{1-245.} 5. THE SLAVS


Historical and archaeological evidence points to the likelihood that the Slavs failed to penetrate the Carpathian Basin while that region was under Gepidic rule. They were barred from access by the forest zone that the Gepids had 'purposely' allowed to expand around their settled areas as well as by the strong Gepid defence of mountain passes. The Gepids' 'forest defences' were not restricted to the Carpathian line; there was probably a broad swath in the region of Hunyad, Krassó-Severin, and Temes region, and an even broader one around the Szamos and upper Tisza rivers. These forests could easily deter attack by small forces. The Slav warriors who, in the 6th century, fought their way across the Lower Danube and into the heart of the Balkans, had come from a land of vast forests, as had the tribes that followed them in search of cultivable land; it seems unlikely that they would have been drawn to the similarly forested region in the north.

At the same time, armed bands of Slavs did have an impact in Carpathian Basin. The Langobard Hildigis sought the support of Byzantines and Gepids in his quest for the throne. In the late 540s, he was aided by both Gepids and 'Sclavin' warriors in his struggle against the Langobard King Audoin.[18]18. Procopius VII, p. 35. Later, in pursuit of the same goal, he would continue to seek the endorsement or assistance of Gepids as well as of the Slavs, who were encamped at Noviodunum, north of the Lower Danube.

The conquering Avars swept away the Gepids' frontier defences. Until the 630s, the Avars' alliances and spheres of influence extended in the east to the southern zone of the Ukrainian steppes, to the Dnieper, or, perhaps, as far as the Donets River. The Eastern Carpathians ceased to be regarded as a 'border' by either {1-246.} Avars or Slavs. But while the latter were now free to move in through the mountain passes, it appears that — at least in the last third of the 6th century — they only established marginal contacts, through intermarriage and barter trade. In the wake of the Avar and Avar-Slav offensives, and until the end of the 7th century, the Slavs kept their sights on the Balkans and considered even Moldavia and Wallachia as mere stepping stones on the way to that ultimate destination. However, the counter-offensives conducted by the Byzantines between 598 and 601 held back the Slavs' movement into the Lower Danube region; excluded from the empire, large groups of Slavs were compelled to settle down around the Carpathians.

The Slavic migrants left clear archaeological traces, dating from the 6th-9th centuries, in their Ukrainian homeland (Prague-Penkovka and Prague-Korčak cultures and groups). Thus the departure of Slavic groups and their southerly migration can be generally traced. Their earlier settlements and burial rites were marked by such puritanical simplicity that the dating depends on finds of foreign metal objects (mainly Byzantine and Avar jewels, or their Slavic copies), and is difficult even when such objects are present.

The first traces of Slav settlements in the period following the Great Migrations are to be found in the outer fringe of the Carpathians. The oldest settlement is at Suceava-Şipot, in northern Moldavia. Stone fireplaces (kamenica = '[kő]kemence' in Hungarian) were found in the corner of their sunken floor dwellings, along with hand-made vessels of archaic style ('Prague type'). A bronze fibula indicates that the settlement was in existence in the first half of the 7th century.

The largest early Slav cemetery discovered so far faces the southeastern corner of the Carpathians, at Sărata-Monteoru. It consists of 1536 graves holding cremated remains (in urns or merely buried), and was evidently in use over a long period of time. A fibula, the copy of a 6th century, East Germanic model, indicates that {1-247.} the site came into use around 600. Its continuous use in the 7th century is attested by Byzantine and Avar bronze buckles, a strap-tip, a belt-hook, and arrowheads, as well as by a large number of grey metal (potin) fibulae. Although most of the urns were hand-fashioned ('Prague type'), others testify to a growing use of the potter's wheel (so-called half-wheels).

A sizeable Slav settlement, from roughly the same period as the Monteoru cemetery, has been discovered at Bucharest-Ciurel; it yielded pottery of the Prague-Penkovka type and resembles the settlement at Suceava. Traces of other, contemporary Slavic sites have been identified around Bucharest, notably the villages at Fundeni and on Lake Tei; these are dated to the late 6th–7th centuries by fibulae and two arrowheads, one Avar, the other Gepidic. There is clear material evidence linking Slav sites on the outer fringes of the Carpathians and the eventual settlement of Slavs in Transylvania.

The first material proof of the Slavs' presence in Transylvania was found on the southern, 'Avar' edge of the cemetery at Mezőbánd, in grave 24: a small baking dish ('klebec'), hand-made and decorated in a linear dot pattern, that must have belonged to a Slav household nearby, and dates from 600–630. Similar tart dishes ('klebci') — with or without decoration — have been found on the site of the abandoned Gepid (!) village at Malomfalva-Podej. These traces indicate that, at the beginning of the 7th century, groups of Slavs had come through the Békás and Tölgyes passes to settle in the region around the upper reaches of the Maros. One of the settlements along their route, consisting of pits and sunken floor dwellings, was discovered in Kolozs county, at Septér. The site yielded mostly hand-made pots and baking pans; a few fragments of vessels, made on the wheel, and bearing a wavy, linear pattern, date from the later period of the settlement, which remained in use until the early 700s.

Concurrently, or perhaps even earlier, sizeable groups of Slavs moved by way of the Ojtoz Pass into the valley of the Feketevíz {1-248.} (Feketeügy)-Csernavoda (černa voda = black water) River as well as the valleys of the Kászon and Kovászna (kvaś and kvaśena, meaning 'sour', 'sour water') rivers. The names of these rivers are clearly Slavic, as are those of the earliest settlements, Polyán and Csernáton. Indeed, the largest number of Slavic toponyms in Transylvania are found in the Háromszék Basin: apart from those mentioned, they include Lisznyó, Szacsva, Borosnyó, Doboly, Zágon, Papolc, Esztelnek, Gelence, Torja, and Karatna.

The early Slavic settlement at Kézdipolyán-Kőhát, in the Feketeügy valley, consists of 32 huts on two levels, all of them sunken floor and with stone fireplaces. The inhabitants must have had contact with remnants of the Gepid population, for the items found in house no. 20 — a bone comb, a bronze fibula with folded extremities, a bronze pin, and the fragment of a dish with stamped decoration — date the origin of the settlement to the very end of the 6th century. Its inhabitants used the same type of 'Prague-Penkovka' (Ripnev II type) vessels as did the Slavs beyond the Carpathians. The finds include baking pans and a cast-bronze fibula (from house no. 20) that is identical to several 7th century Slavic fibulae. The early, lower layer of a settlement excavated in Felsőcsernáton-Róbert-tag is in every respect similar to that of Kézdipolyán; the finds (which include, in a house with four stone ovens, baking pans and a bronze ringhead) show no trace of Avar influence. In contrast, the Slav dwellings and pits discovered under a village, dating from the Árpád period, at Sepsiszentgyörgy-Bedeháza (site A), are dated by an Avar metal object. According to reports, a fragment of pressed bronze, found at the bottom of a pit, bore an animal motif (Germanic II style); this would date the hand-shaped tiles, decorated with a rough, deeply-incised, wavy linear pattern, — and therefore the settlement itself — to the 7th century. Another Slav settlement was discovered on a hillock above the Olt River at Alsókomána, in the Barcaság (Barzenland) district; it consisted of fourteen huts, with stone fireplaces, and of eighteen {1-249.} firepits, some of which intersect. One clue to the inhabitants activities was the revolving millstone found in one of the houses. Many of the vessels found on the site were of the crude, hand-fashioned type, but others, made on the wheel and bearing wavy, linear patterns of decoration, indicate that the settlement survived perhaps into the 9th or 10th century.

It may be that the valley of the Upper Olt was occupied by Slavic groups that also arrived through the Békás Pass, and which were therefore closely related to those who settled in the Maros valley. 'Klebci' baking pans have been found at Csekefalva, near Tusnád. That settlement lived on into the 8th, and perhaps the 9th, century, and thus had the same lifespan as those at Marosszentgyörgy and Marosnagylak, which are reported to have been in use from the 7th to the 9th centuries.

The Slavs who arrived through the Hargita reached the upper valley of the Küküllő rivers around the middle of the 7th century. The 'Prague type' pottery found in the region must date from the very beginning of settlement. The hand-made pots are more of an Avar type, and the utilization of potter's wheels probably spread from territories controlled by the Avars. This pattern is found on sites in the Kis-Küküllő valley. The settlement near the Lóc creek, at Bözöd-Doborotványa-Nagyszénafű, consists of huts with ovens made of stone slabs; 7th century, early Slavic pots were found in its lower layer, and 7th–8th century, late Slavic pots, bearing the mark of Avar influence, in the upper. At Székelyszállás-Hímes-völgy, the huts (with square and horseshoe-shaped stone ovens, some with a stone apron) yielded pots and baking pans of the Prague-Penkovka type, Avar-influenced vessels, hand-made and with an indented rim, and pottery fashioned on the wheel. The largest settlement to be uncovered is in the Nagy-Küküllő valley, at Fiatfalva-Nagyerdő, near Székelykeresztúr; the many huts on the site were built and inhabited over a long period of time. The origins of the settlement are dated by hand-made 'klebci', pots of the Prague-Penkovka type, {1-250.} and a fragment from a 7th century, Slavic fibula. The Avar-type, hand-made dishes are followed in time by 'Avar-influenced' ceramics made on the potter's wheel (Avar arrowheads were also found), and it is only at the end of the 8th century that a more Slavic style reappears. Part of a similar settlement has been excavated in the nearby Székelykeresztúr-Körtevár valley, by the Várpataka stream. It was the first Transylvanian site to yield a trace of Slav jewellers: a casting mould for typically Slavic pendants. The mould's derivation is evoked by a similar object, dating from the 6th–7th century, that was found at Bucharest-Funden. Yet another contemporary settlement has been discovered on a hillside at Székelykeresztúr-Fenyőalja.

The find of a Byzantine bronze coin, exceedingly rare for the period, that dates from Constantine V and Leo IV (751–775) provides evidence that the Slavs eventually followed another route of access, along the Olt River; the coin may also mark a Slav settlement at Vojla, in the Fogarasföld. The settlement at Kiscsűr — eleven houses, with stone fireplaces and postholes at the corners — probably dates from this period; its beginnings are marked by hand-made dishes and a Slavic spur from the Avar era, and it survived into the 8th, or even the 9th century.

Most of the authenticated traces of Slavic presence in 8th–10th centuries have been found in the Feketeügy valley and the environs of the Olt and Nagy-Küküllő rivers, but it is far from clear whether this owes to chance or to the actual pattern of settlement. The largest sites are at Segesvár-Szőlők (where there is evidence of strong Avar influence) and at Siménfalva-Nyikó-völgy (26 huts); also noteworthy are the huts with stone fireplaces found at Szászhermány and those showing a post-type of construction at Ocfalva-Mihályfalva. Huts (mostly with stone fireplaces) that date from this period have also been discovered at Székelyszenterzsébet (4 dwellings) Angyalos, Sepsiszentgyörgy-Kula-kert, Uzon, Szotyor, Szászveresmart (Rotbach), Szászhermány-Templomudvar, {1-251.} Homoróddaróc-Templomkert, and Barót. It is in this period that the long-abandoned Roman castrum at Sóvárad began to be resettled, and that the upper settlement flourished Kézdipolyán-Kőhát (16 huts, with ceramics that were already fashioned on the wheel). So far, little information has surfaced regarding the traces of Slavic settlement discovered in the Máramaros, around the Tisza, Szamos, and Lapos rivers (Tiszakarácsonyfalva, Szarvasszó, Kisnyíres, Nagysomkút, Somkútpataka, and Nagybánya); although their origins are unclear, they appear to belong to a relatively early period.

The history of Slavic settlement presents some unresolved problems. Slavic cemeteries, dating from the 7th century and later, have been found in Transylvania, but they are located well away from the zone, in the southeast, where the traces of settlement are concentrated. So far, Slavic cremation graves have been found only to the west of that zone, in the middle of the Transylvanian Basin and in Királyföld (Königsboden), and those regions encompassed mainly Avar settlements; it is not surprising, therefore, that those larger Slavic cemeteries which were professionally excavated show traces of two distinct funeral rites. On the other hand, the discovery of large, well-established villages in the valleys of eastern and southeastern Transylvania indicates that those were regions most densely settled by Slav farmers. The failure to find the cemeteries belonging to these villages must therefore be due to chance.

So far, the oldest to be found are the two graveyards (with urns) north and northwest of Kolozsvár. It is likely that they are traces of the Slavs who moved into Transylvania in the 7th century along the Upper Tisza and the Szamos rivers. The small, hand-made urns, of the 'Nezvisko-Prague' type, that were found at Nádasdaróc-Kisdomb contained nothing but ashes, which reinforces the conclusion that they date from the early period of Slav settlement. One of likely routes taken by the Slavs, through the Meszes Gate, is marked at Piskolt-Homokbánya (Szatmár county) {1-252.} by an urn cemetery; a hand-fashioned, 'Prague type' urn yielded Avar iron fire-starters from the 7th–8th century Avar as well as a belt hook. The urn graves at Doboka are from the late Avar period. One of the urns is reported to be hand-made; another cremation grave — with scattered ashes (?) — dates from the late 8th century, for it yielded an Avar cast bronze belt decoration, with a flat, tendril-patterned pendant. The urn graves at Beszterce, known only from 19th century accounts, come from the same period and general area as the ones previously noted; more recently, a large, 'Prague type' urn was unearthed on the site.

The Slav group that buried its dead at Tordas had evidently separated from others who settled in the 7th–8th century around the upper reaches of the Küküllő rivers, and moved westwards. The cemetery's initial period is marked by hand-made urns (end of the 7th century?), but the site remained in use throughout the 8th-10th centuries. A similar case is that of the cemetery at Nagyekemező, near Nagy-Küküllő (30 urn graves). A Byzantine bronze buckle, found on a belt in the cemetery's 'skeleton grave' (the above-mentioned Avar grave), dates the cemetery back to the last third of the 7th century; the object is similar to the easily-dated buckles found at Keszthely-Dobogó, at Zsély (grave 564, containing a sabre, braid clasp, and decorated belt), at Szentes-Kaján (grave 207, a woman's grave), and Szeged-Makkos-erdő (grave 44). The spartan quality of the urn graves is another indication of the cemetery's early origins. The cemetery at Mihályfalva (40 urn graves) was also established in the 7th century; the site yielded unadorned urns, some hand-made, and a bronze hair clasp, with twisted spiral tip, of the Marosgombás-Marosveresmart type; in the excavated section of the cemetery, the early graves lie amidst the more numerous 9th–10th century urn graves, arranged in rows and clusters.

The largest site in the Carpathian Basin of Slavic urn-graves was on the south bank of the Nagy Küküllő, at Baráthely 2. Moreover, that is the only confirmed site where a significant number {1-253.} of Avars cohabited with Slavs: the cemetery holds 36 graves of Avar origin (34 with skeletons, 2 with horses) as well as 210 graves of cremated Slavs (34 in urns). The Avar graves are scattered throughout the site, most of them in the alignment that characterizes the late Avar period. Some 90% of the Avar objects found in the cemetery (stirrup, bridle, cast-bronze belt ornaments, earrings adorned with tiny spheres, beads shaped like melon seeds, iron strike-a-light, and pottery) came from graves that held a skeleton. The rites, clothing, accessories and funeral objects are similar to those found in other regions of the Avar empire, at cemeteries of less wealthy, Avar villages dating from the 8th century. The find in four cremation graves of an Avar earring with tiny spheres, a crescent-shaped earring with silver pendant, an iron rattle, and some cast-bronze belt ornaments with a tendril pattern is particularly significant, for it serves as proof of cohabitation.

All of the archaeological finds at Baráthely 2 confirm that the urn cemetery came into use no earlier than the end of the 8th century; therefore, there could not have been any continuity between Baráthely 2 and Baráthely 1, a cemetery, dating from the 3rd–4th centuries, where ashes were simply interred. The Avar presence at Baráthely 2 remains evident as late as the early 800s; for instance, the grave holding a horse and full harness is of very late origin. The early hand-made, 'Prague type' urns and dishes are notable by their absence; the earliest Slavic urns in the cemetery hold 8th–9th century pots, fashioned on a wheel and bearing a wavy linear pattern, and similar to those found at sites in the Küküllő valley. Most of the Slav burials date from the post-Avar period ('Medgyes type' urns and dishes), when few personal accessories — only a few beads and iron knives — found their way into the graves. The cemetery essentially dates from the 9th century, although a few urns testify that it remained in use after the Hungarian settlement in the 10th century.

An extensive graveyard of Slavs buried in urns, and one that is characteristic of the late Avar period (the 8th and early 9th centuries), {1-254.} was found at Vizakna-Láb (120 cremation graves and 16 graves holding skeletons). Its beginnings can be dated by a late Avar bone carving and, perhaps, by the fragment of a decorated jar. Anthropological analysis indicates that 82 (out of 88) urns each held the ashes of two persons. If this finding is valid, it indicates that the sacrifice — voluntary or otherwise — of widows was practised among Transylvania's Slavs in the 8th–9th century.

The section of a cremation cemetery uncovered at the confines of Nagyszeben-Szenterzsébetfalva, near Kalten Brunnen, dates from the same period; it holds (including earlier finds) 73 urn graves, one grave of ashes, and one with a skeleton. In this rather densely populated section, the graves are not laid out in rows or groups, and thus the only links that can be inferred are domestic ones. Apart from one Byzantine ring, the grave finds are modest: a few iron knives, iron clips, and iron strikes-a-light that indicate men's graves, and a few glass beads and iron bracelets from what are probably women's graves. The urns, fashioned on a wheel, are decorated in somewhat random fashion with wavy lines and bunched-up lines, or with incised, wavy stripes, all of these being essentially 8th–9th century patterns. The urn graves at Kisselyk, Kisprázsmár, and Szászsebes also date from the 8th century.

The urn cemetery, which was the basis of the Transylvanian sites of Slavic cremation graves known as 'horizons' or 'groups', was only established in the 9th century. The group of urn graves excavated at Medgyes-Galgenberg has a layout that departs from earlier practice: the urns were buried into two straight and widely separated rows. The urns, made on a wheel, are distinctively decorated, with close-set, horizontal lines; many of them have a master's mark stamped on the bottom. At least half of the graves of Baráthely 2 hold Medgyes-type urns, and the same type is found in the later urn graves at Mihályfalva and Tordas. There is less information about a number of other finds: an urn cemetery at Marosújvár-Csongva, the 300-grave cemetery at Berve (of mixed rite, {1-255.} and holding mostly urn graves, as well as a few, scattered cremation graves and graves with skeletons), two urn cemeteries at Mezőszopor, and the urn graves at Oláhgorbó, Balázsfalva, and Gyulafehérvár.

The Slavs' cremation cemeteries in Transylvania, dating from the 7th–10th centuries, show a rather dismal uniformity. The graveyards — with a few exceptions that may be explained by inadequate research — consist of a few graves that contain skeletons. The rites, objects, and garments point to the possibility that these graves hold either the Avar chiefs of Slav communities (Baráthely 2, Mihályfalva) or Slav chiefs who had adopted Avar ways and acted on behalf of the Avars. The majority of Slavs was cremated and buried in pits or urns, which occasionally held iron knives, strike-a-light implements, or, even more rarely, jewellery (hair clasps, earrings, beads). Whether such modest burials were imposed by a specific funeral rite, or whether they reflected economic and social circumstances, has long been a matter of debate, and even this question probably oversimplifies the problem.

The Slavs who advanced westward and southwestward in the 6th–7th centuries had a material culture less developed than that of their European contemporaries. This backwardness was indicated by their ignorance of the potter's wheel and of any but the most primitive techniques for working bronze and iron. On the other hand, their knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry, and indeed their settlements and houses, differed little from those of the Germanic tribes of Central Europe. The groups that headed for the Lower Danube were led by military (tribal) chiefs, many of whom were known by name to the Byzantines; thus their society had evolved beyond the level of closed clans.

The Slavs' permanent village settlements (such as Kézdipolyán, Fiatfalva, Siménfalva, and Székelyszállás), each consisting of some 30–40 huts, bear witness to centuries of agricultural activity. The contradiction between this and the modesty of their {1-256.} graveyards is more apparent than real. The excavated parts of cemeteries at Baráthely, Szenterzsébet, Mihályfalva, and Tordas display the same material culture and continuity.

So far, the cremation graves have revealed little about the Transylvanian Slavs' social structure in the 7th–10th centuries. At first glance, the graveyards seem archaic: they belong to clans, hold clusters of families (revealed by the rows of graves at Medgyes, Mihályfalva, and Tordas), and bear the traces of sacrificed widows and utter 'paganism'. This picture seems to fit the Transylvanian Slavs, who, despite their geographically central location, were at the margin of the Western Slavs' cultural development. The economic development, and the consequent social structure of the Western Slavs was affected by their proximity to the Merovingian, and then Carolingian empires. Similarly, the Southern Slavs felt the impact of neighbouring Byzantium. The Eastern Slavs found themselves at the meeting point of trade routes and economic forces. The Slavs of Transylvania were the only group that was isolated from such influences.

It must also be taken into account that the Slav cemeteries discovered so far all lie in the middle of the Transylvanian Basin, the region where the Slavs were came — willingly or otherwise — under the direct rule of the Avars. Their lives must have been onerous: they mined salt, felled trees, and paid tax in grain and animals. Their constituted what amounted to a servant class, and this status was only confirmed when they fell under the rule of the Bulgars. By the 9th century, the chiefs and leaders were buried (in skeleton graves) in the same simple style as were ordinary Slavs. And the demands made upon them by their Avar masters probably grew heavier.

Hungarian written sources, which became prevalent in the 11th–12th centuries, make note of many Slavic names of rivers and sites in Transylvania and the Temes region. A chronological analysis of archaeological finds suggests that some of these names — {1-257.} such as those, noted earlier, of rivers in the Háromszék Basin — date from the arrival of the Slavs. According to this analysis, the Slavic names of two tributaries of the Nagy-Szamos River (Beszterce = bystra/bystrica = 'swift'; Lekence = lekenica = 'with water lilies') are of early origin, as are those of two tributaries of the Olt (Cibin = sybin = 'with dogberries'; Cód = sade = 'sedimented'). The presence of Slav villages along the upper reaches of the Küküllő rivers, east of the Avar settlement area, explains why the rivers acquired the Slavic name Tirnava. The fact that the cemetery at Baráthely 2 was used concurrently by Avars and Slavs accords with the contemporary, and equally concurrent application of two names to the river, Kökeleg ('blue') and Tirnava ('sloe-coloured').

The emergence in the 8th–9th centuries of the Szilágynagyfalu-type block of Slav settlements (see below) fully accounts for the Slavic origin of several names of rivers: the Kraszna (= krasna = 'red river'), Deberke (= dabreka = 'good river'), Lona (= lovini = 'fishing river'), and Lozsád (= luža = 'flat, marshy'), which are tributaries of the Szamos and Kis-Szamos, and the Bisztra (= bystra = 'swift'), a tributary of the Berettyó. There is not sufficient archaeological data to date the origin of Slavic river names on the right side of the Szamos. Further study of the settlement and urn cemetery at Zsebely/Széphely may one day serve to date the Slavic river names in the Temes region and Krassó-Severin.

It seems that Küküllő-Tirnava and the names of rivers in Háromszék and Beszterce date from the 7th–8th centuries. With regard to other river names, however, it must be borne in mind that the Slavs arrived in some Transylvanian regions as early as the 7th century, and left traces at least up to the end of the 12th century; indeed, there is archaeological evidence of their presence in Máramaros as late as the 12th–13th century (Máramarossziget, Szarvasszó). A succession of major political changes — Avar, Bulgar, and Hungarian resettlements, followed by administrative and settlement policies of the Hungarian feudal state — must have {1-258.} had a profound impact on the circumstances of the Transylvanian Slavs, but there is insufficient evidence to trace the resulting changes. Thus caution must be exercised in using archaeological data to demonstrate continuity in the Slavic names of rivers, and even more in the case of place names.