Where have all the Avars gone? A view from eastern Europe
Keywords:Avars, Khazars, belt fittings, social elites, hillforts
The presence of the Avars in Eastern Europe, particularly in the lands between the Carpathian Mountains and the river Dnieper, has so far been a matter of concern for historians. Archaeologists are skeptical: except for a couple of finds from Budureasca, there are no Early Avar belt fittings anywhere to the north, east, and south from the Carpathian Mountains. In Poland, Avar-age finds cluster in the south (Silesia and Lesser Poland) and are dated after AD 700. The vast majority of those finds, however, are from the very end of the 8th or even the early decades of the 9th century. The sudden interest in Avar things in the lands north of the Sudeten and Carpathian Mountains may signal a desire of local elites to employ the modes of status (and, supposedly, power) representation inside the Avar Qaganate. It is however truly surprising that such an interest coincides in time with what historians believe to be a period of decline of the Avar polity. The symbolism of the Avar belt fittings was also harnessed by members of communities who buried their dead in cemeteries excavated in southern Romania. By contrast, there are no Avar-age belt fittings anywhere in the lands to the east from the Carpathian Mountains. During the second half of the 8th and the early 9th century, this region experienced something of a demographic boom, as indicated by the large number of settlement sites. There are also hillforts, but a true concern with marking social status in the material culture cannot be dated before the mid-9th century. When such markers of social prominence became necessary, the language of representation was completely different from that employed earlier by elites in southern Poland who wanted to emulate the Avars. In Eastern Europe, after 850, elites emulated the Khazars, not the Avars.
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