Byzantine missions among the Slavs. SS. Constantine-Cyril and Methodius

Francis Dvornik




Appendix II. The Survival of Roman Provincial Culture in Pannonia and Noricum Reaching Moravia



So far it has generally been believed that the Slavs northeast of the Danube were barely touched by the Roman provincial culture which flourished in Pannonia and Noricum. It is thought that only the Teutonic tribes, which had preceded the Slavs in Noricum, were in direct contact with the antique culture. Many of them became Roman feoderati, were romanized and played a prominent role as Roman provincial citizens. When the Romans were forced to evacuate the province, the romanized Teutons left Noricum with them. When the Slavs settled in this country in the fifth and sixth century, there was no one left to transmit the cultural traditions and technical knowledge of the antique world. [1] It is often pointed out that the Slavs were unable to acquaint themselves with the benefits of Roman provincial culture which flourished in Pannonia because of the invasions by the Huns and later by Lombards and the Avars into this province. The blows inflicted by these invasions had forced the Romans to evacuate Pannonia.


It is true that the Roman garrisons and functionaries with their dependents had to leave Noricum on the order of Odoacer (488), but most of the romanized natives stayed on in village formations, and especially in the woodlands where they continued to live according to the old Roman custom. [2] The existence of a Roman population is mentioned often in documents originating in Salzburg. [3] They were Christians and they may have played a certain role in the Christianization of the Bavarian newcomers. It is characteristic that in the eighth century many priests and monks in







the Alpine lands, judging from their names, were of Roman origin. The Slavs who from the fifth century on were pushing into these territories also came into touch with the few remaining Romans, and thus had the opportunity of learning about some aspects of antique traditions.


We must not forget that Moravia was crossed by a most important road, in use from neolithic times. This was the famous Amber Road, which started in Aquileia, passed through Noricum, crossed the Danube at Carnuntum, followed the rivers Morava and Rečva, joined the river Oder which led it through the Moravian Gates into Poland, and ended up on the Baltic sea. [4] This road was used in Roman times not only by the Legions, but also by Italian merchants who traded with the native populations settled north of the Danube river. Although this commercial road crossed the fortified Roman limes on the Danube, Roman guard garrisons were established even outside the limes to protect this important trade route. Such a garrison was established in Moravia at Mušov south of the city of Brno and at Stupava in Slovakia. [5] Roman buildings, probably of a similar kind, must have existed near the Slavic settlement of Staré Město, because Roman bricks with the imprint of Legions XIV and XVI were turned up in the foundation of the rotunda discovered there. [6] This route was used even after the evacuation of Noricum by the Romans, by merchants from Italy acquainting the Slavic tribes with more refined products from Italy and Greece.


Even an exchange of products between former Noricum and Moravia can be supposed. Perhaps the problem could be solved as to where the ninth century’s Moravian goldsmiths got their precious material, if we could substantiate the theory that it came from ancient Noricum in exchange for the grain which was abundant in the valleys of Moravia. [7] Already in the time of the Roman Republic Noricum was famous for its gold and iron mines. Strabo [8] mentions particularly the city of Noreia as a center of gold washing and of flourishing metallurgy. The question deserves further investigation.


The territory of modern Slovakia was also touched by Roman culture from Pannonia. The most important center on the middle Danube was Erigetio, near modern Komárno. A bridge-head in the territory of modern Leányvár opened the way to the valley of Vag. The route following the Vag river was probably connected





with the Amber route of Moravia through the pass of Vlára and the Roman garrison at Leugaricio, the modern Trenčín, was supposed to guard this important passage. [9] In 179 a legion of Marcus Aurelius hibernated at this place, as is witnessed by a Latin inscription on the rock of Trenčín. [10] The emperor did not succeed in extending the Roman limes to the Carpathian Mountains—he died in Vienna the year after.


The last emperor to be interested in strengthening the fortifications of the limes on the Danube was Valentinian I (364-375), who hoped to launch his conquest of the Germanic tribes in modern Slovakia from there. He made some effort to protect Roman merchants trading with the barbarians north of the Danube. During his reign a kind of octagonal fort was erected at Milanovce on the river Nitra, about fifty kilometers from the Roman station at Leányvár, near Komárno, which was to protect Roman merchants trading with the barbarians north of the Danube. In its construction bricks taken from the ruins of another Roman castle, which had been built nearby in the second century perhaps for the same purpose, appear to have been used. It was probably destroyed during the Marcomanic wars. [11]


As a matter of fact, the lands north of the Danube were frequently visited by Roman merchants before they were occupied by the Slavs. This is demonstrated by numerous finds of Roman coins, jewelry, iron products, and other implements. [12] All this, however, could only have indirectly influenced those Slavs who replaced the Celtic and Germanic tribes. After the third century Bohemia was completely cut off from the western part of the Roman Empire, but not Moravia. The Roman cultural traditions did not disappear completely from Pannonia even after the gradual collapse of the limes and the evacuation of the Roman garrisons. During the occupation by the Huns of the main part of Pannonia, especially between the Danube and Tisza, the Roman and romanized population continued to exist, concentrating its limited artistic and economic activity in fortified cities in the interior of the province, and in estates of wealthy families that had survived the invasion or perhaps had profited from the turmoil which the new situation had caused. Roman trade with the country continued, as is illustrated by many discoveries of Roman products and coins dating from as late as the fifth century in this land. Some archaeological discoveries show that Roman





artistic traditions in the production of jewelry were still alive in the first half of the fifth century, but they had been adapted to the taste of the new inhabitants. [13]


During the occupation by the Lombards, the decline of the fortified places continued. The wealthier of the Roman population took refuge in Italy and Gaul, and only the lower classes, colons, small peasants, and artisans remained in smaller fortified centers, continuing to produce their agricultural and other implements, using Roman methods. Even Roman artistic traditions were not completely forgotten, as we see in the production of Roman fibulae, again accommodated to the costume of the new inhabitants. [14]


The old cities continued here and there to be inhabited in spite of their dilapidated status. Two old centers, which survived all the troubles of the migration of nations up to the arrival of the Avars in 568, were Valcum, before called Mogentianae, in Fenekpuszta near Lake Ralaton, and Sopianae, modern Pecz in Hungary. The excavations in Valcum have shown that the romanized inhabitants continued to live and work according to the old Roman tradition up to the arrival of the Avars. The latter lived for some time in peaceful relations with the citizens. In this way the Avars became acquainted by means of trade with goods made in the old Roman fashion of the fourth century. The settlement existed even when the Avars had incorporated it into their empire, and its workshops continued to produce artifacts for the Avars, to suit the taste of the new masters but which were often imitations of Byzantine and other imports. [15]


A similar situation seems to have existed in Sopianae. There appear to be serious indications that in Sopianae the inhabitants continued to practice the Christian religion during the whole Avar period down to the eighth century. [16] Anyhow, the old Roman traditions in the workshops which had survived in the old Roman settlements and environments continued to be preserved, the artisans trying to accommodate them to new technical and iconographic elements brought by the new masters who were their customers. In many cases the surviving artisans moved themselves and their workshops into Avar settlements.


During the occupation of Pannonia by the Avars, lively contact with Byzantium is documented by the finds of numerous Byzantine





coins in Avar graves, [17] from the coins of Anastasius I (491-518) to those of Constantine IV Pogonatus (668-685), but after Constantine IV the influx of Byzantine coins to the Avars ceased almost completely. The finds of coins presuppose also the importation of Byzantine products, especially jewelry. The finds of Byzantine weights, exagia, point moreover to the presence of Byzantine artisans or, at least, of craftsmen who were familiar with the techniques used in Byzantine workshops.


This is confirmed by the discovery of a treasure at Zemianský Vrbovok in Slovakia [18] in 1937 and 1951, containing a silver chalise, a bracelet, earrings, a necklace, two silver dishes, eight half silver globules with some silver pieces, and eighteen coins from 554 to 669, which allow the treasure to be dated to the seventh century. The objects belonged to a Byzantine artisan who intended to settle in the seat of a prominent Avar chieftain and there produce jewelry in the Byzantine fashion, but suited to the taste of the new rulers. He hoped to profit from the peaceful relations existing between the Avars and the Byzantines which prevailed in the second half of the seventh century and which were strengthened by Constantine IV Pogonatus in 677. Avar power was considerably diminished by their defeat in 626 under the walls of Constantinople, by the wars with the Croats and Serbs in Dalmatia and Pannonia, and by the insurrection of the Moravians and other Slavs led by Samo. After the death of Bojan the tribal chiefs were more independent and established their own courts.


The unfortunate silversmith, however, did not enjoy his stay among the Avars for long. Fresh danger threatened his new customers, when in 681 the Bulgars invaded Avar territory, and, after crossing the Danube, established their new state among the Slavic tribes in Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia. The artisan hoped most probably to cross the pass in the Carpathian mountains and to try his chances among the barbarian, mostly Slavic tribes, north of them. He did not succeed in accomplishing his purpose and hid his treasure at the foot of the hills, hoping to recover it when peace was made. He never returned to his cache.


The silversmith whose treasure was found at Zemianský Vrbovok was not alone. Other artisans of Byzantine origin or trained in Byzantine techniques had settled among the Avars and continued





to produce jewelry, using Byzantine motifs. The tombs of several artisans have been found by Hungarian archaeologists, mostly in the neighborhood of important political or economic centers. [19] Although the Avars in former Pannonia were completely cut off from the Byzantine Empire by the new Bulgarian political formation, which was hostile to Byzantium, the new incentives brought to them by Byzantine influences in the seventh century did not disappear from Pannonia. The foreign masters who had established their workshops before 681 continued their production. The native artisans learned from them new techniques and added new designs to their traditional motifs. Moreover, the fact that after 681 the Byzantines stopped the distribution of their coins to the Avar chiefs, and even to the Bulgars in the Danube region, does not mean that all trade between the Avars and Byzantium had ceased. It was natural that the Slavs who remained under Avar domination in Pannonia, and their tribesmen north of the Danube, were affected by all this, and that their artisans improved their own primitive methods of production by using Roman and Byzantine techniques, which the remnants of the Roman and romanized population in Pannonia had preserved from the times when the country was a flourishing Roman province.


As concerns Moravia, there are indications that Byzantine, or byzantinized, artisans and merchants did reach that country. This seems to be indicated by the finds of Byzantine coins in this territory, which are not numerous but are significant. [20] They are from the reigns of the Emperor Zeno (476-491), Anastasius I (491-518), Justinian (527-565) (four coins), Justin II (565-578), Phocas (602-610), Heraclius (610-641), and Constans II (641-668). During the sixth and seventh centuries the Slavic tribes in Moravia, freed from the Avars, were slowly being formed into a kind of political group, a process which ended in the eighth century.


From that time on this new political formation began to grow in importance benefitting from the decline of Avar power in Pannonia. It is logical to suppose that the new opportunities opening up in Moravia attracted artisans working for the Avars at the courts of their chieftains, and that they began a kind of exodus to the new country, an exodus accelerated by rivalries among the Avar chieftains and by the blows dealt them by the





Franks under Charlemagne, which were undermining Avar domination in the lands which are now modern Hungary.


Byzantine influences in the seventh century had reached not only the Avars but also the Slavic tribes beyond the Carpathian mountains. [21] We can, however, hardly suppose that these same traditions could also find their way into Moravia. [22]





1. Cf. A. Schober, Die Römerzeit in Österreich (Vienna, 1935), p. 12.


2. For general information on Romans and Bavarians in Noricum see I. Zibermayr, Noricum, Baiern, und Österreich (München, Berlin, 1914), pp. 1—78. On the evacuation see ibid., p. 56. In 565 Venantius Fortunatus made a pilgrimage from Ravenna to the grave of St. Afra in Augsburg, although the city was already occupied by the Bavarians, ibid., p. 76.


3. There seem to have been fewer “Romans” left in Raetia among the Alemani than in Noricum among the Rugians and Bavarians. In the Breves Notitiae of Salzburg we find several references to Romani who probably were regarded as colons but also as tributales. The Bavarian duke had the right to dispose of them at his will. In the Notitia Arnonis we learn that when Bishop Rutpert decided to restore some of the buildings, probably from the Roman period, in the territory of Glanhofen, Duke Thodo (c. 700) richly endowed the church constructed by the bishop, adding to the endowment “de Romanis tributales homines LXXX cum coloniis suis in diversis locis.” See W. Hauthaler, Salzburger Urkundenbuch, vol. 1, Traditionscodices (Salzburg, 1910), pp. 19, 20. Other dispositions of Romani, ibid., p. 5 (Theodo: Romanos et eorum tributales mansos LXXX), p. 7; (Tassilo: Romanos cum mansos tributales XXX), p. 14; (Theodbertus: Tributarios Romanos CXVI), p. 15, (idem dux Romanos at eorum mansos tributales LXXX), p. 23, (Romanos... in diversis locis colonos CXVI), p. 24 (Romanos tributales LXXX), p. 50 (Romani); cf. J. Kudrna, Studie k barbarským zákoníkům Lex Baiuvariorum a Lex Alamanorum (Brno, 1959), Opera universit. Brunensis, Facultas philosophica, vol. 60, pp. 114, 121, 122, 125; J. Cibulka, Velkomoravský kostel, p. 117.


4. J. Dobiáš, Dějiny československého území před vystoupením Slovanů (The History of the Czechoslovak Territory before the Arrival of the Slavs) (Prague, 1964), pp. 154, 169, 175, 325-329.


5. R. Hošek, “Antique Traditions in Great Moravia,” Magna Moravia, p. 74. The garrison at Mušov had probably to defend a detour from the Amber Road to the valley of the river Svitava, and the road following it into Bohemia: Mušov seems to have been a very important crossroad;





cf. J. Dobiáš, Dějiny československého území, p. 327; cf. ibid, on Stillfried (in Austria), a Roman fort protecting the Amber Road on the right of the Danube, and on other Roman fortifications, pp. 215, 280, 328.


6. V. Hochmanová-Vávrová, “Nálezy římských cihel u Starého Města a Uherského Hradiště” (Finds of Roman Bricks at Staré Město near Uherské Hradiště), Spisy Purkyňovy university, E 3 (Brno, 1957), pp. 23-26.


7. R. Hošek, “Antique Traditions,” p. 76.


8. The Geography of Strabo, V, 1, 8, C214, ed. H. L. Jones (Loeb Library, 1923), vol. 2, p. 318. On the important road-net in Noricum see Polaschek, “Noricum,” Real-Encyklopädie, vol. XVII, p. 968. On relations of Aquileia with Noricum and Noreia, ibid., p. 1039 ff.


9. See J. Dobiáš, Dějiny československého území, p. 328. On Leugaricio, ibid., pp. 13, 227, 257, 332.


10. On the inscription, see J. Dobiáš, Dějiny československého území, pp. 213, 257, 258.


11. T. Kolnik, “Ausgrabungen auf der römischen Station in Milanovice in den Jahren 1956-1957,” Limes Romanus Konferenz Nitra (Bratislava, 1959), pp. 27-61; cf. also B. Svoboda, “Über das Nachleben der röm. Kultur im mittleren Donaubecken,” ibid., p. 110. On Roman fortifications in the territory of modern Slovakia see O. Pelikán, Slovensko a rímské imperium (Slovakia and the Roman Empire) (Bratislava, 1960), pp. 101-135; cf. also T. Kolnik, “Zu neuen römisch-barbarischen Funden in der Slowakei und ihrer Chronologie,” Studia historica slovaca, 2 (1964), pp. 7-51.


12. For details see K. Majewski, Importy rzymskie na zemiach słowiańskich (Roman Imports in Slavic Lands) (Wroclaw, 1949); idem, Importy rzymskie w Polsce (Roman Imports in Poland) (Warsaw, 1960); V. Ondrouch, Bohaté hroby z doby rímskej na Slovensku (Rich Tomb Found in Slovakia from the Roman period) (Bratislava, 1957); idem, Limes Romanus na Slovensku (Limes Romanus in Slovakia) (Bratislava, 1938); O. Pelikán, Slovensko a římské Imperium, pp. 135156; cf. also J. Dobiáš, Le stradě romane nel territorio cecoslovacco (Rome, 1938) and B. Svoboda, Čechy a římské Imperium (Bohemia and the Roman Empire), Acta musei nationalis Pragae, vol. 2, A, Historia (Prague, 1948) ; with a résumé in English.


13. Cf. the short but well-written study by B. Svoboda, “Über das Nachleben,” Limes Romanus Konferenz Nitra, pp. 107—116, especially pp. 110, 111; J. Dekan, “Die Beziehungen unserer Länder mit dem spätantiken und byzantinischen Gebiet in der Zeit vor Cyrill und Method,” Das Grossmährische Reich (Prague, 1966), pp. 45-52.





14. B. Svoboda, “Über das Nachleben,” p. 112.


15. For details see A. Alföldi, Der Untergang der Römerherrschaft in Fannonia, vol. 2 (Berlin, Leipzig, 1926), Ungarische Bibliothek, vol. pp. 36-56.


16. Alföldi puts forward the theory that the cella trichora discovered in Sopianae was repainted in the eighth century in the style of Santa Maria Antiqua. Alföldi’s papers were unavailable to me. See the quotations in B. Svoboda, “Poklad byzantského kovotepce v Zemianském Vrbovku” (The Treasure of a Byzantine Metalsmith Found in Zemianjlev Vrbovok), Památky archeologické, 44 (1953), 79, 80.


17. See D. Csallány, “Vizantijskie monety v avarskich nachodkach,” résumé in French: “L’importance de la circulation monétaire byzantine pour les legs archéologiques des Avares,” Acta archaeologica Academiae scientiarum Hungaricae, 2 (1952), p. 235 ff., 245 ff. J. Kovačević, Avari i zlato,” Starinar, XIII-XIV (1963-1964), pp. 125-135, attributes the lack of gold coins in Avar archaeological finds after the seventh century to the general monetary crisis in the Byzantine Empire which developed rapidly after the reign of Justinian I.


18. B. Svoboda, “Poklad,” pp. 33-108. The eighteen silver coins were described and evaluated by P. Radoměrský in his study “Byzantské mince z pokladu v Zemianském Vrbovku” in Památky archeologické, 45 (1953), pp, 109-122. Both studies have a résumé in German. The author rightly states that the coins had not been in circulation. They represent a store of precious metal. They were minted in Constantinople and were most probably part of a tribute paid to an Avar chief, or a present offered to him by the Byzantine government. It would have been difficult for the artisan to gather so many new coins for his purpose. This may indicate that the Avar chief who possessed the coins commissioned them to the Byzantine artisan who was in his service and who had to produce jewels for him.


19. B. Svoboda, Poklad, pp. 79-85 with bibliographical notices of publications by Hungarian archaeologists. Cf. J. Eisner, Devínská Nová Ves, pp. 312, 313.


20. R. Hošek, Antique Traditions, p. 75. E. Pochitonov, “Nálezy antických minci” (Finds of Antique Coins), in Nálezy mincí v Čecháh na Moravě a ve Slezsku (Finds of Coins in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silisia), ed. by E. Nohejlová-Prátová, 1 (Prague, 1955), pp. 85-134. Cf. V. Ondrouch, Nálezy keltských, antických a byzantských mincí na Slovensku (Finds of Celtic, Antique, and Byzantine Coins in Slovakia) (Bratislava, 1964), nos. 564, 565, 566, 577 (Theodosius II), no. 573 (Justinian I?), nos. 574, 575 (Justin II), no. 576 (Constans II, Constantine IV Pogonatus).





21. J. Werner, “Slawische Bügelfibeln des 7. Jahrhunderts,” Reinecke Festschrift, ed. G. Behrens, J. Werner (Mainz, 1950), pp. 150-177, especially pp. 170, 171.


22. Ibid., p. 168. Only one miniature fibula has been found, so far, in Moravia in Určice, and this is regarded by J. Werner as coming rather from Hungary. This fact seems to weaken the theory that many objects could have reached Moravia from the Pontus region. This influence was strong among the Slavs on Dnieper, but the supposition that they could have been an intercourse between these Slavs and the Moravians seems, so far, very doubtful. In this connection cf. also the study by B. Szöke, “Über die Beziehungen Moraviens zu dem Donaugebiet in der Spätavarenzeit,” Studia Slavica, 6 (1960), pp. 75-112. The author tries to show that the material culture of Moravia was influenced more by Avar art than by Byzantium, and thinks that this art was introduced into the Carpathian basin from the region of Pontus and the Caucasus. His study contains some interesting and stimulating points, but his arguments, especially concerning the Caucasian influences on cultural development in the Carpathian basin in the ninth and tenth centuries, are not convincing. Even the regions of Pontus and the Caucasus could not escape Byzantine cultural influences. He recognizes, however, that Moravia became the heir of this civilization and developed it to a very high degree, as is shown by the results of recent excavations. But even Szöke admits some Byzantine influences on the products of Moravian artisans. However, J. Dekan, in his penetrating study “Les motifs figuraux humains sur les bronzes moulés de la zone danubienne centrale à l’epoque précédant l’empire de la Grande Moravie,” Studia historien slovaca, 2 (1966), pp. 52-102, has shown that the motifs of human figures on the objects of bronze which were popular among the Avars in the eighth century were not inspired by ancient Avar mythology, which is unknown, nor brought into Avar Pannonia by another Avar wave from the interior of Asia, but were created under the influence of Byzantine artifacts reproducing old Hellenic, Hellenistic, and other mythological subjects. These traditions were revived in Byzantium during the iconoclastic period. The artists, not allowed to produce images of saints and of Christ, went back to Hellenic profane traditions and decorated the churches with motifs taken from Hellenic and Hellenistic art, with scenes from animal life, reproductions of trees, plants, and other profane objects. He shows that even some Sassanid and other Oriental motifs on those objects had reached the Avars through Byzantium.


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