View Full Version : Professor JC's Balkans History Class 201
03-20-2009, 05:45 PM
I've decided since I will never get around to writing a TL anywhere in my periods of interest without taking into account the situations of surrounding countries in many cases(eg Russia vis a vis Poland, which I know next to nothing about) I'll instead try to post some concise histories of regions and countries that can then be used for future reference by all those who want to come by and use info that can be incorporated into their TLs.(or use links for those who know how to search, not me:( )
My first, ah "lecture" in the "Better Know a History" series will be about the history of the Balkans as it relates to how the current ethnic groups which inhabit it have helped shaped it. Yeah, specific events there by the local people haven't had a huge tendency to be important, but since nobody knows much about it when its little more than a playground of outside powers , I figure I might as well be the one to shed light on it.
So without further ado....
The history of the Balkans starts to be shaped all the way back to the period of roughly 1400 BC, with the arrival of the Mycenaean which we all know, are the ancestors of the Greeks. They quickly overwhelmed the local Aegean population, which curiously enough, may have been linguistic relatives of the Etruscans of Italy.
The overwhelming impact that the Greeks had on history in scientific and philosophical terms has already been well-documented and well-established and need not be covered here(plus, someone else can find some links, not me)
So let's fast-forward several hundred years to the late 4th century BC. Not much time will be taken up discussing this, as most of this relates to the Byzantine Empire which will take up an entire section in and in itself(but again, leave that to one of my colleagues who would rather debate)
But anyways, the Byzantine Empire faced invasion by numerous Goth and Hun tribes which it successfully turned back, largely because it convinced them that Constantinople would be too hard to take.
Around the mid 500s, the empire was in good enough fiscal health that Justinian felt it fit to strengthen fortifications throughout the Balkans.
And it was a good thing he did this.
Because this was around the time the Slavs started to infiltrate the empire. They were composed of small and unorganized groups that composed little more than a nuisance.
Still, they would not establish a long-term presence in the Balkans region.
Until the Avars came and changed everything......
03-23-2009, 02:32 PM
03-23-2009, 07:44 PM
Oh goody! This is where my currently abandoned timeline was going to start.
EDIT: and believe me, my timeline was going to be very Balkans intensive.
Very well done - makes the history of the Balkans seem much more comprehensible.
03-26-2009, 07:59 PM
Thande, if you have questions about the 1800s, just PM me.
And now, finally, to the next segment(or two)
The arrival of the Avars proved to have a lasting and destructive impact on Southeast Europe. Like so many other invaders, they were a powerful Turkic-led tribal confederation that probably absorbed many other barbarian tribes, including the remains of the Hunnish hordes, which they came in contact with.
At first, the Byzantines would attempt to keep the Avars away by a policy of bribery and turning other tribes against them. Curiously enough, this would also lead to the invasion of Italy by the Germanic Lombards, who were encouraged by the Avars to move westward after the two tribes annihilated the Gepids, another tribe.
Ultimately though, the Byzantines became unable to meet payments around the 580s, which led to an increased series of depredations that ravaged the Empire.
The assassination of Emperor Maurice in 602 proved a turning point in the continuing conflicts. A civil war and a Persian invasion would ultimately leave the future Balkans at the mercy of the Avars.
The Slavs would form one of the main bulwarks of continued Avar incursions into the Byzantine Empire. As the Avars never really had the strength to really lay siege to Constantinople, they were left to plunder the countryside and mountains.
Unfortunately, this would leave untold devastation on the countryside. Cities and villages were plundered, causing many people to be killed or leave their lands which were then occupied by the Slavs.
During this time, the Unknown Archont who is believed to be the ancestor of Serbia's first recognized king Vlastimir probably led have led a group of people loosely known as the modern-day Serbs, into modern-day Serbia. A story that he helped put an end to the Avars as a significant threat to Byzantium after the climatic 626 siege of Constantinople is apocryphal, and as such probably not true.
More likely, the humiliating defeat of the Avars, who were acting in collusion with the Persians, was probably more responsible for the breakup of their confederation.
Regardless, the Slavs and other non-related tribes that mixed with them were now spread out from the Danube to the Peloponnese. They ended up constituting a majority of the population in all the rural areas, and generally surrounded the Greeks who were essentially closed up in their walled towns.
At this point, the Byzantine central government had little actual control over these regions.
This situation did exist everywhere. There were some villages with mixed Greek and Slav populations. Still, there were other ethnic groups such as the Illyrians and Vlahs that successfully survived, in part because they retreated to rugged mountain regions where they held out.
Progress would be made under Justinian II, whose campaign against the Bulgars in the Macedonia region would also lead to the subjagation of some Slavs which then suffered the fate 30,000 of being sent to Anatolia.
But it wouldn't be until around 800 before the Emperor Nikephoros I finally launched a large-scale effort to colonize and force Hellenization on what were largely Slavic regions. When it came to modern-day Greece, these efforts were successful. The inhabitants eventually thought of themselves asb being almost entirely Greek, though isolated pockets of Slavic speakers continued to exist in remote regions.
In the middle of all this, the Bulgars would rise to power of which some time must be spent on to understand the consequent history of the Balkans......
Some of the same Iranian origins as the Scythians. Migrations are some strange things
03-26-2009, 08:29 PM
What exactly happened to the Avars as an ethnicity after the breakup of their confederation? I've never understood that.
03-26-2009, 08:31 PM
(eh, why not.....)
Not much time will be spent on the Bulgars, as their history in relation to the Byzantine Empire is already well-known. However, something must be said about them, for the precedent they would set in dealing with the Byzantine Empire would have much influence on how future affairs played out.
The Bulgars were yet another "confederation" of Turkic tribes that were of Oguz Gok origin.....it's hard to tell the difference between where one designation ends and the other begins.;) Under the leadership of Kubrat, a descendant of Attila who belonged to the Dulo clan and also visited the Byzantine court when he was young and baptized as a Christian, they would establish the state of Great Bulgaria which existed somewhere north of the Black Sea. Descendants of his son Aspuruh would go on to found what would really be the first Bulgar state. But after the death of the last Dulo leader Sevar around 750(the chronicles are disputed here) the Bulgar state would descend into a period of internal unrest between pro and anti-Byzantine factions. The Byzantines were unfortunately not able to take advantage of this because of renewed warfare with the Abbasid Caliphate during this time.
The next 100 years has little direct relevance to our discussion, save that Krum's leadership probably proved critical. So let us skip ahead to 852, when Boris I became Khan of the Bulgars.
At this moment, both because of personal interest and a desire for his nation to gain acceptability in Europe, Boris became interested in converting to Christianity. An invasion by Byzantium in 865 would quicken his decision, especially as most of his troops were on the northwest border with Moravia and a plague was sweeping the land at the time.
Events would take a turn for the worst when Boris requested a Bulgarian archbishop and recognition of local and regional customs in his country in a letter to eastern Partriarch Photius, a clever individual who wanted to expand Eastern influence. Photius, in typical heavy-handed fashion, refused.
resentful of Byzantine influence in his religious affairs, which proved tantamount to control as a result of their actions, so he would then seek the help of Rome. The Church, however, proved to be heavy-handed and ultimately uncaring of Bulgarian church autonomy, leading to the return of Bulgaria to the Orthodox fold by 870 under autocephalous, or autonomous status.
This precedent(and I normally think "precedents" are overrused) would prove to be extremely important in the later history of the Balkans. Other nationalities would see having autocephalous status for their churches as a way of reaffirming their own national identities, but more importantly a way of acquiring the prestige of full nation status(basically). This practice would unfortunately be used in the somewhat artificial creation of the Macedonian "nation" when a autonomous church was created in 1964.
But to actually convert the diverse populace of the Bulgars(Slavic speakers and a Turk noble class. along with small numbers of conquered Greeks) an alphabet reflecting the language of the majority Slavic had to be devised. Two disciples of the famous Cyril, Kliment and Naum were enlisted for this task upon their fleeing Moravia due to the local Catholic authorities cracking down on their activities. At first, the Glagolthic alphabet was used, which was based off a Slavonic dialect spoken in the Macedonia region, where Cyril was stationed when he was young. Greek characters were used to transcribe the Slavic symbols But the clumsy, ungainly, and ultimately confusing nature of the alphabet meant another one had to be devised so that Slavs being trained for the clergy could learn it more quickly. And so, a simpler alphabet was crated which was meant to precisely represent the phonetic characters of Slavonic languages.
Needless, to say, the creation of this alphabet would foster a strong literary culture among the Bulgar nation, welding local and regional identities into a national entity. Ultimately it proved to be responsible for the assimilation of the bolyar ruling elite into their Slavic subjects, something which was largely responsible for the ability of the Bulgars to preserve their independence over the next century and a half.
The next part will try to say something of the confusing history of the Serbs.
03-26-2009, 09:39 PM
Interesting, I hadn't realised where the autonomous nature of the national Orthodox churches came from.
And I'm well aware of the whole Macedonian controversy, what with working in a lab with a Bulgarian ;)
03-27-2009, 02:28 PM
What exactly happened to the Avars as an ethnicity after the breakup of their confederation? I've never understood that.
Well, Norwich claims that they were totally wiped out by Krum shortly after he seized the mantle of Bulgar leadership shortly around 800. But like he says in the intro of Byzantium, he makes no pretense at scholarship, so there are some areas, like with what he says about the origin of Cyrillic, where he didn't check his facts accurately.
Truthfully, I don't know. Probably, the eastern tribes were absorbed by the Bulgars and the Kazars, while the rest probably threw their lot in with the Slavs.
04-02-2009, 09:35 PM
Let me just start this by saying I will perform the ever-annoying action of adding more on to what I've already got. In case you haven't noticed, I've already added some clarification on the assimilation of the Bulgarians.
But first comes basic info on the Serbs and Croats. What comes afterwards will have to wait. Spellings are literal. Hungarian I don't know too well, so here it goes
The Serbs and Croats were both highly fragmented nations politically. Despite having a vague central leader known as a knez or prince, the position was not necessarily hereditary. Without any set laws of primogeniture, successions often proved to be choatic.
An important development in Croatian history came in 879 when Branimir seized the throne. It was around this time that Croatia turned decisively Catholic.
Despite doctrinal differences, the Croats, for the most part, tended to ally with the Byzantines, since the Byzantines had lost the ability to effectively control Dalmatia by the the 800s anyway, and as such, never threatened it. They would mostly leave this task to their nominal Venetian vassal, which led to many conflicts with Croatia over control of Dalmatia. Needless to say, the Venetians coveted it, but more-or-less independent cities such as Dubrovnik would strongly contest Venetian attempts to interfere. After Stejepan Drzislav died in 997, Venice would actually try to interfere in the succession.
But Byzantine would eventually come to Croatia's aid and help to to drive off Venice and Kresimir III would take the throne.
Eventually, Croatia experienced a crisis after the death of the anti-Byzantine ruler Zvotimir. His wife would get Hungary's king Lazlo to interfere in 1093. The occupation of Pannonia would only be the beginning of a process that lasted close to ten years. Eventually, Croatia was compelled to accept personal union with Hungary in 1102 under King Kalman(or Coloman despite the best efforts of Alexius to keep them independent.
Serbia's history was slightly different. Because of proximity to both Byzantium and Bulgaria, it wavered between the 2 for some time before Bulgarian occupation caused them to become Byzantine allies for the next 100 years, as they went between Bulgarian rule and independence. But when the Byzantines conquered Bulgaria around 1020, the situation would slowly start to change, as the Empire increasingly came under the rule of incompetents. Serbia would throw off nominal suzeraint as a result, and ally with the Normans, and would provide a base for them during their 1080s invasion. Unfortunately, Alexius I was more competent than anybody else had been for a quarter of a century. After sparking a revolt in Norman Sicily, the Normans returned to crush it, only to be stricken with plague which led to the death of their charismatic leader Robert Guiscard in 1085. A succession crisis ended Sicily's attempts at attacking Byzantium for a while, and Serbia would once again acknowledge the Byzantine Emperor as their sovereign.
A number of abortive attempts were made by Serbia to throw off Byzantine control. But none of them could really be considered serious until Stjepan Nemanja took sole control of Serbia's throne in the 1170s, some 10 years after Manuel I raised his family to be ruler. Despite making vassal obligations to Manuel, the latter's death in 1180 would cause the Serbian veliki zupan or grand prince, to throw off Byzantine control again.
An independent state of Bosnia would also appear for the first time in history around this time. Led by the knez Kotromanic, Bosnia gained wealth from its silver mines and became a center of trade. Unfortunately, it also gained a reputation as a hotbed of Bogomil sentiment, a heretic sect which preached renunciation of material wealth. Despite that the Pope at the time preached a crusade against Bosnia, there is little evidence to suggest anything than the heresy accusations were propaganda spread by Hungarians. In truth, the Bosnian church was most likely an indepedent entity that practiced Catholic traditions.
The increasing weakness of the Byzantine Empire also meant that Bulgaria would split off from the Byzantine Empire. Sparked by an attempt by Issac II Angelos to raise taxes to pay for his expensive wedding to Bela III's daughter, the Asen brothers would throw out the Byzantines in 1186. They then resumed old Bulgarian Byzantine ambitions towards the Byzantine Empire.
But the 2nd Bulgarian Empire suffered from the outset from a highly decentralized bojar aristocracy that proved to be rebellious. It was a Cuman leader that would assassinate Kaloyan for unclear reasons while he was besieging Thessaloniki in 1207.
Despite that, it would reach a pinnacle of sorts under Ivan II. He would attempt to form an alliance with the Byzantine Empire in exile, the Empire of Nicaea, against the Latin Empire. By 1237, their efforts were so successful that Ivan realized that Nicaea would prove a much more powerful foe than the Latins. He then switched sides, only to witness the
death of his wife, and one of his children. Interpreting the deaths as a sign of God's displeasure, he would waffle indecisively before the Mongol invasion of 1241 put an end to his country as a major power. Despite future intrigues against Byzantine and Serbia after the Mongols left, Bulgaria would remain a weak and divided country until the Ottoman conquest in 1395.
Ivan also intrigued in Serbia where he helped Stefan Vladislav gained the throne. But his more capable brother Stefan Uros I would overthrow him 1241 and take control for himself. Uros I proved to be a noteworthy ruler in Serbian history for his attempts to centralize the fragmented, highly feudal society of Serbia. Unfortunately, he would incur the wrath of his son Stefan Dragutin as a result of this policy when he refused to grant him an appanage. After fleeing Serbia, Dragutin would then overthrow his father with Hungarian help. He then reversed his father's policy. During this time, there would be border conflicts with the Mongols. A general pro-Byzantine foreign policy was pursued.
It was also during this time that Byzantine court procedures and ceremony were copied to the point of where one could little tell the difference. The Serbs might as well have been Greek themselves.
This was no doubt one thing that influenced Stefan Uros IV Dusan(1331-1356) to have himself crowned kar or emperor in 1346. Despite conquering Thessaly and Epirus, he lacked a navy and as such, could not take the fortress city of Thessaloniki. His death in 1355 would ultimately lead to fragmentation of the country as his young and weak son Stefan Uros V(1355-1371) could not deal with the nobles effectively, and Serbia would soon fall into civil war.
Around this time, the Ottomans began to expand further in Europe. Their disunited and rather militarily inferior European foes proved to be no match for them, and they forced several countries to acknowledge nominal Ottoman suzerainty Despite symbolic victories like the 1389 battle of Kosovo Polje, all attempts by the European countries to drive the Ottomans out of Europe in the 1400s failed. By 1461, all of the Balkans were under Byzantine control.
There were some exceptions. The territory of modern-day Montenegro, then known as Zeta, held out until 1496 when the last Crnojevic ruler was deposed.
However, the dark and foreboding nature of the central Montenegro mountains meant that the Ottomans did not feel comfortable with a prolonged campaign in the region, so they mostly left it to it's own devices.
The same was the case with the city-state of Dubrovnik, which had a wealthy merchant community that the Ottomans did not see the need to interfere with by directly seizing control of it.
Croatia would remain a point of contention between Hungarian, and later, Austrian rule, over the centuries.
Now, at some point, we must explore just how life was under the Ottomans, which was somewhat grim, but perhaps not so bad as modern-day Balkan nationalists outside of Albania and Kosovo would like other to think.....
Like the Paulicians and Cathars
04-03-2009, 06:37 PM
My post was eaten up earlier, but I've updated with general history up to around 1461.
It summarizes the things very nicely - while I would point out a few things that depend on a point of view and the desire to nitpick (i.e. it being quite a bit more than a quarter of a century since a competent Emperor ruled in Constantinople by the time of Alexius I's reign in 1081 - true, there were Isaac I and Romanus IV, but neither reigned for a very long time, and did not have a chance to reverse the falling fortunes of the Empire; the second thing is the reasoning behind the Bulgar rebellion against Isaac II, which has to do IIRC with the Asen brothers expecting some kind of promotion, not getting it, and deciding to break away from the Angeli dynasty's rule), it works very well at providing a good, solid overall picture.
04-25-2009, 03:20 PM
Good work, keep it up.
04-29-2009, 07:55 PM
the second thing is the reasoning behind the Bulgar rebellion against Isaac II, which has to do IIRC with the Asen brothers expecting some kind of promotion, not getting it, and deciding to break away from the Angeli dynasty's rule)
Well, that is what Wikipedia says.:chuckle: But I've read maybe 2 good sources on Bulgaria. And one of them, Dennis Hupchick, is a Scholar of Bulgarian Studies himself, so I'm not too surprised he played down the want of power of the Asen brothers. Or maybe it's just my imperfect memory.
Originally posted by ThandeGood work, keep it up.
Sure thing, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to. I'm just as likely to post some of my writings which haven't been done much themselves lately. I think I could get a book published if I wanted, but that's off-topic.
It'll probably be about 7-8 weeks.
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