Slavic settlement of Greece in the light of archaeological sources
Etnogenezis end ethnocultural contacts of Slavs; Works of VI International Congress of Slavic Archaeology; Moscow, 1997.
In spite of the fact that the Slavic settlement in Greece has not yet been completely elaborated, a sufficient attention has been paid to it in research of various scientific branches. Archaeological research is slowly and gradually completing the picture already longer known from written and linguistic sources. There exist relatively few archaeological sources and with their character they cannot complete with the more attractive findings and monuments of the Byzantine culture, that's why little attention is paid to them in the territory of Greece. In the last decades findings have, however, appeared enabling to reconsider the problems of Slav settlement in that country.
Up to now, the question of Slavic settlement has most thoroughly been examined by M. W. Weithmann in his monography from 1978, where he collected in detail the older historical, linguistical and archaeological literature. In the archaeological part of the work he paid the greatest attention to the time of the arrival of the Slavs to the Greek peninsula. V. Popovič treated this period several times too, lately in detail in his study (1980) on the origin of the Slavs in the Balkans. As to the monuments of material culture, first of all he worked with findings of coins and also with those of other groups of objects e.g. fibulas of ray shape.
Slavic ceramics from the excavations of the French archaeological school in Argos was described and analyzed by P. Aupert. Yannopoulos linked up with him when elaborating historical connections. The Slavic findings from the near-by excavations of the German school in the castle of Tyrins were published by K. Kilian. A new feature in these findings was the fact too that in both cases settlement findings were concerned whose bearers had used older settlement formations in distinction from the informationally published grave findings known up to then and originating from Olympia on the Peloponnese which could undoubtedly be considered as the Slavic ones. The data on these last discoveries, partially published in the 60ies, were reported in the study Sp. Vryonis from 1992. The author brought here the description of the whole set of approx. 40 vessels found in Olympia during the construction of the new museum. The author states that he had photographs at his disposal which he could identify with the vessels, he, however, had very brief notes only regarding the circumstances of those findings. It is rather difficult to follow the description of the findings on the photographs, especially the quality of the ceramics and its decoration.
The publication of several localities with characteristic Slavic ceramics shifted the discussion on the Slavic colonization of Greece to a new position. In the past apart from written information and language documents, not quite unambiguous finds of material culture such as belt buckles and fibulae were as an evidence to the Slavic settlement. Burials with weapons or with Byzantine vessels were considered to be an intervention of a foreign population, because the then burial ritual had not known such customs in the Byzantine empire. Testimonies to the raids were the destroyed Byzantine towns as well, where destruction layers were found, the hiding of hoards consisting of coins and the so-called documents ex silentio such as the settlement of the Byzantine population on islands desert till then. The discussion on the origin of the fibulae finished unambiguously by proving their Byzantine origin. Even when with certain reservations, the ray shape fibulae always are considered an evidence of the presence of the Slavic ethnic and their findings are gradually increasing. The researchers are not of a uniform opinion as to their origin, some of them consider them Slavic, others see the origin in German environment and take them for an expression of the fashion of that period which the Slavs too used in original make or in derived imitations.
The authors mostly hold to the original elaboration and classification of these fibulae by J. Werner, who divided them into two large groups (fig. 1). The group I dominates on the Balkan territory and in the Danube basin and J. Werner supposes its origin in this space. The provenience of the group II is without dispute in the Ukraine, but I shall not discuss it, because these types occur only quite sporadically on the Balkan territory. The opinion on the Balkan origin of the fibulae belonging to the Werner group 1 A-C was lately presented by A. Charalambieva with the comment that its documentation required a deeper analysis still. A new view of the question as to the origin of these fibulae has been brought by the finding of a workshop for their casting in the middle Dniester basin. Which casts doubt on the theory of their Danube-Balkan origin. Further types of the group I, smaller shapes and their derivates were probably made in the Danube basin and Balkans. This is attested by several new findings from the territories of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Very probable is the spread of all types of the group I through the intermediary of the Slavs. This is testified to by grave wholes especially of burnt-burials where fibulae are found together with Slavic outfit, first of all ceramics.
The mapping of the group I findings according to V. Popovič, which I tried to complete by new findings from Bulgaria and Greece (fig. 1), shows the largest concentration especially of the types A, B and C on the Lower Danube, from where according to the author of the map they penetrate to the south to Macedonia, Albania and Greece and to the south-east, to Bulgaria and Asia Minor. A new interesting finding comes from the Greek territory, from the locality Dion, district Kateriny under the Olympus, published by G. Gounaris in 1984, that can be classed with the group I C. As to the dating of ray shape fibulae, with most researchers the 7th century prevails, only in some cases on the basis of finding circumstances the end of the 6th and the 7th centuries are taken into consideration. From the Greek findings, Werner dates the older ones to the 7th century. According to Gounaris even the fibulae from Edesa by Joanina originate from the 1st half of the 7th century, the finding circumstances for the fibula from Dion are not known in detail, it is possible to date it to the 7th century as well.
A quite convincing evidence of the Slavic settlement of Greece in the time of Slavic expansions are the present findings of ceramics stemming from several localities (fig. 2). The Slavic ceramics is quite unusual in the Greek environment and can be very well singled out from the home, Byzantine products. Although middle-Helladic, a more coarse ceramics was found on the ancient locality Argos reminding of Slavic findings by its material mixed with siliceous sand, its shapes are, however, altogether different. P. Aupert discovered Slavic findings when examining the Byzantine thermae A which according to the findings from the destruction layer and in harmony with the overall situation according to historical sources were destroyed during the Avarian and Slavic inroad of 584-586. Other authors too, e.g. V. Popovič and Yannopoulos consider the Avarian-Slavic invasions in this year as the beginning of the settlement process in this part of the Balkans by the Slavs. Slavic ceramics of settlement character was found according to the author in the destruction layer, that's why he dates it to the year 585. In his study he describes 59 findings, among which one vessel is complete, four can be reconstructed and the rest are potsherds. He locates their station on the ground plan of the thermae, the stratigraphic situation is not documented. The ceramics is mostly handmade, some pieces were turned. The material used is mostly mixed with coarse sand, the surface is rough, much porous, the colour is brown-red, on some spots dark gray. Some sherds were made of a finer clay. Nearly one half of the findings were not adorned, the rest has a decoration of engraved lines in various patterns. On some the whole surface is covered with dense horizontal lines, elsewhere, on the whole surface of the vessel there are pairs of horizontal lines and elsewhere again the horizontal lines are combined with a simple or multiple wavy line or with a cassette ornament. In some cases the inner part of the brim is decorated as well. The shapes are potlike, with the brim turned out, non-profiled mouth, the largest bulge is mostly in the middle of the vessel height, however a shape was also found with the bulge near the bottom. It can be said that the characteristic shape and overall habitus of the Prague type did not occur among the pieces. The whole set has rather features near to the later group Popina Garvan in North-East Bulgaria. This, however, would be at variance with the dating of the Argos findings, because the group Popina Garvan is dated as late as the middle of the 7th century. The question is whether it is possible to connect the destruction of the Byzantine locality - which we can suppose according to written sources as well as Byzantine findings from the destruction layer for the years 584-586 - directly with the Slavic settlement. Several cases show that the reflection of the raids dated by written sources cannot be immediately found in the findings of material culture as well. The settlement process lasted one generation at least and the documents of material culture can be of a later date than the arrival or the invasion of a new ethnics recorded in writing. The invasions of the Slavic tribes to the Bulgarian territory are e.g. recorded in written sources several times in the 6th century; in material culture they made themselves felt by destructions of several fortifications of the Danube limes and in its hinterland, the evidence of a more coherent settlement on this territory however appeared only at the break of the 6th - 7th centuries and in the 7th century and so I am leaving this question opened for a further discussion.
A similar situation is in the castle of Tyrins (only a few kilometers distant from Argos), although we have less findings from the oldest horizon there. The rests of a vessel from the settlement round the castle are very akin to the findings from Argos and this by their coarse material containing much sand and a very porous surface. According to K. Kilian the handmade vessel decorated with an engraved ornament ranges with the second Early Slavic horizon of the ceramics of the South and West Balkans, i.e. to the end of the 6th and to the following 7th centuries. Further rests of ceramic findings from the settlement round the castle can be dated similarly. Apart from these settlement findings Kilian mentions two small shrine graves from the settlement round the castle; although they did not contain any datable findings, the way how the graves were arranged allows to adjoin them to early mediaeval graves on the territory of the Balkans which sometimes contain burnt-burials. To this horizon iron objects belong too, especially arrow points and lances, one of them with the opening for the ignition material has analogies in Avarian inventory of the 7th century. It is interesting that the site was settled in 10th cent. too; this is documented by the findings of a female grave with a torded bracelet and of a further tape bracelet with engraved and stamped decoration.
Slavic graves were found in other places too. The skeleton grave with a vessel stems from Corinth. From the Early Middle Ages further four skeleton graves with weapons and parts of habits of warriors were found in Acrocorinth as well as three graves on the Agora in Corinth. The burnt-burial ground in Olympia is of great importance for the knowledge of the Slavic settlement; its ceramic material was published by Vryonis in 1992 - it is a set of approx. 40 vessels, but in view of the unsufficient documentation the total number of graves could not be established. It was possible to identify 16 graves, containing mostly one vessel (urn), only in the grave 11/63 two vessels were deposited and in the grave 8/63 three vessels. 40 ceramic wholes were distinguished, entire vessels, parts of vessels and groups of sherds. Some graves contained beads made of glass paste with a fused in bronze pipe, knife, sharpening steel. The ceramics is not quite equivalent, the greater part is made of coarse sand material with uneven surface. The handmade pieces are often a little asymmetrical. Vessels made of a finer clay have been found too. The author compared it especially with Bulgarian findings. He divided it into 6 types keeping to the work by Dontcheva-Petkova. First two types agree with her classification, but the other ones have no analogy in her publication. This rather large burial ground could have existed for a longer time and possibly its users too had not represented one population group only. For the time being this is the largest corpus of ceramics from the territory of Greece. Even when some vessels approach the ceramics of Argos with their material and rough working, their surface is not so much porous and quite often vessels are made from a finer material, some of them turned on the potter's wheel. The set differs in shapes too; the potlike vessel with a bulge in the upper part of the body is represented nearly as often as the vessel with the bulge in the middle of the vessel height, eventually in its lower part. Therefore it is perhaps possible to take various groups of inhabitants into consideration; without a direct study of the findings this can however be said only with difficulty. The author dates the set to the end of the 6th and the 7th centuries what can essentially be agreed to. As far as the settlement of the Peloponnese is concerned, in my opinion a more coherent settlement took place in the 1st quarter of the 7th century when invasions to Crete and other Greek islands were undertaken from here in 623.
Whilst a rather large attention was paid to the oldest settlement of Greece by the Slavs, its further development remained somehow in the background. We however know from historical sources that the Slavs lived on the Peloponnese more or less without any control by the Byzantine empire till the year 805 when it defeated them in the battle of Patras. In no way could this fact mean their decline, because we know from the sources that they survived on this peninsula till the 13th - 14th centuries. Archaeological findings of the younger Slavic settlement are sporadic or a sufficient attention was not paid to them. Already M. Čorovic-Ljubinkovičova pointed to the possibility of archaeological evidence of the Slavic settlement of the Peloponese in the High Middle Ages (9th - 11th centuries on .this territory) in connection with the findings of the systematic archaeological research in Corinth. The transition between the 7th - 9th centuries is possibly represented by the graves from Meroni Pagonion near Joanina where coarse handmade ceramics and rings with shields were found. K. Kilian brings a more detailed list of findings in his article on Tyrins where he published the already mentioned female grave with a torded bracelet dated to the 10th century. As for later findings, five graves from Naupaktos can be mentioned. In two of them gold and silver earrings and rings adorned with granulation and filigree stemming from the 8th - 9th centuries were found. Further graves were found in Thebes, deposited in stone shrines with an east - west orientation. They contained pearls and earrings from the 9th - 10th centuries. The graves from Myradato originate from the 10th century; they contained tabret earrings and a necklace.
It is not possible to analyze all findings here, I only would like to mention some connections. First of all graves equipped with jewels are strange in the Byzantine environment already in the foregoing time. They testify to a certain barbarization of the society connected with the arrival of the Slavs, we therefore can consider them as an evidence of the appurtenance to the Slavic ethnics even in the 9th century and later. The jewel found in them has its origin in Byzantine models, its forms however are evident rusticalized derivates that found a broad application on the territory of the South Slavs on the Balkan peninsula. Typical is the silver tabret earring with 4 tabrets consisting of two hollow hemispheres and a low arch adorned with filigree, stemming from the grave № 1821 on the Corinth Agora; it was accompanied by lunar shape earrings, with open-work and filigree and granulation adornment as well as by two rings with a gem and a plate ring with a pentagram. A similar one was found in a grave in Magula in central Thessaly, accompanied by a fragment of a similar earring, silver pendant, bronze bracelet made of simple stick with wrought end and a booklet, two bronze shield rings and a ring with a gem, three bronze ringlets and an iron belt buckle. The grave was isolated, deposited in a shrine consisting of stone plates, the skeleton in a stretched position was west - east orientated. Similar tabret earrings also stem from the graves unearthed on the locality Dion near Katerini, already mentioned in connection with the finding of the ray shaped fibula. The findings from the graves are on exhibition in the local museum, however unpublished. The tabret earring of the mentioned type belongs among the jewels spread on the whole area inhabited by South Slavs, in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Roumania. It occurs since the 9th century, in the case of findings from Greece the mentioned sets originate perhaps from the 10th century only in view of the open-work lunar shape earring appearing in Bulgaria in the 9th - 10th centuries and in the Carpathian basin in the 10th - 11th centuries, although it has a model from Sicily dated to the 6th century. Similarly, bracelets appear in the inventory of the Slav jewels as late as in the 10th century in connection with the influx of East-Slavic elements put to movement most probably by the Magyars. Much in favour were the star earrings, their prototype originates from the 7th century too, on the Balkans they were used till the 12th century. Its finding from Corinth is dated to the 10th - 11th centuries. Similar ones can be seen in the museum of Thessaloniki (fig. 3) together with further types from a private collection, unfortunately without a more exact localization and not yet published. These are earrings with metal-plate tabrets made of two hemispheres strung on the lower arch of the earring, often coiled round with a thin wire. Further earrings with various wire and plate pendants, some of them in combination with tabrets, with others the lower arch is wound into loops. In substance they create a larger group of wire and plate jewels with several variants which has no direct analogies in Byzantine production. They evidently originate from the surroundings of Thessaloniki and similar ones are found on the burial-grounds of South Bulgaria, in the region of the Rhodopes where Važarova includes them in her 7th type and dates to the 9th - 10th centuries.
The above outline indicates that a layer of Slavic settlement kept up in the 9th - 10th centuries so on the Peloponnese as in central and North Greece where an intensive settlement appears in the Macedonian region.
Translation: L. Cidlinska
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