A history of the First Bulgarian Empire

Steven Runciman




Appendix III

Ernach and Irnik



It is impossible not to be struck by the resemblance of the name Irnik, the second prince in the List, with Ernach or Ernac, the youngest and favourite son of Attila. It is, however, always a dangerous pastime to identify persons whose names chance to be similar, particularly among semi-barbarian tribes, where very often several distinct names are derived from one common root; though, on the other hand, it is extremely seldom that two distinct persons bear the same name, as happens in more civilized society.


Professor Zlatarski regards it as being wrong and pointless to seek for this identification. [2] It certainly must be conceded that we know very little of Ernach’s career after Attila’s death (A.D. 453). Priscus merely tells us that he, with his brother Dengisich, ruled over a remnant of Attila’s empire in Little Scythia (the modern Bessarabia), whence they used to raid the Empire; and in the course of one of these raids Dengisich was slain. [3] Zlatarski points out that, (i.) according to the List, Irnik began to reign in 437, not 453, (ii.) the Balkan Bulgarians descend from an eastern branch, the Utigurs, who lived to the east of the Don, (iii.) if Ernach is Irnik, both he and Attila must have



2. Zlatarski, Istoriya, i., 1, pp. 40–2.


3. Priscus, Fragmenta, p. 587.





belonged to the house of Dulo, whereas, actually, we never hear the name mentioned in connection with them.


Zlatarski’s points are all indisputable, but they do not seem to me to provide effective arguments, (i.) and (iii.) indeed verge on the absurd, (i.) Where a prince is assigned a reign of 150 years, it is surely a little too credulous to assume that the date of his accession must be accurate. A mistake of 16 years is, under the circumstances, quite venial, (iii.) There is no reason why we should know Attila’s surname. Not only do the surnames of barbarous families frequently change in the course of generations, but it seems to me that the argument would only be conclusive if we were definitely informed that Attila did not belong to the house of Dulo. (ii.) This is a stronger argument; I certainly agree that Kubrat’s kingdom had the Utigurs as its nucleus. But here I think the Onogunduri come in. They were the remnant of Attila’s empire which Ernach and his family preserved; and, under the stress of Avar rule, they either were forcibly moved eastward or migrated themselves in an attempt to escape beyond the Avar frontier. Probably it was one of their princes that headed the Bulgar revolt against the Avars, and thus acquired the command of the united Bulgar kingdom. The seat of the kingdom would naturally be in Utigur territory, as being the part of the kingdom freest from Avar attack. This theory seems to me not only to meet Zlatarski’s argument, but also to explain the prominence of the name Onogunduri, which cannot be a composite name or a misnomer, but must represent a definite tribe. [1]


Under these circumstances, especially considering the remarkable similarity of the names, it is surely unnecessarily hypercritical to refuse to identify Irnik with Ernach, and not to trace the Bulgar royal line from Attila.


The question now arises whether Attila should be identified with Avitokhol. If Ernach is Irnik, this second identification is not very important. Personally, I am



1. See above, p. 15–6.





suspicious; I regard Avitokhol, like Attila, as an elaborated form of Awit, the Turkish for ancestor, which received new meaning when Bible stories reached the Steppes, and the Turks and Khazars and Huns decided to trace their descent from Japheth. [1] (Incidentally Hungarian writers used to elaborate this descent, placing thirty-four generations between Japheth and Attila. [2]) The resultant similarity of the name with Attila’s may well have fixed it firmer in the minds of the Bulgars; but actually I believe that Avitokhol was a distant ancestor, the first founder of the race. We must remember that Attila looms largely in our history because his career was chiefly directed towards conquest in the West. Ernach, whose government was definitely Eastern, may even have indulged in Eastern conquests of which we know nothing, and, anyhow, might well figure more largely than Attila in Eastern tradition.



1. See above, p. 12. Attila is probably a diminutive of Awit; Okhol certainly = oghul, a son.


2. e.g. de Thwrocz.


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