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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Willenberg / Wielbark Culture (Iron Age) (Poland)
c.AD 50 - 200

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.

The Willenberg culture appeared relatively suddenly in the mid-first century AD, initially occupying a sort of no-man's land between the earlier Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures along the southern Baltic coast, with the latter being located in central and southern Poland. The new culture was located in the regions of eastern Pomerania and northern Poland around the lower Vistula, but it quickly spread outwards.

This was a Scandinavian culture which followed Germanic tribes as they migrated southwards from their original homelands in southern Sweden and Norway. The Willenberg eventually absorbed both the people of the Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures, replacing those cultures entirely just as the Germanic tribes dominated the indigenous inhabitants.

Willenberg (modern Wielbark) was a village in the territory of the Teutonic Knights between its initial conquest from the Old Prussians until 1466. Then it became part of the kingdom of Poland up until the 'First Partition of Poland' in 1772. It was gained by Prussia and remained German until 1945.

Today it is part of Poland again but, during its late German period, in 1873, a cemetery was uncovered by Victorian era archaeologists which contained three thousand burials. These were attributed to the Goths and the Gepids, and their appearance here marked a clear break with, and replacement of, the older Oxhöft culture.

Vistula lagoon, Poland

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Rome and the Barbarians in Central and Eastern Europe, 1st Century BC-1st Century AD: The End of the La Tene Period, M B Shchukin (BAR, 1989), from Getica, Jordanes, 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 Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, Mayke De Jong, Frans Theuws, & Carine van Rhijn (2001), 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).)

c.AD 50 - 150

What would appear to be the generally peaceful arrival of Germanic peoples on the southern Baltic shores in the first and second centuries AD has a great impact on the Baltic population there, resulting in that retreating towards eastern Lithuania.

Willenberg bracelet
This silver bracelet dates from the Group III burials (of a total of five groups), in the Willenberg burial site which was first uncovered in 1873 by early archaeologists

In all probability, due to the ethnic affinity of these peoples (albeit relatively distant by now), peaceful relations are established. The appearance of various new groups of pottery testifies to the further merging of these ethnic groupings.

The Scandinavian Willenberg culture which follows the line of the Vistula south from Pomerania replaces the native Oxhöft culture and is the earliest archaeological evidence for the Goths. To the north of the Goths are the Gepids and Scirii, with the Vistula Venedi to the east, the Burgundiones and Lugii to the south, and the Suevi and Rugii to the west.

c.AD 150 - 200

Perhaps due to pressure from the Baltic tribes (although overpopulation is also claimed), the Goths gradually renew their migration, now moving slowly southwards from the Oder and Vistula, heading on a path which will eventually take them into Ukraine.

River Vistula
The mouth of the Vistula in the first century AD was an ideal route for settlement for groups coming south from Scandinavia, but also for groups migrating along the coast such as the speculated movement of Venedi Celts

They take Willenberg culture with them, leaving traces along much of the Vistula in the later stages of the culture's existence. Once they reach Ukraine, their Willenberg culture merges with the indigenous Zarubintsy culture to form the Chernyakhiv culture.

By now Willenberg culture has also expanded outwards from its heartland along both banks of the lower Vistula to include first the northern Polish and Pomeranian coast to the west, and then turning southwards just short of the Oder to cover the north-western regions of modern Poland.

c.AD 200

Elements of the Willenberg remain in the aforementioned Central European regions, along with many Germanic settlements which have probably brought the culture with them when migrating into these new districts. Together these groups form the Vidivarii.

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