Renowned Historians Seek Major Changes in History Textbooks, Say Bulgaria Was Established in 165 AD

The region north of the Caucasus Mountain was where the Ancient Bulgars established Bulgaria (the First Bulgarian Empire) in 165 AD, according to recent findings in Ancient Armenian sources, a hypothesis confirmed by the manuscript called "Nominalia of the Bulgarian Khans". Photo: NASA/Wikipedia

The region north of the Caucasus Mountain was where the Ancient Bulgars established Bulgaria (the First Bulgarian Empire) in 165 AD, according to recent findings in Ancient Armenian sources, a hypothesis confirmed by the manuscript called “Nominalia of the Bulgarian Khans”. Photo: NASA/Wikipedia

A number of renowned Bulgarian historians have come together in a rare initiative asking the Bulgarian Ministry of Education for major corrections in history textbooks based on recent findings, including the fact that Bulgaria was established in 165 AD, not in 680-681 AD or in 632 AD.

The historians taking up the initiative to fix the omissions and/or inconsistencies in Bulgaria’s history due to compromised interpretations left over from the communist period (1944-1989) include Prof. Iliya Todev, head of the Institute for Historical Research (History Institute) of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Prof. (Academician) Georgi Markov, former head of the History Institute; Prof. Plamen Pavlov from Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius”; Petko Kolev from the Tangra TanNakRa Foundation.

“We have come together setting aside [their] differences to make certain changes in the new textbooks with regard to known facts and circumstances in [ancient] Bulgarian history because of the need for a balanced and objective presentation of the modern and most recent Bulgarian history”, the more than a dozen scholars have said, as cited by the Cross News Agency.

The historians have sent a letter to Bulgaria’s Minister of Education and Science Todor Tanev asking for the following specific corrections in the new history textbooks for Bulgarian schools:

  • Replacing the term “Proto-Bulgarians” which has been used to denote the Ancient Bulgars with the term “Ancient Bulgar(ian)s.

(This is not an issue in the English language in the Ancient Bulgarians from the Early Middle Ages are called “Bulgars” – editor’s note.)

  • Specifying that the Ancient Bulgars were of Indo-European origin.

During the communist period, the politically motivated historiography sought to marginalize them by claiming they were of Mongol origin and were just a tiny nomadic tribe, in order to beef up the role of the Slavs in the formation of the Bulgarian nation, and thus claim closer ties with Russia, then the Soviet Union (USSR). (Read more about the origin of the Ancient Bulgars in the Background Infonotes below.)

  • Noting that the Bulgarian state, respectively the medieval Bulgarian Empire (Tsardom) was established in 165 AD.

At present, history textbooks influenced by the historiography from the communist period, state that Bulgaria (i.e. the First Bulgarian Empire) was founded in 680 or 681 AD by Khan Asparuh (r. ca. 680-ca. 700 AD). More precise and more recent historical works point out the fact that around 680 AD, Khan Asparuh moved with part of the Ancient Bulgars to the Balkan Peninsula defeating the Byzantine Empire and setting up the first Bulgarian capital south of the Danube, Pliska. In doing so, he was just perpetuating the existence of the so called Old Great Bulgaria established in 632 AD by his father, Khan Kubrat (r. ca. 632-ca. 665 AD), on the territory of modern day Ukraine and Southwest Russia.

(Note: This is why we at ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com had adopted the following dating of the First Bulgarian Empire: “632/680-1018 AD”.)

However, historical sources, both well known ones and recently explored ones, indicate that the Ancient Bulgars founded their state much earlier. The year 165 AD also appears to be mentioned in the Nominalia of the Bulgarian Khans, a short manuscript about the early Bulgar rulers and their clans; it has now been supported by recent research by Bulgarian historian Assoc. Prof. Petar Goliyski of Ancient Armenian sources.

A map showing the 7th century AD migrations of the Ancient Bulgars from the so called Old Great Bulgaria located in today’s Ukraine and Southwest Russia. Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

A map showing the 7th century AD migrations of the Ancient Bulgars from the so called Old Great Bulgaria located in today’s Ukraine and Southwest Russia. Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

  • Noting that as early as 480 AD, Ancient Bulgars inhabited the region of Pannonia in Central Europe, i.e. today’s Hungary.
  • Noting that the title of the Ancient Bulgar rulers was “Kan”, rather than “Han”. (Note: in English, the correct name seems to have always been in use as “Khan”)
  • Teaching the history of the so called Volga Bulgaria, a state established by some of the Ancient Bulgars from the Old Great Bulgaria led by Khan Kotrag, one of the brothers of Khan Asparuh, today on the territory of the Russian republics of Tatarstan and Chuvashia; Volga Bulgaria existed from the 7th until the 13th century AD; it was conquered by the Mongols (Tartars) in the 1240s.
  • Teaching about the Ancient Iranian World, i.e. Persia, because the Ancient Bulgars appear to have originated from it.
  • Noting that the Uprising of Asen and Petar, which restored the Bulgarian state in 1185 AD, after it had been conquered by the Byzantine Empire in 1018 AD, took place in the early fall of 1185 AD. The Bulgarian boyars (nobles) Asen and Todor (Teodor) who led the Uprising became Tsar Asen I (r. 1187-1196) and Tsar Petar IV (r. 1186-1197). The Asen Dynasty (House of Asen) that they started ruled the Second Bulgarian Empire from 1185 until 1257 AD.
  • Doing away with the division of Bulgaria’s history into periods of the First Bulgarian Empire (from 632/680 AD – or 165 AD, as it now turns out – until 1018 AD), the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396 AD), and a Third Bulgarian State (since 1878, including the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944), the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (1944-1989), and the Republic of Bulgaria (since 1989). Between 1018 and 1185 AD, Bulgaria was part of the Byzantine Empire; and between 1396 and 1878/1912, it was part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, a period known in Bulgarian history as the Ottoman Yoke.

The historians believe that dividing the history of Bulgaria into these periods of different empires obscures the fact that this has always been the same state and nation enjoying great historical continuity.

  • Clearing up any confusions regarding the exact dates in Bulgarian history because of the discrepancies between the Julian Calendar and the Grogorian Calendar which Bulgaria adopted in 1916.
  • These include the date of the execution of Bulgarian national hero and freedom fighter by the Ottoman Empire Vasil Levski, which took place on February 18, not on February 19, and the date of the death of Bulgarian national hero, freedom fighter and poet Hristo Botev, which occurred on June 1, not on June 2.
  • Explaining in a balanced way the period since 1918, when Bulgaria has seen intensive internal strife: in 1918-1944, the communists staged terrorist attacks and were persecuted by the Bulgarian authorities; and after the coup d’etat in 1944 aided by the Soviet occupation of Bulgaria, the communists themselves purged the former elites and started political persecutions of their opponents.

The historians who send the letter to the Bulgarian Education Ministry are positive that the establishment of Bulgaria must be dated back to 165 AD, not to 680 or 632 AD.

Petko Kolev from the Tangra TanNakRa Foundation has pointed out that in 2015, Bulgaria should have celebrated the 1850th year since its establishment.

Kolev has stressed the importance of the research of economic historian Dr. Petar Dobrev, a Senior Fellow at the Economic Research Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Assoc. Prof. Petar Goliyski, a professor of Armenian Studies at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

Goliyski’s research of Ancient Armenian sources has revealed the existence of an Ancient Bulgar state north of the Caucasus Mountain and northeast of the Black Sea as of the 2nd century AD.

Check out Goliyski’s paper “In the Slopes of Elbrus: Bulgars around the Caucasus in the 2nd-4th century AD, according to Armenian Sources” in English.

A critical number of scholars and scientific opinions have now started to support this hypothesis based on the new evidence, the scholars say in their letter.

“It is much more precise to date the establishment of Bulgaria back to 165 AD when we formed as a people, whereas our roots may be, and probably are, even older than that. The Bulgarian nation did not emerge in 680 or 681 AD, nor did it start in 632 AD which was zenith of Khan Kubrat’s rule, says Prof. Plamen Pavlov.

He further stresses that the even the title of the Ancient Bulgar rulers spelled as “han” in Bulgarian, rather than “kan” (“khan” in English) has been incorrect.

Pavlov says this mistake has resulted from 19th century Russian historiography but all historical sources used mention the title as “khan”.

“It is high time that in our [educational] system the correct title gets used. All authoritative scholars fully agree with that,” he concludes.

Pavlov has made it clear that the historians’ initiative is designed to “right the wrongs” in Bulgarian history textbooks caused politically motivated interpretations in the past, and to incorporate new discoveries; it does not seek in any way to “mythologize” Bulgaria’s history, or to spur ill-conceived chauvinistic pride.

With respect to the new findings, Prof. Iliya Todev has stated that the historians would like to see their research have an impact on the Bulgarian society rather than remain hidden within the academic community.

Prof. (Academician) Georgi Markov has pointed out in turn that while Bulgaria’s ancient history does not have a huge number of sources, this is certainly not the case with Bulgaria’s recent history which should allow the compiling of an unprejudiced, balanced account to be presented in history textbooks.

Markov has elaborated that after the communist regime established in Bulgaria after 1944 vilified the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944), whereas after the end of the communist regime in 1989, it has been vilified itself.

He has pointed to the former police building near the Lions’ Bridge in Sofia as an example of these conflicting interpretations of Bulgaria’s 20th century history.

In his words, an initiative to turn the building into a “Museum of Communist Crimes” would divide the Bulgarian nation because the opponents of the communist regime after 1944, and the communists themselves before 1944 (i.e. the so called period of “white terror” between 1918 and 1944 predating the “red terror” in the communist period) were all tortured in one and the same building.

Markov has gone as far as suggesting that ever since 1918, there has been a state similar to a civil war in Bulgaria between the leftist (communist) and the rightist forces; in his view, this continues to the present day, though not in a violent form.

“We should not allow the pain from this almost 100-year-old civil war to flare up again today,” he notes.

In an attempt to cure the Bulgarian society of political and other divisions, the historians have recommended that September 6, the National Unification Day (on which the Principality of Bulgaria (i.e. Northern Bulgaria) and Southern Rumelia (most of Southern Bulgaria) united in 1885, seven years after Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire) should be celebrated as a “Day of the Unification of the Bulgarians”.

Background Infonotes:

(The following is a very brief account of the main (groups of) theories about the origin of the Ancient Bulgars).

The question about the precise origin of the Ancient Bulgars, a powerful steppe people with a strong social and military organization and a highly sophisticated calendar, remains resolved and a matter of discussion among Bulgarian and international historians. Unfortunately, in the past it has been marred and even perverted by political and ideological motives stemming from the fact that in the 20th century Bulgaria was under foreign (mostly Soviet) domination. There are numerous theories about the Ancient Bulgarsorigin, the main ones stipulating either a Turkic (Mongol), or an Iranian (Aryan) origin, or a combination of the two.

The theory about the Turkic origin of the Bulgarians was overwhelmingly promoted during the communist period by historians in the Soviet Union and its satellite, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. Scientific arguments aside, its political motivation was to denigrate the role of the Bulgars and to promote the role of the Slavs in Bulgaria’s formation in order to prove the stronger ties of 20th century Bulgaria with Russia (the Soviet Union). This is contrasted with the trends in the 1930s when some Bulgarian historians and scholars sympathetic to Nazi Germany sought to deny altogether the role of the Slavs in the formation of the Bulgarian nation.

While still defended by a number of older generation historians, the theory about the Turkic (Mongol) origin of the Ancient Bulgars has been largely discredited since the fall of the communist regime. Taking advantage of the newly established academic freedom, a number of Bulgarian historians and archaeologists have formulated and explored the theory about the Iranian (Sarmatian, Scythian), i.e. Aryan origin of the Bulgars. This theory actually originated with a group of Russian historians in the mid 20th century but was not part of the “official history” during the communist period, and was only given greater publicity and developed further in the 25 years since the fall of communism in 1989.

There is also a third major theory uniting the first two which stipulates that the Ancient Bulgars originated from Iranian tribes in Central Asia in the 1st-4th century AD which were later involved in the tribal union of the Huns and exposed to Turkic influence as they moved into the steppes of Eastern Europe. This hypothesis explains the Turkic elements discovered in Ancient Bulgar archaeological remains which also exhibit features typical of the Iranian tribes (Sarmatian, Scythian).

There are also a number of other theories about the origin of the Ancient Bulgars such as the one stipulating that they were in fact Ancient Thracians; however, those theories appear to be largely pseudo-scientific.

Today’s Bulgarian society has adopted a more balanced approach to the issue, with the theories stipulating the Iranian (Aryan) origin of the Ancient Bulgars (with or without Turkic influences) appearing to dominate the public discourse.