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« The Manorial System | Home | Christianization of t… »

Hill-Forts

by Bill Biar

Friday 18 November 2011 at 10:12 pm.

Archaeological discoveries in Lusatia and surrounding territory have produced many artifacts and much valuable information of the early Sorbian tribes and their culture.  It appears certain that additional discoveries will yield many more artifacts and information.  Sites of old medieval fortifications appear to have the greatest potential.

Prior to the Frankish conflicts the Sorbian tribes lived in isolation in what was known as “fortified districts” (in German, Grodbezirke).  Tribes and sub-tribes were usually separated by forested areas and often lived near or within fortified places.  Archaeologists refer to these medieval fortifications as “hill-forts,” since they were often built on hills and cliffs.  In German a  hill-fort is usually called a Burgwall (fortified rampart or wall).  They are also called a  Schanze (entrenchment).  An example of a hill-fort is near the site of the village of Gröditz.  In Sorbian, Gröditz is called Hrod__o, meaning “the village at the big hill-fort.”  A hill-fort like this one is also referred to as a Skalenschanze (entrenchment on a cliff) since it is located on the cliff overlooking a small stream called the Löbauer Wasser.

There are many old fortifications which are located in flat areas.  Some of these are referred to Sumpfschanzen or Wasserburgen, fortifications with moats around them.  One of these was excavated at Baruth in 1964.

There are other names given to these fortifications or strongholds, which either describe their functions or their characteristics.  There was the Fluchtburg (a fortification for refuge), the Ringwall  (a round stronghold), and the Volksburg (people's fortification).  Not all of these forts were originally built by the Sorbs.  Some of them were built by Germanic tribes and others were built by what is known as the Lusatian Culture, people who preceded the arrival of the Germans and Slavs by several centuries.  The Sorbs used them along with the ones that they built themselves.  The technique of construction depended on the terrain and the use and availability of building materials.  No two were alike.  The larger ones had dwellings built within the confines of the ramparts and/or walls.  Others had the dwellings nearby.  At the time these hill-forts were built construction using masonry materials was unknown.  Rocks and stones were used to build the fortifications, but the chief material for dwellings was wood.  The main function of these forts was for protection from the enemy.  Some were undoubtedly the sites of manors, while others were strictly to provide protection when attacked.

Historians in the 9th century report that the Luzici and Milceni tribes of the Sorbs each had 30 such forts.  In all of Lusatia there are more than 200 sites of remains of these old medieval forts.  Very little archaeological work has been done at most of them.

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