Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


These people were originally Huns, who settled near the Volga; and Volgarians was easily changed into Bulgarians.

About the end of the seventh century, they, like all the other nations inhabiting Sarmatia, made irruptions towards the Danube, and inundated the Roman Empire. They passed through Moldavia and Wallachia, whither their old fellow-countrymen, the Russians, carried their victorious arms in 1769, under the Empress Catherine II.

Having crossed the Danube, they settled in part of Dacia and Mœsia, giving their name to the countries which are still called Bulgaria. Their dominion extended to Mount Hæmus and the Euxine Sea.

In Charlemagne’s time, the Emperor Nicephorus, successor to Irene, was so imprudent as to march against them after being vanquished by the Saracens; and he was in like manner defeated by the Bulgarians. Their king, named Krom, cut off his head, and made use of his skull as a drinking-cup at his table, according to the custom of that people in common with all the northern nations.

It is related that, in the ninth century, one Bogoris, who was making war upon the Princess Theodora, mother and guardian to the Emperor Michael, was so charmed with that empress’s noble answer to his declaration of war, that he turned Christian.

The Bulgarians, who were less complaisant, revolted against him; but Bogoris, having shown them a crucifix, they all immediately received baptism. So say the Greek writers of the lower empire, and so say our compilers after them: “Et voilà justement comme on écrit l’histoire.”

Theodora, say they, was a very religious princess, even passing her latter years in a convent. Such was her love for the Greek Catholic religion that she put to death in various ways a hundred thousand men accused of Manichæism —“this being,” says the modest continuator of Echard, “the most impious, the most detestable, the most dangerous, the most abominable of all heresies, for ecclesiastical censures were weapons of no avail against men who acknowledged not the church.”

It is said that the Bulgarians, seeing that all the Manichæans suffered death, immediately conceived an inclination for their religion, and thought it the best, since it was the most persecuted one: but this, for Bulgarians, would be extraordinarily acute.

At that time, the great schism broke out more violently than ever between the Greek church, under the Patriarch Photius, and the Latin church, under Pope Nicholas I. The Bulgarians took part with the Greek church; and from that time, probably, it was that they were treated in the west as heretics, with the addition of that fine epithet, which has clung to them to the present day.

In 871, the Emperor Basil sent them a preacher, named Peter of Sicily, to save them from the heresy of Manichæism; and it is added, that they no sooner heard him than they turned Manichæans. It is not very surprising that the Bulgarians, who drank out of the skulls of their enemies, were not extraordinary theologians any more than Peter of Sicily.

It is singular that these barbarians, who could neither write nor read, should have been regarded as very knowing heretics, with whom it was dangerous to dispute. They certainly had other things to think of than controversy, since they carried on a sanguinary war against the emperors of Constantinople for four successive centuries, and even besieged the capital of the empire.

At the commencement of the thirteenth century, the Emperor Alexis, wishing to make himself recognized by the Bulgarians, their king, Joannic, replied, that he would never be his vassal. Pope Innocent III. was careful to seize this opportunity of attaching the kingdom of Bulgaria to himself: he sent a legate to Joannic, to anoint him king; and pretended that he had conferred the kingdom upon him, and that he could never more hold it but from the holy see.

This was the most violent period of the crusades. The indignant Bulgarians entered into an alliance with the Turks, declared war against the pope and his crusaders, took the pretended Emperor Baldwin prisoner, had his head cut off, and made a bowl of his skull, after the manner of Krom. This was quite enough to make the Bulgarians abhorred by all Europe. It was no longer necessary to call them Manichæans, a name which was at that time given to every class of heretics: for Manichæan, Patarin, and Vaudois were the same thing. These terms were lavished upon whosoever would not submit to the Roman church.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01