Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Origin and History of Volga Bulghars: A Study of the Journey from Central Asia to Volga-Ural Region and the Formation of Volga Bulgharia

Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Origin and History of Volga Bulghars: A Study of the Journey from Central Asia to Volga-Ural Region and the Formation of Volga Bulgharia

Article excerpt


Despite much research done on the study of Bulghars, very less is known about the Eastern Bulghars or the Volga Bulghars. The Bulghars, which we commonly come across in our studies, is mostly the name given to Western Bulghars, who led to the formation of a country, still prevalent today, known as Bulgaria. On the other hand, the Islamic country established by Eastern Bulghars known as Volga Bulgharia, perished to the withering might of Mongols in 13th century after its formation in the 10th century. This may be a reason of its being less known and relatively less exploited area. The present paper is an attempt to provide to its readers, the history of Volga Bulghars right from the origin of their ancestors in Central Asia to the formation of Volga Bulgharia.

Along with some eminent sources, this paper utilizes the reference book namely "Tatar History and Civilisation", which is an outcome of the contribution of numerous specialized scholars and contains original articles of 35 expert contributors based on rare sources. This book is result of a jointly coordinated project by IRCICA, Istanbul and Institutes of Republic of Tatarstan.

Key Words: Huns, Turkic Khaqanate, Great Bulgharia, Khazars, Volga Bulghars.

The Bulghar ethnonym derives from the Turkish word "Bulgha", which means to stir, mix, disturb or confuse ( G W Bowersock , Peter Brown and Oleg Grabar 2000:354). The ancestors of Volga Bulghars belonged to those Turkic tribes and clan unions of Central Asia, who migrated to west with Huns, in the second half of 4th century. In the middle of the 1st century, when the state of the Hunno in Mongolia disintegrated, some of the Hunno tribes submitted to China, and some moved westwards, to Central Asia and to the east of Caspian Sea. This epoch was characterized by the formation of the Turkic ethno-political unions. During the subsequent centuries, some Turkic tribes and unions of Central Asia went under the influence of Huns and got mixed with them. Here they for the first time got designated by the name of Bulghars which means the "mixed ones".

Bulghars, under the domination of Huns, migrated westwards to the European steppes, west of Volga River, in about 370 C.E (Carl Waldman and Catherine Mason, 2006:106). In this period, the Turkification of Eurasia intensified sharply, and the western advance (to Europe) of the nomadic groups and tribes of Central Asia began to reinforce this process (Iskander Izmailov 2010:37). Huns along with Bulghars settled there and soon formation of a state took place. This state of the European Huns appeared in Pannonia. There they were helped by the Bulghars in the consolidation of their state. Within no time, the Huns became stronger and after gaining real strength, they entered the frontiers of the Roman Empire in 375 C.E, defeating the Alans and Goths with a partial conquest of and a partial expulsion from the empire (Iskander Izmailov 2010:37). Attila the Hun, was the famous ruler of the Huns, who ascended the throne in 434 C.E. He was the leader of Hunnic Empire , which stretched from the Ural River to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea . On Attila's death in 452 C.E, Hunnic Empire crumbled and the state broke apart and the revolting nations defeated the Huns at the battle of Nedao in 454 C.E (Iskander Izmailov 2010:37). Attila's people, who were only a conglomeration of kindred tribes that he had welded together, divided again into these tribes; and each went its own way, One of these tribes was soon to be known as the Bulghars (Steven Runciman 1930:5). Huns and Bulghars, who are sometimes grouped together as Hunno-Bulghars, along with some other elements in the population, settled north and east of the Black Sea in about 460 C.E, after the break-up of Hunnic Empire in 455 C.E (Carl Waldman and Catherine Mason, 2006:106).

After settling in Eastern Europe in present day Russia, the Bulghars became known as a distinct people in Europe as the Huns were no longer a major factor in the course of events. …

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