The Lower Danube Frontier
During the 4th-7th Centuries.
A Notion’s Ambiguity
University of Bucharest
Hélène Ahrweiler rightly noticed that the Empire of the New Rome had not “one frontier”, but “frontiers”, just similarly to the empire of the Rome settled on the Tiber, which he had inherited. Regarded as political and military frontier that strictly limited in a certain moment the Roman territory and its neighbours’ one, the state frontier does not necessarily coincide to frontier of culture, linguistics and solidarity with the imperial metropolis. This statement is to be connected to the Fernand Braudel’s one, asserted in his definition given to the Mediterranean civilization. The latter noted that “there is not only one, but hundreds of frontiers” that also represent the levels of economic, political and civilization influences. In other words, besides the lining, determined, counted frontiers, there are also “the unseen frontiers” of the empire, which are difficult, if not impossible, to be detected in space. The Lower Danube in the 4th-7th centuries perfectly illustrates the ambiguity of the Roman-Byzantine frontier’s determination.
The Lower Danube becomes natural frontier of Rome in the times of Augustus and of his immediate successors. During one century, it divides the Empire and the Dacians in the Carpathian Mountains, transformed in a remarkable enemy for the Romans. Trajan solves the question conquering Dacia and transforming it in an imperial province, which would represent a real outpost against the Barbarians for a century and a half. In this new shape, the new province plays an essential part in the Rome’s defensive system in the North. Its importance grows up also because of the shifting of the Empire’s East-West commercial and military routes towards the Danube Valley and the Balkans during the 3rd-4th centuries and because of the decay of Italy, which loses its former economic and military predominance in the Roman political system. Under the new economic and military circumstances, the Balkans becomes a real turning point joining the West to the East. The motion of the Empire’s centre from Italy towards the East and the building of a metropolis on the Bosphorus by Constantine the Great represent the logical result of this evolution during the 3rd-4th centuries.
The military events in the 3rd-4th centuries would hasten this evolution. During the first decades of the 3rd century, the Goths from the Baltic area appear in the Pontic
steppes between the Danube’s mouth and Cherson. They become a ferocious enemy for Rome, especially after they associate the tribes of the Dacians and the Sarmatians on the Moldavian territory in their expeditions in the Balkans and Asia Minor. The ravaging attacks of the Goths, Dacians and Sarmatians culminate in the 5th-8th decades of the 3rd centuries. They have the abandonment of Dacia by the Roman authorities under the Emperor Aurelian as the first result. Between the Iron Gates and the Black Sea, the Lower Danube becomes again the Empire’s natural frontier, while the Balkan area becomes capital for the Empire’s fate during the subsequent centuries, especially after the foundation of Constantinople.
The modern scholars have brought the Balkans Peninsula’s political and military importance in the 3rd-4th centuries into the light. Almost all the emperors in this period, from Maximine the Thracian (235-238) to Phokas (602-610), originate in the Balkan romanity. It would be only the dynasty of Thedosius the Great to interrupt their series for three generations, between 379 and 450. Among these emperors originating in the Balkans, there are famous names in the Roman and Byzantine history, such as Aurelian and Diocletian, Galerius and Constantine the Great, Marcian and Justinian. It was V. Beševliev who considered the state of the Caesars in this period as “a Roman Empire of Thracian race”. These emperors’ hand of force saved the Empire in front of the migratory peoples in the 3rd-4th centuries. Meanwhile, their reformatting work assured another two existing centuries to the Empire in the West and brought the vitality to the Roman East becoming gradually the Empire of the New Rome. The Southern Danube Romanity did not give only the most numerous and important emperors to the Empire. Commanders originating in the Balkan Romanity also dominate the military scene. Their military acts represent the raw material for the Roman annals in the 3rd-7th centuries. There are also famous names, including the last brilliant commanders of the Empire, such as Aetius, coming from Durostolon on the Danube, then the hero at the Campus Mauriacus, and Belisarius, who is to be connected to the entire work of Reconquista enterprised by Justinian. Finally, the Roman army fighting on the all fronts for the Empire surveillance has the military units recruited among the Balkan shepherds and villagers as its spinal column.
Emperors, generals and soldiers originating in the Balkan Peninsula’s romanized populations followed the imperial Rome’s destiny. How could one explain their devotion to the Roman world’s values?
During their two thousand years of history, Rome and its successor on the Bosphorus owed their career to the populations from one province or another, representing the Empire’s centre in a certain moment. For Rome, there were first Italy and then the West. For Constantinople, it was the East. All these put their material and human resources in the name of the emperors and of their civilization, embracing their values. During the 3rd-6th centuries, there was the Balkan population to share this part, due to the exceptional position of the area in the new evolution of the Empire’s
economic and military situation. Such as previously, in its republican period, Rome had owed its special career to the robust Italian peasantry, it was during this new stage when the rural masses in the Balkans identified their fate with the Rome’s and then the Constantinople’s one. Henceforth, we have the right to suppose that, although the contemporary sources allow us to regard this fact as cum grano salis, the values of the Roman civilizations, once the privilege of a political and intellectual elite, penetrated deeply in the Southern Danube Romanity’s strata. This process was also favoured by the spread of Christianity among the people’s milieu in the Peninsula after Constantine the Great.
This supposition is first supported by the famous assertion provided by Constantine the Great that “My Rome is Serdica”. This emperor’s Balkan patriotism, which has nothing to do with his affection towards the patria communis that is the Empire itself, is to be connected to Constantine’s brilliant decision to found the new imperial metropolis on the Bosphorus. Once with Gilbert Dagron, it is to be mentioned that Constantine’s intention was not the division, subsequently imposed by the events, but the unity of the Empire and the safety of Rome. Anyhow, it is to be underlined the fact that the emperor previewed that the Empire’s destiny occurred in the Balkans and nowhere else. Another emperor coming from the same Romanity, that is Justinian, considers that “if someone says Thracia, we are to think about the idea of manhood, multitude of armies, wars and fight”. Since these two proofs come from the side of two emperors, although originating in the Peninsula’s people milieu, the latter is the full expression of an attitude, essentially people. To the end of the period that we deal with, towards 580, when the crisis of the Danube frontier worries more than ever the Balkan populations, a citizen from Sirmium, menaced by the Avars, scratched awkwardly an invocation to God on a tile, saying that “Oh, God, save Romania!” It is the supreme demonstration of the Roman and Christian values’ assimilation by the Balkan populations, which identified their own cause with the one of the entire Roman community, of the “common land”, that is Romania.
There are material (the economic and military position of the Peninsula, the birth of the New Rome) and mental (the devotion of the Balkan populations to the Empire’s cause and the feeling that their own body was menaced by the attacks from the Northern Danube) facts that fully underline the particular importance of the frontier in the 3rd-6th centuries. The very fact that the main attention of the Latin and Greek sources is directed to this frontier illustrates the importance that the witnesses attributed to the Lower Danube as an advanced outpost of the metropolis on the Bosphorus.
Danube as Geographical Reality
In the eyes of the Greek world, the Danube is depicted many centuries before the late Roman period. Become then natural frontier of Rome, and later being surpassed through the agency of the Roman province of Dacia, the Danube enters gradually in the conscious of the Roman world. The late antique writing contains many common places from the classic Greek-Roman literature, but also new observations connected to the new function of the Danube frontier.
While Danube had been noticed by the antique writers as Danubius or Istros, is this time considered as the longest river in Europe and the second from all over their universe, after the Nile. They are all impressed by its features: length, the number of the tributaries collected from the territories that it wanders through, the number of its mouths to the Pont.
For Ammianus Marcellinus, interested in the physical features of the great river, “the Danube, [...], having the source in a mountain neighboured to the boundaries of Raetia, wanders through a huge territory and, collecting 60 tributaries almost all navigable, flows into the sea through six mouths on this Scythic shore”. Procopius of Cesarea shifts the accent of his describing on the human realities of the river’s area. “The river of Ister lets down from the mountains of the Celts that now are called as Gauls, goes round a huge territory almost entirely deserted and settled here and there by the Barbarians, which live like the animals and have no connection with either people”. In the neighbourhood of the Dacia of Aurelian, “for the first time it represents the border between the Barbarians settled on the left side of the river and the Roman land on its right side. That is why the Romans name this part of Dacia as Ripensis, since ‘bank’ is called by the Latins as ripa”.
John Lydus offers some details about the river’s name. For this author, the river also comes “from the mountains of Raetia that Caesar considers [...] as belonging to the mountain region of Celtia, from a single source, the Rhine and the Ister flows towards the sea, both of them without changing their names”. Nevertheless, the author of the De magistratibus contradicts himself afterwards in connection to the river’s name, noting that, when it “flows near Thracia, it changes its name for those inhabitants and becomes Danubius”. Here is a point where Lydus comes into contradiction with the entire scholar tradition of the antiquity. According to this, the river is called as Ister on its lower course according to the name given by the Southern Danube Thracians and taken by the Greeks, while the other name is especially attributed to its upper and middle flow. The Byzantine author also proposes a naive etymology for Danubius: “the Thracians called so, because the air in the neighbourhood of the Northern mountains and the wind of Northeast is almost always loaded with clouds because of the excessive
dampness and they consider it as the reason for the continuous rainfalls. They name Danubius the cloud-bringer in their fatherly language”.
The most suggestive depiction of the river is offered by Jordanes, the Romanized Goth author, who was born in Moesia and knew directly the Lower Danube region. According to him, the Danube “originates in the fields of the Alamans and, from its source to its mouth to the sea, it collects 60 tributaries from the left and the right, on a distance of 1,200 miles, having the shape of a fish’s back where the rivers are thrusted in, like the ribs; and generally speaking, it is the largest river”. The Goth historian correctly explains the river’s naming by the Southern Thracians, whom he came into contact. The river “is called as Hister in the language of the Besses (lingua Bessorum) and in the deepest river bed it has the water’s depth of no more than 200 feet. The Danube surpasses all the other rivers, excepting the Nile.”
The last antique author offering information about the river is the Hiberian encyclopedic Isidore of Seville, who summarizes all the ancient world’s knowledge in his Etymologies. He also proposes an etymology for the name of Danubius, proving the same naivety as John Lydos does. According to Isidore, “it is said about the Danube, river of Germany, that is called in this way because of the multitude of snows, which determines its even more growth. It is the most famous throughout Europe”. On the contrary, the Hiberian author is correct explaining the modification of the name, suggesting thus that among others he also relies upon Jordanes’ work. “It is the same as the Ister, for it changes its name and collects stronger powers while passing through the numerous populations. It sources in the mountains of Germany and the Western parts of the Barbarians, makes for the East, collects 60 rivers in its river bed and flows in the Pont through seven mouths”.
The Political Frontier
Heir of the Rome on the Tiber, the New Rome was a centralized state, which political foundations were finalized by the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine. Constantinople took the essence of Rome’s political, juridical and cultural values, to which Constantine the Great and his successors added the Christianism as state religious. These values found a space of synthesis in the new empire on the Bosphorus and made indeed Byzantium the first real European State, as rightly Paul Valéry noted. Its centralized structures and its clear consciousness on the values of its civilization made Constantinople to assume since the very beginning its main task, that is the security of its frontiers in front of the dangers from outside. The 4th-6th centuries are characterized
by the effort to defence the Danube frontier, which holds an undeniable prime position among the other frontiers of the Empire.
As the sources assert, the contemporaries regarded the Lower Danube between the Iron Gates and the Pont as the pre-eminently natural border. It separates “the Roman soil” (Romanum solum) and “the Barbarian soil” (Barbaricum solum). In the terms of the Roman official ideology, the Danube limes strictly limits the grounds of civilization and of barbarity. In his enthusiastic style, George Pisides notes that “neighboured with the Pont, the Ister could with difficulty stop such a savageness, like a moving dam and like a defending wall”, in order to do not permit to the Barbarians to overflow on “the charming flower of our lands”. Lining limitation between the grounds of civilization and of barbarity, the Danube frontier is not immutable. The act of transforming Dacia in a Roman province is praised by the antiques as a ‘snatching’ from “the ground of barbarity”. It occurred through the implementation of the Roman values in the Northern Danube, while its abandon by Aurelian is lamented by Orosius as “its eternal kidnapping” (in perpetuum) by the barbarity. On reverse, the colonization of a Northern Danube population “in the Roman country”, where Constantine offers it lands to work, represented for Eusebius of Cesarea the accepting by the newcomers of “the Roman freedom in exchange for the Barbarian savageness”.
How do authors represent the Roman values in the 4th-7th centuries? They are seldom defined in explicit terms, just that in opposition to the barbarity of the world beyond the Danube limes.
The Danube is a material line separating respublica Romana or the Constantinopolitan politeia and the Barbarian space. On the one side there is a universal community of the free citizens, while on the other side there is the multitude of Barbarian gentes or ethne. On the one side there is the citizens’ freedom, on the other the Barbarian slavery. “The Roman soil” or “the Emperor’s land” is constituted in a monarchy, regarded as the ideal structure of political organization, legitimated and protected by God. The Roman territory is divided in praefecturae, dioceses and provinces and in its cities and villages it is inhabited by public and cultural buildings, churches, as a symbol of the people’s persistence and as the background of the civilized world’s expression. Having its classical expression in the writing of Eusebius of Cesarea, the idea that the Roman monarchy is the terrestrial copy of the heaven’s Empire represents the most important ideological foundation of the Byzantine state
organization during 11 centuries. The harmony in heaven should have the terrestrial order on the earth (kosmia) as correspondence. On the contrary, the Barbarian space has no organizational principle. The disorder (akosmia) and the polyarchia characterise the Barbarians, since some of them are ruled by more than one king. They are divided in “tribes and clans” and have no idea about the sedentary life, but wander continuously. Their space ignores the cities and the villages and is dominated by tents and shelters, as a sign of lack of stability. The expression of the entire lack of stability is to be detected in the classical description provided by Ammianus Marcellinus to the Huns. Without home, without constant shelters, they live like eternal fugitives, accompanied by their carts where they live in and where their wives weave cloths and give birth to their children, while on horseback “every man from this race, day and night, buys and sells, drinks and eats and lied down on the animal’s narrow nape he falls asleep profoundly”. Finally, the Roman civilization means the existence and the respect of laws; on the other side, the Barbarians live “without order and without laws” (sine cultu vel legibus”).
The two worlds’ values are different also in their manner of life. In the Roman world, the villagers till the soil, while the craftsmen in the cities offer their products to the Empire’s inhabitants. Both of them procure welfare and comfort to the life, in a society dominated by peace. On the contrary, according to pseudo-Caesarios, in the Barbarian lands “one could not find any usurer, sculptor or painter, any architect, teacher of music or poem performer, as could in our places”. But there are not only the arts that definitely are absent around the Barbarians. Many of them have no idea even about the agriculture. Ammianus Marcellinus knows that among the populations beyond the Ister “there are only few of them that feed themselves with cereals, while the others wander through deserted places that have never known the plough and the seed and [...] they live in the shameful manner of the savage animals”. The same historian depicts their savageness in its clear shape of the Huns. Among them, “there is no one to plough and nobody has ever touched the plough”. Therefore, the Huns “do not need the fire or the cooked food, but they feed themselves with roots of savage grass and with meat of every kind of animal, half raw, which they heat only a little, putting it between their feet and the horses’ back”.
These contrasts in the life style explain also the different values of the two worlds as regards the peace and the war. The Romans are depicted as ‘peace’-makers. Pax Romana or pax Christiana are the supreme goods of the Roman and then Byzantine world. The emperor wears “the message of peace” and he is the defensor pacis; when he is obliged to fight against the Barbarians, he does it in order to “defend the justice”. In the Roman view, the Barbarians are on the contrary, the symbol of violence and war. The late Imperial annals include hundreds of pages describing the “life of robbery” of the populations on the Northern Ister. For Libanius, the Goths (‘Scythians’ in his text) are “the bloodiest people, inclined exclusively to Ares and regarding the peace as a misfortune”. These “wild beasts” break out in the Balkans in 378, “provoking murders, plunders, bloodshed, fires and profaning the Roman citizens’ bodies”.
Confronted by this violence, repeated almost yearly in the Southern Danube provinces in some periods, the Empire promotes a defensive policy. Only seldom it takes the initiative, attacking the enemies in the North of the river, as it was the case in the 4th century under Constantine the Great and Valens. More often, the emperors prefer the diplomatic means: the discord inside the enemies and the paying of a yearly tribute. The 4th century historians mention the success of the Byzantine diplomacy, when the Bulgarian tribes of the Utrigurs and the Kutrigurs are discorded and fight among them until their disappearance, or when the Avars are opposed to the Slavs. However, the most frequent mean – and also the most expensive for the public treasure – is the pay of the year tribute in order to calm the enemies. Just that, when the Empire has not in addition efficient military means at its disposal, “the insatiable greed” of the Barbarians makes it to grow up the tribute consequently. Priscus of Panion demonstrates the inefficiency of this kind of policy in the relationship between Theodosius II and Attila, when an energetic action of the Empire is absent. The situation is the same during the last decades of the 6th century, in the relationship between Constantinople and the Avars. The Khan Bajan breaks the treaty with the emperor any time and “rings the trumpet, the war’s friend, gather the troops” in order to increase the tribute or to conquer the cities in the Roman territory. After he makes a relation about such an event in one of his penetrating pages, Theophylaktus Simocatta raises an essential question for the Empire’s policy at the Danube frontier: how useful could be the defensive policy with enemies whose “savageness is by nature”, especially since “the
peace neglects the protection and is not farseeing for the future”. The efficiency of the diplomatic means is even more limited for George Pisidis, who underlines the danger of the unification of the Barbarian populations against the Empire. At the turning point between the 6th and the 7th centuries, Constantinople is obliged to fight “against some different populations, but united among them; it was because the Slav and the Hun understood each other, the Scythian and the Bulgarian, the Median and the Scythian, although the spoke different languages and came from different places”. This question brings a light upon the profound causes of the fall of the Imperial domination in the Balkans at the beginnings of the 7th century and of the failure of the Constantinople’s policy at the Danube.
The Military Frontier
The political Danube frontier as limit between the Roman monarchia and the Barbarian polyarchia is even more clearly materialized from the military viewpoint. The limes is marked out on both banks by castles and fortresses, which had the function to stop the perils coming from the Barbarian space. As long as this fortified limes had troops and sufficient financial resources at its disposal, its efficiency was uncontested. George Pisidis, the deacon of the great church of St. Sophia in Constantinople in the first half of the 7th century, assists to the fall of the Danube frontier, so that he is credible when he makes an evaluation for this event’s importance. For him, “as far as the waters [of Ister] were in the middle and protected these borders with an undepictable determination, it was good [...], because the Roman army hindered [the Barbarians] from penetrating in our lands”.
The first fortifications on the Danube limes are dated under Augustus and his successors. Their effort had the cessation of the Northern Danube Dacians’ and their allied Sarmatians’ incursions as the main purpose. Trajan installs the Roman domination in Dacia and Southern Moldavia, so that the Danube frontier loses ground in importance. The new province and the fortifications at the North of the river’s mouths take the defensive tasks. The Goths’ irruption and the abandon of Dacia radically modify the matter, and the limes at the Lower Danube regains its importance. Even since Aurelian, but especially under Diocletian and Constantine, the fortification of the Danube frontier is retaken. “Fortresses and military castles” are erected on the both sides of the river, and in 328 it is Constantine who builds up the bridge at Sucidava on the Danube. Under the same ruler, the Roman garrisons are implemented in the Northern Danube fortresses of Drobeta, Sucidava and Constantiniana Daphne. The entire frontier between the Iron Gates and the Pont is divided in three self-commanded fields: the Illyrian limes corresponding to the part of Moesia Superior and Dacia Ripensis, the Thracian one in front of Moesia Inferior, and the Scythian one in Scythia
Minor. The system proves to be efficient during the first three quarters of the 4th century, while the Empire also promotes an energetic policy at the North of the river under Constantine the Great and Valens.
The situation is dramatically changed by the irruption of the Huns on the political scene of the Eastern Europe on 376. The ancient authors register this turning point in the evolution of the defensive Danube system, culminating with Attila’s great expeditions in the Balkans to the middle of the 5th century. Contemporary to the events, Priscus of Panion suggests that the Hun king destroyed the Roman fortresses on the river’s both sides, since Attila took a portion of land in possession, on the Southern bank of Ister, “from Pannonia towards Novae, in Thracia, having a depth of five days” in the Roman territory. More clearly, Procopius of Cesarea suggests a century later the entire proportion of the Hun king’s action on the limes. “The former Roman emperors”, the historian notes, “covered all the bank of this river with fortifications, not only on the right side, but they also built fortified cities and fortresses here and there on the opposite side [...]. Later however, when Attila with a large army came to invade, he destroyed these forts completely and deserted the greatest part of the Roman territory without any resistance”. The limes lost its military function at the middle of the 5th century. This situation seems to be extended after 500, when new populations, such as the Bulgarians and the Slavs appear on the North of the river.
Justinian assumes the responsibility of rebuilding and extending the defensive system of his forerunners. According to Procopius of Cesarea, who describes this activity in all its proportion in his apologetic work De aedificiis, the emperor wished “to transform the Ister in our and all the Europe’s most powerful defence”. In the Byzantine terms, Europe meant the Balkan territories of Constantinople. In parallel with every kind of fortifications on the Danube, Justinian also strengthened the fortresses inside of the Peninsula, in order to sustain thus the Danube limes and to consolidate the security of the Imperial citizen. Drawn out by Procopius, the list of the fortresses rebuilt or newly constructed on the limes and in its immediate proximity is impressive. One could find here the great Danube metropolis, known even since the Imperial beginnings of Rome. Other fortifications are to be found for the first time, not always easy to be detected on the ground. There are two remarks around this list of the Danube fortifications. First, there is the presence of some couple of fortresses on the both sides of the river, with the obvious purpose to control also the Northern bank and, in case of danger, to retreat the defenders on the Southern bank. Among them, there are Novae-Lederata, Pontes-Theodora (Drobeta), Palatiolum-Sucidava and Transmarisca-Constantiniana Daphne. The other remark is connected to the number and importance of the fortifications in Scythia Minor, both on the river’s bank and inside of the
province. This very fact indicates the exceptional importance of the region in the Constantinople’s strategic view, connected to the security of the metropolis on the Bosphorus. The importance of the “Scythians” is emphasized by Sozomenos, who knew that “they are brave and, through the agency of the settlements’ position, necessary to the Roman world, being settled like a wall in front of the Barbarian peril”. The same care could be concluded from the set up of a commandment of the maritime provinces – Scythia Minor, the Cyclade islands, Caria and Cyprus – led by prefectus of Scythia, having Odessos as centre. His task was to preview any attack on the sea against the Empire’s capital.
While examining the contemporary sources, one could distinguish Justinian’s and his successor’s strategic view. That supposes the consolidation of the two flanks of the Balkan front, that is Scythia Minor with an extension to the Southern Moldavia, and Moesia Superior and Dacia Ripensis in front of Banat. These are the points where the Empire could also control the Wallachian field and where the migratory populations from the Northern Pontic steppes and Pannonia could penetrate. Nevertheless, this savant defensive system proved to be frail in front of the attacks after the middle of the 6th century, under the circumstances of the less number of troops in the Balkans and of the lack of financial means. Thus, Justinian paid for his inadequate policy in the West, where he had mobilized the main human and financial resources in order to conquer again the ancient Roman territories in the Mediterranean space from the Germanic peoples. Thus, he had neglected the vital areas for his state, that is the Balkans and the East. The Slavs and the Avars penetrate the Danube defensive and plunder almost every year the Balkan provinces, thus weakening also the back of the Ister front. Finally, the Gepides and the Avars conquer the key positions on the left flank of the Constantinople front, at the South of the river – that is, Sirmium, Singidunum and Viminacium –, so that the whole defensive system drawn out by Justinian is broken. On their turn, the overwhelming masses of Slavs establish themselves gradually, first in a reduced number, on the territory of the Balkan provinces, without any energetic reaction from the Byzantine authorities’ side. The new evolution during the last decades of the 6th century announces the dramatic events occurred on the Danube area at the beginning of the subsequent century. In the second half of the 6th century, the fate of the Empire’s military frontier at the Lower Danube and, on a larger scale, of the Peninsula are played.
The sources in the second half of the 6th century and in the first decades of the subsequent one suggest a general view of the decline and fall of the military frontier on the Danube. Ina first stage, the Slavic-Bulgarian attacks in the first half of the century touch the limes’ back. Their plundering expeditions closer and closer have thousands or even tenths of thousand prisoners, devastations of the settlements in the northern regions of the Peninsula as results, although the Imperial forces still have the power to retort. The fact that these attacks weaken the economic life in the region and deprive the
limes’ defenders of resources is even more serious. A new stage commences for the situation of the Danube frontier to the middle of the 6th century, once the Avars arrive in Pannonia. The Slavic mass finds a leader in the person of the Avars. This Avar-Slavic alliance has devastating effects for the entire Peninsula. It is a consequence of the entire defensive system’s weakening, having the acute lack of resources in Constantinople as background, as a result of the Justinian’s policy in the West. The Byzantine diplomacy makes an attempt and sometimes is succeeds to divide the forces and to separate the Avars and the Slavs. Nevertheless, this policy was not able to give results on a long term, under the concrete circumstances of the Empire in the last two decades of the 6th century. There is a detail in the history of Thephylaktos Simocatta that brings a significant light on the military crisis in the Peninsula. After the successful expedition against the Avars in Banat, the general Comentiolus, being ill wished to come back to the metropolis on the eve of the winter. He had in intention to use the “Trajan’s way”, from Novae to Constantinople. Very probably, it is about the famous diagonal of the Balkans, the Roman via militaris, often frequented during the previous centuries. The historian speaks about the general’s difficulties to find out a guide, since the Imperial armies had not frequented the way for 90 years. The last stage in the history of the Danube frontier during this period takes place in the first years of the 7th century. It begins with the revolt of the Roman troops on the limes, without the previous discipline, and with the proclaiming of Phokas as emperor. The revolted army abandons the frontier and takes the direction to Constantinople, where it overthrows the Emperor Maurikios and substitutes him with the usurper. The rule of Phokas coincides with the abandon of the Danube frontier, invaded by the huge mass of Slavs and Avars. The formers literally flood the Peninsula towards the Peloponnesus, while the latter assault to 613-614 the great Roman metropolis in the Balkans, that is Serdica and Naissus. The Empire’s military frontier on the Danube ceased to exist anymore.
The Juridical Frontier
Rome considered itself as a universal state, through the agency of the values that it proposed to the populations that took a place in its political, juridical and cultural community. The Christianism introduced by Constantine the Great in the state structures would give the most solid argument in order to sustain the Roman universal pretensions, through the vocation to become the entire humankind’s religion: the unity of the human type would have the unity of faith as correspondent. Therefore, the universality of Rome and of its successor on the Bosphorus is an undeniable fact, through the values of the message proposed to its neighbours, despite the length of its military and political frontiers in a certain moment. According to this view, any territorial concession to the Barbarians was to be nothing more than a temporary renunciation, under the pressure of violence. When they have the necessary means, the
emperors are obliged to ‘save’ the territories taken by force by the Barbarians. This ideology represents the juridical basis of the Justinian’s Reconquista and, after centuries, of the re-conquest of the Balkans to the Danube by the ‘soldier-emperors’ from the Macedonian dynasty.
Under these circumstances, the Empire’s juridical frontiers are not be confounded with its military and political frontiers and they also do not present the linearity or the materiality in space. These frontiers are reflected under two respects: the territorial one and the human one.
The matter of the abandon of Dacia operated by Aurelian under the pressure of the migratory populations illustrates admirably the vision of Constantinople upon the status of a lost territory. The Roman and Byzantine rhetors, but also the historians do not forget the Dacia had been previously Imperial territory. In a panegyric speech in 297 dedicated to the Emperor Constantius Chlorus, Constantine the Great’s father, an anonymous also includes the recovery of Dacia (Dacia restituta) among emperor’s deeds. The panegyrist does not waste the occasion to explain the loss of some territories by the Empire, “either because of the careless as regards the political affairs, or because of a change of fate”. During the subsequent century, the Emperor Julian writes “The Banquet”, or “The Caesars”, an allegoric work, where he convokes to an imagery judgement some of his most illustrious forerunners: Caesar, Trajan and Constantine the Great. The latter begins his speech and considers himself in comparison with Trajan as “undoubtedly equal to him for the recovery of the regions that the latter had achieved formerly, if it does not value more to conquer again something than to conquer it”. In the speech, the allusion to Dacia is obvious and it refers to the expedition of Constantine in 332 to the North of the river against the Goths, resulted in a military success of the emperor. John Lydos regards Justinian under the same merit. The emperor, “as an intelligent person and finding out from books that this country [nn. Dacia] is rich in wealth and strong in armies [...], had the desire to do not be inferior to Trajan and decided to preserve for the Romans the Northern region that some time ago had liberated itself”. Neither in the case of Constantine, nor in the Justinian’s one, there was anything about the recovery of Dacia for the Roman land. It is the conception that is important here, dominating the Imperial ideology, and it refers to the belonging de jure of Dacia to the Roman territory. The idea could be also detected in the reaction of Aurelius Victor, confronted by the Goths’ and Taifals’ pretension to dominate Thracia and Dacia “as some native lands” (genitates terrae). It does not matter that the author has most probably the Aurelian’s Dacia into consideration. The idea that the two territories
belong to the Empire, while the Barbarians are “foreigners and aliens”, but also usurpers of a Roman right, has value also for the Trajan’s Dacia in the other above contexts.
The historians also illustrate such a conception in the 6th century in two situations. The first case refers to the city of Turris, at the North of the Danube, probably the Roman fortress from Barboºi, near Galaþi. Procopius of Cesarea refers to the proposal made by Justinian to the Slavs at the North of the river to offer them the city, in order to stop the plunders in the Balkan provinces. Erected by Trajan, the city had been remained “deserted for a long time, because it had been plundered by the Barbarians in the region”. The emperor considered himself as having the right to attribute the fortress and the surrounding territory to the Slavs, “since it belonged to the Romans since the very beginning”. The other episode is to be found out in the work of Thephylaktos Simocatta and is to be connected to the war between the general Priscus and the Avar Khan Bajan. Priscus passes the Danube leading his army and reaches Novae, in the Banat. In such an occasion, the historian narrates the dialogue between the Roman commander and the khan. The latter reproached with Priscus that the Romans that had penetrated “on the foreign land” infringed the treaty between the Avars and the emperor. The Roman commander replies that “the land is Roman, but the Barbarian [pretends] that the Romans lost it through the agency of the armies and of the law of war”. Priscus reproaches to Bajan that he is a nothing but a stranger, a fugitive from the East. The debate clearly shows the two sides’ conceptions. On the one side, the Romans invoke their right on a territory that had previously belonged to them, and afterwards some aliens from the East infringed it. On the other side, the khan makes referrals to the law of the armies and war, in order to defence his pretensions. The juridical frontiers between the two worlds are thus extremely vague from the territorial viewpoint.
The human respects of the juridical frontiers are even more uncertain. Since its first expansions, Rome used the institution of the “allies” (socii populi Romani) or the one of the foederati (Gr. symmachoi), as a first stage of inclusion of the surrounding populations. Later, the empire continued the practice for the same purposes, when it promoted an offensive policy. Still, during the periods of defensive policy, it used the foederati for the protection of its own frontiers, in the exchange of some yearly tributes. “Allies” or subjects, the foederati’s status in connection to Rome remains uncertain and is in function of the forces’ relationship between the two sides. On the one side, the empire maintains the protection of the frontiers and sustains its pretensions towards the dominium mundi, as long as it has not the necessary force to transform these pretentious in effective reality. On the other side, the status of foederati assured to the populations at the frontiers yearly considerable amounts of money. It also offered the possibility of commercial exchanges, indispensable for a warrior elite, more and more attracted by the advantages of the Roman life. Still, the materiality of the juridical
frontier is getting weaker through the agency of other consequences of the status of the foederati, especially when these are in the situation to dictate to the empire. Indeed, when they have the force at their disposal, the Roman emperors have the possibility to pretend the belonging of the territory and even of the populations of the empire’s “allies”. On reverse, the foederati pretends the empire to give back the refugees from its territory. Most often, these refugees are Roman prisoners, captured during the raids of the migratory peoples in the Southern Danube provinces and succeeding to run away from their masters and to return in the empire. The Byzantine authors’ works, including Priscus of Panion, Procopius of Cesarea and Thephylaktos Simocatta, contain tenths of pages regarding the drama of these prisoners, returned home and then taken again by force from their home by the Huns, the Lombards and the Avars to be resettled in Barbaricum. The Imperial authorities are in impossibility to participate to this drama, as long as the bilateral treaties between Romans and foederati includes clear clauses concerning this matter. In one of the most suggestive pages referring to these prisoners, Procopius refers to the Lombards, who “wandered through the Roman empire as foederati and immediately after discovered some of the fugitives, they captured them, as if their slaves were to run away from home, snatched them from their parents and took them without any resistance from anybody”.
During the 4th century, the Romans are the ones to offer the peace, and not to buy it. The empire exploits the clauses of the treaties with the foederati on their own advantage and extends its juridical frontiers beyond the military and political ones. On the contrary, having the imperial defensive policy at the Danube frontier as background, during the 5th-6h centuries the migratory populations impose their conditions to the Roman State. More seriously, during the last decades of the 4th century, the imperial authorities have to offer the Southern Danube provinces in order to be colonized to the Visigoth foederati. A century later, the history is the same, in the case of the Ostrogoths. The barbarity moves from the left side of the river to the right one, on the imperial soil, while the materiality of the Danube frontier loses thus any consistency.
The Economic Frontier
Lucien Musset noticed that “the organization of the Barbarian armies had as basis the service of every free person able to defend, to equip and to furnish himself”. The migratory peoples represented real “wanderer armies”, looking for resources. In a first stage of the contacts with the empire, booty and prisoners represented the main source for the migratory peoples’ existence. In their great majority, the great treasures from the Northern Danube space dated from the 4th-6th centuries comes from the plunder expeditions enterprised by the Vizigoths, Gepides, Ostrogoths and Avars in the Balkans and even in Asia Minor. The capture of the empire’s inhabitants had the same profit.
The figures delivered by the sources as regards the prisoners taken especially from the Northern provinces of the Peninsula dominated by the Romanized population, alternate between some thousands and hundreds of thousand on every expedition. Certainly, these latter figures are clearly thickened by the Byzantine authors, either under the profound impression that these dramatic events had on Constantinople, or, as the case of Procopius in his “Secret history” provides, for interest. Anyhow, the practice of capturing of prisoners was extremely fruitful for the migratory peoples. Some of these prisoners, especially the rich ones, were ransomed with huge amounts of money by their families remained in the empire. Some other times, the imperial authorities ransomed them. Still, the most of them remained at the North of the river, where they integrated themselves with the sedentary population in the area, which exploitation in the calm periods for the Roman-Barbarian relationship represented the most important source for the migratory peoples’ existence. The migratory peoples preserved almost entirely the structures of the sedentary society in order to turn its resources in good account, especially because the institution of the foedus was a guaranty for their domination on the settlers and on the prisoners of war. In one of the pages of his narration about the messengers at the Attila’s court, Priscus refers to the village in Banat, dominated by one of the widows of Blede, the Hun king’s brother. The successful domination of the Germanic clans in the West has its explanation in the exploitation of the sedentary societies that they overlapped on.
Beside the booty and the explotion of the sedentary peoples, the third source for the migratory peoples’ existence was represented by the commerce between them and the empire. Stipulated in the treaties, these contacts were profitable for both sides. The sources referring to the goods taken from the empire and brought in the Barbarians’ regions are less explicit. However, it is beyond any doubt that they were raw materials and products of strictly necessity, absent or extremely seldom in the empire. It is for sure that they included the salt, abundantly in the space of the ancient Dacia, but absent in the Balkans, so that the Peninsula was dependent for thousands of years by the Carpathian region. Among other goals, the Roman control on the lower course of the Sereth river had also the purpose to procure the salt from the Eastern Carpathians, indispensable for the inhabitants in the Scythia Minor and in the other Danube provinces of the empire. Beside salt, just like later, during the Ottoman period, the empire brought from the North of the river the wood, necessary for the upsurge of the town activity in the first centuries of the New Rome, under the circumstances of the demographic progress of the great metropolis.
On the other side, the information about the needs of the warrior elite is much richer. More and more attracted by the empire’s economic and cultural values, the members of the warrior elite demand especially luxurious things, produced in the craft workshops and in the manufactures in Constantinople and in other towns and brought into light by the archaeological investigations. As far as the Christianism is diffused in
the Barbarian milieu and especially among the sedentary populations in the North of the Danube, there are things of Christian cult (like the donarii discovered in the Romanian space) to be detected in the Balkans. They were brought by missionaries or through the commercial activities. There are also the great masses of the migratory and sedentary populations that take advantage from these commercial activities. The goods in these exchanges, like the cheap ceramics, the agricultural tools and the modest things of cult are to be detected everywhere, from the Danube and until farther, in Marmarosch and Bukovine, in the Dacian territory. These exchanges occurred in “the fares near the Ister”, held “according to the ancient custom”, and where also “the Romans came, in order to buy their needs”, according to the testimony of Priscus of Panion. Before becoming emperor, Maximinus the Thracian practised “the commerce with the Goths”, from which activity he bought great properties in Thracia. The existence and activity of this kind of fares were stipulated in the foedus between the empire and the Barbarians. This “usual supply” of the foederati, as it is called by Themystius, was a mean of pressure by Constantinople against the migratory peoples, who were dependent of the empire’s products. Valens obliged the Goths to make the commerce in “the squares of two cities on the river”, and not as it had been previously, when “the commerce and the commercial activities” between the Goths and the Romans “allowed them to settle everywhere they wanted with every kind of liberty”. It seems that the commanders of the guard posts and of the military units on the river took an important part in these exchanges, since the same Themystius accuses them of being rather “merchants and slave sellers, having the care the sell and buy as more as possible”.
The inventory of the goods bought or received by the Barbarians from the empire could very well be drawn out relying upon the period’s testimonies. Theophylaktus Simocatta indicates that the Avars received from the Romans, beside the usual tribute, also “different cloths from the merchants”. The same historian narrates a not normal event in the Roman-Avar relationship, retaken by Theophanes the Confessor. During the conflict between the Roman general Priscus and the Khan Bajan occurred in Moesia Inferior, there happened a great lack of food in the imperial camp, exactly before the Easter ceremonies. Informed about this, the khan requires a few days truce to the Romans and offers to Priscus “four hundred wagons with food to the hungry Romans”; in exchange, Bajan asked for “spices from India”, and finally he received “pepper, laurel leafs, aromas, cinnamon and other goods”. The same kind of exotic products are also gifted to the Hun queen by the Roman envoys: “silver cups, skins painted in red, dates, pepper and others”. It could be observed that the khan and the
members of his military elite were accustomed to the luxurious goods from the imperial metropolis brought from abroad. This inventory is substantially completed by the imperial legislation referring to the interdictions imposed to the exports by the authorities in case of war against the Barbarians. In a period of dissension between the empire and the Goths, as it was between 370 and 375, when the anti-Christian persecutions promoted by Athanaricus affect also the political relationship between the two sides, a decree signed by Valens, Valentinian and Gratianus stipulated that “nobody has any right to transport wine, oil and beverages in the Barbarian regions, not even in order to be only tasted or to destined to commercial destinations”. The conflict situation is the one that certainly explains these interdictions with foods, which during the peace times represented the object of the bilateral exchanges. A totally different situation occurred for the strategic products in the empire, especially the weapons and the metals. There is the order of the Emperor Marcianus in the years 455-457 addressed to another dignitary, which clarifies the situation of these goods. The order stipulated that “nobody to dare to sell links, shields, bows, arrows, swords or any other sort of weapons [...] to the Barbarians abroad, of every kind of race and also any kind of missiles, and that nobody is allowed to alienate even a piece of iron, even processed or not”. Then, the emperor specified the punishment for the violation of this disposition, “because it is harmful for the Roman Empire and almost a treason to equip the Barbarians with weapons, which they better miss, in order to be not more powerful”. Henceforth, the sanctions stipulated in case of violation of this order were extreme, since the guilty one was to “have all the goods confiscated and given to the public treasure, and he himself to be subject of the capital punishment”.
In relation to the Byzantine products, the numismatics in the Northern Danube area represents another dense net. The foederati – Goths and Sarmatians, Huns and Gepides, Lombards and Avars – received yearly tributes from the empire, representing often more than a hundred thousands nomismae or solidi, the silver coin of Constantine the Great. The highest tributes were sent to Attila, who made the law in the Balkans in front of the incapable Theodosius II. What happened to these huge amounts of golden coins beyond the empire’s frontiers? A great part of them returned to the Roman state as an exchange for the luxurious goods, achieved by the Barbarian elite in the fares on the limes or even at their residence centres. A crowd of Romans swarmed at the court of Attila and there were many merchants among them, according to Priscus’ testimony. Some other pieces were transformed in golden rods, as they have been discovered by the archaeologists in the treasures. Finally, a small part of them is to be found in the treasures in their initial shape, as Imperial nomismae. However, beside the golden pieces, there are to be found also pieces more modest, of silver and
especially of copper, in the treasures. They reveal a world different to the conquering clans, meaning the world of the sedentary populations, which resources are exploited by the migratory peoples. The less valued coins indicate exchanges inside of the sedentary society, modest daily exchanges of a poor population or impoverished by the storms coming from the Northern Pontic steppes. These pieces came also from the empire, on ways more difficult to be established. Many of them were to be achieved by the natives at the fares on the limes, some others were to be brought by the Roman prisoners transferred to the South of the river by the migratory peoples.
The two categories of coins sketch the existence of two distinct societies on the same space. The silver and copper coins illustrate a world accustomed for centuries with the Roman coin and with the daily exchanges of small value inside of the sedentary society, utilizing food products primarily. On the contrary, the golden pieces suggest the plundering society of the migratory clans; they originate in the robbery expeditions to the Southern Danube and in the tributes paid by Rome and Constantinople for assuring the peace at the frontiers. Meanwhile, they sketch a frontier of nomisma or an empire of solidus, which frontiers included not only Europe, but also the Muslim world in Asia and Africa, surpassing considerably the territorial reality of the Roman State. Thus, the golden pieces are also the proof of the empire’s military weakness, paid in gold, but also of the economical and also political prestige of a state which coin would remain for a thousand years the coinage standard of the medieval world.
The Cultural Frontier
On the cultural ground, the Danube is less a frontier than a way of communication for the material goods and for the ideas. The echo of the Byzantine influence is propagated in waves to the Northern Danube Barbarian world, open to receive it. Before analyzing them, it is the proper moment to underline the complexity of the concept of Barbarian world at the North of the Danube, often excessively simplified, in order to understand the entire proportion of the Byzantine culture. On the one side, there are the migratory clans looking for booty and tributes from the empire. They represent a warrior minority, in comparison with the huge mass of sedentary population, “the basic population” (Grunbevölkerung), without which the migratory peoples’ political basis were in impossibility to exist. This “basic population” is formed by the Dacian-Romans remained in the region at 271, by the Southern Danube prisoners and perhaps by groups of migratory peoples gradually converted to a sedentary life. The cultural
influenced from the New Rome should be regarded at different levels and intensities, in function of the Barbarian society’s structures.
Put in evidence by the archaeological excavations, the material and cultural goods were retaken by the Barbarian world in a first stage directly from the empire, by commercial exchanges or in other way, and then they were produced by the Barbarians themselves, although somehow awkwardly. The archaeologists have established more cultural areas in the space of the ancient Dacia, all of them being influenced, in an extent or another, by the empire’s material culture, so that some have talked about the Romanian space’s inclusion in the great area of the Byzantine provincial civilization. For the explanation of this phenomenon, we should consider the tradition of the local handicraftsmen remained in Trajan Dacia, the human contacts between the two banks of the river through Banat and Oltenia that were not abruptly interrupted in 271, but also the part taken by the Roman prisoners. These latter were in the favor of the migratory clans and put to work for their new masters. It is the one manner to understand the proportion of the Byzantine material culture’s influences, but also the different degree of fidelity towards them, from one cultural area to another.
On a different level, the lecture of Ammianus Marcellinus and Priscus of Panion offer a classical example of cultural assimilation to the modern historian. At their arrival in Europe, the Huns, according to Ammianus, were regarded as the symbol of the pure savageness, because of their life style and of violence. After two centuries, Priscus reveals a completely different society, profoundly modified under the Roman civilization’s influence coming through different channels. In 450, the image of the court of Attila surpasses everything that one knows about the other migratory clans halting at the North of the Danube. At the Hun king’s court, Priscus comes into contact with illustrious characters of the Western and Eastern Roman world. Some of them are only in mission to the king; some others are willingly established there, looking for profit. Anyhow, the most of the Romans are war prisoners that had played an essential part in the transformation of the Hun society at its superior level. Among them, there are king’s secretaries, engineers, craftsmen and merchants. They built the sumptuous buildings of the king’s dignitaries, endowed with Roman baths. In the palace of Attila, which impresses Priscus through its wealth and good taste, there are feasts that suppose bowls and cups in gold and silver. Here is the superior level of migratory peoples’ cultural assimilation, brilliant, but superficial, as long as their huge mass remains attached to the nomad traditions and “the life of robbery”. The death of the great king was sufficient to let the brilliance of the Attila’s court and of his military elite’s buildings to disappear almost without any trace.
The diffusion of the Roman civilization’s values at the migratory mass’ level is more important and more lasting. It supposes the assimilation of a sedentary life style’s basis by the Barbarians. The contemporary sources offer data about the integration and then the entire assimilation of the migratory population settled in the empire’s Balkan
provinces. It is the case of the Bastarns, mentioned by Zosimus, who considers them as “a Scythic race subdued [by the Emperor Probus, who] settled them in Thracia and when gave them lands there. They lived then continuously under the Roman laws”. Two centuries afterwards – the event takes place in 280 –, the Byzantine historian notices the stages of the Bastarns’ integration and assimilation. Almost at the same times, the Carps were transferred on the Roman territory, where they were rapidly assimilated. One of their descendants completely romanized, that is Maximinus, became deputy of prefectus in Rome, after his father had been archivist of a military garrison. At this level, the last case of cultural assimilation is represented by “the little Goths”, Christianized by Wulfila, who was their bishop. In the times of Jordanes, they lived in great number in Moesia Inferior, in the region of Nikopolis, “but poor and peaceful”. The Barbarians enrolled in the favor of empire, as soldiers deserve a special attention. Some of them became commanders of the Roman armies and the best defenders of the Roman civilization against the assault of their relatives, as it is the case of the famous general Stylicon, whose example is not singular.
There is poorer information in the sources about the Roman influences on the migratory populations outside their military elite. These influences are to be rather supposed than documented. In this sense, the Goths represent a special case. During their arrival in the Northern Pontic steppes and at the Danube’s mouths, they were not different than other migratory peoples. On the contrary, the Goths borrow elements of civilization from the Iranic tribes in the region, in contact with the Mediterranean world. In a first stage, during almost a century, the Goths plunder the Balkan provinces and Asia Minor. Then, in another stage, they become foederati of the Romans. In all this period, they assimilate the cultural influences from the Greek-Roman world, becoming some of the most civilized Barbarians, according to the ancient authors. They are transformed in an almost sedentarized population, are converted to Christianism – not without tensions inside their own community –, and Wulfila invents a Goth alphabet and translates the Bible in their language. The success of the Rome’s work of cultural assimilation had not ever been such great among the Barbarians outside the frontiers. Nevertheless, the Goths were not ready to establish a state on their own in the Dacian space. It would be after some other decades, that is after the abandon of the Northern Danube settlements, when the Vizigoths would create a state at the other extremity of the empire, that is in the Southern Gaul and in Hispania. Meanwhile the Ostrogoths would imitate them a century later, in Italy. Still, as Orosius underlines, the first Vizigoth king in the Gaules, that is Athaulf, is constrained to renounce to the
substitution from Romania to Gothia and he puts himself in the favour of Rome. It was after he had convinced himself that the Goths’ barbarity had been able to be controlled exclusively through the Roman laws. A century later, the ideal of the great Ostrogoth king Theodoricus would be the same. The political conception of the two kings is the great lesson assimilated by the most civilized migratory peoples for their political successes and a supreme homage for the Roman civilization.
A last respect of the cultural influences in the Northern Danube space regards the expansion of the Latin language in the Barbarian world. The contemporary sources are plentiful neither here. Some signs about the phenomenon are not absent, while some others could be indirectly inferred. During his embassy to the court of Attila, Priscus concludes that there were “the language of the Huns, the one of the Goths and the one of the Ausones” to be usually spoken at the king’s residence. The last of them was to be the Latin language, become a real international language in the space of the Northern Danube Barbarian world. For the historian, the presence of a Greek speaking the Greek language at the king’s court represents an exceptional fact, since the Greek language could only be spoken by “the prisoners from Thracia and from the Illyrian coast, that is in Greece. The detail recorded by Priscus is important also for our investigation, since it allows us to evaluate the proportion of the Latin language’s circulation at the North of the Danube in 4th-7th centuries. The ambassador from Constantinople specifies indirectly that all the other Roman provinces in the Balkans were Latinophone. Here is the point for the conclusion that the prisoners transferred by the migratory peoples from the Balkans to the Danube’s left side spoke the Latin in an overwhelming majority.
Two other informations confirm this conclusion about the importance of the Latin language’s circulation at the North of the river. The first one is advanced by Procopius and is connected to the episode of the false Chilbudios. Slav by his origins and then Roman general, Chilbudios gets in the service of Justinian, who names him as commander of the armies on the Danube, in order to stop the Barbarians’ assaults. His success is complete, but after three years he disappears in an expedition on the left side of the river. At the advise of a Roman prisoner, who had come into contact with the general, an Ant slave strikingly resembled with Chilbudios, comes to the Roman authorities, pretending that he was the imperial commander. The false Chilbudios “spoke Latin and had learned many of the Chilbudios’ manners and he was able to imitate him”. The general Narses’ perspicacity was necessary that the trick be revealed. The episode permits the conclusion that the Roman prisoners in the Wallachian field spoke Latin and the slaves themselves used it as a lingua franca. The other information is to be detected in the Pseudo-Maurykius and it refers to the so-called “refugees” (rhephugoi). A Latin technical term which meaning is not entirely clear in the modern research, it defines the guides of the imperial armies in the Barbarian territory. “Although they were Romans”, mentions the author of the “Strategikon”,
“they obtained in time this position [of refugees], forgot their habits [the Roman ones] and are closer to the enemies”. Either Roman prisoners returned in the empire, or Romans definitely settled at the North of the Danube, their life together with the Slavs created solidarity of interests between the two communities. This solidarity vanished their feeling of affection towards the Roman society’s values, preferring the Barbarian life style. The Greek-speaking prisoner met by Priscus at the court of Attila also develops an ample pleading in the favor of “the Scythic way of life” and a harsh critic of the Roman society.
The Religious Frontier
When it becomes the state religion of the empire in the 4th century, the Christianism also becomes the most important component of the Roman civilization, defining its identity. The Rome’s universal community becomes “the people of the Christians” or “the race of the Christians”, “the Romans” are to be confounded with “the Christians”, and the metropolis of Constantine is also called “the Christian city” (Christianopolis). The universal values of the new faith explain its success in the conquest of all the Roman community’s strata. Still, the Romans begin meanwhile to propagate the Christianism outside their territory either, a policy initiated by the emperor himself, who regarded himself as having the mission of “bishop of the outsiders”. The advantages of this policy could not be ignored. On the one hand, its success among the Barbarians meant the confirmation of the emperor’s prestige and the affirmation of the empire’s universality. On the other hand, the Christian faith brought a ‘taming’ of the wild races and a more security at the frontier, the emperor being convinced that “he will make the peace more solid through the community of thoughts”.
The beginnings of the Christian penetration to the North of the Danube regions dominated by the Barbarians are still not connected to the undertaking of an emperor, but by the Goths’ plundering expeditions in the empire’s provinces. During the 3rd century expeditions in the Balkan provinces and in Asia Minor, where the progress of the new faith was already relevant, the Goths brought tenth of prisoners with them, among whom there were also Christians. Among their descendants there is Wulfila, the apostle of the Goths, and Sava the Goth the martyr. Probably, these Christian prisoners were the first missionaries of the new faith, and the circle of the believers from Gothia
extended among the natives and the pagan prisoners. The number would increase at the beginning of the 4th century, especially because of the Roman merchants coming with business in the region, among whom there were certainly some Christianism’s disciples. The existence of a larger Christian community at the North of the Danube in the first decades of the 4th century explains the undertaking of the Christian church in the empire to settle a “bishopric of the Goths”. Its titular in 325, by name Theophilus, is mentioned among the participants to the ecumenical council of Nicaea. The modern research is under controversy as regards the settling of this bishopric, oscillating between the mouths of the Danube in the space controlled by the Vizigoths and the Northern Pontic steppes dominated by the Ostrogoths. The debate is mainly useless, since the Christian church in the empire did not distinguish to 320 between the two branches of the Goths. In such a condition, the bishopric was to cover the entire territory controlled by the Goths from Chersonesus to the Danube and its titular was the shepherd of all the Christians in Gothia. On the other side, the existence of some Christians, others than those in the space dominated by the Goths, is attested also in the territory of the former Roman province of Dacia, by the Christian cult objects discovered by the archaeological excavations.
A new stage in the expansion of the new faith in the Northern Danube Barbarian world begins to 340 and is connected to the missionary activity of Wulfila, descending from some of the Christian prisoners from Cappadocia. The Goth bishop’s activity is known from the numerous ecclesiastical historical writings and from other later ancient works. It takes place during seven years in Gothia. Subsequently, the Goth apostle is obliged to take refugee in the empire, consequently to the persecution enterprised by the Goth group hostile to the progress of Christianism. However, his followers continued their propaganda, enlarging the circle of the Gothic Christians by 370, when the anti-Christian great persecution commences. Led by the King Athanaricus, the persecution would have the death of Sava the Goth as consequence. The reasons for this persecution are obvious. The progress of Christianism threatens the Gothic “ancient faith” with disappearance and the unity of the Gothic people with breaking, while the empire was to achieve peacefully what was not able to get by the force of the army. This latter respect explains also the “hatred against the Romans”. From our viewpoint, the fact that Gothia was the ground of the confrontation between the Orthodoxy and some heresies, especially the Arianism, is less important. It is because, irrespective of the confession, the Christianism becomes the most important way of propagation for the Roman civilization’s values among the Northern Danube Germanic populations in the 4th-6th centuries.
Nevertheless, the message of the Gospel was not limited to the Germanic populations at the North of the Danube – Vizigoths and Ostrogoths, Gepides and Lombards – and it was not addressed to them in a first stage, as we underlined above. Before Wulfila, the first missionaries had the Roman prisoners in Gothia and the sedentary population in the region into consideration. Sava the Goth and Nicetas spread the seed of their faith in the whole milieu at the North of the Danube, irrespective of the population’s ethnic origins. The activity in the region of Audios deserves a special mention. He was the founder of a Christian sect condemned in the empire and put the basis of “monasteries, where the monks’ rule flourished, [...] together with an extremely severe asceticism”. Surely, Gothia was the ground for the activity of some missionaries from the empire’s Balkan provinces, especially from Scythia Minor. Here is attested a very intensive Christian life with numerous establishments in the Roman cities on the right side of the river in the 4th-6th centuries. Here is the starting point for the missionaries in the Southern Moldavia, where, according to Evagrius the Scholastic at the middle of the 6th century, “the Romans had founded towns, military camps and some stations of veterans and colonies sent by the emperors”. The undeniable proof of the religious life in this region is delivered at the middle of the 10th century by Constantine the Porphyrogenitus, who has knowledge about six deserted cities (eremocastra) between Dniester and the Danube’s mouths. At his times, there were traces of churches and stone crosses. In a larger and less precise perspective, Cosmas Indicopleustes has knowledge of the fact that the Christ’s gospel was announced also “in the Northern regions of the Scythians, [...] Bulgarians” and other peoples tat could very well include the Danube territories.
For the empire, the Christianism becomes soon a weapon for the weakening of the pressure at the North of the Danube frontier, being more efficient even than the institution of the foederati. Henceforth, the emperor’s purpose was the christianization of the Barbarians and the achievement of “the community of thoughts” between the Romans and the Barbarians towards the latter’s gradual ‘taming’. Before this achievement, some Christians’ virtues were to prepare the way. Sozomenos narrates the profound impression made by the Bishop Theotimus of Scythia on the Huns, just arrived at the Lower Danube. Amazed by the behaviour of the high “Scythic” prelate, the Huns named him as “the God of the Romans”. Although “savage by nature”, they were “gradually directed towards gentleness, being treated and attracted by gifts”. The fruits of this missionary work, culminating with the christianization of the Barbarian peoples, began to appear gradually. Previously assuring its cohesion, the
ancient tribal solidarity begins to be broken in the middle of the Barbarian world. Some other new, relying upon the new faith appear. The reaction of Athanaricus represents the sign that the peril is consciously understood, but the attraction of the new faith was more powerful. Theophanes the Confessor narrates an episode of the fight between the Romans and the Slavs illustrating this fact. The general Priscus is directed inside of the Barbarian region by “a Gepide man, dominated by the Christian faith”, who had taken refugee among the Romans. Because of him, the general achieves a complete victory. The progress of the Christian faith in the Barbarian world weakened even more the consistency of the military and political frontier at the Danube of the empire. As an essential element of the Roman civilization since the 4th century, the Christian values irradiate the Barbarian space, alleviating the tensions between the Romans and the Barbarians and weakening the pressure of the Christian peoples on the military frontier.
The Feature of a Frontier
By the appearance of Islam, the empire had not come into contact with enemies presenting clear values and universal message at its frontiers. It would only the Islam to oppose to the Romans a world with a clear identity defined by political, cultural and religious values with universal vocation. Therefore, the Eastern frontier, non-penetrable at “the other’s civilization”, put two powers face to face. Their rivalry has the domination over the world as purpose. Later, through Charles the Great, the Great Schism and especially the crusades, the West builds its identity, through the contact with Constantinople and against it, through values settled upon the Greecized New Rome.
At the end of Antiquity, there is nothing similar at the empire’s Danube frontier. Here are two civilizations aware of themselves in confrontation. Constituted in gentes, the Barbarians have no values with universal vocation and have nothing to propose to their neighbours. On the contrary, they are preoccupied to preserve the tribal, linguistic, political and religious individualities. Only after the contact with the empire, through and against Rome, the Barbarian peoples achieve gradually the conscience of their identity. In a first stage, they promote the identity values, essentially of war. Still, the irresistible economic contacts with the empire bring the first breaches in the Barbarian world’s closed structures. Attracted by the rich booties and the Roman life’s brilliance, their military elite is the first to feel the need of communication with the imperial civilization. After the booties and the Roman luxury goods, the institution of foederati and the Christianism are afterwards the main channels that the Roman values penetrate through to the Barbarian world. As F. Braudel noticed, as the voltage difference is increasing between the two civilizations, as the waves that the inferior society absorbs the advanced society’s influences are more powerful. One should not ignore the part of referee taken in this process by the sedentary population on the territory controlled by
the Barbarians, strongly penetrated by the influences of the Roman world through very lasting contacts. Here is the part taken by the captives from Cappadocia in the Christianization of the Goth and the part, inimitable especially in the archaeological sources, played by the Dacian-Romans in the assimilation of the influences from the migratory peoples’ material civilization. Through these channels, many times invisible, the two Gothic peoples at the Danube and the Black Sea were prepared for their brilliant political career in the West.
The prestige of the Roman civilization in the world of the migratory peoples gave a great ambiguity to the notion of frontier. The absorption of the very diverse Roman values by the migratory peoples created not only a frontier at the Danube, but numerous frontiers, sketching the same number of concentric circles having Constantinople in the middle of them, as the vital centre of the imperial civilization. The most restricted among those circles corresponded to the political and military frontier separating the Roman citizens’ community and the Barbarian world. This frontier, which includes also the one at the Lower Danube, has the task to assure the security for the Roman community’s values in front of the Barbarian violence and disorder. At the other extremity, the circle with the largest radius includes the empire of the Byzantine golden coin, which expansion does not take the policy and the religion into consideration, but the practical interests of the human beings and of the societies. However, the empire outlined by the nomisma during a thousand years is also the sign of prestige and of power of an economy and civilization. Between these two extremes there are other concentric circles, “the invisible frontiers” of the cultural and religious expansion, which is not by all means directly proportional with the military strength of the empire in a certain moment. It was rather the voltage difference between the civilization of Constantinople and that of its neighbours that really mattered. The influences of the Byzantine ideology and institutions from the last centuries of a dying empire are reversibly proportional with the New Rome’s military resources.
The fall of the Danube frontier remains under discussion. It would be followed by the loss of the Balkan provinces by the empire, two centuries after the conquest by the Germanic peoples of the Rome’s Western territory, despite its civilization’s superiority. The reasons are multiple and they take alike the migratory peoples and the empire into account. On the migratory peoples’ side, the Slavs and the Avars around the year 600 do not look like the Goths in the 4th century and therefore, they were not prepared to receive the values of the Byzantine civilization. Some other few centuries were necessary for the Slavs to come into a fruitful dialogue with Constantinople, after their establishing in the Balkans. Still, the causes in the Byzantine camp are more important and more complex. During the last antique centuries, the society of the New Rome accuses more and more the vices that had provoked the fall of the empire in the West. That is the sclerosis of the institutions that became more and more anachronistic, the excessive bureaucracy beginning with Diocletian and Constantine, the overwhelming fiscality. The dialogue between Priscus and the Greek prisoner at the Attila’s court brings light on the lack of equity in the Roman justice. The erosion of the solidarity in the Roman world explain the sympathy, if not the alliance between the Goths and the poor population in the Peninsula in the empire’s difficult moments,
connected to the catastrophe at Adrianople in 378. The phenomenon brings also light on the duplicity of the Roman “refugees” that lives together with the Slavs at the North of the Danube, being suspected by Pseudo-Maurikius to taking the cause of the latter during the struggle with the Imperial troops.
There is also another reason, maybe more profound. As in the migratory peoples’ world, under the Roman civilisation’s influences, there is elaborated a new solidarity that would represent the basis of the medieval peoples. The empire of the New Rome during the 4th-6th centuries is the witness of the gradual appearance of other solidarity that gave a new identity to the Roman state in the East. The offensive of the Greek language and cultural elite in the Eastern metropolis provokes the violent reaction of the Semitic populations, which come back to their national traditions, under the shadow of the heresies developed here. This evolution directs to their definite breaking off in the 7th century with the cause of Constantinople and their passing in the Islamic camp. However, the offensive of the Hellenism comes into contact also with the Romanity in the Balkans, which had had the difficult task to save the empire in the East. In the Constantine’s metropolis, definitely conquered by the Hellenism in the 6th century, the Latin language, which had been the official language in the empire by then, loses the primacy in administration and justice. Afterwards, around the year 700 it would be even considered as “a Barbarian language” in the eyes of the new elite in Constantinople. This evolution continues during the subsequent two centuries, modifying radically the identitary values of the empire, transformed in a Greek national state.
This transformation profoundly affected the Romanic population of the Peninsula. Certainly, the great invasions gravely influenced the Southern Danube Romanity, as being in the first line of the resistance against the Barbarian assaults. The losses suffered by the imperial troops, mainly recruited from its lines, the human casualties provoked by the invasions and the settlement of hundreds of thousands Roman prisoners to the North of the Danube weakened the Roman element’s vitality. The settling of the Slav mass in the Peninsula accomplished its decay. Dislocated and pressed by the migratory peoples in the high regions of the Balkans, the Romans continue their existence in islands, being surrounded by the Slavic population. The offensive of the Hellenism provoked not only in the East, but also in the Peninsula the reaction of the local population, settled on a secondary position by the Constantinople’s political and intellectual elite. This very fact provoked a gradual alienation of this Romanity from the cause of the Greecized empire. This explains the dissolving phenomena in the Balkan territories, as expressed by the historians. After 700, according to Constantinople, the Romans in the Balkans, together with their language, were included in the Barbarian camp and the evolution comes to its final point.
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 Ibidem: 82.
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 For the relationship between policy and religion in this period, see H.-G. Beck, “Christliche Mission und politische Propaganda im byzantinischen Reich”, in Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo, XIV, Spoleto, 1967: 649-674 [reprinted in idem, Ideen und Realitäten in Byzanz, London, 1972.
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 The St. Nicetas’ Sufferings, in FHDR: II, 723.
 For the whole debate, see E. Popescu, Christianitas Daco-Romanae, Bucharest, 1994: 178 ff.
 For the many respects of the matter, see ibidem: 74-91.
 Socrates, Ecclesiastica Historia: IV, 33, 7; FHDR: II, 219.
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 Ibidem: 173.
 Evagrius the Scholastic, The Ecclesiastical History (ed. by Bidez and L. Parmentier), London, 1898: V, 1: 196; FHDR: II, 527.
 Constantine the Porphyrogenitus, De administrando imperio (ed. by Gy. Moravcsik), Budapest, 1949: 37, 58-67; FHDR: II, 666.
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