"When nomadic Bulgar horsemen approached the Danube in the 7th century and encountered the local Slavic tribes, the stirrups that they brought changed European cavalry warfare forever. Fortify the nearby mountain passes with formidable Kreposts and punish overconfident invaders with powerful combined armies of cavalry, infantry, and siege engines! Your valiant Konniks, the pride of your army, will continue to fight fearlessly even after their horses are felled beneath them."
Historically, the Bulgarians comprised of two distinct cultures: the sedentary Slavs and the nomadic Bulgars (also known as Proto-Bulgarians) who united to oppose the Byzantines – the successor of the Roman Empire – and eventually formed a united state which merged the Slavs and Bulgars into a single Bulgarian identity with the adoption of Christianity and Cyrillic script. The united Bulgarians experienced periods of peace and strife until they were dominated by the Ottoman Empire in the late 14th century.
The Bulgars were masters of crafting blacksmithing, pottery, and carpentry when they entered in contact with the Slavs. To reflect this, they have fast-working Blacksmith for their team and their Militia line units are upgraded for free.
The core of the Bulgarian army was the heavy cavalry, which consisted of 12,000 – 30,000 heavily armed riders. It was one of the most formidable military forces in Europe and was feared by its enemies. This is represented by their unique unit, the Konnik, and their strong Stable units.
The Bulgars and other nearby nomadic tribes introduced the stirrup into Europe, changing cavalry warfare forever. That is reflected in their unique technology of the same name that boosts the attack speed of both Konniks and Light Cavalry.
Medieval Bulgarians were also known for staunchly defending mountain passes and using the terrain and fortifications to defeat more powerful and numerous opponents. To reflect this, the Bulgarians save 50% stone when building Town Centers and can build the Krepost, a lesser version of the Castle.
The Bulgarian footmen were better organized in combat, allowing them to take more melee damage in battle. This is reflected in their unique technology Bagains, which gives additional melee armor to the Militia line. Historically, Bagain was a title for high officers.
Bulgarians are classified as an infantry and cavalry civilization, which is essentially reflected in their unique unit, but both their branches are among the finest in the game; their stable units get all upgrades and technologies excluding the Paladin upgrade (plus having Stirrups to boost the attack speed of all of their cavalry); despite lacking the Champion upgrade, their militia-line upgrades are free and benefit from the additional melee armor of Bagains. Both lines are helped by their fast working Blacksmith (which also benefits their teammates). Their Archery Range is on the other hand much weaker by lacking Crossbowman and Ring Archer Armor. Their siege weapons are excellent, as they have all upgrades and only lack Bombard Cannons. Their navy and Monks are lackluster, but their defenses are decent, thanks to their Krepost (their unique building which is essentially a lesser version of the Castle and can create Konniks), but still lack other important defensive technologies, and their economy is only hurt a bit by lacking Two-Man Saw and Guilds. They also have a stone discount for their Town Centers. Their Monks are far from the best, and it is worth remembering that Bulgarians with no siege might have a hard time dealing with mass Arbalesters or Cavalry Archers.
In-game, Bulgarian units speak a similar language to the Slavs. Historically, Bulgarians in the Age of Empires II timeline spoke Old Church Slavonic, a South Slavic language (related to the language spoken by the Slavs) and the first Slavic literary language. It was initially written in Glagolitic script but was later replaced by Cyrillic alphabets which were already being used to write the local Slavic vernaculars.
When playing a random map game against the computer, the player may encounter any of the following Bulgarian AI characters:
Almish Yiltawar (Алмъш елтебер, Almış Iltäbär): The first Muslim leader (emir) of Volga Bulgaria who reigned from the 9th century to the early 10th century.
Asparukh (Аспарух, a.k.a. Ispor): 7th century ruler (khan) of the Bulgars who established the First Bulgarian Empire in the Balkans in 681. The 3rd son of Kubrat and younger brother of Batbayan and Kotrag. Father of Tervel, the 'Savior of Europe'.
Boris I Mikhail (Борис I Михаил, Boris-Mihail): Ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire (852-889) who converted to Christianity in 864 and sheltered the disciples of saints Cyril and Methodius after they were expelled from Great Moravia. With their help, knyaz Boris I adopted the first version of the Glagolitic (early version of the Cyrillic) script. Also worshipped as a saint by the Orthodox Church. In 889 he abdicated from the throne in favor of his eldest son Vladimir-Rasate to devote himself to the faith as a monk in a monastery. After the new knyaz began to destroy his father's achievements, Boris came out of the monastery to blind him and replace him with Simeon the Great. During the reign of Simeon the old knyaz is known to lead a division of the Bulgarian army despite his advanced age.
Georgi Terter (Георги Тертер): Bulgarian tsar from Cuman origin who was elected by the bolyars to rule the state after the exiles of opponents Ivaylo and Ivan Asen III. Father of Theodore Svetoslav and father-in-law of the Tatar prince Chaka. Features as a hero unit in several scenarios of the Ivaylo campaign.
Ghabdula Chelbir (Габдула Челбир): Ruler of Volga Bulgaria (1178-1225) known for the win against the Mongol Empire Battle of Samara Bend (one of the rare cases when the Horde of Genghis ever lost a battle). It happened in the very same year like The Battle at the Kalka River - 1223.
Ivan Asen II (Иван Асен II): The greatest Bulgarian ruler (1218-1241) during the Second Bulgarian Empire. Famous for decisively beating the Byzantine Army at Klokotnitsa and capturing the emperor, Theodore Doukas. Tsar Ivan Asen III, who appears as 'Tsar Ivan' in the Ivaylo campaign, is the son of his daughter and Tsar Mitso.
Ivaylo Bardokva (Ивайло Бърдоква): The main character of the Bulgarians' campaign. Lead a revolt against Konstantin Tih and eventually defeated him, gaining the Bulgarian throne in the process.
Khan Krum (Кан Крум): After the crisis in the 2nd half of 8th c. the Bulgarian state needed a ruler who can stabilise it again. He was found in Pannonia and during his reign (803-814) Krum gave to the Bulgars the first written laws who were harsh but fair. During his time the capita city of Pliska was burned by the Byzantians but Krum cut their way back via ambush in the Varbitsa Pass in Stara planina. As a result the emperor Nikephoros I Genikos lost his life (his skull notably became a drinking cup) and his son Staurakios ended with severe injuries himself.
Kotrag (Котраг, Kazarig): The founder of Volga Bulgaria, a Bulgar ruler who left Old Great Bulgaria in what is now southern Russia and Ukraine to head north along the Volga river, in the late 7th century.
Kubrat (Кубрат): The founder of Old Great Bulgaria, father of Batbayan, Kotrag, Asparukh, Kuber and Altzek. Also the grandfather of Tervel, the 'Savior of Europe'.
Simeon the Great (Симеон Велики): The 3rd son of Boris I, he was considered to be the future head of the new Bulgarian Orthodox Church. However, his older brother knyaz (prince) Vladimir Rasate (889-893) tried to reset everything their father did before and eventually he was blinded by Boris I. And so, Simeon was established as Bulgarian ruler (893-927). In 917 he notably defeated the Byzantines during the Battle of Achelous. This period is called 'The Golden Age' and it's both because of his capabilities as a warior and literature/culture supporter. Most notably he ordered the disciples of saints Cyril and Methodius to create Cyrillic script to replace the Glagolitic one. Today 1 of every 30 person in the world uses the new Cyrillic alphabet. He is the ruler during the time of the events from the Honfoglalás scenario about the Magyars.
Tervel Khan (Тервел Хан): Son of Asparukh, grandson of Kubrat and 2nd ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire. Known as 'The Savior of Europe' because of his help during the Siege of Constantinople in 717-718.
Theodore Svetoslav (Теодор Светослав): Son of Georgi Terter and 2nd ruler from the Terter dynasty. He established himself to rule about 2 decades (1299-1321).
Tsar Konstantin Tih (Цар Константѝн Тих): The 'antagonist' in the campaign about Ivaylo. A wealthy bolyar from Skopje himself, he was elected for tsar by the bolyars after the exile of tsar Mitso Asen (husband of Ivan Asen II's daughter) and his son, future tsar Ivan Asen III (who was a child at that time and was another one pretendent for Bulgarian throne supported by Byzantines after Konstantin's death). Paralized after a riding accident. That's why in 1st scenario of the Ivaylo campaign this hero unit is depicted as a cart with 3 horses (whose death is the final objective of the player).
"By the fourth century AD, the Roman Empire was struggling to keep control of its vast territory. In Balkans, different groups seized the opportunity to plunder. While most of these incursions were transient, the raids of two groups were of a more permanent character. From the sixth century on, Slavic tribes began colonizing large areas in present-day Bulgaria. Despite their common culture, Slavs did not develop any state. This task would be accomplished by the Bulgars, semi-nomadic horsemen from Central Asia. Together, these newcomers would form the Bulgarian people and establish two powerful empires in the medieval Balkans.
Around 670 AD, Asparukh, the son of a fallen Proto-Bulgarian Khan (king), led his people to the Danube delta in search of new grazing grounds. During the following years, Asparukh united the Slavic settlers under his rule. However, as the successor state to the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire still claimed the region. Emperor Constantine IV launched several campaigns to defend his territory but encountered strong resistance. The invaders combined the best of two worlds: the Slavs fielded numerous light infantry, while the Proto-Bulgarians employed fully armored horsemen, each one equipped with a wide arsenal of weapons. Throughout the medieval period, the heavy cavalry would remain the backbone of the Bulgarian army and was one of the most feared forces in all of Europe.
After several defeats, Constantine IV was forced to relinquish the Byzantine claim to the lands north of the Balkan Mountains, marking the birth of the First Bulgarian Empire (681-1018). Nevertheless, its future was far from certain, as the Byzantines would continuously try to reconquer the lost territory. Internally, the new state was divided between the Proto-Bulgarian aristocracy and the Slavic population despite the early development of the Old Bulgarian language. Only in the ninth century would Boris I (r. 852-889) form the basis of a unified identity. By adopting Christianity as the state religion, he created a common ground for all ethnic groups. He also founded the Pliska-Preslav literary school, which stimulated the creation of the Cyrillic script, allowing the production of written works in the Old Bulgarian language.
Under Boris’ son, Simeon the Great (r. 893-927), the First Bulgarian Empire entered a golden age. After successful campaigns against the Byzantines and the Magyars, Simeon had expanded the empire to its greatest extent, controlling almost the entirety of the Balkans. As art and literature boomed, Bulgaria became the cultural center of Slavic Europe and Old Bulgarian replaced Greek as the lingua franca. The wealth to finance these cultural and military campaigns came primarily from trade. Thanks to its central position between the Rus’ and the Byzantines, Bulgaria functioned as an important trade hub for precious metals, horses and slaves. Although the intensified trade created some of the highest levels of urbanization in all of Europe, most Bulgarians made a living off agriculture and animal husbandry.
After Simeon’s death, his empire fell into decline. Weakened by continuous warfare, Bulgaria was conquered by the Byzantine armies in 1018. Despite strong political reforms, the Bulgarians retained their sense of a separate culture. Whenever the Byzantines levied heavy taxes, this identity proved a strong medium to channel social unrest into rebellions. In 1185, an uprising led by the aristocratic brothers Asen and Peter succeeded in driving out the Byzantines. The Second Bulgarian Empire (1186-1396) quickly became a major power in the Balkans under Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241). Art, architecture and literature would thrive until the fourteenth century, making Bulgaria once again the leading cultural center of Slavic Europe. Politically, however, the empire would never match the status of its predecessor. After Ivan II, it was constantly threatened by its neighbors and by internal uprisings, such as the 1277 rebellion of the swineherd Ivaylo. In 1396, a new superpower finally put an end to Bulgarian independence: the Ottomans would dominate the Balkans for the next 500 years."