“Sardica Mea Roma Est”: A Brief History of Bulgaria

When it comes to archeology, Bulgaria is not really the first country to show up in peoples heads. Most people will think of Greece or Egypt, but it is safe to say that Bulgaria is one of the richest places in the whole world regarding this topic. Apart from prehistory, Bulgaria holds a past which involves Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, and Ottomans.

Prehistory

Located in the Balkans, Bulgaria has a clear view of Asia Minor. It is believed that it was the cradle of European agriculture, given that the technology regarding crops and animals moved in the European direction through modern-day Turkey. The Bulgarian Neolithic started in 6.000 BC, the south of the country is filled with remains of this period.

bulgaria history
National Archeological Museum, Sofia

Around 5.000 BC, the people living in the region started experimenting with metal, mostly copper and gold. Many graves were found containing metallic objects, some with simple copper, others with lots of gold. This is believed to have led to big economic and political disparities between inhabitants of cities, probably causing some degree of conflict.

Greeks & Thracians

Thracians are first mentioned in literature in Homers Illiad, as allies of the Greeks during the Trojan war. The interactions between the two cultures are believed to have started in trading colonies close to the cost of the Black Sea. The cities of Burgas and Varna started as these trading colonies and exist until today.

bulgaria history
National Archeological Museum, Sofia

Thracians were incredibly interested in Greek culture, while Greeks strongly profited from Thracian metallurgy and fighting skills. No wonder many Thracians fought alongside Alexander the Great.

Romans

In the first century AD, Thracian lands on the south banks of the Danube river came into Roman occupation. In the fourth century AD, these lands would have even greater importance, given the close distance to Constantinople.

bulgaria history
Serdica Ruins, Sofia

There are Roman remains all across Bulgaria. During excavations for the construction of the new Sofia subway system, remains of the city of Serdica were found in good condition. The Thracian settlement was given the title of town by Roman Emperor Trajan, and the city fortress built by Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Constantine the Great used to say ‘Sardica mea Roma est’ (Serdica is my Rome). He considered making Serdica the capital of the Byzantine Empire instead of Constantinople.

Bulgarians

In the sixth century AD, these lands were invaded by Bulgars, under the command of Khan Asparukh. He attacked Byzantine territories in Moesia and dominated the Slavic tribes which inhabited the region. They reached an agreement with the Byzantine Empire, signing a peace treaty in 681. This peace treaty led to the foundation of the Bulgarian Empire.

bulgaria history
National Archeological Museum, Sofia

Although pagan for the first two centuries, Bulgaria eventually became Christian, founding an independent Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the region. The rulers also wished to modernize their language, Cyril and Methodius are the Christian missionaries responsible for the creation of the new alphabet. The alphabet was so efficient that it was later adopted by Russia and Serbia.

bulgaria history
Tsar Samuil Monument, Sofia

The Bulgarian Empire reached its maximum extension under Samuil, his energetic reign restored Bulgarian might on the Balkans, responding aggressively to any attempts to invading Bulgarian lands. Although the Empire was dissolved after his death, he is regarded as a heroic ruler in Bulgaria.

Ottomans

For five centuries the Ottomans occupied Bulgarian lands. During this period, many Mosques and villages were built by the Ottomans, as well as many bridges across rivers, in order to facilitate commerce.

The period itself is not well seen by Bulgarians. The occupation motivated them to unite in all matters, both social and economic. A Bulgarian monk called Paisius of Hilendar wrote the Slavonic-Bulgarian History, a piece of text compiling the great feats of the Bulgarian people. The book had such an impact on Bulgarians, that they started rising against Ottoman rule. Examples of heroes of the liberation are Hristo Botev and Vasil Levski. Levski himself was captured by Ottomans and executed because of his plans of liberating Bulgaria. An Orthodox coalition led by Russia resulted in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, which eventually ended the Ottoman rule over the Balkans.

Soviets

On September 9th of 1944, the Red Army crossed Bulgarian lands and started a new period in Bulgarian history. Bulgaria would now become a Communist State. Although independent, it had very close ties to the Soviet Union. The Communist Party was forced to give up its political monopoly on 10 November 1989 under the influence of the Revolutions of 1989. Zhivkov, the communist leader of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, resigned and Bulgaria embarked on a transition to a parliamentary democracy.

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