In this paper, the author tries to use key concepts such as ‘chiefdom’ / ‘dukedom’ and ‘early state’ in order to explain the development of the Bulgars’ political ideas as well as organization in the period between the 4th and the mid-9th century. Thus he comprises methodologies typical for both history and social anthropology. He is well aware, of course, that this combination of different levels of interpretation as well as different concepts and terms could pose serious problems as to the validity of all of the conclusions proposed in this text.
The author follows the opinion (see Claessen and Skalnik 1978) that the establishment of any state is indeed a process and lasts quite a long time; it is not a single act which means that the state usually is “in movement-and-development”.
In the contemporary Bulgarian historiography the problem of the early Bulgar statehood studied through the concepts of ‘chiefdom’ and ‘early state’ has already been posed in the 1990s, in the book of Oksana Minaeva (1996) as well as in works written by Tsvetelin Stepanov (1999; 2003). The latter is mainly focused on the specific features of Qubrat’s Great Bulgaria (630s–660s) as well as Danubian Bulgaria after the Krum’s rule (803-814) and before the Christianization of the country in 865. For Stepanov, Great Bulgaria was between the levels of ‘chiefdom’ and ‘early state’ and so far it is not possible for one to claim what precisely Qubrat’s polity had been. As regards the period before the establishment of Qubrat’s Great Bulgaria, it should be said that these early Bulgars were not in the phase of the state organization known in the Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages as ‘barbarian state’. All these early Mediaeval states that appeared in the period between the 5th and the 6th centuries on the map of Western Europe were indeed a synthesis of Germanic and Roman plus Christian while the same cannot be said about the Bulgars, or at least not before the 9th century. Therefore the Bulgars in the decades between the 4th and the early 7th centuries can be best depicted as having “stratified societies” of that same type characteristic also for the early Alans in Eastern Europe (see Gutnov 2005: 62), i.e. ‘chiefdoms’.
According to the author, the specific features in Bulgar statehood of the period between the end of the 7th and until the end of the 8th century are to be best explained through the prism of the geographical situation of Danubian Bulgaria. It was positioned partly on ex- Byzantine territories and as a legitimate state being officially declared as such by the Eastern Romans themselves at that, which means that Danubian Bulgaria was not of the foederati-type polities on Byzantine soil known in the 4th and 5th centuries. Its status as ‘state’ was also confirmed by the Western Christian powers of that time which used to claim the Bulgars’ rulers ‘reges’ (and not ‘duces’, or ‘principes’). Yet it is to be mentioned that during this period the Bulgar polity on the Lower Danube shows no similarities with the Byzantine statehood; at the same time, Bulgaria was not of the typical Central Asiatic nomadic ‘imperial confederations’ either.
As far as the period between the beginning of the 9th century and the 860s is concerned, the Bulgar statehood is “under modernization” and in the years of Omurtag (815-831) and his successors Bulgaria is already a typical ‘barbarian state’. What is important to be stressed here is the fact that the Bulgar state was not of the type well known as ‘Germano-Roman’ synthesis but of synthesis of both steppic (Irano-Turkic) and carefully “adapted” Roman features and traditions (Stepanov 1999; Stepanov 2010). And this is the main and specific Bulgar contribution to the protracted process of establishment of the early states in Medieval Europe. Therefore in the first five decades of the 9th century Bulgaria was neither ‘imperial confederation’ of Central Asiatic type nor ‘complex chiefdom’.