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Bulgaria: Early Development
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Development of the Armed Forces > Early Development


For several centuries after they migrated to the Balkans in the middle of the seventh century A.D., the Bulgars were the primary rivals of the Byzantine Empire for control of the eastern Balkans. In the seventh and eighth centuries, Bulgar kings established an independent empire that inflicted several defeats on the Byzantines in Macedonia and Thrace. King Terbelis defeated the Byzantine army at the Battle of Anchialus in 708, drove through Thrace to the walls of Constantinople, and besieged the Byzantine capital in 712. In 717, however, King Terbelis allied with the Byzantine Emperor Leo III against the Arabs. Terbelis led the Bulgar army into Thrace, won the Battle of Adrianople in 718, and defended Constantinople against a Muslim siege from across the Bosporus. Emperor Constantine V reasserted Byzantine control over the Bulgars in the mid- to late eighth century. King Kardan regained the initiative by the end of the century and forced Byzantium to pay tribute to the Bulgars.

The power of the First Bulgarian Empire waxed during the ninth and early tenth centuries. The Bulgars continued their struggle with Byzantium and encountered new foes as well. They fought the Magyars and Pechenegs who raided them from north of the Danube River, winning the Battle of Versinikia in 813, capturing Adrianople, and advancing to the walls of Constantinople. However, Krum's son was defeated at the Battle of Mesembria in 817. Tsar Simeon fought successful wars against the Byzantines in late ninth and early tenth centuries, capturing Thessaly, Macedonia, and Albania from the Byzantines, conquering Serbia, and threatening Constantinople itself.

Between 967 and 969, the Byzantines and Russians invaded and annexed Bulgaria. Samuil, an expatriate noble, then regained control of eastern Bulgaria and Serbia by defeating the Byzantines near Sofia in 981. Throughout the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, he fought the Byzantines in Macedonia and Thrace. In 1014, however, the Byzantines crushed the Bulgarian army and reoccupied Bulgaria.

Bulgaria became a vassal state of the Byzantine Empire as well as a march route and battleground for advancing Mongols, Turks, Serbs, Magyars, and European crusaders beginning in the twelfth century. The Bulgarians fought alongside the Serbs in the unsuccessful Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389 -- a defeat that began nearly five centuries of Ottoman domination during which tsarist Russia represented the only hope for liberation.

Data as of June 1992

Last Updated: June 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bulgaria was first published in 1992. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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