Constantine I Asen - Tsar: 1257-1277 A.D.
Bronze 23mm (1.84 grams) Struck circa 1257-1277 A.D.
Reference: Angel Radishev & Gospodin Zhekov, Catalog of Bulgarian Medieval
Coins, p 76
Constantine Asen seated on throne facing, holding labarum and scepter.
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Constantine I (Bulgarian:
Константин I, Konstantin I, called
Константин Тих, Konstantin Tih (Tikh), which includes the shortened form
of the name of his father as a patronymic), ruled as emperor (tsar)
Bulgaria from 1257 to 1277.
Constantine I was the son of a nobleman from Skopie, named Tihomir (Tih)
and his maternal grandfather was
In 1257, Constantine was elected by the nobles (boyars) to replace the
Mitso Asen as emperor of Bulgaria. By 1261
Mitso Asen was decisively defeated, and sought
Michael VIII Palaiologos, the emperor of
Nicaea. To enhance his position as legitimate
ruler, Constantine adopted the name Asen and married
Irene of Nicaea, a daughter of emperor
Theodore II Doukas Laskaris by
Elena of Bulgaria, the daughter of
Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria.
From 1259 to 1261 Constantine was also engaged in a war against
Béla IV of Hungary. An initial Hungarian
incursion in 1259 resulted in Constantine's ephemeral reconquest of the banate
of Severin in 1260. Under the leadership of the future king
Stephen V of Hungary, the Hungarians recovered
Severin and captured Bulgarian
Lom in 1261. The Bulgarians recovered their
losses under the leadership of the Russian prince
Yakov Svetoslav, who was invested with
practically autonomous possession of Vidin and maintained contacts with both
Bulgaria and the
Kingdom of Hungary.
The deposition and blinding of the minor Nicaean emperor
John IV Doukas Laskaris by
Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261 pitted
Constantine, as the brother-in-law of the deposed emperor, against Michael VIII.
In 1264 Constantine participated in a
Mongol raid into Byzantine territory, but his
success did nothing to improve Bulgaria's position.
After the death of
Irene in 1268, Constantine sought a
reconciliation with Michael VIII by marrying his niece,
Maria Kantakouzene in 1269. However, quarrels
over the surrender of
Maria's promised dowry, Mesembria (Nesebăr),
soured the improved relationship. The Bulgarian government entered into an
alliance with King
Charles I of Sicily who was planning a campaign
against Michael VIII with the object of restoring the
Latin Empire. Michael VIII struck back, by
marrying his illegitimate daughter Euphrosyne to
Nogai Khan of the
Golden Horde, who pillaged Bulgaria as a
Byzantine ally in 1274. Michael VIII's attempt at church union with
Rome at the
Second Council of Lyons in the same year
exacerbated the conflict between Bulgaria and the
Byzantine Empire, as the Bulgarian empress and
her mother were among that part of the Byzantine aristocracy, that was most
opposed to the union.
In the last years of his reign, Constantine I was partly paralyzed from a
fall off his horse and suffered from unspecified ailments. The government was
firmly in the hands of
Maria Kantakouzene, who crowned their son
Michael Asen II co-emperor soon after his birth, in about 1272.
Maria presided over relations with the
Byzantine Empire in the 1270s, and engineered first the submission and then the
murder (by poison) of the despotēs
Yakov Svetoslav of
Vidin in 1276.
Due to the expensive and unsuccessful wars, repeated Mongol raids, and
economic instability (Constantine was the first Bulgarian ruler to mint his own
coins on a vast scale), the government was faced with a
revolt in 1277. The social and economic aspects
of this movement have been stressed by Marxist historians, but its true
character is elusive. What is clear is that a swineherd or swine-owner named
Ivaylo became a leader of the discontented and
attracted many (presumably mostly lower-class) followers, asserting his control
over a significant area. Constantine set out against
Ivaylo with his guard, but was decisively
defeated and slain in his chariot.
Constantine I was married three times. The names of his first wife and
children are unknown. By his second wife,
Irene of Nicaea, Constantine had no children.
By his third wife,
Maria Kantakouzene, he had:
Michael Asen II of Bulgaria, who succeeded
as emperor of Bulgaria 1277–1279.