Παρασκευή, 13 Νοεμβρίου 2015

Slavic Ethnogenesis and Great Power Diplomacy

By Petar Milich Washington University, St. Louis

The past three decades of this century witnessed important paradigm shifts
spanning a wide range of issues seminal to Byzantine studies. The urban continuity/
discontinuity debate, for example, represents a prime example of ongoing
reassessment in action. Although the continuity/discontinuity thesis continues
to spark lively debate, it is instructive that the original framework of
discussion, propounded decades ago, has undergone detailed nuancing.1
Archaeology and numismatics clearly played an important role in changing
the parameters of debate. Meanwhile, within Slavistik equally important
paradigm shifts took place over the same timeframe. While it is true
Byzantinists who double as Slavists are keenly aware of these trends,

1 A. Kazhdan and A. Cutler, “Continuity and Discontinuity in Byzantine History,” Byzantion
52 (1982): 429–78. This work remains the standard overview of the cardinal positions on both
sides of the intellectual divide, with the authors arguing for discontinuity. The exchange of
broadsides over continuity/discontinuity actually began in the late 1950s and early 1960s,
largely in response to G. Ostrogorsky’s “Byzantine Cities in the Early Middle Ages,”
Dumbarton Oaks Papers 13 (1959): 47–66. Since the literature on this subject is vast, I will
confine my remarks to a handful of recent contributions in English I regard as most germane.
M. Rautman’s “Archaeology and Byzantine Studies,” Byzantinische Forschungen 15 (1990):
137–65, provides in-depth discussion of the intellectual currents suffusing Byzantine
archaeology over the decades. C. Foss, “The Persians in Asia Minor and the End of Antiquity,”
English Historical Review 90 (1975): 721–47, took the debate to a new level with a broader
evidential sampling. For a critique on the limitations of archaeological evidence, see J. C.
Russell, “Transformations in Early Byzantine Urban Life: The Contribution and Limitations of
Archaeological Evidence,” in The 17th International Byzantine Congress, Major Papers (New
Rochelle, 1986): 137–54.
J. F. Haldon’s Byzantium in the Seventh Century: The Transformation of a Culture
(Cambridge, 1990) posits the primacy of internal forces in the transformation of Late Antiquity.
Most seminal is K. Randsborg’s “Between Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages: New
Evidence of Economic Change,” Antiquity 64 (1990): 122–27 (hereafter, Randsborg,
“Antiquity”). The relevance of Randsborg’s much-neglected arguments for Byzantinistik should
not be underestimated. For a discussion of trends in the Balkans, see J.D. Howard-Johnson,
“Urban Continuity in the Balkans in the Early Middle Ages,” in Ancient Bulgaria. Papers
Presented to the International Symposium on the Ancient History and Archaeology of Bulgaria,
Part I, ed. A. G. Poulter (Nottingham, 1981).

Byzantine scholarship outside this inner sanctum has yet to grasp its import
and to assess its implications for a broad spectrum of topics, including the
urban continuity/discontinuity thesis.2
Slavists have recently propounded fascinating theories that shed new light
on seemingly insoluble problems including Slavic ethnogenesis or the equally
vexing question over the nature and extent of the Slavic migrations and installations
in the Balkans.3 What are the implications of these paradigm shifts?
For Byzantinists interested in acculturation mechanisms, the future looks
bright indeed as new approaches to old problems are being elucidated. Yet
there is one caveat. While researchers are poised to make the transition to a
higher niveaux, the unfolding political drama in the Balkans tends to eclipse
initiatives aimed at reconstructing the past based on those new methodologies,
methodologies that do not lend themselves easily to partisan manipulation.
The time has come for a serious discussion about the nature and extent of this
phenomenon, for in an oblique way it is Byzantine studies as a whole that is
under attack.4

2 H. Birnbaum, “The Slavic Settlements in the Balkans and the Eastern Alps,” in Byzantine
Studies: Essays on the Slavic World and the Eleventh Century, ed. Speros Vryonis, Jr. (New
Rochelle, 1992) (hereafter cited as Birnbaum, “Settlements”). Birnbaum provides a detailed
overview of recent linguistic scholarship on the Slavs. Much progress has been made in the
reconstruction of Common Slavic. See, for example, H. Birnbaum and P. T. Merrill, Recent
Advances in the Reconstruction of Common Slavic (Columbus, Ohio, 1985). See also P. Iviç,
“Balkan Slavic Migrations in the Light of South Slavic Dialectology,” in Aspects of the
Balkans: Continuity and Change., ed. H. Birnbaum and S. Vryonis, Jr. (The Hague and Paris,
1972), 66–86 (hereafter cited as Iviç, “Migrations”). Cf. Birnbuam’s earlier work, “The
Original Homeland of the Slavs and the Problem of Early Slavic Linguistic Contacts,” Journal
of Indo-European Studies 1 (1973): 407–21, written before the most recent paradigm shift
3 O. Pritsak, “The Slavs and the Avars,” Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano sull’ alto
Medioevo 30 (1983): 353–432 (hereafter cited as Pritsak). Pritsak’s study remains one of the
more controversial theses advanced to date. An equally provocative thesis is H. Kunstmann’s
Beiträge zur Geschichte der Besiedlung Nord-und Mitteldeutschlands mit Balkanslaven
(Munich, 1987). Significantly, Kunstmann has received the cautious endorsement of senior
4 S. Vryonis., “Recent Scholarship on the Continuity and Discontinuity of Culture: Classical
Greeks, Byzantines, Modern Greeks,” in The “Past” in Medieval and Modern Greek Culture,
ed. S. Vryonis (Malibou, 1978), 236–56 (hereafter cited as Vryonis, “Scholarship”). Vryonis
wrote this piece at a time when détente was in full swing and U.S.-Soviet relations were
enjoying a pre-Reagan thaw. Thus, the milieu was ripe for sober analysis of partisan
motivations vis-á-vis Byzantinistik during the height of the Cold War by a certain clique of
Western scholars. See also the companion piece by W. Goldschmidt, “The Cultural View of
History and the Historical View of Culture,” in Vryonis, Past, 227–35, and A. L. Kroeber and
C. Kluckhohn, Culture, A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (Cambridge, Mass.,

There is no shortage of literature these days dealing with the so-called
Wars of Yugoslav secession. The output staggers the imagination. There is,
however, a subtle yet consistent theme running through much of this literature
that should give Byzantinists pause for concern simply because it resurrects
old and unsavory themes such as original settlers/historical rights. This particular
thread lies at the core of a spate of recent books on Bosnia-
Herzegovina and Kosovo.5
In this regard it is interesting to note that striking parallels exist here too
between recent scholarly output on the Balkans and nineteenth-century debate
on the Slavic Landnahme. Today it is fashionable to dismiss the early debates
over the origins of the Slavs as representing hieroglyphs masking nineteenthcentury
political and cultural issues.6 Yet in view of recent developments it
appears future historians will condemn us for being prisoners of our own
This paper will explore the nexus between nationalism in nineteenth- and
twentieth-century scholarship on Byzantium and recently elaborated
paradigms regarding Slavic ethnogenesis. It will focus on scholars whose
published works once again engender controversy. Our discussion begins
with a precis of Jacob P. Fallmerayer’s Geschichte der Halbinsel Morea
während des Mittelalters, the first edition of which was published in Stuttgart
between 1830–36.7 Fallmerayer exercised a profound influence on subsequent
scholarship regarding Slavic migrations and installations in Greece. His first
edition postulated the virtual extirpation of Greeks in the Balkan Penninsula
at the hands of the Slavs. The descendants of Pericles had perished in the
Slavonic deluge that followed in the wake of Maurice’s fateful deposition in
A.D. 602. Not a single drop of Greek, or for that matter Nordic, blood coursed

5 N. Malcolm, Bosnia: A Short History (New York, 1994); Idem, Kosovo: A Short History
(New York, 1998); R. D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghost: A Journey Through History (New York,
1993); M. A. Sells, The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (Berkeley, 1996).
6 R. Roessler, “Über den zeitpunkt der slavischen Ansiedlung an der unteren Donau,”
Sitzungsberichte d. Kais. d. Wissenschaften, Phil-Hist. Klasse 73 (1873): 77–126. Together
with Fallmerayer, Roessler was the modern architect of the Landnahme thesis. His work was a detailed refutation of P. J. ·afárik’s classic peaceful infiltration theory, titled Les Antiquites
slaves (Prague, 1836–37). For an important nineteenth-century analysis cut in the Von Rankean mold of “objective historiography,” see K. Jireãek’s excellent and indispensable Geschichte der Serben, vol. 1 (Gotha, 1911), vol. 2, part 1 (Gotha, 1918). See also, idem, Die Heerstraße von Belgrad nach Constantinopel und die Balkanpässe (Prague, 1877).
7 J. Fallmerayer, Geschichte der Halbinsel Morea während des Mittelalters (1830–36; reprint, Hildesheim, 1965). Fallmerayer’s work represents his belated responsa to the political action of the Philhellenes, who had made inroads into the then emerging public opinion on the Continent.
For a modern analogue from the 1950s see T. Spencer, Fair Greece! Sad Relic. Literary
Philhellenism from Shakespeare to Byron (London, 1954).

through the veins of these interlopers. According to Fallmerayer, the Slavs
abandoned their putative Urheimat, localized by various nineteenth- and
twentieth-century scholars in the Odra, Vistula, or Teterev river basins. They
subsequently made their descent upon the Balkan Peninsula, where in post-
Modern parlance they committed ethnic cleansing writ large.
These Slavs were superficially Hellenized. This circumstance was accomplished
through the missionary efforts of the Emperors and bureaucrats
resident in Constantinople. Thus Fallmerayer was an early proponent of racial
and political discontinuity. Significantly, as descendants of the Slavs, the
modern Greeks would somehow be favorably disposed toward their kinsmen
in Russia. This posed a dilemma for the Great Powers of the West, particularly
the English. Preventing the newly liberated Greek State, as it was then
constituted, from becoming a Russian client was of paramount concern to the
Foreign Office because of Greece’s strategic position in the Eastern
Mediterranean basin. The West could ill afford to dither about and let the
Russians acquire all that waterfront property.
It has been well established that Fallmerayer’s thesis had everything to do
with the exigencies of great power politics in the 1830s. Specifically, it was
aimed at undercutting Philhellene propaganda on behalf of the Greek cause—
a case eloquently laid out by Byron on the basis of repaying cultural debts.
Critical inquiry over the nature and extent of the Slavic Landnahme was
not the intended purpose of Fallmerayer’s work. Again, by arguing that the
Greeks were Hellenized Slavs, Fallmerayer was making the case for Western
intervention in the Balkans not because of some Philhellenic drivel over cultural
debts that had to be repaid, but as a means of thwarting Russian expansion
and control over the Straits.
Fallmerayer’s thesis has an explicit twentieth-century analogue in the
works of the distinguished Byzantinist, Romily Jenkins.8 As S. Vryonis, Jr.
has aptly demonstrated, Jenkins’ works are suffused with rather unsavory

8 R. Jenkins, Byzantium and Byzantinism. Lectures in Memory of Louise Taft Semple
(Cincinnati, 1963) (hereafter cited as Jenkins, “Byzantinism,”); idem, Byzantium, The Imperial
Centuries A.D. 610–1071 (New York, 1966). The core of Jenkin’s political views and
Fallmerayer’s revival are tucked discreetly between the pages of these two works. G. Arnakis
was the first to respond to Jenkin’s assertions, see “Byzantium and Greece. A Review Article a
propos of Romily Jenkins, Byzantium and Byzantinism,” Balkan Studies 4 (1963): 379–400.
Jenkin’s views elicited a belated riposte from G. Veloudis, “Jacob Philipp Fallmerayer und die
Entstehung des neugriechischen Historismus,” Südost-Forschungen 29 (1970): 43–90. Cyrill
Mango joined the fray subsequently when he weighed in to defend Jenkins with his
“Byzantinism and Romantic Hellenism,” Journal of the Warburg and Cortauld Institutes 28
(1965): 29–43. See also his necrology of Jenkins, “Romily James Heald Jenkins (1907–69),”
Dumbarton Oaks Papers 23–24 (1969–70).

statements about the racial superiority of Nordic man over homo Byzantinus.
Jenkins, who certainly knew his Greek well, engaged in the willful mistranslation
of primary sources, such as the infamous sly Slavic faces caper from
De Thematibus, in order to underscore a massive Slavic presence in the
Jenkins subscribed to Fallmerayer’s views regarding the Slavic origins of
the Modern Greek race in a biological sense. His elaborate arguments make
much more sense when set against the backdrop of the Cold War. Jenkins advocated
Western policy aimed at keeping the Soviet Union from gaining a
toehold on the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. In this regard, the parallels
between Jenkins and Fallmerayer are quite manifest as both opposed further
extension of Russian influence in the Balkans into Greece.
We also know that Jenkins viewed Byzantine autocracy as the progenitor
of Soviet totalitarianism. Of course the Soviet Union is no more, yet it is interesting
to note how many policy studies analysts inside the Beltway have
extended the logic to encompass post-Soviet Russia. Russia is incapable of
effecting the transition from totalitarianism to democracy in the same way
that Byzantium failed to make the transition to a fully-fledged, Western-style
feudalism, and ultimately, to modernity. Russia must be kept isolated and
prevented from regaining former territories in the so-called “Near Abroad,”
much less the Balkans, which the U.S. now clearly regards as being within its
political sphere of influence. Hence, Toynbee’s fossil thesis seems to resonate
well with the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski or Sandy Burger.10
Curiously, whether consciously or unconsciously, Jenkins’ static conception
of Byzantine culture appears to have found fertile ground in the imagination
and works of Samuel P. Huntington, who holds that certain cultures (i.e.,
among them those derived from static and immutable Byzantium) are not

9 Constantine Porphyrogenitos, De thematibus, ed. I. Bekker (Bonn, 1840). Modern edition by
A. Petrusi (Vatican, 1952), 91. Jenkins chose to render the passage in question, garasdoeides
opsis esthlabomene, as “sly Slavic faces,” a deliberate mistranslation of the text in order to
bolster the impression that the Slavic presence in the Peloponnessos was greater than it actually
was. This is hardly oversight from a scholar whose command of Classical and Medieval Greek
was impressive to say the least.
10 J. Heilbrunn and M. Lind, “The Third American Empire,” New York Times, 2 January 1996,
late edition, section A, p. 15. Most seminal in the elucidation of Washington’s new grand
strategic policy that views the Balkans as the Western terminus of a broad political sphere of
influence whose core represents the Caucasus and the Muslim world. See also, Mortimer
Zuckerman, “The Big Game Gets Bigger. Russia Will Gain Wealth and Influence If It Controls
Caspian Sea Oil,” U.S. News and World Report, 10 May 1999 (http://www.usnews.com/
usnews/issue/990510/10edit.htm), and Michael T. Klare, “The Clinton Doctrine,” The Nation
Magazine, 19 April 1998. “West Dragged into Reluctant Colonialism in Bosnia,” Reuters, 19
August 1998.

assimilable into the matrix of Western Civilization. Such proponents seem to
forget that Eastern and Western Europe derived their formal cultures from a
single matrix, the Christian Roman Empire.11
Huntington’s thesis cannot simply be dismissed as an aberration for, as is
well known, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and individual senior pundits at the New
York Times have for some time exchanged intellectual broadsides over the
validity and place of homo byzantinus, and by extension, slavia orthodoxa
within the cultural-historical scheme of things.12
The scholarship of Fallmerayer and Jenkins is suffused with political and
racial overtones. The reason for this is that Jenkins derived many of these
ideas from Arthur de Gobineau.13 Considerable ink has been spilled by others
on the rejection of these ideas and why this should be the case. It is not my
intention to vilify or to recuse Fallmerayer and Jenkins. I merely wish to point
out the irony of our present circumstances, for we have indeed come full
circle—Arnold Toynbee must be smiling. Meanwhile, the real issues of any
consequence, namely Slavic ethnogenesis, Slavic migrations and installations

11 S. P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations,” Foreign Affairs 72 (Summer 1993): 22–49
(cited hereafter as Huntington, “Clash”). Huntington is Albert J. Weatherhead III Professor at
Harvard University and a contemporary proponent of Jenkensian culture theory. This particular
article contains the kernel of his views vis-à-vis the inassimilable homo byzantinus which he of
course subsequently reworked into his controversial book, The Clash of Civilizations and the
Remaking of the World Order (New York, 1996).
12 A. I. Solzhenitsyn, “Solzhenitsyn Compares NATO, Hitler,” The Moscow Times, 29 April
13 A. de Gobineau, The Inequality of Human Races, trans. A. Collins, (New York, 1915).
Vryonis is quite right when he states that the Comte de Gobineau’s views on racial theory
continue to exercise a profound influence on Western scholarship (Vryonis, “Scholarship,” n.
38, p. 256). Little did he dream the cycle would repeat itself after the collapse of the U.S.S.R
proof positive that a resurgent Russia, not Communism (a Western intellectual construct after
all) was in the end the principal threat to Western security. For instance, in “The Premature
Partnership,” Foreign Affairs 73 (March-April 1994): 72, Brzezinski states: “Russia can be
either an empire or a democracy, but it cannot be both.” Brzezinski then goes on to say that
Russia is becoming another empire and its advance in the “near abroad” must be checked. In an
article written three years later, Brzezinski minces no words as he advocates an American
Drang nach Osten to the Caucasus whose goal is the isolation of Russia; see The Grand
Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (New York, 1977). For
iterations on the Brzezinski thesis see R. Holbrooke, “America, A European Power,” Foreign
Affairs 75, nos. 4–5 (March-April 1995): 38–51, and David Gompert, “How to Defeat Serbia,”
Foreign Policy 73 (July-August 1994): 30–42. Vryonis’s identification of Jenkins’s racial
views with those of H. Guenther (The Racial Elements of European History; London, 1927) is
most apt, only now we can add the names of S. Huntington, J. Kirkpatrick, and Z. Brzezinski,
inter alia, to the list of rabid Byzantophobes. Cf. J. Barzun, Race, A Study in Modern
Superstition (New York, 1937). See also C. Coon, The Races of Europe (New York, 1939) for
incisive critiques of Gobineauian theory.

in the Balkans are in danger of being relegated to the background at a critical
juncture. Detours of this sort will gain us no new insights.
Viewed from this perspective, Dimitri Obolensky’s Byzantine
Commonwealth and Robert Browning’s Byzantium and Bulgaria represented
important departures from the intellectual malaise implicit in past histories.
Their approaches to culture broadened discussion by moving the methodological
pegs beyond the confines of strictly political and biological issues. In so
doing it was possible for Browning to argue for evolution in Byzantine culture,
while Obolensky could press the case for a more holistic view of
Byzantine culture.14 Methodologically, Obolensky’s emphasis on identifying
acculturative mechanisms helped pave the way for subsequent studies by
Vladislav Popoviç and Zhivka Vuzharova that pushed the envelop further.
Of course, the primary focus of Obolensky’s study was the upper end of
the settlement hierarchy, on institutions that translated Byzantine formal culture
to the Slavs, meaning monastic scriptoria such as those in and around
Preslav, on Mount Athos, or throughout Nemanjiç Serbia.
Obolensky paid short shrift to the issue of cultural interaction during the
Slavic migration period. He did so because he viewed these contacts as
ephemeral.15 It seems the depredations wrought by the Slavs between the
sixth and seventh centuries were simply too extensive. The Balkans became a
tabula rasa. His explanation was that Slavic social evolution produced autarkic
and inchoate communities that simply did not possess the requisite political
structures needed to maintain sustained interaction with a centralized state.
In his view, during the Slavic migration period the Balkans were
… sinking under a deluge of savagery and extermination… No Clovis
or Theoderic arose among the Slavs during the first two centuries of
their sojourn in the Balkans to mold their scattered communities into
a nation or state and to enable their barbarian culture to achieve a
peaceful and profitable symbiosis with the Greco-Roman civilization
of Byzantium.16

14 R. Browning, Byzantium and Bulgaria (London, 1975). D. Obolensky, Byzantine
Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500–1453 (London, 1971). It is interesting to note that
Obolensky’s Commonwealth has gone out of print, in addition to Thomas Emmert’s Serbian
Golgotha: Kosovo, 1389, and Monumenta Serbo-Croatica. If the attrition rate continues at this
pace, university instructors will have little of substance in English to offer their students. For
the moment, John V.A. Fine’s two-volume survey of Medieval Balkan History is available as is
Marvin Kantor’s Medieval Slavic Lives; again, for the moment.
15 Obolensky, Commonwealth, 47 ff.
16 Idem, 57.

Obolensky went on, of course, to posit the existence of a Byzantine
Commonwealth, a concept no doubt inspired by the model of the British
Commonwealth of nations. Obolensky’s use of an explicitly modern political
construct to describe a pre-modern phenomenon has rightly engendered some
criticism. However, the principal objection lies in the issue of mimesis. To
what degree was Symeon’s Bulgaria or Stefan Du‰an’s Serbia a carbon-copy
of Byzantium? Are we not dealing with two fundamentally disparate cultures,
with a veneer of Byzantinization? Here Obolensky and Robert Browning part
company even though on the question of the Slavic invasions and migrations
there is consensus, for both invoke the tabula-rasa scenario.17
Many Slavists have recently questioned the validity of referring to sixthcentury
Slavs as socially aware of themselves as a distinct sociolinguistic
community. One such approach is often dubbed the Altaic school. The doyen
of this evolving approach is Omeljan Pritsak, who holds that the term Slav
means “trained slave.”18 Thus the term Slav is not an ethnonym but a terminus
technicus that Jordanes and Procopius clearly understood in their day and
used with this explicit sense in mind. Its original meaning became garbled
over the course of the next few centuries when the self-ascription Slav eventually
assumed the meaning of an ethnonym, sometime between the final
destruction of the Avar Khaganate by the Franks, and the dispatch of the
Cyrillo-Methodian missions. According to Pritsak, the Slavs were the amphibious
assault troops of their day, who with their single-straker monoxyla
specialized in riverine operations and in guerilla warfare. These warriors
underwent rigorous training in special camps run by Avars, and other groups
belonging to the confederation. When viewed from Pritsak’s perspective,
Jordanes’s enigmatic references to vagina nationum or officina gentium
assume an explicit meaning.
All of the constructs just discussed represent iterations on the theme of
elite dominance. Under an elite dominance regime, a small group of warrior
horsemen, in this case Avars from the steppes, asserts political mastery over
sedentary folk because they are highly stratified vis-à-vis their more egalitarian
subjects. Moreover, they possess superior military technology, including
some degree of poliorketic skills, and they use trained slaves as the shock
troops of their day to complement their cavalry operations. During Bayan’s
campaigns of the 580s for instance, Avar cavalry operated chiefly in the

17 R. Browning, Byzantium and Bulgaria. An eloquent proponent of evolution in Byzantine
culture, Browning nonetheless postulates discontinuity (tabula rasa, his phrase) for the
barbarian successor states of the Balkans. See Medieval and Modern Greek (London, 1969).
18 Pritsak, “Slavs and Avars,” 383 ff.

Danubian plain, while the Slavs under their authority exploited their militaryecological
According to Pritsak, Slavic self-awareness was induced from above, by
the more highly stratified Avars. Through Avar interventions, many segments
of the Romanized and non-Romanized substratum of the Balkan Peninsula
acquired social and linguistic cohesion in the military training camps.
Interestingly, this approach accords rather well with recent findings on the
linguistic origins of Common Slavic. The crystallization of Common Slavic
did not occur until the sixth century after Christ. Moreover, the first cultural
complexes attributable to the Slavs correspond to the fifth and sixth centuries.
Clearly the late fifth and sixth centuries represent an important phase in the
sociolinguistic development of the future Slavs.19 However, this does not
mean that the bearers of Korchak or Prague-like pottery, whose language and
material culture had recently coalesced, viewed themselves as a broad sociolinguistic
community that used the macro-ethnonym Slav.
One explanation for this is that linguistic groups are not always synonymous
with social groups. The crystallization of Common Slavic and the subsequent
cultural development of the Slavs may well be the result of convergence,
not cultural isolation. Common Slavic developed over an extensive
and fluid area that included various linguistic groups and overlapping, permeable
cultural complexes much like a palimpsest. Its development took place
after groups had settled, and not while they were on the move, for migrations
tend to smooth out linguistic differences. Thus, the assumptions of a unitary
Slavic homeland, a unitary Common Slavic idiom, an ethnogenesis that
occurred millennia ago, and large-scale, long distance migration do not sustain
The recent rejection of nineteenth-century norms on the linguistic unity of
Common Slavic represented an important step in establishing a new reconstruction.
We now know that dialectal diversity among the speakers of
Common Slavic was greater than previously thought. The error is attributable
to nineteenth-century Slavists who supposed that Common Slavic developed
along the same lines as the Romance languages, which in turn supposedly
derived from a unified Latin, a view long since rejected by Latin scholars.20

19 H. Birnbaum, “Slavic Settlements.” O.N. Trubachev, “Linguistics and Ethnogenesis of the
Slavs: The Ancient Slavs as Evidenced by Etymology and Onomastics,” Journal of Indo-
European Studies 13, nos. 1–2 (1982–85): 203–56. H.G. Lunt, “Slavs, Common Slavic, and
Old Church Slavonic,” in Litterae Slavicae Medii Aevi (Festshrift F.V. Mare‰), ed., J. Reinhart
(Munich, 1985), 185–204. Jankoviç’s latest.
20 C. Renfrew, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins
(Cambridge, 1990), 67 ff.

Each of the elite dominance paradigms presupposes a substantial degree
of population displacement. Even Obolensky, apropos Fallmerayer, invokes
emotive language when he speaks of savagery and extermination. The sheer
persistence of this outlook is attributable to the disproportionate weight historians
once assigned to the extant literary sources. These sources certainly
paint a bleak picture of devastation and human suffering. Nevertheless, while
recognizing the importance of invasions, it is a mistake to make sweeping
generalizations about wholesale population displacement in the Balkans that
are based on the selective marshaling of those sources, for they were prone to
exaggerate the scope of the Slavic depredations, sometimes for literary effect.
It should be remembered that those selfsame sources are fraught with
concrete references to peaceful coexistence. Furthermore, they attest to the
existence of many Slav communities that were independent of Avar control.
For the Slavs to have effected a Landnahme in the Fallmerayerian sense, one
must adduce evidence that they possessed the requisite level of social stratification.
21 Yet even a cursory glance at the funerary evidence published by
Zhivka Vuzharova simply does not show this to be the case. The fact is that
the funerary inventory from Bulgaria, Sarata Monteoru, and Devinska Nova
Ves points to communities that were too egalitarian to have effected a
Balkanwide Landnahme through elite dominace/constrained population displacement.
22 Only in Pannonia is there evidence of well-endowed burials that
demonstrate social ranking of any consequence. And since most of these
examples are inhumation burials, their identification as Slavic remains highly
The Slavization of the Balkans was a much more complex process than
the rapid conquest and the subsequent extirpation of indigenous peoples once
asserted by many scholars. While the Sklavenoi of the written sources were a
formidable fighting machine when they operated within their niche, and while
they constrained and displaced local populations in some places, they could
not have pulled off what Fallmerayer, Jenkins, and even Obolensky ascribed
to them. Hence, some other heretofore unidentified dynamic must have
played an important role in the Slavization of the Balkans in addition to these

21 Priskos of Panion attests to the presence of Romans living freely among the Huns. R. C.
Blockley, The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire (Liverpool,
1981–83), 1:48–70, 113–23; 2:222–4000; Fragmenta, ed. F. Bornmann (Florence, 1979).
22 I. Nestor, “La necrople slave d’epoque ancienne de Sarata Monteorou,” Dacia, N.S. 1
(1957), 1–5; J. Eisner, Devínska Nová Ves (Bratislava, 1952); Zh. Vuzharova, Slaviani i
prabulgari po danni na nekropolite ot 6-11 v. na teritoriata na Bulgariia (Sophia, 1976).
23 G. László, Études archeologiques sur l’historie de la société des Avares (Budapest, 1955),

elite dominance scenarios. For the first time, it is possible to identify the actual
mechanisms underlying this cultural transformation. The elucidation of
this issue, however, lies beyond the scope of this particular discussion.
Suffice it to say that Slavization can take place virtually in situ in ways that
obliquely cohere with P. ·arfarik’s peaceful settlement hypothesis.24
If we view the distinction between Slavs and autochthonous populations
as an artificial one, as Vladislav Popoviç is wont to do, then we are confronted
with the tantalizing prospect that the zenith of Byzantine-Slavic cultural
interaction may well stand at the beginning.25 For the subsequent periods of
Medieval Balkan history it is well known that Byzantine culture exerted a
profound influence at the level of high or formal culture. Political elites and
ecclesiastics harnessed this culture in order to project their power in
Byzantine terms. Political theory gave them the means to combat centrifugal
forces within their realms. The net effect of this diffusion on the Slavic peasantry
was in all likelihood negligible. By contrast, during the Slavic migration
phase, ordinary households were the principal foci of acculturation.
Households may have played an important role in determining which elements
of Byzantine material culture would be appropriated.26 There must
have been other foci above the level of the household—but these nodes have
yet to be fully identified. Arguably, after the conversion of the Bulgarians and
Serbs to Christianity in the ninth century, monastic scriptoria supplanted the
household as filters of Byzantine culture.
The matrix of Slavic culture consisted of diverse socio-linguistic groups
that had to meld over time. A new chapter in Slavic history was ushered into
existence when these groups saw themselves as a distinct social community.
This is what German and Russian Slavists mean when they use the term
Selbstbewusstsein, etnicheskoe samosoznanie.27
Few Western Medievalists today would assert that the invasions of the
Angles, Saxons, and Jutes resulted in the extirpation of the indigenous populations
of Britain. Even the dreaded Vikings are getting good press these days

24 J. Henning, Südosteuropa zwischen Antike und Mittelalter: Archäologische Beiträge zur
Landwirtschaft des 1. Jahrtausends u. Z (Berlin, 1987).
25 V. Popoviç, “Aux origines de la slavisation des premieres sklavinies Macédoiennes vers la
fin du Vie siécle,” Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres
(1980), 230–57.
26 M. Constantinu, “Elemente Romano-Byzantine in Muntentia in sec. VI–VII E.N,” Studii si
Cercetari de istorie veche 17 (1966): 665–78; A. Petre, “Quelques donnés archéologiques
concernant la continuité de la culture Romano-byzantines dans la Scythie Minuere aux Vie et
VIIe siécles de notre ére,” Dacia, N.S. (1963): 317–57.
27 A.S. Gerd and G.S. Lebed, Slaviane. Etnogenez i etnicheskaia istoriia. Mezhvuzovskii
sbornik (Leningrad, 1989), 175.

as archaeologists in England now speak of settlements where peaceful symbiosis
was the norm. This in turn has produced a nativistic reaction among
scholars who wish to restore the Vikings to their rightful place in history. In
view of these changes in Western Medieval scholarship, it makes little sense
for us to uphold paradigms about the Slavs that are rooted in nineteenth century
norms of ethnicity, culture, and language. Equally important: if we are
not more circumspect about the intrusion of on-going political questions into
our research, we may well find ourselves at the dawn of the twenty-first century
back to square one by recasting Fallmerayer in a new guise. A return to

the original settlers/historic rights approach is an intellectual dead end. Its
proponents will never get beyond the déjà connu.

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