barbarzynskie tsunami glowny

Great cleanup

Gold and Amber

Not all the local population emigrated from the territory drained by the Odra and the Vistula. Those who remained continued to farm the land, this is confirmed by pollen of cereal crops found in the lake sediments now studied by palynologists. Another evidence of the survival of some groups are finds of hoards, most notably, the deposit of raw amber and a few hundred beads found at Basonia [41] in the Lublin region, intended for transporting to the South.

In the second half of the fifth and at the beginning of the sixth century a larger number of solidi – gold Byzantine coins, passed to Pomerania and southern Scandinavia. They would be the remains of tribute paid to barbarian rulers in exchange for service in their army, or in the Hunnic armies of Attila. Hoards of these coins, and of jewellery, are known from  Karsibór [42], Smołdzino [43], Cisowo [44] and Malechowo [46]. Some of them had been cast into small lakes, now filled with peat. In contrast to hoards that were buried with the intention to recover them in times of peace, these are votive deposits, offered to the deities.

Continuity of connections with the South and the West is indicated by finds like Ostrogothic and Merovingian brooches (Dobre [47]) iand a gold neckring with a garnet-decorated fastener from Wrocław-Rędzin [48].


Finds of Roman and early Byzantine solidi in Pomerania; after R. Ciołek


Znaleziska rzymskich i wczesnobizantyńskich solidów na Pomorzu; według R. Ciołek

Finds of Byzantine coins dated to 6th and 7th c. from the territory of Poland, after M. Wołoszyn

Znaleziska monet bizantyńskich z VI i VII w. z obszarów Polski; według M. Wołoszyna


Part of a gold pendant with three solidi of Theodosius II (2nd half of the 5th c.); after R. Tybulewicz

Fragment złotej zawieszki z trzema solidami Teodozjusza II, zapewne z Karlina, pow. białogardzki (2. poł. V w.); według R. Tybulewicz

Framed and looped solidi of Valentinianus II, 2nd half of the 5th c. from Karlino, Białogard District; after R. Tybulewicz

Solidy Walentyniana I i Walentyniana III z ozdobnymi uszkami i ramkami z Karlina, pow. białogardzki, 2. poł. V w.; według R. Tybulewicz

Germanic imitation of solidus (Smołdzino [43]) and early Byzantine solidus (Cisowo [44])

Germańskie naśladownictwo solida (Smołdzino [43]) i wczesnobizantyński solid (Cisowo [44])


Solidus of Theodosius II from the hoard discovered at Trąbki Małe, Braniewo District, struck in AD 425–429 at Constantinople; collection of the Münzkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (Inv. No. 18213361); phot. by Lutz-Jürgen Lübke (Lübke und Wiedemann)



Solid Teodozjusza II ze skarbu odkrytego w Trąbkach Małych, pow. braniewski, wybity w latach 425–429 w Konstantynoplu; zbiory Münzkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (nr inw. 18213361); fot. Lutz-Jürgen Lübke (Lübke und Wiedemann)

Silver and gold plated bronze brooch found at Jedlec, Pleszew District (5th/6th – early 6th c.); phot. by S. Miłek

Brązowa zapinka pozłacana i posrebrzana znaleziona w Jedlcu, pow. pleszewski (V/VI – początek VI w.); fot. S. Miłek


Theodoric and the Amber Road in the sixth century

From the first quarter of the sixth century dates the letter of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric (451/455–526) to the Aestii living on the Baltic See. The ruler residing in Ravenna thanks them for their gift of amber, a confirmation that the famous Amber Road was still operating during the Migration Period:

We have received the amber which you have sent us. You say that you gather this lightest of all substances from the shores of the ocean […]. But, as an author named Cornelius [Tacitus] informs us, it is gathered […] being formed originally of the juice of a tree […], and gradually hardened by the heat of the sun. […]. Then, gliding down to the margin of the sea, and further purified by the rolling of the tides, it is at length transported to your shores to be cast up upon them

The letter of Cassiodorus being a condensed translation of the Variae epistolae of magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus senator, T. Hodgkin (ed.), London 1886, V.2., p. 265–266

Native population

A region where earlier settlement continued without interruption over the Migration Period is Mazuria (NE Poland). The enclave of a Balt population, established here in the period fifth to at least the seventh century, is referred to by archaeologists as the Olsztyn Group. These communities maintained long-ranging contacts with the Merovingians in the far off Western Europe on the one hand, and with Slav cultures of Southern Europe on the other (Tumiany [49] [50]). These connections are confirmed by finds of imported Germanic, Southern Slav and Scandinavian brooches, and also, of their locally manufactured imitations. Long-distance connections are reflected also by pottery; on the other hand, the burial rite continues to follow the local Balt tradition.

The Olsztyn Group is a remarkable phenomenon – a population established for so long in the region that did not take part in the great migrations, but did not remain in isolation either. Its long-ranging contacts come as a surprise if one considers the remoteness – one might even say, seclusion of this region – and that despite this it was still a recipient of inspirations from many distant lands.


The Balt territories during the late Migration Period, after A. Bitner-Wróblewska

Ziemie bałtyjskie w późnym Okresie Wędrówek Ludów; według A. Bitner-Wróblewskiej


1 – the maximum range, 2 – Dollkeim-Kovrovo culture, 3 – Elbląg group, 4 – Olsztyn group, 5 – Sudovian culture

Ornaments from graves found in cemetery at Netta, Augustów District; after A. Bitner-Wróblewsk


Ozdoby z grobów odkrytych na cmentarzysku w Netcie, pow. augustowski; według A. Bitner-Wróblewskiej


Elbląg group – brooch with a lateral bar on the foot from grave 17 found in the cemetery at Nowinka, Augustów District; after B. Kontny, J. Okulicz-Kozaryn, M. Pietrzak

Grupa elbląska – zapinka szczeblowa z grobu 17 odkrytego na cmentarzysku w Nowince, pow. augustowski; według B. Kontnego, J. Okulicza-Kozaryna, M. Pietrzaka

Elbląg group – imported Scandinavian S-shaped brooch from grave 41 found in the cemetery at Nowinka, Augustów District; after B. Kontny, J. Okulicz-Kozaryn, M. Pietrzak

Grupa elbląska – importowana ze Skandynawii zapinka esowata z grobu 41 odkrytego na cmentarzysku w Nowince, pow. augustowski; według B. Kontnego, J. Okulicza-Kozaryna, M. Pietrzaka


The Vandals and the visit of their compatriots

In the reign of Geiseric (428–477), the Vandal king, conqueror of the Roman Africa, received an embassy of some Vandals who had stayed back in their original homeland. This report has been interpreted as evidence for the continued presence of the Vandals in Poland in the fifth century.

When the Vandals originally were hard-pressed by hunger and about the abandon their ancestral abodes, a part of them was left behind who were reluctant to go […]. As time passed it seemed to those who remained behind that they had an abundance of good things, and Geiseric with his followers gained possession of Libya. When this was heard by those who had not followed Godigisclus, they rejoiced  […]. But fearing that at some much later time those who had conquered Libya or their descendants would in some way be driven out of Libya and return to their ancestral homes […], they sent ambassadors to them. These men, coming before Geiseric, said that they rejoiced with their compatriots who had met with such success […]. They asked therefore that, if they laid no claim to their fatherland, they would bestow it as an unprofitable possession upon themselves […]

Prokopios, The Wars of Justinian, H. B. Dewing, A. Kaldellis (ed), Indianapolis/Cambridge 2014, III. 22. 1–15, p. 187-188

Triumph of the uprooted

During the fifth and the early sixth century several Germanic kingdoms came into being in the territory of the former Roman provinces. The Visigoths and  nomad Alans allied with them set up their kingdoms in southern France, later still, in Spain. The Suebians settled in Portugal and in Galicia (Spain), the Ostrogoths – in Italy. The Vandals, after a brief stay in Spain established their powerful state in Northern Africa. On the middle Danube, the states of the Rugii and of the Heruls took form. All these creations enjoyed a period of prosperity, longer or shorter, but all soon succumbed  to the armies of Emperor Justinian the Great (537–565); the kingdom of the Visigoths in Spain fell to Arab invasions. The only state to survive out of those established during this age was the kingdom of the Franks in former Gaul, ruled by the Merovingian dynasty, and after its decline, by the Carolingians. A small group of objects provenanced to the state of the Merovingians is recorded in different areas of Poland, documenting contacts with Western Europe.


Great Migration in Europe (end of the 4th and the 5th c.); after M. Mączyńska

Wielkie wędrówki ludów w Europie (koniec IV i V w.); według M. Mączyńskiej

The Germanic Kingdoms in AD 526; after W. R. Shepherd

Królestwa germańskie w 526 roku; według W. R. Shepherda


The Archaeological Museum in Wrocław has a collection of Gothic artefacts from Krym [53] and of early Merovingian artefacts from Montedur [54] in France. The Crimean Goths continued in the Black Sea region until the 1800s, their legacy sprawling cemeteries of catacomb graves dating to fifth-seventh seventh century. Resettled by Catherine the Great to what was then southern Russia, they scattered without a trace among the Slav population.


Selection of finds from the Childeric I (437–481 or 482) tomb found in Tournai, Belgium; after J.-J. Chifflet

Wybór zabytków z grobu Childeryka I (437–481 lub 482) odkrytego w Tournai, Belgia; według J.-J. Chiffleta

Interior of one of the graves of Alano-Gothic cemetery at Almalyk-dere in Crimea; after M. Mączyńska et al.

Wnętrze jednego z grobów z cmentarzyska alano-gockiego w Almalyk-dere na Krymie; według M. Mączyńskiej et al.

Selection of finds from Alano-Gothic cemetery at Almalyk-dere in Crimea; after M. Mączyńska et al.

Wybór zabytków z cmentarzyska alano-gockiego w Almalyk-dere na Krymie; według M. Mączyńskiej et al.


The migration of the Heruls back to Scandinavia

Early in the sixth century, around the year 512, an offshoot of the Germanic tribe of the Heruls decided to return from the middle Danube region to Scandinavia. On their way back they passed through lands settled by Slavs (Sclaveni), and before reaching the territory of the Germanic Varni they crossed a large tract of empty country. This record is often regarded as evidence for the existence in sixth century Europe of unpopulated lands, possibly after the departure during the Migration Period of Germanic tribes from the territory of what is now Poland and eastern Germany.

[…] some of them [Heruls] […] refused to cross the Danube river and settled at the very end of the world. Led by many of the royal blood, this latter group traversed all the nations of the Slavs one after the other, crossing a large tract of deserted country, and came to the Varni, as they are called. After them they bypassed the nations of the Danes, without suffering violence at the hands of those barbarians.

Prokopios, The Wars of Justinian, H. B. Dewing, A. Kaldellis (ed.), Indianapolis/Cambridge 2014, VI.15.1–6, s. 348–350.

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