VIII.11. Balkan province

VIII.11.1. Balkans EBA

In southern Romania and in Bulgaria, earthen mound-burials of ‘ochre’ related to the Yamna tradition are still in use during the Early Bronze Age, with stone slab cistspossibly related to the Globular Amphorae traditionfound widespread from east Transylvania to the east and south-east, contrasting with mounds to the west. Up to the Dalmatian hinterland (in Kupreško polje, unrelated to the Cetina culture), tumuli related to steppe cultures can be found. Four-wheeled, rectangular chariots drawn by bovids or horses can be seen from the EBA to the MBA, but disappear in the LBA (Boroffka 2013).

In the eastern Carpathian region, the Baden complex (including the Coţofeni group) give way to the Glina–Schneckenberg culture and early Zimnicea, marked by the disappearance of incised and incrusted (or painted in the Cucuteni–Trypillia) decoration to a dominance of plastic knobs and ribs, as found in Şoimuş, Roşia, the Tumulus grave group of western Transylvania, Glina–Schneckenberg, Folteşti, Delacău–Babino, early Zimnicea, Ezero. Another widespread change is seen in vessel-rims with exterior sleeve-like thickening (Boroffka 2013).

The expansion of the Bell Beaker tradition throughout Europe is seen in its easternmost area with the expansion of small footed bowls, the foot sometimes in the shape of a cross, which can be found in Glina and Ezero contexts to the south and as far east as Romanian Moldova, often together with cord decoration. Metal finds, such as massive golden lock-rings, are found in the Carpathians and the Balkans up to Greece, showing one of the long-distance contacts that appeared during the EBA (Boroffka 2013).

Further to the south-east, marginal remains are also found in the Aegean Early Bronze Age, including Greece and particularly the Peloponnese, with special relations found between Early Helladic III and the Dalmatian Cetina culture: double handled forms sparsely decorated or showing remains of the typical framed decoration in an incised technique. These findings are among the oldest EH III period, but two other notable sherds are found in the previous EH II context, all of them probably under BBC influence after ca. 2500 BC (Heyd 2013).

From EBA in Hungary expanded vessels with brushed or combed lower body, probably with the aim of enlarging the outer surface of cooking vessels for better heat absorption and higher porosity for the cooling of liquid contents by evaporation through the wall. This influence is observed during the EBA in the south in Ezero, Dyadovo, and in the east in Bogdăneşti, Iacobeni, and continues into the MBA with Mureş, Ottomány, and Wietenberg groups (Boroffka 2013).

The other strong influence in the western Balkans during the EBA comes from the Troad in Turkey, which is felt up to south-eastern Bulgaria, although the potter’s wheelwell established in Troy itselfwas not adopted, the few wheel-thrown fragments being most likely imports. Zooarchaeological material such as the bones of fallow deer, native to Turkey east of the Bosphorus, appears in imports up to the Danube and in the eastern Balkans (Boroffka 2013).

VIII.11.2. Balkans MBA

During the Middle Bronze Age, different groups show the expansion of characteristic EBA pottery shapes, with regional differences in burial rites, settlement structures, economics or ritual elements, with Verbicioara, Tei (later Gîrla Mare/Žuto Brdo), Monteoru, and Costişa groups sharing thus common elements with Ottomány, Wietenberg or Maros groups to the west. In general, the following developments are seen (Boroffka 2013):

1.       There is an evolution from spiral to meander motifs.

2.       Channelled decorationusually oblique, but sometimes spiralappears in the development stages of most MBA cultures.

3.       One-handled cups are replaced by other vessels shapes, all presumably for drinking: in eastern Tei and Verbicioara cups are replaced by kantharoi, in western Wietenberg and Ottomány and Suciu de Sus they are replaced by weakly profiled, shallow open bowls, often with omphalos instead of a handle.

Monteoru (which replaced Costişa) in the south-east and Maros in the south-west stand out because of the kantharoi that were used along cups (Figure 73), probably because of a southern influence, evidenced by a similar shape and ornament found in southern Romania, Bulgaria, and northern Greece (Boroffka 2013).

Figure 73. Ceramic from Monteoru culture (1, 3, 4), Komarowo culture (5) and Noua culture (6) with statuette of the Gîrla Mare culture (2). Modified from Dietrich (2011), including images from După Zaharia 1993, Sava 1994, Sava 2002, and Şandor-Chicideanu 2003.

Continued long-distance connections are seen from the west in bar-shaped cheek-pieces, and from the east e.g. in bone psalia (bridle parts), with round plate-shaped variants of the cheek-pieces (as found in Monteoru and Wietenberg), probably originating in the steppes. Especially interesting are bone objects ornamented with spiral-based motifs (‘pulley-ornament’), which may be followed as far east as the Ural region, or south to Mycenaean Greece, where they appear much later (Boroffka 2013).

Settlement structures seem to be dependent on the environment rather than on pottery traditions. In Wietenberg, simple cremation appears in burials in urns, rarely with grave goods; in Gîrla Mare/Žuto Brdo, the rule is also cremation and deposition in urns with complex arrangements of vessels and clay figurines; in Monteoru, crouched inhumations with vessels, jewellery and some tools or weapons are the standard, although cremation is also documented, and funerary environment is complex, with simple pits, stone cists, stone rings, and catacomb-like subterranean structures (Boroffka 2013).

Weaponry shows fighting tactics in the BalkanCarpathian region up to Greece, different from central and western Europe, with disc-butted axes (later also with pointed butt) used as ‘battleaxes’, in contrast to daggers and swords to the north-west. Swords were probably used mainly as a status object (Boroffka 2013).

The use of wagons pulled by equids in the Carpathian Basin cannot be excluded, with remains of four-wheeled charts (often with a raised front) formally corresponding to the early fighting wagons of the steppes. Light spoked wheels are also present in these cultures, and may be connected to the light chariot, although evidence is scarce. Wagons carry a practical (transport) but also a religious (as transport for the transition to another world) meaning, as well as ideological, marking a special social position (Boroffka 2013).

VIII.11.3. Balkans LBA

During the Late Bronze Age, cultures overlapping with the MBA deepened the east–west divide, with more unified and widely distributed traditions. The western group (Ciumeşti, Lăpuş I, Igriţa, BelegišCruceni, and BistreţIşalniţa groups) shows less variation in vessel shape, and oblique or garland-shaped channelling replaces incised decoration. This process of ‘Hallstattisation’ caused by influence from Tumulus and Urnfield cultures continues into the Early Iron Age. The dead were cremated and buried in urns (Boroffka 2013).

In the south and south-east, the Čerkovna/Zimnicea Plovdiv group evolves in central and western Bulgaria from late Tei and Verbicioara, and shows an expansion southward as far as northern Greece. It shows the kantharoi as its characteristic shape, a late revival of older pottery shapes, with pottery remains decorated with incised, originally encrusted ornaments, similar to those found in northern Greece. It also features deposition of complete vessels in wells which ceased to function, continuing a Verbicioara tradition. Cremation under mounds seems to be the rule, but crouched inhumation is found in  Zimnicea (Boroffka 2013). 

Long-distance connections show a clear south-west–north-east axis, illustrated by ‘Mycenaean’ rapiers found in Bulgaria and Romania during the LBA, and pins with perforated head and knobs on the neck (from the Noua group) found in northern Greece. Stone sceptres of phallic shape and the shape of axe sceptres with inward curled tip and mushroom-shaped butt have analogies in the south Turkish coast (Boroffka 2013).

The eastern Noua–Sabatinovka–Coslogeni complex shows an eastern intrusion from the steppes, connected to the Srubna culture (see §VIII.19.2. Srubna and Sabatinovka), westward into Moldavia and Transylvania, and southward into Dobruja and north-eastern Bulgaria. It features a reduction of the repertoire of vessel forms, with pottery that lacked ornamentation or was sparsely decorated with channelling or incisions. While Balkan axes continue in part previous traditions, the characteristic eastern socketed axes can be traced back to the Eurasian Seima–Turbino phenomenon (Boroffka 2013).

Specific settlement structuresgroups of the so-called ash-mound (zolnik), round or oval low mounds with whitish-grey soiland large quantity of animal bones suggesting a pastoralist stockbreeding economy are proof of a highly mobile nomadic society. Nevertheless, the shape and decoration of its pottery partially continues the previous Monteoru culture, and spread into Transylvania. Inhumation in a crouched position with scarce grave goods was the standard burial rite, with cemeteries sometimes including burials in or on older tumuli (Boroffka 2013).

VIII.11.4. Balkans EIA

With the Early Iron Age, the expansion of Hallstatt causes the spread of channelled pottery groups, closely connected to the Urnfield groups further west, and coincident with the demise of steppe influence of Noua–Sabatinovka–Coslogeni in the region. Continuity with the LBA is seen in some ceramic shapes and decorations.

A northern block represented by the Gáva–Holihrady culture spreads from Transylvania to Moldova, while Belegiš II-type pottery spreads through the south into Moldova, including the late eastern variant Chişinău–Corlăteni. In the north, large vessels show exaggerated large hyptertrophic upwards-curving knobs on the body, while Belegiš II urns bear smaller paired knobs pointing upwards and downwards (Boroffka 2013).

In the Dobruja, Bulgaria, and later in Moldova, channelled pottery appears sometimes combined with stamped and incised decoration, representing the origin of the later widespread Basarabi culture, displaying connections with the Gáva–Holihrady culture to the north rather than to the neighbouring Belegiš II type. These elements are found further south in Troy VIIb and in the so-called ‘Barbarian Ware’ of Greece. While Belegiš II and Gáva–Holihrady display mainly cremation, inhumation graves (and tumuli) coexist in southern Romania and Bulgaria, although it is unclear the actual distribution of the burial rite (Boroffka 2013).


viii.11. Thracians and Albanians

viii.11.2. Thracians

There is scarce data on the Eastern Balkans during the Early Bronze Age. Eastern Balkan cultures likely continued the infiltration of Yamna-related peoples south of the Danube. R1b1a1b1b-Z2103 lineages are found widespread along the Lower Danube, from the east in late Yamna and Catacomb samples (ca. 2500–1950 BC), to the west in Vučedol from Beli Manastir (ca. 2775 BC), in early Nagýrev (ca. 2500–2200 BC), and in some East Bell Beaker groups (ca. 2500–2000 BC).

This overwhelming presence of R1b1a1b1b-Z2103 lineages bears witness to the most likely situation to the south of the Danube, too, where these Yamna-related clans probably replaced in part previous ones of I2a1b1a2a2a-L699 lineages (see §vii.5. Palaeo-Balkan peoples), given the scarce presence of this haplogroup in more recent times, including modern populations. The cultural connection of Mycenaeans to Early Bronze Age populations of the Balkans and the Carpathian Basin makes a direct connection of Palaeo-Balkan R1b1a1b1b-Z2103 lineages with the Catacomb culture (e.g. driven by the westward expansion of R1a1a1b2-Z93 and R1a1a1b1a2-Z280 subclades with Srubna) unlikely.

Samples of elevated Steppe ancestry and haplogroup R1a1a1b2-Z93 are found in the Middle Bronze Age along the Danube: one from the Kairyaka necropolis in Merichleri (ca. 1690 BC), ca. 1,000 younger than the other one of hg. I2a1b1a2a2-Y5606 (Mathieson et al. 2018); and one to the west in Szólád, Hungary (ca. 1900 BC), of subclade R1a1a1b2a2a1-Z2123, clustering closely with south-east European samples (Amorim et al. 2018). Both intrusive lineages probably represent male-driven incursions of Srubna-related settlers along the Lower Danube reaching the Hungarian steppes, associated with the appearance of round plate-shaped variants of the cheek-pieces in these territories. These and possibly also later contacts with Cimmerians may explain some recent Indo-Iranian influence in Palaeo-Balkan dialects, like Armenian.

Thracians, traditionally distinguished from nomadic pastoralist Scythians by their agricultural economy, are known to have established urban centres on the right bank of the Danubebeyond their stronghold in Thracetowards the middle of the 1st millennium BC, with Getae tribes expanding (ca. 650–350 BC) also along the Prut and Dniester, at the same time as Scythians were present south of the Danube. Thraco-Scythian contacts, interaction, and osmosis, their openness to acculturation, and the mixed economy found in different ethnolinguistic group, as well as the potential Sea routes between the north Pontic area and the eastern Balkans, and the incursion of Greeks, complicates the genetic picture.

Two Thracian individuals from Bulgaria show different ancestry, with one showing elevated NWAN ancestry, while anotheran aristocratic individual buried with a rich assemblageclustered closer to the Steppe (Sikora et al. 2014). Both clusters may be tentatively identified with the recently described ‘Southern European’ and ‘Central’ clusters among north Pontic Scythians (Krzewińska, Kılınç, et al. 2018), closer to Balkan clusters, and showing increased NWAN contribution: from ca. 5% among Srubna and east Scythians up to 35% (see §viii.19. Iranians).

The different haplogroups in these clusters, including two R1b1a1b1b-Z2103 lineages, one of them R1b1a1b1b3-Z2106, one I2a1b1a2a1b-Y7219 (formed ca. 4100 BC, TMRCA ca. 2000 BC) and one E1b1b1a1b1-L618 (formed ca. 10000 BC, TMRCA ca. 6100 BC), also in contrast to eastern Scythians and other previous or later steppe populations, suggest the likely acculturation of the region, and thus the potential spread of Thracian peoples at least partly with R1b1a1b1b-Z2103 lineages.


viii.11.2. Albanians

The lack of close linguistic relationship of Albanian with Illyrian, the lack of Proto-Albanian toponymy in Illyria, and the absence of indigenous sea-faring terminology in the reconstructed language (borrowing corresponding words from Romance or Greek) make it likely that Albanians were unrelated to the ancient Illyrians. It has been proposed that they came from further north, with the settling of Proto-Albanians believed to be in Dacia Ripensis and farther north, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and the Beskidy/Bieszczady (possibly a toponym of Albanian origin), with the migration to Illyria via the eastern slopes of the Balkans taking place before (but not much earlier than) their contact with Romance speakers and the end of the Proto-Albanian period (Orel 1998).

The diversity of haplogroups among modern Albanians reflect their complex ethnogenesis (Peričić et al. 2005; Battaglia et al. 2008): An origin of the Albanoid homeland close to the north-west Pontic region during the Iron Age, before their expansion and subsequent Y-DNA bottlenecks, is supported by the prevalent  E1b1b1a1b1-L618 lineages (ca. 24–44%)mainly V13+ (formed ca. 6100 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC)a haplogroup found previously in Neolithic Hungary and among Scythians of the north-west Pontic area, with a likely origin in early European farmers; and by hg. R1b1a1b2-M269 (ca. 1820%), mainly R1b1a1b1b3a1a1c-Y10789 with Z2705+ (formed ca. 700 BC, TMRCA ca. AD 550), a subclade of R1b1a1b1b-Z2103. Their close contact with other Palaeo-Balkan groups, probably through mixture with local peoples of the Balkan and Adriatic regions after their migration from the Carpathians, possibly as early as the 7th century BC (Witczak 2016), is to be inferred from the presence (ca. 15–17%) of J2b2a1-L283 lineages (formed ca. 7700 BC, TMRCA ca. 3400 BC), proper of Balkan populations; but also possibly from hg. R1b1a1b2-PF7562 (ca. 5%)[31], an early offshoot of R1b1a1b2-M269, associated directly or indirectly to the Yamna expansion to the west (see §vi.1. Disintegrating Indo-Europeans).