History Files


European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe





Present day Bulgaria was formed as a tribal area from the late seventh century AD onwards. Prior to that, throughout much of antiquity, large swathes of southern Bulgaria traditionally formed the territory of ancient Thrace, while the rest was occupied by a large number of barbarian tribes, including the Dacians and Celtic Scordisci.

MapProto-Bulgarians settled in the area of the Caucuses, north and east of the Black Sea, in the fourth to fifth centuries where they were dominated by the Goths. Some early Bulgar elements may have been forced westwards from their earlier homeland by the expansionist conquests of the Göktürks in the sixth century. Once resettled they mixed with Slavic groups which arrived in the same century. By the early seventh century, the Bulgarians had set up a powerful tribal amalgamation known as Great Bulgaria. Its ruler was Khan Koubrat, who established friendly relations with the Byzantine empire, but after his death the state crumbled under pressure from the Khazars.

Some Bulgarians remained in the area and were subdued by the Khazars, but others travelled, reaching the Volga where they set up Volgan Bulgaria with its capital at Kazan. This existed up until the thirteenth century when it was wiped out by Tartars. Another group of proto-Bulgarians, lead by Kouber, settled first in Pannonia, and subsequently in the region of Bitolya (Macedonia).

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes, and from External Link: Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions.)

c.150 - 200

Far from remaining settled where they are in Poland, the Goths gradually renew their migration, now shifting slowly southwards from the Oder and Vistula, heading on a path that will eventually take them into Ukraine and the northern Black Sea coastline, an area known to the ancients as Scythia. Jordanes states that they first migrate to Lake Maeotis (the modern Sea of Azov, at the north-eastern corner of the Black Sea). Then a second migration takes them westwards along the northern Black Sea coast into Moesia (on the southern bank of the Danube), Thrace (to the south of Moesia), and Dacia (north of the Danube). A third migration takes them back into Scythia.

The initial migration could be caused by pressure from the Baltic tribes, early segments of the later Old Prussians and Lithuanians who are expanding back into territory they had lost to the Germanic tribes in the first century AD. The later bouncing around between Lake Maeotis and the Danube is less easy to explain, unless the proto-Bulgars who dwell close by Maeotis manage to expel them. Then they are pushed back from the west (possibly by the Romans in their Danubian campaigns in this century), before they finally decide to take control of the northern Black Sea coast. They soon dominate the proto-Bulgars on their eastern flank.

Great Bulgaria
AD c.632 - 668

Great Bulgaria incorporated a large mix of peoples in its rather uncertain borders. This mix probably included the various survivors of the Huns, the Altyn Ola Horde, and the Kutrigur and Utigur Bulgars (although the latter were not necessary ethnic Bulgarians). This does not mean that they became part of the later Bulgarian state, of course, which was a much smaller entity than Great Bulgaria. Instead they probably dissipated into the surrounding population in Ukraine, on either side of the Don. However, the notion that Hun descendants may have entered the Bulgarian gene pool seems to be highly controversial and open to strong objection. If it happened at all, the number of actual Huns rather than their many subject peoples who were not of Hunnish 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 the Bulgar empire in the early seventh century did the rest. Slav migration by then was in full swing, heading northwards and putting pressure in the Baltic peoples who occupied a large swathe of this territory.

(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), and from External Link: 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).)

c.632 - c.651

Khan or Qaghan Kubrat / Koubrat

FeatureCreated the Great Bulgarian state.

c.632 - c.651

Khan Kubrat is the first to lay the foundations of Bulgar military and tribal alliance and forms a capital at Phanagoria on the Taman Peninsula. By this time the Altyn Ola Horde has been absorbed, along with the Kutrigur and Utigur Bulgars. Kubrat makes peace with the Byzantine empire and is awarded the title of patrician by Heraclius. Kubrat dies some time after 651 and Great Bulgaria gradually falls apart.

c.651 - 668

Bat Bayan

Eldest son.

652 - 653

The growing Islamic empire begins to threaten Armenia. Aided by the Byzantines, 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-Bulgarians. 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.

The Caspian Sea around Dagestan
Could at least one group of peoples who lived close to seventh 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, 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, 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 Byzantines. Variations of 'v-n-nt-r' appear in 668, 982 and 1094, and all suggest that elements of the Venedi have been pinpoined without the authors really knowing their identity.

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


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).


Great Bulgaria disintegrates following a massive Khazar attack during their period of expansion in the second half of the seventh century. Bat Bayan and his brothers part company, each leading their own followers. Bat Bayan remains in his native land and is soon subdued by the Khazars. The second son, Kotrag, founds a state in the confluence of the Volga and the Kam, 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 Hungary. In fact, the Chuvash language, an extraordinary Turkish dialect that is now spoken in the Middle-Volga region, is thought to be the continuation of the language of the Volga Bulgars, revealing a degree of influence by them on the Magyars.

Kuber leads part of the Bulgars to Pannonia and settles in Macedonia. Altsek and his group of Bulgars reach Italy. The youngest, Asparukh, leads between 30,000 to 50,000 people westwards from the Ergeni Hills (the Hippian Mountains) in northern present-day Kalmykia (in Russia), towards the northern coast of the Black Sea. They soon reach the Danube and found a new kingdom of Bulgaria.

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 Byzantine sources). This ethnonym has been related by historians to the names 'Venender', 'Vhndur', and 'Onogur' that appear in other texts. This name in its Khazar form is very similar to references to the same people in 982 and 1094 - strongly suggesting that they are the Venedi, Eastern Celts who may, if they are migrating with Asparukh, have ventured far further east than has previously been suspected. 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.

Kingdom of Bulgaria
c.AD 681 - 889

The kingdom was formed by a third group of proto-Bulgarians (the first group forming the core of Great Bulgaria and the second reaching the Volga). These Bulgarians were led by the tribal chieftain Asparouh, who headed for the west and reached the Danube at the beginning of the last quarter of the seventh century. There, his people founded an independent kingdom that conquered territory from the Byzantine empire while it was fighting the Arabs in the east and south. They expelled recently-settled groups of Slavs (principally of the Antes tribe), and probably also conquered local tribes that had been settled there for two or three centuries, such as the Bastarnae, remnants of the Goths, and the Huns.

The rulers were known as khans, in the Asiatic tradition, and remained independent of Byzantium until 971. There is some archaeological evidence to suggest an element of continuity between this peoples and the Huns who had previously conquered the region. The most characteristic weapon of both peoples, their long bows, are almost identical.

c.681 - 701

Qaghan Asparukh / Asparouh / Isperikh

Kubrat's fifth son. Founded a permanent Bulgarian state.

c.701 - c.718


c.718 - 750


750 - 762


762 - 763


762 - 763




763 - 765




c.765 - 777


c.777 - c.803


c.803 - 814


Killed Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus.



814 - 815


815 - 831


831 - 852


852 - 889

Qaghan Boris I

852 - 889

Michael I

869 - 870

The conversion of Bulgaria is announced at the Eighth Church Council in Constantinople, thwarting several attempts by the Catholic Church at Rome to convert the Bulgarians themselves.

Map of the Frankish Empire in AD 800
Under Charlemagne's leadership, the Franks greatly expanded their borders eastwards, engulfing tribal states, the Bavarian state and its satellite, Khorushka, and much of northern Italy, with the Avars now an eastern neighbour (click on map to view full sized)


The Bulgarians declare their kingdom to be an empire based on the Byzantine model.

Empire of Bulgaria
AD 889 - 971

889 - 893

Emperor Vladimir

893 - 927

Emperor Simeon I the Great

Bulgaria's Golden Age.

927 - 969

Emperor Peter I

969 - 972

Emperor Boris II

Died c.977.


Bulgaria is conquered by Byzantine emperor, John I Tzimisces. An independent Macedonian Bulgarian splinter state is set up in western Bulgaria and northern Macedonia by the Cometopuli, 'Sons of the Count.'

Cometopuli Bulgarian State
c.AD 977 - 1018

c.977 - 997

Tsar Romanus

Figurehead. Captured 991.


Bulgaria takes the Greek region of Epirus from the Byzantine empire.

997 - 1014

Tsar Samuel

His army was annihilated by Basil II.


Byzantine emperor Basil II 'Bulgar Slayer' captures and blinds most of the 15,000-strong Bulgarian army on 29 July. The defeat fatally weakens the Bulgar state.

1014 - 1015

Gabriel Radomir

1015 - 1018

John Vladislav

1018 - 1186

Bulgaria is annexed by Basil II.

Asens of Bulgaria
AD 1186 - 1279

Bulgaria had been annexed directly to the Byzantine empire in 1018, but by 1186 the empire was at a low point, and the Bulgarian Asens, local feudal lords, rose in rebellion against Byzantine rule and declared a new independent Bulgar state, maintaining the title of tsar.

1186 - 1196

John I Asen

State recognised by Byzantium 1187.

1196 - 1197

Peter II Asen

1197 - 1207


Stopped Fourth Crusade's advance 1205.

1207 - 1218


1218 - 1241

John II Asen


After the defeat of Khwarazm, a large Mongol force under Subedei continues north into territory around the Caspian Sea and into the land of the Rus. Rus and Cuman forces assemble which greatly outnumber Subedei's men, but they are defeated at the River Khalka. Subedei extends his expedition farther to attack the Volga Bulgars before he returns to Mongolia in one of the greatest exploratory campaigns of the era.

1242 - 1246


1246 - 1257

Michael II Asen

1257 - 1277

Constantine Tich

1278 - 1279



John III Asen

1279 - 1396

Bulgaria gradually deteriorates as a power as internal anarchy spreads and cross-factional fighting increases.

Terters of Bulgaria
AD 1279 - 1393

1279 - 1292

George I Terter

1292 - 1300


1299 - 1300

The power struggle between Toqta of the Golden Horde and Nogai Khan of the Nogai Horde flares up into open conflict, and Toqta is the victor in 1300. Nogai's son, Chaka, flees first to the Alans and then to Bulgaria where he briefly gains the throne as emperor.


Chaka / Caka

Son of Nogai Khan of the Mongol Nogai Horde. Killed.


With the Bulgarians aware of the anger of Toqta of the Golden Horde at the position Chaka holds, Theodore Svetoslav sends Chaka's head to his Mongol overlord and replaces Chaka on the Bulgarian throne.

1300 - 1322

Theodore Svetoslav


George II Terter

1323 - 1330

Michael III Shishman

1330 - 1331

John Stephan

1331 - 1371

John Alexander

1371 - 1393

John Shishman

1396 - 1878

The Battle of Nicopolis results in defeat for the allied European forces. Amongst the participants is Duke Charles II of Lorraine and Count John the Fearless of Nevers. The Bulgars are conquered and occupied by the Ottoman Turks.

1828 - 1829

The Russo-Turkish War, triggered by the fighting in Greece and the Danubian principalities, ends in the Peace of Adrianople. The Ottoman sultan closes the Dardanelles to Russian vessels but the Russians lay siege to three major Ottoman cities in Bulgaria. In the end, despite an embarrassing defeat along the way, Russia wins the mouth of the Danube and much of the Black Sea's western coast under the terms of the peace, or Treaty of Adrianople. Serbia also achieves autonomy.


After the Russo-Turkish War, the Principality of Bulgaria is set up which includes Moesia and the Sofia region, but not southern Bulgaria (East Rumelia) or the Macedonian region. A German prince is elected as head of state.

Principality of Bulgaria
AD 1878 - 1908

1878 - 1886

Alexander of Hessen-Battenberg

German prince. Arrested by pro-Russians. Forced to abdicate.


Bulgaria annexes East Rumelia.

1887 - 1908

Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

German prince. Recreated the Bulgaria Tsarate.

Kingdom of Bulgaria
AD 1908 - 1943

1908 - 1918

Tsar Ferdinand

Forced to abdicate at end of the First World War.


The First Balkan War brings Greek victory in the capture and permanent possession of Salonika (modern Thessaloniki - the second largest city in Greece), just beating a Bulgarian force which had also aimed at capturing it. Following the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria's Southern Dobruja region is annexed to Rumania, giving it territory to the south of the lower Danube.


Despite being courted by the Allies, especially Britain and France, Bulgaria has noted the failures of the Gallipoli campaign against Turkey and the Italian campaign against Austria-Hungary and signs four treaties with Germany and Austria on 6 September, agreeing to attack Serbia in return for territory.

1918 - 1943

Boris III

Son. Monarchical numbering continued from the Empire.


The Treaty of Craiova sees Rumania agree to hand back Southern Dobruja to Bulgaria on 7 September 1940.

1943 - 1946

Simeon II

Son, aged 6. Prime minister in 2001. Hereditary king from 1946).

1943 - 1944




The country is taken over by Soviet communist forces. In September 1946 a referendum decides by a ninety-three percent majority that Bulgaria should be a republic, and Tsar Simeon II and the queen mother are required to leave the country. Simeon makes several attempts to gather support for a reformation of the monarchy in Bulgaria but ultimately they come to nothing. Allowed to return in 1996 he enters politics for a time and becomes the country's prime minister in 2001.

Modern Bulgaria
AD 1944 - Present Day

Predominantly a Slavic-speaking country, the modern republic Bulgaria is neighboured by Romania to the north, a long Black Sea coast to the east, European Turkey to the south-west, Greece to the south, North Macedonia to the south-west, and Serbia to the west. With a capital at Sofia, the country has inherited sizable minority populations of Turks, Macedonians, Pomaks (Muslim Slavs), and Roma (Gypsies). Its architecture also reflects its eventful history, in the form of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) churches, Ottoman mosques, and Sephardic synagogues.

In the ancient world, areas of central and eastern Bulgaria formed parts of the kingdom of Thrace, as well as various Thracian tribal areas outside of this somewhat limited area. Other areas were occupied by a large number of barbarian tribes, such as the Dacians and the Celtic Scordisci (actually a confederation rather than a tribe). Subsequently the region was part of the Roman empire and its successor, the Byzantine empire. During this latter period the Balkans were subjected to Slavic invasions in the sixth and seventh centuries AD. One of the main tribes involved in this, the Antes (Antae), eventually settled areas of Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and northern Greece. The Bulgars arrived in the later seventh century, expelling Slavs rulers who had settled in the region and forming their own state, the (first) kingdom of Bulgaria. The Thraco-Slav population that remained gave the new kingdom its language, while Thracian cultural elements had also been integrated into the population.

The state went through various incarnations before being conquered by the Ottomans in 1396. In 1878, after the Russian empire aided in freeing up large parts of the Balkans, the principality of Bulgaria was founded. Modern Bulgaria was formed at the end of the Second World War when the (second) kingdom of Bulgaria was abolished. Unfortunately the new state had already been occupied by Soviet forces. Perhaps less of a puppet state than some of the Soviet Union's smaller Eastern European conquests, Bulgaria still experienced many of the familiar communist-era troubles. It was able to climb out of communism relatively smoothly though, and by 1993 was fully independent. A long-running issue then surfaced, which involved the country's refusal to acknowledge Macedonian as anything other than a Bulgarian dialect, causing problems with the Macedonian minority. The former monarchy does not maintain a claim to the throne, but hereditary heirs to the crown are shown below with a shaded background.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Concise History of Bulgaria, R J Crampton (Cambridge University Press, 2005), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Sofia, Bulgaria: An Ancient City That Wears Its History Well, Gregory Dicum (New York Times), and Paul Theroff’s Royal Genealogy Site.)


Ivan Bagrianov, the new prime minister, begins slow and secret negotiations for surrender to the Second World War Allies. Romania suddenly and unexpectedly surrenders at the end of August, bringing Soviet troops to the Danube far before they could have been expected. A proclamation of Bulgarian neutrality is rejected, so Bagrianov resigns and is replaced by Kosta Muraviev of the Agrarian Union on 2 September 1944. Three days later the Soviet Union declares war against Bulgaria and enters the country unopposed.

Sofia 1944
Bulgaria's capital city, Sofia, saw the same turbulent mass of people, protests, and political manoeuvring as many other central and Eastern European states as the Second World War faded towards its conclusion

1945 - 1946

On 4 November 1945, communist leader Georgi Dimitrov returns to Bulgaria after twenty-two years of exile to become prime minister. Bulgarian communists and their Soviet sponsors move more forcefully to eliminate internal opposition. Elections are held in November 1945 which return a substantial majority of communists and their allies. In September 1946 a referendum decides by a ninety-three percent majority that Bulgaria should be a republic, and Tsar Simeon II and the queen mother are required to leave the country.

1946 - Present

Simeon II

Dispossessed king of Bulgaria. Exiled 1946-1996.


The communist grip on power in Bulgaria is complete by 1948, coinciding with the completion of the peace treaty with the wartime Allies and the presence of Soviet occupation forces. In the country's 'Fatherland Front' coalition government, the communists have control of the interior and judicial ministries, crucial areas in terms of setting up the new state.

1949 - 1950

Legislation is adopted in March 1949 which subjects all religious orders to state supervision. At the same time, fifteen pastors from evangelical Protestant churches are arrested, tried, and executed for espionage and other alleged crimes. Soon afterwards, a number of Bulgarian Catholic clergy are tried for spying for the Vatican and for disseminating anti-communist propaganda. The nearly 50,000 Bulgarian Jews who have survived the war are encouraged to emigrate to Israel. The regime also attempts to deport ethnic Turks and Roma (Gypsies), causing the Turkish government to seal the border.


The death of Josef Stalin means the end of the worst Soviet policies with the inauguration of the 'New Course'. Under Kruschev, the Soviet Union begins a process of de-Stalinisation, although direct competition ramps up with the USA as part of an increasingly chilly Cold War.


The USSR forms the Warsaw Pact in direct response to the admission of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) into Nato whilst itself being barred from joining. The states involved in the founding of this eastern alliance are Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.

Warsaw Pact meeting
Russia, plus its seven Warsaw Pact allies, signed the treaty of establishment in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on 14 May 1955, with the location of signing giving the pact its name


Late in 1984 the government begins a major campaign to 'Bulgarise' or assimilate the country's ethnic Turks. Measures which are aimed at the Turkish population, with an estimated approximate number of 800,000, include the discontinuation of Turkish-language publications and radio broadcasts and the requirement that Turks adopt Bulgarian names. The ethnic Turkish population, however, resists assimilation, and clashes with the authorities continue.


The death of Soviet General Secretary Konstantin Chernenko allows a 'new guard' to take over supreme power. The era of reforms that is launched throughout in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev has a major impact on Bulgaria, inspiring greater demands for openness and democratisation.

1990 - 1993

In early 1990 the communist party holds an extraordinary congress which enacts significant changes in party structure. In April 1990 it renames itself the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The National Assembly adopts a new constitution on 12 July 1991 which proclaims Bulgaria a parliamentary republic and promises citizens a broad range of freedoms. Bulgaria recognises the newly independent former Yugoslav republics, and on 16 January 1992 became the first country to recognise the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'. In the same year Bulgaria joins the Council of Europe, and in 1993 it signs the Europe Agreement with the European Union, with which it seeks membership.


Near the start of 1997, when monthly inflation has reached around 240 percent, mass protests force the government to resign. President Zhelev's successor, Petar Stoyanov, calls new elections and, following a decisive victory, UDF leader Ivan Kostov forms a pro-market government. This reduces inflation by introducing a currency board.

2001 - 2005

Former king, Simeon II, becomes prime minister. He is now known as Simeon Saxecoburggotski - a Bulgarianisation of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the noble house which had recreated the Bulgarian kingdom in 1908. He continues Bulgaria's programme of financial restraint and increased privatisation. In that time, Bulgaria joins Nato (in 2004).

Simeon II of Bulgaria with his new wife in 1962

The country's new prime minister in 2001 was hereditary king of Bulgaria, Simeon II, here seen on his wedding day on 21 January 1962 to Dońa Margarita Gómez-Acebo y Cejuela of Spain


In January, Bulgaria becomes a member state of the European Union. However, as the union's poorest state it remains vulnerable to the forthcoming financial crisis and exposure to various ailing southern economies. Despite this it weathers any impact from the Greek debt crisis of 2009-2015 and even experiences modest growth.

2010 - 2012

The death of Prince Johannes Heinrich of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in April 2010 means that Simeon, his distant cousin, becomes heir to the title. The late prince's uncle, Philipp, and his descendants from his morganatic marriage with Sarah Aurelia Halasz have already been barred from the inheritance. In 2012, Simeon nominally cedes his rights (and those of his children) to leadership of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to his sister, Marie Louise.

Prince Kardam of Tirnovo

Son and heir of Simeon II. Born 2 Dec 1962. Died 2016.

Prince Kyrill of Preslav

Brother, and current heir. Born 11 Jul 1964.