View Full Version : The Wielbark Culture: Goths in Greater Poland

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005, 03:38 AM
Tadeusz Makiewicz

During the first centuries ad, referred to by Polish archaeologists
as the Period of Roman Influences, three large cultural complexes,
probably associated with three different peoples, made their mark in
the present-day territories of Poland. Southern and central Poland
was occupied by the Przeworsk Culture, which gained its name from the
village of Przeworsk, situated in Lesser Poland (Maűopolska), where
the first cemeteries typical of this culture were discovered. This
culture emerged at the beginning of the second century bc and
continued to thrive for several hundred years, right up until the
Migration Period. The regions of Warmia and Mazuria (Mazury) were
inhabited by representatives of the Western Balt Culture, which
developed independently of its neighbours, and differed from them
distinctly, bearing, however, a clear relationship to Baltic peoples.
In contrast, during the first decades ad, an entirely new culture
began to take shape in Pomerania. Archaeologists dubbed it the
Wielbark Culture, after the site at Wielbark (currently Malbork-
Wielbark), where the first cemetery of this culture was found. This
area of Poland had previously been occupied by the Oksywie Culture,
closely related to the Przeworsk Culture, but differing in many
aspects from the subsequent Wielbark Culture. At the beginning of its
existence the Wielbark Culture had exactly the same territorial
extent as the Oksywie Culture. Thus, it covered an area stretching
along the Lower Vistula from Gdańsk to Chełmno in the south, whilst
to the west it encompassed a large proportion of Pomerania, reaching
beyond the River Parsęta. Later on it extended even further, into the
of Kashubian and Krajeński Lakelands and into northern Greater
Poland, stretching south towards the Poznań region. Another marked
change took place during the first half of the third century ad, when
the Wielbark Culture withdrew from Greater Poland and from virtually
the whole of Pomerania, apart from those territories situated nearest
the Vistula Estuary. At the same time, expansion to the south-east
began, Wielbark communities settling in Mazovia (Mazowsze) and Little
Poland to the east of the Vistula, even reaching as far as the
Hence, by about the mid first century ad, the Przeworsk societies
which had previously lived in northern Greater Poland had been
displaced by the Wielbark Culture whose own freshly founded
settlements and cemeteries continued to exist here for approximately
150 years. These cultures were separated by a clear divide, contacts
between them having been so minimal as to not be detectable by
archaeological methods. Thus, we can conclude that they represented
two clearly disassociated tribal groups.
What were the distinguishing characteristics of the Wielbark Culture?
Wielbark societies practised both cremation and inhumation rites for
burying their dead. The proportion of inhumation to cremation burials
at Wielbark Culture cemeteries varies greatly from site to site. It
is difficult to say where these differences in burial rites came
from; whether they resulted from differences in religion or from the
different cultural traditions of a particular family. This latter
theory seems rather more convincing, as identical grave goods
accompanied both forms of burial.
The custom of raising stone-covered burial mounds of various shapes
is another typical feature of this culture, as are stone circles,
stelae and numerous types of cobble cladding. Wielbark Culture grave
goods did not include weapons or tools (which was one of the stock
items of Przeworsk Culture burials), ornaments and elements of
costume taking precedence in this respect. A very limited number of
male burials contained spurs - the only object in the entire grave
assemblage related to a warrior's equipment. The final characteristic
feature of this culture is the predominant use of bronze for making
ornaments and dress accessories, silver being used much less often
and gold only very rarely, whilst iron was practically never used. It
should also be added that virtually no Wielbark settlements have been
recorded in this area, which means that we have a rather one-sided
view of this culture as we know very little of the everyday life of
its communities.
Evidence of the Wielbark Culture in Greater Poland comes from the
cemetery at Kowalewko. Two large Wielbark cemetery sites had already
earlier been excavated in northern Greater Poland (at Lutomie and
Słopanów), whilst numerous smaller burial grounds and single graves,
or individual items from them, had also been noted across the entire
region. The cemetery at Kowalewko is, however, one of the largest
burial sites in the whole of Poland and has yielded a particularly
rich collection of beautiful finds. Archaeologists had not previously
been aware of its existence. Therefore, it is entirely thanks to the
fact that the gas pipeline was scheduled to pass through the cemetery
that led to its discovery and excavation.
The Kowalewko cemetery site was first recorded during the course of
fieldwalking along the route of the proposed gas pipeline. Excavation
work began in 1995 and to-date has revealed a total of over 400
graves. By looking at a site plan showing all of the burials
discovered thus far and taking into consideration the surrounding
terrain, we can estimate that approximately 80% of the whole cemetery
has now been explored, meaning that the grand total of burials may
ultimately amount to between 500 and 550.
Both cremations and inhumations are represented at this cemetery. The
latter are, naturally, of smaller dimensions, the burnt bones of the
dead having been placed inside a pottery vessel known as an urn or
deposited directly inside a modestly-sized burial pit. Cremations
make up approximately 40% of the burials at Kowalewko. Inhumations
were placed in plank-built coffins, or very occasionally, inside a
coffin made from a single hollowed-out tree-trunk. Some graves were
marked on the surface by a solitary stone, whilst in two instances,
large boulders, selected for their specific form and additionally
hewn into shape, had been used. Strange, atypical rituals involving
the treatment of the skeleton were observed in a number of burials,
such as turning the skull upside-down or positioning it on the chest
or in the leg area.
No differences were noted in the grave goods included with inhumation
and cremation burials.
The deceased individual was interred with articles which had belonged
to him or her in life. In accordance with the principles of this
culture, these consisted almost exclusively of dress accessories or
ornaments, i.e. bracelets, bead necklaces, pendants, buckles and
bronze belt fittings. The most numerously encountered form of burial
good consisted of fibulae (a type of brooch used for fastening
robes), which were often very decorative and extremely well-made. Two
or three of these were usually found accompanying each burial. Fewer
graves contained only a single fibula, whilst some rare examples had
up to four. The fibulae are found in pairs, positioned at shoulder
height, with the third brooch securing the robe at the chest.
Bracelets, often with finials in the shape of stylized snake's heads,
also served as grave goods. Hair-pins made of silver, bronze and bone
were another common find. Beads, however, accounted for the greatest
quantity of burial finds. They came in various shapes and sizes and
were made from amber, glass or silver. In some cases, necklaces
consisting of up to 300 beads were found. These necklaces were
fastened with silver `S'-shaped clasps, made of either silver or gold
and very skilfully decorated. Further items of jewellery included
bronze and silver pendants and, in a very few rare instances, gold
ones. Pottery vessels, bone combs and metal fittings from wooden
trinket boxes also featured as grave goods, whilst bronze spurs were
found exclusively with male burials. Spurs were the only warrior-
related items found in these graves. They included examples made in
the Roman Empire and imported to this region. Undoubtedly, the most
attractive artefact among the vast array recovered was a beautifully
decorated bronze jug.
The Kowalewko cemetery dates from approximately the mid first century
ad, to c. ad 220. Thus, it remained in use for a period of about 170
years - a total of about seven generations. We can conclude,
therefore, that one generation numbered around eighty individuals.
It is worth adding that a Wielbark Culture settlement site had
already earlier been excavated at Kowalewko; Greater Poland being the
only region where numerous other settlements of this culture have
been discovered. Several of these sites were recorded during the
course of archaeological fieldwork along the route of the pipeline.
As a result, we have been able to gain an insight into the settlement
types and everyday lives of Wielbark societies.
The outline given above of the cemetery site at Kowalewko and of the
Wielbark Culture to which it belongs does not answer the question of
which race of people this culture was related to. What lies behind
the strange names afforded these communities by archaeologists? Who
were the people who inhabited these territories? What language did
they speak and where did they come from?
Putting an ethnic origin to the many archaeologically
defined `cultures' is one of the most difficult problems facing
researchers in this discipline today. This difficulty arises from two
main sources. Firstly, what relation do archaeological cultures bear
to specific ethnic units, i.e. to tribes and peoples? This issue has
been hotly debated since the very dawn of archaeology and remains
unresolved. Secondly, only a fragmented and very limited number of
written sources exist which allude to Poland during this period, and
can offer us some clues as to the nature of settlement in these
Researchers have traditionally associated the Wielbark Culture with
the Scandinavian peoples known as the Goths, maintaining that it was
founded as a result of Gothic migration from their home territories
in the Swedish province of Gotland or the Island of Gotlandia. Having
completed a lengthy stay in Poland, these tribes then continued their
migration to the Black Sea coast. The latest results of work carried
out by archaeologists and historians indicates, however, that the
real situation was not quite so straightforward and that we cannot
simply equate the Wielbark Culture with the Goths.
Ancient writers, such as Pliny the Elder, Tacit and Ptolemy make
mention of the Goths in their works, Tacit referring to their having
been involved in an incident which took place in ad 19 on the
territory of what is now the Czech Republic. The most important
information, however, is proffered by the sixth-century writer
Jordanes, who lived during the reign of the Emperor Justinian.
Jordanes records that in the reign of King Berig, the Goths set sail
from the Island of Skandia (i.e. modern-day Scandinavia) in three
ships, alighting at the other side of the ocean, in a land which they
called Gothiskandza, subjugating the neighbouring populations. Under
the reign of Berig V they embarked on a further voyage to the land of
Oium, i.e. to the northern territories of the Black Sea coast. A
variety of interpretations have been put forward in relation to the
three ships. The number was considered by some to have been merely
symbolic, whilst others believed that it stood for three tribes - the
Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Gepidae - or took it literally to refer to
three sailing vessels carrying the Amal royal family, of which
Theoderic the Great was a descendant.
Recent archaeological research and lengthy debate on this subject
have, however, established that the Wielbark Culture did not simply
come into being as a result of the arrival of tribes of Scandinavian
Goths in Pomerania. Instead, it evolved from the development of the
local Oksywie Culture, possibly having been subject to outside
influences from Scvandinavia. This is evidenced primarily by the fact
that in its initial phase, the Wielbark Culture had exactly the same
territorial extent as the Oksywie Culture, many cemeteries having
been kept in continued use by these two societies. Wielbark
communities comprised mostly members of tribes already settled in
this area with the addition of Scandinavian migrants, who maybe
arrived here in small groups. At present, it is thought that those
areas which were inhabited directly by Gothic peoples are
characterised by the presence of extensive barrow cemeteries of the
Odry-Węsiory-Grzybnica type, at which stone circles consisting of
large boulders were raised. These were sites of a ritual character
where tribal meetings (known as things) took place. Sites of this
type are found in the Kashubian and Krajeński Lakelands, extending to
the Koszalin region in the Central Lakelands, hence, to the west of
the Vistula. These burial grounds began to appear across this area
during the latter part of the first century ad, at the same time that
the Kowalewko cemetery was founded.
This area is also associated with the Wielbark Culture, whose
communities settled in Greater Poland during the same period and
exhibit a number of close links with the aforementioned lakelands. We
do not, however, have any evidence of stone circles or cobble-clad
graves from Greater Poland, barrow burials being a rarity - only
three having been recorded in the peripheral zone of this region. The
Wielbark Culture appears to have been composed of Scandinavian Goths
and Gepidae as well as of earlier local communities - the Venedi and
Rugii. The woodlands of the Kashubian and Krajeński Lakelands, lying
to the north-east of Greater Poland, are where groups of Goths are
believed to have established their own settlements. The Wielbark
Culture is thought to have reached Greater Poland from Pomerania,
displacing the local Przeworsk Culture. Whether the Wielbark Culture
was really of Gothic ethnic origin or made up of a number of
different tribes (including Goths), we cannot say. In later years, at
the beginning of the third century ad, they abandoned the territories
of Greater Poland and Pomerania, moving on, together with their
kinsfolk, until they reached the promised land of Oium, situated in
modern-day Ukraine, where they founded their mighty empire.

Source: http://www.muzarp.poznan.pl/archweb/gazociag/title5.htm

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005, 07:01 AM
so basically the implication is that the Goths are the dominant ancestors of modern Poles ?

Apparently Polish language and Poland itself is a construct of the late Medieval period ... ?

One seems unsure whether they are Teutonic or Gaelic ... ?

All Polish history books, indeed all Polish literature, including the so-called "Letter of Reconciliation" from the Polish bishops Stefan Wyszynski and Karol Woytyla to the German bishops in 1956, refer to Miseszko I as the "first Polish Duke", who took the Holy Sacrament of baptism in the year 966.

Of course, at the same time, this constitutes proof that no Polish empire existed in 966, since Miezszko was the "first"; furthermore, he was not a Pole, but rather, a Norman named "Dago-Mesico", from the Norwegian family line of the Daglingers, who migrated into lands settled by the Germans on the Weichsel and Warthe. His baptism proves nothing at all -- certainly not that he was a Pole, or that he ever became a Pole: it only proves that Dago accepted Christianity. There are no records -- as scholars confirm today -- which ever mention -- even once -- a people bearing the name "Poles" or "Slavs" "in the area" at that time. The only tribes which were native to the area were Germanic, and the founders of the Polish empire were also German. But Polish history has to begin somewhere; it was therefore logical to take this Christian baptism as the point of departure....

...Ordinary people didn't accept the new artificial language for a long time. It took almost 300 years for a so-called Polish conversational language to arise from the glagolitic church Latin of the monks. The city of Cracow, which according to the statements of Polish historians remained German until the late 15th century, held out the longest. But as it was impossible to cause the German chronicles to disappear, they continue to provide mute evidence, even today....

...The manner in which Germans are transformed into Poles is described very exactly on pages 240-276 ff. of "Ostgermanien" by Franz Wolff. I know from personal experience how German names became Polish, how German names were changed in the 1920s and 30s, how personal identity documents were issued bearing Polish names only. Thus, Else became Elzbieta; Eugen became Eugeniusz; Albert or Albrecht became Wojciech; Nickolaus became Mikolaj; Lorenz became Wawrzyniak; Mathias became Maciej. And if there wasn't any translation for a name -- Hildegard, for example -- then the person was simply called Elzbieta, i.e., Elizabeth. Protests were a waste of time. The Nuremberg sculptor Veit Stoss became "Wit Stwosz". The German, Nikolaus Kopernikus, from Thorn, became "Mikolaj Kopernik". The last two could hardly protest, since they had already been dead for centuries...

..."Author's note: Proof that the Polish language and glagolitic monks' Latin were still generally unknown as late as the 15th century is the "the parchment document with attached lead seal" of King Casimir of Danzig", dated 1466. It begins as follows: "Kazimirus von gots gnade konig zsu Polan, grosforste in Lythawin, in Rewssin, Prewssin herre und erbeling etc. bekennen und thun kunth... "I, Casimir, king of Poland by grace of God, great prince of Lithuania, lord and heir in Russia, Prussia, and heir etc., hereby acknowledge and announce... i.e., the document is in archaic German and not Polish.". It might be observed that the term is not "Polen" "Poland" but rather "Polan", i.e., "po" (Germanic "an", "am", "bei" = near", and "lan", derived from the Germanic = "arable land, field, land"....


As early as in the 13th century, a Polish bishop from Krakow, Wincenty Kadłubek, in his "Chronicles of Poland" tried to combine the history of Poland with ancient history which was so close to his heart. According to him, Gaelic Lechistan people, who fought successful battles against the army of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, were the ancestors of contemporary Poles.

Kadłubek axiomatically assumed that Poles settled on the territory marked by the Vistula and Odra Rivers and the Baltic Sea several hundred years BC at least. This "Gaelic link" made it very clear that Kadłubek was convinced of the autochtonism of ancient Poles, even though they seemed to be present in source materials under a different name. This direction determined by Kadłubek was later followed by numerous authors.

Friday, December 2nd, 2005, 07:59 AM
Perhaps the point would be that in view of the dramatic shift from a Teutonic oriented culture suddenly to what is presumed to be a Slavic culture, apparently without intervention from the Eastern Slavic culture (Rus),

the tentative conclusion I make is that "Polish" is actually a construct invented perhaps for socio-political purposes at the time.

I am not referring to the language but referring to the group thereafter which acquired the language and was so absorbed into the Polish Culture.

When we see a European nation suddenly out of the blue appear as late as 900 CE without a clear antecedent then one must doubt the authenticity (if one can use such terms) of the construction.

The solution might be a proper classification of the dominant types of the regions,
something very difficult to do following 1917-1945.

Saturday, March 25th, 2006, 04:49 AM
The thing that has to be explained is why someone would like to change their culture and language to slavic? There is no explanaition for this in the text.

Sunday, March 26th, 2006, 09:19 PM
The Polish are ethnically Slavonic, but there are many mixes within many of the Slavic countries...:| For example, my mother's side is a mix of Slavs, with Tatars (Mongols/Turkics) from East Asia... In Russia many people have germanic descent as well as in Ukraine and Poland.:)

Saturday, May 6th, 2006, 12:33 AM
It appears that Goths stands for Gets. Therefore, I cite the following:

Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott
National Geographic, vol 159, No. 1, p. 104, January 1981

“When these so-called mountain lovers took the hale- meadows –away, some older shepherds died from sorrow”, my old Fanek Szlaga told us. His bold, dark face brings to mind Wallachian shepherds who came here in olden times, following the Carpathians range.
Their pastoral methods, ustensils, vocabulary, and music survived centuries and shaped the life that Franek knew best.
He recalled spring marches up the valleys with sheep, dogs, and music; he spoke of living in low huts, and the tang of cheese smoked over the fire. It was freedom, and he loved it.

Monday, March 7th, 2011, 12:22 AM
You added more details than any of the other articles I have read. I am interested in this area of history. So little is known about the Guttones/Goths. Do you happen to know more about their pagan religion and their festivals of their gods? Thank you for your contribution.

Sunday, April 10th, 2016, 06:57 PM
I found it curious why Getes coexisted on the steppes next to the Massagetes (great Geats) or Alans. The naming is suggestive of a vassal relationship between nomad groups structured into confederacies.

Sunday, April 10th, 2016, 08:07 PM
I recall reading a few years ago that the Goths may never have been in Poland at all. The Wielbark Culture may have been Baltic or proto-Slavic. Any thoughts on that? Wouldn't be the first CW overturned by modern genetics.