The documentary data about Great Bulgaria are very scarce and contradictory, giving rise to debates, continuing and nowadays. The eminent Bulgarian historian V. Zlatarski, using the data of the Old Bulgarian 'List of the Bulgarian Khans', dated Kubrat's ascension to power to 584 AD . Indeed, in the beginning of the 80's of the VI c. the West Turcut Khaganate was torn by a fierce internecine war which diverted Turcut's attention from Eastern Europe and facilitated the subjugated peoples in their drive for freedom . Byzantium seized the opportunity and retook the Crimean city of Bosporus (today's Kerch), taken earlier by Turcsant. The Ugrs also threw off the Turcut domination. The Soviet scholar M. Artamonov, however, rejects such an early date for the formation of Great Bulgaria, pointing out that after the end of the civil war in 593 AD Turcuts defeated again the Ugrs and reasserted their authority over the previously conquered territories (except Bosporus) . According to Artamonov, much more likely is the appearance of Great Bulgaria to have taken place in the 30's of the VII c., when the Turcut Khaganate plunged in one even more violent civil war, stripping it forever from its European possessions. In any case, not later than 635 AD, when the Proto-Bulgarians under the Avars also got free, Great Bulgaria was already into being with khan Kubrat as its leader . According to the List of the Bulgarian Khans Kurt (Kubrat) reigned for 60 years, post probably from 580-590 AD till his death in mid-VII c.
Highly debatable are the borders of Kubrat's union. The data come from the brief and often confused notes of the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes the Confessor (end of VIII c. and beginning of IX c.), complemented by his contemporary Patriarch Nicephorus and the Armenian geography from the VII c. Theophanes writes:
"It is necessary to mention the past of the Unogundurs-Bulgars and the Kotrags. In the northern parts of the Euxine (Black) Sea, in the so called Lake of Meotida flows an enormous river, called Atel (Volga), descending from the Ocean through the land of the Sarmatians. The river called Tanais (Don), which has its beginning in the Iberian gates in the Caucasus mountains, empties into it (Volga). The jointing of Atel and Tanais creates the river, called Kuphis, which runs into the Pontus, near the Necropiles (the modern Karintski bay, near the south-west coast of Crimea), near the cape called Krioproson (Sheep snout). From the above mentioned lake begins a strait-like sea, running into the Euxine Pontus thought the land of the Crimean Bosporus (the modern Straits of Kerch). The so called fish Murzuli and other similar fish is fished for there, and along the eastern coast of that lake, around Phanagoria and the dwelling there Jews, live many peoples. From the same lake up to the Kuphis river, where the Bulgarian fish xiston is fished for, is situated the old Great Bulgaria and the so called Kotrags, who are also of the same tribe." .Patriarch Nicephorus account is brief: "We must say something about the origin of the so called Huns and Bulgars and about their way of life. Around the lake of Meotida, along the Kuphis river, is situated the old Great Bulgaria and the so called Kotrags, who are of the same tribe" .
The Armenian geography contains two passages relevant to the position of Great Bulgaria. The first excerpt reads:
"In Sarmatia are situated the Keraunian and the Hipian mountains, where five rivers flowing into the Meotian sea have their sources. Two rivers flow out from Caucasus - Valdanis, from the mountain Krax, which (the mountain) starts in Caucasus and extends to the north-west between Meotida and Pontus. The other river - Psevhros - separates the Bosporus from the lands of the small town Nikops. Northward from this place live the peoples Turcs and Bulgars, who are named after the local rivers: Kupi-bulgar, Duchi-bulgar, Oghontor-blkar - the immigrants, and Chdar-Bolkar. These names are unknown to Ptolomeus. And the son of Hudbadr ran away from the Horse Mountains." The other excerpt reads:
"In Thracia there are two mountains and rivers, one of which, Danub (Danube) branches out in 6 arms and forms a lake and an island, called Pjuki. On this island lives Haspar-khruk (Asparuh), the son of Hubraat, who ran away from the Khazars from the Bulgarian mountain and who, having driven away the Avars, settled at that place." .The sources are not only brief, but confusing as well. Especially the text of Theophanes, which is the most detailed one. Recently, I. Chichurov made an attempt to trace out the territory of Great Bulgaria by a textual analysis of the information of Theophanes . He divided the text of Theophanes into two parts - a geographical description of the North Black Sea lands and the Sea of Azov, and an account of the historical facts and the location of Great Bulgaria. Chichurov argued that the two parts are non-equivalent, only the latter, which is similar to the information of Nicephorus, being of historical value, while the former is a later and unnecessary inclusion of confused geographical data which can be discarded. Thus, he concluded the Great Bulgaria was limited to the lands east of the Sea of Azov up to the river Kuban.
There are, however, weak points in Chichurov's argumentation. For example, it is not explained why after stating that he will narrate the past of the Unogundurs-Bulgars and the Kotrags, Theophanes proceeds with a description of the lands they inhabit. And here he puts a particular stress on the river Kuphis, which according to him starts at the point where Atel and Tanais join each other, above the lake of Meotida, and after running northward of it, empties in the Black sea near the Necropiles. Theophanes has a clear idea about the exact location of the Necropiles. For example, in his description of the escape of Justinian II from Phanagoria to Bulgaria in 704 AD he correctly states that after passing along the lighthouse of Hersones, the escapee swam across the Necropiles and the mouths of Dnepr and Dnestr . On another occasion he chronicler locates the river Kuphis next to the Necropiles. Describing the cold winter of 763 AD he remarks that the sea froze along the northern coast of the Pontus and 100 miles inland "from Zinhia to the Danube and to the river Kuphis, Dnepr, Dnestr, Necropiles."  Therefore, the Kuphis of Theophanes is not Kuban, but another river flowing into the Black Sea. As F. Westberg pointed out very early that the Southern Bug river was given the same name by the ancients - Hiphanis, as the river Kuban . Thus Westberg located Great Bulgaria from the Sea of Azov to the river Dnestr. His argumentation was accepted by Artamonov.
The restriction of Great Bulgaria only to the lands to the east of Sea of Azov meets more difficulties as that land could hardly accommodate the (at least) three tribal groups - the Unogundurs of Batbajan and Asparuh, and the Kotrags. The numerousness of the Proto-Bulgarians is attested in the letter of the Khazarian King Joseph, according to whom the Bulgars were far more humorous than the Khazars, as numerous as the sand in the sea. Furthermore, Nicephorus mentions that in 634-635 AD Kubrat rose against the Avars and drove them away of his land . The point is that the Avars could not held territories east of the Don river and the Sea of Azov, because these lands were previously a West Turcut's domain, and they were liberated after an uprising of the Unogundurs. Nicephorus' information obviously refers to the Kutrigurs, who inhabited the lands north of the Sea of Azov, from Don to Dnepr and maybe even further westwards. Since 558 AD they were under Avarian political domination, which obviously continued after the withdrawal of the main Avarian forces to Central Europe. The actions of the Proto-Bulgarians of Kubrat were obviously directed against these remains of the Avars. After their defeat, the region north of Azov was incorporated in Great Bulgaria. As both Procopius and Agathius describe exactly the lands north of the Sea of Azov and west of the river Don as the land of the Kutrigurs, the identification of the Kotrags with the Kutrigurs is almost universally accepted. We will not dwell upon the question whether the Kutrigurs were part of the Proto-Bulgarians or an isolated, akin to them tribe.
Thus the Unogundurs-Bulgars lived east of the Azov, and the Kotrags - north, north-west of it, the latter being "of the same tribe" (). The remarks of Theophanes and Nicephorus that they were close to each other, but not identical, are confirmed by the archaeological data.
Map of the North Black Sea region.
(The map was produced using XEROX Map Viewer)
The western boundary of Great Bulgaria run along the lower course of Dnepr from its firth up to the elbow of the river. Southern boundary was the lower and middle course of Kuban and the mountains of Fore-Caucasus. The northern boundary is most uncertain, reaching probably the region of mixed forest and steppe north and north-west from the Sea of Azov. There is no consensus on its eastern limits. The Armenian geography provides the main reference saying that the son of Hubraat Haspar-Khruk run away from the Khazars from the Bulgarian (Hipian) mountain. It was Patkanov who found that the compiler of the Armenian geography used the data of the ancient geographer Ptolomeus. According to the map of Ptolomeus the Hipian mountain started from the elbow of Volga and run southwards, in the same direction as the ridge Ergeni . Consequently that ridge and the connected to it Heights of Stavropol were the eastern boundary of Great Bulgaria.
The Proto-Bulgarian group of Asparuh was the first one to face the Khazar expansion and after failing to hold out against the pressure, it had to migrate westwards. The emptied land was incorporated into the ethnic Khazarian territory and the Khazars inhabited it up to the end of the Khazarian Khaganate. Judging from the letter of king Joseph, this territory did not extend to the river Don and was not too extensive. Therefore the Asparuh's domain was located to the east of the lower Don, reaching the ridge Ergeni. The other group of Unogundurs-Bulgars which was under Batbajan did not migrate and had to pay tribute to the Khazarians. The eastern location of the Proto-Bulgarians of Asparuh is confirmed by the archaeological data. The burials in the necropolises north of the Sea of Azov are of western orientation, while those from Proto-Bulgarian necropolises south of Danube (Dobrudja and North-Eastern Bulgaria) are of northern orientation. The same northern orientation is found in eastern Fore-Caucasus and to the east of Don. The artificial skull deformation is also characteristic for the latter territories as well as for Danube Bulgaria, but not for the lands north of Azov.
Notwithstanding its large territory, the core of Great Bulgaria were the lands along the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov and the lower and middle course of Kuban. The Unogundurs-Bulgars along the Black Sea coast were in close contacts with the Byzantium since the VI c. Joan Nicius narrates: "Kubrat, the prince of the Huns and a nephew of Organ, was baptized as a child and was educated in Constantinople in the heart of Christianity and he grew up in the emperor's court. He was a close friend of emperor Heraclius."  Some Soviet scholars advanced the idea that part of the Proto-Bulgarians settled down and mastered the declined antique town of Phanagoria, which became their capital. The archaeological investigations, however, did not find any massive Proto-Bulgarian influx in the town before the mid-VII c. At least till to the end of the VII c. the Unogundurs-Bulgars led the life of nomads, their tribal union did not evolve into a state. That is why soon after Kubrat's death in mid-VII c. the union, held together by the undisputed authority of its founder, broke apart. Theophanes and Nicephorus speak about five sons of Kubrat. The close examination of the texts, however, reveals Great Bulgaria disintegrated into three pieces - two Unogundurian, led by Batbajan and by Asparuh, a a third, Kotragian one, led by an unknown leader, perhaps son of Kubrat as well, called Kotrag in the chronicles. According to Theophanes after Kubrat's death his sons "parted and moved apart, each of them with the people he had in his power. And the first son, called Batbajan ... remained in the lands in his forefathers. ... And after the partition ... and becoming weak in numbers, appeared the large people of the Khazars ... and occupied the whole land up to the Pontus." 
The account cannot be accepted, because even after the partition the sons of Kubrat would not leave their lands voluntarily. The true reasons for the 'migration' are known from other sources. The Armenian geography maintains that Asparuh ran away from the Hipian (Bulgarian) mountain, pursued by the Khazars. The coercive nature of the 'migration ' is clearly seen from the letter of the Khazarian king Joseph to Hasdai ibn Shaprut from the mid-X c.:
"We have a record that when our fathers were few in number, the Holy One blessed be He - gave them strength and power. They were able to carry on war after war with many nations who were more powerful and numerous than they. By God's help they drove them out and occupied their country. The land in which I live now was formerly occupied by v-n-nt-rs. Our ancestors, the Khazars fought with them. The v-n-nt-rs were more numerous, as numerous as the sand in the sea, but they could not withstand the Khazars. They left their country and ran away, and the Khazars pursued them and reached them at the river called Duna. Up to this very day they are located along the river Danube, close to Costandin (Constantinople)."(see the whole text of the letter at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/khazars1.html)
The people fleeing from the Khazars, were obviously the Unogundurs-Bulgars of Asparuh. The name v-n-nt-r is a later form of the original W-n-g-d-r- or W-n-g-r . It is identical to the Armenian renderings vh'ndur (Moses Horenaci) and oghondor (Armenian geography) of the ethnicon of the Unogundurs-Bulgars. It led to the Arabian transcription of the name of the Bulgars - Venenders or Nenders . It is important that king Joseph's letter does not speak about the conquest of the lands of the Bulgars, whose name was well know to the compiler (Bulgars (b-lg-r), together with Khazars and Sabirs, are mentioned by Joseph among the ten sons of the mythical ancestor of the Turcs - Togarma), but only about these of the v-n-nt-rs - the Unogundurs. It confirms once again that the Proto-Bulgarians of Asparuh dwelled in the lands east of Azov.
The Khazarian expansion to the west did not halt at that point. The next blow was directed towards the Unogundurs of Batbajan, who accepted the Khazarian supremacy and became their tributaries . By the end of the VII c. the Taman peninsula and a part of the Crimea also fell into Khazar hands . Most obscure is the spread of their power to the lands north of Azov - the territory of the Kotrags. Utilizing the information of Theophanes and Nicephorus that Kubrat, together with his people, crossed Tanais, we can conclude the at least one part of this defeated by the Khazars group left its native places and moved in a search for new lands. Most researches assume that the fleeing from the Khazars Proto-Bulgarians moved later to the Middle Volga and Kama rivers, where they founded the famous Volga Bulgaria. There are striking similarities in the way of burial between the Bolshetarkhansk necropolis at Middle Volga and the Proto-Bulgarian necropolises from the middle course of Severski Doneck (Zholtoe, Novolimarevka): western orientation of the dead, almost identical burial artefacts, around 30% of the graves have step-wise widenings .
The resistance the Khazars met in their conquest is evident from the rich archaeological finds - treasures along the left bank of Dnepr. The largest find comes from the village of Malaja Pereschepina, the district of Poltava . It consists of golden and silver vessels, decorations, weapons, etc. and represents the largest treasury in early medieval Europe. The total weight of the golden objects is nearly 25 kg, and of the silver objects - more than 50 kg. Most of them are Byzantine and Sasanian in origin. Only some of them, such as the undecorated tall cups and most of the belt decorations reflect the art of the native population . The treasure was buried in the second half of the VII c., judging from the 18 golden coins of emperor Constans II (641-668 AD). The Pereschepino treasure evidences the wealth of the VI-VII c. of the barbarian steppe princes of Eastern Europe, wealth which was acquired as spoils of war, contributions and presents. Most of the researchers attribute the Pereschepino treasure to the Proto-Bulgarians or to the Kutrigurs , most probably a Proto-Bulgarian (Kutrigur) prince, who had died fighting against the expansion of the Khazars and who was not able to collect back his buried possessions. We may recall the rich spoils the Kutrigurian aristocracy collected in its campaigns against Byzantium and the presents the 'Hunic' princes received from Byzantium at the beginning of the VII c. 
The question of the origin of the Pereschepino treasure was brought
forward again recently by the Munchen archaeologist and historian Joachim
Werner. He relied on the decipherment of the Greek monograms of the two
golden rings from the treasury, made by W. Seibt, a philologist from
Vienna. Seibt red the inscriptions as: 'To Hovrat' ()
and 'To Hovrat the patrician' (),
which made Werner believe that the rings as well as the whole treasure
belonged to khan Kubrat. Werner stressed the fact that many of the objects
have been made in Byzantium on Kubrat's request/order or they have been
given as presents of emperor Heraclius, who was in friendly terms with
khan Kubrat . After a careful study of the details
of the discovery, he concluded that the treasury comes from the grave of
the founder of Great Bulgaria, khan Kubrat.
A map of the Proto-Bulgarian finds on middle and lower Don river from VII-VIII c. AD
1. Malaja Pereschepina; 2. Voznesenka; 3. Glodosi; 4. Zachepilovka; 5. Makuhovka; 6. Kelegeja; 7. Jasinovo; 8. Dimovka; 9. Kovalevska; 10. Portovoe; 11. Kancirka; 12. Machuha; 13. Penkovka; 14. Stecovka; 15. Pastriskoe.
(The map was produced using XEROX Map Viewer)
Another significant find of similar objects comes form the village of Voznesenka, which is incorporated into the town of Zaporozhie nowadays. It is a grave with cremation situated in a rectangular camp (81x51 m), fortified by earth ramparts. The burned remains of at least three people together with the arthefacts have been put in two round pits, surrounded by a belt of stones. Some of the objects bear the signs of fire, while others - mainly weapons and harnesses, were put in the grave afterwards. The 40 reins found pointed to the sacrifice of at least 40 horses. Most numerous are the military equipment and horse trapping's decorations - more than 100 buckles and around 1500 golden and silver applications (1.2 kg gold and 1.7 kg silver). Most interesting are the two silver points of Byzantine military standarts, one in the form of a lion, the other in the form of an eagle and a snake, dated to the V-th century. The buried were most probably barbarian princes (prince) died in a battle at the end of the VII or the beginning of the VIII c. Recently the Bulgarian archaeologist St. Vaklinov advanced the hypothesis that at Voznesenka was buried the founder of the Bulgarian state, khan Asparuh . The hypothesis is supported by some late Bulgarian legendary sources  but there are no serious archaeological proofs.
The rich finds of the type 'Pereschepino' reveal the way of life and culture of the steppe inhabitants along the middle and, partly, lower Dnepr river, in the VII and the beginning of the VIII c.. Besides the nomads however, that region was inhabited by less numerous settled people, who left traces too. The most important of them is the ceramic centre at Kancirka, 20 kilometres to the north of Voznesenka . Most of its production bears parallels with the Alanian production from Northern Caucasus. Thus the ceramic centre was attributed to a North-Caucasian Alanian population, migrated to the Dnepr at the end of VII or the beginning of the VIII c. after the Arabian expansion. But the analysis of the material remains at Kancirka revealed it was inhabited by steppe peoples; pottery from Kancirka is found in the rich burials of type Pereschepino at Voznesenka and Kelegejskie hutori.
The centres for 'Kancirka' type pottery production (Kancirka, Mahucha) are not the only one attesting the settling down of a part of the nomadic population at middle Dnepr. Another producing centre is the Pastirskoe gorodishte, which was an important production, and perhaps also an administrative and trade centre in the right bank of Dnepr. The dwellings are semi-dugouts, dug 0.5 m deep into the ground, all of them destroyed in a fire. The unnatural pose of one skeleton found under their remains evidences that the settlement was destroyed by enemy's hands. Under the threat of the attack many inhabitants have dug their most precious possessions into the ground. The retrieved objects allow a correct reconstruction of the economical life. There are agricultural tools, forge, smelt-furnace, numerous golden articles. Most numerous is the wheel-made pottery, similar to the Saltovo type. It is almost completely analogous to that along the both banks of the lower Danube . The hand-made pottery - simple pots, is characteristic to the later 'Prague-Penkovka' type.
The material culture at Pastirskoe is a result of the mixing of the cultural traditions of the Slavs, the Alans-Bulgars and the remnants of the older Chernjahovo population (i.e. the bearers of the Chernjahovo culture, which existed in Eastern Europe in the III-IV c. AD. That advanced for that time culture included tribes of Slavonic, Thracian, Germanic, Iranian, etc. origins. The Chernjahovo culture was put to an end by the Hunic invasion of the IV c.) The semi-dugouts and the hand-made pottery are characteristic for the Slavs which made some Soviet researches attribute Pastirskoe gorodishte to the Slavs. Other researches speak about the mixed Slavo-Bulgarian population of Pastirskoe gorodishte. And Artamonov, using the documentary data and the eastern features in Pastriskoe culture, attributed it to the Kutrigurs - Proto-Bulgarians . The question whether the Penkovka culture represents the mixing of coming from north Slavs with the remnants of the Chernjahovo culture, or just Slavs who had occupied the emptied lands of Middle Dnepr is highly debatable. There are other opinions that it belonged to the Antes, but it is not clear whether the Antes were a Slavonic tribe, which had assimilated the remains of the earlier Iranian population, or they were Slavicised Iranians. The early Penkovka type villages with their rectangular dwellings show that their bearers were already Slavicised in the IV c. Later, in the mid-VII c., there was an influx of steppe peoples (Alano-Bulgars) who brought with them Pastirskoe type furnaces and wheel-made pottery.
Thus since the VII c., in the time before the creation of the Bulgarian state and the formation of the Saltovo-Majack culture, part of the Proto-Bulgarians from the region of the river Dnepr have adopted some crafts, as metal-working and pottery, and have achieved a comparatively high level of craftsmanship. Important were also the close contacts between Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians in this region, leading to some equalizing of their material culture.
All researches point out that at the end of the VII c. or, more probably, at the beginning of the VIII c. the large producing centre at middle Dnepr - the Pastirskoe gorodishte was destroyed during a military operation, undoubtedly a result of the Khazarian expansion. Most probably it happened in the first decades of the VIII c., but certainly before the beginning of the 20's of the VIII c., when the Khazars were tied in a hard and continuos war with the Arabs. That blow put an end to the development of the Pastirskoe culture. Some of its traditions continued to function in a barbarised, rural form, and some of them spread far to the west and south-west.
[Back to Proto-Bulgar Page]
 Procopius. Op. cit., p. 588.
 V.I. Zlatarski. Istorija, T. I, 1, s. 128-138.
 L. N. Gumilev. Drevnie tjurki. M., 1967, s. 105-134.
 M.I. Artamonov. Istorija hazar, s. 140-141.
 Nicephorus. Op. cit., p. 24.
 Theophanes. Op. cit., p. 356-357.
 Nicephorus. Op. cit., p. 33.
 K.P. Patkanov. Iz novogo spiska, s. 28.
 K.P. Patkanov. Cit. sych., s. 26.
 I.S. Chichurov. Ekskurs Theofana o protobolgarah. - W: Drevnejshie gosudarstva na territorii SSSR. Materialii i issledovanija. M., 1976, s. 65-80.
 Theophanes. Op. cit., p. 373.
 Ibidem. p. 434.
 F. Vestberg. Zapiska gotskogo toparha. - Vizantijskij vremennik, XV, 2-3, 1908, s. 241.
 Nicephorus. Op. cit., p. 24.
 K.P. Patkanov. Iz novogo spiska..., s. 23.
 Jean, eveque de Nikiou. Chronique. Texte etiopien publie et traduit par H. Zotenberg. Paris, 1883, p. 400.
 Theophanes. Op. cit., p. 358.
 N.K. Kokovcov. Evrejsko-hazarskaja perepiska v X veke, s. 92.
 Hudud al-Alem. s. 32.
 Theophanes. Op. cit., p. 358.
 Theophanes. Op. cit., p. 372-373.
 V.F. Gening, A.H. Halikov. Rannie bolgarii na Volge, s.8-18.
 A.A. Bobrinskij. Pereschepinskij klad. - Materialii po arheologii Rossii, viip. 34. SPb, 1914, s. 111-120.
 G.I. Marshak, K.M. Skalon. Pereschepinskij klad. L., 1972.
 A. Marosi, N. Fettich. Trouvailles
avares de Dunapentele. - AH, XVIII, 1936, p. 59-60;
Dezco Scallany. A kultur-bolgarok (hunok) regeszeti hagyate - kanak meghatarozasa. - Archeologiai Ertesito, 90, 1, 1963, p. 36, 38.
 Indicative is the story if Nicephorus of the year 619: "Some time passed and the ruler of the Hunic people, together with his notables and spear-bearers, came to Byzantion (Constantinopolis) and asked from the emperor (Heraclios) to be baptised. The emperor gave a cordial welcome and the Romean archonts adopted the Hunic notables, and their wives - the Hunic wives. The baptised were presented with rich gifts and titles." (Nicephorus, Op. cit., p. 12).
 Joachim Werner. Der Grabfund von Malaja Perescepina und Kuvrat, Kagan der Bulgaren. - Philosophische Klasse der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenscheften. Abhandlungen (Neue Folge), Heft 91. Muenchen, 1984, S. 38-44.
 St. Vaklinov. Formirane na starobylgarskata kultura, s. 35.
 J. Ivanov. Bogomislki knigi i legendi. S., 1970, s. 282.
 Slov'jani ta ih sosudi v stepovomu Podniprov'i (II-XIII st.). K., 1975, s. 118.
 O.M. Prihodnjuk. Arheologichi pam'jatniki Serednego Pridniprov'ja VI-IX st. n. e. K., 1980, s. 103.
 M.I. Artamonov. Etnicheskata prinadlezhnost
i istoricheskoto znachenie na pastriskata kultura. - Arheologija, XI, 1969,
kn. 3, s. 1, 7-8;
Slavjane i bolgarii v Podneprov'e. - Berichte ueber den II Internationalen Kongress fuer Slawische Archaeologie, Band I. Berlin, 1970, S. 24-29.