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Pagan Pride and Christian Belief – Viktor Krum in Perspective

November 23, 2010

The world of Harry Potter is very intricately imagined, down to the very minute details. Every charm, every creature and every name is carefully thought out; many of them well grounded in history.

Most important are the names of the characters. Many names like Albus, Minerva are names of historical or mythical characters. Many like Vablatsky are acronyms of famous historical personalities. Madam Blavatsky was the founder of theosophical society. Another such name which has historical implications is Viktor Krum.

Rowling’s choice of the name ‘Krum’ is not random. Krum is a historical character. There was a pagan leader of Bulgaria who ruled from around 796 A.D. to 814 A.D. His name was Khan Krum.

“Krum, one of Bulgaria’s greatest warrior rulers, came to the Bulgarian throne in about 803. He was originally a Bulgarian chieftain from Pannonia.”[1]

It is most likely that he belonged to the branch of Dulo of Macedonia. They later spread out wider and made Pliska in present day Bulgaria, their capital.

Krum is a legendary figure who is credited with the expansion of the Bulgarian nation. In 805 A.D. he defeated the remaining Avars and spread out to Eastern Pannonia and started threatening the Christian Byzantine Empire.

“Very little is known about Krum’s state until warfare broke out with Byzantium. It seems the event that set things off was a Byzantine raid launched against Bulgaria in 807. It is not known whether this was an aggressive act or retaliation for some earlier Bulgar action. In any case the raid had hardly begun when a plot against the emperor Nicephorus was uncovered, leading to the immediate recall of the imperial army. Krum, however, did not take this lightly. In 808 Bulgarian troops raided into imperial territory along the Strum River and in 809 Krum’s armies took Sardika (Sonja). According to Byzantine sources, having massacred the garrison (supposedly six thousand men), he razed the walls and returned to Bulgaria! In retaliation, it seems, later in 809, the emperor Nicephorus marched against the Bulgarian capital of Pliska and ravaged its environs. However, time was short, forcing him to withdraw.”[2]

The story of this Christian siege of pagan Pliska is told in the chronicle of the twelfth-century Michael the Syrian, patriarch of the Syrian Jacobites. He described the brutalities and atrocities of Nikephoros.

“Nikephoros, emperor of the Romans, walked into the Bulgarians’ land: he was victorious and killed great number of them. He reached their capital, seized it and devastated it. His savagery went to the point that he ordered to bring their small children, got them tied down on earth and made thresh grain stones to smash them.”[3]

But Krum was not to be defeated. He laid ambush to the Nikephoros’ party in the mountainous Varbica pass and in the ensuing battle Nikephoros was killed and his son Staurakios was wounded in his neck.[4] He managed to flee though. But the wound he received from Krum’s men was fatal and within a year he died.[5] Staurakios was succeeded by his brother-in-law Michael I Rangabe in 812 A.D.[6] By then, Krum had increased his power manifold and he laid a siege to the cities of Thrace. In 813, Michael also went after Krum and attacked his battalions, but was ultimately defeated and became a monk after abdicating his throne.[7]

The Christian Byzantine rulers, who were envious of the success of Krum rumored that the engineers who designed the war machinery of Krum had fled from the Byzantine Empire itself. Historians find this claim invalid.

“…it might… be taken as a typically arrogant Byzantine interpretation to believe that no barbarians could develop technical improvements on their own and to thus assign credit to the imperial brains which deserted. Such view may not be warranted. After all, Krum’s predecessors, and presumably former masters in Pannonia, the Avars, were masters at siege warfare and Krum himself took Sardika seemingly with little difficulty prior to these desertions.”[8]

Krum was responsible for the undoing of three Byzantine Christian Emperors, then the supreme authority in the Christian world. But he did not initiate the animosity.

“Though Krum is usually depicted as a major enemy of Byzantium, it should be noted that Byzantium seems to have initiated the wars. In the early stages Krum sought peace but was rebuffed by the Byzantines. He turned to a major assault against the empire only after his great victory over Nicephorus in a war Nicephorus forced upon him. Even after this triumph, he waited to strike the empire and only pressed war upon it when his peace offers were rejected.”[9]

Krum is credited with expanding the borders of Bulgaria and issuing a new law code. He is also given the credit of working towards the centralization of the state and putting the individual boyars to obedience.[10] True to his pagan origins, he did not differentiate between races and religions. It is said that many inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire who feared the wrath of the cruel Nicephorus, fled to his reign. Some Arabs also worked for him.[11]

“He seems to have favored no nationality but to have aimed at administering a multinational state.”[12]

The fictional character, Viktor Krum of Bulgaria is modeled on this formidable pagan character from Bulgarian history. In the wizarding world, Viktor Krum is a formidable Quidditch player. The Krum of history was formidable too. Viktor Krum is seen as a brainless hero who is nevertheless on the good side. Though his school deals in the Dark Arts, with Karkaroff as its headmaster, but Krum never turned bad. Instead he supported Hermione and her friends in the fourth book. The pagan connection of the world of Harry Potter becomes visible in the character of Viktor Krum.


[1] Fine Jr., John V.A. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Lansing: University of Michigan Press. 1991. p. 94

[2] Ibid. p. 95

[3] Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. Chronique de Michel le Syrien, Patriarche Jacobite d’Antiche (1166-1199). Éditée pour la première fois et traduite en francais I-IV. Piscataway: Gorgias Press. 2001.

[4] Treadgold, Warren T. The Byzantine Revival, 780-842. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1991. p. 175.

[5] Fine Jr., John V.A. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Lansing: University of Michigan Press. 1991. p. 97.

[6] Ibid. p. 98

[7] Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium (II): The Apogee. New York: Knopf; First American Edition. 1992. p. 14-21.

[8] Fine Jr., John V.A. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Lansing: University of Michigan Press. 1991. p. 96.

[9] Ibid. p. 99.

[10] Ibid. p. 101.

[11] Ibid. p. 103.

[12] Ibid. p. 105.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2012 4:06 PM

    The picture showing Krum holding a cup with the shape of a skull is quite an interesting fact. According to historians after the anihilation of the byzantine army at Varbiza pass Krum ordered his men to bring him the head of emperor Nicephorus and he made a golden drinking cup of it. In the parties im the restored Pliska palace he ;ade his famous salutes: Cheers my friends with Nicephoros Head!

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