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History of Bulgaria

Early History

Prehistoric cultures in the Bulgarian lands include the Neolithic Hamangia culture and Vinča culture (6th to 3rd millennia BC), the eneolithic Varna culture (5th millennium BC), and the Bronze Age Ezero culture. The Karanovo chronology serves as a gauge for the prehistory of the wider Balkans region.

The Thracians, the earliest known identifiable people to inhabit the present-day territory of Bulgaria, have left traceable marks among all the Balkan region despite its tumultuous history of many conquests. The Panagyuriste treasure ranks as one of the most splendid achievements of the Thracian culture.

The Thracians lived divided into numerous separate tribes until King Teres united most of them around 500 BC in the Odrysian kingdom, which peaked under the kings Sitalces and Cotys I (383-359 BC). In 188 BC the Romans invaded Thrace, and warfare continued until 45 AD when Rome finally conquered the region. The conquerors quickly romanised the population. By the time the Slavs arrived, the Thracians had already lost their indigenous identity and had dwindled in number following frequent invasions.

The Slavs emerged from their original homeland (which scholars most commonly locate in Eastern Europe) in the early 6th century, and spread to most of the eastern Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, thus forming three main branches – the West Slavs, the East Slavs and the South Slavs. The eastern South Slavs became part of the ancestors of the modern Bulgarians. They assimilated what remained of the Thracians. Modern Bulgarians derive much of their culture, language and self-determination from these early immigrants.

The ancient Bulgars belong to the big Iranian ethno-tribal group with origins that can be traced back to the Balhara region in the foothills of Mount Imeon, a territory roughly corresponding to present northern Afghanistan and most of Tajikistan. Ancient Bulgarian language belongs to the Indo-European Languages Group. 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 Axiacus River (Southern Bug). They arrived on the Balkans in the early 7th century from Old Great Bulgaria, merged with the local romanised and hellenised Thracians and the recently settled, in 6th century, Slavic inhabitants to form the first Bulgarian state.

The Bulgars were relatively tall for the time having average height of 175-180 cm. They were good herdsmen, farmers and builders. The ancient Bulgar cities were solid stone build surrounded by stone wall. The Bulgars had well armed and trained cavalry and army explaining why they were able to defeat the large Byzantine army in the battle of Ongal in 680 and then permanently settle on the Balkan peninsula.

The Bulgars were governed by hereditary khans. There were several aristocratic families whose members, bearing military titles, formed a governing class. Bulgars were monotheistic, worshipping their supreme deity Tangra.

The migration of the Bulgars to the European continent started as early as the 2nd century when branches of Bulgars settled on the plains between the Caspian and the Black Sea. Between 351 and 389, some of these crossed the Caucasus and settled in Armenia. They were eventually assimilated by the Armenians.

Swept by the Hun wave at the beginning of the 4th century, other numerous Bulgarian tribes broke loose from their settlements in central Asia to migrate to the fertile lands along the lower valleys of the Donets and the Don rivers and the Azov seashore. Some of these remained for centuries in their new settlements, whereas others moved on with the Huns towards Central Europe, settling in Pannonia.

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