Byzantium, Its Slavic Elements and Their Culture

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A great paper on the realtionship between the Slavs and the Byzantine Empire

Transcript of Byzantium, Its Slavic Elements and Their Culture

SPEROSVRYONIS,Jr. BYZANTIUM,ITSSLAVICELEMENTSANDTHEIRCULTURE (SIXTHTONINTH CENTURIES) ' , TheophylactusSimocatta, Historiae,II.16.9-20 ,' TheodoreSyncellus,DeobsidioneConstantinopolis Bythesixth-seventhcenturiesthepoliticalhorizonsoftheByzantineEmpirehad alteredandconstrictedintheeast,north, westandsouth.TheDanube, Nile and much oftheTigrisEuphratesriversystemshadbeenoccupiedandcrossedbytheArab caliphsandthenumerousSlavictribesasByzantiumwasabsorbedbythestruggleof politicalandmilitarysurvival.The Slavs,whooccupiedthenorthandcentralBalkans, hadreachedtheAdriaticandBlackSeas,andhadbeguntooverrunmuchthatis presentdaymodernGreece.TheArabs,inafewdecades,hadremovedByzantine powerinArmenia,ByzantineMesopotamia,Syria,Palestine,EgypteandnorthAfrica. TheArabconquestswererapid,non-destructive,andpreservedmuchofthe ethnic, social,economicandculturalstucturesthatByzantiumhadleftbehind. ItissignificantthatbytheninthcenturyArabictextsofAristotle,Galen,Hip-pocrates,and someofPlato had begunto enterthe culture ofthe Arabs.In theBalkans theconquestssettlementswerenotcarriedoutbyastrongcentralizedstate,butby numerousSlavictribalgroupswhichhadnohigherconceptofthestatebutonlythat ofthetribalchieftainswhoseloyaltiesshiftedbetweenoneoranotheroftheAsiatic peoplessuchasAvarsandBulgars.Thechangeswhichtheywroughtwereabruptand oftendestructive.ItisinterestingtonotethattheclassicalGreekheritage,intowhich 64SPEROSVRYONIS,Jr. theMuslimArabsenteredasa resultoftheByzantineinheritanceoftheeasternlands, was tocometotheSlavs muchlaterandit was tocome notfromByzantiumbutfrom theWest. Inasmuchasmonotheism,alphabetandliterature,andanultimatepoliticaltheory weretocometomanyoftheSouthandEasternSlavsfromByzantineinfluenceand models,modernhistorianshavepaidagreatdealofattentiontotheByazntine missionariesCyrilandMethodiusandtotheconsequencesoftheirmissionsonthe politicalandcurturalfoundationsoftheSouthandEastSlavsastheresultofthefact thatintheninthandtenthcenturiesthesebegantoemergeassocietieswithawritten literatureandthenucleiofstatefoundations1.Butscholarshipastothenatureand historyofpre-literateSlavicsocietiesprocededmorelaboriouslyandtheyremain mysteriousbecauseofthelimitedsources.TherearoseafterWorldWarI aSlavistic scholarship,whichwasbasedonlinguisticsandarchaeology,thathasbeguntodraw thecontoursofthesepre-literatesocieties,amongCzech,Polish,RussianandGerman scholars2.Themostrecentadditionsandcontributionsforthisknowlegeasconcerns theSouthSlavsaretheeffortsofthelateBulgarianscholarZivkaVyzarovaandher schoolofarcheology3. ThehastyuncoveringofanearlySlaviccemeteryonthegroundsofthenew museumatOlympiaintheearly1960'swastheoccasionofmyearlyinterestinthe questionofthematerialremains,andthereforeinthematerialcultureofpre-literate SlavicsettlementsinGreece4.ThattheSlavshad,early(beforetheliquidmetathesis 1.V.BESEVLIEV,DieProtobulgarischePeriodederbulgarischenGeschichte,Amsterdam1981;F. DVORNIK,LeslegendesdeConstantinetdeMthodevuesdeByzance,Hattiesburg1981. 2.I.BORKOVSKY,Die Prager BurgzurZeitder Premyslidenfrsten,Prague1972;W.HENSEL,DieSlawen imfrhenMittelalter, Berlin1965;I. P.RUSSANOVA,SlavjanskijeDrevnosti,Moscow1976;FlorinCURTA,The MakingoftheSlavs.HistoryandArcheologyoftheLowerDanubeRegionc.500-700,Cambridge2001; Sp.VRYONIS,'',Thessaloniki1995,11-82. 3.ZivkaVZAROVA,Slavjani i Prablgari podani nekropoliteotVI-XInateritorijatana Bgarija,Sofia 1976;SrednovekovnotoselisteS.Carvan.Silistrenskiokrug,VI-XIv.,Sofia1986;Ljiljana.DONCEVA-PETKOVA,Blgarskibitovakeramikaprezrannotosrednovekovie(vtoratapolovinanaVI-krajanaXv.), Sofia1977.ForGreececonsult,Ph.MALINGOUDIS,',Thessaloniki1988; ID., StudienzudenslavischenOrtsnamenGriechenlands,Mainz-Wiesbaden1981;ID., ,Thessaloniki1997. 4.Sp.VRYONIS, The SlavicPottery (Jars)fromOlympia,Greece,in Sp.VRYONIS (ed.),ByzantineStudies. EssaysontheSlavicWorld andtheEleventhCentury, NewRochelle1992,15-42.For a detailed,descriptive analysisoftheSlavicfindsatOlympia,T.VIDA-Th.VLLING,DasslawischeBrandgrberfeldvonOlympia, [ArchologieinEurasien9],Rahden2000.ForbroaderquestionsofculturalencounteroftheSlavs,Al. AVENARIUS,DiebyzantinischenKulturunddieSlawen,Munich2000. BYZANTIUM,ITSSLAVICELEMENTSANDTHEIRCULTURE65 hadtakenplaceinSouthSlavic dialects),settledinGreecewasestablishedbyGerman SlavistMaxVasmerwhohadcarriedout,insitu,adetailedstudyofSlavictoponyms inGreece,intheearlierpartofthetwentiethcentury(thoughthebookwasnot publisheduntil1941).MyinterestinthesmallSlaviccemeteryofOlympiacoincided withtheninthcenturyEpitomatorStraboniswhoincommentingonStrabo's descriptionofElis (regionofOlympia)stated:Salmoneus,Oinomaos,Pelopsandthe PelopidailivedinPisa,whichisnowcalledVisa.Buttodaythereisnotanynameof thePisataiandKaukonesandPylioi.Forallthese(lands)areinhabitedbySkythians (afrequentarchaismforSlavs)5. Thequestionwhichwillconcernusherehastodowiththenatureofpre-literate Slavic societyas it is reflectedinspecificByzantinetextsandinwhatmannerdidSlavs acculturatewithintheByzantinemilieu.Ontheoccasionofthehundredthanniversary celebrationoftheAmericanSchoolofClassicalStudiesinAthens(1980)Idiscussed animportantaspectoftheacculturationofSouthSlavsas a resultoftheirpoliticaland militarycontactswithByzantineauthorityinthelatesixthcentury.Specificallythis limitedanalysisconcerneditselfwithaninvestigationoftheearliestByzantinetexts whichdealwiththeoriginalmilitarytechnologyatthedispositionoftheSouthSlavs andoftheirearlypoliticalmasters(theAsiaticAvars).Thebasictextsforthisanalysis werethoseofProcopius,TheophylactusSimocattaandtheso-calledStrategikonof Maurice,allofwhichgiveusimportantinformationofthemilitarytechnologyofthe earlySlavs6. TheseearliestdescriptionsofAvaro-Slavicmilitarycampaignsandtacticsmakeno mentionwhateverofanadvancedpoliorcetictechnology.Asidefromtheordinary spears,bowsandpoisonedarrowstheypossessedonlyladderswiththeaidofwhich theyhopedtotakefortifiedplacesortowns.Veryoftentheyresortedtofakedretreats andwithdrawalsfromfortifiedplacesas a resultofwhichthegarrisonswouldbedrawn outofthetownwalls,hopingthustoensnaretheenemyanddestroyhimintheopen fieldofbattle.Thewalls,henceforthdenudedofdefenders,wereapreytothe besiegingSlavswhowouldascendthesiege laddersunderthecoveroftheirnumerous archers.InshorttheSlavsatthisstagewerenotyetinpossessionofthetechnology ofsiegemachinery. InthisearlierstudythenextevidencethatwasbroughttobearweretheMiracula ofSt.DemetriosthepatronsaintofThessaloniki,thefirstpartofwhichwascomposed 5.M.VASMER,DieSlaveninGriechenlandBerlin1941, 17. 6.Sp.VRYONIS,TheEvolutionofSlavicSocietyandtheSlavicInvasionsinGreece.TheFirstMajor SlavicAttackonThessalonikiA.D.597,Hesperia50,1981, 378-390. 66SPEROSVRYONIS,Jr. by Johnthe archibishopofthecity,whose tenureofthearchipiscopalthronespanned thelatesixthandearlierpartoftheseventhcentury.Hereinhedescribesthe dangerousSlavicsiegeofThessalonikithatcommencedonSundayofSeptember22, probablyin theyear597. His eyewitnessdescriptiondepictsa fullydevelopedandvery effectivetechnologyamongtheSlavicsoldieryandonewhichalmostsuccededin takingthegreatcity.Hewrites:Onthefollowingday,theypreparedsiegemachines, ironbatteringrams,catapultsforthrowingstonesofenormussize,andtheso-called tortoises,ontowhich,alongwiththecatapults,theyplaceddryskins...sothatthey mightnotbeharmedbyfireorboilingpitch.Fromthethirdday...theyhurledstones, orrathermountainsastheywereinsize,andthearchersshotfurther,imitatingthe wintersnowfalls,withtheresultthatnooneonthewallwasabletoemergewithout dangerandthustoseesomethingoutside.Thetortoiseswere joindtothewalloutside andwithoutrestraintwere diggingupthefoundationswith leversandaxeheads.I think thatthesenumberedmorethanonethousand7. Eventuallythedefenders,bywellorganizedsallies,wereabletoremoveallthe manybatteringramsfromthewalls'foundationsandhenceforthhadtodealwiththe formidableballistraeorcatapults:Thereweretetragonalandrestedonbroaderbases, taperingtonarrowerextremities.Attachedtothemwerethickcylinderswellcladin ironattheends,andtherewerenailedtothemtimberslike beamsfroma large house. Thesetimbershadtheslings hungfromthebackside andfromthefrontstrongropes, bywhich,pullingdownandreleasing thesling, theypropelthestonesup high andwith aloudnoise.Andonbeingfiredtheysentupmanygreatstonessothatneitherearth norhumanconstructionscouldbeartheimpacts.Theyalsocoveredthosetetragonal ballistraewithboardsonthreesidesonly,sothatthoseinside,firingthemmightbe woundedwitharrowsbythoseonthewalls8. ThecombinationofcatapultsandbatteringramssoexpertlycraftedbytheSlavic armiescameclose topenetratingthewalls ofThessaloniki.Howwas it thattheAvaro-Slavsacquiredthepoliorcetictechnologywhichassistedthemintakingwalledcities in theBalkans,sinceoriginalytheirsiegedeviceshadprovidedthemonlywithladders? TheanswertothisquestionI foundintheaccountsofTheophylactusSimocattawho recordsthattheyhadbeenableeventuallytolevelthewallsofSingidunum,andhad capturedthewalledtownofBongosandwereabletotakesomefortywalled forteresseswithsiegemachines.Thesamehistorianinformsusthatabout587the 7. P.LEMERLE,Les plusanciens recueils des miracles de Saint Dmtrius, Paris1979,vols.III especially vol.I,148-149. 8.LEMERLE,MiraculaI,154. BYZANTIUM,ITS SLAVICELEMENTSAND THEIRCULTURE67 Avaro-Slavsset out to besiegethe walledtownofAppiareiain MoesiaInferior.They happenedtocapture,in the courseof the siege,the city'smilitaryengineer,asoldier bythe nameBousas.The latterappealedto the citizensto ransomhim lesthe be put todeathby the Slavs.The citizensrefusedand subjectedhim toinsults.The military engineer,inordertosavehis own lifeand havingbeeninsulted,revealedhis terrible secretto his captors:As a price for this stay (of execution)he wouldturnthe forteress overto the barbarians...IndeedBousastaughtthe Avarsto constractsiegemachines, fortheyhappenedtobe the mostignorantofsuchmachines,and hebuiltthesiege machinetohurlmissiles.Soonafter,thefortresswas levelled,and Bousascollected judgementfor the lattersinhumanity,havingtaughtthe barbarianssomethingfrightful, thetechnologyofbesieging.Thencethe enemycapturedeffortlesslya greatmany of theRo