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Volga-Kama Bolğar
Volga Bulgaria

7th century–1240s
Volga Bulgaria (green), c. 1200 (extent of the state similar throughout existence).
Capital Bolghar
Language(s) Bulgar
Suar, Barsil, Bilar, Baranja
Religion Tengriism
Government Monarchy
 - Mid-7th century Kotrag
Historical era Middle Ages
 - Established 7th century
 - Conquered by the Golden Horde 1240s
History of Russia
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Volga Bulgaria or Volga-Kama Bolghar, is a historic Bulgar state that existed between the seventh and thirteenth centuries around the confluence of the Volga and Kama rivers in what is now Russia. Today, both the Republics of Tatarstan and Chuvashia are considered to be descendants of Volga Bulgaria.



First-hand information on Volga Bulgaria is rather sparse. As no authentic Bulgar records have survived, most of our information comes from contemporary Arabic, Persian, Indian or Russian sources. Some information is provided by excavations.

It is thought that the territory of Volga Bulgaria was originally settled by Finno-Ugric peoples. The Bulgars moved from the Azov region in about AD 660, commanded by Kotrag, Kubrat's son. They reached Idel-Ural in in the eighth century, where they became the dominant population at the end of the 9th century, uniting other tribes of different origin which lived in the area.[1] Some Bulgar tribes, however, continued westward and after many adventures settled along the Danube River, in what is now known as Bulgaria proper, where they merged with the Slavs, adopting a South Slavic language and the Eastern Orthodox faith.

Most scholars agree that the Volga Bulgars were subject to the great Khazarian Empire. Sometime in the late 9th century unification processes started, and the capital was established at Bolğar (also spelled Bulgar) city, 160 km south from modern Kazan. Most scholars doubt, however, that the state could assert independence from the Khazars until the latter were annihilated by Svyatoslav of Rus in 965.


A large part of the region's population was Turkic and included Bulgars, Suars, Barsil, Bilars, Baranjars and part of Burtas (by ibn Rustah). Modern Chuvashes descent from Suars and Kazan Tatars descend from the Volga Bulgars. Another part comprised Finnic and Magyar (Asagel and Pascatir) tribes, from which Bisermäns probably descend. [2]

Islam was adopted as the state religion in the early tenth century, under Almış. Ibn Fadlan was dispatched by the Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir in 922/3 to establish relations and bring qadis and teachers of Islamic law to Volga Bulgaria, as well as help in building a fort and a mosque.[3] Tengriism and other religions, however, continued to be practised. Some Arabic sources such as Al-Garanati, called the northern people Majus. Majus (magi) was the term applied to Zoroasrians by the Muslims, who considered them fire-worshipers. Ibn Fadlan refers to Volga Bulgaria as to Sakaliba which is a general Arabic term for the people of Volga Bulgaria and it is probably related to ethnic name Scythian (or Saka in Persian)[4].

Commanding the Volga River in its middle course, the state controlled much of trade between Europe and Asia prior to the Crusades (which made other trade routes practicable). The capital, Bolghar, was a thriving city, rivalling in size and wealth with the greatest centres of the Islamic world. Trade partners of Bolghar included from Vikings, Bjarmland, Yugra and Nenets in the north to Baghdad and Constantinople in the south, from Western Europe to China in the East. Other major cities included Bilär, Suar (Suwar), Qaşan (Kashan) and Cükätaw (Juketau). Modern cities Kazan and Yelabuga were founded as Volga Bulgaria's border fortresses.

Detailed map of Volga Bulgaria.

Some of the Volga Bulgarian cities still haven't been found, but they are mentioned in Russian sources. They are: Aşlı (Oshel), Tuxçin (Tukhchin), İbrahim (Bryakhimov), Taw İle. Some of them were ruined during and after the Golden Horde invasion.

The Russian principalities to the west posed the only tangible military threat. In the 11th century, the country was devastated by several Russian raids. Then, at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, the rulers of Vladimir (notably Andrew the Pious and Vsevolod III), anxious to defend their eastern border, systematically pillaged Bulgarian cities. Under Russian pressure from the west, the Bulgars had to move their capital from Bolghar to Bilär.


Volga Bulgaria in the Eurasian world of AD 1200

In September 1223 near Samara an advance guard of Genghis Khan's army under command of Uran, son of Subutai Bahadur, entered Volga Bulgaria but was defeated in the battle of Samara Bend. In 1236, the Mongols returned and in five years had subjugated the whole country, which at that time was suffering from internal war. Henceforth Volga Bulgaria became a part of the Ulus Jochi, later known as the Golden Horde. It was divided into several principalities; each of them became a vassal of the Golden Horde and received some autonomy. By the 1430s, the Khanate of Kazan was established as the most important of these principalities.

Devil's Tower in Yelabuga, 12th century.

According to some historians, over 80% of the country's population was killed during the invasion. The remaining population mostly relocated to the northern areas (territories of modern Chuvashia and Tatarstan). Some autonomous duchies appeared in those areas. The steppe areas of Volga Bulgaria were settled by nomadic Kipchaks and Mongols, and the agricultural development suffered a severe decline.

Over time, the cities of Volga Bulgaria were rebuilt and became trade and craft centers of the Golden Horde. Some Bulgarians, primarily masters and craftsmen, were forcibly moved to Sarai and other southern cities of the Golden Horde. Volga Bulgaria remained a center of agriculture and handicraft.

See also

External links


  1. ^ (Tatar)"Болгарлар". Tatar Encyclopedia. Kazan: Tatarstan Republic Academy of Sciences Institution of the Tatar Encyclopaedia. 2002. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Vikings in the East, Amazing Eyewitness Accounts
  4. ^ R.Frye,2005. "Ibn Fadlan's journey to Russia"

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