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Battle of Kleidion

History -- Military history -- List of battles

The Battle of Kleidion (also Clidium, "the key", or Belasitsa) took place on July 29, 1014 between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire.


Battle of Kleidion
ConflictByzantine-Bulgarian Wars
DateJuly 29, 1014
PlaceNorth of Thessalonika
ResultByzantine victory
Basil II
Nicephorus Xiphias
Theophylactus Botaniates †
Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria
UnknownAbout 20 000
UnknownAt least 14 000
The Byzantines and Bulgarians had been at war for decades. The largest phase of the war began in
1002, as Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria attempted to expand his territory into Byzantine Greece. Samuil successfully captured land as far south as Athens. Byzantine emperor Basil II wanted to stop this expansion and take back the land that had been lost to the Bulgarians in previous decades and centuries. Every year, Basil marched into Bulgaria to pillage the land, and by 1005 he had recaptured Thessaly, Macedonia, and Greece, and formed an alliance with the Serbs.


The culmination of years of war came in 1014 when Basil finally faced the entire Bulgarian army in battle, which he had been unable to do in the previous 12 years. Samuil had built ditches along the frontier and had fortified many of the valleys and passes with walls and towers, especially the pass of Kleidion on the Strymon River, which Basil would most likely need to march through to reach the heart of Bulgaria. While leading his troops towards Kleidion Basil was frequently attacked by Bulgarian raiders, but the Bulgarians were defeated by a detachment of Byzantine troops under Theophylactus Botaniates, the strategos (duke) of Thessalonika.

At Kleidion Basil besieged the fortifications, but was unable to pass through the valley, which was defended by about 15-20 000 Bulgarians. Basil's general Nicephorus Xiphias (the strategos of Philippopolis) then took his forces around Mt. Belasitsa and ambushed the Bulgarians from behind, trapping them in the valley. The Bulgarians abandoned their towers to face this new threat, and Basil was able to break through. In the confusion, thousands of Bulgarians were killed; according to the account of Byzantine historian John Skylitzes, Samuil was present at the battle and was able to escape only with the help of his son's horse.

Blinded Prisoners

Botaniates was ambushed and killed by more Bulgarian raiders after the battle. Skylitzes also records that Basil completely routed the rest of the Bulgarians and took 14 000 prisoners. Basil then divided them into groups of 100 men, blinded 99 men in each group, and left one man in each with one eye so that he could lead the others home; this was possibly done in response to the death of Botaniates. Stylitzes says that Samuil died of a heart attack as he saw his forces march past on July 31, although other sources say Samuil was not present at the battle and lived until October 6. Skylitzes' account, written about 80 years later, probably exaggerates (if not invents entirely) the story of the 14 000 blinded prisoners.


Because of his victory Basil gained the nickname Bulgaroktonos, "the Bulgar-slayer." Despite Skylitzes' account, the Bulgarians under Samuil's successors must have had some army left, as Basil did not immediately capture the rest of Bulgaria. The war lasted another four years, until Bulgaria was completely defeated in 1018. In that year Bulgaria's last stronghold at Dyrrhachium was captured, and Bulgaria became a province of the Byzantine Empire.