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Territory of the Avars in dark blue, area of ​​influence in light blue
Avar status symbol: multi-part belt attachment
Sword of a warrior

The Avars (also Avars ) were rulers of a steppe kingdom in the early Middle Ages, with a focus on the Pannonian Plain . Their territory comprised the present-day countries Hungary , Austria , the Czech Republic , Slovakia , Slovenia and parts of Poland , Romania , Croatia , Serbia , Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bulgaria . For over 200 years they were the most important power factor between the Frankish and the Byzantine empires . They emerged from an alliance of different tribes and equestrian peoples and were in contact with the Slavs and the peoples of Central and East Asia.

Aware or Slav status was later determined not by ethnicity , but by social prestige . According to contemporary sources, the Avars formed a ruling but numerically small upper class in their empire. After Charlemagne's wars of conquest against the Avars, they lost their political importance at the beginning of the 9th century , and shortly afterwards their cultural identity.


The Byzantine historian Theophylaktos Simokates describes the "Avars", who first came into contact with the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century, as a federation between two East Asian tribes: the Uar (or Var) and the Kunni (or Khuni). This thesis was continued without reflection in Europe until the 18th century.

It was first questioned by the French orientalist Joseph de Guignes ; he interpreted the Avars as former members of the Rouran tribal federation (Chinese 柔然). He justified this, among other things, with the chronology of historical events, with the habit of both the Avars and the Rouran to braid their hair, and with etymological arguments; the Chinese history book Liáng Shū (梁 書) describes that there was a tribe of "War" among the Rouran. Numerous historians subsequently adopted the Rouran theory; today it can be described as predominant. For the French historian René Grousset , the Avars, if they shouldn't be Rourans, are Hephthalites ("white Huns"). The German linguist Harald Haarmann also equates the Avars with the Hephthalites.

According to the Encyclopædia Iranica , the Avars, like the later Mongols, belonged to the nomad confederation Xianbei and were "without a doubt the first East Asian tribe recorded historically by Western historians" .

The possible Mongolian origin of the Avars is supported by some linguists : both for the French orientalist Paul Pelliot and for the German Turkologist Karl Heinrich Menges , Avar is a Mongolian language, but this view is not undisputed. A Tungusic origin is supported by some linguists and historians. Other researchers assume that the Avars were Turkish-speaking or at least a part of the Avars belonged to a Turkic people (probably the Oghur language branch ). In research, however, the opinion of multilingualism or a change of language among the Avars is also expressed, which makes an exact assignment difficult.

According to Florin Curta et al. the Avars were not a homogeneous tribal association. They find evidence that Iranian-speaking associations were part of the Avar Confederation. The linguist Johanna Nichols sees it similarly, who suspected that the ruling class of the Avars spoke an Iranian language . Her hypothesis is supported by Iranian loanwords in local Slavic languages ​​and place names in the Avar area.

Heršak and Silić et al. also show that the Avars were a heterogeneous tribal association, but come to the conclusion that the core group consisted of Oghur Turkic peoples , who assimilated smaller Germanic and Slavic tribes in the course of their migration.

Finds like those of the Hungarian archaeologist Csanád Bálint prove at least the geographical origin of the Avars, namely an East Asian or Siberian origin and thus from the area of ​​the Rouran or Hephtalites.

According to genetic research, the Avars are said to come from Inner Asia ( Mongolia and northern China ), since the majority (64%) of the female mitochondrial DNA variability of the samples examined belong to Asian haplogroups . Accordingly, the Avars examined show a close relationship to today's Kazakhs , Mongols , Tungus peoples and Han Chinese .

Genome analyzes of Avar graves in Austria and Hungary (Post et al. 2019) showed that the Avars mainly belonged to haplogroup N. This has its origin in northeast China ( Manchuria ) and is mainly found today in Turkic peoples of Siberia and China, as well as in Ural peoples of North Asia. The Avar N line occurs today in around 4 to 7% of Austrians and around 3 to 4% of Magyars .

The exact origin of the people who appeared north of the Black Sea in the 6th century and soon afterwards founded an empire between the Alps and the Carpathians that existed until the 9th century , is only of limited importance in the course of the next 250 Years became increasingly ethnically heterogeneous. The term "aware" was used synonymously for the upper class of the Avar Empire from around 600 onwards and thus said less and less about the origin than about the status of a person. In the 7th century, Bulgarians , Gepids and Slavs of the Avar Empire also referred to themselves as Avars if they had managed to rise to the ruling class. The number of the Avars conquering the land is estimated at 200,000 to 250,000 people, including Slavic, Germanic and Roman provincial folk elements who voluntarily or involuntarily took part in the migration. Avars i. e. S. were probably only around 100,000.


Avar belt buckles from the 7th century

Avar early period (until 561)

After 555 the Avars (perhaps remnants of the Rouran ) moved westwards under pressure from the Kök Turks (see Sizabulos ). By the year 557 at the latest, they were in the steppe area of what would later become southern Russia and the Ukraine . With the help of the Sarmatians (presumably Alans ), the Avar ambassador Kandich made contact with Emperor Justinian I and a meeting took place in Constantinople in January 558. A contract was concluded that was only supposed to last until 565 in this form, but formed the basis for further contracts until 626. In essence, all of these treaties said that the Byzantine Empire had to pay tribute to the Avars, which in turn should not attack Byzantium - in the beginning even to assist the Byzantines in their wars. The exact initial amounts are not known, but most likely it was jewelry and other valuables. Over the years, payments increased from 80,000 solidi per year (from 574), to 100,000 (from 585), 120,000 (from 598), 150,000 (from 604), 180,000 (from 619) and finally to 200,000 solidi per year ( from 623). From the perspective of the Eastern Romans, the Avars were federates of the Byzantine Empire from 558 onwards .

Around 560 the Avars defeated the Proto- Bulgarians on the Black Sea, but moved on towards the Balkans because of the Gök Turks who were persecuting them.

Assumption of rule in Pannonia (562 to 568)

Europe in the 6th century

In the years 562 and 566 there were battles between the Avars under Baian and the Franks under Sigibert I ; The Avars were defeated in the first battle, and victorious in the second.

After they had destroyed the kingdom of the Gepids , which was later in Transylvania , together with the Lombards in 567 , they settled mainly in the Carpathian Basin and took control of Pannonia . A settlement with tributary Slavs took place there early on , as u. a. Show grave finds from Hennersdorf near Vienna . The Avars probably mixed with the remnants of the Huns that had remained in the Hungarian lowlands .

Just one year after the Gepids were driven out, the Longobards under Alboin and thus the last Germanic tribe in the entire region moved towards Italy; The Lombard empire remained one of the Avars' most important allies until its fall in 774. With the departure of his tribe, Alboin left the Avars to rule over the entire Carpathian Basin and the Danube region. The wandering avalanche triggered by this marks the end of the migration period and the dawn of the Middle Ages. From the Avars point of view, it was a question of the conquest; From here they ruled an empire for about 250 years that bordered the Frankish Empire in the west and Byzantium in the south. Slavs settled north and east of the Avars.

First peak of power (569-591)

Avar-Slavic war ax in the Split Archaeological Museum
(approx. 7th to 8th centuries)

In 574, after numerous skirmishes between Avars and Eastern Romans in the Balkans, the only major field battle between these two major European powers of the early Middle Ages took place; the Avars defeated the Eastern Romans under General Tiberios .

Their area of ​​influence soon extended from the Baltic Sea to the Volga. Under their Chagan Baian , the Avars represented a great power that could afford to claim tribute from the Byzantine Empire and the Franks .

After building at least one bridge over the Danube and besieging the city for three years, they captured the strategically and symbolically important Sirmium of Byzantium in 579 . They waged a campaign in the Balkans until 586, which could only be stopped at Adrianople by Strategos Johannes Mystakon and his adjutant Drocto. For decades, Slavic incursions on Roman soil followed, which were initiated or at least approved by the Avars at least until 602.

Period of the Balkan Wars (592 to 602)

Emperor Maurikios paid 120,000 solidi to the Avars in 598

In the late summer of 591, after almost 20 years of war, Byzantium concluded a peace treaty with the Persian Empire and felt powerful enough to retake the Balkans, which had come under Avar and Slavic influence. As early as 592, the army of Emperor Maurikios conquered the city ​​of Singidunum (military city of Belgrade) from the Avars. Under the general Priskos , the East Romans tried to re-establish the main roads connecting the Roman cities south of the Danube and even advanced into Slavic territory. However, the Avar and Slavic incursions into territories south of the Danube continued unabated. The East Romans had to share the booty from the pillaging of the Slavs with the Avars. Priskos was replaced as commander in chief of the Byzantine army by Maurikios' brother Petros , who continued essentially the same tactics until 595. There were no significant clashes between Avars and Eastern Romans.

In 595 the Merovingian Childebert II tried to use the fight for Singidunum, in which the Avars were just involved, for an attack on Avar territory on the Drau (today Carinthia). However, the Bavarian invasion army was completely wiped out by the Avars. In retaliation, an Avar army then moved to Thuringia and the regent Brunichild had to buy her departure. However, since there were no further advances in the west of the empire, it is assumed that it was primarily a show of force by the Avar Chagan and that the aim was to make it unmistakably clear that the Drau Valley belonged to the Avar sphere of power. Perhaps this also prevented - successfully (there were no further raids by Bavarians on Avar territory for 15 years) - another Bavarian attack, this time on the Pannonian heartland of the Avars.

Strengthened by the successes on the western front of the Avar Empire, there was another Avar offensive in the Balkans from 597 onwards. Priskos' army had to lock itself up in Tomis, but on March 30, 598 the Avars broke off the siege of Tomis because General Komentiolos was approaching Tomis with a newly formed army. The Avars defeated the army of Comentiolus at the fort of Iatrus. The Avars took advantage of this success and advanced to Drizipara between Adrianopolis and Constantinople . Only the plague, which killed large parts of the Avar army and seven sons of the Avarenchagan Baian, could stop the advance. The Avars could be induced to withdraw by paying tribute. In the same year there was a tribute peace between the Avars and Byzantium.

As early as the summer of 599, the East Romans broke the peace treaty with the Avars again. Priskos and Komentiolos crossed the Danube at Viminacium and defeated a hastily assembled army under the command of sons of Baian who had survived the outbreak of the plague of 598. Priskos even advanced into the Pannonian lowlands and regions east of the Tisza , while Komentiolos remained near the Danube. By 602 there were further raids on Avar territory, with a particularly cruel massacre of three gepidic villages in 599 with 30,000 deaths. In 602 the Avars under Apsich carried out a devastating blow against the Anten , who were allies of the Eastern Romans, on the Black Sea. Yet the Avar empire was severely destabilized; a group of Avars even deserted. But the Byzantine army was also weakened and demoralized: when the emperor gave the order to winter north of the Danube at the end of 602, his troops mutinied, moved to Constantinople and NCO Phocas replaced the emperor.

New flowering period (603 to 626)

From 604 onwards, 150,000 solidi were paid annually to the Avars by Emperor Phocas

The new emperor of Byzantium soon had to dedicate himself to the Persian Empire again and therefore concluded a new tribute peace with the Avar Empire. He also withdrew troops from the Balkans to its eastern border. Under his successor Herakleios , the Balkans were finally abandoned. The Avars initially achieved successes against the Lombards in Friuli 610 and against the Franks in 611. Then they accomplished what they had been denied in 598 on the Balkan Peninsula. Together with the Slavs they had subjugated, the Avars besieged Thessaloniki several times , most recently in 626 with the help of the Persian Sassanids even the eastern Roman capital of Constantinople , but this failed (→ Siege of Constantinople (626) ).

Period of the Slavic Uprising (627 to 658)

The Avars could no longer restore their reputation of invincibility, which they had lost in the fight against Maurikios. In the course of the following decades, more and more Slavic princes withdrew from direct Avar influence. According to the Fredegar Chronicle , the reasons were that they were forced to fight in the first ranks in the Avar army, that they had to pay high tribute to the Avars, and that the Avars spent the winter with the Slavs every year and fathered children with the Slavic women. According to the sources, the insurgents were children of Avar fathers and Slavic mothers. The uprising broke out when most of the Avars were serving in an army that was besieging Constantinople. The Franconian merchant Samo is said to have led the largest of these Slav uprisings in the Vienna area or near the March and to have ruled a confederation of several more or less independent " principalities " ( ducates ) for 35 years . In 632 Dagobert I sent four armies against Samo; the Alemanni under Chrodobert and the Friulian Longobards plundered primarily, the main Austrasian army should penetrate into the heart of the Samo Empire, but was defeated at Wogastisburg , the location of which is unknown. Thereupon the Slavs under Samo undertook several incursions into Thuringia and the Eastern Franconian Empire . Here also should Derwan (Dervan), a Frankish prince ( dux ) of the Elbe - Saale -based -region Sorbs , Samo have connected. Further incursions into the Frankish empire followed, up to the death of Samos around the year 658. As early as 650 the first Avars returned to what is now western Slovakia and by the 8th century at the latest to southern Moravia; they lived there again with the Slavs.

At the eastern end of the Avar Empire as well as in the south, isolated Slavic princes shook off Avar suzerainty and moved to the south, to the Balkan Peninsula. With that the height of the Avar power was passed and the hostility to Byzantium ended in the absence of a common border.

Social Change (659 to 739)

At the end of the 7th century the Avars still ruled all of Pannonia and Carantania , thus essentially parts of today's Austria , Slovakia , Slovenia , Hungary and Romania . In the east, their influence extended to the Dniester in what is now Moldova and at times even to the Dnieper in what is now Ukraine . In addition to the plains of the empire, the territories in the mountains were increasingly secured and enlarged. The overwhelming majority of the population settled down, and ethnic as well as social boundaries disappeared. The villages became larger and more populous. The graves equipped with weapons from this period are limited to the border areas and strategically important places.

Attacks from the west (740 to 803)

Albrecht Altdorfer's painting “Victory of Charlemagne over the Avars near Regensburg” refers to the fighting between Franconia and Avars at the end of the 8th century
Avar additions from a woman's grave in Morrione near Campochiaro
Burial chamber of the Franconian Count Cadaloc, who fell in the battle against the Avars in 803, in the parish church of Traismauer

Around 740 the Duke of the Carantans Borouth turned to the Baier Duke Odilo for help against the Avars. In 741 the Avars were defeated by Odilo. After that, no clashes on the Avar western border are known for decades. The takeover of the Franconian Empire by Charlemagne gained a decisive influence on the politics of the Avar Empire . In 773/774 the Frankish king subjugated the Lombards under their King Desiderius and was then crowned King of the Lombards himself. With that, the Avars lost their best ally. In 776 the Lombard opposition fled to the court of the Chagan after a failed uprising. The Avars also maintained peaceful relations with the neighboring Bavarians . 781 had to Bavarian Duke Tassilo III. Renew the feudal oath in front of Karl and take hostages. In 782 the Chagan then sent envoys to the King of the Franks in Lippspringe "because of the peace" . At the same time he had a large Avar army deployed on the Enns border, but did not cross the border. In 788, Karl finally took power in Baiern. From now on the Avars were on their own on their western border.

In the same year, the Avars reacted in a warlike manner by attacking the Lombard Friuli without achieving any success worth mentioning. On the other hand, the Franks attacked on the Ybbsfeld on the Danube and, under their leaders Graman and Otakar, won a victory against the Avars. In 788 the Chagan's troops attempted a retaliatory strike in Bavaria, but lost again. Thereupon the Avars ceased to attack again. The Franconian nobility, on the other hand, found renewed interest in expanding their property beyond the Enns. In 790 Avar ambassadors came again to negotiate in Worms over the imperial border. Unsuccessful. Obviously, the Franks demanded territorial cession and the Avars stuck to the status quo.

In 791 Charlemagne opened the war against the Avars. Karl personally led the first (unsuccessful) campaign of the northern army in 791. After that, however, the land remained in Franconian hands up to the Vienna Woods and Franconian bases were soon established there, for example in Comagena-Tulln and Aelium Cetium-St. Pölten . Charles's son, King Pippin of Italy , attacked from Italy. Presumably not far from Cividale , he captured an Avar border fortification. Numerous Avars were killed and around 150 captured. Now the Avar leadership could not agree on how to proceed. An offer of an alliance by the Saxons led to nothing. Eventually the Avar leadership system collapsed and a civil war broke out in 795, to which the two highest leaders Chagan and Iugurrus fell victim. After that, the Tudun took power. In 795 he sent delegates to Hliune on the Elbe and had Charlemagne submit to the submission of Tudun and his people and the acceptance of Christianity. But the Franks used the weakening of the Avars for a new attack.

The Avarmark at the time of Charlemagne

The second campaign of the Franks was carefully prepared. The construction of the Carolina fossa may have been part of these preparations. The advance of 795/796 under the leadership of Eric of Friuli and King Pippin of Italy was a resounding success. The Avar treasure, which was extraordinarily large for the people of the time, fell into the hands of the Franks. The booty was transferred to Aachen , where it was distributed among the clergy and secular followers of Charlemagne. Karl donated the largest part to Pope Leo III. In 796 the Tudun appeared in person to the king of the Franks to submit and to receive baptism with his entourage. But his promise of loyalty was short-lived. A series of battles with the Franks accompanied the further decline. So on September 1, 799, the prefect of Bavaria and the Bavarian east country Gerold fell in the fight against the Avars.

The Avars, long since settled, lost contact with the other steppe peoples and their political influence declined. Already in the course of Charles' first campaign in 791, their Christianization was discussed. The remnants of the Avar population were ultimately forced to become Christian . Around 800 the Frankish king (and from 800 emperor) Charlemagne set up an Awarenmark to protect the trade routes and the imperial borders against the Avars in the east of his empire . However, the avars' lust for war and aggressiveness, which was spread through contemporary Franconian propaganda, cannot be proven on the basis of current knowledge. More recent research assumes that the time of the larger Avar war campaigns around 800 was long over. This is also supported by the fact that Einhard reports in his Vita Karoli Magni of the relatively low resistance of the Avars during Charles' campaigns. The Avar treasures described by Einhard would therefore come from times long past.

At first they were granted their own ruling organization within the Franconian Avarmark (the so-called Avar Chaganat between Carnuntum and Sabaria ). In the third Avar uprising in 803 (after uprisings in 797 and 799), the two Franconian counts Cadaloc and Goteram I (prefect of the Bavarian eastern region ) were killed at the Guntio fort (possibly in northern Burgenland ). After 803 the Avars no longer appeared as opponents of the Franks.

Tribute Period and Decline (804 to 828)

Europe in 814

In the 9th century, the Avars faced increasing attacks from Bulgarians , Croats and other Slavic tribes . As the Suda-Lexikon reports, the Bulgarian Khan Krum is likely to have advanced as far as the Tisza after 804 and there defeated an Avar group that had escaped Frankish influence. According to Suda, Krum asked Avar prisoners why their once so powerful empire had collapsed and received "litigation, trade and excessive wine consumption" in response. However, some authors assume that the Bulgarians under Krum have not actually undertaken a campaign of conquest against the Avars, but that there were Avar defectors to the Bulgarians under Krum's reign. A conquest of the Avar territory only took place under Khan Omurtag .

In the year 811 Avar auxiliary troops took definitely in a military campaign against Krum the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros I. part. Also in 811, the Frankish Reichstag in Aachen decided to send an army to Pannonia to settle disputes between Avars and Slavs.

The war with the Franks between 788 and 803, which lasted more than two decades, internal political and military disputes and the attack by the Bulgarians around 804 weakened the empire decisively. In addition, with the adoption of Christianity, the Avar ruling class lost its sacred traditions. Presumably the Avar principality , which had shrunk to a small area and was already obliged to pay tribute to the Franks at that time, was dissolved by Emperor Ludwig the Pious in 828 ; In any case, in the year 822 a delegation of this Chaganat appeared for the last time at the Frankish Emperor in Frankfurt.

After 828 the Avars lost their importance as a political power. Their settlement area was for the most part incorporated into the Avarsmark of the Franconian Empire , where up to at least 870 tributary Avars can be traced. These Avars under Frankish rule were assimilated by Teutons and Slavs beginning in the year 826; some of them emigrated to the area east of the Franconian border, which was initially free but was conquered by the Bulgarians in 827-831. These initially still independent Avar territories lacked political unity ("Avar Confederation") in contrast to the Avar Chaganate; In some cases, there was also voluntary submission to Bulgarian or Frankish rule.

The Magyars found in their conquest of the Pannonian Plain in front 896-955 still Avar-influenced culture. The part to the east of the Tisza was conquered and occupied by the Bulgarians under Khan Krum ; these areas (about a third of the former Avar Empire ) were incorporated into the Bulgarian Empire during the reign of the Omurtag . In the north, the Moravian princes took power over the country.

Chronicle of the Avars from the 5th to 9th centuries

  • 463: The "War and Chunni" perform on the Black Sea; their relationship to the wars that had previously been defeated by the Chinese Empire or their earlier membership of the Rouran is controversial.
  • 558: Diplomatic contact is established with the Byzantine Empire under Ambassador Kandich ; Beginning of tribute payments by the Eastern Roman emperor to the Avars.
  • 560–568: The Avars move further and further west - to the borders of the Franconian Empire ; among other things, they drive out the Gepids and colonize the Pannonian Plain and the Danube region; End of the Great Migration.
  • 569–591: The Avars rise under Baian to become a major European power; They defeat the Byzantine Empire in a field battle, conquer the important Sirmium from it in today's Serbia, lead a Balkan campaign as far as Adrianople and settle the conquered areas with Slavs; The annual tribute payments of the east streams increase to 100,000 solidi per year.
  • 592–595: The Byzantine Empire wages a campaign in the Balkans; the spoils from the pillage of the Slavs are shared with the Avars.
  • 595: The Franks attack the Avars in what is now Carinthia, but they can be defeated.
  • 597–598: Again direct battles between Eastern Romans and Avars in which the Avars advance to Constantinople; The annual tribute payments of the east streams rise to 120,000 solidi per year.
  • 599–604: The Byzantine Empire attacks the Avars and penetrates as far as the Danube, but the campaign has to be ended again due to a mutiny; The annual tribute payments of the eastern streams increase to 150,000 solidi per year.
  • 604–611: The Byzantine Empire finally gives up the Balkans; the Avars defeat the Longobards in Friuli and again the Franks.
  • 611–626: The Avars conquer the Balkans and besieged Constantinople without success; the annual tribute payments of the east streams rise to initially 180,000 and later 200,000 solidi per year.
  • 627–658: There are numerous Slavic uprisings against the Avars, the largest being that led by the Franconian Samo in the area of ​​today's Vienna.
  • 659–740: The population of the Avar Empire increases and its ethnic borders disappear.
  • 741: The Bavarians attack the Avars, but soon make peace with them again.
  • 773–774: The Franks defeat the Lombards, causing the Avars to lose their most important ally.
  • 788: Charlemagne takes power over the Bavarians, whereby the Avar Empire in the west only borders on the Franconian Empire.
  • 788–790: There are armed conflicts between Avars and Franks; Peace negotiations fail.
  • 791: A first attack by the Franks can be repulsed, but the Franks keep the land west of the Vienna Woods and set up bases there that can be seen as the foundation stone for the Avarmark .
  • 795: A civil war breaks out in the Avar Empire; the two top leaders, Chagan and Iugurrus, ultimately fall victim to him. Tudun takes power over a large part of the Avar Empire and asks the Franks for peace, but this is rejected. Eric of Friuli and King Pippin of Italy invade the weakened Avar empire and steal the legendary Avar treasure.
  • 796: Tudun asks again for peace and this time offers his Christianization . The Avarsmark is expanded to today's Lower Austria, Burgenland and northwestern Hungary and is now populated by numerous tributary Avars.
  • 797–799: Fighting broke out between Franks and Avars of the independent part of the Avar Empire, as well as revolts by those Avars of the Avarmark who did not accept the new ruler Tudun; who are subject to Avars.
  • 803: In the third and last Avar uprising, two Frankish counts are killed in what is now Burgenland; The Avar kingdom west of the Tisza, however, remains Frankish; Christianized Avars found the Avar Principality within the Avarmark.
  • 804: The Bulgarian Khan Krum penetrates as far as the Tisza during his campaigns against the Avars.
  • 822: A delegation of the Avars appears for the last time at the Frankish emperor in Frankfurt.
  • 827–831: The Bulgarian Khan Omurtag finally conquered the majority of the independent Avar Empire .
  • 828: The Avar principality is dissolved again.
  • up to 870: Avars liable to pay tribute can be found in the Avarmark.
  • from 896: The Magyars found an Avar culture when they conquered the Pannonian Plain.

Settlement area

The settlement area of ​​the population under Avar rule was primarily the Pannonian Plain (Carpathian Basin). This landscape is the westernmost region of the Eurasian steppe and offered favorable conditions for equestrian peoples who kept pastures like the Avars. Based on archaeological finds, the settlement area of ​​the Avars is estimated at around 100,000 km² for the 6th and 7th centuries and around 140,000 to 160,000 km² for the 8th century. Important Avar sites outside the Carpathian Basin can be found in today's Bulgaria (Bononia - Widin ), Croatia (Sisak - Siscia ), Slovenia (Ljubljana - Emona , Celje - Celeia ), Austria (Zollfeld - Virunum , Linz, Enns - Lauriacum , Melk, St. Pölten) and the Czech Republic.


In addition to the Avar upper class, various minorities lived in the Avar Empire. Schaffran speaks of a unified state with “client peoples of the Avars”, whereby the Avars “almost completely superimposed their client peoples” through their art practice. In purely quantitative terms, however , the Avars in the narrower sense probably no longer represented a majority from around 600 onwards. According to anthropological studies of cemeteries from the Avar period, between 30% and 50% were " Mongolide and Mongoloid types ". Based on the number of prisoners after a fought battle in 599, the Avar share can be roughly estimated at between 17% and 33% (taking into account that foot troops are more likely to be captured than mounted soldiers). Renowned Avars researcher Walter Pohl also speaks of the fact that “ [t] he number of Avars who immediately stood out as“ slit eyes ”is low. was. ”, Specifies elsewhere, however, that in the 8th century“ about one to two tenths ”of the population of the Chaganat were“ Mongolian type ”.

The Chagane the Awaren tolerated ethnic closed Krieger associations such Hun Kutiguren (Ouryougo, Kovryoveo) and Bulgars in their empire; but the reputation of these groups was lower than that of the Avars. Depending on the source, several other ethnic groups are distinguished as residents of the Avar Empire; Theophanes of Byzantium mentions e.g. B. in addition to the Avars, Bulgarians, Slavs and Gepids. Franconian sources distinguish even more clans of the Avar Empire.

The Slavs formed the bulk of the population of the Avar Empire. The Avars made a claim to protection and rule over them, but essentially let them pursue their own goals; including numerous incursions into the Byzantine regions of the Balkans. The booty that the Byzantine army made during punitive expeditions to Slavic territories had to be shared with the Avars. In the Avar army, Slavs mainly served as "cannon fodder".

Proto-Bulgarians enjoyed a higher rank within the Avar Empire than Slavs and were more directly subordinate to the Avars. Their task was, among other things, to protect the southern and eastern edge of the Avar Empire. In the period of weakness of the Avar Chagan that began in 626, however, they challenged it several times.

At the synod on the Danube under King Pippin of Italy in the course of the Frankish campaign of 796, Christian communities in the Avar kingdom were mentioned. These were probably those closed, Christian population groups of the Keszthely culture who were settled in the southwestern shore area of Lake Balaton and in the vicinity of Pécs . They were the descendants of the Roman population of the Pannonia province . Rich grave goods made of gold and silver jewelry indicate that they did not live in complete oppression even under the Avar rule.

It is often assumed that groups with Longobard roots also lived in the Avar Empire. A significant group were remnants of the gepidic population. In addition, groups that go back to prisoners of war from the Byzantine Empire and were settled in the Avar Empire are likely to have been significant .


The Avar Empire around 600

Up until the power crises in the second half of the 7th century, the empire had no fixed borders. After that, the political structures adapted more closely to the European power structures. At the turn of the 8th century, the Chaganat began to protect its settlement areas with an uninhabited border strip. The Hungarians later adopted or renewed this type of border security in the form of the Gyepű, almost unchanged. Such border strips emerged in the west against the Franconian Empire on the settlement border of the Baiern along the Traun and then towards Lorch and from Linz to the area around Regensburg . The Enns formed an official border between Avars and Baiern and is called limes certus .

Further border barriers are being built against the Duchy of Carantania and the Lombard Kingdom between the Zala and Mur rivers and between the Drava and Mur in the Prekmurje region . The redoubts that the Bulgarian Khan Asparuch had built against the Avars in the 680s were relatively far away from the Avar settlement area. Nevertheless, no artificial Avar borders are detectable here in the south and east of the empire against the Bulgarian empire at this time. It was not until the end of the 8th century that this border was fortified on the Timok and Iskar rivers . In the north, where the Carpathian Mountains formed a natural border, there was also no protection system.

Economy, way of life

Bridle with decorated fittings
Pottery from the 7th or 8th century
Avar amphora (cast bronze) from the late 8th century

When the Avars arrived in the Pannonian Plain, their economic base was cattle breeding . The most important breeding animal was the horse. They also raised cattle, sheep of a type brought from the east, goats, pigs, chickens and geese. The animals were meat suppliers for food, as were milk and dairy products. Since the end of the 6th century they have also been farming . The fields were next to the winter quarters of the population. Iron sickles and hoes were used in agriculture. Little is known about the importance of grain for nutrition in the Avar kingdom. Deer, roe deer and wild boar were hunted. Fishing rods have also been found (rarely) in burial grounds. So fishing has also played a role (perhaps to a lesser extent). Viticulture was already introduced by the Romans in Pannonia and continued by the Avars.

The great army had an enormous need for iron for weapons and harness. Little is known about mining and metallurgy of the Avar period. In any case, most of the iron was made from lawn iron stone on site. In connection with salt production, the area between Dornstadt and Jerischmarkt in Transylvania was relatively densely populated. The craft in the Avar kingdom covered the needs of the population. Some handicraft products were made in the domestic industry. But there were also workshops. Production in the metal processing sector reached a high level. Particularly high-quality iron weapon products and horse harnesses were most likely made in the courts of the Chagans and princes.

Goldsmiths enjoyed a particularly high reputation. In the 8th century, bronze casting became the dominant technique in the Avar Empire. Other areas of trade were arc generation , Sattler , Lederer , pottery , textile production and construction of yurts . In the domestic Avar trade, money played no role as a means of payment.

The ruling elite lived in the Hring des Chagans. This was probably a solid, circular palace settlement made up of tents and wooden houses. It was sacked and completely destroyed during the attack by King Pippin of Italy in 796. Remains of this mansion have not been found to this day. It was probably located between the Danube and Theiss. The idea that was held for a long time that the entire Avar kingdom was surrounded by nine circular fortifications (the so-called rings) goes back to a report by the St. Gallen monk Notker and is outdated today. The name "Hring" probably comes from the same word as the word "Hiung-nu" for an Asian fortification.

Due to nomadic traditions, little effort was put into building settlements in the Avar Empire. Prestige objects were less expensive houses than horses and cattle. Their settlements were mostly on the water. The nomadic parts of the population lived in yurts , especially in the early days of the empire . In the course of time, however, an ever larger proportion lived in a sedentary way of life. The common people then lived in pit houses , which were probably often used as winter quarters. More than 50 Avar settlements with several hundreds of pit houses have been archaeologically developed. Most of the sites had square pit houses equipped with stone ovens. But there were also houses with floors that were not recessed, as well as houses or huts that served as temporary quarters. The spread of solid houses was also supported by the fact that the felt of the yurts quickly spoils due to the relatively frequent rainfall in the Carpathian Basin.

Art, culture, language

The gold vessels of the Nagyszentmiklós treasure are possibly of Avar origin

The Avars brought the Central Asian bronze casting to Europe: it is characterized, among other things, by gilding or silvering and spread across Europe from the Avar Empire. It is only later that Byzantine copper sheet displaces it. The 8th century Avar art shows a mixture of Asian animal style, late Hellenistic and Sassanid elements. Thousands of belt fittings with depictions of people, animal fighting scenes, shamanistic motifs, plant ornaments and gripping figures were found.

The Avar culture in terms of costume, weapons, harness and funeral customs had elements of Central Asia. The Byzantine-oriental-oriented costume of the Avar ruling class still determined the fashion of the nobility of the Franconian tributary principalities with a predominantly Slavic population of the 9th century in the area of ​​the former Avar Empire. Corresponding representations on belts indicate references to shamanism . A main shaman at the court of the Chagan is known by name from written sources. According to Byzantine sources, however, Buddhist beliefs are also conceivable. There are written records in Theophylakt about music and songs of the Avars . The double shawm and a string instrument similar to the harp were found in graves . An important status and identification symbol of the Avars was the multi-part belt. The ancestry and military rank of a person could be recognized by these belts.

Around a dozen bone objects with rune inscriptions have been found in Avar graves . The writing corresponds to the stock of characters on the gold objects from Nagyszentmiklós . It is possible that these gold finds go back to the Avars. Almost nothing is known about the Avar language due to the poor traditions. The previous attempts at classification can only be based on a few traditional proper names, titles and landscape names. It is controversial whether the Avars of the same name, or more precisely the New Avars in the Russian republic of Dagestan, are descendants of part of the historical Avars. The linguist Harald Haarmann thinks it is possible that parts of the Avar population remained in the Caucasus when they invaded Europe. There their culture and language would have adapted to the Caucasian. Haarmann also raised the question of whether knowledge of the Siberian runic script might have come to Europe with the Avars and might have been adopted there by the Hungarians.


From an Avar workshop: gold earrings with large pendants (c. 550 to 650 AD)

"The Avar rule, which focused on the territory of Hungary, had an impact on the development of European culture, which our historiography today hardly has the correct idea of." (Nándor Fettich, La Trouvaille de Tombe Princière Hunnique à Szeged-Nagyszeksos , 1953) From a cultural point of view, Avar influences can still be proven in the 9th century, for example in the Balaton Principality . After that, the independent Avar identity and culture is lost. However, even after the fall of the Avar Empire, the noble Slavs wore the typical Avar braids and characteristic belts with side straps. Until the times of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII, some Croats derived their origin from the Avars and were therefore also called Avars. Molecular genetic studies on Y chromosomes in the population of the Croatian island of Hvar have shown features that suggest Central Asian ancestry.

Most scholars attribute the term Banat and the title Banus to the Avar Chagan Baian . The Slavic title Žu pan may also be connected with Baian. Geographical names such as Avaria , provincia Avarorum and even regnum Avarorum remained until the late 9th century. a common name for the regions east of the Enns. In addition, numerous place and personal names still have an Avar origin to this day, especially in Hungary, Austria but z. B. also in Bavaria (Kirchkagern, Kagen, Kaging, Tarchant etc.).

But the Avar culture not only influenced life in its own realm. Avar myths influenced the Germanic and Slavic sagas. Almost all Germanic peoples took over the decorated bridles for horses and the fashion of the multi-part belt sets with artistically designed decorative fittings on the belt itself and on the tongues from the Avars . Earrings with large pendants and some other forms of jewelry also came into the fashion world of Europe via the Avar Empire.

Although the Avars ruled a similar geographic area for much longer than the Huns , they did not become part of political legend. If, for example, the Hungarians and Bulgarians who followed placed value on political and dynastic ties with the Huns, no mythical memories of the Avars were preserved. With one tiny exception, which has no historical reality: The Old Russian abroi , derived from the Avar popular name, means “giant”. The reason for this lag of the Avars' perception behind that of the Huns lies in the confusion between these two peoples in the Germanic reporting of the 9th and 10th centuries.

Warfare and the military

The introduction of the iron stirrup and the saber in Europe is traced back to the Avars. It enabled the rider to shoot arrows in all directions and to wield a heavy armor-piercing spear in place. The Avar warriors also brought movable lamellar armor and armor for horse breasts to Europe. This military equipment was taken over by the occidental armies and found its way into later knighthood via the Avars . Avar technologies were copied particularly frequently by the Byzantine army. In Maurikios' Strategikon , Avar armaments (1st book), their bravery and dexterity in war (2nd book) as well as their tactics (2nd and 11th book) are described in detail and their imitation is recommended, e.g. B. the formation of the riders depending on their function in the battle or the retention of a reserve.

The Avar armored cavalry, which not a single opponent - the Byzantine army no exception - was able to make successful resistance are a prime example of the impact of technologies on the transformation of society, but especially for the development of European chivalry of the late Early Middle Ages and the Middle Ages viewed . In addition to the technologies already mentioned above, the Avars brought z. B. after the Strategikon the boat bridges and after the Suda z. B. the fringed neck protection and the tunics typical of the knights of the High Middle Ages, which reached over the knees during the ride, to Europe. The Eastern Romans also found the Avar tents, which they soon imitated, both magnificent and useful .

Not copied as often as other tactics and technologies, but nevertheless at least as crucial to the military successes of the Avars were the fact that the army was divided into thousands and ten thousand and its strict military organization.

The Avar armies had weaknesses especially when the enemy did not face the battle: They did not build siege engines until around 586. The ultimate failure of the siege of Constantinople in 626 is also attributed to this weakness: the Avar miracle weapon, the armored rider, could cannot be used.


  • Heinrich Beck , László Gyula:  Avars. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (RGA). 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1973, ISBN 3-11-004489-7 , pp. 527-534.
  • Eric Breuer : Byzantium on the Danube. An introduction to chronology and found material on archeology in the early Middle Ages in the central Danube region . Tettnang 2005, ISBN 3-88812-198-1 . (New standard chronology for Avar archeology.)
  • Falko Daim (ed.): The Avars on the edge of the Byzantine world. Studies in diplomacy, trade and technology transfer in the early Middle Ages . Innsbruck 2000, ISBN 3-7030-0349-9 . (Anthology with short essays by various authors on geographic and form-related contexts, especially Byzantine influence.)
  • Falko Daim (Ed.): Horsemen from the East. Huns + Avars. Burgenland State Exhibition 1996, Halbturn Castle . Eisenstadt 1996. (Exhibition catalog, covers all archaeological topics, especially suitable for laypeople as an introduction.)
  • Falko Daim: Studies on the archeology of the Avars . 1984 ff.
  • Josef Deér : Charlemagne and the fall of the Avars. In: Charlemagne. Personality and history. Edited by Helmut Beumann. Düsseldorf 1965, pp. 719-791.
  • Wilfried Menghin , Tobias Springer, Egon Wamers (eds.): Teutons, Huns and Avars. Treasures of the Migration Period. Exhibition catalog . Nuremberg / Frankfurt am Main 1987.
  • Walter Pohl : The Avars. A steppe people in Central Europe 567–822 AD 3rd edition with an updated foreword. Beck, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-406-68426-5 . (Standard work on the early medieval Avars from the point of view of one of the most respected historians in this field.)
  • Denis Sinor : The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. Cambridge 1990. (Publication on equestrian nomadic peoples in Central and Inner Asia.)
  • Samuel Szádeczky-Kardoss, Agnes Cs. Sós: Avars . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 1, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-7608-8901-8 , Sp. 1283-1287.
  • József Szentpéteri (Ed.): Archaeological monuments of the Avar period in Central Europe . Varia archaeologica Hungarica 13. Budapest 2002, ISBN 963-7391-78-9 , ISBN 963-7391-79-7 . (Lexicon-like, short compilation of thousands of archaeological Avar period early medieval sites, mostly burial grounds, important as a reference.)
  • Michael Wendel: The Avar campaign in 586/87 AD through Northern Thrace. In: Pontos Euxeinos. Contributions to the archeology and history of the ancient Black Sea and Balkan region. ZAKSSchriften 10, Verlag Beier & Beran, Langenweissbach 2006, pp. 447–461.

Web links

Commons : Awaren  - collection of images, videos and audio files


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  3. So z. B. the German geography historian Albert Herrmann : An Historical Atlas of China. Aldine Publishing, 1966, p. 32.
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  9. ^ Curta, Florin (2004). "The Slavic lingua franca (Linguistic notes of an archaeologist turned historian)". East Central Europe / L'Europe du Center-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.
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