"Battle of Odrin"

Historic Tin Miniatures Set of Chess

The idea of creation of a set of chess was growing for several years. It started as a vision of a unique gift for a friend for his newly furnished house in Berlin. Gradually it has outgrown the initial concept and became something much bigger and deep. The idea became to replicate look of armies who have actually struggled in real life long time ago. Their weapons, armors, cloths. This expertise on a verge of art and history is usually referred to as “historic miniature”. Characters are usually made of tin or resin. They are painted, metal plated or decorated by an artist hand. Usual chess play figures are nothing but an abstract shadow of what we are creating.

Historic background

(mainly based on Wikipedia sources)

History of Europe is full of wars. Some of them are very famous, while others are kept in shadows. Especially those where heroes of a writer are defeated.

Beginning of XIII century. The Forth Crusade. In April 1204, after numerous negotiations attempting to obtain the promised funds from the Byzantines, the Crusaders conquered the most powerfully protected city in the world at that time. It led to fall of Byzantium Empire and the City of Constantinople (today it is Istanbul). Army of crusaders established the First Latin Empire, where Baldwin IX – the Count of Flanders (today it is part of the Netherlands and Belgium) became Baldwin I of Constantinople - the first Latin Emperor of Constantinople He was one of the most prominent leaders of the Fourth Crusade supported by Enrico Dandolo - Doge of Venice (Italy) and one of the richest sponsors of the entire campaign.

Collage of pictures from the following sources:Main charachter from "The Greatest rulers of Bulgaria" by "Pan" Publisher - artist H.Hadzhitanev, Background from "Illustrated History of Bulgaria" by "Vodolei" Publisher - artist V.V.Paunov

At the very same time, there was the Second Bulgarian Kingdom situated to the North-West from Byzantium. It was led by Tsar Kaloyan (a.k.a Johannitsa or Ioannitsa). Remarkably, but while being christian orthodox he was acknowledged as a King (European equivalent for Tsar) by the catholic Roman Pope Innocent III who called him “Rex” in his letters, although refused to call him as an “Emperor”. “Rex” reference placed Kaloyan on the same level in European hierarchy as any other King, but other kings had to accept it. Therefore Tsar of Bulgaria sent envoys to the crusaders who were besieging Constantinople, offering military support to them if "they would also crown him king so that he would be lord of his lands of Bulgarians and Vlachias (today it is south of Romania).

However, the crusader leaders (none of whom was a king) treated Kaloyan with disdain and did not accept his offer. After the crusaders captured Constantinople and elected Baldwin IX of Flanders Latin Emperor, they agreed to divide the Byzantine Empire among themselves each becoming a small king, including of lands controlled or protected by Bulgarians.

Taking advantage of the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire, Kaloyan gained control over the former Byzantine territories in Thrace. Initially he attempted to secure a peaceful division of the lands with the crusaders. He asked the Pope Innocent III to prevent them from attacking Bulgaria. However, the crusaders wanted to implement their own treaty, which divided the Byzantine territories between them, including lands that Kaloyan claimed.

Kaloyan gave shelter to Byzantine Greek refugees and persuaded them to stir up riots in Thrace and Macedonia against the Latin crusaders. The refugees also pledged they would elect him emperor if he invaded the Latin Empire. The Greek burghers of Odrin (Greek “Adrianople”, it is now Edirne in Turkey) and nearby towns rose up against the Latins in early 1205. Considering Kaloyan's alliance with the rebels to be dangerous, Emperor Baldwin I decided to launch a counter-attack and ordered the withdrawal of his troops from Asia Minor. He laid siege to Odrin before he could muster his armies. Kaloyan hurried to Odrin at the head of his army of Bulgarian (heavy troops), Vlach (light infantry) and Cuman (light cavalry) warriors. A classic feigned retreat by the Cumans drew the heavy cavalry of the crusaders into an ambush in the marshes north of Odrin, enabling Kaloyan to inflict a crushing defeat on them on 14 April 1205.

Fragment of painting "Capturing Baldwin" by V.Goranov
Fragment of bas-relief from Kaloyan monument in Varna, Bulgaria. Sculptors B.Borisov and C.Constantinov

This was a remarkable defeat of the Army, which has conquest the largest and the most defended city in the world just a year before. Moreover, it has demonstrated that unperishable might of crusaders is yet another myth just as their support by divine powers. So, the Battle of Odrin truly deserves to become a theme for a set of chess.

However, there is always a catch…

We at Gryphon Studio pay great attention to replication of tiny details of history in both events and material artefacts. It was relatively easy to identify the look and equipment of crusaders from former Frank Empire. Especially because they kept good records of their deeds and depicted themselves in various sculptures, manuscripts and books. It was much harder to do the same for Bulgarian army. First, it was comprised of representatives of different nations: Bulgarians, Cumans and Vlachias. Second, there is very little sources left of that time in museums and written corpses. Still, with help of history academicians, we managed to gain as much visual and factual information as possible.

You may follow the trail of our creation in the small blog below.

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