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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe


March of Pannonia / Principality of Balaton (Lower Pannonia)

The Avars had swept into Eastern Europe to dominate the Pontic-Caspian steppe and control Pannonia and western Dacia (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.

Two subsequent rebirths for the Avar khaganate were never quite as strong and they were eventually conquered by the mighty Carolingian empire in 795-796. The Avars had virtually been exterminated in terms of their fighting men and, apart from a short-lived revolt in 799, were never again to act independently. Indeed, they soon disappeared entirely in terms of a recognisable Avar identity, although any such identity had long been a melting pot of all sorts of odds-and-ends of various groups, especially of Slavs and remnant Celts in the region.

When the Bulgarian kingdom conquered the south-eastern Avar lands of Transylvania and south-eastern Pannonia as far as the Middle Danube in 804, many Avars became subjects of the Bulgarians, despite their Khagan Theodorus requesting help from the Eastern Romans. The Eastern Franks under Louis the German commanded the Avar domains from 840, and it was Louis who turned those domains into a marcher territory - the March of Pannonia - using it to block Bulgarian expansionist efforts and also to regain some of the lost territory. It took its name from the former Roman province of the same name. The German word 'march' or 'mark' was also rendered in Old English as 'mierce', meaning 'boundary, borderland'. The English kingdom of Mercia bore this name for much of its existence.

Some documents refer to the Pannonian march as 'terminum regni Baioariorum in Oriente', or 'the end of the kingdom of the Bavarians in the east'. That would more normally be the margraviate of Austria, a successor in part to Pannonia once the Magyars had taken the rest of it. Almost at the same time as the march was being created, the Principality of Balaton was formed within it, adding further strength to German defences. This was formerly the centre of Hercuniates territory prior to their conquest by Rome.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information 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 The Barbarians: Warriors & Wars of the Dark Ages, Tim Newark (Blandford Press, 1985), from Avar Chronology Revisited, Peter Stadler, and from External Links: Turkic History, and For the Memory of the Avar Khagans, B Lukács, and The Slavs and the Avars, Omeljan Pritsak.)

835 - 846

By this stage Avar leaders are effectively no more. Their role has been taken by Eastern Frankish lords who control the march, and by Prince Pribina, a Slav noble and adventurer who had been chased out of Moravia by Duke Mojmir I. He is granted the eastern section of Avar territory - in Lower Pannonia - as the Principality of Balaton or Lower Pannonia, with his headquarters near Lake Balaton on the River Zala (close to the modern village of Zalavár, in Zala County in Hungary, surrounded by forests and a swamp).

Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton today lies within the borders of Hungary, with landscapes, nature reserves, beaches, and folklore which make it focal point of the country's tourism trade

846 - 861

Dux Pribina

Prince of Balaton and commander of eastern 'Avaria'.

846 - 861

As dux of the eastern march and prince of Balaton, Pribina's main duty is to recruit the disparate groups of Slavs in the region and turn them into a border force which is loyal to the Eastern Franks. They serve to hem the territorial ambitions both of Great Moravia and Bulgaria. Having himself been a victim of Moravia's ambitions, Pribina is only too happy to play a large role in Frankish campaigns against that state. During his reign many of his subjects are Christianised and many churches are built in the region.

864 - 876

Comes Kocel

Son. Prince of Balaton and commander of eastern 'Avaria'.

864 - c.867

Kocel succeeds his father in Lower Pannonia as Comes de Sclauis, the count of the Slavs. By about 867, fearing Eastern Frankish influence and power, Rastislav of Great Moravia hosts representatives of Eastern Christianity.

Cyril (or Constantine by birth) and Metodej (Methodius), two priors, begin the establishment of a church organisation for the Slavs, and create the Slavonic script (the Cyrillic alphabet which is still in use in Russia and Bulgaria, amongst others). On their subsequent journey to Rome they are hosted by Comes Kocel in Lower Pannonia.

871 - 876

The combined Avar march territory is divided between Carinthia and the 'Eastern March' - the latter being Lower Pannonia. Kocel has begun to resist Eastern Frankish control as he attempts to organised a Slavic diocese for the region. Following his death, Eastern Pannonia is given to Arnulf of Carinthia to command.

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
King Louis 'the Pious' of the Frankish empire attempted to leave the empire intact for his eldest son, Lothar, but the others rebelled at the idea. The treaty of Verdun in AD 843 confirmed the official division of the empire between Charlemagne's three surviving grandsons (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The Magyars take control of territory to the west of the Danube in Dacia in 895-896, and with that they also gain the core of 'Avaria'. Written texts still mention the Avars for a time, but possibly already as an anachronism as they are now indisputably vassals of the newly-founded Hungarian kingdom. By around 960 western parts of Pannonia have been formed into a new march territory, that of Austria.

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