Saturday 29 September 2018

Byzantine–Bulgarian Wars - Battle of Pliska

The Battle of Pliska was a series of battles between troops, gathered from all parts of the Byzantine Empire, led by the Emperor Nicephorus I Genik, and Bulgaria, governed by Khan Krum. The Byzantines plundered and burned the Bulgar capital Pliska which gave time for the Bulgarians to block passes in the Balkan Mountains that served as exits out of Bulgaria. The final battle took place on 26 July 811, in some of the passes in the eastern part of the Balkans.

Ruins of Pliska

When Nicephorus I became emperor in 802, he planned to reincorporate Bulgar-held territory back into the empire. In 807 he launched a campaign but only reached Odrin and achieved nothing because of a conspiracy in his capital. That attempted attack, however, gave reason for the Bulgar Khan Krum to undertake military operations against the Byzantine Empire. 

Nikephoros I, depicted in the 12th century Chronicle

In 803 a Bulgar army penetrated the Struma Valley and defeated the Byzantines. The Bulgar troops captured roughly 332 to 348 kilograms of gold and killed many enemy soldiers including all strategoi and most of the commanders. In 809 the Khan personally besieged the strong fortress of Serdica and seized the city, killing the whole garrison of 6,000.

A 14th century depiction of Krum

In 811, the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I organised a large campaign to conquer Bulgaria once and for all. He gathered an enormous army from the Anatolian and European themata, and the imperial bodyguard (the tagmata). The conquest was supposed to be easy, and most of the high-ranking officials and aristocrats accompanied him, including his son Stauracius and his brother-in-law Michael I Rangabe. The whole army consisted of around 80,000 soldiers.

A coin minted for Staurakios

The Byzantine army gathered in May, and by 10 July had set up camp at the fortress of Marcelae (present-day Karnobat) near the Bulgarian frontier. On 20 July Emperor Nicephorus divided the army into three columns, each marching by a different route towards Pliska. He met little resistance and after three days he reached the capital where the Byzantines met an army of 12,000 elite soldiers who guarded the stronghold.

Gate to the castle of Pliska

On 23 July the Byzantines quickly captured the defenseless capital of Bulgaria. The city was sacked and the countryside destroyed. Khan Krum attempted once more to negotiate for peace. Emperor Nicephorus, overconfident from his success, ignored him. The Byzantine soldiers looted and plundered; burnt down the unharvested fields, cut the tendons of the oxen, slaughtered sheep and pigs. The Emperor took over Krum's treasury, locked it and did not allow his troops to reach it.

Ruins of the royal palace of Pliska

While Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus and his army were busy plundering the Bulgarian capital, Krum mobilized his people to set traps and ambushes in the mountain passes. On 25 July his army entered the Varbica Pass but before they could retreat, the Bulgars blocked the valley entrance too. They were then attacked by Bulgars on from all sides. The emperor was slain in battle and according to tradition, Krum had the Emperor's head on a spike, then lined his skull with silver and used it as a drinking cup.

Khan Krum feasts while a servant brings the
skull of Nikephoros I fashioned into a drinking cup

Sunday 2 September 2018

Council of Nicaea

The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now İznik, Bursa province, Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325. Constantine I organized the council along the lines of the Roman Senate and presided over it, but did not cast any official vote.

First Council of Nicaea, 325 AD

Council of Nicaea was the first effort to attain consensus in the Church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. Hosius of Corduba, who was probably one of the Papal legates, may have presided over its deliberations.

Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea

It resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. With the creation of the creed, a precedent was established for subsequent local and regional councils of Bishops (Synods) to create statements of belief and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy—the intent being to define unity of beliefs for the whole of Christendom. The council was recommended by a synod led by Hosius of Córdoba in the Eastertide of 325.

An icon of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,
 which is celebrated throughout Eastertide
In the summer of 325, the bishops of all provinces were summoned to Nicaea, a place reasonably accessible to many delegates, particularly those of Asia Minor, Georgia, Armenia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Greece, and Thrace. This was the first general council in the history of the Church summoned by emperor Constantine I.

Constantine the Great

Constantine I had invited around 1,800 bishops of the Christian church in Council of Nicaea within the Roman Empire even from Britain, but a smaller and unknown number attended. Eusebius of Caesarea counted more than 250, Athanasius of Alexandria counted 318, and Eustathius of Antioch estimated "about 270" (all three were present at the council).
Eusebius of Caesarea

The council was formally opened 20 May, in the central structure of the imperial palace at Nicaea, with preliminary discussions of the Arian question. Emperor Constantine arrived nearly a month later on 14 June. One of the projects undertaken by the Council was the creation of a Creed, a declaration and summary of the Christian faith.

A fresco depicting the First Council of Nicaea

The long-term effects of the Council of Nicaea were significant. For the first time, representatives of many of the bishops of the Church convened to agree on a doctrinal statement. Also for the first time, the Emperor played a role, by calling together the bishops under his authority, and using the power of the state to give the council's orders effect. 

The Council of Nicaea

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