Bulgarian Medieval Ruler’s Crown

Update on Despots Mikhail’s fresco at Dolna Kamenica, Bulgaria

In November I had the pleasure to meet and work with Professor Georgi Atanasov, author of the remarkable book „The insignia of Medieval Bulgarian rulers.“ He turned my attention to the details of the fresco representing Despot Mikhail in the Church of Dolna Kamenica, Bulgaria. Thanks to his help, I analyzed in detail the unique crown of the Despot, and developed new schemes of reconstruction of its possible appearance. Not purport to exhaust all options, I think I managed to bring the major.

Who is Despot Mikhail, King’s Son

Medieval Ruler Despots Mikhail  fresco at Dolna Kamenica, Bulgaria

Bulgarian Medieval Ruler Despots Mikhail fresco at Dolna Kamenica, Bulgaria

The sign in the church says „Despot Michael, true to Christ God Mikhail King’s Son …“. Theodora Bernard examines the various versions of the identity of this despot and accepted as the most reliable proposition that it is unknown from other sources son of Tsar Michael Shishman of Bulgaria.

According to the priesthood Mikhail is wearing a very beautiful festive outerwear, adorned with thick yellow ribbons covered with pearls. Among them are embroidered birds and lilies. All researchers agree that birds are two-headed eagles, but plaster is scratched and despite my careful gaze I could not see clear signs of this.

Medieval Ruler Despots Mikhail  costume reconstruction

Bulgarian Medieval Ruler Despots Mikhail costume reconstruction

The Crown

The closest parallel to this crown is depicted in Dragusin Ivan, son of despot Altimir, fresco in Poloshkiya Monastery (1343, 1345). Both ornaments have teeth, crowned with pearls, three large gem and propenduli. Again, however, the similarity is not complete. Crown of Dragusin probably was the same on all sides – with four evenly spaced arches four gems.

Medieval Ruler Despots Mikhail  crown reconstruction

Bulgarian Medieval Ruler Despots Mikhail crown reconstruction

The three jewels are three different sizes and shapes and are not evenly distributed but are clustered in front. And finally, the final teeth are lined all the way up to the borders of large pearls. This allows the existence of separate front and rear parts as well as the Hungarian royal crown of XII century

In the schemes I give my options for the possible original form of the crown, top and side. I assume that the front decoration is symmetrical, with a large gem in the middle and two identical, smaller, on both sides. If it is made according to Byzantine traditions on the back of your head it should have one more stone, which is mentioned in the picture.

Bulgarian Medieval Ruler Despots Mikhail  crown possible forms

Bulgarian Medieval Ruler Despots Mikhail crown possible forms

Also see my other articles

Bulgarian Royal couple from the Boyana Church

List of Bulgarian preserved frescos and portraits from XIII- XIV century

DECORATION on fabrics in Bulgarian Medieval Costume

and check my Tumblr blog I started receently http://bgmedievalcostumes.tumblr.com/


DECORATION on fabrics in Bulgarian Medieval Costume


Some information about Bulgarian Medieval Costume details and materials.

Traditional decoration is embroidery – lace and pearls, testified during excavations and plain seen on the frescoes . Purl two types according to the way of production – by passing through the fabric and through attachment on it by an additional thin thread . In XIV century . predominates the second method , wherein the saving of the expensive material .

embroidered tape parallel stitch

Еmbroidered tape parallel stitch.

gold-embroidered pattern

gold-embroidered pattern from Stanichene

pearl embroidery pattern

Pearl embroidery pattern from Veliko Tarnovo

Reasoning as they can recover most are plant or geometric , but there are complex zoomorphic patterns like double-headed eagle of the castle church of Veliko Tarnovo /shown above/. Ordinary embroidery almost did not leave traces in the funerals because of its easy digestion , but some of the best preserved portraits can be viewed in detail. Her colors are blue, gray , black, red , green, and runs not only on level ground , but also on the ornate fabric.


Richly embroidered costume princess or higher aristocrat recovered from Kalotina Church fresco.

List of Bulgarian preserved frescos and portraits from XIII- XIV century

List of Bulgarian preserved frescos and portraits, which were used for our studies of period XIII- XIV century . Some of them are currently located in neighboring countries, but at the time of discharge were all on Bulgarian territory, respectively, are depicted Bulgarian citizens. The full list with details you can find here.

Due to the dynamic historical events in the Balkans and the persistence of the Ottoman imperiya are the reason for us to reach the few monuments of that era, mostly in poor or very poor condition. However, we tracked them and tried to describe, draw and reconstruct their costumes.

Bachkovski Monastery ( ossuary ) – between 1344 and 1364g .
Boyana Church – 1259 XIV century .
Lower Kamenica – 1323 – 1330g .
Zemen Monastery – 1354
Ivanovo Rock Churches – XIII- XIV century .
Kalotina – probably 1331-1337
Karlukovo rock church „St. Nikola“ ( Gligora ) – end of XIII – begg of XIV century.
Karlukovo rock church „St. Marina“ – XIV century .
Perch ( Kastoria ) , „St. Archangels “ – XIII and XIV century .
Nessebar – Church “ John the Baptist “ Portrait from XIV century .
Stanichene – 1331 – 1332g .

Bulgarian Medieval Costume

Zemen monastery fresco


Bulgarian Royal couple from the Boyana Church

Bulgarian Royal Medieval Costumes recovered by freskas in Boyana church with detailed scheme.

Konstantin Asen Tih 
was emperor (tsar) of Bulgaria from 1257 to 1277

Dressed in an early version of the Byzantine Empire loros suit. The name of the costume comes from the Gaza loros adorned with precious stones, which is wrapped around the body, and whose end is worn slung over his arm. It is believed that loros is the successor of the Roman trabea triumfalis – golden purple toga worn by Roman consuls in the opening game or during triumphal processions . (Parani, Maria G., Reconstructing the Reality of Images – Byzantine Material Culture and Religious Iconography (11th-15th Centuries), Leiden, Boston, Brill, 2003) . Byzantium in this version loros lies between the sixth and twelfth centuries , and in Bulgaria and obviously later. Loros of Constantine is painted very detailed and can be seen wrapping around his body, which seems to be modeled after the toga – source ( the second picture) . Main garment – purple is adorned with gold stripes and geometric patterns the same as loros, suggesting that they are designed as a set . Other royal symbols are crown with pearl necklaces ( propenduli ) scepter , red boots with pearl decoration and probably Akaka ( bag of soil ) . Interesting is that the crown is closed and hemispherical . Byzantium this type of crown is worn after the end of the eleventh century in conjunction with the late form of loros suit ( where the gold coast is a hole and put in his head , rather than wrapped around the body).


Irina Laskaris
Konstantin married Irene of Nicaea, a daughter of emperor Theodore II Doukas Laskaris

Unlike her colleagues Byzantine queen bears no loros . Her costume consists of a purple robe, fastened with two large pins, scepter , crown and necklace close to the neck. The crown is relatively low, in the bottom of fabric strips and hair underneath is adorned with pearls . Collar is purple with green embroidery, other than decoration on foot and cuffs . Quite likely to constitute a separate part of the costume , which is worn on the dress. Cloak is trimmed with pearls and precious stones and embroidered with intricate figures for our regret is not visible in its entirety.