Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pseudo-Callisthenes’ Völkertafel

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Pseudo-Callisthenes refers to the author of a 3rd century work known as the “Alexander Romance”.  There are numerous version of it including one Greek version (written circa 800) which contains a list of peoples including some of the peoples of more recent vintage:

“I Alexander, king of the Macedonians, conquered a great number of peoples: the Avars, the Slavs … the Rus, the Khazars, the Bulgars … and others we’ve brought under our yoke without war so that they paid tribute.”

From the Heinrich Meusel edition (based on a 15th/16th century manuscript):

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July 13, 2017

Frothy Mountains

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We’ve discussed the Pyrenees and Pirins here.

Here is an interesting set of other similar names:

  • Apennines Range
  • Pennine Alps
  • Pennines (northern England)
  • Pieniny (Poland/Slovakia)

An interesting story shows what people really know about etymologies of names.  For years the English Pennines were assumed to be made up by Charles Bertram in the 18th century.  But George Redmonds in his “Names and History: People, Places and Things” traces it to William Camden (1551-1623) who writing of the town of Skipton in Yorkshire said as follows:

“For the whole tract there is rough all over and unpleasant to see to, with craggie stones, hanging rockes, and rugged waies, in the midest whereof, as it were in a lurking hole, not farre from Are standeth Skipton, and lieth hidden and enclosed among steepe hilles, in like manner as Latium in Italie, which Varro supposeth to have beene so called because it lieth close under Apennine and the Alpes.” [from A description of Yorkshire in William Camden, Britain, or, a Chorographicall Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland)]

But is the name actually earlier than that?

“Piana” means “flat” in Italian (a “plain”?).

But in Slavic it means “foam or froth” and in Lithuanian (pienas) refers to milk.

So what’s the snow forecast up there?

As a reader points out, you can also get foam from limestone being exposed to acid.  Limestone is wapno and “made of limestone” is wapienny.  Both words are “native” Slavic.


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July 11, 2017

Berlin, Berlin

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This is probably a nothing (later settlement by German colonists?) but you never know 🙂 :

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June 27, 2017

Once Again on al-Bakri

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Incidentally, if you are interested in reports of Slavs in Westphalia (Quazwini), you may want to check out the edition of al-Bakri‘s Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al-mamālik by Adrian van Leeuwen et André Ferré (Tunis: al-Dar al-‘Arabiyya li-l-Kitab, 1992), where, apparently, al-Bakri, claims that the Rhine was the frontier between Franks and Slavs.

For more see Daniel G. König’s  “Arabic-Islamic Views of the Latin West: Tracing the Emergence of Medieval Europe” from which comes the above.  For more on al-Bakri’s mention of the account of Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub’s see here.

While Arab writers probably did confuse Slavs and Germans occasionally, there is no reason to believe that what they wrote above was anything other than a reflection of the situation at the time.  The Frankish realm was, after all, formed and run primarily from the West of the Rhine.

Even at the Treaty of Verdun (843), the realm of Louis the German consisted primarily of Saxony, Austrasia, Allemania, what was left of Thuringia and Bavaria.  Yet, the Saxons, Allemans and Thuringians were rather latecomers to Germania in any sedentary fashion.  The Allemans may have been, as the name suggests, a mixture of a whole bunch of people and the Bavarians’ origin is rather mysterious itself.  Suffice it to say that:

  • Alemanni appear about the beginning of the third century (213) in Cassius Dio
    • incorporated into the Frankish kingdom in 496
  • Thuringians appear first as Toringi about the year 400 in the Mulomedicina by Flavius Vegetius Renatus
    • incorporated into the Frankish kingdom in 531
  • Bavarians appear first in the Getica about 551 or 576 in Venantius Fortunatus
    • incorporated into the Frankish kingdom by 788
  • Saxons appear first (probably) in Ptolemy (?) north of the lower Elbe (Schleswig?), then about 356 in Gaul, then in Britain in 441-442 and, for the first time in Northern Germany in 555
    • rather brutally incorporated into the Frankish kingdom by 804

Austrasians were not really a tribe – rather Austrasia was an administrative region of the Frankish kingdom meaning the “eastern” portion as opposed to Neustria, which was the “new western” portion of that kingdom.

Did all these tribes come from the North after the birth of Christ? Probably not all but probably a sizable chunk of them which raises the question who were the Gauls or Germans who lived there before?  It is curious that Frankish records later show Slavic presence not just east of the Elbe-Saale but also in Saxony, Thuringia, Bavaria and Carinthia.

For more on the idea of the Rhein as a border see here.  For more on al-Bakri see here.  For more on Thuringia see here.

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June 26, 2017


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We’ve added a Strabo citation to our discussion of the Tropaeum Alpium that previously escaped our notice.  It makes for an interesting confirmation of the Tropaeum’s information.

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March 31, 2017

From Falster to Latvia

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Incidentally, if you are curious how Slavs could have ended up at Ventspylis there are at least three answers.  One is the obvious one – they came from the East.  Another one is that they were there before the Balts came from the Belarus region.  A third one is suggested by Annales Ryenses (Rydårbogen) where there is talk of the Danish king Lotharknut resettling a third of his serfs in Prussia, Karelia and Semigalia sometime between 891 and 901.  At least some of those may have come from the islands of Møn, Falster & Lolland.  These, in turn, it has been suggested were populated at the time by Slavs (articles by Koczy and another by Slaski).

“…et venientes, totam
Pruciam, Semigaliam,
et terram Carelorum,
aliasqve qvam plures
terras subjugaverunt sibi, et…”

What’s striking about this is that it’s not clear whether the Danes included in this settlement process also the Pomeranian coast – if not, then presumably because it was filled with Slavs (the reference to other lands seems rather ambiguous given that lands further removed from Denmark than Pomerania are actually mentioned by name).

A similar tale was apparently also in the lost annals of Valdemar II.

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March 2, 2017

Rhein Again?

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Reviewing the  Beyträge zur teutschen Länder-, Völker-, Sitten- und Staaten-Kunde we’ve come across a rather interesting confession of the writers located in a small footnote:

“We must here expressly repeat that the Slavic etymon, also in the southern districts and in the mountains all the way till the Bodensee [Lacus Veneticus], is noticeably ancient [and] in our view could not [possibly] have first established itself in the recorded events of the eighth century.  When in the middle of the seventh century Saint Emmeram wanted to travel from France over Bavaria to the Slavs, he picked up, already at the Rhein, as a translator [one] Vitalis, a priest capable of speaking Slavic.”

That Vitalis really did speak Slavic is likely but whether that indicated the presence of large quantities of Slavic speakers on the Rhine itself (see here) is not certain.

The Vita does say that Vitalis was an interpreter for Emmeram and Emmeram was heading to see some Slavs in the Bamberg (Babenburg). Presumably, Emmeram did not need an interpreter for the Thuringians or Bavarians…

“tunc relegiosus suus presbyter et interpres… nomine Vitalis”

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January 1, 2017

Between Rhine and Danube

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Looking at the Peutinger Map from West to East (i.e., from the mouth of the Rhine along the top) we have the following tribes/country names:

  • Chamavi Qvielpranci
    • (below those) Haci Vapivarii
    • (below those) Canepstini
  • Francia
  • Burcturi
  • Suevia
  • Alemannia
  • Armalusi
  • Marcomanni
    • (below those) Vanduli
  • Quadi/Iutungi
  • Bur
  • Sarmate
  • Vagi
  • Solitubi 
  • Nes Sarmatarum
  • Amaxobii Sarmate
  • Lupiones Sarmate
  • Venadis (Venavis?) Sarmatae
  • Alpes Bastarnice
  • Blastarni
  • Dacpetoporiani – below those & river Agalingus:
    • Piti
    • Gaete
    • Bagae
    • Venedi 

Then we come to the mouth of the Danube.

Versiona Americana

In terms of other “Sarmatae” elsewhere we also have:

  • Roxulani Sarmate
  • Sasone Sarmatae
  • Svani Sarmatae

Another interesting thing is the Lupiones.  Lupiones Sarmate appear just West of the Venadis Sarmatae.  Are these the Legii/Lugiones?  Perhaps.  Is the “p” really a “g” then?


by Ìsydor Ìvanovyč Šaranevyč

But one can’t help but notice the similarity of the Lupiones to Lupus, i.e., wolf.  These people may, therefore, be the same as the later attested “Wiltzi”.  Although the Wiltzi (or Veletae aka Lutizi) name has not been satisfactorily explained (it has apparently been derived also from the “Wild Ones” – since wolves (wilki) are wild the classic chicken/egg problem arises), the suggestion that it is based on a “wolf-name” is patently reasonable as many tribes assumed “animal” names.  The Veltai also appear in the same area in Ptolemy’s Geography whereas the Veliate appear in southern France (albeit with another Slavic connection).

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December 10, 2016


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Just so that you do not think we’ve been idle, we link to the slightly improved versions of:

  • the story of Boz, and
  • the remaining relevant portions of the Getica.

We’ve cleaned them up and added some pretty manuscript pictures.

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November 29, 2016

The Herbs Divine

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A Polish herbarium by Marcin of Urzędów (circa 1500 – 1573) contains an interesting passage regarding the worship of Diana (Devanna) in Poland when discussing the herb bylica.  The herbarium itself was published in 1595 (after Marcin’s death).  We present a translation of the entry on bylica:


Artemesia Valentina.  Herba Regia, Olus Regium.
in Polish called Bylica

“This herb was named, from the Greek word Artemesia, after Artemis, that is the Goddess Diana, whom others call Artemis in Greek.  For it was she who had discovered this herb and taught Greek ladies it use: and most noteworthy she taught Chyron, that illustrious doctor and he later taught the ladies the use of this herb.  For this reason these pagan [maidens] dedicated this herb to her and when the day [of Diana/Artemis] was celebrated some hung it up around houses while others girded it on: and this was done on the twenty fourth day of the moon [month] June, on our day of Saint John: and so they [the ladies] lit fires in the night, danced, praying and honoring the devil.  [And] this pagan custom they [women] refuse to forsake to this day, for so they make offerings of this herb hanging it and girding it on.  And they honour holidays of this devil [i.e., Diana/Artemis] by making sabaths [sobotki], burning fires, kindling fires with planks [sticks], so that there should be the right devilish holiness: there they sing devilish songs, obscene/filthy while dancing.  And the devil too jumps [i.e., dances], delighted that Christians are praying and honoring it, while they neglect the dear Lord for on the Day of Saint John you won’t find any peasants/villagers honoring the dear Lord but at the sabbath [sobotka] they will do all kinds of evils.”*

* that is, on the 24th of June, the villagers won’t be going to Church but will attend the various dances for Artemis/Diana.


“Some write that bylica, called Artemesia, was so named after that noble lady Queen Artemesia, who was the wife of King Mansedlus of Carissus, who by reason of her great love [for him] built him so illustrious a tomb that it one of its kind in the whole world, [and] about which so many historians write. And as regards the hanging of bylica around the homesteads, then this may perhaps have been tolerated but for the fact that they also so honoured the devil.  For so writes Pliny [Li 26, cap 10] that when it shall hang over the gates, doors or gateways, windows, then magic shall have no power over that house nor over the man that has it with him.”


“Dioscorides separately writes in his Kapitulum that there be three [types of] Artemesia.  The one he calls Platisfillos, Latifolia in Latin, and in Polish Bylica, [with] wide leaves.  And this is the true Bylica one is red and the other white.  The second one he names Leptofillos, Lennifolia in Latin, in Polish Maruna, this one we have named in the chapter Matricaria.  The third one he names MonoclonosTanacetu in Latin but incorrectly.  Fuchsius says that it should be Tages, and this bylica is called Tages Indicus, in Italian Gariofilli Dziuerni, in Polish Gwoździki zimne [cold] or Indian Gwoździki, which also sometimes grow in Poland, a beautiful and pretty flower: about this in more detail, [see] Fuchsius.”


Paulus writes that bylica has a warming effect… [the rest does not discuss pagan rituals any further]”

For prior entries on Dziewanna (Devanna) see here, hereherehere and here See also here for another relation to Diana.

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October 24, 2016