The article is based upon a modified lecture at the conference in Toulouse “L’object dans la tombe. Acteur et témoin d’une mise en scène funéraire.” I would like to thank Prof. Jean-Marc Luce and Anne-Zahra Chemsseddoha from Université de Toulouse 2-Le Mirail for the invitation and for the opportunity to publish the following paper.
- 2 In the following article is used the term “Macedonia” for “FYROM”.
1In the Early Iron Age, the southern part of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)2 features a group of cemeteries, which show very special burial rites and clearly differ from the usual habits in the Central Balkan area.
- 3 Vasić, 1987, p. 701-711.
2This group has been described by R. Vasić as “Gevgelija-group”3 and is situated in a geographically unified region (fig. 1). In modern Macedonia, the Vardar meanders mostly through mountains. After passing the Demir Kapija, the river gets into a more plane region, which is less forested and appears hilly and is already influenced by Mediterranean climate.
- 4 In the Early Iron Age from the Balkan area known predominantly grave mounds ; however in the Vardar (...)
3The cemeteries found in this area are remarkable because their burials differ from those found further north4, especially since the Vardar was the most important north-south connection in prehistoric times and was certainly not unutilized. Settlements in this region were thus geographically convenient for commerce and transport and could easily integrate into lines of communication.
4The first findings in the Vardar Valley of Macedonia were brought to light in larger soil movements during the two world wars. Many discoveries have since been lost. From 1938 a letter by H. Dragendorff has survived, which shows that he was able to document the graves which were excavated in 1917 in Dedeli and Marvinci.5 From then on, the flat tombs out of stone settings with inhumations were well known and because of their rich bronze finds it was possible to date them into the Early Iron Age.
- 6 Further literature for research history : Vasić, 1987, p. 701-702 ; Mitrevski, 1991 ; Mitrevski, Te (...)
- 7 Mitrevski, 1991.
5An intensive research activity started again from the mid 1970s, during which the cemeteries Marvinci, Suva Reka (Gevgelija), Dedeli, Milci and Želenište (Valandovo) have been systematically investigated.6 D. Mitrevski’s monograph on the necropolis of Dedeli, published in 1991, provides a great number of good observations and findings of the excavations there in the 1970s and 1980s. He provided much important information and made a major contribution to our understanding of the region during the Iron Age.7
- 8 Rey, 1932 ; Casson, 1920 ; Casson, 1925.
- 9 Chrysostomou, 1991.
6The section of the Vardar in modern Greek Macedonia is also lined with cemeteries that can be unambiguously attributed to this group. The necropoleis of Bohemitsa and Chauchitsa were also discovered and examined very early.8 In 1971, nine cist tombs were discovered southwest of the city of Giannitsa, which are very close to the ones found at Marvinci and Dedeli as far as construction and inventory are concerned.9
- 10 Mitrevski, 1991 ; Husenovski, 1997 ; Mitrevski, Temov, 1996 ; Videski, 1999 ; Pašič, 1977 ; Pašič, (...)
7The cemeteries in the area of the Lower Vardar Valley are relatively well researched and published, so that on the basis of the graves in Dedeli, Suva Reka, Milci and Marvinci a good foundation can be established in order to draw conclusions for other Iron Age burial practices in the region. Distributed among the four necropoleis are a total of 217 graves10 available for an evaluation, with more than 90 investigated graves at Dedeli providing the largest share.
8Common among inhumations in the Lower Vardar Valley is a streched position in so-called stone cists (fig. 2). The tombs consist of several stone slabs: at the lower and upper part a stone slab was placed, the sides were constructed - depending on the size of the boxes - of two, three or more established flagstones. As a covering one or more stone slabs were used. Occasionally the floor was paved with stones, but usually the body was laid on the ground. The stone cists were probably not buried very deep into the ground, because they were easily found close under the earth layer. There is also evidence that some of the graves were used several times.
- 11 Pašič 1978, p. 26.
- 12 Boardman, Kurtz, 1971, 71.
- 13 Rhomiopoulou, Kilian-Dirlmeier, 1989, p. 88-89.
9Burials in pithoi are to be considered as a special burial custom. In two of five registered pithoi the skeleton of a child was found. From the site of Suva Reka, two pithoi are known.11 Grave 43 contained a skeleton in a stretched position, wherein the upper body is slightly bent and the legs were crossed. Accompanying artefacts have been found in the two tombs, dating them to the Early Iron Age. The distribution area of burials in pithoi is oriented to the south: They appear in the Peloponnese from the Geometric period onwards and are found up to Classical times in small numbers in flat necropoleis.12 Small numbers of inhumations in pithoi are also found at Vergina, where they appear from the 10th century BC onwards.13
10It is interesting to note, however, that there are exceptions: the richly furnished burial of a woman (grave 15 in Marvinci), for example, did not take place in an elaborate stone cist, but in a simple pit in the ground.14
11With a few exceptions, the funeral rite and the tomb construction seem to be very uniform and one gets the same impression by looking at the grave goods.
- 15 Suva Reka grave 17 contains the remains of a child, buried in a stone cist with a length of 1 meter
12Basically, the furnishing can be roughly divided into three categories: tombs with weapons (mostly spearheads), which are interpreted as male graves, graves without weapons, but with torques, armlet and/or fibulae, jewelry and beads - interpreted as women’s graves - and tombs with only few objects, which are also identified due to the size of the stone cists and anthropological hints as children’s graves.15 The following section will briefly describe the metal finds, before the vessel forms and their combination patterns are examined.
- 16 Dedeli grave 60, Marvinci grave 20, Milci grave 8 and 27.
13The dominant weapon in men’s graves is the spearhead, and there is usually one per man buried. Swords are rare in comparison, but individuals with swords do not have been wealthier than those with spearheads. If fibulae are found in men’s graves, there is only a single one.16 Furthermore, they are associated with razors or knives, so that the graves of males are equipped in a relatively simple, but remarkably uniform fashion.
- 17 Woman graves with single fibula: Dedeli grave 37, Suva Reka grave 2 and 9.
14Among the women’s graves, the range of variation is greater. If the woman was buried wearing a fibula costume, then it is in most cases a pair costume.17 Bracelets are also worn as pairs. Furthermore, chains of small bronze beads have been found, along with individually reared amber beads or beads of glass paste as well as pendants and buttons. The equipment in the women’s graves seem to be more diverse, although there is a common “repertoire” of forms and jewelry and costumes occur in different combinations.
15Besides ceramics, children’s graves usually only show a single, small armlet and/or a button.18
16In general, the pottery is found near the feet of the deceased, so that one can assume that the body was laid in the grave first and that the vessels were placed near the feet afterwards.
- 19 Those from Chauchitsa are relatively large, plump and monochrome, while the jugs from the more nort (...)
- 20 In 68 % of closed finds from tombs of the necropolis Dedeli, Milci, Suva Reka and Marvinci occur ju (...)
17When dealing with graves from the Lower Vardar Valley, the regularity of the vessel combinations is immediately apparent. All the cemeteries are dominated by the jug with cut-away neck, made on the potter’s wheel or handmade in rarer cases. Although there is a certain variation among the wheel-made jugs19, the vessel shape “jug” or “olpe” is found in about two-thirds of the graves.20 Kantharoi and/or cups also occur and are often used in combination with the jugs.
- 21 Kilian, 1975, p. 22.
- 22 Heurtley, 1939, p. 103.
- 23 Hochstetter, 1984, p. 51.
18Jugs with cut-away neck are widespread among Macedonian vessel types of the Early Iron Age. The term “Krug mit ausgeschnittenem Nacken” derives from K. Kilian, who used it in his work on “Trachtzubehör” of the Early Iron Age.21 For the first time, however, W.A. Heurtley used the term “jug with cut-away neck” for this type of jug and introduced it into research.22 A. Hochstetter calls them “Stufenhalskrüge”, because in Kastanas in the Vardar Valley further south there occured only a certain form of this jug and a generalization should be prevented.23
- 24 Georgiev, 1987, p. 52-53.
19The neck of the jug, which is so characteristic for the Lower Vardar Valley, looks as though it was cut off slopes towards the handle. All jugs of this type are very uniform and differ in their composition only slightly. They show a good quality and are thin-walled. The color of the jugs ranges from light ochre to orange-red. They are decorated with thick bands, which cover the whole body of the vessel. The line bands are mainly found at the neck and in the lower third of the belly, respectively at the points where the handles are attached. The painting contrasts well with the dark reds and browns of the surface.24
- 25 The jar from grave 2 in Dedeli seems like the hand-made equivalents.
20In most cases, the appearance of the jugs is very slight, the largest diameter is located in the middle or in the lower half of the vessel. The average height is 15 cm, but varies from 11 to 21 cm. The area of the neck’s cutout is located in the last third, and is not, unlike the hand-made variants, very deep. The handle is flat with a few exceptions and located approximately at the level of the mouth. In the variant with the spherical body of the jug, the handle’s cross-section is round and also the cutout is a little lower.25
21This particular jug shape and ornamentation is characteristic of the Early Iron Age in Macedonia, where it is known only from cist graves. However, it is not widely distributed, but rather limited to the Lower Vardar Valley. In the direction of north and east, they appear up until the region of Štip, Pelagonia and the Ohrid region are dominated by the matt painted pottery, a technique that was also applied to other vessel types. This leaves the south. Among the previously published pottery from Kastanas our type does not occur, but so far only the wheel-made pottery from layers 19 to 11, which includes the Late Bronze Age, has been published.26
- 27 Mitrevski, 1991, p. 51.
22The dating of this form is based mainly on the graves in Dedeli. D. Mitrevski has divided the cemetery into different phases. The jugs show up in Phase IIa and IIb, in absolute dates in the seventh century and the first quarter of the 6th century BC.27
- 28 Simon, 1976, p. 48-49.
23Olpai have to be put in the category of the jugs. The term is derived from the Greek spectrum of forms, where they describe slight wine jugs with a round or trefoil-shaped mouth.28 In the Lower Vardar Valley both olpai and the jugs with cut-away neck look very slight.
24However, they are only about half the size of the discussed jugs and have no details on the neck. The handle is only slightly higher than the lip. As far as their make and painting are concerned, olpai are comparable to the jugs discussed above.
- 29 Dedeli grave 11, grave 26, grave 31 or grave 66.
25The vessel form is well-known from the necropolis of Dedeli and found there frequently in children’s graves or small stone cists, which could likewise suggest children’s graves.29
26In Macedonia, Kantharoi were known since the Bronze Age and first appear in wheel-made forms in the Early Iron Age. Two distinct variants are to be differentiated.
27Variant 1 is round bodied without a foot and a flattened base. The short neck is sharp shouldered and drawn out from the belly in the shape of a funnel. The two strap handles are only slightly above the rim and are added onto the belly below the neck. They are made of light-coloured clay (ochre to orange) and are painted with dark (red or brown), horizontal bands. The pieces are designed in an extremely uniform fashion with sizes varying from 7 to 9 cm. In Macedonia they are found in stone cist graves and belong to the same temporal and spatial context as the striped painted jugs.
28Variant 2 is less round bodied as the first one and has a low base. The neck is very short and cylindrical, the rim straight. The strap handles are relatively broad and are grooved in the middle, and they extend well beyond the rim. The clay is ochre to reddish, and the vessels have a red-glossy layer. On average, they are about 12.5 cm high, and they are very wide-mouthed.
29The cups made on the wheel are all uniform. Nearly all of them are 8 cm high, with some going up to 9 or 10 cm. The body is round and the short, funnel-shaped neck is sharply differentiated from the body. The strap handle is attached below the neck and onto the belly. They do not have a base, but are flattened on the bottom. The vessels are painted with ochre and dark stripes and appear together with striped painted jugs and kantharoi.
- 30 Milci grave 8 and 27, Suva Reka grave 32 and 49.
30In Early Iron Age tombs of the Lower Vardar Valley jugs and olpai, kantharoi and cups are most common. If these objects are considered together, they can be regarded as a service: jugs and olpai fulfil the function of cans, with the kantharos serving as a drinking and the cup as ladling vessel. Large mixing vessels such as craters or cauldrons are absent from the graves discussed here. However, only in a few cases has the complete “set” has been added to the grave;30 it seems that certain forms are selected on the basis of certain norms and rules (fig. 4).
The following will attempt to highlight the respective combinations and their contexts, in order to find a way to hone in on the question, from where this apparent regularity came.
31This analysis will take into account a total of 52 grave contexts with ceramic vessels, all of which are single graves and can be described as closed finds (table). Multiple burials were not included, because the vessels can no longer be assigned to an individual and the question of whether there is a relationship between the deceased and the type of vessel in the grave cannot be answered. In these single graves has been found 43 jugs, 10 olpai, 22 kantharoi and 16 cups. 14 graves contain vessels with not reconstructible forms or special forms which occur only several times and where no regularity can be observed.
32The most common combination (28% of the analyzed single graves) is the set of jug and kantharos, which occurs almost exclusively in graves without weapons. The orientation of the deceased in the graves is in Dedeli southeast-northwest or east-west, so that the vessels were laid down in the western part of the tomb. In Marvinci, the orientiation is the other way round and the vessels are laid down in the south-eastern part of the stone cist.
33All examples are relatively large tombs with a minimum length of 1.90 m, so it is safe to assume that adult individuals were buried in the stone cists.
34The tombs are equipped throughout with a variety of bronzes, which is typical for the Lower Vardar Valley. Only in grave 11 in Suva Reka is found a spearhead, so most of the graves seem to be woman’s graves.
- 31 See Dedeli grave 28 and 34.
35The combination of jug and cup occurs almost as frequently (21%). Again, only in one grave in Suva Reka this combination is found together with a spearhead, otherwise, cups appear in woman’s graves. The orientations are different here and we find west-east, east-west, and north-south positions. In addition to the burials in the already mentioned large stone cists, cups are also found in smaller stone cists.31
36On the whole Group II seems to be more heterogeneous than group I and a regularity is difficult to constitute, if orientations and the size of the stone cists are considered. What is similar, however, is the variegated furnishing of the graves with bronze jewelry.
Combinations Group I-V as well as two undefined groups.
37Jugs do not only occur in combination, but can also be added to burials on their own (15%). This group is known from graves with or without weapons. The graves without weapons, which can be interpreted as female graves, are, however, much less richly furnished and the grave goods are limited to some beads or buttons. Bracelets, fibulae, or torques do not occur. The size of the stone cists shows that they must all have been for adults. The orientation of the stone cists seems to obey no discernible pattern.
38From the cemeteries of Milci and Suva Reka we have four closed inventories with a “full set”. Maybe grave 30 in Suva Reka and grave 38 in Milci can be added to this group, if the assigned bowl and the skyphos are regarded as drinking vessels and are treated like the kantharoi.
39Four of these also include weapons. Grave 8 from Milci is richly furnished, by comparison with other graves with weapons, because it includes not only a spearhead, but also two tweezers, knives and razors. The addition of several identical jugs and kantharoi to tombs 32 and 49 makes them stand out as better equipped than contemporary graves. Invariably these are large stone cists for burials for adults, but the orientation is irregular.
40From 26% of the single graves are known olpai. Stone cists with this ceramic form are relatively small with a range from 0.84 to 1.30 m. Because of the small size, they can be considered as childrens’s graves. Orientations are even in the cemeteries irregular, what arises from the fact, that children are buried within or – in the case of single graves – besides adult graves and follow their orientation.
41By looking at the grave vessel combinations and their respective contexts five groups can be identified and distinguished from each other.
42The first two groups are relatively similar and differ at first glance merely by the addition of a cup or kantharos, which cannot stand alone as a differentiating criterion. However, a closer look at the other bronze offerings in these graves allows one to detect further differences: Graves in which cups occur include no torques, no pairs of armlets or spectacle fibulae. The typical “jug-stoppers” and certain pendants, for example, are found only together with cups and not with kantharoi. The graves with kantharoi seem to have besides the regular forms like buttons, beads and earrings additional forms like armlets, fibulae or a torque.
- 32 Hochstetter, 1984, p. 62.
- 33 Filow, 1927, p. 30.
- 34 Sindos, 1985, p. 289.
43On the one hand, the possibility remains that it is a chronological phenomenon and the older kantharos was replaced by the more recent form of the cup. On the other hand, the kantharos in the Balkan area is a very old and long-lasting shape. In Kastanas it was already known in the Bronze Age and the two-handled form is found - albeit in modified form - in each layer.32 And in later cemeteries, as in Trebenište33 and Sindos34, the shape is typical and common, so there is no reason to assume that the form has been replaced by a one-handle for reasons of style.
44The third group of adult individuals is less furnished and seems to be men’s graves or very scarce furnished woman’s graves.
45The “full set” does not occur in Marvinci or Dedeli, but only in some graves in Milci and Suva Reka and represent male graves.
46As already mentioned, the fifth group with the olpai is composed probably of children’s graves.
47If the graves and their contents are compared, a difference can be made in general between the cemeteries Dedeli/Marvinci and Suva Reka/Milci. Only in Suva Reka and Milci occur “full sets” and cups as well as kantharoi appear in male graves. There seems to be a slight difference regarding the conventions of grave furniture.
48Further two groups within the woman’s graves can be established, which only slightly differ from each other, male individuals are often buried with jugs and children with olpai. However, is there a meaning behind the differentiated addition of ceramic forms or is it to be seen as accidental and insignificant?
49The various cemeteries of the Lower Vardar Valley function as social spaces built for a particular community and maintained for a specific purpose. The deceased were not buried in a private place, but have rather been transferred to a distinct space, which gives us certain insights into the living community as it also constitutes a social space.
50Since we are dealing with a public space, it can be inferred that also the burial rituals took place publicly. Archaeologically only a few stages are comprehensible: as preparation for the cists, stone slabs had to be cut out of the rock, then an appropriate place in the necropolis had to be selected and a shallow pit had to be dug to stabilize the stone slabs. The deceased were dressed in their costume and their jewelry or weapons and then taken to the cemetery. The rituals at the grave itself are difficult to reconstruct, but we know that at some point the body was laid down in the prepared grave and probably followed by the ceramics, and was then finally covered with stone slabs. Striking social inequalities cannot be determined: The grave constructions are uniform, so for any individual the same effort was done. Nevertheless, distinctions were made by giving the deceased different ceramic forms or using different ceramic forms during burial rituals.
51Regarding the olpai, they were probably added to children’s graves - a rare hint that the vessel form can correlate with a certain age and/or a certain social role. Could this not also apply to the other vessel types as well?
52Kantharoi in connection with a jug seem to be assigned mainly to adult women, which were also wearing certain forms of jewelry. In addition to beads and pendants they could wear armlets, spectacle fibulae or a torque - bronze jewelry which has – maybe – a higher value because of its size than smaller beads or pendants did.
- 35 Čović, 1957, p. 57.
- 36 Papadopoulos, 2010, p. 35-43.
53The cups were mainly laid down in stone cists for adults, but also in smaller ones: grave 34 from Dedeli is just 1.32 meters long - probably too small for a fully-grown individual in a stretched-out position plus grave goods. Spectacle fibulae, torques or bracelets are missing, but the individual is buried with many glass beads, bronze pendants and - a diadem. In the Glasinac region as well, diadems are found in graves of young woman. In the tumuli of Podilijak, three graves of 10-12 year old children contain diadems.35 The same can be observed for grave mounds in modern Albania, where individuals, which were buried with diadems, have been also young woman.36 So, this grave could be a hint, that maids did not receive a kantharos, but a cup.
- 37 Pabst-Dörrer, 2007, p. 649-651.
54On the basis of the graves in Vergina, S. Pabst-Dörrer assigns a special meaning also to spectacle fibulae. Individuals, who wore a pair of spectacle fibulae, are by their jewelry and one anthropological date identified as adult women. In one grave a man with a sword and a woman with two spectacle fibulae have been found, so that the assumption is plausible that this costume could be worn by “married” women.37 In the proposed Group I are also noticed three graves with double fibula costume, which could have had a similar meaning also for the woman in the Lower Vardar Valley.
55In the Early Iron Age of the Vardar Valley specific burial rites are noted, which appear at first glance very homogeneous. Taking a closer look at the grave constructions and especially their content, some slight differences can be observed. Men, woman and children differ by wearing certain personal artifacts at the moment when the burial took place. Certain jewelry and weapons are found in graves for adult individuals and some objects, like the mentioned diadems and spectacle fibulae, seem to have had a special symbolic meaning.
56The proposed classification of ceramic combinations from selected graves of the Lower Vardar Valley and the comparison with the personal furniture of individuals in these graves seem to indicate a relationship between the added ceramic form and the age as well as the gender of the deceased.
Cemeteries mentioned in the text (map basis Quantum GIS 1.8.0).
Distribution of the grave constructions among the graves of the Lower Vardar Valley (n= 217).
a. jug with cut-away neck (Dedeli grave 22, Mitrevski 1991, t. 6.),
b. kantharos (Dedeli grave 19, Mitrevski 1991, t. 5.),
c. cup (Dedeli grave 19, Mitrevski 1991, t. 5.),
d. olpe (Dedeli grave 11, Mitrevski 1991, t. 2.).
Distribution of the vessel combinations among the graves of the Lower Vardar Valley (n= 40, graves with special forms are not included).