Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Fall of Porphyrogenitus


I’ve become an adherent of the Serbian autochthonic historical school (SAS). Back when I wrote about the need to strategically approach the overthrow of the official conjecture of Serbian history, the one taught in schools, in favor of the better supported and the more logical narrative pushed by a group tentatively led by Jovan I. Deretić, I was just a believer, but, I admit, I was not ready to enter full blown arguments nor did I fully understand the depth to which the official version of Serbian history has been falsified.

I do not intend to expound on what historians like Deretić, Dragoljub Antić, Slobodan Jarčević, archeologists like Đorđe Janković, anthropologists like Srboljub Živanović, linguists like Olga Luković-Pjanović, Svetislav Bilbija and Radivoje Pešić, and numerous others before them have argued and substantiated in opposition to the official narrative centered on the notion that Serbs settled their current homeland in the Balkans in the first half of the 7th century A.D. These scientists and researchers have done the work that a mere blog entry can only under-appreciate or distort, if trying to rehash or analyze their voluminous findings. Rather, directing this at the adherents of any imposed official narrative and the apprehensive, not only among the Serbs, I want to ask them to open their minds, tear down the ideological walls blocking their willingness to learn and try to dwell in the realm where dogma is not knowledge and where gaining knowledge is a continuum. In other words, give thinking and learning a chance. History of the Balkans is the history of Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Illyrians, Thracians, Celts, Huns, Goths, Turks and other real and conjectured historic nations, and new interpretations and findings about it should interest every European historian and history buff. 

For the laymen, of whom I consider myself just an advanced one, it is important to put the Serbian autochthonic historical school in a political paradigm. I say political because the official narrative, the one advanced after the Berlin Congress of 1878, became official not through any scientific discourse, but through political decisions. Simply, under the direct influence of the scientific elites of Western European powers that held Serbia’s international recognition in its hands, the government of Serbia established the conclusions of what the Autochthonists call the Vienna-Berlin school of history (VBS). The VBS-propagated narrative rivaled the long-held views of Serbian academics and aimed to replace the notion that Serbs were descendants of the people autochthonous to the Southeast Europe with the theory that proposed they were settlers or invaders from the lands beyond the Carpathian Mountains. Those scholars that objected to this new narrative were either censored, like Miloš Milojević and Pantelija Srećković, or ignored, like Sima Lukin Lazić. Roughly a hundred and fifty years later, after several generations of Serbs learned that their ancestors showed up on Lower Danube as invaders and/or were resettled around the Roman Illyricum by the Eastern Roman emperors in the 7th century A.D., replacing a couple of million people that had already lived there for millennia, the representatives of the renewed Serbian Autochthonic School sound ludicrous with their findings and conclusions that negate the official version. But they are ludicrous only to the closed-minded as their analysis of historiography, replete with sources otherwise held in high esteem by world historians, supports their conclusions in an absolutely more convincing way than the VBS scholars can ever hope to root their official narrative in. The VBS advocates among Serbian historians still, however, dominate the educational and political institutions in Serbia, which leaves no room for a contentious academic debate on the subject. 

I’ve become an adherent not because the SAS-proposed narrative glorifies Serbdom so much more, but because it is so much more convincing and backed by more credible evidence. Let me be clear: the human history is largely unknown, regardless of what scholars claim they have concluded with certainty. Most of it is not written, and what’s written could have been one-sided, falsified and otherwise dishonest. Further we go into the past, more unknowns and more speculation we find. This includes the knowledge about some of the better known historical developments and phenomena. We still cannot claim with certainty who built Rome and who the original Romans were. Nor do we know the origins of the leader of the barbarians who finally sacked Rome, Odoacer. Yet we interpret events that followed with unwarranted certainty. 
If Romans could not exist before Rome was built, who built Rome? The Etruscans? The Latins? Depends on who you ask. 
Who were the Illyrians? Where they a homogenous group? What language(s) did they speak? What do we know about them that is outside of the uncertain? What did they call themselves? We do not know. 
How do we know that these Illyrians, with the name given to them by their Greek neighbors, with the attested warlike habits and the spirit of resistance that put both Roman and Macedonian conquests on a trial, did not call themselves Serbs? All we know is that they supposedly disappeared exactly when Serbs showed up, although there is no explanation of how a lightly armed barbarian horde could subdue and eradicate a nation Alexander the Great and Augustus had serious troubles with, a nation that for three centuries produced Roman emperors and generals. 
Weren’t most of the names of the ancient peoples just conjectures of their hostile neighbors? 

Most of the historical sources leave a lot to be desired and leave plenty of room for speculation. If we are to dwell in the world of speculation, let’s speculate in logical rather than illogical terms and let’s lean on the historiography that is more convincing and credible, even if it leaves something to be desired, rather than on the sources that are hardly credible and hardly convincing. I did not become an adherent of SAS because I believe all that the Autochthonists say, but because the official version that I learned in school sounds crazy.

So, without going too deep into the complex historical analysis, what is so logical about the Autochthonists’ views on the Serbian past?

The central theme of the Autochtonists’ historical claims is the purported settling of the Serbs in the Roman province of Dalmatia in the first decades of the 7th century A.D. as described in De Administrando Imperio, the 10th century writing reportedly authored by the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. The Autochthonists claim that DAI is the only source describing the migration of the Serbs to the Balkans, that it describes a physically impossible effort of a mass migration and that the sources contradicting DAI are numerous. Furthermore, they claim that Serbs are the autochthonous people of the Roman Illyricum and that they, under a variety of names, inhabited the area since before the Roman times. The SAS denies that Serbs could settle Dalmatia, as DAI claims, in a mass way, or that any large tribal group could move in a way DAI described, without the necessary logistics, even if the territory they moved over was not inhabited by hostile population. The Authochthonists explain the migration of peoples in the ancient times as movements of name-bearing elites rather than of majority of population. They break down a mass migration in the 7th century conditions that existed in Pannonia and the Illyricum and prove it physically impossible, unfeasible and inexplicable. Add to it the fact that only one source of questionable credibility describes it, we have very little reason to believe Serbs settled Dalmatia in the 7th century A.D. with the approval of an Eastern Roman emperor. The Autochthonists completely destroy DAI as the source for establishing the origins of Serbs.

The SAS does not only negate the migration, but, stemming from this negation, attempt to decipher the Serbian existence in the Helm (old name for the Balkans) prior to it, through the Romanization, resistance to Roman conquests, and, under a variety of names for different tribes of one and the same people, show that the Slavic Serbs originate in Pannonia and dwell across the Balkans for the duration of the Antiquity. Archeological and anthropological evidence they lean on show that the people calling themselves Serbs today continually inhabit the area all the way back into the Vinča civilization of the 6th millennium B.C. 

On the surface, it looks to a layman that one speculation is going up against another, but in volumes of research, the Autochthonists, who are not an organized group but a collection of like-minded scientists, cited sources like Herodotus, Appian, Strabo, Plinius the Elder, Nestor of Kiev, Einhard etc., as well as their own original research. On the other hand, the VBS and the mainstream narrative proponents have nothing but DAI, which the SAS claims was falsified by the Vatican in the 17th century for the purpose of establishing the Croat nation in the Western Balkans as a rival to the Serbs, and the hold over the political power. This motive for the falsification of DAI is at the gist of the narrative replacement theory; for the German movement eastward, the notorious Drang Nach Osten, it was important to prepare an ideological terrain, to deny the right of the Slavs to their ancestral homeland, to brand them invaders and usurpers and to build a premise for their removal or assimilation. Croats, in this sense, would be just a historical episode in this conquest, a role the Slavic groups of today’s West Baltic or Austria played in the past. Drang Nach Osten, in effect, consists of centuries-long push by the German ambition to conquer and assimilate scores of Slavic nations from the North Sea to the Alps.

These are historical notions, backed by facts and analysis, but submerged in the dominance of German-influenced cultural and scientific patterns. The Serbian Autochthonists look away from the Germanic influences and into the Serbian own scientific and research capabilities, to get closer to the truth about their own past.

Of course I won’t try to convince anyone that the autochthonic narrative is the Holy Writ  of the Serbian history. One has to make one’s own conclusions. Just like I didn’t accept DAI for a long time before I even familiarized myself with the Autochthonists, I don’t take for granted every conclusion they’ve arrived to. What is important is not to disqualify their findings and not to confine oneself within the boundaries imposed by their scholarly rivals. What I scratched in this text hopefully only spreads the debate. But the debate is what is needed, for the sake of science, and it can only happen if the interested scholars are open to it. More importantly, this debate should not be left only for scholars to drive; all the learned and the willing to learn should take part in it, if for no other reason but to figure out how and why historical narratives are created and imposed for political expediency and how it affects their reality. So far, Serbian mainstream historians have only resorted to mockery, name-calling and defamation of the Autochthonists, despite the calls for a scientific debate. This is not surprising; the mainstream historians have built their reputation and had their titles bestowed on them by following the simple rule of repeating the official narrative. No digging, no researching, just repeating. To abandon it would mean a complete devaluation of their careers.

The main perceived deficiency and the main reason for the mockery and disqualification of the Autochthonists' findings pertains to them possessing elements of what the reactionaries all over the world call conspiracy theory. Of course, any discovery that endangers power-that-are will be characterized and disqualified as conspiracy theory by pundits and advocates who strive to remain entrenched in the mainstream, that is, in the good grace of those powers. Nothing wrong in being branded a conspiracy theorist by those whose conspiracy you aim to reveal and unmake. Moreover, it is quite natural that serious plans are kept secret and that one part of keeping a secret is to attempt a character assassination of those who get close to publicizing it. It doesn't mean those who seek the truth should stop just because they get called names.


Anonymous said...

I have to admit this post is very disappointing. It reminds me of the movie, "Arlington Road", where (without giving too much away for those that havent seen it) Jeff Bridges is a college professor who begins to suspect his neighbor is part of a right-wing conspiracy and seeks to "reveal and unmake" their conspiracy but in fact, through his actions, ends up reinforcing their conspiracy and being instrumental in the conspiracy's success. You have always struck me as practical in your analysis and that yojur arguments were thought-through but in this case I am truly disappointed. Do you not realize that what you are doing is destroying a perfectly good history and seeking to replace it with something so ridiculous, banal and unbelievable that your end result will not be "revealing and unmaking" a conspiracy but rather in promulgating it? What will be left when you and those you cite for support have finished discrediting Serbian history - a new history? Truth? No, it will be a people who don't know their history, who don't know what to believe and a people that don't know what they are. What differentiates Serbs from the other "pretender nations" in the Balkans is that we do have a history that stretches back over 1000 years and do not have to make it up (unlike "Macedonians", "Montenegrins", "Bosniaks", etc.). In your quest to prove that Serbs are "najstariji narod" (to quote lepa sela lepo gore), you will not only fail but you will have discredited those 1000 years of legitimate history and Serbs will wonder what they are just as these other nations do (if they were honest with each other). If Serbs are indigenous to the Balkans, but were simply known by another name (whether that be Illyrians, Sarmatians, Avars, whatever) then equally indigenous were the Montenegrins, Bosnians, Herzegovinians, Macedonians because they were there too and were just known by another name. You just legitimized them by de-legitimizing us. Congratulations! I expected more from you.

Srbo said...

Thanks for the honest opinion, but try not to distort what I said. Being called a "conspiracy theorist" as a way of disqualifying someone's quest for knowledge does not faze me.
To me, the most banal and unbelievable narrative is the one we learned in school, the one based on the fairy tale of a mass migration, which is insulting to any self-respecting student of history. It is a task of any self-respecting student of history to question notions, no matter how entrenched they seem to be, especially when they are so feeble and unfounded that the questioning comes naturally. I don't pretend that any alternative narrative can be easily established as true. All I was doing, which you distorted in your comment, was to call for an open debate among historians, which has been rejected by the mainstream so far. Likewise, I call on you to consult the historiography the official narrative is based on and compare it with sources the Autochthonists cite, before you discredit their studies and conclusions.
Your censoring attitude is completely politically motivated, as you explain. You see only negatives in shaking up the entrenched beliefs. You try to say that it's better not to study, research and debate. You think it can somehow confuse the Serbs and throw them for a loop on their way forward. But Serbs are not going forward, but instead sinking fast as a nation. The dominant political culture and cultural narratives have not done us any favors. I'd see your point if Serbs were doing fine and these crazy conspiracy theorists come along to ruin everything. But Serbs are sinking in part because of the confusion about their identity. Has it ever occurred to you that the current, horrible state of affairs in Serbdom is a result of Serbs actually not knowing their history or knowing the false version of it? Has it occurred to you that the pretender nations you named - and I supposedly legitimized - could only materialize and exist under the official narrative, if Serbs believe they were just one of many Slavic groups that came from somewhere north and over time spread, conquered and assimilated other Slavic and indigenous groups? Albanians, who do not have a single valid proof they descend from the Illyrians in any significant part, can only claim they are the sole descendants of Illyrians if Serbs claim they, the Serbs, are not.
History as a scientific category does serve political agenda, I agree. We see what kind of a political agenda has been executed under the official narrative. We can argue about whose agenda it was, but I am damn sure it wasn't Serbian.
And when it comes to de-legitimization of us, how could you legitimize yourself by claiming you are an usurper, an occupier, a plunderer?
The relevance of this discussion hinges on the accepted fact that peoples do have history, that the history is studied and used to advance culture and political agenda, as well as knowledge as an end in itself. This creates a realm in which a nation cannot choose whether to participate or not. If you decide not to study your own history, someone else will tell who you are and what you come from and it most likely won't be intended for your benefit or for the sake of objectivity, but for the sake of serving that someone's agenda. Our choice is to participate in that realm actively, on our own side, or let someone else further his own agenda at our expense. If you suggest we do the latter, then I can tell you we've been doing that not only when it comes to history, but when it comes to almost every sphere of our life as a political nation.

Anonymous said...

First, you are the one that called yourself a conspiracy theorist("Nothing wrong in being branded a conspiracy theorist by those whose conspiracy you aim to reveal and unmake.) and my point is that in seeking to reveal and unmake you are in fact simply promulgating their goal (which I may even agree with you exists) - the destroy Serbdom. Second, there is really no point in debating history with someone who says: "the most banal and unbelievable narrative is the one we learned in school, the one based on the fairy tale of a mass migration, which is insulting to any self-respecting student of history". We also learn in school that the earth is round and not flat - or perhaps you still believe that it might be flat? (There is after-all a flat earth society.) You find mass migration crazy, unbelievable, "physically impossible", etc. If anything has defined human history, it has been mass migration. For a Serb to say this, given all of the "migrations" we've gone through in the "modern" period that we already know about, is incomprehensible to me. Did 1690, 1737, 1941-45, 1995, 1999 never happen? How did Mongols, Huns, Avars, and numerous other nomadic tribes get from Central Asia to Central Europe but by migrating much greater distances than the Serbs are alleged to have migrated from north of the Danube? How did the Celts get from their heartland around the Swiss Alps to Ireland without mass migration? You are not calling for open debate - you have made up your mind and are proselytizing. You say it is because Serbs a "sinking fast" - well all you are doing is adding more water. Whether or not we are Illyrians will not have any impact on that sinking. The Albanians claim they are Illyrians and what do they have - Albania?! Hungarians know they are descendents of the Huns and that they speak a language whose closest relation is Finnish yet they aren't losing sleep about being "a usurper, an occupier, a plunderer" - why should we? What impact will it be on us today if Serbs are just Illyrians with a different name or that they walked 1000 kilometers from Trebenice in today's Czech Republic to Trebinje in Herzegovina (20 days walking 10 hours a day according to Google Maps)? Nothing. In conclusion, this "school" of serbian history is at best a waste of time that will have zero impact on us and is mostly based on circular logic and at worst it will further fracture our common identity and legitimize our enemies. Americans do not need to prove that they are descendents of Cherokees in order to not be "sinking". Is there some reason to seek to truth? To be 100% sure of our origins? Perhaps, if we didn't have more pressing things to worry about...unfortunately we do not have that luxury.

Srbo said...

I've never called myself a conspiracy theorist. In the text, I refer to conspiracy theories for the purpose of inoculation and in the first response to you, I alluded to your reference to Arlington Road. But, while we are still at it, it is worth stating that majority of those who brand others as CTs are not the same people whose conspiracies are under threat of revealing and unmaking, but generally mere social conformists or those who believe they know everything there is to know on the subject and there is nothing more to research. All in all, the main aim of all three groups is to stifle free discussion.
Regarding the flat Earth (although your expanding my claim into unrelated realms doesn't add to the quality to the debate)... Imagine if Copernicus was afraid his heliocentric theory was going to somehow damage the social order of the day and that it wasn't necessary to search for the truth. Unless we still believe we know everything there is to know about all subjects, we have to dig where our curiosity points.
When I said "what we learned in school," I thought you'd understand I'm talking about the subject at hand, i.e. the migration of Serbs into Dalmatia as described by Porphyrogenitus. But you chose to lead the discussion astray instead. Let's bring it back to the subject matter, since you do show interest in debating historical notions and facts, rather than just discrediting the effort and the motivation. Mass migrations do happen, for various reasons, in various ways and at various paces. The Autochthonists provide reasoning for why this particular migration couldn’t have happened the way DAI described.
First, DAI was written around 950 AD, and it talks about a migration from the beginning of the 7th century, which doesn’t disqualify it outright, but it should be kept in mind. (For the comparison’s sake, Frankish Royal Annals, the official chronicle of the Frankish Empire, do not mention Croats in Pannonia and Dalmatia at the time of the anti-Frankish uprising of Liudevit around Sisak and Una in 819, while describing his actions against the Empire and specifically mentioning Serbs inhabiting most of Dalmatia, and other tribes like Timocani and Guduscani. Croats will assume the Franks are talking about them when they say Slavs in Pannonia, but the truth is, they are not mentioned by name in the area where they say was their heartland. Maybe the chronicler didn’t know. And maybe Porphyrogenitus three centuries after the supposed migration didn’t know much about it.) It’s worth mentioning that a lot of Byzantine source call the Serbs in late Middle Ages by the names of Dalmati, Illyri and Triballi.

Srbo said...

Second, DAI talks about Serbs asking Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius to give them a land to settle. Heraclius lets them settle in Macedonia, supposedly on its eastern outskirts, where today the town of Servia still lies. They weren’t happy when they got there (probably because the land was overpopulated by other Slavic tribes constantly fighting the Eastern Roman Empire), so they started back north. When passing Belgrade (Singidunum), they changed their mind and asked the imperial commander of the fort to ask Heraclius to give them another shot, at another place. He sent them to Dalmatia, where they disappear, and reappear two centuries later, as a military force resisting the Eastern Roman, the Bulgarian Empire, and the Frankish Empire. Mind you, at the time of Heraclius’ decision to settle them in Dalmatia, even if such a frivolous movement was physically possible, the Eastern Romans didn’t control Dalmatia beyond the thin strip of the Adriatic coast around some fortified cities. So, at the time Slavs are recorded as heavily present in the territory of former Illyria, Thrace, Macedonia, and as a hostile, aggressive and overwhelming in numbers, Heraclius awards land for settlement to yet another Slavic tribe and the land he doesn’t even own, at that. On the other hand, why would the Serbs ask the Emperor to settle lands they could settle without asking?
Your main problem, outside the political one, seems to be the possibility of a mass migration. Now, we must distinguish between the types of tribal migrations and the types of population that moves. There is a difference in how, and especially, why and how far, agricultural populations move, versus nomad herdsmen. The Autochthonists, while relying on the thorough analysis of the proposed migration under the 7th century circumstances that existed in the area, negate the possibility of the migration as described in DAI. They doubt a large group of people would be logistically able to move over such a large tract of land, with enough food supply, dragging along women, children, elderly and the necessary cattle. Walking for 20 days, 10 hours a day, is probably possible if someone’s chasing you, in which case you don’t move through the highly contested territory into another volatile region; in other words, you don’t move towards, but away from. But it’s not possible if you bring families, cattle, tools, supplies and if you rely on weather conditions to permit such a trip. This kind of a trip would have to start in the early spring, but there is a question of how much food you have left after the winter. This is only possible if you have a highly organized structure, a strong warrior caste to defend you along the way, a strong motive to move and a destination ready for you, but still not in such a short time. On the other hand, if you have all this, what would make you move?

Srbo said...

Such a migration is quite different from the Hunnic one you mentioned because Huns are unknown to history beyond the military victories and raids committed under their name. They left no topographic or cultural trace of any significance, yet they ruled the wide area from the Rheine to the Sarmatian steppes, for a short time. There is no evidence that they were anything but a nomad warrior elite that was able to gather or force a confederation of various tribes of Central and Eastern Europe into a state-like horde. Serbs, on the other hand, were supposedly able to assimilate, both linguistically and culturally, Illyrian and Thracian tribes who spent centuries in the fold of Greek and Roman cultural traditions, without relying on a strong state, literacy or other known method of assimilation. If they did it through the sheer strength of numbers, how many of them had to have come from the north to overwhelm the indigenous population? The projected 185,000 Serbs from Metohija that moved to Austria in 1690 did not assimilate anyone, but in turn largely got assimilated into Hungarians, even though they merely joined other Serbs already living in those parts. The Serb population of former southern Hungary was not merely a product of large-scale migrations from the south, but from centuries-long presence there and from continuous petering out of the Serb population across Sava and Danube under the Ottoman pressure. Sava and Danube might have been at times a political boundary between Serb and Hungarian states, but that doesn’t make them an ethnic boundary at any point. As for all other migrations you mentioned, they were clearly forced migrations of one part of the population into the safety of other lands populated by Serbs. Serbs from Krajina moved tens of kilometers into the safety of Republika Srpska, which made the rest of the journey, for those that continued, free of hostile environment.
If the Serbs, and Croats, who DAI also speaks of, didn’t assimilate the culturally superior peoples of Illyricum, what happened to them? Furthermore, what happened to all the peoples Greek and Roman sources mention living on the Lower Danube and beyond prior to the supposed invasion of Slavs? How did Scythes, Sarmatians, Getae, Roxolani, Bastarnae, Yazyges, Carpi, or Illyrians and Thracians all of a sudden stopped existing, and Slavs showed up from nowhere at the same time, unmentioned before the 6th century, and overwhelmed everyone from the Rheine to Peloponnesus? How many Slavs there could have been in the marshes of Belarus and Ukraine, living without cities or any other signs of a large concentration of people, to steamroll and assimilate peoples of the Greco-Roman civilization? On top of that, the Kievan Rus, the first major state that was built in the alleged Slavic ancestral homeland after the supposed migrations, was a populous and one of the more advanced states in Europe in the 10th and 11th centuries. Don’t tell me those Slavs obliterated half a Europe without even leaving their own land? Or there were so many of them? What were they, Chinese? By the way, an ancient source, Persian, I believe, speaks of the Thracians as the most numerous people in the world this side of the Hindus. And Slavs just came and pushed them into the sea. Yeah, right.

Srbo said...

I won’t go any further, but I can refer you to studies that do. To me, the above arguments are enough to seriously doubt DAI and look elsewhere for answers.
I am having a debate. I don’t claim I know the truth. You have your mind made up and locked on at least a couple of issues. You are the one claiming that one needs a political reason to seek the truth. I need to know from you if these studies shouldn’t continue because they are not politically expedient, i.e. Serbs don’t stand to gain from seeking the truth, or because they propose false theories?
(Americans are not descendants of the Cherokees; they mostly killed the Cherokees, which they don’t brag about, naturally. And where did you hear that the Hungarians descend from the Huns? Would that make the Huns an Ugro-Finnic people? I’m interested in your sources, especially in the ones connecting the Hungarian with the unknown Hunnish language.)
Perhaps there are more pressing things to do than study history, but there is none more pressing to students of history.

Richard Kulics said...

My comment is as follows: In 1990 I spent some time in Timisoara, in Romania. There I visited a gallery I remember as an ethnic museum of the Banat. One of the items on display was a clay canteen-like vessel dating from the 4th century. Clearly outlined on the vessel, in the clay, was a straight cross and what we now identify as the 4 "c's." I wondered, "How could this be? I thought we had not entered the Balkans until the 7th Century at the earliest. That image has stayed with me over the past 23 years as I have become more and more convinced that Serbs as a people entered the Balkans long before the official histories credited them. Richard Kulics

Srbo said...

Thanks for your comment, Richard.
Examples such as that one are numerous. They just do not enter the mainstream discourse.