Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Slavs Invade The Roman Balkans

The Sclaveni (in Latin) were early Slavic tribes that raided, invaded the Eastern Roman Empire and settled the Balkans in the Early Middle Ages along with other South Slav tribes. The Sclaveni were mentioned by early Byzantine chroniclers as barbarians having appeared at the Byzantine borders along with the Antes, another Slavic group.

The Emperor Justinian appears to have changed his policy against Slavic barbarians from attack to defense, exemplified by his grand program of re-fortification of garrisons along the Danube. Procopius notes that in 539/40, the Sklavenes and Antes 'became hostile to one another and engaged in battle. probably encouraged by the Romans' traditional tactic of 'divide and conquer'. At the same time, the Romans recruited mounted mercenaries from both groups to aid their war against the Ostrogoths. 

Both Procopius and Jordanes report numerous raids by "Huns", Slavs, Bulgars and Antes in the years 539–40 AD; reporting that some 32 forts and 120,000 Roman prisoners were captured. Sometime between 533 and 545, the Antes invaded the Diocese of Thrace, enslaving many Romans and taking them north of the Danube to the Antean homelands. Indeed, there was numerous raids during this turbulent decade by numerous barbarians, including the Antes.

I have come to call this the de-Latinization of the Roman Empire.

Raid after raid of barbarians crossed the Danube. Latin and Greek speaking communities loyal to the Empire were "ethnically cleansed". . . . exterminated. . . . and replaced by foreign tribes that hated the Empire. Hostile Slavic tribes were permanently settling lands closer and closer to Constantinople.

Not only were Roman populations decimated, but we see a move to a ruralization of the Empire. Small, medium and even large cities were wiped out. 

These genocidal invasions had the impact of reducing the recruiting grounds for the Roman military machine as well as cutting off tax income to the Empire.

The account below by the historian Procopius gives us a good feel for the Slavic terrorism of the invading tribes.

By Procopius of Caesarea
500 - 554 AD

History of the Wars, Book VII

At about this time an army of Sclaveni amounting to not more than three thousand crossed the Ister River without encountering any opposition, advanced immediately to the Hebrus River (Maritsa), which they crossed with no difficulty, and then split into two parts.

Now the one section of them contained eighteen hundred men, while the other comprised the remainder. And although the two sections were thus separated from each other, the commanders of the Roman army, upon engaging with them, both in lllyricum and in Thrace, were defeated unexpectedly, and some of them were killed on the field of battle, while others Siived themselves by a disorderly flight.

Now after all the generals had fared thus at the hands of the two barbarian armies, though they were far inferior to the Roman forces in number, one section of the enemy engaged with Asbadus. This man was a guard of the Emperor Justinian, since he served among the candidati as they are called, and he was also commander of the cavalry cohorts which from ancient times have been stationed at TzuruUum, the fortress in Thrace, a numerous body of the best troops.

These too the Sclaveni routed with no trouble, and they slew the most of them in a most disgraceful Hight ; they also captured Asbadus and for the moment made him a prisoner, but afterwards they burned him by casting him into a fire, having first flayed strips from the man's back.

The Limitanei troops would have faced the Slavic invaders in this article.

The Limitanei were the static frontier guard troops that replaced the legions in the fourth century CE. The Romans were responding to the fact their long Danube and Rhine frontiers were subject to constant barbarian raids and that their cities were no longer secure.

In a short sighted cost saving move the Eastern Empire the Limitanei saw their pay cancelled by Justinian. 
After this, the eastern Limitanei were no longer professional soldiers, but continued to exist as militia through the Persian Wars and the Arab Conquest.

Having accomplished these things, they turned to plunder all the towns, both of Thrace and of Illyricum, in comparative security ; and both armies captured many fortresses by siege, though they neither had any previous experience in attacking city walls, nor had they dared to come down to the open plain, since these barbarians had never, in fact, even attempted to overrun the land of the Romans.

Indeed it appears that they have never in all time crossed the Ister River with an army before the occasion which I have mentioned above. Then those who had defeated Asbadus plundered everything in order as far as the sea and captured by storm a city on the coast named Topirus,- though it had a garrison of soldiers ; this is the first of the coast towns of Thrace and is twelve days' journey distant from Byzantium.

And they captured it in the following manner. The most of them concealed themselves in the rough ground which lay before the fortifications, while some few went near the gate which is toward the east and began to harass the Romans at the battlements.

Then the soldiers keeping guard there, supposing that they were no more than those who were seen, immediately seized their arms and one and all sallied forth against them. Whereupon the barbarians began to withdraw to the rear, making it appear to their assailants that they were moving off in retreat because they were thoroughly frightened by them ; and the Romans, being drawn into the pursuit, found themselves at a considerable distance from the fortifications.

Then the men in ambush rose from their hiding-places and, placing themselves behind the pursuers, made it no longer possible for them to enter the city. Furthermore, those who had seemed to be in flight turned about, and thus the Romans now came to be exposed to attack on two sides. Then the barbarians, after destroying these to the last man, assaulted the fortifications.

But the inhabitants of the city, deprived as they were of the support of the soldiers, found themselves in a very difficult situation, yet even so they warded off the assailants as well as the circumstances permitted. And at first they resisted successfully by heating oil and pitch till it was very hot and pouring it down on those who were attacking the wall, and the whole population joined in hurling stones upon them and thus came not very far from repelling the danger.

But finally the barbarians overwhelmed them by the multitude of their missiles and forced them to abandon the battlements, whereupon they placed ladders against the fortifications and so captured the city by storm.

Then they slew all the men immediately, to the number of fifteen thousand, took all the valuables as plunder, and reduced the children and women to slavery. Before this, however, they had spared no age. but both these and the other group, since the time when they fell upon the land of the Romans, had been killing all who fell in their way, young and old alike, so that the whole land inhabited by the Illyrians and Thracians came to be everywhere filled with unburied corpses.

Now they killed their victims, not with sword nor spear, nor in any other accustomed manner, but by planting very firmly in the earth stakes which they had made exceedingly sharp, and seating the poor wretches upon these with great violence, driving the point of the stake between the buttocks and forcing it up into the intestines ; thus did they see fit to destroy them.

These barbarians also had a way of planting four thick stakes very deep in the ground, and after binding the feet and hands of the captives to these they would then assiduously beat them over the head with clubs, killing them like dogs or snakes or any other animal. Others again they would imprison in their huts together with their cattle and sheep—those, of course, which they were utterly unable to take with them to their native haunts —and then they would set fire to the huts without mercy.

Thus did the Sclaveni consistently destroy those who fell in their way. But from this time onward both these and those of the other group, being as it were drunk with the great quantity of blood they had shed, saw fit to make prisoners of some who fell into their hands, and consequently they were taking with them countless thousands of prisoners when they all departed on the homeward way.

Slavic warrior fighting with Byzantine infantryman.

The Empire and the Ostrogoth Kingdom in 535AD
The Emperor Justinian bled the Empire white in efforts to re-conquer North Africa, Spain and Italy.
Starting in 535AD Roman armies invaded the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. For ten years the Empire's troops were being pulled out of Anatolia and the Balkans and sent to Italy. The defensive strength of Roman Limes along the Danube got thinner and weaker by the year. Then came the barbarian Slavs crossing the Danube and roaming the Empire almost at will.

(History of the Wars, Book VII)      (Sclaveni)


donald said...

good piece ... procopius great historian writer

yuppykyheymf said...

gary !!! great piece
have you any idea if those slavic are now the serbian or albanians ?
Callabassas TX

donald said...

I think those now are bulgurs ...

Gary said...

The Balkans has been over run and re-over run. So much mixture of peoples.

donald said...

its almost as likeable as Soviet "staline moving people schemes" ... in a small scale ... i mean in the balkans ...
as Tartar crimeans move out ... by staline order , or others like don cossacks and else ...
ethnic cleansing on the move as often ... or illegal migration schemes too

donald said...

not mentioning east europe suabian germans cleansing , or russian , and nazi jews pogroms and murderers ... or that armenian shoah too in anatolia
balkans in the process are quiet still ... unless that XX 20`s move from greeks from turkey to greece , or turks from greece to turkey ...
balkans since 45 , move borders ... but not peoples in a massive scale ... so they kept their own nationalities , sloveneans, croatians, serbians, montenegros, macedonians, bosnians , and them those kosovars too ... bulgurs, romenians , ... greeks ... hungarian romanians ... they don`t mix as much as you say ...

donald said...

a new york starbucks got more mixtures than that ... believe it ...
and i`m not mentioning those lattes and else other 3.907 mixtures

donald said...

tribal apartheid are still enduring in most of the regions on earth ...
look at those tutsi hutu rift , on that two tribes in mugage land , those xhosas and zulus south africans, or the han empire of one ethnic breed , turkey without kurds ...
well ... mixtures are more common in america and europe ... i reckon
how funny ...
who wander ?!
that why americas and europe are on the forefront of knowledge ... and a beacon of freedom and promise land ... to all
even those balkans

donald said...

do i have a point ?

yuppykyheymf said...

many thanks ...
its like here in Texas
no tribes ... all texans

Lazar said...

A local view of things.
Balkans are not so moveable as one must thought .
Sure borders change , but nationalities are kept solid and vibrant .
Since those ancient times .
Sometimes one ruler , romans, then east romans, then the othmans , then the habsburgs , or finally the titists , got the way to force union enclosure but it was a fake one , bound by swords first and guns after .
The ideal world on Balkans is ... as one must reckon, the EU one , people got their own identity , but are free to mingle with ever they want .
Neverdless the EU ideal is been undermine by fascist putinesc moves .
Its a shame .
As they got also traitors inside to undermine the EU ideal a bigger shame.
For some the creation of wealth , its a more dangerous deal , than poverty for all.
Thats why we in balkans seek the way to EU .
Lazar from Beograd

gavrilo from the sava said...

I enjoy this post a lot.
Slavic a bunch of merry , old , jolly good fellows , like chetnicks or untachis .
Theres other ways than the EU to move on freedom and economic growth.
But never are better than those.

albert einstein jr. said...

i miss the habsburg empire ...
really cosmopolitan life , and upgrade mix of peoples ... and tolerance
most europe XX sciences and arts got a lot to thanks on those old rulers ...
but that cannot stop nationalisms ... cause habsburgs miss nations representation ...
bound to fail

Anonymous said...

how about moldavia , and transnistria ?
are in balkans too ?

d`annunzio said...

how about those italians that by force leave the dalmatian islands ?
nobody cares on them
mix what ?

EL Ridge "the cleaver" said...

over here in oakland is Balkans too

Anonymous said...

where`s the new piece gary ?
december here

herc said...

wheres new posts gary ?
are you holidaying ?
in Ventura ?
or upper north to Big Sur ?
maybe you surfing in Mavericks ?
or else ?

Anonymous said...

still lacking the December post

herc said...

December ... December ( cover September by David Sylvian )

Anonymous said...

still late

venizelos jr. said...

Xmas holidays ?
no post ?
are you awaken ?

Unknown said...

how stupid and crazy you have to be to believe in such nonsense.The story that the Slavs (Serbians) came and conquered the Roman Empire in the Balkans was written as a fairy tale for small children, and it can be compared to the English one about a sword in a stone and King Arthur, which never even existed. be aware when you say that the Slavs came and conquered the Roman legions and the Illyrians who were there, the Romans fought against them(Illyrians ) for 300 years and could not defeat them so they disappeared. They accepted the rule of the Romans after the defeat by the Roman Empire, but remained to live there and were Rome's most elite army, so there were no better ones in the Roman Empire. And now you say, that the Slavs crossed miles and miles, with women and children, and attacked those elite units of the Roman army and subdued them within a few years and wiped them off the face of the earth. no one knows who the Illyrians were and where they disappeared.(it even says somewhere that Slavs crossed the Danube by taking a reed and diving into the water and using the reed to breathe underwater, as a diving respirator ... who can believe in such nonsense, these stories are complete idiotism, I I really don't understand how they managed to convince the people to learn this kind of nonsense through history, but if I remember communism, then everything is clear to me, the people who are afraid accept all kinds of nonsense) .So according to this theory (later I will come to the source who first published this theory), the Slavs came from afar, with all the women and children, killed all the Illyrians (to repeat the most elite units of the Roman Empire) and defeated the Roman army, and then within a few years, completely erased the history of that people and imposed their language, their culture, their fashion, pottery, the way of making a house and so on. After a few years the Serbs founded their empires, army, money, cultural goods built the largest monuments in Europe at the time
and they managed to do it all within 100 years, and the Roman Empire when it conquered the area could not do it for 300 years or more, and even then they failed to completely subdue the Illyrians and wipe them off the face of the earth, and the Slavs did it within 100 years. So is this story real, of course not because if you look at all the facts you will see that there were no changes in culture, population, language, and even surnames among the Illyrians and Serbs. You have maps from that time that no one looks at, and you can find everything on them, and that is that one part of Herzegovina has written surnames (in Latin, of course, the list was made by Romans)
surnames are identical with the surnames of today's Serbs living in these areas, I want to say that even today people bear the same surnames as those written by the Romans on maps from Herzegovina

Gary said...

****how stupid and crazy you have to be to believe in such nonsense.The story that the Slavs (Serbians) came and conquered the Roman Empire in the Balkans was written as a fairy tale for small children****

Thanks for your thoughts . . . call me crazy but someone invaded and conquered the locals. The Slavic invasions are simply historical fact.

Unknown said...

Your post is biased and slavophobic, and there is serious lack of historical knowledge. First of all how do you think Roman empire came to rule almost all known world ? By being nice and democratic or by brutally murdering, raping and ethnically cleansing locals ? Call that first genocide and ethnic cleansing. Second you don't seem to have even the slightliest clue about Balkan peninsula of that era. Slavs were hardly the first raiders and invadors, that has been a trend for centuries Huns, Avars, several Germanic tribes including Goths and many more (I won't open this late history book to search). Balkan was a border area and as a result of it, centuries of warfare, not even counting Roman civil wars and tribes clashing, was depopulated as it is. And Slavs did raid it but they also settled and intermarried with the locals which can also be seen today when they make y chromosome tests. And Vlachs existed in the entire Balkan peninsula up until 19. century when most of them fleeing Turkish oppression and wars fled to Romania with some small exceptions. And Slavs had a democratic culture where all people were seen as equals, even if they took slaves, after a while they would be obliged to offer them a choice, either remain there with them as equals or go where ever you want. There was no permanent slavery or inherited slavery like in Roman empire or USA.

Gary said...

"Slavophobic" - - - I love it. Always something new.