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Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 5, by Edward Gibbon, [1788], at

Chapter LV: The Bulgarians, The Hungarians And The Russians. Part I.

The Bulgarians. - Origin, Migrations, And Settlement Of The Hungarians. - Their Inroads In The East And West. - The Monarchy Of Russia. - Geography And Trade. - Wars Of The Russians Against The Greek Empire. - Conversion Of The Barbarians.

Under the reign of Constantine the grandson of Heraclius, the ancient barrier of the Danube, so often violated and so often restored, was irretrievably swept away by a new deluge of Barbarians. Their progress was favored by the caliphs, their unknown and accidental auxiliaries: the Roman legions were occupied in Asia; and after the loss of Syria, Egypt, and Africa, the Caesars were twice reduced to the danger and disgrace of defending their capital against the Saracens. If, in the account of this interesting people, I have deviated from the strict and original line of my undertaking, the merit of the subject will hide my transgression, or solicit my excuse. In the East, in the West, in war, in religion, in science, in their prosperity, and in their decay, the Arabians press themselves on our curiosity: the first overthrow of the church and empire of the Greeks may be imputed to their arms; and the disciples of Mahomet still hold the civil and religious sceptre of the Oriental world. But the same labor would be unworthily bestowed on the swarms of savages, who, between the seventh and the twelfth century, descended from the plains of Scythia, in transient inroad or perpetual emigration.  1 Their names are uncouth, their origins doubtful, their actions obscure, their superstition was blind, their valor brutal, and the uniformity of their public and private lives was neither softened by innocence nor refined by policy. The majesty of the Byzantine throne repelled and survived their disorderly attacks; the greater part of these Barbarians has disappeared without leaving any memorial of their existence, and the despicable remnant continues, and may long continue, to groan under the dominion of a foreign tyrant. From the antiquities of, I. Bulgarians, II. Hungarians, and, III. Russians, I shall content myself with selecting such facts as yet deserve to be remembered. The conquests of the, IV. Normans, and the monarchy of the, V. Turks, will naturally terminate in the memorable Crusades to the Holy Land, and the double fall of the city and empire of Constantine.

I. In his march to Italy, Theodoric  2 the Ostrogoth had trampled on the arms of the Bulgarians. After this defeat, the name and the nation are lost during a century and a half; and it may be suspected that the same or a similar appellation was revived by strange colonies from the Borysthenes, the Tanais, or the Volga. A king of the ancient Bulgaria, 3 bequeathed to his five sons a last lesson of moderation and concord. It was received as youth has ever received the counsels of age and experience: the five princes buried their father; divided his subjects and cattle; forgot his advice; separated from each other; and wandered in quest of fortune till we find the most adventurous in the heart of Italy, under the protection of the exarch of Ravenna.  4 But the stream of emigration was directed or impelled towards the capital. The modern Bulgaria, along the southern banks of the Danube, was stamped with the name and image which it has retained to the present hour: the new conquerors successively acquired, by war or treaty, the Roman provinces of Dardania, Thessaly, and the two Epirus;  5 the ecclesiastical supremacy was translated from the native city of Justinian; and, in their prosperous age, the obscure town of Lychnidus, or Achrida, was honored with the throne of a king and a patriarch.  6 The unquestionable evidence of language attests the descent of the Bulgarians from the original stock of the Sclavonian, or more properly Slavonian, race;  7 and the kindred bands of Servians, Bosnians, Rascians, Croatians, Walachians,  8 &c., followed either the standard or the example of the leading tribe. From the Euxine to the Adriatic, in the state of captives, or subjects, or allies, or enemies, of the Greek empire, they overspread the land; and the national appellation of the slaves  9 has been degraded by chance or malice from the signification of glory to that of servitude.  10 Among these colonies, the Chrobatians,  11 or Croats, who now attend the motions of an Austrian army, are the descendants of a mighty people, the conquerors and sovereigns of Dalmatia. The maritime cities, and of these the infant republic of Ragusa, implored the aid and instructions of the Byzantine court: they were advised by the magnanimous Basil to reserve a small acknowledgment of their fidelity to the Roman empire, and to appease, by an annual tribute, the wrath of these irresistible Barbarians. The kingdom of Crotia was shared by eleven Zoupans, or feudatory lords; and their united forces were numbered at sixty thousand horse and one hundred thousand foot. A long sea-coast, indented with capacious harbors, covered with a string of islands, and almost in sight of the Italian shores, disposed both the natives and strangers to the practice of navigation. The boats or brigantines of the Croats were constructed after the fashion of the old Liburnians: one hundred and eighty vessels may excite the idea of a respectable navy; but our seamen will smile at the allowance of ten, or twenty, or forty, men for each of these ships of war. They were gradually converted to the more honorable service of commerce; yet the Sclavonian pirates were still frequent and dangerous; and it was not before the close of the tenth century that the freedom and sovereignty of the Gulf were effectually vindicated by the Venetian republic.  12 The ancestors of these Dalmatian kings were equally removed from the use and abuse of navigation: they dwelt in the White Croatia, in the inland regions of Silesia and Little Poland, thirty days' journey, according to the Greek computation, from the sea of darkness.

The glory of the Bulgarians  13 was confined to a narrow scope both of time and place. In the ninth and tenth centuries, they reigned to the south of the Danube; but the more powerful nations that had followed their emigration repelled all return to the north and all progress to the west. Yet in the obscure catalogue of their exploits, they might boast an honor which had hitherto been appropriated to the Goths: that of slaying in battle one of the successors of Augustus and Constantine. The emperor Nicephorus had lost his fame in the Arabian, he lost his life in the Sclavonian, war. In his first operations he advanced with boldness and success into the centre of Bulgaria, and burnt the royal court, which was probably no more than an edifice and village of timber. But while he searched the spoil and refused all offers of treaty, his enemies collected their spirits and their forces: the passes of retreat were insuperably barred; and the trembling Nicephorus was heard to exclaim, "Alas, alas! unless we could assume the wings of birds, we cannot hope to escape." Two days he waited his fate in the inactivity of despair; but, on the morning of the third, the Bulgarians surprised the camp, and the Roman prince, with the great officers of the empire, were slaughtered in their tents. The body of Valens had been saved from insult; but the head of Nicephorus was exposed on a spear, and his skull, enchased with gold, was often replenished in the feasts of victory. The Greeks bewailed the dishonor of the throne; but they acknowledged the just punishment of avarice and cruelty. This savage cup was deeply tinctured with the manners of the Scythian wilderness; but they were softened before the end of the same century by a peaceful intercourse with the Greeks, the possession of a cultivated region, and the introduction of the Christian worship. The nobles of Bulgaria were educated in the schools and palace of Constantinople; and Simeon,  14 a youth of the royal line, was instructed in the rhetoric of Demosthenes and the logic of Aristotle. He relinquished the profession of a monk for that of a king and warrior; and in his reign of more than forty years, Bulgaria assumed a rank among the civilized powers of the earth. The Greeks, whom he repeatedly attacked, derived a faint consolation from indulging themselves in the reproaches of perfidy and sacrilege. They purchased the aid of the Pagan Turks; but Simeon, in a second battle, redeemed the loss of the first, at a time when it was esteemed a victory to elude the arms of that formidable nation. The Servians were overthrown, made captive and dispersed; and those who visited the country before their restoration could discover no more than fifty vagrants, without women or children, who extorted a precarious subsistence from the chase. On classic ground, on the banks of Achelous, the greeks were defeated; their horn was broken by the strength of the Barbaric Hercules.  15 He formed the siege of Constantinople; and, in a personal conference with the emperor, Simeon imposed the conditions of peace. They met with the most jealous precautions: the royal gallery was drawn close to an artificial and well-fortified platform; and the majesty of the purple was emulated by the pomp of the Bulgarian. "Are you a Christian?" said the humble Romanus: "it is your duty to abstain from the blood of your fellow- Christians. Has the thirst of riches seduced you from the blessings of peace? Sheathe your sword, open your hand, and I will satiate the utmost measure of your desires." The reconciliation was sealed by a domestic alliance; the freedom of trade was granted or restored; the first honors of the court were secured to the friends of Bulgaria, above the ambassadors of enemies or strangers;  16 and her princes were dignified with the high and invidious title of Basileus, or emperor. But this friendship was soon disturbed: after the death of Simeon, the nations were again in arms; his feeble successors were divided and extinguished; and, in the beginning of the eleventh century, the second Basil, who was born in the purple, deserved the appellation of conqueror of the Bulgarians. His avarice was in some measure gratified by a treasure of four hundred thousand pounds sterling, (ten thousand pounds' weight of gold,) which he found in the palace of Lychnidus. His cruelty inflicted a cool and exquisite vengeance on fifteen thousand captives who had been guilty of the defence of their country. They were deprived of sight; but to one of each hundred a single eye was left, that he might conduct his blind century to the presence of their king. Their king is said to have expired of grief and horror; the nation was awed by this terrible example; the Bulgarians were swept away from their settlements, and circumscribed within a narrow province; the surviving chiefs bequeathed to their children the advice of patience and the duty of revenge.

II. When the black swarm of Hungarians first hung over Europe, above nine hundred years after the Christian aera, they were mistaken by fear and superstition for the Gog and Magog of the Scriptures, the signs and forerunners of the end of the world.  17 Since the introduction of letters, they have explored their own antiquities with a strong and laudable impulse of patriotic curiosity.  18 Their rational criticism can no longer be amused with a vain pedigree of Attila and the Huns; but they complain that their primitive records have perished in the Tartar war; that the truth or fiction of their rustic songs is long since forgotten; and that the fragments of a rude chronicle  19 must be painfully reconciled with the contemporary though foreign intelligence of the imperial geographer.  20 Magiar is the national and oriental denomination of the Hungarians; but, among the tribes of Scythia, they are distinguished by the Greeks under the proper and peculiar name of Turks, as the descendants of that mighty people who had conquered and reigned from China to the Volga. The Pannonian colony preserved a correspondence of trade and amity with the eastern Turks on the confines of Persia and after a separation of three hundred and fifty years, the missionaries of the king of Hungary discovered and visited their ancient country near the banks of the Volga. They were hospitably entertained by a people of Pagans and Savages who still bore the name of Hungarians; conversed in their native tongue, recollected a tradition of their long-lost brethren, and listened with amazement to the marvellous tale of their new kingdom and religion. The zeal of conversion was animated by the interest of consanguinity; and one of the greatest of their princes had formed the generous, though fruitless, design of replenishing the solitude of Pannonia by this domestic colony from the heart of Tartary.  21 From this primitive country they were driven to the West by the tide of war and emigration, by the weight of the more distant tribes, who at the same time were fugitives and conquerors.  *_0044 Reason or fortune directed their course towards the frontiers of the Roman empire: they halted in the usual stations along the banks of the great rivers; and in the territories of Moscow, Kiow, and Moldavia, some vestiges have been discovered of their temporary residence. In this long and various peregrination, they could not always escape the dominion of the stronger; and the purity of their blood was improved or sullied by the mixture of a foreign race: from a motive of compulsion, or choice, several tribes of the Chazars were associated to the standard of their ancient vassals; introduced the use of a second language; and obtained by their superior renown the most honorable place in the front of battle. The military force of the Turks and their allies marched in seven equal and artificial divisions; each division was formed of thirty thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven warriors, and the proportion of women, children, and servants, supposes and requires at least a million of emigrants. Their public counsels were directed by seven vayvods, or hereditary chiefs; but the experience of discord and weakness recommended the more simple and vigorous administration of a single person. The sceptre, which had been declined by the modest Lebedias, was granted to the birth or merit of Almus and his son Arpad, and the authority of the supreme khan of the Chazars confirmed the engagement of the prince and people; of the people to obey his commands, of the prince to consult their happiness and glory.

With this narrative we might be reasonably content, if the penetration of modern learning had not opened a new and larger prospect of the antiquities of nations. The Hungarian language stands alone, and as it were insulated, among the Sclavonian dialects; but it bears a close and clear affinity to the idioms of the Fennic race,  22 of an obsolete and savage race, which formerly occupied the northern regions of Asia and Europe.  *_0045 The genuine appellation of Ugri or Igours is found on the western confines of China;  23 their migration to the banks of the Irtish is attested by Tartar evidence;  24 a similar name and language are detected in the southern parts of Siberia;  25 and the remains of the Fennic tribes are widely, though thinly scattered from the sources of the Oby to the shores of Lapland.  26 The consanguinity of the Hungarians and Laplanders would display the powerful energy of climate on the children of a common parent; the lively contrast between the bold adventurers who are intoxicated with the wines of the Danube, and the wretched fugitives who are immersed beneath the snows of the polar circle. Arms and freedom have ever been the ruling, though too often the unsuccessful, passion of the Hungarians, who are endowed by nature with a vigorous constitution of soul and body.  27 Extreme cold has diminished the stature and congealed the faculties of the Laplanders; and the arctic tribes, alone among the sons of men, are ignorant of war, and unconscious of human blood; a happy ignorance, if reason and virtue were the guardians of their peace!  28


1 All the passages of the Byzantine history which relate to the Barbarians are compiled, methodized, and transcribed, in a Latin version, by the laborious John Gotthelf Stritter, in his "Memoriae Populorum, ad Danubium, Pontum Euxinum, Paludem Maeotidem, Caucasum, Mare Caspium, et inde Magis ad Septemtriones incolentium." Petropoli, 1771 - 1779; in four tomes, or six volumes, in 4to. But the fashion has not enhanced the price of these raw materials.

2 Hist. vol. iv. p. 11.

3 Theophanes, p. 296 - 299. Anastasius, p. 113. Nicephorus, C. P. p. 22, 23. Theophanes places the old Bulgaria on the banks of the Atell or Volga; but he deprives himself of all geographical credit by discharging that river into the Euxine Sea.

4 Paul. Diacon. de Gestis Langobard. l. v. c. 29, p. 881, 882. The apparent difference between the Lombard historian and the above- mentioned Greeks, is easily reconciled by Camillo Pellegrino (de Ducatu Beneventano, dissert. vii. in the Scriptores Rerum Ital. tom. v. p. 186, 187) and Beretti, (Chorograph. Italiae Medii Aevi, p. 273, &c. This Bulgarian colony was planted in a vacant district of Samnium, and learned the Latin, without forgetting their native language.

5 These provinces of the Greek idiom and empire are assigned to the Bulgarian kingdom in the dispute of ecclesiastical jurisdiction between the patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople, (Baronius, Annal. Eccles. A.D. 869, No. 75.)

6 The situation and royalty of Lychnidus, or Achrida, are clearly expressed in Cedrenus, (p. 713.) The removal of an archbishop or patriarch from Justinianea prima to Lychnidus, and at length to Ternovo, has produced some perplexity in the ideas or language of the Greeks, (Nicephorus Gregoras, l. ii. c. 2, p. 14, 15. Thomassin, Discipline de l'Eglise, tom. i. l. i. c. 19, 23;) and a Frenchman (D'Anville) is more accurately skilled in the geography of their own country, (Hist. de l'Academie des Inscriptions, tom. xxxi.)

7 Chalcocondyles, a competent judge, affirms the identity of the language of the Dalmatians, Bosnians, Servians, Bulgarians, Poles, (de Rebus Turcicis, l. x. p. 283,) and elsewhere of the Bohemians, (l. ii. p. 38.) The same author has marked the separate idiom of the Hungarians. Note: The Slavonian languages are no doubt Indo-European, though an original branch of that great family, comprehending the various dialects named by Gibbon and others. Shafarik, t. 33. - M. 1845.

8 See the work of John Christopher de Jordan, de Originibus Sclavicis, Vindobonae, 1745, in four parts, or two volumes in folio. His collections and researches are useful to elucidate the antiquities of Bohemia and the adjacent countries; but his plan is narrow, his style barbarous, his criticism shallow, and the Aulic counsellor is not free from the prejudices of a Bohemian.

Note: We have at length a profound and satisfactory work on the Slavonian races. Shafarik, Slawische Alterthumer. B. 2, Leipzig, 1843. - M. 1845.

9 Jordan subscribes to the well-known and probable derivation from Slava, laus, gloria, a word of familiar use in the different dialects and parts of speech, and which forms the termination of the most illustrious names, (de Originibus Sclavicis, pars. i. p. 40, pars. iv. p. 101, 102)

10 This conversion of a national into an appellative name appears to have arisen in the viiith century, in the Oriental France, where the princes and bishops were rich in Sclavonian captives, not of the Bohemian, (exclaims Jordan,) but of Sorabian race. From thence the word was extended to the general use, to the modern languages, and even to the style of the last Byzantines, (see the Greek and Latin Glossaries and Ducange.) The confusion of the Servians with the Latin Servi, was still more fortunate and familiar, (Constant. Porphyr. de Administrando, Imperio, c. 32, p. 99.)

11 The emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, most accurate for his own times, most fabulous for preceding ages, describes the Sclavonians of Dalmatia, (c. 29 - 36.)

12 See the anonymous Chronicle of the xith century, ascribed to John Sagorninus, (p. 94 - 102,) and that composed in the xivth by the Doge Andrew Dandolo, (Script. Rerum. Ital. tom. xii. p. 227 - 230,) the two oldest monuments of the history of Venice.

13 The first kingdom of the Bulgarians may be found, under the proper dates, in the Annals of Cedrenus and Zonaras. The Byzantine materials are collected by Stritter, (Memoriae Populorum, tom. ii. pars ii. p. 441 - 647;) and the series of their kings is disposed and settled by Ducange, (Fam. Byzant. p. 305 - 318.)

14 Simeonem semi-Graecum esse aiebant, eo quod a pueritia Byzantii Demosthenis rhetoricam et Aristotelis syllogismos didicerat, (Liutprand, l. iii. c. 8.) He says in another place, Simeon, fortis bella tor, Bulgariae praeerat; Christianus, sed vicinis Graecis valde inimicus, (l. i. c. 2.)

15 - Rigidum fera dextera cornu Dum tenet, infregit, truncaque a fronte revellit. Ovid (Metamorph. ix. 1 - 100) has boldly painted the combat of the river god and the hero; the native and the stranger.

16 The ambassador of Otho was provoked by the Greek excuses, cum Christophori filiam Petrus Bulgarorum Vasileus conjugem duceret, Symphona, id est consonantia scripto juramento firmata sunt, ut omnium gentium Apostolis, id est nunciis, penes nos Bulgarorum Apostoli praeponantur, honorentur, diligantur, (Liutprand in Legatione, p. 482.) See the Ceremoniale of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, tom. i. p. 82, tom. ii. p. 429, 430, 434, 435, 443, 444, 446, 447, with the annotations of Reiske.

17 A bishop of Wurtzburgh submitted his opinion to a reverend abbot; but he more gravely decided, that Gog and Magog were the spiritual persecutors of the church; since Gog signifies the root, the pride of the Heresiarchs, and Magog what comes from the root, the propagation of their sects. Yet these men once commanded the respect of mankind, (Fleury, Hist. Eccles. tom. xi. p. 594, &c.)

18 The two national authors, from whom I have derived the mos assistance, are George Pray (Dissertationes and Annales veterum Hun garorum, &c., Vindobonae, 1775, in folio) and Stephen Katona, (Hist. Critica Ducum et Regum Hungariae Stirpis Arpadianae, Paestini, 1778 - 1781, 5 vols. in octavo.) The first embraces a large and often conjectural space; the latter, by his learning, judgment, and perspicuity, deserves the name of a critical historian.

Note: Compare Engel Geschichte des Ungrischen Reichs und seiner Neben lander, Halle, 1797, and Mailath, Geschichte der Magyaren, Wien, 1828. In an appendix to the latter work will be found a brief abstract of the speculations (for it is difficult to consider them more) which have been advanced by the learned, on the origin of the Magyar and Hungarian names. Compare vol. vi. p. 35, note. - M.

19 The author of this Chronicle is styled the notary of King Bela. Katona has assigned him to the xiith century, and defends his character against the hypercriticism of Pray. This rude annalist must have transcribed some historical records, since he could affirm with dignity, rejectis falsis fabulis rusticorum, et garrulo cantu joculatorum. In the xvth century, these fables were collected by Thurotzius, and embellished by the Italian Bonfinius. See the Preliminary Discourse in the Hist. Critica Ducum, p. 7 - 33.

20 See Constantine de Administrando Imperio, c. 3, 4, 13, 38 - 42, Katona has nicely fixed the composition of this work to the years 949, 950, 951, (p. 4 - 7.) The critical historian (p. 34 - 107) endeavors to prove the existence, and to relate the actions, of a first duke Almus the father of Arpad, who is tacitly rejected by Constantine.

21 Pray (Dissert. p. 37 - 39, &c.) produces and illustrates the original passages of the Hungarian missionaries, Bonfinius and Aeneas Sylvius.

*_0044 In the deserts to the south-east of Astrakhan have been found the ruins of a city named Madchar, which proves the residence of the Hungarians or Magiar in those regions. Precis de la Geog. Univ. par Malte Brun, vol. i. p. 353. - G.

This is contested by Klaproth in his Travels, c. xxi. Madschar, (he states) in old Tartar, means "stone building." This was a Tartar city mentioned by the Mahometan writers. - M.

22 Fischer in the Quaestiones Petropolitanae, de Origine Ungrorum, and Pray, Dissertat. i. ii. iii. &c., have drawn up several comparative tables of the Hungarian with the Fennic dialects. The affinity is indeed striking, but the lists are short; the words are purposely chosen; and I read in the learned Bayer, (Comment. Academ. Petropol. tom. x. p. 374,) that although the Hungarian has adopted many Fennic words, (innumeras voces,) it essentially differs toto genio et natura.

*_0045 The connection between the Magyar language and that of the Finns is now almost generally admitted. Klaproth, Asia Polyglotta, p. 188, &c. Malte Bran, tom. vi. p. 723, &c. - M.

23 In the religion of Turfan, which is clearly and minutely described by the Chinese Geographers, (Gaubil, Hist. du Grand Gengiscan, 13; De Guignes, Hist. des Huns, tom. ii. p. 31, &c.)

24 Hist. Genealogique des Tartars, par Abulghazi Bahadur Khan partie ii. p. 90 - 98.

25 In their journey to Pekin, both Isbrand Ives (Harris's Collection of Voyages and Travels, vol. ii. p. 920, 921) and Bell (Travels, vol. i p. 174) found the Vogulitz in the neighborhood of Tobolsky. By the tortures of the etymological art, Ugur and Vogul are reduced to the same name; the circumjacent mountains really bear the appellation of Ugrian; and of all the Fennic dialects, the Vogulian is the nearest to the Hungarian, (Fischer, Dissert. i. p. 20 - 30. Pray. Dissert. ii. p. 31 - 34.)

26 The eight tribes of the Fennic race are described in the curious work of M. Leveque, (Hist. des Peuples soumis a la Domination de la Russie, tom. ii. p. 361 - 561.)

27 This picture of the Hungarians and Bulgarians is chiefly drawn from the Tactics of Leo, p. 796 - 801, and the Latin Annals, which are alleged by Baronius, Pagi, and Muratori, A.D. 889, &c.

28 Buffon, Hist. Naturelle, tom. v. p. 6, in 12mo. Gustavus Adolphus attempted, without success, to form a regiment of Laplanders. Grotius says of these arctic tribes, arma arcus et pharetra, sed adversus feras, (Annal. l. iv. p. 236;) and attempts, after the manner of Tacitus, to varnish with philosophy their brutal ignorance.

Next: Chapter LV: The Bulgarians, The Hungarians And The Russians. Part II.