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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Iron century or golden age (900–1000)?


The events taking place in the steppes north of the Danube Delta and the Black Sea in the late ninth century opened a two-and-a-half-century period of turbulence marking a sharp contrast between West and East, to which some historians refer as the “last migrations.” The news of the disastrous defeat that had forced the Magyars to move to Central Europe reverberated well after ad 900, at a time when the Magyar raids had already brought destruction to most areas in the West. Writing in his Lotharingian abbey in 908, Regino of Prüm noted that the victors were the “Pecenaci.” This is the first mention of the Pechenegs in Europe, but the main source for their European history is Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De administrando imperio, which was written some forty years later. The richness of detail in this account is so extraordinary that very little could be said on the Pechenegs without it. As a consequence, Constantine's work has rightly been compared to Herodotus' account of the Scythians. Indeed, no other ancient or medieval source written in Greek describes in such detail the social and political organization in the steppe. The Turkic names of the Pecheneg clans, which were rendered in Greek without any attempt to translate them or even understand their meaning, as well as the precise location of the Pecheneg “provinces” (themata) betray Constantine's source of information, which must have been of Pecheneg origin, perhaps collected in the Crimean city of Chersonesus, where the nomads were bringing their hides and wax and received in exchange “purple cloth, ribbons, loosely woven cloths, gold brocade, pepper, scarlet or ‘Parthian’ leather, and other commodities which they require.

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