The name Kutrigur, also recorded as Kwrtrgr, Κουτρίγουροι, Κουτούργουροι, Κοτρίγουροι, Κοτρίγοροι, Κουτρίγοροι, Κοτράγηροι, Κουτράγουροι, Κοτριαγήροι, is generally considered as a metathecized form of Turkic *Toqur-Oğur, thus the *Quturoğur mean "Nine Oğur (tribes)". David Marshall Lang derived it from Turkic kötrügür (conspicuous, eminent, renowned). There has been little scholarly support for theories linking the names of Kutrigurs and Utigurs to peoples such as the Guti/Quti and/or Udi/Uti, of Ancient Southwest Asia and the Caucasus respectively, which has been posited by Osman Karatay, or Duč'i (some read Kuchi) Bulgars by Josef Markwart.
Procopius recounts that "in the old days many Huns[nb 1], called then Cimmerians, inhabited the lands I mentioned already. They all had a single king. Once one of their kings had two sons: one called Utigur and another called Kutrigur. After their father's death they shared the power and gave their names to the subjected peoples, so that even nowadays some of them are called Utigurs and the others - Kutrigurs". They occupied the Tanaitic-Maeotic (Don-Azov) steppe zone, the Kutrigurs in the Western part and the Utrigurs towards the East.
This story was also confirmed by the words of the Utigur ruler Sandilch, "it is neither fair nor decent to exterminate our tribesmen (the Kutrigurs), who not only speak a language, identical to ours, who are our neighbours and have the same dressing and manners of life, but who are also our relatives, even though subjected to other lords".
The Syriac translation of the Pseudo–Zacharias Rhetor's Ecclesiastical History (c. 555) in Western Eurasia records thirteen tribes, the wngwr (Onoğurs), wgr (Oğur), sbr (Sabirs), bwrgr (Burğar=Bulğar), kwrtrgr (Kutriğurs), br (Abar/Avard), ksr (unknown, Kasar/Kasir/Akatzir), srwrgwr (Sarurgur=Saragurs), dyrmr (unknown, Dirmar=Ιτίγαροι), b'grsyq (Bagrasir=Barsils), kwls (unknown, Xwâlis), bdl (Abdel=Hephthalite), and ftlyt (Hephthalite, also known as "White Huns"). They are described in typical phrases reserved for nomads in the ethnographic literature of the period, as people who "live in tents, earn their living on the meat of livestock and fish, of wild animals and by their weapons (plunder)".
Agathias (c. 579–582) wrote:
...all of them are called in general Scythians and Huns in particular according to their nation. Thus, some are Koutrigours or Outigours and yet others are Oultizurs and Bourougounds... the Oultizurs and Bourougounds were known up to the time of the Emperor Leo (457–474) and the Romans of that time and appeared to have been strong. We, however, in this day, neither know them, nor, I think, will we. Perhaps, they have perished or perhaps they have moved off to very far place.
In 551, a Kutrigur army of 12,000-strong men led by many commanders, including Chinialon, came from the "western side of the Maeotic Lake" to assist the Gepids at the war with Lombards. Later along the Gepids they plundered the Byzantine lands. However, Emperor Justinian I (527–565) through diplomatic persuasion and bribery dragged the Kutrigurs and Utigurs into mutual warfare. Utigurs led by Sandilch attacked the Kutrigurs who suffered great losses.
Kutrigurs made a peace treaty with the Empire, and 2000 Kutrigurs on gallop with wives and children led by Sinnion entered imperial service and were settled in Thrace. The fine treatment of the Kutrigurs was not friendly accepted by Sandilch. In the winter of 558, a large Kutrigur army led by Zabergan crossed frozen Danube, divided into three sections; one raided south far as Thermopylae, while two others the Thracian Chersonesus and the periphery of Constantinople. On March 559 Zabergan attacked Constantinople, and one part of his forces consisted of 7000 horsemen. The transit of such big distances in short period of time shows they were mounted warriors, and compared to the Chinialon army, the Zabergan raiders were already encamped near the banks of the Danube.
A threat to the Byzantine Empire stability, according to Procopius, Agathias and Menander, the Kutrigurs and Utigurs decimated one another. Some Kutrigur remnants were swept away by the Avars to Pannonia (Avar khagan Bayan I in 568 ordered 10,000 so-called Kutrigur Huns to cross the Sava river), while later the Κοτζαγηροί (Kotzagiroi, possibly Kutrigurs), Ταρνιάχ (Tarnzach) and Ζαβενδὲρ (Zabender) fled to the Avars from the Türks. The Utigurs remained in the Pontic steppe and fell under the rule of the Türks.
- Golden 2011, p. 139.
- Golden 2011, p. 71, 139.
- Lang, David Marshall (1976). The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest. Westview Press. p. 34. ISBN 9780891585305.
- Karatay 2003, p. 26.
- Zlatarski, Vasil (1970) . History of the Bulgarian state in the Middle Ages, Volume I. History of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. Part I. Age of Hun-Bulgarian supremacy (679-852) (in Bulgarian). Sofia.
- Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. p. 99. ISBN 9781400829941.
Like the name Scythian up to the early medieval period, the name Hun became a generic (usually pejorative) term in subsequent history for any steppe-warrior people, or even any enemy people, regardless of their actual identity.
- Dickens, Mark (2004). Medieval Syriac Historians’ Perceptionsof the Turks. University of Cambridge. p. 19.
Syriac chroniclers (along with their Arab, Byzantine, Latin, Armenian, and Georgian counterparts) did not use ethnonyms as specifically as modern scholars do. As K. Czeglédy notes, "some sources... use the ethnonyms of the various steppe-peoples, in particular those of the Scythians, Huns and Türks, in the generic sense of 'nomads'".
- D. Dimitrov (1987). "Bulgars, Unogundurs, Onogurs, Utigurs, Kutrigurs". Prabylgarite po severnoto i zapadnoto Chernomorie. kroraina.com. Varna.
- Golden 2011, p. 140.
- Golden 1992, p. 99.
- Golden 1992, p. 97.
- Golden 1992, p. 98.
- Curta 2015, p. 76.
- Golden 1992, p. 99–100.
- Curta 2015, p. 77.
- Golden 2011, p. 107.
- Dickens, Mark (2010). The Three Scythian Brothers: an Extract from the Chronicle of Michael the Great. Parole de l'Orient. 35. p. 5.
- Golden 2011, p. 140–141.
- Golden, Peter Benjamin (1992). An introduction to the History of the Turkic peoples: ethnogenesis and state formation in medieval and early modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. ISBN 9783447032742.
- Karatay, Osman (2003). In Search of the Lost Tribe: The Origins and Making of the Croation Nation. Ayse Demiral. ISBN 9789756467077.
- Golden, Peter B. (2011). Studies on the Peoples and Cultures of the Eurasian Steppes. Editura Academiei Române; Editura Istros a Muzeului Brăilei. ISBN 9789732721520.
- Curta, Florin (2015). "Avar Blitzkrieg, Slavic and Bulgar raiders, and Roman special ops: mobile warriors in the 6th-century Balkans". In Zimonyi István; Osman Karatay. Eurasia in the Middle Ages. Studies in Honour of Peter B. Golden. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. pp. 69–89.