{1-148.} The Visigoths and the Marosszentanna Culture

The Gothic burial site of Marosszentanna is of crucial significance in the archaeology of the period of Great Migrations. It was the first burial ground to be discovered that was identified with a people who played an important role in late-Roman and early medieval history, and the first to benefit from fully professional assessment in archaeological publications (1903–1912). It is not surprising, then, that for some fifty years, Marosszentanna/Maros-Szentanna/Maros-Szent-Anna was synonymous with Gothic culture in the eyes of archaeologists and historians who studied the Visigoths.

It is difficult to trace the advance of the Tervingi Goths into Transylvania, for their burial grounds and dwellings indicate their settlements, not the path of their conquest. In light of the wars that prevailed initially, one can scarcely expect to find significant archaeological traces of permanent settlement dating from before the last decade of the 3rd century. Contemporary Roman coins are seldom found in Gothic graves of the 3rd and 4th centuries (an absence that is linked to the Goths' religious beliefs and not to their economic conditions), and thus it is difficult to date these graves. On the basis of their vast Moldavian burial grounds and the early burial grounds in Muntenia, it can be established that at the time of the conquest their religious beliefs underwent a certain change under the influence of 'Mediterranean' ideas. This influence probably resulted from interaction with their subjects, the ancient rural and urban population on the northern coast of the Black Sea, and with the thousands of captives that they had brought back from the empire. At the beginning of the 3rd century, the Goths were still cremating their dead, but by the second half of the century the practice of entombment was increasingly common. The practice of cremation, which, at the time of the conquest, accounted for at least half of burials, declined steadily during the 4th century, and in some {1-149.} places it disappeared. At the same time, the Goths began to adopt the custom of burial on an east-west axis, which in the circumstances reflected a Christian influence.

The material culture observable in all the burial grounds and settlements shows greater uniformity than the funeral rites. The original Gothic heritage survived in elements of costume (the combs and fibulae worn by women, the buckled belt, with purse attached, worn by men) and some forms of pottery. Some elements of their material culture (fibulae, beads) had been modified under the influence of the Pontic Greco-Sarmatian culture; after they had settled in Gutthiuda, their material culture was moulded by Roman merchandise and influences originating from south of the Danube. For instance, a common type of Visigothic pottery replicates contemporary Roman earthenware from the Danubian provinces. Visigothic graves — especially those in Muntenia — were found replete with glasses and glassware cups, jugs, and glazed or unglazed amphoras originating in the Lower Danubian provinces. The 'masterpieces' of Visigothic pottery are mostly clay copies of Roman bronze and glassware jugs or drinking vessels, and the bone combs with half-moon shaped or rounded backs so typical of Visigothic women's costume are mere replicas of the combs fashionable with the Romans in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Roman influence manifests itself in the ongoing adoption of the empire's late-antique provincial culture. The incidence of Roman products in burial grounds and settlements wanes as one progresses from the lower Danube toward the Carpathians. In Transylvania, most of these imports were found at the north end of the major mountain passes, in the Háromszék Basin, while in the interior of the former Dacia they are exceedingly scarce.

Gothic settlement was concentrated in two regions of Transylvania. The largest, or at any rate the better-known, lay at the center of the erstwhile province of Dacia, within the former limes; it covered an area with a radius of about fifty kilometres, between {1-150.} the Kis-Szamos River, the middle reaches of the Maros valley, and the branches of the Küküllő rivers. It might be expected that the earliest cremation graves would be found here, among the urn graves of Maroslaka/Péterlaka-Csortos, Maroscsapó, Marosgezse, Sóvárad, Maroslekence, Medgyes, and Sepsiszentgyörgy-Eprestető. In fact, such is not the case; the sole possible exception is Maroslaka. At Maroscsapó, for instance, coins minted under Constantius I and Constantius II date the urn graves at the first half of the 4th century. The silver fibula with a half-moon shaped end, found in a cremation grave at Maroslekence, is a typical Gothic ornament that seldom occurs before the middle third of the 4th century. The 'urn' in that 4th century Gothic grave, a pot of the Mithras cult with handles bearing serpentine decoration, was made in the 2nd or 3rd century, and thus it must have been a 'found' vessel; Roman vessels, bronze objects, and fibulae, dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries, were similarly recycled and found in Langobard and Avar graves of the 6th–7th century in Pannonia. At Sóvárad, 4th-century cremation graves of the {1-151.} Marosszentanna type were found inserted amidst the ruins of a Roman castellum. Only a few Gothic cremation graves have been unearthed so far in Transylvania, but this does not prove that no others existed. At Marosszentanna, for instance, the burial site had suffered so much from erosion that the urn graves must have been destroyed by the time of the excavation. Their earlier presence is attested by the burned bronze ornaments found with the displaced 56th skeleton.

The burial site at Magyarpalatka is as significant as the graves at Sóvárad with regard to the links between the Goths and former Dacia. The deep Gothic graves in the field at (Magyar-)Palatka-Tag were dug by cutting through the very foundation walls of a ruined Roman building (a former villa rustica). The rich grave objects (silver fibulae with half-moon shaped ends, Gothic and 4th-century Roman vessels, combs with curved backs) and the funeral rite are consistent with the second period of the burial site at Marosszentanna. One find, a large bronze pendant with hammered ornamentation, is considered unique in the Gothic area; significantly, a similar, Roman pendant, dating from the 4th century, was unearthed in the 1723rd grave at Intercisa. In these circumstances, the pendant can hardly be attributed to the craftsmanship of 'Roman Christians' in Dacia.