History of the Macedonian People - Decline and Fall of the Pravoslav Empire

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History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present

Part 18 - Decline and Fall of the Pravoslav Empire

by Risto Stefov rstefov@hotmail.com

Once he conquered Macedonia, Basil II made her into a Pravoslav province and sub-divided her into themes. He then installed a large army to keep the peace.

After Samoil's death, the Archbishopric of Ohrid was subordinated to Pravoslav authority and incorporated into the Patriarchate of Tsari Grad. Macedonia was reorganized into thirty-two eparchies. The Bulgarian, Serbian and Albanian eparchies were also incorporated into the Ohrid Archbishopric.

An Archbishop and the Church Synod were given supreme authority over the Ohrid Archbishopric. The Synod met in Ohrid once a year to elect new bishops and to discipline clergy accused of various breaches and misconduct.

The Archbishop of Ohrid was no longer elected by the Synod, as it had been under Samoil's rule, but was appointed by Tsari Grad and confirmed by the Pravoslav Emperor. The Archbishop remained autocephalous but was subject to the Pravoslav state and church authorities. He was a member of the principal administration of the Patriarchate of Tsari Grad, attended its sittings, defended the interests and prestige of the Pravoslav Church and participated in the resolution of disagreements with the western Church.

Basil II allowed the higher clergy of the Archbishopric to retain some privileges. By doing so he gained their support in strengthening Pravoslav rule in Macedonia. To appear sympathetic he also appointed John of Debar, a Macedonian, head of the Archbishopric.

After Basil II's death in 1025 his successor Leo attempted to tighten control over the Macedonian church by replacing the Slavonic language with Koine. Having encountered opposition, in 1037 he removed John of Debar, one of the strongest supporters of the Macedonian language. Henceforth the Archbishops of Ohrid and the bishops of the churches in the Ohrid Archbishopric were regularly elected from the ranks of the Koine speaking clergy. The lower clergy remained Slavonic speakers because they were closer to the people.

When Ohrid came under Pravoslav control the Koine speaking hierarchs began to eradicate all documents written in Slavonic. Many manuscripts which had been preserved in Ohrid were destroyed. In the churches Slavonic liturgy began to be preached in adaptations translated from Koine. The Slavonic names of rivers, towns, etc. were also replaced by either classical Koine or Latin names. The Archbishopric of Ohrid was slowly becoming a Koine speaking institution designed to destroy the Macedonian traditions, which had been nurtured over the years. Slavonic literacy could not, however, be totally destroyed. The adaptation of Koine did not succeed in taking any deep roots among the people who continued to communicate in their native Slavonic language.

As soon as Macedonia came under Pravoslav control the development of feudal relations was again accelerated. Excessive recruitment of men from the ranks of the peasantry, for the Pravoslav army, weakened communities and made them easier to fall into feudal hands. Also, for their security from pillaging invaders, peasants had no choice but to join feudal holdings and pay the feudal lords protection money. Remaining communities who held common lands such as meadows, woodlands, rivers, etc. also became feudal possessions.

Feudal lords were not the only ones after land grabs in Macedonia. The church, in attempting to increase its own holdings, also played its part in the dissolution of the free rural communities. Besides land gifts received from the Pravoslav rulers, the church also established patronage over the free rural communities. Over time the church converted free peasants into feudally tied ones. This was done mostly through land confiscations where peasants were found guilty of heresy, polygamy, or unlawful marriage. In time the church too became a large-scale feudal property-owner.

Besides feudal holdings, the Pravoslavs also set aside lands in support of military needs. Entire villages or several village groupings were set aside purely for providing soldiers for the draft.

The majority of the Macedonian population after Samoil's death became subservient to the feudal lords. Serfs formed the basic category of the tied feudal population. Serfs were allowed to retain their hereditary holdings but under the authority of the feudal lords. Below the serfs were the landless people. They lived and worked on feudal estates or on land set aside for them by the community. Below the landless people were the servants of the feudal lords. Their property was part of the feudal lord's personal demesne and they were personally bound to their lords who had the authority to sell them together with their land.

Below the servants were the slaves. Unlike classical slaves who had no rights at all, with time and services rendered, these slaves gradually received small holdings as well as certain rights from their feudal lords. The slave class consisted almost exclusively of those who either could not pay-up the state taxes or those who had rebelled against their exploiters or the state.

The churchmen, on the other hand, were a separate class of people. The churchmen who owned land enjoyed certain privileges which had been granted to the church by the state.

Like the churchmen, the artisans who were employed on feudal estates were a distinct and more privileged class of the tied population.

With regard to taxation, the Pravoslavs had instituted three types of feudal rent known as work or corvee, kind and monetary. Unfortunately the Macedonian population was burdened with all three types. The work rent or corvee was applicable to the entire population tied to or obliged to work for a feudal lord. The proportion of this unpaid labour was not defined so in times of need, particularly in the summer months, several days of a person's workweek were devoted to it. The majority of this corvee was dedicated to repairing or building fortresses, constructing roads and bridges, building boats and baking bread for the army.

The rent in kind, which varied from individual to individual, was paid with a variety of "finished products" made for the state and for the feudal lords. The customary practice of giving gifts to officials was a particularly heavy burden on the population.

Taxes in kind were also exacted by the church. The Ohrid Church, according to its established canon, exacted taxes in kind from the entire population, including the Vlachs and the Vardariot Turks.

Monetary rent was also exacted on a large scale during this period. After the tax reforms of 1040, regular state taxes were required to be paid with money. With the growing need to pay monetary taxes, a strong stimulus was induced to trade goods for money. This, in many ways, was good for the economy and development of feudalism. Unfortunately the transition became another burden on the Macedonian peasant population. After the feudal lords were awarded rights to collect state taxes, abuse was not far behind. Many took advantage of their position of authority and exacted extra taxes for themselves above and beyond those prescribed by law.

Besides regular taxes, Macedonians were also obliged to pay various supplementary taxes, like judicial fines, toll tax for crossing rivers, fishing tax, water-mill tax and marriage tax. As a marriage tax the groom was obliged to pay his bishop a gold piece and the bride twelve ells (15 meters) of linen.

By 1040, discontent with Pravoslav rule in Macedonia had reached a boiling point and exploded into a full scale armed rebellion. Leading the rebellion was Peter Delyan, Gabriel Radomir's son by his first wife, the daughter of the Hungarian king, mentioned earlier. The rebellion, supported by the Hungarian king, began in the regions of Belgrade and Morava near the Hungarian border and soon spread south to Skopje. With popular support and assistance from the local Macedonian population, the rebel army invaded and took Skopje. Tsari Grad quickly reacted by dispatching an army in pursuit. But instead of attacking, the Pravoslav soldiers defected and proclaimed Tihomir, one of their own soldiers, as their emperor. Tihomir unfortunately died in battle leaving his army under Delyan's command.

After a long period of secure prosperity, the Pravoslav Empire of the 11th century began to experience new pressures, which aggravated the latent tensions in its society. A division in the Pravoslav ruling class began to take place, creating conflict between the military aristocracy of the provinces and the civilian aristocracy and bureaucracy of Tsari Grad. Each faction at any opportune moment did not hesitate to proclaim its own emperor, who was a rival of the other faction. The sophisticated urban aristocracy favoured non-military rulers who would expand the civil service and supply them and their families with lucrative offices and decorative titles. The military families, whose wealth lay not in the capital but in the provinces and who had been penalized by Basil II's legislation, favoured emperors who were soldiers, not civil servants.

Towards the end of the 11th century, however, it became clear that the empire's military strength was no longer sufficient to hold back its enemies. The landowners in the provinces appreciated the dangers more readily than the government in Tsari Grad. They made those dangers an excuse to enlarge their estates in defiance of all the laws passed in the 10th century. The theme system in Anatolia, which had been the basis of the empire's military power, was rapidly breaking down. On the other hand, the urban aristocracy of Tsari Grad, reacting against the evils of war, strove to make their city a centre of culture and sophistication. For example, in 1045 Constantine IX endowed Tsari Grad University with a new charter. The law school was revived under the brilliant jurist John Xiphilinus. Not to be outdone, the school of philosophy thrived under the chairmanship of Michael Psellus, whose research into every field of knowledge earned him a reputation as the great educator of brilliant pupils. Psellus as an aristocrat, statesman, philosopher, and historian was an example of the vigour of 11th century Pravoslav society. What he and others like him failed to see, however, was that their empire was depleting the resources and living off the reputation built up by the former Macedonian emperors.

Back in Macedonia, Delyan began a military campaign to recover his grandfather's kingdom. He started by sending troops to Dyrrachium and, with the support of the local people, managed to take that theme. He then sent a large army to besiege Solun. At the sight of Delyan's immense army, Emperor Michael IV, who at the time was waiting for him, fled in terror to Tsari Grad leaving Manuel Ivets in command of the Pravoslav army. But instead of fighting Ivets defected to Delyan's side, joining forces with the rebels.

Exploiting the panic which had risen in the ranks of the Pravoslav army, Delyan dispatched armies in several directions. One, led by Anthimus, made its way south reaching as deep as the town Tiva, spreading the revolt into Epirus and conquering the theme of Naupactos. Another army took Demetrias (Volos in Thessaly) and so on. Soon Delyan was in possession of a large territory encompassing the greater part of Samoil's kingdom.

Dissatisfied with the situation in Macedonia, the higher echelons of Tsari Grad demanded that the Emperor do something. Not to disappoint them, the Emperor prepared for war and set out to meet Delyan in Macedonia. Unfortunately Delyan was not the emperor's only problem. Aleutian, John Vladislav's second son who was a patrician and commander of Theodosiopolis in Armenia, had also joined the rebellion. Delyan not only accepted Aleutian's services, but also made him commander of his army of forty thousand soldiers and dispatched him to Solun.

Unbeknownst to Aleutian, however, the Pravoslav army stationed in Solun must have been aware of his plans and surprised him. A battle ensued and Aleutian lost about fifteen thousand men. His defeat led to discord in the ranks of the rebels and Aleutian was suspected of treason. Suspicion turned to tragedy when Aleutian turned against Delyan, blinding him in a fit of rage. He then fled to the Pravoslavs. Stripped of their leaders, the rebels were thrown into confusion and the insurrection was condemned to fail.

In the spring of 1041 the Pravoslav Emperor again prepared for war and set out for Ostrovo, the center of the revolt. There he captured Delyan and sent him to Solun. From Ostrovo the Emperor set out for the interior of Macedonia and met up with Manual Ivets in Prilep. Ivets and his troops fought bravely but they were no match for the mighty Pravoslav army. Ivets was captured and the rebellion was extinguished.

After his successful campaign, the Pravoslav Emperor triumphantly returned to Tsari Grad with Delyan and Ivets as his trophies.

Instead of bringing change for the better, the rebellion brought disaster to the Macedonian people. The Pravoslav army, which consisted mainly of Norwegian mercenaries under the command of Harold Hardraga, devastated Macedonia. They enslaved most of the population and brought new state officials and feudal lords who, together with the army, introduced even more oppressive measures.

Unable to cope, the people rose again, this time in Thessaly. In 1066 the Vlach population in Thessaly rebelled under the leadership of Nikulitsa Delphin, the Governor of Larissa, whose grandfather had governed the town during Samuel's reign. Even though the rebellion was entrusted to Nikulitsa, a descendent of rebels, he personally had no interest in a successful outcome. As a result, the revolt did not succeed in spreading as well as it could have and only extended to the towns of Larissa, Trikkala, Pharsala and the fortress of Cythros.

The Pravoslav Emperor Constantine X was quick to react and stopped the rebellion from spreading into the interior of Macedonia. Then, even before the year was over, with Nikulitsa's help, Constantine successfully put down the rest of the rebellion.

In 1072, five years after the Thessalian rebellion, a new revolt broke out, this time inside Macedonia. The revolt, led by George Voyteh, took place in Skopje and was sparked by new and more oppressive financial policies introduced by the Pravoslav authorities. The leaders of the revolt turned for help to Michael, the ruler of Zeta, who was related to Samuel. Michael sent his son Constantine Bodin along with three hundred of his elite troops.

Voyteh and his rebels met Bodin at Prizren and immediately proclaimed him emperor under the name Peter, in honour of the fallen Peter Delyan.

On receiving news that the rebels were headed for Skopje, the former and current Pravoslav governors of that city, along with their armies, came out to stop them. A battle ensued at Prizren and the Pravoslavs were defeated. After taking the governor of Skopje prisoner, Bodin divided his army in two columns. One column he dispatched to Naissus while the second column, with Petrilo in command, he sent into the interior of Macedonia. Voyteh remained in Skopje.

Petrilo's first stop was Ohrid where he was greeted by the town's people as a liberator. When Devol, the Pravoslav governor, saw him coming he surrendered without a struggle. While the town's people were running out to greet the rebel army, the feudal lords, administrators and Pravoslav soldiers slipped out the back and fled to the fortified town of Kostur. There, they convinced the Kostur governor to organize a strong defense. Soon enough Petrilo arrived and indeed was met with strong resistance.

Soon after Petrilo arrived a battle ensued. Combined, the Pravoslav Ohrid and Kostur armies inflicted great damage on the insurgents. Petrilo just barely managed to escape and fled to Zeta.

Bodin had a bit more luck and drove the Pravoslavs out of Naissus. However, hearing of Petrilo's defeat in Kostur, deflated his enthusiasm.

By now the main Pravoslav army, led by Michael Saronit, was closing in on Skopje and the mere sight of its enormity frightened Voyteh. Outnumbered and outgunned, Voyteh agreed to surrender Skopje without a fight but secretly he sent for Bodin to come to his rescue.

Unfortunately, once again the Pravoslav spies did their job and Saronit set a trap for Bodin. Bodin's army was intercepted and defeated at Kossovo Polye. Bodin was captured and sent to Tsari Grad, along with Voyteh, as Saronit's prisoner. Voyteh unfortunately died on the way, probably from torture.

Initially Bodin was imprisoned in Tsari Grad but later, at the intervention of Venetian mercenaries, he was returned to Zeta.

In 1073 the Pravoslavs stepped up their campaign in Macedonia and brought additional forces in to rout the remaining pockets of rebel resistance. Unfortunately that was not all that they did. In pursuit of the rebels, the Pravoslav army destroyed Samoil's imperial palace in Prespa and looted the churches in the vicinity. These acts further inflamed the situation and the rebels continued to resist, forcing the Pravoslavs to bring even more troops and take more drastic measures. Only by burning and razing everything, wherever opposition was offered, did the Pravoslavs succeeded in putting down the rebellion. By the end of 1073 it was all over.

When all else failed the oppressed masses began to express their frustration by joining the Bogomil movement. They became particularly powerful at the end of the eleventh century and even more so during the course of the twelfth century. The struggle of the Bogomils was directed as equally against the feudal lords as it was against the Pravoslav Emperor and his spiritual and ecclesiastical officials.

The Pravoslav appointed Archbishop, Theophylact of Ohrid, waged a fierce war against the Bogomils of Ohrid yet, in spite of severe punishments, he did not succeed in stamping them out. Led by the priest Basil, the Bogomil apostles and women preachers spread Bogomilism throughout all the regions of the empire, even into Tsari Grad itself.

Confronted with this rapid spread of Bogomilism, the Pravoslav Emperor Alexius I Comnenus decided to personally intervene. While making plans to eradicate the Bogomils he figured it was a good time to also attack the Paulician movement which existed on a large scale in the Balkans. His soldiers rounded up all the Bogomils they could catch, including their leader Basil, and brought them before a Synod in Tsari Grad. The Synod quickly condemned them to death and subsequently had them executed. The movements did not collapse as expected, however, but rather experienced a revival after Alexius I Comnenus's death in 1118.

During the 1070's, while Michael VII Parapinakes was emperor, many enemies began to descend upon Pravoslav territory. The new enemies that appeared at this time seemed to emerge almost simultaneously on the northern, eastern and western frontiers. It was nothing new for the Pravoslavs to have to fight on multiple fronts simultaneously but that task required a soldier on the throne.

The Pechenegs, a Turkic tribe, had long been a northern neighbour and valuable ally against the Bulgars, Magyars and Russians. After the Bulgar empire collapsed the Pechenegs began to raid across the Danube into Pravoslav territory. As allies Constantine IX allowed them to settle south of the river but by mid-11th century they were becoming a nuisance. They were threatening Thrace and Macedonia and encouraging the spirit of revolt among the Bogomils. Alexius I put their reign of terror to an end in1091.

The next to arrive, this time on the eastern frontier, were the Seljuq Turks, whose conquests would change the shape of both the Muslim and Pravoslav worlds. In 1055, having conquered Persia, they entered Baghdad and their prince assumed the title of sultan and protector of the Abbasid caliphate. Before long they asserted their authority up to the borders of Fatimid Egypt and through Pravoslav Anatolia. They made their first appearance across the Pravoslav frontier in Armenia during the mid-1060's and went as far west as Caesarea in central Anatolia.

The appearance of the Turkish raiders frightened the military aristocracy in Anatolia who, in 1068, elected one of their own emperors, Romanus IV Diogenes. Romanus assembled an army consisting mainly of foreign mercenaries and went on a campaign against the Turks. In August 1071 the Pravoslavs lost the battle at Manzikert, near Lake Van in Armenia. Romanus was taken prisoner by the Seljuq sultan, Alp-Arslan. After signing a treaty with the sultan, Romanus was allowed to buy his freedom. Unfortunately Tsari Grad did not want him back and installed their candidate Michael VII. Subsequently Romanus's treaty with the Turks was rejected and Romanus himself was treacherously blinded. With their treaty rejected, the Seljuqs were justified in resuming their raids.

It didn't take too long before an irreconcilable rift began to form between Tsari Grad and the eastern themes. Civil war broke out consuming all resources and leaving no troops to defend the eastern frontier. The Turks were quick to exploit the situation and by 1081 had penetrated Asia Minor and taken Nicaea. The heart of the empire's military and economic strength was now in Turkish hands.

The next enemy, the Normans, arrived from the west and began their conquest of southern Italy early in the 11th century. Ironically the Norman conquests were made possible by Basil II's project of recovering Sicily from the Arabs. Sicily was almost recovered in 1042 by the great general of the post-Macedonian era, George Maniaces. Unfortunately, being fearful of him and his military reputation, Constantine IX had him recalled and killed as a pretender to the throne. The Normans afterwards simply filled the political void and made steady progress conquering Italy.

In 1071 after a three-year siege the Normans, led by Robert Guiscard, finally took Bari, the last remaining Pravoslav stronghold in the west. After that, Pravoslav rule in Italy and the hope of re-conquering Sicily came to an end.

The simultaneous losses of Manzikert, to the Turks in the east, and Bari, to the Normans in the west, were a disaster for the Pravoslavs. The final loss of Italy put a permanent physical barrier between the Pravoslav east and the Latin west.

After conquering Bari, the Normans pressed on with their campaign into Pravoslav territory. In 1072 they won a resounding victory in Dyrrachium and in the following year another in Ioannina. Then they turned to Macedonia and took Ohrid, the two Pologs and Skopje. After that they made their way to Berroea and Meglen and rebuilt the destroyed fortress. The Normans then followed the Vardar River and camped for three months in Beli Tsrkvi. Following their long rest they came back and took Pelagonia, Trikkala and Kostur. In January 1084, in an attempt to take Larissa, they suffered a devastating defeat.

A year later Emperor Alexius I, making use of his victory, attacked and took back Kostur, forcing the Normans to retreat from the Balkans.

The Norman conquests had serious long term consequences for Macedonia. Outside of the Norman mayhem and looting, the Macedonians were once again subjected to new cruelties as the Pravoslavs returned and imposed law and order on the province.

The Norman expulsion unfortunately did not bring peace to Macedonia. As mentioned earlier, Bodin succeeded his father to the throne of Zeta in 1081and immediately began campaigning in Pravoslav territory. He seized Mokra, a part of the Ohrid district including Mt. Bagora, and then proceeded to take the district of Dyrrachium. At that time the Pravoslav Emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, intervened and Bodin was forced to retreat. Later, from time to time, Bodin took the occasion to campaign in the Ohrid region but always withdrew at the presence of the Pravoslav army.

Towards the end of the 1090's Vukan, the ruler of Rashka, decided to invade Macedonia and attack Skopje. Vukan's presence in Pravoslav territory provoked a counter attack from the Emperor who this time personally took charge of the mission. Comnenus undertook three campaigns against Rashka in 1091, 1093, and 1094. His personal intervention not only gave the Pravoslavs an opportunity to take back all of Macedonia, but also sent a clear message to Bodin to keep out.

Even with all of Macedonia's possessions under Pravoslav control, the empire could not replenish the military and economic resources it lost as a result of losing Asia Minor to the Turks. Its shrinking boundaries reduced the once mighty empire from the status of a world power to that of a small state fighting for survival. The loss of Anatolia forced the Pravoslavs to turn away from the east and start looking to the west.

The first sign of this westward interest was in 1082 after the Normans captured Dyrrachium and were about to advance overland to Solun. Alexius, the Pravoslav emperor, having no resources to raise a sizable army, called on the Venetians to help him. However, even before the west had a chance to react, the Norman leader Robert Guiscard died, in 1085, thus temporarily easing the Norman problem. The following year the Seljuq Turk sultan died and the sultanate was engulfed with internal rivalries.

The Venetians eventually did come and were glad to help drive the Normans out of the Adriatic Sea but at the same time demanded large concessions for their services. In 1082 Alexius I granted them trading privileges in Tsari Grad with very lucrative terms. Unfortunately this created resentment for the westerners in Tsari Grad. The rich Pravoslavs, who otherwise might have invested in shipbuilding and trade, were pushed to invest in more familiar securities like land and property.

In Alexius's estimation the loss of Anatolia was only temporary and he fully expected to win it back. He would have too had it not been for the first crusade of western Europe in1096.

Alexius asked the west for help, not for the liberation of the Holy Land from the infidel but for the protection of Tsari Grad and the recovery of Anatolia. However, when Jerusalem was lost to the Turks in 1071 all the west could think of was revenge

The Holy War fervor finally peaked in 1095 when Pope Urban II appealed to the Christian world for recruits to go to war. The response in western Europe was overwhelming. Some came out of religious enthusiasm, others in the spirit of adventure and yet others with hopes of material gain. It was no comfort to Alexius to learn that four of the eight leaders of the First Crusade were Normans, among them Bohemond, the son of Robert Guiscard.

Failing to convince the Crusaders to help him re-take Anatolia, the next best thing the Emperor did was get its leaders to swear that they would restore towns or territories they might conquer from the Turks on their way to the Holy Land. In return for this gesture he gave them guides, a military escort and food supplies.

One group of fearsome Crusaders, with Bohemond of Taranto at the helm, traveled along the Via Egnatia route and entered Macedonia in 1096. They had no qualms about using force and violence when it came to obtaining food and other necessities. While passing through they stopped in Kostur for several days, seizing oxen, mules and everything else they could pilfer. In the region between Prilep and Bitola they destroyed a fortified settlement and killed its inhabitants. While crossing the Vardar River the Crusaders were ambushed by a group of renegade Turkish and Pecheneg soldiers from the Pravoslav army. Unscathed, the Crusaders continued on their journey to Serres where they were welcomed by Pravoslav officials and given gifts collected from the local population. After a brief stop in Tsari Grad the Crusaders crossed into Asia Minor.

After a short siege the Crusaders, in 1097, took Nicaea and in accordance with their agreement gave it back to the Emperor. In 1098 the Crusaders captured Antioch but this time they refused to honour the agreement. The trouble was started by Bohemond's refusal to turn it over on the grounds that he made the city his own principality. If other Crusaders could keep the lands they conquered for themselves, why shouldn't he? As precedence he used the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which the crusaders had taken the year before. As further evidence, there were also the Latin conquered counties of Edessa and Tripoli which belonged to Crusaders as well.

When the crusaders finished conquering they settled down and colonized their possessions, which stretched along the coast of Palestine and Syria. Then they began to quarrel among themselves.

While the crusaders were complacent and the Turks were busy fighting each other, Alexius established and secured a new boundary, extending his empire to the middle of Anatolia. Alexius was able to take advantage of prevailing rivalries between the Seljuq sultans at Konya, and the rival dynasty of the Danishmend emirs at Melitene.

The First Crusade may have brought some benefits to the Pravoslavs but it certainly created new problems. The small rivalries between Alexius and Bohemond soon erupted into full scale war when Bohemond invaded Pravoslav territory. In the fall of 1107, Bohemond, with an army of forty-five thousand troops and two hundred transport ships, left Italy and disembarked near Avlona where he took the port without much difficulty. His army then set out for Dyrrachium and took several neighbouring fortresses including Arbanon and Debar. By this time Alexius had built up his forces and immediately went in pursuit. He met Bohemond at Dyrrachium in 1108 and gave him a crushing defeat. Bohemond agreed to a peace treaty and withdrew to Italy where he died in 1111.

Alexius I's victory brought some prestige to the Pravoslav Empire, but at a price. Alexius managed to rebuild his army and fleet only by sacrificing his economy. He devalued his gold coins to one-third their original value and imposed more supplementary taxes on his subjects.

Alexius I's policies were continued after his death by his son John II Comnenus through the years 1118 to 1143 and by his grandson Manuel I Comnenus through the years 1143 to 1180. With the dawn of the 12th century the increasingly complex political situation in Europe and the growing involvement of the western powers into Pravoslav affairs could no longer be ignored. In Asia matters were also complicated by the conflict between the Seljuq and the Danishmend dynasties and by the activities of the crusader states. Foreign relations and skillful diplomacy became of paramount importance for the Pravoslavs as John II tried but failed to break the Venetian monopoly in Pravoslav trade.

Manuel I came to the conclusion that the Pravoslavs could no longer ignore or afford to offend the growing powers in the west and went out of his way to understand and appease them.

It was most unfortunate that the second Crusade in 1147 was during Manuel's reign. By trying hard to appease both sides, Manuel aggravated existing animosities between Pravoslavs and Latins pushing Tsari Grad deeper into the tangle of western politics.

While internal western rivalries kept the westerners busy fighting among themselves, Manuel started a campaign of recovery. His armies won back much of the northwest Balkans and almost conquered Hungary, reducing it to a Pravoslav client kingdom. The Serbs too, under their leader Stephen Nemanja, were kept under control while Manuel's dramatic recovery of Antioch in 1159 gave the crusaders reason to treat him with respect. Unfortunately the Emperor went too far when he intervened in Anatolia to stop the formation of a single Turkish sultanate. After invading the Seljuq territory of Rum in 1176, his army was surrounded at Myriocephalon and annihilated. The loss of this battle marked the end of the counter-offensive against the Turks which was started by Alexius I.

Manuel's failure in Asia Minor delighted the western emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa, who had supported the Seljuq sultan of Rum against the Pravoslavs and now openly threatened to take over the Pravoslav Empire by force.

Manuel's personal relationships with the crusaders and with other westerners remained cordial to the end. But his policies antagonized the Holy Roman Empire, the papacy, the Normans and the Venetians. His effort to revive Pravoslav prestige in Italy and the Balkans roused the suspicions of Venice. In 1171, following an anti-Latin demonstration in Tsari Grad, all Venetians in the empire were arrested and their properties confiscated. The Venetians did not forget this episode and soon began to think in terms of putting Tsari Grad under western control as the only means of securing their interest in Pravoslav trade.

Manuel's policies antagonized many of his own people as well, especially his favouritism towards the Latins and the lavish granting of estates to them.

Manuel's popularity soon plummeted. This prompted his cousin Andronicus I Comnenus to murder him in 1180 and take his throne. Andronicus, while posing as the champion of Pravoslav patriotism and of the oppressed peasants, also murdered Manuel's widow and son Alexius II. Unfortunately when the time came to enforce his reforms he turned from a peoples' champion to a peoples' tyrant. By undermining the power of the aristocracy he weakened the empire's defenses and undid much of Manuel's work.

In the meantime, taking advantage of the internal Pravoslav strife, the king of Hungary broke his treaty with them. Stephen Nemanja of Serbia also declared his independence from the Pravoslavs and founded a new Serbian kingdom. Dissention was not limited to outsiders alone. In 1185 Isaac Comnenus, governor of Cyprus, took advantage of the situation and set himself up as independent ruler of the island. In the same year the Normans again invaded Macedonia and captured Solun. The news prompted a counterrevolution in Tsari Grad resulting in Andronicus's murder.

In 1185 the Normans, armed with eighty thousand men and two hundred vessels, laid siege to Solun by land and by sea. The city, unable to obtain reinforcements from Tsari Grad, fell to the enemy and was looted and plundered to no end.

Andronicus I Comnenus was the last of the Comnenian family to wear the crown. Shortly after his death in 1185 Pravoslav society weakened and the state found itself on the verge of collapse. Apart from increased feudal exploitation, lack of respect for the law and abuses perpetrated by the feudal lords and official bodies, the main danger to the empire's stability came from internal strife and mass defection of aristocrats from the central government. Usurpation of authority followed by armed clashes, banishment and harsh punishments became the norm. The imperial palace had become a hotbed of politics and intrigues.

After Andronicus I Comnenus died in 1185, Isaac II Angelus replaced him as emperor. It was during Isaac II's reign that the newly developed feudal powers in Serbia and Bulgaria were established and became a significant political factor in the Balkans. The sacking of Solun by the Normans weakened the Pravoslavs and that too created favourable conditions for the Slavonic feudal lords to gain some independence. Among the more successful of these was Dobromir Hrs. Hrs had accumulated an army of five hundred men and, for the most part, maintained peaceful relations with the court in Tsari Grad. He was however, an opportunist and looked for ways to expand his authority. His chance came in 1189 during the third Crusade, led by Frederic I Barbarossa, when a number of Crusaders left the main route and invaded Macedonia. While passing through Gradets they killed people and set fire to several buildings, including the town's church. After descending to Vkahija (near Strumitsa) they clashed with a rebel group and took their possessions. It was here that Hrs made contact with the Crusaders and sent them on their way. Unfortunately no sooner had the Crusaders departed for Asia Minor than Pravoslavs rounded up these opportunistic feudal lords and sent them to jail. Dobromir Hrs was imprisoned for a while but was then released and awarded the governorship of Strumitsa.

In 1195 Isaac II was deposed and blinded by his brother Alexius III Angelus.

When unrest broke out during Alexius III's reign, Dobromir Hrs again declared his independence, first in Strumitsa and then in the naturally fortified town of Presok. After arming Presok with an elite garrison he transferred his seat and fortified the town with defensive weapons and adequate stores of food. By repealing the Pravoslav laws he introduced his own brand of barbarian rule.

After consolidating his power, Hrs went on a campaign to Serres but in 1199 was met by the Pravoslav Emperor and a battle ensued. Hrs's handpicked soldiers fought skillfully. By using catapults, operated by ex-Pravoslav mercenaries, they inflicted severe losses on Alexius. In the course of battle Hrs's soldiers slipped out in the dark of night and destroyed Alexius's siege equipment causing him to lose the battle. Alexius's failure to defeat Hrs forced the Emperor to meet his demands thus recognizing Hrs as the ruler of the towns of Strumitsa and Prosek.

It wasn't too long before relations between Prosek and Tsari Grad deteriorated. The cause of the deterioration was the Emperor's refusal to pay the agreed upon ransom for the release of Hrs's father-in-law, Kamits. Kamits was a prisoner in Bulgaria for some time and the Emperor had agreed to arrange for his release. But after Kamits was freed the Emperor refused to pay the ransom. The two hundred centenariis in gold were eventually paid by Hrs but left bad feelings and a breach in the treaty between the Emperor and Hrs.

Free from any obligations, Hrs, together with his father-in-law, renewed their military campaigns and took Pelagonia and Prilep, then entered Thessaly and sparked a massive uprising in the Peloponnesus.

While Hrs was wreaking havoc in the western provinces, the Emperor put an army together and went in pursuit. The Pravoslavs quickly re-took Pelagonia, Prilep and Thessaly, depriving Hrs of his latest gains. Through treachery in 1201 the Pravoslavs took Strumitsa, leaving Hrs isolated in Prosek.

The westerners, who had blamed the failure of their crusade on the Pravoslavs, were now looking for retribution. Their chance came when the western emperor Henry VI, who by now had united the Norman Kingdom of Sicily with the Holy Roman Empire, wanted to become master of Tsari Grad. Henry would have attacked the Pravoslavs had it not been for Alexius's steady bribes and payoffs. Unfortunately Henry died in 1197.

Henry's idea, however, lived on and gained ground in the west. The conquest of Tsari Grad was seen as the ultimate solution to many of the west's problems that would be of benefit not only to trade but also to the future of the crusades and the church. Henry's idea came closer to fruition in 1198 when Innocent III was elected pope.

It was through Innocent's inspiration that the Fourth Crusade was launched. It was by treachery and intrigue that the conquest and colonization of the Pravoslav Empire by the west was realized.

In 1203 the crusaders, under the pretext of restoring Isaac II and his son to the Pravoslav throne, drove Alexius III out of Tsari Grad. Instead of making good on their promises however, the Venetians and crusaders attacked, conquered and divided Tsari Grad and the Pravoslav provinces between themselves. Tsari Grad fell to the Latins in April 1204.

In the west's quest for trade, Venice was becoming the leader of commerce. Venice wanted to become a great merchant power; a middleman of consumerism, but Tsari Grad was always in the way. Far superior to Venice, Tsari Grad monopolized the silk trade and prohibited Venice from realizing her dream. Finally, as fate would have it, her moment of glory was near. When the Crusaders ran out of money and couldn't afford to pay for their voyage to the Holy Lands, they turned to Venice. Venice offered them a way out but the offer came at a price. It was Pope Innocent III who turned the crusaders first against the Christian town of Zara in the Adriatic in 1202 and then against Tsari Grad in 1204. Principles gave away to greed and Christian turned against Christian: all this to satisfy the greed and commercial appetites of Venice. It was not a war of armies but a war of betrayal, deceit, and total annihilation. The unsuspecting and trusting citizens of Tsari Grad gladly opened the city doors for the Crusaders. Instead of bringing peace, however, the Latins killed the entire Tsari Grad population, military and civilian, then looted the city of its possessions. The city streets were flooded with the blood of the innocent. Warriors, women and children alike were all slaughtered like lambs by the Latin crusaders. This was an act of shame that the western Church will have to bear for all eternity.

After taking Tsari Grad, the Venetians, led by their doge Enrico Dandolo, appropriated the principal harbours and islands on the trade routes and dispatched the crusaders in the conquest of the European and Asiatic provinces. The first Latin emperor, Baldwin I, became the feudal overlord of the feudal principalities established in Thrace, Solun, Athens, and the Peloponnesus. Baldwin soon came into conflict with the ruler of Bulgaria and later faced serious opposition from the three provincial centers of Pravoslav resistance.

At Trebizond (Trabzon) on the Black Sea, two brothers of the Comnenian family laid claim to the imperial title. In Epirus Michael Angelus Ducas, a relative of Alexius III, made his capital at Arta and harassed the crusader states in Thessaly. The third centre of resistance was based in the city of Nicaea in Anatolia. Theodore I Lascaris, another relative of Alexius III, was crowned there as emperor in 1208 by a patriarch of his own making.

Of the three new powers of resistance Nicaea lay nearest to Tsari Grad, between the Latin Empire and the Seljuq Turk sultanate of Rum. Theodore proved worthy of the Pravoslav traditions by simultaneously fighting on two fronts and by being a skillful diplomat.

Theodore Lascaris and his son-in-law John III Vatatzes built up a small Pravoslav Empire at Nicaea and established a Pravoslav church in exile. The Latins were thus never able to gain a permanent foothold in Anatolia. Even in Europe their position was constantly threatened by the Pravoslav rulers in the Balkans.

In 1204 the Latin Crusaders formed a Frankish kingdom, the Kingdom of Solun, on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea with Solun as its capital. With Boniface of Montferrat as its first king, the Solunian people went through twenty years of unprecedented oppression and subjugation. In their seizure of Macedonia, the Crusaders took over large quantities of grain supplies, livestock and other wealth, establishing their own garrisons in various towns.

After the 1205 defeat of the Latin Emperor Baldwin and the Adrianople Crusaders, the Bulgarian army attacked and destroyed the town of Serres and invaded the district of Solun. Bulgarian pressure on Solun increased in 1207, particularly after the death of Boniface of Montferrat. The Bulgarian emperor Kaloyan laid siege to the city but soon died and the siege was abandoned.

In the period after Kaloyan's death a power struggle ensued in Bulgaria and Strez. A descendant of the Bulgarian royal line was able to establish an independent kingdom in Macedonia. With the aid of Serbia he set himself up in Prosek and extended his rule from the Solun region to Ohrid. All Bulgarian governors within these territories swore loyalty to him. After a while, agitation from the Bulgarians subsided and Strez was able to establish good relations with the Bulgarian state.

Upon consolidating his rule in Macedonia, Strez began a campaign against the Kingdom of Solun which in 1212 sparked a massive conflict in Pelagonia. Even though the conflict was between Strez and the Latins, it had support from the more powerful Despot of Epirus on one side and the Bulgarian state on the other. After losing to the Latins, Strez broke off relations with the Serbians. In 1214 he initiated a campaign against them but died unexpectedly.

After Strez's death the Despot of Epirus conquered a large portion of Macedonia, including Skopje and Ohrid. In 1244 Solun too fell prey to the army of Epirus.

Immediately after conquering Ohrid, Demetrius Chomatianus, the Archbishop of Ohrid, crowned the Despot Theodore Angelus Ducas Comnenius, emperor. The despot had intentions of renewing the Pravoslav Empire but his defeat by the Bulgarians in 1230, near Klokotnitsa, prematurely ended his great plans. Bulgaria, on the other hand, not only increased its reputation and prestige but also expanded its territory to Thrace, Macedonia and part of Albania. After it consolidated its hold on the new territories, Bulgarian governors were appointed and garrisons were stationed in various Macedonian towns. The Pravoslav bishops in the eparchies were replaced by archpriests of the Trnovo Church, which in 1235 became a Patriarchate. The power of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, which was somewhat eroded by the Serbian Church becoming autocephalous in 1219, was now further eroded with the formation of the new Bulgarian Patriarchate.

The Latin Empire in Tsari Grad lost its ambitions to maintain control of its territories after the Latin, Henry of Flanders died in 1216. This, as mentioned earlier, created new opportunities in 1224 for the despot Theodore Ducas of Epirus to expand his empire. Theodore had already extended his territories north into Bulgaria, taken Solun from the Latins and had been crowned emperor in spite of objections from the Emperor in Nicaea. Unfortunately his defeat in battle in 1230 against the Bulgars stopped him before reaching Tsari Grad.

Theodore's defeat opened new opportunities for John III Ducas Vatatzes of Nicaea to expand his empire. Being an ally of the Bulgarians, John played an important role in invading Europe, encircling Tsari Grad and getting Theodore's successor to surrender. The despot's successor finally surrendered in 1246 and was forced to renounce his imperial title and surrender to the empire of Nicaea. As luck would have it, at about the same time, the Mongols invaded Anatolia and started a campaign against the Seljuk Turks in the east, which greatly benefited the Nicaeans. The Mongol invasion weakened the Seljuq Turkish sultanate and isolated the rival empire of Trebizond.

Over time the Nicaean Empire became self-sufficient with a thriving economy based on agriculture and trade. It had no navy but it did have a well disciplined, organized army. By slowly stretching its frontiers into Europe the empire had gained much strength, especially since it took the greater part of eastern Macedonia and Solun in1246.

After the eviction of the Latins in 1261, the seat of the Nicaean government was moved from Nicaea to Tsari Grad. To the Pravoslavs, Tsari Grad was "the Jerusalem" and they were not about to leave it in foreign hands. Unfortunately, after the damages inflicted by the Fourth Crusade the city was no longer the focal point of an integrated empire. It was more like an immense city-state in the midst of a number of more or less independent provinces. Much of Peloponnesus and the islands remained in French or Italian hands and the Pravoslav rulers of Epirus and Thessaly refused to recognize Michael VIII as their emperor.

The regime change in Tsari Grad was good for Macedonia. During its initial rule the Macedonian people experienced two decades of life without external harassment. Then in 1282 the Serbian feudal army of king Stephen Urosh II Milutin invaded northern Macedonia and took Lower and Upper Polog, Skopje, Ovche Pole, Zletovo and Piyanets. Shortly afterwards, the Serbs initiated a new campaign and invaded Poreche and the Kichevo and Debar regions. After that a Serbian detachment was dispatched along the lower course of the Struma River and penetrated as far as Krstopol.

About four decades later the Serbians, under the rule of the Serbian King Stephen Urosh III Dechanski, launched another campaign against the Pravoslavs. During their first wave of attacks they invaded and captured the towns of Shtip, Chreshche on the River Bragalnitsa, Veles and Prosek on the Vardar. Then in 1328 they took Prosek and the Serbian army invaded the regions of Demir Hisar and Debartsa, coming face to face with the Pravoslavs in Ohrid.

Ohrid was an important Pravoslav stronghold and the threat did not go unnoticed in Tsari Grad. Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus immediately prepared a counter-offensive and went in pursuit of the invaders. By 1330 the Emperor had recaptured the towns in the Demir Hisar and Debartsa regions, including Zheleznets.

Four years later, under the leadership of their new ruler Stephen Urosh IV Dushan, the Serbs renewed their offensive in Macedonia. With the capture of Serres in 1345, Serbian rule was extended over virtually all of Macedonia. The same year the Serbian ruler Stephen Urosh IV Dushan proclaimed himself emperor and elevated the Serbian Archbishopric to a Patriarchate. The coronation took place in Skopje on April 16, 1346 but the Pravoslavs refused to recognize it along with Serbia's territorial gains and the Serbian Patriarchate.

During the course of the late 1340's Serbian rule was expanded to Thessaly and Epirus. But in 1350 the towns of Serres and Voden rebelled and severed links with the Serbs. After that opposition became common everywhere and the Serbs found it very difficult to hang on to their conquered territories.

After Stephen Urosh IV Dushan's death in 1355 the central government's authority quickly eroded, leaving the feudal lords to rule independently. The most notable of the feudal lords in Macedonia at the time were the brothers Volkashin and Uglesha. Volkashin proclaimed himself king in 1365 with Emperor Urosh as co-ruler.

In Tsari Grad, meanwhile, Michael's son, Andronicus II who reigned from 1282 to 1328, unwisely attempted to economize by cutting down the size of the army and disbanding the navy. This forced unemployed soldiers and sailors to seek service in foreign and enemy states. It has been said that many of Michel's sailors ended up in the service of the new Turkish emirs, raiding the Aegean islands.

Unable to afford his own, the emperor contracted the Genoese to provide him trade ships and a navy to defend Tsari Grad by sea. This unfortunately made the Venetians very jealous, to the point of declaring war, which in 1296 led to the first of a series of naval battles off Tsari Grad.

Michael's cost cutting measures weakened the empire's ability to adequately defend itself and the Turks did not hesitate to take advantage of it.

The empire's downslide began in 1302 when a band of Turkish warriors, under the leadership of Osman I, defeated the Pravoslav army near Nicomedia in northwestern Anatolia and, for the first time, penetrated Europe. Osman I was the founder of the Osmanli, or Ottomans as they would later be known by westerners.

Unable to beat the Ottomans back, a year later in 1303, Andronicus hired a professional army of mercenaries known as the Grand Catalan Company. The Catalans made one successful counterattack against the Turks in Anatolia but after that they became unruly and unpopular. After their leader was murdered they turned against their employers. Having failed to conquer Tsari Grad they headed for Macedonia and stopped in Solun, looting and plundering everything in sight. Even Sveta Gora (Mount Athos), Macedonia's Holy Mountain was not spared by the Catalan's ferocious greed. Solun, however, held out and succeeded in repelling the Catalan invaders who were forced to push further southwards.

For some years the Catalans used the Gallipoli Peninsula as a base from which to ravage Thrace, inviting thousands of Turks to come over and help them. The Catalans finally moved west and in 1311 conquered Athens from the French and established the Catalan Duchy of Athens and Thebes. The Turks who were left behind were not ejected from Gallipoli until 1312.

The Catalans were only a minor problem for the Pravoslavs in comparison to their own internal strife and civil wars. The trouble started around 1320 when Andronicus II disinherited his grandson Andronicus III. The cause of the young emperor was taken up by his friends, who periodically fought against the old emperor. The civil strife lasted from 1321 to 1328 until the older Andronicus yielded the throne to the younger. Unfortunately this internal fighting took attention away from needed economic reforms and gave the enemy new opportunities to gain more ground.

In 1329 the Turks renewed their campaign against the Pravoslavs. A battle was fought and lost at Pelekanon (near Nicomedia) giving the Turks a needed victory. Victorious, Osman's son Orhan and his Turkish warriors went on to capture Nicaea in 1331 and Nicomedia in 1337. Northwestern Anatolia, once the heart of the empire, was now lost to the Turks.

Surprisingly the Pravoslavs accepted their defeat and came to terms with the Turks. By so doing Andronicus III now opened the door to an almost limitless number of Turkish soldiers to join his army and fight for pay against his enemies the Italians in the Aegean islands and the Serbs and Bulgars in Macedonia and Thrace.

By allowing the Turks to aid them, the Pravoslavs taught them military skills and gave them combat experience, which helped them to form a base for future campaigns. By the middle of the fourteenth century, the Ottoman Turks had consolidated their power in Asia Minor and were becoming a threat to the Balkan states. Their first serious campaign for the conquest of Europe began in 1352 when they took the fortress of Tzympe, on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Two years later, taking advantage of a devastating earthquake, they took the fortress of Gallipoli, thus creating a convenient bridgehead for their forthcoming penetration of the Balkans.

Among the first to be threatened by the Turkish forces was Uglesha's rule, the feudal lord in Macedonia mentioned earlier. Confronted with danger he persuaded his brother Volkashin to take joint actions. Hostilities broke out in September 1371 near Chernomen followed by a fierce battle on the River Maritsa. The river turned red as casualties mounted, among them the brothers Volkashin and Uglesha. It was a major victory for the Turks and a catastrophe for the Macedonians, not only for the loss of life but for the terrible change of fate.

Even though, this was an insignificant battle, its outcome had disastrous significance for Macedonia. The balance of power was destabilized and as a result the Despot Manuel Palaeologus captured the Serres region and Chalcidice. Volkashin's son Marko retained the title of King but recognized Turkish authority and began paying tribute and rendering military aid to them. The Dragash brothers, rulers of eastern Macedonia with their seat at Velbuzhd, became Turkish vassals while Vuk Brankovich extended his rule to include Skopje and the Grand Zhupan, Andrea Gropa, consolidated his position in Ohrid.

After winning the Battle of Maritsa the Turks continued to campaign throughout Macedonia. In 1383 they took the town of Serres and in 1385 took the towns of Shtip, Veles, Prilep and Bitola.

From 1382 to 1387 Emperor Manuel reigned from Solun and worked hard to make the city a rallying point for resistance. Unfortunately the city fell to Murad's army in April 1387.

When the Turks drove deeper into Macedonia, the Serbs organized a counteroffensive but were overwhelmed at Kossovo in 1389.

The loss of Solun and the Battle of Kossovo unfortunately cut off access to Tsari Grad by land. By 1393 the Turk Bayezid had completed his conquest of Bulgaria and returned to lay siege to Tsari Grad. His blockade lasted many years and Manuel II, like his father, pinned his hopes of rescue on the west.

The king of Hungary organized a great crusade against the Turks but was defeated at Nicopolis on the Danube in 1396. In 1399 the French marshal Boucicaut, who had fought the Turks at Nicopolis, returned to Tsari Grad with a small army. There he persuaded Manuel to take his appeal for help to the west in person.

Leaving his nephew John VII in charge, Manual went to Italy, France, and England. The westerners gave him audience and sympathy but little in the way of practical help. During Manuel's absence, in July 1402, the Ottomans were defeated at Ankara by the Mongols. Bayezid was captured and his empire in Asia was shattered. His four sons, however, individually secured control of European provinces, which had not been affected by the Mongol invasion, and began to compete against one another for total dominion.

During these unexpected circumstances the Pravoslavs found themselves holding the balance of power for the Turkish contenders. For their services, the Pravoslavs were able to negotiate the lifting of the blockade of Tsari Grad and the restoration of Pravoslav rule in Solun, Sveta Gora (Mt. Athos) and so on. The payment of tribute to the sultan was also annulled.

Being in a position to hold the balance of power, unfortunately, did not last too long and in 1413 Mehmed I, with the help of Emperor Manuel, triumphed over his rivals and became sultan of the reintegrated Ottoman Empire.

During Mehmed I's reign, from 1413 to 1421, the Pravoslavs enjoyed their last respite. Manuel II, aware that the lull would not last long, made the most of it by strengthening the defenses and administration of his fragmented empire.

The most flourishing province in the last years was the Despotate of Morea (Peloponnesus). Its prosperity had been built up first by the sons of John Cantacuzenus (who died there in 1383) and then by the son and grandson of John V, Theodore I and Theodore II Palaeologus. Its capital city Mistra became a haven for Pravoslav scholars and artists and a centre of the last revival of Pravoslav culture, packed with churches, monasteries, and palaces.

When Murad II became sultan in 1421 the days of Tsari Grad were numbered. In 1422 Murad revoked all the privileges accorded to the Pravoslavs by his father and laid siege to Tsari Grad. His armies invaded Macedonia and blockaded Solun. The city at the time was ruled by Manuel II's son Andronicus, who in 1423 handed it over to the Venetians. For seven years Solun was a Venetian colony. Then in March 1430 the Sultan assaulted and captured it.

The Pravoslav collapse and the Ottoman triumph followed swiftly. Mehmed II laid siege to the walls of Tsari Grad in April 1453. His ships were obstructed by a chain that the Pravoslavs had thrown across the mouth of the Golden Horn but the Turks dragged their ships overland to the harbour from the seaward side, bypassing the defenses. The Sultan's heavy artillery continually bombarded the land walls until, on May 29, some of his soldiers forced their way in.

As a final note, in the glory of the Pravoslav Empire, I want to add that had it not been for the advent of the cannon the Pravoslav Empire might still exist to this day. It was not the might of the Turk but the might of his new cannon that brought the walls of Tsari Grad tumbling down.

The Sultan allowed his victorious troops three days and nights of plunder before he took possession of his new capital. The Ottoman Empire had now superseded the Pravoslav Empire. The material structure of the empire, which had long been crumbling, was now under the management of the Sultan. But the Pravoslav faith was less susceptible to change. The Sultan acknowledged the fact that the church had proved to be the most enduring element in the Pravoslav world and he gave the Patriarch of Tsari Grad an unprecedented measure of temporal authority by making him answerable for all Christians living under Ottoman rule.

The last scattered pockets of Pravoslav resistance were eliminated within a decade after 1453. . Before ending this story, I want to mention a few words about king Marko, affectionately known to Macedonians as Marko Krale.

Marko Krale was a legendary folk hero in western Macedonia who was surrounded by tales and superhero stories.

Marko was the son of the feudal lord Volkashin, mentioned earlier. Volkashin was the head of a tribal state in Prilep and later became a high courtier and a despot. In about 1365 Volkashin proclaimed himself king (tsar) and became a co-ruler with king Urosh. His brother, the despot Uglesha, ruled over the Struma region.

Both brothers were killed in 1371 at Chernomen, Thrace during the Marica battle against the Turks, as mentioned earlier. This unsuccessful battle was the last major attempt, by local rulers, to prevent further penetration of Turks into the Balkan Peninsula and to forestall the Turkish occupation of their territories.

After Volkashin's death, his eldest son Marko inherited his throne and title. Unfortunately, as part of the treaty with the Turks he had to recognize Turkish authority and pay tribute to the Turkish Sultan.

It is believed that Marko was born in 1335. His name was discovered in a document establishing him as one of Volkashin's delegates to Dubrovnik. His name was also discovered in some chronicles of his time establishing him as the son of Volkashin and later as Marko the king. In another document dated 1370 Volkashin makes mention of his sons Marko and Andrew and of his wife Elena.

With its capital in Prilep, Marko inherited a state that lay between the Vardar River and Albania stretching from the Shar Mountain range down to Kostur excluding the cities of Skopje and Ohrid.

After becoming king, Marko minted his own coins and placed the inscription: "King Marko faithful to Lord Jesus Christ" on them.

Marko Krale was killed on May 17, 1395 in Craiova Romania, during a battle against the Vlach military leader Mircho. Marko was obliged to fight for the Turks as part of his treaty agreement with Sultan Bayazit.

Marko Krale, it appears, left no heir. After his death his state reverted to the Turks. Even though Marko Krale had been a Turkish vassal and fought on the side of Bayazit's army he was a devout Christian and just before he died he begged God for forgiveness and prayed out loud, asking God to help the Christians. And thus a legend was born.

Marko Krale, the fearless legend, has been enshrined in the Towers of Prilep where he was born and by his frescoes and paintings in various churches and monasteries.

To be continued...

And now I leave you with this...

I have scoured the annals of history and I have yet to find this so called unique Greek culture that has survived from ancient times to the present. It is not there. It does not exist.

Whatever hordes or invaders invaded Macedonia they also invaded Greece. Whatever foreign populations were deposited in Macedonia they were also deposited in Greece.

Whatever language was spoken in Macedonia was also spoken in Greece. So please tell me where did this unique Greek culture come from that binds the ancients with the modern Greeks and not with the modern Macedonians? Where did the modern Greeks get their Greek culture? Could it be that the modern Greek culture is like Greek coffee, Greek salad, or Greek Pizza, all stolen from other cultures?

There is nothing unique about the modern Greeks to make them the exception and deserving of the ancient heritage to the exclusion of the modern Macedonians. There is, however, gross misconduct on their part for which they have to answer in the future.


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You can contact the author at rstefov@hotmail.com