The names of the five Bands of Sklavins who attacked Thessalonica in 614 AD have Hunnic or Iranian etymologies

The anonymous Miracula S. Demetrii (= Miracles of St. Demetrius II; compiled ca. 675-685) [117] gives a list of five bands (ἔϑνος) of the Sklavins who attacked Thessalonica in 614 [118]. Many scholars have labored in vain to establish Slavic etymologies of these putative «Slavic tribal names» [119]. If the Sklavin troops were created by the Proto-Bulgars sometime during the last decades of the fifth century, as I assume, the self-designations of these bands should reflect the Ponto-Caspian milieu of the time, which was Hunno-(Eastern) Iranian. Let us therefore check to see whether the hypothesis holds. Here are the names [120]:

    1. Βαϊουνητ-
    2. Βελεγεζητ-
    3. Βερζητ-
    4. Δρουγουβιτ-
    5. Σαγουδατ-

Four seem to have a suffix /it/, spelled -ητ- or -ιτ-, while the fifth may be seen as without suffix.

 There is a suffix /it/ that is very familiar to Altaists. Indeed, it occurs in the name of the Hunnic Avars: Varxun- it

Compare Ἐϕϑαλῖτ-αι, «Hephthalites», derived from the name of their leader Efthal [121]. This seems to be a parallel to a later stage in the linguistic history of this territory, namely the self-designations of groups of Ukrainian Cossacks that were based on the names of their leaders.

 There were two patterns. The first took the stem of the leader’s name, sometimes removing a final suffix, and added a suffix denoting «adherent of» : e.g. Mazepa : Mazep-yn-ci, Lisowski : Lisov-čyk-y (Lat. Lissov-ian-i) [122]. The second was simply the name of the leader, e.g. Barabaš «Left-bank Cossacks (after 1667)», from the name of Colonel Barabaš (fl. 1647-1648) [123].


Detaching the it-suffix, let us look at the four bases Baioun-, Belegez-, Berz- and Drougoub-.


Baioun. Here we can read u or ū < *-aġu[124], plus the nominative singular suffix /n/. This is then the equivalent of a well-known Old Turkic word, which occurs with the majestic plural suffix /t/ (because of the meaning): bayagu-t «rich-merchant» (the standard translation of Sanskrit śreṣṭ̣). Therefore we posit *bayūn < *baya-ġun [125].


Belegez is a reasonable transcription of Hunnic bel-egeč, where *bēl means «five », and *egeč is comparable to Old Turkic äkäč «(elder) sister of the clan» [126] and Old Mongolian egeči «elder sister» [127]. The surname bel-egeč reminds one of Beševliev, the surname of the leading Bulgarian specialist in the field of Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions: beš-evli is Ottoman Turkish and means «(having) five wives».

 Berz– is doubtless the front variant of the name of a Khazaro-Bulgarian charismatic clan Barč[128]; it can be taken as an incorrectly reconstructed form from Βερζιλ- Barč il > Bärčil, and finally Bärč. The band leader was apparently a member of the Barč clan.

 Drougouw-. This word has three distinct Hunnic (Hunno-Bulgarian) features: first, initial d-, as against Old Turkic t[129]; second, metathesis of the vowel, producing a consonant-cluster in initial position, *dur– > dru[130]; and third, the development of the final g into –w [131]. The root is the verb *dur– (OTurkic tur-, but Ottoman dur-) «stand», both in the sense of «stand upright» [132] and «stand still» */ġuġ/ is the suffix of nomen usus. This then is a surname *Druġuw (equivalent to Turkic turġuġ, turquġ), signifying «he who usually stands still». Kāšġarī, the eleventh-century Turkic philologist explains the name (in Arabic) thus: «shyness (shame, diffidence) about something; one says ol mändän turquġ = (Arabic) ṣāra minnī ḥayīyan li-fi̒l badā minhū «he is ashamed before me over a matter that arose concerning him» [133]. The surname *Druguw was probably used jocularly, as an antonym, for a very forceful person (in the manner common among the Zaporogian Cossaks later).

The fifth name, Sagudat-, with no suffix, is of Eastern Iranian origin: *sāka-dāt «gift of the stag» – the stag was the totem of the Scythians [134]. The etymon *śāka, in Ossetian sag, is rendered in the Bactrian inscriptions as CΑΓΓΟ, CΑΓΟ; in the middle of the fourth century there was a Scythian people on the Danube called Saga-dares *sāga-dār «stag [totem] possessor» [135]. Old Persian dāta is Middle Persian, e.g. Pahlavi, d’t [136].


Conclusion: the five names preserved in Miracula II are not «Slavic tribal names», but self-designations of Proto-Bulgarian Sklavin bands; accordingly they have clear Hunnic or Iranian etymologies.

Source: Omeljan Pritsak, The Slavs and the Avars



(117) On the date, see Paul Lemerle, Les plus anciens récueils des miracles de Saint Démétrius et la pénétration des Slaves dans les Balkans, vol. 2, Paris 1981, pp. 142-144, 187-189.

 (118) I accept Lemerle’s dating, vol. 2, pp. 91-92.

 (119) See Franjo Barišić, Čuda Dimitrija Solunskog kao istoriski izvori, Belgrade 1953.

 (120) Mir II, ed. Lemerle, vol. 1 (1979), pp. 175, 214, 229.

 (121) See Gyula Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, vol. 2, Berlin 1958, pp. 127-128.

(122) See George Gajecki and Alexander Baran, The Cossacks in the Thirty Years War, vol. 1, Rome 1969, p. 111. Cf. also O. Pritsak, «Das erste türkisch-ukrainische Bündniss (1648)», Oriens 6, Leiden 1953, 295.

 (123) Oleksander Ohloblyn, «Virši smolens’koho šljaxtyča N. Poplons’koho r. 1691 na čest’ Perekops’koho beja», Studiji z Krymu, ed. Ahatanhel Keyms’kyj, Kiev 1930, p. 37.

 (124) O. Pritsak, Die Bulgarische Fürstenliste, Wiesbaden 1955, p. 73.

 (125) See the data in Sir Gerard Clauson, An etymological dictionary of prethirteenth century Turkish, Oxford 1972, p. 385.

 (126) See Besim Atalay’s 1941 Ankara facsimile edition of the Arabic dictionary made about 1070 by the famous Turkic philologist Maḥmūd al-Kāšġarī, Divanü lûgat-it-türk, Ankara 1941, p. 38.

 (127) «Secret History of the Mongols» : Erich Haenisch, Wörterbuch zu Mangḥol un niuca tobca’an (Yüan-ch’ao pi-shi), Leipzig 1939, p. 42.

(128) On the Barč ( < Warāč / Warāz) see Pritsak, «The Khazar kingdom’s conversion to Judaism», HUS 2 (1978) 261-262.

 (129) Pritsak, Bg. Fürstenliste, p. 88.

 (130) Pritsak, «The proto-bulgarian military inventory inscriptions», Studia Turco-Hungarica, Budapest 1981, pp. 43-44, 58.

 (131) András Róna-Tas, «A Volga bulgarian inscription from 1304», Acta Orientalia, 30, Budapest 1976, 159-161.

 (132) Clauson, Etym. dict. (fn. 125 above), p. 539.

 (133) Facsimile edition by Atalay (cf. fn. 126 above), p. 232.

(134) See the data in V. I. Abaev, Osetinskij jazyk i fol’klor 1, Moscow-Le-ningrad 1949, pp. 179-180; Id., Istoriko-ètimologičeskij slovar’ osetinskogo jazyka, vol. 3, Leningrad 1979, pp. 11-16. One may add the name of the Pečeneg castle on the southern side of the Dniester River Σακᾰκάται, in «De administrando imperio» (ca. 948), by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, see Pritsak, The Pečenegs, Lisse 1976, p. 19, fn. 74.

 (135) /dār/ is from –dāra «holder, keeper», see Ilya Gershevich, A Grammar of Manichaean Sogdian, Oxford 1961, p. 173, § 1135.

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