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Tsar Samuel: Bulgarian or Macedonian?

Todd B. Krause

An issue that frequently arises in connection with the LRC's lesson series Old Church Slavonic Online is the national or cultural or other affiliation of the famous Tsar Samuel (or Samuil, or somewhat more faithfully Samoilŭ). In the context of the lesson series, Samuel is mentioned as author of a particular inscription that provides the oldest dated text in the Old Church Slavonic language. To be clear: that is the only reason for Samuel's mention in the lesson series, which concerns itself primarily with the language of a particular region and time.

Nevertheless, the series editors have on numerous occasions been reminded by readers that Samuil's status as a prominant early figure in Bulgarian and Macedonian history is a great source of either pride or animosity. We would like to state flatly that the Linguistics Research Center does not espouse any particular viewpoint re: Samuil's association with any modern or historically recent political entity.

There are several themes that recur in email that our readers send us, and in the spirit of furthering modern understanding of historical cultures it is worth addressing some of these themes in light of modern scholarship.

"The differences in the various historical accounts of Samuel, who ruled a short-lived kingdom centered in Prespa and Ohrid from 976 to 1014, reflect recent nationalistic controversies and scholarly discourses that have emerged in the scholarly literature of modern Macedonia and Bulgaria. The dispute focuses on Samuel's ethnic affiliation and the alleged nationality of his subjects. On one hand, scholars from the Republic of Macedonia tend to emphasize the cultural, social, and even linguistic distinctiveness of Samuel's kingdom. On the other, Bulgarian scholars emphasize the fact that Samuel used the Bulgarian name for himself and his kingdom and the beginnings of his career in southwestern Macedonia are rarely mentioned. Both approaches clearly aim to support present-day nationalistic claims and agendas. The Macedonians need this approach in order to demonstrate that they have long been a separate nationality with their own language and history; the Bulgarian interpretation, on the other hand, supports the claim that Macedonians are essentially Bulgarians by ethnic origin, as well as by cultural and linguistic characteristics. Both approaches are anachronistic. It is indeed difficult to speak about the national consciousness of a short-lived medieval ruler and his subjects and to discuss his impact on national development at a time when the majority of the population was illiterate and boundaries were fluid. Moreover, the only primary source that discusses the ethnic affiliation of Samuel asserts that he was an Armenian by origin. Bulgarian and Macedonian ethnic groups only began to acquire national consciousness in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Only during the past century and a half have Southeastern European Slavs gradually begun to assert their nationality and unify around several urban centers. Thus, the national affiliation of Samuel can neither be determined nor could it be relevant to today's situation in the region." (Panev, 2005)



Bernard Comrie and Greville G. Corbett, The Slavonic Languages. Routledge, 1993.

Richard Frucht, ed., Eastern Europe: an introduction to the people, lands, and culture. ABC-CLIO, 2005.

Horace G. Lunt, Old Church Slavonic Grammar. Walter de Gruyter, 2001.

Alexander M. Schenker, The Dawn of Slavic: An Introduction to Slavic Philology. Yale University Press, 1995.


Nicolas Adontz, "Samuel l'Arménien, Roi des Bulgares," Académie Royale de Belgique, 1938.

Aleksandar Panev, "Macedonia," in Frucht 2005 (above).