South East Europe pre-history summary to 700BC

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Development chart

The archaeological information from the many sites in the Balkans tends to be grouped by material culture, burial practices or settlement types. It is most often named after one key site which could be said to represent a distinct cultural group, then these are further sub-divided depending on the strata found at the sites, and if the sites cross modern boundaries more than one name and sub-division structure may apply. It should be noted that the established phases of Neolithic, Eneolithic, Bronze Age etc vary in date between regional researchers and there is much variation within and between "cultures".

To make any sense of pre-history texts one must first have some idea of the geography and sequence of the "cultures". For this reason I have compiled this chart and the following maps.

PLEASE NOTE this chart has limitations!! 

  • There is far more detail and ongoing discussion than suggested by the linking between cultures and timescale. These links may represent a social development, spreading fashion, political change, or invasion, so may or may not represent a change in people.

  • I have grouped similar trends in pottery and burials very roughly by colour.

  • The addition of names of peoples documented in the Iron Age and of a language development timescale may be considered unsound.


40,000-35,000 BC

25,000-20,000 BC



10,000-7,000 BC

The transition from the Palaeolithic period (characterised by the use of unpolished stone tools) to the Neolithic period (characterised by polished stone tools, crop growing and stock rearing) paralleled the withdrawal of the ice age between 15,000 to 10,000 BC.

early Neolithic

6,500 BC -6,000 BC

From the beginning of the Neolithic period people started living in permanent houses, using pottery vessels and keeping domesticated sheep, cattle and pigs and cultivating cereals. The houses to the east and south of the Balkans were substantial rectangular timber buildings. In northern Greece these had stone foundations , and to the west houses were simple  elliptical pit huts with lighter rectangular wattle and daub. Across Bulgaria and Macedonia the same sites were used for many centuries and millennia leading to the "tell" raised area.

Typical symbols of the Neolithic period are: sun represented as circle and spirals, fire as volutes (wave patterns), meanders and anthropomorphic figures.

Burials were only frequent in the Danube Gorge area with other areas having some burials within villages and inside buildings.

The earliest Balkan Neolithic cultures can be broadly divided three groups:

Balkan group

Covering the areas of Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece, known as Gura Baciului, Karanovo I, Porodin (Velušina), proto-Sesklo cultures, in the settlement friendly areas of Thessaly, Pelagonia, S Albania (Vlush), middle Struma, and central areas. Characterised by light monochrome pottery and white painted pottery

Central Balkan group

Covering the area of Sebia and south Panonnia into Banat
Known as  Starčevo I, Körös, Criş cultures
Characterised with coarse pottery and Barbotine decoration

Mediterranean group

Along the coast of Iberia, Italy, and north Africa with pottery decorated by finger nail and shell impressions, known as "impresso" technique.

middle Neolithic

6,000 BC

The terms middle and late Neolithic periods were derived from a change in the settlement at sites in Thessaly (Greece), but these changes were not evident in the chronology of the other Balkan areas where developments reached these stages at differing dates.


This extended across East Pannonia (Körös), West Romania, Oltenia and Transylvania (Criş) and in the later phases Moldavia. In the area of Bosnia there was a transitional mixing of the Mediterranean and Balkan cultures.

Late Neolithic Balkan group

Changes typical of the late Neolithic occurred in Thrace during the middle Neolithic. These changes were seen in the types of settlement, the variety of plastic art, and the pottery. They could be due to new elements assimilated with Karanovo I.

"Linear pottery" was the start of the early Neolithic in central europe.

developed Neolithic

5,500 BC

Between the middle Neolithic and the start of the late Neolithic period which sees changes in the west Balkans.

Vinča culture

The Starčevo culture in Serbia was replaced by the Vinča culture from where I have taken the term "Developed Neolithic" for this period. The Vinča culture made use of copper and continued to exist in parallel with the emerging eneolithic cultures.

"Linear pottery" culture developed in Hungary, known as Alföld linear or Alföld Vonaldíszes Kerámica (AVK) or East Slokavian Linear or Ciueşti in eastern Hungary and Transdanubian linear in western Hungary.

late Neolithic

5,000 BC

Two cultures enter the region which will lead into the Balkan eneolithic period.

"Musical note Linear pottery"

The "Linear pottery" of central Europe expanded east, entering Moldavia via the Ukraine, where it was know as "musical note linear pottery" due to the decoration pattern.

Hamangia & Boian cultures

The Hamangia culture of Dobrogea most probably originated from Anatolia. The previous Dudeşti culture mixed with elements of the linear pottery groups to form the Boian and Vădastra culture which formed the base of the future Gumeliţa culture.

early Eneolithic

4,500 BC

The eneolithic period was the transition from the stone age to the bronze age, also known as the chalcolithic period. Compared to the rest of Europe, the Danube regions and central Balkans progressed earlier from the Neolithic period and had a long eneolithic transition period. During this period the north Balkans may have been the most dynamic region of Europe.

Burial practices changed, particularly in the lower Danube and eastern Bulgaria, to cemeteries outside villages and were accompanied by material objects. From the late 6th millennium copper mining and processing was developing in Europe and there was extensive mining in Serbia and Bulgaria during the 5th millennia. Many Gold objects have been found that were used for ornamentation of body and clothes.

"Musical note Linear pottery", with influences from the cultures to the south started to form the Cucuteni cultures in SE Transylvania and west Moldavia.

The Gumeliţa culture developed smoothly from the Boian culture in the lower Danube region.

The "Linear pottery" derivatives continued in west Hungary and central Europe.

middle Eneolithic

4,000 BC

The Balkans are divided into four major groups:

The east Balkans were dominated by the Gumeliţa culture whose influence spread south into Thrace, and eventually across the Rodopes. This was characterised by graphite painted pottery.

The Cucuteni-Tripolye-Ariuşd cultural group covered Moldavia, southern Ukraine, and east Transylvania. The pottery was decorated in bold multi-coloured geometric designs.

The Lengel culture of Hungary and central Europe was derived from the linear pottery groups and had predominantly mono-chrome painted pottery.

The Sălcuţa-Krivodol-Bubanj group with impressed pottery decoration in the central Balkans.

late Eneolithic

3,500 BC

To the north east of the Balkans, in the Steppe north of the Black Sea several groups where encroaching on the Triploye and would have infiltrated most of the Balkan by the Bronze age. They placed their dead in timer lined and roofed rectangular pits, strewn in the ochre, and then covered in low mounds, sometimes with a circle of stones. It is thought they were mostly nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists who brought horses and two wheeled carts to the Balkans. Stylised horned motifs of cattle and sheep were typical symbols used by these peoples, very different to those of the Balkan eneolithic people.


Transition to Bronze age 3,000 BC

At this period the Bronze age had already begun in Anatolia, although the Carpathian region was still in the eneolithic period and undergoing changes associated with an influx of new peoples from the Pontic Steppe. Some believe this to have been an assimilation into the existing eneolithic peoples, other suggest a more substantial change in population. During this time there was a destruction of the eneolithic settlements in the lower Danube regions. The new settlements were seldom fortified and the dwellings ranged from simple pit-dwellings and small huts to two-roomed rectangular houses. The platform floors found in the Neolithic period are not used. The later reoccupation of tells in south-central Bulgaria had a new form of architecture with stone footings and rounded, apsidal ends.

Burials practices typical of the Steppe peoples were introduced into the Balkans. The body was placed in a timber lined pit, covered by a mound and sometimes a circle of stones. Successive burials on a mound were common leading to mound heights of 8m.

Many believe the incoming peoples introduced Indo-European languages and through the 3rd millennium BC these developed into the basic language groups we know today.  However others believe the Indo-European languages formed in Anatolia and were spread with the neolithic age. Interestingly the two oldest Indo-European languages of Armenian and Albanian date to before the Indo and European split.

Early Bronze age
2,500 BC

The Bronze Age population is generally thought to have emerged from the fusion of Enelolithic peoples and the influx from the Pontic Steppe during the transitional period. There was often a drastic break from the past with old settlement sites not being continued. Pottery retained few Eneolithic features and was generally cruder in quality. There were also important changes in social culture, from the Eneolithic period. Gold and copper deposits in Transylvania were extensively exploited until the Hallstatt period.

The peoples in the east Balkans may be considered to be proto-Thracians from whom the Iron Age Dacians, Getae, and Thracians emerged. The first Greeks, known as the Achaens, reached Greece around 2,200 BC and founded the Mycenae civilisation, trading with the non-Indo-Europeans in Crete (Minoans), Troy and Egypt. These non-Indo-European peoples, called Pelasgians by the Greeks, remained in some towns and on some islands until at least the 4th century BC. The Minoan's script was adopted by the Achaeans, and many Greek words still have non-Indo-European roots. Recent genetics suggests that modern Cretians and Macedonians still have their pre-Greek ancestry.

The Caucasus the main source of Bronze to the Balkans in the early Bronze Age.

Middle Bronze Age

1800 BC

The modest huts were replaced by larger houses and some settlements were fortified with earthworks and stone walls. Four wheel wagons were common throughout the Balkans, central Europe and Asia Minor.

The Carpathian arc from the Bohemia (Únĕtice culture), the upper Tiza (Otomani culture) and into Transylvania (Wietenburg culture) was the centre of the Bronze industry, trading up to the Baltic coast and east to the Caucasus. The 'alliance' of these three cultures used tin from Bohemia to produce Bronze in Transylvania and the their strength spread north of the Carpathians into the Ukraine (Komarów culture) and east to the Pontic Steppe.

Late Bronze Age

1400 BC

Influence of the Wietenburg culture spread east to the Noua culture of Moldavia and Sabatinovka culture of the Steppe as far as the Dnieper. Pastoralism was practiced extensively in the central to east of Romania. Seven of the nine superior Bronze "Mycenaean" swords found in Romania were found in Transylvania showing that trade and connections continued with the southern Balkans through the Morava-Vardar corridor. Some Mycenaean settlements were founded in Macedonia.

It is thought that Slavic-Baltic peoples to the north were separating both in location and language and by 1400 BC the Slavic groups between the Oder and the Dnepr rivers were developing a common Slavic language, then by 1250 BC the Baltic peoples had moved north and east.

See also: Mycenaean Greece

Transition to Iron Age

1000 BC

The archaeology has shown that the Hallstatt culture and Urnfield cultures of central Europe spread into west Romania and pushed south down the Morava-Vardar valleys into Macedonia. The Glasinac (Illyrian) features moved south into Albania, Epirus and the Greek peninsular. In Romania the Noua culture of Moldavia and Sabatinovka culture continued throughout most of the region.

"Traditional" history says that in about 1300 BC the Illyrian and Venetic tribes started migrating south from Pannonia to Dalmatia. This caused the Doric tribes to move south and take the Mycenae lands of the Achaeans and in turn the Achaeans moved into the Aegean islands and Asia Minor.



Iron Age


Further cultural movements in the west  Balkans and Greece continued after the start of the Iron Age. This was the period of the Dark Age in Greece (Mycenaean IIIC to end of Geometric), the change from the Bronze Age to Iron Age in the Balkans, and the Hallstatt A culture in central Europe.

The Dardani (Illyrian) caused the Taulantii (Illyrian) to move south in ~10th century to Epirus. The Liburni moved along the Morava-Vardar to Macedonia in ~9th century. The central Illyrian tribes (Glasinac culture) moved into the Lakes region (Pelagonia) and Macedonia ~800BC. This caused a fall in prosperity in Macedonia and possibly the migration of the Phryges to Asia-Minor (if Brygi=Phrygi). This would link the Phryges => Lausitz => Vattina cultures.




© Eliznik2005, First issue 2002, Last updated Dec-05