from 6th to the 9th Century

FROM THE SIXTH TO THE NINTH CENTURY

POLITICAL HISTORY

The three centuries which elapsed between the death of Justinian 1(565) and the accession of Basil 1 (867) are a shadowy period in the history of Macedonia, as also in that of other regions of the Byzantine empire, and other aspects of its general history. Historical writers after Prokopios provide very little information about Macedonia. We can draw information of a local, specific character from a hagiographical text which narrates the miracles of Saint Demetrios, patron of Thessalonike (see page 263).1 The use of inscriptions, coins, seals, architectural and other archaeological material is still in its early stages.

The poor and fragmented evidence at our disposal is, moreover, extremely unbalanced. It chiefly concerns the raids of various invaders, and the defensive measures taken by the local population; and it is only indirectly that we can deduce from such evidence information concerning the administration and the Church. Neither the economic and social history of the area nor the public and private life of its inhabitants has yet been adequately studied.

As a general rule one may say that so long as the empire kept its eyes on the West (towards which Macedonia was an important stepping-stone), Byzantine historiography occupied itself to a greater extent with Macedonia; but when the political orientation of the empire was diverted eastwards, the regions to the west of Thrace finally lost their importance in the minds of the ruling class, and therefore in the historiographical tradition too.

NEW BARBARIAN INVASIONS: AVARS AND SLAVS

The Byzantine state, which was the continuation of the eastern part of the Roman empire, reacted more efficiently than the West to the pressures from the peoples who dwelt beyond the frontier. Byzantium suffered from repeated invasions, but was successful in preventing them from having any lasting effect until the mid-sixth century. Moreover, it was able to find sufficient forces to support the Justinianic reconquest of the West. Yet it was exactly this policy, which severely stretched the resources of the Byzantine state, that brought about the fragmentation of its forces in a period when a policy of retrenchment was needed, and shifted the balance of power to the profit of the empire's external enemies, whether organized states or migratory hordes. The gravest dangers came from the East: until the early seventh century from the powerful Persian kingdom, and from 640 onwards from the young and dynamic Muslim caliphate. In face of these threats, the Byzantine emperors turned their attention and threw their forces mainly eastwards, thus depriving their Balkan territories of the protection they so urgently needed. In this way the northern Balkans were lost, while the southern Balkans were invaded and settled in varying degrees both by new peoples and by populations transplanted from other parts of the empire either on their own initiative or by the state it self.

During the first decades of the sixth century, Hunnic and Slavonic tribes appeared on the northern frontier of the empire and started raiding the northern provinces of the Balkan peninsula, as has already been mentioned above. This situation was aggravated towards the end of the reign of Justinian 1(527-65) due to the appearance of new and more dynamic invaders of Hunnic extraction.2

The most important among these invaders were the Avars, or more precisely those Avar tribes which did not submit to the Turks after their defeat in 555 and moved westwards from their Asiatic home. Justinian did not allow them to cross the Danube, and so they moved further west. A warlike nation, well organized under a leader whose title was rendered into Greek by the Byzantine writers as Xaganos (Khagan), the Avars exploited the opposition between the Germanic tribes of the Lombards and Gepids in order to become the incontestable masters of the area to the north of the river Sava. The powerful state that they founded extended from the Danube to the Dnieper and the Baltic Sea and included as its subjects other Turanic peoples, such as the Utigurs and the Kutrigurs, as well as Slavs. In their raids against the Byzantine empire, the Avars were accompanied by bands of their subject populations, especially the Slavs, to the point that we can speak of Avaro-Slav raids. Thus when the Greeks began to suffer from the raids, the slavs  were under the yoke of the  Avars ; and it was for this reoson that their Greek names (Sklavenoi, Sthavenoi, Sklavoi, Slavoi, Sthlavoi) came to denote , much later, the staus of slavery.

The original home of the Slavs was in the Pripet  marshes and the territories to the north of the Carpathian Mountains - an area which corresponds to present-day eastern Poland, southern White Russia and northern Little Russia. Expelled thence by other raiders, they reached the areas to the north of the Danube, where as has already been mentioned they were subjugated by the Avars.

Having established themselves in central Europe, the Avars, together with their subject peoples, confronted the Byzantine empire as enemies. Absorbed in his struggle against the Persians, the emperor Maurice (582-602) not only failed to check their advance into imperial territory in the north of the Balkan peninsula, but also submitted to their claim for a substantial annual tribute. However, the successful outcome of the Byzantine-Persian war in 591 allowed Byzantium to transfer military forces to Thrace in order to repel the Avars, Slavs, and other followers of the Avars.

It is not easy to follow the Avaro-Slav raids because there was no stable front and besides the Khagan of the.... See Macedonia 4000 of Greek History and Civilization, Ekdotike Athinon 1988 

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