The role of the Slavs within the Byzantine empire, 500-1018

Michael David Graebner



The Role of the Slavs Within the Byzantine Empire, 500-1018



Thesis director: Professor Peter Charanis



The purpose of this study is to determine what, if any, was the part played by the Slavs living within the borders of Byzantium during the Middle Byzantine Era. Although the question was touched upon, especially in nineteenth-century Russia, no comprehensive account of the Slavs' place in Byzantium exists. Historiography reveals that past discussion was often weakened by national interests and by oversights regarding the primary sources.


This work first examines the primary sources as they portray the Slavs of the migration period. Descriptions of the early Slavs indicate that their cultural level was primitive, and, more important, quite different from that of earlier invaders, for example the Germanic tribes. Slavic success in their invasion and permanent settlement of the Balkan Peninsula was due to the widespread nature of this incursion and the inability of Byzantium to marshal enough resources to hold its own lands. Destruction was as much due to cultural transformation as it was to military action.


During the seventh century, the Byzantine empire





began to retake lost European lands, but this reconquest did not remove the Slavic population. Instead, it reduced Slavs to tributaries, while driving out Bulgar incursions, especially in the region of Thessalonica. As a result, the empire gained numerous Slavs within imperial borders.


In the seventh and eighth centuries, sizable numbers of Slavs were transplanted in Asia Minor. By 800 A.D. close to a quarter of a million had been settled there. Their location near an active center of Byzantine Monasticism and their isolation from other Slavs, along with their integration into the thematic system, caused them to assimilate by the end of the tenth century.


Slavs in Byzantine Europe remained semi-autonomous. The most important reason for this was the constant interference of the Bulgarian State. Both by military action, and because Bulgaria, after Tsar Boris I, offered a Slavic Christian literature as an alternative to the Greek, Slavs did not Byzantinize readily. Some acculturation occurred in Greece and the Peloponnesus, and Slavs did, at times, support the empire. In Greece and the Peloponnesus, the Slavs eventually lost their identity.


Traces of Slavic culture within Byzantium are rare, confined to a few loanwords and a diminutive formant. Toponyms exist in Greece which bear witness to Slavic settlement there. Considering the large numbers and widespread cultural contacts, it is surprising that so little remains in Byzantine sourccs as evidence of this contact.





The Slavs played an important, but secondary, role in the Middle Byzantine State. They added a productive population to enrich the empire and facilitated its effectiveness in converting the Slavic world to Christianity.






The basis for this study came about as the result of a conversation with Professor Peter Charanis in which several dissertation topics were mentioned. Near the end of the dialogue, the subject of the Slavs and Byzantium came up. Professor Charanis' passing reference to both the quality and the difficulty of such a topic awakened this writer's curiosity and enthusiasm. Perhaps the very intractability of the material seemed a challenge. In any case, after much research and reorientation of perspectives, it was agreed upon as a suitable topic for a dissertation. The evolution from generalities about the Slavs and Byzantium to a specific work on the role of the Slavs within Byzantium 500-1018 could only have taken place with the help of many scholars in the United States and Europe. What is of value to Byzantine and related areas in this thesis is mainly due to their help and suggestions. Whatever errors and oversights in scholarship occur in this dissertation are strictly the author's.


Host important was the direction of the acknowledged master in the area of Byzantine Ethnography, Peter Charanis, Voorhees Professor of History at Rutgers, whom it was my good fortune to have as dissertation advisor.





Rutgers University is graced with several other scholars whose suggestions have enhanced its scientific quality. The comments of Professor Ernest W. McDonnell touched upon the all-important aspects of critical scholarship, especially in regard to Western Medieval Sources. Professor John Fizer of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures was an invaluable guide in the complexities of this important discipline. Finally, at Rutgers, the suggestions of Professor Anna S. Benjiman of the Classics Department enriched both the style and the body of the work as it discussed the Greek Language and its historical development.


Thanks to a Rutgers University Fellowship, an H.E.W. Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, and a four-month grant from the Institute for Balkan Studies of Thessalonica Greece, the author was able, for two years, to pursue his research in Jugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Greece. The director of the Vizantološki Institut of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Professor George Ostrogorsky, extended the full services of the Institute and the Byzantine Seminar of Beograd University for the purposes of this work. His graciousness was matched by the helpful suggestions of Ivanka Nikolajević, Franjo Barižić, Božidar Ferjančić, Ljubomir Maksimović, and Mirjana Zivoinović. A well nigh vital service was also provided by Lydia Subotin, Librarian at Svetozar Marković Library at Beograd University.


In Bulgaria, Dr. Dobrin Mičev, Director of the





Center for Bulgarian Studies, at the Bulgarian Academy of Science, made possible the location of the author at the Institute for Balkan Studies directed by Dr. Nikolai Todorov. The fine support of many Bulgarian Scholars gave this dissertation a sharpness characteristic of Bulgarian learned activity. The criticisms of Vasilka Tupkova-Zaimova, combined with the philology of Genvieva Cankova-Petkova, lent insight and awareness to the quality of East European Scholarship. It was also a great privilege and honor to receive the comments as well as work in the personal library of Professor Ivan Dujčev. Through his suggestions, along with those of V. Tupkova-Zaimova, this work gained a comprehensiveness impossible to achieve elsewhere. Also important was the support in facilitating the use of the National Library Kiril i Mefodii and the Kliment Ohridski University Library in Sofia by Professor Dimitur Angelov, a most busy man and yet most generous of his time. Likewise, the aid of Peter Tivčev was most appreciated. Bulgarian Scholarship in Byzantine studies, while recognized for its excellence in the Slavic-speaking world, still needs adequate representation among non-Slavic scholars. The author of this dissertation acknowledges his very real debt to all of the above along with the many other Bulgarians with whom he has worked, all of whom continue the creative vision of history in the tradition of Passlj Hilandarskij, Marin Drinov, and Vasil Zlatarski.


The living heirs to the Byzantines — the Greek





Scholars — also number among those to whom the author owes a great debt in the formation of this study. Particularly important were the services offered by K. Mitsakis, Director of the Institute for Balkan Studies of Thessalonica, and Mrs. Louisa Laourdas of the same institute. The comments and additional bibliographical suggestions made by Professors E. Kriaras, J. Karayannopulos, and A.-E. Tachiaos were of lasting significance in the final stages of this work.


The author also extends his cordial thanks to Professor Halina Evert-Kappesowa of the University of Lodz Poland and to Maria Nustazopoulou-Pelekidou of Athens for their gracious cooperation in sending valuable studies to the author, and likewise to Professors Bogo Grafenauer of the University of Ljubljana Jugoslavia and Veselin Beševliev for their time in discussion of the Slavs and related topics.


Finally, I must give credit to my wife, El Nora Bertita, whose complete lack of interest in the area of history, Byzantine or any other, and love for Slavic languages and literature added balance and sanity to a project deeply in need of the same.



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