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Old February 10th, 2018, 01:08 AM   #1

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Fluid frontiers between Byzantines and Persians


I've been reading some Procopius lately, specifically The Buildings of Justinian (translated by H. B. Dewing), and one passage about the frontier between Rome and Persia came to my attention.

Quote:
As one goes from CitharizŰn to Theodosiopolis and the other Armenia, the land is called ChorzanÍ; it extends for a distance of about three days' journey, not being marked off from the Persian territory by the water of any lake or by any river's stream or by a wall of mountains which pinch the road into a narrow pass, but the two frontiers are indistinct. So the inhabitants of this region, whether subjects of the Romans or of the Persians, have no fear of each other, nor do they give one another any occasion to apprehend an attack, but they even intermarry and hold a common market for their produce and together share the labours of farming. (III.3.9-10)
So I got really curious as to what was the reaction of these people, and of people in other parts of the frontier that weren't so solidified, to the conflicts between Rome and Persia in the 6th and 7th centuries. Did they simply break off marriages? Did they migrate? Or did nothing really change for them, the wars being isolated events that didn't necessarily affect small populations?
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Old February 10th, 2018, 01:21 AM   #2

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War would have been a major inconvenience. Most likely these people would have been upset and angry about their idiotic governments dragging them to war and disrupting their lives.

I wouldn't be surprised if local initiatives by people attempted to minimise the war, as far as possible. Such initiatives would likely be at odds with young hotheads coming from the capital who did not understand the local politics and would try to provoke an incident.

Thanks for posting btw, I had not heard of this reference before. Great to see primary sources
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Old February 10th, 2018, 03:46 AM   #3

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War would have been a major inconvenience. Most likely these people would have been upset and angry about their idiotic governments dragging them to war and disrupting their lives.

I wouldn't be surprised if local initiatives by people attempted to minimise the war, as far as possible. Such initiatives would likely be at odds with young hotheads coming from the capital who did not understand the local politics and would try to provoke an incident.

Thanks for posting btw, I had not heard of this reference before. Great to see primary sources
You're welcome!

But would their lives really be disrupted? Procopius states that people from this place in specific were involved in one of the wars because the Persian king used this weak frontier point to invade Roman territory, but I imagine that in some other places people simply weren't caught in the middle of battles.

About your second paragraph, I remember reading in Kaegi's Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests that it was common for local 'leaders' (I could call them governors, but I don't know if that's the appropriate word) to simply make an arrangement so that invading forces ignored their city and moved on further into Roman territory. Maybe this also happened in places where their cultures mingled, such as the one Procopius describes.
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Old February 10th, 2018, 02:46 PM   #4

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Most of the people would flee if large armies were traversing their lands though it was fairly common for both Persians and Byzantines to demand some sort of vassal relationship from all the border areas local nobles. Most borders in this period were fairly fluid and especially in mountainous regions there might have been a dozen languages or dialects spoken and people did not have modern attitudes about nationalities where most of the time only the elites might have considered themselves any particular nationality with even ethnicity being a bit fluid due to regular intermarriages.
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Old February 11th, 2018, 06:40 AM   #5

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Originally Posted by James Cook View Post
Did they simply break off marriages? Did they migrate? Or did nothing really change for them, the wars being isolated events that didn't necessarily affect small populations?
Unfortunately, we simply don't know much about the people who lived right on the frontiers. We just get snippets of their lives now and then. I'm not sure that the increasing warfare over the sixth century really changed much for many of these people - even in the heavily fortified Mesopotamian frontier zone where the actual zone of potential contact is mostly limited along the river valleys, it's interesting to note that even there the frontier is pretty porous. That the Romans set up laws forcing travellers and merchants to pass through their customs stations is evidence that the opposite was happening given the reactionary nature of Roman law. At least one fourth-century magnate simply bought an estate on the Euphrates so he could communicate freely with the Persian court. The Arab tribes, while not beyond Roman influence, were beyond direct Roman control and that was another way through the frontier. It's also interesting to note that in writings in non-imperial languages by non-imperial peoples (the Syriac churches and the Jews) the barrier between empires does not seem particularly vast. And all of this refers to the Mesopotamia frontier, which is much more constricted and directly controlled by Roman troops than the highlands of Persarmenia, where local rulers were called upon to do most of the administration and which remained peripheral to both empires until the mid-sixth century.

Although it's getting a bit old, A.D. Lee's Information and Frontiers: Roman Foreign Relations in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) is still a good treatment on the subject, but see also Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: The Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), and Elizabeth Key Fowden, The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius between Rome and Iran (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999). More recently, but note that "Christians" means only Syriac Christians and not other groups, Richard E. Payne, A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2015).
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Old February 12th, 2018, 12:11 AM   #6

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Originally Posted by Kirialax View Post
Although it's getting a bit old, A.D. Lee's Information and Frontiers: Roman Foreign Relations in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) is still a good treatment on the subject, but see also Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: The Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), and Elizabeth Key Fowden, The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius between Rome and Iran (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999). More recently, but note that "Christians" means only Syriac Christians and not other groups, Richard E. Payne, A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2015).
Thank you for the information and references! I'm going to spend some time with them in the near future. By the way, do you have any example in mind of writings by non-imperial people that show a more fluid frontier?
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Old February 12th, 2018, 01:36 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Kirialax View Post
Unfortunately, we simply don't know much about the people who lived right on the frontiers. We just get snippets of their lives now and then. I'm not sure that the increasing warfare over the sixth century really changed much for many of these people - even in the heavily fortified Mesopotamian frontier zone where the actual zone of potential contact is mostly limited along the river valleys, it's interesting to note that even there the frontier is pretty porous. That the Romans set up laws forcing travellers and merchants to pass through their customs stations is evidence that the opposite was happening given the reactionary nature of Roman law. At least one fourth-century magnate simply bought an estate on the Euphrates so he could communicate freely with the Persian court. The Arab tribes, while not beyond Roman influence, were beyond direct Roman control and that was another way through the frontier. It's also interesting to note that in writings in non-imperial languages by non-imperial peoples (the Syriac churches and the Jews) the barrier between empires does not seem particularly vast. And all of this refers to the Mesopotamia frontier, which is much more constricted and directly controlled by Roman troops than the highlands of Persarmenia, where local rulers were called upon to do most of the administration and which remained peripheral to both empires until the mid-sixth century.

Although it's getting a bit old, A.D. Lee's Information and Frontiers: Roman Foreign Relations in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) is still a good treatment on the subject, but see also Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: The Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), and Elizabeth Key Fowden, The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius between Rome and Iran (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999). More recently, but note that "Christians" means only Syriac Christians and not other groups, Richard E. Payne, A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2015).
excellent information, thanks.
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Old March 6th, 2018, 07:00 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by James Cook View Post
I've been reading some Procopius lately, specifically The Buildings of Justinian (translated by H. B. Dewing), and one passage about the frontier between Rome and Persia came to my attention.

So I got really curious as to what was the reaction of these people, and of people in other parts of the frontier that weren't so solidified, to the conflicts between Rome and Persia in the 6th and 7th centuries. Did they simply break off marriages? Did they migrate? Or did nothing really change for them, the wars being isolated events that didn't necessarily affect small populations?
That land cited by Procopious, that so called ChorzanÍ, was in all probablity Khorasan aka Khwarezm aka Chorasmia, i.e. the Turko-Iranian realm straddling parts of today's Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan & Turkmenistan. One word would describe the people of this region in terms of culture, customs, language, lifestyle. Fluid.

Khorasan aka Khwarezm aka Chorasmia is believed to hv been a result of an expansion of the bronze age BMAC culture, which later fused with Indo-Iranians during their migrations ca 1000 BC.

Last edited by Dreamhunter; March 6th, 2018 at 08:15 PM.
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Old March 6th, 2018, 10:56 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kirialax View Post
Unfortunately, we simply don't know much about the people who lived right on the frontiers. We just get snippets of their lives now and then. I'm not sure that the increasing warfare over the sixth century really changed much for many of these people - even in the heavily fortified Mesopotamian frontier zone where the actual zone of potential contact is mostly limited along the river valleys, it's interesting to note that even there the frontier is pretty porous. That the Romans set up laws forcing travellers and merchants to pass through their customs stations is evidence that the opposite was happening given the reactionary nature of Roman law. At least one fourth-century magnate simply bought an estate on the Euphrates so he could communicate freely with the Persian court. The Arab tribes, while not beyond Roman influence, were beyond direct Roman control and that was another way through the frontier. It's also interesting to note that in writings in non-imperial languages by non-imperial peoples (the Syriac churches and the Jews) the barrier between empires does not seem particularly vast. And all of this refers to the Mesopotamia frontier, which is much more constricted and directly controlled by Roman troops than the highlands of Persarmenia, where local rulers were called upon to do most of the administration and which remained peripheral to both empires until the mid-sixth century.

Although it's getting a bit old, A.D. Lee's Information and Frontiers: Roman Foreign Relations in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) is still a good treatment on the subject, but see also Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: The Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), and Elizabeth Key Fowden, The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius between Rome and Iran (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999). More recently, but note that "Christians" means only Syriac Christians and not other groups, Richard E. Payne, A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2015).
Thank you for this. I'm doing research about the eastern Roman border 5th - 7th century, your post is tremendously helpful!
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Old March 7th, 2018, 12:42 AM   #10

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Originally Posted by HistoryMarche View Post
Thank you for this. I'm doing research about the eastern Roman border 5th - 7th century, your post is tremendously helpful!
Glad it was useful. I should also add to the bibliography a few important works:

Michael Dodgeon and Samuel N.C. Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars A.D. 226-363: a documentary history (London: Routledge, 1992); Geoffrey Greatrex and Samuel N.C. Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars A.D. 636-628 (London: Routledge, 2002); Geoffrey Greatrex. For additional sources with information coming from the frontier zone, see especially trans. Watts, The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000).
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