The area that is now Bulgaria was once part of the Roman Empire. Slavic peoples occupied the land between the 4th and 6th centuries A.D. In the 7th century, the Bulgars migrated from east of the Black Sea and settled between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains. Their leader, Khan Asparuh, established the first Bulgarian kingdom, or Khanate, in 681.

 In 864, Eastern Orthodox Christianity became the state religion. From 1018 to 1185, Bulgaria was part of the Byzantine Empire. The Second Bulgarian Kingdom was declared in 1185 after the end of Byzantine rule. In 1393, after fierce resistance, the country fell under Ottoman (Turkish) rule.

Although Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire for the next 500 years, Bulgaria's national customs and values were preserved in monasteries and isolated mountain villages. During the 18th century, a Bulgarian monk named Paisii wrote a history of Bulgaria and urged his fellow Bulgarians to remember their heritage. 

Paisii's history contributed to a National Revival, during which Bulgarian schools and a Bulgarian Orthodox Church were established. Before that time, the Greek Orthodox Church had controlled education and religion. In 1877-78, the Bulgarians and Russians fought together against the Turks and defeated them. However, under the terms of the Berlin Conference of 1878, Bulgaria remained within the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria became a fully independent state, free from Ottoman influence, in 1908.

 In 1912, the Bulgarians, Serbians and Greeks fought the Turks for control of the Balkan peninsula. However, when the Turks were defeated, the three allies fought amongst themselves, and Bulgaria lost territories to the south.

Bulgaria entered the First World War on the side of Germany, hoping to win back the territories it had lost. Defeat in the war was followed by a period of turbulence, as different factions struggled for power. In the Second World War, Bulgaria again supported Germany. In 1944 the Soviet army invaded and a government supportive of the Soviet Union was established. Bulgaria was proclaimed a people's republic in 1946. From 1954 to 1989, General Secretary Todor Zhivkov led the Communist Party. 

In 1989, Bulgaria abandoned communism. Elections were held in 1990 and 1991, the first free elections in 50 years. The government initiated economic and industrial reforms. Public dissatisfaction with the social effects of these reforms led to the fall of the government in 1992. Many people emigrated during this time.

 After years of political instability, the non-communist Union of Democratic Forces came to power in 1997. Since then, Bulgarians have become more optimistic about their future.