Volga Bulgaria

Volga Bulgaria

Itil Bulğar
7th century–1240s
Common languagesBulgar, Turki[1]
Tengrism, later Islam (after Almish Iltäbär)
Ruler, Emir 
• 9th century
Kotrag, Irhan, Tuqyi, Aidar, Şilki, Batyr-Mumin
• 10th-12th centuries
Almish Yiltawar, Mikail ibn Jafar, Ahmad ibn Jafar, Ghabdula ibn Mikail, Talib ibn Ahmad, Mumin ibn al-Hassan, Mumin ibn Ahmad, Abd ar-Rahman ibn Mumin, Abu Ishak Ibrahim ibn Mohammad, Nazir ad-Din
• 13th century
Ghabdula Chelbir
Historical eraMiddle Ages
• Established
7th century
• Conquered by the Mongols
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Old Great Bulgaria
Mongol Empire
Khanate of Kazan
Today part of Russia

Volga Bulgaria (Tatar: Идел Болгар, Chuvash: Атӑлҫи Пӑлхар) or Volga–Kama Bulghar, was a historic Bulgar[2][3][4] state that existed between the 7th and 13th centuries around the confluence of the Volga and Kama River, in what is now European Russia. Volga Bulgaria was a multi-ethnic state with large numbers of Turkic Bulgars and Bashkirs, a variety of Finnic and Ugrian peoples, and many East Slavs.[5] While stood on a very stategic position and created a monopoly over trade among Arabs, Norse and Avars. The very strategic position of Volga Bulgaria allowed to create a monopoly between the trade of Arabs, Norse and Avars.[6]


Origin and creation of the state

Information from first-hand sources 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 believed the territory of Volga Bulgaria was originally settled by Finno-Ugric peoples, including Mari people.

The original Bulgars were Turkic tribes,[7] who settled north of the Black Sea. During their westward migration across the Eurasian steppe, they absorbed other ethnic groups, including Hunnic and Iranian.[8]. About 630 they founded Old Great Bulgaria which was destroyed by the Khazars in 668. Kubrat's son and appointed heir Batbayan Bezmer moved from the Azov region in about AD 660, commanded by the Kazarig Khagan Kotrag to whom he had surrendered. They reached Idel-Ural 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.[9] Some Bulgar tribes, however, continued westward and eventually settled along the Danube River, in what is now known as Bulgaria proper, where they created a confederation with the Slavs, adopting a South Slavic language and the Eastern Orthodox faith.

Most scholars agree that the Volga Bulgars were subject to the Khazarian Khaganate until the mid 10th century, when the Bulgars no longer paid tribute to them.[10] The threat from Khazaria was completely gone after Khazaria's destruction and conquest by Sviatoslav in the late 10th century, after which Volga Bulgaria grew greatly in size and power. Sometime in the late 9th century unification processes started, and the capital was established at Bolghar (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 Khazars were annihilated by Svyatoslav of Rus in 965.[citation needed]

Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur named the Volga Bulgar people as Ulak.[11]

Conversion to Islam and further statehood

Volga Bulgaria adopted Islam in 922 – 66 years before Russia became Christian. In 921 Almış sent an ambassador to the Caliph requesting religious instruction. Next year an embassy returned with Ibn Fadlan as secretary. A significant number of Muslims already lived in the country.[12]

The Volga Bulgars attempted to convert Vladimir I of Kiev to Islam; however Vladimir rejected the notion of Rus' giving up wine, which he declared was the "very joy of their lives".[13]

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. Some of the Volga Bulgarian cities still have not been found, but they are mentioned in old East Slavic sources. They are: Ashli (Oshel), Tuxçin (Tukhchin), İbrahim (Bryakhimov), Taw İle. Some of them were ruined during and after the Golden Horde invasion.[citation needed]

The Rus' principalities to the west posed the only tangible military threat. In the 11th century, the country was devastated by several raids by other Rus'. 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 Volga Bulgars had to move their capital from Bolghar to Bilär.[citation needed]


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[citation needed]. 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.[citation needed]