A closer look at Bulgaria.
If you are anything like us you are probably aware of the existence of Bulgaria and may know that it is located in eastern Europe, but not much else. I’ve always enjoyed studying history and wanted to take a closer look at the country we would be adopting from. I thought I might share some of what I’ve learned with you.
First you should know that Bulgaria sits to the northwest of Turkey, it has a small coastline along the Black Sea which hosts a few seaside resorts. Along with Turkey, Bulgaria shares borders with Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece. This gives you a setting to understand some of the history in the region.
Bulgarians trace their ethnicity back to three groups who lived in the area all the way back to the Paleolithic period. These people are credited with some of the oldest cave drawings in history, and may be some of the first times humans represented other objects in drawings. Additionally, artifacts discovered at the Varna Necropolis contains the oldest gold treasure ever discovered.
In the 6th century BC, Bulgaria was conquered by the Persians. It was common practice at the time for the Persians to allow local rulers to remain in power, meaning Bulgaria was probably semi-sovereign state within the Persian empire. The Persians are also known for incorporating local forces into their military. They often took whatever a nation did best in their military and had them perform the same duties in service of the Persian empire. All of this means that it is possible, even likely, that Bulgarians fought on the side of the Persians against the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae, which you may know as the story of the 300.
It was after the Persian defeat in Greece that the first kingdom would arise in Bulgaria. The Thracian people united several tribes in the region to gain power. This became known as the Odryisian kingdom. The Thracians would rule for a time, but soon Phillip II of Macedon (whose son was Alexander the Great) would conquer much of the land. However, the Thracians were never entirely eradicated. The Celts would invade and set up a kingdom that lasted for a short time, but was soon overthrown by the Thracians. They would remain independent until Rome rose to power.
The Romans would have trouble exercising rule in the region, facing opposition from various Celtic and Thracian tribes. Through political maneuvers the Romans gradually brought the area further into their sphere of influence, and the area would be completely subjugated to Rome by 46AD.
For the next 6 centuries the area would remain under Roman, and then Byzantine control. In 680 some Bulgar tribes were able to conquer some of the land that is present day Bulgaria and obtain a peace treaty with the Byzantine empire. This would become the First Bulgarian Empire. Gradually the Bulgars would mix with the local population and this is when the local Slavic language began to develop. Under Simeon the Great the First Bulgarian Empire reached its territorial zenith. But the wars to conquer this land would weaken them and the Byzantines reconquered the area in 1018.
A Second Bulgarian Empire would be established in 1185, and the capital of Tarnovo would be known as a “third Rome” during a period where Constantinople was beginning to fall. It was throughout this period and under Byzantine rule that orthodox Christianity would spread through the region, most Bulgarians to this day continue to hold orthodox Christian views. This empire would not last long and by the end of the 14th century, with Europe having fallen into the dark ages, the Ottoman Turks would hold power over the land.
Despite several rebellions against Ottoman rule, the area would remain under their control until 1878 when Russia would wage war against the Turks along with Bulgarian support. The result of this war would be the establishment of the Bulgarian state we know today. The Bulgarians would become increasingly militarized and would become one of four states that waged war against the Ottoman Empire and win in the first Balkan War, but would then become dissatisfied with their spoils of that war and wage a second war against their former allies and lose in the second Balkan War. By this time World War I had nearly broken out, and the three consecutive major conflicts left the economy and population in disrepair.
Tsar Boris III would take advantage of the situation and establish a dictatorship between the world wars. Boris III would take the country into World War II as a member of the Axis powers, aligning with Germany, Italy, and Japan. But the Bulgarian people should be proud of their actions during the war. They refused to participate in the invasion of Russia. And then staging massive protests throughout the country to save the approximately 50,000 Jews from deportation. Political and religious leaders went so far as threatening to lie on the rails of “Holocaust trains” in order to stop them from sending Jews to concentration camps. Boris III finally agreed to take measures to save the Bulgarian Jews. He managed to convince Eichmann and Hitler that Bulgarian Jews were needed for construction projects in Bulgaria, and thus saved them from certain death in Nazi extermination camps.
Following World War II Bulgaria would fall under Soviet influence, the government established a people’s republic ruled over by the Communist party. The economy struggled initially but gained some ground during a period of increased economic freedom throughout 1950s to the 1980s. Then with the fall of the Soviet Union the economy would be greatly harmed and did not recover until the early 2000s largely due to government corruption. The government would take several reform measures and in 2007 joined the European Union.