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Gradišče above Bašelj

The hilltop settlement of Gradišče in the foothills of the mountain Storžič had an exclusive value in the Early Medieval Carniola. Uncovered layers with numerous iron objects and ceramic fragments from the period between the end of the 8th century and the beginning of the 10th century were found at the place.

  • AD 850 – 1050

AD 850 – 1050

History

Gradišče above Bašelj lay in the Early Medieval Carniola (Slovene: Kranjska), which extended over the north-western part of the present-day Slovenia. Written sources are very scarce, but there still are some reliable ones that mention Carniola, first of them being Historia Lagobardorum (787/788–799) by Paul the Deacon, who lived in the 8th century in Forum Iulii (Cividale del Friuli). Paul the Deacon wrote about the Lombard duke (dux) Ratchis and his army, who invaded of the territory of Carniola, the homeland of the Slavs (Sclavorum patria). He clearly distinguishes Carniola from Carantania, another Slavic principality further to the north.

After Charlemagne’s victories over the Lombards and Avars, Frankish royal chroniclers showed greater interest in the political situation south of the Alps. Written at the Frankish court, Annales regni Francorum (741–829) is a reliable and authentic historical source, describing military interventions against Ljudevit Posavski, duke of the Pannonian Slavs, who raised a rebellion against Frankish domination. The inhabitants of Carniola, who lived along the Sava river (“… Carniolenses, que circa Savum fluvium habitant …”), as well as the Carantanian tribes joined the rebellion.

It is evident from these two historical sources that people who lived along the upper Sava river were Carniolenses, a Slavic tribe (gens) politically incorporated in the March of Friuli under Frankish dominion.

The Slavic name for Carniola is later not mentioned until 973, when it appears in two documents of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, who granted an extensive property near Škofja Loka to the bishop of Freising. These two documents reveal two names of different origin for Kranjska – Carniola and Creina (“… quod Carniola vocatur et quod vulgo Creina marcha appelatur … and … in regione vulgari vocabulo Chreine …”). From then on, the history of Kranjska can be followed in historical sources with no more gaps.6

Archaeology

Archaeological excavations at the site confirmed the existence of two settlement phases. The younger settlement phase has been proven by numerous objects from the period between the 8th century and the first half of the 10th century, discovered also at other parts of the site, some of them individually, others deposited together. Fig. 12 7 Prevalent among the artefacts are fragments of pottery, parts of horseman equipment, weapons (spurs, swords, knives, arrowheads) and horse gear (stirrups, bits of bridles, strap dividers), all made of quality iron or bronze, as well as tools, everyday objects and individual pieces of jewellery.8 There were also fragments of glass beakers and vessels, pieces of greenish cakes of glass, slugs of glass, traces of melted glass on stones, a drop of glass and a relatively large number of glass fragments, which might indicate glass production at the site. In addition to the typological determination of objects, the age of the Early Medieval layer has been confirmed by a radiocarbon date between AD 790 and 990. In the excavation, which covered only a small part of the entire settlement, stone buildings from the younger phase were not discovered. It can therefore be presumed that the stronghold was only temporarily inhabited in that time or that older buildings were used for dwelling – the latter has been proven by investigations of other Late Antique hilltop settlements, e.g. Ajdna above Potoki and Tonovcov grad near Kobarid.9

Fig. 12: Gradišče above Bašelj, objects in situ. Excavations of the National Museum of Slovenia in 1998. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Jože Hanc

Fig. 12: Gradišče above Bašelj, objects in situ. Excavations of the National Museum of Slovenia in 1998. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Jože Hanc

Art and Architecture

What is surprising about Gradišče above Bašelj is not only the abundance of finds (more than 1700 are stored in the National Museum of Slovenia and some also in the Museum of Gorenjska in Kranj), but also the high-quality manufacture of these objects, decorated with diverse ornaments in various techniques. The majority of the finds can be dated between the end of the 8th and the first half of the 10th century. Particularly noticeable among them are numerous parts of horse gear (stirrups, bits of bridles, strap dividers) Fig. 13, horseman equipment (spurs, buckles, metal mounts) Fig. 14 Fig. 15 Fig. 16, weapons (swords, knives, arrowheads) Fig. 17, tools (sickles, scythes, ploughshares), everyday objects (scissors, knives, axes, fire strikers) and individual pieces of jewellery (glass beads, a bronze ring, a jingle bell). An exceptional find is a damaged bronze thurible used in Christian worship. Fig. 18 10 The parts of horse and horseman equipment are not only extremely skilfully made of high-quality iron, their surface is also tinned and the surface of some bronze objects is gilded.11 Among these are: a bronze gilded cross strap divider with a pyramidal central part, a strap end with silver rivets, decorated in the same manner, a fragment of a gilded bronze spur decorated with geometric and stylised vegetation motifs, a bronze belt buckle ring with vegetation ornaments Fig. 19 and a gilded bronze hanger with a suspension loop.12 The gilded objects from Gradišče above Bašelj indicate Carolingian influence. There is no doubt they belonged to the members of the ruling class of the Early Medieval Carniola.13

Fig. 13: Gradišče above Bašelj, pieces of horse gear – two iron stirrups and the bit of a bridle. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 13: Gradišče above Bašelj, pieces of horse gear – two iron stirrups and the bit of a bridle. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 14: Gradišče above Bašelj, ornamented iron mounts. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 14: Gradišče above Bašelj, ornamented iron mounts. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 15: Gradišče above Bašelj, iron spurs. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 15: Gradišče above Bašelj, iron spurs. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 16: Gradišče above Bašelj, military equipment and horse gear. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 16: Gradišče above Bašelj, military equipment and horse gear. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 17: Gradišče above Bašelj, pieces of military equipment and iron mounts. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 17: Gradišče above Bašelj, pieces of military equipment and iron mounts. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 18: Gradišče above Bašelj, damaged bronze thurible and its reconstruction. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 18: Gradišče above Bašelj, damaged bronze thurible and its reconstruction. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 19: Gradišče above Bašelj, gilded bronze artefacts. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

Fig. 19: Gradišče above Bašelj, gilded bronze artefacts. Credits: National Museum of Slovenia, Tomaž Lauko

International connections

The area of the present-day Slovenia had a distinctly transitional character already in the prehistoric period, and has retained it through the centuries until today. The end of the 8th, but especially the 9th century, i.e. the period strongly associated with the expansion of the Frankish state in the time of the Carolingian dynasty, had an important impact on the development of the Slovene territory.

At the transition from the 8th to the 9th century, Carniola covered the central Slovene territory. During the Frankish-Avar wars, at the latest in 795 or 796, Carniola was brought under Frankish jurisdiction, though it retained its tribal organization and internal sovereignty. 14

The rebellion of Ljudevit Posavski and the 827 Bulgarian incursion into Pannonia demonstrated that the Frankish system of tribal principalities at the border of the state was not reliable. Hence, the structure of Frankish administration at the borders started to change in the 820s. Tribal principalities, Carniola among them, lost their internal sovereignty. The end of the Carolingian period and Frankish administration in the Slovene territory is related to the arrival and settlement of the Hungarians in Pannonia.

During the period from the end of the 8th century to the beginning of the 10th century, the influence of the Frankish state can be traced in the material culture of Slovene archaeological sites, especially elevated settlements, among which Gradišče above Bašelj currently takes the first place in both quantity and quality of artefacts. Numerous pieces of horse gear, horseman equipment and weapons reflect Carolingian influence in both form and functionality. 15 The richly decorated artefacts were undoubtedly highly valuable and could only be afforded by the wealthy. 16 Among the many artefacts there are extremely valuable bronze and gilded objects, worn by the members of the highest class. Fig. 19 The artefacts from Gradišče above Bašelj are very similar to artefacts from the territory of Great Moravia, while a number of weapons and parts of military equipment dating to the 8th and 9th centuries AD and resembling those from Gradišče above Bašelj were also found in Biskupija-Crkvina. One of the few indications that Christianity had been spread among the Slavic population by missionaries is the thurible from Gradišče above Bašelj Fig. 18, resembling the one found in the surroundings of Vrlika, not far from Biskupija-Crkvina.

References

6 More information regarding the historical sources for Kranjska in:
Štih, Peter, ‘Kranjska (Carniola) v zgodnjem srednjem veku (Krain – Carniola – im Frühmittelalter)’, in Kos, Janko et. al. (eds.), Zbornik Brižinski spomeniki, Dela 2, Razreda SAZU 45, Ljubljana, 1996, pp. 13–26
Štih, Peter, ‘O vzhodni meji Italije in o razmerah ter razmerjih ob njej v zgodnjem srednjem veku (Die Ostgrenze Italiens im Frühmittelalter) ‘, in Mihelič, Darja (ed.), Gestrinov zbornik, Ljubljana, 1999, pp. 103–123
Štih, Peter, ‘Strukture današnjega slovenskega prostora v zgodnjem srednjem veku (Die Strukturen des heutigen slowenischen Territoriums im Frühmittelalter) ‘, in Bratož, Rajko (ed.), Slovenija in sosednje dežele med antiko in karolinško dobo. Začetki slovenske etnogeneze, Situla 39, Ljubljana, 2000, pp. 355–394
Štih, Peter, Ozemlje Slovenije v zgodnjem srednjem veku. Osnovne poteze zgodovinskega razvoja od začetka 6. do konca 9. stoletja (The Territory of the Present-Day Slovenia in the Early Middle Ages), Ljubljana, 2001

7 Knific, Timotej, ‘Gradišče nad Bašljem (Gradišče above Bašelj)’, in Božič, D. et al., Zakladi tisočletij. Zgodovina Slovenije od neandertalcev do Slovanov, Ljubljana, 1999, p. 398

8 Kastelic, Jože, ‘Najdbe zgodnjega srednjega veka v Gojačah pri Gorici (Early Medieval Finds in Gojače near Gorica)’, Zgodovinski časopis, 6–7 (1952–1953), Ljubljana, 1953, pp. 89–109
Knific, Timotej, ‘Gradišče nad Bašljem (Gradišče above Bašelj)’, in Drago Svoljšak et al., Novo gradivo v Arheološkem oddelku Narodnega muzeja v Ljubljani (pridobljeno v letih od 1987 do 1993), Varstvo spomenikov 36 (1994–1995), Ljubljana 1997, p. 246
Ibid., pp. 249–250
Karo, Špela, Oprema konja v zgodnjem srednjem veku (Horse Gear in the Early Medieval Period), Master’s Thesis, Faculty of Arts, Ljubljana, 2003
Karo, Špela, ‘Die Typologie der frühmittelalterlichen Steigbügel aus slowenischen Fundorten (The Typology of Early Medieval Stirrups from Slovenian Sites)’, in Fusek, Gabriel (ed.), Zborník na počesť Dariny Bialekovej, Nitra, 2004, pp. 165–173
Karo, Špela, ‘Zgodnjekarolinške najdbe s slovenskih najdišč (Early Carolingian Finds from Slovenian Sites)’, in Lazar, Irena and Županek, Bernarda (eds.), Emona – between Aquilea and Pannonia, Koper, 2012, pp. 447–458
Karo, Špela, ‘Oprema jahača i konja s Gradišča nad Bašljem (Military and horse equipment from Gradišče above Bašelj (Slovenia)’, in Šeparović, Tomislav (ed.), Zbornik radova sa znanstvenog skupa “Dani Stjepana Gunjače 2″, Hrvatska srednjovjekovna povijesno-arheološka baština, Međunarodne teme, Split, 18.-21. listopada 2011, Split, 2012, pp. 297–315
Švajncer, Janez J., ‘Dva meča z Bašlja (Two Swords from Bašelj) ‘, Vojnozgodovinski zbornik, 20, Logatec, 2005, pp. 18–29

9 Vidrih-Perko, Verena, Sagadin, Milan, ‘Gorenjska v antiki (Gorenjska in the Roman Period)’, Kamniški zbornik, 17, Kamnik, 2004, p. 221
Ciglenečki, Slavko, Zvezdana, Modrijan and Tina, Milavec, Poznoantična utrjena naselbina Tonovcov grad pri Kobaridu. Naselbinski ostanki in interpretacija (Late antique fortified settlement Tonovcov grad near Kobarid. Settlement remains and interpretation), Opera Instituti archaeolgici Slovenia 24, Ljubljana, 2011, p. 71, pp. 186 – 189

10 Knific, Timotej, ‘Gradišče nad Bašljem (Gradišče above Bašelj)’, in Božič, D. et al., Zakladi tisočletij. Zgodovina Slovenije od neandertalcev do Slovanov, Ljubljana, 1999, p. 400
Bitenc, Polona, Timotej, Knific (eds.), Od Rimljanov do Slovanov. Predmeti (From the Romans to the Slavs. Objects), Ljubljana, 2001, p. 101, Kat. Nr. 329

11 Karo, Špela, Timotej, Knific and Zoran, Milić, ‘Pokositreni železni predmeti z Gradišča nad Bašljem (Tinned Iron Objects from Gradišče above Bašelj)’, Argo, 44/2, Ljubljana, 2001, pp. 42–47

12 Bitenc, Polona, Timotej, Knific (eds.), Od Rimljanov do Slovanov. Predmeti (From the Romans to the Slavs. Objects), Ljubljana, 2001, p. 97, Kat. Nr. 318
Knific, Timotej, ‘Early Medieval Gilded Artefacts from Gradišče nad Bašljem (Slovenia)’, Prilozi Instituta za arheologiju u Zagrebu, 24, Zagreb, 2007, pp. 317–326

13 Ibid., p. 322

14 Štih, Peter, ‘Kranjska (Carniola) v zgodnjem srednjem veku (Krain – Carniola – im Frühmittelalter)’, in Kos, Janko et. al. (eds.), Zbornik Brižinski spomeniki, Dela 2, Razreda SAZU 45, Ljubljana 1996, p. 17

15 Knific, Timotej, Arheološko najdišče Gradišče nad Bašljem (The Gradišče above Bašelj Archaeological Site), in: Tone Roblek (ed.), Preddvor v času in prostoru, Zbornik Občine Preddvor, Preddvor, 1999, p. 66

16 Ibid., p. 67

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