Until now, ancient Baltic tribes have been incorrectly branded as being ignorant and dumb. However, the recent discovery of hundreds of Baltic amber elite graves on the Russian Sambia Peninsula, full of imported luxury goods, has proven the existence of a deep and rich pre-Roman culture that completely changes how these peoples should be viewed. The Sambia Peninsula on the Baltic Sea is part of the Kaliningrad oblast in northern Russia. This Baltic amber region was the ancestral home of ancient Baltic kingdoms before it became part of the Teutonic Knights’ 13th-century Prussian kingdom.
In the late 19th century, archaeologists excavated a burial ground (necropolis), known as the Putilovo-2 cemetery, that dated to the 3rd to the 8th centuries AD. The site has been closed ever since until now.
Recently, four years of modern excavations have revealed the burial site extends for over 8,000 square meters (9,568 square yards) comprising 300 different burial sites. The elite Baltic amber burials and their luxury imported grave goods, dating to the 4th-5th century AD, all serve to kill a dangerous 2,000-year-old Roman propaganda trope, which described ancient Baltic peoples as ignorant, backward barbarians.
View of the Russian Putilovo-2 necropolis excavation site where many of the Baltic amber elite graves, full of imported luxury grave goods, were discovered. (Konstantin N. Skvortsov / Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences )
Roman Barbarian Propaganda and the Baltic Amber Elites
In 98 AD, Roman historian Tacitus wrote Germania in which he recorded that the Aesti tribe dominated this Germanic tribal region and controlled the valuable amber trade. Tacitus said the Aesti were the only Germanic tribe who gathered amber (glesum) from the shores of the Baltic Sea and traded it across the known world, all the way to Rome.
The Roman propaganda part is where Tacitus noted that the Aesti were “ignorant barbarians” because they didn’t know the origins of this apparently magical rock [amber] that appeared to glow, while the Romans knew amber came from tree sap. But all that has changed now because of the Baltic amber elite graves found in northern Russia.
Burial urn and goods in a Baltic amber elite leader’s grave, found at the Putilovo-2 cemetery site in northern Russia. (Konstantin N. Skvortsov / Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences )
The Putilovo-2 cemetery is located 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from the shores of the Baltic Sea in the Zelenogradsky district, and since early 2021 this site has been excavated heavily in advance of highway A-217 construction work. Back in 2015, the Kaliningrad Amber Museum and the Sambian archaeological expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, launched the “ Amber in the ancient cultures ” project, which is presently led by Professor Konstantin Skvortsov.
An element of a horse helmet on the remains of a horse skull in a burial from the 6th century at the Putilovo-2 site. (Konstantin N. Skvortsov / Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences )
The Real Baltic Amber Elites’ Shatter Roman Distortions
The newly discovered artifacts recovered from the Putilovo-2 site date to the 4th-7th century AD. An article in Haaretz explains that this time period represents the Late Roman occupation period all the way through to the “ migration period ,” when the last of the Roman settlements in the region were invaded by the Huns, Goths, and Alans. Most of the human remains were found in clay cremation urns buried in 1.5 meter (5 feet) deep pits and surrounding the urns were weapons, bronze, silver and gold coins, brooches, torques, bracelets, belt buckles, glass, and amber beads, including 100 glass gaming pieces.
Amber and glass beads and a silver pendant from the 4-6 centuries AD found at the northern Russian burial site. (Konstantin N. Skvortsov / Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences )
Dr Konstantin says that all these items belonged to social “elites.” Their imported luxury grave goods came from Syria, Egypt, Scandinavia, the Baltic lands, Germania, and Rome, which serves to shatter the Roman historical propaganda that these people were ignorant or backward.
Tacitus said the western Balts were “primitive cultures with no essential social structure,” but contrary to this, over the last two decades Konstantin N. Skvortsov, the Russian archaeology professor, has uncovered dozens of “high-status burials,” revealing complex social structures in the Sambian-Natangian cemeteries. In conclusion, the professor said the Baltic amber elite burials “prove these elites were formed at least as early as the third century AD, and not the 5th century Late Roman period, as was traditionally maintained.”
Welcome the Real Pre-Roman Baltic Culture!
Further asserting deep-culture in the ancient Baltics, the very opposite of the ignorant and chaotic tribal barbarians portrayed by Tacitus, intricate social connections were identified with neighboring eastern Germanic tribes . And extending beyond the trade of amber, Germanic animal motifs and mystical symbols found on grave goods at Putilovo-2 indicate the Baltic tribes had adopted aspects of Germanic culture, including aspects of Germanic mythology. Furthermore, evidence of marriage between Baltic and Germanic elite families was also unearthed.
With so many indications of an elite-controlled, highly-developed amber trading culture, with an international reach, in the pre-Roman Baltics, it appears Tacitus was little more than a dangerous propagandist. Dangerous, in that his Germania practically demonized western European tribal peoples as ignorant barbarians, just like Hitler’s “ Mein Kampf ,” Marx and Engels’ “ The Communist Manifesto ” and Chairman Mao’s “ Little Red Book .”
Top image: Fibulas dating to the 4th – 7th centuries AD from the Russian Putilovo-2 cemetery, where countless Baltic amber elite graves were found. Source: Konstantin N. Skvortsov / Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences
By Ashley Cowie