Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperio

[De administrando imperio (On the Administration of the Empire), written around the year 950 by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, is a detailed and remarkably informative political geography of his contemporary world. As the opening paragraph suggests, he was compiling information for the guidance of his son, to help him in ruling the empire when he would succeed to the throne. The passages here include one of the best descriptions available of the political geography of the parts of the steppe controlled by the nomadic Pechenegs. (For our purposes you need not be too concerned about the details with the names of the various chiefs.) The description of the Rus is extraordinarily important, and, as with much of the other material in the book, seems to be based on the evidence of contemporary eyewitnesses. Be aware that in this version of the text, names are often modernized or do not mean exactly what you might assume--hence "Russians" where the original Greek has rhos or Rus; the Romans are the Byzantines; Romania is the Byzantine Empire.  the "monoxyla" might be translated as "single-straked boats," but probably are to be understood as very large dugouts.  The text is reproduced from Constantine Porphyrogenitus De Administrando Imperio, Ed. by Gy. Moravcsik, tr. by R. J. H. Jenkins, New, rev. ed. (Washington, D. C.: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1967), pp. 49-51, 167-171, 57-63, with permission of the publisher. Permission must be obtained from the publisher for any use of this text for other than non-profit educational purposes.    Footnotes have been deleted.--Daniel C. Waugh

In reading this text, you might consider the following questions:

*Who were the Rus?

*What were they doing in Eastern Europe?

*What was their relationship to the Slavs? To the Pechenegs?

*What can you tell about the languages of the Rus and the Slavs?

*Who were the Lenzanenes and where did they live?]


0f the Pechenegs, and how many advantages

accrue from their being at peace with the

emperor of the Romans.

Hear now, my son, those things of which I think you should not be ignorant, and be wise that you may attain to government. For I maintain that while learning is a good thing for all the rest as well, who are subjects, yet it is especially so for you, who are bound to take thought for the safety of all, and to steer and guide the laden ship of the world. And if in setting out my subject I have followed the plain and beaten track of speech and, so to say, idly running and simple prose, do not wonder at that, my son. For I have not been studious to make a display of fine writing or of an Atticizing style, swollen with the sublime and lofty, but rather have been eager by means of every-day and conversational narrative to teach you those things of which I think you should not be ignorant, and which may without difficulty provide that intelligence and prudence which are the fruit of long experience.

I conceive, then, that it is always greatly to the advantage of the emperor of the Romans to be minded to keep the peace with the nation of the Pechenegs and to conclude conventions and treaties of friendship with them and to send every year to them from our side a diplomatic agent with presents befitting and suitable to that nation, and to take from their side sureties, that is, hostages and a diplomatic agent, who shall be collected together under charge of the competent minister in this city protected of God, and shall enjoy all imperial benefits and gifts suitable for the emperor to bestow.

This nation of the Pechenegs is neighbour to the district of Cherson, and if they are not friendly disposed towards us, they may make excursions and plundering raids against Cherson, and may ravage Cherson itself and the so-called Regions.

Of the Pechenegs and the Russians.

The Pechenegs are neighbours to and march with the Russians also, and often, when the two are not at peace with one another, raid Russia, and do her considerable harm and outrage.

The Russians also are much concerned to keep the peace with the Pechenegs. For they buy of them horned cattle and horses and sheep, whereby they live more easily and comfortably, since none of the aforesaid animals is found in Russia. Moreover, the Russians are quite unable to set out for wars beyond their borders unless they are at peace with the Pechenegs, because while they are away from their homes, these may come upon them and destroy and outrage their property. And so the Russians, both to avoid being harmed by them and because of the strength of that nation, are the more concerned always to be in alliance with them and to have them for support, so as both to be rid of their enmity and to enjoy the advantage of their assistance.

Nor can the Russians come at this imperial city of the Romans, either for war or for trade, unless they are at peace with the Pechenegs, because when the Russians come with their ships to the barrages of the river and cannot pass through unless they lift their ships off the river and carry them past by portaging them on their shoulders, then the men of this nation of the Pechenegs set upon them, and, as they cannot do two things at once, they are easily routed and cut to pieces...

Of the nation of the Pechenegs

Originally, the Pechenegs had their dwelling on the river Atil, and likewise on the river Geich, having common frontiers with the Chazars and the so-called Uzes. But fifty years ago the so-called Uzes made common cause with the Chazars and joined battle with the Pechenegs and prevailed over them and expelled them from their country, which the so-called Uzes have occupied till this day. The Pechenegs fled and wandered round, casting about for a place for their settlement; and when they reached the land which they now possess and found the Turks living in it, they defeated them in battle and expelled and cast them out, and settled in it, and have been masters of this country, as has been said, for fifty-five years to this day.

The whole of Patzinacia is divided into eight provinces with the same number of great princes. The provinces are these: the name of the first province is Irtim; of the second, Tzour; of the third, Gyla; of the fourth, Koulpei; of the fifth, Charaboi; of the sixth, Talmat; of the seventh, Chopon; of the eighth, Tzopon. At the time at which the Pechenegs were expelled from their country, their princes were, in the province of Irtim, Baitzas; in Tzour, Konel; in Gyla, Kourkoutai; in Koulpei, Ipaos; in Charaboi, Kaidoum; in the province of Talmat, Kostas; in Chopon, Giazis; in the province of Tzopon, Batas. After their deaths their cousins succeeded to their rule. For law and ancient principle have prevailed among them, depriving them of authority to transmit their ranks to their sons or their brothers, it being sufficient for those in power to rule for their own life-time only, and when they die, either their cousin or sons of their cousins must be appointed, so that the rank may not run exclusively in one branch of the family, but the collaterals also inherit and succeed to the honour; but no one from a stranger family intrudes and becomes a prince. The eight provinces are divided into forty districts, and these have minor princelings over them.

Four clans of the Pechenegs, that is to say, the province of Kouartzitzour and the province of Syroukalpei and the province of Borotalmat and the province of Boulatzopon, lie beyond the Dnieper river towards the eastern and northern parts that face Uzia and Chazaria and Alania and Cherson and the rest of the Regions. The other four clans lie on this side of the Dnieper river, towards the western and northern parts, that is to say that the province of Giazichopon is neighbour to Bulgaria, the province of Kato Gyla is neighbour to Turkey, the province of Charaboi is neighbour to Russia, and the province of Iabdiertim is neighbour to the tributary territories of the country of Russia, to the Oultines and Dervlenines and Lenzenines and the rest of the Slavs. Patzinacia is distant a five days journey from Uzia and Chazaria, a six days journey from Alania, a ten days journey from Mordia, one day's journey from Russia, a four days journey from Turkey, half a day's journey from Bulgaria; to Cherson it is very near, and to Bosporus closer still.

At the time when the Pechenegs were expelled from their country, some of them of their own will and personal decision stayed behind there and united with the so-called Uzes, and even to this day they live among them, and wear such distinguishing marks as separate them off and betray their origin and how it came about that they were split off from their own folk: for their tunics are short, reaching to the knee, and their sleeves are cut off at the shoulder, whereby, you see, they indicate that they have been cut off from their own folk and those of their race.

On this side of the Dniester river, towards the part that faces Bulgaria, at the crossings of this same river, are deserted cities: the first city is that called by the Pechenegs Aspron, because its stones look very white; the second city is Toungatai; the third city is Kraknakatai; the fourth city is Salmakatai; the fifth city is Sakakatai; the sixth city is Giaioukatai. Among these buildings of the ancient cities are found some distinctive traces of churches, and crosses hewn out of porous stone, whence some preserve a tradition that once on a time Romans had settlements there....

Of the coming of the Russians in monoxyla

from Russia to Constantinople

The monoxyla which come down from outer Russia to Constantinople are from Novgorod, where Sviatoslav, son of Igor, prince of Russia, had his seat, and others from the city of Smolensk and from Teliutza and Chernigov and from Vyshegrad. All these come down the river Dnieper, and are collected together at the city of Kiev, also called Sambatas. Their Slav tributaries, the so-called Krivichians and the Lenzanenes and the rest of the Slavonic regions, cut the monoxyla on their mountains in time of winter, and when they have prepared them, as spring approaches, and the ice melts, they bring them on to the neighbouring lakes. And since these lakes debouch into the river Dnieper, they enter thence on to this same river, and come down to Kiev, and draw the ships along to be finished and sell them to the Russians. The Russians buy these bottoms only, furnishing them with oars and rowlocks and other tackle from their old monoxyla, which they dismantle; and so they fit them out. And in the month of June they move off down the river Dnieper and come to Vitichev, which is a tributary city of the Russians, and there they gather during two or three days; and when all the monoxyla are collected together, then they set out, and come down the said Dnieper river. And first they come to the first barrage, called Essoupi, which means in Russian and Slavonic 'Do not sleep!'; the barrage itself is as narrow as the width of the Polo-ground; in the middle of it are rooted high rocks, which stand out like islands. Against these, then, comes the water and wells up and dashes down over the other side, with a mighty and terrific din. Therefore the Russians do not venture to pass between them, but put in to the bank hard by, disembarking the men on to dry land leaving the rest of the goods on board the monoxyla; they then strip and, feeling with their feet to avoid striking on a rock.... This they do, some at the prow, some amidships, while others again, in the stern, punt with poles; and with all this careful procedure they pass this first barrage, edging round under the river-bank. When they have passed this barrage, they re-embark the others from the dry land and sail away, and come down to the second barrage, called in Russian Oulvorsi, and in Slavonic Ostrovouniprach, which means 'the Island of the Barrage'. This one is like the first, awkward and not to be passed through. Once again they disembark the men and convey the monoxyla past, as on the first occasion. Similarly they pass the third barrage also, called Gelandri, which means in Slavonic 'Noise of the Barrage', and then the fourth barrage, the big one, called in Russian Aeifor, and in Slavonic Neasit, because the pelicans nest in the stones of the barrage. At this barrage all put into land prow foremost, and those who are deputed to keep the watch with them get out, and off they go, these men, and keep vigilant watch for the Pechenegs. The remainder, taking up the goods which they have on board the monoxyla, conduct the slaves in their chains past by land, six miles, until they are through the barrage. Then, partly dragging their monoxyla, partly portaging them on their shoulders, they convey them to the far side of the barrage; and then, putting them on the river and loading up their baggage, they embark themselves, and again sail off in them. When they come to the fifth barrage, called in Russian Varouforos, and in Slavonic Voulniprach, because it forms a large lake, they again convey their monoxyla through at the edges of the river, as at the first and second barrages, and arrive at the sixth barrage, called in Russian Leanti, and in Slavonic Veroutzi, that is 'the Boiling of the Water', and this too they pass similarly. And thence they sail away to the seventh barrage, called in Russian Stroukoun, and in Slavonic Naprezi, which means 'Little Barrage'. This they pass at the so-called ford of Vrar, where the Chersonites cross over from Russia and the Pechenegs to Cherson; which ford is as wide as the Hippodrome, and, measured upstream from the bottom as far as the rocks break surface, a bow-shot in length.  It is at this point, therefore, that the Pechenegs come down and attack the Russians.  After traversing this place, they reach the island called St. Gregory, on which island they perform their sacrifices because a gigantic oak-tree stands there; and they sacrifice live cocks. Arrows, too, they peg in round about, and others bread and meat, or something of whatever each may have, as is their custom. They also throw lots regarding the cocks, whether to slaughter them, or to eat them as well, or to leave them alive.  From this island onwards the Russians do not fear the Pecheneg until they reach the river Selinas.  So then they start off thence and sail for four days, until they reach the lake which forms the mouth of the river, on which is the island of St. Aitherios. Arrived at this island, they rest themselves there for two or three days. And they re-equip their monoxyla with such tackle as is needed, sails and masts and rudders, which they bring with them. Since this lake is the mouth of this river, as has been said, and carries on down to the sea, and the island of St. Aitherios lies on the sea, they come thence to the Dniester river, and having got safely there they rest again. But when the weather is propitious, they put to sea and come to the river called Aspros, and after resting there too in like manner, they again set out and come to the Selinas, to the so-called branch of the Danube river. And until they are past the river Selinas, the Pechenegs keep pace with them. And if it happens that the sea casts a monoxylon on shore, they all put in to land, in order to present a united opposition to the Pechenegs. But after the Selinas they fear nobody, but, entering the territory of Bulgaria, they come to the mouth of the Danube. From the Danube they proceed to the Konopas, and from the Konopas to Constantia, and from Constantia to the river of Varna, and from Varna they come to the river Ditzina, all of which are Bulgarian territory. From the Ditzina they reach the district of Mesembria, and there at last their voyage, fraught with such travail and terror, such difficulty and danger, is at an end. The severe manner of life of these same Russians in winter-time is as follows. When the month of November begins, their chiefs together with all the Russians at once leave Kiev and go off on the poliudia, which means 'rounds', that is, to the Slavonic regions of the Vervians and Drugovichians and Krivichians and Severians and the rest of the Slavs who are tributaries of the Russians. There they are maintained throughout the winter, but then once more, starting from the month of April, when the ice of the Duleper river melts, they come back to Kiev. They then pick up their monoxyla, as has been said above, and fit them out, and come down to Romania....