The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2014, 475-506

From the Thema of Klimata to the Thema of Cherson: characteristics of Byzantine military and administrative model in Taurica in the mid-ninth – early tenth centuries

V. Naumenko

The article reconstructs the early political history of a Byzantine thema in Taurica using the data of written, sigillographic and archaeological sources. The period embraces the 30s–40s of the ninth century (the commencement of the administrative reform) till the early decades of the tenth century (when the system of the Byzantine territorial division had already been established). The article discusses in detail the circumstances of the establishment of the original Klimata in the Crimea in 841 and the causes of its transformation into the thema of Cherson no later than at the end of the 850s.

Administrative transformations in the regions of Taurica under the control of the Byzantine empire took place after the establishment of a new political balance of power in the South of Eastern Europe. Not only the Empire and the Khazar Khaganate, its traditional enemy, were its elements, but also the Magyars and somewhat later the Rus’ and the Pechenegs. These circumstances predestined essential changes in the practical methods of Byzantine foreign policy in the region. The essence of those changes was the following: the usual (during the eighth and early ninth centuries) method of solving problems by means of diplomacy gave place to the regime of immediate imperial governance in strategically important centres of Taurica. The main tool of that policy was the thema. Its inner structure, being adapted to local originality, followed Byzantine principles of that model of provincial governance. Military and political successes were consolidated in the course of mass Christianization of the population in remote regions of the peninsula.

The peculiarity of the thema of Cherson as compared to other Byzantine military and administrative divisions of the ninth to tenth centuries was the inclusion of the institutes of local administration in its governance organs. They were kyrioi, ekdikoi, pateres poleos and proteuontes, unknown to the imperial “Table of Ranks” of the time. It was those institutes, subordinate to the stratigos of the thema, that governed the everyday life of the capital of the new administrative unit, at least.

By the early tenth century the process of transformation of littoral and mountain regions of Taurica in the thema of Cherson, the independent province of Byzantine empire, with its “pentarchy” of eparchies of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, had finished. As far as the official sources are concerned, this situation took its first reflection in the Taktikon by Philotheus (899) and in the Notitia made under Patriarch Nicholas I Mystikos (901–907).

Byzantine empire, Khazar Khaganate, Taurica, Khazars, Saltovo-Mayatskaya culture, Magyars, the thema of Klimata, the thema of Cherson, strategos, kommerkiarios, kyrios, ekdikos, pater poleos, proteuon