Prof. Djordje Jankovic, Ph.D
Faculty of Philosophy
Middle Ages in Noel Malcolm’s Kosovo: A Short History and Real Facts
Before presenting the interpretations of the mediaeval past of Kosovo and Metohija in Noel Malcolm’s work, one should be aware of the tasks set by the author before writing the book. That way, the acrobatic handling of the evidence which he uses or does not use will become clearer. In the introductory text, ten pages long, he clearly presents his political and ideological position. They are as follows (p. XXXIV-XXXV): “Kosovo” is one of the cultural crossroads of Europe – which is wrong; “Kosovo” is probably the central area to the survival of the Albanian and genesis of the Rumanian languages – which is a fabrication; “Kosovo” became the geographical centre of an important mediaeval state (meaning Serbia) – which is only partly true, because Kosovo was, in addition, its administrative, cultural, and spiritual centre; “Kosovo” was one of the most peculiar idiosyncratic parts of Turkey in Europe – which is a fabrication; modern Albanian movement was born in Kosovo – which is wrong, because the part played by foregin intelligence sources in its formation has been widely known. In the early chapters of the book, Malcolm argues that the Albanians are the autochthonous population of “Kosovo”, and that the Serbs temporarily expelled them from there, during the 250 years of “Serbian occupation”, in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth century.
What is more, Malcolm advocates distorted principles of liberty, complying with the ideology pursued by the “powers that be” since the days of the Roman Empire. Malcolm’s claims that the struggle of the Balkan peoples to liberate themselves from the Turks was not justified (p. XXXV), as well as that the idea that behind the Albanians has been Islam, which in fact belongs to the Balkans (XXXVI) – is groundless. Malcolm’s undisguised hatred toward Orthodox Christians and the Serbs not willing to accept the establishment of a new world order, points to the ideological and racist motives of the author of the book.
For the sake of truth, I must point out that among Serb intellectuals the opinion has gained currency that the Kosovo legend, the legends of Saint Prince Lazar and Milos Obilic, even of Saint Sava, were products of the Serbian nineteenth century elite, notably the church elite, intended to generate conditions for the awakening and liberation of the nation as prerequisites for the unification of the nation and the country. In addition, people’s memory had to give up more ancient history in order to invest the Nemanjic’s dynasty with the corresponding authority. However, as the following discussion is about to show at least to an extent, that claim is wrong, because the roots of present-day Serbs are really in Metohija and Kosovo. In the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, no archeological studies were undertaken in mediaeval Kosovo and Metohija so as to make possible the writing of such books as Malcolm’s Kosovo. A Short History. Luckily enough, in spite of the lag in the archeological studies in Kosovo and Metohija lasting for decades, a few yet very firm material and archeological facts, which are easy to verify, are available testifying to the culture and continuity of the Serbs. Some more substantial archeological excavations conducted in Albania are quite complementary, showing that the ancestors of the Albanians settled between the Drim and the Adriatic coast in the Middle Ages.
As we go along, we are going to point only to some of the most striking fabrications relating to the times before the Nemanjic’s, following the arrangement of Malcolm’s chapters. Some of those fabrications are result of Malcolm’s ignorance, of his insufficient knowledge of scholarly sources and research methodology, whereas others result from his intention, serving the interests of the Shqiptars, to misinform the reader and antagonize him towards the Serbs.
The chapter “Orientation: places, names and peoples”
The intention behind this chapter is to prove the geographical compactness of “Kosovo”, that is of Kosovo including the areas of both the Kosovo Field (Kosovo Polje) and Metohija, in order to justify the name “Kosovo” and make it possible to place the original homeland of the Sqiptars within such an artificially created area with seemingly logical explanations. However, Kosovo and Metohija are, historically, two geographically distinct areas. In prehistory, geographical location used to determine the expansion of certain cultures, that is of various ethnic entities. For instance, it is conspicuous that tombs and tumuli dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages are not to be found in Kosovo but only in Metohija. There are two views of the borderlines between the subsequent Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Moesia. According to the older one, Metohija was a part of Dalmatia and, later, of the province of Prevalis, whereas Kosovo was a part of Moesia and the subsequent province of Dardania, and this view is corroborated by the distribution of the tumuli. According to the more recent view, Metohija was a part of Moesia, then of Dardania. In this respect, the evidence offered by the parallel existence of neighbouring archbishoprics is sufficiently telling. At the time of Emperor Basileus II (976-1025), Kosovo was a part of the Ulpiana bishopric, Binacka Morava of the Skoplje bishopric, and Metohija of the Prizren bishopric. During the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, in Metohija (Hvosno) the Studenica Eparchy was also functioning in addition to that in Prizren, whereas in Kosovo, in addition to the Skoplje and Gracanica Eparchies (the latter succeeded the Ulpiana Eparchy), a bishopric at Zvecan functioned for some time. In other words, from time immemorial, the predetermined administrative borderline ran between the basins of the Drin and Morava rivers, so that the common name for Kosovo and Metohija cannot be accounted for on historical-geographical grounds. The cultural homogeneousness of such distinct geographical areas as Kosovo and Metohija is reached only if they are inhabited by the same people withing the boundaries of one and the same state.
The chapter: “Origins: Serbs, Albanians and Vlachs”
Writing this chapter, Malcolm does not use fundamental historical sources: he is not aware of Byzantine manuscript sources, not even of the works by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, let alone the Arab or Armenian texts. He does not use a single history of the Serb people or any work of the kind, not even most recent Western books pretending to present the early history of the Slavs and of South-Eastern Europe, whereas for him the precious Russian sources simply do not exist. The power belongs to the West, and so does all knowledge and the truth! According to Malcolm, the Serbs, originally living in the areas north and north-east of the Black Sea, lived in the fifth and sixth centuries in Bohemia and Saxony, and they came to the Balkans following the Croats; then the Serbs settled in the area of Rascia (Raska), where initially they had no social set-up resembling a state, but only a few tribal territories ruled by zupans, etc. (pp. 23-24) Yet, even if long known manuscript sources and even more recent archeological findings are ignored, common sense and logic still remain commanding the conclusion that no people with a historical role like the one played the Serbs could have been shaped.
Concealing the early history of the mediaeval Serb Principality, and thereby reducing the population of this people, which at the time was second in number in the South East after the Greeks, to a few zupanijas in Rascia (and it is known that later, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Rascia was a border region of Serbia), the author populates so obtained legal, historical and geographical areas. Malcolm claims that the area was inhabited by a large population speaking a Romance language, that it was gradually Slavicized, and that the Serbs were spreading out to Kosovo not earlier than towards the end of the twelfth century (pp. 25-26). Malcolm grounds his claim that Kosovo and Metohija were not inhibited by the Serbs and Slavs by his own interpretation of the differences between the Serbo-Croat (in fact Serb) language and the Bulgarian-Macedonian (in fact the South-Slav) language. He goes on to argue that the area from the Morava river through Kosovo and Metohija and as far as the Adriatic coast, amounting to an area substantially larger then the few Rascian zupanijas, was inhabited by a native population, as allegedly ancient toponyms demonstrate. Malcolm illustrates this by giving instances of the names of major towns Naissus – Nis, and Scupi – Skoplje. In addition, he mentions the name of Lipljan, allegedly the Latin Lypenion, a name of which there is no record in ancient times but which was mentioned for the first time in Greek, in 1018, as . He cites the place name Puku, allegedly deriving from via publica (26-27). This is neither speculation nor guesswork, but a fabrication serving to promote a definite purpose. Malcolm does not ethimologize using place-names recorded in the documents of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, such as the already mentioned Lipljan, Prizren or Zvecan, let alone the toponyms recorded in the documents in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Many of those toponyms, preserved down to our day, point to the Serb population there in the times substantially preceding the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, for example: Balvanü; Igri e – Süborüsko – Zborce – Gumniøte; Kobûla glava – Kobiqa glava; Rosuqe – Rosuqa, etc.
Stating his views of the origin of the population of Kosovo and Metohija, Malcolm goes on to say that the Slavs, namely the Bulgarian Slavs (p. 27), are present there only since the beginning of the eleventh century and down to the Byzantine occupation of 1018. Not a word about the Bulgarian raids on Serbia!
Then he attempts to demonstrate, relying solely on philological evidence, that the Albanians are the autochtonous population of Kosovo and Metohija (p. 30). He tries to establish the links between the Albanian and Illyrian languages, in spite of the fact that the Illyrian language has not survived in its written form, as well as between the Albanian and the Thracian language. He demonstrates those links with a forced interpretation of hydronyms, toponyms and ethnonyms from pre-Roman times, and does that using contemporary Albanian words, which is unlicenced to such an extent that his interpretations become absurd. He links the name of the river Mat with the Albanian word for “river-bank” – “mat” – though it is a nonsense to call a river a “bank”. The place-name “Ulcinj” he translates with the Albanian word for “wolf” – “ujk”, “ulk”, though it’s a nonsense to name a sea coast town after a forest beast. Finally, he links the name of “Dardania” to the Albanian “dardhe” – “pear” (p. 32), though a few pages later he links it to a cheese peculiar for Dardania (p. 40), which calls for no comment. Further on, he argues, once again on the basis of linguistics, that the Albanians originally did not live at the sea side (what about Ulcinj?), and points to the areas in the hinterland, that is to say to Kosovo and Metohija (p. 34). His speculations needlessly include the Bessi (pp. 35-37), whom he excludes as the possible ancestors of the Albanians, one can assume in order to support the illusion that his approach is objective. At length he draws the conclusion that after a “Slav invasion” into the Upper Morava basin, in northern Macedonia, in “Kosovo” (and in Metohija), as well as in a part of Montenegro, a population of Latin speech continued to live from which the Albanians and the Vlachs originated, who were later driven out by the Slavs and Serbs (pp. 39-40).
Let us discuss, in a quite cursory manner afforded by available space, the archeological data corroborating the possible origin of the Sqiptars namely Albanians. Right away it can said that there are no essential links between the fifth and seventh centuries population of Kosovo and Metohija with the Sqiptars. The necropolises dating from those times are characterized by an absence of inventory, or they contain findings characteristic of the Roman provinces as far as the Danube border (Ulpijana, Bela Crkva). The seventh, eighth and ninth centuries natives or the population of predominantly Latin, Hellenic or Illyrian origins, can be identified only on the basis of the graves in littoral towns such as Drac, Ljes and Svac. In other words, precisely in the areas alien to the Albanian language, due to the absence of originally Albanian expressions characteristic of the littoral. Those necropolises contained Byzantine women’s jewelry, belt-buckles, a few clay jugs, and seldom objects of other cultures such as the Slav clasps.
To this period also belongs the Koman culture, an interesting culture identifiable by its graves containing distinct objects, which was situated between Lake Ohrid and Lake Skadar, that is in the mountainous areas between the littoral and the fertile areas of Zeta, Metohija, Kosovo and the Vardar Valley. This culture is identified as a distinct culture by its jewelry – its earrings with flat pendants ending with stars, stiff necklets, large arch-shaped buckles with their pins bent down and shaping a horned head; in warriors’ equipment it is distinguished by shoulder strap loops, sometimes bearing human images, then by axes, etc. In jewelry there are pieces of Byzantine origin – rings, ear-rings, belt buckles. Here and there late Slav clasps are also encountered. The cultural and geographical origin of these objects is varied. The axes and stiff necklaces are similar to the findings from chronologically close or contemporaneous graves of the Croats, or from those of the Bulgarian Danube basin and the area extending as far as the Caucasus regions; the strap loops were used by various nomadic tribes of Asiatic origin in the area extending from Pannonia as far as the Ural Mountains and Caucasus; the clasps are closest in shape to those used by the Romans from the Danube basin inhabiting the steppes in the Black Sea littoral; the Byzantine jewelry was procured at the coast, but some of its pieces are Pannonian in origin. Everything points to a mixture of peoples originating in the East, concentrating in Pannonia which, led by Kuver, came down to the South towards the end of the seventh century and settled in New Epirus. Their settling in a mountainous area shows that they came from the mountains, perhaps from the northern slopes of the Caucasus. Apart from the disagreements in the interpretations of the Koman culture, it is essential that the necropolises of that culture differ from contemporaneous necropolises in the littoral. That testifies that there existed two different populations – that the population in the littoral was autochtonous, whereas that in the mountainous hinterland was made up of newcomers.
Proceeding with his discussion of the origin of the people which he calls the Albanians, Malcolm finds that they never in the past described themselves using that name but, as an exception, in the fifteenth century Italy, described themselves as Arberesch (p. 29). In passing, in a note, he mentions the hypothesis concerning the Albania in the Balkans and the Albania in the Caucasus, but dismisses it because allegedly there are no connections between the two areas. This claim is unfounded, because both Albanians were close to the borders of one and the same state, Byzantium. The Albania situated within present-day Azerbaijan, mentioned by that name by Ptolemy, was referred to during the middle and latter Middle Ages as “Albania”, “Agwank”, “Aluank”, “Arran”, ar-Ran”. A Latin map from 1482 shows an “Albania” in the territory of Azerbaijan. It is assumed that long ago it was inhabited by the Gargarians, but it is on record that in the Caucasus also lived wild warlike tribes and that some of them moved with their cattle down to lower areas. In addition, in the Vaspurkan province of Armenia there is a district called Arberani. On the border of Armenia, Byzantium and Persia, there was a fortress called Marde, Mardis, and that brings us closer to the Mardaits, warlike mountain tribesmen who used to change their masters, so that they were often displaced. The late Jovan Kovacevic connected this tribe with the Mardits. The Arbanes in New Epirus were first mentioned in the eleventh century. Soon after, the Turks invaded the areas east of the Caucasus and settled in Agvank, the present-day Azerbaijan, causing recorded and on recorded migration of various tribes. It is quite possible that the Arberans then escaped to Byzantium, which allowed them to settle in the areas north of the Salonika-Drac road, reinforcing Byzantium’s border with Serbia. It is a matter of time when individual archeological findings from Albania will be linked to those late comers from Asia.
It is evident that the ancestors of the Albanians, a nation formed in our time, are various tribes of Asian extraction who, arriving between the seventh and eleventh century in the mountainous areas of the present-day Albania, were mixed with the Slavs inhabiting that undulating strip and with the population of Latin and partly Greek speech living in the coastal towns. Hence the philologically based claim that modern Albanians are autochtonous in origin is not grounded.
The chapter: “Medieval Kosovo before Prince Lazar: 850s-1380s”
Noel Malcolm possesses no real knowledge of Kosovo and Metohija between 850. and 1166: there was no Serbian state there, but there were a Bulgarian and Byzantine state; that area is the soil of the Greek Church, but the Albanians stick to the Roman Latin Church; king Stefan the First-Crowned regains Prizren, so the Serbs are the conquerors of Kosovo and Metohija from the end of the twelfth century to the early thirteenth century (pp. 41-44).
As shown by Aleksandar Loma and others, the Kosovo Battle was not just a battle but a predetermined battle, one of those battles deciding the fate of a people for many centuries to come. The very place where the battle took place was not chosen at random. The central divide and at once the primaeval crossroads and centre of the Balkan Peninsula is situated at the south end of the Kosovo Field. From the mountain saddles between Stimlje and Suva Reka the waters flow down westwards to Metohija and further on to the Adriatic Sea, and eastwards to the Kosovo Field, where they, coming from the same springs, flow both towards the Aegean and Black Seas. That bifurcation, in the outskirts of Urosevac, was a result of man-made dams and river beds; a branch of the Nerodimka river flows northwards emptying its waters into Svrcin Lake and then by way of the Sitnica river into the Ibar and then Morava rivers, whereas its other branch flows to the south discharging itself, by way of the Lepenac river, into the Vardar river. It is there that the royal palaces of the Serbs are concentrated: Svrcin, Pauni, Nerodimlje and Stimlje, and, not very far from them, Pristina, and Ribnik near Prizrena. Let my remind that the Serbs did not have particular cities as their capitals, but that their capitals were where the sovereign had his residence or where annual communal assemblies (sabors) were held. Why did the Serbs choose for their palaces and sabors the south of the Kosovo Field and its central divide becomes clear in the light of the fact that the country from which the Serbs had come to the Balkan Peninsula, Bojka, was situated along a similar divide and crossroads. The Bojkis even today live in Galicia, at the devide between the Black Sea in the east (with the Danube basin in the south, the basins of the Siret, Southern Bug and Dniester in the east, and that of the Dnieper in the north) and the Baltic Sea (the basin of the Vistula, San and Western Bug). That is why Kosovo could serve as the communal annual assemblies (saborna) area of the Serbs since their settling there in the 7th century and in the latter Middle Ages, under the Nemanjic dynasty and Prince Lazar. In other words, in 1389 the Turks attacked the heart and crossroads of the Serbian state, the area of its capitals.
According to the record by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, it is assumed that the town of Destinik, the first in his list of the Serb towns, was located somewhere in Metohija. A comparison with the list of Croatian towns contained in the same record, in which the first mentioned town, Nin, was the seat of the bishop, one can assume that the most important Serb town in the 10th century was Destinik in Metohija. The Nemanjic’s period shrines of the Pec Patriarchate are grouped round a modest, earlier church, that of St. Apostles. It must be evident to the lover of the truth that this church must have been of particular significance for the Serbs since the seat of the Archbishop was precisely there and not in some more monumental monastery selected by the Nemanjids. Long ago in the foundations of the Patriarchate of Pec temples the remnants of a large church were found which have not been archeologically examined but are dated two construction stages before the Nemanjics, that goes as far back as the period between seventh and tenth and eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Serbian bishopric seat was probably there prior to the Bulgarian and Byzantine conquests. That accounts for the wish of Serbian aristocracy to spend the last days of their lives as monks in metohs founded by themselves in the vicinity. Is it possible that a people of such a developed ancestral cult as the Serbs would move their spiritual centre to an allegedly occupied territory as Malcolm would have it? There is no historical precedent for such an act, and Metohija and Kosovo are really the seminal areas of the Serbs.
One-day archeological excavations in the mountain of Ostrovica between Prizren and Sirinicka Zupa unveiled gromile, or characteristic Serb medieval monuments to honour the dead dating from the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries approximately, along with the church in the foundations of the Patriarchate of Pec. To the period of Bulgarian and Samuilo’s raids on Serbia in the nineth and tenth centuries belongs the pottery collection found in bordering fortresses at the border and in destroyed monasteries. The most important in it is a fragment of a tenth century jug found in Cecan. It bears the sign of its volume in the Glagolitsa – number six; that jug served for wine tax payment. The record being in the Glagolitsa and not in the Cyrillic alphabet, the area of Kosovo must have been a part of Kosovo, since at that time the Cyrillic alphabet was already the official writing. Archeological excavations, establishing that the ancient fortresses in Cecan and Veletin were revitalized, revealed identifiable findings intended to ward off the ivasionas coming from the East. The existence of a stratum containing contemporaneous pottery at the sites of the Studenica of Hvostno (Studenica Hvostanska) and the Prizren Church of the Archangels (Arhandjeli Prizrenski) shows that the monasteries in Metohija were devastated at the same time.
It is the general view that Serbia fell to Byzantium after 1018, though this claim is not backed up by reliable evidence. Malcolm and some other authors think that the Kosovo Field and Metohija were conquered by Byzantium at that time, but according to written sources, that it is true only for the area of Lipljan, that is for Kosovo. It is possible that the only known Byzantine commander of “Serbia” of that time in fact governed only Kosovo and some neighbouring areas.
There is definite historical and geographical evidence of Kosovo and Metohija in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. After the town of Destinik, which was referred to in the mid-tenth century, in the early eleventh century Lipljan and Prizren are mentioned. It is to Prizren that later, in 1072, Slav representatives came from the conquered Bulgaria and Serb eastern areas, to attend the coronation of the Serbian prince Bodin. After that, towards the end of the twelfth century, Anna Comnina, counting the entire Kosovo as Serbia, establishes the border towards Byzantium along the mountain range east of the Kosovo Field.
The presence of the Serbian population in Kosovo and Metohija is demonstrated even more reliably by archeological findings, though they are scarce. Serb pottery from the eleventh century was found on many sites, mainly in Kosovo, in Gracanica, Ulpiana, Zaskok, Banjska,etc. In Maticani near Pristina an eleventh century graveyard was examined displaying some older findings. Several graves near Badovci and Gracanica that were studied belong to the same period. However, it happens that another examined grave, that in Prcevo in Metohija, established at approximately the same time, was continually used until the twelfth, and perhaps even in the thirteenth century. This reveals a different fate of Metohija. In Metohija there were no displacements of necropolises during the Serbo-Byzantine wars towards the end of the eleventh centuries. The jewelry found in the mentioned graves is Slav in origin. It is wrought in the Byzantine technique of filigree, has the shapes distinct from those of Bulgaria or the Morava basin, and it is to be found on various sites as far as Knin (primarily the earrings with four blackberries and conic cherries), which points to its use by the Serbs.
Judging by jewelry findings, a series of necropolises was established under Byzantine rule during the twelfth century. They are Vrbnica and Djonaj near Prizren, Siroko near Suva Reka, Vlastica and Velikince near Gnjilane, Socanica, but no contemporaneous necropolises have been found in Kosovo. The use of these cemeteries ceased around the middle of the thirteenth cenutry. As the jewelry shows, the necropolises were used by the Serb or Slav population during Byzantine rule, but one is struck by the absence of Byzantine coins found in contemporaneous necropolises extending from our Danube areas as far as M