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The Bulgarians (, ) are a South Slavic[1][2][3][4] people native to Bulgaria and neighbouring regions. Emigration has resulted in immigrant communities in a number of other countries.


History and ethnogenesis

The Bulgarians have descended from three main tribal groups, which mixed themselves and formed a Slavic-speaking nation and ethnicity in the First Bulgarian Empire: 1) the Slavic invaders, who gave their language to the Bulgarians; 2) the Bulgars, from whom the ethnonym and the early statehood were inherited; as well as 3) certain cultural elements taken from the 'indigenous' late Roman provincial peoples (Thraco-Romans and Thraco-Byzantines).[5][6] Between the 7th and the 10th centuries, the local population, the Bulgars and the other tribes in the empire, which were outnumbered by the Slavs[7][8][9] gradually became absorbed by them, adopting a South Slav language.[10] Since the late 10th century, the names Bulgarians and Bulgarian got prevalence and became permanent designations for the local population, both in the literature and in the spoken language.

The ethnic contribution of pre-Slavic populations (so-called Thracian and Daco-Getic peoples) was determined by some recent genetic studies.[11] The ancient languages of the local people had gone nearly extinct before the arrival of the Slavs, mostly due to Hellenization since the antiquity and to a lesser degree to Romanization during Roman rule, accompanied by Christianisation. Their cultural influence was also highly reduced due to the repeated barbaric invasions on the Balkans during the early Middle Ages by Goths, Celts, Huns and Sarmatians and later slavicisation. However, some of their linguistic and cultural traces are nevertheless present in modern Bulgarians (and Macedonians).

The Slavs emerged from their original homeland in the early 6th century, and spread to most of the eastern Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, thus forming three main branches the West Slavs, the East Slavs and the South Slavs. The Slavs became the largest part of the ancestors of the Bulgarians. Similar to the rest of their South Slavic neighbours, the Bulgarians are clearly separated from the tight R1a1a cluster typical for Western and Eastern Slavs. However, I2a1b1, which is typical of the South Slavic populations[12] is not older than 2550 years and is probably result of the Slavic invasion from the area north-east of the Carpathians.[13]

The Bulgars are first mentioned in the 4th century in the vicinity of the North Caucasian steppe, although scholars speculate that their history may go back to the Central Asian Mongol-Turkic khaganates.[14][15][16][17] Many scholars posit the origins of the Bulgars as a Turkic tribe of Central Asia (perhaps with Iranian elements).[18][19] In the late 7th century, some Bulgar tribes, led by Asparukh and others, led by Kouber, permanently settled in the Balkans, and formed the ruling class of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680 681. It is assumed, that because Balkan Bulgars were not numerous,[20] only a cultural, and low genetic influence was brought into the region, since the genetic background of the local populations was not significantly modified.[21]

Genetic origin

According to some 20th century researchers as William Z. Ripley, Carleton S. Coon and Bertil Lundman the Bulgarians are predominantly Mediterranean people, with unexplained Pre-Pontic, Alpine, and Nordic strains, whose roots go back to the Neolithic.[22][23] Bulgarian DNA profile is congruent with those described for most European populations. Among the prehistoric events marked by the observed haplogroups, the greatest contribution comes from the range expansion of local Mesolithic foragers. The Bulgarian gene pool also bears signals of the recolonization from different glacial refugia and the spread of agriculture (and farmers) from the Near East. As for the interpopulation analysis of Y-DNA, similarly to mtDNA, Bulgarians belong to the cluster of European populations, still being slightly distant from them.[24][25] Genetically, modern Bulgarians are more closely related to other neighbouring Balkan populations (Macedonians, Serbs, Romanians, Greeks and Albanians) than to the rest of the Europeans.[26][27][28][29][30] Analyses shows that almost the entire Bulgarian mtDNA pool is made up of West Eurasian lineages; the Mediterranean contribution could be attributed to the Thracians, while the Eastern contribution could be attributed to the Bulgars and Slavs.


Most Bulgarians live in Bulgaria, where they are around 6 million,[31][32] constituting 85% of the population. There are significant Bulgarian minorities in the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Albania, Romania (Banat Bulgarians), as well as in Ukraine and Moldova (see Bessarabian Bulgarians). Many Bulgarians also live in the diaspora, which is formed by representatives and descendants of the old (before 1989) and new (after 1989) emigration. The old emigration was made up of some 2,470,000 economic and several tens of thousands of political emigrants, and was directed for the most part to the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Germany. The new emigration is estimated at some 970,000 people and can be divided into two major subcategories: permanent emigration at the beginning of the 1990s, directed mostly to the U.S., Canada, Austria, and Germany and labour emigration at the end of the 1990s, directed for the most part to Greece, Italy, the UK and Spain. Migrations to the West have been quite steady even in the late 1990s and early 21st century, as people continue moving to countries like the US, Canada and Australia. Most Bulgarians living in the US can be found in Chicago, Illinois. However, according to the 2000 US census most Bulgarians live in the cities of New York and Los Angeles, and the state with most Bulgarians in the US is California. Most Bulgarians living in Canada can be found in Toronto, Ontario, and the provinces with most Bulgarians in Canada are Ontario and Quebec. According to the 2001 census there were 1,124,240 ethnic Bulgarians in the city of Sofia[31], 302,858 in Plovdiv, 300,000 in Varna and about 200,000 in Burgas. The total number of Bulgarians stood at over 10 million.[33][34]

Related ethnic groups

Three Bulgarian women of Thrace, of Shoplak and of Macedonia, painting by Jan Mrkvi ka. Until the early 20th century, the nowadays ethnic Macedonians, Torlaks and Slavic-speakers of Greek Macedonia were usually self-identifying as Bulgarians, unlike nowadays.
Three Bulgarian women of Thrace, of Shoplak and of Macedonia, painting by Jan Mrkvi ka. Until the early 20th century, the nowadays ethnic Macedonians, Torlaks and Slavic-speakers of Greek Macedonia were usually self-identifying as Bulgarians, unlike nowadays.

Bulgarians are considered most closely related to the neighboring Macedonians, indeed it is sometimes said there is no discernible ethnic difference between them.[1] The ethnic Macedonians were considered Macedonian Bulgarians by the most ethnographers until the early 20th century and beyond with a big portion of them evidently self-identifying as such.[35][36] The Slavic-speakers of Greek Macedonia and most among the Torlaks in Serbia have also had a history of identifying as Bulgarians and many were members of the Bulgarian Exarchate, which included most of the territory regarded as Torlak. Greater part of these people were also considered Bulgarians by most of the ethnographers until the early 20th century and beyond.[37][38][39][40]



Bulgarians speak a Southern Slavic language which is mutually intelligible with the Macedonian and with the Torlak dialect. The Bulgarian language is also, to some degree, mutually intelligible with Russian on account of the influence which Russia has had on the development of Modern Bulgaria since 1878, as well as the earlier effect of Old Bulgarian on the development of Old Russian. Although related, Bulgarian and the Western and Eastern Slavic languages are not mutually intelligible.

Bulgarian demonstrates some linguistic developments that set it apart from other Slavic languages. These are shared with Romanian, Albanian and Greek (see Balkan linguistic union) with which it is not in any case mutually intelligible. Until 1878 Bulgarian was influenced lexically by medieval and modern Greek, and to a much lesser extent, by Turkish. More recently, the language has borrowed many words from Russian, German, French and English.

Comparatively small are the people of the diaspora who are Bulgarians by ethnic origin or descent but do not speak the Bulgarian language (mostly representatives of the old emigration in the U.S., Canada, Argentina and Brazil).

The majority of Bulgarian linguists consider the officialized Macedonian language (since 1944) a local variation of Bulgarian, just as the most ethnographers and linguists until the early 20th century considered the local Slavic speech in the Macedonian region. The president of Bulgaria Zhelyu Zhelev, declined to recognize the Macedonian as a separate language when the Republic of Macedonia became a new independent state. The Bulgarian language is written in the Cyrillic script.

Cyrillic alphabet

Cyrillic alphabet of the medieval Old Bulgarian language
Cyrillic alphabet of the medieval Old Bulgarian language

In the first half of the 10th century, the Cyrillic script was devised in the Preslav Literary School, Bulgaria, based on the Glagolitic, the Greek and Latin alphabets. Modern versions of the alphabet are now used to write five more Slavic languages such as Belarusian, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian as well as Mongolian and some other 60 languages spoken in the former Soviet Union. Medieval Bulgaria was the most important cultural centre of the Slavic peoples at the end of the 9th and throughout the 10th century. The two literary schools of Preslav and Ohrid developed a rich literary and cultural activity with authors of the rank of Constantine of Preslav, John Exarch, Chernorizets Hrabar, Clement and Naum of Ohrid. Bulgaria exerted similar influence on her neighbouring countries in the mid to late 14th century, at the time of the Tarnovo Literary School, with the work of Patriarch Evtimiy, Gregory Tsamblak, Constantine of Kostenets (Konstantin Kostenechki). Bulgarian cultural influence was especially strong in Wallachia and Moldova where the Cyrillic script was used until 1860, while Church Slavonic was the official language of the princely chancellery and of the church until the end of 17th century.

Name system

There are several different layers of Bulgarian names. The vast majority of them have either Christian (names like Lazar, Ivan, Anna, Maria, Ekaterina) or Slavic origin (Vladimir, Svetoslav, Velislava). After the Liberation in 1878, the names of historical Bulgar rulers like Asparuh, Krum, Kubrat and Tervel were resurrected. The old Bulgar name Boris has spread from Bulgaria to a number of countries in the world with Russian Tsar Boris Godunov, British politician Boris Johnson, and German tennis player Boris Becker being three of the examples of its use.

Most Bulgarian male surnames have an -ov surname suffix (Cyrillic: - ). This is sometimes transcribed as -off or "-of" (John Atanasov John Atanasoff), but more often as -ov (e.g. Boyko Borisov). The -ov suffix is the Slavic gender-agreeing suffix, thus Ivanov () literally means "Ivan's". Bulgarian middle names are patronymic and use the gender-agreeing suffix as well, thus the middle name of Nikola's son becomes Nikolov, and the middle name of Ivan's son becomes Ivanov. Since names in Bulgarian are gender-based, Bulgarian women have the -ova surname suffix (Cyrillic: - a), for example, Maria Ivanova. The plural form of Bulgarian names ends in -ovi (Cyrillic: - ), for example the Ivanovi family ().

Other common Bulgarian male surnames have the -ev surname suffix (Cyrillic: - ), for example Stoev, Ganchev, Peev, and so on. The female surname in this case would have the -eva surname suffix (Cyrillic: - ), for example: Galina Stoeva. The last name of the entire family then would have the plural form of -evi (Cyrillic: - ), for example: the Stoevi family ().

Another typical Bulgarian surname suffix, though less common, is -ski. This surname ending also gets an a when the bearer of the name is female (Smirnenski becomes Smirnenska). The plural form of the surname suffix -ski is still -ski, e.g. the Smirnenski family ().

The ending in (female -ina) also appears rarely. It used to be given to the child of an unmarried woman (for example the son of Kuna will get the surname Kunin and the son of Gana Ganin). The surname suffix -ich can be found only occasionally, primarily among the Roman Catholic Bulgarians. The surname ending ich does not get an additional a if the bearer of the name is female.


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Most Bulgarians are at least nominally members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church founded in 870 AD (autocephalous since 927 AD). The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the independent national church of Bulgaria like the other national branches of the Orthodox communion and is considered an inseparable element of Bulgarian national consciousness. The church was abolished once, during the period of Ottoman rule (1396 1878), in 1873 it was revived as Bulgarian Exarchate and soon after raised again to Bulgarian Patriarchate. In 2001, the Orthodox Church at least nominally had a total of 6,552,000 members in Bulgaria (82.6% of the population), 6,300,000 of which were Bulgarians, and between one and two million members in the diaspora. The Orthodox Bulgarian minorities in the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Albania, Ukraine and Moldova nowadays hold allegiance to the respective national Orthodox churches.

Despite the position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as a unifying symbol for all Bulgarians, small groups of Bulgarians have converted to other faiths through the course of time. In the 16th and the 17th century Roman Catholic missionaries converted a small number of Bulgarian Paulicians in the districts of Plovdiv and Svishtov to Roman Catholicism. Nowadays there are some 40,000 Roman Catholic Bulgarians in Bulgaria, additional 10,000 in the Banat in Romania and up to 100,000 people of Bulgarian ancenstry in South America. The Roman Catholic Bulgarians of the Banat are also descendants of Paulicians who fled there at the end of the 17th century after an unsuccessful uprising against the Ottomans. Protestantism was introduced in Bulgaria by missionaries from the United States in 1857. Missionary work continued throughout the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays there are some 25,000 Protestant Bulgarians in Bulgaria. Between the 15th and the 19th century, during the Ottoman rule, some Orthodox Bulgarians converted to Islam. At 2001 census, 131,000 declared that are ethnic Bulgarians with Islamic denomination (locally called Pomaks) in Bulgaria in the Rhodope region, as well as few villages in the Teteven region in Central North Bulgaria, however nowadays most of the Pomaks live in Turkey where they are at least 270,000.

Art and science

16th century fresco of Baptism of Christ from the Kremikovtsi Monastery
16th century fresco of Baptism of Christ from the Kremikovtsi Monastery

Boris Christoff, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Raina Kabaivanska and Ghena Dimitrova made a precious contribution to opera singing with Ghiaurov and Christoff being two of the greatest bassos in the post-war period. The name of the harpist-Anna-Maria Ravnopolska-Dean is one of the best-known harpists today. Bulgarians have made valuable contributions to world culture in modern times as well. Julia Kristeva and Tzvetan Todorov were among the most influential European philosophers in the second half of the 20th century. The artist Christo is among the most famous representatives of environmental art with projects such as the Wrapped Reichstag.

Bulgarians in the diaspora have also been active. American scientists and inventors of Bulgarian descent include John Atanasoff, Peter Petroff, and Assen Jordanoff. Bulgarian-American Stephane Groueff wrote the celebrated book "Manhattan Project", about the making of the first atomic bomb and also penned "Crown of Thorns", a biography of Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria. According to MENSA International, Bulgaria ranks 2nd in the world in Mensa IQ test-scores and its students rate second in the world in SAT scores.[41][42] Also, international MENSA IQ testing completed in 2004 identified as the world's smartest woman (and one of the smartest people in the world) Daniela Simidchieva of Bulgaria, who has an IQ of 200.[43][44] CERN employed more than 90 Bulgarian scientists, and about 30 of them will actively participate in the Large Hadron Collider experiments.[45]


Bulgarian Kozunak as prepared for Easter
Bulgarian Kozunak as prepared for Easter
Old Bulgarian in traditional folk costume, playing a musical instrument called gaida, which is the Balkan variant of the bagpipe

Famous for its rich salads required at every meal, Bulgarian cuisine is also noted for the diversity and quality of dairy products and the variety of local wines and alcoholic beverages such as rakia, mastika and menta. Bulgarian cuisine features also a variety of hot and cold soups, an example of a cold soup being tarator. There are many different Bulgarian pastries as well such as banitsa.

Most Bulgarian dishes are oven baked, steamed, or in the form of stew. Deep-frying is not very typical, but grilling especially different kinds of meats is very common. Pork meat is the most common meat in the Bulgarian cuisine. Oriental dishes do exist in Bulgarian cuisine with most common being moussaka, gyuvetch, and baklava. A very popular ingredient in Bulgarian cuisine is the Bulgarian white brine cheese called "sirene" ( ). It is the main ingredient in many salads, as well as in a variety of pastries. Fish and chicken are widely eaten and while beef is less common as most cattle are bred for milk production rather than meat, veal is a natural byproduct of this process and it is found in many popular recipes. Bulgaria is a net exporter of lamb and its own consumption of the meat is prevalent during its production time in spring.[46]


Bulgarians may wear the martenitsa ( ) an adornment made of white and red yarn and worn on the wrist or pinned on the clothes from 1 March until the end of the month. Alternatively, one can take off the martenitsa earlier if one sees a stork (considered a harbinger of spring). One can then tie the martenitsa to the blossoming branch of a tree. Family-members and friends in Bulgaria customarily exchange martenitsas, which they regard as symbols of health and longevity. The white thread represents peace and tranquility, while the red one stands for the cycles of life. Bulgarians may also refer to the holiday of 1 March as Baba Marta ( ), meaning Grandmother March. It preserves an ancient pagan tradition. Many legends exist regarding the birth of this custom, some of them dating back to the 7th-century times of Khan Kubrat, the ruler of Old Great Bulgaria. Other tales relate the martenitsa to Thracian and Zoroastrian beliefs.

The ancient ritual of kukeri ( ), performed by costumed men, seeks to scare away evil spirits and bring good harvest and health to the community. The costumes, made of animal furs and fleeces, cover the whole of the body. A mask, adorned with horns and decoration, covers the head of each kuker, who also must have bells attached to his waist. The ritual consists of dancing, jumping and shouting in an attempt to banish all evil from the village. Some of the performers impersonate royalty, field-workers and craftsmen. The adornments on the costumes vary from one region to another.

Another characteristic custom called nestinarstvo ( ), or firedancing, distinguishes the Strandzha region. This ancient custom involves dancing into fire or over live embers. Women dance into the fire with their bare feet without suffering any injury or pain.


As for most European peoples, the football became by far the most popular sport for the Bulgarians. Hristo Stoichkov was one of the best football (soccer) players in the second half of the 20th century, having played with the national team and FC Barcelona. He received a number of awards and was the joint top scorer at the 1994 World Cup. Dimitar Berbatov, currently in Manchester United and formely in the national team and two domestic clubs, is still the most popular Bulgarian football player of the 21st century.

In the beginning of the 20th century Bulgaria was famous for two of the best wrestlers in the world Dan Kolov and Nikola Petroff. Stefka Kostadinova is the best female high jumper, still holding the world record from 1987, one of the oldest unbroken world records for all kind of athletics. Ivet Lalova along with Irina Privalova is currently the fastest white woman at 100 metres. Kaloyan Mahlyanov has been the first European sumo wrestler to win the Emperor's Cup in Japan. Veselin Topalov won the 2005 World Chess Championship. He was ranked No. 1 in the world from April 2006 to January 2007, and had the second highest Elo rating of all time (2813). He regained the world No. 1 ranking again in October 2008.


The national symbols of the Bulgarians are the Flag, the Coat of Arms, the National anthem and the National Guard, as well other unofficial symbols such as the Samara flag.

The national flag of Bulgaria is a rectangle with three colors: white, green, and red, positioned horizontally top to bottom. The color fields are of same form and equal size. It is generally known that the white represents the sky, the green the forest and nature and the red the blood of the people, referencing the strong bond of the nation through all the wars and revolutions that have shaken the country in the past. The Coat of Arms of Bulgaria is a state symbol of the sovereignty and independence of the Bulgarian people and state. It represents a crowned rampant golden lion on a dark red background with the shape of a shield. Above the shield there is a crown modeled after the crowns of the emperors of the Second Bulgarian Empire, with five crosses and an additional cross on top. Two crowned rampant golden lions hold the shield from both sides, facing it. They stand upon two crossed oak branches with acorns, which symbolize the power and the longevity of the Bulgarian state. Under the shield, there is a white band lined with the three national colors. The band is placed across the ends of the branches and the phrase "Unity Makes Strength" is inscribed on it.

Both the Bulgarian flag and the Coat of Arms are also used as symbols of various Bulgarian organisations, political parties and institutions.


Notes and references


a. MFA of Bulgaria - 250,000 immigrants and additional 30,000 students with employment activity.
b. 86,685 is a combined number of 74,869 legal immigrants as of 2010 and additional 11,816 students as of 2007.
c. 79,520 is a combined number of 65,662 people counted as Bulgarians in the census in Moldova and 13,858 in the census in Transnitria.
d. MFA of Bulgaria - 30,000 immigrants and additional 4,000 students with employment activity.
e. The 42,372 are these people from the Republic of Macedonia which in the period 2002-2011 became citizens of Bulgaria with declaring ethnic Bulgarian origin. It is unknown how many of them currently reside in Macedonia; in Bulgaria, at the 2011 census, 22,152 people with dual citizenship were counted and most of them were dual citizens of Bulgaria and Turkey not of Bulgaria and Macedonia.


See also

  • List of Bulgarians
  • Bulgarian diaspora
  • Bulgarian Americans
  • Bulgarian Canadians
  • Bulgarians in South America
  • Bulgarian Australian
  • Bulgarians in the Republic of Macedonia
  • Bulgarians in Serbia
  • Bulgarians in Greece
  • Bulgarians in Turkey
  • Bulgarians in Albania
  • Bessarabian Bulgarians (Bulgarians in Ukraine)
  • Banat Bulgarians (Bulgarians in Romania)
  • Bulgars
  • Bulgarian cuisine
  • Bulgarian months
  • Macedonians (ethnic group)

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