South Slavic tribes (orange) in the Balkans in the 7th century; the frontier of the nominal Byzantine dominion is marked in purple, the area populated by Roman or Greek provincial population is green.

The Sclaveni (in Latin) or Sklavenoi (in Greek) were early South Slavic tribes that raided, invaded and settled the Balkans in the Early Middle Ages. They were mentioned by early Byzantine chroniclers as barbarians having appeared at the Byzantine borders along with the Antes, another Slavic group. The Sclaveni were differentiated from the Antes (East Slavs) and Wends (West Slavs), however, described as kin. Eventually, most South Slavic tribes accepted Byzantine suzerainty, and came under Byzantine cultural influence. The term, along with the term Sklavinia ("Slav land") was widely used until the emergance of separate tribal names by the 10th century.


The Byzantines broadly grouped the numerous Slav tribes living in proximity with the Eastern Roman Empire into two groups: the Sklavenoi and the Antes.[1] The derived Greek term Sklavinia(i) (Ancient Greek: Σκλαβινίαι, Latin: Sclaviniae) is interpreted as "Slav lands" in Byzantium. These Slavic settlements (area, territory) were initially out of Byzantine control and independent. By 800, however, the term also referred specifically to Slavic mobile military colonists who settled as allies within the territories of the Byzantine Empire. Slavic military settlements appeared in the Peloponnese, Asia Minor, and Italy.

Byzantine historiography

Procopius gives the most detail about the Sclaveni and Antes.[2] The Sclaveni are also mentioned by Jordanes (fl. 551), Pseudo-Caesarius (560), Menander Protector (mid-6th c.), Strategikon (late 6th c.), etc.


6th century

Sclaveni between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains.

The first Slavic raid south of the Danube was recorded by Procopius, who mentions an attack of the Antes, "who dwell close to the Sclaveni", probably in 518.[3][4] Scholar M. Kazanski identified the 6th-century Prague culture and Sukow-Dziedzice group as Sclaveni archaeological cultures, and the Penkovka culture was identified as Antes.[2] In the 530s, Emperor Justinian seems to have used divide and conquer and the Sclaveni and Antes are mentioned as fighting each other.[5]

Sclaveni are first mentioned in the context of the military policy on the Danube frontier of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565).[6] In 537, 1,600 cavalry, made up of mostly Sclaveni and Antes, were shipped by Justinian to Italy to rescue Belisarius.[7] Sometime between 533–34 and 545 (probably before the 539–40 Hun invasion),[7] there was a conflict between the Antes and Sclaveni in Eastern Europe.[8] Procopius noted that the two "became hostile to one another and engaged in battle" until a Sclaveni victory.[7] The conflict was likely aided or initiated by the Byzantines.[8] In the same period, the Antes raided Thrace.[9] The Romans also recruited mounted mercenaries from both tribes against the Ostrogoths.[7] The two tribes were at peace by 545.[9] Notably, one of the captured Antes claimed to be Roman general Chilbudius (who was killed in 534 by barbarians at the Danube). He was sold to the Antes and freed. He revealed his true identity but was pressured and continued to claim that he was Chilbudius.[9] The Antes are last mentioned as anti-Byzantine belligerents in 545, and the Sclaveni continued to raid the Balkans.[8] The Antes became Roman allies by treaty in 545.[10] Between 545 and 549, the Sclaveni raided deep into Roman territory.[11] In 547, 300 Antes fought the Ostrogoths in Lucania.[10] In the summer of 550, the Sclaveni came close to Naissus, and were seen as a great threat, however, their intent on capturing Thessaloniki and the surroundings was thwarted by Germanus.[12] After this, for a year, the Sclaveni spent their time in Dalmatia "as if in their own land".[12] The Sclaveni then raided Illyricum and returned home with booty.[13] In 558 the Avars arrived at the Black Sea steppe, and defeated the Antes between the Dnieper and Dniester.[14] The Avars subsequently allied themselves with the Sclaveni.[15]

Daurentius (fl. 577–579), the first Slavic chieftain recorded by name, was sent an Avar embassy requesting his Slavs to accept Avar suzerainty and pay tribute, because the Avars knew that the Slavs had amassed great wealth after repeatedly plundering the Balkans. Daurentius reportedly retorted that "Others do not conquer our land, we conquer theirs [...] so it shall always be for us", and had the envoys slain.[16] Bayan then campaigned (in 578) against Daurentius' people, with aid from the Byzantines, and set fire to many of their settlements, although this did not stop the Slavic raids deep into the Byzantine Empire.[17] In 578, a large army of Sclaveni devastated Thrace and other areas.[18] In the 580s, the Antes were bribed to attack Sclaveni settlements.[10]

John of Ephesus noted in 581: "the accursed people of the Slavs set out and plundered all of Greece, the regions surrounding Thessalonica, and Thrace, taking many towns and castles, laying waste, burning, pillaging, and seizing the whole country." However, John exaggerated the intensity of the Slavic incursions since he was influenced by his confinement in Constantinople from 571 up until 579.[19] Moreover, he perceived the Slavs as God's instrument for punishing the persecutors of the Monophysites.[19] By the 580s, as the Slav communities on the Danube became larger and more organised, and as the Avars exerted their influence, raids became larger and resulted in permanent settlement. By 586, they managed to raid the western Peloponnese, Attica, Epirus, leaving only the east part of Peloponnese, which was mountainous and inaccessible. In 586 AD, as many as 100,000 Slav warriors raided Thessaloniki. The final attempt to restore the northern border was from 591 to 605, when the end of conflicts with Persia allowed Emperor Maurice to transfer units to the north. However he was deposed after a military revolt in 602, and the Danubian frontier collapsed one and a half decades later (see Maurice's Balkan campaigns).

7th century

In 602, the Avars attacked the Antes; this is the last mention of Antes in historical sources.[20] In 615, during the reign of Heraclius (r. 610–641), the whole Balkans was regarded a Sklavinia – inhabited or controlled by Slavs.[21] Chatzon led the Slavic attack on Thessaloniki that year.[22] The Slavs asked the Avars for aid, resulting in an unsuccessful siege (617).[22] In 626, Sassanids, Avars and Slavs joined forces and unsuccessfully besieged Constantinople.[23] During the same year of the siege, the Sclaveni used their monoxyla in order to transport the 3,000 troops of the allied Sassanids across the Bosphorus which the latter had promised the khagan of the Avars.[24] In 630, Sclaveni attempted to take Thessaloniki again. Traditional historiography, based on DAI, holds that the migration of Serbs and Croats to the Balkans was part of a second Slavic wave, placed during Heraclius' regin.[25]

Constans II conquered Sklavinia in 657–658, "capturing many and subduing",[26] and settled captured Slavs in Asia Minor; in 664–65, 5,000 of these joined Abdulreman ibn Khalid.[27] Perbundos, the chieftain of the Rhynchinoi, a powerful tribe near Thessaloniki, planned a siege on Thessaloniki but was imprisoned and eventually executed after escaping prison; the Rhynchinoi, Strymonitai and Sagoudatai made common cause, rose up and laid siege to Thessaloniki for two years (676–678).[28]

Justinian II (r. 685–695) settled as many as 30,000 Slavs from Thrace in Asia Minor, in an attempt to boost military strength. Most of them however, with their leader Neboulos, deserted to the Arabs at the Battle of Sebastopolis in 692.[29]

8th century

Military campaigns in northern Greece in 758 under Constantine V (r. 741–775) prompted a relocation of Slavs under Bulgar aggression; again in 783.[30] The Bulgars were defeated in 774, after Emperor Constantine V (r. 741–775) learnt of their planned raid.[31] In 783, a large Slavic uprising took place in the Byzantine Empire, stretching from Macedonia to the Peloponnese, which was subsequently quelled by Byzantine patrikios Staurakios (fl. 781–800). Staurakios' forces attacked the Slavs in Greece.[32] In 799, Akameros, a Slavic archon, participated in the conspiracy against Empress Irene of Athens.[33]


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  1. Hupchick 2004.
  2. 1 2 James 2014, p. 96.
  3. James 2014, p. 95.
  4. Curta 2001, p. 75.
  5. James 2014, p. 97.
  6. Curta 2001, p. 76.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Curta 2001, p. 78.
  8. 1 2 3 Byzantinoslavica. 61–62. Academia. 2003. pp. 78–79.
  9. 1 2 3 Curta 2001, p. 79.
  10. 1 2 3 Curta 2001, p. 81.
  11. Curta 2001, pp. 84–85.
  12. 1 2 Curta 2001, p. 86.
  13. Curta 2001, p. 87.
  14. Kobyliński 1995, p. 536.
  15. Kobyliński 1995, p. 537–539.
  16. Curta 2001, pp. 47, 91.
  17. Curta 2001, pp. 91–92, 315
  18. Curta 2001, p. 91.
  19. 1 2 Curta 2001, p. 48.
  20. Kobyliński 1995, p. 539.
  21. Jenkins 1987, p. 45.
  22. 1 2 Fine 1991, p. 41–44.
  23. Treadgold 1997, pp. 297–299.
  24. Howard-Johnston 2006, p. 33.
  25. Curta 2001, p. 66.
  26. Stratos 1975, p. 165.
  27. Stratos 1975, p. 234.
  28. Curta 2006, pp. 96–97.
  29. Treadgold 1998, p. 26.
  30. Vlasto 1970, p. 9.
  31. Fine 1991, pp. –77.
  32. Fine 1991, p. 79.
  33. Curta 2006, p. 110.


Further reading

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