Selected Papers from the XV Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference
Edited By Maximilian Lau, Caterina Franchi and Morgan Di Rodi
All the Tsar’s Men: Reflections on Power and Society in Asenid Bulgaria (1257–1393)
It is widely believed that by the first half of the thirteenth century, the loose Bulgar and Vlach polity that emerged from the chaos of Byzantine unrest after the death of Manuel I Komnenos in 1180 had crystallised into a highly centralised state, organised along Byzantine models of court and provincial administration. It was centred on the imperial capital of Tûrnovo, where the tsar – imitating Byzantine styles of dress and address – maintained a court whose members resembled Byzantine archetypes in both title and function. Radiating out from Tûrnovo, the imperial government dispatched agents, armed with offices and ceremonial titles, to administer the provinces (chorae) that neatly divided the Bulgarian countryside. Opposition to these centralising structures of power existed in the form of local aristocratic dissent. Regional élites (boyars), whose interests often diverged from those of the state, engaged in a perennial tug-of-war with the provincial governors and static institutions that sought to extract as much revenue as possible from their large private holdings. But since these aristocratic dissenters were located outside the state’s institutional hierarchies, a clear distinction ← 253 | 254 → can be made between agents of the central imperial government and their centrifugal opponents.2
The civil conflicts and Mongol invasions of the late thirteenth century shook these institutions, but never succeeded in fully eclipsing them, and by the beginning of the fourteenth century a succession of strong tsars had reasserted the fortunes of the central government and revived the administrative...
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