The transition from the Ancient Slavic to the Cyril and Methodius’ Slavic civilization and culture

Studying Slavic cultural and historical identity in the global context of human existence since its first historical beginnings to its contemporary collective form has to incorporate the phenomenon of the process of civilizational transition from one to another era, or from one to another sociological and culturological setting in times gone by. In fact, regardless of the geographical setting through the centuries the fundamental civilisations and cultures had overlapped, while Slavic culture itself left a living substrate which has served as a well and a source from which the contemporary Slavic traditions (including the South Slavic – Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Croatian and Slovenian) have drawn to develop their own cultural, historical and national identities. In the Balkans specifically, as well as in South East Europe in general this process of civilizational overlapping can trace its continuity back all the way to Antiquity (Hellenism and Classical Macedonism), through the Roman-Latin and the Byzantine-Christian global societies, all the way to the establishment and development of the Slavic civilizational consciousness resulting in the spiritual and cultural self-identification and self-awareness of the Slavic collective.

That is why when looking and interpreting from a contemporary perspective, being witness to the phenomenological re-actualization by our generation of globalization as the only possible way to achieve cultural overlapping between the nations in the new process of integration, with every national tradition shifting within the frame of the joint creative conglomerates which can be considered as general civilizational benefits of the global cultural and historical processes. Consequently, no modern national cultural and historical tradition can claim to be the only successor to a specific global cultural and historical substrate (Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, etc.) and the only one to draw from a specific historically permeable civilizational source. The aforementioned needs of the times for direct spiritual recognition and cultural communication between nations have resulted in the Macedonian spiritual and cultural tradition (as well as that of other modern nations and national cultures) shifting within the boundaries of the general civilizational achievements as part of the global cultural and historical processes. This sociological and culturological phenomenon should be the basis for the framework determining the continuity of the Macedonian cultural and historical development, linking it with the Ancient Macedonian creative heritage as part of the Classical Hellenistic substrate, with Roman and Byzantine cultural history, as well as with the historical experiences of the general Slavic collective.

In this context we would like to point out that the inadequate attention paid to the importance of global civilizational and culturological introspections has resulted in the fact that until recently the study of the cultural and historical process on the territory of Macedonia has been carried out within a limited periodical timeframe. This has led to a forming imprecise and insufficiently founded conclusions and opinions about the continuity of development. There are still instances where there is a lack of grasping the context and the importance of the global and the general civilizational intercultural historical processes. Furthermore, this has resulted in maintaining anachronous, assimilatory and ideologically politicized approaches to scientific research. At a time when there is overemphasis on the domination of the importance of the Slavic collective identity in the process of self-recognition and self-identification, the origins of the historical development of the Macedonian cultural and national identity are found in the work of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, while the continuity of its creative growth starts to be studied in the works of their most prominent students and followers – Ss. Clement and Naum of Ohrid, the founders of the Ohrid spiritual and literary school and the main actors in the spreading of the awareness about the Slavic civilization in Macedonia. However, when we stop overlooking the aspects derived from the essence and the character of the phenomenon of civilizational overlapping as part of Macedonian cultural and historical identity, then it will become evident that we also have to take into account the spiritual and cultural traditions that have been part of the global experience prior to the period of Ss. Cyril and Methodius – that of Classical Antiquity and Early Christianity. It is a well-known fact that the territory of Macedonia has always been the centre of the Balkans and South East Europe, a starting place for the dispersion of various highly impactful civilizational transformations through different historical eras. Starting from this research deficiency of our cultural historiography with regards to the crossroads of civilisations, we can clearly detect the need to study the continuity of Macedonian cultural and historical development in a more detailed manner in the periods leading up to the Ss. Cyril and Methodius tradition.

After making these introductory remarks, we can return our attention to the main subject of our study through a better established culturological interactive approach, i.e. Studying the phenomenon of Slavic civilization and culture. However, at the very beginning, we cannot distance ourselves from the divergence in this phenomenon which exists in relation to the diachrony and synchrony of the existence of the Slavic civilizational system.

Namely, today we are witnessing the existence of various theories and popular beliefs concerning the birth of Slavic civilization and culture, ranging from the oldest substrates of the Indo-European Proto-Slavic tradition of the Venetis, Antes and Sclavenes – all the way to the medieval Slavs who have developed their new social and cultural identity through a symbiosis of various domicile traditions and spiritual impressions from the territories they had settled. All current theories mainly attempt to overcome the complex issues which arise from archeological findings in today’s Slavic territories, as well as from any other preserved material and spiritual sources where one tries to indirectly find imaginary answers, even from the observations found in cults and legends of Slavic mythology. Simply put, over the deepest recesses of human history lies the shadow of the magic of myths and legends, making it difficult to pinpoint the place and period when the Proto-Slavs lived before their great migration to the West. This is the reason why all attempts to identify the domicile ancient civilisation and culture of the Indo-European branch shall always be subject to all kinds of romanticized impressionistic thinking. These types of representations undoubtedly serve contemporary nations to feed the national needs of their collective identity. Even from a diachronical and synchronical perspective, the etymology of the name of the “Slav” national collective remains unresolved. It is an irony that we have to point out that even though certain researchers try to identify behind the origin of the term “those that know how to speak (da slovat)” – yet contemporary Slavic studies remains “the subject which still doesn’t know how to speak (da slovi) about them”.

In the context of what has already been stated, we have to remark that usually in historical studies the occurrence of Slavic civilization and culture begins to be more clearly registered starting from the period of the so-called great migration of nations (i.e. Slavic colonization), which occurred in early medieval times – starting in the 80’s of the VI century and all throughout the VII century. It has to be said that the spiritual and cultural symbiosis of the indigenous (domicile) populations with the migrated Slavic tribes took place under the intensive influence of the process of Byzantine globalization. At this time, in the then current sociological and culturological surroundings, two very important factors became very active: Slavicisation and Christianisation. The process of slavicisation included the indigenous populations of the colonized territories, where gradually the Slavic collective identity assumed a dominant position. On the other hand, the process of Christianization suppressed the pagan traditional spiritual heritage of the settled Slavic tribes which was the result of a well-planned and functional political doctrine aimed at ensuring the loyalty and integration of Slavs in the Byzantine global world.

The historical and civilisational projection we have presented is best proven through the illustration of the highly complex processes which took place in Macedonia. Furthermore, their insufficient sociological or culturological explication has had an effect, and still has, on the suppression or appropriation of the historical Macedonian identity – to the point of borrowing parts of its identity and incorporating them in the contemporary foundations of other neighbouring national traditions. The basis for the clarification of the civilizational transition in this period of the continuity of the Macedonian cultural and historical identity can be found in the scope and essence of the process of building upon the existing substrate which lead to the appearance of the so-called Slavic-Byzantine and Christian civilization and culture. Yet, even this was preceded by processes involving the adaptation and inclusion of new general civilizational values in their spiritual and cultural life through a motivated interaction of divergent influences and relations.Na

mely, as early as the beginning of the IV century the Eastern Roman Empire – Byzantium relied on ancient Macedonian historical and cultural experiences, thus intertwining the heritage of the powerful, but non-existent Macedonian Empire with the just as mighty Byzantine Empire which was born mainly on the foundations of the former. The new spiritual and cultural development taking place was mostly founded on Christian forms of social organization which were given primary role in the establishment of the systems of ideas and thought resulting in a new civilizational approach to life. The links between the Macedonian early Christian and medieval cultural tradition and Byzantine culture were unlimited, enabling the transmission of religious, philosophical, cultural and literary thought in both directions. From its beginnings in the early Christian period, Byzantium spread its civilization and culture throughout Macedonian territory. Occasionally, within the overall Byzantine cultural and historical development, the processes taking place in Macedonia periodically served as starting points and centres for the realization of developmental tendencies specific for its times. The indigenous Macedonian population received and perceived all spiritual and cultural achievements in the prestigious Byzantine Greek koine language which was the means of communication in the Byzantine multiethnic and multicultural setting.1F

However, the ongoing Slavic migration wave starting from the second half of the VI century onwards lead to significant changes in the ethnic composition in the region of Macedonia and wider in the Balkans. The indigenous (domicile) Macedonian population which until that time was incorporated in the Byzantine spiritual, cultural and administrative linguistic environment was forced into a completely new ethnic symbiosis with the settling Slavic tribes, making it after a while bilingual (while in the broader Byzantine social context, even trilingual). As we have already stated earlier, this is the time when the dominant social position of the Slavic collective identity came to the fore.

However, there is a certain historical consequentiality behind this active historical process.

From the very first contacts with the political and public life of Byzantium, the settling Slavs were subject to its spiritual and cultural influence. Christianity as the established spiritual or cultural tradition in Byzantium gradually began to find its place among the Slavs, especially due to the fact that they came into contact with some of the oldest early Christian centres during their settlement in Macedonia and in the Balkans. There were a great number of early Christian temples on the territory of Macedonia, which played a crucial role in the future Christianization of the migrated Slavs. By the second decade of the VII century there were Slavic colonisers present throughout the territory of Macedonia. Its territory was settled by the following tribes: Drougoubitai, Belegezites, Berziti (Brsjaks), Sagudates, Rhynchinoi, Strymonites and Smolyani. Though, the settlement of the South Slavs in Macedonia and other territories did not lead to the full realization of the process of complete slavicisation.

In the beginning, each ethnic group internally communicated and existed within their own linguistic and spiritual traditions. However, this complete isolation could not persist, because all the ethnic communities living in the same territory were compelled to live together. Gradually, the indigenous Macedonian population started to simultaneously communicate in the Slavic language, thus making it bilingual. From a sociological perspective, this was simply imposed by the necessity of mutual trading and exchanging of goods and tools. Later, this was even more markedly illustrated in the 5th chapter of the Life of St. Methodius of Thessaloniki, describing how he received the orders for the Moravian mission in 862/863 AD. It is not by accident at this point in the text that we find the address of the Byzantine emperor Michael III to St. Constantine-Cyril: Noone else can carry out this undertaking, but you. That is why, I give you many gifts, take your brother, hegumenos Methodius, and go! You are from Thessaloniki, and all the citizens of Thessaloniki speak perfect Slavic!2F

Initially, following the migration Slavs were immune to the Christian spiritual tradition they came across, continuing to actively practice their old Slavic religion from their pagan ancient lands. The folk religion and mythology of the Old Slavs was based on worshiping natural deities and respecting the virtual power of supernatural forces. However, the natural incorporation of the Slavs in the life of their new surroundings dominated by the influence of global Christianity started to slowly distance them from their pagan visions and stimulated an active spiritual transformation reinforced by the necessity of mutual cultural and civilizational overlapping.

These global processes were quite complex and slowly developed over the course of almost three centuries. Namely, the Slavic colonizers would have spontaneously adapted to the Christian spiritual and cultural world under the influence of the contacts with the domestic Macedonian population and the spiritual Biblical tradition. Yet, this intercultural civilizational function could not be easily facilitated because of the fact that the newly settled Slavic pagan population had difficulty in learning and accepting Byzantine Greek oral and written communication. There had to be a time period for functional sociological and culturological factors to develop and to enable the historical phenomenon of the standardization of the Old Slavic literary language, Slavic literacy, creation of Slavic literature and church service. The finale of this historical episode of the Slavic civilizational and spiritual transformation set the scene for the political activation of the missionary and enlightenment work of Ss. Cyril and Methodius and their followers. This resulted in the fact that as early as the IX century there was a historical necessity to unsettle the balance of Slavic dual religion and to close off the juncture in the road which lead in two different directions: the path of paganism and the path of Christianity.

Directions of the settlement of the Slavs during the great migration of the nations in the
VI-VII century.
(Source: Византиско-македонски книжевни врски,
Второ електронско издание, Скопје 2012).

Perun, the supreme god of the Old Slavs.

Pagan beliefs of Old Slavs.

1. See more in detail in the following monograph: Илија Велев, Византиско-македонски книжевни врски, Скопје 2005; Второ електронско издание, Скопје 2012.
2. See: Панонски легенди, Житие за св. Методиј, Глава 5. Превод на современ македонски јазик Јован Таковски, Скопје 2001, стр.84.

AuthorIlija Velev
2018-12-19T12:41:32+00:00 December 21st, 2015|Categories: Essays, Literature, Blesok no. 103-104|0 Comments