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Author: Krastyu Miyatev


Slavs and Ceramics

Ceramic vessels are by far the most used and widely distributed archaeological artifacts: they constitute physical evidence of manufacturing, trade, and cultural exchange between different ethnic groups in Early Medieval and Medieval Central, Eastern, and Northern Europe. As such, they are used as chronological and cultural indicators for these regions. Furthermore, these ceramics are widely distributed on both geographic and temporal scales. Archaeologists have historically interpreted these ceramics as technological products of certain ethnic groups, but these research efforts have not to date included broad regional or supra-regional overviews because of logistical constraints to accessing ceramic collections from the multitude of sites located across the study area. The ceramics that are spread over half of Europe, and especially distinctive of the Germania-Slavica study area, are only described by separate localized taxonomies that are not integrated. They correspond broadly both on spatial and temporal scales, with the area of habitation of early medieval cultural/ethnic groups speaking various dialects of the Slavic linguistic group.

'The Slavs' was initially a generic name used by the Byzantines and the Late Romans to depict the new Barbarian hoards that invaded the civilized world. As they settled on the imperial soil, they came to be identified more precisely from the 6th c. AD onwards, when Late Roman and Early Byzantine sources distinguished the new 'Barbarian migrants' as the Sclaveni, Venethi, and Antes. Out of these three ethnonyms, the Greek term of Sclavenoi, translated into Latin as Sclaveni, forms the linguistic basis for the modern word 'Slavs'. The term 'Slavic' was applied to describe ceramics based on the overlapping temporal and spatial distributions of Slavic-speaking groups and that of ceramic assemblages of distinct manufacture. The distinctiveness of the ceramic assemblages excavated in early medieval strongholds, open settlements, and burial fields was perceived as early as the 19th century by G. C. F. Lisch and R. Virchow; the latter even pioneering the term Burgwallkeramik as the new label of the ceramic group. The homogeneity in style, decoration, and morphology of these ceramic finds permitted A. Götze (1901) and especially C. Schuchhardt (1919), to categorize the ceramic finds on a temporal scale, with Schuchhardt even introducing the first typological construct directly related to the cultural /ethnic Slavic-speaking groups that inhabited the vast expanses of Central and Eastern Europe (he coined the early, middle, and late-Slavic as classification terms for ceramic periodization). The presence of abundant undecorated ceramics in Prague made E. Simek to call this pottery the Veleslavin type, changed afterwards into the Prague type by I. Borkovsky (1940). This term came to denote the earliest type of pottery ever associated with the Slavic-speaking cultural/ethnic groups. Later archaeological research added other terms to define the earliest type of non-decorated ceramics related to the Slavic-speaking groups: typological ceramic labels (relating to cultures in archaeological terminology) such as Korchak-Penkovka-Kolochin in Ukraine, Ipotesti-Candesti-Ciurel in Romania, Dziedzice in Poland, Prague in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Sukow in Germany, came to denote ceramics similar if not identical with Borkovsky's Prague type. For the Baltic area, where ceramics of this group appear abundantly starting from the Vendel Period (500-780 AD) onwards, H. Jankuhn, C. Wilde, and later W. Hübener (1959) replaced the earlier term of 'Slavic or Wendish' ceramics with the ethnically-neutral term 'Baltic Ware'. After K. Godlowski's own chronological assessment, Slavic settlements came to be archaeologically identified as Slavic if they exhibited these three diagnostic features:

1. a particular style in house-building methods (oval/rectangular shape with oven/hearth in the corner);

2. burial grounds overwhelmingly exhibiting simple cremation graves (in the earliest period at least);

3. ceramic assemblages of the Korchak-Penkovka-Kolochin, Ipotesti-Candesti-Ciurel, Prague, Dziedzice, and Sukow type associated with the earlier phases of settlement habitation.

As ceramics are one of the main diagnostics of historic Slavic identity, the very existence in archaeological contexts of such ceramic assemblages justified the use of the label Slavic. However, and in spite of the stylistic congruence of these ceramic artifacts, archaeology today cannot answer satisfactorily to questions related to stylistic innovation and transfer, technological diffusion, or cultural emulation of Slavic ceramics. Therefore the primary task is to provide the framework for gathering, correlating, and structuring these vast collections into a coherent database that can be used to pragmatically address major issues like: 1) defining the spatial and temporal distribution of ceramic types over Central, Eastern, and Northern Europe; 2) organizing ceramic type information for particular local studies; 3) characterizing the ceramic technological similarities and differences between Slavic and non-Slavic ethnically inhabited areas; 4) determining if there are correlations between ceramic types, habitation types, and ethnically settled areas; and 5) synthesizing this information to delineate the ceramic distribution and thus the social and political networks that were active in medieval Europe.


Slavs in Antiquity

In the first chapter of the book the development of knowledge about the origin and ancient history of Slavs is considered. It begins with the analysis of the Roman and medieval authors' ideas on the beginning of Slavdom and concludes with the historiography situation in the late 20th century. The chapter has the following sections: "Ancient Authors about Early Slavs"; "Notions about Ancient Slavs in the Chronicles and Historical Writings of Middle Ages"; "From Mavro Orbini to P. J. Safarik"; "From P. J. Safarik to L. Niederle"; "Lubor Niederle and his Time"; "The Investigations of the 1920-50s"; "The Last Decades of the 20th Century".

In the chapter "Ethnogenesis of Slavs" the contemporary state of the problem of Slavs' origin and early history is analyzed. The potentialities of different disciplines in the investigation of this problem are appraised: linguistics, onomastics, ethnology, archaeology, anthropology, history, folkloristics. It is beyond doubt that this problem may be solved only by means of cooperation of all these disciplines, two of them being leading today — linguistics (the questions of glottogenesis) and archaeology (the study of cultural development of certain population in the concrete territorial and chronological circumstances).

The prehistory of Slavs is characterized in the chapter "Ancient Europeans". It begins with the time-point of the 2nd millennium B.C. when the Central European community of Urnfield cultures existed. It is identified with Ancient Europeans of H. Krahe — an ethno-linguistic community, which united a big group of tribes speaking similar ancient Indo-European dialects. In the late 2nd to first half of the 1st millennium B.C. Celts, Italics, Venets, Illyrians, Germans, Western Balts and Slavs appeared from this conglomeration.

The question of Slavs' formation is considered in details in the next chapter. Slavs as a separate ethnos were being formed about the middle of the 1st millennium B.C. on the basis of Lusatian (Lausitz) culture, which belonged to the Central European community of Urnfield cultures. Podkloszove Burials culture (Middle and Upper Vistula with Right-bank Oder) was the first Slavonic one.

The 3rd and the 2nd centuries B.C. are the period of close contacts between Slavs and Celts. Celts, that migrated into the Slav territory in contemporary Poland, influenced upon the development of agriculture, crafts and culture of Slavs greatly. The pottery-making, metallurgy and metalworking which reached the highest level in Southern Poland during Roman epoch, were the heritage of Celts. As a result of contacts between Slavs and Celts the Przeworsk culture appeared.

The territory of Slavs in the late La-Tene and Roman time was not isolated. Several migrations of Germans into the environment of Slavs are observed archaeologically. The territory of Przeworsk culture expands to the south-east (Upper Dniester, Volyn') and to the south (northern-eastern Slovakia). The two regions of this culture are distinguished — the Vistula region (where Slavs dominated) and the Oder one (where Germans were also numerous). The Slavonic language underwent some considerable changes in the spheres of phonetics, grammar and vocabulary.

As far as in the 3rd/2nd centuries B.C. a part of the population of the Podkloszove Burials culture and the Pomorye culture settled in the Pripyat' basin, Middle Dnieper and part of Upper Dnieper. As a result of their contacts with the local tribes of Milograd culture and Scythian Forest-Steppe cultures, the Zarubintsy culture was formed. The ethnic identity of its population is not clear. Most probably, those people were close both to Slavs and to Western Balts by their language. Later the Zarubintsy population moved to the northern regions, mostly to the Desna basin (Pochep culture) and Upper Oka (Moshchini culture), and some separate groups in the south joined the Cherniakhov culture.

In the last decades of the 2nd century A.D. a movement of a great mass of population from the Lower Vistula region towards south under the leadership of Goths took place. The most part of it settled in Mazovia, Podlasie and Volyn' (Wielbark culture), but a part moved further — to the western part of North Pontic Area, where the basis of future Gothia was laid. The second wave of migrants under the leadership of Goths dates back to the middle of the 3rd century. Some large groups of the migrants settled at those times between Dniester and Lower Dnieper, and some little ones — widely within the Cherniakhov territory.

Cherniakhov culture (late 2nd - early 5th centuries A.D.) was a poly-ethnic conglomeration. The most part of its population were Sarmatians, that settled widely between Lower Danube and Meothida (the Sea of Azov), and Slavs. In the Dniester-Danube region also Geto-Dacians and Goths-Gepids tribes lived, belonging to this culture. The formation of Cherniakhov culture was a result of interaction of the South-Eastern Przeworsk tribes with Sarmatians. Some uniformity of Cherniakhov territory was conditioned by spreading of Roman Provincial Culture. In the region of Podolia and Middle Dnieper a new dialect-tribal formation, the Antae, was generated under the circumstances of Slavic-Iranian symbiosis.

The migration of German tribes towards the borders of Roman Empire and the Huns invasion in late 4th century A.D. changed the cultural situation in South-Eastern Europe considerably. The development of Provincial Roman cultures had been interrupted, the majority of crafts centers stopped functioning, the period of cultural regress began, and it was strengthened by the unfavorable conditions for the agriculture. A part of Slavic population was forced to leave the Przeworsk and Cherniakhov territories and to move to the other lands.

During the 5th century, as the stabilization of life had begun, the process of formation of the early medieval Slavic cultures took place: Prague-Korchak culture on the basis of Przeworsk remains; Penkovka culture on the basis of Podolia-Dnieper variant of Cherniakhov culture with the participation of northern immigrants (the population of Kiev culture); the culture of Pskov Long Barrows; Imenkovo culture and some other small ones.


Slavs in Early Middle Ages

In the first part of the book, named "The Slavs in the beginning of the Middle Ages", the archaeological cultures are characterized, which have been formed on the basis of Provincial Roman ones, as well as in conditions of Slavic migration. The Slavs in the beginning of the Middle ages settled in the extended territories of Central and Eastern Europe from the Elbe in the west up to the Don in the east and from the coast of the Baltic sea in the north up to Peloponnesus in the south and were differentiated in several dialect-tribal formations.

One of those large formations was Prague-Korchak culture formed on the basis of late Przeworsk antiquities (Southern Poland, Western Ukraine and north-eastern Slovakia). Its main markers are hand-made pottery, square semi-subterranean dwellings with heating devices in a corner and cremation burial rite. From the tribes of this group only the Dulebs are known, who appeared in the 8th - 12th centuries divided and scattered in different pans of its former territory. The S-shaped hair-rings are their ethnographical feature.

Another dialect-tribal formation of the Slavs is represented by Sukow-Dziedzice culture, which have been formed also on the basis of late Przeworsk culture in Central Poland. Its characteristic elements are distinctive hand-made pottery, ground timber buildings and surface cremation burials. In the 7th century a part of Sukow-Dziedzice area was captured by the Slavs of another group - the bearers of Feldberg ceramics. On the territory of Sukow-Dziedzice culture the tribal groups of the Obodrits, the Velets, the Pomoryans and the Polyans have been formed. For all of them the S-shaped hollow hair-rings were common.

In the North Pontic Area Penkovka culture has been formed on the basis of Cherniakhov culture. The bearers of Penkovka culture were the Antaes, fixed by historical sources of the 6th - 7th centuries. The characteristic elements of the Antaes were semi-subterranean dwellings, specific handmade ceramics and bi-ritual flat burials. The Antaes together with the tribes of Prague-Korchak group and Romanized autochthons became the creators of Ipotesti-Cindesti culture of the Danube and Prut basins. It is partly similar to Penkovka antiquities, but differs from it by numerous Provincial Byzantine elements.

In the first half of the 6th century the Avars came to the Pontic territories. In 557 A.D. they attacked the Antaes and defeated them. Soon after that a powerful migration wave under the leadership of the Avars spread westwards and in 578 reached the Middle Danube area. Here under the conditions of Slavic-Avarian symbiosis a homogenous culture has been formed; it is impossible to divide Slavic and Avarian ethnic components in it.

The capture of Danube lands by the Avars has become an impulse for movements of separate Slavic groups in Central Europe. In the 7th century the Slavic Tornow culture spread in the Middle Oder and in the Hawel basins. These were the Luzhichans (Lausitz Sorben) ancestors. In the 8th century another group of the Slavs represented by Rüssen antiquities (ancestors of the Sorbs) populated the basins of the Elbe and the Saale.

Beginning from the second half of the 6th century large masses of the Slavs settled in the Balkan Peninsula. They actively accepted numerous elements of Provincial Byzantine culture, therefore their antiquities are hardly distinguished among the materials of the local population. Soon the Balkans were Slavicized. On the Peloponnesus the Slavs dominated about two centuries, but then have been assimilated by the Greeks.

At the end of the 7th century the Slavs of Imenkovo culture under pressure of the Bulgars had to leave the Middle Volga and settle the left bank of the Dnieper where the Antaes lived. The result of this interaction was the formation of Volyntsevo culture in this region. It inherited Penkovka house-building as well as Imenkovo pottery-making. In the 8th century this Slavic group populated the Upper Oka, where together with Moshchini population formed the basis of the Viatiches. In the forest-steppe zone of the left-bank Dnieper the Severyans were formed.

In the northern forest zone of the Russian plane two large groups of the Slavs dominated. One of them is represented by the culture of Pskov long barrows, spread in the basins of Pskov and Ilmen' lakes. The other one settled among the Dnieper Balts of Tushemlya- Bantserovshchina culture and further eastwards, the basins of the Volga and the Klyazma. Its main characteristic feature are the bracelet shaped non-tied hair rings which were common up to the 13th - 14th centuries. The ground house-building, specific pottery and burial rites mark out this group from the other Slavic world.



Archaeology of Slavic Settlements in Greece

In spite of the fact that the Slavic settlement in Greece has not yet been completely elaborated, a sufficient attention has been paid to it in research of various scientific branches. Archaeological research is slowly and gradually completing the picture already longer known from written and linguistic sources. There exist relatively few archaeological sources and with their character they cannot complete with the more attractive findings and monuments of the Byzantine culture, that's why little attention is paid to them in the territory of Greece. In the last decades findings have, however, appeared enabling to reconsider the problems of Slav settlement in that country.

Up to now, the question of Slavic settlement has most thoroughly been examined by M. W. Weithmann in his monograph from 1978, where he collected in detail the older historical, linguistical and archaeological literature. In the archaeological part of the work he paid the greatest attention to the time of the arrival of the Slavs to the Greek peninsula. V. Popovic treated this period several times too, lately in detail in his study (1980) on the origin of the Slavs in the Balkans. As to the monuments of material culture, first of all he worked with findings of coins and also with those of other groups of objects e.g. fibulas of ray shape.

Slavic ceramics from the excavations of the French archaeological school in Argos. The Slavic findings from the near-by excavations of the German school in the castle of Tyrins were published by K. Kilian. A new feature in these findings was the fact too that in both cases settlement findings were concerned whose bearers had used older settlement formations in distinction from the published grave findings known up to then and originating from Olympia on the Peloponnese which could undoubtedly be considered as the Slavic ones. The data on these last discoveries, partially published in the 60s, were reported in the study S. Vryonis from 1992.

The publication of several localities with characteristic Slavic ceramics shifted the discussion on the Slavic colonization of Greece to a new position. In the past apart from written information and language documents, not quite unambiguous finds of material culture such as belt buckles and fibulae were as an evidence to the Slavic settlement. Burials with weapons or with Byzantine vessels were considered to be an intervention of a foreign population, because the then burial ritual had not known such customs in the Byzantine empire. Testimonies to the raids were the destroyed Byzantine towns as well, where destruction layers were found, the hiding of hoards consisting of coins and the so-called documents ex silentio such as the settlement of the Byzantine population on islands desert till then. The discussion on the origin of the fibulae finished unambiguously by proving their Byzantine origin. Even when with certain reservations, the ray shape fibulae always are considered an evidence of the presence of the Slavic ethnic and their findings are gradually increasing. The researchers are not of a uniform opinion as to their origin, some of them consider them Slavic, others see the origin in German environment and take them for an expression of the fashion of that period which the Slavs too used in original make or in derived imitations.

The authors mostly hold to the original elaboration and classification of these fibulae by J. Werner, who divided them into two large groups. The group I dominates on the Balkan territory and in the Danube basin and J. Werner supposes its origin in this space. The provenience of the group II is without dispute in the Ukraine, but we shall not discuss it, because these types occur only quite sporadically on the Balkan territory. A new view of the question as to the origin of these fibulae has been brought by the finding of a workshop for their casting in the middle Dniester basin. Which casts doubt on the theory of their Danube-Balkan origin. Further types of the group I, smaller shapes and their derivates were probably made in the Danube basin and Balkans. This is attested by several new findings from the territories of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Very probable is the spread of all types of the group I through the intermediary of the Slavs. This is testified to by grave wholes especially of burnt-burials where fibulae are found together with Slavic outfit, first of all ceramics.

The mapping of the group I findings according to V. Popovic, which we tried to complete by new findings from Bulgaria and Greece, shows the largest concentration especially of the types A, B and C on the Lower Danube, from where according to the author of the map they penetrate to the south to Macedonia, Albania and Greece and to the south-east, to Bulgaria and Asia Minor. A new interesting finding comes from the Greek territory, from the locality Dion, district Katerini under the Olympus, published by G. Gounaris in 1984, that can be classed with the group I C. As to the dating of ray shape fibulae, with most researchers the 7th century prevails, only in some cases on the basis of finding circumstances the end of the 6th and the 7th centuries are taken into consideration. From the Greek findings, Werner dates the older ones to the 7th century. According to Gounaris even the fibulae from Edesa by Joanina originate from the first half of the 7th century, the finding circumstances for the fibula from Dion are not known in detail, it is possible to date it to the 7th century as well.

A quite convincing evidence of the Slav settlement of Greece in the time of Slavic expansions are the present findings of ceramics stemming from several localities. The Slavic ceramics is quite unusual in the Greek environment and can be very well singled out from the home, Byzantine products. Although middle-Helladic, a more coarse ceramics was found on the ancient locality Argos reminding of Slavic findings by its material mixed with siliceous sand, its shapes are, however, altogether different. The author discovered Slavic findings when examining the Byzantine thermae A which according to the findings from the destruction layer and in harmony with the overall situation according to historical sources were destroyed during the Avarian and Slavic inroad of 584-586. Other authors too, e.g. Popovic and Yannopoulos consider the Avarian-Slavic invasions in this year as the beginning of the settlement process in this part of the Balkans by the Slavs. Slavic ceramics of settlement character was found according to the author in the destruction layer, that's why he dates it to the year 585. In his study he describes 59 findings, among which one vessel is complete, four can be reconstructed and the rest are potsherds. He locates their station on the ground plan of the thermae, the stratigraphic situation is not documented. The ceramics is mostly handmade, some pieces were turned. The material used is mostly mixed with coarse sand, the surface is rough, much porous, the colour is brown-red, on some spots dark gray. Some sherds were made of a finer clay. Nearly one half of the findings were not adorned, the rest has a decoration of engraved lines in various patterns. On some the whole surface is covered with dense horizontal lines, elsewhere, on the whole surface of the vessel there are pairs of horizontal lines and elsewhere again the horizontal lines are combined with a simple or multiple wavy line or with a cassette ornament. In some cases the inner part of the brim is decorated as well. The shapes are pot-like, with the brim turned out, non-profiled mouth, the largest bulge is mostly in the middle of the vessel height, however a shape was also found with the bulge near the bottom. It can be said that the characteristic shape and overall habitus of the Prague type did not occur among the pieces. The whole set has rather features near to the later group Popina-Garvan in North-East Bulgaria. This, however, would be at variance with the dating of the Argos findings, because the group Popina-Garvan is dated as late as the middle of the 7th century. The question is whether it is possible to connect the destruction of the Byzantine locality, which we can suppose according to written sources as well as Byzantine findings from the destruction layer for the years 584-586, directly with the Slavic settlement. Several cases show that the reflection of the raids dated by written sources cannot be immediately found in the findings of material culture as well. The settlement process lasted one generation at least and the documents of material culture can be of a later date than the arrival or the invasion of a new ethnics recorded in writing. The invasions of the Slavic tribes to the Bulgarian territory are e.g. recorded in written sources several times in the 6th century; in material culture they made themselves felt by destructions of several fortifications of the Danube limes and in its hinterland, the evidence of a more coherent settlement on this territory however appeared only at the break of the 6th and 7th centuries and in the 7th century and so we leave this question opened for a further discussion.

A similar situation is in the castle of Tyrins (only a few kilometers distant from Argos), although we have less findings from the oldest horizon there. The rests of a vessel from the settlement round the castle are very akin to the findings from Argos and this by their coarse material containing much sand and a very porous surface. Accordingly, the handmade vessel decorated with an engraved ornament ranges with the second Early Slavic horizon of the ceramics of the South and West Balkans, i.e. to the end of the 6th and to the following 7th centuries. Further rests of ceramic findings from the settlement round the castle can be dated similarly. Apart from these settlement findings the author mentions two small shrine graves from the settlement round the castle; although they did not contain any datable findings, the way how the graves were arranged allows to adjoin them to early mediaeval graves on the territory of the Balkans which sometimes contain burnt-burials. To this horizon iron objects belong too, especially arrow points and lancers, one of them with the opening for the ignition material has analogies in Avarian inventory of the 7th century.

Slavic graves were found in other places too. The skeleton grave with a vessel stems from Corinth. From the Early Middle Ages further four skeleton graves with weapons and parts of habits of warriors were found in Acrocorinth as well as three graves on the Agora in Corinth. The burnt-burial ground in Olympia is of great importance for the knowledge of the Slavic settlement; its ceramic material was published by Vryonis in 1992 - it is a set of approx. 40 vessels, but in view of the insufficient documentation the total number of graves could not be established. It was possible to identify 16 graves, containing mostly one vessel (urn), only in the grave 11/63 two vessels were deposited and in the grave 8/63 three vessels. 40 ceramic wholes were distinguished, entire vessels, parts of vessels and groups of sherds. Some graves contained beads made of glass, knifes, sharpening steels, etc. The ceramics is not quite equivalent, the greater part is made of coarse sand material with uneven surface. The handmade pieces are often a little asymmetrical. Vessels made of a finer clay have been found too. The author compared it especially with Bulgarian findings. He divided it into 6 types keeping to the work by Z. Vazharova (1976). First two types agree with her classification, but the other ones have no analogy in her publication. This rather large burial ground could have existed for a longer time and possibly its users too had not represented one population group only. For the time being this is the largest corpus of ceramics from the territory of Greece. Even when some vessels approach the ceramics of Argos with their material and rough working, their surface is not so much porous and quite often vessels are made from a finer material, some of them turned on the potter's wheel. The set differs in shapes too; the pot-like vessel with a bulge in the upper part of the body is represented nearly as often as the vessel with the bulge in the middle of the vessel height, eventually in its lower part. Therefore it is perhaps possible to take various groups of inhabitants into consideration; without a direct study of the findings this can however be said only with difficulty. The author dates the set to the end of the 6th and the 7th centuries what can essentially be agreed to. As far as the settlement of the Peloponnese is concerned, in my opinion a more coherent settlement took place in the first quarter of the 7th century when invasions to Crete and other Greek islands were undertaken from here in 623 AD.

Whilst a rather large attention was paid to the oldest settlement of Greece by the Slavs, its further development remained somehow in the background. We however know from historical sources that the Slavs lived on the Peloponnese more or less without any control by the Byzantine empire till the year 805 when it defeated them in the battle of Patras. In no way could this fact mean their decline, because we know from the sources that they survived on this peninsula till the 13th - 14th centuries. Archaeological findings of the younger Slavic settlement are sporadic or a sufficient attention was not paid to them. The transition between the 7th - 9th centuries is possibly represented by the graves from Meroni Pagonion near Joanina where coarse handmade ceramics and rings with shields were found. As for later findings, five graves from Naupaktos can be mentioned. In two of them gold and silver earrings and rings adorned with granulation and filigree stemming from the 8th - 9th centuries were found. Further graves were found in Thebes, deposited in stone shrines with an east-west orientation. They contained pearls and earrings from the 9th - 10th centuries. The graves from Myradato originate from the 10th century; they contained tabret earrings and a necklace.

It is not possible to analyze all findings here, we only would like to mention some connections. First of all graves equipped with jewels are strange in the Byzantine environment already in the foregoing time. They testify to a certain barbarization of the society connected with the arrival of the Slavs, we therefore can consider them as an evidence of the appurtenance to the Slav ethnics even in the 9th century and later. The jewel found in them has its origin in Byzantine models, its forms however are evident ritualized derivates that found a broad application on the territory of the South Slavs on the Balkan peninsula. Typical is the silver tabret earring with 4 tabrets consisting of two hollow hemispheres and a low arch adorned with filigree, stemming from the grave № 1821 on the Corinth Agora; it was accompanied by lunar shape earrings, with open-work and filigree and granulation adornment as well as by two rings with a gem and a plate ring with a pentagram. A similar one was found in a grave in Magula in central Thessaly, accompanied by a fragment of a similar earring, silver pendant, bronze bracelet made of simple stick with wrought end and a booklet, two bronze shield rings and a ring with a gem, three bronze ringlets and an iron belt buckle. The grave was isolated, deposited in a shrine consisting of stone plates, the skeleton in a stretched position was west-east orientated. Similar tabret earrings also stem from the graves unearthed on the locality Dion near Katerini, already mentioned in connection with the finding of the ray shaped fibula. The findings from the graves are on exhibition in the local museum, however unpublished. The tabret earring of the mentioned type belongs among the jewels spread on the whole area inhabited by South Slavs, in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Roumania. It occurs since the 9th century, in the case of findings from Greece the mentioned sets originate perhaps from the 10th century only in view of the open-work lunar shape earring appearing in Bulgaria in the 9th - 10th centuries and in the Carpathian basin in the 10th - 11th centuries, although it has a model from Sicily dated to the 6th century. Similarly, bracelets appear in the inventory of the Slav jewels as late as in the 10th century in connection with the influx of East-Slavic elements put to movement most probably by the Magyars. Much in favour were the star earrings, their prototype originates from the 7th century too, on the Balkans they were used till the 12th century. Its finding from Corinth is dated to the 10th - 11th centuries. Similar ones can be seen in the museum of Thessaloniki together with further types from a private collection, unfortunately without a more exact localization and not yet published. These are earrings with metal-plate tabrets made of two hemispheres strung on the lower arch of the earring, often coiled round with a thin wire. Further earrings with various wire and plate pendants, some of them in combination with tabrets, with others the lower arch is wound into loops. In substance they create a larger group of wire and plate jewels with several variants which has no direct analogies in Byzantine production. They evidently originate from the surroundings of Thessaloniki and similar ones are found on the burial-grounds of South Bulgaria, in the region of the Rhodopes where Vazharova includes them in her 7th type and dates to the 9th - 10th centuries.



Community Pottery in Wallachia 5th to 7th cc.

In Roman territory the changes in the pottery reflect the changing world. We see strange objects appearing: hand-made pots or vessels turned on a slow wheel, all of them ugly and distorted. There are two cases, in the same area, in the Lower Danube.

The first case is the Roman fortress of Capidava, from which came, recently, a significant assemblage of hand-made pots (two of them possibly made sloppily by slow-wheel), with a very secure context, dated to the sixth decade of the sixth century. The cultural distribution of shapes reflects the heterogeneous structure of the Roman army at that time, nevertheless — statistically — the local tradition and Roman forms predominate. The use of archaic methods for forming ceramics in a Roman garrison (the vessels were found in a military storeroom) does not reveal the barbarization of the Roman army (that happened two centuries earlier), but a deep financial crisis of the Empire, unable to feed the soldiers. That was the beginning of the end.

After the collapse, other people became the rulers of the Roman land. The second case is the Garvan-Popina cultural group, developed mainly by new-comers, the Slavs. Bulgarian archaeologist proclaimed, so many times, that the Slavic archaeological remains dated from the end of the sixth century (for ex. VAZHAROVA 1965, 1986). A new study by a Bulgarian archaeologist, taking as a starting point exactly the morphological arguments, contests the identity of this material as the pottery of the Slavic “homeland”, and proposes a chronology after the middle of the seventh century. The conclusions of the younger Bulgarian scientific school are closer to reality. The formal analyses indicate local influences, a Roman inheritance, analogies with Wallachia, but three morphological types were isolated as a foreign experience, and they could have a very exactly homeland address: the stronghold Chotomel, in northern Ukraine. The chronology of the Garvan-Popina group could be lowered to the first half of the seventh century. I see the metamorphose of Slavic pottery into a kind of (bad) Roman pottery being possible in a shorter time, because it was not made by the Slavs but by a submitted hand of work, originated to the Lower Danube.

The early Slavic pottery is the subject of a large sub-chapter. This contains studies of pottery groups from Bohemia, Slovakia, south Poland, settlements in northern Bucovina (Rashkov and Kodin) and material of the Penkovka cultural group. Objections could be raised about the “national” structure of the material; the modern nations are however the products of their own geography, of deeper and ancient connections, not only of modern events. The analysis showed that each territory has its own well defined profile. The Slavic morphology sequence is a unique classification of all early Slavic territories (or those considered as most likely to have been early Slavic) providing a direct comparison between all shapes recorded in the database. The “singularity ratio” (meaning morphological groups that can’t be found in other territories) is high on the periphery of the Slavic world (Bohemia, Ukraine, Penkovka group, give figures upper than 40%) and low (less than 5%) or null in the central territories like Slovakia and south Poland.

This geographical determinism means that usually neighbour territories have a closer morphological connection. Not always, of course. The Bohemian pot shapes (BORKOWSKI 1940) seem more related to southern Poland than western Slovakia (an interesting hint for historians). But the whole western part of the Slavic area is dominated by one single morphological group, constituting more than a quarter of all material. This shape has good analogies in early Roman Empire pottery (see the drawing of the average ratios of this group), and makes the common denominator for all Slavic western territories (!). Other extremely diverse influences, like German or Penkovka, are present too.

Slovakia seems to be the centre of the Roman influence. The group, named also “the western Slavic pot”, here made up 37% of all pots. The relationship between Slavic territories and the western (Roman) world can be expressed in simple mathematical terms; for instance, the rim angle averages for all pots before year 600 are as follows: 94% for Ukraine, 96% for Poland, 98% for Slovakia and Bohemia. Therefore, to speak about a “Prague culture” in generic terms, extending from Ukraine to Bohemia, means to lose sight of the specific regional traits, to fail in decoding historical processes if the starting point is a raw definition like “all hand-made pottery is the Prague type”. Slovakia is also the place where, in the last third of the sixth century, vessel formation with the slow wheel begins process that is growing up to generalization in the second half of seventh century, one century earlier than in Poland and two centuries earlier than in Ukraine. The Middle Danube is the territory from which the slow wheel technique spreads also to the Roman land, in Illyricum. At the same time with this technological “revolution”, the shapes are refined, taking as “target” the same Roman pot, which is the single true “model” to follow. In the second part of the seventh century, in the Slovakian sites, the rim angle average rises up to 115%, that is quite a “Roman” character. At this time, the earlier ethnic patterns are going to be removed by a new “European” cultures.

The morphological domination of Roman-like pottery in Slovakia is a fact that does not lead to the conclusion that the population was not quite Slavic, at least for seventh century, but emphasizes both the importance of the historical background (Celtic, Dacian, Roman, German) and the cultural environment.

From Poland two areas are selected for study: the South Polish Area (Krakow and its hinterland) and the southeastern area of Poland (Lublin and the San valley). The north half of Poland is excluded from comparison, to avoiding the mixed-up Slavic-Germanic ceramics. The most evident links of the shapes of Polish vessels are with the pottery from western Slovakia and Bohemia (in this order), but references to Penkovka morphological groups are frequent too. The analogies for central Ukraine are far weaker. Here we came to a theoretical problem: the ethnogenesis of the Slavic has to be pushed back several centuries, because a single “origin centre” can’t be indicated for the fifth to sixth centuries. We have to presume an older “antecedent” for both Polish and Ukraine vessels, if any, speaking here strictly from pottery perspective. The incidence of central Ukraine (Korchak type) influence is more obvious in southeastern Poland, as expected. The analysis delivered clear morphological comparative definitions for a “Polish type” (Krakow) and Korchak type, so that they can’t be confused. The difference is made by the height of the body diameter, taller for Korchak type.

The Slavic morphology sequence is ended by another cultural horizon that interacted with the Slavic world, but it is doubtful whether it was a Slavic culture. This Penkovka culture is usually attributed to the Antes tribes, that is — beyond the simple name — a large nomadic confederation that could have had Slavic elements too, north of the Black Sea. The integration ratio in Slavic morphology sequence is only 42%, which speaks for itself. The cultural group originated (at least its pottery did) in primitive elements from the Cherniakhov culture substratum (mostly Sarmatian). This common term (Cherniakhov) with outside eastern and southern Carpathian Mountains cultures makes pot-by-pot comparison inoperative for non-biconical forms (the usual, but not exclusive form for Penkovka ceramics). By the way, the pot-by-pot comparison is generally not a recommended method for studying shapes.


Summary of Literary Historical Sources

Without the intention and illusion of challenging specialist researchers in the field, I have tried an “archaeological” reading of the sources, with limited and strictly defined targets: the identification of the migrating peoples and the location of their attack bases on the Lower Danube, throughout the sixth century. The goal was to establish an “archaeological expectation”, and to confront it with the facts from the field. The detailed text commentaries are to be found in the second volume (Romanian only). The chapter here creates only the general historical frame and draws the conclusions of the enterprise.

For the military balance in the Balkans, throughout the sixth century, the Lower Danube represents a secondary front (that doesn’t mean “unimportant”). The main front — the “key-point” — is Sirmium and the Lower Sava river, due to the vulnerability of the position (the limes could be attacked from the right bank of Danube) with access to both the major strategic areas, in western or eastern Balkan Peninsula. By contrast, the Lower Danube limes was a strongly fortified position, the last that would be abandoned. The belief that the most part of barbarian attacks had as a starting point the crossings over the Lower Danube is only the result of a superficial reading. For example, one invasion ascribed systematically to the Sclaveni from the Lower Danube, in the year 517, is now understood as a Gepid raid started in the Middle Danube area.

More than that, the Sclaveni invasion of 527 AD never took place. For the Roman authorities on the Lower Danube some troubles began in 528 AD, and in the next seven years they had to respond to limited plunder expeditions, probably commanded by the Kutrigours tribes. Massive attacks, in both the strategic areas (Middle and Lower Danube), occurred in 539-540 AD (see the synoptic table), the first to debilitate the Roman possession. The first appearance of the Slavs in the Balkans as an independent military force occurred in 546 AD (limited raiding), but again in 550 AD (the first major military strike). This could be the historical moment in which we may presume a massive Slavic presence in the Lower Danube area, and a long-term settlement of the Sclaveni warriors in the proximity of the Roman limes. From the same time we may presume a Slavic colonization in Tisza and Middle Danube Plain, under the authority of the Gepids or Longobards.

The great invasion of the Kutrigours from 559 AD, on the Lower Danube, is the first strategic blow that weakens the Roman defensive system in an unrecoverable manner; a lot of fortresses are abandoned, and the later rebuilding never brought back as high a degree of urbanism or security. The Avars flood in the Danube basin (562 AD) is another key episode, which changes the balance of force for a long time and will produce the collapse of the limes. The main stages are 567 AD (the Avars became masters in the Middle Danube Plain), 582 AD (the Avars take Sirmium, the gateway to the Balkans), the long campaigns of 584-587 AD (planning to systematically ruin the defensive points of the limes, from west to east), the unceasing wars after 592 AD, pathetically ended with the 602 AD rebellion (that is not due to the military situation which was, strangely enough, good, but to a collapse of the finance system). Opposed to the general opinion, I think that the Sclaveni tribes of the Romanian Plain were politically independent of the Avar Kaghan, in spite of the punishment campaigns from 579 AD.

If there is no “nomadic problem” for the archaeological research of the Romanian Plain of the sixth century, there is a “Slavic problem”, because the Slavs are responsible for a lot of archaeological remains. The “archaeological expectation”, established reading the sources, refers to the fifth decade as the moment of an important Slavic settlement in the area. The Slavic migration has nothing to do with the genesis and development of the Ipotesti-Candesti culture, but with its collapse. Archaeologically can be attested only the group (tribe? confederation?) from Buzau county. The historical sources indicate at least four distinctive groups, but only for the last decades of the sixth century. The numeric development of Slavs occurred, probably, after 562 AD (pushed by Avars, but the theory is older), but the stages of this increase cannot yet be followed archaeologically. There were probably other migration waves. The greatest part of this population crossed the Danube later than 613-614 AD, therefore the maximum density of Slavs in the Romanian Plain occurred for about a quarter century (c. 590 - c. 613 AD). The archaeological evidence of this fact is rather disappointing.

An added subchapter is dedicated to numismatic studies, based on a brand new synthesis. The main conclusion is the qualitative distinction between Oltenia and Muntenia. From the point of view of monetary flow, Oltenia has a very similar situation to Dacia diocese (south of the Danube), especially beginning with the second decade of the sixth century; Oltenia — or at least the southern part — is therefore an integrated part of the Roman Empire. The situation is less due to economical exchange, but to the presence of garrisons (the emissions of Constantinople are more frequently here than in Balkan provinces). By contrary, Muntenia is a “barbarian” territory, because the monetary flows (see the synoptic table for monetary flow) are weaker and incidental, and the fluctuations are unconnected to the trends known from the Empire and Oltenia. This difference can be illustrated by the study of the pottery, but not in the same way. The status of Oltenia as a part of the Empire is shown by the numismatic evidence. The pottery study demonstrates more the recourse to old-fashioned (Early Roman) shapes. But both lead to the conclusion about the Roman character of sixth century Oltenia.

The peak of gold coins discoveries in Oltenia dates from 527-537 AD, which is reflecting the effort of rebuilding the limes. Around this decade we should link the peak of the handicraft activities, including that of potters. Decreasing monetary levels are recorded in connection with invasions of 544, 559, 578, 581-584, 586-587; other military events, less known from literary sources, seem to have taken place in 589/590, 593/594 and 597/598. These decreases usually anticipate the invasions in the Empire, therefore we understand that, although Oltenia was never the main target, it never escaped the attention of the invaders, which wanted to prevent side-actions. The numismatic evidence from Oltenia shed light also on the situation in Muntenia, which was a passage territory for all these events. The year 544 AD seems to be the beginning of the involution of the Ipotesti-Candesti culture. The multiplying attacks after 578 AD explains, clearly enough, the process of abandonment of settlements (at least in the archaeologically attested “classic” form), and the disintegration of the handicraft pottery framework. There is a relative parallelism between monetary fluxes and settlement density, only relative because we can’t imagine a demographical progress similar to the fast monetary fluxes blooming, for the beginning of the century, neither such a brutal decline for the end.

The hoards buried in Oltenia around 680 AD proved that the deposit processes started around 650 AD, in the so-called populus sclavenii, federated with the Byzantine Empire (and paid by them). The history of most of the seventh century can’t be represented with archaeological facts, and we should give more considerations for the reasons of this.

Briefly reviewing the situation in Muntenia, the peak of the bronze coins circulation is dated to between 532-537 AD, supposing more than military raids (thus an economic relationship). Very soon, however, the long interruption between 545-553 AD warning about the brutal end of the process. Ernest Oberländer thinks that this is the historical moment of Slavs colonization of the territory. The outstanding coincidence of conclusions of three independent studies makes me hope that we are nearby the truth. After 553 AD, the penetration of coins in Muntenia is incidental. The rarity of gold and silver discoveries proves that the strategic role of Muntenia was inferior to Moldavia or Transylvania, and the presumption of a significant mass of Slavs does not correspond to the facts. The monetary hoards are composed by bronze coins. Except the Troianul (Teleorman county) hoard, the other three hoards have been found near the Danube bank, on the edges of the Baragan Plain, in a region completely deserted of settlements. These hoards are “imports” (south-Danube accumulations), brought to the left bank by robbery and buried on retorting actions. The absolute value of those hoards is much less important than the evidence of the literary sources.

The second subchapter looks at the “collateral archaeological evidence”, giving short commentaries about houses and habitation types, metal inventories, physical anthropology and funerary rituals.

The habitation patterns are far from a simple issue. I have already pointed out that I am not denying the presence of Slavic people on the Romanian Plain, especially eastward and from the fifth decade of the sixth century, but I deny the presumption that this population lived, at the time of migration, in an identical way of life as in the fatherland villages. This conclusion is the result of the failure to identify a single settlement (or settlement horizon) in Muntenia that could be ascribed to the Slavs through the ceramic inventory. The debate about house fitting and the cultural determination is not ready to bring persuasive arguments.

The inventory of metal work is huge, but very few things could lead to credible historic progress. The continuity of metallurgical practice in the Şirna settlement is an interesting subject, but since it has not been fully published, there is nothing else to add. Studies on plough irons should be developed with a comparison with the similar tools from early Slav areas. About the armament, it is enough to say that there is very little of this in Muntenia, for the fifth to seventh centuries. The long period of usage of several types of arrows, over wide regions, gives no chronological or cultural hint for Ipotesti-Candesti settlements.

The clothes ornaments and accessories seem, instead, to be able to bring new information. This sort of material is far from having that level of chronological accuracy as has been pretended (and even less for cultural ascription), but the domain itself is interesting, representing the counterpart of pottery studies, for an historical sociology. The conclusions from the two fields of research seem opposed, but I think that they can shed new light one each other. I used as an example a short debate about Pietroasele type fibulae (CURTA 1995). The equal distribution of this type (originated in the middle Dnieper region) all over the Romanian Plain, in spite the lack of pottery with affinities on the Dnieper, suggesting the symbolic character of such accessories and shows the institutional relationship between migratory people and local inhabitants.

The last field of comparison is the anthropology. The field is “frozen” in Romanian archaeology (at least for early middle age), but some studies in neighbouring countries could provide interesting suggestions. The anthropological research on Avar period cemeteries confirms, on the one hand, the mosaic-like ethnical structure of nomad empires, very close to what the literary sources tell us, and brings, on the other hand, the missing elements, like the existence of a perhaps Romanized population (not Asiatic, not German and not Slavic), either as a “foederati inheritance”, or due to Roman captives from later times. The second interesting conclusion is the anthropological non-identity of male and female series, that suggesting that military agreements were sealed by matrimonial exchanges, that is crucial for the understanding of acculturation processes. Similar realities emerge from the anthropological studies made for northeastern Bulgaria (BOEV 1987). The funerary rituals for the same area confirms the cultural diversity in proto-Bulgarian society. The ethnic identity of the persons buried by the incineration rite with the cremated remains left directly in the pit remains an unresolved issue. Bulgarian scholars couldn’t make their minds up between Bulgarians and Slavs. In my opinion these graves (almost half of the cremations) can’t be assigned to either Bulgarians or Slavs, but to a Romanized population (some of them originated north of the Danube; consider here the Christian tombs in the seventh and eighth centuries!) or to a Baltic population eventually brought by Slavs in migration. The Baltic presence is difficult to illustrate, so I think the most part of these archaeological monuments are to be assigned to local elements, more or less Romanized, in a submitted position (they are associated in both Bulgarian and Slavs necropolis). This is the single hypothesis that explains the quick metamorphosis of the Roman pottery into the Slavic shapes. It is difficult to decide whether this population came from the north or south of the Danube. I guess that most of them should be of an origin north of the Danube, representing the Slav warriors’ families (“gained” near the Danube, not brought from faraway), or other submitted elements. The direct analogies between Capidava pottery (most of it not Slavic) and the Garvan-Popina shapes make me think also that some Roman people survived (but only to serve the new power!). It is possible to suppose that after the collapse of Roman authority the former Roman citizens abandoned the Christian beliefs, or at least the burial practices recommended by the Church.

This “ethnic symbiosis” aspects (KRANDJALOV 1965, in other terms) does not concern the history of the Bulgarians, but that of the Romanians.



Addendum: We have been trying to systematize the material on Slavic cultural presence at the Bulgarian lands. For long years the Slav paradigm, heretofore, was more dwelling as concerted efforts of a community of devoted researchers or propagandators rather than a living ethnos with diasporas. That is not surprising since Slavs and Turks encompass the easternmost realms of the common European space, which was often tributary to outlier forces such as Mongols or Arabs. In that case the backwardness of Slavs (and Turks) is self-explanatory and nonetheless concomitant to a globalized effort to associate those territories to the growing/expanding European space.

Now the history of the Slavs civilization — which outside the heritage of a demolished Tsarist Russian Empire — becomes a real quandary, could be easily divided to before-after the Socialist Revolution in 1917. Had the Russians lived through World War I intact, their destinies (and those of Pan-Slavism) might have been different. That wouldn't be and since the early 20th century we see the Slavs not as crown-bearers and colonialists but as revolutionaries and internationalists from a Marxist milieu. Thus their culture reflected some peculiarities that was developed in a post-revolutionary period and was product of misnomer administration and even stylistic mockery.

In this line of thinking we wish to penetrate somewhat deeper in the postulates of Slavic ethnogenesis and particularly towards the rank-value (or utility) of "pottery research" as marker for Slav identity. Large pottery hoards are dispersed irregularly all over the world. Some of them bear trademark of advanced craftsmanship, but the stupendous example of Slavic ceramic series having increased density in archaeological inventory seems to me quite doubtful. A mere eyeball examination of that coarse clay material at the end of Classical Antiquities and dawn of Middle Ages should purport little informative value. This could not be a marker for advanced civilization dispersal and a baseline comparison with Greek and Roman prototypes could speak only of one thing — that a phase of decay was obviously developed on territories formerly inhabited by the mentioned Greek and Roman colonizers.

The case of Slavdom becomes even more obsolete when trying to accommodate Slav tribes in the Great Barbarian Migrations that led to the fall of the Roman Empire. The classical Greek authors doesn't mention about Slavs at all; there is only reference to Scythian tribes on the North Pontic area and further north to some unidentified Hyperborean's dwellings (who they are and what their ethnos is the authors are sullen!). The Latin sources are complementary very circumstantial about certain barbarians such as Celts and Germans. A lot of information accumulated about their devastating raids from the I-V cc. None of these relations mention about Slavs but rather narrate some symbiosis between them and other carry-over barbarians. By the time of the Huns' and Avars' raids, already Slavic population seem to have occupied present-day locations in Eastern Europe — how and by what means of community agglomeration remains unclear. A probable explanation remains that Slavs always moved in the rearguard of an invading barbarian wave. No matter what the fate of a battle conflict afterwards the Slavs co-invaded the devastated territory and being agriculturalist and ploughman they made their condominium (according their limited habitual skills and customary flair). Some of those Slavs were regretfully scavengers but most of them were just plain people.

This ill-stitched landscape of European commonwealth littered with numerous Slav communities was retained until the end of 19th century. Correct me if I am wrong, but exactly on those territorial tracts that were allegedly Slavic, furthermore the 20th century ethnographers diagnosed the most numerous Jewish and Gypsy diasporas. That was consonant to more havoc and genocide in two World Wars which comes to suggest that Slavic tracts in Central and Eastern Europe were and had been something artificial. As of today no one speaks of Slavic nations in Europe except where their real belonging is — White Russia, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

Since we are presenting here an archaeological monograph, the obligations of the review is to present some additional notes. Prof. Krastyo Miyatev is old name in Bulgarian archaeology. He and his colleague Prof. Nikola Mavrodinov tried to transfer some of the rich pre-war heritage to post-communist times. Not always successful, though. Most of their good writings were published when the two were young pro-sectors in the National Archaeological Museum leaded by Rafail Popov and Geza Feher (see a collective photograph from V. Mikov's "Guide to the Archaeological Museum"). Otherwise, the book from K. Miyatev on the subject is very comprehensive with numerous literary references, drawings and photographs. We should point here that first Slavic pottery series were presented by the author based on Pliska excavation hoards. Most of the shreds had craftsmanship mark or seal on the bottom. In the Bulgarian case those were either runes or other solar symbols. These come to denote that pots wheelers in Bulgaria were ethnically of mixed origin (half-breeds between Slavs and Bulgars, or other inter-marriages), ditto.


Pictures 1, 2 & 3: Sample illustrations on the text above.

(i). The Garvan-Popina cultural group (near Silistra and adjacent Danubian liman). It is excellent example for "collateral archaeological evidence", giving details about houses and habitation types, metal inventories, physical anthropology and funerary rituals


(ii). Plate, cremation urns, and bottleneck amphora with handles (IV - VII cc., necropolis at Garvan-Popina).


(iii). Sharpening steel, silver torques, and necklace from glass beads (IV - VII cc., necropolis at Garvan-Popina).



Copyright © 2011 by the author.