The danube in late antiquity


Assess the extent to which archaeology has advanced our understanding of the Goths. How does this evidence substantiate both the ancient historical sources and our modern understanding of these enemies of Rome on the Danube?

        The archaeology of the Goths is generally understood by examining the Weilbark (Willenberg) culture which was usually associated with their arrival and their succeeding agglomeration with the native population. In addition with the Chernyakhov culture, both cultures provide archaeological material which aids archaeologist to identify the Goth's tradition. "The written sources clearly explain that in the early stages of ethnoformation, the polyethinism was of decisive significance."(Dumanov, 2007, 386) The works of Jordanes, Pliny and Tacitus allow us to compare the archaeological evidence with the modern understanding. This would permit a full depth breakdown of the Gothic culture.

        Within this essay a general history of the Goths and their etymology must first be understood. This would allow us to analyse the archaeological sources in full depth which would lead to the written sources and how reliable they were. However within this analysis one must always keep in mind about the limitations in using this type of evidence. For instance Dumanov suggested that "The attempts to identify the Goths historically and ethnically usually come upon several problems of hard solution."(2007, 386) The origin or the future ethnic constitution lies in the ancient historical bases of one man, Cassiodorus. His work was of 'legalized' origin as only then would the emperor legitimate it into the Roman Empire. Therefore it only provides archaeologist with a limited perspective on the life of a Goth. All the same the works of the antique writers and scholars and how they perceived the barbarian people (Goths) outside the Roman Empire, was of decisive significance.

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        This problems as applied within the archaeological evidence, as some of the material found can deprive us on certain kinds of knowledge about the past. Furthermore "They impel archaeologists towards ways of looking at the past which stress the importance of the kinds of knowledge which archaeology can achieve."(De Paor, 1963, 111)

Nevertheless in identifying the Gothic cultural one must observe in both the written and archaeological sources these six factors:

  • A collective ethnic or national name
  • A group's myth of past and origin
  • Shared historical memory
  • One or more typical elements of common material and mental culture
  • A connection with land and patria
  • A sense of solidarity that includes conservable parts of population

        The Goths were a diverse East Germanic tribe. The Goths' varieties of names have been obtained from populations of many ethnic sources. The cultures which have similar names were considered key aspects within the Germanic migrations. The Goths started migrating to the southeast of the Rover Vistula around the mid-second century, where they left traces of the Chernyakhov culture. The two groups Thervingi and Greuthungi were cultural Gothic groups which were devided throughout the third and fourth centuries, thus resulting in repeatedly hassling the Roman Empire during the Gothic Wars. In the late 4th century, many Goths were forced into the Hunnic Empire, or pushed toward the Roman Empire, due to the invasion from the Huns. Later during the fifth and sixth centuries, they became divided as Visigoths and Ostrogoths. The Romans saw this as a threat, so in solving the barbarian "problem" they incorporated them into the army and encouraged them to convert to Christianity. Thus creates a misleading interpretation with the archaeological evidence as most of the material found which supposedly was from Gothic origin has been Romanized. This became even more complex with the Roman's introduction to the trade and cultural exchange, as again the origin of the artefacts became more diverse. Thus leading to a disappearance with the Gothic language and culture as only fragments was found.

        A momentous archaeological culture which is the closely related with the arrival of the Goths was the Wielbark (Willenberg culture). During the first half of the 1st century A.D it emerged and was located around the modern region of Pomerelia in northern Poland. This culture was a mixed society of Goths and Gepids from Scandinavia who were discovered back in 1873. The Oksywie Culture, had previously occupied this area of Poland as it was closely related to the Przeworsk Culture. Yet it differed in many aspects from the subsequent Wielbark Culture as the existence of the Wielbark Culture had not exactly the same territorial extent as the Oksywie Culture. Nevertheless it was a peaceful change with no tension from the Oksywie Culture.

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        Wielbark culture was named after a village, with a Gothic burial place with 3000 tombs. Unfortunately, the limitations of these burials are that the cemetery stones were constantly moved, and many grave were damaged by the early German discoverers.

        Evidence from the Wielbark evidence includes the cemetery at Kowalewko. There were two large cemetery sites which have been excavated north of Great Poland, however the cemetery at Kowalewko was the larger one. It was considered one of the largest burial sites in the whole of Poland and yielded a particularly rich collection of high-status goods and beautiful finds. This cemetery was excavated in 1995 and revealed a total of over 400 graves.

        Evidence for the Goths' presence, can be seen through the goods in which the dead equipped in their graves. One can find delicately ornamented and perfectly made pendants, necklaces, bracelets and jewellery clasps, often made from silver or gold using highly-skilled goldsmith techniques, like gilding, filigree and granulation. Regrettably such evidence does not indicate any existence of a goldsmith workshop.

        During the first half of the 3rd century AD, the Willenberd (Wielbark) culture left settlements by the Baltic Sea, called Mare Suevicum or Mare Germanicum. These settlements seemed to be characterised by barrow cemeteries by which there are raised stone circles and solitary stelae (Scandinavian burial customs). This type is found between the Vistula and the Kashubian and Krajenskian lakelands reaching into the Koszalin region. The inhabitants of this culture used both inhumation and creation techniques to bury their dead, resulting in a family traditions. A characteristic feature of this culture, which relates to southern Scandinavia was the stone covered mounds, stone circles, solitary stelae and variations of cobble cladding.

        However no tools or weapons were found within the graves of Willenberg. Unlike some of the other cultures such as Przeworsk, it was typical to give such gifts to the dead. Artefacts such as ornaments and costumes were more likely to be found, although a few graves have shown spurs, these being the only warrior attributes found.

        The Wielbark culture can be witnessed through Jordanes' account of the Goths leaving Scandinavia. According to Jordanes they pushed away the Vandals to settle in the area of Gothiscandza, which was located at the mouth of the Vistula. This account fits well the patterns of the Wielbark culture and the Chernyakhov culture, which show a Germanic migration from the Vistula Basin to Ukraine. However, recently critics have had a tendency to doubt the equation between the Wielnbark Culture and the Goths. It is believed that the Wielbark culture did not solely appear from Scandinavian immigration; instead it was evolved from the Oksywie culture with Scandinavian influence. This is supported by the similar geographical size in which both of these cultures encompassed. There was a continuation with the usage of Oksywie cemeteries and the settlements consisted of orginal inhabitants and groups from Scandinavia. Jordanes believes that the Goths were likely to be the ruling tribe as they subjected local inhabitants to their authority. Yet Heather mentions that the reliability of Jordanes is constantly being disputed and there is no archaeological evidence to supports his view of a substantial emigration from Scandinavia. (1996, 26)

        Another significant archaeological culture was the Chernyakhov Culture situated in the Ukraine. It flourished in the 2nd century AD, from varied origins and quickly became homogenous throughout the occupied areas. There are the modern debates on whether this means that the disparate people "mingled inextricably". (Matthews, 1992, 91)

        Gustaf Kossinna found a 'Culture-Historical' doctrine which assumed "sharply defined archaeological culture areas of particular peoples or tribes" (Curta, 2001, 24) Modern scholars see material cultures as cultural-economic systems with a variety of groups."What created the boundaries of these cultural areas were not the political frontiers of a particular people, but the geographical limits within which the population groups interacted with sufficient intensity to make some or all of the remains of their physical culture - pottery, metal work, building styles, burial goods and so on- look very similar."(Heather, 2006, 199) Therefore in analysing the ethnic identity, scholars are usually unsure about the material remains of past populations, even though they may recognise certain objects which could have been used to represent group identity.

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        Archaeologists today, recognise the Chernyakov zone as a representation of the cultural interaction of a diversity of peoples. Heather for instance, acknowledges the mixed origins of the culture and suggested that it was eventually a reflection of the Goths' domination of the Pontic area. He used evidence from the literary sources which attest the centre political attention of the Goths at the time. This corresponds well with Jordanes view of Gothic migration from Gothiscandza to Oium, which furthermore substantiates the modern understanding and the ancient sources on the Goths. Furthermore, Heather emphasizes the external influences and their significance in which developed the Chernyakhov culture from the Wielbark culture. This continuation is shown on the typical Germanic pottery, brooch types and female costume, and, in particular, weaponless bi-ritual burials. He furthermore draws our attention to the decreasing number of settlements in the original Pomeranian Wielbark heartland, as evidence for population movement. Combine with Jordanes' perspective Heather concludes that "the recent archaeological finds suggest a series of good reasons for seeing a population movement south and east, from what is now Poland, as having played a major role in the creation of the Cernjachove culture."(1998, 23) He clarifies that this movement was simply and accomplished series of small aggressive groups.

        Conversely critic Guy Halsall challenges Heather's conclusions. He sees no development between the Wielbark and Chernakhov culture and believes there is no synchronization with the two regions as they have minimal overlap. "Although it is often claimed that Cernjachov metalwork derives from Wielbark types, close examination reveals no more than a few types with general similarities to Wielbark types."(2007, 133) Also critic Michael Kulikowsky challenges the connection between the two sites as he emphasizes that the greatest reason for Wielbark-Chernyakhov connection derives from a "negative characteristic", for instance the absence of weapons in burials, which is less believable proof than a positive one. He furthermore disputes that the Chernyakhiv culture was a native development of the Pontic, Carpic and Dacian cultures. In addition he disagrees with the existence of Goths prior to the 3rd century as he supports Kulikowsky's vview that no Gothic people migrated to Scandinavia or the Baltic. He proposes that the Goths united as their due to exclusion from the Roman Empire.

        The two predominant types of evidence were the parallel houses. The Grubenhäuser were in found in large quantities. They are sunken hut, generally small in size. The other predominant types are the surface residences called Wohnstallhäuser, which were larger in size. The variation in the types may be attributed to the different ethnic groups and their influence. For instance, the Wohnstallhäuser are distinctive Germanic settlements in central Europe, and had not been found in early cultures of south-eastern Europe. Their origins and styles were readily adopted by all peoples of the culture.

        Another feature which allows us to examine the Chernyakhov culture was the various funerary burials. Just like the Wielbark culture the dead were usually buried with grave goods such as pottery, iron implements, bone combs and personal ornaments. Another similarity to the Wielbark culture was the women's burials. They had similar forms and usually lacked weapons.

        Pottery was also a significant type of evidence within the Chernyakhov culture as they were primarily of local production. The wheel-made pottery was made of finer clay and was refined by Roman and La Tene influences. On the other hand the hand-made pottery showed a greater variety in form and structure and was often decorated with linear patterns.

An important aspect in understanding the Goths is analysing the ancient sources of Tacitus, Pliny and Jordanes.

        Historian Jordanes, who was famously known for his detailed work on the Goth's history, has portrayed himself from Gothic descent and was legalized by Cassiodorus. Due to the loss of Cassiodorus' book, Jordanes perspective on the Goths is unfortunately the only one that survives. He was selected distinctly cause of his interest of the Gothic background and his ability to write concisely. His most famous work the Getica, describes a geography o the North especially Scandinavia and how the emigration of the Goths. According to Jordanes, Scandinavia has recently been called Gothiscandza ("Scandza of the Goths"). He later mentions that the location of Gothiscandza can be analysed through one shipload as it "dwelled in the province of Spesis on an island surrounded by the shallow water of the Vistula."(Jordanes, 1997, 96) Pliny's attribute confirms Jordanes' account as his passage of the voyage of Pytheas, in which he states that the "Gutones a people of Germany" inhabit an estuary of at least 6,000 stadia called Mentonomon. "The connection of the name of the Guttones with the place where this natural production is found thus defines the position of that people, and proves that they had their abode on the coast of the Baltic, beyond the mouth of the Vistula, three centuries before the Christian era."(Prichard, 1851, 371) Pliny furthermore mentions that the Gutones and the Vandals are one of the five races of Germany, which includes the Burgodiones, the Varinnae, the Charini and the Gutones. The location of the Vandals is related to Ptolemy's East German tribes.

        Tacitus on the other hand characterized the Goths as people of a nomadic lifestyle with a love for warfare. He produced in the first century A.D. a description of ancient Germanic tribes entitledDe origine et situ Germanorum(often cited in the abbreviated formGermania) in which he also named a certain tribe which he referred to asGotones. Some sources say he had a very negative view against the Germanic tribes, as Dunlap suggests that "This story, which would have delighted Tacitus, should be in every "how to defeat the barbarians" handbook."(1979, 256-66)

        Tacitus however, focused more about how civilised these tribes were, and focused on the Goth's fashion. He highlighted that the Germanic people, especially the Goths were people with buckled mantles with a spike they did not wear anything except for this. Yet some of the tribes inhabiting the territories close the Roman lines did not reject their foreign influence and often mixed their fashion with the Romans. He concluded in describing them as barbaric which was often compared to the archaeological sources. Tacitus distinguishes the Goths from their round shields, their short swords, and their obedience toward their kings. Jordanes on the other hand uses the location as an indication as he suggests that they migrated southward from the Vistula region under Filimer and arrived at the Black Sea. Furthermore Heather found Jordanes' interpretation of the Gothic origins rather striking he suggested more than one island. However this not surprising as "In one strand of Graeco-Roman ethnographic and geographic tradition, Britain, Thule, and Scandinavia are all mysterious northern island rather than geographical localities."(Kortlandt, 2000, 1)

        The archaic Germanic language of the Goths with ties to the languages of North-Central Europe was only we-recorded in the East. A theory has suggested linguistic connections between Gothic and Norse. The two tribes were probably closely realated to the Goths and remained in Scandinavia and the Gutar whose name appears to be identical to the Goths. The Gothic dialect, which was believed to have been an archaic form of the Germanic language, was in most respects developed a certain number of unique features those shares with no other Germanic language. For instance the North Germanic languages are considered to be a separate branch from the Germanic language family as the phonetic and grammatical features characterize this crucial difference. However this does not exclude the possibility that the Goths, the Gutar and the Geat are related in one way or another. Consequently, language is not always the best principal in understanding the tribal or ethnic tradition and continuity.

        Kortlandt suggests that to identify the "origin of the Goths and their neighbours, the Gothic migrations and the great kinds of the past, oral history is the most likely source of the stories. (2000, 1) This is furthermore supported by Heather's view who believes that there was more than one version of the Goths' origin, for instance Jordanes that the Goths had Scandinavian origin which would seem to have benn "one sixth-century guess among several."(Kortland, 2000, 1) This could also be said for archaeology as there is more than interpretation for each of the evidence found with 'Gothic origin'.


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