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Samuel[2] (also Samuil; Bulgarian: Самуил, pronounced [sɐmuˈiɫ]; Macedonian: Самоил/Самуил,[3][4] pronounced [samɔˈiɫ/sɐmuˈiɫ]; Old Church Slavonic: Самоилъ) was the Tsar (Emperor) of the First Bulgarian Empire from 997 to 6 October 1014.[5] From 977 to 997, he was a general under Roman I of Bulgaria,[6] the second surviving son of Emperor Peter I of Bulgaria, and co-ruled with him, as Roman bestowed upon him the command of the army and the effective royal authority.[7] As Samuel struggled to preserve his country's independence from the Byzantine Empire, his rule was characterized by constant warfare against the Byzantines and their equally ambitious ruler Basil II.

In his early years Samuel managed to inflict several major defeats on the Byzantines and to launch offensive campaigns into their territory.[8] In the late 10th century, the Bulgarian armies conquered the Serb principality of Duklja[9] and led campaigns against the Kingdoms of Croatia and Hungary. But from 1001, he was forced mainly to defend the Empire against the superior Byzantine armies. Samuel died of a heart attack on 6 October 1014, two months after the catastrophic battle of Kleidion. His successors failed to organize a resistance, and in 1018, four years after Samuel's death, the country capitulated, ending the five decades-long Byzantine–Bulgarian conflict.[10]

Samuel was considered "invincible in power and unsurpassable in strength".[11][12] Similar comments were made even in Constantinople, where John Kyriotes penned a poem offering a punning comparison between the Bulgarian Emperor and Halley's comet, which appeared in 989.[13][14]

During Samuel's reign, Bulgaria gained control of most of the Balkans (with the notable exception of Thrace) as far as southern Greece. He moved the capital from Skopje to Ohrid,[8][15] which had been the cultural and military centre of southwestern Bulgaria since Boris I's rule,[16] and made the city the seat of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. Because of this, his realm is sometimes called the Western Bulgarian Empire.[17][18]

Samuel's energetic reign restored Bulgarian might on the Balkans, and although the Empire was disestablished after his death, he is regarded as a heroic ruler in Bulgaria,[19][20]

Samuel is considered also a heroic ruler in North Macedonia;[21] (see the section Nomenclature).

Monument of Samuil in Skopje.

Samuel's empire had its heartlands in the modern region of Macedonia, west and southwest of the city of Ohrid, this earlier cultural center of the First Bulgarian Empire. After the area was taken in 1913 after five centuries Ottoman rule by the Kingdom of Serbia, (later Yugoslavia),[148][149] that has led to assertions by the nationalist-driven historiography there. Its main agenda was that Samuel's empire was a "Serbian"/"Macedonian Slavic" state, distinct from the Bulgarian Empire.[150] In more recent times the same agenda has been maintained in the Republic of Macedonia, (now North Macedonia).[151]

Practically Serbia did not exist at that time. It became independent under Časlav ca. 930, only to fall ca. 960 under Byzantine and later under Bulgarian rule.[152] In fact that area was taken for the first time by Serbia centuries later, during the 1280-s. Moreover, in Samuel's time Macedonia as a geographical term referred to part of the region of modern Thrace.[153] The "Macedonian" emperors of that period were Basil II, called "Bulgar-Slayer", and his Byzantine relatives from the Macedonian dynasty, originating from the territory of today's European Turkey.[154] Most of the modern region of Macedonia was then a Bulgarian province known as Kutmichevitsa.[155] The area was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire in 1018 as a new province called Bulgaria.[156]

The very name of "Macedonia" for the modern region was revived only in the 19th century, after it had nearly disappeared during the five centuries of Ottoman rule.[157][158][159][160][161] Until the early 20th century and beyond the majority of the Macedonian Slavs who had clear ethnic consciousness believed they were Bulgarians.[162][163][164][165][166] The Balkan Wars (1912–1913) and World War I (1914–1918) left the area divided mainly between Greece and Serbia (later Yugoslavia), which resulted in significant changes in its ethnic composition. The formerly leading Bulgarian community was reduced either by population exchanges or by change of communities' ethni

The Arab historian Yahya of Antioch claims that the son of Samuel, Gavril, was assassinated by the leader of the Bulgarians, son of Aaron, because Aaron belonged to the race that reigned over Bulgaria. Asoghik and Yahya clearly distinguish the race of Samuel from the one of Aaron or the race of the Cometopuli from the royal race. According to them, Moses and Aaron are not from the family of the Cometopuli. David and Samuel were of Armenian origin and Moses and Aaron were Armenian on their mother's side.[136]

Samuel's grave was found in 1965 by Greek professor Nikolaos Moutsopoulos in the Church of St Achillios on the eponymous island in Lake Prespa. Samuel had built the church for the relics of the saint of the same name.[137] What is thought to have been the coat of arms of the House of Cometopuli,[138] two perched parrots, was embroidered on his funeral garment.

His remains are kept in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki,[139] but according to a recent agreement, they may be returned to Bulgaria and buried in the SS. Forty Martyrs Church in Veliko Tarnovo, to rest with the remains of Emperors Kaloyan and Michael Shishman.[140]

Samuel's face was reconstructed to restore the appearance of the 70-year-old Bulgarian ruler. According to the reconstruction, he was a sharp-faced man, bald-headed, with a white beard and moustache.[141]

Samuel is among the most renowned Bulgarian rulers. His military struggle with the Byzantine Empire is marked as an epic period of Bulgarian history. The great number of monuments and memorials in Bulgaria and Republic of Macedonia, such as the ones in Petrich and Ohrid, signify the trail this historical figure has left in the memory of the people. Four Bulgarian villages bear his name, as well as Samuel Point[142] on Livingston Island, Antarctica. Samuel is the main figure in at least three major Bulgarian novels by authors Dimitar Talev,[143] Anton Donchev and Stefan Tsanev and also stars in the Greek novel "At the Times of the Bulgarian-Slayer" by Penelope Delta, who closely follows the narrative flow of events as presented by St. Runciman.[144] He is mentioned in the verse of Ivan Vazov,[145] Pencho Slaveykov,[146] and Atanas Dalchev as well.[147]

Samuel's empire had its heartlands in the modern region of Macedonia, west and southwest of the city of Ohrid, this earlier cultural center of the First Bulgarian Empire. After the area was taken in 1913 after five centuries Ottoman rule by the Kingdom of Serbia, (later Yugoslavia),[148][149] that has led to assertions by the nationalist-driven historiography there. Its main agenda was that Samuel's empire was a "Serbian"/"Macedonian Slavic" state, distinct from the Bulgarian Empire.[150] In more recent times the same agenda has been maintained in the Republic of Macedonia, (now North Macedonia).[151]

Practically Serbia did not exist at that time. It became independent under Časlav ca. 930, only to fall ca. 960 under Byzantine and later under Bulgarian rule.[152] In fact that area was taken for the first time by Serbia centuries later, during the 1280-s. Moreover, in Samuel's time Macedonia as a geographical term referred to part of the region of modern Thrace.[153] The "Macedonian" emperors of that period were Basil II, called "Bulgar-Slayer", and his Byzantine relatives from the Macedonian dynasty, originating from the territory of today's European Turkey.[154] Most of the modern region of Macedonia was then a Bulgarian province known as Kutmichevitsa.[155] The area was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire in 1018 as a new province called Bulgaria.[156]

The very name of "Macedonia" for the modern region was revived only in the 19th century, after it had nearly disappeared during the five centuries of Ottoman rule.[157][158][159][160][161] Until the early 20th century and

Practically Serbia did not exist at that time. It became independent under Časlav ca. 930, only to fall ca. 960 under Byzantine and later under Bulgarian rule.[152] In fact that area was taken for the first time by Serbia centuries later, during the 1280-s. Moreover, in Samuel's time Macedonia as a geographical term referred to part of the region of modern Thrace.[153] The "Macedonian" emperors of that period were Basil II, called "Bulgar-Slayer", and his Byzantine relatives from the Macedonian dynasty, originating from the territory of today's European Turkey.[154] Most of the modern region of Macedonia was then a Bulgarian province known as Kutmichevitsa.[155] The area was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire in 1018 as a new province called Bulgaria.[156]

The very name of "Macedonia" for the modern region was revived only in the 19th century, after it had nearly disappeared during the five centuries of Ottoman rule.[157][158][159][160][161] Until the early 20th century and beyond the majority of the Macedonian Slavs who had clear ethnic consciousness believed they were Bulgarians.[162][163][164][165][166] The Balkan Wars (1912–1913) and World War I (1914–1918) left the area divided mainly between Greece and Serbia (later Yugoslavia), which resulted in significant changes in its ethnic composition. The formerly leading Bulgarian community was reduced either by population exchanges or by change of communities' ethnic identity.[167] The Macedonian Slavs were faced with the policy of forced Serbianisation.[168]

20th-century Serbian and afterwards the Yugoslav historiography used the location of Samuel's state mainly on the territory of then Yugoslavia, to reject Bulgarian claims on the region.[169] Thus, the Russian-born Yugoslavian historian George Ostrogorsky distinguished Samuel's Empire from the Bulgarian Empire, referring to it as a "Macedonian Empire", although he recognised that Samuel's state was politically and ecclesiastically a direct descendant of the empire of Simeon I of Bulgaria and Peter I of Bulgaria, and it was regarded by Samuel and the Byzantines as being the Bulgarian Empire itself.[149]

Some historians of the same school, such as the Serbian scholar Dragutin Anastasijević, even claimed that Samuel ruled a separate South Slavic, i.e. Serbian Empire in Macedonia, founded as result of an anti-Bulgarian rebellion.[148] The Serbs tried to popularize the Serbian past of that distinct state and its Serbian rulers.[170] The story continued in Communist Yugoslavia, where separate Macedonian identity was formed and Samuel was depicted as Macedonian Tsar.[171] After the breakup of Yugoslavia, these outdated theories have been rejected by authoritative Serbian historians from SANU as Srđan Pirivatrić and Tibor Živković.[172][173][174] Pirivatrić has stated, that incipient Bulgarian identity was available in Samuel's state, and it will rеmain in the area in the next centuries.[175]

These fringe theories are still held mainly in North Macedonia, where the official state doctrine refers to an "Ethnic Macedonian" Empire, with Samuel being the first Tsar of the Macedonian Slavs.[151] However, this controversy is ahistorical, as it projects modern ethnic distinctions onto the past.[176] There is no historical support for that assertion.[177] Samuel and his successors considered their state Bulgarian.[178][179] They were never called by their contemporaries "Macedonians",[180] but simply Bulgarians and rarely Misians. The last designation arose because then Bulgaria occupied traditionally the lands of the former Roman province of Moesia.[181] Despite these facts multiple examples of animosity between Bulgaria and Macedonia have been registered, due to disputes over the Samuil's ethnic affiliation and this issue is still a highly sensitive.

Nevertheless, on a meeting in Sofia in June 2017, Prime Ministers Boyko Borisov and Zoran Zaev laid flowers at the monument of Tsar Samuil together, articulating optimism that the two countries can finally resolve their open issues by signing a long delayed agreement on good-neighborly relations.[182] The governments of Bulgaria and North Macedonia signed the friendship treaty in the same year, which was ratified by the two Parliaments in 2018. On its ground a bilateral expert committee on historical issues was formed. In February 2019, at a meeting of committee, involving Bulgarian and Macedonian scientists, the two sides agreed to propose to their governments that Tsar Samuel may be celebrated jointly, and the Macedonian side conceded also, that he was Tsar of Bulgaria.[183][184][185][186]

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