Revue Pamiatky a múzeá - Summary 1/2008
The first inhabitants of
The Old Stone Age (Paleolithic) and the subsequent Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) mark the longest period in human history. In Slovakia, this period roughly dates from 500,000 to 5,600 BC. During that time the Homo species separated itself from the animal kingdom and finally reached the current form of Homo sapiens sapiens.
We do not know and probably never will know the date when the first humans, or their ancestors, entered Slovak land for the first time. Based on the scanty archaeological evidence collected so far, it could have been half a million years ago; sometime during the warm fluctuations of the Mindel Ice Age, or during the following interglacial period. The first “explorers”, later to become Slovakia’s inhabitants, were probably the small groups of hunters and harvesters of the Homo erectus type, who wandered up here in their quest for food.
More records in Slovakia talk about the Neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis). Apart from the stone tools often located near mineral springs, this type is also remembered through skeletal remains found in Gánovce and Šaľa. The next, late Paleolithic period introduced the man of the modern type (Homo sapiens sapiens). These people brought a new technique of making stone tools to our land – cutting long narrow blades with parallel razor-edges made of cores specially adjusted for this purpose. The first settlements appeared in Slovakia around that time. They had a tent structure supported with thin tree trunks and branches covered with divets, grass and skins of big animals (e.g. in Košice, the city part of Barca). The largest boom within the late Paleolithic civilisation in the country is linked with the originators of the so-called Gravettian culture. They had gradually settled throughout the whole area, with the possible exception of the high mountains, from around 26,000 to 18,000 BC. The finest and most famous evidence of primeval artistic expression found in our territory so far – a 7.6 cm tall female figure carved from a mammoth tusk, which was discovered in the second half of the1930s in Moravany nad Váhom – also dates to this period.
The victory of Neolithic civilisation
The New Stone Age is often considered one of the breakthrough periods in human history. The permanent rise in temperature and related changes in the natural environment at the end of the last ice period, enabled man in various places on earth, especially where there were suitable conditions, to gradually transfer to productive farming based on intentional cultivation of suitable plants and livestock breeding.
The first farmers came to the Slovak territory from southeastern Europe. Between 5600 and 4300 BC they had formed quite a number of cultures and cultural groups. Archaeologists tend to refer to primeval communities, as they know neither their language nor what they were originally called in the area, which can be partly attributed to the largely broken terrain of our land. These groups mainly differed from each other in the way they created and decorated ceramics – one of the most numerous of archaeological findings and most liable when it came to changing period fashion.
The people of the New Stone Age, as farmers, chose fertile lowlands and slightly undulated uplands near streams for their settlements. Primarily found in western Slovakia, these settlements often consisted of several large wood constructed houses above ground with a palisade and bearing a saddle roof. The walls were covered with a thick insulating layer of clay coating. In Silická plateau, but also elsewhere, people from the mainly Bükk culture, whose pots serve to highlight the primeval pottery in our territory, also lived in numerous caves (e.g. Domica near Kečov).
In the New Stone Age we can also track roots of several significant inventions – e.g. the stone-edged sickle for grain harvesting, the stone axes for tree cutting and wood processing, as well as the pierced stone hammeraxe. The gradually stabilising funeral ritual was connected with the spiritual development of the society. It suggested faith in an after-life as well as in a higher power through artistic items, probably including the massive wooden-earth round buildings, or roundels, known for instance from Svodín, Bučany and Ružindol.
An important feature of the Late Stone Age, which in Slovak territory dates between 4300 and 2300 (or 2000) BC, was the spread of its first metal products using copper, gold and silver. Given the relative scarcity, noble look and the softness of the latter two, these were mainly used for making what were then very rare decorations and jewellery, as well as prestigious and cult items. Copper, on the other hand, could almost be used as a serial production for tools and weapons.
The beginnings of the Eneolithic period brought clear evidence of the first “mechanisation” in agriculture by using a simple plough tool – a wooden hook or dot-wheel. This was often set to motion by the power of animals, usually by yoked cattle. Firstly, the animals pulled the heavy-handed one- and two-axle carts with wooden wheels. Clay models of such carts, for example, come from Radošina and Pezinok in western Slovakia; a copper sculpture of a yoked bull is from the Liskovská cave near Ružomberok.
Influenced by metallurgic development – in our area documented by fragments of melting pots (Bratislava, Devín Castle, Biely Kostol, Slepčany), salamanders (Suchá nad Parnou, Senica, Slovenské Pravno), and remains of smelting works (Bratislava, the city part of Dúbravka) – the Late Stone Age also gave rise to other specialised workmanship, such as stone processing and pottery.
The search for new material sources, the transfer to cattle rearing, the restless times caused by the movements of various ethnicities and the gradual social differentiation even visible in unequal tomb property, made part of the population move to the country’s hilly areas. Some communities built fortified settlements there, protected by simple walls and a moat. Based on archaeological findings, one can assume that Slovak copper ore sources, mainly the ones around Banská Bystrica (Špania Dolina), were already in use at that time.
Bronze – the metal in man’s hands
It is not easy to clearly date the beginning of the general spread of the new metal – the alloy of copper and tin, as it varied from region to region. In Mesopotamia and Egypt the Bronze Age started at the end of the 4th millennium BC, in northern areas later. Whilst the Mycenaeans and Minoan civilisations were getting in direct touch with the most advanced parts of the civilised world at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, crossing the history border in the Bronze Age, the northern parts of Europe, including Central Europe, had remained deeply rooted in the primeval age. Their inhabitants mostly lived in small, village dwellings. Farmers grew crops, herdsmen bred domesticated animals for their own use, and craftsmen worked for the community in general.
Evidence of the mining of copper ores in Slovak territory was found in Špania Dolina in the Low Tatras Mountains. However, it is generally assumed that ore was mined and smelted in other regions as well. We lack the specific data on tin origin, therefore we can only presume it might have been imported or panned out of streams in the form of a tin oxide mineral – cassiterite. Copper and bronze was distributed throughout the Bronze Age and was to be found in the form of pies, cravats, ribs, fractions and bar pounds. Blast jets, fire pots for melt metal and casting, mostly stone forms were needed for producing bronze tools, weapons and decoration. These casting facilities were put into the graves of some specialised craftsmen, though most are known from the settlements.
Burial grounds – settlements – treasures
Slovakia did not form a cultural unity during the Bronze Age. Its divisions belonged to larger areas whose centres lay outside our territory. Almost 1500 years of the Bronze Age together with the mountainous terrain of today’s Slovakia resulted in an unusually manifold settlement – at least 19 groups classified archaeological culture had “changed places” in the space and time within this area. It is obvious that the density of population in individual regions was subject to natural conditions, such as soil quality and altitude with its related temperature and rainfall.
From the archaeological point of view, the Bronze Age monuments can be divided into settlements and burial grounds. Less often does the opportunity arise to research the remains of manufacturing objects and various religious activities. The last two often, but not always, come out in mass and sporadic findings. Each of the mentioned monument groups provides us with important, mutually interconnected information.
The research in settlements is important for knowing the density of settlements, the size of individual communities and family units, as well as the civilised level of each period. Residencies of central and local significance, with a different hierarchy of mutual relations, existed within the settlements. We assume that settlements and other forms of accommodation in our territory had developed, and in some periods, were subject to radical changes. We can formally divide the Bronze Age residences to open (unprotected by walls) and protected fortifications and walled settlements. Rarely can we talk about late Bronze Age findings from caves.
Burial places offer important information on the physical state of the Bronze Age civilisations, their societal layering, farming, the level of material culture, costume and last but not least the basic religious ideas of the inhabitants. In the early Bronze Age we find skeletal graves, later it became more and more popular to place burnt body remains into urns. In the late Bronze Age the manner of burial was to separate family aristocracy by placements into massive mounds after death.
Apart from settlements and burial grounds there is a third group of information source – the depots or mass findings, or treasures. The reasons for placing bronze, rare gold or ceramic depots into the ground (or water) were of an economical, political and religious character.
An uninterrupted development could be seen throughout the whole Bronze Age in Slovakia. Though there were various forms of migration and interventions from other regions, the biological continuity did not break. The beginning of a “new, iron age” was signalled by the arrival of nomadic tribes from the northern areas of the Black Sea as well as by the gradual increase in the importance of iron metallurgy.
The Early Iron Age – Hallstatt culture comes out of the younger and late Bronze Age tradition. The Hallstatt age was named after the significant archaeological locality in Upper Austria – Hallstatt. It can be characterised as the period when they gradually mastered the production and processing of iron, which did away with the then common use of bronze. A much more developed farming culture characterised the earlier and middle period of the Early Iron Age.
The Kalenderberg culture (750 – 600/550 BC) was famous for its vast lowland settlements and the power centres of fortified hill-forts in the Small Carpathians. The elite of contemporary society, the “earls”, were buried in the mounds. Along with the incinerated remains of the deceased ones, the mounds also included many offerings in the form of richly decorated ceramics. New power-political centres with developed economical and cultural life originated in the Small Carpathians, e.g. the Molpír hill-fort near Smolenice, and Devín and the Bratislava castle hills. Jewellery and the clothes and accessories of a warrior had appeared as well. A unique finding is the bone plate from Pusté Úľany, decorated with hinds and reminding us of so-called Situl art from the Alps.
The inhabitants of the Lusatian culture settled in northern and central Slovakia. They had lived there since the Bronze Age. The Early Iron Age was represented through the so-called Orava group of the Lusatian culture centred in Orava and Liptov. We are only aware of it from a few fortified hill-forts and cremation burial places. The Lusatian culture was famous for its centres of advanced metallurgy. Among the significant findings are the bronze items from Istebné-Hrádok. Famous localities include the settlements of Vyšný Kubín-Ostrá skala and Vyšný Kubín-Tupá skala, and the cremation burial places in Oravský Podzámok, Dolný Kubín and Vyšný Kubín. The Lusatian localities of the Early Iron Age in western Slovakia are the settlement in Pobedim and cremation burial place in Vrádište.
Eastern Slovakia in the Early Iron Age was a manifestation of the so-called Kuštanovice culture that originated on the basis of the late Gáva and partly the late Kyjatice cultures. The lowlands settlements mainly gathered along the rivers of Bodrog, Topľa, Hornád and Torysa. The centres of power were fortified settlements on hills, e.g. on the top of Stráža in Obišovce, Hradová hura in Šarišské Sokolovce and Somotorská hora in Somotor. The burial grounds of the Early Iron Age were in Vojnatina, Kráľovský Chlmec and Zemplínske Kopčany. The Ždaňa burial place features unique findings. Famous are mass findings of bronze and iron tools and weapons from Nižná Myšľa, Jasov and Terňa. The people of the Hallstatt period mainly lived on agriculture, cattle breeding and hunting. Known crafts included smithery, metal casting, weaving, wood and bone processing and pottery.
The agricultural cultures of the Early Iron Age (Kalenderberg culture) ceased to exist in the middle of the 6th century BC after the raids of nomads related to Scythians, who came from the East and settled in the western parts of the Carpathian basin and along the upper Tisza region. They created here the Vekerzug culture. The central hill-forts (Smolenice-Molpír) perished. The most visible traces of the nomad Scythians are the tripod bronze points of the bow arrows, which were the main weapon of the riders, as well as the so-called animal style in art. The nomad graves from Chotín, Senec and Modrany are from the younger/late Hallstatt period (550 – 400 BC).
Celts – the Iron Age warriors
The warlike nation of Celts first entered our country at the end of the 5th century. Within a short space of time they had managed to populate a large area stretching from the Pyrenees peninsula to the Black Sea and from the British isles to the Padan Plain. Based on archaeological findings, their centre lay somewhere between the Seine, Vltava River and Alps, in the area of the so-called Western Hallstatt culture.
By the end of the 6th century, power lay in the hands of the local chiefs: they had started to build ostentatious houses and were being buried in burial-mounds. Trade with the south, which brought in luxurious goods, helped to manifest their exceptional rank. The influence of these imported goods as well as the intellectualisation of the advanced Mediterranean nations gave rise to the La Tene culture in the 5th century. The name was derived after the La Tene settlement in Switzerland. The first Celtic groups entered Slovak territory around 400 BC (Stupava, Bučany, Horné Orešany). A more massive influx of the Celts to the Carpathian basin took place in the second half of the 4th century.
The Celtic groups moved down the Danube River and mainly populated the fertile southern areas of today’s Slovakia. The northern regions remained home to the locals. The Celts initially kept to their custom of burying the unburned dead bodies in a straightened position. Weapons were mainly found in the male graves, occasionally jewellery. Women used to wear rings and bracelets of bronze, glass and sapropelit. Metal circular jewellery often decorated the feet as well. Bronze and iron buckles were used to fasten clothes on shoulders. Belts from leather, textile and metal were worn around the waist. The cravat or neck-cloth was specific Celtic jewellery. Vessels were a frequent offering in the female, as well as the male graves. From time to time items of stone and amber were found. Half-buried rectangular dwellings, with a saddle roof supported by two columns fitted in the middle of the buildings’ shorter sides, dominated the settlements.
The Celtic civilisation reached its largest boom in the 2nd and 1st century BC. Fortified tribal centres – oppida – originated in Plavecké Podhradie and Bratislava. They were the centres of power, skill and trade. In the 2nd century BC, Celtic groups gradually moved to northern regions. One reason behind this was the interest in iron ore. The combination of the local and Celtic elements gave rise to a specific cultural phenomenon, which archaeologists came to refer to as Púchov culture. Typical for this culture was the existence of elevated fortified positions, often near settlements built at the start of a valley. Central hill-forts appear in some regions of northern Slovakia, e.g. Liptovská Mara at Liptov and Janovce – Machalovce at the Spiš region. Quite rare were the Celtic settlements in southern regions of eastern Slovakia, which the Celts entered during the first half of the 3rd century BC. The hill-fort in Zemplín was the most significant centre of the Celts in the eastern Slovak valley. In the 1st century BC, the Dacians gradually gained control of the Celtic tribes in the Carpathian basin.
On the border with Empire
When the Celtic colonisation came to an end, the Central European lands opened themselves up to the expanding Romans. They came to the area after battles in the Balkans, as the legions reached the southern bank of the Danube at its mid-point. The first time the Romans likely entered the land which today is Slovakia was probably during the battles against the Dacians, around 10 BC (the so-called Tuscul inscription). Other evidence of their occupation was the foundation of a tower at Devín castle, erected during an unsuccessful campaign against the Marcomanni king Maroboduus who ruled central Bohemia.
In the 1st century AD, the Romans built a fortified border on the Danube, the limes romanus. They relocated the Germanic communities from Bohemia behind this line, specifically between the rivers of Morava and Váh, and named Vannius of the Quadi tribe as their king. When his relatives killed him, the line became more complicated and the Romans had to pay closer attention to secure it militarily.
The heaviest battles took place between 166 and 180 (the so-called Marcomannic wars), when the Germans broke through to central Italy. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius pushed the invaders back behind the Danube, thus shifting the battles into the territory, which is today‘s Slovakia. A separated unit even reached the area of modern day Trenčín. The event is remembered through an inscription engraved into the rock on which a medieval castle was later built. The emperor personally took part in the battles, while working on his philosophical work Ta eis heauton (Writings to Himself) in the marching camps in the Pohronie region. His early death, however, thwarted his plan to incorporate Slovak territory as a Marcomannic province of the Empire. The Romans retreated from the regions north of the Danube and completed the Danube border.
The political stability based on a military-controlled border enabled ancient values to enter Barbaricum (Barbarian territory), largely thanks to trade. Technologically and socially, however, the Germans remained at a primeval level. Until the end of their stay in Slovakia, they neither made coins, nor learnt the basics of ancient architectural culture. Neither were they to absorb the ancient craft skills despite the numerous imports of pottery (mainly terra sigillata), bronze and silver vessels and jewellery into Germanic land. Roman influence could be mainly detected among the local elite, based on grave findings.
Ancient buildings in south-western Slovakia (Stupava, Bratislava-Dúbravka, Pác near Trnava and Dolný Kýr) were important trade centres. The situation in the country’s east and north is only documented archeologically. While the Germanic tribes occupied eastern Slovakia, the hilly north had been the home of the people of Púchov culture and the last remaining Celts up until the Marcomannic wars. Some of them were later relocated to Pannonia. The Roman period ended in the 4th century, when the Huns entered the Empire by crossing the Lower Danube.
On the threshold of a new Slavic era
After four centuries of Slovak territory being in immediate contact with ancient civilisation, the migration of people started. It brought along significant political and ethical changes. The Roman military doctrine fell apart after the invasion of the Huns and other tribes, which under their influence broke through to the Empire. In 43, the Romans handed Pannonia over to the Huns and most of the Romanised population retreated from the region. Rome, as well as Byzantium bought out peace with money, proof of which is the depot of 108 solids found in Bíňa at Pohronie.
The Slovak Germans, weakened after the battles against Rome, mostly left their habitats and apparently only formed some settlement “islands”. The production of poor-quality pottery mainly documents the local traditions. At the same time though, immigrants in the Slovak territory (Skalica) created quality goods on the wheel. The new situation also brought changes to cremation burial places. Cremation tombs started to appear as well.
The Huns founded a Nomad Empire with its centre in the Lower Tisza area, from where they ruled the vast territory from Caucasus to Rhein. The communities living in southern Slovakia also came under their power. The northern areas were less attractive to them, though they also hid findings of their existence (Bojná). The largest number of monuments belonging to the Huns comes from the area around Levice. It is assumed that one of the periphery centres of the Hun Empire was there. Interesting findings were lately discovered in the Trnava area (Smolenice).
After the defeat of the Huns at Catalaunian Fields and the death of King Attila, the empire fell apart. Heruls and Skirs most likely occupied south-western Slovakia temporarily. Original Germanic Quads formed only an insignificant part of the population of today’s Slovakia. Eastern Slovakia continued its previous development and the famous archaeological monuments could be identified with Chernyakhov culture. At the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century, northern Slovakia was occupied again. The people of the so-called north-Carpathian group, ethnically connected with Vandals, settled in Turiec, Liptov, Orava and Spiš regions. A tomb of a Vandals magnate, which is unique in Euro-Asian contexts, was discovered in Poprad-Matejovce.
The last tribe to appear during the peoples’ migration were the Longobards. They settled in Záhorie (Bratislava-Devínske Jazero, Zohor). A large burial ground was researched in Bratislava-Čunovo. Fearing the Avars, they moved to northern Italy in 568.
Slavic tribes came to the Slovak land during the 5th century. Their ethno-genesis took place in a large territory between the rivers Oder and Vistula in west and Dnieper and Dnister in the east. The colonisation process is not captured in written form and therefore we can only refer to archaeological findings. In the 6th century, their stay is also confirmed by literature sources.
Avars – Slavs – Magyars
The Early Middle Ages was to embrace several significant phases in our history. It was the period when Slavs began to settle in Slovak territory and heralded the period of the Avar Khaganat, the Nitra principality, and the boom and downfall of Great Moravia. It was to last until today’s Slovak territory became part of the multinational Hungarian state.
During the Avar Khaganat, which included southern Slovakia, it seemed that Slavs and Avars lived in mutual coexistence. Many uncovered places of burial, various settlements and general mass findings of multifarious items illustrated what life was like back then. Slavs gradually settled for and in the northern regions.
The end of the Avar Khaganat opened a space to the Slavs for individual development. The basis for later regional-administrative centres had been gradually formed. Two, mutually competitive significant principalities – Moravia and Nitra – sprang up and led to the Slavs living above the Danube. Joining the two together at the beginning of the 9th century gave rise to Great Moravia.
An archaeological research came upon an extensive construction of hill-forts. They served as residence seats of the ruling class, religious and economic centres, as well as retreats for citizens during war times. The boom of craft production and trade began. Most of the inhabitants lived in settlements and the main source of living was agriculture, stock raising and hunting. Magyar tribes entered the Carpathian basin at the end of the 9th century. Disunion of the Slavs after the death of king Svatopluk and the increasing pressure from the Magyars meant the end of Great Moravia at the beginning of the 10th century. The Magyars gradually settled and changed their nomadic way of life for that of a farmer’s. They adopted many of the socio-economic conventions of the Great Moravian Slavs and used them when building the Hungarian state.
Material culture in the Middle Ages
Individual regions of today’s Slovakia were gradually integrated into the embryonic union of a multinational Hungarian state. After the coronation of St. Stephan in 1000 and the establishment of Christianity, the vital military and economic power ended up in the hands of the monarch and feudal nobility. The church organisation of our territory was based on Great Moravia and the significant support from the monarch made it spread its structure. The prosperity base of a medieval state form was its mineral resources. Shaft furnaces producing iron from the 11th and 12th centuries serve as proof. The armaments of knights in the 11th century were almost unified all around Europe, their basic constituents being spear, sword and bodkin.
The monks of the Order of Saint Benedict, who had been building their monasteries in our territory since the end of the 10th and during the 11th century (e.g. in Hronský Beňadik and Krásna nad Hornádom near Košice), played a significant role in spreading Christianity and the culture of the west. The medieval monastery workshops preserved crafts from the time of the Roman provinces.
After the Benedictines, other orders spreading Christianity and education arrived. The monasteries, many of which functioned as credible places (locum credibilium), were also the centres of developed agricultural production and crafts, the progressive techniques and methods of which got spread far and wide. This role was gradually overtaken by the new town settlements at the end of the 12th century. The crafts, initially closely interlinked with agriculture, were concentrated in market centres, magisterial courts and settlements under castles. Many of these centres supported by the monarch’s rights turned into self-governing towns during the 13th century, thus becoming centres of craft production, trade and later also education. Given the environment, craft production could develop more and become specialised.
A German grave from Ostrovany
The discovery of a preserved Germanic wooden tomb from the end of the Roman period uncovered in 2006 in Poprad-Matejovce, demanded an up-to-date examination and evaluation of the relative findings in Ostrovany, a district of Sabinov (eastern Slovakia). In 1790 and 1865 significant items of gold and silver from Roman times were found in the said locality and these were noted in the likely inventory of Germanic Earl graves I and II, with a Hungarian name Osztrópataka (the site being situated in what was then Upper Hungary). The items from the first finding in 1790 went to Vienna and up today are admired at the Art History Museum. The findings from 1865 create a significant expositionary portion of the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest. The circumstances around both finds were not initially clear. Regarding their deposition sites, Slovak archaeologists researched them only marginally (Kolník, 1984; 1998; Novotný, 1995).
These unique findings, which have mesmerised explorers of Roman times for more than two centuries, lately caught the attention of young Hungarian archaeologist Péter Prohászka. In 2002 he began to closely explore archived written evidence in the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest about the mentioned findings from Osztrópataka-Ostrovany. He reached a clear conclusion that findings marked as Osztrópataka I and Osztrópataka II come from one grave – the grave of a Vandal king from 270 – 290, discovered twice.
Firstly, P. Prohászka sustained the results of his exploration as his thesis at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. In 2004 he published the study, Az osztrópatkai Vandál királysír (Esztergom 2004), in Hungarian. He later reworked it and published it in the German language – Das vandalische Königsgrab von Osztrópataka (Ostrovany, SK.) (Budapest 2006).
The collection of gold and silver items from Ostrovany is undoubtedly one of the most important early-historical findings from Slovakia in general. Their wealth and uniqueness indirectly suggest that these sorts of jewels could have been found in a hundred years younger tomb in Poprad-Matejovce before it was robbed. The findings from Ostrovany, and most recently also the graves from Poprad-Matejovce prove and highlight the significance of the Spiš corridor in the southeast to Silesia at the end of the Roman period. At the same time they support the assumption of Vandal ethnic affiliation of the important royal members buried in Ostrovany and Poprad-Matejovce.
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