Byzantine reflections on the historical geography of Kosovo

In Byzantine Kosovo, there are three centers that are constant in the context of historical geography: Prizren, or Prizdriana as it appears in Byzantine sources, Lipjan or Lypenion, and Zvecan or Zveçanon (pictured).

Przidriana, Lypenion, Sfentzánion, Papas, Zygos, Archdiakon...

The long and important Byzantine presence in the territory of Kosovo from the early Middle Ages (and with interruptions from the Bulgarian rule 853-1018) until the XI-XII centuries, is not conveyed by as many sources as one would expect. Whereas, as far as the toponymy of geographical names is concerned, this is perhaps even more subtle.

In fact, Byzantium is the one that connects an ancient heritage with the Middle Ages, a sublimated pre-Roman and Roman heritage with Byzantine and Greek ones. But the early Middle Ages itself, after the breaking of the Danube limes in 610, is so dark and complex that it is best illustrated by the total absence of numismatic material from the end of the XNUMXth century to the end of the XNUMXth century, in almost the entire larger area of ​​the Balkans, including Kosovo.

Early Byzantium also connects an early tradition of the threads of Christianity, with a built hierarchical structure of the Dardanian Church and a Justinian tradition that defines interesting roles in the primacy of church dioceses established with the well-known Novel X, which will be followed by controversy until late in the Middle Ages over the hereditary right of Justinana Prima. Such an early Christian tradition is absent from the 1019th century until the return made by Basil II after the victory over the Bulgarians when he re-established the Ohrid Archbishopric with its prerogatives over the largest area of ​​this part of the Balkans, where the dioceses of Lipjan and Prizren, in XNUMX.

The first trace of the presence of the Slavs

Although the first trace of material culture that links the presence of Slavs in Kosovo is only from the 1204th and XNUMXth century from the necropolis of Matiqan, toponymy has marked a massive Slavic presence in the Middle Ages. But, even after the Byzantine-Serbian wars in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, there is no control of the zhupans and later the Russian and Serbian kings in Kosovo before the beginning of the XNUMXth century. In fact, this will only happen after the conquest of Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade in XNUMX, which is a direct consequence of this major geostrategic decline of Byzantium.

In Byzantine Kosovo, there are three centers that are constant in the context of historical geography: Prizren, or Prizdriana as it appears in Byzantine sources, Lipjan or Lypenion, and Zvecan or Zveçanon.

This is the axis that connects the interior of the Balkans, i.e. Kosovo with Skopje and the Vardar valley with the Aegean.

Prizren, even, shows a consistency from the earliest times onwards and the present-day fortress of Prizren itself seems to have clear Byzantine foundations and bears the stamp of a construction of Byzantine military architecture. Moreover, as Rela Novaković had understood in his analyzes of historical geography, there were two traditional historical centers of the pit fields of Dukagjin and Kosovo. While Prizren obviously maintained coherence in this view, in the Kosovo Plain this was a center that was transformed into various locations nearby, in the triangle: Ulpiana, Lypenion and later Pristina.

Justiniana Secunda and her destruction

Ulpiana or Justiniana Secunda clearly suffered destruction after the barbaric depredations of the influx of Avars and Slavs, and in the Middle Ages its role was taken over by the field fortification of Lypenionint, which also from a linguistic and toponymic point of view is close to the name of Ulpiana, which indicates perhaps the survival of the stable than the new name Justinaiana Secunda. Moreover, there is Lipjani, where the ecclesiastical diocesan center is located, as we see documented by the chrysovula of the Byzantine emperor Vasilis II (976-1025) and by the Byzantine chronicler Skyliza (who much later moved to Graçanica). In this aspect, it even seems a kind of transfer of these ecclesiastical prerogatives to Lypenion from those of Ulpiana, quite close as an ecclesiastical administrative center in the period of the Dardanian Church.

Lypenion is presented as a well-formed military base, from where the field of Kosovo was controlled and which is often mentioned in Byzantine sources that refer to the Byzantine-Serbian wars, especially in the "Alexiad" of Anne of Komnena. Even Lipjani, as a kind of town surrounded by a market, appears even at the time when Dushan later donates the church of Vavedenje to the Holy Mount Athos.

Engraving of Zveçan made by the Slovenian travel writer Benedikt Kuripešić (1491–1531), in 1530

Zvečani as a strategic point

In fact, another center that is connected to this axis of the Byzantine military infrastructure, apart from Lypenion, is Zvecani. Sfentzánion in Byzantine sources (Old Slavic Zvečanь) is one of the early forts that plays the role of a defensive point of the Kosovo plain, right at its end, where the Ibri and Sitnica rivers meet, and clearly connected to the natural border of the mountain ranges Kopaonik, which even at that time marks the border between Byzantium and Erabria, in fact, Byzantium and Rashka. Zveçani is precisely the point where interesting events took place in the conflict between the Komnenians and the Serbian rulers (1091-1094), but also nearby in the well-known battle of Pantina (1170). According to some circumstantial sources, it is claimed that Zvecan is connected with the Bulgarian emperor Simeon and his wars with the Byzantines from the end of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXth century. Zvecan is therefore an important strategic point that combines geography, the Kopanik mountains in the background, the rivers Ibër and Sitnica, and the end of the plain of Kosovo. While Lypenion is the solid base of a fortified urban field center, which plays the role of the military and ecclesiastical administrative center, Zvecan is the extreme point towards the border of the military-political presence.

Precisely in this Byzantine-Serbian clash, when it is clearly trying to exploit the complex situation of Byzantium concentrated on many war fronts, Kosovo is presented as a border region of the Byzantine presence targeted by Rashka in an attempt to expand towards the fertile plain of Kosovo and Byzantine civilization space, which will not be reached in its entirety before the year 1204. In these attempts and military incursions with a more plundering character than a frontal confrontation, when the Byzantines definitely consolidate in the fortress of Skopje, between these two points Zvečan and Lipjan, in the toponym Zygos often appears in Byzantine sources.

Zygos, Ζυγός, which in Greek means yoke, or bridle (Latin: iugum), marks the range that separates the Roman lands, that is Byzantine and those of Rashka. This toponym is widely encountered in Greek geographical areas, such as the mountain range in the surroundings of Mestovo, but also of Kavalla and elsewhere.

Zygos is described several times by Anna Komnena, the daughter of the emperor Alex Komneni, in a summary chronicle, which records this episode of the Serbian threat to the Byzantine lands in Kosovo, and it takes various forms as a location. This sometimes confusing description, which describes his passing by Byzantine troops in these engagements, has led historians to have different explanations for his whereabouts. One party thinks that it could be between these two fortifications, Zveçan and Lipjan, which some connect with Qiqavica or Goleshi mountain, and others with Kopaonik.

In fact, the sometimes contradictory mentions of Anna Komena, which is clearly based on other war chronicles that she used firsthand, should nevertheless be countered by a logic of the field. Serbian incursions and military efforts always come from the north, that is, from Rashka in the direction of Kopaonik, which is also a natural border and in the direction of Zvecan or Lipjan. This is especially since the Byzantines at this time were very consolidated in the fortress of Skopje, which even as a metropolitan city controlled the region. At no time is there any source that would emphasize that there was any Serbian territorial, military and administrative establishment between Zvecan and Lipjan. Furthermore, there would be no military logic for the Serbian forces, which were much weaker than the Byzantine imperial army anyway, to be based at any point between Zvečan and Lypjan and to conduct military operations in both points simultaneously, even in Zvečan , also in Lipjan. Likewise, there is no logic that there was any Serbian territorial-administrative establishment in the west of Kosovo towards the Dukagjin Plain, which is actually the last one to be controlled by Serbian forces after the capture of Prizren only after 1204, as can be seen in the chrysovula of Stefan Nemanja. This, logically, makes Zygos to be in Kopaonik, where even today the border of Kosovo with Serbia is located.

Toponym "Papas" as a non-Slavic tradition

In addition to these Byzantine geographical designations in the Middle Ages, which find support in Byzantine sources, there are probably some other circumstantial ones. These are the Papaz villages, one in Kosovo, the other in the Dukagjin Plain. "Papas" is the classic Greek name for an Orthodox priest. In any Slavic ecclesiastical source, the Orthodox priest is only "pop", or "prota", or "protopapa", but never in the Greek form "papas". In fact, as we have seen, the Byzantine ecclesiastical hierarchy is documentable from several sources in Kosovo. The Chrysovula of Basil II, which has already been mentioned several times, clearly mentions the ecclesiastical dioceses in Lipjan and Prizren. Also, we have another circumstantial episode, when the inexperienced nephew of the emperor Alexander Komnenos makes a military camp with tents behind Sitnica, finally the Zvecan fortress, where he would have to wait for the Serbian surrender and hostages, he was warned by an Orthodox priest that treason was being prepared for him and that he would not believe in what was promised, the orthodox priest was driven away by the emperor's grandson, not believing his words, which turned out to be true. It is clear that it is about the Byzantine priest who felt loyalty to his Byzantines.

Likewise, with the conquest of Prizren, it is recorded in historical sources that the Byzantine priest who was in the city was driven out and replaced with a Serbian priest. Even in the well-known letter of the archbishop of Ohrid, Dhimitër Homtjani, sent to "Archbishop Sava", where he protests against the non-canonical acquisition of the rights of the Serbian Church as autocephalous, the avoidance of an earlier Byzantine church structure is clearly seen. The Serbian administrative establishment in Kosovo, therefore, also led to the displacement of the ecclesiastical administration. However, before them, this was also done by Emperor Kaloyan of Bulgaria (1197-1207), who in his anti-Byzantine incursion temporarily took Skopje, Vellbuzhd, Nis and Prizren, where it seems that he changed the administration and church hierarchy. Thus, a bishop in Skopje in 1203 mentions a certain Marini in the church of Saint Mary.

In this respect, the toponym "Papas" clearly marks this non-Slavic Byzantine Orthodox tradition.

As material culture of this period, one should see the Church of Levisha in Prizren, as a Byzantine cathedral church (later rebuilt by King Millutin), the church in Lipjan as a diocesan center on the foundations of which the church of Vavedenja from the XNUMXth century was built today exists, as well as the very interesting church in Pustenik of the Kaçanik gorge from the XNUMXth-XNUMXth century with Romanesque arches.

In this context, another circumstantial toponym should be seen, which is related to this pre-Serbian Byzantine ecclesiastical tradition, which is again related to the ecclesiastical title. In a document of the XNUMXth century, the toponym in Church Slavonic "Arhidiakon" is indirectly mentioned, which refers to Arhilaqa, in fact the later village of Halilaq, where important archaeological researches have been carried out, which assume or connect it with Flori and Laurin. . Harilaq Castle is clearly a Byzantine reconstruction of the Justinian period, which dominates the plain of Kosovo.

Arhidakon, which means archdeacon in Greek, may be an earlier and deeper memory or reflection of an interesting title in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which found use both in Orthodoxy and in the Catholic Church. It appears early on as a title and is related to the archdeacon, who, in addition to taking care of the auxiliary part of the bishop, or the high diocesan head, is someone who manages the smooth running of the church, the ceremonial and is the bishop's escort on diocesan visits. Archdeacon appears as a title since early Christianity, and it is associated with an early Byzantine fortress, where it is claimed to be an early Christian cult, only adding meaning to this toponym surviving in the Middle Ages.

The remains of the church of the c. X-XI with Romanesque arches in Pustenik of the Kaçanik gorge

Paper presented at the tenth edition of the Albanology Week in Pristina, held from June 17 to 19, 2019