Arrival of the Slavs – History of Ohrid

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From the beginning of VI century the Slavs started passing the river Danube more frequently devastating and robbing the rich Byzantine towns, fortresses and villages, penetrating even the interior of the Balkan peninsula. Records tell us that even in 517 AD, when Anastasius I (419-518) was the sovereign of the Byzantine “the two Macedonias and Thessaly were devastated by the Ghetic (Slavic) cavalry that robbed all the way through Thermopylae and Ancient Epirus”.

It is certain that towards the end of VI century the Ohrid region was exposed to a mass Slavic colonization. In the 3rd decade of VII century the region of Ohrid was completely colonized by the Slav tribe of Berzites. In the 2nd decade of VII century this tribe, alongside other tribes, including Draguvites, Sagudates and Velegizites, entered into a grand Slavic alliance lead by the Slav leader Hatczon.

Apart form the Ohrid region, the Macedonian Slavic tribe Berzites also colonized the entire territory that stretched between the contemporary towns of Veles, Kavadarci, Prilep, Bitola, and Debar. The Byzantine writers started to call this whole territory “Sclavinia” (Sklabhnia).

Ever since the end of VI and the beginning of VII century radical ethnic changes occurred in the region of Ohrid. The devastated and robbed town of Lychnid was then named by a pure Slavic name of Ohrid. There are several explanations for the origin of the Slavic name. Prevailing is the one according to which the name Ohrid is entirely Slavic and that it is derived from the noun “hrid”, hill .The form Ahrida or Ahris, most likely originates from the Slavic name Ohrid where “o>a”.

Authors of travel chronicles wrote that Lake Lychnidos in the contemporary language was named Lake Ohrid as early as in X century, during the times of Czar Samuel. In St. Naum’s hagiography, the Lake was named “White Lake”. This name corresponds to the one used by the Greeks, with the meaning “bright lake”. At that time the entire Ohrid region became a part of “Sclavinia -Berzitia” that was governed by an independent Slavic duke. In “Sclavinia” the Byzantine Empire did not have any power whatsoever. In the history of Ohrid and its surroundings the period from the end of VI to the middle of IX century remains the most obscure and the least studied one.

The results of the archaeological excavations in Ohrid tell us that the Slavs – Berzites who inhabited the region gradually started to absorb a great deal of the native culture. At the same time with the progressive development of the town of Ohrid, from the beginning of VII century also the Macedonian medieval culture with its specific features started to emerge in the Ohrid region and in other parts of Macedonia. This culture was fully acknowledged in X century when the Macedonian medieval state was formed. It is evident from the known facts that both political and cultural influences of the Byzantine Empire ceased to affect Ohrid region by the end of VI century.

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