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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures

 

Vidivarii / Vidivarian Culture (Iron Age) (Poland)
c.AD 200 - 500

The later Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures across Northern Europe contained several distinct cultural periods and links with Early Poland. It was this territory in northern and Central Europe which would eventually grow into the Poland which is known by today's world, but population movements in the first few centuries BC and AD meant some rapid shifts in cultural dominance.

According to the sixth century Eastern Roman historian, Jordanes, the various Germanic tribes which had formed the preceding Willenberg culture in Poland, and which migrated southwards during the second century AD, left behind population elements which remained in their adopted homeland. These fragments of tribes included the Gepids, Goths, Rugii, Scirii, and the Vistula Venedi. In essence those groups which were nearer the Baltic coast tended to band together for strength and security.

They were named the Vidivarii by Jordanes, who referred to them as a melting pot of tribes which lived around the Vistula. Although they continued the Willenberg culture, differences were apparent, possibly due to outside influences such as the Balts of what is now Lithuania and their neighbours in Prussia. For this reason Vidivarian culture is sometimes seen as a late continuance of the Willenberg rather than a smooth progression into a brand new culture.

In support of Jordanes naming this culture and his description of its people as a melting pot is a breakdown of the name. The word 'vidivarii' is formed of two elements, these being 'wid', meaning 'far' (cognate with the English word 'wide',) and 'var/uar', meaning 'men', this being the Celtic word 'wiros' borrowed into Germanic.

This easily supports the view that this new culture was formed from fragments of various tribes. The name seems to mean 'the men from far or wide travel', in the sense of men from all over the place. This makes sense if one looks at their history of moving around or being a grouping which had been formed from scattered elements of several former groups.

Vistula lagoon, Poland

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from Getica, Jordanes, from History and Geography in Late Antiquity, Andrew H Merrills (2005), from Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, Mayke De Jong, Frans Theuws, & Carine van Rhijn (2001), from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes (Dodo Press - and C C Mierow supplies a different translation from this version alongside some dates for early kings), from the Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato, from History and Geography in Late Antiquity, Andrew H Merrills (2005), from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it).)

400s

Under pressure from migrating Slavic groups, western Balts begin to take over lands which have been vacated by the Vidivarii in the east, up to the mouth of the Vistula. These Balts prosper in the sixth and seventh centuries, based as they are on an important trade route between the Baltic coast and the Black Sea. However, as the Old Prussians, they suffer badly in the thirteenth century.

Mouth of the Vistula
The Szkarpawa and Nogat rivers feed into the Vistula Lagoon, part of Vidivarii territory in the third and fourth centuries AD with Western Balts closing on the eastern side

453

From this point there appears to be a sudden appearance of large amounts of Roman coins in the region closest to the coastline, from the later Greater Poland region to Pomerania, which is where the majority of the remaining East Germanics live.

The suggestion is that with the breakdown of the Hunnic empire which releases its various subject Germanic tribes, elements of those tribes take the opportunity to return to their southern Baltic homeland of three centuries beforehand.

To get there they pass through Silesia and Lusatia, regions which have been almost completely abandoned during the Hunnic invasion phase, as people have migrated westwards to get away from the threat. From about 400 onwards, these areas are devoid of fresh layers of archaeology where it relates to human habitation.

c.500

By this time, West Slavic tribes are migrating into southern and central parts of today's Poland, which they gradually dominate. This slowly decreases the land which is available to the Vidivarii. Nevertheless, the Vidivarii groups survive and retain a distinct cultural identity into the sixth century, based around the lower Vistula, and even later in Pomerania.

Lech, Czech and Rus
The legendary brothers, Lech, Czech, and Rus, were the eponymous founders of the Polish, Czech, and Russian nations, shown here in Viktor Vasnetsov's 'Warriors', 1898

It is highly likely that they form a distinctive proportion of the Wends who have to be conquered by the Franks and Germans in order to subjugate them. To their south, focussed on Greater Poland, the Western Polans begin to migrate into the region.

c.500 - 700

Central Europe's Vidivarii find themselves gradually being absorbed into the ranks of the nearby Pomeranians, or Old Prussians, or by newly-arriving Western Polans who are forming tribal settlements to their south.

 
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