This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.

Symeon of Bulgaria wins the Battle of Acheloos, 917

Theophanes Continuatus, ed. Bekker, pp. 388-90. (Cf. Symeon Logothete, ed. Bekker, pp. 881-3.)


Reign of Constantine, son of Leo


10. [p. 388] Aware of the devastation ( eparsis ) of Symeon, and his attack ( epithesis ) against the Christians ( Christianoi ) 1 , the Empress Zoe determined in council to effect an exchange of prisoners and a peace treaty with the Agarenes, and to transfer the whole Anatolian army to make war on and destroy Symeon. The patrikios John Rodinos and Michael Toxaras, therefore, set out for Syria to arrange the prisoner exchange. And having made the customary cash payments to the tagmata , both conscripted forces and the thematic armies were transported to Thrace. The magistros Leo Phokas was Domestic of the Schools; he was a man more renowned for his bravery than for his knowledge of generalship. Then the venerable and life-giving cross was led out to Thrace by [p. 389] Constantine Kephalas, protopapas of the palace, and Constantine Balelias, where everyone bowed before it and and swore together to die for each other, and they set forth in full array against the Bulgarians. The tagma of the Exkoubitoi was commanded by John Grapson, the tagma of the Hikanatoi by Maroules’ son. Romanos Argyros was a general, as was his brother Leo and Bardas Phokas, with whom went Melias with the Armenians and all the other generals ( strategoi ) of the themata . In addition to the others, the patrikios Constantine Lips accompanied the Domestic Leo, to whom he was counsellor in all matters. A
        map of Bulgaria in the tenth century


On 20 August, in the fifth indiction [AD 917], the battle between the Romans and Bulgarians was fought by the river Acheloos. 2 And because the judgments of God are unfathomable and inscrutable, the Romans were completely routed. Their headlong flight was punctutated by fearful cries as some men were trampled by comrades and others were killed by the enemy; there was such a letting of blood as had not happened for very many years. Leo [Phokas] was saved by fleeing to Mesembria, 3 but in the thick of the battle Constantine Lips, John Grapson and many other commanders ( archontes ) were cut down. Romanos [Lekapenos], patrikios and admiral ( drungarios ) of the fleet had set out with the whole fleet to the Danube to support Leo Phokas, since, as already stated [at p. 387], John Bogas had been sent to bring the Pechenegs [to the Danube]. [p. 390] Admiral Romanos had been ordered to ferry them across to fight as Leo Phokas’ allies against the Bulgarians, but Romanos and John were at loggerheads, and observing their disputes and lack of agreement the Pechenegs withdrew to their own lands. So, when they, Romanos and Bogas, returned to the city [of Constantinople] in after the battle, the outcome was blamed on them. Romanos was even under threat of being condemned to be blinded on account of his carelessness, or rather his wickedness, in failing to ferry the Pechenegs across [the Danube], withdrawing prematurely, and failing even to gather the fleeing Romans on his ships. And he would have suffered this fate had the judgment not been prevented by the patrikios Constantine Gongylos and the magistros Stephen, who had great influence with the empress. The Bulgarians were so inspired by the victory that they invaded as far as the City. Leo, the Domestic of the Schools, John the hetaireiarches and Nicholas the son of Doukas went out to a village in Thrace called Katasurtas, taking a very large force against the Bulgarians. At night the Bulgarians launched a surprise attack on them, and the Domestic fled, but Nicholas the son of Doukas was killed alongside many others.



1 The choice of words in this sentence leaves it open to an alternative, more complicated, and therefore less likely interpretation: it may translated to indicate that Symeon had been raised above his station ( eparsis ), by his 'coronation' in 913, and with his pride thus inflated, he had determined to claim authority over ( epithesis ) not only Bulgarians, but also Byzantines (since Christianoi   refers only to Romaioi , i.e. Byzantines, and not the Christian Boulgaroi ). Evidence for such an ambition may be seen on certain of Symeon’s seals, where he claims to be “Emperor of the Bulgarians and Romans.”   Recent research suggests that Symeon only made such claims after 920, but this would not stop Theophanes Continuatus using this anachronistically as justification for an unprovoked Byzantine attack on fellow Christians.

2 This is almost certainly Anchialos, modern Pomorie on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast.

3 Modern Nesebar, just north of Pomorie


Paul Stephenson
28 October 1998

Revised January 2012