Liutprand of Cremona

Here are some mentions of Slavs  (and we included mentions of Bulgarians and Macedonians since at this time they were mostly Slavicized) by Liutprand of Cremona (in a translation by Paolo Squatriti – there is also an older Scott version which we did not use; we have used one excerpt from Henderson’s even older translation).  Liutprand (circa 920 – 972) was a diplomat and bishop of Cremona.  He was likely of Lombard origin (he was probably named after the 8th century Lombard king Liutprand).  In 931 or so he entered the service of Hugh of Aries (who kept court at Pavia) (this is the “King Hugh”).  Later he worked for Berengar II who sent him to the court of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (both his father and stepfather had also been diplomats/ambassadors in Constantinople).  It is possible that Liutprand was the source of some of the information set out by Porphyrogennetos in his De Administrando Imperio.

Returning to Italy, he began to work for Berengar’s rival Otto I.  He became Bishop of Cremona in 962.  In 963 he was sent to Pope John XII at the beginning of the quarrel between the Pope and the Emperor Otto I over papal allegiance to Berengar’s son Adelbert. Liutprand attended the Roman conclave of bishops that deposed Pope John XII on November 6, 963 and wrote the only connected narrative of those events.

in 968 Liutprand was again sent to Constantinople, this time to the court of Nicephorus Phocas, to demand the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, daughter of the former emperor Romanus II, for the future Emperor Otto II.  The possible marriage was part of a wider negotiation between Otto I and Nicephorus.  Liutprand’s reception at Constantinople was humiliating and his embassy ultimately futile after the subject of Otto’s claim to the title of Roman Emperor caused friction.

His works include:

  • Retribution (Antapodosis),
  • King Otto (Historia Ottonis),
  • Embassy or Report of the Mission to Constantinople to Nicephorus Phocas (Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana ad Nicephorum Phocam),
  • Paschal Homily (Homilia paschalis)and
  • some minor works.

Liutprand’s works display a modern sense of humour (for example, in Retribution V (23) where he describes the scene of the deposed brothers Stephen and Constantine arriving at a monastery at Prote to be mockingly welcomed by their father Romanos, whom they had themselves earlier deposed and sent there – we do not present that here but suggest reading the whole thing).

Embassy (23) also contains an interesting reference to a ritual of the Slavs, seemingly of a religious nature.

Retribution I (5)

“In that same period, Leo  Porphyrogennetos, son of the emperor Basil, father of that Constantine who up until now happily lives and reigns, ruled the empire of the Constantinopolitan city.  The strong warrior Symeon* governed the Bulgarians, a Christian but deeply hostile towards his Greek neighbors.  The Hungarian people, whose savagery almost all nations have experienced, and who, with God showing mercy, terrified by the power of the most holy and unconquered king OTTO, now does not dare even to whisper, as we will relate at greater length, at that time was unknown to all of us.  For they were separated from us by certain very troublesome barriers, which the common people call ‘closures,’ so that they did not have the possibility of leaving for either the southern or the western regions.  At the same time, once Charles surnamed ‘the Bald’ had died, Arnulf, a very powerful king, ruled the Bavarians, Swabians, Teutonic Franks, Lotharingians, and brave Saxons; against him Sviatopolk, duke of the Moravians fought back in a manly way.  The commanders Berengar and Wido were in conflict over the Italian kingdom.  Formosus, the bishop of the city of Porto, was the head of the Roman see and universal pope.  But now we shall explain as briefly as we can what happened under each one of these rulers.”

* Simeon I of Bulgaria was tsar between 893 and 927.

Retribution I (8)

“The august emperor Basil [this is Basil I the Macedonian], his forefather,* was born into a humble family in Macedonia and went down to Constantinople under the yoke of τῆς πτοχεῖας – which is poverty – so as to serve a certain abbot.  Therefore, the emperor Michael who ruled at that time [Michael III], when he went to pray at that monastery where Basil served, saw him endowed with shapeliness that stood out from all others and quickly called the abbot so that he would give him that boy; taking him into the palcem he gave him the office of chamberlain.  And them after a little while he was given so much power that he was called ‘the other emperor’ by everyone.”


* The “his” refers to Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos.  Basil may have been a Slav.

Retribution I (11)

“But now it will not disturb this booklet to insert two things, worthy of memory and laughter, which the son of this Basil, the aforementioned august emperor Leo, did.  The Constantinopolitan city, which formerly was called Byzantium and now New Rome, is located amidst very savage nations.  Indeed it has to its north the Hungarians, the Pizaceni, the Khazars, the Rus, whom we call Normans but another name, and the Bulgarians, all very close by; to the east lies Baghdad; between the east and the south the inhabitants of Egypt and Babylonia; to the south there is Africa and that island called Crete, very close to and dangerous for Constantinople [because then it was held by the Saracens].  Other nations that are in the same region, that is, the Armenians, Persians, Chaldeans, and Avasgi, serve Constantinople.  The inhabitants of this city surpass all these people in wealth as they do also in wisdom…”

Retribution I (13)

“Meanwhile Arnulf, the strongest king of the nations living below the star Arcturis, could not overcome Sviatopolk, duke of the Moravians, whom we mentioned above, with the latter fighting back in a manly way; and – alas! – having dismantled those very well fortified barriers which we said earlier are called ‘closures’ the populace, Arnulf summoned to his aid the nation of the Hungarians, greedy, rash, ignorant of almighty God but well versed in every crime, avid only for murder and plunder; if indeed it can be called ‘aid’, since a little later, with him dying, it proved to be grave peril, and even the occasion of ruin, for his people alongside the other nations living in the south and west.”

“What happened?  Sviatopolk was conquered, subjugated, made tributary; but that was not all.  O blind lust of King Arnulf for power! O unhappy of all Europe! How much widowhood for women, childlessness for fathers, corruption of virgins, enslavement of priest and peoples of God , how much devastation of churches, desolation of rural districts does blind ambition bring!… [continues complaining]…But let us get back to the issue.  After having conquered Sviatopolk, duke of the Moravians, once he  obtained peace, Arnulf oversaw his realm; meanwhile the Hungarians, having observed the outcome and contemplated the region, spun evil schemes in their hearts, as becomes apparent when events unfolded.”

Retribution II (6)

“…After a few years had elapsed, since there was no one in the eastern or southern lands who could resist the Hungarians (for they had made the nations of the Bulgarians and the Greek tributary), lest there might be anything still unknown to them, they assailed the nations who are seen to live under the southern and western skies [climes].  Having gathered an immense, numberless army, they sought out Italy…”

Retribution II (28)

“The king aspired to say man y more things like this when a messenger announced that the sly Hungarians were in Merseburg, a castle set at the border of the Saxons, Thuringians, and Slavs. The messenger also added that they had taken captive no small number of children and women, and had made an immense massacre of men; and they had said that they would leave no one surviving older than the age of ten, since in this way they could create no small ferro among the Saxons.  Yet the king, as he was steady in spirit, was not frightened by such news, but increasingly exhorted his men, saying that they must fight for their fatherland and die nobly.”

Retribution II (3)

“With hardly amy delay battle began, and frequently there was heard the holy and plaintive cry “Κύριε, ελέησον” from the Christians’ side, and from their side the devilish and dirty ‘Hui, hui.'”

Retribution III (21)

“Once Hugh was ordained king, like a prudent man he began to send his messengers everywhere throughout all lands and to seek friendship of many kings and princes, especially the very famous King Henry, who, as we said above, ruled over the Bavarians, Swabians, Lotharingians, Franks, and Saxons.  This Henry also subjugated the countless Slavic people and made it tributary to himself; also, he was the first who subjugated the Danes and compelled them to serve him, and through this he made his name renewed among many nations.”

Retribution III (24)

“At last he [Liutprand’s father on a mission from King Hugh] was welcomed with great honors by the same emperor [Romanos]; nor was this so much because of the novelty of the thing or the grandiosity of the gifts as it was because, when my aforementioned father reached Thessalonica, certain Slavs, who were rebels against the emperor Romanos and were depopulating his land, fell upon him; but truly it happened by the mercy of God that two of their leaders were taken alive after many had been killed.  When he presented the prisoners to the emperor, the latter was filled with great glee and, my father, having received a great gift from him, returned happy to King Hugh, who had sent him there…”

Retribution III (27)

“Meanwhile what had been done by Romanos was announced to the domestic Phocas, who was at that time fighting the Bulgarians and who himself ardently desired to be made father of the emperor, and who was jus then obtaining a triumph over the enemy.  He immediately became dejected in spirit and afflicted by great anguish, and he cast down the sign of victory with which he was chasing his enemies, turned his back, and made his men take flight.  The Bulgarians then restored their spirits through Symeon‘s exhortation, and those who at first, with Mars contrary to them, had fled, now, with the war god turned favorable, did the chasing; and such a great massacre of Achaeans took place that the field was seen to be full of bones for a long time afterwards.”

Retribution III (28)

“With all possible haste the aforementioned Phocas, the domestic, returned to Constatntinople and wanted to enter the palace, and he strove to become ‘father of the emperor’ by force if not by craft.  But since, as Horace says, ‘force, deprived of wise counsel, collapses under its own weight,’ and ‘the gods advance a tempered force,’ he was captured by Romanos and deprived of both eyes.  No small force of Bulgarians arose, and doubly paid back the Greeks through a depopulating raid.”

Retribution III (29)

“And they used to say Symeon was half-Greek, on account of the fact that since his boyhood he had learned the rhetoric of Demosthenes and the logic of Aristotle in Byzantium.  Afterwards, however, having abandoned his studies of the arts, as they relate, he put on the habit of holy living.  Truly, deceived by his lust for power, a little later he passed from the placid quiet of the monastery to the tempest of this world, and preferred to follow Julian the Apostate rather than the most blessed Peter, the heavenly kingdom’s doorkeeper.  He has two sons, one named Baianus. and the other, who is still alive and powerfully leads the Bulgarians, by the name of Peter.  They report that Baianus learned magic, so that you could see him quickly transform himself from man to wolf or any other beast.”

Retribution III (32)

[this largely repeats the Macedonian origin story of Basil I from Retribution I (8)]

Retribution III (38)

“At that same time the Bulgarian Symeon began vigorously to afflict the Argives. Romanos having given the daughter of his son Christopher as a wife for Symeon’s son Peter, who is still alive, restrained him from the rampage he had launched, and allied him to himself with a treaty.  Whence the girl was called Irini, by a changed name, because through her a very solid peace was established between Bulgarians and Greeks.”

Romanos and Simeon

Retribution V (2)

“At that time, as you well know yourselves, the sun underwent a great eclipse, terrifying for all… at the third hour of the sixth day, the very same day when your King And ar-Rhaman was defeated in battle by Radamir,* the most Christian king of Galicia…”

* We have included Radamir of Galicia here by reason of his name.  Radomir would clearly have been Slavic.

Retribution V (15)

“A certain people is established within the northern region, which the Greeks call Ρουσιος from the nature of their bodies, and we instead call ‘Northemen’ from the location of their country.  Indeed, in the German language nord means ‘north’ and man means ‘people,’ whence we might call the Norsemen the ‘men of the north.’  The king of this nation was called Igor, who having collected a thousand and more ships, came to Constantinople.  When Emperor Romanos heard this, since he had sent his navy against the Saracens and to guard the islands, he began to bubble over with thoughts.  And when he had passed not a few sleepless nights in his thinking and Igor had brutalized everything close to the sea, it was announced to Romanos that there were 15 half-sunk warships, which the people had abandoned on account of their age.  When he heard this the emperor ordered τοῦς kαλαφατάς that is, the shipbuilders, to come to him, and to them he said: ‘Starting without delays, prepare the warships that are left; but place the contraption from which fire is shot not just on the bow, but also on the stern and in addition on both sides of each ship.’ Thus, once the ships were refurbished according to his directive, he stationed very clever men on them and ordered that they steer toward King Igor.  When at last they cast off, when King Igor saw them floating on the sea, he ordered that his army take the crews alive and not kill them.  At last the merciful and mercy-giving Lord, who wanted not just to protect those who worshiped him, adored him, and prayed to him, but also to honor them with a victory, suddenly turned the sea calm by stilling the winds – for it would have been a nuisance to the Greeks to have contrary winds, on account of having to shoot the fire.  Thus, placed in the midst of the Rus, they cast their fire all around.  As soon as the Rus observed this, they cast themselves quickly from their ships into the sea, and chose to be submerged by the waves rather than be burned by the fire.  Others, however, burdened by breastplates and helmets, sought out the bottom of the sea, never to be seen again while several, swimming between the waves of the sea, were burned, and on that day no one escaped who did not free himself by fleeing to the shore.  For the ships of the Rus pass even where the water is very shallow, on account of their smallness; this the warships of the Greeks cannot do because of their deep keels;  on account of this fact, Igor, freed with many of his men by flight to the shore, afterwards in the enormous confusion returned to his country.  Having obtained victory, the Greeks returned happy to Constantinople, leading off many live captives; Romanos ordered all the prisoners beheaded in the presence of the messenger of King Hugh, that is, of my stepfather.”

Retribution V (22)

“…Diavolinus replied to him [Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos]*: ‘It is not hidden from you that the Macedonians are as devoted to you as they are tough in combat; send for them and stuff your own rooms with them, leaving Stephen and Constantine ignorant of it.  And when the designated day for the dinner arrives and the moment comes for the ceremony of seating, at the giving of the signal, that is when the shield is struck as I said before, while their bands of armed men will not be able to protect them, let your men suddenly and quickly sally forth and capture the brothers as easily as unexpedcedly, and with their hair shaven as the custom is, pack the off to love wisdom at the nearby monastery, to which they sent their own father, meanings your father-in-law.   Indeed, the rectitude of divine justice, whose retribution did not scare them off from sinning against their father, and which prevented you from offending, will abet your endeavor.’  That this took place exactly in this manner by God’s judgment not just Europe, but nowadays both Africa and Asia declare, too.  Indeed, not he designated day, when the brothers Stephen and Constantine invited the other Constantine to dinner after counterfeigint peace, and when a tumult broke out over the ceremony of seating, and when the spied was struck as we said the Macedonians unexpectedly sallied forth and, as soon as they captured them, packed of the two brothers Stephen and Constantine with shaved heads to the nearby island to love wisdom, the same one to which they had sent their father.”

* Emperor Romanos remained in power until 944, when he was deposed by his sons, the co-emperors Stephen and Constantine. Romanos spent the last years of his life in exile on the Island of Prote as a monk and died on June 15, 948.  With the help of his wife, Constantine VII succeeded in removing his brothers-in-law.  It is not clear whether these Macedonians were Slavs, Greeks or someone else.

King Otto (6)

“To this the emperor replied:

‘…As to Bishop Leo and Cardinal Deacon John, who were unfaithful to the pope, whom he access us of welcoming, in this peril we neither saw nor welcomed them.  With the lord pope directing them to leave for Constantinople to cause us trouble, they were captured at Capua, accodunrg to what we heard.  With them, we heard, were captured also Saleccus, a Bulgarian by birth, by education a Hungarian, a very close associate of the lord pope, and Zacheus, an evil man, ignorant of divine and profane letters, who was recently consecrated bishop by the lord pope and sent to the Hungarians to preach that they should attack us.  WE would never have believed anyone who said the pope did these things, except that there were letters worthy of trust, sealed with lead and bearing his inscribed name on them.'”

Embassy (16)

“To them I said: ‘Even you are not unaware that my lord has mightier Slavic peoples under him that the king of the Bulgarians, Peter, who led off in marriage the daughter of the emperor Christopher!’ ‘But Christopher,’ they said, ‘was not born in the purple.'”

Embassy (19)

“…On that feast day I was quite sick, but nevertheless he [the emperor’s brother] ordered me and the messengers of the Bulgarians, who had arrived true day before, to meet him at the Church of the Holy Apostles.  When, after wordiness of the chants and of there celebration of the masses, we were invited to table, he placed the messenger of the Bulgarians, shorn in the Hungarian style, girt with a bronze chain, and – as my mind suggested to me- not yet baptized, at the furthest end of the table (which was long and narrow) but closer than me to himself, obviously as an insult to you, my august lords.  For you I underwent contempt, for you I was disdained, for you I was scorned; but I give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom you serve with your whole spirit, that I was considered worthy to suffer insults in your name.  Truly, my lords, I left that table considering the insult not to me, but to you.  As I sought to leave, indignant, Leo, the chief of staff and brother of the emperor, and the first secretary, Simon, followed behind me, howling: ‘When Peter the emperor of the Bulgarians led off Christopher’s daughter as spouse, symphonies, that is accords, were written and sealed with oaths, so that we would give precedence to, give honor and favor to the Bulgarians’ apostles, that is, the messengers, above the apostles of all the other nations.  That apostle of the Bulgarians, though he is, as you say (and it is true), shorn, unwashed, and girt with a bronze chain, nevertheless is a noble, and we judge it unpropitious to give precedence over him to a bishop, especially one of the Franks.  And since we perceive you bear this without dignity, we will not allow you to return to your hostel now as you think, but will force you to savor food with the slaves of the emperor in a certain cheap inn.'”

Embassy (20)

“To them I answered nothing because of a boundless pain within my heart; but I did what they had ordered, considering dishonorable a table where precedence is given to a Bulgarian messenger over not me, that is, Bishop Liudprand, but over one of your messengers.  But the holy emperor alleviated my pain with a great gift, sending me from his most refined foods a fat goat, one of which he himself had eaten, totally overloaded with garlic, onion, leeks, drowned in fish sauce, which I wish could appear on your own table, my lords, so that, whatever delectables you did not believe fitting for a holy emperor, at least, after having  seen these ones, you might believe it.”

Embassy (21)

“When eight days had passed, once the Bulgarians had gone, thinking I would esteem his table highly, he invited me, still quite sick, to eat with him in the same place.  The patriarch was there, along with many bishops…”

Embassy (23)

“He ordered me to rush to him in the palace in the afternoon of that same day, though I was weak and beside myself to the point that women I met in the street who earlier with wondering minds called out, ‘Mana! Mana!’ now, pitying my pitiful; condition, beating their breasts with their fists, would say, ‘Ταπεινέ και ταλαὶπωρε!’ May what I prayed for, with my hands outstretched to the heavens, both for Nicephoros as he approached, and for you, who were absent, come true!  Still I want you to believe me that he induced me to no small laughter, sitting as he was, quite tiny on a quite big, impatient, and unbridled horse.  My mind pictured to itself that kind of doll your Slavs tie onto the young horse they send out unbridled to follow the lead of its mother.”

Puppam ipsum mens sibi depinxit mea, quam Sclavi* vestri equino colligantes pullo, matrem praecedentem sequi effrenate dimittunt

* Schlavi being the Latin-Italian hybrid version.  Note that the Henderson translation has this as: ‘My mind pictured to itself one of those dolls which your Slavonians tie on to a foal, allowing it then to follow its mother without a rein.’  No actual manuscript of this exists (last editors that  saw one were Baroni & Canisius whose edition came out in 1600)

Embassy (29)

“But let us return to the matter at hand.  At this dinner he ordered to be read aloud the homily of the blessed John Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles, something he had not done before/  After the end of this reading, when I asked for license to return to you, nodding with his head that it would be done, he ordered me to be taken back by my persecutor to my fellow citizens and roommates, the lions.  When this was done, I was not again received by him until the thirteenth day before the calends of August, but iI was carefully guarded lest I might benefit from the speech of anyone who could tell me of his deeds.  Meanwhile he ordered Grimizo, Adalbert’s messenger, to come to him, whom he ordered to return with his naval expedition.  There were twenty-dour warships, tow ships of the Rus,* two Gallic shops; I do not know if he sent more that I did not see.  The strength of your soldiers, my lords, august emperors, does not need to be encouraged by the impotence of enemies, which it has often proved against those peoples, even the least of which [peoples], and the ones weakest by comparison with the others, cast the Greek power down and made it tributary: for just as I would not frighten you if I spoke of the Greeks as very strong people, similar to Alexander of Macedon, so I will not egg you on if I tell of their impotence, which is very real.  I want you to believe me – and I know you will believe me – that forty of your men could kill off all that army of theirs, if a moat and walls did not prevent it…”

* Possibly of the Varangian guard.

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December 23, 2016

3 thoughts on “Liutprand of Cremona

  1. Maciek P.

    “Κύριε, ελέησον” from the Christians’ side, and from their side the devilish and dirty ‘Hui, hui.’”
    One of the oldest testimonies of our language! Thanks!.

  2. Maciej P.

    You know torino, I am not so sure of Hungarian origin of this word (ours exists well till today 🙂 ) . From the moment when I read Helmold’s Chronica Slavorum (wrote 1163-1172!)where Hungary was described as Slavic land with one common language. I am inclined to conclude that the Magyar language began to dominate in Hungary after the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century.


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