- Pastoralists originally from central Asia, who migrated westward to the steppe (q.v.) north of the Caspian Sea, as did the Huns and the Avars (qq.v.). They must have been Turkic in origin because nearly a hundred proto-Bulgarian (i.e., pre-Christian) inscriptions survive in characters known to be Turkic. Their history in the fifth and sixth centuries is obscure, although it has been suggested that they were related to the Cotrigurs and Utigurs (qq.v.). The establishment of the Avars in Pannonia (qq.v.) by the late sixth century allowed the Bulgars to expand. One contingent aligned itself with the Lombards (q.v.), helping them to conquer Italy (q.v.). Another contingent participated with the Avars and Slavs (qq.v.) in attacks on Thessalonike and Constantinople (qq.v.). However, most Bulgars lived north of the sea of Azov, where, in 632, one of their leaders, Kuvrat, formed a confederation of Bulgar tribes. After Kuvrat's death, the confederation disintegrated under the growing power of the Khazars (q.v.) to the east. Some Bulgars, led by Asparuch (q.v.), crossed the Danube River (q.v.), resisting an attempt by Constantine VI (q.v.) to oust them by force. In 680 they signed a treaty with Byzantium (q.v.), creating the first independent state that Byzantium recognized on its own soil. The region was already settled by Slavs, who were much more numerous, and who the Bulgars subjugated. By the ninth century, the Bulgars had virtually become Slavs, at which point this intermixed people are referred to as Bulgarians.
Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . John H. Rosser .
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