|Battle of Versinikia|
|Part of the Byzantine-Bulgarian Wars|
Bulgaria under Khan Krum including the most important campaigns and battles
|Bulgarian Empire||Byzantine Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Khan Krum||Michael I Rangabe|
|6,000-7,000 or 12,000||20-30,000|
|Casualties and losses|
Despite being outnumbered 2-to-1, the Bulgarians led by Krum were victorious, resulting in the dethroning of Byzantine leader Michael I Rangabe (811-813) by Leo V the Armenian. The battle was a major success and further strengthened the Bulgarian position after their decisive victory over Nicephorus I two years earlier. In fact, after the battle they de facto took control of the whole of Eastern Thrace (until the Byzantine-Bulgarian Treaty of 815) with the exception of a few castles that remained in Byzantine control. For the first time in Bulgarian history, the way to Constantinople was opened. Unfortunately for them, the great Khan Krum died at the height of the preparation for the final siege of the Byzantine capital on 13 April 814.
After the Bulgarians' great victory over the Byzantine army of Emperor Nicephorus I in the battle of Pliska in 811, the Byzantine Empire found itself in a difficult situation. Nicephorus' son (and legitimate heir) Staurakios, who was seriously wounded in the battle, was deposed in the autumn of the same year, after a palace coup d'état. Michael I Rangabe, curopalates (supervisor of the palace) during the reign of Nicephorus I, was proclaimed emperor.
Bulgaria, which also suffered heavy losses and great material damage during Nicephorus' campaign, also had to reorganize its army and resources and was not able to advance until the next year. The Bulgarian attacks were concentrated mainly in Thrace, but also along the valley of the Strym?n (Struma) River. Many towns were seized and their population was sent far to the north to "Bulgaria across the Danube". The attack created such panic among the Byzantine population that several towns were emptied even without being attacked by the Bulgarians. The attempts of Michael I to resist were fruitless - he organized an army but soon after he set off from Constantinople he had to go back due to a conspiracy.
In the meantime the Bulgarians continued to strike Thrace, but in the autumn of 812 they were offered peace. The Bulgarian delegation was led by Dobromir, but the Byzantine Emperor refused to conclude peace due to "his foul advisors' suggestions" as Theophanes says. However the real reason was most probably Item 3 in the Byzantine-Bulgarian Treaty of 716 which stated that "The refugees [emigrants, deserters] from both sides shall be mutually surrendered, if they are plotting against the authorities." That item was important for the Byzantines during the 8th century because the authority of their Emperors was weakened but, after the crisis in Bulgaria in the mid 8th century, it became inconvenient for them. In response to the refusal, the Bulgarians besieged Mesembria (Nessebar). They had excellent siege machines built by an Arab emigrant and soon captured the town where they found 36 copper siphons used to throw the famous Greek fire and a large quantity of gold and silver.
Despite the loss of Mesembria, the Byzantines were unwilling to a peace settlement. During the winter of 812-813 Khan Krum started intense preparations for an attack against Byzantium and Michael I was preparing for defense. In February 813 Bulgarian forces made several investigation raids in Thrace but quickly pulled back after several clashes with the Byzantines. The retreat was considered by the Byzantine Emperor as a victory "according to God's providence" and encouraged him to counter-attack.
The Byzantines again summoned an enormous army gathered from all themes of their Empire including the guards of the Syrian passes. Due to unrest in the army, the campaign was delayed but finally they set off from Constantinople in May. The departure was a celebration and the population of the city including the Empress accompanied the troops outside the city wall. They even gave presents to the military commanders and invoked them to guard the Emperor and fight for the Christians.
The Byzantine army marched to the north but did not take any actions to take back Mesembria. On 4 May there was a solar eclipse which frightened the Byzantine soldiers and lowered their morale. They encamped in the vicinity of Adrianople where the army looted and robbed its own country. In May Khan Krum also headed to Adrianople. In June both armies set their camps close to each other near the small fortress of Versinikia to the north of Adrianople. John Skylitzes in Synopsis Historion, stated that the Byzantine army was 10 times (some historians stated even 20 times) bigger than the Bulgarian hosts. That was probably overestimated but undoubtedly the Byzantine army was significantly larger than the Bulgarian. Therefore, the Bulgarians kept on a defensive position. Despite the numerical, logistical, and strategic superiority, the Byzantine army did not confront the adversary. Both armies became tense and anxious, having waited for thirteen days in the hot summer of Thrace, while wearing full armor. At the end the Byzantine commanders failed the test of nerve and stamina. Some of them were eager to attack and on 22 June the strategos of Macedonia John Aplakes addressed Michael and said: "How much are we going to wait and die? I will attack first in the name of God and you will follow me bravely. And victory shall be ours because we are ten times more than them [the Bulgarians]."
The battle was short: in the morning of the same day the Byzantines decided to attack and the right Byzantine flank under Aplakes engaged the Bulgarians' left. It managed to inflict casualties to the Bulgarian left flank and even push it back, but the Byzantine center and left did not engage in the battle, thus leaving Aplakes' attack unsupported. When Krum saw the inaction among the Byzantine center and left he took action. Krum ordered a second line of Slavic infantry to engage Aplakes' contingent while a unit of Bulgar horse archers and heavy cavalry attacked the flanks of Aplakes' contingent from both sides. The Anatolian theme was the first to withdraw, followed by the entire army. The soldiers of Aplakes were left behind and most of them perished, including their commander. The battle took place in a valley and when the Bulgarians saw the retreating enemy which was in the higher positions they at first suspected a trap. In fact they also did not expect to achieve success so quickly and at first did not chase them. But when the Bulgarians were certain that the enemy was fleeing in panic, their heavy cavalry rushed after the Byzantines. Some of them perished during the flight, others hid in different fortresses some of which were taken by the Bulgarians and the rest managed to reach Constantinople. The chief commanders of the Byzantine army, including the Emperor Michael I Rangabe and Leo the Armenian, were the first to retreat from the battlefield. The Bulgarians took the Byzantine camp and a rich prize including gold and weaponry.
Later Byzantine chronographers Genesius and Theophanes Continuatus accused Leo the Armenian as primarily responsible for the defeat, claiming that he deliberately ordered the flight of the units that were still not engaged in the battle. This view is accepted by a large number of scholars (J.B. Bury, Steven Runciman, George Ostrogorsky, R.J.H. Jenkins, Warren Treadgold et al.), while others (Vasil Zlatarski and a number of Greek scholars) reject Leo's responsibility, pointing to an alternative story Genesius and Theophanes Continuatus also included in their texts.
The victory at Versinikia further worsened the grim situation of Byzantium and gave the Bulgarian Khan an opportunity to launch attacks in the vicinity of the Byzantine capital itself. It also sealed the fate of Michael I Rangabe who was forced to abdicate and withdraw to a monastery. The Byzantine throne was taken by Leo V the Armenian (813-820) who was distinguished from his predecessor as a strong-charactered and energetic man. He immediately took hasty precautions for the defense of Constantinople because he expected a Bulgarian assault.
The way to Constantinople was clear and the Bulgarian army headed straight to the city without facing any resistance. There were still several fortresses in Thrace which remained in Byzantine hands, particularly Adrianople which was besieged by Krum's brother. On 17 July 813 Krum himself reached the walls of Constantinople and set his camp without hindrance. Within sight of the citizens of Constantinople, Krum who was also the high priest made a sacrifice to the Bulgar god Tangra, performed some pagan rituals, then the Bulgarians built trenches along the whole length of the city's walls, and then suddenly Krum offered peace.
Leo V agreed to negotiations but he intended to treacherously kill Khan Krum and eliminate the threat over the Byzantine Empire. During the negotiations, the Byzantines fired arrows on the Bulgarian delegation killing some of them, including the kavkhan or other high official, but Krum himself remained unscathed.
Infuriated by the treachery of the Byzantines, Krum ordered all churches, monasteries, and palaces outside Constantinople to be destroyed, the captured Byzantines were slain and the riches from the palaces were sent to Bulgaria on carts. After that all enemy fortresses in the surroundings of Constantinople and Marmara Sea were seized and razed to the ground. The castles and settlements in the hinterland of Eastern Thrace were looted and the whole region devastated. Then Krum returned to Adrianople and strengthened the besieging forces. With the help of mangonels and battering rams he forced the city to surrender. The Bulgarians captured 10,000 people who were resettled in Bulgaria across the Danube. A further 50,000 from other settlements in Thrace were deported there. During the winter Krum returned to Bulgaria and launched serious preparation for the final assault on Constantinople. The siege machines had to be transported to Constantinople by 5,000 iron-covered carts hauled by 10,000 oxen. However, he died during the height of the preparations on 13 April 814.
The exact location of the Versinikia fortress is unknown. According to Teophanes that castle was located at 60 km from Michael Rangabe's camp at Adrianople. At that distance from the north is located the village of Malomirovo in whose surrounding was discovered an ancient Bulgarian inscription from the reign of Khan Krum. It is about the division of the Bulgarian army during the campaign in 813 - the left flank under kavkhan Irtais was concentrated on the coast at Anchialus (Pomorie) and Sozopol and the right flank's headquarters were in the area of Beroe (Stara Zagora) under the command of the ichirgu-boil Tuk. The center under the personal command of Krum was probably located in the area of contemporary town of Elhovo which is close to Malamirovo. It is likely that the Byzantine army took position along the Derventski Heights, which are situated on the contemporary Bulgarian-Turkish border.