Home Medieval The name of Tsar Samoil hardly to find in Bulgarian Orthodox literature

The name of Tsar Samoil hardly to find in Bulgarian Orthodox literature


The name of Tsar Samoil can hardly be found in the Bulgarian Orthodox literature, but modern Bulgaria claims the Tsar as the “sole exclusive heir”.

He is often wrongly called Samuil, but inscriptions (like the one in Gorna Prespa) prove that the former ruler based on the fortress on Lake Ohrid was called Samoil. Nevertheless, academics, scientists and Bulgaria speak of Samuil. Of course, also because of the similarity of the well-known biblical name Samuel.

But the name of the tsar is not in focus here. Whether it was Samuil or Samoil – one fact is inevitably the decisive argument. Samoil could have been anything but not a Bulgarian. Today he is mostly referred to as such, also because he stretched out his hand to the crown of the Bulgarian Empire at that time, and ultimately wore it.

Is Tsar Samoil a Bulgarian?

There are several theories about the ethnic origin of Tsar Samoil. In addition to a possible Armenian origin, the theory of “Bulgarian origin” is mostly put on the table. We just explained why above, he wore the crown of the empire.

But the mere fact that one wears the crown of an empire does not ultimately provide any specific information about an ethnic origin. There are no direct reports from Samoil in this regard.

However, the theory that is probably closest and most likely is rarely mentioned: a Macedonian ancestry.

If there is no direct evidence, we can (or must) infer the origin from other available sources. An important source from this time would inevitably be the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which was usually very close to a Bulgarian tsar. This is shown by examples of the Bulgarian tsars Boris, Simeon and Peter.

But not so with Samoil, because:

Samoil’s name is almost completely absent from Bulgarian Orthodox literature!

Dmitri Obolensky, Cambridge University

If today Bulgaria tries to claim Tsar Samoil as the exclusive heir, this was not the case “a few years ago”. Because, traditions about Samoil cannot be found in the Bulgarian Orthodox literature. And when something has been passed down about Samoil, it is usually “something reserved”.

This is due to the fact that the Bulgarian Church at that time did not have a great position in the Macedonian Empire of Samoil.

This is the conclusion reached by Dmitri Obolensky, from Cambridge University. In his 1948 work “The Bogomils“, Obolensky writes about Samoil on page 151:

And yet in spite of this undeniable evidence, there remains attached to the name of Samuel a lingering suspicion of heterodoxy. It is significant that whereas the great Orthodox Tsar Boris, Symeon and Peter are frequently glorified in monuments of Bulgarian literature and have become the object of a national cult, Samuel’s name is almost entirely absent from Bulgarian Orthodox literature and is always surrounded by a veil of reserve. The explanation of this fact may well lie in the position of the Bulgarian Church in Samuels’s Macedonian Empire. By refusing to recognize the abolition of the old Bulgarian patriarchate, decreed by John Tzimisces, and by setting up a patriarch of his own, Samuel had severed all relations with the Oecumenical See. In the eyes of the Byzantine Church and state, he always remained a rebel. Within his own Empire Samuel was obliged to pursue a policy which was essentially nationalistic, both ecclesiastically and politically; to be successful this policy required the collaboration of all parties and Groups in Bulgaria in the pursuit of one aim, namely the destruction of the Byzantine power and of its domination over the Balkan Slavs. This collaboration, in its turn, presupposed a state of inner equilibrium, and it is understandable that Samuel could not afford to alienate the Bogomils, who at the time must have represented a notable proportion of his subjects. This probable toleration of the heretics for political motives may well have given rise to a popular legend associating the Tsar Samuel with Bogomilism.

The tenth-century sources do not explicitly show which region or regions of Bulgaria can be considered as the original home of the Bogomils sect. Nevertheless, from the combined evidence of geographical factors, of indirect historical data and of later sources, which must now be examined, it is possible to prove that the cradle and subsequent stronghold of Bogomilism in the Balkans was Macedonia.

Let us note two conclusions from the quote above:

  • Samoil’s name is almost completely absent from Bulgarian Orthodox literature and is always surrounded by a “reserved veil”
  • The empire of Tsar Samoil is defined as the Macedonian Empire

The latter is not an isolated case, in this post on our blog – Tsar Samoil’s empire was more Macedonian than Bulgarian – William Miller has the same opinion.

Source: The Bogomils, Dmitri Obolensky, p. 151.

You might be interested in our story taken from the Washington Times: Half of the Bulgarian population are Macedonians

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