They Perished Like Avars.

I was looking through Vasmer’s etymological dictionary when I ran across the entry обрин [obrin] (plural обре [obre]), the Old Russian word for Avar. Vasmer says it’s related to a Slavic word for ‘giant’ (Slovenian óbǝr, Czech оbr, Slovak оbоr, Old Polish obrzym, Polish olbrzym) and Byzantine Greek ᾽Αβαρ (plural ᾽Αβαρεις, ᾽Αβαροι), but beyond that its history is unclear. When I googled the Russian word I found the Old Russian phrase погибоша аки обре ‘they perished like Avars,” which comes from the Povest’ vremennykh let and is apparently used ironically to mean ‘they vanished without a trace.’ I thought that was piquant enough to pass along.

Comments

  1. earthtopus says:

    My Rejzek (an etymology of Czech) has an entry for “obr”! It describes the word as “commonly associated” with the name Avar but is less certain that that name is actually the source of the word for ogre. If I’m reading him right, he seems to think that the first attestation of the word in Old Russian, far from the limits of Avar power, needs to be taken into account. He closes with citations of Gothic abrs “strong, powerful” and Greek óbrimos “strong, violent” as words with more and less convincing connections.

    I can see his counterexample, but it is possible some Slavs that might have gone one to speak Old Russian would have had the chance to come across the Avars as they moved west towards the Danube (and their eventual meeting with the eventual speakers of Czech, Slovak, Upper Sorbian, Polish, and Slovenian (the modern Slavic languages other than Russian with a reflex) as well.

  2. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I always get the Avars confused with the Alans. Never can remember which one there’s two of.

  3. January First-of-May says:

    I always get the Avars confused with the Alans. Never can remember which one there’s two of.

    Both, IIRC, but in one case (Alans) they’re likely to be the same, and in the other (Avars) they’re probably not.

    On the phrase itself – I recently realized that the word обре (if it really comes from “Avar” and not something else) is yet another witness for Proto-Slavic *a (where *o is expected).

  4. I don’t see where the irony comes in. The Avars have vanished without a trace, given that the modern Avars aren’t the same folks.

  5. I don’t see where the irony comes in. The Avars have vanished without a trace, given that the modern Avars aren’t the same folks.

    The irony would be in comparing whatever modern person or entity you’re talking about to the Avars, and putting a modern-day situation in the context of the Old Russian chronicles.

  6. The issue of the extent of Avar power in Eastern Europe is not settled.

    There is somehow a persistent conception that it’s eastern border run at Carpathian mountains, but this is not supported by archaeological evidence.

    I think Avars ruled all over modern Ukraine, including most of the territories where Kievan Rus emerged several centuries later.

    See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pereshchepina_Treasure found in Eastern Ukraine.

    In the literature it is linked to Bulgars, but the objects (Byzantine coins used to paying tribute to Avars) found seem to imply that it was treasure of Avar Khagan

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