Category Archives: Vandals

Were There Vandals in Poland? – Part VII

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We have examined the Vandals (even though this is a blog about Slavs) just to see if there could be any connection.  Maybe there was.  But it is not apparent to us (about the best that can be said is that Kadlubek speaks of the legend of Wanda…).

So what do we discover on this topic if we look around?  What does the academic profession write about this?

Looking at Wikipedia is most dangerous but why not start there.  Here we came on materials describing the connection between the Vandals and the Lugii.  These included:

  • the Germania treatise written by John Anderson in 1938 – given the title’s reference to Tacitus, we decided it was unlikely to say much about Vandals;
  • the more recent (2006) Encyclopedia of European Peoples published by InfoBase Publishing by Carl Waldman and Catherine Mason – a derivative work where neither of the authors is a scholar of the matters in question and,
  • much more interestingly, The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples (original: Das Reich und die Germanen no, not that Reich, don’t worry! – published by the University of California Press – a work by the German (Austrian, technically, but we prefer not dealing with abstractions) historian Herwig Wolfram, a professor emeritus (now) at the University of Vienna.

Wolfram had written the History of the Goths and so this seemed like a natural choice to compare and contrast.


Primus inter bullshitters?

The section on the Vandals pre-405/406 is, unsurprisingly, short but we were nevertheless struck by how much it is inundated with supposition and wishful thinking.  The author appears to have abandoned his critical faculties and entered the land of fancy.  As Wolfram appears to be one of the leading scholars of the era, this is, of course, a most lamentable, result.  We were so disappointed that we did not bother to read the rest of the book (we hope to go back to it after the initial shock wears off).

With a heavy heart, we present what the author has to say about the pre-405/406 Vandals.  Commentary, obviously, in red.

Wolfram: The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples

The Vandals

Wolfram: “The history leading up to the great Vandal assault, in which both Hasding and Siling Vandals crossed the Rhine along with other peoples and thus stepped into the bright light of history , can be reconstructed only in rough outline.”

Yes, and that very rough outline we gave in the prior posts here.  What follows in Wolfram’s writing is not a reconstruction but a wholesale construction “from the ground up.”

Wolfram: “Already the Tacitus speaks in the same breath of the central Vandili cult site (“a sacred grove of ancient worship”), which was presided over by a priest dressed like a woman, and of the Alci-Alces, two deities he equates with the Dioskouroi Castor and Pollux.”

Either an outright lie or Wolfram is a crappy historian.  Tacitus does not speak of any “central” or other “Vandili” cult site (in the “same” or many breaths).  He speaks of a Naharnavali cult site.  Wolfram assumes that Naharnavali are Vandals and attributes the Naharnavali site to the latter.  The mention of a grove should probably point us towards the Lugi (given one Slavic meaning of the word “lug” – on that see here).  This would fit in nicely with the fact that the Naharnavali were listed by Tacitus as a member group of the Lugii.

Wolfram: “The Vandals, who had originally formed one large ethnic group (like the Suevi), bore “a genuine and old tribal name.”

Leaving the Suevi aside, Tacitus does not claim that a the Vandal name was a “genuine” one and an “old” one.  Rather he says that:

  • Some people assert “with the freedom of conjecture permitted by antiquity” that the people living in Tacitus’ “Germania” (or a subpart of them?) had several names and that, on that list, there was a Vandili name (last on the list); and that 
  • [some people assert] that “these are genuine old names” (not genuine and old), i.e., meaning simply, “some people say that the name was “old, really!”

Put differently, Tacitus is careful not to say the same but rather to point out that others are saying something about these Germanic tribes.  He asserts that they are guessing (conjecture) but given how long ago all of this was (antiquity), perhaps their guessing is worth something, or they are entitled to more leeway, so he is going to include this information in his ethnographic text.

The notion that the Vandals were a group of smaller tribes/peoples (?) comes solely from Pliny.  The notion that they were an ethnic group (as opposed to, say, an alliance of tribes of different ethnicity) cannot be derived from ancient authors and represents a “construction” of Wolfram’s.

Wolfram: “The Longobards arose in the struggle against the Vandals.”

The only source for this is Origo (Paul the Deacon is derivative).  This may well be true but one ought to note that the Origo was written several hundred of years after the “arising” of the Longobards and only after the Vandals had gotten their fearsome reputation, i.e., where the notion of struggling and winning against the Vandals would actually mean something impressive.

Wolfram: “The Gothic tribal saga too reflects centuries of conflict between Goths and Vandals.  True to its bias the saga celebrates the very first class as a Gothic victory.  In reality, what took place was probably not a singular incident but a longer process that freed the Gutones from dependence on the Vandals.  Pliny the Elder still knew the Gutones as a subgroup of the Vandals-Vandili.”

Pliny, as we noted was the only one and even with Pliny we have to assume that the Gutones are the later Goths – a possibility but not a certainty.  And even if the Goths of Cniva (not to mention the later Goths) were related to the Gutones, that does not mean that the first came from the second – as opposed to, say, some parallel migration along the Daugava, as described in the Gutasagan.  

Moreover, the notion of “centuries of conflict” appears misleading.  Jordanes’ text suggests several skirmishes probably over a few centuries but the Vandals are presented by him, not as the “ur-enemies” of the Goths but rather as one of many tribes being beaten by and fleeing from the Goths.

Nevertheless, this seems to be the most accurate group of sentences in this passage thus far.

Wolfram: The Gutones are also mentioned in connection with the Lugians,”

The Gutones are mentioned by Tacitus as living past the Lugii.  But Tacitus does not know any people then living by the name of Vandals and certainly does not claim that the Lugii were Vandals.  Moreover, given the number of Goths’ victims, one might just as well claim that the Lugii were the Spali or some other tribe (allegedly) defeated by the Goths (the list is impressive).  

The French and Americans were, no doubt, listed several times “in connection” with one another in WWII histories but that does not mean that the Americans were French or French were Americans.  And the Germans and Russians are also, of course, mentioned “in connection with” one another in works discussing the same time period.  Is this supposed to be some sort of “we’re all out of Africa” theory?

Ptolemy also mentions a Gotini people and a Lugii people but does so in two different sections of Geography – the first are in Sarmatia, the second in the earlier chapter on Germania.  Hence no evident connection exists except that they, along with hundreds of others, are in the same book.

Wolfram: “and even Tacitus speaks of Lugians and the Vandals in one breath.”

Huh!?  We were puzzled by this clause.  Unless, Wolfram knows something about Tacitus’ and his breathing that we do not or unless Wolfram has come into possession of a document unknown to us (a possibility!), we have to admit we know of no text of Tacitus that mentions the Lugians and Vandals other than Germania (which is the only time he mentions the Vandals).  Of course, in Germania the Vandals are mentioned as an “appellation” of some/all (?) of the “Germans” in chapter 2, whereas the Lugii are mentioned as an actual tribe in chapters 43 & 44 – good luck holding your breath.  

As discussed before, Tacitus in his Annals (12, 29 & 12, 30) notes that during the reign of Claudius an army of Lugii (the other time the Lugii are mentioned by Tacitus and the only other time they are mentioned by him) confronted Vannius of the Suevi who were being aided by Iazyges.  But where are the Vandals?

The clause is obviously false. 

The question is who did Wolfram mean?  Or is this just totally made up?  The only thing that we can come up with is Zossimus (the much later- 5th-6th century writer) who says in his Historia Nova:

The emperor [Probus] terminated several other wars, with scarcely any trouble; and fought some fierce battles, first against the Logiones, a German nation, whom he conquered, taking Semno their general, and his son, prisoners. These he pardoned upon submission, but took from them all the captives and plunder they had acquired, and dismissed, on certain terms, not only the common soldiers, but even Semno and his son. Another of his battles was against the Franks, whom he subdued through the good conduct of his commanders. He made war on the Burgundi and the Vandili. But seeing that his forces were too weak, he endeavoured to separate those of his enemies, and engage only with apart. His design was favoured by fortune;

[Zossimus also claims the Burgundi and Vandili were then resettled in Britain – a topic to which we will come back]

Now, one could read that in one breath but that would be an impressive breath and the reading not very clear by the time one got to the Vandili.  

In any event, measuring  the closeness of ethnic relationships described by a writer by the ability of the reader to engage in some pulmonary gymnastics (even if especially impressive ones) seems an unusual way of establishing such affinities (this is the second such “breath” reference in this text).  If you think Zossimus thinks of the Logiones and the Vandili as the same people, based on the above text, more power to you.

Tacitus was also known for his free diving skills

Tacitus was also known for his free diving skills (BTW what is it with Austrians and their long breaths?)

Is Wolfram reinterpreting Strabo‘s Vinde-lici? 

Is it a translator mistake?  

Or is he just making it all up and no one checks this stuff before it goes to print?  No, that… couldn’t be it.  There must be systems in place that prevent that, right? 

If readers have any other ideas, please let us know.

Wolfram: “In all likelihood the Lugians and the Vandals were one cultic community that lived in the same region of the Oder in Silesia, where it was first under Celtic and then under Germanic domination.”

“In all likelihood” is one of those subjective phrases that is intended to seem as a model of objectivity.  It implies a carefully balanced decision making process where the author, after sweating over the topic for years, comes to a difficult but inevitable conclusion that something is true.  The phrase in “all” likelihood suggests something more than “it is likely”, “it is probable” or “it is more likely than not”).  It suggests that, by implication, in “no likelihood” could matters have been different.  But is that the case? 

Why are the Lugians or Vandals a “cultic” community now?  So are they of a different ethnicity but worship the same Gods?  We assume this statement is based solely on the mention of the poor Naharnavalis’ rites – but what that statement has to do with Vandals, is beyond us, unless one, a priori, assumes that Tacitus’ description of the Naharnavali as Lugii is correct (let’s assume that) and that the Lugii, or at least the Naharnavali, were Vandals. 

But maybe one does not have to do that – maybe we can just call them all a “cultic community”? (This suggests interesting possibilities for the worshippers of the Roman Catholic Church – perhaps now Paraguaians are ethnically related to the Bavarians?  Through a “cultic community”, of course – not to mention Alfredo Strößner). 

Ehhh, academics…

Wolfram: “What was for the most part considered “Celtic” around the time of Christ’s birth was considered “Germanic” a century later.”

This is a perplexing statement.  Presumably, Wolfram means “considered” by Romans since they were the only literate ones in the area (or at least the only one who left relevant records).  If so, is he suggesting that the name changed by the people did not?  Did their language change?  

Now, interestingly, Wolfram does say something curious about the Slavs in his book – we will return to that later. 

Wolfram: “The Lugian name was preserved, and so Tacitus could simultaneously recognize the importance of the Vandals, locate the Gutones – from the perspective of the Danubian frontier – “beyond the Lugians,” and include many Lugian subtribes among the Vandals.”

This sounds like an explanation/rationalization of something that Tacitus wrote.  But it isn’t that because Tacitus didn’t write anything of the sort.

Tacitus could have included “many” Lugian sub tribes among the Vandals – had Tacitus agreed with Wolfram’s view of the Lugii that the latter were Vandals.  Then Wolfram could have written the above sentence, telling us why Tacitus wrote such a thing – a thing not immediately obvious to the rest of us.

But Tacitus did not include “many” or any Lugian sub tribes among the Vandals.  As noted above, Tacitus’ list of the peoples of Germania does not even describe any tribe by the name Vandals existing in Tacitus’ own time.  So Wolfram is explaining why Tacitus did something that Tacitus did not do.

Perhaps the above should have read “Tacitus could have had written”?  Or “should have written”?  Maybe it is the translator’s fault?

Of course, in that case Wolfram is just telling Tacitus how Tacitus should have written his Germania set in Tacitus’ own time, to fit with Wolfram’s views – views shaped by a perspective nearly two millennia distant from Tacitus’ own time.  In any event such a sentence would belong in a late night prayer to Tacitus not in what purports to be a history book.

Wolfram: “At the end of the first and the beginning of the second century, the Gutones separated from the Lugian-Vandal community and moved from Pomerania to the Vistula.”

Let’s see, there is no evidence that:

  • there was a Lugian-Vandal community (putting aside the confusing hyphen, i.e., were Lugii Vandals or not?);
  • the Gutones moved east (south?) to the Vistula;

Easily granting that Jordanes speaks of the Goths moving from Scandinavia to present-day Ukraine (?), he is less than clear on how they got there.  Did they migrate over Finland?  Did they land in Estonia?  On the Daugava?  On the Niemen?  Were they at the Vistula or at the Oder?

And there is no evidence when that (whatever their itinerary) happened.

Wolfram: “The Vandals (assigned by archaeologists to the Przeworsk culture) meanwhile expanded southward from what is today central Poland.”

For the Vandals to have “expanded southward from what is today central Poland” they must have been in central Poland in the first place.  Of course, this is not per se impossible, but, as we have seen, the evidence as to the Vandals’ path (if indeed they came from Scandinavia) or the Vandals’ formation (if they did not) points mostly to the territories of today’s East Germany.

On the Przeworsk culture see here.

It is also noteworthy that elsewhere Wolfram says: “…in the Wielbark culture, where the Gutones belonged to the Lugian cult league, which was originally dominated by the Celts.”

Basically, Wolfram acknowledges the archeologists’ typology of “Przeworsk” and “Wielbark” and associates the former with the Vandals and the latter with the Goths.  His problem is that the ancient writers label these areas as belonging to the Legii or Lugii or Lygii but not the Vandals and, except for portions of Pomerania, not the Goths.  So Wolfram confabulates away by connecting the Vandals and the Goths with an entirely made-up Lugic “cultic community” or “cult league” – even though neither such connection nor such “cultic” community is reported anywhere…  For good measure (and presumably to anticipate any suggestion that the Lugii were Slavs), he also labels the Legii/Lugii/Lygii with the neutral name of “Celts”.  

We are thus presumably to believe that these territories were covered by Vandals and Goths and if there were any people before them there, they were “Celts.”  Wolfram does not even mention the Veneti (why is the Baltic, the Sarmatian Sea?  What of the Veneti dwelling at the Veneticus Sinus?).  And, as for the Lugii/Legii/Lygii, well, their attested presence in Poland is, of course, unfortunate for Wolfram but he disposes of that issue by making up one large Lugo-Vandalo-Gothic community (of Celtic origins of course).  The fact that the Lugii/Legii/Lygii were seem to live in Suevia and the Polish Lechites live in the same space later as “Slavs” does not seem worth exploring to Wolfram (presumably the explanation would be that the incoming Slavs stole the Suevic name, and, for good measure, probably also stole the Lugii/Legii name).

Wolfram: “The Sudeten Mountains became the “Vandal Mountains” and demarcated the land of one of the Vandal sub tribes, the Silesian Silings.”

This is a mixture of partial BS and pure BS (call it 75% BS). The Sudeten Mountains may have been called the Vandalic Mountains.  However, there is only one such reference and that reference of Cassius Dio’s  is hardly dispositive as to the question of which mountains bore such name.  

One would also have to ask who lived in the territories that the Vandals moved from and moved to…

That’s the partial-BS part.

The total BS part is the suggestion that the the Vandal Mountains demarcated the land of a Vandal sub tribe of the Silesian Silingi.  This is because:

  • there is no evidence that the Silingi lived in Silesia;  
    • even assuming that the Silingi deviated eastwards at some point and traveled through Silesia that hardly would make it their land and hardly a land with any (this sounds so statist and formal) need for officially “demarcated” borders.
  • there is evidence that the Lugii lived in Silesia and that the Silingi lived west of the Lugii and, therefore, west of Silesia;
  • the combining together of the adjective Silesian with the Silingi (actually Silingae) looks like a parlour trick designed to force a connection where there is likely none – the Silingae probably derive their name from Zeeland of Denmark and are never shown as being in Silesia; (incidentally, any honest examination of the Silingi should begin with their mention in medieval sources, where, e.g., a people named Silendi are named in Royal Frankish Annals, e.g., under the year 815 as being Norsemen north of the River Eider) 
  • even if the Silingi became Vandals later, the Silingi are not described as Vandals (or a “sub tribe” thereof) by the only source before the 5th century (Ptolemy) that mentions them at all; 

Wolfram: “To their east we can make out the other Vandals, the Hasdingi, the “long-haired,” whose ancient customs and instituions probably reach back into the Lugian period.”

At this point, we began to suspect that Wolfram, immediately prior to writing this chapter, had consumed substances considered illegal in most countries and that the effects of said substances – perceptible to the reader’s eye only weakly at first – had become, shall we say, “preponderant”.


“We” can’t “make out” anyone to the East of the Silingi that is called the Hasdingi.  Ptolemy, the only author mentioning the Silingi says nothing of the Hasdingi.  And Ptolemy lists a LOT of tribes. 

We “are told” that in the second half of the second century a tribe named Hasdingi did in fact appear in Dacia.  That Hasdingi tribe was, in fact, later referred to as Vandals.  

There is no suggestion anywhere that the Hasdingi were related to the Lugii or that they had any “ancient customs and institutions”.

Wolfram: “For example, the first three generations of their royal line are pairs of military kings: Ambri and Assi (“alder” and “ash”) resist the Longobards, Raus and Rapt (“beam” and “reed”) request permission in 171 to enter Trajan’s Dacia, and even two hundred years later Hasdingi warriors invade the Roman Empire under the leadership of two kings whose names are unknown to us.”

As to the names, this is true if one believes Jordanes and Paul the Deacon to have written accurately the names of Vandalic leaders in their founding myths of the Goths and Lombards, respectively.  As to the interpretation of names, several come to mind.

Wolfram: “The Hasdingi in the narrower sense can be compared to the Gothic Amals, who were also considered to be Aesir: for one thing, both names represent the ethnic group from which “the kings are chosen”;

They represent family or clan names but a whole ethnic group?  Is Wolfram saying here that there were other ethnic groups within the Vandals/Goths?  On this he may be write but it is not clear what he means here.

Wolfram: “for another, the name of the Amal Aesir probably means the same as the names of the Vandal dual kings Raus and Rapt, namely, a log or tree from which stake idols were carved.”

We have said a lot of things on this site and engaged in a lot of speculation but we would never suggest that such a thing was “probable”.  It is Wolfram’s freewheeling interpretation and he is entitled to it but he should declare it as such. 

Wolfram: “While the majority of the Silings remained beyond the Sudeten Mountains, Hasding groups and already crossed the Carpathian Mountains southward by the time of the Marcomannic wars.”

There is no evidence for this whatsoever.  Once again, the only time that the Silingae appear before the year 400 A.D. is in Ptolemy’s Geography, in the 100s and probably around the town of Leipzig.   As to the Hasdings, we have no idea how or from where they came to Dacia – or whether they coalesced out of the natives of the surrounding countryside.  

Remember, the Dacians were previously known as Getae and may have birthed the Goths and if so why not the Vandals too? (yes, we know the Getae may not have been the Goths and yet the latter first appear on history’s pages precisely where the former lived – a surprising alleged coincidence).

Wolfram: “We are told that they joined the great Gothic military King Cniva around 250; in 270 they penetrated from the upper reaches of the Tisza River all the way to Pannonia.  Just as the Saxons backed the Franks, the Vandals backed the Goths in the conflict with Rome.”

So not mortal enemies after all (though, to be fair, “joined” is probably a euphemism).  The sources of all these statements are in our prior postings.  Here, where he has to write history and not speculate, Wolfram is at his best. 


We had previously enjoyed Wolfram’s History of the Goths but now the question arises whether we will have to revisit that as well.  Hopefully not, as there are too many Slavic topics that merit review.

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August 19, 2015