The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2014, 193-212

Bulgar Polities in the 4th – 9th Centuries: From Chiefdom to the Early State

T. Stepanov

The author of this article uses key concepts such as ‘chiefdom’/’dukedom’ and ‘early state’ in order to explain the development of both the Bulgars’ political ideas and organization in the period between the 4th and mid-9th centuries. Great Bulgaria of Qubrat could be positioned between the levels of ‘chiefdom’ and ‘early state’. For the period before the establishment of Qubrat’s Great Bulgaria, the known early Bulgar polities were not in the phase of state organization known in Late Antiquity and during the Early Middle Ages as ‘barbarian states’ (with their synthesis of Gemanic and Roman elements and Christian ones). The Bulgars in the decades between the 4th and early 7th centuries can be best defined as having ‘stratified societies’, i. e. ‘chiefdoms’. The specific features in Bulgar statehood of the period between the late 7th and the late 8th centuries seem to be best explained through the prism of the geographical situation of Danube Bulgaria, which was positioned partly on ex-Byzantine territories and as a legitimate state being officially declared as such by the Eastern Romans themselves at that, which means that Danube Bulgaria was not of the foederati-type polities on Byzantine territory known in the 4th and 5th centuries. Its status as ‘state’ was also confirmed by the Western Christian powers. From the early 9th century till the 860s, the Bulgar statehood is ‘under modernization’ and Bulgaria is already a typical ‘barbarian state’. Yet the Bulgar state was not the type well known as ‘German-Roman’ synthesis but the synthesis of both steppe (Irano-Turc) and carefully ‘adapted’ Roman features and traditions. This indeed is the main and specific Bulgar contribution to the protracted process of establishment of early states in Medieval Europe. So, in the first six decades of the 9th century Bulgaria was neither an ‘imperial confederation’ of Central Asiatic type, nor a ‘complex chiefdom’.

Bulgars, chiefdom, early state, imperial confederations, steppe empire