Nomads, Northmen and Slavs. Eastern Europe in the ninth century

Imre Boba





A. Theories of the origin of the Magyars (i.e., Hungarians)  87

B. A new approach to the controversy; a theory of a Meshcher - Majghari continuity  92

C. Meshchers and the Rus center of 'Artha'  98



In an earlier part of this study the opinion was formulated that in the ninth century the Oungroi were independent from the Majghari and that a merger of the two took place only at the end of the century (c. 890). [1] In the following pages an attempt will be made to restore the early history of the Majghari, to trace the abodes occupied by them before their appearance in the Pontic Steppes, and to determine their role in the developments in Eastern Europe during the first half of the ninth century.





In the past, the history of the Majghari has been obscured by various theories which linked them directly with the modern Hungarians and suggested that the latter had existed as a homogeneous conscious national entity already in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. or even earlier. [2] Since there is no written evidence referring directly to the ‘Magyars’ before the ninth century', these theories suggested that they were anonymously incorporated in federations bearing the names of other tribes. Consequently, according to these theories, information on the Onogur, Turk, Sabir, Khazar, and even Hun federations should be applied on occasion to the



1. See above, pp. 74-76.


2. For a bibliography see Byzantinorurcica, Vol. I, pp. 134-45.

A short survey of recent studies is offered by Tamás Bogyay. “‘Forschungen zur Urgeschichte der Ungarn nach dem 2. Weltkrieg", Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher, XXIX (1957), pp. 93-114.

For monographic presentations see:

Gyula Németh, A honfogtaló magyarság kialakulása (Budapest. 1930);

A magyarság őstorténete, edited by Lajos Ligeti (Budapest 1943);

Erik Molnár, A magyar nép őstïortenete, 2nd ed. (Budapest, 1954);

Gyula László, Őstörtenetünk legkorábbi szakaszai (Budapest 1961).

— Lajos Ligeti is of the opinion that the ‘Magyar (i.e., Hungarian) language and nation were formed around the beginning of our time reckoning, cf. A magyarság őstörtenete (cited above), p. 40. According to István Zichy, the Ugric ‘Magyars' merged around the beginning of our time reckoning with some Turkic people, but "they preserved their national identity despite the upheavals of the great migrations” (quoted by Gyula Németh, op. cit., p. 122); see also p. 101, note 40. for a more recent survey by Bogyay.





Magyars. [3] These theories maintain further that the first appearance in the sources of the name Majghari reflects only a new and independent stage of Magyar, i.e. Hungarian, national history. As a result of this theoretical approach, unrelated and conflicting facts have been assembled as allegedly relevant to the early history of the modern Magyars.


The Hungarians have been presented as Turkicized Ugro-Finns or as Turks who had adopted an Ugric language. [4] The symbiosis of Ugric and Turkic ethnic elements allegedly took place already before the fifth century somewhere in the northeastern part of Europe and in Western Siberia, on both sides of the Ural mountains. According to most of the theories, the Magyars moved to the Caucasus, where they spent some four hundred years before they appeared in the ninth century west of the River Don.


All attempts to reconstruct the history of the Magyars before the ninth century fail to satisfy the basic need for a reference in the sources to a people so-named. The name ‘Magyar’ itself appears in the sources for the first time only in the tenth century in the Arabic/Persian form Majghari and in the Byzantine Greek form Megeri. [5] The sources using these terms were concerned with events which happened in the ninth century. To go beyond the facts offered by these sources, reasonable conjectures should be used.


In offering a new theory on the origin of the Hungarians and in tracing their earlier abodes, the basic principle applied here is to distinguish between the component ethnic elements of the Hungarians as long as possible. On the basis of some commonly known facts, the following observations can be made. Constantine Porphyrogenitus knew that the Hungarians in the tenth century were bilingual. [6] It is also known that the Onogur-Bulgars spoke an Altaic language. The Hungarians of today speak an Ugric language of the Finno-Ugric group. As the Hungarians are in our opinion the result of an ethnic merger of the Altaic Onogurs and of Majghari, it is evident that the non-Altaic Magyar (Hungarian) language is a heritage of the latter. Although language and ethnic composition are not necessarily constant factors in the history of a nation, it is admissible



3. This is the basic methodological approach. For an application of that method, see Gyula Németh, op. cit., pp. 151-220. See also Elemér Moór, “Die Benennung der Ungarn in den Quellen des IX. und X. Jahrhunderts”, Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher, XXXI (1959), pp. 191-229.


4. The controversy was based mostly on linguistic affinities and on the Altaic character of the military organization of the tribes entering Hungary during the last decade of the ninth century. The controversy known as “the war between the Ugors and the Turks” is summarized by Tamás Bogyay, op. cit., p. 94.


5. Károly Czeglédy, “A ‘magyar’ népnév legrégibb előfordulásai a forrásokban". Emlékkönyv Pais Dezső hetvenedik születésnapjára, edited by Géza Bárczi and Lóránd Benkő (Budapest, 1956), pp. 268-75.


6. De administrando imperio, p. 175:


“And so to these Turks they taught also the tongue of the Khazars, and to this day they have this same language, but they have also the other tongue of the Turks.”





to assume that the masses of the Majghari, who spoke an Ugric dialect, were also of Ugric ethnic stock. This linguistic and ethnic identification of the Majghari may help in further inquiries into their proto-history.


As already quoted, Ibn Rūsta made the statement that the Khazars once had to surround themselves with a defense system against the Majghari and some other peoples. [7] His report should be tentatively linked with the construction by the Khazars of the fortress of Sarkel on the Don in the thirties of the ninth century. Thus Ibn Rūsta provides the first reference to the Majghari. All other references to them in Muslim sources definitely apply to the second half of the ninth century. These sources name as neighbors of the Majghari to the west and northwest the Ruses, who did not move into the central regions of Eastern Europe before 850.


Ibn Rūsta’s information and, in fact, all other references to the Majghari in the Arabic and Persian sources were originally contained in the work of Jaihānī, a statesman and scholar of the Samanid state. His work, compiled before 903, has since been lost, but extensive fragments were preserved in compilations made by various Arabic and Persian authors. Among them, the most important are Ibn Rūsta and an anonymous Persian author, whose work is entitled udūd al-'Ālam, i.e., “The Regions of the World”, as well as Gardīzī and al-Bakrī.


The most reliable information on the Majghari is included in the work of Ibn Rūsta, who copied almost the whole narrative of Jaihanī as early as ten years after the original was composed (i.e. in 912). The anonymous udūd al-'Ālam (982) and Gardīzī's work (ca 1050), both in Persian, have some important supplementary information which was omitted by Ibn Rūsta. Al-Bakrī's compilation dates from the very end of the eleventh century (died 1094). Variations among these sources are due to the fact that none of the compilers made a complete transcript of Jaihanī; hence some sentences appear in one, some in another source. The mutations can also be explained as resulting from a changing historical perspective.


The various texts agree that the Majghari were an independent nation. Their king, whose title was K.nda, had a force of 20,000 horsemen. The Majghari also had another king with the title Jula, who was the actual commander in matters of war and defense. The land of the Majghari was located between two large rivers flowing into the Black Sea. [8]


According to udūd al-'Ālam, the Majghari lived in Eastern Europe in a region delimited on the west and north by a river, which separated them from the Ruses. [9] This river must have been the Dnieper in that part where it flows through the forest steppe zone, because the Ruses had been in the Kiev area since the late fifties of the ninth century, but their control



7. See above, p. 74.


8. Ibn Rūsta and Gardīzi; English translation in C. A. Macartney, The Magyars in the Ninth Century (Cambridge, 1930), pp. 207-8.


9. Hudud al-Alam, p. 101.





did not extend into the steppes. The northern border of the Majghari could have reached the River Sula or even the River Desna, both on the northern limits of the steppe-forest zone, a natural obstacle for the nomads.


South of the Majgharija, across the bend of the Dnieper, were the Onogur-Bulgars. The Onogurs had been west of the Dnieper, in the steppe zone, since the date of their defection from the Avar Empire. The two large rivers flanking the Majghari territory, therefore, must have been the Dnieper and the Don. From the territory between these two rivers, the Majghari had direct unobstructed access to the Crimea, where, in the port of Kerch, [10] according to Ibn Rūsta, they sold aqāliba slaves to the Byzantine merchants. [11]


It is as yet impossible to establish the exact date of the arrival of the Majghari in the Dnieper-Don region. A relative chronology can be made, however, with reference to Ibn Rūsta’s report on the Khazar defense system, built against the Majghari, and to the fact that Sarkel, probably part of that system, was built in the thirties of the ninth century. The time when the Majghari were definitely present in the Dnieper-Don region is indicated by the reference in 'udūd al-'Ālam’ that they were the neighbors of the Ruses, who arrived in Kiev only in the fifties of the ninth century. The Majghari were pushed westward out of this territory, across the Dnieper, by the first attack of the Pechenegs in the year 888/9. Consequently, the Majghari occupied the region between the Don and the Dnieper for a period of some sixty to seventy years, i.e. between 820/30 to 888/9.


The next, yet unsolved, problem is the question whence the Majghari came to the Pontic Steppe zone. The usual explanation is that, before 800/830, the Majghari lived anonymously as part of a Bulgar federation or of the Khazar Empire, in the region north of the Caucasian mountains, along the River Kuban. The whole theory of a Bulgar-Magyar symbiosis, however, and of a domicile of the Majghari-Magyars along the River Kuban from the sixth century on is based on a series of misinterpreted and unconvincingly edited Muslim and Byzantine sources. [12] In order to



10. For the identification of that place there are various alternatives suggested, i.e., Chersonesus or Kerch. Without deciding upon one or another possible location of Kerh, we may note that all suggested locations are along the seacoast between the Don and the Dnieper; cf. C. A. Macartney, op. cit., p. 69; Gyula Németh, op. cit., pp. 155-57.


11. C. A. Macartney, op. cit., p. 209, where the transcription ‘Karakh’ is offered. For Arabic text and a Russian translation, see Izviestiia o Khozarakh, Burtasakh, Bolgarakh, Madiarakh, Slavianakh i Russakh Abu-Ali Akhmeda Ben Omar Ibn Dasta (recte Ibn Rūsta), edited by D. A. Khvolson (Sanktpeterburg, 1869), p. 26. Khvolson's identification of the place, ibid., p. 121.


12. Chronologically, the first evidence is the name of a Hunnic leader, ‘Mouageris’, who lived in the sixth century somewhere around the Sea of Azov. It was assumed that the name was the equivalent of the ethnic name ‘Magyar’. The reading of the name is still doubtful and an ethnic connotation is highly improbable. For details, see Gyula Németh, op. cit., pp. 165-71; for a bibliography, see Byzantinoturcica, Vol. II, s.v.





illustrate the weak foundations of the assumption of a North Caucasian provenance of the Majghari, it should suffice to examine critically a few of the arguments used in favor of such theories.


The main argument is derived from a fragment included in the report of al-Bakrī on the Majghari. Describing the frontiers of the Majghari, al-Bakrī, and only he, included a short description of the lands and people of the Caucasus. [13] As it appears, the fragment on the Caucasus is the final part of al-Bakrī’s description, but since the fragment has no reference to the Majghari themselves, it could easily be considered an independent fragment. The fact that al-Bakrī is chronologically the last compiler to use Jaihani is also of importance. That he should be the only one to preserve a fragment omitted by earlier compilers is rather improbable. The fragment of al-Bakrī about the Caucasus should therefore be treated as an interpolation with no source value for the ninth century. Furthermore, there is even reason to believe that the fragment on the Caucasus was taken over by al-Bakrī from another Muslim author, namely from Mas'ūdī, who indeed dealt with the lands of the Caucasus, but without reference to the Majghari. The observations above are enough to exclude al-Bakri from further consideration. Consequently, the theory of a Caucasian homeland of the Majghari remains without supporting evidence.


Further criticism concerns the editing of the relevant texts. Al-Bakrī’s own text, as presented by the proponents of the Caucasian theory, illustrates the interpretative character of the editions. Where the manuscript refers to a people named (rather illegibly) ‘. . . n’ the editors read ‘As’, [14] a seldom used name of the Alans. The parallel text in Gardīzī’s compilation has instead of ‘. . . n’, the name of the Onogurs spelled out in the plural form: ‘n.nd.r’ (Onogundur). In order to comply with the very doubtful



13. Arabic text in A magyar honfoglalds kútfői, edited by Gyula Pauler and Sándor Szilágyi (Budapest, 1900), p. 195. Parallel presentation of Ibn Rūsta’s, Gardīzī’s and al-Bakrī’s texts in A magyarság őstörtinete, ed. Lajos Ligeti (Budapest, 1943), pp. 106-9; a discussion of the source by Gyula Németh, op. cit., pp. 160-64.


14. Gyula Németh, op. cit., p. 161, with reference to Marquart’s Streifzüge. Cf. also Hudud al-Alam, pp. 458-60. The name As appeared in Muslim sources only during the Mongol period when it replaced the earlier Alan, cf. Minorsky's comments in Hudud al-Alam, pp. 456, 458. Minorsky doubted whether Marquart’s conjecture was justified and suggested that, instead of the anachronistic As, the name Tulas should be read. Minorsky added that even the Tulas could not have been the neighbors of the Magyars and that such a neighborhood was only a surmise of al-Bakri. Minorsky, nevertheless, accepts the theory of the Caucasian (Kuban) abodes of the Magyars, cf. Hudud al-Alam, pp. 457-60. Even Marquart admitted that his identification of the people As was the only instance of the occurrence of that name in the ninth century, cf. his Streifzüge, pp. 164, 167, 172.





reading of al-Bakrī's text, this name has also been changed to read ‘As’. Similarly, the name of the Moravians, ‘m.d.dat’, has been changed to read ‘avyaz’ (i.e. Abchaz). [15]


These textual changes, as well as the related theories, are untenable, first of all, on methodological grounds. (E.g., the Persian written forms of the names ‘nndr’ and ‘As’, as well as the pair ‘mrdat’ and ‘avyaz’, have no graphic resemblance to one another.) But there are also many other reasons for rejecting the theory. For instance, we know that the Alans (the ‘As’ of the semi-anachronistic transcriptions) lived not only on the Caucasus, but also up the River Don. This makes it possible that Alan loanwords in the Hungarian language were taken over in the Don region, and not necessarily in the neighborhood of the Caucasus. Retaining the reading ‘n.nd.r.’ and ‘m.d.dat’, we have the two western neighbors of the Majghari, the Onogurs and the Moravians at a time when the former were already expanding across the Dnieper.


If al-Bakrī’s fragment about the lands and people of the Caucasus is disregarded as irrelevant to the problem of the original abodes of the Majghari, and if Gardīzī’s text is restored to read ’Onogur’ and ‘m.r.dat’, then the assumption that the Majghari moved from the Kuban to the Don-Dnieper region remains unsupported. There is no source whatsoever which purports to have knowledge of the Majghari in the Kuban-Caucasus region in the ninth century or earlier. Their presence there at any time would no doubt have been noted in some Oriental or Byzantine source. A need for the reevaluation of the Caucasian or Kuban theory has been suggested recently by several Hungarian linguists and historians. [16] Here we submit our own observations.





In looking for the earlier abodes of the Majghari, it could be argued that they had come from beyond the Volga, across Khazar possessions, but in such a case the Muslim sources would have been more explicit and Khazar defenses would probably have been along the Volga, rather than along the Don. Since the Onogurs, the defectors from the Avar Empire, inhabited the territory west of the Dnieper, the only direction from which the Majghari could have moved into the Dnieper-Don region remains the



15. Gyula Németh, op. cit., p. 164; Marquart, Streifzüge, pp. 174-76.


16. For names and opinions see note 22 in Gyula László’s Őstörténetünk legkorábbi szakaszai (Budapest, 1961), p. 30. Omitted from his list of authorities is Elemér Moór, the most outspoken opponent of the theory of a Caucasian domicile. For Moor’s opinion see “Studien zur Früh- und Urgeschichte des ungarischen Volkes", Acta Ethnographica, II (1951), pp. 25-142.





north. Considering that the Majghari were linguistically an Ugric (i.e. Finno-Ugric) people, as well as that the northern part of Eastern Europe was and is the domain of Finno-Ugric tribes, the hypothesis can be posed that the Majghari moved to the Dnieper-Don region from the north.


Interestingly enough, in the regions of Tambov, Saratov, Penza, Simbirsk, and Kazan, there are toponymies such as ‘Mazhar’, ‘Mozhar’, and ethnic names such as ‘Meshcheriaki’ and ‘Mishery’, which were already suspected by scholars in the nineteenth century to be related to the ethnic name ‘Magyar’. [17] Gyula Németh, in his study on the ethnogenesis of the Hungarians, expressed the view that the ethnic group known in Russian sources as ‘Mozherane’ represented a splinter group of the Magyars who had gone north to live among the Bashkirs. [18] József Perényi, in a recent study on East Slavic-Hungarian relations, extended the possibility of Magyar origin to the ethnic groups known in Russian sources by the names: ‘Mizhery’ and ‘Meshchers’, but he retained the “Caucasian theory” of their primordial abodes. Even more specific is Elemér Moór, who asserts that the Meshchers have split off from the main body of the ‘Magyars’ only in 889, during the war with the Pechenegs. [19] Our contention, to the contrary, is that the Majghari are identical with the Meshchers: what we know today as Meshcher Land is in fact the habitat of the Majghari before they came into contact with the Muslim world and Byzantium.


On the basis of a detailed phonetic analysis, Károly Czeglédy came to the conclusion that there was no linguistic obstacle to considering the geographic names with the root mazhar- as a reflection of the ethnic name of the Magyars of the pre-Conquest period. He also suggested that further studies should be devoted to the study of toponymies in the region of the Volga and in the Meshcher land. [20]


The Meshchera land [21] is located on historical maps on the Oka River in the region north of the city of Riazan. This region is open toward the south and allows direct access, unhampered by any river, to the steppe between the Dnieper and the Don. [22] From such a location, a nomadic tribe with horses and cattle could move to Sarkel or the Crimea without crossing a single river or mountain range. These facts would seem to



17. E.g. B. Munkacsi in Ethnográphia, VI (1895), p. 140. See also Elemér Moór, op. cit., pp. 129-30.


18. Gyula Németh, op. cit., pp. 314, 330.


19. József Perényi, “Vzaimootnosheniia mezhdu Vengrami i vostochnoslavianskimi plemenami", Studia Slavica, II (1956), pp. 1-29; Elemér Moór, A nyelvtudomány mint az ős- es néptörténet forrástudománya (Budapest, 1963), p. 74.


20. Károly Czeglédy, op. cit., p. 275.


21. Meshchera means ‘all the Meshcher people’ or 'the land of the Meshchers’, cf. Muroma, Mordva, Rus, Chud, etc.


22. Cf. Atlas istorii SSSR, I (Moscow, 1956), p. 8.





provide the basis for a new theory that the Majghari moved to the steppe zone, not from the Kuban region, but from the north.


A detailed inquiry into the history of the ‘Meshchera’ reveals that whereas there is a land named today ‘Meshcherskaia nizmennost’ (‘Mescher Lowland’), taking its name from an Ugric tribal name, the aboriginal population itself disappeared in the ninth and tenth centuries. The area was later repopulated by Slavs, known in the Russian Chronicles as Viatichi, and was subsequently occupied by the Polovtsians (Kumans), under whose rule the remnants of the Meshchera and Slavs became Turkicized.


In support of the new theory are the following facts: There is ample archaeological evidence that the aboriginal population of the land of Meshchera disappeared in the ninth and tenth centuries. The region, however, remained known as the “land of the Meshchers” (Meshchera). [23] The new, Turkicized, population was known later as Meshcheraki, a name which is formed from the geographic name of the region (Meshchera) and not from the ethnic name ‘Meshcher’. The name Meshcher itself is a Slavicized form reflecting probably an Ugric *mants-, *ments-. The name ‘Magyar’ is usually related to the same root. [24] Important is the fact that the name ‘Magyar’ has a variant in old Hungarian in the form of ‘Megyer’. The variant ‘Megyer’ has been preserved in the writings of Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the form Megeri; [25] the variant ‘Magyar’, by Jaihani in the form Majghari. [26]


All these observations provide strong evidence that the Ugric people, known by their Slavicized name as Meshchers, disappeared from the region of the river Oka and reappeared in the Steppe Zone under the name Majghari (in Arabic and Persian) and Megeri (in Greek).


It must be remembered, however, that ethnic names by themselves do not reveal the ethnic identity or the history of a tribe. Further, independent evidence for the theory that the original abode of the Magyars was in the Oka region can be derived from archeology. Since the theory may serve as a starting point for further re-evaluations of problems connected with the early history of Eastern Europe, it seems appropriate to present the archeological evidence in detail.


On the basis of a considerable number of publications [27] resulting from



23. Cf. A. L. Mongait, “Is istorii naseleniia basseina srednego techeniia Oki v I tysiacheletii n.e.”, Sovetskaia Arkheologiia, XVIII (1953), p. 178.


24. Károly Czeglédy, op. cit., p. 271; cf. John Lotz, "Etymological connections of Magyar ‘Hungarian’”, in For Roman Jakobson (The Hague. 1956), pp. 677-81.


25. De administrando imperio, pp. 174-75. For a bibliography see Byzantinoturcica, Vol. II, s.v.


26. Károly Czeglédy, op. cir.


27. Here are some of the more recent works. Each of them has numerous references to earlier studies:

A. P. Smirnov, Ocherki drevnei i srednevekovoi istorii narodov srednego Povolzha i Prikamia (Moscow, 1952);

A. L. Mongait, op. cit., pp. 151-89;

T. N. Nikolskaia. Kultura piemen basseina verkhnei Oki v I tysiacheletii n.e., and A. L. Mongait, Riazanskaia zemlia (Moscow, 1961).





archeological research in the Oka-Volga region, the following facts emerge: Before the settlement of the Slavs on the Oka River, the population of that region was of Finno-Ugric ethnic composition. The main occupation of these people was cattle raising. In addition, they were engaged in fishing and hunting and some primitive forms of agriculture. This form of economic life existed in the Oka region from the seventh century B.C. to the first century A.D. Between that century and the fifth century A.D., cattle raising and agriculture were the main branches of production.


Around the fifth century a change occurred in the mode of habitation of the population: the old fortified settlements (burghs) were partly abandoned and open unfortified settlements appeared. This form of settlement is more appropriate for cattle raisers, as well as for other primitive societies living under conditions of prolonged peace. The archeological complex of the first stage, up to the fifth century A.D., is called the “Culture of the burgh of Gorodetsk”, the second stage, that of the open settlements, is known as “the culture of the burial sites of the Riazan type". The archeological complex of the second stage is represented mostly by burial sites.


For the purpose of further investigation, it is important to note that the inhabitants of the Oka region were horse-riding cattle breeders and practiced burial rites of the so-called Riazan type. The dead were buried with their mounts and furnishings. This system of burial implies a considerable degree of influence by the nomadic population of the steppe zone upon the autochthons.


In fact, the inhabitants of the Oka region were in constant contact with the southern and southeastern regions of Eastern Europe, populated by Iranian and Turkic nomads. According to Jordanes (Getica, cap. 22), a people named Imniscaris were part of the Gothic Empire of Ermanarich. They are enumerated among other Ugro-Finnic peoples under the control of the Goths. J. Mikkola was of the opinion that these Imniscaris were the Meshchera of the Russian sources. [28] On the territory of the Oka affluences, where the Imniscaris/Meshchera lived, coins of the Kings of Bosporus (on the Sea of Azov) from the third and fourth centuries A.D. were unearthed, [29] a fact which implies the existence, at least, of trading contacts with remote regions of Northeastern Europe. During the Gothic period, a nomadic influence could have been exercised upon the Meshchera cattle breeders by the Alans, who were partners of the Goths. Strong contacts were especially likely during the Hunnic domination of Eastern



28. For this and other opinions see Max Vasmer, Russisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Heidelberg, 1950-58), s.v. ‘Meshchera’.


29. Cf. A. L. Mongait, uIz istorii naseleniia basseina srednego techenia Oki v I tysiacheletii n.e.”, Sovetskaia Arkheologiia, XVIII (1953), p. 159.





Europe, when the Altaic nomads took over the regions controlled earlier by the Goths. At that time, the Onogur tribes were able to extend their trade interests into the fur-producing areas of the north. The first region to be traversed by the Onogurs was, no doubt, the Oka-Volga region, inhabited by the Meshchers and other closely related Ugric tribes.


The burial of nomads with their horses was practiced in Eastern Europe by some of the tribes of the Avaric federation, by the tribes connected with the so-called Saltovo Culture [30] of the Donets-Don region, by some elements of the tribal federation which entered the Carpathian basin in the late ninth century, and also by subsequent waves of nomads dwelling on the steppes of Eastern Europe. The Meshchers and related Ugric tribes of the North could have acquired this system of burial from some Altaic nomads as a cultural borrowing, or as the result of a prolonged symbiosis of the Ugric ethnic element with some Iranian (Alan) or Altaic (Turkic) tribal groups. The beginning of the Iranian influence can be tentatively dated in the fourth-fifth century, when, after the collapse of the Goth-Alanic Empire, some Iranian (Alan) nomadic groups were forced to seek refuge in the forests of the North. Such groups were soon followed by other nomads, probably Onogurs, remnants of the Hunnic Empire escaping from Avar or Khazar domination.


The transition from dwellings in burghs to dwellings in open settlements in the Oka region is dated in the fifth century, shortly after the defeat of the Goths and Alans at the hands of the Huns. The transition from the “culture of the Burgh of Gorodetsk” to the “culture of the burial sites of Riazan type” shows no sudden changes, and this fact implies an evolutionary development without a warlike disaster or radical exchange of population. Such a transition could have resulted only from a peaceful symbiosis.


The prerequisite for this transition from sedentary to nomadic life was that the main occupation of the autochthonous population had been predominantly cattle raising, a vocation requiring movement of herds from one grazing land to another. The transition to typical nomadic culture, including the reception of religious rites, was probably facilitated by the presence in the neighborhood, or even among the ‘Meshchera’, of various Iranian and Turkic nomads.


It is an accepted fact that religious beliefs form the most conservative elements in a tribe’s culture and changes in them occur very slowly. Consequently, it was not necessarily everybody from the autochthonous population who adopted the new religious (burial) rites. As is usually the case,



30. On the Saltovo Culture the most comprehensive study of I. I. Liapushkin appeared in Trudy volgo-donskoi arkheologicheskoi ekspeditsii, Vol. I (Moscow-Leningrad, 1958), pp. 85-150. On the alleged ‘Magyar’ connections of the Saltovo Culture see A. A. Zakharov and V. V. Arendt, "Studia Levedica”, Archeologia Hungarica, XVI (1935), pp. 6-80.





the new practices were first followed only by the leading social groups.


In the seventh century in the Steppe Zone south of the Meschera land there were definitely some nomadic people. The archeological remnants of their culture indicate a close relation to the so-called Saltovo Culture, best illustrated by the relics unearthed from the site named “Grave of a Horseman”. [31] This grave was found near the village of Artsybashev, south of Riazan. It contained a skeleton of a man, a skeleton of a horse, various implements of a warrior, and some pottery of the Saltovo type. The equipment of the warrior is of the same character as other objects unearthed in the steppe zone between the Don and the Danube, but found also in Dalmatia, Croatia, and Bohemia, the places frequented by the Avars. All these objects date from the sixth to the eighth centuries. The finds from Artsybashev can be dated more precisely, namely in the seventh century. Curiously enough, an Avaric object unearthed in Hungary is exactly like an object from Artsybashev.


According to Mongait’s evaluation of the artifacts, the objects from the Artsybashev complex form a connecting link between the cultures represented by the graves of the Riazan type and of the Saltovo type. [32] Whereas the population connected with the Artsybashev Culture lived in the steppe zone bordering on the forests of the Riazan region, the Ugric population of that region never expanded beyond the forests (at least not until their mass emigration in the ninth century). The similarity of some of the artifacts in the graves of the two ethnic groups, however, indicates that there were close economic ties between them, which in turn facilitated the exchange of cultural goods.


By the end of the first millennium A.D., the semi-nomadic population of the Oka region, the bearers of the “culture of the burial sites of the Riazan type”, identified above with the Meshchers, had disappeared. P. P. Efimenko established the fact of their disappearance, but could not give any explanation as to what might have happened to them. [33]


Efimenko has assumed that the disappearance of the population from the Oka River occurred in the seventh century. [34] But recently A. L. Mongait, after a re-evaluation of the archeological evidence, came to the following conclusion:


“Archeological evidence allows us to assert that the population connected with the burial sites of the Riazan type was autochthonous and that the disappearance of this population occurred much later than assumed by Efimenko. The disappearance was connected with the Slavic colonization of that region.” [35]


According to Mongait, it is not clear why Efimenko dated the disappearance



31. A. L. Mongait, op. cit., p. 169.        32. Ibid., pp. 169-70.


33. Quoted by Mongait, op. cit., p. 165.        34. Ibid., p. 166.        35. Ibid., p. 165.





of the Riazan burial sites in the seventh century, when several such sites were still used in the ninth and even in the tenth centuries, a fact known at the time Efimenko drew his conclusion. Mongait states that the Slavic colonization of the Oka region did not occur until the ninth to the tenth centuries, although some infiltration of Slaves Slavs  could have started as early as the eighth century. In Mongait’s opinion, the first Slavic settlements in that region came into existence side by side with the autochthonous settlements. The settlements known to us from that region are, in fact, not earlier than the ninth or tenth century, [36] and, therefore, Mongait’s assumption of a Slavic infiltration before the ninth century is unsupported.


Efimenko also made the interesting observation that in the ninth and tenth centuries Slavic settlements were established on sites abandoned earlier by the Ugric population. Although, in archeology, observations on chronology are not always very reliable, the fact remains that an exchange of population did take place without a conquest and that the Slavs moved into the region only after the area was largely evacuated.


Finally, it should be noted that, in the ninth and subsequent centuries, the River Oka served as a trade route for contacts between the Northeast and the East. Along the shores of the River Oka nineteen hoards containing Oriental coins and objects of Central Asiatic provenance have been unearthed. [37] The dates on the coins indicate the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries. Considering that trade with the East developed only during the ninth century and that the Arabic dirhems (even with dates from the eighth century) are usually in hoards from the ninth or tenth centuries, it may be assumed that the Oka River was not used for trade contacts with the East earlier than the ninth century. The use of the Oka for transport must therefore have been connected with the appearance of the Northmen on routes between the Baltic and the Volga. Surprisingly enough the evacuation of the Oka region by the Meshchers took place actually at a time when the region was gaining in economic importance.





As the next step, the causes for the mass emigration of the Meschera/Majghari from the Oka region should be explored. There are various reasons why a nomadic, or even semi-nomadic, people might change its



36. Various opinions are cited by T. N. Nikolskaia, op. cit., pp. 5-13. Mongait did not provide any evidence for the alleged presence of Slavs in the Riazan region already before the ninth century.


37. A. L. Mongait, op. cit., p. 173. Oriental coins unearthed in the region of Moscow are from the ninth and tenth centuries. It is assumed that the trade connections between the population of that region and the Muslim East were carried along the Oka and Volga and not along the Don; cf. T. N. Nikolskaia, op. cit., pp. 78-79.





place of habitation. The life of the cattle raisers in peacetime reveals a high level of organization in contrast to the popular concept of nomadism.


The movements of the herd are actually restricted to a change of pasture in the spring, summer, and winter with a rather well-planned rotation within the same larger geographic area. The life of a cattle herder is as much regulated by the seasons as that of an agriculturist. An owner of a herd who lives in a city or in a permanent settlement knows exactly where to find his herdsmen at any time of the year, in spite of the distances involved.


What popular belief connects with the notion of nomadic life is actually the unexpected movement of cattle breeders caused by sudden changes in climatic conditions or by external military pressure. In both cases, the cattle breeders can avoid economic disaster by searching for new grazing lands or can evade the enemy by withdrawing in an organized fashion. In short, the ‘migrations’ are not the typical but the exceptional form of nomadic life. The nomads are inclined to be warlike and aggressive only when they are forced to abandon their abode or when they lose their cattle, their main source of subsistence.


In the case of the Meshchers, the reason for the exodus could not have been a sudden climatic change. The Oka region abounds in small rivers; a drought could not have affected all pasture lands, and the forest would have provided temporary relief for the animals. Finally, a transfer of the herds, even southward, because of climatic conditions would have been considered only a temporary measure.


But the Meshchers did not return to the Oka River, nor did they even settle in a neighboring region. As Efimenko and Mongait expressed it: the Meshchera, for unknown reasons, disappeared and nobody knows where they went. This statement at least concedes that they must have gone somewhere and that they were not absorbed by some other ethnic group.


Peoples which in the past disappeared in one region of the world usually reappeared in the most unexpected places. The Vandals from Central Europe moved to Spain (‘Vandalusia’-‘Andalusia’) and North Africa. The Goths and some of the Alans from Eastern Europe moved to Spain (‘Goth-Alania’-‘Catalonia’). This pattern applies also to the Meshchers, who according to our theory, disappeared from the Oka region and reappeared in the steppe zone between the Don and the Dnieper.


Their emigration from the Oka River must have been brought about by some political, and not by some economic, factor. Since the archeological evidence shows that they lived in the Oka region until the ninth century, and since their appearance on the Don was the cause of anxiety on the part of the Khazars around the year 830, the migration must have been connected with some development during the first decades of the ninth century.


In the northern part of Eastern Europe in the early ninth century, by





far the most significant event was the appearance of the Northmen along the rivers connecting the Baltic Sea with the River Volga. The emigration of the Meshchers from the neighborhood of the River Oka must undoubtedly have been related to the appearance of these militant, aggressive Northmen. The Oka, as already indicated, was an important thoroughfare, as evidenced by numerous silver hoards containing Arabic dirhems unearthed along the banks of that river.


The Northmen, as part of their activities in Eastern Europe, were interested in procuring food, if necessary by force, and capturing slaves to be sold on the markets of Central Asia and the Middle East. The new methods of warfare, or rather the well-organized armed ambushes, of the Northmen, made the conventional military tactics of the Slavs or of the nomads, at least for a while, impractical. The autochthonous population could not match the strategy and tactics of the Northmen, just as, at that time, the armies of Western Europe were unable to resist the Vikings. Faced with the choice of submission or evacuation, the politically more advanced groups of the Meshchera, as is often the case with nationally conscious groups, decided in favor of a mass exodus. For such a decision, the mobility of the Meshchera population and the semi-military organization of the cattle raising tribes were important factors.


The hypothesis that, under such circumstances, the cattle herding Ugric population abandoned the Oka region finds support in the conjecture that the first Norse center in Eastern Europe was not Novgorod or Kiev, but a place somewhere along the Volga, more precisely in the Oka-Volga region. [38] It cannot be coincidental that this first Nordic political center is normally connected with the region of Riazan. This city is located directly on the border of the Meshchera land.


The name Riazan is tentatively connected by scholars with the name of another Ugric tribe, that of the Erza, who were also forced out of the Oka River region. Today, it is unanimously accepted that the city of Riazan came into existence only at a time when the Erza had left the region and the Northmen and Slavs arrived on the River Oka. [39] Despite its Ugric name, the archeological evidence shows that the city of Riazan was a Slavic-Norse settlement. Obviously, the Northmen established their



38. The controversy concerning the location of Artha (al-Arthania) is more than a century old. The efforts to identify the three centers of Rus are narrowing down to Kiev, Novgorod, and the tribal territory of the people named Erza. The theory of the location of Artha on the territory of the Erza was formulated by C. M. V. Frähn in 1823. The best arguments in favour of that theory were assembled by Pavlo Smirnov, Volźkyi shliakh (Kiev, 1928). A recent theory of J. Hrbek connects Artha with Arkona on the island of Rügen (Rugia). Hrbek analyzed all the available texts of importance, but his conclusions are not convincing; cf. J. Hrbek, “Der dritte Stamm der Rus”, Archiv Orientálni, XXV (1957), pp. 628-52.


39. Cf. A. L. Mongait, op. cit., pp. 184-85.





trading and military center on the Oka-Volga Rivers only after the autochthonous Ugric population abandoned the region.


This Norse center was known to the Muslim authors by the name of Artha, a name which is also derived from the tribal name Erza. [40] The Erza lived originally north of the Meshchera and must have emigrated at the same time as the Meshchers. Both the names Artha and Riazan are derived from the geographic name of the region and not from the name of the tribe directly (cf. the formation of the name of the Meshcheraki from the land Meshchera). It is therefore plausible that the Meshchers and the Erza abandoned their original homes simultaneously under the pressure of the Northmen. Only on the evacuated territory did the first Rus center of Artha come into existence. All these events must be dated sometime shortly before the year 830, for it was soon after that date that the Khazars built Sarkel as a defense against the Majghari.



40. Ibid.; cf. Max Vasmer, op. cit., s.v. ‘Riazan’. For a most recent survey of studies on the proto-history of the Hungarians see Tаmás Bogyay, “Research into the Origin and Ancient History of the Hungarian Nation after the Second World War”, The Hungarian Quarterly, III (1962). I read this study only after completing my manuscript.


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