AMBER ARTIFACTS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIRST MILLENNIUM
AND THEIR PROVENANCE WITHIN THE LIMITS OF EASTERN BALTIC
- The spread of amber in
Lithuania and its popularity over different periods,
application of amber in ornament production, changing
trends in amber jewelry wear as well as the links of
these customs with gender, sex, and, more generally,
with the Lithuanian world outlook, are the Issues
usually discussed based on ungrounded assumptions that
the amber artifacts found in Lithuanian burial sites and
the cultural strata of hill-forts and settlements had
originated from the Lithuanian coast. It is unexpected,
possibility, that Baltic Sea amber artifacts, belonging
to different archeological sites across Lithuania, are
not only local products, but also imports via different
trade routes. As far as analysis of Lithuanian amber
artifacts has established, raw amber was exported from
the coast southwards. Lathed and semi-lathed amber beads
found at the cemeteries in central Lithuania, the lower
Nemunas region and even in coastal Lithuania and dated
to the late Roman Iron Age - early Migration period, are
imports of several workshops in the lower Vistula,
Kuiavia areas, Mazurian Lakeland, Sambian peninsula and
other regions. On the other hand, it should be noted,
that amber beads of common shapes known since the Roman
Iron Age onwards, figure-eight shaped beads-pendants and
these of other less common shapes, as well as beads and
other amber artifacts typical of the Vendel and the
Viking Age were produced by local amber crafstmen in
- Though the knowledge
provided by written sources on the Balts (Aestii -
hesti, aesti) in the middle of the first millennium and
the Roman period is only of general character, even
these short accounts inform on the Baltic peoples and
their trade in amber. The Roman historian Publius
Cornelius Tacitus (ca 55-120) was the first one to refer
to gentes Aestiorum as all the Baltic tribes
collectively in his opus Germania, 98. Tacitus mentions
the gentes Aestiorum being distinct from others, as it
is the only tribe of these known to Tacitus, to collect
amber (in their language glaesum) on the Mare Suebicum
(Baltic Sea) coast. Yet, being barbarian, they never
explore the nature of amber and do not know it. The
gentes Aestii bring raw amber to merchants, they take
reward for it with surprise (Tacitas, 1972, 45; with
Latin checked by Veronika Gerliakiene). This observation
by Tacitus is of great value, as besides emphasizing the
fact, that the Balts collect amber washed up by the sea,
it also points out, that they bring it themselves to
markets known to both sides involved in this trade.
Since it is known that the Goths left the lower Vistula
region in the second century, it is possible to assume
that the area where the west Balts collect drift amber
includes the lower Vistula region, Samland and coastal
Lithuania. In modern language that would mean
southeastern and eastern regions of the Baltic coast.
- The Roman Caius Plinius
Secundus (23-79) also mentions trade in amber in his
Naturalis Historia. The book tells of a Neron's time
expediton by a Roman nobleman (eques Romanus) from
Carnuntum commercia, a Roman frontier fortress and
important trade center in the middle reaches of the
Danube, to the Baltic coast (amber-bearing island) to
purchase amber. Researchers mentioned by C. Plinius
Secundus, linked amber-bearing island with Samland
peninsula, Lithuanian sea cost or island situated west
of Jutland (Kolendo, 1985, p. 11-13; Michelbertas, 1995,
p. 17-19). However, C. Plinius Secundus also mentions
the fact that the Germanic tribes take amber to
Pannonia, from where the Eneti provide it for the Romans
(Naturalis Historia, XXXVII, 30-52; translation from
Latin by Veronika Gerliakiene).
- Claudius Ptolemy (ca
90-168) in his opus Geography mentions two Baltic
tribes, Galindians and Sudovians (soudinoi; LIS, 1955,
p. 19). These two tribes, having no access to the Baltic
shores, could only control the area rich in mined amber
in northwest Poland. The letter by the Ostrogoth King
Theodoric written around 523-526, besides important
political information contains references to trade in
amber. This letter was retold by Flavius Magnus Aurelius
Cassiodorus (ca 487-ca 578). The letter by Theodoricus
proves that the Balts were known in Europe of the
fifth-sixth centuries and put efforts to continue and
expand trade in amber, which was impacted by the
processes of the Great Migration period. The inflow of
amber to the Roman Empire in the fourth century was very
significant though less then before (Wielowiejski, 1980
a, p. 14-21; Kolendo, 1990, p. 91-100). Jordanes, a
Gothic historian, retelling Historica Gotica by
Cassiodorus, mentions the Baltic peoples as involved in
the processes of the Great Migration in Europe together
with the Goths (Wolfram, 1990, p. 139-140). Therefore,
based on references in written sources, conclusion can
be drawn, that the Baltic peoples were present in
culturally defined world of the period. Yet it should be
noted, that besides the western Balts, other tribes,
like Celts, Goths, and the peoples of Debczyn, Wielbark,
Przeworsk, and Bogaczew cultures, later Olsztyn cultural
group, were also involved in amber trade.
- The lower Vistula region,
Samland and the coast of Lithuania abounded in drift
amber (Katinas, 1983, p. 10-11; Sidrys, 1994 a, fig. 1).
The island of Fiun and western coast of the Jutland
peninsula yielded raw amber to amber exporters in
certain periods (Jensen, 1965, Kanen 1-3, Kolendo, 1985,
p. 11; Katinas, 1983, p. 11). Northwestern Poland, the
basin of the Narew river, the Mazurian Lakeland region,
Pomerania not far away from Slupsk, also the environs of
Gdansk were rich in mined amber (Kosmowska-Ceranowicz.,
Pietrzak, 1985, p. 49-51, rig. 18).
- In the middle of the first
millennium (periods C3 / D-E), the Baltic peoples saw
big changes in their social-economic life, mostly
related to the processes of the Great Migration period
in Europe. All of the Baltic tribes later mentioned in
the written sources emerged during the late fourth and
fifth centuries (Tautavicius, 1996, p. 44-45, fig. 1).
In the middle of the first millennium, the changing
population numbers transformed the network of
settlements and domestic intertribal trade routes in
existing ethnic-cultural areas. The late fourth century
brought to the Baltic peoples the first effects of the
Great Migration period, yet only the fifth century saw a
multifarious and more obvious effect on material culture
of the Baltic peoples. Considerably bigger numbers of
amber artifacts occurring in the burials of the Baltic
peoples dated by the fifth and sixth centuries are
related with the migration processes in the Barbaricum
and interior migration of the Baltic peoples.
- Trade in amber and trade
routes of different periods have been discussed in
detail by a number of well known authors Jerzy and
Premyslaw Wielowiejski, Marija Gimbutas, Mykolas
Michelbertas (Wielowiejski, 1980; Wielowiejski, 1990,
p.101-133; 1997,p.217-342; Michelbertas 1972, p. 65-72;
Gimbutas, 1963, p. 144, 146; Gimbutiene, 1985, p.
56-59). Researchers who focus on intertribal trade
aspects, view it as a wide cross-regional phenomenon.
The Baltic peoples traded amber for salt and non-ferrous
metals; for them it was also a way to obtain prestige
goods. Trade in amber made them a part of historical
processes of the period, as, besides goods, fresh
cultural ideas traveled along the same routes. Amber
trade was a factor that stimulated trade relationships
among the peoples living in the Baltic region.
- Laima Vaitkunskiene has
explored the role amber played in religious beliefs and
burial rituals of the Baltic tribes of Lithuania
(Vaitkunskiene, 1992 a, p. 36-49; 1992 b, p. 49-57).
Algirdas Varnas has researched Lithuanian amber
artifacts dated to the ninth-twelfth centuries (Varnas,
1978, p. 1 17-124). The role of amber in religious
beliefs and burial rites of the Baltic peoples, its
economic significance, the sites of amber finds and
tribal differences in application are the aspects,
covered by Raymond Vytenis Sidrys' studies, for which he
has applied a nonparametric statistical method (Sidrys,
1994 a-b). Both L. Vaitkunskiene and R. Sidrys arrive to
the conclusion, that amber for the Baltic peoples was a
rear and expensive material, while rituals and
prohibitions restricted its everyday application. The
spread and role of amber in the Roman Iron Age, over the
Migration Period and in the Middle Iron Age, have also
been investigated in the works by Mykolas Michelbertas
and Adolfas Tautavicius (Michelbertas, 1986, p. 105-106;
Tautavicius, 1996, 186-188).
of amber artifacts from the middle of the first
- Amber beads and
beads-pendants are the most important amber artifacts
found in Lithuania and dated to the middle of the first
millennium. One distinctive feature of the burials from
this period is that besides amber beads they abound in
raw amber. Over the Roman Iron Age, the Baltic peoples
of Lithuania started wearing amber beads in the period
B2 / C1-C1 b. Based on 1986 data, over a hundred of
amber beads dated to the Roman Iron Age have been found
at thirteen burial sites in western Lithuania, the lower
Nemunas region and central Lithuania (Michelbertas,
1986, p. 106). More necklaces of amber and other beads
have been recently found in the burials of the Roman
period at the Dauglaukis, Baitai, Marvele,
Pleskuciai-Pangesai, Pajuoste, Pakalniai and other
cemeteries. But this recent data do not alter previously
established tendencies of placing amber into graves in
the Roman Iron Age. Over the Roman Iron Age, amber beads
were scarce. At that time, a few amber beads would be
strung together with monochrome, colourful, multicolour
and gilt beads of glass, enamel or bronze. Traditional
Roman Iron Age shapes for amber beads were flattened
spherical or truncated biconical; semi-circular and low
tubular amber beads were typical of the end of the
- Resent research done to
identify spread of amber artifacts in Lithuania
justifies a conclusion that the Middle Iron Age, in
contrast to the Roman Iron Age, was much richer in amber
artifacts (Sidrys, 1994 a, p. 85-86, fig. 8). But this
comparison of intensity levels in application of amber
artifacts in Lithuania was drawn based on chronological
Iron Age periods traditionally distinguished in
Lithuania: the Roman Iron Age (1-400), the Middle Iron
Age (400-800) and the Late Iron Age (800-1200).
Therefore, the concluded marked
increase in amber artifacts usage in the Middle Iron Age
(400-800) is not correct. Indeed, the number of amber
artifacts found in Lithuania starts increasing in the
burials dated to the late fourth century. It should also
be noted that most of amber artifacts are being found in
the graves from the Fifth and sixth centuries. By that
time amber artifacts-amber beads are already spread
across all the territory of Lithuania, as pointed out by
the archaeologists M. Michelbertas and A. Tautavicius
(map 1; Michelbertas, 1968, p. 87; 1986, p. 106;
Tautavicius, 1996, p. 186-189). Amber artifacts from the
fifth and sixth centuries are not only most numerous,
but also come in diverse shapes of beads,
beads-pendants, amber spindles and raw amber (fig.
1-13). Statistical data also evidences a marked increase
in amber usage based on the finds from the fifth-sixth
centuries (map 1). According to the data from the year
2000, of 215 number of burial sites attributed to this
period, 86 were found to contain amber ornaments (map
- A marked increase in amber
ornaments is observed in the burials from the late Roman
Iron Age (C2 mostly C3 periods) and the Migration
Period. This phenomenon was noticed and beads of the
same shapes were found in Wielbark culture, and in a
large area inhabited by the western Baltic peoples, as
well as in Denmark, southern Sweden, and on the islands
of Oland, Bornholm and Gotland (Stjernquist., Beck.,
Bergstrom, 1994; Kulakov, 1997, p. 115-117; Bursche.,
Okulicz-Kozaryn, 1999, p. 141-154). It was a region at
that time closely connected by political, trade and
- Shorter and longer bead
necklaces of different kinds are found in female and
adolescent graves of the period. Bead necklaces are
found placed on the chest of a buried person, often they
appear to have been fixed to other ornaments, like
brooches and pins. Single beads-amulets are typically
found in male graves. Short amber bead strings are rare
in male graves (Plinkaigalis, grave 54, 246; Vidgiriai,
grave 14; Zviliai, grave 261). Intrestingly, amber beads
from the fifth and sixth centuries are frequently found
in the graves of children and teenagers, especially so
of young girls. Such a habit is especially pronounced at
coastal cemetries of western Lithuania and accounted for
the fact that amber beads of less sophisticated forms
and beads-peandants were local and thus less valuable
produce. A general tendency of amber artifacts being
most numerous in the graves of children and teenagers
has several reasons. One of the key reasons is that of
all burial sites of medieval Europe, not excepting
Lithuanian, children's (young child, 1-7 years old) and
adolescents' (7-15 years old) graves make up over a half
of all the buried (Cesnys., Balciuniene, 1988, p. 67-69;
Stoodley, 2000, p. 456-472). Infant mortality was
especially high, and being of a low status within
society, infants were buried without any funerary goods.
With age, the attitude to the children changed, and the
older the child, the more grave goods she or he had in
the grave (Stoodley, 2000, p. 456-472). Usually, shorter
and longer necklaces are found in children's graves
(Stoodley, 2000, Fig. 1-2). Such a habit is noticed in a
large part of Europe. High children mortality encouraged
a search for methods that would increase children's
chances to survive. Having in mind the fact, that since
the Greek and Roman times, amber was believed to have
curative qualities, it is not surprising at all, that it
was expected to protect children from illnesses and an
evil eye. On the other hand, amber was easily available
in Lithuania, and simple hand-made bead strings were
nothing luxurious (fig. 1:1-3,5). Small 3-7-11 bead
necklaces tied up to one or two crook-shaped iron pins
have been found in adolescent and children's graves from
the fifth-sixth centuries in Lithuania (Banduziai, grave
83, Kalniskiai, graves 150, 229; Lazdininkai
(excavations of 1940), grave 70; Rudaiciai I, graves 40,
43; Stragnai (excavations of 1985), grave 22; Sudenai,
barrow 3, grave 8, barrow 1, grave 6; Sauginiai, graves
8, 14, 30; Tubausiai, grave 22, 42; Uzpelkiai, graves
15, 22, 29, 32, 92, 94).
- In contrast from previous
centuries, the fifth and sixth centuries saw Lithuanian
women from the Baltic tribes wear long necklaces strung
exclusively of lathed, semi-lathed or hand made amber
beads, mixed necklaces of amber, glass and bronze beads
also stayed on fashion (colour fig. 11-13). Such habit
is manifested by the finds from the cemeteries of the
lower Nemunas region and central Lithuania, which
experienced import of amber artifacts (fig. 2). The long
strings of lathed and semi-lathed amber beads appear in
rich equipped women's graves. Amber necklaces were made
of 10-16-18-21-24-29-39-43-53-72 beads (Kalniskiai,
graves 35, 118, 191, 217; Marvele, graves, 294, 305;
Plinkaigalis, graves 9, 16, 29, 30, 34, 43, 51, 56, 67,
84, 98, 120, 125, 129, 130, 169, 215, 325, 346, 364 and
cremated grave A; Vidgiriai, graves 21, 34; Lazdininkai
(study of 1940), grave 70; (study of 1998), graves 32,
37, 38; Uzpelkiai, graves 44, 92, 94). Only Lazdininkai
and Uzpelkiai are in the Baltic sea coast region.
- Necklaces of 3-15 amber
beads, bronze spirals, links of a chain, sometimes from
one to five or up to 17-22 amber beads of amber, green
glass, enamel, pewter or even clay have been found in
the graves of children, teenagers and women buried in
the late fourth through the sixth centuries in the rest
- The longest necklaces
dated to the fifth-sixth centuries and most of single
beads have been found not on the coast of Lithuania, but
in the lower Nemunas (Vidgiriai) region, in central
Lithuania (Kalniskiai, Marvele, Plinkaigalis) and even
eastern Lithuania (Baliuliai). Most probably the longest
bead necklace dated to the fifth century strung of 232
amber, glass and enamel beads, was found in 2000, in
eastern Lithuania at the Baliuliai barrow cemetery,
barrow 12, inhumation grave 1. Over 171 shapes of amber
beads (irregular oblong, flattened spherical, irregular
cylindrical and square) were put together to make this
- The bead necklaces from
the fifth-sixth centuries found in the coastal part are
strung of fewer beads, only 7-10-20. These are mostly
traditional small truncated biconical or flattened
spherical beads, though in some of such strings small
cylindrical beads also turn up (fig. 1:3,5; 2: 6-8; 3:
- As regards Basonia type
beads, the fewest of them have been found in the
fifth-sixth century graves in western and central
Lithuania (fig. 2: 9-10, 12-14; Sidrys, 1994 b, p. 40,
fig. 10). However, coastal part of Lithuania is
exceptionally rich in lathed step-cut beads (432 types
according to Tempelmann-Maczynska, 1985). Twenty-six
lathed step-cut amber beads of different shapes have
been found in the Uzpeliai burial site (fig. 3: 3; 4;
5). The lathed step cut beads are known from the third -
early fourth centuries Wielbark culture (Bursche.,
Okulicz- Kozaryn, 1999, Fig. 4, 6:1). Lathed step-cut
beads have been found at Suwalki barrow cemetry and
other Jotvingian burial sites of the end of the
fourth-beginning of the fifth centuries (Antoniewicz,
1961, p. 21-22, tab. 11:12).
- One or two amber
beads-pendants have been found strung together with
amber beads in necklaces for the juvenile, buried in the
fifth-sixth centuries (fig. 1: 3-5). The beads-pendants
found in the burial sites in coastal, north-western,
central and even southern and eastern parts of Lithuania
come in different shapes (fig. 6: 1-44). Yet, the most
popular were figure-eight beads-pendants, spread across
Lithuania in period C3 (fig. 6: 1-19, 25-26; Banyte,
1995, p. 5-15, fig. 1-7; Banyte-Rowell, 2000, p. 29-40,
fig. 2-5). Most of figure-eight beads-pendants have been
found in the graves from the fourth - early fifth and
the first half of the fifth century (Valatka, 1984, p.
17-19, fig. 12:15). However, the necklaces made
exclusively of beads-pendants are very rare. Such rare
necklace strung of seven figure-eight bead-pendants and
two rectangular bead-pendants has been found in boy's
grave 261 at the Zviliai cemetery and in Plinkaigalis
female grave 313 (fig. 1: 4; 7:2; colour fig. 12).
- Different types of
necklaces and beads may indicate different trade routes,
not necessarily related with Lithuanian coast (map 1).
Amber artifacts found in the burials of the lower
Nemunas region, central or eastern Lithuania could be
not only local imports of coast Lithuania, but also more
distant imports of Samland, the Gdansk bay, Mazurian
Lakeland, Kuiavia region or south-western Poland, as
these areas are known to have had amber beads of
identical shapes, and also amber bead workshops, hoards
and storage houses.
of amber artifacts in the graves
- A custom of attaching a
big lathed amber bead to a handle of a battle
knife-dagger spread in the middle of the fifth and sixth
centuries (Simenas, 1996, p. 27-71). Such graves are
known in the cemeteries of Kalniskiai (grave 214),
Lieporiai (grave 59), Marvele (grave 323), Plinkaigalis
(graves 106, 228); Vidgiriai (graves 13, 18, 37). To
attach amber or some other material bead to their battle
knife-dagger was also a Scandinavian and Hunnish custom.
In Sweden during the Iron Age, amber beads were
sometimes attached to swords (Stjernquist., Beck.,
Bergstrom, 1994, p. 38-39). The Huns would fix a
bead-amulet of glass, semiprecious stones or amber to a
handle of the sword (Csallany, 1961, p. 259-260; Bona,
1993, fig. 22: 2-3; 47, 51, 53, 56; 61; plate XVI). It
should be noted that some lathed amber beads found in
the Baltic lands in their form mirror the Hunnish ones
(Bona, 1993, fig. 22:2). Large amber beads would also be
attached to a belt or a sash, as manifested by the finds
of male graves at the burial sites of Kalniskiai and
Uzpelkiai (fig. 3:2). The custom to fix a big
bead-pendant, not necessarily an amber one, to the belt
or sash was part of Danubian Sarmats and German's
costume of the rich persons. Evidently during the early
Migration period, such custom was popular within a large
area from the Caucasus up to the Rhein under the
influence of prestigious Mediterranean fashion. In the
fifth-sixth centuries, an amber bead was sometimes
attached to a spear (Vidgiriai, grave 9).
- Amber beads found singly
in the graves from the fifth-sixth centuries happen to
be placed not only on the chest, where they were
attached to a necklace, brooche, pin, sown to dress or
strung on a piece of rope and hanging on a chest. Some
singly found amber beads are placed next to the head
(Lieporiai, grave 65, Marvele, grave 335; Plinkaigalis,
grave 21, 46, 97), some are placed next to the bracelets
(Zviliai, grave 149) or in the area of the waist and
pelvis. This position of amber beads relates not only to
the male custom to attach a bead to their battle
knife-dagger's handle; women seem to have had a custom
to fix an amber bead, a piece of raw amber or even a
spindle to a sash, mostly on the left side. This means
that amber beads were used not only in neck ornaments.
Therefore singly found amber beads should be considered
- In the context of
Lithuanian amber artifacts from the fifth-sixth
centuries, the finds from the Vidgiriai cemetery in the
lower reaches of the Nemunas evidence a distinct amber
necklace wear style (map 1). Besides Baltic elements,
the burial rites and accompanying material have
analogues in central Europe, the Danube and the lower
Vistula regions, Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea coast
(Simenas, 1996, p. 6). Iron prolong-headed pins have
been found in female graves at the Vidgiriai cemetery
(graves 11, 16, 17, 41). Such pins have been found next
to the head, they were used to fix a headband.
From five to nine small lathed amber beads were attached
to these pins. Besides, in grave 11, one amber bead was
attached to a brooch, while 1 2 more beads on the left
side were tied up to a sash. Beads fixed to iron pins
were also found in grave 16, besides, seven amber beads
were found by the left, and 20 of them - by the right
hand of the buried person. In female grave 19, ten
lathed beads of Basonia type were strung into a
necklace; five other beads were fixed to a headband.
From five to twelve amber beads attached to sashes on
the left and the right side were found in the Vidgiriai
cemetery (graves 11, 14, 16, 17, 19, 34; grave 14 is
- Alongside with other tools
placed next to the buried person's head, amber spindles
of cylindrical form have also been found at the
Lithuanian cemeteries dated to the fifth-sixth centuries
(fig. 8). Most of such are the finds from the
Lazdininkai cemetery (excavations of 1949, graves 16,
46, 63, 65, 67, excavations of 1998, graves 37; fig. 7:
1, 3). Some single amber spindles have been found in the
lower Nemunas region, (Vidgiriai, grave 72) at the
Samogitian cemeteries (Pagrybis, grave 33, stray finds;
fig. 8:2, 4). The graves dated to the fifth and sixth
centuries are found to contain raw amber. Raw amber
pieces happen to be in different locations in the grave:
near the head (Lieporiai, grave 77, Uzpelkiai, grave 94)
on the chest (Lazdininkai, excavations in 1940, grave
39, Pagrybis, male grave 134) in the area of pelvis
(Maudzioriai, female grave 175, Uzpelkiai, male graves
16, 66, female grave 84). Raw amber material found at
the Lieporiai cemetery, male grave 6, was located next
to the chin. A noteworthy piece of natural raw amber was
found in female grave 84 at the Uzpelkiai cemetery. It
had a natural cavity in it, and through that
opening it was tied up to a sash in a fashion of amulet
(fig. 10). This Uzpelkiai find relates amber
pendant-amulets with apotropaistic bronze pendants of
the seventh-ninth centuries, numerous in the graves of
the period in western Lithuania and the lower reaches of
the Nemunas (Bliujiene, 1995, p. 39-72; 1998, p. 66-87).
- Occasionally, an amber
bead or a piece of raw amber is found near the head or
in the mouth in Sweden and Denmark (Stjernquist., Beck.,
Bergstrom, 1994, p. 39). Single amber beads, raw amber
pieces placed next to the head or into the mouth are
sometimes interpreted as a tribute to the death good
Charon, this way amber assumes function of money
(Stjernquist., Beck., Bergstrom, 1994, p. 38-39). Other
accounts of this phenomenon are also possible, but there
is no doubt in the importance vested in amber by the
tribe members at the burial of the deceased. Therefore
position of single amber beads and raw amber in the
graves of the fifth-sixth centuries, besides indicating
ties with the heathen religion, reveals a belief in the
magic power of amber. However, we should keep in mind
that raw amber pieces could have served a practical
purpose, like indicating that a buried individual was
amber crafstman (Okulicz, 1973, p. 455; Bliujiene, 1998,
- Among the finds from the
seventh century onwards, amber beads and especially
amber necklaces become scarce, of these, single amber
beads, considered by archaeologists to be amulets,
dominate. The Samogitians and Semigallians would attach
single (one or two) amber beads to their brooches (men),
pins (women) or directly to dress. Over the entire
second half of the first millennium and the beginning of
the second millennium, small necklaces of bronze
spirals, pendants and several glass, occasionally amber,
beads were the only neck ornament used by females of the
Lithuanian Baltic tribes. This can be partially related
with cremation rites. In Lithuania, occurrence of amber
beads in cremations versus inhumation has not yet been
- Lithuanian trade links in
the middle of the first millennium
- Amber beads of several
types, like hand made, semi-lathed (on a device
resembling a bow) and lathed ones, are found in a large
part of Barbaricum of the period under discussion (Zak,
1962; Maczyniska, 1972, p. 349-390;
Tempelmann-Maczynska, 1985). Production of half-lathed
and lathed beads is related with the spread of the
kick-wheel (potter's wheel). In most cases, semi-lathed
amber beads imitate shapes of lathed ones. Only the
peoples, which at the time used potter's wheel in
pottery, could also produce lathed beads (Zak, 1962, p.
182-186). Thrown on the wheel pottery appeared in the
region of the amber route and its branches only in the
end of the second century; by the fourth century,
throwing was introduced into pottery locally (Zak, 1962,
p. 186-188; Wielowiejski, 1980 b). Amber turning lathe
and potter's wheel could have been brought to these
quarters by Gothic merchants from amber processing
workshops in Aquileia and Pannonia. In Samland peninsula
in the fifth century, potter's wheel was used
occasionally (Okulicz, 1973, p. 441).
- West Balts saw the first
lathed and semi-lathed amber beads in the period B2 /
C3, production of such beads started spreading there
only at the turn of the periods C3-D (Okulicz, 1973, p.
439, 454-455, fig. 217: c, 218 j, 224; Wielowiejski,
1976, p. 98). However, production of lathed amber beads
was indeed established in the Baltic lands only in
period D. Lithuania was reached by the first imports of
lathed beads in the middle of the second half of the
third century together with Roman coins, glass and
enamel beads (Lazdininkai, grave 13 (research of 1992),
Dauglaukis, grave 1, LNM AR 366:1).
- As it is known, from the
fifth through the ninth century, modeling was the only
method used in Lithuania for making pottery
(Tautavicius, 1996, p. 264-270). In the tenth-eleventh
centuries potters of the Baltic tribes started combining
modeling with throwing, thrown pottery was introduced in
the tenth century (Zulkus, Klimka, 1989, p. 46-53). This
means that no proper technical equipment for turning
amber beads existed in Lithuania in the fourth-sixth
centuries. But this fact does not preclude a possibility
that beads or beads-pendants were made by hand, or maybe
on a bow-type turning device (for making semi-lathed
- A large amber beads
production center was situated at the lower reaches of
the Vistula, the seashore between the Vistula and the
Oder and the Vistula - Parset (Gdansk region and the
area of Kolbrzeg-Slupsk). Lathed and semi-lathed amber
beads typical of the late Roman Iron Age and the
Migration period were produced in these quarters until
the fifth century. Other possible regions of producing
lathed and semi-lathed amber beads were basin of the
rivers Narew-Vistula and southeastern part of Poland
(Wielowiejski, 1997, p. 215-347; Gruszcynska, 1999, p.
183-19; fig. 2: 1-5, 9-10, 12-14; 3: 1-4). Based on the
occurrence of step-cut amber beads in the area, such
beads over the period B2 / C1 and C3 / D could have been
produced somewhere between Gdansk and the Nogat river,
maybe in Mazurian Lakeland (fig. 4: 1-5; 5; colour
fig.11,13; Okulicz, 1973, p. 455; 1976, p. 181-213). 997
is the date when Gdansk amber processing workshops first
entered the written sources, however, amber processing
in these quarters goes back to the Stone Age
(Tabaczynska, 1999, p. 177-180).
- In the late fourth century
and over the First half of the fifth, large amber
processing workshops operated in Swilcza, Rzeszow
voivodeship (southeastern Poland). Swilcza amber beads
are very similar to the ones found in Lithuania (fig. 2:
1-4; colour fig.l 1,13). Among the Swilcza amber beads
(especially type IV according to P. Wielowiejski or type
440, according to M.Tempelmann-Maczyriska) are similar
to Basonia beads (Wielowiejski, 1990, p. 111). To
classify these amber beads by type of production, the
bulk of the Swilcza beads are hand-made, probably
produced with the help of a knife and chisel. Only a
couple of the amber beads show traces of having been
turned on a lathe (Gruszcynska, 1999, p. 185).
Excavations have revealed that Swilcza amber workshops
were deserted unexpectedly, and the end of their
existence is related with the collapse of the Hunnish
Empire in 455 (Gruszcynska, 1999, p. 188).
- Over the Iron Age and the
Early Migration Period, quite sizeable amber workshops
existed in Kuiavia region (central Poland). The products
of these workshops are similar to the amber beads from
the fifth-sixth centuries found in Lithuania. Kuiavia
region was at the crossroad of transit routes between
the Oder and the Vistula rivers and a spot of natural
salt springs into the bargain. Thus Kuiavia was the
target of long-distance amber trade, rather than a mere
transit area. Inowraclaw, Krusza Zamkova, Jacew,
Parchanki, Gaski, Wroble, Konary, Kuczkow, also Benice,
Radwanice amber workshops were operating in this region
since period B1b. Most of these amber workshops existed
until their collapse in the fifth century as the
economic depression in Italy brought down all Central
European market (Cofta-Broniewska, 1999, p. 151-175).
- Amber processing workshops
should have existed in Samland. Over A3 / B3 period,
Mazurian Lakeland was a large amber trade center
(Nowakowski, 1997, p. 100). Completed and ready for wear
amber beads, half-processed amber beads prepared for
turning, shavings of amber, and, of course, raw amber is
found on the sites of the former workshops. The analysis
of amber samples indicates the Baltic Sea as it
provenance. Infrared analysis of the amber from Swilcza
has provided evidence of it being typical succinite
(Gruszcynska, 1999, p. 186). A part of the Baltic raw
amber arrived to this huge region via the amber route to
be processed and returned back in the form of lathed and
semi-lathed amber beads and in the lot of cases with
beads-pendants (fig. 6:7, 14-15, 18, 19,23-24, 26; 7:2;
colour fig. 11). The rest of the raw amber and the part
of ready made amber beads were traded further to the
- In the late Roman Iron Age
and during the Migration Period, the current Polish
portion of the amber route or other spots of active
amber trade are found to have had not only amber
processing workshops and hoards, but also warehouses to
store raw amber and amber beads. Raw amber from these
warehouses traveled further south. Amber beads were
traded to the merchants coming from Barbaricum,
including merchants from Lithuania. The merchant
hoard found in Basonia near Lublin is the
most famous. The hoard found was 300 kg of raw amber
lumps and 30 kg of five types turned on lathe amber
beads, dated to the first half of the fifth century
(Wielowiejski, 1990, p. 101-133). Most amber beads of
Basonia type are found in the huge region inhabited by
the western Balts (Tempelmann-Maczynska, 1985, Abb. 12,
Tafel 68; Wielowieski, 1990, p. 111-113). It should be
assumed that these beads were produced by the workshops
located within the area of their occurrence. Basonia
type beads are quite numerous at the high reaches of the
Elbe and Wezer rivers: the beads were brought here by
trade links. In Lithuania, some of Basonia type beads
have been found in the graves at the cemeteries dated to
the fifth-sixth century in the lower Nemunas region and
central Lithuania; several of such beads came from the
cemeteries in Samogitia and Eastern Lithuania. However
in Lithuania the 1994 data listed only 16 find spots of
such beads (Sidrys, 1994 b, p. 40, fig. 10).
- The development of Samland
culture and the culture of the lower Nemunas region
would indicate that trade in amber could have been an
element unifying both Baltic areas (Nowakowski, 1999, p.
110-118). In the periods D-E 1 the number of amber beads
found at the Semba-Notanga cemeteries increases
(Kulakov, 1997, p. 114-118; Simenas, 1999, p. 52-115).
The beads found in cremations of this cultural group
show rough work, they are simple hacked out beads
without any burnish (fig. 9: 4) Similar amber beads have
been found at the cemeteries of central Lithuania,
especially big numbers of these have been found in
recent years at Kalniskiai (graves 127, 133, 194)
cemetery, some of them have been found at Marvele
cemetery (grave 294, 305) at Samogitian Sauginiai
cemetery (grave 9), also in eastern Lithuania (Diktarai,
grave 58; fig. 9: 1-3, 5-6). Yet such beads are not
typical of coastal Lithuania.
- It is quite possible that
Lithuania traders in raw amber from Samland could reach
Kuiavia, the environs of Rzeszow and other markets of
central Europe, where, we should assume, west Baltic
merchants used to buy amber beads and other goods
manufactured in central Europe. Some indirect evidence
of the Balts trading in raw amber comes from Tacitas,
when he claims that amber was granted its value only by
Roman desire for luxury (Tacitas, 1972, p. 29-30). The
artifacts produced in Aquileia and Pannonia workshops
from the ancient times (amber sculptures of gods,
deities and Cupids, theather perfomers or heroes, small
sculptures adorning brooches, vases and even necklaces
of amber beads, or the amphitheatre decorated for Nero's
gladiators) are based on completely different traditions
(Catacchio, 1993, p. 191-211; Losi., Raposso., Ruggiero,
1993, p. 203-210; Lund Hansen, 1996, p. 106-107). Such
artifacts never reached Lithuania.
- This does not exclude a
possibility of trips by Baltic merchants to the Roman
Empire's provinces or even Rome itself, it is obvious,
that raw amber merchants having purchased the goods they
needed, like bronze, salt, lathed and semi-lathed amber
beads, glass and enamel beads, headed home. Besides
lathed and half-lathed amber beads, other artifacts
(brooches, bindings for drinking horns, belt buckles and
their bindings), imports from the middle Danube, have
been found at the Lithuanian cemeteries of the
fifth-sixth centuries (Plinkaigalis, Kalniskiai,
Sauginiai, Vidgiriai, Marvele, Zviliai). Worth noting is
a silver cicada-shaped brooch dated to the fifth-early
sixth century - a stray find of Sauginiai (LNM AR
507:60; Merkevicius, 1984, p. 55, fig. 18:2). Another
silver brooch with plates at its terminals, dated to the
fifth-early sixth century has been found in male grave
144 of the Plinkaigalis cemetery. A large amber
bead-amulet was attached to this brooch. The brooches,
finds of Pinkaigalis and Sauginiai, are imports from the
territory of present Hungary and represent
characteristic Hunnish artifacts style (Kazakevicius,
1993, p. 113-114). Only two “Raupenfibeln” type
brooches from the fifth century are found in Lithuania.
They also belong to the aforementioned boy's grave 261
at Zviliai (fig. 7: 4). Most of such brooches were found
in the lower Vistula area, the Wielbark culture region
and Samland (Tuszynska, 1998, p. 177-187).
- Cemeteries from the
fifth-sixth centuries in western Lithuania, the lower
Nemunas region and central Lithuania abound in imported
items from these regions; numerous metal artifacts were
made locally following imported models. The types of
amber beads and other artifacts found in the graves from
the fifth-sixth centuries could evidence an intensive
long distance trade in raw amber between the merchants
of the coastal area and southern regions. Besides other
goods, coastal merchants brought back semi-lathed,
lathed and roughly processed amber beads, which they
traded to the local vendors at the markets in the lower
Nemunas region. Abundant and diverse finds from the
cemeteries also evidence a large trade center having
existed in the region of the lower Nemunas and Jura
rivers (map 1; Michelbertas, 1989, p. 13-21, fig. 1-3;
Zulkus., Klimka, 1989, fig. 27; Genys, 1997, fig. 1-3).
Outside Tilset (Sovietsk, Kaliningrad region) and
environs of Linkunai (Linkuhnen; Slavsk d., Kaliningrad
region) there seems to have been a convenient spot for
crossing the river Nemunas from Samland into Lithuania
(Nowakowski, 1997, p. 102; Zulkus., Klimka, 1989, p.
57). Off this trade center, the way must have forked.
This was a crossroad for the merchants, who arrived from
central Lithuania and other regions to the big market on
the lower Nemunas: they would take a turn to central
Lithuania and head home bringing along the purchased
amber beads and other goods. Those who would arrive from
the coast, they only carried home the delicate lathed
beads (fig. 3:1-4; 4-5). There was no need to import
amber beads of poorer work into Lithuanian coastal
regions because of locally produced hand-made and
semi-lathed beads in truncated biconical, flattened
spherical shapes and beads-pendants in different shapes.
It is worth noting that local craftsmen of coastal
Lithuania started imitating lathed truncated biconical
beads. Coastal Lithuania also developed local varieties
of beads-pendants shapes typical only of Lithuania (fig.
6: 1-4, 6, 8-13, 17, 20-22, 27-44). Locally made beads
and beads-pendants were meant for domestic trade. As
last years datum shows Mazurian Lakeland by trade route
should been connected with central, southern and eastern
parts of Lithuania. The amber beads found at such
multiethnic cemeteries like Vidgiriai should have been
brought over by their owners.
- Unfortunately, excavations
of the hill-forts and settlements from the Iron Age
failed to provide any evidence of amber processing in
Lithuania. A few small lumps of raw amber and loose
beads were found in several Lithuanian hill-forts
(Ekete, Zarde, both in Klaipeda d., Imbare, Kretinga d.,
Mazulionys, Ignalina d.; Kaukai, Alytus d.; Narkunai,
Utena d.; Varnas, 1978, p. 124; Luchtanas, 1981, p. 14).
It is assumed that at least in the ninth-twelfth
centuries amber processing centers could exist at
Palanga settlement (coastal Lithuania), somewhere in
Kretinga and Silute regions (Varnas, 1978, p. 123;
Zulkus, 1990, p.41; 1997, p. 274-275, fig. 181-183,
- A hoard of raw amber,
several hand made beads and parts of pendants have been
found at Palanga settlement (Zulkus, 1990, p. 41; 1997,
p. 274-275, 277, pav. 181-184: 3). This find indicates
possibility of producing amber ornaments in Viking Age
or perhaps in the twelve-thirteens centuries. However
amber beads and pendants belonging to Curonian
cemeteries of the Viking Age are crudely made by hand.
- As strange as it is, a big
amber processing center in the tenth-eleventh centuries
existed in Daugmale, in the lower Dauguva region
(Radins, 1992, p. 115-124) Daugmale prototown on the
Dauguva river is quite far away from the sea. The Riga
gulf is not rich in drift amber resources (Sidrys, 1994
a, p. 61, fig. 1). Most probably this amber processing
center could exist due to intertribal trade, reliable
trade routes and professional skills of the craftsmen,
including traveling ones. These circumstances were more
important that direct access to raw amber resources. It
becomes obvious, that areas of high amber artifacts
occurrence, resources of raw material and processing
centers are not always collocated.
- Translated by Irena
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- Fig. 6.
- 1 - Gintarai.LNM AR 651:
17; 2 - Maudziorai, grave 69; 3- Uzpelkiai, grave 43; 4
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Uzpelkiai. LDM ED 11 6940; 7 - Pavajuonys-Rekuciai,
barrow cemetery, barrow 11, grave 7; 8 - Uzpelkiai, MLIM
GEK 63 262; 9 - Barzunai. grave 7; 10 - Uzpelkiai, LDM
PGa 10:102; 11- Sudenai, loose find, KrM; 12 - Stragnai,
LNM AR 38:2421; 13 - Uzpelkiai, LDM PGa 11:34; 14, 24 -
Plinkaigalis, grave 313; 15, 19, 23 - Zviliai, grave
261; 16 - according to Tempelmann-Maczynska, 1985, Tafel
18:471 d; 17 - Uzpelkiai. MLIM GEK 62 269; 18 - Zapse,
grave 7; 20 - Lazdininkai, KrM; 21 - Uzpelkiai, LDM PGa
11:33; 22 - Sudenai, loose find, KrM; 25 - according to
Tempelmann-Maczynska, 1985, Tafel 18:471 e; 26 - Baitai,
grave 2; 27, 42 - Banduziai, grave 84; 28 - Palanga,
grave - 11; 29 - Sernai, grave 65; 30 - Pleskuciai,
loose find; 31-32 - Maudziorai, grave 32; 33 -
Maudziorai, grave 36; 34 - Stragnai, LNM AR 38:1722; 35
- Baitai, grave 22; 36, 39 - Baitai. grave 5; 37 -
Stragnai, LNM AR 38:1723; 38 - Stragnai, LNM AR 38:1724;
40 - Baitai, grave 31; 41 - Uzpelkiai, LDM Dep. 7177;
43-44 - Baitai, grave 4.
by: Bliujiene Audrone. LITHUANIAN AMBER
ARTIFACTS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIRST MILLENNIUM AND THEIR
PROVENANCE WITHIN THE LIMITS OF EASTERN BALTIC REGION
- Baltic Amber / ed. by Adomas
Butrimas. - Vilnius, Publishing Office of
- Vilnius Academy of Fine
Arts, 2001. P. P. 171-194