The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, c. 500-700

By Florin Curta | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
SOURCES FOR THE HISTORY OF THE EARLY
SLAVS (c. 500–700)

Much of what we know about sixth- and seventh-century Slavs comes from works of contemporary authors writing in Greek and, to a lesser extent, in Latin or Syriac. The majority did not pay special attention to the Slavs, but simply mentioned them and a few other things about them in connection to events relevant to the history of the Empire. Some were accounts of eyewitnesses, but most were written long after the event or at a considerable distance. Their coverage is patchy, and the basic narrative has to be reconstructed from a wide variety of standpoints and perspectives. This chapter will examine some of the issues concerning authorship, trustworthiness, and dating, which might be relevant for the image of the Slavs resulting from early medieval sources. The following chapter will take into consideration the image which is often derived from these accounts.


PROCOPIUS AND JORDANES

Procopius was often viewed as the voice of the senatorial opposition to Justinian's regime. He is believed to have addressed an audience still fond of Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides. His description of the Slavic god as the “maker of lightning” (τὸν τ[w1]ο ἀστραπτ[w1]ςδημιουργόν) is indeed reminiscent of Sophocles. The episode of the “phoney Chilbudius” betrays the influence of the neo-Attic comedy and, possibly, of Plautus. There is also a weak echo of Thucydides where Procopius claims that he had written about buildings which he had seen himself, or heard described by others who had seen them.1

____________________
1
Procopius, Wars VII 14.23 and VII 14.11–16; Buildings VI 7.18. See Sophocles, Aias 1035: ἐχάλκευσε ξίϕος … Αἴδης δημιουργὸς ἄγριος. See also Ivanov, Gindin, and Cymburskii 1991:221 and 231–2. Procopius, the senatorial opposition, and classical models: Irmscher 1969:470; Benedicty 1965:52–3; Irmscher 1971:340. See also Cesa 1982:203. For Procopius' concept of God and gods, see Veh 1951:21 and 23; Elferink 1967.

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