Bulgaria ~ Country


See also BULGARIA ~ Byzantine themes

Bulgarian flag

Bulgarian flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Country in the eastern Balkans, south of the Danube, with coast on the Black Sea.   The language of the Bulgarians is Slavonic, a consequence of  the Slav incursions into the Balkans, including the old Roman province of Moesia, in the 7th century,  but their name comes from a Turkic speaking people.

These were among the remnants of the great Hun Empire that had stretched from central Europe far into Asia in the middle of the 5th century.   The Kutrigur and the Utrigur Huns inhabited the steppes either side of the River Don, but in the 6th century came under the dominance of the Avars.   As Avar power became more confined to the western steppelands in the early 7th century the two groups of Huns combined as the Bulgars and established their own Khanate in the steppes west of the Volga.

Later in the 7th century the rise of the Khazars put the Bulgars under pressure and they broke up into separate groups, one of which moved northwards to the middle Volga/Kama region, where they survived until the Mongols overwhelmed them in the 13th century (see GREAT BULGARIA).   Another group moved westwards to the Danube.   Though they established their rule over the Slavs in the region, they were in insufficient numbers to force a change of language and themselves eventually became Slav-speaking;  they did however leave their name as the name of the land to which they came.

There have been some three or four Bulgarian states.

Map of the Bulgarian lands during the rule of ...

Map of the Bulgarian lands during the rule of Tsar Samuil (997-1014) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.The First Bulgarian Empire began when the Bulgar Khan Asparukh (or Isperikh) crossed the Danube and began the subjection of the Seven (Slavic) Tribes living in Moesia in the 670s.   His rule south of the Danube and extending to the Balkan Mountains was recognised by the Byzantine Empire, in 681, after he had defeated a Byzantine army.   It was the first acknowledgement Byzantium had made of another Balkan power.

One of the early Khans, Tervel, helped restore the Emperor Justinian II to his throne in 705, and was rewarded with the title of Caesar, the second highest of Byzantine titles:  henceforth his successors called themselves Tsar.   A new dynasty, founded by Krum in 803, reached its peak in the reign of Symeon, 893-925.   Towards the end of his reign, after defeating the Byzantines, Bulgaria absorbed the west of modern Serbia and the east of Bosnia, forming an extensive Kingdom of the southern Slavs.   The Empire was badly shaken in the late 960s when the Russian Prince, Svyatoslav, in alliance with Byzantium, rampaged through the eastern Balkans.

The Bulgarian influence north of the Danube completely disappeared leaving the lower lands of modern Romania to the Pechenegs (Patzinaks), while the Bulgarian Kingdom was blown this way and that when the Russians and the Byzantines fell out.   In 971 after the Byzantine Emperor John Tzimiskes had defeated Sviatoslav he annexed the Bulgarian Kingdom.

2.The Bulgarian Kingdom in Macedonia emerged almost immediately out of the ruins of the First Empire.   It was ruled at first by four brothers, of whom just one remained in 986.   Samuel gathered together much of the territory of the First Bulgarian Empire, to which his Kingdom is a long and significant postscript.   The Byzantine Emperor Basil II waged a long war with Samuel’s Bulgaria.   Samuel’s army was badly beaten in 1014 and he died not long after.   By 1018 Bulgaria had been incorporated in the Byzantine Empire.

English: Coat of Arms of the Second Bulgarian ...

English: Coat of Arms of the Second Bulgarian Empire during the reign of Tsar Ivan Shishman (1371–1395). The image is based on the original miniature from the second half of the 14th century by an anonymous Arab traveller, now in the King’s Archive of Morocco. 70px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3.The Second Bulgarian Empire (or the Vlacho-Bulgarian Kingdom) was the result of a revolt against the Byzantine Empire in 1185, led by brothers belonging to the family of Asen.  The revolt followed on a period of turmoil in Constantinople between 1182 and 1185, during which two Emperors and several major dignitaries died violent deaths and at times mob violence raged.   In 1187 the Emperor Isaac II accepted Bulgarian independence.

The Second Bulgarian Empire was at its height during the reign of Ivan Asen II, 1218-41.   His Empire stretched from the Danube to the Aegean, from the Albanian coast well into Thrace, from northern Thessaly through Macedonia to Belgrade and the lower Morava.   It even extended northwards across the Danube to the Transylvanian Alps west of the River Olt – the district called Little Wallachia.   Besides being a vigorous ruler, Ivan Asen II was a generous spirited man, who looked for virtues in old enemies.

When he died in 1241 his son was still a child.  The next year the Mongols invaded Bulgaria, spreading destruction.   The Second Empire never fully recovered, its rulers paying tribute to the Mongols for the rest of the century whilst internally there was dynastic struggle and confusion.   In the early years of the 14th century Bulgaria stabilised under Tsar Theodore of the Terter dynasty.   Soon after his death in 1321 a new dynasty, the Shishman, appeared, but soon lost territory to the rising power of Serbia.   Later in the century the Empire broke up.   The northeast, lying south of the Danube delta and between the Danube and the Black Sea, broke away under a prince called Dobrich (whence its name, Dobrudja) while in 1371 two brothers divided the lands between Danube and the Balkan Mountains into the principalities of Trnovo and Vidin.

In 1393 the Ottoman Turks destroyed the Trnovo principality.   In 1396 the last great Crusade to the east encountered the Ottomans outside the Bulgarian town of Nicopolis and was shattered.   The principality of Vidin too fell to the Turks and Bulgaria remained under Ottoman rule for nearly 500 years.

4.Modern Bulgaria emerged out of the Eastern Crisis of 1875-8 and the Russo-Ottoman war, 1877-8.   In March 1878 Russia forced a Peace Treaty on the Ottoman Empire at San Stefano.   Amongst its provisions was the creation of a large autonomous Bulgaria, but the other European powers frustrated this when they revised the Treaty in the Congress of Berlin, June and July 1878.   The autonomous principality of Bulgaria would comprise the lands south of the Danube and north and west of the Balkan Mountains (the Stara Planina), i.e. the northeast of the Big Bulgaria of San Stefano.   The southeast, lying south of the Balkan Mountains, would form the autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia, its administration headed by a Christian governor appointed by the Ottoman government.   The rest of Big Bulgaria, except for some strips of land that were given to Serbia, returned to full Ottoman rule.

In 1885 a coup d’état in Eastern Rumelia added that province to Bulgaria, to the great disapproval of Russia, which had acted as protector of the Principality.   The original Prince, Alexander of Battenberg, withdrew in 1886, and in 1887 was replaced by Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a kinsman of Queen Victoria and of several other European monarchs.   It was not until 1896 that the Porte recognised Ferdinand as Prince of Bulgaria and Governor-General of Eastern Rumelia, and hence acknowledged their union.   Russia and the European Powers followed suit.

Bulgarian autonomy ended with a unilateral declaration of independence, with Ferdinand as King (Tsar), on 5 October 1908.   The Powers recognised the change in April 1909.

Bulgaria shared in the victories over the Ottoman Empire, through which the Balkan states drove the Ottoman Empire out of most of its remaining lands in Europe, 1912-13, but it fell out with its allies.   The next three wars (the Second Balkan War, 1913, and the two World Wars) in which it fought each ended with

Bulgaria on the losing side so that it was unable to fulfil its dream of recreating the earlier Empires by the inclusion of Macedonia.

5.Territorial divisions in modern Bulgaria.   Autonomous Bulgaria was divided into districts in 1880 and again in 1887 after the union with Eastern Rumelia.   These were reformed in 1901, when Bulgaria was divided into 12 okruzi (sing: okrug), usually called departments or provinces in English.   The changes in territory in 1912-3 brought the total to 16.   The okruzi were all named after their capitals.

Constitutional changes in 1934 led to Bulgaria being divided into 9 oblasti (sing – oblast), usually translated as counties.   These were abolished in 1947, leaving 95 smaller units of local government.   In 1949 the country was again divided up, this time into 14 okruzi, two of which were abolished in 1951.   Various changes were made until by the 1970s there were 28 okruzi, all named after their capital (the capital, Sofia, formed one okrug, the neighbouring countryside formed another, also called Sofia).

In 1987 came the last change of the hectic Communist era.   The okruzi were swept away and replaced by 9 oblasti, usually translated as regions.  The nine, which include one for the city of Sofia, are named after their capitals.   They have survived the end of Communism and are now divided for local government purposes into 278 districts.

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