50 years
University of Mining and Geology “St. Ivan Rilski”
Annual, vol. 46, part І, Geology and Geophysics, Sofia, 2003, рр.87-92
Ruslan Kostov
University of Mining and Geology ‘St. Ivan Rilski”
Sofia 1700, Bulgaria
Е-mail: rikostov@mail.mgu.bg
According to the numerous publications about the origin and distribution of the ancient Bulgarians throughout the centuries (see Dobrev, 1991, 1998; 2003; Tabakov,
1999), they have migrated from their primal native land located around the Pamir region in direction to the Caucases, and later on two major states have been
founded, known as Volga’s Bulgaria and Asparukh’s Bulgaria. In the mineralogical treatise of the Medieval encyclopaedic scholar al-Biruni (XI century) are listed data,
pointing out that the inhabitants of Balkh (Balkhara, Bolor, Bulur) and Volga’s Bulgaria have extracted, ore-dressed and traded gem minerals and precious metals.
The name balas for red spinel from Badakhshan has its origin in the ancient name of the region Balaxian (Balkh). According to data of the Armenian scholar Arakel
Davrizhetzi (1669) one of the ruby varieties has been called balkhi (from Balkh – in analogy to the the colour of spinel). The coincidence of the names bulhor
(Bulgarians) in the Tadjik and bullur (rock crystal) in the Persian and Arabic languages probably can illustrate forgotten traditions of population, which has been
engaged exclusively from the most ancient times with exploitation and trade of gem minerals and of metals as copper, gold and iron both.
According to the existing Byzantine and Syrian Medieval
sources the most ancient Bulgarian land has been located at
Mount Imeon, a name including the high mountain regions in
Central Asia enclosing southern Tadjikistan and the northern
parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – Hindukush, Pamir,
Karakorum and the Kashmir Hymalayas. In this region the
name of the ancient kingdon Balkh (Balkhara) has been
mentioned according to Indian sources, and the main city has
also been known as Balkh (Dobrev, 1991; 1998; 2002). These
lands, according to Armenian and Persian sources, have been
inhabited by people, known as Bulkh or Bulgkhar, and in
Europe during Greek and Roman times these lands are known
as Bactria (Bactrian kingdom). The founded in northern India
state Balkhara (Bolo) has been ruled by a king known as
balkhara (Dobrev, 1991; cit. after Biruni; comp. Маsson and
Romodin, 1964, p. 166-167). Another district in the mountains
south of Samarkand with the name Burgar has been reported
by the Arab scholar Ibn Haukal – now in the territory of
contemporary Tadjikistan not far from the Zeravshan river with
the local name Falhar (Dobrev, 1991, p. 29; 2002; с. 99-100).
The cited by De Groot and Dimitar Suselov early, probably
Bulgarian state Bulur (Bolor) fully corresponds to the name of
the Tadjik name for Bulgarians – Bulkhor, and in the toponymy
of the region there is a ridge, khown as Wakhan, related to the
Wakhan people in resemblance to the Bulgarian branch
Wkhndur, mentioned in the history of Moses Horenatzi in the V
century (Dobrev, 1998, p. 229).
The root Bulg- (Bulgkh or Balgkh; in the interpretation of
Dovrev – a big town or kingdom, and for the Bulgarians –
people from the Big town or the Big kingdom correspondingly)
is specific with the characteristic Bulgarian sound ъ, which has
been pronounced or changed in different languages during the
centuries. According to linguistic research two small tribes with
similar linguistic peculiarities have been found in the discussed
region of Hindukush – munjan and iidga (bregeio) (Dobrev,
2002; comp. Litvinsky, 1972, p. 165-168). The contemporary
inhabitation of the Tadjiks in Afghanistan displays their
localization mainly in the provinces of Badakhshan, Balkh, in
both Parvan and Kapisa provinces north of Kabul and in the
mountain regions around the town of Herat. In most cases the
Tadjiks and the so called Near-Pamir Tadjiks occupy high
mountain regions related to some of the most important
industrial mineral and ore deposits, some of which have been
exploited since Antiquity and Medieval times. This
correspondance of certain ethnic groups to definite mountain
regions on the background of the whole Hindukush or its
surroundings shows a tendency for linking of tribe groups with
the culture of more ancient people, which are known to have
acted as miners exploiting gem minerals and metals.
In the work of the Arab geographer Yakut ar-Rumi (1179–
1229) the districts Bolor and Burdjan have been mentioned
between Kashmir and Badakhshan, suggested as the first
mentioning of names of Bulgarian states in Arab geographic
literature in Centarl Asia (Таbakov, 1999; p. 204). The
statetement that the land Burdjan corresponds to Badakhshan,
as well as that Bolor corresponds to the whole Hindukush, is
not precise, as the second name has been cited separetely by
the Arab author. The more reliable explanation is the land
Burdjan to be localized west of the land Bolor, corresponding
approximately to parts of the contemporary Northwest Border
Province of Pakistan. The land Bulur (Bolor) has been
identified in the commentary to the mineralogical work of al-
Biruni with Kafiristan (Nuristan), where also a ridge with the
name Bolor-tagh is known (Biruni, 1963b, p. 438). The Bolor
region has been mentioned by Marco Polo, but as a land
probably in the southeastern Fore-Pamir. (Pоlо, 1986, p. 102;
see Таbаkоv, 1999, p. 249). The Bolor region (Bular, Bulgar, in
Chinese sources – Bolo, Po-lu-lo) is localized north of Kashmir
and south of the Wakhan ridge (Dobrev, 1991, p. 56; Таbakov,
1999, p. 249; сomp. Voinikov, 2001). From a geographical
point of view these lands correspond to the most northerrn part
of Pakistan and India (in different times and in different range
designated as Boloristan, Baltistan, Dardistan, Nuristan and up
to Eastern Pamir and Kashmir). Examples for cities and lands
Bolo (Bolule, Bolu, Bolyui, Bulu) in this region have been listed
in the works of Nikolai Bichurin (1777–1853) (Bichurin, 1950, p.
264, 270, 318-320, 324-325).
The encyclopaedic scholar Abu Rayhan Mohamed ibn
Ahmad al-Biruni (973–1
Central Asia scientist with a lot of works in astronomy,
geodesy, geography, history and botany, written in Arabic
language. In one of his last works, devoted to gem minerals
and metals ‘A Collection of Knowledge on Gemstones’ al-
Biruni mentiones several times the names Balkh and Bulur
(Bolor) or related to them characteristics. This treatise is an
unique in volume and quality of information book about the
distribution, production, physical properties, utilization, prices
and trade, lore and real stories of gem and decorative
minerals, including their varieties, as well as the most
important metals.
1.The district Balkh has been discussed in the chapter about
the corundum (yakut): “Abu Hanifa ad-Dinavri says in his ‘Book
of Plants’ that ranf is a species of mountain tree. It is known
with the name hilaf balkhi… The leaves of hilaf balkhi, known
in Balkh as sirishk by the juice, which they sqeeze from it and
purify by boiling, are smaller than the leaves of the lilly” (Biruni,
1963b; p. 37). In this case the Arab name has been underlined
with an adiitional name, pointing to the connection of the plant
with the Balkh area. This fact indicates that its area of
distribution are more likely the mountain regions of Hindukush
of the contemporary province Badakhshan, аnd not the plaines
of Balkh. These plants are analysed in the context of the
statement, that one of the best colours of the yakut (ruby)
resembles that of the wild crocus.
2. In another case, аl-Biruni tells the story of the rich emir of
Gasni, Yamin ad-Daul (998–1030) in Balkh, who during
hunting in the mountain met a beggar from Bukhara, who
annoyed him. The emir waved with his hand and did not see
that a ruby flew away from his ring, found by the beggar. Later
on the emir came back to seek for his gemstone and saw once
again the beggar, who on the tread to be killed, gave him back
the stone being gifted with 300 dinars by the emir (Biruni,
1963; p. 60). In this story once again the idea for the name
Balkh as a part of the mountain Hindukush, where red gem
minerals (possibly red spinel) can be traced.
3. In the chapter on garnet (bidjazi), some garnet deposits
have been described as well as the difference between garnet
and red spinel (lal): “This garnet which comes to Kashmir (from
the north) has its origin in the Shikinan pits. From the mountain
region with capital Hablik to Shikinan the distance is two days
travel, and to Kadkad (Gilgit) – the place of the shah of Bulur –
seven days, acounting from the boundary between the
Kashmir valley and the capital Adastan (Srinagar]” (Biruni,
1963b; p. 78). According to the comment to the work of аl-
Biruni the name Bulur (Bolor) can be identified with the
mountain region Kafiristan or contemporary Nuristan, but most
likely – with regions in the most northern parts of Pakistan.
Bulur (Bulul, Bolol) has been described as a kingdom ruiled by
a shah. Shikanan has been viewed as a district surrounding
the district of Badakhshan, and in its other end is the district of
4. In the chapter on gold, a story about the richness of the
river Sind (Indus) has been told, which when “reaching the
place against the Shamir idol in the district of Kashmir, towards
the district of Bulul, receives its name Sind” (Biruni, 1963b; p.
221). In his work “India” аl-Biruni describes, that leaving the
mountain pass into the valley, on the left side during two days
of travel are the mountains Bolor and Shamilan (Biruni, 1963а,
p. 203; сomp. Bulur and Shamishan – Biruni, 1963b, p. 479). In
the same chapter he tells that the Indians from Kashmir knew
the neighbouring country Dardar (Gilgit valley), whose
inhabitants have been called bakhtawaran (Biruni, 1963b; с.
222; сomp. bhattawarsan with a king Bhatta-shah and towns
Gilgit, Asvira nd Shiltas – Biruni, 1963а, с. 203). In the same
chapter as goldbearing has been pointed also the valley of the
district Wakhan.
5. In his pharmacological work “Saidan”, describing the
amber (kakhrubai ua karuba) аl-Biruni writes: “They say that
amber is a dew, [which petrifies on the trees] in the mountains
of Bulgar(ia). Later on, it drops (from the mountains) into the
sea and it has been (cast) ashore, and there is where they
gather it” (Biruni, 1974, p. 776-777; сomp. Biruni, 1950; 1963b,
с. 472). In the comments on the mineralogical work of аl-Biruni
it has been asumed that during the VIII–Х c. amber appears
from the Baltic region with the help of the Bulgarians from the
Volga’s Bulgaria in the East – at Khoresm and in the Central
Asia region. Such data have been confirmed by other sources
as al-Masudi and al-Makrisi. In the cited part аl-Biruni accepts
the district (state) Bulgaria as a mountain region.
6. The trade functions of the Volga’s Bulgarians has been
confirmed directly by аl-Biruni in the chapter for the use of the
highly estimated material hutu, interpreted in the comments as
rhinoceras horn: “It resembles the core of the bone of a fish
[walrus ivory, known in ancient Russia as “fish’s tooth”], which
has been brought by the Bulgarians in Khoresm from the North
Sea” (Biruni, 1963b, p. 195). In other interpretations hutu is
supposed to be fossil mamooth ivory, known from the northern
regions (Dobrev, 1998, p. 61). According to the Arab traveller
Abu Hamid al-Garnati al-Andalesi (1080–1170), who has
visited Volga’s Bulgaria “the Bulgarians sell in Khoresm at a
great cost similar to ivory teeth of giant animals, which they dig
out of the ground”, and the trade with mamooth ivory has been
mentioned also during the travel of Ibn Fadlan (Аkhmerov,
2002, p. 35; the ivory has been exploited from the lands of
Volga’s Bulgaria and traded to Khoresm, where they used to
make hard handles for knives or boxes, but it is not excluded
the so called “fish’s teeth” to be walrus ivory from the northern
regions; Ibid., p. 76). Ancient artifacts made of paleoivory
(mamooth tusks) have been found on the territory of Volga’s
Bulgaria during archaeological excavations. They are known
from the Paleolithic sites Krasnaya Glinka in the Tetyush
region and the village Deukovo of the Menzelin region, and
thousand mammooth tusk beads have been found from Sungir
at Vladimir (Chervonnaya, 1987, p. 14-15). Thus it is possible
that hutu has been bone material found in local regions, and
not from the polar regions.
7. In the chapter on metals, in the story about lead, the
following evidence has been listed: “They have told me, but I
almost do not believe, that a person in Balkh made mercury
from lead and he produced from five parts (of lead) one part (of
mercury), and he supplied (the whole) region with it. That is
why after him (his death) they asked about it his family, but
they did not receive any information, with the exception that he
bought lead, which has been molten and that he supplied with
mercury a gold mine” (Biruni, 1963b, p. 242-243). The
amalgamization with mercury has been one of the main
methods for gold extraction, and direct evidence for such a
process has been mentioned by аl-Biruni in the chapter on
8. In the chapter on diamond [almas] аl-Biruni mentions the
best sort of diamonds as bulluri [that is crystalline or
transparent), which are followed by the red diamonds (Biruni,
1963b; p. 86). Thus it is understood, that in Medieval times
with the definition bulluri (coincidence with the name of the
people and state Bulur or Bolor) are named transparent
crystals (minerals) as something extremely precious. In the
chapter on iron аl-Biruni mentions crystal borax (at-tincar al-
bulluri) once again with the definition of billuri – crystalline or
transparent (Biruni, 1963b, p. 485).
In his “Book of Histories” the Armenian historian Arakel
Davrizhetzi (1595–1669/1670) describes in a separate chapter
the gem minerals used during the Medieval centuries
according to data of the priest Sargis of Beria and anonimous
sources. Introducing the deposits and properties of noble
corundum he mentions that “the red [corundum – ruby] has
seven hues: purple, pomegranate [similar in colour with the
pomegranate fruit], lilac, residual [probably pale rose], with
colour of wine must, with colour of vinegar and balkhi”
(Davrizhetzi, 1973, p. 456). Such colour hue as balkhi for ruby
lacks in the works of al-Kindi and аl-Biruni, supposed to be the
most voluminous and detailed mineralogical books in Medieval
Arab literature. Probably these corundum varieties have been
mentioned in some later sources as that of the Arab author at-
Tifaschi (1184–1254) (Arab Roots…, 1997). Davrizhetzi
describes in a next chapter the spinel (lal) from Badakhshan,
with the popular story how this gem mineral apeared in the
mountain after a strong earthquake.
The most ancient Bulgarians (who have been identified as
the Ideltzians according to the history ‘Dzhagfar Tarikh’) have
been declared as the first miners in the world (Yarullina, 2002,
p. 10), but such a statement has to be supported by evidences
of the material culture. A lot of ancient sources confirm that
they have exploited not only ores, but also industrial minerals,
including gem and decorative minerals (for example rock
crystal and lazurite). On the territory of contemporary
Afghanistan chalcolithic objects are known since the IV mill.
B.C., the copper sources not being clearly identified. Copper
artefacts dominate thoughout the III-II mill. B.C., (early agrarian
culture Sistan; culture Kandakhara), for which evidence has
been found in slags and it has been suggested that the copper
has been exported into neighbouring countries (Маsson,
Rommodin, 1964, p. 37 и 39). Gold mining in the Pre-Pamir
region has been known since the II mill. B.C. (Baratov, 1984, p.
40). During the V c. B.C. the lands of Balkh (Bactria) have
been conquered by the Ahamenide dynasty, for which is
known to take possession of an annual tax of 300 golden
talants (21 000 kg gold) (Dobrev, 2001; p. 91). In the same
epoch, iron has been allready exploited, its sources however
not been identified. The most important gold deposit, known
from Medieval times is Zarkashan (аl-Biruni mentions the
deposts Sarginak and Sangzariz in Zaruban), аnd the largest
copper deposit is Aynak. Gold deposits are known also from
the province of Badakhshan (аl-Biruni mentions the mountain
Shikanan and Rasht, as well as Hutal – Wakhan). In the same
region аl-Biruni mentions the metal harsini (khadid sini
“Chinese iron”; from Persian har chini), interpreted as arsenic,
but the description can suite antimony also. In contemporary
Badakhshan are known deposits of copper, gold and iron, as
well as a few occurrences of tin (cassiterite).
From the industrial minerals in the Balkh region of specific
importance in the past have been the salt (Namakab near the
town of Talukan) and sulphur (Chimtal). The salt deposits at
Talukan have been described in detail by Marko Polo (Pоlо,
1986, p. 43). Al-Biruni in his pharmacological work mentions
yellow sulphur (kibrit) from Balkh, which has been
distinguished from the white sulphur from Persia (Biruni, 1974,
p. 741), as well as salt (milkh) from the districts Darabdjirt and
Hutal (Wakhan) (Ibid., p. 823). Halite and gypsum are known
from the big deposit Hodjamumin near the town of Kulyab in
southern Tadjikistan. Other nonmetallic raw materials with a
definite use in the past are talk (“rock powder” – tashupa) and
graphite from the region around Ishkashim (Baratov, 1984, p.
The dark blue decorative lazurite has been a sacred mineral
to the people of the Mesopotamia and along the trade routes it
has reached Ancient Egypt, India and China. The mineral has
been used in the material culture, and has been mentioned in
literary sources of Sumer and Acad, Assyria and Babylon, in
the most ancient period of Egypt (IV mill. B.C.). All these
evidences point to intensive trade links in the past and to the
extremely importance of lazurite as a highly estimated sacred
mineral (Коstov, 1993). Since the IV mill. B.C. lazurite objects
are known from the territory of contemporaray Turkmenia and
Iran (Sialk; there has been a suggestion, that this settlement
has been taken over at the end of the same millennium
because of its strategic position on the lazurite trade route)
(Sarianidi, 1984, p. 87). In the area of development of the
civilizations of Mesopotamia lazurite has been found from
archeological excavations in sites dated to the second half of
the IV mill. B.C. – in Elam during the reign of Suza I, in
Mesopotamia – in Uruk and Djemdet Nasr (Маsson,
Rommodin, 1964, p. 35; the authors are inaware who has
exploited the mineral in the remote mountains). In a Sumerian
text there is evidence for exchange of grain for lazurite,
obtained by the tribes in the mountains on the east. The wide
spread area of lazurite (dominated by beads) in southwestern
Asia allows a suggestion for the beginning of its exploitation to
have been started even in the V mill. B.C.
The main source of this mineral is Hindukush with its Sar-e
Sang deposit, which has been exploited from Antiquity to
contemporary times. The deposit is located at about 3700-
4300 m 70 km south of the town of Fayzabad in the valley of
the river Sar-e Sang, tributary of the river Kokcha (Brückl,
1937; Blaise and Cesbron, 1966; Еfimov and Suderkin, 1967;
Rossovsky, 1980). This large lazurite region is located in the
range of the Fayzabad metamorphic massif. Al-Biruni mentions
two lazurite (lazaward, lazward, lazuward, alazward in Persian
and Arabic) deposits – at the Karan mountains (probably the
Tirgaran ridge) after the steep valley of the river Pandjkhir
(Pyandj) and at Tus-Bunak near Zaruban (southern
Afghanistan). He writes correctly that in Byzantine times it has
been known as arminakun (Armenian stone – turquoise), as it
is similar in colour to turquoise (Biruni, 1963b, p. 182). In a lot
of Medieval sources lazurite from Armenia has been
mentioned uncorrectly. Probably in such cases, the local or
traded from Persia turquoise has been pointed out, which is
sky blue and not a dark blue mineral. Lapis lazuri (lapis lasuli)
is a name from Medieval treatises, used as a synonym for the
mineral lazurite or for lazurite-bearing rock. The Sar-e Sang
deposits have been visited and described by an European
researcher in 1838 (Wood, 1841, p. 246-245). They have been
known in the past with the name of the near-by village of
Firgamu (Wood, 1941, p. 261; Fersman, 1961, p. 36). It is
possible that this name can be a derivative of Birgamu (with
root bilg-, bulg-). The suffix -ar (-оr; -ur) and the deposit
(village) with a root Birg- (Bulg-) can constituate the ethnonym
Bilgar (Bulgar). In Sogdian language lazurite has been known
as r’zβwrt, r’zwrt or r’cβrt, from where origins the new Persian
and Tadjik name of the mineral, and in Indian sources – as
lājavarta, rājavarta и rājapatta (Litvinsky, 1972, p. 79). In the
last case the translation would be “the king of the stones” –
lazurite as a sacred and royal precious stone.
In the province of Badakhshan gem spinel (lal) has been
exploited. The discovery of spinel in the region has been
determined about VII–VIII c., аl-Biruni giving the first detailed
desciption of the mineral and its deposits. During the X c. this
mineral has been mentioned by other Arab authors as Istrakhri
(mentions also the deposits of lazurite), Ibn Haukal and Madrisi
(Laemmlein, 1963, p. 347). In the same region between
Shikanan and Wakhan garnet deposit have been also localized
(bidjada, bidjazi). The Venician traveller Маrkо Pоlо (1254–
1324) describes in his Asiatic routes and adventures during the
XIII c. beside the exploit of lazurite (lazure) also the extraction
under the king’s order of balas (spinel) from the Balaxan
(Badakhshan) region in the Shighanan mountain. It has been
forbidden unauthorized gathering of precious stones even
under the threat of death penalty (Pоlо, 1986, p. 44).
Badakhshan can be found in the same and other sources
written as Balascian, Balahkshan, Balakhsen, Balaxia or
Baldasia. According to the Arab traveller and writer Ibn Batuta
(1304–1377) the badakhshan ruby has received its name from
the name of the corresponding mountains, and has been
commonly called al balakhsh (сomp. al-lal al-badakhshi by аl-
Biruni, but balakhshi by al Tifaschi; Arab Roots…, 1997). The
name balas (balas-ruby, bale-ruby) for the spinel as a mineral
species (undistinguished in the past from the ruby) or for its
variety is attributed to the ancient name of Badakhshan,
accepted to be Balkh (Ball, 1893; Hughes, 1994; cit. after
Prinsep and Kalikishen, 1832; Wood, 1841, p. 293). The first
official record from an European about “ruby” deposits is
related to an ambasador (1403–1406) in the court of Timur,
who writes about the meeting in Samarkand with the ruler of
Balaxia (Badakhshan), around whose grand city in the
mountains “rubies’’ (spinels) have been found (Ball, 1893;
Hughes, 1994; cit. after Markham, 1859). Therefore, the
ancient name of spinel – balas (from Balaxia – Balkh) denotes
an “ancient Bulgarian” gemstone (Коstov, 2003). The
contemporary gem spinel deposit Kuhilal in Tadjikistan, as well
as the spinel from the regions around have been described in a
lot of mineralogical works (Коlesnikova, 1980; Rossovsky,
Other gem minerals as green tourmaline, kunzite, beryl and
rock crystal are exploited from the pegmatites in the Afghan
provinces of Kunar and Laghman (Geruvol et al., 1980;
Rossovsky, 1980; Rossovsky and Konovalenko, 1980;
Bowersox, 1985). Similar mineralization is known in the
neighbouring mountain regions of Pakistan, where
aquamarine, yellow-brown topaz and coloured tourmalines are
found. The precious minerals have been traded for gold and
silver (Biruni, 1963b, p. 64; Laemmlein, 1963, p. 395 and 436).
Before the V c. Chinese sources mention migrations from
Balkh (Bоlо), connected with the new kingdom in southwestern
direction, and during the year “424 some masters went from
the town of Balkh in China, and from them the Chinese learned
a rare occupation – the making of colour glasses” (Bichurin,
1950, p. 264-265; Dobrev, 1991, p. 44; 2002, p. 106). From the
chapter of enamel of аl-Biruni it is clear, that during Medieval
times the production of crimson-red glass with dispersed gold
has been known (now-a-days known as “ruby” glass).
According to the data of ad-Dimishki mainly blue glass or
enamel has been manifactured, used as a substitute of lazurite
(for example “Egyptian azure”; сomp. Коstov, 1998, p. 38).
In the Armenian geography “Аshkaratzyuitz”, in listing the
regions, peoples and tribes, after the Bulgarians (Bulgh) on the
west are mentioned the Khoresmians (from Khoresm), where
in the district of Tur has been obtained the kholosmian
(khoresmian) stone and the best carnelian (Dobrev, 1998, p.
36-37; it is not correct serdolic to be interpreted as sardonix,
and the khoresmian stone as lazurite – cit. in Dobrev, 1991, p.
29; Stamatov, 2002, p. 23). The serdolic is a Russian name for
carnelian. The khoresmian stone is most probably turquoise,
known in the past from the mountain ridges on the west
(Sultanizdagh), as well as from the central parts of Kuzulkum
(Bukamtau and Tamditau), where numerous old mining pits for
this gem mineral have been discovered (Меnchinskaya, 1989,
p. 20-24; сomp. Pruger, 1971). Al-Biruni, who has been born in
the region, describes in his treatise only histories about rubies,
but not as an object of exploit, but of trade.
In the Persian and Arab mineralogical treatises rock crystal
(quartz) is denoted with the name bullur (ballur; billawr;
bilawri). It is possible that the name is of an Acadian origin –
burallu. The origin of the Greek word βήρύλλος (beryl) is not
yet clear in mineralogy and the note of Laemmlein (1963, p.
459) seems to be accepted as logical and correct – this name
has been used primary for denoting of rock crystal. It must be
remarked that the morphology of quartz and beryl both
includes the hexagonal prism of the crystals. Because of the
poor mineralogical knowledge up till a definite period, all of the
prismatic or transparerent crystals probably have been
denoted as “beryl” (mainly rock crystal because of its broader
distribution; for the role of quartz сomp. Коstov, 1998).
In the monograph on beryl and its varieties, the following
derivative names for beryl have been listed (according to the
understanding in a broader sense – rock crystal or crystal):
ballur, billaur, bulur, berulin – in Persian and Arabic language;
besady – in Persian; belur, belura – in Hebrew, Pahlevi; berula,
berulo, brulo, burlo – in Siryan; berel – in Ethiopic; birla, birula
– in Chaldeic; biurey, buregh – in Armenian; byvrili, byvrioni
in Georgian; billurin – in Arameic; beryllion – in Coptic; beruj
in India (Sinkankas, 1981, p. 616-617). From this name
through the Greek berilos (βήρύλλος) and the Latin berylus
(Berillus; Beryllus) has been derived the contemporary “beryl”
(whritten in a different manner in European treatises – for
example Berill, Beriillis, Berillo, Berial, Beril, Berille, Berillus,
Berolus, Berre, Beryall, Birillus, Byral, Byralle, Byrillus). The
name “emerald” is with a supposed Sanskrit origin, and in
ancient India the green mineral has been known as asmagarba
or marakata. In the “Simeon’s Sbornik” (according to the copy
“Izbornik” from 1073), Epiphanius of Cyprus (315–403) has
been cited with the list of the twelve minerals on the pectoral of
the Hebrew high priest, among them a pigeon blue viroulion
(βηρύλλιον) being mentioned from the mountain Taurus (Old
Bulgarian Literature, 1992, p. 101; сomp. different writing in the
Hexameron of John the Exarkh fron the XI c. – virulii, in the
Vilnen copy of the “Simeon’s Sbornik” from the XVI c. –
virulion, Ibid., p. 394; Еpiphanius of Cyprus – virillion). The
name of the Taurus mountains in the past may have been
perceived as the whole mountain region on the northeast of
Mesopotamia, including Hindukush.
In the understanding of al-Biruni the rock crystal owns its
value related to two natural primal essences – water and air.
“From Каshmir bullur [rock crystal] has been exported either
as pieces of rough material, either as manifactured from it
vessels, cups, chess figures, pawns for nard [draughts] and
beads with the size of a hazelnut. …They find it as pieces in
the mountains; its in abundance in the area of Wakhan and
Badakhshan, but it is not exported there from” (Biruni, 1963b,
p. 172). The regions of Wakhan and Badakhshan are defined
as a place, where there is supposed to be “probably, a huge
quantity of rock crystal for trade as cut and raw material both”
(Laemmlein, 1963, p. 347). The evidence of аl-Biruni proves
directly the exploit and trade with quartz varieties – mostly rock
Confirmation for preserved traditions in jewellery and trade
with gem minerals and noble metals can be found in a lot of
the objects of material culture in the Bulgarian settlements in
the Volga region. From about 900 mineral objects as
dominantly have been described carnelian (48%), amber
(20%) and rock crystal (10%), аnd rarely turquoise (5%),
аmethyst (5%), chalcedony (аgate), lazurite and nephrite or
other gemmological materials (Poluboyarinovа, 1991, p. 98-
99). Lazurite artefacts have been excavated at the settlements
of Bolgara and Saraya, where local workshops for cutting gem
minerals have been found (Ibid., p. 101). At a later stage the
successors of the Volga’s Bulgarians are engaged in trade of
metallic and non-metallic raw materials from the Ural’s
mountains towards Europe.
In the mineralogical treatise of the Medieval encyclopaedic
scholar al-Biruni (XI century) are listed data, pointing out that
the inhabitants of Balkh (Balkhara, Bolor, Bulur) and Volga’s
Bulgaria have extracted, ore-dressed and traded with gem
minerals and precious metals.
According to the Armenian historian Arakel Davrizhetzi
(1669) one of the ruby varieties has been known as balkhi
(from Balkh; in analogy with the colour of spinel).
The name balas for red spinel from Badakhshan can be
drown out from the ancient name of the province (Balaxan from
The coincidence of the names bulhor (Bulgarians) in the
Tadjik and bullur (rock crystal) in the Persian and Arabic
languages probably can illustrate forgotten traditions of a
population, which has been engaged exclusively from most
ancient times with exploitation and trade of gem minerals and
of metals as copper, gold and iron both. The discussed
coincidence in the name of transparent non-coloured crystals
(rock crystal) and the ethnonym Bulur (Bolor) as well as the
overlapping of the regions occupied with ancient Bulgarian
population (mixed throughout the centuries and inherited by
the migration of other tribes and people) and regions with
distribution of quartz and other gem crystals allows a search
for mutual influence in both directions. Thus the ancient
Bulgarians can be expressed also as the people of a
transparent (clear) nature, who have exploited, treated and
traded gem minerals.
Beside medieval sources, the preserved traditions in working
and trading gem minerals and noble metals have been
demonstrated from data in medieval Volga’s Bulgaria.
The author should like to thank Sen.Res.Sc. Dr. Petar
Dobrev for the fruitful discussion.
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of Mineralogy and Petrography, Faculty of Geology and Prospecting


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