Im Zentrum der Macht – Auf der Suche nach dem Sitz des Awaren Khagans

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Balogh C.

in: Reiternomaden in Europa – Hunnen, Awaren, Bulgaren, Ungarn, Daim Falko,Heher Domink, Editor, Schallaburg Kulturbetriebsges m.b.H., Vienna, pp.86-89, 2022

  • Publication Type: Book Chapter / Chapter Vocational Book
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Publisher: Schallaburg Kulturbetriebsges m.b.H.
  • City: Vienna
  • Page Numbers: pp.86-89
  • Editors: Daim Falko,Heher Domink, Editor


The Avar Khaganate was essentially modelled on the Eurasian nomadic empires and can best be characterized as an intricate network of different groups organised along kinship and ethnic lines or on a regional, cultural and social basis, all integrated into a federal-hierarchic organisation. Contemporaries commemorate the Kagan, who had exclusive central power, and later other dignities who shared power with him (Tudun and Yugurrush), but there is little mention of anything other than names of dignity and brief references to wealth and a luxurious lifestyle. The sources make no mention of the location of the Kagan’s centre or of where the fortitied centre (hring) referred to in the 8th century Western sources actually lay. In the absence of written sources, archeological research used its own tools of the discipline to try to determine the Kagan’s seat and to outline it on the basis of the richest Avar finds. Despite the fact that so far neither a palace or other structure referring to the Kagan’s center, nor certainly the grave of the Kagan has been found, but based on the concentration of gold and silver ornamented weapons and prestige objects, the centre of Avar power elite can be located in the area of Danube–Tisza Interfluve in the 7th century. However, there are still several ideas about the location of the earliest (6th century) and late Avar (8th century) center of power, but none of them have been sufficiently substantiated so far.

Based on the twelve outstandingly rich graves with weapons (so-called leader graves) found so far in the northern part of the Danube-Tisza Interfluve, we can draw a relatively accurate picture of the 7th-century Avar power elite (Fig. 1).

The Avar elite was of Inner Asian origin; their skulls showed Mongoloid morphological traits. Their ethnic origin is unclear, some think they are Heftalites (Central Asian Hun), others are Rourans (who ruled the region of today’s Mongolia and North Chinea in the 4th-6th centuries AD). Genetic studies in recent years support the latter idea.

The graves of rich men belonging to the Avar power elite were dug in wet-swampy places far from their community. These prestigious men were buried with gold earrings, decorated clothes, belts adorned with gold mounts and sword with gold fittings. The symbols of power of the richest (Bócsa, Kunbábony) were the cast gold pseudo-buckles (bucke-shaped mount) decorating their belts, the sword decorated with triple -arched suspension loops made of gold plate and the rython (drinking horn) made of gold plate (Fig. 2). In addition, gold and silver vessels were placed into their graves.

The by far still most magnificent princely burial came to light in area known as Bábony on the outskirts of Kunszentmiklós (County Bács-Kiskun). The man, who died between the ages of 60 and 70 – from whose grave a gold object weighing nearly 2.4 kg was found – was buried in a bed converted into a coffin decorated with gold plates. His shroud was also decorated with gold foils and plates, and gold-clawed gloves and gold rings were put on his hands. His dignity was expressed not only by his belts decorated with gold mounts and weapons, but also by his golden bird-head stick and his gold-plated whip.

In the social hierarchy the highest-ranking leaders were followed by lower-ranking regional leaders, who also wore a rank-bearing belt decorated with pressed pseudo-buckles or other types of gold mounts (Fig. 3-4) embossed next to their swords with triple-arched suspension loops made of silver or gold plate frame false buckles.

The Avar elite wished to resemble Byzantium in appearance.  Byzantine-style belt ornaments appeared on their belts, but this was mostly superficial and formal, preserving in many respects (e.g. wearing earrings, funeral customs) their Central Asian nomadic traditions. That is, the Avar leadership was not culturally transformed by Byzantine civilization.

Surrounded by the supposed leader accommodation area drawn by the graves of the power elite, there are rich, also armed graves that can be defined as burials of the military elite. The symbol of their lower dignity was the sword decorated with P or D shaped loops made of gold and silver (Fig. 5). Their graves are solitary (Szalkszentmárton) or appear in smaller groups of family graves (Kunpeszér, Grave 3, Grave 8, Grave 9, Grave 30/A, Fajsz-Garadomb, Grave C, Bačko Petrovo Selo-Čik, Grave 28, Mali Iđoš, Grave 70 etc.). Based on the location of their burials, it is likely that their task may have been to protect the most important strategic sites around the center of power (along former roads and river crossings).

The concentric structure of the center of power (the accommodation area of the power elite, surrounded by the accommodation of the military elite and other armed communities) lasted until the end of the 7th century. In the 8th century, according to the sources, the power structure of the Khaganate was transformed, and other dignities appearing besides the Kagan in all probability developed their own center of power. However, the seat of Tudun located in the northern part of the Danube (Komarno and its surround) and the alleged seat of Yugurrush in the vicinity of the upper Tisza River (Hortobágy-Árkus district) require further research.