The year 1040 was rough for the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire. Not only did the reigning emperor, Michael IV (r. 1034-1041), lose all of his taxes from Dalmatia in a shipwreck—the gold was opportunistically scooped up by the Serbs—but two separate men also rebelled against the authority of Constantinople, claiming themselves to both be emperors of Bulgaria. This Bulgarian rebellion, although it only lasted about one year, would prove to be a remarkably dramatic episode of Byzantine history.
According to the 11th-century historians, Michael Psellus and John Skylitzes, all of the chaos in Bulgaria originated with a curious man by the name of Peter Deleanos. He claimed to have been the grandson of the famous Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria (r. 997-1014) and also professed himself to be the son of a Hungarian princess. Touting his claim to the Bulgarian and Hungarian thrones, Peter Deleanos stirred many communities from the western portion of the Byzantine Empire into open rebellion.
Basil Synadenos, the commander of the fortress at Dyrrachion (modern Durrës, Albania), initiated the first military response against the rebellion. He mobilized his forces and set off to fight Deleanos. During his march, however, an officer named Michael Dermokaites set in motion a plot to take over his boss’ command. Dermokaites sent a message to Emperor Michael IV, claiming that Synadenos was going to become a rebel. The emperor believed the claim and responded by removing Basil Synadenos from his post and replacing him with the informant. Dermokaites, however, was said to have been an incompetent and tyrannical commander, ultimately causing the soldiers from Dyrrachion to mutiny. In the end, instead of crushing the rebellion, the garrison of Dyrrachion united under a man named Teichomeros, whom they proclaimed was the rightful emperor of Bulgaria.
When Peter Deleanos heard that another rebel leader was touting a claim to Bulgaria, he invited this new claimant and his army to a meeting. Unfortunately, the original leader had no intention of working with the new upstart. According to John Skylitzes, Peter Daleanos again charismatically used his claim of Bulgarian and Hungarian royal blood to bring the soldiers from Dyrrachion over to his side. The event allegedly ended with Teichomeros being stoned to death by the united rebel force.
Even though Deleanos had rid himself of a rival, his bid for power would ultimately be toppled by another high-profile member of the rebellion. Before the year 1040 was over, after Deleanos had defeated a Byzantine army near Thebes, a well-connected man named Alousianos joined the rebellion. He had been the commander of Theodosioupolis and owned an enviable estate, yet he rebelled after the emperor’s advisors brought charges against him, threatening to seize his land and wealth. Deleanos accepted the newcomer into the rebellion and even gave him an army. Alousianos used the force in an unsuccessful assault on Thessalonike and then regrouped his depressed force with Deleanos. Nevertheless, neither leader trusted the other. In the end, Alousianos struck first. John Skylitzes claimed that Alousianos held a large banquet in honor of the founder of the rebellion. After letting Peter Deleanos get incredibly drunk, Alousianos seized the man and had him blinded. In Michael Psellus’ account of the incident, Alousianos also removed Deleanos’ nose with a culinary knife.
After mutilating the rebellion’s leader, Alousianos abandoned the rebel army and surrendered himself to Emperor Michael IV. The emperor, for his part, did not punish the former rebel—instead, he promoted Alousianos to the rank of magister for his gruesome deed. The emperor then rallied his forces against the Bulgarians and captured their blinded, noseless, leader. In 1041, Peter Deleanos was paraded through Constantinople and put on display in the Hippodrome. The historians, Skylitzes and Psellus, did not mention the rebel leader’s ultimate fate, but it was likely not a pleasant end.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Illustration from the Skylitzes Chronicle of Byzantine History, c. 11th-12th Century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and Pinterest)
- John Skylitzes. A Synopsis of Byzantine History: 811-1057, translated by John Wortley. Original text c. 11th or early 12th century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.