White Croatia and the arrival of the Croats: an interpretation of Constantine Porphyrogenitus on the oldest Dalmatian history
Early Medieval Europe: 2011, 19 (2) 204-231
“The article examines Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ (913–59) witness on the arrival of the Croats in Dalmatia during the seventh century. The emperor’s narrative proposes a migration from a land called White Croatia, located somewhere in central Europe, and a battle with the Avars in order to secure their new territory. The migration, although becoming an important element in nationalist thought, is not confirmed by any other source, neither contemporary, nor later, being reported only by Constantine. I propose that the migration was instead a literary pattern deployed by the emperor in order to explain the complex developments which brought a new elite, called Croats, to a leading position in tenth-century Dalmatia.”
The Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-59) was the ﬁrst Greek author to write about the Croats. The population was previously unknown in the Byzantine world and the only witnesses to a so-called group settled in Dalmatia are, until the tenth century, a few Latin documents whose reliability has long been debated. The emperor described the Croats on different occasions: they are mentioned very brieﬂy in the Life of Basil, which constitutes the ﬁfth book of the biographical collection called Theophanes Continuatus; Croatian archons are listed among the many Barbarian chieftains receiv-ing Byzantine tribute in the forty-eighth chapter of the second book of the text, On the Ceremonies; and, ﬁnally and most important, Croats are the subject of lengthy chapters in On the Administration of the Empire (De Administrando Imperio, henceforth DAI).