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Thread: Germanic Populations and Steppe People - An Example of the Integration of Material Cultures - Diffusion of the Stirrup in the Eastern Merovingian Area

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    Lightbulb Germanic Populations and Steppe People - An Example of the Integration of Material Cultures - Diffusion of the Stirrup in the Eastern Merovingian Area

    The origins of the stirrup mentions the Lombardians, Avar craftsmanship, Mongoloids at Vicenne/Campochiaro and more.

    The presence of the stirrup in both the Italian territory and the Alamanno-Bavarian area, that is to say, the very South-Eastern part of the Merovingian area, is an interesting chapter in the relationship between these territories and the Carpathian Basin and in a wider sense, between Europe and the people of the Steppes.

    The Carpathian Basin, thanks to the Avar conquest had acquired a new territorial unity and a certain socio-economic coherence which lasted until not much after the failed siege of Constantinople in 626. Moreover, traditionally it is believed that the Avars introduced stirrups to Europe, along with other military innovations such as the composite bow and the Lamellenpanzer . This implies that the area around Danube, especially its upper parts, played a fundamental role in introducing objects and technologies of Eastern origin to Western Europe.

    The traditional historical-archaeological model has always asserted the eastern origin (possibly Chino-Korean) of the stirrup. It is believed that they were imported into Europe through the Avars between the last thirty years of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century. This conclusion is based on scanty but highly significant set of archaeological data. Thus, in the Avar necropolis of Szentendre (Hungary),stirrups and coins of Emperors Justinian (518527) and Phocas(602-610) were found buried together.

    However, the dating of the stirrups deposited in Avar graves between the second half of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century has been already challenged by D. Csallány. L. White, on the other hand, emphasized the significance of the Byzantine milieu in introducing the stirrup to Europe. This idea was again taken up and scrutinized by Cs. Bálint. Through a sound revision of archaeological evidence he demonstrated that there are not enough well-dated finds to identify an Inner Asian route by which the stirrup was introduced to Europe via the Avars. Bálint's main contribution was to deconstruct what had become an unchallenged paradigm, making it clear that the origin of the stirrup was still not a settled issue.

    However, the Byzantine hypothesis it is not conclusive as well. In fact, if the Byzantine culture had such a deter-mining impact on neighboring societies (including the Germanic and nomadic ones), one would expect to find stirrups in graves of horsemen (or containing horse fittings) whose grave-goods were heavily influenced by Byzantine fashion and imports. Yet, this is not the case as with, for example, two Lombard Italian graves: the burial of the knight of Castel Trosino and grave No.5 of Nocera Umbra, both contain grave goods (belts and saddle decorations) of Byzantine, if not precisely of Constantinopolitan provenance; both tombs (dated the first in the late sixth or early seventh century and the other around the year 600) lack stirrups. Moreover, all the earliest finds of stirrups are characterized by extremely complicated/mixed archaeological contexts that do not allow easy identification and differentiation between different cultural influences.

    Written pieces of evidence do not help much either. Those are all of Byzantine origin. First of all, they do not allow us to narrow down the time-frame proposed by archeology, i.e.570/600. Thus, Procopius in his History of Wars mentions the new Germanic fashions in armor, as well as military strategy, that penetrated the Roman army, but does not mention the stirrup. The Strategikon attributed to Emperor Maurice is the first source which clearly mentions the stirrup and the con-text leaves the impression that the innovation was an Avar import.

    Based on the available data, it is still difficult to draw any unanimous conclusion on the origin of the stirrup in Europe. Both theories, proposing the Avar or the Byzantine provenance, heavily rely on indirect proofs and inferences. Most likely, as suggested by B.Genito, the invention of the stirrup in Europe must be considered as the result of a long process of changes in cavalry and warfare, which started in the fourth-fifth centuries and to which, in addition to the Avars, various peoples and cultures, such as Byzantines and Arabs, may have also contributed.
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