Chernyakhov culture

Chernyakhov culture
  traditional Götaland
  the island of Gotland
  Wielbark Culture in the early 3rd century
  Chernyakhov Culture, in the early 4th century

The Sântana de Mureș–Chernyakhiv culture[1][2][3] is the name given to an archaeological culture which flourished between the 2nd and 5th centuries in a wide area of Eastern Europe, specifically in what today constitutes Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, and parts of Belarus. The culture probably corresponds to the Gothic kingdom of Oium as described by Jordanes in his work Getica, but it is nonetheless the result of a poly-ethnic cultural mélange of the Gothic, Getae-Dacian, Sarmatian and Slavic populations of the area.[4][5]


Location and nomenclature

The Chernyakhiv culture encompassed the territories of modern Ukraine, Moldavia, and Romania.[6] It is named after the localities Sântana de Mureş, Mureş County, Transylvania in Romania and Cherniakhiv, Kaharlyk Raion, Kiev Oblast in Ukraine. The dual name reflects past preferential use by different schools of history (Romanian and Soviet) to designate the culture.


Wielbark culture, supposed migration of the Goths (orange arrow), the 2nd-3rd c., Chernyakhov culture (orange line), the 3rd c. and (red line), the 4th c., Kiev culture (yellow line), the 3rd-4th c.

The culture developed in the 2nd century AD.[6] Of varied origins, the culture quickly became remarkably homogeneous throughout the areas it occupied. Scholars debate whether this means that the disparate peoples "mingled inextricably".[7]

Archeology, Identity, Ethnicity

The 'Culture-Historical' doctrine founded by German archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna, assumed that “sharply defined archaeological culture areas correspond unquestionably with the areas of particular peoples or tribes”.[8] Scholars today are more inclined to see material cultures as cultural-economic systems incorporating many different groups. "What created the boundaries of these cultural areas were not the political frontiers of a particular people, but the geographical limits within which the population groups interacted with sufficient intensity to make some or all of the remains of their physical culture – pottery, metal work, building styles, burial goods and so on- look very similar.[9]

Kossina's Siedlungsarchäologie ('settlement archeology') postulated that materially homogeneous archeological cultures could be matched with the ethnic groups defined by philologists.

- Michael Kulikowski, Rome's Gothic Wars, p. 61

Essentially, scholars are tentative in ascribing an 'ethnic' identity to the material remains of past populations, although they recognise that certain objects may have been manipulated to represent some form of group identity, especially at times of inter-group conflict.


In the earlier half of the 20th century, much energy had been spent by scholars debating the ethnic affinity of the people which inhabited the Chernyakov zone. Soviet scholars, such as Boris Rybakov saw it as the archaeological reflection of the proto-Slavs,[10] whilst western, especially German historians and Polish archeologists attributed it to the Goths. According to Kazimierz Godłowski (1979), the origins of Slavs culture should be connected with the areas of the upper Dnieper basin (the Kiev culture) while the Chernyakhov culture with the federation of the Goths.[11] However, the remains of archaeologically visible material culture and their link with ethnic identity are not as clear as originally thought.
The Migration theory from Scandinavia to Polish Baltic and Ukraine was an ideal material for Nazi Ostsiedlung and argument for Lebensraum. A reference material for that era is Ludwig Schmidt's Geschichte der deutschen Stamme (History of the German Tribes) [12]

After WWII

Today, the Chernyakov zone is recognized as representing a cultural interaction of a diversity of peoples, but predominantly from those which already existed in the region,[13] whether it be the Sarmatians,[14] or the Getae-Dacians (some authors espouse the view that the Getae-Dacians played the leading role in the creation of the Culture).[15] As an informative sidenote, it is known that later authors often confused the Getae with the Goths, most notably Jordanes in his Getica. In post war Europe the nationalist aspects of pre-war scholarship were repudiated consciously, the barbarian tribes being analyzed as social constructs, rather than timeless and changeless lines of blood kin.[12]

Migration and Diffusion Theories


Whilst acknowledging the mixed origins of the Chernyakiv culture, Peter Heather suggests that the culture is ultimately a reflection of the Goths' domination of the Pontic area. He cites evidence from literary sources which attests that it was the Goths who were the centre of political attention at this time.[16] In particular, the culture's development corresponds well with Jordanes' tale of Gothic migration from Gothiscandza to Oium, under the leadership of Filimer. Moreoever, he highlights that crucial external influences which catalysed the development of the Chernyakhov culture were derived from the Wielbark culture. Originating in the mid-1st century, it spread from Pomerania down the Vistula in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Wielbark elements are prominent in the Chernyakhov zone, such as typical 'Germanic' pottery, brooch types and female costume, and, in particular, weaponless bi-ritual burials. Although cultures may spread without substantial population movements, Heather draws attention to a decrease in the number of settlements in the original Pomeranian Wielbark heartland as evidence of a significant population movement. Combined with Jordanes' account, Heather concludes that a movement of Goths (and other east Germanic groups such as Heruli and Gepids) "played a major role in the creation of the Cernjachove culture".[17] He clarifies that this movement was not a single, royal-led, migration, but was rather accomplished by a series of small, sometimes mutually antagonistic groups.[18]


However, Guy Halsall challenges some of Heather's conclusions. He sees no chronological development from the Wielbark to Chernyakhiv culture, given that the latter stage of the Wielbark culture is synchronous with Chernyakhiv, and the two regions have minimal territorial overlap. "Although it is often claimed that Cernjachov metalwork derives from Wielbark types, close examination reveals no more than a few types with general similarities to Wielbark types".[19] Michael Kulikowski also challenges the Wielbark connection, highlighting that the greatest reason for Wielbark-Chernyakhov connection derives from a "negative characteristic" (i.e. the absence of weapons in burials), which is less convincing proof than a positive one. He argues that the Chernyakhov culture could just as likely have been an indigenous development of local Pontic, Carpic or Dacian cultures, or a blended culture resulting from Przeworsk and steppe interactions. Furthermore, he altogether denies the existence of Goths prior to the 3rd century. Kulikowsky states that no Gothic people, nor even a noble kernal, migrated from Scandinavia or the Baltic. Rather, he suggests that the "Goths" formed in situ. Like the Allemani or the Franks, the Goths were a "product of the Roman frontier".[20]

Other influences, such as a minority of burials which did contain weapons, are seen from the Przeworsk and Zarubinec cultures. The latter has been connected with early Slavs.[14]



One of the most important figures in historical Romanticism, Johann Gottfried Herder, states that the Volk—the people— is the essence of history. The work of Herder placed Gothic in the family of Germanic Languages. Till then the historical sources had referred to the Goths as Scythians.[21] In linguistic terms, it is said that this is when and where Slavic and Iranian borrowed lexical items from each other, and where Slavic picked up many of its Germanic loanwords. (Gothic, however, has few Slavic loanwords).




Houses were arranged in parallel, and are of two predominant types. The most numerous are sunken huts, called Grubenhäuser in German. They are generally small in size, measuring 5-16 square metres in area. The other predominant type is surface dwellings called Wohnstallhäuser, which are of more variable size, tending to be larger. Some settlements have both types of dwellings, although Romanian finds have only sunken-floored houses. Although the variation in types may be attributable to the different ethnic groups in the zone, the differences are also a reflection of socio-economic factors. The Wohnstallhäuser are typical of Germanic settlements in central Europe, and had not been found in early cultures of south-eastern Europe. Conversely, the sunken-floored huts have been found in earlier Dacian cultures in the Carpathians and the farmers of the forest-steppe, and continued well after the period (and became widespread throughout eastern Europe). Whatever their origins, these styles were readily adopted by all peoples of the culture.

Funerary Rites

Both inhumation and cremation were practiced. The dead were buried with grave goods – pottery, iron implements, bone combs, personal ornaments, although in later periods grave goods decrease. Of the inhumation burials, the dead were usually buried in a north-south axis (with head to north), although a minority are in east-west orientation. Funerary gifts often include fibulae, belt buckles, bone combs, glass drinking vessels and other jewelry. Women's burials in particular shared very close similarities with Wielbark forms - buried with two fibulae, one on each shoulder. Like in the Wielbark culture, Chernyakhov burials usually lack weapons as funerary gifts, except in a few cremation burials reminiscent of Przeworsk influences.[22] Although cremation burials are traditionally associated with Dacian, Germanic and Slavic peoples, and inhumation is suggestive of nomadic practice, careful analysis suggests that the mixed burials were of an earlier period, whilst toward the end there was a trend toward inhumation burials without grave goods. This could be the result of the influences of Christianity, but could just as easily be explained in terms of an evolution on non-Christian views about the afterlife.

Ceramic wares

Finds from the Budeşti Necropolis in Raionul Criuleni, Moldova, 3rd/4th century.

Pottery was predominantly of local production, being both wheel and hand-made. Wheel made pottery predominated, and was made of finer clay. It was reminiscent of earlier Sarmatian types, refined by Roman and La Tene influences. Hand made pottery showed a greater variety in form, and was sometimes decorated with incised linear motifs. In addition, Roman amphorae are also found, suggesting trade contacts with the Roman world. There is also a small, but regular, presence of distinct hand–made pottery typical of that found in western Germanic groups, suggesting the presence of Germanic groups.


The Chernyakhov people were primarily a settled population involved in cultivation of cereals – especially wheat, barley and millet. Finds of ploughshares, sickles and scythes have been frequent. Cattle breeding was the primary mode of animal husbandry, and the breeding of horses appears to have been restricted to the open steppe. Metalworking skills were widespread throughout the culture, and local smiths produced much of the implements, although there is some evidence of production specialization.


The Chernyakhov culture ends in the 5th century, attributed to the arrival of the Huns.[14] The collapse of the culture is no longer explained in terms of population displacement, although there was an outmigration of Goths. Rather, more recent theories explain the collapse of the Chernyakhov culture in terms of a disruption of the hierarchical political structure which maintained it. John Mathews suggests that, despite its cultural homogeneity, a sense of ethnic distinction was kept between the disparate peoples. Some of the autochthonous elements persist,[23] and become even more widespread, after the demise of the Gothic elite – a phenomenon associated with the rise and expansion of the early Slavs.

See also

Mjollnir icon.png Ancient Germanic culture portal


  1. ^ Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376–568 Guy Halsall
  2. ^ Rome's Gothic Wars Michael Kulikowski
  3. ^ The Goths in the fourth century By Peter J. Heather, John Matthews page 47
  4. ^ “In the past, the association of this [Černjachov] culture with the Goths was highly contentious, but important methodological advances have made it irresistible.” The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 13: The Late Empire, p. 488 (1998)
  5. ^ Peter J. Heather, John Matthews, 1991, The Goths in the Fourth Century, pp. 88-92.
  6. ^ a b Mallory (1997, p. 104)
  7. ^ Matthews (1991, p. 92)
  8. ^ Curta (2001, p. 24). Citing Kossinna 1911:3
  9. ^ Heather (2006)
  10. ^ Barford (2001, p. 40)
  11. ^ Buko (2008, p. 58)
  12. ^ a b Michael Kulikowski Rome Gotic Wars
  13. ^ Halsall (2007, p. 132)The Cernjachov culture is a mixture of all sorts of influences, but most come from existing cultures in the region
  14. ^ a b c Mallory (1997, p. 106)
  15. ^ Matthews (, p. 90)
  16. ^ Matthews (1991)
  17. ^ Heather (1998, pp. 22, 23)
  18. ^ Heather (1998, pp. 43, 44)
  19. ^ Halsall (2007, p. 133)
  20. ^ Kulikowski (, pp. 60–68)
  21. ^ Michael Kulikowski Rome's Gothic Wars page 47
  22. ^ Heather (1998, p. 47)
  23. ^ Matthews (, p. 91) settlement was continuous from the period of the Sintana de Mures/ Cernjachov Culture right through the Migration Period into the Middle Ages proper


  • Heather, Peter (2006), The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195159543 
  • Eiddon, Iorwerth; Edwards, Stephen; Heather, Peter (1998), "Goths & Huns", The Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521302005 
  • Barford, Paul M (2001), The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe, Cornell University Press, ISBN 0801439779 
  • Halsall, Guy (2007), Barbarian migrations and the Roman West, 376-568, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521434912 
  • Curta, Florin (2001), The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, C. 500-700, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521802024 
  • Matthews, John; Heather, Peter (1991), The Goths in the fourth century, Liverpool University Press, ISBN 0853234264 
  • Heather, Peter J (1998), The Goths, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 0631209328 
  • Kulikowsky, Michael (2007), Rome's Gothic Wars: from the third century to Alaric, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521846331 
  • Buko, Andrzej (2008), The Archeology of Early Medieval Poland. Discoveries-Hypotheses-Interpretations, Brill, ISBN 9004162305 

External links

  • Slavs in Antiquity, summary in English translation of a text by Valentin V. Sedov, originally in Russian (V. V. Sedov: "Slavyane v drevnosti", Moscow 1994).

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Culture Archéologique — Une culture archéologique est un ensemble d artefacts archéologiques, limité à une période et à une zone géographique, et provenant d un même peuple et permettant de reconstituer un culture ou une civilisation disparue de nos jours. Un thème… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Culture archeologique — Culture archéologique Une culture archéologique est un ensemble d artefacts archéologiques, limité à une période et à une zone géographique, et provenant d un même peuple et permettant de reconstituer un culture ou une civilisation disparue de… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Culture de Tcherniakov — Vestiges extraits de la nécropole de Budești dans le Raion de Criuleni, en Moldavie, IIIe IVe siècle de notre ère …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Kiev culture — The Kiev culture is an archaeological culture dating from about the third to fifth centuries AD, named after Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It is widely considered to be the first identifiable Slavic archaeological culture. It is contemporaneous… …   Wikipedia

  • Zarubintsy culture — The Zarubintsy culture was one of the major archaeological cultures which flourished in the area north of the Black Sea along the upper Dnieper and Pripyat Rivers, stretching west towards the Bug River from the 3rd or 2nd centuries BC until the… …   Wikipedia

  • Wielbark culture — [ legend|#80f|Roman Empire] Wielbark culture also known as Willenberg culture ( de. Wielbark/Willenberg Kultur, pl. Kultura wielbarska, uk. Вельбарська культура ( Vel’bars’ka kul’tura )) was a pre literate culture that archaeologists have… …   Wikipedia

  • Oksywie culture — (brown) The Oksywie Culture, was an archaeological culture which existed in the area of modern day Eastern Pomerania around the lower Vistula river, from the 2nd century BC to the early 1st century AD. The Oxhöft culture is associated with the… …   Wikipedia

  • Dębczyn culture — The pink area is the Debczyn culture; the red area is the extent of the Wielbark culture in the first half of the 3rd century. The green area is the Przeworsk culture, and the yellow area is a Baltic culture (possibly the Aesti). The purple area… …   Wikipedia

  • Cultures archéologiques — Culture archéologique Une culture archéologique est un ensemble d artefacts archéologiques, limité à une période et à une zone géographique, et provenant d un même peuple et permettant de reconstituer un culture ou une civilisation disparue de… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Oium — The orange area is the Chernyakhov culture, and the red area is the extent of the Wielbark Culture in the 3rd century. The dark pink area is Gotland and the green area is the traditional extent of Götaland. The dark blue area is the Roman Empire… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.