A Contribution to the Issue of the Byzantine Legacy in the Area of Lower Syrmia (Sirmia Citerior) Cover Image

Један прилог питању византијског наслеђa на тлу овостраног срема (sirmie citerioris)
A Contribution to the Issue of the Byzantine Legacy in the Area of Lower Syrmia (Sirmia Citerior)

Author(s): Đura Hardi
Subject(s): Historical Geography, Political history, 13th to 14th Centuries
Published by: Vizantološki institut SANU
Keywords: Lower Syrmia (Sirmia Citerior); Margaret-Mary Árpád; John Angelos; Hungary; the Byzantine legacy; dominus Sirmii/Syrmie; the Duchy of Srem; Andrew II

Summary/Abstract: This paper analyses the character and the status of the rule of a former Byzantine Empress Maria, Margaret Árpád and her sons over the area of southern Hungary after Margaret’s return to Hungary from the Kingdom of Thessalonica (around 1222). Margaret’s lands and properties can be divided into two groups based on their respective status. The first group includes properties in the South of Hungary that were given to her in 1223, or a year earlier, by her brother, Hungarian King Andrew II. Among others, this group included the entire County of Kovin (Castrum Kewe cum toto Comitatu...), as well as lands in Syrmia. On the other hand, Margaret was also mentioned at the beginning of 1229 in a famous letter by Pope Gregory IX as a ruler of Upper Syrmia (Sirmia Ulterior) – the lands South of the river Sava, which would later be named Macsó. This territory was inhabited by Orthodox Slavs and Greeks. The same source indirectly gives rise to the claim that Margaret gained Upper Syrmia (Sirmia Ulterior) in connection with, or even in favour of the part of Hungary called Lower Syrmia (Sirmia Citerior). It is known that this was the Syrmia which was located between the rivers Danube and Sava and in which the Hungarian rule and the Duchy of Syrmia had already been established. It is historiographically accepted that Margaret was the ruler of both Upper and Lower Syrmia, whereas it is believed that her sons, the elder John Angelos and possibly his younger step-brother, William of Saint Omer, inherited the rule of Upper Syrmia. This was also indicative of their title Dux and Dominus Sirmii/Syrmie. However, based on an analysis of the archontology of Hungarian government dignitaries, the author of this paper concludes that they also had dominion over Lower Syrmia and the Duchy of Syrmia. Namely, between 1222 and 1253 there is not a single piece of data about the existence of a Duke in the Duchy of Syrmia or any information about the work of the Duchy’s institutions. Meanwhile, neighbouring areas that surrounded Syrmia between the Danube and the Sava, including Lower Syrmia (before 1229 and after 1242), the County of Kovin (1222–1235), the County of Bács (before 1238 and after 1242) were all under the rule of Margaret or her son, John Angelos. Historiography also unanimously agrees that Upper Syrmia can be identified as part of the dowry (dos) “given” to Margaret by her father, Béla III of Hungary, on the occasion of her marriage to Isaac II Angelos (1186). This area once more came into the possession of Margaret and her family upon her return to Hungary. This was the second group of Margaret’s lands and properties connected with her dowry. Božidar Ferjančić proposed that it was precisely Margaret’s dowry and the rule over Lower Syrmia, which resulted from it, that represented the last sign of the Byzantine legacy in these frontier lands. This thesis gives rise to the issue of the status of the remaining territories in the possession of Margaret and her heirs, which, in the opinion of the paper’s author, can also be viewed in the wider context of the Byzantine legacy. Margaret gained the County of Kovin, situated along the border, not only as a mere appanage, but as a territory that was to serve as a strategic foothold for the acquisition and strengthening of her authority over the areas South of the Danube and the Sava (Belgrade, Braničevo), which had once been part of her former dowry. When Andrew II crowned his younger son Coloman King of Galicia, as the base for the acquisition of this country he gave him the neighbouring County of Sepesz (1216–1226), whereas in the late 1250s young Hungarian King Stephen received the County of Zala from his father Béla IV, as a foothold for his rule in Styria. It would seem that Margaret’s and her sons’ rule over Lower Syrmia was acquired in the form of a dynastic property and a particular honor, i.e. they independently managed the revenue and the lands of the Duchy of Syrmia. This is indirectly supported by the first piece of data about the Duchy of Syrmia that appears after the disappearance of the family from the historical stage, when, in a document from 1253, it was stated that a Catholic archbishop governed “totam Sirmiam no solum honore comitatus” in the king’s name. John Angelos outlived the Mongolian invasion, having died before 5st of July 1250. Unlike the Counties of Kovin and Bács, over which John Angelos presided as a Duke (having the status of a state dignitary appointed by the ruler), we have no such data for Syrmia. This is why the author of this paper believes that John Angelos’s title of the ruler of Syrmia referred not only to Upper, but also to Lower Syrmia. Unlike the County of Kovin and other lands that were given to Margaret and then returned to the ruler after her death, Syrmia is not mentioned in the grant from 1223, nor was it later given over to her sons’ rule as a Duchy. It appears that it was kept as Margaret’s personal property which was later inherited by her sons. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that Lower Syrmia was also tied to Margaret’s dowry in its status. This assumption is, however, contradicted by a known fact that, unlike Upper Syrmia, Lower Syrmia was not among the lands that were returned to Byzantium as part of Margaret’s dowry after it was taken by Béla III (before May 1182). Margaret was the de facto ruler of both Syrmias, but it is not known if she had a title. It were only her sons who bore the titles of dux and dominus of Syrmia. The title of dominus was quite possibly modelled after the title of urum-despotes which had once belonged to Béla III when he was the Crown Prince of Byzantium (and Hungary). This was one more sign of the Byzantine influence which came to Hungary alongside Margaret and her sons and which was maintained among the members of the dynasty (Duke Rostislav Mikhailovich and his family). A real development of the institutions in the Duchy of Syrmia began only in the second half of the 13th century. Until then, in its place stood the rule of the family of the former Byzantine Empress, Margaret.

  • Issue Year: 2017
  • Issue No: 54
  • Page Range: 117-142
  • Page Count: 26
  • Language: Serbian