Golden Horde Pottery discovered at Isaccea, Tulcea County




     The Tatar invasion in Central Europe in 1241-42 has strongly marked the history and northern Dobrudja. In the 13th century, the region from the mouth of the Danube became an active area of international trade, especially after the Golden Horde settled here. The Tatars’ presence at the mouths of the Danube is a topic investigated by many Romanian historians, but it is still far from being clarified[1], due to the limited number of historical sources, and to the lack of archaeological research, with the exception of some discoveries that have been reviewed and ascribed to the Golden Horde[2].

      Thus, the archaeological research from Tulcea[3], Revărsarea–Dealul Tichileşti[4], Enisala[5], Nufăru[6], Păcuiul lui Soare[7], the random discoveries from Jurilovca, Slava Rusă and Babadag[8] have revealed yellow, reddish or grey ceramic fragments, decorated with the wheel; they are typical to the material culture of The Golden Horde from the 13th-14th centuries[9].

     The money circulation at the mouths of the Danube in the 13th-14th centuries is the most eloquent testimony of the Tatars’ presence in this area. Undoubtedly, at present the coins still represent the main documentary source for understanding the evolution of events and socio-economic area from the mouth of the Danube during the Tartar domination[10].

     In order to better understand the specific material culture of the Golden Horde, we should note that the medieval settlement of Isaccea was located on a promontory in the northwest of present-day town and very close to the well-known ford of the Danube from Isaccea to Orlovca.

Both Isaccea District, represented by the nowadays town, and the bordering area, which represented the administrative territory is known for housing remains assigned to different historical periods because the area was a crossing ford intensely used along history by various groups of people who came by.

     The settling and control exercised by the Golden Hoard over the area from the mouth of the Danube were certainly complex, with different steps marked schematically by the literary and cartographic sources.

    The monetary discoveries remain for now the main source of historical information on the Tatars, as well as on the political events and socio-economic development of the area at the mouth of the Danube during the Golden Horde’s rule.

     For the topic in question, two important archaeological points of interest are known: the fortress of Noviodunum and the city’s north-eastern area.

     In 2006, the Museum of History and Archaeology of the Eco-Museum Research Institute Tulcea purchased from Manea Mihai, resident of Isaccea town, his collection of archaeological and numismatic objects. Among the objects offered for acquisition there were 7 pieces of ceramic moulds, a vessel of ellipsoidal shape, hemispheric bottom, a bowl-vessel (ready for glazing) and 3 tripods. According to the person who collected these objects over a period of 10 years, they were found on his property:

• oval-shaped vessel, probably a pitcher, hemispheric bottom, reddish paste subjected to oxidizing firing, decorated with rosettes, missing the top; angoba, glazed in the upper half with white pearlescent enamel with greenish reflections. Diam. – 15.8; h – 9.5 cm;

• ceramic mould (7) fragments, semicircular, rosettes Preserved L – 11.1; cm h – 8.5 cm; Preserved L – 10.2; cm h – 9 cm;

• bowl, reddish-yellow paste, angoba, prepared for glazing, stylized decoration: flower petals, tendrils.

• tripods – 9 items.

• coins – 3 items.

     The pitcher is cast in compact, good quality mould paste and burnt in an oxidizing atmosphere. The moulds are also made of ceramic.

    Both the patterns and the vessel present similarities regarding the decoration, with spheroconical vessels dated to the 13th-14th centuries, found in Tulcea County[11]. The decoration consists of rosettes, obviously done by patterns. For analogies, similar discoveries from Crimea are known, where they discovered a number of patterns (published)[12], vessels (unpublished but mentioned and described by authors), Orheiul Vechi, Costeşti[13] and Cetatea Albă[14].

     In the historical literature, especially in the Russian one, this ceramics category is called stamped pottery. This kind of pottery[15] was also found on Romanian territory. Thus, at Coconi[16], Baia[17], Curtea de Argeş[18] there are some vessel fragments made in moulds, dated to the 14th century.

      The existence of vessels prepared for glazing indicates the performance of the pottery masters from Isaccea who knew this technique. In the absence of other elements that could offer us more clues regarding the dating of the ceramics found at Isaccea, we indicate a date sometime in the 14th century. The reddish-yellow ceramics was produced in Tatar centers in north-eastern Moldavia, using the existing prototypes in the lower basin of the Volga and in Crimea or other regions of the Golden Horde. Due to its qualities, this type of pottery became superior to the local one and in the 14th century its used spread up to Bārlad basin, which marked the western limit of Mongolian territory.

      The existence of a workshop for producing ceramics and the presence of specialized craftsmen in the workshop at Isaccea points to the existence of a strong political and economic center under Mongol control. We wanted to draw attention to the presence of this type of ceramics at Isaccea, and to the existence of a workshop producing these ceramic types, hoping that in the future archaeological discoveries in this area will provide new information regarding the presence and the material culture of the Golden Horde at the Danube mouth. We hope that future archaeological research will bring out new data regarding the presence of Tatars at the mouths of the Danube.


Aurel Stănică





Bārnea, P. P., Scerbakova, T.A. 1973 – Kratkie itoghi arheologyceskyh issledovanija v Starom Orhee v 1971g in Arkheologiceskie issledovanija v Moldavii v 1979-1971 gg., Kysinev.

Brătianu Gh. I. 1935 – Recherches sur Vicina et Cetatea Albă – Contributions a l’histoire de la domination byzantine et tartare et du commerce génois sur le littoral roumain de al Mer Noire, Bucharest.

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Ciocāltan, V. 1998 – Mongolii şi Marea Neagră īn secolele XIII-XIV. Contribuţia Cinghizhanizilor la transformarea bazinului pontic īn placă turnantă a comerţului euro-asiatic, Bucureşti.

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Constantinescu, N. 1984 – Curtea de Argeş (1200-1400). Asupra īnceputurilor Țării Romāneşti, Bucureşti.

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Dzanov, A. V. 1998 – Goncharnye pechi XIV–XV vv. na remeslennom posade Sugdei, īn Istoriko-kul'turnye svyazi Prichernomor’ya i Sredizemnomor’ya X–XVIII vv. po materialam polivnoi keramiki, Simferopol.

Mănucu-Adameşteanu, Gh. 1983 – Consideraţii finale asupra locuirii medievale (sec. XIV-XV) de la Aegyssus, jud. Tulcea, īn Materiale 17, 2, 439-454.

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Neamţu, Eugenia, Neamţu, V., Cheptea, S. 1984 – Oraşul medieval Baia īn secolele XIV-XVII. II. Cercetări arheologice din anii 1977-1980, Iaşi.

Nicolae, E., Costin, B. 2003 – Monede din secolele XIII-XIV descoperite īn Dobrogea, īn BSNR, 92-97 (1998-2003), 175-187.

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Pl. 1. Ellipsoidal shaped vessel.

Pl. 2. Ceramic moulds.

Pl. 3. Bowl (prepared for glazed).

Pl. 4. Tripods.

Pl. 5. 1 – Ellipsoidal shaped vessel; 2 – Ceramic mould; 3 – Bowl (prepared for glazed).

Pl. 6. Ellipsoidal shaped vessel

Pl. 7. Bowl (prepared for glazed)


[1] For this issue, see: Brătianu 1935, 53-78; Brătianu 1999, 296-310; Spinei 1970, 607-610; Spinei 1975-1976, 34-37; Spinei 1982, 168-177; Spinei 1994, 253-255; Spinei 2006, 319-366; Papacostea 1993, 90-125; Ciocāltan 1998, 13-16; 129-259.

[2] Archaeological investigations at Tulcea, Revărsarea–Dealul Tichileşti, Păcuiul lui Soare, Enisala, and accidental discoveries at Jurilovca, Slava Rusă and Babadag revealed yellowish, reddish or gray pottery fragments decorated with the wheel, which are typical to the material culture of the Golden Horde in the 13th-14th centuries. Oberländer-Tārnoveanu 1997, 93-94, 2; Oberländer-Tārnoveanu 2003, 67-68, note 2.

[3] Mănucu-Adameşteanu 1983, 453, fig. 10/6.

[4] Simion 1998, 231-238.

[5] Unpublished materials, courtesy of O. Damian, to whom we express our gratitude.

[6] Unpublished materials, 2009 investigations, courtesy of O. Damian, whom we thank.

[7] Diaconu, Baraschi 1977, 65-66, fig. 46, no. 1-7.

[8] Oberländer-Tārnoveanu 2003, 67-68, note 2. In the collection of the Museum of Archaeology and History of ICEM Tulcea, we identified materials found in Tulcea and Slava Rusă.

[9] It was V. Spinei who correctly identified the origin of this pottery. Spinei 1982, 44-48, 196-197; some materials have been published in: Spinei 2006, 348-349, fig. 8-9; 686, fig. 2; Spinei 1994, 253-255, fig. 36, 38, 39, 47.

[10] Oberländer-Tārnoveanu 1985, 585-590; Oberländer-Tārnoveanu 1987, 245-258; Oberländer-Tārnoveanu 1989, 121-129; Oberländer-Tārnoveanu 1993, 291-304; Oberländer-Tārnoveanu 2003, 69-102. For the reassignment of Saqčy-Isaccea workshop, see: Nicolae, Costin 2003, 175-187.

[11] Mănucu-Adameşteanu 1984, 364, 719, pl. 4/1-3, 723, pl. 8/4-7.

[12] Dzanov 1998, 84.

[13] Bārnea, Scerbakova 1973, 203-204; Spinei 2006, 734, 764, fig. 13; courtesy of E. Nicolae and E. Abāzova, whom we thank.

[14] Courtesy of L. Bacumenco, whom we thank.

[15] Species of non-glazed vessels with stamped motifs, probably originated from Central Asia, where it was wide-spread. Spinei 2006, 722.

[16] Constantinescu 1972, 124-128, fig. 56, 57. The artefact from Coconi probably comes from a workshop at the mouth of the Danube.

[17] Neamţu, Neamţu, Cheptea 1984, 207, 210, fig. 88/6.

[18] Constantinescu 1984, 124.