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Eth. AVARES (Avari, Ἀβάρεις, Ἀβάροι). It is far easier to give the ethnological relations and the conquests of this important population than to fix its exact original locality; though this by a certain amount of not illegitimate speculation, may be approximated. It is the Byzantine writers who chiefly mention the Avars, and that in a manner to show not only that they were members of the great Turanian stock, but also to suggest the doctrine that the still more famous Huns were in the same category. Different chiefs of the Avars are frequently mentioned, and the usual title is χαγάνος, Cacanus, Gaganus, Chaganus or Caganus. This is the title Khân, as in Zengis-Khân, in its uncontracted form, and its application is a sure sign that the population which used it was either Turk or Mongol. Their connection with the Huns is as clear. Theophylact writes (7.8) that “when Justinian held the Empire, there settled in Europe a portion of the ancient tribes of the Var (Οὐὰρ), and Chun (Χουννὶ), who named themselves Avars, and gloried in calling their chief Khagan (Χαγάνος).” Again, Paulus Diaconus states, that “Avares primum Huni, postea de regis proprii nomine Avares appellati sunt” (1.27). The importance of this passage will be considered in the sequel. It is the Avars who, flying before the Turks, seek the alliance of Justinian, and whom the Turks, in demanding their surrender, call Var-chonites (Οὐαρχωνῖται), a form which has reasonably passed for a compound of Var and Hun/ Even if we object to this criticism, by supposing the original designation to have been Var-chsun (or some similar form) and the connection with the Huns to have been a mere inference from the similarity of name, on the part of the writers, who spoke of the Var and Chun, the affinity between the two populations must have been considerable; otherwise, the identification would have been absurd. The name Pseudavari (Ψευδάβαροι) in Theophylact (7.8) creates a difficulty; since we are not told in what manner they differed from the true. Yet even these false Avars are especially stated to have been Var and Chun. Jornandes, too (Dea Rebus Getic. 52) speaks of a tract on the Danube called Hun-i-var; the same combination, with its elements transposed. Still there are some difficulties of detail arising from the fact of Theophylact himself separating the Huns from Chun; and also a nation called Savirs (Σαβείροι) from the Avars (Ἀβάροι); and these are difficulties which no one but a good Turkish philologist is likely to entirely set aside.

The notice of the Avars by Priscus, is to the effect that between the years 461 and 465 they were distressed by heavy fogs arising from the Ocean, and by vast flocks of vultures which ravenously fed upon them (i. e. the Avars), that they forced them upon the Saviri, who were thus forced upon the Saraguri, Urogi, and Onoguri (all populations known to be Turk), who, in their turn, were compelled to seek the alliance of the Byzantine Romans. This is but an instance of the tendency, so common with historians, to account for all national movements, by the assumption of some pressure from without, which they then strive to trace to its remotest origin. The name Avar is the only undoubted historical part about it. It is in A.D. 558, that they came in contact with the Alans, requested them to make them known to the Romans, and flying before the Turks. As the Alan country was in the present Government of Caucasus, this is the first, unexceptionable Avar locality; and even here they are strangers. More or less supported by the Romans, and retained against the Slavonians of the Danube, the Avars spread over Thrace and Bulgaria, and effected a permanent settlement in Hungary, and an empire as well. From Hungary, Dalmatia and Croatia are overrun; as are Thuringia, Franconia, and even parts of Gaul.

After a series of political relations with the Gepidae and Lombards, the power grows and declines, is materially broken by the Carlovingian kings, and finally destroyed by the Slavonians of Moravia. The valley of the Erlav, however, and feeder of the Danube, was called terra Avarorum, as late, at least, as the 10th century.

The Avars throw light upon populations other than the Huns. They add to the list of facts which favour the notion of the Herodotean Scythae (Scoloti) having belonged to the Turk stock. The Scoloti deduced their origin from Targitaus (Hdt. 4.5); and Targitius was τὧ τῶν Ἀβάρων φύλψ ἀνὴρ πεπίβλεπτος (Theophan. 1.6). In truth, he was Turk, or the Eponymus to the Turk stock in general, and the whole Herodotean legend about [p. 1.350]him and his sons is current amongst the Kherghiz at the present day.

But, a not illegitimate speculation may carry us further still. Avar was a native name, and it was deduced from a king so called (Paul. Diacon. ut supr.). This means that there was such an epônymus as Avar; just as the statement that the Greeks called themselves Hellenes from their king Hellen, would imply an epônymous of that name. Like Hellen, the Avar was a mythological rather than a real personage. Hence, it is suggested that the fabulous Abaris of the Hyperborei (Hdt. 4.36) who was carried round the world on an arrow, without eating food, may have been the epônymus of the Avars. Name for name, the words coincide; and no locality, as the original area of the Avars, would suit better than that of the Herodotean Hyperborei. A district on or to the east of the Tobol would satisfy the conditions required for the locality of the Hyperboreans and the belief in Abaris. This hypothesis infers the existence of a population from the existence of a personal name,--that personal name being assumed to be an epônymus. If this be legitimate the Avars, without being exactly the ancient Hyperboreans, were that portion of them more especially connected with the name of Abaris.


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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.36
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.5
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