Versinikia 813 – Byzantine – Bulgarian Wars DOCUMENTARY

Versinikia 813 – Byzantine – Bulgarian Wars DOCUMENTARY

The Eastern Roman empire’s defeat to Khan
Krum at Pliska was an unrelenting disaster, the magnitude of which had not been seen in
the Roman world since Adrianople almost four centuries before. The emperor Nikephoros I
was dead and an entire imperial army had been annihilated. As with the Goths after Adrianople,
the Bulgars after Pliska were not going away. While the defeated empire convulsed under
various internal and external pressures, Bulgar conquests would continue, and would climax
at the Battle of Versinikia. Big thanks to Smite Blitz for sponsoring this
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out, download the game via the link the description or the pinned comment! The empire’s high command bore the brunt
of losses against Krum’s Bulgar armies at Pliska. Damage to the imperial leadership
was immense, and the late emperor’s son Staurakios had been grievously wounded during
the battle, which undermined his succession and signaled the start of the struggle for
the throne. The main candidate for the imperial office was Staurakios’ brother-in-law, Michael
Rangabe. He gained the support of leading Roman officers and was proclaimed Michael
I, Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans, on October 2nd 811, while Staurakios withdrew
to a monastery, where he soon died. Luckily for the empire, Krum’s Bulgar state
was in nearly as bad a condition as its defeated foe. Pliska had been burned to ash and the
casualties among the population were high. It would take some time to recover. Krum set
to solidifying support among the Slavic leaders, maintaining relations with the allied Sclaveni,
and recruiting fresh warriors. At this point in history, ‘Bulgaria’ was a mixture of
Turkic Bulgar migrants from Western Asia, some Byzantine Greeks, and a majority of native
Slavs, who had initially been a subject people. In time, this combination would form the ‘Bulgarian’
identity. Keeping Slavic chieftains on side was a crucial task for Krum, made simpler
by the victory at Pliska. In the Eastern Roman Empire, Michael I was
having problems with his army. Scant military experience and a lack of charisma meant that
the new emperor lacked the vital confidence of his troops, who soon became restless with
Michael’s reluctance to take any decisive action. In this void the troops turned their
eyes to two theme commanders: Leo the Armenian of the Anatolic theme, and John Aplakes in
Thrace and Macedonia. The former was the most prominent army commander of his age, possessing
a rich record of victories against the Arabs in the east. At that point, the Balkan front
was the main focus of Roman attention, due to the fact that the Abbasid civil war was
still ongoing. The only serious hostilities between the Christians and Muslims took place
when Arabs, under the command of the emir of Tarsus, mounted a raid on the Anatolic
theme. This attack was easily repulsed by Leo, and further cemented his illustrious
reputation into that of a man who could possibly be a dynastic candidate.
By spring of 812, Krum was ready to attack. His target was a chain of Roman fortresses
on the imperial border, as they posed a significant threat to the south and east borders of Krum’s
realm. Reducing them would render the frontier a more ‘level playing field’, whilst leaving
the empire more vulnerable to the Bulgar raids. In May 812, the Bulgars crossed the mountains
and put the city of Debeltos, which commanded the north-south coastal road, under siege.
Taking it would sever the main land route linking Constantinople to the Black Sea ports
of Anchialos and Mesembria. Upon arrival, Krum encircled the city with his forces, cut
off its supply lines, bombarded it with siege artillery, and devastated the fertile farmland
around it. By early June its inhabitants surrendered the city and were resettled in Bulgarian territory
to bolster the potential military and economic prosperity of the state. Unfortunately for
Michael, by the time he set off to relieve Debeltos, it was already too late.
As the army received the news that the city had fallen, the thematic forces almost became
mutinous. Though the unrest was quelled through generous donatives – essentially bribes – it
was clear no further advance was possible that year. This failure also instilled panic
in the frontier population, many of whom began to flee their colonies, leaving the border
bereft of civilians or defenders, making it more vulnerable than ever.
Bulgar raiding detachments now easily overran northern Thrace, solidified their control
over the Sofia Basin, and seized all of the empire’s Black Sea ports north of Sozopolis,
except for Mesembria. Many theme troops settled in the overwhelmed regions even joined the
Bulgars, including several high-ranking military officers. This added a sophistication of command
which benefitted Bulgaria. The newly acquired regions were administered by a fusion of Bulgar
chiefs and Byzantine Greek defectors. After completing the efforts of consolidation
and conquest by the summer of 812, Krum’s army arrived outside the isolated and crucial
Mesembria with siege engines. Before beginning his assault, however, he sent an embassy to
Constantinople with demands, the acceptance of which would mean peace. Krum’s conditions
were actually quite moderate – essentially seeking to revive the old treaty between emperor
Theodosius III and Tervel, which was signed in 716: a common border in northern Thrace,
annual tribute of clothes and dyed skins worth 30 pounds of gold, the right for Bulgar merchants
to trade in the lucrative markets of Constantinople, and finally, mutual return of prisoners, deserters
and asylum seekers. Michael was open to this proposal, but pressure
from his religious advisors convinced him otherwise, on the basis that returning Bulgars
who had embraced the Christian faith was a violation of the Gospel. The emperor attempted
to negotiate, but Krum was not going to tolerate this and, in mid-October surrounded Mesembria.
Positioned on a peninsula extending into the sea and surrounded by strong fortifications,
it would be a tough nut to crack. Despite such a strong position, Krum’s deft
use of defected Roman engineers allowed him to deploy sophisticated artillery to hammer
the Mesembrian walls continuously, breaking enemy resistance in only two weeks. When it
became obvious that no relief force would arrive from Constantinople, its garrison surrendered.
The city, full to the brim with goods and money, was extensively looted. Amongst the
rich plunder was the famous ‘Greek fire’ and 36 projectors to use it. As the Khan had
done with Debeltos before, he resettled the city’s population and left it deserted.
The onset of winter brought a halt to military activities, and Krum withdrew to Bulgaria.
In February 813 Krum attempted to launch a surprise attack against a small Roman force
encamped near Adrianople. However, Krum’s plan was revealed by escaped Roman prisoners,
allowing the emperor to muster his tagmatic units and intercept the khan’s force. Many
casualties were inflicted on it, and Krum was forced into retreat.
While it was a minor action, it was the first victory of Michael’s rule, and he intended
to capitalise on it. Taking advantage of the continuing peace with the Abbasids, the emperor
began planning a massive spring campaign against Bulgaria. Michael mobilised contingents from
across the empire, including the border regions in the far east. While soldiers from the Asiatic
themes were far from impressed at having to march such a distance, they nevertheless arrived
in southeastern Thrace by early spring. Here, they united with Thracian and Macedonian thematic
troops on the fields outside Constantinople. Overall, Michael I probably had around 26,000
levied soldiers from all themes across the Eastern Roman Empire, many of which would
have been barely-trained recruits. On top of that, roughly 4,000 elite tagmata accompanied
their ruler, for a total of perhaps 30,000 – a massive army for the time period. He was
accompanied by two senior commanders – the aforementioned duo of John Aplakes – strategos
of Macedonia – and Leo the Armenian – strategos of the Anatolic theme.
The campaign began disastrously, as the emperor delayed the march and then continuously failed
to advance quickly on the Bulgars after it began. The army assembled in Thrace sat idle
for at least a month before moving at all, causing plummeting morale. On May 4th, a solar
eclipse occurred and was interpreted by the army as a sign of coming disaster. If this
was not bad enough, the imperial army was forced to ‘forage’ for provisions during
its extended stay on Roman soil, subjecting the Thracian population to widespread plundering
by their own men. Pressure grew on the emperor from every angle, and he finally made a move.
Michael marched towards the Bulgar border near Adrianople before ordering yet another
halt. The constant delaying allowed Krum to muster a sizeable force of Bulgars, and gave
time for his Slavic and Avar subjects to arrive. Despite this, the khan realized his army was
still outnumbered as it entered the region of Adrianople.
With the two armies close to one another, Krum encamped and awaited further information
near the abandoned Roman fort at Versinikia on June 7th. The armies were aware of each
other at this point, but both were wary to make the first move. Michael’s highest officers
– John and Leo – unsuccessfully and continuously pressed the emperor to attack now but were
continuously refused. For two weeks, the armies engaged in an elaborate game of marching out
of camp, maneuvering for position and then drawing up for battle. Then the opposing forces
would engage in long-range missile skirmishes, but decisive battle was not joined. This resulted
in a stalemate, but the Romans were suffering badly from attrition. Midsummer heat was sapping
the strength of both armies, but the more heavily armoured and armed imperial troops
suffered more, a situation which was not helped by a lack of food and water in Michael’s
camp. Echoing the situation at Pliska two years
earlier, the stagnant military situation increased levels of indiscipline and demoralisation
in the ranks, especially among Anatolian units. Finally, it all became too much. On the night
of June 21st John Aplakes – strategos of Macedonia – informed his emperor that he intended to
attack the Bulgars the next day, and that he expected the central contingent under Michael,
and the left contingent under Leo, to support him. Leo seconded the plan, eager to attack
as he was, and assured Michael that the men would fight until victory was attained. Faced
with this ultimatum from his two senior subcommanders, the emperor had no choice. They would attack
the next day. When the morning of the 22nd of June, 813
came, the contending armies of the Eastern Roman Empire and the first Bulgarian empire
marched out of their camps and drew up into battle formation. The ground on which the
forces drew up was partially wooded plain, dotted with rolling hills, to the north of
Adrianople. Krum’s army was outnumbered, but it formed up nonetheless. Two lines of
predominantly Slavic infantry were in the centre, and two contingents of cavalry supported
each wing. Some of this mainly Bulgar cavalry were horse archers, while the khan himself
led a force of heavily armoured melee cavalry as a personal guard. In order to mask his
strength, Krum placed the first line in full sight of Michael I’s army, and hid the second
behind one of the rolling hills of the landscape, obscuring it from view.
On the other side of the field were the Romans, stationed on the lip of a ridge. Theme levies
on the left and right side of the line were led by Leo the Armenian and John Aplakes respectively,
while elite tagmata accompanied Emperor Michael in the centre. As planned, John opened the
battle with a furious charge – his first line consisting of Macedonian troops marching down
the gradual slope and colliding with Krum’s left. A violent melee then ensued in which
the more heavily armoured Romans began to gain superiority over their enemy. Under the
pressure, the Bulgar left side began to buckle. Sensing an opportunity, the Balkan commander
then fed his Thracian contingent into the fray, reinforcing the Macedonians. Fighting
on their home soil and extensively trained, these men were the least demoralised on the
field, and they performed admirably. After a while of this constant pressure, Krum’s
left began to crack, showing signs of breaking completely. It was surely only a matter of
time until the empire’s glorious victory. While John’s European forces were winning
on the right, the emperor just watched the fighting. He did nothing, and was more a spectator
than a commander. Michael failed to issue any attack order either to his own troops
or Leo’s wing. His reasons for doing so are not known, but it could be either that
he viewed John as a political threat, or was simply just incompetent, not understanding
the tactical necessities of the time. Whatever the reason, indecision was the order of the
day. The Roman left and centre remained inert on the ridge line, watching their comrades
fight. Krum saw the inaction among his enemy and took advantage accordingly, ordering his
second line to reinforce the crumbling left. These bolstering troops included Bulgar horse
archers, which outflanked John’s Macedonians and Thracians, harrying them with a continuous
stream of arrows, while Krum’s elite heavy horsemen smashed into their enemy.
On the ridge, the Anatolian troops under Leo suddenly began to withdraw in good order.
Why this happened is not known either, but it has been widely speculated that Leo was
a -traitor, who struck a deal with Krum before the battle to abandon the field. More horse
archers were sent after the Anatolians, and this transformed what was an orderly withdrawal
into a panicked rout. Seeing this, Michael’s unengaged tagmata in the centre turned and
ran as well, unnerved by the flight of Leo’s troops. As more and more Bulgar reinforcements
began to overwhelm his soldiers, this man, who was by all accounts a brave and competent
officer, perished alongside many of his men. Having barely lasted an hour, the Battle of
Versinikia was over, and Krum was in disbelief. The khan strictly forbade any immediate pursuit,
skeptical that the odd withdrawals were real. When Krum realised he had actually won that
easily, a chase was not possible – his forces had found the spoils in the Roman camp, and
set to looting it. As Michael, his tagmata, and the Anatolians headed for Constantinople,
around 3,000 Romans lay dead on the field, mostly Balkan troops.
This defeat worsened the empire’s situation and gave Krum the chance to launch attacks
in Constantinople’s immediate vicinity. It also sealed the fate of Emperor Michael
I, who was dethroned in favour of his allegedly treacherous Anatolian commander, who took
the Roman throne as Leo V soon after. This was not the end of Byzantium’s encounters
with Bulgaria, and more epic battles would come in the future, so make sure you are subscribed
to our channel and pressed the bell button. We would like to express our gratitude to
our Patreon supporters and channel members, who make the creation of our videos possible.
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This is the Kings and Generals channel, and we will catch you on the next one.


100 thoughts on “Versinikia 813 – Byzantine – Bulgarian Wars DOCUMENTARY”

  • Kings and Generals says:

    To support our channel download Smite Blitz from this link: Please click the link, it is how we are getting paid. 🙂

  • Just wow. I'm not surprised that once again religion caused people to make bad and irrational decisions, the politicians had no spine, the best leader wasn't in charge but still had to do everything himself and got killed for being so good, and drama GoT power style bickering caused disaster – but not for the socialites personally. Some things never change… oh, the drama of humanity! Excellent work as always

  • My guess is it's much more likely that Krum and had a secret pact Leo whereby Leo would betray Michael and desert while Krum promised to not pursue the retreating Leo. These people were not as dumb as it's portrayed.

  • Andrew Hershberger says:

    You have to praise the wisdom of Leo the Armenian's decision to withdraw.
    His commander is indecisive, losing the initiative, holding the bulk of the army of conscripts inert. The right flank, the best troops of the army, have become overextended and will be surrounded and annihilated. He cannot advance, without command, and the time to do so has already passed but, he can force a general withdrawal of the center and his flank by falling back, saving the majority of the army from disaster, which would certainly occur once the Bulgarians are done destroying the right flank and follow up.

  • lo de que los bulgaros ganaron mas batallas es mentira cuando tu buscas en wikipedia es cierto que hay mas victorias bulgaras que bizantinas pero enrealidad los bizantinos ganaron mas batallas aunque no estan documentadas

  • si los peores enemigos de los bizantinos fueron krum y el zar simeon entonces los de los bulgaros seran constantino v y basilio ii la batalla de anquialo de 763 una victoria decisiva para los bizantinos y un gran triunfo para constantino y kleidion una batalla que que permitio derrotar a los bulgaros y destruirlos

  • Honestly have the Byzantines actually won any battles in history or did they just buy territory back when the expanded?

  • Argumenter_Respecter says:

    When you're not informed that you're supposed to throw the game.
    Like, holy shit, I'm surprised that Michael survived to get to Versinikia, I was expecting him to be assassinated midway or something. He's worse then a general with no stars in a Total War game.

  • Sometimes I think it's almost a miracle how the bizantine lasted so long. Almost every war after Justinian is onesided against them.

  • Ariel de la Cruz says:

    The only way to defend Michal inaction is by theoryzing that he knew Leo was a possible traitor so knowing this he wanted to play it safe…. Besides that this is one of the most pointless and wasteful battles that i have ever seen

  • i clicked the link. y'all really have it put together with the animations and comprehensive play by play for each battle, with background info and after effects, gives me a sense of wider impacts than simply order of battle alone. it can be a lil repetitive, but for real i've been seeing more general uploads and they've been all cool. i'm super thankful to have access to this big ol stash of information for free. keep on it for us

  • I'm betting the plan was to attack, but Michael either ignored it, or was incompetent (as is said in the video); and Leo, seeing Michael do nothing, basically said "F*** this moron, I'm going home".

  • everytime some drooler asks why the Eastern Roman Empire collapsed, i laugh and wonder how such a corrupt sack of a realm managed to keep it together for so long.

  • The WRE was actually more competent than the ERE just that they had a ton more enemies to handle and vast lands to protect

  • I love your videos about Bulgaria but there are a few issues with this one. First in Bulgaria's history there is no such title as "Khan" or "Han". The only known title before the time of Tsar (Emperor) Petar is KANAΣYBIΓI which had been used from around 814. Secondly Slav were not a majority of the population. This lie was created by the USSR to solidify relationships with Bulgaria. Bulgaria was multicultural country back then as the majority were Bulgarians. There were big minorities of Greeks, Celts, Goths and Slavs.

  • Gotta hand it to Krum, he was blessed with skill, confidence, and comically inept opponents. My schooling left me with a sad blank spot on the Eastern Roman Empire so enjoying this for the first time through the best lens possible. Thanks for broadening my horizons and giving me a look into some fascinating history!

  • Damn the Roman's just cant catch a break, they were a rump state a meager shadow of the once mighty Empire

    More corrupt then the Roman Republic

    Justinian, Ceaser, and every other good Roman Empire must have rolled in there grave seeing this monstrosity of a failure

  • Quiz:
    What does Always come in the way of merits?

    Answer: Bloodline.
    It killed the Romans
    It killed the Byzantines
    It killed the Mongols

    Every waring society that started out gloriously on the base of Merits, fell and died because of Bloodline.

  • 03:10 @Kings and generals Bulgarians are thracians.. The results of last research showed that we have from 0.9 to max1 %Asian blood.. 45% of our blood is thracian… Please before make videos for us learn some facts and history!

  • There are no Slavs and Slavic leaders. Sclaveni are local Thracian tribe and there is also other thracian. The Bulgarians are also from thracian origin, escaped / expelled in the 1st and 2nd centuries during the conquest of the Balkans by the Roman Empire.
    Kings and Generals, Please stop spreading the misconception of Slavs in the Balkans, propagated by Russian imperial politics after the 13th century.

  • As u guys can see Bulgars actually Christian Turks. Also Bulgarian nationalist party's symbol "IYI" is same with Ottoman royal tribe's symbol 🙂

  • I believe Emperor Michael had personally experienced what it was like to be Lord Beckett in Pirates of the Caribbean 3 just before he died in battle…

    Just standing there

  • Çağatay Salman says:

    Majority NATİVE SLAVS lol. Balkans word etimology is turkic. Turkmenistan have a named "balkan" state. Huns, Avars, Kumans,, Alans, were balkans before slavic tribes.

  • This video shines some light on one often forgotten phenomenon in the early conflicts between Bulgaria and Byzantium – a significant part of the indigenous Balkan population, including high-ranking chieftains and imperial administrators were more than happy to join Bulgaria. We know that entire villages and tribes in Macedonia and Thrace went over to the Bulgarian side during the reign of Krum and his descendants – Omurtag, Malamir, Presian. They would happily pay taxes to Pliska (later Preslav) and send their sons, brothers and husbands into the Bulgarian army, in order to get away from what they perceived as the tyranny of Constantinople. The Bulgars were not simple conquerors – they were country-builders and unifiers.

  • He should have been burned to death for incompetence as a lesson for authority. His incompetence must have lead to the rape, murder and enslavement of thousands

  • Bulgarians were not Slavic yet, they were Bulgars, Cummans, Avars, Hun, Tatars, Mongols etc a union of Turkic people, with similar language, religion, tactics, clothes etc culture.

  • alsiyonealternate says:

    For every Byzantine army defeat in the battlefield, there is a corresponding Byzantine victory over a siege of Constantinople. It seems it was Constantinople itself that allowed the Eastern Roman Empire to survive for so long.

  • Very good video, but just a small clarification. We can't say Bulgars were Turkic, because this is just a theory as there are several official theories like: Turkic, Thracians, Iranians or Cimmerians. So it was not historically proved yet what exactly they are or where they came from. You have to stick with official statements if you are going to provide historical videos.

  • Bulgarians when they hear that they are mix of Turkic and Slavic tribes who settled in the Balkans: Oh! So we are Thracians!

  • This in my opinion is the worst defeat I've seen for the romans… I feel like the Eastern romans battles are more loses than victory's how in the hell did it last so long? Dammed Michael should should of been John's steward f***ing coward same with leo! John should have been emperor. Reeeeeeeee

  • I remember being a Harry Potter fan and looking up more about the name Krum. I stumbled on to some history articles on the nascent web about the Bulgarian Khan and I became a fan. Can't wait till you get to Simeon.

  • Request from a huge fan: Can you make videos about the Peloponnesian War? Especially the Sicilian expedition? Thumbs up if you agree! Cheers!

  • I would like to know if you found in your studys about bulgar empeir any indications about the cofounders of it, wich you didn't name in the etnical roots of the Bulgars. I'm talking o the nativ population of the region caled the Valahs, descendents of the dacians and the tracians. And why didn't You indicate it in any of your videos about Byzantine History of Balkans?

    Other then that very nice clip and good Chanel. Appreciate your work.

    Ps: pardon my grammar.

  • Sorry for commenting here but I am waiting for new episode on your podcast, it's been almost a month now. Any word on that front?

  • I really love K & G, but I think it can use a more diverse arsenal of background music. It is beginning to sound a bit repetitive. Wonderful video as always though. 🙂

  • There is still the historical misconception that the Bulgars were a Turkic people when they infact were not. They have no genetic or cultural similarities to them in fact and it is much more likely that the Bulgars had a Aryan origin in what was at the time eastern Persia. I hope you will look into that as the Turkic theory is now a defunct one.

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