Category Archives: Suevi

Mit einer banier rôtgevar, daß was mit wîße durch gesniten

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The idea that Zisara or Cisa or Ciza was a Slavic Goddess (see the Ex Gallica Historia post) seemed to make sense except for the location of the Ciza cult which seems to have been around Augsburg – in Swabia – where there should have been no Slavs.  The connection with Dzidzilela also made sense except that it was just a guess.  But then I cross-searched for the two and discovered that I had hardly been the first to have such an idea.  Over 3 centuries ago, August Adolph von Haugwitz (1647 – 1706) wrote an interesting book dealing with the History of his home province of Lusatia – the Prodromus Lusaticus.  (He was born near Bautzen/Budyšin).  Although, by today’s standards, this history book is hardly professional one, von Haugwitz’s effort is quite well-researched and appears well-intentioned – at least in the sense of not obviously pulling things up out of thin air.  In that same book you can find much about Slavic and Germanic pagan history.  Though much of the material may refer to Gods and Goddesses that themselves indeed may have been “made up” in the course of looking for some sort of pre-Christian identity of the German countryside, von Haugwitz provides numerous citations to earlier works and compilations, some of which may be taken seriously.

In the case of Cisa or Ciza he cites, among other things, the Augsburg Chronicle and the Goddesses’ defense of the city.  It does not really matter whether the inhabitants at the time of any invasions really believed that the Goddess helped them.  What matters is that the inhabitants of Augsburg – again, a place where there should have been no Slavs – believed they had earlier worshipped a Goddess whose name seems connected to attested Slavic cults in the East (such as in Poland).  But it gets better. Haugwitz actually claims that the Sorbs (the Cisa chapter appears in the section De Diis Soraborum) also worshipped Cisa or Ciza providing perhaps a bit of a landbridge connection to Poland. 

And, of course, Augsburg was known as Augusta Vindelicorum.  Vindelici were mentioned by Strabo and by Pliny (Pliny’s work has been interpreted to refer to the Vandals – but Pliny’s manuscripts vary and we have Vandilici and Vindili listed as well).

In any event, here is the 1522 edition of Sigismund Meisterlin’s Augsburg Chronicle (Cronographia Augustensium) in the German print (Ein schöne Cronick & Hystoria…) discussing Ciza, the Vindelici and, of course, the River Lech (and Wertach, that is Vertava – compare with Varsava):

Sigismund Meisterlin wrote his chronicle in German in 1457 (the Latin version was written down the next year).  It was a big deal for the city (he also wrote a chronicle for Nuernberg) and they even created a painting to commemorate one oof the first copies of the same being made:

The plant you see in the coat of arms of the city of Augsburg is a fir cone (Zirbelnuss).  Its first attested appearance in the city’s coat of arms is in 1237.  The fir cone may have been also on the Roman shields of the Roman occupiers back in the day when the VIndelici were driven from Lacus Venetus (by later emperor Tiberius & Co).

Now, one may point out that in Polish cis refers to the yew, a coniferous tree (the Eibe).  The eibe is rather poisonous but has, interestingly, also been the subject of Poland’s first environmental statute (of Warka in 1423) which prohibited the cutting of that tree.

Could that fir cone be yew cone?  Well, the problem is that a yew rather does not have cones in the common sense of the word – its “cones” “bloom” into these red “arils”.

This is what Brueckner has to say about the etymology of the same here:

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October 21, 2017

Sisenna, Honorius and the Suavi

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The very first mention ever of the Suevi comes from Lucius Cornelius Sisenna.  Sisenna  (circa 120 BC – 67 BC) says:

Sparis ac lanceis eminus peterent hostes
Galli materibus, Suevi lanceis configunt

There are three interesting things here.

First, this mention predates even Caesar’s Gallic Wars.

Second, it is curious that “spears” are mentioned here (Sparis).  Although this is Latin and not Greek, recall that Procopius remembers that the Sclavenes used to be called Sporoi.  Was he wrong about the origin of that word and was it a Latin word referring to spearmen?  As we know, the Slavs were known for their javelins (Procopius and Maurice).  Right after that, we see that:

 “The Galls toss [stuff [?] materibus], and the Suevi lances.”

This is actually an interpretation of an otherwise nonsensical sentence that runs like this:

Galli materibus [?] Sani [?] lanceis configunt

which has been rendered as:

Galli materibus Su[e]vi lanceis configunt

Third, about these Suevi.  We know that by the time of Procopius and Jordanes, the Suevi were referred to as Suavi.  That is the “e” was seemingly replaced by the “a”.  But it seems that some manuscripts of Sisenna also could be read as Suavi particularly since the “a” is apparently an “a” and not an “e”.  I mentioned this already here and here but it’s worth reiterating.

Of course, all this Suevi talk causes a problem for some writers who believe that the Germanic/Suevic [?] tribes were not known for their missile weapon skills:

As noted above, however, the Slavs were known for their javelins.  Moreover, it is not exactly true that the Suevi (or at least Suavi) were not known for throwing or launching something.  There is a description in the Jordanes Getica of the Battle of Nedao where he says:

“For then, I think, must have occurred a most remarkable spectacle, where one might see the Goths fighting with pikes, the Gepidae raging with the sword, the Rugi breaking off the spears in their own wounds, the Suavi fighting [“on foot”] [or “fighting with slings”], the Huns with bows, the Alani drawing up a battle-line of heavy-armed and the Heruli of light-armed warriors.“

The word is pede but that seems silly since the other warriors types wield some sort of a weapon (bows, spears, pikes, swords) at least up to the Alani.  Froehner therefore read lapide – meaning that they used stones – presumably with a sling.

Slings, if these were slings, are not javelins or spears.  Nevertheless, the point is worth making.


At the back end of the history of the Suevi we also have, in addition to Procopius and Jordanes, Julius Honorius (Julius Orator).  Honorius was mentioned by Cassiodorus on whom, supposedly, Jordanes relied. Some of Honorius’ manuscripts also have the form Suavi.

So, it is interesting how it is not so simple and the Suebi may not be Suebi but Suevi and maybe not even that but Suavi while on the Eastern fringes of Europe we have in the 6th century appear the Sclavi (Sclaveni at first but then quickly Sclavi).  Note too that the Sclavi spelling is a Greek spelling that was only later imported into the decapitated post-Roman world.  What would the Sclavi have been called in Rome if the Western Empire had lived to see their arrival?

Suavi > Suevi > Suebi > Suevi > Suavi
? Sclavi ?

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October 16, 2017

Ziza or Zizilia

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Always thought it was curious when German (as opposed to Nordic) Gods sounded Slavic.  One such case – of Lollus – we already discussed here.  Others such as Jecha or Biel I might want to get to later.  But then there is the curious case that actually is attested as early as 1135 in a story – Ex Gallica Historia –  that is very unlikely to be true but whose value (noticed too by Grimm) is nevertheless at least threefold.

First, the story of how the Swabians defeated the Romans (attributed to Velleius Paterculus but not likely written by him) tells of the founding of the city of Augsburg.  Augsburg was founded by the Romans after the defeat of not the Suevi but of the Vindelici who are supposed to have been an entirely different tribe.  These were, in fact, the same Vindelici who gave their name to Lacus Venetus, that is Bodensee.  Augsburg’s Roman name was Augusta Vindelicorum.  Thus we have Suevi, Vindelici (or Veneti?) of the River Lech and… Master Kadłubek.  This is because the story is in many ways similar to the stories written by Wincenty Kadłubek about how the Poles (or Lechites as he would have it) defeated the Romans (and others).  The fact that Augsburg sits in the old Vinde-Licia seem very suggestive.  At the very least here there may be an inspiration for Kadlubek who was a travelled man.

Second, there is a name here that is clear Slavic and that appears nowhere else.  The author has Roman soldier be called Bogudis.  He seems to be an Avar.

Third, there is a report of who the Swabians relied on for their Divine Protection.  Here we have a name that is at least somewhat similar to a Goddess said to have been worshipped by the pagan Poles.  We know that

  • Jan Długosz says: “Venus they called Dzydzilelya and thought her to be the goddess of marriage, so that they asked her to bless them with children and to give them a richness of sons and daughters.”
  • Marcin Kromer‘s list of Gods includes Zizililia: Colebant itaq pro dijs Poloni, & caeterae Slavici nominis gentes, praeciupe Iovem, Martem, Plutonem, Cererem, Venerem, Dianam: quos Iessam, Ladum sive Ladonem, Niam, Marzanam, Zizililiam, Zievanam sive Zevoniam, vocabant.
  • This is repeated by Maciej Stryjkowski who says: Venera (Venus/Aph-rod-ite [!]) they called the goddess of love Zizilia, to whom they prayed for fertility and all sorts of bodily pleasures they demanded from her.  

(Another “Z” Divinity is Zievana sive Zevonia (Kromer) about whom Stryjkowski says: “Diana the goddess of the hunt in they tongue they called Ziewonia or Dziewanna.”)

For more of these see here.

In any event, the Swabian Goddess’ name is supposedly Cisa or Zisa.  This, when one thinks of the tree cis, would already be enough to perk up Slavic ears. But in the story the name comes up slightly differently:

  • Zizarim (or Zizarana?)
  • Ziza
  • Ziznberc (mountain)
  • Zicę

Of course, already Grimm noticed the similarity of the name to that mentioned by Tacitus:

Para Suevorum et Isidi sacrificat.

There are even closer connections to words such as the Goddess Ziva mentioned by Helmold or “life” as życie (that word comes from żyto supposedly – of course, there is an interesting Slavic connection here too found in Diodorus Siculus description of the (real) Galls who, he says, make a drink “out of barley which they call zythos or beer”).

In any event, the Goddess Ziza has been repeatedly cited by the learned men and women of Augsburg throughout the Middle Ages and many places are said to have been named after Her.

There is another potential connection here to Slavs but about that later.

There is also this definition of “cross-eyed” (zez) which Brueckner claims comes from the German sechs but does not say why he thinks that:

On the other hand, a multi-cephalic goddess may appear or at least seem to be all seeing – if you tried the same you’d look cross-eyed… not to mention that the expression above about a naked man waiting on Zyza (or on Leda as in “ice”) can also be read to mean waiting not “on” but “for” as in a naked man waiting for a judgment [?] of Zyza or of Leda/Lada.  The expressions cited by Bruecker are ones he discussed already in 1900 and they come from Potocki’s writing.

Here is a full text of the Historia from the MGH:

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September 21, 2017

Cauldrons, Top Knots and Sarcophagi

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The Suevian knot is supposedly known from several works of art.  Take these, for example:

Mušov cauldron

Czarnówko cauldron

Portonaccio sarcophagus

But here is the interesting thing.  These “Suevian knots” do not seem to be the kinds of knots that are described by Tacitus.  There is nothing dramatic about these hairstyles.  In fact, they seem to be fairly ordinary ways for managing overlong hair – just tie it at the side.  Some of the Germanic figures in the battle scene on the above sarcophagus have them but most do not.

But did not Tacitus talk about “Suevian knots”?  Yes, but in the wishful thinking of those eager to find proof in his words, researchers seem to have concluded that all these male hair knots must be the Tacitan Suevian knots.  What did Tacitus write again?

“Insigne gentis obliquare crinem nodoque substringere: sic Suevi a ceteris Germanis, sic Suevorum ingenui a servis separantur. In aliis gentibus seu cognatione aliqua Suevorum seu, quod saepe accidit, imitatione, rarum et intra iuventae spatium; apud Suevos usque ad canitiem horrentem capillum retro sequuntur. Ac saepe in ipso vertice religatur; principes et ornatiorem habent. Ea cura formae, sed innoxia; neque enim ut ament amenturve, in altitudinem quandam et terrorem adituri bella compti, ut hostium oculis, armantur.”

What does this mean?

“We must now speak of the Suebi, who do not, like the Chatti or the Tencteri, constitute a single nation. They occupy more than half Germany, and are divided into a number of separate tribes under different names, though all are called by the generic title of ‘Suebi’. It is a special characteristic of this nation to comb the hair sideways and tie it in a knot. This distinguishes the Suebi from the rest of the Germans, and, among the Suebi, distinguishes the freeman from the slave. Individual men of other tribes adopt the same fashion, either because they are related in some way to the Suebi, or merely because the imitative instinct is so strong in human beings; but even these few abandon it when they are no longer young. The Suebi keep it up till they are gray- headed; the hair is twisted back so that it stands erect, and is often knotted on the very crown of the head. The chiefs use an even more elaborate style. But this concern about their personal appearance is altogether innocent. These are no lovelocks to entice women to accept their advances. Their elaborate coiffure is intended to give them greater height, so as to look more terrifying to their foes when they are about to go into battle.”

So… is it sideways or upwards?  The words are crinem nodoque substringere. Let’s compare another translation:

“This people are remarkable for a peculiar custom, that of twisting their hair and binding it up in a knot. It is thus the Suevians are distinguished from the other Germans, thus the free Suevians from their slaves. In other nations, whether from alliance of blood with the Suevians, or, as is usual, from imitation, this practice is also found, yet rarely, and never exceeds the years of youth. The Suevians, even when their hair is white through age, continue to raise it backwards in a manner stern and staring; and often tie it upon the top of their head only. That of their Princes, is more accurately disposed, and so far they study to appear agreeable and comely; but without any culpable intention. For by it, they mean not to make love or to incite it: they thus dress when proceeding to war, and deck their heads so as to add to their height and terror in the eyes of the enemy.”

That is right. Nothing is done sideways.  Here is the deal… Tacitus clearly describes hair being raised up not sideways like some dead rat hanging from one’s head.  If you want to know what Tacitus describes, take a look at this famous work of metallurgy:To get to the point: he is describing a top knot:

even this is not exactly right (though better):

Thus, none of these (except that guy in a t-shirt) are sporting Tacitan Suevic knots.

And if you long for bright blond Suevi then you will be disappointed.  Take this guy:


Sorry.  According to Peter Vilhelm Glob’s “The Bog People” the hair of the Osterby Man has been coloured a reddish brown by the acids in the bog; microscopic analysis showed that it had been dark blond and that the man had had some white hairs.

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August 27, 2017

Return of the Halfbreeds

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Apparently the most recent attempt to make sense of the phrase Suevi non sunt nati sunt seminati comes from Ernst Erich Metzner (a German medievalist) in the collection Kulturgeschichtliche Daten zur Deutschmaehrischen Literatur (Amici Amico III – Metzner was born in  Czechoslowakia’s Sudetenland so this text is apparently part of some sort of bridge building).  Metzner’s interpretation is a bit half-assed but it is still better than most.

His view is essentially that whoever wrote the “mysterious” words referred to the entire list of tribes listed by the “Bavarian Geographer.”  Barring random scribbles that seems obvious though even this is admitting a lot.  Essentially, he is saying that for the writer of that scribble “Suevi” meant all the preceding tribes – the vast majority of whom are indisputably Slavs.

But after this auspicious beginning Metzner begins to rationalize.  He does not say that all of these are Slavs as he seems to find in some names “Restgermanen.”  He then says that the phrase Suevi are not born they are sown must refer not to “sown” as in seedlings but rather to mixed-blood Suevi.  Specifically, he says this must refer to a historical memory retained by the writer of those words that these East German lands were previously occupied by the Suevi and now they are occupied by some Restgermanen and by the Slavs and so the former are the “true” Suevi but they are now mixed up with the majority of the incoming Slavs and, therefore, they are, in effect, “halbgeborene” Suevi.  Whether Metzner means that these Slavs are Mischlinge or bastards or something along those lines is not entirely clear but that is where his logic seems to be heading.

It is not clear whether he thinks that “Slavs” is, in fact, a German name (a bastardization of Suevi, I suppose).  Such a view would be odd since the Sclavenes and Sclavi that invaded the Byzantine Empire would, presumably, in any telling of the “Slavs out of the East” story not have come into contact with the Suevi, if at all, until after the times of Procopius and Jordanes.  In any event, Metzner seems content to avoid the question.

Metzner believes that whoever the writer was must have been a Schwabe who was familiar with Tacitus and, as we know, “according to Tacitus “all the North and East Germans were in fact Suevi with the exception of the Bastarnae.” For this proposition Metzner points to Tacitus but the above citation is actually from Rudolf Much.  Much’s leanings were decidedly pan-Germanic but more importantly for the current point, the above statement is unsubstantiated by Tacitus.

As is well known, in chapter 46 Tacitus waffles as to where to put the Bastarnae (and the Veneti and the Fenni) – on the Germanic path or on the Sarmatian wagon.  But he notes that the Bastarnae or Peucini have the same language, customs and dwellings as the Germans and does not say anything – one way or the other – whether they were Suevi.

More importantly, Metzner may have actually bothered to examine chapter 38 of Germania which (along with the subsequent chapters) he cites.  Had he done so, he would have discovered some relevant information for the point he was trying to make. Specifically, a review of chapter 38 would have revealed that the point about Suevi being “halbgeboren” is implicit in the words of Tacitus – without needing to rely on a conjectured and unproven Slavic immigration into Germania.  Let us then quote Tacitus:    

“I must now speak of the Suevi, who are not one nation as are the Chatti and Tencteri, for they occupy the greater part of Germany, and have hitherto been divided into separate tribes with names of their own, though they are called by the general designation of ‘Suevi.'”

Thus, the Suevi are not “one” nation but rather many – they are Suevi and come from separate tribes.  Already here is open the possibility that there is no unifying principle as to who is part of the Suevi other than those who somehow become part of the club.  One thinks of the modern gangs or other types of groups where the name that inspires fear becomes used by other imitators – who are perhaps initially not related to the feared group.  Indeed, the same process, as we know, may have occurred with the Avars who may not have been the “true” Avars.  Later the Hungarians have called themselves Huns.  And so on.  Once again, however, all these processes may be gleaned from the words of Tacitus without the need to posit a very hypothetical Slavic migration.

I note again that there is zero proof as to what language the Suevi of Caesar and Tacitus spoke.   Plenty of articles on Suevic names on this site does provide circumstantial evidence that they may have spoken some something other than Germanic.  (Hell, we do not even know what language the Portuguese Suevi spoke!).

Whether or not the Glossator of the text was learned in Tacitus’ Germania is also hardly something that can be established based on that single note.

Finally, Peucini may well have a Slavic etymology – thus you have Pełka or Pełczyński.  The name was so Slavic sounding that the Communists even renamed the formerly German Bernstein with the name of Pełczyce.

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August 23, 2017

Suerto Rico

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Wikipedia has its uses but sometimes it’s just a joy to quote from what people put up there.  Take a look at this explanation of Suevi:

“Etymologists trace the name :

  •  from Proto-Germanic *swēbaz, either:
    • based on the Proto-Germanic root *swē- meaning “one’s own” people, or
    • on the third-person reflexive pronoun; or
  • from an earlier Indo-European root *swe- (cf. Latin suus/sua/suum and Polish “słabi,”  Sanskrit “swa”, each meaning “one’s own”).”

Putting aside that słaby (not słabi) means “weak” and not “one’s own”, a few observations are in order.

First, no one has ever seen *swēbaz.  As the asterisk indicates, it is a “reconstructed” word.  That is it is “made up”.  It’s made up in accordance with an also made-up linguistic formula but it is nevertheless made up.  The asterisk is fessing up that, well, “it seems ok but we just don’t know.”

No one has seen a *swēbaz written anywhere at any time other than in linguistic texts.  It is, to put it charitably, a guess. 

Given that, there is really no point to discussing where *swēbaz itself comes from.

But, to each their own rabbit hole.

Second, there is no established Germanic cognate here.


BUT, you say, what about the Swedes!?  

What do we have here svear, svíar / suer.  And we have Tacitus’ Suiones and Adam of Bremen’s (didn’t he say the Wends were the Vinnulli though? can we trust this guy) Sweon(as) or the Norwegian Svíþjóð.  Or Svíariki.  What is the origin of this?

Wikipedia can be delightfully helpful again:

“probably from the PIE reflexive pronominal root *s(w)e, “one’s own [tribesmen/kinsmen]”;

ok, so same as above for the Suevi…

What else?

“Most scholars agree that Suiones and the attested Germanic forms of the name derive from the same Proto-Indo-European reflexive pronominal root, *s(w)e, as the Latin suus. The word must have meant “one’s own (tribesmen)”.

Ok, so same as above… What else?

“The same root and original meaning is found in the ethnonym of the Germanic tribe Suebi, preserved to this day in the name Schwaben (Swabia).”

So to sum this up:

  • we don’t know what Suevi means
  • we don’t know what Swede means
  • but to explain Suevi we use Swede
  • and to explain Swede we use Suevi
  • and, after all there is that Latin suus so that kind of makes it all work.

The conclusion of this in the Swede discussion is delightfully honest:

“The details of the phonetic development vary between different proposals.”

No doubt

Look, the fact that we have Svens in Sweden is not questionable.  The fact that these words all appear in relation to Sweden is not questionable.

BUT, none of them specifically mean “one’s own”.  You could just as easily say that Sven was a Ven (Finn? Venet?) or came “from” (“z”) there and established his own “rik”.

Or maybe like, for example, Amalasuentasuen means strong (Slavic Swiety that is Saint).  Strong Land!

Or maybe you can derive it from svit meaning dawn (in Slavic).  The Land of the Dawn!

You can do all of this and all of these sound like impressive enough “land” names for a Rik of the Swedes.  You just have to learn enough linguistics to know the jargon and then come up with a cogent enough argument.

None of these, save the Latin suus, refer to own’s own.

The sue can just as easily refer to “swaing”, “swearing” or whatever else you want.

Third, there is a word in Germanic languages for that but it seems to have an “L” in it:

  • self
  • selb
  • zelb
  • själv
  • selv
  • sjálf
  • silba (Gothic)

So where did the “l” come from and why do the Suevi not have it.

(Of course you could add an “L” to the word Suevi but then you’ll just  get something resembling “Slav”)

Can you name a language (outside of Latin-based languages and present in the same locality as the Suevic presumably was) in which SUO or SVO really does have an attested and, indeed, current meaning of “own’s own”?

Here is a hint:

Sami Swoi (= solely our peeps)

Swo-boda (= freedom or “one’s own body/life”) (see here)

Swa-wola (= free-will)

These are from Polish but other Slavic languages have the same or similar forms.

For more on this exciting topic see here (or really anywhere on the site).

don’t bother getting up – it’s just going to get worse and she’ll go to Flavor Flav anyway

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August 2, 2017


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The Suevi occupied portions of Portugal for quite some time.  One might ask what their cultural influence on Portugal has been?

Take the dictionary.

If you ask what Portuguese words may be Suevic, only very few are mentioned (and then too we are told that some of these may be not Suevic but Gothic).  The words in question include:

  • britar, to break (stones),
  • lobio, vineyard [now obsolete], and
  • laverca, lark

Let’s put aside britar and lobio and ask what is the source of laverca?  We are told that it comes either from Suevic *lâwerka, or from Gothic *laiwerko.  Both of these words appear to be “reconstructions” (signaled by *) meaning they have never been actually attested in that form in Gothic or any other language.  

Of Suevic we know nothing so there is nothing to compare the word to.

Now lark appears in English and other Germanic languages.

What is a “lark”?  The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us it is a “songbird of the Old World, early 14c., earlier lauerche (c. 1200), from Old English lawerce (late Old English laferce), from Proto-Germanic *laiw(a)ikon (source also of Old Saxon lewerka, Frisian liurk, Old Norse lævirik, Dutch leeuwerik, German Lerche), a word of unknown origin.”

More noteworthy is the use of the word in Scottish – laverock.

Old English and Old Norse forms suggest a contracted compound, perhaps meaning “treason-worker,” but “nothing is known in folklore to accont for such a designation” [OED]. Noted for its early song and high flying (in contrast to its low nest). When the sky falls, we shall catch larks was an old proverb mocking foolish optimism.

Some sources are nevertheless quite certain of the word’s origin.  Here is Britannica:

Others are less certain such as this 1957 piece from the Archivum Linguisticum (volume 9):

Or this 1977 piece from the Zeitschrift fuer Romanische Philologie (volume 93):

As for English, there are actually two “larks” in English (three, if you count the obscure 18th century use of the word to mean “a small boat”). The older “lark” is a small bird (also known as both the “laverock” and the “skylark”) famed for its melodious call and its love of flying at great heights. The name “lark” comes from the Old English “lawerce,” which came in turn from Germanic roots. Oddly, some of the earlier forms of “lark,” especially those found in Old Norse, imply that the original meaning of the word “lark” was related to “treason” in some way. There may be some rationale for this to be found in some folktale somewhere (“The Tale of the Perfidious Lark”?), but so far it’s a mystery and probably nothing to worry about. After all, a batch of the little birdies has been known as “an exaltation of larks” since the 15th century, which certainly beats “a murder of crows” in the avian public-relations department.

The other sort of “lark,” the one meaning “a lighthearted adventure, a spree, an impulsive action,” is of much more recent vintage, first appearing in the 19th century (“My mother … once by way of a lark, invited her to tea,” 1857). A “lark” is a brief but daring departure from routine, a flight of fancy, a bit of forbidden fun or a harmless prank, and “to lark” since the early 18th century has meant “to frolic or play.” The generally positive tone of this “lark” fits well with one theory of its source, namely that it is simply a reference to the light, soaring flight of the “lark” bird. A related verb of the same meaning, “skylarking,” apparently originated aboard sailing ships, and was used to describe crewmen roughhousing in the upper rigging of the ship’s masts, probably by analogy to the soaring flight of actual “skylarks.”

But it’s also possible that “lark” in this “frolic” sense came from a source unrelated to the “lark” bird. Some authorities point to the English dialectical verb “lake” or “laik,” meaning “to leap, play, spring up,” dating back to Old English and derived from Germanic roots. The transition from “lake” to “lark” would, in this theory, be explained by the particularities of pronunciation in southern England, where “r” sounds tend to creep into words lacking the actual letter. Of course, the similarity of the result to the name of the “lark” bird no doubt also played a role in the spread of this “lark.”

In any event… the Portuguese/Galician word is supposed to have been derived from Suevic.  The Slavic name for a lark is skowronek meaning, literally, “what a little crow”.  (It is of a male gender.  If it were female it’d be skowronka.)

But here are the interesting things about lawerka or laverca.

First, is the suffix.  The -erca or -erka suffix is quite common in Slavic.  It is (usually) used to express a diminutive of a female word whose suffix is –ra:

  • siekiera > siekierka
  • fujara > fujarka
  • manierka, stolarka, miarka

And so forth.  In fact, you can construct new words like that that normally lack a diminutive (wiar > wiarka).  Notice that if the base suffix is -ara > -arka but if it is era > erka and lawerka would be in that second group.

No matter the source/stem of the word, the suffix looks Slavic.

Second, there was (is?) a place name in Slovenia by exactly this name.  Specifically, it seems to have been located between Ljubljana (Laibach) and Gottschee (Kočevje).  Was (is?) it of Gothic or Slavic origin?

This piece is from Karl Baedeker’s “The Eastern Alps…”

In fact the place seemed to have been well known to travelers in the region.

But maybe Portuguese/Galician also have the same -ercas?

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May 28, 2017

Hüter am Rhein

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An interesting study of Slavic place names on the Rhine* was conducted at the end of the 19th century.  These place names were assumed by the author – Hubert Marjan – to have appeared there by reason of the resettlement policies of Constantine the Great who in 334 supposedly resettled 300,000 Sarmatians somewhere in the Roman Empire, presumably including Gall.  According to other authors, the settlement took place under Constantius II in 359.  If some or all of these Sarmatians happened to speak Slavic then their settlement would have left a mark.

(* note – we have come across a view that the very name of the river is Slavic… how, well, in some old documents (including the Vita Louis) the river is repeatedly referred to as Hrenus and the suggestion is that the H was a G originally G>H, in which case the next step would be to change the “e” to an “a” and add an -ica so that we have granica/граница (Croat, Polish, Russian) or better yet hraniční (Czech) or hraničné (Slovak) (it’s different in Slovenian/Ukrainian).  That way the Rhine would the “border”.  Since the Slavs would presumably be on its Eastern side, they would neatly fit with the Suevi yet again.  That said, the above requires a number of steps which we are not convinced are justified.)

Whether or not this resettlement is true or, if true, whether or not it has any relation to the below data, the below data is interesting in and of itself.

Where are or were those places?

We put them on the map:

Most of them are in red.  (The blue square is a place the author did not associate with Slavs.  It is the town Graach which appears in documents first as Gracho, Gracha and Graca).

Here is the list (you would not have guessed them and we are not saying we agree with all of them as being Slavic (or with classifying others, not listed below, such as the above Gracho, not with Slavs)):

  • Trechirgau – Latin Trigorium, otherwise Trechere, Drikerigau, Trichire, Drachere, Trekere, Trechgere – “three mountains”;
  • Brodenbach – from brod, i.e., “ford”;
  • Sarmersheim, Simmern, Simmerbach – meaning “Sarmatian-“;
  • Traust – previously Trausrait from trusa, trusti  author compares with Truosnasteti in Sclavis (from the area of Meiningen).  Meaning “reeds” trstinatrskatростни́кtrichina*trъstina;
  • Riegenroth – from reka;
  • Windesheim – obvious from Venadi (presumably Venadi Sarmatae);
  • Strimmig – from stream – Indoeuropean (e.g., German Strom) but with the Slavic diminutive -ig as in -ik, strumyk – “little stream”; (compare the German forms Sterminaberg, Strimitz, Strimmelitz, Stremmen, Strummin – all Slavic);
  • Kleinich –  previously Clenniche, Cleniche.  From klen or klon;
  • Crastel – chrast, that is, “brushwood”;
  • Savershausen – from the tribe of the Savari;
  • Seibershausen – from sebru – “farmer”;
  • Rhaunen – previously Hruna which he ties to a Croatian Pagus Crauvati, Chrouvat, praedia… Chrouata et Runa by Knittenfeld in Austria;
  • Weithersheim – from vetr, vetoer, vjetar, etc;
  • Namedi – earlier Namedey, Namedy – from Nemci or Nemetes (or same?) or “Germans”;
  • Veitskopf – that is “Vit’s head”;
  • Künskopfe – “horses’ heads”;
  • Pfalzfeld – because of the discovery of this column which, however, may have looked like the below reconstruction before (note the heads on top – this detail comes from earlier descriptions); this column has been classified as Celtic:
  • Hoch-Simmer – from zima (compare ZImor in Bohemia); Same concept as Sniezka;
  • Nurburg – from Mons Nore – Slavic nora;
  • Hoch-Pochten – Puthena  from bohin or pogoda or others (this one seems highly suspect);
  • Saffenburg – from “frogs” – compare with other such names from clearly Slavic places such as Sabnica or Sabniza, Safen and Saffin – all referring to frogs;
  • Sehl – previously Sele; nearby mountain Soch;
  • Soch – mountain name from socha/sucha that is “dry” – he notes the reference the “completely uncultivated” mountain in 1144 (penitus incultus).
  • Cochem – previously Cuchuma, Cuhckeme, Cochomo, Cochma, Kuchema and others – compared with villa Cugme (Serb) on the Danube which was Schaffarik thought was related to the word kukma, that is comb (but compare the Gujarati village Kukma);
  • Sarmersbach – “Sarmatian stream”.  Here the author relies on spring celebrations which were recorded in the village and which seem to have involved young men going around, with a basket that had a spruce in it and collecting eggs.  They would go house to house and demand eggs of young ladies singing as follows: “Will das Mädchen nicht obstohn, Fein Liebchen fein! So wollen wir’s in die Blotz dröhn.”  The “Blotz” had been explained as referring to an “offering” (Gothic blotan or Ahd pluozan).  But the author compares this to bloto meaning “mud”, i.e., if you do not give us eggs we will throw you in the mud.  He further compares this to the dyngus of Poland and Silesia (not found elsewhere in Germany).
  • Mückeln – in the area there are (or were in the 19th century) many pagan burial sites that the locals called tumuli.  The author derives the name from the Slavic mogila (see also Mugilones) and cites Miklosich as showing similar names in the area of Magdeburg such as Müglenz, Muggel, Möchling, Mücheln, Muchil, Mügeln, Muggelink.
  • Ober-Wesel – Wesel meaning froh or “happy” vesel, Veselka, Veseloe, Vjessel  

These people belong to a local “Keltengruppe” – look at these faces :-).

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February 3, 2017

Of Foolishness & Depravity

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We present a short article from the Classical Review (Przegląd Klasyczny) an interwar Polish magazine published at Lviv (then Lwow).  The 1936 article presents an argument for equating the names Suevi with Suoviane, i.e., the English “Slavs”.suevi1It was written by one Janusz Bożydar Daniewski and was based on his earlier and longer PhD thesis entitled “Tacitus’ Suevi or Western Slavs in Roman Times” which was published in 1933.  Since the suggestion was controversial, the Classical Review also printed a much, much longer and highly derisive response by one Eugeniusz Leonard Słuszkiewicz who mocked the idea that Slavs descended from the Suevi contending instead that they came from the East (given his own physical appearance, a remote marsh/bog origin in the Pripet may in fact have been true – for him). Słuszkiewicz’s response to Daniewski, whatever one may think of its merits, can only very generously be described as “impolite”.  Daniewski then responded to Słuszkiewicz in a separate note.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is fascinating to note that Słuszkiewicz later, during World War II, surprisingly found paid work at the Cracow-based Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit (“Institute for German Work in the East”) – an institute  established by Hans Frank (the Nazi governor-general of Poland), whose main task was to prove the German character of Poland and other Slavic lands.  One can only assume that, given Słuszkiewicz’s views/resume, he was a natural fit for the Institute.

We note that many of Daniewski’s assertion could be questioned but we found nothing in this excerpt that is fundamentally implausible.

On the the Slavic letter “Ł” or “ł” see here.

With that in mind, here is the text (thank you for assistance in translation to our interns):


“In antiquity, the name Sueui (Tac.), Σοῆβοι (Strabo) was given to a number of tribes, settled on the Elbe, Oder, Vistula and on the shores of the Baltic, from the base of the peninsula, which today is called the Jutland [peninsula, that is the Cimbrian Peninsula], to the mouth of the Vistula.  Between antiquity and the Middle Ages we have a gap in [our written] sources.  But once at the dawn of the Middle Ages contemporary shone a light upon the aforementioned lands, everywhere there where in antiquity there dwelt tribes that went by the name Sueui, we find peoples, who are called Slavi, Slavi – that is the Latin name of peoples who are called Słowianie [pron Suovianie] in Polish, Славя́не [pron Slaviane] in Russian [and] in the language of the Baltic Slavs (Kashubians): Słevi [pron Suevi]*, that is Słowjanj [pron Suovianie] (Florian Cenova, Skorb. VI, p. 88).”

[*note: Cenova equates Suevi and Slavs but the Kashubian term he actually uses is Sławy, i.e., Suavy]

“The Baltic Sea, which in antiquity was called: mare Suevicum (Tac. Germ. 45), is called in the Middle Ages Slavicus Sinus (Script. R. Dan. VII p. 317).”

[note: haven’t seen the actual language though Adam of Bremen has a Slavic Gulf “et sinus sclavanicum” in Book IV]

“The gap, that we see at the turn of antiquity and the Middle Ages, is merely a gap in written sources.  In reality the medieval life is simply the continuation of life in antiquity.  The Middle Ages are not some new world separated from antiquity by some chasm that negates any connections [between the two].  The borderline drawn between antiquity and the Middle Ages is merely convention.  Just as the sinus Slavicus of the Middle Ages – the Baltic Sea is the same sea, which in antiquity was called mare Suevicum, so too the nation of Slavi, living by this sea, consists of the descendants of the nation called Sueui in antiquity.  The name changed while the body that it referred to, remained the same.  Many tribes of the Sueui nation continue in the Middle Ages in the same abodes under the general name Slavi, maintaining their ancient customs, traditions, rituals and religious rites, even political systems.”


“Because I happen to have come across the opinion to the effect that the medieval Slavi cannot be descendants of the ancient Sueui nation because, the name Slavi allegedly does not correspond to the ancient name Sueui, I wish to analyze this matter in more detail here.  The setting together and equating the words SueuiSlavi is not the only evidence of the identity of these peoples, [rather] it is one of the links in a long chain of arguments.  It’s easy to come to the conclusion that these names are the same, the difference [between them] being only in transcription and in certain local and temporal forms of pronunciation.  The forms: SueuiΣοῆβοι , SlaviSclaviSłeviSłowianie, Славя́не – these are the different variants of the same name.”

“The first phone s appears in all the forms [of the name].”

“The second phone, the one that the Poles represent graphically with a ł, pronounce variously, in the East like a dental consonant/sonorant [?], in the West as a “short” u (), an asyllabic u [note: that is a vocalized L].  Baltic Slavs (Kashubians), like an asyllabic [], with the exception of one group of them, the so-called Beloks, who pronounce this l phone as a palatal consonant.  Ancient Romans and Greeks did not have the phone discussed – the dental consonant/sonorant [?] ł – in their  language, therefore there was no letter that could represent it [the phone] in the Latin and Greek alphabet.  The letter l with a slash through (ł) began to be used among the Poles first int he XVIth century.  In the Middle Ages, people made do in other ways to express this phone, either writing an l without any additions or writing cl – whereby the letter c played the same role at the side of an l as the line through the l in the letter ł (compare Viscla = Wisła).  Ancient Romans and Greeks who did not have in their speech the dental consonant/sonorant ł, not having in their possession a letter for this phone, not being in possession of the letter ł, which was only created many centuries later, were they able to better express the phone in question than by an asyllabic u or a short o (omnicron), in accordance with its phonetic pronunciation?  In the word Sueui the u is short, as indicated by the Greek transcription of  this word and not long.  The two beginning phones of the words: SueviΣοῆβοι,evi, Słowianie, Славя́не are identical, in the phonetic transcription they appear as S.”

“The vowel in the word Sueui – is [made of] the long eη.”  

“In the words Slavi and Славя́не – there appears an a, in the word owianie, an o, in the word evi, an e.  The vowels aoe, substitute for one another in Slavic languages, for example: Stolp = Słëpsk (here, in addition to the change of an  into an e, there is also a metathesis [he means the the vowel and the l/ł flip], Chołm =  Chełmrak (Polish) = rek (Kashubian), mały (Polish) = meły (Kashubian) and so forth; a countless number of such examples can be given.  The fact that an ancient nation living on the Baltic Sea between the lower Elbe and the Vistula was called Sueui – a word which sports the e vowel whereas in the words Slaviowianie, and so forth we have an a or an o, cannot, therefore, serve to establish that these are different names – especially since even today, among the Baltic Slavs (the Kashubians), who are a remnant of a once great nation whose seats stretched far into the West into lands on the left bank of the lower Elbe, the word pronounced by the Poles owianie [note: that is, Suovianie] occurs in the form evi, whereby the phonetic transcription is Suevi.  How does this word differ from that ancient word written by the Romans Sueui with the short u occurring after the S?  The fourth phone of the word under consideration is uv = β.  But the Greek β already in antiquity lost the character of a voiced bilabial stop/closed bilabial consonant [?] and phonetically corresponded to the Latin v.”


“In certain editions of Tacitus’ Germania we see a systematically printed form Suebi and not SueviSueui.  What is the source of this?  The form Suebi does not exist in the codices used for critical editions of Germania.  Instead, we have everywhere the form Sueui, a fact that I personally had the opportunity to confirm in Rome and Naples.  While there does occur in some transcriptions the substitution of a b in place of a u = v, all the Tacitean codices feature a u, so that no editor of a critical edition should introduce this arbitrary change.  The Germans do this because the form Suebi is phonetically closer to the word Schwaben, desiring in this manner to transfer into the scientific realm the view commonly held by laypeople that ‘the Suevi are simply the same as the Swabians.'”

[note: compare these in the manuscripts of Germania here]

“In reality, the Swabians have nothing to do with the Suevi of antiquity other the phonetical similarity of sounds.  The name of Swabians in Greek transcription is different, that is Σουαβοι [note: compare with Σοῆβοι] (Procopius, Bell. Goth. I, 15, 26); they appear only in the the third century.  In the Teubner [publishing house] critical edition [of Germania], there is an attempt to justify the change from vu to b.  In the critical  apparatus we read ‘sueuos libri ac sic deinceps’ (Tac. Germ. 2, 17), but, because in the 41st chapter of Germania the copyist made a mistake and in the codices there appears the word verborum instead of Suevorum – this copyist error is supposed to indicate [according to German scholars] that the true form of the word is Sueborum: ‘quae corruptela genuine formam nominis testatur.’  This copyist error is immediately used by the Germans as justification to replace the uv with a b everywhere the word Sueui appears.  The arbitrariness and bad faith is plainly visible here.  Despite this, Polish publishers, trusting the Germans blindly, have for some time now been following [the Germans] in printing not Suevi but Suebi.”


“In the words owianieСлавя́не, to the root ov Słav there is added also a suffix before the ending [whereas], the words: Suevi, SlaviSłevi occur without a suffix.”

“What linguist should see difficulties in considering the words SueviSlavi = Słevi, that are in essence identical, to be the same?  Schönfeld (RE 2 R. IV. 1932, p. 578, nsv Suebi) states that the word Suavus has been connected wight he Latin word suavis ‘sweet’, as a play on words – here the accidental nature of the similarity is obvious.  This Schönfeld maintains that the word Sueui comes from the Gothic swes, ‘one’s own’ (eigen) and means probably ‘air selbst’.  The fact that the Gothic swes means ‘one’s own’ in no way proves that this word has anything to do with the word Sueui – a certain phonetic similarity may be accidental.”

[note: a better argument may have been that ‘one’s own’ people is swoi in, for example, Polish even today; and what does it say about the likelihood of the Germanic origin of this word when it is an East Germanic language like Gothic that is the only Germanic language with a words similar to the word in question?].

“This etymology is not worth more than the etymology of Suavus – suavis.”

[note: and yet being ‘sweet on someone’ may well hearken back to being with one of one’s own]  

“Whether it [this etymology] is correct or not, it does in no way gainsay the identity of the words SueviSlavi nor the Slavic nature of the Swevi.  Schönfeld ponders from what common word, should the word Suevi be derived from.  The correctness of Suevi = Slavi is an altogether separate matter that is unaffected by Schönfeld’s etymologies, even were they something more than conjectures.  The words Sueui – Slavi are identical not only in their form, but they are identical as to the thing they represent [note: that is being a designation for a people today called the Slavs].”

“The notion that the Slavs are not encompassed by any name known to the ancient authors, but rather that they sometime about the fifth century appeared from nowhere and populated an enormous part of Europe – a notion that has been a cardinal rule until now among scholars of the beginning of the Slavs, is fundamentally incorrect.  The Slavs were in antiquity not only understood under names known to us from those times but – as we have shown – this ancient name has been their own name in the lands on the Elbe, Oder and Vistula and on the shores of the Baltic, appearing also in later times and living on to this day.”


“German scholars of the Berlin-Austrian school tell us about the arrival of the Slavs at the Elbe, Oder and the Baltic sometime between and the Middle Ages –  a tale that stands in contrast to the surviving historical monuments.  It is difficult to accept that German scholars may honestly believe what they write.  Slavic scholars should not repeat, how we’ve often noticed, tendentious untruths of German scholars, [but should] walk their own path in accordance with historical truth.  There occurs to one a thought from that Andersen fairy tale regarding the Emperor’s clothes: no one dares to say the obvious truth when that truth is contrary to the dominant, albeit notoriously false, opinion.”

“We are hopeful that not too long from now we will be able to say the following about the antiquity of Western Slavs in their historical settlements: ‘Nemo est tam stultus, qui haec non videat, nemo tam improbus, qui non fateatur.'”

[“no one is so foolish as not to see, no one so depraved as not to admit it”] (compare Cicero, Catil. 1.12.30)

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September 3, 2016

Kaszubian Suavi

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One may ask the question of whether Slavs called themselves Suavi or Suevi.

(The first supposed difficulty is the question of pronunciation of the “ue” in old Slavic languages.  We have already devoted time to this before (finding no difficulty) so we won’t spend any time on it here.)

So are there any examples of this?  Well, such examples do exist albeit they are rare to say the least.  One is the following from Florian Ceynowa’s “The Treasure of the Kaszubian language” (Skôrb kaszébskosłovjnskjè mòvé, published in 1866, page 62) where, in discussing customs and attire of the Kaszubian Slovinians, he refers to them as “Slovinians, that is the Suavs” (genitive Sławów):slavowCeynowa was a bit of a character, nevertheless his testimony is interesting.

Note too that the Slovinian Kaszubs lived mostly around the town of Łeba which raises a question – was this Łeba also derived from some sort of a Germanic Elba (like Łaba allegedly from Alba, Albis or Elba) or is it rather the case that all these words are Slavic in origin (note the German form is Leba)?  According to Christian Friedrich Wutstrack, a German topographer, the name Łeba is Wendish, that is Slavic, and means as much a wood or forest:


From the 1793 Kurze historisch-geographisch-statistische Beschreibung des Königlich-Preußischen Herzogtums Vor- und Hinterpommern.

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August 11, 2016