Perhaps the most nauseatingly tiresome aspect of the literature concerning Poland’s Mieszko (circa 931*-992) has been the constant questioning of his ethnicity. While to the rest of the universe Mieszko I is Mr. Poland, to some degenerates he is a Viking commander come to conquer and civilize the unruly Polish Slavs.
One might say that we are talking about the first historic ruler of Poland, the man who single handedly united various Lechitic tribes (“you will be one with me!”), repeatedly kicked German ass both east and west of the Oder (“you Kraut go there, across river – but the Mercedes stays!”) and, just to make sure his place in history was firmly secure, introduced Christianity to the Poles (“the new chick better be super hot, I’m not giving up my seven wives for saggin’ tits !”). The man is said to have bled both red and white (in an exact 50-50 proportion), to have had mighty Polish eagles vie to nest in his hair (ALL his hair… EVERYWHERE) and to have been altogether the most interesting (Polish) man in the world up, at least, until his son Boleslaw.
So, a reasonable person will undoubtedly ask “how can ANYONE question the Man’s Polishness (or at least his Slavic…ness)?”
It all has to do with his name** and especially with the Dagome Iudex – a papal document lost to history, whose copies refer to Mieszko (people think) as Dagome. This document is very important being the first description of the boundaries of the Polish State. Dagome is not a Slavic name (well maybe it is, see below). Dago may be a Viking name. Dagobert certainly is a Frankish (a sort of German) name.
Aside from that, some people think the very name Mieszko is “strange”, its meaning “unknown”, etc. so that the only way to explain it is to look towards the Dagome and see Mieszko as just some sort of a bastardization. We will address this one separately below.
So, let’s have fun:
The Dagome Iudex is a common parlance (common parlance btw is to be understood very liberally to refer to common parlance amongst those who read this stuff) name of a copy (somewhat paraphrased by the copier) of a letter gifting to Saint Peter (and, in his temporary absence, the then Pope) the Realm of Poland (sort of) as described in the said letter. In fact, it reads like your typical American real estate deed. The rough English translation follows:
“Also in another volume from the times of Pope John XV , Dagome, lord [i.e., the Iudex in question], and Ote, lady, and their sons Misico and Lambert (I do not know of which nation those people are, but I think they are Sardinians, for those are ruled by four judges) were supposed to give to Saint Peter one state in whole which is called Schinesghe, with all its lands in borders which run along the long sea, along Prussia to the place called Rus, thence to Kraków and from said Kraków to the River Oder, straight to a place called Alemure, and from said Alemure to the land of Milczanie, and from the borders of that people to the Oder and from that, going along the River Oder, ending at the earlier mentioned city of Schinesghe.“
There are at least two versions of the letter and the above text varies slightly. The oldest known version is dated to 1099 and is itself a copy of an earlier copy from the Collectio Canonum (basically a list of stuff the Church thought was its) of Cardinal Deusdedit (most likely from 1087). This Vatican version (manuscript Vaticanus Lat. 3833) looks as follows:
and “cleaned up” like this:
Here is a copy of the text from the, or rather, Die Kanonessammlung des Kardinals Deusdedit (courtesy of Herr Doctor Victor Wolf von Glanvell (zusammen with his Meister, Theodor von Sickel, Verlag Ferdinand Schoeningh and, of course, the Savigny-Kommission der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien – oh, too, St. Michael’s College, the University of Toronto and the Internet Archive):
And here is another, newer (relatively newer – it obviously way predates the Harry Potter books) version (so-called Cambrian copy):
Now to top it off with something completely different:
First, to be clear, the documents in question are copies (in fact, again, copies of copies) so we are really just talking about one document. (The exact number of such hand made copies is probably in the dozens). On the other hand, there are numerous contemporary sources that use Mieszko’s “Slavic” name.
Second, for our American Millenial (or younger) readers these are hand copies – no Xerox back then. Most of you can barely write having grown up with laptops and other tools of the Devil – try gothic cursive for a few lines.
Third, we know these copies differ even among themselves. E.g., compare Dagome with Dagone or Schinesghe with Schignesne. (In fact, there were also Schniesche, Schinesgne, Schinesne and Schniesghee – now you do it – mix it up baby! let’s have some reader participation!).
Fourth, at least in the Vatican version, we are also dealing with someone (probably the aforementioned Cardinal) who did not really know what he was talking about. How do we know this? Well, thanks to the pre-Faulknerian stream of consciousness outburst of the narrator who says of the people concerned: “Also in another volume from the times of… I do not know of which nation those people are, but I think they are Sardinians, for those are ruled by four judges.” As an aside, the man sounds like he is not thrilled to be copying one of the most historically significant (for Poles) documents of all time and would just as soon go out and get a latte.
Fifth, some people interpret Dagome as a bastardized version of the words Ego Mesco dux meaning “I, prince Mieszko”. Basically, another version of scrivener’s/copier’s error response.
So we have one document in several different (non contemporary as to the events described) copies of another earlier copy, which copies are written by hand by and, in one case at least, are written by someone who’d rather be somewhere else, who may be prone to error and whose knowledge of geography is most impressive up to five hundred miles from the scriptorium he spends his life in.
That being said, let’s take the document at (quasi) face value.
Some folks believe that Dagome is an amalgamation of Dagobert (Mieszko’s alleged baptismal name) and Mieszko (his real “Slavic brother” name). While the use of baptismal, i.e., Christian names was fairly common in Church documents, melding of different names together usually was not. One might also ask why is one of Mieszko’s sons referred to in the document as Misica – did the parents forget to baptize him? If so, mentioning this in a letter to the, ahem, Pope, the frikinn’ VICAR OF CHRIST might not have been a great idea (was that the context for Boleslaw driving his step mother out?) .
Moreover, we do not know when the original was actually written. The supposed year is 991 but… It refers to the Papacy of John XV who was Pope until he knocked on Saint Peter’s Gate on April Fool’s Day, 996.
Further, the most striking thing about this document is what it does not say. While it discusses two of Mieszko’s younger sons, it does not mention the name Boleslaw who was Mieszko’s first son (and the future first king of Poland).*** Boleslaw also happened to be the son from Mieszko’s first (well, technically with the pre-baptismal wenches, at least eighth but who is counting) wife – Dobrawa. Dobrawa the Czech died in 977 and Mieszko married (after he first properly abducted her from a monastery) Ode the German. (While a hot Czech being replaced with a shriveled German nun did not exactly square with Mieszko’s alpha-male status we must remember that he was not a young man anymore (and the abduction from the monastery does score him at least some points)). In any event, Mieszko died in 992 and the Pope was Pope for another four years. What is the date of the original document? Again, we do not know. However, it seems more than conceivable that it was written after (perhaps shortly after) Mieszko’s death and seems designed to secure Ode’s position in the country (she, as mentioned above, together with her two sons were subsequently driven out by Boleslaw).
If so, then it would seem not much of a stretch to note that presenting Mieszko as a German husband of a German mother might have made her and her sons case more sympathetic or at least more clearcut relative to a case of a man named Boleslaw whose mother, now dead fifteen years, was a Czech princess with whom the aforesaid German Dago might have once had a short fling (note also that Ode’s marriage to Mieszko was longer than Dobrawa’s – can you say E N T I T L E M E N T ?).
And speaking of flings…
Dagome might not even have been a reference to Mieszko (he having croaked) but to some local German (or Scandinavian) lover of nuns…who thought he could take over the reigns of power at Ode’s (or Ote’s) side.
The text, however, does say that Dagome and Ote were the parents of Misica and Lambert – who, we know, were Mieszko’s kids – so that obviously can’t be it… Or can it…? History tells us that Boleslaw banished his brothers from another mother (along with his stepmother, Ode) out of the kingdom (and his being left out of the Dagome Iudex might have had something to do with that) – but, dare we ask, were they even his half-brothers?
Let us leave the scandalous interpretation of the verses of Dagome Iudex for those with sultrier minds than ours.
It is also worth noting that the the name Digoma (Dzigoma?) appears in one of the early Polish sources of old personal names – the Gniezno Bull (aka Ex commisso nobis for the Latin fetishists) which reads in parts of relevance:
Stari Biscupici cum his: Navos, Ruz, Sul, Balovanz, Vitossa, Pantis, Zmarsc, Miloch, Craic, Negloz, Conus, Dal, Marsec, Ciz, Posbech, Redanta, Zmogor, Domc, Digoma, Gobilca, Parech, Clobuchec, Pampic, Candera, Comor, Sdomit, Pandetech
And for those with their bifocals on:
So there it is folks (in grey but really it’s crystal clear).****
You might now ask, logically, is Mieszko mentioned in other (and contemporary) sources? By what names is he mentioned in those?
Well, he is mentioned numerous times in German/Frankish and Arabic writings. Always, as Mieszko or some variation thereof. We will give just a few examples here – others are also available.
Thus we have, Misaco or Misacam in Widukind of Corvey’s Rerum Gestarum Saxonicarum (On the deeds of the Saxons, written 967-973) (Book III, Chapters 66 & 69).
Gero igitur comes non inmemor iuramenti, cum Wichmannum accusari vidisset reumque cognovisset, barbaris, a quibus eum assumpsit, restituit. Ab eis libenter susceptus longius degentes barbaros crebris preliis contrivit. Misacam regem, cuius potestatis erant Sclavi qui dicuntur Licicaviki, duabus vicibus superavit fratremque ipsius interfecit, predam magnam ab eo extorsit. (Book III, Ch 66, Gero propter iuramentum dimisit Wichmannum)
(Oh, don’t ask about the Licicaviki… that’s for later)
Audiens autem Wichmannus urbem captam sociosque afflictos ad orientem versus iterum se paganis inmersit, egitque cum Sclavis qui dicuntur Vuloini, quo modo Misacam amicum imperatoris bello lascesserent; quod eum minime latuit…. Ille, licet in ultima necessitate sit constitutus, non inmemor pristinae nobilitatis ac virtutis, dedignatus est talibus manum dare, petit tamen, ut Misaco de eo adnuntient: illi velle arma deponere, illi manus dare. Dum ad Misacam ipsi pergunt, vulgus innumerabile eum circumdat eumque acriter inpugnat. (Book III, Ch 69, De nece Wichmanni)
Of course, most famously, Ibrāhīm ibn Yaʿqūb visited Otto I’s court in 965 and lists Mashaqu (this is from Arabic so obviously the translation is a phonetic one) as one of the four Slavic kings (the others being the King of the Bulgars, Bwyslav (Boleslav of Prague, Bohemia and Cracow) and Naqun (Nakon of the Obotrites)). (this is a copy of Ibrāhīm’s write up from Abū ʿUbayd Al-Bakrī’s book Kitāb al-Masālik wa’l-Mamālik (Book of Roads and Kingdoms, written in 1068 – yes, these people did not have to market their books) since the original has not, it seems, survived to our days).
So, with all of that aside now, let us focus on the other laughable name-based argument for the Vikingness of Mieszko the Awesome.
As mentioned above, some malcontents claim the very name Mieszko is “strange” or “unusual”. In other words, forget Dagome, even Mieszko is a very unusual name to those numbskulls.
It is important to understand here that the Polish chronicler Jan Dlugosz (almost half a millennium later) does derive Mieszko from Mieczyslaw (i.e., Swordfame). In response, Mieczyslaw became a very popular name among the Poles but… most people now think that Dlugosz invented the Mieczyslaw name – SUCKERS! Your names are an invention of Dlugosz as opposed to… all the other names that are… original and… have never been… anything but uninvented… or something like that… Again, SUCKERS!
Or are they?
You see some enemies of the Polishness of Mieszko said to themselves, “we are very clever and being clever, we propose that Dlugosz was right so the name Mieszko really is derived from Mieczyslaw/Swordfame but it is also Dagome.”
What ya’ talking about Willis!???
This clever argument examines the word Dagome and derives it from… dagger. Now dagger is an English/Germanic word. Hence, according to such clever people, we are faced with the allegedly uncomfortable question of why a Christian Polish prince would use a Germanic name in the correspondence with the Pope – as opposed to either a Polish or Latin (which would have been what?) version, that is.
Clever, but not really. Specifically, the problem lies in the fact that dage or doge always meant just that – a dagger – but never a sword. Since we all know that a miecz in Polish is a sword and since (without taking too m u c h of a detour into the science of biology) we know that Mieszko’s, ahem… blade, was particularly large (hearkening back to the etymology of the word Pole), this argument simply cannot be taken seriously.
Since that’s about it on the “strangeness” of Mieszko’s name, let’s tackle the “unusual” crowd. Their argument is just that – the name is unusual… Is that even an argument? Can we do anything with that/address that?
No & yes (otherwise, where is the fun).
So is the name Mieszko really that unusual? As compared to what? Other contemporary Slavic names? Do we know the etymology of the other Slavic names of the time? Do we really know that many Slavic names of such time in the first place? (No and no). After all, as we have seen, Dagome‘s son is referred to as Misica in the Dagome Iudex itself. Boleslaw’s son was also named Mieszko (not Dagome) presumably after his grandfather. So were a number of subsequent Piast princes. Interestingly, also, of the early Slavic names that we do know, one of the very first mentioned – way back when Slavs were kicking butt in the Balkans was Musokios or Musukios (Theophylact Simocatta, Histories Book VI, Ch 9, 1 & 14).
So there you have it… that’s all there is.
Clearly Dagome or Mieszko was Polish and there is no suggestion whatsoever of his Viking roots whether in general or, more specifically, in the Dagome Iudex…
Dagome Iudex…. Dagome… Iude-x…
(Holy Occam’s Razor!
or, darf ich “Holy Moses” sagen?)
* Mieszko’s birth year is only mentioned in the much later Little Poland Annals (Codex Kuropatnicki, Codex Lubinski & Codex Krolewiecki). The same sources mention that his father, Siemomysl (son of Lestko or Liseko)took the reigns of power in 913-915 – again, obviously much earlier dates than the dates of the sources.
** To be fair, there is also an argument about Vikings who were totally cool (kuehl) and the Slavs who were peasants. This argument is one that essentially claims that Vikings must have founded the Polish state because someone found some Viking stuff in Poland and, well, Slavs were just peasants so there you go. In fact, the Vikings did found the Kievan Rus. Even in Western Europe they founded Normandy (hence the name from Northmen) and several lesser known states. So, of course, the same must be true for Poland. In fact, Poles are referred to as Lachs and lag was an old Norse name for “companion”. In this version, the Oberschicht of the Polish society would have been made up of the conquering Norse Lachs and the grunts would be the beta-male Slavs. This argument is really an argument about Polish prehistory and the legendary founder of the Polish tribe, Lech. As such, debunking that nonsense belongs in a post about Lech not Mieszko – stay tuned. Here we deal only with the Dagome nonsense.
*** Dagome Iudex also does not mention another son that Mieszko had with Ode but we do not know whether he was then alive – unlike, Boleslaw, no mention is made of him after 991.
**** An obstinate German might claim that that name itself was a derivation from Dagon. While this would not make Mieszko necessarily Teutonic, it would mean that he was using a Polish version of a Germanic name. Of course, an obstinate Pole could point out that Dagome and Digoma feature in Polish sources whereas the mythical Dago features nowhere but hey some people will never be happy.
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