Byzantium: its internal history and relations with the Muslim World

Speros Vryonis Jr.


Internal History



(In: Byzantion, XXXI (1961)) 



There seems to be some reason to suggest, though the evidence is not complete, that St. Ioannicius was possibly a descendent of the Bulgars transplanted in Bithynia during the seventh century by the Byzantines. In the early part of the Vita written by his contemporary and associate, Sabas, occurs an interview between Ioannicius and the emperor Constantine VI. The occasion is a remarkable feat of arms which Ioannicius accomplished in a severe battle with the Bulgarians.


Ὅθεν δὴ τότε θαυμάσας ὁ βασιλεὺς τὸ ἀνδρεῖον τοῦ στρατιώτου · ὦ παῖ καλέ, φησί, ποιας χώρας καὶ στρατίας εἶ σύ, καὶ τί σου ὑπάρχει, λέγει, τὸ ὄνομα ; Ὁ δὲ εἰρηκὼς ὡς χώρας μέν ἐστι Βιθυνῶν ἐπαρχίας, κώμης δὲ τῶν Μαρυκάτου καὶ γἐνους τῶν Βοϊλάδων, τήν τε κλῆσιν πέλει Ἰωαννίκιος, καὶ τὴν στρατείαν ἐξσκουβίτωρ (1).


The family name, given here in the plural, Βοϊλάδων (Βοϊλάς in the singular), is the main reason for suggesting that perhaps St. Ioannicius might have been a descendent of the Bithynian ‛Slavs’. The name is a Bulgarian word used to denote a noble or high dignitary. It appears with this meaning in the Orhon inscriptions of Mongolia and also in the early Bulgarian inscriptions in the Balkans in the ninth



(1) Vita Ioannicii, Acta Sanctorum Novembris II (Bruxellis, 1894), pp. 337-38. Summaries of the life are also to be found in P. Van den Gheyn, Un moine grec au neuvième siècle, S. Joannice Le Grand, in Études religieuses, philosophiques, historiques et littéraires, L (1890), 407-34. C. Loparev, Vizantijskija žitija svjatyh VII-IX vĕkov, in Vizant. Vrem. 9 XVIII (1911), 72-92.





century (1). The word is used by Theophanes and Constantine Porphyrogenitus when they speak of certain Bulgarian nobles. Thus Theophanes speaks of the βοϊλάδων (nobles) who accompanied their king to an audience with Constantine V in 748 (2). The family name Boilas, which became prominent in Byzantium, is most probably related to this Bulgarian word signifying a high dignitary or noble, and which seems even to have been used as a proper name. Ioannicius is the earliest person to appear bearing this name in the Byzantine sources (3).


The saint came from the village of Marykatos in Bithynia (Βιθννῶν ἐπαρχίας) located on the north shore of Lake Apollonias near the town of Miletopolis (4). In 773, at the age of nineteen, he was enrolled in the eighteenth bandon of the imperial excubitores and remained in the army until some



(1) This fact is noted by the editor of the Vita Io., p. 339 ; « Genus Boiladum apud Bulgaros désignât duces et optimates ». And he further comments ; « At quomodo S. Ioannicio, humili loco nato, haec appellatio conveniat non liquet. Forsan familiam quandam designare voluerit Sabas ». On this word see

·       G. Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, II2 (1958), 93-4 ;

·       W. Radloff, Die alttürkischen Inschriften der Mongolei (St. Petersburg, 1894), p. 140 ;

·       F. Miklosich, Lexicon Palaeoslovenico-Graeco-Latinum (Vienna, 1862), 50 ;

·       W. Thomsen, Alttürkische Inschriften aus der Mongolei in Zeitschrift der deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, LXXVIII (1924), 171.

See also the long book review of Papademetriou, in Vizant. Vrem., V (1898), 717, who noted its non-Greek origin. [Voir aussi Beševliev-Grégoire, Les inscriptions protobulgares, dans Byzantion, XXVIII (1958), pp. 307 sq. N.d.l.R.].


(2) Theophanes, Chronographia, ed. C. de Boor, I (Leipzig, 1883), 436, 447. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Ceremoniis Aulae Byzantinae, ed. J. Reiske and I. Bekker (Bonn, 1829), 681, mentions the six great βολιάδες at the Bulgarian court, and the ἔσω and ἔξω βολιάδες below them. In De Administrando Imperio, ed. G. Moravcsik (Budapest, 1949), p. 154, he mentions the twelve great βοϊλάδων. There are various spellings of the name ; Βόϊλας, Βοΐλας, Βόηλας ; Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, II2, 94.


(3) For later members of the Boilas family, or at least bearers of this name, see S. Vryonis, The Will of a Provincial Magnate, Eustathius Boilas (1059), in Dumbarton Oaks Papers, XI (1957), 273.


(4) Vita Io., p. 335. See the map in W. Ramsay, The Historical Geography of Asia Minor (London, 1890), opposite p. 178.





time around 795, when he sought refuge in the monastic life of Mt. Olympus (1).


As is well known, Justinian II, after his campaign of 688/9 in the Balkans, transplanted Bulgars from the Balkans into Asia Minor. They were transported via the town of Abydos and then settled in the Opsikion theme as soldiers (2).


The information furnished by the Vita, in combination with what little we know about the settlement of ‛Slavs’ in Bithynia, would suggest that St. Ioannicius was a descendent of the Bulgars settled as soldiers in the Opsikion theme by the Byzantines during the seventh century, possibly by Justinian shortly after 688/9. His family name, Boilas, is Bulgarian. His village, Marykatos, located in Bithynia near Lake Apollonias, was in the general area of Slav settlement. As a matter of fact it was directly in the line of march for the Bulgars brought over by Justinian II through Abydos. And his profession, that of soldier for twenty-four years, is consonant with the fact that the emperor intended to use these Bulgars in the armies.


If we can accept the above conclusion, that St. Ioannicius was a descendent of the Bulgars brought into Asia Minor in the seventh century, then we have an interesting example of a ‛Slav’ who had been Byzantinized. His parents were already Christians, as their names, Anastaso and Myritzikos (diminutive of myrh), testify, and Ioannicius became the very picture of the pious Byzantine monk (3). If one accepts the date of the first Bulgarian colonization in Bithynia as 688/9, or even if he places it during the reign of Constans II (4),



(1) Vita Io., pp. 334, 338-9.



·       Theophanes, 364, « πολλὰ πλήθη τῶν Σκλάβων ... εἰς τὰ τοῦ Ὀψικίου διὰ τῆς Ἀβύδου περάσας κατέστησε μέρη » ;

·       Nicephorus, Opuscula Historica, ed. C. de Boor (Leipzig, 1880), p. 36 ;

·       G. Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State (New Brunswick, 1957), pp. 105, 116-117 ;

·       P. Charanis, The Slavic Element in Byzantine Asia Minor in the Thirteenth Century, in Byzantion, XVIII (1946-48), 69-83


 754, the date of the birth of St. Ioannicius, would exclude the possibility of his having belonged to the later group settled in 762 by Constantine V along the Atarnas River.


(3) Vita Io., p. 333.


(4) Charanis, loc. cit., 70 ; Ostrogorsky, op. cit., p. 105.





the assimilation in this particular instance would seem to have been comparatively rapid and complete (1). The two elements operating for this assimilation, as they appear in the Vita, were the army and the church (2).



(1) That such would have been the case is the opinion of Father Dvornik, Les Slaves, Byzance et Rome au IXe siècle (Paris, 1926), p. 102.


« En ce qui concerne les Slaves d'Asie Mineure, ils furent eux aussi touchés par la propagande byzantine. Là, les circonstances étaient favorable à une action rapide. Le milieu était complètement chrétien. Les païens ne pouvaient plus compter sur leurs compatriotes, dont ils étaient séparés, et ils subissaient d'autant plus facilement l'influence byzantine ».


(2) The same combination of army and church appears in the life of St. Paul the Younger, who was related to St. Ioannicius through his mother and whose father was an officer in the fleet. Analecta Bollandiana, XI (1892), 20-1. Of his mother, the Vita Pa. says ;


« κατοικεῖ δὲ ἔν τινι χωρίῳ ὅ τοῦ Πέτρου μὲν λέγεται, προσεχὲς δέ ἐστι τοῖς Μαρυκάτου- κατονομαζομένοις, ὅθεν ὁ θεῖος ἐν μοναχοῖς, Ἰωαννίκιος, ὥρμητο, ἐπεὶ καὶ λόγος διαπεφοίτηκεν οὐ μακρὰν εἶναι γἐνονς αὐτὴν Ἰωαννικίῳ.


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