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Population migrations 1500 years ago influenced shape of modern Europe

Contemporary political divisions of the European continent are a consequence of the huge migration of people more than 1500 years ago. Scientists continue to argue about the course of this period of unrest in the territory of today’s Poland.

Population migrations 1500 years ago influenced shape of modern Europe
Remains of pole houses in Konarzewo 
[Credit: PAP]
According to Prof. Andrzej Michałowski from the Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, unusual mobility of human groups is inscribed in human nature. "This wanderlust, probably inherited from the first ancestor travelling the world, the homo erectus, shaped the entire history of mankind, starting from the moment of the first appearance of our species about 200,000 years ago in Africa until today, when we observe mass exoduses since the beginning of the 20th century" - explained the scientist, who specialises in the Migration Period, the sequence of events, which lasted from the middle of the fourth to the seventh century AD throughout the European continent.

Prof. Andrzej Michałowski summarised the topic from the perspective of excavations in Wielkopolska in the article "Before, after or between", was published in the journal "Studia nad dawną Polską" (Studies of the old Poland) (Volume 4), published by the Museum of the Origins of the Polish State in Gniezno.

The researcher wonders why the period from the fourth to the seventh century, has become synonymous with mass migration. In his view, different peoples mixed with each other in Europe before, and waves of migration were nothing special. However, these movements concerned the "barbaricum", the areas outside the world of classical civilization, hence they were not recorded in the records of the scribes. The great human migration, which began in the mid-fourth century, strongly affected the old order on the continent.

"Disruption of the 'eternal' order of things, which was breaching the borders of the empire and pouring in of the human mass that had been bouncing off before, and that could not be tamed or fought off by the state, was the moment that caused the special attention (...) the chroniclers gave to these fateful for the Empire events" - wrote Prof. Michałowski.

The movement of population in the fourth century was initiated by the expansion of the steppe tribe of Huns into Europe. Encountered peoples succumbed to Huns, fought them, or fled to the west after losing the fight. This was the case with the Goths, who after the defeat asked the Emperor Valens for help and the opportunity to settle within the borders of the Roman Empire, to which he agreed. However, due to the hunger and deprivation prevailing among them they started an armed rebellion, the apogee of which the battle of Adrianople with the Roman army in the year 378. The Romans lost and the Emperor Valens fell in battle. This symbolic moment is regarded as the beginning of the Migration Period. More peoples poured into Western Europe, including the Alans, the Burgundians, the Marcomanni, the Suebi and the Vandals - the latter went as far as North Africa.

Polish archaeologists have long believed that there was a complete disappearance of settlements between the period of the Great Migrations and the Middle Ages - the areas in today’s Poland were supposedly abandoned, and only after some the Slavs arrived from the East. Excavations related to the extensive rescue research, carried out in recent decades, change this image, especially in the case of Wielkopolska.

The archaeologist points in particular to the discovery in Konarzewo. There, archaeologists discovered the largest ever number of pole houses in Poland, which belies the claim that these areas were abandoned or inhabited by little advanced communities. The houses were large and accompanied by a rich economic infrastructure. The structures date back to the 5th-6th centuries. They are associated with the representatives of the Przeworsk culture. "Throughout its existence, the Przeworsk culture was undoubtedly a group with Germanic cultural model, which does not mean that it had to be formed exclusively by the Germans" - noted Prof. Michalowski.

Prof. Michałowski can not give a definite answer, who lived in the settlements that flourished in Wielkopolska in the 4th-6th centuries. Material culture - that is discovered products indicate a Germanic influence, "but we do not know what it actually identified with ethnically - probably they simply thought of themselves as locals, born here, wanting to die here" - concluded the researcher. Slavs were to appear in what is now Poland in the 2nd half of the sixth or in the seventh century.

Prof. Michałowski’s conclusions are supported by the findings of the research project "Migration Period of Nations in the Oder and Vistula Basin" headed by Prof. Aleksander Bursche. It was found that in the area between the Oder and Vistula settlement had not completely disappeared in mid-1st millennium. According to the research team, the people of Germanic traditions, who lived in the territory of today’s Poland during the Migration Period, assimilated with the Slavs.

Source: PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland [March 03, 2016]

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