It goes without saying that when the object of study is a period if nearly 700 years, all events can be presented only in progress. The development the Bulgarians had undergone over the 700-year span is truly unbelievable. They had quickly overtaken peoples with whom they had the same start in the Altai steppes, including their 'cousins' the Avars, the Pechenegs, the Lizes and the Cumans.

Undoubtedly, the Bulgarians used to be Nomads in their homeland. This does not mean, as many wrongly believe, that they lived on horseback and in carts or were travelling somewhere all the time. In the academic language 'Nomaddom' is a term which means a manner of production applied by peoples whose basic occupation is cattle-breeding. The Nomads, like other types of race, had permanent settlements where they used to spend winter only. During the remaining three seasons the men and the grown-up children used to move all the time with their herds along the territory of the tribe in search of pastures. Those engaged in cattle-breeding in the Bulgarian lands kept doing it up till the Balkan Wars. The women in the towns of Kotel and Zheravna, as is well-known, saw their husbands and their grown-up boys only from Christmas onwards, at most until the end of February. The rest of the time they spent with their flocks in Dobrudja. Similar was the situation in the towns of Smolyan, Shiroka Luka and Dospat. The only difference was that the men there used to take their sheep to Aegian Thrace.

The Nomad way of life was adopted by one hundred percent of the population in the Altai, whereas in the new settlements - the north Black Sea plains and the Crimea - this percentage was considerably lower. The Bulgarians who had established themselves there for a period of 300 years, built big stone towns and forts, and developed substantial ore production and metallurgy. They needed significant, for the time, quantities of metal for arms and for agricultural tools. Yes, indeed, for agricultural tools, because archeological excavations have proved beyond doubt, that not a few of the Bulgarian population had begun cultivating the land, sowing and reaping. Moreover, some seeds discovered during excavations have centuries long selection aimed at obtaining high-yielding varieties.

The achievements of the Bulgarians during that time astonished even their contemporaries. In amazement, Armenian historians wrote that to the north of the Caucasus only the Bulgarians had stone towns while all other peoples were living in huts, dugouts and tents. Metal production enabled them to arm and cover with shields not only the warriors but also their horses. Some skills and achievements of the Bulgarian physicians, e.g. complicated skull operations, or of the mathematicians, e.g. the surprisingly exact calendar, are highly admired by the respective experts even today.

Indeed, the economic and technological advancement of the Bulgarians in comparison with other barbarian peoples, was neither due to their racial superiority nor to them being chosen by God. Both in the past and at present, there have been peoples who choose to shut themselves out, rejecting anything foreign, while other peoples are eager to adopt and develop further any borrowed ideas, cultures and technologies. Obviously, the Bulgarians were a people of the second type. Besides everything else, they had been lucky living where the borders of the world's greatest civilizations of China, India, Persia and Byzantium lay. It was from them that they learned to the full about everything useful in any sphere of life.

It is difficult to say anything about their type of race from the 4th century AD onwards. Present-day Bulgarians'general idea about their ancestors as short, crooked-legged mongoloids was never confirmed either by ancient written sources or by archeological excavations. Even the Byzantines who did not like them, had not written about such type of race among the olden Bulgarians. Ancient foreign writers used to describe the Bulgarians as tall and slender people with extraordinary bodily strength and stamina. An ancient Arab geographer even complained that ten Arabs could not fight one Bulgarian. Archeological excavations of Bulgarian necropolises in Pliska, Kiulevcha, Novi Pazar and in other sites, dating from the 7th through the 9th centuries AD have shown that the average height of the Bulgarians buried there was 1.75 m (five feet ten), whereas the average height of the Europeans at that time was 1.60 m (five feet four).

Neither the height nor the physical strength of the Bulgarians spoke of anything unusual. It has long been proven that the height is in direct proportion to meat consumption and physical exercise. The large highly productive herds provided an abundance of meat for the Bulgarian menu while the military service and the hard labour in the fields gave them the physical exercise.

The Turks, as is known, are not mongoloids either. It is quite doubtful though, that even the Turkic race type had survived in the three centuries of settled life between the Caucasus, the Black and the Caspian seas. The infinitely open and flexible system of the society discussed hereinafter attracted a lot of people from other nations, who had been driven out or had run away themselves for various reasons. In the Black Sea littoral the Bulgarians assimilated thousands of Sarmatians and Scythians. On each of their numerous campaigns in Central Europe and to the south of the Danube, they kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children - Germanics, Slavs, Thracians, Romans and Greeks - who were all gradually integrated into the Bulgarian society without a vestige of discrimination. Thus, talking about a distinct Bulgarian type of race at the time of Khan Kubrat, the founder of the Bulgarian state, would simply be impossible. According to some linguists the name 'Bulgars' itself means 'mixture', i.e. a mixture, or a blend of people from different peoples. The religion of the Bulgarians back in their homeland was animistic. The cult of the ancestors, quackery, shamanism and the faith in the supreme God Tangra merged all into one. However, in the community itself, there ruled a remarkable religious tolerance. Both the archeological excavations and the documentary evidence testify that among the Bulgarians at the time of their settlement in the Black Sea littoral there had been Christians and Buddhists, as well as Jews. To all appearances Khan Kubrat himself was a Christian, and so were other khans of the pagan period of the Bulgarian state.

Special attention should be paid to the military organization of the Bulgarians. The army consisted of all physically strong and battle-fit men but, in critical times, young women were also known to have been recruited. It may be from those days that we have inherited the currently popular view that he who has not done his military service is no real man. Stringent customary rules turned later into a law, stipulated the rights and obligations of the military men and, in many respects, that law is very close to contemporary army statutes. The troops were mainly horse-mounted. Besides the light cavalry which was customary with the peoples in the steppes, the Bulgarians had contingents of heavily-armed soldiers with both men and horses covered in chain-mail armour made of iron on felt. A blow delivered by the heavily armed cavalry (in Khan Krum's times at the beginning of the 9th century it was about 30,000-strong) could be compared with the effect of the blow a contemporary tank army would have on lightly-armed infantry divisions. In fact, the repeated Bulgarian victories over Byzantium were mainly due to the blows struck by the heavy cavalry. The Byzantine army had never had more than 400 heavily-armed warriors on horseback.

The armaments of the Bulgarians consisted of swords, battle axes, knives and javelins for the heavy cavalry, and lances for the light cavalry, as well as of heavy bows and arrows.

Relying solely on their troops the Bulgarians managed to survive in the turmoils of the Great Migration of the peoples and then lived to see their sidereal day.

The Bulgarians << | Pre-State Bulgarian Culture | >> The Birth of Bulgaria

Translated from the book "Bulgaria Illustrated History" by Maria Nikolotva
text used here with permission from translator, save modifications for noding

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