Tibor Živković

SymboliSm of Some AnimAlS in The eArly medievAl SerbiA. TribuTe, Peace, and FriendshiP
The Early Medieval Serbian society is almost completely unknown to modern historiography. Most of information for studying it derives from Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ De administrando imperio (further in text, the DAI), especially chapters 31 and 32. There are two passages of special interest for the topic of this paper, both of them related to the early 850s, and both of them related to the peace agreement, and the gifts exchanged on that occasion, between Bulgarians and Serbs/Croats1. These two accounts reveal the meanings of tribute, friendship, and peace between nations or their rulers, on the most sophisticated levels. It is worth mentioning that the same transaction, executed at a different time and a different place, could have assumed a totally new meaning. Furthermore, even within one set of circumstances, different actors could view differently the very same transaction. It means that, for a historian, the labeling of each transaction is crucial2. However, before we take steps towards interpreting specific events, it is first necessary to clarify whether the tribute in its common meaning was known at all to the South Slavs. In the chapter 30 of the DAI, Porphyrogenitus wrote about the tribute that Dalmatian cities had to pay to the Slavs from the hinterland, dating from the time of Basil I. The cities of Spalato, Tetrangourion, Diadora, Opsara, Arbe and Vekla, used to pay 710 nomismata.
1. consTanTine PorPhyrogeniTus, De administrando imperio I-II, ed. Gy. morAvcSik – R. J. H. JenkinS, Washington D.C. 1967 (thereafter: DAI), I, cc. 31.58-67, 32.50-57. 2. Cf. e. cohen, Introduction, in e. cohen – m. b. de JonG (ed.), Medieval Transformations: Texts, Power and Gifts in Context, Leiden 2001, 9.

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Beside this tribute in solid gold, the cities also provided wine and various other commodities, valued perhaps more than the cash payment3. This is a classical tribute and does not need to be elaborated further. it is also a fine example that the Slavs of Dalmatian hinterland understood very well what other side had to pay, in order to maintain peace with them. In the chapter 32 of the DAI, Constantine Porphyrogenitus described the peace accord between the Serbs and Bulgarians around 8544. This peace was concluded after the Bulgarians have been defeated, and the Serbs captured 12 boyars and Vladimir, the eldest son of the Bulgarian Khan Boris. According to Porphyrogenitus, Boris was extremely concerned for his son Vladimir, and he concluded peace with the Serbs. Being afraid that the Serbs could ambush Vladimir on his way home, Boris had asked for his escort the sons of the Archon Mountimir, Boren and Stephen, who eventually escorted him safely as far as the frontier at Rasi. «For this favour Michael-Boris gave them great gifts (δωρεὰς μεγάλας)5. The Serbs, in return, gave him in the way of friendship, two slaves, two falcons, two dogs and eighty furs, which the Bulgarians describe as tribute (πάκτον)»6. On another occasion, Croats, after defeating Boris (in 853), exchanged presents with them, and, again according to Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Croats never used to pay tribute to the Bulgarians, «although the two have often made presents to one another in the way of friendship»7. Unfortunately, we do not know of what these presents actually were, but Porphyrogenitus at least clarified that both sides considered these gifts as an expression of friendship (φιλοφρονήσεως ἕνεκα). In the similar manner, Porphyrogenitus described a regular relationship between the archon of the Croats of Dalmatia,
3. DAI I, c. 30.132-138. 4. For the chronology of this war, see T. Živković, Portreti srpskih vladara (IX–XII), Belgrade 2006 (thereafter: Živković, Portreti), 22-23; see also DAI II, 134, which placed this war in ca. 860; also, lJ. mAkSimović, O vremenu pohoda bugarskog kneza Borisa na Srbiju, Zbornik Filozofskog fakulteta 14/1 (1979), 69-76, arguing for ca. 880. For the different opinions regarding the date of this war, see T. Živković, Južni Sloveni pod vizantijskom vlašću (600–1025), Belgrade 2007 (thereafter: Živković, Južni Sloveni), 260–261, and notes 1335 and 1336. 5. DAI I, 155: «handsome presents». 6. DAI I, c. 32.54-57. 7. DAI I, c. 31.63-67. For the date of this war, placed in the early 850s, see f. ŠiŠić, Povijest Hrvata u vrijeme narodnih vladara, Zagreb 1925, 335; n. klAić, Povijest Hrvata u ranom srednjem vijeku, Zagreb 1971, 230. See also, Živković, Južni Sloveni, 433, n. 1325.

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and archon of the Croats from Pannonia «who used to maintain friendly contact, though through envoys only»8. These envoys, we must assume, were most likely sent with appropriate gifts. The example of the peace accord between the Serbs and Bulgarians is interesting from at least two points of view. Firstly, Porphyrogenitus found it necessary to add the explanation that Bulgarians considered these gifts a tribute9. Secondly, he had previously explained that the Serbs considered these gifts as a sign of friendship. Constantine, generally speaking, writes in favor of the Serbs, which were at that time considered to be Byzantine allies. In the light of his political perceptions, it is possible that he softened, to some degree, the meaning of the gifts which the Serbs gave to the Bulgarians, since he added, probably due to his source, that the Bulgarians considered these gifts to be a tribute. The one possible way to solve this question —whether these gifts represented tribute, or an expression of friendship— is to find out the exact meaning of these gifts in their symbolic meaning, looking elsewhere in the sources that describe similar identical exchanges throughout Early Medieval Europe. The other way is to try to make much more profound analysis of the events that occurred at Rasi in 854. However, there is an additional problem; we do not know the origin of this account. We have to notice that this account is very rich in details, and it does not seem likely that it is based on an oral source from the late 940s. There is a doublet name of Boris-Michael, the mention of the frontier town of Rasi, the exact numbers of Serbian gifts –two dogs, two hawks, two slaves, 80 furs— a peculiar insight into Boris-Michael’ mind —the mention that he was forced to conclude peace, that he was out of himself in grief for his son, that he (Bulgarians) considered these gifts as a tribute— the names of the children of the Archon Mountimir which escorted vladimir at rasi (boren and Stephen), and finally, the exact number of the Bulgarian boyars captured by the Serbs, twelve of them. The doublet name of the Bulgarian khan proves that this account was written after his baptism, but not much posterior to that year (864). Otherwise, if it came from the 10th century source, the name Michael would have been
8. DAI I, c. 30.77-78. 9. For Constantine the word pakton elsewhere in the DAI regularly has the meaning of a tribute; cf. DAI I, cc. 21.14; 27.18; 28.39-40; 30.133; 31.65; 32.57; 43.128; 44.33, 39, 44, 59; 50.3, 5; 53.78.

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mentioned alone. It is highly probable that this account originated from an eyewitness who was at Rasi on that occasion. The whole passage was probably not a fragment, but rather belonged to a more extensive source, dealing with the earliest history of the Serbs and Croats10. Since we cannot elaborate this in more detail in this article, it will be enough to emphasize, primarily because of the details mentioned above, that such kind of narrative could hardly originate around ca. 940s, but rather around ca. 870s11. It was widespread custom from the ancient times, that even when one nation presented tribute to another, by recognizing its submission, the other side also gave gifts12. The enemy, even though being defeated, had to be treated with dignity and honor. The sequence of the moves is also very important. It was expected that the defeated side would approach first and present tribute, or gifts. In this context of the Serb-Bulgarian peace accord, this is evident the bulgarians were the first ones to present great gifts. only then, Serbs reciprocated with their own gifts in the manner of friendship. However, the meaning of the words gift and tribute, on an occasion when they are used to
10. The existence of the so-called Serbian Chronicle, as the main source for Constantine’s chapter 32 of the DAI, was suggested by G. oSTroGorSky, Porfirogenitova hronika srpskih vladara i njeni hronološki podaci, Istorijski Časopis 1 (1948), 24-29; also, lJ. mAkSimović, Struktura 32. glave spisa De administrando imperio, ZRVI 21 (1982), 25-32. This hypothesis is wrong, since there is an important repetition in DAI I, c. 32.65-67, which proves that Constantine made a fine-seam in order to connect his main source about the earliest history of the Serbs, with the material from the Archives of Constantinople; cf. similar in DAI II (Commentary), 100, which placed the beginning of another source at the DAI I, c. 32.81. The additional internal evidence is in chapter 32, which suggests the existence of at least two main sources for Serbs, is the chronological gap of some 35 years in Constantine’s narrative (between around 856 and around 891). For the repetition as a kind of the fine-seam, see G. r. oSborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2006, 43-45. 11. Constantine’s source for the earliest history of the Croats and Serbs was of ecclesiastical provenience, and it was composed around 877; see, T. Živković, Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ kastra oikoumena in the Southern Slavs Principalities, Istorijski Časopis 57 (2008), 22-25. 12. This was an old and quite widespread custom. See, r. d. S. yATeS, Making Wars and Making Peace in Early China, in k. A. rAAflAub (ed.), War and Peace in the Ancient World, Oxford 2007, 34; d. A. deSilvA, Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle «to the Hebrews», Grand Rapids Michigan 2000, 505, n. 60; m. mAuSS – M. douGlAS – W. D. halls (ed.), The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, 2nd revised edition, London 2002, passim; T. bryce, Letters of the Great Kings of the Ancient Near East: The Royal Correspondence of the Late Bronze Age, London 2003, 94-95; b. h. iSAAc, The Near East Under Roman Rule: Selected Papers, Leiden 1998, 442.

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describe a peace agreement, is vague. There is another peculiarity: the Serbs had captured very prominent Bulgarians, including the eldest son of the khan. In such a situation the ransom, could have been also expected. It is also important to notice the Porphyrogenitus’ description of the development of the political situation in Serbia after this peace accord. namely, very soon after this, three brothers, archontes which ruled Serbia, drifted apart, and Mountimir expelled his two brothers, Stroimir and Goinik, into Bulgaria13. It is obvious that they have been sent in Bulgaria as the hostages, and that reveals that Mountimir was in some kind of a special relationship with BorisMichael14. Perhaps the origin of this special relationship was set up on the very day when the Serbs and Bulgarians exchanged gifts at Rasi. It appears that the act of friendship that took place at the frontier town of Rasi had much deeper meaning, and with much stronger political consequences than it appears at first. This specific relationship between Serbs and bulgarians probably came to an end when Basil I sent emissaries to Serbia around 870, trying to link Serbian archon to Byzantium15. The reversal of the political situation in Serbia can also be noticed in the 873 letter of the Pope John VIII to Mountimir, where he suggested to Mountimir to revert to the Roman Church and the faith of his predecessors16. During the course of the seventh and eight centuries, Serbs who settled in the former Roman province of Dalmatia could maintain their relations with Byzantium mainly through the coastal cities, such as Spalato, Ragusa, and Catera. Generally speaking, cultural ties between the Serbs and Byzantium were weak, especially regarding Serbs who settled in the central parts of the Balkan Peninsula. They have been isolated and distant from the major lines of communication, cut off from byzantium to the south, first by various Sclavenias during the seventh and eight centuries, and then, from the 830s,
13. DAI I, c. 32.57-60. 14. Cf. Živković, Portreti, 25-26. 15. Theophylacti Bulgarie archiepiscopo Historia martyrii, ed. J-P. miGne, PG 126 (1864), col. 201; see also i. duJčev, Une ambassade byzantine auprès des Serbes au IXe siècle, ZRVI 7 (1961), 59-60. 16. Johannes episcopus Montemero duci Sclauonicae... Admonemus te, ut progenitorum tuorum secutus morem, quantum potes, ad Pannoniensium reuerti studeas dioecesim: et quia iam illic, Deo gratias, a sede beati Petri apostoli episcopus ordinatus est, ad ipsius pastoralem recurras sollicitudinem; cf. Fragmenta registri Iohannis VIII. Papae ind. VI–IX (a. 872-876), ed. e. cASPAr, MGH, Epistolae karolini aevi v, Epistolarvm tomi vii pars prior, berlin 1928, fr. 18, 282.25-30.

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by Bulgarians. Their society, most probably, was still marked by their tribal customs from the times when they arrived to Dalmatia. During their long migration through the Eastern and Central Europe, they lived side by side with various nations or tribes, different Slav tribes, Avars, as well as some of the German tribes17. Therefore, beside the notorious fact that exchange of animals as the gifts was common in Byzantium and among the Eastern nations (Arabs, Iranians, Mongols)18, we will first look up similar examples to the West, the region from which the Serbs descended to Dalmatia. In the Doomsday Book, there is the Article 81, where it is stated that if deceased soldier of the king have had dogs and hawks, then they should be presented to the king, and should the king wish, he could take them19. Another example is preserved in the 1175 peace treaty between Henry i of England and king roderick of ireland. According to these terms, all the magnates from Ireland were obliged to serve an annual duty to Henry I, and to present Irish dogs and hawks20. Both examples are much later than the episode described in the DAI, and here it is clear that dogs and hawks are symbols of submission. However, this could also mean that in earlier times these animals had special value regarding social relationships, and that their exchange evolved from the token of friendship to the token of submission. For instance, king Alfred sent two hunting dogs to Fulco, the archbishop of Rheims, as a gift21, while king Aethelstan exacted a tribute of hunting dogs from the Welsh22. In the eighth century, falcons were sent from Germany to the king of Mercia (Aethelbald)
17. The origin of the Serbs and Croats is not clear. Their names are not Slavic ones, but it seems that they have been slavicized before settling in Dalmatia. The thesis of T. SulimirSky, The Sarmatians, London 1970, 189-193, that Serbs and Croats belonged to the branch of Eastern Alans, seems plausible. 18. n. drocourT, Les animaux comme cadeaux d’ambassade entre Byzance et ses voisins (VIIe-XIIe siècle), in b. doumerc – Ch. Picard (ed.), Hommage à Alain Ducellier, Byzance et ses péripheries, Toulouse 2004, 67-93. See also A. cuTler, Gifts and Gift Exchange as Aspects of the Byzantine, Arab, and Related Economies, DOP 55 (2001), 247-278. 19. r. fleminG, Domesday Book and the Law: Society and Legal Custom in Early Medieval England, Cambridge 1998, 98. 20. Th. more, The History of Ireland: Commencing with Its Earliest Period to the Great Expedition Against Scotland 1345, Philadelphia 1843, 278. 21. Annales rerum gestarum Aelfredi, auctore Asserio, ed. fr. Wise, Oxford 1722, 126. 22. Chronicon Henrici de Silegrave, ed. c. hook, London 1849, 51.

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and kent (Aethelbert), respectively (in the 740s)23. Florence of Worcester recorded that king Alfred (871-899) trained his own falconers24. In 906, the Frankish Queen bertha (d. 925) sent to the Abbasid Caliph al-Muktafī (902–908) many valuable gifts as the sign of friendship, among which were ten huge dogs, seven falcons, and seven hawks25. Liutprand, a contemporary of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, says that his father, who was the ambassador to Constantinople at the time of the Emperor Roman Lacapenos, «among other presents from king Hugh had brought along two dogs of a kind never seen in that country»26. In 937 the rebel Count Eberhard of Franconia and his leading followers came to Magdeburg, before the king otto of Saxony. on that occasion, Eberhard had to give horses in the value of 100 talents, and his men were additionally humiliated by having to carry the dogs27. In the Song of Roland, the king Marsile receives advice on how to deal with the Charlemagne. «offer Charles, the arrogant and cruel, faithful service and very great friendship. Promise him bears and lions and dogs, seven hundred camels and a thousand molted hawks, four hundred mules laden with gold and silver, fifty carts to carry it all away»28. All these gifts were intended to be given, if only Charlemagne would return to his kingdom. Even though all these presents were described as a token of friendship, it is clear that they actually represented a tribute – yet, not imposed, but willingly proposed. That way the tribute itself could be considered as a gift, at least from the point of view of Marsile. The early 13th century poet Snorri Sturluson mentioned in his Heimskringla what one should do in order to gain king’s friendship and favor.
23. Cf. e. kylie, The English Correspondence of Saint Boniface, new york 1966, 157-158. 24. Florentii Wigorniensis monachi Chronicon ex chronicis I-II, ed. b. ThorPe, London 1848-1849, I, 89. 25. o. GrAbAr, The Shared Culture Objects, in h. mAGuire (ed.), Byzantine Court Culture from 829 to 1024, Washington D.C. 2004, 125. Full text of this letter in, Book of Gifts and Rarities (Kitāb al-Hadāyā wa al-Tuhaf), translated and annotated by GhādA Al hiJJāwī Al-QAddūmī, Cambridge MA 1996, 93–94. 26. liudPrandi, Opera, MGH, SRG, ed. J. becker, Hannover-Leipzig 1915, Antapodosis, 82.26-83.1. 27. Widukindi monachi Corbeiensis Rerum gestarum Saxonicarum libri tres, MGH, SRG, vol. 60 ed. H.-E. lohmann – P. hirSch, Hannover 1935, 72.1-5. 28. G. S. burGeSS, The Song of Roland, London 1990, 30.

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That person should give hawks and horses, tents or sails, because it would be a good investment, especially if these gifts are followed with kings’ gifts29. it is also interesting to mention the conflict between the king richard i (1189–1199) of England, and the powerful Abbot of the Abbey of St Edmunds from 1198/1199. After both sides exchanged heavy words, the Abbot said that «if he wishes, the king may send and take the ward... I will never bend and do what he wishes, nor will I authorize it... I will never pay money to the king in this business». Then, the king wrote a letter in a friendly style, requesting that the Abbot should give him some of his hunting dogs. The Abbot did send dogs, horses and other valuable gifts. Then the king, as a token of his friendship, sent in return the precious ring, that the Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) had given him, and which was the first gift presented to the king after the Pope’s consecration30. It should also be worth mentioning Thomas Beckett, Saxon by birth, who became a daily visitor of a norman nobleman from London (1199). Thomas performed hunting, using nobleman’s birds and dogs, and rode the horses of his friend. All of these things were strictly forbidden to the «commoners», of non-norman race31. All of these examples from France, Spain, norway, Germany and England –from the Early Middle Ages– show that, throughout Europe, hunting dogs, hawks and horses were considered as the most valuable gifts. Of course, depending on the political and personal relationships, these gifts were interpreted in various ways. Sometimes, they represented a token of submission, and sometimes, a token of friendship. However, a general impression is that these animals were widely appreciated. The true question is: what kind of gifts were most appreciated? And the most probable answer is: the one which the giver considered to be of the highest value. We do give as gifts the things which have most value for ourselves. On the other side, the amount of the tribute is set up from the receiver’s side. In the light of these examples and their understanding, Serbs gave to the Bulgarians only the gifts

29. snorri sTurluson, Heimskringla, History of the Kings of Norway, ed. G. m. hollAnder, University of Texas Press, Austin 1964, 395. 30. Jocelin of brAkelond, Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, ed. d. GreenwAy – J. sayers, Oxford 1998, 87. 31. A. Thierry, History of the Conquest of England by the Normans I-II, London 1847, II, 54.

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in the way of friendship. It was their choice. But, still, there is an another dimension of that friendship. When Manuel I Comnenos (1143–1180) concluded peace with the Gabras, both sides exchanged gifts. Gabras gave a wonderful horse and a long twohanded sword. In return, the Emperor gave his own overcoat, embroidered with purple and gold32. In this case we can see that even though both sides exchanged gifts, the Emperor was in fact the peacemaker and that he dominated this relationship. The Byzantine Emperor Michael IV (1056-1057) sent to the Fatimid Caliph al-Mustansir bi-Allah, huge bears which played musical instruments, but also special dogs, and rare species of birds33. The Emperor nicephor I (802–811) gave in return to the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, beside fine robes, four hunting dogs, twelve falcons, and three horses34. It is obvious that hunting dogs, falcons and horses, were very much admired throughout the civilized world during the Early Middle Ages, in both the West and the East. Therefore, the gift exchange can be understood on several levels: 1. The equality of both sides; 2. One side was slightly above the other in that relationship; 3. The weaker side offered gifts in order to avoid tribute. Gifts were tools of diplomacy and the choice of gift to be given represents the most valuable things for the donor. The following example gives excellent ground for better understanding of this situation. The earliest Russian Chronicle, Povest vremena let, written in 1116, reveals a short-term 968 peace accord, between the Pechenegs and Russian Knez Pretec, second in rank after the Duke Svjatoslav. The ceremony was described in direct speech. The Duke of the Pechenegs asks: «Who is coming». knez answers: «The man from the other side». Pechenegs’ Duke: «Are you a Duke?» Pretec answers: «I am his nobleman, and behind me advances the Duke with innumerous army». Then, the duke of the Pechenegs says: «Be my friend, and Pretec answers: «Let it be». Then they shook hands, and the Duke of Pechenegs

32. niceTas choniaTes, Historia, ed. i. A. vAn dieTen, Berlin-new york 1975, 189.47-63. 33. n. P. Ševčenko, Wild Animals in the Byzantine Park, in A. r. liTTlewood – h. mAGuire – J. wolSchke-bulmAhn (ed.), Byzantine Garden Culture, Washington D. C. 2002, 82, n. 62. 34. Tabari, Ta’rikh al-Rusul w-al Mulūk, Lib. 10, Beirut 2002, 107; cf. m. cAnArd, Les relations politiques et sociales entre Byzance et les Arabes, DOP 18 (1964), 54.

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gave a horse, a sword and arrows. The Russian knez gave in return an armor, shield, and sword35. now, a few words about these symbols. As we could see, each side gave things that reflected their favorite weaponry. For the Pechenegs, these signs of military power were horse, sword, and arrows. This is the exact description of Pechenegs’ military style: horsemen, with arrows and swords. For the russians, they give weapons reflecting their own style of fight: infantry, or to say better, heavy infantry. The gifts exchanged were equal in value, as each side presented to the other their most valuable weapons, in order to confirm friendship. The direct speech expresses the same meaning: «Be my friend; Let it be». A single gift, a dog, could have a specific meaning, but piling up gifts of the same or similar kind –hawks, slaves, furs– could change or strengthen that meaning. If we apply this on the Serbs and Bulgarians at Rasi in 854, then we can conclude that these gifts went together in a package. Only together they have had a true meaning. The exact meaning of these gifts cannot be understood if we analyze each gift separately. The first thought should be that Serbs liked hunting since dogs and hawks are well connected with that sort of Medieval pastime. The two slaves could be interpreted in that context: the peasants which were going in front of the hunters, making noise, in order to force animals to go in the desired direction towards hunters. Or, perhaps more likely, these men had to take a care of the animals. Therefore, two slaves, two hawks and two dogs are taken from the hunting customs and show that Serbian nobility had developed hunting amusement and appreciate it very much36. For them, it was quite logical and expected to offer these symbols of social status to their friends, in this case, the Bulgarians. In that sense, we can interpret 80 furs as the wished for outcome of the intended hunt37.
35. Povest vremenih let po Lavrentievskomu spisku, St. Petersburg 1910, 65.12-21. 36. Hawks, for instance, were the symbol of Saxon nobility; cf. c. e. kArkov, The Bewcastle Cross: Some Iconographic Problems, in c. e. kArkov – R. T. Farell – M. ryan (ed.), The Insular Tradition, Albany 1997, 14-15. 37. That bulgarians appreciated hunting we have the first grade testimony from the «Madara stone» depicting the Bulgarian horseman (a khan?) riding a horse and followed by an elegant dog; see photo at http://www.tabblo.com/studio/stories/view/1294383/. There is a vast literature about the Madara horseman; cf. f. curTA, Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages 500–1250, Cambridge 2006, 82, n. 25.

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These presents were certainly not given in silence. Serbs had to say something after each gift was presented. It was the ceremonial moment, as it would have been in the case with the Pretec and the duke of Pechengs. They would have to say something like this: «These two hawks are the best trained for the hunt, and these two dogs can help you capture the largest beast. Also, we give you these two men able to take care of these magnificent animals. Finally, let your hunt be as fruitful and rich, as these 80 furs». From the Serbian point of view, these gifts were simple expressions of friendship, and a good way to say that peace between the Serbs and Bulgarians is confirmed. on the other hand, we do not know what exact meaning had great gifts that Bulgarians previously gave to the Serbs. Since the son of the khan was captured and then returned to his father, it sounds reasonable that doreas megalas should be observed as the ransom, consisting of not only gold, but some fine textiles and other luxurious goods as well. In support of this conclusion, we could draw attention to some other examples from the DAI. namely, after the Serbian Archon Zacharias defeated Bulgarians around 924, he took weapons from the dead Bulgarians –heads of the commanders and their armour– and sent them to the Roman Lacapene38. It probably meant: Here I am, your faithful ally, and I send to you this as the sign of my commitment. That was necessary, at least from his point of view, in order to express his loyalty to the Byzantine Emperor. It means that Serbs could distinguish very well the meanings of various symbols used between the nations of the region, in the sense of friendship, peace, submission, alliances, or friendship. The remark of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, that Bulgarians described these gifts as tribute, probably is derived from his source, and actually leads us to the conclusion that the whole report was based on an eyewitness account. The possibility for the Bulgarians to claim dominance over Serbs clearly shows how gifts could be read differently, and how thin was the borderline between the friendship and submission (or tribute). The labeling of the gifts on a particular occasion was crucial. Still, since we know that Mountimir very soon afterwards sent his brothers, Storimir and Goinik, to Bulgaria, and that he kept at his court the eldest son of his brother Goinik, Peter, this gives us an insight into the nature of this friendship. Certainly, he was a friend of Boris, but he still protected himself by keeping Peter at his court, just in case the
38. DAI I, c. 32.111-114.

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Bulgarian ruler decided to change his mind, and use his brothers against him. Since the peace accord held out between the Serbs and Bulgarians until the end of Mountimir’s reign, and his brothers lived in Bulgaria until the end of his rule, we can conclude that, in this friendship, one friend was above the other, and Boris could be considered as the senior in this relationship (but only until around 870, when Basil I «re-attached» Serbs to the Byzantium). Therefore, Constantine’s claim that Bulgarians considered these gifts as a tribute is true, as it is also true that Serbs gave just presents, and not a tribute at all. it is the question of labeling, and each side had a very different view of the meaning of the same transaction.

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