Category Archives: Baltics

Polish Gods Part III

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We have previously written extensively about Polish Gods in Part I and Part II of this series (as well as other smaller articles).  We thought Part III may be in order.  This part describes the literature of the 16th century.  At this time the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was at its strongest, Poland repurposed towards the East and, in consequence, stretching between the Baltic and the Black Sea and encompassing various non-Polish (and even non-Slavic) peoples (Lithuanians being only the most obvious ones).  In accordance with its new stature, the country was hungry for great literature or rather literature describing the country’s greatness.  Thus, whereas previously only a few chronicles had been written in Poland, in the 15th century Jan Dlugosz offered the first major revamp of that genre for Poland and in the next century a whole bunch of similar works came out.

In addition to deriving proud genealogies of the “Sarmatian” nation (that was the understanding back then), the chroniclers felt they had to mention a Polish mythology as well.  Much of their work was derivative of the earlier works we already discussed and, with time, the numbers of Polish Gods began to grow quite disproportionately to what the chroniclers could possibly have known of such deities.  Nevertheless, at the risk of boring the reader with some repetitiveness of description we include all such mentions/works from Poland’s “Golden Century”.  Further, because the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occupied so many lands at the time, the authors felt it appropriate to include among the “Polish” Gods also Lithuanian, Latvian and Russian deities and customs – all Slavs and Balts under one roof.  In order to give a flavor of this we generally did not cut those traditions out and have maintained them here under the rubric “Polish Gods”.  Obviously, today we would view these slightly differently.

Finally, we note that the various topical and popular books published around this time occasionally also mentioned some Polish (and other) deities.  We already discussed one of these here.  We discuss another one below.

Here is a list of the various works containing descriptions of the divine that we present (here in chronological order of their original penning (not necessarily publication)):

  • Chronica Polonorum by Maciej of Miechow (1519)
  • Kronika wszystkiego swiata by Marcin Bielski (1551)
  • De origine et rebus gestis Polonorum libri XXX by Marcin Kromer (1555)
  • Postepek prawa czartowskiego by an anonymous author (1570)
  • Postylla by Jakub Wujek (1573)
  • Goniec cnoty do prawych szlachciców by Maciej Stryjkowski (1574)
  •  O początkach… sławnego narodu litewskiego, żemojdzkiego i ruskiego by Maciej Stryjkowski (manuscript from 1577)
  • Sarmatiae Europeae descriptio by Alessandro Guagnini (1578)
  • Kronika Polska, Litewska, Żmudzka i wszystkiej Rusi by Maciej Stryjkowski (1582)
  • Kronika polska Marcina Bielskiego nowo wydana by Joachim Bielski (1597)

To maintain some semblance of chronology but also of narrative we list these works by their author in the following order:

  • Maciej of Miechow
  • Marcin Bielski
  • Marcin Kromer
  • Anonymous Postepek author
  • Maciej Stryjkowski
  • Jakub Wujek
  • Alessandro Guagnini
  • Joachim Bielski

Maciej of Miechow (Miechowita)

(Chronica Polonorum, 1519)

Maciej of Miechow (1457 – 1523) was born in a peasant family but managed to attend a local parish school, to earn a degree and to become a professor and then rector (for a record of eight times) of Jagiellonian University.  He was also a royal physician to Sigismund the Old and many other things.  His “Polish Chronicle” first came out in 1519 but was quickly censored due to unfavourable characterizations of certain members of the reigning Jagiellonian dynasty and after a “clean up” was reprinted in 1521 (pictures are from this latter version).  Maciej of Miechow was a proponent of the “Sarmatian” origin of Poles – rooting the “Sarmatian” era in Poland’s historiography.  This is what he had to say about the various Polish deities (note that although Maciej of Miechow did not shy away from critiquing Jan Dlugosz, he largely accepted Dlugosz’s description of Polish Gods throwing in a personal detail as well):

miechow

“Jove they named according to their language Jessa; Mars they called Leda Pluto was called Nya; Venera they named Dzidzililya; the name for Diana was Dzeviana; Cerera was called Marzana.  They worshipped Pogoda; they venerated the light, gentle breeze that rustled in the ears [of grain] and in leaves and then turning into a whistle.  They named it Pogwizd.  They venerated Leda, mother of Castor and Pollux, and the twins born of one egg [the dioscuri], which one can hear till this day listening to those who sing the oldest songs: ‘Lada, Lada, Ileli, Ileli, Poleli’, clapping and hitting their hands.  They call Leda – and not Mars [note the inconsistency] – by the name of Lada (if I dare say so myself, based on the witness given by live reports of the same) and Castor they call Leli whereas Pollux [they call] Poleli.  I myself have, in my youth, witnessed three of such idols lying, partly broken, in the neighborhood of the Holy Trinity Church in Cracow – they have since been taken away.”

miechowitagods

(Iouem uulgari sermone Iessam nuncupabant; Martem apellarunt Ledam; Plutonem uocauerunt Nya; Venerem dixerunt Dzidzililya; Dianam nuncupabant Dzeuiana; Cererem uocarunt Marzana.  Adorabant Pogoda, quod sonat temperies.  Adorabant spiraculum, siue flatum tenuis aurae, per spicas frugum, et folia arborum silibantem, atque cum sibilo transientem. Vocantes numen eius Pogwisd.  Adorabant Ledam matrem Castoris et Pollucis, Geminos que ab uno ouo natos Castorem et Pollucem, quod auditur in hodiernam diem, a cantatibus uetustissima carmina: ‘Lada Lada, Ileli, Ileli, Poleli’ cum plausu et crepitu manuum. Ladam (ut ausim ex uiuae uocis oraculo dicere) Ledam uocantes, non Martem, Castorem Leli, Pollucem Poleli.  Ego in puericia mea uidi tria idola de praedictis in parte contracta, circa ambitum monasterii sanctae Trinitatis iacentia Graccouiae. Iamdudum sublata.)

Marcin Bielski

(Kronika wszystkiego swiata, 1551)

Marcin Bielski (1495 – 1575) was (likely a self-taught) soldier, chronicler and poet.  His 1551 “Chronicle of All the World” Bielski with its patriotic depiction of the Poles became an instant hit with further printings in 1554 and 1564.  Although he never left the Roman-Catholic Church, Bielski was sympathetic towards the Protestant Reformation.  In later [only?] printings, he disputed Marcin Kromer’s assertions that Vandals were not the ancestors of Poles.

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Bielski first offers a description of the religions practices of the Slavs in the context of their pre-history:

“And at this time the Slavs continued still to praise the devils’ idols.  The only thing that was always good in this evil with them was that they did not see any hope for salvation in mortal man which others at this time did but only in God they held hope especially the one that governed thunders and rains and to this one they offered their goods.  They understood about fortune and not to have faith in men.  They lived in the fields in roomy tents.  They went to war on foot.  They had longbows to shoot with.  Both wives and husbands were of tall stature.  They did not know pleasures.  All their goods were for consumption only [to eat] as I’ve already written above.  The old Greeks called them Sporos that is spread out because they came into possession of many kingdoms [of others].”

bielski2
Two interesting points here:

  • This is almost verbatim from Procopius’ description of the Slavs, and
  • the word used for the “thunder” god of Procopius is – in the instrumental – spelled “Bodze” suggesting Bodz as a nominative – whether a connection could be drawn to Boda is doubtful but intriguing.

He then goes on to describe the Baptism of Poland:

“[Mi[e]szko] ordered all [the people] – the rich just as the poor that they should be baptized on the seventh day of March throwing into the fire the wooden idols and breaking the stone ones [and tossing them] into the water.  And so from that there derives the custom in Poland and in Silesia that on the seventh day of March they they dress up Marzana as a woman, walk out of the village  and drown her singing: ‘Death writhes about the fence, looking for trouble etc.’  Because before that they venerated Planets, weathers [pogoda], pogwizdz, heli, lada, Dziewana that is Diana or Marzanna and many similar ones.”

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Bielski picks up the Slav narrative of Procopius when describing the ancestors of the Poles (a more specific section after he first dealt with Slavs more generally).  Again much of this is found elsewhere:

bielskiprinting1564

“They venerated one God especially the one that governed thunder because thunder they feared.  And Mars too they took to be Holy and made offerings to him.  And also Pan, the god of the shepherds – and from this they called their superiors ‘pang’ [just as] we do today.  Mars they called Marz and thereafter our [Polish] people Marzana and they drowned it in water having dressed it up as a person – first  in Gniezno and then in villages throughout.”

Marcin Kromer 

(De origine et rebus gestis Polonorum libri XXX, 1555)

Marcin Kromer (1512-1589) was born to a mixed burgher-gentry German-Polish family.  He became secretary to King Sigismund August – the last Jagiellonian monarch of Poland-Lithuania and later the Bishop of Warmia.  He was an author of a number of books – the one most relevant for us here is the chronicle named “On the origin and deeds of the Poles in 30 Books”.  Kromer continued the Sarmatian trend as to the origins of the Poles.  He pointed too towards the people known as the Veneti.  Importantly, he was one of the first Polish writers officially to reject the “Vandalic” theory of Poles’ origin.  (He also rejected the “Illyrian” theory).

cromeri

Here is Kromer on Polish Gods:

“Among the Slavs and other northern nations the old sore of idolatry held sway the Iongest since I understand that due to their being far away and their being fierce it was not easy for good meaning men to reach these peoples and too armed men of faith did not journey so far [North].  The Poles and other Slavic nations thus honored as gods in their own way: Mars, Pluto, Cerera, Wenera, Diana naming them [as follows]: Jessa, Lada or Ladon, Nya, Marzana, Zezylia, Ziewonia. It is for these that the people understood to bless altars, columns, holy groves and priests.  It is to these that they gave offerings and butchered cattle.  In their praise, did the people celebrate annual holidays, meetings, feasts, dances, clap hands, sang and undertook other celebrations.  Even Dlugosz recalls (some few years after the introduction of Christian faith)  that he himself had experienced these idolatrous rites, saying that it was common for men and women, old and young to gather together for games and dances, exactly during our Pentecostal holidays and that they called these groups ‘stado’ as if these gatherings were flocks or herds.”

kromer1555-1

“For this reason, allegedly, Russia and Lithuania [to this day] preserve such a rite whereby they conduct dances, clap hands and [the words] Lado repeat.  Dlugosz mentions that there stood in Gniezno a church dedicated to Nya or Pluto.  The Poles had even more gods as, for example, Zywie, which one reads as the ‘virile’ [or ‘living]’ (or ‘air’); Pogoda, Pochwist, whom Maciej of Miechow calls the very air/wind, I explain as bad weather/air;  it is thus that the Mazurians call the strong early winds ‘Pochwistel‘.  There are those [Maciej of Miechow] who place Lel and Polel amongst them [Dlugosz’ gods], of whom we hear that even to this day on a drunken evening [people] recall and understand that they are Castor and Pollux.  And too Piorun, Striba [i.e., Stribog], Chors, Mokosh were venerated by the Rus as is shown by their annals [presumably Marcin Kromer means here the PVL].”

kromer1555-2

(Sedenim a Slavis, caeterisque Septentrionalis plagae populis diutius, que ab alijs getibus, inveterata illa de multis dijs opinio & superstitio retenta est, cum propter barbariem & seritatem, et equidem existimo, difficilis ad eos externis hominibus esset aditus: nec vero multu homines militiae & bellis dediti, de religione disquirerent. Colebant itaq pro dijs Poloni, & caeterae Slavici nominis gentes, praeciupe Iovem, Martem, Plutonem, Cererem, Venerem, Dianam: quos Iessam, Ladum sive Ladonem, Niam, Marzanam, Zizililiam, Zievanam sive Zevoniam, vocabant.  De hiseadem quae caeteri homines sere sentiebant: his delubra Iucosque dedicabant: jos simulachra et sacerdotes cosecrabant: his libabant, his imolabat: his sestos dies epulis, choreis, plausibus, catibus iusibusque varijs indulgentes, agebant. quem ritum sestorum dieru Dlugossus usque ad suam tempestate, aliquot post susceptam religione Christianam seculis perdurasse memorat.  Solitos em viros & mulieres, senes & iuvenes, ad iusus & choreas pariter convenire ijs diebus, quos nos Pentesosten vocamus: eumque coetum, Stado, quasi gregem vel armentum, appellatu esse.  Nec scio an hoc sit, quod Russi & Lituani, prefertim in pagis, adhuc retinent, dum Ladonem choreas ducentes, & manibus complodentes, ingeminant.  Fuisse vero Gnesnae sanctissimum Niae sive Plutonis templum, idem Dlugossus refert.  Ahaec autem Zivie, quasi tu dicas vitalis (aura nimirum) Pogoda, hoc est, serenu, sive temperies: Pochvist, quam Miechoviensis aura, nos intemperiem interpretamur, (indecque Pochviscela Masovijs adhic coeli intemperies dicitur) Polonis sij fuere.  Sunt qui hic addunt Lelum & Polelum, quos in conuiurijs & compotationibus appelari adhuc audimus, eosque Castorem & Pollucem esse autumant.  Piorunum autem, hoc est, fulme, & Stribum, & Chorsum, & Mocoslum Russi peculiariter colvere, ut proditum est eorum annalibus.  In hoc igitur errore & vana superstitioe hec natio diu perstitit.)

Maciej Błażewski (died about 1628) who translated Kromer’s book from Latin in 1611  (O sprawach, dziejach i wszystkich innych potocznościach koronnych polskich ksiąg XXX), also tries his hand trying to show the etymology of Pochwist/Pogwizd and further supplements the above with a little more information about the Russian version of Ladon (having interviewed Mikołaj Giedziński who had served as a soldier in Moscow (for the tsars)) and Perkunos.  We did not incorporate those here but you can easily find these online.

Anonymous Author

(Postepek prawa czartowskiego, 1570)

This popular book about the takeover of human lands by hordes of various devils came out in 1570 in Brest Litovsk.  The only known copy of the book itself resided in the Czartoryski Museum but we were not able to find a copy of the original printing.  Hence, here we include a copy from the 1892 edition by Artur Bemis.  This is, again, more of a popular morality story and the various “gods” mentioned below (described as “devils”) are clearly not gods at all and some, even if of a “godly” nature are not even Polish (e.g., Orkus).  Nevertheless, we present this curiosity here for the readers’ amusement.

postpke1

“To our Poland too did Lucifer send a second horde or moth [?] of devils to hunt.  And also many sisters [she-devils], and too to Russia, to Lithuania, to Moscovy and everywhere in the North [did he send] the Bachus’ horde, amongst which these are the leading companions:  Farel, Diabelus, Orkiusz, Opses, Loheli, Latawiec, Szatan, Chejdasz, Koffel, Rozwod, Smolka, Harab the Hunter, Ileli, Kozyra, Gaja, Ruszaj, Pozar, Strojnat, Biez, Dymek, Rozboj, Bierka, Wicher, Sczebiot, Odmieniec, Wilkolek [werewolf], Wesad, Dyngus* or Kiczka, Fugas.  ‘Our sisters too will go with you who as saints [gods] will be among the peoples’ [he said], that is: Dziewanna, Marzanna, Wenda, Jedza, Ossorya, Chorzyca, Merkana.”

* while Dyngus (or smigus-dyngus) is not normally considered a God in the Polish pantheon – rather a celebration associated with pre-Christian spring rites, there was a god named Mars Thingsus (Thincsus) as per a Northumberland (!) inscription.

(Do naszej tez Polski poslal druga horde albo cme czartow Lucyper na low, takze wiele siostr, takze i do Rusi, do Litwy, do Moskwy i wszedzie na polnocy wszytke Bachusowe horde, z ktorej sa przedniejszy ci towarzysze: Farel, Diabelus, Orkiusz, Opses, Loheli, Latawiec, Szatan, Chejdasz, Koffel, Rozwod, Smolka, Harab mysliewiec, Ileli, Kozyra, Gaja, Ruszaj, Pozar, Strojnat, Biez, Dymek, Rozboj, Bierka, Wicher, Sczebiot, Odmieniec, Wilkolek, Wesad, Dyngus albo Kiczka, Fugas.  Siostry tez nasze pojda z wami, ktore za jedne swiete beda u ludzi, to jest: Dziewanna, Marzanna, Wenda, Jedza, Ossorya, Chorzyca, Merkana.)

postepke1

And in the next chapter we have the following [Koffel’s name refers to a kufel, i.e., a beer stein):

“Koffel, the devil.  Coming from Bachus’ horde, that devil’s company over which Koffel was captain was great i numbers. He [Koffel] is the one who throws all the drunken revelries and leads all revelers into all kinds of evil, so that each of them, having drank some, would show their true colours, egging each on to be different in the morning and different [after drinking] in the evening.  Drunk, he calls other devils to his side who sing: ‘Hejdaz, Hala, Ilelu, Polelu’.  And should he get into a fight, even if he’s beaten, he screams that the fault was not with him but he’s won anyway.”

postepke2

(Koffel, czart.  Tez jest rota czartowska wielka zhordy Bachusowej, nad ktora rotmistrzem Koffel. Ten sprawuje pijanice wszystki i przywodzi je ku wszemu zlemu, tak aby kazdy swe kotki okazal, podpiwszy sobie, podusczajac, aby byl inszy po ranu, a inszy pod wieczor.  Upiwszy sie, wola drugich czartow do siebie, ktore zowia: ‘Hejdaz, Hala, Ilelu, Polelu’; a jesli sie powadzi, chocia go ubija, rzecze, iz on wygral i niewinien.)

Maciej Stryjkowski

(Goniec cnoty do prawych szlachciców, 1574)

Maciej Stryjkowski (1547- circa 1593) was born in Mazovia.  He was a traveler, a soldier (he served under Guagnini – see below), a protege of the Bishop of Samogitia, a notorious rhymer (his books and chronicles are thickly interspersed with simple rhyming passages) and ultimately a Catholic priest.  He wrote several books (being a priest helped him find the time) mostly having to do with Lithuania where he spent most of his time.  In his books Stryjkowski mentions various Polish, Lithuanian and Ruthenian or Russian gods numerous times.

One of these books is the “Messenger of virtue [sent] to the Righteous Nobles”.  Therein, in the chapter “About Polish kings and the origin od the famous Sarmatian nation” (O krolach polskich i wywodzie slawnego narodu sarmackiego) Stryjkowski includes the following passage:

goniec1

“Christ, you have the blind-born Mieszko
Brought to light, brought Poland to Holy Baptism,
It is you Grom, Ladon, Marzanna,
Pogwizd, Ziewanna gave way to”

goniec2

(Kryste tys Mieszka sleporodzonego
Oswiecil, Polskes przywiodl do krztu swego,
Tobie ustapil Grom, Ladon, Marzanna,
Pogwizd, Ziewanna)

Maciej Stryjkowski

(O początkach, wywodach, dzielnościach, sprawach rycerskich i domowych sławnego narodu litewskiego, żemojdzkiego i ruskiego, przedtym nigdy od żadnego ani kuszone, ani opisane, z natchnienia Bożego a uprzejmie pilnego doświadczenia, 1577)

Although Polish, Stryjkowski became a bit of a Lithuanian patriot and another chronicle is a testament to that feeling.   That book of Stryjkowski’s – one that was not published until the 20th century (Julia Radziszewska’s edition of 1978) – is his mouthful of a story “On the beginnings, origins, deeds, knightly matters and matters of hearth of the famous Lithuanian, Samogitian and Ruthenian nation, till now never obtained from anyone, nor written down, now with God’s inspiration and great experience [set down].”

stryryc1

In this manuscript, we first hear of “Lado” when the Lithuanian duke Gediminas greeted when entering some town (Kaniv?) in Russia by the commoners:

“Where the [commoners greeted him], according to custom, singing ‘a Lado Lado'”

(Jak byl zwyczaj ‘a Lado Lado’ przyspiewalo)

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Stryjkowski offers a more robust tale of ancient customs and beliefs just a few pages later when describing the establishment of the city of Vilnius by the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas:

“And Gediminas marks with plough this town of his,
Indicating walls and where [to set] the two gates,
He measures squares for marketplaces and merchants,
And sets down the laws [rules] regarding the keeping of the peace and brotherhood.
Then a dark forest did he consecrate to the home/hearth gods
In the place, where today a workshop stands, to Vulcan’s thunders [groms],
For there were many snakes there, which [snakes] they venerated,
And each of them at home they fed with milk
To this end, he set an eternal fire/flame consecrated to these gods
And attached priests, so it [the fire] would always burn.
He too got tithes from all things”

306j

“And so the famous Vilnius did the famous Gediminas build
In this town, where there now stands the Church of Saint Stanislaw
built for that Saint bishop from the castle,
There stood an idol of Pioruns [plural] which [idol] they venerated,
And since his domain included fire, so with fire did they honour him,
And the second one after him, Ziemiennik the Earth god,
The giver of grain, to him they dedicated the dark woods.
Givoitis, the third idol, stood in the shape of a snake
And they believed he was the giver of a healthy [or bountiful] year.
Fire they called Znicz, which burned eternally
And whoever walked past it, had to feed it with wood.
They worshipped trees too as high gods,
And the sun and the moon they burned offerings to.
And when the sky turned cloudy so that the Sun was not to be seen,
Then no end there was to prayers and offerings.
And when the moon did not shine,
They said that the god of light is angry with us.
Snakes, lizards, vipers they took for house gods,
And they gave them all good things
Believing.  They kept these in the house and
offered them milk, honey and bread
And whosoever should cause them [these house gods] harm
So was he condemned to be judged buy the devil [czart].
And too, who should not have them in the house,
there he lost on health and possessions.”

307j

“And in the month of October, when they finished the harvest,
A feast they had, for which they brewed beer,
They sacrificed offerings of all things to their gods,
And for a week with their wives they lived off of these offerings.
And of each dish they put away a piece into every corner of the house,
Walgi, o musu Dziewos Ziemiennik‘ [our God Ziemiennik] they called out.
[compare with: ‘Musu kunigos dzidzis Vicienos’]
And also they did not cut grain [with a sickle] by the boundary [between different fields]
Leaving that [grain] for the Earth gods to eat.
Lelus and Polelus and Ladon they had as gods
And too they had those to saw fear when defending themselves at war.
And ‘Lelu, Lelu, my Lado, Lelu, Lado!
Sang a maidens’ flock [stado] while clapping their hands,
This dance we see even today they preserve,
From May all the way to July they dance with this ‘Lado’,
Lado, Lado‘ singing, on holy evenings
In Rus there are examples of the old faith’s idols,
The bodies of the dead with their most dear possessions they burned,
As I have mentioned above, and they washed them with honey [!].
And since they went from hardship to bliss did these [souls] travel, they played the bagpipes,
And beating the drums, around their burning ashes, did they jump in a dance.
And this [custom] Latvia still preserves in the Courland country,
That when a friend dies, they play for him singing,
(What I have myself seen) with these words: ‘Go already from here, you poor soul [nieboze],
to a [land] where the bad German cannot hurt and enslave you.
Whereas, the Ruthenians [Ukrainians] for the dead made graves,
In forests, in fields, and set stones on them.
Just as today in Kiev, Vitebsk, Kaniv,
In Bulgaria, in Thracia and at Moscow’s head
I saw great mounds of these famous Slavic princes,
and Perun they honored many years ago.
And these gods in Lithuania so they thought
that they are honouring true gods.
In Samogitia and Ruthenia these superstitions
Partly continue, the bows serve the unbelievers,
In Lawaryszki [Lavoriskes], there others worship snakes,
And they burn magics at dinnertime in November.
[this is a reference to Dziady, the days of the dead – which fell around All Saints Day]
But I went on a tangent, counting these idols,
Though it does not hurt to know old ancestors’ customs,
That Gediminas himself with [at] Vilnius at one time sponsored,
And two castles and a town on the [river] Vilnius he built.”

308j

(Zas Gedymin obwodzi radlem miasto swoje,
Znaczac mury i gdzie bram zakladac podwoje,
Día targów i kupiectwa rynki tez rozmierza,
I prawa ustawuje pokoju, przemierza.
Las potym ciemny bogom poswiecil domowym
W tym miejscu, gdzie dzis warsztat, gromom wulkanowym,
Bo wezow wielkosc byla tam, ktore chwalili,
A kazdy w domu swoim mlekiem ich karmili
K’temuż zaś ogień wieczny tym bogom poświęcił
I kapłany przystawił, by się zawżdy niecił.
Dziesięciny od wszystkich rzeczy też fundował.
Tak Wilno slawne slawny Gedymin zgruntowal
W tym miescie, gdzie dzis kosciol Stanislawowi
Zbudowany, swietemu z zamku biskupowi,
Tam stal balwan Piorunow, ktorego chwalili,
A iz mial ogien w mocy, ogniem go tez czcili,
A drugi wedle niego Ziemiennik, bog ziemny,
Zboza dawca, temuz las poswiecili ciemny.
Giwojtys, trzeci balwan, stal na ksztalt wezowy,
Ktory mu przywlaszczali, iz dawal rok zdrowy.
Ogien Znicz nazywali, ktory gorzal zawzdy,
Kto mimo szedl, musial nan drew przykladac kazdy.
Drzewa takze za bogi wysokie chwalili,
A sloncowi z miesiacem ofiary palili.
A gdy sie zachmurylo, iz nie widac slonca,
To juz modlom, ofiarom nie bylo konca.
Mowili iz sie na nas bog gniewa swiatlosci
Takze, gdy miesiac nocny nie dawal jasnosci.
Weze, jaszczorki, zmije za bogi domowe.
Mieli, iz im dawali rzeczy wszystkie zdrowe
Wierzac.  Tych kazdy w domu swym gospodarz chowal
Mleko, miod i pszeniczny im chleb ofiarowal,
A jesli zeby ktory krzywde im wyrzadzil,
Taki zaraz skaran byl, bo go czart osadzil.
Takze, kto by ich w domu nie mial, tam juz wszystki.
Rzeczy schodziły w zdrowiu, na ludziach dobytki.

A miesiąca oktobra, gdy skończyli żniwa,
Święto mieli, na które gotowali piwa,
Ofiary z wszelkich rzeczy bogom swoim bili,
A przez tydzien z zonami z onych ofiar zyli,
Kazdej potrawy w katy wszystki wprzod miotali,

‘Walgi, o musu Dziewos, Ziemiennik’ wolalali.
Takze na polu zboze nie zeli przy miedzy
Zostawiajac to bogom swym ziemnym dla jedzy
Lelusa z Polelusem i Ladona bogi
Tez mieli od wojennej obroncami trwogi.)

lado2
(I ‘Lelu, Lelu, Lado moja, Lelu, Lado!’
Tak spiewaly, z kleskanim reku niewiast stado.
Ten taniec jeszcze i dzis widzim zachowuja,
Od maja az do lipca z tym “Lado” tancuja,
‘Lado, Lado’ spiewajac, swiete tez wieczory
Na Rusi sa balwanow chwaly starej wzory,
Ciala zmarlych z najmilszym ich sprzetem palili,
Jakom wyszej namienil, a miodem ich myli.
A iz z nedze na rozkosz ida, w dudy grali,
A bebny bijac, kolo ich zglisk tancem skakali.
To jeszcze Lotwa w ziemi kurlandzkiej chowaja,
Iz gdy przyjaciel umrze, grajac mu spiewaja,
com sam widzial, w te slowa: ‘Juz idz stad, nieboze,
Gdzie cie krzywdzic, niewolic zly Niemiec nie moze.
Rusacy zas umarlym mogily sypali
W lesiech, w polach, a na nich kamienie stawiali.
Jak dziś koło Kijowa, Witebska, Kaniowa,
W Bułgaryjej, w Tracyjej i gdzie Moskwy głowa
Widziałem kopce wielkie onych książąt sławnych,
Słowieńskich, a Peruna chwalili z lat dawnych.
I te bogi, co Litwa tak on czas szaleli,
A iz bogom prawdziwym cześć czynią, mniemieli.
Tak w Zmodzi i na Rusi tych to zabobonów,
Po części jest, niewiernym służących pokłonów,
W Lawaryszkach tam jeszcze drudzy węże chwalą,
I czary przy obiadach na listopad palą.
Alem od rzeczy odszedl, liczac te balwany,
Jednak wiedziec nie wadzi starych przodkow stany,
Ktore Gedymin z Wilnem zaraz sam fundowal,
A dwa zamki i miasto nad Wilna zbudowal.)

Maciej Stryjkowski

(Kronika Polska, Litewska, Żmudzka i wszystkiej Rusi Która przedtym nigdy światła nie widziała, 1582)

“The Polish, Lithuanian, Samogitian and all Russian chronicle which till now has not seen the light of day” is perhaps Stryjkowski’s most important work.  It is a complication of the earlier works by Jan Dlugosz, Maciej Miechowita and others.  However, consistent with his Lithuanian and generally Eastern European patriotism Stryjkowski also includes passages clearly derived from Ruthenian or Russian chronicles too (most obviously the descriptions of Ruthenian/Russian Gods from the Primary Chronicle).

stryjk1

Interestingly, while in Vitebsk, Stryjkowski served under Alessandro Guagnini (see below) whom he later sued for allegedly having plagiarized Stryjkowski’s great chronicle in Guagnini’s “Description of European Sarmatia”.  Guagnini’s book was published in 1578.  In 1580 he lost the case brought by Stryjkowski (it went all the way to the Polish King).  Nevertheless, the Guagnini “Description” came out in 1581 again and continued to be published under his name.

Maciej Stryjkowski’s chronicle was finally published in 1582.   It contains passages regarding Polish (and other) divinities in the appropriately named chapter: “On ancient ceremonies or rather insanities of the Ruthenian/Russian, Polish, Samogitian, Lithuanian, Livlandian and Prussian idol worshipping citizens and [on] the varieties of the false gods.”  (O Starodawnych ceremoniach albo raczej szalenstwach ruskich, polskich, zmodzkich, litewskich, liflandskich i pruskich obywatelow balwochwalcow i roznosci bogow falszywych)

This is what Stryjkowski writes – note that we do not include the original publication language here since the readers can easily scan the pictures:

stryj2a

“But our Sarmatians, Poles, Ruthenians, Lithuania, Prussians mimicked these insanities, for these northern lands persisted longer in these errors.  By reason of their fierceness and animal cruelty, it was difficult for the Apostles and their messengers to come there with the teachings of the of the Gospel.  And too also our ancestors, being in those times the bravest nation in knightly [military] matters which took up all of their time, did not discuss [matters of] religion.  Thus, in the beginning Poles, Pomeranians, Mazurians these most important gods did have: Jove whom they called Jessa – this one they venerated as the all powerful and the giver of all goods; Pluto too, a hellish god whom they called Nia, they praised in the evening, asking for an earlier and better place in Hell and for rains or for calming of the weather; to this one there was a Church dedicated in Gniezno as Dlugosz testifies.  To Cerera the Earth goddess, the inventor of all grains, whom they called Marzana, to her too in Gniezno (as Vincent Kadlubek, Cracow bishop and the first Polish chronicler writes) there was a church built in Gniezno at great cost; where they offered in praise of her all kinds of tithes of grain after the harvest, asking that the next year’s harvest [also] be fruitful.  Venera they called the goddess of love Zizilia, to whom they prayed for fertility and all sorts of bodily pleasures they demanded from her.  Diana the goddess of the hunt in they tongue they called Ziewonia or Dziewanna.  Castor and Pollux too – the Roman deities – they venerated, who they called Lelus and Palelus – what even to this day amongst the Mazurians and Poles during feasts (when they’ve drunk some) we hear in the open when they Lelum po Lelum shout.  They venerated too the mother of Lel and Polel – Leda who, according to Greek faery tales, Jove – unable to get to her otherwise – turning himself into a swan did finally impregnate; [and] so she laid an egg from which Helen (for whom Troy perished) and Castor with molux (sic) – the twins – were born or hatched who afterwards were counted among the Gods.  And men and women, old and young, used to come together in one place for the Holy Days of these Gods of theirs so as to dance – which meeting they called ‘kupala’ especially on the 25th of the month of May and the 25th of June – [a custom] that to these times in Ruthenia/Russia and Lithuania they preserve.  From the Second Sunday [Sunday after Easter] until the Day of Saint John the Baptist women and maidens  come together for dances and holding hands they sing ‘Lado, Lado‘ and ‘My Lado‘, they repeat.  Singing to commemorate Leda or Ladona, the mother of Castor and Pollux, though the simple people do not know from whence this custom arose.  Also these strange lullabies about Saint Peter and holy evenings after the [day of the] birth of the Lord, all this comes from ancient pagan superstitions for I have seen the same myself with my own eyes in Turkey – in the year 1575, on December 20 when in our country the middle of Lent falls. [!?]”

striykovsky

“And the Poles also honored as a God the whistling wind which they called zywie; and also Pogoda, the God of clear, happy days; as Miechovius [Maciej of Miechow – see above] heard from his ancestors.”

“They also worshipped a second wind Pochwist which, as Miechovius writes (though Cromer [Marcin Kromer – see above] explains Pochwist as bad weather), the Mazurians even today call Pochwiscel – thus when such a wind should arise they fell and kneeled.”

“They honored too Ruthenian/Russian Gods, that is, Piorun, Strib, Mokosh, Chors and others whom Vladimir the king of all Rus (son of Svantoslav with a concubine) built many churches in Kiev (for his brothers slain in offering) and placed many idols/statues on the nearby mountains [hills].  And especially an idol for Piorun God of thunders, clouds and lightnings (who they worshipped the most) most exquisite he set up.  The body itself was elaborately made out of wood, his head from Silver, mustache from Gold and in his hand he held a stone in the shape of a striking thunder; and to honor him specially dedicated priests burned an oak fire which was called eternal and were it ever – by reason of the negligence of its guardians [i.e., the priests] – to go out, so would they be punished with a slit throat.  This [custom] the Lithuania, Samogitia and Old Prussians preserved.”

stryjkovskinew

“In this shape an image of this Piorun stood [also] in Great Novogrod.  And it was with great diligence as a God venerated in the place where now stands a Christian monastery called ‘Perunian’.  Later when all the Ruthenians/Russians accepted the Christian faith (in Greek custom) in the days of Vladimir Svantoslavovic [i.e., son of Svantoslav] in the year from the creation of the world (according to Ruthenian/Russian count) 6497 and from [the birth of] Christ 980 – as we have described the same earlier – they threw this idol from a bridge into the River Volkhov, as the Ruthenian/Russian Chronicles and Herebersteinus* following them (Folio 74), in  ‘Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii‘, attest.”

*Baron Sigismund von Herberstein, author of the above mentioned “commentaries” (1549)

“And Czechs and Bulgarians, Slavs our brothers honored these [unclear if pagan gods generally or the above gods] Gods but, singularly, they had Merot and Radamas [Radegost?].”

Later Stryjkowski describes (mostly copying Dlugosz) the “Baptism of Poland: as follows:

stryjkovskinew2

“The duke Mieclaw [Mieszko] ordered to let it be known [by town criers] in all towns and villages that each person, the nobility as also their subject and people of all stations under the threat of] having their throats slit and losing their possessions, on the seventh day of March they should baptize themselves.”

stryjk3

“And so all of them through the Holy Baptism accepted the Christian faith and they broke all the idols.  And, as a remembrance of these idols, Dlugosz and Miechovius write what was done every year when this day came – [a tradition] that they maintain even today in Great Poland and in Silesia.  For when mid-Lent Sunday comes, children having made an idol in the shape of the woman Ziewona or Marzanna that is Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt (which idol they used to venerate), they place it on a stick and carry it around singing sadly and one and the other [idol] praising or carrying it in a wagon.  Then, in a puddle or into a river from a bridge they throw it and run away to their houses as if from the idols towards the true glory of Lord Christ.”

On Jan Dlugosz’s decryption of Poland’s baptism, see here.

Jakub Wujek

(Postylla, 1573)

Jakub Wujek (1541-1597) was a Roman-Catholic Jesuit priest and a leading translator of the post-Council of Trent (i.e., “Counterreformational” Bible).  He also wrote  Postylla catholica  which contained many sermons.  In its Part 3: Sermon on the Day of Saint Adalbert our martyr, patron and apostle (Kazanie na dzien Wojciecha swietego, meczennika, patrona i apostola naszego) Wujek makes the following claims about Poland’s pagan past:

wojek1

1575 printing

“Our Poland was once in darkness covered when it venerated, instead of the lawful, live God, all kinds of devilries [such as] Jesses, Ladas, Nyas, Marzannas, Ziewannas, Zyzylas, Zywies, Pogodas, Pochwists, Lelipolelis, Pioruns, Gwiazdas [stars] and snakes.”

wojekz

(Byla kiedys Polska nasza ciemnosciami kiedy miasto prawego zywego Boga lada Dyabelstwa Iesz Lady Nije Marzany Ziewany Zyzylie Zywie Pogody Pochwisty Lelipoleli Pioruny Gwiazdy i Weze chwalila.)

Alessandro Guagnini

(Sarmatiae Europeae descriptio, 1578)

Alessandro Guagnini (1538-1614) was a Veronese soldier and chronicler in the service of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  He became a naturalized citizen of the Commonwealth under the name “Gwagnin”.  As already mentioned, he was accused by his former subordinate Maciej Stryjkowski of having plagiarized Stryjkowski’s chronicle.  Be that as it may we include Guagnini’s description here as well.

sarmatiaguagnini1

After mentioning the destruction of the idols on the 7th of March, Guagnini goes on to describe their early worship (you can zoom in for the Latin version)c:

“Because before they worshipped  all kinds of created [physical] objects as Gods – the Sun, the Moon, the Air which they called Pogwisd.  Especially Jove who they called Jessa, Pluto who they called Lado[n], Cerere who they called Nia and whose church/temple stood in Gniezno, Venera who they called Marzana and Diana who they called Ziwonia, in the pagan tongue.  Also Lel and Polel that is the Roman Castor and Pollux were venerated as Gods.  And when they drink together so do they cry out their names ‘Lelum Polelum.'”

guaagnini2

Guagnini then mentions the games that men and women play between the 25th of May and 25th of June, i.e., stado which is, he says, still observed in Ruthenia/Russia and in Lithuania. He goes on to describes that after Easter till the feast of Saint John the Baptist women and maidens hold hands dancing in circles praising the name of Ladon (‘Lado, Lado‘).  Finally, he notes that in Silesia and on the border with Poland on the 17th of March villagers go around with an idol before throwing the same into a river (i.e., the Marzana rites).  

Joachim Bielski

(Kronika polska Marcina Bielskiego nowo wydana 1597)

Joachim Bielski (circa 1540 – 1599) was the son of Marcin Bielski, as well as a parliamentarian, poet and the man who updated his father’s chronicle into the “Polish Chronicle of Marcin Bielski – newly issued by his son Joachim Bielski.  In addition to adding Polish histories up to the reign of Sigismund Vasa, Joachim toned down the various pro-Protestant passages in his father’s work.  (Joachim was not raised Catholic by his father but did later convert to Catholicism – whether this was partly caused by the growing Counter-Reformation, the fact that Joachim was working for the new King Sigismund Vasa (who was a staunch Catholic) or by personal beliefs is unknown.

iochanbielski
“The Poles having accepted the Christian faith destroyed the idol images in which they [previously] venerated devils as Gods.  Others they burned everywhere in towns and villages.  All the pagan prayers they and lost [destroyed] via edict or the duke’s command: setting a certain date for this, namely March 7th,  These idols, Miechowita [Maciej of Miechow] writes that he saw three of the same, broken and lying at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Cracow where they lay on the ground for a while.”

ioachim1

“In the reign of this Mieszko in Cracow on the Vistula – where today the convent of Saint Agnes stands – there was a pagan church from which Mieszko ordered all the devils’ idols to be tossed out and to [replace them with] carvings of the passion of the Lord Christ.”

“In my memory too, there was this custom in villages that on the White Sunday [Second Sunday – Sunday after Easter] they drowned an idol after [first] having put human clothes on a hemp or hay bundle.  And the whole village led this idol [away] to a nearby lake or puddle and there, having taken the clothes off, they tossed it into the water singing mournfully: ‘Death writhes about the fence, looking for trouble etc.’ Thereafter, they ran away from this place as fast as they could back home, whosoever should, however, fall so they got an augury that this one should die this year.  They called this idol Marzana as if it were the God Mars.  Just as Ziewanna was Diana; and Dzidzilia was the Goddess Venus; and Jessa was the God Iovis [Jove]; and Nia, the hellish God Pluto – these they venerated in accordance with pagan custom as Gods and they built them churches/temples, consecrated woods, established certain Holy Days, gave offerings and to honour them they gave feasts and dances.”

ioachim2“As Dlugosz writes, that even in his time about the time of the Green Holidays [Green Week/Pentecost/polish Zielone Świątki, german Pfingsten] people used to congregate in villages – men just as women and to engage in strange dances [in their honour] which they called in the common tongue Stado.  So too writes this Dlugosz that in Gniezno there stood for a long time a church of the Holy/Saint Nia.  They also had other live Gods that is Lel and Polel which some understand to be Castor and Pollux.  They venerated as a God too Zywot, Pogoda, Niepogoda (which they named Pochwist) and today they still call pochwiscil in Mazovia [note: Mazuria became Mazovia here].  They venerated too Piorun, especially Ruthenia/Russia [did] just as also Strib, Chorz, Mokosh.  And Pomeranians [venerated] Radogost and Swatewit and Prowe.  There too were many other pagan tomfooleries.”

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November 29, 2015

Wulfstan (& Ohthere) on the Wends (and a little bit on the Esti)

Published Post author

We’ve discussed chapters 11 & 12 of King Alfred’s Orosius which chapters deal with Europe’s geography previously.  What follows those chapters are accounts of:

  • the explorations by Ohthere who sailed along the Norwegian coast all the way to the White  Sea (chapters 13-19);
  • the trip of Wulfstan who travelled from Denmark to the Prussian town of Truso (chapter 20), and
  • the customs of the Esti, by which the writer of Alfred’s book meant the various Baltic tribes (chapters 21-23).

We will get back to Esti (Balts) later (they appear in Tacitus, Jordanes, Cassiodorus and Alfred’s Orosius) as they provide useful clues to the location and identity of the Veneti.  With one exception we will not spend time on Ohthere as his trip was not through Slavic lands.  But we do want to give the full (a shorter version was previously discussed here) account of Wulfstan as he travelled to Truso along the entire Pomeranian coast and so we do that here (we also note the one mention of the Wends in the Ohthere account at the end of chapter 19).  As with the Geography section before, we first give the Old English versions followed by the English.

As before, a reminder on the Old English letters is in order:

  • Þ þ – “thorn” – basically a “th”;
  • Ð ð – “eth” – roughly the same “th”;
  • Æ æ – “ash – representing a middle sound between “a” and “e”;

sweonla

Chapter 19

Ohthere’s Account – Last Section

Old English 

“And of Sciringes heale he cwæð þæt he seglode on fif dagan to þæm porte þe mon hæt æt Hæþum; se stent betuh Winedum, and Seaxum, and Angle, and hyrð in on Dene. Ða he þiderweard seglode fram Sciringes heale, þa wæs him on þæt bæcbord Denamearc, and on þæt steorbord widsæ þry dagas;  and þa, twegen dagas ær he to Hæþum come, him wæs on þæt steorbord Gotland, and Sillende, and iglanda fela.  On þæm landum eardodon Engle, ær hi hider on land coman.  And hym wæs ða twegen dagas on ðæt bæcbord þa igland þe in Denemearce hyrað.”

English

“From Sciringes heal he said that he sailed in five days to the trading-town called Hedeby, which is situated among Wends, Saxons and Angles and belongs to the Danes. When he sailed there from Sciringes heal he had Denmark to port and the open sea to starboard for three days. Then two days before he arrived at Hedeby he had Jutland and Sillende and many islands to starboard. The Angles lived in these districts before they came to this land.  On the port side he had, for two days, those islands which belong to Denmark.”

othetherewulfstani

11th century MS BL Cotton Tiberius B.i

Chapter 20

Wulfstan’s Account

Old English 

“Wulfstan sæde  þæt he gefore of Hæðum, þæt he wære on Truso on syfan dagum & nihtum, þæt þæt scip wæs ealne weg yrnende under segle.  Weonoðland him wæs on steorbord, & on bæcbord him wæs Langaland, & Læland, & Falster, & S[c]oneg; & þas land eall hyrað to Denemearcan.  & þonne Burgenda land wæs us on bæcbord, & þa habbað him sylf cyning. Þonne æfter Burgenda lande wæron us þas land, þa synd hatene ærest Blecingaeg, & Meore, & Eowland, & Gotland on bæcbord; & þas land hyrað to Sweon.  & Weonodland wæs us ealne weg on steorbord oð Wislemuðan.  Seo Wisle is swyðe mycel ea, & hio tolið WitlandWeonodland;  & þæt Witland belimpeð to Estum; & seo Wisle lið ut of Weonodlande, & lið in Estmere; & se Estmere is huru fiftene mila brad.  Þonne cymeð Ilfing eastan in Estmere of ðæm mere ðe Truso standeð in staðe, & cumað ut samod in Estmere, Ilfing eastan of Estlande, & Wisle suðan of Winodlande.  & þonne benimð Wisle Ilfing hire naman, & ligeð of  þæm mere west & norð on sæ; for ðy hit man hæt Wislemuða.  Þæt Estland is swyðe* mycel, & þær bið swyðe manig burh, & on ælcere byrig bið cyningc; & þær bið swyðe mycel hunig, & fiscað; & se cyning & þa ricostan men drincað myran meolc, & þa unspedigan & þa beowan drincað medo.  Þær bið swyðe mycel gewinn betweonan him; & ne bið ðær nænig ealo gebrowen mid E’stum, ac þær bið medo genoh.”

swyðe as in “very, exceedingly or severely” – see, for example, the River Swider.

English

“Wulfstan said that he travelled from Hedeby, arriving in Truso after seven days and nights, the boat running under sail the whole way.  To starboard he had Weonodland, to port Langaland, Laeland, and Falster and Skane [?].  All these lands belong to Denmark.   And then we had Burgenda land [Bornholm?] to port, where the people have their own king. Then after Burgenda land [Bornholm] we had on our port side the lands which are called Blekingey, and Meore, and Eoland [Oeland] and Gotland, and these lands belong to the Swedes.  And we had Weonodland to starboard, the whole of the way to the mouth of the Wisle [Vistula] [i.e.,Wislemuðan].  This Wisle [Vistula] is a very large river and she separates Witland and Weonodland;  Witland belongs to the Este.  The Wisle [Vistula] flows out of Weonodland and into Estmere; and the Estmere is indeed [here?] fifteen miles wide.  The Ilfing flows into Estmere from the lake on the shore of which the town of Truso stands, and they flow together into Estmere, the Ilfing east of [out of the East from?] Estland and the Wisle [Vistula] south of [out of the South from?]** Weonodland.  And there Wisle [Vistula] deprives the Ilfing of its name and lies/flows north-west towards the sea as from then on the [estuary] is known as the Wislemuda [Vistula estuary].  This Estland is very large and has many fortified settlements [burgs], and in each of these there is a king.  And there is a great deal of honey and fishing.  And 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.  And there is no ale brewed among the Este but there is plenty of mead.”

** The translations correct this to say that the Ilfing flows west and the Vistula north but the text says the opposite – we provide an alternative form of reading as in “out of”.

 

shiffern
A Description of the Esti follows thereafter as to which we shall have more to say later.

Copyright ©2015 jassa.org All Rights Reserved

September 28, 2015

On Ventspils & Wyndow

Published Post author

We will now remove ourselves from the notoriously dreary and cold lands of the Polish Gods Jassa, Lado and Nia and travel North to the perennially freezing and wind-swept territories of the Curonian peninsula.

Here in the early 13th century, in what is today’s Latvia, the German monastic order of the brotherhood of something or other was enthusiastically initiating the local Livs, Letts and Estonians into the doctrine of the Christian faith and the reality of what happens to those who do not reciprocate the fervent knights’ whole-hearted belief in their Middle Eastern saviour.

The German crusaders liked their phallic symbols red... bright red

The German crusaders liked their phallic symbols red… bright red

We know of these events because traveling along with the German knights was a German priest who, while staying the background of the fighting, was able to pen some of these events down in his Livonian Chronicle.  Since the priest’s name was Henry (or, really, Heinrich), the chronicle became known as the Heinrici Cronicon Lyvoniae.  It was the first such chronicle dealing with the Latvians and Estonians though it was quickly followed by others.

While engaged in the pious tasks of pillaging and torturing in the name of their Lord and Master Josh von Bethleheim, these Shriners with an attitude came across a simple people who suffered many indignities at the hands of some of the local populace.  These simple people were known to the German crusaders as the Wends and, Henry tells us, they were an extremely impoverished people who had been kicked out of their prior abodes on the Venta river, then been driven out again by the Curonians, and straight into the arms of the waiting arms of the Crusaders.  Thereafter, the Wends, faced with some hostile Latvians, it seems threw in their lot with the Germans playing the role of early day Tlascalans to the Latvians’ Aztecs.

Latvian locals, Henry was so fond of converting

Latvian locals, Henry was so fond of converting (except the one on the right – that one can just be chopped up)

There are only two things remarkable about this story (unfortunately, in the context of the times, the brutality of the situation is not one of them).

The First Interesting Thing

One is that, in addition to giving their name to the town of Wenden, today’s Ventspils, and the river Venta, as per another and later Livland Chronicle, these Wends also gave Latvia its national flag when they appeared at the city gates under “a red banner cut through with white after the manner of the Wends” (see below in bold).  Specifically, and more poetically, let us quote a later chronicle, so inventively called the Livländische Reimchronik (9219 bis 9233):

Von Wenden was zû Rîge komen
zûr lantwer, als ich hân vernomen,
ein brûder und wol hundert man:
den wart daß mêre kunt getân.
die quâmen hovelîchen dar
mit einer banier rôtgevar,
daß was mit wîße durch gesniten
hûte nâch wendischen siten.
Wenden ist ein burc genant,
von den die banier wart bekant,
und ist in Letten lant gelegen,
dâ die vrowen rîtens pflegen
nâch den siten, als die man.
vor wâr ich ûch daß sagen kan,
die banier der Letten ist.“

BTW That is why it is called the REIMchronik – no great magic there.

What is interesting about this is that virtually all of the northern Slavic countries and cities at the time had a red-white motif in their flags and banners (including the flags of Poland and Bohemia) – and this was true whether they were within the realm of Brandenburg or of the Teutonic Order or of the Brothers of the Sword in Latvia.

The Other Interesting Thing

The other, seemingly, remarkable thing about these folks is their name.  Wenden.

Some authors have seized on it as a name indicative of the potential latter day Veneti.  In that telling, these Wends 1) were not Slavs 2) may have been the actual Veneti and 3) being in Latvia, were localized away from the area claimed by the Slavic autochtonic theorists of Poland and Bohemia.  A trifecta.

How silly this is, is easy to see but, unfortunately, for some it also has to be demonstrated.

As to item 3), it would seem that locating ancient Slavs away from the ancient haunts of the Veneti on the Vistula would be useful in bringing down the autochtonic theories.  However, locating ancient Veneti away from the ancient haunts of the Veneti should suggest only that, perhaps, one has not located the ancient Veneti after all (at least not if by that term is meant some form of a non-Slavic Veneti Restpopulation).

As to item 1) we have no basis for speculating whether the Wends of this story were or were not Slavs, Balts, Estonians or someone else entirely (almost – see below).  No record of their language is found anywhere. Nor would such a record be proof of their ethnicity were it ever to be found or be somehow extracted since it ought to be clear that, after living for years among the Balts, these people might well have changed their tongue to a Baltic one.

Further, as to item 2) above, these folks may well have been Slavs and also Venethi if by Slavs one understands descendants of some of the Venethi.  Consequently, item 2) proves nothing in and of itself to push the needle one way or another.

Having said all this, we cannot help but notice too that many of the German knights and missionaries telling the story (including most notably, Henry) arrived in Riga from areas in Saxony, a province of the Empire bordering on formerly Slavic lands which contained Slavic populations for years after their conquest by the Franks.  It would not stretch credulity to suppose that the chronicler of this episode, Henry, himself may have been chosen for this mission to the Far European East for his knowledge of and contacts with the local non-Germanic Wends of the Elbe-Saale area.

In any event, Saxon Germans had previously encountered Slavic Wends aplenty.  if they identified a Latvian tribe as “Wends” a simple explanation of the episode might be that these too were (Slavic) Wends.  We learn, after all, that they were persecuted and ejected by the local Baltic populations who may have perceived them as “different” (or, at least, as different enough).  Certainly Latvia is not far at all from Russia and a tribe of Russians may have wondered into areas they should not have wandered into.

We already know from prior blog entries that the Finnish name for Russia is Venäjä.  Let us now also mention that the Estonian word for Russia is Venemaa.  Consequently, the designation of these people as Wenden here could have been simply an indication of their Slavic identity.  In fact, we specifically know that the Estonians did come into contact with these Wends as the last we hear of the Wends in Henry’s Chronicle is that they are living together with the Swordbrethren knights (hmmmm….) in the town of Wenden and that the town is then stormed by marauding Estonians (do not worry, the knights, their mission being just, of course, prevail).

Incidentally, the Estonian name for the Lettgallian area around the town of Wenden is Vonnu and the Latvian name for the same area is… Cesis. Oh, have we forgotten to mention the Czech (Bohemian) flag?  Here it is (historically, same as Polish – the blue in the current version is a modern addition) in red with just enough of a tinge of white:

Finally, if one is genuinely looking for the ancestors of “a large and populous” people located on the Vistula in the 3rd/4th (?) century, it seems strange to latch onto a small Wendish tribe somewhere in Latvia in the 12th century but ignore or dismiss, often a priori, the large and populous Wendish tribes on the Vistula in the 6th century.  If one is genuinely looking…

We leave with some inconclusive musings on the matter by Johann Daniel Gruber who published the Livonian Chronicle of Henry’s in 1747 (Latin to German translation by Arndt).

It seems Gruber was influenced, inter alia,  by the views of the Italian adventurer Alessandro Guagnini and his (or, if you believe Guagnini (aka Gwagnin) stole the book from Stryjkowski who served under Guagnini, Stryjkowski’s) “A Description of Sarmatian Europe”.  Note Gruber calls both Letts and Wends “Slavs” so we have to take this with a grain of salt.  (We mention Guagnini/Stryjkowski only because we will return to him/them when discussing more about the Venethi).

gruber

***

For more on this topic, please see “Argument 6” from a later post (dealing with Schenker’s book which has the same dumb argument) which I also copy here with some cleanup:

Argument 6
Quantum Arguments

The last argument that Schenker makes is rather bizarre.  He uses the report of Henry of Livonia “who described a clearly non-Slavic tribe of the Vindi which lived in Courland and Livonia… [and whose people] may well be the descendants of the Baltic Veneti.”

Schenker’s statement is puzzling and one has to wonder how any thinking person could have made it.

First of all Schenker (whose citation practice leaves much to be desired) provides zero evidence to support his claim that this tribe was “clearly non-Slavic”.  There is nothing clear here because there is nothing here at all.  Schenker just asserts this.

For Schenker’s argument to hold, we would have to accept a number of very questionable hypotheses were true:

  1. that the Veneti were different from the Balts (as reported by Heirich) but yet were not Slavs;
  2. that these non-Slavic Veneti did in fact live near the Baltic;
  3. that the same non-Slavic Veneti survived as a distinct people for about a millenium, all along avoiding any Germanization, Gothicization, Balticization or Slavicization;
  4. that the continued existence of such a tribe went about unnoticed and unremarked on for the duration of the same millenium until one Heinrich of Lettland stumbled upon them in the first half of the 13th century;
  5. that this Heinrich, a German crusader who must have been intimately aware of the practice of his people (and his presumably) calling the Slavs of his time Wenden, would have called some other non-Slavic tribe by that exact same name (!);
  6. that Heinrich would have done so with respect to a tribe that he encountered in the Baltic-Slavic borderlands; and that
  7. that Heinrich, a writer who conveyed much about the life of the local tribes, would have considered his use of such nomenclature for a “clearly non-Slavic” tribe to be something entirely unremarkable to the point of not observing upon the oddity of the existence of these “clearly non-Slavic” Wends to his readers.

Oh, and that these Wends’ “colours” were the same as those of the other Western Slavic tribes such as Poles or Czechs (as per the later Livländische Reimchronik we hear of  “a red banner cut through with white after the manner of the Wends.”).

Now, to make this kind of an argument is not only to strain the laws of historical probability but to leave them by the wayside entirely.  Here we really are in the world of quantum history and bad faith.

(p.s. otherwise, the book is ok but if we are to take a linguist’s word as to the relationship between the Veneti and the Slavs, we’ll go with Vasmers).

Here is the link to the full post.

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October 7, 2014