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MUZEUL DUNRII DE JOS - LOWER DANUBE MUSEUM

ORIENT I OCCIDENT
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EAST AND WEST

CULTUR I CIVILIZAIE LA DUNREA DE JOS

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CULTURE AND CIVILISATION AT LOWER DANUBE


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CLRAI, 2016
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ALEXANDRU MADGEARU1

DEFENDING THE PASSES IN THE HAEMUS MOUNTAINS.


FROM CLAUSURA TO KLEISOURA

Rezumat: Termenul clausura cu sensul de mic fortificaie care apr o


trectoare a fost semnalat prima oar n 443, fiind preluat n greac n forma
kleisoura ncepnd din secolul al VI-lea (n latina medieval a evoluat n clusa).
ncepnd din secolul al VII-lea, kleisoura a cptat i sensul de unitate militar care
apra trectorile. Ele erau comandate de kleisourarchi. Mai multe tratate de art
militar bizantine din secolele VI-X menioneaz termenul kleisoura i importana lor.

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n Munii Haemus (Stara Planina), prima meniune a termenului clisura apare n relatarea
lui Theophylact Simocatta despre rzboiul contra avarilor din 598 (pentru pasul ipka,
eventual Tryavna). n rzboaiele bizantino-bulgare din 759 i 811 au fost purtate btlii n
trectoarea Vrbitsa. Pasul Ri a fost fortificat n timpul atacului cumanilor din 1095, dar
vlahii i-au ajutat s-l ocoleasc. n trectoarea Tryavna, romnii i bulgarii au obinut o
victorie decisiv contra armatei bizantine n septembrie 1190. Modul n care erau blocate
trectorile este descris n unele izvoare latine i bizantine (baraje de lemn, uneori i turnuri
de lemn i pori). Cuvntul kleisoura a fost preluat n toate limbile balcanice, cu sensul de
trectoare, formnd toponime care exist i n prezent.
Keywords: clausura, kleisoura, Haemus Mountains, Byzantine Empire

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The word clausura with the meaning of small fortification which defends
a passageway was mentioned for the first time in an order given by emperor
Theodosius II in 443, which specified that one mission of the magister officiorum
was to provide every year a report about the state of the camps and of the clausurae
from each limes (super omni limite sub tua iurisdictione constituto, quemadmodum
se militum numerus habeat castrorumque ac clusurarum cura procedat)2. This
order was issued during the climax of the Hunnic attacks. In the war of 441-442,
the Huns almost succeeded to destroy the defensive system of the Danubian
provinces3. One such clausura on the Danubian limes was identified at Poreka
Reka in Dacia Ripensis (a wall long of 450 m connected with the quadriburgium
located at an important crossroad). This clausura was built at the beginning of the
1
E-mail: amadgearu@yahoo.com.
2
Codex Justinianus, I, 31, 4 (Corpus Iuris Civilis editio stereotypa quinta, recognovit P.
Krueger, Th. Mommsen, R. Schoell, vol. II, Berlin, 1888, p. 83).
3
A. Madgearu, Istoria militar a Daciei post-romane, 275-614, Trgovite, 2011, p. 125.

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4th century and it could be supposed that it was one of those concerned by the order
given in 4434.
Later on, in the sixth century, such clausurae were built not only on
the frontier, but also in the mountain gorges, according to a new strategy based
on defence in depth and on small forts located in the highlands, for instance in
Haemus. By Haemus we understand here only the mountain range called now Stara
Planina. Its most important passes are, from west to east: Pirot, Troyan (also called
Beklemeto), ipka, Tryavna, Vratnik, Kotel, Vrbitsa, and Ri. The first record of
the word clausura for one of these gorges from Stara Planina, the ipka Pass or
maybe Tryavna, is found in the History of Theophylact Simocatta. In 598, the
Roman army was retreating to the south along the Iatrus valley, but that gorge was
already occupied by the Avars, who were aware of its strategic importance. The
Byzantine historian wrote that this kind of fortification was called kleisora in
Latin. The clausura was not the gorge itself, but an artificial fortification (xur)
made inside the pass (dibasi). The Roman army was able to push the Avars and
to take control of this fortification5. There is no archaeological evidence for the
fortification that existed in the ipka (or Tryavna) gorge at the end of the 6th century,
but such monuments survived in other Haemus passes. The most impressive was
the gate or triumphal arch from Trayanova Vrata, built at the beginning of the 6th
century and destroyed in 582. A more simple clausura is that discovered in the
Kotel gorge (a wall long of 1400 m which blocked the access to the pass)6.
The Latin word clausura rendered in Greek as kleisora was used even
before Theopylact Simocatta by Procopius for a gorge in Caucasus. The meaning
was only topographic, but these kleisora could be provided with fortifications
(He [Justinian] fortified the mountain-passes of the country which they are wont
to call cleisurae, with the purpose, of course, that the enemy might be shut off
from the entrance into Lazica)7. Another instance from the work of Procopius

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4
C. Bjenaru, Minor Fortifications in the Balkan-Danubian Area from Diocletian to
Justinian (The Centre for Roman Military Studies, 8), Cluj-Napoca, 2010, p. 104-105.
5
Theophylact Simocatta, VII, 13-14 (Historiae, edidit C. de Boor, editionem correctiorem
curavit, explicationibusque recentioribus adornavit P. Wirth, Stuttgart, 1972, p. 271; Teofilact
Simocatta, Istorie bizantin. Domnia mparatului Mauricius (582-602), traducere de H.
Mihescu, Bucureti, 1985, p. 149; The History of Theophylact Simocatta. Translation by M.
Whitby, Oxford, 1986, p. 199); A. Madgearu, Istoria militar..., p. 221.
6
C. Bjenaru, Minor Fortifications, p. 144-145, 157.
7
Procopius, De bellis, II, 29.25-26 (History of the Wars, with an English translation by
H. B. Dewing, vol. I, London, 1914, p. 534/535); Procopius, De Aedificiis, III, 7. 5-6 (Buildings,
with an English translation by H. B. Dewing, London, 1940, p. 212/213-214/215); M. GrigoriouIoannidou, Oi vyzantins kleisores kai kleisourarches, Vyzantiak. Epistemonikon Organon
Hellenikes Historikes Hetaireias, Thessaloniki, 9, 1989, p. 181; J. Napoli, R. Rebuffat,
Clausurae, in La Frontire. Sminaire de recherche sous la direction dYves Roman (Maison de
lOrient et de la Mditerrane Jean Pouilloux, Travaux de la Maison de lOrient, 21), Paris, 1993,
p. 36.

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concerns the famous Thermopyle, where the natural defence was improved with
a wall that blocked the narrow pass, called kleisoura. The fortification itself was
named diate/xisma. The place was identified with the Dhema pass between
the mountains Oite and Kallidromos.8 Less known is the presence of the word
kleisora in the Strategikon of Maurikios, composed even before the work of
Theophylact Simocatta. The older edition of Haralambie Mihescu did not follow
in this point the Medici manuscript, but in the later edition of George T. Dennis
and Ernst Gamillscheg, a phrase about the advance in the enemy field contains this
word.9
In this way began the long history of the word kleisora in the Byzantine
Empire. In the Latin West, clausura evolved as clusa with the meaning of mountain
pass that could be closed and defended, but the form clausura survived too, for
instance in the relations about the fortified passes encountered by the crusaders in
the Balkans (see below). The noun clusa became the root of several place-names
like Clus or Chiusa, for instance in the French and Italian Alps. In the Frankish
kingdom (8th-9th centuries), the passage through some of these clusae was watched
by clusarii, tax collectors and guards.10
In the Byzantine Empire, the word kleisora acquired a new meaning
in the 7th century, when it was also applied to the military units which defended
the mountain passes, first in Asia Minor. Their commander was called
kleisouroflac or kleisourirxo11. In the European part of the empire,

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8
Procopius, De Aedificiis, IV, 2. 17 (ed. Dewing, p. 235/236). For this fortification
see T. Gregory, Kastron and Diateichisma as a response to early Byzantine frontier collapse,
Byzantion. Revue internationale des tudes byzantines, Bruxelles, 62, 1992, 1, p. 243-244;
W. Cherf, Procopius De aedificiis 4.2.122 on the Thermopylae Frontier, Byzantinische
Zeitschrift, Mnchen, 104, 2011, 1, p. 71-113.
9
Maurikios, Strategikon, IX. 3. 1 (Strategikon (Arta militar), ediie critic, traducere
i introducere de H. Mihescu, Bucureti, 1970, p. 230/231; Das Strategikon des Maurikios.
Einfhrung, Edition und Indices von G. T. Dennis, bersetzung von E. Gamillscheg, Wien, 1981,
p. 312/313; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantins..., p. 182.
10
G. Dept, Le mot Clusas dans les diplmes carolingiens, in Mlanges dhistoire offerts
Henri Pirenne par ses anciens lves et ses amis loccasion de sa quarantime anne
denseignement lUniversit de Gand 1886-1926, I, Bruxelles, 1926, p. 89-98; P. Duparc, Les
cluses et la frontire des Alpes, Bibliothque de lcole des Chartes, 109, 1951, 1, p. 5-31.
11
H. Ahrweiler, Recherches sur ladministration de lEmpire Byzantin aux IXe-XIe sicles,
Bulletin de Correspondance Hellnique, 84, 1960, p. 81-82; Eadem, La frontire et les frontires
de Byzance, in Actes du XIVe Congrs International des tudes Byzantines, 1, Bucarest, 1974,
p. 216-218; J. Ferluga, Le clisure bizantine in Asia Minore, Zbornik Radova Vizantolokog
Instituta, Belgrad, 16, 1975, 9-23; J. Haldon, H. Kennedy, The Arab-Byzantine Frontier in the
Eight and Ninth Centuries: Military Organisation and Society in the Borderlands, Zbornik
Radova Vizantolokog Instituta, Belgrad, 19, 1980, p. 85-86, 104-106; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou,
Oi vyzantins..., p. 188-190; R. J. Lilie, The Byzantine-Arab Borderland from the Seventh to the
Ninth Century, in F. Curta (ed.), Borders, Barriers, and Ethnogenesis. Frontiers in Late Antiquity
and the Middle Ages (Centre for Medieval Studies. University of York. Studies in the Early Middle

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the first such kleisoura was established in 688, on the valley of the Strymon
River in Macedonia, south of Melnik. It was an action taken after the defeat
suffered by the Byzantine army in a pass near Philippopolis, in the war against
the Proto-Bulgarians. From this kleisora evolved later the new province
(theme) Macedonia, extended between Nestos (Mesta) and Strymon (Struma)12.
By the middle of the 9th century, the kleisora as a military unit defended a
small frontier zone, not necessary in the mountains. Such new kleisorai
are attested at Mesembria and Sozopolis by the seals of their commanders, the
kleisourirxoi13. The function of kleisourirxo appears in the so-called
Taktikon Uspenskij, a list of functions dated around 812-813 according to the
most recent research of Tibor ivkovi. The function belonged to the commanders
of Charsianon in Cappadocia (Mualimkalesi) and Seleucia in Isauria (Silifke).
During the 9th century, the function of kleisourirxo was also mentioned in
the Kleitorogion of Philotheos (a writing about the ranks), dated to 899. In this
list, the function was the first among the spatharocandidates with military duties.
The function was also recorded in the later lists, Taktikon Beneevi (934-944) and
Taktikon Scorialensis (971-975)14.
Regardless this particular evolution, the mountain passes continued to
be called kleisourai, like in the military treatises composed under Nikephor
Phokas15 and under Emperor Basil II: the land of the Bulgarians, in which there
are rugged, wooded mountain passes (kleisorai) with very narrow roads16.

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Ages, 12), Brepols, Turnhout, 2005, p. 13-14.


12
Costantino Porfirogenito, De Thematibus, introduzione, testo critico, commento a
cura di A. Pertusi (Studi e Testi, 160), Vatican, 1952, p. 88 (XVII. 3); A. Stavridou-Zafraka, The
development of the theme organisation in Macedonia, in Byzantine Macedonia. Identity, Image
and History. Papers from the Melbourne Conference, July 1995, ed. by J. Burke and R. Scott
(Byzantina Australiensia, 13), Melbourne, 2000, p. 128129; B. Krsmanovi, The Byzantine
Province in Change (on the Threshold between the 10th and the 11th Century), Belgrade, Athens,
2008, p. 129; F. Curta, Barbarians in Dark-Age Greece: Slavs or Avars ?, in Civitas divino-humana.
In honorem annorum LX Georgii Bakalov, ed. Ts. Stepanov, V. Vachkova, Sofia, 2004, p. 526-527.
13
I. Jordanov, Corpus of the Byzantine Seals from Bulgaria, Vol. 1: Byzantine Seals with
Geographical Names, Sofia, 2003, p. 119-121, 159-160; Idem, Corpus of the Byzantine Seals from
Bulgaria, Vol. 3, Sofia, 2009, p. 454-455, 520.
14
N. Oikonomides, Les listes de prsance byzantines des IXe et Xe sicles. Introduction,
texte, traduction et commentaire, Paris, 1972, p. 54/55, 148/149, 250/251, 270/271, 342, 348,
350; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantins..., p. 193/197; T. ivkovi, Uspenskijs Taktikon and
the Theme of Dalmatia, Symmeikta. Ethnikon Idryma Ereynon. Kentron Vyzantinon Ereynon,
Athena, 17, 2005, p. 68-69.
15
Le trait sur la gurilla (De velitatione) de lempereur Nicphore Phocas (963-969).
Texte tabli par G. Dagron, H. Mihescu, traduction et commentaire par G. Dagron, Paris, 1986,
p. 125, 219; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantins..., p. 183.
16
Anonymous Book on Tactics, in Three Byzantine Military Treatises, Text, translation,
and notes by G. T. Dennis (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae. Series Washingtoniensis,
XXV), Washington DC, 1985, p. 288/289; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantins..., p. 184-185.

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From this phrase results that even without manmade fortifications, such passes
were considered kleisourai by the Byzantines. 7Besides this text composed by
the end of the 10th century, it is likewise significant a passage from a work written
around one hundred years later, by Michael Attaliates. Describing the mountain
called Zygos, which is Stara Planina, he remarks that it has many gorges called
kleisourai in the popular language17. The same common meaning of mountain
pass is found in the work of John Skylitzes for the Kleidion pass in Macedonia
between Melnik and Serres (called Rupel by the Bulgarians). The Greek name is a
diminutive from kle, key. That gorge was the place of the big victory of Basil
II against Samuel on 20 July 101418.
On the other hand, the Lexikon of Suidas (10th century) specified that
kleisora is the Latin name for the fortifications of the passes19. An example is
provided by the contemporary Constantine Porphyrogenitus. Writing about Salona,
he tells that here all the Romani would muster and be equipped and thence start
out and come to the frontier pass (kleisoran), which is four miles from this
same city, and is called Kleisa to this day, from its closing in those who pass that
way20. The name survives until now (Klis, a mountain pass and a medieval fortress
near Split). Therefore, the meaning was ambiguous. A kleisora was always a
mountain pass, but sometimes the word meant exactly a manmade fortified pass.
The word kleisora was mentioned in the context of some military events
occurred in Stara Planina. The first case is the kleisoura Veregava or Veregavon,
identified with Vrbitsa or Ri21, the gateway to Pliska in the ByzantineBulgarian wars of the 8th-9th centuries. In the battle of 759, the Bulgarian army
waited there and organized an ambush against the army of Constantine V. No
manmade fortifications are attested in this case. The pass was called kleisora

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17
Michael Attaliates (Miguel Ataliates), Historia, introduccion, edicion, traduccion y
comentario de I. Prez Martn, Madrid, 2002, p. 29.
18
Ioannes Scylitzes, Synopsis historiarum, recensuit I. Thurn (Corpus Fontium Historiae
Byzantinae. Series Berolinensis, V), Berlin, New York, 1973, p. 348, 350 (Jean Skylitzs,
Histoire des empereurs de Byzance, traduction franaise par B. Flusin, notes par J. C. Cheynet,
Paris, 2003, p. 291-292, 293; M. Gyni, Skylitzes et les Valaques, Revue dHistoire Compare,
25, 1947, n.s., tome 6, 2, p. 171; P. M. Strssle, Krieg und Kriegfhrung in Byzanz: die Kriege
Kaiser Basileios II. gegen die Bulgaren (976-1019), Kln, 2006, p. 182-183.
19
J. Napoli, R. Rebuffat, Clausurae..., p. 38; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantins...,
p. 188.
20
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio, c. 29 (Greek text edited
by Gy. Moravcsik. English translation by R. J. H. Jenkins, Washington, 1967, p. 123/124);
Constantin Porfirogenetul, Carte de nvtur pentru fiul su Romanos, traducere de V. Grecu,
Bucureti, 1971, p. 41-42.
21
V. Beevliev, Zwei Bemerkungen zur historischen Geographie Nordostbulgariens. 1. He
Kleisura Beregabon, Studia Balcanica, Sofia, 1. Recherches de gographie historique, 1970,
p. 69-75; Idem, Die Byzantinische Heerstrasse Adrianopel-Verigava, in Actes du XI Congrs
International des Sciences Onomastiques (Sofia, 28. VI.- 4. VII. 1972), 1, Sofia, 1974, p. 127.

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by Theophanes Confessor, but not also by Nikephor, who preferred the classical
mbolo (entrance) in the relation of the war of 766. In another war, in 763, the
Byzantine army was able to invade Bulgaria because the kleisorai were left
unguarded.22 The next battle fought in 811 by the Bulgarian army in a mountain
pass, that could be the same Vrbitsa, was something different, because the natural
fortification was improved by a wooden blockage. The word kleisora was not
mentioned in the relations about the battle, but the detailed description recorded in
the so-called Chronicle of the year 811 shows that the passage was blocked (the
Bulgarians made a deep ditch in front of a high wood structure).23 The experience
of this defeat was certainly known to emperor Leo VI, who wrote in his treatise of
art of war that the kleisorai must be occupied first by an advanced detachment,
to forbid that these narrow places will be taken by the enemy24. Similar advices
were given by Kekaumenos, who recalled in this respect the victory won in 1042
in the Trebinje gorge by the Serbian zupan Stephen Vojslav against the duke of
the Dyrrachion theme25. In 971, the emperor John Tzimiskes was informed by
scouts that the Russians who occupied Bulgaria left unguarded the difficult and
narrow paths leading to Mysia called kleisorai. So, the Byzantine army was
able reach Preslav without resistance26. It is possible that this operation was in the
mind of the anonymous strategist who wrote some decades later about marching a
kleisora which is not defended by the enemy.27
In 1095, the Cumans attacked then Byzantine Empire. Anna Comnena
wrote how some Vlachs helped the invaders to find the way through the gorges
(kleisorai) in the Zygos mountains (Stara Planina), before they arrived to
Goloe (the present-day Lozarevo). Following the order of the emperor Alexios

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22
Theophanes, Chronographia, recensuit C. De Boor, Leipzig, 1883, p. 431, 436 (The
Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor. Byzantine and Near Eastern History, AD 284-813, translated
with introduction and commentary by C. Mango and R. Scott, Oxford, 1997, p. 596, 603);
Nikephoros Patriarch of Constantinople Short History. Text, Translation, and Commentary by C.
Mango, Washington DC, 1990, p. 156/157 (c. 82).
23
P. Sophoulis, Byzantium and Bulgaria, 775-831 (East Central and Eastern Europe in the
Middle Ages, 450-1450, vol. 16), Leiden, Boston, 2011, p. 209-216.
24
The Taktika of Leo VI. Text, Translation and Commentary by G. T. Dennis (Corpus
Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, Series Washingtoniensis, XLIX), Washington DC, 2010,
p.162/163 (IX. 27); M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantins..., p. 182.
25
Cecaumeno, Raccomandazioni e consigli di un galantuomo (Strategikon). Testo critico,
traduzione e note di M. D. Spadaro (Hellenica. Testi e Strumenti di letteratura greca antica,
medievale e umanistica, 2), Alexandria, 1998, p. 104/105 (c. 71); T. Wasilewski, Stefan Vojislav
de Zahumlje, Stefan Dobroslav de Zta et Byzance au milieu du XIe sicle, Zbornik Radova
Vizantolokog Instituta, Belgrad, 13, 1971, p. 113.
26
The History of Leo the Deacon: Byzantine Military Expansion in the Tenth Century,
Introduction, translation, and annotations by A. M. Talbot and D. Sullivan, Washington DC,
2005, p. 177 (VIII. 2.
27
Anonymous Book on Tactics, p. 292/293-302/303.

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I Comnenos, these kleisorai were inspected and strengthened to prevent the
invasion28. These Vlachs were those who had the mission to defend the Ri pass
(whose medieval name was Sidera), but they betrayed. They were included in
the military unit called kleisoura. After that attack became clear that blocking the
passes was essential for the security of the ways going to Constantinople. When
the Romanian and Bulgarian rebels took the control over these passes in 1186,
this enabled them to liberate their country. A major victory that contributed to this
was the ambush organized in the Tryavna gorge in September 1190 (described by
Niketas Choniates). The Byzantine army was in march from Trnovo to Beroe
(Stara Zagora)29.
Other sources are showing how the mountain passes were blocked with
stones and wood beams when an attack was expected. This happened for instance
in the Pirot pass in August 1189, when the crusaders fought a battle there against
the Byzantine troops30. A brief description of the way how a kleisoura was
defended by the Byzantine army was provided by Ansbertus, a chronicler of the
third Crusade. When the crusaders, in the journey from Ni to Constantinople,
reached the so-called clausura Sancti Basilii, this place was prepared to resist. The
gate was provided with crenels for defence, and the fortification was improved
with mobile wood towers (belfreys) for archery attacks (antiquas clausuras
sancti Basilii in berfredis et propugnaculis renovando). Usually these towers
were offensive devices of the attackers, but in this case they were needed in order
to compensate the small number of the defenders. However, the crusaders were
able to destroy by fire the wood towers31. The clausura or porta Sancti Basilii

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28
Anna Comnena, Alexiad, X, 2.3; 3.1 (Alexiade. Regne de lempereur Alexis I Comnene,
1081-1118, par Anne Comnene. Texte etabli et traduit par B. Leib, Paris, 1943, tome II, p. 191;
Alexiada, trad. M. Marinescu, Bucureti, 1977, vol. II, p. 71, 72); M. Gyni, La premire mention
historique des Vlaques des Monts Balkans, Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae,
1, 1952, 3-4, p. 496-503.
29
Niketas Choniates, Isaac Angelos, III (Nicetae Choniatae Historia, recensuit I. A. van
Dieten, Berlin, New York, 1975, p. 429-430; O city of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniates.
Translated by H. J. Magoulias, Detroit, 1984, p. 236-237); G. Cankova-Petkova, Au sujet de la
campagne dIsaac Ange contre la capitale bulgare (1190), Byzantinobulgarica, 7, 1981, p. 181185; R. Kostova, Battle of Tryavna Pass, in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and
Military Technology, editor in chief C. J. Rogers, Oxford, New York, 2010, III, p. 379-380.
30
Ansbertus, Historia de expeditione Friderici imperatoris, ed. A. Chroust, in Monumenta
Germaniae Historica. Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, Nova Series, tomus V, Berlin, 1928,
p. 35; Historia peregrinorum, ibidem, p. 136-138; E. Johnson, The Crusades of Frederick
Barbarossa and Henry VI, in A History of the Crusades, ed. by K. M. Setton, Madison, London,
vol. II, 1969, p. 100-101; B. Primov, The Third and Fourth Crusades and Bulgaria, tudes
Historiques, Sofia, 7, 1975, p. 49; V. Gjuzelev, Federico Barbarossa nei paesi bulgari, in Il
Barbarossa e i suoi alleati liguri-piemontesi. Atti del Convegno Storico Internazionale a cura di
G. C. Bergaglio, Gavi, 1987, p. 118.
31
Ansbertus, p. 37. For the meanings of the words befredus and propugnaculum and for
the description of these devices, see Ch. Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis (...).

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is the same with Trayanova vrata, a fortification on the road between Sofia and
Philippopolis, near Stipon, present-day Ihtiman (not to be confounded with the
Troyan pass south of Love). Although does not belong to Stara Planina, this place
is worth to be mentioned here because the relation of Ansbertus illustrates how a
mountain pass could be defended. The fortifications from Ihtiman are of Roman
origin, built in the second half of the fourth century32. Tsar Samuel won a great
victory against Basil II in 17th August 986 in that place, in an ambush which used
the advantages given by the mountain pass33.
In 1256, the offensive of the Byzantine army against the Bulgarian rebels in
Melnik reached the Rupel pass. The emperor Theodore II Laskaris had learned
that the rough terrain of Roupel, along which the Strymon flows and which is
hemmed in by two mountains so that a wagon can barely get through, while the
river makes the passageway even narrower (the ordinary people call such places
defiles (kleisora) was guarded by a Bulgarian army of few horsemen but
many foot-soldiers. The Bulgarians also constructed gates in these defiles, secured
by levers and bars, so that they were impregnable because of the difficult nature
of the terrain, the measures they had taken, and the remaining fortification. When
the emperor learned that this was the case he went to the area with speed and
found things there just as he had expected. He therefore detached from the troops
an infantry contingent of reasonable size, ordering it to march on the mountain
above the Bulgarians, so that they might strike from above the Bulgarians who
were low down. They did what they were ordered to do quickly; the mountain was
overgrown with trees but was passable to the infantrymen. The emperor ordered
the cavalry to join battle directly in front of the gates. When the Bulgarians saw
them shooting arrows from the mountains above and in control of a close battle
directly in front of them, and realized that they were in great difficulties, they
turned to fight and the emperors army followed them. Many men were put to the
sword there; others escaped to the Bulgarian army and brought them the news
of the emperors actions and all they had suffered.34 This relation is the best

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Editio nova aucta pluribus verbis aliorum scriptorum a Leopold Favre, Niort, 1883-1887, vol. II,
p. 619-620; VI, p. 536.
32
C. Jireek, Die Heerstrasse von Belgrad nach Constantinopel und die Balkanpsse.
Ein historische-geographische Studie, Praga, 1877, p. 31-33, 92-93; I. Dujev, propos de
lacte patriarcal de 1155, Revue des tudes Byzantines, 25, 1967, p. 62-63; P. Soustal, Tabula
Imperii Byzantini, Band 6. Thrakien (Thrake, Rodope und Haimimontos) (sterreichische
Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Denkschriften, 221), Wien,
1991, p. 190; C. Bjenaru, Minor Fortifications, p. 144-145.
33 The History of Leo the Deacon, p. 214-215 (X. 8); P. Stephenson, The Legend of Basil
the Bulgar-Slayer, Cambridge, 2003, p. 14; P. M. Strssle, Krieg, p. 108-109.
34
Georgios Akropolites, Historia, c. 58 (Opera, recensuit A. Heisenberg, vol. I, Leipzig,
1903, p. 116; George Akropolites, The History. Introduction, translation and commentary by R.
Macrides, Oxford, 2007, p. 289).

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description of a battle fought in a kleisoura (it was the place of the battle of 1014).
The expansion of the Romanian-Bulgarian state established by the Asan
brothers over a large area in the Balkan Peninsula led to assimilation of some
Byzantine institutions and administrative elements, among whom the kleisoura. In
the charter bestowed to the city of Ragusa in 1230 by tsar John Asan II, a klisura
was a distinct territory, but it is not clear the meaning of the word in this context.
Like the towns, they were mentioned as places for free trade. Unfortunately, no
such klisura was mentioned with its name in the document, which is in fact the
single one that has recorded the Bulgarian klisura as a kind a small territory35.
From the Byzantine Greek language, the word kleisoura was borrowed by all
the Balkan peoples, Bulgarians, Serbs and Romanians, becoming the root of several
place-names Klisura in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia (for instance, a
village located south of the slopes of Stara Planina on the way to Troyan pass,
another one near Blagoevgrad, or that one from Macedonia, near Demir Kapija).
The monastery Klisura founded in 1240 is located between Pirot and Vratsa.
One of the most important settlements peopled by the Vlachs (Aromanians) is
Vlahoklisura, east of Kastoria, founded in the 15th century36. It is located near a
pass with strategic value. The name of the small town Klcyr in southern Albania
comes from Kleisura (recorded as Clausura in 1327 and as Qlisura in an Ottoman
tax register of 1432). The nearby mountain pass is still called Klisura37. The long
gorge of the Danube upstream of the Iron Gates is called Klisura, with a name of
medieval Serbian origin that was given after the expansion of the Serbian state
in this area occurred in 1291. This is the most known klisura, although it has no
relation with the original meaning of the word. In the ancient times, this part of the
Danube stream was called Katarkta38.

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35
V. Obreshkov, Administrative Territorial Division of Medieval Bulgaria in the 13th-14th
Century, tudes Balkaniques, Sofia, 37, 2001, 4, p. 114-115; K. Petkov, The Voices of Medieval
Bulgaria, Seventh-Fifteenth Century. The Records of a Bygone Culture (East Central and Eastern
Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450, vol. 5), Leiden, Boston, 2008, p. 483; I. Biliarsky, La Terra
Albanese nel sistema amministrativo bulgaro, in Vocaia istoriei. Prinos profesorului erban
Papacostea, volum ngrijit de O. Cristea, Gh. Lazr, Brila, 2008, p. 263-264; Idem, Word and
Power in Mediaeval Bulgaria (East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450, vol.
14), Leiden, Boston, 2011, p. 359.
36
G. Tsras, He Kleisora sta 1849, Makedonika. Syngramma periodikon tes Hetaireias
Makedonikon Spudon, Thessaloniki, 18, 1978, p. 220.
37
P. Soustal, J. Koder, Tabula Imperii Byzantini, Band 3. Nikopolis und Kephallenia
(sterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Denkschriften,
150), Wien, 1981, p. 76, 182; G. Karaiskaj, Die Burg Kelcyra (Kleisura) in Albanien, in IXe
Congrs International dtudes Sud-Est Europennes. Rsums, Tirana, 2004, p. 190.
38
Theophylact Simocatta, VIII, 5.5 (ed. de Boor, Wirth, p. 292; trad. Mihescu, p. 162;
transl. Whitby, p. 216); A. Madgearu, Istoria militar, p. 222-223.

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