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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.
It has been persuasively suggested that far from being a response to the Arab conquest of Crete in 826 or to the beginning of the Arab conquest of Sicily, the creation of the fourth Byzantine theme in the Balkans, Peloponnesus, may be dated as early as the aftermath of Staurakios' expedition into Peloponnesus. The purpose of this theme created c. 800 must have been less the protection of the coasts against the Arab naval raids and more the protection of the Byzantine outposts on the coasts (mainly Corinth and Patras) against attacks from the interior. According to the much later testimony of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, in 805 the Slavs “who were in the province of Peloponnesus, decided to revolt, and first proceeded to sack the dwellings of their neighbors, the Greeks, and gave them up to rapine, and next they moved against the inhabitants of the city of Patras and ravaged the plains before its walls and laid siege to itself, having with them African Saracens also.” With the miraculous assistance of St. Andrew, the inhabitants of Patras were able to repel the attack, even if they lacked the support of the local military governor, who at the time was “at the extremity of the province, in the city of Corinth.”
The passage of the first three crusades through the Balkans produced both destruction and opportunities for the local leaders to assert their independence, especially in Bulgarian and Serbian territories under direct Byzantine control. In 1096, the pilgrims led by Walter the Penniless plundered the countryside around Belgrade, and they were in turn attacked by the locals. The pilgrims sacked a little town near Semlin, while bands of “infidel” Pechenegs, perhaps auxiliaries in Byzantine service, harassed the pilgrims and forced them to hide in the “Bulgarian forest.” The pilgrims of Peter the Hermit followed the same route from the Hungarian–Byzantine border at Semlin to Niš, with a number of bloody skirmishes with the locals on their way. Skirmishes with the locals are also mentioned in relation to the crusaders who in 1098 followed a land route from Aquileia through northern Istria into Croatia under the leadership of Raymond of St. Gilles, Count of Toulouse. Under permanent attack by bands of locals emerging from the mountains of “Sclavonia,” Raymond stayed with his rearguard and ordered the mutilation of prisoners in order to deter further attacks. Raymond of Aguilers, the chronicler of the count of Toulouse, describes the local population as “aggressive and primitive,” a “wild people” with no knowledge of God. He further distinguished between the inhabitants of the local towns, who apparently spoke a Latin idiom recognized as such by the crusaders, and natives living inland who “employ the Slavonic tongue and have the habits of barbarians.
Throughout the twelfth century, the steppe corridor between the Dnieper and the Danube remained under the control of the Cumans, as part of what Arab and Persian sources called Desht-i Kipchak, the “Cuman Desert.” Given the absence of any twelfth-century source for the history of the medieval steppe lands similar to Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus' De administrando imperio, the exact disposition and names of the Cuman tribes remain unknown. However, judging from the many references to Polovcians (Russian term for Cumans) in the Russian Primary Chronicle, by 1100 or shortly after that, the power in the “Cuman Desert” was in the hands of Cuman chieftains in Right Bank Ukraine. Two of them, Boniak and Togorkan, had offered their military assistance to Emperor Alexios I Comnenus in the war against the Pechenegs. Boniak also led a raid against Hungary, which destroyed in 1099 a Hungarian army under King Coloman near Przemyśl, at that time in the western lands of the Rus' principality of Galicia. However, during the twelfth century, the Cuman tribes in Right and Left Bank Ukraine, respectively, ceased to be under a single leadership and, as a consequence, the Rus' princes of Kiev were capable of driving a wedge at the line of the Dnieper River. Writing in the mid-1100s at the court of the Norman king of Sicily, the Arab geographer al-Idrisi knew that the Dnieper separated the “Black Cumans” from the “White Cumans,” but that division illustrates less the true political fragmentation of Cuman power than Idrisi's scholarly approach.
The current concerns with the definition and limits of Europe may be traced back to Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) and his idea that, as an appropriate unit of analysis, Europe was a product of Latin and Germanic peoples. There was no room for the Slavs in the concept of Europe that some of Ranke's contemporaries had in mind, and little understanding for eastern Latin nations, such as the Romanians, or for their non-Latin, non-Germanic, and non-Slavic neighbors – the Hungarians. To Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Ranke's older contemporary, the Slavs were by no means “an independent element in the series of phases that Reason has assumed in the World.” Excluding the folkloric East from history was a matter of drawing lines of contrast against which the European high culture could be better defined. As one author sagaciously observed, “the invention of Eastern Europe was a subtly self-promoting and sometimes overtly self-congratulatory event in intellectual history, whereby Western Europe also identified itself and affirmed its own precedence.” Hegel and Ranke's formulations were subsequently modified to fit local concerns, but their premise remained unaltered. Early twentieth-century historians in many East European countries reinforced, rather than challenged, that premise. Każimierz Tymieniecki included into Eastern Europe the regions east of the Elbe now in eastern Germany and Poland, but excluded both Scandinavia and the Balkans. He viewed Scandinavia as a part of the “West,” while the Balkans, in his eyes, were not truly European.
This book is an attempt to explore the fundamental dimensions of the medieval history of Southeastern Europe from c. 500 to 1250, broadly the period between the last century of Roman power in the Balkans and the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe. The primary aim of the book is to provide an overview of the historical developments that characterized a region of Europe about which there is generally little knowledge outside a small number of scholars with specific, often narrowly defined research interests. In the last few decades, the study of medieval societies in Eastern Europe has moved in new and significant directions. The successful use of interdisciplinary approaches, the growth of medieval archaeology, the revived interest in the history of the Church, the development of gender studies, and the encouragement to engage with comparative history have all informed research into the medieval past of Eastern Europe. The following chapters will make extensive use of the results of these new lines of research, in the process delineating a general conclusion that is worth stating plainly from the very beginning: medieval Southeastern Europe was in many ways similar to other parts of Europe, to a degree far greater than most scholars have so far been willing to admit. The secondary purpose of this book is therefore to relate to each other developments in the southeastern region of the European continent and to consider their implications for our understanding of the Middle Ages.
Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages stood at a crossroads of trade and crusading routes and fell within the spheres of influence of both the Byzantine Orthodox Church and Latin Christendom. This authoritative survey draws on historical and archaeological sources in the narration of 750 years of the history of the region, including Romania, southern Ukraine, southern Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Greece. Exploring the social, political and economic changes marking the transition from late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages, this book addresses important themes such as the rise of medieval states, the conversion to Christianity, the monastic movement inspired by developments in Western Europe and in Byzantium, and the role of material culture (architecture, the arts and objects of daily life) in the representation of power.
Even before his final victory over Samuel and his followers Gabriel Radomir and John Vladislav, Emperor Basil's war against Bulgaria had a considerable influence upon political and military developments in the neighboring regions. The so-called Long Life of Saint Gerald, an early fourteenth-century compilation of different sources, contains a much earlier and extraordinary account, perhaps written by an eyewitness, of a chieftain ruling over the region of western Romania and southwestern Hungary now known as Banat. Named Achtum, he was a powerful pagan “king” who “had taken his power from the Greeks” and had been baptized in the Orthodox faith in Vidin, an event that must have postdated the Byzantine conquest of that city in 1002. His base of power was in Morisena (now Cenad, on the Romanian–Hungarian border), a stronghold on the Lower Mureş River, close to its confluence with the Tisza. Shortly after his baptism in Vidin, Achtum established a monastery dedicated to St. John the Baptist in Morisena, which he populated with Greek monks, no doubt coming from Byzantium. Achtum's power was based on considerable resources, mainly cattle and horses, but given the position of his stronghold at Morisena, he also controlled traffic along the Mureş River and taxed transports of salt from Transylvania to the heartland of Pannonia. It is in relation to salt that he found himself in conflict with Stephen, the newly proclaimed king of Hungary.