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PROJECT BarByz_10-13

Main project topic

The project From Barbarians to Christians and Rhomaioi. The Process of Byzantinization in the Central Balkans (late 10th – mid-13th century) deals with political, military, ideological, cultural and religious influence exerted by the Byzantine Empire on the central areas of the Balkans – a process known in modern scholarship as Byzantinization. The process of Byzantinization implied the shaping of the cultural and ethnic identity of the local population according to the principles of the Christian Byzantine Empire. The main objective of the project is to explain the key factors that influenced the course and characteristics of the Byzantinization process. The process depended both on the Empire’s “soft power” and on the formal inclusion of the given area into its borders.

Territorial scope

The choice of the central Balkans as the territorial framework of this research is based on the fact that from the 7th century this area lay beyond the reach of Byzantium and came to be included in the Byzantinization process only in the 970s, when the Byzantine Empire established more direct control over it. Therefore, the Byzantinization process did not unfold identically in all parts of the central Balkans. Keeping these circumstances in mind, the research will be organized into four geographical and historical zones: the northeastern Balkans, the central Balkans, the Danube-Morava region, and the northwestern parts of the central Balkans. The time limit of the project means that some areas will have to be excluded from the research, such as the Balkan borderlands (the themes of Thrace, Macedonia, Strymon, Thessalonica, Nicopolis, Cephalonia, Dyrrhachion and Dalmatia). Because they were already parts of the Empire, the process of Byzantinization in those areas was well advanced.

Chronological scope

The chronological scope of the proposed research project provisionally spans the period from the late 10th to the mid-13th century. Within the proposed time frame there are several chronological phases in which the Byzantinization process of the central Balkans can be outlined more clearly. The criterion for distinguishing different phases depends on whether the area under consideration was part of the Empire, or just under its cultural and political influence. The following phases could be distinguished:

– The period of the so-called first Byzantine “Reconquista” or the reign of John I Tzimiskes (969–976), when the Empire penetrated the Balkan interior (northeastern Bulgaria and the Danubian frontier). Having regained the territories it had lost three centuries earlier as the result of the Slav-Avar invasion and the Bulgarian settlement in the 7th century, Byzantium tried to organize its government according to its military administration in the eastern part of the Empire. The phase ends with Samuel’s rebellion and the restoration of the Bulgarian Empire (969/976–1018/1019).

– The second phase starts with the reign of Basil II (976–1025) or the second Reconquista. Byzantium’s struggle to return to the central Balkan territories lasted more than forty years and eventually resulted in the establishment of a more comprehensive Byzantine control of the Balkan interior. Harmonizing its military administration with church organization – establishing the Archbishopric of Ohrid – in the early 11th century, Byzantium paved the way for a more lasting process of Byzantinization in the central Balkans.

– The third phase can be traced from the death of Basil II in 1025 until the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204. During that period, the Archbishopric of Ohrid became an increasingly significant instrument in the implementation of Byzantinization of the central Balkans.

– The last phase covers the period from 1204 until the restoration of the Byzantine Empire in 1261. It is the period when Byzantium started to withdraw from the Balkans both politically and militarily. In these circumstances, the Archbishopric of Ohrid became the main factor in the Byzantinization of the local communities in that area. In this phase the epoch of the Ohrid archbishop Demetrios Chomatenos (around ca. 1216 – ca. 1236) particularly stands out, as the sources clearly show that belonging to the Byzantine Christian community meant suppressing local ethnic identities.

Main research objectives

The main research objectives are the following:

• Defining the term “Byzantinization” as an interactive relationship between the dominant cultural pattern and culture of the local communities that inhabited the central Balkans. The objective is an innovative attempt to explore the process through the evolution of the Byzantine concept of “barbarianism”, as one may follow a change of the value qualifications in the Byzantine society.

• Explaining the key elements of the process through the interaction of the members and proponents of the dominant (Byzantine) culture and local population. The interaction may be followed through the factors that led to the complete or partial acceptance of the values and norms of the dominant culture, as well as through the occasional resistance by the local communities in their efforts to preserve their indigenous value systems as a whole or partially.

• Mapping the territorial and social dispersion of Byzantinization. At this stage, two points dominate. First, to what extent and how Byzantium managed to establish control over certain areas and local communities; and, second, to what extent it sought support among the members of the local communities.

• The analysis of the significance of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, as by far the most important Byzantine institution in the Balkans. The idea is to explain the ways in which the Archbishopric opposed the concept of “barbarianism”. Also, it would be interesting to see what the long-lasting historical consequences of its position were.

• Transforming local communities’ ethea and the role of the Archbishopric of Ohrid in the process. Changes in everyday life were the most difficult to accept, because new value criteria were often at odds with traditional customs and the established modes of behavior.

• Examination of the implementation of legal norms of the dominant culture which seems to have had the most important in reorganizing societies of local communities.

Thematic structure of the research plan

The research is divided into four interconnected thematic sections:

1. Models of Byzantine government in the central Balkans;

2. The Archbishopric of Ohrid (from its founding in the beginning of the 11th to the mid-13th century) – this section includes both theoretical and field research, as well as the digitization of collected evidence. The database will become an integral part of IBS-SASA research facilities and an indispensable resource for future investigations;

3. Political, ideological and social aspects of Byzantinization;

4. The true scope of Byzantinization in the central Balkans (late 10th – mid-13th century). 

Project team

• Bojana Krsmanović
Principal Investigator and Coordinator of the final phase of project team’s research: The true scope of Byzantinization in the central Balkans

• Predrag Komatina
Coordinator of the sub-team working on Political, ideological and social aspects of Byzantinization

• Miloš Cvetković
Coordinator of the sub-team working on Models of Byzantine government in the central Balkans

• Ljubomir Milanović
Coordinator of the sub-team working on The Archbishopric of Ohrid

• Stanoje Bojanin
• Maja Nikolić
• Marka Tomić
• Jovana Šijaković
• Tamara Ilić
• Bojana Pavlović
• Miloš Živković
• Vladan Zdravković