The Avar Invasion of Corinth

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The Avar Invasion of Corinth

In 556 CE, in the 32nd year of the reign of Justinian the Great, the Avars sent ambassadors to Constantinople, modern day Turkey. They were considered strange and barbaric people (these Caucasian Avars should not be confused with the European Avars) and made the great Byzantium Empire very nervous.

At this time, a great number of different people, such as the Avars and the Savs, were experiencing a mass migration westwards – leading Europe to being invaded, affected and home to many warring nomadic people. In the middle of the 6th century CE, as the Avars crossed the Peloponnese, they invaded Corinth.

Although we have some literary sources which tell of the Avars, most are vague. An anonymous author describes the Avars in his narrative, Concerning the Establishment of Monemvasia. “They wore their hair very long, bound with fillets and braided, while their accoutrement in other respects was like that of the rest of the Huns. These people, as Evagrius says in the fifth part of his ecclesiastical history, are a tribe of wagon-dwellers living beneath the Caucasus, and pasturing there in the plains. Since they suffered ill at the hands of their neighbours, the Turks, they fled from them … The king welcomed them kindly, and bestowed upon them the right to dwell in the region of Mysia, in the city of Dorostolos, now called Dristra”.

The document tells how the Avars became wealthy in their new lands and in 582 CE demanded 20,000 extra gold coins. The king wanted peace and gave into this demand. However, the khan wished to go to war and, using some insignificant reason, broke the truce between them and captured Singidon, a town of Thrace. The document tells how they captured many cities, including parts of Asia Minor, Thessaly, Epirus, Attica and Euboe.

They pushed on into the Peloponnese, drove out the Greek people and settled in the new lands themselves. They attacked the city of Corinth and held the Peloponnese for 218 years, from 588 to 805 CE.

However, we have to be extremely careful with this document; it was written sometime between 1340 and the 16th century and we cannot view it as an original or entirely accurate source. Although one of the best in the descriptions of the Avars, we must not take its contents at face value.

Archaeological excavations at Corinth have suggested some degree of fighting and/or attacks between the sixth and ninth centuries, and there have been some non-Greek or non-Byzantine finds found. However, these finds could just be items that the Avars brought in or the Greeks brought instead.

Archaeological digs are still being conducted in Greece to trace the history of the Avars; it is hoped that with time, the question whether the Avars forced their way into Corinth and the surrounding areas or not, will hopefully be questioned.

Bibliography:

Davidson, G. R. & Horvath, Tibor (1937) The Avar Invasion of Corinth, Hesperia, American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

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