Avars, Slavs, Lombards, Franks and a series of devastations for the Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) Empire

In this article we present selected scenes from Eastern Roman History. We put a magnifying glass on it, in an attempt to explain historical facts at a greater depth. 



– At the middle Danube, after a siege of two years, the Avars took (581) Sirmium, the major Roman fortress in the north-west, upstream from today’s Belgrade. The following year Tiberius cedes the Sirmium district officially (582) and agrees to pay outstanding payments to the Avars, namely 100,000 silver pieces. Meanwhile the Slavs have pushed as far south as Athens, which apparently they sacked. The disintegration of Athens, which began from neglect and migration from the town to the country, was completed by an invasion by a band of Slavs and Avars, which took place probably in 582. Most probably it was now that most of the basilicas outside the walls and the Tetraconch [four-apse] church (Megale Panaghia) in the courtyard of Hadrian’s Library were destroyed. —Gian Pietro Brogiolo, Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Idea and Ideal of the Town between late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, Brill, 1999: 222-23; Goette 2001: 76. Cf 582, 586, 592.

Slavs and Avars invade the region around Athens, c.582. John of Ephesus, also called John of Amida, reported that the Slavs plundered all of Hellas and the regions around Thessalonica, taking many towns and forts in the early 580s. The city of Athens itself, although much reduced, remained in imperial hands. But by 588, except for Corinth, all the antique cities of the Peloponnesus were “wiped out” (Mango’s phrase: pp.24, 70; also Cameron p.160).

(NovoScriptorium: Here we receive an answer as to who has destroyed the ancient cities and monuments of Greece. Of course, before the Avars and Slavs, the Goths -Germanic tribe- of Alaric I and the Heruli -another Germanic tribe- have done much worse)

– “The emperor Maurice sent by his ambassadors to Childepert, king of the Franks, 50,000 solidi to make an attack with his army upon the Langobards and drive them from Italy, and Childepert suddenly entered Italy with a countless multitude of Franks. The Langobards indeed entrenched themselves in their towns and when messengers had passed between the parties and gifts had been offered they made peace with Childepert. When he had returned to Gaul, the emperor Maurice, having learned that he had made a treaty with the Langobards, asked for the return of the solidi he had given in consideration of the overthrow of the Langobards. But Childepert, relying upon the strength of his resources, would not give an answer in this matter” (Paulus, Hist. Lang.. III.17).

(NovoScriptorium: Because of this ‘treachery’, the Lombards managed to occupy great parts of the Italian peninsula, signaling in effect the ‘Opening of the Dark Ages‘ which we have presented in a previous article)

– For over 200 years, from 587 to 805, the Slavs will control much of
the Peloponnesus.

(NovoScriptorium: This fact explains the traceable -by modern Research- Slavic DNA in a number of villages in the Peloponnese which ranges between 4-14%)

– All the Balkans, except for some coastal cities, were lost to the Avars, a powerful group of Eurasian nomads, and the Slavs who came with them. Descending from the Danube River under the Khagan Bajan (acc. 565), the Avars entered the empire in about 573, when the emperor [Justin II 565-78] was preoccupied by his wars with Persia (572, 576-78 and 589).

The Avars fled westward after their Turkish vassals destroyed their great Mongolia-based empire (AD 552). They moved to what we know as the Russian steppes, where the East Roman emperor Justinian paid them (574) to subjugate the Huns and Slavs who had been raiding Roman provinces in the Balkans. The empire of the Avars peaked at the end of the 6th century when it extended from the upper Danube to the Volga. They were partly responsible for the southward migration of the Serbs and Croats. The Avar state, weakened by internal dissent, was later to be destroyed by a combined Frankish and Bulgarian attack in 796. The status of the Avars as barbarians was confirmed for the Romanic/Byzantine writers by their dress: the Avars wore long kaftans of leather or fur descending to the knees, trousers, and moccasin-like soft-soled boots (Browning 1975 p.189).

(NovoScriptorium: Turkish tribes were responsible for the westward movement of the Avars and Slavs. They must have been quite powerful or terrifying to persuade Avars and Slavs to flee. The Roman dipomacy used gold many times to avoid unecessary battles. Here we have another example of this. But it was also one of the many times that the payments had an opposite result. In this case the Avars not only didn’t  keep the agreement but they moved in Roman lands and formed an Empire right next or on them. They even sieged Constantinople. Additionally, they pressed Slavic populations to move southward and cause even greater troubles to the Empire. This appears like a ‘chain of barbarians’ from the Pacific to Southern Europe, pressing one another to move westward. And, unfortunately for the Empire, this didn’t happen only once…)

– The Slavs, or (in Greek) Sklavenoi, had occupied the whole northern side of the Danube since as early as AD 400. In the next two centuries they formed part of many mixed raiding parties that pressed into the empire. The first Slav siege of Thessaloniki or Salonica dates to 586 (or perhaps 597) and another probably took place in about 604, during the reign of Phocas.

(Source: ‘The Rome that almost fell: The long seventh century’, by Michael O’ Rourke)

Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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