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SILISTRIA (Bulgarian Silistra)

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Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 95 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SILISTRIA (Bulgarian Silistra) , the chief town of a department in Bulgaria and the see of an archbishop, situated on a low-lying peninsula projecting into the Danube, 81 m. below Rustchuk and close to the frontier of the Rumanian Dobrudja. Pop. (1892) 11,718; (1900) 12,133; (1908) 12,055, of whom 6142 were Bulgarians and 4126 Turks. The town was formerly a fortress of great strength, occupying the N.E. corner of the famous quadrilateral (Rustchuk, Silistra, Shumla, Varna), but its fortifications were demolished in accordance with the Berlin Treddty (1878). In the town is a large subterranean cavern, the Houmbata, which served as a refuge for its inhabitants during frequent bombardments. The principal trade is in cereals; wine and wood are also exported. The town is surrounded by fine vineyards, some 30 kinds of grapes being cultivated, and tobacco is grown. Sericulture, formerly a flourishing industry, has declined owing to a disease of the silk-worms, but efforts have been made to revive it. Apiculture is extensively practised and there are large market-gardens in the neighbourhood, The soil of the department is fertile, but lacking in water; the inhabitants have excavated large receptacles in which rain-water is stored. A considerable area is still covered with forest, to which the region owes its name of Deli Orman (" the wild wood") ; there are extensive tracts of pasturage, but cattle-rearing declined in 188o-191o. A large cattle-fair, lasting three days, is held in May. The town possessed in 1910 one steam flour-mill and some cloth factories and tanneries. Silistria was the Durostorum of the Romans (Bulgarian Drstr) ; the ancient name remains in the title of the archbishop, who is styled metropolitan of Dorostol, and whose diocese is now united with that of Tcherven (Rustchuk). It was one of the most and veritably worshipped; and he was the happy possessor of their estates at Tusculum and Naples. The later life of Silius was passed on the Campanian shore, hard by the tomb of Virgil, at which he offered the homage of a devotee. He closely emulated the lives of his two great heroes: the one he followed in composing epic verse, the other in debating philosophic questions with his friends of like tastes. Among these was Epictetus, who judged him to be the most philosophic spirit among the Romans of his time, and Cornutus, the Stoic, rhetorician and grammarian, who appropriately dedicated to Silius a commentary upon Virgil. Though the verse of Silius is not wrapped in Stoic gloom like that of Lucan, yet Stoicism lends in many places a not ungraceful gravity to his poem. Silius was one of the numerous Romans of the early empire who had the courage of their opinions, and carried into perfect practice the theory of suicide adopted by their school. Stricken by an incurable tumour, he starved himself to death, keeping a cheerful countenance to the end. Whether Silius committed to writing his philosophic dialogues or not, we cannot say. Chance has preserved to us his epic poem entitled Punica, in seventeen books, and comprising some fourteen thousand lines. In choosing the Second Punic War for his subject, Silius had, we know, many predecessors, as he doubtless had many followers. From the time of Naevius onwards every great military struggle in which the Romans had been engaged had found its poet over and over again. In justice to Silius and Lucan, it should be observed that the mythologic poet had a far easier task than the historic. In a well-known passage Petronius pointedly describes the difficulties of the historic theme. A poet, he said, who should take upon him the vast subject of the civil wars would break down beneath the burden unless he were " full of learning," since he would have not merely to record facts, which the historians did much better, but must possess an unshackled genius, to which full course must be given by the use of digressions, by bringing divine beings on to the stage, and by giving generally a mythologic tinge to the subject. The Latin laws of the historic epic were fixed by Ennius, and were still binding when Claudian wrote. They were never seriously infringed, except by Lucan, who substituted for the dei ex machines of his predecessors the vast, dim and imposing Stoic conception of destiny. By protracted application, and being " full of learning," Silius had acquired excellent recipes for every ingredient that went to the making of the conventional historic epic. Though he is not named by Quintilian, he is probably hinted at in the mention of a class of poets who, as the writer says, " write to show their learning." To seize the moments in the history, however unimportant, which were capable of picturesque treatment; to pass over all events, however important, which could not readily be rendered into heroics; to stuff out the somewhat modern heroes to something like Homeric proportions; to subject all their movements to the passions and caprices of the Olympians; to ransack the poetry of the past for incidents and similes on which a slightly new face might be put; to foist in by well-worn artifices episodes, however strange to the subject, taken from the mythologic or historic glories of Rome and Greece,—all this Silius knew how to do. He did it all with the languid grace of the inveterate connoisseur, and with a simplicity foreign to his time, which sprang in part from cultivated taste and horror of the venturesome word, and in part from the subdued tone of a life which had come unscathed through the reigns of Caligula, Nero and Domitian. The more threadbare the theme, and the more worn the machinery, the greater the need of genius. Two of the most rigid requirements of the ancient epic were abundant similes and abundant single combats. But all the obvious resemblances between the actions of heroic man and external nature had long been worked out, while for the renovation of the single combat little could be done till the hero of the Homeric type was replaced by the medieval knight. Silius, however, had perfect poetic appreciation, with scarce a trace of poetic creativeness. No writer has ever been more correctly and more uniformly judged by contemporaries and by posterity alike. Only the shameless flatterer, Martial, ventured to call important towns of Moesia Inferior and was successively the headquarters of the legio I. (Italica) and the legio XI. (Claudia). It was defended by the Bulgarian tsar Simeon against the Magyars and Greeks in 893. In 967 it was captured by the Russian prince Sviatoslav, whom the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus Phocas had summoned to his assistance. In 971 Sviatoslav, after a three months' heroic defence, surrendered the town to the Byzantines, who had meanwhile become his enemies. In 1388 it was captured by the Turks under Ali Pasha, the grand vizier of the sultan Murad. A few years later it seems to have been in the possession of the Walachian prince Mircea, but after his defeat by Mahommed I. in 1416 it passed finally into the hands of the Turks. Silistria flourished under Ottoman rule; Hajji Khalifa describes it as the most important of all the Danubian towns; a Greek metropolitan was installed here with five bishops under his control and a settlement of Ragusan merchants kept alive its commercial interests. In 1810 the town was surrendered to the Russians under Kamenskiy, who destroyed its fortifications before they withdrew, but they were rebuilt by foreign engineers, and in 1828–1829 were strong enough to offer a serious resistance to the Russians under Diebich, who captured the town with the loss of 3000 men. At that date the population including the garrison was 24,000, but in 1837 it was only about 4000. The town was held in pledge by the Russians for the payment of a war indemnity (1829–1836). During the campaign of 1854 it was successfully defended by General Krach against the Russians under Paskievich; the circuit of its defences had been strengthened before this time by the outlying fortresses Medjid-tabia (built by English engineers) and Arab-tabia. It was again invested by the Russians in 1877, and on the conclusion of peace was evacuated by the Turks. (J. D. B.)
End of Article: SILISTRIA (Bulgarian Silistra)
atomic weight 28.3 SILICON [symbol Si (0= 16)]

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