Oriental names in the Late Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) World

The West Byzantine lands

The 350 Oriental names for the west Byzantine lands can be divided by geographical criteria, thereby indicating the major areas of “Oriental” presence. The two major agglomerations are Macedonia from Serres to Skopje and Kastoria (135 names) and Constantinople and neighboring areas including Thrace (69 names). Geographically, 168 names are from western Anatolia (28), the northern and northwestern coasts of the Black Sea (19), the Aegean Sea including Lemnos and Crete (22), Peloponnese (14), Cyprus (11), Kephalenia (5), Thessaly and Epiros (4), and southern Italy (4). Some names cannot be identified geographically at the present stage of research, or their geographic affiliation is questionable (39). These 350 persons constitute about 1.3 percent of all known residents of the west Byzantine states between 1204 and 1453. These calculations may be revised and amended as the result of further etymological work.


Byzantine Acropolis of Christoupolis (modern Kavala, Macedonia, Greece)

Due to the fragmentary state of Late Byzantine documentary material any comprehensive demographic study can be made only for particular territories. This is true for the entire period of the Nicaean empire. Existing documents of the Anatolian monasteries Lembiotissa near Smyrna and Latra near Miletos are relatively poor and cover areas too small to derive the ethnic structure of Byzantine Anatolia from 1204 to 1260s. Thrace, perhaps the most interesting study area, in which occurred, in the first half of the fourteenth century, intensive contact between the Byzantine and Turkic ethnic substrates did not provide much documentary material. Almost nothing remains of the documentary material concerning the Byzantine possessions in the Black Sea coast of the Balkans, and the northwestern coast of Anatolia. The demographics of the Aegean islands likewise is too fragmentary to construct any ethno-demographic statistics.

An exception is Byzantine Macedonia, extending from the Serres region to Kastoria and Ochrid, a densely populated province of Late Byzantium, which supports enough demographic data for a statistical approximation. This is due to monastic documents, especially documents of the monasteries of Athos which include imperial chrysobulls and private acts of donation, deeds of purchase, court decisions on disputes over contested lands, and delineations of lands. The most informative type of monastic document, containing abundant anthroponymical data, is praktikon, an inventory containing fiscal information on monastic possessions and listing taxes and households of peasants present on its land. Such assessments took place in Macedonia in 1300–01, 1316–18,1320–21, 1338–41, and sporadically in some intervening years. Assessments ceased after the middle of the fourteenth century, but briefly reappeared in the beginning of the fifteenth century; the last known praktikon dates to 1420.

The majority of Oriental names in Macedonia are found in monastic documents. The surviving monastic documentation, however, has a significant limitation; it mostly deals with monastic properties. Only a few of the documents concern lay proprietors because these areas were once incorporated into monastic estates. The nature of the primary sources defines principal chronological, demographic, and territorial limitations. The elucidation of the Macedonian population from these documents is irregular, as they are mostly from the first half of the fourteenth century. They cover only a portion of existing individuals and concern only those areas that were in the possession of monasteries. A considerable portion of settlements and their respective population remain outside the scope of the primary sources. Other sources such as imperial and patriarchal documentation, account books, marginal notes, and historiography provide additional information, but do not correct the deficiency of the main sources. Moreover, available sources only rarely reflect the activity of merchants. Account books directly concerning trade provide us with a few names of merchants, hence the low percentage of merchants in the database of Oriental names.

From among a total of approximately 10,000 names relating to Macedonia, 135 Oriental names have been selected by means of etymological analysis, constituting about 1.5 percent of the total number of names for that region. These sources sometimes contain information about blood relatives (parents, uncles, brothers, children, grandchildren). With this additional information the overall number of individuals covered is 198. The importance of the Macedonian anthroponymical material is also due to the fact that these 135 names make up more than one-third (39 percent) of the entirety of Oriental names for the west Byzantine region (350 names). This proportion confirms that in Macedonia compared to other regions of the Byzantine world we have detailed demographic data.

The Byzantine Pontos

Pontic anthroponymics and toponymics of Oriental origin for the period 1204–1461 is found primarily in Greek private and public documents such as the acts of the Vazelon monastery in Matzouka/Maçka, the main reservoir, the Grand Komnenian imperial chrysobulls, some inscriptions, the texts of the Pontic intellectuals of different genres, and, lastly, some information from Oriental and Latin sources. These sources have limitations similar to west Byzantine material; they cover the territory of the Empire of Trebizond in a fragmentary manner and shed only uneven light on periods of the history of the Byzantine Pontos. They do cover more or less minutely the most populated zones of the Empire of Trebizond, the banda of Matzouka, Palaiomatzouka, Trikomia, Sourmaina, Rhizaion, and the metropolitan region of Trebizond. The most abundant anthroponymical data belong to the regions of Matzouka and Palaiomatzouka. The demographic information regarding Trikomia (northwest of Matzouka) and the districts of Gemora and Rhizaion (northeast of Matzouka) is incomplete.

The number of non-Greek names relating to the Pontos that remain unidentified, with rare exceptions, considerably exceeds the general Byzantine figures. The overall number of unidentified names is estimated at a little more than 40 percent of the total number of names. The major portion of unidentified names is certainly of non-Greek origin. Following these figures, one can expect a more substantial proportion of the population in the Pontos to be non-Greek in comparison to the west Byzantine territories.

From more than 1,600 names preserved in the Pontic Greek sources, 65 names of Oriental origin covering 93 persons have been chosen. Consequently, the approximate ratio of Oriental immigrants or their descendants constitutes 5.8 percent, that is, four times higher than in the west Byzantine lands. These names belonged to persons who lived in the Empire of Trebizond and owned property. Unlike the west Byzantine material, etymologization of the Pontic anthroponymics requires special attention to the specific features of the local Greek dialect*, as well as to Kartvelian* and Near Eastern onomastics of the time.

One more feature of the Pontic anthroponymics differentiates it from the west Byzantine models. In the Pontos, Armenian and Georgian Christians could have had Arabic, Persian, Turkic, or Mongolian names. The adoption of Arabic names by Georgian Christians has been noted by J.-Cl. Cheynet in his study of the Byzantine Arabs for the tenth and eleventh centuries. There is no evidence of such usage in the west Byzantine anthroponymics.

For the Pontic region, in the absence or insufficiency of other, especially narrative, sources, onomastics is the most informative and reliable source for the reconstruction of its ethnic map.

(Source: “The Byzantine Turks, 1204-1461”, by Rustam Shukurov)


The Soumela Monastery, Trebizond, Pontos (modern Trabzon, Turkey)

*NovoScriptorium: Pontic Greek is a Greek dialect originally spoken in the Pontus area on the southern shores of the Black Sea, northeastern Anatolia, the Eastern Turkish/Caucasus province of Kars, southern Georgia and today mainly in northern Greece. Its speakers are referred to as Pontic Greeks or Pontian Greeks.

The linguistic lineage of Pontic Greek stems from Ionic Greek via Koine and Byzantine Greek, and contains influences from Georgian, Russian, Turkish and Armenian.

The Kartvelian languages are a language family indigenous to the South Caucasus and spoken primarily in Georgia.

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

One thought on “Oriental names in the Late Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) World

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: