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Feature 20 Dec 17

Bulgarians Hail Discovery of Oldest National History

The discovery in Italy of a lost 17th-century history of Bulgaria – believed to be the first-ever written history of Bulgaria – has thrilled historians and academics who are hoping to translate and publish it shortly.

Mariya Cheresheva
Screenshot of the manuscript. Photo: Balkan Forum Magazine

Bulgarian historians have long been aware of the existence of a lost tract, called On the Antiquity of the Fatherland and Bulgarian Things, written by a Bulgarian Catholic intellectual, Petar Bogdan Baksic, in the 17th century and believed to be the country's first written history.

But whether and where the book had survived, as well as its exact contents, remained a mystery until the end of November.

That was when Lilia Ilieva – professor of Bulgarian philology in the Southwest Bulgarian University in Blagoevgrad – announced that the manuscript had been found in the university library in Modena, Italy.

“Petar Bogdan wrote his opus magnum and, luckily, it has been preserved and discovered,” Ilieva wrote for the first edition for 2018 of the academic Balkan Forum Magazine, which is yet to be published.

“Its discovery gives the author his opportunity to take his place among the greatest Bulgarians as a great intellectual with European culture and mentality,” she added.

The researcher described the document as “precious” as it is de facto “the first historic and cultural research of the fatherland”.

The manuscript dates from the 1680s, over a century before the compilation of Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya, or the Slavonic-Bulgarian History, by Paisius of Hilendar. Completed in 1762, it was long believed to be Bulgaria’s first written history.

Written in Latin, Bogdan’s “History” was printed in Venice after the author’s death in 1764. It contains near 200 pages, divided into a preface, 70 chapters, documents and an epilogue.  A team of philologists and historians are working on translating and publishing it in Bulgaria later in 2018.

“The research of the text of Petar Bogdan will have a great significance for shedding light on the intellectual history of Bulgarians, the capacities of our educated ancestors, who used the higher education they had obtained in Western Europe to study the past of their compatriots and to seek better ways for them,” Professor Margaret Dimitrova from Sofia's St Kliment Ohridski University, and a member of the research team, told BIRN.

Undoubtedly, Peter Bogdan was among the brightest members of Bulgaria’s pre-enlightenment intellectual elite.

Born under Ottoman rule in 1601 in the northwestern town of Chiprovtsi, back then a centre of Catholicism in Bulgaria, he entered the Franciscan monastery in his hometown in 1612 to become a friar in 1618.

He continued his education in Catholic schools in Ancona and Rome, Italy, and used his strong connections with Western European aristocrats, politicians and diplomats to promote the idea of a great European coalition against the Ottomans. The Pope named him the Catholic Archbishop of Sofia in 1642.

Together with other Catholics from Chiprovtsi such as Petar Parchevic,  he actively participated in the Chiprovtsi uprising against Ottoman rule in 1688, which was brutally crushed, provoking a massive flight of Bulgarian Catholics to Austria and to present-day Romania.

Professor Dimitrova says the Catholics in Chiprovtsi in the 17th century had developed views on history, culture and freedom, typical of the Bulgarian Orthodox elites in the 18th and 19th century.

They had received the opportunity to obtain a Western-standard education in their homeland, studying from Croatian and Italian books and learning Latin.

“This episode of Bulgaria’s history shows that, when given the opportunity, Bulgarians have not spared efforts to develop themselves intellectually … Their intellectual development, their knowledge and confidence and experience from living in Europe, led to their will to change the living conditions in their homelands and challenge the status quo,” Dimitrova said.

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