It has long been held that the Bulgarian people are the oldest in the world. The oldest archaeological finds suggest that there were people there from over 6,000 years ago. The Bulgarians as a people founded present-day Bulgaria in the 670s, and as well as this also founded a Bulgarian Volga state in the 8th and 9th centuries.
However, this is not an isolated history, and these people played a very important role in the history of the Hungarians. They have similar languages that were derived from lir-Turkish languages, and it has been suggested that they likely spoke the same language.
Additionally, many Hungarian place names seem to correlate with Volga Bulgarian tribal names and basjkirian clans. The name “Hungarians” comes from the Oguric tribal name “Onogur”, who it is suspected created a tribal union with the Bulgarians if the Byzantine sources are to be believed.
But there is more to the story than this. Both peoples share a similar ancestral tradition, that they come from other, lost kingdoms far to the East. How did such an intertwined people become divided and how did their boundaries come to be?
In the most recent research (led by Hungarian scholars), the Bulgarian people are of Oguric origin and arrived in the Pontic region, the area around the Black Sea, approximately in 463. This is believed because the term “Bulgar” includes a form of the word only found in Oguric.
Also, Bulgars and Oguric tribes tend to feature alongside each other in byzantine sources at the same time around c. 460-480 AD. Some research has come to fight this statement as Latin sources also seem to mention the Bulgurs but do not mention a connection to Oguric tribes. There are no Byzantine sources that discuss Oguric tribes in the Balkans in the second half of the 5th century.
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The story of Modern Bulgaria begins with the Slavic invasion during the 6th and 7th centuries. Byzantium at the time was absorbed in a conflict with Persia and because of this, they were unable to protect their Northern border.
Contemporary ancient sources indicate that there were two northern tribes named the Slavenae and the Antae. The Antae were the group who had moved into the regions of Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Northern Greece. The Bulgars are first mentioned by name in the 5th century. They were noted for their skilled horsemen and warlike nature.
In the 6th century, the Bulgars were subdued by the Avars, an ancestor of the later Mongols, but were back on the rise in 635 through a successful warlike leader named Khan Kubrat. He managed to lead an armed revolt against the Avars.
This led to an independent tribal confederation known as Great Bulgaria. Kubrat died in 642, the Bulgars were attacked by the Khazars, a conglomeration of Turkic-speaking tribes, and were dismantled. Byzantine sources claim that the Bulgars split into five groups all led by the sons of Khan Kubrat.
One of these sons, Asparukh moved to Bessarabia, a Turkish region in Eastern Europe before crossing the Danube and heading south. He conquered many Balkan lands. Constantine IV hoped to curb this invasion but was defeated by the Bulgars. It is at this point that Old Bulgaria came into being.
The search for old “Great Hungary” is not a modern one. Over the centuries many travelers and scientists have set off on the journey East. Many were attracted by the physical geography and the people.
The research has had a wide field. It has covered, art historians, linguists, ethnographers, and geographers. However, one of the first was a Friar.
Friar Julian was a Dominican monk which there is little known about before 1235. Historical sources indicate that he had become a member of the Dominican order under Paul of Hungary who had studied in Italy. Hungary was the Easternmost bastion of Western Christianity and because of this many missionaries were sent out to Christianize the Russian state and establish domination over the Volga and steppes.
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The first mission was led by Brother Otto in 1231 and found Hungarians living in the Eastern Steppes. This inspired Friar Julian to follow in 1235 with three companions. First, they headed to Constantinople before crossing the Black Sea.
They docked at present-day Taman and headed east before reaching the town of Torgika. Unfortunately, they were stranded for six months and could not find any Hungarians. Two of the four gave up. Julian and his companion Gerard continued the journey along the Volga. Julian was soon left alone as Gerard died. After nearly a year of searching, Julian found Magna Hungaria.
Julian spent a month around Magna Hungaria where he studied the Hungarians and the political situation of the steppes. Julian’s first report was written by Riccardus and this was later discovered in the archives of the Vatican in 1695.
This record gave a detailed account of the life of a Hungarian in Magna Hungaria. It claimed that they practiced a pagan religion and lived a nomadic life. The Volga Hungarians were excellent warriors and were known for defeating the Tartars before entering an alliance with them and conquering several countries.
Julian recounted this to Rome and included information on an upcoming invasion that the Tartars were planning on the Holy Roman Empire and Europe. Friar Julian hoped to do another journey to Magna Hungaria but was unable to find the Hungarians. The Mongols had devastated the area the year before and so many of the inhabitants had fled or been murdered.
So, what of the traditions of the old, lost homelands of the Bulgarian and Hungarian people? Old Bulgaria is well attested, and the Bulgarian people’s history can be traced with a great degree of accuracy. But Magna Hungaria, and the origins of the Hungarian people, still await conclusive proof.
Top Image: Johannes Schöner’s terrestrial globe of 523-4 shows “Magna Hungaria” far to the east of modern-day Hungary, and outside Europe. Old Bulgaria was similarly far from modern Bulgaria, both peoples migrated to their new homes. Source: Johannes Schöner / Public Domain.
By Kurt Readman