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Europe’s Oldest Country

Bulgaria is the only country in Europe to have kept the same name since 681 AD making it the oldest country on the Continent. It has a rich and ancient history and despite being conquered by numerous other Empire’s it has still retained its identity and Slavic culture. The First Bulgarian Empire played a key role in European politics and was one of the strongest military powers on the continent effectively defeating the Arabs in the siege of Constantinople in 717 and thus saving Europe from Muslim conquest.




Prehistoric Bulgaria

Civilisation existed on what is now considered as Bulgarian territory as far back as the 6th millennia BC when the neolithic Hamangia and Vinca tribes occupied the land. During the 5th millennia BC the eneolithic Varna culture and the Bronze Age Ezero tribe lived here. Archeologists have documented this period with many finds including the Varna Necropolis. Possibly the most famous pre-historic tribe was the Indo- European Thracians who were dubbed as “the second-most numerous people in the part of the world after the Indians and potentially the most powerful,” by Herodotus a famous Greek historian of the time. After the Second World War archaeologists started intensive excavation work in Southern Bulgaria and discovered a number of Thracian tombs and treasures. Unfortunately, the Thracians were a disorganized group with many separate tribes and they were repeatedly attacked by the Romans, Greeks, Huns, Goths, Celts and Sarmations. Eventually Bulgaria became part of the late Roman Empire and was organised into several different provinces. Bulgars and Slavs settled in the area and finally the the Slavs changed the course of history and gave rise to the Bulgarian language and culture as it is today.

Very little is known about the Slavs before the 5th century AD; they came from Eastern Europe and settled on the territory of modern Bulgaria during the 6th Century. They joined with the Bulgars, a semi-nomadic race believed to be of Central Asian origin. From about the 2nd century onwards they lived around the banks of the Volga River. They were governed by kings known as Kahns and power was passed down through birth. There were several noble families who bore military titles and formed part of the ruling class under the Kahn Their religion believed in one God under the Tangra religion, which incorporated elements of shamanism, animism, totemism and ancestor worship.

Great Old Bulgaria

In 632 the Bulgars, under the leadership of Khan Kubrat formed their own state calling it Great Bulgaria. It stretched from the lower Danube to the Black Sea in the west and the Azov Sea in the south, the Kuban River to the east and the Donets River to the north. The capital city was called Phanagoria, which was in present day Turkey. Some say that the establishment of Great Old Bulgaria or Onoguria as it was called actually represented the formation of the First Bulgarian State although most accept that it was not until 681 that the first true state was formed.

The First Bulgarian State

The First Bulgarian State was formed in 681 AD when the Bulgars defeated the Byzantine army with an amalgamated group of Slavic tribes. The new state was governed by Khan Asparuh with the help of Slavic and Bulgar princes. The state lived in relative harmony for 200 years adopting the name Bulgaria from the Bulgars, but assimilating much of the Slav culture. Its capital was Ohrid, which today is part of Macedonia.
During the 8th and 9th centuries the state prospered and expanded to include some Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Romania. Christianity became the dominant religion when Khan Boris was christened in 865 and established the first self-governing Eastern Church. In 886 Khan Boris invited followers of St Cyril and St Methodius to settle in the kingdom and one of them St Kliment, devised the Cyrillic alphabet for writing the Bulgarian language.

By 917 Bulgaria’s Golden Age was coming to an end. Violent conflicts were increasing among the aristocracy, attacks from Byzantium were a constant threat and religious unrest was growing as various Bulgarian sects like the Bogomils and the Kathari started to question established Christian teachings. By 1018, Bulgaria was recaptured by the Byzantine army and the country became a Byzantine province. During this period, Greek influence dominated architecture and religion.

The Second Bulgarian State

After over a hundred years of Hellenic rule the Bulgarian feudal lords known as the Boyars led a revolution, which resulted in the Bulgarians reclaiming some of their territory and establishing the Second Bulgarian Kingdom with Veliko Tarnovo as its capital. Over the next few years, Khan Kaloyan recaptured Varna, parts of Macedonia and Thrace from the Byzantine army and by 1230 Bulgaria's border stretched from the Adriatic and Aegean to the Black Sea. Kahn Ivan Asen II restored public order and Bulgaria prospered with great advances. However by 1285 the Empire started to disintegrate into feudal territories, which made the country an easy target for the Ottoman Turks who invaded in destroying the capital of Veliko Tarnovo. By 1396, the whole country became part of the Ottoman province of Roumelia.