Pomorie, Bulgaria (917 AD)
The Battle of Achelous was one of the last major efforts of the fading Byzantine Empire to re-expand their territory, and influence, into southeastern Europe. Instead, it was an unmitigated military disaster for the Byzantines, essentially leaving their entire northern frontier exposed to conquest by Bulgarian armies from Western Asia. Moreover, the battle effectively marked the end of Byzantium as a great power, though the rump state continued to hang on for five more centuries.
At the beginning of the 10th century, the once massive Byzantine Empire, and heir to the once all-powerful Roman Empire, had been reduced to a fraction of its former territory. Centuries of wars against invaders from the German tribes of Central Europe, barbarians from Western Asia and Muslim armies from Asia Minor slowly eroded away at the Byzantine borders, until only portions of what is now Turkey, Greece and the Balkans remained in Byzantine control.
The arrival of the Bulgarians in the Danube region in the 800s, in the immediate vicinity of the capital of Constantinople, posed the largest threat in the Middle Ages, and in fact the Byzantines were forced to pay tribute for a while in the 890s. After a successful campaign to halt the expansion of Arab territories in the east, the Byzantines moved most of their available armies to Europe to confront the Bulgarian menace.
In 917, after making an effort to settle the matter diplomatically, the Byzantines decided to crush the Bulgarians with an overwhelming force. However, the Bulgarian king, Simeon I, was both a capable political and military leader. Thanks to his efforts, he prevented the Byzantines from raising as large an army as they could have. Moreover, when the two armies met outside of the fortress of Anchialos, the Bulgarians formed up on the heights.
Despite these advantages, the larger Byzantine army had the upper hand during the early stages of the battle. At one point the Bulgarian army began to break, and the Byzantine formations broke up as they sought to finish off the enemy. However, Simeon rallied his men, reformed his army and charged down the hill. The result was a complete rout of the Byzantines, in which many were slaughtered. In order to spare the capital, the Byzantines were forced to recognize Simeon as the new emperor.
The site where the Battle of Anchialos took place stretched out along the Black Sea coast between the ancient fortresses of Anchialos and Mesembria. The area is now almost entirely used for agriculture and is divided into neatly farmed plots. The field is otherwise not marked. However, the ruins of the Anchialos Fortress, which played a small role in the battle, can still be found on the peninsula of Pomorie.
The battlefield lies directly north of the modern-day resort of Pomorie, about 200 miles east of Sofia. The ruins of the fortress are at the extreme southeastern tip of the peninsula jutting out into the Black Sea. While the battlefield is open, it is now largely on privately owned farmland. As of this writing no other visitor information was available. Web: www.bulgariatravel.org (official tourism website of Bulgaria).
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