Category Archives: Suevi

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 – already discussed here.  Others such as Jecha or Biel 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 is 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 Augsburg.  It is in some ways similar to the stories written by Wincenty Kadlubek 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 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 Marcin Kromer’s list of Gods includes Zizililia.  This is repeated by Maciej Stryjkowski who says:

Venera 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.

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 but about that later.

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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

Theories of Theodor Pösche

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The following exchange took place in August 1878 at the general conference (assembly) of the German anthropological society in Kiel.  It was reprinted in the Correspondenz-Blatt der deutschen Gesellschaft ruer Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte – volumes 10 and 11 in November 1878.


(The same exchange was summarized in the Archiv fuer Anthropologie, volume 11.  Later it also sparked a response from Carl Platner (against Pösche naturally) in Zeitschrift fuer Ethnologie, volume 16.  An excerpt from the former we show below.  As to the latter, we will return to Platner’s arguments later).referate

 Mr.  Pösche:

“First of all, I feel induced to thank Professor Virchow for his highly instructive lecture and know that [in so doing] I will be expressing the view of all gathered; but I would like not to miss this opportunity to add something.”

[note: Theodor Friedrich Wilhelm Pösche (1825-1899) was a German author from the Sorb area (born in Zöschen, Leuna) who fled to the US after the events of 1848; he later returned to Germany and represented the US government in certain of its dealings with Bismarck.  Ironically, Pösche’s other writings on the “Arians” were later selectively used by the Nazis]

“Professor Virchow had made it clear through several expressions which he used that he shares entirely the commonly held view of German academics that everything pre-Slavic in the eastern part of today’s Deutschland, is Germanic.  A number of statements [made by Virchow] have indicated this.  But I wish to record an objection to this view which nowadays is commonly held. To say it bluntly [curtly]: whoever picks up Tacitus’ Germania, should, in lieu of Suevi, read Slavi.”

“This viewpoint does not originate with me but rather with a gentleman of great merit who 50 years ago had published a whole slew of works, from that 70 year old man resident of Hanover, that is from Mr. von Wersebe.  If one wants to know a biographical fact that is otherwise unavailable, reaches for [Heinrich] Pierer’s encyclopedia.  The newest edition available to me, had, strangely, no mention of Mr. von Wersebe – a man who had published  five to six volumes relating to the oldest deutsche history.  I would like to examine this matter in a little bit more detail.”

[note: August von Wersebe (1751-1831) – German historian.  He was among a number of German historians who previously (prior to the emergence of the German Empire) expressed the same view regarding the Suevi-Slav identity.  There may be something to Pösche’s conspiracy theory since – while Pösche has one – von Wersebe has not yet gotten his own Wikipedia page – in German or any other language…]


No Enthaltung and no Wikipedia page

“In the History of the German Language, Jacob Grimm mentions with disgust the viewpoint that the Slavs already in the times of Tacitus sat there where we later find them.  But the same learned Jacob Grimm establishes a new proof for the correctness of this viewpoint, in that he shows that Suevi and Slavi are only dialectically different, since even today ‘freedom’ is known in some Slavic dialects as sloboda but in others svoboda.  The first place where Mr. von Wersebe expresses this view, is in his book about the districts between the Weser and the Saale.”

[note: ironically, Pösche seems to have been unaware that the River Saale’s first recorded name was Souava and that this is indeed a Slavic name].

“But now there is another thing and Professor Virchow already mentioned the thing, as it appears to me, a new factual evidence for the correctness of this view.  Those are the temple rings, that we find only among the Slavs.  I connect these with the mention by Tacitus which alludes to a  hairstyle peculiar to the Suevi, who wore a hair knot bound on top of the middle of their head.  I believe the temple rings served the function of holding the hair together in the knot.”


[note: the rings in question were later found in Suevic places and, perhaps, in portions of Scandinavia, and, therefore, declared “Germanic” as well as Slavic.  However, this kind of appropriation (though common) does not – in this specific case – answer the question of the rings’ “ethnic belonging” since the question at hand is precisely the question of Suevic ethnicity.  To say that they were also Suevic and, therefore, not Slavic is merely to provide a circular response.  A much more relevant objection may be that the temple rings appear to have been worn by women – the hairstyle mentioned by Tacitus, however, seems to have been male.  Tacitus himself also mentions no specific means of holding the “Suevic knot” together.  For a more recent find of seemingly similar type see here (“Mixed with these remains were gold rings likely worn on the hair”)].


“I do not wish to hold up the meeting further.  I will close by saying that I am ready to stand by and completely represent the view expressed by Wersebe more than 50 years ago –  that the Suevi were Slavs and that already at the end of the first century A.D. they lived there, where we later find them, that is also here [the proceeding took place in Kiel] till the easternmost Holstein – so long as my strength lasts.  I wish at the same time to repay the debt of honour to the man, who more than 50 years ago announced such important truth for our oldest history and [who] to this day remains unmentioned/ignored.”

Mr. Virchow

“I would like to at first note that the ungratefulness vis-a-vis Mr. von Wersebe is not entirely general.  One must only differentiate between his different works.  I personally am very thankful in relation to his work about the colonization of North Germany and have cited it many times.”


The offending text

“However, a different matter arises, when we ask whether the position of Tacitus should, by means of a simple rewriting of a word, be turned to mean its opposite.  This is not merely a philosophical question. In this respect I should point out that  all these peoples that Tacitus mentions in our parts did not remain in their seats; they appear, bit by bit, in the course of further wanderings in areas more to the West and to the South but everywhere where they so appear, they show themselves not as Slavs but as Germans.  Not one of these tribes that we view as our predecessors, that we must designate as originally autochtonous to our areas, is ever in the old works differentiated from the Germanics.  Wherever they are shown to us, they are shown/described as Germanic peoples.”

[note: Virchow does not really address the question here.  These tribes are described as “German” because they came from “Germania”.  Elsewhere, other – what we would call “Germanic” – tribes are described as Sarmatian because they came into the Roman world from “Sarmatia” (for example, see Procopius’ description of the Goths where they, Gepids and Vandals are linked even to the  Melanchlaeni of Scythia (previously located west of Tanis/Don!))]

“The more one delves into the specifics, the more one becomes convinced that all, that has been preserved about them from ancient times, provides a certain homogenous picture, in which these tribes united themselves with the remaining/other Deutsche.  When you look for the old seats of the Longobards, the Vandals, the Semnones and the Burgundians, where do you come to?  You come finally till the Wertha, to Silesia, to the March, Brandenburg, to the shores of the Elbe – yes, admittedly where we doubtless find Slavs later.  But does it follow, that the Longobards and Burgundians were themselves Slavs?  Certainly not.  The Langobards sat in the Barden district, which later was also Slavic.  I think, however, you will not for this reason want to make Langobards into Slavs.” 

[note: the problem with this argument is that – outside of people called the Burgundians – it is difficult to establish the presence of any so-called Germanic tribes in any of today’s Slavic areas – except temporarily.  Specifically, virtually all the Origina Genti of the Langobards or Goths point towards Scandinavia.  The Vandals left no such stories but their presence in Silesia or elsewhere in Poland also cannot be established from known sources.  And if all these people were in fact such wanderers from Scandinavia then the obvious question is: who lived in the Central European areas that they entered from the North?  And what happened to these original inhabitants?  It is undisputed that all of the Nordic tribes eventually ended up marching south – towards Rome – thus we know that, e.g., Pannonia was the Langobards’ base of operations for many years – and yet no one claims that the Langobards were native to Pannonia or that no one lived in Pannonia before they arrived.  One might also note that even the Burgundians could – with some eyebrow raising – be explained as Slavic – after all their name just means city dwellers but city dwellers come from a city, from is “z” or “s” in Slavic and town – in Latin and, perhaps, ancient Venetic – would have been an urbs – and so we come to the Z-urbs or Sorbs… 🙂 ]

Mr.  Pösche:

“Gentlemen! In the beginning I have to say that I only spoke of ingratitude when discussing this one paper of Mr. Wersebe and not in general.  Against Doctor Montelius I must say that I tried to be as brief as possible and, therefore, forgot to say that I believe the Langobards and all these Vandalic peoples in the majority to have been Slavs.  I accept the view of Šafárik.  This one had stated that the Vandals were Germanized Slavs, that the Germanic elements in all these peoples were invasive [elements that  appeared] when the Germans broke into Slavic lands, that all the the Langobardic and Vandalic peoples – the great mass of the population – are Slavs initially.  but the nobility among them I believe was Germanic.  Little by little had the great mass of the population adopted the Germanic language.  I do not wish to forget to mention that Paul the Deacon describes a portrait of old Langobardic kings, and there, it occurs to me, that the Kings wore their hair on the side, which was probably held in place by means of temple rings.”

[note: Montelius spoke just after Pösche’s first statement – he generally relied on the perceived similarities between various archeological finds to support Virchow’s position; as regards the rings, consistent with the above discussion, Pösche is implying that these would have been Slavic customs because temple rings were typical of Slavs. See above note for a discussion of this]

“I would ask to be able to mention something else regarding Tacitus.  Professor Virchow and Doctor Montelius will agree with me:  The Veneti of Tacitus were probably the Wends!  But now Tacitus says: ‘I am unsure whether to count the Veneti among the Germans’ or not.  Finally, however, he decides to count them among the Germans ‘because they fight on foot and because they have fixed homes.’  Now, gentlemen, the Slavs also have fixed homes and also fight on foot.  Here we have the criterion upon which Tacitus makes his decision though he himself doubts [the correctness] of the basis for his decision.  You have to admit that these [decision] bases are not solid.  Therefore, [just] because they fought on foot and had fixed habitations  they could never be viewed as Germans!  You avowedly view the Veneti to be the Wends [i.e., Slavs] but when you then claim the Suevi to be Deutsche, then you are obliged to count the Wends too among the Germans!”

[note: Pösche’s point, more simply stated, is that 1) the Veneti were Slavs and 2) their mode of life was such that they were counted among the Germans (as per Tacitus).  It follows that the ethnicity of the Suevi – the biggest Germanic group of all – can likewise not be established with certainty.  At least not based on Tacitus.  His point about the Suevi is simply that their lifestyle and manner of fighting was exactly the same and yet these were counted by his colleagues – without hesitation – as Germans].

Mr. Mehlis:

“Regarding the use of names, I would like to say a few words against the position of Mr. Pösche.”

“One can argue quite well using names.”

“With names one can create a SYSTEM.”

[note: Mehlis seems to be saying “that sneaky Pösche – so clever with his names and words!”]

“But I believe, that anthropology should be governed not by names but by FACTS.  I believe, that in this context the authority of Messrs.  Virchow and Montelius (which [authority] has proven the GERMANIC CHARACTER of a whole range of finds, which [finds] extend far in the abodes to the East till the Oder and the Vistula, which abodes the classical authors have IN FACT been named as the ABODES OF GERMANICS) will suffice, so as to lead us back to the land of FACTS.”

“A few more words about the well-known claim of [Jacob] Grimm’s in the German Grammar [book], that the word Suevi should be the same as Slavi.  Until now, no one has dared to step up against Grimm’s authority.  The correctness of this claim can be shown quite well that even the Suevi were called Slavi by their neighbors.”

[note: this assertion seems entirely made up – to our knowledge, Slavs never called Germans (or Swabians) by the name Slavs.]

“And the explanation of this name giving can be even better if we observe the analogical situation with the Celts who called their eastern neighbors ‘Germans’.  Also the name ‘Germans’  is derived by a row of authorities too long to mention, from Celtic roots ‘ger; ‘guer‘ and ‘man‘ = that is a ‘yeller/screamer’ or from ‘gais‘ and ‘man‘ = that is a ‘speerman’ = ‘Ger-man’; and when we in the East of Germany find this same name given by the Slavs [to the Germans], this is explained by the analogous Western name giving by the Celts.  I believe, that this analogous name giving process is the most suitable, to resolve this argument about names.”

[note: It is not clear what Mehlis means by this. He seems to be saying that the name “German” was a western Celtic name for the Deutsche but had been appropriated in the East by the Slavs to name the same Deutsche.   This is intended as an apparent analogy to the “Slavic” Suevi name which, Mehlis implies, was an eastern Slavic name for the Deutsche that was then adopted in the West for the same Deutsche.

This is rather a stretch.  For one thing, the name “German” was never adopted in the East – rather it makes a late and limited appearance in Russia only most likely due to German influence during the imperial period.  Even there the older name Nemec continues in existence.  Moreover, just because something happened once in an era of broader communication of the 18th and 19th centuries does not mean it happened before in the much more insular era B.C.  Surely, Mehlis is not suggesting that the Suevi name was brought West by Slavic visitors to Celtic courts of Gaul…]

 Mr.  Pösche:

“I have to confess that things are not clearer to me now.  I have brought up the words of Tacitus.  But I am being reproached that words and names mean nothing.  But that cannot be.  When a reliable writer names names, that has meaning and [is] not merely empty noise.  With respect to the Germanic antiquities in the East which Professor Virchow mentions, I have heard nothing of them in his lecture today; but I would like to know nevertheless, whether Germanic antiquities were ever found there.  That would be of relevance [methinks].  You try to establish an analogy there between the process of naming [peoples] in the West and East of Deutschland, and there you claim that it was the Germans that, if I understood correctly, gave the Slavs their own name.  But “Slavs” is demonstrably a name which they [the Slavs] have used to call themselves.  So long as you have not brought up evidence, I must nevertheless take exception [and] to believe in the truth.”

[note: Mehlis’ argument, if we follow it at all, seems to be slightly different – that Slavs named their German neighbors Suevi and, he implicitly assumes, that the Slvs then transferred that naming to the Celts; this, as discussed above however, seems even more untenable than the argument that Pösche thinks Virchow is making]


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March 14, 2016

A Degree of Separation?

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The word “slave” has previously been derived from Slav.  Slave, however, would be a new word resulting from the slave trade in Slavs in the middle ages.  Antiquity did not know the word “slave”.  In particular, the Latin word for “slave” had previously been “servus”.  But this too appears strange inasmuch as a connection seems to exist between the names Slavs and Serbs – albeit, obviously, not all Slavs are Serbs.  To add to the mystery, the word Slav has historically among the Western “Slavs” been pronounced “Suavianin” – a remarkable pronunciation given that Procopius and Jordanes referred to what must have been Suebi as Suavi. On the etymological connection (noted by no less than an authority than Jacob Grimm) between Suevi and Suavs/Slavs we have written previously.


So where do we go from here?

There was a theory by Edward Romuald Bogusławski (there were at least two Bogusławskis) that the Slavs were basically the servants/slaves/lower classes of the Suevic confederacy who then took over the name of the tribe once the upper classes hit the dirt in the various Suevic wars.  If this were to be the case, their ethnic background could have been Suevic but also as diverse as that of the peoples conquered by the Suevi, i.e., “Germanic” (?) in the north, Celtic (?) in the south, Venetic (?) in the east (or far west?) or Pannonian or “Sarmatian” or Baltic (Aestic) in the east.

One could further extrapolate from this and posit that the Servi were those Suevic captives (whether Suevic or otherwise) that fled – perhaps eastwards across the Elbe – encountering there, perhaps, the Veneti.  That would make the remaining Suevi (i.e., the Suavs/Slavs) much like the later Cossacks fleeing the feudal oppression of the magnates to the Wild Fields of the Zaporozhian Sich…  And what of language? Was there one language of the Suevi?  Tacitus suggests yes but he also says that the Suevi are not one nation…  What does he mean by that?

Here is an interesting quote from Meisterlin’s Cronographia Augustensium (Chronik von Augsburg or Chronicle of Augsburg) which says: est gens Sevorum qui nunc Suevi dicuntur


We have mentioned before the interesting connection between the Suevi and, what seem like,  the Sorbs by bringing up Vibius Sequester’s sentence (see also here):

Albis Germaniae Suevos a Cerveciis dividiit: mergitur in Oceanum.

(Elbe of Germany divides the Suevi from the Cervecii and empties into the Ocean)

It is a bit strange, given the above sentence, that the Suevi were previously separated from “other Germans” and the Suevi freemen from the Suevic “Servi” in another way (in the words of Tacitus):

Insigne gentil obliquera crinem, nodoque substringere.  Sic Suevi a ceteris Germanis: sic Suevorum ingenui a servis separantur.

(It is the special characteristic of this nation to comb the hair sideways and fasten it below with a knot. This distinguishes [separates] the Suevi from the rest of the Germans; this, among the Suevi, distinguishes the freeman from the slave)


Prisoner’s head – from a bronze figure found at Vindobona (aka Vienna)

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March 13, 2016