The Pannonian Avars // also known as the Obri (in Ruthenian chronicles), the Abaroi and Varchonitai (Warhonits) (in Byzantine sources), and the "Pseudo-Avars" and Varchonites (by the Göktürks), were a group of Eurasian nomads of unknown origins during the early Middle Ages. The name Pannonian Avars (after the area in which they eventually settled), is used to distinguish them from the Avars of the Caucasus – who may or may not have been an unrelated people.
They established the Avar Khaganate, which spanned the Pannonian Basin and considerable areas of Central and Eastern Europe from the late 6th to the early 9th century. They were ruled by a khagan, who was assisted by an entourage of professional warriors.
Although the name Avar first appeared in the mid-5th century, the Pannonian Avars entered the historical scene in the mid-6th century, on the Pontic-Caspian steppe, as a band of warriors who wished to escape the rule of the Göktürks.
The Avars' language or languages are unknown. Historical sources suggest that ruling and subject clans spoke a variety of languages. Proposals by scholars include Caucasian, Iranian, Mongolic, Tungusic, and Turkic. However, over time, Proto-Slavic became the lingua franca of the Avar Khaganate.
Early literary sources
The earliest clear reference to the Avar ethnonym comes from Priscus the Rhetor (died after 472 AD). Priscus recounts that, c. 463, the Šaragurs, Onogurs and Ogurs were attacked by the Sabirs, who had been attacked by the Avars. In turn, the Avars had been driven off by people fleeing "man-eating griffins" coming from "the ocean" (Priscus Fr 40). Whilst Priscus' accounts provide some information about the ethno-political situation in the Don-Kuban-Volga region after the demise of the Huns, no unequivocal conclusions can be reached. In fact, Denis Sinor has argued that whoever the "Avars" referred to by Priscus were, they differed from the Avars who appear a century later, during the time of Justinian (who reigned from 527 to 565).
The next author of late antiquity to discuss the Avars, Menander Protector in the 6th century, details Gokturk embassies in Constantinople in 565 and 568 AD. Each time, the Turks appear angered at the Byzantines for having made an alliance with the Avars, whom the Turks saw as their subjects and slaves. Turxanthos, a Turk prince, calls the Avars "Varchonites" and "escaped slaves of the Turks", who numbered "about 20 thousand" (Menander Fr 43).
Many more, but somewhat confusing, details come from Theophylact Simocatta, who wrote c. 629, but detailed the final two decades of the 6th century. In particular, he claims to quote a triumph letter from the Turk lord Tamgan:
Then he .. enslaved the Avar nation.
But let no one think that we are distorting the history of these times because he supposes that the Avars are those barbarians neighbouring on Europe and Pannonia, and that their arrival was prior to the times of the emperor Maurice. For it is by a misnomer that the barbarians on the Ister have assumed the appellation of Avars; the origin of their race will shortly be revealed.
So, when the Avars had been defeated (for we are returning to the account) some of them made their escape to those who inhabit Taugast. Taugast is a famous city, which is a total of one thousand five hundred miles distant from those who are called Turks,.. Others of the Avars, who declined to humbler fortune because of their defeat, came to those who are called Mucri; this nation is the closest neighbour to the men of Taugast;
Then the Chagan embarked on yet another enterprise, and subdued all the Ogur, which is one of the strongest tribes on account of its large population and its armed training for war. These make their habitations in the east, by the course of the river Til, which Turks are accustomed to call Melas. The earliest leaders of this nation were named Var and Chunni; from them some parts of those nations were also accorded their nomenclature, being called Var and Chunni.
Then, while the emperor Justinian was in possession of the royal power, a small section of these Var and Chunni fled from that ancestral tribe and settled in Europe. These named themselves Avars and glorified their leader with the appellation of Chagan. Let us declare, without departing in the least from the truth, how the means of changing their name came to them.... When the Barselt, Onogurs, Sabir, and other Hun nations in addition to these, saw that a section of those who were still Var and Chunni had fled to their regions, they plunged into extreme panic, since they suspected that the settlers were Avars. For this reason they honoured the fugitives with splendid gifts and supposed that they received from them security in exchange.
Then, after the Var and Chunni saw the well-omened beginning to their flight, they appropriated the ambassadors' error and named themselves Avars: for among the Scythian nations that of the Avars is said to be the most adept tribe. In point of fact even up to our present times the Pseudo-Avars (for it is more correct to refer to them thus) are divided in their ancestry, some bearing the time-honoured name of Var while others are called Chunni....
According to the interpretation of Dobrovits and Nechaeva, the Turks insisted that the Avars were only pseudo-Avars, so as to boast that they were the only formidable power in the Eurasian steppe. The Gokturks claimed that the "real Avars" remained loyal subjects of the Turks, farther east.
Furthermore, Dobrovits has questioned the authenticity of Theophylact's account. As such, they[who?] have argued that Theophylact borrowed information from Menander's accounts of Byzantine-Turk negotiations to meet political needs of his time – i.e. to castigate and deride the Avars during a time of strained political relations between the Byzantines and Avars (coinciding with Emperor Maurice's north Balkan campaigns). By calling the Avars "Turkish slaves" and "pseudo-Avars", Theophylact undermined their political legitimacy.
According to some scholars the Pannonian Avars originated from a confederation formed in the Aral Sea region, between the Uar, also known as the Var or Warr (who were probably a Uralic people) and the Xionites – also known as the Chionitae, Chunni, Hunni, Yun, Xūn (獯) and similar names. The Xionites were most likely an Iranian-speaking A third tribe affiliated previously to the Uar and Xionites, the Hephthalites had remained in Central Asia. (In some Chinese transliterations, the term Var is rendered Hua, which is also sometimes a Chinese term for the Hephthalites. In addition, a Hephthalite town was known as Varvaliz – although this may also be an Iranian term for "upper fortress".) The Pannonian Avars were also known by names including Uarkhon or Varchonites – which may have been portmanteau words combining Var and Chunni.
The 18th century historian Joseph de Guignes postulates a link between the Avars of European history with the Rouran (Ju-juan) of Inner Asia based on a coincidence between Tardan Khan’s letter to Constantinople and events recorded in Chinese sources, notably the Wei-shi and Pei-shi. Chinese sources state that Bumin Qaghan (T’u-men khan), founder of the Turkic Khaganate defeated the Rouran, some of whom fled and joined the Western Wei. Later – according to another Chinese source – Muqan Qaghan (Mu-han khan), Bumin's successor, defeated the Hephthalites (Chinese name: I-ta) as well as the Turkic Tiele (Tieh-le). Superficially these victories over the Tiele, Rouran and Hephthalites echo a narrative in the Theophylact, boasting of Tardan’s victories over the Hephthalites, Avars and Oghurs. However, the two series of events are not synonymous: the events of the letter took place during Tardan’s rule, c. 580-599, whilst Chinese sources referring to the Turk defeat of the Rouran and other Central Asian peoples occurred 50 years earlier, at the founding of the Turk khanate by Bumen. It is for this reason that the linguist Janos Harmatta rejects the identification of the Avars with the Rouran. According to Edwin G. Pulleyblank the name Avar is the same as the prestigious name Wuhuan in the Chinese sources.
Steppe empire dynamics and ethnogenesis
Contemporary scholars are less inclined to view the tribal groupings mentioned in historical texts as monolithic and long-lived 'nations', but were rather volatile and fluid political formations whose dynamic depended on the sedentary civilizations they bordered as well as internal power struggles within the barbarian lands.
1. Many steppe empires were founded by groups who had been defeated in previous power struggles but had fled from the dominion of the stronger group. The Avars were likely a losing faction previously subordinate to the (legitimate) Ashina clan in the Western Turkic Khaganate, and they fled west of the Dnieper.
2. These groups usually were of mixed origin, and each of its components was part of a previous group.
3. Crucial in the process was the elevation of a khagan, which signified a claim to independent power and an expansionist strategy. This group also needed a new name that would give all of its initial followers a sense of identity.
4. The name for a new group of steppe riders was often taken from a repertoire of prestigious names which did not necessarily denote any direct affiliation to or descent from groups of the same name; in the Early Middle Ages, Huns, Avars, Bulgars, and Ogurs, or names connected with -(o)gur (Kutrigurs, Utigurs, Onogurs, etc.), were most important. In the process of name-giving, both perceptions by outsiders and self-designation played a role. These names were also connected with prestigious traditions that directly expressed political pretensions and programmes, and had to be endorsed by success. In the world of the steppe, where agglomerations of groups were rather fluid, it was vital to know how to deal with a newly-emergent power. The symbolical hierarchy of prestige expressed through names provided some orientation for friend and foe alike
Such views are mirrored by Csanad Balint. "The ethnogenesis of early medieval peoples of steppe origin cannot be conceived in a single linear fashion due to their great and constant mobility", with no ethnogenetic "point zero", theoretical "proto-people" or proto-language.
Moreover, Avar identity was strongly linked to Avar political institutions. Groups who rebelled or fled from the Avar realm could never be called "Avars", but were rather termed "Bulgars". Similarly, with the final demise of Avar power in the early 9th century, Avar identity disappeared almost instantaneously.
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-Mongoloids. Mongoloid and Euro-Mongoloid types compose about one-third of the total population of the Avar graves of the eighth century. 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. The Turanid was most common Europoid type among the Avars graves. Pál Lipták (1955) the Turanid type is a Caucasoid type with significant Mongoloid admixture, arising from the mixture of the Andronovo type of Europoid features and the Oriental (Mongoloid). Avars are sometimes depicted as mounted archers riding backwards on their horses
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.
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.
The ethnolinguistic affiliation of the Avars is uncertain. Although there is sparse knowledge about the Avar language, scholars have suggested that the Avars could have spoken Caucasian, Iranian, Mongolic, Tungusic, and Turkic. Over time Slavic became the lingua franca of the Avars.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eurasian Avars.|
- Avars at the Encyclopedia of Ukraine
- "Avar". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 14, 2015.
Avar, one of a people of undetermined origin and language...
- Frassetto, Michael (1 January 2003). Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe: Society in Transformation. ABC-CLIO. pp. 54–55. ISBN 1576072630. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
The exact origins of the Avars remain uncertain...
- Waldman, Carl; Mason, Catherine (2006). Encyclopedia of European Peoples. Infobase Publishing. pp. 46–49. ISBN 1-4381-2918-1. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- Beckwith 2009, pp. 390–391: "... the Avars certainly contained peoples belonging to several different ethnolinguistic groups, so that attempts to identify them with one or another specific eastern people are misguided."
- Kyzlasov 1996, p. 322: "The Juan-Juan state was undoubtedly multi-ethnic, but there is no definite evidence as to their language... Some scholars link the Central Asian Juan-Juan with the Avars who came to Europe in the mid-sixth century. According to widespread but unproven and probably unjustified opinion, the Avars spoke a language of the Turkic group."
- Pritsak (1983, p. 359)
- Walter Pohl, Die Awaren: ein Steppenvolk im Mitteleuropa, 567–822 n. Chr, C.H.Beck (2002), ISBN 978-3-406-48969-3, p. 26-29.
- Curta, Florin (2006). Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250. Cambridge medieval textbooks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-81539-0. Retrieved 2009-11-20.
- Curta, Florin (2004). "The Slavic lingua franca (Linguistic notes of an archaeologist turned historian)". East Central Europe/L'Europe du Centre-Est. 31: 125–148. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
By contrast, there is very little evidence that speakers of Slavic had any significant contact with Turkic. As a consequence, and since the latest stratum of loan words in Common Slavic is Iranian in origin, Johanna Nichols advanced the idea that the Avars spoke an Iranian, not a Turkic language.
- Futaky, I. (2001). Nyelvtörténeti vizsgálatok a Kárpát-medencei avar-magyar kapcsolatok kérdéséhez. Mongol és mandzsu-tunguz elemek nyelvünkben (in Hungarian). Budapest.
- Helimski, Eugene (2000). "Язык(и) аваров: тунгусо-маньчжурский аспект". Folia Orientalia 36 (Festschrift for St. Stachowski) (in Russian). pp. 135–148.
- Helimski, Eugene (2000). "On probable Tungus-Manchurian origin of the Buyla inscription from Nagy-Szentmiklós (preliminary communication)". Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia (5): 43–56.
- Róna-Tas, András (1999-01-01). Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History. Central European University Press. p. 116. ISBN 9789639116481.
- Curta, Florin (2004). "The Slavic lingua franca (Linguistic Notes of an Archeologist Turned Historian)" (PDF). East Central Europe/L'Europe du Centre-Est. 31 (1): 132–148.
- Maenchen-Helfen (1976, p. 436)
- Dobrovits (2003)
- Whitby (1986, p. 226, footnote 48)
- Nechaeva (2011)
- Гулямов Я. Г., История орошения Хорезма с древнейших времен до наших дней, Ташкент, 1957.
- Муратов Б.А. Аланы, кавары и хиониты в этногенезе башкир//Урал-Алтай: через века в будущее: Материалы Всероссийской научной конференции. Уфа, 27 июня 2008.
- Harmatta (2001)
- THE PEOPLES OF THE STEPPE FRONTIER IN EARLY CHINESE SOURCES, Edwin G. Pulleyblank, pages 35, 44[hrcak.srce.hr/file/161177]
- Pohl (2003, pp. 477–78)
- Balint (2010, p. 150)
- Pohl (1998)
- "Acta archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae", Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1 Jan 1967, Page 86 
- Russian Translation Series of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology ... - Page 21 
- Erzsébet Fóthi, Anthropological conclusions of the study of Roman and Migration periods, Acta Biologica Szegediensis, Volume 44(1–4):87–94, 2000
- Lipták, Pál. Recherches anthropologiques sur les ossements avares des environs d'Üllö (1955) - In: Acta archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, vol. 6 (1955), pp. 231-314
- History of Transylvania
- The New Cambridge Medieval History. Paul Fouracre
- Price, Glanville. Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe (2000) p 68.
- Marcantonio, Angela. The Uralic Language Family (2002) p 24.
- Beckwith, Christopher I. (16 March 2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691135894. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
- E. Breuer, "Chronological Studies to Early-Medieval Findings at the Danube Region. An Introduction to Byzantine Art at Barbaric Cemeteries." (Tettnang 2005).
- Curta, Florin (2006). Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250. Cambridge Medieval Textbooks. ISBN 0-521-81539-8.
- Fine, Jr, John V.A (1991). The Early Medieval Balkans; A critical survey from the sixth to the late twelfth century. The University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08149-7.
- Bruno Genito & Laszlo Madaras (eds.), (2005) "Archaeological Remains of a Steppe people in the Hungarian Great Plain: The Avarian Cemetery at Öcsöd 59. Final Reports. Naples". ISSN 1824-6117
- László Makkai & András Mócsy, editors, 2001. History of Transylvania, II.4, "The period of Avar rule"
- Maenchen-Helfen, Otto (1976). The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. University California Press. ISBN 9780520015968.
- Jarnut, Jorg; Pohl, Walter (2003). Regna and Gentes: The Relationship Between Late Antique and Early Medieval Peoples and Kingdoms in the Transformation of the Roman World. Brill. ISBN 90 04 12524 8.
- Pohl (1998). "Conceptions of Ethnicity in Early Medieval Studies". In Rosenwein. Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings. Blackwell. ISBN 9781577180081.
- Kyzlasov, L. R. (1 January 1996). "Northern Nomads". In Litvinsky, B. A. History of Civilizations of Central Asia: The crossroads of civilizations, A.D. 250 to 750. UNESCO. pp. 315–325. ISBN 9231032119. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
- Dobrovits, Mihaly (2003), ""They called themselves Avar" - Considering the pseudo-Avar question in the work of Theophylaktos", Transoxiana Webfestschrift Series I Webfestschrift Marshak 2003
- Pritsak, Omeljan (1982), The Slavs and the Avars, Spoleto
- Michael & Mary Whitby (1986). The History of Theophylact Simocatta: An English Translation with Introduction and Notes. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-822799-X.
- Ekaterina Nechaeva (2011). "The "Runaway" Avars and Late Antique Diplomacy". In Ralph W. Mathisen, Danuta Shanzer. Romans, Barbarians, and the Transformation of the Roman World: Cultural Interaction and the Creation of Identity in Late Antiquity. Ashgate.
- Janos Harmatta (2001), "The letter sent by the Turk Khagan to the Emperor Mauricius", Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 41: 109–118