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History of the Byzantine empire
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Slavs and Avars.
Very important events took place in the Balkan peninsula after the death of Justinian, although unfortunately present knowledge of them is limited by the fragmentary material that appears in the sources. During Justinian’s reign the Slavs frequently attacked the provinces of the Balkan peninsula, penetrating far into the south and threatening at times even the city of Thessalonica. These irruptions continued after Justinian’s death. There were then large numbers of Slavs remaining in the Byzantine provinces, and they gradually occupied the peninsula. They were aided in their aggression by the Avars, a people of Turkish origin living at that time in Pannonia. The Slavs and Avars menaced the capital and the shores of the Sea of Marmora and the Aegean, and penetrated into Greece as far as the Peloponnesus. The rumor of these invasions spread to Egypt, where John, bishop of Nikiu, wrote in the seventh century, during the reign of the Emperor Phocas: “It is recounted that the kings of this epoch had by means of the barbarians and the foreign nations and the Illyrians devastated Christian cities and carried off their inhabitants captive, and that no city escaped save Thessalonica only; for its walls were strong, and through the help of God the nations were unable to get possession of it.” A German scholar of the early nineteenth century held the theory, discussed at length later, that at the end of the sixth century the Greeks were completely destroyed by the Slavs. Studies of the problem of Slavic settlement in the Balkan peninsula depend greatly upon the Acts of the martyr Demetrius, the protector of Thessalonica, one of the main Slavonic centers in the peninsula.
At the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century the persistent southward movement of the Slavs and Avars, which Byzantine troops were unable to stop, produced a profound ethnographic change in the peninsula, since it became occupied largely by Slavonic settlers. The writers of this period were, in general, poorly acquainted with the northern tribes and they confuse the Slavs and Avars because they attacked the Empire jointly.
After the death of Justinian, Italy was insufficiently protected against the attacks of enemies, which explains the ease and speed with which it was again conquered by a new German barbarian tribe, the Lombards, who appeared there only a few years after Justinian had destroyed the Ostrogothic kingdom. In the middle of the sixth century the Lombards, in alliance with the Avars, destroyed the kingdom of the barbarian tribe of the Gepids (Gepidae) on the Middle Danube. Later, perhaps in fear of their own allies, they advanced from Pannonia into Italy under the leadership of their king (konung), Alboin, moving with their wives and children. They included many different tribes, among whom the Saxons were particularly numerous. Popular tradition has accused Narses, a former general in Justinian’s army and the aged ruler of Italy, of having invited the Lombards into his country, but this accusation must be considered unfounded. After the accession of Justin II he retired because of old age and died shortly after in Rome, In the year 568 the Lombards entered northern Italy. A wild barbaric horde, Arian by faith, they laid waste all the localities through which they passed, They soon conquered northern Italy, which became known as Lombardy. The Byzantine ruler, lacking sufficient means for resisting them, remained within the walls of Ravenna, which the barbarians by-passed as they moved on to the south. Their large hordes dispersed over almost the entire peninsula, occupying the unprotected cities with great ease. They reached southern Italy and soon occupied Benevento (Beneventum). Though they did not capture Rome, they surrounded the Roman province on three sides: from the north. east, and south. They cut off all connections between Ravenna and Rome, so that Rome could hope for no help there and still less for help from the even more distant rulers of Constantinople, who were passing through one of the most difficult and troubled periods in the history of the East. The Lombards had soon founded in Italy a large Germanic kingdom. Tiberius, and even more earnestly Maurice, tried to establish an alliance with the Frankish king Childebert II (570-595) in the hope of inducing him to open hostilities against the Lombards in Italy, but the effort ended in failure. Several embassies were exchanged, and Childebert did several times send troops to Italy, but always with the aim of reconquering the ancient Frankish possessions for himself rather than with the intention of helping Maurice. More than a century and a half was to elapse before the Frankish kings, summoned by the pope not the Emperor, were able to destroy the Lombard domination in Italy. Left to its own fate, Rome, which withstood more than one Lombard siege, found its protector in the person of the pope, who was forced not only to care for the spiritual life of his Roman flock but also to organize the defense of the city against the Lombards. It was at this time, at the end of the sixth century, that the Roman Church produced one of its most remarkable leaders, pope Gregory I, the Great. He had earlier been papal apocrisiarius or nuncio at Constantinople, where he resided some six years without succeeding in mastering even the rudiments of the Greek language. But in spite of this linguistic deficiency he was very well acquainted with the life and policies of Constantinople.
The Lombard conquest of Italy demonstrated clearly the impotence of Justinian’s external policy in the West, where the Empire did not possess sufficient forces for maintaining the conquered Ostrogothic kingdom. It also laid the foundation for the gradual alienation of Italy from the Byzantine Empire and for the weakening of the imperial political authority in Italy.