Archaeological evidence of Slavic settlement in the territory of Aquileia (10th-11th century A.D.)


Between the end 9th century and the early of 11th century A.D., a large area extended from the Northeast of Italy to Austria and Slovenia was characterised by many interments, both in large graveyards and in small groups or isolated tombs, with a recurring and peculiar furniture. The more common and distinguishing artefacts are: half-moon shaped earrings, decorated with engravings or enamelled; typical hat-shaped or eight-shaped circular brooches; temple-rings, that is used to adorn the temples, of different sizes. It’s usual to consider this kind of objects as belonging to the material custom of Alpine Slavs, named Culture of Köttlach, after the eponymous cemetery that was discovered near Gloggnitz, on the south of Vienna, by the Neusiedler See.(1)
In a distribution map outlined twenty years ago, V. Šribar, one of the greatest experts of these grave-goods, listed over 150 sites (fig. XCIX), especially located alongside the rivers Sava, Drava and Mur(2) but, from then, their number has surely grown (in Friuli, north-east of Italy, for example, it has doubled) and the area affected by the discoveries has widened towards south-west, so that finds from the surroundings of Padova and Treviso(3) have been recently published.
A similar map compiled by J. Giesler, which includes the sites of a last phase, called Köttlach II, that may be dated between the end of the 10th and the first half of 11th century, points out clearly that the north-eastern border of the area of the discoveries was the medium flow of the Danube.(4)
The majority of the finds seems to be restricted to Carantania, namely the area of the old Slovenia, the southern Styria and a part of Carinthia, i.e. the region inhabited by the “Sclavi qui dicuntur Quarantani”, quoted in the Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum,(5) who fiercely withstood the Christianisation led by the Church of Salzburg in the second half of the seventh century.(6) In addition to the frequent finds, the traces of the slavic peopling between the river Mur and Drava (7) are also corroborated by a large toponymical evidence, that in a few regions, such as Styria, have been examined in specific studies.(8)
It’s known that the practice of placing in the burial some personal objects which accompanied the dead finished with the end of the seventh century in the Lombard Reign, but it kept on in the transalpine countries and in the Eastern Europe, at least till the Ottonian Age.(9) Therefore, when, between the 9th and the 10th century, the inhumations provided with grave-goods re-emerged, just in those areas where this habit had formerly disappeared, it’s generally taken as a sign of the presence of individuals belonging to the Slavic ethnic group. As regards archaeological researches, the cemeteries of Kranj, Bled and Ptuj have a great importance, especially for the typological and chronological sequence, thanks to an evident horizontal stratigraphy of the burials.
In this work, I am going to present an up-to-date outline of the archaeological finds of the Köttlach Culture discovered till now in Friuli, in the middle of the territory of the mediaeval Patriarchy of Aquileia (fig. 1). The geographical diffusion here shown, compared with that of the Slavic toponyms counted in the same region, allows to formulate useful remarks about the dynamics of the mediaeval peopling, and, as we will
see further, to propose a second reading of the written sources of the beginning of the 11th century, which contain unmistakable references to migrations of the Slavs into the northeastern part of Italy.
Among the most interesting finds in Friuli, we should absolutely mention the cemetery of Turrida of Sedegliano, on the left side of the Tagliamento river, on the north of Codroipo. It was put in the light by accident in 1923, in the courtyard of San Martino’s church; they did not make any sketch of the excavations, but all the items were collected with care and now they are kept at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Cividale del Friuli. The written records describe about 30 tombs located along an East-West track and dug about 60 cm underground.(10)The grave-goods are 27 earrings (figs C, CI, CII) 10 temple-rings (fig. CIII), 2 brooches, 7 finger rings, 2 arrow points and a few iron knives. In detail, there are several moon-shaped earrings, often found in pairs; the majority has a decoration carved in dotted lines drawing semicircular and triangular patterns, which belong to the “C” group of the Šribar-Stare’s classification; there are also the life-tree figure (“B” group) and the polychrome enamel of “H” group of the same classification;(11) sometimes the dotted lines follow the moon-shaped form. The execution on laminae decorated with engravings suggests that these items belong to the second phase of the Culture of Köttlach, dating back to the end of the 10th century and the 11th century. Furthermore, a pair of earrings made of melted bronze, with a blue enameldecoration that also belongs to Köttlach II, has been documented.(12)
In the site of Turrida they have also collected three temple-rings decorated with double-coned elements in bronze, objects that are quite common in the Austrian and Slovenian cemeteries. Among the finds there is an eight-shaped brooch, decorated with the oldest technique of carved dotted lines, that has a pattern of five stylised leaves: it can be compared to a specimen of the tomb no. 66 in the Slovenian cemetery of Kranj.(13)
Other items from Turrida are finger rings made with a bronze lamina, that has been folded and welded. The decoration, made with engravings, has a wide range of patterns, each one carved with stamped concentric circles, or with stamped “V”, zig zag closed line filled with dots. The length of the diameters (1,9 to 2,3 cm) let suppose they were ornaments made for adults. In the cemetery of Kranj there is also a great amount of finger rings in the tombs of adults, both men and women, whereas they’re quite rare in the children’s ones. Even the type of Turida’s jewels can be compared, in a very achúrate way, with similar specimens found at Kranj.(14)
Lacking the excavations data, the discovery of four fragments of sculpture is of great importance for a better knowledge of the site; these could be part of a cyboriumin a church. As regards the chronology, usually referring to the 7th-9th centuries, it is likely that the remaining of a holy building could exist before the burials.(15)
On the right bank of the Tagliamento, the old Slavic cemetery of Pordenone, disclosed in several phases from 1985 to 1988, is till now the most western site of this kind in Friuli. Unlike the cemetery of Turrida, in this case there are reliable excavations data and the results of a series of anthropological analysis made on the skeletons.
In 1985, 13 skeletons were discovered in the porch of Palazzo Ricchieri, just Under the paving, while in 1988 they found other 18 tombs inside the building (fig. 2).
The burials were dug in a sterile layer of pluvial gravel, along an East-West track; the cemetery seems disposed in almost parallel lines. An anthropological study of the bones suggests that there were not actual topographic differences due to age or sex: adults and children, men and women were inhumed all together.
There were not funerary buildings, but just in one case (tomb no. 23), near the feet of the deceased, came out the remains of a circle, made of big pebbles. While only three burials did not hold grave-goods, for the most part a few objects were found, and just in one tomb more than 10 items together. For the finds on the whole, we should refer to the late Culture of Köttlach (fig. 3).
Besides Turrida and Pordenone, which represent the principal old Slavic cemeteries in Friuli, other 14 places should be mentioned that give up isolated gravegoods or groups of interments; from there further artefacts of the Culture of Köttlach come, which could be dated between the 10th and the 11th century.
At once, there are two sites to point out, both of them located on the plain surrounding Pordenone. The first one is the village of Arzenutto near Valvasone, where three burials, accompanied by temple-rings, were dug between 1984 and 1985.(16) There are items both of the simple-and the double-enlargement type, respectively of the first and the second half of the 10th century, and even of the kind with accurately shaped ends, similar
to the Sagadin’s form 1.
Secondly, in the village of Cortina near Flambro, close to the Church of S. Maria Annunziata, two temple-rings with enlarged ends, one finger ring and one hat-shaped circular brooch were found in 1935; afterwards they were lost, but a photograph has remained.(17)
Eastward in the plain of Friuli, the site of Visco is worth to be cited: it lies on the north of the ancient city of Aquileia, alongside the Isonzo river. During the discovery that happened by chance of a few inhumations, it was possible to find a burial with a moonshaped earring beside the skull and a hat-shaped circular brooch set on the chest of the dead.(18) The earring, decorated with engravings, which form geometrical patterns, has been referred to the “C” group of Šribar, and dated back to the 10th century (fig. CIV).
It happens that he name of the place, quoted in 1196 as “villam de Vuisco”, should come from the word Višek, which in old Slav means “rise”.(19)
The more southern köttlachian finds in Friuli are two moon-shaped earrings decorated with geometrical patterns, coming from Aquileia, where they were discovered, in uncertain circumstances, at the beginning of the last century.(20). Together with these
items, also a hat-shaped circular brooch was saved, with the image of an Agnus Dei enclosed by geometrical patterns. This ornamental object resembles the no. 9 type in the Šribar classification.
A significant concentration of finds has been brought into light on the hills around Gorizia, but unluckily it has been provided by occasional excavations; therefore suitable archaeological evidence is lacking. In the centre of Gorizia an iron knife has been discovered, which has typological affinity with a similar specimen of Vittuglia, of which a design is kept at the Archivio Storico Provinciale of the city.(21) Together with the knife, a “bracelet” and a “ring” made of bronze were found, which possibly could be two other temple-rings.(22)
Near the city, in the commune of Lucinico, in 1924 were found by chance four temple-rings with one enlarged end, and one of them was fragmentary.(23) Despite the incomplete archaeological data, the site has a great importance because it could be identified with the villam Luzinigam, left in 1077 in the hands of the Patriarch of Aquileia2(4) by the Emperor Henry IV. In 1083 the Count of Gorizia, Henry of Eppenstein, bestowed the village upon the venerable Abbey of Rosazzo.(25)
Also the site of Mossa, on the west of Gorizia, is really interesting. In 1960, just by accident, some pottery and coins of the Roman Age were dug, mixed with ten interments, and disposed along an east-west direction, which had köttlachian jewellery.(26)
After that, it was decided to proceed with wide excavations (about 2000 square m), which led to the discovery of a vast quadrangular structure, with thick external walls and several rooms; this building gave rise to controversial interpretations, but more likely it was a villa, instead of a castrum, as someone thought. Inside the structure, 55 skeletons were found; each of them was buried separately.(27) To judge from appearances, the graves stood above archaeological layers that rested on the break of the walls. Among the grave-goods, it should be mentioned a moon-shaped earring, carved with stamped concentric circles, belonging to the Šribar’s “E” group.(28) At Corno di Rosazzo, not far from Gorizia, in 1951 seven inhumations, set in a row along an east-west line, were discovered, by accident again, in the yard of the local parsonage. From the graves, two moon-shaped earrings came out, decorated with stylised vegetable patterns; a temple-ring with one enlarged end was unearthed in the same circumstance.(29) In the valley of the Natisone river, some remarkable köttlachian finds come from San Pietro, by San Quirino’s church (fig. 4).
In a layer made by earth mixed with human bones, believed to be a level formed in the late Middle Ages because of the excavation of a previous cemetery, they found eleven temple-rings of different sizes and various ends, and two bronze hat-shaped circular brooches, apparently without decoration.(30) A few moon-shaped earrings have been discovered also at Udine (one specimen), at Caporiacco (one specimen) and at Nimis (one specimen).(31) From the castle of Solimbergo comes an hat-shaped circular brooch,
made of melted bronze and decorated with enamel (fig. CV); it’s of great interest since it
has been found in recent excavations carried on with care. It was dug in a layer full of rough pottery, which can be dated between the 10th and the 11th century; this layer touched directly the rocks at the ground and was cut by the foundations of the external walls of the castle.32 It’s really remarkable that a document, written on the 9th of August of the 1196 year, states that the Bishop of Concordia granted to Almerico of Castelnuovo and his descendents half of the hill “... pro faciendum unum castrum ibi, ubi iam inceptum erat nomine Soemberg”.(33) If, as it seems, the construction of the mediaeval castle begun at the end of the 12th century, the archaeological layer which contained the brooch could be related to a previous, maybe, slavic settlement.
Finally, in the alpine zone called Carnia, there is one discovery that is surely referable to the Culture of Köttlach: during maintenance works outside the church of San Martino of Ovaro a moon-shaped earring of melted bronze was found, originally decorated with a stylised life-tree pattern, made with enamel; moreover a temple-ring has been saved; both the items come from burials. In this mountain-site, recent researches have underlined the presence of a large paleo-christian church, which had a hexagonal baptistery, it was abandoned during an uncertain time in the Middle Ages; later, the rural people were reassigned to the near church of Santa Maria of Gorto.(34)
From this survey of the archaeological evidence found till now in Friuli, we can formulate some general considerations.
The sites currently known are 16: three of them are cemeteries that consist of some dozens of graves, at Turrida, Pordenone and Mossa, whereas the other places preserve just sporadic objects, often related to burials. The main problem in elaborating these archaeological data is the low quality of the documentation, since most of the finds have been dug by accident or by out-of-date methods; only twice, at Pordenone and Solimbergo, there were stratigraphic excavations. What’s more, it’s desirable to complete our knowledge by possible extended excavations of houses and villages, because we lack information about the everyday goods, which could reveal different features of the material culture of these Slavs.
Nonetheless, the great number of the discoveries allows underlining some elements referable to the modes of peopling the area of the Patriarchy of Aquileia between the 10th and the 11th century. As far as I am concerned, I am unsatisfied with the current opinions about the presence of the Slavs in Friuli: actually, many scholars think it was a passive consequence of the wave of troubles due to the Hungarian attacks after the year 898.
Archaeology provides a faint but not negligible evidence that the Slavic pressure on Friuli started before the age of the Hungarian invasions and the Ottoman restoration of the Holy Empire: in fact the great migrations of the 10th and 11th century had been announced by sporadic artefacts dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries. Sooner or later, a re-examination of the finds supported by new typological classifications of pre-köttlachian and early köttlachian finds might prove this assumption.
In the map of diffusion we can notice that the majority of the sites are located in the plain, from the Adriatic coasts to the hilly area of Friuli. It does not seem to subsist a link with the road-network, since the location of the archaeological finds is quite scattered on the territory, without alignment with the long-distance routes. This might be at variance with some propositions that the Slavs should have settled alongside the socalled “Hungaresque” roads, in order to repair the social damage caused by the Hungarian raids.35 A study of Aldo Settia had already offered an interesting review of the question about the Hungarian advance towards the Friuli, belittling its power of destruction and underlining a number of mistakes, sometimes coarse ones, on the previous reading of the written sources.36 In that work we can also find the first attempt to use the material sources, but a try was not developed, because of the obstinate scepticism of the archaeologists acting in Friuli, who were usually reluctant to admit the active presence of the Slavs in their own area.(37) Nevertheless, if the nomadic warriors from the east did not empty the country of people in the 10th century, and if the road-network did not affect the diffusion of the Culture of Köttlach, between the second half of the 10ht and the 11th century, the scattered location of the burials, and naturally of the settlements, could reflect a specific will of agricultural colonisation of the area, also proved by an apparent preference for places on the hills and the plains close to rivers: a quite big concentration of sites seems to focus around the medium flow of the Tagliamento, especially on the right bank, and in the surroundings of Gorizia. It’s important to notice that these are exactly the areas where the Slavic names of places are more widespread.(38) It’s important to underline that these are the same areas also affected by the imperial donations given to the Patriarchs of Aquileia (fig. CVI); among them is well-known the “half of the villa that the Slavs usually call Gorizia”, granted in 1001 by Otto III to the patriarch James IV.(39)
On the contrary, the regions related to the patriarchal donations to the monastery of S. Maria of Aquileia and to the Chapter of Aquileia, seem less affected by the köttlachian finds and by the Slavic toponyms. Therefore, it seems right to say that the lands of the clergy of Aquileia were worked by tenants and small holders of local, “italic”, origins, while the lands of the Crown, for very particular reasons of the Saxon Dynasty, were at disposal of Slavic communities, coming from the eastern alpine chain, strong and numerous enough to break up woods and swamps everywhere. Finally, a note of ideological interest: even if Christianised since more than two centuries, the Slavs held the custom to put down their deads with a few clothes or personal objects. Sometimes they located their cemeteries, that seem to be egalitarian, near churches, at Turrida, for example, but the scant archaeological data do not allow proving if they were still consecrated buildings or, as it seems at Ovaro, they were abandoned ones. Probably, for a long time during the 10th and 11ht centuries, when he could not trust in a definite class of military followers, the Patriarch of Aquileia had to suffer the settlement of these Slavs, which, even as regards the mentality, were more independent than any other peasant of that time.


(1) Pittioni 1943
(2) Sribar 1983, cc. 319, 320
(3) Possenti 1995
(4) It is an important study written more then twenty years ago to explain the chronological order of the pre-Köttlach, Köttlach I and Köttlach II phases (Geisler 1980). About a complete and up-to-date outline of these researches, see Gleirschner 2000
(5) About the edition of the Conversio Bogoariorum et Carantanorum, written at the end of IX century A.D., see Wolfram 1979
(6) About the History of the Christianisation of the countryside inhabited by the south-eastern Slavs, see Vilfan 1980
(7) An up-to-date description of the archaeological findings of the early Middle Ages in Carinthia could be found in Gleirscher 2000
(8) Mader 1986
(9) On this topic see Geisler 1980, p. 85. For a description of the researches on interments between the fourth and the eight century in the Italian area, see Brogiolo, Cantino Wataghin 1998
(10) The items kept at the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale of Cividale del Friuli have numbers 2171-2218. The report is kept there too, in the Museum Library Archives (classification Am/30 file 18; Periodo Altomedievale. Necropoli di Turrida” Paleoslavi). At firs, brief edition was printed by Brozzi 1963. A more recent revision of the finds is in Cividini 1997, p. 137-142
(11) Sribar, Stare 1974
(12) See Geisler 1980, p. 88, fig. 3.
(13) See Sagadin 1988, p. 122, tomb 82, n. 10. It´s the 2nd Sagadin type, of the period of transaction from Köttlach I to the II phase
(14) See Sagadin 1988, p. 118 ff.
(15) Cividin 1997, p. 143-144
(16) See Brozzi 1993, p. 47-52
(17) See Cividini, Maggi 1999, p. 148-150
(18) See Tassin 1983, p. 13-19
(19) Frau 1978
(20) Brozzi 1963, p. 71, note 30. Brozzi 1988-89, p. 19, fig. II, 21
(21) Ahumada Silva 1982, p. 38, fig. IV, 2.
(22) Ibidem, p. 38
(23) About the discovery, see Furlani 1986, p. 25, fig. 6. See also Svolisak, Knific, p. 113, fig. 5-9
(24) Paschini 1913, p. 194 and following
(25) Czoernig 1969, p. 145
(26) Furlani 1986, p. 35-39
(27) Furlani 1986, p. 36 f. The excavations data are kept in the Museo Archeologico of Aquileia
(28) About the stamped concentric circles decoration of the objects in the culture of Köttlach, see Possenti´s accurate analysis made on a similar pair of specimens dug at Godego, and dated back to the first of the tenth century (Possenti 1995, p. 152 f., fig. I, no. 1, 2)
(29) Someda de Marco 1955, p. 20-21. The finds are now kept in the Musei Civici of Udine
(30) The finds are now kept in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Cividale del Friuli (numbers 6279/a –m). About the discovery see Tagliaferri 1986, vol. II, p.153, who traces back the findings to the Late Antiquity, and Brozzi, 1986/7, who, in the same way, questions that these items could belong to the “paleoslavic culture” of the 10th–11th centuries, p. 31-36.
(31) About the moon-shaped earring of Udine see Šribar 1983, cc. 317-318; about the one of Caporiacco, kept in the Musei Civici of Udine (no. 689), see Brozzi 1963, p. 70, and Šribar 1983, pp. 317-318. The earring of Nimis, unpublished, was found in the village of San Marco of Nimis. Now it is missing, but I was kindly allowed to see its picture by Mr Maurice Buora, director of the Musei Civici of Udine.
(32) About the edition of the excavations see Piuzzi 2000, p. 29 f. About the analysis of the ceramics, see Mazzei 2000, p. 71 f. A ceramic sample of this area, after a thermoluminescence dating, has come out referable to the year 1039 70.
(33) Mazzei 2000, p. 71, note 4. It’s not clear if Almerico only finished the castle named Solimbergo or the top of the hill formerly had a shelter, “inceptum”, reserved for the peasants.
(34) Cagnana 2000; Borzacconi, Cagnana 2001; Cagnana, Amoretti 2006.
(35) Leicht 1952, p. 83. In a few historians’ imaginary, these roads were pictured as lands devastated by the Hungarian cruelty.
(36) Settia 1984, p. 217 f. Check, for example, the case of the expression “vastata Ungarorum”, cited by some historians, due to a mistaken reading of a diploma of 1028 that in reality says “via vel strata Ungarorum” (Ibidem, p. 218-219).
(37) Settia 1984, note 28, where he cited a few Brozzi’s remarks, which I do not share since they are not based on an objective work of comparison with similar archaeological materials.
(38) Puntin 1991, p. 165-172.
(39) Puntin 1991, p. 165-172 and the map at p. 167.


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