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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe


Danubian Bulgaria (Indo-Iranian-Turks)

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 which included the Dacians and the Celtic Scordisci (actually a confederation of tribes rather than a single tribe itself).

Republican 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).

A second body headed northwards to become the Volga Bulgars, while a third group of between thirty to fifty thousand Bulgars followed the northern coast of the Black Sea. This group soon reached the Danube where, after a period of settlement and defence, it founded a new, purely Danubian '(First) 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 ten thousand people with him.

He parts with his brothers and, with the permission of Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice, settles in Upper and Lower Moesia and Dacia. Here, no doubt, his people 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


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. Further Bulgars head north to become the Volga Bulgars.

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


Another group of between thirty to fifty thousand Bulgars follows the northern coast of the Black Sea. They soon reach the Danube where they are able to found a new Danubian-based '(First) Kingdom of Bulgaria'.

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