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Rezumat: Termenul clausura cu sensul de „mică fortificaţie care apără o

trecătoare” a fost semnalat prima oară în 443, fiind preluat în greacă în forma

kleisoura începând din secolul al VI-lea (în latina medievală a evoluat în clusa).

Începând din secolul al VII-lea, kleisoura a căpătat şi sensul de unitate militară care

apăra trecătorile. Ele erau comandate de kleisourarchi. Mai multe tratate de artă

militară bizantine din secolele VI-X menţionează termenul kleisoura şi importanţa lor.

În Munţii Haemus (Stara Planina), prima menţiune a termenului clisura apare în relatarea

lui Theophylact Simocatta despre războiul contra avarilor din 598 (pentru pasul Šipka,

eventual Tryavna). În războaiele bizantino-bulgare din 759 şi 811 au fost purtate bătălii în

trecătoarea Vărbitsa. Pasul Riš a fost fortificat în timpul atacului cumanilor din 1095, dar

vlahii i-au ajutat să-l ocolească. În trecătoarea Tryavna, românii şi bulgarii au obţinut o

victorie decisivă contra armatei bizantine în septembrie 1190. Modul în care erau blocate

trecătorile este descris în unele izvoare latine şi bizantine (baraje de lemn, uneori şi turnuri

de lemn şi porţi). Cuvântul kleisoura a fost preluat în toate limbile balcanice, cu sensul de

„trecătoare”, formând toponime care există şi în prezent.

Keywords: clausura, kleisoura, Haemus Mountains, Byzantine Empire

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

provinces . One such clausura on the Danubian limes was identified at Porečka

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:

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 militară a Daciei post-romane, 275-614, Târgovişte, 2011, p. 125.



4 th century and it could be supposed that it was one of those concerned by the order

given in 443 4 .

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), Šipka, Tryavna, Vratnik, Kotel, Vărbitsa, and Riš. The first record of

the word clausura for one of these gorges from Stara Planina, the Šipka 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 kleisoûra in

Latin. The clausura was not the gorge itself, but an artificial fortification (™xuróߑß)

made inside the pass (diábasiß). The Roman army was able to push the Avars and

to take control of this fortification . There is no archaeological evidence for the

fortification that existed in the Šipka (or Tryavna) gorge at the end of the 6 th 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 6 th

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 kleisoûra was used even

before Theopylact Simocatta by Procopius for a gorge in Caucasus. The meaning

was only topographic, but these kleisoûraß 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”) . Another instance from the work of Procopius

4 C. Băjenaru, 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 bizantină. Domnia împaratului Mauricius (582-602), traducere de H.

Mihăescu, Bucureşti, 1985, p. 149; The History of Theophylact Simocatta. Translation by M.

Whitby, Oxford, 1986, p. 199); A. Madgearu, Istoria militară

, p. 221.


C. Băjenaru, Minor Fortifications…, p. 144-145, 157.


Procopius, De bellis, II, 29.25-26 (History of the Wars, with an English translation by


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. Grigoriou-

Ioannidou, Oi vyzantinés kleisoúres kai kleisourarchíes, “Vyzantiaká. Epistemonikon Organon

Hellenikes Historikes Hetaireias”, Thessaloniki, 9, 1989, p. 181; J. Napoli, R. Rebuffat,

Clausurae, in La Frontière. Séminaire de recherche sous la direction d’Yves Roman (Maison de

l’Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux, Travaux de la Maison de l’Orient, 21), Paris, 1993,

p. 36.


zece 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/íxisma . The place was identified with the Dhema pass between

8 Less known is the presence of the word

the mountains Oite and Kallidromos.

kleisoûra in the Strategikon of Maurikios, composed even before the work of

Theophylact Simocatta. The older edition of Haralambie Mihăescu 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 kleisoûra 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

centuries), the passage through some of these clusae was watched

by clusarii, tax collectors and guards.

In the Byzantine Empire, the word kleisoûra acquired a new meaning

century, when it was also applied to the military units which defended

kingdom (8 th -9 th


in the 7


the mountain passes, first in Asia Minor. Their commander was called

kleisourofúlac or kleisouriárxoß

11 . In the European part of the empire,

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 études byzantines”, Bruxelles, 62, 1992, 1, p. 243-244;

W. Cherf, Procopius De aedificiis 4.2.1–22 on the Thermopylae Frontier, „Byzantinische

Zeitschrift”, München, 104, 2011, 1, p. 71-113.

9 Maurikios, Strategikon, IX. 3. 1 (Strategikon (Arta militară), ediţie critică, traducere

şi introducere de H. Mihăescu, Bucureşti, 1970, p. 230/231; Das Strategikon des Maurikios.

Einführung, Edition und Indices von G. T. Dennis, Übersetzung von E. Gamillscheg, Wien, 1981,

p. 312/313; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantinés

, p. 182.

10 G. Dept, Le mot Clusas dans les diplômes carolingiens, in Mélanges d’histoire offerts

à Henri Pirenne par ses anciens élèves et ses amis à l’occasion de sa quarantième année

d’enseignement à l’Université de Gand 1886-1926 , I, Bruxelles, 1926, p. 89-98; P. Duparc, Les

cluses et la frontière des Alpes, „Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes”, 109, 1951, 1, p. 5-31.

11 H. Ahrweiler, Recherches sur l’administration de l’Empire Byzantin aux IXe-XIe siècles,

“Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique”, 84, 1960, p. 81-82; Eadem, La frontière et les frontières

de Byzance, in Actes du XIVe Congrès International des Études Byzantines, 1, Bucarest, 1974,

p. 216-218; J. Ferluga, Le clisure bizantine in Asia Minore, “Zbornik Radova Vizantološkog

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 Vizantološkog Instituta”, Belgrad, 19, 1980, p. 85-86, 104-106; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou,

p. 188-190; R. J. Lilie, The Byzantine-Arab Borderland from the Seventh to the

Oi vyzantinés

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




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 kleisoûra evolved later the new province

(theme) Macedonia, extended between Nestos (Mesta) and Strymon (Struma) 12 .

century, the kleisoûra as a military unit defended a

By the middle of the 9

small frontier zone, not necessary in the mountains. Such new kleisoûrai

are attested at Mesembria and Sozopolis by the seals of their commanders, the


kleisouriárxoi . The function of kleisouriárxoß appears in the so-called

Taktikon Uspenskij, a list of functions dated around 812-813 according to the

most recent research of Tibor Živković. The function belonged to the commanders

of Charsianon in Cappadocia (Muşalimkalesi) and Seleucia in Isauria (Silifke).

century, the function of kleisouriárxoß 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 Benešević (934-944) and

Taktikon Scorialensis (971-975)

Regardless this particular evolution, the mountain passes continued to

be called kleisourai, like in the military treatises composed under Nikephor

15 and under Emperor Basil II: “the land of the Bulgarians, in which there

are rugged, wooded mountain passes (kleisoûrai ) with very narrow roads” 16 .


During the 9





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. 128–129; B. Krsmanović, The Byzantine

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.

Province in Change (on the Threshold between the 10

th and the 11 th

14 N. Oikonomides, Les listes de préséance byzantines des IXe et Xe siècles. Introduction,

texte, traduction et commentaire, Paris, 1972, p. 54/55, 148/149, 250/251, 270/271, 342, 348,

350; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantinés

the Theme of Dalmatia, „Symmeikta. Ethnikon Idryma Ereynon. Kentron Vyzantinon Ereynon”,

Athena, 17, 2005, p. 68-69.

15 Le traité sur la guérilla (De velitatione) de l’empereur Nicéphore Phocas (963-969).

Texte établi par G. Dagron, H. Mihăescu, traduction et commentaire par G. Dagron, Paris, 1986,

p. 125, 219; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantinés


p. 193/197; T. Živković, Uspenskij’s Taktikon and

, 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 vyzantinés

, p. 184-185.



From this phrase results that even without manmade fortifications, such passes

were considered kleisourai by the Byzantines. 7Besides this text composed by

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

17 . The same common meaning of “mountain

pass” is found in the work of John Skylitzes for the Kleidion pass in Macedonia

kleisourai in the popular language”

the end of the 10


between Melnik and Serres (called Rupel by the Bulgarians). The Greek name is a

diminutive from kleíß, “key”. That gorge was the place of the big victory of Basil

II against Samuel on 20 July 1014

century) specified that

kleisoûra is the Latin name for the fortifications of the passes

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 (kleisoûran), which is four miles from this

same city, and is called Kleisa to this day, from its closing in those who pass that

way” 20 . The name survives until now (Klis, a mountain pass and a medieval fortress

near Split). Therefore, the meaning was ambiguous. A kleisoûra was always a

mountain pass, but sometimes the word meant exactly a manmade fortified pass.

The word kleisoûra was mentioned in the context of some military events

19 . An example is



On the other hand, the Lexikon of Suidas (10


occurred in Stara Planina. The first case is the kleisoura Veregava or Veregavon,

identified with Vărbitsa or Riš

centuries. In the battle of 759, the Bulgarian army

21 , the gateway to Pliska in the Byzantine-

Bulgarian wars of the 8

waited there and organized an ambush against the army of Constantine V. No

manmade fortifications are attested in this case. The pass was called kleisoûra

th -9 th

17 Michael Attaliates (Miguel Ataliates), Historia, introduccion, edicion, traduccion y

comentario de I. Pérez Martín, 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 Skylitzès,

Histoire des empereurs de Byzance, traduction française par B. Flusin, notes par J. C. Cheynet,

Paris, 2003, p. 291-292, 293; M. Gyóni, Skylitzes et les Valaques, „Revue d’Histoire Comparée”,

25, 1947, n.s., tome 6, 2, p. 171; P. M. Strässle , Krieg und Kriegführung in Byzanz: die Kriege

Kaiser Basileios II. gegen die Bulgaren (976-1019), Köln, 2006, p. 182-183.


J. Napoli, R. Rebuffat, Clausurae


p. 38; M. Grigoriou-Ioannidou, Oi vyzantinés





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 învăţătură pentru fiul său Romanos, traducere de V. Grecu,

Bucureşti, 1971, p. 41-42.

21 V. Beševliev, Zwei Bemerkungen zur historischen Geographie Nordostbulgariens. 1. He

Kleisura Beregabon, „Studia Balcanica”, Sofia, 1. Recherches de géographie historique, 1970,

p. 69-75; Idem, Die Byzantinische Heerstrasse Adrianopel-Verigava, in Actes du XI Congrès

International des Sciences Onomastiques (Sofia, 28. VI.- 4. VII. 1972), 1, Sofia, 1974, p. 127.


zece by Theophanes Confessor, but not also by Nikephor, who preferred the classical

Èmboloß (“entrance”) in the relation of the war of 766. In another war, in 763, the

Byzantine army was able to invade Bulgaria because the kleisoûrai were left

22 The next battle fought in 811 by the Bulgarian army in a mountain


pass, that could be the same Vărbitsa, was something different, because the natural

fortification was improved by a wooden blockage. The word kleisoûra 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 kleisoûrai must be occupied first by an advanced detachment,

to forbid that these narrow places will be taken by the enemy

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 theme

scouts that the Russians who occupied Bulgaria left unguarded “the difficult and

narrow paths leading to Mysia” called kleisoûrai . So, the Byzantine army was

able reach Preslav without resistance

mind of the anonymous strategist who wrote some decades later about marching a

kleisoûra which is not defended by the enemy.

24 . Similar advices

25 . In 971, the emperor John Tzimiskes was informed by

26 . It is possible that this operation was in the


In 1095, the Cumans attacked then Byzantine Empire. Anna Comnena

wrote how some Vlachs helped the invaders to find the way through the gorges

( kleisoûrai ) in the Zygos mountains (Stara Planina), before they arrived to

Goloe (the present-day Lozarevo). Following the order of the emperor Alexios

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 vyzantinés

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 Zéta et Byzance au milieu du XIe siècle, „Zbornik Radova

Vizantološkog 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.


, p. 182.


I Comnenos, these kleisoûrai were inspected and strengthened to prevent the

28 . These Vlachs were those who had the mission to defend the Riš 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 Tărnovo 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

30 . A brief description of the way how a kleisoura was

the Byzantine troops


defended by the Byzantine army was provided by Ansbertus, a chronicler of the

third Crusade. When the crusaders, in the journey from Niš 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 towers

31 . The clausura or porta Sancti Basilii

28 Anna Comnena, Alexiad, X, 2.3; 3.1 (Alexiade. Règne de l’empereur Alexis I Comnène,

1081-1118, par Anne Comnène. Texte établi et traduit par B. Leib, Paris, 1943, tome II, p. 191;

Alexiada, trad. M. Marinescu, Bucureşti, 1977, vol. II, p. 71, 72); M. Gyóni, La première 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 d’Isaac Ange contre la capitale bulgare (1190), „Byzantinobulgarica“, 7, 1981, p. 181-

185; 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, „Études

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 (




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 Loveč). 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 century

August 986 in that place, in an ambush which used

the advantages given by the mountain pass

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’ (kleisoûraß) 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

victory against Basil II in 17

32 . Tsar Samuel won a great




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 emperor’s army followed them. Many men were put to the

sword there; others escaped to the Bulgarian army and brought them the news

of the emperor’s actions and all they had suffered”.

34 This relation is the best

Editio nova aucta pluribus verbis aliorum scriptorum a Leopold Favre, Niort, 1883-1887, vol. II,

p. 619-620; VI, p. 536.

32 C. Jireček, Die Heerstrasse von Belgrad nach Constantinopel und die Balkanpässe.

Ein historische-geographische Studie, Praga, 1877, p. 31-33, 92-93; I. Dujčev, À propos de

l’acte patriarcal de 1155 , „Revue des Études Byzantines”, 25, 1967, p. 62-63; P. Soustal, Tabula

Imperii Byzantini, Band 6. Thrakien (Thrake, Rodope und Haimimontos) (Österreichische

Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Denkschriften, 221), Wien,

1991, p. 190; C. Băjenaru, 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. Strässle , 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).



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 territory 35 .

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 15

36 . It is located near a

pass with strategic value. The name of the small town Këlcyrë 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 Klisura

37 . 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 Kataráktaß





35 V. Obreshkov, Administrative Territorial Division of Medieval Bulgaria in the 13 th -14 th

Century, „Études 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 Vocaţia istoriei. Prinos profesorului Şerban

Papacostea, volum îngrijit de O. Cristea, Gh. Lazăr, Brăila, 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. Tsáras, He Kleisoúra 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

(Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Denkschriften,

150), Wien, 1981, p. 76, 182; G. Karaiskaj, Die Burg Kelcyra (Kleisura) in Albanien, in IXe

Congrès International d’Études Sud-Est Européennes. Résumés, Tirana, 2004, p. 190.

38 Theophylact Simocatta, VIII, 5.5 (ed. de Boor, Wirth, p. 292; trad. Mihăescu, p. 162;

transl. Whitby, p. 216); A. Madgearu, Istoria militară…, p. 222-223.



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