The Republic of Bulgaria (Republika Bǎlgariya or Република България), is a country in southeastern Europe occupying a portion of the eastern Balkan peninsula bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. With a territory of 42,855 square miles (110,994 square kilometers), Bulgaria is Europe’s 16th-largest country. The capital and largest city is Sofia (София) which has a population of 1.26 million. The city is located at the foot of Vitosha Mountain in the western part of the country less than 31 miles (50 kilometers) from the Serbian border. Its location in the center of the Balkan peninsula means that it is the midway between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, whereas the Aegean Sea is the closest to it.
Human activity in the regon of modern Bulgaria can be traced back to the Paleolithic. Animal bones incised with man-made markings from Kozarnika cave are assumed to be the earliest examples of symbolic behavior in humans. Organized prehistoric societies in Bulgarian lands include the Neolithic Hamangia culture, Vinča culture and the eneolithic Varna culture (fifth millennium BC). The latter is credited with inventing gold working and exploitation. Some of these first gold smelters produced the coins, weapons and jewelry of the Varna Necropolis treasure, the oldest in the world with an approximate age of over 6,000 years.
Thracians, one of the three primary ancestral groups of modern Bulgarians, began appearing in the region during the Iron Age. In the late sixth century BC, the Persians conquered most of present-day Bulgaria. and kept it until 479 BC. With influence from the Persians, the bulk of the Thracian tribes were united in the Odrysian kingdom in the 470s BC by king Teres, but were later subjugated by Alexander the Great and by the Romans in 46 AD. After the division of the Roman Empire in the fiftth century the area fell under Byzantine control. By this time, Christianity had already spread in the region. A small Gothic community in Nicopolis ad Istrum produced the first Germanic language book in the fourth century, the Wulfila Bible. The first Christian monastery in Europe was established around the same time by Saint Athanasius in central Bulgaria. From the sixth century the easternmost South Slavs gradually settled in the region, assimilating the Hellenized or Romanized Thracians.
In 680 Bulgar tribes under the leadership of Asparukh moved south across the Danube and settled in the area between the lower Danube and the Balkan, establishing their capital at Pliska. A peace treaty with Byzantium in 681 marked the beginning of the First Bulgarian Empire. The Bulgars gradually mixed up with the local population, adopting a common language on the basis of the local Slavic dialect.
Succeeding rulers strengthened the Bulgarian state throughout the eighth and ninth centuries. Krum doubled the country’s territory, killed Byzantine emperor Nicephorus I in the Battle of Pliska, and introduced the first written code of law. Paganism was abolished in favor of Eastern Orthodox Christianity under Boris I in 864. This conversion was followed by a Byzantine recognition of the Bulgarian church and the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet developed at Preslav which strengthened central authority and helped fuse the Slavs and Bulgars into a unified people. A subsequent cultural golden age began during the 34-year rule of Simeon the Great, who also achieved the largest territorial expansion of the state.
Wars with Magyars and Pechenegs and the spread of the Bogomil heresy weakened Bulgaria after Simeon’s death. Consecutive Rus’ and Byzantine invasions resulted in the seizure of the capital Preslav by the Byzantine army in 971. Under Samuil, Bulgaria briefly recovered from these attacks, but this rise ended when Byzantine emperor Basil II defeated the Bulgarian army at Klyuch in 1014. Samuil died shortly after the battle, and by 1018 the Byzantines had ended the First Bulgarian Empire.
After his conquest of Bulgaria, Basil II prevented revolts and discontent by retaining the rule of the local nobility and by relieving the newly conquered lands of the obligation to pay taxes in gold, allowing them to be paid in kind instead. He also allowed the Bulgarian Patriarchate to retain its autocephalous status and all its dioceses, but reduced it to an archbishopric. After his death Byzantine domestic policies changed and a series of unsuccessful rebellions broke out, the largest being led by Peter Delyan. In 1185 Asen dynasty nobles Ivan Asen I and Peter IV organized a major uprising which resulted in the re-establishment of the Bulgarian state. Ivan Asen and Peter laid the foundations of the Second Bulgarian Empire with Tarnovo as the capital.
Kaloyan, the third of the Asen monarchs, extended his dominion to Belgrade and Ohrid. He acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the pope and received a royal crown from a papal legate. The empire reached its zenith under Ivan Asen II (1218–1241), when commerce and culture flourished. The strong economic and religious influence of Tarnovo made it a “Third Rome”, unlike the already declining Constantinople.
The country’s military and economic might declined after the Asen dynasty ended in 1257, facing internal conflicts, constant Byzantine and Hungarian attacks and Mongol domination. By the end of the fourteenth century, factional divisions between the feudal landlords and the spread of Bogomilism had caused the Second Bulgarian Empire to split into three tsardoms — Vidin, Tarnovo and Karvuna — and several semi-independent principalities that fought each other, along with Byzantines, Hungarians, Serbs, Venetians and Genoese. By the late fourteenth century the Ottoman Turks had started their conquest of Bulgaria and had taken most towns and fortresses south of the Balkan mountains.
Tarnovo was captured by the Ottomans after a three-month siege in 1393. After the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396 brought about the fall of the Vidin Tsardom, the Ottomans conquered all Bulgarian lands south of the Danube. The nobility was eliminated and the peasantry was enserfed to Ottoman masters, with much of the educated clergy fleeing to other countries. Under the Ottoman system, Christians were considered an inferior class of people. Thus, Bulgarians, like other Christians, were subjected to heavy taxes and a small portion of the Bulgarian populace experienced partial or complete Islamization, and their culture was suppressed. Ottoman authorities established the Rum Millet, a religious administrative community which governed all Orthodox Christians regardless of their ethnicity. Most of the local population gradually lost its distinct national consciousness, identifying as Christians. However, the clergy remaining in some isolated monasteries kept it alive, and that helped it to survive as in some rural, remote areas, as well as in the militant Catholic community in the northwestern part of the country.
Several Bulgarian revolts erupted throughout the nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule, most notably the Habsburg-backed Tarnovo uprisings in 1598 and in 1686, the Chiprovtsi Uprising in 1688 and Karposh’s Rebellion in 1689. In the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment in Western Europe provided influence for the initiation of a movement known as the National awakening of Bulgaria. It restored national consciousness and became a key factor in the liberation struggle, resulting in the 1876 April Uprising. Up to 30,000 Bulgarians were killed as Ottoman authorities put down the rebellion. The massacres prompted the Great Powers to take action. They convened the Constantinople Conference in 1876, but their decisions were rejected by the Ottomans. This allowed the Russian Empire to seek a solution by force without risking military confrontation with other Great Powers, as had happened in the Crimean War. In 1877 Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire and defeated its forces with the help of Bulgarian volunteers.
Postal service under direct Turkish control in Bulgaria north of the Balkan Mountains and the semi-autonomous Ottoman territory of Eastern Rumelia in the south was well developed by this time and at least 16 post offices were in operation. Bulgaria had been using Turkish stamps since the 1850s.
The Treaty of San Stefano was signed on March 3, 1878, by Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and included a provision to set up an autonomous Bulgarian principality roughly on the territories of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The other Great Powers immediately rejected the treaty out of fear that such a large country in the Balkans might threaten their interests. It was superseded by the subsequent Treaty of Berlin, signed on 13 July, which provided for a much smaller state comprising Moesia and the region of Sofia, leaving large populations of Bulgarians outside the new country. This played a significant role in forming Bulgaria’s militaristic approach to foreign affairs during the first half of the twentieth century.
In Bulgaria a council of notables was set up to work out a constitution for the country. It ended its work in April 1879 and Bulgaria was now a principality. The German prince Alexander von Battenberg was elected as Bulgaria’s first regent. He was a relative of the Russian tsar so the choice of regent was welcomed in Moscow.
In May 1879, the Bulgarian postal service was established. The first stamps issued by the Principality of Bulgaria were released on May 1, 1879 (Scott #1-5), featuring a crowned lion — the national symbol of Bulgaria. The same design in slightly differing varieties was then used for most of the country’s subsequent nineteenth century stamps. They are typographed on laid paper that is watermarked wavy lines and Cyrillic letters in the sheet. The situation in the country was still very unclear and the first stamps had denominations in French francs (ФРАНКЪ) and centimes (САНТИМ).
In 1880 Eastern Rumelia issued its own stamps overprinted on Turkish stamps. In 1885 there was a popular revolt in Rumelia in favor of union with the Bulgarian principality and the name of the province was changed to Southern Bulgaria. This province then issued its own stamps from September 10, 1885, until Bulgarian stamps were introduced throughout the area from October 1st in the same year.
The Bulgarian currency was the lev which is divided into 100 stotinki. In Old Bulgarian, the word “lev” means “lion”. On April 10, 1881, Bulgaria issued six new stamps (Scott #6-11) with denominations in stotinki (СТОТИНКИ). As with the previous issue, the 1881 stamps were also printed in two colors, typographed on laid paper that is watermarked with wavy lines and Cyrillic letters. Seven additional stamps in the same design in new denominations and colors were released on December 4, 1882 (Scott #12-18). Even after the introduction of stamps with denominations in the national currency, the Bulgarians continued using the stamps with French currency until they were completely exhausted. This was especially true for the 1 franc stamp which was used instead of a non-existent one lev denomination. During the years 1884 and 1885 there were a number of provisional surcharges some of which are quite scarce. Five further definitives in the lion design were issued between 1885 and 1887, featuring two inscription changes.
Prince Alexander was removed from power by a military coup d’état in 1886 and sent into exile to Russia. In 1887 yet another German prince was elected to rule Bulgaria. He was Ferdinand von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha. During his leadership Bulgaria developed into a modern state breaking all ties with the Ottoman Empire when the country proclaimed itself an independent state on October 1, 1908, with Ferdinand I as its first tsar or king. In the years following independence, Bulgaria increasingly militarized and was often referred to as “the Balkan Prussia”.
Redesigned Lion of Bulgaria definitive stamps were first issued in 1889 and feature a smaller oval and heraldic lion (Scott #28-37). Two higher denominations — 2 lev and 3 lev — in the same design were released on April 30, 1896 (Scott #41-42). Prior to this, on February 2, 1896, Bulgaria had released its first commemorative stamps (Scott #43-46) marking the upcoming baptism of Prince Boris and portraying the country’s coat of arms. Boris Klemens Robert Maria Pius Ludwig Stanislaus Xavier (1894-1943) was the eldest son of Prince Regnant Ferdinand of Bulgaria (1861-1948) and Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma (1870-1899). The two year old prince was baptized in the Eastern Orthodox Church on February 11, 1896. His godfather was Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
A set of two stamps (Scott #53-54) were issued on April 20, 1901 to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Insurrection for Independence in April 1876, also called the April Uprising. These both portray a cherry wood cannon. The Bulgarians used 52 cherry wood cannons during the 1876 April Uprising. These wooden cannons, though ineffective in battle, became one of the symbols of the Bulgarian struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire.
In October 1901, a new set of thirteen definitive stamps depicting Prince Ferdinand was issued with denominations ranging from 1 stotinka to 3 leva supplying all postal rate needs (Scott #57-69).
Between 1912 and 1918, Bulgaria became involved in three consecutive conflicts — two Balkan Wars and World War I. After a disastrous defeat in the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria again found itself fighting on the losing side as a result of its alliance with the Central Powers in World War I. Despite fielding more than a quarter of its population in a 1,200,000-strong army and achieving several decisive victories, at Doiran and Dobrich, the country capitulated in 1918. The war resulted in significant territorial losses, and a total of 87,500 soldiers killed. More than 253,000 refugees immigrated to Bulgaria from 1912 to 1929 due to the effects of these wars, placing additional strain on the already ruined national economy.
The political unrest resulting from these losses led to the establishment of a royal authoritarian dictatorship by Tsar Boris III (1918–1943). Bulgaria entered World War II in 1941 as a member of the Axis but declined to participate in Operation Barbarossa and saved its Jewish population from deportation to concentration camps. The sudden death of Boris III in the summer of 1943 pushed the country into political turmoil as the war turned against Germany and the communist guerrilla movement gained momentum. The government of Bogdan Filov subsequently failed to achieve peace with the Allies. Bulgaria did not comply with Soviet demands to expel German forces from its territory, resulting in a declaration of war and an invasion by the USSR in September 1944. The communist-dominated Fatherland Front took power, ended participation in the Axis and joined the Allied side until the war ended.
The left-wing uprising of September 9, 1944, led to the abolition of monarchic rule, but it was not until 1946 that a one-party people’s republic was established. It became a part of the Soviet sphere of influence under the leadership of Georgi Dimitrov (1946–1949), who laid the foundations for a rapidly industrializing Stalinist state which was also highly repressive with thousands of dissidents executed. By the mid-1950s standards of living rose significantly, while political repressions were lessened. By the 1980s both national and per capita GDPs quadrupled, but the economy remained prone to debt spikes, the most severe taking place in 1960, 1977 and 1980. The Soviet-style planned economy saw some market-oriented policies emerging on an experimental level under Todor Zhivkov (1954–1989). His daughter Lyudmila bolstered national pride by promoting Bulgarian heritage, culture and arts worldwide. In an attempt to erase the identity of the ethnic Turk minority, an assimilation campaign was launched in 1984 which included closing mosques and forcing ethnic Turks to adopt Slavic names. These policies (combined with the end of communist rule in 1989) resulted in the emigration of some 300,000 ethnic Turks to Turkey.
Under the influence of the collapsing of the Eastern Bloc, on November 10, 1989, the Communist Party gave up its political monopoly, Zhivkov resigned, and Bulgaria embarked on a transition to a parliamentary democracy. The first free elections in June 1990 were won by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP, the freshly renamed Communist Party). A new constitution that provided for a relatively weak elected president and for a prime minister accountable to the legislature was adopted in July 1991. The new system initially failed to improve living standards or create economic growth — the average quality of life and economic performance remained lower than under communism well into the early 2000s. A 1997 reform package restored economic growth, but living standards continued to suffer. After 2001 economic, political and geopolitical conditions improved greatly, and Bulgaria achieved high Human Development status. It became a member of NATO in 2004 and participated in the War in Afghanistan. After several years of reforms it joined the European Union in 2007 despite continued concerns about government corruption.
Scott #209 was released in 1928 utilizing the lion design of 1881 (values in stotinki). The 30 stotinki stamp was printed in dark blue and bister brown and perforated in a gauge of 13.