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THE EARLIER SLAV EMPIRES

There is historic justice in the circumstance that the Turkish Empire in Europe met its doom at the hands of the Balkan nations themselves. For these nationalities had been completely submerged and even their national consciousness annihilated under centuries of Moslem intolerance, misgovernment, oppression, and cruelty.

None suffered worse than Bulgaria, which lay nearest to the capital of the Mohammedan conqueror. Yet Bulgaria had had a glorious, if checkered, history long before there existed any Ottoman Empire either in Europe or in Asia. From the day their sovereign Boris accepted Christianity in 864 the Bulgarians had made rapid and conspicuous progress in their ceaseless conflicts with the Byzantine Empire. The Bulgarian church was recognized as independent by the Greek patriarch at Constantinople; its primates subsequently received the title of patriarch, and their see was established at Preslav, and then successively westward at Sofia, Vodena, Presba, and finally Ochrida, which looks out on the mountains of Albania. Under Czar Simeon, the son of Boris, "Bulgaria," says Gibbon, "assumed a rank among the civilized powers of the earth." His dominions extended from the Black Sea to the Adriatic and comprised the greater part of Macedonia, Greece, Albania, Servia, and Dalmatia; leaving only to the Byzantine Empire--whose civilization he introduced and sedulously promoted among the Bulgarians--the cities of Constantinople, Saloniki, and Adrianople with the territory immediately surrounding them. But this first Bulgarian Empire was shortlived, though the western part remained independent under Samuel, who reigned, with Ochrida as his capital, from 976 to 1014. Four years later the Byzantine Emperor, Basil II, annihilated the power of Samuel, and for a hundred and fifty years the Bulgarian people remained subject to the rule of Constantinople. In 1186 under the leadership of the brothers Asen they regained their independence. And the reign of Czar Asen II (1218-1240) was the most prosperous period of all Bulgarian history. He restored the Empire of Simeon, his boast being that he had left to the Byzantines nothing but Constantinople and the cities round it, and he encouraged commerce, cultivated arts and letters, founded and endowed churches and monasteries, and embellished his capital, Trnovo, with beautiful and magnificent buildings. After Asen came a period of decline culminating in a humiliating defeat by the Servians in 1330. The quarrels of the Christian races of the Balkans facilitated the advance of the Moslem invader, who overwhelmed the Serbs and their allies on the memorable field of Kossovo in 1389, and four years later captured and burned the Bulgarian capital, Trnovo, Czar Shishman himself perishing obscurely in the common destruction. For five centuries Bulgaria remained under Moslem despotism, we ourselves being the witnesses of her emancipation in the last thirty-five years.

The fate of the Serbs differed only in degree from that of the Bulgarians. Converted to Christianity in the middle of the ninth century, the major portion of the race remained till the twelfth century under either Bulgarian or Byzantine sovereignty. But Stephen Nemanyo bought under his rule Herzegovina, Montenegro and part of modern Servia and old Servia, and on his abdication in 1195 in favor of his son launched a royal dynasty which reigned over the Serb people for two centuries. Of that line the most distinguished member was Stephen Dushan, who reigned from 1331 to 1355. He wrested the whole of the Balkan Peninsula from the Byzantine Emperor, and took Belgrade, Bosnia, and Herzegovina from the King of Hungary. He encouraged literature, gave to his country a highly advanced code of laws, and protected the church whose head--the Archbishop of Ipek--he raised to the dignity of patriarch. On Easter Day 1346 he had himself crowned at Uskub as "Emperor of the Greeks and Serbs." A few years later he embarked on an enterprise by which, had he been successful, he might have changed the course of European history. It was nothing less than the capture of Constantinople and the union of Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks into an empire which might defend Christendom against the rising power of Islam. Dushan was within forty miles of his goal with an army of 80,000 men when he died suddenly in camp on the 20th of December, 1355. Thirty-four years later Dushan's countrymen were annihilated by the Turks at Kossovo! All the Slavonic peoples of the Balkan Peninsula save the brave mountaineers of Montenegro came under Moslem subjection. And under Moslem subjection they remained till the nineteenth century.



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