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The Bulgars (also Bolgars, Bulghars, or Proto-Bulgarians) were a people from Central Asia, originating in the steppes spanning from Mongoliamarker to Europe. Their linguistic and ethnic origins are a mystery, but evidence is strong that their elites were Turkic, while their greater society was composed of a heterogeneous mixture of diverse seminomadic steppe peoples that united and formed a centralized multiethnic nation of settlers and state builders. From the 4th century onward the Bulgars migrated into southeastern Europe, starting in what is nowadays the Ukrainemarker and Russiamarker. In the 7th century the Bulgars established the states of Great Bulgaria, Volga Bulgaria, and the First Bulgarian Empire. The Bulgar language spoken by the Bulgar elites was probably a member of the Oghuric branch of the Turkic language family, alongside with Hunnic, Khazar, and Turkic Avar. They used a script known as the Kuban alphabet, a member of the family of the Old Turkic script.

Initially the Bulgars annexed the steppes north of the Caucasus and around the banks of the river Volga (then Itil). Two centuries later, between 377 and 453 AD, the Bulgars, alongside the Huns, conquered territories well into Central and Western Europe. In the aftermath of the disintegration of the Hunnic Empire, in part due to the death of Attila the Hun in 453, the Bulgars subjugated regions adjoining the western shores of the Black Seamarker. There they established themselves as an elite ruling class that was gradually assimilated over a period of four centuries by the local ethnic groups, thus giving rise to the modern Bulgarians. Their state became known as the First Bulgarian Empire, later succeeded by the Second Bulgarian Empire and in the modern era by the Republic of Bulgariamarker.

Ethnicity and language

Racial type and descendants

Traditionally, historians have associated the Bulgars with the Huns, who migrated out of the Central Asia region. However, the evidence for this has not been definitive, and the debates have continued to this day. Genetic and anthropological researches have shown that the large steppe confederations of history were not ethnically homogeneous, but rather unions of multiple ethnicities such as Turkic, Ugric and Eastern Iranic among others. Skeletal remains from Central Asia, excavated from different sites dating between the 15th century BC to the 5th century AD, have been analyzed. The distribution of east and west Eurasian lineages through time in the region is concordant with the available archaeological information. Prior to the 13th - 7th century BC, all samples belong to European lineages; while later an arrival of East Asian sequences that coexisted with the previous genetic substratum was detected.

Both the present-day Bulgarians and the Chuvash far to the east in the Urals are believed to originate partly from the Bulgars (as for the Chuvash, there are at least two theories about their genetic origins). However, according to DNA data, the genetic backgrounds of the two populations are clearly different. The Chuvash have an Eastern European and some Mediterraneanmarker genetic background (probably coming from the Caucasus), while the Bulgarians have a classical Mediterraneanmarker (probably coming from the Balkans) composition. It is possible that only a cultural and low genetic Bulgar influence was brought into the two regions, without modifying the genetic background of the local populations.

Language and culture

Ascertaining the origin and the language of the Bulgars has been the subject of debate since the turn of the 20th century. The current leading theory is that at least the Bulgar elite spoke a that, alongside Khazar and Chuvash, was a member of the Oghuric branch of the Turkic language family.Zlatarski 1970 [1918]: [ §1a.a.1]Irechek 1978: [ ch. 5]Siegert 1985: 46 This theory is supported, among other things, by the fact that some Bulgar words contained in the few surviving stone inscriptionsBeshevliev 1981 (online) and in other documents (mainly military and hierarchical terms such as [[tarkhan|tarkan]], [[baghatur|bagatur]], and probably ([[khan (title)|khan]]) and [[kanartikin]] - "prince") appear to be of Turkic origin, that the [[Bulgar calendar]] had a 12 year cycle similar to the one adopted by Turkic and Mongolian peoples from the [[Chinese calendar|Chinese]], with names and numbers that are deciphered as Turkic, and that the Bulgars' supreme god was apparently called [[Tengriism#Tengriism in Europe|Tangra]], a deity widely known among the Turkic peoples under names such as [[Tengri]], Tura etc.Sedlar 1994: [ 141] (Google Books preview) Some also point out the presence of a small number of Turkic loanwords in the Slavic [[Old Bulgarian]] language, and the fact that the Bulgars used an [[alphabet]] similar to the Turkic [[Orkhon script]], although this alphabet has not been satisfactorily deciphered yet: fortunately, the Bulgar inscriptions were sometimes written in [[Greek alphabet|Greek]] or [[Cyrillic]] characters, most commonly in [[Greek language|Greek]], thus allowing the scholars to identify some of the Bulgar glosses. Supposedly, the name ''Bulgar'' is derived from the Turkic verb ''bulģa'' "to mix, shake, stir"Dybo and its derivative ''bulgak'' "revolt, disorder",Lebedynsky 2003: 178. translated most commonly as the "rebels".Taylor 2008: 78 Contemporaneous sources like [[Procopius]], [[Agathias]] and [[Menander Protector|Menander]] called the Bulgars "[[Huns]]",Maenchen-Helfen 1973: [ ch. IX] while others, like the Byzantine [[Patriarch Michael II of Antioch]], called them "[[Scythians]]" or "[[Sarmatians]]", but this latter identification was probably due to the Byzantine tradition of naming peoples geographically. Due to the lack of definitive evidence, modern scholarship instead uses an [[Ethnogenesis#Ethnogenesis in historical scholarship|ethnogenesis]] approach in explaining the Bulgars' origin. "Further evidence culturally linking the [[Danubian]] Bulgar state to [[Turkic peoples|Turkic]] steppe traditions was the layout of the Bulgars' new capital of [[Pliska]], founded just north of the [[Balkan Mountains]] shortly after 681. The large area enclosed by ramparts, with the rulers' habitations and assorted utility structures concentrated in the center, resembled more a steppe winter encampment turned into a permanent settlement than it did a typical [[Ancient Rome|Roman]] [[Balkan]] city."Hupchick 2001: 10 == Culture and society == [[File:JEŹDZIEC Z MADARY.JPG|thumb|300px|The [[Madara Rider]] (''c.'' 710), a famous example of Bulgar art]] Archaeological finds from the Ukrainian steppe suggest that the early Bulgars had the typical culture of the [[Eurasian nomads|nomadic equestrians]] of Central Asia, who migrated seasonally in pursuit of pastures. From the 7th century, however they became a settled culture, planting crops, and mastering the crafts of blacksmithing, masonry, and carpentry. === Social structure === The Bulgars had a well-developed clan system and were governed by hereditary rulers. The members of the military aristocracy bore the title ''boil'' ([[boyar]]). There also were ''bagains'' - lesser military commanders. The nobility were further divided onto Small and Great Boyars. The latter formed the Council of the Great Boyars and gathered to take decisions on important state matters presided by the [[khan (title)|khan]] (king). Their numbers varied between six and twelve. These probably included the ichirgu boil and the [[Khan (title)|kavkhan]] (vice khan), the two most powerful people after the khan. These titles were administrative and noninheritable. The boyars could also be internal and external, probably distinguished by their place of residence — inside or outside the capital. The heir of the throne was called ''kanartikin''. Other subroyal titles used by the Bulgarian noble class include ''boila tarkan'' (possibly the second son of the khan), ''kana boila kolobur'' (chief priest), ''boritarkan'' (city mayor). The title ''khan'' for early Bulgar ruler is an assumed one as only the form ''kanasubigi'' is attested in stone inscriptions. Historians presume that it includes the word ''khan'' in its archaic form ''kana'' and there is a supporting evidence suggesting that the latter title was indeed used in Bulgaria, e.g. the name of one of the Bulgarian rulers [[Pagan of Bulgaria|Pagan]] occurs in [[Ecumenical Patriarch Nikephoros I of Constantinople|Patriarch Nicephorus]]'s so-called [[Breviarium]] as {{polytonic|Καμπαγάνος}} (''Kampaganos''), likely an erroneous rendition of the phrase "Kan Pagan".''Fontes graeci historiae bulgaricae'', VI: 305 Among the proposed translations for the phrase ''kanasubigi'' as a whole are ''lord of the army'', from the reconstructed Turkic phrase *sü begi, paralleling the attested [[Old Turkic]] sü baši, and, more recently, ''(ruler) from God'', from the Indo-European *su- and baga-, i.e. *su-baga (a counterpart of the Greek phrase {{polytonic|ὁ ἐκ Θεοῦ ἄρχων}}, ''ho ek Theou archon'', which is common in Bulgar inscriptions).Stepanov 2003 This titulature presumably persisted until the Bulgars adopted [[Christianity]].Sedlar 1994: 46 Some Bulgar inscriptions written in [[Greek language|Greek]] and later in [[Old Slavonic|Slavonic]] refer to the Bulgarian ruler respectively with the [[Greeks|Greek]] title ''archon'' or the [[Slavs|Slavic]] title ''[[knyaz]]''.[[Constantine_Manasses|Manasses]] Chronicle, Vatican copy of the Bulgarian translation, p. 145 === Religion === Very little is known about the religion of the Bulgars. It is supposed to have been [[monotheism|monotheistic]] on the evidence of Greek language inscriptions from pagan Danube Bulgaria, wherein Bulgar monarchs describe themselves as "ruler from God" and appeal to the deity's [[omniscience]] and justice. (The various monarchs are not identified by their personal name.) [[Presian]]'s inscription from Filipi (837) states: {{bquote|When someone seeks the truth, God sees [it]. And when someone lies, God sees [it]. The Bulgars have done much good to the Christians [meaning the [[Byzantine Empire|Byzantines]]] and the Christians have forgotten [that], yet God sees [it all]".}} It is traditionally assumed that the God in question was the Turkic [[sky god]] [[Tengri]], although there are few occurrences of that name in documents related to Bulgaria. One such occurrence is in a late Turkish manuscript listing the names of the supreme god in different languages, which has "Tangra" for Bulgarian.Beshevliev 1981: [ ch. 7] Another, from a severely damaged Greek language inscription found on a presumed [[altar]] stone near Madara, tentatively deciphered by Beshevliev as "[[Bulgars#Culture and society|(Kanasubig)i]] [[Omurtag of Bulgaria|Omu(rtag)]], ruler (from God), was ... and sacri(ficed to go)d Tangra ...(some Bulgar titles follow)."Beshevliev 1979 [ Photograph and transcription of the "Tangra" inscription near Madara] {{bg icon}} Beshevliev has also conjectured that the frequent Danube Bulgar runic sign ıYı stands for "Tangra", as it seems to disappear after the conversion to Christianity. A piece of ethnographic evidence which has been invoked to support the belief that the Bulgars worshipped Tengri/Tangra is the relatively similarity of the name "Tengri" to "Tură", the name of the supreme deity of the traditional religion of the [[Chuvash]], who are traditionally regarded as descendants of the [[Volga Bulgars|Volga branch of the Bulgars]].Tokarev, A. ''et al.'' 1987-1988 Nevertheless, the Chuvash religion today is markedly different from Tengriism and can be described as a local form of [[polytheism]] with some elements borrowed from [[Islam]]. In addition, there was the cult of the worship of [[Tengri|Tangri-khan]] (called [[Aspandiat]] by the [[Persian people|Persians]]) by the population of the town of Varachan in Northern [[Dagestan]], which is mostly known as "Kingdom of the [[Huns]]" but which Russian historian M. I. Artamonov considered to be ethnically Bulgar. The cult involved sacrifice of horses and veneration of sacred trees.Dimitrov 1987 D. Dimitrov has argued that the Bulgars also adopted elements of Iranian religious beliefs. He sees Iranian influences on the cult at Varachan and notes resemblances between the layout of the [[Zoroaster|Zoroastrian]] temples of fire and what seem to be pagan Bulgar sanctuaries at [[Pliska]], [[Preslav]], and [[Madara Rider|Madara]]. The architectural similarities include two squares of ashlars inserted one into another, oriented towards the summer sunrise. One of these sites was transformed into a Christian church, which is taken as evidence that they served a religious function.[ Dimitrov 1987] [[Christianity]] was adopted in [[Danubian Bulgaria]] by [[Knyaz]] [[Boris I]] in [[865]]. [[Islam]] was adopted in [[Volga Bulgaria]] in the 10th century. == History == === Migration to Europe === [[Image:Khazar0.png|thumb|right|300px|Map showing the location of Bulgars, ''c.'' 650.]] In the early 2nd century, some groups of Bulgars migrated from [[Central Asia]] to the European continent and settled on the plains between the [[Caspian Sea]] and the [[Black Sea]]. The Bulgars appear (under the ethnonym of ‘Bulensii’) in certain [[Latin]] versions of [[Ptolemy]]’s second century AD mapping, shown as occupying the territory along the northwest coast of [[Black Sea]] east of [[Southern Bug|Axiacus River (Southern Bug)]].Dobrev, Petar 2001Fries, Lorenz and Claudius Ptolemy. [ Tabula IX. Europae]. In: Servetus, Michael. ''Opus Geographiae''. Lyon, 1535.Germanus, Nikolaus and Claudius Ptolemy. [ ''Geographia'']. Ulm: Lienhart Holle, 1482. (fragment) Between 351 and 389, some of the Bulgars crossed the [[Caucasus]] to settle in [[Armenia]]. [[Toponymy|Toponymic]] data testify to the fact that they remained there and were eventually assimilated by the [[Armenians]]. Swept by the [[Hunnish]] wave at the beginning of the 4th century, other Bulgar tribes broke loose from their settlements in Central Asia to migrate to the fertile lands along the lower valleys of the rivers [[Donets]] and [[Don River (Russia)|Don]] and the [[Azov]] seashore, assimilating what was left of the [[Sarmatians]]. Some of these remained for centuries in their new settlements, whereas others moved on with the [[Huns]] towards [[Central Europe]], settling in [[Pannonia]]. Those Bulgars took part in the Hun raids on [[Central Europe|Central]] and [[Western Europe]] between 377 and 453. After the death of [[Attila]] in 453, and the subsequent disintegration of the [[Hunnish empire]], the Bulgar tribes dispersed mostly to the eastern and southeastern parts of Europe. At the end of the 5th century (probably in the years 480, 486, and 488) they fought against the [[Ostrogoths]] as allies of the [[Byzantine Empire|Byzantine emperor]] [[Zeno (emperor)|Zeno]]. From 493 they carried out frequent attacks on the western territories of the [[Byzantine Empire]]. Later raids were carried out at the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century. In the middle of the 6th century, war broke out between the two main Bulgar tribes, the [[Kutrigurs|Kutrigur]] and [[Utigurs|Utigur]]. To the west, the Kutrigurs fell under Avar dominion and became influential within the Khaganate. The eastern Utigurs fell under the western [[Göktürk]] empire in 568. === Establishment of Great Bulgaria === [[Image:Bulgaria 800ad.jpg|thumb|300px|First Bulgarian Empire in 800AD, highlighting the Bulgarian Empire and showing its neighbors.]] {{Main|Old Great Bulgaria}} United under [[Kubrat]] or Kurt of the [[Dulo clan]] (supposedly {{Who|date=August 2008}} identical to the ruler mentioned by [[Arabs|Arabic]] chronicler [[Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari|At-Tabari]] under the name of [[Shahriar]]), the joined forces of the Utigur and Kutrigur Bulgars, and probably the Bulgar [[Onogurs]], broke loose from the Turkic khanate in the 630s. They formed an independent state, the Onogundur-Bulgar (''Oghondor-blkar'' or ''Olhontor-blkar'') Empire, often called by [[Byzantine Empire|Byzantine]] sources "the [[Old Great Bulgaria]]". The empire was situated between the lower course of the [[Danube]] to the west, the [[Black Sea]] and the [[Azov Sea]] to the south, the [[Kuban]] River to the east, and the [[Donets]] River to the north. It is assumed that the state capital was [[Phanagoria]], an ancient city on the [[Taman]] peninsula (''see'' [[Tmutarakan]]). However, the archaeological evidence shows that the city became predominantly Bulgar only after Kubrat's death and the consequent disintegration of his state. === Subsequent migrations === {{main|History of Bulgaria}} According to legend, on his deathbed Khan Kubrat commanded his sons to gather sticks and bring them to him, which he then bundled together. He commanded his eldest son [[Batbayan of Bulgaria|Batbayan]] (also Bayan or Boyan) to break the bundle. Bayan failed against the strength of the combined sticks, and so did the other sons in turn. Kubrat undid the bundle and broke each stick separately. He then proclaimed to his sons, "unity makes strength", which has become a commonplace Bulgarian folk slogan and now appears on the modern [[Coat of arms of Bulgaria|Bulgarian coat of arms]]. (Similar versions of this story occur also in Chinese and Japanese historic legends.) The Byzantine Patriarch [[Nicephorus I]] relates that Kubrat's sons, however, did not live up to this advice,{{fact|date=November 2009}} and thus soon after the death of Kubrat around 665, the [[Khazars|Khazar]] expansion eventually led to the dissolution of [[Great Bulgaria]]. Batbayan at first remained the ruler of the lands north of the [[Black Sea|Black]] and the [[Azov Sea]]s, but the Khazars soon subdued him. Those Bulgars, along with their Khazar masters, converted to [[Judaism]] in the 9th century. Furthermore, the [[Balkars]] in [[Kabardino-Balkaria]] may be also the descendants of this Bulgar branch.{{fact|date=November 2009}} The [[Eastern Bulgars]], led by Kubrat’s second son [[Kotrag]], migrated to the confluence of the [[Volga River|Volga]] and [[Kama River]]s in what is now [[Russia]] (see [[Volga Bulgaria]]). The present-day republics of [[Tatarstan]] and [[Chuvashia]] are traditionally considered to be the descendants of [[Volga Bulgaria]] in terms of territory and people, but recent DNA research casts doubt on this tradition in regard to the Chuvash. Linguistically, only the [[Chuvash language]] is similar to the old [[Bulgar language]]; the [[Tatar language]] belongs to a different branch of the [[Turkic languages]]. The Bulgars led by Khubrat's youngest son, [[Asparukh]], moved westward and occupied what is today the southern part of [[Bessarabia]]. After a successful war with [[Byzantium]] in 680, [[Asparukh]]'s khanate settled in [[Dobrudja]]. Asparukh and Byzantine Constantine IV Pogonatus signed a treaty in 681. Asparukh's khanate went on to conquer [[Moesia Superior]]. The year 681 is usually regarded as the year of the establishment of modern [[Bulgaria]]. The smallest successor group to Great Bulgaria, the [[Alcek]] (also transliterated as 'Altsek' and 'Altcek' or 'Ducca Alzeco'), after many wanderings settled mainly near [[Naples]] in the [[Benevento]] and [[Salerno]] provinces, under the leadership of Emnetzur. A group of Bulgars ruled by [[Kuber]] inhabited [[Pannonia]]. After breaking free of Avar overlordship, they migrated to [[Macedonia (region)|Macedonia]].Zlatarski 1970 [1918]: 514 This group, numbering around 70,000, included descendants of Roman captives of various ethnicities that had been resettled in Pannonia by the Avars. The majority of historians do not see any evidence for the existence of a Bulgar khanate in Macedonia before 850 AD; but Zlatarski posits that Kuber was also a son of Kubrat, that Kuber's Bulgars formed a khanate in Macedonia, and that Kuber's khanate joined Slavs to attack the Byzantine Empire.

List of Bulgar tribes

Tribes thought to have been Bulgar in origin include:

After the dissolution of Great Bulgaria these tribes formed:

See also


  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, Bulgars
  2. Dobrev, Ivan
  3. Lalueza-Fox, et al. 2004
  4. Arnaiz-Villena et al. 2003
  5. Columbia Encyclopedia: Eastern Bulgars
  6. Petrov 1981: §A.II.1
  7. Angelov 1971: §II.2
  8. Runciman 1930: §I.1
  9. Mikulchik 1996: 71 ( §VI.1.Б)
  10. Hupchick 2001
  11. Curta 2006


Spelling note: in academic literature and library catalogs in the West, as well as in official Bulgarian transliterations, the Bulgarian letter ъ is usually transliterated in either of two ways, 'ǎ' or 'ŭ', and sometimes even 'y', and the diacritic is often missing.

Sofiamarker is the capital of Bulgaria.

Further reading

  • Chance, Jane. 2005. Women medievalists and the academy. Univ. of Wisconsin Press.
  • Curta, Florin, ed., with the assistance of Roman Kovalev. 2008. The other Europe in the Middle Ages: Avars, Bulgars, Khazars, and Cumans. BRILL.
  • Fine, John V. A. 1991. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472081497.
  • Mango, Cyril A. 2002. The Oxford history of Byzantium.
  • Miller, Mikhail. 1956. Archaeology in the U.S.S.R. Frederick A. Praeger.
  • Obolensky, Dimitri. 1994. Byzantium and the Slavs. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

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