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Bulgars (also Bolgars or proto-Bulgarians) a people of Central Asia, probably originally Pamirian, whose branches became Slavicized and perhaps Turkic over time. The Turkic etymology most often given for their name is Bulgha meaning sable and is of totemistic origin.
Migration to Europe and establishment of Great Bulgaria
As early as the 2nd century AD, some branches of the Bulgars came down to the European continent, settling in the plains between the Caspian and the Black seas. Between 351 and 389 AD, some of these crossed the Caucasus and migrated to Armenia. Toponymic data testify to the fact that they remained there and were eventually assimilated by the Armenians.
Swept by the Hunnish wave at the beginning of the 4th century AD, other numerous Bulgarian tribes broke loose from their settlements in central Asia to migrate to the fertile lands along the lower valleys of the Donets and the Don rivers and the Azov seashore, assimilating what was left of the Sarmatians. Some of these remained for centuries in their new settlements, whereas others moved on with the Huns towards Central Europe, settling in Pannonia.
The Bulgars took part in the Hun raids on Central and Western Europe between 377 and 453 AD. After the utter defeat of the Huns in the Battle of Chalons on September 20, 451 AD, the Bulgars redirected their attention to the Byzantine Empire, where consecutive raids were undertaken in the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century.
The Bulgars fell under the domination of the Turkic Khanate in 568 AD. United under Kubrat (Kurt) of the Dulo clan, they broke loose from the khanate and formed an independent state between the lower course of the Danube to the west, the Black and the Azov Seas to the south, the Kuban river to the east, and the Donets river to the north. The capital of the state named Great Bulgaria was Phanagoria , on the Azov.
Dissolution of Great Bulgaria and subsequent migration
The death of Khan Kubrat around 665 AD eventually led to the dissolution of Great Bulgaria. Batbayan (also known as Bayan, Boyan) remained the ruler of the land north of the Black and the Azov Seas, which was, however, soon subdued by the Khazars. The Bulgars converted to Judaism in the 9th century, along with the Khazars, and were eventually assimilated. There is also an opinion that the Balkars in Kabardino-Balkaria may be descendants of this Bulgar tribe branch.
Another part of the Bulgars, led by Kotrag , migrated to the confluence of the Volga and Kama Rivers in what is now the Russian Federation (see Volga Bulgaria). The present-day Republic of Tatarstan is considered to be the descendant of Volga Bulgaria in terms of territory and people, though the language thought to be closest to the old Bolgar language is Chuvash.
A third part of the Bulgars, led by Khan Asparuh, moved westward, occupying today's southern Bessarabia. After a successful war with Byzantium in 680 AD, Asparuh's khanate conquered Moesia and Dobrudja and was recognised as an independent state under the subsequent treaty signed with the Byzantine Empire in 681 AD. The same year is usually regarded as the year of the establishment of Bulgaria (see History of Bulgaria).
A fourth group of Bulgars, under Kuber, settled in western Macedonia and eastern Albania where it formed a khanate, which launched joint attacks on the Byzantine Empire with the Slavs. The fifth and smallest group, led by Alcek (also known as 'Altsek' and 'Altzek'), settled in Italy, northwest of Naples.
Entries in the List of Bulgarian monarchs trace Bulgar history in more detail.
List of Bulgar tribes
Tribes thought to have been Bulgaric in origin include:
- Kutrighur (Kotrags)
- The Kuber Varkuni
- Asparukh's Horde
- Altasek's Horde
- The Unok-vndur federation
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