Mar 11, 2013

Illyrians or slaves, not Slavs!

Two great misconceptions, mostly malicious (nationalist-chauvinist-driven), reign the historical sciences in the western-Balkans for the last two and a half centuries. The first misconception concerns the never-ending disputation between the Albanian and the Serbian school. While the former school claims Albanians to be the last (only authentic?) surviving Illyrians, the latter claims not only that Albanians are Thracians (i.e., not Illyrians) but it also says that no such people as Illyrians has ever existed, instead contending that the locals were all Slav/Serb because ancient sources are filled with references to "sclavs" and "serfs"... The second misconception is related to the first, and it concerns the issue of who the Slavs were (or weren't) in the Balkans before the national awakening of the 18th century... The reason for the two schools being so unapologetic lies in the possible answers to the crucial question they thus pose: Whose is the western Balkans? But being so extreme, neither of those two views seems very authentic; besides, no other interested parties living in the area have ever been asked for their opinion on the above two fundamental disputes that can (and do - as we speak) have great repercussions on lives of millions. At the same time, both schools oppose wholeheartedly and fight fiercely any idea of Bosnia-centered Illyria, even though the idea is supported by a world's leading authority on Illyrians, Professor of Roman and Greek archaeology John Wilkes (the author of "The Illyrians", Oxford Press 2000).

The first dispute is dealt with easily just by stacking ancient maps in time. Thus by looking at the Ptolemy's Map [on the left] one can see that (province of) Illyria was alive and well just around year 100 AD, i.e. about the time the legend of Christ took roots. Following the situation as it developed, some centuries later there it is yet again [on the right] - amongst other Roman provinces including the conquered Dacia (today's Romania). What's curious about this however is that of all the provinces shown on the maps, only the detailed records on how Illyria was conquered are missing, unlike say the well-documented conquest of Dacia (see article of 26 August). However, it's not just that military papers are mysteriously lost, but according to Wilkes "even today Illyrians barely make the footnotes in most versions of ancient history" as well. Indeed, with exception of a partly preserved appendix on Illyrian wars, by Appian of Alexandria (95-165 AD), there is virtually no complete account available on (the conquest of) Illyria!
Wilkes supports the concept of a Bosnia-centered Illyria, proposing that it's actually Bosnia, not Albania, which was (the center of) Illyria. This is also obvious from the maps shown here. It's rather a mystery how Bosnia, so prominent and nearby the Rome itself, could have gotten omitted from most texts from/on the Roman Empire. He writes of Illyrians:
(1) "...A separate group of Illyrians identified by renowned historian Geza Alfoldy: he identifies 'Pannonian peoples' in Bosnia, northern Montenegro [around Pljevlja and Prijepolje, p.84] and western Serbia [Sandžak]". p.75
(2) "Not much reliance should perhaps be placed on attempts to identify an Illyrian anthropological type as short and dark-skinned similar to modern Albanians." p.219
(3) "...a documented description of Illyrians, Pannonian family: -Pannonians are tall and strong, always ready for a fight and to face dangeour but slow-witted." p.219
(4) "Life has always been hard in the Illyrian lands and countless wars of resistance against invaders are testimony to the durability of their populations." p.220
(5) "In sum, the destructive impact [of Bosnia-centred theory] on the earlier generalizations regarding Illyrians should be regarded as a step forward." p.40.
The Illyrians-Bogomils-Bosniaks continuity is self-evident as the above finds coincide with the settlements of today's Bosniaks (the Muslims of the Balkans). Note ancient maps [above] corroborating the early Antiquity-Ottoman Empire continuity too: there [left] you can see that, of the entire western Balkans, only Bosnia was called Illyria (proper) with own Sea called Illyricum Mare (part of a larger, Adriatic - Emperor Hadrian's Sea). It can be also seen that during the whole time of their independence, Illyrians had a coast from today's Dubrovnik to Šibenik. This simply continued (wasn't given to Bosnia by anyone!) during the entire period of Middle Ages [right], after the Holy See helped establish Kingdom of Bosnia just like many other European kingdoms that Vatican designed so to replace the fallen Roman Empire with a kingdoms-padded geopolitical shield protecting Rome for millennia to come - if you can't have one huge empire any more, then have a number of loyal and small nonetheless resilient states instead. Given that there are more than 200 scholastic theories on why the Empire fell (meaning no one has a slightest clue as to why it happened), it could also be that it never has fallen but was transformed (in the above described manner) instead.
Contrary to common belief, for the most part of their long history Illyrians/Bosnians had a strong fleet, brave infantry, and able generals. As immediate neighbors of the Romans and Greeks, they were enormously envied however. Therefore no Roman or Greek record referred to the Illyrians in any other way except as "pirates", "thieves", "barbarians", "rebels" or even "sclavs" and "serfs" (Lat. sclavo = Slav; serf = servus = slave, later on 'exiled Russian slave'), both terms used by the Romans as insult only, i.e., long before the 6th century when real Slav hordes began attacking and committing mass murder of thousands of Illyrians at a time, always careful not to encounter the Roman legions but only unarmed civilians (thus "softening" the Roman defenses that semi-relied on non-Italian recruits in Illyria and Thracia; before moving the border of civilizations westward to Drina River and on). Probably, the insults were part of the first geopolitical game ever played in the Antiquity, where both Rome and Greece played on the card of a well-known geopolitical fact that your immediate neighbor is your enemy, and that your immediate neighbor's neighbor is your natural ally. Similarly, later on, in the 18th century, Serbian nationalists will claim that all "sclav" and "serf" ever mentioned in the Antiquity were actually Serbs. (In the same grabbing manner they simplistically and systematically translated all appearances of 'Sclavoniae' in Latin texts, as 'Serbia(n)'.) Thus it's Serbian relentless nationalism that makes it important to set the record straight - today more than ever. Hence etymology of the word 'sclav' is completely unrelated to what's contended, so Serbia's historians cannot claim Slavic heritage from the ancient times for any of the peoples westward from the Drina, just like Albanians cannot claim their exclusive, pure-Illyrian heritage either. The real (and the only statistically significant) Slavs that exist in Bosnia nowadays are the Bosnian Orthodox (self-styled "Bosnian Serbs" although most are born in Bosnia) whose immediate ancestors (up to third knee) largely moved in from Serbia and Croatia during the last ninety years or so, thanks to Austria's and Serbia's administrations trying to Christianize the domestic Illyrian population.
No wonder both (and only) the Serbian and Albanian schools largely dismiss Wilkes (thus giving him an enormous credibility), for Wilkes says it's hard to believe Bosnian-Illyrian tribes were "Romanized", "Hellenized", etc. This however is what the Serbian school needs desperately so that they too can claim that the same tribes had been also "Slavicized" after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and into the Mid Ages. Everyday experience however teaches us that assimilation of entire peoples/tribes under occupation is practically impossible, and can instead be expected to occur only in individuals moving to a foreign land. The maximum extent to which assimilation is able to get is already known from everyday life, the best example being our present-day diaspora: our refugees who got entirely surrounded by foreign language adopt that language as quickly as by 2nd generation. On the other hand, an occupation is an occupation is... then as nowadays - take for instance the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia (1527-1878) during which time Bosnians acquired only religion from their occupationists, but not their culture, tradition, or language for that matter. It has been suggested that Bosnians had attained language from the Slavs, and religion from the Turks, but it's a fact that they had never adopted both from the both. This arbitrariness is an important circumstantial evidence that "Romanization", "Hellenization", "Slavization", "Turkization", or "Germanization" were all practically impossible in Bosnia! Finally, if such "izations" were at all possible, why is it that the Bosnians adopted neither religion nor language from the Austrian occupationists too? The relatively shorter duration of that occupation compared to the other two occupations cannot be the answer because say the Roman occupation had lasted much longer than any other, yet most of the Illyrians-Bosnians had adopted neither Latin language nor Catholic religion, not to mention Roman culture, art or tradition.
Also, as Wilkes suggests, given the military mindedness of the Illyrians [royal armor shown above, soldier's armor on the left], as well as their vigilance and resistance to numerous conquerors through ages, it can be said with high certainty that today's Bosnians [Bosnian Muslims and Catholics] are direct descendants of the Illyrians who never "disappeared" or "got assimilated". Add to this the non-stop putting-down of Bosnians (via jokes akin of those on "slow-witted" Illyrians) that continues to this day and is mostly favored in Serbia and Croatia (same as in Greece and Rome a few millennia ago). Namely, this is an anecdotal evidence for validity of the Bosnia-centered theory of Illyria. Be it noted at the end that authenticity of many intermediate maps (produced in times before or after the maps showed above) can also be questioned, as such maps mostly come from Serbian (and to a lesser extent Croatian, albeit not less confused and not less nationalist-chauvinist) sources. Therefore it'd be useful to deliberately dispute all Serbian and Croatian historical references (sources, maps, analyses) on ancient and medieval Bosnia, at least until the time tells the true science from nationalist-driven (geo)politics. Unfortunately, history of Europe is history of war, even more so in case of the Balkans, and even more so still in case of Bosnia. Therefore, most of the grand events/undertakings in the area can probably be explained by geopolitical motives and related military activities. I don't need to remind the reader that the same overlaying set of rules applies to Bosnia even today, as it did in her recent past (Dayton Accord 1995, Teheran Conference 1943, Berlin Congress 1878), the most recent Kosovo-Bosnia connection - including the 1992-1995 aggression - being its latest manifestation as we speak... This is also why in the above I use geopolitical maps only (to show that most of the intermediate maps are unreliable), for geopolitics is "oberpolitics", with everything else (including history) from Antiquity till today being nothing more than its byproduct.