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The Battle of Kleidi Pass (28 July 1014 AD)


Coin depicting Vasilios II

The Bulgarians were the biggest threat that the Byzantine Emperor Vasilios II (aka Basil the Bulgar-slayer) had to face during his long reign. Once vassals of the Byzantines, the Bulgar threat started with the insurrection of Samuel in 979.  To the Byzantines this was not a foreign invasion but the mutiny of their own  subjects. Until his first crucial defeat in 997, Samuel who in the meantime had proclaimed himself char of the Bulgarians and the Romans (Byzantines) fought the Byzantine empire to the brink of extinction exploitng dynastic struggle and the ensuing anarchy. But from then onwards the Byzantine army under the energetic leadership of Vasilios II forced Czar Samuel on the defensive, recovering lost territory and attacking Bulgaria proper and threatening Samuel’ s power base.

Byzantine troops

The Arab threat in the East forced Vasilios to halt operations on the Balkan front before the total suppression the Bulgarian revolt. So in the summer of 1014 AD, Czar Samuel in order to protect his embattled territory occupied the valley of the river Strimon and built earth works in the pass of Kleidi to bar the path of the larger Byzantine Army. After having secured his eastern border, Vasilios advanced to subjugate the remaining Bulgarian forts only to find the «Kimvas Logos» route that he used for his invasions blocked by the Bulgarian fortifications.

Varngian guard

Reconstruction of a member of Vasilios Varngian bodyguard. Source:

The emperor’s initial attacks on 26th of July were repulsed so he adopted a strategem proposed by his general Nikephoros Xifias who offered to lead a flanking force to attack the Bulgarians from behind. Xifias left with the army’s pack mules as if departing to Thessalonica to obtain supplies and timber for siege engines. Once out of sight, he mounted his infantry on the mules and turned eastward through the passes of Mount Valathista (Belles Mountain) around the Bulgarian lines. On July 28th the Bulgarians were occupied by the emperor’s frontal attacks on their fortified line when suddenly Xifias troops attacked them from behind. Panic ensued and the Bulgarian army started disintegrating despite the char’s attempts to rally the troops.

Byzantines pursue Bulgarians

With the Bulgarian ranks in disarray, Vasilios personally lead the main Byzantine force in a decisive frontal attack. Czar Samuel lost his nerve and fled. His son Gabriel-Romanos covered his fathers retreat, but 15,000 Bulgarians were taken prisoner. Vasilios declared them traitors and mutineers and had them all blinded as this was the penalty for treason. On his instructions, one Bulgar in every 100 was left with one good eye to lead the blinded soldiers home. When the unfortunate wretches reached the Bulgarian stronghold at Prilapos, the Czar Samuel was so overwhemed by the sight that he suffered a stroke and died. It took another four years of moping up until the Byzantines finally pacified Bulgaria.

Bulgarians pay homage to Vasilios Source:



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