THE STABILISATION OF THE BULGARIAN STATE BY KHAN KRUM
Khan Krum ascended the Bulgarian throne in 803. He took power by decision – following the ancient law by which Bulgarians once elected their rulers. Khan Krum was the first of the so-called Krum Dynasty. The monarch had two important goals - to strengthen and expand the Bulgarian state, weakened by the numerous internal strife and endless conflicts during the reign of the previous rulers.
Khan Krum's first major campaign was launched against the Avars. After Charlemagne almost fatally struck the Avar Khaganate in 803, Khan Krum invaded the Avar lands in 805 and eventually brought an end to the existence of this confederation of states. The eastern part of the Avar Khaganate was annexed to Bulgaria. Thus, Bulgaria established outposts all the way north up to the Carpathians and included Transylvania and Banat within its borders. A line from the Tisza River to the mouth of the Sava River became the western boundary between the Bulgarian lands and the Frankish state. The eastern border of the Bulgarian state at that time passed along the Dniester and Black Sea.
In 806, Khan Krum gathered an assembly of all tribes in Pliska, following to the Proto-Bulgarian custom, and announced several new laws. With the laws in place, Khan Krum aimed to strengthen confidence in the power of the state, increase the military capability of the army and develop a sense of mutual assistance among his subjects, without distinction of origin and social status.
In parallel with the introduction of new laws, Khan Krum continued his campaign of conquest, aiming at expanding Bulgarian territory. In 808, the Bulgarian army, led by Khan Krum, entered the Byzantine lands along the Struma River valley. The Bulgarian ruler severely routed the Byzantine troops stationed there, captured all their supplies and took a loot of 1,100 pounds of gold, which were in all likelihood intended for the salaries of the Byzantine soldiers.
During the next year (809), Khan Krum descended into the plains of Sofia region and during the Easter celebrations, besieged and conquered the Byzantine fortress of Triaditsa (Serdika). After his success, some Byzantine warlords who lost faith in the power of Byzantium decided to enter the service of Khan Krum. The specialist in siege machinery known as Eumathios (Evmaty) was among them.
The defeat against Khan Krum's offensives provoked the wrath of the Eastern Roman Emperor Nikephoros I Genikos. He moved a huge army through the weakly fortified passages of the Balkans and headed towards Pliska. Kahn Krum offered peace to the emperor, but his proposal was rejected. The Bulgarian ruler retreated in order to keep the bulk of his army capable of fighting and sacrificed the capital. The few remaining defenders held against the Byzantine army for some time, thus allowing Khan Krum and the main forces to withdraw. Nikephoros I Genikos proved himself a cruel enslaver, as he unleashed destruction and pillage on the city and its surroundings. Khan Krum offered peace again. He was scorned by the emperor. Nikephoros ordered to let the Bulgarian capital burn.
Khan Krum, who already regrouped his troops, decided to punish the invaders as he saw fit. All men capable of carrying weapons were immediately mobilised. The Bulgarian ruler called on the Slavic warriors, and many Avars joined him, to whom he granted freedom in return for fighting against the forces of Byzantium. Even women were incorporated in the army. The whole country rose to fight the Byzantine basileus and his army.
On the 26th of July 811, a Bulgarian army led by Khan Krum encircled the retreating Byzantines in the Varbitsa pass. The exits were blocked by wooden barricades, and the Bulgarian soldiers occupied all the spots where the Byzantines could break through. Along narrow passages known only to them, the Bulgarian soldiers invaded the camp of the Byzantines. A fierce battle began. Some of the Byzantines died in battle, while others drowned in the mountain streams as they tried to escape. Much of the Byzantine warlords, and Emperor Nikephoros himself, were killed in the battle. From the skull of the defeated Basileus of Byzantium, Khan Krum ordered to make a drinking cup, with which he later toasted his triumph. Because of this decision, the Byzantine chroniclers gave him the nickname of “Fearsome”.
Kahn Krum tried to restore the peace treaty that was concluded between Byzantium and Bulgaria during Tervel's time, but the Byzantines had no intention to reinstate it. In 812, the Bulgarian ruler besieged and conquered the fortress of Develt to show his power to Byzantium. The two countries began to prepare for a new war. In May 813, the Byzantine troops began to gather near the Versinikia fortress, near Adrianople. Khan Krum was waiting for them. In the ensuing battle, the Eastern Roman Empire was defeated. Khan Krum left his brother to continue the siege of Adrianople, as he proceeded towards Constantinople to lay the siege under its walls. Before offering peace again, the Bulgarian ruler made impressive demonstrations of his power and sacrifices of animals, and even humans, according to the Byzantine chroniclers. In the ensuing negotiations between the Bulgarians and the Byzantines, an attempt was made to assassinate Khan Krum. The Bulgarian ruler managed to escape the ambush unharmed and headed to Adrianople, destroying all the fortresses that stood against him along the way.
After the return of Khan Krum to Adrianople, the city was conquered. A large amount of loot was taken. Numerous captives were taken away from the city. The same year, the Bulgarian ruler marched towards Constantinople, leading thirty thousand iron-clad riders. But because of adverse weather conditions, he only reached Arcadiopolis.
In the year 814, during the preparation of a large-scale military operation aimed at the conquest of the Eastern Roman capital, the Bulgarian ruler died of a heart attack.
Khan Krum was remembered by history as a talented strategist and a beloved statesman. Despite their fear of the Bulgarian ruler, even the Byzantine chroniclers could not hide the respect and admiration with which they described his authority and success. Khan Krum remains forever in history, and the laws that he introduced and carved in stone became the first written laws of the Bulgarian state across the Danube. During his reign, Bulgaria has repeatedly increased its territories, gaining high international prestige.
The guests and visitors of the Historical Park and their children can learn more about the history of the great khan Krum, from the comic book of the same name, dedicated to this great Bulgarian ruler. Translated into 4 languages, it promotes and celebrates the glorious name of the Bulgarian people.