When Stephen Dušan ascended the Serbian throne in 1331, the boundary between Byzantium and Serbia in the region of Macedonia lay further north than Sérres, Melnik, Strumica, Prilep and Ohrid ; that is to say, beyond the present Greek frontier. Dušan was able to take over large portions first of Macedonia and later of Thrace, while the Byzantines were pre-occupied with the civil war between John V Palaeologus and John VI Cantacuzenus, each calling in against the other such traditional enemies of Byzantium as the Serbs, Bulgars and Turks.
The Serbian kral was able to proclaim himself ‘king and emperor of Serbia and Romania’, and in order to strengthen his military power he confiscated a good deal of ecclesiastical property in various parts of Maoedonia as well as Epirus , and assigned it to military men. The monasteries regained possesion of this property only at the end of the Serbian rule , which contemporary Byzantine documents represent as ‘illegal and tyrannical’ . Thus it was that Dušan became sovereign of a large dominion, which stretched southwards to embrace the northern regions mentioned above. Reaching almost as far as Christopolis (Kavála today), only Thessalonica and the surrounding district remained outside the Serbian domain. Athos constituted an independent state of monks under the suzerainty of the Serbian monarch , but Chalcidice generally — cut off as it was by the rugged mass of Mt. Cholomón — his power seems to have been virtually imperceptible and for all practical purposes non-existent. This immense state, however, began to disintegrate immediately after his death in 1355, and the powerful governors of the various provinces were soon coveting their independence. Finally, one of them, Vukašin, became co-regent with Dušan’s son, Stephen Uroš, and subsequently received from him the crown, to reign from 1365-1371. At the same time, Uroš himself delegated to the brother of Vukašin, John Uğlieša, the administration of north-east Macedonia with Sérres as capital, and gave him the title of ‘despot’ (1365-1371) . It is possible that under Uğlieša the boundaries of the state of Serres were expanded to the south and east for a few years (1364-1371) — after the Turks had overrun Thrace — to include Chalcidice, the Holy Mountain, and part of western Thrace as far as Lake Boroú . But these boundaries did not remain fixed and intact. Moreover, the Serbs did not succeed in establishing themselves along the coast of the Aegean either under Dušan or under his successors . Over Chalcidice in particular, Uğlieša seems to have exercised but a shadowy control, except for the Holy Mountain,with which he had close but formal relations, as suited his political designs towards the monks. Thus, after the collapse of the brief Serbian domin ation, the reactions of the monks against it as against the Slavs in general—were violently hostile, and the memories of that period remained painful to them for a long time after . It is true that during the fifteen years’ existence of the Serbian state of Sérres, there had been a steady infiltration of Serbian clergy into Athos, and the Protaton (council of igumens or abbots) was presided over by Serbs. This was the period of ‘Serboproti’ , well-known in the history of the Holy Mountain. But this does not mean that Greeks lost all control of Athos during this period of Serbian occupation. Many Macedonian cities remained in the pastoral care of Greek metropolitans . The Greeks had not yet given up the fight; several parts of Macedonia were in fact recovered from the Serbs, and the Slav conquerors could at no time feel their possessions secure.
Cvijič recalls that Serbs from Raška were settled around Skopje, Véroia, and probably other parts of Macedonia . In fact, even Cantacuzenus records that “inVéroia there were a considerable number of Triballi settled there by the kral” . But a few years later he marched on the city, “where there had gathered a good number of those who had been settled in the villages” , and taking possession of it, he sent back the Serbian soldiery he found there to their kral and to their native land . Some of the peasants from the villages around no doubt returned to their homelands too. It is the same region where, according to Kameniates in the 10th century, there had already existed “ἀμϕίμεικτοί τινες κῶμαι”, that is to say villages with a mixed population of Greeks and Slavs: the so-called Dragouvitai and Sagoudatai. Consequently, on top of the older stratum of Slavs from the 10th century we have a fresh stratum of Serbs from the time of Dušan. But one cannot say if at that time (i.e. the 14th century) there were Greeks also living alongside Serbs; whether that handful of villages around Véroia continued to be ‘ἀμϕίμεικτα’ as Kameniates wrote; or whether the Slavs, speaking an easily assimilated idiom, had managed to absorb the Greeks. It is, moreover, possible that the Greeks, with their numerical superiority, absorbed the Slavs of those villages. An answer to this question may be discerned in what actually occurred at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, when north of a line Yenitsá-Pélla-Kilkís there were a number of villages of which some were Moslem, others Christian, and others again of mixed religion. Of the Christian population the majority were Bulgars , whose numbers had been swelled by a further peaceful influx of their kinfolk, when free passage had been afforded them during Turkish times. To the south, in the middle of that extensive portion of the plain of Thessalonica known as Rumluk — i.e. land of the Romans (viz. Greeks) — there were some fifty villages, many surviving to this day, which, with few exceptions, had Greek names, and which preserved a strong Greek tradition in their language and in their folk culture .
Α limited degree of colonisation by Serbs seems to have taken place also in the southern part of Eastern Macedonia. And here it is interesting to observe that Lemerle, discussing the clashes between Greeks and Serbs in Eastern Macedonia, expresses the opinion that the Serbian armies had a firm grip on the region of Philippi, and that even throughout the Greek parts (”Ρωμαίων μὲν ὄντα, ὑπήκοα δὲ Τριβαλλοῖς ἐκ πολλοῦ”, as Gregoras writes) there had been some colonisation by Serbs here and there . This is very likely, and we can reinforce his opinion by quoting as evidence the observant and trusworthy traveller Belon, who notes that even in his own day (200 years later) with the exception of Serres, both Greek and Serb was spoken in the villages there. During the Turkish occupation, however, these people had been completely hellenized, or else were absorbed by the Bulgarians who filtered down from the north in search of work. The result of this continued assimilation of one group of Slavs by another was that, taken as a whole, they gained more and more territory, until the Bulgarian element became particularly pronounced, especially with the imperceptible movement of farmers and labourers southwards. Thus, in the end, such few Serbs as had survived in that part of Eastern Macedonia were completely absorbed either by the Greeks or by the Bulgarians. Doubtless there will be instances of the deliberate conversion of Greeks into Slavs, just as there was of Bulgarians into Greeks; although such cases are very difficult for us to pinpoint and determine with absolute certainty today.
At all events, we must take it as a fact that the Serbian rulers — and Dušan in particular — greatly facilitated the influx not only of Albanians and Albano-Vlachs by employing many ot them as mercenaries, but also of fresh Slavs — Serbs and Bulgars. These intermingled with the remnants of the old Slav colonists that had remained after their rapid christianization and hellenization in the 8th century and in the first half of the 9th .
The social conditions in Macedonia were no different from the corresponding conditions in other provinces in the Byzantine empire. The Serbian rulers had not changed the regime in the least. They had already adopted from the Byzantines the institution of Pronoia and imposed it in their own country. They too, as the Byzantines, distributed land to their soldiers and to monasteries. Α host of deeds of gift whether of despots or private individuals, have been preserved in the monasteries of both Northern and Southern Macedonia, and particularly of Mount Athos; and these provide us with valuable information about the economic and social conditions of rural life: on the farms of the monasteries and churches and their dependencies, in the villages, fields, vegetable-gardens and mills; also about the tenants (πάροικοι), the state of servitude, forced labour, as well as the productions and distribution of products .
The Greek inhabitants, not unnaturally, were on the defensive in the face of the Slav colonists in Greater Macedonia and perhaps at this point one should consider the size and the state of the Greek population within the empire of Stephen Dušan, and a little later under his successors in the Serbian state of Sérres.
If Dušan proclaimed himself ‘king and emperor of Serbia and Romania’, he had done so not only because he had the intention of extending his sway over Greek lands also, but because he was confronting in a practical way the indisputable fact that he found himself wedged between Greek populations. It is not surprising that this proclamation came after the occupation of Sérres, which he had finally succeeded in capturing after many abortive attempts . This was undoubtedly the reason why he was obliged to re-organise and split up his great dominion into two parts, as Gregoras informs us; the northern part comprised the Serbian territories over whom he ordained as governor his youngest son Uroš, while the ‘Greek lands’ of the south he governed directly in person . Α remnant of the Greek-speaking and racially Greek areas of Northern Macedonia (beyond the present Greek frontier) survived to our day in the form of Melnik, which lies isolated in the depths of a narrow ravine in the Pirin Mountains (Mt. Orvelos) surrounded by towering cliffs. The Byzantine emperors had taken an interest in this natural bulwark against invaders from the north, and had strengthened it with Greek colonists from Philippopolis. Their number was augmented by further immigrants from Crete, who found refuge on Byzantine soil after the failure of their insurrections at home against the Venetians . The Arab traveller Idris, writing in the 12th century, considered Melnik one of the principal towns in the land of the ‘Romans’, and spoke admiringly of its well-cultivated plains and the surrounding villages . The inhabitants of Melnik were pronouncedly conscious of their nationality, and for that reason in 1246, when the emperor of Nicaea, John III Ducas Vatatzes, was marching on their city, they were persuaded by Nicholas Manglavites to surrender the city to the emperor, affirming that “our land belongs to the rulers of the Romans …, we are of pure Romaic blood” exposed to the attacks of foreign peoples. After many vicissitudes it fell into the hands of kral Stephen Dušan, and on his death it passed to Uğlieša with the districts of Sérres and Nevrokop. Later on it seems to have passed into the hands of the lesser Serb rulers, Dragaš and Constantine Dejanovič; and in 1395 it fell to the Turks. Throughout the course of these centuries the people of Melnik have preserved unchanged their Greek character and their monuments of Byzantine ecclesiastical and secular architecture. It is worth the famous 14th century Byzantine house which survives to this day (fig. 1). But it is not only monuments such as these which emphasise the Byzantine character of the town; it lives on in the names of the old families: Mourtzouphlos, Ducas, Kouropalatis, Spandonis, etc..
Moreover, it is mentioned in the 14th century that Mysian (i.e. Bulgarian) settlers were dwelling along the narrows of the Strymon, in the district of Strumica beyond the present Greek frontier; but that there were also many Greeks to be found amongst them: “καὶ τοῖς ἡμῖν ὁμοϕύλοις ἀναμὶξ τὴν δίαιταν ἔχοντες” . In this connection, the charter, royal decrees (chrysobulls) and other documents of the famous monastery of Our Lady of Mercy near Strumica (founded in 1080) cite a great number of Greek names, which bear witness to the Greek character of the district. These inhabitants were mere pockets of Greek population which had survived the descent of the Slavs, and which existed in districts to the north of the present frontiers of Greece as far as the line formulated by Jireček, running beyond Štip and Sofia as far as the Balkan Range; that is to say, as far as the limits to which Greek civilization and language extended. Consequently, in those regions it was not only Illyrians and Thracians who were converted into Slavs but Greeks as well . In this context Cvijič states quite frankly: “The Byzantine cultural influences were much more powerful in the cities of the Southern Balkans, where they are preserved to this day. Here the Byzantine-Vlach culture had a firm hold on the people of the villages also; and one of the main reasons for this was that in the southern regions a far larger number of Greeks and Vlachs existed in the villages than is the case today …”
Thus it was that the Serbian kral was forced to recognise in Macedonia just as in Thessaly the predominance of Greeks , not only in their regional distribution but in their political and social status. He was obliged to appoint Greek officers in his administration, fugitives from Byzantium during the feuds between JohnVI Cantacuzenus and Anna of Savoy. As Solovjev says, it is typical to find that the higher government offices are bestowed upon Serbs, while the posts of ‘heads’ (κεϕαλαὶ) — that is to say, the local political and social leaders — remain mostly in the hands of Greeks. In particular cases ‘heads’ bear the additional title of ‘judge general’ . This information is significant, when one bears in mind that these ‘heads’ represented the community of local inhabitants in its entirity. With the office of ‘head’ were associated certain administrative powers which connected him with the central authorities; but this link was a very loose one, as is invariably the case with popular authorities. In other words, the ‘head’ plays the same role as the elder of a Greek village.
In our discussion of the ephemeral Serbian state of Sérres, we ought to outline the system according to which the city was governed in the latter days of Byzantium. Just like Thessalonica (which we shall be dealing with later on), Sérres was administered by the most important local personages, who formed a single body referred to in Byzantine writings as the senate (σύγκλητος). And here I should like to express views differing from those of the eminent historian, Ostrogorskij. For I am of the opinion that this particular body was not instituted in Sérres between 1360 and 1365, even though there is mention of this institution for the first time in the acts of 1365 . The term ’senate’ is applied to the social authority which, especially after 1204, exercised a vigorous initiative in the larger towns of the Byzantine empire, a theme I have already touched upon in the ‘History of Modern Hellenism’. Accordingly, the term ’senate’ was the official designation of the communal authority at Sérres, and is reminiscent of the body of the same name at Constantinople, though it did not carry the same prestige. This provincial body coped with the needs of the community, and in conjunction with the community leader (i.e. the ‘head’) essentially ruled the district. Consequently, it played a leading role in the life of Sérres, especially during those troubled times; for these local officials had to make rapid decisions on matters of the moment. Sometimes, however, there is mention of several ‘heads’. It may be that the members of the senate were themselves ‘heads’ , that is to say the notables of the place. They are refered to by this name during the early years of the Turkish occupation also. The senate of Sérres, as of Thessalonica, was composed of twelve members, and this number figures likewise throughout the Turkish occupation .
The ecclesiastical courts constituted an inseparable element of Greek local self-government; and it is worth noting that it was the Greek language which predominated both in the administrative sphere and in the law-courts of the state of Sérres, which must mean that the officials were for the most part Greeks . We may assume, therefore, that the Greeks continued to play an active part in the administration of their villages after they had been taken over by Serbs. This newly established and shortlived Serbian state thus remained essentially Greek in its composition, and was destined in the years that followed to succumb to the influence of Greek cultural forces, just as did the corresponding state of Symeon Uroš Palaeologus in Thessaly.
The number of other Greek nobles and officials was undoubtedly large in Dušan’s state and that of his successors. The Greek clergy was particulany prominent, so that the strong imprint of Orthodoxy was maintained . Altogether there were more Greeks than Serbs among the more influential figures of the land. Thus, to cite an example, there is mention of an eparch, George Isares, who retained the same designation at the court of Stephen Dušan (chrysobull of Vatopediou, April 1348), and who, twenty years later at the court of Uğlieša, bears the title of Megas Primicerius (chief administrator). The son-in-law (through his daughter) of George Isares, George Stanisa, was a Serb, yet the sons of this Byzantine aristocrat were called Michael Angelos Isares and Theodore Comnenus Isares; presumably they had some relationship with the old dynasty of the Comneni. There is also mention of an Alexius Raoul, who went to the court of Dušan and most probably received from hinf the title of Megas Domesticus . We hear too of other Greeks in important posts: Megas Hetairiaches (general), Kyr-John Margarites , along with other officers of Sérres such as the Megas Primicerius Michael Avrampakas; the Megas Papias (supreme officer of the palace), Ducas Nestongos; the Katholikos Krites, Demetrius Comnenus Eudaemonoyannes; the Megas Tsaousios (commander of the bodyguard), Kyr-Kardames Palaeologus; the Katholikos Krites, Nicetas Pediasimus; and Kyr-Orestes styled Katholikos Krites and ‘ἐπὶ τοῦ στρατοῦ’, who built the tower of the castle of Sérres (see figs. 2 and 3). In fact, he figures with these two titles also under the despot Uğlieša in 1366.
It is impossible for us to be precise about the proportions of the two basic elements — Greek and Slav — which made up the population at that time; but there is no doubt that the Greeks were appreciably in the majority at least in the major towns’, as Ostrogorskij has it . We shall have an opportunity later to corroborate this fact, when we come to deal with the period of Turkish domination. Moreover, Ostrogorskij’s condescending reservation ‘at least’ may be omitted, since 200 years later, despite a continuous though nonetheless peaceful influx of Slavs in the meanwhile (especially of Bulgarians southwards), the perceptive and reliable Belon noted that in all the towns of Eastern Macedonia the Greek population was predominant. Furthermore, these Greeks spoke their own tongue, as we shall later demonstrate in the appropriate context. This predominance lasted until the beginning of the 20th century in all the towns and townlets of Macedonia, with the exception of Gevgelija where the Bulgarian element was in a slight majority, and Kilkis where it was much more so . In Sérres and the other large centres the Greek language prevailed both in the state administration and in the Church. From all this it can be seen that the brief Serbian rule did not bring any significant changes, even though the Serbs had effectively taken over control both of state and Church .
Even the mixed population of some country disctricts, which through war and other hardships had sought refuge in the towns, rapidly became thoroughly hellenized. Ostrogorskij has made a close study of the registers (πρακτικὰ) of the Byzantine census officials, who made a record of all the villages, property, names of proprietors and their families, the nature and size of their possessions, the number of beasts, the amount of tax they had to pay, etc; and he has come to the conclusion that the Slavonic names — of both individuals and families — are generally fewer in Chalcidice and the theme of Thessalonica than throughout the theme of Sérres and the Strymon (at least in the villages of the katepanikia of Zavaltía and Popolía that lie in the southern section of the Sérres-Strymon theme). For the central section of the theme we possess no praktikon, but Christian Greek names are everywhere in the vast majority , a fact which has a definite bearing on the composition of the population or, at least, on its thorough hellenization. As for the place-names, Ostrogorskij, speaking of the whole of Eastern Macedonia, asserts that Slavonic names are more common than Greek, though he admits that at that period, when nationality did not mean what it does today, Greek statesmen and writers did not change foreign place-names; and he notes that it is not certain if the inhabitants of certain districts with Slavonic place-names were in fact Slavs .
Kyriakides is quite categorical about the relationship between place-names and the composition of the population in this region of the Lower Strymon. He writes: “Leaving aside Chalcidice, about which we have, with the exception of a few place-names, no information from the writers as regards its colonisation by Slavs, I come to the Strymon, which is considered a Slavonic centre. From these documents it is quite clear that from Amphipolis to the northern end of Lake Achinós the majority of the villages on both sides of the river have Greek names …, that the names of all the inhabitants of all these villages are in every case Greek, except for a few which can be counted on the fingers of one hand” .
I think it is possible to close this chapter with the practical conclusions of Lemerle, which allow us to formulate a clear picture of the whole problem: “Eastern Macedonia was the scene of many contacts and clashes [between Slavs and Greeks] … Let us repeat that the region to the south of the great mountain chain [he means the ranges which form the present Greek-Bulgarian frontier] remained Greek, and that its role was three-fold in the Byzantine empire: it was a rampart and an outpost of Hellenism in the Balkan Peninsula, ensuring its diffusion throughout all that region; it formed a transition zone, an area where Byzantium and an important part of the Slav world interpenetrated each other, permitting a widespread assimilation of the latter by the former; and finally, it served as a link between the two largest towns of the empire, Constantinople and Thessalonica .
Thus the preservation of the old Slav colonies and the creation of new ones had been favoured first by the successive incursions of Bulgarians and more so of Serbs under Dušan and his successors, and later by their generally peaceful infiltration especially after the end of Serbian rule. But while the Greeks were engaged in their obstinate struggle to free their native land and drive out the conquerors from the north to beyond the great mountain ranges, the Ottoman Turks were making their first appearance in Europe (1354).
for fair use only
Professor Apostolos Vakalopoulos in his memorial work..... History of Macedonia 1354-1833, pages 13-26, IMXA 1973
Notes with the primary sources located in the book.