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Patria Onoguria (Turks)

The Bulgars and closely-related Onogurs (Unogonduri) proved to be the driving force behind the gradual amalgamation of Turkic tribes on the Pontic steppe in the sixth century AD. These tribes had initially arrived there from the Kazakh steppe as part of the Hunnic mass migration of the fourth century. When the Hunnic empire fell apart following the death of Attila, individual tribal identities were able to be recorded, largely by the Eastern Roman or early Islamic empire.

These tribes were fairly fluid in nature, with some increasing their sizes at the expense of smaller tribes who subsequently lost their individual identities. Further intermixing occurred as the new arrivals intermingled with any remaining Slav groups, those which had not migrated north or west to escape the Huns. By the sixth century there appears to have been a number of Bulgar groupings on the Pontic-Caspian steppe, particularly in its eastern zones. In fact, the Armenian Geography mentions several Bulgar tribes in the northern Caucasian-Kuban steppe (between modern Georgia and the Sea of Azov).

Around the same time as additional proto-Bulgar groups were entering Pannonia (modern Hungary) or drifting into the northern Caucuses to found a region which was known as Bersilia, an Unogonduri tribal leader by the name of Houdbaad became dominant in what was being described by Roman writers as 'Patria Onoguria', the land of the Onogurs.

This Turkic group was largely inseparable from the early Bulgars themselves. Houdbaad's dominance succeeded that of Sandlikh of the Utigurs, signalling an end to Utigur independence and even identity. His state had at its heartland 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. It was still tribal in nature, but now with a centralised layer of overlordship, and possibly shared cooperation too.

Qaghan Kubrat, founder of the first Bulgar state

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

c.581 - 600

Qaghan Houdbaad

Unogonduri tribal leader. Dominant in 'Patria Onoguria'.

c.590 - 605

Tubdjak

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

c.590

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

Map of Eastern Europe AD 632-665
In AD 632, Qaghan Koubrat came to power as the head of the Onogur-Bulgar confederation which was known as Patria Onoguria, 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)

Tubdjak is the son of Chelbir of the Altyn Ola. This horde had once provided what would seem to have been the core headquarters of the Hunnic remnants but has since faded greatly in power to the point at which it effectively terminates around 590.

In the face of the Avar advance, prior to his death Chelbir appears to have been able to negotiate a degree of autonomy for the Onogurs-Bulgars who now make up the majority of his people, with his son able to succeed him as the commander of the western Bulgars (the 'Kara-Bulgars'), those on the northern steppe who are forming 'Patria Onoguria'.

How these posited two levels of command may work together is unknown but it is likely that Tubdjak holds the superior position, at least initially. Upon Tubdjak's death in 605, his son, Bu-Yurgan, succeeds him. It is claimed that the Greek record of his name is given as 'Organ', making him the Qaghan Organ who maintains not only Patria Onoguria but also the Avar khaganate until his nephew, Koubrat, is old enough to succeed.

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

c.617 - 630

Qaghan Organa / Uragan/ / Bu-Yurgan?

Unogonduri tribal leader. Dominant in 'Patria Onoguria'.

c.630 - 632

Qaghan Gostun

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

610s - 620s?

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

Two conflicts are evident here: that the Bulgars are not an early Turkic group themselves when the reverse would seem to be true; and that Koubrat's tribe is not a Bulgar tribe until a unified Bulgar identity is formed and the individual groups which form it become indistinguishable from each other.

The Unogundur Bulgars are instead seemingly related to the former Onogurs/Utigurs, and could even be influenced by remnants of the Venedi (see Great Bulgaria in AD 652-653). This second conflict is less of a problem, however, as the Onogurs seem to be largely inseparable from the Bulgars by this date, and perhaps to the extent of never even having formed separate groups at all. The former problem is solved when 'Turks' is replaced by 'Avars', the current dominating body on the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

Qaghan Koubrat of Great Bulgaria and his warrior sons
In AD 632, Qaghan Koubrat came to power as the head of an Onogur-Bulgar confederation, and three years later he was able to throw off Avar domination to found Great Bulgaria

c.632

Qaghan Kubrat / Koubrat

Unogonduri tribal leader. Founded Great Bulgaria.

c.632

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