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Author: Yordan Tabov



Bulgarian historian who has worked mainly in the field of Bulgarian history in Antiquity and Early Middle Ages. He is considered the founder of the autochthonous theory for the origin of the Bulgarian people, exposed for the first time in a comprehensive form in 1910 in his capital work "Origin of the Bulgarians and Beginnings of Bulgarian State and Bulgarian Church".


Short Biography

Gancho Tsenov was born on 6th June 1870, in the village Boynitsa, Kula (now Vidin region). Graduated in history from Sofia University, then worked two years as history teacher at Boys’ School, Vidin. He entered service at the Defense Ministry, where in 1899 was sent to complete a 4 years specialization in Bulgarian history at Berlin University, Germany. There he brilliantly defended his dissertation and became the first Bulgarian Doctor in History from this leading university.

In subsequent years, he began to work on the topic "Origin and history of the Bulgarian people". Dr. Tsenov ruled out Hebraic, Greek, Latin, several Western and Slavic languages, and did extensive research in the Vatican Library as subjected to critical analysis of sources on Bulgarian history from ancient and medieval authors, and their hitherto generally accepted interpretation. As a result, in 1910 he issued his basic work "Origin of Bulgarians and the beginning of the Bulgarian state and the Bulgarian Church". In it he sets out the hypothesis that the Bulgarian people is formed by mixing mainly Hunno-Bulgarians, which he considers old Thracian - Illyrian and Celt - Scythian population from historical times in which they were indigenous peoples in European Scythia as considered by Herodotus.

Gancho Tsenov's theory constitutes a major revision of the former official Bulgarian historiography concerning European populations, and seen from another angle adopted from the common ground "migration theory" of Asia into Europe. Therefore, he was not well accepted by academic circles in Bulgaria and his application to Associate professor in Balkan history at Sofia University was dismissed. In review from Vasil Zlatarski the habilitation work of Gancho Tsenov was recommended to the critics in general, but in essence with arguments that in order to assess "the enormous material presented, the reviewer should write a volume two times larger than the titular of this work" and that "Tsenov wants to produce a revolution in order to change the history of the Middle Ages".

Therefore, Dr. Gancho Tsenov again went to Germany to continue his research. He became a lecturer in Ancient history at Berlin University. Basic writings of Dr. Tsenov were issued in Germany and others in Bulgaria. At the same time in Bulgaria criticism and rejection of Gancho Tsenov continued and instituted in attacks and insults. Critics from this circle (Prof. Vasil Zlatarski, Prof. Peter Nikov, Prof. Peter Mutafchiev, Prof. Stefan Mladenov, etc.), called him “studierten Querkopf” (“scientist bee-trotted”), an agent of the Bulgarian military ministry, and even accusing him of plagiarism, although in the meantime they have already adopted some of his theses. This forced Dr. Tsenov to take action against Professor Peter Nikov and Professor Peter Mutafchiev, with an accusation for public defamation. Prescribed triple expertise of three prominent western scientists confirmed the rightness and the authorship of Gancho Tsenov's works. In order to prevent their conviction to imprisonment, Tsenov accepted their apologies for the satisfactory prosecution and withdrew his claim.

After the death of Prof. Vasil Zlatarski in 1936, Dr. Tsenov ran for a tenure at the Department of Bulgarian History at Sofia University, applied for against Peter
Nikov, and the other tried by Gancho Tsenov for defamation, Peter Mutafchiev, was appointed reviewer-arbitrator. After the “referee” by Peter Mutafchiev, whereby Tsenov had a "monstrous working method, which is the negation of every science", and an article that appeared at the journal "Bizantinische Zeitschrrft" in which he called that the titular is not entitled to the scientific quality and again called him “Querkopf”, the candidacy of Dr. Tsenov was rejected by the Faculty Board under the pretext that it was already too old for this office and the department was given to Peter Nikov. Shortly thereafter, in another article at the journal "Bizantinische Zeitschrrft" in 1937, Peter Mutafchiev denied research and his teacher Professor Vasil Zlatarski.

In Germany the works of Gancho Tsenov were issued by the most reputable publishers — Walter de Gruyter, Ebering, Steiwetz, Minerva, Reisland, Dyk, etc. His theory overturned notions of Germanic scholars with his primer evidence, that the Bulgarians in Moesia, Thrace and Illyria came as a “powerful people” late in the mid-4th century, i.e. at least 3 centuries earlier than the perceptions of academics in Bulgaria, not only before the Slavs, but before the Huns; and that no Bulgarian state was founded in 679 by a handful of Mongolian Bulgarians.

In May 1941 the Ministry of Science, Physical Culture and Education of Germany seconded for 3 months Dr. Tsenov at the Deutsche Embassy in Moscow with “cultural-funding mission”. Later, Dr. Tsenov retired and he received Germany’s state pension, which probably caused the envy of some of his Germanic counterparts on the Bulgarian theme, on grounds that he had scientific courage and daring to challenge the German origin of the Goths in the years when the national Socialism in Germany was at its apogee and drew inspiration from Gotitsizma.

After the communist coup from 1944 in Bulgaria, Dr. Gancho Tsenov, who was married to german wife and lived in Berlin, was named "fascist and chauvinist Velikobalgarski". His books were banned and locked in a secret fund of the National Library in Sofia. After the defeat of Germany until the fall of 1949, when he died in Berlin, he supported himself with making translations. Significant part of the property of his rich wife has gone to pay high fees in the secret archives of the Vatican and other libraries where he had studied the sources of Bulgarian history.


Proceedings in the aftermath

After the death of Dr. Gancho Tsenov, some academics in Bulgaria at the forefront of historical science took a stand against him, and under the “scientific” exchanges with renewed historical archives in East Germany, took necessary steps to fully discredit his scientific work in Germany. Authors of the catalog “Historische Bucherkunde Sudosteuropa” from 1978, referring to the qualification of professor Vasil Zlatarski for works of his chief scientific opponent Gancho Tsenov as a “sham” (“Scharlatanerie”) and headed by articles from Peter Mutafchiev at “Bizantinische Zeitschrift” in 1936 where he qualified Gancho Tsenov (contender for the department of Prof. Zlatarski) as a “scientist bee-trotted” (“studierten Querkopf”), characterized Tsenov as scientific failure and mishap "due to erroneous interpretations of the sources, assumptions and illogical conclusions from questionable research methods".

At the same time the authors of the Proceedings, rather deliberately suppressed extremely high score of German, Austrian, French, and Italian scholars such as Philip Hans, Prof. Meyer, Francois Pique, Victor Lebetselter, Prof. Dr. Antonio Baldachi and other contemporaries of Gancho Tsenov, who had given supportive evidence on the presence south of the Danube of Bulgarians at the latest by mid-4th century as a consolidated nation — a thesis, not only contrary to evidence from Professor Vasil Zlatarski, but also to the European historiography as well.

Gancho Tsenov's publishers found it difficult to hire competent referees to deal with bulky studies of multiple hard-to-read Latin, Byzantine and old Slav sources, “which many of his predecessors had hardly ever seen” and that “one should use a lifetime to look for them and use them”. The author had shaken even the general opinion about the foundation of the Bulgarian state, “created” a new essay on the oldest history of Bulgaria, which was almost 50 years old and based on Constantine Irechek's conspicuous loans, which “marked the beginnings of the South-East states and church history in Central Europe in a new light”. With its Balkanologic scholarship in Germany, which caused a real revolution on the origin of the Bulgarians and other Slavs in the Balkans, a comprehensive system was laid, which probably would have to modify some of our views on the origin of Germanizm. Those thesis of Thrace-Illyrian origin of the Bulgarians was maintained with great polemical force and always resting on arguments that can not be denied without an absolute competence, as the author does not allow concessions “found in a complete picture of the first housings, lifestyle, language of the Thracians and Illyrians, etc” to reach the indigenous character of the Bulgarians, who were thoroughly examined and were clearly and accurately away from any critical and convincing chronologic methodology, which has shown “that a man endowed with profound erudition and great technique ... deserves praise and which, no doubt, entitles him to admiration”.

Publication in 1930 of the book by Dr. Tsenov “Die Abstammung der Bulgaren und die Urheimat der Slaven” ( “The origin of the ancestral Bulgarians and the Slavs”) led to the consequences that prohibited Prof. Zlatarski's issue in Germany of his book "History of the Bulgarians", which was refused by the German publishing house although it had already been notified to. This further exacerbated the personal relationship between those two scientists, and was followed by mutual invocations and insults. Gancho Tsenov accused his opponents, that with their concept of Bulgarian ethnogenesis they serve Pan-Slavic, "Velikosrabskata", "Velikogratskata", "Pantyurkistkata" and other geopolitical doctrines, giving them “scientific” justifications for ethnic fragmentation of the Bulgarian land, which resulted in Bulgaria several wars of national unification and liberation from 1885 until then.

The thesis of Gancho Tsenov, which was still in its issue from 1900, provoked a lively interest among the Western public, and has been re-released by publisher Vaduz some 15 years after his death, in 1965, as a rare precedent. At present the works of Dr. Gancho Tsenov can be found in major libraries in Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Canada and Japan. Most of them have been re-released in Bulgaria.

As in the past and now official Bulgarian historiography vehemently rejects the concept of Gancho Tsenov on the ethnogenesis of the Bulgarians as direct descendants of the Thracians, Goths, Romans and Hunno-Bulgarians on the Balkans and in European Scythia, because it is completely out of congruence with the still dominant theory of “Bulgarians as late comers in the Balkans”. Virtually no open discussion of his research was held, which is a predominant demonstration of disparaging up to arrogant denial without any scientific argumentation. At the same time some of Dr. Gancho Tsenov's followers — such as, Prof. Asen Chilingirov, Prof. Dr. Georgi Sotirov, Prof. Dr. Jordan Tabov, Prof. Dr. Bozidar Peichev, Dr. Zdravko Daskalov and others — enjoy an increasing interest.


Scientific contributions

Below are given come fundamental viewpoints of Dr. Gancho Tsenov, that have been rejected consistently by the official Bulgarian historiography, and are defined by the author as follows:

— Bulgarians and Huns were originally two separate peoples, but not one entity of people as thought hitherto;

— Veneti are Slavs and anti-Scythian tribes who live mainly in the north of the Danube, and the Bulgarians are living south of the Danube Thraco-Illyrian ethnos;

— Bulgarian state was founded by the Scythian tribe of Huns or Hunogunduri who joined in that case the living in the south of the Danube Moesia Thraco-Illyrian tribes;

— Huns, Bulgarians, Veneti, Slavs and Anti, the inhabitants of Dacia, Thrace and Illyria from the Carpathians to the Aegean and Ionian Seas were isolated tribes of the Scythian or Daco-Thracian race, said today to belong to the Slavic race;

— These old Scythian tribes are Christians who have had another 4 centuries to form their alphabet, because the Bulgarians were not baptized in the second half of the 9th century, as thought before, but were Gothic converts in Bulgaria;

— Herodotus' Scythia is in Asia and in Europe around the Danube; Goths are not Germans, but Scythians; ancient Celts are European Huns; Avars are related to the Huns or Scythian Celtic people; Bulgarians are nothing but Danube Celts, who remained in the history as Goths, Huns, Avars, and in the general history of the ancient Scythians and Thracians;

— Bulgarians have lived in Thrace and Macedonia before Asparuh and they are not by any means newcomers from Volga, nor trails of Mongolian races, and conversely they are aboriginal; Thracians and Slavs inhabiting the Balkans for centuries are older than all other residents of the peninsula;

— Bulgarians have played a historic role for two millennia before the establishment of quasi-state by the Bulgarian Asparuh, which was founded in fact much earlier, having been stretched to the very walls of Constantinople and all the land extended from the Carpathians to the Aegean Sea and from Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea (with the exception of the northwestern corner of the peninsula) and the Ionian Sea;

— Bulgarians are the first people in Europe who had accepted Christianity directly from the Apostle Paul; thence the Bulgarian Church was the first established Christian church in Europe, the Bulgarians had separate church organization from the time of Constantine the Great (4th century), when it was translated the Holy Scripture in Bulgarian with an original Bulgarian alphabet. They are self-professing Christian believers, other than Greek and Roman, for which beliefs they have held several centuries of struggle with the Byzantine state and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, until at last managed to win at the time of Justinian the Great (535 A.D.) an autocephalous Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid with a rank equal to the Pope of Rome, and jurisdiction of the Archdiocese that has gone out from Pannonia to the Peloponnese, and thus covered almost the entire western half of the Balkan Peninsula;

— Kubrat, founder of the Bulgarian state, was a Christian or the Bulgarian dynasty was Christian before Asparuh and therefore it has not been converted as to 864/865; Kubrat's information from the Egyptian bishop John Nikiu was beaten by “all barbarians and pagans by virtue of its life-giving baptism” (but without recognizing its primacy).


Main references

1. “Wer hat Moskau im Jahre 1812 in Brand gesteckt?”, Gantscho Tzenoff. - Nachdr. d. Ausg. Ebering, Berlin 1900. - Vaduz: Kraus Reprint, 1965.

2. “Goten oder Bulgaren : quellenkritische Untersuchung Ether die Geschichte der alten Skythen, Thrakier und Makedonier”, Ganco Cenov - Leipzig: Dyk, 1915.

3. “Geschichte der Bulgaren”, Steiwetz, Berlin, 1917.

4. “Das wissenschaftliche Leben in Bulgarien”, “Minerva” (WdeG), Berlin, 6 Sept., 1924.

5. “Die Abstammung der Bulgaren und die Urheimat der Slaven : eine historisch-philologische Untersuchung Ether die Geschichte der alten Thrakoillyrier, Skythen, Goten, Hunnen, und Kelten” , Ganco Cenov, Berlin/Leipzig : de Gruyter, 1930.

6. “Geschichte der Bulgaren und der anderen Sudslaven von der romischen Eroberung der Balkanhalbinsel his zum Ende des neunten Jahrhunderts”, Dr. Gantscho Tzenoff, Berlin/Leipzig, Walter De Gruyter & Co., 1935.




Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, (Bonn: 1828-97), editions of Byzantine Historians

A large number of Byzantine historiographical texts were first edited and printed in the 16th and 17th centuries. For the most part these were re-edited and published at amazing speed by a series of German scholars (Bekker, de Boor, etc.) in the 19th century. All the texts are accompanied by Latin translations, generally of a higher quality than those in Migne.


Patrologiae cursus completus, Series Greaco-Latina, 161 vols. (Paris: 1857-66)

J. P. Migne, a French priest with low morals when it came to using other people's texts, published a series of collected medieval sources to about 1300 - Latin, Greek, and "Oriental". Many of these texts were lifted directly from earlier editions - in many cases none too carefully. Migne was a marketing genius and sets of these editions were distributed to a huge number of libraries. In fact, if a library does not have "Migne" [pronounced "mean" by the way] it is not likely to be useful to a medieval scholar. For Latin readers a useful feature is that all the Greek texts have side by side Latin translations - not always reliable, however, and an easy target of persnickety reviewers.


Nikephoros, Pat CP, 806-815

Opuscula historica [intended to follow Theophylakt], ed. C. de Boor, (Leipzig: 1880).

English trans., as Short history / Nikephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople; text, translation, and commentaries by Cyril Mango, Corpus fontium historiae Byzantinae 13, (Washington, D.C: Dumbarton Oaks, 1990).


Theophanes the Confessor, ca. 752-818

Chronographia [intended to continue George the Synkellos], ed. C. de Boor, 2 vols., Corpus Scriptores Historiae Byzantinae, (Leipzig: 1883-85).

English trans., Chronicle of Theophanes: Anni Mundi 6095-6305 (A.D. 602-813), trans Harry Turtledove, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982).

English trans., R. Scott and Cyril Mango, in typescript? - [Signalled in Albu, "Annotated Guide"].

English trans. of "Conversation Between Justinian and the Green Party in the Hippodrome" in J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I, to the Death of Justinian (AD 395 to AD 565), (London: Macmillan, 1923), II, 71-74.

English trans. in Alan Cameron, Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976).



Addendum: Dr. Gantscho Tzenoff is the first historian with international reputation who delivers a Bulgarian theory on such a wide scale — viz., in a numerous array of books and articles from the period 1910-1940, his preponderance is on a drifting Scythian population from the Middle Ages and until the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in the XV century. To date, he has been totally rejected by modern bulgarian historiography which doesn't mean that he was wrong and simplification of this question is far from being the aim of the review at hand.

The controversy of Dr. Gantscho Tzenoff and his writings continue to be a debate in bulgarian historical science. He started his career as a historian, — graduated with Doctorate from Berlin University [1899 to 1906] — but unfortunately had "bad luck" to get into quarrel with beacon Prof. Vasil Zlatarski and the academic circles in Sofia. This "cost" him a loss of University Chair and a life as émigré in Germany. By the beginning of World War II in 1939, his main opponent (i.e., Zlatarski) had already died from incurable cancer and the attestation council of Sofia University was charged guilty at court trial. However, G. Tzenoff didn't get re-habilitated in Bulgaria and spent the rest of his time abroad.

The discussion presented in this material was taken from circulation in the press, however much more important are the available transcripts from the original reviews in Bulgarian language made by the opponents of Dr. Gantscho Tzenoff. These include materials predominantly by Prof. Vasil Zlatarski and the original works of the titular published in Bulgaria. Most important are the following,

— Origin of the Bulgarians and beginnings of Bulgarian State and Bulgarian Church. Sofia: Darjavna Pechatnitza, 1910, 472 pp.

— Kubrat's Bulgaria and the baptizing of the Bulgarians. Sofia: Voenno-Izdatelski Fond, 1937, 144 pp.

— Procopius' Huns and Theophanes Bulgarians; Turks or Slavs founded the Bulgarian State. Sofia: Voenno-Izdatelski Fond, 1938, 56 pp.

The last negative critique on Dr. Gantscho Tzenoff's historical works was written on the pages of journal "Prosveta", vol. 7, 1938. We checked this material and it proved to be authored by Ivan Dujchev, close collaborator of Prof. Petar Mutafchiev, and later Emeritus Professor in Byzantium studies at Sofia University, ditto.


Pictures 1, 2 & 3: Sample illustrations on the text above.

(i). Dr. Gantscho Tzenoff (1870-1949)


(ii). "Goten oder Bulgaren: quellenkritische Untersuchung über die Geschichte der alten Skythen, Thrakier und Makedonier", Gantscho Tzenoff - Leipzig: Dyk, 1915.


(iii). "Geschichte der Bulgaren und der anderen Südslaven von der römischen Eroberung der Balkanhalbinsel bis zum Ende des neunten Jahrhunderts", Gantscho Tzenoff - Berlin: de Gruyter, 1935.



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