Bulgaria was formed 1339 years ago. (Then broke up a couple of times.)

In school (late '90s) we were told

In 681 Slavic tribes were occupying the northern border of the Western Roman Empire. Some dudes (led by king Asparuh) (coming from a place named Great Bulgaria; never placed on the map) arrived on horses. The locals peacefully accepted them and thus Bulgaria was formed.

I tend to believe that (given a child-oriented definition of peacefully). But where did those nomads come from?

The idea of horse barbarians is further impressed on by the second siege of Constantinople.

In the schoolbooks it was also heavily stressed they were Tangric in religion. Thus I would not exclude Mongolian origin.

Ahmad ibn Fadlan was sent in the year 921 on a journey through Europe to preach Islam to 'Volga Bulgars' (nowadays Russia). He described in his famous manuscript (sorry, I can't find it now, but I know it's available online) that Balkans are no different to any Turk OR barbarian (in my interpretation).

Bulgarians also tend to have darker skin than Russians.

Where from?


4 Answers 4


Bulgarians and Hungarians actually have very different histories. Neither one of them really could be said to have ever been Turks1, although they may have borrowed some things from Medieval Turkic-speakers.

Bulgarians: The current Wikipedia entry diplomatically lists 3 cultural ancestral components for Bulgarians:

  1. Thracian citizens left over from the time that area was under the control of the Byzantine empire.
  2. The Bulgars, a semi-nomadic Turkish people who started to move into the area in the mid-7th century.
  3. Early Slavs, who moved into the cultivatable land that the nomadic Turks depopulated in the Balkans around this time.

However, its pretty easy to see which culture was the dominant one, and which two just had some stuff borrowed from them, by the language. The first Bulgarian Empire in the late 7th Century, used the local Turkish Bulgar as its official language (along with Greek), but by the late 9th switched to the Slavic Old Bulgarian, the direct ancestor to modern Bulgarian. So clearly here the Slavic cultural component won out.


The history here is slightly similar, but with different sets of people and perhaps a bit more interesting. During most of the Medieval period, people speaking Finno-ugaric languages and practicing low-density pastoral techniques like reindeer herding likely ranged everywhere in northern Europe that was too cold for traditional agricultural activity or for the Altaic's horse-based pastoralisim.

Here's a map of the modern distribution of this language family: enter image description here

The green outlying area in the Balkans is of course the Hungarians.

What appears to have happened was that this one group of Finno-Ugric speakers sometime around the first Century picked up pastoralisim from their neighbors2. This is a very large cultural package, but for some reason they kept enough of their identity to keep their language. They first became known to history as the Magyars, the furthest west of the eurasian pastoralists in the mid 9th century.

There happens to be one good large area of pasture in eastern Europe, the Alföld in modern Hungary. This made this area a very tempting target for pastoralists throughout the Middle Ages. The Magyars just happened to be the last Eurasian pastoralists to conquer it and hang onto it long enough to put down roots. Magyar today is known as an alternate name for the Hungarian language, as well as the ethnic group that primarily speaks it.

1 - This answer got merged from another question that was also asking about Hungarians and Turks, which is why there's a lot of content in it about those two peoples as well. I've left that material in, because I think its still interesting, if perhaps now a bit off-topic

2 - Yes, these unnamed example people could well have been Turkic speakers. However, given the geography and timing, Indo-Europeans like the Iranians or perhaps even the Germanic Ostrogoths are much more likely. Another remote possibility is the Huns (whoever they were).

  • Great answer! If the post wasn't closed I would answer it myself, but since it is if you want add this recent information to your answer: "DNA Analysis Reveals Pamir Origin of Bulgarians". Here are some links: novinite.com/articles/117903/…
    – Ziezi
    Jan 27, 2016 at 21:12
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    @simplicisveritatis - I did look over the DNA studies available for both peoples when writing this. However, I'm of the opinion that for most questions about a "people", what we care about is their cultural lineage, not genetic, and for that information language is our best fingerprint. The classic example here is modern Americans, whose genetics will be shown to be all over the globe, but whose language clearly identifies their culture as derived from the English (and ultimately Indo-European), with only borrowings from elsewhere.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 27, 2016 at 21:58
  • Language and culture are indeed great criteria. In that case, your answer seems to be complete. :)
    – Ziezi
    Jan 27, 2016 at 22:09
  • I was said that DNA analysis of present-day hungarians evidenced the importance of slavic strains. Are there references confirming or invalidating it ? Jan 12, 2022 at 21:29
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    @Greg - Right. But of course a tribe still has to communicate, so someone's language will win out, and its almost always going to be the one that's the most culturally dominant in the new unit. Which is why language will serve us where genetics will fail.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 24, 2022 at 3:35

There is a difference between a Bulgar and a Bulgarian.

A Bulgar was a member of a medieval group of nomads which traveled west through Asia and into Europe.

A Bulgarian is a modern day citizen of a country called Bulgaria.

Modern Bulgarians are mostly descended from a mixture of Roman citizens of various ethnic origins living in the northeastern part of the Balkans, and Slavic invaders and immigrants from the north who settled there over generations from about AD 600; with a smaller mixture of Bulgar ancestors who, generations after the Slavs did, invaded and settled in what eventually became Bulgaria.

So any modern Bulgarian is mostly descended from people who were in Bulgaria before the Bulgars arrived, and only with a small percentage of descent from the Bulgars.

The Bulgars who arrived in Bulgaria arrived from Old Great Bulgaria, the latest place that their ancestors had settled in.

The Bulgars (also Bulghars, Bulgari, Bolgars, Bolghars, Bolgari,[1] Proto-Bulgarians[2]) were Turkic semi-nomadic warrior tribes that flourished in the Pontic–Caspian steppe and the Volga region during the 7th century. They became known as nomadic equestrians in the Volga-Ural region, but some researchers say that their ethnic roots can be traced to Central Asia.[3] During their westward migration across the Eurasian steppe, the Bulgar tribes absorbed other ethnic groups and cultural influences in a process of ethnogenesis, including Indo-European, Finno-Ugric and Hunnic tribes.[4][5][6][7][8][9] Modern genetic research on Central Asian Turkic people and ethnic groups related to the Bulgars points to an affiliation with Western Eurasian populations.[9][10][11] The Bulgars spoke a Turkic language, i.e. Bulgar language of Oghuric branch.[12] They preserved the military titles, organization and customs of Eurasian steppes,[13] as well as pagan shamanism and belief in the sky deity Tangra.[14]

The Bulgars became semi-sedentary during the 7th century in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, establishing the polity of Old Great Bulgaria c. 635, which was defeated by the Khazar Empire in 668 AD.

In c. 679, Khan Asparukh conquered Scythia Minor, opening access to Moesia, and established the Danubian Bulgaria - the First Bulgarian Empire, where the Bulgars became a political and military elite. They merged subsequently with established Byzantine populations,[15][16] as well as with previously settled Slavic tribes, and were eventually Slavicized, thus forming the ancestors of modern Bulgarians.[17]

The remaining Pontic Bulgars migrated in the 7th century to the Volga River, where they founded the Volga Bulgaria; they preserved their identity well into the 13th century.[12] The Volga Tatars and Chuvash people claim to have originated from the Volga Bulgars.[12][18]


And before that they came from places farther east, like many other nomadic groups.

Anyway, the Wikipedia article is a first place to start researching the origins of the Bulgars.


  • The Chuvash language is the only living language which is directly related to the original language of the Bolgars - and has nothing to do with the current Bulgarian language which is a Slavic language - only a handful of words survive. They were semi-nomadic - they had a capital but were living mostly off hunting instead of agriculture.
    – mmomtchev
    Jan 14, 2022 at 10:05

Bulgarians are descents of Slavic peoples who migrated to the balkans and various Eastern Roman citizens (Thracians,illyrians and Greeks). In the year 680AD, a semi-nomadic peoples from a country called old greate Bulgaria migrated to the balkans, they joind forces with the slavs to fight the romans and then established Bulgaria in 681 AD. The Bulgars ruled the country as an elite minorety over the much larger Slavic population of the state. But like all peoples from the steppes they begane to adopte the cultures and langueges of the peoples they ruled and thus ceased to exist as people because they bacame slavs. (PS They were not Turkish but they did speak a language that was part of the Turkic language tree.)

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    Welcome to HSE. Adding sources to your answer would improve it a lot. Jan 23, 2022 at 19:33

The modern Bulgarians are by DNA a mixture of 55% old Balkan,30.5% Nordic and Germanic,13% Slavic/eastern European, 1.5% central asian population. The so called Bulgars were a small 30 000 people tribe called Utigurs who were part of the Empire of the Huns, and later the Panonian Avars.The tribes that split from the Avar empire could not longer be called Avars and were called Bulgars. The Huns, the Avars and the Bulgars who split from them all spoke the language called Old Bulgarian or Church Slavonic language. The Serb and Croats were the foot soldiers of the Avar Empire, The Bulgars(called Kutrigurs, Honogurs and Utigurs) were the cavalry troops of the Avar Empire. Only 30 000 Bulgars migrated to Modern North Eastern Bulgaria under Kanas ubigi Ispor(Asparuh).The regions above Thessaly in the Balkans spoke the old Bulgarian language, this was not a language which the invading Slavic people imposed over the local population and the Bulgars, it was the predominantly spoken language in the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe. The 7 century Migrating Bulgars were of Sarmatian origin and lived originally in the area between Don and Kuban Rivers, they were not of Turk or Mongol origin. There is a lot of information about the different nations in the Roman Da Aministrando Imperio, both Hun and Avar empires were described as speaking old Bulgarian Language or the so called nowadays Slavic language.


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