The Gepids in the Period of Merovingian Culture

The relative political and economic stability that followed the Great Migrations contributed to the emergence in the early 6th century of a new 'culture' which spread from the Atlantic to Transylvania {1-204.} and the Carpathians. In Gaul, Clovis (Chlodvig), son of Childeric I, broke the power of the last 'Roman' sovereign and of the Frankish petty kings, and, having defeated the Alamanni (before 505) and ousted the Visigoths (507), he unified Gaul and the Rhenish region. This new, Merovingian dynasty allied itself with the Roman Catholic Church, and it created a secure environment for the functioning of latifundia as well as of larger and smaller manufactures in the towns. By the 530s, the Merovingians had extended their rule as far as the Saale (Thuringia), Bavaria, and the Alps.

The countries under Merovingian rule enjoyed a steady growth in economic prosperity. Estates and villages multiplied in an increasingly feudal context; in their vicinity, there appeared cemeteries of the 'lined' type, which would remain in use for centuries. The prosperity was only relative, but it benefited all social strata. The period of Great Migrations had been characterized by an immensely rich military aristocracy flaunting a luxurious attire, a small and wealthy military retinue, and a mass of poor warriors and labourers. In the 6th century, clothing styles became more elaborate, and graves with burial objects more common. People had clothes, ornaments, and weapons specific to their social rank or class, and they were buried with these objects. The unity of these styles owed not only to the 'fashion of the times' but also to the new, or newly flourishing jewellery and weapons crafts, and the makers and peddlers of beads. Pottery-making centres, glassworks, and bronze-casting workshops generated a uniformity in everyday goods.

The 'Western Merovingian' or 'Lined Graveyard' culture emerged on territories that were under direct Frankish rule. Farther east, the 'Eastern Merovingian/Lined Graveyard' culture spread in Thuringia, Bohemia, Moravia, Lower Austria, Burgenland, Transdanubia, the region east of the Tisza, and, lastly, in Transylvania. There are no traces of this culture beyond the Carpathian Basin. {1-205.} Indeed, even the Carpathian Basin was touched only to a limited degree by Frankish and Alamannic influences, and remained largely independent of the Merovingian world. Other political and economic centres had a greater impact on its culture: the Ostrogothic empire of Theodoric the Great which, between 493 and 535, exerted a major influence (through the neighbouring region between the Sava and Drava rivers, as well as Inner Noricum and Dalmatia), especially with regard to certain luxury articles (e.g. jewellery and goldsmith's work), and the Eastern Roman empire, which underpinned other aspects of the economy.

On the eastern fringe of the Merovingian world, the only people of Eastern Germanic origin and language to be touched by the new European culture were the Gepids, and theirs is a special case. As noted, the Gepids' jewellery, weapons, and pottery were crafted in accordance with their own independent traditions and roots. These influences did not disappear, and the onset of Merovingian influence did not induce a sharp cultural break. From the start, the Gepids' material culture had been enriched by a succession of external forces: by economic and political relations with the Eastern Roman empire, which brought Byzantine merchandise and techniques along the trade route of the Lower Danube; after 504, by Sirmia's Ostrogothic workshops and commerce; after 536, by the late antique-Italian Gothic legacy of Pannonia Sirmiensis, which again passed under Gepidic rule; and, after 538, even by the handicrafts of the Roman border zone on the other side of the Lower Danube. There are also traces of contacts between Gepids on both the Maros and the Tisza, and the Crimean Goths, until Slav migration began to threaten the connecting roads (that is, until 518, when Iustinus I ascended to the throne); and, in the region east of the Tisza, of direct and reciprocal contacts with Scandinavia (southern Sweden) until around 540–50. Among the three, 6th-century centres of Gepidic settlement (the region east of the Tisza, Sirmia, and Transylvania), Transylvania had a certain distinctiveness that can {1-206.} be perceived in its local iron crafts and, to some extent in its goldsmith's art as well.