In all of our discussions we have steadily leaned towards the position that the “homeland” of the Slavs must be somewhere in the area where the Slavs – or some of them – are now. What is more, it is likely to be rather centrally located within that vast area. But weren’t “Germanic” tribes there, one might ask? It may make sense to review some of the issues with the “East Germanic” theory, i.e., the theory that East German tribes lived in the area of, say, Poland, before vacating the space to the advancing Slavic hordes who came from, take your pick:
- the Carpathian bend/Podolia/parts of Ukraine;
- somewhere in Russia, possibly even East of the Urals; or
- everyone’s favorite – the Pripet marshes;
“78 on the Cephalic Index and R1a1a! You know what that means Watson!” “Holmes… could it be!? One of the Lugii Omani this far North!?” “Elementary my dear Watson, elementary!”
Place Names Issues
The vastness of the lands of “Slavia” suggests that there ought to have been significant Germanic place name remains somewhere in the area. However, evidence for such is scant. While it has been asserted that there are many place names in the area that are neither Germanic nor Slavic, the Slavic names – this itself creates a difficulty with the theory of Slavic expansion.
If the Slavs came into territories that were emptied of peoples, they should have renamed the various rivers and streams with their own Slavic names. Instead, it appears that they didn’t do that. So how did they learn the names of these?
- The standard answer has been that there was, in reality, no total “emptiness”, i.e., that Germania had not, in fact, been entirely emptied of all of its peoples, that, in other words, some Germanics remained and it was they who, in turn, passed the names to the incoming Slavs.
The argument is entirely plausible but there is a problem with using it to explain Slavic knowledge of Central European hydronymy. The names passed on to the Slavs are not clearly Germanic. They are, as we noted, at best described as “Old European” or Illyrian or whatever – but not Germanic.
- So, the answer comes back, maybe these names were “Venetic” and the Veneti passed the names to the Germans who, in turn, passed them on to the Slavs?
This sounds at least somewhat plausible except that the Germans have their own names for the same places and those names are different from those of the Slavs and were different as far back in time as we can tell. In other words, the Germans would have had to have 1) learned the names of the rivers, etc from the Veneti, 2) come up with their own versions of the same, and 3) passed the Venetic (but not the Germanic!) versions to the Slavs. Is that probable?
- But perhaps there is another way to solve this that fits current theories! What if the Slavs learned of the same names directly from the mysterious Veneti?
The problem with this theory and, specifically, with fitting it into the framework of a pre-Slavic Germanic population, is obvious. If the Slavs actually encountered the Veneti upon arrival in Central Europe they would have had to have encountered the remaining Veneti in greater numbers than the remaining Germans. But if we assume that all of Central Europe was occupied by Germanic tribes from, at least the time of Caesar till the 500s we would then have had to assume also that 1) the Veneti survived as a separate people under the German “yoke” for over 500 years and 2) that while the various Germanic tribes left (or at least left in sufficient numbers to make the Veneti dominant once more), the Veneti stayed.
Of course, one can assume this to be the case. However, if the Veneti could survive half a millennium of living under foreign rulers why not the Slavs? (Certainly, the Sorbs have survived for (at least) 1,500 years in Germany). In other words, various historians have previously proposed an “underlayer” of Slavs that existed and persisted in Central Europe despite at least some Germanic presence. But this was rejected as being just too clever. And indeed the burden of proof should reside with the Slavic “side” in this case.
Except… that as we can see from the above, this version of the “Germanic” theory necessarily relies on an even more convoluted argument about the original Veneti who are taken over by the Germanics but who persevere until the Germans leave and the Slavs arrive so as to hand the Venetic knowledge of local hydronymy to the Slavs only to then be quickly “absorbed” by the latter – in some unspecified way – into the Slavic populace (despite the fact that the same Veneti were never fully absorbed by the Germans).
It should be obvious by now that these free-standing, independent but otherwise unrelated Veneti are easily made redundant here. It is much simpler to assume that they – the Veneti – were, what we would today call Slavs, than to assume the above described convoluted fact pattern.
And there is Another Problem
With the mysterious Veneti 1) not being Slavs themselves but 2) being a conduit for the Slavs’ “learning” local place and water names.
Take Poland. Based on archaeological “cultures”, the present scholarship divides the country into a “Gothic” half (so-called Przeworsk group) and a “Vandalic” half (so-called Wielbark group) (never mind that the evidence for Vandals ever having set foot in Poland is suspect and highly circumstantial, i.e., virtually nonexistent – more on that later). Let’s assume that both of these spoke the same language and that language was a Germanic (i.e., Scandinavian) language. Procopius says as much (though he also calls these (and the Herules) peoples Sarmatians, showing again that such terms as Sarmatia or Germania were basically geographical constructs.
So here we have Germanic tribes of:
- let’s add Franks too.
But all the origin myths of these peoples are myths of having come from Scandinavia:
- Goths – see Cassiodorus/Jordanes;
- Lombards – see Paul the Deacon;
- Franks – see Gregory of Tours (this one less certain but talk is of “bursting” into the province of Germany);
- Vandals & Herules – see Gregory of Tours/Cassiodorus/Jordanes and Procopius.
There is no reason not to believe the old chroniclers on this point. During the Christian Era people usually tried to derive their origins from Adam and hence the Middle East. There was no reason to bring up Scandinavia here unless that “vagina of nations” really did beget all these peoples.
But if these people really did come from Scandinavia, then who lived in Central Europe before they arrived? Were Lugi Buri and Lugi Diduni also Germanic?
- the answer that comes back is that either:
- these were all Germanic and constituent parts of the Goths, Vandals, etc, or
- they were some other Germanic tribes (and it’s unclear whether they too came from Scandinavia – obviously, if they had, then the question of who was there in Central Europe before them would still stand), or
- they were Celts (the last refuge of a scoundrel).
(one might object that you can always ask about the “before” until you get back to Africa but the reality is that we are only asking because the Germanic explanations for these place names are nonexistent).
If this is so then the question arises what footprint did these Celts and Germans leave on the rivers, mountains and towns of the area? A longer “Germanic” necessitates more of an impact. But we still get close to none (the Goths might get Gdansk though).
So then were these Celts or Germanics responsible for the “Illyrian” or “Old European” topography or hydronymy of Central Europe? This seems rather unlikely. And that, in turn, means that such place and water names must have existed even before these Celts and Germanics. But if that is true, how many thousands of years must the Veneti have survived the rule of these dominant peoples before all such Celts & Germanics were swept away and the Slavs arrived and the Veneti were able – in their final momentous act – pass their knowledge to the Slavs?
Possible? This we would think is as close to impossible as you can get in history.
It would be much simpler to assume that:
- while some tribes in Central Europe (e.g., Goths but also Vandals, Saxons and others on the above list) were Germanic speaking,
- the rest (e.g., Lugii (Lechs? or Lusitians?), Rugiclei (later Slavic Rugii?), Sidones, Varisti, Viruni (later Slavic Varini?) Sudini (Balts?) or Adrabaecampi (those who camp on the Oder?)) – were not; and further
- that the Goths and others (including non-Germanic tribes) were much like the later known roving warrior bands of Vikings – causing a lot of havoc but leaving a very small final footprint. In fact, the same can be said of all of these:
- Lombards – no one speaks German in Lombardy;
- Vandals – ditto in Spain and Africa;
- Franks – ditto in France;
- Alans and Suebi – same;
- Normans – same for Normandy (though they carried French but not Frankish German into Britain);
- Herules – they’re back at Thule…
This seems to show that conquest does not necessarily mean assimilation of the host population if you do not have the numbers. Remember, the children will be raised by the mothers who are taken from the local populace and, probably, taught the mothers’ language before the father comes back – if he does that at all. Even if you stay you might need some semblance of a state in order to impose your language. (And the fact that the locals themselves have different languages probably helps too (e.g., Spain and Portugal’s colonies or India during the Raj)).
But even that does not always work. It does not take much to believe that the Rus were Scandinavian but does Russia speak Swedish? Similarly, we’ve made the point before about the Mongols and their conquest of the Russians – the Mongol language is nowhere to be found in Kiev. For other examples, just take a look at any late 19th century map of the world. You’d think that virtually all lands were in the hands of the English, French, Germans, Dutch, Italians and Russians. And yet, the map fails to account for the truth. Even in South Africa where Dutch colonists’ roots reach the 17th century, the ethnic situation could not be described properly on any map.
Moreover, if the Scandinavian warrior bands had come from the North and pillaged and raped left and right (that was the way of life back then), what would the locals have done? Academics speak of “reassessing”, “bargaining”, “changing affiliations”, attaching yourself to a “higher status ethnicity”.
Assuming you did not want to 1) be killed or 2) be conquered and enslaved – what would you do?
R U N
In this telling of the story, the Slavs may well have ran away – only to come back later. Of course, all of this is speculative but it is also logical. People flee! Where could they have fled? How about to the East – into the Pripet Marshes knowing that the Goths were unlikely to head in there. Or into the Carpathians (which may explain why there are so many Slavic hydronyms in the foothills of the same). Or even West towards the Elbe.
Certainly, we have seen that the Suevi who were on the Rhine at the time of Caesar were forced towards the Elbe by the time of Tacitus. And later we find them on the Danube and in Pannonia.
Put differently, the story of the Germans moving out and Slavs moving in seems not only wrong but almost excruciatingly simplistic for the realities of the situation. We speak of the Voelkerwanderung but history notes vast movements of peoples or warrior bands already before that time. It was the sedentary situation that followed during the Dark Ages that was unusual – not the earlier motion of tribes/bands or what have you! Just look at the movements of the Cimbri or of the Goths or of the Marcomanni or of the Suevi or of the Boii who were kicked out of Bohemia, etc.
Thus, while the Veneti were portrayed as the Western Slavs, they may yet turn out to be the Eastern Slavs with the Suevi being the Western component (and yet the Polabian Slavs – at least some of them – may well have been more of the Venetic/Eastern stock) and some other group, e.g., the Iazyges mixed in with the Suavi of Pannonia, the Southern. And there is another obvious possibility – these slightly different origins might also be visible, to some extent, even within each country.
This would also explain why Suavia/Slavia substantially overlaps with the earlier Roman concept of Suevia…
But what of the Language
But didn’t the tribes of Germania speak a Germanic language? Fair point, but let’s see what that really means:
First, as we already pointed out the Romans have used the word Germania to designate an area where northern folk lived. To the Romans they would have appeared similar since the Romans judged them by their own looks, language, culture. But would they appear so similar to one another? In other words, there is really nothing to suggest that all the tribes there were similar in all respects – including language. And, even if so, we do not know what that language was.
This brings us up to the second point. The only attested language of the “Germanic” tribes of the time is Gothic. Procopius says that the same language was spoken by Vandals and Herules – at least as of the 6th century. What about the others? Again, this is hardly clear.
It is true that there were what we think of as Germanic or if you will Scandinavian names in Central Europe. Many of the leaders of Germanic tribes did in fact have Germanic “sounding” names. This was even true of the Danubian Suavi (see Alaric and Hunninund) but was that always the case? Earlier, around the turn of the millennium, we had Ariovistus and Veleda and Ganna and Masyus – were these Germanic names? They sound (well, “look and sound”) Slavic or Baltic or maybe Avestani but not Germanic. Had something changed in the meantime?
The obvious suggestion (of course, unprovable) is that the Suevi were pushed back East under pressure from the Romans but also under pressure from the continual migrations of Scandinavians. Those that stayed were incorporated into the latter contingents and thus may have been “Germanized” but retained their tribal name. As the Scandinavian warriors were interested in the riches of Rome and not the people who lived in between they pressed onwards towards the Roman frontiers. But what remained in the back of this Hammer of Thor?
Moreover, names – for lack of records the only thing we have to establish ethnicity – are hardly a definitive clue. To give just one family example, Boleslaw Chrobry was married to Emnild or Emnilda – from this marriage his surviving and known children included: Reglinda, Lambert (aka Mieszko II) and Otto. Who was Emnild? We do not know the mother but the father’s name was Dobromir. And the mother had been German, that fact, given her father, would not have made Emnild not a Slav.
Put differently, while names are a hint of ethnicity they are not more than that and many names can be interpreted in various ways. For example, Stillicho is a Vandal on his father’s side we are told. What is a “licho” though? Or Kniva – the “knife” – was it Kniva or Gniva which would be a Slavic name similar to Gnievko, i.e., the “angry one”. Names, namely, are like clothes (or pots), they may indicate that a particular style is popular but styles change and not just because the population changes. Many “Romans” with Roman names were, in fact, Germans. After all not every Jacob in the world is Jewish nor every Patrick, Irish (in fact, a safe guess would be that most are not).
We are far from dismissing this but just observe that a level of caution is necessary in extracting blood relationships from names.
But weren’t the Langobards and the Angli also Suevi? They were called that by Ptolemy. But what of the much earlier Semnones? And why must it be the case that all those perceived as Suevi speak the same language?
But what of the Suebi in Suebia? The problem here is that we do not know who actually lived there in what was a Roman border province throughout the half millennium under examination. After all the same are referred to as Alemanni – all men? Meaning some sort of a melting pot? Peoples often give their names to countries but when they get invaded, they may leave but the name stays.
(On the other hand, one must note that it is rarer (except maybe for the Huns – a particularly fearful name – useful to appropriate or to beat someone over the head with) that a name for one people is used while referring to another people – a constant claim of the “Germans transferred the Veneti ethnonym onto the Slavs” crowd. That kind of name transference usually requires a people first to live somewhere long enough to give the name of that people to that province. Then, should such original inhabitants be driven out or conquered, the newcomers will be named henceforth from the name of the province by the same name. However, this transference typically goes people 1 > province > people 2. It does not usually go people 1 > people 2. Thus the Prussians first gave their name (though it wasn’t really theirs) to Prussia, before Prussia could give the same name to the new incoming German colonists who became “Prussian” but obviously weren’t such initially).
After All Ethnicity Is About
Family and blood and not language or kettles (or what car you drive!).
What you say? Surely, only the obvious. Unless you think that an Australian Aborigine should seek his ancestors in Nottinghamshire…
Put differently, we care not whether the Slavs – in the sense of our ancestors – actually spoke Slavic. We think they did (or spoke something like it) just based on probabilities but this is not a prerequisite to there being a Slavic family.
But what of Culture Collapse?
Yawn. See here. And, if that is not enough google “Mayan pyramids” and ask yourself who built them (hint: not aliens).
And This is Before You Even
Get into the question of whether you could explain some of the names of, e.g., rivers found in Central Europe using Slavic languages. This is not the place for an extended discussion about etymology but we would just note these Polish river names that, allegedly, “cannot” be explained using Slavic – paired with some “aquatic” Polish words (these aren’t proposed etymologies just observations of possible cognates):
- Warta (German Warthe) – but Polish wartka (swift – of a water current);
- Wisła (Vistla, Vistula, German Weichsel) – but Polish wiosła (oars);
- Odra (Viadua, Viadra, German Oder) – but Polish szczodra (generous/bountiful), modra (dark blue), wydra (otter), wiadro (bucket);
Similar words exist too in the Baltic languages.
But someone might object that all or many of these words are Indo-European so, of course, anyone could pull them out of the Indo-European hat and claim an association with a specific Slavic/Baltic word.
Of course, this is partly true… except that such an exercise is much, much harder with any Indo-European languages other than Slavic or Baltic ones – try it (we will give “otter”, of course!).
And Speaking of Wetness
We must once again mention Austeravia [pron. Ostrovia?] a place where there was plenty of what the Germans [?] called glaesum. Now, clearly, Austeravia can’t be the same as ostrovia since, as every babe knows, river islands are an entirely different thing from ocean islands.
But was ostrów always just a “river” island for the Slavs? It must have been because we know that the Slavs never lived close to the “Ocean”. (Except those Veleti, as per Ptolemy, but of course they could not have been Slavs back then). Ergo > go to Ergo.
And things never, ever change.
And głaz cannot be glaesum because glaesum must mean glass because amber is so much like glass that amber windows are surely right around the corner now. And głaz, of course, means a large stone in Slavic and amber is small. This is so obvious we admit to being embarrassed even to be talking nonsense like this (even thinking like this makes us quite upset at ourselves).
And things never, ever change.
Unless, of course, you are talking about an outmigration of millions of people followed by an immigration of millions of others. That is, of course, not only possible but even entirely likely.
Of the mountains and their Gods we spoke already and will again but for now mentioning this topic is enough.
Not to Mention
Though we will do so, yet again – that, given that most of geographic Germania was Suevia when the last Roman were able to closely examine it and that, when the fog of the Dark Ages finally lifted, most of the same country was now full of Slavs. it is simply easier to assume that either:
- language changed; or that
- nothing changed and the Slavs were where they were before – more or less – five centuries earlier – likely as Suevi.
than to argue for a massive outmigration of Suevi and an immigration of Slavs. Once again we note that, as per official historiography, all the Suevic groups which previously held virtually all of Germany, in the end amounted to 1) the smallest contingent in the host of the Vandals and Alans, to 2) the population of a relatively small Suebia and to 3) a few stray fighters at the battle of Nedao.
Of course, such a migration is possible (if unlikely). However, even then the story may not be so simple. For example, such a migration may have taken place combined with a significant portion of the locals, presumably Suevi but maybe also Lugi (Lechites?), remaining in place – again, current history writing seems inadequately simplistic for the likely realities of the situation.
The strange similarity of the words Sporoi, Germani and Semnones we have written previously here. And about the name of the Saale being Solawa and being rather similar to the hypothetical river Suevus – the mother river of all Suevi – both in the sounds and also in the fact that one can derive the Slavs or Suoveane name directly from Souaveane, i.e., from Soława or Souava we wrote before too.
But wasn’t it the case that the River Suevus ended in the “Ocean”? So Ptolemy claims but it is also possible that he assumed that all the rivers that he saw (since he was “looking” from “upstream”) must have ended – in his mind – in the Ocean, at least if they ran North. If you can find one river which he describes as running into another river that he also mentions, please let us know – we haven’t been able to do so. (In fact, other difficulties exist as, for example, the fact that Ptolemy appears to locate his river Suevus east of the Elbe – but then Cassius Dio (55.10a.2n) seems to think of the Saale/Solawa is the Elbe which would leave the “real” Elbe as something else – Suevus perhaps?).
And were the various tribes that seem to appear during antiquity but later continue on as Slavs really Slavicized Germanics? The Veleti are the obvious one but the same may be said of the Varni or the Rani or, as we have discussed already, the Rarogi. More on that later…
Slavic historians, archeologists and linguists have boldly confronted our revelations
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