During the 4th century AD the three major Slavic groups were already formed: eastern (anti), western (venedi), and southern (slavini). In the middle of the 5th century AD the southern Slavs crossed the Carpathian mountains and settled in the former Roman provinces Panonia (today's Hungary) and Dacia (today's Romania). It wasn't until the beginning of the 6th century AD that the Slavs started crossing the Danube and attacking the Byzantine towns, after which they returned to the northern coast of the Danube along with all the goods and cattle they attained. The increased contacts between Byzantium and the Slavs brought them into the orbit of the Empire's politics. The Slavs were tempted by the rich provinces of the Empire, and by the end of the 6th century they started migrating south of the Danube and settling in the Balkans. The mass migration of Slavs led to their settling not only in the northern and central parts of the Balkan peninsula (Moesia, Thrace, Macedonia, the Rhodope Mountains and so on), but also in territories as far as Corinth in Greece. The remnants of the native Balkan population were quickly assimilated completely. The Slavic tribes started uniting in tribal unions, thus turning into an important political and ethnic factor in the history of the Balkans.
The Slavs were engaged primarily in agricultural activities, as well as in cattle-breeding, hunting, and fishing. From the native population they acquired the skills to cultivate vines and fruits. The Slav artisans were skilled smiths and woodcutters, and had a highly developed production of ceramics. Their pantheon was a typical representative of paganistic beliefs, mixed with politeism. The supreme deity's name was Perun, who was thought to have control over thunders and lightning, and who was believed to be the master of all things and creatures. Other deities were: Volos - the god of cattle, wealth, and family; Svarog - the god of artisans and fire; Dazhbog - the god of fertility; and Lada - the goddess of beaty and love. The Slavs also worshipped the powers of nature and the celestial bodies. The Slavic religious altars were always near old trees, and it was there that they sacrificed lambs, cows, and other domesticated animals. The Slavs also built wooden and stone idols of their deities. The belief in life after death was also present in the Slavs' pantheon, and it governed the burial rituals. The usual burial required that the dead person's body be burned, and then placed in a ceramic pot along with food and some basic necessities.
The proto-Bulgarians belonged to the Turco-Altaic language group. Their native land is thought to have been Western Siberia, along the valley of the Irtish River. During the 1st-2nd centuries AD they migrated in the direction of Eastern Europe and settled in the region north of the Caucusus. There the proto-Bulgarians established contact with the local native tribes of Iranian origin, whose cultural achievements and social hierarchy had a substantial impact on their further development. The proto-Bulgarians were mentioned and called by their own ethnic name (Bulgars - there are numerous speculations as to its meaning) for the first time by a Roman chronographer in 354 AD.
In the end of the 6th century AD the proto-Bulgarians were conquered and included in the composition of the powerful Western Turcic Khaganate, whose vast territory extended from China in the east to the Volga River in the West. However, the proto-Bulgarians refused to be subjugated by a foreign rule, and in 632 AD established a powerful military-nomad confederation, called "the Ancient Great Bulgaria" by the Byzantine authors. The confederation's creator, khan Kubrat of the Dulo family, had spent many years in Byzantium, and was rumored to have been sympathetic to the Christian faith. He established friendly relations and a military union with the Byzantine empire, and was granted the title of a patrician - the greatest title and honor ever awarded to foreign rulers by Byzantium. Khan Kubrat established the citadel of Phanagoria on the Taman peninsula as his capital.
After Kubrat's death around 665 AD, the power was transferred to his oldest son Batbayan. However, the internal conflicts between the various tribes weakened the confederation. The neighboring Hazar khaganate seized the window of opportunity and conquered Batbayan's lands. Khan Kubrat's second son, Kotrag, together with a part of the proto-Bulgarians withdrew to the rivers of Volga and Kama, where they and the local tribes created a state called Volgo-Kama Bulgaria, converted to Islam during the 10th century AD. The third son, Asparuh, together with the last remnants of the proto-Bulgarians withdrew to the west and settled in the area known as the "Ongul" in the delta of the Danube river, in what is today Bessarabia.
There is little information left in writing about the way of life of the proto-Bulgarians, and that is why the main body of information and evidence we have today was gathered through archeological excavations. The settlements of the proto-Bulgarians were built primarily in the steppes near the banks of rivers. Most of them lacked walls or any other defense structures, while some were impressive citadels, fortresses, and castles. The majority of the proto-Bulgarians lived in yurtas - large tents made of skins and leather, similar to the Native American wigwams. The primary activity of the proto-Bulgarians was the raising and breeding of all sorts of cattle and especially horses; the horses were used in the powerful Bulgar cavalry, the backbone of the proto-Bulgarian army. The horses were the chief means of transportation, and their meat and the mares' milk were important parts of the proto-Bulgarian everyday diet. Agriculture was slowly finding a place in the activities of the proto-Bulgarians and was primarily a supplement to the cattle-raising, as were hunting and fishing. Most agricultural products were either taken by force from or by exchange with the neighboring Slavic tribes. There were skilled proto-Bulgarian artisans, smiths, builders, and jewelers.