Cherven Towns. 10th century rampart seen from above. © UMCS/ Krystian Trela

Cherven Towns – a Medieval Polish Settlement from the 10th century.

Cherven Towns was a fortified settlement located on the frontier between Lesser Poland and Rus (Ruthenia). Fought over since at least the late 10thcentury, archaeological explorations of the region was hampered by the two world wars. Only recently a more scientific exploration has been undertaken.

“Vladimir marched upon the Lyakhs and took their cities: Peremshl, Cherven, and other towns, all of which are subject to the Rus even today” (AD 981).
As quoted in Woloszyn 2016, p. 692)

Reconstruction of Cherven (Czermno)
Reconstruction of Cherven (Czermno). See video below.

Although Cherven Towns, an area in the south-eastern corner of present-day Poland, was already settled in the Avar period, its major role seems to have played out as a fortified stronghold in the skirmishes between Kiev and the Piast dynasty, which was consolidating its grip on Poland in the 10thcentury. It continued to be fought over, until its destruction in the 13thcentury by the Mongols

It is believed that Cherven had its urban fortified centre at present-day Czermno in the Tomaszów Lubelski district and that it was located in a marshy area at the confluence of the rivers Huczwa and Sieniocha, which feed the river Bug, present-day border between Ukraine and Poland. Now drained, the area presents itself as a flat and fertile landscape. At the turn of the first millennium, though, it was a humid and damp place holding a large fortress with open settlements nearby. The area covers c. 75 – 150 hectares.

The current study of the Cherven Towns is being carried out by a cooperation between the Leipzig Centre of the History and Culture of East Central Europe, The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Cracow-Warsaw, the Institute for Archaeology at the University of Rzeszów and the Institute of Archaeology at the Marie-Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin. The aim is to review earlier finds and unpublished reports as well as carry out the wider area and geographical context. The project is called “Cherven Cities – the golden apple of Polish archaeology” and a website is currently under construction.

Ramparts and Hoards

Lunule from hoard from late 10th century found at Cherven. Source: wikipedia
Lunule from hoard from late 10th century found at Cherven. © Regional Museum in Tomaszów Lubelski

Of primary importance is the dendrochronological dating of the remains of the ramparts as well as the timber pathways laid out to facilitate communication through the swamp and marshes surrounding the fortress.

Recently, several hoards were discovered hidden in the ramparts and dating from the end of the 10thcentury. Although still undergoing conservation, the hoards demonstrate the rich character of the fortress and its function as a trading post in the frontier region between the Kievan Rus and the burgeoning Polish Kingdom. One hoard contained a fully preserved Lunula pendant, a fragment of another, three intact beads, two partly preserved earrings and fragments of other silver ornaments. The other hoard consisted of a clay vessel containing 52 silver ornaments – bracelets, earrings, beads, bronze ornaments and some made of glass.

The ornaments have been characterised as possessing a very high artistic quality and must have been produced by very skilled artisans. Whether they were produced locally or brought to the place is currently not known. It is believed, one of these hoards were hidden around AD 970; another is from a later date (probably during the Mongol Invasions in the middle of the 13th century).

Hoard from the 10th century in Cherven Towns © Museum In Tomaszow Lubelski
Hoard from the 10th century in Cherven Towns © Museum In Tomaszow Lubelski

Landscape

A key to understanding the location of Cherven (Czermno) is the surrounding landscape. Recently an interdisciplinary group of archaeologists, geographers and historians have published the results of geo-archaeological investigations, which have been carried out as part of the research project. Using a geomorphological, climatic and hydrological approach the soil and vegetation were analysed.

The results are that the climate in the 7thand 8thcenturies must have been relatively cold and dry. At this time, the first settlements – perhaps by Avars – could be registered in the vicinity of the site, which appears to have been heavily forested. It is during the 7thcentury that the first signs of a man-made moat can be detected.

During the next period, people began to level and drain the ground as well as construct moats, ramparts and log-paved roads. The embankment measuring 1.5 to 3 metres in the height was constructed by using material from the moats. At this time the rivers flowed closer to the fortification. At that time, the river Bug was probably navigable and it is likely the settlement was serviced by the traffic of prams from the larger river. It is possible that there was a river landing, a stage on the trade route running from Regensburg to Prague, Cracow and Kiev.

Human impact was especially strong during the mid-9thcentury on to the turn of the 10thand beginning of the 11thcenturies, when the surroundings seem to have been brought under the plough.  Finally, the site saw a burst of activity in the 12thcentury. The whole of this period would be characterised as humid and warm.

SOURCES:

Environmental conditions of settlement in the vicinity of the mediaeval capital of the Cherven Towns (Czermno site, Hrubieszów Basin, Eastern Poland)
By Radosław Dobrowolski, Jan Rodzik, Przemysław Mroczek, Piotr Zagórski, Krystyna Bałaga, Marcin Wołoszyn, Tomasz Dzieńkowski, Irka Hajdas, and Stanisław Fedorowicz
In: Quarternary International. Online 02.07.2018

Cherven before Cherven Towns. Some Remarks on the History of the Cherven Towns Area (Eastern Poland) until the end of the 10thcentury.
By Marcin Woloszyn, Iwona Florkiewics, Tomasz Dzienkowski, Sylvester Sadowski, Elzbieta M. Nosek and Janusz Stepinski.
In: Between Byzantium and the Steppe. Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honour of Csanád Bálint on the Occasion of his 70thBirthday. Ed. by Ádam Bollók, Gergely Csiky and Tivadar Vida. Institute for Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Budapest 2016, pp. 689 – 717

Beyond boundaries … of medieval principalities, cultures and scientific disciplines. Cherven Towns – insights from archaeology, cartography and palaeogeography
By Marcin Woloszyn et al.
In: Castellum, Civitas, Urbs. Centres and Elites in Early Medieval East-Central Europe. Ed. by Orsolya Heinrich-Tamáska, Hajnalka Herols, Péter Straub and Tivadar Vida. Castellum Pannonicum Pelsonense, Vol 6. Budapest 2015, p. 177-196

Dying and Dating. A Burial in the Rampart of the Stronghold in Czermno-Cherven’ and its Significance for the Chronology of the Cherven’ Towns
By Woloszyn, Marcin, Tomasz Dzienkowski, Katarzyna Kuniarska, Elzbieta Nosek, Janusz Stepinski,  Iwona Florkiewicz, and Piotr Wlodarcz.
In: Lebenswelten zwischen Archäologie und Geschichte. Festschrift für Falko Daim zu seinem 65. Geburtstag. Monographien des RGZM, Band 150, ed. by Jörg Drauschke et al, Mainz 2018, p. 459-480