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Old Great Bulgaria

Bulgars' settlements VI-VII century
Old Great Bulgaria or Great Bulgaria (Παλαιά Μεγάλη Βουλγαρία in Byzantine chronicles) was а term used by Byzantine historians to refer to Onoguria during the reign of the Bulgar ruler Kubrat in the 7th century north of the Caucasus mountainsmarker in the steppe between the Dniestermarker and Lower Volga.


Kubrat (also Kurt or Houvrat) was of the kingly Dulo clan and the rightful heir of the Bulgar throne. He spent his adolescence in the Byzantine Empire, where he was educated and baptised, while his maternal uncle Organa was a regent over his tribe.

Around 628 Kubrat returned to his fatherland, took the leadership over his people most probably with the approval of the Avar khagan. He soon managed to overthrow Avar domination and also to secede from the Western Turkic Khaganate (which was entangled in dynastic wars).


Between 630 and 635 Khan Kubrat managed to unite the two main Bulgar tribes of Kutrigur and Utigur under a single rule, creating a powerful confederation which is referred to by the medieval authors as The Old Great Bulgaria and also known as Onogundur-Bulgar Empire (or in western version: Onoghuria). Some scholars assume that it also included among its subjects the defeated Avars and stretched as far west as the Pannonian plain. It is presumed that his capital was the ancient city of Phanagoriamarker on the Taman peninsulamarker. Kubrat's grave was discovered in 1912 at Pereshchepina, Ukrainemarker.

Disintegration and successor states

The events that unfolded following Kubrat's death are described by the Byzantine Patriarch Nicephorus I . In the times of Emperor Constantine IV, he narrates, Kubrat died and Batbayan, the eldest of his five sons, was left in charge of the state. Under strong Khazar pressure, Kubrat's other sons disregarded their father's advice to stay together in order to resist the enemies and soon departed, taking their own tribes.

Volga Bulgars

Kotrag, the leader of the Kutrigurs (or Kotrags), left for Middle Volga, where he later established Volga Bulgaria at the Volga-Kama confluence, a state which was to become very prosperous. The Volga Bulgars or the Silver Bulgars as they were called at the time, converted voluntarily to Islam in the 9th century and managed to preserve their national identity well into the 13th century, by repelling the first Mongol attacks in 1223. However, they were eventually subdued, their main city Bolgharmarker became a capital of the Golden Horde Khanate and the Bulgars mixed with the Tatars. The citizens of the modern Russianmarker republics of Tatarstan and Chuvashiamarker are considered to be descendants of those Bulgars.

Bulgars in Vojvodina and Macedonia

Kuber ruled in Sirmiummarker over a mixed group of peoples (Bulgars, 'Romans', Slavs, Germanics) as a vassal of the Avar khagan. After a revolt he led his people to Macedonia. There he had settled in the region of Keremisia and made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the city of Thessalonikimarker. After this, he disappears from history and his people merged with the Slavic tribes of Macedonia.

Bulgars in Southern Italy

Other Bulgars, circa 662, led by their "Duke Alzeco" (Altsek) sought refuge from the Avars with the Lombards and requestedland from the Lombard King Grimoald I of Benevento in exchange for military service "for an uncertain reason", initially staying near Ravennamarker and later moving further south. Grimoald sent Altzek and his followers to his son Romuald in Benevento and they were then granted by Romuald land northeast of Naplesmarker in the "spacious but up till that time deserted" towns of Sepinomarker, Bovianum (Boianomarker), and Iserniamarker, in the present-day region of Molise in the Apenninesmarker. Instead of the title "Duke" Altzek was granted the Lombard title of "Gastald". Paul the Deacon in his History of the Lombard People writing after the year 787 says that in his time Bulgars still inhabited the area, and that even though they speak "Latin", "they have not forsaken the use of their own tongue".

Excavations in the necropolis of Vicenne-Campochiaromarker near Boiano which dates from the 7th century, found among 130 burials that there were 13 human burials alongside horses along with artifacts of Germanic and Avar origin. Horse burials are characteristic of Central Asian horse-nomads, and therefore these burials are clearly those of the Bulgar settlers of Molise and Campania.

Caucasian Bulgars / Balkars

BatBayan's people, the so-called Black Bulgars, remained in their homeland and were soon subdued by the Khazars. Some believe that the present-day Balkars are the descendants of the BatBayan horde even though they call themselves Malkars (after the river Malka) and speak a Turkic language of the Kipchak type.But in most Turkic languages the sound "b" became "m".

First Bulgarian Empire

Asparuh, the successor to Kubrat, subsequently conquered Moesia and Dobrudja from the Byzantine Empire in 680 and formed the First Bulgarian Empire.

Etymology of Onoghuria

Variations of the name include:

Onoghuria, Onoguri, Onoghuri, Onghur, Ongur, Onghuri, Onguri, Onghuria, Onguria, Onogundur, Unogundur, Unokundur, etc.

There are numerous speculations about the origin of the Onogur name:

  • In modern language of the Caucasian Avars Onoghuria could mean "Everlasting", from uno - ever and guro - lasting.

  • Some derive it from the Turkic words On (ten) and Ghur (arrow) which in combination may mean "Ten Arrows", i.e. "A federation of ten tribes".

  • Another explanation states that because in Turkic languages the sound "z" turns to "r" when you go westwards and therefore the ethnonym of the Oguz/Oghuz Turks would sound as Ogur/Oghur in the west. Then Onogur would mean "ten clans of Oguz/Oghuz (Turks)". In support to this view is fact that the Bulgars are listed among the ten sons of Togarmah (the mythic ancestor of the Turks) in the Khazar Correspondence.

  • Others relate Onoghur to Unok-vndur, a Bulgar people mentioned in the early Armenianmarker sources.

Other uses

According to some sources , seven Finno-Ugric speaking tribes, including the Magyars, joined three Khazar-Turkic speaking Kabar clans to form a confederation also known as "Ten Arrows" or Onoghur. The word "Hungarymarker" probably derives from this name.. The Romanian name for Magyar sounds even more similar to Onoghur - Ungur as is the Bulgarian name - Ungar(tzi)

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