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Kanasubigi or Kana sybigi, as it is written in Bulgarian Greek inscriptions, was a title of the Bulgars.

The title khan for early Bulgar rulers is an assumed one, as only the form kanasubigi or "k(h)anasybigi"[1] is attested in stone inscriptions. Historians presume that it includes the word khan in its archaic form kana, and there is a supporting evidence suggesting that the latter title was indeed used in Bulgaria, e.g. the name of one of the Bulgarian rulers Pagan occurs in Patriarch Nicephorus's so-called breviarium as Καμπαγάνος (Kampaganos), likely an erroneous rendition of the phrase "Kan Pagan".[2] Among the proposed translations for the phrase kanasubigi as a whole are lord of the army, from the reconstructed Turkic phrase *sü begi, paralleling the attested Old Turkic sü baši,[3] and, more recently, "(ruler) from God", from the Indo-European *su- and baga-, i.e. *su-baga (an equivallent of the Greek phrase ὁ ἐκ Θεοῦ ἄρχων, ho ek Theou archon, which is common in Bulgar inscriptions).[4] This titulature presumably persisted until the Bulgars adopted Christianity.[5] Some Bulgar inscriptions written in Greek and later in Slavonic refer to the Bulgarian ruler respectively with the Greek title archon or the Slavic title knyaz.[6]


Etymologically, it may also be associated and well explained with Proto-Turkish word kan meaning "ancestor" (in modern Turkish "blood"). (N.B.: the words khan and kagan don't have the same origin, so that they probably can't explain kana, although the meanings similar. The differentiation between kana and kagan/khan can clearly be made whenever these words are contained in Bulgar names. The vowel a as junction vowel is common in Turkic languages; su ("water;" "river;" "lake") is pan-Turkic, and bigi might be a variant of 'begi', both being variants of beyi "bey of", "lord of," "head of". Its specific positioning at the end of the word justifies the assumption that bigi means begi (i.e., beyi). Etimologically, structural integrity is supported by the homogeneity of the origins of the words that build the phrase kanasubigi. It probably was supposed to mean "ancestor of the lord of the rivers". Proto-Bulgarians either a Central Asian Turkic dialect or may only have borrowed names from that language and preserved them after their assumed emigration from Central Asia. The words kan, su and bigi fit the phonetics and semantics of Proto-Turkic texts found in Central Asia (created around AD 732), written in the so-called Orkhon Script. It is also possible that it means 'honest (ruler) from God'/'military commander', from the Proto-Turkic roots *su- ("soldier, officer") and *baj- ("rich ruler; god; honest"), i.e. *su-baj.[7][8][9] This titulature presumably persisted until the Bulgars adopted Christianity.[10]


  • Hanswilhelm Haefs, Das goldene Reich der Pamir-Bulgaren an Donau und Wardar (p. 120), ISBN 3-8334-2340-4
  1. ^ Florin Curta, Roman Kovalev, “The” Other Europe in the Middle Ages: Avars, Bulgars, Khazars and Cumans ; [papers ... Presented in the Three Special Sessions at the 40th and 42nd Editions of the International Congress on Medieval Studies Held at Kalamazzo in 2005 and 2007], BRILL, 2008, p. 363, ISBN 9789004163898
  2. ^ Източници за българската история . Fontes historiae bulgaricae, VI. Fontes graeci historiae Bulgaricae. БАН, София. p. 305 (in Byzantine Greek and Bulgarian). Also available online
  3. ^ Veselin Beševliev, Prabylgarski epigrafski pametnici - 5
  4. ^ Blackwell Synergy - Early Medieval Europe, vol. 10, issue 1, pp. 1-19, March 2001 (Article Abstract)
  5. ^ Sedlar, Jean W,. East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500, p. 46
  6. ^ Manassias Chronicle, Vatican transcription, p. 145, see Battle of Pliska
  7. ^ “subay” in Nişanyan Dictionary
  8. ^ “bay” in Nişanyan Dictionary
  9. ^ “*baj (~ -ń)”, “*bēǯu” in Sergei Starostin, Vladimir Dybo, Oleg Mudrak (2003), Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers
  10. ^ Sedlar 1994: 46