Our Way of Battle
In the beginning of the ninth century AD., the Hunno-Bulgars reigned supreme over the areas North and West of the Black Sea. All of this was made possible through the use of the Bulgar's horsemanship, military tactics, command structure, and resourcefulness in their choices of military equipment. Additionally, the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of the Bulgar warrior helped complete their success in battle.
Even though the Hunno-Bulgars of the ninth century AD. were not entirely a nomadic horsemen people, it is important to focus on this particular aspect because their origins in the 4th to 5th centuries AD. were firmly rooted as being nomadic. From their Hunnish roots, the use of mobile, light cavalry was learned, while from their Sarmatian roots, the use of heavy cavalry was applied. The culmination of these two backgrounds gave the Hunno-Bulgars such as the Utiguri, Kutriguri (Kotrags), Saraguri, and Onogunduri (Onoguri) a decisive advantage over their enemies. Also, the Bulgars of this time, made use of their Slavic allies in the Balkan Peninsula to supply their military war machine with contingents of foot soldiers.
As far as tactics are concerned, the most traditional of these (or the oldest) were a part of the light cavalry. Serving to complete the more complex and difficult maneuvers, the light cavalry, engaged the enemy using their mobility as both an effective offense as well as a defense. The most important of these were the flank, the feint, and the 'hit and run'. Furthermore, these tactics were made possible and made more efficient in their usage by the fact that the light cavalry were armed with powerful, composite, recurve bows. Multiple types of arrow heads were utilized to accomplish a number of different jobs, from piercing armor more efficiently to communicating across the battlefield. Other weapons carried included the spear, the hand ax, the knife, the short sword (the gladius), and the lasso (made of strips of plaited cloth). Armor worn by them consisted of hardened, molded, leather armor (houms kyupe) so as not to burden the rider or the horse and thus augmenting speed (versatility). However, even though the light cavalry could be an independent armed force, their resourcefulness was increased when combined with their counterpart, the heavy cavalry.
Through Sarmatian ingenuity, technology in breeding larger horses, combined with the introduction of stirrups by the coming of the Avars in the middle of the 6th century AD., the Bulgars were able to make full use of their heavy cavalry. At their height of military power in the early 9th century, the numbers of these cavalry were as many as 30,000. The purpose of the heavy cavalry was mainly to crush enemy resistance wherever it was the strongest, comparative to the light cavalry, whom encircled their opponents, all the while probing and sensing for weaknesses. For weapons, they used long spears, hand axes, knives, and short swords, while protection consisted of chain mail ( estrogin kyupe), helmets (touls-hi), and chain mail barding (farosh) for their horses. Other types of armor most likely consisted of scale mail, and brigandine. The total effect of all this weight combined with the long spears of the heavy cavalry made them into Dark Age equivalent of a tank division.
With the Slavic alliance after the 680s made possible by Kana Subigi Asperukh, the Hunno-Bulgars were also able to recruit numerous infantry to help out their light and heavy cavalry. These infantry weren't specifically just Slavs, but also consisted of levied troops coming from populations of captured peoples that were previously brought into the Hunno-Bulgar Empire by force. For example, native populations that lived within the Byzantine (Roman) Empire were commonly accosted and brought back to within Bulgar lands when a Byzantine city was sieged. This same idea probably occurred when attacks were carried out against the Khazars, the Franks, the Goths (Gepids), the Arabs, and the Rus. The purposes of the infantry within the Hunno-Bulgar military besides the typical reasons infantry are used, were to serve as guerrilla combat troops and also to help support siege equipment (and to carry out the siege). The most gifted of the infantry amongst the military were definitely the Slavic combat troops because they were used to doing this type of combat in the centuries preceding the alliance with the Hunno-Bulgars.
The physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the Hunno-Bulgars were also important factors for the success of their military. Strict military law, discipline, and codes were integrated to make their military more efficient. If a man chose not to fight, he was humiliated, and considered not to be one by his peers. Even young women were recruited into the military, which was unknown in other parts of the world. This was mainly due to the fact, that the Sarmatians had also done the very same thing back in their time, so considering the Bulgars were their progeny, this makes sense.
The daily routine of a Bulgar consisted of a diet of meat and milk (or products related to these such as cheese, kumiss, ect.) mixed with heavy physical exercise, which caused the typical Bulgar male to have an average height of 5 feet 10 inches evidenced from graves dug up. Cunning and adaptation were encouraged and promoted within the Bulgar mindset such that the Bulgars were willing to do what their enemies were not (due to their enemies' prejudices and weaknesses). For instance, the concept of chivalry amongst the Bulgars was non-existent, and gentlemanly behavior would have been laughable if they ever heard of such a thing. Also, the Hunno-Bulgars loved to intimidate their enemies exploiting fear whenever possible. If you can make a man fear you, you can control him, and furthermore defeat, destroy, or enslave him (and so this was just good policy amongst the Hunno-Bulgars). For example, the Bulgars would sometimes carry out human sacrifice in front of a enemy city just to unnerve them. This in particular was not an integral part of their native Altaic Shamanism, but was used instead to wear down the confidence of the enemy. Furthermore a captured victim's body would be mutilated through a lengthy process right in front of the walls of a city such as Constantinople, just to make the point, "You will regret resisting us...".
In terms of the real spirituality of the Hunno-Bulgars, before the battle, it was common to invoke the spirits of one's ancestors to help gain success during the fight. Rousing battle speeches were also given by the leaders to invoke the importance of tribe and family in that these were at stake once the battle began. Additionally, morale was amplified during a fight by the use of 'battle spirit' (excitement in voice, dilation of the eyes, blood flowing quickly to the tissues in the body and face), which helped to get rid of tiredness and fear when it counted the most. Prayers sometimes were the content of 'battle spirit' and other times it was something more simplistic, like, "Die!". After a fight, if a loved one died in combat, it was common to ritualistically scar oneself to honor the dead as the Ancient Scythians had done some thousand years before. Trophies were taken as well after the battle, which might be some enemy's head, hand, ear, or even scalp to mount on one's caftan declaring one as the conqueror over another.
In total, the Hunno-Bulgars achieved success in combat through integration and adaptation of other cultures' military knowledge. Borrowed techniques and specialized equipment were common place to the Bulgar. They realized early on that stagnation in the ways of warfare was equivalent to being defeated. Strict military codes, law, and the philosophy of self-improvement, culminated into achieving victory, as stated by Kana Subigi Omurtag in 831 AD., "A good life though he may have led, a man shall die and another shall be born. May the later-born who sees this remember its creator."