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Turkic Tribes IndexBulgars (Turks)
Incorporating the Ases, Balandzhars, Bandzhars, Barsils, Barsilts, Belendzhers, Bersulas, Chdar-Bulgars, Duc'i Bulkar, Esegels, Hajlandurkh, Hajlandurs, Kuchi-Bulkar, Kupi-Bulgars, Pugurs, Unoguns, Unogundurs, Suvars, & Yases

Bulgar origins remain unclear, although many theories exist and a few of them are likely enough to be accurate. The most reasonable origin seems to be related to the Tiele (Tieh-lê) who declared themselves independent of the Jou-Jan during the reign of Khagan Tou-lun (485-492). The Tiele revolt saw them migrate further north and west, one of many Turko-Mongoloid tribes in this region which now forms north-western China and areas of Central Asia. As with the majority of these tribes, they were formed from the Central Asian melting pot of ethnic groups, with Indo-Iranians also forming part of their early ancestry. The proto-Bulgars may have been Tiele or a sub-group which was controlled by them, with the migration allowing the proto-Bulgars to establish a stronger identity of their own. Homelands have been posited for them in Kazakhstan and the north Caucasian steppe, although the latter ignores their Central Asian origins. In the early phase of their existence, proto-Bulgars are generally accepted as being Turko-Mongoloid steppe people, part of a vast wave of mounted nomadic tribes which appeared in Central Asia from the third century AD onwards (the Xionites among them).

Proto-Bulgars may have a shared origin with Oguric-speaking tribes which later formed part of Great Bulgaria in the seventh century and the Volga Bulgar state in the tenth century. The Oguric tribes undoubtedly had their origins on the Kazakh steppe prior to their entry into Eastern Europe. Interaction with Hunnic tribes may have occurred prior to their westwards migration, but the Pontic-Caspian steppe seems a more likely setting, particularly in the aftermath of the collapse of the Hunnic state. They and the other larger groupings that arrived on the Pontic-Caspian steppe between the fourth and fifth centuries collected other smaller groups along the way which served to dilute their specific origin and, in time, form a more generalised early Turkic set of tribes. Further dilution occurred as the new arrivals mixed with any remaining Slav groups, those that had not migrated north or west to escape the Huns. By the sixth century there appears to have been a number of Bulgar groupings on the Pontic-Caspian steppe, particularly in its eastern zones. In fact, the Armenian Geography mentions a number of Bulgar tribes in the northern Caucasian-Kuban steppe (between modern Georgia and the Sea of Azov).

The variation in names for the proto-Bulgars is relatively vast, covering Balkars, Blkars, Bolgari, Bolgars, Bolghars, Bulgari, Bulghars, Bulhi, Bulkhars, Bushki, and Malkars, plus the more Asiatic and possibly original forms, Ba-go, Bao-guo, Bu-gu, and Pu-ku, along with others. There were also various subdivisions and ethnic affiliates which could be found amongst or alongside the main mass of Bulgars, many of which are little more than Bulgars with further variations of the name. These included the Alans (certainly an identifiable group in their own right, but they were a wide-ranging people and some groups could easily have joined the proto-Bulgars on the steppe) and Ases (the same as the Yases, below - a nomadic group which may have been involved in the invasion of Sogdiana around 130 BC), plus Balandzhars, Bandzhars, Barsils, Barsilts, and Belendzhers (all in Dagestan on the north-western coast of the Caspian Sea), and also Bersulas, the 'immigrant' Chdar-Bulgars (or Cdar Bulkar, perhaps the hardest group to locate - they are generally placed in the basins of Big Rombit (Eja) or Don (at the north-eastern tip of the Sea of Azov), or in northern Dagestan), Duc'i Bulkar (or Duci Bulgar - the same as the Kuci Bulgars listed below), Esegels (or Asijie - part of the 'Western Wing' of the Göktürk empire in AD 651), the Hajlandurkh and Hajlandurs (both possibly variations of the Onogur name), Khazars (most definitely not Bulgars as such - they formed an empire of their own in direct competition with the Bulgars), Kuchi-Bulkar (Bulgars of the River Dnieper (Kocho), which enters the northern Black Sea to the west of the Crimea - also known as the Duci Bulgars listed above), Kupi-Bulgars (or Kup'i Bulgar - Bulgars of the River Kuban or Kuphis which flows from the Caucuses Mountains into the Sea of Azov) Kutigurs or Kutrigurs (a readily-identifiable division with their own visible history), Olxontor Blkar (Onogur Bulgars), Onogurs (or Oghondor, or even Olhontor-Blkar - another readily-identifiable division which, confusingly, may still be one and the same group as the early Bulgars), Pugurs (possibly the European version of Chinese names for Bulgars - Bu-gu or Pu-ku), Unoguns, Unogundurs, Venenders (disputed - they could either be Onogurs or remnants of the Venedi - or both!), Sabirs (an identifiably separate group), Suvars (or Subars - also seemingly involved in the invasion of Sogdiana), Yases (see the Ases, above), and others. Many of these later became indivisible from the Bulgars themselves.

The medieval Balkan Bulgars appear to have claimed an Attilid (Hunnic) origin for their ruling house, as shown by the Bulgarian prince list - meaning descent from Attila, however unlikely this may be in fact. Atilla was a powerful figure to the medieval states, especially those which occupied territory that had once been part of the Hunnic empire. Claiming descent from Atilla would be akin to Germanic tribes claiming descent from Woden. The Bulgar name is typically etymologised from the Turkic 'bulga-', meaning 'to stir, confuse, disturb (someone), produce a state of disorder', which could be rendered in English as 'the disturbers', a suitable name for nomads. However, this explanation is seen by experts as being derogatory and unsuitable. A consensus about the name's more suitable meaning seems not to have been reached.

At first, any early-arriving Bulgar and other Turkic tribes were dominated in the northern Caucuses by the Goths who occupied a large extent of the northern Black Sea coast (the Bulgars have been posited as a reason for a series of Gothic migrations in the second century AD, but this is too early for the Bulgars to be in the region). Some early Bulgar elements may also have been forced into the Pontic steppe from their earlier homeland by the expansionist conquests of the Göktürks in the sixth century, further increasing Bulgar numbers. By the early seventh century, with the collapse of the Hunnic empire and the early termination of the first Avar khaganate, the Bulgarians had set up a powerful tribal amalgamation known as Great Bulgaria. Its ruler was Qaghan Koubrat. He established friendly relations with the Eastern Roman empire, but after his death the state quickly fragmented under pressure from the Khazars.

Some Bulgarians subsequently remained in the region and were subdued by the Khazars, but others travelled. One group reached the Volga where it set up a new state known as Volgan Bulgaria, with a capital at Kazan. This existed up until the thirteenth century when it was wiped out by Tartars. Another group of Bulgars settled first in Pannonia, and subsequently in the region of Bitolya (Macedonia). A third group followed the northern Black Sea coastline, soon reaching the Danube where it founded a new kingdom of Bulgaria.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Vassil Karloukovski, from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes, from the Chronicle of Fredegar / Latin Chronicle (author unknown but the work has been attributed to Fredegar since the sixteenth century thanks to his name being written in the margin), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from Armenian Geography, Pseudo-Movsês Xorenac'i, from Rulers of Bulgaria, Professor Milcho Lalkov, from Volga Bulgaria Stories for Children, S Shamsi & I Izmailov (Kazan, 1995), and from External Links: Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions, Vassil Karloukovski, and The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click on link to download or access it), and Gothica, Jordanes (full text available online at Archive.com), and Turkic History, and Kroraina, Vassil Karloukovski.)

c.422

Just about the earliest indisputable record of Bulgars being in Europe refers to a battle between Bulgars and Langobards. This takes place somewhere on the northern slopes of the Carpathians, and this particular group of Bulgars are probably acting as recruits of the Huns. The battle is recorded by Paulus Diaconus and Fredegarius, although the dating is approximate (a date of circa 415 seems more appropriate to fit in with Langobard migration).

Map of Eastern Europe AD 450-500
Soon after the middle of the fifth century AD the Hunnic empire crashed into extinction, starting with the death of Attila in 453. His son and successor, Ellac, was killed in battle in 454, and the Huns were defeated by the Ostrogoths in 456, ending Hunnic unity (click on map to view full sized)

c.467

Oguric-speaking tribes have recently been pushed out of the Kazakh steppe by the Sabirs due to population pressures from farther east and a domino effect of tribal movement in a westwards direction. Now they make their presence felt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe. The Saragurs attack the Akatirs and other tribes that had been part of the Hunnic union. Then, perhaps prompted by the Eastern Roman empire, the Ogurics raid Sassanid-held Transcaucasia, ravaging the Georgian kingdoms of Egrisi and Iberia and also Armenia while on their way southwards.

The Ogurics also appear in a listing of tribes in the supplement to the Syriac translation of 'Pseudo-' Zacharias Rhetor's Ecclesiastical History, composed around AD 555 based on an earlier text. The supplement (perhaps not fully reliable for the fifth century situation) mentions the tribes of Onogur, Ogur, Sabir, Burgar (Bulgar), Kutrigur, Abar, Kasar (this name is uncertain, possibly also being Kasir or Akatzir), Sarurgur (Sarugur/Saragur), Xwâlis, and Abdel (Hephthalites).

They are described in the clichéd phrases that are reserved for nomads in the ethnographic literature of the period. Beyond these scant notices, nothing is known of the later history of the Saragurs. They are probably incorporated into other more powerful tribal unions, their amalgamation being induced by the movements of other steppe peoples, perhaps the Sabirs, who enter the region by the late fifth and early sixth centuries.

480

Another of the earliest written records involving the Bulgars is dated to this year when they serve as allies of the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno against the Ostrogoths. The restlessness of this Germanic group has been creating increasing problems in their management for the Romans, and they often need bringing back into line.

550/551

The Gothic writer Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople, completes his sixth century work at this time, entitled Getica. Among many other things, it provides an account of the people of the Acatziri who live to the south of the Goths (Tauric Goths). Beyond them, above the Pontic Sea (Black Sea), is the habitat of the 'Bulgari', seemingly neighbouring the Hunnic branches of the Altziagiri (possibly the Altyn Ola horde) and Saviri (probably Sabirs). However, the Bulgars temporarily disappear from the historical record around this point in time as the Kutrigurs come to the fore. All of the tribes are soon overwhelmed by the Avars.

552

In Central Asia, the Rouran khagan faces an uprising by the early Göktürks, one which is supported by the Western Wei. The Rouran are defeated in battle to the north of Huaihuang (now the prefecture city of Zhangjiakou in northern China's Hebei Province). The Göktürk people are now free to become the main power in the region.

Map of Central Asia AD 550-600
As was often the case with Central Asian states that had been created by horse-borne warriors on the sweeping steppelands, the Göktürk khaganate swiftly incorporated a vast stretch of territory in its westwards expansion, whilst being hemmed in by the powerful Chinese dynasties to the south-east and Siberia's uninviting tundra to the north (click on map to view full sized)

 

They move away from their traditional homeland in the southern Altai and migrate into the Orkhon Valley in Central Mongolia. This forms the centre of Göktürk power during their period of empire, but their rapid expansion may be responsible for pushing the proto-Bulgars westwards over the next half a century to settle in the Caucuses. The Göktürks soon follow them to establish their domination over the nomadic tribes of the Pontic-Caspian steppe - especially the Ogurs, Onogurs, Sabirs, Utigurs, and the main body of Bulgars (although some groups may already have moved to Pannonia under Avar domination). The extent of Göktürk domination over the Bulgars is unclear

558

The Altyn Ola are eventually absorbed by the early Bulgars, probably immediately prior to the formation of Great Bulgaria. However, the notion that possible Hun descendants may enter the Bulgarian gene pool seems to be highly controversial and open to strong objections. If it happens at all, the number of actual Huns rather than their many subject peoples who are not of Hunnic descent is likely to be a minute part of the population.

Around the same time - AD 558, prompted by Kutrigur agitation at the advance of the Avars - this group raids Eastern Roman territory. The result is that Emperor Justinian commands his Utigur allies to attack the Kutrigurs and the two groups virtually annihilate one another. Their remnants are largely absorbed by the Avar union during its brief period of ascendancy over the Pontic steppe, and then probably by Great Bulgaria which succeeds the union.

560s - 571

A people, country, and town with the name in later Arab sources of Belendzher or Balandzhar is mentioned for the first time by the Arab historian at-Tabari in connection with events from the 560s. Sassanid-controlled Armenia is invaded by four peoples - 'abkhaz', 'b-ndzh-r' (Bandzhar), 'b-l-ndzh-r' (Balandzhar), and the Alans.

Between these two dates, İstemi, the khagan of the western Göktürks, defeats the peoples who are noted in later Arab sources as 'b-ndzh-r' (Bandzhar), 'b-l-n-dzh-r' (Balandzhar), and Khazars, who then agree to serve him. The scholar, A V Gadlo, concludes that the name 'bandzhar' refers to the Ogurs, and 'balandzhar' is a Perso-Arabic form of the Onogur/Utigur name.

c.580s - 590s

The twelfth century chronicle of the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch, Michael of Syria, uses earlier sources to describe the arrival of at least one group of proto-Bulgars on the Pontic-Caspian steppe (although certainly not the first). The story is a conglomeration of facts pertaining to several events from different periods in time, all of them united around the story of the expansion of Khazar political power in the second half of the seventh century.

Bulgarian troops of the eighth century
Oguric-speaking warriors on the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the sixth century would have been largely indistinguishable from each other but, under Eastern Roman influence, some would have begun to resemble the Romans just like the eighth century Bulgars shown here

 

According to the story, three 'Scythian' brothers (perhaps indicating an Indo-Iranian origin or cultural bias) set out on a journey from the mountain of Imaon (Tien-Shan) in Asia and reach the River Tanais (the modern Don). Here one of the brothers, called Bulgarios, takes 10,000 people with him, parts from his brothers and, with the permission of Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice, settles in Upper and Lower Moesia and Dacia. Here, no doubt, they can be used as a buffer against the Avars whom Maurice pushes to the north of the Danube by 599. The need for this additional migration can be attributed to Khazar pressure on the Caspian steppe.

The other two brothers enter the country of the Alans, which is called Barsalia (Bersilia - the land of the Barsils). Their towns are built with assistance from the Eastern Romans to serve as a buffer against the steppe nomads. One of these towns is named as Caspij, identified by most historians as the area around the Torajan Gates or Caspian Gates (Derbent). The Bulgars and the Pugurs ('puguraje' - a Bulgar ethnic affiliate group) inhabit these places, seemingly providing an origin for the Barsils themselves. One of the brothers is named as Khazarig - probably an attempt to provide an origin story for the Khazars (it is the Khazars who later dominate those Barsils who do not migrate northwards to join the Volga Bulgars), but possibly an origin story for Uturgur, founder of the Khazarig dynasty of Hunno-Bulgar leaders of the Kutrigurs and Utigurs.

Coincidentally, perhaps, around the same time an Unogonduri tribal leader by the name of Houdbaad becomes dominant in 'Patria Onoguria', the land of the Onogurs, a Turkic group which is largely inseparable from the early Bulgars themselves. His dominance succeeds that of Sandlikh of the Utigurs. His state has its heartland on the Taman Peninsula, an outcrop of territory on what is now the Russian side of the Strait of Kerch and the southern coast of the Sea of Azov, opposite Crimea.

c.581 - 600

Qaghan Houdbaad

Unogonduri tribal leader. Dominant in 'Patria Onoguria'.

c.590 - 605

Tubdjak

Son of Chelbir of the Altyn Ola. Commanded Kara-Bulgars.

c.590

There may be two levels of command in terms of the Bulgars. The little-known Houdbaad is claimed as being dominant in 'Patria Onoguria', the lands of the Onogurs (which should also refer to the Bulgars, although perhaps not immediate while the two groups may still be in the process of combining).

Tubdjak is the son of Chelbir of the Altyn Ola. This horde had once provided what would seem to have been the core headquarters of the Hunnic remnants but has since faded greatly in power to the point at which it effectively terminates around 590. In the face of the Avar advance, prior to his death Chelbir appears to have been able to negotiate a degree of autonomy for the Onogurs-Bulgars who now make up the majority of his people, with his son able to succeed him as the commander of the western Bulgars (the 'Kara-Bulgars'), those on the northern steppe who are forming 'Patria Onoguria'.

How these posited two levels of command may work together is unknown but it is likely that Tubdjak holds the superior position, at least initially. Upon Tubdjak's death in 605, his son, Bu-Yurgan, succeeds him. It is claimed that the Greek record of his name is given as 'Organ', making him the Qaghan Organ who maintains Patria Onoguria until his nephew, Koubrat, is old enough to succeed.

The Madara horseman
The 'Madara Horseman' is a large rock relief which was carved on the Madara Plateau to the east of Shumen in north-eastern Bulgaria - it can be dated to the very end of the seventh or start of the eighth century, during the reign of Bulgar Khan Tervel

c.617 - 630

Qaghan Organa / Uragan/ / Bu-Yurgan?

Unogonduri tribal leader. Dominant in 'Patria Onoguria'.

c.630 - 632

Qaghan Gostun

Dominant in 'Patria Onoguria'. Also dominant over Kutrigurs.

610s - 620s?

FeatureThe growing power and influence of a tribal leader named Koubrat, nephew of Organa, presages the creation of a short-lived but powerful tribal empire in the Pontic steppe which supersedes the more informal 'Patria Onoguria'. However, it is stated (certainly by Professor Milcho Lalkov - see his feature via the link) that Koubrat's tribe is the Unogonduri, which throws off 'Turkic oppression' and succeeds in uniting the Bulgar tribes.

Two conflicts are evident here: that the Bulgars are not an early Turkic group themselves when the reverse would seem to be true; and that Koubrat's tribe is not a Bulgar tribe until a unified Bulgar identity is formed and the individual groups which form it become indistinguishable from each other. The Unogundur Bulgars are instead seemingly related to the former Onogurs/Utigurs, and could even be influenced by remnants of the Venedi (see AD 652-653, below). This second conflict is less of a problem, however, as the Onogurs seem to be largely inseparable from the Bulgars by this date, and perhaps to the extent of never even having formed separate groups at all. The former problem is solved when 'Turks' is replaced by 'Avars', the current dominating body on the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

c.632

Qaghan Kubrat / Koubrat

Unogonduri tribal leader. Founded Great Bulgaria.

c.632

By this time the proto-Bulgars have long since settled the Taman Peninsula as part of the Unogonduri migration. They have gradually been becoming dominant, absorbing various small local groups to increase their numbers, including the Altyn Ola horde, and the Kutrigurs and Utigurs. Now that conditions are favourable and the right leader has emerged, Avar control is thrown off (in 635) and a tribal state quickly blossoms into a great tribal empire by the name of Great Bulgaria.

Great Bulgaria
AD c.632 - 668

In the seventh century AD a tribal state arose which was known as Great Bulgaria or, alternatively, as 'Old Great Bulgaria' or by the Latin name, Magna Bulgaria, or even Patria Onoguria (land of the Onogurs, a Turkic group which was largely inseparable from the Bulgars themselves). This state had its heartland on the Taman Peninsula, an outcrop of territory on what is now the Russian side of the Strait of Kerch and the southern coast of the Sea of Azov, opposite Crimea. The centre was at Phanagoria, former eastern capital of the Cimmerian Bosporus kingdom. Throwing off Avar domination in AD 635 to establish itself, this state incorporated a large mix of tribes and even ethnic groups in its rather uncertain borders. This mix included the various survivors of the Hunnic empire, such as the Altyn Ola horde, and the decimated remnants of the Kutrigurs (better known as Kotraks in the seventh century) and Utigurs. It also included a great number of the other, largely Turkic, tribes of the Pontic steppe.

A separate group of Bulgars occupied land to the east of this state, forming their own state or territory which was known as Bersilia - land of the Barsils (proto-Bulgars). This territory occupied the western bank of the Volga between the northern edge of the Caspian Sea and modern Volgagrad, although it may also have stretched southwards to impinge upon the territory of the Alans. The Barsils may first have settled the region in the 580s-590s, according to a story which was written down much later (in the chronicle of the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch, Michael of Syria, who used earlier sources - see above for the entry). When the Avars first arrived in the region, the Barsils, Sabirs, and Unogurs quickly capitulated, apparently 'struck with horror'. With the collapse of the first Avar empire the Barsils regained a degree of their nomadic existence, but they were soon regarded as vassals of Great Bulgaria, albeit seemingly lying outside this confederation's general borders. This territory is also sometimes referred to as being under the control of the Alans, but is too far north for anything other than fleeing Alan vassalage (Michael of Syria seems to be especially guilty of this seeming error).

With the collapse of Great Bulgaria these various groups probably dissipated into the surrounding population in Ukraine, on either side of the Don. The majority of Barsils migrated northwards to the Middle Volga alongside one large group of Bulgars where they formed the Volga Bulgar state. Many other groups had most likely already integrated themselves fully into the various Bulgar divisions and had lost their individual identities as a result. However, many of these groups had formerly been dominated by the Huns, and even the notion that any Hun descendants may have entered the Bulgarian gene pool seems to be highly controversial and open to strong objection - even if those descendants were not specifically ethnic Huns themselves but were instead other early Turko-Mongoloid groups that had been pressed into service by the empire. If it happened at all (which is a near certainty), then the number of actual Huns rather than their many subject peoples who were not of Hunnic descent is likely to be a minute part of the population.

The creation of Great Bulgaria caused other problems too. Population pressures on the Pontic steppe had been growing, with the invasion of the Huns in the late fourth century providing possibly the first major impetus for Slavic migration northwards to escape. Invasions by the Avars in the early sixth century and then creation of this Bulgar empire in the early seventh century did the rest. Slav migration by then was in full swing, largely northwards where they placed the Baltic peoples of a large swathe of this territory under great pressure. Other Slav groups headed west, establishing migratory routes that were soon followed by at least two major groups of Bulgars.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Chronicle of Fredegar / Latin Chronicle (author unknown but the work has been attributed to Fredegar since the sixteenth century thanks to his name being written in the margin), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from the work of Theophilactus Simocatta, from Istorija Khazar, M I Artamonov (Leningrad, 1962), from Izvestija o sarmatah, burtasah, bolgarah, mad'jarah, slavjanah I russkih Abu-Ali-Ahmeda ben Omara ibn Dasta, D A Hvol'son (1869), from Etnicheskaja istorija Severnogo Kavkaza, A V Gadlo, from Derbend-Nameh, Mirza A Kasem-Beg (translated from select Turkish versions with texts and notes in Memoires de l'Academie imperiale des Sciences, St Petersburg, 1861), and from External Links: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click on link to download or access it), and Turkic History.)

c.632 - c.651

Khan or Qaghan Kubrat / Koubrat

Created the Great Bulgarian state out of 'Patria Onoguria'.

c.632 - c.651

FeatureQaghan Koubrat is the first to lay the foundations of a Bulgar military and tribal alliance. He forms a capital at Phanagoria on the Taman Peninsula near Crimea). It has been suggested that he is working with Eastern Roman influence. Curiously, and perhaps not coincidentally, a similar confederation has already recently formed as a 'Slav Kingdom' between Carinthia and Moravia, possibly part of a Roman-inspired chain of defences against the Avars.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 632-665
Qaghan Koubrat of Great Bulgaria and his warrior sons
In AD 632, Qaghan Koubrat came to power as the head of an Onogur-Bulgar confederation and three years later he was able to throw off Avar domination and found Great Bulgaria (click on map to view full sized), while below that is a modern illustration of Qaghan Koubrat and his warrior sons at the height of their power

By this time the Altyn Ola horde has been absorbed, along with the Kutrigurs and Utigurs. Many other Turkic tribes have also begun to lose their individual identity, eventually to become Bulgars. Koubrat makes peace with the Eastern Roman empire and is awarded the title of patrician by Emperor Heraclius. Koubrat dies some time after 651 and his creation - Great Bulgaria - gradually falls apart. He is buried - perhaps - at Pereshchepina, where the treasure of the same name is discovered in 1912.

c.651 - 668

Bat Bayan

Eldest son. Defeated by Khazars in 668. End of Great Bulgaria.

651

A Chinese account of the Western Göktürk 'Western Wing' division lists five tribes which includes the Esegels (Ezgil or Asijie, soon to be found along the Volga with the Bulgars). The leader of the first tribe of Esegels is one 'Kül-erkin' ('Qiue-syjin' in its Chinese form - possibly a title rather than a name). He is 'most prosperous and strong, the number of his soldiers reached several tens of thousands'. Alongside him are the other four tribes of this division: another Kül-erkin or Qiue-syjin, this time of the Kashu or Geshu (Khazars - the same man as head of both tribes?); Tun-shabo(lo)-syjin of the Barskhan; Nizuk-erkin (Nishu-syjin) of a second tribe of Ezgil (Esegels); and Chopan-erkin (Chuban-syjin) of a second tribe of Kashu (Khazars).

fl 651

Kül-erkin / Qiue-syjin

Leader of a tribe of Esegels.

fl 651

Nizuk-erkin / Nishu-syjin

Leader of a tribe of Esegels.

652 - 653

The growing Islamic empire begins to threaten Armenia. Aided by the Eastern Romans, Armenia defends itself, but the Arab campaign continues northwards into the Caucuses under General Salman. He concentrates on the towns and settlements of the western coast of the Caspian Sea and on defeating the Khazars. A description of this campaign is based on a manuscript by Ahmed-bin-Azami, and it mentions that '...Salman reached the Khazar town of Burgur... He continued and finally reached Bilkhar, which was not a Khazar possession, and camped with his army near that town, on rich meadows intersected by a large river'.

This is why several historians connect the town with the proto-Bulgars. The Arab missionary Ahmed ibn-Fadlan also confirms this connection, as he mentions that during his trip to the Volga Bulgars in 922 he sees a group of 5,000 Barandzhars (balandzhars) who had migrated a long time ago to Volga Bulgaria [following the collapse of Great Bulgaria].

The Caspian Sea around Dagestan
Could at least one group of peoples who lived close to s eventh century Dagestan and the western shores of the Caspian Sea have been Venedi who had been dragged there by the returning Huns and their other associates?

According to Ibn al-Nasira, after capturing Belendzher-Bulker (Bulkhar-Balkh where many Khazar-dominated Belendzheris had been taken prisoner - for 'Bulker' read 'Bulgar'), Salman reaches another large town, called Vabandar, which has 40,000 houses (families?). M I Artamonov links the name of that town with the ethnicon of the Unogundur Bulgars (seemingly related to the former Onogurs/Utigurs), which is given as 'v-n-nt-r' by the Khazars (in the letter by their Khagan Joseph). It is shown as 'venender' or 'nender' by the Arabs, and as Unogundur-Onogur by the Eastern Romans. Variations of 'v-n-nt-r' appear in 668, 982 and 1094, and all suggest that elements of the Venedi have been pinpointed without the authors really knowing their identity.

Interpreting the documentary evidence, Artamonov concludes that the early medieval population of northern Dagestan consists of proto-Bulgar tribes, so that mentions by several authors of a kingdom of the Huns and their country of the same name in this period should rather be called a kingdom of the Bulgars. He also regards as proto-Bulgarian 'the magnificent town of Varachan', the main centre of these 'Huns', which is located by Moses Kagantvaci to the north of Derbend.

fl 662

Alcioka

A Bulgar 'prince' and leader of 9,000 Bulgars.

662

The Fredegarii Chronicon records that in Pannonia (part of which now forms Khorushka's territory), a dispute arises between the Avars and a large, migrant population of around nine thousand Bulgars. Under the leadership of a Prince Alcioka, the Bulgars seek help from the Bavarii but are almost entirely slaughtered on the orders of the Frankish King Dagobert of Austrasia. Something like seven hundred survivors enter the marca Vinedorum, the land of the Slavs, and meet its ruler, one Duke Valuk ('Wallucum ducem Vinedorum', possibly linked to the Slav Kingdom).

668

Great Bulgaria disintegrates following a massive Khazar attack during their period of expansion in the second half of the seventh century. According to tradition, Bat Bayan and his brothers part company, each leading their own followers. Bat Bayan and his followers remain in their adopted land and are soon subdued by the Khazars.

668 - ?

Bat Bayan

Eldest son of Koubrat. Accepted Khazar vassalage.

The second son, Kotrag, founds a state in the confluence of the Volga and the Kam (Kama), known as Volga Bulgaria (or the Volga Bulgars), which survives until the beginning of the thirteenth century. These Bulgars appear to have an influence on the language of the Magyars who later form the state of Hungary. In fact, the Chuvash (Čuvaš) language, an extraordinary Oguric/Oğuric Turkic dialect that is now spoken in the Middle Volga region, is thought to be the continuation of the language of the Volga Bulgars.

River Kama
The River Kam (Kama) joins the mighty Volga just below the site of Kazan, founded as a border post by the Volga Bulgars to keep a watchful eye on the neighbouring Volga Finnic tribe of the Mari and the Bjarmian Udmurts

668 - ?

Kotrag

Second son of Koubrat. Migrated north to found Volga Bulgars.

Another son, Kuber, leads a group of Bulgars to Pannonia and settles in Macedonia (they are later integrated into the kingdom formed by Asparukh's group). Altsek and his group of Bulgars reach Italy. The third of Koubrat's five sons is Asparukh (Asparouh). He leads between 30,000 to 50,000 people westwards from the Ergeni Hills (the Hippian Mountains) in northern present-day Kalmykia (in Russia, on the north-western coast of the Caspian Sea), towards the northern coast of the Black Sea. They soon reach the Danube and settle there, founding a new kingdom of Bulgaria.

668 - 701

Asparukh / Asparouh

Third son of Koubrat. Migrated to the Danube to found Bulgaria.

668 - ?

Kuber

Fourth son of Koubrat. Migrated to Pannonia.

668 - ?

Altsek

Fifth son of Koubrat. Migrated to Italy.

A number of other tribal names have been associated with that of the Bulgars. Some medieval documents mention that Asparukh also leads a people named 'v.n.n.tr' (in Khazar sources) or 'Unogundur' (in Eastern Roman sources). This ethnonym has been related by historians to the names 'Venender', 'Vhndur', and 'Onogur' that appear in other texts. The latter at least can be connected to the Utigurs. This name in its Khazar form is very similar to references to the same people in 982 and 1094 - strongly suggesting that they are remnants of the Venedi, Eastern Celts who may, if they are migrating with Asparukh, have ventured far further east than has previously been suspected. By this stage though, and with the possible confusion with Onogurs and Utigurs, they can hardly be carrying much of their Celtic culture and language with them.

Also, the tribes of the Utigurs and Kutrigurs which appear in some narrative sources referring to the sixth century are associated by many historians with the Bulgars, probably thanks to their merger with proto-Bulgars during the ascendancy of Great Bulgaria.

682

The social and economical development of the various proto-Bulgar groups has progressed at various rates. Those proto-Bulgars who live on the lowlands of the western Caspian Sea coast (in what had been referred to as Barsilia - see above - but which later becomes Dagestan) have been settled for some time. Even by the early sixth century they had replaced their nomadic traditions with permanent settlements, some of them called 'towns'.

Now the notes of a mission conducted by Bishop Israel provides an idea about 'the magnificent town of Varachan', which has streets and squares. 'Skilful carpenters' work there, having made a huge cross which has been decorated with images of animals, and goldsmiths have manufactured golden and silver idols. The bishop's mission shows that Christianity is intensely preached among the Dagestan Bulgars. He insists that Christian churches are built in the region.

Lower Volga
Barsilia was a nebulous stretch of territory in the sixth and seventh centuries AD which can be located on the west bank of the Lower Volga, approximately between modern Volgagrad and Astrakhan

700s

Having been mentioned as a tribe in their own right in the sixth century - by the likes of Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor and Menander Protector, and in the early seventh century by Theophylaktos Simokattes in connection with the brief Avar conquest of the steppe and then the Göktürk conquest of the region - in this century the Onogurs are increasingly connected with the Bulgars.

800s

By this time, as the Volga Bulgars form a coherent state of their own (otherwise referred to as Pontic Bulgars), Eastern Roman sources - notably the Patriarch-historian Nikephoros - are referring to them as the Onogundur-Bulgars. Aside from the linking of names, however, there is no direct evidence to show when or how the Onogurs (or elements of them) have joined the Bulgars.

The Bulgars themselves would still seem to represent a large confederation which includes surviving elements of the Kutrigurs, Onogurs, and Sabirs, and it is a confederation which is now integrating with local Slav populations along the Volga to form a Turkic-Slavic union. However, some scholars have conjectured a number of dispersed Bulgaric groups on the Pontic-Caspian steppe instead of the single more northerly group which soon forms the Volga Bulgar state.

The Volga Bulgar state itself is known to consist of three main groups, according to Ibn Ruste (writing at the beginning of the tenth century): 'the first branch was called Bersula [the Barsils], the second - Esegel [the Esegels], and the third - Bulgar'. What has driven the Barsils to run away to the Volga Bulgars is implicitly mentioned by Khazar Khagan Joseph in the description of his main territory in a letter to the Jewish dignitary Hasdaj Ibn Shaprut. The domain also includes the territory which most probably is the traditional land of the Barsils at the mouth of the Volga. This shows that in their expansion the Khazars have driven out their intermediate neighbours.