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Original scientific paper

The Dark Sea in De administrando imperio: The Baltic or the Black Sea?

Milenko Lončar orcid id
Teuta Serreqi Jurić

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In his work De Administrando Imperio, Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959) differentiates between two Croatias – the Dalmatian or “baptized” Croatia, and the “unbaptized” one, which is also identified by using the terms “Great” or “White Croatia”, an area whence its inhabitants, the White Croats, moved to Dalmatian Croatia. The original homeland of the Croats is localized in several chapters of the text – in chapter 30, where the author uses geographical designations such as “beyond Bavaria” and “against Francia”, as well as in chapter 32, where he says that the White Croats and the Franks are neighbours of “the unbaptized Serbs, also called ʻwhiteʼ, who live beyond Turkey in a place called by them Boïki”. The most precise localization is, however, found in Chapter 31, where, other than stylizations such as “beyond Turkey” (i.e. Hungary) and “next to Francia”, or ethnopolitical terms such as “the Turks” (= Hungarians), “the Franks”, “the White Serbs”, or “the Pechenegs”, the author cites the exact distance from the “Dark Sea”, which amounts to thirty days of travel on foot. In identifying the “Dark Sea”, historiographic research has, until now, mostly been divided on the issue of whether or not the Emperor, when using this name (i.e. the Dark Sea), was referring to the Baltic Sea or the Black Sea. Researchers have attempted to get closer to an answer by calculating the number of days needed to get there on foot in stadia or kilometres, comparing that with the shortest modern routes. Assuming that White Croatia existed, according to De administrando imperio, in the area of today’s Czech Republic and/or southern Poland, the authors have measured the distance from Prague and Krakow both to the closest point on the Baltic Sea, the seaport Gdansk, and to the closest point on the Black Sea, the city of Odessa. The calculation favours the Baltic Sea, which is supported by an example from Chapter 42 in the same text, where the distance between the Danube and Sarkel, a fortress on the confluence of the Don River, is measured by the same measurement unit. The Arab travelogue writer Ibrahim Ibn Jakub used a similar measurement when citing the distance between Krakow and Prague. A further argument which would align with the theory that the Emperor uses the collocation thalassa skoteine in order to describe the Baltic Sea, is the fact that the author calls the Black Sea in three places in the text Pontos. Besides, the White Croats did not have access to the Black Sea due to the fact that their neighbours to the east were the inimical Pechenegs, who controlled those areas. The White Croats’ northern neighbours are not mentioned anywhere in the text, implying that they had an open route to the Baltic Sea, which they could reach in thirty days on foot.


Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus; De Administrando Imperio; White Croatia; Dark Sea; Baltic Sea; Black Sea; a day’s journey

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