The assault on the Byzantine fortress in the VI - early VII centuries. Author's drawing (not reconstruction)
The development of siege work among the Slavs (according to the available evidence in historical sources) shows how in a very short period of time they were able to master a rather complex military craft, going from complete ignorance of the principles of attacking a fortified settlement to the use of sophisticated, complex technology during sieges.
We emphasize that for the period under consideration siege weapons are the top of military technology, and not all warlike peoples were able to use them, which can not be said about the Slavs. We can assume that this situation was due to the fact that the Slavs themselves were already quite familiar with woodworking, and understanding of the creation of machines against this background came to them quickly enough.
The same situation was in shipbuilding, when the Slavs, actively using odnodrevki, learned about the technical possibilities of building more complex ships. It seems that the use of odnodrevki with extended boards boards was a big step forward. We don’t know on which boats the Slavs made the hikes that the sources tell us about the Greek islands or the east coast of Italy, but these transitions were not as simple as modern man might think and required a lot of knowledge.
Siege of the VI century
If at the beginning of the VI century. Since the Slavs could not even think about the seizure of cities, from the middle of the century they actively participated in sieges, at first together with the Huns, and then with the Avars, gradually increasing knowledge in this military craft.
In 578, at the request of the Avars, “mechanics and builders” arrived from Byzantium, whom they forced under threat of death to build a bridge across the Danube near the city of Sirmia. Thus, the Avars first mechanics appeared and they began to master the technique of building siege weapons. The ability of the Slavs to work with wood was actively used by the kagan in the construction of siege weapons under the leadership of the Romans prisoners and defectors, the construction of crossings during the siege of Sirmia (Sremska-Mitrovica) and Singidon (Belgrade), a city with "very strong walls."
We can assume that without the presence of the Avars in the army, it was precisely the Slavs, subjects and allies, they would have hardly been able to cope with the siege work, and this was in conditions when under the Emperor Justinian I new fortifications on the Danube border and in its rear were updated and built. At least in the sources we do not find information that the nomadic Avars themselves would take the city by attack.
The Slavs, even before the arrival of the formidable Avar warriors in Podunavye, for several years constantly increased the frequency of attacks on the borders of the Byzantine Empire, during the winter period 547/548, 549/550. they constantly plundered the countryside, not stopping before the fortifications. “Even many fortifications,” wrote Procopius from Caesarea, “who were here and in former times and seemed strong, since no one defended them, the Slavs managed to be in-law.”
They probably took the border towns either by a sudden raid, or by cunning, and sometimes by starvation, destroying the infrastructure.
In the province of Lower Moesia, the Slavs even settled down in the vicinity of the looted settlement Ulmiton and the fortress of Adina, which forced Emperor Justinian I to strengthen these settlements:
"... since the barbarians-Slavs are constantly hiding here, and, secretly setting up ambushes against those who go this way, they made these places completely impassable."
A large number of fortresses were destroyed in the borderlands, as indicated by archeology: Sasidava N.III, Histria Rom. D-1, Ulmetum C (see above), Dinogetia C, Sucidava C, Novae D-0b (Shuvalov P.V.).
In 549/550, the Slavs took and devastated the city of Toper (or Topir) on the Mesta River (Nestos River, Greece) in the province of Rhodope (Rodona). A huge number of researchers consider this an important milestone in the fighting of the Slavs.
It was a rich town located on an important trade route, flourishing thanks to trade, judging by the number of people killed (15 thousand men), it was not a small town in the Early Middle Ages. The city was protected on several sides by a river, on one side of it was a hill that towered above the fortress walls, which did not have adequate protection for the defenders.
From the story of Procopius of Caesarea, you can see what tactics the Slavs used to capture settlements during this period. It came down to either military tricks or sudden raids.
Since Toper, which was extremely rare during this period, had a permanent military garrison, the Slavs first lured him out of the city. Their small detachment in front of the gate bothered the defenders of the walls. Stratiots in full force, armed, without proper intelligence, came out to drive them away. The Slavs started a feigned flight, forcing the Byzantines to pursue them, at the same time the Slav warriors who suddenly emerged from an ambush hit the Romans in the rear and completely destroyed the opponents. The combined forces of the Slavs immediately attacked the walls of Toper, the townspeople in the absence of warriors tried to fight off the attack, they threw stones and poured boiling oil and tar, but the resistance was short-lived.
The Slavs, without wasting time, “fired a cloud of arrows at them”, taking advantage of the absence of protective galleries on the wall and the fact that a hill dominated the walls of the city, shot down the townspeople with arrows, and, having put down the stairs, took Toper with an attack, then made him cruel massacre.
In the period from 584 to spring 587 the Avars, obviously, together with the Slavs, "literally ironed the Lower Danube limes," according to the researcher P.V. Shuvalov, destroying all the Romance fortifications.
In 584, the Slavs traveled all of Hellas to Thessaloniki, capturing many cities and fortresses, as John of Ephesus writes about.
All the details of the Slavic sieges of Thessalonica are described in the hagiographic essay (description of the life of the saints), “Miracles of St. Demetrius of Solunsky ”(hereinafter CDS), a work written by various authors, the first of which was Archbishop Thessaloniki John, who lived in the late VI - early VII centuries.
The date of the first siege remains open: either in the 90s or 80s of the VI century. The last date is comparable to the campaigns described by John of Ephesus, so a powerful Slavic army of 5 thousand soldiers approached the city:
"They would not have attacked such a large city so suddenly if they had not surpassed those who had ever fought against them by force and courage."
But with a swift take of the city failed.
But the dating of the following events of 584-587, in our opinion, requires significant adjustment, we will try to reconstruct them.
We see that in 584 the Slavs tried to capture Thessaloniki from a swoop, without using any siege technique.
And soon the Slavs, subjects of the Avar, took the city of Ankhial on the Black Sea coast, breaking the wall, according to some researchers, this happened in 585 (N.I. Serikov).
But in 586 all the Romance troops of the master of millilitum presented Comeniusola in Anchial, the representative took and distributed the troops here, obviously, there could be no talk of any capture of the city in the previous year, since Theophilos the Confessor had nothing to do with it.
Anchial, modern Pomorie, Bulgaria
In the same year 586, the kagan, having defeated the expeditionary army of Komenziol, took many cities and went to the Long Walls, but fled from them due to an inexplicable panic. On the way, he embarked on a siege of a certain city of Apiria (Απειριαν), where the siege mechanic Busa was captured. The townspeople did not want to buy the bus, which the Avars were going to kill. They were incited by the lover of the wife of this same Bead. Then he (primarily in revenge) built a ram for the Avar (κριός) - a battering ram, and taught them how to make siege mechanisms with which they took the city and other cities, most likely in Thrace, not far from the capital. All this happened in 586/587.
This is the starting point, when the Avar and the Slavs appeared on this theater as a professional polyorgetic, which Feofan fixes in his Chronicle. Other mechanics may have been captured, but documents that have reached us do not report this.
It was at this time that the allies of Byzantium, the Antes, attacked Slovenian settlements, and not in 585.
After which the Slovenes began to devastate the coastal strip along the Black Sea, here they moved north, possibly in the direction of the Ants who attacked their lands, in the province of Geminont.
And just at that time they came to Ankhialai (modern Pomorie, Bulgaria), a city fortified by Justinian, located on a cape and inaccessible from the sea. The Slavs broke the wall and captured it. How did this happen?
Perhaps, with the help of a ram, having learned to build it from a captive mechanic, it is possible, as described in the CDS:
"Then, hiding under turtles covered with leathers, scary, like snakes, they began, as already mentioned, to destroy the foundation of proteichism (external strengthening) with axes and crowbars."
That is, already at the end of the VI century. Slavs learned to break open city walls. We repeat, in the case of the mentioned city of Ankhial, we don’t know whether the ram was used or manual, if there was a “turtle” over the besiegers, or they acted with picks and crowbars, only under the cover of shields and shooters.
In 597, the Slavs ravaged the capital of Lower Moesia - the well-fortified Markianopol (Devnya village, Bulgaria), how it was captured, it is not known, possibly with a swoop or cunning, as happened with the highly fortified city of Salona (Split region, Croatia) in Dalmatia. Byzantine border units from Salon, taking advantage of the absence of men in the adjacent territory belonging to the Avars, carried out robberies. The Slavs, having ambushed them, killed the attackers.
"Taking them weapon, banners and other military signs and crossing the river, the named Slavs came to the cisre. Seeing them, the Romans who were there, taking also the banners and weapons of their fellow tribesmen, considered them themselves as such. When the named Slavs reached the enema, they allowed them to pass. Having passed, the Slavs immediately expelled the Romans and took possession of the aforementioned fortress of the Salon. ”
Perhaps, on September 22, 597, the second siege of Thessalonica began, in any case, this event occurred at the end of the VI century. Archbishop John wrote that Avars, Slavs and other barbarians, were sent to the siege of the largest city of the Balkans, while the kagan himself moved to Dalmatia. This raid was associated with the failure of the kagan during the siege of the long-suffering Singidun.
But back to Thessalonica. Besiegers, unfamiliar with the area, took the fortress of St. The matrons who stood in front of the city, beyond Thessalonica, and first attacked her.
The army brought with them pre-made stairs. Warriors did not waste time on the fortress of St. The matrons, realizing that they were mistaken, they put the stairs to the walls of the city and immediately began the assault. The first onslaught was stopped solely due to a miracle, since there were few defenders on the wall, perhaps it was a spontaneous onslaught of a small part of the army, while others were engaged in sieges of small fortresses around the city and robbing the surrounding area. The city was completely surrounded by land. An attempt to capture the city from the raid was connected with the fact that it was practically impossible to take it with the correct siege. Even despite the fact that the city did not have an eparch and the main city militia.
The city had a double wall with a thickness of 2 to 4,6 m, a height of 8,5 to 12 m, which completely coincided with the theoretical settings prescribed in Poliorketiki.
On the night of September 23-24, the besiegers began preparations for the assault, perhaps the army made a sacrifice, because a huge fire was lit, and around it the soldiers made terrifying cries.
The next day began the manufacture of siege equipment:
“Then all night and tomorrow we heard noise from all sides when they prepared gelepolis, iron“ rams ”, huge stone-throwers and so-called“ turtles ”, which they covered with dry-skinned stone-throwers. Then they changed their minds and, so that these guns would not be harmed by fire or boiling tar, replaced their skin with bloodied skins of freshly picked bulls and camels. ”
From this episode, we see that the Slavs confidently build siege machines, which were repeatedly described in the Poliorketiki of the ancient Romans and Greeks.
Interestingly, the Life shows us a detailed procedure for the Slavs under Thessalonica.
On September 24, they prepare guns, on September 25 they begin a siege: at the same time they are trying to break through the wall with wall-driven vehicles and enter the city from the sea on rafts. On September 26, the besiegers made a successful sortie. On September 27 and 28, the Slavs continued shelling from stone-throwers and other weapons:
“And they enclosed the quadrangular stone-throwers with boards on only three sides, so that those inside were not wounded by arrows [sent] from the wall. But when one of them, along with the boards, caught fire from the fire arrow, they retreated, carrying away the guns. The next day they again delivered the same stone-throwers, covered together with the boards, as we have said, with freshly skinned skins, and, putting them closer to the wall, threw mountains and hills, shooting at us. "
All this siege shows that, even among the Slavs, specialists appeared who were able to build the most complex military tools of this period, tactically and technically (lack of food supplies), they were not yet prepared for long sieges:
"A lot of stones sent from the city, as by order, fell into the narrowed top of the barbaric stone-throwers and killed those inside."
As usual, the contradictions also affected, possibly connected with the “democratic” structure of the Slavic army, and the lack of unity of command. Or clashes between different tribes of the kagan: Avars, Bulgarians, Gepids? .. Already on the eve of the September 29 assault, an escape from the Slavic camp to the city began.
It can be assumed that, in conditions of failure, numerous Slavs immediately abandoned the Avars and came into conflict with them. The Avars could keep the Slavs in subjection in Panonia, at first exclusively with the help of terror, and later including them in the common cause of robbery during campaigns. This mechanism worked in case of victories (the capture of the Salon), but did not work in the event of the slightest military failure.
After that, the besiegers decided to urgently withdraw, and part of the defectors left for the city.
In the same year 597, as Feofilakt Simokatta writes about, the kagan himself with the “crowds of barbarians” besieged the city of Bonnie in Dalmatia, and, most importantly, with the help of many wall-hung guns, captured forty fortifications in the area. Thus, we clearly see the continuous development of the siege technique among the Avars, and, naturally, of the Slavs, because without the latter it is doubtful that the nomads master this technique.
Siege of the VII century
The Slavic tribes of this period, who lived in a vast space, fought with different opponents, but sources give us the opportunity to confidently talk about the gradual growth of their skills in siege business. In 605, as part of the Lombard troops, the Slavs, subjects of the Hagan, took part in the siege of several North Italian cities, in particular, Mantova was taken with the help of rams.
But Thomas Splitsky, reports a new seizure of Salon, but by the Antian tribe of Croats, the fierce enemies of the Avar, in 615 or 616. He writes that
“Began [the leader. - V.E.] from all sides constantly bombard the Salon with arrows or darts. Some from the slope of the overhanging mountain with a deafening roar threw stones from the sling at the walls, others, in a closed formation, gradually approaching the walls, wondered how to ram the gates. ”
If the message of Thomas Splitsky is genuine, then we see that the Antes are already actively using siege weapons: the Salon could not stand the siege and was taken.
A new siege of Thessaloniki occurred in the 10-20s of the 618th century, possibly around XNUMX, and if the Slavs, dependent on the Avars, participated in the previous assaults, then completely free tribes attack Thessaloniki. At a time when the question of whether or not to be a Roman Empire was being decided in the East, the Slavs began to colonize the European part of the empire: at first they plundered the islands and coast of all of Greece, and then approached on odnodrevki to the largest city of Greece. At the same time, everyone from small to large participated in the campaign.
The elected military leader of the Slavic tribes Khatson or Khotun divined before the siege and received signs that he would enter the city.
For three days, the Slavs looked for weaknesses in the defense of the city, both from the shore and from the sea, built siege weapons, and the townspeople tried to create additional fortifications. Perhaps, an attack from the land of such a powerful and well-fortified city was not supposed, but it was a distracting maneuver, with the aim of attacking a weakly protected harbor and fortifications of the coast. And then the assault began:
“On the fourth day at sunrise, the whole barbarian tribe simultaneously screamed and attacked the city wall from all sides: some threw stones from the prepared stone throwers, others dragged the stairs to the wall, trying to capture it, still others brought fire to the gates, fourth sent arrows to the walls like snow clouds. "
At the same time, an attack of the Slavs from the sea began, it is worth noting that the author writes either about odnodrevki, then about the ships that use the Slavs. It’s not worth guessing here for a long time, it’s quite possible that the Slavs had not only odnodrevki, but also various ships, possibly captured on campaigns, as was the case described in the same CDS, when the Slavs seized a ship off the coast of Greece with Bishop Cyprian from Africa at the end of the XNUMXth century
The city was seriously preparing for defense. The Romans blocked the harbor with a chain, spear fortified the coast. In the harbor, a fence was made of heavy, interlocked vessels.
Warriors on ships tried to land in places that they had spotted in the previous days, moreover, they knew about traps, however, something went wrong. Either the intercession of St. Dmitry, who traveled around the city by land and water, or the sudden deterioration of weather conditions, changed the situation at sea. The ships of the Slavs began to collide, some overturned, while others carried just to the shore to traps and shallows.
In addition, the leader of the Slavs Khatson was captured, that is, the prediction came true, and he "entered the gates of the city." This happened just at the gates that were the weakest fortified and which the Slavs wanted to attack from the sea. It is difficult to agree that during or immediately after the battle he made his way to the city for negotiations, most likely he was captured. One of the noble townspeople tried to shelter him, use him for some kind of bargaining with the Slavs, but the townspeople found out about this, and the women of Thessaloniki tore the Slavic leader.
But the city did not get rid of danger. Slavic tribes migrating to Greece saw him as a significant threat and at the same time tidied prey. In conditions when the empire could not allocate an expeditionary army for the Balkans, the Slavs called the Avar into the allies of the Kagan, seducing him with easy prey, as the author of the CDS writes.
At the same time, the Avars themselves were actively fighting against the Byzantines, even trying to capture Constantinople with a snap.
Maybe the arrival of the Avar forces was not connected with the Slavic embassy, since the Khagan was already interested in the capture of the city.
In 620, he arrived under the city with great power, and it can be said that it was a rehearsal of the siege of Constantinople in 626. The same alignment of forces attracts attention: Slavic tribes, allies of the Avars, Avars with their subjects Slavs, Bulgarians, Gepids and other tribes.
An attempt to capture the city with armored riders failed. The attackers brought up pre-prepared siege weapons:
“Some cooked the so-called“ turtles ”from braids and leathers, others - at the gates of“ rams ”from huge trunks and well-rotating wheels, others - huge wooden towers that exceeded the height of the wall, at the top of which were armed strong youths, the fourth were driven in by the so-called gorpeks "fifths dragged ladders on wheels, sixths invented flammable means."
It is worth noting that the besiegers and the besieged used different types of stone throwers, which the author emphasizes in terms of CDS.
The siege lasted 30 days, but due to the fact that the city constantly received help from the sea, it was unsuccessful and was lifted: the kagan left for Pannonia, especially since his enterprise could not be called unsuccessful: at the same time the Avars and Slavs devastated and took captured a huge number of the population.
The first siege of Constantinople
In 626, a grandiose event took place: Slavic tribes took part in the siege of the capital of the great Roman Empire - Constantinople. The city had powerful fortifications, its towers were 18 m high, the walls were 9 m high and 5 m thick.
We already wrote about this siege in an article on VO “Slavs, Avars and Byzantium. The beginning of the XNUMXth century ”. Let's pay attention to some details that are not covered in the article.
Theophanes the Confessor reports that the Persian commander Sarvaros made an alliance with the Avars, separately with the Bulgars, Gepids, and the Slavs.
The location of the troops, which is described in the Easter Chronicle, is also significant: the kagan took a position in front of the walls of Constantinople in the center and north, closer to the Golden Horn, in the north were Slavs subordinate to the Avars. To the south, from the Avar headquarters, and at the Golden Gate, are the Allied Slavs. There is no absolute clarity here, but it can be assumed that these allied Slavs are precisely those with whom the Sassanids separately agreed. These are Slavic tribes who occupied the 20th century VII century. land in Greece and Macedonia. It was they who more than once participated in joint operations with the Avars, who supported the siege of the second Rome.
They, outraged by the fact that the kagan ordered to kill the Slavs from odnodrevki, who fell under the blow of the Romans warships, lifted the siege and the kagan was forced to follow them (Ivanov S.A.).
As for the siege weapons near the Avars near Constantinople, about which Patriarch Nicephorus writes (the XNUMXth century, “wooden towers and turtles”, χελωναι τα κατασκευάσματα), it is most likely that the Slavs were engaged in their construction.
Whackers. Walls of Constantinople from the Golden Horn. Istanbul. Turkey. Author photo
The blockade of Thessaloniki 674-677
The “Miracle 5” of St. Dmitry tells us that the Slavic tribes who settled in Greece and Macedonia, despite the fact that they had various contacts with Thessalonica, hatched plans to capture the city. The prince of the Rhinkhas, Pervud, or Preboud (translated in The Great Chatei-Mineiey), often visited Thessaloniki, spoke Greek and wore Romance clothes, and he was captured in 674 by order of Vasileus Constantine IV (668–685 ) and sent to the capital. This was done contrary to the interests of the city, since a delegation consisting of Slavic representatives and citizens went to the emperor. Konstantin said that he would release him at the end of the war with the Arabs, most likely the capture of Preboud was due to the fact that the emperor wanted to protect his rear from Slavic attacks, but the opposite happened.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Pervud was killed in Constantinople, which caused fury of the Rhinkhins, their neighbors and allies:
“First of all, they decided among themselves that the Slavs from Strimon would capture the eastern and northern sides, and the Slavs from Rinkhin and the sagudata would capture the western and coastal [sending] connected ships every day.”
The two-year blockade of Thessaloniki began. The Slavs constantly attacked the surroundings and the city both on land and from the sea, using "connected ships." Under the connected ships, some researchers consider single-boat boats, connected in three pieces with a deck of boards for installing siege weapons. Of course, such structures can only be used on calm water, which, for example, is advised by the polyorgetic Anonymous Byzantine in his theoretical work (≈ X century). It is worth saying that the townspeople also used odnodrevki. In the end, a terrible city came in and around the city. The deserter Slave lured a detachment of the city militia from the city, which probably consisted of the best soldiers, and the Slavs destroyed it.
To top it all, sailors who came to the rescue of the city on ships worked in the city of outrage. Then, in the policy, it was decided to send all available ships, ships and odnodrevki for food to the Velegesite tribe along with the remaining soldiers. The Velegesite tribe did not take part in the siege, but was ready, if necessary or possible, to support other Slavs.
The Slavs decided to take advantage of the departure of the main forces. The leaders of the Druzhuvite tribe, which had not previously been mentioned during the blockade, appeared under the walls of the city and offered to storm. Apparently, they did siege artillery and various devices, according to the author of “5 miracles,” “this was something that none of our generation knew and never saw, and we still have not been able to give most of them title".
On July 25, 677, Slavs from the Rhinkhin and Sagudat tribes densely surrounded the city from the sea and land, scouts looked for weak spots in the defense and established siege artillery. True, one Slavic tribe, the Strimonians, did not approach the city, but turned back.
The next day the assault began. It lasted three days: but, as the author of this part of the CDS explains, there can be no explanation for the victory of the weak forces of the city, except for the intercession of St. Dmitry.
And again the failure caused discord among the Slavic tribes, we note that the Slavic militia did not have a single leader, at least the source did not report him, and we are talking only about a lot of leaders.
But the Slavs had an advantage in power, so they continued to rob around the city, the dispatch of the imperial troops sent the army of the Slavs, but did not dare to reach Thessaloniki.
And here we come to the most important information from this source. So, at the end of the VII century. we see which way the Slavs went from complete inability to besiege fortifications to the construction of the most complex siege weapons:
“Among them was one of this Slavic people, who knew how to behave with dignity, efficient and reasonable, and also, thanks to his vast experience, versed in the construction and installation of military vehicles. He asked the prince himself to give him permission and help in order to build a magnificent tower of tightly connected logs, to put it, skillfully strengthening it, on wheels or some ice rinks. He wanted to cover it with freshly ripped skins, set stone-throwers on top, and chain it on both sides in the form of ... a sword. From above where there are battlements, hoplites will go. It would be three floors so that archers and slingers could be placed in it - in a word, to build such a machine with the help of which, he claimed, they would definitely take the city. "
We emphasize that we have come a long way in military knowledge. Which, however, does not contradict the tribal system of society. Military activity and robbery in the conditions of migration come to the fore, as with other "barbarian" peoples. Although, after some time, the Slavs will completely settle on occupied lands, which we already see from the same source: the Slavs are successfully engaged in agriculture, including the development of new crops (the Velegesite tribe). Obviously, such societies, due to their internal structure, could not remain constantly in a state of war.
What technique did the Slavs use in sieges? This will be described in detail in the next article.
Sources and literature:
Chapters from the “Church History” of John of Ephesus / Translation by N.V. Pigulevskaya // Pigulevskaya N.V. Syrian medieval historiography. Research and translations. Compiled by Meshcherskaya E.N. SPb., 2011.
Procopius of Caesarea War with the Goths / Translation S.P. Kondratiev. T.I. M., 1996.
Procopius of Caesarea. About the buildings // War with the Goths. About the buildings. Translation by S.P. Kondratiev. T.II. M., 1996.
Miracles of St. Demetrius of Solunsky. Translation by S. A. Ivanov // Codex of the oldest written news of the Slavs. T.II. M., 1995.
Pavel Deacon. History of the Lombards. Translation D.N. Cancer. M., 1970.
Konstantin Bagryanorodny. About managing an empire. M, 1990.
Theophylact Simocatta History. Translation by S.P. Kondratiev. M., 1996.
Thomas Splitsky “History of the Archbishops of Salons and Split” Translation, introductory article and comments by OA Akimova. M., 1997.
Chichurov I.S. Byzantine historical works: "Chronography" of Theophanes, "Breviary" of Nicephorus. Texts. Transfer. A comment. M., 1980.
Corpus scriptorum historiae Byzantinae. Theophanis chronographia. Ex recensione loan. Classeni VI Bonnae. MDCCCXXXIX.
Shuvalov P.V. Northeast of the Balkan Peninsula in the Late Antiquity // From the History of Byzantium and Byzantine Studies. Interuniversity collection. Ed. G.L. Kurbatova. L., 1991.
To be continued ...