Why didn't the Byzantines ever attempt to expand into the northern Black Sea territories (other than southern Crimea)?


Ad Honorem
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.

...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...
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.


Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
I think "Worthless" isn't the most accurate term, but it's a symptom of the truth about it.
It's downright stupid of Empires to try to hold and defend steppe territory unless you are going to conquer most or all the Steppes (as the Great Khan and Ivan the Terrible did) because you otherwise leave it open to massive invasion from any number of tribes or tribal alliances, "Hey Atilla?" "Yes Odega?" "Wanna get your warriors, join with my warriors, and Buri, and Jimbo, and go trash those stupid Byzantines who are trying to hold onto a few hundred square km of steppe land?" "Why?" "So we can get that greener grass! Also for the FUN of VICTORY over those ****ing Roman-wannabes." "Yeah, sure, why not?" Then there's 80,000 troops (2000 horse warriors from the tribe of Elibi, 700 Archers of the Hoshega, 3000 footmen of the Asaru clan, 600 heavy cavalry archers from the Ahina, etc... etc... etc...) ...until you have 80,000-120,000 of those nomadic bastards running over your legions and killing all of them, taking their armour, and all the wealth those sorry SOBs were holding onto. Also all the liquor! And that's tragic.

I hope this makes sense, it's the reason.
Sep 2016
Georgia was an ally so no point attacking them, Romania was blocked by Bulgaria.
Byzantine actually attacked Georgia in 1021. Basil II defeated Georgian armies at Shirimni and at Svindaxi. The war against Georgia ended in victory for Byzantine and Basil took Georgian territories in Tao-Klarjeti.

Few years before that, Basil also finally destroyed and conquered first Bulgarian kingdom in 1018. Bulgaria regained it's independence only in 1185.
Likes: Futurist
Jul 2012
Even in the times of the singular Roman Empire, the Romans preferred to expand into Gaul and then over to England than expand north of the Danube that was a lot closer to its centre. Romans were only interested in taking over already developed societies that offered the scope to expropriate its wealth (and make the effort worthwhile). There were no such societies north of the Danube.
Sep 2012
I believe there are several translations of his alias Грозный / Groznii including the Awesome with its archaic meaning / he who inspires awe; I have seen the Dread, the Severe and the Stern. He was a tyrannical reformer and a conqueror like Peter I after him. His grandfather Ivan III (we know him as the Great) was known by his contemporaries as Groznii also, but he was not nearly as fearsome/dreadful etc as his grandson. Basically the period of his rule was a reign of terror for many of his subjects hence the Terrible as he who causes terror is quite appropriate methinks.

EDIT: This is more about the etymology of some English words / the evolution of their meaning than the nickname of this Russian monarch.
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Likes: Gvelion

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