FOR THE MEMORY OF THE AVAR KHAGANS
Matter Evolution Subcommittee of the Geonomy Committee
of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
RMKI CRIP H-1525 Bp. 114. POB 49.
The language of Avars is practically unknown; but educated guesses tell that it may have been Old Turkish, or something between Turkish and Mongolian. So for Avar names & titles I use the official orthography of Turkey, if I can reproduce the letter (i.e. Khagan->Kagan &c.). I try to do the same for names whose speech community did not have a Latin alphabet. Note then that in Carpathians, e.g., the "C" is English C not Turkish.
The author admits that he is not a historian. This material was written to fill a lacuna in historic literature. My text, therefore, may contain errors and of course is infected with ignorance. But it seems that important data are simply absent in the literature. Still I think some missing data exist somewhere. So this text does not want to be Word of History but simply a nucleation core of the specific topic.
A brief and still grossly incomplete chronology of Avar Kagans is given.
History is an occupation needing at least some money. True research needs founds, either grants or research positions. And History is intimately connected with states, minorities, religions &c. Nations give money to search their own histories; maybe even those of enemies. As for histories of passed nations, some are regarded as predecessors of modern nations (either rightfully or not), and then the successors keep their memories. The remaining ones are investigated for their importance in World History, for sheer curiosity or not at all.
In Europe the situation is simple enough. In ancient times all Mediterranean Europe belonged to Greece & Rome, and these civilisations do have inheritors. North of them lived Germans & Celts, and they have inheritors too. But the past of the territory of Hungary is different.
Hungarian State officially starts with the Magyar Conquest in April 896. Previous states there do not belong to the history of the Nation. Slovakia is interested in the past of proto-Slovakians back to the end of Vth century (according to Slovakian consensus) or to the second half of VIth century (according to Hungarian majority opinion), but even they are not too interested in histories of earlier or nomadic peoples. And so on.
Now, the organisation principle of steppe nomads is based on tribal alliances. When troubles happen on the borderless steppe, unlucky alliances break up immediately; then clans enter new tribes and tribes enter new alliances. Above a "nation", a tribal alliance or such there is a ruler who rules according to the mandate of the (Eternal) Blue Sky, Kök Tängri (now "Tanri" is "God" in Turkish and "tenger" is "sea" in Magyar, indeed blue and infinite for a Hungarian). He surely rules from the mandate of Blue Sky, because when he loses the mandate, he is no more Kagan. Either he is replaced by the new mandatee (as Kagan Buda of the Huns was replaced by his younger brother Kagan Atilla in 445, for reasons you may try to ask about Kök Tängri himself) or the whole "state" comes apart. Turning to a more recent example, according to the opinion of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in 1922 Sultan (Pad-i-sah) Mehmed VI (Vahidüddin) lost the mandate and the ninth Turkish state (that of the Ottomans) ceased to exist. Instead, a tenth state started, the Republic of Turkey.
The Carpathian Basin bw. 568 and 799 was ruled by a Far Eastern mounted warrior state, the Avars. This was the second state in prehistory & history which united the Carpathian Basin (the first was the Eneolithic Pécel culture, in the IVth millenium BC); the Danube is rather wide a river, even Romans could not cross it regularly. The Hungarian State does not, and never did, recognise the Avar State as legal predecessor, and of course I will not question the wisdom of the Hungarian State. However surely among all the existing states now they are nearest to Hungary. I admit that Turkey is the second, and Turkish netsites indeed give Avar chronologies; but shorter even as we can.
Chapter 2 is the chronology, and discussions of the ample nontrivial and obscure points will be given in Chapter 3.
The present text is the status of my knowledge at New Year Day of 2003. When I get a new information, I will update it.
2. THE TENTATIVE LIST OF AVAR KAGANS
Avar (Juan-juan) state on the NW border of China, to the Mtn. Altai
Juan-juans take the Sien-pi lands.
Juan-juans take Cungaria and Upper Irtis.
The Türk (in Chinese texts t'u-küe) tribe, led by the Asina clan, is admitted into the Juan-juan state, and settles the S. slopes of Altay.
Kagan A-na-kuei (A-na-kui).
Turkish revolt, starting in the Altay
Juan-juan defeat; a part of the fleeing Juan-juans enter C'i lands in China, the Kagan is K'u-t'i (552-554), then An-lo-ch'en, son of A-na-kui. The majority (?) starts to West. On the old Juan-juan territory the Old Turkish Khaganate starts.
Avar embassy in Constantinople; alliance against Sabirs & Utigurs. The Kagan may be Kandik 552?-562.
East Romans start to pay annual tax to the Avars. Avars defeat King Gisebert of Thuringy. Then they start to go to the East for the Carpathian Basin, incorporating large numbers of Slavic peoples as secondary, foot warriors.
End of 565
With the death of Emperor Justinian Roman tax ceases.
Turks, pursuing the Avars, cross R. Itil (Volga)
Avars and Lombards crush Gepidia, E. of R. Tisia. The Sirmium garrison capitulates to E. Rome; Avar conquest on the remaining Gepid lands.
April 2, 568
Lombards evacuate the territories W. of Danube and start to N. Italy. All the Basin is Avaria. The E. border of Avaria is somewhere N. of Black Sea
The dynasty of Bayan; two sons in sequence 602-617 & 617-c. 630, names unknown
Avars and their Croat allies destroy Epidaurus & Salona in Dalmatia.
Campaigns (Avars incl. Slavic peoples of Avaria, Croats, Lower Danube Slavs, Persian Empire) against Constantinople; unsuccessful.
Troubles, then restoration.
Second Avar Khaganate, names unknown.
Avaria loses the Pontus area (to Bulgars & Khazars), see Note l. From this time Avaria is the Carpathian Basin, with marches outside: to R. Enns on W., the area of Uherské Hradiste & Uhersky Brod in Later Moravia and unknown territories E. of E. Carpathians; allies on N. & S.: White Croats & Adria Croats.
According to the Vienna Illuminated Chronicle, Árpád, Dux of Hungarians conquers the Basin.
Kuber, 4th son of Kagan Kovrat (Kurt; Wolf) of the Pontus Bulgars arrives with his fleeing people at the Basin. In a few years Bulgars revolt in the Basin. Kuber flees to Danube Bulgaria (founded in 681 by his elder brother Asparukh).
Third Avar Khaganate, names unknown.
Charlemagne attacks Avaria, repelled with heavy losses.
Civil war bw. the Kagan (name unknown) and the Yugurrus (the 2nd man). The Tudun (Governor of the Western Lands) does not want anything of it, and allies with Erik, Margrave of Friuli against them. Charlemagne sends more than ample troops into the already friendly Avaria and sacs it. (The details are somewhat obscure.). See also Note p.
The Tudun Kajd (?) takes the office of Kagan, later, baptized, takes the name Theodorus. Or: Kajd, then Theodorus.
Kagan Krum of Bulgaria occupies Eastern Avaria.
c. 814 - c. 835
Kagans Abraham & Isaac.
835 - 899 (?)
Conquering Magyars of Árpád take the territories W. of the Danube, so also the territory of Rump Avaria. While Western texts for a while still mention Avars, it is possible that it is already an anachronism, while the existence of ethnic Avars is rather sure. Medieval Magyar sources never mention the Avars. Later fate of Avars is unknown, but in Xth c. the Magyar tribal alliance incorporates other peoples as direct subjects of the Sublime Kagan. Hungarian archaeologists guess that some cemeteries are mixed Avar-Magyar ones. Some hypothesize Avar migration to Transylvania. By any probability fragments of the Avar society could have been incorporated into the Hetumoger=Hétmagyar=7 Magyar(s) without any problem. So this is the latest possible end of Avar state. Speculations exist that some self-organised Avar group may have existed in Transylvania since 803, the Bulgarian incorporation of the Great Plains, but up to now we do not know anything about leaders, for any case. The connection of Avars with recent Avar ethnic group & language in Mtn. Caucasus is a matter of hypothesises and may even not exist.
3. NOTES AND EXPLANATIONS
Note a: The tribal alliance is always mentioned by Chinese sources as Juan-juan, but this is an "onomatopoetic" word showing the eternal stupid motion, swarming or pullulation. The identification Juan-juan = Avar is classical, comes from De Guignes = Desguignes , and I see no reason to doubt it.
Note b: The migration of Türks under the Asina clan (originally Hiung-nu, so Asiatic Hun) is given by Chinese annals of the Later Wei Dynasty, at Emperor T'ai-wu-ti.
Note c: In the Turkish folk tradition a leader of this revolt is the Gray Wolf, Boz Kurt. In history it was led by Prince, later Kagan Bumin.
Note d: The details of the war can be followed in Northern C'i annals, of which I give a reference to . Here I note, and this will not be repeated, that at some points I have to translate Hungarian Academic orthography of Chinese to English or Turkish, which is by no means unequivocal.
Note e: Kagan Kandik with his closing year is given in a Kutrigur chronology . Since An-lo-ch’en, son of the last independent Juan-juan Kagan remained on the East, the migrants must have elected a nontrivial successor. This may or may not have been Kandik. However he may have followed some interregnum too.
Note f: For the Avar motions, diplomatic negotiations, and the place of Slavic foot warriors in the originally fully mounted Avar army see  and citations therein. Obviously the most reliable Slavic allies were settled in the mountainous regions of the Carpathian Basin, where they live now as well.
Note g: The Kök Tümlrk Kagan sent a message to Constantinople, telling that he was pursuing his slaves, whom he would crush under the hooves of Turk horses like ants, without using swords. See , with further citations of Longobard chronicles. Anyway, it did not happen. The Basin is easy to be defended.
Note h: The day is recorded in Lombard chronicles, because it was Easter Monday, see  and citations therein. According to Longobard tradition the evacuation happened in line of an Avar-Longobard agreement of 200 year friendship & mutual help. Indeed, the Avar-Longobard connections remained friendly. We do not know what was the Avar help to the exodus.
Note i: Or maybe two younger brothers of him. See . Ref.  gives 617 as death of Bayan (and gives Bayan as destroyer of Epidaurus & Salona). So the easiest guess is that Bayan’s first successor had a similar name, we may call him Bayan II until no better suggestion arises, and he died in 617.
Note j: See e.g. . This is the first extant record about Adria Croats.
Note k: Croatian books are unequivocal that they "became independent" in 630. Since Avar-Croat relations seem friendly afterwards, this can only mean the reorganisation of the state. Recent Hungarian books repeat two "facts" after the unsuccessful long campaign: troubles, and (possible) change of the dynasty.
Note l: From a very obscure period Ref.  gives a relative detailed report; but it needs the ability to read Hungarian. So I give also , ,  and ; but the sources are surprisingly silent. Various Slavic authors mention Samo, as a successful leader of Slavs, who made a part of Avaria independent. Samo is indeed recorded in the (not too reliable) Codex Fredegarius as a Frankish merchant among Slavs; the problem is that in centuries XIX & XX various Slav movements & states reported the traces of Samo from practically all Slavic territories around present Hungary, i.e at the peripheries of Avaria, so, accepting the existence of Leader Samo I would relegate the details to among the folk tales of romantic/nationalistic histories. Hungarian archaeologists are unable to find any trace of Samo's "state". The Western part of Hungary is densely packed by Avar sites. Maybe Slovenia?
I must emphasize that when I call the Fredegarius compilation "not too reliable", I do not mean its historical coherence; I am not a historian. But let you decide the linguistic quality and self-confidence of a compiler starting so: "Mundus iam seniscit, ideoque prudenciae agumen in nobis tepiscit, ne quisquam potest huius tempore nec presumit prudenciae precedences esse consimilis. Ego tamen, ut rusticitas et stremitas sensus mei valuit, studiosissime de hisdem libris breviatem, quantum plus potui, aptare presumsi..." Anybody can see from the Latin of the text that the rusticitas of the sense of the author is doubtless great enough; he speaks about its stremitas too, not I. According to a Neo-Latin expert  the Fredegarius compilation is the nadir in the history of Latinitas.
Maybe the last stroke of troubles is the revolt of Kagan Kovrat of the Bulgars. Some sources put here the pretension of Alzeco, chief of either the Bulgars or the Kutrigurs to the Avar throne . However it seems that this is a chronologic error and the event happened 50 years later (see there).
Note m: The Illustrated Vienna Chronicle is a Hungarian work from the Royal Chancellery. Its date is cca. 1374, under Louis I of Hungary, from the Angevins, and according to experts it was a prestige publication sent to France amongst engagement gifts ("to show the haughty French who are we"). For the text see . The date cannot be pen error; the Pope & Eastern Emperor are correctly named. See another "invasion" c. 680.
Note n: The Hungarian historiography seems to have cleared up the chaos about the sons of Kovrat, the Bulgarian. (Kovrat is the Bulgarian or –r Turk form. In Common or –z Turk it would be Kurt. The Boz Kurt of Note c would be cca. Bora Kovrat in Bulgarian.) For the actual event in the Carpathian Basin see . However that is again in Hungarian, so I repeat some statements here. Kagan Kovrat dies in Pontus in 665. He had 5 sons, in age sequence Batbayan, Kotrag, Isperik, Küber & Alzeko. In some years the Khazars attack Kagan Batbayan. He becomes Khazarian vassal, but his brothers migrate away with some parts of the nation. Kotrag founds Volga Bulgaria. Isperik goes to the Lower Danube and founds Danube Bulgaria in 681. (Still in existence in 2003.) About the remaining 2 sons Theofanés, a chronicler of Byzance from IXth c. writes that they crossed the Danube and went further, one to Avar Pannonia, the other to the Pentapolis at Ravenna, Italy. Now the Greek Orthodox Legend of St. Demetrios  tells that about 680 the Avar ruler nominated a governor for the non-Avar peoples whose name was Küber. This Küber led an exodus from Avaria, fought with the Kagan, and reached Keramesium, near to Thessaloniké. Now in the Madara inscript Kagan Tervel of Bulgaria states that his uncle lives near to Thessaloniké; and Küber was Tervel's uncle indeed.
So it seems that Küber arrived with a quantity of Pontus Bulgars into Avaria. They were admitted, but in a few years Küber claimed the throne. He was able to start a fight; at the end he was stopped and expelled with some followers. Very probably Alzeko was the youngest brother, and the names are confused.
Note o: Hungarian archaeologists detect the changes of styles and it is a commonplace that from c. 680 a Late Avar Period starts; the new component has strong Caucasian affinities. The Frank sources do not mention the Avars between 678 & 791; and the Byzantine chronicles report the last Avar embassy from 678. So indeed something happened in the Khaganate. If not a new dynasty (Küber was unsuccessful) then at least a new, isolationist ideology.
Note p: The 791 campaign is discussed from Carpathian Basin viewpoint in . Foreigners have the tendency to confuse it with the 795-6 events.
Note q: Of course everything is confused in Western sources; and modern Turkish ones work from old Western ones. Let us see a modern Turkish one . It names a Tudun I for 791-803, a Zodan for 803-805) and a Thedorus from 805. However Tudun is not a name, but an office, and Zodan seems to be a variation of Tudun. One Western source explicitly states that the "capcan", so probably the Kagan, asked for help and he became baptised in the R. Fischa to the name Theodorus. So the minimal theory suggests that the original tudun tried to make first some balance politics as Kagan of the Avars bw. Charlemagne and Kagan Krum, he was able to retain some independence until 803, and then Bulgaria attacked. Then he must have admitted an unequivocal Western "alliance", becoming Christian, but he could not have been anything else than a vassal. Some Hungarian scholars guess (from tradition) that the pagan name of Theodorus had been Kajd; but this is very uncertain. Namely Magyar folk traditions never mentioned the name Avar. The guess is that they can be found under the name Hun. Frankish sources are so scanty that they permit to assume also a Kajd until 804 and then a different Theodorus.
Hungarian experts can imagine that Kapkan (Capcanus) means something slightly below Kagan; see the example of a historical Turk: Kapagan Kagan. But while here I would accept any Türk opinion, be it Turkish, Kazak or Karaim, in this case "capcanus" is written in a Frankish chronicle. Franks did not know too much about Altaic titles.
Note r: Sources are unequivocal (if they tell anything at all) that the next Kagan had the baptismal name Abraham. For any chance he was son or close kin of the old tudun, so Ref. 's Tudun II is correct, only that is a title, not a name. See also . Some sources mention Isaac, son of Abraham.
Note s: According to the present status of art the title may have been vacant; nobody knows. Avar presence in the Basin is certain in 871.
In Magyar "God" is "Isten". Now, interestingly enough, Yabgu Istämi, father of Kagan Tardu, is considered the founder of the separate Old Western Turkish Khaganate, and so he is the predecessor of all Magyar Kagans, Hungarian Kings & Presidents.
J. Láng explains  that many peoples of world regard the spirit of the founder, first chief &c. as Supreme God. (And what is the Father of the first Kagan?) He can generate thunder, lightning, good/bad weather, diseases and such. And He is doing so, for example, if the descendants, having forgotten Him, do not make offers or other rituals.
Now, I do not have to compile a List of Avar Khagans. The founder ruler for me is Yabgu Istämi, so Isten, i.e. God; according to a Hungarian way of speech, the God of Hungarians, a magyarok Istene. Avars were the previous wave, and as Slovakians tell, they vanished without trace.
Still, Avars ruled just here, in my city too. And they were also able horsemen. So may their shadows rest in peace; most definitely they will not now disturb my dreams, since I collected at least a few names to commemorate them.
I think that further informations do exist, but for a more complete list some Magyar-Turkish-Bulgar-Uygur collaborations would be needed, at least on Internet.
APPENDIX: THE CHRONOLOGIC TABLE
Names unknown. Presence is doubtless.
Bayan II 602-617
Anon. 617-c. 630
2nd Avar state 635-c. 680, all anon.
Küber (pretender) 680-685
3rd Avar State 685
Anon till 791
Civil war 791-795
Kajd/Theodorus 795-c. 814
Abraham/Isaac c. 814-c. 835
For dynasties the picture is as follows:
0th Avar dynasty, Juan-juans NW of China
1st Transition, Chinese vassals and Western Migration
(Surviving Juan-juan statelet in China)
1st Avar State
2nd Transition, immigrants
2nd Avar State
3rd Transition, immigrants
3rd Avar State
4th Transition, attempt to reorganize
Late period, vassalage
End, total incorporation into the Magyar state
 Deguignes H.: Histoire générale des huns, des turcs et des autres tartares occidentaux avant et depuis J.C. jusqu'à présent. Paris, 1756-8
 Li Po-yo: Pei-C'i-shu: So-yin po-na-pen er-shi-sï shi. Peking, 1958
 ***: The Turning of Time, Chaps. 3 & 4. wysiwyg://126/http://www.geocities.com/kutriguri/body_3.html & wysiwyg://126/http://www.geocities.com/kutriguri/body_4.html
 Bóna I.: The Dawn of the Dark Ages. Corvina, Budapest, 1976
 Olajos Teréz: Theophylaktos Simokattés és a Baján-dinasztia kronológiája. Antik Tanulmányok 20, 60 (1973)
 ***: Croatia Chronology until 1990. http://www.dalmatia.net/croatia/history/chronology_614_1990.htm
 Ferenczy E.: A magyar föld népeinek története a honfoglalásig. Gondolat, Budapest, 1958.
 Kollautz A.: Quellenbuch zur Geschichte der Awaren, Prague, 1944
 Kollautz A.: Die Awaren. Saeculum 5, 128 (19540
 László Gy.: Études archéologiques sur l'histoire de la société des Avars. Archaeologia Hungarica XXXIV, 255 (1955)
 Ostrogorsky G.: Geschichte des byzantinichen Staaten. 1952, p. 66 sqq.
 Herrman J.: A francia nyelv története. Gondolat, Budapest, 1966.
 Szentpétery I.: Scriptores rerum Hungaricarum tempore ducum regumque stirpis Arpadinae gestarum. Budapest, 1937, Vol. 1, p. 239 sqq.
 Dümmerth D.: Az Árpádok nyomában. Panoráma, Budapest, 1977.
 Migne J-P .: Patrologia Greco-Latina, Tomus CXVI, Paris, 1891, p. 1363 sqq.
 Bóna I.: Nagy Károly nyomdokain. In: Évezredek hétköznapjai, ed. Szombathy V., Panoráma, Budapest, 1973., p. 141 sqq.
 ***: Avar Imperatorlugu. http://www.cankaya.gov.tr/avar.htm
 Tomka P.: Avarok a Kisalföldön. In: Régészeti barangolások Magyarországon, ed. Szombathy V., Panoráma, Budapest, 1978., p. 124. sqq.
 Láng J.: Lélek és isten. Gondolat, Budapest, 1974.
My HomePage, with some other studies, if you are curious.