Category Archives: Veneti

Iasion, Jason & the Obotrites

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In English the name of this tribe is either Obotrites or Obodrites.  The Polish name is Obodryci, Obodrzycy, Obodrzyce.  In Czech the same name is written Obodrice or  Bodrice.  The same in Latin is spelled Abodriti.  They were the westernmost northern Slavic tribal confederation that had been recorded.

But where did the name come from and what does it mean?  A number of hypotheses are present:

Some say their name refers to the Oder river – Odra – and they were “people who lived at the Odra”.

A variation of this states that they had lived on “both” sides of the Odra. That is, the “obo” refers to “both” – as in “obie” (both) Odry – both Oders.

Another variation would say that they were the ones that lived “obok” that is “at the” or “by” the Oder.

Yet another variation would be to ask whether the “o” should not rather (like the Latinized version) have been an “a” – thus, for example, we can ask whether those were the people who “came from” the Oder. This would be a German etymology – that is it relies on the word “ab” or “from”. This would be a kind of an amalgam – Odra is a Slavic version (Oder being the German version) but the “ab” would seemingly be a Germanic addition.  In fact, perhaps the original name had been Od-odrites, that is “from the Oder”.

Or perhaps, consistent with some versions of their names, such as the Czech Bodrici, the name refers to the worshippers of the Polish Goddess Boda?

Their first mention seems to be in the Carolingian annals for the year 789 where we read that Charlemagne entered the territory of the Slavic Wilzi (Veleti) accompanied by Franks, Saxons, Frisians and Slavs “called Sorbs and the Obodrites, whose chieftain was Witzan.”

As was already mentioned previously, the Veleti – the Obodrites’ great Slavic competitors – who, by the way, also make their first acknowledged historical appearance in that exact same entry – strangely seem to make an (unacknowledged) appearance already in Ptolemy’s Geography where it is said, that “back from the Ocean, near the Venedicus bay, the Veltae dwell, above whom are the Ossi.”

Could the Obodrites have the same claim to fame? It seems the answer could be yes.  Ptolemy’s description of Germania says that: “below the Gabreta forest are the Marcomani, brow whom are the Sudini, then extending to the Danube river are the Adrabaecampi” (ὑπὸ δὲ τὴν Γαβρήταν Ὕλην Μαρκομανοὶ, ὑφ’ οὓς Σουδινοὶ, καὶ μέχρι τοῦ Δανουβίου ποταμοῦ οἱ Ἀδραβαικάμποι·).  Could the Adrabaecampi be a name for the Obodrites or Abotrites?  Curiously, we also have a few lines above the Parmaecampi – both Parma and Adra being, potentially, of northern Italian – and, in the case of the Adra, of Venetic origin.

But, it gets better.

There is a possibility that there were two different tribes of Obotrites.  In fact, the very same Carolingian Annals mention (under the entry for the year 824) that: “The emperor [Louis the Pious] also received the envoys of the Obodrites who are commonly called Praedenecenti and live in Dacia on the Danube as neighbors of the Bulgars, of whose arrival he had been informed.”  In the same annals, just two years earlier (in the year 822) we hear of the emperor receiving “embassies and presents from all the East Slavs, that is, Obodrites, Sorbs, Wilzi, Bohemians, Moravians, and the Praedenecenti” which further confuses the picture.

So were the “southern Obodrites” the same as Praedenecenti or was this simply a confusion on the part of the Frankish author who could not tell all these Slavs apart?

Obotrites in green shows why exactly they got swallowed up by stronger polities

There is something that suggests that the scribe got it right (for the year 824).

Abdera in the South

First, interestingly, there is another Odra river right by the Croatian capital of Zagreb (this, in addition to other places with the same name, including in India). This is not quite at the Danube but certainly closer to that river than the northern Obotrites were.

Second, there is another city whose name evokes the Obotrites or Abotrites.  This one is not in Dacia or Pannonia but in Thrace (not close to the Danube but close enough?).  This is the city of Abdera (Ἄβδηρα) of which Strabo (Book &, Chapter 7, section 44-49) says:

“after the strait of Thasos one comes to Abdera and the scene of the myths connected with Abderus. It was inhabited by the Bistonian Thracians over whom Diomedes ruled. The Nestus River does not always remain in the same bed, but oftentimes floods the country. Then come Dicaea, a city situated on a gulf, and a harbor. Above these lies the Bistonis, a lake which has a circuit of about two hundred stadia. It is said that, because this plain was altogether a hollow and lower than the sea, Heracles, since he was inferior in horse when he came to get the mares of Diomedes, dug a canal through the shore and let in the water of the sea upon the plain and thus mastered his adversaries.”

Strabo then goes on to say:

“After the Nestus River, towards the east, is the city Abdera, named after Abderus, whom the horses of Diomedes devoured; then, near by, the city Picaea, above which lies a great lake, Bistonis; then the city Maroneia. Thrace as a whole consists of twenty-two tribes. But although it has been devastated to an exceptional degree, it can send into the field fifteen thousand cavalry and also two hundred thousand infantry. After Maroneis one comes to the city Orthagoria and to the region about Serrhium (a rough coasting voyage) and to Tempyra, the little town of the Samothracians, and to Caracoma, another little town, off which lies the island Samothrace, and to Imbros, which is not very far from Samothrace; Thasos, however, is more than twice as far from Samothrace as Imbros is. … Now Paulus, who captured Perseus, annexed the Epeirotic tribes to Macedonia, divided the country into four parts for purposes of administration, and apportioned one part to Amphipolis, another to Thessaloniceia, another to Pella, and another to the Pelagonians. Along the Hebrus live the Corpili, and, still farther up the river, the Brenae, and then, farthermost of all, the Bessi, for the river is navigable thus far. All these tribes are given to brigandage, but most of all the Bessi, who, He says, are neighbors to the Odrysae and the Sapaei. Bizye was the royal residence of the Astae. The term “Odrysae” is applied by some to all the peoples living above the seaboard from the Hebrus and Cypsela as far as Odessus – the peoples over whom Amadocus, Cersobleptes, Berisades, Seuthes, and Cotys reigned as kings.

Then, a bit later:

Iasion and Dardanus, two brothers, used to live in Samothrace. But when Iasion was struck by a thunderbolt because of his sin against Demeter, Dardanus sailed away from Samothrace, went and took up his abode at the foot of Mount Ida, calling the city Dardania, and taught the Trojans the Samothracian Mysteries. In earlier times, however, Samothrace was called Samos.”

Abderan coins

Strabo then returns to Abdera in Book 11 (chapter 14, sections 13-15):

“There is an ancient story of the Armenian race to this effect: that Armenus of Armenium, a Thessalian city, which lies between Pherae and Larisa on Lake Boebe, as I have already said,26 accompanied Jason into Armenia; and Cyrsilus the Pharsalian and Medius the Larisaean, who accompanied Alexander, say that Armenia was named after him, and that, of the followers of Armenus, some took up their abode in Acilisene, which in earlier times was subject to the Sopheni, whereas others took up their abode in Syspiritis, as far as Calachene and Adiabene, outside the Armenian mountains. They also say that the clothing of the Armenians is Thessalian, for example, the long tunics, which in tragedies are called Thessalian and are girded round the breast; and also the cloaks that are fastened on with clasps, another way in which the tragedians imitated the Thessalians, for the tragedians had to have some alien decoration of this kind; and since the Thessalians in particular wore long robes, probably because they of all the Greeks lived in the most northerly and coldest region, they were the most suitable objects of imitation for actors in their theatrical make-ups. And they say that their style of horsemanship is Thessalian, both theirs and alike that of the Medes. To this the expedition of Jason and the Jasonian monuments bear witness, some of which were built by the sovereigns of the country, just as the temple of Jason at Abdera was built by Parmenion.  It is thought that the Araxes was given the same name as the Peneius by Armenus and his followers because of its similarity to that river, for that river too, they say, was called Araxes because of the fact that it “cleft” Ossa from Olympus, the cleft called Tempe. And it is said that in ancient times the Araxes in Armenia, after descending from the mountains, spread out and formed a sea in the plains below, since it had no outlet, but that Jason, to make it like Tempe, made the cleft through which the water now precipitates itself into the Caspian Sea, and that in consequence of this the Araxene Plain, through which the river flows to its precipitate descent, was relieved of the sea. Now this account of the Araxes contains some plausibility, but that of Herodotus not at all; for he says that after flowing out of the country of the Matieni it splits into forty rivers and separates the Scythians from the Bactrians. Callisthenes, also, follows Herodotus. It is also said of certain of the Aenianes that some of them took up their abode in Vitia and others above the Armenians beyond the Abus and the Nibarus. These two mountains are parts of the Taurus, and of these the Abus is near the road that leads into Ecbatana past the temple of Baris. It is also said that certain of the Thracians, those called “Saraparae,” that is “Decapitators,” took up their abode beyond Armenia near the Guranii and the Medes, a fierce and intractable people, mountaineers, scalpers, and beheaders, for this last is the meaning of “Saraparae.” I have already discussed Medeia in my account of the Medes; and therefore, from all this, it is supposed that both the Medes and the Armenians are in a way kinsmen to the Thessalians and the descendants of Jason and Medeia.” 

And Then There Were More

Curiously, there is another Abdera – appearing as abdrt on its oldest coins.  This one is Andalusia and appears to have been a Phoenician colony. Its modern name is Adra.

This Abdera, we are told, was founded by the Phonicians.  Yet, adra type names are generally understood to be Indo-European which immediately raises several questions. For example, recall the Adriatic or the various Odras – the explanation here was that these may have been “Veneti” names.

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February 9, 2018

The Veneti and Vindelici of Aurelius Victor

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Sextus Aurelius Victor (circa 320 – circa 390) was a historian and politician of the Roman Empire. He was a governor of Pannonia Secunda so he was familiar with the going ons in that region.

Four works have at various times been attributed to him:

  • The Origin of the Roman People (Origo Gentis Romanae)
  • On the Illustrious Roman Men (De Viris Illustribus Romae)
  • Book of the Caesars (Liber de Caesaribus)
  • Epitome [short history] of the Caesars (Epitome de Caesaribus)

Apparently, only his authorship of the Liber is confirmed and his authorship of the Epitome is now rejected.  Both of these works are supposed to have been based on a hypothesized 4th century history, the so-called Enmann’s Kaisergeschichte (whose existence has not been confirmed). 

The Book and the Epitome

In any event in the Book of the Caesars the Venetic name comes up twice and in the Epitome there is a mention of the Vindelici.  For those reasons both are mentioned here. The most interesting mention is that in the Book which talks about Julianus, the corrector of the Veneti. This is a reference to Marcus Aurelius Sabinus Julianus (or Julian of Pannonia, ? – circa 285 – 286) who was an imperial usurper. The corrector is a Roman administrative title, like a “fixer” sent by the Emperor to get things straightened out in the provinces.  Apparently, fixers, sometimes rebelled agains their masters.  The corrector title also appears in other instances with reference to the region of Venetia (such as corrector Venetiae et Histriae – for example, Attius Insteius Tertullus or C. Vettius Cossinius (!) Rufinus). Yet in the Aurelius Victor work, the author mentions the Veneti – not Venetia (Venetos correctura). Our knowledge of this comes from certain inscriptions – described here in the Böcking edition of the Notitia Dignitatum:

(BTW The reference in that text above on the right side is to the famous description from Procopius’ Gothic Wars (part I, 15): “And adjoining this is the land of Precalis, beyond which is the territory called Dalmatia, all of which is counted as part of the western empire. And beyond that point is Liburnia, and Istria, and the land of the Veneti extending to the city of Ravenna. These countries are situated on the sea in that region. But above them are the Siscii and Suevi (not those who are subjects of the Franks, but another group), who inhabit the interior. And beyond these are settled the Carnii and Norici. On the right of these dwell the Dacians and Pannonians, who hold a number of towns, including Singidunum and Sirmium, and extend as far as the Ister River. Now these peoples north of the Ionian Gulf were ruled by the Goths at the beginning of this war, but beyond the city of Ravenna on the left of the river Po the country was inhabited by the Ligurians.”)

Earlier in the Book of the Caesars, the region of Venetia is mentioned.  Finally, there is also mention of Carnuntum in Pannonia which was at the edges of Marcomarus’ kingdom.

In the Epitome, we have the mention of Octavian’s conquest of, among others, the Raeti, Vindelici and Dalmatae as well as the Suevi and Chatti and too of the Pannoni and the Getae and Bastarnae.

The Book comes from which is an excellent source site. The English translation is from H.W. Bird’s 1994 edition. For the Epitome I used Franz Pichlmayr’s 1911 edition.  The English translation of the relevant section is the recent one by Thomas Banchich from 2009 (which is also based on Pichlmayr’s edition).

Book of the Caesars
Liber de Caesaribus
(chapter 16)

“For he [Antoninus Pius] adopted into his family and into the imperial power M. Boionius [Marcus Aurelius], who is known as Aurelius Antoninus, and was from the same town and of equal nobility, but far superior in the purists of philosophy and eloquence. All his actions and decisions, both civil and military, were divinely inspired: but his inability to restrain his wife soiled this for she had erupted to such a degree of shamelessness that while staying in Campania she would haunt the beauty spots along the coast to puck out those sailors, because they mostly work in the nude, (who would deb) particularly suitable for her disgraceful passions. Accordingly, when his father-in-law and died at Lorium at the age of seventy-five, Aurelius straightway admitted his brother, Lucius Verus, to a share of his power. Under his leadership, the Persians under their king, Vologeses, though at first they had been victorious, finally yielded a triumph. Lucius died within a few a days, thus providing material for the invention that he had been destroyed by the treater of his brother who, they say, was vexed with envy at his exploits and had devised the following deception at dinner. For, with one side of a knife smeared with poison, he cut a piece of a sow’s udder with it and deliberately set it aside. He ate one slice and, as is customary among close friends, he offered the other, which the poisson had touched, to his brother. Only minds with criminal inclinations can believe this of such  great man, especially since it is generally acknowledged that Lucius died of illness at Altinum, a city in Venetia, and that Marcus possessed such wisdom, gentleness, integrity and learning that as he was about to march against the Marcomanni with his son Commoduus, whom he had substituted as Caesar, he was surrounded by a throng of philosophers begging him not to commit himself to a campaign or to battle before he had explained some difficult and very obscure points of the philosophical systems. So in their eagerness for learning they feared that the uncertainties of war would endanger his safety:L and fine arts flourished to such an extent during his region that I consider precisely this to have been the glory of the times. Ambiguities of the law were admirably clarified and, by eliminating the custom of posting bail, the right of laying a charge and having it disposed of on the determined date was duly established. Roman citizenship was granted without discrimination to all and many cities were founded, settled, restored or embellished and in particular Punic Carthage, which fire had terribly ravaged, and Ephesus in Asia and Nocomedia in Bithynia, which had been leveled by an earthquake, just as Nicomedia was in our time during the consulship of Cerealis. Triumphs were celebrated over nations which, under  King Marcomarus, used to extend all the way from the Pannonian city which is called Carnuntum to the centre of Gaul. So in the eighteenth year of his reign he died in the prime of his life at Vienna, to the very great distress of all people. Finally the senators and common folk, who are divided in other matters, voted everything to him alone, temples, columns and priests.”


Namque M. Boionium, qui Aurelius Antoninus habetur, eodem oppido, pari nobilitate, philosophandi vero eloquentiaeque studiis longe praestantem, in familiam atque imperium ascivit. Cuius divina omnia domi militiaeque facta consultaque; quae imprudentia regendae coniugia attaminavit, quae in tantum petulantiae proruperat, ut in Campania sedens amoena litorum obsideret ad legendes ex nauticis, quia plerumque nudi agunt, flagitiis aptiores. Igitur Aurelius socero apud Lorios anno vitae post quintum et septuagesimum mortuo confestim fratrem Lucium Verum in societatem potentiae accepit. Eius ductu Persae, cum primum superavissent, ad extremum triumpho cessere, rege Vologeso. Lucius paucis diebus moritur, hincque materies fingendi dolo consanguinei circumventum; quem ferunt, cum invidia gestarum rerum angeretur, fraudem inter coenam exercuisse. Namque lita veneno cultri parte vulvae frustum, quod de industria solum erat, eo praecidit consumptoque uno, uti mos est inter familiares, alterum, qua virus contigerat, germano porrexit. Haec in tanto viro credere nisi animi ad scelus proni non queunt, quippe cum Lucium satis constet Altini, Venetiae urbe, morbo consumptum, tantumque Marco sapientiae lenitudinis innocentiae ac litterarum fuisse, ut is Marcomannos cum filio Commodo, quem Caesarem suffecerat, petiturus philosophorum turba obtestantium circumfunderetur, ne expeditioni aut pugnae se prius committeret, quam sectarum ardua ac perocculta explanavisset. Ita incerta belli in eius salute doctrinae studiis metuebantur; tantumque illo imperante floruere artes bonae, ut illam gloriam etiam temporum putem. Legum ambigua mire distincta, vadimoniorumque sollemni remoto denuntiandae litis operiendaeque ad diem commode ius introductum. Data cunctis promiscue civitas Romana, multaeque urbes conditae deductae repositae ornataeque, atque inprimis Poenorum Garthago, quam ignis foede consumpserat, Asiaeque Ephesus ac Bithyniae Nicomedia constratae terrae motu, aeque ac nostra aetate Nicomedia Cereali consule. Triumphi acti ex nationibus, quae regi Marcomaro ab usque urbe Pannoniae, cui Carnuto nomen est, ad media Gallorum protendebantur. Ita anno imperii octavo decimoque aevi validior Vendobonae interiit, maximo gemitu mortalium omnium. Denique, qui seiuncti in aliis, patres ac vulgus soli omnia decrevere, templa columnas sacerdotes.

Book of the Caesars
Liber de Caesaribus
(chapter 39)

[After the death of Probus, Carus becomes emperor and his sons Carinus (older) and Numerian (younger) become Caesars.  Carinus is sent to Gaul while Carus and Numerian head out to Mesopotamia to fight the Persians. Carus dies and Numerian is murdered, while sick, by Aper his father-in-law.]

“But after the crime had been betrayed by the odor of his decomposing limbs, at a council of generals and tribunes Valerius Diocletian, commander of the household troops, was selected because of his good sense. He was a great man, yet he had the following characteristics: he was, in fact, the first who really desired a supply of silk, purple and gems for his sandals, together with a gold-brocaded robe. Although these things went beyond good taste and betrayed a vain and haughty disposition, they were nevertheless trivial in comparison with the rest. For he was the first of all [emperors] after Caligula and Domitian to permit himself to be called ‘Lord’ in public and to be worshipped and addressed as a god. From these indications, as far as I can understand, I have concluded that all men from the humblest backgrounds, especially when they have attained exalted positions, are excessive in their pride and ambition. For this reason Marius, in our ancestors’ times, and he [Valerius Diocletian] in ours, went beyond the common limits since a mind that has never experienced power is insatiable like a man saved from starvation. Consequently, it seems strange to me that most people accuse the nobility of arrogance whereas, in preserving the memory of its patrician origins, it has some right to assert its eminence as compensation for the annoyances by which it is afflicted. But these faults in Valerius were effaced by the other good qualities, and especially by the fact that although he allowed himself to be called ‘Lord’ he acted like a parent; and it is fairly certain that this shrewd man wanted to demonstrate that it was the harshness of circumstances rather than of titles that created obstacles.”


“Meanwhile Carinus [the older son of Carus], informed of what had happened and in the hope that he might more easily put down the revolts that were breaking out, hastily made it for Illyricum by skirting Italy.  There he scattered Julianus’ battle line and cut him down. For the latter [Julianus], while he was governing the Veneti as corrector, had learned of Carus’ death and in his eagerness to seize the imperial power he had advanced to meet the approaching enemy.  Moreover when Carinus reached Moesia he straightway joined battle with Diocletian near the Margus, but while he was in hot pursuit of his defeated foes he died under the blows of his own men because he could not control his lust and used to seduce many of his soldiers’ wives. Their husbands had grown increasingly hostile but they had nevertheless put aside their anger and resentment to see how the war turned out. Since it was going quite successfully for him, in fear that a man of such character would become more and more overbearing in victory, they avenged themselves. That was the end of Carus and his children. Narbonne was their native city; they ruled for two years. Consequently, Valerius, in his first speech to the army, drew his sword, gazed up at the sun and while attesting that he had no knowledge of Numerian’s murder and had not wanted the imperial power, with one blow he transfixed Aper was standing right beside him. It was through his treachery, as we have shown above, that the good and eloquent young man [Numerian], his son-in-law, had perished. Pardon was granted to the rest and practically all the enemy were retained, especially one outstanding man named Aristobulus, the praetorian prefect, on account of his services. This was a novel and unexpected occurrence in the history of mankind, that in a  civil war no one was stripped of his possessions, reputation or rank, for we are delighted if such a war is waged with all due observances and with mercy and if a limit is set on exiles, proscriptions and also on punishments and murders.”

“Why should I recount that many men, foreigners too, have been admitted into partnership in order to protect and extend Roman authority? For when Diocletian had learned, after Carinus‘ death, that in Gaul Helianus and Amandus had stirred up a band of peasants and robbers, who the inhabitants call Bagaudae, and had ravaged the regions far and wider and were making attempts on very many of the cities, he immediately appointed as emperor Maximian, a loyal friend who. although he was rather uncivilized, was nevertheless a good soldier of sound character. He subsequently received the surname Herculius from his worship of that deity, just as Valerius received that of Jovius. This was also the origin of the names given to those auxiliary units which were particularly outstanding in the army. Well, Herculius marched into Gaul and in a short time had pacified  the whole country by routing the enemy forces or accepting their surrender. In this war Carausius, a citizen of Menapia, distinguished himself by his clearly remarkable exploits. For this reason and in addition because he was considered an expert pilot (he head earned his living at this job as a young man), he was put in charge of fitting out a fleet and driving out the Germans who were infesting the seas. Because of this appointment he became quite arrogant and when he had overcome many of the barbarians but had not turned over all the booty to the public treasury, in fear of Herculius, who, he learned, had ordered his execution, he seized the imperial power and made for Britain. At the arm time the Persians were causing serious disturbances in the east and Julianus and the Quinquegentian peoples in Africa…”


Sed postquam odore tabescentium membrorum scelus proditum est, ducum consilio tribunorumque Valerius Diocletianus domesticos regens ob sapientiam deligitur, magnus vir, his moribus tamen: quippe qui primus ex auro veste quaesita serici ac purpurae gemmarumque vim plantis concupiverit. Quae quamquam plus quam civilia tumidique et affluentis animi, levia tamen prae ceteris. Namque se primus omnium Caligulam post Domitianumque dominum palam dici passus et adorari se appellarique uti deum. Quis rebus, quantum ingenium est, compertum habeo humillimos quosque, maxime ubi alta accesserint, superbia atque ambitione immodicos esse. Hinc Marius patrum memoria, hinc iste nostra communem habitum supergressi, dum animus potentiae expers tamquam inedia refecti insatiabilis est. Quo mihi mirum videtur nobilitati plerosque superbiam dare, quae gentis patriciae memor molestiarum, quis agitatur, remedio eminere paululum iuris habet. Verum haec in Valerio obducta ceteris bonis; eoque ipso, quod dominum dici passus, parentem egit; satisque constat prudentem virum edocere voluisse atrocitatem rerum magis quam nominum officere. Interim Carinus eorum, quae acciderant, certior spe facilius erumpentes motus sedatum iri Illyricum propere Italiae circuitu petit. Ibi Iulianum pulsa eius acie obtruncat. Namque is cum Venetos correctura ageret, Cari morte cognita imperium avens eripere adventanti hosti obviam processerat. At Carinus ubi Moesiam contigit, illico Marcum iuxta Diocletiano congressus, dum victos avide premeret, suorum ictu interiit, quod libidine impatiens militarium multas affectabat, quarum infestiores viri iram tamen doloremque in eventum belli distulerant. Quo prosperius cedente metu, ne huiuscemodi ingenium magis magisque victoria insolesceret, sese ulti sunt. Is finis Caro liberisque; Narbone patria, imperio biennii fuere. Igitur Valerius prima ad exercitum contione cum educto gladio solem intuens obtestaretur ignarum cladis Numeriani neque imperii cupientem se fuisse, Aprum proxime astantem ictu transegit; cuius dolo, uti supra docuimus, adolescens bonus facundusque et gener occiderat. Ceteris venia data retentique hostium fere omnes ac maxime vir insignis nomine Aristobulus praefectus praetorio per officia sua. Quae res post memoriam humani nova atque inopinabilis fuit civili bello fortunis fama dignitate spoliatum neminem, cum pie admodum mansueteque geri laetemur exilio proscriptioni atque etiam suppliciis et caedibus modum fieri. Quid ea memorem ascivisse consortio multos externosque tuendi prolatandive gratia iuris Romani? Namque ubi comperit Carini discessu Helianum Amandumque per Galliam excita manu agrestium ac latronum, quos Bagaudas incolae vocant, populatis late agris plerasque urbium tentare, Maximianum statim fidum amicitia quamquam semiagrestem, militiae tamen atque ingenio bonum imperatorem iubet.  Huic postea cultu numinis Herculio cognomentum accessit, uti Valerio Iovium; unde etiam militaribus auxiliis longe in exercitum praestantibus nomen impositum. Sed Herculius in Galliam profectus fusis hostibus aut acceptis quieta omnia brevi patraverat. Quo bello Carausius, Menapiae civis, factis promptioribus enituit; eoque eum, simul quia gubernandi (quo officio adolescentiam mercede exercuerat) gnarus habebatur, parandae classi ac propulsandis Germanis maria infestantibus praefecere. Hoc elatior, cum barbarum multos opprimeret neque praedae omnia in aerarium referret, Herculii metu, a quo se caedi iussum compererat, Britanniam hausto imperio capessivit. Eodem tempore Orientem Persae, Africam Iulianus ac nationes Quinquegentanae graviter quatiebant…

[later see  Et interea caesi Marcomanni Carporumque natio translata omnis in nostrum solum, cuius fere pars iam tum ab Aureliano erat.]

Epitome of the Caesars
Epitome de Caesaribus

“In the seven hundred and twenty-second year from the foundation of the city, but the four hundred and eightieth from the expulsion of the kings, the custom was resumed at Rome of absolute obedience to one man, with, instead of rex, the appellation imperator or the more venerable name Augustus. Accordingly, Octavian, whose father was Octavius, a senator, and who was descended in his mother’s line through the Julian family from Aeneas (but called Gaius Caesar, his grandmother’s brother) was then given the cognomen Augustus on account of his victory. Placed in control, he, per se, exercised tribunician potestas. The region of Egypt, difficult to enter because of the inundation of the Nile and impassable because of swamps, he made into a form of province. By the labor of soldiers, he opened canals, which through neglect had been clogged with the slime of ages, to make Egypt a bountiful supplier of the city’s ration. In his time, two hundred million allotments of grain were imported annually from Egypt to the city. He joined to the number of provinces for the Roman people the Cantabri and Aquitani, Raeti, Vindelici, Dalmatae. The Suevi and Chatti he destroyed, the Sigambri he transferred to Gallia. The Pannonii he added as tributaries. The peoples of the Getae and Basternae, aroused to wars, he compelled to concord. To him Persia sent hostages and granted the authority of creating kings. To him the Indians, Scythians, Garamantes, and Aethiopians sent legations with gifts. Indeed, he so detested disturbances, wars and dissensions that he never ordered a war against any race except for just reasons. And he used to say that to be of a boastful and most capricious mind through the ardor of a triumph and on account of a laurel crown — that is barren, fruitless foliage — plunged the security of citizens into danger by the uncertain outcomes of battles; and that nothing whatever was more appropriate to a good imperator than temerity: whatever was being done properly, happened quickly enough; and that arms must never be taken up except in the hope of a very significant benefit, lest, because of heavy loss for a trifling reward, the sought-after victory be like a golden hook for fishermen, the damage of which, through its having been broken off or lost, no gain of the catch is able to compensate. In his time, a Roman army and tribunes and propraetor were destroyed beyond the Rhine. So much did he mourn what had transpired that, made unsightly by his dress, hair, and the remaining symbols of mourning, he struck his head with a powerful blow. He used to censure an innovation of his uncle, too, who, calling the soldiers comrades in novel and charming fashion, while he affected to ingratiate himself, had weakened the auctoritas of the princeps.  Indeed, toward citizens he was most clemently disposed. He appeared faithful toward his friends, the most eminent of whom were Maecenas on account of his taciturnity, Agrippa on account of his endurance and the self-effacedness of his labor. Moreover, he used to delight in Virgil. He was a rare one, indeed, for making friendships; most steadfast toward retaining them. He was so devoted to liberal studies, especially to eloquence, that no day slipped by, not even on campaign, without him reading, writing, and declaiming. He introduced laws, some new, others revised, in his own name. He added to and ornamented Rome with many structures, glorying in the remark: “I found a city of bricks, I left her a city of marble.” He was gentle, pleasant, urbane, and of charming disposition, handsome in his entire physique, but with large eyes, rapidly moving the pupils of which, in the fashion of the brightest stars, he used to explain with a smile that men turned from his gaze as from the intense rays of the sun. When a certain soldier averted his eyes from his face and was asked by him why he so behaved, he answered: “Because I am unable to bear the lightning of your eyes.” For all that, so great a man did not lack vices. For he was somewhat impatient, a bit irascible, secretly envious, openly fatuous; furthermore, moreover, he was most desirous of holding dominion — more than it is possible to imagine — , an avid player at dice. And though he was much at table or drink, to a certain degree, in fact, abstaining from sleep, he nevertheless used to gratify his lust to the extent of the dishonor of his public reputation. For he was accustomed to lie among twelve catamites and an equal number of girls. Also, possessed by the love of the wife of another, when his wife Scribonia had been set aside, he joined Livia to himself as if with her husband’s consent. Of this Livia there were already two sons, Tiberius and Drusus. And while he was a servant of luxury, he was nevertheless a most severe castigator of the same vice, in the manner of men who are relentless in correcting the vices in which they themselves avidly indulge. For he damned to exile the poet Ovid, also called Naso, because he wrote for him the three booklets of the Art of Love. And because he was of exuberant and cheerful spirit, he was amused by every type of spectacle, especially those with an unknown species and infinite number of wild animals. When he had passed through seventy-seven years, he died at Nola of a disease. Yet some write that he was killed by a deception of Livia, who, since she had gained information that Agrippa (the son of her stepdaughter, whom, as a result of his mother-in-law’s hatred, he had relegated to an island) was to be recalled, feared that, when he had obtained control of affairs, she would be punished. Thereupon, the senate resolved that the dead or murdered man should be decorated with numerous and novel honors. For in addition to the title “Father of his Country,” which it had proclaimed, it dedicated temples to him at Rome and throughout the most celebrated cities, with all proclaiming openly: “Would that he either had not been born or had not died!” he first alternative said of a most base beginning, the second of a splendid outcome. For in pursuing the principate he was held an oppressor of liberty and in ruling he so loved the citizens that once, when a three-days’ supply of grain was discerned in the storehouses, he would have chosen to die by poison if fleets from the provinces were not arriving in the interim.  When these fleets had arrived, the safety of the fatherland was attributed to his felicity. He ruled fifty-six years, twelve with Antony, but forty-six alone. Certainly he never would have drawn the power of the state to himself or retained it so long if he had not possessed in abundance great gifts of nature and of conscious efforts.”


Anno urbis conditae septingentesimo vicesimo secundo, ab exactis vero regibus quadringentesimo octogesimoque, mos Romae repetitus uni prorsus parendi, pro rege imperatori vel sanctiori nomine Augusto appellato. Octavianus igitur, patre Octavio senatore genitus, maternum genus ab Aenea per Iuliam familiam sortitus, adoptione vero Gai Caesaris maioris avunculi Gaius Caesar dictus, deinde ob victoriam Augustus cognommatus est. Iste in imperio positus tribuniciam potestatem per se exercuit. Regionem Aegypti inundatione Nili accessu difficilem inviamque paludibus in provinciae formam redegit. Quam ut annonae urbis copiosam efficeret, fossas incuria vetustatis limo clausas labore militum patefecit. Huius tempore ex Aegypto urbi annua ducenties centena milia frumenti inferebantur. Iste Cantabros et Aquitanos, Rhaetos, Vindelicos, Dalmatas provinciarum numero populo Romano coniunxit. Suevos Cattosque delevit, Sigambros in Galliam transtulit. Pannonios stipendiarios adiecit. Getarum populos Basternasque lacessitos bellis ad concordiam compulit. Huic Persae obsides obtulerunt creandique reges arbitrium permiserunt. Ad hunc Indi, Scythae, Garamantes, Aethiopes legatos cum donis miserunt. Adeo denique turbas bella simultates execratus est, ut nisi iustis de causis numquam genti cuiquam bellum indixerit. Iactantisque esse ingenii et levissimi dicebat ardore triumphandi et ob lauream coronam, id eat folia infructuosa, in discrimen per incertos eventus certaminum securitatem civium praecipitare; eque imperatori bono quicquam minus quam temeritatem congruere: satis celeriter fieri, quicquid commode gereretur, armaque, nisi maioris emolumenti spe, nequaquam movenda esse, ne compendio tenui, iactura gravi, petita victoria similis sit hamo aureo piscantibus, cuius abrupti amissique detrimentum nullo capturae lucro pensari potest. Huius tempore trans Rhenum vastatus est Romanus exercitus atque tribuni et propraetor. Quod in tantum accidisse perdoluit, ut cerebri valide incursu parietem pulsaret, veste capilloque ac reliquis lugentium indiciis deformis. Avunculi quoque inventum vehementer arguebat, qui milites commilitones novo blandoque more appellans, dum affectat carior fieri, auctoritatem principis emolliverat. Denique erga cives clementissime versatus est. In amicos fidus extitit. Quorum praecipui erant ob taciturnitatem Maecenas, ob patientiam laboris modestiamque Agrippa. Diligebat praeterea Virgilium. Rarus quidem ad recipiendas amicitias, ad retinendas constantissimus. Liberalibus studiis, praesertim eloquentiae, in tantum incumbens, ut nullus ne in procinctu quidem laberetur dies, quin legeret scriberet declamaret. Leges alias novas alias correctas protulit suo nomine. Auxit ornavitque Romam aedificiis multis, isto glorians dicto: “Urbem latericiam repperi, relinquo marmoream.” Fuit mitis gratus civilis animi et lepidi, corpore toto pulcher, sed oculis magis. Quorum acies clarissimorum siderum modo vibrans libenter accipiebat cedi ab intendentibus tamquam solis radiis aspectu suo. A cuius facie dum quidam miles oculos averteret et interrogaretur ab eo, cur ita faceret, respondit: “Quia fulmen oculorum tuorum ferre non possum”. Nec tamen vir tantus vitiis caruit. Fuit enim panlulum impatiens, leniter iracundus, occulte invidus, palam factiosus; porro autem dominandi supra quam aestimari potest, cupidissimus, studiosus aleae lusor. Cumque esset cibi ac vini multum, aliquatenus vero somni abstinens, serviebat tamen libidini usque ad probrum vulgaria famae. Nam inter duodecim catamitos totidemque puellas accubare solitus erat. Abiecta quoque uxore Scribonia amore alienae coniugis possessus Liviam quasi marito concedente sibi coniunxit. Cuius Liviae iam erant filii Tiberius et Drusus. Cumque esset luxuriae serviens, erat tamen eiusdem vitii severissimus ultor, more hominum, qui in ulciscendis vitiis, quibus ipsi vehementer indulgent, acres sunt. Nam poetam Ovidium, qui et Naso, pro eo, quod tres libellos amatoriae artis conscripsit, exilio damnavit. Quodque est laeti animi vel amoeni, oblectabatur omni genere spectaculorum, praecipue ferarum incognito specie et infinite numero. Annos septem et septuaginta ingressus Nolae morbo interiit. Quamquam alii scribant dolo Liviae exstinctum metuentis, ne, quia privignae filium Agrippam, quem odio novercali in insulam relegaverat, reduci compererat, eo summam rerum adepto poenas daret. Igitur mortuum seu necatum multis novisque honoribus senatus censuit decorandum. Nam praeter id, quod antea Patrem patriae dixerat, templa tam Romae quam per urbes celeberrimas ei consecravit, cunctis vulgo iactantibus: “Utinam aut non nasceretur aut non moreretur!”  Alterum pessimi incepti, exitus praeclari alterum. Nam et in adipiscendo principatu oppressor libertatis est habitus et in gerendo cives sic amavit, ut tridui frumento in horreis quondam viso statuisset veneno mori, si e provinciis classes interea non venirent. Quibus advectis felicitati eius salus patriae est attributa. Imperavit annos quinquaginta et sex, duodecim cum Antonio, quadraginta vero et quattuor solus. Qui certe nunquam aut reipublicae ad se potentiam traxisset aut tamdiu ea potiretur, nisi magnis naturae et studiorum bonis abundasset.

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November 13, 2017

A Bridge Not Too Far?

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The reports of the Tollense (Slavic dolenzia) battle (re)raise a bunch of interesting questions.

Was that battle something major politically or more like a skirmish of invaders with locals?  You could see a few different local tribes fighting but you could also see a group of marauders roaming the lands, the locals becoming aware of them and their activities and, eventually, facing them somewhere at some strategic point.  For example, the Bridge at Tollense.

From the Krueger article

Curiously, although the battle of Tollense took place about 1200 B.C., that bridge had been built about 600 years before that. This is nothing short of fascinating. In fact, the bridge with its apparently complicated and sophisticated construction is as much of interest as the battle itself.

Getting back to the combatants.  We have “locals” who seem to have come from the Baltic area where the battle took place and we have people that may have come from the “south”.  The “south” here seems to be somewhere in the Danube region (speaking in generalities), perhaps the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) on the Czech-German border, perhaps Silesia a bit further East.

Now, there are a number of questions about this battle that we are unlikely to learn the answer to.

First of all, the assumption that the “southerners” and the “northerners” constituted two separate groups is just that an assumption.  It may well be that each group that fought was composed of both northerners and southerners.  In fact, there may have been multiple groups.

Second, the numbers of combatants are as yet unclear and may never be clear.  As far as I understand, the reports are based on a number of dead or, more precisely of bones (reconstructing the number of dead from merely scattered bones is not that easy either), found on the battlefield and the assumption that only about z% of the battlefield has been explored.  From that German archeologists have extrapolated the total number of dead.  Then they needed to extrapolate the size of the battle based on a yet another assumption, that the typical number of fallen corresponds to y% of total combatants. From all that the assumption came back that the number of warriors was about 4,000 give or take.

Third, there is the question of who “won”?  If the north-south divide described above was real -and, again, it may not have been – then the answer to this may well be found one day.  All you would have to look for is burials of southerners nearby.  If they lost, there would likely be no further such remains found in the area. But if they won, they would likely have stayed in the area, seized the locals’ wives and the rest is, as they say, history.  Of course, even this would not be “clean.”  For example, it may be that some of them could have been kept as thralls/slaves but if you could isolate their y-dna you probably could test whether any later dna (if you found it) matched that.  Slaves tend to have fewer chances at procreation.  But even that is unclear… Suppose they were freed later.

Can we guess who these intruders (if indeed they were intruders) were?  Here we can let the reins of fantasy loose a bit.  The person that we can look to is a professor of the l’École d’anthropologie de Paris, one Sigismond Zaborowski-Moindron.  He wrote Les Peuples Aryens d’Asie et d’Europe. Zaborowski, was one of those Polish-French hybrids who contributed to Slavic studies like Mr. Motylinski.  His specific contribution was in this article:

  • Les Slaves de Race et Leurs Origines (Bulletins de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris, 1900)

This was translated into Polish by Luc. M. (?) in the XVIth volume (1902) of the excellent ethnographic magazine Wisła:

Thereafter followed an English translation of most of Zaborowski’s themes in the 61st “Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution” for the year ending  June 30, 1906:

So what were Zaborowski’s main themes?

Zaborowski did not specify who the Slavs “were” before the Bronze Age.  But he did say how, in his view, they came about became and, so to speak, where they “came from”.  Specifically, Zaborowski claimed that all the Illyrian, Moesian and other Danubian people were Slavs.  But they became Slavs as a result of a “historic” event: the movement of the Veneti up the Danube and northwards.  These Veneti brought with them:

  • eastern culture and customs, most specifically, cremation burials, and
  • brachycephaly

As to the latter, this is questionable as no data as far as I know exist for pre-Bronze age Central European populations but the former claim is attractive.

As to the former, the appearance of cremation burials and the worship of the Sun and fire among the Slavs and, earlier, among the Suevi and some Celts may have indeed originated with a Late Bronze Age invasion by the Veneti – originally under Antenor or Jason – escaping the remains of Troy.

Zaborowski’s theories were known at the time and were mentioned, for example, by Edward Boguslawski:

One might add to it that with the Veneti there may have come – to Greece and then northwards – the worship of Iasion who had been identified with the Sun (and who later, among the nomads of the steppe may have been “reinterpreted” into, for example, Svarog).

There is also this curious fact that the metal found at Tollense includes tin.  Tin is relatively rare in Europe.  It is found in northwest Spain, Bretagne, Cornwall and in the Erzgebirge.  When the below map was put together (showing the various suffixes with an “-in”) I did not see anything in Cornwall.  I don’t want to stretch this but there are some names that could be read as “-in” even if they are not spelled that way: Treen, Pendeen… And then you have Trescowe or Morvah or Boyewyan. Most probably have nothing to do with the Veneti or Slavs.  On the other hand maybe a Truro has something to do with Truso?  There is Ludgvan and maybe Botallack does have something to do with Ballack? (Michael Ballack’s name is of Slavic origin).

Note that the Cornwall-Bretagne tin trade has been a matter of interest for a long time and the role played in it by the Veneti, a topic much speculated about as here by the Reverend Saunders:

Note too that the reason Bretagne is called Bretagne is also because the people who fled to it came from Britain once the Anglo-Saxons and others invaded the latter.  So the connections across the water seem to have been present even half a millennium after Caesar. What to read into those connections is another matter altogether, of course.

Tin is cín in Czech and cyna in Polish. Brueckner thinks that came from the German Zinn but this is not necessary as similar names appear already in Greek (for example, cinnabar κιννάβαρι).  The word cena (Polish) comes from “meal” (Latin, cena) and yet it is tempting to connect price (cyna?) with the tin trade.

Whether the Veneti had something to do with the Phoenicians is yet another question.

So was Tollense the end of Central European peoples?  A victory by the Veneti?  A day after which the word Windisch came to be born and the children of these people named Wends?  Did the word Wende signify “change” from that day on?  And were the Suevi another Venetic tribe?  This is all speculation, of course.  But as the Avars were said (by Fredegar) to have slept withe Wendish women, did the Veneti do the same to the women of… who exactly?

More on this topic here.

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October 29, 2017

Polemon’s Veneti

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Here are some fragments from Polemon of Athens (or of Ilium or Ilion in Epirus) that discuss or touch upon the Veneti from the Fragmenta historicorum graecorum, Volume 3:

Polemon of Athens (2nd century BC)

Fragment 22

Schol. Eurip. Hippolyt. v. 230
Scholion ante oculos habuit Eustath. Ad II. II, 851, p. 361, 10. In Λακωνικοῖς fragmentum collocare maluit Preller

πώλους Ἐνέτας] Ταῦτα ἀνακεχρόνισται· οὐδέπω γὰρ Ἕλληνες Ἐνέταιςἐχρῶντο ἵπποις· οἱ γὰρ Ἐνέται Παφλαγονίαν προτερον οἰκοῦντες ὕστερονἐπὶ τὸν Ἀδρίαν διέβησαν, Λέων δὲ πρῶτος Λακεδαιμόνιος πθ’ (πε’Eustath.) ὀλυμπιάδι ἐνίκησεν Ἐνέταις ἵπποις, ὡς Πολέμων ἱστορεῖ, καὶἐπέγραψε τῇ εἰκόνι· «Λέων Λακεδαιμόνοις ἵπποισι νικῶν Ἐνέταις,Ἀντικλείδα πατήρ (πατρόν? Prell.).»

Pullos Venetos] In his contra temporum rationes peccavit Euripides. Nam Hippolyti temporibus nondum usi Graeci Venetis equis sunt. Veneti olim Paphlagoniam incolentes postea in Adriam transmigrarunt; primus vero Venetis equis vicit Olympiade octogesima nona Leo Lacedaemonius, ut Polemo narrat; signo autem Leontis inscriptum legitur: «Leo Lacedoemonius equis victor Venetis, Anticlidae pater.»

“In these reckonings against time, Euripides sins/offends/errs.  In fact, in the time of Hippolitus, the Greeks did not yet use Venetian horses.  Veneti who formerly inhabited Paphlagonia, later migrate to Adria.  In fact, as Polemon tells, [it was] Leo the Spartan who was the first to win [Tethrippon or the chariot race of] the 89th Olympiad using Venetian horses.  Leo’s name was inscribed on a sign to read: ‘Leo the Spartan, victor at Venetian horses, father [or sponsor?] of Anticlidae.'”

Euripides (c. 480 – c. 406 BC).  In his play “Hippolytus” about 428 BC Euripides refers to the Veneti.   Hippolytus refers to Hippolytus son of Theseus on whose story, Euripides based his play. Hippolytus was a forest horse rider (unleasher of horses?) identified also with the later Roman forest god Virbius.  The 89th Olympiad was circa 424 BC.

Fragment 23

Schol. Vet. Pind. Nem. X. 12

Καὶ ἔστι περὶ τὸν Ἀδρίαν Διομήδεια νῆσος ἱερὰ, ἐν ᾗ τιμᾶται ὡς θεός (sc. Διομήδης) … Καὶ Πολέμων ἱστορεῖ· «Ἐν μὲν γὰρ Ἀργυρίπποις ἅγιόν ἐστιναὐτοῦ ἱερόν, »καὶ ἐν Μεταποντίῳ δὲ διὰ πολλῆς αὐτὸν αἴτὸν αἴρεσθαιτιμῆς ὡς θεὸν, καὶ ἐν Θουρίοις εἰκόνας αὐτοῦ καθιδρύσθαι ὡς θεοῦ.

Ad Adriam est Diomedea insula sacra, in qua Diomedes ut deus colitur. . . Polemo dicit: «Argyrippis sacrum ejus templum est, »et Metaponti quoque magnopere eum utpote deum honorari, Thuriisque ei tamquam deo statuas positas esse.

“At Adria/Adriatic Sea is the holy island of Diomedea which Diomedes inhabited as a God.  Polemon says: Argyrippis is his sacred temple. Metapontum also greatly honors him as a God.  In Thurii his statues have also been placed.”

“Adjecimus hunc locum quia Venetorum equorum commemoratio cum Diomedeae religionis conjuncta esse solet.”  We include this place where the Venetian horses were remembered with Diomedan religion.

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September 4, 2017

Something Fishy

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There is an excellent etymological discussion on Polish Radio about the words:

  • wędka – fishing rod
  • wędzić – to smoke fish

The expert on the show provides a fascinating discussion of the history of these words in the Polish language.  Everyone interested is encouraged to listen to this.  Of course, the translation requires some time.

The only quibble may be with the ultimate conclusion.

The discussion was spurred by a question posed by a listener (a Mr. Lech, incidentally) as to whether there is an etymological relationship between those words.  The expert on the show concludes that there isn’t.

But this is clearly wrong. She analyzes the usage of the words throughout history but finding no clear connection in the written sources, she answers the question in the negative.  The problem is that she does not care to ask the “next question.”  Let’s see what that means.

We first explain what she says about the history of these words:

Wędka – Fishing Rod

Wędka [pronounced vendka] is a word for a “fishing rod”.  It is a diminutive of the older form of the word – węda [pronounced venda] which may also have meant a “hook”.  (Incidentally, this is the same Slavic diminutive formation as one would expect to produce a laverca from a laver or lavera).

Wędka > Wędzić  – To Catch Fish

Apparently, from this word – węda/wędka – there later came a verb – wędzić – which meant as much as “to catch fish.”  Later this also became zwędzić meaning “to steal”.  (A similar meaning to łowić as in to fish/hunt which also became a colloquial synonym for “to steal”.)  This cognate of węda/wędka, however, was unrelated to the other wędzić (the one from Mr. Lech’s question).

Wędzić  – To Smoke Fish

But says our expert the above are unrelated to the word wędzić meaning “to smoke fish”.  That word, namely, comes from a “pre-Polish” (presumably meaning some old Slavic?) word meaning “to lose freshness” – same as wiotczenie as in “thinning.” But earlier that word, says our expert, the same meant “drying” or “losing water”.  She then says that “as is known, the preserving of meat by using smoke causes the meat to become dry” and that is why “the process of smoking fish was named by means of a word which referred to the [process] of drying.”

Typical ancient Slav meal

Expert Conclusion

“Of course, pure coincidence caused that wędzić and wędka are similar to one another – they  do not have the same origin.” (Incidentally, this is not original – Alexander Brueckner arrived at the same conclusion).  However, she says one can imagine a situation where a fish that is wędzona was a fish that was caught on a węda or a fish that was smoked or a fish that was first caught on   a węda and then was smoked (a “twice wędzona” fish).

The Smoking Elephant in the Room

The above conclusion however is not supported by the above discussion.  To use an oft-used aphorism “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. Without getting into the question of whether you can prove a negative, it is worth noting that the expert does not bother to get into the question of:

  • why exactly did węda [pronounced venda] mean “fishing rod”?; and
  • why exactly did wędzić [vendit] mean “smoking fish”?

Taken each by themselves, the words remain a mystery but, taken together, they can be explained logically.

First of all note that while węda may have meant a “hook” that hook never referred to hooks used for anything other than catching fish or fishing rod hooks.  In other words, whether as a “hook” or as a “fishing rod” the word essentially meant a device for fishing.

To further pursue this, we know that fishing with a fishing rod or hook or both is a laborious exercise which you spend most often sitting around for quite some time hoping that something will bite.  Of course, you do this by sitting on a boat which sits on water or by sitting on the water shore.

So the first candidate for the meaning of węda [venda] is water.

But, maybe it refers to “fish”?  That would be a good guess too and perhaps even a better one!  (There was, after all, that fish named Wanda…)

That is where matters would likely stand if… we did not know that there was also the word wędzić meaning “to smoke fish” and, as our expert noted, originally meaning “to lose freshness”.

Note, of course, that what a smoked fish loses is freshness, yes, but it does so by losing water.  In fact, as per our expert, the word first used to mean “to dry” or “[cause] to lose water”.

Thus, it would seem that a better guess would be that wend refers to “water”.

This is further supported by:

  • the fact that wędlina [vendlina] or wędzonka [vendzonka] refers to smoked meats other than fish (typically pork);
  • the fact that więdnąć [viendnot] refers to the “withering” or “wilting” of flowers (usually this results from lack of water obviously);
  • the fact that in other Slavic languages a similar word exists that tracks the Slavic name for “water” – woda as in (following Brueckner) proso woditi meaning to “smoke/cure” in Slovenian or uditi/údený meaning “smoked/cured meant” in Czech/Slovak or wudyty in Ruthenian (?) or вэнджаны in Belarussian;
  • the fact that wundan [vundan] meant “water” in Old Prussian and vanduo means “water” in Lithuanian.

The fact that the princess Wanda has traditionally been associated with the Vistula is also suggestive.

For more on this see here and – regarding Odin/Wodan see here.

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June 25, 2017

The Venni, Vindices and Veneti of the Later Roman Empire

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One of the complaints about the connection of the Slavs as Veneti of Jordanes and the Veneti of Pliny, Tacitus, Ptolemy or Strabo (Vindelici) is that there is a wide gap in time between the appearance of the latter (1st-2nd century) and the time when the former are identified with the Slavs (6th century).

But is that so?  It seems that what is rather true is that the people who make such claims are not familiar with Roman literature and other works of the middle and late imperial period.  We have pointed out some of those sources before but let’s rehash and a few other ones.

Notitia Dignitatum
395-433 A.D.

The Notitia mentions the Vindices:

These may be Vindelici or Veneti but, of course, those may well be one and the same tribe.

Tabula Peutingeriana
late 4th – early 5th century

In addition to the Veneti in Gaul, the Tabula Peutingeriana mentions three Venetic tribes including the Venadis Sarmatae somewhere north but also the Venedi on the Danube.  The first location is apparently the one mentioned by Ptolemy, Tacitus and Pliny and where we find Slavs later on.  The second is where the Slavs make their first appearance under that name (in Procopius and in Jordanes who makes the connection between Slavs and Veneti).

 Epiphanus’ Treatise on the Twelve Stones
circa 394 A.D.

Most of the Greek original of this work is preserved in an early Latin translation which is reflected in the Collectio Avellana.  In there we find the following passage (CSEL vol. 2):

“In the entire northern region which the ancients used to call Scythia, there are Goths, Danes [?],  Venni* and also Arii up to the German and Amazon regions.”

Scythiam vero soliti sunt veteres appellare cunctam septentrionalem plagam, ubi sunt Gothi et Dauni, Venni quoque et Arii usque ad Germanorum Amazonarumque regionem.

* On the “Venni” see below.

Hippolitus’ Chronicle
pre 235 A.D.

This chronicle tells us that “When looking to the north, these are the nations of Japheth scattered from Media as far as the Western Ocean: Medes, Albanians, Garganians, Errians, Armenians, AMazones, Coli, Korzanians, Dennagenians, Capadocians, Paphlagonians, Mariandyni, Tabareni, Chalybes, Mosynoeci, Sarmatians, Sauromatae, Maeotians, Scythians, Crimeans, Thracians, Bastarnae, Illyrians, Macedonians, Greeks, Ligurians, Istrians, Venni*, Daunians, Iapygians, Calabrians, Osci, Latins who are Romans, Gauls who are Celts, Lygistini, Celtiberians, Iberians, Gauls, Aquitannians, Illyricians, Basantians, Curtanians, Lusitanians, Vaccaei, Conii, Britons who live on islands.”

* Οὐεννοί – The German historian Josef Markwart (or Josef Marquart) noted that the Venni are the Veneti.

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June 3, 2017

On the Illyrian Veneti of Herodotus’ Book I

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In addition to the passage in Book V, 9, 2 that we discussed here, Herodotus also mentions the Veneti (Eneti) in Book I, 196, 1.  Here is that passage (Godley edition) which comes in the context of a discussion of Babylonians:

“This is the equipment of their persons. I will now speak of their established customs. The wisest of these, in our judgment, is one which I have learned by inquiry is also a custom of the Eneti in Illyria. It is this: once a year in every village all the maidens as they attained marriageable age were collected and brought together into one place, with a crowd of men standing around.”

“Then a crier would display and offer them for sale one by one, first the fairest of all; and then, when she had fetched a great price, he put up for sale the next most attractive, selling all the maidens as lawful wives. Rich men of Assyria who desired to marry would outbid each other for the fairest; the ordinary people, who desired to marry and had no use for beauty, could take the ugly ones and money besides;”

“for when the crier had sold all the most attractive, he would put up the one that was least beautiful, or crippled, and offer her to whoever would take her to wife for the least amount, until she fell to one who promised to accept least; the money came from the sale of the attractive ones, who thus paid the dowry of the ugly and the crippled. But a man could not give his daughter in marriage to whomever he liked, nor could one that bought a girl take her away without giving security that he would in fact make her his wife.”

“And if the couple could not agree, it was a law that the money be returned. Men might also come from other villages to buy if they so desired.”

“This, then, was their best custom; but it does not continue at this time; they have invented a new one lately [so that the women not be wronged or taken to another city]; since the conquest of Babylon made them afflicted and poor, everyone of the people that lacks a livelihood prostitutes his daughters.”

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May 10, 2017

Arrian’s Veneti

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One of the more knotty assertions has been that the Paphlagonian Veneti had been driven out from their lands by the Assyrians (or by the Leuco (or white) Syrians though it may also be the case that the Veneti were the Leuco-Syrians).  This claim appears in a number of 19th centuries works – usually written by amateur historians and without citations.  We finally decided to get to the bottom of this.

Apparently, the statement was made by Arrian of Nicomedia (circa 86/89 A.D. – circa after 146/160 A.D.), the author of the Periplus of the Euxine Sea, Indica and a number of other works.  However, it does not seem to have been directly preserved in any surviving work of Arrian’s.  (we say “does not seem” because we hadn’t had a chance to look through the Arrian section in Felix Jacoby’s Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker – FGrH 156).  Instead, the assertion is made by a 12th century Greek scholar Eustathius of Thessalonica (circa 1115 – 1195/6).  Among Eustathtius’ works is a series of commentaries including one on the work of Dionysius Periegetes (Dionysius the Traveler), a Roman traveler and author of a geography book who is believed to have lived during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (117–138 A.D.) though some say that he lived at the end of the third century.

It is in that commentary on Dionysius Periegetes (specifically, in section 378) that Eustathius cites Arrian.  We find the passage of interest to us in the German philologist Gottfried Bernhardy‘s 1828 edition of Dionysius’ work (Dionysius Periegetes : graece et latine, cum vetustis commentariis et interpretationibus) which also happens to contain Eusthathius’ commentary on  Dionysius.

Although about a millennium separates Arrian and Eustathius and fewer years than that have passed from Eustathius’ time to ours, nevertheless it is certainly possible that Eustathius did have access to one of Arrian’s lost works.

The following is the excerpt from the “Arrian” section of the commentary which section refers to the Veneti:

“[378] …The Eneti, who are now called the Veneti, as Arrian writes saying that the Eneti struggled hard in the fight against the Assyrians and passing into Europe lived by the river Po and the native language of these [people] is still called Venetian by reason of the Eneti and the land they dwell in [is called] Venetia.  The old [people] truly say that some of those who come from the Eneti, people of Asia, brought their kind, those who struggled in that war (as it is said) fleeing to Europe.  Others say that from the Eneti, who at one time inhabited Paphlagonia, they brought forth an exceptional nation, that after the attack on it was left wandering.  Their leader Pylamenes went to Thracia and the Veneti wondered about and retreated to the Adriatic.   This poet [Strabo] recalls such Venetian Paphlagonians saying: ‘from the [land] of the Veneti, whence comes the breed of wild mules.’  Many of the Veneti who are close to Aquileia, have colonies there by the same name.  The ocean is called home not only by the Veneti but also by the Belgae.  The Belgae are a Celtic nation.  The geographer [Strabo] also writes that clearly the cities of the Veneti who live by the ocean were founded by those who live on the Adriatic.  In a naval encounter they fought against Caesar such that they might prevent him from crossing to Britain.  Nor is it an accident that the Veneti are those Paphlagonians that arrived safe from the Trojan War with Antenor the Trojan, as this is demonstrated by the fact that they excelled in raising horses, as reported by Homer.  [Thus,] the training of horse is among the Greek called Venetica [?]  It was from these that Diomedes was given an offering of a white horse.  Moreover, they say their sea is similar to the Ocean [both] returning and flowing.  And these lakes are filled by channels (as old historians recount), just as the Egyptian lakes are derived/filled [?].  It should also be noted that the entire region beyond the Calabrians was called Apulia and the people there Apulians.  Note also that just as the wind that blows through Thracia is called the Thracian, and the Locrician the one that blows through Locris, so does the one that blows through Iapygia is called the Iapygian.*”

* This is confusing but Iapygia is the same as Apulia and as Messapia at the back heel of Italy (also the home to a town Sybar present apparently at the Trojan War before it was renamed Lecce by the Romans – given as Lipiae or Lippiae by Strabo and Ptolemy).  Whether the Iapyges could have something to do with the Iazyges is a question at least worth asking.  Why this passage should be thrown in here is uncertain – perhaps the author thought the Messapians/Apullians/Iapyges had something to do with the Veneti.  Perhaps because of the city of Pula now in Croatia (Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea).  What Locris has to do with any of this is even more unclear.  Afterwards, the author continues with the description of the northern Adriatic turning his gaze to Triest so it seems that some connection is being drawn by Eustathius (or by Arrian?).

“[382] Also Tegaestrae, an Illyrian city, which is located in the innermost part of the Adriatic: its other name is Tergest as it is [written?] in the book of the Gentiles/[heathens?].”

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March 28, 2017

Searching for Brests

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Here is a map with cities/towns that have Brest in the name (red) and variations, e.g., Briest, Brzesc, Berestok, etc.:


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July 16, 2016

The Veneti of Solinus & Martianus Capella

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We have previously briefly mentioned Solinus (Gaius Julius Solinus), the Latin writer of the early 3rd century, when discussing the River Vistula here. He wrote “The wonders of the world” (De mirabilibus mundi aka Polyhistor), a book which includes a mention of the Veneti of Paphlagonia.   Although much of the work is derived from Pliny and Pomponius Mela, we wanted to include the reference for completeness’ sake here (with the C.L.F. Panckoucke edition).

Martianus Capella (Martianus Minneus Felix Capella) lived and worked at the beginning of the 5th century.  We know this only because his one monumental work that survived – “On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury” (De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii) mentions the sack of Rome by the Goth Alaric (in 410) but the writer is apparently unaware of the conquest of Africa by the Vandals (in 429).  It seems (as per Cassiodorus) he was a native of Madaura in the Roman province of Africa (in today’s Algeria).  He may have been a lawyer in (Roman) Carthage.    The “marriage” book was quite popular in the middle ages.  More importantly for us, it also contains a geographic description of some parts of the world including a passage on the “Province of Phrygia”.  That passage, which appears based on Solinus, also refers to the Paphlagonian (and Italian) Veneti.  Therefore, we include it here as well.

De mirabilibus mundi aka Polyhistor
C.L.F. Panckoucke edition (Paris 1847)
45. Paphlagonia, et Venetorum origo.

“In the back of Galatia is terminated by Paphlagonia.  This Paphlagonia, looks at Taurica [Crimea] from Cape Carambis; [there] rises Mount Cytor stretched into a height of sixty-three [thousand?] miles; this is where the noteworthy place of the Veneti lies, from which, as Cornelius Nepos certifies, the Paphlagonians set out to Italy and, thereupon, they were named Veneti. The Miletians founded many cities there.  The town of Mithridates (VI of Pontus) Eupator once it was conquered by Pompei, became known as Pompeiopolis.*”

* This refers to a Roman city near the modern Turkish town of Taşköprü.


(Paphlagoniam limes a tergo Galaticus amplectitur. Ea Paphlagonia Carambi promontorio spectat Tauricam, consurgit Cytoro monte porrecto in spatium passuum trium et sexaginta millium, insignis loco Heneto: a quo, ut Cornelius Nepos perhibet, Paphlagones in Italiam transvecti, mox Veneti sunt nominati. Plurimas in ea regione urbes Milesii condiderunt, Eupatoriam Mithridates: quo subacto a Pompeio, Pompeiopolis est dicta.)

Martianus Capella
“On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury”
Book VI
(Province of Phrygia)

“…Thereafter [comes] Paphlagonia, where [lies] the end of Galatia; but here is the city [land] of the Veneti from whose citizens [inhabitants], they [people] claim, the Veneti of Italy have arisen…”


(De Phrygia Provincia.  Phrygia Troadi imminet, ab aquiilone Galatia est, a meridie Lycaonia et Pisidiae Mygdoniae confinis est, ab oriente Lyciae, a septentrione Mysiae et Cariae.  Dehinc Tmolus corco florens, amnisque Pactolus.  Ioniae Miletos caput.  Ibi etiam Colophon, oraculo Clarii Apollinis celebrata.  Maconiae principium Sipylus; Smyrna etiam Homero notissima, quam circumfluit Meles fluvius; nam Smyrnaeos campos tiermus intersecat, qui ortus Dorylao Phrygiam Cariamque dispescit.  Juxta Ilium sepulcrum Memnonis jacet.  Ibi inter omnes Asiae civitates Pergamum clarius.  Nam Bithynia initium Ponti est, et ab ortu Thraciae adversa, a Sagari flumine primos habitatores habet, qui fluvius alii fluvio Gallo miscetur, a quo Galli dicuntur ministri matris deum.  Hace et Bebrycia et Mygdonia dicta est; a Bithyno rege Bithynia.  In ea civitas Prusias, quam Hylas inundat lacus, quo puer ejusdem nominis dicitur interceptus.  Ibi Libyssa locus, Nicomediae proximus, in eo sepulcrum Hannibalis memoratur.  Dehinc Ponti ora, post fauces Bosphori et amnem Rhesum Sagrimque sinus Mariandyni, in quo Heraclea civitas, portus Acone, ubi herba veneni acnitum procreatur, specus Acherusius, qui mergitur in profunda telluris.  Inde Paphlagonia, ubi a tergo Galatia est; sed hic Henetosa* etiam civitas, a cujus civibus in Italia ortos Venetos asserunt.  Ibi promontorium Carambis, quod a Ponti ostio abest millibus passum ducentis viginti, tantundem a Cimmerio.  Ibi etiam mons Cytorus, et civitas Eupatoria, quam Mithridates fecerat; sed eo victo Pompejopolis appellata.)

* also: Enetusa, Venetusa and in one other version in the margin, Henetorum.

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July 5, 2016