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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 11:301–309.


Hungarian–Bulgarian Scholarly Relations in Humanities at the End of the 19th Century


The beginning of bilateral Hungarian–Bulgarian scholarly cooperation dates from the end of 1880s. There were two main agents that contributed to its emergence. The first concerned the needs of modern Bulgarian scholarship whose quick development started after the Russian–Turkish War of 1877–1878 when Bulgarians were given the right to form their own state. At that time Bulgarian scholarship was realized by graduates – Bulgarians as well as foreigners (Russians, Germans, Austrians) – from different European Universities who began examining Bulgarian history, culture, language etc. from the standpoint of contemporary scholarship. In their researches they needed the cooperation of their colleagues from abroad.

The second agent for the emergence of Hungarian–Bulgarian relations in the humanities was Austria–Hungary’s increased cultural aspiration for influence in the Balkans (including Bulgaria). In the 1880s, Austria–Hungary began to implement a new policy of economic penetration of the Balkans which, to a large extent, concerned Bulgaria. In fact, the turn began in the mid-1870s as a result of economic depression, but was increased by the new political situation in the Balkans after the Russian–Turkish War.1

The more interested side was the Eastern part of the Monarchy not only for geopolitical reasons but for historical traditions from the Middle Ages on, following the Hungarian Kingdom’s political and economic role in the Balkans. Within the general trend of the Monarchy’s common foreign policy, Hungary pursued its own goals in the Balkans. In the last quarter of the 19th century Hungary demonstrated purposeful interests in the “conquest” of the Bulgarian market competing with Austrian and German exporters. Hungarian politicians acknowledged the role of culture in making Hungarian economic penetration into the Balkans more effective.2 The two countries’ cultural knowledge of each other was therefore of great importance for their commerce. In Hungary such knowledge was acquired mainly through scholarship and to a large extent depended on the personal interests and initiative of outstanding Hungarian intellectuals. The Hungarian scholars’ interest in Bulgarian history, folk traditions and language developed together with the formation of modern Bulgarian scholarship. As a result of these two parallel processes in the last quarter of the 19th century, the first personal contacts were established between Hungarian and Bulgarian scholars.

Bilateral relations in the humanities were strongly influenced by the political and ideological trends of the epoch. The motivation for examining certain problems usually had a political background. Yet, this was determined by the cultural needs of the two peoples in various scientific fields and by the scholars’ personal interests and visions. The main form of Hungarian–Bulgarian relations in the humanities was the personal contact evidenced by rich correspondence. The latter is well preserved in the Hungarian and Bulgarian Archives but has still remained little examined. The present study aims at revealing the process of Hungarian and Bulgarian scholars’ creative cooperation and mutual enrichment by analysing their unknown or lesser known correspondence.

The acceptance of Bulgarian themes in Hungarian scholarly circles in the 19th century was connected with their emphasis on historical sources, especially on ethnography, turkology and Slavic linguistics. In particular it was a result of the efforts to search for records about the Hungarians’ long-lasting relations with the Slavic peoples, to determine the Turkic and Slavic heritage in the Hungarian language.

The bilateral relations in historiography developed under the influence of positivism. In the new historical conditions the main trend was to search for and to publish sources about the historical relations (dynastic, political and commercial) between Hungarians and the Balkan peoples in the Middle Ages. As it pertains to the Bulgarians, its first result was the volume about the Ochrid and Tirnovo Eparchy from the series entitled “Árpádkori új okmánytár” (“New Record-Collection from the Period of the Árpáds”),3 edited by Gustáv Wenczel at the order of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. This trend in Hungarian historiography was closely related to the historian and politician Benjamin Kállay’s cultural-political concepts and to the circle of Hungarians living in Vienna, whose organizer and inspirer was the historian Lajos Thallóczy. Benjamin Kállay was considered to be the Monarchy’s best expert on the Balkans. He was the first acknowledge the role of culture in making Hungarian economic penetration of the Balkans more effective. His closest confidant, Lajos Thallóczy, the head of the Common Financial Ministry’s Archives, combined Hungarian economic interests in the Balkans with certain aspirations for cultural influence.

At the turn of the 19th century Lajos Thallóczy’s attention was engaged by the topic of Hungarian–Bulgarian relations in the Middle Ages. It was a part of his scientific program for examining historical relations between Hungary and the Balkans. He aimed at showing as near to reality as possible the image of the Hungarian medieval kingdom and its contacts with the neighbouring Slav peoples. From this picture he drew political conclusions for his time. His two studies4 on the history of Hungarian–Bulgarian relations in the second half of the 14th century were based on hitherto unknown archival records and revealed new details. Lajos Thallóczy’s interest in the political and cultural life of the newly formed Bulgarian state was furthered by his personal acquaintance with the first Bulgarian Prince, Alexander Battenberg5, with the first Bulgarian Minister of Education, the Czech historian Konstantin Jirecek6 and with the Austro– Hungarian Consul General in Sofia István Burián7. His correspondence with the Bulgarian Franciscan friar from Banat, Eusebius Fermendzsin8, shows creative cooperation in the search for archival records of Southern Slav history.

The interest of the Hungarian historians in medieval Hungarian–Bulgarian relations was demonstrated in Bulgaria by the study of Gyula Pauler, at that time head of the Hungarian National Archives, about V. István’s Bulgarian Compaigns9. It was translated into Bulgarian language by the Hungarian economist, folklorist and diplomat, Adolf Strausz and published in the first prestigious Bulgarian scientific periodical “Collection of Folklore and Literature”.10

Adolf Strausz visited Bulgaria for the first time in 1884, when he was commissioned by the Hungarian Ministry of Commerce, to study the economic situation in the country. After that, he regularly travelled in Bulgaria with different scientific and diplomatic missions. Adolf Strausz knew personally the Bulgarian Tsar, the Prime-Minister Stefan Stambolov11 and the scholar Ivan Shishmanov12, the latter one of the founders of modern Bulgarian scholarship. In scientific circles he was famous for his books on Bulgarian folklore. But nothing is known about his research work that concerned Hungarian–Bulgarian relations and Bulgarian history. Several letters written by him to Ivan Shishmanov13 and Stefan Stambolov14 reveal new pieces of evidence about the beginning of modern Bulgarian historiography.

Adolf Strausz started regular researches in the field of Hungarian–Bulgarian relations. He tried to find some records about the history of Hungarian–Bulgarian relations from the end of the 17th century to the first half of the 18th century, in particular about Imre Thököly, Prince of Transylvania’s political activity15 and the Balkan missions of some Hungarian exiles from Ferenc Rákóczi II’s circles during the Austro–Hungarian Wars at the beginning of the 18th century. Strausz’s attention was directed to records collected by Kálmán Thaly who, in the second half of the 19th century, examined sources about Ferenc Rákóczi’s epoch. He was seriously engaged in searching for records not only about the history of Hungarian–Bulgarian relations but also about Bulgarian history from the period of Ottoman rule. Following the example of the turkologist Armin Vámbéry’s studies in the Constantinapole Archives, Strausz aimed at getting permission from the Turkish sultan to examine “the safe which enclosed the records relating to the Turkish governance of Sofia and Vidin”16. He looked for the approval and cooperation of the Prime-Minister Stefan Stambolov. Strausz was among the first scholars who searched for records about Bulgarian history from the period of the Ottoman rule.

He also took the initiative for collecting materials, “about the Hungarian– Bulgarian epoch of 1848”, as he said, that is about the history of Kossuth’s emigration to Bulgaria. During his Bulgarian trip in 1890 with Shishmanov’s cooperation, Strausz collected materials on this issue from contemporaries of Kossuth’s epoch who were still living.17 As a result of this cooperation, Strausz published a part of his results in 1891 in the Hungarian newspaper “Pester Lloyd”.

Hungarians became interested in Bulgarian traditional culture at the end of 1860s and the beginning of 1870s. This interest was expressed in observations and in collecting information on Bulgarian folk traditions and their popularization by the publication of these materials in books or in journals. This ethnographic interest was caused by the emergence of the Eastern Crisis and Austria–Hungary’s efforts to gain knowledge of the Bulgarians with the purpose of conducting a more effective policy toward the Balkans. In the last quarter of the 19th century this interest was connected to the activity of two institutions. The first one was the Hungarian Ethnographic Society, established in 1889. In the very beginning the Hungarian Ethnographic Society set up eight specialized sections directed to the nationalities living in Hungary. Having in mind the presence of about 15 000 Bulgarians in the region of Banat (Transylvania, today in Rumania)18 a Bulgarian section was also formed. Its first chairman was Adolf Strausz and after 1890, the geographer and ethnographer Géza Czirbusz, famous researcher of the Banatian Bulgarians. The second Hungarian institution that played an important role not only in the popularization of Bulgarian traditional culture, but in its study was the Hungarian Royal East Commercial Academy in Budapest. Ethnographic knowledge of Bulgaria was taught for two decades in this institution by Adolf Strausz.

As a result of the institutional interest in ethnography in Hungary, the study of Bulgarian traditional culture acquired new interest; side by side with fieldwork, more serious, and from a thematic point of view more specific ethnographic studies appeared. In the 1880s the latter related to Géza Czirbusz’s scholarly work who examined the traditional culture of the Bulgarians living in Banat. In the 1890s Adolf Strausz’s folklorist studies of Bulgarian folk poetry, beliefs and customs were published. In Bulgaria proper, ethnographic interest was oriented to the Hungarian scholars’ achievements in the study of the Bulgarian settlers in the Banat.

In 1882 Géza Czirbusz published the first monograph on traditional culture of the Bulgarians in the Banat.19 Two years later it was published in German20 and parts of it were translated into Bulgarian21. In Bulgaria the Banatian Bulgarians’ history, settlements, language and degree of assimilation were studied by the prominent linguist Lyubomir Miletich.22 He knew Géza Czirbusz’s works and criticized Czirbusz’s opinions on the Bulgarian origin of the group called “krassovans”.23

We have some evidence of personal contacts between Hungarian and Bulgarian scholars in the field of ethnography from the 1890s. During his frequent travels in Bulgaria, Adolf Strausz started collecting folksongs which he published in 1892 entitled “Bolgár népköltési gyûjtemény” (“Collection of Bulgarian Popular Poetry”). As he mentions in the preface to his “Collection” it was István Burián, the Austro–Hungarian Consul General in Sofia, who firstly directed his attention to this subject. On his initiative Adolf Strausz collected popular beliefs and folksongs. In 1897 the above mentioned “Collection” was followed by another book entitled “Bolgár néphit” (“Bulgarian Popular Beliefs”). Simultaneously with the Hungarian editions, his works on Bulgarian folklore were published also in German24. This work greatly contributed to the popularization of Bulgarian culture in Austria–Hungary and Germany. For his services to Bulgaria, Adolf Strausz was awarded the order of “Science and Art – Second degree”.

Strausz’s folklorist activity was accompanied by creative cooperation with Ivan Shishmanov who played an important role in the organization of Bulgarian ethnographic studies. His correspondence with Ivan Shishmanov and Stefan Stambolov reveals the fact that his book, “Collection of Bulgarian Popular Songs”, was written with the financial support of the Bulgarian government and personally supported by Stefan Stambolov; Ivan Shishmanov as head of the department at the Ministry of Education wrote the preface and corrected the proofs of its German edition. In the preface, underlining the merits of this “Bulgarian–Hungarian collection” as an edition unique in European literature by its magnificence and by the richness of its content, Shishmanov expressed his hope that it would catch the West-European scholars’ attention and appreciation of Bulgarian folk poetry. The reviewers immediately noticed the book: such distinguished scholars gave their opinion of it as the Hungarian Oszkár Asbóth and the Croatian Vartoslav Jagic.25

After publishing the German edition of “Bulgarian popular beliefs”, Ivan Shishmanov reviewed it in the prestigious scientific magazine of that time named “Balgarski pregled” (“Bulgarian Survey”). He praised Adolf Strausz’s comparative method as one of the book’s “most original and useful sides”.26

Strausz popularized Bulgarian folklore and the first Bulgarian folklorists’ achievements not only through his books but through his journalistic activity. Except his numerous translations and articles in different Hungarian, Austrian and German magazines and newspapers at the end of the 1890s, he began to publish a magazine in German “about folk science” as he himself called it. The journal’s title was “Donauländer”. Only one issue appeared in 1899 and it contained several studies on Bulgarian folk culture. According to Strausz’s letters to Shishmanov, his idea of creating such a magazine was born in 1897 and envisaged regular cooperation by Bulgarian scholars’.27

At his offer on 17 March 1899, the Hungarian Ethnographic Society voted Ivan Shishmanov and Lyubomir Miletich a honourable membership.28 As it is evident from his close friend – the Bulgarian writer and publicist, Anton Drandar’s only preserved letter,29 Adolf Strausz proposed him for membership in the Hungarian Ethnographic Society on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Anton Drandar was voted in as an “outside member” of the Society on 28 March 1917 “in acknowledgement of his great services in the popularization of the Bulgarian people and literature abroad and for his sympathy for the scientific strivings of the Hungarian nation”.30

Hungarian linguists became the interested in the Bulgarian language. This interest was expressed in the examination of the Protobulgarians’ language and of the Old Bulgarian language with its implications for the origin of the Hungarian Language and its loan words (Turkic and Slav). They have shown great interest in the Protobulgarians’ language from the 8th–10th century. Their studies in this field had a specific Hungarian aspect being directly connected with the development of Hungarian linguistics. At the end of the 1870s, Hungarian linguists accepted the comparative-historical method of the Young method of approach. The etymological studies of the Hungarian language began with the examination of the Hungarian people’s origins and historical relations with the peoples it met on its way from Middle Asia to Central Europe. Studies of pre-history were joined to the study of the origins of language as two equally important sources of the origins of Hungarian ethnicity. The problems of the loan words in the Hungarian language, along with the rest of the Turkic–Bulgarian and Slav–Bulgarian loan words, acquired a definite place.

The study of historical and language relations between Protobulgarians and the old Magyars was considerably stimulated by the so called “Turkic–Ugrian War”, when two main theses about the origin and characteristic features of the Hungarian language (the Altai and the Ugrian) were counterposed. At the end of the 19th century, the turkologist Bernát Munkácsi thought that the oldest turkic loan words in Hungarian were borrowed in the 5th century from the Protobulgarian-onogurs. At that time Munkácsi’s thesis was disputed by Oszkár Asbóth who examined the Slav loan words and in whose opinion the Bulgarian influence happened in the Danubian basin after the Hungarians occupied their motherland.

In the last quarter of the 19th century when, in Hungary, the linguistic debates about the origin of the Hungarian language and its loan words proceded, in Bulgaria the problems of the Bulgarian language were discussed by Ivan Shishmanov, Benyo Tsonev31, Lyubomir Miletich, Dimitar Matov.32 The first generation of Bulgarian linguists graduated from prestigious European universities and accepted the comparative-historical method and the ideas of the Young school of Linguistics. They were interested in their Hungarian colleagues’ achievements in the field of Protobulgarian language and the Protobulgarian component in Hungarian. Some of them searched for Slav language documents from the Middle Ages in Hungarian Archives. Benyo Tsonev worked in the Manuscript section of the University Library in Budapest.

At the end of the 19th century both Hungarian and Bulgarian scholars kept in touch with Konstantin Jirecek in Vienna. Jirecek was one of the leading figures in the Slav Seminar at Vienna University. Despite being a historian, he had his own opinion on the history of the Bulgarian language, based on concrete observations and well-examined historical and dialect material. Hungarian scholars consulted him concerning some etymological questions of the Bulgarian language. By the end of the1890s, the turkologist Géza Kuun published two studies on the Protobulgarians’ language.33 He examined the Bulgarians’ origin and the Turkic–Bulgarian language in connection with his researches on the Koumans. In his letters to Jirecek Kuun asked about the “List of the Bulgarian khans” and about the “Turkish speaking Christians in Bulgaria”.34 In turn, Bulgarian scholars consulted Jirecek about the various Hungarian theories of the Protobulgarian language and the Slav–Bulgarian loan words in Hungarian.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Hungarian scholars cultivated personal relations with their Bulgarian colleagues, not only to make clear certain linguistic problems, but to get acquainted with each other’s achievements and to exchange scientific literature. There were close relations, on the one hand, between Oszkár Asbóth and Benyo Tsonev, and on the other, between Ivan Shishmanov and Oszkár Asbóth, Bernát Munkácsi and his disciple, the turkologist Ignác Kúnos. There was a close personal friendship between Oszkár Asbóth, Ignác Kúnos and Adolf Strausz who, being professors at the Eastern Commercial Academy in Budapest, every year visited Bulgaria together with their alumni, and Ivan Shishmanov, Dimitar Matov and Benyo Tsonev.35 In a letter to Shishmanov dated February 1895, Asbóth emotionally expressed in perfect Bulgarian the meaning of this cooperation as follows: “I am very sorry to examine your language here [in Budapest] far from its living source, but the kindness of the Bulgarian scholars so many times have already made my work easier and full of delight.”36

Hungarian–Bulgarian relations in the humanities were very active in the period of Stefan Stambolov’s administration (1887–1894), when Austria–Hungary’s position in Bulgaria became more consolidated, and developed on Hungarian initiative. Although Bulgarian scholars participated in bilateral relations in contrast to Hungarian scholarship in the Bulgaria, the very Hungarian subject-matter didn’t have its places yet. We must keep in mind that, in the beginning, modern Bulgarian scholarship was more interested in unexamined problems of Bulgarian history, traditions, language etc. That is why they were interested in their Hungarian colleagues’ scholarly results in the field of Bulgarian studies. Concerning Bulgarian scholarship two links existed in Hungary by the end of the 19th century: the East Commercial Academy in Budapest with its professors Adolf Atrausz, Ignác Kúnos and Oszkár Asbóth and the circle of the Hungarian scholars in Vienna with its inspirer Lajos Thallóczy. Part of a bridge in the development of the scholarship in Hungary and Bulgaria was played by Adolf Strausz, Ivan Shishmanov and Konstantin Jirecek acknowledged authorities in the Monarchy on Bulgarian questions. The scholarly results of the creative cooperation between the scholars from both countries enriched the Balkan, Turkic- and Slavic studies and contributed to the dissemination of Bulgarian and Hungarian scholarship in Western Europe.




E. Palotás, Az Osztrák–Magyar Monarchia balkáni politikája a Berlini kongresszus után 1878– 1881, Budapest 1982. p. 16–17.


P. Pejkovska, The Effect of Politics on Bulgarian–Hungarian Cultural Relations 1880– 1941, in: Bulgarian Historical Review 1994, N 2, 121–130 p.


G. Wenczel, Árpádkori új okmánytár. VIII. köt. 1261–1272. I. Pest. 1870, Néhány adat Bulgária egykori történetéhez.


L. Thallóczy, A magyar–bulgár összeköttetések történetéhez. Századok 1898, Nagy Lajos és a bulgár bánság.” Századok 1900.


L. Thallóczy, Utazás a Leventében. A keleti kereskedelem története Magyarországon. Budapest 1882.


OSZK Kézirattár. F XI/499. f. 1/51; NABAN. F. 11 k . op. 3. a.e. 793, p. 1–94, a.e. 794. p. 1–102.


OSZK. Kézirattár. F. XI/166, f. 34, 36, 44.


OSZK. Kézirattár. F XI/300, f. 1, 2, 3.


D. Pauler, Balgarskite voenni pohodi na Stefan V. in: Sbornik za narodni umotvorenija, nauka i knijnina. Kn. VII. Sofia. 1892, 428–437 p.


NABAN. F 11 k. op. 3. a.e. 1713. p. 15.


Stefan Stambolov (1854–1895): Bulgarian revolutionary and politician, Prime Minister (20. 08. 1887–19. 05. 1894), came into office with Austria–Hungary’s support.


Ivan Shishmanov (1862–1928): Bulgarian literary scholar, folklorist and ethnographer, one of the Sofia University’s and the Sofia Ethnographic Museum’s founders, Minister of Education (1903–1907).


NABAN. F 11 k. op. 3. a.e. 1713. p. 19.


NABAN. F. 19 k. op. 1. a.e. 966. p. 4.


NABAN. F. 11 k. op. 3. a.e. 1713. p. 13, 14, 16.


Sborni za narodni umotvorenija. Nauka i knijnina. 1891. Kn. IV. p. 321; NABAN. F 19 k. op. 1. a.e. 966. p. 4.


NABAN. F 11 k. op. 1. a.e. 1713. p. 19.


A group of people from the region of Chiprovtsi (North-West Bulgarian) that emigrated after an uprising against the Turks in 1688. The greater part of them settled in Banat in the beginning of the 18th century.


G. Czirbusz, A dél magyarországi bolgárok etnológiai magánrajza, Temesvár 1882.


G. Czirbusz, Die Südungarischen Bulgaren, Taschen-Vien 1884.


G. Tsirbus, “Yujnoungarskite balgari. Etnografska skitsa,” in: Periodichesko spisanie. XII. 1884, 65–73; XII. 1885, 31–50; XIV. 1885, 221–225.


L. Miletich, Banatskite balgari, Sbornik, Sofia 1983.


G. Czirbisz, A krassován bulgárok, Budapest. 1883; L. Miletich, Na gosti u banatskite balgari, in: Banatskite balgari. Sbornik. Sofia. 1983. P. 24–64; Lj. Miletic, Liber die Sprache und Herkunft der sog. Krasovaner in Süd-Ungarn, in: Archiv für Slavische Philologie, 25 (1903), p. 161–181. The krassovans are a small group of people living in the County of Krassó-Szörény (Transylvania, today in Rumania).


A. Strauss, Bulgarische Volksdichtungen, Wien–Leipzig 1893, “Die Bulgaren.” Ethno- graphischen Studien, Leipzig 1898.


O. Asbóth, Budapesti Szemle, 1892, p. 53; V. Jagic, Archiv für Slavische Philologie, Wien, 1895, XVI, p. 620.


Iv. Shishmanov, Balgarski pregled, 1898, kn. IV, p. 149–150.


ABAN. F 11 k. op. 3. a.e. 1714. p. 33, 37, 38, 40–42.


NABAN. F. 11 k. op. 3. a.e. 1715. p. 1, 2.


BIA. F. 119. a.e. 6. p. 83–84.


BIA. F 119. a.e. 1. p. 79a.


Benyo Tsonev (1863–1926): Bulgarian philologist and palaeographer one of the founders of Bulgarian linguistics.


Dimitar Matov (1864–1896): Bulgarian linguist, folklorist and ethnographer.


G. Kuun, Adalékok a volgai bolgárok nyelvéhez, Ethnographia 1896, Egy újabb adalék a “z” és “r” hangcseréhez a volgaparti bolgár nyelvben, Ethnographia 1898.


NABAN. F 3 k. op. 1. a.e. 683. p. 1–9.


NABAN. F 11 k. op. 3. a.e. 65. p. 1–4.


Op. Cit., p. 4.