Among the sources [about the Bulgars], most studied are these in Latin and Greek. The Lain authors mention the Bulgars earlier and more often. Their data are much more reliable and  they clearly distinguish the Bulgar people. Notwithstanding the characteristic for the early medieval sources tendency for use of archaic expressions, the Latin sources in most cases do not follow the common Byzantine practice of replacing the ethnicon of the Bulgars with those of the Scythians, Huns, Avars, etc. The Syrian Nestorians also provide reliable data, as well as the Armenian sources.
Apart from the ‘Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans’, the other few survived medieval Bulgarian chronicles (...) were not trusted by most of the researchers. They were regarded as being valuable as a linguistic source only.

‘Tempora incognita of the early Bulgarian history’, Dr Atanas Stamatov


We have selected only these documentary sources in which the Bulgars are explicitly mentioned by their ethnicon. The cases of apparent archaisms or where the Bulgars appear under the name of a foreign ruling people, were usually discarded, apart from few exceptions when there are secondary data pointing to the Bulgar involvement on the events.

354 AD - The name of the Bulgars appear in the Anonymous Latin chronograph, which was based on an older Greek original and is preserved in two copies. One of the copies, listing events up to 234 AD, does not mention the Bulgars. The other copy, dated by Momsen, A.Kunik, B. Rosen to 334 AD enlists the Bulgars among the Semitic people and their progenitors: "Ziezi ex quo Bulgares" - Ziezi, of whom are the Bulgars. In order to circumvent the difficulties in explaining this early Bulgar appearance in the Latin historiography, most historians subscribe to the explanation offered by Gootschimdt, that the Bulgars were included only in the latest, 539 AD, copy of the chronograph.

422 AD - In 409 the Huns conquered the Alans, the Bastarns as well as the Germanic Gepids, Vandals, Goths, Langobards, etc., and settled in Pannonia. ... Also in the beginning of the V-th c. the Bulgars defeated the Langobard king Agelmund and captured his daughter. The battle took place somewhere on the northern slopes of the Carpathians and was recorded by Paulus Diaconus and Fredegarius.  Prof. V. Beshevliev, relying on the epos ‘Hervararsaga’, dates the event to 422. The time of the event and its coincidence with the Hunic advance in Europe led to the conclusion that the Bulgars were among the non-Hunic tribes who had been carried away by the Huns. Other researchers, however, interpret it as an evidence of the Hunic ethnicity of the Bulgars. It is interesting, that during the following ‘Hunic era’ the Bulgars do not appear in the sources anymore. After Atila’s death the non-Hunic peoples turned against his sons and united under the Gepid king Ardarikh defeated the Huns in 454 at the river of Nedao. The Gepids were the closest associates of the Bulgars among the Germanic tribes of Central and Eastern Europe. The fact that the Bulgars took part in the defeat of the Hunic empire, that they did not retreat together with the Huns to the east, and do not took part in the attempts of Dengisikh to restore the Hunic state, makes Prof. Beshevliev believe that the Bulgars were not a Hunic tribe. After the disintegration of the Hunic state, the Gepids created their own in the territory between the Transilvanian river Tissa and the Danube. During the next decades the Bulgars were frequent visitors to Illiricum. The medieval Bulgarian chronicler mentions these events in the appendix of the Bulgarian translation of the Chronicle of Manasius, saying that ‘at that time the Bulgars started to conquer their land’. They might have been in confederate relations with the Gepids, or they might have had an independent principality, but in any case, the Bulgars were situated on the other side of the Danube, to the south of the Gepids.

464/65 AD - The Sabirs migrated westwards under Avar pressure and in their turn put pressure on the Saragurs and the Onogurs. The latter sent an embassy in Constantinople. All researchers identify the Onogurs with the Bulgars-Unogundurs.

480 AD - Emperor Zenon (474-491) seeks the service of the Bulgars against the Goths. Marcian’s revolt is dated in the same year. The Bulgars accepted the proposal of Zenon but were repulsed by Theodorikh, the son of Triarius. As Theodorikh died in 481, the battle most probably took place in 480. It is attested by John of Antioch. The northern frontier of the Empire was exposed and in 483 the emperor appointed Theodorikh the Amalian as a magister militum presentalis for Lower Moesia with centre the town of Nove.

488 AD - Theodorikh headed for Italy, using the Roman road along the Danube,. The Gepids, assisted by Bulgarian troops, tried to stop the Goths at the rives of Ulka. In the battle that followed died the Bulgar general (source: Paulus Diaconus). The Bulgar presence in the Balkans was almost permanent since then.

493 AD -  The same chronicler says that the Bulgars ravaged Thrace at the same time when Theodorikh was fighting Odoacer in Italy.

498 AD - According to Anastasius the Librarian the Bulgars roamed between Illiricum and Thrace "before we could hear about them".

499 AD - A decisive Bulgar victory at the river of Curta over Arist - the commander of Illiricum, and his 15,000 soldiers and  520 carts. 4000 Byzantine soldiers and four generals - Nicostrat, Inocentius, Tank and Aquilin died in the battle(source: Comes Marcelinus). The Morava-Vardar road was free for barbarian incursions to the south and the empire could not gain an effective control over these lands ever since. The preserved toponymic material points out that this was the first area to the south of the Danube to be permanently settled by Bulgars.

502 AD - Comes Marcelinus, Theophanes, Kedrin, Zonara, and Landolfus confirm that since then the Bulgars used to roam unobstructed in Thrace and Illiricum.

504 AD - Theodorikh fought against the king of the Gepids Trazarikh for the control over Sirmium. The Goths barely escaped a defeat after a Bulgar intervention.

505 AD - The commander of Illiricum - Sabinian, with 10,000 soldiers and the support of Bulgar troops, attempted to drive out the Goths and the Gepid renegade Mundo.

513 AD - Huns-foederates and Bulgars took part in the revolt of Vitalian the Thracian in defence of the orthodoxy.

519 AD - Another catastrophic defeat of the Byzantine army of Illiricum by the Bulgars. Later Justinian I (527-565), looking for a solution for the problems in Illiricum, appointed Mundo (who had already split from Theodorikh) as a strategos of the province.

530 AD - Mundo succeeded in defeating a Bulgar army in Thrace. The captives were sent for a triumph in Constantinople, and later enrolled in the Byzantine armies in Armenia and Lasica.

535 AD - the Bulgars are again mentioned among the participants of the battle at the river of Jatrus.

538 AD - Anastasius the Librarian mentions another Bulgar incursion south of the Danube under the leadership of Bulger and Drong.

539 AD - Procopius of Cesarea links the appearance of a comet with a huge Bulgar incursion in the empire - from Constantinople to the Adriatic. The scope of the campaign was enormous - from Constantinople to the Ionian gulf. 32 fortresses were taken by assault, without any preliminary siege, and 120,000 people were taken captive.

546 AD - Byzantium frequently used Bulgars in its wars against the Goths. Belisarius repeatedly made requests from Justinian I for the enlisting of the help of the Bulgars in his Italian expedition. In the same year the command of the garrison of Perusia was entrusted to the Bulgar Odolgan.

548 AD - Bulgars, under the command of the strategos Joan, took part in the campaigns against the Goths in Campania. Later, the Bulgars sided with the Goths of Totila.

Al. Burmov assumes that after that year, the Bulgars disappear for half a century from the Balkans. Their place was taken by the Utigurs, regarded by V. Zlatarski as Bulgar tribes. Al. Burmov does not exclude a possible kinship between them, but regards the Utigurs to be different from the Bulgars. His opinion is shared by V. Beshevliev who pointed out that no contemporary source had ever called the Kutrigurs and Utigurs ‘Bulgars’, and their identification as Bulgar tribes is based only on "geographical argumentation". Zacharias Rhetor (569 AD) distinguishes them from the Bulgars. Agathius of Mirinea (582 AD) "promises to describe their disappearance". Menander (583/84) mentions their [of the Utigurs and Kutrigurs] downfall, caused, among other things, by the  internecine wars incited by Byzantium [Beshevliev, The Proto-Bulgars, Sofia, 1984, p. 37] An exception is Victor of Tanun, who calls Zabergan’s warriors ‘Bulgars’. It is quite possible there were Bulgars in the Zabergan’s army. The 60’s of the VI-th c. marked the climax in the influence of these tribes. Procopius of Cesarea attests that the empress had to look for the help of the leader of the Kutrigurs Zabergan as an intermediary between Byzantium and Persia. But the name of the Bulgars appeared quite often in the Apennines during these years:

548 AD - Cosma Indicoplevsus in his work ‘Christian topography’ (book 3), enumerates the Christian tribes and peoples from the east to the west. The Bulgars are mentioned after the Yrkans (Hyrkans), Heruls, and before the (H)eladians, the Illirians, the Dalmatians, the Goths, etc.

552 AD - The new Byzantine general in Italy - Narses, enlisted again the Bulgar assistance in the final battle against Totila.

560 AD - Victor of Tanun mentions a Bulgar incursion in Thrace, which reached the outskirts of Constantinople.

In the mid-VI-th century two powerful ethnic groups appeared from the east - the Avars and the Turcs. The Avars spread their rule from Volga to Pannonia. One their embassy to the Byzantine emperor is dated to 563 AD.

567 AD - A decisive defeat of the Gepids and the Bulgars in Pannonia by the Avars and their allies - the Langobards. Pannonia became the centre of the Avar state and the Pannonian Bulgars Avar subjects.

569 AD - the Langobardian king Alboin, together with sizeable groups of Gepids and Bulgars, retreated to Italy. The latter settle in Etruria - the region of Benevetto, where some villages were named after them and the population was bilingual for a long time afterwards.

573 AD - Justin II made peace with the Avar khan and asked for the khan’s children as hostages. The commander Tiberius, however, who was better acquainted with the internal situation in the khaganate, requested the hostages to be among the children of the ‘Scythian chiefs’, that is the children of the Bulgar chiefs.

The Bulgar presence was so tangible, that it influenced the equipment, the tactics and the strategy of the Byzantine army. The ‘Strategicon’ of Pseudo-Mauricius, dating from the end of the VI-th c, explicitly forbade the horsemen in the Byzantine army to wear Bulgar cloaks.

593 AD - Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) in the IV-th volume of 'Dialogues' narrates a story involving a wounded young cowherd and a Bulgar spatharius of Narses.

The Bulgars were subordinated to the Avar khagan in his campaigns in the Balkans but, apart from that, they enjoyed a great degree of internal autonomy and were almost equal to the Avars as a state-forming people: the driving of the Bulgars out Singidunum [Belgrade] was represented as a success of the Byzantine commander Prisk.

595 AD - The vanguard of the commanded by the emperor’s brother Peter Byzantine army encountered a detachment of 1,000 Bulgars who, taking into account the peace treaty between the empire and the Avar khaganate, were moving without taking additional precautions. The Bulgars declared that they will follow the terms of the treaty and shall not open hostilities but, nevertheless, Peter ordered for an attack. The Byzantines were routed and the emperor had to send his apologies to the khagan (source: Theophilactus Simocatta).

631/32 AD - The unsuccessful campaign against Constantinople in 626 decided the fate of the Avar khaganate. Five years later there an Avar and a Bulgar appeared claiming the Avar throne. The Avars took the upper hand and 9,000 Bulgars had to seek refuge under the rule of the king of the Franks Dagobert. Benevolent in the beginning, Dagobert later ordered for the total massacre of the newcomers.  Only a small group under Alzec survived and fled for Pentapolis in the region of Ravena (source: Fredegarius). There Alzec received the title of ‘dux’.

According to Beshevliev the Bulgars sought the help of the Langobard king Grimoald in 663 AD. Beshevliev explains their move by ‘the failure of Constans II to clean Italy from the Lombards’ and by ‘the desire on the Bulgar part to unite with the previous Bulgar group in Benevetto. The Alzec Bulgars entered the service of Romuald, the king’s son. In Benevetto Alzec received the title of ‘gastaldius’. According to Paulus Diaconus these Bulgars were still bi-lingual in the end of the VIII-th c. Even more, in his work ‘Bulgar immigrants to Italy in the VI-th c.’, 1933, Vincenzo D'Amico writes that as late as the XV-th c. there were still Bulgars in Italy who had preserved their ethnic identity.

'On  23.V.1417 - writes D’Amico, - the Bulgar nobles of the town of Verceli swore allegiance  to the duke of Milan. Several days later the Bulgars of Milan did the same.' D'Amico estimated that in the XV-th c. there were some 3 million descendants of those Bulgars settled in  Italy.

The unencumbered by clichés and archaisms Latin historiography mentions the Bulgars since the middle of the IV-th c. AD. Since the beginning of the V-th c. they were active participants in the ethnic processes in Central Europe, the Apennines and the Balkans. This first migratory wave of Bulgars was not negligible. More significant Bulgar groups settled in modern southern Bavaria, Benevetto, Pentapolis, Illiricum and, particularly, southern Pannonia. Pannonia at the time of the Great migration became a kind of a distibuting board for the eastern peoples towards other parts of Europe, but nevertheless, either on their own or joining in confederate formations (together with Gepids, Huns, Avars, etc.), the Bulgars stood up and managed to preserve their ethnic identity until the comming of the second migratory wave of Bulgars.

The latter resulted from the Khazar pressure upon Bulgaria of Kubrat. In the beginning of the 60’s of the VII-th c. two other Bulgar groups led by Kuber and by Asparuh appeared in the lands to the north of Danube. Kuber followed the usual migration path of the first wave and moved to Pannonia where he accepted to authority of the Avar khaganate and settled in the area of Sirmium (Srem). He ruled over the Bulgars of the two waves as well as over the people born by the mixed marriages with the captives from the numerous campaigns in Illiricum. The ‘Miracles of Saint Demetrius of Saloniki’ informs us that these captives ‘longed for their father’s lands’.

674/75 AD - Kuber with his people fled to the south (Macedonia), inflicting six defeats on the chasing him Avar troops and settled in the Keramissian field. At that time Byzantium was tied in a struggle with the Arabs and the Kuber’s Bulgars were allowed to settle down. In the next years Kuber made an attempt to capture Saloniki and to create his own state. The close associate of Kuber - Mavr, a man speaking Bulgar, Slav, Latin and Greek languages, failed to capture Saloniki.

At the same time the Asparuh Bulgars entered the eastern parts of the Balkan peninsula. The inscriptions around the Madara horsemen make most historians believe that there was a co-ordination between the efforts of Kuber and Asparuh in creating a Bulgarian state in the lands south of the Danube.

Translation: Vassil Karloukovski

Representation: Alexander Valtchanov
E-mail: alex_volk@yahoo.com