Face Music - History: Horsemen – Nomads
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P & C December 1998
- Face Music / Albi

- last update 03-2016

  • Proto-Bulgars – Volga-Bulgarsia – Volga Bulgaria – Volga-Kama Bolghar
    - 4 th to 7 th century after Christ (Old Great Bulgaria)
    - 7th to 13th century after Christ (Volga-Bulgarian Empire)
- map sketch:
The denomination Proto-Bulgarians, Bulgars or also Hunno-Bulgars refers to a Turkic people settling at the middle course of the Volga and the Kam River. Parts of this riding people adopted Slav culture and traditions and constitute the ancestors of the today’s Bulgarians. They had their own runic script, their own calendar and their own religion, with the supreme god being the god of heaven, Tangra. They preferred to sacrifice white horses to the god of heaven. The intestines of these animals were used for soothsaying. It was an animistic religion, influenced by Shamanism  and ancestry cult. Apart from the mountains, this people also worshipped the sun and the moon and the five planets they knew at this time: Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Saturn. Their language is called the Bolgarian language. In chronicles there may be found descriptions of compact settlements developing in the 3rd century AD.

The Proto-Bulgarians are several Turk speaking nomadic tribes from the Central-Asian area. They had united with the Black Huns in the 4th to 5th century AD. After Attila’s death and the collapse of the Hun Empire, the Proto-Bulgarians united with other Hun tribes and settled in the Pontic steppe (steppe between Volga and Dnipro) where they had fled to earlier. They were followed by Finno-Ugric tribes. And also other Turk tribes joined them; Kutrigurs, Utrigurs and Oghurs; these settled originally south of Lake Baikal, near to the Altai and Sajan mountains. In 463 AD they had been displaced from their home country by the Sabir people with whom they shared relations in their languages; the Sabir people were also a Turkic people. This new tribal alliance was established, also including the Onogurs – “Ten Tribes” (from the Volga region) as well as Alans; they were led by Imik (Attila’s son).  

In about 567 AD, the Proto-Bulgarians were defeated by the Avars. Some of them joined the Avars and accompanied them on their way westwards. The majority of the Proto-Bulgarians, Huns and other riding nomads, however, stayed on in the South Russian steppes. In 635 AD the Proto-Bulgarian Onogurs rebelled successfully under Khan Kubrat against the Avar leadership. Kubrat united the people into his Great Bulgarian Empire, establishing an alliance with Byzantium. The Great Bulgarian Empire at the northern coast of the Black Sea stretched from the Maeotis (the Sea of Azov) as far as Kuban. Phanagona was the capital at the Sea of Azov, today’s Taman. The realm was ruled by a Khan. Great Bulgaria, however, was destroyed already in the second half of the 7th century by the also invading Turkic Khazars.

Kubrat’s oldest son Batbajan (leader of the Black Bulgars) had accepted the leadership of the Khazars in 640 AD and remained in his old home country. His four brothers, however, seceded with great parts of the tribe. Those migrating north under the leadership of Kontrag founded the empire of the Volga Bulgars (White Bulgars). Although already Khan Shilki (who ruled from 855-882 AD, father of Almush) had tried to get rid of this suppressing powers, the Volga Bulgars gained their independence only with the destruction of the Khazar empire by the Kiev Rus and the Pechenegs about 966 (Pechenegs = a Turkic people, probably of Oghuz origin, were later on in the middle of the 11th century followed by the Kipchak people, also called “Cumans”). They converted to the Islam under Khan Alamush (reigned from 895-925 AD) about 922 AD and developed into a trading power between the Kiev Rus and the Islamic countries in the south. This people, however, was not expansive in a military sort of way, they focused on farming, trading and claiming their tributes from the neighbouring Finno-Ugric tribes. The realm existed until the beginning of the 13th century, when it was defeated by the Golden Hord (Khan Batu) of the Mongols. The new people of the Chuvash, Tatars, Mordvins and Bashkirs considered themselves as successors of the Proto-Bulgarian Onogurs. Others merged with the Kasan Tatars, who called themselves Bolgars = Bulgars until the late 19th century.

Those migrating south crossed the river Danube and established an alliance with the local Slav population of the Sewers and the Seven Tribes, and in 678 AD they established the Danube Bulgarian Empire. Asparuch, for this reason, is considered the founder of today’s Bulgaria on the Balkan. Until the collapse of Hungary in 895 AD, the Bulgarian Empire comprised the entire (non-Byzantine) Balkan and stretched as far north as Budapest, following the siege over the Avars.

Kubrat’s youngest sons, Kuver and Alzek, also moved westwards with their smaller tribal unions and joined the Avars in Pannonia (Hungary). In the aftermath of an unsuccessful revolt against their leaders, they separated again. In 680 AD Kuver, accompanied by parts of the Sermesianoi, descendants of the Roman provincial population in Pannonia and Roman captives who had been kidnapped and settled in Pannonia in 626 AD by the Avars, moved south. He established his settlements in the so far unsettled areas around Bitola in Macedonia, which was under Thesalonika administration; there, Kuver established a Khanate. Under Khan Malamir and Khan Presian I, the Kuver Bulgars united with the Bulgarian Empire of Asparuch.

Alzek moved further west, crossed the Alps in 667 AD and invaded the area around Ravenna in northern Italy. The Roman hospitality, however, was only faked, as the Bolghars had to fight for their lives in the course of several ambushes in the same year. For this reason, they moved further south until they finally established the duchy of Benevent. Khan Alzek was received by the Lombard king Grimoald and given the region Molise, under the premise that Alzek disclaim his title “dux” and his claim to power, as he himself, Grimoald, was the dux of Benevent.

In Bulgaria and Macedonia the Proto-Bulgarians merged with the Antes people (a people originally settling north of the Black Sea between Dnepr and Don and migrating to the Balkan peninsula in the 6th century AD) and further Slav tribes as well as with the population of the Roman province, hence establishing the people of today’s Bulgaria.

September 2010 – Albi – translated by Hermelinde Steiner - December 2010