Friday, April 29, 2016

The Brothers-in-law

Among the groups in history that have long since disappeared, there are the Pechenegs. They were a semi-nomadic group that spoke a Turkic language, originally inhabiting the area north of the Black Sea, but being pushed westward until they came into conflict (and cooperation, but more often conflict) with others.

Pechenges versus the Rus, from a 15th century Russian history
The group's name, Pecheneg, derives from the old Turkic word for brother-in-law. We assume that the tribal units comprised people related by marriages. One of their early mentions in documents is by an 11th century Uighur scholar, who analyzed their language and declared it a Turkic dialect. In the 12th century, Anna Comnena described them as speaking a common language with the Cumans (a literary language of Central and Eastern Europe).

An invading group of other Turkish peoples drove the Pechenegs from their homeland. The Pechenegs pushed into Hungarian lands in the mid-800s. Some scholars of the time claimed that some Pechenegs remained in their homeland and were absorbed into the invaders' culture. A Byzantine historian of the 10th century wrote of those who stayed:
...even to this day they live among them, and wear such distinguishing marks as separate them off and betray their origin and how it came about that they were split off from their own folk: for their tunics are short, reaching to the knee, and their sleeves are cut off at the shoulder, whereby, you see, they indicate that they have been cut off from their own folk and those of their race. [Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Imperial Administration]
Moving westward, Pechenegs made an alliance with Byzantium, who used them as allies against other groups, such as Magyars and Rus. Alliances shifted, however. Some Pechenegs attacked Kiev (in 968), while some joined Kiev in attacking Byzantium (970-71). The Pechenegs eventually had no neighbors with whom they did not have a history of hostility. In 1087, a large migration/invasion of Pechenegs (estimated at 80,000) started moving toward Constantinople from the north, plundering as they went. Byzantium, after years of mis-management and weak leadership, was unable to meet this threat without help. Alexios I Comnenos offered gold to the Pecheneg-related Cumans to come to his aid.

In April of 1091, a combined force of Byzantines and Cumans met the Pechenegs at a place called Levounion. The Pechenegs, with their women and children, were not prepared for such strong opposition. The slaughter was extensive, and the few survivors were taken into servitude at Constantinople. Any mention of Pechenegs after this (and there are very few) lists them as soldiers under Byzantine rulers.

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