East Central European History – Sept. 20 2012
Lecture 4: “Dark Ages”: Rome’s successor states and the “barbarians” of East Central Europe between
Byzantium and the West
In the North of Europe – a new group of people – the Slavs – appeared
What is a state? It should include a fiscal apparatus. A confederation of tribes is not necessarily a state –
but this is a matter for debate
The Slavic people are a mystery – we don’t really know where they came from. They appeared suddenly
in central and northern Europe. There are many theories about the origins of Rus, but the Slavic group of
tribes definitely grew fast. Around the year 500 they crossed the valley and entered the Byzantine
Ptolemy’s map from Alexandria calls the Carpathian Mountains the mountains of the Slavs, and he calls
the Baltic Sea the sea of Slavs.
After several hundred years the Slavic tribes controlled most of East Central Europe.
It was an agricultural society, used the slash and burn method to make clearings in the forest, and was
ruled by tribal democracies and followed pagan religions. They lived in clans that made up little tribes,
which made up large tribes. There were about 9 big tribes in the 9 century in the area of Poland.
They spread in all directions from their original habitat and quickly controlled most of the territory.
However, East Central Europe was like a corridor leading to Western Europe, and soon nomadic tribes
were moving through the corridor
Sometime in the 6 century, the Avars a nomadic tribe from Asia established a state in central Europe –
it was a mix between Slavic and avar population.
Sometime later the Bulgars came from the far east of Europe.
Of the tribes coming from central asia to Europe, one of them was the Khazars who were Turkic-Central
Asian. They established a large state in the 7 century, Kiev being one of the cities under their control.
The Byzantine Empire was fighting for recreation and survival of the Roman Empire, and one of their
specialties was diplomacy, ideology and religion. The Khazars established a state, and the Byzantine
empire realized they were dangerous so they send messengers trying to arrange an alliance. The Khazars
learned about Christianity from them, and found their central Asian religion to be underdeveloped in
comparison. Kagan decided he had to change his religion in order to strengthen his state. So he invited
reps from different religions, and was hesitant because he realized that if he became Islamic he would
become part of their empire, and if he accepted Christianity missionaries would come to supervise him
on behalf of Byzantium – so he converted to Judaism so that no one could control him.
Some claim that the definition of e c Europe is where german and jewish minorities were large and
Why were Jewish people so prevalent in East Central Europe? They looked different from Hebrews from
In the 10 century Kievan Rus beat the Khazars
Khazars dispersed from the area and perhaps the Jews of E C Europe were actually Khazars, and the
reason that many Jews had blue eyes and blonde hair because they were khazars mixed with local
Slavic invasion of East Central Europe; they colonize the Balkan Peninsula, but the nomads keep coming
The Avars did not survive because they landed between the Frankish and Bulgarian Empires
The barbarians entered the empire and destroyed the western northern empire and a Frankish warrior
took Galia, where the local Celtic population mixed with the Franks which was the beginning of France Initially the kingdom was ruled by a dynasty which eventually became inefficient, important courtiers
became more efficient. Charlemagne created a large Roman Frankish Empire; the franks almost
recreated the Western Roman Empire
Franks were important because they developed a new system based on land donations to aristocracy,
called feudalism – as opposed to slave based economy, although slaves still existed
Feudalism was extremely important – there were feudal elements still left in society up to now in places
such as Poland, where you can still tell if people are descendents of peasants or of nobility – there are
different pictures, furniture, et cetera – consequences of the feudal system
In ancient times slave owners were in power because they controlled slaves, the means of production
Under feudalism, land was the means of production and therefore landowners had the power
The feudal system influenced central European territories – there was exchange across borders and they
were following Frankish patterns.
In the early 7 century there was a Slavic rebellion against the Avars – an ind