The History of Bulgaria as a separate country began in 632 AD with the establishment of Old Great Bulgaria, which stretched from east of the Sea of Azov to the shores of the Danube River. While Old Great Bulgaria was disintegrating due to Khazar expansion from the east, the Bulgar leader Asparuh crossed south of the Danube, into the territory of present-day Bulgaria, and defeated the armies of the Byzantine Empire. In 680/681, the East Roman Emperor was forced to sign a peace treaty recognizing the First Bulgarian Empire as an independent state situated on the conquered Byzantine lands with their local Slavic populations.
A country in the middle of the ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria has seen many twists and turns in its long history and has been a prospering empire stretching to the coastlines of the Black, Aegean and Adriatic Seas. The First and Second Bulgarian Empires served as cultural centres of Slavic Europe, but the land was also dominated by foreign states twice in its history, once by the Byzantine Empire (1018 - 1185) and once by the Ottoman Empire (1422 - 1878).
Prehistoric cultures include the neolithic Hamangia culture and Vinča culture (6th to 3rd millennia BC), the eneolithic Varna culture (5th millennium BC, Varna Necropolis), and the Bronze Age Ezero culture. The Karanovo chronology serves as a gauge for the prehistory of the wider Balkans region.
Indo-European tribes Thracian and Daco-Getic population, lived on the territory of modern Bulgaria before the Slavic invasion. Their ancient languages had already gone extinct before the arrival of the Slavs , and their cultural influence was highly reduced due to the repeated barbaric invasions on the Balkans during the early Middle Ages by Huns, Goths, Celts and Sarmatians, accompanied by persistent hellenization, romanisation and later slavicisation.
The Slavs emerged from their original homeland (most commonly thought to have been in Eastern Europe) in the early 6th century, and spread to most of the eastern Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, thus forming three main branches - the West Slavs, the East Slavs and the South Slavs. The easternmost South Slavs settled on the territory of modern Bulgaria during the 6th Century.
The Bulgars (also Bolgars or proto-Bulgarians) were a seminomadic people, probably of Turkic descent, originally from Central Asia, who from the 2nd century onwards dwelled in the steppes north of the Caucasus and around the banks of river Volga (then Itil). A branch of them gave rise to the First Bulgarian Empire. The Bulgars were governed by hereditary khans. There were several aristocratic families whose members, bearing military titles, formed a governing class. Bulgars were monotheistic, worshipping their supreme deity Tangra.
In the 632, the Bulgars, led by Khan(also Han and Kan) Kubrat formed an independent state, often called Great Bulgaria (also known as Onoguria), between the lower course of the Danube river to the west, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea to the south, the Kuban river to the east, and the Donets river to the north. The capital was Phanagoria, on the Azov.
One Bulgar tribe, led by Khan Asparuh, the successor of Khan Kubrat, moved west, occupying today’s southern Bessarabia. Another Bulgar horde, led by Asparuh's brother Kuber came from Ukraine to settle in Syrmia and Pannonia. After a successful war with Byzantium in 680, Asparuh’s khanate conquered east part of Moesia and Dobrudzha and was recognised as an independent state under the subsequent treaty signed with the Byzantine Empire in 681. That year is usually regarded as the year of the establishment of present-day Bulgaria and Asparuh is regarded as the first Bulgarian ruler.
But another theory suggests that the date may be considered 632, since the state of Great Bulgaria may have been continuous within the Dunabian Bulgarian state. The theory is that although Great Bulgaria lost much territory to the Khazars, it managed to defeat them in the early 670s, and Khan Asparuh conquered Moesia and Dobrudzha from Byzantium in 680.
There is not enough information about Kuber and his people following the settlement in the western Balkans but there is evidence to suggest that Asparuh's son, Tervel, in the beginning of the 8th century, have cooperated with "his uncles" from Macedonia. By the early 9th century the lands, settled by the Kuber's horde, were incorporated into the First Bulgarian Empire.
During the late Roman Empire, the land of present-day Bulgaria was organised in several Roman provinces: Scythia (Scythia Minor), Moesia (Upper and Lower), Thrace, Macedonia (First and Second), Dacia (Coastal and Inner, both south of Danube), Dardania, Rhodope and Hemimont, and had a mixed population of Greeks, Thracians and Dacians, most of whom spoke either Greek or a Latin-derived language known as Romance. Several consecutive waves of Slavic migration throughout the 6th and the early 7th century led to a dramatic change of the demographics of the region and its almost complete Slavicisation.
Under the warrior Khan Krum (802-814), Bulgaria expanded northwest and south, occupying the lands between the middle Danube and Moldova rivers, all of present-day Romania, Sofia in 809 and Adrianople in 813, and threatening Constantinople itself. Krum implemented law reform intending to reduce poverty and strengthen social ties in his vastly enlarged state.
During the reign of Khan Omurtag (814-831), the northwestern boundaries with the Frankish Empire were firmly settled along the middle Danube. A magnificent palace, pagan temples, ruler's residence, fortress, citadel, water-main and bath were built in the Bulgarian capital Pliska, mainly of stone and brick.
Under Boris I, Bulgarians became Christians, and the Ecumenical Patriarch agreed to allow an autonomous Bulgarian Archbishop at Pliska. Missionaries from Constantinople, Cyril and Methodius, devised the Glagolitic alphabet, which was adopted in the Bulgarian Empire around 886. The alphabet and the Old Bulgarian language gave rise to a rich literary and cultural activity centered around the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools, established by order of Boris I in 886.
In the early 10th century, a new alphabet — the Cyrillic alphabet — was developed at the Preslav Literary School, based on the Greek and the Glagolitic cursive. An alternative theory is that the alphabet was devised at the Ohrid Literary School by Saint Climent of Ohrid, a Bulgarian scholar and disciple of Cyril and Methodius.
By the late 9th and early 10th centuries, Bulgaria extended to Epirus and Thessaly in the south, Bosnia in the west and controlled all of present-day Romania and eastern Hungary to the north. A Serbian state came into existence as a dependency of the Bulgarian Empire. Under Tsar Simeon I of Bulgaria (Simeon the Great), who was educated in Constantinople, Bulgaria became again a serious threat to the Byzantine Empire. Simeon hoped to take Constantinople and become emperor of both Bulgarians and Greeks, and fought a series of wars with the Byzantines through his long reign (893-927). The war boundary towards the end of his rule reached Peloponnese in the south. Simeon proclaimed himself "Tsar (Caesar) of the Bulgarians and the Greeks," a title which was recognised by the Pope, but not of course by the Byzantine Emperor.
Byzantium ruled Bulgaria from 1018 to 1185, subordinating the independent Bulgarian Orthodox Church to the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople but otherwise interfering little in Bulgarian local affairs.
After the death of the soldier-emperor Basil II, the empire entered into a period of instability. There were rebellions against Byzantine rule in 1040-41 at the wars with the Normans and the 1070s and the 1080s, at the time of the wars with the Seljuk Turks. After that the Komnenos dynasty came into succession and reversed the decline of the empire. During this time the empire experienced a century of stability and progress, though it was the time of the Crusades.
In 1180 the last of the capable Komnenas - Manuel I Komnenas died, and was replaced by the relatively incompetent Angeloi dynasty, allowing Bulgarians to regain their freedom.
Resurrected Bulgaria occupied the territory between the Black Sea, the Danube and Stara Planina, including a part of eastern Macedonia and the valley of the Morava. It also exercised control over Wallachia and Moldova. Tsar Kaloyan (1197-1207) entered a union with the Papacy, thereby securing the recognition of his title of "Rex" although he desired to be recognized as "Emperor" or "Tsar". He waged wars on the Byzantine Empire and (after 1204) on the Knights of the Fourth Crusade, conquering large parts of Thrace, the Rhodopes, as well as the whole of Macedonia. The power of the Hungarians and to some extent the Serbs prevented significant expansion to the west and northwest. Under Ivan Asen II (1218-1241), Bulgaria once again became a regional power, occupying Belgrade and Albania. In an inscription from Turnovo in 1230 he entitled himself "In Christ the Lord faithful Tsar and autocrat of the Bulgarians, son of the old Asen". The Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchate was restored in 1235 with approval of all eastern Patriarchates, thus putting an end to the union with the Papacy. Ivan Asen II had a reputation as a wise and humane ruler, and opened relations with the Catholic west, especially Venice and Genoa, to reduce the influence of the Byzantines over his country.
However, weakened 14th-century Bulgaria was no match for a new threat from the south, the Ottoman Turks, who crossed into Europe in 1354. In 1362 they captured Philippopolis (Plovdiv), and in 1382 they took Sofia. The Ottomans then turned their attentions to the Serbs, whom they routed at Kosovo Polje in 1389. In 1393 the Ottomans occupied Turnovo after a three-month siege. It is thought that the south gate was opened from inside and so the Ottomans managed to enter the fortress. In 1396 the Kingdom (Tsardom) of Vidin was also occupied, bringing the Second Bulgarian Empire and Bulgarian independence to an end.
The Ottomans did not normally require the Christians to become Muslims. Nevertheless, there were many cases of individual or mass forced islamization, especially in the Rhodopes. Non-Muslims did not serve in the Sultan's army. The exception to this were some groups of the population with specific statute, usually used for auxiliary or rear services, and the famous "tribute of children" (or blood tax), also known as the "devsirme", whereby every fifth young boy was taken to be trained as a warrior of the Empire. These boys went through harsh religious and military training that turned them into an elite corps subservient to the Sultan. They made up the corps of Janissaries (yenicheri or "new force"), an elite unit of the Ottoman army.
In April 1876 the Bulgarians revolted in the so-called April Uprising. The revolt was poorly organized and started before the planned date. It was largely confined to the region of Plovdiv, though certain districts in northern Bulgaria, in Macedonia and in the area of Sliven also took part in it. The uprising was crushed with cruelty by the Ottomans who also brought irregular Ottoman troops (bashi-bazouks) from outside the area. Countless villages were pillaged and tens of thousands of people were massacred, the majority of them in the insurgents towns of Batak, Perushtitsa and Bratsigovo in the area of Plovdiv. The massacres aroused a broad public reaction led by liberal Europeans such as William Gladstone, who launched a campaign against the "Bulgarian Horrors". The campaign was supported by a number of European intellectuals and public figures. The strongest reaction, however, came from Russia. The enormous public outcry which the April Uprising had caused in Europe gave the Russians a long-waited chance to realise their long-term objectives with regard to the Ottoman Empire.
Having its reputation at stake, Russia had no other choice but to declare war on the Ottomans in April 1877. The Bulgarians also fought alongside the advancing Russians. The Coalition was able to inflict a decisive defeat on the Ottomans at the Battle of Shipka Pass and at Pleven, and, by January 1878 they had liberated much of the Bulgarian lands.
The Treaty of San Stefano of March 3, 1878 provided for an independent Bulgarian state, which spanned over the geographical regions of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. However, trying to preserve the balance of power in Europe and fearing the establishment of a large Russian client state on the Balkans, the other Great Powers were reluctant to agree to the treaty.
As a result, the Treaty of Berlin (1878), under the supervision of Otto von Bismarck of Germany and Benjamin Disraeli of Britain, revised the earlier treaty, and scaled back the proposed Bulgarian state. An autonomous Principality of Bulgaria was created, between the Danube and the Stara Planina range, with its seat at the old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Turnovo, and including Sofia. This state was to be under nominal Ottoman sovereignty but was to be ruled by a prince elected by a congress of Bulgarian notables and approved by the Powers. They insisted that the Prince could not be a Russian, but in a compromise Prince Alexander of Battenberg, a nephew of Tsar Alexander II, was chosen. An autonomous Ottoman province under the name of Eastern Rumelia was created south of the Stara Planina range. The Bulgarians in Macedonia and Eastern Thrace were left under the rule of the Sultan. Some Bulgarian territories were also given to Serbia and Romania.
In 1911 the Nationalist Prime Minister, Ivan Geshov, formed an alliance with Greece and Serbia to jointly attack the Ottomans. In February 1912 a secret treaty was signed between Bulgaria and Serbia, and in May 1912 a similar treaty with Greece. Montenegro was also brought into the pact. The treaties provided for the partition of Macedonia and Thrace between the allies, although the lines of partition were left dangerously vague. After the Ottomans refused to implement reforms in the disputed areas, the First Balkan War broke out in October 1912. The allies defeated the Ottomans. (See Balkan Wars.)
Bulgaria sustained the heaviest casualties of any of the allies, and so felt entitled to the largest share of the spoils. The Serbs in particular did not agree, and refused to vacate any of the territory they had seized in northern Macedonia (that is, the territory roughly corresponding to the modern Republic of Macedonia), saying that the Bulgarian army had failed to accomplish its pre-war goals at Adrianople (to capture it without Serbian help) and that the pre-war agreement on the division of Macedonia had to be revised. Some circles in Bulgaria inclined toward going to war with Serbia and Greece on this issue.
In June 1913 Serbia and Greece formed a new alliance against Bulgaria. The Serbian Prime Minister, Nikola Pasic, told Greece it could have Thrace if Greece helped Serbia keep Bulgaria out of Serbian part of Macedonia, and the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos agreed. Seeing this as a violation of the pre-war agreements, and discretely encouraged by Germany and Austria-Hungary, Tsar Ferdinand declared war on Serbia and Greece and the Bulgarian army attacked on June 29. The Serbian and the Greek forces were initially on the retreat on the western border, but soon took the upper hand and forced Bulgaria to retreat. The fighting was very harsh, with many casualties, especially during the key Battle of Bregalnitsa. Soon Romania entered the war and attacked Bulgaria from the north. The Ottoman Empire also attacked from the south-east.
In the aftermath of the Balkan Wars, Bulgarian opinion turned against Russia and the western powers, whom the Bulgarians felt had done nothing to help them. The government of Vasil Radoslavov aligned Bulgaria with the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, even though this meant becoming an ally of the Ottomans, Bulgaria's traditional enemy. But Bulgaria now had no claims against the Ottomans, whereas Serbia, Greece and Romania (allies of Britain and France) held lands perceived in Bulgaria as Bulgarian.
Bulgaria sat out the first year of World War I, recuperating from the Balkan Wars. But when Germany promised to restore the boundaries of the Treaty of San Stefano, Bulgaria, which had the largest army in the Balkans, declared war on Serbia in October 1915. Britain, France and Italy then declared war on Bulgaria.
In alliance with Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans, Bulgaria won military victories against Serbia and Romania, occupying much of Macedonia (taking Skopje in October), advancing into Greek Macedonia, and taking Dobruja from Romania in September 1916.
But the war soon became unpopular with most Bulgarians, who suffered great economic hardship and also disliked fighting their fellow Orthodox Christians in alliance with the Muslim Ottomans. The Agrarian Party leader, Aleksandur Stamboliyski, was imprisoned for his opposition to the war. The Russian Revolution of February 1917 had a great effect in Bulgaria, spreading antiwar and anti-monarchist sentiment among the troops and in the cities. In June Radoslavov's government resigned. Mutinies broke out in the army, Stamboliyski was released and a republic was proclaimed.
Upon the outbreak of World War II, the government of the Kingdom of Bulgaria under Bogdan Filov declared a position of neutrality, being determined to observe it until the end of the war, but hoping for bloodless territorial gains, especially in the lands with a significant Bulgarian population occupied by neighbouring countries after the Second Balkan War and World War I. But it was clear that the central geopolitical position of Bulgaria in the Balkans would inevitably lead to strong external pressure by both sides of World War II. Turkey had a non-aggression pact with Bulgaria.
Bulgaria succeeded in negotiating a recovery of Southern Dobruja, part of Romania since 1913, in the Axis-sponsored Treaty of Craiova on 7 September 1940, which reinforced Bulgarian hopes for solving territorial problems without direct involvement in the war.
But Bulgaria was forced to join the Axis powers in 1941, when German troops who were preparing to invade Greece from Romania reached the Bulgarian borders and demanded permission to pass through Bulgarian territory. Threatened by direct military confrontation, Tsar Boris III had no choice but to join the fascist bloc, which officially happened on 1 March 1941. There was little popular opposition, since the Soviet Union was in a non-aggression pact with Germany.
The current king however refused the handing over of Jews to the Nazis, saving some 50,000 lives.
Although Dimitrov had been in exile, mostly in the Soviet Union, since 1923, he was far from being a Soviet puppet. He had shown great courage in Nazi Germany during the Reichstag Fire trial of 1933, and had later headed the Comintern during the period of the Popular Front. He was also close to the Yugoslav Communist leader Tito, and believed that Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, as closely related South Slav peoples, should form a federation. This idea was not favoured by Stalin, and there have long been suspicions that Dimitrov's sudden death in July 1949 was not accidental, although this has never been proven. It coincided with Stalin's expulsion of Tito from the Cominform, and was followed by a "Titoist" witchhunt in Bulgaria. This culminated in the show trial and execution of the Deputy Prime Minister, Traicho Kostov. The elderly Kolarov died in 1950, and power then passed to an extreme Stalinist, Vulko Chervenkov.
Bulgaria's Stalinist phase lasted less than five years. Agriculture was collectivised and peasant rebellions crushed. Labor camps were set up and at the height of the repression housed about 100,000 people. The Orthodox Patriarch was confined to a monastery and the Church placed under state control. In 1950 diplomatic relations with the U.S. were broken off. The Turkish minority was persecuted, and border disputes with Greece and Yugoslavia revived. The country lived in a state of fear and isolation. But Chervenkov's support base even in the Communist Party was too narrow for him to survive long once his patron, Stalin, was gone. Stalin died in March 1953, and in March 1954 Chervenkov was deposed as Party Secretary with the approval of the new leadership in Moscow and replaced by Todor Zhivkov. Chervenkov stayed on as Prime Minister until April 1956, when he was finally dismissed and replaced by Anton Yugov.
Like the other post-Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria found the transition to capitalism more painful than expected. The anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) took office and between 1992 and 1994 carried through the privatisation of land and industry through the issue of shares in government enterprises to all citizens, but these were accompanied by massive unemployment as uncompetitive industries failed and the backward state of Bulgaria's industry and infrastructure were revealed. The Socialists portrayed themselves as the defender of the poor against the excesses of the free market. The reaction against economic reform allowed Zhan Videnov of the BSP to take office in 1995. But by 1996 the BSP government was also in difficulties, and in the presidential elections of that year the UDF's Petar Stoyanov was elected. In 1997 the BSP government collapsed and the UDF came to power. Unemployment, however, remained high and the electorate became increasingly dissatisfied with both parties.