Gepidic Kings in Transylvania

If high-ranking military men settled their families in a ring around Napoca, it was because after the Szilágysomlyó period, Gepidic rulers had chosen to base themselves on the site of that ancient town. They dwelt within the city walls, probably in a restored building, just as the Alamanic and, later, the Baiuvaric princes had done at Castra Regina (Regensburg). However, they buried their dead not in Napoca, but on the site of the present-day village of Apahida, on the terrace of the Kis-Szamos; and they conducted funerals in secrecy. What remains the most important Gepidic grave was discovered in 1889; the coffin, with iron clamps, was in a despoiled state. Most of what is known about the grave was established in the original assessment. The grave yielded a finely-wrought, late-antique Byzantine gold fibula with bulb- shaped button and filigreed decoration; it was virtually identical to the one found in the tomb of the Frankish King Childeric I (who died in 481 or 482). It can be concluded that these were presents from the Eastern Roman imperial court to barbarian princes who were regarded as being of roughly equal rank. However, the princely grave at Apahida also yielded two elaborate silver jugs, a type of Eastern Roman present that was absent from Childeric's grave. Yet another object in the grave, a solid gold bracelet, was one of the distinctive badges of Germanic royal families from the 3rd–5th centuries {1-199.} onwards. The true status of the occupant was indicated most conclusively by a find that remains unique to this day: six large gold pendants, decorated with boar heads. Since these objects subsequently disappeared, it is impossible to determine how they might have been worn. The original report on the find compared the pendants with the hanging ornaments on the votive crowns of the Visigothic King Reccesvinthus; alternatively, the pendants might have ornamented large fibulae or glass vessels. A cloisonné gold buckle and gold handles from the prince's cups reflect the 'international' style of the 5th century, but they are clearly products of same Gepidic goldsmith's workshop where certain other finds had been crafted, notably the buckles and cup handles in the 2nd grave at Apahida, some of the treasure jewels in Szamosfalva, the birdshaped cloisonné ring found at Nagyszentmiklós-Keresztúr-puszta, and the ring, adorned with a bull's head, that was unearthed at Brassó or at Kolozsvár. There can be little doubt about the date of the grave. Close replicas of the ornamental fibula have been found in Italy, and coins as well other accompanying objects date these around 490; the replica in Childeric's grave was interred in 481–82. The first grave at Apahida therefore dates from the period between 454 and 500.

The name and the rank of the grave occupant can be deduced from three gold rings. The engraving on one of them, a large cross formed by four small, symmetrical crosses, indicate the owner's Christian faith. Constantinople must have been aware of this affiliation, for the ornamental fibulae that had been sent as a gift bore a plate clearly engraved with a long cross; among similar gold fibulae, only one, found in Rome, bears such a cross. On the second ring, the name OMHARIVS — with the letter R and I linked — appears under a small cross. The third, a signet ring, bears a cross and, in what may be Greek mirror writing, the name OMARIVS or AVD-OMARIVS, which corresponds to that on the second ring. Written sources make no mention of a Gepidic historical personage {1-200.} bearing this name. The second half of the name may well be derived from the Gothic word harjaz (meaning 'Heer', or army). Since the monogram could also be read as Audomharius, an authentic East Germanic name is revealed: Audomharjaz — (Aud) Omharius in latinized form, meaning 'lord of the army' or 'saviour of the army'. Such a name could have been assumed by only one Gepidic king (cf. the names Ardaric, 'king of the lands', or Gunderith/Gunderiks, 'king of the warriors'). The conclusion, that the ring's owner was a king, is reinforced by the names of the Frankish king Chlotharius (Lothar) and the Alamanic king Hariobaudes; the former signifies 'glory of the army', and the latter 'destroyer of armies'.

All this was made considerably more problematical by the discovery in 1968 of a second princely grave at Apahida, some 500 meters away from the first. Once again, the west-east oriented grave had been despoiled along the upper half of the corpse. It yielded a cloisonné buckle, somewhat larger than the one in the first grave, but otherwise identical, as well as a glass goblet with gold hoop, and a cloisonné cup handle; thus the two burials couldn't have been far apart in time. The rich finds in the second grave gave a clue to what might have been stolen from the first one. The prince's sword sling — for he wore a sword, and probably, so had the occupant of the first grave — was covered with cloisonné gold plates. On his belt, the prince had worn a purse of cloisonné gold, of which only the cover plate remained. The only identical purse to be discovered was in the world-famous ship grave of Readwald (deceased 625), King of East Anglia, at Sutton Hoo; a somewhat similar gold-covered purse was found in Childeric's grave. An iron-bound wooden trunk next to the body contained three sets of harnesses, including a saddle adorned with superb cloisonné and gold eagles, bridles covered with rosettes and eagle head patterns, and gilded bits of Hun inspiration. The yield from the second grave was much richer than from the first, but that is no guarantee that the {1-201.} deceased had been of more exalted rank; the grave held neither insignia to indicate his status, nor personalia (such as rings) that might have identified him. Since neither grave was discovered intact, prudence must be exercised in considering the question of missing objects.

In 1979, a large cloisonné gold clasp was found at a secondary location between the first and second graves. To be sure, the clasp might have been originally in one of those despoiled graves, perhaps the second. On the other hand, the attire of contemporary princes usually included only one large cloisonné buckle, and a similar if lighter clasp was found in each of the two graves. On balance, there are grounds for suspecting that a third princely grave had been present at Apahida before it was despoiled without trace.

Discovered in 1963 on the northern bank of the Kis-Szamos, halfway between ancient Napoca and the princely graves of Apahida, the find treasure of Kolozsvár-Szamosfalva offers both complications and a possible explanation. The treasure lay in a vessel buried a few centimetres deep. The finders cut up some of the jewellery, and held back many items; what remained amounted to 'merely' 617 grams of gold. The outstanding piece is a splendid gold necklace holding a large gold ornamental disc. This brooch-like disc bears clear Christian signs: the obverse is decorated with a cloisonné, symmetrical cross, and a similar cross is engraved on the reverse. Another necklace was made of gold beads, of the same type found in the rich Gepidic woman's grave at Gáva and in the second princely grave at Apahida. The buckles with oval plates and frames are similar to the three buckles from Apahida, and also found were fragments of at least two solid bracelets, with expanded ends, similar to the gold bracelets found in the second grave at Apahida. The gold rings also found at Kolozsvár-Szamosfalva match those from the 'queen's' grave of Bakodpuszta (probably of members of the Skirian King Edika's family, buried prior to 470), in the so-called Olbia treasure, which included a large ornamental {1-202.} disc, hanging on a gold chain, similar to the one discovered at Szamosfalva); they also match rings found in a more modest Alamanic noblewoman's grave dating from the second half or the end of the 5th century. Another important item in the treasure is an ancient gold ring decorated with a gem.

There are countless parallels in the finds at Apahida and Szamosfalva, and all of them confirm that the precious objects represent an opulent 'international' style which had evolved in the Hun period and continued to flourish — thanks to an ample supply of gold — until the end of the century. This grandeur is more or less typical of all the barbarian rulers and aristocrats of the period, but it is most characteristic of the Gepidic kings, who had defeated the Huns and appropriated most of their treasures.

The 'riddle' of Apahida and Szamosfalva can be solved. Among European princely graves dating from the half century following the Hun period, only that of the Frankish King Childeric is comparable to the one at Apahida, and the comparison is eloquent. No comparable Gepidic traces have been found outside Transylvania, nor any other Gepidic royal graves. Like the great Hun kings, or the Frankish, Ostrogothic, and Alamanic kings of the times, the Gepidic kings did not reside in a permanent 'capital' but had several residences, or regiae. The summer and the winter regiae of the Gepidic kings evidently lay far apart, one somewhere in the plain stretching along the Tisza, the other in the mountains and valleys of Transylvania. The connection between the regiae, the palatia, and the royal burial grounds remains unclear. For instance, Childeric I, at the moment of his death, was no longer king of the Frankish foederati around Turnacum, but the king of Gallia-Belgica. Yet he was buried — in secrecy and isolation — in the land of his youth, far beyond the walls of the late Roman town, on the other side of the river. Similarly, the regia of Napoca was undoubtedly only one of the royal courts, with the kings' burial places nearby. A gold ornament discovered at Palánk, in the southern {1-203.} part of Temes county, was decorated with garnet cloisonné, set into partitions that cover the entire surface — a type that as far as is known was exclusive to the costume of Gepidic princes after the Hun period; it is similar to ornaments, shaped like violins or fish, that were found at Apahida, and thus indicates that, in the second half of the 5th century, Gepid princes had one of their residences near the mouth of the Krassó River.

The princely richness of the finds at Apahida, the royal insignia, and the probable date of internment all evoke the possibility that the graves are those of the Ardarikings. This suspicion would be confirmed if it turned out that more recently discovered gold buckle — similar to the cloisonné gold buckles in the first two graves — did not come from those graves but, instead, was the misplaced remnant of a third royal grave at Apahida that otherwise had been totally devastated. The Gepidic kings were buried at Apahida between 470 and 500; and written sources name two kings in that period, Ardaric, who founded his empire in 455 and evidently reigned for some time afterwards, and Gunderith, who reigned around 500. Conceivably, (Aud)Omharius, the occupant of the first grave, is in fact one of these kings; but it is more likely that the name belongs to a Gepidic monarch, not mentioned in written sources, who reigned some time between Ardaric and Gunderith. The establishment of a new dynasty by Elemund could well have driven a fleeing Ardariking to conceal his family jewels at Szamosfalva. By the beginning of the 6th century, the regia of Napoca as well as surrounding manor houses stood abandoned, and this could hardly have come about without some forceful intervention.