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Hellas (theme)

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Subject: Thessalonica (theme), Peloponnese (theme), Nicopolis (theme), Byzantine Greece, Aegean Sea (theme)
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Hellas (theme)

Theme of Hellas
Ἑλλάς, Ἑλλάδα, θέμα Ἑλλάδος
Theme of the Byzantine Empire
687/695 – 12th century
Location of Hellas
Map of Byzantine Greece c. 900, with the themes and major settlements.
Historical era Middle Ages
 -  Established 687/695
 -  Dissolution into smaller districts. 12th century
Today part of  Greece

The Theme of Hellas (Greek: θέμα Ἑλλάδος) was a Byzantine military-civilian province (thema, theme) located in southern Greece. The theme encompassed parts of Central Greece, Thessaly and, until c. 800, the Peloponnese. It was established in the late 7th century, and survived until the late 11th/12th century.


"Hellas" was already in use in the 6th century to designate southern Greece in an administrative context, being employed in the Synekdemos as an alternative name for the Roman province of Achaea.[1][2] During the 7th century, the final collapse of the Danube frontier allowed large-scale Slavic invasions and settlements to occur all over the Balkan peninsula. In Greece, the Slavic tribes raided and settled almost at will, aided by the Byzantine Empire's preoccupation with countering the Muslim conquests in the East. Some of the native Greek population fled to the fortified cities, to off-shore islands, or to Italy.[3]

The creation of the theme of Hellas is dated to sometime between 687 and 695, during the first reign of Emperor Justinian II (r. 685–695 and 705–711),[1] probably as a direct result of his anti-Slavic campaign of 688/689.[4] The first strategos of Hellas is attested in 695: Leontios, formerly strategos of the Anatolic Theme, who had fallen into disgrace following his defeat at the Battle of Sebastopolis.[4][5] Although the contemporary sources do not apply the term "theme" to Hellas until after the 8th century, using the term strategia ("generalcy") instead, it is almost certain that it was established from the outset as a full administrative entity, controlling those lands of the old province of Achaea that still remained under imperial control.[4][6] The original extent of the theme is unclear and debated, but based on the extent of Byzantine control, its territory must have comprised the eastern coast of the mainland (eastern Central Greece and parts of Thessaly), possibly including the eastern Peloponnese, as well as some Aegean islands like Skyros and Kea.[1][4][7] It is unclear whether Athens or Thebes was the province's original capital; most likely Thebes, as it certainly filled this role in the early 10th century. In the second half of the 10th century, however, the strategos' seat was transferred to Larissa.[6][8]

Given its lack of depth into the hinterland, the theme was originally probably oriented mostly towards the sea.[4] Emperor Justinian II settled several thousand Mardaites there, who provided garrisons and crews for local naval squadrons. The number of land troops on the other hand remained rather low throughout the theme's existence, numbering perhaps 2,000, according to the estimates of Warren Treadgold.[9] The fleet of Hellas played a prominent role during the anti-iconoclast revolt of 726. During the course of the 8th century, however, imperial authority was gradually extended to the interior. The local Slavic inhabitants were Christianized and subjected to Byzantine authority, often in autonomous districts under their own archontes.[10] This process was interrupted but not halted by another wave of Slavic settlement in the 740s. The anti-Slavic expedition of the minister Staurakios in 783 restored and extended imperial control once again, especially in the Peloponnese and northern Greece.[11] This eventually led to the splitting off of the Peloponnese to form a separate theme around or soon after the year 800.[12]

During the 9th and early 10th centuries, Hellas suffered from Saracen raids, especially after the conquest of Crete by the Arabs in the 820s (cf. Emirate of Crete), and by repeated Bulgarian raids under Tsar Simeon (r. 893–927) that reached even into the Peloponnese.[13] Nevertheless, from the late 9th century on Hellas, along with the rest of Greece, shows signs of increased prosperity, such as the foundation of new towns and the establishment of new industries (most notably the silk industry in Thebes).[14] The Bulgarian threat was renewed under Tsar Samuel, who occupied Thessaly in 987 and launched several devastating raids into Central Greece and the Peloponnese until his defeat at the Battle of Spercheios in 997.[15] The region enjoyed a long period of peace thereafter, interrupted only by raids during the uprising of Petar Delyan (1040–1041) and the unsuccessful Norman attacks into Thessaly in 1082–1083.[15]

During the 10th and 11th centuries, Hellas was often governed jointly with the Peloponnese under a single strategos, and as the civilian administration rose in importance, the same practice appears there as well, with protonotarioi, praetores and kritai being appointed for both themes.[1][16][17] Thessaly appears to have been detached from Hellas and joined to the theme of Thessalonica from the early 11th century until sometime in the early 12th century.[18] By the end of the 11th century, the joint theme of Hellas-Peloponnese came under the control of the megas doux, the commander of the Byzantine navy. Due to the latter's absence from the province, however, the local administration remained under the local praetor, a position often held by senior and distinguished officials like the legal scholars Alexios Aristenos and Nicholas Hagiotheodorites.[16][19] Increasingly, however, smaller jurisdictions appeared within the boundaries of both themes. These eventually evolved into the smaller fiscal districts variously termed oria, chartoularata and episkepseis in the 12th century, while the old themes of Hellas and the Peloponnese gradually withered away as administrative entities.[6][20] The territory of Hellas remained under Byzantine control until the early 13th century (1204–1205), when, in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, it came under control of the Latin states of Thessalonica and Athens.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e Kazhdan 1991, p. 911.
  2. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, p. 52.
  3. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, pp. 54–56.
  4. ^ a b c d e Koder & Hild 1976, p. 57.
  5. ^ Pertusi 1952, p. 170.
  6. ^ a b c Nesbitt & Oikonomides 1994, p. 22.
  7. ^ Pertusi 1952, p. 171.
  8. ^ Pertusi 1952, p. 172.
  9. ^ Treadgold 1995, pp. 26, 66–69, 72.
  10. ^ Nesbitt & Oikonomides 1994, pp. 22–24; Koder & Hild 1976, pp. 57–58.
  11. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, pp. 58–59.
  12. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, p. 59.
  13. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, pp. 60–61.
  14. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, p. 61.
  15. ^ a b Koder & Hild 1976, p. 63.
  16. ^ a b Nesbitt & Oikonomides 1994, pp. 22, 62.
  17. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, pp. 61, 66.
  18. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, pp. 62, 66.
  19. ^ Magdalino 2002, p. 234.
  20. ^ Koder & Hild 1976, pp. 66–67.


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