Romania in the Early Middle Ages

The Early Middle Ages in Romania (also known the "Dark Ages") lasted from about the 5th century to the 10th century, between the Hunnic invasion, to the last phase of the Age of Migrations.


The north of the Balkan Peninsula became a conduit for invading tribes who, targeting richer lands further west and south, plundered the land in their passing, and prevented the appearance of any organized polities of the natives. Urban centers were abandoned, highwaymen menaced travelers along the crumbling Roman roads, and rural life decayed. From this time, the area experienced a state of cultural regression with the population becoming strongly rural, concentrating on agriculture and animal husbandry. The circumstances created by the continuous invasions, caused an "ebb and tide" movement phenomenon of the natives, [Matyla Ghyka: "A documented chronology of Roumanian history"] as they found shelter in the high grounds and the thick forests covering (circa 80% of) the territory when attacked, and swell back after the danger past. Although this course was difficult, it had thus provided the opportunity to preserve the unity of the language, the ethnic identity and habits.

Part of the territory of what is today Romania was part of Attila's Empire of 450. After the disintegration of Attila's Empire, different parts of modern Romania were under successive control of the Gepids, Avars, Bulgars and Pechenegs. Most of these invaders did not permanently occupy the territory, as their organization was of typical nomadic ephemeral confederacies.

The Byzantine Empire held the territory of today's Dobrogea from time to time (such as during Justinian's reign in the 6th century, when it also held parts of the Banat) or again under the emperors of the Macedonian dynasty 9th-10th centuries), being part of the Byzantine Paristrion thema (province) between 971 and 1204, although it was a border that was hard to maintain due to the constant invasions from the north.

Small Slavic groups began settling in the fifth century, and by the seventh century the Slavs had overcome Byzantine resistance and settled most of the Balkans. In the 6th century, the Avars came to dominate most of Pannonia, Transylvania and northern Romania. The Avars, and their allies and subjects- primarily Slavs and Kitrigurs- overwhelmed whatever Byzantine control remained, conquering the entire Balkans save coastal strips of territory and major, fortified cities along the Aegean coast. Nonetheless, according to theory, in the isolated and ignored lands north of the Danube, the Slavs were gradually absorbed and Romanized, and the Latin character of the language was preserved. The influence of the Slavs was greater on the right bank of the Danube where, attracted by the rich urban areas to the south, they overwhelmed the native population by weight of numbers in Dalmatia, Macedonia, Thrace, Moesia and Greece, and as the Slavs possessed a more stable culture than that of the nomadic equestrians, they retained their own language, and substantially slavicized the existing Byzantine social system, turning those provinces into so called "“Sklavinias”".

Bulgar, Khazar or Avar) with prisoner.Detailed reconstruction by Norman Finkelshteyn based on an 8th century ewer found in Romania.] In the seventh century, the northern littoral of the Black Sea was hit with a fresh wave of nomadic attacks: the immigration of the first Bulgars overlapped that of the Slavs. Of probably Turkic stock, the Bulgars had a strong political organization. In 630 a confederation of Bulgar tribes already was formed in today’s southeastern Romania and northeastern Bulgaria (corresponding to modern Dobrogea region); in the next years the Bulgars opposed Byzantine control, and in 681 Khan Asparukh had managed to make acknowledged the first Bulgar state. By the late 9th and the beginning of the 10th century, most of the former Dacia was absorbed into the First Bulgarian Empire, which now extended and engulfed (modern) northern Greece (Epirus and Thessaly) in the south, Albania and Bosnia in the west, and Romania and eastern Hungary to the north.

The impact of this period of migrations and attacks, and especially the sequential establishment of the powerful Bulgarian Empire, was particularly great, having created the historical circumstances which caused the detachment of parts of the Vlach population, from the main body of the Danubian Latinity, which once formed a continuum, consensually set north of the Jireček Line. This process, probably started as early as the Avar-Slavic invasions, had split the population into two sections: one found shelter northwards, while the other moved southwards to the valleys of the Pindus and of the Balkan Mountains: specifically the Aromanians, believed to have been separated sometimes in between the 7th and 9th century, and the Megleno-Romanians, believed to have split sometimes in the 10th century, when the Pecheneg invasions occurred. Although scattered throughout the Peninsula and reduced to more modest, rural lifestyles, these populations preserved their ethnic identity and habits and continued to speak the same language.

Meanwhile, the Bulgars converted to Christianity in 864, and in the 10th century, in an effort to break away from Byzantine influence, Boris I of Bulgaria replaced the Greek language with Church Slavonic in administration, literature and liturgy, and the Greek Alphabet with the Cyrillic alphabet. Slavonic literature became the third major literature in the Christian world, while Slavonic liturgy spread throughout most of Eastern Europe. By the 10th century, the Wallachs (exonym of the Romanians) both north and south of the Danube, after having long remained faithful to the Greek ritual, had adopted the Slavonic liturgy. [The second Charter of Basil II to Samuil of Bulgaria states: "We decree that the holiest Archbishop of Bulgaria shall possess not only the bishoprics mentioned by names but if there are some others situated in Bulgarian lands and forgotten to be mentioned, we decree that he shall possess and govern them as well. Whatever other towns missed to be mentioned in the charters of our Majesty, shall be possessed by the same holiest Archbishop and he shall collect canonicon from them all as well as from the Wallachians throughout Bulgaria and from the Turks around the Vardar in so far as they are within the Bulgarian boundaries."] The Slavonic rite would be maintained until the seventeenth century, when Romanian became the liturgical language.

The control would last between 802 and 1018, when after reaching its peak under Tsar Simeon I, the empire started to decline in the middle of the tenth century. In 1014 the Byzantines under Basil II inflicted a major military loss. By 1018 all of Bulgaria vanished.

In 1054, ongoing dissension between the Orthodox Church of Byzantium, led by the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Roman Catholic Church, led by the Pope, came to a head in mutual excommunications by the two leaders. The Great Schism marks one of the most significant breaks between Eastern and Western Christianity. The use of the Old Church Slavonic as the Liturgical language and the schism were to have consequences that marked the history of the Romanian people in the centuries to come.

The Dark Ages would end around the 11th century, when the last phase of the age of migration took place, with the invasions of the Magyars and Petchenegs. Pushed by the more powerful Petchenegs, the Magyar tribes led by Árpád, migrated into Europe (896) and occupied Pannonia, which they used as expedition base into Western Europe. Stopped in their progress towards the west by Emperor Otto I at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955, the Magyars settled down and turned to the south-east and east.

Further reading

* Eugen S. Teodor: [ “Cronologia atacurilor transdanubiene. Analiza componentelor etnice şi geografice”] (The timeline of the raids across Danube; Ethnical and geographical facts)
* [ A Byzantine campaign in the Balkans (594)] - "”The History of Theophylact Simocatta”", translated by Michael Whitby and Mary Whitby, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986. This episode provides a vivid description of the general relations between the Byzantine Empire, the Romanized natives and the barbarians from the sixth century Dobrogea.
* Stelian Brezeanu: [ Toponymy and ethnic Realities at the Lower Danube in the 10th Century. “The deserted Cities" in Constantine Porphyrogenitus' "De administrando imperio"]

External links

* [ Original Text Documents and Monument Information] on Romanian Medieval Ages at the Romanian Group for an Alternative History Website. (Mostly in Romanian.)

ee also

*Early Middle Ages
*Dark Ages
*Late Antiquity
*Early Medieval literature
*1st millennium

< Roman Dacia | History of Romania | The Middle Ages >



* Pop, Ioan Aurel, "Istoria Transilvaniei medievale: de la etnogeneza românilor până la Mihai Viteazul" ("History of medieval Transylvania, from the ethno-genesis of the Romanians until Mihai Viteazul"), Cluj-Napoca.
* Christ Atanasoff: “The Bulgarians”, Hicksville, New York, 1977.
* Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann: “The Anchor Atlas of World History”, 1, Garden City, New York, 1974.

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