Friday, 26 July 2013

Battle of Pliska

The Battle of Pliska which is better known in Bulgaria as the Battle in Vъrbitsa Pass (Bulgarian: Битката във Върбишкия проход) was a series of battles between Bulgaria governed by knyaz Krum, and troops gathered from all parts of the Byzantine Empire led by the Emperor Nicephorus I Genik. The Byzantines plundered and burned the Bulgar capital Pliska which gave time for the Bulgars to block passes in the Balkan Mountain that served as exits out of Bulgaria. The decisive battle took place on July 26, 811, in some of the passes in the Eastern Balkan Mountain, most probably the Vărbitsa Pass. There, the Bulgars used the tactics of ambush and surprise night attack to effectively trap and immobilize the Byzantine Army, thus annihilating almost the whole army, including the Emperor. After the battle, Krum encased Nicephorus's skull in silver, and used it as a cup for wine-drinking. This is probably the best documented instance of the custom of the skull cup.

The battle of Pliska was one of the worst defeats in Byzantine history. It deterred Byzantine rulers from sending their troops north of the Balkans for more than 150 years afterwards, which increased the influence and spread of the Bulgars/Bulgarians to the west and south of the Balkan Peninsula, resulting in a great territorial enlargement of Bulgaria.

Krum celebrating with skull

Knyaz Krum holding Nicephorus's skull

Initial campaigns

Knyaz Krum

Kanasubigi Krum (796-814)

At the end of the 8th century in Bulgaria, during the rule of the knyazes Telerig and Kardam, the power struggles between the two ethnic groups, the Bulgars and the Slavs, subsided. Some time before 800 AD (probably in 796 AD), the direct successor of Kardam, knyaz (kanas) Krum, ascended to the Bulgarian throne. There is some controversy as to the exact date of accession, as well as about the early activities of knyaz Krum. Most historians agree that Krum ascended to the throne before 800 AD and his early policy was that of strenghtening ties with the Byzantine and Avar aristocracy. Such early accession of Krum is suggested by the fact that the aristocrat Konstantin Patsik who escaped from Byzantium to Bulgaria in the late 8th century was married to a Krum's sister while Krum was in power and had a son with her who was mature in 813. [7, p.126]

During the rule of knyaz Krum the centralization of the knyaz's power reached its peak. The Bulgars did not limit their wars only to Byzantium; they also waged wars in the west of the Balkan Peninsula, and those wars transformed from defensive to aggressive and invasive. During the first years of his rule, Krum had to attend to his north-west borders where at the beginning of the 9th century the political situation changed due to the expansion of the Frankish Empire in the Middle Danubian region and the repulsion of the weak remnants of the Avar Khaganate towards the east beyond the Tisa River after the decisive victory of Charlemagne over the Avars in 803. This last event presented an occasion for Krum to put an end to the Avar possessions.

Bulgar warriors. Scene from reenactment of the battle,
26 July 2006. Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis

In 805, the Bulgars killed and captured the remaining Avars, and annexed their lands in today's Eastern Hungary and Transylvania to Bulgaria. The Bulgars put the kagan to flight and captured a host of Avar soldiers; years later, the latter would serve in the Bulgars' wars against Byzantium. The Slav tribes that lived in those lands, after being freed from the Avar rule, recognized the power of the Bulgar knyaz. [13] Thus the Bulgar state became a neighbour of the Frankish Empire, with the recognized border starting from the estuary of Sava upstream on the Danube to the Tisa River, then upstream the whole length of the Tisa and along the Prut River to the North Besarabian trench at Leovo, along this trench which in the east reaches to the Dnester River near the town of Benderi to the south-east, finishing at the Black Sea coast. Of course, given those borders to the northwest, it is beyond doubt that the Bulgars had succeeded in annexing the lands along the Mlava and Morava Rivers to the border of the Servian tribes; the expansion of Bulgaria in this direction happened earlier together with the gradual subsiding of the Avar rule there in the 8th century. [8]

Knyaz Krum

Heavily armed Bulgar soldier

In parallel with his policies to the north west, Krum also paid attention to the events in Byzantium. The political struggle of the Slavs trying to free themselves from Byzantine rule, that began during the co-reign of Constantin VI and his mother Empress Irene, was put down by the strategos Stauricius in 783-784; he succeeded in reestablishing the Emperor's power over the Slavs. When Nicephorus I became emperor in 802, Slavs renewed the struggle for independence. Taking advantage of the difficulties of Byzantium because of the unsuccessful wars with the Arabs (Saracens), on the one hand, and the general discontent in the Empire due to the ill-timed financial reforms of the Emperor, on the other, the Slavs started a revolt with the same goal as 20 years previously: to secede from Byzantium.

One of the main episodes in this struggle was the uprising of the Peloponnese Slavs in 805 (or 807) who plundered and devastated the neighbouring villages, occupied the outskirts of the town of Patri, and besieged the town, in alliance with the Arabs. However, the siege was unsuccessful and the Slavs were defeated. The Byzantines thought that their victory was entirely due to the blessing of the Apostle Saint Andreas, the patron of the town of Patri. When Nicephorus learned about this, he decided that, because the victory was achieved thanks to St. Andreas, all the trophies, taken from the Slavs belonged to him, the Emperor. After that, he ordered that all Slavs who besieged Patri, together with their families, kins, and possessions, be bound to the soil of the church St. Andreas in the Patri Mitropoly. From then on, the Slavs belonging to this mitropoly were obliged to pay the expenses of the strategos, archons, patricians, and all dignitaries, sent by the Emperor to the church land. The fate of the Peloponnese Slavs signaled to the other Slavs in the Empire, that a similar fate could be expected by them if they did not immediately receive help from the outside. Such help they could receive only from the Bulgars who were already a force to be reckoned with on the peninsula. On their side, the Bulgars did not miss an occasion to show their readiness to help, especially towards the Macedonian Slavs.

Such relations between Macedonian Slavs and Bulgars can be surmised from the expedition of Nicephorus against the Bulgars in 807. He only reached Adrianopolis (today Edirne), a Byzantine town close to the Constantinopolis, returned back to the capital, and canceled the campaign after learning of a conspiracy by the courtiers and military against him there. Theophanes [1] presents this expedition as senseless; however, the reason can easily be found in the relations between the Macedonian Slavs and Bulgars. That abortive attack, however, gave reason for the Bulgar knyaz Krum to undertake military operations against the Byzantine Empire. The main objective was an extension to the south and south-west. In the next year a Bulgarian army penetrated the Struma valley and defeated the Byzantines. The Bulgarian troops captured 1,100 litres (360 kg) of gold, earmarked for soldiers' pay, and killed many enemy soldiers including all strategos and most of the commanders because they were gathered to receive their pay. [1] It is scarcely possible that this surprising attack had been undertaken only for robbing gold; on the contrary, as with the similar attack of 789, one can see a systematic effort by the Bulgars to penetrate towards the Aegean Sea and detach the western regions of Byzantium. Therefore, the Bulgars wanted to weaken this military centre, which is supported by the fact the in the spring of the following year, Krum undertook a serious military expedition in the same direction. Just before Easter in 809 the knyaz besieged the strong fortress of Serdica (today Sofia) and seized the city, killing the whole garrison of 6,000. [11, p. 342]

Han Krum map

A map of Bulgaria during knyazes Krum and Omurtag and movements of armies in the major battles.

The Byzantine Catastrophy

The Pliska expedition

Nicephorus viewed with anxiety the western provinces of his Empire in Macedonia and Thessaly. The Slavs, on whose fidelity no reliance could be placed, were predominant there, and it was the aim of the Bulgars to bring the Macedonian Slavs under their dominion. To meet the dangers in this quarter the Emperor determined to resettle a large number of his subjects from other parts of the Empire and establish them as Roman colonists in what was virtually a Slavonic land. They could keep the Slavs in check and help in repulsing Bulgar aggression. The transmigration began in September 809 and continued until Easter 810. It seems to have been an unpopular measure. Men did not like to leave the homes to which they were attached, to sell their property, and say farewell to the tombs of their fathers. The poor cling far more to places than the rich and educated, and it was to the poor agriculturists that this measure exclusively applied. Some were driven to desperation and committed suicide rather than go into a strange and distant land; and their richer brethren sympathized with them; in fact, the act was described as nothing short of "a captivity." But though it may have been hard on individuals, it was a measure of sound policy; and those who on other grounds were ill-disposed to the government exaggerated the odium which it aroused.[11, p. 342] Nicephorus, who prided himself greatly on this act, seems to have realised the danger that the Slavonic settlements in Macedonia and Greece might eventually be incorporated into a Bulgarian empire; and these new colonies were designed to obviate such a possibility.[11, p. 342]

In 811, the Byzantine Emperor organised a large campaign to conquer Bulgaria once and for all. His preparations were long and careful; troops were collected from throughout the Empire. There was no danger from the Saracens at the moment; so he gathered an enormous army from the Anatolian and European themata with their strategi, and the imperial bodyguard (the tagmata). The troops of the Asiatic themes had been transported from beyond the Bosphorus; Romanus, general of the Anatolians, and Leo, general of the Armenians, were summoned to attack the Bulgars, as their presence was no longer required in Asia to repel the Saracens [11, p. 343]. They were joined by a number of irregular troops, armed with slings and clubs, who expected a swift victory and plunder. The conquest was supposed to be easy, and most of the high-ranking officials and aristocrats accompanied Nicephorus, including his son Stauracius and his brother-in-law Michael I Rangabe, all patricians, commanders, officials, all divisions, and commanders' sons who were above 15 years of age of which last he composed a division of his son, and called them Worthies (Hikanatoi). [2, p.148] The whole Byzantine army is estimated to have been up to 60,000 [14] or 80,000 [15] soldiers.

Battle of Pliska

Byzantine camp. Scene from reenactment of the battle, 26 July 2006. Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis

In May 811 [17], the great expedition left Constantinople, led by the Emperor himself and his son, Stauracius, and set up camp at the fortress of Marcelae (present-day Karnobat) near the Bulgarian frontier where it stopped to gather the various detachments coming from the different parts of the Empire. The period of stay at Marcelae is not known: estimates range from several days to several weeks. Judging from the fact that the Byzantine Empire was very large and time was needed especially for troops from Asia (e.g. the Armenians), it is safer to take the higher estimate, which supposes that the stay at Marcelae took the better part of June and/or early July. This is confirmed by the events that happened at Marcelae. After learning that such a large army was gathering at his border, Krum assessed the situation, estimated that he could not repulse the enemy, and sent ambassadors to Marcelae begging humbly for peace which Nicephorus haughtily rejected; he was distrustful of Bulgar promises and confident of victory. [9, p. 56] Theophanes disapprovingly writes that the Emperor was deterred by his own "ill thoughts" and the suggestions of those of his advisors who were thinking like him.[1, p. 486] Some of his military chiefs considered the invasion of Bulgaria to be imprudent and too risky but Nicephorus was convinced of his ultimate success, counting mainly on the luck and wisdom of his son Stauracius. At this time, a courtier close to Nicephorus, by the name of Byzantios, escaped from Marcelae for unknown reasons and went to Krum, taking with him the Imperial apparel and 100 litres (about 33 kg) of gold; many considered this as a bad omen for Nicephorus.

Another bad omen was the unfavorable period of the year, coinciding with the heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star. [16] "It was the devastating rising of the Dog" [1, p. 486], the Dog Days, considered to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies". [17] To Greeks this signified certain emanations through which the Dog Star exerted its malign influence. People suffering its effects were said to be 'star-struck' (astroboletos). [18] The Dog Star caused a "reckless bravery of the impertinent coward [Nicephorus]" and made him behave like a madman, frequently shouting challenges and then realizing that some supernatural power, "God or his enemy" (the devil), pulled him against his will. [1, p. 486]

Sky over Pliska

The sky above Pliska at dawn, 03:06 a.m. on July 23, 811. [19]

The march towards the Bulgarian capital Pliska is not well described. Traditional historical treatments follow Theophanes who records that Byzantines penetrated Bulgarian territory on July 20 [20], [8, p. 331], [21].

At the time of the battle, the Bulgarian border was situated to the south of the Balkan Mountains, and Krum controlled important towns and garrisons on the southern side, including some that were very close to Marcelae. It is probable that by "Bulgarian territory" Theophanes means the lands north of the Balkan, since it is hard to imagine that a Byzantine historian would acknowledge a barbaric tribe owning land that has always been considered part of Byzantium. During the first millennium, the territory of northern Bulgaria (Moesia) was covered with an unbroken forest, known in Europe as Magna Silva Bulgarica. The forest was especially dense and impassable in the discussed region: Veregava and the plains and valleys at its foothills. It further slowed the march: the large army moved in columns along the narrow forest paths, the cavalry frequently dismounting at the steep slopes. Because this was a hostile territory, light cavalry scouts were sent ahead to spy out the army's line of march, the position of enemy forces and fortifications, the availability of wood and water, fodder and food, and were responsible for providing the commanders of the Byzantine forces with sufficient information for them to plan their route and the marching camps.

Nicephorus enters Bulgaria

Above: Emperor Nicephorus enters
Bulgaria with his army.
Below: The captured Nicephorus
is presented to Krum.
Miniatures from the
Mannasas Chronicle.

An additional impediment to the march in the form of a natural barrier was the Balkan, a 550 km long mountain chain running from Timok River in the west to the Black Sea in the east, which forms the central backbone of modern Bulgaria, and divides it into Northern and Southern parts. Known in various times as Haimos (Greek, derived from Thracian word "saimon" meaning 'mountain range'), Haemus (Latin, with the meaning 'bloody'), Balkan (Turkish, 'mountain'), Stara Planina (Bulgarian, 'old mountain'), this mountain has a great geographic and historic significance. The Zlatitsa and Vratnik passes divide the Balkan in three parts: Western, Middle, and Eastern. The lower, Eastern part, known in the 6-11 centuries as Veregava (Bulgar, 'the chain'), or Matori Gori (Slavic, 'mother mountains') stood between the meeting place of the Byzantine troops (Marcelae) and the Bulgar capital Pliska. The only way to cross the mountains is to move along the narrow passes closest to Marcelae. There are four possible routes: Rish, Vărbitsa, and Kotel passes, and the region between the confluence of the rivers Luda Kamchia and Ticha (Big Kamchia), some 20 km east of Luda Kamchia Gorge. It is known that Vărbitsa Pass was opened in 8 century, or early 9 century, at the latest [12, p.150] [8, Appendix VII, p.531]. Byzantine commanders generally preferred to cross this part of the Balkan through the then called "Veregava Pass" which is identified with Vărbitsa [22] or Rish [11, p.343] Passes.

The crossing, difficult for such a multitudinous army, would inevitably occupy some time. Approximate distances and timing are listed in the following table.

Rish Pass Vărbitsa Pass Kotel Pass Luda Kamchia
Total distance [23] (km) 91.66 117.18 145.12 98.75
Distance in pass (km) 12.91 25.85 25.01 0
Time (days) 5.54 7.42 8.94 5.49

About distances, the following must be borne in mind: while distances in the passes are relatively accurate because they were measured by following the contour of the pass, total distances are underestimated by 10-30 km because level terrain was measured on a straight line, since it is impossible to guess the exact route on level ground. For the timings, one must consider a march of 25 km to be both long and tiring for men and horses, and although this rate could have been maintained as an average in some cases, terrain, weather and the quality of the roads, tracks or paths used by the army will all have played a role, so that very considerable variations must have been usual. The average length of a day's march for infantry or combined forces was probably rarely more than 19-23 km, which has been an average for most infantry forces throughout recorded history; and this figure would more often than not be reduced if very large numbers, which had to be kept together, were involved.

Byzantine march
The average can be increased when no accompanying baggage train is present, and increased yet again for forced marches, although there is an inverse relationship between the length and speed of such marches and the loss of manpower and animals through exhaustion. The speed at which large forces can move varies very considerably according to the terrain: anything between 11-13 km and 18-20 km per day. Cavalry by themselves can cover distances of up to 60-80 km, provided the horses are regularly rested and well nourished and watered. Small units can move much faster than large divisions: distances of up to 30 km per day for infantry can be attained. The average marching speeds for infantry are 4.8 km per hour on even terrain, 4 km on uneven or broken/hilly ground. [24] From the above mentioned, and taking into account that the Byzantine army was very large, one can take the lower estimate (18 km per day) as the rate of march, reducing it further to 11 km per day for march in a pass. Timings in the table are calculated on the above assumption; as seen, the march from Marcelae to Pliska could have taken 5.5 to 9 days. This defines the period of departing from Marcelae as July 11 to July 14, according to Theophanes [1], or July 2 to July 5, according to Scriptor Incertus [2].

Nicephorus chases Krum

The initial Byzantine success

Nicephorus intended to confuse the Bulgars, and over the next ten days launched several feigned attacks, which were immediately called back. The Byzantines met little resistance [4, vol. 3, sheet 1, p.17] and in three days they reached the capital, where they met a 12,000 army of elite soldiers who guarded the stronghold. The Bulgars were defeated and most of them perished. Another hastily assembled army of 50,000 soldiers had a similar fate. [2, p.148-149] On 23 July the Byzantines quickly captured the defenseless capital. The city was sacked and the countryside destroyed. [6, p.372-373] [25] Knyaz Krum attempted once more to negotiate for peace:

Here you are, you have won. So take what you please and go with peace. [1, p.487]

Nicephorus, overconfident after his success, ignored him. He believed that Bulgaria was thoroughly defeated and conquered.

Byzantines attack

Byzantines attack the Bulgar stronghold. Scene from reenactment of the battle, 26 July 2006. Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis

Michael the Syrian, patriarch of the Syrians Jacobites in XIIth century described in his Chronicle the brutalities and atrocities of the Byzantine Emperor: “Nicephorus, emperor of the Romans, walked in Bulgars land: he was victorious and killed a great number of them. He reached their capital, took it over and devastated it. His savagery went to such a point that he ordered to bring their small children, got them tied down on earth and made thresh grain stones to smash them.” [4, vol. 3, sheet 1, p.17] The Byzantine soldiers looted and plundered; burnt down the unharvested fields, cut the sinews of the oxen, slaughtered sheep and pigs. [2, p.150] The Emperor took over Krum's treasury, locked it and did not allow his troops to reach it at the same time cutting noses and other appendages of soldiers who touched the trophies. [26]. At the end, Nicephorus ordered his troops to burn down Krum's residence. [1, p.490] [6, p. 372-373]

The battle in the pass

While Nicephorus I and his army were busy plundering the Bulgarian capital, Krum mobilized his people (including the women) to set traps and ambushes in the mountain passes. [1, p. 488] Initially Nicephorus intended to march through Moesia and reach Serdica (today Sofia) before returning to Constantinople, but the news of these preparations for a battle changed his decision and he chose the shortest way back to his capital. [2, p.152] On 25 July his army entered the Vărbitsa Pass but the road was barred with thick wooden walls and Krum's detachments watched from the heights around. [1, p. 490-491] The emperor became panicked by the situation and repeatedly told his companions that they were trapped and imminent death awaited them.

Nicehorus is reported to have said: [1, p. 490-491]

Even if we had wings we could not have escaped from peril.

It must be noted that nights in this period were dark and moonless, with the moon late in the fourth or early in the first quarter, having entered the -13,746 lunation on July 24, 07:17 local time. [27] For several nights, in which they could not see even the shadows of the Bulgars that were following and surrounding them, a noise of troop movements and clang of arms kept Nicephorus and his companions in a feverish restlessness and brought them to an utter exhaustion. [1, p. 490-491] On July 26 [1, p. 490-491], Saturday [1, p. 490-491] [2, p. 152], the Bulgars gathered their troops and tightened the noose around the trapped enemy. At dawn, they rushed down and started to kill the panicked and totally confused Byzantine s, who fruitlessly resisted for a short time before perishing. Upon seeing their comrades' fate, the next units immediately ran away.

Krum wounds Staurakius

Above: The war of knyaz Krum. Below: The army of knyaz Krum chases and wounds Nikephorus's son and heir Staurakius.

In their retreat, the Byzantine forces hit a swampy river which was difficult to cross. As they could not find a ford quickly enough, many Byzantines fell into the river. The first ones stalled in the mud with their horses and were trampled by those who came next. The river was filled with so many dead men and horses that the chasing Bulgars easily passed over them and continued the pursuit. Those who passed through the river reached a wooden wall which was high and thick. The Byzantines left their horses and began climbing the wall with hands and legs and hung over the other side. The Bulgars had dug a deep moat from the outer side and when the Byzantine soldiers were getting across the ramparts, they fell from the high wall, breaking their limbs. Some of them died instantly, others hobbled some time before falling to the ground and dying from thirst and hunger. The Byzantine troops burnt the wall at several places but as they were rushing to get across it, they too fell into the moat along with the burning parts of the palisade. The anonymous narrator laments on this event, in which, it seems, most of the Worthies (the youngest soldiers) were killed:

Who will not weep when he hears this? Who will not cry? Thus perished the commanders' sons both of the old and of the young ones who were a whole multitude, in the blossom of their youth, and they had beautiful bodies that shined with whiteness, with golden hairs and beards, with handsome faces. Some of them had just been engaged to women, distinguished with nobility and beauty. All perished there: some brought down by sword, others drowned in the river, third fell from the rampart, and still others burned in the moat. Only a few of them escaped but even they, after they arrived in their homes, almost all of them died.
—Scriptor Incertus, p. 148-149

Among those killed were the patricians Aecius, Peter, Sisnius, Tryphillios, Theodosius Salivaras (the patrician Eparchos [Prefect] of the capital), Romanus (the patrician and strategos of the theme Anatolic), and many protospatharios, spatharios, and archons of the tagmata, the domesticos of the Excubitors, the droungarios of the Imperial Watch, the strategos of the Thracian army, archons of themes together with innumerable soldiers. All arms and Imperial treasures were lost. [1, p. 492] Nicephorus' son Stauracius was carried to safety by the imperial bodyguard after receiving a paralyzing wound to his neck. [1, p. 489-492] [6, p. 373]. Only a few survived the defeat, one of them being Nicephorus' brother-in-law Michael Rangabe; the majority of those who survived died shortly after they arrived at their homes.

Bulgars killing Byzantines

The most notable person to be killed, however, was Emperor Nicephorus. According to Christian historians, the Byzantine soldiers hated him so much that they killed him in some way or another: some say that the Christians (Byzantines) killed him with stones after he fell down while the eunuchs in his entourage (parakoimomenous) died either in the fire of the burning ramparts or were killed with swords [1, p. 491]; either the Byzantines killed him themselves or, when the barbarians started to kill him, the Byzantines finished the killing of the torturer [6, p. 373]; in any case, Nicephorus was killed by a Roman [Byzantine]. [4, vol. III, p. 373] However, old Bulgarian sources say explicitly and unequivocally that Nicephorus was killed by the Bulgars, even by Krum himself. Thus, in the old-Bulgarian translation of the Mannases Chronicle, writing in general about the Nicephorus catastrophe in 811, one reads:

Old Cyrillic text
This tsar Nicephorus came into the Bulgar land during Kniaz Krum['s reign] and at first he apparently vanquished him, and plundered the estate bearing his [Krum's] name. After this, Krum gathered those who were left after the defeat, and he attacked the tsar during the night, and not only defeated the Greeks, but he [Krum] himself cut the head of the tsar, and he cased his head in silver, and poured wine in it, and he gave it to the Bulgars to drink from it. [3, p. 143]
Battle in the pass

Battle in the pass. Scene from reenactment of the battle, 26 July 2008.

Further in this chronicle, under two miniatures, illustrating the above text, it is written that "Kniaz Krum" caught tsar Nicephorus and cut his head. [3, p. 145] In the Arabian Synaxarium (Prologue), that had copied the description of the said battle almost literally from the Greek Synaxarium, under the month of Tammuz (July) day 23, there is the following synopsis:

In this day, we mention our Christian brothers, who died in the Bulgar lands in the days of tsar Nicephorus who set out with his Army during the ninth year of his reign against the Bulgars, attacked them suddenly, and was deigned with victory at first, and [Nicephorus] won a great victory. But what came to pass after this, is not to be muted but deserves cry and lament. It happened so that, one night, the Bulgars taking advantage of the carelessness of the Greeks, attacked their army, killed the tsar and many other commanders. Those who received deadly blows transcended immediately from our world; those for whom the blows were not deadly hid in the wooded and overgrown places; those who were captured alive suffered numerous tortures because they refused to deny Our Lord Jesus Christ; for some of them their heads were cut with sword; others were deprived of their present life with strangling; thirds were wounded with numerous arrows and transcended from this life. As for the rest, they were imprisoned in dungeons and sentenced to hunger and thirst. In this way, they freed themselves from this world and were wreathed with martyrs' wreaths. [28]
Krum receives head

Knyaz Krum receives the head of the Byzantine Emperor Nikephorus. Painting by Nikolay Pavlovich (1835-1894)

According to tradition, Krum had the Emperor's skull lined with silver and used it as a drinking cup. From the Byzantine (Christian) point of view, this act is an expression of the barbaric Bulgar customs, and is nothing more than sacrilege and a humiliation of Nicephorus. One must take into account, however, that according to the pagan religion of the Bulgars, the strength of the enemy, residing in his head, dissolves in the wine, and transfers to the blood of the person who drinks from the skull, making him invincible. The most powerful ruler of Europe had been vanquished, and Krum accepted his power by drinking from his skull. With this, he did not humiliate the Emperor; on the contrary, he acknowledged Nicephorus's power and wished it to be passed to himself by drinking from his skull. Evidently, Krum did not share Theophanes' opinion that Nicephorus was an incompetent commander leading a riff-raff army; quite on the contrary, Krum thought highly of the strength of the Byzantine army and the military ability of Nicephorus. As is seen by Krum's repeated humble peace proposals, he did not underestimate even for a moment Nicephorus as his adversary. There is no evidence for Krum making drinking cups from the heads of other commanders that he defeated: the Avar khagan and Michael Rangabe; probably he did not consider them great enough for these rites.

Location of catastrophe

Battle of Varbitsa Pass

Map of the Battle in the Pass

Although historians are unanimous about the timing of the last battle, in which Nicephorus I Genik was killed (July 26, 811), there is some disagreement about the exact location of the battle. It must be noted that although Theophanes writes about this event in great detail as a contemporary and also according to the narratives of participants, he does not give any topographic names that can pinpoint the place of the catastrophe; therefore, this place is designated differently by different authors. Thus, Konstantin Jireček [12] thinks that the invasion of Nicephorus as well as his defeat happened in the Veregava and Vărbitsa Passes because the latter had been opened until 8th or 9th century at the latest. Brothers V. and K. Škorpil [29] tried to prove that the catastrophe happened in the Kotel Pass, and they even tried to place the Bulgar and Romean positions. They based their opinion on a local legend that "here Bulgars and Greeks fought, and there was a maiden named Vida, who by discerning the rampart on the near peak, facilitated the Bulgar army" and that in "Greek Hollow" (between the Vid Peak (Kăstepe) and Razboyna Mountain) fell 16,000 Greeks together with their tsar. Later, K. Škorpil softened his earlier opinion by suggesting that Nicephoras' army was returning from Aboba (Pliska) towards Vărbitsa and in Vărbitsa Pass they were repulsed by Krum towards the Kotel Pass where the fighting took place in the so-called "Greek Hollow". But immediately after this, he writes: "According to legend, the fighting between Bulgars and Greeks took place in the locality "Razboy" between the villages Krumovo (Chatalar) and Divdyadovo (on the southern slopes of the Shumen Plateau) in the vicinity of Aboba (Pliska). We think, however, that a more probable location for the fight between Krum and Nicephorus is the Rish Valley, which, being surrounded by mountains, corresponds to Nicephorus' words. Krum could retreat to Marcelae through Veregava Pass and the said valley." [30] The last paragraph shows that K. Škorpil has abandoned his earlier opinion and maintains that the catastrophe occurred in the Veregava (=Chalăka) or Rish Passes. J. B. Bury, however, thinks that Veregava Pass is not the right location of the fight: "So far as we can divine, he permitted the enemy to lure him into the contiguous pass of Verbits, where a narrow defile was blocked by wooden fortifications which small garrisons could defend against multitudes. Here, perhaps, in what is called to-day the Greek Hollow, where tradition declares that many Greeks once met their death, the army found itself enclosed as in a trap." [11, p. 344] As we see, Bury accepts the earlier opinion of K. Škorpil; however, he mistakes Vărbitsa Pass with Kotel Pass in ascribing the location of "Greek Hollow".

The following objections can be raised against the opinion that Kotel Pass was the location of the battle: First of all, it is too risky to rely on local legends for determining the location of historic events, if those are not supported, at least in part, by literature data. This precaution is necessary especially with the issue at hand, first, because such legends for Nicephorus' defeat exist in many places throughout Eastern Bulgaria (around Shumen and Preslav), not only among Bulgarian but also among the Turkish population there, and second, because those legends cannot be considered to go back to old times: they were created relatively recently, during Bulgarian Renaissance and rediscovery of Bulgarian history. This is best exemplified by the name "Greek Hollow". This name in the mouth of old Kotel citizens sounds "Grăshki" and according to some "Grishki" or "Grashki" (=Pea Hollow), or even as in Bury, "Groshki" (=Penny Hollow) so that etymology can have completely different meaning.

Without doubt, however, the best evidence can be found in the chronological data in Theophanes' account. As we saw above, Nicephorus entered the Bulgar territory through the border fortress Marcelae on July 20. The first 3 days he spent on the move in skirmishes with the Bulgars, and when he entered the mountain pass, he chose steep paths, so that on the fourth day, July 23, he could enter into the residence of the Bulgar knyaz. One cannot believe the words of Theophanes that Nicephores plundered and killed the population of the town, and then burned Krums' palaces only in one day, and immediately went back; because, as we saw, Krum, even after the plunder, negotiated for peace, probably to gain time while blocking the entrances and the exits of the pass, which happened on the 5th and the 6th day (Thursday and Friday) while Nicephorus was still in Pliska. Evidently, he left on the 6th day because on the 7th day (Saturday) on July 26 at dawn the Bulgars were already attacking Nicephorus' tent. It is hardly conceivable that in such a short time the Byzantians would reach the peaks Vetrila and Vid in the Kotel Pass and take good strategical positions, and Nicephorus make a military camp in the locality "Karenika" in the Kotel Pass. Moreover, Nicephorus learned about the Bulgar fortifications while he was on the move and was already inside the pass, and this happened in the night of the 7th day, because if he knew before that he wouldn't want "to have wings" but would seek another way to retreat. The confusion and panic in the Byzantine army show that it was attacked without warning, so that it is unconceivable that Nicephorus would have time to fortify and choose "important positions" and, in general, to prepare for battle. All this shows that the defeat of Nicephorus happened not far from Krum's residence and this can be in the Chalăka or the Vărbitsa Passes. It is hard to say which one; however, if we take into account that Nicephorus chose the shortest way for retreat, it is more probable that Nicephorus chose the Vărbitsa pass, through which he entered into Bulgaria. [9, p.58]


The defeat was the worst the empire had faced since the Battle of Adrianopol over 400 years earlier, when the Eastern Roman forces were defeated by the Visigoths and Emperor Valens himself was killed. It was a stupendous blow to the Imperial prestige—to the legend of the Emperor’s sacrosanctity, so carefully fostered to impress the barbarians. Moreover, the Visigoths that slew Valens had been mere nomads, destined soon to pass away to other lands; the Bulgars were barbarians settled at the gate, and determined—more so now than ever—to remain there. The military might of the Empire was severely crippled and the memory of this catastrophe never paled among Byzantines while the Bulgars would ever be heartened by the memory of their triumph. [9, p.58] Stauracius, the new emperor, had been wounded and was ineffectual as emperor; he was deposed and succeeded by his brother-in-law Michael I Rangabe a month later. [4, p. 17]

Skull cup

Knyaz Krum feasts after the victory over Nicephorus I Genik. [3] Inscription (in Old Bulgarian Slavic): "Krum Kniaz encased the head of tsar Nicephores and drank to the health of Bulgars."

For Bulgaria, this victory had tremendous importance: it not only saved it from the great threat from Byzantium and returned all the lands taken from them, but strengthened all Bulgar conquests in the West together with Serdika and secured them from future attacks by Byzantine emperors, for whom Bulgaria became a permanent threat. For a long time, until the reign of John I Tzimiskes (ca. 970), Byzantines were afraid to pass the Balkan Mountains. Krum had good reason to be exultant. The whole effect of Constantine Copronymus’ long campaigns had been wiped out in one battle. He could face the Empire now in the position of conqueror of the Emperor, on equal terms, at a height never reached by Isperih or Tervel. Henceforward he would not have to fight for the existence of his country; he could fight for conquest and for annexation. Moreover, in his own country his position was assured; no one now would dare dispute the authority of the victorious knyaz. He could not have done a more useful deed to strengthen the Bulgar crown. Moreover, this victory elevated the image of the Bulgar knyaz in the eyes of Macedonian Slavs and with this opened a way for extension of the Bulgar state to the southwest. This pride of Krum is most clearly evident in the story about Nicephorus' head:

As he cut the head of Nicephorus, Krum put it on a stake for several days to show it to the tribes coming to him to our disgrace. After that he took it, plated it with silver from the outside and proudly made the Slav knyazes [princes] drink from it. [1, p. 491]

Content with their victory, the Bulgars did not at once follow it up with an invasion. But late next spring (812) Krum attacked the Imperial fortress of Develtus, a busy city at the head of the Gulf of Burgas, commanding the coast road to the south. It could not hold out long against the Bulgars. Krum dismantled the fortress, as he had done at Serdika, and transported the inhabitants, with their bishop and all, away into the heart of his kingdom. In June the new Emperor Michael set out to meet the Bulgars; but the news that he was too late to save the city, together with a slight mutiny in his army, made him turn back while he was still in Thrace. His inaction and the Bulgar victories terrified the inhabitants of the frontier cities. They saw the enemy overrunning all the surrounding country, and they determined to save themselves as best they could. The smaller frontier forts, Probatum and Thracian Nicaea, were abandoned by their population; even the population of Anchialus (today Pomorie) and Thracian Berrhoea (today Stara Zagora), whose defences Empress Irene had recently repaired, fled to districts out of reach of the heathen hordes. The infection spread to the great metropolis-fortress of Western Thrace, Philippopolis (today Plovdiv), which was left half-deserted, and thence to the Macedonian cities, Philippi and Strymon. In these last cities it was chiefly the Asiatics transported there by Nicephorus that fled, overjoyed at the opportunity of returning to their homes. Over the next two years, Krum was able to attack the empire in the vicinity of Constantinople itself, although he was never able to take the city. Michael attempted to recover from the loss, but was defeated in 813 at the Battle of Versinikia. After this victory, Krum began preparations for a direct attack against the Byzantine capital. During these preparations, according to Scriptor Incertus, he gathered a large army, including his allies the Avars and "all Slavinias" (καὶ πάσας τὰς Σκλαβινίας). [2] This fragment is very revealing, attesting to the existing military agreement between the Bulgar state and the Slavs from the Bulgar-Thracian group outside its territory who saw Bulgaria as their natural political and ethnic center. By "all Slavinias" we must understand the Slavic tribes, primarily in Thrace and Macedonia, who were still under the Byzantine rule and who hoped that after a joint attack against the then weakened Byzantine Empire they could win at last their freedom and political independency. Through his alliance with "all Slavinias" Krum followed his policy of unification which the Bulgar knyazes initiated since the beginning of 8th century and which at that moment had every chance to succeed. However, Krum died unexpectedly in 814, amid the military preparations.


Primary sources

1. Theophanes the Confessor, Chronographia, Ed. Carl de Boor, vol. I, 1883, vol. II, 1885, Leipzig.

2. Scriptor Incertus. Anonymous Vatican Narration (Narratio anonyma e codice Vaticano), In: Codice Vaticano graeca 2014 (XII s.) ff. 119-122; Ivan Duychev (1936) New Biographic Data on the Bulgarian Expedition of Nicephorus I in 811, Proc. Bulg. Acad. Sci. 54:147-188 (in Bulgarian); H. Grégoire (1936) Un nouveau fragment du "Scriptor incertus de Leone Armenio", Byzantion, 11:417-427; Beshevliev, V (1936) The New Source About the Defeat of Nicephorus I in Bulgaria in 811, Sofia University Annual Reviews, 33:2 (In Bulgarian).

3. Mannases Chronicle, 1335-1340. Apostolic Library. The Vatican.

4. Michael the Syrian, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, Patriarche Jacobite d'Antioche (1166-1199), published by Jean Baptiste Chabot (in French). 1st Ed. Paris : Ernest Leroux, 1899-1910, OCLC 39485852; 2nd Ed. Bruxelles: Culture et Civilisation, 1963, OCLC 4321714

5. B. Flusin (trans.), J.-C. Cheynet (ed.), Jean Skylitzès: Empereurs de Constantinople, Ed. Lethielleux, 2004, ISBN 2-283-60459-1.

6. Joannes Zonaras. Epitome historiarum, ed. L. Dindorfii, 6 vol., Lipsiae (BT), 1858—75. Epitomae Historiarum/Chapter 24 in Epitomae Historiarum by Ioannis Zonarae.

Secondary sources

7. Bozhilov, Ivan, and Gyuzelev, Vasil. 1999. History of Bulgaria. Vol. 1: History of Medieval Bulgaria 7-14 c. AD. Anubis Publishing, Sofia, ISBN 954-426-204-0. (in Bulgarian)

8. Zlatarski, Vasil N. 1918 (in Bulgarian). Medieval History of the Bulgarian State, Vol I: History of the First Bulgarian Empire, Part I: Age of Hun-Bulgar Domination (679-852). Sofia: Science and Arts Publishers, 2nd Edition (Petar Petrov, Ed.), Zahari Stoyanov Publishers, 4th Edition, 2006. ISBN 9547366284.

9. Runciman, Steven (1930). A History of the First Bulgarian Empire. G. Bell & Sons, London.

10. Fine, Jr., John V.A. (1991). The Early Medieval Balkans. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0472081493.

11. Bury, J.-B. (1912). A History of the Eastern Roman Empire from the fall of Irene to the accession of Basil I (802—867). Macmillan & Co., Ltd., London. ASIN B000WR1S6Q, OCLC/WorldCat 1903563.

12. Jireček, K. J. (1876) (in German). Geschichte der Bulgaren. Nachdr. d. Ausg. Prag 1876, Hildesheim, New York : Olms 1977. ISBN 3-487-06408-1.

13. István Bóna, Southern Transylvania under Bulgar Rule, Chapter II.6 In: History of Transylvania (Béla Köpeczi, Gen. Ed.), Vol. 1, 2001-2002 Social Science Monographs, Boulder, Colorado; Atlantic Research and Publications, Inc. Highland Lakes, New Jersey


14. Ivanov, Ivo (June 2007),"The Address of a Victory", Bulgarian Soldier Issue 6 (in Bulgarian)

15. Military history of Bulgaria

16. This is the period of the year when Sirius first becomes visible above the eastern horizon at dawn, after a period when it was hidden below the horizon or when it was just above the horizon but hidden by the brightness of the sun. The period of the heliacal rising of the Dog Star determines the Dog Days, or as the Romans called them, caniculares dies (days of the dogs). For the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the season of the Nile's flooding, so they used the star as a "watchdog" for that event on which they based the Egyptian calendar.

17. Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813

18. For the ancient Greeks, the appearance of Sirius heralded the hot and dry summer. Due to its brightness, Sirius would have been noted to twinkle more in the unsettled weather conditions of early summer. The traditional ancient timing of the Dog Days is the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11; however, at present, due to the precession of the equinoxes, the heliacal rising of Sirius has shifted with 37 days towards the end of the year so that it begins on August 9 and ends on September 17.

19. The image was made with the help of the astronomy software Home Planet, release 3.3a, with Pliska coordinates 43°23′N 27°8′E. Half of the Sun's disk appears above the horizon from the east. The Dog Star (Sirius of the constellation Canis Major (Big Dog)) rises 2 minutes before the Sun (heliacal rising). The moon is late in its last quarter in the constellation Cancer (Crab).

20. Theophanes (p. 486) gives the exact day in which the expedition set out; however, the original text is damaged so that only the month is legible.

21. Blasius Kleiner (1761) History of Bulgaria (in Latin), translated in Bulgarian by Karol Telbizov, edited by Ivan Duychev, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Publishing House, Sofia 1977

22. Todorov Dzh.Zh., Stoyanov R.I., Ivanov I.R., and Chalakov I.H. The Lost Town: A History of Sadovo (in Bulgarian)

23. Distance was measured using the distance measuring tool of the free software application Google Earth, version 4.2

24. John Haldon. The Organisation and Support of an Expeditionary Force: Manpower and Logistics in the Middle Byzantine Period. In: Byzantium at War (Edited by Nicolas Oikonomides), Athens: Institute for Byzantine Studies, 1997

25. Georgius Monachus. Chronicon, p.774

26. Anastasius Bibliothecarius. Chronographia tripertita, p.329

27. Calculated with the freeware program Home Planet, v. 3.3a, Sun/Moon info module.

28. А. Васильев, Арабский синаксарь о болгарском походе императора Никифора I. В „Новый сборникъ” статей в честь проф. В. И. Ламанского, Петроград, 1905, стр. 361—362.

29. Шкорпил В. и К., Някои бележки върху археологическите и историческите изследвания в Тракия, Пловдив 1885.

30. K. Шкорпил. Материалы для болгарских древностей Абоба-Плиска. Известия Русского Археологическото Института в Константинополе, Х (1905).

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Bulgarian compared to other Slavic languages

Benyo Tsonev

Prof. Benyo Tsonev

Bulgarian language is the Slavic language spoken by the today's Balkan Slavs known by the name Bulgarians. To distinguish it from the language of the Asparuch Bulgars (Bulgar language), it would be better named Slavo-Bulgarian language, as it was refered to by the first writers of the new Bulgarian literature. Since today there is no other non-Slavic tribe with the name Bulgars, or if there is, it is so insignificant and distant from today's Bulgarians that it's impossible to confuse, we can boldly use the names Bulgarian and Bulgarian language to mean Slavo-Bulgarian people and Slavo-Bulgarian language.

Although the first embryo of the Bulgarian state was made by a non-Slavic tribe (Bulgars), although the name of Bulgarians is from non-Slavic origin, everyone studying the language of Bulgarians will assure that it is as much Slavic as is, e.g., Russian or Serbian. The deeper study in the Bulgarian culture shows that today's Bulgarians cannot be separated from other Slavs and that their ancestors, together with the ancestors of Serbs, Croats, Russians, Slovenes, Poles, and Czechs, were members of the same Slavic tribe which some time lived on one territory. Moreover, Bulgarians showed their Slavishness before all other Slavs when as early as 9th c. were the first to create Slavic literature and spread enlightment in all Slavic countries. The modern Bulgarian language, in spite of some non-Slavic traits, is still pure Slavic language because if one looks closer into these non-Slavic traits, he will see that they arise from a common Slavic basis. Thus, modern Bulgarian is rooted in that common Proto-Slavic language which is thought of as the source of all Slavic languages.

Proto-Slavic and Indo-European

 photo Balto-Slavic_lng.png

There is no consensus among researchers concerning the Proto-Slavic language and its position among the other Indo-European languages. Some consider it closer to the Iranic branch while others relate it more with the German branch. What is certain is that Proto-Slavic is closest to the so-called Baltic languages (Lithuano-Lettan and Old Prussian), and some time there was a common Lito-Slavic language, which contacted on one side with German, and on the other — with Iranian language. This follows not only from similarities between Lito-Slavic, German, and Iranian but also from the geographical position of the Lito-Slavs. Although much time passed since the Great Migration of the Indo-European peoples, we can say that the ancient neighbourhood is preserved even today between Lito-Slavs and Germans; today there are no other peoples also between Slavs and Arians (Armenians and Persians). Of course, similarity between different Indo-European languages does not come always from original kinship but also from later neighbourhood. For example, Albanian has similarities with Greek and Latin but it does not mean that it originated from Greek or Latin and not from some other European or Asian language; closeness is a consequence of long neighbourhood and nothing more. Therefore, it is very difficult to determine the original kinship of Indo-European languages, to draw a genetic tree, and to subordinate one Indo-European language to the others with respect to kinship because no one can be certain which language arose from the others. One sees that there is only a gradual transition between Indo-European languages and two languages always have a third as an intermediate and this third language has pronunciation traits from the 2 others. Indo-European languages are a closed chain and as parts of a common whole they always have something in common, however this communality is seen better between neighbouring languages then between more distant ones. Thus, Lithuanian is between Slavic and German, Celtic is between German and Latin (Italic), Albanian is between Italic and Greek, Armenian is between Greek and Sanskrit (Old Indian), and Zend (Old Persian) is between Sanskrit and Slavic. But which of those is older or younger, it is hard to say because all Indo-European languages arose fron one root, and if they differ it is not because some of them are younger and others are older, or some are more conservative and others are more variable.

We tend to think that a people that speaks an older language is itself older. Still more confusing is the literature of individual Indo-European languages which in some comes from antiquity and in others is much later; seeing old monuments in some language, we tend to think this people older than other peoples which coincidently do not have such old literature. So it was at first with the well-known case of Sanskrit which confused the first European linguists with its ancient writings, was proclaimed as the oldest Indo-European language and was put as the basis of all languages from Indo-European root. At present, the charm of the Sanskrit antiquity faded somewhat because not everything in this old literature is as old as thought: comparative linguistics found such old traits, even older, in other Indo-European languages. Therefore, we can assert that Indo-European languages are related not as children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of one father, but as brothers. This is understanding of the Indo-European languages of Prof. Brugman who in his comparative Indo-European grammar described the main Indo-European languages as 8 parallel branches: Arian (Indo-Persian), Armenian, Greek, Albanian, Italic, Celtic, German, Balto-Slavic.

Indo-European languages take the largest territory and are spoken by most of mankind: almost the whole Europe, large part of Asia, Africa, America, and Australia. The name Indo-European languages comes from the fact that the bulk of these peoples lives in Europe and India. The name Indo-German languages was also used which meant that the peoples at the two borders of the group are Indians at the east and Germans at the west. The second name was used before it became known that Indo-Europeans are found to the west of Germans: these are the Celts in Brétagne and the British Isles. The name Arian, Arian languages is also used which shows that Indo-European languages originated in India because ária in Sanskrit (Old Indian) means 'fellow tribesman'. Most researchers use the name Arian only for the Asian branch of Indo-European languages, and some (Brugman) use it only for Sanskrit and Zend.

Based on many reliable data from comparison between Slavic and Lithuano-Lettish, we can take for a proven fact that Lithuanians and Slavs lived together for a long time while the other related peoples lived separately from them. This relationship must be followed through in these languages and so to reconstruct the old Lito-Slavic language. This is the final objective of Slavistics which will be probably solved in the future. Before this, however, Slavistics must solve more direct tasks such as the relationships between Slavic languages in order to reconstruct the original Proto-Slavic language.

Inter-Slavic relations

The problem of the oldest Slavic homeland and the closer relations between Slavic languages has always concerned Slavic linguists, historians, and ethnographers but they have not reached a positive answer because reliable data are lacking. Some point to southwest Russia as far as the Black Sea, others — Lithuania, thirds limit these settlements to the north of Carpathians, and forths accept the lands of lower Danube as the first homeland of the old Slavs. The Czech ethnographer L. Nięderle points to Carpathians, and more exactly the plain to the east of Wisla, as far as Dnieper and the river Desna, and to the north as far as Smolensk. This origin of Slavs is very likely taking into account that the present Slavic lands are all around it and are situated on the whole periphery of this old homeland.

Slavic languages map

Leaving aside the old Slavic homeland and considering the present relationships among Slavs, one sees that they occupy a large part of Middle and Eastern Europe and with their tribal divisions form a chain among which stand 2 non-Slavic peoples: Hungarians and Romanians. Comparing Slavic languages we'll see that here the pattern observed in Indo-European languages is reproduced, even more clear: a gradual transition from one language, one dialect, to another. The kinship of Slavic languages supports very well the theory of I. Schmid for the wave-like propagation of languages. However, this wavelike propagation of Slavic languages takes the shape of circles that are located on the periphery of a bigger circle into which center there is no longer a Slavic people because this center is occupied by foreign peoples (Hungarians and Romanians). To help imagine better the relationship and similarity of Slavic languages let us accept that these circles overlap, so between each two circles there is a common area where a transitional dialect is spoken. Indeed, between Russian and Polish there is Belarussian which has also traits of Polish language; between Polish and Czech there is Lužica-Sorbian dialect; between Czech and Slovenian there is Slovak dialect; between Slovenian and Serbian there is the Kajkavian Croat; and between Serbian and Bulgarian there are the Kosovo-Morava (transitional) dialects which have traits from both languages.

The gradual transition between Bulgarian and Russian is somewhat interrupted by the fact that there is at present no such transitional dialect as between other Slavic languages — except Ukrainian which has more common traits with Bulgarian than with Russian. Still, the gradual transition is lacking probably because there were for a long time foreign peoples between Russians and Bulgarians which prevented the formation of a transitional dialect. Jagić [1] supposes that a transitional dialect existed also between old Bulgarian ancestors (Panonian Slavs) and Russians through the present Hungary and Romania. This suggestion is based on the many Bulgarian toponyms in Siebenbürgen. Oblak went further and supposed that the Bulgarian north-western dialects which have ч-дж instead of щ-жд are a continuation of the Carpathian Ukrainian dialect. Jagić was a staunch supporter of the gradual transition between Slavic languages and did not accept any divisions between them because there is no abrupt border between neighboring Slavic languages and their traits intermingle.

It is true that neighboring Slavic languages have so many common traits that sometimes they are hard to distinguish but this does not prevent their grouping in the same way as one groups dialects of one and the same language. It is another question whether to consider Slavic languages as languages or as dialects. Then the protest against the various divisions of Slavic languages makes sense because these divisions assume languages and not dialects. Indeed, having in mind the huge difference between dialects in German, or in French, it would be more correct to call Slavic languages not languages but dialects. Only the fact that almost all Slavic languages have long history, and established and developed their own literatures can justify the names Slavic peoples and Slavic languages. Otherwise, if all were united in a single state, if all had a single standard language, nobody would talk about individual Slavic languages, and we would have only Slavic dialects. But even so, when we begin to study these dialects, we'll have to classify them somehow in order to know them better. Therefore, comparing the modern Slavic languages, we must order them to clarify their relations and their mutual kinship, we must distinguish them somehow, after which we'll dwell some more on the situation of Bulgarian language among its related Slavic languages.

Classification of Slavic languages

Josef Dobrovsky
There is no established opinion among Slavists about the classification of Slavic languages; not only there is no consensus about the basis for classification but also about the number of individual Slavic languages. Evidently, this despairs some, so they revolt against any classification. However, these attempts since the very beginning of Slavistics until now, even they did not give an end result, are important because they show how Slavistics gradually acquires "more knowledge both on the whole group and individual parts of Slavic languages" [2]. Dobrovsky [3] after enumerating the 12 Slavic languages without classification in the dictionary of Catherine the Great Comparative Dictionary of all Languages, 1793, attempted to classify the Slavic languages on a scientific basis. He accepted two groups of Slavic languages: (1) Russian, Old Slavonic, Illyric or Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Wendian (Slovenian in Carniola, Stiria, and Carinthia); (2) Slovak, Czech, Upper Lužician, Lower Lužician, and Polish.

There are 10 distinguising traits of the Dobrovsky classification:

Southeastern groupNorthwestern group
epenthetic л
тъ (той)

no epenthetic л

This first classification of Slavic languages was immediately accepted by all Slavists at that time and held for a long time with some ammendments and additions proposed by Vostokov. He omitted points 1, 2, and 9 because in Russian it is роз and вы, and птака; instead of those traits, Vostokov points that in the first group there is p, and in the second group — рж: рeч — ржеч.

Pavel Josef Šafarik

Pavel Josef Šafarik

This classification was accepted also by Šafarik [4] who called the first group south-eastern Slavic languages, and the second group — north-western. But in his detailed classification Šafarik deviated very much from Dobrovsky because sometimes he took more and sometimes less Slavic peoples and dialects. For the first time Šafarik mentioned Bulgarians which Dobrovsky and Vostokov had forgotten; however, Šafarik attached Bulgarians to Serbs, together with Bosniaks, Montenegrins, and Dalmatians. After this, he corrected this error and classified the Slavic languages as follows:

I. Southeastern group: Russian, Bulgarian, Illyric (Serbian, Croatian, and Slovenian);

II. Northwestern group: Lech (Polish and Kashubian), Czech (Czech, Moravian and Slovak), and Polabian (with Upper and Lower Lužician)

Later, Šafarik in [5] removed most of the 10 points of Dobrovsky and kept only 2 of them (3 and 4) and to them added also a trait that д and т are dropped in front of н in the southeastern group, and are retained in the northwestern group: вѧнѫти — vadnouti, but the groups remained the same as in Dobrovsky.

This partition in two stuck in Slavistics especally when it was endorsed by Schleicher who accepted these three traits of Šafarik but he attached special importance to the tj and dj reflexes on which basis he made a more detailed partition of Slavic languages dividing the southeastern group in two: Russian and Yugoslavic, and then dividing the Yugoslavic group in three languages: Bulgarian (щ-жд), Serbian (ћ-ђ), and Slovenian (ч-ϳ); also, the northwestern group is divided in four languages: Czech, Polish, Lužician, and Polabian [6].

Together with such partition in 2 groups, there were also opinions that Slavic languages can be divided into 3 groups. Palacky [7] wrote about eastern (Russians and Bulgarians), southwestern (Slovenians, Serbs, and Croats), and northwestern (Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, and Lužicians) Slavs. Before this, Vostokov had suggested an apparent tripartition [8]; describing the division of Dobrovsky, Vostokov expressed an opinion that Russian in some traits (вы, роз, птак) is intermediate between the southeastern and the northwestern Slavic group. Other Russian linguists followed Vostokov (Nadezhdin, Ustrelov, Maksimovich), who proposed with some variations tripartition instead of bipartition. The arguments of Nadezhdin involve a Russian feature that indeed separates this language from both the northwestern and the southeastern groups: it is the Russian vocalisation (Russian город vs. Yugoslav град and Polish grod). This phenomenon by itself is very important and characteristic but it is not certain if it is so old to be a basis for separation of Russian from the others, i.e., if this phenomenon is pre-Russian and Old Slavonic, or it arose on Russian soil. There are divergent opinions about this: Mikloshich [9], Jagić [10], and Krek [11] think that vocalisation is an old phenomenon but developed later on Russian soil, after the separation of Slavic languages while Maksimov [12], Lavrovsky [13], Gaitler [14], and I. Schmidt [15] think vocalisation is a pre-Russian phenomenon.

However old, the Russian vocalisation (город) couldn't be older than, e.g. the Polish grod; if one takes examples as Volos from βλάσιος, паполом from πάπλομα [16], one can assert that город is not older than град. Even if one accepts the Russian vocalisation as basis for division, i.e., to separate Russian from the other southwestern Slavic languages, one must then place Czech among the Yugoslav languages, and put Polish in a separate group. All other traits of these languages go against such classification.

Much more acceptable is the tripartition of Daničić [17], who takes as a basis a very old phonetic phenomenon, the tj, dj reflex in Slavic languages. These combinations were changed in a different way in each Slavic language and can serve as a distinguishing trait. Daničić suggested that Slavic languages first separated in 3 branches: Serbo-Croatian, Russo-Bulgarian, Polish-Czech. Serbo-Croatian remained closest to the old combinations because ћ-ђ sound similar to tj-dj; the Russo-Bulgarian group changed the sound j after т to ш, and after д to ж; hence ч (тш) and (д)ж in Russian, and after metathesis — щ (шт) and жд in Bulgarian. The western Slavic languages changed j after т to с, and after д — to з; hence in Polish ц (тс) and дз, and in Czech ц (тс) and з (д is dropped).

Leskin and Jagić objected to this classification as based only on one trait. However, Leskin, too, separated Slavic languages in three groups by only one trait, the accent, although he admits that the different accent systems developed in historical time.

For an acceptable classification of Slavic languages, we need to find the main differences between them and use these differences as a basis for classification. Most important are the phonetic traits because these are older than morphological traits. It is not accidental that all forms in Slavic languages, nouns as well as verbs are interpreted from Old Bulgarian; it is so because Old Bulgarian monuments are the oldest, dating of 9-10 c. when individual Slavic languages had very few formal differences. Studying the phonetic traits that have a potential as a basis for classification one can see that many of them cross over, i.e. they are not found in only one group; other traits are of too little importance to serve as a basis for distinction. This is why some Slavists do not speak about any classification only implicitly accepting a certain number of Slavic languages and avoiding mention on their interrelationship (Kopitar, Grigorovich, Mikloshich). Thus, Mikloshich without specifying any classification, ordered Slavic languages in his Comparative Grammar according to their similarity to Old Bulgarian (Old Slavonic, according to him); his order is this: Old Slavonic, New Slavonic, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Ukrainian, Russian, Czecho-Slovak, Polish, Upper Lužician, Lower Lužician. Sreznevsky, reviewing [5], reached to the conclusion that instead of talking about classification, it is better to accept a certain number of Slavic dialects and not push any further. Jagić was also against classification because he saw in Slavic languages a gradual transition between each other; about the generally accepted bipartition (northwestern and southeastern) he said directly:

I do not support bipartition because, strictly speaking, it is not important for science and because it does not lead to any result. [1]

It seems, however, that a partition of Slavic languges is not superfluous but quite on the contrary, it is as necessary as any classification in science. As one can speak about grouping of dialects in some more or less living language, one can speak also about classification of Slavic languages; such classification is even more legitimate because there are indeed some traits that make us accept 2 or 3 separate groups of Slavic languages. Maybe the differences that are found in the modern Slavic languages were not so big in earlier times; however, observing them today we need to stress them; according to the nature and occurence of these differences we'll have one or another classification of the modern Slavic languages.

Let us at first solve the question about the basis of classification. We mentioned above that phonetic differences between Slavic languages can serve as a basis for classification because they are older and are more characteristic. Accent is considered a phonetic difference because it is a phonetic phenomenon involving the vowel sounds. Lexical differences can also be used but those must involve a large number of words, and not only 3-4 words, as accepted by Dobrovsky (cf. points 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10 of his classification) and his followers; in addition, as we noted, these words are not partitioned as Dobrovsky alleged but somewhat differently; e.g. while Dobrovsky assigned the words роз, вы, птак only to the northwestern group, it turned out that they are found also in the southestern group (in Russian). Excluding, therefore, the lexical differences, out of the 10 classification traits of Dobrovsky, only 4 are left which are purely phonetic and should be taken into account for a classification basis. Let us add to these 4 the pronunciation of soft р (реч and ржеч) which was suggested by Vostokov, and the dropping of д and т in front of н proposed by Šafarik; then we'll have 6 important phonetic traits which could bolster a well justified classification of Slavic languages. To these 6 traits we can add 2 more, maybe comparatively newer but not less important. One of those is the accent which in the south-western group is indefinite (on different syllables) while in the north-western group it is definite (on one and the same syllable). In addition to accent which makes the 7th distinctive trait, we can add also the replacement of ъ: while in the south-western group ъ is replaced with a hard vowel (ъ, о, а), in the northwestern group ъ is replaced by е and therefore passes to the soft vowel category although this e still keeps its former origin. The replacement of e with ъ in new Slavonic, as well as the replacement of о with ъ in Slovac are secondary and non-general. Moreover, we should note that Slovak – if we count it as a language, and not as a dialect – is not easy to classify also by some other traits; the reason is that it is at the middle between the 2 groups and therefore it is a transitional Slavic language in the same way as there are transitional dialects.

Thus, the division of the Slavic languages into 2 groups – northwestern and southeastern – is based on the following 8 phonetic traits:

1. The reflex of the old sound combinations tj and dj (dental + j)

In the northwestern group (Polish and Czecho-Slovak) instead of the old tj and dj there are hissing sounds (ц and дз in Polish and Slovak and ц and з in Czech) while in the southwestern group (Russian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croat and Slovenian) insthead of tj and dj there are affricates: ч-ж in Russian, щ-жд in Bulgarian, ћ-ђ in Serbian, ч-j in Slovenian).

2. The changes of the labial consonants when followed by j (epenthetic l)

In the northwestern groups linking of labials with j is allowed: zemia, while in the southwestern group in these cases a labial (softening) ль is inserted: землıа. Here it is meant the older state of Slavic languages when in Bulgarian was also землıа.

3 .The pronunciation of soft ŕ or rj

In the northwestern group the soft ŕ or rj receives an accompanying sound ж, so that it is pronounced as рж: Polish rzecz, Czech řeč, while in the southeastern group ŕ or rj remains unchanged: реч.

4. The reflex of kv and gv

In the northwestern group we find these old sound combinations unchanged: Czech květ, Polish kwiat; Czech hvězda, Polish gwiazda, while in the southeastern group those are replaced by цв – зв (or дзв): цвѣт, звѣзда.

5–6. Dental d and t in front of l and n

In the northwestern group the dentals d and t are retained in front of l and n while in the southwestern group they disappear: on one hand radlo, sadlo, pletla, vadnouti, svitnouti, and on the other – рало, сало, плела, ванѫти, свьнѫти.

7. Pronunciation of ъ

In the northwestern group ъ is pronunced as an є-sound though different from the etimological є while in the southeastern group this vowel is hard: ъ, о, or а; in Czech and Polish deska, in Bulgarian дъска, in Russian доска, and in Serbo-Croatian daska. In Slovenian, although it is written deska, it is pronounced дъска.

8. Accent.

In the northwestern group accent is definitive, i.e. it falls on one and the same syllable, namely: in Czech – on the first syllable, and in Polish – on the penultimate syllable while in the southeastern group the accent is indefinite, i.e. it can fall on any syllable. Whatever exceptions there are, those are either new, or do not occur in the standard languages but only in dialects.

Out of the 8 phonetic traits which we accept as distinctive traits between the 2 groups of Slavic languages, the most important for classification is the tj,dj reflex because it can be used for further classification. Indeed, this reflex not only distinguishes clearly the 2 main Slavic language groups because instead of tj-dj we have on one hand (in the northwestern group: Polish and Czech) hissing consonants (ts-dz), and on the other (in the southeastern group: Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Russian, and Bulgarian) affricate consonants (tš-dž) but furthermore, comparing the main Slavic languages again on this basis we see that the pronunciation of tj-dj separates them very well from each other; thus, we can always recognise Polish by its c-dz instead of tj-dj, Czech – by c-z, Serbo-Croatian – by ћ-ђ, Slovenian – by č-j, Russian – by ч-ж, Bulgarian – by щ-жд.

Thus, assuming unmutated tj-dj in Proto-Slavic, we have:

In common Slavic svêtja – medja.

I. In the northwestern group tj-dj give hissing reflex.

śvieca – miedza
svice – meze

II. In the southeastern group tj-dj give affricates.

свѣча – межа
свѣща – межда
свиϳећа – међа
svêča – meja

Of course, this classification does not prevent combining Slavic languages in other groups by some or other common traits; this could only help understand their relationship. Whatever we do though, the primary division in two will stand firm; first, because it is supported by very important and old traits, and second, because through it we obtain 2 groups of languages separated very well dialectally and geographically. Separated, because the few "crossovers" that occur here and there do not contradict the above classification because these crossovers occur either near the division border, such as, e.g. dl-tl in Slovenian which comes from neighbouring Slovak, or are later phenomena such as: да светна, да падна, земя, оставям, бракя in Bulgarian.

However we classify Slavic languages, we must admit that the problem of their interrelationships is very difficult because it is interweaved with issues that have no positive solution. First of all, we do not know since when the Slavic peoples occupy their present lands and if their present location has always been the same; if not, how it has changed. Furthermore, we do not know the date of the various phonetic and morphological changes in individual Slavic languages and if, e.g. the same changes in 2 or more Slavic languages are due to living in a community, or as neighbours, or those arose independently. Thus, we see that both in Serbian and in Russian the Old Bulgarian ѫ is replaced with у; if we assume that this is because both languages are in the southeastern group then why don't we find the same replacement in Bulgarian and in Slovenian? They are in the same group, aren't they? Moreover, why do we find the same reflex in Czech, which is in the northwestern group? The same confusion ensues also when we ask why ѣ is replaced in Russian, Serbian, and Czech with e and ϳe while in Bulgarian and Polish this vowel is replaced with ϳa, although the last 2 languages are not from the same group. These questions can be answered somehow but it seems that in addition to individual reasons there should be taken account of the natural contact through neighbourhood – either hisorical or pre-historical. If it is always stressed that the present dialect traits in Slavic languages had arisen early in Proto-Slavic times, why shouldn't we assume for some identical traits in different Slavic languages to be a result of a previous neighbourhood of these languages, a neighbourhood that has thereafter been eliminated by historic events?

Thus, the comparison of Bulgarian with other Slavic languages suggests that at some time Bulgarian had other other Slavic neighbours and not only Serbian as it is now. Indeed, if we take into account that Bulgarian Slavs were located at some time in the Hungarian plain, in Transylvania, Walachia, and Moldova, as is suggested by so many Bulgarisms in Hungarian and Romanian, we must conclude that in the past Bulgarian touched not with one language, as now, but with several; for it took the center of the circle of Slavic languages situated around it, the place that is now occupied by Hungarians and Romanians. Hence, some striking similarities of Bulgarian with Slavic languages with which it doesn't come in geographic contact.

And indeed, the more we study the relationship of Bulgarian to other Slavic languages, the more we are convinced that Bulgarian, taken together with its dialects, contains in itself traits from all Slavic languages. Maybe every other Slavic language seems to be so encompassing if we start comparisons from it but still there are facts that give some advantage to Bulgarian in this respect. Thus, in addition to its undoubtedly central location until the arrival of Magyars in today Hungary and Transylvania, Bulgarian has also the advantage that its documental history dates from the earliest time when no other Slavic language possessed written monuments. Furthermore, the numerous Bulgarian dialects not only confirm with living examples what is conserved in written monuments but put it in touch with one or another Slavic language; because in Bulgarian dialects we find reflected almost all old and new phonetic traits of Slavic languages. This gives us a basis to conclude that many of these common traits between Bulgarian dialects and individual Slavic languages are an echo from the time when Bulgarian was in touch with those languages.

One or two examples can explain what was said above. Bulgarian in its present area touches to the west with Serbian, and to the north-east – with Russian; thus it is natural that it has the most common traits with these 2 languages. This is really so, but while the similarities between Serbian and Bulgarian are easy to understand because these 2 languages lived many centuries next to each other, the similarity between Russian and Bulgarian cannot be explained by a present neighbourhood because in fact it dates since newer time, since some 180 years, namely, since the various Russian-Turkish wars when many Bulgarian youth from Eastern Bulgaria left their homeland to live in Russia. This new neighbourhood did not influence significantly the 2 languages, or if it did, it did it only locally, not affecting the deeper language structure. Therefore, the similarity between Bulgarian and Russian should be interpreted as a coincidence, or as a consequence of a former closer neighbourhood. The latter is more probable, because it is supported by other facts.

Second. Bulgarian and Polish are now furthest from each other both in space and in language traits. In spite of this, these 2 languages keep an identical pronunciation of ѣ, the same pronunciation that is characteristic for Bulgarian from its written monuments. This similarity between Polish and Bulgarian is not accidental but dates from the time when these 2 languages bordered each other, and maybe even then they were as distinguished from other Slavic languages by this common trait as they are now.

Some obvious similarities of Bulgarian with Slovenian and Slovak languages that will be described below, lead to the same conclusion that these languages which are now far apart, were close neighbours at an earlier time – thus, the amazing similarities among them.

Benyo Tsonev, Ivan Vazov, Lyubomir Miletich

Ivan Vazov Jubilee in the National Theatre, 24.10.1920.
Left to right: St. Stanimirov, Al. Radoslavov, Dim. Lazov, Prof. Benyo Tsonev, Iv. Vazov, Prof. Lyubomir Miletich, Dr. Mihail Arnaudov, Dr. Phil. Manolov, Stoyan Omarchevski, Hristo Tsankov - Derijan, Prof. Ivan Georgov, Stilyan Chilingirov, Adriana Budevska, Elena Snezhina.

Bulgarian compared

Before we go over to a detailed comparison between Bulgarian and other Slavic languages, we'll give a short summary of individual Slavic languages, with emphasis on their phonetic traits.


  1. tj and dj are pronounced as ч and ж: свѣча, межа.
  2. ѫ reflects in у: рука, мука; ѧ reflects in я: мясо, ряд.
  3. Russian vocalisation: instead of ра and ла that arose from older or ol, in Russian we have оро, оло: борода, голова instead of брада, глава; also, in Russian we have instead of рѣ, лѣ (from the ancient er, el between consonants) – ере, еле (or оло): дерево, железа, молоко.
  4. In Russian unlike any other living Slavic language, the old pronunciation of ъı, written ы, is preserved: сын, мышца.
  5. ъ and ь which are pronounced as vowels, become о and e: плотно, день.
  6. Old Bulgarian interconsonant ръ and лъ keep their old original form (ор-ол, ер-ел, ро-ле, ре-ле) only in Russian: торг, волк, зерно, кровь, плоть, крест, слеза. In most Bulgarian dialects this form has reflected very long ago: тръг, влък, зръно, кръв, плът, кръст, слъза.
  7. The accent is old, undefined.


  1. tj and dj are replaced with ћ and ђ, pronounced as very soft чь and джь: свећа, међа.
  2. ѫ reflects in у: рука, мука; ѧ reflects in е: месо, ред.
  3. ъ is assimilated with ь and both are pronounced as а: даска, дан, лан.
  4. ръ and лъ (interconsonant) are pronounced as р̥ (vowel)̥ and у: прст, суза.
  5. л at the end of syllables is vocalised as о: пепео, криоце.
  6. The accent is undefined, however, in Serbian it is regularly shifted forward by one syllable.
  7. Serbo-Croatian has tonal accent.

Serbo-Croatian is divided in 3 dialects according to the pronunciation of чьто: Shtokavian, Chakavian, and Kajkavian. Shtokavian is spoken by the true Serbs, while Chakavian and Kajkavian comprise the Croatian language.


  1. tj and dj are replaced with ч and j: свеча, меjа.
  2. ѫ reflects in о: рока, мока; ѧ reflects in е: месо, ред.
  3. ъ is assimilated with ь in a dark sound ъ which is written as е: bez, deska, den, len.
  4. ръ and лъ are pronounced as vowels р̥̥ and л̥: prst, slza.
  5. The accent is old but very much mutated.
  6. There is tonal accent but it is new and long vowels are only the stressed ones.
  7. Verbs have dual forms.


  1. tj and dj are pronounced as ц and дз: świeca, miedza.
  2. ѫ retains its original pronunciation as оⁿ (written ą ) and ѧ retains its pronunciation as eⁿ (written ę ); however they are exchanged sometimes so that instead of ѫ comes eⁿ and instead of ѧ comes оⁿ. It is usually accepted that long ѫ and long ѧ give оⁿ while short ѫ and short ѧ give еⁿ: dąb – dębu (дѫбъ, дѫбѹ), wiązać (вѧзатн), pęto (пѫто).
  3. ъ and ь are replaced with e and ie (soft e).
  4. ръ and лъ are pronounced as ro and lo: gród, wrota, glowa.
  5. ѣ is pronounced я or е as in the Eastern Bulgarian, depending on its location; ѣ is reflected not only before soft syllables but also before labial and pharyngeal consonants: kwiat (flower), źelazo, biały – but: bielić, liewy, chleb, świeca, grzech.
  6. Specific softening of consonants resulting on more hissing and affricated sounds than in other Slavic languages; thus, in addition to soft ŕ giving rz, all d and t before soft vowels give dz and c while z, s, c give ź, ś, ć: miescie (мѣстѣ), kość (кость), jeźdźić (ıаздить).
  7. Accent is defined and falls on the penultimate syllable.

Kashubian and Polabian dialects are affiliated to Polish; Polabian is no longer spoken.


  1. tj and dj are replaced by ц and з (c and z).
  2. ѫ gives u or ou depending on whether it is short or long: ruka, soud. ѧ gives ě, í or a, á depending on whether it is short or long and whether it stays before soft or hard syllable: pět' – páty, svaty – světiti, kníže (кънѧsь). Besides, the length of Czech vowels does not correspond to the supposed Proto-Slavic tonal accent.
  3. ръ and лъ are reflected differently – either in vowel r and l: brv, krv, hltati, or in re, lu: krev, slunce.
  4. ѣ gives ě or í depending on whether it is short or long: běl, bědny, tělo, víra (faith), lěto (summer), mlíko. The same reflexes occur also with ѧ and ia (я).
  5. Long o gives u which is written ů: vůle, nůž.
  6. ю (ju) reflects in i or í depending on whether it is short or long: klič, jítro.
  7. г is pronounced as h: hlava, hora (forest).
  8. Soft ŕ gives чж written ř: břeh, dřevo, moře, tvořiti.
  9. Accent is definite and always falls on the first syllable.
  10. Tonal accent is present and is relatively new phenomenon.

Slovak language is usually affiliated to Czech but it differs mainly the reflex of dj in dz, ъ and ь reflect in o and e, there is no ř, the tonal stress is not the same as in Czech.

Affiliated to Czech are 2 Slavic dialects – Upper and Lower Lužician which are spoken in Saxony and Prussia.

This short characteristic of Slavic languages shows their phonetic variety which sometimes makes it difficult to find unifying traits.

Bulgarian and Serbian

Shown here are only the very old traits that distinguish the 2 languages. For a fuller description of the linguistic borders between Bulgarian and Serbian, see the article on borders of Bulgarian language. Serbian, namely, and not Serbo-Croatian, first, because Bulgarian touches only to Serbian and not to Croatian dialects; second, because in respect to Bulgarian, we should differentiate between Serbian and Croatian. As we'll see, the "Croatian" dialects (Kajkavian and Chakavian) in some traits are closer to Slovenian and Bulgarian than to Serbian.

If we exclude the traits that distinguish Bulgarian from Serbian as parts of the south-eastern Slavic group then amazingly very few traits are left that are common to the two languages. Those are the following 5, 3 of which concern phonetic traits and 2 are syntactic:

1. ъı = и. Both in Serbian and in modern Bulgarian the pronunciation of this vowel reflects in the ordinary и. This pronunciation today is not common only to Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian but also with Slovenian and is a common distinctive feature of all Yugoslav languages. The impulse for this reflex comes from the Serbian milieu and goes to the east. The following arguments support this:

a) we do not have any positive knowledge about an old Serbian pronunciation of ъı while Bulgarian monuments as late as 14th c. use this vowel very correctly;

b) even today there are Bulgarian dialects that keep the old pronunciation of ъı though not in full;

c) the Bulgarian dialects with retained old ъı are far from the Serbo-Bulgarian ethnographic border – they are near Solun and Shumen;

d) the reflex of ъı in и developed together with other reflexes specific for Serbian (ѣ = e, ь = ъ, ѫ = у, ѧ = е) while in Bulgarian these are either lacking or came by impulse from the west.

2. ѧ = е. Both in Bulgarian and Serbian the Old Bulgarian nasal ѧ reflects in the same vowel е – of course, if we ignore those old reflexes (йъ, йо, я) found in Bulgarian dialects. Because the reflex in е now is common for all western Bulgarian dialects while the other reflexes occur only in Eastern dialects, it is very probable that the reflex ѧ = е also comes as a continuation of the Serbian reflex for this vowel. This is even more acceptable taking into account the Russian reflex я and the Croatian-Slovenian reflex а (after palatals). Therefore, the ѧ = е reflex comes into Bulgarian as a wave from the west, as well as the ѣ = е reflex which at present takes only the western half of the Bulgarian language territory. Accepting this continuity, likewise accepting everything common between Serbian and Bulgarian, it cannot be excluded that such ѧ = е reflex may have arisen secondarily on Bulgarian soil.

3. ѣ = е. This is the third phonetic similarity between Serbian and Bulgarian. Because half of Bulgarian still keeps the old pronunciation of ѣ (as я) and only the western dialects reflect it in е as in Serbian, the comparison by this point only confirms what was said above on the direction of phonetic reflexes – they go from west to east, from Serbian to Bulgarian. The same is true for the reflex of ръ in Serbian and Bulgarian.

4. Future tense is made by the same auxiliary verb хощѫ (to wish) in both Bulgarian (ще) and Serbian (ћу, ћеш, ће, ћемо, ћете). This trait is common only for Bulgarian and Serbian, while Croatian and Slovenian use for this purpose the verb бѫдѫ. Probably this trait have passed from Bulgarian to Serbian and this is why it does not occur in the other Yugoslav languages. In Bulgarian this trait is relatively new – it is lacking in Slavic languages other than Bulgarian and Serbian and has arisen on the Balkan Peninsula because it is common for all Balkan languages.

5. The infinitive is made by the conjunction да + finite verb in both Bulgarian and Serbian. Although such infinitive decomposition is not still fully applied, it is common in Serbian, while in Croatian and Slovenian it does not occur, or it is very rare. This analytical trait is also due to Bulgarian dialect influence upon Serbian because in other cases, too, we observe much greater trend toward analyticity in Bulgarian than in Serbian.

With so few common traits, the difference between Serbian and Bulgarian seems great; but in fact, Bulgarian is closer to Serbian more than to any other language. This is so because the pronunciation of the other vowels and consonants is similar without the reflexes and palatisation that occur in the northern Slavic languages (Czech, Polish, and Russian). In Serbian and Bulgarian, and in South Slavic as a whole, there is no Czech reflex of ja into je and jí, no Russian vocalisation, no Polish-Russian ьо instead of e, while the phonetics is comparatively conserved and the words have few reflexes from their old pronunciation. There is something else which assimilates these languages even more: the great number of common words. The vocabulary and the morphemic complex is almost identical in Bulgarian and Serbian. In respect to its local folk vocabulary Bulgarian is undoubtedly closer to Serbian than to Russian, although the literary loans between Bulgarian and Russian approximated these languages, too. It seems incredible that conversational Bulgarian has 3 times more common words with Serbian than with Russian. This can be checked by comparing the same text in the 3 languages: while in an average page of Russian text, a non-linguistically educated Bulgarian finds 24 to 30 unknown words, in the same page Serbian text, he will find only 8 to 10! This lexical similarity and difference of Bulgarian with its 2 neighbouring Slavic languages is probably a result of more recent relations between Serbs and Bulgarians, which did not take place between Russians and Bulgarians. This multitude of common words makes Serbian better understood for Bulgarians and vice versa – Bulgarian for Serbs. The lexical similarity would facilitate very much the introduction of a common literary language between these two peoples if the political rivalry between them didn't reject any idea for mutual cooperation.

Bulgarian and Croatian-Slovenian

Comparison of Bulgarian with the other Yugoslav languages or dialects – beyond Serbian – reveals curious facts, suggested above, namely, that Bulgarian did not have Serbian as a neighbour in the past. It is true that now Bulgarian and Serbian are the closest languages, but it is also true that Bulgarian has some common traits with Croatian and Slovenian that are lacking in Serbian.

The group of Croatian-Slovenian dialects is a united whole, separated from Serbian, when compared to Bulgarian so they are taken together. And indeed these dialects have many common, old traits which distinguish them from Serbian and assimilate them to Bulgarian. Here, by "Croatian" are meant the 2 Croatian dialects – Kajkavian and Chakavian which by the tj-dj reflex are the same as Slovenian, which reflect in ч-j, and not in ћ-ђ, as in Serbian.

The following traits occur in Croatian-Slovenian and Bulgarian, and do not occur in Serbian:

1. In Croatian-Slovenian in addition to the common reflex ѧ = e, there is also another reflex that is similar to the Middle Bulgarian Yus reflex, namely, after palatals (ж, ч, ш, and й) ѧ reflects in а, and not in е: jazik, prijati, žatva, etc. The same reflex шѧ, жѧ, ѩ occurs in many Bulgarian dialects: йъзик and язик, шътам and шатам, жътва and жатва. This trait does not occur in Serbian.

2. In Bulgarian, as well as in Slovenian and Croatian, the initial ѫ is pronounced with the objective в – вѫ: vos, vozel, vože, vohati, votek (in Slovenian) vs. ѫсъ (въси), ѫзлъ (възел), ѫжє (въже), ѫхати (въхам), ѫтъкъ (вътък) in Bulgarian. In some Bulgarian dialects, here and there, the archaic pronunciation without в is retained: ože, ozel – йъже, йъзол (in Ohrid dialect) and яже, язол (in Prilep-Mariovo and Bitola dialects).

3. In both Bulgarian and Croatian-Slovenian, the group чръ is not reflected: черно – črno, червей – črv, etc. while in Serbian чръ is reflected in цр: црно, црв. It is true that in many Bulgarian dialects the reflex чр = цр occurs but all these dialects are western, therefore, closer to Serbian, while in the more distanced dialects it is always чер and not цър. The only exception is the word църква which is pronounced so also in the east (together with черква) but for it we have the Old Bulgarian цръкъı.

4. The end-of-syllable л which in Serbian passes in о (рекао, пепео) remains unchanged in Croatian and Slovenian, as well as in Bulgarian. Also, the reflex of the interconsonant group лъ in у (вуна, жут) is not widespread neither in Slovenian, nor in Croatian.

5. The similarity between Bulgarian and Croatian-Slovenian is seen also in the inconsistent use of the epenthetic л. In this respect, Serbian is very strict, so that it has retained all cases known from old Bulgarian, and even has added new cases (снопље, гробље vs. снопнѥ, гробнѥ) while many Croatian and Slovenian dialects not only lack the new cases but also abandon the old ones; cf. spravjati, stavjati, zovjem, skubje in [18].

6. Similarity between Bulgarian and Chakavian is found in the pronunciation of words like веселje, каменje where we do not hear the fused Serbian љ, њ but the separate лj, нj which is characteristic also for Bulgarian dialects.

7. The accent between Bulgarian and Croatian-Slovenian is also similar, while in Serbian it is different although originating from older common basis.

8. In the pronunciation of ѫ as ô in Slovenian (and some Kajkavian dialects) we can find strong similarity with the Bulgarian Debar and Rup dialects where ѫ has the same reflex.

9. In Croatian-Slovenian, as well as in the Bulgarian southwestern dialects (Kostur, Lerin, etc.) щ is pronounced as шч and not as шт as in Serbian. This similarity is included here because the standard Bulgarian also came from an older шч which later became шт.

Therefore, while between Bulgarian and Serbian there are only 2 or 3 phonetic similarities, between Croatian-Slovenian and Bulgarian in addition to the Serbo-Bulgarian phonetic similarities there are 9 others. Moreover, if we compare the similarities between Bulgarian and Serbian with those between Bulgarian and Croatian-Slovenian we see that the former are from more recent time and obviously passed from one language to the other while the similarities between Bulgarian and Croatian-Slovenian are of such nature that they cannot be accepted as new loans but are an evidence of older relationship between the respective languages.

How to explain this similarity? Did it arise at the time when the Slavo-Bulgarian language touched to the Croatian-Slovenian directly on the Panonian plain or this similarity dates from later neighbourhood of Sloveno-Croatian (Kajkavian and Chakavian) and Bulgarian on the present Serbian lands before they were occupied by Serbs? The first hypothesis is supported by the fact that Bulgarian has some similarities with other Slavic languages that do not border it at present (Slovak and Polish) while the second hypothesis is supported by the fact that the similarities between Serbian and Bulgarian are from more recent time. It is risky to state a decisive opinion on this issue but from the many similarities between Bulgarian and Croatian-Slovenian it is clear that the dialect continuum among the Yugoslav languages is disrupted by the Serbian language and if we can speak about Yugoslav dualism in the sense so staunchly defended by Jagić [19], we are justified enough to support another older dualism, Bulgarian and Croatian-Slovenian on one hand and Serbian, on the other which is separated by the late arrival of Serbs and their wedging between Bulgarians and Croato-Slovenians.

The comparison of Bulgarian with other Slavic languages leads to this same hypothesis that Bulgarian Slavs in their former location in the Panonian and Dacian area were close neighbours with Slovenians (and maybe Croats), with Slovaks, Poles, and Russians, while with Czechs and Serbs they were not in direct touch and this is why they have not common old traits. Slovaks separated Bulgarian from Czechs but where were Serbs so that they were not neighbours to Bulgarian Slavs, it is not known; it is probable that they were somewhere beyond the Carpathеs, and after the Slovenes (Bulgarian Slavs and Slovenians) and Croats settled their present lands, Serbs came between them on the Balkan Peninsula. With this, we accept that the Porphyrogenet evidence about the late migration of Serbs is true, and the opinion of Miklošić about the kinship of the present Bulgarian and Slovenian is acceptable as far as that in 9th c. they were just the same 2 Slovene dialects which are today the most Bulgarian щ-жд dialects and the southwestern Bulgarian кь-гь dialects, i.e. they were very close to each other but differed only in the tj-dj reflex; in Slovenian it was ч-j (and maybe also кь-гь), and in Bulgaro-Slovene it was щ-жд.

Bulgarian and Russian

The relationship between Bulgarian and Russian is totally different from the relationship between Bulgarian and Serbian. First and foremost, Russian and Bulgarian do not touch so closely as Bulgarian and Serbian; we do not have any evidence that they touched more closely through today Dobrudzha and Besarabia at any time in history. In spite of this, surprisingly we find more common traits between Russian and Bulgarian than between Serbian and Bulgarian. The similarities are of 2 kinds according to whether we compare the popular dialects or the literary languages of the 2 peoples; in the first case we find old dialectal similarities, while in the second one – literary loans after 10th c.

The first kind of similarities between Russian and Bulgarian include:

1. The same reflexes of the two ers (ъ and ь), ъ = о and ь = е: кой, кога, тогава; день, лень, темен.

2. In both Russian and Bulgarian we have the old indefinite accent (on varying syllables).

3. The tj-dj reflex, although at present it is not the same in the 2 languages, still it is similar and from the same origin if we start with older чч-дждж in the 2 languages. The pronunciation шч-ждж corresponds completely to the pronunciation of these consonants in the southwestern Bulgarian dialects: ишче, глождже, прошчене, etc.

4. The group чрь is pronounced in both Russian and Bulgarian as чер: червяк, червоточина, червив, черен, черника, чернило, черпиш, etc. This trait is not specific to only Bulgarian and Russian because as we saw, it is present in Croatian-Slovenian, as well as in Czech and Polish; but is is important when comparing Bulgarian and Russian because it is not present in Serbian although the latter is geographically closer to Bulgarian.

5. To the similarities between Russian and Bulgarian, we should add a trait that is specific to many Russian dialects – it is the postfixed article that is characteristic for standard Bulgarian: мужикот, дорогата, дорогуту, etc. Although the organic link between the Bulgarian article and this dialectal Russian form is not proven as suggested by Miletich [20], still this apparent similarity cannot be denied; this is mention of this similar trait is relevant.

6. Morphological similarity between Russian and Bulgarian is seen in the final т in 3rd person present tense, which is still retained in only these languages; 3rd person plural is common between the standard languages: стоят, лежат, and 3rd person singular is common between Russian and southwestern Bulgarian in which the end т is still present: стоит, лежит.

All these common traits between Russian and Bulgarian are ancient and were not developed under influence of recent neighbourhood; they are a firm basis to suggest that these two languages have been more tightly connected in other time and in other place. And probably this was in the old habitations of Slovene-Bulgarians in Moldova and Transylvania.

The other kind of similarities between Russian and Bulgarian are due to mutual literary influences. Therefore, these traits involve the literary languages of these peoples. It is known that together with Christianity, Russians took from Bulgarians a well-advanced literature. Begining in 10th c. and continuing through XVth c., Russian literature was fed entirely from the south, and therefore most Old and Middle Bulgarian literary works are now preserved in Russia. Even since its introduction in the old Kievian Rus, Old Bulgarian entirely seized Russian literature and did not step aside to Russian popular language for a long time. Under the powerful auspices of the Russian Church, Old Bulgarian not only persisted, unlike in other Slavs, but it gradually came into wider use and became a foundation for the Russian literary language although somewhat changed according to the specifics of Russian popular speech. In 17th c. either directly from Russia or through Aton, Bulgarian churches and monasteries began to supply books from Russia. Thereupon began the reverse influence – Russian on Bulgarian – although some literary loans from the north occurred even earlier. At first this influence was very limited as the Bulgarian literature itself was limited; but in time, the more widespread education and literature in Bulgarian, the stronger Russian influence on the Bulgarian literary language. Starting with Paisiy and ending with Vazov – all the best Bulgarian writers and poets obtained knowledge either directly from Russian schools, or from Russian books. Russian literature was and still is an abundant source of science and poetry. It is no wonder, therefore, that Russian traits are introduced in the Bulgarian literary language; it is perfectly normal to find many similarities between the standard languages of these 2 peoples. And because these similarities are relatively new – although they started as early as 10th c. – we can always trace them and show with great certainty what in Russian is Bulgarian and what in Bulgarian is Russian while these older similarities listed above can only be observed without being able to prove which is taken from where.

Bulgarian and Polish

Let us now see how Bulgarian is related to the northwestern Slavic languages, namely to their main representatives – Polish and Czech.

Polish is very far from Bulgarian in everything; also in cultural aspect Poles seem to create a different world to other eastern and southern Slavs, and this have been so from time immemorial, as we have very few or almost no data about their participation in the wider Slavic writing and liturgy which were adopted so enthusiastically by all other Slavs. Of course, comparing Bulgarian with Polish we'll try to show an older similarity between these two languages, and not literary or cultural links of these peoples after accepting Christianity. This is very interesting since at first glance there is no kinship between Bulgarian and Polish. However, the comparison shows the following common traits which can be explained only as trace of a former close neighbourhood between the 2 languages.

1. ѣ = я, ꙗ. Both in Bulgarian and Polish the Old Bulgarian vowel ѣ has the pronunciation ıa (я): siano, wiara, wiadro, piana, piasek, wiano, želazo, kolano (read: желязо, коляно), obiad, wiatr, etc. Moreover, ѣ is reflected in front of soft syllables in the same way as in Bulgarian: wiara – wierzić, bialy – bielyć, miasto – miesćie, etc. Reflected, because Polish also starts from an original ea or я, as Bulgarian, because as long as it is known about Polish writing, this vowel has always had in Polish the same pronunciation as at present. Taking into account that the pronunciation of я for ѣ is characteristic for Bulgarian as early as 9th c. what else can we suppose other than this pronunciation was brought from the north by Bulgarian Slavs probably from a place adjacent with a Polish tribe since it is preserved today only in these 2 languages.

2. Initial ѫ = вѫ. This characteristic trait is also very old and specific only for Polish, Bulgarian, and Slovenian. According to this reflex, every initial ѫ is pronounced labially, with the object в, so it becomes:

Old BulgarianPolishBulgarian
ѫжь, ѫжє
ѫхъ, ѫхати
wąź, węźa
węch, wąchać
въже, гъжва

It is noticeable that here, as in the pronunciation of ѣ, Polish is like the eastern Bulgarian dialects (together with the southern Kostur and Solun dialects).

Since in Old Bulgarian ѫ, ѭ are more characterisic, Bulgarian southwestern dialects (Ohrid, Prilep-Mariovo, and Debar dialects) in this respect are closer to the language of Cyril and Methodius because in these dialects the initial ѫ is just iotified: ıъже, ıъглен, ıъзол (Ohrid dialect), ıаже, ıаглен, ıазол (Prilep-Mariovo dialect), ıôже, ıôглен, ıôзол (Debar dialect). Slovenian language is just as divided in this trait as Bulgarian: ož and vož, ozel and vozel, otroba and votroba, otel and votel (ѫтлъ = hollowed out). Also in Ukrainian and Belarussian, probably from Polish neighbourhood, we have in addition to у also ву instead of initial ѫ: уж and вуж, угол and вугол, усы and вусы, уда and вуда (ѫда = fishing-hook).

3. Nasal pronunciation of ѫ and ѧ. In the modern living Slavic languages the old nasal are nowhere as well preserved as in Polish and Bulgarian. True, this pronunciation does not occur in all Bulgarian dialects but we can allege with great certainty that nasalism has been kept in Bulgarian until much later than in all other Slavic languages (except Polish): until 13th c. Bulgarian writing used nasals very widely and we can accept that their use was based on the then living language.

4. To the above listed similarities between Polish and Bulgarian, one more can be added, which, although not as old as the others, is very obvious. It is the Polish accent, which is similar to the accent in one Bulgarian dialect – Kostur dialect. This similarity gets added importance if we compare it to another similarity of the Kostur dialect with Polish – the nasal pronunciation of ѫ and ѧ. One would ask in such comparison, does the Kostur dialect share an old kinship with Polish also in this trait, or is it just a coincidence? The development of Polish accent presents just the same mystery as the origin of the Kostur accent; does it mean they both date from the same time? An idea springs to mind when studying the Kostur accent – to explain the lack of accent signs in the oldest Bulgarian manuscripts with the fact that the dialect which was originally used as a basis for the Slavic literary language had a definitive, and more exactly, second-syllable accent, and therefore, there was no need for accent signs; otherwise, it is not clear why Bulgarian didn't imitate Greek manuscripts also in this aspect?

Bulgarian and (Czecho)-Slovak

Czech stands farther apart from Bulgarian than any other Slavic language. The two languages are hard to compare: one cannot find any similarities but only differences. This lack of common traits between Czech and Bulgarian confirms the main idea for the past location of Slavo-Bulgarian among the other Slavic languages, that these 2 languages were not in such close neighbourhood to develop or retain the same traits. And it was so indeed, because between them there was another Slavic language which separated them and was a transitional dialect; it is the present Slovak language which today retains this property – to be a transition between the northwestern and southeastern Slavic languages, so that it is still not clear if it is a separate language or a Czech dialect. This is because Slovak language (or Slovak dialect) takes a middle geographical position between Slavic languages (it touches Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, and Croatian-Slovenian), so it is very hard to compare with it: because it concentrates phonetic and morphological traits from all surrounding Slavic languages whatever similarities we find between Slovak and Bulgarian, we'll find these also in other Slavic languages, and we are not always certain whether to count those as old traits or as more recent loans. Therefore, the common traits between Slovak and Bulgarian would only be worthwhile if it can be shown that they are characteristic for Slovak since a time for which neighbourhood between Slovaks and Slavo-Bulgarians can be assumed. This is very difficult to prove. The similarities between Slovak and Bulgarian are the following:

1. ъ = о, ь = е. The reflexes of Old Bulgarian ers in Slovak are the same as in Bulgarian: lož (лъжь), von (вънъ), voš (въшь), zamok, došol; den (дьнь), lev (львь), lest' (льсть), kupec (коупьць), etc. All right, but this trait can be interpreted very well as a later Ukrainian influence, and not as an old permanent trait; however, there is something that indicates a Slovak-Bulgarian community in this respect. It is the fact that in Slovak we find traces suggesting that ъ, before it reflected in о, had a dark reflex, just as in Bulgarian; because instead of the usual reflex ъ = о there are also а and е: moch and mach, rož and raž, dožd', dažd', and dežd', doska, daska, and deska; all these ъ reflexes point to one and the same dark and indeterminate pronunciation ъ, characteristic for Bulgarian and Slovak (dъska, tъšč, kъvъl, etc.).

2. ѧ = ä ( = йъ). The Old Bulgarian vowel ѧ is pronounced variously in modern Slovak: as ä, as ıa, and as e. It is not yet determined which is the original reflex here. Gebauer [21] points to ıa, Pastrnek [22] – e, Jagić [23], and Oblak [24] – ä. Of these 3 reflexes the best candidate for precursor is the sound ä, which is intermediate between the other two. But exactly because it is in the middle, it can equally well come either from Czech or from Ukrainian – the more so because this sound ä in Slovak is very widespread, and is a reflex not only from ѧ, but also from ѣ (väža, človäk, zemän, snäh), from a (vytapät', stavät, čäs, käd', gäjdy, kämen), and from є (mäd, jäzero). If it is proven that the reflex ä = ѧ is older than the others, it can be related to a similar reflex (йъ) in some Bulgarian southeastern (Rup) dialects, as well as in the Paulician dialect which is spoken in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Transylvania. Thus, we can properly compare the Slovak pät, mäkka, sväty, päta with пйът, мйък, свйътà, пйътà (Batak dialect) which are the immediate reflexes from пѧть, мѧкъкъ, свѧтъ, пѧта, from which later developed the Rup пьоат, мьоак, etc.

We must note that the sound ä replaces in Slovak only short ѧ, and then only after labial consonants – otherwise ѧ is replaced by я or ıa – depending on whether this is short or long ѧ: klatba – kliat', pät – piatok, sviazat', riad, etc. Thus, if we start from ä, we must accept for я and ıa a subsequent clearing of the dark sound ä – either for tonal, or for assimilatory reason. The same clearing must have occurred then in Czech, as well as in Russian, while in Croat-Slovenian (excluding Rezian) such increase of ä to a was limited only to syllables жа, ша, їа, and ча, and the other cases developed towards e. In Bulgarian, the dark pronunciation of the palatal syllables is common (жътва, шъпа, йъзик) especially in the eastern dialects while the central dialects clear ъ into a (жатва, шапа, язик).

3. A nice similarity between Bulgarian and Slovak can be seen in the pronunciation of ръ and лъ which are reflected into their sonant character (irrespective of their old origin) in the same way as in Old Bulgarian, so that we have only: srna, vrba, črn, krv, črv, plno, slza, vlk, blcha, klka, žlč while in Czech in addition to srna, vrba, etc. we have červ, čern, and in addition to pln, vlk we have blecha, kluk, žluč, etc. The similarity consists in the fact that Slovak has preserved the same position of these sound groups which has been probably a common trait of the Sloveno-Bulgarian language in its first homeland, with the only difference that in Old Bulgarian (at least in writing) this position is expressed always with ъ after р and л: връба, влъкъ, кръвь, слъза.

4. The fourth simiarity between Bulgarian and Slovak is the partly preserved pronunciation of ѣ as ia or 'a: diavka, smiach, bl'ady, b'alo, bl'ačat (блѣıати), biada, hriach, neviam, vara (вѣра), caly, preciadzat', kviatok, chliav, driamat', liatat, poobliakal, priachrščia. Pastrnek [22], pp. 45-49, sees a Polish influence in ѣ = ia; however, they are more likely to be traces of old local ѣ = ia, because, if they were loaned from Polish, they would obey the Polish rule for ѣ, i. e., we wouldn't have examples as: smiach, hriach, priahrščia, neviam, driamat', obliakal, hliav, etc., which in Polish are impossible. Cf. also: capit', vravit', zabol'alo, l'av, l'ava, l'avo, bl'adý, sňat, neviäm, cadzit', caly, etc.

5. The fifth similarity is the same pronunciation of the group чрѣ, which both in Bulgarian and Slovak was extended in the so-called vocalised form; Bulgarian: череши, череп (or чиреп), черясло, черен (or чирен), черва or чирева; Slovak: čerešňa, čerep, čerieslo, čerevo, čerevička, čirida (balcony).

6. The verbs ending in овати are pronounced with ending ува, уват in both Slovak and Bulgarian (although in the Slovak conversational speech the ending ovat' is preferred): menúvat', darúvat'. Similar pronunciation occurs in some Ukrainian dialects, and in Old Croatian but this similarity is also obvious and, maybe, not accidental.

7. The seventh similarity between Slovak and Bulgarian is lexical; it is the many common old words that sometimes are amazingly similar in form and meaning. It is not surprising to develop a lexical similarity between two neighbouring languages, such as Bulgarian and Serbian: Serbs and Bulgarians lived for many centuries next to each other, had a common culture that was imposed either from one or from another side, so common words were constantly transferred. But when you find a word in Slovak which you thought occurs only in Bulgarian, you unwittingly linger on it and wonder if it is not a remnant from the time when Slovaks and Bulgarians (Sloveni) were closer neighbours. First Šafarik [4], pp. 98-99; 375-377 noted the fact that many Old Bulgarian words occur in Slovak and not in Czech, but a detailed study on this problem is lacking. The Slovak dialects contain many words and idioms that remind the former close neighbourhood and event unity between Slovaks and Bulgarian Slavs. This is characterised by the following words which occur in Slovak and Bulgarian, while in Czech they are either completely lacking, or have other meaning, or are very rare.

Slovak Bulgarian English
bachor, bachorok
božit' sa
cedilo, cedilka
celiet' sa
drhlavý, drglavý
duška materina
klatit' sa
mačkat', smačkat'
mlazga, mliazga
naježit' sa
oblažit', oblažovat'
odčesnut', razčesnut'
okotit' sa
pištel, pištelka
podlizovat' sa
pokyv, kyvat', kyv
prikmotrit' sa
rozsadnut' sa
shovorit' sa
schulit' sa
skapat' sa
slehnut' sa
stulit' sa
suk, suč
vahanec, havanec
vybočit' sa
vrava, varavet'
божа се
цедило, цедилка
целя̀ се
бабина душица
клатя се
мачкам, смачкам
мъзга, млъзга
наежвам се
обягна се
окоти се
пищял, пищялка
подлизвам се
киване, кивна
окуми се
куче грозде
разседна се
сговарям се
изхули се
скапа се
клесна го
слегна се
щрек, стрег
потули се
стоудъ (OBg.)
сък, съчка
свак, сват
да усекна
ваганка, гаванка
избочвам се
да избухна
да избухам
да възкръсна
old coin
sausage (kind of)
shirt sleeve
to vow
baby sling
cure oneself
expire (for animal)
to milk
milking cow
oak wood
to grunt
shepherd's cloak
variegated (for birds)
shepherd's cloak
to shake
to kneal
to gurgle
Christmastide (1)
to cackle
beer-glass (1)
bed (2)
to drizzle
to mumble
to drape
to bristle
ailment (3)
horse bot fly
horse bot fly
to yean
to envy
to comb
at last
to have kitten (4)
to roll in
to crawl
to poke
shin, whistle
to leak
nod, to nod
a loom of material
fallow land
to drop in
at dawn
to fault
must (pulp)
set of seven (5)
to agree
to slip out
to stop
to fall to pieces
to split
to settle down
freedom (6)
on the lookout
to tingle
to hide
branch, twig
to lash
to trim
to blow nose
noble, lord
marriage portion
make concave
to gush out
to bend
to burst
to thrash
werewolf (7)
to walk
to rise from the dead
addle egg

Slovak Bulgarian English
žasnut' sa
zluhat', zolhat'
zpuchet' sa
žltak, žltok
джасна се
спухри се
жълна (dial.)
жребе, жребий
to bash oneself
to sprout
to grieve
to fib
to deceive
to boil
blunt knife
in a short time
to vegetate
stallion, lot

1. This word occurs in Czech but it is considered a Slovak word.
2. In Czech louža means 'stream'.
3. In Czech this word is archaism.
4. Otherwise the word mačka is used for 'cat' in Slovak which, as in Bulgarian, means both 'cat' and 'anchor'.
5. In Czech, it is sedmerka.
6. This word is found in Bulgarian dialects; in Czech, it is svoboda.
7. In Czech, it is vlkodlak.

The following idioms have a curious similarity in the two languages

Slovak Bulgarian English
na jeden dušok
žaludok mele
urečú ho
veru!, vera!
bol som sa zariekol
čini sa mi
treba je
celi boži deň
zabol'alo ho srce
umoknuti ako myš
čertovskà robota!
vre u ňom
ma dlhy prsty
čert ne spi
preliat' olovo
hladny jako vlk
blädý jako stena
lahký jaku pierko
biely jako sňah
sladky joko mäd
rovný jako svieca
slany ako živica
на един дъх
стомахът меле
урочасват го
зарекъл съм се
чини ми се
трѣба ѥстъ
цял божи ден
сърцето го заболя
мокър като мишка
дяволска работа!
ври и кипи в него
има дълги пръсти
дяволът не спи
лея куршум
гладен като вълк
бледен като стена
лек като перо
бял като сняг
сладък като мед
прав като свещ
солено като бигор
in one breath
the stomach churns
put an evil spell
by my faith!
I've promised
it seems to me
have to
the whole day
he had a heartache
a cry-toy
wet as a mouse
devil's deed!
it boils in him
he has long fingers
devil doesn't sleep
to pour lead
hungry as a wolf
white as a wall
like as a feather
white as snow
sweet as honey
straight as a candle
salty as travertine

In Slovak very often verbal nouns ending in ица are used, just as in Bulgarian: mačkanica, motanica, metenica, dušenica, plieskanica, sušenica (dried cheese).

Also interesting are the verbal adverbs ending in ačky: spiačky, stojačky, nechtiačky, etc. as in Bulgarian: стоячки, седечки, etc.

This is only a cursory comparison between Slovak and Bulgarian vocabularies. But if the comparison goes further in the field of the intellectual and material culture of these two peoples, one would find more points of contact; there are many common fairy-tales, proverbs, folk customs, dances, plays, etc. Below is a list of many Slovak proverbs which have the same Bulgarian counterparts; some of them are so identical that they need not be translated, and all of them show how close is Slovak to Bulgarian.

  • Idi mu na krivo gajdy — разкриви му се гайдата — his bagpipe got bent
  • Nohy založim za plece a ujdem — ще си туря краката на рамо и ще ида — I'll put my legs on the shoulders and go
  • Tak s ním zaobchodi, ako s malovanim vojcem — гледа го като писано яйце — Cares for him as a painted egg
  • Tma ako v rohu — тъмно като в рог — as dark as in a horn
  • Vola za rohy, človeka za reči chytaju — вол се хваща за рогата, а човека – за езика — the ox is taken by the horns, and the man – by the tongue
  • So suchym aj sirové hori — покрай сухото гори и сурово — the raw burns along with the dry
  • L'ava dlaň ma svrbi – prijmem peniaze — лявата длан ме сърби – ще получа пари — my left hand is itching – I'll get money
  • Aby ti vòz ne škriepal, pomast' mu kolesa — намажи си колата да ти не скърцат — Grease the wheels not to screech
  • Boh dopušt'a, ale neopušt'a — Бог забавя, ала не забравя — God delays but does not forget
  • Ide, kode ho oči vedú — отива, където го очи водят — goes where his eyes lead him
  • Ne pchaj nos kde si ne treba — не пъхай нос дето не трябва — don't stick your nose where you shouldn't
  • Ne pchaj prsty medzi dvere — не си пъхай пръстите между вратата — don't stick your fingers between the door
  • Od hlavy do päty ho premeral — премери го от глава до пети — he measured him from head to toes
  • Odl'ahlo mu na srdci — олекна му на сърцето — his heart got lighter
  • Buchnem t'a, že ti hned' oči vyskočia — така ще те ударя, че ще ти изскочат очите — I'll hit you so that your eyes will pop
  • Tak t'a capim, že hned' jazik vyplaziš — така ще те цапна, че ще изплезиш език — I'll slap you so that you'll pull out your tongue
  • Ryba od hlavý smrdi — рибата се вмирисва откъм главата — the fish stinks from the head downwards
  • Čo hluchý ne počuje, to si vymisli — каквото глухия не чува, си го измисля — the deaf imagines what he cannot hear
  • Palica ma dva konce — тоягата има два края — a stick has two ends
  • Nevolaňy host' má miesto za dverami — на неканен гост мястото му е зад вратата — an uninvited guest stays behind the door
  • Klin s klinom — клин клин избива — wedge removes wedge; to fight fire with fire
  • Jedon Boh na nebi, jedon král' na zemi — Бог високо, цар далеко — one God on heaven, one King on earth
  • Potreba ruši zakon — нужда закон изменя — need changes the law
  • Kto malo hovori vel'a mysli — който малко говори много мисли — that who speaks little thinks much
  • Jako ti hrajú, tak musiš tancovat' — както ти свирят, така ще играеш — you dance as they play
  • Až ked' preskočiš, povedz hop — като прескочиш, тогава кажи хоп — when you jump then say hop
  • Dlhé vlasy, kratky rozum
  • Kad' slnko svieti a dažd prši, čert babu bije — дъжд вали, слънце пече – дяволът се жени — it rains, the sun shines – it's the devil's wedding
  • Nič mu ne chýbä, iba vtačie mlieko — има от пиле мляко — he has even bird's milk
  • Chcel by mat' aj vlka sytého, aj barana celého — и вълка сит и агнето цяло — both the wolf sated and the sheep whole
  • Nieje domu bez dymu — няма къща без дим — there is no house without smoke
  • Darovanomu koňovi ne hl'ad' na zuby — на харизан кон зъби се не гледат — don't look a gift horse in the mouth
  • Nešt'astie ne chodi po horách, lež po l'ud'och — нещастието не ходи по горите, а по хората — misfortune goes to people and not to the woods
  • Dobré sa samo chvali — хубавото само се хвали — the good speaks for itself
  • Prázny klas hore stoji — празният клас стърчи нависоко — the empty wheat ear climbs higher
  • Jaká otázka taka otpoved' — какъвто въпроса такъв и отговора — response matches the question
  • Narodil sa so zubama — родил се със зъби — he was born with teeth
  • Jako seješ, tak budeš žat' — каквото сееш това ще пожънеш — you will reap what you saw
  • Ukáž mu prst, a on celú ruku chyti — покажи му пръст, той ще ти отхапе ръката — show him a finger and he will bite your hand
  • Kto priskvary l'ubi, tomu na svadbu prši — който се кара, на сватбата му дъжд вали — shrews have a rainy wedding
  • Ruka ruku umýva, a obe sú biele — една ръка мие другата, та и двете чисти — one hand washes the other and both are clean
  • Proti smrti niet lieku — няма лек срещу смъртта — death cannot be cured
  • Ked' vodie slepý slepého, padnú oba do jamy — слепец води слепеца и двамата падат в ямата — a blind man leads another blind man and both fall in the pit
  • Ne vidi d'alej od nosa — не вижда по-далеч от носа си — doesn't see farther than his nose
  • Pójdem, kam mä dve oči ponesú — ще отида където краката ме отнесат — I'll go where my legs carry me
  • Vrana vrane oči ne vykole — гарван гарвану очи не вади — a raven doesn't poke the eyes of another raven
  • Chodí spat' so sliepkami — спи с кокошките — goes to bed early
  • Je to stará liška; t'ažko sa chytat' dá — стара лисица е; трудно се хваща — he is an old fox; it's hard to catch him
  • Jedon šije, druhý páre — един шие, друг пере — one sews, another washes
  • Trafila kosa na kameň — удари коса на камък — hit an obstacle
  • Vajce chce byt' múdrejšie nežli sliepka — яйцето е по-мъдро от кокошката — the egg is wiser than the hen
  • Dvakrat meraj, a raz strihaj — два пъти мери, веднъж режи — measure twice, cut once
  • Sytý ne verí lačnému — ситият не вярва на гладния — the sated doesn't believe the hungry one
  • Dobrý chýr d'aleko ide, ale zlý ešte d'alej — добрият слух отива далече, а лошият още по-далече — the good rumour goes far but the bad one even farther
  • V mútnej vode ryby lovit' — лови риба в мътна вода — he fishes in a turbid water
  • Prazdný sud najviac huči — празно гърне най-много дрънчи — an empty jug clangs louder
  • Do osieho hniezda pichnut' — бръкна в осино гнездо — poked in a wasps' nest
  • Krev neni voda — кръвта вода не става — blood is thicker than water
  • Dotial krčah k studní chodi, dakial sa ne zabije — веднъж стомна за вода, два пъти, па счупена — the jug goes to the spring until it is broken
  • Sveti slnko, ale zybaté — свети слънце, но зъбато — the sun shines, but has teeth (it's cold)

We dwelt more on Slovak because this language is not well known and because this exposition could interest some linguists to continue this comparison, which will convince us that what we call Slovak language was recently separate from Czech and Polish, and was much closer to the south Slavic group, and more specifically to Bulgarian language.

Many authoritative scientists supported such separate status of Slovak language (Šafarik, Maretić, Florinsky, and others), and some (Kopitar, Miklošić, and Dümler) go further – they allege that Slovaks have originally been Slovenians (Slovinians) that were later Czechized. Maretić alleged the same but Jagić countered this opinion saying that the Slovaks were closest to Czechs even in the 9th century [25].

No one denies this closeness but it does not prevent the suggestion that in the 9th c. Slovak was more south Slavic than western Slavic language.


All said above about the relationship of Bulgarian to the other Slavic languages allows us to make the following conclusions:

First. Bulgarian Slavs before they settled on the Balkan Peninsula were located in their old abode at such place that they touched with Sloveno-Croats, Slovaks, Poles, and Russians, but they did not touch with Czechs and Serbs.

Second. In the above location, Slavonic Bulgarian had already the same phonetic traits that are found in the oldest monuments of the Cyril and Methodius writing; namely, in addition to all traits characteristic for the southeastern Slavic languages, it had the following specific traits:

  1. tj-dj = шч-ждж and шть-ждь
  2. ѫ = ън; initial ѫ = ън and вън
  3. ѧ = йън and ен
  4. ъ = ъ and о, ь = йъ and е
  5. ръ = ръ, лъ = лъ
  6. ѣ = я
  7. чръ = чръ
  8. ъı = ъй
  9. accent is on various syllables

Taking into account the present Bulgarian dialects, we could suggest for that age, and even earlier, a certain division in two groups differing by the following:

I. II.
щ-жд = шч-ждж
initial ѫ = ън, йън
ѧ = ен (йен, жен, шен)
ъ = о, ь = е
щ-жд = шть-ждь
initial ѫ = вън
ѧ = йън (йън, жън, шън)
ъ = ъ, ь = йъ

In the modern Bulgarian language group I corresponds to the southwestern dialects, while group II corresponds to the eastern dialects, especially to Rup dialects. But it is very likely that there were more than 2 branches which by their subsequent crossing gave the present variety of Bulgarian dialects.

The old and new situation of Bulgarian language, as in general the mutual relation of the main Slavic languages, can be graphically expressed with a chain of 6 circles, intertwined about a central 7th circle. The central circle could represent the old place of the Slavonic Bulgarian which at present is occupied by Hungarians, Romanians and Slovaks, and the 6 circles around it represent the main present Slavic languages which by their interactions produced mixed languages or dialects: between Czech and Polish – Lužician-Sorbian, between Polish and Russian – Belorussian, between Russian and Bulgarian – Ukrainian, between Bulgarian and Serbian – Kosovo-Morava dialects, between Serbian and Slovenian – Croatian, between Slovenian and Czech – Slovak. But Slovak today occupies a central position so that it touches to all Slavic languages as before, with the exception of Bulgarian.

Once we consider so the position of Slavonic Bulgarian, the problem of the origin and the name of the Cyril and Methodius language becomes very clear; because whether it originated on the Balkan Peninsula or in Panonia, it is all the same because the tribe that spoke it, then occupied both Panonia and the Balkans. Only if we wish to specify together with its name also the place where the first Slavic writing was invented, we can, according to our conviction, call it Panonian Slavonic or Balkan Slavonic. However, both names point to the same Slavic tribe, the tribe from which the today Bulgarians arose.


1. V. Jagić. Verwandtschaftsverhältnisse innerhalb der slavischen Sprachen, Arch. XX, 16; XVII, 603; VIII, 134

2. V. Jagić. Arch. XX, 13

3. Dobrovsky. Institutiones linguae slovenicae, 1822

4. Šafarik. History of Slavic languages and literatures, 1826

5. Šafarik. Národopis, 1842

6. Schleicher. Short overview. Academic proceedings, VII

7. Palacky. Geschichte Böhmens, 1836

8. I. Sreznevsky. Philological observations of Vostokov, 1865

9. Mikloshich. Lautlehre, 31, 84

10. Jagić. Rad XIV, 208, Arch. I, 393

11. Krek. Einleitung in der slav. Litteraturgeschichte, 224

12. Maksimovich. On the relationship of Russian and western Slavic, 1845

13. Lavrovsky. On the Russian vocalisation, 1852

14. Geitler. Old Bulgarian phonology

15. I. Schmidt. Zur Geschichte des Indo-germ. Vocalismus, II

16. Potebnya. On the sound history in Russian, 144

17. Daničić. Rad I, ћ and ђ in the history of Slavic languages; Classification of Slavic languages, Belgrade, 1874

18. Gundulić. Mikl. I, 413

19. Jagić. Arch. XVII, 85-9, XIX, 276-7

20. Miletich, L. The article in Bulgarian and Russian (in Bulgarian), Coll. XVIII, 45-48

21. Gebauer. Hist. mluvn. jaz. česk. I, 116

22. Pastrnek. Beiträge z. Lautl. d. slovak. Sprache, 37

23. Jagić. Arch. f. sl. Phil. X, 256; XV, 523; XVI, 509-512

24. Oblak. Collection for folklore, science, and literature XI, crit. sec. 6

25. Jagić. Entstehungsgeschichte, 18