The Avars (pron.: //) were a militarized equestrian group which established an empire spanning considerable areas of Middle Europe from the late 6th to the early 9th century. They were ruled by a khagan, who led a tight-knit entourage of nomad warriors. Although the name Avar first appeared in the mid-fifth century, the Avars of Europe enter the historical scene in the mid-sixth century AD, having formed as a mixed band of warriors in the Pontic-Caspian steppe wishing to escape Göktürk rule. Their linguistic affiliation may be tentatively deduced from a variety of sources, betraying a variety of languages spoken by ruling and subject clans. Oghur, a distinct branch of the Turkic languages, figures prominently for the original Avar language. In any event, Slavic ultimately became the lingua franca in the Avar Khaganate.
The origin of the Eurasian Avars remains unclear. Information about origins derives primarily from the works of the Byzantine historians Menander Protector and Theophylact Simocatta. John of Ephesus used the term: "those, who are called 'Avars,' because of their long hair". The confusion is compounded by the fact that many clans carried a particular name because they saw it as prestigious, or it was attributed to them by outsiders describing their common characteristics, believed place-of-origin or reputation. Such cases occur repeatedly with many nomadic confederacies.
According to the research of historian András Róna-Tas, the ethnic Avars formed in central Asia in the classical age through a fusion of several tribal elements. Róna-Tas suggests that Oghurs migrated to the Kazakh Steppe, possibly moving south to inhabit the lands vacated by the Huns. Here, they interacted with Iranic peoples, forming the Xionites (Hunas). In the 460s the Rouran tribe subordinated them. The Rourans imposed their own rulers, referred to as Uar, at the head of the confederacy. Eventually, the Oghurs rose to prominence within the tribal confederacy.
The 6th-century historian Menander Protector noted that the language of the Avars (whom he called Ouarkhonitai "Vakonites") was the same as (possibly meaning 'similar to') that of the Huns. If language is an indicator of origin, this supports the theory that they might have been an Oghur people. Johanna Nicols proposed that they were an Iranic-speaking group.[clarification needed] The discovery of Mongolic skulls in Avar graves has prompted some scholars to suggest that the European Avars' ruling core was Mongolic, although this has been disputed by others.
Early in the sixth century the Göktürk empire conquered the confederacy (the Göktürks were previously yet another vassal tribal element under Rouran supremacy). In his History of the World, Theophylact Simocatta noted that the Göktürks "enslaved the Oghur tribe, which was one of the most powerful...and was accomplished in the art of war." One body of people, perhaps wishing to evade Göktürk rule, escaped and migrated to the northern Caucasus region c. 555 CE. According to Simocatta, their new neighbours believed them to be the true Avars. They established diplomatic contact with the Byzantines, and the other nomadic tribes of the steppes lavished them with gifts. However, the Göktürks later persuaded the Byzantines that these nomads were not the real Avars, but were instead a group of "fugitive Scythians" who had fled from the Göktürks and stolen the prestigious name of Avar. Hence they have subsequently been called pseudo-Avars.
For all the theories, historian Walter Pohl asserted in 1998, instancing the detailed attempts made by H. W. Haussig in 1953 and K. Czeglèdy in 1983 and his own methodological objections: "It is pointless to ask who exactly the forefathers of the European Avars were. We only know that they carried an ancient, very prestigious name (our first hints to it date back to the times of Herodotus); and we may assume that they were a very mixed group of warriors who wanted to escape domination by the Göktürks." If the Avars were a distinct ethnic group, that distinction does not seem to have survived their centuries in Europe. Being an "Avar" seems to have meant being part of the Avar state (in a similar way that being 'Roman' ceased to have any ethnic meaning). What is certain, by the time they arrived in Europe, the Avars were a heterogeneous, polyethnic people. Modern research shows that each of the large confederations of steppe warriors (such as the Scythians, Huns, Hungarians, Bulgars, Avars, Khazars, Cumans, Mongols, etc.) were not ethnically homogeneous, but rather unions of multiple ethnicities.
Whatever the origin of the initial group of nomadic warriors, the Avars rapidly intermixed with the Slavic population in the lower Danube basin and on the Pannonian Plain. Some authors argued that Slavic was likely used as a lingua franca within the khaganate amongst the disparate peoples. Anthropological research has revealed few skeletons with Mongoloid-type features, although there was continuing cultural influence from the Eurasian nomadic steppe. The late Avar period shows more hybridization, resulting in higher frequencies of Euro-Mongolids. Mongoloid and Euro-Mongoloid types compose about one-third of the total population of the Avar graves of the eighth century, but as the Avars conquered more Europoid populations, the percentage of Europoids amongst the Avars became much higher.
According to Pál Lipták the early Avar anthropological material was almost exclusively Europoid in the 7th century, while grave-goods indicated Middle and Central Asian parallels. On the other hand, cemeteries dated for the 8th century contained Mongoloid elements among others. He analysed population of the Danube-Tisza midland region in the Avar period and found that 80% of them showed Europoid characteristics.
Social and tribal structure 
The Carpathian basin was the centre of the Avar power-base. The Avars re-settled captives from the peripheries of their empire to more central regions. Avar material culture is found south to Macedonia. However, to the east of the Carpathians, there are next to no Avar archaeological finds, suggesting that they lived mainly in the western Balkans. Scholars propose that a highly structured and hierarchical Avar society existed, having complex interactions with other "barbarian" groups. The khagan was the paramount figure, surrounded by a minority of nomadic aristocracy.
A few exceptionally rich burials have been uncovered, confirming that power was limited to the khagan and a close-knit class of "elite warriors". In addition to hoards of gold coins that accompanied the burials, the men were often buried with symbols of rank, such as decorated belts, weapons, stirrups resembling those found in central Asia, as well as their horse. The Avar army was composed from numerous other groups: Slavic, Gepidic and Bulgar military units. There also appeared to have existed semi-independent "client" (predominantly Slavic) tribes which served strategic roles, such as engaging in diversionary attacks and guarding the Avars' western borders abutting the Frankish Empire. Yet other tribes were equals and allies of the Avars, such as Khan Zabergan's Kutrigur Bulgars and Ardagastus' Slavs, which often conducted autonomous offensives into Byzantine land.
Initially, the Avars and their subjects lived separately, except for Slavic and Germanic women who married Avar men. Eventually, the Germanic and Slavic peoples were included in the Avaric social order and culture, itself Persian-Byzantine in fashion. Scholars have identified a fused, Avar-Slavic culture, characterized by ornaments such as half-moon-shaped earrings, Byzantine-styled buckles, beads, and bracelets with horn-shaped ends. Paul Fouracre notes, "[T]here appears in the seventh century a mixed Slavic-Avar material culture, interpreted as peaceful and harmonious relationships between Avar warriors and Slavic peasants. It is thought possible that at least some of the leaders of the Slavic tribes could have become part of the Avar aristocracy". Apart from the assimilated Gepids, a few graves of west Germanic (Carolingian) peoples have been found in the Avar lands. They perhaps served as mercenaries.
Although there is sparse knowledge about the Avar language, scholars generally posit that the extinct language of the Eurasian Avars belonged to the Oghur branch, of the Turkic language family. Today, Chuvash is thought to represent the last remaining branch of Oghuric. How well modern Chuvash represents archaic Oghuric remains speculative. Chuvash itself is not intelligible by speakers of other Turkic branches, despite having undergone significant degrees of Turkicization in recent centuries.
Whatever the original Avar language was, Slavic eventually became the dominant language of the Avar Khaganate.
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See also 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Eurasian Avars|
- Avar Khaganate
- Historic states represented in Turkish presidential seal
- Oghur languages
- Khazar language
- Bulgar language
- Hunnic language
- Chuvash language
- Turkic language
- Treasure of Nagyszentmiklós