The Slavs and the Avars

Omeljan Pritsak















Of the three kinds of professional warriors mentioned by Jordanes (ca. 551), only two were connected with concrete Gothic tradition: Venethae (= Vinidi) with the Gothic king Hermanarich (d. ca. 374: § 119) and the Antes with king Vinitharius (d. ca. 400: § 247). No specific deeds with regard to the Sclaveni are ascribed to any Gothic ruler. The Sclaveni appear in Jordanes's catalogue of the kinds of professional warriors known to him (at the end of § 119) as an obvious addition made to glorify his hero Hermanarich.


From this we can deduce that the Sclaveni were a post-Gothic institution, that is, after 400, since no Sclaveni of Attila were known either to the eyewitness, the Byzantine diplomat Priscus who visited Attila in 448, or to the Gothic traditions used by Jordanes. Thus the Sclaveni must have developed after Attila's death in 453.





Let me emphasize that this event marked a turning point in the history of the European part of the Eurasian steppe. Up to that time, the nomadic charismatic clans could always count on the cooperation of the nomad Germanic kings and their retinues (comitatus).





In the last two decades of the fifth century, the two most important Germanic tribal units, the Ostrogoths and the Franks, settled in Italy and Gaul and became occupied - especially the Franks - with establishing their own sedentary states, in cooperation with the former Roman ruling class.


It was exactly at this time that the Hunnic establishment was recovering from the consequences of Attila's death and beginning to reconstitute themselves as Bulgars (Proto-Bulgars) with two component parts, Utiġurs and Quturġurs.


Since the Germanic tribes, and also the Alans, were being attracted by either the Goths in Italy or the Franks in Gaul, it was necessary for the new pax-builders in the steppe to create military units on an entirely new basis. These new warriors appear under the name of Σκλάβοι/Σκλαβηνοί. It is remarkable that all Proto-Bulgarian branches had their own Sklavin-/Ṣ(a)qlab. Thus, when the Hunnic Quturġurs raided Thracia and Constantinople in 559, their Sklavin- took active part [110]. A new analysis of the data of Ibn Khurdādhbeh (ca. 840-880) has shown that Kobrat, the creator of the Azov (Bosporus) Magna Bulgaria (d. ca. 660), was referred to by the Sasanian bureaucracy as ruler over the Ṣaqlab/Sklavin- [111].


The account of Ibn Faḍlān, the envoy of the Caliph of Baghdad to the king of the Volga Bulgars in 922, also called this ruler malik aṣ-Ṣaqāliba [112].



(110) Agathias (d. 582), ed. Dindorf, HGM, vol. 2, pp. 366-388, calls the attackers simply Quturġurs, but another contemporary, John Malalas (d. ca. 678) distinguishes «Huns» (i.e. Quturġurs) and the Sklavin, Chronographia, ed. Dindorf, Bonn 1831, p. 490, as does the later compiler Theophanes (ed. Čičurov, p. 52).


(111) The information has survived in Arabic translation as malik aṣ-Ṣaqāliba. See Pritsak, The Origin of Rus', vol. 1, pp. 61-62.


(112) See the text of his «Risāla», ed. Andrij Kovalivs'kyj, Kniga Axmeda ibn-Fadlana o ego putešestvii na Volgu v 921-922 gg., Xarkiv 1956, p. 346, and





The Sklavin- of the Pannonian Proto-Bulgars, who attacked the Byzantine Danube limes from the time of Justinian I, are well known from the «History» of Procopius and other contemporary Byzantine authors. The Kouber story (fl. 676-678) in the fifth miracle of St. Demetrius shows that even this Bulgarian ruler, who was under Avar suzereinty, also had his own Σκλάβοι/warriors [113]. It would take us too far afield to deal here with the role of the Sklavin in the First Danube Bulgarian empire created by Asparuch (679), or with the circumstances which conditioned the decision of Tsar Simeon (893-927) to take over the Slavic rite with Slavonic as the sacred language.


The Sklavin frontier warriors are also attested to in the Khazar pax, the successor state to Great Bulgaria. On the authority of the Arabic reports about the famous expedition of Marwān b. Muḥammad into the interior of Khazaria in 737 (especially in the work by Ibn A̒tham al-Kūfī) [114], the Khazarian Ṣaqāliba (plural of ṣaqlab) were stationed on the Middle Volga frontier [115], near the confluence of the Bol'šoj Irgiz and the Volga. It seems that during the ninth century the new Khazar regime, headed by a majordomo (bäg / ixšēd), had replaced the Ṣaqāliba with another group of professional warriors, the standing army called al-Arsiya, who were Muslims recruited from among the Khwārizmians. This we learn from the account by al-Mas̒ūdī (ca. 940) [116].



the excursus by A. Zeki Validi Togan, «Anhang über 'Ṣaqāliba'», in his Ibn Faḍlān's Reisebericht, Leipzig 1939, pp. 295-331. Among the members of the Abbassid mission to the Volga-Bulgars was a certain Bārs aṣ-Ṣaqlabī, i.e. a Volga-Bulgar by the name of Bars (Turkic 'leopard', frequently used as a personal name), see the facsimile in Kovaliv'skyj's ed., p. 344.


(113) Ed. Lemerle, vol. 1, pp. 229-234; for the date, see vol. 2, p. 161.


(114) Ed. A. Z. V. Togan, in Ibn Faḍlān's Reisebericht, pp. 296-298.


(115) Mixail Ilarionovič Artamonov, Istorija xazar, Leningrad 1962, pp. 223-224.


(116) Norman Golb and O. Pritsak, Khazarian Hebrew documents of the tenth century, Ithaca, N.Y. 1982, pp. 51-52, 141, 150.








The anonymous Miracula S. Demetrii (= Mir II; compiled ca. 675-685) [117] gives a list of five bands (ἔϑνος) of the Sklavins who attacked Thessalonica in 614 [118]. Many scholars have labored in vain to establish Slavic etymologies of these putative «Slavic tribal names» [119]. If the Sklavin troops were created by the Proto-Bulgars sometime during the last decades of the fifth century, as I assume, the self-designations of these bands should reflect the Ponto-Caspian milieu of the time, which was Hunno-(Eastern) Iranian. Let us therefore check to see whether the hypothesis holds. Here are the names [120]:







Four seem to have a suffix /it/, spelled -ητ- or -ιτ-, while the fifth may be seen as without suffix.


There is a suffix /it/ that is very familiar to Altaists. Indeed, it occurs in the name of the Hunnic Avars: Varxun- it (see fh. 30, above).


Compare Ἐϕϑαλῖτ-αι, «Hephthalites», derived from the name of their leader Efthal [121]. This seems to be a parallel



(117) On the date, see Paul Lemerle, Les plus anciens récueils des miracles de Saint Démétrius et la pénétration des Slaves dans les Balkans, vol. 2, Paris 1981, pp. 142-144, 187-189.


(118) I accept Lemerle's dating, vol. 2, pp. 91-92.


(119) See Franjo Barišić, Čuda Dimitrija Solunskog kao istoriski izvori, Belgrade 1953.


(120) Mir II, ed. Lemerle, vol. 1 (1979), pp. 175, 214, 229.


(121) See Gyula Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, vol. 2, Berlin 1958, pp. 127-128.





to a later stage in the linguistic history of this territory, namely the self-designations of groups of Ukrainian Cossacks that were based on the names of their leaders. There were two patterns. The first took the stem of the leader's name, sometimes removing a final suffix, and added a suffix denoting «adherent of» : e.g. Mazepa : Mazep-yn-ci, Lisowski : Lisov-čyk-y (Lat. Lissov-ian-i) [122]. The second was simply the name of the leader, e.g. Barabaš «Left-bank Cossacks (after 1667)», from the name of Colonel Barabaš (fl. 1647-1648) [123].


Detaching the it-suffix, let us look at the four bases Baioun-, Belegez-, Berz- and Drougoub-.


Baioun. Here we can read u or ū < *-aġu- [124], plus the nominative singular suffix /n/. This is then the equivalent of a well-known Old Turkic word, which occurs with the majestic plural suffix /t/ (because of the meaning): bayagu-t «rich-merchant» (the standard translation of Sanskrit śreṣṭ̣). Therefore we posit *bayūn < *baya-ġun [125].


Belegez is a reasonable transcription of Hunnic bel-egeč, where *bēl means «five », and *egeč is comparable to Old Turkic äkäč «(elder) sister of the clan» [126] and Old Mongolian egeči «elder sister» [127]. The surname bel-egeč reminds



(122) See George Gajecki and Alexander Baran, The Cossacks in the Thirty Years War, vol. 1, Rome 1969, p. 111. Cf. also O. Pritsak, «Das erste türkisch-ukrainische Bündniss (1648)», Oriens 6, Leiden 1953, 295.


(123) Oleksander Ohloblyn, «Virši smolens'koho šljaxtyča N. Poplons'koho r. 1691 na čest' Perekops'koho beja», Studiji z Krymu, ed. Ahatanhel Keyms'kyj, Kiev 1930, p. 37.


(124) O. Pritsak, Die Bulgarische Fürstenliste, Wiesbaden 1955, p. 73.


(125) See the data in Sir Gerard Clauson, An etymological dictionary of prethirteenth century Turkish, Oxford 1972, p. 385.


(126) See Besim Atalay's 1941 Ankara facsimile edition of the Arabic dictionary made about 1070 by the famous Turkic philologist Maḥmūd al-Kāšġarī, Divanü lûgat-it-türk, Ankara 1941, p. 38.


(127) «Secret History of the Mongols» : Erich Haenisch, Wörterbuch zu Mangḥol un niuca tobca'an (Yüan-ch'ao pi-shi), Leipzig 1939, p. 42.





one of Beševliev, the surname of the leading Bulgarian specialist in the field of Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions: beš-evli is Ottoman Turkish and means «(having) five wives».


Berz- is doubtless the front variant of the name of a Khazaro-Bulgarian charismatic clan Barč- [128]; it can be taken as an incorrectly reconstructed form from Βερζιλ- Barč il > Bärčil, and finally Bärč. The band leader was apparently a member of the Barč clan.


Drougouw-. This word has three distinct Hunnic (Hunno-Bulgarian) features: first, initial d-, as against Old Turkic t- [129]; second, metathesis of the vowel, producing a consonant-cluster in initial position, *dur- > dru- [130]; and third, the development of the final g into -w [131]. The root is the verb *dur- (OTurkic tur-, but Ottoman dur-) «stand», both in the sense of «stand upright» [132] and «stand still» */ġuġ/ is the suffix of nomen usus. This then is a surname *Druġuw (equivalent to Turkic turġuġ, turquġ), signifying «he who usually stands still». Kāšġarī, the eleventh-century Turkic philologist explains the name (in Arabic) thus: «shyness (shame, diffidence) about something; one says ol mändän turquġ = (Arabic) ṣāra minnī ḥayīyan li-fi̒l badā minhū «he is ashamed before me over a matter that arose concerning him» [133]. The surname *Druguw was probably used jocularly, as an antonym, for a very forceful person (in the manner common among the Zaporogian Cossaks later).



(128) On the Barč ( < Warāč / Warāz) see Pritsak, «The Khazar kingdom's conversion to Judaism», HUS 2 (1978) 261-262.


(129) Pritsak, Bg. Fürstenliste, p. 88.


(130) Pritsak, «The proto-bulgarian military inventory inscriptions», Studia Turco-Hungarica, Budapest 1981, pp. 43-44, 58.


(131) András Róna-Tas, «A Volga bulgarian inscription from 1304», Acta Orientalia, 30, Budapest 1976, 159-161.


(132) Clauson, Etym. dict. (fn. 125 above), p. 539.


(133) Facsimile edition by Atalay (cf. fn. 126 above), p. 232.





The fifth name, Sagudat-, with no suffix, is of Eastern Iranian origin: *sāka-dāt «gift of the stag» - the stag was the totem of the Scythians [134]. The etymon *śāka, in Ossetian sag, is rendered in the Bactrian inscriptions as CΑΓΓΟ, CΑΓΟ; in the middle of the fourth century there was a Scythian people on the Danube called Saga-dares *sāga-dār «stag [totem] possessor» [135]. Old Persian dāta is Middle Persian, e.g. Pahlavi, d’t [136].


Conclusion: the five names preserved in Mir II are not «Slavic tribal names», but self-designations of Proto-Bulgarian Sklavin bands; accordingly they have clear Hunnic or Iranian etymologies.





Since all attempts to find an etymology of the term Sklavin- / Slav-, on native ground have failed, one is tempted to look elsewhere [137]. Proto-Bulgarian seems the most promising spot. There we find a common Hunno-Turkic



(134) See the data in V. I. Abaev, Osetinskij jazyk i fol'klor 1, Moscow-Le-ningrad 1949, pp. 179-180; Id., Istoriko-ètimologičeskij slovar' osetinskogo jazyka, vol. 3, Leningrad 1979, pp. 11-16. One may add the name of the Pečeneg castle on the southern side of the Dniester River Σακᾰκάται, in «De administrando imperio» (ca. 948), by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, see Pritsak, The Pečenegs, Lisse 1976, p. 19, fn. 74.


(135) /dār/ is from -dāra «holder, keeper», see Ilya Gershevich, A Grammar of Manichaean Sogdian, Oxford 1961, p. 173, § 1135.


(136) Johann August Vullers, Lexicon Persico-Latinum, vol. 1 (repr. Graz 1962), p. 779. See also Febdinand Justi, Iranisches Namenbuch (repr. Hildesheim 1963), p. 491.


(137) For bibliography, see Leszek Moszyński's (unsatisfying) essay, «Czy Słowianie to rzeczywiście nomen originis»? Z polskich studiów slawistycz nych. Seria V, Warsaw 1978, 499-507. Tuomo Pekkanen («L'origine degli Slavi e il loro nome nella letteratura greco-latina», Quaderni Urbinati, N. 11, 1971, pp. 51-64) suggests Slavic slab- 'weak' (implausible), and Georg Kobth («Zur Etymologie des Wortes 'Slavus' (Sklave)», Glotta 48 [Göttingen 1970], 145-153), starting from the meaning «slave», posits a linguistically and sociologically unlikely derivation from Greek σκύλον «Kriegsbeute».





word saqla-, 'to watch over, guard, protect' [138]. The noun derived from it by the suffix */GU/ is attested in Kazan-Tatar (Muslim progeny of the Volga Bulgars) and in Karaim (modern Qipčaq-Polovcian), where the suffix became /-w/. In these languages the noun saqla-w means 'guard, watch; guarding' in the senses of actor, profession, place, or action [139]. As early as Proto-Bulgarian, the suffix */GU/ had become /w/ : e.g., κολο-β-ρ (< *qola-ġu-r) 'leader' [140]. Further, in Proto-Bulgarian stress moved from the root syllable to the suffix, and the root vowel then reduced, e.g., *dawl-an > dwan 'hare', *tovirəm > tvirəm «the ninth» [141]. Therefore one can assume that in Proto-Bulgarian the old *saqla-ġu would develop as *saqla-w and later as sqlaw-. Proto-Bulgarian also had a collective suffix /-in/, used especially to designate peoples: e.g.,



(138) See the data in Clauson, Etym. dict., pp. 803, 810, and Martti Räsänen, Versuch eines etymologischen Wörterbuchs der Türksprachen, Helsinki 1969, pp. 395-396. The verb is of denominal origin (saq). Kāšġarī (ca. 1070) explains the meaning of the etymon saq as follows: «saq saq» an exclamation (ḥarf) used by a sentry (al-ḥāris) in the army to order alertness (al-tayaqquẓ) to protect castles, forts, or horses from the hands of the enemy; one says saqsaq «be alert (ayqāẓ)»; hence one calls «an intelligent, (alert) man (al-faṭinu'l-mutayyaqiẓ)» saq är [är «man»], facsimile ed. by Atalay, pp. 167-168.


(139) Kazan-Tatar saqla-u «Bewahren, Behüten» (Wilhelm Radloff, Versuch eines Wörterbuches der Türk-Dialecte, vol. 4, [repr. Hague 1960], col. 252); Karaim Troki saqla-w «die Wache», ibid. col. 254; Karaim Luc'k saqlaw «die Wache» (Aleksander Mardkowicz, Słownik karaimski [Luc'k 1935], p. 55); cf. Karaimsko-russko-pol'skij slovar', Nikolaj Aleksandrovič Baskakov et al., eds., Moscow 1974, p. 461: saqlaw «1. oxrana, straz; 2. xranenie». See also Chaghatai saqlau «die Kriegsgeisel», Radloff, Wb., col. 252.


Concerning the deverbal nominal sufïix /GU/, which has three meanings, 1) actor; 2) abstracts; 3) instruments: see Annemarie von Gabain, Alttürkische Grammatik, 2nd ed., Leipzig 1950, pp. 71-72; Ananiasz Zajączkowski, Sufiksy imienne i czasownikowe w języku zachodniokaraimskim, Cracow 1932, pp. 66-68; Èrvand Vladimirovič Sevortjan, Affiksy imennogo slovoobrazovanija v azerbajdžanskom jazyke, Moscow 1966, pp. 227-232.


(140) See also the Volga Bulgarian inscription from 1307: belü «sepulchral monument» < *bälgü; cf. Old Turkic bälgü; see also A. Róna-Tas, Acta Orientalia 30 (1976) 159.


(141) Pritsak, Bulgarische Fürstenliste, pp. 46, 56-58.





Volga Bulgarian Bulgar-in, «the Bulgars», Sowar-in «the Sowars» [142].


Thus our conclusion is that there was a Proto-Bulgarian word saqlaw > sqlaw with the plural form *sqlaw-in and two meanings: 1) «guard, watch, guarding»; 2) «trained slave». The Arabs, who were engaged in the slave trade, (see below), adopted the singular form as ṣ(a)qlab, meaning «trained slave», while the Byzantines, who were interested in contacts with the collective of the sqlawin on their limes, adopted it as sklavin, adding a plural desinence: Σκλαβην-οί. In Slavic, the suffix was modified to the collective plural -ěn-e, denoting a social group, correlated with the singulative suffix -in-, while the impermissible initial cluster *skl was reduced to sl.





The first appearance of the name of the Sklavin is connected with the story about the re-emigration of the Heruli from the Danube region to Scandinavia in 512.


Procopius, recording this event some years later (ca. 546-550; vol. 3, p. 414) says: «These men, led by many of the royal blood (italics mine, OP), traversed through all the bands (ethnos) of the Sklavins consecutively, and after next crossing a large tract of barren country, they came to the Varni, as they are called. After these they passed by the people of the Dani».


The exact dwelling-place of these Sclavins of Proco-pius's has continually puzzled scholars. Many locations have been proposed, among them Bohemia, the Moravian Gate, Little Poland, and Silesia [143]. Yet all these suggest-



(142) See Pritsak, «Tschuwaschische Pluralsuffixe», Studia Altaica. Festschrift für Nikolaus Poppe, Wiesbaden 1957, pp. 148-49.


(143) See Łowmiański, Początki Polski, vol. 2, pp. 303-310.





ions rest on two unproven hypotheses: that the temporary habitat of the Heruli was north of the Pannonian part of the Danube; and that the Heruli migrated by land.


But the Heruli were no strangers in Eastern Europe. Until about 350 they were masters there and were known as the maritime power of the epoch. They had both Azov and the Black Sea under their control [144]. One may therefore conjecture that they travelled back home to Scandinavia by boat, being under the leadership - as Procopius clearly states - of «many of the royal blood», who surely knew the geography of that part of the world well. Procopius (vol. 3, p. 414) characterizes their temporary Danube settlement (before 512) as «the extremity of the world» (that is, of the Roman Empire), which at that time was the Danube/Ister frontier in Scythia Minor, or Dobrudja. I submit therefore that the Heruli began their voyage by river from the mouth of the Dniester, reaching the Vistula by way of the San, proceded from the Upper Vistula via the Warthe to the Upper Oder, then by the Spree and Havel to the Elbe, thus arriving in the territory of the Varni of Mecklenburg.


If my hypothesis is correct, then the Heruli met the Sklavins at least during their voyage up the Dniester. We expect Sklavins in this region to account for the periodical raids, chiefly against the nearby provinces of Moesia and Thracia, reported in Byzantine sources for the first half of the sixth century.





This leads to the next question: what was distinctive about the Sklavin troops? The manual of military tactics



(144) See V. F. Gajdukevič, Bosporskoe carstvo, Moscow-Leningrad 1949, pp. 448, 462, 469.





by Pseudo-Mauricius, «Artis militaris libri duodecim» (ca. 600), devotes its eleventh book to techniques of dealing with foreign troops. Four categories are distinguished [145]:

1. Persians;

2. Scythians: Avars and Turks;

3. Franks and Lombards;

4. Σκλάβοι and Ἄνται.


The anonymous author has organized his material to deal with two types of warfare, psychological and physical. This accounts for many of the pieces of information about ethnic groups and their «character» that are assembled in this special eleventh book. Since the author was well-read, he makes use of topoi. But he makes distinctions we must pay attention to. Thus he states that, contrary to Persian (and Byzantine) practice, the Scythians do not maintain the fixed battle order (the classical three wings), and that Frankish troops are organized not on the basis of professional military rank, but in terms of tribal retainers with no bonds of discipline. The Sklavs, he tells us, had exceptional skills in swimming and diving. They had hardly any cavalry, but operated in guerilla fashion with surprise attacks, especially in marshy or mountainous regions. Their archers and javelin-throwers, posted in inaccessible positions, could harass the Byzantine army from a distance.


Several sources stress that the Sklavs/Sklavins were specialists in the buiding of boats. Thus Theophylact



(145) Ed. H. Mihăescu, Mauricius. Arta milităra, Bucharest 1970, pp. 262-291. See also the special commentary by Bohumila Zástěrová, Les Avares et les Slaves dans la Tactique de Maurice, Prague 1971.





Simocattes writes that around 595 the kagan of the Avars ordered the Sklavins to build ships to enable his army to cross the Danube [146]. He also informs us, in a much-discussed passage, that some Sklavini (Σκλαυηνοί) lived (which we can surely interpret as «were stationed») «on the extreme shores of the Western Ocean» [147], that is, the Baltic Sea.


The anonymously transmitted «Miracles of Saint Demetrius» (Mir II, ca 675-685) we mentioned above credits the Sklavins (Σκλαβίνοι) of 614 with three maritime skills: first, they «invented» the techniques for constructing onestrake ships (τὸ μονόξυλον or «single-straker»); second, they could make ships of this type that could be navigated on the sea; and third, they developed a security system for their ships during battle, using covers made of wooden boards and skins [148].


One is reminded of chapter 9 of De administrando imperio, where Constantine Prophyrogenitus states that the Sklavs (Σκλάβοι) from different Σκλαβηνίαι («Slavic regions») «cut the single-strakers on their mountains in time of winter» and in spring they come down to Kiev to «sell them to the Rus' (Rhos)» [149]. In a different region, Paul the Deacon (d. ca. 799) writes in his «History of the Lombards» that in about 641 «the Sclavi came with a great number of ships and set up their camp not far from the city of Siponto» on the Gulf of Manfredonia, Italy [150]. It is apparently because of the river skills of the Sklavins



(146) Theophylact, Historiae, ed. de Boor/Wirth, pp. 225-226.


(147) Historiae, p. 223. See the analysis by Gerard Labuda, Fragmenty dziejów Słowiańszczyzny zachodniej, vol. 1, Poznan 1960, pp. 109-122.


(148) Ed. Lemerle, vol. 1, pp. 175-176.


(149) Ed. Moravcsik (Eng. trans. R. J. H. Jenkins), pp. 56, 58.


(150) Pauli Historia Langobardorum, ed. Georg Heinrich Pertz, Hannover 1878, p. 170.





that they are associated with other river-dwellers in a very strange passage of Pseudo-Caesarius (ca. 530-558), οἱ Σκλαβηνοὶ καὶ Φυσωνῖται, οἱ καὶ Δανούβιοι προσαγορευόμενοι, in Slavonic: Slověne i Thisonitěn'ě eže i Dunavene naričjut' se [151]. Since Theophylactus Simocattes (p. 247) also stresses their skill in fighting from fortifications made from wagons (compare the Wagenburg defense used by Žižka in the Hussite wars), the answer to the question we asked above is now obvious: the unique characteristic of the Sklavin troops is that they were amphibious units, trained for guerilla warfare both on water - especially rivers - and on land. To put it in American terminology, they were the marines of the epoch.





But why did the Bulgars, nomads of the steppe, need amphibious troops? The answer lies in the whole strategic system of the time. It was Archibald R. Lewis, in dicussing a number of basic changes which had occurred during the fourth and fifth centuries, who stressed that the most important change, curiously overlooked by maritime historians, was «the sudden rise of a minor Greek city, Byzantium, to the status of a great metropolis following its choice as capital by the Emperor Constantine» (330-351) [152]. Whereas Rome was essentially land-oriented, the unique location of Constantinople, as Byzantium was now



(151) Ivan Dujčev, «Le témoignage du Pseudo-Césaire sur les Slaves», Slavia Antiqua 4, Poznan-Wroclaw 1954, 193-209. See also his edition of the Slavonic translation, «Iz dialozite na Psevdo-Kesarij» in Estestvoznanieto v srednovekovna Balgarija, Sofia 1954, p. 322.


(152) «Mediterranean maritime commerce, A.D. 300-1100. Shipping and trade», repr. in A. Lewis, The sea and medieval civilization, London 1978, no. XII, p. 3.





styled, required it to be «mistress of the sea» [153]. The political and economic power of the Byzantine Empire was based on, and depended on, domination of the seas. The nomads - our case the Bulgars and later the Avars - whose activity was oriented toward Byzantium, had to adapt their tactics to this fundamental difference. Sudden attacks by mounted archers, so effective in the offensives of Attila and his predecessors, were no longer sufficient.





Kobrat, the founder of Magna Bulgaria (ca. 630-665), chose for his capital the former center of the maritime Bosporus kingdom, the port city of Phanagoria, located on the Kerch Straits [154]. His ambitions for the Bulgars required the creation of a new type of troops, amphibious bands. The rise of the sedentary Frankish and Langobard realms deprived the nomads of the possibility of acquiring well-trained Germanic comrades-in-arms, as we mentioned above. The solution was to arrange a system of special training for slaves, whether captured or purchased. The training of slaves for various important functions was already practiced by the itinerant merchants of Central Asia; it was a question now of special military training. This resulted in the Sklav/Sklavin, first introduced by the (Proto-)Bulgars and later advanced by the Avars [155].


As a result, in both the Proto-Bulgar pax and the



(153) To use the apt label of F. van Doornink; see his «Byzantium, mistress of the sea, 330-641», in A history of seafaring based on underwater archeology, ed. G. F. Bass, London 1972.


(154) See Svetlana Aleksandrovna Pletneva, Xazary, Moscow 1976, pp. 21-22.


(155) The military slave system has recently been analyzed by Daniel Pipes, Slave soldiers and Islam, New Haven 1981. It seems to me that he overemphasizes the connection between Islam and military slavery.





Khazar pax, still another type of Sklavin had emerged: the professionally trained slaves. In antiquity the principal slave markets were the islands of Chios (in the Greek period) and Delos (in the Roman period). After the official proclamation of Christianity in Rome (313), the center of the slave trade seems to have shifted to the north, to the centers in the Bosporus kingdom [156]. The trade was probably taken over by the Proto-Bulgars and later by the Turkic Qipčaqs; the latter became the source of the mamlūk type of military slaves, who much later (1250-1517) were to flourish in Egypt and Syria [157].


All this suggests that «slave», the second meaning of the Arabic ṣaqlab and a word common to all western European languages [158] has the same origin.


In any event, Ḥasdai ben Šafrūṭ, the Umayyad Spanish minister, in his letter to King Joseph of Khazaria, designated the German King Otto I as melek Aškenaz vemelek ha-gebalim šehem al ṣeqláb [159], i.e. «king of the



(156) Sir G. MacNunn, Slavery through the ages, London 1938; Charles Verlinden, Wo, wann und warum gab es einen Grosshandel mit Sklaven während des Mittelalters?, Köln 1970; Thomas Wiedemann, Greek and Roman slavery, Baltimore 1981.


(157) David Ayalon, «Preliminary remarks on the Mamlūk military institution in Islam», in V. J. Parry and M. E. Yapp, eds., War, technology and Society in the Middle East, London 1975, pp. 44-58. In the time of the Ottoman Pax, Kaffa (Kefe) on the Crimea was again the preeminent slave market.


(158) The Arabic word ṣaqlab / ṣiqlab with the meaning «slave» was already well established in the Islamic Abbasid East in the first half of the ninth century, see Pritsak, «An Arabic text on the trade route of the corporation of ar-Rūs in the second half of the ninth century», Folia Orientalia 12, Cracow 1970, 231-257. This meaning of the word did not apparently become common in the Islamic Umayyad West (Spain) until the first half of the tenth century. Two important recent studies include earlier bibliography: Ch. Verlinden, «L'origine de Sklavus = Esclave», Archivum Latinitatis Medii Aevi. Bulletin Du Gange 17, Brusselles 1943, 97-128; Henry and Renée Kahane, «Notes on the history of sclavus», Studi in onore di Ettore Lo Gatto e Giovanni Maver, Rome 1962, pp. 345-360. Cf. also T. Pekkanen and G.Korth, cited in note 137 above.


(159) Ed. Pavel Konstantinovič Kokovcov, Evrejsko-xazarskaja perepiska v X veke, Leningrad 1932, p. 14.





Germans and king of the [area beyond] the mountains, i.e. of the ṣeqlab». Thus he ascribed to Otto I the title which had heretofore been reserved for the kings of the Bulgars.





The term sklavin of the Byzantine cultural sphere between the sixth and ninth centuries was very tightly connected with the Avar Pax. In contemporary testimonies, whenever the Sklavins appear, the Avars are almost invariably also referred to, though sometimes indirectly, usually as their masters.


The term Sklavin, then, I contend, did not have an ethnic or linguistic entity as its referent, but was classificatory, designating in the first instance barbaric professional frontier warriors. No single common Slavic nation existed, nor can we assume a feeling of one Slavic ethnic commonality [160]. Instead, the sources show that the term ἡ Σκλαβηνία / Σκλαυηνία (sing.) or αἱ Σκλαβηνίαι / Σκλαβινίαι / Σκλαυινίαι (pl.) had the meaning «any regions occupied by the Sklavin», that is, a stronghold, whether small or large in area, of the frontier military colony type [161]. The first author to use the term Σκλαυηνία was Theophylact Simocattes (fl. 610-641) referring to barbarians' strongholds on the left bank of the Danube [162]. The institution was known throughout the entire province of Lower Pannonia. Several scholars (e.g. G. Ostrogorsky,



(160) Leszek Moszyński's paper, cited in fn. 137 above, gives the gratifying assurance that even in Poland, the bastion of Slavic scholarly patriotism, a sober perspective is possible. He states clearly that the term Slověne was never used as a self-designation by any «Proto-Slavic» tribe.


(161) See Stjepan Antoljax, «Unsere 'Sklavinien'», Actes du XIIe Congrès international d'études byzantines. Beograd-Ohrid, vol. 2, Belgrade 1964, pp. 9-13.


(162) Historiae, ed. de Boor/Wirth, p. 293.





F. Dvornik, S. Antoljak, I. Boba) have established that Sklavinias also existed in the following lands [163]:


1) Transylvania;


2) Thrace with Moesia (Scriptor Incertus, De Leone Armenio);


3) Macedonia (Theophanes);


4) Dalmatia, including Caruntania (Sclavenia in Latin documents of 871);


5) Peloponnesus (eighth/early ninth century; Σκλαβηνία);


6) Rus' (Constantine Porphyrogenitus: αἱ λοιπαὶ Σκλαβηνίαι 'the rest of the Sklavinias') [164].



We do not have specific or detailed descriptions of the Sklavinia type of military colony. One thing is clear, however: each Sklavinia had its own leadership, headed by a župan (Avar title) or ἔξαρχος, or ἄρχων (Byzantine titles) [165].


The Sklavinias were united in larger units called γένος  or γενεά or gens 'gens, tribe', in the same way as the nomadic oq / oġur = oġəz. Thus the Danube Bulgars of Asparuch, having settled in Moesia II around 679, subjugated there the so-called «seven tribes of the Sklavini»



(163) See Georgij Ostrogorsky's commentary in Vizantijski izvori za istoriju naroda Jugoslavije, vol. 1, Belgrade 1955, pp. 125, 177, 222, 226, 230, 235-236; Francis Dvornik's commentary in Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio, vol. 2, London 1962, 35, 185; S. Antoljak, «Unsere 'Sklavinien'» (see fn. 161); Imre Boba, Moravia's history reconsidered, The Hague 1971, pp. 3-5, 14-19.


(164) De administrando imperio, ed. Moravcsik, p. 56.


(165) Miko Barada, «Hrvatska diaspora i Avari», Starohrvatska prosvjeta, 3 ser., vol. 2, Zagreb 1952, 7-17; Łowmiański, Początki Polski, vol. 2, pp. 394, 398.





(τῶν . . .  Σκλαυινῶν ἐϑνῶν τὰς λεγομένας ἑππὰ γενεάς = septem generationum Sklavinorum) [166].


The Miracula St. Demetrii (Mir II, ca. 685) enumerates five bands of heathen Sklavin that participated in the siege of Salonika in 614 [167]. The Armenian writer Pseudo-Mowsēs Khorenac'i (probably eighth century) mentions that in Thrace there lived «25 sklauayin gentes» [168].


Unlike the steppe Oġur = Oġəz, whose economy was pastoralist, the Sklavinia type of military colony subsisted by agriculture [169].


Like their steppe counterparts, however, these colonies strove, whenever circumstances permitted, to become independent of their imperial suzerains, whether they were Avars, Bulgars, or Byzantines.



(166) Theophanes, ed. Čičurov, p. 37. See also Ivan Dujčev, «Les sept tribus slaves de la Mésie», repr. in Dujčev, Medioevo Bizantino-Slavo, vol. 1, Rome 1965, pp. 57-65.


(167) Ed. Lemerle, vol. 1, p. 175. The word ἔϑνος is used here in the meaning of ἐϑνικός «heathen», while the opposite substitution occurs on p. 228, l. 7: μετὰ Βουλγάρων καὶ Άβάρων καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἐϑνικῶν = ἀπό τε τῶν Δρουγουβιτῶν .... Βερζητῶν καὶ λοιπῶν ϑνῶν p. 175, l. 6.


(168) Armjanskaja geografija VII veka po r. X. pripisyvajuščajasja Moiseju Xorenskomu, ed. K.P. Patkanov, St. Peterburg 1877, pp. 9-10, Armenian text.


(169) See, e.g., Menander Protector (scr. ca. 584), ed. Dindobf, HGM, vol. 1, p. 99 (fragm. 48); s.a. 678.



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