The Antes (or Antae) were an early Slavic tribal polity which existed in the 6th century lower Danube and northwestern Black Sea region (modern Moldova and western Ukraine). They are commonly associated with the archaeological Penkovka culture.
First mentioned in 518, the Antes invaded the Diocese of Thrace at some point between 533 and 545. Shortly after, they became Byzantine foederati, and were given gold payments and a fort named Turris, somewhere north of the Danube at a strategically important location, so as to prevent hostile barbarians invading Roman lands. Thus, between 545 and the 580s, Antean soldiers fought in various Byzantine campaigns. The Antes were eventually attacked and destroyed by the Eurasian Avars at the beginning of the 7th century.
Based on the literary evidence provided by Procopius and Jordanes, the Antes (along with the Sklaveni and Venethi) have long been viewed as one of the constituent proto-Slavic peoples from which both medieval groups and modern nations descended. Studied since the late 18th century, modern scholars have at times engaged in heated polemics regarding Antean origins and the attribution of their ancestors. They have been variously regarded as ancestors of specifically the Vyatichi or Rus, from medieval perspective, and the Ukrainians versus all East Slavs with regard to extant populations. South Slavic historians additionally regarded the Antes as the ancestors of the East South Slavs.
Although regarded as a predominantly Slavic tribal union, numerous other theories have arisen, especially with regard to the origins of their ruling core; including theories of a Gothic, Iranic and Slavic ruling nobility, or some mixture thereof. Much dispute arose because of scant literary evidence: little is known apart from the tribal name itself and a handful of anthroponyms.
The name Antes itself does not appear to be Slavic, but is often held to be an Iranian word. Pritsak, citing Max Vasmer, argues that anta- means "frontier, end" (in Saskrit), thus *ant-ya could mean frontier-man.
Although the first unequivocal attestation of the tribal Antes in the 6th century AD, scholars have tried to connect the Antes with a tribe rendered An-tsai in a 2nd-century BC Chinese source (Hou Han-shu, 118, fol. 13r). Pliny the Elder (Natural History VI, 35) mentions some Anti living near the Azov shores; and inscriptions from the Kerch peninsula dating to the third century AD bear the word antas. Based on documentation of "Sarmatian" tribes inhabiting the north Pontic region during the early centuries of the Common Era, presumed Iranian loanwords into Slavic, and Sarmatian 'cultural borrowings' into the Penkovka culture, scholars such as Robert Magosci, Valentin Sedov and John Fine Jr. maintain earlier proposals by Soviet-era scholars such as Boris Rybakov, that the Antes were originally a Sarmatian-Alan frontier tribe which become Slavicized, but preserved their name.
Bohdan Struminskyj highlights, however, that the etymology of Antes remains unproven and is nevertheless "irrelevant". Struminskyj analysed the personal names of Antean chiefs and offered Germanic etymological alternatives to the commonly accepted Slavic etymology (first proposed by Stanislaw Rospond)
However, recent perspectives view the tribal entities named by Graeco-Roman sources as fluctuant political formations which were, above all, etic categorizations based on ethnographic stereotypes rather than first-hand, accurate knowledge of barbarian language or 'culture'. Szmoniewski summarizes that the Antes were not a "discrete, ethnically homogeneous entity" but rather "a highly complex political reality". Linguistically, contemporary evidence suggests that Slavic was widely spoken over a large area (from the eastern Alps to the Black Sea) by various ethnic, including those Roman provincial, "Germanic" (such as Gepids and Lombards), and Oghuric (Avars, Bulgars) populations. It has further been proposed that the Sklaveni were not distinguished from others on the basis of language or culture, but the type of their military organization. If compared to the Avars, or 6th century Goths, the Sklaveni were numerous, smaller disunited groups, one of which - the Antai- became foederati constituted by a treaty.
According to the Sarmatians-Antes link, the Antes were a sub-group of the Alans, which dominated the Black Sea and north Caucasus region during the "Late Sarmatian Period". The Antes were based between the Prut and lower Dniester during the 1st to 2nd centuries AD. From the 4th century, their center of power shifted northward toward the southern Bug. In the fifth and sixth centuries they settled in Volhynia and subsequently in the middle Dnieper region near the present-day city of Kiev. As they moved north from the open steppe to the forest steppe, they mixed with Slavic tribes. They organised the Slavic tribes and the name Antes came to be used for the mixed Slavo-Alanic body.
Whatever their exact 'origins', Jordanes and Procopius appear to suggest that the Antes were Slavic by the 5th century. In describing the lands of Scythia (Getica. 35), Jordanes states that "the populous race of the Venethi occupy a great expanse of land. Though their names are now dispersed amid various clans and places, yet they are chiefly called Sklaveni and Antes". Later, in describing the deeds of Ermanaric, the mythical Ostrogothic king. He informs that the Venethi "have now three names, Venethi, Antes and Sklaveni" (Get. 119'). Finally, Jordanes details a battle between the Antean king Boz and Vinitharius (Ermanaric's successor) after the latter's subjegation by the Huns. After initially defeating the Goths, the Antes lost the second battle, and Boz and 70 of his leading nobles were crucified (Get. 247). Scholars have traditionally taken the accounts of Jordanes at face value as evidence that Sklaveni and (the bulk of the) Antes descended from the Venedi, a tribe known to historians such as Tacitus, Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder since the 2nd century AD.
However, the utility of Getica as an accurate ethnographic excursus has been questioned. Prominent in raising doubts has been Walter Goffart, who argues that Getica created an entirely mythical story of Gothic, and other peoples' origins.[note 1] Curta further argues that Jordanes had no real ethnographic knowledge of "Scythia", despite claims that he himself was a Goth and was born in Thrace. He borrowed heavily from earlier historians, and only articifially linked the 6th century Sklaveni and Antes with the earlier Venethi, who had otherwise long disappeared by the 6th century. Whilst being anachronistic, he also employed a "modernizing narrative strategy" whereby older events – the war between the Ostrogothic Vithimiris and the Alans – was re-told as a war between Vinitharius and the contemporary Antes. In any case, no fourth century source mentions Antes, and the "Ostrogoths" only formed in the 5th century - inside the Balkans.
Apart from respect to older historians, Jordanes narrative style was shaped by his polemical debate with his contemporary - Procopius. Whilst Jordanes linked the Sclaveni and Antes with the ancient Venedi, Procopius states that they were both once called Sporoi (Procopius. History of the Wars. VII 14.29).[note 2]
Location in 6th century
Jordanes and Procopius have been seen as invaluable sources in locating the Antes with greater precision. Jordanes (Get. 25) states that they dwelt "along the curve of the Black Sea", from the Dniester to the Dnieper. P Barford questions whether this implies they occupied the steppe, or the regions further north; although most scholars generally envisage the Antes in the forest-steppe zone of Left-Bank Ukraine. In contrast, Procopius locates them just beyond the northern banks of the Danube (Wars V 27.1-2) (ie Wallachia). The lack of consistency and frank errors in their geography proves that neither author had anything more than vague geographic knowledge of "Scythia".[note 3]
6th and 7th centuries
The first contact between the East Romans and the Antes was in 518 AD. Recorded by Procopius (Wars VII 40.5-6), the Antean raid appeared to coincide with Vitilianus' revolt, but was intercepted and defeated by the magister militum per Thraciam Germanus. Germanus was replaced by Chilbudious in the early 530s, who was killed 3 years later, during an expedition against the various Sklavenoi. With the death of Chilbudious, Justinian appears to have changed his policy against Slavic barbarians from attack to defense, exemplified by his grand programme of re-fortification of garrisons along the Danube. Procopius notes that in 539/40, the Sklavenes and Antes 'became hostile to one another and engaged in battle. probably encouraged by the Romans' traditional tactic of 'divide and conquer'. At the same time, the Romans recruited mounted merceneries from both groups to aid their war against the Ostrogoths. Nevertheless, both Procopius and Jordanes report numerous raids by "Huns", Slavs, Bulgars and Antes in the years 539-40 AD; reporting that some 32 forts and 120, 000 Roman prisoners were captured. Sometime between 533 and 545, the Antes invaded the Diocese of Thrace, enslaving many Romans and taking them north of the Danube to the Antean homelands. Indeed, there was numerous raids during this turbulent decade by numerous barbarians, including the Antes.
Shortly after, the Antes became Roman allies (after they approached the Romans) and were given gold payments and a fort named Turris, somewhere north of the Danube at a strategically important location, so as to prevent hostile barbarians invading Roman lands. This was part of a larger set of alliances, including the Lombards, so that pressure can be lifted off the lower Danube and forces can be diverted to Italy. Thus in 545, the Antean soldiers were fighting in Lucania against Ostrogoths, and in the 580s they attacked the settlements of the Sklavenes at the behest of the Romans. In 555 and 556, Dobregezas (of Antean origin) led the Roman fleet in Crimea against Persian positions.
The Antes remained Roman allies until their demise in the first decade of the 7th century. They were often involved in conflicts with the Avars, such as the war recorded by Menander the Guardsman (50, frg 5.3.17-21) in the 560s. Later, in retaliation for a Roman attack on their Sklavene allies, the Avars attacked the Antes in 602. The Avars sent their general Apsich to "destroy the nation of the Antes". Despite numerous defections to the Romans during the campaign, the Avar attack appears to have ended the Antean polity. They never appear in sources apart from the epithet Anticus in the imperial titulature in 612. Curta argues that the 602 attack on the Antes destroyed their political independence. However, the epithet Anticus is attested in imperial titulature until 612, thus Kardaras rather argues that they disappearance of the Antes relates to general collapse of the Scythian/ lower Danubian limes which they defended, at which time their hegemony on the lower Danube ended. Whatever the case, shortly after the collapse of the Danubian limes (more specifically, the tactical Roman withdrawal), the first evidence of Slavic settlement in north-eastern Bulgaria begin to appear.
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- The very purpose of Jordanes' narrative, especially with regard to the alleged Scandinavian origin of the Goths, was to show that there is no place for the Goths in Roman territory. Together with his enumeration of other barbarian tribes in Scythia and around Dacia, Jordanes was stating that Scythia is overpopulated with barbarians, and the Goths should belong to the frozen wastelands of the North. Jordanes only feigned his own Gothic roots, and his work is designed to celebrate the destruction of the Gothic kingdom by the Byzantines. (Goffart, 2006)
- The term Spori is a hapax, but might have been inspired by the tribe "Spali" (curta, 1999. FN 36)
- Eg Jordanes states Scythia extends as far as the "Tyras" and "Danaster", although they are two names for the same river (Dniester). Procopius thought the Caucasus mountains extended as far as Illyricum. (Curta, 199, p. 327-8)
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