Ivaylo of Bulgaria

Ivaylo (died 1281), also spelled Ivailo (Bulgarian: Ивайло), was a rebel leader who ruled briefly as tsar of Bulgaria.[1] In 1277, he spearheaded a peasant uprising and forced the Bulgarian nobility to accept him as emperor. He reigned as emperor from 1278 to 1279, scoring victories against the Byzantines and the Mongols. Beset by foreign and domestic enemies, which included the Bulgarian nobles, he was eventually forced into exile among the Mongols, where he presented himself as a dethroned vassal. The Mongols then killed him in 1281 as an enemy of the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus.[2]

6570 Ivaylovgrad, Bulgaria - panoramio (5).jpg
Statue of Ivaylo
Tsar of Bulgaria
PredecessorConstantine Tikh Asen
SuccessorIvan Asen III
SpouseMaria Palaiologina Kantakouzena

Ivaylo's career as a monarch has been used as an example of early anti-feudal class warfare by Marxist historians and has been translated through folk songs, traditions and legends. He served as an inspiration to Bulgarian guerrilla (hajduk) freedom fighters during the Ottoman period.[3] He was nicknamed Bardokva ("radish" or "lettuce" in Bulgarian) and Lakhanas (Λαχανᾶς, "cabbage") in Greek.

Rise to powerEdit

Uprising of Ivaylo

According to some sources, Ivaylo began his life living humbly and herded swine for payment. Other sources indicate he was a peasant farmer with no land of his own. He allegedly saw visions of himself grounded in the medieval Christian tradition,[4] accomplishing great deeds and ridding Bulgaria of its troubles, including above all the frequent incursions by the Mongols of the Golden Horde under Nogai Khan. By 1277, Ivaylo had put his words into actions, and had acquired leadership of an army composed largely of discontented peasants. Among his close associates and military commanders was Hranislav, who later entered Byzantine service after being captured. An attempt to subdue Ivaylo by the Bulgarian monarch Constantine I ended in utter failure, and Ivaylo is credited with killing the tsar in his chariot himself.


Although Ivaylo was able to extend his authority across much of the country at the helm of his peasant army, he also met with resistance, and the capital Tarnovo remained under the control of the emperor Michael Asen II and his mother Maria Kantakouzena, which made him need to besiege it and conquer it militarily in 1279.[5] Despite his victory against the Mongols in the north, Ivaylo pursued a more conciliatory vassal status when it came to policy-making with the Mongol khaganate.[2]

Ivaylo's successes troubled the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, who at first decided to neutralize the potential danger by seeking an alliance with Ivaylo and to offer him his daughter as wife. Later Michael VIII changed his plan, married his eldest daughter Eirene to Ivan Asen III, a descendant of Bulgaria's ruling dynasty living at the Byzantine court, and dispatched troops to place him on the throne.

This caused an alliance between Ivaylo and Maria Kantakouzena, and Ivaylo married the widowed empress and was recognized as Bulgarian emperor in 1278, without deposing or disinheriting her minor son Michael Asen III.[6] He led a successful defense of the Balkan passes against the Byzantine campaigns to assert Ivan Asen III. Ivaylo had met with success against casual Mongol raids, but a major Mongol army blockaded him in the fortress of Drastar (Silistra) on the Danube for three months in 1279. A rumor of Ivaylo's death caused panic in Tarnovo, where the nobility surrendered to a new Byzantine army and accepted Ivan Asen III as emperor. Ivan Asen III was enthroned, while Maria Kantakouzena and Michael Asen II were sent into exile in Byzantium.

Shortly after this, still in 1279, Ivaylo suddenly appeared before Tarnovo with an army, but failed to take the well-fortified city. He nevertheless defeated a larger Byzantine relief force in the Battle of Devina and another numbering 5,000 in the Balkan passes.[7] Despairing of relief, Ivan Asen III fled Tarnovo in 1280, while his brother-in-law George Terter I seized the throne. The new ruler temporarily united the factious aristocracy, and Ivaylo gradually lost support. In 1280 or 1281, he traveled to the Mongol chieftain Nogai Khan, accepting his overlordship and seeking his support to recover his throne. Nogai was simultaneously approached by Ivaylo's rival Ivan Asen III, who was seeking his own restoration. Eventually Nogai had Ivaylo murdered, preferring the claim of Ivan Asen III, who was his brother-in-law (both Nogai and Ivan Asen III were married to daughters of Michael VIII of the Byzantine Empire).[8]


Ivaylo's rebellion has been hailed as the first great peasant revolt in European history by Marxist historians. Others might argue that while the troubled social conditions in the 1270s certainly contributed to the revolt, Ivaylo's rise to power may be more closely comparable to a nationalist reaction such as that led (albeit with religion as a strong inspiration) by Joan of Arc.[citation needed] Like other charismatic leaders, Ivaylo lived on in the popular imagination and there were pseudo-Ivaylos who appeared (mostly on Byzantine territory) in the late 13th century and early 14th century.

Ivaylo Cove on Snow Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica, is named after Ivaylo.[9]


By his marriage to Maria Kantakouzena, Ivaylo had one daughter, who is unnamed in the sources. She was not yet born in 1279, when her pregnant mother was captured by the Byzantines and exiled to Constantinople.

In popular cultureEdit

The real-time strategy video game Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition contains a five-chapter campaign titled "Ivaylo", starting with his uprising and murder of Constantine I, and concluding with Ivaylo's exile to the Mongols under Nogai Khan, where he eventually met his end.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Britannica". Archived from the original on 4 February 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b Jordan 1999, pp. 68–69.
  3. ^ Jordan 1999, pp. 45–50.
  4. ^ Jordan 1999, pp. 54–60.
  5. ^ "HTH article". Archived from the original on 9 August 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
  6. ^ Jordan 1999, p. 65.
  7. ^ "Ovech castle". Archived from the original on 18 July 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
  8. ^ "Inquire article". Retrieved 25 July 2014.
  9. ^ "Ivaylo cove". Retrieved 25 July 2014.


  • John V. A. Fine, Jr., The Late Medieval Balkans, Ann Arbor, 1987.
  • Jordan, Andrej (1999), History of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom - A Lecture Course, Veliko Tarnovo

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Constantine I and Michael Asen II
Tsar of Bulgaria
Succeeded by
Ivan Asen III