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Khan Asparukh

After khan Kubrat's death Bulgaria suffered further Khazar raids. The Khazars succeeded in occupying the Bulgarian territories in the Caucasian region, the river valleys of the Kuban and the Don, as well as the Crimean Peninsula. Some of the Bulgarian tribes accepted their dependence on the Khazars, while others withdrew to the north, as far as the valleys of the rivers Kama and Volga. There they founded a big Bulgarian state, the so-called Volgo-Kama Bulgaria which existed up till the 13th century when it vanished under the smashing blows of the Tatars. Descendants of those Bulgarians are still extant in the present-day autonomous region of Chuvashia in Russia. In the early 70s of the 7th century khan Asparukh, khan Kubrat's successor, was already ruling over the realms between the Dnepr, the Donets and the Danube . After desperate defensive bat- tles, he managed to drive the Khazars back across the Dnepr and to utterly defeat them, thus stopping their offensive westwards.

However, khan Asparukh was awake to his being unable to ensure a complete life for his state and for the people dwelling in the plains, the only surviving piece of Old Bulgaria - land infertile and marshy, short of natural shelters, ore deposits, and forests. It was for this reason that in the next few years the Bulgarian politicians also decided to undertake a territorial expansion campaign at the lands of ancient Moesia. According to Byzantine sources those lands had been to the Bulgarians' taste for quite some time because they were well-protected by the deep-flowing Danube in the north, by the rock fence of the Balkan Mountains in the south and by the Black Sea in the east.

In those days Moesia,as well as the whole of the Balkan Peninsula were inhabited by populous Slav tribes. They almost succeeded in assimilating the native population as their presence there had lasted for nearly a century. Engaged in crippling wars with Persians and Arabs in the 6th-7th century AD, the Byzantine empire had completely lost control over its European realms. But from the middle of the 7th century AD, extricated from its solicitude in Asia Minor, Byzantium began reconquering the Balkan Peninsula. The disunited Slav tribes in Greece, Albania, Macedonia and Thrace were brought under the sway of the imperial power. With a view to resisting the Byzantine reconquest, seven Slav tribes inhabiting Moesia, entered into a military and political union but its chances to counteract efficiently the mighty empire were minimal as the Slav troops consisted only of lightly armed infantry.

In 680 AD khan Asparukh transferred a significant part of the Bulgarian army and population to the south of the Danube delta and took up the lands of present-day Dobrudja. Essentially, this move was equivalent to declaring war on the Byzantine empire. Common interests made the Slavs and the Bulgarians, both equally threatened by Byzantium, conclude a treaty under which the Slav tribes in Moesia recognized their dependence on the Bulgarian state and the latter committed itself to defend its subjects against attacks by any enemy coming from any direction.

In 680 AD, in the thick heat of the war between Byzantium and Bulgaria, Bulgarian cavalry and Slav infantry contingents struck a series of stunning blows on the Byzantine troops under the personal command of emperor Constantine IV Pogonatus. The military operations were shifted to Thrace. While the capital city of Pliska - the new state-administrative and political center was under construction in the northeastern part of Moesia, the rumble of the Bulgarian cavalry reverberated more and more often over the hills off the Bosphorus. In the autumn of 681 AD Byzantium was forced to conclude a peace treaty with the Bulgarians. It recognized the detachment of Moesia from the empire and the Bulgarians coming to terms with the Slavs dwelling in Byzantium.

The structure of the Bulgarian state was changed to comply with the treaty between khan Asparukh and the Slav princes in Moesia. The supreme power was given to the Bulgarian aristocracy as recognition for its merits in the struggle against the external enemies of the state and the real military force supporting it. The state administration was headed by a khan whose power was hereditary. There was also a council of twelve great boyls representing the noble families. The decisions of paramount state importance were made by the so-called people's assembly - a meeting of representatives of all Bulgarian noble families and the princes of the Slav tribes dwelling in the Bulgarian state. The Slav tribes retained their internal self-government and the territories as specified in the treaty of 680 AD. Their obligation was to pay the Bulgarian central authority an annual tribute and to secure the military contingents in charge of the country's defence.

Bojidar Dimitrov

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