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Bulgaria: History


  • The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia
  • Sucevita Monastery

Historical evidence suggests that Bulgaria has been inhabited since the Upper Paleolithic Period, with the first permanent settlers establishing homes around 6,000 BC.  Several tribes came together, eventually creating villages and became known as the Thracians. 

Greek sailors began venturing along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast in the 7th century BC.  The Greeks were successful traders and were responsible for exporting wheat, fish, pottery and other goods from Bulgaria.  They also had a great impact on the culture of the region as time went on.  Under Macedonia’s Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, Thrace was conquered by the middle of the 4th century BC.  The Romans defeated the Macedonian Empire and by 46 AD, the Romans had conquered the entire Balkan Peninsula, dividing modern-day Bulgaria into provinces.  

In 632, Bulgar tribes came together under Khan Kubrat to form the polity of Old Great Bulgaria.   Nearly fifty years later, Khan Asparuh created the First Bulgarian Empire, which expanded territory both south and west.  Such expansion continued, and by the 9th century, the Bulgarian Empire covered a huge part of southeastern Europe including Romania, Moldova, and Macedonia. 

The Second Bulgarian Empire was formed in 1185 and lasted until the 1390s.  Although the empire was successful in defeating the Byzantines in 1230, several invasions, as well as internal fighting, weakened the empire.  The Ottoman Turks arrived in 1362 and within thirty years had conquered Bulgaria.  This was a very difficult time in Bulgarian history as Ottoman rule was strict.  

By the 19th century, a new urban middle class came alive. Nationalism grew from this, resulting in the April Uprising of 1876.  This was a brutal conflict that saw thousands of Bulgarians massacred and the destruction of several towns at the hands of Turkish forces.  This angered Western Europe and Russia declared war on the Ottomans in 1877.  The Ottomans were defeated and were forced to cede 60% of the Balkan Peninsula to Bulgaria in 1878.

This decision was ultimately overturned a few months later, leaving Bulgarian territory divided and many wars over boundaries followed.  In 1885, the principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia were reunited, angering central European powers.  Turkish troops began an advance, while Serbia, backed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, declared war on Bulgaria.  Bulgarian troops were successful in repelling the Serbs and gained territory.  However, the Austro-Hungarian Empire intervened, but the Great Powers eventually recognized Bulgaria.

During the First World War, Bulgaria sided with the Central Powers and faced reparations at the end of the conflict.  Bulgaria declared neutrality at the start of the Second World War, but in 1941, German troops moved closer to the country’s northern borders.  Hitler offered Macedonia if Bulgaria would help and the country joined the Axis powers.  Despite this, Bulgaria refused to declare war on Russia and also refused to send Bulgarian Jews to Hitler.

In 1945, the Fatherland Front, a resistance coalition won elections, creating a Communist constitution. Under Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s ruler from 1954-89, the country prospered.  Yet the secret police that was put in place created a culture of fear in Bulgaria.  The nationalism of the 1980s forced Turks, Pomaks and Roma to assimilate; many people revolted, while others left.  

A coup in 1989 forced the resignation of Zhivkov, and the Communist Party gave up some of its control, becoming the Bulgarian Socialist Party.  Bulgaria became the first Soviet Bloc country to reelect communists.  The 1990s saw some instability and changes of government, but by 2004, Bulgaria had gained entry into NATO, and by 2007, the country was part of the European Union.  


 


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