Category Archives: East Slavs

Thietmar’s Book VIII

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Chapter 1 [1018]

In the year 1018 of the Incarnation, in the second indiction, in the sixteenth year of Lord Henry’s reign, and his fourth as emperor, the same Henry celebrated the Circumcision and Epiphany of the Lord in Frankfurt, with great solemnity (1, 6 January).  On January 25, Ezzelin the Lombard was granted his liberty.  He had been held in custody for four years.  Afterwards in January 30, Bishops Gero and Arnulf, the counts Herman and Dietrich, and the emperor’s chancellor Frederick agreed to a sworn peace at the burg Bautzen.  The agreement was are at the emperor’s order and in response Boleslav’s constant supplications.  This was not as it should have been,  however.  Rather, it was the best that could be accomplished under the circumstances.  In the company of a select group of hostages, the aforesaid lords returned.  After four days, Oda, Margrave Ekkehard’s daughter, whom Boleslav had long desired, was escorted to Zuetzen by Otto, the duke’s son.  When they arrived they were greeted by a large crowd of men and women, and by many burning lamps, since it was night-time.  Contrary to the authority of the canons, Oda married the duke over Septuagesima.  Until now, she has lived outside the law of matrimony and thus in a manner worthy of a marriage such as this one.

Chapter 2

In her husband’s kingdom, the customs are many and varied. They are also harsh, but occasionally quite praiseworthy.  The populace must be fed like cattle and punished as one would a stubborn ass.  Without severe punishment, the prince cannot put them to any useful purpose.  If anyone in this land should presume to abuse a foreign matron and thereby commit fornication, the act is immediately avenged through the following punishment.  The guilty party is led on to the market bridge, and his scrotum is affixed to it with a nail.  Then after a share knife has been  placed next to him, he is given the harsh choice between death or castration.  Furthermore, anyone found to have eaten meat after Septuegesima is severely punished, by having his teeth knocked out.  The law of God, newly introduced in these regions, gains more strength from such acts of force that from any fast imposed by the bishops.  There are also other customs, by far inferior to these, which please neither God nor the inhabitants, and are useful only as a means to inspire terror.  To some extent, I have alluded to these above.  I think that it is unnecessary fro me to say any more about this man whose name and manner of life, if it please Almighty God, might better have remained concealed from us.  That his father and he were joined to us, through marriage and great familiarity, has produced results so damaging that any good preceding them is far outweighed, and so it will remain in the future.  During false periods of peace Boleslav may temporarily regard us with affection.  Nevertheless, through all kinds of secret plots, he constatnly attempts to sow dissension, diminish our inborn freedom, and, if time and place permit rise up and destroy us.

Chapter 3

In the days of his father, when he still embraced heathenism, every woman followed her husband on to the funeral pure, after first being decapitated.* If a woman was found to be a prostitute moreover, she suffered a particularly wretched and shameful penalty.  The skin of around her genitals was cut off and this ‘foreskin,’ if we may call it that, was hung on the door so that anyone who entered would see it and be more concerned and prudent in the future.  The law of the Lord declares that such a woman should be stoned, and the rules of our ancestors would require her beheading.**  Nowadays, the freedom to sin dominates everywhere to a degree that is not right or normal.  And so it is not just a large number of frustrated girls who engage in adultery, having been driven by the desire of the flesh to harmful lust, but even some married women and, indeed, with their husbands still living.  As if this were not enough, such women then have their husbands murdered by the adulterer, inspiring the deed through furtive hints.  After this, having given a wicked example to others, they receive their lovers unite openly and sin at will.  They repudiate their legal lord in a most horrible fashion and prefer his retainer, as if the latter were sweet Abro or mild Jason.  Nowadays, because a harsh penalty is not imposed, I fear that many will fund this new custom more and more acceptable.  O you priests of the Lord, forcefully rise up and let nothing stop you!  Take a sharp ploughshare and extirpate this newly sprouted weed, down to the roots! You also, lay people, do not give aid to such as these! May those joined in Christ live innocently and, after these supplanters have been rooted out forever groan in shame.  Unless these sinners return to their senses, may our helper, Christ, destroy them with a powerful breath from his holy mouth and scatter them with the great splendor of his second coming.

* note: according to Boniface, the Wends “observed the mutual love of matrimony with such great zeal that a woman would refuse to live after her husband had died.  Among them, moreover a woman was judged praiseworthy if she chose to die by her own hand and burned together with her husband on a single pure. (Bon. Epistolae 73).

** note: John 8:5.

Chapter 4

Now, I have said enough regarding that matter, since I must still related certain things regarding Duke Boleslav’s misfortune.  The latter’s territory include a certain burg, located near the border with the Hungarians.  ITs guardian was lord Prokui, an uncle of the Hungarian king.  Both in the past and more recently, Prokui had been driven from his lands by the king and his wife had been taken captive.  When he was unable to free her, his nephew arranged for her unconditional release, even though he was Prokui’s enemy.  I have never heard of anyone who showed such restraint towards a defeated for.  Because of this, God repeatedly granted him victory, not only in the burg mentioned above, but in others as well.  HIs father, Deuvix, was very cruel and killed many people because of his quick temper.  When he became a Christian, however, he turned his rage against his reluctant subjects, in order to strengthen this faith. Thus, glowing with zeal for God, he washed away his old crimes. He sacrificed both to the omnipotent God and to various false gods.  When reproached by his priest for doing so, however, he maintained that the practice had brought him both wealth and great power.  His wife, Beleknegini – the name means beautiful lady in Slavonic – drank immoderately and rode a horse like a warrior.  Once, in a fit of anger, she killed a man.  These polluted hands would have been better employed at the spindle, and her frenzied spirit should have been restrained by patience.

Chapter 5 [1018]

The Liutizi were always united in evil.  Now, they attacked lord Mistislav who had not supported them with troops during the emperor’s expedition, the latter having taken place in the previous year.  They devastated much of Mistislav’s territory, forcing his wife and daughter-in-law to flee, and compelling him to seek protection within the burg Schwerin.  He was joined there by his best milites.  Then, the evil cunning of the populace, rebellious against both Christ and their own lord, forced him to abandon his paternal inheritance.  He barely managed to get away.  This detestable presumption occurred in the month of February which the heathen venerate with rites of purification and obligatory offerings.  The month takes its name from the god of hell, Pluto, who is also called Februus.  Then, all of the churches, dedicated to the honour and service of Christ, were wasted by fire and other forms of destruction.  Even worse, the image of the crucified Christ was mutilated and the worship of idols was preferred to that of God.  The minds of this folk called the Abodrites and Wagrii, hardened like the heart of Pharaoh.  They seized for themselves the kind of liberty possessed by the Liutizi and, following the model of that famous deception, removed their neck from the sweet yoke of Christ even as they willingly submitted to the burdensome weight of the Devil’s rule.  They did this even though they had previously had a much better father and nobler lord.  The members of Christ should lament this weakness of theirs and complain about it to their head, constantly asking, with the voice of their hearts, that this might be changed for the better.  They themselves should not allow this situation to continue, to the extent that this is possible.

Chapter 6 [1018]

As soon as he learned of these events, Bernhard, one of my brethren at Magdeburg and formerly bishop of those apostates, did not hesitate to bring the issue to the emperor’s attention.  It was not from concern over his secular losses that he did this, but rather from  a deep spiritual sadness.  After receiving the news, the emperor gave a heavy sigh.  Neverthless, he decided to delay his response until Easter, so that, with more prudent advice, what had been engendered through an unfortunate conspiracy might be utterly destroyed…

Chapter 20

Now I shall truthfully explain what provoked them to do this.  In the times of Bishop Giselher and Margrave Gunther, the generous beneficence of Otto II, smiling broadly upon everyone, granted to our church a certain forest.  It was situated between the rivers Saale and Mulde, and between the districts of Siusuli and Plisne.  After the sad destruction of our diocese, during the reign of Otto II, Margrave Ekkehard [I] acquired another forest, in a  place called Soemmering, and traded it for the one belonging to us.  Afterwards, along with most of our property, this forest was returned to us by King Henry, the restorer of our office.  This restitution was confirmed through a legal judgement in the presence of all the king’s leading men, and with the brothers Herman and Ekkehard II unable to support their claim.  This forest had been in our church’s possession for more than twelve years.  And Margrave Herman had in no way succeeded in reacquiring it by offering me sixty manses of land.  Nevertheless, he thought that he and his brother might still claim it by means of imperial diplomats relating to the possession of two burgwards, Rochlitz and Teitzig.  He hoped that the old document which confirmed our rights had been lost.  When he showed me his documents, he realized that they would do him no good.  For at Magdeburg, when our respective diplomata were presented before the emperor, it was clear that our church’s claims took precedence, in every way.  At last, in his brother’s presence and hearing, the aforesaid margrave declared: ‘Until now, whatever we have done regarding this matter has been undertaken because we hoped to have justice, and not out of recklessness.  Now let us give it all up.’

Chapter 21 [1018]

Ekkehard was a young man and therefore immature.  Shortly afterwards, at the instigation of his miles Budislav, he began to erect tall enclosures in his burg ward, Rochlitz, for the purpose of capturing wild game.  When subsequently informed of his actions, I accepted the news peacefully.  Nevertheless, through my intermediary – namely his brother – I asked that he desist.  Also, I immediately complained to his brother.  In each case, I was completely unsuccessful, and so things stood until Easter had passed.  Them, because both the weather and the condition of the roads were favorable, and because I had never visited that part of my diocese, I decided to go there and carefully investigate the situation, as yet unfamiliar to me.  On May 2, a Friday, I went to Kohren and confirmed the people who gathered there.  Continuing my trip, I encountered the area, mentioned above, which had been fitted out with ropes and great nets.  I was astonished and wondered what I shod do.  Finally, because I could not take the apparatus with me, I mediately ordered that part of it to be cut down.  Afterwards, I and directly to Rochlitz. There I confirmed a few people and, under threat of the ban, forbade the withholding of my rightful tithes and use of the forest.  I declared all of  this to be property of our church, and made peace.

Chapter 22 [1018]

Then I returned to my estate at Kohren where, after seven days, I heard that Ekkehard’s millets were threatening my people.  At that time, the chancellor happened to be spending the night with me.  When I explained the situation to him, he responded favorably.  On numerous occasions, those same warriors gathered together and tried to attack me, but our guards stopped them, in timely fashion.  Meanwhile, I sent my representative to the emperor, at Mainz, and humbly sought his mediation.  Now, on his own behalf, Ekkehard agreed to a truce, and his brother, whom I had long awaited, returned from Poland and offered his own hand in peace.  Neither kept his word very well, however.  Six flogged and shave men, and as many devastated houses, prove how others must defend themselves against such lords.  In their accustomed manner, their dependents not only raged against me, but also harmed other, better men.  They attacked Archbishop Gero in Werben and Count Siegfried at Nischwitz and took whatever they wished.

Chapter 31 [1018]

We may not keep silent regarding the sad and harmful events that occurred in Russia.  For, on or advice, Boleslav attacked it with a large army and caused much destruction.  On July 22, the duke came to a certain river, where he ordered his army to set up camp and prepare the necessary bridges.  Also camped near the river, along with his army, was the king of the Russians.  He was anxiously awaiting the outcome of the upcoming battle, for which both rulers had called.  Meanwhile, the Poles provoked the enemy into fighting and, with unexpected success, drove them from the river bank which they were supposed to defend.  Elated by this news, Boleslav hastily notified his companions and quickly crossed the river although without effort.  In contrast, the hostile army, drawn up in battle formation, vainly attempted to defend its homeland.  It collapsed at the first attack, however, and failed to mount any effective resistance.  Among those who fled, many were killed, but only a few of the victors were lost.  On our side, the dead included Erich, an illustrious miles whom our emperor had long held in chains.  From that day on, with every success, Boleslav drove his scattered enemies before him, and the whole populace received and honoured him with many gifts.

Chapter 32 [1018]

Meanwhile, Jaroslav captured a city which had been subject to his brother [Sventopolk], and abducted the inhabitants.  At Boleslav’s instigation, the very strong city of Kiev was disturbed by the constant attacks of hostile Petchenegs and severely weakened by fire. It was defended by its inhabitants, but quickly surrendered to the foreign warriors, after its king fled and abandoned it.  On August 14, the city received Boleslav and Sventipolk, its long-absent lord.  Thereafter, through his favour, and from fear of us, the whole region was brought into submission.  When they arrived, the archbishop of that city received them, at the church of Saint Sophia, with relics of the saints and other kinds of ceremonial apparatus.  In the previous year, this church had been severely, but unintentionally damaged by fire.  Here were found the king’s stepmother, wife, and nine sisters, one of whom had previously been desired by Boleslav, that old fornicator.  Unmindful of her husband, the duke unlawfully took her away.  There, too , he was shown an unspeakable amount of treasure, most of high ch he distributed among his friends and supporters.  He sent some of it back to his homeland, however. Among those rendering assistance to the aforesaid duke were three hundred of our warriors, five hundred Hungarians, and one thousand Petchenegs.  Al of these were no sent home, since, as Sventipolk was happy to see, the populace flocked to him and appeared loyal.  In this great city, the centre of that kingdom, there are more than four hundred churches, eight markets, and an unknown number of inhabitants.  As in this entire land, the city gains its strength from fugitive serfs who converge on this place from everywhere, but especially from areas overrun by the fast-moving Danes.  Until now, it successfully resisted the attacks of the Petchenegs and was also victorious over other enemies.

Chapter 33 [1018]

Elated by this success, Boleslav sent the bishop of this city to Jaroslav, to ask that his daughter be sent back to him.  In return, he promised to send back Jaroslav’s wife, stepmother, and sisters.  Afterwards, he sent his beloved Abbot Tuni to our emperor, with splendid gifts that he might more firmly secure his favor and aid.  He also indicated that he would follow the emperor’s wishes in all matters. He also sent messengers to nearby Greece, who promised good things to the emperor there, if he would consider him as his faithful friend.  Otherwise, they intimated, he would be a most obdurate and invincible enemy.  Among all of these, omnipotent God stands firm., mercifully revealing what pleases him and profits us.  In those days my cousin Udo, took Herman prisoner.  This was a man equal to him in nobility and power; and he led him to his burg against his will.  I fear that another dangerous weed will sprout from this, and be exceedingly difficult or impossible to eradicate.

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September 12, 2017

Ausserordentlich Viele Koinkidinks

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Speaking of Grimm, it is unfortunate that his Deutsche Mythologie has not been translated into a Slavic language (as far as we know).  There are lots of interesting tidbits throughout that book…

For example:

Most adults are aware that light travels faster than sound.  The difference is actually quite significant.  The speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second whereas sound will travel only 1,125 feet in that same second.  It is for this reason that when you see lightning, you then expect to hear thunder.  In fact, you can calculate how far lightning struck from you merely by counting the number of seconds that pass when you hear the thunder sound that follows it.

What does that have to do with Grimm and Slavs?

Well, there is an interesting passage in Procopius that says something like:

“For they believe that one God, the maker of lightning, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims…”

For years, it was assumed that this was a reference to the Russian Perun.*  And yet, as we know the Polish Piorun, the East Slav Perun or Lithuanian Perkunas refer to thunder not lightning.  Is the same God the maker of lightning?

* note: the cattle reference suggested Veles to some but, to the extent that there even was any Veles, it seems odd to sacrifice “cattle” to the alleged “cattle god”. Veles can, on the other hand, be another name for Piorun.

We might say yes if we look at expressions such as “Jasny piorun”, “jasny grom” and others…  And yet these expressions seem like conflations of two independent atmospheric phenomena.

The distinction of these two phenomena is hinted at in the 8th century work of Cosmography of Aethicus Ister where we learn that:

“Naxos and Melos and these islands are islands of the Cyclades, and the very round Isle of Melon as well, which is ver fertile; Jason, Pluto or Paron, and Pharius were born there.”

Naxon et Melos et ipsae insolae Cicladum insolaque Melon rotundissima adeo et fertilis, ubi Iason et Plutonem uel Paronem et Pharium editos.  

Here Paron is equated with Pluto but “Iason” remains separate.

So what does this have to do with Grimm, again?

Well, we’ve previously noted the strange fact that Odin simply means “one” in Russian/Ukrainian (Polish jeden – eden?).

Did Grimm know that?  He was a competent anthropologist, well-learned in Teutonic, Gallic and Slavic beliefs.

And so right at the beginning of the very first edition of his book, he mentions some Slavic Gods.

Among those, looking for similarities and differences between Slavic and Germanic Gods, he notices a God from the Slavic region of Krain (Italian Carniola) in today’s Slovenia (mentioned in a local dictionary).  That God’s name is Torik or Tork.  Grimm looks at the name and expresses his belief that this (war!) God has nothing to do with either the Germanic Tyr nor Thor.

So far so good…

But Grimm then provides an explanation of the Slavic God’s name, the implication of which he does not appear to grasp.

“There is an extraordinary great overlap in Germanic and Slavic superstitions”

He says that the Slavic God’s name simply comes from vtorik, that is the “other” or “second”.  He says this is because the Slavic Torik was a war God and the name was a simple translation of the  name Mars.  Mars or Martis was and is Tuesday (incidentally, Tyr’s day) which was the second day of the Slavic week.  So the Slavs started to call their Mars by using their translated name of the “second” day of the week which day was dedicated to the god Mars.

This may or may not be true, of course.

A much more interesting question, however, is why is Thor called Thor or Tyr called Tyr?

And here is the real brain twister.  How is it that two Germanic Gods’ names Odin and his “son” Thor correspond to Slavic numerals of one and two.  Note also that vtori can mean the returning, repeated.

And why is Odin called Odin, again?  What is the Germanic etymology here?

Moreover, is not the God of Lightning, the “first” God?  You see lightening first before you hear the corresponding thunder.  Lighting is, well, bright.  Brightness corresponds to the name of the God Jasion (the Polish Jaś), the God of the “year” or Jahr or spring (Slavic v-esna or v-iosna) also the God of agriculture rebirth (notice the adventure with Demeter – Dea – meter – the Mother Goddess but also the Earth Goddess).

First, comes Jasion (“lightning”) and then comes Peron (“thunder”).

“Father” and “Son”.

Odin and Vtor

Odin and Thor.

Was then Zeus Thor who struck his father Jasion in an act of not simply “divine punishment” but usurpation?

Incidentally, Jasion is also mentioned in Sacra Moraviae Historia  where He is referred to as “Chasson/sive Jassen”.

It is also noteworthy that “Chasson” was the name of one of the Slavic leaders in Book 2 of the Miracles of Saint Demetrius.

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July 22, 2017

Marwazī’s Account

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Here is an 1130 (?) account of the Arab court physician Sharaf al-Zamān Ṭāhir Marwazī or Marvazī (circa 1056/57– circa 1130) on the Slavs based on the 1942 Vladimir Minorsky translation (adapted by Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone along with most of the below notes).   Marwazī was (as the short version of the name suggests) a native of Merw (Persian: Marv), Khorasan in Persia (in today’s Turkmenistan).  His known work is Nature of Animals (Kitāb Ṭabāʾiʿ al-Ḥayawān al-Baḥrī wa-al-Barrī) which, presciently, includes as its first section a chapter on humans.  There he discusses the [Volga] Bulgars and Slavs and the Rus (the first portion of that discussion is a copy of Ibn Rusta).  Here are those excerpts.

The Bulgars and the Far North

“In the northern direction lies the country of Bulghar; it lies between the west and the  north, inclining towards th ePole, and is three months distant from Khwarazm.  These [people] have two cities, one called Suvar and the other called Bulghar; between the two cities is a distance of two days’ journey, along the bank of a river and through very dense forests, in which they fortify themselves against their enemies.  The trees are mostly khadang [birch?], but there are also hazels.  They are Muslims, and make war on the infidel Turks, raiding them, because they are surrounded by infidels.  There are in their forests fur bearing animals, such as grey squirrels, sable and so on.  The latitude of their territory is very considerable, so much so that in summer their day is extremely long and their night extremely short, so shot tin fact that the interval between twilight and dawn is not sufficient for cooking a pot [of meat].”

“At a distance of twenty days from them, towards the Pole, is a land called Isu [Wisu], and beyond this a people called Yura; these are a savage people, living in forests and mixing with other men, for they fear that they may be harmed by them.  The people of Bulghar journey to them, taking wares, such as clothes, salt and other things, in contrivances drawn by dogs over the heaped snows, which [never] clear away.  It is impossible for a man to go vover these snows, unless he binds on to his feet the thigh bones of oxen, and takes in his hands a pair of javelins which he thrusts backwards into the snow, so that his feet slide forward over the surface of the ice; with a favorable wind [?] he will travel a great distance by the day.  The people of Yura trade by means of signs and dumb show, for they are wild and afraid of [other] men.  Form them are imported excellent sable and other fine furs; they hunt these animals, feeding on their flesh and wearing their skins.”

“Beyond these are a coast-dweling people who travel far over the sea, without any [definite] purposes and intention; they merely do this in order to boast of reaching [such and such a remote] locality.  They are a most ignorant and stupid tribe, and their ignorance is shown by the following.  They sail in ships, and whenever two [of their] boats meet, the sailors lash the two together, and then they draw their swords and fight.  This is their form of greeting.  They come from the same town, perhaps from the same quarter, and there is no kind of enmity or rivalry between them; it is merely that this is their custom.  When one of the parties is victorious, they [then] steer the two ships together.  In this sea is the fish whose tooth is used in hafting knives, swords and suchlike.*  Beyond them is a Black Land which cannot be crossed.  As for the sea route, the voyager sailing towards the Pole reaches a part where there is no night in the summer and no day in the winter; the sun rotates visibly over the land for six months, circling the horizon like the revolution of a millstone; the whole year consists of one day and one night.”

* note: “Narwhal and walrus horn, called khutu, was much prized for its durability and was the preferred material for knife handles.”

The Slavs

“The Slavs are a numerous people, and between their territories and the territories of the Pečenegs is a distance of ten days, along steppes and pathless country which thick trees and [abounding] in springs.  They inhabit these forests.  They have no vines, but possess much honey.  They tend swine, and burn their dead, for they worship fire.  They grow mostly millet, and have a drink prepared from honey.  They have different kinds of pipes, including one two cubits long.  Their lute is flat and has eight strings but no peg-bx, while its pegs are level.  They have no great wealth.  Their weapons are javelins and spears, and they have fine bucklers.  Their head chieftain is called suit, and he has a deputy called shrih.*  The king has [riding] beasts and on their milk he feeds.  The town in which he resides is called Khazrat, where they hold a market for three days in every month.  Among them the cold is so severe that they dig deep underground dwellings which they cover with wood, and heat with the steam [produced by the burning of] dung and firewood.  There they remain during their winter season.  In the winter the Majghari [Magyars] raid them, and as a result of their mutual railings they have many slaves.”

* note: “suwit… shrih: suwit: must represent the first element in the name Svetopolk; shrih (sh.rih in the manuscript) has not been satisfactorily explained.”

The Rus

“The Rus live in an island in the sea, its extent being a distance of three days in either direction.  It has words an forests, and is surrounded by a lake.  They are very numerous, and look to the sword to provide them with a livelihood and profession.  When one of their menfolk dies, leaving daughters and sons, they hand his property to the daughters, giving the sons only a sword for they say: ‘Your father won his property by the sword; do you[r best and] imitate him and follow him in this.'”

“And in this way their education was effected, until they became Christians during the year 912*  When they entered [the fold of] Christianity, the faith blunted their swords, the door of their livelihood was closed to them, they returned to hardship and poverty, and their livelihood shrank.  Tgeb tget desired to become Muslims, that it might be lawful for them to makre raids and holy war, and so make a living by retrying to some of their former practices.  They therefore sent messengers to the ruler of Khwarazm, four ins men of their king; for they had an independent king called Vlaidmir, just as the king of the Turks is called khagan and the king of the Bulghars yiltawar.**  Their messengers came to Khwarazm and delivered their message, The Khwarazmshah was delighted at their eagerness to become Muslims, and sent someone to them to teach them the religious laws of Islam.  So they were converted.”

“They are strong and powerful men, and go on foot into far regions in order to raid; they also sail boats on the Khazar Sea [Caspian], seizing ships and plundering goods.  They sail to Constantinople win the Sea of Pontus, in spite of the chains in the gulf.***  Once they sailed into the Sea of Khazar and became master of Bardha’a for a time.  Their valor and courage are well-known, so that any one of them is equal to a number of any other nation.  If they had horses and were riders, they would be a great scourge to mankind.”

* note: “Vladimir converted in 988; probably a copyist’s mistake.”
** note: “The text reads b.t.ltw, Ibn Falan’s yiltawar, the title of the Bulghar king.  It is clear from this passage that Marwazi thought ‘Vladimir’ was a title, not a personal name.”
*** note: chains laid by the Byzantines to prevent ships passing.

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June 11, 2017