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3: The Period of the Great Migrations

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When looking at Transylvania after the Romans left Dacia and before the Hungarians settled there -- the former took place around 271 and the latter after 896 -- it must be emphasized that just as Dacia Provincia did not cover the entire geographic unit referred to later as Transylvania, the changes in populations and governments described for these six centuries also did not affect the entire area of Transylvania, nor its entire population. Thus, the changes could be both consecutive and parallel. It is not possible, nor is it necessary,in this book to follow all these changes in detail either geographically or temporally.

We know of a brief Carp interlude but following this, the above mentioned Goth occupation was both widespread and long-lasting, so much so that the Visigoths were occasionally referred to as Sylvan Goths because of the settlement of this group in the forested parts of Transylvania. Contrary to their name, however, and to their reputation as nomads breeding large herds of cattle and horses, these people primarily settled in the most fertile parts of Transylvania, where they led an agricultural existence. They became familiar with Christianity, thanks to Arian missionaries.

When the Hun forces increased their drive toward the west, they first defeat the Ostrogoths and then destroyed the main forces of the Visigoth chieftain Athanaric (376). The remnants of the Visigoths first fled to their brethren in Transylvania, but later the entire Visigoth population sought the protection of Rome and, following the tracks of the Dacians, retreated behind the eastern boundaries of the Roman Empire.

The Goth period of Transylvania was a period of destruction. They didn't use the Roman buildings and allowed them to fall into decay. Their entire way of life - because or in spite of their agriculturist nature - was much simpler than what was typical of the earlier Dacia Provincia. Yet this was only the beginning of the decay that followed the departure of the Romans.

Before the Huns, responsible for the largest migrations of peoples of these times, could themselves take over the reign of this area, there was an interlude of several events associated with the Gepids. The Gepids who were blood relations of the Germanic Visigoths, were also eastern Germanic and came down from the region of the Vistula. The most noteworthy part of their rich archeological material is the famous Szilágysomlyó treasure. Its owners buried it and later lacked the opportunity of recovering it. From this we may speculate on the fate of the Gepid leadership during the times of the Huns and assume that this people had lost its entire ruling class, at least for a while.

During the decades between 420-450, certain parts of Transylvania -- primarily along the Maros and in the valleys of the Southern Carpathians -- with their cool forests rich in game, served the Hun leaders as summer quarters. Toward the north, the Gepids, under new leaders appointed by the Huns and subject to the Huns, gained new strength. Soon, their foot soldiers became the main and most important auxiliary force of the Hun forces and served under Attila all the way to the fateful battle of Catalaunum. This is a familiar scenario. The inner strength of a defeated people leads it to a new flowering in such a plastic and complex ethnic power structure as the Hun Empire and system. Ardaric, the king imposed upon the Gepids by the Huns, standing at the helm of the united armies of the peoples of the Danube basin just two years after Attila's death (453) gains victories against those who had elevated him to the kingship. The Gepid kingdom established and expanding after these events, ruled for more than a century over an area larger than Transylvania or the former Dacia Provincia. During this period, the Dacians and other splinter groups, who retreated behind the Roman borders, were forced to move further west-southwest from the Carpathians.

All this coincided with the Merovingian epoch in Europe. The name, originally that of a dynasty, also signifies a level of development which reached far beyond the actual realm of the Merovingians and which permeated all ways of life. What does this mean? It means primarily the reversal of the economic decline following the dissolution of the homogenous Roman civilization. It also means some improvements in productivity and a new form of urbanization. The center of this Merovingian development was ruled by the Franks and this central area extended in the west to the Atlantic. In the east, there was no sharp line of demarcation, but it extended in a wide arc over a peripheral area, easy to trace all the way to the former Pannonia. East of here the limits of the periphery extended all the way to the eastern end of Transylvania and demonstrated the indirect but characteristic effects of the Merovingian evolution. Beyond Transylvania this evolution, which had shaped much of Europe, did not have even an indirect effect. The newly independent Gepid Kingdom, which extended well beyond Transylvania to the center of the adjacent Great Plain created a century-long solid stability, which demonstrated to several generations the value of rapprochement and attachment to Europe. This is amply documented by the Gepid royal tombs from this period and by other graves rich in artifacts.

In the meantime, displaced from their original home in Central Asia and under pressure from the Turcic tribes, a new nation, capable of creating a dominant concentration of power, appeared on the scene. The Avars begin a fantastic "reel" around the Carpathian basin. They first appeared by the lower Danube, but when they found there neither an opportunity for settlement nor a possibility to proceed toward the south, they marched around the Carpathians to the north to the Elbe, where the Franks forced them back.

Subsequently, they tried again to establish a foothold, indeed we may say, a conquest along the lower Danube. Being again unsuccessful, they once again circled the Carpathians toward the north and penetrated as far as Thüringia. Here their path was blocked again by the Franks, but now the Franks offered an alliance. Not only their own, but also that of the Longobards allied with them.

It is of interest concerning these future founders of Lombardy in northern Italy, that their movements in our space are known "from minute to minute" -- an occurrence extremely rare at this period. They arrived on the soil of Pannonia in 546 and they left for the south 22 years later, at Easter of 568. As late arrivals, they were initially adversaries of the Gepids. The latter were surrounded by enemies on all sides : Byzantium, the Slavs infiltrating from the north, the still wandering Avars, and now the Longobards, who had suddenly occupied the course of the Danube from the west. The fate of the Gepids was sealed but the people was even now not entirely exterminated. Its survival can be seen in a number of areas, but the Gepid kingdom was finished. Not much later the Gepid remnants were assimilated and disappear.

The scenario is plain. The enemies of the Gepids "generously" offered the land of these people to the Avars. They killed two birds with one stone;: they rid themselves of the warlike Gepids and offered the opportunity to settle down to the equally feared, bellicose Avars. It was from them that the Hungarians, even more feared at a future date, learned -- still in Asia - -the use of the stirrups. This enabled them to sit their horses much more securely, shoot their arrows more accurately, attack as a compact cavalry unit -- and turn around and flee if necessary.

Trading Avars for Gepids? A dubious exchange. An already Europeanized nation was replaced in the heart of the easily defensible Carpathian basin by the Avars, fresh from Asia with Asiatic élan and Asiatic temperament. This was very much appreciated by the Longobards who, in spite of the jointly gained victory, immediately saw the advantages of departing from the Carpathian basin. Their departure was followed by an Avar suzerainty over this area, lasting almost a quarter of a millennium (567-827).

Initially, Transylvania had little appeal to the Avars, who were still engaged in a primarily Asiatic type of animal husbandry. They settled here in small numbers, leaving room to settle for the Slavs and for a series of subsequent Turcic waves. In this region the late Avar settlements and grave-sites, dating to the second half of the Avar Empire, are even rarer. Yet there is much uncertainty in all this, particularly in the history of the settlements. The excavations are sparse and their assessment is much influenced by all that is involved in the unfortunate Daco-Roman Continuity hypothesis. When the study of the ethnicity of a former population of a region and of their entire social structure is permeated, debated and distorted by politico-ideological considerations, the threads of historical assessment become hopelessly entangled.

We have already mentioned the slow, gradual "seepage", rather than invasion, of the Slavs into this region. This was directed initially southward, more toward the alkans. The Slavs went from the north "toward the sun". When this progress was impeded, they encircled the Carpathians. It was only later that they penetrated into the Avar territory, principally across the wooded peripheral areas which had been very sparsely inhabited for many years. It was in these regions that they established their poor but tenacious and long-lasting settlements.

Vanishing Gepids, subject to the dominant Avars; agriculturist Slavs whose undemanding nature served them better then weapons; several small, fragmented groups; and finally in South Transylvania, beginning with the second quarter of the 9th century, an invading Bulgarian group -- this was the colorful ethnic palette of this area toward the end of the 9th century. In the meantime, the powerful and previously dominant Avars were weakened more by their internal dissensions and fratricidal battles than by their external enemies. At this very moment, leaving the disintegrating Khazar Khanate just outside the Carpathians, a new nation approached, pressured by expansive, warlike nations behind them. They first galloped around the Carpathians and then overran the Carpathian Basin and, just like the Avars, concentrated on the central, level area.

This is the first nation that could gain such a solid foothold here that the country established by them survives to this day. The movements of the Great Migration, mobilizing nation after nation, did not end with their arrival and settlement, not even with the organization of their state. The subsequent waves of the Great Migration harass them but can neither destroy them nor assimilate them, nor chase them off. All the territories around them are already firmly occupied. There is no place for them to go.

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