The origins and early stages of the medieval Bosnian state in the early Middle Ages have not been recorded in historical sources and remain obscure. The range of knowledge about the origin and development of the Bosnian state organization is reflected in a comparison with the development of neighboring Slavic Sclavinia. It is believed that the formation of the Bosnian state is directly related to the area of today’s central Bosnia, a region encompassing the upper and middle reaches of the Bosnia River, the Sarajevo and Visoko fields, and the Zenica gorge. As a result of the natural-geographical isolation of the area, data on these historical events were recorded relatively late due to the lack of foreign interests. Thus, even the first mention of Bosnia as a politically organized space represents a significant turning point in the presence of Bosnia in written history. Hence, it is the data presented by Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (945-959) in his work, which Johannes Meursius first published in 1611 as De administrando imperio. Emperor Constantine dedicated the work, created in the period 948-952, to his son and successor Roman II (959-963) in order to better understand the circumstances that awaited him. In order to compile this document, Constantine and his collaborators used a wide variety of sources of different quality and time span, so certain historical periods remain obscured. In addition, the same is true in regard to the areas described. While there is a significant amount of data available for some areas in the coastal regions, little information is available for areas in the interior of the Balkan Peninsula inhabited by south Slavs. There, Bosnia stands out in particular, about which the Byzantine court was modestly informed.
The information about Bosnia in this publication is extremely scanty and fragmentary, and opens many questions and dilemmas, while offering few concrete answers. The author of this publication could only depict the situation in Bosnia within the framework allowed by the sources at his disposal, and research has shown that they were of a very specific character. Consequently, extensive historiographical production has developed around the issue of the information contained in this publication. In the 32nd chapter of his work, at the end of the list of kastra oikoumena in Christianized Serbia, the Byzantine emperor mentions the horion Bosna, and the towns of Katera and Desnik. Among scholars, there are several interpretations of the term horion. However, the prevailing opinion is that it means state or small state. The author of the book himself introduced the confusion because he occasionally used the terms hora and horion for the same territories, apparently even the compilers, due to the use of a large number of sources, were not completely clear about the character of the particular territory they were describing. Considering the discrepancy in what was written about Bosnia and neighboring countries, it is quite clear that Bosnia was almost completely unknown to Constantine, and he was unable to find detailed information about this country. It is certain that the name of the political framework of Bosnia should be linked to the river Bosnia, which in turn defines its geographical position at the most basic level. It is, in the broadest scope, the area that most likely consisted of the early medieval counties of Bosna, Vidogošća, Vrhbosna, Lepenica, Lašva, Brod and Trstivnica. All previous attempts to locate the towns of Katera and Desnik more precisely have not brought conclusive results, so this question remains open. As a potential geographical region in which these two areas could exist are the already mentioned territorial frameworks that are linked to the creation of the Bosnian state organization in the upper reaches of the Bosnia River, between Sarajevo and Zenica.
According to the understanding of the Byzantine emperor, Bosnia at this time, in an unknown context, recognized the supremacy of Serbia. More recent approaches to this problem have revealed that the kastra oikoumena mentioned in this source must be understood exclusively as church centers in a given country, meaning that Katera and Desnik were church centers of the Roman Church, and by no means the only populated towns in this region, based on the Bosnian sample. From this interpretation, it follows that Bosnia had its own church organization, that is, that it was a separate political space – a state, that is, a principality. The recognition of the supremacy of a stronger neighbor in the circumstances described by the Byzantine emperor is an indisputable fact. However, the establishment of church centers indicates the earlier independence of the Bosnian state. It is certain that it was a state territory that under certain circumstances came under the influence of stronger neighbors, which was a common occurrence in the early medieval era in this area. It is very important to define the sources from which the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII wrote his manuscript. Research indicates that Constantine, among others, most likely used a lost work describing the Christianization of Croats and Serbs by Roman missionaries to compile chapters related to the immigration of Croats and Serbs. Thus, it should be considered that the mention of Bosnia as a political organization with church centers Katera and Desnik does not reflect the situation from the 10th century, but rather from a century earlier, as this source informs us.
Historiography agrees on one aspect of the original Bosnian political form – the recognition of vassalage or supremacy by neighboring states is unquestionable. The difference is reflected in the interpretation of vassalage – while the interpretations of neighboring historiographies are that it is a political organization that grew on the foundations of the Serbian or Croatian political space and ethnos, the viewpoint of Bosnian historiography is that it is a state framework formed independently of its neighbors with its own ethnos. In this regard, defining the character of the Bosnian state’s starting position is one of the most important questions of Bosnian history, since it is upon this foundation that all other characteristics of the Bosnian state and ethnos are derived.
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