What did Tsar Samuel look like?

MedievalWhat did Tsar Samuel look like?

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After a detailed examination of all available medieval drawings and miniatures, it can be said what exactly Samuel, his son Gavrilo Radomir, his daughters Miroslava and Kosara, his wife Agatha, but also his nephew Jovan Vladislav and his wife Marija looked like. All these persons, members of the family of Tsar Samuel, were identified in the miniatures of the so-called Madrid manuscript from the end of the 11th and beginning of the 12th century, i.e. immediately after the death of Tsar Samuel, when his direct descendants were still alive.

According to the identification made by Professor Dr. Milan Boškoski from the Institute for National History in Skopje, Tsar Samuel is around the age of 50 at the miniature of his daughter Miroslava’s wedding, and this character of his miniature, along with two other drawings, is the only authentic visual testimony to the Macedonian Tsar!

Tsar Samoil – Samuel

Therefore, according to Dr. Boškoski everything published up to this portrait, just a free artistic vision of what Tsar Samuel might have looked like:

“When I researched the time of Tsar Samoil, I had a lot of information about various events in his time, but especially interesting were the writings of Jovan Skilica (German: Johannes Skylitzes) in the Madrid manuscript, in which he describes more specific historical scenes from that time .

One of them is the scene in which Gavrilo Radomir, the son of Tsar Samoil, saves his father at the last moment after the battle of Belasica and brings him to Prilep. Exactly such a scene is painted in one of the miniatures in the Madrid manuscript, and I was able to identify the characters for the first time.

In this miniature two groups of warriors are clearly distinguished: in the first group there are cavalrymen on the attack, and in the second group there are cavalrymen who are retreating, i.e. move away from the battlefield. In the group of the retreating forces is Tsar Samoil and his entourage. It can be clearly seen that he is holding a shield in his left hand and a spear in his right.

Historical sources state that his son saved him from certain death, so it’s easy to see that the person next to him is Gavrilo Radomir, wearing armor. The third person is likely Jovan Vladislav, Samoil’s nephew, son of his brother Aaron. The persecutors are led by the Byzantine emperor Vasil II. This miniature was only known in literature as a motif from the Battle of Belasica. “

Drawing from the wedding of Tsar Samuel’s daughter!

According to Dr. Boškoski is the most important miniature showing the wedding of Miroslava, Samuel’s eldest daughter. So he says:

“The miniature shows a wedding ceremony in a cathedral church, and some of the bride’s closest relatives are present at the ceremony. If you look closely, you can see a priest, three women, and three men attending the wedding ceremony. The word “marriage” is written above the bride and groom, which means that it is a wedding in a church. Above the three men, ie above the man in the middle, there is an inscription that he is Samoil and this is irrefutable written evidence of who Samoil is.

The miniature shows exactly the image of Tsar Samoil. It is the archbishop who sets the wedding crown, and the bride and groom stand before him with their heads bowed. The bride is Miroslava, the daughter of Samoil, and the groom is Ashot, a Byzantine nobleman from Salonika.

Next to the bride and groom there are three women in formal, purple dresses that were only worn at court on formal occasions. Since it is historically confirmed that the event took place in 997, when Tsar Samoil was around 50 years old, his wife Agatha can be identified among the women, who is dressed in formal clothes, with gold jewelry and a collar for festive occasions.

You can also recognize that she is wearing a red dress under the evening dress, which is a sign that she is the oldest woman in the group. Next to her is Kosara, the second daughter, and the third wife is Marija, the wife of Jovan Vladislav, the grandson of Tsar Samoil.

In the group of men, Samoil can be identified, who had not yet been appointed tsar in 997. Above him is an inscription that this man is Samoil, which means that we have accurate written evidence that he is Samoil.

Next to him in the miniature is his son Gavrilo Radomir, Miroslava’s brother, who is wearing a white hat. The miniature shows that he wears a broad face, long hair and a purple cloak. If you carefully analyze his facial features, you can see that he resembles his mother, Agatha.

This is the first time we can identify Samoil’s family. So it’s safe to say that we now know what Samoil really looked like.

The fact that the miniatures date from the time when there could have been drawings by the tsar, but also people who were still alive, had seen him and were able to describe him, only increases the authenticity of the true visual representation of Samoil. “

Wedding ceremony led by the head of Samuel’s church!?

Historical records show that Samuel and Agatha were married between 972 and 975 and that their first child was born before the uprising against Byzantium in 976. It is about the only son Gavrilo Radomir.

In addition to him, Agatha and Samoil had four other daughters, of whom only the names of the older Miroslava, who was married to Ashot Taronit in 997, and the younger Kosara, later took the monastic name of Theodora, who was married to Jovan Vladimir in 999, are known.

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

The other two daughters, whose names are not yet known, were probably older than Kosara and Miroslava. The two older daughters without names are mentioned in 1018 when they arrived in Constantinople together with the triumphal procession of the Byzantine emperor Basil II. Accordingly, they were captured and taken to the capital of Byzantium.

Tsar Samoil

Miroslava’s engagement, one of Samoil’s four daughters to the high representative of the Byzantine government Ashot, who had spent several years in Samoil prison, left a strong mark on Byzantine memory, so that this event can even be found in the illustrated story of Jovan Skilica, known as the Madrid Manuscript, or a miniature known as the wedding ceremony in which Samoil marries his daughter to the captured Ashot, the son of Gregory Taronite.

The event has most likely took place in the cathedral church “Sveti Ahil” on the island of Golem Grad in Lake Prespa.

In the miniature Miroslava is shown with long blond hair covered with a white scarf, in a red dress, and on her neck she wears a necklace, the details of which are difficult to see. Ashok has short hair and a beard and wears a purple cloak. The bride and groom have their heads lowered slightly and covered with a red cloth, which represents the moment when the high priest is about to place their wedding crowns.

It says above their heads that it is a wedding. The high priest who married her is likely the head of Samoil’s church, Archbishop Filip. He wears a dark red engraver and a phelonion (liturgical garment of the Orthodox priests, a kind of cloak), and in his right hand there is a light purple amphora, but there are no other hierarchical features.

He holds two wedding crowns in his hands. Behind him stands a deacon with the gospel in hand, dressed in a pink engraver. The two groups represented at the ceremony are Miroslava’s closest female and male relatives.

The coronation of Tsar Samuel

After thorough research over the past almost two decades, prof. Dr. Boškovski confirms with certainty that the solemn coronation of Samoil as Tsar in the presence of the papal legates, the Patriarch Filip of Prespa and Ohrid, the high priesthood, the Tsar family, the Macedonian nobles, the international representatives of the Hungarian royal court and the son-in-law in the new cathedral church of “St. Sophia” in Ohrid, a counterpart to the church of the same name in Constantinople.

The solemn act was performed on Easter 1001. Due to the fact that the ceremony requires the coronation by a patriarch, it is possible that prior to the solemn coronation of Samuel, Archbishop Filip of Ohrid was ordained patriarch in the presence of the papal legates and then performed the solemn coronation of Samoil.

This is supported by the fact that the bellicose Byzantine Emperor Basil II suddenly gave up traditional pro-Roman politics that year and strained relations with the Roman popes due to their interference in areas of influence. Such a conclusion is pointed out by Ostrogorski, among others, that in the time of Patriarch Sergei (999-1019) the name of the Pope was deleted from the diptych of the Church of Constantinople and 1024 negotiations about a peaceful delimitation of the spheres of influence were already held. With the condition that the Church of Constantinople should attain “universality in its sphere”.

Tsar Samuel
Image: Forensic facial reconstruction of the presumed corpse of Tsar Samuel on Lake Prespa

However, with the recognition of Samoil’s imperial title by Pope Sylvester II in 1001, practically three empires were formed: the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire and Samoil’s Macedonian Empire.

Immediately afterwards, the violent attacks Byzantium began to destroy the empire. Samoil’s death after the Battle of Belasica is depicted in a miniature of the Slavic translation of the Illustrated Chronicle of Constantine Manasses, better known as the 14th-century Manasses Chronicle.

Tsar Samuel was buried in his first capital on the island in the Kleiner Prespa lake in the cathedral church “Sveti Ahil” (Rhomean: Agios Achillios).

Archaeological excavations led by Professor N. Mitsopoulos at the University of Thessaloniki, which began in 1966, discovered a sarcophagus with a double-headed eagle near the south wall of the Ahil Church. A skeleton of a 70-year-old man with a broken left arm was found in the sarcophagus.

The famous deceased was buried in a ceremonial silver robe embroidered with a double-headed eagle. According to Mitsopoulos, the deceased wore a breastplate made of copper wire, which was covered with small metal plates. The tomb was covered with a marble slab with crosses and other stately symbols.

The skeleton of the left arm above the elbow had a fracture that is deformed and healed. The burial results suggest that the deceased belonged to a high social class and that the broken left arm allegedly confirms Samoil’s wound sustained at the Battle of Sperhej (near Thermopylae).

“Currently the only confirmation is the assumption that these are really Samuel’s remains, the assertion of the Byzantine historian Mihail Ataliat, who claims that the Macedonian Tsar died on the island of Prespa,” says Prof. Dr. Milan Boškovski in conclusion.

SOURCE: Blaže Minevski for the Macedonian daily newspaper Nova Makedonija “Како точно изгледал цар Самоил” from 9th Nov. 2020

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