Gepidia's Destruction, Gepidic Traces

The historical account of the war's catastrophic outcome for the Gepids is consistent with archaeological finds. Of the Gepidic cemeteries (and settlements) that have been uncovered so far on the Great Plain and in the Tisza-Maros-Körös region, not a single one bears clear traces of having been in use after 567. Most of the few sites that reveal some continued use in the Avar period are located in the Temes region, where more Gepids survived. These observations confirm that during the war, the Avars devastated the region between the Körös and Maros rivers, and illuminate why the Avars {1-223.} chose these lowlands, 'empty' and well-suited to stockbreeding, as one of their principal areas of settlement.

The situation was rather different in the Temes region, where — according to contemporary Byzantine sources — Gepidic villages existed around 600; the sources also indicate the presence of Gepids as late as the 9th century in parts of the Sirmia and Slavonia along the Danube and Drava rivers. In the new, 'Avar' cemeteries that emerged at the turn of the 6th century, with the stabilization of Avar settlement, there are scarcely any distinctive traces of Gepids; the latter could not avoid assimilation into the Avars' social order and culture — a culture that was dominated, in turn, by Persian-Byzantine costume and fashion.

These facts help to illuminate the situation in Transylvania, where the Gepids' fate was equally catastrophic. Out of 30 assessable cemeteries of Gepids dating from the 6th century, at least 25 — along with the proximate villages — fell into disuse after 567–68. What cannot be determined is whether this break was due to the marshalling of forces against Langobard attack (i.e. to the fact that all men capable of bearing arms had been marched off to the Tisza and never returned), or to the defensive battle against Avars advancing along the Maros, and the reprisals suffered by the Gepids after their defeat.

The total abandonment of the Gepids' settlement and cemetery at Malomfalva-Moreşti can be attributed to the Avar invasion, for there remains no trace of Gepids after 567–68. That Avar settlers supplanted the Gepids is confirmed by an early Avar pit-dwelling ('house no. 9') found on the site of the devastated Gepid village, as well as by a similar pit (house no. 35) uncovered at Borsóföld.

In Transylvania, unlike in the Great Plain, some Gepidic cemeteries remained in use: several along the Maros River (Marosnagylak, Marosveresmart), one in the Mezőség (Mezőbánd), and one by the Nagy-Küküllő River (cemetery no. 3 at Baráthely-Bratei). Most of these are large, with as many as several hundred {1-224.} graves, and are situated east and north of the area that was settled by the first Avars to arrive; all of them lie a considerable distance from the presumed Transylvanian site of the clash between Avars and Gepids. The people of the peripheral Gepid villages linked to the cemeteries presumably bowed to the inevitable and voluntarily submitted to their new rulers. The villages underwent a peculiar transformation after the turn of the 7th century. The native Gepids continued to form the core population; this is evident from the techniques, shapes, the smoothed or stamped decoration of pottery, from the comb-makers' products, and from women's apparel. However, in the 7th century, the Gepids' traditional fashions became mixed with features of the Avar culture (interment with horses, harnesses, eastern vessels, pike-heads, belt-ornaments — including buckles of German II style, and beads) as well as of the Avar-Slavic culture (half-moon shaped earrings, earrings with star-shaped pendants, bracelets with horn-shaped ends, hair-clasps with spiral tips, Byzantine buckles, and buckets with ironwork), and the bearers of these cultures evidently mingled with the Gepids. However, certain finds in these cemeteries, dating from around 600, cannot be identified either with the Gepids or with the culture of the early Avar period: the traces of armed men who came from the area of Western Merovingian culture. These people buried their dead with heavy shields, fitted with distinctive bosses; long, double-edged swords (indicated, in despoiled graves, by silver or bronze buttons that had fastened a sword-belt); assault knives (sax); spears with long, willow-leaf shaped blades; and arrows with a twisted shaft and feathered head. Their weapon belts, also of obviously foreign origin, had ball-headed iron studs, triangular plated buckles, and, in many instances, iron ornament encrusted with silver. The foreign weapons and belts belonged to males buried in coffins, most of them iron-bound, that testified to a distinctive funeral rite. There are only a few traces of women who might have accompanied these warriors: reliquaries of undoubted Western Merovingian {1-225.} origin were found in the graves of two women at Mezőbánd, while a woman's grave at Marosnagylak and another at Baráthely yielded brooches of the same provenance.

These observations point to the conclusion that the first deliberate settlement in Transylvania of 'Southern-Germans' was the work of the Avars. They provided a haven in this remote corner of their domain for Danubian and Rhenish Alamanni and Bavarians who had been put to flight by the internecine quarrels of Merovingian kings and princes. (The graves of Avar refugees in Bavarian cemeteries indicate that the flow moved in both directions.) The refugees had evidently borne arms for various factions in their homeland, and they preserved their independent status in the Avars' country; they remained professional warriors, and married local Gepids. The assessment of the cemeteries at Marosnagylak and Baráthely (no. 3) will throw more light on the question.