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The 'Second Bulgarian Empire.' Its Origin and History to 1204
R. Wolff


Even before Ioannitsa wrote to Innocent III in November 1204, asking that the Pope warn the Latins to let his 'empire' strictly alone, he had made friendly gestures to the Crusader armies. In the spring of 1204, before the second capture of the city and the formation of the Latin Empire, and during the preparations for the siege, Ioannitsa, according to Robert of Clari

sent word to the high barons that if they would crown him King, so that he would be lord of his land of Vlachia, he would hold his land and kingdom from them, and would come to their aid to help them take Constantinople with all of a hundred thousand men. . . .


When the barons heard this, they said they would consider it, and when they had taken counsel, they came to a bad decision; for they answered that they cared nothing for him nor for his help, but he should know well that they would hurt him and do him harm if they could. This was a very great mischance and a very great misfortune. Now when he had failed with them, he sent to Rome for his crown, and the apostolic sent a Cardinal to crown him, and so he was crowned King. [88]
Robert's sound judgment on the ineptitude of the policy-makers of the Crusader host may itself provide the clue to Villehardouin's silence as to Ioannitsa's embassy. As a leading official, Villehardouin may well have been partly responsible for the unfortunate decision. Nicetas, however, knows of the embassy. He says that when Ioannitsa sent ambassadors to discuss friendship with the Latins, they had asked him to address them not as a king would address his friends but as a slave would address his masters. Otherwise, they threatened to invade his lands and reduce him to his former state. For this reason, Nicetas says, Ioannitsa welcomed the later advances to him of certain Greek nobles, Alexius III's former officers, who had also been rebuffed both by Boniface of Montferrat and by the Emperor Baldwin. [89] By their incredibly rash overconfidence the Latins drove into each other's arms Byzantine officials with a military following, and the Byzantines' traditional enemy, the king of the Vlachs and the Bulgars. Ioannitsa at once assumed command of the new coalition; and in late 1204 the Latins began to learn the painful lessons of inept diplomacy.

Ioannitsa was to capture and kill their Emperor Baldwin in April 1205, and to jeopardize their entire position in the East. Thereafter, he wrote again to Innocent III, telling how he had tried to reach a friendly agreement with the Latins, and how they had responded that they would have no peace with him unless he would return to them the lands which he had taken from the Empire. To this he had replied that he had a better right to his territory than the Latins had to theirs: he had recovered lands lost by his ancestors, and had been crowned by the Pope; they had taken territory which had never been theirs, and had, in fact, usurped a crown which belonged to him. Since the Empire was his rather than theirs, he would fight beneath the standard sent to him by the Pope, and bearing the papal keys upon it, against those who wore false crosses on their shoulders. [90] This bold response to the Crusaders provides sure proof of Ioannitsa's


continuing great ambitions: the Empire, he claimed, was his, and he boldly took advantage of his good relations with the Pope, and of the papal keys upon the standard under which Innocent had ordered him to do battle. The evidence seems clear that Ioannitsa made at least one, and perhaps two efforts to gain the friendship of the Latins, and to form an alliance with them. After the failure of the first attempt reported by Robert of Clari, he seems to have hoped that peace might be maintained if each side would leave the other alone, and this he tried to accomplish through Innocent. When a second attempt at reaching an agreement failed, Ioannitsa knew that war was inevitable, and hurled his défi. [91] Thus the initial relations between the two nouveaux arrives among the Balkan states, the Vlach-Bulgar-Cuman establishment at Tirnovo and the Latin Empire at Constantinople, both sponsored by the Pope, were destined to be hostile. A detailed consideration of these matters down into the period after 1204 will, it is hoped, be presented in a later study of the Latin Empire.


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88. Robert of Clari (ed. Lauer), pp. 63-65; tr. McNeal, pp. 86-88. The repeated use by Robert and by Villehardouin of 'Jehan li Blak' for Ioannitsa, and of 'Blakie' for his country is of course further evidence that he was not a Bulgarian. Robert also knows something about the origin of the 'second Bulgarian Empire'; he says that Ioannitsa was once in charge of the Byzantine Emperor's horse farms, and was struck in the face with a whip by a eunuch, one of the Emperor's attendants. This is obviously a reflection of the story told by Nicetas of Asen's experience at the hands of the sebastocrator John (see above text and note 39). Robert did not know that Ioannitsa had been negotiating with the Pope all along.

89. Nicetas, pp. 808-809.

90. Gesta Innocentii, Migne, PL, CCXIV, col. cxlvii-cxlviii, chapter CVIII:
... Joannitius . . . audita captione regiae civitatis miserat nuntios et litteras ad Latinos, ut cum eis pacem haberet; sed ipsi ei superbissime responderunt, dicentes, quod pacem non haberent cum illo, nisi redderet terrain ad Constantinopolitanum imperium pertinentem quam ipse invaserat violenter. Quibus ipse respondit: quod terra ilia justius possidebatur ab ipso quam Constantinopolis possideretur ab illis, nam ipse recuperaverat terrain quam progenitores ejus amiserunt, sed ipsi Constantinopolim occupaverant, quae ad eos minime pertinebat: ipse praeterea coronam regni legitimi receperat a summo pontifice; sed ille, qui se appellabat Constantinopolitanum basileum, coronam imperii temere usurpaverat a se ipso: quare, potius ad ipsum quam ad ilium imperium pertinebat, ideoque sub uno vexillo, quod a beato Petro receperat, ejus clavibus insignito, pugnaret fiducialiter contra illos qui falsos cruces suis humeris praeferebant. . . . '

91. In addition to the bibliography already cited, the following works deal with the initial relations between the Crusaders and the 'second Bulgarian Empire'; V. Makushev, 'Bolgariya v kontse XII i v pervoi polovine XIII veka,' Varshavskiya Universitetskiya Izvestiya, III (Warsaw, 1872), pp. 66, (Separate pagination); E. Sayous, 'Les Bulgares, les croisés français de Constantinople, et Innocent III,' Études sur la religion Romaine et le moyen âge oriental (Paris, 1889), pp. 252-270; V. Zlatarski, ' Grutsko-Bulgarski Suiuz prez 1204-5 god,' Godishnik na Sofiiskiya Universitet, 1st. Fil. Fak. VIII-IX (1911-1913), pp. 1-23; B. Barvinok, 'Rolya Balkanskych Slov'yan v Istorii Vizantii za IVgo chrstovago pochodu,' Ukrainska Akademiya Nauk, Yubileini Zbirnik na poshanu Akademika Dimitra Ivanovicha Bagaliya, Zbirnik Istorichno-filologichnogo viddilu, LI (Kiev, 1927), pp. 1175-1187. (Ukrainian.) B. Primov, 'Grutsko-Bulgarski suiuz v nachaloto na XIII vek,' Istoricheski Pregled, IV (1947-1948), 22-39; 'Robert de Clari i otnosheniyata mezhdu Bulgariya i Latinskata imperiya,' Godishnik na Sofiiskiya Universitet, Ist.-Fil. Fak., XLIII (1946, 1947), 6-22.