Hristo Botev: poet,journalist
Revolutionary: Vasil Levski
Bulgarian soldiers at World War I
Today's Prime Minister
Prehistory and antiquity
Prehistoric cultures in the Bulgarian lands include the NeolithicHamangia culture and Vinča culture, and the eneolithicVarna culture (fifth millennium BC). The Varna Necropolis offers insights for understanding the social hierarchy of the earliest European societies.
The earliest and one of the three primary ancestral groups of modern Bulgarians were the Thracians, who lived divided in various tribes until king Teres united most of them in the Odrysian kingdom around 500 BC. They were eventually subjugated by Alexander the Great in the 4th century and later by the Roman Empire in 46 AD. After the fall of the
Roman Empire, the easternmost South Slavs gradually settled on the territory of modern Bulgaria during the 6th century
of them into a new state which formed upon khan Asparukh's arrival on the Balkans
First Bulgarian empire
Asparukh, son of Old Great Bulgaria's khan Kubrat, migrated with several Bulgar tribes to the lower courses of the rivers Danube, Dniester and Dniepr. After 670, he led a horde of as many as 50,000 across the Danube and conquered Moesia and Scythia Minor (Dobruja) from the Byzantine Empire, expanding his new kingdom further into the Balkan Peninsula. The local south Slavic language was gradually adopted by the advancing Bulgars, who nevertheless preserved a dominant position over the Slavic majority. A peace treaty with Byzantium in 681 and the establishment of a permanent capital at Pliska south of the Danube mark the beginning of the First Bulgarian Empire.
Succeeding khans strengthened the Bulgarian state throughout the 8th and 9th centuries—Tervel established Bulgaria as a major military power by defeating a 26,000-strong Arab army during the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople;Krum doubled the country's territory, killed Byzantine emperor Nicephorus I in the Battle of Pliska, and introduced the first written code of law; Boris I abolished Tengriism in favour of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in 864, and introduced the Cyrillic alphabet. Simeon the Great's 34-year rule began in 893 and saw the largest territorial expansion of Bulgaria in its history, along with a golden age of Bulgarian culture.
After Simeon's death, Bulgaria was weakened by wars with Croatians, Magyars, Pechenegs and Serbs and the spread of the Bogomil heresy Two consecutive Rus' and Byzantine invasions resulted in the seizure of the capital Preslav by the Byzantine army in 971. Under Samuil, Bulgaria somewhat recovered from these attacks and managed to conquer Serbia and Albania, but this rise ended when Byzantine emperor Basil II defeated its armies at Klyuch in 1014. Samuil died shortly after the battle, and by 1018 the Byzantines conquered the remaining parts of the First Bulgarian Empire, putting it to an end.
Second Bulgarian empire
After conquering Bulgaria, Basil II retained the rule of the local nobility by incorporating them into Byzantine aristocracy and recognised the autocephaly of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, thus preventing discontent and revolts. After his death Byzantine domestic policies changed and a series of unsuccessful rebellions broke out, the largest being led by Peter Delyan. It was not until 1185 when Asen dynasty nobles Ivan Asen I and Peter IV organised a major uprising and succeeded in re-establishing the Bulgarian state, laying the foundations of the Second Bulgarian Empire with Tarnovo as a capital.
Kaloyan, the third of the Asen monarchs, extended his dominions to Nish and Skopje; he acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the Pope, and received a royal crown from a papal legate. The empire reached its zenith under Ivan Asen II (1218–1241), when commerce and culture flourished. The strong economic and religious influence of Tarnovo made it a "Third Rome", unlike the already declining Constantinople.
The country's military and economic might declined after the end of the Asen dynasty in 1257, facing internal conflicts, constant Byzantine and Hungarian attacks and Mongol domination. By the end of the 14th century, factional divisions between the feudal landlords and the spread of Bogomilism had caused the Second Bulgarian Empire to split into three small tsardoms—Vidin, Tarnovo and Karvuna—and several semi-independent principalities that fought with each other, along with Byzantines, Hungarians, Serbs, Venetians and Genoese. By the late 14th century the Ottoman Turks had started their conquest of Bulgaria and most towns and fortresses south of the Balkan mountains were under their control.
Ottoman rule and national awakening
Tarnovo was captured by the Ottomans after a three-month siege in 1393. The Vidin Tsardom fell after the defeat of a Christian crusade at the Battle of Nicopolis three years later. With this, the Ottomans finally subjugated all Bulgarian lands south of the Danube. North of the Danube, where a significant number of Bulgarian nobility and common folk remained, the population was under the jurisdiction of various autonomous, predominately Wallachian-led Christian principalities, where the Bulgarian alphabet continued to be used and many cities, like the Wallachian capital of Targovishte, kept their Bulgarian names. The southern nobility however, was eliminated and the peasantry was enserfed to Ottoman masters. The population lost its national consciousness under the oppression and intolerance of the invaders. Bulgarian culture was suppressed and the educated clergy fled to other countries, while Bulgarians were considered an inferior class of people and were subjected to heavy taxes.
Throughout the nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule, the Bulgarian people attempted to re-establish their state by organising several revolts, most notably the First and Second Tarnovo Uprisings (1598 / 1686) and Karposh's Rebellion (1689). The National awakening of Bulgaria became one of the key factors in the struggle for liberation, resulting in the 1876 April Uprising. Up to 30,000 Bulgarians were killed as the Ottoman authorities put down the rebellion. The massacres prompted the Great Powers to take action. They convened the Constantinople Conference in 1876, but their decisions were rejected by the Ottoman authorities. This allowed the Russian Empire to seek a solution by force without risking military confrontation with other Great Powers, as had happened in the Crimean War. In 1877 Russia declared war on the Ottoman empire and defeated its forces with the help of Bulgarian volunteers. The Treaty of San Stefano was signed on 3 March 1878, setting up an autonomous Bulgarian principality on the territories of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
The other Great Powers immediately rejected the treaty out of fear that such a large country in the Balkans might threaten their interests. The subsequent Treaty of Berlin provided for a much smaller autonomous state comprising Moesia and the region of Sofia, leaving large populations of Bulgarians outside the new country. This defined Bulgaria's militaristic approach to foreign affairs and its participation in four wars during the first half of the 20th century. The Bulgarian principality won a war against Serbia and incorporated the semi-autonomous Ottoman territory of Eastern Rumelia in 1885, and proclaimed itself an independent state on 22 September 1908.
Third Bulgarian State
In the years following independence, Bulgaria was increasingly militarised and was often referred to as "the Balkan Prussia".Between 1912 and 1918, Bulgaria became involved in a string of three consecutive conflicts—the Balkan Wars and World War I. After a disastrous defeat in the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria again found itself fighting on the losing side as a result of its alliance with the Central Powers in World War I. Despite fielding more than a quarter of its population in a 1,200,000-strong army and achieving several decisive victories at Doiran and Monastir, the country capitulated in 1918. The war resulted in significant territorial losses, a total of 412,000 casualties, and a wave of more than 253,000refugees who put an additional strain on the already ruined national economy.
The political unrest resulting from these losses led to the establishment of a royal authoritarian dictatorship by tsar Boris III (1918–1943). Bulgaria entered World War II in 1941 as a member of the Axis but declined to participate in Operation Barbarossa and saved its Jewish population from deportation to concentration camps. The sudden death of Boris III in the summer of 1943 pushed the country into political turmoil as the war turned against Nazi Germany and the Communist guerilla movement gained momentum. Following strikes and unrest, in September 1944 the Communist-dominated Fatherland Front took power, ending the alliance with Nazi Germany and joining the Allied side until the end of the war in 1945.
The Communist uprising of 9 September 1944 led to the abolition of monarchic rule, but it was not until 1946 that a people's republic was established. It became a part of the Soviet sphere of influence under the leadership of Georgi Dimitrov (1946–1949). Bulgaria installed a Soviet-style planned economy with some market-oriented policies emerging on an experimental level under Todor Zhivkov (1954–1989). By the mid-1950s standards of living rose significantly. Zhivkov's daughter Lyudmila promoted Bulgaria's national heritage, culture and arts worldwide. On the other hand, an assimilation campaign of the late 1980s directed against ethnic Turks resulted in the emigration of some 300,000 of them to Turkey. On 10 November 1989, the Bulgarian Communist Party gave up its political monopoly, Zhivkov resigned, and Bulgaria embarked on a transition from a single-party republic to a parliamentary democracy.
The first free elections took place in June 1990 and were won by the moderate wing of the Communist Party (the Bulgarian Socialist Party—BSP). A new constitution that provided for a relatively weak elected President and for a Prime Minister accountable to the legislature was adopted in July 1991. The new system eventually failed to improve living standards or create economic growth—the average quality of life and economic performance remained lower than in the times of Communism well into the early 2000s. A reform package introduced in 1997 restored positive economic growth, but living standards continued to suffer. After 2001 economic, political and geopolitical conditions improved greatly, and Bulgaria achieved High Human Development status. It became a member of NATO in 2004 and of the European Union in 2007.