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Janette Sampimon


              Serbian tradition

              Bulgarian histories in manuscript



              Russian tradition




              History-writing, history-reading


              Cited works

In his book ‘Die Vorkämpfer der nationalen Bewegung bei den kleinen Völkern Europas’ Footnote , Miroslav Hroch was the first to describe and analyse national movements by dividing them into three phases: phase A of intellectual forerunners, phase B of actual national agitation and phase C of mass support for national ideas. He applied this model to a limited number of nations. In 2000, in his book ‘In the national interest’, he elaborated on his ideas.

In this paper, my first aim is to draw a short sketch of the Bulgarian national historiographical tradition from the end of the eighteenth century until shortly before the insurrections of 1873 and 1876. Secondly, I would like to compare Bulgarian historiography with the model that Miroslav Hroch has formulated. It will show that the Bulgarian case is more complicated than the model.

In his ‘In the national interest’, Hroch divided non-dominant ethnic groups Footnote between ones that did have a state once in their existence, of which some remnants (like a nobility or some institutions, or a, be it mythological, memory of the statehood) may remain, and groups who never had a state Footnote . Following this division, we can say that the Bulgarians under Ottoman rule were clearly of the first type. During the Middle Ages, twice a Bulgarian state was an important player on the European stage. The First Bulgarian Empire was founded in 681. After the conversion to Christianity under czar Mihail, the state grew to an impressive size. It was a factor that Byzantium had to count with (click here for an illustrative map).

After a period of Byzantine rule, the second Bulgarian empire was proclaimed during a revolt led by the brothers Petăr and Asen. Like the first Bulgarian empire, Bulgaria grew to reach three seas: the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea.

It was not more than logical that at some point in the development of the Bulgarian national movement, the argument of the historical state was used to support cultural or political claims made by (members of) the nation.

The Bulgarian historiographical tradition can roughly be divided in two branches: one which developed under Serbian influence, one following Russian examples. I will elaborate on both of them.

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Serbian tradition

In the period that followed the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian culture declined. Some say that this was because of the atrocities that the Turks performed while conquering and keeping under control the Bulgarian lands, other claim that the decline had started before because of internal reasons Footnote . Anyway, it is a fact that in the first centuries of Ottoman rule the Bulgarian culture was little developed. Most Bulgarian institutions, schools and the national church, terminated their activities. Some cultural centres remained, especially in monasteries, were the old manuscripts were kept and the knowledge in them transmitted from monk to monk. Gradually, starting from this community of religous intellectuals, a new secular Bulgarian culture started to develop.

The first publications that indicate that Bulgarians started to investigate their own history after a long period of passive transmission were to be seen in the late eighteenth century in the western Bulgarian lands and under Bulgarians living among the Serbian diaspora in the Habsburg lands.

Two important Serbian historians of the XVIIIth century were Hristofor Žefarović and Jovan Rajić. Both authors were educated in the Habsburg part of Serbia, which had become the main Serbian cultural centre since the great migration of 1690.

In 1741, Hristofor Žefarović published his ‘Stematografija’, a collection of coats of arms of Illyrian regions. It was a translation of a work in Latin by the Croat Pavao Ritter Vitezović. It consisted of illustrations of coats of arms of the selected regions, accompanied by a short description and comment in verse.

In 1794-1795 the Serbian Jovan Rajić published his six-volumed ‘Istorija raznyh slavenskih narodov naipače Bolgar, Horvatov i Serbov’ (A history of various Slavic peoples, in particular Bulgarians, Croatians and Serbians) in prose. As far as I have been able to determine, in this work Rajić was the first to state that Bulgarians are of Slavic descent Footnote .

It is not clear to me to what extent these two works were read by Bulgarians in diaspora or within Bulgaria. It is clear, however, that they served as an example to three Bulgarian monks who used them (and the sources on which they were based) for their own works.

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Bulgarian histories in manuscript

The first historical work written by a Bulgarian was the ‘Istorija Slavjanobolgarska’ (Slav-Bulgarian history), from Paisij Hilendarski. Paisij was a monk from the holy mountain of Athos. He was sent out by his superiors on a journey to the Serbian lands. It is very likely that he read both the work of Rajić and the histories of Mavro Orbini (‘Il regno degli Slavi’, Pesaro, 1601) and Caesar Baronius (‘Annales Ecclesiastici’, 1588-1607) there.

When he was back on Athos, Paisij wrote his history. It was very patriotic and called for Bulgarians to be proud of their descent, not ashamed. The history became relatively popular: it was copied by hand over 50 times. The first one to make a transcript, in 1765, was the famous priest and Revival activist Sofronij Vračanski. The copies of the history were greatly valued and carefully stored in schools and churches.

In 1785, a certain monk Jakov, who lived in the Bulgarian Zograf monastery on Athos, composed his ‘Istorija vkratce o bolgaroslovenskom narode’ (Short history of the Bulgaroslavic people).

A comparable historical work about the history of the Bulgarians was written by Spiridon jeroshimonah, who was igumen of a monastery in Jaşi, Walachia. He wrote his ‘Istorija vo kratce o bolgarskom narode slavenskom’ (Short history of the Bulgarian Slavic people) in 1792.

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In 1801, merchants from what is now Macedonia asked Atanas Nesković, who lived in Budapest at that time, to translate and adapt the history of Jovan Rajić. He did so, by only selecting the parts that were about Bulgarian history, which resulted in: ‘Istorija slavenno-bolgarskog naroda iz g. Raića istorije i nekih istoričeskih knig’ (History of the Slavic-Bulgarian people from the history of mr. Rajić and some historical books). Nesković was mild about the Turks, much milder than Rajić. Compare the following passages:



Попадше они под иго турское и до дняшняго дне под ярмом их стенут.

И от тог времене подпала е Болгария под поданство турско и до данашнег дна. (ibid., 119)

They fell under the Turkish yoke and until today they moan under their burden.

And from that time Bulgaria fell under Turkish subjection until today.

This mitigation could point to the fact that the book was expected to circulate within the occupied Bulgaria. I have however not been able to establish whether the book was indeed widely read within the actual borders of Bulgaria.

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During the 1830’s and 1840’s, gradually a new system of education started to develop in Bulgaria. The traditional one-on-one education in which one monk passed on his knowledge to one or maybe a couple of students, was replaced by schools, in which classes of children were taught at the same time. Apart from the traditional subjects, new subjects like arithmetics and history were introduced. This development gave rise to a new class of teachers: some priests, some secular intellectuals who themselves often received their education abroad, for instance in Russia. These teachers started to write, compose, and publish the books that they needed for their own classroom instruction.

In 1844, Hristaki Pavlovič, who was a teacher in Svištov Footnote , thus edited and published the ‘Istorija Slavenobolgarska’ of Paisij Hilendarski. The title of the publication was ‘Carstvenik ili Istorija bolgarskaja, kojato uči ot gde sa bolgare proizišli, kako sa kralevstvovali, kako že carstvovali i kako carstvo svoe pogubili i pod igo podpadnali, iz Mavrobira Latinskago, Baronija, Ioanna Zonarja, Buefira Francuzskago, Teofano Grečeskago, svetago Evtimija Ternovskago, svetago Dimitrija Rostovskago i drugih letopiscev sobrana Footnote ’. Pavlovič used different copies for his edition

The work was an elaboration of a previous work by Pavlovič. Already in 1835, he had added a short history of the Bulgarians, composed of fragments from Paisij’s text, to a razgovornik (language guide) of Greek and Bulgarian. The appearance of the ‘Carstvenik’ was however not much noticed Footnote .

After 1801, this branch of the Bulgarian historical tradition did not develop anymore. There were no new historical works that became available to Bulgarian readers. Paisij and Sofronij were more or less forgotten. If we use the terms of Miroslav Hroch: the phase A of the Bulgarian national movement that they represent was not followed up by a phase B and C. It came to a dead end.

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Russian tradition

A couple of decades later, a new historiographical tradition developed among the Bulgarians. This time it was influenced by examples from Russia.

In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the interest of Russian scholars in Bulgarian history grew. There were heated discussions in the Russian academic world about the origin of Bulgarians. In 1774 the Swede Johann Thunman Footnote introduced the idea that the Bulgarians were of Tataric origin. In 1787-1788, Bulgarian was not included in the famous ‘Сравнительные словари’, the ambituous comparative dictionary of Catherine the Great.

Josif Dobrovský labelled Bulgarian as a dialect of Serbian in his ‘Slovanka’ of 1814. In 1822, Vuk St. Karadžić intervened in this discussion by publishing his ‘Dodatak k S. Peterburgskim sravnilteljnim rječnicima sviju jezika i narečija s osobitim ogledima bugarskog jezika’ (Addition to the St. Petersburg comparative dictionaries of all languages and dialects with special attention for the Bulgarian language) Footnote . He introduced in this work Bulgarian as a separate language.

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The first Russian to study the Bulgarian history as separate from that of other peoples was Jurij I. Venelin. Stimulated by the slavophile professor M.P. Pogodin, in 1828 he wrote a book review in ‘Moskovskij Vestnik’ of the book ‘Nynešnee sostojanie tureckih knjažestv Moldovii, Valahii i Rossijskoj Bessarabskoj oblasti’ (Actual situaton of the Turkish principalities Moldovia, Walachia and the Russian oblast’ of Bessarabia) by Ign. Jakovenko. He stated to be disappointed by the fact that the Russians of his time had forgotten about the Bulgarians:


Нека чужденците по незнание или по нерадение малко се грижат за българите, но непростително е за нас да забравим този народ. От ръцете на българите ние сме получили кръщението, те са ни научили да четем и пишем, на техния език се извършва днес нашето богослужение, на този език сме писали почти до времето на Ломоносова- люлката на българина е неразривно свързана с люлката на руския народ Footnote .


(Let the foreigners out of ignorance or indifference care little about the Bulgarians, but it is inexcusable for us to forget this people. From the hands of the Bulgarians we have received baptism, they have taught us to read and write, our worship today is carried out in their language, in that language we have written almost until the time of Lomonosov – the cradle of the Bulgarian is inseparable from the cradle of the Russian people.)

A year later, Venelin published, again with Pogodins help his first book, ‘Drevnie i nynešnie bolgare v političeskom, narodopisnom, istoričeskom i religioznom ih otnošenii k rossijanam’ (The ancient and the present Bulgarians in their political, ethnographical, historical and religuous relationship to the Russians). In this book, the defended the idea that Bulgarians were of Slavic descent, and not Tatar or Skythic. It would be interesting to know whether Venelin was familiar with Rajić’s work, this is however impossible to establish.

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The Russian interest in the history of the Bulgarians had an impact on the Bulgarians in the Russian diaspora. The most important Bulgarian colony outside what is now Bulgaria was then in Odessa. The Bulgarians in Odessa had, through merchants and students, intensive contacts with both the sholarly world of Moscow and St. Petersburg and their Bulgarian homeland. Influenced by Venelins work, Odessa-based Bulgarian Vasil Aprilov in 1841 published his famous ‘Denica novobolgarskago obrazovanija’ (Dawn of the new Bulgarian education), which he followed up a year later by an addendum. In both parts of this work, Aprilov laid out his ideas about Bulgarian history and which road Bulgarian education had to take. The first volume consisted of a cultural history of the Bulgarians, followed by a sketch of the situation the Bulgarians were under during the Ottoman oppression. It was illustrated with a portrait of the medieval czar Ivan Aleksandăr. It was made to be used in the school of Gabrovo, that Aprilov had helped to open in 1835.

Aprilov used his own personal story as an illustration how bad it was for Bulgarians to be ashamed of their descent:


Из самих-же Болгар люди жалкие, почитая за стыд именовать себя Болгарами, или Славянами, были причиною того, что народность не развилась....

Должно победить сей предрассудок и искоренить зло. Да позволено-же мне будет дать тому первый пример Footnote .


(Among the Bulgarians themselves there are people who pitiably deem it shameful to call themselves Bulgarians or Slavs, they were the reason for this nationality not to develop itself.

This prejudice must be overcome and the evil must be eradicated. Allow me to give first example of it.)

In 1845 Aprilov published in Odessa, in Russian, the ‘Bolgarskija grammoty’ (Bulgarian certificates), a collection of historical texts from the times of among others czar Kalojan and Ivan Šišman. This collection was meant, like the ‘Denica’, to be used in the history lessons of the school in Gabrovo.

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In 1847 Zaharij Knjažeski, a Bulgarian who was educated in Russia, published his ‘Vvedenie v istorii bolgarskih slavjan’ (Introduction to the history of the Bulgarian slavs). Knjažeski was not only interested in Bulgarian history, but also in folklore, which led to the publication of works like and a contribution of Bulgarian folksongs to a collection by the Russian scholar P. Bezsonov (1855) Footnote .

Later, both through the Bulgarians of Odessa and Russians, the ideas reached people inside Bulgaria as well. Of crucial importance was the journey that the Russian scholar Viktor Grigorovič made through Macedonia in 1844-1845. He used his journey to gather ‘antiquities’: songs, but also manuscripts and coins. During a visit to village teacher Dimităr Miladinov in Macedonia, he ‘infected’ him with his curiosity, and Miladinov put himself the task of collecting more folk songs. He also changed his previously condescending attitude towards Bulgarian. Before the summer of 1857, it is said that Dimităr Miladinov entertained the children in the school of Prilep with stories about the Bulgarian history Footnote .

Later, when he worked in Kukuš, it is said that Miladinov taught the children in the morning, adults in the afternoon, and studied Bulgarian history (from Hristaki Pavlović’s ‘Carstvenik’) and folksongs in the evening Footnote . He worked on a Greek translation of the Carstvenik, to make it better available to the many compatriots who had a good command of Greek, but were illiterate in Bulgarian. It is not known whether this book was eventually printed Footnote .

Next to this direct transfer, there was also an indirect transfer of the interest for history, when the academic and social discourse between Bulgarians developed. With the growing accessibility to Bulgarians of all kinds of media, like books and magazines, the Bulgarian nation, together with its history and its future, became more and more a subject of discussion.

Newly founded Bulgarian magazines and newspapers, like Konstantin Fotinovs ‘Ljuboslovie’ (1844), and Ivan Bogorovs ‘Bălgarski Orel’ and ‘Carigradski Vestnik’, included historical articles.

Periodicals were also an important stage for the revolutionary Georgi Rakovski, who published the ‘Zografska Istorija’ of monk Jakov in 1865 in his magazine Bălgarska starina. In his work ‘Pokazalec ili răkovodstvo kak da sja iziskvăt i izdirjat naj-stari čărti našego bitija, jazika, narodopokolenija, starago ni pravlenija, slavnago ni prošestvija i proč.’ (Index or guidelines how to search for and discover the oldest traits of our way of life, language, people’s generations, our old governments, our great past etc.) of 1859, he proposed a programme of collecting old Bulgarian relicts of the past. In the foreword to this book, Rakovski stated that when history was concerned, the Greek historiographers were not to be trusted. Rakovski also gave patriotic lectures to Bulgarian medical students in Bucarest in 1864-1865 Footnote .

Marin Drinov, who can be considered as the first modern Bulgarian historian commented on Paisij’s history in 1871, and only then Paisij began to be seen as a great example, the man who ‘started it all’.

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History-writing, history-reading

So far, I have spoken about the Bulgarian tradition of history-writing. In most studies that I have used during my research, historical works are sorted in the way that I just demonstrated, according to the year in which they were written. That way, Paisij Hilendarski is usually presented as the one who started the Bulgarian historiographical tradition, followed by the other two famous Bulgarian histories in manuscript.

If we want to reconstruct the national movement as it was happening in Bulgaria in the nineteenth century, a different approach is much more fruitful: to study the tradition of history-reading Footnote , study works in the order in which they became available to the Bulgarian public, or at least to a large part of the Bulgarian intellectuals.

In the following overview of Bulgarian historical works, I have arranged the mentioned historical works and some other works not in the order of creation, but in the order in which they became widely available and widely known among Bulgarians:

Available from:

Created in:


Orig. author:


First publ. in:



Istorija slavenno-bolgarskog naroda iz g. Raića istorije i nekih istoričeskih knig

Jovan Rajić

Atanas Neškovič




Kratko načertanie na vseobštata istorija

Iv. Kajdanov

Anastas Kipilovski




Denica novobolgarskago obrazovanija

Vasil Aprilov





Istorija na slov. Bolg. Narod


P. Sapunov




Bolgarskie gramoty

Vasil Aprilov





Vvedenie v vseobšta istorija


At. Čolakov




Kritičeskie issledovanija ob istorii bolgar

J. Venelin

Botju Petkov




Drevnie i nynešnie bolgare v političeskom, narodopisnom, istoričeskom i religioznom ih otnošenii k rossijanam

J. Venelin

G. Slavov




Istorija vkratce o bolgaroslovenskom narode


G. Rakovski




Istorija slavjanobolgarska

Paisij Hilendarski

Marin Drinov (First publ. in 1844 by Hr. Pavlovič as Carstvenik)




Zaselenie Balkanskogo poluostrova slavjanami

M. Drinov

Master's thesis




Istorija vo kratce o bolgarskom narode slovenskom

Spiridon Jeroshimonah

V.N. Zlatarski (publ.)


If we study this table, we can see that the famous three Bulgarian histories in manuscript (in italics) entered the broad Bulgarian discourse much later than their creation, even later than printed works did.

The almost forgotten Sofronij re-emerged in Bulgarian discourse with a work of Jurij Venelin in the 1830’s Footnote , but Paisij remained forgotten until later. Viktor Grigorovič was the first to mention his work again in print, in 1852 Footnote . This knowledge did not reach Bulgarian circles, as in 1858, Georgi Rakovski refers to the author in a letter as ‘njakoj ieromonah Paisij’ (a certain hieromonach Paisij) Footnote .

The first mentioning of Paisij in print by a Bulgarian is in an article by Gavril Krăstevič in the magazine Băgarski knižici in September 1859 Footnote . One month later, Rakovski wrote about Paisij’s history in the announcement of his work ‘Njakolko reči o Asenju Părvomu i Asenju vtoromu’ (Some words about Asen the first and Asen the second) Footnote . But, as was mentioned before, only after the special attention that Marin Drinov paid to Paisij, the monk started to be seen as ‘the one who started it all’. [ill.]

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When you study historical works this way, it becomes even clearer that historiography took off among Bulgarians late. If we ignore the work of Nešković, of which I have not been able to establish if it was widely read among Bulgarians, a continuous tradition of history reading started only in 1836, 54 years after the creation of Paisij’s work, that usually is taken as a starting point.

That the Bulgarian national movement did not use the historical argument until quite late is not difficult to explain, if we take into account that Bulgarians for a long time did not have the conditions for the development of a historical culture: they did not have access to printing presses, periodicals, or national institutions. There were no Bulgarian schools then and the church, the umbrella under which all the intellectuals of the first generation resided, was largely Hellenised. Here we can see what Miroslav Hroch described in his ‘In the national interest’ history was not used as an argument in the early stages of a national movement, if there were no skilled historians available:


The national movements reflected these facts already from Phase A, and particularly in the course of national agitation strove to create such a portrait of the ‘national’ past that would adequately substantiate it: “eramus ergo sumus”. In this respect, of key importance was whether during Phase A there emerged a reliable working out of the national past, national history, that met the level of contemporary science Footnote .

Everything had changed by the time when the Russian or ‘second’ tradition of historiography started to bloom. In the 1840’s, the Bulgarian national movement started again from almost zero with, in the field of history, phase A intellectuals (to stay with the terms of Miroslav Hroch) like Zaharij Knjažeski and Vasil Aprilov. This short phase A was successful, and was followed by a phase B and C, in which some of the works of the previous, dead-ended phase A were incorporated. The oldest works, the ones from the eigteenth century, entered the Bulgarian discourse in the time when phase B was well on its way, or even in phase C. In the phases B and C, history started to be used, first as a cultural, later as a political argument.

In the Bulgarian historiographical tradition, which is one of the fields that together form the Bulgarian national movement, we can see that activities that are, according to Hroch, typical for different phases are being carried out at one and the same time. Older elements are incorporated into newer activities and thus presented like new to the audience. This is not only true for historiography. Also in the field of literature, writers of the early văzraždane were honoured with biographies by later văzroždenci Footnote , and thus re-entered public debate.

We can thus see that the model of Miroslav Hroch, as charming as it is for shifting the focus to cultural activities rather than social and economic developments, when applied to the Bulgarian historiography, needs adjustment.

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Cited works:

Angelov, Bonju St. V zorata na bălgarskata văzroždenska literatura (Sofia, 1969)

Aprilov, Vasil Evstatiev. Dennica novobolgarskago obrazovanija. Sočinenie Vasilija Aprilova, izdannoe im na svoem iždivenii v pol'zu Gabrovskago uchilišta. Čast' pervaja. Odesa, 1841 (Odessa, 1841)

Crampton, R. J. A concise history of Bulgaria (Reprinted 2000; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Hroch, Miroslav. Die Vorkämpfer der nationalen Bewegung bei den kleinen Völkern Europas: Eine vergleichende Analyse zur gesellschaftlichen Schichtung der patriotischen Gruppen (Praha, 1968)

Hroch, Miroslav. In the national interest. Demands and goals of European national movements of the nineteent century: a comparative perspective (Prague: Faculty of arts, Charles University, 2000)

Kiel, Machiel. Art and society of Bulgaria in the Turkish period (Assen/Maastricht: Van Gorcum, 1985)

Kosev, D., Dinekov, P. et al., eds, Georgi Stojkov Rakovski: Văzgledi, deinost i život (2 vols; Sofia: BAN, 1968)

Miltenova, Anisava. "Njakoi nabljudenija vărhu "Istorija slavenno-bolgarskog naroda" ot Atanasij Neskovič", Literaturna misăl #4 (1976): 115-20

Penev, Bojan. Istorija na novata balgarska literatura (history of the new Bulgarian literature), part 2 and 3 (4 vols; Sofia: Balgarski pisatel, 1977)

Todev, Ilija, Plamen Božinov, Evgenija Davidova, Magdelina Georgieva, Žana Koleva, Keti Mirčeva, Olga Todorova & Svetla Janeva, (eds). Koj koj e sred bălgarite XV-XIX v. 501 imena ot epoha na Osmanskoto Vladicestvo (Sofia: Anubis, 2000)

Vojnov, M., L. Panajotov, K. Palešutski, K. Pandev, Z. Pliakov, A. Rajkova, & R. Stojkov (eds). Documents and materials on the history of the Bulgarian people (Sofia: BAN, 1969)

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