Second Bulgarian Kingdom


In the following lines, you will learn some peculiar facts about the warriors of the Second Bulgarian Empire. 

If Antiquity and the early Middle Ages were characterised by the fact that the rulers led large armies and the battles were distinguished by their scale and scope in the period, the 12th and 13th century witnessed a change were the focus was given to smaller but professionally trained and prepared military units. The army consisted mainly of professional soldiers, not so much a militia. These men, who were paid to fight, were well trained and well disciplined. Being a soldier was their profession. Therefore, they sought to carry the best defensive and offensive weapons available of the era. The goal was for a relatively compact but well-trained military unit to be able to take the advantage on the battlefield, make a breakthrough, and win with fewer casualties.

Just like during the First Bulgarian Empire, the army continued to be divided into infantry and cavalry. Here, however, the infantry already made up a larger percentage of the army than the cavalry. There were also reports of heavily armoured infantry wearing metal chainmail, large shields, swords and spears. There were different types of infantry depending on the tasks to be performed on the battlefield.

The cavalry, which was much more maneuverable, successfully accomplished both purely strategic tasks and inflicted tactical strikes. The pride of the Bulgarian army was the heavily armed cavalry - warriors all dressed in iron. Their ranks were not numerous, as their maintenance and armament were expensive. But due to their strength and momentum in battle, they often determined the outcome of battles and were highly valued by the rulers.

A large array of weapons was used. We will focus below on the arsenal that the Bulgarian soldiers possessed.
The bow and arrow were the main offensive weapons for both the cavalry and the infantry. Between the 12th and 14th centuries, the Bulgarians used the so-called "composite" or "reflex" bows. In its central section, their arc was curved inward, and at the ends outward. Reflex bows gave additional acceleration to the arrows that were shot and had a great power of penetration, reaching a distance of 400 to 500 steps. The tips of the arrows were forged from hardened iron and had a leaf-like, rhomboid, three-winged and pyramidal profile. The functional purpose of the various arrows depended on the nature of the battle.

During their campaigns, the soldiers carried their arrows in quivers, which held approximately 40 arrows. Separately, each archer carried in a small bag a sufficient number of arrowheads. The quivers had the shape of elongated cylindrical boxes. They were usually made of wood and sewn with leather or other flexible materials. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Bulgarians were famous for their talent in archery.

There were several types of spears, depending on their purpose - both cavalry and infantry were armed with them.
The long spear, which acted as a lance, could reach a length of 4 m. With such long spears, the mounted warriors were able to knock down the enemy cavalry from their saddle and keep the infantry at a safe distance. Sometimes metal hooks were attached to the top of these spears. With the help of such lances, the Bulgarians knocked the heavily armoured knights off their horses during the battle of Adrianople in 1205.

During the 13th century, the so-called "sulitsi" appeared. Unlike the ordinary spear, the handle of the sulitsa was made of iron. The spears were included in the Bulgarian arsenal as a counterattack against the cavalry, which was invulnerable to ordinary spears. This short metal spear was mostly offensive and reached 2 m in length, and its iron blade - up to 18 cm. 
The main offensive weapon during this era was double-edged swords - they could be used to "cut" the enemy or to stab a fallen foe. The sword had a long straight blade, and ended with a cross guard and a long handle, the end of which usually had the shape of a ball. The handle was large and allowed the grip to be used with both hands.

In the Middle Ages, "ax-bearers" were often mentioned among the Bulgarian army. The axes had a narrow, elongated blade, and their rear part had a cylindrical shape. This weapon was used mainly in hand-to-hand combat, but also for digging under fortress walls.

Maces were close combat weapon. They had the shape of a square prism with spikes, a double-truncated cone, two pyramids connected at the base, etc. Maces were the weapon of the common people, because their mastery was not a significant difficulty.

Defensive equipment did particularly change, including shield, helmet, armour, vambraces poleyns and greaves.
The squires followed a special formation. From the 12th to the 14th centuries, the shields were mostly heart-shaped, rectangular and round, all of them displaying different variants. According to their purpose, they were heavy or light. The heavy ones were in service among the infantry, as they covered their whole body. They had a predominantly rectangular and heart-shaped design. The light shield was popular among the cavalrymen and had a round shape. The structure of the shields was wooden. They were then covered with hide, and in the middle they shone with their copper core, an element called a shield boss or "umbo".

 The chainmail was woven, plated and forged. The mail consisted of iron rings connected to each other, with a diameter ranging from 0.6 to 1.2 cm. They formed the shape of a shirt, with sleeves to the elbows, which allowed free movement of arms and body. This was extremely important, as the fighting lasted for hours and required great physical strength from the fighters. Their vulnerability to the enemy's arrows can be pointed out as a certain disadvantage.  Lamellar armor was the most widespread during the epoch. The metal plates were "sewn" on a leather garment that fitted snugly to the body. Plate armor was also used. This armour was used by horsemen, but their availability was scarce. 

The Bulgarian soldiers used all the weapons known for their time, and also had some of the best craftsmen of protective weapons. Thanks to their skills, talent and quality weapons, the warriors of the Second Bulgarian Empire successfully fought their battles with success and defended the name of Bulgaria with dignity.