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8-08-2015, 00:03

Wealth, migrations of nomads and disarray on the lower danube

The reorganisation of the western Balkan lands in the mid-eleventh century took place against a background of renewed nomad threats to Paradounabon. Between 1032 and 1036, a series of raids by the Pechenegs penetrated the empire as far as Thessaloniki, laid waste much of Thrace and Macedonia, and sacked a number of the smaller fortified kastra on the lower Danube. Excavations at two such fortresses, Dervent and Capidava, have revealed destruction levels dated by coins ofMichael IV (1034–41). At Capidava archaeologists have uncovered a pit full of dismembered bodies and burnt debris.42 The suburbs ofDinogetia showsimilar signs of a devastating nomad assault, datable by over 100 coins to spring 1036.43 New houses were subsequently built there; unlike earlier semi-subterranean dwellings, they were erected at ground level on a foundation of small stones and twigs, and the regular pattern of construction suggests this was a coordinated imperial enterprise. A contemporary project saw the construction of similar surface-level houses on the island of P˘acuiul lui Soare near Dristra.44 BothDinogetia and P˘acuiul lui Soare appear to have flourished as trading posts in the mid-eleventh century, sharing in the remarkable growth in trade between Constantinople and the lower Danube which coincided exactly with the intensification of the Pecheneg threat. This probably reflects a deliberate policy of encouraging the nomads to trade rather than raid. Contemporary written references to this phenomenon are scarce. The Life of Cyril the Phileote reveals that the saint was employed as a navigator on board a ship that traded along the Black Sea coast and at the watch-towers of the lowerDanube.45MichaelAttaleiates provides a brief description of these fortified entrepˆots, where a myriad of languages could be heard.46 However, the archaeological record provides greater insights. Finds of amphorae, used to transport a variety of goods including olive oil and wine, have been abundant at sites along the lower Danube, while trade in other ceramics also grew rapidly, most commonly olive-green glazed wares produced in Constantinople.47 Further evidence for trade links with the imperial capita is provided by a seal discovered atNoviodunum struck by ‘Niketas, notarios and boullot¯es’, a Constantinople-based official responsible for oversight of controlled merchandise.48 Large numbers of coins facilitated trade on the lower Danube. Most of them were struck in Constantinople. To cite just a couple of examples, over 1,000 eleventh-century Byzantine bronze coins have been discovered at P˘acuiul lui Soare, with a peak underMichael IV (c. 200 coins) and Constantine IX (c. 300 coins). Of the more than 600 bronze coins discovered at Dinogetia, 100 represent a single hoard of folleis struck by Michael IV. While such numbers are still modest when compared with extensively excavated sites in the heart of the empire, such as Athens or Corinth, they are far greater than in previous periods in this region. Significant numbers of Byzantine precious coins have been found in lands which were then occupied by the Pechenegs, for example in Bessarabia and Wallachia, which may represent tribute payments.49 Great care was taken to maintain good relations with the people who lived alongside the Pechenegs. The citizens of the towns on the lower Danube were provided with annual stipends (philotimiai) to guarantee their loyalty and to support a substantial local army.50 Payments and opportunities for trade failed to prevent a massive migration of Pechenegs into Byzantine lands in 1043. A feud had erupted between the Pechenegs’ supreme chieftain, Tyrach, and his subordinate Kegen, who had fled with his followers to an island near Dristra.51 Kegen was baptised in Constantinople, awarded the rank of patrikios and given command of three kastra on theDanube, whence he provoked Tyrach to launch an invasion across the frozen river in winter 1047.52 The nomads pillaged widely, before an outbreak of pestilence forced their surrender. Captives were settled along the main road that ran fromNiˇs to Sofia.53 Just as all seem settled, an attack on the eastern frontier by the newly arrived Seljuq Turks inspired the emperor to raise a force of 15,000 from among the Pecheneg colonists. Despatched to the east under their own chiefs, the nomads rebelled as soon as they had crossed the Bosporus. They made their way back into the Balkans, crossed the Haemus and settled in the vicinity of Preslav. Kegen’s Pechenegs, previously loyal to the emperor, joined the rebellion, and efforts to crush the rebellions led to a series of imperial defeats.54 Public reaction was strong, and the emperor was left with no option but to recognise the settlement of an independent group of nomads between the Haemus and lower Danube, in a region called the ‘hundred hills’.55 In 1053 he agreed a thirty-year peace treaty, and with ‘gifts and imperial titles soothed the ferocity and barbarity’ of the Pechenegs.56 It is in the context of the Pecheneg wars that we first find mention of an integrated command known as Paradounabon. We have the seals of several katepanoi of Paradounabon, which have all been dated later than c. 1045.57 The magistros and doux Basil Apokapes was probably appointed to command Paradounabon during the brief reign of Isaac I Komnenos (1057–9).58 In response to a joint assault of Hungarians and Pechenegs, Isaac renewed an aggressive policy. He achieved no substantive success, but returned to Constantinople having destroyed some nomad tents and bearing booty, with ‘his head crowned with the garlands of victory’.59 If the Pechenegs proved unwilling to relinquish territory in Paradounabon it had much to do with the Uzes, or Oghuz, who now occupied their former lands north of the lower Danube. Ominously for both the Pechenegs and Byzantines, in 1064, when the commanders of the towns of the Danube were the magistros Basil Apokapes and the illustrious magistros Nikephoros Botaneiates, the entire tribe of Uzes, bringing their possessions, crossed the frozen river Danube in long wooden boats and sharp-prowed vessels made of branches lashed together. They defeated the Bulgarians and other soldiers who attempted to block their passage.60 Both Byzantine commanders were captured, and lands were despoiled even beyond Thessaloniki. Fortunately for the Byzantines, like Tyrach’s Pechenegs in 1047, the Uzes fell victim to disease. Some survivors were recruited into the Byzantine army, others returned north and were employed as border guards by the rulers of the Rus and Hungarians.