Gord (archaeology)


Section of reconstructed fortifications at Birów near Ogrodzieniec, Poland
Part of reconstructed fortifications at Birów
Grodzisko in Stara Rawa, Poland
Towns and villages in Poland with names derived from gród (pink circles)
Model of Bródno gord in National Museum of Archaeology in Warsaw

A gord is an Early Slavic fortified settlement, sometimes known as a burgwall after the German term for such sites. Gords were built during the late Bronze and early Iron Ages by the Lusatian culture (c. 1300–500 BCE), and up to the 7th–8th centuries CE and beyond by other cultures, in what is now Central, Eastern and parts of Southern Europe. These settlements were usually founded on strategic sites such as hills, riverbanks, lake islets, or peninsulas.

Construction and evolution

A typical gord was a group of wooden houses built either in rows or in circles, surrounded by one or more rings of walls made of earth and wood, a palisade, and/or moats. Some gords were ring-shaped, with a round, oval, or occasionally polygonal fence or wall surrounding a hollow. Others, built on a natural hill or a man-made mound, were cone-shaped. Those with a natural defense on one side, such as a river or lake, were usually horseshoe-shaped. Most gords were built in densely populated areas on sites that offered particular natural advantages.

As Slavic tribes united to form states, gords were also built for defensive purposes in less-populated border areas. Gords in which rulers resided or that lay on trade routes quickly expanded. Near the gord, or below it in elevation, there formed small communities of servants, merchants, artisans, and others who served the higher-ranked inhabitants of the gord. Each such community was known as a suburbium (Polish: podgrodzie). Its residents could shelter within the walls of the gord in the event of danger. Eventually the suburbium acquired its own fence or wall. In the High Middle Ages, the gord usually evolved into a castle, citadel or kremlin, and the suburbium into a town.

Some gords did not stand the test of time and were abandoned or destroyed, gradually turning into more or less discernible mounds or rings of earth (Russian gorodishche, Polish grodzisko, Ukrainian horodyshche, Slovak hradisko, Czech hradiště, and Serbian gradiška/градишка). Notable archeological sites include Groß Raden in Germany and Biskupin in Poland.


The term ultimately descends from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root ǵʰortós, enclosure. From this same root come the Germanic word elements *gard and *gart (as in Stuttgart), and likely also the names of Graz, Austria and Gartz, Germany. Cognate to these are English words such as garden, yard, garth, girdle and court.[1][2] Also cognate but less closely related are Latin hortus, a garden, and its English descendants horticulture and orchard. In the Hungarian language, kert, the word for a garden, literally means encircled. Because Hungarian is a Uralic rather than an Indo-European language, this is likely a loanword.

Further afield, in ancient Iran, a fortified wooden settlement was called a gerd, or certa, which also means garden (as in the suffix -certa in the names of various ancient Iranian cities; e.g., Hunoracerta). The Persian word evolved into jerd under later Arab influence. Burugerd or Borujerd is a city in the west of Iran. The Indian suffix -garh, meaning a fort in Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, and other Indo-Iranian languages, appears in many Indian place names.[3] Given that both Slavic and Indo-Iranian are sub-branches of Indo-European and that there are numerous similarities between Slavic and Sanskrit vocabulary, it is plausible that garh and gord are related. However, this is strongly contradicted by the phoneme /g/ in Indo-Iranian, which cannot be a reflex of the Indo-European palatovelar /*ǵ/.[4]

The Proto-Slavic word *gordъ later differentiated into grad (Cyrillic: град), gorod (Cyrillic: город), gard etc.[5][6][7] It is the root of various words in modern Slavic languages pertaining to fences and fenced-in areas (Belarusian гарадзіць, Ukrainian horodyty, Czech ohradit, Russian ogradit, Serbo-Croatian ograditi, and Polish ogradzać, grodzić, to fence off). It also has evolved into words for a garden in certain languages.

Additionally, it has furnished numerous modern Slavic words for a city or town:

The names of many Central and Eastern European cities harken back to their pasts as gords. Some of them are in countries which once were but no longer are mainly inhabited by Slavic-speaking peoples. Examples include:

The words in Polish and Slovak for suburbium, podgrodzie and podhradie correspondingly, literally mean a settlement beneath a gord: the gród/hrad was frequently built at the top of a hill, and the podgrodzie/podhradie at its foot. (The Slavic prefix pod-, meaning "under/below" and descending from the Proto-Indo-European root pṓds, meaning foot, being equivalent to Latin sub-). The word survives in the names of several villages (Podgrodzie, Subcarpathian Voivodeship) and town districts (e.g., that of Olsztyn), as well as in the names of the German municipalities Puttgarden, Wagria and Putgarten, Rügen.

Important gords in Europe



Rest of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania


  • Brandenburg Castle
  • Spandau Castle (Berlin)
  • the Römerschanze near Potsdam
  • the Reitweiner Wallberge, fortanlage near Reitwein in the Landkreis Märkisch-Oderland
  • the Slavic fort of Lübben
  • the Slavic fort of Raddusch near Vetschau/Spreewald
  • the Slavic fort of Tornow
  • Lossow Castle, Frankfurt (Oder)
  • the fort near Kliestow


  • the fort of Altes Dorf in the Magdeburg subdistrict of Pechau
  • Wust Castle


  • List of Early Middle Ages castles in Hamburg und Schleswig-Holstein [de] including:
  • the fort of the Slavic settlement of Starigard in present-day Oldenburg – Oldenburger Wall [de]


Czech Republic




  • Sutiejsk Gord




See also


  1. ^ ON. garðr; goth. gards; den. -gaard; island. -gard; cimb. -garthur; aleman. -gardo; welsh. -gardd; holln. -gaerde; span. -gardin; pomern. -gard; slav. -grod, -hrad
  2. ^ A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Oxford. 1911; Jane Chance. Tolkien and the invention of myth. . 70
  3. ^ "Urban vocabulary in Northern India – City Words WP No. 4". www.unesco.org. Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  4. ^ "Sanskrit and Russian: Ancient kinship". in.rbth.com. Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  5. ^ Taylor, Isaac (1898). Names and Their Histories: A Handbook of Historical Geography and Topographical Nomenclature. Original from the University of Michigan: Rivingtons. p. 331. wall Grad gorod.
  6. ^ Taylor, Isaac (1864). Words and Places, Or, Etymological Illustrations of History, Ethnology, and Geography. Original from Oxford University: Macmillan. p. 128. wall Grad gorod.
  7. ^ Anthropologische Gesellschaft in Wien (1880). Mittheilungen der anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien. Original from the University of Michigan: F. Berger & Söhne. p. 40. Gord wall Grad gorod.

External links

  • Reconstruction of a gród at Grzybowo, Poland – images of a typical ancient Slavic settlement with suburbium, earth-and-wood wall and moat; by Tomek Birezowski (Polish text).