Romanian History and Culture

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Daco -Romans  Vlachs between Rome and Byzantium Romania


 It is interesting to note that Greek-speakers have also called themselves Romans `Empire of the Romans' the Basileia ton Rhomaion,'well into modern times in reference to the Greek-speaking East Roman or Byzantine Empire, which called itself Romania several centuries before the modern Balkan nation-state of the same name was conceived. 

Byzantium considered Dacia as a parking spot for all kind of migratory groups.


The first record of Balkan Vlach-Romanian settlements in the Byzantine age can be found in the writings of Procopius, in the 5th century: the forts named Skeptekasas (Seven Houses), Burgulatu (Broad City), Lοupofantana λουpoφαντάνα (Wolf's Well) and Gemellomountes Γεμελλομούντεs (Twin mountains).

In 586, the first written record of their name and their language appears in a Byzantine chronicle about an incursion against the Avars in the Eastern Balkans. When the baggage of a mule slips, the muleteer shouts "Torna, torna, fratre" (Return, return, brother!), although it might just be the last appearance of Latin.

Blachernae, the suburb of Constantinople was named after a "Scythian" Duke Blachernos, whos name is believed to be linked with the name of "Blachs" (Vlachs).

 Of the many accepted dates for the end of the Roman state, the latest is 610. This is when the Emperor Heraclius made sweeping reforms, forever changing the face of the empire. Greek was readopted as the language of government and Latin influence waned. By 610, the Eastern Roman Empire had come under Greek influence and became what many modern historians now call the Byzantine Empire, although the Empire was never called that way by its contemporaries (rather it was called Romania, Basileia Romaion or Pragmata Romaion, meaning "Land of the Romans", "Kingdom of the Romans").

The Byzantine writer Cecaumenos, in his Strategicon of 1066 wrote that the Vlachs of Epirus and Thessalia came from North of the Danube and from along the Sava and that they were the descendants of the Dacians and the Bessi.

The History of Theophylact Simocatta

(2. 1) And so the general was thus reconciled with the camp regarding their grievances. On the fourth day, after he had acquainted the emperor with the mutiny of the forces, he set out from Odessus (Varna) and moved towards the regions on his left; on reaching Marcianopolis he ordered one thousand men to
advance beyond the camp.
(2) These, therefore, encountered six hundred Sclavenes  who were escorting a great haul of Romans, for they had ravaged Zaldapa, Aquis, and Scopi, and were herding back these unfortunates as plunder; a large number of wagons held the possessions they had looted.
(3) When the barbarians observed the Romans approaching, and were then likewise observed, they turned to the slaughter of the captives. Then the adult male captives from youth upwards were killed.
(4) Since the barbarians could not avoid an encounter, they collected the wagons and placed them round as a barricade, depositing the women and youth in the middle of the defence.
(5) The Romans drew near to the Getae (for this is the older name for the barbarians), but did not dare to come to grips, since they were afraid of the javelins which the barbarians were sending from the barricade against their horses




 Diocese of Thrace

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Diocese of Thrace (Latin: Dioecesis Thraciae, Greek: Διοίκησις Θράκης) was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the eastern Balkans (most of modern Bulgaria, Romania, and Greek and Turkish Thrace). The diocese was established after the reforms of Diocletian, and was subordinate to the Praetorian prefecture of the East. It lasted until the Balkan peninsula was largely overrun by the Avars and Slavs in the 640s. Soon after, the old provincial system was replaced by the Thematic system.

The diocese included the provinces of Europa, Thracia, Haemimontus, Rhodope, Moesia II and Scythia.

 List of known Vicarii Thraciarum

  • Aelius Claudius Dulcitius (?-361)
  • Capitolinus (361-363)
  • Andronicus (ca. 366)
  • Philoxenus (ca. 392)
  • Solomon (?-582)


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A new stage in the relationship between the locals, that is the descendants of the Getae from Brăila Plain, and the Byzantinesrepresenting the Eastern Roman Empire who were successors of the ancient Hellenae at Ponticus Euxinus and the Danube, was marked once with the reign of the great Basileus Justinianus I (AD 527-565) and his descendent Justinus II (AD 565-578).

Very precious in this regard is a numismatic discovery - a hoard -accumulated during the reign of the two emperors and buried in Gropeni,precisely on the bank of the river Danube, at 25 – 30 km far from Brăila, in historical and military conditions which were relatively recently made clear.

1The hoard is part of a series of Byzantine hoards of bronze coins which were hidden in the second half of the 4th century and the beginning of the next century in places such as: Movileni (Galaţi area), Horgeşti (Bacău area), Şocariciu (Ialomiţa area), and Plumbuita - Tămădău (Ilfov area).

2 With regard to Gropeni Hoard, discovered by chance by a peasant in 1934, in a clay vessel and 200 m away from the Danube, the researchers recorded its content as amounting to 47 bronze coins. The 47 coins representing the Hoard of Gropeni are the sum of: 10 coins from the period of Justinianus I (6 of them are worth M = 40 numia and 4 of them are worth K = 20 numia) and of 37 similar coins minted during the reign of Justinus II. The oldest coins from those discovered from the times of Justinianus, had been minted in AD 539-540 and the most recent one was minted in AD 544-545.

 C. Chiriac, Câteva consideraţii asupra tezaurului de monede bizantine de la Gropeni

(jud. Brăila), in 'Istros', I, 1980, pp. 257-62. 2 Ibidem, p. 257.

The coins from the reign of Justinianus II could be dated back to a period comprised between AD 566/67 and AD 577/78, except the year AD 573/74.3 Out of these, 18 coins are from the reign of Justinus II and have the value of M = 40 numia, while the rest of 9 coins are worth K = 20 numia.4 Before showing the historical conditions which determined the  iding of this hoard we must pinpoint to the fact that the locality ofGropeni is also situated on the Danube's left bank, in front of Brăila Pond (Balta Brăilei) at approximately 25 – 30 km south of Brăila, the settlement being situated in close proximity to the Byzantine centres from Minor Scythia (Dobrudja).
The second important evidence is the discovery made by the numismatist Octavian Iliescu regarding the least ancient coin from the times of Justinianus. Its value is of K = 20 numia and it was minted in the 12th year of the great emperor's reign (AD 540) in Antiohia, this coin being the only (unique) piece in the world known as being minted in this centre. In other words it proves that Antiohia Mint functioned during the reign of Justinianus I. In what the circumstances of hiding this hoard accumulated year by year during the reigns of the two emperors are concerned, the researcher Costel Chiriac corroborated the year of the last coin issue in this territory (AD 577-578) with narrative sources - especially Teofilact Simocata5, Teophanes Confessor6 and Menander Protector7 and suggested
the following:

After the year AD 567, when the Avars were leaving the north of the Lower Danube (Dunărea de Jos) region and the west of the Black Sea
to settle in the Pannonian Plain, the power of the Slavic tribes of Sclavines, whom were living in the Avars' proximity, would increase considerably. This concerns mostly those tribes from the Pannonian Plain who were recorded by the sources.8 Therefore, the Sclavines will be the first ones to benefit from this event by imposing their political and military hegemony, north of the Lower Danube. From this position they would carry out powerful attacks against the Byzantine Empire, one of these attacks being recorded by Menander Protector: 'In the fourth year of
the emperor Tiberius Constantinus' reign - that is in AD 578/579, "around a hundred thousand Sclavines would devastate Thracia and other regions."

As the Constantinople's emperor did not have then sufficient troops to stop such an invasion he resorted to Baian Khan, the Avars' leader and determined this one to attack the regions close to the Danube,where the Sclavines were living. Thus he made plans to hit them indirectly but efficiently, that is in the very place (north of the Danube) that they had previously left. Baian accepted such a proposal as he wanted to revenge the Sclavines' killing of some Avar messengers he had sent to them.

Thus, as a consequence of the pact between the emperor Tiberius Constantinus and Baian Khan, 'Ioannes, the one who was the leader of the islands and Illyria's governor' will be designed to accompany the Avars against the Sclavines. Embarked on the ships belonging to the Byzantine fleet, from Pannonia, 'nearly sixty thousand horsemen' (Avars) would be transported on the right bank of the river and they would advance all along the river up to Minor Scythia. From that point they were embarked again and taken to the left bank to attack the regions left by the Sclavines, 'to pillage Thracia and other provinces'. These forested places in which the unprepared inhabitants used to hide were mainly the zones situated in close proximity to the Danube. Precisely in this region there are now situated both, Gropeni and Brăila, and as the latest coin of the hoard dates
back to 577/78 we are justified in believing that it was this expedition that led to the hiding of the hoard.
For all the rest of the time left from these events, (from approximately the year AD 602 which marked Byzantium'srenouncement to the Danube) and up to the powerful and efficient return of Constantinople's sway in Dobrudja and at the Danube in AD 971, in Brăila and in her adjacent zone, the Byzantine traces would be totally sporadic and unconvincing.

Therefore, for the period between AD 602-971, in what concerns the monetary discoveries, we could hardly talk of any important findings.
Maybe only the coin discovered in Tichileşti (10 km far from Gropeni)from the reign of Leon IV the Kazar (AD 775-780) should be considered.
The coin suggests the preservation of Byzantium's memory and this one's insignificant influence in a world full of migratory peoples, continuously
moving in the ford formed by the Danube river and Brăila Pond which is directed towards the right bank, that is towards Dobrudja.

3 I. Dimian, Câteva descoperiri monetare bizantine pe teritoriul RPR, in 'Studii şi
cercetări numismatice', I, 1957, p. 193.
4 Ibidem, p. 193-94.
5 Teofilact Simocata, Istorii, in FDHR, II, pp. 531-52.
6 Teophanes Confessor, Cronografia, pp. 591-623.
7 Menander Protector, Fragmente, 46, FDHR, II, pp. 509-24.
8 C. Chiriac, op. cit., p. 258.
9 Ibidem.
10 Ibidem, pp. 260.
11 Ibidem, pp. 260-61.
12 The emperor Mauricius Tiberius will be overthrown from the Imperial throne by the

centurion Focas, one of the army leaders sent north of the Danube during the winter of

the year AD 602. The mutineers will proclaim Focas emperor and attack Constantinople.

Cf. N. Iorga, Istoria vieţii bizantine, 1974, pp. 183-84. 

Repertoire of Fortifications from the Northern Part of the Lower Danube Roman Limes in Late Roman Age 
by Dorel Bondoc 
Based on the latest research in the domain, the present paper is meant to update on the question of the Roman Empire domination north of the Danube, after Aurelian's withdrawal. In view of the desired updating, a fixed repertoire of the late Roman fortifications situated on the left bank of the big river has been drawn up; it is divided into two separate parts: the first one, corresponding to the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 5th while the second one corresponds to the end of the 5th and the 6th century. The repertoire also includes the fortifications of the Danube isles. The military quarters which interested these fortifications have not been included and will be analysed on a different occasion.
For the first period, the repertoire comprises a total of 31 fortifications presented in the geographical order from the west to the east as follows: Cenad, Pancevo, Constantia - ContraMargum (Kuvin), Sapaja, Banatska - Palanka, Vrsac, Tibiscum (Jupa), Pojejena, Moldova Veche, Gornea, ContraRegina, §viniþa, Dubova, Dierna (Orsova), Praetorium (Mehadia), Ducepratum (Ada-Kaleh), Transdiana (The Banului Isle), Drobeta-Theodora, Puþinei, Hinova, Tismana-Batoþi, Izvorul Frumos, Ostrovul Mare, Izvoarele, Alba, Lucus/Lucum, Desa, Bistre?, Sucidava-Sykibida, Turris, Turnu-Mágurele, Dafne-Marisca, Pietroasele, Piua-Pietrii, Barboºi, Aliobrix, Tyras.
13 of these are already mentioned in the literary and epigraphical sources: Constantia-Contra Margum, Tibiscum, Contra Regina, Dierna, Praetorium, Ducepratum, Transdiana, Drobeta-Theodora, Sucidava-Sykibida, Turris, Dafne, Aliobrix, Tyras, din care doar 7 au fost localizate pe teren în mod cert (Tibiscum, Dierna, Praetorium, Ducepratum, Transdiana, Drobeta-Theodora, Sucidava-Sykibida).
25 of the same have been identified with certainty, by archaeological digging or informative research: Pancevo, the Sapaja isle, Vrsac, Tibiscum, Pojejena, Gornea, §vini?a, Dierna, Praetorium, Transdiana, Drobeta-Theodora, Pu?inei, Hinova, Tismana-Bato?i, Izvorul Frumos, Ostrovul Mare, Izvoarele, Desa, Bistreþ, Sucidava-Sykibida, Turnu-Mágurele, Pietroasele, Piua-Pietrii, Barboºi, Aliobrix.
Four fortifications have been hypothetically identified, judging by the construction remains, the military stamps or the coin circulation in the late Roman age: Cenad, Banatska-Palanka, Moldova Veche, Dubova.
Two of these (Alba and Lucus) have been inferred (indirectly attested) by recourse to the literary sources.
Of the 25 fortifications identified with certainty, it could be noticed that in 5 cases the old castrae were used (Tibiscum, Pojejena, Praetorium, Drobeta-Theodora, Desa), the remaining twenty being new constructions.
From a strategical standpoint it can be noticed that the majority of the fortificatins have counterparts on the southern bank of the Danube: Pancevo-Singidunum, ContraMargum-Margum, Banatska Palanka- the Sapaja isle-Laederata, Pojejena-Pincum, Moldova Veche-Cuppae, Gornea-Novae, ContraRegina-Regina, §vini?a-Boljetin, Dubova-Hajducka Vodenica, Dierna-Transdierna, Ducepratum-Sip, Transdiana-Diana, Drobeta-Transdrobeta, Izvorul Frumos-Egeta, Ostrovul Mare-Mihailovac, Izvoarele-Aquae, Alba-Transalba, Lucus-Translucus, Desa-Ratiaria, Bistre?-Cebrus, Sucidava-Oescus, Turnu Mágurele-Asamum, Dafne-Transmarisca, Piua Pietrii-Carsium, Barboºi-Dinogetia, Aliobrix-Noviodunum. Although it is undeniably true that the north-Danube fortifications regarded as a whole represent mere extensions in the Barbaricum zone of such constructions as the ones to the south of the big river,in whose absence they could not have existed at all, it is still provable that they represented the lower Danube limes in the late Roman age, together with the access roads for the troups and the earthworks (Lat.: valla). A good number of them are situated in the vicinity of some rivers' mouths: Pancevo- the Timiº river, Banatska Palanka and the Sapaja isle- on the Caraº and Nera rivers, Pojejena-the Radina river, Gornea- the Cãuniþa river, Dubova- the Morilor stream, Dierna- the Cerna river, Drobeta-on the Topolniþa river, Bistreþ- on the Desnãþui river, Turnu Mãgurele- on the river Olt, Dafne- the Argeº river, Piua Pietrii- on the Ialomiþa, Barboºi- on the Siret, Tyras- on the Dniestr. Under the circumstances, it is obvious that they also served for preventing the potential invasions along the valleys of these rivers.
It can be noticed that the corresponding fortifications of the Moesia Prima province and in part of the province Dacia Ripensis (up to Dorticum) are more frerquent than the ones of Oltenia and Muntenia. This could be explained by recourse to several factors: the state of the art in research in general , the existence of some foederati (the Goths), the resistance of the defence system east of Dorticum and the increased safety level of the naval transport on the Danube as compared to the one in the Iron Gates area, so much more vulnerable, the earthworks (valla) in the region of the Danube plain and the south of Moldavia.
The fortifications which are situated at greater distances from the Danube (at Cenad, Vrsac, Tibiscum, Praetorium, Puþinei, Pietroasele), reflect extremely well a certain military and political situation existing in the former Dacia, namely the superiority of the Empire in respect to the barbarians, which had been the case ever since the time of Constantine the Great (324/332). Two of these fortifications, i.e. Praetorium and Puþinei, seem to have been the outposts of Dierna and Drobeta, respectively, which denotes the exceptional importance of the latter.
In the present research stage it is not possible to confirm a Dacia restituta, as claimed by some archaeologists. As for the possibly reiterated take over by the Empire of certain territories to the north of the Danube, it is out of the question before the time of Constantine the Great.

The Typology, Forms and Constitutive Elements of the Fortifications
No exhaustive study of the fortification typology to the north of the Danube during the late Roman period can be undertaken in the current research stage, since the layout of all the fortifications is not known. Part of the known layouts ( those of Pancevo, Constantia-Contra Margum, Sapaja, Tibiscum, Pojejena, Gornea, Dierna, Praetorium, Ducepratum Transdiana, Drobeta, Puþinei, Hinova, Tismana-Batoþi, Izvorul Frumos, Izvoarele, Desa, Bistreþ, Sucidava, Turnu-Mágurele, Pietroasele, Piua Pietrii, Barboºi) come from Marsigli, and only a small number of these were thoroughly and scientifically drawn. The literary and epigraphical sources further complicate this situation in so far as they use different terms: castra, castella, praesidia, burgi, monopyrgia, while modern historiography has adopted the term quadriburgium to refer to the fortifications of the period from Diocletianus to Constantine the Great. Reviewing the existing information and considering the construction particularities, we assume that the following typology could be outlined:
I - the castra type fortifications are big forts, quadrangular in form, with or without corner towers protruding from the precinct. In this type are also included some old castrae refurbished in the 4th century (Tibiscum, Pojejena, Praetorium, Drobeta, Desa) with three out of their four gates blocked, as well as new constructions (Puþinei, Tismana-Batoþi, Izvorul Frumos, Izvoarele, Bistreþ, Pietroasele, Piua Pietrii).
II - fortifications of the quadriburgium type: completely new constructions, approximately square in outline, small-sized, provided with square or round corner towers protruding from the precinct. The access to them was through a single gate generally situated on the southern side. This type includes the following fortifications: Pancevo, Sapaja, Gornea, Dierna, Ducepratum, Hinova.
III - triangular fortifications; they are new constructions with round corner towers protrunding from the walls. The earthworks of Constantia-ContraMargum and Transdiana belong here.
IV - irregularly polygonal fortifications large in size, with corner and median towers protruding from the precinct. The Sucidava fortification is of this kind. V -surveillance and signalling fortifications (i.e., towers); they are entirely new constructions as well, reduced in size, having no defence function. §vini?a, Turnu-Mágurele, Barboºi and maybe Turris are to be included here.

The Construction or Reconstruction and Repair Phases
The following construction phases can be established, taking into consideration the fortifications on the southern bank of the big river:
1. Gallienus-Aurelian; although not recorded by the literary sources, this phase was archaeologically ascertained at Drobeta, where the old castrum was refurbished and at Sucidava, where the first military fortification (viz. the inside precinct wall) was erected .
2. The first tetrarchy (Diocletian's); the quadriburgium type fortifications erected near the Danube, rectangular in their layout and small-sized: Pancevo, Gornea, Dierna, Ducepratum, Hinova. It is similarly to this epoch that the following can be circumscribed: Banatska-Palanka(?), Pojejena, Transdiana, Tismana-Batoþi(?), Ostrovul Mare(?), the refurbishing of Drobeta and the repairs within the precinct of the military part of Sucidava.
3. Constantine the Great and his followers; this is the culminating period in the fortification of the Danube's left bank and new constructions of relatively big dimensions are raised. There appear surveillance towers, too. This phase includes: Constantia-ContraMargum, Sapaja, Vrsac, Tibiscum, Moldova-Veche(?), §viniþa, Dubova(?), Praetorium, Drobeta (its refurbishment), Puþinei, Izvoru Frumos, Izvoarele, Desa, Bistreþ, Sucidava (the exterior precinct wal), Turris, Turnu Mãgurele, Dafne, Pietroasele, Piua Pietrii, Barboºi, Aliobrix.
4. Valentinian I - Valens; this construction phase comprises repairs to the old fortifications. In the current research stage no new fortifications are known. Special mention should be made of the Cenad fortification's refurbishment.
5. Theodosius I; this phase is characterised mainly by the refurbishment of the fortifications destroyed or affected by the events of the year 378.
6. Arcadius - Theodosius II; it is the last phase, to be detected so far only at Sucidava. Repairs are now made throughout the limes in view of the impending invasion of the Hunes.

The End of the Fortifications
To establish the fortifications' end it is necessary to analyze the information offered by the literary sources, the stratigraphical data, the form, the size and construction elements for each and ever citadel. The geo-strategic position can provide logical arguments in this respect, and the circulation of coins can only be used very restrictively.
It is necessary to take into account first the two events that shook the whole lower Danube limes namely, the attacks of the Goths in the wake of the 378 catastrophe at Adrianopole, when Valens himself loses his life and the invasions of the Hunes in the first half of the 5th century, when the entire lower Danube limes is disaffected. Now it was that the fortifications situated beyond the Danube could not resist the Gothic shock of 378 - 379. The fortifications on the immediate banks of the Danube which were affected by this critical situation will be refurbished in part, their existence being thus pushed further in time, until the end of the 4th century or the beginning of the next one. But there are also some fortifications that ceased to exist irrespective of these chronological landmarks.
By and large, the following cessation dates can be established for the fortifications:
- Piua Pietrii, Barboºi and Aliobrix cease to exist in the middle of the 4th century;
- Pojejena(?), Turnu Mãgurele and Pietroasele are given up in 365;
- in 378/379 it is Cenad, Vrsac, Tibiscum, Moldova Veche, Praetorium, Puþinei, Tismana-Batoþi, Ostrovul Mare that are renounced;
- the end of the 4th century sees the end of Gornea, §vini?a, Dierna, Alba, Lucus, Bistre?, Dafne;
- the first half of the 5th century marks the end of Pancevo, Constantia-Contra Margum, Sapaja, Banatska-Palanka, ContraRegina, Ducepratum, Transdiana, Drobeta, Hinova, Sucidava. It appears that the destruction of these fortifications occurred in two stages: 441 and 447, when the Hunes devastate the line of the Danube up to Ratiaria at first, only to extend afterwards up to the Black Sea.
This chronogy might be modified in future, if the new research will demand it. A brief review is also provided in the paper, with rigorous pro and con arguments, of the earthworks (valla) found in the Banat and Criºana region or the northern part of Brazda lui Novac, plus the earthworks in southern Moldavia, which were erected and used in the period from Constantine the Great's reign to Valens's.
It is generally accepted that in the 4th and 5th centuries the old roads of the 2nd and 3rd centuries were used; this hypothesis is supported by the discovery of military posts in Banat and Celei. All the north-Danube roads used in the 4th and 5th centuries are ancillary ones to the strategic road of the Danube limes which traversed the southern bank of the big river.
In this period, special stress was laid on the Danube fleet which supplanted terrestrial transportats along the big river. After the lower Danube limes was made impracticable by the Hunes in the first half of the 5th century, the Empire returns to the Danube line beginning with Emperor Anastasius (in Scythia, Moesia Secunda, Dacia Ripensis) and continuing with Justinian (Moesia Prima). In what follows, the paper presents the second part of the north-Danubian fortification repertoire, which includes from the west to the east the following: Sapaja, Litterata, Recidiva, Ducepratum, Transdiana, Theodora, Ostrovul Mare, Sykibida and Dafne, although the literary sources also mention a number of others lacking in names. There are no proofs attesting that further new constructions were erected as well.
There are no fortifications in the north-Danube section of Scythia. In general, the fortifications were restored according to the older layout and dimenions. The opus mixtus construction continued to be used, but it is specified that the use of bricks predominates. The corner and median towers remain outside the precict, sometimes with modified forms. The appearance of the churches and the tombs is only documented at Sucidava.
In the current stage of research, the annexation by the Empire, in the 6th century, of a north-Danubian land strip that ran all along the big river's bank is not attested. The Roman domination was present, however, on the northern bank of the Danube, in the close vicinity of the big river. Special attention seems to have been conceded to the Banat region: of the 9 known fortifications, 6 belong to this sector. Novela XI mentions this in particular, and the general Priscus considers it to be a Roman land. The end of the fortifications should be considered to occur some time before the year 602. The fall of the Sirmium fortress under Avarre attacks seems to have represented an ill omen and, consequently, a serious threat to the entire lower Danube limes. For all the fact that the limes was disrupted in various stages, it continued in existence under the attacks of the Slavs and the Avarres, and under the circumstances of Phokas's revolt. There is no information whatsoever regarding any potential civilian settlements in the vicinity of the fortifications. If it is a fact that some older roads could continue to be used in this period, although the transport on the Danube seems more probable, the situation of the great earthworks (vallae) is quite different, as they became practically useless now, under the altered circumstances. There is no certified information either as to the construction of any bridges over the Danube.
The material presented is accompanied by two maps corresponding to the two parts of the repertoire.

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Last modified: January 30, 2001

 Eugen S. Teodor


 - teză de doctorat 2001 See text at:


The Lower Danube Frontier  During the 4th-7th Centuries.

A Notion’s Ambiguity

by Stelian Brezeanu, University of Bucharest

Cronologia atacurilor transdanubiene

şi analiza componentelor etnice şi geografice

ANUL 595 (toamna). Prima campanie a lui Petrus

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   Paul Stephenson, Byzantium's Balkan Frontier. A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900-1204 .

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 352 pp. ISBN 0-521-77017-3.

Reviewed by Florin Curta (Department of History, University of Florida),

Balkan Academic Book Review 22/2000

Paul Stephenson's monograph on the tenth- to early thirteenth-century Balkans represents the most significant contribution to the literature on
the medieval Balkans since 1987. It is also the most recent in a series of studies devoted to the Byzantine presence in the Balkans, an area that has
generally received much less attention than other regions of the Empire. To a large extent, Stephenson integrates his concept of Balkan history with
the now familiar picture of the cultural and political significance of late antique and medieval frontiers and borderlands. The Balkan frontier of the
Byzantine Empire marked "the point of transition from the civilized world to the barbarian." Stephenson assumes that the notion of barbarian was
understood in Byzantium the same way it had been in fifth-century Athens: Greek was an equivalent of civilized, while barbarian was just another word
for uncivilized (p. 5). He also associates Byzantine attitudes towards barbarians on the other side of the frontier with Frederick Jackson
Turner's famous thesis of the American frontier as "the meeting point between civilization and savagery" (p. 6). Though not exactly new,[1] this
approach produces some interesting results. Stephenson's concern is "the place of the frontier in Byzantine thought, rhetoric, and ideology."
Moreover, his goal is to study the perception of the political border by peoples living on either one of its sides. Stephenson's main thesis is that
"Byzantine authority was almost always exercised through existing local
power structures" (p. 7).

The claims of this book to originality rest, among others, on its use of the archaeological evidence, especially coins and lead seals.
Unfortunately, Stephenson's approach to the archaeological record is outdated. To him, hoards are mere indications of rebellion or invasions, a mute testimony to impending disaster in the region (p. 16). More or less recent studies, however, reveal the association between mint output and
hoarding, on one hand, and military preparations, on the other.[2] In other words, for the period under consideration in this book, it is more likely
that hoards signalize the presence of Byzantine troops. Equally problematic is the interpretation of the large number of seals found in Preslav
(Bulgaria) as an indication of an "archive of copies" (p. 17). Since the documents they once sealed did not survive, it is impossible to know
whether the Preslav seals were attached to original documents or to copies.

Some elaborately carved sarcophagi and pieces of church decoration found in Dalmatia may indeed be dated to the eighth century.[3] However, this can
hardly support "the contention that city life recovered swiftly after the turmoil of the seventh century" (p. 28). Nor are clay cauldrons (or
kettles) "a type favored by nomadic peoples," for recent archaeological studies show that their distribution and use were not restricted to the
steppe lands.[4]

Stephenson's suggests that relations between the Empire and its northern,especially nomadic neighbors (Magyars and Pechenegs) could best be
described in terms of minimizing raiding activity and emphasizing trade relations. This is an extension of ideas presented in his 1999 articles on
the Danube frontier of the Empire during the late tenth and eleventh centuries, in which he argued that the archaeological evidence on both
sides of the Danube points to the existence of local markets visited by "barbarian" merchants.[5] What was exchanged on these markets between
barbarians and Byzantines? Stephenson attempts to answer this question in the first chapter of his book. He argues that during the second half of the
tenth century, the most important commodity of the Magyar-Byzantine trade was salt. "The seven salt mines of Transylvania, which give the region its
German name Siebenburgen, had operated for centuries before the Magyars' control there. During their migration westward the nomads took control of
the mines" (p. 44). But "Siebenburgen" does not translate as "seven salt mines," nor is there any evidence (archaeological or otherwise) of Magyar
control of, or settlement in, the salt mine region in central Transylvania before ca. 1000. In reality, "Siebenburgen" explicitly means "seven towns,"
which is traditionally interpreted as a reference to cities founded by Saxon settlers in the thirteenth century. But there were more than seven
cities in Transylvania belonging to the so-called "Sieben Stuhle" (the main administrative unit of the Saxon population in medieval Transylvania). It
is more likely that the German name of Transylvania originated in the dialect of the first, mainly Low German-, Flemish-, and Dutch-speaking wave
of settlers, who came from regions with similar place names ("Zevenbergen," in southern Holland, "Sevenbergen" east of Hameln, in the Weser region of
Germany). There are indeed seven salt mines on the map on page 42, which supposedly shows "salt mines and coins finds north of the Danube,
900-1204." All were given their current, Romanian names, except Ocna Sibiului, which appears as "Salzburg." This seems to have been at the
origin of the author's interpretation of "Siebenburgen" as "seven salt mines." The map does not list the most important salt mines in central
Transylvania, namely those of Ocna Muresului (which were undoubtedly in use during the early Middle Ages), but has a salt mine in San Paul. In reality,
there were no salt mines in San Paul (a village near present-day Odorhei,in eastern Transylvania), the nearest location with salt resources being at
Praid-Sovata. Even if, by A.D. 1000, Szeged may have been "the regional center for storage and sale of Transylvanian salt" (something that remains
to be demonstrated), one wonders about the evidence of the movement of salt across the Balkans. After all, the local market in Thessaloniki was famous
in the early 900s for exporting salt from the local pans. As Stephenson is forced to admit, "salt… could be supplied from within the empire; there was
no need to look as far as Transylvania." Yet, he insists that the Byzantines purchased salt from the Magyars because "business was conducted
according to the principle that trading prevented raiding" (p. 45). The evidence, however, suggests gift-giving, not trading. Indeed, it is hard to
imagine salt being traded against gold coins or pectoral crosses, such as found in late tenth-century burials in the Szeged region of southern Hungary.

Emperor Basil II is the protagonist of the next chapter of the book, and he is called a peacemaker, instead of "Bulgar-slayer." The description of John
Tzimiskes' restoration of the Danube frontier, the revolt of the Cometopuli and Basil II's Balkan campaigns is familiar; what is new is Stephenson's
attempt to pin down "the rhetoric and reality" of Basil's Bulgarian wars.He argues that Basil's wars were not a systematic campaign of
extermination. To Stephenson, Basil II "was not the unassailable conqueror he wished to appear" (p. 76). Instead, the policies he implemented in
Bulgaria were unlike anything one might expect from the "Bulgar-slayer." Stephenson insists that Basil's greatest weapon in his struggle for
Bulgaria was granting court ranks and "lofty imperial titles," insignia,stipends, and prestige, although it is not always clear why did local
rulers vie for Basil's "gifts" in the first place. Most striking in Stephenson's discussion of the historiography of Basil's Bulgarian wars is
his contention that "the practice of claiming the title emperor of the Bulgarians… had no ethnic significance" (p. 61). Yet, as Stephenson himself
pointed out (p. 132), between 1040 and 1042 Peter Delyan, Tihomir, and Alusyan were all proclaimed "emperors of the Bulgarians," while in 1202
Kaloyan demanded from the pope a crown allegedly dispatched before him to Tsars Symeon, Peter, and Samuel. In the latter case, Pope Innocent III
responded with a series of letters addressed to the the "king of Bulgarians and Vlachs." What all these titles show is that there was some ethnic significance, although the meaning of the ethnic terms must have been different from that currently in use. Likewise, the debate between Romanian
and Bulgarian historians was not, as Stephenson has it (p. 55), about whether or not Paristrion (the Byzantine theme organized in Bulgaria after
John Tzimisces' victory over Svyatoslav of Kiev) was ever a part of Bulgaria. At stake was only whether or not Dobrudja (or parts thereof
certainly included into Paristrion at some point) was ever within Bulgarian borders before 971.

The most striking aspect of chapter three is Stephenson's effort to reinstate and extend his "trading vs. raiding" thesis to the region on both region on both
sides of the Lower Danube frontier of Paristrion. Beginning with the reign of Michael IV, a number of newly fortified sites in the region (Dristra,
Pacuiul lui Soare, Noviodunum/Isaccea, Dinogetia/Garvan, and Presthlavitza/Nufaru?) operated as both military and commercial centers,
where nomads converged "to dispose of their wares and purchase the products they desired from within the empire in controlled conditions." Thus, nomads
were diverted from raiding activities and given strong incentives for peaceful and profitable contacts with the empire. To Stephenson, one of the
most important arguments in favor of this interpretation is a large amount of low value coins allegedly "pumped into the region from Constantinople"
(p. 115), in order to facilitate the process of exchange. In addition, he cites finds of amphorae found on Byzantine sites on the frontier as
indication of a remarkable growth in trade between Constantinople and the Lower Danube region of Dobrudja (p. 84). However, unless found on sites on
the other side of the frontier,[6] namely in "barbarian" territory, finds of amphorae are not a sign of trade with the Pechenegs, but of local
consumption and, most likely, of state-run distribution of certain commodities (such as olive oil or wine) to the troops. Similarly,
eleventh-century coin finds could hardly indicate trade if not found across the frontier, in "barbarian" territory. So far, a comparatively much
smaller number of coins have been found north of the Danube than in Dobrudja. [7] Moreover, only very few were low value coins. With just one
exception (Arciz), all hoards found north of the Danube frontier consist of gold coins. There is thus very little evidence of trade and everything
points to relations based on gift-giving, not monetary exchange. Indeed,according to Attaleiates, the revolt of 1072 erupted because of the
decision taken by Nicephoritzes, Michael VII's chief minister, to stop both annual subsides to the local rulers in Paristrion and gifts dispatched to
the Pechenegs across the Danube. As for the extraordinarily large number of coins in Paristrion, this phenomenon seems to have coincided in time with a
push to increase the fiscalization of taxation in the new administrative district. This further suggests that the great number of coins is an
indication of internal mechanisms associated with payments to the army and/or tax collection, not with trade relations with the barbarians

In the book's fourth chapter, Stephenson focuses on the history of the Balkans from the death of Basil II to the First Crusade. Despite its
coverage of Dalmatia and Duklja, this chapter's main emphasis is on the incorporation of Bulgaria into the Byzantine Empire. Traditionally, the
revolts of Peter Deljan and George Vojteh have been interpreted as "national" insurrections against the Byzantine "yoke." Stephenson, however,
sees these movements as related to more general "non-Bulgarian" unrest,"when central authority was facing stern challenges from foreign invaders
[Normans] or Byzantine magnates" (p. 155). Byzantine attitudes towards this newly conquered territory are best illustrated by Theophylact of Ochrid's
views of Bulgaria and Bulgarians. He complained that "having lived for years in the land of the Bulgarians, the bumpkin lifestyle" was his daily
companion, and to him Bulgaria was a barbaros oikoumene , a "semi-barbarian hinterland which comprised Byzantium's Balkan frontier" (p.
154). Stephenson's emphasis in this chapter is also on the line of fortresses separating the thema of Bulgaria from the Serbian zhupanias ,
since this marked Serbia as a buffer zone between the empire and its northwestern neighbors. It is in connection with this peculiar position of
Serbia, as well as with the shift of power from Duklja to Raska, that Hungarians, Venetians, and Normans intervened in Balkan affairs as
alternative patrons and allies of Serbian rulers.

The book's next two chapters deal with the impact of Western powers on the Balkan frontier of the Empire. First the Normans, then the First Crudade
are given a more important role than traditionally admitted. The appointment of kinsmen, as a key element of Alexius I's administration, may
have been a form of adaptation to the situation created by the emperor's early confrontations with the Normans and the crusaders. Moreover, the
creation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem seems to have blurred the distinction between Byzantine eastern and western policies and to have added to the
already existing pressure on the Balkan frontier. Following the First Crusade, both Venice and Hungary extended their domination into Dalmatia.
In addition, Hungarian kings now needed "to establish political and commercial links with the rest of the Mediterranean world" (p. 187).
Stephenson's contention that Hungarian kings were interested in the profits generated by sale taxes from maritime cities in Dalmatia rests on the
privilege granted by King Coloman to the citizens of Trogir, which mentions two-thirds of the duties excised from foreign merchants been exacted by the
Hungarian king. It remains to be demonstrated that the terms of this settlement applied to other Dalmatian cities, but Stephenson is certainly
right in discussing these developments against the background of the twelfth-century expansion of Latin Christendom. It is less clear, however,
whether this expansion was responsible for the Byzantine familiarity with Western institutions. It seems unreasonable to suppose that through his
dealings with Bohemond, Alexius had become "remarkably familiar with the principles of western feudalism," while at this point the very notion of
feudalism is misconstrued (p. 182). The author of the Hungarian Chronicle may well have thought that the Hungarian attack on Branicevo (1127) had
been caused by the claim of the Byzantine empress Irene (who was King Ladislas I's daughter) that her cousin, King Stephen II, was her liegeman.
It is hard believe, however, as Stephenson suggests (p. 209), that the relation between the Hungarian king and the Byzantine emperor portrayed on
the Hungarian crown was one of vassalage.

This is followed by two chapters, the best of the entire book, in which Stephenson sums up his arguments regarding the Balkan frontier during the
reign of Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180).[8] He argues that the emperor was confronted with a series of problems created by his father's and
grandfather's hands-off policy in relation to Hungary and Venice. The Hungarian-Serbian-Norman alliance persuaded Manuel "that he must urgently
restore his authority in the north-western marches" (p. 237). This,however, antagonized Venice, which in turn had a significant impact on the
Byzantine campaigns in southern Italy. The loss of Italy in 1156 ushered in "a new period of intensive Byzantine activity in the northern Balkans" (p.
238). Stephenson's main argument is that Manuel's activities in this region were based on a false premise. The emperor's purpose "in advancing his
frontier across the Danube" was "to consolidate his defences against a perceived threat of German expansion into Hungary and Italy" (p. 271). The
"cold war" between 1156 and 1180 coincided with extensive fortification works in Belgrade and Branicevo and with Manuel's manipulation of the
Hungarian royal succession. As a consequence, Stephen IV, an adherent of the Orthodox faith (after his marriage with Maria Comnena) was crown king in 1163. Five months later, he was defeated in battle and driven from Hungary. Stephenson mentions, but does not comment upon Stephen's shift of
alliance from Manuel to Frederick Barbarossa. Missing from this discussion of Hungarian-Byzantine relations is the archaeological evidence from
Hungary.[9] From coins[10] to ceramics,[11] amulets,[12] pectoral crosses,[13] and frescoes,[14] the influence of the Byzantine material
culture and art is very strong in twelfth-century Hungary. Raimund Kerbl has already linked this influence to the role of Byzantine princesses such
as Maria Comnena.[15] Stephenson's book is the first study published in English on the late twelfth-century Balkans since the appearance in 1949 of Wolff's article on
the Second Bulgarian Empire, excepting Urbansky's monograph of 1968,[16] and it makes many new and interesting observations on aspects both Wolff
and Urbansky dealt only in brief. In a final chapter on the history of the Balkans between Manuel I's death and the Fourth Crusade, Stephenson offers
a series of convincing comparisons that illuminate the relationship between Peter and Asen, on one hand, and Isaac II and Alexius III, on the other.
His analysis of the changing relationships between local Balkan potentates and the Byzantine power during the decades following Manuel's death is a
welcome and long overdue addition to the discussion. Stephenson argues that, while by the end of the thirteenth century Bulgarians, Serbs and
Croats, Albanians and Vlachs all seem to have developed distinct identities, there is no evidence that "such an ethnic awareness, still less
a national consciousness, motivated rebellions." Instead, it was the "emergence of powerful polities in the west" that encouraged rulers of various groups, regions, and cities to seek alternative patrons and suzerains. In 1198, the veliki zhupan of Serbia, Stefan Nemanja, rejected
Eudocia, Alexius III's daughter, while Kaloyan, the "King of the whole of Bulgaria and Vlachia," rejected a patriarch and the imperial diadem from Constantinople and preferred instead the regnal symbols sent from Rome. The deterioration of the Byzantine control of the northern Balkans symbolically
illustrated by these two episodes may be another way to understand the conquest and sack of Constantinople in 1204.
The volume is remarkably well edited, with just a few minor errors. On table 4.4 (p. 128) a study (Boskovic 1965) is cited in abbreviated form,but omitted in the bibliographical list at the end of the book. The son of the Bohemian king Vladislav II, who married the daughter of the Hungarian king Stephen III, appears as Svatopluk in the text (p. 250), but as Sviatoslav in the genealogical table 8.3 on page 248. Map 1.3 (p. 42) lists
the Romanian names of the major rivers in Transylvania and the neighboring regions (now in Romania). The map even follows the hyperurbanism of the Oxford Atlas of the World in giving the names with enclitic definite articles (e.g., "Oltul," instead of "Olt"), despite listing Anglicized
names without any article (e.g., "Danube," not "The Danube"). Poor knowledge of Romanian may also be responsible for the mistranslation of "Pacuiul lui Soare" as "The Island of the Sun" (p. 57). Stephenson seems to share an odd practice with many Hungarian historians and archaeologists,
who use pre-Trianon, Hungarian place- and river names that nobody would find on any current map of modern Europe. On the same map 1.3, the river Somes appears with its Romanian name, but both the Mures and the Aries are listed with their Hungarian names (Maros and Aranyos, respectively). On map
6.1 (p. 190), Timis and Barzava appear as "Temes" and "Brzava," respectively. By contrast, all maps have "Tisa" (the Romanian name) instead of the standard form Tisza. On map 4.2 (p. 120), two place names in Bosnia and southern Dalmatia, Piva and Ulcinj, appear as "Pliva" and "Unlcinj,"
respectively.In the end, no matter how much one might quibble with the inherent limitations of Stephenson's study, his book will stand as a major
contribution to the historiography of the medieval Balkans, as a meticulously detailed study of three centuries of Byzantine presence in the
region. Indeed, the sheer amount of data Stephenson packs in this volume will establish his study as one of the most thoroughly documented in the
field. All future students-and this study is bound to stimulate interest in the region-will be indebted to Stephenson's initiative.

[1]. A connection between Turner's ideas and Byzantine frontiers was first established by Theodore Papadopoullos, "The Byzantine model in frontier
history. A comparative approach," in Actes du XIV-e Congres internationaldes etudes byzantines, Bucarest 6-12 septembre 1971, vol. 2 (Bucharest,
1975), pp. 415-19.

[2] D. M. Metcalf, "Coinage and coin finds associated with a military presence in the medieval Balkans," in Kovanje i kovnice antickog i
srednjovekovnog novca , ed. by Vladimir Kondic (Belgrade, 1976), pp. 88-97.

See also Florin Curta, "Invasion or inflation? Sixth- to seventh-century Byzantine coin hoards in Eastern and Southeastern Europe," Annali
dell'Istituto Italiano di Numismatica 43 (1996), 105.

[3]. Ljubo Karaman, "O spomenicima VII i VIII stoljeca u Dalmaciji i o pokrstenju hrvata," Vjesnik Hrvatskoga arheoloskoga drustva 23
(1941-1942), 98. The earliest phase of the rotunda of St. Donat in Zadar has been ascribed to the eighth century on the basis of sculpted decoration
of roof wooden beams. The church of the St. Cross in Nin is also of the late eighth century. See Vladimir P. Goss, Early Croatian Architecture. A
Study of the Pre-Romanesque (London, 1987). The St. Tryphon church in Kotor was dedicated in 809. See J. Kovacevic, "Appercu historique et
archeologique sur le role des villes de la Dalmatie meridionale dans l'expansion du christianisme parmi les Serbes," Acta Archaeologica
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 17 (1965), 67-9.In Epirus, the St. Demetrius church in Katsoura, near Arta, was dated to the late eighth and
early ninth century on purely stylistical grounds. See P. L. Vokotopoulos, He ekklesiastike architektonike eis ten dutiken sterean
Hellada kai ten Hepeiron (apo tou telous tou 7ou mechri tou telous tou 10ou aionos) (Thessaloniki, 1992), p. 183.

[4]. Petre Diaconu, "K voprosu o glinianykh kotlakh na territorii RNR", Dacia 8 (1964), 249-264; Istvan Fodor, "Der Ursprung der in Ungarn
gefundenen Tonkesseln", Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 29 (1977), 323-349; Antal Lukacs, "Observatii privind
raspindirea caldarilor de lut de pe teritoriul Romaniei", Studii si cercetari de istorie veche si arheologie 35 (1984), 320-330; Miklos
Takacs, Die arpadenzeitlichen Tonkessel im Karpatenbecken (Budapest, 1986). See also Gheorghe Postica, "Glinianye kotly na territorii Moldavii v
rannesrednevekovyi period", Sovetskaia Arkheologiia 3 (1985), 227-240; Victor Spinei, "Die Tonkessel aus dem Karpaten-Dnestr Raum", in Die
Keramik der Saltovo-Majaki Kultur und ihrer Varianten , ed. by Cs. Balint (Budapest, 1990), pp. 327-342; Liudmila Doncheva-Petkova, "Mittelalterliche
Tonkessel aus Bulgarien", ibid., pp. 101-111; V. A. Kuznecov, "Nordkaukasische Tonkessel", ibid., pp. 255-274.

[5]. Paul Stephenson, "The Byzantine frontier at the Lower Danube in the late tenth and eleventh centuries," in Frontiers in Question. Eurasian
Borderlands, 700-1700 , ed. by Daniel Power and Naomi Standen (New York, 1999), pp. 80-104; and "Byzantine policy towards Paristrion in the
mid-eleventh century: another interpretation," Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 23 (1999), 43-66.

[6]. As in Hansca (Moldova). See Gheorghe Postica, Romanii din codrii Moldovei in Evul Mediu timpuriu (Studiu arheologic pe baza ceramicii din
asezarea Hansca) (Chisinau, 1994), p. 94 and fig. 35/1.

[7]. E. S. Stoliarik, Essays on Monetary Circulation in the North-Western Black Sea Region in the Late Roman and Byzantine Periods (Late 3rd
Century-Early 13th Century AD) (Odessa, 1992).

[8]. See Paul Stephenson, "Manuel I Comnenus and Geza II: a revised context and chronology for Hungaro-Byzantine relations,
1148-1155," Byzantinoslavica 55 (1994), 251-77; and "Manuel I Comnenus, the Hungarian crown and the 'feudal subjection' of Hungary,
1162-1167," Byzantinoslavica 57 (1996), 33-59.

[9]. See Zsuzsa Lovag, "Byzantinische Beziehungen in Ungarn nach der Staatsgrundung. Archaologische Forschungen zwischen 1970 und
1984," Mitteilungen des archaologischen Instituts der ungarischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 14 (1985), 225-33.

[10]. Istvan Gedai, "Adalek a XI-XII. szazadi bizanci penzek forgalmahoz," Folia Archaeologica 19 (1968), 145-50.

[11]. Peter Boldizsar, "Bizanci es del-italiai keramiak egyes nagyarorszagi kozepkori lelohelyekrol," Mora Ferenc Muzeum Evkonyve 1 (1987), 37-48.

[12]. Magda Baranyne Oberschall, "Ujabb adatok a bizanci magikus amulettek tortenetehez," Folia Archaeologica 3-4 (1941), 268-71.

[13]. Zsuzsa Lovag, "Byzantine type reliquary pectoral crosses in the Hungarian National Museum," Folia Archaeologica 22 (1971), 143-64.

[14]. J. Bakos, "Geneza nastennych malieb v Kostol'anoch pod Tribecom," Vlastivedny casopis 17 (1968), 178-181; D. Radocsay, A
kozepkori Magyarorszag falkepei (Budapest, 1954), p. 18; Otto Demus, Romanische Wandmalerei (Munich, 1968), p. 95.

[15]. Raimund Kerbl, Byzantinischen Prinzessinen in Ungarn zwischen 1050-1200 und ihr Einfluss auf das Arpadenkonigreich (Vienna, 1979).

[16]. R. L. Wolff, "The 'Second Bulgarian empire'. Its origin and history to 1204," Speculum 24 (1949), 167-206; A. B. Urbansky, Byzantium and the
Danube Frontier. A Study of the Relations Between Byzantium, Hungary, and the Balkans During the Period of the Comneni (New York, 1968).


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Vlachs in Romania


The Vlach Connection and Further Reflections on Roman History

The Vlach Connection




Whether what the emperor Justinian did, in recovering North Africa and Italy for the Empire, was a good idea is still argued by historians. At the same time, it is a bit ridiculous to sneer at the Eastern emperors because they weren't properly Roman, somehow, and then simultaneously fault the one who goes out and recovers nearly half of the old West from the Germans. Nevertheless, what Justinian was and what he did contain important elements of how the mediaeval world was becoming different from the ancient, and how the later empire was different from the earlier.

What Justinian was is a large but little noted part of the story. He is supposed to have come from a Latin speaking family in Macedonia. Now, a Latin speaking family in, say, Spain would mean people whose language would eventually evolve into Spanish; in Gaul, into French; etc. A Latin speaking family in Macedonia would thus be people whose language would eventually evolve into the Romance languages called "Vlach" south of the Danube and, north of the Danube, Romanian. So, in short, Justinian was a Romanian, whether in the modern or the ancient sense. A Romanian emperor of Romania.

This leads into several issues.


  1. Vlach is itself an interesting word. It seems to be a derivative from the same Germanic word cognate to welsch in German and Welsh in English, both meaning Roman, whether the Romans be Latin-speaking or Celtic-speaking. Vlach itself is Slavic (taking that form in Czech) and could mean Italian or Romanian, though the same word, with appropriate case endings, turns up in mediaeval Latin (Blachi) and Greek (Blakhoi, pronounced Vlakhi), only applied to the Romance speakers of the Balkans. It also occurs in Polish as Wloch, in Hungarian as Olasz, in Russian as Volokh, in Yiddish as Walach, and in various other forms even in those same languages (cf. "Vlach," A Dictionary of Surnames, Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges [Oxford University Press, 1988], p. 558). Vlach also significantly turns up in the name of the first Romanian principality: Wallachia (or sometimes "Walachia"). Thus, we can imagine the word being left behind in the Balkan Sprachbund by the German tribes during their stay in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. [see further discussion at Românians.]

    For many centuries Vlach was a spoken and not a written language. When it was committed to writing, the Cyrillic alphabet was used, in line with the Orthodox faith of the people. Later, a national consciousness arose in the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, where the language came to be called "Romanian." The name was at first itself influenced by Turkish pronunciation, as Rumanian or Roumanian, but along with the adoption of the Latin alphabet and an attempt to Latinize the language more, the name also was more Latinized. For clarity, the language of modern Romania can be called Daco-Romanian. Several islands of Vlach speakers survive in Greece, Albania, and the former Yugoslavia, though the use of the word "Vlach" for these is dying out. Two islands of speakers in Albania and Greece are now said to speak Arumanian, while another island of speakers in Greek Macedonia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are said to speak Megleno-Rumanian. The Megleno-Rumanian speakers thus might be thought of as the descendants of Justinian's own people.

  2. This throws an important perspective on the Eastern empire through the rest of its history. When Greek replaces Latin as the Court language under the emperor Heraclius, historians begin to think of the empire as a Greek empire, even as Western Europeans (Franks) tended to think of everyone in the empire as Greek. But of course nothing of the sort was true. Greek stood to the later empire just as Latin had stood to the earlier: the language of higher culture and universal communication, but not the spoken language of all the ethnic components of the whole. Greek had a bit of that role in the earlier empire as well: Marcus Aurelius did not become Greek because he kept his diary in that language. At the same time, real Mediaeval Greeks were even hesitant to call themselves Greeks: Hellenes, the Greek word for "Greeks," tended to imply the ancient pagan Greeks. Christian Greeks didn't need to call themselves anything but "Romans."

    Besides Greeks, the later empire had a very large element of Armenians, other groups whose languages were not written until later, like Albanians and Vlach speakers, and finally other indigenous ethnic groups to whom there are occasional references, like the Isaurians and Phrygians, whose languages are not well attested and who actually disappear completely in the course of the Turkish conquest of Anatolia. Indeed, it is not clear just how and when many of the ancient indigenous peoples of Anatolia disappear or are assimilated -- people like the Phrygians, Lydians, Dacians, Galatians (who were Celts), Cappadocians, etc. After Basil II had finally conquered Bulgaria, a large Slavic element of Bulgars and Serbs, centuries after their having broken through the Danube frontier, was finally also integrated into the empire. Even the Latin Emperors in Constantinople, aware of the history and multi-ethnic nature of the Empire, still called it Romania.

    Thus, while the modern Romanians preserve that identity as speakers of a Romance language, mediaeval Romania meant an empire of many peoples, united by the history of the Roman Empire and the Church, and simply governed in Greek. The greatest "Byzantine" dynasty, the Macedonians, starting with Basil I, seems to have actually been Armenian in origin, even as two of the in-law emperors in the same dynasty, Romanus I and John Tzimisces, were also. In this respect, again, the Roman Empire had assumed more fully the characteristic of a Hellenistic state -- which simply meant that anyone who learned Greek gained full political equality.

  3. There is finally the mystery of the Daco-Romanian speakers in their current territory. The Romance speakers of the Balkans enter history in the 12th century as the Vlachs: When the second Bulgarian kingdom broke away from Romania in 1186, the revolt was led by the Asen brothers, who were Vlachs themselves. John Asen styled himself, in Latin, imperator omnium Bulgarorum et Blacorum. When the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa passed through in 1189, the Vlach element seemed predominant, since John was referred to as "emperor of the Vlachs and of the most part of the Bulgarians," "emperor of the Vlachs and Cumans," or "emperor of the Vlachs who was called by them emperor of Greece" [History of the Byzantine Empire, A.A. Vasiliev, University of Wisconsin Press, 1964, p.442]. The Asens may have emphasized the Bulgarian element simply because that was the independent institutional precedent, of state and church, that they were claiming.

    Since we do not previously hear about Romance speakers in the Balkans in any mediaeval history, and Vlach at that point was still not a written language, these people seem to just pop up out of nowhere. Much the same is true of the Albanians. Even more mysterious is the appearance of the Romance speakers north of the Danube, which had largely been terra incognita for the previous thousand years. Thus, anyone would wonder what had happened. Romance speech means Roman colonization, and we have to go back all the way to the 2nd and 3th centuries to find out about that.

    Since Romanian nationalism naturally identifies itself with the present land of Romania, and also with the pre-Roman inhabitants of Dacia -- the plateau protected on south and east by the Carpathian moutains -- it stoutly maintains that Daco-Romanians have occupied the same territory continuously. On the other hand, the Hungarians, who ruled Transylvania (the same plateau) from the founding of their own state all the way, except for the Turkish occupation, to 1918, like to claim that they were actually there first, and that the Romanians came in later. These competing political claims, which often have overtones of self-interested ethnic myth-making, make it very difficult for outsiders to evaluate the arguments -- anyone might be reasonably suspicious of what any of the Daco-Romanian or Hungarian sources say.

    What we know from Roman sources is that the province of Dacia, conquered and colonized by Trajan in 106, was abandoned around 271. This was, as we have seen, a very bad period for the Romans, and Dacia was a salient into territory mostly surrounded by increasingly active enemies. With the Roman withdrawl, the area drops out of recorded history for many centuries, and notice of Romance speakers there doesn't occur until something like the 14th century. Texts in the Vlach/Romanian language don't occur until the 16th century. Across the void of the Transylvanian plateau and Carpathian mountains, mediaeval historians only notice the passage of nomads -- Germans (Goths and Gepids), Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Magyars, Patzinaks, Cumans, and, last but not least, the Mongols. The locations of Wallachia and Moldavia seem like virtual nomadic no-man's lands during much of the Middle Ages, with no literate culture and no civil organization or political authority apart from the nomadic empires.

    While the Romans withdrew their legions, administrators, and many colonists, it does seem unlikely that all the inhabitants of Dacia, which before the Roman conquest had been a fairly unified and formidable state, would have left. Any unassimilated rural population, especially, would have had no particular reason to leave -- rule by some Germans might not have seemed worse, and perhaps better, than Roman rule. The archaeology reported by modern Romanians indicates a continuity of the material culture, even if urban areas decline precipitiously and there is little in the way of epigraphic material. Romanians like to point out that rural costume even today looks like the Dacian costume of Trajan's Column in Rome. Coin hoards indicate, especially for the 4th century, a continuing cash economy, which means continuing trade contact with the Empire. That even allowed for the penetration of some Christianity. What percentage of this remaining population was Latin speaking, and what percentage was still using the old Dacian language, is impossible, in the absence of the records of a literate culture, to say.

    The withdrawn colonists, probably all or mostly Latin speaking, were settled just across the Danube in the Roman province of Moesia Superior (Upper Moesia). That province was later subdivided into Upper Moesia (Moesia I) and, of all things, Dacia. This is now in the part of Serbia south of the Danube and east of Belgrade. This Dacia was later subdivided in two. These provinces were then collected, with Upper Moesia and other nearby provinces into the Diocese of Dacia. In late Roman times the area was Latin speaking and outside where Greek was commonly used (cf. A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Warren Threadgold [Stanford University Press, 1997], p.6). It is not hard to imagine the contacts that continued between the inhabitants north of the Danube, Romanized to a greater or lesser extent, and those who had withdrawn to the south, even as late Roman trade crossed back and forth all along the Rhine-Danube frontier.

    Not only did the original Dacia drop out of history in 271, but the later Dacias did so also, after the Avars and Slavs breached the Danube frontier and poured into the Balkans in 602. Only the conversion of Bulgaria to Christianity in 879, with the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet, returned the region to literacy. As it happens, only one other place in the Roman Empire dropped out of history in quite the same way. That was Britain. The withdrawl of Roman forces in 410 drops Britain into a void very similar to that of the Dacias, and for a while all that is apparent is the descent of sea-going Germans -- the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. When literate culture returns, dramatically evident in the history of the English church written by the Venerable Bede in 731, we suddenly see the results. Roman Britain has disappeared from most of the island, with Romanized Celtic speakers pushed into Wales and Cornwall. The Cornish were under such pressure that many of them crossed over to Brittany. The Celtic speakers of Cornwall have today disappeared, but the Bretons are very much alive and aware of their past. Although the Angles and Saxons inherited the old Roman place names, and came to tell the King Arthur stories by which the conflicts of the 5th century were vaguely remembered, Saxon England owed little enough to the culture it had displaced.

    Roman Britain survives in Wales and Brittany. Even pre-Roman culture survives in Spain, where the mountains in the North harbor the Basques, whose language has no obvious affinities to any other. This is revealing. The geography of England poses few obstacles to conquest, but both the Welsh and the Basques held out in mountains -- relatively modest mountains perhaps, no more than 3000 feet in Wales and not much more than 7500 feet on the south side of the Ebro valley in Spain (though over 11,000 feet in the nearby Pyrenees), but something that could impose significant costs to invaders -- in the Middle Ages, the Basque country was the basis of the long independent Kingdom of Navarre. Americans need only remember how the Appalachians, which don't get much over 6000 feet, originally hindered westward movement. The Transylvanian plateau, in comparison to these, provides a formidable redoubt. The Danube River itself tells the tale, since it must make a broad detour to the south, around the whole area. The southern branch of the Carpathians, the Transylvanian Alps, has peaks over 8000 feet high, and even the western side goes up to 6000 feet in the Bihor mountains. This makes it immediately obvious why nomads tended to pass around, like the Danube. Nomads like flat grasslands, which are present on the Hungarian plain and in the Danube Valley of Wallachia, but not in the mountains or up on the Transylvanian plateau. We should expect to find an autochthonous population in Daco-Romania just as must as in Wales or Navarre.

    Consequently, it is no more difficult imagining the Dacians surviving than it is explaining the Welsh or the Basques. On the other hand, this makes it somewhat more difficult to explain why the original Dacian language would not have survived. The area of Daco-Romania was under Roman rule for a shorter time, about a century and a half, than Britain, about three and a half centuries, or than Spain, more like six and a half centuries. A Romance language did not take root in Britain, and even all the Romance dominance in Spain failed to entirely displace Basque. So why does the pre-Roman language not survive in modern Romania? The relatively brief Roman occupation hardly seems like the kind of thing that could have done so thorough a job, especially in the face of the organization and resistance that the Dacians originally offered. Nor was it Roman policy to deliberately stamp out local languages -- that was just a side effect of Roman colonization and the use of Latin as the administrative, literary, and, later, religious (i.e. Roman Catholic) language. The dominance of Romance speech in Daco-Romania thus might require some other impetus of Latinization.

    We may find that by asking what happened to all the Latin speakers south of the Danube, in the later Dacian provinces and diocese. If we look there now, one thing we find is that there are still Romance speakers. In the bend of the Danube River, where it breaks through the mountain barrier at the Iron Gate, which corresonds to the north part of the Roman Province of Dacia Ripensis, there is a Daco-Romanian speaking area even today, as part of Serbia. These are people who need not have moved in 1700 years. But most of the area of the Roman Dacias is occupied by speakers of Serbian or Bulgarian. On the other hand, the Vlach languages to the south, as I understand it, do not betray the influence of Greek that they should, had they originated in Macedonia and Albania. And there is, of course, the pocket of Istro-Rumanian, which is all the way West in Istria, which was part of Austria until World War I. Since all the Romance languages of the Balkans appear to come from one proto-language -- Proto-Romanian -- the dispersed pockets, like Arumanian, in Albania and Epirus, and Istro-Rumanian, must have originated in the same area. That looks to be the Late Roman Dacias. The event to have have scattered the languages would have been the Avar/Slavic breakthrough in 602.

    Some of the people stayed more or less put, like the Welsh, while others scattered in the face of the invaders, like the Bretons. Since there are no historical records of this, as there are none for the Slavic migration itself, we are left with nothing but the evidence of the results. From Istro-Rumanian, we know that some went West. From Megleno-Rumanian and Arumanian, we know that some went South. However, the most obvious thing for them to do would have been to go north-east right back into the original Dacia. This was now no worse than heading south or west, which offered no real refuge (Roman authority having collapsed so completely), and could easily have been considered better, since they likely would have known from rumor that the invaders had mostly passed around the highlands.

    Hidden from history, like other Dark Age migrations, the Roman evacuees from Dacia could well have, in returning, provided the additional impetus of Latinization that erased the vestiges of the ancient Dacian language. Nor need this have been an all-at-once process. It looks like mediaeval Serbia started a bit west of the Moesia region, in modern Bosnia, and gradually moved east. In the meantime, the Roman Dacias, which included parts of modern Bulgaria, like the city of Sofia (Roman Serdica), could well have remained largely Vlach. This seems to be no less than what we see in the age of the Asens. As the second Bulgarian empire declined, however, the Serbs pushed to the east. This may have motivated continued Vlach exodus. The continued movement of peoples even in the modern period is a claim of the Serbs themselves, who say that Albanians moved into Kosovo after the Turkish conquest. This is very possible. It also makes possible the movement from the Roman Dacias.

    If this view of events is correct, then both Romanian and Hungarian nationalists are, after a fashion, correct. There was continuous Daco-Romanian occupation of Transylvania, and there was migration from what had been Roman Moesia, south of the Danube. Not south by much, however. The areas are still contiguous today. This is worse for Hungarian claims than for Romanian. What continued migration explains is the purely Romance character of Daco-Romanian.

    It also explains something else, however, which is the nature of the Romanian Church. The early Daco-Romanians of Transylvanian did not convert en masse or in any organized way to Christianity, or we would have heard about their bishops at the Ecumenical Councils, and they very well could have been Arians, like the Goths. Nor did Daco-Romanians acquire the religion of the Hungarians, for that would have been allied to the Church of Rome, not of Constantinople. Instead, the Romanian Church goes back to the conversion of the Bulgars. The appearance of "Roumanian" in the Cyrillic alphabet, as well as the influence of Old Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the Bulgarian Church, on Daco-Romanian, are all evidence of that. After the conquest of Bulgaria by Basil II and the century and a half of rule from Constantinople, the Bulgarian Church was revived by the Vlach Asens, with the Patriarchate at Trnovo. "The Primate of all Bulgaria and Vlakhia" (totius Bulgariae et Blachiae Primas, in Latin) is what the Patriarch called himself. This seat, and that of Russia, were the only independent Orthodox Churches authorized from Constantinople. As Bulgaria declined and Serbia arose, an independent Serbian Patriarchate was established at Peç (Kosovo) in 1346, just in time for the coronation of Stephan Dushan as "Tsar of the Serbs and Romans." Bulgaria, Serbia, and Wallachia, however, were soon all overrun by the Turks. By 1483, in the still, for the time being, independent Moldavia, there was metropolitan established in Suceava for the Romanian Orthodox Church. I have not found yet the year in which this was actually done, but the Romanian Church has been autonomous ever since [note]. The Orthodox faith of Romanians in Transylvania cannot have originated there except directly under the influence of the Bulgarians, who ruled it at the time of their conversion, or because of migration and influence of Vlachs, who had converted closer to the center of Bulgarian power. Once Transylvania passed to Hungary, any influence would have been for Catholicism, which evidently is something that we do not see.

    This is about the best I can do, for the moment, with the mystery of the Dark Ages in both Daco-Romania and the Late Roman Dacias. It might not satisfy all Romanians, and certainly not many Hungarians, but dealing with such an issue, outside the sphere of historical records, is intrinsically speculative and uncertain. At the same time, it is nice that somewhere the name of "Romania" is preserved in a modern nation, and it is also well worth remembering that there were people in the Balkans who spoke Latin, as we understand from Justinian's own family.  


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