De Administrando Imperio

From Academic Kids

De Administrando Imperio is the commonly used title of a scholarly work from ca. 950 by Byzantine emperor Constantine VII. Its name is translated as On the Administration of the Empire. Its original title was "Pros ton idion yion Romanon" ("To Our Own Son Romanus", Greek: "Προς τον ίδιον υιόν Ρωμανόν") and was meant to be an internal and foreign policy manual for the use of his son and successor, the Emperor Romanus II. It contains advice on running the ethnically-mixed empire as well as how to fight external enemies. Template:Wikisource This was initially only one of the many writings of Constantine Porphyrogenitos, but it later attained considerable importance as a source for the earlier history of Europe. For example, it describes the arrival of the Serbs and Croats to the Balkans in the 7th century, the early Kievan Rus', the Varangians (whom they also called Rus and described as a different people from the Slavs[1] (, as well as other groups such as the Pechenegs and Arabs. For this reason its original Greek title was "Περι εθνων" which translates as "About the Peoples".

One theme of the work is the idea that various enemies can be manipulated to fight each other, rather than use imperial money and resources to wage war against them.

It is also notable that the work describes the use of Greek fire. Unfortunately, Constantine does not give its ingredients, as its composition was such a secret that he could not describe it even to his own son (for whom the work was originally written).

Although in 53 chapters it covers many topics and describes various peoples and regions (for instance, Moravia, Iberians and Slavs in different parts of contemporary Greece and Turkey), as well as bizarre genealogies (one example is prophet Mohammad's in chapter 14),only a few chapters have become controversial due to conflicting political aspirations, chiefly of Croats and Serbs. Namely, the dispute is centered about the following chapters:

  • 30, "Story on the province of Dalmatia"
  • 31 "Of the Croats and of the country they now dwell in"
  • 32 "Of the Serbs and of the country they now dwell in"

as well as

  • 33 "Of the Zachlumi and of the country they now dwell in"
  • 34 "Of the Terbounites and Kanalites and of the country they now dwell in"
  • 35 "Of the Diocletians and of the country they now dwell in"
  • 36 "Of the Pagani, also called Arentani, and of the country they now dwell in"

Briefly: Constantine's description has become a weapon in colliding Croatian and Serbian national ideologies from mid-19th century onwards, since the emperor had given early distribution of Croats and Serbs upon their arrival, and by reading historical records and interpretations into contemporary situation, it was used (or misused) as a tool in arming current national geopolitical claims with a sort of "historical legitimacy". Although such misuse may seem grotesque, it is still a standard weapon in nationalist arsenals, especially with regard to the supposedly contended lands of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and southern Croatia, Dalmatia in particular.

Although historians differ in their assessment of the credibility of these passages, certain conclusions seem to have become, more or less, generally accepted:

  • there is not one author of the whole work; De Administrando Imperio is a collection of articles written by a few authors and ascribed to Constantine, who probably wrote only a part of it and/or edited or compiled the rest (or had imperial scribes do the same)
  • the most politically controversial chapters, 30, 31 and 32 are mutually contradictory. Chapters 30 and 31 tell two different versions on the arrival of Croats, and chapter 32, about the arrival of Serbs, shows striking similarity to the chapter 31, which is probably the emperor's story on the Croats. Many historians have deduced that chapter 32 is just a retelling of the migration pattern found in chapter 31. As far as chapter 30 is concerned, it is accepted that it was written by an anonymous author who had conveyed genuine Croatian mythic story on their origin. The chapters 31 and 32 tell essentially the same story of a people who came upon invitation of Byzantine emperor Heraclius, with virtually exact scheme appearing in both cases-Croat and Serb. On the other hand, anonymous who composed chapter 30, portrays the mythic Croatian origo gentis: a narrative on 5 brothers and 2 sisters as leaders of Croatian tribe- something entirely different from chapter 31. Also, one must bear in mind that the described events took place some 300 years before this work, and that "De Administrando Imperio" is the first description of arrival of the mentioned peoples, hence greatly reducing the credibility of the narrative.
  • other dubious chapters (33, 34, 35,36) are devoted, essentially, to lands that are now parts of contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. They claim that Serbs, or tribes close to them, or descended from them, inhabit these lands. Understandably, Serbian historians accept these claims, while others (especially Croatian and Bosniak) consider that the chapters 33-36 are emperor's concoction, stemming from the fact that he tried to extend the region of Serbian ethnicity-motivated by the fact that Serbs, unlike Croats, accepted Byzantine suzerainty.
  • nevertheless De Administrando Imperio remains the only surviving authoritative text of its kind about the region and era; is the direct or indirect work of an advanced diplomatic bureaucracy; and is attributed to the famously most erudite of Byzantine Emperors.



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