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8-08-2015, 00:03

Slav malcontents, armed heretics and pechenegs

The persistent threat posed by the various nomadic peoples led the new emperor and former general Constantine X (1059–67) to believe there could be no effective military solution to the problems in Paradounabon, and that security was better achieved by appeasement.However, even this broke down in the fiscal and political crisis of the 1070s, when the empire suffered assaults from all sides. In 1071 Seljuq Turks and Turkoman nomads invaded Anatolia, and in the extended aftermath of the battle ofManzikert bands of Turkoman nomads moved into the interior plateau of Anatolia (see above, pp. 609–10). No decent defence was mounted while the emperor Romanos IV Diogenes (1068–1071) competed with the Doukas family for control of the throne. The Balkan and Italian lands of the empire were no more stable at this time than Anatolia. In 1071, Bari, the last Byzantine stronghold in southern Italy, fell to the Normans. In the same year, the Hungarians and the Pechenegs crossed into imperial lands and plundered throughout Thrace and Macedonia; as a consequence the Slav people threw off the Roman yoke and laid waste Bulgaria, taking plunder and leaving scorched earth. Skopje and Niˇs were sacked, and all the towns along the river Sava and beside the Danube between Sirmium and Vidin suffered greatly. Furthermore, the Croats and Dukljans throughout the whole of Dalmatia rose in rebellion.61 Skylitzes Continuatus provides a useful account of the Slavs’ rebellion. Michael of Duklja, we are told, was approached by Bulgarian chieftains who demanded that he despatch a son ‘to deliver them from the oppression and exactions of the Romans’.62 Michael gladly sent his son Bodin with 300 troops to Prizren, where he was met by the magnates and the leading man of Skopje, George Vojteh, who acclaimed Bodin ‘as emperor of the Bulgarians and gave him the new name Peter’. Peter was an imperial name in Bulgaria, recalling the tsar who reigned from 927 to 969. The doux of Skopje, Nikephoros Karantenos, marched on Prizren with an allied force of Byzantines and Bulgarians. However, Karantenos was undermined by rumours and replaced by a certain Damian Dalassenos, who taunted and insulted his troops, destroying their morale on the eve of battle; they suffered a bloody rout at the hands of the Serbs. Consequently, the rest of the Bulgarians recognised Bodin-Peter as their emperor, while he set about plundering lands around Niˇs and abusing the locals. Vojteh’s opportunism in approaching theDukljans had thus been turned against him, for the new ‘Bulgarian emperor’ proved to be more avaricious than the Byzantines. Moreover, when a Byzantine army marched on Skopje, Bodin-Peter showed no concern for his ‘subjects’, obliging Vojteh to surrender without offering resistance. A garrison was installed in Skopje while Byzantine forces turned to Niˇs and promptly captured Bodin-Peter, who was despatched to Constantinople, and thence to Antioch.63 Skylitzes Continuatus considered the reason for the rebellions to have been the ‘insatiate greed’ of the treasurer Nikephoritzes, which he compared to the policy that had sparked the rebellions of the 1040s. The burden of taxation caused particular offence to the local leadership in lands around Skopje, at the northern limits of direct Byzantine administration, where Peter Deljan had initially found his supporters. Such sentiments were not shared by all Bulgarians, and many fought alongside the Byzantine troops against Bodin-Peter.64 The turmoil of the early 1070s left Pechenegs in charge of key outposts on the Danube. It also saw the end of the distribution of stipends, forcing the nomads to look elsewhere for booty. Once again they set their sights on the lands south of the Haemus, and in 1077 launched a devastating raid into Thrace.65 Ominously, the Pechenegs began to forge connections with the Paulicians, a heretical sect settled near Philippopolis, who had taken control of several passes through the Haemus. The fact that the nomads relied on a heretical minority may also suggest that they could expect little assistance from the orthodox majority. From his stronghold at Beliatoba, which dominated a pass of the same name through theHaemus, the Paulicians’ leader Traulos controlled access between Paradounabon and Thrace. When Traulos sought to ally himself with the Pechenegs, marrying the daughter of one of their chieftains, the newemperor Alexios IKomnenos (1081–1118) ‘foresaw the evil likely to result, and wrote conciliatory letters full of promises.He even sent a chrysobull guaranteeing Traulos an amnesty and full liberty.’66 The emperor’s efforts at conciliation were fruitless, and once again the Pechenegs crossed into Byzantine lands. Gregory Pakourianos, commander-in-chief of the imperial forces in the west, was given responsibility for resisting the Pechenegs while the emperor campaigned against the Normans at Dyrrachium. Pakourianos prosecuted his war with some success, but died in battle in 1086, riding his horse headlong into an oak tree.67 In spring 1087, Tzelgu, the supreme chieftain of the Pechenegs who were still settled north of the Danube, launched a devastating invasion. His route, crossing the middle Danube, suggests that he had reached an agreement with the Pechenegs settled in Paradounabon not to violate their territory. He had also reached an understanding with the Hungarians, and a large force under the former Hungarian king Salomon (1063–74) accompanied him. A Byzantine force fell on them in a mountain pass and succeeded in killing Tzelgu. However, those who escaped ‘returned to the Danube and made their camp there. Living alongside [Byzantine] lands they treated them as their own and plundered with complete licence.’68 Groups of nomads on both sides of the Danube had made common cause, forcing Alexios Komnenos to reconsider his northern policy. In an oration delivered in January 1088 by Theophylact, the future archbishop of Ohrid, the emperor’s willingness to treat with the Pechenegs is celebrated as a ‘bloodless victory’.69However, this was ephemeral, and the Pecheneg wars, which are copiously documented by Anna Komnena, reached their bloody conclusion at Lebounion in Thrace on 29 April 1091. This was a magnificent victory for the imperial forces, hence the chant by the Byzantines: ‘All because of one day, the Scythians never saw May.’70 The Life of Cyril the Phileote provides a near-contemporary account of the panic before the battle when ‘because of the imminent danger all took refuge in citadels’, and the relief afterwards when ‘the insurmountable turmoil caused by the Scythians was transformed into peace with the aid ofGod and the perseverance of the emperor’.71 The victory at Lebounion established theKomnenoi in an unassailable position in Constantinople. Alexios was able to disinherit the son of Michael VII Doukas and appoint his own three-year-old son John – the future John II (1118–43) – as junior emperor.