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2,000-year-old burial of Germanic 'dignitary' discovered in south-eastern Moravia

For two millennia, he had been resting untouched in the earth, in the hollow of what had been his tomb, untouched since his burial. It took only an earthmover and an attentive worker whose gaze was caught by the presence of a shiny object in the overturned earth to uncover the grave of a high Germanic dignitary dating back to the second half of the 1st century AD at Uhersky Brod (south-eastern Moravia), near the Slovak border. This is a particularly rare find according to the archaeologists in charge of the site, and should tell them more about this region at the foot of the White Carpathians, about 200 kilometres from the Roman limes.

2,000-year-old burial of Germanic 'dignitary' discovered in south-eastern Moravia
The grave of a local lord of Germanic origin
[Credit: Archeologicky ustav AV CR]
"This discovery must be placed in its historical context. Dating places it back to Roman times, but it should be remembered that at that time the Czech and Moravian territories, i.e. the territory of the present-day Czech Republic, were located in an area called the Barbaricum, i.e. beyond the Roman Empire's limes."

Tomas Chrastek is the Director of the Department of Archaeology and History of the Museum of Moravian Slovakia in Uherske hradiste, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic, not far from the Slovak border. He is one of the archaeologists who carried out the excavation of the burial site discovered in Uhersky Brod last autumn, as well as its analysis, the initial findings of which he presented to Czech Public Radio.

2,000-year-old burial of Germanic 'dignitary' discovered in south-eastern Moravia
Credit: CT24
"This is the burial place of a local lord of Germanic origin. He is not a Roman, as has been stated here and there in some articles. When we talk about Roman times, it does not automatically mean that there was a Roman presence on our territory. There were indeed units of the Roman army in our territory, but it was much later: it was at the time of the Marcomannic Wars that took place during the second half of the 2nd century. Archaeological discoveries testify to this presence. But concerning our discovery in Uhersky Brod, we are a century earlier and the situation in this part of Moravia was different then."

Around the year 20 AD a kingdom was formed between the Morava River and the Vah, a tributary of the Danube, a territory straddling what is now Moravia, Slovakia and Lower Austria. Tacitus in his Annals refers to the birth of what is regarded to be the first political entity in the region. It was led until the year 50 by a certain Vannius, a chief from the Germanic Quades tribe, who was directly enthroned by Rome.

2,000-year-old burial of Germanic 'dignitary' discovered in south-eastern Moravia
Credit: CT24
After his deposition and exile, the kingdom collapsed but the various centres of power in the region remained in place. As Tomas Chrastek points out, recent archaeological research shows that one of these centres could have been located just east of the Morava River. In the area where the remains of a high Germanic dignitary were recently discovered.

Looking at this period in more detail, and in light of this recent discovery, a number of things are noteworthy. On the one hand, if the celebrated lime did indeed exist, these borders, natural or artificial, of the Roman Empire were open and there was contact on both sides. This is evidenced first of all by the "Roman" creation of the Vannius kingdom, but also by the presence of many Roman-made objects found in the burial place of Uhersky Brod.

2,000-year-old burial of Germanic 'dignitary' discovered in south-eastern Moravia
Credit: CT24
"Obviously we have no direct evidence of Roman citizens in this region. But at that time, many imported objects were circulating and thus found their way to us. The kingdom of Vannius collapsed in the year 50, but the centres of power that existed continued to function. And we know from written sources that German armed troops fought alongside the Emperor Vespasian near Cremona in the Battle of Bedriacum in 69. It can therefore be assumed that these fighters were paid with goods from the Roman provinces. It is quite possible that these objects could have ended up in the tomb of our Germanic dignitary."

"At first it was assumed that this Germanic tribal chief was buried in a wooden coffin because there were impressions of wooden beams around the burial pit. But after consultation with an anthropologist, it is rather thought that the grave contained a coffin. The deceased was buried dressed in full costume, with bronze spurs on his feet. His clothes were closed with four bronze staples. Around his waist he wore a decorated belt, with a large, rather representative bronze buckle. The same kind of objects were also found in a necropolis in Prague. A bone pin and a bronze knife were also found at his waist. The latter is particularly interesting because, of course, weapons and instruments were made of iron at that time. Bronze objects were used much earlier, in the Bronze Age. So the presence of the bronze knife here means something else, its function is rather symbolic, especially since no iron weapons were found in the grave."

2,000-year-old burial of Germanic 'dignitary' discovered in south-eastern Moravia
Credit: CT24
The archaeologist of the Museum of Moravian Slovakia points out that in all the princely burials discovered on the territory of the Barbaricum, there are generally no weapons, but rather objects that represent the status of the deceased person and whose function is more symbolic.

"We have observed the spurs in detail under the microscope and it is interesting to see that they were probably never worn or used. They were therefore objects that were essentially intended to be offerings deposited in the tomb. In fact, there were also offerings at his feet, but unfortunately a lot of them were destroyed when the excavator dug up the earth and uncovered the grave."

2,000-year-old burial of Germanic 'dignitary' discovered in south-eastern Moravia
Credit: CT24
Up to now archaeologists have been aware of about ten settlements around Uhersky Brod connected with the period of the second half and the turn of the 1st century AD. However, specialists thought that the Germanic settlement in the area was rather sparse. The discovery of the burial of a chieftain, however, suggests the existence of a real centre of local power, exercising authority over a network of villages, some traces of which are known in the vicinity of Uhersky Brod, but which could be much larger and denser than historians imagined.

In addition to these initial findings, it is now the detailed analysis of the remains and objects that will occupy the researchers: an analysis that should reveal new information that will help to refine our knowledge of the period and the history of the region, as Tomas Chrastek clarifies.

2,000-year-old burial of Germanic 'dignitary' discovered in south-eastern Moravia
Credit: CT24
"We have already documented the various objects with photos and drawings. These are now in the hands of the conservators and we will try to restore those that have been damaged. I don't dare to go too far on this, because some of the objects have been seriously damaged. As far as the remains are concerned, there will be an anthropological analysis that should make it possible to sketch, at least in part, the cause of death, the age of the deceased, and so on. We will see what the bones will reveal because the terrain where they were found was particularly harsh and the remains are in poor condition."

Eventually, once the restoration and analysis phase is completed, the Museum of Moravian Slovakia in Uherske Hradiste plans to display the finds from the grave of this Germanic dignitary from the 1st century AD to the public, the discovery of which could provide a fresh look at the ancient history of this border region, a centre of exchanges that may be much more important than previously imagined.

Author: Anna Kubista | Source: Czech radio [trsl. TANN, January 31, 2020]


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