Gepidic Settlement in Transylvania

The background data presented so far helps one to trace the evolution of Gepidic settlement in Transylvania. The final phase of that process is marked by Zeno's (471–491) solidus, found at Hátszeg. The new aristocracy (called logimoi in contemporary Greek sources) lived in manor houses situated at the centre of their property, just as they had in the Tisza region, and were evidently buried near these homes. The women's superb jewels are the products of the goldsmith's workshop at 'Gáva-Beregvidék'; most beautiful are the richly gilded and decorated, jewelled fibulae which found their way to the Hungarian National Museum in the mid-19th century, although, regrettably, the source is noted simply as 'Transylvania' or 'Hungary'. Earlier, the Antiken-kabinet (today's Kunsthistorisches Museum) in Vienna had acquired a similar {1-193.} pair of decorated fibulae, together with an ornamented silver clasp that, according to an early Transylvanian source, had been unearthed at Magyarvalkó (incorrectly identified as 'Mariersdorf'). In 1856 a gilded ornamental fibula and a jewelled gold earring with polyhedral decoration were found at Kisselyk-Steinweg — probably in a grave, though this was not noted at the time; this is the earliest Gepidic find in an identified location in the Carpathian Basin. A similar jewelled and gilded, silver fibula, the stem of which had been ritually broken off, was found at Nagyekemező ('im Kessel'). Finds that indicate noblemen's graves include a pair of gold earrings, ending in a polyhedric button, and an ornamental silver buckle, its jewelled tongue decorated with an animal's head, at Segesvár-Baierndorf, and an earring with a twisted ring as well as a jewelled polyhedric button at Medgyes. Other finds of gold objects — a bracelet at Kelnek, and a ring with a bull's head from Brassó or, more likely, Kolozsvár — suggest that in the 5th century, aristocratic manor houses were more typical of southern Transylvania than of other regions. This would not be surprising, for the Gepid leader who ruled over the Mezőség (Transylvanian plain) lived, along with his retinue, near the Kis-Szamos River.

In the second half of the 5th century, the centre of Gepidic settlement arose around the ruins of the ancient city of Napoca, in the valley of the Kis-Szamos. The burial grounds that have been discovered there contain only a few graves, but they are remarkable for their richness. The deceased had been probably military assistants of the princely ruler, who had set up his residence amid the walls of Napoca. Pairs of gold earrings with polyhedral buttons — this jewel can be regarded as the key find of the period — were found in graves at the Rettegi garden in Apahida (in the 1880s) and at Kolozsvár (in 1912). The graves near Kolozsvár, and contemporary graves elsewhere in Transylvania, contain other objects that correspond closely to the rich finds in the graves of common people in the Ér and Berettyó valleys, and thus there can be no doubt as to their origin.

{1-194.} At Kolozsvár-Kardosfalva, a short Hun sword and a quiver holding arrows were found in the grave of what was obviously a warrior. The graves of women from the same small community held bronze earrings with solid polyhedric button as well as bone combs; that of a woman of higher rank contained large, ornamental fibula, a simpler version of the noblewomen's fibulae. A third, small burial ground at Kolozsvár yielded a vessel, a comb, and a clasp similar to those found in the graves at Érmihályfalva, indicating that the deceased family came from the same district. In graves at Kolozsvár-Szamosfalva, two women also wore silver earrings with polyhedric buttons as well as amber and glass beads, while a third had a fibula made in the Tisza region (the Bakodpuszta type) in the 460s or 470s; a similar fibula was found more recently at Magyarkapus. Further along the Kis-Szamos, at Apahida, a pair of silver earrings with polyhedric buttons and a bronze clasp indicate the grave of a less affluent warrior's wife; the same location yielded a contemporary pot, with fine smoothed decoration, which originated in — or was made by a craftsman who had come from — the Tisza region. In neighbouring Gyulatelke, a similar early Gepidic pot with a large orifice and smoothed decoration indicates a grave; and a short distance away, at Cege, a woman's richer grave contained beads, a double-sided comb, and an earring. The fibula found at Cege is a larger ornament, similar to that of Szamosfalva; this type was common in the 5th century from the Crimea to the Czech Basin, and it can be surmised that some of them were crafted in the Gepids' land. The graves (with early fibulae) found at Magyarkapus, along the Kis-Szamos west of Kolozsvár, and to the south, the settlement at Ajtony (where a potsherd inscribed with runic characters [!] was found) all confirm the dating of the princely seat.

At Mezőszopor, Gepids had established a small community, and buried their dead, on the overgrown and levelled ground of a Daco-Roman graveyard that had been abandoned around 270; {1-195.} although this settlement is more distant, it can nevertheless be linked to the class of landed retainers of the princely seat at Napoca. The graves were subsequently despoiled, but a few remaining beads and the cheaper, 5th century bronze fibula that was presumably dropped by a grave robber indicate that the deceased had been ranking freemen. Similar fibulae were found in older graves of the Gepidic burial sites of Kiszombor and Malomfalva. A fibula that was allegedly found at Verespatak is of a similar type and dates from roughly the same period.

Many graves and finds of this early phase, between 455 and 500, have been found in the Transylvanian Basin and in the valleys. At Maroslekence, the graves are dated by a short sword and triple-edged arrowheads, both Hunnic, a bronze earring with polyhedric button, and a deformed skull; at Malomfalva-Podej, the grave, whose occupant had a deformed skull, is dated by an early type of vessel and a comb. Some of the 6th-century farmstead graveyards had their origins in this period — for instance, at Betlenszentmiklós and Maroscsapó, where silver and bronze earrings with polyhedric buttons identify early graves; at the latter site, a deformed skull also dates the grave.

The Gepids were influenced by their Hun overlords' oriental notion of beauty; thus they adopted the practice of manipulating the skulls of infants in order to produce the 'fashionable' elongated head. When the Huns' rule came to an end, the Gepids gave up this practice, and the last people with deformed skulls died out in the first decades of the 6th century. Therefore, in terms of Gepidic history, this custom is considered a clear indication of ethnicity as well as of period (ca. 440–520). Gepidic deformed skulls have been found at many sites in Transylvania (Székelyudvarhely-Marhapiac [1874], Szászbonyha, Segesvár-Herzes, Baráthely [7], Galacfalva- Vermek, Maroslekence, Malomfalva-Hula and Malomfalva-Podej, Marosveresmart [the isolated grave, possibly from the Hun period, of a male with a deformed skull, accompanied by arrowheads], {1-196.} Maroscsapó, and Magyarkapus-Kenderáj) and in the eastern part of the Hungarian Great Plain (Elek-Kispél, Magyarád, and Arad-Gáj).

These small burial grounds are almost invariably in the proximity of sunken floor 'houses'. Silver earrings with polyhedric buttons were discovered also farther west along the Maros, at Inakfalva. To the northeast, a burial ground at Újős-Papdomb (Beszterce-Naszód county) yielded a bronze earring with a polyhedric button, and bronze clasps were found at Beresztelke. A bracelet was unearthed at Marosportus, in the southwest. All of these objects indicate the early presence of Gepids.

The enumerated sites serve to delimit the strip of land by the Maros occupied in the earlier wave of Gepidic settlement. Further south, near the Nagy-Küküllő, only few sites have been identified. At Székelyudvarhely-Marhapiac, the grave whose occupant had a deformed skull also contained an earring with polyhedric button and a crescent-shaped braid fastener; the burial ground of a farmstead at Medgyes-Theba yielded a silver earring with polyhedric button and necklaces of amber and glass beads; a Gepidic fine-tooth comb was found in the grave of a man with a deformed skull at Segesvár-Herzes; and it has been reported that at the seventh site at Baráthely, a rich grave contained a deformed skull, gold and silver earrings, clasps, and ornamental pins with pierced heads. Farther still to the south, early Gepidic settlement — and the remarkable unity of these people's culture and costume — is witnessed by a single grave find: at Szelindek-Stempen, a woman's grave, aligned on a west-east axis, yielded silver earrings with polyhedric buttons. This pair of fibulae, decorated with birds' heads, were crafted in the Tisza region; similar fibulae have been found near Szentes (Bökénymindszent) and, even more significantly, at Szabadka, in a region that was evacuated by the Gepids and turned into a border zone after the army of Theodoric the Great had occupied Pannonia Sirmiensis (i.e. Sirmia, the territory that borders on the Banat in the south) in 504. The fibulae were therefore made — {1-197.} and probably buried — before this date. The only find in the Fogaras district of the Olt valley comes from Felmér: a jar with smoothed, herring-bone patterns, a masterpiece of 5th century Gepidic pottery. Prototypical versions have been found in the Tisza region.

The archaeological discoveries that have been made to date suffice to trace the Gepids' settlement in Transylvania. They reached the region through the Meszes Pass. By the 4th century, Gepids ruled over the Szamos valley as far as the Meszes Mountains, roughly to the bend near Zsibó (that is, to the border of the former Dacia). When, after the collapse of Gothic rule, the Gepids made their first attempt to conquer Dacia, their advance was soon blocked by the Huns, and they had to withdraw from the Transylvanian Basin. But their withdrawal did not go much past Dés, for they were present in the valley of the Nagy-Szamos even during the era of Hun rule, as is shown by the coins discovered at Kápolnokmonostor and Nagydoba, and by the graves of Újős-Papdomb, Budatelke, and Dombhát-Fürdő. After the collapse of Hun rule, the Gepids once again advanced through the Meszes Pass into Transylvania's heartland, and notably into the Kis- Szamos valley. The conquerors were Gepids from the Szamos-Ér region, who brought their earlier material culture. The noblemen, accompanied by their families and servants, carved out their new estates mainly in southern Transylvania, south of the Maros, in the valley of the Küküllő — neither in the 5th nor in the 6th century was this area populated by the common people. It appears that the manor houses in southern Transylvania were abandoned — as a consequence of internal or defence policy — before the end of the 6th century.

The 5th-century settlement area of the Gepids extended in the shape of a wedge from the Kis-Szamos towards the southeast, past the middle reaches of the Maros, and with the thin end of the wedge reaching about as far as Nagyszeben. This expansion could not have involved large numbers of people, for there is hardly any trace {1-198.} of 5th-century villages (except, perhaps, at Nagygalambfalva- Várfele and Péterlaka). The small groups of settlers established farmsteads of a type common among the Gepids of the Hungarian Great Plain, with small graveyards nearby. From the beginning of the 6th century, the pattern of settlement began to change. The political and economic catalyst of this change was the disappearance, i.e. the liquidation or transfer of the princely capital that had been founded on the ruins of Napoca.