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The Bulgars in Armenia - a key to the earliest Bulgarian history

More early evidence: Revelationes S. Methodii, “Ashkharacuic”, Eusebius of Caesarea, “Tabula Peutigeriana”

There are at least three other sources speaking about a Bulgar presence in Europe at the end of the III and the beginning of the IV c. AD. They are treated by the historians with varying degrees of confidence. The first mentioning appears in an anonymous source, attributed to Methodius of Patar (died in 311 AD). The title of this work is “The revelations of saint Methodius” (Revelationes S. Methodii). The exact date of its creation is not certain yet. The mentioning of the Saracen invasions makes some researchers to date it to the end of the VII c. [12]. Others stress the importance of the last, truly eschatological part of the work. In the appearance from the north-east (the “Etrivian desert” of newer and newer tribes and peoples the transcribers had obviously regarded as a realization of the predictions for the end of the world and thus this last chapter was “renovated” with the names of the latest tribes appeared. At that point the connoisseurs already agree that, setting these updates aside, the text may be dated to the IV c. In a biblico-genealogical point of view, the Bulgars here are described as Semites – descendants of the daughters of Lot, and they are called ‘sons of Amon’. The excerpt reflects the historico-geographical and ethnographic ideas of its anonymous author rather than anything else and it is of almost no significance for the dating of the events. We will return to this source again later.

The text of the early medieval Armenian geographic treatise “Ashkharacuic” was published for a first time in 1683 and later in 1698. It was introduced to the European science by its Latin translation by the Wiston brothers, published in London in 1736. Another edition was later produced by the great French armenist Sain Martin. Both these translations are based on a single variant, which K. Patkanov finds to be not the best one. In this original there was an interesting excerpt which appeared in these two editions. The description of European Sarmatia starts thus: “Sarmatia is situated to the east of Zaguria, that is from the German Bulgars…[13]. In all later editions this fragment was replaced by another, avoiding conflicts phrase: “to the east of Germany…”. But this do not answer the question when and how had these “German Bulgars” appeared in the translations of Sain Martin and the Wiston brothers?

The information above could be linked to at least three other accounts:
1) the legendary account of Aventin of Melk that Balger – the ruling clan in Bavaria, was of Bulgar origin;
2) with the information for the migration of the Alcek Bulgars to the lands of king Dagobert (632 AD); or
3) with Kipert's opinion (expressed by him in a memo to the Berlin academy of Sciences in 1873) that the descriptions of Europe, Africa and Arabia were based on works of Greek authors from the III (IV) c. AD.

According to K. Patkanov “Ashkharacuic” was influenced by the work of Kozma Indikoplevsus, which would mean that the its text was composed after the first half of the VI c. It, however, does not reflect the significant administrative changes in Persia brought by the Arab conquest. On the basis of this and other considerations R.A. Gabrieljan restricted further the date of its creation to the first quarter of the VII c. [14]. Let is then discard any possible influence of the monastic chronicles and the legends therein over “Ashkharacuic”. The second, Alzec, version also looks implausible – the Armenian geographer could probably not been able to follow so quickly the distant, happening at thousands kilometres to the west events. Besides, the Bulgar stay under king Dagobert was very short and it could not have induced the geographers to apply it as a toponymic reference.

The third possibility is supported by the following facts: The Armenian author acknowledges that his work was based on that of Pap of Alexandria, who at the end of the IV c. wrote a brief presentation of the text of Ptolemy. The phrase in question is “enclosed” by the text of Ptolemy. Zaguria, the place where Sarmatia begins and where the “German Bulgars” live, was the name of a region to the north of the Carpathians, and it was there, on the northern folds of this mountain, where the Bulgars defeated the Langobard king Agelmund in the beginning of the V c. (according to the information of P. Diaconus and Fredegarius). It is quite probable that the Bulgar, chased by the advancing Huns, had settled there as early as the IV c., while the use of the toponym “Zaguria”, which was brought by the Slavic migration, identifies the Armenian geographer as the author of this rider.

The only other possibility is to assume that these explanatory remarks have been inserted by later transcribers. In 1881, however, the priest Sukhri published another version of the same geographical treatise, found in the Venetian library of the mhitarists. A great part of the new passages in the text refer to the Bulgars, their tribal names and their migration. Definitely, the Armenian author (probably Anani Shirakaci) took a keen interest in the Bulgars: he registered the Bulgar presence at the bend of the Imeon (Tian Shan - Pamir) mountains (“the people of Bulkh”); in the Northern Caucasus (“Kupi-Bulgar”, “Duchi-Bulkar”, “Ogkhondor/Woghchondor-Blkar”, “Chdar-Bolkar”); up to the western limits of Sarmatia (the “German Bulgars”). He knew this people because of the presence of the Vanandians in his own country, he knew about their settlement from M. Horenaci's “History” and was obviously surprised the Bulgars remained unknown to Ptolemy. With his explanatory riders he probably wanted to update the geographical picture of the world presented by authorities such as Pap of Alexandria and Ptolemy himself. Thus after enumerating the Bulgar tribal names he says: “These names are not found in/are alien to Ptolemy[15]. The early Bulgar presence in the Northern Caucasus has been questioned on the basis that the ancient authors, especially Ptolemy, had not spoken about their presence even they knew the region quite well. But Ptolemy missed also the Alans. Egishe also did not mention them even if it is historically attested that they were there since the I c. AD. This may explain why the Bulgars remained unknown to Ptolemy.

In his last book  for the better dating of the Bulgar presence in Europe P. Dobrev [16] used cartographic material. The three maps, given in the appendix by the editor of the book P. Gogov are the same maps presented by G. Cenov in 1910. They are taken from the collection of the earliest world maps, published by Conrad Miller in Stuttgart [17]. For us most interesting is the map from “Figure 87a”. It was drawn after a manuscript of Saint Jerome (347-420 AD) kept in the British Museum. It is explicitly mentioned that this map is a copy of a map “drawn” by Eusebius of Caesarea (264-340 AD). Saint Jerome translated and revised Eusebius’ chronicles between 379 and 381 AD. He translated also, with some additions, the biblico-geographical index “About the location and the names of the Biblical places[“De situ et nominibus locorum herbaicorum, PL, t. 23, col. 859-928”], composed by the bishop of Caesarea around 320 AD. No matter which one of them, Eusebius of Caesarea or Saint Jerome, had included the Bulgarian name on the map of European Sarmatia, it must have happened in the period between 320 and 380 AD. It predates with at least 30 years the settling of the Huns in Pannonia, to the south of which was placed Bulgaria. The “anachronical” according to Artamonov Armenian sources turned to be quite accurate and consistent with the Greco-Roman ones.

All evidence points out that in the first half of the IV c. the Bulgars had already permanently settled in  the Northern Caucasus and Armenia, and that in the third quarter of the IV c. they appeared in Europe. It seemed there was nothing more to be extracted and that there remained only to return to the “History” of M. Horenaci, when I came across two interesting facts. Acad. J. A. Manandjan, studying the main roads of Armenia according to “Tabula Peutigeriana” came to the conclusion that the station posts in Armenia had been named after the regions they were located in. Among them are mentioned “Banantea”, Arachia” [comp. to “Archene” in Plin., Nat. Hist., VI, 31, 1-3], and “Artaza” [18]. The station in question was situated in Upper Bassian and was written as “Barantea”. Manandjan reads it as “Banantea” with the explanation that it corresponds to the ancient Armenian “Vanand”, in genitive – “Vanandeay”. Without hesitation he identifies the above mentioned stations and regions as “Vanand”, “Khark” and “Artaz”. But this means that Vanand had already had its Bulgar name at the time of the creation of the Peutinger Table (the second half of the II c. 0 the beginning of the II c. AD, with a final edition in IV c.). This dating firmly puts the Bulgar appearance in Europe to the Sarmatian epoch, it correlates to the information of the “Nominalia of the Bulgarian princes” that the beginning of the Bulgar statehood in the lands “on the other side of Danube” was in the second half of the II c. AD. It also explains why Theophanes the Confessor called Bulgaria of Kubrat “old” and “Great”.

And a final detail. The Parthian king Vologes I succeeded in removing the Roman protégé on the Armenian throne Radamizd (52-58 AD) and replacing him by his younger brother Trdat. That led to another war between Rome and Parthia. The emperor Nero assigned the Roman forces in Armenia to the leadership of Domitius Corbulo, a legate of Cappadocia and Galatia. He started the hostilities with two legions (III Galica and IV Ferata) and auxiliary troops. The operations, however, dragged on and it was only in 59 AD, after Parthia was locked in a war with Hyrcania, when Corbulo exploited the opportunity and entered the inner parts of Armenia. The fortress of Voland was taken with great losses after which he reached Artashat. The town was taken without a fight but Corbulo ordered its destruction. His next objective was Tigranakert, the inhabitants of which were preparing themselves for a prolonged struggle. The leaders of the city had a defensive council in the centre of the town when Corbulo, annoyed by the perspective of a resolute resistance, ordered the beheading of one captured megistan. His head was hurled from a balista into the city where it fell exactly at the meeting of the notables. This decided the fate of the city. There in 60 AD the Roman protégé Tigran VI (59-62) ascended the throne. These events are described by Sextus Julius Frontinus (35-103 AD) in his “Strategematicon” [19] as something widely known at that time. The name of the unfortunate megistan is given by him as “Vadand”. A.G. Bokshanin [20] gives it as “Vanad”, while K.V. Trever corrects the reading to that of “Vanand”. The beheaded men was not an ethnical Armenian, it is clear from his title of “megistan” (MEGI_TANEC) – a Parthian title designating a hereditary leader of a tribe. But among the Parthian names only that of “Vonon” comes closest to it, and “Vonon” occurs only once in their dynastic chronologies while it is very close to our transformed into an ethnicon name of “Vanand”.

This evidence could be a mere coincidence, were not there been data that in the II-III c AD the Romans already knew about the Armenian region of “Vanand” and its integrated into the Armenian society inhabitants. The integration, however, did not develop into an assimilation and the Vanandians, under their system of clans and tribes, took part in the general defence of the country. And that the title was Parthian is explained by the fact that at that time Parthia became set the standard for the Roman historiography in its description of all tribes appearing from the east.

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12. Conevski Il., Patrologija, S., 1986 g., s. 174.

13. Patkanov K., Iz novago spiska geografii pripisiivaemoj Moiseju Horenskomu, zh. MNP, CCXXVII, SPb., 1883 g., s. 26, bel. No 3.

14. Gabrieljan R.A., Armjano-alanskie otnoshenija I-X vv., E., 1989 g.

15. Patkanov K., Iz novago spiska…, s. 29.

16. Dobrev P., Bylgari, Tjurki, Slavjani., S., 1996 g., s. 130.

17. Miller K., Die altesten Weltkarten, 1895.

18. Manandjan Ja.A., Krugovoj Put’ Pompeja w Zakavkaz’je, VDI, kn. 4/1939 g., s. 81;
also – in Glavniie puti Armenii po “Tabula Peutingeriana”, E., 1936, s. 57, 108-112, 150-151, 239, etc.
also – in O torgovle i gorodah Armenii v svjazi s mirovoj torgovlej drevnih vremen (V v. do n.e. – XV v. n.e.), E., 1954, s. 138-139.

19. Stratagemii, VDI, kn. 1/1946 g., s. 256.

20. Parfija i Rim, M., 1966 g., ch. II, s. 194.