The Sabirs (Savirs, Suars, Sawar, Sawirk among others; Greek:
Σάβιροι) were nomadic people who lived in the north of the
Caucasus beginning in the late-5th century, on the eastern shores of
the Black Sea, in the
Kuban area, and possibly came from Western
Siberia. They were skilled in warfare, used siege
machinery, had a large army (including women) and were
boat-builders. They were also referred to as Huns, a title applied
Eurasian nomadic tribes in the
Pontic-Caspian Steppe during
late antiquity. Sabirs led incursions into
Transcaucasia in the
late-400s/early-500s, but quickly began serving as soldiers and
mercenaries during the
Byzantine-Sasanian Wars on both sides. Their
alliance with the Byzantines laid the basis for the later
5 See also
Gyula Németh and
Paul Pelliot for the Sabir/Sabar/Sapar/Savar
considered Turkic etymology for "to go astray", i.e. the "wanderers,
nomads", placed in a group of semantically similar names Qazar, Qazaq,
Al-Masudi recorded that the
Khazars name is
in Persian, while in Turkic it is Sabir, implying the same semantic
meaning, and related ethnogenesis.
Walter Bruno Henning
Walter Bruno Henning considered to have found them in the Sogdian
Nafnamak (near Turpan) long after the 5th century. Some scholars
related their name to the name of Siberia, with the far Eastern
Xianbei, and Finno-Ugric origin. The ancient historians
related and differed them from the Huns, implying their mixed
Byzantine documents normally refer to Sabirs as Sabiroi, although the
Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos
Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (908-959) writes in
De Administrando Imperio
De Administrando Imperio that he was told by a Hungarian
delegation visiting his court that the Tourkoi (the Byzantine name for
the Hungarians) used to be called "sabartoi asphaloi", generally
considered to mean "steadfast Sabirs", and still regularly sent
delegations to those who stayed behind in the
Caucasus region near
Persia. Possibly some Hungarian group derived from the Sabirs as their
name is reflected in Szavard, and personal clan name Zuard.
In 463 AD,
Priscus mentions that the Sabirs attacked the Saragurs,
Ogurs and Onogurs, probably in present-day Kazakhstan, as a result of
having themselves been attacked by the
Pannonian Avars in Inner
Asia. It is considered that the nomadic motion began with
the Chinese attack in 450-458 against the Rouran Khaganate.
In 504 and 515, they held raids around the Caucasus, which was the
Sasanian northern frontier during the rule of king Kavadh I, causing
problems to the Persians in their war against the Byzantine
Empire. It is considered that the 20,000
Huns led by Zilgibis were
Sabirs. They made treaties with both
Justin I and Kavadh I, but
decided for the former, which resulted with mutual agreement between
Justin I and Kavadh I, and the former devastating attack on Zilgibis
and his army.
In 520s, the Queen Boareks, widow of the Sabir chieftain Balaq (Turkic
bala) through Justinian I's diplomacy came closer to the
Byzantines, and successfully attacked two Hunnic leaders Astera/Styrax
(executed in Constantinople) and Aglanos/Glones (Sasanian
ally). She ruled over 100,000 people, and could field 20,000
strong-men army. At the Battle of Satala (530), a mixed Persian
army led by
Mihr-Mihroe consisted of circa three thousand Sabirs.
In December 531, many Sabirs were summoned by the Persians to plunder
around Euphratesia, Cyrrhus, Cilicia, but some of the booty had been
returned by the Roman magister militum.
Lazic War (541–562), in 548, along the
Alans they allied
Gubazes II of Lazica
Gubazes II of Lazica and conquered the Petra from the
Persians. In 551, some Sabirs were allied to
Bessas in the
successful attempt to wrest Petra from the Persians, meanwhile, other
four thousand led by
Mihr-Mihroe were part of the unsuccessful siege
of Archaeopolis. In 556, two thousand Sabirs served as heavy
infantry mercenaries of the
Byzantine Empire against the Sasanian
Empire. They were led by Balmaq (Turkic barmaq, "finger" ),
Kutilzis (Turkic *qut-il-či, with qut meaning "majesty") and Iliger
(Turkic Ilig-ār, "prince-man"). They won against the three
thousand Dilimnites near Archaeopolis. Eight hundred Dilimnites were
killed in a failed rush. In the same year, some five thousand
Sabirs allied to the Persians were killed by three thousand Roman
As part of the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 572–591, in 572–573,
Sabirs lost as part of the Sasanian mixed army against the Marcian
near Nisibis. In 578, some eight thousand Sabirs and Arab allies
were on the side of the Persians, and raided territory around Resaena
The Syriac translation of the Pseudo–Zacharias Rhetor's
Ecclesiastical History (c. 555) in Western Eurasia recorded thirteen
tribes, including the sbr (Sabir). They are described in typical
phrases reserved for nomads in the ethnographic literature of the
period, as people who "live in tents, earn their living on the meat of
livestock and fish, of wild animals and by their weapons
The Armenian and Arabic sources placed them in the North Caucasus,
near Laks, Alans, Filān, Masqat, Sāhib as-Sarīr and the
Samandar. By the late 6th century, the coming of the Pannonian Avars
into Europe terminated the Sabir union in North Caucasus.
According to Theophylact Simocatta, when the Barsils,
Sabirs saw the invading Var and Chunni they paniced because thought
the invaders were the Avars.
Menander Protector placed the events
between 558-560. He mentioned them last time in connection with
the Byzantine conquest in
Caucasian Albania during the reign of
Tiberius II Constantine
Tiberius II Constantine (578–582), but the large sums were not
enough to stop them to rejoin the Persians.
They were assimilated into the
The tribe Suwāz in
Volga Bulgaria is related to the city Suwār in
the same state, and North Caucasian kingdom Suwār. However, it is
uncertain whether these Suwār i.e. Sawâr are the Sabirs who gone to
Caucasus and after 558 retreated to the Volga, came there as
the result of the
Khazar state creation, or were tribes who never went
to the North Caucasus, but stopped on the Volga. Ahmad ibn
Fadlan recorded that in the 10th century they still had own leader
with the title Wirgh (*Vuyrigh, Turkic Buyruq), and there were some
There is no realiable information supporting the view of Mikhail
Artamonov, who has claimed the intermixing of the Sabirs and Khazars
was facilitated by their common Bulgar ethnicity, or that they were
Turkicized Ugrians. Károly Czeglédy considered that the Khazar
state was composed of three basic groups, including the Sabirs.
Dieter Ludwig suggested that the
Khazars were Sabirs who had formed an
alliance with the
Uar of Khwarezm. The intimate ties between the
Hungarians and the Sabirs led
Lev Gumilev to speculate that rather
than Oghuric they may have been Ugric speakers (both terms being of
the same etymological origin).
Al-Biruni remarked that the
language of the Volga
Bulgars and Sawârs was "compounded of Turkic
and Khazar", while modern scholars like Gyula Németh, Lajos Ligeti
Peter Benjamin Golden consider that the Sabirs spoke standard
Turkic rather than Oghuric Turkic.
A number of Caucasian toponyms derive from their name; Šaberan,
Samir, Samirkent, Sabir-xost, Sibir-don, Sivir-don, Savir, Bila-suvar,
Sebir-oba, Sevare, Suvar.
Chuvash historians postulate that their nation is partially descended
from Sabirs. In the
Mari language modern Volga
Tatars are called
Suas; Chuvash also are known as Suasenmari (which means Suar-icized
Mari), or in Finnish language Suaslanmari.
Balaq (Turkic bala, "child, boy", "young of an animal")
Boareks - Sabir queen, widow of Balaq
Balmaq/Barmaq (Turkic barmaq, "finger")
Iliger (Turkic "prince-man")
Kutilzis (Turkic qut-ilči/elči, "heavenly good
North Caucasian Huns
^ Golden 1980, p. 256.
^ Maenchen-Helfen 1973, p. 432.
^ Sinor 1990, p. 200–201.
^ a b c Golden 1992, p. 104.
^ Golden 2011, p. 146.
^ Golden 2011, p. 112.
^ a b Golden 2011, p. 91.
^ Golden 2011, p. 113:In the 559 siege of Thracian Chersonese
they fashioned small boats
^ a b Golden 1980, p. 35.
^ a b Maenchen-Helfen 1973, p. 440.
^ Golden 1980, p. 127.
^ Golden 2011, p. 147.
^ Golden 1980, p. 36, 133.
^ Golden 2011, p. 146, 149–151, 225.
^ Golden 1980, p. 35, 257.
^ Zimonyi 2015, p. 246.
^ Christian, David. A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia.
Blackwell Publishing, 1998. Page 279.
^ Sinor 1990, p. 200.
^ Bell-Fialkoff, Andrew (2016), The Role of Migration in the History
of the Eurasian Steppe: Sedentary Civilization vs. 'Barbarian' and
Nomad, Palgrave Macmillan US, p. 231–232,
^ Sinor 1990, p. 243.
^ a b c d Golden 1980, p. 257.
^ Sinor 1990, p. 243, 246.
^ Maenchen-Helfen 1973, p. 436.
^ Golden 1992, p. 92–93, 97.
^ Golden 2011, p. 70, 138.
^ Zimonyi 2015, p. 246–247.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 78.
^ a b Golden 2011, p. 87.
^ Maenchen-Helfen 1973, p. 391.
^ a b c d Golden 1992, p. 106.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 91.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 95–96.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 117–118.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 118–119.
^ a b c d Golden 1980, p. 258.
^ Agathias 1975, p. 87.
^ Maenchen-Helfen 1973, p. 409, 414.
^ Agathias 1975, p. 87–88.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 121.
^ Agathias 1975, p. 115.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 122.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 150.
^ Greatrex, Lieu 2007, p. 160.
^ Golden 1992, p. 97.
^ Zimonyi 2015, p. 250.
^ Zhivkov 2015, p. 38, 138.
^ a b Golden 1980, p. 36, 87.
^ a b Sinor 1990, p. 236.
^ Zhivkov 2015, p. 26, 36–38.
^ Golden 1980, p. 53.
^ Struktur und Gesellschaft, D. Ludwig, 1982)
^ a b (in Tatar) "Suarlar/Суарлар". Tatar Encyclopaedia. Kazan:
Republic of Tatarstan
Republic of Tatarstan Academy of Sciences. Institution of the
Tatar Encyclopaedia. 2002.
^ Eero Kuussaari: Suomen Suvun Tiet (Helsinki 1935)
^ a b Golden 1992, p. 105.
^ Golden 1980, p. 258–259.
Maenchen-Helfen, Otto John (1973), The World of the Huns: Studies in
Their History and Culture, University of California Press,
Agathias (1975), The Histories, Walter de Gruyter,
Golden, Peter Benjamin (1980).
Khazar studies: An
Historico-Philological Inquiry into the Origins of the Khazars. 1.
Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 9630515490.
Sinor, Denis (1990), The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia,
Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-24304-9
Golden, Peter Benjamin (1992). An introduction to the History of the
Turkic peoples: ethnogenesis and state formation in medieval and early
modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (2007), The Roman Eastern
Frontier and the Persian Wars Ad 363-628, Psychology Press,
Golden, Peter B. (2011). Studies on the Peoples and Cultures of the
Eurasian Steppes. Editura Academiei Române; Editura Istros a Muzeului
Brăilei. ISBN 9789732721520.
Boris Zhivkov (2015). Khazaria in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries.
Brill. ISBN 9789004294486.
Zimonyi, Istvan (2015), Muslim Sources on the Magyars in the Second
Half of the 9th Century: The Magyar Chapter of the Jayhānī
Tradition, BRILL, ISBN 978-9