Polog valley from Prehistory to 7th century AD,
with special emphasis on the Tetovo region
by Darko Gavrovski
According to the latest data gathered through archeological excavations of Neolithic sites Tumba near v. Dolno Palčište (1987/88.) and Pod selo tumba near v. Stenče (2000.), the far oldest tracks of live in the Polog valley (Tetovo and Gostivar region) are dating 8000 years back, or more specific since the year 6100 BC. From those sites came down large number of excavated fragments, several fully preserved items of pottery, and also sacrificial cult plastic and statuettes dedicated to the female cult. In Tetovo area many significant illustrations have been found of Rock Art as artistic composition related with cult rituals.
This region throughout whole Neolith has been inhabited with the carriers of Anzabegovo-Vršnik cultural group, which also existed in the Skopje region and Eastern Macedonia. In the Early Neolith, however, this region was also under strong influence of the Neolithic culture of Velušina-Porodin in the Pelagonia region south from here, seen by the form of the oldest intact sacrificial cult plastic of the Magna Mater type, reviled on these areas, and excavated near v. Stenče. The Late Neolith is characterized with an influence by the Vinča culture from the north.
Toward the end of the 4th Milenium BC, the first breaches began of the new settlers, steppe peoples from the central Asia- the Indo-Europeans, who by destruction and assimilation of the old Neolithic culture created new Eneolithic cultural complex on the Balkans, named Salkutsa-Bubanj-Krivodol. Trails of this new population has been found in Polog also (in v. Palčište, Želino etc.). This situation was stabilized in the Middle Bronze Age when first embryos appear of the Balkan proto-ethnic, and latter pre-ethnic communities. In this period also began strong incursion of material signs from south by the flourishing Mycenae culture, which is visible on one parade luxuries bronze sward found in Tetovo, and imported exactly from those Mycenae centers.
Although the following ages had been a symbol of mass migrations, however, the Iron Age is characterized with stabilization, which brought to flourished trade. Also, large ceramic pottery (pytos) for storing cereals, reviled near the v. Larce dates from this period.
In this period, according Strabo inscriptions related to Damastion coins mint, and particularly based on preserved Onomastical trails from latter, it is visible that Polog valley was inhabited by Bryges (lat. Brigoi). The Bryges were composed part of the latter ethnic community of the Paionians (lat. Paiones), the Ancient-Macedonians, Dasaretians (lat. Dassaretes), Edonians (lat. Edones) and Mygdonians (lat. Mygdones). Even the Paionians, although had been an old bronze-aged population on this part of the Balkans, had undisputable connections with the Bryges. The Paionian and Ancient-Macedonian linguistics and onomastics, show large number words and names with Bryges routs, that points to the fact that the Bryges were substratum or base of the Paionian and Ancient-Macedonian ethnical formation.
The influence of the Greek handcraft centers exerted this part of the Balkans, in fact lead to additional change of the culture and the way of living of the local population. Exactly those changes introduced the new, Archaic period and the transition from the age of Prehistory to the age of the History and Antiquity. On archeological plan these transformations are visible through the new materials (new types of pottery, jewelry and other handcraft products), spiritual (new way of burial: cremation instead of inhumation, accepting the cults of the Greek gods) and other characteristics, which at the beginning were accepted as prestige by the most elite social circles, and afterwards by the rest of the people, that best can be seen from so called ‘Princely Crypts’ of which most famous is the one from Tetovo where the well known statuette of the Maenad was found.
In the past there were different theories about the issue- which of the ancient tribes had inhabited this area. However, thanks to the last data, the entire area of Southern Serbia, Eastern Kosovo and Northern Macedonia including Polog valley, in that period until 3rd century BC, had been inhabited by the far-northern Ancient-Macedonian (Paionian) tribe- the Agrianians (lat. Agrianes). This can by seen by the continuity in the archeological horizons, the developed pottery import from the Greek south, reach ‘Princely Crypts’ etc. This tribe had its own kings of which the most famous was Langarus who helped the Macedonian king Alexander III in 335. BC, with his campaign against the Tribales (lat. Tribaloi) to the North. Agrianians followed him also due his campaign through Asia when they presented themselves as one of the most notorious fighters in many key battles, becoming famous particularly in the antique world.
Because of the economic and trade growth, also certain cities minted their own autonomous coins. That was the case with the city of Pelagia which throughout entire 4th century BC minted their own silver coins in the mint of Damastion. The city of Pelagia most probably had been situated near present Tetovo, аnd in fact, in urban sense it is its ancient ancestor, by which name derivates the present Slavic name of the valley- Polog (Pelagia-Polog, as in the cases of Scupi-Skopje, Astibo-Štip, Thesalonika-Solun etc.)
Toward the end of 4th century BC, the weakened Agrianian state fell into authority of the king Audoleon of Paionia, and from mid 3rd century BC all their territories were occupied by Dardanians from the north (tо south including Northern Macedonia and Polog), which is also noticeable through discontinuity in the archeological horizons of this period. These near-border areas throughout entire next period had been used as logistical background, and from there the Dardania organized vast plunder incursions to south on the reach Macedonian kingdom, even long after those territories had fallen into the Roman Empire in 168. BC.
At last in 29. BC even Polog, along with other parts of Dardania, and on the north to the Danube River, had fallen into Roman authority, after which the era of stabilization, calm live, trade and progress began. There are few grave stone monuments (stela), dated 2nd-3rd century BC, on which, the epitaph is written in Greek script showing that the region had been a part of the Greek language sphere, and Kosovo and Skopje region which were part of the Latin language sphere. This means that in the Early-Empery Roman period (1st-3rd century AD) Polog had been a part of the Roman province Macedonia and in the Late Antiquity (3rd-4th century AD), after the king Diocletian reforms, part of Macedonia Secunda province. The revealed grave monuments consist also a reach onomastical material and personal names, definitely autochthonic and showing that the Romanization in these peripheral areas, outside of the reach main roads, did not take great rise.
Taught by the large barbaric incursions (Celts, Ostrogoths, Huns) which had happened more frequently from the 3rd century AD and continued in the following centuries, in the late 4th century AD, the Roman emperors started to build strong in-wall cities and fortresses on dominant hills. From this period are dating the numerous castrums, castles and refugee settlements for the population of Tetovo area of which most significant were those near present villages of Rogle, Orašje, Lešok, Stenče, Jegunovce, Gradec and the Isar-Banjiče site near Tetovo.
Although the Christianization in Macedonia came along with the St. Apostle Paul in the 50’s of the 1st century AD, even after the king Constantine declared this religion legal in 313, got through the common people more massively, and also the building of Early Christian churches- basilicas started. Until today in Polog trails of 16 such Early Christian basilicas have been revealed, of which 12 in Tetovo area and 4 in Gostivar area, and best has been investigated the one in Stenče dating from the 5th century AD, which is unique in Macedonia with 3 baptisteries, and the one in Tudence dating from the second half of 6th century AD, and being the only one the oldest three-conhal church in R. Macedonia and is rare even in whole southern Europe.
Yet after the strong Avaric-Slavic incursions in the late 6th century AD, all the fortresses were abandoned but not entirely demolished. Large part of them, two-three centuries afterwards, when again stabile state organization was introduced, had been restored for the same purpose, but this time they had been inhabited by the dominant Slavic population laid foundations of the new medieval towns.