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Thread: [HISTORICAL ISSUE] - South Slavs and Avars…

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    Son of Fire's Avatar Tiro
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    Icon5 [HISTORICAL ISSUE] - South Slavs and Avars…

    A question has been nagging in my mind today after getting some information pertaining to the South Slavs… that being, that the South Slavs, Serbian, Croatian, and other tribes fought and crushed the Avars to fully settle in the Dalmatian region.

    Now, from what I have seen in literature and such has stated that the Slavs generally didn’t have much in the way of cavalry, armour, or even weapons… not to say they were destitute, but they just didn’t have access to the kind of military kit that other cultures did (mainly shields, spears, javelins and axes, not quite comparable to the available kit of other cultures).
    While the Avars were a fairly effective militaristic steppe culture, with ample horses, swords, bows, lances, and armour… who has been fairly effective military force in the region for some time.

    It seems to me a bit perplexing then how the Slavs managed to break them in Dalmatia.
    I mean… how did they manage it?
    With the preconceptions that I have and that I just mentioned, it doesn’t make sense.
    The only things I can think of are…

    Overwhelmingly outnumbered… but that seems a bit dubious.
    A very large Byzantine military contribution… possible.
    Or, that perhaps the South Slavs were not as limited in their military kit, and tactics as we once though… perhaps possible.

    Thoughts?
    Last edited by SpyrosM91; January 03, 2012 at 10:55 AM. Reason: [HISTORICAL ISSUE] - Missed part in my cut and paste

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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    The Altaic peoples like Avars aren't the ones who had a society with aristocratic horsemen. The Slavics had meet the steppic Iranians before the coming of the Avars. I think.The most common weapons for the slavics was the javelins(hunting tradition) and the axes(lumberjack tradition), while the Migrations periods.
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    Son of Fire's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    Are you referring to the Sarmatian theory?

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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    it does sound like the Samartian theory.
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    Son of Fire's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    Well, to my knowledge, the Sarmatian theory is just that at this point... I don't know if it can be decisively states that Serbs and Croatians had a Sarmatian Iranianic ruling elite...
    Don't get me wrong, that would be kind of neat, (and it would give a lot of answers to certain questions and shed some light and grant weight to others)... but I don't know if that is generally accepted among scholars or not...

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    Aru's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    1. Slavs weren't pathetic peasants with bats. Torturing Byzantines for centuries should be proof enough. They also weren't heavy armored, I'd put that more to cultural preference then to lack of materials. We are talking about Slavs who have warred with Byzantines, Franks, and Germanics for at least two centuries by now, and who lived in mineral rich mountaineous regions. If we forget that they could gain heavy equipment simply by looting, and take only the technological advancement (and only if we guess that before settling in Balkan they were unable of more advanced metalworking) in consideration, by the time Avars were defeated Slavs should have had at least hypotetical availability of producing armor and swords at the level of cultures who finished migration sooner. If you look more to the future, light, slightly armored infantry remained main type of warrior way into middle ages (except nobility).
    2. Avars were outnumbered. No doubt about that. Most of their armies were Slavs anyway.
    3. If Avars were a steppe cavalry culture, and they were, then they are at disadvantage in Balkans. From Slavonian marshes and forests to Dinaric mountains light footman with ambushing tactics was always the way to go.
    4. Avars had enough troubles elsewhere and were probably overstreched, specially if there were Slavic rebellions and raids from all sides plus Frankish/Byzantine help.
    5. As vassal/allied Slavs were good part of Avar military force, who said that croats and serbs didn't actually defeat just some other Slavs who acted by order of Avars?

    If the story of Croats and Serbs arriving later then other Slavs and defeating Avars is true, then all above should be combined. Croats and Serbs should have arrived already more advanced then earlier Slavs into mountainous and forested lands in which there were very little Avars actually settled. Avar Settlement south of Drava river was sparse and mainly in eastern Slavonia, where they lived right next to Slavs (but not mixed, each in their own settlements as per archeological findings). As per many historical sources and archeology, Croats mostly settled around Velebit mountain and inner Dalmatia (not Roman province, but modern) and Serbs in Southwestern Serbia and Eastern Bosnia, just above modern Montenegro. That is very rough terrain, very unsuited for cavalry, and quite the distance from Avar heartlands. National mythology aside, Early Croatian and Serbian states were surrounded by many similar Slavic dukedoms on which they made influence over centuries, and assimilated.

    Now we imagine scenario where a non cooperative tribe settles on fringes of Avar territory (the lands of Slavs who are either in loose alliance with Avars, or pay them tribute). Avars send an army south, or even some of their clients, to attack the newcomers, Croats/Serbs gather surrounding tribes and dukedoms on their side and ambush Avar army in the mountains. Avar army is defeated, and Avars decide it's simply not worth it to send bigger army, specially if Byzantines are supporting the new arrivals, and other threats are on other borders. They think it's only few tribes in distant lands, who cares. In reality it is far from impossible for Slavs to defeat Avars, and Avars could perhaps even not care less for the areas that were lost, which they didn't even really rule, except by influence.

    On the other hand maybe it was exactly as myths said and it was a great war with glorious battles where proud Slavs defeated Asiatic oppressors and earned themselves a God given homelands.
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    pretty well thought
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    @ Aru…

    See, that was kind of what I was getting at… your first point that is…
    Being, which perhaps Slavs were not as poorly equipped as they have usually been portrayed…

    I am still not sure how outnumbered the Avars were though, seeing that they had their own armies and subjects as well as their native ruling element… I mean, I could see them perhaps slightly outnumbered, but not with huge crushing numbers…
    But then again, if the South Slavs perhaps managed to gain sway over the Avar allies Slavs, which would certainly help in their favour…

    For sure traditional steppe tactics wouldn’t win every battle due to terrain, but we have seen steppe cultures still be every effective in hill and or mountainous terrain before…
    And they had been in the region long enough, and I believe they had battles in similar terrain before…
    Either way, even if they weren’t using feigned retreats, Cantabrian circles and other typical steppe tactics, static mounted shooting most certainly would still work, as would typical lancers and such… as would ample amounts of cavalry supported by infantry… as combined arms tactics usually help a good deal…
    After all… light mobile infantry is all well and good… but if the whole army was like that, I would tend to think that would put them at a bit of disadvantage…

    Too sum it up, I guess the typical portrayals of Slavs as somewhat primitive just didn’t fit with their level of success I suppose… or at least in my view… but I could be wrong… hence bring here to get other viewpoints…

    *Oh, and does anyone know what the little ring uver my avatar means?*
    Last edited by Son of Fire; March 15, 2010 at 01:41 PM. Reason: I forgot...

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    Aru's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    No, they were pretty lightly equipped. At least all sources say that. They did know how to build siege devices though (attacking Thessaloniki).

    This is terrain I'm talking about. Imagine a horse struggling to walk on those rocks, and then hundreds of people spring out of bushes and trees or even rocks and start throwing spears at you. That is how wars were waged here.

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    Or in dense ancient pine forests on hills.

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    In any case, it all comes down to single event or series of events the result of which could have be decided by many factors, and we have no source on anything. But if we forget the terrain and Croats and Serbs, generally I believe that it's entirely possible for lightly armed and armored infantry to defeat cavalry. It takes good leader, seasoned men and a bit of planning. You surely don't want to find yourself standing in front of cavalry archers on open grass field. And whoever survived that situation once, or knows how it would end, would find another way to fight them.

    Finally, I don't believe in great arrival of Croats and Serbs. Mixed 4 centuries old legends. They came with the rest of the Slavs, were among dozens other tribes, but gradually over centuries conquered, assimilated most of Slavs and pre-Slavs around them, and still exist to speak of it. But they must have fought the Avars at one time or the other. Everyone fought everyone. And in every legend there is some truth, so in this one also. Won't know how much until someone invents the time machine, but it wouldn't matter then because he'll screw up history. That Idiot, I'll have to relearn everything again.

    P.S. That circle means you have received reputation points. that means someone likes what you posted. That's the green + all the way down below avatar, next to report button. Though I don't know if you can see it, you may not have enough posts to give reputation.
    Last edited by Aru; March 15, 2010 at 08:22 PM.
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    Son of Fire's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    @ Aru…

    Pictures… awesome… it always helps…

    Oh for sure… fighting on that ground would be a pain in the ass for sure… no doubt.
    What I was going for though was just due to the fact that cavalry isn’t always used two ways… being the charge, and mobile horse archer…
    Static shooting would be much safer, and still somewhat plausible… and mounted soldier in general usually (but not always) have an advantage… the horse itself being a weapon… Not saying that, that is what happened, but just to point out that a horse may not have been useless on tough ground... limited for sure, but useless? Meh... I dunno, I am just putting it out there... Also... not all of the region is like that though... some areas are less harsh are they not? It has been a long time since I have been there...

    But of course a well picked placement of a battle or ambush could definitely swing things to a more advantageous position… if I recall correctly, didn’t the South Slavs at one point destroy a Byzantine army?

    My standpoint was from the traditional view of South Slavs being somewhat primitive, and ill equipped, or at least that is the impression I get from most presentations of them.
    And that if that was the case, then the destruction of the Avars, and the siege on Thessaloniki for that matter didn’t really seem to jive…
    So I thought that perhaps they weren’t as primitive or as ill equipped previously presented… But not like they were trucking around in full mail or anything to that extent.
    But it I think we be on the same page in that respect…

    As for how the South Slav came to be in their recognisable forms or names, well that I wasn’t really addressing… as we are still a bit unsure about their genesis… if I am correct.

    *And thanks for shedding light on the rings… it is nice to know that at least I don’t sound too ridiculous…

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    slavic_crusader's Avatar Biarchus
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    the slavs invaded Constantinople twice, the Rus and the Bulgarians (dont know whether or not if it were the turkic or slavic or maybe both!)
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    The Southern Slavs are definitely not primitive barbarians, although I agree that's a rather popular image in the medias. However, they're not too highly civilized either, as we can see from the archaeological remains of how (and where) they lived. But in a military aspect, they were a force to be reckoned with and the Strategikon of Pseudo-Maurice, as well as the numerous sieges of Thessaloniki show it rather well. Actually, the Tactica has a whole chapter about them, pretty interesting stuff. I can find a Bulgarian-Greek version of it online, if you haven't read it.

    Edit: Btw, while historical movies are usually not a very good historical source, this style of Slavic warfare is taken straight from the Strategikon.
    Edit2: Well, here are the pages concerning the Slavs anyway (chapter 9, end of page 277-beginning of page 278, chapter 12, pages 281-289). If I have some time later on, I might try to translate them, might be useful for future use as well.
    Last edited by NikeBG; March 16, 2010 at 11:30 AM.

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    Son of Fire's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    I would be cool to read... if I could read Bulgarian or Greek...
    But thanks anyways...

    *Though I do love European movies... since the love to make historical epics... and I can never find them over here... pity me...

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    Aru's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    I don't really know the stereotypical depictions of Slavs. But it all depends on what Slavs are we talking about, and in what period. In my previous posts I was concerned with 7. century. Slavs of 7. century differed little from their fathers generation earlier who attacked Balkan.

    Here's a good depiction of Slavic warfare from those times.
    http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?t=218736

    So those Slavs who descended on Byzantium in 5. and 6. century were indeed rather pathetic bunch of tribal peasants in eyes of established peoples, counting on ambushes and fighting without armor. They had some cavalry, and it differed from those of steppe peoples. In all other spheres of life they were absent of all that Roman civilization has produced and spread because they lived unaffected by it. Though they weren't completely ignorant of it, linguistic evidence shows that Slavs received some words of Latin origin through Goths during common Slavic language era (after proto-Slavic, but before Slavic split into East, West and South, so that means before Slavs settled in Balkans). One of those words is cěsarь, for example.

    But to know why the Slavs were regarded as Barbarian and primitive, there is honestly one major reason. They were pagan. Pagans were always thought as lesser then Christians, and treated in such way. Can you imagine the pope writing a letter starting with "To my beloved son Branimir" if he wasn't a Christian? It would be more like "To savage barbarian Branimir". The letter was from 879.

    By the way, I just remembered of Samo. He ruled the first ever Slavic state, 623-658. He defeated Avars, and also Franks. His war could also be the origin of the Serbo-Croatian legend of defeating Avars. As for question on how did he do it, I can imagine that Samo ruled quite a big territory with decent level of order, and could gather reasonably large and well equipped force for those times. In which case I don't see why he would be unable to defeat Avars when everyone else could.
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    Son of Fire's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    @ Aru…

    Yeah that link does help a bit for sure…
    And it seems that the Slavs weren’t that primitive…
    Granted, they didn’t have the technology of larger nations or more established cultures, but they weren’t just a mob running about with minimal equipment in all strata of its society… as they had some decent kit, and cavalry among the elite…

    Though I find it interesting that the core army (see elite) was made of Druzina… which I thought was only an Eastern Slav thing…
    While Serbs and Croats had Vlastela (which I think was just a noble rank as opposed to a troop type technically). And I think the Bulgarians had something based on the Bulgar (Truckic?) terminologies (Bolyar?)? Correct me if I am wrong here (NikeBG would know for sure)…
    Though I do wonder why the term didn’t stick with the South Slavs… perhaps isolation from the Western and Eastern Slavs? Or just more foreign influence by say, Western Europe (for Croatians) and Byzantium (For Serbs)?

    As for Samo… I am not familiar with him or the state… so perhaps that is it…
    I just saw a documentary on Serbian History (which also mentioned other South Slavs, but the focus was on Serbs) and it mentioned Serbs and Croats beating the Avars… so that was my point of reference.

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    Aru's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    Honestly I don't know what was the name of different noble guards in different states.

    Both Družina (from drug=friend, meaning fellowship, companions) and Vlastela (from vlast=ownership, power, meaning those who rule) are common words still used today. I wonder what sources from Early Slavic period actually mention them as the name of noble guards, even for word of Vlastela. Is it a modern guessing, or is there a writing saying "and knez charged fallowed by his vlastela"? And for vlastela I think they are from later (semi)feudal period.

    For all sources I know of those times are in Latin and mention superiori, tribuni and other latin terms, and none are for specific a military unit that fallowed the Dux, but for nobles in general.
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    hello Iam wotn slavic unit maker, the list you posted here is kinda old version we´re working on more accurate one , the sources are good becouse polak is studing history in Canada and hes sources are mostly books, many good ones, the language we used for units is half way his guessing and half what remains from old writtings so result is the most realistic thing you can get in 21st century , in later slavic armies was chainmail with helmets common armour, also sword becoming common in slavic armies, shield , spear, javelin or axe was standard, slavic armies were indeed powerfull , fast to move and their tactic was really deadly , for example Frankicsch empire recomend to fight with slavs only in winter, becouse they were able to hide in forest so they looked like wood or something , was reading also that slavic women were wery wild, the single ones had been doing sex in public, thats how they choosen their husband but after marriage when husband die mostly the woman was killed also or western slavs were good at trade , you can see the power of slavic warfare in varagian guard, most were hired slavic warriors, from kiev rus , becouse theyve been well known of their non human power and I could continue so loooong time .....

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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    Quote Originally Posted by Son of Fire View Post
    And I think the Bulgarians had something based on the Bulgar (Truckic?) terminologies (Bolyar?)? Correct me if I am wrong here (NikeBG would know for sure)…
    The Bulgars had a high noble class called "boilades" or "boils" (some of them being "great boils" and forming the "Council of the Great Boils", and also being divided on ichirgu- and yuk-boils, meaning inner- and outer-boils (i.e. from the inner, capital region and from the outer regions)). Later on, after the Christianization and the Slavicization, the name was Slavicized to "bolyars" and transmitted f.e. to Russian as "boyars". However, bolyar(in) is just a name for the higher, richer and more powerful nobles and becomes more or less a synonym for vlastel(in), velmozha etc. and isn't really like the Russian druzhinas.
    Of course, that doesn't mean that the South Slavs didn't have druzhinas though - IIRC, there was f.e. a mention that during the first century of the FBE, the Slavs in Bulgaria preserved a certain autonomy in their so-called Sklavinias and their knyazes kept their bands of professional warriors (which is basically what the druzhina is).

    Quote Originally Posted by Son of Fire View Post
    I would be cool to read... if I could read Bulgarian or Greek...
    But thanks anyways...
    Oh, and sorry about that! I thought you can read Serbian and would thus be able to understand a big part of the Bulgarian text (considering South- and East-Slavic languages are still close enough to be mutually largely understandable). I'll get on with translating at least some more interesting parts and hope to post them after a day or two.
    Last edited by NikeBG; March 17, 2010 at 08:36 AM.

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    Son of Fire's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    @ Aru…
    Perhaps Druzina was used by all Slavs for the name of their retinue… but I don’t think it was mentioned by name for the South Slavs…
    But like you stated, I think Vlastela was a later term, and more of a description of rank and or title. That is all we have to go on for the South Slavs to my knowledge…
    Though if anyone knows differently, feel free to correct me…

    @ IVlarkI2I…
    Cool, thanks for the heads up… when the new list comes out you will have to give me an update as I am curious…

    @ NikeBG…
    Savvy… thanks for the clarification…
    Hmmm, that does sound like Druzina, even if it was not mentioned by name… it does seem implied…

    Heh… nah, I can understand a bit of Serbian when it is spoken too me, but even then not very much… I have pretty much lost it all unfortunately… but reading be it in Latin or Cyrillic is an exercise in futility for me…

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    Aru's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: South Slavs and Avars…

    Quote Originally Posted by Son of Fire View Post
    @ Aru…
    Perhaps Druzina was used by all Slavs for the name of their retinue… but I don’t think it was mentioned by name for the South Slavs…
    We just lack the mention of the word because all the sources are in latin and tended to simply translate Slavic into latin (there's also little, if any, mention of the title knez by foreign sorces, it's always dux, as much as I know). For instance in Annales Regni Francorum, Borna (Dalmatian duke) escapes from battlefield with the help of his preatorians (auxilio tamen praetorianorum suorum protectus evasit). No reason to think he didn't call them his Družina, specially because this is so early, long before feudalism and latinization. South Slavs came into contact with greek and Latin very early and their term has been translated into those languages before those of West and east Slavs.
    Last edited by Aru; March 17, 2010 at 02:41 PM.
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