The Slavs of al-Ṭabarī

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Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (839 – 923) was a Persian scholar writing in Arabic. His History (History of the Prophets and Kings) is a multi-volume work which, in vol. 31 (“The War Between Brothers”) describing the events of 808 – 814 mentions Slavs.  The work is written in poetic form so the historical significance of these mentions appears debatable.  Nevertheless, the reference is to actual historical events – the battles between the succesors of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, his sons al-Amin (aka Muhammad ibn Harun al-Rashid) and al-Ma’mun (aka Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Maʾmūn ibn Hārūn al-Rashīd) as well as al-Qasim (aka Al-Qasim ibn Harun al-Rashid). Apparently, their father decided that al-Amin would succeed him but that al-Ma’mun would have sovereignty over Khurasan and, that, afterwards, al-Ma’mun would take over. Al-Ma’miun also got himself a large portion of the Baghdad army. Al-Qasim could not alter this.  After Al-Ma’mun it was to be al-Quasim although al-Ma’mun could replace him as successor. 

The below relates to events taking place after the death of al-Rashid in 809 when al-Amin was supposed to take over but soon fell out with al-Ma’mun who won their civil war in 813. Al-Amin was killed (head was placed on the Anbar Gate in Baghdad) and al-Qasim (who had already been arrested by al-Amin) was deposed (only?). 

The mention below is to al-Jaradiyyah – the Slav guards of al-Amin – and to Slavs. Note that there were apparently two guard units – the Slavic “white” one (named after locust or falcon species) and an Abyssynian “black” one (named after ravens – the al-Ghurabiyyah). 

Here are those mentions in the translation by Michael Fishbein (from the SUNY edition).  The notes are his and he is also the source of much of the background given above. 

The Byzantine embassy of John the Grammarian in 829 to al-Ma’mun (left) from the Emperor Theophilos (right)

Details and Results of the Siege of Baghdad (812 – 813)

“…At Zandaward and al-Yasiriyah,
      and on the two river banks, where the ferries have ceased,
At the mills and Upper al-Khayzuraniyyah,
whose bridges were lofty,
And at the Palace of ‘Abduyah, there is a lesson and guidance
      for every soul whose inner thoughts have become pure.
Where are their guards, and where is their guardian?
Where is he upon whom benefits were bestowed, and where is their bestower?
Where are their eunuchs and their servants?
Where are their inhabitants and their builder?
Where are the Slavic al-Jaradiyyah* guards gone,
and the Abyssinians, with their pendulous lips?
The army disperses from its parades;
its lean [horses] run there at random –
Carrying men from Sind and India, Slavs,
and Nubians with whom Berbers have been mixed –
Like birds in flights, they have been sent forth to no avail,

  their fair-skinned troops preceding their blacks.
Where are the virgin gazelles in the garden
      of the kingdom – the young ones who walked so gracefully?
Where are their comforts and their pleasures?”

*note – “The Jaradiyyah corps of guards may have been given this name in reference to the pale color of the locust (jarad) or to a species of falcon (saqr al-jarad or al-jaradi). See ed. Leiden, Glossarium, CLXII; also the explanation given below.”

Some Aspects of the Conduct and Mode of Life of the Deposed Muhammad bin Harun (813 – 814)

“According to Humayd bin Sa’id, who said: After he became ruler andter al-Ma’mun wrote to him and gave him his allegiance, Muhammad sought out eunuchs and purchased them, spending inordinately on them. He appointed them to [attend on] his private quarters by night and by day, his provisions of food and drink, and his decisions commanding or forbidding. Some he enrolled into a special unit [fard] that he named “al-Jaradiyyah,” and other, Abyssinians, he enrolled into a special unit which he name “al-Ghurabiyyah.”* He forsook both free women and slave girls, so that they were sent await. Concerning this, a certain poet said:

O you who stay long at your residence in Tus,
far from your family, who cannot be ransomed by [other] lives:
You have left behind a husband for the eunuchs –
someone who has endured the bad luck of Basus from them!
As for Nawfal, he is a person of importance.
What a companion Badr is!”

*note – “Cf. the reference to the two groups in the poem quoted above, where the Jaradiyyah are identified as Saqalib, or Slavs, and the accompanying note, explaining the possible origin of the name. “Ghurabiyyah” is derived from the word of raven, ghurab, with reference to their black skins. See Abbott, Two Queens of Baghdad, 210 – 211. On fard, troops not on the regular muster roll and paid contractually, see ed. Leiden, Glossarium, CDI; also Baladhuri, Futuh, glossarium, s.v.”

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December 11, 2017

Time of the Aestii

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I have left the Aestii description in Wulfstan out of the posts thus far but think it worth including it now.  To give a prior mention of the Aestii, I also include the small piece from Tacitus’ Germania as well as from Cassiodorus, Jordanes and, for completeness, Einhard and Widsith. An interesting aspect of this seems to be that it is “Witland” that belongs to the Aestii and also that the Aestii are apparently quite skilled cremationists – much as the Slavs were, suggesting that this method of burial was not limited to Slavs in that part of Europe. Also the Aestii, like the Redarii appear to have worshipped boars.

The location of Aestii on this ultra precise turn of the millennium map

Note too that neither Pliny nor Ptolemy nor Strabo mention the Aestii.  This is not surprising as to Pliny and Strabo. As to Ptolemy, I suspect that the same people might be hiding under other names.

Tacitus Germania
Chapter 45

Beyond the Suiones is another sea, sluggish and almost  motionless, which, we may certainly infer, girdles and surrounds the world, from the fact that the last radiance of the setting sun lingers on till sunrise, with a brightness sufficient to dim the light of the stars. Even the very sound of his rising, as popular belief adds, may be heard, and the forms of gods and the glory round his head may be seen. Only thus far (and here rumour seems truth) does the world extend.

At this point the Suevic sea, on its eastern shore, washes the tribes of the Æstii, whose rites and fashions and style of dress are those of the Suevi, while their language is more like the British. They worship the mother of the gods, and wear as a religious symbol the device of a wild boar. This serves as armour, and as a universal defence, rendering the votary of the goddess safe even amidst enemies. They often use clubs, iron weapons but seldom. They are more patient in cultivating corn and other produce than might be expected from the general indolence of the Germans. But they also search the deep, and are the only people who gather amber (which they call “glesum”), in the shallows, and also on the shore itself. Barbarians as they are they have not investigated or discovered what natural cause or process produces it. Nay, it even lay amid the sea’s other refuse, till our luxury gave it a name. To them it is utterly useless; they gather it in its raw state, bring it to us in shapeless lumps, and marvel at the price which they receive. It is however a juice from trees, as you may infer from the fact that there are often seen shining through it, reptiles, and even winged insects, which, having become entangled in the fluid, are gradually enclosed in the substance as it hardens. I am therefore inclined to think that the islands and countries of the West, like the remote recesses of the East, where frankincense and balsam exude, contain fruitful woods and groves; that these productions, acted on by the near rays of the sun, glide in a liquid state into the adjacent sea, and are thrown up by the force of storms on the opposite shores. If you test the composition of amber by applying fire, it burns like pinewood, and sends forth a rich and fragrant flame; it is soon softened into something like pitch or resin.

Closely bordering on the Suiones are the tribes of the Sitones, which, resembling them in all else, differ only in being ruled by a woman. So low have they fallen, not merely from freedom, but even from slavery itself. Here Suevia ends.

Cassiodorus Variae
Book V, 2
King Theodoric to the Haesti

It is gratifying to us to know that you have heard of our fame, and have sent ambassadors who have passed through so many strange nations to seek our friendship. We have received the amber which you have sent us. You say that you gather this lightest of all substances from the shores of ocean, but now it comes thither you know not. But as an author named Cornelius informs us, it is gathered in the innermost islands of the ocean, being formed originally of the juice of a tree (whence its name succinum), and gradually hardened by the heat of the sun. Thus it becomes an exuded metal, a transparent softness, sometimes blushing with the color of saffron, sometimes glowing with flame-like clearness. Then, gliding down to the margin of sea, and further purified by the rolling of the tides, it is at length transported to your shores to be cast upon them. We have thought it better to point this out to you, lest you should imagine that your supposed secrets have escaped our knowledge. We sent you some presents by our ambassadors, and shall be glad to receive further visits from you by the road which you have thus opened up, and to show you future favours.

Jordanes’ Getica
Chapter 5

The abode of the Sclaveni extends from the city of Noviodunum and the lake called Mursianus to the Danaster, and northward as far as the Vistula. They have swamps and forests for their cities. The Antes, who are the bravest of these peoples dwelling in the curve of the sea of Pontus, spread from the Danaster to the Danaper, rivers that are many days’ journey apart.  But on the shore of Ocean, where the floods of the river Vistula empty from three mouths, the Vidivarii dwell, a people gathered out of various tribes. Beyond them the Aesti, a subject race, likewise hold the shore of Ocean. To the south dwell the Acatziri, a very brave tribe ignorant of agriculture, who subsist on their flocks and by hunting.  Farther away and above the Sea of Pontus are the abodes of the Bulgares, well known from the wrongs done to them by reason of our oppression.

Chapter 23

These people, as we started to say at the beginning of our account or catalogue of nations, though off-shoots from one stock, have now three names, that is, Venethi, Antes and Sclaveni. Though they now rage in war far and wide, in punishment for our sins, yet at that time they were all obedient to Hermanaric’s commands. This ruler also subdued by his wisdom and might the race of the Aesti, who dwell on the farthest shore of the German Ocean, and ruled all the nations of Scythia and Germany by his own prowess alone.

Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne
Chapter 12

A certain gulf [i.e., the Baltic] with an unknown length and a width no more than a hundred miles wide and in many places [much] narrower runs from the western ocean towards the east. Many peoples live around this sea.  In fact, the Danes and the Swedes, whom we call Northmen, live along the northern shore [of the sea].  The Slavs, Aisti and other peoples live along the southern shore.  The Welatabi were the most prominent of these peoples and it was against them that the  king now took up war.  He beat them and brought them under his control in the one and only campaign he personally waged [against them], that from that point on they never thought of refusing to obey his commands.

Widsith

and with Amothings.      With East-Thuringians I was
and with Eols [?] and with Isti      and Idumings.
And I was with Ermanaric      all the time,
there me Goth king      goods gave/with goods benefitted me/did well for me;

ond Mofdingum      ond ongend Myrgingum,
ond mid Amothingum.      Mid Eastþyringum ic wæs
ond mid Eolum ond mid Istum      ond Idumingum.
Ond ic wæs mid Eormanrice      ealle þrage,
þær me Gotena cyning      gode dohte; and Mofdings      and against Myrgings

Alfred’s Orosius’ Wulfstan
Chapter 20

. . . And then we had Bornholm to port, where the people have their own king. Then after Bornholm we had on our port side the lands which are called  Blekinge, Möre, Øland and Gotland, and these lands belong to the Swedes. Wendland was to starboard the whole of the way to the mouth of the Vistula. This Vistula is a very large river which separates Witland and Wendland. Witland belongs to the Este. The Vistula flows out of Wendland into Estmere which is at least fifteen miles wide. The Ilfing flows into Estmere from the lake on the shore of which Truso stands, and they flow together into Estmere, the Ilfing west from Estland and the Vistula north from Wendland. Then the Vistula deprives the Ilfing of its name for the estuary is known as the Vistula estuary and flows from Estmere northwest into the sea. This Estland is very large and has many fortified settlements, and in each of these there is a king. There is a great deal of honey and fishing. The king and the most powerful men drink mare’s milk, the poor men and the slaves drink mead. There is very much strife among them. There is no ale brewed among the Este but there is plenty of mead.

. . . And Þonne æfter Burgendalande wæron us þas land, þa synd hatene ærest Blecingaeg, and Meore, and Eowland, and Gotland on bæcbord; and þas land hyrað to Sweon. And Weonodland wæs us ealne weg on steorbord oð Wislemuðan. Seo Wisle is swyðe mycel ea, and hio tolið Witland and Weonodland; and þæt Witland belimpeð to Estum; and seo Wisle lið ut of Weonodlande, and lið in Estmere; and se Estmere is huru fiftene mila brad. Þonne cymeð Ilfing eastan in Estmere of ðæm mere ðe Truso standeð in staðe, and cumað ut samod in Estmere, Ilfing eastan of Estlande, and Wisle suðan of Winodlande, and þonne benimð Wisle Ilfing hire naman, and ligeð of þæm mere west and norð on sæ; for ðy hit man hæt Wislemuða. Þæt Estland is swyðe mycel, and þær bið swyðe manig burh, and on ælcere byrig bið cynincg. And þær bið swyðe mycel hunig and fiscað; and se cyning and þa ricostan men drincað myran meolc, and þa unspedigan and þa þeowan drincað medo. Þær bið swyðe mycel gewinn betweonan him. And ne bið ðær nænig ealo gebrowen mid Estum, ac þær bið medo genoh.

Chapter 21

There is a custom among the Este that after a man’s death he lies indoors uncremated among his relatives and friends for a month, sometimes two. The kings and other high- ranking men remain uncremated sometimes for half a year – the more wealth they have the longer they lie above ground in their houses. All the time that the corpse lies indoors it is the custom for there to be drinking and gambling until the day on which they cremate it.

And þær is mid Estum ðeaw, þonne þær bið man dead, þæt he lið inne unforbærned mid his magum and freondum monað, ge hwilum twegen; and þa kyningas, and þa oðre heahðungene men, swa micle lencg swa hi maran speda habbað, hwilum healf gear þæt hi beoð unforbærned, and licgað bufan eorðan on hyra husum. And ealle þa hwile þe þæt lic bið inne, þær sceal beon gedrync and plega, oð ðone dæg þe hi hine forbærnað.

Chapter 22

On the very day on which they intend to carry the dead man to the pyre, they divide his property – whatever is left of it after drinking and gambling – into five or six portions, sometimes more, depending on how much there is. They place the biggest portion about a mile from the settlement, then the second, then the third, until it is all distributed within the mile,  so that the smallest portion is closest to the place where the dead man lies. All the men who have the swiftest horses in the country are assembled at a point about five or six miles from the property, and then they all gallop towards it. The man who has the fastest horse comes to the first portion (which is also the largest) and then one after the other until it has all been taken. He has the smallest portion who reaches from his ride the one nearest to the settlement. Then each of them then rides on his way with the property and is allowed to keep it all. For this reason good horses are extremely valuable there. When the man’s treasures have all been spent in this way, then he is carried out and burned up with his weapons and clothes. They use up most of the dead man’s wealth with what they spend during the long period of his lying in the house, and with what they put by the wayside which strangers ride up to and take.

Þonne þy ylcan dæg þe hi hine to þæm ade beran wyllað, þonne todælað hi his feoh, þæt þær to lafe bið æfter þæm gedrynce and þæm plegan, on fif oððe syx, hwylum on ma, swa swa þæs feos andefn bið. Alecgað hit ðonne forhwæga on anre mile þone mæstan dæl fram þæm tune, þonne oðerne, ðonne þæne þriddan, oþþe hyt eall aled bið on þære anre mile; and sceall beon se læsta dæl nyhst þæm tune ðe se deada man on lið. Ðonne sceolon beon gesamnode ealle ða menn ðe swyftoste hors habbað on þæm lande, forhwæga on fif milum oððe on syx milum fram þæm feo. Þonne ærnað hy ealle toweard þæm feo; ðonne cymeð se man se þæt swiftoste hors hafað to þæm ærestan dæle and to þæm mæstan, and swa ælc æfter oðrum, oþ hit bið eall genumen; and se nimð þone læstan dæl se nyhst þæm tune þæt feoh geærneð. And þonne rideð ælc hys weges mid ðan feo, and hyt motan habban eall; and for ðy þær beoð þa swiftan hors ungefoge dyre. And þonne hys gestreon beoð þus eall aspended, þonne byrð man hine ut, and forbærneð mid his wæpnum and hrægle. And swiðost ealle hys speda hy forspendað mid þan langan legere þæs deadan mannes inne, and þæs þe hy be þæm wegum alecgað, þe ða fremdan to ærnað, and nimað.

Chapter 23

It is the custom among the Este that the men of each tribe are cremated, and if one bone is found not completely burned, heavy compensation must be paid. There is a tribe among the Este that knows how to cause cold, and this is why the dead men there lie so long and do not rot, because they keep them cold. If two containers are put out full of beer or water, they can cause one of the two to be frozen overwhether it is summer or winter.

And þæt is mid Estum þeaw þæt þær sceal ælces geðeodes man beon forbærned; and gyf þar man an ban findeð unforbærned, hi hit sceolan miclum gebetan. And þær is mid Estum an mægð þæt hi magon cyle gewyrcan; and þy þær licgað þa deadan men swa lange and ne fuliað, þæt hy wyrcað þone cyle hine on. And þeah man asette twegen fætels full ealað oððe wæteres, hy gedoð þæt oþer bið oferfroren, sam hit sy sumor sam winter.

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December 5, 2017

Jeetzel

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Having looked at Jachna, let’s look at other river names in Germany.  Here is the Jeetzel:

Looking at the Deutsches Gewässernamenbuch it seems the river is German.  Specifically, the author, Albrecht Greule, claims that the root is the Old West German:

  • osa ‘in heftige Bewegung setzen’ meaning that is “to set about in rapid motion.”

This, in and of itself, should be interesting.  Why?  Because that is the Polish and Slavic word for a wasp:

Indeed, this should also be of interest to some readers since at least Brueckner thought that the word changed as follows having had a “w” upfront:

  • *wopsa > *opsa > *osa

The proof of this is supposed to be the Lithuanian wapsa and the German Wespe as, of course, also the English wasp or latin vespa.

(The insertion (or retention?) of the frontal “w” is present in northwest Slavic languages.  Thus, the Polish jaszczurka which also used to exist in the form jeszczerzyca becomes wieszczerzyca in Kashubian and wiestarica in Polabian).

In any event, the Jetzel flows, as Greule himself notes, through the so-called Wendland.  The Wendland refers to the Wends meaning Slavs.  The name itself was first used at the beginning of the 18th century.  This was because, at the time, there still lived Slavs in the area and a local priest took an interest in their customs, beliefs and language.   Note that this Wendland is west of the Elbe. 

Note too that the entire area to the northeast, labeled Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the above picture was Slavic as well.  As a few points of interest, the Elde, in Slavic was Leda (same as Elbe or really Alba vs Laba) and note too Neu Kaliss (first mentioned in 1431) which is yet another Kalisz type name in Slavic lands (if you had any doubts about Ptolemy’s Calissia being Slavic).

But back to the Jeetzel which is also visible flowing through the Wendland. Greule lists the following names for it in the following years:

  • Jesne (1014)
  • ultra Yesnam (1258)
  • vltra Yesnam (1268)
  • Yhesene (1303)
  • iuxta Gysnam (1339)
  • Gisne, Gysne (1341)
  • Gysna (1344)
  • by der Iesne (1362)
  • Jetze (1392)
  • an der Yetze (1452)
  • in de Jetzen (1531)
  • Jetza (1652)
  • Jeetzel (1702)

There is also a town nearby in Kreis Lüchow and Greule shows its name’s historic development too – obviously the two are relate:

  • Yesne (1330 or 1352)
  • to Getzene (1360)
  • to Yesne (1360)
  • to dem Iesne (1360)
  • to Jesene (1368)

All this is great record keeping.

Given the Wendland connection and the obvious Slavic etymology:

you would think that the matter of the name of Jeetzel would be easy for Greule to resolve.

To be sure you understand this, remember that jasny is a masculine adjectival ending.  For a river name which is necessarily feminine in Slavic (rzeka/reka), the adjective ending would be -a as in jasna.

But what happens next is strange.

Greule observes that there are other place names/towns with such names, states that their etymology is Middle Low German and decides that, therefore, the above must be German too in the form Jesene, Jesne!  The root is a reconstructed (of course) *jesa-/*jeso.

Let’s see how that reasoning holds up.

What are those other town names?

  • Niedernjesa and Obernjesa
    • Gese (1022 or 12th century)
    • Gese (1142)
    • Yese (1196)
  • Jesuborn
    • geseborn (1368)
    • Yesebirn (circa 1450)
    • Jheseborn (1465)

You can see these town and their relation to the Jeetzel of Wendland on this map.  Jeetzel in Wendland is in the Northeast.  Niedernjesa and Obernjesa in the middle and in the south, near Goettingen lies Jesuborn.

The problem with these other names is that – were they Slavic – they would indicate Slavic presence far to the West of where it is permitted by official historiography.  Since the names of these places exhibit a similar development and, therefore, etymology and since these other names “cannot” be Slavic, the obvious answer as to the origin of Jeetzel is also that it is not Slavic.

But this is only true so long as we desperately defend the assumption that Slavs could not have lived in Niedernjesa/Obernjesa and at Jesuborn.  Is that assumption defendable though?

Niedernjesa and Obernjesa

What about Niedernjesa and Obernjesa? The lower and upper Jesa were once one.  The name appears in annals as Gese/Jese/Iese/Jese in the years 1022, 1100, 1142, 1168, 1189, 1197 and 1269. In 1269, for the first time we have in Minori Jese presumably referring to the “minor” or maybe “lower” Jesa.

According to Die Ortsnamen des Landkreises Göttingen which was put out by, among others, Juergen Udolph of the Slavic hydronymy fame, the origin of the name Jesa is not entirely clear. The supposition is that the name goes back to jesan (gären, schäumen meaning “to boil” or “to gush” or “to simmer”) which may have been replaced by the word Leine which, the writers, guess could have been even older.

Well, the Jesas are located near a river and the river’s name – Leine – appears old.  In the old documents several versions of the name appear – most often Loine, Legine, Leine but also Laina.  The Polish version of the name is Lejna. The obvious Slavic etymology would be from “lac” that is “to pour”.  Beyond that the name appears in three other contexts.  There is a Leine which is a tributary of the Helme and then of the Solawa (that is the Thuringian Saale).  That one appears first as Lina.  Then there is Leine which is in Sachsen Anchalt.  Finally, further East  you have the Leine that is a tributary of the Mulde.  This last one Greule thinks may (but not necessarily) have been of Sorb origin (certainly all the associated towns appear Slavic).  The first mention of this Leine is in 1185 as fluvius Lynaw.

What about town names?  Most of the town names around the Jesas appear German.  But you also have some oddities such as:

  • Bovenden (Bowenden)
  • Weende (Wenden)
  • Weenderode
  • Potzwenden

In Gottingen itself which is the main town in the area, as last as the 15th century one of the gates was called Wender-Thor since right next to it there apparently was an old Slavic village: antiqua villa [?] Wendensis. There apparently was a Wenderwald near Ziegel-Huette and a river Wenda and even a Wender-Spring fountains.  In Heilgenstadt there was even a Windischgasse.  The other nearby river – Garde (earlier Garthe) – reminds one of the Slavic gardina.

Check out too the Urkundenbuch der Stadt Göttingen and Dietrich Denecke’s Göttingen: Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Dreissigjährigen Krieges:

There is a town nearby called Grone which, I confess, brings to mind the Slavic grono (as in wino-grono) meaning roughly “a bunch”.  It is true that Gronau is another place name in Germany but to be honest that name appears in the area on the Dutch border where such suspicious names as Vreden, Borken, Velen, Reken, Gescher pop up.

In any event, according to Wilhelm Boguslawski, in the 18th century, between Grone and Lauenstein, there were discovered 52 funerary urns suggesting a pagan ritual similar to the one that the Slavs used in historic times. Boguslawski’s claim is based on the Descriptio salae principatus Calenbergici locorumque adjacentium by Daniel Eberhard Baring from 1744.

Of course, all of this could be nothing and yet, I think there is enough here for a deeper investigation of the topic.

For more in Polish see pages 244-266 of volume 4 of Boguslawski’s Dzieje słowiańszczyzny północno-zachodniej do połowy XIII wieku (“The History of North Western Slavic Lands Through the First Half of the 13th Century”).

Jesuborn

As regards Jesuborn, a Slavic etymology is more than possible.  The town lies between Pennewitz (clearly Slavic) and Gehren (which spelling is identical to Gehren in the East Sorb country which was a German rendering of Thietmar’s urbs quaedam Jarina).  Just to the east is Ilmenau (compare with Lake Ilmen?) which seems to have been founded by Slavic Sorbs.  So Jesuborn is quite easily a Slavic name – at least as regards the prefix.

Officially, the name is (first mention in 1368 as das dorf czu deme geseborn) to be derived from the “Indogermanic” (!) word jesen, which, as alleged above, meant “to boil” or “to gush” or “to simmer”.  That is the name refers, as per the above, to the “springs” that surface there.

This is not impossible as indicated by the Slavic jazda, jechac/jechat and so forth.  But the Slavic etymology is more likely for two reasons.  First, there are two Slavic etymologies – that of “bright” or “light” being the second.  And, moreover, the Slavic word forms exist today whereas the Indogermanic  Indoeuropean etymologies have to be reconstructed.  The same word “jasion” or “jesion” is the name of the ash tree in Slavic todayJezioro/ozero means “lake” to this day and so forth. Compare this too to the Persian rulers Yazdegerds – supposedly meaning “made by God” with “Yaz” being the Persian name for God – this too indicates a connection to Jassa – perhaps through the Slavic way of worshipping fast moving streams.

Incidentally, it is more than curious that the Slavic jazda should have the same suffix as the Persian Mazda or that the suffix -t should be similar to the Old Indian -ti.

Of course, Born is a bit of a problem here unless one wants to look at Borna as a Dalmatian/Croatian name (the placenames Borna appear principally in Saxony – if you don’t count India). In any event, it may well be that “Jesu” comes from one language but “born” from another – that is, “born” being Germanic.

Conclusion

All in all there does not seem to be a reason to assume that Jeetzel/Jesna does not have a Slavic etymology.  Whether or not the same is the case with Niedern- and Obernjesa and with Jesuborn is another matter.  However, even here a Slavic etymology seems a reasonable possibility.

Incidentally, the idea that there was a Germanic word jesan and that it meant “to simmer” and so forth, seems to have come from Karl Brugmann and later Jan Pieter Marie Laurens de Vries (altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch and Nederlands Etymologisch Woordenboek).

De Vries had a bit of a checked past but I don’t think he was overall biased.  I just doubt he knew much about Slavic languages – I will only note that the word jaga there is derived from “hunt” (jagen) which, I suppose means that Baba Yaga was an evil huntress. A similar view is expressed by Pokorny but is hardly the only one.  Here is Alois Walde in his Lateinisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (in a slightly different context): 

Note too the Old Indian “-ti” suffix in “yasati, yasyati” which is similar to the Slavic “-t” ending or -ć in Polish .

The Sprachgeschichte: ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und ihrer Erforschung (edited by Werner Besch) suggests that the Jeetzel was a Slavic name but that it was formed from a prior Germanic name:

This is indeed possible but is hardly necessary since Jasna would refer to a bright, light river.

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December 4, 2017

Etwas stimmt nicht

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The Polish capital’s name is Warszawa.  No one suggested that this name is German.  And yet, why not?

Take a look at the river Warsbach.  As early as 633 it was referred to as Warspach:

ad meridianam plagam super Warspach, et inde ad Bodemlosestompha

Even if the above is a forgery, it is probably a forgery of no later than the 10th century.  In any event, the river to this day is called Warsbach.  But if you have a Warsbach then why not a Warsaha or Warsawa? After all, isn’t -awa supposed to be the (reconstructed) German suffix meaning “water”?

What is the official explanation of Warsaw’s name?  It supposedly comes from the name of:

  • a knight named Warsz
  • the Czech family of Warszowcy (or, in Czech, Vršovci) who fled from Bohemia to Poland in the 12th century – you can read all about them in the Czech Chronicle of Cosmas

But even if this were true, it just pushes the question further and deeper: who were these Warszowcy? Who was Warsz?  Or rather, why was he called Warsz?

Incidentally, the Polish “sz” represents the “sh” sound and, not surprisingly, the river Warsbach has also been spelled (and therefore pronounced) Warschbach (the German “sch” corresponds to the Polish “sz” and the English “sh”).

So where is Warsbach or Warschbach? Right here:

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December 1, 2017

Asegabook

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An interesting mention of Eastern Europe is found in the First Riustring Codex (De Eerste Riustringer Codex) aka the Asegabook, first published by Wybren Jan Buma and Wilhelm Ebel in 1961. In the R1 manuscript we have the following statement:

(you can see the following collections for more Oudfriese Taal-en Rechtsbronnen and Altfriesische Rechtsquellen, Texte und Übersetzungen).

“vnder sine tidon warth Rvszlond and Pulenera lond [or Polenera lond] and Vngeron bikerd.”

which is basically:

“in his [Otto III’s] time/rule were Russia {that is today’s Ukraine), Poland and Hungary converted [to Christianity].”

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November 29, 2017

Baltic Veneti

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A reader asked whether there any chance that the Veneti were Balts, as in speakers of Prussian, Lithuanian, Latvian and related languages.

Well, this certainly is possible but several factors speak against that.

Geographic

The Veneti are described as being pretty much where the Western and Eastern Slavs later appear by Pliny (also Slovenes), Tacitus and Ptolemy.  Arguably they appear in Strabo and in several earlier writers in roughly the same area.  The Baltic tribes of Galindae, Sudini and Borusci of Ptolemy (who does not have Aestii) are not described as being on the Baltic.

Classificational

By the 9th century the word Aestii refers to the Balts.  These people appear to be the Aestii of  Cassiodorus and Tacitus.  This also fits with Ptolemy who, again, does not have Aestii but does have Galindae, Sudini and Borusci who – probably – are the medieval tribes of Galindae, (?) Sudini and Prussians.  These tribes are thus distinguished from the Veneti. The Livland Chronicle also distinguishes the Wends from the Balts and medieval German crusaders certainly knew who Wends were in their time (that is Slavs).

Logistical

The Veneti are described by Ptolemy and  as a populous bunch.  Later Jordanes makes the same claim about the Slavs, calling them Veneti.  The Aestii and later Balts are never described as populous.

Philological

As already mentioned Max Vasmer did not have an issue in ultimately concluding that the Veneti were Slavs.

Conclusion?

The conclusion from the above should be obvious.

I should note that it is possible that both Slavs and Balts were part of one and the same grouping called Veneti and that one or the other group later changed languages.  The question would be who.  It is possible that the Slavs were the Veneti who were dragged by the Goths into the influence of the Jazyges, Alans or Huns and that, as a result, it is their language that changed.  The appearance of the ending -vit in Slavic divinities’ names on the Baltic suggests that.  As does also the naming of the lands of the Aestii as Witland.  Whether Tacitan Veneti and Aestii spoke the same language is debatable.

On the other hand, the presence of Baltic hydronyms deep in Belarus suggests perhaps something different.  Perhaps the Balts started deeper in the East and North East (their language is supposedly more “archaic” whatever that means – presumably closer to original IE) and then migrated West pushing the Veneti/Slavs out further West.  Nevertheless, for this to be plausible, one would have to conclude that the hydronyms in Old Prussia and along the coast have Slavic roots.

There is one more argument for identifying Slavs or at least some Slavs with the Veneti and it is theological.

 

Theological

The Veneti were pronounced Vindi or Winden in German.  The root india suggests some connection to, well, India or, more precisely, it suggests that the same people as the Venedi went East to bring the name India to India.  If you look at the names of Polish Gods, names such as Jassa, Devana in India (just Google Jassa and Devana and see what comes up).  Indeed, whatever the Baltic connection may be, the names of these Gods clearly point to similarities with India – and that fact, in and of itself, suggests that those who worshipped such Gods were the most likely candidates to be identified with the Vindi. Piorun/Perun, if it is related to Parjanya (but see even more similar village name of Peron in Punjab), does appear as Perkunas in Lithuania (too so this “divine” factor is not decisive but, the majority of such “Indian” names are Polish, not Lithuanian (some other shared names have no obvious Indian connection – such as the Polish and Lithuanian Lada). (Interestingly, the name also appears to mean a “pear” in Swedish – päron (and, presumably as a result, it means “potato” in Finnish).)

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November 28, 2017

Jachna

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Jachen is a small river in Bavaria.  It is a tributary of the Isar.  This name should already have given you pause but, remember, a “river” or “rzeka/reka” is a feminine noun in Slavic.  So what do we have if we look back at the way this river is called?

  • Jachna, Jachnau, Jachenau (1796)
  • Jachenay (1731)
  • Jachenaw (1457)
  • Jachna (1313)

This is what Wolf-Armin Freiherr von Reitzenstein has to say about this name in the Lexikon bayerischer Ortsnamen. Herkunft und Bedeutung. 2. (verbesserte und erweiterte Auflage (!)).

“1930 ist für Fluss und Tal die mundartliche Form d’jåchna belegt. Als ursprüngliches Grundwort wird daher aha angenommen. Als Bestimmungswort kann, muss aber nicht, der Personenname Jacho vermutet werden.”

There is a town – Jachenau – nearby:

  • Jachenau (1649)
  • Jachenau (1584)
  • Jachnaw (1558)
  • Jachenaw (1433)
  • Jachnaw (1416)
  • Jachnawe (1295)

The same source provides the following about this name (I just cut it from Wikipedia but assume it’s what he wrote):

“Für die Herleitung des Namens Jachenau gibt es unterschiedlichste Ansätze: von „Jochinau“ = die Au der Jocher von Altjoch am Kochelsee, von Ahornau in Anlehnung an den Ahornboden, von der Au des Jacho“, eines damals gebräuchlichen Vornamens [no doubt!] und als Ableitung vom Namen der Jachen, dieses schnell fließenden („jach“, mittelhochdeutsch) Gewässers des Tales.”

Yes, “schnell fliessen” as in “jechac“.

Herr Freiherr should Google Jachna or Jacho and see what comes up.  For starters there will be a number of last names.  He should look where they come up (to make this easier). (Incidentally, the word, easy, though French in origin, seems to have a similar root (perhaps, as in “gliding”).

Here are the Anecdota Palaeopolonica by Antoni Kalina from the Archiv für slavische Philologie:

In fact, the same can be said about:

  • Lech > Leszek

Here you can compare the River Lech with the Langobard King’s name of Lethuc. For the male side note that the name can also end in an -o or in an -u.  As in Lecho or Lechu.  Without the “ch” is also possible as in Slawko, Gniewko and so forth.

Note that Jachna can be short for Agnes or Jagoda as in Jagoda > Jaga > Jagusia or > Jachna.

From Starodawne prawa polskiego pomniki (Old Polish legal testimonia):

  • Wyrona uxor S. heredis de J. et Jachna soror ejus..cum Jaschkone herede ibidem in Wirbno.
  • Jachna uxor A. de R. omnimodam partem hereditatis sue maternam ibidem in R. in…
  • Israhel Canaan et Abraham filij Lewconis Judei de Cracouia cognouerunt, quod ipsis Jachna Jacussij et Hanca Paschonis relicte de Dambieza… ipse Jachna et Hanca tenentur ad soluendum…
  • Eadem Jachna et Hanca ipsis Judeis ex pericione adhuc centum marcas ad festum Natiuitatis Christi proximum tenentur exsoluere.
  • Jachna uxor Alberti Lassota de Radwanonice… Item dicta Jachna dietam…
  • Jachna uxor legittima Przeczslai de Sauice… Prandote de Jarossyno racione ville Jawidz in terra Lublinensi obligata fideiussit, ita quod dicte pecunie debent post mortem ipsius Jachne ad idetum Prandotam renerti; et easdem pecunias iudicauit in parte hereditatis in Slauice….
  • Ex aduerso Jachna litem legitime contestado respondit…quod Jachna habuisset virum viuentem…

On the male side the name is Jach or Jacho but also comes up as Jachno.

The location of the river Jachen shown with red dot below deep in Bavaria (Euratlas with borders from 700) – not really in Slavic territory, is it:

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November 23, 2017

Avian Warnings

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Incidentally, if we are on the topic of Germanorum genera quinque: Vandilici quorum pars Burgodiones, Varini, Charini, Gutones, it behooves to ask whether the Varini could have been a Slavic tribe.  They are mentioned by Tacitus (Varini), Pliny (as above though there are variations here too), Ptolemy (Ούίρουνοι /Virunoi) as well as later in Procopius (Varni or Οὐάρνων)  Widsith (Wernum that is Werne) and the Lex Anglorum et Werinorum Hoc set Thuringorum  (Warni/Werni).  Similar names appear in other places such as the name of the town Varna (in Bulgaria) or on the Notitia Dignitatum (town of Varina in Datia Ripensis).

But then we have a tribe that is attested in the same region and has the same name but is Slavic. Here German Annals speak of the tribe of Warnabi, Warnavi, Warnahi, Wranovi, Wranefzi, Wrani, Varnes, or Warnower,  These are attested in several place names in Mecklenburg, on Wolin and in Pomerania and perhaps have something to do with the Ranii.  We know that they were part of the Obodrite confederation of Slavic tribes.

Moreover, while there is a town named Warnow in East Germany, there was also a town name Varnow/Warnow near Basel

So what is the etymology of this tribe name?  Well, no one knows and it all depends on whether you are talking about the allegedly Germanic tribe or the Slavic tribe… Of course, there are hypotheses aplenty.

One is that the Germanic Varini refers to those who you should be forewarned of, as in “warning“…

For the Slavic tribe, a reasonable suggestion would be that the name derives from the Slavic or Baltic word for “crow” which is represented as follows:

  • wrona (Polish)
  • warna (Kaszubian)
  • wran (OCS)
  • wran/wrana (Czech)
  • woron/worona (Russian)
  • warnas (Lithuanian)
  • warnis/warne (Prussian)
  • also:
    • sko-wronek, diminutive of the larch, literally, it supposedly means “what a little worn” – yet see below various version of kowron without the “s” and in Baltic and even Latin).
    • gawron
    • kuowarna (Latvian for a jackdaw)
    • kowran (Slovenian)
    • kaworon (Belarussian)
    • karwona (Lusatian)
    • Corvidae/corvin (but also note raven)

And in English you have the “wren”:

wren (n.) small, migratory singing bird, Old English wrenna, metathesis variation of earlier werna, a Germanic word of uncertain origin. Compare Icelandic rindill, Old High German wrendo, wrendilo “wren.” 

It is interesting that in the Baltic languages and in Kaszubian this name is essentially as the name of the tribe.

I should also say that it quite possible that the very word “warning” might have to do with the flight of birds whose sudden fleeing might be the first sign of danger.  In this fashion, the etymology of this bird would remain Baltic or possibly Slavic with the meaning of the word “warning” ultimately traced to this word.   Further, depending on where a given tribe lived, they might have been warned in this fashion of the approach of enemies by the type of bird common to a particular habitation – explaining why different types of birds might nevertheless share the same root.  Thus, the English would have “originally” lived where there were a lot of wrens and so forth.  (In Polish and Czech the wren is called strzyżyk/střízlík which is not likely to have anything to do with straz meaning “to guard”). 

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November 22, 2017

Recap of Jordanes

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The following two pages (in the MGH, obviously these do not correspond to pages in the manuscripts) in Getica contain a sufficient number of pearls to generate hundreds of dissertations.  There are some posts already on them on this site but it’s worth to recap and add a new one point.

Lake Musianus and the Vindelici

On Lake Mursianus or Morsianus but also Lake Musianus much has been written.  On the post that identifies Lake Veneticus (that is the Bodensee) as Lake Musianus I wrote here.

This, of course, creates a problem for mainstream historiography because if Slavs reached to the Bodensee in Jordanis’ time, if the Bodensee had been called Lake Veneticus before (it had) and if Slavs were called Veneti (they had been), then that would suggest that the people referred to later as Slavs must have lived on the Bodensee already in Roman antiquity.  It would also suggest that the name “Vindelici” referred to not “Celts” but to (later) Slavs.  Of course this would be hardly surprising to anyone who ever gazed upon the Tropaeum Alpium with its Licates, Rucinates and Cos-VANETES.  I leave the Catenates for others to explain.  For more see here.

The fact that Pliny wrote “Germanorum genera quinque: Vindili, quorum pars Burgodiones, Varinnae, Charini, Gutones.” might also suggest that these Vindili or as other manuscripts also call them Vandalici, Vandilici (elsewhere Vandili, Vandali) were not exactly the same as the Vandals of the invasion of Gaul, Spain and Africa four hundred years later.  More on that here.

This would also suggest an answer to the question of why Nestor, more than a millennium later, refers to Slavs as the Norici.  I should also note that the Suevi maintained relations both with the Rhaetians and Noricans (apparently, one of Ariovistus’ wives was the sister of King Voccio or Voccion of Noricum).  More on that here.

I should also note that Morsianus may well be Slavic even with the “r”.  Compare, for example, the Slavic name for “sea”: morze, more.  To this day when it you have light rain, Poles will say that it mżeMżeć, mżyć means to have a light rain where the “o” has been eliminated.  The source of this is the concept for wetness (compare with mgła, that is, “fog”).  At least one version of the Slavic word for “blink” or “flicker” may also come from the same wetness concept (migać),

For that matter, you may ask yourself whether the Morini were not a Slavic tribe.

And you have an explanation for Morava.

Rani

The passage attesting the later attested as Slavic tribe of the Rani is equally fascinating.

Spali

On the Spali I wrote here.

Oium

All of that has been discussed. But there is another curious reference and that is to the land named Oium.  If you click on the picture above, however, you will note that there are at least three or four ways that this name appears in the manuscripts:

  • oium
  • ocum
  • ouim
  • ouin

There is thus a school of thought that would would connect (but see above objection) the name Ouin with the Wends.

Of course, there is another that hints at “eggs” (jaja pronounced “yaya”) and suggests “eyes” (ojos but better the Slavic oczy) …

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November 20, 2017

Veneti on the Radio

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Thanks for the gentleman who forwarded a link to this 2016 interview with Adam Ziółkowski of Warsaw University.  It is unfortunately only in Polish but if you can figure some of it out, it is very interesting.  Its conclusion is also onto “something.” That said, Ziółkowski’s exposition has a number of factual errors and not so insignificant logical problems that should be noted so that he can improve his presentation the next time he speaks on this topic. (Also his manner of speaking is grating – he sounds like a friar of the Spanish Inquisition after a dozen cans of Red Bull – check out the guy’s “rrrrrrs”)

Slavs are not (just) a linguistic community

Ziółkowski starts with the unfortunate assertion that Slavs are only a linguistic community. This is a popular trope these days with a transparent intent of breaking down the concept that Slavs are a nation – which would mean ties of blood.  Those ties are, of course, attested (and visible to the naked eye) but the unscientific and politicized view of Slavs as merely a linguistic community is important to anyone hostile to any blood communities (another example of Slavs suffering for the sins of the Nordics).

Here he gets challenged a bit by the interviewer who asks (since according to Ziółkowski Slavs are those “who understand one another”) whether a German who understands another German is also a Slav.  Indeed, Ziółkowski does not seem to believe his own silliness as he answers the interviewers question with a “no” – a German who understands another German is not a Slav – but then adds (giggling!?) “unless he had learned to speak German…” So in this telling a Slav who learns German is still a Slav.  

Ok, but the better question to ask Ziółkowski would have been, is this Slav now (also) a German?  And what about a German who learns Slavic?  Is he both Slav and German?  Does the “first” language matter?  Why? And what if you were raised with Slavic language but then learned German and forgot Slavic. Are you now a German or a Slav?

How ridiculous this view is can be demonstrated by its application to the Lebensborn program – these children stolen by the Germans and raised as German would in Ziółkowski’s way of thinking be seen as German. I hesitate to ask what he thinks Edith Stein was.

Further, to give support to this “linguistic” community, he creates a fable of Slavs (those who speak the word) and Nemcy (those who do not).  This etymology is tempting and has been much talked about but is way uncertain for a whole number of reasons – one of which being is that it very much smacks of being a Volksetymologie.

Finally, any such definition of Slavs that Ziółkowski comes up with makes irrelevant (to most people) the answer to the question for which he got air time to expound on this stuff.  Simply put, while the question of “where the Slavic language came from” may be interesting, the question that most people are interested in is not that – their question is rather “where did their ancestors come from”.  Ancestor does not mean “linguistic ancestor”.  Our ancestors may or may not have spoken Slavic.  We see a certain level of biological similarity among Northern Slavs and, separately, Southern Slavs, and the question is where did those communities come from.  Their ancestors may well have spoken Slavic but if someone told me tomorrow that Slav was an Avar (unlikely) or Hunnic language imposed on the Veneti, I would say, great, but I don’t care because Slavdom and ancestry are independent of that.

I suspect that if Ziółkowski were to say that our ancestors did not speak Slavic and then wanted to get on the radio to discuss where these linguistic Slavs came from, he would have gotten a 10th of the listeners he got.  And I suspect, he well knows that.

Anyway, I am on this “linguistic ancestry” train only so long as it can be shown that Slavic is what my ancestors spoke.  If, looking back, there is a divergence I’ll follow the ancestral path further back. (Of course, it could be too that at some point you’d come across a linguistically mixed marriage or other type of coupling).

Enough on that.

Our knowledge of “peoples, geography and archeology” does not answer these questions

Central Europe was, according to Ziółkowski, very well known to the Romans. He says that we have names of peoples, geography and archeology and that there “simply are no Slavs here” in that period.  This is just silliness.

As to peoples, he does not mention the Suevi.  Why?  He does mention the Veneti but then later makes a claim that they were Balts… They may well have included Balts if by Balts we understand the genetic ancestors of today’s Latvians, Lithuanians and Old Prussians but the Veneti were natio populosa and that is not what the Balts are.  I also seriously doubt that the Veneti – even the ones on the Baltic – spoke a “Baltic” language. It’s possible but, as a primary language, I doubt it.

As to geography, I am not sure what he means because he does not develop this thought beyond his “geography” incantation.

As to archeology, he himself earlier says that we do not know who the people were (and, of course cannot, know) who made the various pots and pans… Even that would assume that the people who made them were the same people as the people who used them.  Even putting aside imports, it does not take much of an imagination to see that you could have a craftsman from tribe A living among tribe B, particularly if tribe A was known for its pan making skills.

There certainly are more than two possibilities

Ziółkowski mentions there are two possibilities for the appearance of the Slavs.  One is that they were here under “different names” before.  But then he serves up only the Veneti (dismissing their Slavicity) – more on that below.

The second is that there was some sort of an “accelerated birth” of the Slavs.  This second concept seems to be derived from Florin Curta’s theories which, as noted here, are just plain silly.

There is, of course, another version: that the Slavs came – as a group – from somewhere else.  This is the allochtonic theory but in today’s Europe which is supposed to be building an uebernational identity, any “group” activities (even going for a walk) that obviously exclude others are viewed with suspicion… On this see below.

Limited Voelkerwanderung and no emptying of Central Europe

Ziółkowski says that Central Europe was emptied because of the Voelkerwanderung. This is curious on two fronts.

First, we know now that there was no such “complete emptying” (this is a quote) and that there appears to be settlement continuity with, perhaps, some modest population reduction.

Second, it is curious that Ziółkowski seems unaware that the Voelkerwanderung is now considered (in German circles) to be a myth.  This is striking because most of the ideas he talks about seem to come straight from German historiography – but not this one.  Modern German scholars view the Voelkerwanderung as a myth but modern Polish scholars such as Ziółkowski not so much.  Difference of opinion – but why?

I have to say that I was always suspicious that the idea that the Voelkerwanderung was a myth came from those hostile to Germans having any such myths (better safe than sorry).

However, as applied to the Poles the myth claim is well and good.  From a Polish “autochtonic” perspective, the idea that the Voelkerwanderung is a myth is likely to be whole-heartedly embraced.  These Poles would say “of course, it’s a myth, because there were no Nordics in those areas that you are talking about – just our ancestors.”

In other words, while for modern politically-driven German historiography the Germanic Voelkerwanderung is a necessary myth, for modern Polish historiography the same Germanic Voelkerwanderung is politically necessary as a way of busting Polish autochtonic “myths” and so it undoubtedly took place and Nordics lived in Poland prior to Slavs having somehow arisen. In either case, however, the idea is that the concept of ancient national action or existence is deprecated.  In fact, modern German scholars were so eager to apply this new myth-busting way of thinking to the Poles that one of them – Walter Pohl – pathetically ignorant that Slav autochtonists are perfectly happy with the German Voelkerwanderung being a myth – started attacking the idea of a Slavic Voelkerwanderung in an apparent attempt to shatter the Slavic version of the Germanic “myth”.  All this notwithstanding the fact that no such myth exists in Slavic autochtonic historiography and that Slav “autochtonists” would, as noted above, be more than happy to dispense with both any alleged Germanic or with a Slavic Voelkerwanderung

In fact, Ziółkowski, calls Slavs (and presumably) Poles “Immigrants”.  Wittingly or not, he becomes part of a movement (as absurd and ridiculous as it is) that would place Poles on the same level as immigrants who just got to Poland (that is, non-Poles).  To say that this is an overeager anticipation of the European elites’ current political narrative would be so obvious an observation as to make the observer almost embarrassed to even have to utter it.

Ziółkowski does note that these Slavs were “legal” immigrants but, apparently, only because they walked into a portion of Germania which had been entirely depopulated by the escaping Germanics.  Now, however, we know that no such major depopulation took place (notwithstanding the various pollen counts undertaken).

Of course, if this were all correct, it would be perfectly fine with me – it’s just that the approach here reeks of political necessity.

Veneti likely were ancestors of the Slavs (and maybe of Balts) & Antes may well have spoken Slavic

Ziółkowski says that both those in the East (from south of Danube) and West (from West of the Rhine) looking at Central Europe only see Slavs and Antes but not – with the exception of Jordanes – the Veneti.  As an example of this in the West, he mentions Fredegar who speaks of the Slavs.

Right off the bat, this is technically wrong for two reasons.

First, Fredegar, as Ziółkowski himself notes a few seconds later, does speak of the Wends (“Slavs who are called Wends”).

Second, no one in the West at the end of antiquity uses the name Antes – that name is only used by the Greek Byzantine writers (and Jordanes).  (Whether the earlier Antes of Pomponius Mela & Co had anything to do with the Antes Jordanes, Procopius & Co, is at least as debatable as whether the earlier Veneti had anything to do with the Slavs).

Ziółkowski then notes that the Antes must have spoken Slavic.  Why? Because they spoke the same language as the Slavs (likely true) but best exemplified by the Slavic name Dabragezas who he identifies as a written version of Dobrogost. This may be true (though presumably Florin Curta could object) but may also not be true.  Every part of this name can be explained through use of non-Slavic languages.

Take Dabra: the suggestion has been made that some of the Dubr names are Celtic.  Thus, for example, Portus Dubris (Dubrae) is the ancient name for Dover, England.  Dubrovnik in Croatia is explained with a Slavic etymology but that is because that is the easiest.  The fact that Caesar may have come to Dubris from Illyria might suggest a different answer.  Or maybe even before Caesar there were pre-Slavs living in Britain.

Take Gezas: If Gezas is supposed to be Gost then why not Gaisus? Are we suggesting that Radagaisus – the Goth – was a Slav or spoke Slavic?  I guess, why not?  Both Rad- and -gaisus can be just as (and perhaps more) easily Slavic than Germanic.

And what about other names associated with the Antes: Mezamer/Idariz/Kelagast, Chilbudios, Boz? At least one Ukrainian writer believed that these were all Goths…

In any event, I think that the Antes actually did speak Slavic but the above name may or may not be Slavic.

There are other issues in this part of the discussion:

  • Ziółkowski calls Jordanes a “pseudo-historian” but does in now way challenge his credibility (and says his ethnographic descriptions are accurate – but check out the War of Vesosis!). And who was a “real” historian back in those days? (On the tendentious, perfunctory and annoying criticisms of Jordanes in general, you can see here)
  • The fact that the Antes appear in earlier sources way in the East (as do Souobenoi, by the way), “surrounded by Iranian speaking tribes” in no way, contrary to Ziółkowski’s assertion, requires these Antes to have been Iranian speakers.
  • Tacitus does not end his description of Suevia “on the Bug River” thereby “placing Veneti in northern Ukraine and in Belarus.”  Tacitus does not mention the Vistula, Oder or Bug under any names.  All he says “here Suevia ends.”  Since he just discussed the Swedes (and Sitones?)*, it is questionable what gives any reader the right to jump back down to the Bug.  We may infer from the Veneti being between the Fenni and the Peucini that – some of them – were in Belarus and Ukraine but Ptolemy places them on the Baltic and Pliny seemingly in all of Central Europe.

[*note: “Bordering on the Suiones are the nations of the Sitones. They resemble them in all respects but one – the female is the ruling sex. That is the measure of their decline, I will not say below freedom, but even below decent slavery.”]

  • As noted above, there is nothing to indicate that the Veneti were Balts or merely Balts and much speaks against that (such as the natio populosa concept).
  • He seems to conflate the Alans with the Antes – this is just a supposition based on very little.
  • Ziółkowski claims – and this is just plain wrong and false – that Pliny the Elder identified the Venedi with the Aestii. Ziółkowski also appears to say that those are the people “who live today in Prussia”.  I have to say that it is difficult not to do an “ahem” since there is no Prussia “today” but this statement suggests where Ziółkowski got this idea – that is from 19th century German historiography – a major Freudian slip it seems. Moreover, I cannot see where Pliny talks about the Aestii at all (“some writers state that these regions, as far as the river Vistula, are inhabited by the Sarmati, the Venedi, the Sciri, and the Hirri“).  The first mention of the Aestii comes from Tacitus and he certainly does not equate the Aestii with the Veneti.

Veneti and Volcae

Ziółkowski continues to perpetuate the early 20th century invention, according to which Germanic tribes called all people to the East “Veneti” – no matter their ethnic/blood/linguistic affiliation.  How do we know that?  Well, because the Germans did something similar with the Volcae so that the people in the South were Volcae but in the East they were Veneti.

This is bullshit.

It received its strongest expression in the 1905 work of Hermann HirtDie Indogermanen“.  Now Hirt was also a believer in the Baltic Urheimat of the Indo-European languages – a position that was politically important to pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany.  Since the Venetic Uebertragung theory would have expelled Slavs into areas even further east, it naturally found a home in Nazi and post-war Germany.  Why such nonsense is repeated today though is curious.

It is also worth mentioning what Hirt actually wrote:

“Since no Slavic tribe refers to itself as the Veneti, one can come to suppose that in the East of the Germans a non-Slavic people with the name Veneti [once] sat, whose name then was transferred onto the Slavs, once these ran into the Germans.  Nevertheless, this can be treated only as a very uncertain supposition.

So the Father of this theory is leery of fully accepting his child but his students fell no such reservations.

What can we say about this?

First of all if the Germanic tribes called people to the South (in some version “to the West”) of them Volcae and if this was because they first encountered the Belgae and then the Welsh then they must have come down into Europe from Scandinavia – probably over today’s Denmark.  If so, then who lived in Germany before the Germans?

Second, even if the Germans were to call everyone South (or is it West?) of them Volcae – which they did not – it does not stand to reason that they should do the same for all peoples in the East.

The truth is that there is nothing to suggest that in Germanic languages Volc is associated with the West and Wind with the East.

Moreover, Germanics clearly did see different peoples in both the West and the East.  The Franks did not think the Thuringians and Saxons were Windische.  But why?  After all they lived to the East of the Franks.  They should have been Windische!

But maybe that is because they spoke a Germanic language!?  But the Huns, Avars, Hungarians, Aestii (Cassiodorus) and Fenni were not called Windische.  None of them spoke a Germanic language.

Most importantly, the Balts themselves were never in Middle Ages called Veneti by the Germans and were called Aestii (Cassiodorus, Alfred’s Orosius).

But maybe that is because these other peoples spoke a non-Germanic language that was not Slavic!  That must be it.  So to sum up:

  • The Germans transferred the Veneti name from a non-Slavic tribe onto everyone who lived in the East but only if by everyone we mean more or less just the Slavs.  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense…

And what about the Veneti of the Adriatic… Were they named by the Germans too?  No, of course not, those were the original Veneti.  But, wait a minute now, these Veneti were to the South of the Germans so should they not have been called Volcae!? And how is that we find here, again, Slavs!? Why, for example, is Grad called Grad in the Chronicle of Grad? Why is there a Wistla in the Alps?

And what about the Veneti in Bretagne!? Are the Germans now calling people to the West of them Veneti!?  And, by the way, why do the descendants of these Bretagnish Veneti still use the word divyezhek (dwujezyczny) to denote “bilingual“?

Fredegar, contrary to Ziółkowski, cannot be used to support the notion that Venethi was a name given to everyone in the East by the Germans.  In fact, it only supports the view that Slavs and Venethi were the same people.

What makes sense

The interview above actually is pretty good so my criticism is intended to be limited. What makes it good, however, is the rest of the “meat” on these bones.  Let’s take a look at that.

An important observation that Ziółkowski makes is that linguists are basically useless in this discussion.  He even mentions that whenever you see the universal warning sign for a “reconstructed” word – that is * – that sight might be preceded by a stench of bullshit.  Completely agree with that sentiment.

(It behooves me to note that the word “asterisk” as in “little star” may go back to the symbol for the Eostre/Ashera).

He says that Venethi may have been ancestors of the Slavs or may have been pre-Slavs. Agree with that.

He says that the Slavs are Veneti (by whom he means Balts) mixed with Germanics (which ones we do not know) and Iranians (presumably Antes – if they were even Iranian – or Alans).  I think there is something to this concept but I would make the following “emendations”:

  • the Veneti are more (or at least just as) likely to have been the ancestors of today’s Slavs (in the biological sense) as today’s Balts – the Balts are much more likely to be the Aestii.
  • although whether the Suevi of Caesar spoke a Germanic language is very uncertain, for reasons that need no be repeated here, if Germanics as in Nordics we must have in the mix, the Suevi may provide that connection best (than say Goths).  Remember swoboda (“own body).
  • the “Iranian element” need not come from the Antes or Alans – the Yazyges were present in Pannonia for quite some time and their interactions with the Suevi are well know.

There IS a possibility that Slavs came from Prussia… or that Prussian Balts were a mixed people – compare Witland with the name of the Ranian Gods and with the Lithuanian Wits such as Vitas or Vitautas – this is something that certainly merits amuck more detailed study.

There is another possibility… (there always is): that the Veneti were Slavs but that the Suevi were Balts…

With all that in mind, I think the interview is terrific (if you can put up with the way this guy pronounces his “r’s”) and I encourage everyone who understand Polish to tune in.

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November 14, 2017