GFC-SMC: Ethnic Identities pt 1
- Ethnic Identities pt 1
Ch 3: Sîntana de Mures/Cernjachov Culture
The Goths in the Fourth Century
By Peter Heather and John Matthews, 1991
There is no longer any real doubt that the Sîntana de Mures/Cernjachov
Culture reflects in some way the Goths' domination of lands north of the
Danube and the Black Sea. Uncertainty does remain, however, over the precise
mixture of races contributing to the Culture.
The single most striking feature of the whole Culture is its uniformity.
Apart from a few short-lived local variants, more or less the same physical
culture has been found in sites and cemeteries all the way from the Danube
to the Ukraine, and even out on the Steppe. The constituent elements of this
uniformity, however, have differing origins. Certain elements either clearly
attest the presence of a Germanic population, or are strongly reminiscent of
Germanic cultures to the north and west. A spindle-whorl inscribed with
runes was discovered and other runes have been found on pottery. Runes are
also inscribed on one of the torques of the Pietroasa treasure. Certain
types of hand-made pots are paralleled only in Germanic cultures, and combs
are not found in earlier indigenous cultures of the region, although they
are common in Germanic ones. The builders of Wohnstallhäuser seem, likewise,
to have come from the north, and the habit of wearing two brooches
(fibulae), rather than one, would seem to have originally been Germanic.
Some types of pendant and amulet are also paralleled only in the north.
Other characteristic features of the Culture have different antecedents.
Many of the styles and, above all, the basic techniques used in the
wheel-made pottery are indigenous to the Carpathian region. Descending from
La Tène Iron Age cultures, and strongly affected by Roman influence, the
ceramic wares have little to do with the Germanic north. Grubenhäuser,
similarly, are strongly attested in earlier cultures of the Carpathian
region. Some elements of the Culture were also inherited somehow from
Sarmatian Steppe nomads. Despite the homogeneity of the end result, the
diverse origins of different elements of the Culture raise the question how
to measure the contribution to the end result of the different ethnic groups
from whom these elements originally came.
The literary sources [say] that Germanic Goths were the main focus of
fourth-century Roman policy north of the Lower Danube. It was the military
power of the Goths which was the prime determinant of the political
geography of this region at the time. It seems likely, therefore, that the
dominant Goths exploited the agricultural surplus of any indigenous groups
who lived alongside them. We also have a little evidence that Gothic
hegemony had to be established by force.
What was the basic pattern of life? Did the Goths and other peoples live
side by side in the same villages, using the same cemeteries, or did their
settlements remain separate? Observations are inconclusive, but do emphasise
the difficulties of deciding ethnic identities on the basis of material
objects. This is more than usually applicable here, where a number of
strands with different origins fused to create a homogeneous culture.
Whatever the original groups from whom particular cultural elements were
taken, the homogeneity indicates that all groups within these lands quickly
adopted much the same material culture. As a result, any attempt to detect
ethnic identities on the basis of objects is likely to be at best
inconclusive, and other approaches might produce better results.