"The theory that a single Hungarian-speaking block moved in the Carpathian Basin in 895 and absorbed a single, non-Hungarian-speaking indigenous population has been disproved. Based on written sources related to the ancient Hungarian script, the so-called Runic script, it can be stated that there were people in the Avar Empire who spoke Hungarian, and since their language has survived, they could not have been few in number, told Dr Bence Fehér, head of the Centre for Classical Philology at the Institute of Hungarian Research to weekly magazine, Demokrata."

Balázs Ágoston's interview with Bence Fehér, director of the Classical Philology Research Centre, about the Hungarian-language decipherment of the runic script on an Avar needle holder that has attracted a lot of press attention, was published in Magyar Demokrata.


- Who were the Avars, what do we know about them and their language? What has survived of them?

- The Avars first appeared in Europe in the 550s; there are partially conflicting explanations about their origin in the sources. The big problem with their history, as seen by the historian, is that only foreign, Greek and Latin sources provide scarce and often probably misunderstood information about them. The political fate of their empire can be reconstructed from these pieces of information to some extent, but their ethnicity and culture remain in obscurity. Archaeology, on the other hand, provides more information about their culture, settlement history and demography. Nowadays, archaeogenetics has also started to deal with them, and hopefully this will provide new information about their origin and later fate. Unfortunately, none of the disciplines provides information on an important question, their language, but the fact that there were several waves of settlements in the Carpathian Basin in the Avar period, from 567 to the 9th century, according to both historical and archaeological sources, suggests that ethnically and therefore probably linguistically they were not homogeneous, which is quite natural in a nomadic empire. This makes the question of the remaining Avar language linguistic sources - about which we have much more information than, for example, that of the Huns - particularly complex and exciting.


- So, some of the Avars spoke Hungarian, or were Hungarian?

- We cannot identify who the narrowly defined Avars were, we are unable to pick out the founders of the empire within the empire. The only possible solution is to consider all the peoples of the Avar Empire as Avar. Among them were some that spoke Hungarian, but we do not know today in what proportion. Our language has survived, which leads us to conclude that they were not few in number. Nor can we say definitively what the Hungarians were before the conquest. Even if we mean the seven Hungarian tribes, we do not know whether they had a common Hungarian identity and a common language before their unification in the ninth century, symbolised by the tradition of the blood covenant.

In any case, the etymology of the seven tribe names can be traced back to different languages. There are several hypotheses as to how they were related to the Hungarian speakers who already lived here in the 8th century. The theory of the double conquest, which was coined by Gyula László but has been known since the end of the 19th century, is not uniform, but a variety of conclusions can be drawn from it from a linguistic point of view. The theory that in 895 a single Hungarian-speaking block moved in and absorbed a single non-Hungarian-speaking indigenous population has now been overturned, not only on the basis of linguistic but also demographic arguments, but for the time being a wide variety of models can be fitted in its place.

Further details of the interview are available on the website of Demokrata.