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The Avars

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Central Asia was always home to these nomadic tribes inhabiting the mountains and the steppes there. With China East and southeast, and Europe and Middle East West and southwest, such nomadic tribes, building waxing and waning empires, were always participating and, sometimes, were most important actors of the history both side of their homeland. As far as the Avars are concerned, as, during the 4th century A.D., the Huns had left the steppes North of the Aral Sea in direction of Europe, the Ruruan ('Ruanruan' or 'Juan-Juan' for the Chinese), a newly arising nomadic Mongol people in the steppes North of the Altai Mountains, expanded there and, by the late 5th century, they had built a powerful nomadic empire. They were probably the first to use the title 'Khan.' The Turks were among their vassals. They were known as 'Tujue' by the Chinese, as they are the original people of all the Turks which followed. These Turks revolted against their rulers, overthrew them, and just became the new most important power in Central Asia. The Avars might be the fleeing remnants of the Ruruan, or they might be another people -possibly a Mongol one, and related to them and to the Huns. They had settled in the Ili River basin, and thenousted by the Turks at the same time they were ousting the Ruruan. The Avars, in any case, moved to the West, and were known since as the 'Avars.' Modern historians usually describe the Avars like a ethnically diverse group of Mongols, Bulgars and Turks and Eastern Slavs, or even a branch of Huns. Carolingians, according to Alcuin, were calling Avars Huns

Arriving in southern Russia by the 6th century A.D., the Avars assimilated the remnants of the Huns which had eventually been driven off the Hungarian plain by the Gepids and the Ostrogoths by the 5th century. They founded a kingdom based on looting, ransoming and tributes. A Khan, or Kaghan, or Tudun was their leader as the actually reigned upon a federation of tribes. The Byzantine emperor, Justinian, used them about 567 to expel the Gepids from Pannonia and to fight the Slavs and the Bulgars who were raiding the Roman provinces. The Avars eventually built a empire which, by the end of the 6th century A.D., was extending from the Volga River to the Danube. Such a empire was threatening the Byzantines, Contantinople, the Balkans, as it was even pushing toward Bavaria and Italy. Between 500 and 700 A.D. Avars allied with the Lombards in Italy, as military outposts manned with Lombards and Avards have been found in central Italy, guarding against the Byzantines. The Byzantine empire eventually managed to check them due to a decay of the Avar empire, beginning at the end of the 7th century. The Avars had eventually in Pannonia -current Hungary- which was the former territories of Lombards. The Avars, in turn, were threatened by the Slavs and the Bulgars. With the Avars there, along the mid- and lower Danube river, without any dynamism anymore since 625 A.D., albeit with a strong and brilliant culture, and not having any link with any of the surrounding peoples, any trade route to the East using the Danube came to be broken. Since that time, Europe was making without the Avars! At the time of Charlemagne, the Avars had established a vast fortified ensemble in Pannonia (modern Hungary), the so-called 'Ring,' located between the Danube and the Tiza rivers, where they accumulated the outcome of centuries of looting, as Avars had several Slavic people like clients. That Ring had succeeded the ancient tradition of the Avar chariots settled in a circle for the camp as it constituted the main Avars' ring, with secondary ones extant. The moves East, when they almost annexed Bavaria, for example, of the Franks came to worry the Avars, who began raiding the frontier there, or supported Tassilo or the Slavs against Charlemagne. The Frankish king hesitated between negociating and campaigning. Since 788 A.D., at the assembly of Regensburg, a line of defense had been deviced to protect Bavaria and Friul, with the conquest beginning in 791 -and braked a while due to the plot of Pippin the Hunback. The move likely was aiming to chritianized the Avars, to take their supposed large booties and to re-open the trade routes of the Danubian area. The campaign took back in 795, even if some Avars, due to internal tensions, were willing to negociate their rally and conversion, as the Avar Ring definitively was destroyed in 796 under the direction of Pippin, the son to Charlemagne. Fifteen chariots were filled with gold, silver and clothes and shared between the expedition's leaders. The Avars were exterminated and those who submitted were converted to Christianity, through the archbishopric of Salzburg. Charlemagne had not worried much about that evangelization and, Alcuin and Arn excepted, Paulinus also advocated caution. Last rebellions were to be defeated in 805 and 811. The remnants of the Avars were subsumed by the Slavs of Moravia, as very few some fled in Transylvania, merging there with the local Slavic, Asiatic and Germanic populations. The Szekely may be considered their descendants. The country of the Avars was then parted between Bavaria, southern Slavs, and between the mid-Danube and the lower-Drava, or the March of Pannony

Avars featured a inflexible militarized society who called both healthy and sick to contribute to fights, for example. Graves also are showing that many contain both human and horse remains, as burying a man with his horse hails from Siberia, Mongolia and some Central Asian regions, hinting to the origin of Avar death rituals. The Avars might also have been the inventors of the stirrup which the Carolingians took from them and their arks. Avar warriors, at was, imitated the wolf's cry! Avars were excellent horsemen. Of note might be that, in the nowadays northeastern Caucasus, Avars are still to be found! Those are not the successors of the Avars of the Carolingian times, as, most likely, they are Avars who did not migrate West when Turks pushed away the Juan-Juan and/or the Avars from Central Asia. Such Avars, hence, are representing one-third of the population in the Russian republics of Dagestan and Azerbaijan, as 600,000 people do speak the Avar language, with 10,000 of a diaspora in Turkey too! Avar was first transliterated through the Georgian alphabet, then the Arab since the 17th century, and, at last, the Russian since the 20th century. Thus, paradoxically, one can still today learn the avar language. Even though it is likely that the language evolved since the time of the Carolingians, it is surely allowing a journey back into the past...

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 4/14/2011. contact us at
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