How Slavs Expanded Over The Balkan Peninsula And Decided To Stay There

“Wild, warlike and pillaging from ancient times till today”

vikulina13 (CC0), Pixabay

When you think of Slavic migrations people think of them as a long process that happened over hundred of years. However, some scholars like Peter Heather think it is actually a very fast process that took over the region as a storm. Some historical events prove the expansion was rapid, aggressive and merciless throughout the area. If we look back in history in 543, a Langobard duke Hildigis has attacked the Eastern Roman empire with a force of 6,000 Slavic warriors that he gathered and recruited on the area of ancient Moravia and Bohemia.

Later through history Pannonia was occupied by tribes such as Langobards, Gepids and even Avars, but only few dozen of years later Slavs were emerging on borders of present day Bavaria in the west and borders of Thracia in the Balkans on the south. Their advancement through Europe was rapid and in just half-century they conquered a substantial part of central and south-eastern Europe.

Another excerpt from Procopius:

“(…) In Illyria and Thracia, from the Ionian Gulf to Byzantine surrounding cities, where Hellas and Chersonese regions are situated, (…) the Sclavenes and the Antes, penetrating practically every year since Justinian administering the Roman Empire, were inflicting irreversible damage to their inhabitants. In each invasion I estimate 200,000 Romans were either took as prisoners or killed (…)”

Now when someone tells you ancient Slavs were peaceful farmers, this will probably prove them wrong. At this point Slavic tribes were already battle-hardened and warlike thanks to their previous mixing with also aggressive Sarmaitan and Scythian tribes who eventually merged into the Slavic larger Slavic population but transferred their horse-riding skills, archery and even tribal names as in case of Croats and Serbs.

By the time of 6th century, Slavic settlements were a common thing across the Balkans and Slavs were raiding and ravaging the weakened Roman empire territories, and slowly replacing and absorbing local populations in their ethnic body.

First Slavic settlements were scattered across Balkans, from Bosnian area in 550’s, to Moesia and Scythia regions few years later. Of course it was not only Slavs who ravaged the dying Eastern Roman empires:

“Ardagast, a commander of Musokios, was sent and raided Thrace, which prompted Emperor Maurice to deal with the Antae – sending an army with commander-in-chief Priscus and infantry commander Gentzon to cross the Danube at Dorostolon (present-day Silistra) and surprise attack the Slavs in their own territory (as the Slavs had long been pillaging the Byzantine Empire). The Army arrived at the Antae camp at midnight, surprising the Slavs who fled in confusion, Ardagast fell on a tree stump and was almost captured, but luckily he was near a river and eluded the caption.” ~ wikipedia excerpt

It was a turbulent time of war and plundering, when smaller Slavic tribes were Pillaged by larger Slavic tribes such as Antes, in other words it was a mad-house with no rules. By 580’s Slavic tribes sieged and seized most of Istria (present day west Croatia) where Pope Gregory I wrote to Exarch of Italy about their pillaging.

“(…) These people, as we started to say at the beginning of our account or catalogue of nations, though off-shoots from one stock, have now three names, that is, Venedi, Antes and Sclaveni. (…) they now rage in war far and wide, in punishment for our sins (…) Though their names are now dispersed amid various clans and places, yet they are chiefly called Sclaveni and Antes. (…)” ~ Jordanes about the three branches of early Slavic peoples

The pressure Slavs made on the region has even made Byzantians form a pact with Avaras to help stop emerging Slavic tribes. This is why Byzantine Emperor Maurice and Khagan of the Avars – Bayan I have managed to stop the siege on Constantinople by Radogost and his Slavic forces in 584 AD.

Defeated and weakened by the Byantine-Avar alliance Slavs were even under siege in their native territories across the Danube. However after some time Avars abandoned the alliance with the Byzantines, because Slavs themselves were also a warrior tribes but not rich as Byzantines.

And here an excerpt from John of Ephesus:

“(…) In third year after the death of Emperor Justin, during the reign of victorious Tiberius, the damned nation of the Slavs has risen, and marching through entire Hellas, through lands of Thessaly and Thrace, captured many cities and strongholds, plundered, burned and robbed, seized the land and settled there with full ease, without fear, like in their own land. (…) they were plundering the country, burning it and robbing, as far as the Great Walls [of Constantinople], and this is how they captured many thousands of cattle, as well as many other kinds of booty. (…) Until today, that is until year 584, they still continue to live in peace in lands of the Rhomaioi, without fear and concern, plundering, enslaving and burning, getting rich and highjacking gold and silver, capturing horses and plenty of weapons; and they have learned to fight better than the Rhomaioi. (…)”

It was more logical to pillage the dying Byzantium, thus the Slavic-Avar allegiance was born and the pressure was back on Byzantines again while Slavs managed to colonize the Balkans by 600’s.

Literature and sources:

What do you think?

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  1. Slavs invaded but when Byzantium reconquered the lands shortly after the few remaining Slavs were sent to be hellenized in Asia Minor and other heavily Greek areas. There are a few small pockets of Slavs in Greece today. The population of Patras for instance was transported to Italy and then emigrated back to Greece once the Slavs were expelled.
    By the 11th century most of the Byzantine territories in the balkans were completely reconquered, so it is somewhat of a misnomer to say Byzantium was dying in the 6th century.

    • The Byzantines didn’t see the slavs such as the Bulgars as a major threat until maybe the latter 13-14th centuries and generally made alliances and gave Roman titles to them. Only one or two armies were stationed in the Balkans, while the bulk of the fighting forces were concentrated on the Eastern provinces facing and repulsing the more efficiently organized, massive empires of the Persian and Arab Caliphates. Until the internal civil wars of the 11th century (when Byzantium was at its second zenith) and the triple threat of Normans, Turks, and Pechenegs, the Romans were successful in the reconquista of the East, with great assistance of the valiant bravery of the newly settled slavs of Anatolia, who greatly contributed to the defense and eastern expansion of the empire.

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