Distant Lands

The Slavs, Balts, and Steppe Nomads
          Much of eastern Europe is dominated by Slavic tribes, many of whom have formed primitive kingdoms or principalities, including those of the Croatians, Serbs, Moravians, Bohemians, Abodrites, Wends, and Poles. Most of the Slavs are pagans, worshipping a host of nature deities and spirits. They speak a variety of languages often called Slavonic. The southern Slavic lands are invaded regularly by horse-riding nomads from the eastern steppes such as Huns, Avars, and Bulgars, each of which generally wipes out the previous invaders while setting up its own state. To the north lie the lands of the Balts, including the Letts, Lithuanians, and Prussians. The Balts and the northern and eastern Slavs are the targets of raids and conquest from the Svear in the north. Both the Frankish and Byzantine empires regularly send missionaries to the Slavs, each attempting to convert them to their own brand of Christianity.

          On the eastern borders of the Frankish empire a new power arose five years ago when Svatopluk united the Slavic kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia to form the Empire of Great Moravia. Fortunately, Svatopluk seems to have no immediate designs on expansion to the west, and missionaries and diplomats sent by both Louis the German and Emperor Basil are hopeful that the new emperor may convert soon.

          To the south-east, the Empire of Bulgaria is the major power in the Balkans. Though the Bulgars were originally invaders from the east, they have since settled and mingled with the local Slavic population. Once a thorn in the side of the eastern Roman Empire, in 865 Emperor Boris, after negotiating with both the pope in Rome and the patriarch in Constantinople, converted to Orthodox Christianity, allying his people with Byzantium. The rest of eastern Europe is dominated by a variety of Slavic tribes and eastern nomads.

The Byzantine Empire
          The Byzantine Empire is actually in a state of resurgence after long years of territorial losses to both the Arabs and the Slavs. In 867, Byzantine junior emperor Basil, a Macedonian, assassinated senior emperor Michael III, founding a new dynasty. Under his leadership, Constantinople has allied with the Armenians and Bulgarians, inviting immigrants from both groups to join the Byzantine army and settle in Asia Minor, where they serve as a buffer against the Arabs. The entire empire has been placed on a war footing and the frontiers re-organized into themes, military territories under direct martial rule. Byzantium controls most of Asia Minor, the southern Balkans (Greece, Macedonia, and Thrace), some land in southern Italy, and most of the islands in the East Mediterranean.

The Arabic Caliphate
          All of North Africa and the Middle East is ruled by the Abbasid Caliphate from Baghdad. Once a unified empire, the Caliphate is fragmenting from internal stresses. Caliph Ahmed Al-Mu'tamid has become dependent on Turkish slaves to man the imperial army and guards, but the Turks have just as often turned on their master, ravaging the land and usurping the caliph's authority. Major provinces have fallen under the control of Turkish officers, local dynasties, or popular rebellions. Technically all are subordinate to the caliph, but for all practical purposes the empire is in chaos.

More Information on the Mundane World of A.D. 875:
Life in the Dark Ages
Peoples of Caledonia
Geography of Caledonia
The Church in Caledonia
The British Isles
Western Europe
Distant Lands
Map of Western Europe
Map of Caledonia

Return to the Index of Background Files

Caledonia: A Light in the North