THE BALKANS AND THE DANUBE LIMES
DURING THE SIXTH AND SEVENTH
No discussion of the early Slavs can avoid the very controversial issue of their role in the transformation of the Roman world that led to the “fall of the old order” and the rise of the new Empire, which historians call Byzantium.1 The withdrawal of the Roman administration and armies from the Balkans in the early seventh century is viewed by many as a result of the Slavic Landnahme. More often than not, accounts of the early Slavic history focus on the destruction brought by the invading hordes to the flourishing cities of the Balkans. The classical urban culture was unable to survive the strain of the barbarian invasions. As with the Germans in the West, the Slavic “obscure progression” led to the slow dissolution of the Roman frontier and the Empire finally succumbed to the growth of forces beyond its control.
The existing evidence, written or archaeological, does not confirm this over-simplified picture. Long before the first Slavic raid attested by historical sources, the urban landscape in the Balkans began to change. It is clear, however, that some change was also taking place in the Balkans at the time of Slavic and Avar raids. The remaining question is whether or not the Slavs can be made responsible. Emphasizing almost exclusively the Roman side of the story, historians also neglected the equally important question of the Roman influence on the “invading”barbarians. The archaeological evidence of late fourth- and early fifth-century barbarian graves between the Rhine and the Loire suggests that a process of smallscale cultural and demographic change took place on both sides of the Roman frontier.2 Can we envisage Roman—Slavic relations in a similar way? This chapter will focus on issues of urban change, with the purpose of showing that the Roman world, as Slavic warriors saw it in the 500s, was very different from the classical civilization many historians have in mind when describing their inroads. Using primarily archaeological evi-____________________