- Dec 2009
The Romans (including the medieval ones) tended to like their frontiers in one of two ways: either run by friendly or easily-manipulated clients who tend to be in the process of Romanizing, or along watercourses where troops can be much more easily supplied. Pushing north of the Danube invites trouble: they had centuries of defensive and logistical infrastructure already on the Danube, and that would need to be re-established on every new riverine frontier. The preferred method of dealing with the NW of the Black Sea steppe was diplomacy, and it's rather clear in De Administrando Imperio: send envoys regularly (to keep an eye on where the Pechenegs and Magyars are) to deliver gifts (to keep the chiefs in the Romans' good graces) and bring hostages back to Constantinople, who then get changed over the following year or so. Always keep the barbarians moving through the revolving door of the imperial court, which helps to build pro-Roman elites and keeps the imperial centre reliably informed about what's going on back on the frontier.Worthless?
Yeah, it's really obscure. Cherson seems to have a Khazar governor at the beginning of the eighth century, and then a decade later it doesn't, without much indication of what went on. There are some seals later from Cherson which suggests that the city is mainly being run by some sort of pro-Roman local elite families, probably something vaguely similar to the Gabras clan in Trebizond. We have about 300 seals from Cherson with known or approximate find locations. All date from 9-11th c. and there are plenty of hypatoi, and basilikoi protospatharioi. There's also a smaller destroyed archive at Sudak, on the south-central coast of the Crimea, with Byzantine seals stretching all the way from the early 8th to the 11th centuries, which also points to some sort of direct rule. What isn't present are kommerkiarios seals, which makes me think that there were few regular troops deployed to the Crimea. But alas, there's an entire book on the administration of Byzantine Cherson and I simply haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Most of the literature is in Russia, however, which makes it inaccessible to me....and indeed Cherson itself, if I recall correctly, had previously slipped out of direct Roman control for a number of decades in the 8th and early 9th (though I haven't read the relevant scholarship in a while, so don't necessarily take my word for it) -- so it wasn't in Roman interests to spend valuable men, money, and resources attempting to exert any direct control over the minor trading towns scattered further north. In any case, though, almost exclusive control of the well-populated regions of the Black Sea made it still, in the 11th and arguably even 12th centuries...