The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, c. 500-700

By Florin Curta | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
BARBARIANS ON THE SIXTH-CENTURY
DANUBE FRONTIER: AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL
SURVEY

Following the collapse of the Hunnic polity in the mid-fifth century, and the military and political recovery of the Empire in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, the northern frontier along the Danube became a key element of early Byzantine foreign affairs. The fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries were also a period of dramatic changes among the Empire's northern neighbors. For the making of the Slavic ethnie, these changes were particularly crucial. Justinian's defensive program on the Danube frontier triggered the social and political effects that led to the process of ethnic formation described in the last chapter. Equally important was the Empire's relationship with the neighbors of the Slavs, the Gepids, the Lombards, the Cutrigurs, and the Avars. The boom which has taken place in medieval archaeology over the last few decades has made this relationship far more visible than was possible on the basis of written sources alone. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the results of archaeological investigations and the problems raised by their interpretation. Emphasis will be laid upon the use of material culture for building group identity or creating symbols of power. I will first examine the evidence from the sixth-century Carpathian basin and neighboring regions, followed by a brief survey of Avar archaeology. The last section of this chapter is devoted to the archaeology of the steppe north of the Black Sea and to problems of chronology and interpretation of hoards of silver and bronze, which are relevant for the archaeological assemblages discussed in the next chapter.


THE CARPATHIAN BASIN

Attila's death and the rapid demise of the Huns opened the way for the rise of new political forces in the Middle Danube region. The Gepids were among the first to take advantage of the power vacuum. Their king, Ardaric, who ruled between 451 and 455, became the new ally of

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