The Gepids during and after the Hun Period

The Gepids were becoming powerful and prosperous even under Hun rule. This is amply demonstrated by archaeological finds on the territory covered by Gepidia after the withdrawal north of the Körös River; the finds are of a richness that is exceptional in the Carpathian Basin, and even in Europe. Under Ardaric's reign, there emerged a new military aristocracy that built manor houses and obviously drew considerable profit from fighting in the Hun {1-189.} overlords' wars. Its members were buried alone, in secrecy, near their manor houses. Men's graves are few, for many of the military leaders must have died on the battlefields and in the revolt against the Huns. The grave found at Érmihályfalva held an eminent aristocrat; the period of his inhumation is revealed by the coin in his mouth, a Hun-period copy, dating from around 450, of Theodosius II's gold solidus originally minted at Thessaloniki in 443. The deceased himself is a model of the 'sword-wielding furious Gepids' of the Hun period: he was buried with not one, but two swords, a long double-edged sword in a silver-mounted scabbard, and a 52-centimetre long Hun dagger in a sheath made of wood and leather. The belt of the long sword was decorated with a large amber disc, a common amulet in that century, and his shield had an iron boss to protect the warrior's hand. Of the same period is grave no. 1 at Gencs-Akasztódomb, which held a dagger of Hun origin as well as a costly glass beaker. The solidi of Theodosius II, minted in 429–30, serve to date many graves (Nyírbátor, Bikács, Szilágysomlyó, Lonkafalva). Their Hun replicas, minted by order of Attila around 450, do the same for other graves (Végardó, Érmihályfalva, Nagydoba-Liget, Kápolnokmonostor). The latter are contemporary with a solidus (found at Csög, Kendilóna) from a late minting under Valentinian III (425–455).

An even richer source are the isolated graves of Gepidic noblewomen of the Hun period, whose large number may be a consequence of the reduced area of settlement during Hun rule. The deceased were generally garbed in typically 'new rich' style. The Gepidic noblewomen were covered in jewels: heavy, cast-silver fibulae, large and unshapely, on their shoulders, a collection of bead necklaces, several silver bracelets, the customary large gold earrings, and one or two large silver clasps on their clothes and belts. The 'new Hun fashion article,' a metallic mirror with radial decoration on the back, is present in virtually every grave, while the provisions for the afterlife were stored in 'Hun' jugs with ears, often {1-190.} accompanied by a costly, decorated glass (Mád, Tiszalök, Balsa, Székely, Vencsellő, Barabás [formerly Mezőkaszony], Szamostatárfalva, Érdengeleg). Few graves have been found of less wealthy propertied women from the Hun period; one of these, grave no. 2 at Gencs-Akasztódomb, yielded a bronze earring, a small silver fibula, and also big glass and amber beads. The common burial grounds of small farming settlements, each consisting of a few graves, and dating from the post-Hun period, have been discovered at Rétközberencs, Bere, Körösgyéres, and Piskolt, where the finds include double-sided combs. There were probably similar graveyards at Bere-Szőlőhegy and Érendréd-Malomdomb (where earrings ending in a solid polyhedric button and a vessel with smoothed ornaments were found). In another cemetery of this type, at Érmihályfalva, the local, male leader bore a dagger of Hun origin, much like the military leaders noted earlier, while the women sported the prevailing Hun fashion: earrings, ending in solid polyhedric buttons, that imitated those of noblewomen, which had cloisonné and gold decoration, as well as the double-sided fine-tooth comb. It was around this time that the Gepids generally adopted a new custom, one that attests to the attraction of Arian Christianity: they began to bury their dead not on a north-south, but on a west-east axis. Among the graveyards of this period that have been discovered so far, the largest and longest-used is the 2nd burial site at Ártánd; however, there are numerous contemporary graves, sites, and burial objects (such as the fine-tooth combs from Szalacs and Bihardiószeg). The site at Bihar includes a settlement that consisted of sunken floor dwellings (with traces of a combmaker's bonecutting workshop in one of them), their roofs held up by two posts, as well as of authentic Germanic houses with many posts; and several graves, one of which yielded a pair of bronze earrings ending in a solid polyhedric button. Other graveyards from this period include those at Érkörtvélyes-Ligethegy and Nagyvárad-Szalkaterasz (which also has an earlier, Hun grave whose occupant bore a {1-191.} sword, a dagger, and arrows), yielding jugs and pots with superb smoothed decoration, channelled jars and mugs; and at Biharpüspöki and Nagyvárad-Micskepuszta, the latter yielding a 5th-century glass cup. The previously mentioned graves, containing weapons, at Érkörtvélyes-Égető-hegy and Szilágysomlyó may also date from this period.

The expansion of Gepidic settlements after Ardaric's victory can be fully assessed only with the help of these Gepidic archaeological traces from the Hun period, for it is precisely this culture, based in the Upper Tisza region, that the Gepids took to their new settlements. They did so in at least two waves. Graves of noblewomen, who wore large silver-plated fibulae and jewelled gold earrings, and dating from the immediate post-victory period, appear in the Sebes-Körös and Fehér-Körös zones (Gyulavári, Nagyvárad), in the region of the Maros and the Aranka (Perjámos, Arad-Mikelaka), and even in the Temes region (Őszény, where gold earrings with polyhedral ornaments were found). They are distinguished from earlier finds by late-antique gold beads (Perjámos), which came into the Gepids' possession when the alliance with Byzantium facilitated a revival of trade.

The occupation of lands in Transylvania by Gepidic aristocrats of the Hun period is attested by similar grave finds that yielded several earrings with cloisonné ornamental buttons (Bánffyhunyad, Medgyes, Kisselyk, and what were probably two graves in Hunyad county). The period of Gepidic settlement is indicated by the late gold coins of Theodosius II, minted between 443 and 450. The Huns had received these as tribute, and passed on a few to their Gepidic allies; but while such coins are found only rarely in Hun graves, the offering of a funeral obolus was typical of the Gepids. Coins of this type have been found at Nagybánya-Asszonypataka, Válaszút, Kolozsvár-Szamoshíd, Hidalmás, Ajtony, Felsőidecs, Kerelőszentpál, Radnót (minting of 443 at Thessaloniki), Mese, Gyulafehérvár, Hunyad-Dobra in the Maros valley (discovered in {1-192.} 1811), and as far as Orsova on the Lower Danube. An even more precise dating is given by the gold solidi of Leo I (457–474), found, mostly in graves, at Kelnek, Uzdiszentgyörgy, and Torda (three bronze or gold coins). Also from this period is a rare gold coin, found at Biharszentandrás, of the Western Roman Emperor Libius Severus (461–465); it was probably brought back from the Roman empire by a Gepidic mercenary.

However, part of the Gepidic nobility did not leave the more secure 'old homeland' until the conquest of the Sirmia — Pannonia Sirmiensis — in 473. That was where the colourful new, post-Hun culture emerged, a culture that would then spread to the Gepids' older areas of settlement. This was a culture of conquerors, of those who shared in the annual tribute of one hundred pounds (almost 32 kg) of Byzantine gold. This second wave of settlement is represented by the rich grave find (silver fibulae and an elaborately- wrought gold ring with a cloisonné head) in the Temes region, at the brick factory of Nagyszentmiklós-Keresztúr-puszta.