased differentiation among the members of the communities themselves, and by the reduction of the male population by the frequent mass recruitment of soldiers for the Byzantine army. In such a situation, the estates which had been left without family heads were especially attractive to the new feudal lords.
Along with the introduction of feudal lords of Greek and Armenian descent to Macedonia, the number of local, Slavic feudal lords was also increasing. This Macedonian vanguard did not always side with Byzantium, however, and were often inclined towards their own people, finding there support for their own intentions and plans.
The financial policies of Byzantium led to the gradual impoverishment of the Macedonian population. The burden of rent in labor, or angaria (forced labor), was imposed by the state on the entire population, but further imposed by the feudal lords on the peasantry. The castrochityssia, unpaid labor to repair or raise fortresses, was the hardest angaria: people used draft animals to carry construction material to the site where the fortress was being erected or repaired. The population was also engaged in repairing roads and bridges and in building boats without remuneration. Beside the angaria, payments in kind were also imposed: tithes of harvest, fish, livestock, etc.
All this was supplemented by rent in money: after the monetary reform of 1040, payment in currency was generally substituted for payments in kind. In general, taxation of the Macedonian population was considerably increased in the 11th century, the motive for continuous organized and spontaneous resistance in Macedonia against Byzantine rule. Michael Psellus wrote that not "a long time" had passed since Emperor Basil II destroyed Samuil's state and "in such a defeated condition incorporated it under Romaean authority", when the subjugated people began to demonstrate their "former impertinence" again. The Byzantine historian Skylitzes wrote that the people "who had just bent their heads in slavery ... strongly sought freedom. ... The people of Ohrid were ready to arm themselves and to rise against Byzantium immediately after the fall of the town to Byzantine authority." Likewise, in his letters Theophylact of Ohrid often emphasized such desires in his congregation, stressing that the province of Macedonia was always faced with "the ghost of war", as "the barbarians [Macedonians] never stopped thinking about their glorious times."
The substitution of payment in kind by payment in currency, imposed by John the Orphanographer in 1040, was the last straw, and the peasantry rose up in outrage. "The local population could not endure it easily and, therefore, when a favorable moment presented itself with the coming of Delyan, renounced Romaean rule and returned to their former laws," writes Skylites.
Petar Delyan was the son of Gavril Radomir and is thought to have been Samuil's grandson. When Radomir occupied Larissa, he fell in love with a beautiful slave named Irene, and because of her turned out his pregnant wife, the daughter of the Hungarian king. She returned back to her father in Hungary and hence, Delyan was born there. Such was recorded by Michail of Devol in the Vienna supplement to the Chronicle of Skylitzes. The Hungarian historian G. Fecher suggests that when Samuil was still alive Gavril Radomir did in fact turn out his wife (the Hungarian princess), not because of Irene-a legend-but because of cool relations between Samuil and her young brother, King Stephen of Hungary. Samuil had entered into alliance with Prince Ayton of the Banat, Hungary's enemy, an indication that he had turned against the politics of his daughter-in-law's brother. Petar Delyan was born in the female monastery of Wespremvoldi, where the pregnant Hungarian princess stayed after her return from Macedonia. Petar remained there until his coming to the Hungarian court, where he received the title of ban (governor).
The historian Michael Psellus writes: "That tribe of Bulgarians, formerly a cause of numerous dangers and battles... and now weakened in every respect... made efforts to restore its former haughtiness: for some time it did not initiate a public uprising, but when one of those who were ready to incite its impertinence arrived, already strong determination for an uprising had emerged. They were induced to such insanity by a monster, whom they considered to be of their own kin... He, after finding out that the entire people intended to renounce the Romaeans ... at first presented himself as the most worthy and sincere in his counseling, and then as the most experienced in military skill." The words "of Bulgarians" were inserted in one of the later versions of his Chronography by Michael Psellus, the source of the quotation. After the Byzantine-Bulgarian peace treaty of 927, Balkan territories (including Macedonian territories) conquered by the Bulgarian kings Pressin, Boris and Symeon were officially considered to be Bulgarian provinces, and all subjects of the Bulgarian state as Bulgarians. This reference to Bulgarian subjects by official Byzantium sources continued even after the fall of the First Bulgarian Empire in 971 and the establishment of Samuil's empire.
In Belgrade Petar Delyan was appointed tsar "after he had been lifted on a shield by the army." He was met there by representatives of the insurgents who had come from distant Macedonia. His uncle, King Stephen, was probably also involved in obtaining the title of tsar for Delyan. From Belgrade, Delyan set off to occupy Nish and Skopje and, when victorious, advanced to Thessaloniki where Emperor Michail IV was receiving a medical treatment. Frightened the course of events, the emperor escaped to Constantinople, leaving power and his treasury in the hands of Michail Ivec in Thessaloniki, most likely a son of Ivec, one of Samuil's generals. It is therefore understandable why Ivec the Younger joined Samuil's grandson immediately, taking with him much of the emperor's wealth. The turning of coats took place in the vicinity of Thessaloniki rather than inside the town itself, as Delyan's insurgents were not able to occupy the town. But the remainder of Macedonia was taken, as well as the regions around Vitosha, Osogovo and Thessaly, and Epirus and Albania revolted against Byzantine rule. Lacking the necessary strength to resist Delyan, Byzantium undertook a cunning and typical Byzantine stratagem in order to eliminate the new danger. Michael Psellus writes that "The war was still going on when something amazing happened: one of Aron's sons, called Aleutian [a personal acquaintance of Psellus], a man of gentle disposition and brilliant mind, successful and of great importance, became most deserving of the tsar's throne ...When he heard about his people's problem, and found that they, having no imperial descendant, had chosen an illegitimate son to rule over them, he left his children, rejected his wife's love and had the impertinence to set out from the far east to the west ..."
In fact, Aleutian was the grandson of Aron (the brother of Samuil) and as a great-nephew of Samuil was chosen by Michail IV was sent to reap discord among the insurgents. He was welcomed by Petar Delyan as a close relative and, according to Skylitzes, even given 40,000 soldiers to besiege Thessaloniki. The siege was raised by the Byzantines and the army defeated, while Aleutian himself had a narrow escape. Defeated, he returned to Ostrovo, a town between Kostur and Prespa. One day, at a dinner, he "suddenly caught him [Delyan]. cut off his nose, poked his eyes out, doing it all with a kitchen knife", Psellus writes.
Being of Samuil's blood, Aleutian was proclaimed tsar by the army. The new leader secretly advised the Byzantine emperor of this, and at a convenient moment deserted the army for the Byzantine capital: the insurgents, left without a leader, were easily defeated.
In Constantinople the traitor was granted great honors and wealth, while the blinded Delyan was captured and sent to Thessaloniki without giving any resistance. After he conquered and subjugated the Macedonians to his authority, wrote Psellus, and after he appointed strategists in each of the themes, the emperor returned to the capital taking many prisoners with him, among them their illegitimate leader with his nose cut off and his eyes gouged out. The consequences of the uprising were severe, and Macedonia was completely devastated. A considerable number of its inhabitants were enslaved by the emperor, and many lost their estates. In order to break up the ethnic unity of the Macedonians, Constantinople settled foreign colonists in the region.
An additional, small uprising in Larissa, Thessaly, was begun in 1066 by the Vlach population. In a familiar, cycle, the Larissa uprising was also betrayed by its leader, Nikulitsa Delphin, a feudal lord, who took the first opportunity to surrender to Emperor Constantine X Ducas. Although unsuccessful, this revolt sought to spread and include the Macedonian population as well, and did succeed in assisting the beginnings of a latter uprising in Skopje under the leadership of Georgi Voyteh. In 1072, only six years after the uprising in Thessaly, Macedonia was shaken anew by a rebellion triggered by new financial policies of Byzantium following its defeats in Italy and Asia Minor. At the battle of Manzikert, Byzantium was defeated by the Seljuq Turks and thus lost the rich lands of Asia Minor; the occupation of Bari by the Normans cost Byzantium its last possessions in southern Italy. To respond to these emergencies heavy taxation was levied throughout the empire, cutting deeply into the Macedonian population. The uprising of 1072 centered in Skopje and was led by Georgi Voyteh. The insurgents gathered in Prizren and sought the aid of Michail, King of Zeta, who was related to Samuil: Michail was the son of Prince Stephan Voislav, the son of Samuil's daughter Kossara (who had married Prince Jovan Vladimir). King Michail was thus the great-grandson of Samuil and the rebels, respecting his bloodline, applied to him for aid. He had promised in the past that he would support their desire to restore Samuil's empire; he now gathered 300 soldiers and sent them to Prizren, accompanied by his son Constantine Bodin. There Bodin was proclaimed as tsar, changing his name from Constantine to Petar in honor of Petar Delyan.
Nicephorus Bryennius witnessed these events in Macedonia, and wrote in his History: "The emperor Michail [Michail VII Ducas] had many difficulties at that time, because the Scythians [the Pechenegs] made sudden attacks on Thrace and Macedonia, and the Slavs rejected Romaean slavery and devastated and plundered the Bulgarian country. Skopje and Nish were conquered..." As noted in Bryennius's chronicle, the uprising was very successful in its beginning: beside Skopje and Nish, part of the rebels, led by Petrilo, occupied Ohrid and advanced to Kostur, where they were defeated. This encouraged the Byzantines to undertake a counteroffensive, and a huge army, led by Michael Saronit, set out for Skopje. Georgi Voyteh, frightened by the advance, surrendered the town without resistance. Tsar Bodin, who had in the meantime occupied Nish, set back for Skopje. The insurgents and Saronit's soldiers met in a decisive battle near present-day Paun on the plains of Kosovo, where Bodin was defeated. He and Georgi Voyteh were captured and sent to Constantinople. Voyteh died on the journey, but Bodin-after many months of imprisonment-was released after payment of a ransom and returned back to Zeta. On two occasions Byzantium sent armies to Macedonia to put an end to the uprising, and warfare devastated the region. Many towns were damaged, and the imperial palaces built in Prespa during the time of Tsar Samuil were destroyed. Nicephorus Bryennius was a general during the counteroffensive, and by the end of 1073 he "mastered the people of the Slavs" and subjugated it again to Byzantine authority. However, Constantine Bodin could not remain at peace. Theophylact of Ohrid wrote in a letter: "In Ohrid matters are terrifying. The region of Mokra [a part of the Ohrid theme] is seized by the captive [Bodin] and surrendered, while Bagora [a Macedonian mountain] has been occupied by the rebel. In a word, everything is bad."
Devastation, suffering, hunger and death stalked the Macedonian countryside as wave after wave of warfare and rebellion swept through it. Jovan Zvonara in his Chronicle writes that in 1064 "the Gagauz Turks passed the Danube River and halved the entire country along the river. There were 60,000 people, they say, who could carry arms. From there they invaded Macedonia, plundered it and reached as far as Hellas." Rudolf Cadonensi in his Jerusalem Expedition (1083-1085) states that "...the messenger... upset Emperor Alexius: Bohomund Giuscard [son of the Duke of Normandy] crossed the Adriatic and occupied Macedonia." The Byzantine writer Ephraim laments: "Alas! Alas! The town of Thessaloniki has been occupied, I say, the metropolis of the Macedonians."
In 1096, Crusaders of the First Crusade passed through Macedonia on their way to Jerusalem. Robert the Monk, a direct participant in the First Crusader and author of the History of Jerusalem writes that "the Crusaders finally entered a region [Durres] very rich with all kinds of treasures, and going from village to village, from one fortress to another, from town to town, arrived at Kastoria [Kostur] where they celebrated Christ's birth and then rested for a few days. However, when they asked the inhabitants for a market, they could not get it because everyone ran out of their sight, thinking that our people had come to rob and devastate the country. For that reason our people, lacking food, were forced to plunder: to steal sheep, pigs and everything that could be used for food... They left Kastoria and came to Pelagonia, where there was a heretics' fortress, and they attacked it from all sides... While the trumpets blared and the spears and arrows flew, they robbed it and burned down all its riches together with the inhabitants themselves..."
The History of Jerusalem contains a great deal of information about the campaign through Macedonia; for example, the last reference seems to indicate a renewed upsurge of Bogomilism in Macedonia during the time of the Comnenus dynasty (1081-1085). The destroyed fortress in Pelagonia was probably Bogomilean, and the victimized inhabitants were Bogomils.
Only ten years after this, Theophylact of Ohrid wrote to John Comnenus, son of the emperor's elder brother: "One of the monks and clergymen [the Bogomil leader, the priest Vasiliy], to my misfortune, scorned God and became a prey to shamelessness, rejecting the human feeling of shame, and assumed the figure of a harlot, rejected his own image and ate meat rather than fasting, [became] libertine rather than forbearing... That is why I ordered that this contagious and common disease be expelled from these territories. If by chance I capture him, he will die in the tower as a social and state evil."
The Bogomilean and Paulician movements were particularly strengthened after the death of Alexis I Comnenus (1118). Paulicianism emerged as a sect in Western Armenia in the 7th century; its essence is represented by the dualism of God: a god of good and a god of evil. The good god of Heaven, and the bad god of Hell-creator of darkness, the visible world and our bodies. The Paulicians claimed that human beings were created by the Devil and that Jesus was sinless in the imagination only and was not, in fact, real. They also claimed that Mary gave birth to other children as well, in a relationship with a mortal man. The Paulicians denied the official church as Satanic. They held their prayers day and night: in light they prayed with their faces turned towards the sun, at night turned towards the moon. They supported freedom in marital and sexual relations, opposing marriage as an institution of the Devil. Unlike the Bulgarian Paulician church, the Macedonian Paulician church held to a strict dualistic orientation. Before the Turkish conquest of the Balkans, a number of the worshippers of this church grew closer to official Orthodox doctrine, while others, upon the arrival of the Turks, accepted Islam.
Apparently, the execution of Vasiliy and his fellow heretics in Constantinople in 1111 did not affect the spread of Bogomilism. The Hagiography of Bishop Hilarion of Meglen states that Emperor Manuil I Comnenus (1143-1180) himself "almost" submitted to the influence of this heresy, and Hilarion and Theophylact of Ohrid were given exceptional powers by Constantinople to liquidate Bogomilism. The extent to which Bogomil movement had spread in Macedonia is indicated by the fact that in 1140, 1143 and 1156/57 church meetings were held at the Byzantine capital with the sole purpose of determining how to destroy Bogomilism.
In the late 12th century Bogomilism had spread throughout Macedonia; not difficult to achieve, since Bogomilism was anti-feudal in nature, preaching equality and democracy in poverty, living a modest and simple life and disobedience to authorities. All these elements were very close to the thoughts of the Macedonian peasant masses, and they widely accepted the heresy.
In the late 12th and early 13th century, Byzantium was faced with economic, social and political crisis. Under pressure by the Normans, Byzantine rule had collapsed in much of Macedonia, and Byzantine control over acquisitions in the northwest was also shattered. Newly-emerging feudal forces in Serbia and Bulgaria gained strength as serious political factors, and feudal lords of Slavic descent started to enlarge their estates and political power. Among those who broke their ties with the Byzantine court was Dobromir Hrs, the administrator of Strumica with 500 soldiers at his command. He rose against Constantinople and from Strumica occupied the town of Prosek in 1185, located where the Vardar River passes through the Demir Kapija Gorge. Hrs moved his capital to Prosek, extending his holdings in 1186 to Prilep, part of Pelagonia and some parts of Thessaly. In 1201, the Byzantine army recovered Strumica, Prilep and Pelagonia and advanced towards Prosek; Bulgarian military forces were activated at the same time. In 1203 the Byzantines entered Prosek, occupied it and put an end to the independence of Hrs. In 1204 Constantinople itself was attacked by the Crusaders. Its armed forces were not strong enough to resist either armies of the Crusaders or the fleets of Venice, let alone combined attack. Byzantium collapsed, and a part of Macedonia was incorporated by the Crusaders into the new Empire of Thessaloniki. Some Macedonian towns were garrisoned by detachments of Crusading knights; other Macedonian towns like Skopje, Ohrid and Veria fell under Bulgarian authority.
After the death of the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan, Tsar Strez strengthened his authority in Macedonia. Although of Bulgarian imperial descent he was aided by the Serbs in extending his rule over territories along the Vardar River to Thessaloniki and to Ohrid in the west. After his death in 1214, parts of Macedonia including Skopje and Ohrid fell under Epirote authority; ten years later, the Epirotes occupied Thessaloniki. Following their defeat by the Bulgarians at Klokotnitsa in 1230, Macedonia, Thrace and a part of Albania were incorporated within the borders of the restored Bulgarian Empire. In the eparchies as well as in secular administration Greeks were replaced by Bulgarians. The significance of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, Greek by hierarchical composition and function, decreased. In 1241 Macedonia fell under Nicaean authority, and five years later the Nicaeans conquered Thessaloniki as well. After fifty years of turmoil and fluid changes in political authority in Macedonia, in 1261 the Byzantine Empire was restored; but Byzantium ruled Macedonia for only 20 years. In 1282 King Milutin invaded Macedonia, and in 1345 Macedonia was conquered by Stephan Dushan following his occupation of Serres. Only Thessaloniki remained as a Byzantine enclave.
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