IN these relatively hard times, when Bulgarians are suffering from the current high crime rate, they often remember Khan Krum. He was the ruler of Bulgaria who introduced the first written law in this country and was so harsh in implementing it that it won him the nickname Krum the Terrible.
Under the rule of Khan Krum (802-814CE), the former small principality situated on both sides of the Lower Danube became a powerful state, comprising all the lands of present-day Romania and the eastern part of today's Hungary, thus bordering the lands then under the dominion of the Frank Emperor Charles the Great.
However, his expansion to the south and southeast towards the Slavs in Thrace and, further, in Macedonia, encountered violent Byzantine resistance. The conflict with Emperor Nice-phorus I Genik went through numerous bloody clashes that finally ended in a battle, where the Basileus (sovereign) himself was killed.
The first campaign of Nicephorus I Genik against Bulgaria was prevented by an internal plot. Then it was Krum's turn to prove that attack was the best means of defence. In 808-809 the Khan's soldiers defeated the Byzantine army in the Struma valley, seizing immense loot and much gold. The defenders of Sredets (Serdika), now Sofia, laid down their arms and surrendered. Krum was ready to march on Macedonia.
Nicephorus I made a retaliatory move when in 811 the Byzantine army crossed the Balkan range through unguarded passes and headed towards the capital, Pliska. The Khan was not in Pliska at that moment and after a fierce battle the Bulgarians were forced to retreat. The Byzantines slayed women, children and elderly people, burned the capital and destroyed the Khan's palace. Krum sent a message to the basileus: "Alright, you won. Take what you please and go in peace." But Nicephorus rejected the proposal.
It was time for the Bulgarians to get their revenge. During the night of July 25 they laid siege to the Byzantine army in the Vurbishki pass. The Byzantines were crushed as never before. The emperor and most of his commanders were killed. To celebrate his victory, the Khan had the emperor's skull lined with silver and drank from it.
Having taken his revenge, Krum proposed peace. When he met with a refusal, he led his army south to the area between the Struma and the Maritsa, seizing Byzantine towns and strongholds. The population was sent to territories beyond the Danube, so as to incorporate new lands more easily into the Bulgarian state. Then Krum extended another proposal for peace. Despite his victories, he set a very modest condition: renewal of the treaty from Khan Tervel's time. When the new emperor refused, the Bulgarians turned on the fortress of Messembria (Nesse-bur). A memorable battle was fought by the town of Versinikia, not far from Adrianople, on June 22, 813. Once again the Byzantine army was routed and the Khan triumphed.
Having besieged Adria-nople, in a few days the Bulgarians reached the walls of Constantinople, filling the hearts of Byzantines in the besieged capital with horror. The emperor proposed peace negotiations with the perfidious intention to kill the Bulgarian Khan. Krum avoided the trap but was enraged by the emperors' plot. The Bulgarians ravaged the lands between Constantinople and Adrianople, looting and taking prisoners. Adrianople fell, giving Krum the nickname of Strashny (the Terrible).
However, the raid on Constantinople had required huge forces. The feverish preparations took almost a year. The transportation of the battering rams alone required 10 000 oxen and the building of 5000 ironbound carts. The Khan's sudden death on April 13 814 put an end to his dream to enter the imperial palace as a victor.
Clashes with Avars and Byzantines did not deterred the Khan from proceeding with the consolidation of his state. He would even learn from his enemy, using Byzantine experience in warring and governing.
But he is equally celebrated for another important contribution: Bulgaria's first written laws. His understanding of the interests of his state and the stories of the captured Avars about the collapse of their state, urged Krum to introduce law and order in Bulgaria.
Krum made a number of important steps during his rule, which paved the way for the complete feudalisation of the country (according to some ancient authors' perhaps exaggerated reports, the Khan even ordered his people to root out all vines, in order to protect them from the drinking vice).
Nevertheless, his extraordinary personality has impressed many prominent Europeans for long centuries. His legislation was specially mentioned in Montaigne's works; Francois Rabelais, this great mocker, described Krum's state as a country where there was no treachery, slander and theft. He was also the prototype of Prospero in Shakespeare's "The Tempest", one of Grifius's characters in Germany, and Corneille's - in France.
Khan Krum's laws protected property against encroachment by thieves and made slander and drinking severely punishable. His laws were applicable to all Bulgarians and ensured subsistence to beggars and unique state protection to the poor. Krum's laws allowed him to unite Bulgarians and Slavs into a strong, integrated and centralised state and gained him the reputation of a remarkable and magnanimous ruler. None of his predecessors had contributed as much to the consolidation and expansion of the Bulgarian state. None had achieved such an indisputable rise in terms of both internal and external development.
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