Kutrigurs were Turkic nomadic equestrians who flourished on the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the 6th century AD. To their east were the similar Utigurs. They warred with the Byzantine Empire and the Utigurs. Towards the end of the 6th century they were absorbed by the Pannonian Avars under pressure from the Turks.
The name Kutrigur, also recorded as Kwrtrgr, Κουτρίγουροι, Κουτούργουροι, Κοτρίγουροι, Κοτρίγοροι, Κουτρίγοροι, Κοτράγηροι, Κουτράγουροι, Κοτριαγήροι, has been suggested as a metathecized form of Turkic *Toqur-Oğur, with *quturoğur meaning "nine Oğur (tribes)". David Marshall Lang derived it from Turkic kötrügür (conspicuous, eminent, renowned). Few scholars support theories deriving the Kutrigurs from the Guti/Quti and the Utigurs from the Udi/Uti, of ancient Southwest Asia and the Caucasus respectively, posited by Osman Karatay. Similarly few find Duč'i which is a term for the Bulgars (some read Kuchi) as a root of Kutrigur, posited by Josef Markwart.
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 Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor's Ecclesiastical History (c. 555) in Western Eurasia records thirteen tribes, the wngwr (Onogur), wgr (Oğur), sbr (Sabir), bwrgr (Burğar, i.e. Bulgars), kwrtrgr (Kutriğurs), br (probably Abar, i.e. Avars), ksr (Kasr; Akatziri?), srwrgwr (Saragur), dyrmr (*[I]di[r]mar? < Ιτιμαροι), b'grsyq (Bagrasik, i.e. Barsils), kwls (Khalyzians?), bdl (Abdali?), and ftlyt (Hephthalite). They are described in typical phrases used 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)".
War with the Byzantines
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 12,000-strong Kutrigur army led by many commanders, including Chinialon, came from the "western side of the Maeotic Lake" to assist the Gepids who were at the war with the Lombards. Later, with the Gepids, they plundered the Byzantine lands. Emperor Justinian I (527–565) through diplomatic persuasion and bribery tricked 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 Byzantine Empire, and 2,000 Kutrigurs on horseback, with wives and children, led by Sinnion, entered imperial service and were settled in Thrace. The friendly treatment of those Kutrigurs was viewed negatively by Sandilch.
In the winter of 558, the remaining large Kutrigur army led by Zabergan crossed the frozen Danube and divided into three sections; one raided south as far as Thermopylae; while two others the Thracian Chersonesus; and the periphery of Constantinople. In March 559 Zabergan attacked Constantinople; one part of his forces consisted of 7,000 horsemen. The transit of such distances in a short period of time shows that they were mounted warriors, and compared to the Chinialon's army, Zabergan's raiders were already encamped near the banks of the Danube.
A threat to the stability of the Byzantine Empire according to Procopius, Agathias and Menander, the Kutrigurs and Utigurs decimated one another. Some Kutrigur remnants were swept away by the Avars to Pannonia. By 569 the Κοτζαγηροί (Kotzagiroi, possibly Kutrigurs), Ταρνιάχ (Tarniach) and Ζαβενδὲρ (Zabender) fled to the Avars from the Türks. Avar Khagan Bayan I in 568 ordered 10,000 so-called Kutrigur Huns to cross the Sava river. The Utigurs remained in the Pontic steppe and fell under the rule of the Türks.
- Sometime about A.D. 463 a series of nomadic migrations was set off in Inner Asia... Archeological and literary evidence permits us to place the homeland of these newcomers, the Oghur tribes, in Western Siberia and the Kazakh steppes... The Oghurs were part of a large Turkic tribal grouping known in Chinese sources as the Tieh-lê, who were to be found in Inner Asia as well The fluidity of the situation in the steppes is mirrored in our sources, a kaleidoscope of dissolving and reforming tribal unions... Although some of the antecedents of this important migration are still unclear, there can be no doubt that the 0ghur tribes now became the dominant element in the Ponto-Caspian steppes. The term Oghur denoted “grouping of kindred tribes, tribal union” and figures in their ethnonyms: Onoghur, Saraghur, etc. The language of these Oghur tribes, which survives today only in Chuvash, was distinct from that of Common Turkic. In 480 we find our earliest firm notice on the Bulghars (“Mixed Ones”), a large conglomeration of Oghur, Hunnic and other elements. In addition, we have reports about the activities of the Kutrighurs and Utrighurs who appear in our sources under their own names, as “Huns” and perhaps even as “Bulghars.” Their precise relationship to the latter cannot be determined with any certainty, but all three clearly originated in the same Hunno-Oghur milieu. For more see: Golden, P. (1990). The peoples of the south Russian steppes, p. 257, in D. Sinor (Ed.), The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (pp. 256-284). Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.011 .
- Golden 2011, p. 139.
- Golden 2011, p. 71, 139.
- Lang 1976, p. 34.
- Karatay 2003, p. 26.
- Vasil 1918. sfn error: no target: CITEREFVasil1918 (help)
- Grousset 1970, p. 79.
- Beckwith 2009, p. 99.
- Dickens 2004, p. 19.
- Dimitrov 1987. sfn error: no target: CITEREFDimitrov1987 (help)
- Golden 2011, p. 140.
- Golden 1992, p. 99.
- Peter B. Golden (1992). An Introduction to the History of the Turkic People. O. Harrassowitz. p. 505
- 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 2010, 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.
- Lang, David Marshall (1976). The Bulgarians: from pagan times to the Ottoman conquest. Westview Press. ISBN 9780891585305.
- Karatay, Osman (2003). In Search of the Lost Tribe: The Origins and Making of the Croation Nation. Ayse Demiral. ISBN 9789756467077.
- Zlatarski, Vasil (1918). 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.
- Grousset, René (1970). The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. The State University of New Jersey. ISBN 9780813513041.
- Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400829941.
- Dickens, Mark (2004). Medieval Syriac Historians' Perceptionsof the Turks. University of Cambridge.
- D. Dimitrov (1987). "Bulgars, Unogundurs, Onogurs, Utigurs, Kutrigurs". Prabylgarite po severnoto i zapadnoto Chernomorie. kroraina.com. Varna.
- 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 (eds.). Eurasia in the Middle Ages. Studies in Honour of Peter B. Golden. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. pp. 69–89.
- Dickens, Mark (2010). "The Three Scythian Brothers: an Extract from the Chronicle of Michael the Great". Parole de l'Orient.