Simeon I of Bulgaria (r. 893-927) was a constant and formidable foe of the emperors of Constantinople. As the Bulgarian leader declared war on Constantinople frequently between 894 and 924, Simeon’s name was likely brought up in tones of anger and frustration in many an emperor’s banquet. One such feast in which the Bulgarians were the topic of conversation took place between 921 and 922. The exact date is difficult to discern, but the event reportedly occurred around the time that Emperor Romanos I lost his wife on February 20, 922. Whenever this feast was taking place, there were Bulgarian warriors ravaging and looting the countryside near Constantinople. These raiders no doubt irritated the emperor, and he made his frustration known to the nobles attending his banquet. According to the 11th-century historian, John Skylitzes, “the emperor gave a fiery speech, which enlisted an enthusiastic response, urging them valiantly to go forth against the foe and to fight for their fatherland” (Synopsis of Byzantine History, chapter 10, section 8). Although all of the emperor’s courtiers boldly proclaimed themselves ready to fight for the empire, only one of the officers at the banquet apparently took the emperor’s speech as an immediate call for action.
A certain Saktikios, commander of the corps of the Exkoubitors (one of four regiments charged with defending the city of Constantinople), was so inspired by Emperor Romanos’ banquet battle-cry that he mustered the forces under his command and set out against the Bulgarians, alone, in the early hours of the morning. The forces of Constantinople apparently knew the exact location of the main Bulgarian camp at the time, and it was for that campsite that Saktikios marched his band of warriors. When the Exkoubitors arrived at their target, they found the camp largely deserted, as a majority of the Bulgarians operating from the camp were still out pillaging the countryside. Taking advantage of the camp’s poor defenses, Saktikios and his troops successfully barged into the site, and set to work on making their emperor proud by slaughtering as many Bulgarians as they could find. Yet, as people fled the camp or as looters began to return with their spoils, the word soon spread among nearby Bulgarian forces that their camp was under attack. Before long, Saktikios and his men were surrounded by newly-arrived foes. The encircled Exkoubitors stayed and fought for a time, but as more and more Bulgarians arrived to help the camp, Saktikios and his troops began to retreat back toward Constantinople.
The retreat reportedly went well until they came to a river crossing, where Saktikios’ men and horses became stuck in the mud. As the Exkoubitors tried to pull themselves free, the pursuing Bulgarians caught up with their prey and the battle resumed. The forces under the command of Saktikios were eventually able to free themselves from the mud and fight their way back to Constantinople. Yet, the delay at the river crossing had been costly—before escaping the mud, Saktikios received a deep cut on the inside of his thigh and died not long after reaching safety.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (scene of Emperor Basil I in the History of John Skylitzes (Skyllitzes Matritensis (Biblioteca Nacional de España), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- 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.