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History of the Jews in Bulgaria

Synagogue in Burgas (now an art gallery)

The history of the Jews in Bulgaria dates to at least as early as the 2nd century CE. Since then, the Jews have had a continuous presence in the Bulgarian lands and have often played an important part in the history of Bulgaria from ancient times through the Middle Ages until today.

Roman era

Jews are believed to have settled in the region after the Roman conquest. The earliest written artifact attesting to the presence of a Jewish community in the Roman province of Moesia Inferior dates to the late 2nd century CE. A Latin inscription found at Ulpia Oescus (modern day Gigen, Pleven Province) bearing a menorah and mentioning archisynagogos Josephus testifies to the presence of a Jewish population in the city. A decree of Roman Emperor Theodosius I from 379 regarding the persecution of Jews and destruction of synagogues in Illyria and Thrace is also proof of early Jewish settlement in Bulgaria.

Bulgarian Empire

After the establishment of the First Bulgarian Empire and its recognition in 681, a number of Jews suffering persecution in the Byzantine Empire may have settled in Bulgaria. During the rule of Boris I there may have been attempts to convert the pagan Bulgarians to Judaism, but in the end the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was established and the population of the Bulgarian Empire was Christianized in the 9th century. The names of many members of the 10th-11th-century Comitopuli dynasty—such as Samuil, Moses, David—could indicate partial Jewish origin, most likely maternal, though this is disputed.

Jews also settled in Nikopol in 967. Some arrived from the Republic of Ragusa and Italy, when merchants from these lands were allowed to trade in the Second Bulgarian Empire by Ivan Asen II. Later, Tsar Ivan Alexander married a Jewish woman, Sarah (renamed Theodora), who had converted to Christianity and had considerable influence in the court. A church council of 1352 led to the excommunication of heretics and Jews, and three Jews who had been sentenced to death were killed by a mob despite the sentence's having been repealed by the tsar.

The medieval Jewish population of Bulgaria was Romaniote until the 14th-15th century, when Ashkenazim from Hungary (1376) and other parts of Europe began to arrive.

Ottoman rule