barbarzynskie tsunami glowny

Waves of destruction

Fruits of disaster

A confirmation of the “Barbarian tsunami”, the unrest and profound change taking place everywhere in Late Antique Europe, are hoards put in hiding in the first half of the fifth century. They include Roman coins, gold and silver ornaments, especially brooches, some highly decorative, used to fasten clothing. These hoards were hidden mostly under boulders, especially in Pomerania, for example, at Świelino [32]. Some have been found within settlements (Wtórek [29], Siedlików [30]). The hoard of silver jewellery and denarii from Świlcza [33] near Rzeszów was discovered in a corner of a dwelling that had burned down around 430.

The largest hoard dating to the period is the deposit found at Zagórzyn, Kalisz district, numbering over three thousand gold and silver coins, objects interpreted as power insignia, as well as gold medallions of emperors Valentinian I and Valens (364–375), and barbarous imitations. The Germanic rulers were eager to possess objects modelled on original Roman medallions offered to them during diplomatic negotiations.

All these hoards were presumably meant to revert to their owners, but this was prevented by the dramatic events of the first half of the fifth century. Thanks to this after many centuries, these treasures found their way into archaeologists’ hands.

Solidi (2nd half of the 4thc.) from the hoard found at Zagorzyn, Kalisz District; collection of the State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw

Solidy (2. poł. IV w.) ze skarbu odkrytego w Zagorzynie, pow. kaliski; zbiory Państwowego Muzeum Archeologicznego w Warszawie

Imitation of the Valentianus I and Valens medallion (1st half of the 5th c.) from the hoard found at Zagorzyn, Kalisz District; collection of the Münzkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (inv. no. 18200968); phot. by L.-J. Lübke (Lübke und Wiedeman)

Naśladownictwo medalionu Walentyniana I i Walensa (1. poł. V w) ze skarbu odkrytego w Zagorzynie. pow. kaliski; zbiory Münzkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (nr inw. 18200968); fot. Lutz-Jürgen Lübke (Lübke und Wiedemann)


Gilded silver dress accessories from the hoard found in Zamość (1st half of the 5th c.); after A. Kokowski

Srebrne pozłacane elementy stroju z depozytu znalezionego w Zamościu (1. poł. V w.); według A. Kokowskiego

Gilded silver brooches from the hoard found at Trzebiatów, Gryfice District; collection of the National Museum in Szczecin

Pozłacane zapinki srebrne ze skarbu odkrytego w Trzebiatowie, pow. gryficki; zbiory Muzeum Narodowego w Szczecinie

Two gold neckrings (end of the 4th – mid-5th c.) from the hoard found at Młoteczno, Braniewo District, stored in the collection of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow; after V. I. Kulakow

Dwa złote naszyjniki (schyłek IV – poł. V w.) ze skarbu odkrytego w Młotecznie, pow. braniewski, przechowywane w zbiorach Muzeum Sztuk Pięknych im. Puszkina w Moskwie; według V. I. Kulakowa

Alaric captures Rome

A symbolic end of the Roman world came on 24 August 410, when Alaric and his Visigoths captured the Eternal City. This event shocked the people of that age; in one of his letters St. Jerome described the courage of the Roman St. Marcella in saving the young nun Principia from defilement by the Goths:

[...] a dreadful rumour reached us from the West. We heard that Rome was besieged [...]. The speaker´s  voice failed and sobs interrupted his utterance. The city which  had taken the whole world was itself taken; nay, it fell by famine [...]. The rage of hunger had recourse to impious food; men tore one another´s limbs, and the mother did not spare the baby at her breast, taking again within her body that which her body had just brought forth. [...] Meanwhile, as you [Principia – M.W.] might expect in such a turmoil, the blood-stained conquerors burst their way into Marcella´s house. [...] she confronted the intruders with fearless face [...]. She felt no pain, but throwing herself in tears at their feet begged them not to take you [Principia – M.W.] from her or force your youth to endure the fate which her old age had no occasion to fear.

Jerome, Select Letters, F. A. Wright (ed.), Loeb Classical Library 262, Harvard–Cambridge–London 1991, Letter No. 127:12–13, p. 462–465


Changing Winds

An important effect of the migrations were population shifts issuing from south-east Europe, from the territory of present-day Ukraine.

At the same time there is evidence during the second half of the fifth and in the sixth century of the penetration of Pomerania by small groups from Scandinavia. Their presence on the southern Baltic coast is confirmed by small cemeteries recorded at  Czarnówko [35], Głuszyno, Brzyno and other sites. They left behind them hoards containing objects of Scandinavian origin, for example, gold plaques found at Skalin [37], pendants and gold bracteats. The latter have their prototype in Roman coins and medallions but the designs seen on them are Scandinavian (Suchań [36]). Also some of the brooch finds from Pomerania and northern Greater Poland can be traced to the northern Baltic coast (Friedefeld [38] in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania).


Grave 903A from the cemetery at Czarnówko, Lębork District; phot. by A. Krzysiak

Grób 903A z cmentarzyska w Czarnówku, pow. lęborski; fot. A. Krzysiak

Selection of gold artefacts from the hoard found at Wapno, Wągrowiec District (2nd half of the 5th c.); after M. Kara

Wybór złotych przedmiotów ze skarbu odkrytego w Wapnie, pow. wągrowiecki (2. poł. V w.); według M. Kara

Gold Germanic bracteat from the hoard found at Wapno, Wągrowiec District (2nd half of the 5th c.); collection of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin; phot. by A. Bursche

Złoty brakteat germański ze skarbu odkrytego w Wapnie, pow. wągrowiecki (2. poł. V w.);zbiory Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte w Berlinie, fot. A. Bursche


These Scandinavian arrivals may be regarded as the forerunners of the notorious Viking raiders of two centuries later. The nature of the presence of these early newcomers to Pomerania is still imperfectly understood: was this a peaceful colonisation, or the first stage of the plundering raids that in the centuries to come would take them to the outlying regions of southern Europe?


Gold Germanic bracteats and ornamented fingering from the hoard found at Karlino, Białogard District (2nd half of the 5th c.); after R. Tybulewicz

Złote brakteaty germańskie i zdobiony pierścień ze skarbu z Karlina, pow. białogardzki (2. poł. V w.); według R. Tybulewicz

Bronze brooches from graves found at Friedefeld, Lkr. Vorpommern-Greifswald (Germany); Archive of the National Museum in Szczecin

Zapinki brązowe z grobu odkrytego w Friedefeld, Lkr. Vorpommern-Greifswald (Niemcy); Archiwum Muzeum Narodowego w Szczecinie

Bronze brooch found at Pamiątkowo, Szamotuły District (2nd half of the 5th c.); after J. Schuster

Brązowa zapinka znaleziona w Pamiątkowie, pow. szamotulski (2. poł. V w.); według J. Schustera

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