A response to: Oţa, Silviu. Review of Mária Vargha, Hoards, Grave Goods, Jewellery: Objects in Hoards and in Burial Contexts during the Mongol Invasion of Central-Eastern Europe. Speculum 92/4 : 1263–65; doi: 10.1086/693915.
Author’s Response (Mária Vargha, University of Vienna)
My concerns are as follows: The reviewer misinterprets the conclusions and approaches of my work, presents ideas from historiographic overviews as the study’s own, and makes assertions that require corrections, which are discussed in detail below.
The reviewer misrepresented the initial concept of the book, regarding methodology, timeframe, and the geographical area covered, although the justification for all of these is stated clearly in the introduction (pp. 2–5). Furthermore, it seems that the reviewer also failed to appreciate the methodology of the work. In the scholarship that focuses on the period discussed (second half of the twelfth to the end of the thirteenth century), the chronology of small finds is rather vague, and their agency is rarely discussed, as a result of the lack of grave goods relative to the preceding era (from about the eleventh to the beginning of the twelfth centuries). This was made worse by historiographical trends discussed in the first chapter. The reviewer claims that the study focuses on one site, Kána, and extrapolates the conclusions from that site to the entire Hungarian Kingdom. But the main focus of the book is not on one single site, nor does it project results from that site onto any other one, much less to the whole kingdom. Kána, being a completely excavated settlement from the period that includes a church and cemetery made an excellent case study for a comparison made on small finds excavated from different contexts (settlement or grave goods). The study uses the site as a starting point in a period where the chronology of objects is hard to determine. Since I have conducted a complete analysis of that wholly excavated cemetery with around 1,000 graves, I was able to distinguish chronological phases within the cemetery, not derived from finds from graves, but rather from an independent, stratigraphical, and statistical method. This analysis allowed for much more precise dating for burial horizons—and with that the small finds found in such burials—than would have been possible by traditional archaeological methods. This resulted in a list of objects dated to a relatively short period, with a complete context and object biography. All of this was compared with small finds coming from the other well-known and well-dated hoard horizon (providing the second starting point) connected to the 1241–42 Mongol invasion of Hungary, which together provided a solid basis for comparison of similar finds from the narrower region (comprising the collection and comparison of each published object from the Carpathian basin, including Slovakia and part of Romania), and allowed for a more complex socioeconomic interpretation of finds, their agency, and relationship to changing burial customs.
I believe this already answers a few of the reviewer’s concerns and misinterpretations. However, there are also some issues raised that are unrelated to the study, either chronologically, geographically, or in other ways. As the reviewer says: “To compare the funerary customs of a nomadic population with the ones of a sedentary population is pointless, because it indicates nothing but a difference already well known. At most, some similarities between the Hungarians and the Pechenegs or the Cumans could have been outlined, but these would have been forced to a certain extent.” Although I do believe that careful comparison can reveal new information in most cases, I never made an attempt to compare Cuman and Hungarian funerary customs—this is beyond the scope of this book. Furthermore, I am consciously avoiding any kind of ethnic identification, as archaeological evidence on it is rather scarce and ambiguous, especially for the period covered in the book. Only very few definitely Cuman graves are known from the thirteenth century, and given the history of the Cuman settlements, we would expect them to be largely post-Mongol invasion, the period that is the most difficult to identify archaeologically, not to mention the fact that the identification of the Pechenegs is also chronologically beyond the scope of the present study, connected as it is to the eleventh century. The very same issue goes for the reviewer’s concern regarding “[a]n analysis of the chronology of the adornments and clothing accessories in Kána that were dated with coins can be functional for that site and perhaps for several others, but not for every site. Archaeologists in Croatia and Slovakia have shown on quite a few occasions that the chronology of adornment items (for example those found in the so-called funerary horizon of the Bjelo Brdo type) varies by geographical zone. Those archaeologists have drawn parallels between the typology proposed by J. Giesler and the ones noted in Slovakia and Croatia. Furthermore, in the study of these communities not only is the use of adornments and clothing accessories important, but also funerary rituals, which are not really discussed in this volume.” The reviewer here refers again to a research tradition connected to the eleventh century, and the so-called Bjelo-Brdo debate, offering a prime example of the harmful impact that it had on research of the subsequent period—deriving results and consequences from research focused on a different era. Furthermore, regional differences are not neglected in the book, nor are changes in burial customs (see pp. 62–63 for a summary).
Again, similar problems occur with the reviewer’s concern “that the discussions of the Byzantine adornments and Balkan adornments of Byzantine inﬂuence are almost nonexistent.” There are several problems with this. First of all, Byzantine or Balkan-Byzantine influence as such, or the notion of “Byzantine influence,” is not a clear term that can be easily applied. There is no such thing as unified Byzantine material culture, and thus, no such thing as general Byzantine influence. Such characterizations should be treated just as cautiously in archaeology as with ethnic or national identifications and influences. Second, such artifacts are characteristic of the eleventh century (and earlier), but not the period discussed. The only exception—drop headpieces with chains and pendants (appearing only in hoard finds, and most probably connected to a higher socioeconomic level) and their possible Byzantine (Kievan) connections—is discussed on pp. 72–73.
Finally, assertions are made without attention to context. Claiming that “[t]he map on p. 23 (ﬁg. 12) assigns a generous area to the medieval Hungary of the thirteenth century. However, the lack of discussion of the archaeology of the areas that at the time were newly annexed (the eastern Banat, Srem, and Oltenia, which was surrendered to the Knights of Saint John in 1247) is surprising. An analysis of the cemeteries of the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, but also of feudal relations (not in all cases of the Western type) would have made clearer to the reviewer the causes of the lack of adornments in funerary practices during the interval after the Mongol invasion, in the fourteenth and even the fifteenth centuries.” There are several problems with this statement. The re-published map is one by Csaba Tóth, showing the hoards that can be doubtlessly dated to the time of the Mongol invasion (thus, with clear documentation and all the archaeological evidence referring to that). Tóth used two different ways of marking borders, of which the thicker shows a smaller area, marking Transylvania, Slavonia, and Dalmatia with separate inner borderlines, and adding a third, thinnest border to the “newly annexed” areas of the Banat, expressing a delicate precision with regard to political borders. Moreover, there are two further issues in the second part of the paragraph as well, which claims that “[a]n analysis of the cemeteries of the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, but also of feudal relations (not in all cases of the Western type) would have made clearer to the reviewer the causes of the lack of adornments in funerary practices during the interval after the Mongol invasion, in the fourteenth and even the ﬁfteenth centuries.” First of all, the analysis and the cause of the lack of dress accessories and jewellery in graves has been discussed, and their presence is not at all related to feudal relationships (pp. 62–63). Second, the lack of grave goods in the discussed area is not characteristic of the fourteenth and fifteenth (and later) centuries at all, but rather belongs to a shorter, earlier period from around the mid-twelfth to the late-thirteenth century (pointing out again a reason for the selection of the timeframe and area of the focus of the study). After the late thirteenth century, dress accessories frequently appear in graves again, in connection with the trend of burying the dead fully dressed, instead of using shrouds as in the previous era.
Furthermore, Prof. Oţa presents some of my arguments out of context. He claims that “[a] surprising statement made by the author is that the jewellery of the thirteenth through ﬁfteenth centuries is of poor quality compared to that of the eleventh century.” In the book I argue that: “Found jewellery dated to the last centuries of the Middle Ages (13–15th) are generally regarded as both being less common and being of lesser quality than those dated to the eleventh century. Several explanations have been proposed” (p. 7), thereby again pointing out a weak point in research that is followed by an elaborate discussion of the problem. Similar, but even more disturbing, is the clearly erroneous statement: “The attempt to demonstrate Avar-Hungarian ‘continuity’ in Pannonia on various occasions is problematic. I believe that in this volume such approaches are both out of place and unjustiﬁed.” I have never made such an attempt, and I do not really understand how I could have, since I deal with jewellery of the later High Middle Ages in the book in question. Avars (or the period of their existence) are mentioned twice in the book. First, in the historiographic summary on the research of the so-called Bjelo-Brdo culture, pointing out erroneous ways of research and their impact on the research of the period in question (p. 11), and one more time, when I state that one particular type of jewellery (lock rings with one and a half or multiple S-ends) appearing also in the ninth century “do not represent a subgroup for this type of jewellery in the Arpad era, nor are they significant for dating” (p. 37).
Finally, I cannot see the truth in the following statement: “Unfortunately, inaccurate references to a large number of the ﬁgures create signiﬁcant obstacles in reading the book.” Without pointing out any such mistakes, I cannot identify the problems, as all figures that are not my own are referenced in the very same way: indicating the surname of the author, the short title of the publication, and the page number of the image (in case there is no page number, then figure number). Naturally, all of these appear in the bibliography as well. Obviously, observations on precise mistakes would be welcome.
Reviewer’s Response (Silviu Oţa, National Museum of History, Romania)
The response to my review suggests that I did not understand the methodology of the work. It is my point that the historiographical trends mentioned by the author pertain especially to a slightly more distant period. The excavations at Kána are of course extremely valuable and will prove even more so when they are published in full; of this there is no doubt. In terms of the items found there, normally typologically limited, they will only bring partial clarifications as compared to other findings from the same chronological period. Are we to understand that if a site is excavated equally well in the future, a site that might contain other types and patterns of items, it would not have the same value or maybe a higher value? I do not believe that we should define a site using superlatives. Each site has its own peculiarities and can be significant for some reason. Of course, Kána is perhaps one of the best researched sites at this time, but this is most likely a temporary status that may be overturned at any time.
The author’s response contradicts itself when making certain claims. For example, the author initially states that “The reviewer claims that the study focuses on one site, Kána, and extrapolates the conclusions from that site to the entire Hungarian Kingdom.” But this is followed by two other statements which argue the very opposite: “Kána, being a completely excavated settlement from the period that includes a church and cemetery made an excellent case study for a comparison made on small finds excavated from different contexts (settlement or grave goods). The study uses the site as a starting point in a period where the chronology of objects is hard to determine.”
The author tells us in her response that she has “conducted a complete analysis of that completely excavated cemetery with around 1,000 graves, I was able to distinguish chronological phases within the cemetery, not derived from finds from graves, but rather from an independent, stratigraphical, and statistical method.” It is difficult to understand from this phrase whether or not the author used the stratigraphy of the cemetery. Prof. Vargha analyzes the chronology of the types of items discovered in Kána by analogy with other similar items originating from more or less close areas. This method is not a new one.
First, when a scholar claims to have analyzed “around 1,000 graves,” the reader should also see a catalog of the graves and the methodology, since there are a multitude of ways to analyze a necropolis, each having its own advantages and disadvantages. There’s little of that here and they cannot be found in the bibliography.
The author also states the following “this resulted in a list of objects dated to a relatively short period, and having a complete context and object biography.” Personally, I doubt this claim, since a number of analogies for the analyzed items from the Carpathian Basin are missing. To give just a few examples, I note that similar hair pins were discovered in Transylvania (Zăbala, Moreşti, etc.), and rhombic buckles were also found in Crişana (Cladova, Arad County) or Western Oltenia (Drobeta-Turnu Severin).
As regards the chronology of the items differing from one region to another, Prof. Vargha disposes of them extremely briefly in two pages (“Also, regional differences are not neglected in the book, nor are changes in burial customs (see pp. 62–63 for a summary).” For an area such as the Carpathian Arch, this seems too brief.
Perhaps one of the most important issues, somewhat tangential to the main argument, is that of the Byzantine artifacts or their imitations. The allegation that Byzantine items or items of Byzantine influence “is not a clear term that could be easily applied” is surprising. As earlier publications demonstrate, the Byzantine Empire, in the eleventh-twelfth centuries, was a multiethnic state, and multiple influences can be found in the adornments and clothing accessories in its territory. The items were increasingly diversified, but they generally observed the same norm for quite some time. That is why we can talk about a Byzantine cultural heritage.
And yet we cannot speak of a unified Byzantine culture. In the tenth to twelfth centuries, the area was inhabited by not a tribe but a conglomerate of populations who spoke the same language at an official level, namely Greek (culture, administration, army, church), but a language that was not identical in all cases to that of the various enclaves (Romanic, various Slavic, Tiurkic groups, etc.).
The expansion of Byzantium back to the Danube starting with the end of the tenth century and its presence there until the revolt led by Peter and Asan led to significant changes in the adornment models of the region. The new fashion was also preserved north of the river during the Second Bulgarian Empire, which is demonstrated by the adornments discovered in association with coins or based on the typology of the first. Moreover, such adornments were also discovered in the settlements of that time, for example at Ilidia-Funii, Gornea-Zomoniță, Berzovia-Pătruieni, Miercurea Sibiului, and Sfântu Gheorghe-Bedehaza, and in the cemeteries at Gornea-Căunița de Sus, Nicolinț-Râpa Galbenă, Cuptoare-Sfogea, Banatska Palanka, Svinița-Km. Fluvial 1004, ȘopotuVechi-Mârvilă, Caransebeș-Centru and Măhala, Obreja-Sat Bătrân, Moldova Veche-Ogașul cu spini, Moldova Veche-Rât, Pescari-Malul Dunării, Cladova-Dealul Carierei, Vladimirescu, Alba Iulia, Zăbala, Morești, Vărșand-Movila dintre Vii, Bač, Botoš-Mlaka and Živančevića dolja, Nosa-Hinga, Hajdukovo-Zadruga and Kővágó, Omolica, Vojlovica-Humka Azotara, Kuvin, Sombor, Bogojevo-Biboja Ulica, Arača, Deszk-D, etc. The fact that this custom of wearing adornments of Balkan tradition continued after the fall of the Empire is clearly demonstrated by the jewels that kept being used in the same territories (the treasures at Duplijaja, Brașov, Banatsko Despotovac, Sâmbăteni, Macoviște, Șopteriu and the one at Amnaș, those from the necropoleis at Cuptoare-Sfogea, Reșița-Ogășele, Ilidia Oblița, Ciclova Română-Morminți; the earrings from Svinița and Vršac, the treasure from Dubovac, Dobrica, or the tiara in Maramureș, and the twisted wire bracelets in Banat). Inside the Carpathian Arch, in Transylvania and Crișana, however, the presence of adornments of Byzantine tradition inside the graves has been observed to be less frequent than in the period of the eleventh to twelfth centuries and the early thirteenth century. We can practically talk about the renunciation of this custom. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, but especially starting with the fourteenth century, adornments of Central and Western European tradition have penetrated, at least in the area east of the Tisa. Such adornments were discovered at Vărădia, Orșova, Reșița-Ogășele, Arača, Macoviște, Ersig, Caransebeș-Centru, and Ilidia-Oblița. The situation is similar south of the Danube, in the Bulgarian or Serbian area, or in Wallachia and Moldova. In this regard, one can easily notice the poverty in terms of funerary inventories in the rural cemeteries, for example at Obreja-Sat Bătrân, Cârnecea-Dealu Bisericii, Hunedoara-Biserica Sf. Nicolae, Gornea-Țârcheviște, Baziaș-Mănăstire, Reșița-Ogășele, Berzovia-Pătruieni, Ciclova-Română-Morminți, Cladova-Dealul Carierei, Cladova-Biserica din Vale, Vršac, Mehadia-Ulici, Ilidia-Cetate, Orăștie, Densuș-The Church Sf. Nicolae, Drăușeni, Iermata Neagră, Tauț, Lupșa, Teaca etc. The exceptions are the monastery necropoleis or the urban area cemeteries, for example those at Pecica,Arača and Caransebeș-Centru.The near-absence of reference in the bibliography to the literature on these sites raises concerns.
Demonstration of a thorough knowledge of the history of the Hungarian Kingdom border regions, from more than the perspective of Hungarian historiography, could have provided an appropriate starting point for the author. We can see again the automatic assumption of certain patterns. But this is not the place to discuss them, as they are another matter. For someone unacquainted with the history of the kingdom, that map can very easily hint at the idea that we are dealing with a country whose borders were much larger than they were in reality.
The attempt to identify a particular ethnicity is indeed difficult to achieve for that time. The expansion of the Hungarian Kingdom in the Middle Ages was not achieved in non-populated territories, but the areas conquered and more or less owned were inhabited by populations that did not have the same type of organization, namely Western feudal. The author might have cited, for instance, the Diploma of the Knights of St. John as evidence of the existence of Terrae of local populations, such as Terra Zeurino (the Banate of Severin created in 1231–1232) or other forms of organization following a Slavic typology, as in the land of the kneazes Ioan and Farcaș. As for my statement about the Avars, I believe that references to them were out of place in a volume dedicated in particular to the twelfth to thirteenth centuries.
Regarding the author’s references to illustrations, I would like to offer as example that page 44 where she refers to “two circular brooches (Fig 22/1, 22/2), one a rhombus-shaped brooch (Fig. 24/1), and the final one an open-framed bird-shaped brooch (Fig. 23/1),” while Fig. 22 is a photo of the fingerbones and a ring, and certainly not “two circular brooches (Fig 22/1, 22/2).” Fig. 23/1 is in the same situation, because it shows a ring and not “an open-framed bird-shaped brooch” as well as Fig. 24/1. The examples continue on the following page (p. 45) where the text makes reference to Fig. 22, which in reality is figure 25.
Author’s Reply: (Mária Vargha, University of Vienna)
First of all, let me start with a fair criticism by Prof. Oţa. Indeed, there are some unfortunate mistakes in the references within the text to the images on page 44–45, which I thank him for drawing to my attention, and which will need to be corrected in any future edition. Until then, the use of the index of figures can help dispel any confusion, as it is in complete agreement with the figures and captions.
However, I believe that Prof. Oţa’s far deeper misconception about the topic is not in connection with these errors. In his answer to my comments on his review, he complained about being accused of misinterpreting the study’s methodology. After reading his answer, I have to say that his comments only strengthened this impression regarding this issue, and I fear that my initial complaints were not explained fully.
Starting with his criticism that claims that I contradict myself when I say that the study’s focus is not the cemetery of Kána village when I say that “Kána, being a completely excavated settlement from the period that includes a church and cemetery made an excellent case study for a comparison made on small finds excavated from different contexts (settlement or grave goods). The study uses the site as a starting point in a period where the chronology of objects is hard to determine.” As it is clear from this sentence, and the original paragraph in my answer to Prof. Oţa’s review, the mentioned site—a completely excavated settlement (village, church, cemetery) that did not survive long (second half of the twelfth to thirteenth centuries)—offers a unique possibility for comparing small finds excavated from different context (settlement or grave goods), dated to a period where the chronology of objects otherwise are hard to determine. The only other well-dated object horizon of this period are the hoard finds connected to the 1241–42 Mongol invasion of Hungary, offering a third kind of context for comparison to grave goods and finds from settlements.
The reviewer questioned whether “Are we to understand that if a site is excavated equally well in the future, a site that might contain other types and patterns of items, it would not have the same value or maybe a higher value? I do not believe that we should define a site using superlatives. Each site has its own peculiarities and can be significant for some reason. Of course, Kána is perhaps one of the best researched sites at this time, but this is most likely a temporary status that may be overturned at any time.” If, in the future, a similar site were to be completely excavated, it would be, first of all, wonderful, and naturally just as valuable for comparison as Kána. However, wholly excavated settlements (complete village, entire church and all the graves) are unfortunately hard to come by. Such a site is quite rare, if not unique, not only in the High Middle Ages, and not only in East Central Europe. Therefore, I believe it would have been foolish not to make a comparison with partially excavated sites where the context is much less identifiable, and it may not be a false methodology to first start with the data that offers more because of its completeness.
In connection with that, my aim was not to collect each and every small find from the period discussed (as their dating is problematic as can be seen in my earlier response), but to get those that can have a solid dating and context, and compare them with the occurrence and dating of similar objects in a different context. Although in his review Prof. Oţa accused me of focusing only on Kána and deriving conclusions from its results to the entire Kingdom (which, as it has been argued several times, is not the case). Still, the reviewer wishes to have complete documentation of the cemetery of this village in the present work, a wish I completely disagree with. When describing my method for analyzing the cemetery, I have referred to previous work of mine, which is being prepared for publication as a monograph itself (where the plates and the description of the graves are over three hundred pages). I strongly believe that attaching such vast documentation of a single site to the present study would have indeed been an unnecessary overconcentration, especially, as neither the description of the graves, nor their drawings would offer any further information on the questions at the heart of the study but would, instead, compare apples to oranges. Similarly, the reviewer claims that a two-page summary on the changes in burial custom: “For an area such as the Carpathian Arch, this seems too brief.” Contrary to the reviewer’s criticism, I did not derive conclusions from the results of the analysis of Kána to the entire Kingdom, and thus, I could only observe differences connected to different contexts and regions and have not built up chapters of ideas without having actual evidence. Without more sites and objects from carefully excavated, observed, and published contexts, one cannot say much more than that without starting down a slippery slope of preconceptions, which I do not wish to do.
The reviewer next suggested that I neglected sites and finds, all of which he connects to the issue of Byzantine influence. Although naturally I wanted to collect as many parallel artifacts as possible, I have never claimed to have found them all. Smaller reports of excavations, and sites that were not published in details could have been overlooked, either because of the lack of references, or because they were simply not available for me to reach. Therefore, I am grateful to Prof. Oţa’s contribution by calling my attention to the brooches from Crişana and Drobeta-Turnu Severin. However, the hairpins of Moreşti are actually referenced in the book, and according to earlier publications, no such items have been found in Zăbala.
The reviewer’s carefully elaborated and rather interesting summary on sites that relate to Byzantium ranges widely across time and space, and so their varied connections to Byzantium only support my criticized statement that “Byzantine influence” is not a clear term that could be applied easily. Furthermore, most of the mentioned sites are dated from the tenth to the beginning of the twelfth century, and are therefore chronologically distant, and in terms of material culture and its occurrence, represent a completely different era than the one on which the study focuses. Therefore, they are completely unrelated to the present work, and the reason for not discussing them is not because they are (mostly) in the area of Romania, but because of their chronological irrelevance. This is actually the clearest sign that Prof. Oţa has misinterpreted the book and its methodology, since this is exactly what I was arguing against: the projection of the results and methodology of a well-researched era, the early High Middle Ages, onto a later one, where data are lacking and chronology is unstable, but which is culturally and historically distinct from its preceding time in the region discussed.
Finally, I have to comment on some further misunderstandings. In saying that “The attempt to identify a particular ethnicity is indeed difficult to achieve for that time,” the author suggests that I comment on ethnicity and identify such ethic groups based on material evidence, which I have never done. Again, the reviewer repeatedly interpreted sentences of the book out of context that referred to historiographical trends (such as those which have just been mentioned), and present them as my own, faulty statements, as in the case of the lesser quality of jewellery in the later Middle Ages, and references to Avars, which are also connected to the problem discussed in the previous paragraph. As I stated in my previous answer, “Avars (or the period of their existence) mentioned twice in the book. First, on the historiographic summary on the research of the so-called Bjelo-Brdo culture, pointing out erroneous ways of research and their impact on the research of the period in question (pp. 11), and one more time, when I state that one particular type of jewellery (lock rings with one and a half or multiple S-ends) appearing also in the ninth century ‘do not represent a subgroup for this type of jewellery in the Arpad era, nor are they significant for dating.’ (pp. 37).” I do not see how a historiographic summary of research trends is out of place in a study, especially if they had a significant and negative impact on its research, both chronologically and methodologically. The answers Prof. Oţa provides and the issues he raised confirmed for me that I was on the right track in my book to formulate ideas contrary to the outdated, ethnicity-focused, and preconception-influenced type of research which was rooted in the old debates around the Bjelo-Brdo culture and whose results were falsely projected onto even later periods. This is exactly what the book aims to refute.