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

Francis Dvornik




Appendix III. By Which Route Did the Byzantine Embassy Reach Moravia?



The authors of the Lives of Constantine and Methodius do not reveal how and when the Byzantine embassy had reached Moravia. It is generally believed that after crossing Bulgaria the brothers travelled to Moravia by following the river Danube. This belief seems to be confirmed by the Life of St. Wenceslas written by the monk Christian (10th century), by the description of the Christianization of Bohemia and Moravia called Diffundente sole (12th century), the legend Tempore Michaelis imperatoris (13th century), and the legend Beatus Cirillus (12th century). [1] All these legends attribute the Christianization of the Bulgarians to Constantine when he crossed their country on his way to Moravia. These recitals deserve, however, no credit. We have more reliable information as to the Christianization of Bulgaria, and Constantine had no part in it. These legends cannot even be quoted as an indication of the fact that the brothers did reach Moravia by going through Bulgarian territory. Their narration reflects the situation in the tenth century when the disciples of Constantine and Methodius, expelled from Moravia, found refuge in Bulgaria, where the Slavonic liturgy introduced by the two brothers was in use.


Recently an attempt has been made by J. Cibulka [2] to give more precise information about the route taken by the two brothers. The basis of his ideas is to follow the old Roman roads which crossed the former Roman provinces of Thrace and Macedonia to Singidunum (modern Belgrade), and from there led through Pannonia along the river Danube to Brigetium, or Carnuntum. On the basis of the indications given by the famous map of







Peutinger, [3] he enumerates the resting places and relays which the brothers are supposed to have used, and the distances separating them. Assuming that the travellers covered forty kilometers daily, he comes to the conclusion that the brothers could have reached the Moravian boundary in 38 days, or in three weeks, perhaps even more rapidly.


It is an interesting attempt which gives valuable information about travels in the early Middle Ages, but it has many weaknesses. First, the author’s account is rather arbitrary, and is influenced by the tendency to disprove the old tradition, so far generally accepted, that the brothers got to Moravia in the autumn of 863. To support his own original thesis he prolongs the stay of the Moravian embassy in Constantinople, assuming that the composition of the new alphabet, the choice of the Greek texts necessary for the mission, their translation into a language which had no literary tradition, together with other preparations, must have lasted at least one year. Therefore, the Byzantine mission could have left Constantinople only in the spring of 864.


There is, however, no reason to suppose that the preparations for the Moravian mission took so long. As has been already shown, the conversion of the Slavs on Greek soil had been in progress for some decades and was a very urgent matter for the Byzantine Church and for the consolidation of what was left of former Illyricum. It was necessary that not only Frankish but also Byzantine missionaries translated into Slavonic the most important prayers and beliefs in order to instruct the new converts. The brothers and their companions could make profitable use of these first attempts, and compare the adaptations with what they were able to learn from the members of the Moravian embassy, who were certainly Christians and must have had some instruction. We have seen that efforts had been made to transliterate Slavic words with Greek letters. It is generally accepted that the main basis of the glagolitic alphabet is the Greek minuscule. It was therefore natural for the Greek missionaries to use this current writing in their works. Constantine may have been helped in his composition by these first essays. On the other hand, the envoys were anxious to return to their country with the new missionaries as early as possible. There is no reason to suppose that the Moravian envoys got to Constantinople only in 863. Everything indicates that Rastislav had addressed himself to Rome in 862





and, after the refusal of his request by Rome, was anxious to get help from Byzantium at the earliest date.


Moreover, there is no documentary evidence that the mission had chosen the route described by J. Cibulka. He does not pay sufficient attention to the fact that in 863 the old Roman roads must have been in rather bad shape after so many invasions into Pannonia, and after the bitter fighting between the Bulgars and the Byzantines in the first half of the ninth century. We have seen that Pannonia had been cut off from Byzantium at the end of the seventh century. Almost all contact of the Avars with the Byzantines ceased for more than a century. The Bulgars were fighting for their existence in the eighth century, and more peaceful conditions and better commercial relations between Bulgaria md Byzantium were possible only after 839. We can imagine how all this contributed to the destruction of old Roman roads in Thrace and Macedonia. The Bulgars do not seem to have repaired roads which followed the Danube into Moravia. They were more interested in intercourse with the Franks, and had better links with them through the valleys of Drava and Sava. The author quotes a few instances of travels from the eleventh century through Hungary to Constantinople. However, this does not show that this route was in frequent use in the ninth century.


It is true that commercial relations between Bulgaria and Byzantium existed for about twenty years before 863, but how frequent were they? We have noticed that direct Byzantine imports into Moravia were rather insignificant during the first half of the ninth century. Then, was it safe to send a Christian mission with so many important persons through pagan Bulgaria? The Byzantine intelligence service was certainly well aware of Boris’ sympathy for the Franks. As we have seen, even before 853 Boris seems to have intrigued with Charles the Bald against Louis the German, when he attacked the Pannonian Croats living under Louis’ sovereignty, and his improved relations with Louis would have been known in Byzantium. In such circumstances a Byzantine embassy crossing Bulgaria to its other neighbor could hardly expect to find a warm welcome in Boris’ territory. There was, however, an old Roman road with relays which had remained in better condition, the Via Egnatia, [4] which crossed Byzantine territory from Constantinople through Saloniki to Dyrrhachium, from where there was easy access by boat to another Byzantine





possession—Venice. From there the Amber Road, used by Aquileian and Venetian merchants, and probably in better condition than the old Roman roads in Pannonia, led to former Carnuntum, near the confluence of the river Morava with the Danube. The Via Egnatia was also the artery which connected Constantinople with Rome, through Dyrrhachium, the Adriatic, and the old Roman roads leading to the capital. Travel from Constantinople to Rome, in the imperial period, took twenty-four days. [5] The Via Egnatia and Dyrrhachium connected Constantinople also with the remains of Byzantine possessions in Dalmatia and their capital Zara. This was, for the Byzantines of this time, the safest way to the West, and it would seem normal that the Byzantine government should choose this route to send its embassy to Moravia.


Cibulka thinks that the brothers took the route through Bulgaria and ancient Pannonia rather than the route by water in order to avoid danger of piratical attacks at sea. However, they travelled by sea from Constantinople to Cherson and back in 861. There was also the danger of hostile action on the part of the Russians settled in the Delta of Dnieper, from where they had attacked Constantinople the previous year. The ships carrying the envoys probably sailed not far from the coast, as the navigators of those times usually did. This shows that the brothers were familiar with this kind of travel and were probably escorted by imperial war vessels.


As concerns the Adriatic sea, it is known that the Slavic Narentans were dangerous pirates. The Venetians had tried to put a stop to this activity and had even tried to convert them to Christianity, but with little success. However, we do not hear of any hostile action by the Narentans against Byzantine Dalmatia. Probably the reorganization of the Thema of Dyrrhachium and of the naval Thema of Cephalonia was responsible for this restriction on their piratical activities.


On the other hand, there is the famous affair of the papal legates returning from Constantinople after the completion of the Ignatian council of 869-870. They reached Dyrrhachium safely, together with Anastasius Bibliothecarius, the envoy of Louis II to Basil I. The latter discloses [6] that the emperor gave them a military escort led by a drungarios on the Via Egnatia. This reveals, at the same time, that this old Roman road was again in good repair and under military protection, although it touched





or passed through Bulgarian territory on Lake Ochrida. The legates took a ship bound for Ancona, but fell into the hands of the Narentans, who deprived them of everything, including the volumes containing the Acts of the Council, as well as the documents signed by the assisting bishops who professed their submission to Rome. Pope Hadrian II complained to Basil that he had not given sufficient protection to the legates on their return journey. [7] The Emperor Louis II also sent a letter to Basil with the same complaint, [8] putting most of the blame on the imperial navy in the Adriatic sea which, instead of turning against the Narentans, raided the camps of the Croats who were helping Louis to conquer Bari from the Arabs.


This episode is often quoted in order to show how risky navigation was in the Adriatic at that time. The complaints voiced by the pope and by Louis II show, however, that the incident would not have taken place if the emperor had given to the legates the protection they expected and deserved. This neglect seems to have been intentional. We know that Basil was dissatisfied with the attitude of the legates at the Council. He disliked especially their insistence that the bishops sign a declaration in which they accepted the decision made at the Roman synod condemning Photius. He even made an attempt to get hold of this document with the signatures to destroy it. [9] One is thus tempted to suspect that the Byzantines were in some way responsible for this incident. If the emperor had really wanted to destroy these documents he should have created a similar incident for Anastasius. The latter had copied the Acts of the Council in Constantinople and had accompanied the legates on their return journey as far as Dyrrhachium. There he took a boat for Siponto. This part of the Adriatic was too far from the land of the Narentans, and so it happened that Anastasius arrived safely in Siponto, and reached Rome via Benevento. Had he not saved the Acts, together with the other documents, Rome would never have learned what had really happened in Constantinople.


Anyhow, the bitter complaints voiced by the pope and Louis II indicate that such incidents could be prevented by the imperial administration if certain protective measures were taken. Such measures were certainly taken to safeguard the imperial embassy to the Moravians. There is thus no reason to suppose that the two brothers had no choice but to take the route through Bulgaria.





They could reach Moravia via Dyrrhachium and Venice. Even by this road, they could have arrived at the Court of Rastislav in the autumn of 863. [10]





1. Christian’s Legend was published by J. Pekař, Die Wenzels- und Ludmila-Legenden und die Echtheit Christians (Prague, 1906). The other three legends were republished by V. Chaloupecký in the supplement of his work Prameny X. století (Sources of the Tenth Century) (Prague, 1939), Svatováclavský Sborník (Symposium on St. Wenceslas), vol. II, 2, p. 459 ff. Cf. the bibliographical notices given by A. Salajka in the symposium Soluňští bratři (The Brothers of Thessalonica) (Prague, 1962), p. 217 ff.


2. “Der Zeitpunkt der Ankunft der Brüder Konstantin-Cyrillus und Methodius in Mähren,” Byzantinoslavica, 26 (1965), pp. 318-364.


3. Published with commentary and some old Itineraria by K. Miller, Itineraria romana, römische Reisewege an der Hand der Tabula Peutingeriana dar gestellt (Stuttgart, 1926).


4. K. Miller, Itineraria romana, p. 516 ff. Itinerarium Antoníni, ibid., pp. LXII, LXIII; Th. L. F. Tafel, Via Egnatia (Tübingen, 1837-1842).


5. Cf. the map in M. P. Charlesworth, Trade Routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire (Cambridge, 1926), and p. 118. L. Duchesne gives convincing documentary evidence that in the sixth century Constantinople could be reached from Rome in a month’s time. Favorable conditions on sea travel could help to shorten the duration of the trip. See his study “Liber diurnus et les élections pontificales au VIIe siècle,” Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des Chartes, vol. 52 (Paris, 1891), p. 17.


6. In his introduction to his translation of the Acts of this synod, PL, 129, col. 39; MGH Ep 7, p. 410. Cf. especially Vita Hadriani II in L. Duchesne, Liber pontificalis (Paris, 1892), vol. 2, pp. 180, 184, the description of how the legates had travelled on the road from Dyrrhachium to Constantinople and back. The emperor sent the spatharius Eusebius to Thessalonica to greet them. The official reception was in Selymbria, where the protospatharius Sisinius had put forty horses from imperial stables at their disposal, as well as silver ware and a number of servants. The legates must have travelled rather leisurely. They left Rome in June and arrived in Constantinople only on September 15, but this can also be an indication of how the old Roman roads had deteriorated since imperial times.


7. MGH Ep 6, p. 759: “Apocrisiarios quoque nostros... licet sero”— they had left Constantinople in March 870 and, after being released by the pirates, had reached Rome only on December 22, 870—“post multa





tarnen pericula, depredationesque atque propriorum hominum trucidationem, nudos tamen recepimus.... Unde audientes haec universi gemunt. . . quod ita dispositions vestrae constitutio improvide prodire potuerit ut in barbarorum gladios, nullo imperii vestri fulti praesidio, miseriter inciderint. . . ."


8. The letter is quoted by the author of the Chronicon Salernitanum, MGH Ss 3, p. 525.


9. See for details F. Dvornik, The Photian Schism (Cambridge, 1948), p. 144 ff.


10. According to the Itinerarium Antonii the distance from Constantinople to Dyrrhachium is 754 miles. When we add to this the distance from Venice-Aquileia to Carnuntum, indicated by J. Cibulka, according to the same Itinerarium and the sea passage, the route through Bulgaria and Pannonia appears shorter. We can, however, presume that the travel on the Via Egnatia was more comfortable and speedier because of numerous imperial relay stations where fresh horses were available. It may be that the Moravian envoys had reached Constantinople by the same route. It is possible that they were identical with Rastislav’s envoys to Rome. The old Amber Road was the only direct connection of Moravia with the Adriatic and must have been used by merchants, because the disciples of St. Methodius, sold as slaves in Moravia by Wiching, appeared on the slave market in Venice and were redeemed by an envoy of Basil I (see above, p. 251). It is difficult to compare the traveling on the Roman roads in the ninth century with traveling on the same roads in imperial days. We have seen that the legates sent to the Ignatian council left Rome in June 869—at least the papal letters which they carried were dated June 10—and arrived in Constantinople on September 15. The envoys of Louis II to Basil I— Anastasius and two nobles—reached Constantinople in February 870, because they were present at the tenth and last session of the council, which took place on February 28. It is not known when they left Italy, but presumably it was in November 869. Unfortunately, Anastasius, who had left Constantinople with the legates in March 870, does not say when they reached Dyrrhachium. He does not say either when he arrived at Benevento, where he had to report to Louis II on the result of his embassy. He must have stayed there for some time but was active in Rome in his old position in July. Cf. A. Lapôtre, De Anastasia bihliothecario (Paris, 1885), pp. 244-252; E. Pereis, Papst Nikolaus I und. Anastasius bibliothecarius (Berlin, 1920), pp. 235-239. In imperial days the journey from Rome to Constantinople could be made in twenty-four days. Basil’s envoy to Hadrian II, the spathar Euthymius, who probably had left Constantinople in the spring of 868, was in Rome in the early summer of the same year. Another embassy with the representatives





of the two patriarchs travelled during the winter of 868 and seems to have reached Rome at the end of February or the beginning of March. See. F. Dvornik, The Photian Schism (Cambridge, 1948), pp. 139-141.


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