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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe

 

Bulgaria

Present day Bulgaria has a long history, one which originates in myth and tribal dominance in antiquity, and in archaeological cultures such as the Cernavodă. Large swathes of what is now 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 the Celtic Scordisci (actually a confederation of tribes rather than a single tribe itself).

Roman interest in the region soon resulted in the formation of the province of Thracia to cover the south, and Moesia to cover the north. Moesia was later divided into east and west provinces ('inferior' and 'superior' respectively), with Moesia Inferior forming the heartland of modern Bulgaria.

Roman decline saw the region gradually infiltrated by Slav groups. In turn these were pushed outwards or absorbed in the late seventh century AD by the Bulgars who gave their name to this land. Proto-Bulgarians had settled in and around the northern Caucasus, to the north and east of the Black Sea, in the fourth to fifth centuries where they soon found themselves dominated by the Huns.

Subsequently, under the leadership of a single powerful individual named Qaghan Koubrat (Khan Kubrat), they formed a large nomad empire in mid-seventh century Eastern Europe which was known as Great Bulgaria.

Under external pressure this empire survived the death of its founder by less than two decades, and the Bulgars subsequently splintered. One group headed towards the Danube, soon settling in Pannonia at first, and subsequently in the region of Bitolya (former Greek Macedonia). Another group of between 30,000 to 50,000 Bulgars followed the northern coast of the Black Sea. This soon reached the Danube where it found a new kingdom of Bulgaria.

Qaghan Kubrat, founder of the first Bulgar state

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, 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), and from External Links: Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions, and The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it), and Turkic History.)

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.

Map of Central Asia AD 550-600
As was often the case with Central Asian states which 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 or tap on map to view full sized)

According to the story, three brothers 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.

c.632 - c.651

Qaghan 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 (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). By this time the Altyn Ola horde has been absorbed, along with the Kutrigurs and Utigurs. Koubrat makes peace with the Eastern Roman empire and is awarded the title of patrician by Heraclius. Kubrat dies some time after 651 and his creation - Great Bulgaria - gradually falls apart.

Qaghan Koubrat of Great Bulgaria and his warrior sons
This modern illustration of Qaghan Koubrat and his warrior sons show them at the height of their power, probably around the AD 650 point in time

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 - c.681

Great Bulgaria disintegrates following a massive Khazar attack during their period of expansion in the second half of the seventh century. One group of Bulgars migrates westwards to escape Khazar domination, soon arriving in Pannonia and settling in Macedonia. Another group of between 30,000 to 50,000 Bulgars follows the northern coast of the Black Sea. They soon reach the Danube where they found a new kingdom of Bulgaria.

Kingdom of Bulgaria / Danubian Bulgaria (Turko-Slavics)
c.AD 681 - 889

The Pontic steppe on the northern shore of the Black Sea was a confused mix of various early Turkic tribes following the collapse of the Hunnic empire which had driven many of them there. A good deal of internecine conflict followed, before a tribal confederation known as 'Patria Onoguria' began to impose peace. That confederation evolved quickly into the tribal state of Great Bulgaria, founded by Qaghan Koubrat, which managed to dominate the Pontic steppe for about three decades.

Following the death of its founder around 651, continuity was initially supplied by his eldest son in the face of growing Khazar opposition. A massive Khazar raid in 668 destroyed the confederation. Its various groups dissipated into the surrounding population in early Ukraine or migrated outwards. While some Bulgars elected to remain where they were and accept domination by the hostile Khazars, another large group headed northwards to form the Volga Bulgar state (Volga Bulgaria).

Many other groups had most likely already integrated themselves fully into the various Bulgar divisions and had lost their individual identities as a result, but a third large group of Bulgars headed westwards (others also followed this route).

The kingdom which would eventually become the modern Bulgarian republic was formed by this third group of Bulgars. They were led by the tribal chieftain, Asparukh, who followed the Pontic coast to reach the Danube at the beginning of the last quarter of the seventh century. There, he founded an independent kingdom in what is now Romania, and set about harassing and seizing territory from the Eastern Roman empire while it was engaged in fighting the Islamic empire in the east and south.

The Bulgars expelled recently-settled groups of Slavs (or at least their leaders - principally of the Antes tribe), and probably also conquered local tribes which had been settled there for two or three centuries, such as the Bastarnae, and any remnants of the Goths and the Huns. Some Slavs remained though, enough to be integrated into the new kingdom, to add a Slavic layer of culture to it, and to replace Turkic as the main language.

A number of other tribal names have been associated with that of the Bulgars. Some medieval documents mention that Asparukh also led 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' which appear in other texts. The latter form at least can be connected with 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 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.

The Bulgar rulers were known as khans, in the Turkic tradition. They remained independent of the powerful Eastern Romans until 1018. There is some archaeological evidence to suggest an element of continuity between this people and the rule of the Huns and their many subject groups which had previously conquered the region. The most characteristic weapon of both peoples, their long bows, are almost identical. The same Bulgars are responsible for forming the Balkan-Danubian culture (see below, at AD 701). As is often the case, the modern Bulgarian term for this shared culture differs from that of its Romanian equivalent, being known as Pliska-Preslav and Dridu culture respectively.

Qaghan Kubrat, founder of the first Bulgar state

(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), from Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, András Róna-Tas (Central European University Press, 1999), from the Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans (containing the names of the early Bulgarian khans), from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), and from External Links: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it), and Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen).)

c.668 - 680

With Qaghan Koubrat dead, Great Bulgaria disintegrates following a massive Khazar attack during their period of expansion in the second half of the seventh century. According to tradition, Koubrat's sons, Bat Bayan and his brothers, part company, each leading their own followers.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 632-665
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 to found Great Bulgaria (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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. In time they reach an area to the north of the Danubian delta known as the Ongal (precise location unspecified), from where they launch annual raids into Eastern Roman territory.

They also develop close bonds with the local Slav population which has been in the region for up to two centuries by now. This population is formed by the tribe or confederation of the Severians, along with what is known as the 'Seven Clans' or 'Seven Slavic Tribes'. This union of Slavs forms on the Danubian plain in the mid-seventh century, around the same time at which the Bulgars arrive.

c.680

Kuber, the fourth son of the late Qaghan Koubrat of the Pontic Bulgars of Great Bulgaria, supposedly arrives in the Carpathian Basin around this time with his fleeing people. Killing or exiling the incumbent ruler of the 'Second Khaganate' of Avars, they integrate and attempt to dominate the Avars and a rag-tag group of leftovers which include Eastern Romans, Germans, and Slavs.

Avars
The Avars pictured here are on their way to conquer Sirmium from the Eastern Romans, which they successfully managed in AD 582, fourteen years after the confirmed founding of their khaganate in the Carpathian Basin

In the same year, Asparukh and his Bulgars along with their many Slav allied forces meet Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine IV at the Battle of Ongal. The location, whilst unknown, is near the Black Sea coast (where naval support lies), approximately midway between Varna (in modern Bulgaria) and Odessa (in modern Ukraine). The resultant Bulgar victory allows them to carve out the beginnings of a kingdom which straddles the Danube in a broad oval between the Black Sea and Vidin.

c.681 - 694

Qaghan Asparukh / Asparouh / Isperikh

Kubrat's fifth son in Great Bulgaria. Founded Danubian state.

c.685

Within a few years of their arrival in the 'Second Khaganate', Kuber's Bulgars revolt against him, and Kuber is forced to flee to Danubian Bulgaria and safety with his brother, Asparukh (also given as Asparouh, Isperikh, or even Ispor). His Bulgars, it would seem, are assimilated into an Avar khaganate which is renewed again within five years under the rule of an unnamed leader.

694

The Khazars who had destroyed Great Bulgaria are now utterly dominant on the Pontic steppe. They force their way westwards towards the Danube, intent on subjugating the Bulgars there who had escaped them three decades before. Asparukh is killed fighting in one such battle, but his Bulgarians hold firm (an alternative date of 701 is sometimes given for this particular death). To improve their defences they construct several great ditches between the River Timok (which connects with the right bank of the Danube) and the Black Sea.

c.694 - 715

Tervel / Tarvel / Terbelis

Son. Named 'Caesar' by Justinian II. Baptised.

c.701

Tervel and his immediate successors are responsible for the formation and spread of the Balkan-Danubian culture. The modern Bulgarian term for this shared culture is Pliska-Preslav, while in Romania the name Dridu culture is used. It flourishes until the eleventh century, no doubt coinciding with the annexation of the Cometopuli Bulgarian state by the Eastern Roman empire.

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

704 - 705

The deposed and banished former Eastern Roman emperor, Justinian II Rinotmetus, secures help and support from the powerful Danubian Bulgars to reclaim his throne. He does so in 705, with the Bulgars riding into Constantinople behind their khan, Tervel. The usurpers Leontius and Tiberius and many of their supporters are executed, while Tervel is granted the title 'Caesar', the first non-Eastern Roman to be so honoured.

708

Having had a change of heart about the territory which he had ceded to the Bulgars, Emperor Justinian II Rinotmetus now attempts to reclaim them militarily. Tervel puts him firmly in his place with a Bulgarian victory at the Battle of Anchialus (close to today's Pomorie in south-eastern Bulgaria).

c.715

Ayyar / Ajjar

Brother? Entry in Nominalia removed or damaged.

c.715 - 721

Kormesiy / Kormesij

Nephew? Entry in Nominalia removed or damaged.

717 - 718

During the reign of the Islamic empire's Caliph Sulayman, the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople is placed under a protracted siege. Emperor Leo calls to the Danubian Bulgars for help based on established ties of cooperation, and they send a large army. Together the allies inflict several crushing defeats on the Arab army, forcing it to lift the siege and leave. This marks the end of any serious Islamic ambitions to conquer the Eastern Roman empire.

The Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, with construction by the Islamic empire having been completed in 691 on the site of the lost Judean Second Temple

c.721 - 737

Sevar

Of the Dulo clan, but precise relationship unclear.

c.737 - 754

Kormesios / Kormisosh

First of the Ukil/Vokil clan. Removed after Roman defeat?

c.737

The accession of Kormesios sees the end of the Dulo clan on the Bulgarian throne and the rise of the Ukil (or Vokil) clan. The circumstances surrounding this change of clan are unknown, but it coincides with a sudden worsening in relations with the Eastern Romans regarding their shared frontier after what would seem to be thirty years of peace and cooperation.

c.754 - 760

Vinekh / Vineh

Ukil/Vokil clan ruler. Murdered for accepting Roman peace.

c.760 - 763

Teletz / Telets / Telec

Ugain clan ruler. Defeated and lynched.

763

Teletz belongs to a different faction of Bulgarian leaders, one which may have been involved in the murder of Vinekh of which details are unknown. He leads a well-trained Bulgarian army in a series of devastating raids across the Eastern Roman frontier zone.

Challenging Emperor Constantine V to a contest of strength, he is defeated in battle at Anchialus when his Slav auxiliaries switch sides. The emperor does not press his victory, instead returning home in triumph. Teletz and his supporters have been discredited by the loss, so his Slavo-Bulgarian populace lynch them.

c.763 - 765

Sabin or Baian

Name omitted from the Nominalia. Related to Kormesios.

765

Firmly in the 'peace with Constantinople' camp, Sabin attempts secret negotiations with Constantine V. When the secret is exposed, his people reject him, forcing him to flee to the Eastern Romans for protection. He remains an exile for his lifetime. His successor, Umor, may also be a supporter of the 'peace' camp.

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

c.765

Umar / Umor

Ukil clan ruler. Reigned for 40 days. Ejected like Sabin?

c.765 - 766

Tokt / Toktu

Ugain clan ruler. Fled north in the face of rebellion. Killed.

c.766 - 767

Pagan

Son of Vinekh. Expelled and murdered.

767

Pagan attends peace talks with Constantine V and the two reach an agreement, only for Constantine to invade the Bulgarian lands. Several villages around the capital at Pliska are set on fire and the Eastern Romans are able to deal with the Bulgarian defenders before returning home in victory. Yet again a Bulgarian ruler is chased from his seat of power only to be murdered, this time by his servants.

c.767 - 777

Telerig

Son of Tervel. Forced to seek exile in Constantinople.

774

Constantine V launches a major expedition against the Bulgarians. The Black Sea fleet successfully lands its mounted troops but the advantage is not pressed. It would seem that this is another of the emperor's displays of power against a new Bulgarian khan. Despite Telerig later tricking the emperor into revealing the names of his informants in Bulgarian lands, the khan still feels the need to seek permanent refuge in Constantinople.

c.777 - 796/797

Kardam

Clan unknown. Relatively successful but already aged.

791 - 796

Kardam's reign sees proper order restored in Bulgarian lands, with the khan's authority being respected as he grinds out a peace agreement with Constantine VI regarding Eastern Roman payments of annual tribute.

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 or tap on map to view full sized)

796/797 - 814

Krum 'Strashni / 'the Dreadful'

Killed Eastern Roman Emperor Nicephorus.

804

Krum's powerful Bulgarian kingdom conquers the south-eastern Avar lands of Transylvania and south-eastern Pannonia as far as the Middle Danube. Many Avars become subjects of the Bulgarians, despite their Khagan Theodorus requesting help from the Eastern Romans.

Bulgarian territory is virtually doubled as a result of the gains, and the beginnings of a true state are laid down during Krum's reign. However, the Bulgars now have a border which is shared with the powerful Franks.

811

Stung by constant Bulgarian raiding and the capture of pockets of frontier territory, Eastern Roman Emperor Nicephorus I launches a major raid which sees the Bulgarian capital pillaged and burned. On their way back to the empire, the imperial army is surprised by a scratch-force of soldiers and peasants, led by Krum. The army is destroyed, the emperor is killed, and his son is paralysed, with the result that his own position is usurped later in the year.

812 - 813

During 812, Krum seizes towns in Thrace, forcing Eastern Roman Emperor Michael I Rhangabé into a confrontation at Versinikia, on the route towards Adrianople. The battle, when it comes on 22 June 813, is a complete Bulgarian success. Constantinople is besieged, with the result that Michael abdicates to become a monk.

813

Krum consolidates his control of the Bulgars of Pannonia and Macedonia within the kingdom. These had been led westwards in the mid-seventh century by Kuber following the disintegration of Great Bulgaria where they had integrated into a ragtag of groups - Eastern Romans, Germans, and Slavs - as part of the Avar khaganate.

Pannonian plains
The plains of Pannonia (now western Hungary) were not under Hunnic domination for very long before the divided subjects of the Huns were largely forced back towards the Pontic steppe, but many groups also stayed, or arrived later in this ideal grassland territory

814

Dukum

Governed briefly (possibly Omurtag or a regent).

814 - 815

Ditzevg / Ditseng

A second lord, and possible regent.

815

Tsog

A third lord, and possible regent.

815 - 831

Omurtag / Omortag 'the Builder'

Son of Krum. Young at accession.

818 - 827

Following a short period of potential instability following the death of Khan Krum, Omurtag proves to be a capable leader. With a long-term peace agreement signed with Constantinople, he is largely free to look to his northern and western borders.

In 818, three Slavic tribes rebel in their territories along the middle Danube in what recently had been Avar territory. The Abodrites, Braničevci, and Timočani oppose increasingly centralised Bulgarian suzerainty. They seek support from Frankish Emperor Louis 'the Pious'.

The Franks are reluctant to negotiate, so Omurtag enforces his dominion with military victories in 826 and 827, and increased resources being added to the region. He ends Slav autonomy throughout the khanate, and divides it into districts (comitati) and sub-districts (zhupi ), thereby further centralising what is now a solid medieval kingdom rather than a tribal state.

831 - 836

Malamir

Son. Slavic/Indo-Iranian name. Took more Roman towns.

836 - 852

Presian I

Nephew. Captured more Slav towns.

839 - 842

Various Slavic tribes have recently been united into a single confederation under Vlastimir, the knez of Serbia. Eastern Roman Emperor Theophilus I has granted them independence (a tacit recognition of a fact which he is unable to change), in return for which he receives an acknowledgement of nominal overlordship for his lifetime.

Basil I meets Serb and Croat delegations
It would be another half a century or so after the Bulgars were beated back by Knez Vlastimir of the Serbs that Serb and Croat delegations would be received by Byzantine Emperor Basil I

Worried about the creation of a new Slav state on his south-western border, Presian invades. The Serbs, though, know their terrain. Vlastimir expels Presian with the latter making no territorial gains and suffering heavy losses. The death of Emperor Theophilus signals the end of the war.

846

Prince Pribina, a Slav noble and adventurer who had been chased out of Great Moravia by Mojmir I, is granted the eastern section of former Avar territory - in Lower Pannonia - as the principality of Balaton, with his headquarters near Lake Balaton on the River Zala (close to the modern village of Zalavár, in Zala County in Hungary, surrounded by forests and a swamp).

As dux of the eastern march and prince of Balaton, Pribina's main duty is to hem in the territorial ambitions both of Great Moravia and Bulgaria. Having himself been a victim of Moravia's ambitions, Pribina is only too happy to play a large role in Eastern Frankish campaigns against that state.

852 - 889

Boris / Mihail / Michael I

Son. Baptised in 864. Abdicated to become a monk.

853 or 854

Seeking revenge for the Bulgarian defeat of 842, an army is led into Serb lands by Vladimir 'Rasate', son of Boris I. Under the command of Mutimir and his two brothers, the Serbs again defeat the Bulgarians, capturing Vladimir and twelve boyars (nobles). Conflict is ended by a peace agreement.

855

With tensions increasing along the Frankish-Slavic border, Boris is persuaded by Rastislav of Great Moravia to attack the Eastern Franks in support of him. The campaign is a complete failure, with subsequent retribution involving Louis 'the German' invading Bulgaria at the same time as it is attacked by previously-peaceful Croats (possibly a diversionary tactic organised by Louis). Peace is soon agreed, without necessarily harming Boris' standing at home.

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
King Louis 'the Pious' of the Frankish empire attempted to leave the empire intact for his eldest son, Lothar, but the others rebelled at the idea. The treaty of Verdun in AD 843 confirmed the official division of the empire between Charlemagne's three surviving grandsons (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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 on their on behalf. Knyaz ('ruler, prince') Boris takes the Christian name Michael to mark his conversion.

885

Following the death of Methodius in Great Moravia, the Roman Catholic religion is adopted and Cyrillic script is replaced by the Latin alphabet. The disciples of Cyril and Methodius are expelled, finding refuge in a Bulgaria which adopts their Cyrillic script, maintaining it to this day.

889 - 893

Vladimir 'Rasate' / 'the Shaved'

Son. Failed to reintroduce paganism. Deposed by Boris.

893 - 913

Simeon I

Brother. Raised principality to (First) Bulgarian empire.

895

Simeon has to cope with a two-pronged attack which is organised by Eastern Roman Emperor Leo VI. Having arranged for the Eastern Franks under Arnulf of Carinthia to avoid offering support to the Bulgarians, the Byzantine navy is active in the Danubian delta while the Magyars attack from the north. Despite a couple of minor defeats against the latter, Simeon emerges with his territories largely intact.

913

Anarchy in the Eastern Roman empire and the non-payment of the Bulgarian tribute allows Simeon to besiege Constantinople until its internal struggle to find a new emperor also results in Simeon himself being accepted as emperor of the Bulgarians. He now exchanges the title of knyaz, meaning 'ruler' or 'prince', for 'tsar' in the style of the Byzantine model, raising the principality of Bulgaria to the (First) Bulgarian empire.

First Bulgarian Empire
AD 913 - 971

The Danubian Bulgar kingdom was first formed in the late seventh century. Its people followed the tribal chieftain, Asparukh, son of the late ruler of Great Bulgaria. Wanting to avoid Khazar domination following their termination of this state, he led his large train of people westwards from the Pontic steppe region which lies to the north of the Sea of Azov. In what is now Romania, they set up a tribal kingdom close to the mouth of the Danube, and set about harassing and seizing territory from the Eastern Roman empire while it was engaged in fighting the Islamic empire in the east and south.

These Bulgars expelled recently-settled groups of Slavs (or at least their leaders - principally of the Antes tribe), and probably also conquered other tribes which had been settled there for two or three centuries, such as the Bastarnae, and any remnants of the Goths and the Huns. More than enough Slavs remained though, enough to be integrated into the new kingdom, to add a Slavic layer of culture to it, and to replace Turkic as the main language. Principally these Slavs involved the Severians, along with what was known as the 'Seven Clans' or 'Seven Slavic Tribes'.

The kingdom largely prospered during the eighth and ninth centuries, gradually solidifying into a medieval state. It expanded outwards to occupy much of the Balkans, especially eastern and central regions. Anarchy in the Eastern Roman empire and the non-payment of the Bulgarian tribute allowed the knyaz, Simeon, to besiege Constantinople in 913 until its internal struggle to find a new emperor also resulted in Simeon himself being accepted as emperor of the Bulgarians. His kingdom was now raised to become the (First) Bulgarian empire. The knyaz ('prince' or 'ruler') swapped that title for 'emperor', using the former Western Roman term of Caesar, in the abbreviated form of 'tsar' (originally 'tsěsar') which was, in theory, subtly junior to the Latin 'imperator' and Greek 'basileus' (both also meaning 'emperor'), but which was generally rendered in Slavonic as 'Cěsar/Car' ('tsar').

The Balkans Mountains in Albania, by wiredforadventure.com

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Viking-Rus Mercenaries in the Byzantine-Arab Wars of the 950s-960s: the Numismatic Evidence, Roman K Kovalev, from Istorija Khazar, M I Artamonov (Leningrad, 1962), from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), and from External Link: Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen).)

913 - 927

Simeon I 'Veliki' / 'the Great'

Previously knyaz of Bulgaria. Bulgaria's 'Golden Age'.

914

Shortly after Simeon has happily accepted the title of 'tsar' from Patriarch Nicholas, Zoe, the powerful mother of the young Emperor Constantine VII, returns to the Eastern Roman court. The regents are removed, Zoe takes control of the throne, and the patrician is entirely sidelined from his office. Recognition of Simeon as 'tsar' is negated, even by removing it from some official documents.

Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus
The shy, young Emperor Constantine VII of the Eastern Roman Empire ruled with some reluctance, preferring the peace of his studies to the hurly-burly of court life

917

The promised war between Zoe's Constantinople and Simeon now erupts. Leo Phokas 'the Elder' invades Bulgaria with naval support. His forces stop en route to rest, close to the River Acheloos, and also close to the port of Anchialos (today's Pomorie). This is where Simeon finds them, unprepared, and slaughters them. The Eastern Romans are utterly routed, with the Bulgarians chasing them to the outskirts of Constantinople. Another victory sees some of the last remaining cohesive Byzantine military units destroyed.

Immediately afterwards, Simeon sends two commanders to trick Petar Gojniković, ruler of the Serbs, into handing himself over for having intended to mobilise in support of the Byzantines. He is duly seized and imprisoned. Simeon replaces him with a Serb exile by the name of Pavle Branović who had been living at the Bulgarian court.

919 - 924

With Zoe now removed from power and sent back to a monastery, her replacement is Romanus I Lecapenus, equally powerful and politically wily. He marries his daughter - once promised to Simeon - to Constantine VII and creates himself co-emperor in 920. Now unable to seal peace through marriage with Constantinople, Simeon instead wages a long and bloody war against the Eastern Romans.

Zaharije Pribisavljević in Serbia is persuaded by the imperial court to rebel in 924. He already has the support of many Bulgarians who have tired of the unceasing campaigning. An initial force of loyal Bulgarians is routed, but a larger force deposes Zaharije, while much of the leading Serb nobility is beheaded. Simeon takes direct control of Serbia.

Singidunum
This artist's reconstruction shows the Roman city of Singidunum, the name originating in the preceding Celtic town, while the Serbs would settle it from the 520s, making it their on-off capital of Belgrade

927 - 969

Petăr / Peter I

Son. Ruled a generally peaceful empire. Suffered a stroke.

930 - 933

There are two family-led rebellions: one in 930 by a younger brother named Ivan, and then a second, more serious attempt by Tsar Peter's elder half-brother, Michael. Taking advantage of the tsar possibly being unsettled, the Serbs in 933 successfully rebel under the leadership of Prince Časlav Klonimirović, re-establishing the independence of the Serb state.

By the 930s some Magyar groups in what is becoming Hungary are further incurring into the Bulgarian empire but, after some initial disturbance, Tsar Peter is able to accept them and even employ them against the Serbs and Eastern Romans. These groups are allowed to settle in Bulgarian territory on the northern side of the Danube, where they initially remain outside the control of the leading Magyar Árpád dynasty.

967

Around a decade after her own conversion to Christianity when visiting Constantinople, the pagan son of the late Grand Princess Olga of the Rus - Svyatoslav - now fights against the Danubian Bulgars, having ended the threat posed by the once-mighty Khazars. His latest campaign is at the request of the Eastern Romans, who promise an advance payment of fifteen hundred pounds of gold.

Khazars in battle
At the peak of its prosperity the nomadic Turkic Khazar state controlled the northern Caucasus, the lower and Middle Volga regions, part of Kazakhstan, and part of what is now Ukraine, including Crimea

968

The Pechenegs invade Rus territory for the first time, besieging Kyiv with a large army at the encouragement of the Bulgarians. According to tradition they are tricked into raising the siege by local forces who then assure them that Svyatoslav himself has just arrived to finish the job. The Pechenegs withdraw in good order without having fought anybody, but the pressure on the Bulgarians has at least been temporarily lifted.

969 - 971

Boris II

Son. Roman prisoner from 971. Freed in 977.

970 - 971

Having just defeated the Bulgarians again (in 969), Svyatoslav of Kyiv finally breaks the long peace with the Eastern Romans which had been encouraged and supported by his late mother (who has only just died). He launches an invasion of the lower Danube in 970 and engages the Byzantine armies there in major battles between then and 971.

Unfortunately for him, the forces of Emperor John I Tzimisces are stronger than his. Tsar Boris of Bulgaria, his own forces unable to beat off the Rus, has become an unwilling Rus ally, and it is his capital which bears the brunt of the Byzantine attack. The Bulgarian tsar is captured there and is taken to Constantinople where he is divested of his imperial title and given a replacement honorary one.

Byzantine Emperor John I Zimiskes with the captive Emperor Boris II of Bulgaria
Byzantine Emperor John I Zimiskes returns in glory to Constantinople, with the captured Preslav Icon and Tsar Boris II of Bulgaria (second from right)

The empire of Bulgaria is ended, with lower Moesia and Thrace now in the hands of Byzantine governors. Only western Bulgaria remains independent, led by the Cometopuli, 'sons of the count', in the name of the captive Tsar Boris.

Cometopuli (Kometopouloi) Bulgarian State / Western Bulgarian Empire
AD 971 - 1018

The Danubian Bulgar kingdom formed in the late seventh century, following a mass migration from the eastern Pontic steppe. The collapse of Great Bulgaria had resulted in a large number of Bulgars who wanted to avoid Khazar domination. They resettled in what is now Romania, close to the mouth of the Danube, from where they seized territory from the Eastern Roman empire and integrated into existing Slavic settlements as a new ruling elite.

The kingdom largely prospered during the eighth and ninth centuries. It solidified into a medieval state, expanding outwards to occupy much of the Balkans, especially eastern and central regions. Early tenth century anarchy in the Eastern Roman empire allowed the ruling prince, Simeon, to besiege Constantinople in 913 until its internal struggle to find a new emperor also resulted in Simeon himself being accepted as emperor of the Bulgarians. His kingdom was now raised to become the (First) Bulgarian empire.

Simeon soon found the Byzantines backtracking on promises of alliance, sparking a trail of warfare throughout the rest of his reign. Largely his empire was successful in the fight, expanding even further and bringing the early Serb state under his direct control. When Pannonia's recently-arrived Magyars began venturing southwards to raid into Bulgaria, Simeon was able to tame them too, and set them up in client territory on the northern bank of the Danube. The Kievan Rus proved a far more difficult prospect, however. Bulgaria seemed to be at a loss when it came to defeating them, so Simeon's second successor, Boris II, was left with no choice but to ally himself with them. Disaster followed, with a Byzantine-Rus war being fought out around the Bulgarian capital, destroying it and seeing Boris captured. The empire was ended.

With much of Bulgaria now under Byzantine control, only the west remained independent. Bulgarian governors still maintained control there, most notably under a noble family which was led by four brothers. They were the cometopuli, the 'sons of the count', and they ruled in the name of the captive Tsar Boris. For these reasons, along with geography, the state is known either as the 'Cometopuli' or the 'Western Bulgarian Empire'. The late count himself was Nicholas, either comes (count) or governor of the Sredets region (which contains modern Bulgaria's capital of Sofia), or perhaps the Prespa region. He had been killed by 972, so his four sons commanded in his stead, each controlling a region of his vast territory.

The Balkans Mountains in Albania, by wiredforadventure.com

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Viking-Rus Mercenaries in the Byzantine-Arab Wars of the 950s-960s: the Numismatic Evidence, Roman K Kovalev, from Istorija Khazar, M I Artamonov (Leningrad, 1962), from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), and from External Link: Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen).)

971 - 977

Boris II

Former ruler of Bulgarian empire. Killed by accident.

c.969 - 972

Nicholas

Count in western Bulgaria. Killed.

971 - 976

While Tsar Boris, last emperor of a fully independent and intact Bulgaria, is held in loose captivity in Constantinople, western Bulgaria remains the last free stronghold. One of the governors here is Count Nicholas, but he is killed in battle by 972, and possibly in 971. His four sons command in his place, each of them governing a segment of his territory, holding it in the name of the emperor and fighting against the Eastern Romans.

Map of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Bulgaria, and Greece AD 1000
The (First) Bulgarian empire had controlled a great swathe of the Balkans during its existence, but its termination in 971 resulted in only its western territories remaining independent (within the dashed line), governed by the cometopuli (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.972 - 976

David

Son. Killed by Vlachs prior to battle with Eastern Romans.

c.972 - 976

Moses

Brother. Died during the siege of Serres.

c.972 - 976

Aron / Aaron

Brother. Executed by Samuel.

c.972 - 997

Samuel / Samuil

Brother. Became emperor in 997.

976

Before the Eastern Romans can be subjected to a major attack by the cometopuli, David is killed by a nomadic group of Vlachs. The multi-pronged attack goes ahead however, with Moses leading a siege of the Macedonian town of Serres in which he is also killed. North-eastern Bulgaria is recaptured in a notable territorial gain for the sons of the counts.

Emperor Basil II is also fighting a rebellion in the east which is led by a general called Bardas Skleros. So he resorts to subterfuge with his Bulgarian adversaries by negotiating with Aron to secure peace with him alone, and offering his sister's hand in marriage to sweeten the deal. Samuel discovers the deceit, executing Aron and his entire family. Only his son, Ivan Vladislav, is saved, thanks to Gavril Radomir (Samuel's own son) pleading for his life.

977

As another part of his warfare against the cometopuli, Emperor Basil II releases the captive Tsar Boris and his brother Romanus, allowing them to head towards western Bulgaria and perhaps cause division and disagreement. The two reach safety, with Basil dismounting his horse to avoid being perceived as a threat to the border guards. Unfortunately he is killed by a deaf-mute guard before he can identify himself. Romanus succeeds him as emperor, but Samuel ensures he remains little more than a figurehead.

South Struma Valley
The South Struma Valley, former Scordisci tribal territory, today lies within south-western Bulgaria, but at the time of the cometopuli it probably formed part of their eastern border

977 - 997

Romanus

Brother. Figurehead tsar. Captured again in 991. Died 997.

988 - 991

Bulgaria takes the Eastern Roman region of Epirus, along with Thrace and, soon after, the Serb province of Duklja. The successes are aided by the fact that Emperor Basil II is occupied in putting down the rebellion of Bardas Phokas 'the Younger' in Asia Minor.

However, despite major Bulgarian successes, Basil is still often able to raid deep into Bulgarian territory. In 991 he manages to capture Tsar Romanus, taking him to Constantinople as his prisoner. Samuel continues much as before, striving to extend the Bulgarian state amid successes and reverses, and only assuming the title of tsar when Romanus has died (with Papal recognition).

997 - 1014

Samuel

Formerly Count Samuel. Army annihilated by Basil II.

1010

As part of a major campaign to denude the Eastern Romans of support in the Balkans, Samuel enters the Serb Duklja province. Its ruler, Jovan Vladimir, is forced to acquiesce to Bulgarian overlordship. After Theodora Kosara, Samuel's own daughter - it is alleged by a medieval writer - had fallen in love with Vladimir she begs for his life. His largely peaceful rule of his people continues, and he plays no part in the conflict against the Byzantines.

1014

Worn down by incessant Eastern Roman raiding every year, Samuel builds a long wooden defensive wall across their favoured line of advance through the Strumitsa river valley. At first the defence proves to be highly successful, but the Byzantines eventually find a way around. The main Bulgarian army is surprised and defeated.

Emperor Basil II gains the epithet 'Bulgar Slayer' when he captures and blinds most of the 15,000-strong army on 29 July. The defeat fatally weakens the Bulgar state, and Samuel too. He reputedly suffers a heart attack when he sees his mutilated army return home.

Pope Sylvester II
Pope Sylvester II - happy to recognise a Bulgarian emperor if it meant scoring a success over the Orthodox Church - began the process of reintroducing from the Islamic empire much of that which had been lost since the fall of the Roman empire

1014 - 1015

Gabriel / Gavril Radomir

Son. Murdered.

1015

Gavril Radomir proves to be a worthy and successful successor when it comes to punishing the Eastern Romans for the horrors of 1014. His first major raid even reaches the outskirts of Constantinople. Unfortunately he is soon murdered by Ivan Vladislav in revenge for Gavril's father having executed the rest of Ivan's family in 976. Then Ivan seizes the throne.

1015 - 1018

John / Ivan Vladislav

Son of Count Aron. Usurper. Killed in battle.

1018 - 1019

Ivan Vladislav is killed while attacking the Eastern Romans during the Battle of Dyrrhachium in 1018 (now Durrës in Albania). Exhausted by the war and lacking a suitable successor, his widow, Maria, and a good many Bulgarian regional governors surrender to Basil II who then annexes Bulgaria to the empire.

The sons of Ivan Vladislav - Aaron, Alusian, and Presian - surrender a brief time later and are taken to Constantinople where they are drawn into the court nobility. Duke Sermon, the governor of the north-western province of Syrmia, manages to hold out until he is killed by Eastern Romans in 1019. Ivan's daughter, Catherine, later marries Isaac I Comnenus, founder of the subsequent Comneni dynasty of emperors.

1019 - 1040

Bulgaria as an independent state in any form has been extinguished. Its provinces are largely merged into the Byzantine themes (administrative divisions) of Bulgaria and Macedonia, while the heart of the original kingdom is now the theme of Paristrion.

Byzantine Emperor Basil II 'Bulgar Slayer'
In Byzantine Emperor Basil II the Bulgarians found themselves an implaccable, unrelenting enemy who would not give up until their state had been destroyed

1040 - 1041

Delyan / Petăr / Peter II

Delyan, son (?) of Gavril Radomir. Led rebellion. Mutilated.

1040 - 1041

Peter leads a Bulgarian rebellion within the theme of Bulgaria against Eastern Roman rule. His claim to be Delyan, son of Gavril Radomir, remains unsubstantiated - he could equally be a commoner or minor lord who makes the claim to secure the title of tsar.

Emperor Michael IV is surprised in Thessalonica, being forced to flee without his treasury. The theme of Macedonia also falls, sparking other rebellions. However, failure comes at the hands of Alusian, son of Ivan Vladislav, who had been in disgrace at the Byzantine court. One night he mutilates and blinds a drunk Delyan, and is proclaimed tsar in his place.

1041

Alusian

Son of Ivan Vladislav. Defected to Romans.

1041

Alusian's only thought, it seems, is to use his newfound position of power to be re-admitted to the Eastern Roman court. Leading his army towards battle, he instead defects to the enemy in a pre-arranged plot which seems him restored at court and rewarded with the senior title of magistros. The still-functional Delyan is able to resume command.

1041

Delyan / Petăr / Peter II

Restored. Defeated in battle. Executed or imprisoned.

1041 - 1072

As Tsar Peter II, Delyan is captured in 1041 by the forces of Michael IV at the Battle of Ostrovo (now in northern Greece). His fate is unclear, perhaps being executed or 'imprisoned' as a monk in an isolated monastery. The Bulgarians are again subsumed within Eastern Roman themes until 1072.

Alousian meets Bulgarian Tsar Delyan
Fleeing in 1040 from disgrace in the imperial court at Constantinople, Alouisian meets Tsar Delyan at Ostrovo on the edges of Bulgarian territory, the scene of the final cometopuli defeat just the following year

1072 - 1073

Constantine Bodin / Peter III

Serb prince of Duklja. Crowned tsar. Captured.

1072 - 1185

The Bulgarians request that Constantine Bodin become their leader in rebellion. He is the son of the ruling Serb prince of Duklja, Mihailo, with a theorised familial connection to the late Tsar Samuel. Their rebellion takes the theme of Bulgaria.

Warfare erupts in the Balkans, largely in what is now Serbia and Kosovo. Fortunes fluctuate as both sides operate multiple smaller armies, but Bodin is captured and sent to Constantinople in 1073. He is freed by paid Venetians some years later, but returns peacefully to his father's lands to become co-ruler there. The defeated Bulgarians remain submissive until 1185 and the rise of the Asens.

Asens of Bulgaria / Second Bulgarian Empire
AD 1185 - 1280

The seventh century Danubian Bulgar kingdom largely prospered during the eighth and ninth centuries. It solidified into a medieval state, expanding outwards to occupy much of the Balkans. Early tenth century anarchy in the Eastern Roman empire allowed the ruling prince, Simeon, to besiege Constantinople in 913 until its internal struggle to find a new emperor also resulted in Simeon himself being accepted as emperor of the Bulgarians. His kingdom was now raised to become the (First) Bulgarian empire.

Simeon's empire was successful, expanding even further and bringing the early Serb state under his direct control. When Pannonia's recently-arrived Magyars began venturing southwards to raid into Bulgaria, he tamed them too, settling friendly groups on the northern bank of the Danube. The Kievan Rus proved a far more difficult prospect, however. Bulgaria seemed to be at a loss when it came to defeating them, so Simeon's second successor, Boris II, was left with no choice but to ally himself with them. Disaster followed, with a Byzantine-Rus war being fought out around the Bulgarian capital, destroying it and seeing Boris captured. The empire was ended.

With much of Bulgaria now under Byzantine control, only the west remained independent. Bulgarian governors still maintained control there, most notably under a noble family which was led by four brothers. They were the Cometopuli, the 'sons of the count', and they ruled in the name of the captive Tsar Boris. While initially successful at establishing a firmly independent Bulgaria state, largely located in what is now Serbia, they later descended into dynastic squabbling and the state was conquered in 1018. Subsequent rebellions against Byzantine control failed to do much more than extend the bloodshed, with the last of these failing in 1073.

By 1185-1186, however, the Byzantine empire was at a low point, having declined since it had been defeated by the Seljuqs of Rum at the Battle of Myriocephalon in 1176. Triggered by a rise in taxes, the Bulgarian Asens, local feudal lords, now rose in rebellion against the empire's domination to declare a new independent Bulgar state. Claiming the mountains of the theme of Paristrion (the heartland of the early Danubian Bulgar kingdom), they quickly expanded outwards from there, while also maintaining the title of tsar. The origins of those rulers are obscure, with modern claims linking them to the Cumans, Bulgars, and Vlachs. The latter may have the best basis, but even so, this was a Bulgarian state leadership for a blended Bulgar-Slav-Cuman-Serb-Vlach population.

The Balkans Mountains in Albania, by wiredforadventure.com

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), from The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughn Findley (Oxford University Press 2005), from The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, Susan Wise Bauer (2010), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), and from External Links: Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and the Turkish Cultural Foundation.)

1185 - 1196

John / Ivan I Asen

State recognised by Eastern Romans (1187). Murdered.

1185 - 1196

Peter / Teodor II Asen

Brother and co-ruler. Divided the state in 1192.

1185 - 1186

The Asen brothers, Ivan and Teodor, have requested that the new Eastern Roman emperor, Isaac II Angelus, grants them an estate in the mountains of the theme of Paristrion. His refusal and humiliation of them prompts them to declare a rebellion and grab the land by force. They claim the title of tsar and continuation from the (First) Bulgarian empire.

Ivan Asen of Bulgaria
Ivan Asen leads his troops in revolt against Byzantine occupation of Bulgaria in this modern artistic recreation

The emperor immediately has them defeated and routed in battle. They seek refuge with the Cumans in April 1186, returning that autumn with Cuman troops. Paristrion is captured and turned into the new Bulgarian state. Regular raiding into Byzantine territories naturally follows.

1196

When Tsar John II (Ivan) is murdered by a boyar (noble), Tsar Peter (Teodor) assigns his half of the state to a younger brother, Kaloyan. Peter himself is murdered the following year.

1196 - 1197

Peter / Teodor II Asen

Now senor ruler. Murdered in unclear circumstances.

1196 - 1197

Kaloyan / Ioanitsa

Brother and co-ruler.

1197 - 1207

Kaloyan / Ioanitsa

Former co-ruler. Stopped Fourth Crusade's advance (1205).

1204

The capture of Constantinople is the Fourth Crusade's 'success', and Latin emperors are established in the city. The Byzantines withdraw to Nicæa in Anatolia, but rival claimants also established holdings in Trebizond and Epirus so that, at one point, there are four claimants to the Byzantine throne, as well as the Bulgar and Serb states. Close allies of Constantinople through intermarriage and trade, including Alania and the Rus, are badly affected by this disaster.

A reconstruction of medieval Kyiv
Kyiv's great territory, its competing junior princes, and its exposure to successive waves of mounted invaders from the eastern steppe eventually resulted in the decline of Keivan Rus power overall, not just in Kyiv itself

In the same year, the Pope acknowledges Kaloyan as 'King of the Bulgarians and Vlachs', although Kaloyan himself maintains the title of tsar. It has taken some work to achieve this recognition, with it being protested by Serbs and Hungarians. The addition of Vlachs reflects the multicultural nature of Bulgarian lands by this time (albeit that they were always so, with even the Bulgars being assembled from a multi-tribal collective).

1205

With the Fourth Crusade having splintered control of the lower Balkans into many pieces, the powerful Tsar Kaloyan is able to make good progress in expanding his empire. The Battle of Adrianople on 14 April 1205 sees Baldwin IX of Flanders, master of Constantinople, being defeated before being captured and taken into captivity where he dies.

1207 - 1218

Boril

Nephew by a sister. m Kaloyan's widow & seized throne.

1207

With the unexpected death of Kaloyan, his unnamed sister's son, Boril, marries Kaloyan's Cuman widow and seizes the throne. Ivan Asen, the son of Tsar Ivan I and a rival prospect for the throne, flees the country to safeguard his own life, but the act also strengthens Boril's position.

Boril does not have things entirely to his liking though. A senior noble and cousin by the name of Strez refuses to acknowledge him. He takes possession of the lands between the rivers Struma (the ancient Strymṓn) and Vardar (the Axios), both in what is now southern Bulgaria. Another Asen noble, Alexius Slav, secures the Rhodope Mountains. However, Boril survives in power until Ivan Asen returns to capture and blind him.

South Struma Valley
The South Struma Valley, showing the kind of territory the Romans and Bulgarians alike had to defend or attack, depending upon the prevailing political situation

1218 - 1241

John / Ivan II Asen

Cousin. Son of Ivan I. Seized throne.

1221

A large Mongol force under Subedei enters territory around the Caspian Sea and then 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, while a large subsequent Cuman exodus into Hungary also results in many of them finding refuge in Bulgaria (sometimes to be faced with Bulgar-led massacres).

1230

Ivan II wins the Battle of Klokotnitsa, crushing the forces of Theodore Komnenos Doukas (Ducas) of the empire of Thessalonica, which he commands after having moved his stronghold from Epirus. Theodore's empire soon collapses, allowing Ivan Asen to take possession of great swathes of Macedonia, Thessaly, and Thrace. Theodore himself is captured and held for the next seven years while his brother, Michael, takes command of his remaining territories.

1242 - 1246

Kaloman / Kaliman / Calojoannes I

Son. Acceded age 7. Poisoned?

1242

A Mongol force under the command of Kadan, son of Ögedei Khan, enters Bulgarian lands. Archaeological evidence shows that at least a dozen forts are burned in this period, and the Bulgarians are forced to accept that they will have to pay tribute. The Mongols are content to leave the Bulgarians alone afterwards though.

Mongol warriors
Within just thirty years, Mongol warriors had travelled as far afield as central China and Eastern Europe, and south-west into Persia, turning the Mongol empire into the largest single controlling force in history

1246 - 1256

Michael II Asen

Half-brother. Acceded age 7. Murdered by Kaloman II.

1256

Kaloman / Kaliman / Calojoannes II

Nephew of Ivan II. Usurper. Dethroned & murdered.

1256 - 1257

Mitso Asen

Son-in-law of Ivan II. Not popular. Fled the capital.

1257 - 1277

Constantine Tich / Tikh / Tih

Serb-Bulgar noble. Part-paralysed. Killed during revolt.

1261

The Nicæan-Latin Wars are not concluded when Michael VIII Palæologus of Nicæa recaptures Constantinople, as Achaia and Athens are still occupied by Latin rulers. The city falls during a surprise attack when much of the garrison is raiding Nicæan territory.

The Latins are helped in their largely successful evacuation by the Venetian fleet, but Michael VIII is able to claim Constantinople as his seat and the capital of the Palæologus. Unfortunately the claim to the throne which is held by the eleven year-old John IV Lascaris is sidelined when the boy is blinded and imprisoned by Michael.

1264

Having failed to establish friendly relations with many of his neighbours, Constantine seeks help from the Mongols. A force which consists of thousands of Tartars crosses the lower Danube to invade Byzantine territory in alliance with the Bulgarians. Michael VIII of the Palæologus loses some territory but remains on the throne. Subsequent Mongol raids also target Bulgaria, weakening it severely.

Byzantine icon
An icon showing four episodes from the life of Christ which was probably painted in Thessalonica, the most important artistic centre in the crumbling Byzantine empire after Constantinople

1269 - 1279

Maria Palaiologina Kantakouzene

Wife. Dau of Michael VIII Palæologus. Empress consort.

1278 - 1279

Ivalio / Ivaylo

Commoner. Led revolt. Briefly recognised. Exiled & killed.

1279

Ivalio's successful peasant rebellion sees him marrying Maria Palaiologina Kantakouzene, widow of the late Tsar Constantine, in order to cement his control in the face of hostile forces on all sides of Bulgaria's borders.

Michael VIII Palæologus supports Ivan III in an attempt to claim the throne, even giving him troops to do so. Ivalio travels to the Mongol capital to gain support there, but Ivan also proceeds there to ensure that the Mongols favour his seemingly better claim of legitimacy. Ivalio is killed while the Bulgarians exile Maria to Constantinople.

1279 - 1280

John / Ivan III Asen

Son of Mitso Asen. Abandoned throne (1280). Died 1303.

1279 - 1280

Ivan's hold over Bulgaria is somewhat tenuous in places, especially prior to Ivalio's unwise journey to the Mongol capital. In order to remedy this he marries his sister, Maria, to the Bulgo-Cuman nobleman, George Terter. This fails to have the intended impact however.

Ivan and his own wife, Irene, another daughter of Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palæologus, flee an Ivalio siege to seek refuge in Constantinople. They take with them whatever Bulgarian riches they can carry, but their arrival enrages Michael VIII who had been supporting them towards ensuring a secure and friendly Bulgaria. Ivan subsequently proceeds to the Mongol capital to contest the throne with Ivalio. The Mongols select Ivan but fail to restore him to the throne, leaving the way open for the Terter dynasty under George Terter.

Terters & Shishmans of Bulgaria / Second Bulgarian Empire
AD 1280 - 1395

The Bulgar presence in the Danubian delta region began with the seventh century Danubian Bulgar kingdom. Early tenth century anarchy in the Eastern Roman empire allowed the ruling prince, Simeon, to become the (First) Bulgarian emperor. The arrival of the Kievan Rus into the fevered political mix in the Balkans of the late tenth century proved to be the empire's undoing, however, with only the Cometopuli territories in the west of the empire surviving to oppose Byzantine occupation.

While initially successful at establishing a firmly independent Bulgaria state, largely located in what is now Serbia, the cometopuli later descended into dynastic squabbling and the state was conquered in 1018. Subsequent rebellions against Byzantine control failed to do much more than extend the bloodshed. By 1185-1186, however, the Byzantine empire was at a low point, which allowed the Asens, local feudal lords, to rise in rebellion against the empire's domination and then to declare a new independent Bulgar state.

They too faced difficulties, not least when the Mongols appeared on the scene, demanding tribute (which they got) but otherwise content to leave the Bulgarians as a client state. Eventually only the Terters could offer firm leadership for the Bulgarians. This was in the form of the Bulgo-Cuman nobleman and Byzantine despot, George Terter, seemingly descended from the Cuman Terteroba clan, although few details are known about his origins. His reign as tsar initially offered the Bulgarians hope of strong leadership, but ultimately Mongol dominance of the region proved too strong. Instead Bulgaria gradually deteriorated as a power as internal anarchy spread and cross-factional fighting increased.

Initially, Terter Bulgaria amounted to little more than the original territory of the Danubian state, although it had expanded greatly by the time of Theodore Svetoslav, stretching westwards along the Danube. He, plus his successors, largely established Bulgarian borders which survive to this day, albeit with many post-Ottoman amendments. The Terters were succeeded by the Shishman family.

The population of Bulgaria had always been mixed, initially comprising of Bulgars (themselves a hotch-potch of various strands of early Turkic tribes) and Slavs who had settled the Danubian delta a relatively short time before the Bulgars arrived there. By the eleventh and twelfth centuries the local population also comprised of populations of Cumans, Serbs, and Vlachs. The Bulgar Turkic language had long since been replaced by Slavic, and the Bulgar state had vacillated for a time between the Latin alphabet and the new Cyrillic one, before it plumped for the latter.

The Balkans Mountains in Albania, by wiredforadventure.com

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), from The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughn Findley (Oxford University Press 2005), from The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, Susan Wise Bauer (2010), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest, John V A Fine (University of Michigan Press, 1994), and from External Links: Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and the Turkish Cultural Foundation.)

1280 - 1292

George / Gergi I Terter

Byzantine despot. Seized power. Died 1308/1309.

1282

Having hurriedly arranged an anti-Byzantine alliance with Stefan Dragutin of Serbia, Charles I of Naples, and also with Thessaly, George almost immediately finds it failing. Charles is faced with the potential loss of Sicily and is distracted, while Bulgaria is ravaged by Nogai Khan and his Nogai Horde division of the Golden Horde.

Tsar George Terter I coin of late 1200s
The obverse of this coin was issued during the twelve year reign of George Terter, seemingly immitating a Venetian grosso

1292

Following another damaging attack by Nogai Khan, George is apparently removed from the throne. He accepts exile, travelling to Adrianople, while his place is taken by Smilech. After a long wait, George is finally accepted into the Byzantine empire by Andronicus II and spends much of the last decade of his life in obscurity in Anatolia (in 1301 he becomes part of a prisoner exchange which is organised by Theodore Svetoslav).

1292 - 1298

Smilech / Smilets

Noble. A vassal of Nogai Khan. 'Removed' from power.

1298

Smilech is largely a pawn of Nogai Khan, but at least his reign sees Nogai's raiding largely confined to Byzantine territory. He is removed from the scene in 1298, although the circumstances are unknown. The suspect is generally thought to be Nogai Khan or his son, Chaka, both of whom are heavily involved in a struggle for control of the Golden Horde. His replacement, Ivan IV, is also referred to as Ivan II, which ignores two out of three of his Asen predecessors on the throne.

1298 - 1299

Ivan IV (II)

Son. Aged about 8 at accession. Removed and exiled.

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 Alani and then to Bulgaria where he has already (briefly) gained the throne as emperor. The young Ivan has been removed to spend the rest of his life in exile in the Byzantine empire (until about 1300).

Mongols of the Golden Horde
The Mongols maintained their dominance of the Bulgarians with bloodletting where necessary, burning and destroying towns which stood against them

1299 -1300

Chaka / Caka

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

1300

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. As a result of this cooperation, Mongol interference in Bulgaria largely ceases.

1300 - 1322

Theodore Svetoslav

Son of George I. Fought off pretenders but ensured stability.

1322 - 1323

George II Terter

Son. Died of natural causes. No heir.

1323 - 1330

Michael III Asen / Shishman

Cousin. First Shishman family tsar.

1330

Michael Asen, using the name to link his reign to the preceding Asens, normally known as Michael Shishman, his family name, has pursued an aggressive policy of establishing Bulgaria as the leading power in the Balkans. Having agreed an alliance with Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III, he organises a major attack against Serbia.

Poor coordination with the Byzantine forces means that Michael faces a Serb army which is equal to his in numbers. The Serbs are quickly reinforced before battle commences near Velbazhd (now Kyustendil in Bulgaria). Michael is defeated and dies within a few days, either mortally wounded or in some way badly hurt and unable to recover.

George Terter II coin
This photo shows both sides of a coin which was issued during the reign of George Terter II, although the mint location appears to be unknown

1330 - 1331

John / Ivan Stephan

Son. Removed by a coup.

1331 - 1371

John / Ivan Alexander

Cousin. Stabilised the state.

1351

With the Byzantine civil war having been concluded, Emperor John Cantacuzenes has realised the threat posed by the Ottoman Turks. His attempts to form a united front alongside Serbia and Bulgaria are rebuffed, however. This is despite Tsar Ivan Alexander already having lost a son and brother to Ottoman raids.

In fact, Alexander makes things worse by creating two co-ruling principalities within Bulgaria, the second of which - Vidin - becomes fully independent in 1371, weakening the state as a whole.

1356 - 1365

Ivan Stratsimir

Son & co-tsar. In Vidin (NW Bulgaria). Deposed by Hungary.

1369 - 1396

Ivan Stratsimir

Restored in Vidin by Hungary. Fully independent (1371).

1371 - 1395

John Shishman

Brother. Central Bulgaria only. Captured and killed.

1387 - 1388

The principality of Serbia and the kingdom of Bosnia manage to unite their forces in 1387 to inflict a defeat upon the Ottomans at the Battle of Pločnik. The European victory emboldens other rulers, including John Shishman who refuses to send troops to support his nominal overlords.

The Ottoman response is to send a thirty thousand-man army into Bulgaria in 1388. John Shishman has proven himself as the only one of the three Bulgarian rulers who openly and consistently opposes the Ottomans, but he pays the price. Losing fortress after fortress to his enemy and not receiving support from his neighbours, he has to reconfirm his vassalage under harsher conditions and with an occupying Ottoman force.

Ottoman Bulgaria
The arrival of the Ottoman Turks in the Balkans added yet another layer of ethnic diversity into an already-rich Bulgarian ethnic mix

1393

Having learned that John Shishman is secretly planning an alliance with Hungary, the Ottomans send a large army into the field. It captures the Bulgarian capital at Tarnovo while Shishman is in Nicopolis, and Bulgaria as a whole is subject to devastating raids and destruction.

1395

Nicopolis is captured by the Ottomans after a surprise approach from the north. Sultan Bayezid summons John Shishman under the pretence that discussions will be held regarding Bulgaria's position. Instead Shishman is seized and beheaded.

1396

The Battle of Nicopolis results in defeat for the allied European forces. Amongst the participants is Duke Charles II of Lorraine, Count John the Fearless of Nevers, and Tsar Ivan Stratsimir of Bulgarian Vidin. The defeat means that the Ottomans are able to capture Vidin by the start of 1397 at the latest. Ivan Stratsimir is captured and imprisoned where he is probably murdered. Bulgaria is now a subject territory of the Ottoman Turks.

1396 - 1878

With European forces remaining poorly coordinated when it comes to opposing the Ottomans, they are able to dominate the south-eastern Balkans. Bulgaria remains entirely subsumed within the empire, despite a counter-claim by Constantine II.

Map of the Timurid empire AD 1400
With Persia thoroughly focussed on resisting the ever-expanding conquests of Timur in the late 1300s, the Ottomans were laregly free to focus their attentions on defeating the states of the Balkans, but Timur's completion of his task by 1401 changed that situation completely (click or tap on map to view full sized)

He is the son of Ivan Stratsimir, and he retains a claim to Vidin until his death in 1422. The claim is generally recognised by neighbouring European states, but little is known of him after 1397, including what territory (if any) he may hold. He is not normally included in lists of Bulgarian rulers.

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.

1878

Following the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War, the Principality of Bulgaria is set up. Its territory includes Moesia and the Sofia region, but not southern Bulgaria (the eastern section of the Ottoman eyalet (province) of Rumelia, otherwise known as East Rumelia) or the Macedonian region. A German prince is elected as head of state.

Principality of Bulgaria
AD 1878 - 1908

The first Bulgars in the Danubian delta arrived in the seventh century with the formation of the Danubian Bulgar kingdom. This blossomed to become the (First) Bulgarian empire, but Kievan Rus interference resulted in the Cometopuli governing a reduced Bulgar territory. Whilst surviving against the odds, the Bulgarian state was rarely over-strong but it fought hard to ensure its survival. Control later devolved to the Asens, local feudal lords, and then the Terters.

Initially, Terter Bulgaria amounted to little more than the original territory of the Danubian state, although it later expanded. It also largely established Bulgarian borders which survive to this day, albeit with many post-Ottoman amendments. Bulgaria's population had always been mixed, but the next millennium would fully knit together strands from Bulgar Turkic, Slav, Cuman, Serb, and Vlach origins. The Bulgar Turkic language had long since been replaced by Slavic, and the Bulgar state had vacillated for a time between the Latin alphabet and the new Cyrillic one, before it plumped for the latter.

In 1396 the Battle of Nicopolis resulted in defeat for the allied European forces against the Ottoman advance. Bulgaria was now a subject Ottoman territory, and would remain so for over four hundred years. It was the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829 which set the scene for eventual Ottoman loss of power in much of the Balkans. With the Russians now proving to be the dominant force in the Black Sea, their victories in Bulgarian territory and the prospect of renewed Bulgarian independence created links and goodwill which, to an extent, have defined Bulgar-Russian relations to this day.

In 1878 the principality of Bulgaria was created as an autonomous Ottoman province, including within its borders Moesia and the Sofia region. What it did not include was southern Bulgaria, formed by the eastern section of the Ottoman eyalet (province) of Rumelia, otherwise known as East Rumelia, or the Macedonian region. The latter would eventually emerge as North Macedonia. A German prince was elected as the first Bulgarian, post-Ottoman head of state.

Mostar Bridge, Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Sofia Adventures

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), from The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughn Findley (Oxford University Press 2005), from The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, Susan Wise Bauer (2010), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest, John V A Fine (University of Michigan Press, 1994), and from External Links: Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and the Turkish Cultural Foundation.)

1878 - 1886

Prince Alexander

Hessen-Battenberg. Abdication enforced.

1885

Prince Alexander has enthused Bulgarians and alienated Russians by his restoration of the liberal Bulgarian constitution in 1884. Now he is able to unite the principality with the autonomous Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia which, today, forms much of southern Bulgaria. Bulgarian-organised revolts in various towns there throughout the year have meant that Bulgarian annexation of Eastern Rumelia is little more than a formality.

Prince Alexander of Bulgaria
Prince Alexander of Hessen-Battenberg was largely able and successful in steering Bulgaria's course between fervent nationalist ministirial demands and the pressure from Russia to become little more than an extension of its empire

1886

A Russian-backed attempted coup does not dislodge Alexander, but it does render his position untenable. He is forced to resign and return to Hessen-Battenberg. His elected replacement is Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

1887 - 1908

Prince Ferdinand

Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Recreated the Bulgarian Tsarate.

1908

Having been thought unsuitable for the role by many of the great European houses, Prince Ferdinand has surprised them all with his dedication as prince of Bulgaria. On 5 October 1908 he proclaims Bulgaria's effective independence from the Ottoman empire, confirming what had been accepted as fact anyway since 1878.

Then he proclaims the recreation of the Bulgarian kingdom, taking the title of tsar which had lapsed at the end of the second empire in 1376. However, this 'Third Bulgarian Empire' is not viewed by anyone as an empire. This time 'tsar' firmly means 'king' and not 'emperor'.

Kingdom of Bulgaria (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) / Third Bulgarian Empire
AD 1908 - 1943

An early Bulgar state, the Danubian Bulgar kingdom, was formed in the seventh century. This graduated into the (First) Bulgarian empire, but circumstances resulted in the reduced Cometopuli state. Control later devolved to the Asens, local feudal lords, and then the Terters. They largely established Bulgarian borders which survive to this day, albeit with many post-Ottoman amendments. Bulgaria's population was also undergoing a long process of unifying population strands from Bulgar Turkic, Slav, Cuman, Serb, and Vlach origins. The state's language was Slavic, and the alphabet was Cyrillic, replacing Latin.

In 1396 the Battle of Nicopolis resulted in defeat for the allied European forces against the Ottoman advance. Bulgaria was now a subject Ottoman territory, and would remain so for over four hundred years. It was the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829 which set the scene for eventual Ottoman loss of power in much of the Balkans. With the Russians now proving to be the dominant force in the Black Sea, their victories in Bulgarian territory and the prospect of renewed Bulgarian independence created links and goodwill which, to an extent, have defined Bulgar-Russian relations to this day.

In 1878 the principality of Bulgaria was created as an autonomous Ottoman province, including within its borders Moesia and the Sofia region. It did not include southern Bulgaria - the East Rumelia eyalet (province), or the Macedonian region, until Bulgaria's ruling German prince could enforcedly unify these lands in 1885. That prince's successor, Ferdinand, declared a reborn Bulgarian empire on 5 October 1908. He took the title of tsar which had lapsed at the end of the second empire in 1376. However, this 'Third Bulgarian Empire' was not viewed by anyone as an empire. This time 'tsar' firmly meant 'king' and not 'emperor'.

Mostar Bridge, Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Sofia Adventures

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest, David Marshall Lang (Westview Press, 1976), from The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughn Findley (Oxford University Press 2005), from The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, Susan Wise Bauer (2010), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest, John V A Fine (University of Michigan Press, 1994), and from External Links: Bulgaria (Worldstatesmen), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and the Turkish Cultural Foundation.)

1908 - 1918

Tsar Ferdinand

Forced to abdicate at end of the First World War.

1913

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.

Salonika front during the First World War
The First World War came to Greece in the form of an allied base at Salonika so that the Austrian army in Serbia could be opposed in one of the toughest and most horrific of fronts during a campaign which has largely been forgotten

Bulgaria finds it has to pursue the Second Balkan War in order to address some of the many remaining territorial disputes in the region. Bulgaria's Southern Dobruja region is annexed to Rumania under the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest, giving it a wedge of territory to the south of the lower Danube. Bulgaria is compensated by being given much of Thrace along with access to the Aegean Sea.

1915 - 1918

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. So Ferdinand signs four treaties with Germany and Austria on 6 September, agreeing to attack Serbia in return for territory. The act will cost him his throne in 1918, although his son does succeed him.

1918 - 1943

Boris III

Son. Numbering continued from 'First Empire'. Died aged 49.

1940 - 1941

Bulgaria attempts to remain neutral in the early days of the war, even benefiting from Nazi German attention when the Treaty of Craiova sees Rumania agree to hand back Southern Dobruja to Bulgaria on 7 September 1940. It does become an Axis member in 1941, but resists attempts to deport the bulk of its Jewish Diaspora population or to get it to take part in the invasion of Russia.

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler at the height of his rule over Nazi Germany envisioned a 'Greater Germany' covering a vast swathe of Central Europe with 'living room' for Germans and a subservient Slavic population in the east to handle manual work

1943 - 1946

Simeon II

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

1943 - 1944

Cyril / Kiril

Regent and uncle. Prince of Peslav. Died 1945 (aged 49).

1944

The country is taken over by Soviet communist forces. In September 1946 a rigged 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 prime minister in 2001 of the republic of Bulgaria.

Modern Bulgaria
AD 1944 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1944-2022)

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 ancient Europe, 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. Subsequently the region was part of the Roman empire and its Eastern Roman successor.

During this latter period the Balkans were subjected to Slavic incursions 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 which 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, and this quikcly expanded its territory.

Modern Bulgaria was formed at the end of the Second World War when the (third) empire 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 spoken Macedonian as anything other than a Bulgarian dialect. This not only caused problems with the Macedonian minority, it also affected efforts to establish North Macedonian recognition and acceptance into Nato (2020) and the EU. The former monarchy does not maintain a claim to the throne, but hereditary heirs to the crown are shown below with a shaded background.

Mostar Bridge, Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Sofia Adventures

(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, and Mind our language (The Guardian), and Worldstatesmen.)

1944 - 1946

Venelin Yordanov Ganev

Head of new regency council at the end of 'Third Empire'.

1944

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 earlier than they could have been expected.

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 edged towards its conclusion

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.

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.

1946 - 1947

Vasil Petrov Kolarov

Provisional president of the republic.

1947 - 1950

Mincho Kolev Neychev

Chairman of the presidium.

1948

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.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin, who was born in Georgia, led the Soviet Union away from its initial idealistic concept of equal citizenship for all and instead instituted a brutal regime of fear

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 fifty thousand 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.

1950 - 1958

Georgi Părvanov Damyanov

Chairman of the presidium.

1953

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.

1955

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

1958

Georgi Kulishev Gugov

Chairman of the presidium for 3 days.

1958 - 1964

Dimităr Ganev Vărbanov

Chairman of the presidium.

1964

Georgi Kulishev Gugov

Chairman of the presidium again, for 3 days.

1964 - 1971

Georgi Traykov Girovski

Chairman of the presidium.

1971 - 1989

Todor Hristov Zhivkov

Chairman of the state council.

1984

Late in 1984 the government begins a major campaign to 'Bulgarise' or assimilate the country's ethnic Turks (ironic, given that the seventh century Slavicisation of the originally-Turkic Bulgars occurred as the first Balkans-based Bulgarian state was being formed).

Measures which are aimed at the Turkish population, with an estimated 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.

1985

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.

Russians in the 1950s
Despite the increasing frostiness of the Cold War and the slow recovery from the worst of Stalin's repressions, the post-war period saw a steady improvement in Russia's living conditions, and relative safety and security at home

1989 - 1990

Petăr Toshev Mladenov

Chairman of the state council.

1990

Petăr Toshev Mladenov

President of the republic.

1990 - 1997

Zhelyu Mitev Zhelev

Chairman (to 13 Jul 1991), and president of the republic.

1990 - 1991

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.

1991 - 1993

Bulgaria recognises the newly independent former Yugoslav republics and, on 16 January 1992, becomes 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.

1997

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.

1997 - 2002

Petăr Stefanov Stoyanov

President of the republic.

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 (and soon-to-be head of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Koháry) was hereditary king of Bulgaria, Simeon II, here seen on his wedding day on 21 January 1962 to Doña Margarita Gómez-Acebo y Cejuela of Spain

2002 - 2012

Georgi Sedefchov Părvanov

President of the republic.

2007

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-Koháry 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-Koháry to his sister, Marie Louise.

2012 - 2017

Rosen Asenov Plevneliev

President of the republic.

2017 - On

Rumen Georgiev Radev

President of the republic.

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.

 
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