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

By Florin Curta | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
ELITES AND GROUP IDENTITY NORTH OF
THE DANUBE FRONTIER: THE
ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE

If the social label of various ethnic identities in barbaricum, both East and West, can be pinned down to material culture, matters are more difficult when it comes to the symbols by which Slavic ethnicity may have been expressed. Archaeologists, from Ivan BorkovskÝ to Volodymyr Baran, have focused on specific artifacts, particularly pottery, in an effort to reconstruct a “Slavic culture” by which Slavic ethnicity may be then identified at any place and time. In the first chapter, I discussed the problems and difficulties involved in this approach. I will attempt now to show that, just as with contemporary Gepids, Lombards, or Bulgars, no particular item was ethnically specific to the Slavs. Material culture, nevertheless, played a crucial role in building ethnic boundaries. The social mechanisms by which artifacts were manipulated and used for statements of group identity may well have been at work in “Sclavinia, ” just as in “Lombardia” or “Gepidia. ”

A survey of Slavic archaeology is beyond the scope of this work. By default, a discussion of Slavic ethnicity will entail only certain aspects of the Slavic culture, if such a thing ever existed. Instead of a standard description of material culture items, which is the current practice with monographs on the Slavic culture,1 I will focus on only three issues, which I believe are relevant for the formation of a Slavic ethnie.

First, I will examine problems of chronology, which are fundamental for the understanding of changes in material culture and their historical background. Much too often, archaeologists have imposed the rigid framework of written sources on the archaeological record, without acknowledging chronological discrepancies. Second, I will focus on a specific group of bow fibulae, which the German archaeologist Joachim Werner first called “Slavic” brooches.2 More than any other artifactcategory (with the exception, perhaps, of pottery), this group of fibulae

____________________
1
E.g., Parczewski 1993.
2
Werner 1950.

-227-

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