Tsar Teodor Svetoslav (1300 - 1321)

Tsar Teodor Svetoslav


IN THE EARLY SPRING of 1300 a young Bulgarian was wandering about in the camp of the Tartar Golden Horde. Tsar Georgi Terter's son had been sent there as a hostage of the powerful Tartar Khan Nogay who had complete control over the Bulgarian state, drained by Ivailo's revolt. In Turnovo Tsar Georgi Terter was playing the humiliating role of vassal of the Tartars. Apprehensive about the Tsar's freedom-loving character, in 1292 Khan Nogay had him replaced by the boyar Smilets who was faithful to the Tartars and Georgi Terter had to seek refuge in Byzantium.

During his days as hostage in the Tartar camp, Todor Svetoslav fully realized the wisdom in the old saying: "Before learning to give orders, one should learn to submit". He hated the Tartars being in command in his fatherland, but for the time being he was unable to drive them out by force, so he had only one option left: to engage in an involved political game. When a power struggle broke out in the Golden Horde, he fled to Turnovo with Nogay's son Chaka. He needed the support of Chaka's Tartars to dethrone Smilets.

The time had not yet come for Svetoslav to ascend the throne, so he had Chaka crowned instead. But Chaka was not to rule long, for Todor Svetoslav was already negotiating with his enemy, Khan Toktu. Chaka's head was the price paid for the good will of the new Tartar chief. Thus at the end of 1300 Todor Svetoslav victoriously ascended the throne.

His rule lasted until 1321. The new peace with the Tartars secured the northern border. He gradually eliminated the Tartar influence, taking advantage of the power struggles in the Golden Horde.

The tsar could then see to the problems with his domestic enemies, as internal security was crucial to handling the Byzantine threat. Todor Svetoslav defeated his opponents, the boyars from the Smilets family, and promptly consolidated his power in the lands south of the Balkan range. Even his uncle, Despot Eltimir, submitted and his fortress Krun and the surrounding lands were incorporated into Bulgaria. A traitorous patriarch, who had collaborated with the Tartars, was sentenced to death. The north-western lands alone remained an independent principality under Shishman, in alliance with Serbia.

Then the time came to settle another score in the centuries-long conflict with Byzantium. Thrace was once again turned into a battlefield. Success was on the side of Todor Svetoslav, and soon Bulgarian sovereignty over a number of towns along the Black Sea was restored.

In the summer of 1304, Andronicus II sought revenge with his new army. Tsar Smilets's brother fought on his side. In the battle in the valley of Skafida (today's Fakiiska river) the Byzantines were routed and Bulgaria annexed new territories. The hostilities continued until 1307 when a peace treaty was concluded and was kept for fifteen years. The long-awaited peace brought about economic growth.

A far-sighted politician, Todor Svetoslav developed Bulgaria's contacts with Serbia and with the Italian republics of Venice and Genoa. Internal and external trade flourished. The population evidently prospered, the tsar himself grew richer. He died peacefully in 1231, happy with the aggrandizement of the state's power and prosperity from the time of Ivan Assen II. His rule was marked by the victory of order over chaos and by a consolidation of the state after almost halfa centuty of turmoil.


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