Pub. Date:
Cambridge University Press
Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250

Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250

by Florin Curta
Current price is , Original price is $162.0. You

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Please check back later for updated availability.


Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages stood as a strategically important crossroads of trade and crusading routes, and fell within the spheres of influence of both the Byzantine Orthodox Church and Latin Christendom. This comprehensive and authoritative survey draws on historical and archaeological sources to illuminate 750 years of the region's history, covering Romania, southern Ukraine, southern Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Greece. Exploring the social, political and economic changes that marked the transition from late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages, the book addresses important themes such as the rise of medieval states, the conversion to Christianity, the monastic movement inspired by developments in Western Europe and in Byzantium, and the role of material culture (architecture, the arts and objects of daily life) in the representation of power.

About the Author:
Florin Curta is Associate Professor of Medieval History and Archaeology at the University of Florida

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521815390
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 07/31/2006
Series: Cambridge Medieval Textbooks Series
Pages: 526
Product dimensions: 5.43(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.14(d)

About the Author

Florin Curta is Associate Professor of Medieval History and Archaeology, Department of History, University of Florida.

Read an Excerpt

Southeastern Europe In The Middle Ages 500–1250
Cambridge University Press
0521815390 - Southeastern Europe In The Middle Ages 500–1250 - by Florin Curta


   This book is an attempt to explore the fundamental dimensions of the medieval history of Southeastern Europe from c. 500 to 1250, broadly the period between the last century of Roman power in the Balkans and the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe. The primary aim of the book is to provide an overview of the historical developments that characterized a region of Europe about which there is generally little knowledge outside a small number of scholars with specific, often narrowly defined research interests. In the last few decades, the study of medieval societies in Eastern Europe has moved in new and significant directions. The successful use of interdisciplinary approaches, the growth of medieval archaeology, the revived interest in the history of the Church, the development of gender studies, and the encouragement to engage with comparative history have all informed research into the medieval past of Eastern Europe. The following chapters will make extensive use of the results of these new lines of research, in the process delineating a general conclusion that is worth stating plainly from the very beginning: medieval Southeastern Europe was in many ways similar to other parts of Europe, to a degree far greater than most scholars have so far been willing to admit. The secondary purpose of this book is therefore to relate to each other developments in thesoutheastern region of the European continent and to consider their implications for our understanding of the Middle Ages. The book is therefore concerned with moving back from the modern constructs and possible misconceptions deriving from attempts to draw lines of contrast against which either “Western” or national medieval histories were defined. During the first half of the twentieth century, many historians in those countries in Eastern Europe that had either emerged or been enlarged at the end of World War Ⅰ reinforced, rather than challenged, such misconceptions. A Polish historian, Każimierz Tymieniecki (1887–1968), first addressed the problem of the medieval history of Eastern Europe at the Sixth International Congress of Historical Sciences, held in Oslo in 1928. By Eastern Europe, Tymieniecki meant the regions east of the Elbe, namely Poland, to the exclusion of both Scandinavia and the Balkans. Scandinavia was still perceived as part of the “West,” but the Balkans were not granted the status of a fully European region.


While the idea of “Eastern Europe” originated in the intellectual milieu of the Enlightenment, Southeastern Europe as a geographical expression has a much more recent history. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the preferred name for that region of the continent was “European Turkey,” which included Greece (even after that country gained its independence in 1829), as well as the Romanian Principalities, Walachia and Moldavia, technically not part of the Ottoman Empire. Several other phrases have subsequently been coined, ranging from the “Greek–Slavic world” to the “Balkans,” a name that proved remarkably resistant, perhaps because of its derogatory meaning introduced shortly before and during World War Ⅰ. On the eve of the Congress of Berlin (1878), a new term appeared, “Southeastern Europe,” which seems to have been initially used mainly by scholars interested in comparative linguistics, and especially in common elements to be discovered in such languages as Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, and Greek. In other words, the use of the phrase Southeastern Europe is linked to some of the earliest attempts at identifying what is now known as the Balkan linguistic unity, the world’s most famous linguistic example of language contact.1 The phrase was quickly adopted in Austria, especially by statesmen and diplomats, to refer to the region between the Carpathian Mountains, the Dniester River, and the Aegean, Black, and Adriatic Seas, a region of vital importance for the expansion of the Austrian–Hungarian Empire around 1900. Thirty years later, the phrase was similarly used to express Nazi political aspirations in that region.2

   The first course of Southeast European history was offered at the University of Vienna in 1912 and was taught by a Romanian, Ion Nistor (1876–1962), later to become a renowned historian of the Middle Ages.3 Following that appointment, another Romanian historian, Nicolae Iorga (1871–1940), founded in Bucharest an Institute of Southeast European Studies (1914), and later a periodical, Revue historique du sud-est européen (1922), dedicated to the study of the Balkan region, which hitherto both historians and politicians had excluded from Europe. Iorga’s goal was to remove the stain of the derogatory meaning attached to the phrase “Balkans,” while promoting a certain foreign policy at a time of growing Romanian influence in the region.4 To Iorga, the history of the Southeast European countries revealed a number of similarities strikingly reminiscent of the Balkan linguistic unity.5

   The study of Southeastern Europe survived both the dramas unfolding during World War Ⅱ in that region and its subsequent political transformation. Institutes and associations for the study of Southeast European history now exist in many capital cities in the region, which have one after the other hosted the International Congress of Southeast European Studies. In addition, there is a journal entirely dedicated to that same topic, the Revue des études sud-est européennes published by the institute Iorga had founded in Bucharest. Despite the fact that few historians writing in English adopted this terminology, to which they seem to prefer the more popular “Balkans,”6 the phrase “Southeastern Europe” is also used in the historiography of the region in Iorga’s sense.7 However, there is no consensus as to whether or not the phrase is more than a historiographical construct. What seems to be well understood, however, is that the “Balkans” do not include Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and the southern regions of present-day Ukraine. By excluding Romania from the Balkans, Iorga may have reacted to the political divisions of the pre-World War Ⅰ period and to their underlying assumption of Ottoman cultural and political traditions. In doing so, his goal may have been to hint at a much deeper past, namely the period during which the region was supposedly unified under Byzantine, not Ottoman, rule. But during the Middle Ages that part of Europe had no sharp boundaries, especially to the north.8 As a consequence, any serious analysis of the medieval history of the region cannot leave out those territories in the Carpathian Basin, as well as north of the Danube River and of the Black Sea, which have never been incorporated into the Byzantine Empire. In that respect, Iorga was right: the Balkans are a region defined by mountains, both etymologically and geographically. Geographically, the scope of inquiry in this book is limited to the area traditionally viewed as the Balkan Peninsula and comprised between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas to the west, and the Aegean and Black Seas to the south and to the east. However, the northern limit, the most difficult one to establish, was moved beyond the Danube River and the Carpathian Mountains, to include Transylvania, as well as, occasionally, the eastern and southern regions of the Carpathian Basin now divided between Hungary and Serbia. The reasons for this rather arbitrary definition of the geography of Southeastern Europe are essentially historical and will hopefully become clear in the following chapters. It must be stressed that there is nothing unique in this approach to the geography of the region, although only archaeologists of the Bronze Age and political analysts of late twentieth-century developments customarily treat the area in this way. Similarly, to the northeast, the limit is pushed into the steppe corridor stretching from the Lower Danube to the Dnieper River, to include the forest-steppe belt across the modern states of Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. Without the steppe lands to the northeast, an area from which the Bulgar, Pecheneg, Cuman, and Mongol invasions originated, very little could be understood in terms of both military and cultural history of medieval Southeastern Europe.


Much of what we know about the history of Southeastern Europe comes from sources written outside the region and only later by authors in that region. This is certainly the case of the Byzantine, Rus’, or Hungarian chronicles, the Byzantine saint lives, the acts of church councils, the letters or the panegyrics written by and for Byzantine authors, all of which have been the traditional sources employed to write the medieval history of Southeastern Europe. By contrast, only recently has the evidence of archaeology, numismatics, and art history been incorporated into the traditional narrative.

   Writing and literacy were introduced to the region from outside as part of the “cultural kit” accompanying the conversion to Christianity.9 Chanceries began to function in the tenth century in Croatia and Bulgaria and in the eleventh century in Hungary.10 However, no charter survives from early medieval Bulgaria, although leaden seals provide clear evidence of large-scale use of writing for both official documents and private correspondence. The practice of sealing documents was of course adopted from Byzantium, but then quickly adapted to the needs of the Bulgarian society. Several seals are known from Symeon and Peter, in addition to seals of archbishops and bishops of Bulgaria.11 After the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria in the late tenth century, the volume of written documents in use by the Byzantine administration increased considerably, as illustrated by the extraordinary find in Preslav of an archive of more than 350 seals of various military and fiscal officials of Byzantine Bulgaria.12 Since seals bear the names and, sometimes, rank and office of their owners, in the absence of any other written sources, they can provide valuable information, for example for the reconstruction of the administrative and military hierarchy of the Byzantine provinces in seventh- to ninth-century Greece or in late tenth- to eleventh-century Bulgaria.13 Although not dated, seals have numerous ornamental and epigraphic attributes that lend themselves to a stylistic analysis, which in turn can be used to infer the date of specific specimens on the basis of comparison with known seals attached to dated documents. Identical seals have been found at great distance from each other, a testimony to the relations their owners have established by correspondence with various other individuals, but besides imperial seals, very few other seals have been found outside the area of their owner’s competence or power.14

   Archives existed in several monasteries that often kept copies of charters issued on their behalf by rulers. The largest archives are those of the monasteries on Mount Athos, which preserve many chryso- bulls (imperial charters with golden seals) granting land property or privileges to the monks.15 While only seventy-five documents can be dated before the early eleventh century, the archives at Mount Athos are particularly useful for the later period, especially for the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the monks enjoyed the generosity not only of the emperors in Constantinople, but also of Serbian and Bulgarian rulers. Outside the archives of Mount Athos, the survival of official documents pertaining to the economic history of medieval Southeastern Europe has been only accidental, as in the case of the land-tax register known as the Cadaster of Thebes.16 In the absence of such documents, typika (monastic rules) or the testaments of founders of Byzantine and Bulgarian monasteries often provide a wealth of information for social and economic history.17 Several Benedictine monasteries in Croatia have extensive cartularies, containing copies of charters issued by Croatian and Hungarian rulers. A good example is the cartulary of the Abbey of St. Peter In the Village, a monastery founded by a wealthy citizen of Split in the late eleventh century. Known as the Sumpetar Cartulary, this is in fact a collection of documents pertaining to donations to the monastery, either of land or of moveable property (such as slaves). It also contains a list of books in the abbey’s library, many of which had been donated by the founder. Besides such valuable information for economic and social history, cartularies sometimes contain unexpected documents of cultural history.18 For example, the Cartulary of the Convent of St. Mary in Zadar (Croatia) contains documents from a long period between 1066 and 1236, including a church hymn known as Sanctus, one of the earliest pieces of polyphonic singing in Eastern Europe.

   A relatively large number of notarial documents survive in the Venetian archives that pertain to the history of the cities on the Adriatic coast and in Istria, which were under Venetian rule beginning with the eleventh century. However, the number of those documents that could be dated before c. 1250 is rather small.19 Similarly, in Hungary most chapters and abbeys served as notarial institutions, known as “places of authentication,” but most contracts or authentic copies written by clerics date from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century.20 However, even before that date, and as early as 1200, chapters provided valuable service for laymen in Hungary, who often took oaths in front of the clerics or accepted ordeals to be administered by them. Although no records of such transactions have been preserved for the chapters of Arad, Alba Iulia, or Bač, the minutes of 389 ordeals held at the chapter of Oradea between 1208 and 1235 form the so-called Oradea Register, one of the most remarkable documents of social history in medieval Transylvania.21 The quantity of surviving charters is only a fraction of what the royal chanceries of Croatia and Hungary produced between the tenth and the thirteenth century.22 In Hungary, for example, while about 10,000 documents survive from the 1200s, there are over 300,000 for the entire period between 1300 and 1526. This has been estimated as about one or two percent of what had once been issued, for most archives were destroyed during the Ottoman conquest of 1526, as well as during World War Ⅱ. Even greater must have been the destruction of royal and monastic archives in medieval Bulgaria, for which no charters survive that could be dated before c. 1200.

   The deeds of the ruler were occasionally celebrated in ninth-century Bulgaria in inscriptions carved in stone, using the Greek alphabet and the Greek language. Much can be gleaned from the titles used in such inscriptions referring to ranks of the aristocracy that are otherwise unknown from contemporary written sources.23 Foundation or funerary inscriptions in Greek are also known from Byzantine Thrace.24 During the fifth to seventh centuries, Greek was used along with Latin for funerary inscriptions found in Bulgaria and southeastern Romania, while all known ninth- to eleventh-century inscriptions found in Croatia are in Latin.25Beginning with the tenth century, Old Church Slavonic was also used for inscriptions written in either Glagolitic or Cyrillic script. While Cyrillic inscriptions have been found mainly within the borders of medieval Bulgaria, Glagolitic also appears in inscriptions found on islands of the Kvarner Bay in the northern Adriatic region or in Istria.26 Finally, a few inscriptions in so-called East European (or Turkic) runes have been found on bone artifacts from Avar burials, the most famous of which is the Szarvas awl.27 But as a rule, inscriptions often pose difficult problems of reading (particularly runic inscriptions)28 or interpretation (especially inscriptions in Bulgar with Greek letters).29 They are also notoriously difficult to date, unless there is a precise date given in the text. For example, an inscription mentioning Duke Branimir of the Croats gives the date as anno Domini 888, a quite novel practice for that time, as AD dates are not known before 800.30 In an inscription on a column in the Church of the Forty Holy Martyrs in Tărnovo, the Bulgarian emperor John Asen Ⅱ speaks of himself as ruling over much of the Balkans, leaving only Constantinople (characteristically called “Car’grad,” the imperial city) to the “Franks” (i.e., the Latins). The inscription was written in Old Church Slavonic with Cyrillic script and dates from 1230, the anno Domini equivalent to anno mundi 6738 given in the text of the inscription.31 Even when the inscription does not mention a specific date, an approximate one can occasionally be inferred from its content. The Baška Tablet, a Glagolitic inscription written in a Slavic idiom closer to present-day Serbo-Croatian than to Old Church Slavonic, was initially part of an altar screen in the church of the Benedictine Abbey of Jurandvor on the island of Krk. The text of the inscription contains no date, but refers to a donation of a certain king named Zvonimir, who is otherwise known to have ruled between 1075 and 1089.32 Recently a great deal of attention has been paid to graffiti on church and rampart walls in early medieval Bulgaria. Many are short texts (of the type “Peter wrote this” or “I was here”), others are votive (“Lord, help thy servant Peter”) or commemorative inscriptions (“On that date, at that time, Peter visited this place” or “Peter died in the year of the Lord so-and-so”). There are also insults, prayers, epigrams, and even obscenities. Such inscriptions give us little chronological detail, but have been turned into a gold mine of detail for social and cultural history.33

© Cambridge University Press

Table of Contents

List of maps     viii
Acknowledgments     ix
Note on transliteration, names, dates, and words     x
Chronology     xii
List of abbreviations     xxvii
Introduction     1
The end of Late Antiquity or the beginning of the Middle Ages (c. 500-c. 600)?     39
Southeast European "Dark Ages" (c. 600-c. 800)     70
The rise of new powers (800-900)     111
Iron century or golden age (900-1000)?     180
The first Byzantine century (1000-1100)     248
The Second Byzantine century (1100-1200)     311
Between the Crusade and the Mongol invasion (1200-1250)     366
Conclusions and lingering questions     415
Select bibliography     438
Index     487

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews