Etleva Nallbani

title.none: Curta, Southeastern Europe (Etleva Nallbani)

identifier.other: baj9928.0705.016 07.05.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Etleva Nallbani, Centre d'Histoire et Civilsation de ByzanceCollège de France,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Curta, Florin. Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge Medieval Textbooks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xxvi, 496. $90.00 (hb) 0-521-81539-8 (hb). ISBN: $34.99 (bp) 0-521-89452-2 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.05.16

Curta, Florin. Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge Medieval Textbooks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xxvi, 496. $90.00 (hb) 0-521-81539-8 (hb). ISBN: $34.99 (bp) 0-521-89452-2 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Etleva Nallbani
Centre d'Histoire et Civilsation de ByzanceCollège de France

Once again, but this time more as an historian than an archaeologist, Florin Curta returns with a book on Southeastern Europe, five years after the publication of "The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, c. 500-700," again with Cambridge University Press. This book on Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages embraces a large geographical area, the traditional Balkan Peninsula, Transylvania in the north, and the eastern and southern regions of the Carpathian basin. The geographical, linguistic and historical reasons for such a definition, which includes the north-east European steppe lands, are related to the origins of the Bulgarians, Pechenegs, Cumans and Mongols as important protagonists in the history of the Balkans

This very significant volume is a synthetic work on the archaeological and historical research of Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, from the end of Roman rule in the Balkans to the Crusades and the arrival of the Mongols. The book gives extraordinarily dense and complete information on the history of each tribe, people and empire, offering a completely new dimension in the history of Southeast Europe. Curta provides a global history, which had hitherto never been considered in its totality and is still very little known by the common reader. His individual approach is not only a compilation that makes available the extant multidisciplinary research on the topic, but also offers fundamental analyses and interpretations.

The volume begins with the traditional acknowledgements and continues by a short note on the transliteration, names of places and persons, dates and words. A long list of important dates for the history of Southeastern Europe, starting from the first Bulgarian raid in 499 to the conquest of Peloponnesus in 1248, follows. In all, the volume contains 496 pages, including a long 38-page introduction, a very rich bibliography of 49 pages and 10 pages of index. The format of the print is very pleasant.

The clear introduction describes the traditional nationalistic methodological framework of most archaeological research in Southeastern European countries, as a key to understanding the interpretation of regional archaeological and historical approaches. Against this background, the author's multidisciplinary approach tries to reconstruct the network of geographic, historic and economic relations of this large geographical area over this long period of time. The major sources explored are the traditional writings, Byzantine, Russian and Hungarian chronicles and charters of the ninth- to thirteenth-century royal chancelleries of Croatia, Hungary and the Franks, as well as correspondences and ancient inscriptions such as, for example, the famous stone-carved ones from Bulgaria. The importance of recent archaeological discoveries, numismatics and art historical information have also been recently re-evaluated.

The volume is conceived in a simple structure, organised in eight main chapters, following the chronology of the main historical periods, some of them based on classical definitions such as "The end of the Late Antiquity or the beginning of the Middle Ages (c. 500-c. 600)?" and "Southeast European 'Dark Ages' (c. 600-c. 800)." The main characteristics of the other centuries define the other chapters, "Rise of new powers (800-900)," "Iron century or golden age (900-1000)?" "The first and the second Byzantine century (1000-1100)," "The second Byzantine century (1100-1200)," and the final period, "Between the Crusade and the Mongol invasion (1200-1250)." A map with the principal sites mentioned in the texts is given for each period.

Each chapter is divided by subtitles pointing to crucial events and essential phenomena. The deep transformations of the Balkans at the end of the Antiquity from 500, have been identified through the analyses of the cities, forts and economic life, particularly considering recent archaeological research. The rise of new military and ecclesiastical elites is considered a result of the tendency to topographical displacement towards highly defended sites, followed by the Justinianic fortification program and the transformation of the urban topography. The composition of society and the role of Christianity in the control and the administration of the town, attested by legislation, is corroborated by the growing number of churches with baptisteries during the sixth century throughout the Balkan provinces. The most important part in this last century of Antiquity is dedicated to the definition of the barbarians and barbarian raids: "Huns," Lombards, Gepids and Slavs, as well as to their social organisation. There are analyses of the characteristics of those raids in the Balkans, of the various wars and alliances, and much information on the policies followed by Empire for the recruitment of barbarians in the army. The histories of Jordanes and Procopius offer a partial framework, while the main information on the social organisation of the Slavs comes from recent archaeological research on their material culture and habitat. "The filthy race of the long-haired barbarians": the Avars (according to Theophylact Symocatta), treats of the beginning of their history in the Carpathian basin. The description of Avar social organisation has mainly been built of the information provided by funerary archaeology.

While the accent in each chapter has been put on the crucial events, peoples, and political powers marking the Middle Ages, the author builds a logical relationship between the various sections, so that at the same time, he also gives a view of the entire history of each population of the Balkans through the centuries. One of the best histories, illustrated by recent archaeology of the funerary and settlements, inscriptions and texts, is that of Bulgarian society from seventh-century Kubrat. I found it to be one of the best components of the volume. Starting with a clanic organisation under Asparukh, the creation of the aristocratic class, the boyars (boilades) during the eighth century and the expansion in all directions in the ninth century, we can observe the gradual creation of a medieval state. It culminates with the conversion of Boris in 865/6 and the foundation of the Old Slavonic church of Ohrid in the tenth century.

In such a wide-ranging volume, there are bound to be some chapters that are treated more globally, others more in detail, in great part due to the level of the multidisciplinary research on each topic. Some historical periods such as the Dark Ages in the Balkans (600-800) or some political phenomena such as the rise of new powers from 800 to 900 keep the historian's attention more focused. It is my particular interest in the first centuries of the Middle Ages which brings me to draw some more detailed commentaries on these chapters. They do not in any way diminish the quality of the rest of the book, or the importance of the work done on the other historical periods. It is impossible to discuss every one of those questions in detail, or even to cite them all.

In the chapter on the South-East European "Dark Ages" (c. 600-c. 800), the main accent is on the installation of Slav families, based essentially on the two books of Miracles of Saint Demetrius. The author describes the unclear Balkan situation of the century following the end of Roman power, between change and continuity. The first period of the Avar qaganate, followed by the origins of medieval Bulgaria from the end of the seventh and especially during the eighth century, is treated with the help of new archaeological information about the organisation of Avar society and the transformations of the character of their economy from nomadic to sedentary. In addition, Carantania is discussed in a short section. The positions of Byzantium in the Dark Age Balkans are considered mainly from the archaeological discoveries. The author's main consideration beside the installation of the Slavs is the continued Byzantine presence, which has become clear from archaeological evidence in the western Balkans. He relates it to the military protection system of the main sites of the coast. However, the picture may be more complex. Sites have been only partially investigated and recent research shows to a large extent more elaborate settlements than simple hilltop forts. The dynamics of Dark Ages material culture reveals also in the seventh and eighth centuries a very high level of craft production, especially but not only for elite destinations. In several aspects it shows western influence. Probably the seventh-century "vacuum" of Byzantine control and administration was filled up by input from the western and northern Adriatic, as we know happened during the ninth-century Carolingian expansion.

The section on the rise of new powers during the century from 900 to 1000 focuses on the spread and organisation of the Slavs, especially in present-day Greece, on the imperial policies for their integration through the administrative system and on the spread of the Christianity through the missions of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The rise of Great Moravia is followed by the second mission of the saints. A special section has been reserved for the identification of centres of power and their displacement in the regions of the Croats, a new power in the western Balkans, while ninth-century Bulgaria is discussed in detail in a special section on the conversion of the Bulgarians to the Christianity.

As in the following chapters we have the history of new medieval peoples as Pechenegs, Magyars, Cumans, Vlachs, and the rise of powers as Serbia or Hungary. The last 50 years, between the Crusaders and the Mongols invasion (1200-1250) end the voluminous history of Southeastern Europe.

Going through most of the chapters, I had the impression that politics, religion and the power dimensions of the history left no space for the economic and social organisation of Southeastern European society. But the author's conclusions fill this gap. They provide a synthesis on the organisation of the medieval economy and discuss the possible framework of patronage within which the main activities, such as agriculture, pastorals and crafts took place. However, research provides weak knowledge, requiring more archaeological investigation in the future. The other aspect, the organisation of society, deals with settlement organisations and forms of social units. The shaping of power within a hierarchical society has been perfectly illustrated by the architecture of residential fortified settlements in Ra¹ and Melnik. Future research on this topic should concentrate on residential medieval architecture and topography, which remains absolutely unknown, especially during the dark ages; the nature of medieval towns and their relations with the hinterland settlements; the role of Christianity in the shaping of local power and in the rise of Episcopal power and its independent status; the evolution of monasticism and the role of royal monasteries in the economic networks between tenth-century Bulgaria and thirteenth-century Serbia, as well as the relations between the two churches.

I am merely outlining here some of the author's remaining questions for future research, so as to make readers conscious of the voluminous work still to be done on medieval Southeastern Europe, work that will require historians and archaeologists to write once again the history of those regions. Meanwhile, the Southeastern Europe built by Florin Curta is the first very serious achievement for all the specialists who need an essential synthesis, as well as for all those who want to know the other part of Europe.