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Origin of Bulgars and Huns

The origin of the Bulgars and their homeland are still subjects of research generating many hypothesis and violent disputes. Bulgars, also called Bulgarians, were one of the three ethnic ancestors of modern Bulgarians (the other two were Thracians and Slavs). They were mentioned for the first time in 354 AD by Anonymous Roman Chronograph as people living north of the Caucasus mountain and west of the Volga River. Headed by their chieftan Vund, Bulgars invaded Europe with the Huns about 370 AD,[0] and retreating with the Huns about 460 AD they resettled in the area north and east of the Sea of Azov.[1][2][3]

The Huns

About A.D. 370 a nomadic people called Huns invaded Eastern Europe. Coming from the East they quickly built an enormous empire in central Europe which reached its apex under the leadership of Attila (444-453 A.D.). Attila's sudden death followed by internal power struggle among his sons who were defeated at the battle of Nedao (still unidentified Pannonian river) at 455 A.D. put an end to the Hunnic empire. Some time later, as we learn from Jordanes, groups of Huns returned to their "inner" territory on the river Dnieper (Ukraine) where they reorganized on a smaller scale.[4] The Huns continued to be mentioned frequently in the 6th century under different tribal names as Utigurs, Kutrigurs, Onogurs, Bulgars, Sabirs and others.

The Huns and their tempestuous onrush over Europe is a story that has often been told. But whence they come and where they went are lost in mystery. Some say they were the Xiongnu, the race that was the terror of China, a hypothesis first proposed by the French sinologist J. Deguignes in 1748; but the Goths, who knew them best, thought otherwise. They told of the wicked sorceresses that king Filimer the Goth banished from his Scythian kingdom, who mingled on their wanderings with the evil spirits of the desert; and from that wild union were born the Huns. We will try to peer into the mysteries that hang over the Steppes to see if we can discover who were these Huns and Bulgars whose final incoming changed so lastingly and profoundly the history of Europe. At the end of this article we will see that both the Gothic legend and the ingenious hypotheses of Deguignes are actually true. The Huns and their awful ancestry have always been the boast of every bellicose nation; Attila is proudly called cousin, if not grandfather by them all; of all these claims, it seems that the Bulgars' is best justified; the blood of the Scourge of God flows now in the valley of the Balkans, diluted by time and pastoral Slavs.[5]


Old Great Bulgaria succeeded Patria Onoguria
Bulgars (vh'ndur, Vanand) is the name used by historians and geographers like Movses Khorenatsi, Procopius Caesariensis and later by Agathias of Mirena, Menander Protector, and Theophylact Simocatta in the 6th century to refer the eastern branch of the Hunno-Bulgars who were the successors of the Hunnic empire along the coasts of the Black Sea in Patria Onoguria.[6][7] The late antique historians used the names of Huns, Bulgars, Kutrigurs and Utigurs as interchangeable terms,[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] thus prompting some modern historians to coin the term Hunno-Bulgars.[18][19]
According to Procopius, Agathias and Menander Utigurs and their relatives Kutrigurs were Huns, they were dressed in the same way and had the same language.[20][21][22][23][24] Utigurs, Kutrigurs and Onogurs were in all likelihood identical with the Bulgars.[25][26][27][28][29][30][31] Many historians consider Utigurs and Kutrigurs as successors of the Hunnic empire in the east, on the territory of modern-day Ukraine, where the Huns retreated after the death of Attila.[32][33]
Menander Protector mentioned an Utigur leader in the latter 6th century called Sandilch.[34][35] Later these Bulgars of the Eurasian steppes had come under the control of the Western Turkic Kaghanate and were also known as Unogundurs.[36] In the early 7th century, Khan Kubrat of the Dulo clan was "ruler of the Unogundurs" and the founder of Old Great Bulgaria.[37][38][39]
The Bulgars ancestors of the Utigurs represented the Pontic-Kuban part of the Hun Empire, and were ruled by descendants of Attila through his son Ernakh,[40][41][42] who is called Irnik in the Nominalia of Bulgarian Khans.

The Huns - a second look

Roman historians Themistius (317-390), Claudian (370-404), and later Procopius (500-560) called the Huns Massagetae.[43] . The Huns were called Massagetae also by Ambrose (340-397), Ausonius (310-394), Synesius (373–414), Zacharias Rhetor (465-535), Belisarius (500-565), Evagrius Scholasticus (6th century) and others. However some historians mentioned Huns and Massagetae as distinct and different people who were cooperating during their raids, for example St Jerome tells us about the Great Hun raid of 395-6 into Armenia and Syria that " swarms of Huns and monstrous Massagetae filled the whole earth with slaughter".[44]
Maenchen-Helfen also noted in his monography that despite the fact that Romans called the Huns Massagetae, the Huns and not the Massagetae, attacked the Alans, who threw themselves upon the Goths.[45] According to Pulleyblank European Huns comprised two groups of tribes with different ethnic affinities and the ruling group that bore the name Hun was directly connected with the Xiongnu.[46] But why Massagetae? There were no Massagetae in the 4th century AD. Let's see if we can find out who were they.
Alexander Cunningham, B.S. Dahiya(1980, 23) and Edgar Knobloch (2001, 15 ) identify Massagetae with the Great Yuezhi: Da Yuezhi -> Ta-Yue-ti (Great Lunar Race) -> Ta-Gweti -> Massa-Getae. Dahiya wrote about the Massagetae and Thyssagetae : "These Guti people had two divisions, the Ta-Yue-Che and Siao-Yue-Che, exactly corresponding to the Massagetae and Thyssagetae of Herodotus ... " (Dahiya 1980, 23). Thyssagetae, who are known as the Lesser Getae, correspond with the Xiao Yuezhi, meaning Lesser Yuezhi.[47]. James P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair also supported this identification and wrote in their book : " Da (Greater) Yuezhi or in the earlier pronunciation d'ad-ngiwat-tieg, has been seen to equate with the Massagetae who occupied the oases and steppelands of West Central Asia in the time of Herodotus; here Massa renders an Iranian word for "Great," hence "Great Getae."... ". [48][49][50][51]

Utigurs - etymology and origin

Edwin G. Pulleyblank, Yury Zuev and some modern Bulgarian scholars identify the Bulgar Utigurs as one of the tribes of the Yuezhi.[52][53][54] According to Edwin G. Pulleyblank and Yury Zuev the Utigurs of Menander are Uti, and the word Uti was a real proto-type of a transcription Yuezhi .[55]

Artificial cranial deformation is a valuable cultural artifact for tracing the Huns and Bulgars back in time. According to Otto Maenchen-Helfen the artificially deformed skulls in proto-Bulgarian graves cannot be seperated from those in the graves of the Sarmatized Turks or Turkicized Sarmatians of the post-Attilanic graves in the South Russian steppes.[56] The Huns and proto-Bulgarians practiced a pronounce form of  artificial cranial deformation at very high rate[57] and its circular type can be used to trace the route that the Huns took from north China to the Central Asian steppes and subsequently to the southern Russian steppes. Circular modification appeared for the first time in Central Asia in the last centuries BC as an ethnic attribute of the early Huns. The distribution of the skulls parallels the movement of the Huns.[58][59]

The spread of the custom of cranial deformation parallels the movement of the Huns

Artificially deformed skull - circular modification

The people who practiced annular artificial cranial deformation in Central Asia were Yuezhi/Kushans.[60][61][62][63] The migration of the Yuezhi started from North China during 2BC, it is well documented[64] and their movement parallels the distribution of the artificially deformed skulls. According to Maenchen-Helfen some of their groups migrated far to the west and were present in the steppes north of the Caucasus and on the shores of the Black Sea as early as 1st century BC.[65]

The spread of the custom of cranial deformation from Central Asia to Europe occurred in 6 phases and the distribution of the skulls parallel the movement of the Huns. Modern taxonomic analysis of the artificially deformed crania from 5th–6th Century AD (Hun-Germanic Period) found in Northeastern Hungary showed that none of them have any Mongoloid features and all the skulls belong to the Europid "great race" but further identification was impossible.[66]

The Huns, Bulgars and part of the Yuezhi share some common burial practices as the narrow burial pits, pits with a niche and the northern orientation of the burials. The results of the research on the origin of Bulgars lead to one particular region in Middle Asia - the lower and middle reaches of the Syr Darya. After the second century AD the Sarmatian culture on the lower reaches of the Volga underwent significant changes. New features uncharacteristic for the previous period appeared: artificial deformation of the skulls, narrow burial pits and pits with a niche, cut into one of the walls. These features are also found in later Bulgar necropoles.[67]

And last but not least: the recurve bow, the weapon that gave military advantage of the Huns over the Romans, was brought to Bactria by Yuezhi around 130 BC.[70]

Genetic research of Bulgars

Although many scholars had posited that the Bulgars were Turkic tribes of Central Asia, modern genetic research points to an affiliation with European and western Eurasian populations.[71] The phylogenetic analysis of ancient DNA samples shows that mtDNA haplogroups can be classified as European and Western Eurasian and suggest a Western Eurasian matrilineal origin for proto-Bulgarians as well as a genetic similarity between proto- and modern Bulgarians.[72] The Y-Chromosome genetic tests suggest that a common paternal ancestry between the proto-Bulgarians and the Altaic and Central Asian Turkic-speaking populations either did not exist or was negligible.[73]

Genetic research: Tarim Basin - Bulgaria

Haplogroup I-M170
The origins of Tocharians and Tocharian related Yuezhi is controversial topic. Nevertheless, certain facts emerge. Usually they are assumed to have spoken Tocharian languages, but Tocharian is first attested in the 8th c. AD, or about 3 thousand years after the earliest appearance of Caucasoids in the region of Tarim Basin and Xinjiang, North China. Positing linguistic continuity is not an appropriate default position when direct evidence is absent. There is evidence that Caucasoid population in Tarim Basin were already mixed with Mongoloids as early as the early Bronze Age (at least in their mtDNA).[74] This reduces our confidence that they spoke an Indo-European language. An attempt to discover the origin of the Tocharians was made by a careful sorting of Y-chromosome lineages in the present-day Uyghur population of Xinjiang that is assumed to have absorbed the pre-Turkic inhabitants of the region. By removing Eurasian lineages that are likely to be associated with the Xiongnu, Mongols, Uyghur, and non-Tocharian sources (such as Iranians, or various Silk Road outliers), the phylogeographic analysis leaves three candidate haplogroups : J2-M172, R1a1a-M17, R1b-M343 (and its main R-M269 clade).[75] About 80% of the total genetic variation in modern Bulgarians falls within haplogroups J-M172, R-M17 and R-M269, E-M35, I-
Haplogroup E-M35
M170.[76] Because the haplogroups E-M35 and I-M170 are indigenous for the Balkan Peninsula
prior to the arrival of the Bulgars, this leads to the conclusion that there is an isomorphic correspondence between the haplogroups that can be associated with Tocharian related Yuezhi and the haplogroups that can be associated with the proto-Bulgarians (Bulgars). The conclusion correlates with the historical data that modern Bulgarians have three ethnic ancestors - Bulgars, Slavs and Thracians.

According to Hemphill and Mallory (2004) there were two Europoid physical types in the Tarim basin, the second type share closest affinities with Eastern Mediterranean populations. The same type is attested also in Bactria.[77]

The Yuezhi

Yuezhi in Dunhuang/China

They were recorded by the Chinese during the period of Warring States (495-221 B. C.) as nomadic people living in the the lands of the Western Region,specifically around  Dunhuang and Guazhou. The Yuezhi had occupied Dunhuang district and became very strong nation in the Northwest China. Han Shu further records: " The Great Yuezhi was a nomadic horde. They moved about following their cattle, and had the same customs as those of the Xiongnu. As their soldiers numbered more than hundred thousand, they were strong and despised the Xiongnu. In the past, they lived in the region between Dunhuang and Qilian [Mountain](south of Hexi Corridor)" The Yuezhi was so powerful that the Xiongnu monarch Touman even sent his eldest son Modu as a hostage to the Yuezhi.The Yuezhi often attacked their neighbour the Wusun to acquire slaves and pasture lands. Wusun originally lived together with the Yuezhi in the region between Dunhuang and  Qilian Mountain. The Yuezhi attacked the Wusun, killed their monarch Nandoumi and took his territory. The son of Nandoumi, Kunmo fled to the Xiongnu and was brought up by the Xiongnu monarch.

Migrations of the Yuezhi
Gradually the Xiongnu grew stronger and war broke out between them and the Yuezhi. There were at least four wars between the Yuezhi and Xiongnu according to the Chinese accounts. The first war broke out during the reign of the Xiongnu monarch Touman (who died in 209 B.C) who suddenly attacked the Yuezhi. The Yuezhi wanted to kill Modu, the son of Touman kept as a hostage to them, but Modu stole a good horse from them and managed to escape to his country. It appears that the Xiongnu did not defeat the Yuezhi in this first war. The second war took place in the 7th year of Modu era (203 B.C.). From this war, a large area of the territory originally belonging to the Yuezhi was seized by the Xiongnu and the hegemony of the Yuezhi started to shake. The third war probably was at 176 BC (or shortly before that) and the Yuezhi were badly defeated. The forth war was during the the period of Xiongnu monarch Laoshang (174 BC-166 BC) and was a disaster for the Yuezhi, their king was killed and a drinking cup was made out of his skull. Probably around 165 BC the majority of the Yuezhi migrated from the Tarim basin westward to Fergana. They finally settled in Transoxiana and Bactria.[78][79]

Bulgars and Yuezhi
It is hard to say if the Yuezhi (Yue-Chi) should be included in any of the recognized divisions of Turanian tribes such as Turks or Huns. Nothing whatever is known of their original language. Judging by the physical type represented on the Kushan's coins the Yue-Chi type is Turkish rather than Mongol or Ugro-Finnic. Some authorities think that the name Turushka or Turukha sometimes applied to them by Indian writers is another evidence of the connexion with the Turks. But the national existence and name of the Turks seem to date from the 5th century A.D., so that it is an anachronism to speak of the Yue-Chi as a division of them. The Yue-Chi and Turks, however, may both represent parallel developments of similar or even originally identical tribes. Some authors consider that the Yue-Chi are the same as the Getae and that the original form of the name was Ytit or Get, which is also supposed to appear in the Indian Jat.[80]

The clothes of the Yuezhi depicted on Bactrian Embroidery[68] are almost identical to the traditional Bulgarian costumes made nowadays.[69]
Kanas ubigi Omurtag, stone inscription,
Madara, Bulgaria.

According to Hyun Jin Kim the nomadic Yuezhi possessed political institutions that closely resemble the Xiongnu and later Hunnic models. The Chinese refer to the five xihou or Lords of the Yuezhi who rule the five tribes of their imperial confederation. According to Pulleyblank the Yuezhi were Indo-Europeans and they spoke a Tocharian type language.[81] The title xihou corresponds in the pronunciation to what would later become the Turkic title yubgu. This originally Yuezhi royal title appears on the coins of their rulers as IAPGU/yavuga[82] and it came to the Xiongnu from the Yuezhi.[83] Among the Turks, the title yabgu gained a new lease of life. In the Turkish inscriptions of Mongolia, it refers to a noble ranking immediately after the qagan.[84] Kuyan/kayan was a "common Uechji" symbol for a terrestrial embodiment for the Moon and Milky Way.[85]

Language of Bulgars

Pritsak in his notable study "The Hunnic Language of the Attila Clan" (1982)[86] analyzed the 33 survived Hunnic personal names and concluded that the language of the Bulgars was Hunnic language:

1. Danube-Bulgarian was a Hunnic language  (page 444)
2. Danube-Bulgarian had the suffix /mA/, with the same meaning as the Middle Turkic suffix /mAtOmeljan / 'the greatest among' (page 433)
3. In the Hunno-Bulgarian languages /r/ within a consonantic cluster tends to disappear (page 435)
4. In Hunno-Bulgarian there was also a tendency toward the develop ment of di > ti > ći (page 436)
5. In the Hunno-Bulgarian there was vocalic metathesis bli- 6. There was initially a g- in the Hunno-Bulgarian languages (page 449)
7. One of the typical features of the Hunno-Bulgarian linguistic group is a cluster in the word initial position. (page 460)
8. Hunnic (language) shared rhotacism with Mongolian, Old Bulgarian, and Chuvash. (page 470)

According to Pritsak the language was between Turkic and Mongolian, probably closer to Turkic.

According to Antoaneta Granberg "the Hunno-Bulgarian language was formed on the Northern and Western borders of China in the 3rd-5th c. BC.[87] The analysis of the loan-words in Slavonic language shows the presence of direct influences of various language-families:[88] Turkic, Mongolian, Chinese and Iranian. The Huns and Proto-Bulgarians spoke the same language, different from all other “barbarian” languages. When Turkic tribes appeared at the borders of the Chinese empire in the 6th c., the Huns and Proto-Bulgarians were no longer there.[89] It is important to note that Turkic does contain Hunno-Bulgarian loans, but that these were received through Chinese intermediary, e.g. Hunnic ch’eng-li ‘sky, heaven’ was borrowed from Chinese as tängri in Turkic.[90] The Hunno-Bulgarian language exhibits non-Turkic and non-Altaic features. Altaic has no initial consonant clusters, while Hunno-Bulgarian does. Unlike Turkic and Mongolian, Hunno-Bulgarian language has no initial dental or velar spirants. Unlike Turkic, it has initial voiced b-: bagatur (a title), boyla (a title). Unlike Turkic, Hunno-Bulgarian has initial n-, which is also encountered in Mongolian: Negun, Nebul (proper names). In sum, Antoaneta Granberg concludes that Hunno-Bulgarian language has no consistent set of features that unite it with either Turkic or Mongolian. Neither can it be related to Sino-Tibetian languages, because it obviously has no monosyllabic word structure."

Assuming that the connection Yuezhi->Hunno-Bulgars was substantiated enough we can try to find explanation in the preserved data about the language of Yuezhi/Kushans and see if we can find some correspondence. Some scholars have explained the words connecting the Yuezhi 月氏 or the Kushans as coming from the Turkic languages, thus concluding that the language of the Kushans was from the Türkic language branch. this theory is inadequate. In the Zhoushu 周書, ch. 50, it is recorded that: “The ancestors [of the Türks] came from the state of Suo 索.”34 It has been suggested that “Suo索” [sheak] is a transcription of “Sacae.” In other words, it may be possible that the ancestors of the Türks originally were kin of the Sacae. If this is true, it would not be difficult to understand why some words and titles connected with the Yuezhi 月氏 or the Kushans can be explaned by the Türkic languages. In the Rājataraṅgiṇī (I, 170) there is a reference to the fact that the Türkic ruler in Gandhāra claimed his ancestor was Kaniṣka, and maybe this is not merely boasting. Other scholars have judged that the language of the Kushans was the Iranian language. This theory is also inadequate, for the following reasons. First, they were a branch of the Sacae, a tribal union composed of at least four tribes, i.e., Asii, Gasiani, Tochari and Sacarauli. Of these there were some tribes who spoke the Iranian language, but also some who spoke Indo-European languages other than the Iranian language, e.g., the Tochari. Next, the tribes that spoke Tokharian were in close contact with the tribes that spoke the Iranian language, and the words connected to them that can be explained with Iranian possibly originally were Tokharian.[91]

Yury Zuev included the Yuezhi (Uechji) among the tribes of early Turks. He wrote that " in the Northern Caucasus they spoke East - Iranian language, and in the Kangju they spoke in Türkic."[92] His sketches about early Türkic tribes and state type confederations showed that "ideological views coincide in many respects and have a common foundation, which ascends to the last centuries BCE. Such foundation was the pantheon of the ancient confederations of Uechji (Yuezhi) and Kangars that left a trace in the ideological complexes of Ashtak Türks, Oguzes, Kypchaks, Az-kishes, Kimeks, Kangly, etc. Certain features of it still are in the folklore of the modern Türkic peoples. The tradition of the ideological continuity is permeating the history of these peoples from extreme antiquity until the new time."[93] Probably one of the most striking customs was the custom of the population to completely shave their heads. "The seven-tribe Uechji -"Tochars” were “White-headed” i.e. with completely shaven heads. "Bold-headness" was equivalent to Moon-headness."[94] Remember that the word Yuezhi is a Chinese exonym, formed from the characters yuè (月) "moon" and shì (氏) "clan" - hence they shaved their heads to resemble the Moon. We are not surprised to discover the same custom among the rulers of Bulgarian Dulo clan : "These five princes ruled the kingdom over the other side of the Danube for 515 years with shaven heads and after that came to this side of the Danube Asparuh knyaz and until now (rules)."[95]

The Little Yuezhi

The Little Yuezhi remained in North China and were included into Xiongnu confederation under the name Chieh people (AY: Jie people). Chinese chronicles documented them as one of the 19 tribes of Xiongnu.[96] Obviously their number wasn't small at all, as it is usually assumed, because we are told that between 184 AD and 221 AD there was a serious revolt of the Little Yuezhi in Gansu and the Chinese couldn't suppress it for almost 40 years.[97] At the beginning of 4th century under the pressure of Rouran Khaganate the Little Yuezhi started migration toward Kazakhstan and Bactria under the name War-Huns.[98] In 349 AD there was a massacre of Chieh people in North China, Maenchen-Helfen points out that 200 000 of them were slain. Probably we can consider that as the final date of their migration from North China/Tarim basin toward Kazakhstan and Bactria. The Jie/Chieh who remained in north China became known as Buluoji Bulgars.[99]

Kutrigurs Huns

Archer riding on reverse

Kutrigurs from the Byzantine sources were identified with Chdar/Kidar Bulgars from Armenian sources [100] whom in turn David Lang identified with Kidarites.[101] Kidarites appeared in Kazakhstan and Bactria in 4th century and were branch of the Little Yuezhi,[102] they were also called Red Huns[103] and were displayed on Sogdian coins as archers riding on the reverse.[104] The same type military tactic is attested among Bulgars tribes. Some of Little Yuezhi inherited the Kushan Empire and were called little Kushan.[105][106] Given the historical background of the Little Yuezhi (one of the Xiongnu tribes) it follows that Kutrigurs belonged to the Hunnic group with which Bulgars entered Europe.[107][108][109] The Chinese name of Kidarites is Jidoulo.[110]

Dulo clan (House of Dulo) 

Dulo clan symbol

The house of Dulo (also known as Dulo clan) was the ruling dynasty of early Bulgars. Though the scholars have advanced many theories, the origin of Dulo clan and meaning of the name Dulo remain obscure: ""According to their traditions their ruling family, known as the house of Dulo, was descended from Attila the Hun."[111] Many scholars agree that the dynasty has Hunnic origin, the first two names in the Nominalia of Bulgarian khans are actually Attila and his third son Ernak.[112][113][114][115] According to Steven Runciman, given all the historical circumstances and striking resemblance to the names Irnik and Ernak would be unnecessary hypercritical not trace the Bulgarian royal dynasty to Attila.[116] According to one hypothesis the name Dulo is distorted form of the name of Attila.[117] Omeljan Pritsak connects the name Dulo with the name of the Xiongnu ruling dynasty Tu-ko (EMC d'uo'klo) by suggesting that the name Vihtun from the Nominalia of Bulgarian khans is Xiongnu emperor Modun.[118]

The Huns - third look

Maenchen-Helfen in his famous monograph "The world of the Huns"[119] wrote that we know virtually nothing about the Indo-European languages spoken on the west-north borders of China. All we know of the language of the Huns are names. The tribal names appear to be of Turkish origin. The personal names fall into 3 general categories:
1) Turkish
2) Iranian
3) of unknown origin ( we don't count here apparently Germanic names whose origin is obvious) Examples of such names (concerning the Bulgar branch of the Huns) are :

Zabergan - Kutrigur Hun - Ζαβεργάν; Persian
Sandilch - Utigur Hun - Σάνδιλ; Turkic
Asparuch- Utigur ruler, founder of Danube Bulgaria - probably Iranian ( Maenchen-Helfen, page 384)

Careful consideration of the above information shows that there is correspondence between the possible language of the Yuezhi and the possible language of the European Huns. Unfortunately we have to compare one unknown language to another unknown language - a quite formidable task. Anyway certain facts emerge - both languages exhibit features from Turkic and Iranian languages. We shouldn't forget that according to Pritsak many names appear to be Mongolian. The idea that Bulgars/Yuezhi tribes were dragged into Europe by a small Xiongnu fragment migrating to West has a long history behind. Pulleyblank, despite the fact that he concluded for various reasons it was very unlikely that

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Origin of Bulgars and Huns


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