The iron metallurgy of the Dnepro-Don interriver territory in the second half of the 1-st millennium A.D.
© Vladimir Koloda, 1999 All Rights Reserved

The iron metallurgy existed in the Dnepro-Don interriver territory in the second half of the 1 -st millennium AD. was one of the leading industries of the economy. Not only economic potential of the community on the whole, but also the means for further development of the agriculture, crafts, military science as well as domestic life depended upon the level of development of the iron metallurgy. Unfortunately, up to the present, this subject has not been specially investigated.

From the geographical point of view, the above - mentioned territory consisted of the zones of Southeastern Europe that were different as regards the natural life, climate and landscape. It was populated by numerous and many-ethnic tribes. From the ethnic point of view, the Dnepro-Don interriver territory was divided into two large regions, namely: the northern and southern ones being populated by the Slavs and by the Turldc-Ugric tribes respectively.

In the second half of the 1-st millennium A.D., the life of the Slavs settled in Eastern Europe was distinguished by two periods. The first period - the third quarter of the 1-st millennium A-D. - was characterized by the intensive settling of those tribes and by domestic development of the territory. At that period there existed the archaeological cultures of the Kolochin, Penkovka and Volyntsevo settlements. The second period fell on the end of the 1-st millennium A.D., and is known as a period of consolidation of the eastern Slavic tribes, formation of a united material culture, equal social and economic development and general rise in the economy. During that period, the Romny and Borshevo archaeological cultures existed. At present, no restoration of the iron smelting process that has been used by the Kolochin tribes is possible.

The Penkovka tribes used the ground-mounted reusable hearths similar to those used in the Dnepr-river Rightbank territory and in the Dnestr-river basin. The hearths were of a cone-shaped structure and circular in plan. The hearth height amounted to 0.5 m and the lower diameter - to 0.5-0.7 m. The Oskol-river group of the Penkovka culture antiquities had undergone the influence of the iron metallurgy trends of the Saltov culture. This is evidenced by discoveries of the hearths of similar constructions.

Among the Volyntsevo-culture antiquities, known is a shaft-type hearth with a shaft lower portion being below the ground level. Such a construction is not typical for the time period under review, therefore it should be considered as an archaic one.

One of the specific features of the iron metallurgy of the Volyntsevo culture was location of the hearths indoors, in a workshop. Such an organization of the smelting process of that period appears to be analogous to the contemporary antiquities of eastern Slavs settled in the regions of the territory situated to the West.

The tribes of the Romny culture had used both iron smelting furnaces housed in the living quarters and ground-mounted hearths with the blast being fed through the nozzles.

The Borshevo tribes are known to use two methods of the iron smelting technique, the crucible process being the most popular one. The essence of the crucible process lied in the use of the ordinary domestic pots filled with the charge. The process proper was carried out either in special furnaces of various constructions or in the ovens of every day use fitted with additional heat insulation. The second method contemplated the use of the hearths operating on the cold blast.

The present state of the archaeological sources testifies to the fact that no antiquities of the iron metallurgy used by the non-Slavic population of the Dnepro-Don interriver territory at the first quarter of the 1-st millennium A.D. exist. This is connected with the great transmigration of peoples (IV - VIII centuries A.D.). This fact testifies that the iron metallurgy existed at the end of the 1-st millennium A.D. in the South of the region had no local roots. It was brought to the territory by new ethnic groups that took part in the formation of the Khazar caganate (Saltov archaeological culture). Antiquities that belong to this culture fall into two groups according to their locality, namely: forest-and-steppe group and steppe group. The first group was characterized by a distinctive type of a pit-type reusable hearth operating on the cold blast. What put the structure in a class by itself was provision of a flattened pear - shaped smelting chamber. Its volume made up 0.05 cum on the average. The blast was fed through two holes provided on the two opposite sides. No analogy to such hearths is known.

In the steppe zone of the Khazar territory, the most popular were large-volume pit-type reusable hearths (0.5 to 2.6 cum volume). The smelting chamber had a shape of a truncated cone or cylinder. The nozzle blast was fed from below of the front wan wherein the hearth "mouth" was located. Those craft structures were somewhat similar to the hearths discovered in Southeastern Siberia, which testifies to the common origin of the same.

The third type of the Saltov-culture iron smelting furnaces was represented by only one specimen, i.e. a system of three pit-type hearths connected between each other and found to be similar to those used by the Turkic-speaking population belonging to the Tashtyk culture of Eastern Siberia.

The general level of the development of the iron metallurgy can be determined based on a production site (PS). There are known several types of production sites, each corresponding to a certain level of development of production, social organization of the same and to a degree of formation of the iron metallurgy as a separate industry within the general framework of the economy.

The lowest level of the production (PS-1) was the level of production within the framework of the communal economy system, m that case, a smelter had a status of an ordinary communal worker. A number of antiquities (PS-2A) testify to the start of formation of the iron metallurgy as a- separate craft. This was manifested by the territorial isolation of iron production in the rural areas.

The further development of that type of production was connected with two possible trends. The first trend lied in the appearance of the iron smelting craft in the settlements and towns with a high level of organization of the same and high social position of skilled craftsmen (PS-2B). The second trend lied in the creation of specialized craft industry centers - the sites for seasonal iron production to provide iron for the needs of the agricultural population (PS-3). As to the rate of the iron metallurgy development, the population of the Khazar territory had left behind the neighbouring Slavic peoples settled in the region under review. This is confirmed by a considerable number of antiquities of PS-2B and PS-3 types as well as by the high degree of the goods quality characteristic of the certain iron metallurgy centers.

The data considered allow to arrive at the following conclusions:

- the iron metallurgy of the Dnepro-Don interriver territory had undergone two stages of its development during the second half of the 1-st millennium A.D., namely decline in the production at the third quarter of the 1-st millennium A.D. and rise in the same at the end of the 1-st millennium A.D.;

- the tribes of each archaeological culture had the iron production of their own, which can be confirmed by the great variety of iron production methods and many types of craft structures;

- as regards the level of the production development, the Saltov-culture iron metallurgy had surpassed that of the Slavic culture;

- the development of the iron industry of the tribes settled in the region was going on in the general line of the development of civilization and was connected with intensification in the social division of labour,

- the general development of the iron metallurgy testifies to the gradual separation of this kind of production activity out of the communal domestic system and conversion of the same into the craft of the early feudal community.