The lands of present Bulgaria, situated in the north of the Balkan Peninsula on a key intersection of routes connecting West- and Central Europe with adjacent Asia and the Mediterranean Sea, have been populated since remote antiquity. Archaeological explorations have uncovered presence of human life throughout these lands dating back as early as the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) – 100,000-40,000 years BC.
Traces of one-time population have been found in a number of caves. Relics of pre-historic life from the period of Neolithic Age V-IV Millennium BC and later on from the Chalcolithic (The StoneCopper Age) IV-III Millennium, have been ascertained in a multiplicity of mounds near the settlements of Sliven (Karanovska Mound), Stara Zagora (Azmashka Mound), in the region of Plovdiv, the Necropolis of Varna (an entire complex of tombs), caves like the Magura with the graffiti inside, etc.
With the arrival of the Bronze Age (3,200-1,1 00 BC) new settlers started to come from the north and reside in the present Bulgarian lands, and beside their stone implements they had and used tools of bronze. Most likely that was the population to provide the spring of origin for the Thracians that have become well known to us via the ancient Greek written sources. They were a population engaged in land cultivation with well-developed forms of craftsmanship and high extent of perfection in arts. Evidence of the aforementioned we find in the earlier and recently unearthed tombs Ethe Tomb of Kazanlak – rich in frescoes, the tombs at the villages of Starossel, district of Plovdiv; Alexandrovo, district of Haskovo; the historical site of Perperikon in the Rhodopes and the like, as well as the golden and silver treasures found in the areas of Panagyurishte, Valchitran, Rogozen etc.
Already in the 7th-6th Century BC, throughout the western Black Sea coast the ancient Greeks carved out colonies (towns): Apollonia, (presenttday Sozopol), Messemvria or Messembria (pres. Nessebar), Odessos (pres. Varna) etc., thus providing the inclusion of these lands into the perimeter of the ancient Greek world of culture.
In the middle of the 4th Century BC within a few decades spell, the power of the ancient Macedonians was established throughout the lands of ancient Thracia. The Macedonian King, Philip II, took over the Thracian town of Pulpudeva and named it Philippopolis, after his own name.
In the midst of the 1th Century BC, the Romans conquered the lands of present-day Bulgaria and established a several centuries long rule. Due to the construction activities of the Romans a number of towns sprang up, among which are the names of: Serdica (present-day Sofia), Trimontium (pres. Plovdiv), Pautalia (pres. Kyustendil), Augusta Trayana (pres. Stara Zagora), Montana, Abritus (pres. Razgrad), Bonognia (pres. Vidin), Sexaghinta Prista (pres. Rousse), Nicopolis ad Istrum (pres. Village ofNikyup, Distr. of Veliko Tarnovo), Martianopolis (pres. Devnya) etc., and a well-elaborated network of roads.
In the year 330 AD, emperor Constantine I The Great moved the capital of Rome to Byzantion (named Constantinople). With the division of the Empire into Western and Eastern empires in 335 AD, the present Bulgarian lands fell in the outlines of the Eastern Roman empire, which started to bear the name Byzantium.
By that time, in the north of Byzantium (current Bulgaria) the Goth invasions began (4th Century). Some time later the Slavs migrated into that territory (5th-6th Century), and despite Byzantium’s counter moves the Slav tribes densely populated the lands in the north of the Balkan range (Stara planina).
In the middle of the 7th Century, one of the several sons of the Great Khan Koubrat, Khan Asparuh, took the lead of his mounted groups of fellow people heading southwest and in the year 681, over the lands between the Balkan range and the lower course of the Dniepr river, laid the foundations of the state of the Bulgars, Bulgaria. His brother Kouber infiltrated into the lands down the river valley of Vardar and the process to form the new Bulgarian nationality was initiated.
With the successors of Asparuh, the Khans Tervel, Telerigh and Kardam, Bulgaria is extended to the limits of a great state and reached full blossom of its might under Khan Kroum (803-814). For the period of his reign the town of Sredets (current Sofia), was included into the bounds of the state, as well as vast lands on the territories of current Rumania and Hungary were also added to Bulgaria. The military marches of the Khan brought him face up to the walls of Tsarigrad (Constantinople, current Istanbul). Khan Krum was the first to issue written laws of the state. His successor, Omurtag, bolstered the stability of the state power, opened up large scale erection works in the capital Pliska, built fortification facilities. Under the rule of the next khans, Malamir and Pressian, Bulgaria turned into the largest and strongest state on the Balkan Peninsula.
With the reign of Prince Boris I (852-889), the Orthodox Christian religion was established as official faith of the state (864), that key event caused an upsurge and affiliated Bulgaria to the European civilization. Independent Bulgarian Church was founded with an archbishop at the head. In 893, with the coming of the disciples of Cyril and Methodius in Bulgaria – Kliment, Naoum and Anghelariy – the country started a period of active literary ferment. Officially accepted by the state and put to nation-wide use was the Old-Bulgarian alphabet in the year 893.
In that same year 893, in the lead of the state came the highly educated Prince Simeon I, proclaimed Tsar of all Bulgarians and Romei (Byzantines), some time later. Following a glorious series of victories over the Byzantines Bulgaria climbed to the summit of its might and its territory broadened to cover the best part of the Balkan Peninsula and the entire basin of the lower Danube. Veliki Preslav (Grand Preslav) became the capital city of the state and “The Golden Age of the Bulgarian culture” came on. The time in power of Tsar Simeon I The Great is generally considered as the climax in development of the medieval Bulgarian state.
With the next ruler on the throne, Tsar Peter I, (927-970), Bulgaria slid to decline. Bogomilism (a sect of heretic doctrines on social ground) gained wide currency. Furthermore, the Prince of Kiev, Svyatoslav chose to invade the Bulgarian lands, but was decisively driven out. Byzantium, being in a hurry to take advantage of Bulgaria’s wane after Simeon’s death, took over in 971 the southeast of the country. The axis of state power was then transferred to the southwest – first Prespa then Ohrid became the new capital. The new ruler, Tsar Samuil, came to the throne.
In a succession of winning battles with the Byzantines, he succeeded in consolidating the power of state, however, in the crucial engagement of 1014 at the Belasitsa Mountain, the Bulgarian troops were severely defeated by the Byzantine emperor Basil II Bulgaroctonus, (the Bulgar-Slayer). In the aftermath of the heavy combat loss, 15,000 Bulgarian soldiers were ruthlessly blinded, with one of every one-hundred men being left single-eyed – to lead the rest of them on their way back to Bulgaria. Deeply shaken at the sight of blinded soldiers Samuil died (possibly hit by a heart attack). Bulgaria was subdued by Byzantium in 1018.
In the year 1185, the boyars of Tamovo, Peter and Assen, having successfully thrown off Byzantine dominion, re-established the former Bulgarian state with a new capital – Tamovgrad (current Veliko Tamovo). Within a brief spell of time Bulgaria scored culminating successes: Bulgarian state power was re-instated throughout most of Bulgaria. Enormous might of the state for Bulgaria was achieved during the reign of Tsar Kaloyan (1197-1207). In the battle at Odrin (Edime) of 1205, the Tsar heavily routed the troops of the Latin Empire. In general terms, with Tsar Ivan Assen II Bulgaria pushed its frontiers out to the limits of the time of Tsar Simeon I The Great, and following the smashing defeat of Theodore Comnenus of Epirus’ troops (1230), Bulgaria came to be the most sizeable and powerful state on the Balkan Peninsula. Economic growth of enviable magnitude was equally attained.
At the time of Tsar Ivan Alexander’s reign (1331-1371), Bulgaria was experiencing a new cultural upsurge. Impressing reminders of that time in Bulgaria are the wall paintings in the churches of Boyana and Zemen, the frescoed rock churches of Ivanovo etc., the remarkable Tetraevangelium of Ivan Alexander (Tsar Ivan Alexander’s Gospel) – (now kept in a London museum). Active and thriving by that time was the Tamovo School of literature. With the course of time, however, the state power embarked on the wane again, and the country found itself carved up in two minor kingdoms: of Tamovo and of Vidin.
Around mid-XIV Century, an ugly threat was hanging over Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula: the Ottoman invasion from Asia Minor. The disaster swooped in a short delay: the Kingdom Tarnovo was conquered in 1393, while the Kingdom of Vidin fell under Ottoman power in the year 1396. The Bulgarian state was irreversibly ruined, strongholds were destroyed, heavy damages inflicted to towns, a multitude of Bulgarians massacred, the surviving by a miracle part of the population took refuge in the highlands. Turks from Asia Minor migrated into the newly captured territory to settle throughout the most fertile lands.
The Bulgarian population proved in a tough plight, particularly due to the permanent wars and its being incessantly plundered by the trespassing Turkish forces. Heavy taxes were also levied. Exceptionally cruel was the so called “blood tax” (devshirme), whereby little boys were taken from their families and indoctrinated before joining the elite Ottoman janissary corps.
As a subsequent result of waging unsuccessful wars with Austria and Russia, the Ottoman Empire fell into decay in 16th-18th Century. Lots of Bulgarians were increasingly coming down from the highlands to the lowlands and engaging on land cultivation and farming in the large Turkish agricultural farms (chifliks), as some of them even started buying their own land. The Bulgarian urban population was constantly increasing in number, the role of crafts and trades in economic life – on the way up, Bulgarian populations’ economic status was consolidating and feelings of self-confidence getting higher and higher.
The Slav-Bulgarian History, written by the monk Paissiy of Hilendar (1762) is generally accepted as the spiritual cornerstone of Bulgaria’s National Revival (Bulgarian Renaissance). After completion of the book, multiple transcripts in written form were circulated countrywide. Better and well prepared for cultural life schools and multiple chitalishta (public edifices supplied with a library, reading-room, and room for amateur theatricals) mushroomed everywhere.
The midst of the 19th Century was marked by the struggle for the creation of an independent Bulgarian Church, led by Bulgarian clerics, such as Neofit of Hilendar, Ilarion Makariopolski and other fellow-mates, and their efforts for church autonomy were rewarded in 1860. The Ottoman authority in Istanbul was finally forced to give in to pressure and acknowledge in 1870 the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate (by that time Exarch was the highest rank in the hierarchy of church).
Along with the further historical events of that time, the National Liberation Movement was getting an increasing impetus, with Gueorgy Rakovski as the leading ideologist and mastermind. Besides, rebels organized in armed groups permanently harassed the empire with raids from bases in the neighbouring countries, notably Wallachia and Serbia, trying to bring down the Ottoman rule. The Bucharest-based Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee (BRCC) was set up, headed by Lyuben Karavelov, which immediately commenced organizing the preparation of National Revolution. Vassil Levski and Lyuben Karavelov were the most imminent organizers of the Liberation struggles. Levski himself led the way by creating a network of indigenous clandestine revolutionary cells. Betrayed, Levski was captured by the Turkish authorities in 1872, sentenced to death he was put to the gallows on 19 February 1873. The death of this great martyr wasn’t already enough to halt Bulgarian people’s struggle for national liberation.
The April Uprising broke out in 1876 to culminate the self-sustained efforts for national liberation. Chief leaders of the rebellion were Panayot Volov, Gueorgy Benkovski, Todor Kableshkov, Bacho Kiro Petrov, Vassil Petleshkov, Zachary Stoyanov, etc. The rebellion was mercilessly suppressed with an iron hand by the Ottoman authorities.
With the aim to revive the course of National revolution and hoping that Bulgarian people were eager to follow him, the great poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev crossed the Danube at the head of an armed group of 200 rebels. In a chain of continuous engagements with the Turkish army pursuers they reached the highlands near Vratsa, where Botev and the majority of his fellow-combatants were killed in battle.
The setback and atrocities, accompanying the suppression of the April Uprising, drew the attention of the general public in Europe. Victor Hugo, William Gladstone, Ivan S. Turgenev, Feodor 1. Dostoyevski, Guiseppe Garibaldi, and a legion of further prominent personalities raised a voice of support to the national cause of Bulgaria. Since the Constantinople Conference of 1876-77 failed to ensure by diplomacy the demanded autonomy for Bulgaria, Russia declared war on Turkey on 12 April 1877. In the aftermath of valiant engagements at Mount Shipka, the towns of Pleven, Sofia and the village of Sheinovo, the Turkish forces were finally routed and on 19 February (new style 3 March) 1878 the Peace Treaty of San Stefano (in the environs of Istanbul) was signed bringing the long yearned independence for Bulgaria.
In conformity with the Berlin Treaty (1/13 July 1878), Bulgaria was split up into two smaller states: Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia, whereas vast territories of Bulgaria remained within the confines of Turkey. On 16 April 1879 in the town of Tarnovo was adopted the Constitution (so called Tarnovo constitution), Sofia was chosen to be the new capital, and Alexander I of Battenberg – Prince of the infant Principality of Bulgaria (Alexander Battenberg to the Bulgarians). The supreme Turkish political and military power was, however, retained in Eastern Roumelia. Gradually, Bulgaria was gaining international recognition and prestige, notably with the remarkable political leader and statesman Stefan Stambolov (1887-1894). Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg Gotha was elected Prince of Bulgaria (1887), and in 1908 the independence of the country was proclaimed in Tarnovo: Bulgaria became Kingdom, and Ferdinand – the tsar of the Bulgarians. Bulgaria stepped into a period of political and economic stability on the Balkans.
Headed by Gotse Delchev, Damyan Gruev, Boris Sarafov and a few other leaders, the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising broke out in 1903.
In the year 1912, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Herzegovina jointly declared war on Turkey with the ultimate goal to liberate the lands, that had remained under Turkish authority. In the First Balkan War of 1912-1913, the highly enthusiastic Bulgarian troops heavily routed the key Turkish forces in eastern Thracia, besieged and captured the extremely fortified Odrin (Edirne). The erstwhile Bulgarian allies Serbia and Greece, however, initiated an extensive process aimed to efface the remaining Bulgarian ethnic element in the territories they had occupied during hostilities in Vardar- and Aegean Macedonia, which was the ultimate casus belli to bring about the outbreak of the Inter-Ally War in mid-summer of 1913. The war ended up with defeat for Bulgaria. The entire Vardar Macedonia went to Serbia, Aegean Macedonia was granted to Greece, southern Dobrudzha – to Rumania, eastern Thracia to Turkey, while Bulgaria was only allowed to keep the Pirin area and western Thracia, assumed in the country as the first national catastrophe.
Bulgaria joined World War I in 1915 on the side of Germany, as a result of which it was hit by the second national catastrophe. On 17 November 1919 the winner states signed the so-called Peace Treaty of Neuilly, by force of which substantial parts of Bulgaria’s territory were truncated.
Despite its being a wartime ally of Germany and Italy during World War II, what in the meantime caused the third national catastrophe to happen, Bulgaria has had the courage to save its Jews via the efforts of politicians, public leaders, the Orthodox Christian church and its common people.
Tsar Boris III’s death seriously aggravated the political and economic situation in the country. In the summer of 1944, with the governments of the premiers Ivan Bagryanov and Constantine Mouraviev, the German troops were forced to leave the territory of Bulgaria. Despite Bulgaria’s declaring war on Germany – some time earlier – the Soviet Union on its turn declared war on Bulgaria on 8 September, and Soviet troops immediately entered Bulgarian territory. On 9 September 1944, a coup d’etat was committed, engineered by the Fatherland Front with the backing of the Soviet army, and on 15 September 1946 Bulgaria was proclaimed People’s Republic.
The state supervision began to dominate in the economic life: “planned” economy was established everywhere, an extensive industrialization was conducted and – by use of compulsion rural economy pooled in collective farms after Soviet pattern. Totalitarian regime was established in the country, combined with a fusion between the state power and the political power of the Communist party. Any forms of political opposition were eradicated. Bulgaria joined the Warsaw Pact organization.
In mid 1980-ies economic crisis set in, which triggered in late 1989 the fall of the Communist system in the country. Democratic changes of political life got under way, the new Constitution was adopted (1991), and the country assumed a course to market economy. Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and since then the country is in a process of preparation to join the European Union.