The most widely cited source on the arrival of the Croats (on the historical scene, that is)* is De Administrando Imperio (Of the Administration of an Empire) written, supposedly, by well-intentioned but tragic Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII (Porphyrogenitus or purple-born) sometime between 948 and 952. The book survives in four manuscripts, seven printed editions in Greek, Latin, Russian, Croat and an edition in English from 1949 (no doubt there are German editions too) which also contains an extensive description of the interrelation among all of these.
In any event, the story of the Croats is told in chapters 29 and 30 and, to some extent, in 31. Although told in three different chapters, the story is roughly the same. We learn the following. Croats originally lived in White Croatia (by white the writer seems to indicate “unbaptized”) “beyond Turkey [and beyond Bavaria] and next to Francia”. Some Croats stayed and remain thralls to King Otto (presumably before he chose to call himself Emperor or perhaps the Byzantine author did not care). The name “Croats” means in the Slav language “those who occupy much territory.” Their Slav neighbors in the old country were “White Serbs” (i.e., Sorbs, the Serbs who stayed North). This roughly corresponds to some area above the Carpathians – probably around Cracow.
We also learn that from these White Croats there split five brothers and two sisters. The brothers’ names were Kloukas, Lobelos, Kosentzis, Mouchlo and Chrobatos. The sisters names were less imaginative: Touga and Bouga. They came down to Croatia and defeated the Avars who had earlier taken over the country from the Romani (i.e., the Byzantines). At first they continued to be subject to the Franks but then due to shabby treatment revolted and fought the Franks and won (under a leader (not certain whether this was Franks’ leader or Croats’) named Kotzilis. Then the Croats asked to be baptized by the Pope and so became Catholic. At some point they also asked for the “protection” of the Emperor Heraclius. Not sure whether this was immediately upon their arrival or at some later point.
There is also a story of how the Avars (in Chapter 30) or Avars but maybe Slavs (in Chapter 29) took the city of Salona. Essentially, from that city the Byzantines would go out raiding the country. When the Avars or Slavs came back from an expedition they noticed their villages plundered and waited to see who dun it. It turned out to be Byzantines who showed up for more spoils. Long story short, the Avars (or Slavs) took the Byzantine garb and rode back to Salusa taking it by surprise.
A number of things are, therefore, interesting about all of this:
First, this last story is roughly the same as the story of Lestek/Lech (the First) from the Chronicle of Kadlubek (and later Polish chronicles). It is, of course, possible that Kadlubek read De Administrando Imperio (not clear if he could read Greek but translators did exist). But, if not, then we have a quandary of how this legend came North. Is the story of Lech a younger one and perhaps some group of Croats returned back North bringing with it this story?
Second, the Croats come to Croatia from the North and are, therefore, not technically “southern” Slavs (ditto for the Serbs). But this is exactly the opposite the route chartered for the Slavs by Nestor (Slavs came North from Pannonia) and, much later, the Polish chronicles (e.g., Dlugosz having the Slavs come from Pannonia). We note however that there was a “White Serbia” and “White Croatia” in the North – so that the Croats could have come from there and stopped by Bohemia – dropped off Czech – and headed further down to present day Croatia/Serbia? (did they encounter any “original” Wends either in the North or in the Balkans/Alps?) While inconsistent with Nestor’s telling, this may not matter. We note that Nestor strove to derive Slavs (and indeed so have the various other later authors who spoke of Slavs as coming from the South) from the biblical Japhet – so in his telling Slavs must have come from the South (and indeed all Europeans) unless Noah were to have been placed in Europe – thus Nestor’s travel direction is one of necessity.
Third, Constantine has trouble separating Avars from Slavs (and elsewhere he calls Attila king of the Avars). Ok, this is less interesting.
Fourth, the Croat princes’ names do not look very Slavic or at least some of them do not.
Fifth, Chrobatos, the quintessential Croat’s name looks like Chrobry (i.e., Boleslaw Chrobry). Well, maybe.
Sixth, the story of brothers we also know from Nestor’s Chronicle where both Sczech (Czech?) and Chorbat are present as founders of Kiyev. See above for this point – are the three founders of Kiev the original founders of the “Rus”, Bohemia and Croatia?
Seventh, it is entirely unclear what happened to the White Croats – unlike the Sorbs no remaining population survived under that name though some Croats are later mentioned by Nestor somewhere around the Carpathians (as an interesting aside, the Avarii are mentioned by Ptolemy as living near the Carpathian mountains). So were these Serbs/Sorbs and Croats just passing through the Northern “Wendish” lands on their way to eastern Germany, Bohemia and Croatia? Are the northern Slavs (Wends) related to these? For example, how related were the Obotrites and Veleti (“many people” so “Vidovari”?) with the Sorbs of southern east Germany?
* Same for the Serbs (see chapter 32) but we will not consider them in this post.
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