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The Chernyakhiv culture (also known as Cherniakhov culture or Cherniakhovo culture) (2nd century to 5th century) was found in Ukrainemarker, Moldovamarker and parts of Belarusmarker. The eponymous site is the village of Cherniakhov in Ukrainemarker's Kiev Oblastmarker (Chernyakhov in Russian). It existed in the 2nd-5th centuries AD. Around the year 300, the culture extended into Romaniamarker where it is called the Sîntana de Mureş culture. It is attested to in thousands of sites.


The Chernyakhov culture encompassed the territories of modern Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania and southern Poland.


The culture developed in the 2nd century AD. Of varied origins, the culture quickly became remarkably homogeneous throughout the areas it occupied. Scholars debate whether this means that the disparate peoples "mingled inextricably".

In the earlier half of the 20th century, much energy had been spent by scholars debating the ethnic affinity of the people which inhabited the Chernyakov zone. Soviet scholars, such as Boris Rybakov saw it as the archaeological reflection of the proto-Slavs, whilst western, especially German, historians attributed it to the Goths. However, the remains of archaeologically visible material culture and their link with ethnic identity are not as clear as originally thought. The 'Culture-Historical' doctrine founded by German archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna, assumed that “sharply defined archaeological culture areas correspond unquestionably with the areas of particular peoples or tribes”. Scholars today are more inclined to see material cultures as cultural-economic systems incorporating many different groups. "What created the boundaries of these cultural areas were not the political frontiers of a particular people, but the geographical limits within which the population groups interacted with sufficient intensity to make some or all of the remains of their physical culture – pottery, metal work, building styles, burial goods and so on- look very similar. Essentially, scholars are tentative in ascribing an 'ethnic' identity to the material remains of past populations, although they recognise that certain objects may have been manipulated to represent some form of group identity, especially at times of inter-group conflict.

Today, the Chernyakov zone is recognized to represent a cultural interaction of a diversity of peoples, but predominantly from those which already existed in the region, whether it be the Sarmatians, or the Geto-Dacians.

Whilst acknowledging the mixed origins of the Chernyakov culture, Peter Heather suggests that the culture is ultimately a reflection of the Goths' domination of the Pontic area. He cites evidence from literary sources which attests that it was the Goths who were the centre of political attention at this time. In particular, the culture's development corresponds well with Jordanes' tale of Gothic migration from Gothiscandza to Oium, under the leadership of Filimer. Moreoever, he highlights that crucial external influences which catalysed the development of the Chernyakhov culture were derived from the Wielbark culturemarker. Originating in the mid-1st century, it spread from Pomerania down the Vistula in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Wielbark elements are prominent in the Chernakhov zone, such as typical 'Germanic' pottery, brooch types and female costume, and, in particular, weaponless bi-ritual burials. Although cultures may spread without substantial population movements, Heather draws attention to a decrease in the number of settlements in the original Pomeranian Wielbark heartland as evidence of a significant population movement. Combined with Jordanes' account, Heather concludes that a movement of Goths (and other east germanic groups such as Heruli and Gepids) "played a major role in the creation of the Cernjachove culture". He clarifies that this movement was not a single, royal-led, migration, but was rather accomplished by a series of small, sometimes mutually antagonistic groups.

However, Guy Halsall challenges some of Heather's conclusions. He sees no chronological development from the Wielbark to Chernyakhov culture, given that the latter stage of the Wielbark culture is synchronous with Chernyakhov, and the two regions have minimal territorial overlap. "Although it is often claimed that Cernjachov metalwork derives from Wielbark types, close examination reveals no more than a few types with general similarities to Wielbark types". Michael Kulikowski also challenges the Wielbark connection, highlighting that the greatest reason for Wielbark-Chernyakhov connection derives from a "negative characteristic" (ie the absence of weapons in burials), which is less convincing proof than a positive one. He argues that the Chernyakhov culture could just as likely have been an indigenous development of local Pontic, Carpic or Dacian cultures, or a blended culture resulting from Przeworsk and steppe interactions. Furthermore, he altogether denies the existence of Goths prior to the 3rd century. Kulikowsky states that no Gothic people, nor even a noble kernal, migrated from Scandinavia or the Baltic. Rather, he suggests that the "Goths" formed in situ. Like the Allemani or the Franks, the Goths were a "product of the Roman frontier".

Other influences, such as a minority of burials which did contain weapons, are seen from the Przeworsk and Zarubinec cultures. The latter has been connected with early Slavs.

The Chernyakov culture, ~ 3rd century AD

In linguistic terms, it is said that this is the time and place where Slavic and Iranian borrowed lexical items from each other, and where Slavic picked up many of its Germanic loanwords. (Gothic, however, has few Slavic loanwords).



Houses were arranged in parallel, and are of two predominant types. The most numerous are sunken huts, called Grubenhäuser in German. They are generally small in size, measuring 5-16 square metres in area. The other predominant type is surface dwellings called Wohnstallhäuser, which are of more variable size, tending to be larger. Some settlements have both types of dwellings, although Romanian finds have only sunken-floored houses. Although the variation in types may be attributable to the different ethnic groups in the zone, the differences are also a reflection of socio-economic factors. The Wohnstallhäuser are typical of Germanic settlements in central Europe, and had not been found in early cultures of south-eastern Europe. Conversely, the sunken-floored huts have been found in earlier Dacian cultures in the Carpathians and the farmers of the forest-steppe, and continued well after the period (and became wide-spread throughout eastern Europe). Whatever their origins, these styles were readily adopted by all peoples of the culture.

Funerary Rites

Both inhumation and cremation were practiced. The dead were buried with grave goods – pottery, iron implements, bone combs, personal ornaments, although in later periods grave goods decrease. Of the inhumation burials, the dead were usually buried in a north-south axis (with head to north), although a minority are in east-west orientation. Funerary gifts often include fibulae, belt buckles, bone combs, glass drinking vessels and other jewelry. Women's burials in particular shared very close similarities with Wielbark forms - buried with two fibulae, one on each shoulder. Like in the Wielbark culture, Chernyakhov burials usually lack weapons as funerary gifts, except in a few cremation burials reminiscent of Przeowrsk influences . Although cremation burials are traditionally associated with Germanic and Slavic peoples, and inhumation is suggestive of nomadic practice, careful analysis suggests that the mixed burials were of an earlier period, whilst toward the end there was a trend toward inhumation burials without grave goods. This could be the result of the influences of Christianity, but could just as easily be explained in terms of an evolution on non-Christian views about the afterlife.

Ceramic wares

Pottery was predominantly of local production, being both wheel and hand-made. Wheel made pottery predominated, and was made of finer clay. It was reminiscent of earlier Sarmatian types, refined by Roman and La Tenemarker influences. Hand made pottery showed a greater variety in form, and was sometimes decorated with incised linear motifs. In addition, Roman amphorae are also found, suggesting trade contacts with the Roman world. There is also a small, but regular, presence of distinct hand–made pottery typical to that found in western Germanic groups, suggesting the presence of Germanic groups.


The Chernyakhov people were primarily a settled population involved in cultivation of cereals – especially wheat, barley and millet. Finds of ploughshares, sickles and scythes have been frequent. Cattle breeding was the primary mode of animal husbandry, and the breeding of horses appears to have been restricted to the open steppe. Metalworking skills were widespread throughout the culture, and local smiths produced much of the implements, although there is some evidence of production specialization.


The Chernyakhov culture ends in the 5th century A.D, attributed to the arrival of the Huns. The collapse of the culture is no longer explained in terms of population displacement, although there was an outmigration of Goths. Rather, more recent theories explain the collapse of the Chernyakhov culture in terms of a disruption of the heirarchical political structure which maintained it. John Mathews suggests that, despite its cultural homogeneity, a sense of ethnic distinction was kept between the disparate peoples. Some of the autochthonous elements persist, and become even more widespread, after the demise of the Gothic elite - a phenomenon associated with the rise and expansion of the early Slavs.


  1. . Citing Kossinna 1911:3
  2. The Cernjachov culture is a mixture of all sorts of influences, but most come from existing cultures in the region
  3. argue that it shows that the local Daco-Getans played the leading role in the creation of the Culture
  4. settlement was continuous from the period of the Sintana de Mures/ Cernjachov Culture right through the Migration Period into the Middle Ages proper


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