Bulgarian Revolt Against the Ottoman Empire Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

At a time when the Ottoman Empire was weakening, Bulgarian nationalists attempted a revolt that was ruthlessly suppressed but which nevertheless led to the establishment of an independent Bulgarian state in 1878, while contributing to national animosities that would help provoke the Balkan Wars in the early twentieth century.

Summary of Event

The Turkish conquest of Bulgaria in 1396 resulted in nearly five hundred years of virtually complete Ottoman domination of Bulgaria. However, some elements of the Bulgarian population, through the activity of the Eastern Orthodox Church Orthodox Church, Eastern and traditions of village culture, managed to keep alive the cultural life of the country. By the late eighteenth century, Turkish power was seriously weakening, and a movement of national revival and autonomy was growing among the Bulgarians. Bulgaria;revolt Ottoman Empire;Bulgarian revolt Bulgaria;and Turks[Turks] Balkans;and Ottoman Empire[Ottoman Empire] Ottoman Empire;and Balkans[Balkans] [kw]Bulgarian Revolt Against the Ottoman Empire (May, 1876) [kw]Revolt Against the Ottoman Empire, Bulgarian (May, 1876) [kw]Ottoman Empire, Bulgarian Revolt Against the (May, 1876) [kw]Empire, Bulgarian Revolt Against the Ottoman (May, 1876) Bulgaria;revolt Ottoman Empire;Bulgarian revolt Bulgaria;and Turks[Turks] Balkans;and Ottoman Empire[Ottoman Empire] Ottoman Empire;and Balkans[Balkans] [g]Bulgaria;May, 1876: Bulgarian Revolt Against the Ottoman Empire[4860] [g]Ottoman Empire;May, 1876: Bulgarian Revolt Against the Ottoman Empire[4860] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May, 1876: Bulgarian Revolt Against the Ottoman Empire[4860] [c]Government and politics;May, 1876: Bulgarian Revolt Against the Ottoman Empire[4860] Botev, Khristo Levski, Vasil Karavelov, Lyuben Stoychev Rakovski, Georgi Sava Stambolov, Stefan Nikolov Mahmud II

The Ottoman sultan’s constant warfare had reduced the Turkish male population, as had disease and a low birthrate, at a time when improving economic and social opportunities were providing the Bulgarians with increasing trade and manufacturing possibilities. On the other hand, the proximity of Turkey to Bulgaria, and the presence in the Bulgarian countryside of former Janissaries, Janissaries;in Bulgaria[Bulgaria] bandits, and other lawless mercenaries, had turned much of Bulgarian territory into a wasteland. It was also a scene of frequent warfare. The Russians and the Ottomans clashed on Bulgarian territory between 1806 and 1812 and again from 1828 to 1829.

The destruction of the Turkish Janissaries;suppression of Janissary corps, which had become a serious threat to Ottoman stability and military capability, was followed in 1826 by the creation of a modern army by Sultan Mahmud II. Supplies to equip and feed this new military force came largely from Bulgaria, and economic prosperity from the export of textiles Textile industry;Turkish , agricultural products, leather, and manufactured articles provided the material basis from which social change became possible.

Uprisings in Greece and Serbia Serbia during the first decades of the nineteenth century led to an atmosphere of change throughout the Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire;and Greece[Greece] Greece;and Ottoman Empire[Ottoman Empire] . Although the Bulgarians did not figure largely in these struggles, an unforeseen benefit from the Greek uprising was the removal of Greeks from positions of trust in the empire. This benefited Bulgarian merchants economically. It also removed Greek as the language of education and religion in Bulgaria, opening the door to the use of the vernacular in these spheres. The Bulgarians thus began to experience a national revival in economic matters, education, and the arts.

Schools offering instruction in the Bulgarian Bulgaria;schools language and making it freely available to all were opened in various Bulgarian communities. There was a resurgence of activity in book and journal publication, the writing of poetry, Poetry;Bulgarian religious and secular painting, music, wood-carving, and architecture. Reading rooms were opened, which not only made available literary offerings but also provided dramas, musical events, lectures, and other intellectual stimuli to a population newly awakened to a sense of their own national identity. Freed from the dominance of Greek in their cultural life, the Bulgarians began to formulate their own literary language, based on the dialect of eastern Bulgaria.

The Bulgarians also began to resist the domination of their church by Greek clergy. Public protests complained about the excesses of the Greek priests and a desire for a return to a Bulgarian national church. In 1870, the sultan extended recognition of a separate Bulgarian church headed by an exarch. Since the patriarchate refused to recognize this new church and even excommunicated many of its leaders, the creation of the exarchate precipitated a national crisis. The new Bulgarian Orthodox Church, however, soon became a focus in Bulgarian national life and was firmly allied with advances in education and enlightenment.

Although some Bulgarians had participated in political opposition to the Turks earlier in the century, for the most part Bulgaria was not heavily involved in the anti-Ottoman movements in the Balkans during the early years of the nineteenth century. There was some peasant unrest sporadically, but it was largely based on dissatisfaction with the system of taxation and land tenure. Such unorganized rebellions were easily put down by the Ottoman authorities. Within the Ottoman Empire itself, the 1840’s and subsequent decades were a period of reform, during which the rights of non-Muslim religious groups became an important issue. In 1839, the Tanzimat reforms began working to change abuses in taxation and the treatment of national groups throughout the empire.

A more immediate cause of revolutionary activity was the aftermath of the Crimean War (1853-1856). Russia’s Russia;and Bulgaria[Bulgaria] Bulgaria;and Russia[Russia] defeat in that war meant that Bulgaria could not depend on Russian assistance for its internal problems. There were also conflicting interests between merchants and craftsmen who benefited from increased trade with the Ottomans and others who saw in the example of the Greeks and Serbs a possibility for greater autonomy. The young intelligentsia in particular were affected by liberal and national ideologies they had encountered in their studies abroad, particularly in some of the revolutionary circles within czarist Russia.

In 1862, a Bulgarian legion was formed in Belgrade with the aid of the Serbian Serbia government under the leadership of Georgi Sava Rakovski. Rakovski, Georgi Sava The conspirators moved their operations to Romania Romania;and Bulgaria[Bulgaria] Bulgaria;and Romania[Romania] a few years later after some disagreements with the Serbs over clashing territorial ambitions. After Rakovski’s death from tuberculosis Tuberculosis in 1867, the Bulgarian secret central committee, under the leadership of Lyuben Stoychev Karavelov and Vasil Levski, Levski, Vasil espoused the goal of fomenting a national uprising among the peasants.

A new organization, the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, was formed with the program of establishing a federation of autonomous Balkan nations to achieve liberation from Ottoman control by revolutionary means. Levski returned to Bulgaria to try to achieve this goal but was apprehended by the Ottomans and hanged in Sofia. His martyrdom made him a national hero to the Bulgarians. His work was continued outside of Bulgaria by Karavelov, Karavelov, Lyuben Stoychev the poet Khristo Botev Botev, Khristo , Stefan Nikolov Stambolov Stambolov, Stefan Nikolov , and Georgi Benkovski Benkovski, Georgi .

When Serbia Serbia Ottoman Empire;and Serbia[Serbia] and Turkey went to war in 1876, many Bulgarians joined the Serbs against the Turks. The Bulgarian revolutionary leaders determined that this was the time to provoke an uprising in Bulgaria as well, with simultaneous outbreaks planned in the four revolutionary districts that they had set up. Although the uprising was planned for May, the Ottoman authorities learned of the conspiracy, which caused the revolt to break out sooner than anticipated. Fighting broke out in April in Koprivshtica but remained confined to the Balkan Mountain region.

The Balkans at the End of the Nineteenth Century





This premature uprising was a failure in that it led to the deaths of a large number of Bulgarians and failed to instigate a general peasant uprising. Atrocities were committed on both sides, with mass killings of resident Turks followed by massacres of Bulgarians by Turkish forces. The atrocities perpetrated against the Bulgarians enlisted European sympathies to the cause of Bulgaria and strengthened the feeling of national consciousness among the Bulgarians themselves.


The Ottoman atrocities also contributed indirectly to the expansion of Bulgaria’s borders in the aftermath of Russia’s victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878)[Russo Turkish War (1877-1878)] . According to the provisions of the Treaty of San Stefano San Stefano, Treaty of (1878) of March 3, 1878, negotiated between Russia and Turkey, Bulgaria was to get territory north and south of the Balkan Mountains, Thrace, Thrace and most of Macedonia. Macedonia The great powers, as well as the other Balkan states, saw this greatly enlarged Bulgaria as a threat to the security of Europe, however, since it offered an opportunity for Russia to enlarge its sphere of influence in the Balkans. Thus, a new treaty, the Treaty of Berlin, was proposed and signed, under which a much smaller Bulgaria was created, Eastern Rumelia Eastern Rumelia Rumelia, Eastern (south of the Balkan Mountains) was to be a semiautonomous province, and Thrace and Macedonia remained under Ottoman control. The provisions of this treaty caused much bitterness among Bulgarians, contributing to the national antagonisms that eventually led to the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 Balkan Wars (1912-1913) . After the Congress of Berlin, there were major alliance shifts among the great powers to effect a new equilibrium.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clark, James Franklin. The Pen and the Sword: Studies in Bulgarian History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. Collection of essays on Bulgarian history that includes discussions of the Bulgarian national revival and its consequences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crampton, R. J. A Short History of Modern Bulgaria. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Although focusing on events after the Treaty of Berlin, the first chapter of this book treats the important developments in Bulgaria that led up to the massacres of 1876.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jelavich, Charles. The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804-1920. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977. Treats the historical development of the Balkan nations from ancient cultures, through nearly five hundred years of Turkish domination, and the national movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Karpat, Kemal H. The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Study of the transformation of the Muslim world under the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Ottoman Empire, the period during which Bulgaria was forging its independence from the empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacDermott, Mercia. A History of Bulgaria, 1393-1885. London: Allen & Unwin, 1962. Focuses on the years of Ottoman domination, the cultural revival, and the movements to liberate Bulgaria from the Turks.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tzvetkov, Plamen. A History of the Balkans: A Regional Overview from a Bulgarian Perspective. San Francisco, Calif.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993. Volume 1 covers Bulgaria through the Ottoman period, with detailed information on the revolutionary movement and the conspirators.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yasamee, F. A. K. Ottoman Diplomacy: Abdülhamid II and the Great Powers. Istanbul: Isis Press, 1996. Study of the complicated foreign policy of Sultan Abdülhamid II, who came to power shortly after the Bulgarian Revolt was suppressed.

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Congress of Berlin

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Categories: History