Byzantino-Serbian Border Zones in Transition: Migration and Elite Change in pre-Ottoman Macedonia (1282–1355)

[FWF Austrian Science Fund Project P 30384-G28]

Project Leader:

Priv.-Doz. Mag. Dr. Mihailo Popović (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Medieval Research, Division of Byzantine Research, Vienna)

Scholary Co-Workers:

Vratislav Zervan, MA PhD
Bernhard Koschicek, BSc BA


1 October 2017-30 September 2021
Funded by:


The European continent as a whole and the European Union in particular are facing a period of increasing dynamics of internal migration as well as external immigration at the moment. Migration in all of its various aspects has always been a part of the history of the European continent. In medieval societies the question of migration is closely connected with the definition as well as the representation of medieval borders. Maps in historical atlases are designed to provide clear-cut lines of political formations and empires, which does not reflect the reality of civilizations neither in Antiquity, nor in the Middle Ages, nor in Early Modern Times. The dynamics of borders simultaneously shapes the dynamics of settlement patterns as well as of transportation networks.
The respective stand-alone project focuses on the borders of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire in medieval South-East Europe, namely in pre-Ottoman (i.e. Byzantine) Macedonia. Far-reaching political changes occurred in the Southern Balkan Peninsula from the end of the 13th until the middle of the 14th century, when the Serbian medieval kingdom expanded to the South under the king Stefan Uroš II Milutin at the expense of the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until the death of tsar Stefan Uroš IV Dušan (1355). This again had a severe impact on the border zones and cross-border societies between both realms in pre-Ottoman (i.e. Byzantine) Macedonia in the same period, especially in five selected target areas (the Strumica Valley, Lesnovo, Skopje, Ohrid, Prilep).
Although substantial publications exist on the population of as well as on the migration in Byzantine Macedonia, there is still an urgent need for this kind of research based on written sources and toponyms. Two interrelated research questions will be addressed in two distinct work packages: "Rivalling Political Concepts – Byzantium and the Medieval Serbian Oecumene” and "Cross-Border Societies and Elite Change in Byzantine Macedonia”.
The initial point form the medieval written sources, i.e. Serbian and Byzantine charters as main corpus, as well as other selected written sources from the medieval Serbian kingdom. The sources will be analysed from the viewpoint of the aforesaid research questions and strongly based on the methods deriving from Historical Geography. Special attention will be given to the analysis of formulations with regard to the Serbian expansion in the area of research, the acquisition of new territories and their administrative incorporation on the macro-level and to the localisation of conquered settlements with related settlement typologies as well as on the change of local elites on a micro-level. Moreover, tools from Digital Humanities in mapping and visualisation will be applied in order to communicate the achieved results to the interested public.


Vratislav Zervan, Local Elites in the Region of Polog in the Light of the Bogorodica Htetovska Charters. In: Popovic, Mihailo St./ Polloczek, Veronika/Koschicek, Bernhard/ Eichert, Stefan (Eds.), Power in Landscape – Geographic and Digital Approaches on Historical Research. Leipzig: Eudora 2019, 275–356.
Mihailo St. Popovic, Vratislav Zervan, Signs and Maps of Power in Medieval Europe: A Case Study on Byzantine Macedonia (13th/14th). MEMO 2 (2018): Digital Humanities & Materielle Kultur, 105–121. Pdf-Format, DOI: 10.25536/20180206.
Vratislav Zervan, Mihailo St. Popovic, Die Beziehungen und Kontakte der Häuser Luxemburg und Valois zur serbischen Herrscherfamilie der Nemanjiden vor dem Hintergrund der päpstlichen Unionsversuche (13./14. Jh.), in: Byzanz und das Abendland VI. Studia Byzantino-Occidentalia (Antiquitas. Byzantium. Renascentia XXXVIII). Budapest 2019, 179-199.
Bernhard Koschicek, Mihailo St. Popovic, Vratislav Zervan, Memories are Made of This: Tracing Ambulant Rulers, Local Elites and Shifting Borders in Byzantine Macedonia. In: The edited volume in honor of Predrag Matejic. The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH. (in press, 2019)


Mihailo Popović, Two Precious Charters from the 14th Century and Their Digital Footprint (Workshop Archéologie, histoire et analyse spatiale. Dialogue interdisciplinaire sur la question des SIG archéologiques et historiques, Lille, 31 May 2018)
Mihailo Popović, Two Documents from the Hilandar Research Library and Their Digital Footprint (7th International Hilandar Conference “Preserving and Accessing Medieval Slavic Manuscripts”, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 15 June 2018)
Mihailo Popović, Memories are Made of This: Tracing Local Elites in Byzantine Macedonia (International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, Leeds, 3 July 2018)
Mihailo Popović, Big Data in Byzantium? Thoughts on the Analysis of Byzantine Regions from the Viewpoint of Historical Geography and Digital Humanities (Central European University – CEU, Budapest, 10 October 2018)
Mihailo Popović, Тумачење садржаја средњовековних повеља из угла историјске географије и дигиталне хуманистике (Workshop “Дигиталне едиције средњовековних докумената: пројекат Српског дигиталног дипломатара”, Belgrade, 28 November 2018)
Mihailo Popović, The Myth of Big Data in Byzantium versus One of the Ways of Combining Byzantine / Medieval Studies, Historical Geography and Digital Humanities (Četvrta medievistička znanstvena radionica u Rijeci / Fourth Medieval Workshop in Rijeka, Rijeka, 31 May 2019) [Keynote]
Mihailo Popović, The (Im)Material Imperial in a Contested Area: The Attribute 'Tsar' in the Toponymy of Byzantine Macedonia (International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, Leeds, 3 July 2019)
Vratislav Zervan, Kritische Bemerkungen zu den Briefen Karls des IV. an Stefan Dušan und an Ioannes V. Paleologos. Byzanz und das Abendland VI. Eötvös-József-Collegium, Budapest, Hungary 17.04. 2018 []
Vratislav Zervan, Border Warlords as Founders and Donators: Memory-Keeping in Monasteries and Churches of Byzantine Macedonia. International Medieval Congress 2018, Leeds, United Kingdom, 03. 07. 2018 []
Vratislav Zervan, The Material Culture of Everyday Life in the Northern Macedonia at the Turn of the 13th and 14th Centuries: The Case of the Border Warlords. International Medieval Congress 2019, Leeds, United Kingdom, 03. 07. 2019 []
Bernhard Koschicek, Digital Memory-Keeping of Border. Warlords in Byzantine Macedonia in the OpenAtlas Database (International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, Leeds, 3 July 2018)
Bernhard Koschicek, Tracing Material Culture in Northern Macedonia via Spatial Visualisation (GIS) (International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, Leeds, 3 July 2019)
Bernhard Koschicek, Die digitale, geoanalystische Aufarbeitung von Grenzen, Orten und Verkehrswegen im Nordmazedonien des 14. Jahrhunderts: erste Ansätze(Working Meeting of the Project “Byzantino-Serbian Border Zones in Transition: Migration and Elite Change in pre-Ottoman Macedonia”, Vienna, 17-18 October 2019)
Mihailo Popović, The Appropriation of Byzantine Macedonia by the King and Emperor Stefan Uroš IV Dušan: Means and Outcome (St. Petersburg International Historical Forum, St. Petersburg, 29 October-3 November 2019)
Mihailo Popović, Über das Verhältnis von Herrschertiteln und Räumen: eine Fallstudie zu Makedonien unter dem König und Zaren Stefan Dušan (Working Meeting of the Project “Byzantino-Serbian Border Zones in Transition: Migration and Elite Change in pre-Ottoman Macedonia”, Vienna, 17-18 October 2019)

Fig. 1 Interpretation of the Byzantino-Serbian Border between 1228 and 1334 from different authors (Bernhard Koschicek, 2018)

Fig. 2 Fortifications in the Northern Macedonian Region in the 13/14th century. (Bernhard Koschicek, 2019)

Fig. 3 Abtract road model from a k. u k. marching map with kilometers. (Bernhard Koschicek, 2018)