Kaloyan of Bulgaria

"Kaloyan" redirects here. For the 1963 film, see Kaloyan (film).
For the town in Bulgaria, see Tsar Kaloyan, Razgrad Province.
Tsar (Emperor) of Bulgaria

Statue of the Tsar Kaloyan in Varna
Reign 1197–1207
Predecessor Peter IV
Successor Boril
Born 1168/1169
Died October 1207
Spouse A Cuman princess
Issue Maria of Bulgaria
House Asen dynasty
Religion Christianity

Ivan II (Bulgarian: Иван II, also Йоан II, Ioan II, English: John II), known as Kaloyan the Greek-slayer[1][2][3] (Bulgarian: Калоян Ромеоубиец), ruled as emperor (tsar) of Bulgaria between 1197 and 1207. He is the third and youngest of the brothers who managed to restore the Bulgarian Empire, the others being Peter IV and Ivan Asen I. Kaloyan managed to stabilize the tsar's power and the Second Bulgarian Empire's position as a leading power in Southeastern Europe thanks to his successful campaigns against the Latin Empire.


The name Kaloyan (Latin: Caloiohannes), translates as "John the Good" or the "John the Handsome", and is derived from Greek Kaloiōannēs, a standard augmentation of the names of Byzantine emperors named "John" (Iōannēs) in the Komnenian and later periods. Another of his nicknames was Ioannitsa (Йоаница, Ioannica), variously rendered Ioannitza, Ivanitsa (Иваница, Ivanica), a diminutive form of Ivan or Ioan (John in Еnglish). The name used by modern Romanian historians is Ioniţă Caloian.[4]


Kaloyan was born in about 1168/1169. He was the younger brother and heir of Peter IV (Petăr IV) of Bulgaria and Ivan Asen I. He and his brothers have disputed origin. In 1187 he was sent as a hostage to Constantinople,[5] from where he escaped and returned to Bulgaria about 1189. After both of his brothers were assassinated by Ivanko, Kaloyan got an advantage over the conspirators and became the Tsar of Bulgaria.

Kaloyan pursued his predecessors' aggressive policy against the Byzantine Empire to the point of making an alliance with Ivanko, who had entered Byzantine service in 1196 and had become governor of Philippopolis (Plovdiv). Another ally of Kaloyan was Dobromir Hriz (Chrysos), who governed the area of Strumica. The coalition was quickly dissolved, as the Byzantines overcame both Ivanko and Dobromir Hriz. Nevertheless, Kaloyan conquered Konstanteia (Simeonovgrad) in Thrace and Varna from the Byzantine Empire in 1201, and most of Slavic Macedonia in 1202.

Bulgaria under Kaloyan (1197–1207)

In 1202 King Imre of Hungary invaded Bulgaria and conquered the areas of Belgrade, Braničevo (Kostolac), and Niš (which he turned over to his protegé on the throne of Serbia, Vukan Nemanjić). Kaloyan retaliated in 1203, restoring Vukan's brother Stefan Nemanjić in Serbia and recovering his lands after defeating the Hungarians. Ill feelings between Bulgaria and the Hungarians continued until the intercession of Pope Innocent III.

Innocent III had written to Kaloyan inviting him to unite his Church with the Roman Catholic Church as early as 1199. Wanting to bear the title of Emperor and to restore the prestige, wealth and size of the First Bulgarian Empire, Kaloyan responded in 1202. He requested that Innocent III bestow on him the imperial crown and sceptre that were held by Simeon I, Petar I, and Samuel; in exchange he might consider communion with Rome. Kaloyan also wanted the Papacy to recognize the head of the Bulgarian Church as a Patriarch.[6] The pope was not willing to make concessions on that scale, and, when his envoy, Cardinal Leo, arrived in Bulgaria, he anointed the Archbishop Vasiliy of Tărnovo as "Primate of Bulgarians and Vlachs". Kaloyan only received the Uniate crown as rex Bulgarorum et Blachorum ("King of Bulgarians and Wallachians") or rex Bulgarie et Blachie ("King of Bulgaria and Wallachia") or Imperator Bulgarorum et Blachorum,[7] not the Emperor's. Kaloyan wrote blithely to the pope thanking him for an "imperial" coronation and for the anointing of his "patriarch".[8] He also assured him that, on his part, he will follow the Catholic Church rites as part of the agreement.

Immediately afterwards, in 1204, the misdirected Fourth Crusade conquered and sacked Constantinople the Byzantine Roman capital. Proclaiming Baldwin of Flanders as emperor, the Crusaders (who had spurned Kaloyan's offer of alliance against the Byzantines) expressed their intention of conquering all the lands of the Byzantines and their neighbors. The impending conflict was precipitated by the Byzantine aristocracy in Thrace, which resisted the invaders and called on Kaloyan for help (1205), offering him its submission.

As the Latin Emperor, Baldwin I began to subdue Byzantine cities and besieged Adrianople. In the words of the Crusader chronicler Villehardouin, "Johannizza, King of Wallachia, was coming to succour Adrianople with a very great host; for he brought with him Wallachians and Bulgarians, and full fourteen thousand Comans who had never been baptised".[9] On 14 April 1205, Kaloyan's Cumans managed to draw the pursuing heavy cavalry of the Crusaders into an ambush in the marshes north of Adrianople where Kaloyan inflicted them a crushing defeat at the battle of Adrianople.[10] Emperor Baldwin I was captured[10] and Count Louis I of Blois was killed. Baldwin was imprisoned in the Bulgarian capital Tărnovo until he died or was executed later in 1205.[11] According to Greek sources Baldwin was either tortured or thrown off a cliff.[11] Although, Latin Emperor of Constantinople Henry of Flanders wrote the pope stating the Latin prisoners were being treated respectfully by Kaloyan.[11] Meanwhile, during the course of 1205, Kaloyan defeated the Latins again at Serres and captured Philippopolis (Plovdiv), overrunning much of the territory of the Latin Empire in Thrace and Macedonia.

Initially welcoming the successes of Kaloyan against the hated Latin invaders, the Byzantines, set on self-determination, began to conspire against his rule. Kaloyan also changed course, and turned mercilessly on his former allies, adopting the sobriquet Rōmaioktonos ("Romanslayer"), as a counter-derivative from Emperor Basil II's (958 -1025) Boulgaroktonos ("Bulgarslayer").

On 31 January 1206, Kaloyan defeated the Latins again in the battle of Rusion, and later proceeded to capture Dimotika. The Bulgarians repeatedly ravaged Thrace, including the important cities of Herakleia and Caenophrurion (Çorlu), and prompting the evacuation of other cities, such as Rodosto (Tekirdağ). Whereas in the past Kaloyan had limited his ferocity to outsmarting his enemies, his later campaigns included wholesale transfer of populations from the captured cities to distant regions in Bulgaria.


Grave of Kaloyan of Bulgaria in Veliko Tarnovo.
Facial Reconstruction of Tsar Kaloyan from his skull.

Kaloyan besieged Adrianople twice, but failed to take the city because of the withdrawal of his Cuman cavalry and the determined advance of the new Latin emperor, Baldwin I's brother Henry of Flanders. In 1207, Kaloyan concluded an anti-Latin alliance with Theodore I Laskaris of the Empire of Nicaea, the most powerful of the Byzantine resistance states. In the same year, Kaloyan's troops killed Boniface of Montferrat (4 September 1207), the Crusader ruler of the Kingdom of Thessalonica. Seeking to take advantage of that situation, Kaloyan advanced on the city and besieged it with a large force, but was murdered by his own Cuman commander Manastăr at the beginning of October 1207.

The sources on Kaloyan's reign are for the most part foreign (Byzantine and Latin) and hostile, stressing his brutality and cruelty. Some of this ruthlessness has been ascribed specifically to his Cuman envoy, while others have pointed out that Kaloyan's most repressive policies were aimed at the destruction of the enemy elite, while commoners were often treated with mercy. One of the legends about the demise of the Latin Emperor Baldwin describes his cruel dismemberment by an enraged Kaloyan, whose wife had falsely alleged that Baldwin had propositioned her, when he had in fact spurned her advances. The story is reminiscent of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, but fit well with the hostility of contemporary sources, which also suggest occasional outbursts of rage. Kaloyan's corpse (together with his personal signet ring[12]) was discovered buried in the Church of the Holy Forty Martyrs in Tărnovo.


Kaloyan's wife was a Cuman princess.[8] After Kaloyan's death, she married his successor Boril of Bulgaria.

He had a daughter, Maria of Bulgaria, by an earlier marriage.[13] She married the Latin Emperor of Constantinople Henry of Flanders to strengthen the new alliance between Tsar Boril of Bulgaria and Henry.[13] Maria is suspected to have taken part in the assassination of Henry, who died of poison on 11 June 1216.

Alternate titles

When referring to Kaloyan's realm and subjects, contemporary Crusader sources (including the works of Geoffroy de Villehardouin, Henri de Valenciennes, Robert de Clari) other contemporary sources (like that of William de Rubruquis and Roger Bacon's "Opus Maius"), as well as the letters of the Latin Emperor Henry of Flanders) represent Kaloyan as King of Wallachia, ruler of Wallachians and leader of Wallachian armies, and sometimes as ruler of Wallachians and Bulgarians. Such sources talk mostly of Wallachians and call Ioanitsa a Wallachian and "lord of Wallachians" (Blachorum domino).[14]

Contemporary papal and native sources name Kaloyan ruler of (omnium) Bulgarorum atque Blachorum ("(all) Bulgarians and Wallachians"), of (totius) Bulgarie ac Blachie ("(all) Bulgaria and Wallachia"), or simply of Bulgaria/Bulgarians in the diplomatic exchange. Similarly, the head of the church (Archbishop Vasiliy of Tărnovo) is described as presiding over Bulgarorum et Blacorum Ecclesiam ("the Bulgarian and Wallachian Church").

The contemporary Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates alternates interchangeably between the terms Mysoi, Boulgaroi, and Blachoi for the people, preferring Mysia for the country, and Blachos for describing persons and language. It is inferred that geographically the medieval Wallachia in question (distinct from both Great Wallachia in Thessaly and the later Wallachia north of the Danube), overlaps with the former Roman province of Moesia Inferior (Greek Mysia, Choniates, 481), as distinct from the Byzantine theme of Bulgaria further west (Choniates, 488). This distinction is corroborated by a slightly earlier contemporary, the chronicler of the Third Crusade, who describes Kaloyan's predecessors as rulers "of the Wallachians and the greater part of the Bulgarians" (Blacorum et maxime partis Bulgarorum) in 1189 (Ansbert, 58).

Leaden seal of tsar Kaloyan. Inscription in Bulgarian: "+Kaloyan Tsar of the Bulgarians". The original is stored in the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia.

The Byzantine historian from 13th century Theodor Scutariota named Kaloyan "the Bulgarian Ioan" or "Bulgarian basileus" and wrote about "Bulgarians", "Bulgarian land", "Bulgarian matters"; also he defined Ivan Asen I as "tsar of the Bulgarians".[15] The same "probulgarian" point of view about the same persons and events was shared by several other Byzantine authors from 13th and 14th centuries like George Acropolites, George Pachymeres and Nicephorus Gregoras.[16]

The native sources, written in Old Bulgarian language and used domestically, including the lead seals of the Bulgarian rulers from Ivan Asen I to Boril use the term "Emperor of the Bulgarians", as do the literary sources (for example the Synodik of Boril) together with the terms "Bulgarian land", and "Bulgarian tongue".

Roughly from the reign of Tsar Boril and already in the time of Tsar Ivan Asen II the names Wallachia, Wallachians and Wallachian totally disappeared from all historical sources, connected with the Second Bulgarian Empire. The subsequent native sources, all written in Old Bulgarian language, without exceptions treat the state as Bulgarian in the line of tsar's title of Ivan Asen II from his Turnovo's inscription from 1230 "In Christ the Lord good and faithful Tsar and autocrat of the Bulgarians, son of the old Asen", an inscription from Boyana Church from 1259 "This was written in the Bulgarian Empire under the pious and devout Tsar Constantine Asen" and one marginal note from 1269/70 "In the days of the faithful tsar Constantine, who ruled the Bulgarian throne".[17] (Still more, the names Wallachia, Wallachians and Wallachian weren't mentioned by the earlier Byzantine authors like Michael Psellos, Anna Komnene and Michael Attaliata in similar context about the lands and population between the Danube and the Rhodope mountains.[16] This historiographical situation narrows the usage of the "Vlach's terminology" in corresponding meanings for period of only two decades - between 1186 and 1207.[18])

The evidence of much later works involves various levels of contradictory inference. For example, the Venetian chronicle of Paolo Ramusio, finished in 1573 and printed in Italian and Latin from 1604 to 1634, states that Mysia (Moesia Inferior) was composed of the provinces of Wallachia and Bulgaria.[19] The contemporary work of Mauro Orbini, Il Regno degli Slavi, published in Pesaro in 1601, cites similar sources but virtually ignores "Wallachians" and uses "Bulgarians" throughout. The "Vlach interpretation" was totally ignored also by the Franciscan monk Blasius Kleiner in his History of Bulgaria, written in 1761,[20] and the Serbian historian Jovan Rajić in his History of Various Slav peoples and Especially of Bulgarians, Croats and Serbs, published in 1795.[21] The same treatment was accepted also by the Bulgarian enlightener Paisiy Hilendarski in his Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya, written in 1762.[22]

The modern implications of these names are ethnic and cultural rather than geographical, and they are fiercely disputed. Much can be conjectured from them concerning the Romance-speaking and Slavic-speaking populations over which Kaloyan ruled, the precise extent of his empire, and his own ethnic connections. These formulae and descriptions emphasise that his power drew on more than one source. He desired to link himself to the former Bulgarian Empire, stressing the Papal origins of his crown by claiming (perhaps with some accuracy), that the Papacy had granted an imperial crown to the rulers of the First Bulgarian Empire, as noted above. In his correspondence with him, Pope Innocent III suggested that Kaloyan was descended both from the emperors of the First Bulgarian Empire, and from the nobility of the city of Rome.

The academic tradition of interpretation of the wide use of the name "Vlachs" in this particular case as nothing more than a transient substitution and confusion of several medieval authors was affirmed in the second half of the 19th century by the Czech historian Konstantin Josef Jireček in his "History of the Bulgarians", first published in 1876, in which he ignored the idea of significant ethnic Vlach participation in these processes,[23] and is supported by the contemporary Bulgarian medievalist and researcher of the Asens Ivan Bozhilov.[24]


The peak of Kaloyan Nunatak in Tangra Mountains on Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica is named for Tsar Kaloyan.

Kaloyan's seal is depicted on the reverse of the Bulgarian 2 levs banknote, issued in 1999 and 2005.[25]


  1. Kostash, Myrna (2012). Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium. University of Alberta. p. 110. ISBN 9780888647047. Beautiful John,” or Kaloyan in Greek, Ivanitsa in Bulgarian. Historically, Kaloyan (1168–1207) was a younger brother of the rebels Petar and Asen […], He called himself Romaioktonos, or, in Bulgarian, Grkoubiets, the slayer of the Greeks, the Byzantines
  2. Previté-Orton, C. W. (1975). Cambridge Medieval History, Shorter: Volume 2, The Twelfth Century to the Renaissance. CUP Archive. p. 659. ISBN 9780521099776. …the Bulgarian Tsar Johannitsa (Kaloyan)[…] proceeded to ravage the land so cruelly as 'the Greek-slayer' that he produced a reaction in favour of the Latins.
  3. Grotowski, Piotr (2010). Arms and Armour of the Warrior Saints: Tradition and Innovation in Byzantine Iconography (843–1261). BRILL. p. 248. ISBN 9789004185487. …Tsar Kaloyan 'the Greek slayer' in 1205...
  4. Scorpan, C. (1997). Istoria României: enciclopedie : [enciclopedia comparatǎ a istoriei politice a românilor]. Nemira. ISBN 9789735691806. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  5. Dennis P. Hupchick, The Balkans:From Constantinople to Communism, (Macmillan, 2002), 67.
  6. C-tin C. Giurescu, Dinu C. Giurescu, Istoria românilor din cele mai vechi timpuri până astăzi, Bucharest, 1975, p.184
  7. Makkay, János (2008), "Siculica Hungarica De la Géza Nagy până la Gyula László" [Siculica Hungarica From Géza Nagy to Gyula László] (PDF), Acta Siculica: 209–240
  8. 1 2 Kievan Rus, the Bulgars and the Southern Slavs, c. 1020 – c. 1200, Martin Dimnik, The New Cambridge Medieval History, Part 2, ed. David Luscombe, Jonathan Riley-Smith, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 266.
  9. Villehardouin, 92
  10. 1 2 Dennis P. Hupchick, The Balkans:From Constantinople to Communism, (Macmillan, 2002), 71.
  11. 1 2 3 John V.A. Fine, The Late Medieval Balkans, (University of Michigan Press, 1994), 81-82.
  12. http://www.rightnotprivilege.org/layout/home/tsar.jpg
  13. 1 2 John V.A. Fine, The Late Medieval Balkans, (Macmillan, 1994), 101.
  14. LITTERAE HENRICI, FRATRIS IMPERATORIS AD PAPAM INNOCENTIUM III: Porro, audito a Joannitio, Blachorum domino, quod Latini in tanta virorum paucitate civitatem praedictam obsedissent, quem etiam Graeci in auxilium suum, occulte tamen, ut magis laederent, evocarant, irruit subito Blachus ille Joannitius in nostros cum multitudine Barbarorum innumera, Blachis videlicet, Commannis et aliis, quibus etiam nimis improvise obviam exeuntibus nostris.
  15. Theodor Scutariota, "Anonimou Synopsis Hroniki", Sathas, MB, VII, pages 459, 461, 468 and 472.
  16. 1 2 Иван Божилов, "Фамилията на Асеневци (1186–1460). Генеалогия и просопография", Издателство на Българската академия на науките "Марин Дринов", София, 1994, стр. 12 (in Bulgarian; in English: Ivan Bozhilov, "The family of the Asens (1186–1460). Genealogy and prosopography", Publishing house of the Bulgarian Academy of sciences "Marin Drinov", Sofia, 1994, p. 12).
  17. П. Динеков, К. Куев, Д. Петканова, "Христоматия по старобългарска литература", Издателство "Наука и изкуство", София, 1967, стр. 305-306 (in Bulgarian; in English: P. Dinekov, K. Kuev, D. Petkanova, "Chrestomathy of the Old Bulgarian Literature", Publishing house "Narodna kultura", Sofia, 1967, pp. 305-306).
  18. Иван Божилов, "Фамилията на Асеневци (1186–1460). Генеалогия и просопография", Издателство на Българската академия на науките "Марин Дринов", София, 1994, стр. 13 (in Bulgarian; in English: Ivan Bozhilov, "The family of the Asens (1186–1460). Genealogy and prosopography", Publishing house of the Bulgarian Academy of sciences "Marin Drinov", Sofia, 1994, p. 13).
  19. Paolo Ramusio (Paulus Rhamnusius), DE BELLO CONSTANTINOPOLITANO: "Unus Ioannissa Rex Mysorum (is inferiorem Mysiam tenabat, quae Valachiae et Bulgariae provincias complectitur)" Ramusio’s work is largely a derivative of Villehardouin, supplemented by some Byzantine and Vatican sources as well as general antiquarian knowledge.
  20. "История на България от Блазиус Клайнер, съставена в 1761 г.", Издателство на Българската академия на науките, София, 1977, стр. 110-117 (in Bulgarian; in English: "History of Bulgaria, composed by Blasius Kleiner in 1761", Publishing house of the Bulgarian Academy of sciences, Sofia, 1977, pp. 110-117.
  21. Йован Раич, "История на всички славянски народи и най-паче на болгари, хорвати и серби. Откъси", Издателство "Наука и изкуство", София, 1983, стр. 131-139 (in Bulgarian; in English: Jovan Raich, "History of various Slav peoples and especially of Bulgarians, Croats and Serbs. Excerpts", Publishing house "Nauka i izkustvo", Sofia, 1983, pp. 131-139.
  22. Паисий Хилендарски, "История славянобългарска. 1762. Белова", Университетско издателство "Св. Климент Охридски", София, 2003, стр. 349-359 (in Bulgarian; in English: Paisii Hilendarski, "Slav-Bulgarian history. 1762. Fair copy", Publishing house of the Sofia's University "St. Clement of Ohrid", Sofia, 2003, pp. 349-359.
  23. Акад. Константин Иречек, "История на българите", Издателство "Наука и изкуство", София, 1978, стр. 259-291 (in Bulgarian; in English: Academician Konstantin Jireček, "History of the Bulgarians", Publishing house "Nauka i izkustvo", Sofia, 1978, pp. 259-291).
  24. Иван Божилов, "Фамилията на Асеневци (1186–1460). Генеалогия и просопография", Издателство на Българската академия на науките "Марин Дринов", София, 1994, стр. 17-18 (in Bulgarian; in English: Ivan Bozhilov, "The family of the Asens (1186–1460). Genealogy and prosopography", Publishing house of the Bulgarian Academy of sciences "Marin Drinov", Sofia, 1994, pp. 17-18).
  25. Bulgarian National Bank. Notes and Coins in Circulation: 2 levs (1999 issue) & 2 levs (2005 issue). – Retrieved on 26 March 2009.


Preceded by
Ivan Asen I and Peter IV
Emperor of Bulgaria
Succeeded by
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