Evagrius and the Avars

Evagrius Scholasticus (Greek: Εὐάγριος Σχολαστικός) was a Syrian scholar and intellectual living in the 6th century AD, and an aide to the patriarch Gregory of Antioch.  His one surviving work, Ecclesiastical History (Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ Ἱστορία), comprises a six-volume collection concerning the Church’s history from the First Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) to Maurice’s reign during his life.

Although Evagrius does not mention Slavs, people have suspected that he included Slavs among at least some of the Avars that he does mention.  (Others have even thought that he means Slavs when he says Avars – at least in some instances).  Overall what can probably be said is that some Slavs partook of the invasions of Greece along with the Avars (as mentioned in the Chronicle of Monemvasia or the Miracles of Saint Demetrius) and so mention of Evagrius’ History is appropriate.  For good measure, given the confusion of the times, we throw in pieces that also mention Scythians (note that the Avars are also referred to as “Scythians” as in their trek west after having been beaten by the “Turks” – Book 5) or Massagetae.

The translation is rather ancient itself – by Walford from 1846.

Book 1, Chapter 17

During those times arose the celebrated war of Attila, king of the Scythians: the history of which has been written with great care and distinguished ability by Priscus the rhetorician, who details, in a very elegant narrative, his attacks on the eastern and western parts of the empire, how many and important cities he reduced, and the series of his achievements until he was removed from the world.

It was also in the reign of Theodosius that an extraordinary earthquake occurred, which threw all former ones into the shade, and extended, so to speak, over the whole world. Such was its violence, that many of the towers in different parts of the imperial city were overthrown, and the long wall, as it is termed, of the Chersonese, was laid in ruins; the earth opened and swallowed up many villages; and innumerable other calamities happened both by land and sea. Several fountains became dry, and, on the other hand, large bodies of water were formed on the surface, where none existed before: entire trees were torn up by the roots and hurled aloft, and mountains were suddenly formed by the accumulation of masses thrown up. The sea also cast up dead fish; many islands were submerged; and, again, ships were seen stranded by the retreat of the waters. At the same time Bithynia, the Hellespont, and cither Phrygia, suffered severely. This calamity prevailed for a considerable time, though the violence with which it commenced, did not continue, but abated by degrees until it entirely ceased.

Book 2, Chapter 14

About the same time, when the Scythian war was gathering against the Eastern Romans, an earthquake visited Thrace, the Hellespont, Ionia, and the islands called Cyclades; so severe as to cause a universal overthrow in Cnidus and Cos. Priscus also records the occurrence of excessive rains about Constantinople and Bithynia, which descended like torrents for three or four days; when hills were swept down to the plains, and villages carried away by the deluge: islands also were formed in the lake Boane, not far from Nicomedia, by the masses of rubbish brought down by the waters. This evil, however, was subsequent to the former.

Book 3, Chapter 2

In such a manner, then, had Zeno, from the commencement of his reign, depraved his course of life: while, however, his subjects, both in the East and the West, were greatly distressed; in the one quarter, by the general devastations of the Scenite barbarians; and in Thrace, by the inroads of the Huns, formerly known by the name of Massagetae, who crossed the Ister without opposition: while Zeno himself, in barbarian fashion, was making violent seizure on whatever escaped them.

Book 3, Chapter 25

Theodoric also, a Scythian, raised an insurrection, and having collected his forces in Thrace, marched against Zeno. After ravaging every place in his march as far as the mouth of the Pontus, he was near taking the imperial city, when some of his most intimate companions were secretly induced to enter into a plot against his life. When, however, he had learnt the disaffection of his followers, he commenced a retreat, and was very soon afterwards numbered with the departed, by a kind of death which I will mention, and which happened thus. A spear, with its thong prepared for immediate use, had been suspended before his tent in barbaric fashion. He had ordered a horse to be brought to him for the purpose of exercise, and being in the habit of not having any one to assist him in mounting, vaulted into his seat. The horse, a mettlesome and ungovernable animal, reared before Theodoric was fairly mounted, so that, in the contest, neither daring to rein back the horse, lest it should come down upon him, nor yet having gained a firm seat, he was whirled round in all directions, and dashed against the point of the spear, which thus struck him obliquely, and wounded his side. He was then conveyed to his couch, and after surviving a few days, died of the wound.

Book 3, Chapter 35

It will not be inconsistent, if, in accordance with the promise which I originally made, I insert in my narrative the other circumstances worthy of mention which occurred in the time of Anastasius.

Longinus, the kinsman of Zeno, on his arrival at his native country, as has been already detailed, openly commences war against the emperor: and after a numerous army had been raised from different quarters, in which Conon, formerly bishop of Apamea in Syria, was also present, who, as being an Isaurian, aided the Isaurians, an end was put to the war by the utter destruction of the Isaurian troops of Longinus. The heads of Longinus and Theodore were sent to the imperial city by John the Scythian; which the emperor displayed on poles at the place called Sycae, opposite Constantinople, an agreeable spectacle to the Byzantines, who had been hardly treated by Zeno and the Isaurians. The other Longinus, surnamed of Selinus, the main stay of the insurgent faction, and Indes, are sent alive to Anastasius by John, surnamed Hunchback ; a circumstance which especially gladdened the emperor and the Byzantines, by the display of the prisoners led in triumph along the streets and the hippodrome, with iron chains about their necks and hands. Thenceforward, also, the payment called Isaurica accrued to the imperial treasury, being gold previously paid to the Barbarians annually, to the amount of five thousand pounds.

Book 5, Chapter 1

In this manner did Justinian depart to the lowest region of retribution, after having filled every place with confusion and tumults, and having received at the close of his life the reward of his actions. His nephew Justin succeeds to the purple; having previously held the office of guardian of the palace, styled in the Latin language Curopalata. No one, except those who were immediately about his person, was aware of the demise of Justinian or the declaration of Justin, until the latter made his appearance in the hippodrome, by way of formally assuming the stated functions of royalty. Confining himself to this simple proceeding, he then returned to the palace.

His first edict was one dismissing the bishops to their respective sees, wherever they might be assembled, with a provision that they should maintain what was already established in religion, and abstain from novelties in matters of faith. This proceeding was to his honour. In his mode of life, however, he was dissolute, utterly abandoned to luxury and inordinate pleasures: and to such a degree was he inflamed with desire for the property of others, as to convert every thing into a means of unlawful gain; standing in no awe of the Deity even in the case of bishoprics, but making them a matter of public sale to any purchasers that offered. Possessed, as he was, alike by the vices of audacity and cowardice, he in the first place sends for his kinsman Justin, a man universally famous for military skill and his other distinctions, who was at that time stationed upon the Danube, and engaged in preventing the Avars from crossing that river.

These were one of those Scythian tribes who live in wagons, and inhabit the plains beyond the Caucasus. Having been worsted by their neighbours, the Turks, they had migrated in a mass to the Bosphorus; and, having subsequently left the shores of the Euxine—- where were many barbarian tribes, and where also cities, castles, and some harbours had been located by the Romans, being either settlements of veterans, or colonies sent out by the emperors—-they were pursuing their march, in continual conflict with the barbarians whom they encountered, until they reached the bank of the Danube; and thence they sent an embassy to Justinian.

From this quarter Justin was summoned, as having a claim to the fulfilment of the terms of the agreement between himself and the emperor. For, since both of them had been possessed of equal dignity, and the succession to the empire was in suspense between both, they had agreed, after much dispute, that whichever of the two should become possessed of the sovereignty, should confer the second place on the other; so that while ranking beneath the emperor, he should still take precedence of all others.

Book 5, Chapter 11

On being informed of these events, Justin, in whose mind no sober and considerate thoughts found place after so much inflation and pride, and who did not bear what had befallen him with resignation suited to a human being, falls into a state of frenzy, and becomes unconscious of all subsequent transactions.

Tiberius assumes the direction of affairs, a Thracian by birth, but holding the first place in the court of Justin. He had previously been sent out against the Avars by the emperor, who had raised a very large army for the purpose; and he would inevitably have been made prisoner, since his troops would not even face the barbarians, had not divine Providence unexpectedly delivered him, and preserved him for succession to the Roman ‘sovereignty; which, through the inconsiderate measures of Justin, was in danger of falling to ruin, together with the entire commonwealth, and of passing from such a height of power into the hands of barbarians.


Tiberius, accordingly, applying to a rightful purpose the wealth which had been amassed by improper means, made the necessary preparations for war. So numerous was the army of brave men, raised among the Transalpine nations, the Massagetae, and other Scythian tribes, by a choice levy in the countries on the Rhine, and on this side of the Alps, as well as in Paeonia, Mysia, Illyria, and Isauria, that he completed squadrons of excellent cavalry, to the amount of nearly one hundred and fifty thousand men, and repulsed Chosroes, who, immediately after the capture of Daras, had advanced in the course of the summer against Armenia, and was thence directing his movements upon Caesarea, which was the seat of government of Cappadocia and the capital of the cities in that quarter. In such contempt did Chosroes hold the Roman power, that, when the Caesar had sent an embassy to him, he did not deign to admit the ambassadors to an audience, but bid them follow him to Caesarea; at which place he said he would take the embassy into his consideration. When, however, he saw the Roman army in the front of him, under the command of Justinian, the brother of that Justin who had been miserably put to death by the Emperor Justin, in complete equipment, with the trumpets sending forth martial sounds, the standards uplifted for conflict, and the soldiery eager for slaughter, breathing forth fury, and at the same time maintaining perfect order, and, besides, so numerous and noble a body of cavalry as no monarch had ever imagined, he drew a deep groan, with many adjurations, at the unforeseen and unexpected sight, and was reluctant to begin the engagement. But while he is lingering and whiling away the time, and making a mere feint of fighting, Kurs, the Scythian, who was in command of the right wing, advances upon him; and since the Persians were unable to stand his charge, and were in a very signal manner abandoning their ground, he made an extensive slaughter of his opponents. He also attacks the rear, where both Chosroes and the whole army had placed their baggage, and captures all the royal stores and the entire baggage, under the very eyes of Chosroes; who endured the sight, deeming self-imposed constraint more tolerable than the onset of Kurs. The latter, having together with his troops made himself master of a great amount of money and spoil, and carrying off the beasts of burden with their loads, among which was the sacred fire of Chosroes to which divine honours were paid, makes a circuit of the Persian camp, singing songs of victory, and rejoins, about nightfall, his own army, who had already broken up from their position, without a commencement of battle on the part of either Chosroes or themselves, beyond a few slight skirmishes or single combats, such as usually take place.

Chosroes, having lighted many fires, made preparations for a night assault; and since the Romans had formed two camps, he attacks the division which lay northward, at the dead of night. On their giving way under this sudden and unexpected onset, he advances upon the neighbouring town of Melitene, which was undefended and deserted by its inhabitants, and having fired the whole place, prepared to cross the Euphrates. At the approach, however, of the united forces of the Romans, in alarm for his own safety, he mounted an elephant, and crossed alone; while great numbers of his army found a grave in the waters of the river : on learning whose fate he retreated.

Having paid this extreme penalty for his insolence towards the Roman power, Chosroes retires with the survivors to the eastern parts, in which quarter the terms of the truce had provided that no one should attack him. Nevertheless Justinian made an irruption into the Persian territory with his entire force, and passed the whole winter there, without any molestation. He withdrew about the summer solstice, without having sustained any loss whatever, and passed the summer near the border, surrounded by prosperity and glory.

Book 5, Chapter 20

He also engaged Tamchosroes and Adaarmanes, the principal Persian commanders, who had advanced against him with a considerable force: but the nature, manner, and place of these transactions I leave others to record, or shall perhaps myself make them the subject of a distinct work, since my present one professes to treat of matters of a very different kind. Tamchosroes, however, falls in battle, not by the bravery of the Roman soldiery, but merely through the piety and faith of their commander: and Adaarmanes, being worsted in the fight and having lost many of his men, flies with precipitation, and this too, although Alamundarus, the commander of the Scenite barbarians, played the traitor in declining to cross the Euphrates and support Maurice against the Scenites of the opposite party. For this people are invincible by any other than themselves, on account of the fleetness of their horses : when hemmed in, they cannot be captured; and they outstrip their enemies in retreat. Theodoric too, commander of the Scythian troops, did not so much as venture within range of the missiles, but fled with all his people.

Book 5, Chapter 24

By the aid of God, an account of the affairs of the Church, presenting a fair survey of the whole, has been preserved for us in what has been recorded by Eusebius Pamphili down to the time of Constantine, and thence forward as far as Theodosius the younger, by Theodoret, Sozomen, and Socrates, and in the matters which have been selected for my present work.

Primitive and profane history has been also preserved in a continuous narrative by those who have been zealous at the task; Moses being the first to compose history, as has been clearly shewn by those who have collected whatever bears upon the subject, in writing a true account of events from the beginning of the world, derived from what he learned in converse with God on Mount Sinai. Then follow the accounts which those who after him prepared the way for our religion have stored up in sacred scriptures. Josephus also composed an extensive history, in every way valuable. All the stories, whether fabulous or true, relating to the contests of the Greeks and ancient barbarians, both among themselves and against each other, and whatever else had been achieved since the period at which they record the first existence of mankind, have been written by Charax, Theopompus, Ephorus, and others too numerous to mention. The transactions of the Romans, embracing the history of the whole world and whatever else took place either with respect to their intestine divisions or their proceedings towards other nations, have been treated of by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who has brought down his account from the times of what are called the Aborigines, to those of Pyrrhus of Epirus. The history is then taken up by Polybius of Megalopolis, who brings it down to the capture of Carthage. All these materials Appian has portioned out by a clear arrangement, separately grouping each series of transactions, though occurring at intervals of time. What events occurred subsequent to the before-mentioned periods, have been treated by Diodorus Siculus, as far as the time of Julius Caesar, and by Dion Cassius, who continued his account as far as Antoninus of Emesa. In a similar work of Herodian, the account extends as far as the death of Maximus; and in that of Nicostratus, the sophist of Trapezus, from Philip, the successor of Gordian, to Odenatus of Palmyra, and the ignominious expedition of Valerian against the Persians. Dexippus has also written at great length on the same subject, commencing with the Scythian wars, and terminating with the reign of Claudius, the successor of Gallierius: and he also included the military transactions of the Carpi and other barbarian tribes, in Greece, Thrace,and Ionia. Eusebius too, commencing from Octavian, Trajan, and Marcus, brought his account down to the death of Carus. The history of the same times has been partially written both by Arrian and Asinius Quadratus: that of the succeeding period by Zosimus, as far as Honorius and Arcadius: and events subsequent to their reign by Priscus the Rhetorician, and others. The whole of this range of history has been excellently epitomised by Eustathius of Epiphania, in two volumes, one extending to the capture of Troy, the other to the twelfth year of the reign of Anastasius. The occurrences subsequent to that period have been written by Procopius the rhetorician as far as the time of Justinian ; and the account has been thenceforward continued by Agathias the rhetorician, and John, my fellow-citizen and kinsman, as far as the flight of Chosroes the younger to the Romans, and his restoration to his kingdom: on which occasion Maurice was by no means tardy in his operations, but royally entertained the fugitive, and with the utmost speed restored him to his kingdom, at great cost and with numerous forces. These writers, however, have not yet published their history. With respect to these events, I also will detail in the sequel such matters as are suitable, with the favour of the higher power.

Book 6, Chapter 3
[AD 589]

Maurice sent out as commander of the forces of the East, first, John, a Scythian, who, after experiencing some reverses, with some alternations of success, achieved nothing worthy of mention; afterwards, Philippicus, who was allied to him by having married one of his two sisters. Having crossed the border and laid waste all before him, he amassed great booty, and killed many of the nobles of Nisibis and the other cities situated within the Tigris. He also gave battle to the Persians, and, after a severe conflict, attended with the loss of many distinguished men on the side of the enemy, he made numerous prisoners, and dismissed unharmed a battalion, which had retreated to an eminence and was fairly in his power, under a promise that they would urge their sovereign to send immediate proposals for peace. He also completed other measures during the continuance of his command, namely, in withdrawing his troops from superfluities and things tending to luxury, and in reducing them to discipline and subordination: the representation of which transactions must be fixed by writers, past or present, according as they may be or have been circumstanced with respect to hearsay or opinion— writers whose narrative, stumbling and limping through ignorance, or rendered affected by partiality, or blinded by antipathy, misses the mark of truth.

Book 6, Chapter 10
[A.D. 590]

Accordingly, the emperor remunerates the troops with largesses of money; and, withdrawing Germanus and others, brings them to trial. They were all condemned to death: but the emperor would not permit any infliction whatever; on the contrary, he bestowed rewards on them.

During the course of these transactions, the Avars twice made an inroad as far as the Long Wall, and captured Anchialus, Singidunum, and many towns and fortresses throughout the whole of Greece, enslaving the inhabitants, and laying every thing waste with fire and sword; in consequence of the greater part of the forces being engaged in the East. Accordingly, the emperor sends Andrew, the first of the imperial guards, on an attempt to induce the troops to receive their former officers.

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April 17, 2017

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