Svätý Jur (Slovaquie) : one of the most important Slavic castles


What did the fort look like?

The site with the remains of the earthworks is situated on the mountain ridge of the Little Carpathians above Svätý Jur, at a height of 342 meters above sea level. In 1963 the archaeological site became a listed National Historic Landmark officially called the Hillfort Neštich. The mountain where the fort is built is called Handrlák. The ruins of the former fortress are in the woody outcrop above the cottage area. They are identified by mighty, still preserved mounds of the elliptical acropolis and two younger horseshoe-like lower fortifications connected to the acropolis from the northwest. On the two sides of the valleys under the fort are two tributaries of Starý potok (the Old Creek). The length of the fort, including both wards, is about 680 meters. The area of the fort is about 8,5 ha. The wall on the northwest was double what it is today, and in the area between the first and the second ward, it was triple. The height of the preserved wall from the bottom of the moat is about 11 meters.

Are there traces of the manufacturing or trading activities that might have taken place at the Hillfort in Neštich?

Trade activities are confirmed by discoveries of the coins. One was found in the forest in the direction of Rača, and we can connect this coin to the activity of traders in the second half of the 8th century. Another bit of evidence is the Arabic silver dirham from the second half of the 9th century, which can indicate the activity of the Oriental traders like the Arabs, the Persians, the Jews. Manufacturing is documented by discoveries of iron slags, blacksmiths’ tongs, axe-like hryvnias (or “grivnas”, like ingots) which might have been used as currency. More recently we have found a place where jewellry may have been produced, and we can link this workshop to an Arabic coin which could have been used as a source of silver. The oldest medieval object that could be proof of trade is a fragment of a glass whorl, similar to one found in the territory of the Frankish Empire, dating from the 6th and 7th century and the times of the Merovingian dynasty. Further evidence of trade or local manufacturing is seen in the numerous discoveries of iron products, coloured metal, and ceramics.

How was the fort defence system designed?

The defence system was formed gradually. We think that the predecessor of the massive wall of the acropolis had been built by the second half of the 8th century. The bulwark of the acropolis was later reinforced with a wooden slatted construction, which was protected from the front by a stone parapet. The thickness of the biggest walls was at least 4.5 meters. But we also need to take into consideration a palisade which could have been about two meters tall. The height of the wall might have been the same as its thickness. The walls of the acropolis and the first ward were lined from the inside and outside by moats, and both parts of the fort were protected in the more accessible northwest part by additional walls and moats.

Who conducts research at the fort, and how is it financed?

We have been doing surveys at the hillfort since 2006 with breaks. At the beginning, we cooperated with the Archaeological Museum of Bratislava and the Archaeological Institute in Nitra. At the moment we are using our own resources. But our research cannot continue without temporary workers, mostly students of archaeology. Most of the money is used as wages for the temporary workers. Only rarely do we have volunteers who work for free. The advantage of working with students is that we can assign which duties each person will have and how much work he or she will do. In 2017, this archeological research project has been supported using public funds provided by Slovak Arts Council

What does the work of an archaeologist look like?

It has different phases, including seasonal fieldwork and creative scientific work, but these often overlap. Creative scientific work means processing the findings, writing survey reports, studying literature and writing professional and popular scientific articles, as well as participating in professional events. Archaeologists in a museum have a more difficult job, since their work also involves caring for collections by ensuring safe storage and good air conditioning. Their preservation work includes recording findings and organising exhibitions.

How are the locations of the probes chosen?

Archaeologists look at a combination of details in cooperation with the Monuments Board. Placing the probe must be done carefully, and it depends on both the configuration of the field and the areas modified by man. Terraces and platforms are the best. An important step in choosing the location is compiling previous discoveries and collections of artefacts, often using metal detectors and geographical surveys.

Can we compare this hillfort with Bojná? Are you following the progress of research there?

Yes, of course, but there are some differences, since Bojná is not just one hillfort. Unlike Svätý Jur, Bojná is a concentration of several fortifications. A couple of similarities are found in comparing the strength of the walls and the great status of both hillforts. The difference is in the progress of exploration - Bojná is better off. It is surveyed by a complete team managed by several archaeologists, and an open-air archaeological museum is being built at the site. But we have reached some important conclusions at Svätý Jur, too. The results of our colleagues from Bojná are indirectly helping us in our work, and we are trying to recast our effort into our own publication.

Are there any traces of Christianity at the hillfort?

Not that we have formally identified, but there is no doubt that a considerable part of the population there were Christians. We also know that many of the old habits from the traditional religion continued – many people may have even confessed to both religions. Evidence of surviving pagan ideas might be Moon-like pendant, used as amulet to protect women from evil. We are also trying to find a possible Christian church.

What is next for the researchers?

In the following season, we are planning to survey the remnants of the above-mentioned smaller bank at the second ward, and from the older sections, we want to obtain residues of wood for dendrochronological analysis to determine their age. We would also like to use radiocarbon analysis C14 to determine the age of other objects, especially remnants of housing. We need to obtain information about generic representation of the farm or hunted animals, as well as the preserved remains of seeds of plants consumed at the site and types of trees used in construction. We are also planning geophysical research and laser scanning of the land surface to detect possible foundations of buildings. More than 90 percent of the area is still untouched.