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). There's 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.
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 (Burğa, i.e. Bulgar), kwrtrgr (Kutriğurs), br (probably Vars, also known as the Avars), ksr (Kasr; possibly Akatziri), srwrgwr (Saragur), dyrmr (unknown), b'grsyq (Bagrasir, i.e. Barsil), kwls (unknown), bdl (probably 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 (Tarnzach) 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 .
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