How Slav are the Bulgarians? The Ethnic Origin of Bulgarian People

Are Bulgarians Slavs? By hearing the Bulgarian language and experiencing the culture, the Slavness of Bulgaria may seem certain. However, things aren’t always that clear-cut. Why? Read on to find out.

Culture, language, religion, socialism, and tracksuits

The similarity between the Slav languages can be stunning to a non-Slav person. However, rest assured that most of them are very distinct. Saying that Russian and Bulgarian are the same is like saying it for English and Norwegian. Of course, Serbian and Bulgarian will be more similar due to the close proximity of the two countries, and Macedonian is considered a Bulgarian dialect by the Bulgarian government and most people.

The socialist past of all these countries also created a similar post-socialist culture. Bulgarian pop-folk music is heavily influenced by Serbian turbo-folk. Something else most Slavs seem to appreciate, much to the amusement of the Internet, is the tracksuit, especially from popular brand names. Why is that? Well, Slavs are universally active people who need to walk around, run, squat, all of which is best done in a comfy tracksuit.

There’s an undeniable cultural difference between the Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim Slavs, with the last sometimes going as far as rejecting their Slavic ethnicity. The Slav clichés you know and love mostly originate from the Orthodox Christian part of Slavdom – Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. Bulgaria was the first Slav country to accept Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the one that spread it to the rest of the Slavic world.

Slavs, Bulgars, Thracians, Cumans, and Vlachs

Slavs came to the Balkans around 5-7th centuries AD. They weren’t a very cohesive group and consisted of different tribes. Some of them formed settlements around the Danube river, others settled as far as Asia Minor and Italy. Around the mid-7th century, the Bulgars, a Turkic tribe that arrived near the same area, forming an alliance with the Slavs and conquering the area, which previously belonged to the Byzantine Empire. The First Bulgarian Empire was formed by this union, though the relationship between the two peoples was still uneasy.

Weirdly enough, the Asiatic origin of the country’s name seems to have had little effect on the country’s culture and genetics. It’s hard to distinguish the average Bulgarian from other Slavs, especially from Serbs.

The most common theory of the origins of Bulgaria as a nation states that the country was formed as an alliance between Bulgars, Slavs, and the local indigenous, Thracian population. The last group’s contribution to the Bulgarian culture seems even more negligible than the Bulgars, as there’s little proof to link Bulgarians to the pre-Slavic and pre-Bulgar indigenous customs.

Cumans are a different topic altogether. When they arrived in Europe around the 10th century AD, the Cumans often attacked, traded, and assimilated into the territories of Eastern Europe. One theory of the origin of the Asen dynasty, which ruled the Second Bulgarian Empire between 1187 and 1256 is that they are of Cuman origin due to the etymology of their names. There are still Bulgarians bearing surnames such as Kumanov. One opinion is that the Asen dynasty was an old Bulgar family. Since both Cumans and Bulgars were Turkic people, the exact origin of the Asen dynasty is hard to determine even on an etymological basis.

Romanians, on the other hand, often try to claim that the Asen dynasty was of Vlach origin. The brothers Asen and Peter created the Second Bulgarian Empire after a joint revolt of Bulgarians and Vlachs. This often leads Romanian historians to call the Second Bulgarian Empire a Vlachian-Bulgarians Empire. However, the culture, government centers, and the official name of the state remained Bulgarian.

The Bulgarian Tsars were often referred to as rulers of Bulgarians and Vlachs. Similarly, the Queen of the United Kingdom is referred to as a monarch of Scotland, Ireland, the Commonwealth, and India, but that hardly proves the Irish or Indian origins of the British monarchs.

In conclusion

Part of the Bulgarians are very much Slavs. But that's not to say that all Slavs are the same. As mentioned above, cultural and linguistic similarity doesn't always imply homogeneity. You can always explore the uniqueness of today's Bulgarians. Start by reading about what makes Bulgarian women different.

Alex Dimchev

Alex Dimchev is a writer, editor, and weapons master for

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