First Bulgarian Kingdom

KHAN OMURTAG, THE BUILDER

Khan Omurtag (referred to in some sources as Murtagon) was the son of Khan Krum. He accessed to the throne after the sudden death of his father, which caused turmoil in the Bulgarian state. As he was still young, not having acquired the necessary maturity and experience, Omurtag ruled in the first years of his reign (814-816) under the tutelage of three great boyars. One of them was his father's brother. The most important step took by Omurtag was to conclude a 30-year peace treaty with Byzantium in 815. This was a very far-sighted and skillful political move aimed at relieving the pressure on the Bulgarian state and an opportunity for the new ruler to cope with the decentralisation, after the death of Khan Krum. One of the reasons for it was the growing Christian influence, due to the numerous settlers that Krum brought from the Byzantine lands. This shook the traditional faith and undermined the authority of the priesthood of Tangra. Influenced by the great boyars, led by one of them going by the name of Tsok, Omurtag began persecuting Christians.

At the same time, the Bulgarian khan undertook a series of reforms to strengthen his power and reform the existing decentralisation. The reason for it was rooted in the absolute power of the tribal chiefs, who until then had led and ruled as they saw fit the warriors and lands entrusted to them.

Khan Omurtag divided the country into ten “komita” (districts), at the head of which he appointed governors he chose himself: the “komiti”. They were assisted in their task by regional military governors: the tarkhans. These reforms, although implemented, gradually provoked disagreements among the Slavic tribes of the Timochani, Abodriti and Branichevtsi. In 818, they defected from the Bulgarian lands and joined the Frankish empire. The matter was settled years later, by military means, after the peace envoys to the emperor of the Franks did not yield results. The conflict between the Bulgarians and the Franks lasted about two years, between 828 and 830, and the result was the return of the area surrounding Syrmia and the conquest of the entire area between the rivers Tisza and Ister (Danube).

With regard to Byzantium, Khan Omurtag pursued a consistent foreign policy, in accordance with the peace treaty. In 823, honouring this very document, he rushed to the aid of the Eastern Roman emperor, helping him to quell the riot led by the Byzantine general Thomas the Slav.

The rule of Khan Omurtag is characterised by a booming construction. Initially, it was expressed in an improvement of the fortifications. The system of earth mounds, ramparts and ditches, which were successfully used by the rulers Asparukh and Tervel, gradually gave way to solid medieval fortress-cities. The stone structures were the symbols of the invincibility of state power. Omurtag also built many temples, auls, and water supply facilities.

Khan Omurtag's most significant contribution was the construction and restoration of Pliska, which was burnt down during Krum’s reign. Omurtag circled the city with strong fortress walls, erected large and small palaces, new temples, homes and administrative buildings made of stone.

On the river Tucha (Kamchia), not far from the present-day village of Krumovo, the ruler built an aul. The complex included a fortress, barracks and the residence of the ruler. Its main purpose was to defend the passes in the eastern part of the mountain and the roads to Pliska.

Medieval sources also mention the palace that Khan Omurtag built on the river Ister - a symbol of Bulgarian power and authority. The constructions carried out during the time of this remarkable Bulgarian ruler aimed to embellish the country and eloquently show the world that Bulgaria was not an ordinary barbarian state. Even today, the remains of Omurtag's stone buildings like Pliska and Madara leave their visitors in awe. They undoubtedly had an impressive impact on travelers who visited them from near and far during the early Middle Ages.

Thanks to the construction wave and the lasting peace secured with its great rival Byzantium, Bulgaria managed to assert its position on the European and world stage. Khan Omurtag worked with the future in mind, to leave a legacy for his descendants to be proud of. He left us those remarkable words...

“Even if a man lives well, he shall die and another will be born. So let the one born later, when he looks at this, remember the one who did it ...”

Guests and visitors of the Historical Park can experience the life and majesty of Khan Omurtag, presented in a unique way - in the form of a mini-comic. The work emphasises the key moments of the life of this Bulgarian ruler, showing skillfully interwoven patterns of medieval clothing and architecture, typical of the time of Omurtag the Builder.

5/27/2020