We look at a series of questions about what’s been happening in Bulgaria since the peace was signed in 927. Why were the Rus able to defeat the Bulgarians so quickly? What did the Roman occupation look like? And more.
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In 2010, Timothy Parsons wrote a rather interesting book called ‘The Rule of Empires’, which is an overview (and condemnation) of a number of different historical empires. One interesting point he makes, and it makes me think people looking for evidence of decline actually have it completely the wrong way round – prosperity and political organization actually makes it easier for invaders to take over than harder. He points out a number of occasions where seemingly strong and prosperous states fell very quickly to aggressive conquerors – he particularly cites the Spanish conquest of the Incas but you could also cite the Norman conquest of England and the Arab conquest of the Near East. In all three cases, the conquers were actually helped by centralization because it provided them with the administrative apparatus to take power easily.
Now it is obvious that not all empires are vulnerable in this way. The battles of Yarmouk, Teutoburg, and Adrianapole all involved similar sized Roman armies getting thoroughly destroyed but one resulted in the Romans losing their economic heartland, one resulted in the Romans just giving up on Germany, and one involved in the Goths rampaging ineffectually across the Balkans for a few years. But considering the circumstances behind the Yarmouk and Adrianapole (which although not as devastating as the former, certainly damaged the Roman state more than Teutoburg) and the difference becomes clear. In 9 AD, the Roman state had strong institutions and a wide pool of officers that Augustus could trust. In contrast, the Roman Empire’s resources were stretched in both 378 and 636 and both had had to personalize control of the military, which in turn meant fewer troops could be controlled or trained at one time. To use Francis Fukuyama’s thesis, the Roman state in the 4th and 7th century were in a state of political decay despite their continuing prosperity and ability to collect taxes. And perhaps that is what happened in Bulgaria – the state had effective tax raising facilities and the country was prosperous but the institutions that would have allowed a state and ruler to endure a heavy defeat did not exist.