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European Kingdoms

Central Europe


Early Poland

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa and the Near East are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right).

Poland occupies a large area of Central Europe, bordering the southern Baltic Sea and the Early Baltics. The region's history prior to colonisation by West Slavic Polans is a long one, with even the Bronze Age and Iron Age containing several distinct cultural periods. Those of the latter period saw the settlement or through-migration of various Belgic groups, northern or eastern Celts or Celtic-influenced people with a Germanic influence from southern Scandinavia, while the eastern Venedi may also have played a part here from their settlements along the Vistula.

In the last two centuries BC direct Germanic settlement from Scandinavia formed minor (tribal) states on the southern Baltic coast and west bank of the Vistula. Of these, the Buri and Lugii occupied areas of southern Poland, the Burgundians and Goths were located centrally, while the Gepids and Rugii were on the northern coast. These states were fairly ephemeral. Once outward migration had depleted most of them, they were replaced by Slavic settlements which eventually coalesced into the early Polish states and then the modern state of Poland.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

Tarnowian and Witowian Cultures (Upper Palaeolithic / Upper Mesolithic) (Poland)
c.14,000 - 8800 BC

These Upper Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) cultures which superseded the Magdalenian are usually included within the greater Federmesser-Gruppen. The word 'federmesser' is a German word meaning 'quill knife' to describe the period's characteristic small-backed flint blades. The name serves as a form of classification for a widely-spread group of similar technologies on the Northern European plain in this period.

Examples of these forms of technology can be found across a broad sweep of Northern Europe, from coastal Belgium, northern Germany, and into Poland. The Cresswellian technology (10,000-8000 BC) of mainland Britain can also be linked in here, named after its type-site of Creswell Crags in Derbyshire. The characteristic tools of all Federmesser cultures are large trapezes, obliquely blunted blades, and small-backed blades. The Federmesser people occupied caves where available, along with open sites where not (or even both together).

FeatureDates given for this grouping seem to vary wildly, from about 14,800-12,800 BC to 9800-8800 BC, perhaps hinting at the flexibility of its function as a group umbrella rather than a single specific culture. For that reason the Tjongerian culture can be placed under the Federmesser umbrella. This was prevalent in the Low Countries and northern Germany, and seemingly across the then-dry grasslands of Doggerland which has since been drowned by the North Sea (see feature link, right). Lochtenrek in the Frisian Netherlands is a type site.

The Tarnowian and Witowian (or Witovian) cultures of Tarnów and Witów in Poland are also part of the Federmesser group. The Federmesser was succeeded by the Ahrensburg culture.

Glacier ice retreat

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The (re-) population of northern France between 13,000 and 8000 BP, J-G Rozoy (L G Straus, Trans, Quaternary International, Vol 49j/50, 1998), from Europe in the Neolithic: The Creation of New Worlds, A W R Whittle (Cambridge University Press, 1996), and from External Link: Creswellian & Federmesser (Oxford Reference).)

9000s BC

By this date, what will become Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Prussia are being settled by hunter-gather tribes which all share the same cultural traces. They belong to two groups, one being the regionally-dominant Kunda culture of the Early Baltics which is a development of the earlier Swiderian culture which is located to the south. The other is the Magdalen-Ahrensburg culture which is located in north-western Germany and Denmark, which probably enriches the Kunda culture.

Map of Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea about 9000 BC
The Baltic Ice Lake on Poland's northern border was entirely cut off from the Atlantic Ocean until the ice began to recede and rising water levels broke through around 8200 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

FeatureTraditional scholarly belief has these hunter-gatherers migrating from the southern Baltics and farther east, but a more recent idea suggests that while this is correct for the Baltics, Finland and northern Scandinavia are also first inhabited via the sweeping grass plains of Doggerland (now under the North Sea - see feature link) and its dominant Federmesser culture, of which the Tarnowian and Witowian are Polish regional expressions.

Settlements at Eiguliai and Puvotsiai among others testify to the fact that hunter-gathers are present in Lithuania from as early as the eleventh millennium.

c.8200 BC

The waters of the ice-damned Baltic Ice Lake penetrate the region of the Billingen Mountains to form a link with the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the Yoldia Sea drops rapidly, by about thirty metres. This retreat is so sudden, and probably has such a profound effect on the early inhabitants of the Baltic area, that it is known as the Billingen Catastrophe.

c.8000 - 7100 BC

The Preboreal period sees the climate become significantly warmer in the Baltics. Birch and pine forests start to spread, and elk, bears, beavers, and various species of water birds migrate into the region from the south.

c.7100 - 5800 BC

The Boreal period sees the climate continue to warm and become drier. Pine forests decrease, allowing deciduous trees to gain a firmer foothold and become prevalent. The animal population thrives, with red deer, roe deer, and hares increasing considerably.

Boreal forest
The Boreal period of a little over a thousand years witnessed a post-glacial warming climate and the spread of deciduous trees at the expense of the pines shown here which retreated northwards

c.5800 - 2800 BC

The Atlantic period is characterised by a climate which is warmer than that of the present day. New species migrate into the Baltic region, including Baltic aurochs and wild boar, which inhabit forests of broad-leaved trees. Water chestnuts grow in the many lakes, and the bountiful life draws hunter-gatherers into the area. The warmness fails towards the end of this period, causing the disappearance of aurochs, wild horses, and water chestnuts.

c.3000 BC

The Comb Ceramic culture reaches what will become the lands of the Prussias, plus what is now Latvia, Estonia and Finland as new peoples arrive from the east, almost certainly the Finno-Ugric tribes who form the later core of Finland and Estonia (Estonians, Finns, Livs, Karelians, Wots, Weps, and Ingrians).

The early Neolithic culture seems to form on the basis of the previous Mesolithic cultures, but uses a greater variety of bone, antler and stone implements, and employs boring, drilling, and abrading skills. The Mesolithic Nemunas culture of southern Lithuania is replaced by the Neolithic Nemunas culture.

c.2500 BC

The Corded Ware culture (or Boat Axe culture) arrives in what is now southern Finland, along the coastal regions, as well as in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, western Russia, Poland, northern Germany, Denmark, and southern Sweden.

Central Asia Indo-European map 3000 BC
By around 3000 BC the Indo-Europeans had begun their mass migration away from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with the bulk of them heading westwards towards the heartland of Europe (click or tap on map to view full sized)

These new, probably early Indo-European, arrivals also have some domesticated animals and bring agriculture with them, although they continue to exist alongside universally-practised hunter-gather activities for some time. Both of these groups - foragers and farmers - form the proto-Baltic ancestors of the later Latvians and Lithuanians.

Lusatian Culture / Lausitz Culture (Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age) (Poland)
c.1300 - 500 BC

The Late Bronze Age Lusatian culture incorporated elements of the second millennium Trzciniec culture and also served as a replacement for the eastern edges of Unetice culture. It covered all of modern Poland with extensions into modern Czechia and Slovakia, north-western Ukraine, and areas of central-eastern Germany and eastern Pomerania. The border with what would later be East Prussia marked its farthest eastwards extent where it abutted the culture of the Balts.

In broad terms, the Lusatian (sometimes shown as Lausatian) was an eastwards extension of the Urnfield culture, part of the Central European great cultural realm which was proposed by Marija Gimbutas, and it shared roughly the same time span of existence. While the Urnfield developed into the Hallstatt of the early Celts, the Lusatian evolved directly into the subsequent Pomeranian culture, perhaps more directly influenced by the pervasive Scythian cultural intrusions of the eighth to sixth centuries BC.

This brought Ponto-Caucasian oriental influences into direct contact with the previous Chernogorovka and Novocherkassk cultural elements of the Cimmerians and drove them into Romania, Hungary, and Moravia as they expanded their territory.

MapThe ethnic composition of the Lusatian people is questionable, but they would have pre-dated the arrival of Germanics into the region (view the map via the link, right, to see the presumed disposition of Germanic groups in relation to the people of the Lusatian). The historical region from which the culture gets its name is Lusatia, situated roughly in the centre of the earlier cultural region. Today it sits astride the border between Germany and Poland, split down the middle in 1945 by the Soviet conquerors of East Germany. The name derives from a Slavic word to describe swampy land which was coined by the Sorbs, a Slavic minority in eastern Germany.

Egtved girl of the Bronze Age

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Bronze Age in Europe, J M Coles & A F Harding (London 1979), and from External Link: 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.900 BC

For the earlier phase of the Lusatian, the dead are largely cremated and their remains placed in urns for burial. Now begins a phase of inhumation burials, especially notable in Upper Silesia, which may reflect influence from the Urnfield culture. Cremation burials continue in other Lusatian areas.

Lusatian cremation urns
Cremation urns of the Kashubian Group, part of the Lusatian culture, which was the predominant method of disposing of the dead during the entire culture period

c.800 - 600 BC

This is the period of Scythian expansion from the Black Sea area into Central Europe. These steppe horsemen who appear in Romania, Hungary, and Moravia must be proto-Scythians, the successors of the south Russian Srubna culture of the Bronze Age who had constantly been pushing towards the west.

They introduce eastern types of horse gear, oriental animal art, timber graves, and inhumation rites. Before entering Central Europe, they conquer the Cimmerians on the northern shores of the Black Sea and in the northern Caucasus, driving them out and dominating the northern Black Sea region.

There they acquire much of the Caucasian and Cimmerian cultural legacy and mix them with their own Ponto-Caucasian cultural elements. These oriental influences appreciably change the material culture of Central Europe. The Baltic and Germanic cultures in Northern Europe remain untouched by the Scythian incursions, but the new cultural elements reached them through continuous commercial relations with Central Europe.

c.600 - 500 BC

The Lusatian culture still persists in the first centuries of the Early Iron Age. The amber trade is not cut off and the Lusatians continue to be mediators between the Baltic and Germanic amber gatherers and the Hallstatt culture in the eastern Alpine area and, beginning in the seventh century, the Etruscans in Italy.

Amber beads
The amber trade of which the Balts were the masters meant that amber beads would ends up in all sorts of places after travelling through the trade network - these beads ended up in the Near East

Novelties such as bronze horse-gear comprising bridle-bits, cheek-pieces and ornamental plates, as well as the initial iron objects, are transmitted into the Baltic area by the Lusatians. However, the continuous Scythian raids eventually sap the energy out of the Lusatian and finally it buckles, to be replaced in the north by the Pomeranian culture.

Pomeranian Culture / Pomeralian Face-Urn Culture (Iron Age) (Poland)
c.650 - 200 BC
Incorporating the Bell Grave Culture & Lampshade Grave Culture

The Iron Age Pomeranian culture evolved out of the preceding Lusatian culture around the middle of the seventh century BC. It occupied much the same territory as the Lusatian, but without the extension into eastern Germany and with a reach which eventually went further southwards. It is often linked to the Nordic Bronze Age, which appeared late in Scandinavia in comparison to the Continental European Bronze Age. It has also been linked (by Shchukin amongst others) to the Bastarnae, but that theory has fallen out of favour more recently. The border with what would later be East Prussia marked its farthest eastwards extent, with it abutting the culture of the western Baltic tribes beyond that - although western Balts also played a part themselves in the Face-Urn culture.

As its alternative name suggests - Pomeralian Face-Urn - the culture's prominent feature was the creation of burial urns with highly naturalistic and individual faces (the House Urn culture of central Germany was similar in some respects). Initially only vaguely-marked faces, by the fifth century BC they attained a classical shape. These 'face urns' were often deposited in stone cists (small stone 'coffins' or ossuaries). They also had lids made in the shape of various forms of hat and various scenes were incised onto their bodywork, such as chariot races, hunting, or riders. Brooches of the Certosa type (native to northern Italy) and necklaces of multiple bronze rings are typical examples of their metalwork.

The aforementioned southwards extension of this culture saw the Pomeranian absorb territory which had previously been part of the Wysoko and Milograd cultures. This brought changes to the Pomeranian itself. The fashionable face urns gradually lost their human features and developed into much more simplified versions.

Only the depiction of a bead necklace around the neck and the sun symbol on the lid remained from the previously rich decoration with ornaments and symbolic scenes. In grave pits these simplified pear-shaped urns were covered with a large pot or sometimes with two or three pots stored one above the other. In view of this custom, some archaeologists have referred to the later Pomeranian as the Bell Grave culture or Lampshade Grave culture.

The Pomeranians cultivated cereal crops, with rye being added to these northern harvests for the first time. Imports from the south were generally lower, even though Greece and Italy both enjoyed blossoming cultures in this period. Warfare seems unlikely as an adequate reason for the drop in imports, as the region also produced less hill forts now than the preceding Lusatians had done.

Pomeranian culture was probably influenced by the Germanic groups of southern Scandinavia, at least in part, while a theory based on recent DNA evidence suggests the emergence of a pre-Slavic/Germanic mix which culturally influenced the later Western Slavs. Possibly this mix can be linked to the eighth century AD Dragovit, 'king of the Veleti' (Wends), a form of northern or eastern Celt. The Pomeranian Face-Urn culture was eventually superseded by the Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures.

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 The Bronze Age in Europe, J M Coles & A F Harding (London 1979), and from External Link: 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.500 BC

Despite Scythian raids which leave tell-tale archaeological signs such as spent arrowheads, the Pomeranian culture gradually begins to spread southwards, entering regions which had formerly been part of the Lusatian culture. It also permeates former Wysoko and Milograd culture regions, and in Masovia and Poland this mixture leads to the development of a group which produces bell-shaped burials, known as the Glockengräbergruppe.

Pomeranian jars
A Pomeranian/Face-Urn culture tomb chest constructed at a time of greater metallurgy skills but with weaker ceramic skills when compared to the preceding Lusatian culture

c.400 BC

From around this period onwards various peoples pass through the region over the next eight hundred years, leaving their mark as they go. This starts with Celts of the La Tène who arrive in Bohemia and southern Poland - the northern limit of their expansion. This expansion is led by the Boii tribe which makes Bohemia its home for the next three centuries, but the same expansion also stops the Pomeranian Face-Urn culture from expanding any further south.

Western and southern Poland have also been disrupted by Scythian raids, but these suddenly drop off around 400 BC, leaving the Face-Urn culture free to expand instead across the entire Vistula basin and to reach the upper Dniester in Ukraine, thereby bypassing the La Tène Celts. It has to be wondered just what influence this has on the Vistula Venedi who may already have been in position for up to two millennia.

By the time the Boii are being taken over by Germanic leaders in 8-6 BC, the Face-Urn has already faded. This may also be due in part to the appearance of fresh Germanic settlers on the southern Baltic coast around the same time, led by the Goths.

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

The Baltic tribes remain mostly in the north-eastern corner of what is now Poland and especially in modern Kaliningrad, although they too are forced to retreat somewhat in the face of the Gothic settlement. Eventually the Face-Urn is replaced by the Oxhöft culture in northern Poland and the Przeworsk in the southern and central areas.

Oxhöft / Oksywie Culture & Przeworsk Culture (Iron Age) (Poland)
c.200 - 1 BC & c.200 BC - AD 200

The Oxhöft culture appeared in the first half of the second century BC, succeeding the previous Pomeranian culture in modern northern Poland, mainly around the mouths of the Oder and Vistula. The Polish version of the name is Oksywie, after the village in which the first archaeology for this period was discovered. New arrivals in the form of a migration seem to have created the culture, or the participants in the migration brought elements of it with them.

These people were probably either Scandinavians, or from the western-neighbouring Jastorf culture. The Rugii and Lemovii tribes are both included as contributors to this culture, so a degree of early northern Celtic and/or Germanic influence does seem likely (the two often seem to have been combined during this period in northern and upper Central Europe).

In central and southern Poland, the Przeworsk culture appeared at the same time. It was in part a continuation of the Pomeranian culture of the north, suggesting some southwards migration during the creation of the Oxhöft, but it also bore significant influence from the La Tène and Jastorf cultures. The Przeworsk is linked by some scholars to the migration and arrival of the Vandali (and others), although this alone may be too simplistic a way of interpreting the evidence. However, given the apparent Celto-Germanic influence on the Oxhöft, it certainly cannot be ruled out.

East Germanic tribes migrated into Eastern Europe from Scandinavia (or more probably the Cimbric peninsula). This much is known because they were present there over the next few centuries. Precisely when they migrated and from precisely where is open to a good deal of debate, but a period during the second century BC seems most likely.

There is no archaeological evidence of a Scandinavian origin for the Przeworsk culture, but there is some evidence of an undetermined connection between north-western Europe (Jutland, Holstein, Mecklenburg) and central Poland, western Ukraine, and Moldova at the crossover from the Early Pre-Roman Iron Age into the late period, during the second half of the third century BC. The nature of this connection is still the subject of study by a good many scholars from many northern and Eastern European countries, but it would seem to offer tentative support for a migration of early Germanic tribes from Jutland and surrounding environs.

Vistula lagoon, Poland

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Jes Martens and Edward Dawson, 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 The Bronze Age in Europe, J M Coles & A F Harding (London 1979), and from External Link: 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.120 BC

Although there is no documentary evidence, it is generally accepted that the Vandali originate in southern Sweden or the Jutland peninsula. Around this time they migrate across the Baltic, arriving on the Pomeranian shores of what later becomes Poland, and soon settle in Silesia. This settlement may well result in the creation of the Przeworsk culture, and this follows them southwards in the third century when they migrate again.

Crossing the Rhine
The Vandali probably started in southern Scandinavia, before migrating into northern Poland, and then shifting southwards to form, or perhaps found, the Przeworsk culture

c.8 - 6 BC

Various Germanic tribes can be located within the area of the Przeworsk at this time, including the Lugii and Vandali, along with the Venedi. The Burgundians are also linked to the region prior to their migration. Arguments have existed for some time over whether the Przeworsk is the result of Germanic, proto-Slavic, or Celtic influence. The truth is probably that Germanics and Celts almost certainly do contribute while it is far too early for proto-Slavics to be located this far west.

The Lugii especially are known to cross the boundary between Germanic and Celtic (although many other tribes also exhibit crossover characteristics), while little is known of the proto-Slavs except that they first emerge between the southernmost extremities of Poland and western Ukraine. Both the Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures are replaced by the Willenberg culture.

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

The Willenberg culture appeared relatively suddenly in the mid-first century AD, initially occupying a sort of no-man's land between the preceding Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures along the southern Baltic coast, with the latter being sited in central and southern Poland. The new culture was located in the regions of eastern Pomeranian 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 the people of both 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 early archaeologists which contained three thousand burials. These were attributed to the Goths and the Gepids, and they marked a clear break with, and replacement of, the 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 them moving towards eastern Lithuania. In all probability, due to the ethnic affinity of these peoples, 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 Venedi to the east, the Burgundiones and Lugii to the south, and the Suevi and Rugii to the west.

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

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.

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. Elements of the Willenberg remains in these 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.

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

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 the Vidivarian culture is sometimes seen as a late continuance of the Willenberg rather than a smooth progression.

In support of Jordanes' naming of this culture and his description of its people as a melting pot is a breakdown of the name. It 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 new culture was clearly formed from fragments of tribes. Its name seems to mean 'the men from far or wide travel', in the sense of men from all over the place, which makes sense if one looks at their history of moving around or being grouped 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).)


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


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 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.


By this time, West Slavic tribes are migrating into southern and central parts of today's Poland, which they gradually dominate, slowly decreasing the land available to the Vidivarii. Nevertheless, the Vidivarii groups survive and retain a distinct cultural identity into the sixth century 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. These form tribal settlements which grow into small tribal kingdoms and begin the transition towards a Polish state.

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