Prehistory and antiquity
The earliest traces of human settlement in the area date from the 5th millennium BC, the Neolithic.
Numerous archaeological findings, among them the Nikolaevo treasure found in Bulgaria, evidence for the rich culture of the Thracians, who inhabited the area for thousands of years.
In the beginning of the new era, the region became part of the Roman province of Moesia, and a road station called Storgosia arose near present-day Pleven on the road from Oescus (near modern Gigen) to Philippopolis (now Plovdiv). It later evolved into a fortress. One of the most valued archaeological monuments in Bulgaria from the period is the Early Christian basilica from the fourth century discovered near the modern city.
During the Middle Ages, Pleven was a well-developed stronghold of the First and the Second Bulgarian Empire. When Slavs populated the region, they gave the settlement its contemporary name Pleven, it was first mentioned in a charter by Hungarian king Stephen V in 1270 in connection to a military campaign in the Bulgarian lands.
During the Ottoman rule, Pleven, known as Plevne in Ottoman Turkish, preserved its Bulgarian appearance and culture. Many churches, schools and bridges were built at the time of the Bulgarian National Revival. In 1825, the first secular school in the town was opened, followed by the first girls' school in Bulgaria in 1840, as well as the first boys' school a year later. Pleven was the place where the Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski established the first revolutionary committee in 1869, part of his national revolutionary network.
Siege of Pleven
The city was a major battle scene during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 that Russian Tsar Alexander II held for the purpose of the liberation of Bulgaria. The joint Russian and Romanian army paid dearly for the victory, but it paved the path to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in this war, the restoration of Bulgaria as a state and the independence of Romania from the Ottoman Empire. It cost the Russians and Romanians 5 months and 38,000 casualties to take the town after four assaults, in what was one of the decisive battles of the war. The siege is remembered as a landmark victory of the Romanian War of Independence, as on 28 November 1877 the Pleven citadel capitulated, and Osman Pasha surrendered the city, the garrison and his sword to the Romanian Colonel Mihail Cerchez.
The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition of 1911 concluded its lengthy entry on Pleven with the memorable dictum:
“Pleven is a striking example of the futility of the purely passive defence, which is doomed to failure however tenaciously carried out... Victories which are not followed up are useless. War without strategy is mere butchery.”
On the other hand, the Siege of Pleven stands out among other countless sieges and military actions in the region because of its significance. Without this fortress slowing the Russian onslaught, which gave the Great Powers time to intercede, Constantinople would have been repossessed by a Christian army once more.
“Pleven is one of the few engagements that changed the course of history.”
The events of the Russo-Turkish War proved crucial for the development of Pleven as a key town of central northern Bulgaria. The town experienced significant demographic and economic growth in the following years, gradually establishing itself as a cultural centre of the region.
The Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, a leading interwar party representing the Bulgarian peasantry, was founded in the town in December 1899.
Prior to the Bulgarian orthographic reform of 1945, the name of the town was spelled Плѣвенъ (with yat) in Cyrillic.