The Slavs: Their Early History and Civilization

Francis Dvornik


1. Origins and Migrations of the Slavs


  1. Original home of the primitive Slavs
  2. New theories
  3. Greek and Roman writers on the Slavs
  4. Abortive attempts by the Romans to reach Slavic territory
  5. Commercial intercourse between the Baltic and the Black Sea and migrations of Scythians, Slavs, Germans and Sarmatians
  6. Eastern Slavs, Goths and Iranians
  7. Hunnish invasion, the Antês, Croats and Serbs
  8. Slav penetration through Hungary towards the borders of the Roman Empire
  9. Spread of the Western Slavs

10. Southern Slavs and Byzantium
11. Avar invasion
12. Destruction of Christianity in Illyricum and its consequences for the history of mankind




It may seem strange that one of the first essential steps towards an evaluation of medieval Slav civilization should be to determine the whereabouts of the original habitat of the primitive Slavs. It is a problem which has preoccupied scholars for a considerable time and has received a great deal of their attention, particularly since the nineteenth century. The naive explanation that the Slavs came from the Danubian region was abandoned long ago, and though many other answers to this question were put forward, none was satisfactory. Archaeologists and philologists are still combining their efforts in the hope of arriving at the correct solution.


On philological grounds it was commonly agreed among modern scholars that the cradle of the Slavs was located in the marshes of the Pripet basin, a region known as Polesie. It was observed that the primitive Slavs had no term for the trees, beech, larch, and yew, whereas they did have a word for hornbeam. From this evidence it was argued that the original habitat of the Slavic race must have been located beyond the limit of the above-mentioned trees, that is to say, east of a line running from Königsberg in modern Prussia (now Kaliningrad) to Odessa. The marshy terrain





1. The Earliest Settlement of Indo-European Peoples





of Polesie, which was especially suited to the hornbeam, was thus regarded as the primitive home of the Slavs. This surmise met with ready acceptance, particularly in circles where the Slavs were regarded as an inferior race, because it was considered that the civilization developed by a people living for centuries in an unhealthful tract of marshes would have been of a poor and squalid kind. Such a theory was somewhat rashly developed by F. Peisker, who pictured the primitive Slavs as a people harassed for centuries by Mongolian nomads, enslaved by them from time to time and constantly endeavoring to hide from their terrible tormentors by skulking in the trackless marshes and impenetrable forests. [1]


Some scholars, Germans and Czechs among them, at first accepted this theory; but it soon became evident to others that a people confined for centuries to a territory of such small dimensions could not possibly have developed into the mighty nation which, from the sixth century A.D., astonished all contemporary Byzantine and Latin writers by its vast numbers and by the robust vitality manifested as it breached the defenses of the Roman Empire in southeastern Europe. Because of this important consideration, some archaeologists extended the primitive habitat of the Slavs from the Pripet basin southwards towards the Carpathian Mountains and westwards towards the Vistula.


It is agreed that the primitive Slavs must have lived for a long period as neighbors of the Germans, the Balts, and the Thracians, who together with the Slavs, the Celts, the Proto-Italians, Illyrians and Greeks, formed the European branch of the great Indo-European group of nations. No one harbors any doubts about the primitive habitat of the Germans in southern Scandinavia, Denmark and the islands and part of the coast between



1. A summary of F. Peisker’s argument can be read in Vol. II of the Cambridge Medieval History (Ch. XIV: “The Expansion of the Slavs"). His ideas on the enslavement of the Slavs by the Mongolians are absolutely false and his philological arguments in support of his strange theory were long ago refuted by specialists in Slavic archaeology and philology. It is strange that such a fantastic story could have been printed in an English standard work on medieval history.





2. The Original Habitat of the Slavs according to M. Vasmer (Die ältesten Bevölkerungsverhältnisse Russlands im Lichte der Sprachforschung)





3. The Original Habitat oř the Slavs according to L. Niederle (Slovanské starožitnosti)





the rivers Elbe and Oder. The Balts have remained in their original home right up to modern times. The Thracians, whose primitive home was in what is now Hungary, seem to have occupied, in the north, both slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, whose very name still recalls their presence.


It would thus be logical to locate the primitive Slavs much nearer to the original home of the Germans and the Balts than has been generally accepted. Against this supposition there was, however, the philological argument mentioned above. This difficulty has been resolved only recently, when it was demonstrated that in the early prehistoric period climatic conditions in Europe were very different from what they were at a later date, and that not only was the region which was regarded as the original habitat of the Slavs outside the area where the beech, the larch and the yew were known to grow, but so also were the lands lying between the Elbe and the Oder, the Vistula and the Bug. Moreover, excavations carried out by Polish archaeologists between 1920 and 1938 in the region of the Pripet marshes failed to yield any archaeological evidence which would support the theory that a numerous people had made a prolonged stay there in prehistoric times. On the other hand, the evidence suggests that it was not until Roman times that the Pripet region came to be populated in a marked degree.


Arguing from these premises, the modern Polish school of archaeologists, led by John Szekanowski, L. Kozłowski, J. Kostrzewski and T. Sulimirski, came boldly forward with the theory that the primitive habitat of the Slavs should be located in the lands between the Elbe, Oder, Vistula and Bug rivers and that the so-called “Lusatian culture,” of which the rich remnants — mostly pottery — are to be seen in all the museums of Central and Eastern Europe, was a product of the primitive Slavs. This possibility was also seriously considered by the greatest authority on Slavic archaeology of our time, the late L. Niederle. [1] The problems



1. Manuel de l’Antiquité Slave (Paris, 1923), pp. 20 seq. L. Niederle situated the primitive home of the Slavs, in general, between the rivers Vistula and Dnieper. He seemed, however, to have been more and more inclined to extend the prehistoric habitat of the Slavs towards the west, beyond the Vistula. In his Czech “Handbook of Slavic Antiquities” (Rukovět Slovanské archeologie [Prague, 1931], p. 15) he reviewed the results of recent archaeological findings in the field of Lusatian culture and came to the following conclusion: “If we deny the Slavic character of the archaeological material of Lusatia, Silesia and Przeworsk (in Poland) there would then be, from the archaeological point of view, no room in the Roman period for a great Slavic people west and east of the Vistula. This would be absurd because Tacitus and Ptolemy locate the Slavs east of the Vistula and speak of them as a numerous people.”





4. Original Habitat of the Slavs according to K. Jażdżewski (Atlas to the Prehistory of the Slavs)





associated with the “Lusatian culture” were, however, far too complex at the time he was writing his works and he did not dare to go as far as the Polish school does today. Polish scholars seem to have clarified some of these problems so that today their theory appears to be a not unreasonable hypothesis. The matter cannot be finally solved until the results of further archaeological research are made known. One of the greatest puzzles which continue to baffle archaeologists is the origin and evolution of the Lusatian culture, remnants of which are also to be found in eastern Bohemia and Moravia. It has not yet been possible to determine which people created the Lusatian culture, although many theories have been advanced. Some have attributed it to the Illyrians or to the Thracians; others to an unknown people, or to several ethnical components, whose place was later taken by the Slavs. Most of the prehistoric maps show a vacuum in the lands where the Lusatian culture flourished. On several grounds it would seem reasonable to fill this vacuum with the Slavs. Such a hypothesis would render more understandable the rapid expansion of the Slavs in historical times. [1]


Recent discoveries help to resolve another difficulty associated



1. Soviet experts in Slavic prehistory (cf. P. I. Tretjakov’s book Vostočno slavjanskie plemena [East Slavic tribes] published by the USSR Academy, 1948, reviewed by M. Artaminov in Voprosy istorii IX (1948) pp. 97-108) look for the origin of the Slavic race in the vast agricultural territory between the Elbe and the Dnieper. The Slavic race, they argue, is the result of a long evolution from different ethnical and biological elements. Thus Soviet authorities differ from the Polish school in one main respect. They regard the Lusatian culture as one of the elements which contributed most notably to the origin of the primitive Slavs and their culture. Czech experts, especially J. Filip and J. Poulik, side with Russian archaeologists.





5. The Territory of the Lusatian Culture





with the Lusatian culture. It is known from archaeological evidence that the centers of this civilization — especially in its western part —were destroyed about the year 500 B.C. From that time onwards, this culture shows quite different features, which are evidenced also in the eastern part of the territory. The cause of the destruction of these Lusatian centers appears to have been a hostile incursion by the Scythians. These were an Iranian people closely related to the Ossetians, who still live in the northern Caucasus. They came to eastern Europe in the eighth or seventh century B.C., if not earlier, [1] and founded an empire in southern Russia. This extended westwards to the Danube, eastwards to the Don and northwards to the sources of the Dnieper and the Bug. The famous Greek historian of the fifth century, Herodotus, who visited the Black Sea region, gives us some detailed information concerning them.


The track of the Scythian invasion of Central Europe can be followed through Silesia, Moravia and Bohemia. It is marked by a series of destroyed “Lusatian” strongholds and also by numerous Scythian tombs which lie on the route of the invasion and in the territory of the Lusatian culture. As the eastern part of this territory seems to have suffered less destruction, it may be that the population there surrendered to the invaders without a fight.


This invasion must have considerably weakened the native population, thus permitting envious neighbors to raid and pillage. This weakening enabled the Germans to press towards the Oder, and the Celts, who until then were settled in modern France and western and southern Germany, to move towards the east and occupy Bohemia, Moravia, parts of Silesia and the lands of the upper Vistula. This was the beginning of the great migration and expansion of the Celts; it caused a violent upheaval in Italy, where, in 390 B.C., they sacked Rome and threatened to conquer the whole country. It also shook Asia Minor where some of



1. See T. Sulimirski’s study: “Scythian Antiquities in Central Europe,” The Antiquaries’ Journal XXV (1945), pp. 1-20. On the Ossetians see the recent study by V. I. Abaev, Osetinskij jazyk i folklor (Moscow, 1949), vol. I.





the Celtic tribes found a definite home and became the Galatians to whom St. Paul addressed one of his epistles.


If we suppose that the people who created the Lusatian culture were Slavs, we can readily understand the great setback which their civilization suffered as a result of this Scythian blow. On the other hand, if we cannot accept that the Slavs were responsible for the Lusatian culture, it is natural to surmise that after the Scythian invasion the native population of the Lusatian territory was gradually replaced by Slavs advancing towards the Elbe and the Baltic. On the ruins of the Lusatian culture there arose another civilization, this time undeniably Slav, which archaeologists call “Venedian” and which attained its zenith in the first century of our era.





Our task of determining more precisely the origins of the Slavs and of following more accurately their prehistoric evolution would become very much easier if we could find more information concerning them in the works of the classical Greek and Roman writers. However, the fact that the Slavs were originally settled so far from the lands of the Mediterranean civilizations explains why they remained for so long unknown to the Greeks and the Romans. Of the early Greek historians, only Herodotus may have been aware of their presence beyond the sources of the Dniester and the Bug and on the middle Dnieper. The Neuroi and the Budini, whom he locates there, were probably Slavic. It might also be that the “Scythian Plowmen,” whom he distinguishes from other Scythians, were also partly Slavs.


After Herodotus we find no mention of the Slavs in Greek literature until the second century of our era, when they are mentioned on the map of Claudius Ptolemy. As early as this, Ptolemy calls the Carpathian Mountains the Mountains of the Slavs (Οὐενεδικὰ ὅρη), and some of the tribes located by him in that region should be regarded as Slavs. The Baltic he also calls





Sea of the Slavs (Οὐενεδικὸς κόλπος) and refers to Slavs on the Vistula.


Before him Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) knew that there were Slavs (Venedi) living on the Vistula, and Tacitus (about A.D. 55-120), in his description of Germania, places the Venedi east of the Germans. [1] After that we have to wait until the sixth century for more precise reports on the migrations of the Slavs and their culture.


The scarcity of information about the Slavs in the works of the old classical writers helps to explain why the civilized peoples of the West were so little interested in the historical and cultural evolution of the Slavs. It is necessary to bear in mind that all historical and geographical knowledge in the Middle Ages was based upon the writings of the classical authors, above all. on those of Caesar, Pliny, Tacitus and Ptolemy. The works of the Byzantine writers, who have provided us with so much information on the history of the Balkans and southern Russia, and even of Central Europe, were mostly unknown to the peoples of the West before the Renaissance. Even later, modern historical research, which has remained deeply indebted to the same sources, has been slow and laborious; and so it is no wonder that even in recent times the historical evolution of the Slavs and of Central and Eastern Europe in general has been much neglected and at best perhaps looked upon as a curiosity.





Matters would have been quite different if the Romans had come into direct contact with the Slavs, as they did with the Celts and the Germans. This would not have been impossible; for twice the Romans came very near to the territory inhabited by the Slavs.



1. Among the many etymologies of the word Venedi the most probable is that which recognizes in the word a proto-Indo-European root, "ven’d.” Names derived from this root are common also among other Indo-European nations.





The first of these opportunities occurred when the Romans tried to subdue the Germans, who had been moving gradually since 1000 B.C. into northern and central Germany. By about the year 100 B.C. the Germans had compelled the Celts to abandon parts of southern Germany and had occupied it completely themselves. Gaul — the habitat proper of the Celts — came firmly into Roman hands between 58 and 51 B.C. and was in process of being latinized. The attacks of the Germanic tribes on Gaul forced the Romans to attempt their subjugation and subsequent latinization. We learn from Caesar himself, the conqueror of Gaul, how keenly he was aware of the Germanic danger. His genius saved Gaul for Rome, and his victory was followed by a new Roman offensive against the Germans. Already Agrippa had started to latinize some Germanic tribes which victorious Roman arms had forced to settle on the left bank of the Rhine.


Before launching the new offensive against the Germans, Rome first of all secured possession between 35 and 8 B.C. of Raetia and Pannonia, which were inhabited by populations of old Illyrian stock. It was then that Augustus gave the order to attack and his son-in-law, Nero Claudius Drusus, penetrated from the North Sea to the rivers Ems and Weser. The Germanic tribes which were settled in the regions he had overrun — the Batavians and the Frisians — had to accept Roman domination (12 B.C.) and this conquest was followed by the occupation of the territory between the Rhine and the Weser. The Chatti (Hessians) were in the same position as the Batavians and the Frisians, and Roman legions were garrisoned at Alisso on the river Lippe to exercise control over the new subjects of the Empire and ensure their loyalty.


The Romans continued their advance, and in the year 9 B.C. Drusus camped on the Elbe. A little later he set up his headquarters at Mainz. Frightened by these quick successes, the Marcomanni and Quadi, Germanic tribes of the Swabian family who then dwelled on the Main, began to move eastwards in search of a new home. This they eventually found in modern





Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, after they had expelled the Celtic Boii.


The victories of Drusus were completed by his brother Tiberius. The territory between the Rhine and the Elbe became a Roman province. In spite of frequent revolts, the country could hardly have escaped the fate which overtook the Celts in Gaul, if the Romans had continued steadily to pursue their offensive policy in these regions. Germanicus, the son of Drusus, avenged the massacre of Varus and his three legions in the Forest of Teutoburg (A.D. 9) and smashed the insurgent Germanic bands in the years A.D. 14 to 16. This aggressive policy was, however, abandoned by Tiberius, who reigned from A.D. 14 to 37. The country seemed too poor to excite the interest of the conquerors, while the new subjects were too wild and undisciplined, so that the pacification and administration of Germania appeared to be too costly a project. Hence, Tiberius ordered the evacuation of the territory lying between the Ems and the Elbe, and at a later date Claudius (A.D. 41-54) ordered the legions to re-cross the Rhine.


From the point of view of Roman interests, it was a great mistake to leave Germania to its fate. The ferocity of the Germanic tribes, which the Roman legions had experienced more than once, should have been a warning to the Roman government. Roman generals little thought when they led their troops back to the Rhine that the short-sighted policy of their leaders would one day bring the savage hordes they had conquered back with re-doubled fury. They could not foresee that the northern barbarians would, in their turn, cross the Rhine and smash the Roman Empire. It is not difficult to imagine how different the fate of Europe would have been if Germania had been civilized and latinized as Gaul had been. It is, indeed, a solemn thought to realize how momentous and far-reaching for the evolution of the whole of mankind the mistakes of rulers may become.







The victories of Drusus and Germanicus brought ancient Rome to the point where it most closely approached Central Europe and the Slavs from the northwest. It seems, however, that the Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117) came to the conclusion that this defensive policy of containment had been a great mistake. He endeavored to rectify it by conquering the peoples beyond the Danube in order to protect the Empire from any danger which might threaten it from this direction.


The Dacians, a nation of Thracian origin who had already proved a source of considerable trouble to both Augustus and Domitian, were attacked and defeated by Trajan. Their king preferred suicide to Roman captivity. Trajan’s famous column and the Tropaeum Traiani, the triumphal monument discovered in the village of Adam-Klissi in the Dobrudja, commemorate this victorious Roman campaign.


A new province, Dacia, was formed comprising Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia, the Rumania of 1918-1940. It was designed to be an important bulwark of Roman civilization, protecting the Empire against any attack from Germanic tribes established in what are now Slovakia, Moravia and Bohemia, and from the Sarmatians, the successors of the Scythians, who occupied the region between the Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea; but it is here that the Romans made their greatest mistake. They would have been wise to have occupied the whole of the Danubian basin and to have established the frontier of the Empire on the Carpathian Mountains, because this would have involved the subjugation of the Sarmatian Iazyges, who dwelt between the Tisza (Theiss) and the Danube and threatened both Dacia and Pannonia.


Trajan’s successor, Hadrian (A.D. 117-138), failed to pursue this new political course. His defensive policy is still recalled today in Britain by the long wall which bears his name and which was designed to protect Roman Britain from the savage Piets, Scots and other tribes of the north. It was left to the





future to show that this policy was wholly ineffectual and that no man-made barrier could save Roman Britain from the fury of barbaric invaders.


Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180) tasted the bitter fruits of this misguided policy in the years which he had to spend battling with the Germans, who had been left too long in peace. In A.D. 162, the Chatti (Hessians) launched an attack against the provinces of Raetia and Germania Superior, and the Marcomanni and Quadi, established, as indicated, in modern Czechoslovakia, followed their lead in attacking the Romans. The Sarmatian tribe of the Iazyges, from the Tisza (Theiss) and the Danube, joined forces with the Germans, and Rome had many anxious moments. For fourteen years Marcus Aurelius had to wage an almost constant struggle against these allied attackers, but his legions emerged victorious. They penetrated further than the middle Danube and their garrisons were dotted over the whole of southern Slovakia and southern Moravia. The Emperor wrote one book of his “Meditations” in the country of the Quadi — "on the river Hron” — in modern Slovakia. It is said that when he pondered there on the distant prospect of the high peaks of the Carpathian Mountains, his main preoccupation was to contemplate the extension of the Roman Empire as far as this great natural boundary. Two new Roman provinces had now to be created: Sarmatia, comprising the territory between the Theiss and the Danube, and Marcomannia — the Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia of today.


If it is true that Marcus Aurelius contemplated such far-reaching projects, it is a further proof of the genius of this great Emperor; but he was denied the experience of seeing the realization of such plans, for he died on the 17th of March, A.D. 180, at Vindobona, the modern Vienna.


The entire future of Central Europe and of the Slavs would have taken quite different shape if the Romans had been able to maintain their position beyond the Danube and to continue the work of the imperial philosopher. It seems, however, that Rome did not then possess sufficient strength to pursue a prolonged





offensive policy in those regions. All that recalls the ancient limes Romanus in southern Slovakia and southern Moravia are a few remains of Roman camps and forts, and a Roman inscription beneath the Castle of Trenčín, at the foot of the Tatras in northern Slovakia, which informs the world that sometime about the year A.D. 179, Roman legions camped there, thus reaching the most northerly point in their push towards the Carpathian Mountains.





So it happened that the Romans failed to establish direct contact with the Slavs. In the meantime, while the Romans were trying to reach the Carpathians, the Slavs had been moving in the direction of the middle Dniester and Dnieper long before the Scythian invasion in 500 B.C. It was a slow-moving penetration from the upper Vistula and upper Bug, motivated by the increase in the population, which was now growing too large for the original home. But other tribes were now appearing in the region, which at the present day is southern Russia, preceding the Slavs in their movement towards the Black Sea. The Bastarnae, a Germanic tribe — although some scholars regard them as Celts — left their primitive home between the fifth and third centuries B.C. and, accompanied or followed by other Germanic tribes, traversed the territory inhabited by the Slavs, appearing about 230 B.C. on the lower Danube and the Black Sea. The Goths, whose original habitats were in southeastern Sweden, moved from there to the shores of the Baltic and the region of the lower Vistula in the first century of our era. After a prolonged stay, they followed in the footsteps of the Slavs and the Bastarnae and reached the borders of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the third century. The division of this mighty tribe into Visigoths (Tervingi, Wise, called also West Goths) and Ostrogoths (Greutingi, Brilliant, called also East Goths) was probably effected after they had reached the Black Sea.





This steady migration of primitive tribes towards the lower Danube and the Black Sea may seem a strange one, but it can easily be explained. Historians were formerly accustomed to look upon the evolution of Europe from the point of view of the Romans, to whom the Carpathians appeared to form an impenetrable barrier for primitive peoples, but they forgot to take into account other geographical features which were favorable to half-nomadic and half-agricultural mass movements. These features were the waterways of the Russian plains, which not only made commercial exchanges possible, but considerably developed them between the peoples of the interior of what is now Russia and those on the shores of the Baltic. [1] Greek colonists were the intermediaries in this trading intercourse.


Colonization of the shores of the Black Sea by the Greeks had begun as early as 700 B.C. The trading posts set up by Greek merchants developed into busy townships. From the mouth of the Dniester to the Sea of Azov, a series of flourishing Greek city-states came into being, one of them, Panticapaeum (the modern Kerč), providing the nucleus around which the so-called Bosporanian kingdom sprang up. So mighty did this kingdom become that, under Mithridates II, King of Pontus (124-88 B.C.), it became a center of fierce resistance against Roman penetration into this part of Europe and Asia Minor.


The Greek colonists developed a brisk commerce with the interior of what is now Russia, and their traders, following the easy Russian waterways, penetrated as far as the Baltic. They also built up and maintained lively commercial relations with Asia Minor and the Middle East. The people who benefited most by this intercourse were the Scythians who, up to about 200 B.C., dominated the whole of what is now southern Russia, and it is more than probable that they were in touch with the Slavs. If the tribes mentioned by Ptolemy, settled in the modern Ukraine, were Slavs, they were the first Slavic tribes to come into contact with Greek civilization as it spread from the Greek city-states



1. For details see M. Rostovtseff, Iranians and Greeks in South Russia (Oxford, 1922).





on the shores of the Black Sea. As a result of this Greek cultural influence, the upper class of the Scythians became partly hellenized and the whole nation abandoned its nomadic existence and settled down. [1]


About the year 200 B.C., a new nation, the Sarmatians, who were akin to the Scythians, made an appearance in southern Russia and defeated the Scythians, whom they then proceeded to absorb. The Sarmatians founded their own empire, which extended over the whole southern Ukrainian territory, from the river Don to the Danube. The relations of the Greek colonists with the Sarmatians, at least in the early days, were not as happy as those maintained with the Scythians; but under the Roman protectorate, or that of the Bosporanian kingdom, the Greek merchants survived the difficult period and continued their trade with the interior of Russia.


This commercial intercourse between the Baltic and the Black Sea brought to the notice of the nations in the north the many advantages of living in the warmer and richer lands lying on the confines of the Roman Empire and Greek civilization. There must have been an important trading post — a forerunner of Kiev — on the middle Dnieper, which held out particular attractions for them, and it is no wonder that the Slavs first began to move slowly but steadily towards it. This center and the Don and Donets region, into which the Slavs were moving, were controlled, after the defeat of the Scythians, by the Sarmatians, and the Slavic tribes which entered this territory naturally came under their political and cultural influence.





The eastward movement of the Slavs was hastened by the activities of the Goths. As we have seen, this great tribe had occupied part of the Baltic coast for about two centuries, and



1. Many interesting details concerning the evolution of the Scythians under the influence of Greek culture can be obtained from M. Rostovtseff, Skythien und der Bosporus (Berlin, 1931) and E. H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks (Cambridge, 1913).





they subjugated the greater part of the Slavs, whose presence in this area was attested by Pliny the Elder, Tacitus and Ptolemy. (The steady flow of the Slavs towards the east was not slowed down when the Goths abandoned their home on the Baltic and started moving towards the Black Sea, following the Dnieper waterway. The presence of the Goths in southern Russia, however, caused a considerable upheaval in that region. The Ostrogoths pushed on in the direction of the Black Sea and about A.D. 200 the Greek cities on the coast became a glittering prize for the new barbarian invaders, and only the cities in the Crimea were able to resist successfully. The Visigoths spread towards the lower Danube, and in the middle of the third century they conquered Dacia from the Romans. Thus, the Goths had established an empire which comprised the whole of southern Russia as far as the shores of the Sea of Azov, and the Slavic tribes which had peacefully penetrated these regions, now under Gothic rule, came under the political and cultural influence of the new masters of the area.


It should, however, be emphasized that Sarmatian influence was exerted on the Slavs before that of the Goths. The fact that the Slavs who had penetrated towards the Don and Donets region had come under the domination of the Sarmatians before the arrival of the Goths is confirmed by the testimony of two sixth-century writers — Jordanes and Procopius. Jordanes, the historian of the Goths, records that a part of that nation, having crossed the Dnieper, probably in the region of Kiev, attacked the Spali, a tribe which lived in the region of the Donets river. After defeating them, the Goths turned towards the Sea of Azov and penetrated into the Crimea, this encounter taking place in the second century of our era. The Spali supposedly belonged to the Alanic group of Sarmatians and must be identified with the Speroi or Speri mentioned by Procopius. Since Procopius says that in the old days all Slavs — meaning, of course, only the Slavs known to him — were called Sporoi or Spori, we are entitled to conclude from this statement that the Slavs in this region were, before the arrival of the Goths, controlled by the Alanic Spali.





We find additional evidence for this in the fact that in the language of the ancient Slavs, the word for “giant” is spolin (Russian ispolin, Polish stolin or stolim), a word obviously derived from “Spali” — the giant, master nation.


The power of the Spali was broken by the Goths; but it seems that the Sarmatians did not entirely relinquish their hold on the Slavs. The place of the Spali appears to have been taken by the Antês, whose origin is not yet quite clear. Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (Book VI, chap. 35) mentioned the “Anti” among peoples living between the Sea of Azov and the Caspian. Ptolemy was also aware of their existence in this area and Greek inscriptions placed them in the region of the Crimea. At that time, this area was inhabited by Sarmatian tribes. If Pliny’s Anti could be identified with the Antês, their Slavic origin should be excluded. It is possible that the Sarmatian “Anti” were settled in the basin of the Don and Donets as early as the second century of our era and that they then took over the leadership of the Slavs in that region.


Some scholars, however, regard the Antês as a Slavic tribe. Their name — although regarded by some as Iranian — could, in reality, be Slavic, and derived from the same common Indo-European root as the name of the Veneti, Venedi. It is quite admissible that an Iranian tribe and a Slavic tribe bore similar names formed from a common root.


Jordanes and Procopius, sixth-century writers to whom we owe most of our information about the Antês, are not very helpful in solving this problem. Jordanes distinguishes three groups of the Slavs — the Venedi, the Sclavini and the Antês. In another passage he stresses that the Antês spoke the same language as the Slavs. This statement is confirmed by Procopius who, however, strictly distinguishes them from other Slavs. Does this mean that both writers were aware of a non-Slavic origin of the Antês? It is possible, but their statements furnish no conclusive evidence for either opinion.


In any case, a strong Sarmatian political and cultural influence on the organization of the Antic state can hardly be excluded.





The Slavs governed by the Antês and the Sarmatian tribes were immediate neighbors, and it is possible that some of them helped the Antês to establish their political supremacy over other Slavic tribes. At least, some of the names of prominent Antês mentioned by the Byzantine writers Procopius, Menander and Agathias seem to be Iranian. In any case we can conclude from the statements of Jordanes and Procopius that, by the sixth century, the Byzantines regarded the Antês as Slavs. If there was any admixture of Iranian elements among the Antês, they were, at that period, already completely slavicized.


The fact that the Goths were occupied elsewhere must have greatly helped the Antês to consolidate their position in the area of the Don, Donets and middle Dnieper. As the Antês are said to have established a dynasty, supported by numerous tribal chiefs, we may suppose that their domination of this part of a region which is now Russia must have been of quite ancient date. If all this is true, and there are no serious reasons for rejecting these statements and suppositions, then the first attempt at organizing the Slavs in the present day Ukraine into a kind of State was made by a tribe which, even if Slavic, was under strong Sarmatian influence.


The Antês also assumed the leadership of the opposition to the Goths. It was because of this that Ermanarich, King of the Goths from A.D. 350 to 370, before starting upon his march to the north to win his short-lived Gothic empire, first attacked and defeated the Antês and forced them to submit to his rule. The Slavs who did not belong to the Antês group and who were called Sclavini by Jordanes submitted only in part to the Goths. Some of them preferred to migrate towards the north, settling in the region of the future Novgorod. This suggests that the Slavs were rather averse to the idea of being ruled by the Goths. Ermanarich also forced the Slavs of modern Poland — the Venedi of Jordanes — to accept him as their overlord. He founded an empire which embraced all the Slavic and German tribes and some of the Finnish tribes living between the Baltic and the Black Sea. Had this empire survived, the Goths and not the Scandinavians





would have amalgamated the Eastern Slavs into a single political body, which would have been called Gothic instead of Russia.





But the Gothic empire did not last. Ermanarichs hopes were dashed to the ground by the first Asiatic invasion of Europe — that of the Huns. The Huns were masters of North China when they were attacked and defeated by the Avars, a kindred tribe established between the Targum and the Korean peninsula. The Huns fled in panic towards the west and, after cutting through the Indo-European tribes, established themselves in southern Russia, whence they launched their attack upon the Goths. In a single battle in A.D. 370, this first Germanic empire was completely destroyed. This fact alone shows that the Gothic rule over subjugated nations must have been loose in the extreme, and the Goths did all the fighting. Ermanarich committed suicide — or was murdered by his own subjects, who were appalled at the disaster which had overtaken them. The new king, Vinitharius (Withimer), after gathering together the remnants of the Ostrogoths and of the Germanic tribes which had followed them, tried to retreat by way of the Dnieper to the old home of the Goths, but he found the way barred by the insurgent Antês. The Goths were desperate, but they won the ensuing battle and, to terrorize his opponents, Vinitharius killed Boz, the King of the Antês, together with all his sons and seventy chieftains. This massacre took place in the year 375. Acts of terrorization, however, could not save Vinitharius or his empire. In the following year he was attacked and thoroughly beaten by the Huns, or more precisely by the Sarmatian Alans, who had joined forces with them and formed an important contingent of the Hunnish hordes. Thus the Antês had their revenge and breathed again. When the Huns moved into modern Hungary, which became the center of their empire under Attila (445-453), the Antês were presented with a new opportunity of affirming their hold over





the territory of the middle Dnieper and the Slavs inhabiting it, and when the Hunnish empire disintegrated after the death of Attila, the Antês moved the frontier of their own possessions nearer to the lower Dniester and the lower Danube.


The invasion of the Huns was one of the most important events at the end of ancient history. They overthrew the whole existing order in Central Europe and set the Goths in motion who, after being allowed to settle in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire, initiated the process which contributed so greatly to its ruin. But the Hunnish invasion had other consequences which were bound, directly and indirectly, to affect the Slavs and to influence their history. We have seen that the Sarmatian Alans largely threw in their lot with the Huns. It seems, however, that the upheaval caused by this invasion had forced two other Sarmatian tribes — the Croats and the Serbs — to look for new places in which to settle. Greek inscriptions from the second and third centuries of our era, found at the mouth of the Don, mention the name Choroathos or Chorouathos. This region was settled by Sarmatians and was considered by contemporary Greek sources to belong to Asiatic Sarmatia. This provides the strongest argument for maintaining that the Croats, or at least their ethnic name, were of Sarmatian origin. [1] The evidence for



1. P. S. Sakać thinks that he discovered the name “Croats” in Darius’ inscriptions from the sixth century B.C. There an old Persian province and people are mentioned, called Harahvaiti, Harahvatis, Horohoati (“Iranische Herkunft des kroatischen Volksnamens” in Orientalia Christiana Periodica XV [19491, pp. 313-340). The province was situated in southern Persia near the frontiers of what is now Afghanistan. Sakać’s theory is that the Harahvatis were driven away from their country by the Indians and migrated towards the Caucasus. This theory presents some difficulties; for how is their migration across the whole Iranian plateau to be explained when they could probably have found other chances of settling down nearer their own country? It is, however, possible to imagine that a part of this Iranian tribe did not follow the rest during the Iranian immigration into modern Persia, but stayed in the steppes between the Caspian and the Aral Seas, whence it moved later towards the Sea of Azov and the Caucasus. All this shows that the problem of the origin of the Croats and the Serbs is complicated and that many questions have to be answered before it can be definitely solved.





the Sarmatian origin of the Serbs is not so strong, but seems to be reasonably well founded. [1]


Trying to escape from the onslaught of the Huns, the Croats and the Serbs fled towards the northeast, beyond the middle Dnieper, where the Antês were settled. Here the Croats may have been joined by a Gothic tribe, and together they established themselves beyond the Carpathian Mountains and gathered the Slavic tribes of Galicia, Silesia and the eastern part of Bohemia — already abandoned by the Quadi and occupied by Slavs — into a kind of state. We have sufficient evidence from the Byzantine imperial writer Constantine Porphyrogennetus, from Arabic sources and also from the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred of the existence of a Croatian State beyond the Carpathians called White Croatia. The Serbs were in some regions mixed with the Croats, especially on the upper Vistula. The bulk of them, however, pushing more towards the northwest and following in the footsteps of the Scythian invaders of about 500 B.C., imposed their rule on the Slavic tribes between the Elbe and the Saale rivers, their state being called White Serbia. The remnants of the Lusatian Serbs (Sorbs) recall this name down to the present day.


Additional evidence for the Sarmatian origin of the Croats and the Serbs may be found in Constantine Porphyrogennetus’s Book of Ceremonies. [2] In describing how the princes of the Caucasian



1. Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (Book VI, 19), which was written in the first century A.D., located the "Serbi” in the region between the Sea of Azov and the Caucasus. In the second century, Ptolemy’s Geography (Book V, 8, 13) located the “Serboi” between the lower Volga and the Caucasus. Jireček, the main authority on Serbian history, has questioned the correctness of this reading; but the critical edition of Pliny by C. Mayhoff and that of Ptolemy by C. Müller preserve the expressions “Serbi” and “Serboi.”


2. Book II, Chap. 48, p. 688 (Bonn edition). Up to now, this passage seems to have been overlooked by most scholars who have studied the problem of the origin of the Croats and the Serbs. D. Obolensky drew my attention to it. The passage is mentioned only in Vivien de Saint Martin’s Études de géographie ancienne (Paris, 1850, 1852), vol. II, pp. 244 ff. Cf. also J. Saint-Martin, Mémoires sur l’Arménie (Paris, 1818-1820), vol. II, p. 310. A. Rambaud (L’empire grec au Xème siècle [Paris, 18701, pp. 510, 525, 528) identifies the tribes mentioned by the imperial writer with the Serbs and Croats. The “Servotioi,” who are called “black children,” located by Constantine Porphyrogennetus on the confines of Armenia (ibid., p. 687) were identified by J. Marquart (Osteuropäische und ostasiatische Streifzüge [Leipzig, 1903], pp. 36 ff.) with the Sevortioi (Sevordik), a Magyar tribe. They are the “Black Hungarians,” whose name was transformed in Armenian, by popular etymology, into Sevordik, which means "black children.” H. Grégoire (“L’origine et le nom des Croates et leur prétendue patrie caucasienne,” La Nouvelle Clio IV [1952], p. 323, V [1953], p. 466 ff.) identifies the Krevatades with the Kabardinci, a Czerkess tribe now living on the upper Terek. This identification cannot be accepted because the Kabardinci migrated to this region only in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, after expelling the Mongols. Neither can the Sarban be identified with the Sirvan, a suggestion rejected already by Reiske, the editor of De Ceremoniis. We are not entitled to correct wilfully the reading of the only manuscript of this work.





region should be addressed in Byzantine diplomatic correspondence, the imperial writer speaks of the Prince or Archon of the Krevatades as “He who is called Krevatas.” Then he mentions the Archon-Prince of the Sarban, “who are located between Alania and Tsanaria.” If we could identify the Krevatades and Sarban with the Croats and Serbs, then we could conclude that some of the Croats and Serbs were driven by the Huns towards the Caucasus, where they continued to live under their own princes recognizing a kind of Byzantine protectorate.


There are grounds for believing that the Croats, when pushing towards the north, had acted with the connivance of the Antês. The author of The History of the Origins of the Langobards says explicitly that when the Lombards were moving, in the fifth century, from the Elbe into modern Austria, they forced their passage through Anthâib — evidently the land of the Antês. According to our source, the Anthâib can be only the country occupied at that time by the Croats. This identification of the land of the Croats with that of the Antês can be explained if we admit that the Antês imposed a form of political overlordship over the Croats. If this is so, we can speak of a loose Antic empire extending from eastern Bohemia to the middle Dnieper, the Black Sea and the Don.


In any case, even if we hesitate to go as far as that, it seems established that almost all the Slavic tribes recorded in the





Russian Primary Chronicle, with the exception of the Northern ones, were under strong cultural, and perhaps also political, influence from the Antês and Sarmatians.





So far, we have followed the slow progress of Slav penetration into the part of Europe which was later to be called Russia. But at the beginning of our era the Slavs started migrating through the Moravian Gates and the Carpathian Mountains, entering what is now Hungary in the direction of the Danube and the Roman frontiers.


It is known that in modern Croatia between the rivers Drava and Sava and in the so-called Banat between the lower Tisza (Theiss) and the Danube certain places (Vuka, Vrbas, Vučica) have borne Slavic names from the second century onwards. This first Slavic penetration was sporadic and isolated. A more systematic movement started in the third century. The map called Peutinger’s Tabula, one of the oldest maps of Europe, describing the Roman Empire of the third century, places the Venedi Sarmatae in Dacia and the Venedi proper somewhere in Bessarabia. We learn from several Roman writers — notably Ammianus Marcellinus — that in about A.D. 334, the Sarmatian Iazyges who, as previously mentioned, had dwelt in Hungary between the Danube and the Tisza rivers since the second half of the first century, were defeated by a people who were subject to them — the servi Sarmatorum. These could have been only the Venedi — Slavs — whom Peutingers map calls Venedi Sarmatae. These Venedi mixed with the Sarmatian Iazyges and for a considerable period lived peacefully with their nomadic Sarmatian masters, who were glad of the products of the agricultural arts which the Venedi practised. Later, when their numbers had multiplied and the rule of their masters became intolerable, the Venedi revolted.


The Slavs also seem to have remained in Hungary during the Hunnish occupation of that country. This appears to be confirmed





by the records of Priscus, a member of the Byzantine embassy to the Huns in 448. He reports that he found in the region between modern Belgrade and Budapest a people who were neither Gothic nor Hunnish, but who recognized Hunnish political supremacy. They offered their Byzantine guests a beverage made from honey, which the Greek ambassador calls “medos” and which was evidently a Slav speciality in the way of liqueur.


Jordanes has preserved another detail which confirms the presence of the Slavs in Hungary under Hunnish supremacy during Attilas reign. He describes the burial feast which was held at the grave of Attila in the year 453, somewhere on the middle Tisza, and refers to it as “strava” — a word which sounded strange to him. It is evidently a Slav word for a funeral feast, still preserved in the Slavic languages, partly also with its ritual meaning. Its adoption by the Huns to designate the burial feast testifies that the Slavic subjects in Hungary had begun to influence their masters and that a kind of mixed Huno-Slavic culture was being formed.


This situation did not last, because the presence of the Huns in Central Europe was of short duration. We know that in the early days of their domination of Central and Southeastern Europe, the Huns imitated the Visigoths in their attitude towards the Roman Empire. Like the Visigoths, they became first foederati and then invaders. Attila excelled in organizing and carrying out acts of depredation in the Illyrian provinces. In A.D. 450, when the Emperor Marcian refused to pay tribute and began instead to mobilize his forces to deal with his unaccommodating neighbor, Attila preferred to follow the way chosen by those other faithless federates, the Visigoths, and, accompanied by his Alanic and other German subjects, he invaded Gaul. He was less fortunate than he expected; yet, though he was defeated by Aetius near Campus Mauriacus in Gaul, he was still able to invade Italy and menace Rome. Then he died in 453.


With Attila’s death came the end of the Hunnish power in Central and Eastern Europe. The German tribes in the Danubian basin, which had been subjugated by the Huns, revolted





and, possibly supported by the Emperor Marcian, utterly defeated their Hunnish overlords in Pannonia. After their defeat the Huns retired in the direction of the Black Sea, only one section of them finding a refuge within the Empire.


It must be admitted that the short-lived Hunnish empire rendered some service to European civilization by retarding the dismemberment of the Roman Empire by the Germans. In point of fact, the Huns for many years kept under control those Germanic tribes beyond the Danube who constituted the gravest danger to the Romans. Moreover, the Huns provided the Roman Empire with a considerable number of auxiliaries for use in the struggle against the Germans. It was also evident that the victorious Germanic nations were less valuable as foederati than the Huns had been, although the Emperor tried hard to make the best of the new situation. He particularly favored the Gepids, who established themselves firmly in the former Dacia. The Ostrogoths received settlements in Northern Pannonia, as federates of the Empire. The Rugians found a new home opposite Noricum on the north bank of the Danube, while the Scirians and the Heruls settled in regions further east.


For a short period it looked as if Central Europe, and especially the Danubian basin, would become a Germanic land. But the new state of affairs consequent on the defeat and disappearance of the Huns was not destined to last for long. The first of the Germanic nations to disappear from their new-found home were the Rugians. Odoacer, a Scirian or a Rugian, and the actual ruler of Italy, made an end of the Rugian kingdom and stopped the frequent incursions which this Germanic tribe had been making into Roman territory.


The Ostrogoths were the second of the Germanic nations to vanish from the Danubian region. Their presence in Illyricum became very menacing to the imperial power and in order to get rid of them, the Emperor Zeno invited their king, Theoderic, to overthrow Odoacer, ruler of Italy, and then to rule that country himself under the imperial authority. Theoderic agreed to the bargain and after defeating Odoacer (A.D. 489) and establishing his people





as Roman federates in Italy, he ruled it as a deputy-governor of the Emperor. This Gothic power in Italy was not broken until the Emperor Justinian (527-565) took the administration into his own hands and, with the aid of his famous generals Belisarius and Narses, drove out the foreigners who had established themselves in the midst of the Latin population.


There were left in the Danubian basin only the Lombards and the Gepids. The Lombards had come from the Elbe and settled, as we have seen, in upper Pannonia, which is now Austria, in the second half of the fifth century, and the Gepids had been established by Emperor Marcian in the former Dacia. The Slavs who had survived the Hunnish occupation continued to live in the Danubian basin together with the Germans.


The Lombards seem to have been responsible in some way for the migration of the Marcomanni and the rest of the Quadi from what is now Moravia and Bohemia to the lands cast of the Lech and southwards towards the Brenner, the river Inn and the upper Danube. The inhabitants of the regions now occupied by the Marcomanni and the Quadi referred to the newcomers as the men (vari, vares) coming from the parts which, centuries ago, had been occupied by the Celtic Boii — thus, Bojuvari, Bojuvares; and in this way the new home of the Marcomanni received the name of Bajovaria. It is curious to note that the Celtic Boii have given their name to two countries in Central Europe, Bohemia and Bavaria.





The migrations of the Germanic tribes towards the south had created a kind of vacuum in the region of the middle and lower Elbe, but this was rapidly filled by the Slavs. They began to move from their primitive homeland towards the west and soon occupied the territories vacated by the Germans. An ancient treatise on the rivers, attributed to Vibius Sequester (fourth to sixth century), describes the Elbe as the frontier between the Germans — “the Svabians” — and the Slavs — “the Cervelii” — evidently





the Sorabs or Sorbs (Serbs). During the sixth century the Slavs crossed the Elbe in large numbers and, while the Germans concentrated their attention upon Gaul, then in the hands of the Germanic Franks who were trying to conquer all the Germanic tribes, the Slavs pushed towards the North Sea and also to the west and the south. They occupied the territory where the cities of Hamburg, Lüneburg, Magdeburg, Erfurt and Gotha now stand, advancing as far as the river Saale. From there they moved in the direction of modern Bamberg and reached the Danube near Ratisbon.


The Slavs established between the Saale (Solava) and the Spree (Spreva) — the Sorbians (Sorabians, Serbians), the Milčani (in the vicinity of the modern Bautzen) and the Lužiči in Lower Lusatia — forced the Germanic Thuringians to move further west. The northerly neighbors of the Sorbians were the Vilci (Veletians), whom Ptolemy in his famous map located on the lower Vistula, whence they had travelled as far as the Elbe to occupy the territory between that river and the Varnava. These people have also been called Ljutici, because of their exceedingly wild character — ljuty meaning “wild.” The modern Mecklenburg was held by the Obodrites, Holstein by the Vagrians, and Lüneburg by the Dreviane. The Baltic coast from the estuary of the Oder to the mouth of the Vistula was settled by the Pomeranians, who formed at the same time a transition between all these tribes, the Polabians, the Baltic Slavs and the Poles.


During the fifth century and at the beginning of the sixth a. new wave of Slavs pressed forward, probably from the upper Oder and the Vistula, to occupy the regions which were being left empty by the Marcomanni and Quadi — although it is not unlikely that sporadic penetration of that territory by Slavs had been going on for some time before the withdrawal of the Germanic tribes. [1] Thus the Slavs took final possession of Bohemia



1. Recent archaeological discoveries made in Czechoslovakia, especially in Moravia and Slovakia, show that the Slavs were in possession of this country in the fifth century. Before the fifth century, Slavic archaeological finds in this region are not numerous. Their existence proves, however, that Slavic infiltration into these parts must have started before this date. This seems to accord with the report of the Byzantine writer Piocopius (De Bello Gothico II, chap. 15, Bonn edition, p. 205) who says that the Germanic Heruls, after being defeated by the Lombards, decided to return to their old home in Denmark and were given free passage by the Slavs through their territory in 508-514. The Heruls might have followed the course of the river Tisza and reached the river Vistula through the Dukla Pass. They could also have reached the Vistula through the Moravian Gates after switching from the upper Tisza to the Danube and after following the course of the river Morava and of its tributary the Bečva. It is improbable that they passed through Bohemia, as the passage through the forests to reach the Elbe would have been more difficult.





and Moravia, while other Slavic tribes closely akin to them moved into modern Slovakia as far as the Danube. Slavs from Moravia also pushed towards the Danube, crossed it and moved into Hungary as far as Lake Balaton (Blatno).


The withdrawal of the Germanic populations from Central Europe was the signal for other Slavic peoples to move into the territories which they had vacated. Ancient Pannonia and the greater part of ancient Raetia were gradually overrun by Slavic tribes — mostly the Slovenes of today.





At the beginning of the same century, other Slavic peoples pushed towards the lower course of the Danube. It seems that ’ these were the first Slavs to come into contact with the eastern part of the Roman Empire, and it is likely that they formed some important settlements in modern Wallachia on the Danube. According to the Byzantine historians and chroniclers, they started to cross the river after 517 with the object of raiding Macedonia, Thessaly and Epirus, and these Byzantine writers have placed on record many impressions of numerous Slavic incursions into the imperial territories during the reign of the Emperor Justin (518-527). [1] In view of the fact that Justins successor Justinian (527-565)



1. See the review of historians’ appreciations of Slavic invasions during the reign of Justin in A. A. Vasiliev, Justin the First (Cambridge, Mass., 1950), pp. 302-312.





6. The Roman Provinces South of the Danube cca 560





assumed the title of "Anticus,” it seems likely that he must have scored some important victories over these Slavic raiding parties. We find that in fact the Antês were obliged to follow the same course as the Goths and play a part as federates of the Empire.


At the beginning of the sixth century Slavic tribes had entered Illyricum and started their push in the direction of Dalmatia. In A.D. 536 they reached the shores of the Adriatic, and the famous Dalmatian city of Salona, the ruins of which were discovered and excavated by the late Mgr. F. Bulić, the Croatian archaeologist, heard with terror the war cries of the Slavs. By the year 548 they had moved to Dyrrhachium (Durazzo). The Byzantine writers Procopius and Theophanes give many details of invasions of Illyricum by the Slavs in 549, 550 and 559.


In spite of the violent character of these Slavic incursions into Byzantine territory, there were some signs to show that the contact of the Slavs with the Empire might have become, in time, more peaceful. The Antês, the best organized group of the Slavs, had become, as we have seen, federates of the Byzantine Empire. Given time, the Byzantines might have persuaded other Slavic tribes to follow their example, and it is probable that, if the Slavs had been settled in Byzantine territory, they could have been quietly assimilated and civilized by the superior culture of these regions.





All these hopes were, however, dashed to the ground by the appearance in Central and Eastern Europe of new Asiatic invaders — the Altaic Avars, who, as we have seen, were responsible for the arrival of the Huns in Europe. The Avar empire in Asia was destroyed in the middle of the sixth century by the Turks, whose primitive home was to the north of Mongolia. The Turks had actually been subjugated by the Avars, but had revolted and overthrown the empire of their masters. The Avars, being probably of the Mongolian race, were akin to both the Turks and the Huns. After the overthrow of the Avar power in Asia by their





Turkic subjects, some of the Turkic tribes, namely the Uigurs, Mongolian and possibly Manchu clans, moved westwards in the direction of Europe. It should be observed that they were not actually Avars, but that they had merely acquired the name of their former masters through having lived for a long time under their domination.


About the middle of the sixth century, the new “Avars” crossed the lower courses of the Volga and defeated the Turkic Bulgars, who then controlled the region on the east coast of the Sea of Azov, between the rivers Kuban and Don. The greater part of the defeated Bulgars accepted the rule of the conquerors, but the remainder fled westwards, finding a refuge in the territory of the Lombards.


Although the Avars came into contact with the eastern fringe of the Byzantine Empire, they did not halt their advance. The lowlands beyond the Carpathian Mountains attracted their nomadic instincts, as they had those of the Huns. In due course a good opportunity to seize this desirable region was presented to them by the Lombards, the jealous neighbors of the Gepids, who, by this time, were settled in the former Dacia. The Gepids, assailed from all sides — by the Lombards and the Avars — were overwhelmed and exterminated. The Lombards realized too late that their new neighbors scarcely represented a change for the better and, shaking the dust of Pannonia from their feet, they followed the example of the Ostrogoths and established themselves in Italy.


By the time they made this move, the ranks of the Lombards had been considerably strengthened by the inclusion of the remnants of several other Germanic peoples in Central Europe, including a large contingent of Saxons. They moved into northern Italy in the year 568, not as federates, but, for the first time, as an invading enemy. As a result of their speedy victories the Lombard kingdom in Italy was founded and Italy itself was divided into an imperial province and a Germanic kingdom. And so the Lombards wrote the last pages in the history of the Roman Empire in the West.





The Khagan of the Avars, whose name was Baian, occupied the territory vacated by the Lombards. The whole of modern Hungary became Avar and formed the center of the new empire, whose sway in Central Europe was destined to be less brief than that of the empire of the Huns. Indeed, it seemed that the Avar empire was taking ever firmer root and thus developing into a very grave danger to the eastern part of the Roman Empire as well as to the new Frankish kingdom in Gaul which was being welded together under the direction of the Merovingian dynasty, especially under King Clovis.


The establishment of the Avars in the Danubian basin was of the utmost importance for the future history of the Slavs. Instead of becoming federates of the Byzantine Empire most of the Slavs became subjects and federates of the Avars. Some Slavic tribes — especially in Bohemia, on the Elbe, and in Poland — must have joined the Avars voluntarily when they battled with the Franks on the Elbe in 561-562 and in 566-567. The Slavic tribes in Wallachia and Pannonia, Noricum and Illyricum, Moravia and Slovakia, had to acknowledge the supremacy of the Avars. [1]


The only opposition came from the Antês. We learn from contemporary Byzantine sources that the Antês collaborated with the Byzantines in order to check the mounted warriors from Asia. The Khagan Apsich was forced to organize a special campaign against them in A.D. 602 and he defeated them in what is now known as Bessarabia. This was the end of the first would-be Slav empire and the name of the Antês disappears completely from history. When we remember that the Antês were a leading element in a confederation of Slavic tribes and naturally did most



1. Avar domination seems to have extended from its center in Pannonia, in the northeast over modern Slovakia, southern Moravia and part of modern Austria. It should, however, be stressed that recent archaeological researches carried out in southern Moravia have failed to reveal evidence of the prolonged presence of Avars in that country in the sixth and seventh centuries. A few tombs with Avar character found in this country have to be dated from the eighth century. They are located in burial grounds of a marked Slavic character and seem to contain the bodies of Slavic chieftains who have adopted Avar customs. The Slavs in Bohemia and northern Moravia appear to have entered freely into alliance with the Avars.





7. The Antês, White Croatia and White Serbia before the Invasion of the Avars ca. 560





of the fighting, their disappearance is easily explained by their annihilation in battle. Subsequently in south Russia we encounter only some separate Slavic tribes, which, as we have seen, probably formed the main body of this earlier so-called confederation.


The tribes in modern Rumania and Yugoslavia, on the other hand, seem generally to have accepted the leadership of the new masters quite gladly. Their pressure in the direction of the Adriatic and their incursions into Roman territory by no means diminished after their subjugation. It is, indeed, surprising to observe how quickly these Slavs adapted themselves to the military tactics of the Avars, even to the extent of adopting their types of armament. During the later half of the sixth century and the whole of the seventh, the Slavs were constantly multiplying their attacks against the imperial provinces, acting both on their own aggressive initiative and as auxiliaries of the Avars.


The Slavs, however, changed their tactics in one respect. When they invaded a territory, they did not limit themselves to devastating the countryside and withdrawing with their booty, as did the Avars; they exerted themselves to establish firm settlements. Two Syriac writers provide evidence of the fact that the Slavs first made a settlement on Greek soil in the year 581. The situation worsened rapidly during the first years of the reign of the Emperor Maurice (582-602) after the important imperial city of Sirmium (now Srěm in modern Croatia) was forced to capitulate to the Avars and their Slavic auxiliaries. By A.D. 578 the Slavs had penetrated as far as the Peloponnese, and Slavic colonies established in this province were considerably strengthened by the arrival of new tribes after 587. The Milingues and the Ezerites settled on both slopes of the Taygetus Mountains.


In the years 587 to 589 the Slavic colonies in Greece were further strengthened; and famous cities of the Greek classical period — Thebes, Demetrias and Athens — had to suffer the presence of barbarians in their vicinity. In 597 even Thessalonica had a narrow escape when the city was menaced by a combined force of Avars and Slavs. The Greeks believed that it was only through





the intervention of its patron saint Demetrius that the city was saved.


The eastern part of the Roman Empire was hard pressed to deal with the new invaders. Already weakened by the Germanic invasions, it had also to fight an even more dangerous enemy in the East — the Persians. The Emperor Maurice could only send his generals Priscus and Peter against the Avars and the Slavs after defeating this new enemy. When the Slavs across the Danube were crushed and the Avars were twice roundly defeated by the Roman armies, the Avars showed a willingness to make peace, and for the last time in history the frontier between the Empire and the newcomers was fixed on the Danube.


However, the Empire was unable to continue its campaign against the Avars and the Slavs and the situation became critical again in the reign of the Emperor Phocas (602-610). Moreover the Slovenes, who were now firmly established in Pannonia and Noricum, began to push towards the Adriatic. In the years 592, 600 and 602, they made a series of devastating raids into Istria and Venetia, making their way as far as the banks of the Tagliamento in Italy and Dreiherrenspitze, Dachstein and Hallstadt in the Alps. In the seventh century the whole of Dalmatia to the rivers Sava and Danube was occupied by numerous Slavic tribes. The Byzantine Empire, preoccupied by its struggle with the Persians, could keep only the most important cities on the Adriatic — Zara, Trogir, Spalato (Split), Ragusa (Dubrovnik), Cattaro (Kotor), Dyrrhachium (Durazzo) — and some of the islands off the coast, but other islands were occupied by the Slavic tribe of the Narentans (Neretvans), who settled on the coast between the river Narenta (Neretva) and Cetinje. This tribe was the most important of all those settled on the rivers Lim, Drina, Piva, Tara, Ibar, Morava and the Adriatic shores — i.e. the Dukliane, the Travuniane, the Konavliane and the Zachlumiane.


The remaining parts of the Balkans were completely transformed by the Slavs. The Roman provinces of Moesia, Dacia, Dardania and Macedonia were entirely occupied by them. Epirus had large Slav settlements, while others were established





even in Thrace and Greece proper. During the first half of the seventh century, Slavs even penetrated to some of the islands of the Aegean including Crete and raided the coasts of Asia Minor.


All these Slavic tribes which had established themselves in the whole of the territory stretching from the Alps to the Adriatic and to the Dobrudja on the Black Sea were very similar. Their idioms, at the same stage of evolution, were, in fact, dialects of one common language. If they had been able to find a common political center, they would have formed one immense nation of which all branches would have spoken the same language. All these tribes called themselves Slovenes, which the Latins transcribed as Sclavini, Sclavi, Slavi, and the Greeks as Sklavenoi (Sthlavenoi), Sklavoi. Owing, however, to the different political and national evolutions of the Southern Slavs, only the Slovenes of today have preserved the ancient name; the others have acquired the designations of those tribes under whose leadership they came — such as the Serbs, the Croats and Bulgarians.





The establishment of the Slavs in southern Europe was of the greatest importance for the evolution of Europe as a whole, and for that matter, for the history of all mankind. The Slavs, unlike the Germans, took possession of these parts of the Roman Empire not as federates, but as conquerors. The Avar hordes displayed an extreme ferocity, destroying everything with which they came into contact. All the Latin cities in Pannonia, Noricum, Illyricum and Dacia disappeared as the Avar and Slav waves engulfed them and the same fate overtook the Greek cities in Dardania, Praevalis and Scythia. On the Dalmatian coast, in Epirus, in Macedonia and Thrace, only a few towns escaped destruction and many priceless monuments of the classical and early Christian periods were utterly destroyed. Christianity, which had been flourishing in those parts of the Empire ever since the fourth century, was almost completely uprooted. [1] It is, indeed, of the



1. The evolution of Christianity in Illyricum and in Pannonia is well outlined by the French specialist J. Zeiller in his works: Les origines chrétiennes dans la province romaine de Dalmatie (Paris, 1906); Les origines chrétiennes dans les provinces danubiennes de l’Empire romain (Paris, 1918). On the destruction of Christianity in these regions, see the chapter on Illyricum in F. Dvornik, Les légendes de Constantin et de Methode vues de Byzance (Prague. 1934), pp. 248 ff.





8. Slavic Settlements South of the Danube (VII Cent.)





greatest interest to follow the fate of the many episcopal sees in these regions during the troubled years of the Slavic occupation. One after another they disappeared, most of them forever. This whole immense territory suddenly became a pagan land once more, and “terra missionum.”


The destruction of Christianity in this vast region of the Roman Empire called Illyricum, which included all the provinces mentioned above, from the Alps to the Peloponnese — with the exception of Thrace — had another important consequence which has never been pointed out before. This territory came under the jurisdiction of the Roman See, which had established the metropolitan of Thessalonica as a special apostolic vicar for Illyricum. It was, moreover, in this region that Latin and Greek populations were intermingled, living peacefully together and forming a bridge between the Latin West and the Greek East. If the Christian civilization in Illyricum had not been destroyed by the Avars and the Slavs, the Western and Eastern Churches would, by virtue of this “bridge,” presumably have remained in contact and their evolution would never have proceeded in the contrary directions which they actually followed. Because this bridge between the two Churches was wrecked by the new occupants of Illyricum and because the Arabs gained control to a great extent over the Mediterranean Sea, communication between East and West became extremely difficult. [1] The Byzantines



1. H. Pirenne, when formulating his famous theory on the consequences of the Islamic expansion on the economic and cultural evolution of medieval western Europe, overstressed the importance of the Islamic expansion. His theory, expressed especially in his monograph on Mahomet and Charlemagne (London, 1936), encountered many criticisms. An almost complete review of Pirenne’s ideas and of the objections raised by his critics will be found in Anne Riising’s study, “The Fate of Henri Pirenne’s Thesis on the Consequences of the Islamic Invasions” (Classica et mediaevalia, Revue danoise de philologie et d’histoire XIII [19521, pp. 87-130). Most of the criticism is well founded. Pirenne and his critics have, however, completely neglected the consequences which the destruction of Illyricum had for the further estrangement between the Byzantine East and the Frankish West. Pirenne s theory, although not well founded in the arguments advanced by its author, appears in most respects true in the consequences analyzed by him. The disappearance of the “Illyric bridge" between the East and the West supplies the missing link for which his critics seek with such eagerness.





were forced by the Persians and Arabs to look more and more towards the East, when the vital danger threatened. Having lost almost all the European provinces, they were bound to increase their reliance upon the eastern provinces, especially those of Asia Minor. A slow Orientalization of the Empire and of the Church was a natural consequence.


On the other hand, Christianity in the western part of the Roman Empire lost many of its old Roman traditions and customs on account of the Germanic invasions. In order to win over the Germans, the Church had to respect and accept those of their traditions which were not directly anti-Christian. The two Churches thus followed different lines of development. For centuries both of them had to fight on different fronts and they could not easily communicate to one another their experiences and the new methods they devised for dealing with peoples so widely different. Only Illyricum could facilitate such intercourse and the de-Christianization of this province rendered that impossible. Then, eventually, when the Churches did recover some of their strength and energy and triumphed over the new peoples in the ninth century, they met in Illyricum as rivals who, by dint of their long separation, had become almost strangers to one another. [1]


Thus Illyricum, instead of being a bridge between West and East, contributed most to the estrangement of the two Churches. It finally became the battlefield on which the two forces of Christianity waged the first great struggles which led to that complete separation so fateful for the whole of Christendom and all mankind.



1. See below, pp. 118 ff.


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