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T. Živković. On the Baptism of the Serbs and Croats...

T. Živković

ON THE BAPTISM OF THE SERBS AND CROATS
IN THE TIME OF BASIL I (867–886)

The entry of the Serbs and Croats into Christendom belongs to that set of ques-
tions on which the modern historiography did not provide the final answer1. The aim of
this study is to shed more lights on this process from the Byzantine perspective, and to
examine the information that Emperor Basil I (867–886) either baptized or considerably
contributed to the process of Christianization among the Croats, Serbs, and other Slavs
of Dalmatia. By examining this specific Byzantine view on the baptism of the Croats
and Serbs, one would be able to understand not only whether the Serbs and Croats were
baptized during the reign of Basil I or not, but also to understand from when they should
be considered (as a medieval society) as the part of oikoumene, i. e. the world inhabited
by Christians. The analysis of the Byzantine point of view on this issue shall eventually
reveal some additional evidence. The issue of baptism of a natio and its regnum also can-
not be treated separately from the wider political context, and it is rather a consequence

1 On the baptism of the Serbs and Croats, see: Radojičić G. S. La date de la conversion des Serbes //
Byzantion. 1952. Vol. 22. P. 253–256; Dujčev I. Une ambassade byzantine auprès des Serbes au
IXe siècle // ЗРВИ. 1961. Књ. VII. 7. С. 53–60; Mandić D. Pokrštenje Hrvata // Idem. Rasprave
i prilozi iz stare hrvatske povijesti. Rim, 1963. S. 1–18; Waldmüller L. Die ersten Begegnungen
der Slawen mit dem Christentum und den christlichen Völkern vom VI. bis VIII. Jh. Amsterdam,
1976; Klaić N. O problemima stare domovine, dolaska i pokrštavanja dalmatinskih Hrvata //
ZČ. 1984. Letnik 39. S. 253–270; Максимовић Љ. Покрштавање Срба и Хрвата // ЗРВИ.
1996. Књ. XXXV. С. 155–174; Алимов Д. Е. «Переселение» и «крещение»: к проблеме
формирования хорватской этничности в Далмации // SSBP. 2008. № 2 (4). С. 94–116; Curta
F. Emperor Heraclius and the Conversion of the Croats and the Serbs // Medieval Christianitas.
2010. Vol. 3. P. 121–138; Dzino D. Becoming Slav, Becoming Croat: Identity Transformations in
Post-Roman and Early Medieval Dalmatia. Leiden; Boston, 2010. P. 201–208; Živković T. De
conversione Croatorum et Serborum — A Lost Source. Belgrade, 2012.

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of sophisticated political relations between the major powers interested in a specific
natio or its regnum2.

The additional problem is that the most number of Byzantine narrative sources rel-
evant for the Dalmatia or Southern Slavs for the 9th century are actually composed in the
middle of the 10th century, or even later3. It was only George the Monk, flourishing in the
second half of the 9th century, who wrote a Chronicle extended until 867. Unfortunately,
his interest was deeply to fight iconoclasm4, and for the period between 820 and 867,
George the Monk wrote only dozen of pages, in which historical narratives are scarce5.
After George the Monk, there is a huge gap in Byzantine historiography, which lasted
until the middle of the 10th century when the writers such as: Symeon the Logothete,
Pseudo-Symeon, Joseph Genesius, and Theophanes Continuatus, are encounted. Their
perspective on the events which occured during the 9th century is tenative and generally
in the accordance with political needs of the Macedonian dynasty6. Symeon Logothete
and Joseph Genesius also could be easily two writers on the same task, who had to elabo-
rate the Byzantine history from 813 until 912, presumbly on the command of Constantine
VII Porhpyrogenitus. Both works could be also just attempts to create that history, and,
as the earliest Russian chronicle suggests, there should be at least another chronicle (or
a version of the above mentioned chronicles) covering the same time and originated at
the court of Constantine Porphyrogenitus7. It is highly probable that all these authors8
were based on the same sources and having been supervised through their entire work
by Constantine Porphyrogenitus. Therefore, Theophanes Continuatus should be their
main source for the period 813–886. If there were some older narative sources, origi-
nated during the first half of the 9th century, then that material was, at least partially,
already included in the Continuator of Theophanes. On the other hand, if Constantine
Porphyrogenitus had used various documents from the first half of the 9th century for
the first four books of the Continuator of Theophanes, then these same documents were
most probably available to some extent to the above mentioned authors who wrote at the

2 For instance, the best examples are the rulers of Moravia and Bulgaria during the 9th century,
but also the rulers of the Danes or Slavs on the Elbe River. See: Fletcher R. A. The Barbarian
Conversion: From Paganism to Cristianity. New York, 1998. P. 224–225, 336–341, et passim.
3 Mango C. When was Michael III born? // DOP. 1967. Vol. 21. P. 253.
4 See: Treadgold W. The Chronological Accuracy of the «Chronicle» of Symeon Logothete for
the Years 813–845 // DOP. 1979. Vol. 33. P. 159–160.
5 Georgii Monachi Chronicon / Ed. C. De Boor. Lipsiae, 1904. Vol. II. P. 792–803.
6 See, for instance: Μαρκοπουλος Α. Η χρονογραφία του Ψευδοσυμεών και οι πηγές της. Ιωάννινα,
1978; Hunger H. Die Hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner. München, 1978;
Shepard J. The Uses of «History» in Byzantine Diplomacy: Observations and Comparisons //
Porphyrogenita: Essays on the History and Literature of Byzantium and the Latin East in Honour
of Julian Chrysostomides / Ed. by C. Dendrinos, J. Harris, I. H. Crook, J. Herrin. Aldershot,
2003. P. 91–115.
7 Повесть временных лет. СПб., 1910. C. 17. Стб. 5. — The author started to use absolute
chronology, as well as, indictions, from the beginning of Michael III’s rule, reffering to the
«Greek chronicles».
8 Theophanus Continuatus. Ioannes Cameniata. Symeon magister. Georgius monachus / Ed. I. Bekkerus.
Bonnae, 1838 (= Theoph. Cont.).

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the same emperor sent him to claim the throne of Croatia. On the other hand, Pope
John VIII wrote at the begining of 879 to Zdeslav, and from that letter it is clear that
Zdeslav was considered as the ruler who recognized Rome as his spiritual and ecclesias-
tical centre: Quia fama tuae dilectionis atque bonitatis et religionis in deum ad nos usque
peruenit, confidentur gloriae, tuae precipimus atque mandamus, it pro amore sanctorum
apostolorum Petri ac Pauli, protectorum uestrorum...47 This, of course, could be just
the manner of pope, since in this letter he had to secure the safe passage of his legate to
Michael of Bulgaria – Vulgarorum rege. Already in May of 879 the same pope wrote an
exalted letter to Branimer in which he praised Croat ruler because he decided to come
back to the Roman Church48.

Policy of Basil I Regarding the Southern Slavs

The lack of corroborative sources related to Serbia, Zachlumi, Terbounia, Pagania
and Dioclea, unable us to examine Constantine’s statement that all these Slavs sent legates
to Constantinople after Basil I’s intervention in Adriatic (868). According to Constantine
Porhyrogenitus, immediately after the Byzantine fleet appeared in Adriatic, the archon-
tes of the South Slavs asked to be baptized and under the submission of the emperor49. In
the case of the Croats it is not true, since from the letter of Louis II to Basil I from 871,
it is clear that Croats were involved in the siege of Bari on the command of Louis II50.
From the same letter it is obvious that Byzantine fleet attacked the shores of Dalmatia
(i. e. Croatia) in 869 or 87051, by which the Croats were actually induced to raise against
the Franks52. In 872 or 873 Pope John VIII informed Duke Domagoi that Bulgarian
church came under the influence of the patriarch of Constantinople — Ignatius53. The
letter is ill-preserved as a regest, and we do not know whether the detoriating situation
in Croatia regarding the ecclesiastical matters in fact induced the pope to write this let-
ter. In another letter from 873, Pope John VIII wrote to Paul, the bishop of Ancona, in
which he briefly summarized that the Apostolic See, as it is clear from different, ancient
(antiquitus) documents, have consecrated churches and ordained priests in Illyricum54.
Meanwhile, Domagoi seized the papal ship on her return from Constantinople carrying

47 CD I. Nr. 9.
48 CD I. Nr. 10.
49 DAI. 29.70–78; 88–112.
50 Ludovici II. Imperatoris epistola ad Basilium I. imperatorem Constantinopolitanum missa / Ed.
W. Henze (MGH Epistolarum VII. Karolini aevi V). Berolini, 1928. 392.15–24.
51 Ibid. 392.18–20.
52 See: Šišić F. Povijest Hrvata u vrijeme narodnih vladara. S. 350–353.
53 CD I. Nr. 5.
54 Fragmenta registri Iohannis papae VIII / Ed. P. Kehr (MGH Epistolarum VII. Karolini aevi V).
Berolini, 1928. 284.8–11 (= Fragmenta): «Nam non solum intra Italiam ac ceteras hesperies pro-
vincias, verum etiam imntra totius Illyrici fines consecrationes ordinationes et dispositiones apos-
tolica sedes patrare antiquitus consuevit, sicut nonnilla regesta et conscriptiones synodales atque
ipsarum quoque plurima ecclesiarum in his positarum monumenta demonstrant».

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the Acts of the Synod of 87055. Around the same time, cities controlled by Venice to the
northwestern corner of the Adriatic, came under Domagoi’s attacks56. It became truly
problem since Pope John VIII wrote to Domagoi asking him to stop piracy and to pun-
ish those who, hidden behind Domagoi’s name, made these misdeeds57. In another let-
ter from 874/875 there is a very important information about the presbyter John, for
whom pope said that still can serve as the God’s servent, since he was protecting a
person which was accused as the assain on Domagoi and that unfortunate assasin was
killed by Domagoi58. The turbulent years of Domagoi’s rule, from 870, when he, most
probably, became a protegee of Byzantium, did not show any trace that Croat rulers
were pagans or recently baptized, or even under the Patriarchate of Constantiople in the
ecclesiastical matters. Yet, from the pope’s letter to Branimer it is clear that Croat church
actually abonded Rome during the rule of Zdeslav (878–879). And, that is only informa-
tion which could support Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ statement that Croats sent their
emissaries to Constantinople. If so, it must be the consequence of political decision, not
strictly ecclesiastical question.

On the other hand there is a tiny evidence that at least one Byzantine delegation
was directed to the Serbs during the rule of Basil I. The testimony is preserved in the
Vita of St German. Actually, St German did not have money to pay craftsmen, and
by Divine providence he was saved from unpleasant situation by two officials of the
emperor, Neophites and Nicholas who were under their way home from being previ-
ously as the legates to the Serbs59. This testimony appears to be genuine, since the Serbs
themsleves did not play any important part in this Vita, and specially because St German
was far a way from the Serbian borders — somewhere in Thrace, and closer to the
Bulgarian borders. In another source, written by the archbishop of Ohrid, Teophylactes,
at the end of the 11th century, the Bulgarian ruler Michael was called basileos60. It is odd,
since it is unthinkable that a Byzantine writer could ever titled Michael (of Bulgaria)
as emperor. Such denomination is possible in a Slavic text originated after Simeon of
Bulgaria, who was the first Bulgarian ruler who claimed the imperial title61. Therefore,
we do not know even when German lived, since Theophylactes of Ohrid only briefly
refers to St German as the one who lived during the Emperor of the Bulgarians, Michael.
It was just Theophylactes’ opinion, not a contemporary testimony. In fact, the most prob-
able solution is that these two legates were sent to the Serbs in the time when land route

55 Liber pontificalis / Ed. L. Duchesne. Paris, 1955. Vol. II. P. 184.
56 Ioh. Diaconi. 20.11: «Sclavorum pessime gentes» (875); 20.23–24: «Dehinc mortuo Domagoi,
Sclavorum pessimo duce» (876).
57 CD I. Nr. 8.
58 CD I. Nr. 7.
59 Dujčev I. Une ambassade byzantine auprès des Serbes au IXe siècle // ЗРВИ. 1961. Књ. VII.
С. 59.
60 Theophylacti Bulgarie archiepiscopi Historia martyrii / Ed. J.-P. Migne. (Patrologia graeca.
Vol. 126). 1864. Col. 201. — He mentioned probably the same German who flourished during the
rule of Michael of Bulgaria (852–889).
61 About Simeon’s imperial ideas, see: Пириватрић С. Самуилова држава. Обим и карактер.
Београд, 1997. С. 32–40.

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