Category Archives: Origins

Gallic, Egyptian and Slavic

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Diodorus Siculus

26 “Furthermore, since temperateness of climate is destroyed by the excessive cold, the land produces neither wine nor oil, and as a consequence those Gauls who are deprived of these fruits make a drink out of barley which they call zythos or beer, and they also drink the water with which they cleanse their honeycombs.” [see also here]

34 “The Egyptians also make a drink out of barley which they call zythos, the bouquet of which is not much inferior to that of wine.”

Babylonian Talmud

“What is Egyptian Zithom? —  Rabbi Joseph learned that it is a concoction made of a third part barley, a third part safflower, and a third part salt.  Rabbi Papa omitted barley and substituted wheat.  And your token is ‘sisane.’ They soaked these ingredients, then roasted them, ground them and then drank them.  From the Passover sacrifice until Pentecost, they who are constipated are relieved, while they who are diarrhoeic are bound.  But for an invalid and a pregnant woman it is dangerous.”

Strabonic Scholium (Diller 3, 155A)

Zythos – a type of a beer, made of barley. The nation of the Slavs also uses this type of drink.

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March 13, 2018

The Bakeries of Constance

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I love this revealing set of ruminations regarding the origin of the city name Constance from the Schriften des Vereins für Geschichte des Bodensees und Seiner Umgebung, Volume 2:

“The forms Kostnitz and Kostnitz Lake are not the result of some sort of a Slavic influence resulting from the use [of those forms] by the Czechs gathered for the Council of Constance [where Jan Hus was burned down] since already 70 years earlier a report from the year 1353, speaks of Petershausen by Constance.  A noteworthy number of Swabian village names ends with the suffix -itz, without giving any reason to suspect a Slavic origin of the forms of these names. It may be shown with respect to several of those [placenames] how they came – indeed following the laws of the Swabian dialect –  to form their seemingly foreign appearance… The form Kostnitz is nothing other than the Swabian whereas Kostenz is instead the Allemanic version of the name Konstanz –much as for bread Bochenz there occur the Swabian forms Bogatz and Bogitz.”

The author’s sweaty brow produced here an argument that is deliciously telling.

Take his use of the Bochenz/Bogatz/Bogitz (!) example.

Now … bochenek just means – in Slavic – a small loaf of bread. What is the origin of that word?  Well, according to Brueckner, the origin is the German fochenz(e) which, itself, is a borrowing from Latin, focacia. But Brueckner also notes that the German forms as late as the 12th century sometimes appear as bochenze. Brueckner fails to ask however, where in Germany do such forms appear but it appears that such forms appear either in places where Germans ruled Slavs (Silesia, Bohemia) or in Swabia.

(You can look at an article by Günter Bellmann from 1971 to get more on this).

In other words, the author of the above inadvertently penetrating piece, seems to have stumbled upon the solution to the question of what was the difference between the “Swabians” and the “Alemanni”.

Here is a hint for our German friends: one of those tribes really did have nothing to do with the people today referred to in the ES world as “Slavs”.

in unsere alte Heimat hinein

The first historically attested appearance of Constance is in the Ravenna Cosmography about the year 700 in the form Constantia/e – supposedly reported by the wiseman of the Goths – Athanarid who the author of the Cosmography relied on for the geography of these parts along with other Gothic “philosophers” such as Eldebald and Marcomir.  The point, however, is not how the place was named earlier. According to  Ulrich Büttner, Egon Schwär: Konzilarium ze Kostnitz the following were the names of the city:

  • Constancia (762) [?]
  • Constantie (762) [?]
  • Constantia (912)
  • Constantiae (980)
  •  Constantiensi (1159)
  • Chostanze (1251)
  • Costinze (1251)
  • Kostinze (1272)
  • Konstanz (1274)
  • Kostenze (1279)
  • Costenze (1283)
  • Constantiensis (1286)
  • Kostenz (1290)
  • Costenz (1291)
  • Costentz (1300)
  • Costintz (1312)
  • Costintze (1319)
  • Kostenze (1327),
  • Kostenz (1336)
  • Chostentz (1341)
  • Costentz (1341)
  • Kostnitz (1353)
  • Costencz (1483)
  • Constanz (1579)

But the point is not what the city was called originally but that “The form Kostnitz is nothing other than the Swabian whereas Kostenz is instead the Allemanic version of the name Konstanz – much as for bread Bochenz there occur the Swabian forms Bogatz and Bogitz.” In other words the rules of pronunciation of certain names/words seem to be the same for Slavs and Swabians.

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March 13, 2018

The Problems with Keeping Thorough Records

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Here are the orders of the congress of Ranshofen led by the Bavarian Duke Henry II with the local potentates and bishops:

Haec est constitutio venerabilis ducis Heinrici et omnium primatum tam episcoporum quam comitum

The orders vary but one is of particular interest:

“The Slavs must also be made subject to the orders of this assembly or must be exterminated.”

Scalvi [Sclavi] etiam ejusdem coadunationis districtioni subjaceant aut exterminentur.

This was sometime in 985-990.

Hi, it’s me Henry and I am a balding pussy – how are you?

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March 12, 2018

Suavi on the Rhine

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If you look at the compendium of Roman era inscriptions from the Rhein river (Corpus inscriptionum Rhenanarum) area you might think you’d find some references to the Suebi or at least the Suevi but you would be wrong… Instead you only have… Suavi

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February 28, 2018

Iassas of the Suevo-veneti

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So how popular were the names beginning with Iar/Iass/Iav?  Here are some Roman inscriptions.  I’ve had them on before here (for example, the “Venetic” Iariovidius) but now they come with a map:

  • Iaretius – Schwarzwerden in kreis Sankt Wendel
    • D M Iaretio Losunio patri d f
  • Iarilla – Vienne,  Isère department (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XII, 2026)
    • D M Vennoniae Iarilla e
  • Iariovidius – Fumane in Valle Policella (according to Pauli the inscription is “Venetic”) (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum V, 3908)
    • I. Iariovidius C. l. Cato 
  • Iaronius – Narbonne (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XII, 4865)
    • T. Iaron[i]us V. l. Licinio
  • Iarsa – Padua (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum V, 2834)
    • L. Memmio Iden. Hebreni mil. class. 7 Sabini qui vixit ann. XXX militavit ann. XII. hered. eius fecer(unt) Iarsa frater suus Paulus Q. Cusfilia per L. Coranum Ursu[l]um fiduc. her
  • Iartus – village Jard (?),  Vendée (from the river) department (Belfort number 2030)
  • Iarus – Rheinzabern and Trier (Habert number 630.1364)
    • Iarus f (Rheinzabern)
    • IARUS (Trier)
  • Iasir – Reims (Habert number 628. 629)
  • Iassia – Soulosse
    • D M Iassia 
  • Iasso Iassu
    • Iasso f (London) (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VII 1336, 513)
    • Iasso (Bavay) (Schwerm. number 2568)
    • Iasso (Rouen) (Habert number 631)
    • Iasso f (Ochringen) (Schwerm. number 2570)
    • Iassu fec (?) (BJW 71,20)
    • Iasso fec  (Heddernheim)
  • Iassus / Iassa
    •  IASSV II (Stein am Anger) (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum III 12014, 300)
    • IASSVS(Westendorf)
    • Iassus Cat (Reims) (Habert 632.633)
    • D M Pennausio Lagane Sidonie Iasse monimen[t]um fili faciendum de suo curaverunt  (Karden) Corpus inscriptionum Rhenanarum 712)
    • Deo Apollini Inecius Iassi (Neidenbach, kreis Bitburg) (816 – Hettner 45)
    • Clementia Iassa sibi et Arruntio Cur[t?]uronis filio (?) (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 2019 – Haug 56)
    • I o m Iassus ex voto p l. l. m (Koenigshoffen) (Corpus inscriptionum Rhenanarum 2074)
    • Iassus (between Oberrad and NIederrad? or Nijmegen?) (Scheuerm. 2571)
    • Iassus fe (Mainz) (Becker s. 104, 75)
    • Iassus f (Mainz) (Becker s. 104, 75)
    • Iassus f (Niderrhein) (BJ 95 s.204, n. 73 47a)
    • [I]assu (Speier) (BJ 95 s.204, n. 73 47b)
    • Iassus f (Speier) (BJ 95 s.204, n. 73 47e)
    • Iassus f (?) (WZ 8 s. 264)
    • Iassus fe (Saalburg)
    • Iassa fec (Namur)
  • Iavvos 
    • IAVVOS F (Stein am Anger) (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum III 12014, 301)
  • Iavus
    • Baezo Crusu Iavia Iavi (S. Danillo/Šibenik) (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum III 2781)

Finally, some food for thought from an extract of Szymon Matusiak’s Olimp polski podług Długosza (“Polish Olympus according to Długosz”):

Earlier, Matusiak also quite correctly:

  • notes that the “a” to “e” transformation is common in Polish so that Jesza (Yesha) can become Jasza (Yasha)
  • observes that Yesh (Jesz) and Yesha (Jesza) can be also in Polish expressed as Yech (Jech) and Yecha (here you can recall the Germanic Goddess Jecha!)
  • combines these names with Chasson/Gasson sive Jassen and translates that into the Polish Jaszon/Jasion (without seemingly being aware (!) that Iasion was a Greek demi-god)

I will leave it at that.

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February 26, 2018

al-Muqaddasī on the Slavs

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Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Shams al-Dīn al-Muqaddasī (circa 945 – circa 1000) was an Arab geographer and author of Aḥsan al-taqāsim fī maʿrifat al-aqālīm (The Best Divisions in the Knowledge of the Regions). There are a few mentions of Slavs in the book, albeit among those mentions is a particularly graphic description of the castration process (it appears that is the writer’s lurid fascination with it that that we have to thank for it being conveyed to us).

An Account of the Climates of the World

“The Sixth Climate begins where the shadow is six feet plus six tenths and a sixth of a tenth of a foot; its shadow at the extremity differs from that at the beginning by just one foot. Its breadth is somewhat more than two hundred miles, as the crow flies. Its lower extremity towards the south coincides with the upper northern border of the adjacent fifth climate; and that is the latitude of Dabll, to the east and to the west. Its uppermost limit towards the north lies close to the land of Khwarazm and what is beyond it, and to Isbijab beside the territory of the Turks. Its middle part lies close to al-Qustantiniyya, Amul in Khurasan, Farghana, and places on this latitude, to the east and to the west. In itlieSamarqand, Bardhaca, Qabala, al-Khazar, al-Jil, the parts of al-Andalus which are towards the north, and the southernmost territories of the Slavs.”

“The Seventh Climate has its beginning where the shadow there is seven feet plus a half plus a tenth plus a sixth of one tenth of a foot, as at the end of the sixth; in fact the end of the sixth is the beginning of the seventh. Its southernmost limit corresponds with the northernmost limit of the climate adjacent to it, which is the sixth. That is the latitude of Khwarazm and Turarband, to the east and to the west. Its furthermost extremity towards the north lies in the remotest parts of the land of the Slavs, and on the territories of theTurks, which adjoin Khwarazm on the north. Its middle portion lies in the country of al-Lan, without any well-known towns.”

The Region of the Maghrib (including Andalusia)

“The black eunuchs whom you encounter are of three classes: the class that is taken to Egypt, and the are the best kind; the class that is taken to Adan – the Berber – and they are the worst kind. The third kind resemble the Abysssinians. Of white eunuchs there are two classes: the Slavs, whose land is beyond Khwarazm; they are, however, taken to al-Andalus where they are castrated, then exported to Egypt. Then there are the Romaeans. who are exported to Suria and Aqur; however this source has been cut off because of the ravaging or our frontiers.”

“I asked a group of them about the process of castration, and I learn that the Romaeans castrate their youngsters intended for dedication of the church, and they confine them so that they do not preoccupy themselves with women, or suffer carnal desires. When the Muslims raid, they attack the churches and taken the youngsters away from them.”

“The Slavs are taken to a town beyond Pechina, where the people are Jews, and they castrate them. There was disagreement among my informants about how the castration was done.  According to some of them the penis and the scrotum are cut off at the same time. Others asserts that the scrotum is cut and testicles removed, after which a stick is inserted under the penis which is then cut off at the base. I inquired of the eunuch Urayb, a learned and truthful man, ‘Muallim, tell me about eunuchs, seeing that the scholars are not in agreement about them. Abu Hanifa asserts that they are able to have legitimate children, and are recognized as the fathers of the children their wives bear them: this is a matter that can be properly settled only by you.’ To this he said: ‘Abu Hanifa is correct – nat God have mercy on him – and I will tell you how this is.  You should know that when the youngsters are about to be castrated, the scrotum is cut open for the removal of the testicles. It may be that the youngster is frightened, so that one of his testicles ascends into his abdomen. If it is searched for and not found at the time, it will descend after the cut has healed. If it is the left testicle that remains, the eunuch can experience lust and have sperm; if it is the right one he may grow a beard, as in the case of so-and-so, and so-and-so Abu Hanifa – may God have mercy on him – adhered to the saying of the Prophet – may God’s peace and blessings be upon him – ‘The child pertains to the conjugal bed,’ for it might be that the eunuch would be one of those to whom a testicle remained.'”

“I related this to Abu Said al-Juri in Naysabur, and he said, ‘This is perfectly possible, for one of my testicles is small, ‘ and in fact, his beard was light and thin.”

“When the castration is done, a little pencil of lead is placed in the urinary opening; this is removed during urination, and [then put back after] until the wound heals, so that the hole will not close up. ”

List of Exports From Bulghar or Khorezmia (Khawarazm) to Baghdad

“Sables, squirrels, miniver, ermines and the fur of steppe foxes, martens, foxes, beavers, spotted hares and goats, wax, arrows, birch-bark (cork), high fur caps, fish glue, fish teeth (walrus), castoreum oil, amber, prepared horse hides, honey, hazelnuts, falcons, swords, armour, khalanj wood (birch wood), Slavonic slaves, sheep and cattle. All these came from Bulghar. Khorezmia also exported jujubes, raisins, almond pastry, sesame, fabric of striped cloth, carpets, blankets cloth, satin for royal gifts, veils of malham fabric, locks, Aranj arrows for bows which only the strongest could bend, rakhbin (a kind of cheese) yeast, fish, boats hewn and smoothed (the latter also exported from Tirmidh). Bows of Khorezmia.”

The castration center was somewhere around Pechina

From the local tourism website we find this description (suggesting the region is, unfortunately not yet ready to confront its troubling past in a mature and responsible fashion):

“During the Al-Andalus period it was the capital of a region and of the Maritime Republic Bayyana. It was Abderraman II who commissioned the defence of the coast of Almeria to the Yemenite tribes of Gassan and Ru’ayn. These tribes together with the andalusi merchants and sailors formed the Maritime Republic of Pechina. This zone was called Urs al-Yaman. Its capital Bayyana perhaps took its name from a Roman country house called Fundus Baianus which existed there. This Maritime Republic of Pechina maintained a certain independence from the Caliphate, with governors like Umar Ben Aswad al-Gassani who built the walls and a splendid mosque in the style of the mosque in Cordoba. Its products such as linen and silk were exported through its port al-mariyya Bayyana, currently Almeria. In the X century Pechina was a cultural and spiritual centre. Abderraman III, when he saw the predominance that the port of Almeria had acquired, converted it into the headquarters of the Caliphate’s admiralty and the port for Cordoba in the trade with the East in the middle of the X century. Almeria was elevated to the category of “medina” and the capital of the region of Bayyana. Pechina was reduced to a hamlet.”

The Cambridge Illustrated hIstory of the Middle Ages provides a slightly different emphasis:

An interesting mention of the word pech comes from the Brothers’ Grimm Dictionary:

“— pech haben (wie der mit vogelpech gefangene vogel an den federn hat), unglück haben, kein glück bei unternehmungen haben, in einer fatalen lage sein, aus der man sich nicht losreiszen kann, etwas widriges und unangenehmes erfahren, hindernisse und anstosz finden und dergl.”

but also:

“siedendes pech, das schon bei den Römern den sklaven zur marter auf den leib geträufelt wurde, galt in christlicher zeit als eine der höllenstrafen und geradezu als hölle, die man sich als einen mit brennendem pech und schwefel erfüllten pfuhl vorstellte, worin die seelen der verdammten ewig brennen sollen.”

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February 24, 2018

Arcuna on Lacus Veneticus

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Gustav Reinwald’s Beschreibung des Argengaues, as the name indicates describes the Argen-gau, that is the Argen “shire”.  This description appears in volume 6 of the fascinating Schriften des Vereins für Geschichte des Bodensees und seiner Umgebung.  The Bodensee is, of course, Lake Constance or Lacus Veneticus. The article contains a number of interesting names that smack of a Slavic origin.  Many of these come from the Urkundenbuch Der Abtei Sanct Gallen, Volumes 1-2.

What may have happened here is that place names with the Slavic -in suffix were Germanized by throwing in a “bach” or a “berg” or a “hoven” or an “ang”.  For that reason, I separate these.  Of course not all of these could be Slavic and others may be Slavic that are not even mentioned here – still the list is intriguing.

Arcuna, Argona, Arguna – this refers to the mouth of the eponymous river Argen from which the Argengau derives its appellation. Interestingly, this place name also appears earlier as Argow with the Slavic -ow ending. The connection with Kap Arkona is obvious. The ark here must refer to a landing place for a ship (that is, an “ark”) as, for example, in “anchorage” (although anchor is not related etymologically). The ship or “ark” could as well have been Jason’s Argo. Incidentally, that name, most likely, stems from the bowed shape of most vessels – its arch.

Tetin-anc (Tettnang) aka (?) Tentin-wilare

Ischacha (Aeschach)

Libilun-aha villa or Liubil-aha or Liubiliun-iiang or Liubilin-wang

quas ad Lintovam tradidit



Oborostin-dorophe (Oberostendorf?)

Pipparoci aka Piparoti (?)

Patahin-wilarePatechin-wilare (Bettenweiler?)






Pacen-hoven (Betznau?)

On the way to Pacenhoven

Rikinbach, Rihchin-bach



Here are some other curious names around Lacus Veneticus (previously mentioned already here).

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February 11, 2018

Gregory’s Letter to Fortunatus

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Although Gregory the Great wrote letters that specifically mentioned Slavs, he also wrote letters where Slavs are suspected to be discussed.  For example, the great Polish orientalist Tadeusz Lewicki brings up the point that the following letter (Book 6, 29) which he seems to have become aware of through Solomon Katz’s “The Jews in the Visigothic and Frankish Kingdoms of Spain and Gaul” may have mentioned Slavic slaves taken captive beyond the Frankish borders.

Here is that letter from the year 596. Note that the mechanism recommended seems to basically say that the same laws that applied to Christians should, in general, apply to pagan slaves:

Those pagan slaves who within three months of purchase/acquisition by Jewish merchants declare their desire to be Christian, they can be bought out of slavery by Christians and set free.   If the pagan waits for three months, is not sold in that time, and then declares a desire to be Christian then he is automatically freed since that proves that he was meant for ownership (by the Jew) and not for resale.

The dynamic that this would likely set in motion would be for Jewish merchants to try to unload their human cargo as quickly as possible since, if not sold, within three months, any declaration of a desire to be Christian would result in no compensation (if enforced, of course). Note that those slaves who wanted to remain pagan stayed slaves and a sale to a Christian would seem to have extinguished the ability of the slave to obtain freedom by simply declaring a desire to be a Christian.

Gregory’s Letter to Fortunatus II, Bishop of Naples (593-600)

“That slaves who wish to embrace the Christian faith must not be sold to Jews, but (the owners) may receive a price from a Christian purchaser.”

“We have before now written to you, our brother, that their masters should not have leave to sell those who, by the inspiration of God, desire to come from the Jewish superstition to the Christian faith; but that from the moment they shall have manifested this determination they should be, by all means, protected to seek their liberty. But, as we have been led to know some persons, not exactly and accurately giving heed to our will, nor to the enactments of the laws, think that, as regards pagan slaves, this law does not apply, it is fit that you, our brother, should be careful on this head; and if among the slaves of the Jews, not only a Jew, but any of the pagans, should desire to become a Christian, to see that no Jew should have power to sell him under any pretext, or by any ingenious device, after this his intention shall have been made known; but let him who desires to become of the Christian faith have the aid of your defence, by all means, for his liberty.”

“And respecting those who are to lose such servants, lest they; should consider themselves unreasonably hindered, it is fit that you should carefully follow this rule: that, if it should happen that pagans, whom they bought from foreign places for the purpose traffic, should within three months, not having been purchased, fly to the church and say that they desire to be Christians, or even make known this intention without the church, let the owners be capable of receiving their price from a Christian purchaser. But, if, after the lapse of three months, any one of those servants of this description should speak his will and wish to become a Christian, no one shall thereafter dare to purchase him, nor shall his master under any pretext sell him; but he shall unquestionably  be brought to the reward of liberty, because it is sufficiently intelligible that this slave was procured for the purpose of service and not for that of traffic. [Please] do you, my brother, diligently and closely observe all these things, so that you be not led away by any supplication, nor affected by personal regard.

GREGORIUS, Fortunato Episcopo Neopolitano

Ne mancipia quaa Christianam fidem suscipere volunt, Judseis venundentur: sed pretium a Christiano emptore percipiant.

Fraternitati vestrae ante hoc tempus scripsimus, ut hos qui de Judaica superstitione ad Christianam fidem Deo aspirante venire desiderant, dominis eorum nulla esset licentia venundandi: sed ex eo quo voluntatis suae desiderium prodidissent, defendi in libertatem per omnia debuissent. Sed quia quantum cognovimus, nec voluntatem nostram, nec legum statuta subtili scientes discretione pensare, in paganis servis hac se non arbitraritur conditione constring: fraternitatem vestram oportet de his esse solicitam, et si de Judaeorum servitio non solum Judaeos, sed etiam quisquam paganorum fieri voluerit Christianus, postquam voluntas ejus fuerit patefacta, nec hunc sub quolibet ingenio vel argumento cuipiam Judeorum venundandi facultas sit: sed is qui ad Christianam converti fidem desideret, defensione vestra in libertatem modis omnibus vindicetur.

Hi vero quos hujus modi oportet servos amittere, ne forsitan utilitates suas irrationabiliter sestiment impediri, sollicita; vos haec convenit consideratione servare: ut si paganos, quos mercimonii causa, de externis finibus emerint, intra tres menses, dum emptor cui vendi debeant non invenitur, fugere ad ecclesiam forte contigerit, et velle se fieri dixerint Christianos, vel etiam extra ecclesiam hanc talem voluntatem prodederint, pretium ibi a Christiano scilicet emptore percipiant. Si autem post praefinitos tres menses quisquam hujusmodi servorum velle suum edixerit, et fieri voluerit Christianus, nee aliquis eum postmodum emere, nec dominus qualibet occasionis specie audeat venundare, sed ad libertatis proculdubio praemia perducatur: quia hunc non ad vendendum, sed ad serviendum sibi intelligitur comparasse. Haec igitur omnia fraternitas vestra ita vigilanter observet, quatenus ei nec supplicatio quorumdam valeat, nec persona surripere.

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February 2, 2018

The Slavs of al-Ṭabarī

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Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (839 – 923) was a Persian scholar writing in Arabic. His History (History of the Prophets and Kings) is a multi-volume work which, in vol. 31 (“The War Between Brothers”) describing the events of 808 – 814 mentions Slavs.  The work is written in poetic form so the historical significance of these mentions appears debatable.  Nevertheless, the reference is to actual historical events – the battles between the succesors of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, his sons al-Amin (aka Muhammad ibn Harun al-Rashid) and al-Ma’mun (aka Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Maʾmūn ibn Hārūn al-Rashīd) as well as al-Qasim (aka Al-Qasim ibn Harun al-Rashid). Apparently, their father decided that al-Amin would succeed him but that al-Ma’mun would have sovereignty over Khurasan and, that, afterwards, al-Ma’mun would take over. Al-Ma’miun also got himself a large portion of the Baghdad army. Al-Qasim could not alter this.  After Al-Ma’mun it was to be al-Quasim although al-Ma’mun could replace him as successor. 

The below relates to events taking place after the death of al-Rashid in 809 when al-Amin was supposed to take over but soon fell out with al-Ma’mun who won their civil war in 813. Al-Amin was killed (head was placed on the Anbar Gate in Baghdad) and al-Qasim (who had already been arrested by al-Amin) was deposed (only?). 

The mention below is to al-Jaradiyyah – the Slav guards of al-Amin – and to Slavs. Note that there were apparently two guard units – the Slavic “white” one (named after locust or falcon species) and an Abyssynian “black” one (named after ravens – the al-Ghurabiyyah). 

Here are those mentions in the translation by Michael Fishbein (from the SUNY edition).  The notes are his and he is also the source of much of the background given above. 

The Byzantine embassy of John the Grammarian in 829 to al-Ma’mun (left) from the Emperor Theophilos (right)

Details and Results of the Siege of Baghdad (812 – 813)

“…At Zandaward and al-Yasiriyah,
      and on the two river banks, where the ferries have ceased,
At the mills and Upper al-Khayzuraniyyah,
whose bridges were lofty,
And at the Palace of ‘Abduyah, there is a lesson and guidance
      for every soul whose inner thoughts have become pure.
Where are their guards, and where is their guardian?
Where is he upon whom benefits were bestowed, and where is their bestower?
Where are their eunuchs and their servants?
Where are their inhabitants and their builder?
Where are the Slavic al-Jaradiyyah* guards gone,
and the Abyssinians, with their pendulous lips?
The army disperses from its parades;
its lean [horses] run there at random –
Carrying men from Sind and India, Slavs,
and Nubians with whom Berbers have been mixed –
Like birds in flights, they have been sent forth to no avail,

  their fair-skinned troops preceding their blacks.
Where are the virgin gazelles in the garden
      of the kingdom – the young ones who walked so gracefully?
Where are their comforts and their pleasures?”

*note – “The Jaradiyyah corps of guards may have been given this name in reference to the pale color of the locust (jarad) or to a species of falcon (saqr al-jarad or al-jaradi). See ed. Leiden, Glossarium, CLXII; also the explanation given below.”

Some Aspects of the Conduct and Mode of Life of the Deposed Muhammad bin Harun (813 – 814)

“According to Humayd bin Sa’id, who said: After he became ruler andter al-Ma’mun wrote to him and gave him his allegiance, Muhammad sought out eunuchs and purchased them, spending inordinately on them. He appointed them to [attend on] his private quarters by night and by day, his provisions of food and drink, and his decisions commanding or forbidding. Some he enrolled into a special unit [fard] that he named “al-Jaradiyyah,” and other, Abyssinians, he enrolled into a special unit which he name “al-Ghurabiyyah.”* He forsook both free women and slave girls, so that they were sent await. Concerning this, a certain poet said:

O you who stay long at your residence in Tus,
far from your family, who cannot be ransomed by [other] lives:
You have left behind a husband for the eunuchs –
someone who has endured the bad luck of Basus from them!
As for Nawfal, he is a person of importance.
What a companion Badr is!”

*note – “Cf. the reference to the two groups in the poem quoted above, where the Jaradiyyah are identified as Saqalib, or Slavs, and the accompanying note, explaining the possible origin of the name. “Ghurabiyyah” is derived from the word of raven, ghurab, with reference to their black skins. See Abbott, Two Queens of Baghdad, 210 – 211. On fard, troops not on the regular muster roll and paid contractually, see ed. Leiden, Glossarium, CDI; also Baladhuri, Futuh, glossarium, s.v.”

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December 11, 2017

Time of the Aestii

Published Post author

I have left the Aestii description in Wulfstan out of the posts thus far but think it worth including it now.  To give a prior mention of the Aestii, I also include the small piece from Tacitus’ Germania as well as from Cassiodorus, Jordanes and, for completeness, Einhard and Widsith. An interesting aspect of this seems to be that it is “Witland” that belongs to the Aestii and also that the Aestii are apparently quite skilled cremationists – much as the Slavs were, suggesting that this method of burial was not limited to Slavs in that part of Europe. Also the Aestii, like the Redarii appear to have worshipped boars.

The location of Aestii on this ultra precise turn of the millennium map

Note too that neither Pliny nor Ptolemy nor Strabo mention the Aestii.  This is not surprising as to Pliny and Strabo. As to Ptolemy, I suspect that the same people might be hiding under other names.

Tacitus Germania
Chapter 45

Beyond the Suiones is another sea, sluggish and almost  motionless, which, we may certainly infer, girdles and surrounds the world, from the fact that the last radiance of the setting sun lingers on till sunrise, with a brightness sufficient to dim the light of the stars. Even the very sound of his rising, as popular belief adds, may be heard, and the forms of gods and the glory round his head may be seen. Only thus far (and here rumour seems truth) does the world extend.

At this point the Suevic sea, on its eastern shore, washes the tribes of the Æstii, whose rites and fashions and style of dress are those of the Suevi, while their language is more like the British. They worship the mother of the gods, and wear as a religious symbol the device of a wild boar. This serves as armour, and as a universal defence, rendering the votary of the goddess safe even amidst enemies. They often use clubs, iron weapons but seldom. They are more patient in cultivating corn and other produce than might be expected from the general indolence of the Germans. But they also search the deep, and are the only people who gather amber (which they call “glesum”), in the shallows, and also on the shore itself. Barbarians as they are they have not investigated or discovered what natural cause or process produces it. Nay, it even lay amid the sea’s other refuse, till our luxury gave it a name. To them it is utterly useless; they gather it in its raw state, bring it to us in shapeless lumps, and marvel at the price which they receive. It is however a juice from trees, as you may infer from the fact that there are often seen shining through it, reptiles, and even winged insects, which, having become entangled in the fluid, are gradually enclosed in the substance as it hardens. I am therefore inclined to think that the islands and countries of the West, like the remote recesses of the East, where frankincense and balsam exude, contain fruitful woods and groves; that these productions, acted on by the near rays of the sun, glide in a liquid state into the adjacent sea, and are thrown up by the force of storms on the opposite shores. If you test the composition of amber by applying fire, it burns like pinewood, and sends forth a rich and fragrant flame; it is soon softened into something like pitch or resin.

Closely bordering on the Suiones are the tribes of the Sitones, which, resembling them in all else, differ only in being ruled by a woman. So low have they fallen, not merely from freedom, but even from slavery itself. Here Suevia ends.

Cassiodorus Variae
Book V, 2
King Theodoric to the Haesti

It is gratifying to us to know that you have heard of our fame, and have sent ambassadors who have passed through so many strange nations to seek our friendship. We have received the amber which you have sent us. You say that you gather this lightest of all substances from the shores of ocean, but now it comes thither you know not. But as an author named Cornelius informs us, it is gathered in the innermost islands of the ocean, being formed originally of the juice of a tree (whence its name succinum), and gradually hardened by the heat of the sun. Thus it becomes an exuded metal, a transparent softness, sometimes blushing with the color of saffron, sometimes glowing with flame-like clearness. Then, gliding down to the margin of sea, and further purified by the rolling of the tides, it is at length transported to your shores to be cast upon them. We have thought it better to point this out to you, lest you should imagine that your supposed secrets have escaped our knowledge. We sent you some presents by our ambassadors, and shall be glad to receive further visits from you by the road which you have thus opened up, and to show you future favours.

Jordanes’ Getica
Chapter 5

The abode of the Sclaveni extends from the city of Noviodunum and the lake called Mursianus to the Danaster, and northward as far as the Vistula. They have swamps and forests for their cities. The Antes, who are the bravest of these peoples dwelling in the curve of the sea of Pontus, spread from the Danaster to the Danaper, rivers that are many days’ journey apart.  But on the shore of Ocean, where the floods of the river Vistula empty from three mouths, the Vidivarii dwell, a people gathered out of various tribes. Beyond them the Aesti, a subject race, likewise hold the shore of Ocean. To the south dwell the Acatziri, a very brave tribe ignorant of agriculture, who subsist on their flocks and by hunting.  Farther away and above the Sea of Pontus are the abodes of the Bulgares, well known from the wrongs done to them by reason of our oppression.

Chapter 23

These people, as we started to say at the beginning of our account or catalogue of nations, though off-shoots from one stock, have now three names, that is, Venethi, Antes and Sclaveni. Though they now rage in war far and wide, in punishment for our sins, yet at that time they were all obedient to Hermanaric’s commands. This ruler also subdued by his wisdom and might the race of the Aesti, who dwell on the farthest shore of the German Ocean, and ruled all the nations of Scythia and Germany by his own prowess alone.

Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne
Chapter 12

A certain gulf [i.e., the Baltic] with an unknown length and a width no more than a hundred miles wide and in many places [much] narrower runs from the western ocean towards the east. Many peoples live around this sea.  In fact, the Danes and the Swedes, whom we call Northmen, live along the northern shore [of the sea].  The Slavs, Aisti and other peoples live along the southern shore.  The Welatabi were the most prominent of these peoples and it was against them that the  king now took up war.  He beat them and brought them under his control in the one and only campaign he personally waged [against them], that from that point on they never thought of refusing to obey his commands.


and with Amothings.      With East-Thuringians I was
and with Eols [?] and with Isti      and Idumings.
And I was with Ermanaric      all the time,
there me Goth king      goods gave/with goods benefitted me/did well for me;

ond Mofdingum      ond ongend Myrgingum,
ond mid Amothingum.      Mid Eastþyringum ic wæs
ond mid Eolum ond mid Istum      ond Idumingum.
Ond ic wæs mid Eormanrice      ealle þrage,
þær me Gotena cyning      gode dohte; and Mofdings      and against Myrgings

Alfred’s Orosius’ Wulfstan
Chapter 20

. . . And then we had Bornholm to port, where the people have their own king. Then after Bornholm we had on our port side the lands which are called  Blekinge, Möre, Øland and Gotland, and these lands belong to the Swedes. Wendland was to starboard the whole of the way to the mouth of the Vistula. This Vistula is a very large river which separates Witland and Wendland. Witland belongs to the Este. The Vistula flows out of Wendland into Estmere which is at least fifteen miles wide. The Ilfing flows into Estmere from the lake on the shore of which Truso stands, and they flow together into Estmere, the Ilfing west from Estland and the Vistula north from Wendland. Then the Vistula deprives the Ilfing of its name for the estuary is known as the Vistula estuary and flows from Estmere northwest into the sea. This Estland is very large and has many fortified settlements, and in each of these there is a king. There is a great deal of honey and fishing. The king and the most powerful men drink mare’s milk, the poor men and the slaves drink mead. There is very much strife among them. There is no ale brewed among the Este but there is plenty of mead.

. . . And Þonne æfter Burgendalande wæron us þas land, þa synd hatene ærest Blecingaeg, and Meore, and Eowland, and Gotland on bæcbord; and þas land hyrað to Sweon. And Weonodland wæs us ealne weg on steorbord oð Wislemuðan. Seo Wisle is swyðe mycel ea, and hio tolið Witland and Weonodland; and þæt Witland belimpeð to Estum; and seo Wisle lið ut of Weonodlande, and lið in Estmere; and se Estmere is huru fiftene mila brad. Þonne cymeð Ilfing eastan in Estmere of ðæm mere ðe Truso standeð in staðe, and cumað ut samod in Estmere, Ilfing eastan of Estlande, and Wisle suðan of Winodlande, and þonne benimð Wisle Ilfing hire naman, and ligeð of þæm mere west and norð on sæ; for ðy hit man hæt Wislemuða. Þæt Estland is swyðe mycel, and þær bið swyðe manig burh, and on ælcere byrig bið cynincg. And þær bið swyðe mycel hunig and fiscað; and se cyning and þa ricostan men drincað myran meolc, and þa unspedigan and þa þeowan drincað medo. Þær bið swyðe mycel gewinn betweonan him. And ne bið ðær nænig ealo gebrowen mid Estum, ac þær bið medo genoh.

Chapter 21

There is a custom among the Este that after a man’s death he lies indoors uncremated among his relatives and friends for a month, sometimes two. The kings and other high- ranking men remain uncremated sometimes for half a year – the more wealth they have the longer they lie above ground in their houses. All the time that the corpse lies indoors it is the custom for there to be drinking and gambling until the day on which they cremate it.

And þær is mid Estum ðeaw, þonne þær bið man dead, þæt he lið inne unforbærned mid his magum and freondum monað, ge hwilum twegen; and þa kyningas, and þa oðre heahðungene men, swa micle lencg swa hi maran speda habbað, hwilum healf gear þæt hi beoð unforbærned, and licgað bufan eorðan on hyra husum. And ealle þa hwile þe þæt lic bið inne, þær sceal beon gedrync and plega, oð ðone dæg þe hi hine forbærnað.

Chapter 22

On the very day on which they intend to carry the dead man to the pyre, they divide his property – whatever is left of it after drinking and gambling – into five or six portions, sometimes more, depending on how much there is. They place the biggest portion about a mile from the settlement, then the second, then the third, until it is all distributed within the mile,  so that the smallest portion is closest to the place where the dead man lies. All the men who have the swiftest horses in the country are assembled at a point about five or six miles from the property, and then they all gallop towards it. The man who has the fastest horse comes to the first portion (which is also the largest) and then one after the other until it has all been taken. He has the smallest portion who reaches from his ride the one nearest to the settlement. Then each of them then rides on his way with the property and is allowed to keep it all. For this reason good horses are extremely valuable there. When the man’s treasures have all been spent in this way, then he is carried out and burned up with his weapons and clothes. They use up most of the dead man’s wealth with what they spend during the long period of his lying in the house, and with what they put by the wayside which strangers ride up to and take.

Þonne þy ylcan dæg þe hi hine to þæm ade beran wyllað, þonne todælað hi his feoh, þæt þær to lafe bið æfter þæm gedrynce and þæm plegan, on fif oððe syx, hwylum on ma, swa swa þæs feos andefn bið. Alecgað hit ðonne forhwæga on anre mile þone mæstan dæl fram þæm tune, þonne oðerne, ðonne þæne þriddan, oþþe hyt eall aled bið on þære anre mile; and sceall beon se læsta dæl nyhst þæm tune ðe se deada man on lið. Ðonne sceolon beon gesamnode ealle ða menn ðe swyftoste hors habbað on þæm lande, forhwæga on fif milum oððe on syx milum fram þæm feo. Þonne ærnað hy ealle toweard þæm feo; ðonne cymeð se man se þæt swiftoste hors hafað to þæm ærestan dæle and to þæm mæstan, and swa ælc æfter oðrum, oþ hit bið eall genumen; and se nimð þone læstan dæl se nyhst þæm tune þæt feoh geærneð. And þonne rideð ælc hys weges mid ðan feo, and hyt motan habban eall; and for ðy þær beoð þa swiftan hors ungefoge dyre. And þonne hys gestreon beoð þus eall aspended, þonne byrð man hine ut, and forbærneð mid his wæpnum and hrægle. And swiðost ealle hys speda hy forspendað mid þan langan legere þæs deadan mannes inne, and þæs þe hy be þæm wegum alecgað, þe ða fremdan to ærnað, and nimað.

Chapter 23

It is the custom among the Este that the men of each tribe are cremated, and if one bone is found not completely burned, heavy compensation must be paid. There is a tribe among the Este that knows how to cause cold, and this is why the dead men there lie so long and do not rot, because they keep them cold. If two containers are put out full of beer or water, they can cause one of the two to be frozen overwhether it is summer or winter.

And þæt is mid Estum þeaw þæt þær sceal ælces geðeodes man beon forbærned; and gyf þar man an ban findeð unforbærned, hi hit sceolan miclum gebetan. And þær is mid Estum an mægð þæt hi magon cyle gewyrcan; and þy þær licgað þa deadan men swa lange and ne fuliað, þæt hy wyrcað þone cyle hine on. And þeah man asette twegen fætels full ealað oððe wæteres, hy gedoð þæt oþer bið oferfroren, sam hit sy sumor sam winter.

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December 5, 2017