The versatile talents of Tzar Simeon were unequalled by any other Bulgarian ruler during the Middle Ages. Simeon had just turned 27 when he took the helm in 893. His contemporaries called him "the Great" in acknowledgement of his talents as a military commander and diplomat and his spiritual strength. This son of Prince Boris received a top-notch education in the famous Magnaur Academy in Constantinople, attended by the children of Byzantine notables. He was preparing to become the head of the Bulgarian Church. However, he was destined to cast off the cassock and to replace at the throne his brother Vladimir, deposed and blinded after his attempt to return to paganism.
Simeon's rule was defined by two main goals: to break away from Byzantine political and religious influence and to turn Bulgaria into a powerful rival of the centuries- old empire. The task required tremendous energy, understanding of the laws of history and admiration of culture. Prince Simeon possessed every one of those qualities. As soon as he took the helm, he replaced the Greek language in liturgy with Bulgarian. The capital was moved from paganist Pliska to Preslav.
Byzantium's rulers underestimated Bulgaria's ambition to follow an independent political and religious course. In 893 they moved the market for Bulgarian goods from Constantinople to Thessaloniki, subjecting Bulgarian tradesmen to higher taxes. In the subsequent prolonged war, the first one in Europe to be fought for economic reasons, the initial battles were won by the Bulgarians.
For two decades Simeon fought with the Byzantines, repulsed the attacks of Hungarians and entered into an alliance with the Pechenegs against Byzantium. After a crushing victory of the Bulgarians in 896 near Bulgarophygon in Eastern Thrace, the Byzantine emperor had no choice but to sue for peace. The market was returned to Constantinople and Byzantium had to pay annual tribute to Bulgaria. Distrust mounted between Preslav and Constantinople.
The hostilities were often reopened by both sides and after a series of battles Simeon pushed the border of the Bulgarian state to within twenty kilometers of Thessaloniki. He was striving to destroy Byzantium and build a Bulgaro-Byzantine empire.
In 913 his banner was unfurled in front of the gates of Constantinople. In the imperial palace he received the patriarch's blessing and the title of Tsar of Bulgaria.
Shortly thereafter, the Byzantines attempted to form an alliance with the Pechenegs and the Serbs against Bulgaria. Enraged, Simeon took Adrianople. After luring the Serbian king and the Pecheneg chief to his side, Simeon fought a decisive, bloody battle on 20 August 917 by the river Achebi, between Anchialo and Messembria. The imperial army suffered a heavy defeat. The Byzantines were put to chaotic flight in which many were trampled or met death at the hands of their enemies, reads a chronicle by Scylitzes.
The victory further fuelled Simeon's dream to become the lord of Bulgarians and Byzantines. He extolled himself as "Simeon, by the will of God lord of all Bulgarians and Byzantines". Obsessed by his goal of domination, he marched against Byzantine towns and demolished them, posing an immediate threat to Constaninople. In his ambition to sit in the imperial palace, he sought an alliance with the Arabs and negotiated with the emperor, the patriarch and the pope. He vented his anger on Byzantium's ally, the Serb prince, who after a short war was forced to cede part of his territory to Bulgaria. Even a defeat by the Croats did not discourage Simeon. It was at the height of the preparations for the storm of Constantinople that he died of a heart attack on 27 May, 917.
The incessant wars waged by Simeon the Great turned Bulgaria into the most powerful Slavic state in Europe. On the cultural side, an unprecedented upsurge was taking place in Preslav and Ohrid. Newly erected palaces and churches adorned the capital, which the contemporaries called Great Preslav. The famous 'Preslav-style" tile work originated from this period. The highly educated ruler, perhaps the most enlightened monarch of Europe at the time, became a patron of arts and letters. Under his patronage the Bulgarian creative spirit drew the best of the cultural heritage of the neighboring Byzantium. This flourishing of Bulgarian culture became known as the Golden Age.
Simeon was closely involved in the activity of the Presbav literary circle. Its eminent members translated the best works of Byzantine theologists. The most distinguished writers among them were Joan Exarch (Six Days bishop Constantine (Evangelium), and a monk of the name of Hrabr, possibly Simeon himself (On the Letters) Their original works and educational activity raised Bulgaria to the heights of spiritual achievement. Its literary works were read by the other Slavic states as well. Apocrypha flourished too, based on biblical stories.
Old Bulgarian was firmly established as a language, contributing to the survival of the nation at least as much as the sword did, and to the fame of Tsar Simeon, rightfully called Bulgaria's Charles the Great.