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Clash of Cultures

Avars and Slavs

In the middle of the 6th century AD, a federation of horse-riding nomads advanced from Inner Asia into the northern Black Sea region and on to the Balkans, where they extorted tribute from Byzantium under the name of Avars. In 562 and 566 Avar troops on the River Elbe attempted to invade the eastern kingdom of the Franks, first they were beaten back, then victorious. The wars with the Avars contributed to the weakening of Frankish influence in the area east of the River Saale. This enabled the south-eastern Slavic groups following the Avars to take possession of the land. Finally settled, the Avars lost power and importance at the beginning of the 9th century after heavy losses in battles with the Carolingian Frankish Empire.


From the early 7th century onwards, heterogeneous Slavic groups migrated to the areas east of the Elbe and Saale in several episodes - first in the wake of Avar raiding parties from south-eastern Europe, then separately from north-eastern Europe. The many small groups of Elbe Slavs - for example Morizani (Magdeburg area) and Neletici (Halle area) - settled relatively unchallenged in isolated farms and open villages, also west of the border river, during the colonisation period.


There, the Frankish rulers on the western banks of the Elbe and Saale rivers were pleased to receive colonists who developed farmland and in return stayed untaxed. East of the Middle Elbe, the Slavs remained independent until the 10th century. But in reaction to the Frankish-Saxon threat of conquest, from the 8th century onwards they increasingly abandoned their undefended homesteads and retreated into communal ringforts, often built in swampy terrain. A leading noble class emerged and small tribes regrouped into larger units.

The Frankish Empire still primarily strived for control and tributary rule over the Slavic border peoples, like for instance, Charlemagne in 789. Later, from 928, the Saxon dukes attacked across the Elbe and glossed over their conquests with missionary work, which had previously been of secondary importance. The conquered rebelled against the repressive measures and deliberately destroyed also church property, such as the bishop's seat of Havelberg in 983. The situation was not pacified until the 11th century.

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