Serbs in the works of constantine porphyrogenitus and king alfred the great



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SERBS IN THE WORKS OF CONSTANTINE PORPHYROGENITUS

AND KING ALFRED THE GREAT
The autor of this paper, R. Novaković, begins it with an analysis of information about Serbs and Croats, contained in chapters 32, 31 and 30 of Constantine Porphy-rogenitus's De administrando imperio. He says that all relevant geographical data there definitely point to Serbs settled in the Polabi (Elbe) Plain, and goes on to explain which of the items quoted may be taken to represent data originally supplied by Serbian sources:in his opinion such are first of all the mention of Bojka and of Franks and Croats as neighbours of Serbs. Another piece of information — that before moving to the Ba'kans Serbs had been living in the Polabi Plain „from times immemorial", or, as translated by Banduri, „since the beginning" — is also considered by Novaković as data obtained from Serbs. He observes that Byzantine chroniclers described the pre-Balkan abode of the Serbs in the light of territorial and political conditions existing in Europe in their time, and dwells especially on the phrase „since the beginning"; be insists that this piece of informa­tion, though not very definite, is extremely important. He is convinced, actually, that Serbs were unable to make it clear to enquiring Byzantines just how long they had been living in their pre-Balkan abode: presumably, the traditional belief among them was that they had lived there since the beginning, i.e. since the formation of their tribe. Dn view of this Novaković — long since a supporter of the theory that Serbs had lived in the Polabi Plain much before the Vlth and the Vth century — directed his efforts towards finding another source which would indicate or even barely suggest that Serbs had been settled in the Polabi Plain far earlier than it is believed by some researchers of our time. The main source chosen by him for consideration in this paper is Tfce Description of Germany by the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great.

Before he undertakes an analysis of information contained in The Description of Germany with special reference to data concerning Serbs, designated there as „Surpes" and „Surfes", Novaković explains the method of description of the different peoples inhabiting Europe used in that work. In his opinion this method is rather reliable and fairly easy to understand. A certain degree of vagueness is due, he thinks, not to the method of description, but to the fact that the work contains information originating from different sources and different periods of time somewhat confusingly mixed together. This makes Novaković think that some researchers are not right when they appraise information in both chapters in which Serbs are mentioned, as originating from the same period of time and describing the same state o faffairs. On his part, Novaković finds a difference between statements in these two chapters: he considers that information in the section mentioning Osts, Burgundians and Surfes came from a more ancient source and the situation described at a certain place in this section could in no case have existed in King Alfred's time. He takes the description of the location of Osts, Burgundians and their neighbours as an example proving the validity of his assertion. Here Novaković does not agree with researchers who maintain that the mention of Burgundians refers only to their location on the Bornho'-m Island: but he considers, namely, that in addition to Boraholm, Burgundian locations along the lower course of the Oder River should also be taken into account. According to him it is hard to believe that an isolated far-away island could be taken as an important orientation point in the description of rather distant peoples on the continent. Novaković also points out that in the IXth century no one could have called Surfes southern neighbours of Burgundians: in his opinion this item of information probably refers to the time before the IHrd century when the Burgundians had still been dwelling along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea; he feels sure that this is a reliable proof in support of the assertion that Serbs had been living in the Polabi Plain long before the Vlth and the Vth century.

Novaković equally rejects the theory that Osts and Ests are one and the same people that should be sought somewhere to the East of the Vistula River. He is satisfied that The Description of Germany would not mention any people from that part of Europe as orientation for the description of the geographical location of other peoples. He believes that Osts had lived in the region to the south of Riigen and that their name does not apply to any single ethnic group but refers generally to Slav inhabitants of a certain part of the Baltic coast and may mean just „seaside dwellers", possibly „Pomeranians". Novaković's analysis of this section of The Description of Germany leads bo the idea of a possible existence of „migrant" and „noa-migrant" peoples; he believes that Slavs represented the „non-migrant" base in their pre-Balkan abode, while other peoples, incidentally Burgundians, were temporary „migrant" dwellers there. He also thinks that the very name „Osts" was used to describe more than one people.

On the basis of these considerations Novaković assumes that information in The Description of Germany gives rise to the conclusion that Serbs had been living in the Polabi Plain since before the Burgundians started their migration westward. Still, he is continuing his search for further sources that could provide additional support for his thesis. In this paper he notes briefly certain items encountered by him in the works of Simocattes Theophylact, Procopius, Jordan, Prisk, and Pseudo Caesarius, stating that some of them confirm rather clearly Constantine Porphyrogenitus's description of Slavs (Serbsl who had inhabited the Polabi Plain since very early times.


R. Novaković


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