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European Kingdoms

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Avars (Turks?)

The sudden appearance of the Avars in Eastern Europe has been linked by some scholars to the westwards expansion of the Göktürks, although there is no direct evidence to prove it. However, the Göktürk defeat of the Hephthalites in AD 565 could certainly have been a late catalyst for Avar migration across the Pontic-Caspian steppe and into Pannonia. For this latter location as the heart of their empire they are often named the Pannonian Avars to differentiate them from the modern (and possibly unrelated) population of Avars of the Caucuses.

They were not alone in migrating westwards. The period witnessed a great expansion of the early Turkic tribes to the north-west of the Chinese kingdom. Perhaps having already developed through proto-Mongoloid and Caucasian links (the latter via the Tocharians as shown in Göktürk origins), by the third and fourth centuries they were also spreading onto the Kazakh steppe where they experienced Indo-Iranian cultural influences and intermarriage. The Hunnic migration of the fourth century swept many of these early Turkic tribes along with them, with many others following in their wake.

The Avars were relatively late arrivals in the west. They had been pushed - or had escaped - to the north-eastern coast of the Caspian Sea by the mid-fifth century AD, while other Turkic groups such as the Bulgars, Onogurs, and Sabirs were already consolidating their grip on the Pontic-Caspian steppe and were integrating with the local Slavic population. After a century of growth and stability, however, the Avars were a very large and powerful group in their own right. They swept in from the Kazakh steppe to dominate the Pontic-Caspian steppe and control areas of Pannonia and western Dacia (largely forming modern Hungary) from AD 558. Their domination was not complete though. The creation of Great Bulgaria around 632 saw them lose the Pontic steppe for at least a generation.

In some historical references it can be hard to be sure whether it is the Huns or the Avars who are being mentioned. To the civilisations who recorded these matters they were generally seen as being a continuation of the same endless supply of eastern barbarians. Some scholars took more pains to describe them in detail though, and modern scholars can generally use the date of the reference to determine whether it is for the Huns or Avars.

Paul the Deacon's Historia Langobardorum describes both the Huns and the Avars, But why did Paul refer to the Huns as Vulgares? This term is generally taken to refer to the Bulgars, seemingly a major constituent part of the Hunnic empire and subsequently powerful on the Pontic steppe, but his readers knew he was referring instead to the Avars, especially as they were either dominating or being dominated by the Bulgars. In the Historia Langobardorum the 'Hunni' are always the Avars, 'who were first called Huns, but afterward from the name of their own king: Avars'. Gregory of Tours, too, referred to the Avars as Huns, and a century later so did the Langobard who wrote the Origo. In Eastern Roman historiography of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, the use of the name Hunni for the Avars is common.

The Avars played a vital role in the development of the Slavs. There is general agreement among western scholars that the Avars were instrumental in the introduction of Slavs into the historical record. Just as the Huns caused the Germanic peoples (along with the Indo-Iranian Alani) to migrate and to develop new political groups, so too did the Avars cause the Slavs to move and to develop. In fact the early, largely sedentary Slavs on the Pontic steppe had already been stirred up by the Huns, with large numbers drifting northwards to find refuge on the borders of the lands of the Balts. Some also drifted westwards, as shown by those groups which settled in Carinthia in the last two decades of the fifth century. But now Slavs became directly involved in events in Southern Europe, at least partially in the employ of the Avars, and probably having been moved into the region in sizeable numbers by the Avars.

The historical record for the Avars themselves is fragmentary and incomplete. Like many similar waves of invaders from the east they were illiterate despite forming a successful imperial elite, so the subsequent success of their Slav servants has largely overshadowed them. Twenty-first century archaeology is just starting to rebalance the books in that regard.

They were referred to as pseudo-Avars by Theophylact Simocatta, who considered the Rouran to be the true Avars. He described in rather exaggerated tones how these 'Avars' were formed of two different groups of Ogurs (possibly Onogurs, which would confirm a Turkic origin for the Avars) - the Var and the Chunni - and that they divided themselves away from the original eastern host to enter the Pontic steppe. Whilst clearly describing an eastern nomadic origin, the description of two different groups involved in the formation of the Avars could be the result of a limited awareness of proto-Turks and Indo-Iranians joining forces or amalgamating in one form or another to form the Avars (and probably all of the other early Turkic groups).

Several others have linked the Avars to the Rouran without any particular evidence to support such a claim. Indeed, the most likely option is that the Avars were of the same early Turkic origin as the many other tribes which were exploding out of the east during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. Many of these also exhibited traces of shared Mongoloid and Indo-Iranian heritage. The Indo-Europeans and their various branches were the first horse-borne nomads. The Turks, Huns, Magyars, Mongols, and later nomads who followed the same way of life all, ultimately, learned from the Indo-Europeans while incorporating their descendants in their numbers - specifically in most cases the Indo-Iranians - and held them in high status whilst doing so.

Avars

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Barbarians: Warriors & Wars of the Dark Ages, Tim Newark (Blandford Press, 1985), from Slovenska zgodovina do razsvetljenstva, Peter Štih & Simoniti Vasko (1996, in Slovenian), from the Chronicle of Fredegar / Latin Chronicle (author unknown but the work has been attributed to Fredegar since the sixteenth century thanks to his name being written in the margin), from Empire of the Steppes - A History of Central Asia, René Grousset (1988), from The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (Ed, Oxford University Press, 2010), from Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, András Róna-Tas (Central European University Press, 1999), from Avar Chronology Revisited, Peter Stadler, and from External Links: The Slavs and the Avars, Omeljan Pritsak, and Turkic History, and They Called Themselves Avar - Considering the Pseudo-Avar Question in the Work of Theophylaktos, Mihály Dobrovits (Transoxiana Webfestschrift Series, Webfestschrift Marshak, 2003), and For the Memory of the Avar Khagans, B Lukács.)

c.467

Various Oguric-speaking tribes have recently been pushed out of the Kazakh steppe by the Sabirs due to population pressures from farther east and a domino effect of tribal movement in a westwards direction. It is the Avars who attack the Sabirs to precipitate this effect.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 450-500
Soon after the middle of the fifth century AD the Hunnic empire crashed into extinction, starting with the death of Attila in 453. His son and successor, Ellac, was killed in battle in 454, and the Huns were defeated by the Ostrogoths in 456, ending Hunnic unity (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Now the Sabirs make their presence felt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe. The Saragurs attack the Akatirs and other tribes which had been part of the Hunnic union. Then, perhaps prompted by the Eastern Roman empire, the Ogurics raid Sassanid-held Transcaucasia, ravaging the Georgian kingdoms of Egrisi and Iberia, and also Armenia while on their way southwards.

This appearance by the Avars comes a little under a century prior to their mass migration across the Pontic steppe. At the moment they occupy a broad swathe of territory on the north-eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, seemingly occasionally prodding the tribes to their west but not pursuing them to any serious extent. Oddly, some modern writers (including Dobrovits) seem confused by this mention of the Avars, sometimes assuming that they cannot possibly be related to those of the sixth century.

550/551

The Gothic writer Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople, completes his sixth century work at this time, entitled Getica. Among many other things, it provides an account of the people of the Acatziri who live to the south of the Goths (Tauric Goths).

Byzantine coins of Justin I
Shown here are two sides of a type of coinage which was typical of that being issued under Eastern Roman emperors, Justin I and Justinian I, during the height of Eastern Roman power in the aftermath of the collapse of the western empire

Beyond them, above the Pontic Sea (Black Sea), is the habitat of the 'Bulgari', seemingly neighbouring the Hunnic branches of the Altziagiri (possibly the Altyn Ola horde) and Saviri (probably Sabirs). However, the Bulgars temporarily disappear from the historical record around this point in time as the Kutrigurs come to the fore. All of the tribes are soon overwhelmed by the Avars.

The twelfth century chronicle of the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch, Michael of Syria, uses earlier sources to describe the arrival of at least one group of proto-Bulgars on the Pontic-Caspian steppe (although certainly not the first). The story is a conglomeration of facts which pertain to several events from different periods in time, all of them united around the story of the expansion of Khazar political power in the second half of the seventh century.

According to the story, three 'Scythian' brothers (perhaps indicating an Indo-Iranian origin or cultural bias) set out on a journey from the mountain of Imaon (Tien-Shan) in Asia and reach the River Tanais (the modern Don). Here one of the brothers, called Bulgarios, takes 10,000 people with him, parts from his brothers and, with the permission of Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice, settles in Upper and Lower Moesia and Dacia.

Here, no doubt, they can be used as a buffer against the Avars whom Maurice pushes to the north of the Danube by 599. The need for this additional migration can be attributed to Khazar pressure on the Caspian steppe.

Bulgarian troops of the eighth century
Oguric-speaking warriors on the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the sixth century would have been largely indistinguishable from each other but, under Eastern Roman influence, some would have begun to resemble the Romans just like the eighth century Bulgars shown here

The other two brothers enter the country of the Alani, which is called Barsalia (Bersilia - the land of the Barsils). Their towns are built with assistance from the Eastern Romans to serve as a buffer against the steppe nomads. One of these towns is named as Caspij, identified by most historians as the area around the Torajan Gates or Caspian Gates (Derbent). The Bulgars and the Pugurs inhabit these places, seemingly providing an origin for the Barsils themselves.

One of the brothers is named as Khazarig - probably an attempt to provide an origin story for the Khazars (it is the Khazars who later dominate those Barsils who do not migrate northwards to join the Volga Bulgars), possibly an origin story for Uturgur, founder of the Khazarig dynasty of Hunno-Bulgar leaders of the Kutrigurs and Utigurs.

It is possibly also an origin story for the Avars, in that the leader who commands them on their east-west migration is Kazrig. It could be the case that Kazrig/Khazarig actually does command all of these groups, at least for a time.

552 - c.560

The Göktürks expand their territory quite rapidly, although this sudden expansion may be responsible for pushing the proto-Bulgars westwards over the next half a century to settle in the Caucuses, and the Avars after them. The Göktürks soon follow them to establish their domination over the nomadic tribes of the Pontic-Caspian steppe - especially the Ogurs, Onogurs, Sabirs, Utigurs, and the main body of Bulgars (although some groups may already have moved to Pannonia under the sudden onset of Avar domination).

Map of Central Asia AD 550-600
As was often the case with Central Asian states which had been created by horse-borne warriors on the sweeping steppelands, the Göktürk khaganate swiftly incorporated a vast stretch of territory in its westwards expansion, whilst being hemmed in by the powerful Chinese dynasties to the south-east and Siberia's uninviting tundra to the north (click or tap on map to view full sized)

554 - 559

Kandik / Kazrig

Led Avars west, away from Göktürks. Avar, Bulgar, Khazar?

558

The nomadic Avars assume control of the Carpathian Basin, having migrated there from the Pontic steppe. Referred to as pseudo-Avars by Theophylact Simocatta, they are described as being formed of two different groups of Ogurs (possibly Onogurs) - the Var and the Chunni - and that they had divided themselves away from the original eastern host to enter the Pontic steppe.

The accusation is that they have seized the Carpathian Basin on the basis of being powerful Avars, but are instead using that name falsely. The true Avars, according to the writing of Theophylaktos, instead remain in the east and can be equated with the Juan-juans. In reality, the dispute is in the Avar use of the title 'khagan' which is seen as a direct threat to and opposition against Göktürk authority.

562

The Avars incur into Austrasia, forcing the Frankish king to move his capital. This attack is repelled, as is another around 568, forcing the Avars to concentrate on securing the Carpathian Basin as their stronghold.

Map of Western Europe at the death of Clovis in AD 511
This map shows the state of the Frankish kingdom at Clovis' death in 511, with Austrasia expanded far into what is now Germany (click or tap on map to view full sized)

It is unclear whether these are the same Avars as those 'false' ones of 558, or if Kandik's successor, Bayan, and his equally 'false' Avars have already arrived to seize command of the Carpathian Basin and begin the formation of the Avar's 'First Khaganate'.

Avars (First Khaganate) (Turks?)

The Avars swept into Eastern Europe in the mid-sixth century AD, presumably to escape domination due to the rise of the Göktürks, although there is no direct evidence to prove it. However, the Göktürk defeat of the Hephthalites in AD 565 could certainly have been a late catalyst for Avar migration across the Pontic-Caspian steppe and into Pannonia.

This period witnessed a great expansion of the early Turkic tribes which were originally located to the north-west of the Chinese kingdom. By the third and fourth centuries they were already spreading onto the Kazakh steppe where they experienced Indo-Iranian cultural influences and intermarriage. The Hunnic migration of the fourth century swept many of these early Turkic tribes along with them, with many others following in their wake. The Avars, however, were relatively late arrivals in the west.

Having reached the north-eastern coast of the Caspian Sea by the mid-fifth century AD, they found other Turkic groups such as the Bulgars, Onogurs, and Sabirs already consolidating their grip on the Pontic-Caspian steppe and integrating with the local Slavic population. Spending a century or so here, the Avars themselves became a very large and powerful group in their own right. Suddenly spurred by Göktürk dominance to the east, they swept in from the Kazakh steppe to dominate the Pontic-Caspian steppe and control areas of Pannonia and western Dacia (largely forming modern Hungary) from AD 558. Their domination was not complete though. The creation of Great Bulgaria around 632 saw them lose the Pontic steppe for at least a generation.

The historical record for the Avars themselves is fragmentary and incomplete. Like many similar waves of invaders from the east they were illiterate despite forming a successful imperial elite, so the subsequent success of their Slav servants has largely overshadowed them. Twenty-first century archaeology is just starting to rebalance the books in that regard.

Avars

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Barbarians: Warriors & Wars of the Dark Ages, Tim Newark (Blandford Press, 1985), from Slovenska zgodovina do razsvetljenstva, Peter Štih & Simoniti Vasko (1996, in Slovenian), from the Chronicle of Fredegar / Latin Chronicle (author unknown but the work has been attributed to Fredegar since the sixteenth century thanks to his name being written in the margin), from Empire of the Steppes - A History of Central Asia, René Grousset (1988), from The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (Ed, Oxford University Press, 2010), from Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, András Róna-Tas (Central European University Press, 1999), from Avar Chronology Revisited, Peter Stadler, and from External Links: The Slavs and the Avars, Omeljan Pritsak, and Turkic History, and They Called Themselves Avar - Considering the Pseudo-Avar Question in the Work of Theophylaktos, Mihály Dobrovits (Transoxiana Webfestschrift Series, Webfestschrift Marshak, 2003), and For the Memory of the Avar Khagans, B Lukács.)

562 - 602

Bayan (I)

First Pannonian Avar khagan. Secured Pannonia in 568.

c.565 - 566

The news that Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I has died prompts Avar attempts to cross the Danube. When these attempts are firmly rebuffed, the Avars and their Slav vassals turn west and enter Thuringia. A great deal of this former kingdom's original territory is lost to their incursions.

Avars
The Avars pictured here are on their way to conquer Sirmium from the Eastern Romans, which they successfully managed in AD 582, fourteen years after the confirmed founding of their khaganate in the Carpathian Basin

565 - 568

Menander Protector mentions Göktürk embassies to Constantinople in 565 and 568. The Göktürks appear to be angry at the Eastern Romans for having concluded an alliance with the Avars, whom they see as their subjects and slaves. Turxanthos, a Göktürk prince, refers to the the Avars as 'Varchonites' and 'escaped slaves of the Turks', who number 'about twenty thousand'. It is certainly in Göktürk interests to belittle any authenticity and authority which the new Avar khaganate may possess.

567

The former Anarti tribal region forms part of the Germanic kingdom of Gepidia (which includes the northern parts of modern Serbia) during the late fifth and the first half of the six centuries. This is now destroyed by the Langobards and the territory is soon occupied by the Avars as they continue to establish their khaganate.

568

The death of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I in 565 has ended a period of strong rule in Italy. The arrival in force of the Avars in South-Eastern Europe has triggered a wave of migration which sees the remnants of the Gepids join the Langobards. Both peoples, along with various flotsam and jetsam, enter northern Italy. Following their migration southwards, a new confederation, the Bavarii, forms in their place north of the Danube, in modern south-eastern Germany. With this migration, the Avar khaganate itself is also securely in control of the Carpathian Basin.

582

The ancient city of Sirmium, a Roman city, on and off, since the first century BC, is now conquered and destroyed by the Avars, removing Eastern Roman influence in Dacia.

588

Exarch Smaragdus of Ravenna is able to recover Classis, the port of Ravenna, from the Lombards, but overall is not able to make any great impact in pushing them back. Alliances with the Avars and Franks come to nothing as the Franks, at least, are not particularly interested in conducting campaigns into Italy.

Ravenna
Ravenna had been the home of the last Roman emperors, as well as the capital of the succeeding Goths and Ostrogoths, before serving the same role for the Eastern Romans

580s - 590s

According to the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch, Michael of Syria, one large group of Bulgars numbering about 10,000 people gains the permission of Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice to settle in upper and Lower Moesia and Dacia. Here, no doubt, they can be used as a buffer against the Avars whom Maurice pushes to the north of the Danube by 599.

c.590

The Altyn Ola are absorbed by the early Bulgars, probably immediately prior to the formation of Great Bulgaria. The Avar migration and their domination has placed pressure on the Sabirs who have been seeking an alliance with the Altyn Ola. Prior to his death, Chelbir of the Altyn Ola would appear to be able to negotiate a degree of autonomy for the Onogurs-Bulgars who now make up the majority of his people. His son, Tubjak, seemingly commands them following Chelbir's death, but as an Avar vassal.

602 - 617

Bayan (II)

Son?

617

The political situation regarding the nomadic tribes of the entire Pontic-Caspian steppe is always highly fluid. The Onogur-Bulgars have been gaining in power and influence, notably by absorbing the remnants of the Altyn Ola horde, the Kutrigurs, and the Utigurs.

This is a process which has been in motion for the past century and more, with domination held first by the Huns, then the Altyn Ola, Kutrigurs, and Utigurs, and now devolving to the Bulgars. As regent of the Onogur-Bulgars in the nebulous territory known as 'Patria Onoguria' between 617-630, Qaghan Organa is also in command of the now-weakened Avars.

Pannonian plains
The plains of Pannonia (now western Hungary) were not under Hunnic domination for very long before the divided subjects of the Huns were largely forced back towards the Pontic steppe

617 - 630

Qaghan Organa / Uragan/ / Bu-Yurgan?

Unogonduri tribal leader. Dominant in 'Patria Onoguria'.

617 - c.630

?

Brother of Bayan (II). Vassal Avar ruler.

c.626 - c.641

Slavs which include the early Croats are invited by Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius to help him fight the Avars. The dominance of the Avars is broken by their defeat at Constantinople, which also allows the 'Slav Kingdom' to flourish in Carinthia, Hungary, and Moravia. It has been suggested that the ruler of this kingdom, Samo, is working with Eastern Roman influence.

Curiously, and perhaps not coincidentally, a similar confederation soon also forms on the northern Black sea coast, that of Great Bulgaria, possibly part of a Roman-inspired chain of defences against the Avars.

The Croats receive their present-day lands to settle as a reward, with further Slav groups also settling Slovenia. The Slav presence in Dalmatia and Istria leads to the destruction of churches, and Pope John IV, a Dalmatian, is forced to pay large sums of money to free prisoners. The relics of some of the more important Dalmatian saints are interred in Rome.

c.630 - 632

Qaghan Gostun

Unogonduri tribal leader. Dominant in 'Patria Onoguria'.

c.632 - c.651

Qaghan Kubrat / Koubrat

Unogonduri tribal leader. Created Great Bulgaria.

c.632 - 635

By this time the Bulgars have become dominant. Now that conditions are favourable and the right leader has emerged in the form of Qaghan Kubrat, Avar control is thrown off in 635 and a tribal state quickly blossoms into a great tribal empire by the name of Great Bulgaria. The Avars would appear to be completely subservient to Koubrat's Great Bulgaria.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 632-665
In AD 632, Qaghan Koubrat came to power as the head of an Onogur-Bulgar confederation and three years later he was able to throw off Avar domination and found Great Bulgaria (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Having been an Eastern Roman possession of long standing, Thrace in the form of the diocese of Thraciae (part of the 'Prefecture of the East') is largely overrun by Avars and Slavs in the 640s (today the territory forms parts of south-eastern Romania, central and eastern Bulgaria, and Greek and Turkish Thrace). Presumably the Avars are commanded or allowed to do so by the Bulgars, although it could be an attempt to escape Bulgar domination.

c.651

Koubrat dies some time after 651 and his creation - Great Bulgaria - gradually falls apart. He is buried - perhaps - at Pereshchepina, where the treasure of the same name is discovered in 1912. His son succeeds him, but comes under increasing pressure from the Khazars to his immediate east.

c.651 - c.660

Bat Bayan

Son. Commanded Great Bulgaria until 668. Lost Avars c.660.

c.660

With Great Bulgaria seemingly already fracturing under pressure from the Khazars, and the 'Slav Kingdom' essentially being disbanded following the death of its ruler, the Avars are able to resume their own independent control of the Carpathian Basin - beginning the 'Middle Avar' period (as originally proposed by Ilona Kovrig and generally accepted universally thereafter). This 'Second Khaganate' though is of a different nature to the first attempt. The Avars and their Slav vassals have formed a shared culture with a common Slav language.

Avars (Second Khaganate) (Turks?)

The Avars swept into Eastern Europe in the mid-sixth century AD, presumably to escape domination by the rising Göktürks. This period witnessed a great expansion of the early Turkic tribes which were originally located to the north-west of the Chinese kingdom. By the third and fourth centuries they were already spreading onto the Kazakh steppe where they experienced Indo-Iranian cultural influences and intermarriage. The Avars, however, were relatively late arrivals in the west.

Having reached the north-eastern coast of the Caspian Sea by the mid-fifth century AD, they found other Turkic groups such as the Bulgars, Onogurs, and Sabirs already consolidating their grip on the Pontic-Caspian steppe and integrating with the local Slavic population. Spending a century or so here, the Avars themselves became a very large and powerful group in their own right. Suddenly spurred by Göktürk dominance to the east, they swept across the Pontic-Caspian steppe to dominate this and control areas of Pannonia and western Dacia (largely forming modern Hungary) from AD 558.

In AD 562, the Avars incurred into Austrasia, forcing the Frankish king to move his capital. This attack - and a second in 568 - was repelled, forcing the Avars to concentrate on securing the Carpathian Basin as their stronghold. It was here that the Avar 'First Khaganate' was formed. Their domination was not complete, however. The Bulgars, Onogurs, and various other groups to the north of the Caucuses were undergoing a consolidation process in the early seventh century which resulted in the formation of Great Bulgaria around 632. The Avars lost the Pontic steppe for at least a generation and the first khaganate became fatally weakened.

With Great Bulgaria seemingly fracturing under pressure from the Khazars, and another obstacle, the 'Slav Kingdom', essentially being disbanded following the death of its ruler, the Avars were able to resume their own independent control of the Carpathian Basin - beginning the 'Middle Avar' period (as originally proposed by Ilona Kovrig and generally accepted universally thereafter). This, though, was a khaganate of a different nature to the first attempt. The Avars and their Slav vassals had formed a shared culture with a common Slav language.

Avars

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Barbarians: Warriors & Wars of the Dark Ages, Tim Newark (Blandford Press, 1985), from Slovenska zgodovina do razsvetljenstva, Peter Štih & Simoniti Vasko (1996, in Slovenian), from the Chronicle of Fredegar / Latin Chronicle (author unknown but the work has been attributed to Fredegar since the sixteenth century thanks to his name being written in the margin), from Empire of the Steppes - A History of Central Asia, René Grousset (1988), from The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (Ed, Oxford University Press, 2010), from Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, András Róna-Tas (Central European University Press, 1999), from Avar Chronology Revisited, Peter Stadler, and from External Links: The Slavs and the Avars, Omeljan Pritsak, and Turkic History, and They Called Themselves Avar - Considering the Pseudo-Avar Question in the Work of Theophylaktos, Mihály Dobrovits (Transoxiana Webfestschrift Series, Webfestschrift Marshak, 2003), and For the Memory of the Avar Khagans, B Lukács.)

c.660 - ?

?

Avar khagan of the 'Second Khaganate', name unknown.

662

The Fredegarii Chronicon records that in Pannonia (part of which now forms Khorushka's territory), a dispute arises between the now-independent Avars and a large, migrant population of around nine thousand Bulgars.

Pannonian basin
The Pannonian basin is a marked topographical low in central Europe which is surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges, making it ideally defensible

Under the leadership of a Prince Alcioka, the Bulgars seek help from the Bavarii but are almost entirely slaughtered on the orders of the Frankish King Dagobert of Austrasia. Something like seven hundred survivors enter the marca Vinedorum, the land of the Slavs, and meet its ruler, one Duke Valuk ('Wallucum ducem Vinedorum', possibly linked to the Slav Kingdom).

c.666

Around AD 666, King Grimoald of the Lombards faces perhaps the biggest threat to his kingship while he is fighting the Eastern Romans in the Mezzogiorno. Having left Duke Lupus of Friuli as his regent in the north, the duke now revolts, usurping Grimoald's authority. Grimoald is forced to return, with the result that Lupus is thoroughly defeated and his duchy devastated by cooperative attacks by the Avars. Grimoald then hunts down Lupus' son, Arnefrit, and his Slav allies (quite possibly those of Khorushka), and defeats them in battle at Nimis.

? - c.680

?

Avar khagan, name unknown. Killed or displaced by Bulgars.

c.680

Kuber, the fourth son of Qaghan Koubrat of the Pontic Bulgars, supposedly arrives in the Carpathian Basin around this time with his fleeing people. They integrate and attempt to dominate the Avars and a rag-tag group of leftovers which include Eastern Romans, Germans, and Slavs.

Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia
Slavs occupied areas of Europe which had previously been home to the Germanic Vandali and the Celtic Naharvali before them, including the rolling hills of Silesia

c.680 - 685

Kuber

Son of Koubrat of Great Bulgaria. Briefly dominated the Avars.

c.685

Within a few years of their arrival, Kuber's Bulgars revolt against him, and Kuber is forced to flee to Danubian Bulgaria. His Bulgars, it would seem, are assimilated into an Avar khaganate which is renewed again within five years under the rule of an unnamed leader. This begins the 'Late Avar' period or 'Third Khaganate'.

Avars (Third Khaganate) (Turks?)

Sweeping into Eastern Europe in the mid-sixth century AD, the Avars were par of a great expansion of the early Turkic tribes which were originally located to the north-west of the Chinese kingdom. They arrived on the Kazakh steppe in the third and fourth centuries to absorb Indo-Iranian cultural influences. Having reached the Caspian Sea by the mid-fifth century AD, the Avars spent a century consolidating before being spurred to sweep across the Pontic-Caspian steppe by the sudden rise of the Göktürks.

They swiftly dominated other Turkic groups such as the Bulgars, Onogurs, and Sabirs, along with the local Slavic population. In AD 562, they incurred into Austrasia, where they were repelled, forcing them to concentrate on securing the Carpathian Basin as their stronghold under the 'First Khaganate'. This eventually weakened in the face of the formation of Great Bulgaria around 632, but that too eventually weakened, allowing the rise of the Avar 'Second Khaganate'.

It was the Bulgars again who ended that phase of Avar dominance. A large group of Bulgars who were fleeing Khazar dominance to the north of the Sea of Azov arrived under the leadership of Kuber, the fourth son of Qaghan Koubrat of Great Bulgaria. These Bulgars integrated and attempted to dominate the Avars and a rag-tag group of leftovers which included Eastern Romans, Germans, and Slavs. Within a few years of their arrival, Kuber's Bulgars revolted against him and Kuber was forced to flee to Danubian Bulgaria. His Bulgars became assimilated into an Avar khaganate which was renewed yet again under the rule of an unnamed leader. This began the 'Late Avar' period or 'Third Khaganate'.

Avars

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Barbarians: Warriors & Wars of the Dark Ages, Tim Newark (Blandford Press, 1985), from Slovenska zgodovina do razsvetljenstva, Peter Štih & Simoniti Vasko (1996, in Slovenian), from the Chronicle of Fredegar / Latin Chronicle (author unknown but the work has been attributed to Fredegar since the sixteenth century thanks to his name being written in the margin), from Empire of the Steppes - A History of Central Asia, René Grousset (1988), from The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (Ed, Oxford University Press, 2010), from Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, András Róna-Tas (Central European University Press, 1999), from Avar Chronology Revisited, Peter Stadler, and from External Links: The Slavs and the Avars, Omeljan Pritsak, and Turkic History, and They Called Themselves Avar - Considering the Pseudo-Avar Question in the Work of Theophylaktos, Mihály Dobrovits (Transoxiana Webfestschrift Series, Webfestschrift Marshak, 2003), and For the Memory of the Avar Khagans, B Lukács.)

c.685 - ?

?

Avar khagan of the 'Third Khaganate', name unknown.

c.745 - 748

Having assumed control of Khorushka by 745, Prince Borut faces continued attacks from the resurgent Avars. He appeals to the powerful Odilo of the Bavarii for help, but this is provided only on condition that Borut accepts Bavarian overlordship and converts to Christianity. He accepts both conditions.

Map of the Frankish Empire in AD 800
Under Charlemagne's leadership, the Franks greatly expanded their borders eastwards, engulfing tribal states, the Bavarian state and its satellite, Khorushka, and much of northern Italy, with the Avars now an eastern neighbour (click or tap on map to view full sized)

771

Carloman's death allows Charlemagne to inherit his territories at the expense of Carloman's son, Pepin, and the Frankish territories are fully reunited as one empire. Charlemagne proceeds to expand the empire over the following years, fighting the Lombards (from 771), the Saxons (777-804), the Arabs in Spain (778), the Bavarians, and the Avars (791-796).

791 - 795

Pepin of Italy marches a Lombard army into the Drava valley to ravage Pannonia, with Duke Eric of Friuli assisting him. This strike is a diversionary tactic so that Charlemagne is able to take his own Frankish forces along the Danube into Avar territory. He suffers the loss of most of his army's horses to an equine epidemic during the summer of 791, and some of his more recently-acquired subjects rebel. In 792 Charlemagne breaks off from his campaign to handle such a revolt by the Saxons, but Pepin and Eric continue to attack the Avars.

795 - c.814

Kajd / Theodorus?

A Tudun. Became Christian as Theodorus or replaced by him.

795 - 796

Pepin and Eric continue to lead the Frankish attacks against the Avars, taking their capital twice. The Avars are forced to submit in 796, having been virtually exterminated in terms of their fighting men. The Saxon revolt against the Franks, however, rumbles on until 803/4. Many Avars are baptised by the Franks and are accepted into the growing Frankish empire. There is an Avar revolt in 799, but it is quickly put down.

Charlemagne
Charlemagne unified all the Frankish states under one ruler and created an empire which stretched deep into modern Germany, something the Romans had never managed - but this vast domain was too big to endure long as a single entity after his death

804

The Bulgarian kingdom conquers the south-eastern Avar lands of Transylvania and south-eastern Pannonia as far as the Middle Danube. Many Avars become subjects of the Bulgarians, despite their Khagan Theodorus requesting help from the Byzantines.

c.814 - ?

Abraham

Little known late Avar khagan and Eastern Franks vassal.

? - 835

Isaac

Relationship unknown. Same as Abraham? Perhaps co-ruler?

835 - ?

?

Name unknown. Last khagan.

c.830s - 840s

The Eastern Franks under Louis the German now command the Avar domains. They turn them into a march territory - the March of Pannonia - using it to block Bulgarian expansionist efforts and also to regain some of the lost territory.

Some modern Hungarian historians seem to prefer to state that the khaganate survives in some form until the later years of this century, insisting that the last generation of free Avars exists alongside the first generation of Magyars who rule the new kingdom of Hungary. Given the Frankish reorganisation of the region this would seem to be impossible, with no known expression of Avar rule being available after Issac's unnamed successor.