European Royalty: Bulgaria

The Bulgars invaded and soon dominated the Balkans in the 7th century. They accepted Christianity under Tsar Boris I in the 9th cetury. Tsar Simeon greatly expanded Bulgarian territory in the 10th century. The Christian kindoms in Bulgaria and the rest of the Balkans were conquered by the Ottomon Turks in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Bulgarian royal dynasty was restablished in the 19th century after the decline of Ottomon rule. A member of the German royal family was selected for the Bulgarian monarchy.


The Bulgarian monarchy was one of the most recently established in Europe. Bulgarian history, however, extend unto the era of ore-history and is inter-woven with the tumultuous history of the Balkans. One complication in studying Bulkgarian history is that the area now referred to as modern Bulgaria has been inhabited by many different peoples.


Archeologists have found artifacts from primitive people living in the area of modern Bulgaria during the Neolithic era (40,000-10,000 BC). Bulgaria has a black Sea coast with it shares with several other countries. Many archeologists believe that the Neolithic people that lived along the coast were decimated by a great flood at the close of the last age when the higher level Mediterrean broke through what is now the Dardenelles/Bosporous to flood the Black Sea basin. Some archeologists believe that this may be the origins of the Great Flood tradition which many peoples of the Middle East (including the Hebrews) report in their traditions. The Thracian people from the east moved into the Thrace Valley of modern Bulgaria (about 3000 BC). The Thracians were cattle herders, but they were notble for ceramics and metal working (gold and copper). They traded with the neighboring people of the Balkans at the time: Dacians (Romania), Mycenneans (Greece/Crete), Illyrians (Albania) and the Macedonians (southern Bulgaria/Northern Greece/southern Yugoslavia).The Thracians initially controlled an area extending west to the Adriatic, but over time were pushed east and north by the Illyrians (1300 BC) and Macedonians (500 BC). Greek colonies such as Byzantium were founded, but the Thracians did not become Helenized.

Ancient history

Bulgarian history has been dominated by the location of Bulgaria on a crossroads between Europe and Asia. Waves of migrations swept back and forth from both Asia and Europe turing the plains of Thrace, Moesia, Macedonia and the Balkan mountains into intensly contested battlefields. The area now known as Bulgaria has been settled by many different peoples. the Odrysses, established the first sophisticated Thracian state (about 300 BC). It was centered on the area of modern Bulgaria for two centuries. They fought off invasions from northern and eastern peoples (Scythians, Sarmatians, and Celts). Philip II of Macedonia conquered souther Thrace (342 BC). The Macedonians under Alexander foused their attention on Persia and Asia. Lycimachus ruled much of the refion (after 323 BC). After finally destroying Cathage, the Romans expanded east, moving into Greece and the rest of the Balkans. The key battle was Cynoscephalae (197 BC) in which the Romans defeated Philip V of Macedonia. The Roman also targeted Thrace and had conquered the area (1st century BC). Spartacus who led the last of the Sevile Wars was a Thracian. Thrace prospered within the Empire, but was afected by the Batbarian invasuons (3rd century AD). The Visigoths, Huns and Ostrogoths moved into the area and many Thracian villages and Romanized towns were burned and plundered. When the Roman Empire split, the Balkans became a part of the Eastern or Byzantine Empire. A Visagothic army at Adrianople (378 AD) decisively ended Roman control over Thrace. With the decline of Roman military power, invasions by Barbarians tribes, especially the Huns, driven west by the Chinese, left Bulgaria a devastated wasteland. The Huns in particular devestated large areas of Thrace as tactic to demand more tribute from the Byzantines.

Slavs and Bulgars (500-650 AD)

Moderm Bulgaria is today peopled primarily by Slavs and Bulgars. Both of these people moved in to Thrace or the area of modern Bulgaria after the declibe of both the Romans and Huns. Slavic tribes. Slavic tribes moved into the Balkans from the north and east (about 500 AD). The Slavs settled the Danube Plain (Moesia Region). The Byzantines tried to reconquer this former territory of the Roman Empire. The Slavic tribes to resist the Byzanties united as never before to form a Slavonic state. Somewhat later the Bulgars, a fierce Turkic people, living on the Russian Plains were pushed west. Some of the Bulgars under Tartar Khan Asparuh settled on the Thracian plain (about 650 AD). What we are less sure about is what happened to the Thracians and other residebnt population when the Slavs and Turkic people arived. The Bulgars crossed the Danube and moved south to found the First Bulgarian Empire (679 AD). This was the first modern Bulgarian state. The Tartars and Slavs united to fight the Byzantines who they defeated in a major battle (681 AD). The Bulgarian state was ruled by a Tartar khan supported by Slavic and Bulgar nobels. Over two centuries the Slavs and Bulgars assimilated forging a new Bulgar mational identity. Although called Bulgars, the name of the Turkic tribe, the original Turkic Bulgars were gradually assimilated by the more numerous Slavs, and adopted their language and way of life. The Bulgars were thus thus more associated with the Slavic cultural tradition. Treaties were negotiated with Byzantium. The Bulgars over time, however, expanded south taking more and more of Byzantium's Balkan lands. The Bulgars seized Macedonia (9th century).

Bulgarian Christian kingdoms (865-1393/96)

Tsar Boris I converted to Christianity (865 AD). One source reports that a Byzantine monk painted a picture of hell on the palace walls frighten Boris into accepting Orthodox Christianity. Many Bulgars object to this characterization as mocking the Tsar and suggesting that his choice of Christianity was unreasoned. There were important cultural and political reasons that influenced Boris to convert the Bulgarians to Christianity. [Cherneva] It was his rule that encoureged that the Cyrilic alphabet was invented and spread. A substantial part part of the European population uses this alphabet. Tsar Simeon (893-927) expanded his kingdom. At his time Bulgaria experienced a "Golden Age" since Bulgaria experienced amazing cultural progress and geographically possesed the areas between three seas surrounding the Balkans - Black, Aegean and Adriatic. Simeon was crowned as an 'Emperor of Bulgarians and Romans' by the Patriarch in Constantinople (913). [Cherneva] The Byzantine Emperor, Basil II gained a decisive military victory and had the eyes of 15,000 Bulgarian soldiers put out (1014). Bulgaria came under Byzantine rule in 1018. A Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) was created when two brothers, Asen and Peter, led a general uprising against Byzantium. The Second Empire extended over Thrace, Macedonia and Albania. It was Tsar Ivan II (Ivan Asen) (1218-1241) who extended the Bulgarian empire over the largest area. He conqquered virtually the entire Balkan Peninsula, except for Greece in the extreme South which remained under Byzantine control. After Iban II, Bulgaria declined and was confronted with a rising Srbian Christian kingdom. Macedonian which had been part of Bulgaria was conquered by Serbia (1330). Fighting between the two Christian kingdoms weakened both.

The Ottoman Empire

Gradually the Otomon Turks became the dominate power in the Islamic world. The Ottomons presed on the Byzatines, taking Constanople in 1453. They then conquered the Balkans, driving deep into Europe, only beeing stopped at the gates of Vienna. The Ottoman Turks in 1453 seized Constantinople and by 1460 controlled most of Greece. Thousands of Greeks went into exile in Christain Europe and had an important influence on the European Renaissance. The Ottomons conquered Mesopotamia in 1533. For the next three centuries, the regional Christan powers (Venice, Austria, and Russia) warred intermitently with the Turks and Greece changed hands several times.

Ottoman conquest (1352-1396)

The Ottoman conquest of Christian southeast Europe began in 1352. An Ottoman force sailed through Hellespont (Dardanelles) separating Europe from Asia, and took Tsimpe, a small Byzantine fort. The first two assaults in the 8th century and the turn of the 13th century failed. The third Ottoman invasion was very different. The increasing internal feudal disorders in Bulgaria weakened the Bulgarian state. Thus the Bulgars were unable to effectively resist Ottoman armies. The Ottomons defeated both Bulgarian and Serbian Christian armies. The Serbs were defeated at Kosovo (1389). An Ottomon campaign succeeded in taking two-thirds of Bulgar territory (1393). The Ottomans destroyed Veliko Tārnovo. Despite heroic resistance at Vidin, another Ottoman victory at Nikopol (1396) allowed them to sweep over the remaining Bulgarian territory. Both Bulgaria and Serbia were was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria became the Ottomon province of Roumelia. Ottomon rule over the Balkans was finalized with the fall of Constaninople (1453).

Ottoman rule

Bulgaria like most of the other medieval Christian states in the Balkans were overcome by the Ottomans and absorbed into their Empire during the l4th and l5th centuries. The Ottomans were only finally stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Ottoman rule in the Balkans was oppressive, although accounts vary widely. It seems fair to describe Ottomon administration as oppresive, but within the context that they were much less oppressive than comparable measures in Western Christendom. There were numerous unsuccesful rebellions by their Christian subjects. The Ottomans conducted a sustained campaign to to destroy Bulgarian Christianity and the Bulgarian language, major components of Bulgarian nationalism. The Turks recognized Christianity as a legitimate religion in the Empire. They recognized Orthodox Eastern Church in Constantinople and the Patriarch there as the sumprme Christian authority which served to undercut the Bulgarian Church and Bulgarian culture. The construction of churches were restricted and not permitted to rival mosques. Modern Bulgarian historians emphasized the taking of Christian children who were converted to Islam and made Ottomon administrators or the fierce Janissaries, a major component of the Ottomon Empire. The revulsion of this practice by modern historians probably was not as strongly felt at the time. As a result of Ottoman promotion of Islam, sometimes through the sword. This appears to have been especially the case in the Rhodopes. More commonly the Ottomons used economic and social measures to promoye conversions. Some Bulgarians, as a result, converted to Islam. Most Bulgarians, however, clung to their Christian faith. A Bulgarian reader disagrees with this interpretation. Ottomon rule in the Balkans is a matter of considerable controversy, strongly colored by recent Balkan history. A Bulgarian reader writes, "I totaly, radically and undoubtedly disagree with your description. The Bulgarians were torchured and murdered in case they did not convert. It was definately systematic!!! It was done purposely." There is no doubt that the Ottomons were oppressive rulers. There were numerous incidebnts of brutality, especially when repressing rebellions. The Ottomon conquest, however, was not a Holocaust. The Christians of the Balkans were allowed to retain their Christianity. The proof of this is that only in Albania did the population become predominately Muslim. This is in sharp contrast to Christian practices, such as the forced conversion and expulsion of the Moors from Spain (1492). Nowhere in Christian dominated Europe was Islam tolerated.

Independence movement

Bulgaria's desire for independence began to grow in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Bulgarian historians call this the national revival. Here the French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic Wars may have been a factor. Increasing Russian pressure on the Ottomans may have been another factor. An increasingly asertive Bulgarian nationl spirit can be seen in the work of artists and craftsmen. Traders began to increasingly turn toward Western markets, although Ottoman authorities placed limitations on such trade. As Turkish power weakened Bulgarians began to suffer rising taxes and inflation, the result of unsuccessful Turkish wars against the Austrians and the Russians. Resentment against the Turks grew. It was at this time that the Ottomans introduced reforms aimed at assimilating the Bulgarians. The Bulgarians were not, however, by the early 19th century at all interested in assimilation. Many Bulgarians had begun to think of independence. The Bugarians by the 19th century in a National Revival with a revived interest in popular customs and folklore. Clandestine revolutionary groups began plotting against the Turks. Some Bulgarians became the Haiduks or bandits/highway men who oprerated from mountain hideouts where Ottoman authorities were increasingly reluctant to veture. This was another factor on weakening the Ottoman hold on Bulgaria. Today the Haiduks are remembered in Bulgarian folk songs A good example is Širto dance with the inspirational song "Sleznai Paule ot Balkana" (Sleznai Paule of the Balkans). The Crimean War (1853-56) temporarily reduced Russian pressure on the Ottomans, but the independence movement in Bulgaria continued to grow. The Bulgarian Church achieved independence from the Greek Patriarchate (1870). was successful. Vasil Levsky helped organize revolutionary committees throughout the country. Ottoman officials arrested him (1873). They hanged him, but his revolutionary network was firmly ebtrenched. Kristov Botev (1848-76) wrote nationalist poems while leading an armed band. He died in the Pirin mountains. Bulgarian revolutionaries launched a revolt at Koprivshtitsa (April 1876). The Turks suppressed the revolt with great brutality. The Turks massacred about 15,000 people at Plovdiv. This city is today of a notable Bulgarian boys' choir.) The Ottomans also destroyed 58 in supressing the revolt.

Russo-Turkish War (1877-78)

European public opinion was outraged at the Turkish attrocities. The Europens led by Russia decided to intervene and declared war. The Russians were joined by both the Romanians and Bulgarians forces. The Bulgarians call this the War of Independence. The resulting Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) destroyed Ottoman power in the Balkans. Russia alone suffered 0.2 million casulties in the resulting war. The Russian army advanced to within 50km of Istanbul before the Ottomans sued for peace. The War was ended with the Peace of San Stefano. Bulgarian natiionalists were disappointed as Bulgaria was partitioned. The Ottomn's ceded 60 percent of their Balkan territories to Bulgaria. Sofia became the capital of Bulgaria, but the Turks regained control over Macedonia, Thrace, and Eastern Roumelia. The Ottomon state might have been destroyed at partitioned at this time if the Great Powes had been able to decided on how to do this. The Russians wanted the straits (the Bosporus and Dardenelles) for their Black Sea warm water ports, but the British and French were determined to keep the straits out of Russian hands.

Modern Bulgaria

The modern Bulgarian state originated with the defeat of Ottoman Turk forces by the Russian Army and Bulgarian volunteers in 1878-79. The great powers intervened to prevent the creation of a strong Bulgarian state under the influence of the Russians. Instead a Bulgarian state was created which was nominally left under the jurisdiction of the Ottomans and two other liberated areas were returned to the Ottomans. Still some of Bulgaria was libetated and a Bularian nation created.

Bulgarian Monarchs

The Bulagarian monarchs have come from German families, despite the fact that Bulagria was in large part created by the Russian Tsars in their wars with the Ottoman Turks.

Prince Alexander (1879- )

The First Grand National Assembly (the Bulgarian Parliament) in 1879 elected the German prince Alexander of Battenberg as prince of Bulgaria. The Prince had had participated in the Liberation War, which earned him some initial respect in Bulgaria and Russia. Prince Alexander objected to the Principality's democratic constitution and attempted to institute royal authority. This led to an unstable political situation. Some of the Bulgarian populated areas controlled by the Ottomans were united with the Principality after a popular insurection in 1885. Prince Alexander became attached to the Prussian Princess Victoria, daughter of Frederich III. Princess Victoria was Prince Alexander were supported by The Crown Princess Victorria as well as Queen Victoria. Within the family, Prince Alexander was called Sandro. Prince Wilhelm objected on family grounds. Bismarck for political reasons. He wanted to maintain Prussia's alliance with Russia. Bulgarian hostilities with Serbia followed, instigated by Austria. Finally pro-Russian elements staged a coup, arrested Alexander, and sent him to Russia. A counter-coup brought the prince back to Sofia. However, the Russian Czar's opposition eventually forced Alexander to abdicate. The Battenburg name would appear again, this time in English history and in the anti-German World War I histeria would be changed to Mountbatten. His brother was Prince Louis of Battenberg

Figure 1.--This colorized photograph shows the King Ferndinand I and Queen Clementine d'Orleans with Prince Boris. The portrait is undated, but was probably taken about 1898. Prince Boris is still wearing dresses.

Prince/King Ferninand (1887-1918)

Ferdinand's father was August of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1818- ). His mother was French Princess Antoinette (Antonia) Kohary (1797- ). Ferdinand had four brothers and sisters. Ferdinand married Marie Louise (Bourbon) of Parma in 1893. Ferdinand and Marie Louise had four children. Boris III (1894- ) was the eldest. Prince Alexander who was a member of the Hessian royal family and a nephew of Tsar Alexander II. After he was ousted, Ferdinad was elected by the Bulgraians creating an international incident because several countries, especially the Russians objected. Its prime minister Stefan Stambolov used his iron hand to smother the Russofile army and political opposition in the country. Substantial areas populated by Bulgarians remained outside the Principality. Insurections were brutally suppresed by the Ottomans. An internal crisis in Turkey during 1908 which resulted in the "Young Turks" coming to power, made the Bulgarians hurry. Taking advantage of the sultan's dethronement in that same year, Bulgaria declared its legal independence and became a kingdom. Up to that point, it had formally existed as an independent principality under the nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria had been planning a war with the Ottomans for years. Finally they succeded in reaching an alliance with Serbia and Greece and in the First Balkan War defeated the Ottomans. King Ferndinand remained neutral in 1914, but finally joined the War on the side of the Central Powers (Germany and Austria). The Bulgarians achieved some success. The outbreak of the socialist revolution in Russia during 1917 and the Bolshevik ideas for peace and social change were gaining some popularity among the Bulgarian workers and farmers. The collapse of Germany and Austria in 1918 allowed the Allies to increase pressure on Bulgaria. Army units mutinied and almost seized Sofia in an effort to remove Ferdinand, but failed. The government was forced to seek a truce with the Allies. An armistice was concluded in September 1918. The peace which followed saw the loss of additional territories. Ferdinad was forced to abdicate in October 1918. He was, however, the only monarch of one of the Central Powers who succeded in saving the throne for his dynasty.

Borris III (1918-43)

Boris III's father was Ferdinand I of Saxe-Coburg-Goth, King of Bulgaria. Boris wore dresses as a little boy. As an older boy, kneepants sailor suits seem to have been a popular outfit for both him and his broyther. Prince Boris and Cyril were commonly dressed in identical or similar outfits. Borris III was crowned in 1918 after the abdication of his father. Bulgaria's disastrous participation in World War I had made King Ferdinand very unpopular. Boris was only about 24 years old when he became king. The King was forced to assume executive authority as Fascism grew in power. The King tried to keep Bulgaria out of World War II, but with the German Army on the border, he was forced to declare war on Britain and America and to provide war materials. Despite intense German pressure, he refused to declare war on the Soviet Union or to turn over Bulgaria's Jews to the NAZIs. King Boris died under misterious conditions in 1943, possibly as a result of a hear attack or perhaps more sinister causes. His young son Prince Simeon, who was only 6 years old, was left to deal with the Germans and advancing Soviet Army.

Simeon II (1943-46)

Simeon Borissov Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born in 1937. As heir to the throne, Simeon was given the title Prince of Tirnovo. He spent his early childhood with his parents and elder sister Princess Marie-Louise, in the palace of Vrana, near Sofia, where he began school. He succeeded his popular father, Boris III, as king of Bulgaria during World War II in 1943. A regency was forned as he was only 6-years old at the time. The Germans were already retreating in Ruissia at the time. The Red Army reached Bulgaria in 1944. After the occupation by the Red Army, King Simeon remained the nominal ruler under a new council of regents. Power of course was in thehands of the occupying Russians. The Russians in 1946 rigged a plebiscite which abolished the monarchy. Bulgaria became one of the Russians' Eastern European satellites. The 9-year old king went into exile. The Royal exiles sailed to Alexandria, Egypt, where the young King went to Victoria College, a British school (1951-57). He then attended the Lycee Francais, Madrid, Spain (1958-59), Valley Forge Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania (1959-62). He specialized in Business Administration and Law courses. He married in 1962 and has five children. He speaks Bulgarian, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and fair knowledge of Arabic and Portuguese. His religion is Eastern Orthodox. He became a Spamish businessman.


Cherneva, Iveto. E-mail message, February 15, 2004.


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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 12:05 AM 3/17/2005