Established on a global crossroads over the ruins of Greek, Thracian and Roman civilizations, Bulgaria has a tumultuous and proud history spanning 13 centuries. Since its foundation in 681 AD, it has ruled over most of the Balkans, suffered two conquests, been responsible for the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet, endured 500 years under Ottoman rule and earned its liberation, and woven through the stormy seas of history like the now tiny sailboat that it is. It’s a former ally of Hitler, a former USSR satellite, a space-conquering nation, a manufacturer of AK-47s, and, most recently, a member of the European Union.
Its history is broken up into the following rough periods:
First Bulgarian Empire (681 – 1018): Bulgars came to Moesia and established a state in 681, became Christian and created the Cyrillic alphabet, experiencing an 80-year Golden Age in the 9th century and were a rival of the Byzantine Empire for dominance on the Balkans until Bulgaria’s decline and eventual conquest by Basil II in 1018. (more…)
Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396): An uprising against a weakening Byzantine empire reestablished the Bulgarian state. The Asen dynasty ruled from 1185 to 1280, establishing Veliko Tarnovo as the capital and the cultural heart of South-Eastern Europe. Succession disputes and disunity brought an end to the state under the hoof of the Ottoman Empire in 1396. Bulgaria became a province of the empire. (more…)
Revival and Liberation (1762 – 1878): After a recorded history of Bulgaria’s former greatness was written in 1762, Bulgarians began to plot their liberation. The deaths of two national heroes (revolutionary Vasil Levski and poet Hristo Botev) and the brutal quelling of the ill-fated April Uprising of 1876 set the stage for the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 in which a volunteer Bulgarian corps fought several crucial battles to ensure the success of the war and the reestablishment of Bulgaria on March 3, 1878. (more…)
Third Bulgarian Kingdom (1878 – 1946): Cut up by the Great Powers into disparate regions and principalities, Bulgaria spent the first half of the 20th century trying, and failing, to unite the lands considered ethnically Bulgarian. This led to two national catastrophes (after the Balkan wars of 1912-13 and after WWI in 1919) and to Bulgaria being on the wrong side of every major conflict in Europe, siding with the Axis in 1941, and being practically annexed by the USSR on September 9, 1944. (more…)
People’s Republic of Bulgaria (1944 – 1989): A period of a state-controlled economic and industrial prosperity followed, coupled with freedom of speech repressions, executions of the pre-Communist elite and tight-controlled media channels. As a conflicting period in Bulgaria’s history, opinion is divided to this day about its benefits and atrocities. The first Bulgarian cosmonaut (of two) flew in 1979 on a joint mission with the USSR. (more…)
Modern Bulgaria (1989 – present): With the fall of Communism on Nov. 10, 1989, Bulgaria received democracy, free-market reform and lawlessness, leading into the 90’s – a period of hyperinflation and mass stripping of the national wealth by opportunistic businessmen. Bulgaria won 4th place at the World Cup of Soccer in the USA in 1994, suffered its first wartime casualties since WWII in Iraq in 2003, and became a member of the EU in 2007. (more…)
Your blog rocks!!! BTW, if you read a bit deeper into history, you’ll see that Bulgaria really doesn’t fall to the Ottomans in 1396, only the southern part does. North of the Danube Bulgarian Boyars remain alive and doing fine, using Bulgarian in Bulgarian alphabet, having a capital of Turgovishte well until the mid 17 century, when Latinization started. Look for Prof. Venelin (Russian) of the XIX century and you’ll find a lot. It puzzles me why this is not studied in school.
Similar with the Basil II conquest, where he basically negotiated with the Boyars, they kept it all, power, military, church. Basil II was a relative of Ivan Vladislav (who died), the Area was also officially called Theme Bulgaria. Again, why we don’t study this in school is perplexing.
Great observation! Indeed the finer points of such “conquests” are lost to us now.
I wouldn’t say perplexing: as much as we would wish it were not so, the teachings of history are as much about influencing the present as they are about uncovering the past, sometimes more so. The heroic narrative of Bulgaria rising from the ashes after 200 or 500 years of slavery/occupation/etc. is convenient and easy to impart and remember. Especially through the lens of the modern nation-state, the thought that boyars would be happy to continue being boyars under a non-Bulgarian ruler seems a bit traitorous, but of course this was quite common and individual provinces changed hands dozens of times.
Velian, this is a great blog you have and you deserve congrats for starting and updating it! But please do not start the Bulgarian history in VII c. AD. We are one of the oldest people on Earth and emphasizing Hitler and Jews over way more important periods in the past does not do us any good… Again overall great effort on your side and keep it up!
Bulgaria was allied with Germany early in the war , but switched sides later . It was a small country that was sandwiched between great powers and did what it felt it needed to do to survive. it is worthy note that it is the only axis allied country that refused to export it’s Jewish population to the Nazi camps, which some feel lead to Czar Boris’ poisoning at the hands of the Nazis.
Bulgaria switched sides on Sep. 9, 1944 (with Soviet troops about to enter from the North, and a Communist coup-d’etat from within). It’s unclear who poisoned Boris III or if he was indeed poisoned, but that is a very sound theory with some historical backing. Bulgaria’s original alignment with the Axis was predicated on one major factor: the Allies could not promise Bulgaria the parts of Macedonia in Greece and Yugoslavia that it was hoping to reintegrate, because Greece and Yugoslavia were both allies to Britain and France. In contrast, the Axis could promise Bulgaria those lands, on the condition that it occupied and held them itself.
It is worth noting that Bulgaria’s participation in the war on the Axis side was limited to granting transit rights to Wehrmacht troops and serving as an occupation force. It did not participate in the invasion of the Soviet Union or indeed any battles until Sep. 1944. After switching sides, Bulgarian armies fought against the Nazis in Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria.
The salvation of Bulgaria’s Jews (which merits an article on its own) was the result of a cry of outrage by intellectuals, the Church and key members of government, which prevented the deportation of Bulgaria’s 48 000 Jews. Unfortunately, 12,000 Jews from occupied Greece and Yugoslavia were sent to Treblinka despite efforts to save them.
Bulgaia was never an allie of Hitler
It was. Between early 1941 and September 1944 Bulgaria was allied with the Axis. It sent occupation troops to Yugoslavia and Greece after Germany’s invasion of those countries. My grandfather was a child in a border village from which the Germans rolled into Greece. The country declared war on the Axis a day before Soviet troops crossed the Danube to occupy it.