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White Croatia and the arrival of the

Croats: an interpretation of Constantine

Porphyrogenitus on the oldest
Dalmatian historyemed_318 204..231
Francesco Borri
The article examines Constantine Porphyrogenitus (91359) witness on the
arrival of the Croats in Dalmatia during the seventh century. The emperors
narrative proposes a migration from a land called White Croatia, located
somewhere in central Europe, and a battle with the Avars in order to secure
their new territory. The migration, although becoming an important element
in nationalist thought, is not conrmed by any other source, neither contem-
porary, nor later, being reported only by Constantine. I propose that the
migration was instead a literary pattern deployed by the emperor in order to
explain the complex developments which brought a new elite, called Croats,
to a leading position in tenth-century Dalmatia.
The Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (91359) was
the rst Greek author to write about the Croats.
The population was
* The material for this article was collected thanks to a grant offered by the Ca Foscari University
of Venice during the academic year 2008/9, when I worked as a research assistant with Stefano
Gasparri. The opportunity to return to this topic was provided by a sponsored visit to the
sterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften in the autumn of 2009, when I collaborated on
the Wittgenstein Projekt 20052010, Ethnische Identitten im frhmittelalterlichen Europa,
coordinated by Walter Pohl. I would like to express my gratitude to these host institutions.
Further thanks go to Florin Curta, Ewald Kislinger and Herwig Wolfram, who patiently helped
me to make my own mind clear about the ideas summarized here. I would also like to thank
Richard Corradini, Max Diesenberger, Stergios Laitsos, Stefano Petrungaro, Marianne
Pollheimer and Roland Steinacher.
On the character and the work of Constantine Porphyrogenitus: A. Toynbee, Constantine
Porphyrogenitus and his World (New York and Toronto, 1973), especially on the De Administrado
Imperio and Constantines literary production pp. 575612. Also I. evcenko, Re-reading
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, in J. Shepard and S. Franklin (eds), Byzantine Diplomacy: Paper
from the Twenty-fourth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Cambridge, March 1990, Society
for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies, Publications 1 (Aldershot, 1992), pp. 16795. On the
very subject here discussed see also D. Dzino, Becoming Slav, Becoming Croat (Leiden and
Boston, 2010); and T. ivkovic, Sources de Constantin VII Porphyrognte concernant le pass
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2) 204231
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350
Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
previously unknown in the Byzantine world and the only witnesses to a
so-called group settled in Dalmatia are, until the tenth century, a few
Latin documents whose reliability has long been debated.
The emperor described the Croats on different occasions: they are
mentioned very briey in the Life of Basil, which constitutes the fth
book of the biographical collection called Theophanes Continuatus;
Croatian archons are listed among the many Barbarian chieftains receiv-
ing Byzantine tribute in the forty-eighth chapter of the second book of
the text On the Ceremonies;
and, nally and most important, Croats are
the subject of lengthy chapters in On the Administration of the Empire
(De Administrando Imperio, henceforth DAI).
In the Life of Basil the major concern was to justify the murder of
Emperor Michael III (84267) perpetrated by Constantines grandfa-
ther Basil I (86786), painting the former as a cruel drunk, the sum of
every depravity, and praising the latter as a shining holy man. The
model for the biography may have been the lost Life of Augustus,
written by Plutarch (in order to create a comparison between Basil/
Augustus and Michael III/Marc Anthony), or the encomium in honour
of the same emperor composed by Nicholas of Damascus.
In the Life
le plus ancient des Serbes et de Croates, Byzantina Symmeikta 20 (2010), pp. 1137, which,
unfortunately, was published too late for me to access.
See note 71. For an analysis of the sources dealing with the oldest Croatian history J.V.A. Fine,
When Ethnicity did not Matter in the Balkans: A Study of Identity in Pre-Nationalist Croatia,
Dalmatia and Slavonia in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods (Ann Arbor, 2006), pp. 2766.
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Vita Basili, cc. 52, 54, ed. I. Bekker, Theophanes Continuatus,
Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae 33 (Bonn, 1838), pp. 211353, at pp. 288, 291. On the
text see A. Kazhdan, A History of Byzantine Literature II (8501000), ed. C. Angelidi, Institute for
Byzantine Research 4 (Athens, 2006), pp. 13744; Gy. Moravcsik, Sagen und Legenden ber
Kaiser Basileios I, Dumbarton Oaks Papers [hereafter DOP] 15 (1961), pp. 59132.
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Cerimoniis aulae Byzantinae II.48, ed. J.J. Reiske, Constantini
Porphyrogenneti Imperatoris Constantinopolitani Libri Dvo De Cerimoniis Avlae Byzantinae, 2
vols (Leipzig, 17514), II, p. 691. Kazhdan, A History, p. 135; . Malamut, Les adresses aux
princes des pays slaves du sud dans le Livre des crmonies, II, 48: interprtation, Travaux &
Mmoires 13 (2000), pp. 595615. See also the monographic part of volume 13 of Travaux &
Mmoires which is entirely dedicated to the Book of Ceremonies. Finally, J. Ferluga, Archon. Ein
Beitrag zur Untersuchung der sdslawischen Herrschertitel im 9. und 10. Jahrhundert im
Lichte der byzantinischen Quellen, in N. Kamp and J. Wollasch (eds), Tradition als historische
Kraft (Berlin and New York, 1982), pp. 25466.
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio [hereafter DAI], ed. G. Moravcsik,
trans. J.H. Jenkins, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae [hereafter CFHB] 1 (Washington,
DC, 1967) and the classic commentary R.J.H. Jenkins (ed.), DAI II: Commentary [hereafter DAI
II] (London, 1962). See also J.B. Bury, The Treatise De administrando imperio, Byzantinische
Zeitschrift [hereafter BZ] 15 (1906), pp. 51777; B. Beaud, Le savoir et le monarque: le trait sur
les nations de lempereur byzantine ConstantinVII Porphyrognte, Annales: ESC45 (1990), pp.
55164; and J. Signes Codoer, Los eslavos en las fuentes bizantinas de los siglos IXX: el De
administrado imperio de Constantino VII Porrogneto, in J.A. lvarez and P. Nez, La
cristianizacin de los eslavos = Ilu: Revista de ciencias de las religions, Anejos 13 (2004), pp. 11531.
On the historical background E. Kislinger, Eudokia Ingerina, Basileios I. und Michael III.,
Jahrbuch der sterreichischen Byzantinistik 33 (1983), pp. 119136. On the Life see R.J.H. Jenkins,
The Classical Background of the Scriptores post Theophanem, DOP 8 (1954), pp. 1130;
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 205
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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of Basil the Croats are mentioned twice: rst, they are noted among the
Scythian populations of Dalmatia and Pannonia escaping imperial
authority due to the incompetence of Michael (it is not clear if the
second or third emperor of this name was originally meant),
and, after
that, among those who, recognizing Basils might, accepted again Byz-
antine lordship.
This information is also reported in the DAI, with the
major difference that instead of being Scythians, the DAI describes the
Croats as Slavic.
Scythians were, from Herodotus days, the nomads of north-eastern
Europe, embodying the other in the ancient Greek world.
The name
enjoyed a long history: late Roman authors, like Procopius, Agathias,
Theophylactus Simocatta and Maurice, still considered Steppenvlker like
Hungarians, Turks, Avars and Huns part of the Scythian family. Procop-
ius and Agathias used the label Scythians to point out the many tribal
groups living in the vast regions beyond the Meotis Moors (the Sea of
evecenko, Re-reading. See also P.J. Alexander, Secular Biography in Byzantium, Speculum 15
(1940), pp. 194209, who considers the Life of Basil as the rst lay biography in Byzantium.
Moreover R.J.H. Jenkins, Constantine VIIs Portrait of Michael III, Bulletin de la Classe des
Lettres et des Sciences Morales et Politiques, Acadmie Royale de Belgique 34 (1948), pp. 717, and
the criticism contained in R. Scott, The Classical Tradition in Byzantine Historiography, in
M. Mullet and R. Scott (eds), Byzantium and the Classical Tradition, University of Birmingham
Thirteenth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies (Birmingham, 1981), pp. 6174, particu-
larly pp. 701. Also, more recently, M. Gallina, La diffamazione al potere: linvettiva contro
Michele III nella Vita Basili di Costantino VII, Bullettino dellIstituto storico italiano per il
Medioevo 112 (2010), pp. 5789. On emperors labelled as heavy drinkers, M. Humphries, The
Lexicon of Abuse: Drunkenness and Political Illegitimacy in the Late Roman World, in G.
Halsall (ed.), Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Cam-
bridge, 2005), pp. 7588.
The loss of Byzantine Dalmatia is also mentioned in DAI, c. 29, p. 124. The confusion
originated from the order of composition of the two works: J. Signes Codoner, El periodo del
segundo iconoclasmo en Theophanes Continuatus: Anlisis y comentario de los tres primeros
libros de la crnica, Classical and Byzantine Monographs 33 (Amsterdam, 1995), pp. 349,
Vita Basilii, cc. 52, 54, ed. Bekker, pp. 288, 291.
Vita Basilii, c. 52, ed. Bekker, p. 288: ka

r i_ ka i_ ka

r r toutwn diakeimrnwn

, wbotoi jhm ka Srbloi i

i i

te i t i i i ` i .
On nomads in Greek literature, F. Hartog, Le miroir dHrodote: Essai sur la reprsentation de
lautre (Paris, 1980); also H. Kothe, Der Skythenbegriff bei Herodot, Klio 51 (1969), pp. 1588
and W. Pohl, Die Rolle der Steppenvlker im frhmittelalterlichen Europa, in R. Zehetmayer
(ed.), Im Schnittpunkt frhmittelalterlicher Kulturen: Niedersterreich an der Wende vom 9. zum
10. Jahrhundert = Mitteilungen aus dem Niedersterreichischen Landesarchiv 13 (2008), pp.
92102. On the Scythians in Byzantine historiography: O. Pritsak, Scythians, in A. Kazhdan
(ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, 3 vols (Oxford and New York, 1991), III, pp. 18578;
and the entry H. Gckenjan, Skythen, Skythien, in Lexicon des Mittelalters 7 (1995), cols
19992000. Finally E. Malamut, Limage byzantine des Petchngues, BZ 88 (1995), pp.
10547; Gy. Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, Berliner Byzantinistische Arbeiten [hereafter BBA]
1011, 2nd edn, 2 vols (Berlin, 1983), II, pp. 27983. On Byzantine ethnography: M. Maas,
Ethnography, in G.W. Bowersock, P. Brown and O. Grabar (eds), Late Antiquity: A Guide to
the Post Classical World (Cambridge, MA and London, 1999), pp. 4356.
206 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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and, according to Theophylactus and Maurice, the Avars were
also among them. In the Strategikon, moreover, Slav mildness was con-
trasted with the wildness of the Scythians, the empires most fearsome
It is possible that Constantine Porphyrogenitus, following the
generally positive view of the Croats offered in the DAI, avoided men-
tioning their Scythian background, but it seems clear that, from the
Byzantine perspective, the Croats were indeed Scythians. John Scylitzes,
quoting the Life of Basil and the Book of the Ceremonies in the eleventh
century, described them as a minor Scythian group, deserving just a
few lines.
The DAI is the most important text for the study of early medieval
Dalmatia, offering us rich information about the earliest Croatian his-
The emperor dealt with Croatia contradictorily, principally in
Chapters 29 to 31, part of the unitary section (formed by Chapters 29
to 36) dedicated to the settlement of the Balkans. These chapters have
been the subject of great interest to scholars: they were edited separately
from the rest of the DAI and have been commented on numerous
More generally, the text is vital to the study of south-eastern
Procopius of Cesarea, Bella VIII.56, ed. J. Haury and G. Wirth, Procopi Cesarensis Opera
Omnia, 4 vols (Suttgart, 19624), III, II, pp. 50315; Agathias, Historiae V.11, ed. J.D. Frendo,
CFHB 2 (Berlin and New York, 1975), pp. 1767.
Theophylactus Simocatta, Historia, ed. C. de Boor and P. Wirth (Stuttgart, 1972), passim, trans.
M. Whitby, The History of Theophylact Simocatta (Oxford, 1986). H.W. Haussig, Theophylak-
tos Exkurs ber die skythischen Vlker, Byzantion 22 (1953), pp. 275462. Maurice, Strategikon
IV.2, XI.2, ed. and [German] trans. G.T. Dennis and E. Gamillscheg, Das Strategikon des
Maurikios, CFHB 17 (Vienna, 1981), pp. 194, 3608, trans. G.T. Dennis, Maurices Strategikon:
Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy (Philadephia, 1984). J. Wiita, The Ethnika in Byzantine
Military Treatises, Ph.D. thesis, University of Minnesota (1977).
John Scylitzes, Synopsis Historiarum, ed. I. Thurn, CFHB 5 (Berlin, 1973), pp. 1457, 222, 365.
On the legends of origin see: H. Wolfram, Gotische Studien: Volk und Herrschaft im frhen
Mittelalter (Munich, 2005), pp. 20724; H. Wolfram, W. Pohl, H.H. Anton, I. Wood and M.
Becher, Origo gentis, Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde [hereafter RGA] 22 (2003),
pp. 174210. Challenging the very existence of a literary genre called origo gentis, W. Goffart,
Two Notes on Germanic Antiquity Today, Traditio 50 (1995), pp. 930. More recently, A.
Plassmann, Origo gentis. Identitts- und Legitimittsstiftung in frh- und hochmittelalterlichen
Herkunftserzhlungen, Orbis mediaevalis, Vorstellungswelten des Mittelalters 7 (Berlin, 2006),
pp. 1135.
The most recent commentary is M. Eggers, Das De administrando imperio des Kaisers
Konstantinos VII. Porphyrogennetos und die historisch-politische Situation Sdosteuropas
im 9. und 10. Jahrhundert, Ostkirchliche Studien 56 (2007), pp. 15101; older ones are:
F. Dvornk in DAI II, pp. 93146 and A. Pavic, Cara Konstantina VII Porrogenita De
administrando imperio glave 2936 [The Chapters 2936 of the De Administrando Imperio of
Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus] (Zagreb, 1906). Chapters 29 to 36 have been also sepa-
rately edited: Documenta Historiae Chroaticae periodum antiquam illustrantia, ed. F. Racki,
Monumenta spectantia historia Slavorum Meridionalium 7 (Zagreb, 1877), pp. 264419;
The Early History of the Slavonic Settlements in Dalmatia, Croatia, and Serbia, ed. J.B. Bury,
Texts for Students 18 (London and New York, 1920). For a discussion of Constantine
Porphyrogenitus witness: N. Budak, Identities in Early Medieval Dalmatia (Seventh
Eleventh Centuries), in I. Garipzanov, P. Geary and P. Urbanczyk (eds), Franks,
Northmen and Slavs: Identities and State Formation in Early Medieval Europe, Cursor Mundi
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 207
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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Europe, being virtually the only source for many places and periods.
The signicance of the DAI is, nevertheless, comparable with its dif-
culty, and its nature is hard to describe. The DAI was a sort of user
manual for the empire, dedicated by Constantine Porphyrogenitus to
his son Romanus II (95963), describing the many neighbouring
peoples of Byzantium and the way to deal with them. The text contains
highly heterogeneous information (most likely coming from les and
dossiers lost to us), long quotations of other works, legendary elements,
and a work of interpretation and re-edition by the emperor himself.
Romily Jenkins thought that the composition of the DAI should be
understood in two periods, and, more recently, James Howard-
Johnston proposed that the text was commissioned by Leo VI (886
912) and that only later his porphyrogenite son brought it personally to
its nal form, because no imperial secretary or bureaucrat would have
dared to carry out the task of gathering and editing material so incom-
The treatise commissioned by Leo VI, was, supposedly,
more agile and focused, dealing with the diplomacy pertaining to four
fundamental areas for the empire: southern Italy, Armenia and western
Caucasus, the Pontic steppes, and the Balkans. It is striking that major
powers like the Bulgars or the Chazars were openly avoided, while the
principal concern was the many minor groups surrounding them.
Howard-Johnstons hypothesis is appealing: the greater part of the
information contained in the DAI ends indeed at the beginning of the
tenth century, but some of the witnesses concerning the Croats history
originate from a period closer to Constantines. Starting from Howard-
Johnstons ideas, therefore, I shall suggest that the information concerning
the Croats (or at least part of it) was an addition to an already existing
dossier compiled in the age of Leo. The idea is not completely new: already
John Bury proposed, on grounds of style and content, that Chapter 30,
introduced by an unusual opening line, was subsequent to the rst
redaction of the treatise, but this thesis did not receive universal agree-
Elements contained in all the chapters twenty-nine to thirty-one
5 (Turnhout, 2008), pp. 22341; J.V.A. Fine, Croats and Slavs: Theories about the Historical
Circumstances of the Croats Appearance in the Balkans, Byzantinische Forschungen 26
(2000), pp. 20518.
J. Howard-Johnston, The De administrando imperio: A Re-examination of the Text and a
Re-evaluation of its Evidence about the Rus, in M. Kazanski, A. Nercessian and C. Zuckerman
(eds), Les centres proto-urbains russes entre Scandinavie, Byzance et Orient, Ralits Byzantines 7
(Paris, 2000), pp. 30136, the quotation from p. 308. For Jenkinss ideas: DAI II, pp. 18. The
authorship of Constantine (and not of one of his employees) was already proposed by Bury,
The Treatise, pp. 51819.
Bury, The Treatise, p. 575; Howard-Johnston, The De administrando imperio, p. 307.
Bury, The Treatise, pp. 5235. For a critic: B. Grafenauer, Prilog kritici izvjetaja Konstantina
Porrogeneta o doseljenju Hrvata [Critical Contribution on Constantine Porphyrogenitus
208 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
are, however, later than Leo VIs reign, such as the mention of Otto I (who
became king in 936) in the description of White Croatia, or the attempted
Bulgar invasion of Dalmatia.
The witness concerning the Croats, or at
least a part of it, therefore, should be dated to Constantines reign.
The emperor collected two versions of the Croatian Wanderung for
which historiography has found two different origins: the rst was sup-
posedly an indigenous tribal saga, the second one the Byzantine interpre-
tatio of the same events. Chapter 30, where there is no Byzantine mediation
in the Croatian settlement of Dalmatia (and which Bury thought to be a
later interpolation), was read as a transcription of ancestral Croatian
This legendary, but national character, was supposed to grant
major reliability to this short account owing to the lack of imperial
interpretation and interpolations: the story was believed the more trust-
worthy witness to the Croats earliest history and to their Landnahme.
The anthroponyms and the place names, surviving together with the
tradition of migration, were intended as traces of the ancestral memories
around which Croatian identity gathered, preserved by a Traditionskern
(the Croatian elite) surviving until Constantines day, to use the concepts
developed by Reinhard Wenskus.
Nevertheless, there are clear method-
ological limitations in believing one tradition to be true and dismissing
another as a literary creation, and it has not been sufciently considered
Witness on the Migration of the Croats], Historijski Zbornik 5 (1952), pp. 152, here pp. 1820,
who noted how the introduction Istron o is absent in many chapters of the DAI and not
just from the thirtieth as instead suggested by John Bury.
DAI, cc. 30, 32, pp. 142, 157.
Bury, The Treatise, pp. 5235; F. Curta, The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the
Lower Danube Region, c. 500700 (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 647. Curta, starting from Burys idea,
sees Chapter 30 as a much later interpolation, compiled by a different author after the emperors
death (959). The idea that Chapter 30 was not written by Constantine may also be found in M.
Loncar, O Porrogenetovoj Dalmaciji [Concerning Porphyrogenitus Dalmatia], Diadora 12
(1990), pp. 391400. For a summary of the debate see L. Margetic, Dolazak Hrvata. Ankunft der
Kroaten, Biblioteka Znanstvenih Djela 119 (Split, 2001) and M. Loncar, Porrogenetova seoba
Hrvata pred sudom novije literature [The Croat Migration of Porphyrogenitus in Recent
Literary Discussion], Diadora 14 (1992), pp. 375448.
Grafenauer, Prilog; Lj. Hauptmann, Seoba Hrvata i Srba [The Migration of the Serbs and the
Croats], Jugoslovenski istoriski c asopis 3 (1937), pp. 3061. For a discussion of the romantic and
nationalistic concept of Landnahme: R. Corradini, Landnahme, RGA 17 (2001), pp. 60211.
R. Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung: Das Werden der frhmittelalterlichen Gentes
(Cologn and Graz, 1961). On Reinhard Weskus see H. Wolfram, Terminologisches, in
Nomen et Fraternitas: Festschrift for Dieter Geuenich on his 65
Birthday, U. Ludwig and Th.
Schilp (eds), Ergnzungsbnde zum RGA 62 (Berlin and New York, 2008), pp. 787802; S.
Gasparri, Tardoantico e alto Medioevo: metodologie di ricerca e modelli interpretativi, in S.
Carocci (ed.), Il Medioevo (secoli VXV) VIII: Popoli, poteri, dinamiche (Rome, 2006), pp.
2761. For a critic of Wenskus, see A.C. Murray, Reinhard Wenskus on Ethnogenesis,
Ethnicity, and the Origin of the Franks, in A. Gillett (ed.), On Barbarian Identity: Critical
Approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 1 (Turn-
hout, 2002), pp. 3968, but also the response, W. Pohl, Ethnicity, Theory and Tradition:
A Response, in ibid., pp. 22140.
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 209
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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that the two traditions, although in manifest contradiction to one another,
were collected in the same text, apparently following a clear intention.
Chapter 29 has two narrative focuses: the conquest of Salona (today
Solin, a few kilometres north of Split) and the siege of Bari of 871.
Constantine wrote the earliest account of Salonas fall, while a second
one, richer, but largely different, survives in the chronicle of Thomas
Archdeacon of Split (120068).
The emperor described the vastness
of Dalmatia, extending as far as the Danube, a land populated by

; beyond the river dwelled the Avars who eventually attacked

the `

, conquering Dalmatia. The region was also inhabited by,

among others, Croats, who, since the time of Heraclius (61041), were
subjects of the empire, even if authority over them lapsed during the
disastrous reign of Michael II (8209).
The subsequent chapter, the thirtieth, supposedly echoes the ancestral
Croatian legends. Here Dalmatia was inhabited by Delmatinoi who
provoked the Avars, causing their bitter reaction. After describing the
harsh defeat of the Delmatinoi and the consequent fall of Salona,
Constantine adds:
But the Croats at that time were dwelling beyond Bavaria, where the
Belocroats are now. From them split off a family of ve brothers
Kloukas and Lebelos and Kosentzis and Mouchlo and Chrobatos and
two sisters: Tuga and Buga, who came with their folk in Dalmatia and
found the Avars in possession of that land. After they had fought one
another for some years, the Croats prevailed and killed some of the
Avars and the remainder they compelled to be subject to them.
(Jenkins translation)
For a Frankish comparison see H. Reimitz, Die Konkurrenz der Ursprnge in der frnkischen
Historiographie, in W. Pohl (ed.), Die Suche nach den Ursprngen: Von der Bedeutung des frhen
Mittelalters, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters [hereafter FGM] 8 (Vienna, 2004),
pp. 191209; idem, The Art of Truth. Historiography and Identity in the Frankish World, in
R. Corradini, R. Meens, C. Pssel and P. Shaw (eds), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle
Ages, FGM 12 (Vienna, 2006), pp. 87104. Also W. Pohl, Identitt und Widerspruch: Gedan-
ken zu einer Sinngeschichte des Frhmittelalters, in Die Suche nach den Ursprngen, pp. 2335.
Thomas Archdeacon, Historia Salonitana 710, ed. O. Peric, trans. D. Karbic, M. Matijevic-
Sokol and J.R. Sweeney, Archdeacon Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops of Salona and Split,
Central European Medieval Texts 4 (Budapest and New York, 2006), pp. 3252.
DAI, c. 30, p. 142: l r wbotoi _ u

r t agibaeia,
r r i 0 i l elocwbotoi. ia r o t r 0

j 0 i prnte, o te

i o Lbelo i o osrntzh i o
u i o wboto i 0 i duo, j o i j ougo, o


j i Delmatian, i u u katrconta j

. All the names not attested in the rest of the surviving evidence: P.M. Fraser and
E. Matthews (eds), A Lexicon of Greek Personal Names IV: Macedonia, Thrace, Northern Regions
of the Black Sea (Oxford, 2005); L. Zgusta, Die Personennamen griechischer Stdte
der nrdlichen Schwarzmeerkste: die ethnischen Verhltnisse, namentlich das Verhltnis
der Skythen und Sarmaten, im Lichte der Namenforschung, C

eskoslovensk akademie ved.

210 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Of the Croats who came to Dalmatia, some moved to Illyricum and
Pannonia. Constantines account describes the war between the Franks
and Croats and lists the many upanie into which Croatia was divided.
In Chapter 31 the Croats are the descendants of the White Croats who
live beyond oukia (Hungary) and are neighbours of the unbaptized
Serbs. The Croats asked Emperor Heraclius for protection and came to
Dalmatia, ghting and defeating the Avars; at that time their ruler was
the father of Porgas. Under Porgas, who succeeded his parent to the
throne, the Croats were baptized by men whom the emperor summoned
from Rome.
These are the chapters describing the Croatian migration and the
human geography of Dalmatia. The migration described in Chapter 30 is
not clearly datable, but has a post quem in the destruction of Salona. In
Chapter 31, however, we can date the settlement of Dalmatia to the years
of Heraclius (61041): here the memory of the ruler leading the migration
is lost (he is just named Porgas father), but the name of the leader being
baptized does survive.
The Byzantine interpretatio, as it is read, did not
just give Byzantium a greater centrality, thanks to Heraclius role in the
Croatian settlement, but offered diverging elements and characters,
making us question the nature of Constantines sources. The narrative, in
fact, mixes rather concrete matters, such as the description of the many
upanie or the names of the seven siblings, with largely fantastical ones.
Good examples would be the anecdote concerning the disguises used by
the Avars to conquer Salona, somewhat echoing the famous episode in
the Trojan War, and the Franks taking the children of the Croats to feed
Monograe orientlnho stavu 16 (Prague, 1955). The names of the seven siblings have been
interpreted as the transformation of hydronyms, useful for the understanding of the extension
of White Croatia: H. Grgoire, LOrigine et le nom des Croates et des Serbes, Byzantion 17
(19445), pp. 88118. Arthur Evans interpreted the two sisters names as indicating contrasting
emotions, see A.J. Evans, Through Bosnia and the Herzegovina on Foot During the Insurrection,
August and September 1875 (London, 1877; repr. New York, 2005), p. XX, n. 2: and Chrovat two
sisters bear the Slavonic names of Joy and Sorrow. The names are perhaps allegorical of
the gradual character of their conquest.
upan is the title, similar to dux, in eastern and central Europe, rst attested in 777. See P. Bartl,
upan, in E. Hsch, K. Nehring and H. Sundhaussen (eds), Lexikon zur Geschichte Sdos-
teuropas [hereafter LzGS] (Vienna, Cologne and Weimar, 2004), pp. 7656; M. Blagojevic and
L. Steindorff, upan, in Lexikon des Mittelalters 9 (1998), pp. 70910; M. Hardt, Der Supan:
Ein Forschungsbericht, Zeitschrift fr Ostforschung 39 (1990), pp. 16171; Moravcsik, Byzanti-
noturcica, II, pp. 1312.
F. Curta, Emperor Heraclius and the Conversion of the Croats and the Serbs, in T. Stepanov
and G. Kazakov (eds), Medieval Christianitas. Different Regions, Faces, Approaches = Mediae-
valia Christiana 3 (2010), pp. 12138.
DAI, c. 32, p. 148: tn patra

. Concerning this see the considerations of S.
Esders, Grenzen und Grenzberschreitung. Religion, Ethnizitt und politische Integration am
Rande des ostrmischen Imperium (4.7. Jh.), in W. Huschner and F. Rexroth (eds), Gestiftete
Zukunft im mittelalterlichen Europa. Festschrift fr Michael Borgolte zum 60. Geburtstag (Berlin,
2008), pp. 328, at 1825.
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 211
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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to their dogs, which is similar to the story recounted by Ammianus
Marcellinus about the Goths, in the prelude to the battle of Adrianopolis
(378), being forced to sell their children in order to buy dog meat from
the Franks.
Despite the texts many incongruities, we canestablishthat Constantine
described a Great Croatia (j megolh wbatia) or a White Croatia
(j 0 wbatia) as the place from which the Croats, led by seven
siblings or by the father of Porgas, began their journey, apparently in the
rst half of the seventh century. The idea of a migration from a so-called
land does not appear in the chronicles of Thomas Archdeacon or the Priest
of Duklja, who wrote many centuries after Constantine (between the
twelfth and the thirteenth centuries), but which are normally relied on as
sources for the earliest history of Dalmatia. Owing to the nature of the
DAI, Constantines witness was not known. The text was of a condential
character and survived only in four manuscripts, the oldest dating to the
end of the eleventh century (Parisinus graecus 2009, the other three copies
are from the sixteenth century). Although the texts tradition cannot, by
itself, prove poor diffusion, the DAI was practically unknown to the
authors writing after Constantine Porphyrogenitus, with the possible
exception of twelfth-century writers and of a copy circulating in fteenth-
century Dubrovnik/Ragusa.
The idea of a Croatian migration found its place in historical debate
only after the rst edition and Latin translation of the DAI in 1611, by
Johannes van Meurs.
Despite the many and great inconsistencies of the
DAI with the other sources we possess, Constantines narrative was, after
this date, considered the most reliable, bringing a re-discovery of the early
medieval past to the seventeenth century. From this time on the treatise
of the emperor enjoyed great popularity in Croatia, reaching its height
during the national debate at the end of the nineteenth century, when it
seemed to offer an early and prestigious origin for the Croatian people
able to challenge rising Hungarian nationalism.
On the Barbarians in disguise see DAI, cc. 29, 30, pp. 124, 1402; evcenko, Re-reading, p. 192.
On Franks feeding their dogs with Croatian children see DAI, c. 30, pp. 1402; Ammianus
Marcellinus, Res Gestae XXXI.5, VVIII.
B. Mondrain, La lecture du De administrando imperio Byzance au course des sicles,
Travaux & Mmoires 14 (2002), pp. 48598; Beaud, Le savoir et le monarque, pp. 5623; L.I.
Conrad, The Arabs and the Colossus, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 6 (1996), pp. 16787,
proposes that Cedrenus and Zonaras quoted the text; also Howard-Johnston, The De admin-
istrando imperio, p. 305, n. 10. On the DAI in Dubrovnik/Ragusa: T. ivkovic, Constantine
Porphyrogenitus and the Ragusan Author before 1611, Istorijski C

asopis 53 (2006), pp. 14564.

Constantini Imperatoris Porphyrogeniti De Administrando Impero, ad Romanum F., Liber
nunquam antehac editus. Ioannes Mevrsivus primus vulgavit, Latinam interpretationem, ac notas
adjecit (Lugduni Batavorum [Leiden], 1611).
E.J. Hobsbawm, The Social Function of the Past: Some Questions, Past and Present 55 (1972),
pp. 317; I. Banac, The National Question in Yugoslavia. Origins, History, Politics (Ithaca, 1984),
212 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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White Croatia
In Chapter 30 we read that the Croats, before coming to Dalmatia at the
beginning of the seventh century, lived beyond Bavaria (j agibaeia)
and close to Francia (j Faggia), where in Constantines days the
Belocroats lived as subjects of King Otto and enjoyed good relations with
the neighbouring

(the Hungars).
In Chapter 31 White
Croatia (j i 0 r r ) is also called Great (j
megolh wbatia) and is still heathen; it is often attacked by Pech-
enegs, Turks and Franks and is able to gather resources inferior to those
of Dalmatian Croatia, which could muster 60,000 mounted soldiers,
100,000 foot soldiers and a eet of 180 ships.
White Croatia, mean-
while, has no ships because it lies thirty days journey from the sea which
is called dark (skoteinj).
Those historians who have accepted the idea of a migration, whether
performed by an entire population or just by military elites, have also had
to accept the concept of a Croatian ancestral fatherland called White
Croatia. The existence of a land with this name, however, presents many
difculties; the main one is that it does not appear in any source other than
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, while White Croats are mentioned only
much later, in the twelfth-century Russian Primary Chronicle.
the reference to White Croatia is isolated, names similar to Hrvat (which
means Croat in Serbo-Croatian, with H to be read as K) are reasonably
spread, in a large number of texts largely independent of one another,
written in Arabic, Old English and Latin (even if sometimes they seem to
be simple assonances, and it happens that an H or K together with an R
pp. 858. On the Hungarian situation: Gy. Dalos, Ungarn, in M. Flacke (ed.), Mythen der
Nationen: ein europisches Panorama (Munich and Berlin, 1998), pp. 52856.
DAI, c. 30, p. 142; J. Shepard, Byzantine Writers on the Hungarians in the Ninth and Tenth
Century, Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU 10 (2004), pp. 97123, here pp. 99100, 1046.
The numbers are clearly ctive, T. ivkovic, Contribution to the New Reading about the
Constantine Porphyrogenitus Statement of the Number of Croat Horsemen, Foot Soldiers and
Sailors in Early 10th Century, Byzantinoslavica 65 (2007), pp. 14351, who examining the
Codex Parisinus, theorized a transcription error, proposing instead that Constantine meant a
much smaller number of soldiers. For a broader overview: G. Halsall, Warfare and Society in the
BarbarianWest, 450900 (Abingdon and NewYork, 2003), pp. 11933, who proposes rather small
numbers. Different ideas are expressed by W. Treadgold, The Army in the Works of Constan-
tine Porphyrogenitus, Rivista di Studi Bizantini e Neoellenici 29 (1992), pp. 77162, but see also
the criticisms of C. Zuckerman, Learning from the Enemy and More: Studies in Dark
Centuries Byzantium, Millennium 2 (2005), pp. 79135.
DAI, c. 31, pp. 1502.
The Pove st vremennykh le t: An Interlinear Collation and Paradosis, ed. D. Ostrowski and D.J.
Birnbaum, Harvard Library of Early Ukrainian Literature, Texts 10 (Cambridge, MA, 2003), p.
23, trans. S. Hazzard Cross and O.P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor, The Russian Primary Chronicle:
Laurentian Text, The Medieval Academy of America 60 (Cambridge, MA, 1954). On the
chronicle: S. Franklin, Writing Society and Culture in Early Rus, c. 9501300 (Cambridge, 2002),
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 213
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
are enough to recall the name Hrvat to the historians mind).
trustworthy sources, however, reported similar names: Thietmar described
a region called Chruvati reachable in one night from Merseburg, and a
place with a similar name was also mentioned in a diploma of Emperor
Otto I (93673) and in one issued by Henry III (103956) collected in the
Chronicle of the Czechs written by Cosmas of Prague.
The emperor also described a Pagan Serbia (j0 o Seblia),
neighbouring with White Croatia and populated by White Serbs

ka 0 r r ), which was the

land from which the Serbs moved to the Balkans helped by the Byzantine
authority of Beograd.
Pagan Serbia has normally been located in the
land of the Sorbs/Sorabians, known thanks to many witnesses, but the
existence of a population called White Serbs can also be theorized just
through Constantines narrative. The nearness between Pagan Serbia and
White Croatia seems to be conrmed by the Old English translation of
Orosius, accomplished under the authority of Alfred the Great (87199),
where the Horigiti and Surpe are mentioned living north of Moravia
Arab geographers (Gaihani, ibn Rusta and Masudi) and the
Russian Primary Chronicle also list two contiguous populations called
Croats and Serbs, apparently dwelling north of the Carpathians.
The wide spread of the place name Hrvat could suggest its derivation
from geographical characteristics, but the fact that we have no satisfactory
etymology in different linguistic groups makes every hypothesis very
See for example the many place names and anthroponyms that are linked to the name Hrvat in
S. Pantenic, Die Urheimat der Kroaten in Pannonien und Dalmatien, Symbolae Slavicae 26
(Frankfurt am Main, 1997) and in the map presented in I. Goldstein, Hrvatski rani srednji vijek
[The Early Middle Ages in Croatia], Historiae 1 (Zagreb, 1995), p. 89.
Thietmar of Merseburg, Chronicon III.11, ed. R. Holtzmann, Die Chronik des Bischofs Thi-
etmar von Merseburg und ihre Korveier berarbeitung, MGH SRG, ns. 9 (Berlin, 1935), p. 110:
in Chruvati laetus duxit, trans. D. Warner, Ottonian Germany: The Chronicon of Thietmar
of Merseburg (Manchester, 2001). Otto I, Diplomatum 173, ed. G. Althoff and G. Keller, Die
Urkunden Konrad I., Heinrich I. und Otto I., MGH Urkunden 1 (Hanover, 1879),
pp. 80638, p. 255: in loco Zuric ac in pago Crouuati. Cosmas of Prague, Chronica
Boemorum II.37, ed. R. Kpke, MGH SS 9 (Hanover, 1851), p. 92: deinde ad aquilonalem hii
sunt termini: Psovane, Ghrrvati, et altera Chrowati, trans. L. Wolverton, The Chronicle of the
Czechs (Washington, DC, 2009). The text (however dated to Henry IV) is also edited in
Diplomata Hungariae Antiquissima I: 10001131, ed. G. Gyrffy (Budapest, 1992), 83, pp.
DAI, c. 32, p. 152; R.J. Lilie, Kaiser Herakleios und die Ansiedlung der Serben. berlegungen
zum Kapitel 32 des De administrando imperio, Sdost-Forschungen 44 (1985), pp. 1743.
The Old English [Paulus] Orosius, ed. J. Bately, EETS, Suppl. 6 (Oxford, 1980), p. 13. See: J.
Bately, King Alfred and the Old English Translation of Orosius, Anglia 88 (1970), pp. 43360,
and D. Pratt, The Political Thought of King Alfred the Great (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 11529.
On the Arabian geographers: T. Lewicki, Die Vorstellungen arabischer Schriftsteller des 9. und
10. Jahrhunderts von der Geographie und von den ethnischen Verhltnissen Osteuropas, Der
Islam 35 (1965), pp. 2641. See also F. Curta, South-Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 5001250
(Cambridge, 2006), pp. 1389.
214 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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The names meaning is however unimportant, which is
sadly ironic if we consider that the Croatian name was the basis of the
most nationalist and racist theories about the Croatian people and their
What we can say is that the ethnonym is attested between the
ninth and tenth centuries in many areas of central and eastern Europe,
together with others which may be found both north and south of
the Carpathians in slightly different forms (Serbs/Sorbs, Abrodits/
In reality there is no reason to suppose that those different
H. Kunstmann, Die Slaven: Ihr Name, ihre Wanderung nach Europa und die Anfnge der
russischen Geschichte in historisch-onomastischer Sicht (Stuttgart, 1996), pp. 359, discusses the
wide distribution of the name. Constantine Porphyrogenitus etymology runs: those who
occupy much territory, see DAI, c. 31, p. 146: rwbotoi

Sklobwn r _
r u , toutrstin ` l j cuan r '. H. Kunstmann, ber den
Namen der Kroaten, Welt der Slaven 27 (1982), pp. 1316, proposes a Greek origin. Suggestive
is Constantines explanation of the name Serbs, as servants: DAI, c. 32, p. 152. The etymology
is clearly false and created by the emperor (in Latin) to explain an unknown name. O.
Kronsteiner, Gab es unter den Alpenslawen eine kroatische ethnische Gruppe?, Wiener slaw-
istisches Jahrbuch 24 (1978), pp. 7999, proposed that the name Hrvat should be explained as
freier Kmpfer, but see contra A. Tietze, Kroaten ein trkisches Ethnonym?, Wiener slawistisches
Jahrbuch 25 (1979), p. 140, who maintained that this etymology could only be theorized by
relying on later Turkish loans from Arabic. On the many difculties in explaining this name see
H. Sundhaussen, Kroatien, in LzGS, pp. 38993. That the name Hrvati, according to its
diffusion, could have been linked to geographical characteristics (maybe the mountains) was
suggested by J. Bacic, Red Sea Black Russia: Prolegomena to the History of North Central Eurasia
in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, East European Monographs 171 (New York, 1995), pp. 945,
who gave the translation mountain-dweller, already proposed by H.H. Howorth, The Spread
of the Slaves I: The Croats, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and
Ireland 7 (1878), pp. 32441, here p. 325: Croat therefore means merely an inhabitant of the
Carpathians. See also the many contributions contained in N. Budak (ed.), Etnogeneza Hrvata:
Ethnogeny of the Croats (Zagreb, 1995).
A.J. Bellamy, The Formation of Croatian National Identity: A Centuries-Old Dream? (Manchester
and New York, 2003), pp. 335; but also the criticism expressed in the review M. Young, Nation
and Nationalism 11 (2005), pp. 3202. The importance of the name Hrvat was recently stressed
by A. Pitea, The Slavs and the Early Croatian State, in D. Davison, V. Gaffney and E. Marin
(eds), Dalmatia: Research in the Roman Province 19702001, Papers in Honour of J.J. Wilkes, BAR
International Series 1576 (Oxford, 2006), pp. 193212, here pp. 1945; for a more critical reading
see Budak, Identities and Fine, Croats and Slavs. The theories of a non-Slavic origin for the
Croats follow the text H.H. Howorth, The Spread of the Slaves IV: The Bulgarians, The
Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 11 (1882), pp. 21967. This
vision was accepted by J.B. Bury, A History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene
(395 A.D. to 800), 2 vols (London, 1889; repr. Boston, 2005), II, p. 275, but initially the idea was
much more innocent than its later development in the rst half of the twentieth century. For
a discussion see H. Sundhaussen, Nationsbildung und Nationalismus im Donau-Balkan-
Raum, in H.-J. Torke (ed.), Forschungen zur Osteuropischen Geschichte, Osteuropa-Institut an
der Freien Universitt Berlin, Historische Verffentlichungen 48 (Berlin, 1993), pp. 23358; R.
Yeomans, Of Yugoslavian Barbarians and Croatian Gentlemen Scholars: National Ideology
and Racial Anthropology in Interwar Yugoslavia, in M. Turd and P.J. Weindling (eds), Blood
and Homeland: Eugenetics and Racial Nationalism in Central and Southeast Europe, 19001940
(Budapest, 2007), pp. 83122. A summary of the different theories is R. Katicic, The Origins
of the Croats, in I. Supicic (ed.), Croatia in Early Middle Ages: A Cultural Survey, Croatia and
Europe 1 (London and Zagreb, 1999), pp. 14967.
S. Brather, Archologie der westlichen Slawen: Siedlung, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft im frh- und
hochmittelalterlichen Ostmitteleuropa, Ergnzungsbnde zum RGA 30 (Berlin and New York,
2001), pp. 567. P.M. Barford, The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 215
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
attestations are evidence of the division of unique peoples, neither is there
any way to prove that the people described with the same name shared
something more than the name itself.
Of course the problem lies in the
witness of Constantine, who links the two names thanks to a migration,
but, as we will see, the emperors account was probably an interpretation
of this complex situation: in this case the witness should not be inter-
preted as independent to the great diffusion of the name Hrvat, but as a
consequence of the same. Examples of recurring place and ethnic names
without a clear relation are many: it is enough here to mention the
Bulgarian ethnonym or the name Vendi/Venethi, both to be found in
places and times very far from each other.
For a certain time the name
Hrvat must also have been striking and alluring, being adopted by or
used to describe different groups of peoples, appearing at least two times
in the Balkans. This was probably the origin of Constantine Porphyro-
genitus account, according to which the Croats coming from White
Croatia split between Dalmatia, Pannonia and Illyricum, a later expla-
nation to describe the presence in the Balkans of more than one group
called Croats.
Almost two centuries after Constantine, the Russian
Primary Chronicle mentioned Croats in many passages, in one of them
adding the adjective beli: here, as well, Croats are apparently different
groups settled in different regions.
Owing to this cascade of place names, White Croatia has been
located in various places. The most widespread theory has the
Belocroats settled around the north edges of the Carpathians in Galicja/
Galicia, in what is now southern Poland. This idea was already popular
at the beginning of scholarly research on the topic, nding a place in
the pages of Johannes Lucius, and being quoted after him by Giovanni
Cattalinich, Leopold Krause, Pavel afarik and Ernst Dmmler, to be
afterwards developed by Francis Dvornk (who theorized about a lost
empire of amazing extension and power) and reaching, through his
work, the most recent debate.
Conrmation of the idea that White
Europe (New York, 2001), p. 331, offers a map with the names appearing north and south of the
Carpathians. For an approach linking names to migration see Goldstein, Hrvatski, pp. 8792.
Pohl, Die Rolle der Steppenvlker, pp. 956.
D. Ziemann, Vom Wandervolk zur Gromacht: Die Entstehung Bulgariens im frhen Mittelalter
(7.9. Jh.), Klner Historische Abhandlungen 43 (Cologne, Weimar and Vienna, 2007),
pp. 328. On the name Venethi: F. Curta, Hiding Behind a Piece of Tapestry: Jordanes and the
Slavic Venethi, Jahrbcher fr Geschichte Osteuropas 47 (1999), pp. 321340 and G. Schramm,
Venedi, Antes, Sclaveni, Sclavi. Frhe Sammelbezeichnungen fr slawische Stmme und ihr
geschichtlicher Hintergrund, Jahrbcher fr Geschichte Osteuropas 43 (1995), pp. 161200.
DAI, c. 30, p. 142: ' r


r r i_ ,
diecwisqh mro ti, i r o t ' i j Pannonian.
The Pove st vremennykh le t, pp. 166, 955. On this Barford, The Early Slavs, pp. 99100.
J. Lucius, De Regno Dalmatiae et Croatiae libri sex (Amsterdam, 1666), p. 41; G. Cattalinich,
Storia di Dalmazia (Zadar, 1834), pp. 745; H.L. Krause, Res Slavorum in Imperiorum
216 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Croatia was in Galicia was found in the narrative of Thomas Archdea-
con, who described the Goths (and the Goths were somehow linked to
the Slavs between the twelfth and the thirteenth century) migrating
from Poland (de partibus Teutonie et Polonie exierunt) to Dalmatia;
moreover Krakw/Cracow was thought to be related to the ethnic
name Hrvat.
Constantines narrative, dating to the tenth century, was
therefore reinforced by Thomass work, written in the thirteenth, to
theorize a migration taking place in the seventh century from south
Poland to Dalmatia. This idea became so widespread that in recent
times Pope John Paul II (19782005), while born in Wadowice, still
claimed to be a neighbour of the White Croats.
A further theory placed White Croatia in Samos kingdom. Because
of the mention of Sorbs among the princes allies and the proximity of
White Serbs to White Croats, it has been thought that Samo may have
ruled in White Croatia.
In more recent years Heinrich Kunstmann
proposed that White Croatia should be located in Carinthia;
slightly different ideas were proposed by Ljudmil Hauptmann and
Henri Grgoire.
Even the date of the arrival of the Croats was subject
Occidentalis et Orientalis connio habitantium saeculo IX, Pars I (diss. Berlin, 1854), p. 1; P.
afarik, Slawische Altertmer, 2 vols (Leipzig, 18434), I, pp. 2428. E. Dmmler, ber die
lteste Geschichte der Slawen in Dalmatien (549928), Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akad-
emie der Wissenschaften in Wien: Philosophisch-historische Klasse 20 (1856), pp. 353420, at pp.
3656; F. Dvornk, The Making of Central and Eastern Europe (London, 1949), pp. 268304.
Thomas Archdeacon, Historia Salonitana VII, ed. Peric, p. 34: Gothorum tempore, qui Totila
duce de partibus Teutonie et Polonie exierunt, dicitur Salona fuisse destructa. On the sources
linking Slavs and Goths see F. Kampfer, R. Stichel and K. Zernack (eds), Das Ethnikon Sclavi
in den lateinischen Quellen bis zum Jahr 900, Glossar zur frhmittelalterlichen Geschichte im
stlichen Europa 6 (Stuttgart, 1990), p. 34. F. Borri, Arrivano i Barbari a cavallo! Foundation
Myths and origines gentium in the Adriatic Arc, in W. Pohl and G. Heydemann (eds), Strategies
of Identication: Early Medieval Perspectives (Turnhout, forthcoming).
Homily of 30 May 1979 to the Croatian pilgrims: Vi ricordate della Croazia Bianca, vostra
terra dorigine che si trova proprio l dove si trova la mia patria?, <
it.html>, accessed 26 May 2009. See also P.R. Magocsi, Galicia: A Historical Survey and
Bibliographic Guide, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Harvard Ukrainian Research
Institute (Toronto, 1983), pp. 5660.
Fredegar, Chronicon IV.68, ed. B. Krusch, MGH SRM 2 (Hanover, 1888), pp. 1193, at p. 155,
etiam et Dervanus dux gente Surbiorum, qui ex genere Sclavinorum erant et ad regnum
Francorum iam olem aspecserant, se ad regnum Samonem cum suis tradedit; trans. J.M.
Wallace-Hadrill, The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar (Oxford, 1960). See W. Pohl,
Samo, in RGA 26 (2004), pp. 4067; F. Curta, Slavs in Fredegar and Paul the Deacon:
Medieval gens or Scourge of God?, EME 6 (1997), pp. 14167.
H. Kunstmann, Wer waren die Weikroaten des byzantinischen Kaisers Konstantinos Porphy-
rogennetos?, Welt der Slawen 29 (1984), pp. 11122.
Lj. Hauptmann, Kroaten, Goten und Sarmaten, Germanoslavica 3 (1935), pp. 95127, 31553,
at pp. 3435, theorized that the original Croatian homeland was located in the Caucasus; the
idea was later spread by G. Verandsky, Ancient Russia, A History of Russia 1 (New Haven, 1943),
p. 321. Grgoire, LOrigine, pp. 94100, instead believed in a wide region between modern
Bohemia, Germany and Poland; see also idem, Lorigine et le nom des Croates et leur
prtendue patrie caucasienne, La nouvelle Clio 4 (1952), pp. 3223, and idem, Le prtendu
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 217
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
to debate and settled in a wide chronological frame, ranging from the
sixth century, as proposed by Lubor Niederle, up to the end of the
eighth (precisely, in the year 791) according to the researches of Lujo
Margetic and, after him, of Nada Klaic.
It is therefore clear that we are
moving in extremely difcult terrain, and it seems that the majority of
theories aiming to precisely locate White Croatia are extremely specu-
lative, and occasionally ideological. The only thing we can say with
some degree of certainty is that, according to Constantine Porphyro-
genitus, White Croatia was: somewhere in Central Europe near
Bavaria, beyond Hungary and next to the Frankish empire.
It was from these regions that the Croats, whether by previous agree-
ments with Heraclius or not, migrated to Dalmatia (and Pannonia).
Owing to the nature of our sources, every effort to apply the migration
theory or to frame Croatian settlement in the long debate on the accom-
modation of the Barbarians is apparently impossible, with the conse-
quence that the scholarship has focused mainly on more traditional issues
such as the year of the Wanderung or the location of their Urheimat,
sometimes without considering the ongoing international debate.
is assumed is that the Croats migrated to Dalmatia like foederati, and that
they lived in a relationship of semi-dependence to the empire until the
days of Constantine VII, obtaining greater autonomy between the reigns
of Michael II and Basil I.
There have also been dissident voices. As early as the end of
the nineteenth century, Jaroslav Jagic criticized the reliability of
habitat caucasien des Serbes et des Croates, La nouvelle Clio 5 (1953), pp. 4667, where
Hauptmanns ideas are criticized.
L. Niederle, Manuel de lantiquit slave, 2 vols (Paris, 1923), I, pp. 8990. On the migrations
date: L. Margetic, Konstantin Porrogenet i vrijeme dolaska Hrvata [Constantine Porphy-
rogenitus and the Arrival of the Croats], Zbornik historijskog zavoda JAZU [Jugoslavenske
akademije znanosti i umjetnosti] 8 (1977), pp. 588; N. Klaic, O problemima stare domo-
vine, dolaska i pokrtenja dalmatinskih Hrvata [On the Problem of the Old Fatherland and
the Christianization of the Croats of Dalmatia], Zgodovinsk C

asopis 38 (1984), pp. 25370,

and the discussions in Fine, Croats and Slavs, pp. 21215, and W. Pohl, Die Awaren: Ein
Steppenvolk in Mitteleuropa 567822 n.Chr., 2nd edn (Munich, 2002), p. 432, n. 7.
Curta, South-Eastern Europe, p. 138.
On this, see the very good G. Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West 376568
(Cambridge, 2007), pp. 41754, which summarizes the debate on the Barbarian migration and
settlement. For a discussion of the recent Croatian historiography: N. Budak, Post-socialist
Historiography in Croatia since 1990, in U. Brunnbauer (ed.), Rewriting History-Historiography
in Southeast Europe after Socialism, Studies on South East Europe 4 (Munster, 2004), pp.
This idea was proposed, for example, by G. Ostrogorsky, Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates
(Munich, 1965), p. 74, reprinted with the title Byzantinische Geschichte 3241453 (Munich,
1996). On the foederati: P.J. Heather, Fodera and Foederati of the Fourth Century, in W. Pohl
(ed), Kingdoms of the Empire: The Integration of Barbarians in Late Antiquity, The Transforma-
tion of the Roman World 1 (Leiden, Boston and Cologne, 1997), pp. 8597; E. Chrysos,
Conclusion: De foderatis iterum, in ibid., pp. 186206, and R. Scharf, Foederati: von der
vlkerrechtlichen Kategorie zur byzantinischen Truppengattung (Vienna, 2001).
218 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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Constantines account on linguistic issues (underlining the differences
between southern and western Slavic languages), suggesting that White
Croatia was a land born of the emperors imagination, and that Con-
stantine was referring, in a colourful way, to Croats settled in what is
now the Czech republic. Jagics ideas strongly inuenced later scholar-
ship and his theory was partially re-proposed by John Bagnell Bury, who
however thought that White Croatia, despite being an imaginary land,
found its origins in ancient Croatian tribal sagas that the emperor
simply collected and divulgated.
A further criticism came from Milo
Barada, who saw the Croats as an ethnic group formed at the edges of
the Avar kingdom, anticipating Walter Pohl, who, developing an intu-
ition of Otto Kronsteiners, suggested that the name Hrvat should be
used of warrior groups settled by the Avars at the limits of their empire
and who developed in an ethnic group only in the aftermath of the
Carolingian conquest of Avaria. The idea was recently followed by
Patrick Geary, who pointed out how this vision could explain the spread
of the name without recourse to the migration model.
Moreover, Huw
Evans highlighted the many logistical issues arising from a long-distance
migration (assuming that White Croatia was located in Galicia), and
demonstrated the absence of traces of seventh-century moves from
central Europe in the so-called Starohrvatska Kultura.
Despite those highly inuential contributions, the idea of a northern
fatherland covered with snow (which in some later historiography was
destined to become merely one stage of a longer march beginning
on the shores of the Black Sea or as far as eastern Iran) and of the
long march on the quest for a place in the sun survived, offering an
J. Jagic, Ein Kapitel aus der Geschichte der sdslawischen Sprachen, Archiv fr slavische
Philologie 17 (1895), pp. 4787, here p. 61; F. Racki, Biela Hrvatska i Biela Srbija [White Croatia
and White Serbia], Rad Jugoslavenske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti 52 (1880), pp. 14189; DAI
II, p. 96. Bury, The Treatise, pp. 55661.
M. Barada, Hrvatska dijaspora i Avari [The Croatian Diaspora and the Avars], Starohrvatska
prosvjeta 2 (1952), pp. 717; W. Pohl, Das Awarenreich und die kroatischen Ethnogenesen, in
H. Wolfram and A. Schwarcz (eds), Die Bayern und ihre Nachbarn I, Verffentlichungen der
Kommission fr Frhmittelalterforschung 8 (Vienna, 1985), pp. 2938; idem, Die Awaren, pp.
2618; P. Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval origins of Europe (Princeton, 2002), pp.
On the Starohrvatska Kultura see J. Beloevic, Materijalana kultura Hrvata od 7.9. stoljec a [The
Material Culture of the Croats between the Seventh and Ninth Century] (Zagreb, 1980); H.M.A.
Evans, The Early Medieval Archaeology of Croatia: A.D. 600900, BAR International Series 539
(Oxford, 1989) and more recently idem, The Medieval Ravni Kotari: A Synthesis, in J.
Chapman, R. Shiel and . Batovic, The Changing Face of Dalmatia: Archaeological and Ecological
Studies in a Mediterranean Landscape (London, 1996), pp. 294308; also Barford, The Early
Slavs, p. 74. Recently the idea of a migration across the Carpathians has been challenged with
many arguments by D. Dzino, Becoming Slav, Becoming Croat: New Approaches in the
Research of Identities in Post-Roman Illyricum, Hortus Artium Medievalium 14 (2008), pp.
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 219
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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ideological strength superior to all the other alternatives, nding its
place in the romantic paradigm and being almost universally accepted
in non-scholarly environments.
One nal issue is the name White Croatia, whose origin is an open
question. It is believed that the colour could represent the ancient
orientation system born in the Euro-Asiatic steppe and adopted from
China to central and eastern Europe.
It is debated which colours
correspond to which directions, but the classic correspondence scheme
is black/north, azure/south, red/east and white/west. Many place names
supposedly bear traces of this ancient custom: it is alleged that Red Sea,
Black Sea, Beograd (the White City) and Black Russia should be
understood in this way. Herodotus, describing the great Scythian
north, wrote that the most extreme of the populations, the men living
always farther to the north than the others were the elogclainoi.
The historian justied the name explaining that the elogclainoi
used to dress in black.
Is it not possible, instead, that the
elogclainoi were the populations living always farther north than
the others, and that their name was born from the association of
White people were also known by Greek authors, and Procopius
mentioned the White Huns ( I u o o ).
torians explain this name by claiming that those Huns were more
attractive than the others (for whom Ammianus Marcellinus, as is
On this theme: H. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality
(Cambridge, 1990); moreover L. Poliakov, Le mythe aryen (Paris, 1971) and M. Olender, Les
langues du Paradis (Paris, 1989). See also A.D. Smith, Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National
Identity (Oxford, 2003), pp. 166217. An attempt at further discussion with the help of the
psychoanalytical method, although uncritical of the idea of a seventh-century migration, is I.
Rendic-Miocevic, Retracting the Past to the Cradle of Croatian History, East European
Quarterly 36 (2002), pp. 125.
The classic contributions on the subject are H. Ludat, Farbenbezeichnungen in Vlkernamen,
Saeculum 4 (1953), pp. 13855; O. Pritsak, Orientierung und Farbsymbolik. Zu den Farben-
bezeichnungen in den altaischen Vlkernamen, Saeculum 5 (1954), pp. 37683, following the
direction pointed by L. de Saussure, Le systme cosmologique sino-iranien, Journal Asiatique
202 (1923), pp. 33597. New contributions have been issued recently: Bacic, Black Russia; G.
Schubert, Farben und ihre Manifestationen in Nomina Propria der Slavia und des Balkans,
Zeitschrift fr Balkanologie 31 (1995), pp. 186203.
Herodotus, Historiae IV.107. I. von Bredow and S.R. Tokhtasev, Melanchlainoi, Der Neue
Pauly 7 (1999), col. 1167.
Procopius of Cesarea, Bella I.3.iv, ed. Haury and Wirth, I, pp. 1011. The White Huns are the
Ephthalites, mentioned by many other historians, but never with the name White Huns. F.
Altheim, Geschichte der Hunnen, 5 vols (Berlin, 195962), I, pp. 33, 38, and A. Lippold,
Hephtalitai, PWRE [Realencyclopdie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft], Supp. 14 (1974),
cols 12737, suggested that white meant western. See also: O.J. Maenchen-Helfen, The
Ethnic Name Hun, in S. Egerod and E. Glahn (eds), Studia serica Bernhard Karlgren dedicata
(Copenhagen, 1959), pp. 22338, and idem, The World of the Huns: Studies in their History and
Culture (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1973), p. 378, n. 20. On Procopius description see
D. Sinor, The Hun Period, in idem (ed.), The Cambridge History of Inner Asia (Cambridge,
1990), pp. 177204, here pp. 199200.
220 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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well known, used the topos of physical deformity),
but it is of
course possible that this was merely the etymology found by Procopius
to explain a name which he did not completely understand. In
Constantines narrative we also nd a Black Bulgaria (j mauh
oulgaia), and it has been proposed that the White should be (just)
opposed to black: the White Peoples of Greek ethnography were the
ones whose customs, religion and institutions were perceived as
closer to the writer, between civilization and the deepest barbarity,
which was represented by the black Barbarians.
It is also possible
that *bel- was a misunderstanding of *vel-, which in numerous Slavic
languages is the root of the adjective great, and which in this case
should be read as ancient or, according to Evangelos Chrysos, as
Finally, almost two centuries ago Kaspar Zeuss proposed that
those Croats derived their name from the River Albis (the Elbe),
mentioned, between the seventh and eighth centuries, in the Ravenna
We can add, most interestingly, that Constantines use of the name
Belocroats relied, apparently, on a Slavic language source, or at least on
one very close to the Croats customs. Constantine, therefore, was the
only author of a non-Slavic language who, perhaps following his
source, called the northern Croatians beli. No other source describing
the Croats called them white. It seems, therefore, that a partition
between Croats and Belocroats was not widespread, and neither was
it typical of the Constantinopolitan court. More probably it is the
Croats of Dalmatia who used to describe their northern homonyms
as beli.
Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae XXXI.2.ixii. Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns,
pp. 3602.
On Black Bulgaria: DAI, c. 12, p. 64, i j mauh legomrnh oulgaia.
Ziemann, Vom Wandervolk, p. 155; C.A. Macartney, On the Black Bulgars, Byzantinisch-
neugriechische Jahrbcher 8 (1930), pp. 1508. On the opposition between Black and White
Barbarians: S. Takcs, Die Farbbezeichnungen von Vlkern in der byzantinischen Literatur
oder das Verstndnis der Byzantiner von anderen Kulturen eine Gedankenskizze, Poikila
byzantina 13 (1994), pp. 50927.
Kunstmann, Wer waren die Weikroaten; P. Skok, Ortsnamenstudien zu DAI des Kaisers
Constantin Porphyrogennetos, Zeitschrift fr Ortsnamenforschung 4 (1929), pp. 21344, at pp.
23942. E.K. Chrysos, Zum Landesnamen Langobardia, in W. Pohl and P. Erhart (eds),
Die Langobarden: Herrschaft und Identitt, FGM 9 (Vienna, 2005), pp. 42938.
Anonymous of Ravenna, Cosmographia IV.18, 26, ed. J. Schnetz, Itineraria Romana II: Raven-
natis Anonymi Cosmographia et Guidonis Geographica (Stuttgart, 1990), pp. 56, 62; on the
difculties in dating the cosmography see L. Dillemann, La Cosmographie du Ravennate, ed.
Yves Yanvier, Collection Latomus 235 (Brussels, 1997), pp. 267. K. Zeuss, Die Deutschen und
die Nachbarstmme (Munich, 1837), pp. 60717.
A. Loma, Serbisches und kroatisches Sprachgut bei Konstantin Porphyrogennetos, Zbornik
radova Vizantolokog instituta 38 (19992000), pp. 87161, at pp. 912; Skok, Ortsnamenstu-
dien, p. 241.
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 221
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Constantine and his sources
If, up to this point, we have been examining the rich information offered
by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, it is important to understand the evi-
dence the emperor could rely on. If we possess only three very question-
able pieces of evidence for the presence of Croats in Dalmatia between
the ninth and tenth centuries able to corroborate the DAIs narrative,
Constantines work represents a watershed. After him, Greek authors like
John Scylitze and Nicephorus Bryennius (eleventhtwelfth century),
mostly relying on the Life of Basil, will acknowledge the existence of a
population called Croats inhabiting the inland regions between Zadar
and Split. Beginning with John the Deacon (writing in the rst years of
the eleventh century) Latin authors will also describe the Dalmatian
The lack of previous witness to the Croatians migration and settle-
ment could be partly explained in two similar ways. The rst concerns the
remarkable lack of evidence about Dalmatia between 600 and 1000, with
partial exceptions such as the rst years of the ninth century; while the
second relates to the nature of the sources on early medieval Byzantium
which, for the seventh century, are particularly inconsistent. The narra-
tion of the Chronicon Paschale ends in 628 and in Byzantium the histori-
cal tradition was continued only in the ninth century by George
Syncellus, Theophanes and Patriarch Nicephorus, with the possible
exception of the lost history of Trajan.
Those documents have been discussed many times. The most important source is the donation
of Trpmir, edited in Codex Diplomaticus regni Croatiae, Dalmatiae et Slavoniae/Diplomatic ki
zbornik kraljevine Hrvatske, Dalmacje i Slavonije I: 7431100, M. Kostrencic (Zagreb, 1967),
21, pp. 258. The problems linked to the use of this document are many (the donation survives
in a 1568 copy) and were noted by Nada Klaic: N. Klaic, O Trpimirovoj darovnici kao
diplomatickom i historijskom dokumentu [Trpimrs Donation as Historical and Diplomatic
Monument], Vjesnik za arheologiju i historiju dalmatisku 40 (1958), pp. 10555, who proposed
the second half of the thirteenth century as the earliest date for the redaction of the document.
A second source is Branimirs inscription, found in opot, not far from Benvkovac, in 1922, in
which a dux Cruatoru[m] is mentioned, but there are dating problems: T. Lienhard, The Frieze
of Branimir (Croatia), in J.J. Aillagon (ed.), Rome and the Barbarians: The Birth of a NewWorld
(Turin, 2008), pp. 5801. Finally there is a letter of John X (91428) to King Tomislav surviving,
like Trpmirs donation, in a very late copy: it was nonetheless edited in Papsturkunden 8961046
I: 896996, ed. H. Zimmermann, Verffentlichungen der historischen Kommission 3 (Vienna,
1984), no. 55, pp. 912.
On the Dalmatian situation: F. Borri, La Dalmazia alto medievale tra discontinuit e racconto
storico, Studi Veneziani 57 (2009), pp. 1551. On the rapid decline of the historiography after
Theophilactus Simocatta: M. Whitby, Greek Historical Writing after Procopius: Variety and
Vitality, in A. Cameron and L.I. Conrad (eds), The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East I:
Problems in the Literary Source Material (Princeton, 1992), pp. 2580. See also I. Rochow,
Chronographie, in F. Winkelmann and W. Brandes (eds), Quellen zur Geschichte des frhen
Byzanz (4.9. Jahrhundert): Bestand und Probleme, BBA 55 (Berlin, 1990), pp. 190201; A.
Karpozilos, La cronograa, in G. Cavallo (ed.), Lo spazio letterario nel medioevo III: Le culture
circostanti (Rome, 2004), pp. 379406, at pp. 38491.
222 Francesco Borri
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Even in the tenth century, however, Constantines narrative is rather
isolated. In the anonymous chronicle On the Kings, attributed to Gen-
esius, there is no mention of the Croats, and a very similar situation is
presented in Theophanes Continuatus (with the clear exception of the Life
of Basil ) and in the History of Leo the Deacon. Croats are neither to be
found in the military treatises compiled during the reign of Nicephorus
II Phocas (9639), where the wars in the Orient are the major concern.
More interesting is that there is no mention of them even in the Taktika
of Leo VI, which was the rst treatise, since the sixth/seventh-century
Strategikon, to deal systematically with the neighbouring populations of
the empire, despite its strong dependence on Maurices work.
According to the available evidence I shall suggest that it was between
the tenth and the eleventh century, and not in the seventh, that the idea
of a Croatian ethnicity in Dalmatia spread, being described by two
writers (Constantine Porphyrogenitus and John the Deacon) who
worked and lived with very strong connections with the eastern Adriatic
As we have seen, however, Constantines narrative stands in odd
contrast to this idea.
If we do not know of a direct source for Constantines DAI, a source
that probably did not exist anyway, it is still possible to dene a common
pool for the traditions described in Chapters 30 and 31. As we will see,
certain elements such as the existence of brothers at the very beginning
of a populations history, or the crossing of a river (normally the Danube)
are mentioned by many authors in describing Barbarian migrations,
often of Scythian groups.
Moreover, from the very start of Greek
Genesius, Regum libri quattuor, ed. A. Lesmller-Werner and I. Thurn, CFHB 14 (Berlin and
New York, 1978); trans. A. Kaldellis, Genesios, On the Reigns of the Emperors, Byzantina
Australiensia 11 (Canberra, 1998). A. Kazhdan, A History, pp. 14452. Leo the Deacon, Historia,
ed. Ch.B. Hase, Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae 11 (Bonn, 1828); trans. A.-M. Talbot,
D.F. Sullivan, G.T. Dennis and S. McGrath, The History of Leo the Deacon: Byzantine Military
Expansion in the Tenth Century, Dumbarton Oaks Studies 41 (Washington, DC, 2005); A.
Kazhdan, A History, pp. 27389. Military treatise: G. Dagron, H. Mihaescu and J.-H. Cheynet
(eds), Le trait sur la gurilla (de velitatione) de lempereur Nicphore Phocas (9639) (Paris, 1986);
E. McGeer (ed.), Sowing the Dragons Teeth: Byzantine Warfare in the Tenth Century, Dumbarton
Oaks Studies 33 (Washington, DC, 1995), pp. 386.
Leo VI, Taktika XVIII, ed. and trans. G.T. Dennis, The Taktika of Leo VI, Text, Translation, and
Commentary, CFHB 49 (Washington, DC, 2010), pp. 436501. On Leos work, Moravcsik,
Byzantinoturcica, I, pp. 4009; Kahzdan, A History, pp. 567. On Leos literary activity see S.
Tougher, The Reign of Leo VI (886912): Politics and People, The Medieval Mediterranean:
Peoples, Economies and Cultures (4001453) 15 (Leiden, New York and Cologne, 1997), pp.
16493; on the Taktika Wiita, The Ethnika. On traditionalism in military treatises, see E.
McGeer, Tradition and Reality in the Taktika of Nikephoros Ouranos, DOP 45 (1991), pp.
For different perspectives see R. Katicic, Die Anfnge des kroatischen Staates, in Die Bayern
und ihre Nachbarn I, pp. 299312; Pitea, The Slavs and the Early Croatian State.
Pohl, Das Awarenreich, pp. 2945; Curta, South-Eastern Europe, pp. 1389; Goldstein,
Hrvatski, pp. 878. See also E.K. Chrysos, Die Nordgrenze des byzantinischen Reiches im 6.
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 223
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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ethnography, similarities of names in places distant from one another
were explained through the movement of consistent masses of men: a
unifying gaze related ethnonyms and place names distant in space and
time in the effort to rationalize a situation contemporary to the author.
Perhaps Constantine understood the presence of previously unknown
ethnonyms only through the migration of a population. Already Thucy-
dides had explained the complicated ethnic geography of fth-century bc
Greece as a result of successive migrations, mainly the Dorian one,
allegedly taking place in the eleventh century bc.
Also, the story of the
seven siblings nds suggestive parallels in Herodotus, the main model for
the ethnography of the Barbarians of the northern steppe.
described an embassy to the Adriatic composed of ve men and two
women, Hyperboreans from the lands north of the Danube, echoing very
closely the migration of the ve brothers and two sisters from White
Croatia to Dalmatia.
It is therefore possible that Constantine Porphy-
rogenitus found in Herodotus a model for settlement to apply to a
population which, in his mind, had followed a similar route.
Herodotus further narrative of three brothers, one of themeponymous
(he was called Skuqh), at the beginning of the Scythians history, is
similarly proposed by Constantine: one of the Croatian brothers is called
wboto, an anthroponym derived from the name wbotoi.
Sources contemporary to Constantine, relating the Bulgar migration,
mentioned a hero called Bulgaros (oulgoo), who does not appear
in earlier narratives. This etymology of oulgaoi as derived from
oulgoo, is clearly invented and the name Bulgars probably pointed
towards the composite nature of the group. This, however, is representative
of a strategy used by tenth-century historians inorder to explainthe origins
and the oldest history of the northern Barbarians: the creation of a
mythical founding hero. In the case of the Bulgars it is possible to contrast
bis 8. Jahrhundert, in B. Hansel (ed.), Die Vlker Sdosteuropas im 6.8. Jahrhundert,
Sdosteuropa Band 17 (Munich, 1987), pp. 2740; Halsall, Barbarian Migrations, pp. 4557.
I am indebted to Carlo Franco for this expression.
Thucydides, Historiae I.2. J.M. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge, 1997),
pp. 116.
Malamut, Limage; A.C. Hero and A. Kazhdan, Herodotus, Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium,
II, p. 922; Stephenson, Byzantiums Balkan Frontier, pp. 10710.
Herodotus, Historiae IV.33.iii: '0 r mrn nun I

o lo lrgousi r

r u r prmyai u o lo u ka,
o o o Djlioi i te i i 0 r 0 _

0 i i prmyai u r

0 prnte
u . The fact was already noted by M. Budimir, Porrogenit i naa narodna tradicija
[Porphyrogenitus and Our National History], Glasnik Srpska Akademija Nauka 1 (1949), pp.
2435, but criticized by Grafenauer, Prilog, pp. 389. On the Hyperboreans see H. Sonnabend,
Hyperborer, RGA 15 (2000), pp. 30810.
Herodotus, Historiae IV.10.i. DAI, c. 30, p. 64.
224 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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these narratives with earlier accounts, and we know that a man called
oulgoo was a literary creation. It is probable that Constantine
applied the same topos in order to describe the Croatian past.
Other narrative elements of the Croatian migration seem to be depen-
dent on the Bulgarian Wanderung described by Theophanes and Patriarch
Nicephorus. The events are reported inTheophanes Chronography for the
year 680 AD, the year 6171 from the worlds creation. The same anno
Mundi, possibly by coincidence, is mentioned in the DAI, although
Constantine does not quote it correctly, describing instead an episode
linked to Arab expansion.
Theophanes described a land north of the
Black Sea, extending between the Sea of Azov and the River Kouphis ( o

potam), probably the Kuban, called Great or Old

Bulgaria (j o oulgaia r i j megolh), which was inhab-
ited by the Onogundurs and the Cutrigurs (tagoi). In the years of the
Sicilian expedition of Constans II (6638), Krobatos (oboto), who
was ruling the region, died leaving ve sons after him. The rst son, called
Batbaian, obeyed his father and remained in Great Bulgaria. The second,
Kotragos, crossed the River Don and settled there. The fourth and the fth
went over the Danube: one reached Pannonia, becoming a subject of the
Avar Khan, while the other travelled to Pentapolis, close to Ravenna. After
this diaspora the Khazars came, submitting to Batbaian and his followers.
Theophanes added that the Bulgars going to Pannonia became the lords of
the Seven Tribes (i


legomrna r o geneo), a Slavic confederation neighbouring Avar
lands to the west and the south.
Nicephorus Short History also describes a land called Great or Old
Bulgaria between the Meotis Moors and the River Kophis (i j

limnhn o tn ufina potamn kaqistatai j

polai kaloumrnh megolh oulgaia), where the Cutrigurs, a Bul-
garian tribe, lived.
In the time of Constans II a man called Kotragos
On the Bulgarian name: U. Bchsenschtz, Bulgaren, in LzGS, pp. 13942; H. Kunstmann,
ber den Namen der Bulgaren, Welt der Slawen 28 (1983); pp. 12230; Ziemann, Vom
Wandervolk, pp. 389. oulgoro is mentioned in: Genesius, Regnum libri quattuor IV.7, ed.
Lesmller-Werner and Thurn, p. 61; Leo Diaconus, Historia VI.8, ed. Hase, p. 103. A Bulgaros
is also mentioned later by Michael the Syrian, Chronicon X, XXI, ed. J.-B. Chabot, Chronique
de Michel le Syrien, patriarche jacobite dAntioche, 4 vols (Paris 18991910), I, pp. 3635.
Ziemann, Vom Wandervolk, pp. 1489.
Theophanes, Chronographia a.M. 6171, ed. C. de Boor, 2 vols (Leipzig, 18835), I, pp. 3569;
trans. C. Mango and R. Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor: Byzantine and Near
Eastern History AD 284813 (Oxford, 1997). For a commentary see I. Rochow, Byzanz im 8.
Jahrhundert in der Sicht des Theophanes: Quellenkritisch-historischer Kommentar zu den Jahren
715813, BBA 57 (Berlin, 1991). For the year 6171: DAI II, p. 84.
Ziemann, Vom Wandervolk, pp. 1428. See also V. Beevliev, Die protobulgarische Periode der
bulgarischen Geschichte (Amsterdam, 1981), pp. 14955.
Patriarch Nicephorus, Historia Syntomos, c. 35, ed. and trans. C. Mango, Nikephoros Patriarch
of Constantinople, Short History, CFHB 13 (Washington, DC, 1990), p. 86; P.J. Alexander,
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 225
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(tago) became lord of this population. From here on, Nicephorus
account of the ve brothers destiny after their fathers death follows the
same pattern as narrated by Theophanes. Nicephorus, however, added
another character, called Koubratos (oubato), the nephew of
Organa, master of the Onogundurs. Koubratos challenged the Avars in
war and fought them off, securing the land where, in the battles after-
math, he settled. Following his accomplishment Heraclius honoured
Koubratos with the dignity of patikio.
Up to this point there are many overlapping narrative elements,
although no single one of the story lines here mentioned was Constantines
direct source. It appears clear, however, that the narrative elements
employed by the emperor were largely present in texts that he could easily
access. The narrative concerning the Bulgar Urgeschichte apparently fur-
nished Constantine with the key to interpreting Croatian history, a history
whichhe was not able to ndinhis sources because the Croats were a group
of recent formation. Owing to the numerous resonances between charac-
ters like Kotragos and Korbatos and the Hrvati, the Bulgars, absent in the
pages of the DAI, offered the Croatianpast whichConstantine was looking
for. Many elements of the Croatian migration could be explained by this.
Nonetheless, some aspects, such as the entry on Porgas or the mention
of the other anthroponyms (which in any case we cannot be sure were
pertinent to a population called Hrvati),
were hardly mere inventions of
the emperor.
Some information must have existed, but it seems that
Constantine interpreted it through the schemes of ancient and medieval
Greek ethnography. Constantine may have framed into an interpetatio
graeca much more uid processes of tradition and myths of origins,
selecting among them and forcing the narrative into ancient ethno-
graphic models. We have enough evidence to prove the role of political
authority in the reshaping of other traditions and I believe that similar
The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople (Oxford, 1958), on his literary activity pp.
Patriarch Nicephorus, Historia Syntomos, c. 22, ed. Mango, p. 70. The tomb of Koubratos was
thought to be found in Malaja Percepina: J. Werner, Der Grabfund von Malaja Perc epina und
Kuvrat, Kagan der Bulgaren, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische
Klasse, Abh. newser. 91 (Munich, 1984), who interpreteda disputedseal as bearing the monogram
of the Bulgarian qagan. Also A. Rna Tas, Where was Khuvrats Bulgharia?, Acta Orientalia
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 53 (2000), pp. 122; F. Curta, Qagan, Khan, or King? Power
in Early Medieval Bulgaria (Seventh to Ninth Century), Viator 37 (2006), pp. 131, here pp. 37;
Pohl, Die Awaren, pp. 26882. On Great Bulgaria: Ziemann, Vom Wandervolk, pp. 14260.
Esders, Grenzen und Grenzberschreitung, pp. 234.
The idea that many of the origin narratives of early medieval peoples were literary creations
(and therefore, to a certain extent, inventions of the authors) followed the spread of the
linguistic turn methodologies, being presented in its most complete form by W. Goffart,
The Narrators of Barbarian History: (AD 550800) Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the
Deacon (Princeton, 1988; repr. Notre Dame, 2005).
226 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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processes were taking place in tenth-century Constantinople.
In this
way the emperor was able to make the appearance of this previously
unknown ethnonym coherent with the imperial vision of the rich Bar-
barian universe, a vision inherited from the classical world. Constantine
was therefore able to use heterogeneous material becoming more detailed
from the beginning of the tenth century, whose quantity and quality is
for us largely unknown, translating it into the Byzantine grammar of
identication. It is probable, moreover, that this construction was an
effort to communicate with the Croatian ambassadors, who according to
the Book of the Ceremonies regularly visited Constantinople in the mid-
tenth century. Considering the poor diffusion of the information, we can
say that Constantines effort apparently met with little success.
It is interesting to note how very similar ethnonyms to those
used by Constantine were employed a few decades later in the
History of the Venetians.
Especially remarkable is the recurrence of
names such as Nar(r)entani/Aentanoi,
Romani/ `

attested for the rst time (both in Greek and Latin)
and almost unknown to contemporary sources, with the exceptions of the
Dalmatian Romans already mentioned in the Royal Frankish Annals, and
in a more obscure form in the Chronicle of Salerno.
Another feature of
interest is the fact that the two historians wrote different histories which
diverged in many respects, having as the only element of similarity some
ethnonyms (unknown by other contemporary authors) and the anthro-
ponym ephmrh/Tibimr.
It is certain that John and Constantine
were using different models to describe a new social and ethnic reality
which did not catch the interest of other chroniclers. It is possible that a
common source existed, a source where the two historians were able to
Classic studies on the inuence of political authorities in the transformation of popular or outer
cultures are: M. Bloch, Les rois thaumaturges: Etude sur le caractere surnaturel attribue a la
puissance royale particulierement en France et en Angleterre (Paris, 1924); J. Goody and I. Watt,
The Consequences of Literacy, Comparative Studies in Society and History 5 (1963), pp. 30445,
repr. J. Goody, Literacy in Traditional Societies (Oxford, 1968), pp. 2768.
Pohl, Ethnicity, Theory and Tradition.
John the Deacon, Istoria Veneticorum, ed. L.A. Berto, Giovanni Diacono, Istoria Veneticorum,
Fonti per la storia medievale dItalia 2 (Bologna, 1999).
DAI, c. 29, pp. 124, 126; c. 36, p. 164; John the Deacon, Istoria Veneticorum III.40; IV.31, 40, 45,
49, ed. Berto, pp. 150, 1767, 184, 186, 190.
DAI, c. 13, p. 7; cc. 2936; c. 40, p. 178; c. 41, p. 180; John the Deacon, Istoria Veneticorum II.40,
46; III.16, 33; IV.6, 45, 49, 52, ed. Berto, pp. 120, 122, 138, 146, 158, 186, 190, 192.
DAI, cc. 2936; John the Deacon, Istoria Veneticorum IV.48, ed. Berto, p. 188.
Annales regni Francorum, s.a. 817, ed. F. Kurze, MGH SRG 6 (Hanover, 1895), p. 145. Chronicon
Salernitanum 88, ed. U. Westerbergh, Chronicon Salernitanum: A Critical Edition with Studies
on Literary and Historical Sources and on Language, Studia Latina Stockholmensia 3 (Stockholm,
1956), pp. 889. On the `

see F. Borri, Gli Istriani e i loro parenti: Foggoi, Romani

e Slavi alla periferia di Bisanzio, Jahrbuch der sterreichischen Byzantinistik 60 (2010), pp. 125,
at pp. 716.
DAI, c. 31, p. 146; John the Deacon, Istoria Veneticorum III.21, ed. Berto, p. 140.
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 227
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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nd the names they used in their narratives, John conning himself to his
years (tentheleventh centuries), and Constantine, following a more
erudite tradition, trying to describe a past according to the patterns of
Greek ethnography in which he collated the different material he could
access. The nature of the common source, if it did really exist, is difcult
to capture, but it must have been a very poor text from which it was
possible to trace different conclusions.
Conclusions: the DAI and the Croatian migration
Constantine wrote in the tenth century, probably relying on imperial
dossiers and on the many texts that he could access. His sources are very
difcult to trace, and consequently it is also difcult to frame the many
elements described in the DAI in their original context. We can say that
Constantines Byzantium was very different to the one described by
Procopius or Theophanes, authors which he could access. In the emper-
ors world the Balkans were, in fact, populated by previously unknown
ethnic groups for whom he tried to nd a past coherent with the per-
spective of imperial ethnography.
If, as we saw, the place name and ethnonym Hrvat seems to be
attested in locations distant from one another and in sources indepen-
dent of Constantine, it is highly probable that the emperor, when
describing the migration, did not rely on any Croatian Stammessage
reaching his ears from the Rhodopian mountains or the forests of Dal-
matia, but that he was trying to nd an explanation in the past for a
tenth-century situation. The existence of two differing traditions was
not, apparently, cause for concern, and may have been an effort to
manage the heterogeneous nature of the information in his possession,
and to offer his audience different patterns of communication to be
used with populations called Croats. If a White Croatia did exist, and if
Constantine publicized its existence, then the migration was the result
of his attempt to create order in this apparent chaos, where similar
names were attested in different parts of Europe. The Wanderung there-
fore was not the reason why two peoples living north and south of the
Carpathians had the same name, but was the explanation that the
emperor tried to nd for this apparent anomaly. We can easily conrm
that, according to Greek culture, migrations were often used to explain
the appearance of a new ethnonym, and we saw how already in Hero-
dotus and Thucydides the ethnic geography of Africa, Asia and Europe
was explained thanks to migrations.
Hall, Ethnic Identity, pp. 267.
228 Francesco Borri
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We can nd suggestive parallels that help us to understand the
emperors intellectual model. A good example is the history of the
Serbs, described in Chapter 32. No other author mentions a relation-
ship between Sorbs (identied with the White Serbs) and the Srbloi
of south-eastern Europe, but Constantines narrative unied two
groups of the same name thanks to a migration. While describing the
history of the Latin population of Byzantine Dalmatia, the emperor
showed his narrative strategies in an even more blatant way. The

, inhabitants of costal Dalmatia, derived their name because

they originally came from Rome lead by Emperor Diocletian (284305).
The riddle of two similar names, Rome and the `

, was again
solved through the literary expedient of migration, this time taking
place between the third and fourth century. A move from Rome to
Dalmatia, however, does not puzzle us and it can be easily dismissed as
a narrative ction: we should consider the relationship between Croatia
and White Croatia along the same lines.
Constantine, therefore, framed the scanty information he possessed on
the Croatian past according to the models that previous authors deployed
to describe Scythian populations, in order to create a new history. Roman
imperial historiography shared similar attitudes, connecting populations
gathered around recent names with other, more ancient and prestigious
ones. A good example, though distant in time, is clearly Jordanes who
equated Goths and Gets, a population already mentioned by Hero-
I believe that the information concerning Bulgars and Cutrigurs
was used in the writing of Chapter 30, since Constantine considered
them close to the Croats.
Even Constantines dating of the Croats
arrival during Heraclius reign could be linked to Nicephorus witness on
Koubratos being elevated to the dignity of patikio by the same
emperor. Similar motifs, like that of the brothers, one of them epony-
mous, are the same as those used by Herodotus in describing the Scythian
past. The narrative of Chapter 31 must also have been dependent on
further sources which, unfortunately, I have not been able to identify.
The absence of a clear Croatian origo gentis, transmitted from father to
son through generations from White Croatia or even further, is moreover
conrmed by the disparate and heterogeneous nature of the material that
Constantine was forced to use, and by the appearance in the DAI of two
divergent versions, only partially elaborated. Through a single clear
intent, the different traditions were simultaneously collected in the same
Cf. A. Sby Christensen, Cassiodorus, Jordanes and the History of the Goths: Studies in a Migration
Myth (Copenhagen, 2002).
On the Cutrigurs see Ziemann, Vom Wandervolk, pp. 95103, but also Gy. Moravcsik, Zur
Geschichte der Onoguren, Ungarische Jahrbcher 10 (1930), pp. 5390.
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 229
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treatise in a way which we may judge to be uncritical, though apparently
the Konkurrenz der Ursprnge did not represent a contradiction for
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, nor perhaps for his audience either.
Who, therefore, were the Croats? At the moment this question is still
difcult to answer. Milo Barada suggested that the Croats were a group
formed at the edges of the Avar empire and Walter Pohl proposed the
Croats to be border guards of the Avar empire, developing in an ethnic
group only in the ninth century. I suggest that we should date this
process even later. Constantine wrote in the DAI about a Croatian
victory against the Bulgars:
does this event represent the formation of
a new elite on the Dalmatian edges of the Bulgar kingdom? Perhaps the
confrontation with the Bulgars was the rst attestation of this group of
men who were called Hrvati by their neighbours, or who chose the
name for themselves; a prestigious name also in other areas of central
and eastern Europe.
What we can afrm with a degree of certainty is that Constantine lent
importance to the Croats because he thought they might make good allies
against the Bulgars, and he wanted to bring this dynamic, recently
formed group to the attention of his successor. The emperor, however,
expressed this judgement in a text destined to have a very poor circula-
tion, dedicating to the Croats much less space in writings reaching a
wider audience. Moreover, Constantines predictions never came about,
and the Croats did not become a leading power in the Balkans. The same
emperor stated that the amazing military power of the Croats was in
decline at the time he was writing, which is perhaps a trace of the
difculties that the group was experiencing in afrming itself.
After the
death of Romanus II (963), the conquests of Emperor John (96976)
must have limited the importance of the Croats as an adversary of the
Bulgarians. Under Basil II (9761025), nally, both Byzantines and
Venetians further undermined the chances of this recently formed
Reimitz, Konkurrenz der Ursprnge.
There are two episodes mentioned by the DAI: one may be dated to the second half of the ninth
century, a second to the rst half of the tenth; Ziemann, Vom Wandervolk, p. 351. The second
battle, which the DAI reports as decisive, is also mentioned in the Life of John X contained in
the Liber Ponticalis surviving in the Korculanski Kodeks [Codex of Curzola] dating to the
twelfth century: V. Foretic, Korculanski kodeks 12. stoljeca i vijesti iz doba hrvatske narodne
dinastije u njemu [The Codex of Curzola of the Twelfth Century and the Witnesses on the
Croatian National Dynasty in It], Starine 46 (1956), pp. 2344, here p. 30: Johannes X. Sedit
annos XII, menses II, dies VI. Hic fecit pacem inter Bulgaros et Chroatos.
On the uidity of the ethnic process and on the interdependence of neighbouring identities,
F. Barth, Introduction, in idem (ed.), Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of
Cultural Difference, 2nd edn (Long Grove, IL, 1998), pp. 938.
DAI, c. 31, p. 150.
230 Francesco Borri
Early Medieval Europe 2011 19 (2)
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In later years the Croats were mentioned in the Greek world
almost only by authors who were quoting the Life of Basil or the Book
of Ceremonies.
In conclusion, we can assert that the Croatian migration did not take
place, but that Constantine Porphyrogenitus created it relying on the
literary models traditionally applied to describe the Landnahme of Scyth-
ian Barbarians. What instead happened is that, following their rise in the
military and political context of the Balkans, new elites took a visible
position in Dalmatia and, as recorded in the tenth century, were given the
name Croats, a name which was also found in other areas of central and
eastern Europe. Although it is still very difcult to explain how names
recur in sources independent of one another and in very distant places,
for reasons still unknown to us it is possible that the Dalmatian Croats
referred to other groups who shared their name, as Belocroats. The many
attestations of this ethnonym and place name reached Constantine Por-
phyrogenitus, who in order to explain this recurrence deployed the classic
model of migration, a model which many authors had used to explain
the ethnic geography of the surrounding world from the beginning of
historiography itself.
Institut fr Mittelalterforschung, sterreichische Akademie
der Wissenschaften
The Annals of Bari also mentioned Croatia in describing the actions of the Byzantine catepanus
of Italy. Lupus Protospatharius, Annales, s.a. 1024, ed. G.H. Pertz, MGH SS 5 (Hanover, 1844),
pp. 5163, p. 57: Et in hoc anno transfretavit Bugiano in Chorvatia. It is interesting that
Chorvatia seems to be a transliteration from Greek, indicating, perhaps, the nature of Lupus
sources. V. von Falkenhausen, Between Two Empires: Byzantine Italy in the Reign of Basil II,
in P. Magdalino (ed.), Byzantium in the Year 1000, The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples,
Economies and Culture (4001500) 45 (Leiden, Boston and Cologne, 2003), pp. 13559, at pp.
14950; Curta, South-Eastern Europe, pp. 23747; C. Holmes, Basil II and the Governance of
Empire (9761025) (Oxford, 2005), pp. 392447; Stephenson, Byzantiums Balkan Frontier, pp.
6279. On the Venetian conquest of Dalmatia: P. tih, Der ostadriatische Raum um das Jahr
1000, in P. Urbanczyk (ed.), Europe around the Year 1000 (Warsaw, 2001), pp. 20519.
White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats 231
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