The contemporary Bulgarian is obsessed by the notion that in the middle of the 6th century AD the Bulgarians living between the Caucasus, the Black and Caspian seas were conquered and then fell under the yoke of the Turkic khanate. This is not very precise and it is not true either, at least in terms of the modern definitions of the words 'conquered' and 'yoke'. The relationship between the ancient peoples and their rulers often had dimensions which could not be fitted into the parameters of present-day notions and interpretations.

The truth is that in 567-568 AD Khagan Sildjibu, a supreme ruler of the so-called Turkic khanate (state type formation, established in the Altai region by means of uniting many Turkic tribes none of which could dominate over the others) forced the Bulgarians, the Khazars and the Belenzers to join his Turkish empire. The very nature of this state association excluded 'slavery' as an option for the Bulgarians. The Bulgarian tribal chieftains were neither killed nor driven away. They continued to govern their tribes. What was more, perhaps for the first time ever, they were able to see their tribes united. For, it is known that the Turkic khanate, though governed only by one ruler, was divided into eight semi-independent parts which were ruled by governors chosen from among their own people. For instance, such a governor was Gostun, mentioned in the Enrolment List of the Bulgarian khans. As early as 581 AD, as a consequence of the internal skirmishes for the throne, the khanate fell apart to form two separate khanates - eastern and western. The Bulgarians who found themselves in the western khanate had probably been, or had gradually become, the multitude of the population. Their leaders started fighting to attain the supreme power.

It seems that similar to their confreres in the Avar khanate, they did not succeed, but acted much more wisely. In 632 AD they united under Kubrat, leader of one of the tribes, broke loose from the khanate and then founded a state. Byzantine authors-contemporaries of those events, do mention a state, too. They even attribute it as 'Great'. Evidently, having observed it they noticed all signs characteristic of a state, i.e. borders, territory, economy, state structure, independent centralized rule and legislation. All these distinguished it from the tribal alliance which would, only provisionally, gather together in order to raid and plunder some province of the Byzantine empire or some other tribe which had also become rich from looting.

It can only be regretted that the historical sources lack any verbosity when referring to the first head of the Bulgarian state.

The earliest Bulgarian chronicle, the Enrolment List of the Bulgarian khans, informs us that he was from the Dubo clan. The chronicle of the Byzantine patriarch Nicephorus who lived a century later, states that he was Organa's nephew. As to who Organa was, it could undoubtedly be said that he was an important person the ancients had known but had failed to tell about. It is only logical to assume that he had probably been a proxy of the western part of the Turkic khanate, comprising Bulgarian tribes as well.

It is difficult to specify the exact date of Khan Kubrat's birth. Another Byzantine writer tells us that in his childhood Kubrat was sent to Constantinople for reasons unknown. He grew up in the palace of the emperor. There he was baptized as a Christian. Comparing the scanty data, the historians surmised that khan Kubrat had lived in Constantinople between 610-632 AD. The uncertainties concerning the reasons why, as a child, he had been sent to the capital of the Eastern Roman empire, can be reduced to two logical possibilities: to be made a hostage or to be given education as in the case of tsar Simeon who was sent there two and a half centuries later. Kubrat could not have been a hostage since the Bulgarian tribes did not exist independently therefore, the decision as to whether there would be war with Byzantium or not did not rest with them. If Byzantium were in any position at all to require hostages from the west Turkic khanate, it would ask for the son of the ruler. This leads to the only assumption remaining that Kubrat's famous uncle had sent him out there to study.

Twenty two years of one's life spent in Constantinople - the capital city of the European civilization in that remote epoch and for some centuries after, could be experienced in many different ways. For example, one could easily indulge in the merry and carefree life bubbling over the renowned Constantinople pubs full of frivolous even wanton young women, some or most of whom were known to be from aristocratic families.

On the other hand, Constantinople was the home of rich libraries, antique heritage and culture, as well as of the moral and aesthetic values of Christianity - the state tradition of the great empire which had remained unbent and unshakable in the wilderness of barbarity.

Despite the absence of any information we should hardly have any doubt that Kubrat made use of the high-standard education he had received and which enabled him to devour both culture and state-building experiences. It looks as if no one has yet come to realize that Kubrat spent more time studying in Constantinople than Simeon the Great or Kaloyan did.

The novelists and screen-play writers who had often represented Khan Kubrat as a primitive steppe chieftain, with filthy sticky hair and with the rustic manners of an uncivilized elder, would probably have to correct their vision of the first Bulgarian ruler - one of the most learned men in Europe at that time. His life and deeds are the most eloquent testimony to this last point.

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