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by Vladimir KULAKOV, Dr. Sc. (History), RAS Institute of Archeology
The ever first mention of the Slavs comes from Jordan, the Gothic historian who lived in the Byzantine Empire and who completed his work "Getica" after the year 550 A.D. "...Though now they change their names depending on different tribes and habitation sites, all of them are still called Slavs (Sclaueni) and Antes by and large." Fifteen hundred years are a time long enough. And yet even today we know next to nothing about the prehistory of Slavs, their protohistory. Science does not give a clear explanation why, being an "indissoluble" part of the Roman-German world, the Slavs could preserve their distinct ethnic identity. That's the subject of the book by Dr. Valentin Sedov, a prominent Russian archeologist and RAS Corresponding Member (Slavs. A Historical and Archeological Study; M., Nauka Publishers, 2002).
Since there is a wide spectrum of opinion about the historic destiny of the Slav peoples, a retrospective look into their past will be in place. We know all too little about their ethnogenesis and the specific nature of their settlements, though in the Middle Ages the Slavs were populating vast expanses of Central, Southern and Eastern Europe. So archeological findings backed up by written records come as an Ariadne's thread in the maze of Slav history.
One of the basic premises of Dr. Sedov is consonant with what Jordan had to say about the ethnic relationship (even identity perhaps) of the Venedi/Veneti and the Slavs, as evident from the very first pages of his book.
Accordingly, the author sums up data on the Venedi (Venedians) that populated also districts south of the Baltic Sea. As shown by the latest findings, a part of this community in the beginning of our era (A.D.) was exclusively of Celtic, not proto- Slavic origin. Proceeding from the knowledge of contemporary linguistics, the scholar came to the conclusion about the original motherland of Slavs that took body and form in the first millennium B.C. between the Germanic (Pomerania/Pomorye) and the West Baltic (the Amber Coast of the southeastern Baltic and its environs) populated areas. *
* See: V. Kulakov, "The Vikings Cross the Baltic", Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998. - Ed.
Aeons ago, our forefathers became part and parcel of the European community of peoples. In this context Dr. Sedov examines essential landmarks of this amalgamation process as of the second millennium B.C. The data he cites on the archeological cultures of this region during the bronze epoch ("the culture ofburial fields") show a variegated ethnic background of the proto-Slav ethnic community. However, this single community fell apart in the 8th-7th centuries B.C. to give rise to individual ethnic groups of Europe. Early Slavs peopled the middle reaches of the Vistula, the lands between what is now Warsaw and Krakow.
The second chapter of Dr. Sedov's fundamental work is done actually as a brief encyclopedia of the European tribes of the early Iron Age (the beginning of the second millennium B.C.). The scholar also touches on the ethnogenesis of the Western Baits. Yet, as I see it, he is too categorical in divorcing this process from the formation of the Germanic ethnic community, also in the Baltic Sea cultural area. It is exclusively Baltic to Dr. Sedov.
Of particular interest is the chapter on the initial period of Slav history. The author begins by saying that around the year 550 B.C. an early Slavic community took form as the Pomotye (Baltic) tribes moved to the area of the Luzyca civilization along the middle reaches of the Vistula (Polish territory today) to give birth to what is known as "the culture of poklosz burial grounds" when urns were covered by a second clay vessel (ktosz) in Polish), often rather large. Such is Dr. Sedov's conceptual premise: the Slav ethnic community was being formed from the very start with the participation of the Baltic ethnic and linguistic substrate ("Pomorye culture").
As archeologist, Dr. Sedov interprets this very ethnic community (ethnos) both by means of the retrospective method of searching for analogies
among definitely Slavic artifacts of subsequent periods and on the basis of hydronymy data (hydronymy is a part of linguistics involved with the names of bodies of water). Land tilling, along with animal husbandry, was the main occupation of the Slavs from the very first, and both determined the day-to-day life of our forefathers for many centuries. Coming next after the Western Baits (who peopled what later became East Prussia) in their contacts with the proto-Slavs were the Germans of the Jastorf culture (now lands within Germany and Poland). About anno 400 B.C. began the Celtic drive from West to Europe's East. The Celts intermixed with the aboriginal Slav population in the upper reaches of the Vistula, and this mixed tribe gave rise to the Pszewor culture * of the epoch of Roman influence. **
Dr. Sedov supports these conclusions by appropriate artifacts and related data. The extent of Celtic influence differed depending on the area, and this touched
* Pszewor culture -a polyethnic ethnocultural community along the right bank of the Vistula. - Auth.
** See: V. Kulakov, "Varangians in the 'Land of Nests'", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2002. - Ed.
off the division of the Slavic community into southern and northern groups by the end of the first millennium B.C. The southern group pushed ahead in its all-round development under the Celtic impact, in contrast to the northern group where the Celtic substrate was actually nonexistent. The author adduces data (of cult nature, too) in support of this idea -true, more relevant rather to a later period of the early Middle Ages. Already in this part of his book Dr. Sedov substantiates the relationship (perhaps even equality): Venedi/Veneti - Slavs.
Unfolding before the reader is a dramatic picture of the coming-to-be and development of Slav communities and tribes, a virtual symphony indeed. In the chapter "Slavs in the Roman Times" the author delineates the basic parameters of the Pszewor culture of the first centuries A.D. as Slavic by and large. A process of gradual assimilation of Celtic groups occurred within this area. At the time of the ruling Roman dynasty of Flavii (69 - 96 AD.) the kulturtrager of this civilization started moving East and then South under Celtic (rather, Germanic) pressure. This is how Slav-populated areas appeared in Eastern Europe and in the Carpathians, with Celtic impregnations here and there.
In his Slav-oriented interpretation of the Pszewor antiquities Dr. Sedov carries on the line of the talented Polish historian Juzef Kostszewski. However, contemporary science offers a different view of "Pszeworians" as members of the tribal union of Lugii who, from the 2nd century on, also included Germans alongside the descendents of Celts. Trying to be objective, Dr. Sedov does not deny the German presence, though he insists on intermixing trends that produced the Venedi community from the loins of Slav ethnicity. According to the author, the Zambinets culture along the middle reaches of the Dnieper was within this community since the first centuries A.D.
Moving toward the Desna basin in the first century AD., these motley tribes mixed with the autochthons, the Eastern Baits. Settling down along the Dnieper, the offspring of the "Zarubinets people" contributed to the formation of the Kievan culture of the late Roman Empire; the author defines the ethnos of this culture as Baltic. Late in the second century A.D. East Germanic tribes (Goths) started migrating from regions along the lower reaches of the Vistula to the furtile lands down the Dnieper. Dr. Sedov maintains that during these journeyings they were joined by some Slavic groups, Spali for one. The Chernyakhov culture that appeared as a result (between the 2nd and 5th centuries A.D.) on the wide expanses of the present Ukraine included Slavs, too, among its tribes.
The author gives a detailed description of the material culture of the union of different tribes under Ostrogoths in a vast region from the Sejm in the north to the estuary of the Danube in the south. He also describes their neighbors - Sarmatians of the plains north of the Black Sea, the Getae and Daci in the Dniester-Pruth interfluve (the Carp tribes). All these tribes became part of the Chernyakhov culture. The author goes deep into this culture in circumstantial detail and defines its ethnicity. For instance, he regards the primitive adobe huts as proof of the early Slavic traditions.
Like many other European civilizations of the Roman era, the Chernyakhov culture was a highly complex phenomenon for interpretation, a kind of Brownian motion of different ethnic groups and traditions. Dr. Sedov says in particular that a Slavic- Iranian symbiosis occurred in the first centuries of our era exactly there, in the Podol- Dnieper region, after the Antes came to the Balkans and the Lower Danube in the 6th and 7th centuries; this tribe already had statehood of its own under princely rule.
Dr. Sedov thinks that the migration of Slav tribes (when they became known to
Byzantines in the 6th century AD.) was caused by the Huns who, at the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., destroyed the Chernyakhov civilization and drove the Goths out of Eastern Europe. The surviving Antes preserved their social structure and, from the 4th and 5th centuries onwards, formed a more primitive Penkovo culture. True, the author adheres to the opposite (traditional) view about the mutual contacts between Goths and Antes. In his opinion, in the 5th and 6th centuries the Antes trekked southwest and overran the lower reaches of the Danube where they clashed with Byzantine troops in the Balkans.
North of the Antes, in the area of the Praha and Corcak cultures, lived yet another Slavic group which Byzantine authors called Sclaueni ("Slavenes", according to Dr. Sedov). He traced some of this tribe as far as Ipotesti-Chindes,t, a civilization that occupied a territory in what is now Romania and Moldova, by a characteristic style of ceramic pottery and earthenware. Moving south down the Danube, the Slavs came upon another tribe of plainsmen, the Avars, and were subjugated by them. Archeological findings show Slavs to be predominant in the Avar Chaganate along the middle reaches of the Danube in the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. They, the Slavs, were paying tribute to the Avars in land produce and supplied men to the chaganate's host.
The author then turns to Slavic settlements along the middle reaches of the \blga (as of the 2nd century AD. those were the Slavkino, Lbishchi and Imenkov cultures associated with a range of Zarubinets antiquities which Dr. Sedov assigns as Slavic). During the 7th century a new ethnic community, Volyntsi, arose in forested plains beyond the left bank of the Dnieper. While retaining some of the features of older civilizations (ceramic forms, sunken homes with adobe stoves), their antiquities reveal plenty of articles of circular ceramics, including the amphorae brought in from the Don and the Crimea. A study of local hydronymy data
suggests the existence of a special Slavic dialect in Volynia.
Like Academician Oleg Trubachev did before him, Dr. Sedov defines the Volynia kulturtrager as part of the Rus area known ever since the records of the 9th and 10th centuries. Dr. Sedov does not support the hypotheses on the non-Slavic origins of this ethnicon ("a people's name" in Greek) from which comes the very name, Russia, though he examines them in detail.
Dr. Sedov regards the "Rus Chaganate" mentioned in the Annales Bertiniani * in 839 as the first state formation of the Eastern Slavs. This state body, he says, accumulated in its treasury a considerable part of silver coins as dirhems ** came into circulation. But the author says nothing about the earliest Arab coins circulated in the early 9th century in the Baltic southeast (they came from the Arab Caliphate in exchange for local amber).
Dr. Sedov identifies the tribe of Slovenes west of the "Russian Chaganate" (the Praha- Corcak culture between the Elbe and the Dnieper) as genetically related to the earlier aborigines, the Pszewor civilization of the Roman time. The Germanic ethnocultural contingent left these lands after they had been overrun by the Huns (as the "Chernyakhovtsi" did leave their homeland too), but the Slavs stayed on in both areas. The very word, "Slovenes", is a hypothetic name given to the tribes of Central Europe; but then it spread to their kinsmen throughout the European continent. Dr. Sedov singles out smaller tribal regions in the Slovene massif, the lands of the future Drevliane, Volyniane, Slenzyane and other tribes, and he specifies a number of ethnic artifacts like various forms of temple-worn rings, for example.
The Venedi division of Slavs appeared west of the Oder, on the border of the German world (7th century), above all the Polyane (plainsmen) of the Lehits group. The author describes in much detail regional communities within the Western Slavic entity and furnishes cogent proof of the Slavic roots of many German cities of today.
The chapter on the northern part of the East Slav subgroup is likewise noteworthy. As Dr. Sedov suggests, some part of the "Pszeworians" moved east of the Vistula area. Getting away from floods and swamps, these tribesmen trekked as far as Lake Pskov and the Valdai Highlands. True, there is no clear archeological evidence of this migration "across the Mazur Lakeland, the middle reaches of the Neman and the Neris-Vilia interfluve...". The eastward thrust from the western shore of Lake Pskov to the upper reaches of the Volga resulted in the appearance of the culture of Pskovian "long burial mounds". Buried under such mounds are the remains of the Krivichi, a large East Slav tribe. The author describes the areas of Ilmen Slovenes ("knolls culture"), the Krivichi of Smolensk and other tribes. Dr. Sedov illustrates the division of Slavic ethnicity into separate tribes by the example of the different types of temple- worn rings. He also touches on the history of Finnish-Ugric tribes (Meri and Muromi).
Besides, the author looks into the origins of the Old Polish, Czech, Slovak, Luzyca and other nationalities and their early statehood.
The ethnic roots of the Russian people are of particular interest to us. Back in the 11th century Rus (Russia) occupied a vast territory from Ladoga in the north to the Black Sea in the south. This ethnicon became common to numerous Slav tribes within Eastern Europe. Like many linguists, Dr. Sedov sees language community as the reason why different tribes were quick to adopt one common ethnicon, the Russian one. The migration of Danube Slavs who fled from the Avar yoke in the 8th-9th centuries was also part of Russia's formative process. Making a close study of Slavic social groups and townsfolk, Dr. Sedov arrives at the legitimate conclusion about their important role in consolidating the population of Old Rus.
* Recorded in the Bertinianus Monastery in southern Germany, now Austria. - Ed.
** Dirhem -an Arab silver coin of the Middle Ages. - Ed.
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