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Christianization of Bulgaria

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The Christianization of Bulgaria was the process of converting 9th-century medieval Bulgaria to Christianity.

When Khan Boris began his reign in 852, the international situation was very complicated. The conflict with the Byzantine Empire for the rulership over the Slavic tribes in modern-day Macedonia and Thrace was still far from being resolved. In the middle Danube region, Bulgaria's interests crossed with those of the newly created kingdom of the East Franks and the principality of Great Moravia. It was about that period when Croatia emerged on the international scene, carrying its own ambitions and demands for territories in the region.

On a more global scale, the tensions between Constantinople and Rome were tightening. Both centres were competing for the Christianization that would precede the integration of the Slavs in South and Central Europe. The Bulgarian Khanate and the Kingdom of the East Franks had established diplomatic relations as soon as the 20s and 30s of the 9th century. In 852, at the beginning of the reign of Khan Boris, a Bulgarian embassy was sent to Mainz to inform Louis II for the change in Pliska, the Bulgarian capital. Most probably this embassy was also to renew the Bulgarian-German alliance.



initial setback

Some time later, Khan Boris concluded an alliance with the Great Moravian Knyaz Rastislav (846-870). The inspirer for this move was the King of the West Franks, Charles the Bald (840-877). The German Kingdom responded by attacking Bulgaria. Bulgaria was defeated and Khan Boris was forced to re-establish his alliance with the German king. This alliance was, however, directed against Great Moravia, which was a Byzantine ally. The situation held great risk for the Bulgarian state.

Another conflict with the Byzantines started in 855-856. The Empire wanted to regain its control over some fortresses on the Diagonal Road (Via Diagonalis or Via Militaris) that went from Constantinople, through Philippopolis (Plovdiv), to Naissus (Niš) and Singidunum (Belgrade). The Byzantine Empire was victorious in the conflict and reconquered a number of cities, with Philippopolis being among them.


Byzantine demand

This time Byzantium did not demand territories, as the conditions for peace were: the Bulgarian representatives were to convert to Christianity, followed by the rest of the Bulgarian people. Such an offer would be unacceptable in other circumstances.

The two sides concluded a "deep peace" for a 30-years period. In the late autumn of 863, a mission from the Patriarch of Constantinople came to Pliska and converted the khan, his family and high-ranking dignitaries.


Khan Boris' alliance with the Germans threatened Great Moravia, which sought help from Byzantium (862-863). It was exactly in the same time that a Byzantine mission to Great Moravia was taking place. The purpose of this mission (led by Cyril and his brother Methodius) was to draw Great Moravia towards Constantinople and strengthen the Byzantine (Orthodox Christian) influence there.

What made the mission very interesting for Khan Boris was the fact that the two brothers Cyril and Methodius brought the first Slavonic alphabet to Knyaz Rostislav. Bulgaria was extremely interested in the implementation of a Slavonic alphabet because it saw it as means to stop the cultural influence of its enemy, the Byzantine Empire.

In the last months of 863, Bulgaria was once again attacked by the Byzantines. The most probable reason was that Boris had informed the German king that he wanted to accept Christianity. Byzantium had to take measures because a Roman Catholic Bulgaria, standing in the hinterland of Constantinople, was viewed as a threat to the Byzantine Empire's immediate interests.

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