Asen dynasty: Wikis


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Monument to the Asen dynasty in their capital Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The Asen dynasty (Bulgarian: Асеневци, Asenevtsi) were a dynasty of rulers of a medieval Bulgarian state, called in modern histography the Second Bulgarian Empire, between 1187 and 1280.

The Asen dynasty and the Second Bulgarian Empire rose as the leaders of a rebellion against the Byzantine Empire at the turn of the year 1185/1186 caused by the increase in the Imperial taxes.

Early rulers from the Asen dynasty (particularly Kaloyan) referred to themselves as "Emperors of Bulgarians and Vlachs". Later rulers, especially the successful Ivan Asen II, styled themselves "Tsars (Emperors) of Bulgarians and Greeks".

Some members of the Asen family entered Byzantine service in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries, and the late descendants of these Byzantine Asenids may well have been the Wallacian boyars of the clan Asan. The name also occurs as a family name in modern Greek, and could go back to the same name.


Rulers from the Asen dynasty

Ivan Asen I (Asen) 1187 - 1196
Teodor I Peter IV 1186 - 1197
Kaloyan (Ioanitsa) 1197 - 1207
Boril (Boril Kaliman) 1207 - 1218
Ivan Asen II 1218 - 1241
Kaliman I Asen 1241 - 1246
Michael II Asen 1246 - 1256
Kaliman II Asen 1256
Mitso Asen 1256 - 1257
Constantine Asen (Konstantin Tih) 1257 - 1277
Ivan Asen III 1279 - 1280


The origins of the dynasty, especially the ethnic background of the three Asen brothers (Teodor I Peter IV, Ivan Asen I and Kaloyan) are still a source of much controversy, debated between Romanian and Bulgarian historians. There are three main hypothesis regarding their origins:

  1. Bulgarian origin, a view that is common among the Bulgarian historians who reckon that all native sources use predominantly the terms Bulgaria, Bulgarians and Bulgarian, that tsar Kaloyan claimed provenance from the rulers of the First Bulgarian Empire and that it's just a matter of terminology and for certain period by "Vlach" the medieval sources meant "Bulgarian".
  2. Cuman origin, as some of the names in the dynasty, including Asen and Belgun (nickname of Ivan Asen I) are derived from Cuman language.
  3. Vlach origin (Romanian or Aromanian), a view supported by many Romanian historians, who say that there's no reason to question the ethnicity, mentioned in some chronicles.

In their own administrative documents and correspondence, the three rulers viewed themselves as descendants and successors of the Bulgarian Tsars Samuil, Peter I and Simeon I, and the state they founded as a continuation of the First Bulgarian Empire. However, this could be just a way to proclaim their legitimacy for the throne of the Empire.

A detail in the chronicles of Nicetas Choniates tell us that Asen spoke Vlach language: a Greek priest was kidnapped by Vlachs of the Haimos Mountains and implored Asen to let him go speaking in the language of the Vlachs. In fact, the best contemporary Greek source, Nicetas Choniates, quoted by A. A. Vasiliev clearly stated, that the insurrection was begun by the Vlachs (Blachi); that their leaders, Peter and Asen (Asan) belonged to the same race. At the time, however, Moesia was often was called Vlachia, so it's not certain whether this was meant in an ethnic sense.

In a correspondence, of 1199, the Pope talks about the "Roman descent" of Kaloyan, thing which is also reminded in Kaloyan's response. The meaning of this also has been debated: it is unclear whether the Pope referred to the Romanic origins of the Vlachs or to the Eastern Roman Empire.

Pope Innocent III in his letter to the Bulgarian King John (Calojoannes) in 1204 addressed him “King of Bulgarians and Vlachs (Bulgarorum and Blacorum rex) ; in answering the Pope, John calls himself “imperator omnium Bulgarorum et Blachorum” but signs himself “imperator Bulgariae Calojoannes” the archbishop of Trnovo calls himself “totius Bulgariae et Blaciae Primas"

It has also been speculated a Hungarian origin (and therefore "Roman Catholic"), but there's no evidence to support that claim.


The name of the dynasty comes from one of the brothers, namely Asen I. The etymology is most likely of Cuman Turkic origin, derived from "esen" which meant "safe, sound, healthy" and the Belgun nickname seems to be derived from Turkic "bilgün", which meant "wise". This could be explained by the fact that in other places, early Romanians used names of Cuman origin, for example a diploma of 1383 in Sibiu had a list of names of Romanians, which included among names of Romanian and Slavic origin, a few names of Cuman origin. Also, the most important dynasty of Wallachia had a Cuman name (Basarab dynasty)

Alternately, the name could also be of Pecheneg origin, since that language was rather similar to Cuman, however this hypothesis is less likely. Another version is that Asen cames from the name of Ashina clan of protobulgarian rivals of Dulo rulers. There is possible link between the Bulgarian name Assen and the Arabic name Hassan. There is evidence that the name Assen has a Turkic origin coming from the Proto-Bulgarian's or Cuman's Turkic origin. Therefore both the Arabic name Hassan that is very popular in the Turkic speaking nations, sometimes written as Assan and the Bulgarian name Assen can be of similar or even the same origin. See Hassan (given name)

The etymology could also be an Indo-European one. There was an older attested Latin name Asinarius.

See also


  • Božilov, Ivan (1985) (in Bulgarian). Familijata na Asenevci (1186–1460). Sofia: Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. OCLC 14378091.  
  • Bănescu, Nicolae, "O problemă de istorie medievală: crearea şi caracterul celui de al Doilea Imperiu Bulgar (1185)", Analele Academiei Române. Memoriile Secţiunii Istorice, 3rd series, 25 (1943): 543-590
  • Vasary, Istvan (2005) "Cumans and Tatars", Cambridge University Press: pp. 34–42
  • Stephenson, Paul (2000) "Byzantium's Balkan Frontier — A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900–1204" pp. 289–300
  • History of the Byzantine Empire, A. A. Vasiliev 1935

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