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1371, Bulgaria (2nd Empire), Tsar Ivan Shishman. Medieval Silver ½ Grosh Coin. XF!

Denomination: ½ Grosh Mint Period:: 1371-1395 Mint Place: Veliko Turnovo   Reference: Dimnik/Dobrinic 11.1.4. Condition: Crudely struck, lightly wavy flan, otherwise a nice XF with light deposits! Diameter: 14mm Weight: 0.51gm Material: Silver

Obverse:  Ivan Sisman standing facing, holding cross-tipped scepter in his right hand. Cypher ("Ш" for "Shishman") above  monogram ("Tsar") in right field.

Reverse: Nimbate bust of Theotokos orans, with nimbate infant Christ to Her breast.

The Second Bulgarian Empire (Bulgarian: Второ българско царство, Vtorо Bălgarskо Tsarstvo) was a medieval Bulgarian state that existed between 1185 and 1396. A successor to the First Bulgarian Empire, it reached the peak of its power under Tsars Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II before gradually being conquered by the Ottomans in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. It was succeeded by the Principality and later Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1878.

Until 1256, the Second Bulgarian Empire was the dominant power in the Balkans, defeating the Byzantine Empire in several major battles. In 1205 Emperor Kaloyan defeated the newly established Latin Empire in the Battle of Adrianople. His nephew Ivan Asen II defeated the Despotate of Epiros and made Bulgaria a regional power again. During his reign, Bulgaria spread from the Adriatic to the Black Sea and the economy flourished. In the late 13th century, however, the Empire declined under constant invasions by Mongols, Byzantines, Hungarians, and Serbs, as well as internal unrest and revolts. The 14th century saw a temporary recovery and stability, but also the peak of Balkan feudalism as central authorities gradually lost power in many regions. Bulgaria was divided into three parts on the eve of the Ottoman invasion.

Despite strong Byzantine influence, Bulgarian artists and architects created their own distinctive style. In the 14th century, during the period known as the Second Golden Age of Bulgarian culture, literature and art flourished. The capital city Tarnovo, which was considered a "New Constantinople", became the country's main cultural hub and the centre of the Eastern Orthodox world for contemporary Bulgarians. After the Ottoman conquest, many Bulgarian clerics and scholars emigrated to Serbia, Wallachia, Moldavia, and Russian principalities, where they introduced Bulgarian culture, books, and hesychastic ideas.


Ivan Shishman (Bulgarian: Иван Шишман) ruled as emperor (tsar) of Bulgaria in Tarnovo from 1371 to 3 June 1395. The authority of Ivan Shishman was limited to the central parts of the Bulgarian Empire. His indecisive and inconsistent policy did little to prevent the fall of his country under Ottoman rule. In 1393 the Ottoman Turks seized the capital Tarnovo. Two years later, they captured Ivan Shishman's last strongholds and executed him.

Despite the military and political weakness, during his rule Bulgaria remained a major cultural center and the ideas of Hesychasm dominated the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Evtimiy of Tarnovo became the most prominent cultural figure of the country. A number of texts were written or translated and an orthographic reform of the Bulgarian language was issued with synchronised rules. After the fall of Bulgaria, a number of scholars found refuge in the other Orthodox countries and brought the achievements of the Bulgarian culture to them.

His reign was inextricably connected to the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman domination. Although there exist no historical sources which prove that he took active role in the defence of the country, in Bulgarian folklore Ivan Shishman is portrayed as a legendary and heroic ruler who desperately fought against the overwhelming Ottoman forces. There are numerous sites, geographical features and fortresses named after him throughout Bulgaria.

Born in 1350 or 1351, Ivan Shishman was the eldest son of emperor Ivan Alexander (r. 1331–1371) and his second wife Sarah–Theodora, a Jew converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church. His birth brought up the issue of the succession to the Bulgarian throne. Ivan Shishman had two elder brothers by the Ivan Alexander's first wife, Theodora of Wallachia. The eldest one, Michael Asen, was proclaimed successor to the throne and co-emperor shortly after Ivan Alexander's accession to the throne. However, Michael Asen's early death in battle against the Ottomans in 1355 put forward the question of succession once more. It is likely that Sarah–Theodora pressured Ivan Alexander to select her own son as his successor, although Ivan Sratsimir would have come next under the majorat system. The issue was decided in Ivan Shishman's favour because the latter was born in the purple(after his father was crowned), thus making him eligible as successor. By the end of 1355, Ivan Shishman had been proclaimed heir to the throne and co-emperor.

These events led to a conflict with Ivan Sratsimir, who was in turn given the rule of Vidin, probably as a compensation. Another indirect piece of evidence for the feud is the fact that Ivan Sratsimir's portrait not included in the Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander, where the whole family of the emperor was otherwise presented.  In 1356 Ivan Sratsimir proclaimed himself emperor of Vidin. Together with his father and younger brother Ivan Asen V, Ivan Shishman presided over the church synods at Tarnovo in the late 1360s.

Ivan Shishman was proclaimed emperor after the death of his father on 17 February 1371, when he was in his early 20s. Ivan Shishman inherited only parts of his father's realm: he ruled the lands between the Iskar Riverand Silistra, the valley of Sofia, parts of the Rhodope mountains and northern Thrace  To the west, the areas centred around Vidin recognised Ivan Sratsimir as emperor of Bulgaria, while to the east, the Principality of Karvuna, encompassing the coastal strip between the Danube Delta and Cape Emine and under the rule of despot Dobrotitsa, did not recognise the authority of the emperor of Tarnovo either. Contemporary chroniclers such as Johann Schiltberger speak of three regions, all of which were called Bulgaria. Thus, the country was divided on the eve of the Ottoman invasion, despite Ivan Shishman's claims in his royal charters. In these, he styled himself as a primary emperor in an attempt to emphasise the existence of a hierarchy among the rulers of the three Bulgarias. However, that hierarchy remained only in paper; to further assert their independence from Tarnovo, both Ivan Sratsimir and Dobrotitsa separated their dioceses from the Bulgarian Patriarchate in Tarnovo. According to Fine, immediately after the death of Ivan Alexander, Ivan Sratsimir tried to conquer the whole of Bulgaria. He was able to capture Sofia and managed to hold the city for one or two years. The rivalry between the two brothers for Sofia had a strong tradition in the Bulgarian historiography since the time of Konstantin Jireček, but it has been dismissed by many modern Bulgarian historians.

Only a few months after the ascension of Ivan Shishman to the throne, on 26 September 1371, the Ottoman Turks defeated a large Christian army led by the Serbian brothers Vukašin Mrnjavčević and Jovan Uglješa in the Battle of Chernomen. Although Uglješa had tried to create a broad coalition that would include Bulgaria, Ivan Shishman, who had to strengthen his own authority, did not join. After their victory at Chernomen, the Turks immediately turned on Bulgaria. Ottoman sultan Murad I forced Ivan Shishman to retreat to the north of the Balkan Mountains and conquered northern Thrace, the Rhodopes, Kostenets, Ihtiman and Samokov. Unable to resist the attacks, Ivan Shishman had to negotiate with the Ottomans in 1373. He was forced to become an Ottoman vassal and to allow his sister Kera Tamara, who was known for her beauty, to become a wife of Murad I. Under this agreement, Bulgaria regained some of the conquered territories such as Ihtiman and Samokov, and began nearly ten years of uneasy peace with the Turks. Despite the vassalage and the peace treaty, Ottoman raids were renewed in the beginning of the 1380s and culminated in 1385 with the fall of Sofia, the last stronghold of Ivan Shishman to the south of the Balkan Mountains.

In the meantime, Ivan Shishman was engaged in a war against the voivode of Wallachia, Dan I, between 1384 and 1386. There are few details about that war, only a brief note in the Anonymous Bulgarian Chronicle that Dan I died 23 September 1386 after being poisoned. The war was linked to the hostilities between Ivan Shishman and Ivan Sratsimir (Dan I's uncle), who had the support of the Wallachian rulers and was married to Anna of the House of Basarab.

In 1387, the united forces of the Principality of Serbia and the Kingdom of Bosnia managed to defeat the Ottomans in the Battle of Pločnik. Encouraged by the Christian success, Ivan Shishman immediately invalidated his vassalage to Murad I and refused to send troops in his support in 1388. The Ottomans reacted by sending a 30,000-strong army, under the command of the grand vizier Ali Pasha, to the north of the Balkan Mountains. The Ottoman troops seized the fortresses of Shumen, Madara, Venchan and Ovech. Ivan Shishman left Tarnovo and headed to Nikopol, where he was besieged and forced to ask for peace. The Ottomans requested that he reconfirm his vassalage in addition to surrendering Silistra, at the time the most populous Bulgarian city along the Danube. However, Ivan Shishman, reassured by his neighbours that he would receive support and the preparations of Serbia for war, not only refused to let the Ottomans in the city, but also strengthened its walls. Ali Pasha crossed the Balkan Mountains for a second time to consecutively capture Shumen, Cherven, Svishtov and once again besiege Ivan Shishman in Nikopol. Surprised by the swift Ottoman response and having not received the promised assistance, the Bulgarian emperor had to ask for peace. His pleas were accepted, but the terms were harsher than the original: not only Silistra was to be surrendered, but Ottoman garrisons were to be stationed in other Bulgarian cities, most notably Shumen and Ovech.

After the defeat of the Serbs and Bosniaks in the Battle of Kosovo on 15 June 1389, Ivan Shishman had to seek help from Hungary. During the winter of 1391–1392, he entered into secret negotiations with the King of Hungary Sigismund, who was planning a campaign against the Turks. The new Ottoman sultan Bayezid I pretended to have peaceful intentions in order to cut off Ivan Shishman from his alliance with the Hungarians. However, in the spring of 1393 Bayezid gathered a large army from his dominions in the Balkans and Asia Minor and attacked Bulgaria. The Ottomans marched to the capital Tarnovo and besieged it. The defence of the capital was led by Patriarch Evtimiy because Ivan Shishman was located in Nikopol, presumably for better communication with Sigismund. After a three-month siege, Tarnovo fell on 17 July. According to the contemporary Bulgarian scholar and cleric Gregory Tsamblak, the city was not captured because of the Ottoman military strength but due to treason. The Ottoman campaign of 1393 devastated Bulgaria; in the wake of that invasion, the lands of Ivan Shishman were limited to Nikopol and several towns along the Danube. Upon his return from Wallachia after the Battle of Rovine in 1395, Bayezid I attacked and captured Nikopol and, according to the Anonymous Bulgarian Chronicle, murdered Ivan Shishman on 3 June 1395. A Byzantine chronicle gives the date as 29 October. However, some sources suggest that the Bulgarian ruler was captured and died in prison.

Bulgarian historians have had mostly negative assessments of Ivan Shishman. He is often viewed as having intruded onto the throne due to the intrigues of his mother and thus taking the place of the rightful successor, his elder brother Ivan Sratsimir. This eventually resulted in the division of the country on the eve of the Ottoman invasion. There are no direct historical sources to suggest any significant attempts by Ivan Shishman to fight off the Turks. The inconsistent policy of Ivan Shishman has been described as revealing his weakness and inability to cope with the situation.  His rule, however, was still remembered in the 16th century. In a treaty signed in 1519 between the Ottoman sultan Selim I and Louis II of Hungary, some of the lands in question were referred to as terra cesaris Sysman, “the land of emperor Shishman”.

The memory of Ivan Shishman remained during the first centuries of the Ottoman rule. During the First Tarnovo Uprising in 1598, the one of the rebels' leaders, whose name is unknown, claimed to have been a descendent of Ivan Shishman and was proclaimed emperor under the name Shishman III. Almost a century later, in 1686, a second uprising in Tarnovo was headed by Rostislav Stratimirovic, who also claimed to have belonged to the Shishman dynasty and styled himself as Prince of Bulgaria.

Ivan Shishman is now among the most popular and well-known rulers in the Third Bulgarian State. There are a number of works dedicated to him or his rule, including the 1969 film Tsar Ivan Shishman by Yuri Arnaudov[56] and the song "Tsar Ivan Shishman" by the heavy metal band Epizod in the 2004 album "Saint Patriarch Evtimiy". Shishman Peak on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica is also named after him.

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Notes: https://www.ebay.com/itm/372438671206 2018-09-23

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