Pre-Literate Times Capital
Pondering the question of Gothic trace in the Ukrainian history
Should the annals and chronicles be trusted?
The ancient chroniclers were mere people. Sometimes (pretty often) - politically biased. Many things they heard they had taken without a pinch of salt, just "on faith", and simply wrote them down. Besides, the chroniclers almost never traveled. Their reading was limited and pretty straightforward. That is why their vision and world outlook must have been somewhat blinkered.
We should also remember that Ruthenian chroniclers wrote in the language they never used in everyday life. It was the archaic book version of the Old Bulgarian, brought to Ruthenia from the Balkans with the first church books. The Ruthenian vernacular can be traced in the annalistic writing by some mistakes, characteristic phonemes, omissions, slips of pen, distinctive words, and grammar.
It should be also noted that the chronicle writers of Ruthenia had no connection with a preceding written tradition - just because there was no such tradition. The Ruthenian writers had no sources to quote and no books to rely on. Having to describe the important events of the distant past, they could only retell the legends and tell-tales.
And this is quite unfortunate. Everything that happens when an ethnic group begins to take shape is extremely important. After all, ethnos is like a child. The temper, character, mindset, and the whole life's journey depend very much on the impressions received at the earliest stages of life. And it's better to record everything that happens.
Take, for example, the war between the queens Brunhild and Fredegund that lasted about half of the 6th sixth century and effectively split the Frankish kingdom into Neustria (future France), and Austrasia (future Germany). Gregory, Bishop of Tours (Gregorius Turonensis) who is known as "the father of French history" described this war in great detail in his famous work Historia Francorum ("History of the Franks"). Ruthenia was less fortunate - we have no written sources that would record the events of its "birth" when the origins of the Ruthenian-Ukrainian ethnicity began to form in the 2d-5th centuries
This moment of time, still hidden in the darkness of pre-literate centuries, is equally important and mysterious. We cannot even be more specific about the exact timing. The lack of evidence base and reliable written sources leaves a huge space for unscrupulous and/or biased pseudo-scientists, as well as for arbitrary interpretations and ill-conceived conjectures.
However, most researchers agree that archaeological cultures, which can be more or less reliably interpreted as Ruthenian, belong to the 5th century. Earlier cultures, with reservations, could be attributed to Proto-Ruthenian or Proto-Slavic strata. Some researchers speak of so-called "Kyiv Culture" (2d-5th centuries), being still unable to reliably attribute the findings and tell who these people actually were. But broader historical and geographical context of Eastern Europe in those ancient times is much more helpful than speculative theories.
The end of antiquity
In the 2d-4th centuries, the Roman Empire was still strong, though already declining. The Romans finally realized that their traditional eastern rival - the kingdom of Parthia - had lost its conquering drive and no longer represented a serious threat. There was another headache for Rome - the European Barbaricum.
Here Rome conducts active diplomacy and expands its cultural and political influence, trying to keep the situation under control. But the movements have already begun. The Barbaricum is wide awake and "up to something", aiming to finish off the Ancient world and create a new one, the Medieval - this way, in fact, setting up a basic template of the modern political map of Europe.
The movement of the Goths stands clearly out among the whole stir in the Barbaricum. The Goths resettled from Scandinavia, crossed the lower Vistula, and further moved to Dnipro, to the territory of future Ruthenia and Ukraine. There they created a huge state they called Oium which became the first and the largest "barbaric" kingdom in Europe. Read more about Oium in a previous article on our blog.
Where was the capital of the Goth kingdom?
Danparstadt (a city on the Danpar), or Arheimar (a house on the river) - the Nordic legends preserve the name of the city, but the city itself is still not found. The river Dnipro and its tributaries, especially Pripyat' and Desna, were the 'spatial skeleton' of the settlement system. There have been no Roman roads in this area and waterways played a crucial role in trade, troop transfer, and the spread of cultural and political influences.
The headwaters of Pripyat' border the Vistula basin. It was the road to the West. Desna, through its northeastern watershed with the Volga and Oka basins, was the road to the East. And, of course, Dnipro, or Danpar, as we see, was the route "from the Varangians to the Greeks" long before the very name "Varangians" was first mentioned in history. All the finds of Roman coins and artifacts on the territory of Ukraine are somehow related to these waterways and trade routes of the Gothic kingdom.
Perhaps we should pay special attention to Vyshgorod. Kyiv lies a little to the south of it. If you were a Goth wishing to travel from Kyiv east of westwards, you would have to row your boat against the strong Dnipro current for a long time till you get to the mouths of Pripyat' or Desna. Sailing from Vyshgorod was much more convenient.
The right-bank hillside in Vyshgorod is quite the same as in Kyiv. These hills were perfectly fit for the construction of a fortified settlement. Fertile floodplains, now covered with the waters of Kyiv dam lake, were very close to the hills. Kyiv duke Volodymyr Monomakh (12th century) appreciated Vyshhorod's advantageous waterway logistic location and set up a ferriage right there.
Where was the legendary Mirkvid forest?
It is also worth noting that the dense forests of Kyiv Polissya begin near Vyshhorod. These forests are known as "cardiological" because the inherent local combination of coniferous and deciduous trees makes the air healing for the cardiovascular system. It is really a very healthy place. In ancient times, these forests must have been the same with the only difference of being more dense, impassable, and surely mystical and even sacring. The Goths, "the people of the floodplains and river valleys", must have feared these forests, at least to a certain extent.
Straholissia ("a fearful forest" in Ukrainian) is an interesting and self-explanatory local placename. Didn't the legendary Myrkviðr ("the dark forest") begin here - that dreary, scary, and gloomy forest by the great river Danpar, near the city of Danparstadt, the capital of Oium kingdom, as the ancient legends describe the locale? After all, the Mirkwid forest belongs not only to the literary works of John Tolkien, Walter Scott, and William Morrison - this forest is repeatedly mentioned in the ancient, pre-literate Germanic epic and folklore. According to some renowned researchers, the legend of Mirkvid has Gothic origins.
The Old Germanic epics, Norwegian and Icelandic sagas retain some fragmentary information about the times when the Goths fought against the Huns who had invaded from the East. The forest of Mirkvid, beginning near the Gothic capital and sacred Gothic tombs, is also mentioned there.
Only archaeology can prove or disprove the assumptions about Vyshhorod being the place for the former Gothic capital. However, the current state of archaeological exploration of the territory of Ukraine is still dissatisfactory. Besides, it is near to impossible to run excavations to find Gothic traces in the modern urban areas.
The variety of possible locations of Danparstadt is really broad - From Vychgorod on the north to Kahovka in the south - practically, from Polissya to the Black Sea. One of the interesting Gothic locations is Bashmachka on the right bank of Dnipro. It is one of the three well-fortified Gothic settlements discovered in Ukraine. There were moats, stone walls, and various buildings. Outside the walls, a large pottery kiln was found, which is a clear sign of manufacturing and trading quarter outside the city walls, typical for the early medieval cities of Ruthenia. But it is quite difficult to estimate the number of inhabitants and assess the town's potential "capital" functionality.
Geographically, Vyshhorod's hillside could be the best possible location for the Gothic capital. The loess and sandstone hills are quite convenient for making caves. Vyshgorod caves are at least as old and the ones of Kyiv. it is not clear who started to dig them, and when, but certainly the beginning of caving dates back to pre-Ruthenian, and perhaps pre-Gothic times. These underground labyrinths are insufficiently studied. It is not excluded that one day we will find the library of the duke Yaroslav the Wise (983-1054) will be found there one day (if this legendary library does exist). Yaroslav, by the way, died in Vyshhorod. The first Christian saints of Ruthenia, Borys and Glib (both died in 1015), were buried here, too.
Archaeological excavations in Vyshgorod have been conducted since the 1930s. The citadel and trading quarter outside the city walls of Ruthenia's time have been discovered. Many interesting artifacts were found - for example, the oldest Easter egg in Ukraine; as well as the craft quarters of potters and ironsmiths were discovered. However, the excavations almost never went any deeper. For many reasons, Gothic Vyshhorod still remains a mystery. In the Soviet years, there was no way even to mention an Old German kingdom existing on the territory of the USSR. Even nowadays, the Gothic agenda is not very popular as the Ukrainian society still looks at it through the prism of Soviet perception.
But we do hope that the ethnic, cultural, political, and spiritual history of our homeland, very complicated and confusing, will gradually reveal its mysteries to us.