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History of the Byzantine empire
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The Patzinak problem.
In the eleventh century the Patzinaks of the Greek sources, or the Pechenegs of the Russian chronicles, exerted enormous influence upon the fate of the Empire for a considerable length of time. There was even a period, shortly before the First Crusade, when for the only time in their brief and barbarian historical existence the Patzinaks played a very significant part in world history.
The Byzantine Empire had known the Patzinaks for a long time. They had settled some time in the ninth century on the territory of modern Wallachia, north of the Lower Danube, and in the plains of what is now Southern Russia, so that their territory extended from the Lower Danube to the shores of the Dnieper, and sometimes even beyond this river. In the west the border line between their territory and the Bulgarian kingdom was definitely established, but in the east there was no district boundary because the Patzinaks were constantly forced to the west by other barbaric nomadic tribes, especially by the Uzes and the Cumans, or Polovtzi. The Patzinaks, the Uzes, and the Cumans were all tribes of Turkish origin, and therefore akin to the Seljuq Turks, who began to menace Byzantine possessions in Asia Minor in the eleventh century. The Cumanian dictionary or lexicon, which survives today, proves convincingly that the language of the Cumans or the Polovtzi is so closely related to other Turkish tongues that the difference between them is only that of dialects. For future historical developments this kinship between the Patzinaks and the Seljuq Turks was of very great importance.
The Byzantine rulers considered the Patzinaks as their most significant northern neighbors because they were the basic element in maintaining the equilibrium of the Empire’s relations with the Russians, Magyars, and Bulgarians. Constantine Porphyrogenitus devoted much space to the Patzinaks in his work On the Administration of the Empire, written in the tenth century and dedicated to his son Romanus, who was to succeed him on the Byzantine throne. The royal writer advises his son first of all to maintain peaceful and friendly relations with the Patzinaks for the benefit of the Empire; for so long as the Patzinaks remain friendly to the Empire, neither the Russians, nor the Magyars, nor the Bulgarians will be able to attack Byzantine territory, From many things recorded by Constantine in this work it is also evident that the Patzinaks served as mediators in the trade relations of the Byzantine districts in the Crimea (the theme of Cherson) with Russia, Khazaria, and other neighboring countries. Hence the Patzinaks of the tenth century were of great importance to the Byzantine Empire, both politically and economically.
In the second half of the tenth and early part of the eleventh centuries conditions changed. Eastern Bulgaria was conquered by John Tzimisces, and Basil II continued the conquest until all of Bulgaria was under Byzantine sway. The Patzinaks, who had formerly been separated from the Byzantine Empire by the Bulgarian kingdom, now became direct neighbors of the Empire. These new neighbors were so strong and numerous and aggressive that the Empire was unable to offer adequate resistance to their onslaught, caused by the pressure of the Polovtzi from behind. Theophylact of Bulgaria, the church writer of the eleventh century, spoke of the irruptions of the Patzinaks, whom he called Scythians: “Their invasion is a flash of lightning; their retreat is both heavy and light at the same time: heavy with spoils and light in the speed of their flight … The most terrible thing about them is that they exceed in number the bees of the springtime, and no one knows yet how many thousands, or tens of thousands they count; their number is incalculable.” Until the middle of the eleventh century, however, the Empire, apparently, had no cause to fear the Patzinaks. They became dangerous only when, in the middle of that century, they crossed the Danube.
V. G. Vasilievsky, who was the first among historians to make clear the historical significance of the Patzinaks, wrote in 1872 concerning their advance into Byzantine territory: “This event, which has escaped the attention of all modern historical works, had enormous significance for the history of humanity. In its consequences it was almost as important as the crossing of the Danube by the western Goths, which initiated the so-called migration of nations.”
Constantine Monomachus (1042-55) assigned the Patzinaks certain Bulgarian districts for settlement and gave them three fortresses on the shore of the Danube. It became the duty of the Patzinak settlers to defend the borders of the Empire from the attacks of their kinsmen who remained on the other side of the river, as well as against the campaigns of the Russian princes.
But the Patzinaks on the northern shores of the Danube were persistently advancing to the south. In the early period of their irruptions they had crossed the Danube in large numbers (some sources speak of 800,000 people) and had descended as far as Hadrianople, while some of their smaller detachments had reached the capital. Still, the troops of Constantine Monomachus were able to resist these hordes and deal them very painful blows. But toward the end of Constantine’s reign it became more difficult to oppose the advance of the Patzinaks. The expedition organized by the Emperor toward the end of his reign resulted in a complete annihilation of the Byzantine army. “In a terrible night of slaughter the crushed Byzantine regiments were destroyed by the barbarians almost without any resistance; only a small number of them escaped somehow and reached Hadrianople. All the gains of former victories were lost.”
This complete defeat made it impossible for the Empire to begin a new struggle with the Patzinaks, and the Emperor was forced to buy peace at a very heavy price. His generous gifts induced them to promise to live peacefully in their provinces north of the Balkans. The Empire also bestowed Byzantine court titles upon the Patzinak princes. Thus, in the later years of the Macedonian dynasty, especially in the time of Constantine Monomachus, the Patzinaks were the most dangerous enemy of the Empire in the north.