Room 7. Eastern Europe and Asia in Early Middle Ages (III – early VIII centuries A.D.)

The walls of this room are decorated with copies of slates from most ancient Kievan churches of the 11th and 12th centuries.

The room is dedicated to the last stage of the Iron Age and transition to the early Middle Ages known in academic circles as the Great Migration of Peoples. The reasons behind the migration of entire nations are not fully understood. Evidently, overpopulation and a complicated political situation in the historic land of origin played a key role. Usually transmigration took the form of armed intervention and crowding of native population from conquered territories. This process spread to the entire northern part of the Eurasian continent – from Pacific Coast in the east to the Atlantic Coast in the west. The whole world seemed to fall into stir. Some peoples were vanishing, others got intermingled giving birth to new ethnic entities, forerunners of modern-day nations.

Three maps show crucial points of the Great Migration Era on the room’s venue. The first one was characterized by massive transmigration of Germanic tribes from Baltic territories. Most well known among them were Goths. In the late 2d century and throughout the 3d century they kept settling in the basins of rivers Dniester, Southern Bug, Dnieper and in the Northern Black Sea region. The Chernyakhov cultural-historic community had been formed, whose heyday is linked in the sources with the figure of Hermanarikh who is thought to be a founder of the «empire».

The next era was launched by the migration of the polyethnic tribal alliance led by Huns from Central Asia westwards in the late 4th century. Having rolled to the bounds of Central Europe, Huns who led the confederation of tribes (Germanic and Alanian federation allies played a major role there too) founded a state in Pannonia that did not last long. The peak of the Hun might is associated with the name of Attila.

In the third quarter of the first millennium A.D. Slavonic tribes are mentioned and described in Byzantine sources. It is from this particular time that part of archaeological sites could be tied up with Slavs.

case 1
On display in case 1 are the items of the Dnieper region belonging to the Chernyakhov culture prevalent on the territory of «Hermanarikh’s empire”. To the right on the upper plane-table you may see fibula fasteners – a most frequent find in the burials of this culture.

Like many other tribes, Chernyakhov ones experienced a powerful impact of the Roman culture, which is evidenced from silver spoons and a cup, glass-vessels made by Roman craftsmen and numerous imitations of Roman articles discovered in Chernyakhov colonies.

cases 2-5
A large section of the exposition (cases 2-5) tells of East-European forest-belt tribes of 1st – 8th centuries A.D. Presented here are things from burials and hoards found in the Moskva River region, on Oka River, in Perm and near-Ural lands. Especially remarkable is a set of finds originating from the Kama region (case 4): gold and silver vessels, coins, a silver dish featuring a feast of Dionysus. Noteworthy is a golden pitcher of Sogdian work; its body consists of two forged gold halves, a spout is made in the form of a vulture beak while the handle is embellished with a griffin head. The name of Byzantine emperor Iraclius (7th century) is minted on silver coins.

It was not by accident that these hoards landed in the primeval forests of the Kama region. They were a payment of foreign merchants to indigenous princes for fur-skins highly evaluated in the East. The abundance of monetary hoards in the Volga region confirms the conclusion that back in those days Volga with its tributaries Kama and Oka was the main trade artery bridging eastern and western lands.

A special place in the cases is given to women’s jewellery from near-Volga and Ural regions. These are numerous bracelets, finger-rings, large waist and breastplates, plait decorations, little plates sewn on clothes and headdresses. The most typical decoration for Finnish tribes is «noisy» pendants – jingles or little geometric plates resembling goose pads, sometimes on bronze chains. Oftentimes the pendants were fixed on the belt performing the function of an amulet or safeguard: their noise and jingling during walking was meant, to scare away evil spirits. These things belonged to the direct ancestors of modern-day Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Volga and Kama region.

cases 6-8
The next section of the exposition (cases 6-8) is dedicated to the items from the Asian part of the country – from Altai to the banks of Syr-Darya. A Turkic Kaganat was founded on that territory in the 6th century as a result of aggressive campaigns unleashed by Turkic peoples. Other states would rise from its ruins in subsequent centuries. One of them was the State of the Yenisei Kirghiz founded here in the 8th and 9th centuries.

case 7
Their objects (case 7) come from the so-called «chaatases» – a Khakasian name for ancient burial grounds left by representatives of the ruling elite. Richly decorated arms and harnesses skillfully ornamented with gold -all testifies to this fact. Bronze raised cover straps for pommels are of special interest. They are a wonderful sample of artistic bronze working indeed.

In the left part of the case one can see gold and silver plates, dishes and vessels resembling small pitchers and found in Kopeni «chaatas». These items were dug in a special cache not far from the burial plundered back in the times of old. Four gold vessels, each of them decorated with an application from dinking gold of extremely refined work, were placed on a silver dish – true masterpieces doing credit to Kirghiz craftsmen.

On both sides of the case are stone statues of human figures with a cup in hand. Normally they were installed on special funeral sites and played an important part in ancestor worship.

case 9
In the late 5th and 6th centuries there roses a culture often identified with ancient Slavs. Its sites take up a narrow woodland and forest-steppe belt from the Vistula headstream to Middle Dnieper.

Case 9 exhibits things from a site at Korchak village on the Pripyat River. Ancient Slavonic settlements enclosed with paling were built on capes and included several semi-dugout dwellings. Iron knives and sickles, crucibles for metal pouring, slate spindle whorls, handmade pottery testify to the fact that Slavs were engaged in farming and cattle-breeding, pursued a settled lifestyle, they knew how to work and cast iron. It was the earthenware that helped identify the ethnic belonging of those items -they are a prototype of ancient Russian ceramics made on a potter’s wheel.

Three large States emerged on the territory of Eastern Europe in early Middle Ages: Khazar Kaganat was founded in Lower Volga and Don basins, the Azov Sea area and Caucasian foothill steppes in the late 7th and early 8th centuries; the Volga Bulgarian State emerged in the Middle Volga region in the 9th century; at the same time the Old Russian State began forming.

case 10
In the left part of case 10 is a gold grivna and small gold plates sewn on fine clothing fabric and a glass cup depicting the feast of Dionysus. These things were found in the rich graves of nobles whose culture came under a powerful influence of antique poleisis of the Northern Black Sea region. Such decorations were widespread all over Europe due to Germans and Alans.

Displayed below are heavy bronze fibulas, brooches, pendants with coloured enamel inlays. Such jewellery named «barbarian enamel» is usually associated with Baltic peoples whose migration can be traced far down to the south and east – the Dnieper, Oka and Moskva basins.

On the case podium is a superb bracelet from blown gold with large gems. This piece of jewellery is a work of Byzantine craftsmen made for barbarian nobility. The most remarkable object in the central part of the podium is a bronze figurine of a rider from the Lower Don. He is mounted on a high rigid saddle, his feet put in stirrups. The rigid saddle came to Europe with Huns while stirrups and the sabre spread with nomads around the VII century A.D. The stirrups and sabre excel in the right part of the case in the set of the nomad’s outfit and arms. These things belong to the Saltovo-Mayatskaya culture of the Khazar Kaganat.

The hoard items from «Pastyrskoye» Site of ancient town on Middle Dnieper (central part of the case) are a vivid example of cultural and ethnic fusion accompanying the Great Migration of peoples. The hoard also includes things typical of native Iranian tribes of the North Black Sea region: silver bracelets with dilative ends embellished with inlaid patterns, or the so-called «spectacled» pendants widespread among native tribes from time immemorial; saw-toothed fibulas that] first appeared among German tribes. Nomadic Turks who flooded the steppes of Eastern Europe in the middle of the First millennium A.D. certainly took an active part in building the Pastyrskaya culture.

cases 11 – 12
The migrations and conquests of that time did not circumvent such mountainous regions as Caucasus and Crimea. An extreme typological diversity of objects in cases 11 – 12 reflects the motley ethnic makeup in those regions populated both with native and newly arrived tribes and with rapidly multiplying new ethnic entities. Thus case 12 presents the things of medieval Alans formed on the basis of Iranian Sarmatian tribes and partly of newly arrived nomads. Medieval Alans played an outstanding role in building the culture of the Khazar Kaganat that entered the world scene in the VIII century.

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