Monthly Archives: August 2014

Jordanes’ Getica

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A righteous though initially whiny dude, Jordanes the Goth (but, maybe not a Goth, as he claims his father’s name was Alanoviiamuth or, should we say Amuth Alanovi?  Amuth Alanovich?  Did the Alani genitive look like the Slavic genitive?) claims he was tasked by one Castallus to “condense” in one book the twelve volumes of a certain senator [1] on the origins of the Getae notwithstanding the fact that he had then no access to such books (though was able to peruse them for all of three days at some point in the past).  A scrappy fellow he quickly puts aside his whining and informs us that, as to those volumes “[t]he words I recall not, but the sense and the deeds related I think I retain entire.”  And notes that to such recollections he has added fitting matters from Greek and Latin histories and “inserted many things of [his] own authorship.”

Thankfully for us, after such recollection, condensation and insertion, Jordanes ends up in multiple places discussing the Slavs (we are being coy but, of course, the important parts must have included the parts on the Slavs) in a number of places in, now his, On the Origin and Deeds of the Goths (De origine actibusque Getarum or, for short, Getica; his other contribution being the Romana).  

We include the “Slav” passages here though also include other places from the Getica that may be of interest.

Getica 3

Let us now return to the site of the island of Scandza, which we left above. Claudius Ptolemaeus, an excellent describer of the world, has made mention of it in the second book of his work, saying: ‘There is a great island situated in the surge of the northern Ocean, Scandza by name, in the shape of a juniper leaf with bulging sides that taper down to a point at a long end.'”


“Pomponius Mela also makes mention of it as situated in the Codan Gulf of the sea, with Ocean lapping its shores.  This island lies in front of the river Vistula, which rises in the Sarmatian mountains and flows through its triple mouth into the northern Ocean in sight of Scandza, separating Germany and Scythia. The island has in its eastern part a vast lake in the bosom of the earth, whence the Vagus river springs from the bowels of the earth and flows surging into the Ocean. And on the west it is surrounded by an immense sea. On the north it is bounded by the same vast unnavigable Ocean, from which by means of a sort of projecting arm of land a bay is cut off and forms the German Sea.  Here also there are said to be many small islands scattered round about. If wolves cross over to these islands when the sea is frozen by reason of the great cold, they are said to lose their sight. Thus the land is not only inhospitable to men but cruel even to wild beasts.  Now in the island of Scandza, whereof I speak, there dwell many and divers nations, though Ptolemaeus mentions the names of but seven of them. There the honey-making swarms of bees are nowhere to be found on account of the exceeding great cold. In the northern part of the island the race of the Adogit live, who are said to have continual light in midsummer for forty days and nights, and who likewise have no clear light in the winter season for the same number of days and nights.  By reason of this alternation of sorrow and joy they are like no other race in their sufferings and blessings. And why? Because during the longer days they see the sun returning to the east along the rim of the horizon, but on the shorter days it is not thus seen. The sun shows itself differently because it is passing through the southern signs, and whereas to us the sun seem to rise from below, it seems to go around them along the edge of the earth. There also are other peoples.  There are the Screrefennae, who do not seek grain for food but live on the flesh of wild beasts and birds’ eggs; for there are such multitudes of young game in the swamps as to provide for the natural increase of their kind and to afford satisfaction to the needs of the people. But still another race dwells there, the Suehans, who, like the Thuringians, have splendid horses. Here also are those who send through innumerable other tribes the sappherine skins to trade for Roman use. They are a people famed for the dark beauty of their furs and, though living in poverty, are most richly clothed. Then comes a throng of various nations, Theustes, Vagoth, Bergio, Hallin, Liothida. All their habitations are in one level and fertile region. Wherefore they are disturbed there by the attacks of other tribes. Behind these are the Ahelmil, Finnaithae, Fervir and Gauthigoth, a race of men bold and quick to fight. Then come the Mixi, Evagre, and Otingis. All these live like wild animals in rocks hewn out like castles.  And there are beyond these the Ostrogoths, Raumarici, Aeragnaricii, and the most gentle Finns, milder than all the inhabitants of Scandza. Like them are the Vinovilith also. The Suetidi are of this stock and excel the rest in stature. However, the Dani, who trace their origin to the same stock, drove from their homes the Heruli, who lay claim to preëminence among all the nations of Scandza for their tallness.  Furthermore there are in the same neighborhood the Grannii, Augandzi, Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi, Arochi and Ranii, over whom Roduulf was king not many years ago. But he despised his own kingdom and fled to the embrace of Theodoric, king of the Goths, finding there what he desired. All these nations surpassed the Germans in size and spirit, and fought with the cruelty of wild beasts.”


(Ad Scandziae insulae situm, quod superius reliquimus, redeamus. De hac etenim in secundo sui operis libro Claudius Ptolomeus, orbis terrae discriptor egregius, meminit dicens: est in Oceani arctoi salo posita insula magna, nomine Scandza, in modum folii cetri, lateribus pandis, per longum ducta concludens se. De qua et Pomponius Mela in maris sinu Codano positam refert, cuius ripas influit Oceanus. Haec a fronte posita est Vistulae fluminis, qui Sarmaticis montibus ortus in conspectu Scandzae septentrionali Oceano trisulcus inlabitur, Germaniam Scythiamque disterminans. Haec ergo habet ab oriente vastissimum lacum in orbis terrae gremio, unde Vagi fluvius velut quodam ventrae generatus in Oceanum undosus evolvitur. Ab occidente namque inmensu pelago circumdatur, a septentrione quoque innavigabili eodem vastissimo concluditur Oceano, ex quo quasi quodam brachio exiente, sinu distento, Germanicum mare efficitur. Vbi etiam parvae quidem, sed plures perhibentur insulae esse dispositae, ad quas si congelato mari ob nimium frigus lupi transierint, luminibus feruntur orbari. Ita non solum inhospitalis hominibus, verum etiam beluis terra crudelis est. In Scandza vero insula, unde nobis sermo est, licet multae et diversae maneant nationes, septem tamen eorum nomina meminit Ptolemaeus. Apium ibi turba mellifica ob nimium frigore nusquam repperitur. In cuius parte arctoa gens Adogit consistit, quae fertur in aestate media quadraginta diebus et noctibus luces habere continuas, itemque brumali tempore eodem dierum noctiumque numero luce clara nescire. Ita alternato merore cum gaudio benificio aliis damnoque impar est. Et hoc quare?)


(Quia prolixioribus diebus solem ad orientem per axis marginem vident redeuntem, brevioribus vero non sic conspicitur apud illos, sed aliter, quia austrinis signis percurrit, et quod nobis videtur sol ab imo surgere, illos per terrae marginem dicitur circuire. Aliae vero ibi sunt gentes Screrefennae, que frumentorum non queritant victum, sed carnibus ferarum atque ovis avium vivunt; ubi tanta paludibus fetura ponitur, ut et augmentum prestent generi et satietatem ad cupiam genti. Alia vero gens ibi moratur Suehans, quae velud Thyringi equis utuntur eximiis. Hi quoque sunt, qui in usibus Romanorum sappherinas pelles commercio interveniente per alias innumeras gentes transmittunt, famosi pellium decora nigridine. Hi cum inopes vivunt, ditissime vestiuntur. Sequitur deinde diversarum turba nationum, Theustes, Vagoth, Bergio, Hallin, Liothida, quorum omnium sedes sub uno plani ac fertilis, et propterea inibi aliarum gentium incursionibus infestantur. Post hos Ahelmil, Finnaithae, Fervir, Ganthigoth, acre hominum genus et at bella prumtissimum. Dehinc Mixi, Evagre, Otingis. Hi omnes excisis rupibus quasi castellis inhabitant ritu beluino. Sunt et his exteriores Ostrogothae, Raumarici, Aeragnaricii, Finni mitissimi, Scandzae cultoribus omnibus mitiores; nec non et pares eorum Vinoviloth; Suetidi, cogniti in hac gente reliquis corpore eminentiores: quamvis et Dani, ex ipsorum stirpe progressi, Herulos propriis sedibus expulerunt, qui inter omnes Scandiae nationes nomen sibi ob nimia proceritate affectant praecipuum. Sunt quamquam et horum positura Grannii, Augandzi, Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi, Arochi, Ranii, quibus non ante multos annos Roduulf rex fuit, qui contempto proprio regno ad Theodorici Gothorum regis gremio convolavit et, ut desiderabat, invenit. Hae itaque gentes, Germanis corpore et animo grandiores, pugnabant beluina saevitia.)

Getica 4

“Now from this island of Scandza, as from a hive of races or a womb of nations, the Goths are said to have come forth long ago under their king, Berig by name. As soon as they disembarked from their ships and set foot on the land, they straightway gave their name to the place. And even to-day it is said to be called Gothiscandza.  Soon they moved from here to the abodes of the Ulmerugi, who then dwelt on the shores of Ocean, where they pitched camp, joined battle with them and drove them from their homes. Then they subdued their neighbors, the Vandals, and thus added to their victories. But when the number of the people increased greatly and Filimer, son of Gadaric, reigned as king–about the fifth since Berig–he decided that the army of the Goths with their families should move from that region.  In search of suitable homes and pleasant places they came to the land of Scythia, called Oium in that tongue. Here they were delighted with the great richness of the country, and it is said that when half the army had been brought over, the bridge whereby they had crossed the river fell in utter ruin, nor could anyone thereafter pass to or fro. For the place is said to be surrounded by quaking bogs and an encircling abyss, so that by this double obstacle nature has made it inaccessible. And even to-day one may hear in that neighborhood the lowing of cattle and may find traces of men, if we are to believe the stories of travellers, although we must grant that they hear these things from afar.  This part of the Goths, which is said to have crossed the river and entered with Filimer into the country of Oium, came into possession of the desired land, and there they soon came upon the race of the Spali, joined battle with them and won the victory. Thence the victors hastened to the farthest part of Scythia, which is near the sea of Pontus; for so the story is generally told in their early songs, in almost historic fashion. Ablabius also, a famous chronicler of the Gothic race, confirms this in his most trustworthy account.  Some of the ancient writers also agree with the tale. Among these we may mention Josephus, a most reliable relator of annals, who everywhere follows the rule of truth and unravels from the beginning the origin of causes;–but why he has omitted the beginnings of the race of the Goths, of which I have spoken, I do not know. He barely mentions Magog of that stock, and says they were Scythians by race and were called so by name.  Before we enter on our history, we must describe the boundaries of this land, as it lies.”


(Ex hac igitur Scandza insula quasi officina gentium aut certe velut vagina nationum cum rege suo nomine Berig Gothi quondam memorantur egressi: qui ut primum e navibus exientes terras attigerunt, ilico nomen loci dederunt. Nam odieque illic, ut fertur, Gothiscandza vocatur. Vnde mox promoventes ad sedes Vlmerugorum, qui tunc Oceani ripas insidebant, castra metati sunt eosque commisso proelio propriis sedibus pepulerunt, eorumque vicinos Vandalos iam tunc subiugantes suis aplicavere victoriis. Vbi vero magna populi numerositate crescente et iam pene quinto rege regnante post Berig Filimer, filio Gadarigis, consilio sedit, ut exinde cum familiis Gothorum promoveret exercitus.  Qui aptissimas sedes locaquae dum quereret congrua, pervenit ad Scythiae terras, quae lingua eorum Oium vocabantur: ubi delectatus magna ubertate regionum et exercitus mediaetate transposita pons dicitur, unde amnem traiecerat, inreparabiliter corruisse, nec ulterius iam cuidam licuit ire aut redire. Nam is locus, ut fertur, tremulis paludibus voragine circumiecta concluditur, quem utraque confusione natura reddidit inpervium. Verumtamen hodieque illic et voces armentorum audiri et indicia hominum depraehendi commeantium attestationem, quamvis a longe audientium, credere licet. Haec ergo pars Gothorum, quae apud Filemer dicitur in terras Oium emenso amne transposita, optatum potiti solum. Nec mora ilico ad gentem Spalorum adveniunt consertoque proelio victoriam adipiscunt, exindeque iam velut victores ad extremam Scythiae partem, que Ponto mari vicina est, properant. Quemadmodum et in priscis eorum carminibus pene storicu ritu in commune recolitur: quod et Ablavius descriptor Gothorum gentis egregius verissima adtestatur historia. In quam sententiam et nonnulli consensere maiorum: Ioseppus quoque annalium relator verissimus dum ubique veritatis conservet regulam et origines causarum a principio revolvat. Haec vero quae diximus de gente Gothorum principia cur omiserit, ignoramus: sed tantum Magog eorum stirpe comemorans, Scythas eos et natione et vocabulo asserit appellatos. Cuius soli terminos, antequam aliud ad medium deducamus, necesse est, ut iacent, edicere.)


Getica 5

“Now Scythia borders on the land of Germany as far as the source of the river Ister and the expanse of the Morsian Swamp. It reaches even to the rivers Tyra, Danaster and Vagosola, and the great Danaper, extending to the Taurus range–not the mountains in Asia but our own, that is, the Scythian Taurus–all the way to Lake Maeotis. Beyond Lake Maeotis it spreads on the other side of the straits of Bosphorus to the Caucasus Mountains and the river Araxes. Then it bends back to the left behind the Caspian Sea, which comes from the north-eastern ocean in the most distant parts of Asia, and so is formed like a mushroom, at first narrow and then broad and round in shape. It extends as far as the Huns, Albani and Seres.  This land, I say,–namely, Scythia, stretching far and spreading wide,–has on the east the Seres, a race that dwelt at the very beginning of their history on the shore of the Caspian Sea. On the west are the Germans and the river Vistula; on the arctic side, namely the north, it is surrounded by Ocean; on the south by Persis, Albania, Hiberia, Pontus and the farthest channel of the Ister, which is called the Danube all the way from mouth to source.  But in that region where Scythia touches the Pontic coast it is dotted with towns of no mean fame:–Borysthenis, Olbia, Callipolis, Cherson, Theodosia, Careon, Myrmicion and Trapezus. These towns the wild Scythian tribes allowed the Greeks to build to afford them means of trade. In the midst of Scythia is the place that separates Asia and Europe, I mean the Rhipaeian mountains, from which the mighty Tanais flows. This river enters Maeotis, a marsh having a circuit of one hundred and forty-four miles and never subsiding to a depth of less than eight fathoms.  In the land of Scythia to the westward dwells, first of all, the race of the Gepidae, surrounded by great and famous rivers. For the Tisia flows through it on the north and northwest, and on the southwest is the great Danube. On the east it is cut by the Flutausis, a swiftly eddying stream that sweeps whirling into the Ister’s waters.  Within these rivers lies Dacia, encircled by the lofty Alps as by a crown.  Near their left ridge [it appears he is talking about the Carpathians], which inclines toward the north, and beginning at the source of the Vistula, the populous race of the Veneti dwell, occupying a great expanses of land.  Though their names are now dispersed amid various clans and places, yet they are chiefly called the Sclaveni and Antes.  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 tries.  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. From this region the Huns, like a fruitful root of bravest races, sprouted into two hordes of people. Some of these are called Altziagiri, others Sabiri; and they have different dwelling places. The Altziagiri are near Cherson, where the avaricious traders bring in the goods of Asia. In summer they range the plains, their broad domains, wherever the pasturage for their cattle invites them, and betake themselves in winter beyond the Sea of Pontus. Now the Hunuguri are known to us from the fact that they trade in marten skins. But they have been cowed by their bolder neighbors.  We read that on their first migration the Goths dwelt in the land of Scythia near Lake Maeotis. On the second migration they went to Moesia, Thrace and Dacia, and after their third they dwelt again in Scythia, above the Sea of Pontus. Nor do we find anywhere in their written records legends which tell of their subjection to slavery in Britain or in some other island, or of their redemption by a certain man at the cost of a single horse. Of course if anyone in our city says that the Goths had an origin different from that I have related, let him object. For myself, I prefer to believe what I have read, rather than put trust in old wives’ tales…”


(Scythia si quidem Germaniae terre confines eo tenus, ubi Ister oritur amnis vel stagnus dilatatur Morsianus, tendens usque ad flumina Tyram, Danastrum et Vagosolam, magnumque illu Danaprum Taurumque montem, non illum Asiae, sed proprium, id est Scythicum, per omnem Meotidis aditum, ultraque Meotida per angustias Bosfori usque ad Caucasum montem amnemque Araxem ac deinde in sinistram partem reflexa post mare Caspium, quae in extremis Asiae finibus ab Oceano eoroboro in modum fungi primum tenuis, post haec latissima et rotunda forma exoritur, vergens ad Hunnus, Albanos et Seres usque digreditur.  Haec, inquam, patria, id est Scythia, longe se tendens lateque aperiens, habet ab oriente Seres, in ipso sui principio litus Caspii maris commanentes; ab occidente Germanos et flumen Vistulae; ab arctu, id est septentrionali, circumdatur oceano, a meridiae Persida, AIbania, Hiberia, Ponto atque extremo alveo Istri, qui dicitur Danubius ab ostea sua usque ad fontem.  In eo vero latere, qua Ponticum litus attingit, oppidis haut obscuris involvitur, Boristhenide, Olbia, Callipolida, Chersona, Theodosia, Careon, Myrmicion et Trapezunta, quas indomiti Scytharum nationes Grecis permiserunt condere, sibimet commercia prestaturos. In cuius Scythiae medium est locus, qui Asiam Europamque ab alterutro dividit, Riphei scilicet montes, qui Thanain vastissimum fundunt intrantem Meotida cuius paludis circuitus passuum mil. cxliiii, nusquam octo ulnis altius subsidentis.  In qua Scythia prima ab occidente gens residet Gepidarum, que magnis opinatisque ambitur fluminibus.)


(Nam Tisia per aquilonem eius chorumque discurrit; ab africo vero magnus ipse Danubius, ab eoo Flutausis secat, qui rapidus ac verticosus in Istri fluenta furens divolvitur.  Introrsus illis Dacia est, ad coronae speciem arduis Alpibus emunita, iuxta quorum sinistrum latus, qui in aquilone vergit, ab ortu Vistulae fluminis per inmensa spatia Venetharum natio populosa consedit, quorum nomina licet nunc per varias familias et loca mutentur, principaliter tamen Sclaveni et Antes nominantur. Sclaveni a civitate Novietunense et laco qui appellatur Mursiano usque ad Danastrum et in boream Viscla tenus commorantur: hi paludes silvasque pro civitatibus habent. Antes vero, qui sunt eorum fortissimi, qua Ponticum mare curvatur, a Danastro extenduntur usque ad Danaprum, quae flumina multis mansionibus ab invicem absunt. Ad litus autem Oceani, ubi tribus faucibus fluenta Vistulae fluminis ebibuntur, Vidivarii resident, ex diversis nationibus adgregati; post quos ripam Oceani item Aesti tenent, pacatum hominum genus omnino.  Quibus in austrum adsidet gens Acatzirorum fortissima, frugum ignara, quae pecoribus et venationibus victitat.  Vltra quos distendunt supra mare Ponticum Bulgarum sedes, quos notissimos peccatorum nostrorum mala fecerunt. Hinc iam Hunni quasi fortissimorum gentium fecundissimus cespes bifariam populorum rabiem pullularunt. Nam alii Altziagiri, alii Saviri nuncupantur, qui tamen sedes habent divisas: iuxta Chersonam Altziagiri, quo Asiae bona avidus mercator importat, qui aestate campos pervagant effusas sedes, prout armentorum invitaverint pabula, hieme supra mare Ponticum se referentes. Hunuguri autem hinc sunt noti, quia ab ipsis pellium murinarum venit commercium: quos tantorum virorum formidavit audacia.  Quorum mansione prima in Scythiae solo iuxta paludem Meotidem, secundo in Mysiam Thraciamque et Daciam, tertio supra mare Ponticum rursus in Scythia legimus habitasse: nec eorum fabulas alicubi repperimus scriptas, qui eos dicunt in Brittania vel in unaqualibet insularum in servitute redactos et in unius caballi praetio a quodam ereptos. Aut certe si quis eos aliter dixerit in nostro urbe, quam quod nos diximus, fuisse exortos, nobis aliquid obstrepebit: nos enim potius lectioni credimus quam fabulis anilibus consentimus…)



This passage is more than interesting as it connects the Veneti – a people known to Tacitus and Pliny (the Elder) – to Sclaveni (Slavs) and Antes, each of which we already know about from Procopius.  Moreover, it suggests that the Ur-tribe here was that of the Veneti (not Sporoi – but see below) and that that tribe was not yet out of commission at the time of Jordanes (which he more explicitly confirms in Getica‘s Chapter 23 – see below).  If the writings of the much later Frankish and, eventually, German chroniclers were accurate as to “reality on the ground”, this passage would connect the ancient Veneti of Tacitus and Pliny with the Wenden as described by such later medieval chroniclers, providing a continuity of habitation of “Slavs” in or around Poland… or Vistula.

Incidentally 1, Tacitus switches between Vistula and Vistla.  One might ask whether this is just sloppy writing or something else (but see Pliny who says these are the same).  An article (or a blog post) could be written on this but, in our view, at least, it is worth exploring whether Vistula was Wisla or perhaps some other river, e.g., the Oder.

Incidentally 2, Jordanes has been accused of copying his Veneti passage from Tacitus’ Germaniae – we have a post replicating that earlier text and, it seems to us, that anyone making such a claim is either, ahem, less than truthful (we judge – bad person) or hasn’t actually read both passages (we judge – bad and/or lazy person) or his or her comprehension skills are not that great (we don’t judge – as we view that as a medical condition)).

Of course, that requires explaining why the Slavs and Antes separated from the Veneti and headed south (before, again, turning north, after being unable to breach the core of the Byzantine empire (Constantinople) or central to southern Greece).  

Getica 23

“Soon Geberich, king of the Goths, departed from human affairs and Hermanaric, noblest of the Amali, succeeded to the throne.”


“He subdued many warlike peoples of the north and made them obey his laws, and some of our ancestors have justly compared him to Alexander the Great. Among the tribes he conquered were the Golthescytha, Thiudos, Inaunxis, Vasinabroncae, Merens, Mordens, Imniscaris, Rogas, Tadzans, Athaul, Navego, Bubegenae and Coldae.  But though famous for his conquest of so many races, he gave himself no rest until he had slain some in battle and then reduced to his sway the remainder of the tribe of the Heruli, whose chief was Alaric. Now the aforesaid race, as the historian Ablabius tells us, dwelt near Lake Maeotis in swampy places which the Greeks call hele; hence they were named Heluri. They were a people swift of foot, and on that account were the more swollen with pride, for there was at that time no race that did not choose from them its light-armed troops for battle. But though their quickness often saved them from others who made war upon them, yet they were overthrown by the slowness and steadiness of the Goths; and the lot of fortune brought it to pass that they, as well as the other tribes, had to serve Hermanaric, king of the Getae.  After the slaughter of the Heruli, Hermanaric also took arms against the Venethi. This people, though despised in war, was strong in numbers and tried to resist him. But a multitude of cowards is of no avail, particularly when God permits an armed multitude to attack them. 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.”


(Nam Gothorum rege Geberich rebus humanis excedente post temporis aliquod Hermanaricus nobilissimus Amalorum in regno successit, qui multas et bellicosissimas arctoi gentes perdomuit suisque parere legibus fecit. Quem merito nonnulli Alexandro Magno conparavere maiores. Habebat si quidem quos domuerat Golthescytha Thiudos Inaunxis Vasinabroncas Merens Mordens Imniscaris Rogas Tadzans Athaul Navego Bubegenas Coldas.  Sed cum tantorum servitio clarus haberetur, non passus est nisi et gentem Herulorum, quibus praeerat Halaricus, magna ex parte trucidatam reliquam suae subegeret dicioni. Nam praedicta gens, Ablavio istorico referente, iuxta Meotida palude inhabitans in locis stagnantibus, quas Greci ele vocant, Eluri nominati sunt, gens quantum velox, eo amplius superbissima.  Nulla si quidem erat tunc gens, quae non levem armaturam in acie sua ex ipsis elegeret. Sed quamvis velocitas eorum ab aliis crebro bellantibus evagaret, Gothorum tamen stabilitate subiacuit et tarditati, fecitque causa fortunae, ut et ipsi inter reliquas gentes Getarum regi Hermanarico servirent.  Post Herulorum cede item Hermanaricus in Venethos arma commovit, qui, quamvis armis despecti, sed numerositate pollentes, primum resistere conabantur. Sed nihil valet multitudo inbellium, praesertim ubi et deus permittit et multitudo armata advenerit. Nam hi, ut in initio expositionis vel catalogo gentium dicere coepimus, ab una stirpe exorti, tria nunc nomina ediderunt, id est Venethi, Antes, Sclaveni; qui quamvis nunc, ita facientibus peccatis nostris, ubique deseviunt, tamen tunc omnes Hermanarici imperiis servierunt.  Aestorum quoque similiter nationem, qui longissimam ripam Oceani Germanici insident, idem ipse prudentia et virtute subegit omnibusque Scythiae et Germaniae nationibus ac si propriis lavoribus imperavit.)


Getica 29

“But after Theodosius, the lover of peace and of the Gothic race, had passed from human cares, his sons began to ruin both empires by their luxurious living and to deprive their Allies, that is to say the Goths, of the customary gifts. The contempt of the Goths for the Romans soon increased, and for fear their valor would be destroyed by long peace, they appointed Alaric king over them. He was of a famous stock, and his nobility was second only to that of the Amali, for he came from the family of the Balthi, who because of their daring valor had long ago received among their race the name Baltha, that is, The Bold.  Now when this Alaric was made king, he took counsel with his men and persuaded them to seek a kingdom by their own exertions rather than serve others in idleness. In the consulship of Stilicho and Aurelian he raised an army and entered Italy, which seemed to be bare of defenders, and came through Pannonia and Sirmium along the right side. Without meeting any resistance, he reached the bridge of the river Candidianus at the third milestone from the royal city of Ravenna.  This city lies amid the streams of the Po between swamps and the sea, and is accessible only on one side. Its ancient inhabitants, as our ancestors relate, were called Ainetoi,* that is, ‘Laudable’.”


(Postquam vero Theodosius amator pacis generisque Gothorum rebus excessit humanis coeperuntque eius filii utramque rem publicam luxuriose viventes adnihilare auxiliariisque suis, id est Gothis, consueta dona subtrahere, mox Gothis fastidium eorum increvit, verentesque, ne longa pace eorum resolveretur fortitudo, ordinato super se rege Halarico, cui erat post Amalos secunda nobilitas Balthorumque ex genere origo mirifica, qui dudum ob audacia virtutis Baltha, id est audax, nomen inter suos acceperat.  Mox ergo antefatus Halaricus creatus est rex, cum suis deliberans suasit eos suo labore quaerere regna quam alienis per otium subiacere, et sumpto exercitu per Pannonias Stilicone et Aureliano consulibus et per Sirmium dextroque latere quasi viris vacuam intravit Italiam nulloque penitus obsistente ad pontem applicavit Candidiani, qui tertio miliario ab urbe aberat regia Ravennate.  Quae urbs inter paludes et pelago interque Padi fluenta unius tantum patet accessu, cuius dudum possessores, ut tradunt maiores, ainetoi,* id est laudabiles, dicebantur.)


* Note that the above manuscript actually says enety.


Thus, Ravenna is described in Getica as founded by a people called Ainetoi – the name of those people, it is said, meant the “brave ones”.  Of course, Ravenna is also very close to Venezia .

Getica 48 [2]

[See the Story of Boz]


So, in the simplest of terms it would seem that the Goths’ rampage resulted in the conquest of the Veneti and, possibly drove, at least some of them, the newly anointed “Antes” and “Slavs” south.  Whether these would have been “pure” extracts of Veneti or whether Antes and Slavs were some sort of a mixture of Veneti and the invading barbarians from the East remains unanswered.  This seems to be confirmed by the fact that, in subsequent passages about the Goths and in the works of Procopius, the Veneti are no longer discussed (except perhaps indirectly via the name of Vinitharius).  Instead, the focus is on the Byzantine borders (not northern Scythia) and, consequently, on the Antes and the Slavs – not the Veneti.

As to those Veneti left in Scythia, as we mention above, German chroniclers of medieval times continued to use the term Wenden.  By that time those people would no doubt have been Slavs in the modern sense while also being the Restveneti.

But what about the Sporoi?  That name seems to suggest a “multitude” or “largeness” as per modern Slavic language.  It should not take a Mensa member to note that Jordanes observes on more than one occasion (on two in fact!) that the Veneti were a “populous race” (Getica 5) that was “strong in numbers” (Getica 23).  This would seem to connect the Sporoi with the Veneti.[3]  Further, something that has not been noted is the similarity of the name s-Poroi to the word Poruse or, Prussians.  The “s” or “z” in most Slavic languages means “from”.  The Prussians were known to the Roman cartographers (see Ptolemy) as either being part of or living next to the Veneti.

But why then did the remainder of the Veneti become known as Slavs?

Who knows.

One explanation would be that this was a result of the power of Byzantine culture.  The latter (non-Veneti) names (eventually the Slavs only [4]) were picked up by the Byzantine authors who never had any contact with the Veneti (Jordanes the Goth and, possibly copying from Cassiodorus of Ravenna, having provided the one ethnic knowledge “bridge”).  Since, to the extent during the early middle ages (dark ages) the center of learning was in Constantinople and not in the West of Europe, the nomenclature used by the Byzantines may have proven decisive – even for the few authors in the West who, at first, stubbornly it seems, also used the terms Wenden, Winden, etc.  That would explain why the “Germans,” would have been familiar with the old name and continued to use that one, at least until “Slavs” became the new family-name for all these peoples by the cultural “command” of Constantinople .

Moreover, it is possible that fewer of these people stayed than have left with the “Slavs and Antes” and other Veneti.  We know that the Slavs, or some version thereof, seem to have returned North in numbers.  In fact, it is quite possible that the Slavs drove north into southern Poland, then into eastern Germany and south into Bohemia and then – coming from the north and northwest into Bohemia and then (in the early 600s into Croatia and Serbia.  If so they would have been returning (or perhaps these Slavs were indeed newcomers to the lands of the Western Veneti) to give their new Byzantine name to the Veneti who stayed behind.

Thus, we have already noted that, at least the Russian and, possibly, some early Czech chronicles speak of a Slav trek (though not Gallus Anonymous of the northern Poles).  Note, on the other hand that no similar legends are constructed around the Elbe Slavs (i.e., the Slavs west of the Oder) and of the Poles only later – at least that we know of (to be fair what we know of them does not come from them – the Elbe Slavs polities having been crushed by the Danes and the Holy Roman Empire (the Nestor Chronicle does put the Pomeranians among the Lyachs but it is not clear whether that name should cover Slavic tribes west of the Oder).  Put starkly and differently, at least some of these folks may well have stayed roughly where they were (and are, as Germans, and perhaps some central and northern Poles (maybe some Bohemians and Slovenes too?) to this day).

So it seems that these Western Slavs along with some Slavs remaining north of the Carpathians (or skulking about in the Sudeten Mountains and in the Alps) may have been the Restveneti.  It is also possible that there were other Restveneti that were never “reabsorbed” by the returning Slavs – the Prussians, Lithuanians and, perhaps Letts could qualify for that “distinction” (given later Polish and Russian pressure into those areas, at least temporarily).

As a parting note on this subject, we should add that there was a Germanic tribe of Nemeter (the name is actually a Celtic derivation – go figure).  That tribe occupied the area between today’s Pfalz and Lake Constance (Bodensee) and seems to have expired in the first or second century – certainly before any Slavic (sensu stricte) tribes were first recorded in Europe.  At some point in the more recent past, a suggestion was made that the Slavic word for Germans – Nemcy, Niemcy, etc. came from the name of that Nemeter tribe.  In responding to this claim, August Pfizmaier noted in 1867 that the “Zusammentstellung mit Nemetes ist zurueckzuweisen, sowohl aus sprachlichen als sachlichen Gruenden.” Leaving the sprachlicher reason to the linguists, we note that his main sachlicher reason was that “die Nemeter waren nie Nachbaren Slavischer Voelker“.  Perhaps Pfizmaier was making this argument in good faith or perhaps he was parsing his words carefully.  Who knows.  We do know, however, that the above mentioned Lake Constance was named by the Roman geographer Pomponius Mela (in the year 43 AD) as Lacus Venetus…  Of course, even if the connection is established between the Nemeter and the Nemcy, that does not prove that Slavs (in any sense of the word) did in fact live next to the Nemeter.   They may have gotten the name from some Restvenethi that were, in fact, present in the new Slav lands but who themselves were not of the same tribe as the Slavs. Perhaps.


[1] The assumption has been that the senator is Cassiodorus, an administrator/courtier to the Ostrogothic leader Theodoric who ran the Ostrogothic Kingdom out of Ravenna.  If that is true (and, especially, if Jordanes obtained the passages about the Slavs from the chronicle he mentions) then the account of the Slavs as Veneti might be seen as a Western European one and not a Byzantine one despite the location of Jordanes (though Cassiodorus might have met Jordanes having travelled to Constantinople after Bellisarius took Ravenna as part of Justinian’s Reconquista of Italy).  If this is correct then the veracity of the Veneti – Slav link seems strengthened since the Western Europeans were likely to have come into contact with the Veneti rather than their offspring of Slavs per se.  (Ravenna itself was and is very close to Venezia…) The original chronicle, if any, appears to be lost.

[2] The next passage in Getica is in chapter 48 and talks about Vinitharius and the Antes leader Boz – a topic covered by an earlier post herein.  We ought to note here however one of the points made in that other post, namely that if ViNiTharius/VeNeTharius were the name of this Gothic leader, that name may have been give to him to mean, in effect, the conqueror of the V N T i.  Another author suggests the name may have been Vithimirus (if we are talking about the same person) but Vithimirus could have been Vithimirus Venitharius.

[3] This is quite a part from the fact the word Vyele is the same as Sporo and that the Vieleti did in fact exist in the 10th/11th centuries in the Elbe region (they also appear, Veletoi, on the Peutinger Map though apparently in Italy/France).

[4] Since the Antes do not appear much more in history past 602/612… unless we follow the research of those authors that equated the Antes with the Russian Polyanie arguing that the former and the latter  essentially mean the “Brave” or Praiseworthy”; Polyanie being a Slavic word for a hero/braveman that was later replaced by the Turkish bagatyr.  Note too the note above regarding the founders of Ravenna and the “laudable” etymology of their name given by Jordanes.

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August 28, 2014

On the Arrival of the Antes & Slavs at the Byzantine Frontier – Procopius

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Slavs have existed as a separately identifiable people prior to the 6th century.  There will come a time on these pages when we discuss Pliny the Elder and Tacitus as they relate much on this topic (or, given how little there is of such writing, “much enough” so to speak).

Nonetheless, the first time a people definitely identified as Slavs appear in the pages of recorded history is in the works of Jordanes and Procopius – Byzantine authors writing about 550 Anno Domini.

Indeed, we have already given a preview Jordanes in discussing the short story of Boz which was recounted by Jordanes in his Getica.  Let us now see what else Jordanes says of the Slavs and while we’re at it, discuss too that other that other writer of late antiquity who left accounts of the Slavs – Procopius.

So as to mix it up a bit, let us start with Procopius.  We will cover Jordanes, fittingly, in a companion post.

In his History of Wars  (volume vii, chapter XIV), Procopius discusses the Slavs in anthropological tones as he relates the story of (spoiler alert) false Chilbudius.  This is what he says:

On the Slav system of governments:

For these nations, the Sklaveni and the Antae, are not ruled by one man, but they have lived from of old under a democracy, and consequently everything which involves their welfare, whether for good or ill, is referred to the people.

On Slav religion:

It is also true that in all other matters, practically speaking, these two barbarian peoples have had from ancient times the same institutions and customs. For they believe that one god, the maker of the lightning, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and [non-Slavic readers with a self-preservation instinct intact, should perk up right about here] all other victims; but as for fate, they neither know it nor do they in any wise [i.e., ways] admit that it has any power among men, but whenever death stands close before them, either stricken with sickness or beginning a war, the make a promise that, if they escape they will straightway make a sacrifice to the god in return for their life; and if they escape, they sacrifice just what they have promised, and consider that their safety has been bought with the same sacrifice.”

So they believe in one God – check (i.e., could be fodder for Christian missionaries) (though here we note that some later interpretations of this sentence say “one of the gods”) and are not very superstitious except when they are very superstitious when they can get REALLY hurt.  Got it.  Also, no, the name of that God may, perhaps, have been Perun, Piorun, Perkun but… if it was (and we do not think so), Procopius certainly does not say so (the name does not appear in any writing until the Nestor Chronicle where it, perhaps, refers to the god of the Rus, i.e., Thor).

On Slav spirituality, environmentalist philosophy and more sacrifices:

They reverence, however, both rivers and nymphs and some other spirits, and they sacrifice to all these also, and they make their divinations in connection with these sacrifices.

So environmentalism, check.  Lots of sacrifices, one more check.   And superstitions – let’s put down a more definitive, yes.

On Slav home & hearth:

They live in pitiful hovels which they set up far apart from one another, but, as a general thing, every man is constantly changing his place of above.

Let’s call it a non-materialistic life style, clearly a result of the Slavic enhanced sense of spirituality.  Also, Slavs appear to be rovers, explorers, always seeking a new experience.

On Slav martial arts and strategy:

When they enter battle, the majority of them go against their enemy on foot carrying little shields and javelins in their hands, but they never wear corselets. Indeed, some of them do not wear even a shirt or a cloak, but gathering their trews up as far as to their private parts they enter into battle with their opponents.”

On Slav language/communications modes:

And both the two peoples [i.e., Antes & Slavs] have also the same language, an utterly barbarous tongue.”

It appears here that the Slavs were, for tactical reasons, able to disguise their melodious speech so as to confuse the foolish Byzantine spies, listeners and other voyeurs.  Either that, or the Slavic language and communications were so sophisticated that the Byzantines with their primitive modes of communication were simply flummoxed by the onslaught of consonants and the ueber-Victorian modesty in the Slavic application of vowels.

On Slavic Handsomeness and General Beauty:

Nay further, they do not differ at all from one another in appearance [i.e., again, Antes & Slavs – either that, or the Slavs were an army of – gorgeous – clones]. For they are all exceptionally tall and stalwart men, while their bodies and hair are neither very fair or blonde, nor indeed do they incline entirely to the dark type, but they are all slightly ruddy in color.

Nothing needs to be added here.  Just imagine a picture of a GQ cover or, perhaps, of Mens’ Health. 

On the Slavs’ Common Man style:

And they live a hard life, giving no heed to bodily comforts, just as the Massagetae [a Gothic tribe] do, and like them, they are continually and at all times covered with filth; however, they are in no respect base or evil-doers, but they preserve the Hunnic character in all its simplicity.

Especially, interesting for us, on “Origins of Slavs”:

In fact, the Sclaveni and the Antae actually had a single name in the remote past; for they were both called Spori in olden times, because, I suppose, living apart one man from another, they inhabit their country in a sporadic fashion. And in consequence of this very fact they hold a great amount of land; for they alone inhabit the greatest part of the northern bank of the Ister.

(the above highlights ought to cause a recollection on certain statements made on the etymology of the word Croat)

Regarding the Spori, it is worth nothing that the Greek version is actually Σπορους which could also be read as Sporous.  To the extent this is not a Byzantine name but rather a native Slavic name it seems to be of the meaning large as in many, a mass of, multitude or, more simply, “we are more than you – we kick ass”.  Interestingly, a similar etymology can be shown for the above mentioned Massagetae.  

Now, for those who want to read this in the quasi-original Greek here are a few pages from the source (for this, at least):

(courtesy of Henry Bronson Dewing (b  March 2, 1882 – d Sept 5, 1956), it goes without saying thanks also to his parents, Stephen Dewing and Eva Victoria Lincoln, for turning out such a helpful chap, to Harvard University Press for publishing such esoteric texts, to, of more recent vintage,  the Internet Archive, for putting this stuff on line and, to our lawyers for reminding us to thank all of the above including and, especially, our lawyers – the Internet Archive, incidentally, are taking donations in bitcoin now – maximize your self-satisfaction by giving quickly before that means of exchange is such a means no more).

268 270 272

p.s. Procopius mentions the Slavs in his other writings (other Wars, Buildings and, the deliciously subversive, The Secret Court of Justinian) but this passage is the Cadilac (in so many senses) of mid-sixth century Slavic historiography.

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August 28, 2014

Origins of the Northern Slavs – the earliest Slavic Chronicles (early 1100s)

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The teens & tweens of the 12th century seem to have been a game of one up-manship at the carious European courts with some of the most interesting chronicles being produced at that time.  Thus we have the following:

At the Kievan court we have the Povest’ Vremyan’nykh Let’ , aka the Primary Chronicle, aka Nestor’s Chronicle, written about 1113 or so. 

Nestor: the famous “Boat chasing horses” motif

In Prague, written sometime between 1119-1125, we have the Kosmova Kronika Česká or Kosmova Kronika Čechů (make up your mind, will ya?), aka the Bohemian Chronicle, aka the Cosmas Chronicle.

Cosmas: efficient, clean, almost German-like… almost

Finally, in Cracow, we have the Kronika Polska, aka Chronica Polonorum, aka Gesta Principum Polonorum, aka the Gallus (Anonymous) Chronicle, put to parchment about 1112-1116.

Gallus: gets the reds and whites right, right from the start

Gallus: gets the reds and whites right, right from the start

Let’s call these Batch 1. Each of these chronicles details some of the foundation stories of the northern Slavs.  So what do we find out?

Nestor’s Chronicle

True to its origins, no other Slavic chronicle through that time (through the early 12th century) attempts to describe as much of the Slav past or as much of the Slav geography as the Russian Nestor’s Chronicle.*  From it (Laurentian Text as translated and edited by Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor), we find out that the Slavs are the “sons of Japheth… since they are the Noricians, who are identical with Slavs.”


Japheth finds out he is the father of all Slavs (although the shirt he is seen wearing precluded his attorneys from denying Japhethian paternity to Mazovian Poles, his paternity of other Slavs was only established after years of litigation)

Once that business is cleared up,


After denial, comes acceptance (the hot chick on the right is the first confirmed picture of a northern Dregovichian).  Note, the Lusatian Sorbs are not seen at this family reunion photo – historians cite this as proof of ongoing appeals in the case)

we are told the following interesting bit about Slavs:

Over a long period the Slavs settled beside the Danube, where the Hungarian and Bulgarian lands now lie.  From among these Slavs, parties scattered throughout the country and were known by appropriate names, according to the places where they settled. Thus some came and settled by the river Morava, and were named Moravians, while others were called Czechs.  Among these same Slavs are included the White Croats, the Serbs and the Carinthians.  For when the Vlakhs attacked the Danubian Slavs, settled among them and did them violence, the latter came and made their homes by the Vistula, and were then called Lyakhs.  Of these same Lyakhs some were called Polyanians, some Lutichians, some Mazovians, and still others Pomorians.  Certain Slavs settled also on the Dnieper, and were likewise called Polyanians.  Still others were named Derevlians, because they lived in the forests.  Some also lived between the ‘Pripet’ and the Dvina, and were known as Dregovichians. Other tribes resided along the Dvina and were called the Polotians on account of a small stream called the Polota, which flows into the Dvina.  It was from this same stream that they were named the Polotians.  The Slavs also dwelt about Lake Il’men, and were known there by their characteristic name.  They built a city which they called Novgorod.  Still others had their homes along the Desna, the Sem’ and the Sula, and were called Severians.  Thus the Slavic race was divided, and its language was known as Slavic.”

The chronicle thus gives a rather remarkable description of the origins of the northern Slavic people pointing out that they started at the Danube and then spread northwards in a migration precipitated by attacks of the “Vlakhs”.  Whether these latter were Wollochians or Byzantines is another matter for later consideration – in general, a Wallach, Vlach, Walh or a Wallach refers to a Celt or romanized Celt (i.e., not a German or Slav).

Recently uncovered footage disproves Nestor’s chauvinistic Slavicism – definitively establishing that relations between the Wallachs and Slavs were, in fact, more than friendly

Just a few paragraphs later, Nestor’s Chronicle also gives the foundation story of the future capital city of the eastern Slavs stating that: “…there were three brothers, Kiy, Shchek, and Khoriv, and their sister was named Lybed… They built a town and named it Kiev after their oldest brother.” We then learn that “[t]hese men [sorry, Lybed] were wise and prudent; they were called Polyanians and there are Polyanians descended from them living in Kiev to this day.”  (that is to Nestor’s day, i.e., around the beginning of the 12th century or about 300 years after the invasion of the Rus).

Cosmas’ Chronicle

What of Cosmas and the Czechs?  What do they have to say about this (or, being Czechs, more importantly, about themselves).   The Czech story begins with the Slav leader Czech arriving at the summit of Mount Rip and deciding to settle down there while his younger brother Lech keeps heading northwards towards Poland.  Err… no, that’s what you may have been taught in Czech school.  Actually, it’s slightly different than that:

“Seeking places suitable for human habitation, whoever the man was (it is uncertain with how many souls [he traveled]) who later entered these solitudes [of “Germania” in the old Roman sense – in particular, the watershed of the Elbe, i.e., Bohemia], he surveyed twitch keen sight the mountains, valleys, and wastes and, so I think, located their first settlement around Mt. Rip between two rivers, namely the Ohre and the Vltava.  He established their first dwellings and rejoiced in the guardian deities that had carried with him on his shoulders, now erected on the ground.  Then the elder, who them others accompanied as if he was their lord, spoke thus to his followers (among other things): ‘ O comrades, you have endured with me heavy burdens through lonely forests, halt your step.  Offer thankful libation to your gods,through whose wondrous work you have come to your fatherland, as once foreordained for you by destiny.  This is it.  This is that land which you often reminded me I promised you, a land subject to no one, filled with wild animals and fowl, wet with nectar, honey and milk, and, as you yourselves see, air delightful for living.”

So we are told the Czechs came from somewhere else, but it is not clear from where. From the North? Not, unless they walked on water or their journey had only been across the Carpathians from Poland.   From the West?  Unlikely.  From the East?  Perhaps…  From the south?  Possibly. Then, we learn that the country was named Czechia after this great leader whose name was Czech. Hmmmmm. Again, not exactly.  The translation has the people replying to their great leader as follows:

“Since you, O father, are called ‘Bohemus’, where might we find a better or more fitting name than for the land to be called ‘Bohemia’?  Then the elder, moved by the divination of his comrades, began to kiss the ground for joy and, rejoicing, named it from his own name.”

(all courtesy of Lisa Wolverton’s 2009 translation of the Cosmas Chronicle). Even this is not exactly right as the specific names are boem and boemia (this is from the Budyšínský rukopis Kosmovy Kroniky Čechů, or the Budyšin/Bautzen manuscript):

where’s the Czech!?

Gallus Chronicle**

In comparison with the above, the Gallus Chronicle (which, or portions of which, may be the earliest of the three chronicles) is rather restrained in its historiography.   It does not make any biblical connections for the Poles or other Slavs.  Neither does it speak of any particular formative trek allegedly undertaken by the Polish or any other Slavic people.  It never uses the Lech or Lach or Lyakh name as the alternative name for Poles (therefore, it has no need to discuss the tale of Lech, Czech or Rus).***

Instead, it, rather modestly, discusses events taking place at the Polish capital at Gniezno and the first prince Popiel (aka Choscisko) before further describing how he was eaten and replaced by the son of a farmer, named Ziemo(or Samo)vit (to be clear, the farmer’s name was Piast (son of Choscisko)**** and the son’s name was Ziemovit and Popiel was eaten by neither Piast nor Ziemovit but by mice).

The tale of Popiel & Piast we will tell at a latter time as it, at least in the Gallus Anonymous telling, seems not to bear on the question of the origins of the Slavs or Poles.

* Not to be outdone, the later, early 13th century, Chronicle of Master Vincent (Kadlubek) gets the Poles to catch up to the Russians in histogriaphic scope by broadening the Poles’ narrative to pick up the less well known (until then) Polish crushing of the Galls, the Romans, the Macedonians and, likely, the Parthians (Persians).  Similar motifs appear in the Greater Poland Chronicles of the late 13th or possibly early 14th century.

** Incidentally, the notion (or rather the convention) that the author was French (Gallus) comes from a note made by Warmia/Ermland Bishop Cromer circa 1514 on one of the chronicle’s manuscripts (the Heilsberg or Lidzbark Warminski manuscript):  “Gallus hanc historiam scripsit, monachus, opinor, aliquis, ut ex proemiis coniicere licet qui Boleslai tertii tempore vixit” (Gallus wrote this history, some monk, in my opinion, who lived in the time of Boleslaw III, as can be conjectured from the preface).  What the source of this idea was is unclear nor whether this was a reference to his nationality or to a proper name.

*** In fact, genitals having been cut, people having been blinded and emotions running generally high between the Czechs and the Poles at the time, Gallus describes the Czechs as Poles’ worst enemies so any tale of brotherly love even with Czech as the younger brother (see the Jan Dlugosz Chronicle) is a “no no” for this chronicler.

****  This has lead to the confusion as to whether Popiel was Piast’s father (one being referred to as Choscisko, the other being referred to as the son of Choscisko).  Although that seems like an obvious interpretation of the text, Gallus itself does not make any such connection suggesting in fact that one (Popiel) was a prince whereas the other (Piast) was a farmer (oracz).


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August 14, 2014

On the Story of Boz in Jordanes’ Getica

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The very first time that the Slavs appear on the history’s scene is, apparently, about the year 380 in the story of Boz.*  The story comes from Getica a history of the Goths written by Jordanes.


Getica 48

“Since I have followed the stories of my ancestors and retold to the best of my ability the tale of the period when both tribes, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, were united, and then clearly treated of the Visigoths apart from the Ostrogoths, I must now return to those ancient Scythian abodes and set forth in like manner the ancestry and deeds of the Ostrogoths. It appears that at the death of their king, Hermanaric, they were made a separate people by the departure of the Visigoths, and remained in their country subject to the sway of the Huns; yet Vinitharius of the Amali retained the insignia of his rule.  He rivalled the valor of his grandfather Vultuulf, although he had not the good fortune of Hermanaric.  But disliking to remain under the rule of the Huns, he withdrew a little from them and strove to show his courage by moving his forces against the country of the Antes. When he attacked them, he was beaten in the first encounter. Thereafter he did valiantly and, as a terrible example, crucified their king, named Boz, together with his sons and seventy nobles, and left their bodies hanging there to double the fear of those who had surrendered.  When he had ruled with such license for barely a year, Balamber, king of the Huns, would no longer endure it, but sent for Gesimund, son of Hunimund the Great. Now Gesimund, together with a great part of the Goths, remained under the rule of the Huns, being mindful of his oath of fidelity. Balamber renewed his alliance with him and led his army up against Vinitharius. After a long contest, Vinitharius prevailed in the first and in the second conflict, nor can any say how great a slaughter he made of the army of the Huns.  But in the third battle, when they met each other unexpectedly at the river named Erac, Balamber shot an arrow and wounded Vinitharius in the head, so that he died. Then Balamber took to himself in marriage Vadamerca, the grand-daughter of Vinitharius, and finally ruled all the people of the Goths as his peaceful subjects, but in such a way that one ruler of their own number always held the power over the Gothic race, though subject to the Huns.  And later, after the death of Vinitharius, Hunimund ruled them, the son of Hermanaric, a mighty king of yore; a man fierce in war and of famous personal beauty, who afterwards fought successfully against the race of the Suavi. And when he died, his son Thorismud succeeded him, in the very bloom of youth. In the second year of his rule he moved an army against the Gepidae and won a great victory over them, but is said to have been killed by falling from his horse.  When he was dead, the Ostrogoths mourned for him so deeply that for forty years no other king succeeded in his place, and during all this time they had ever on their lips the tale of his memory. Now as time went on, Valamir grew to man’s estate. He was the son of Thorismud’s cousin Vandalarius. For his son Beremud, as we have said before, at last grew to despise the race of the Ostrogoths because of the overlordship of the Huns, and so had followed the tribe of the Visigoths to the western country, and it was from him Veteric was descended. Veteric also had a son Eutharic, who married Amalasuentha, the daughter of Theodoric, thus uniting again the stock of the Amali which had divided long ago. Eutharic begat Athalaric and Mathesuentha. But since Athalaric died in the years of his boyhood, Mathesuentha was taken to Constantinople by her second husband, namely Germanus, a cousin of the Emperor Justinian, and bore a posthumous son, whom she named Germanus.  But that the order we have taken for our history may run its due course, we must return to the stock of Vandalarius, which put forth three branches. This Vandalarius, the son of a brother of Hermanaric and cousin of the aforesaid Thorismud, vaunted himself among the race of the Amali because he had begotten three sons, Valamir, Thiudimer and Vidimer. Of these Valamir ascended the throne after his parents, though the Huns as yet held the power over the Goths in general as among other nations.  It was pleasant to behold the concord of these three brothers; for the admirable Thiudimer served as a soldier for the empire of his brother Valamir, and Valamir bade honors be given him, while Vidimer was eager to serve them both. Thus regarding one another with common affection, not one was wholly deprived of the kingdom which two of them held in mutual peace. Yet, as has often been said, they ruled in such a way that they respected the dominion of Attila, king or the Huns. Indeed they could not have refused to fight against their kinsmen the Visigoths, and they must even have committed parricide at their lord’s command. There was no way whereby any Scythian tribe could have been wrested from the power of the Huns, save by the death of Attila,–an event the Romans and all other nations desired. Now his death was as base as his life was marvelous.”


(Et quia, dum utrique gentes, tam Ostrogothae quam etiam Vesegothae, in uno essent, ut valui, maiorum sequens dicta revolvi divisosque Vesegothas ab Ostrogothis ad liquidum sum prosecutus, necesse nobis est iterum ad antiquas eorum Scythicas sedes redire et Ostrogotharum genealogia actusque pari tenore exponere. Quos constat morte Hermanarici regis sui, decessione a Vesegothis divisos, Hunnorum subditos dicioni, in eadem patria remorasse, Vinithario tamen Amalo principatus sui insignia retinente.  Qui avi Vultulfi virtute imitatus, quamvis Hermanarici felicitate inferior, tamen aegre ferens Hunnorum imperio subiacere, paululum se subtrahens ab illis suaque dum nititur ostendere virtute, in Antorum fines movit procinctum, eosque dum adgreditur prima congressione superatus, deinde fortiter egit regemque eorum Boz nomine cum filiis suis et lxx primatibus in exemplum terroris adfixit, ut dediticiis metum cadavera pendentium geminarent.  Sed dum tali libertate vix anni spatio imperasset, non est passus Balamber, rex Hunnorum, sed ascito ad se Gesimundo, Hunnimundi magni filio, qui iuramenti sui et fidei memor cum ampla parte Gothorum Hunnorum imperio subiacebat, renovatoque cum eo foedere super Vinitharium duxit exercitum; diuque certati primo et secundo certamine Vinitharius vincit. Nec valet aliquis commemorare, quanta strage de Hunnorum Venetharius fecit exercitu. Tertio vero proelio subreptionis auxilio ad fluvium nomine Erac, dum utrique ad se venissent, Balamber sagitta missa caput Venetharii saucians interemit neptemque eius Vadamercam sibi in coniugio copulans iam omnem in pace Gothorum populum subactum possedit, ita tamen, ut genti Gothorum semperum proprius regulus, quamvis Hunnorum consilio, imperaret.  Et mox defuncto Venethario rexit eos Hunimundus, filius quondam regis potentissimi Hermanarici, acer in bello totoque corpore pulchritudine pollens, qui post haec contra Suavorum gente feliciter dimicavit. Eoque defuncto successit Thorismud filius eius flore iuventutis ornatus, qui secundo principatus sui anno contra Gepidas movit exercitum magnaque de illis potitus victoria casu equi dicitur interemptus.  Quo defuncto sic eum luxerunt Ostrogothae, ut quadraginta per annos in eius locum rex alius non succederet, quatenus et illius memoriae semperum haberent in ore et tempus accederet, quo Valamer habitum repararet virilem, qui erat ex consubrino eius genitus Vandalario; quia filius eius, ut superius diximus, Beremud iam contempta Ostrogotharum gente propter Hunnorum dominio ad partes Hesperias Vesegotharum fuisset gente secutus, de quo et ortus est Vetericus. Veterici quoque filius natus est Eutharicus, qui iunctus Amalasuenthae filiae Theodorici, item Amalorum stirpe iam divisa coniunxit et genuit Athalaricum et Mathesuentam. Sed quia Athalaricus in annis puerilibus defunctus est, Mathesuenta Constantinopolim allata de secundo uiro, id est Germano fratruele Iustiniani imperatoris, genuit postumum filium, quem nominavit Germanum.  Sed nobis, ut ordo, quem coepimus, decurrat, ad Vandalarii sobulem, quae trino flore pululabat redeundum est. Hic enim Vandalarius, fratruelis Hermanarici et supra scripti Thorismudi consubrinus, tribus editis liberis in gente Amala gloriatus est, id est Valamir Thiudimir Vidimir. Ex quibus per successione parentum Valamir in regno conscendit adhuc Hunnis eos inter alias gentes generaliter optinentibus.  Eratque tunc in tribus his germanis contemplatio grata, quando mirabilis Thiudimer pro fratris Valamir militabat imperio, Valamir vero pro altero iubebat ornando, Vidimer servire fratribus aestimabat. Sic eis mutua affectione se tuentibus nulli paenitus deerat regnum, quod utrique in sua pace tenebant. Ita tamen, ut saepe dictum est, imperabant, ut ipsi Attilae Hunnorum regis imperio deservirent: quibus nec contra parentes Vesegothas licuisset recusare certamen, sed necessitas domini, etiam parricidium si iubet, implendum est. Nec aliter ab Hunnorum dominio divelli potuit gens aliqua Scythica, nisi optata cunctis nationibus in commune et Romanis mors Attilae proveniret, quae tam fuit vilis, ut vita mirabilis.)

Boz & buddies just hangin' out ("F*ck Vinitharius!" "We'll get the basterd next time, boss!")

“F*ck Vinitharius! We’ll get the bastard next time, boss!”


From other parts of Getica we know too that Jordanes saw the Antes as related to the Sclaveni  (Getica 23) with Procopius, another chronicler of the time, agreeing with Jordanes in this much.  Therefore, we assume that the Antes were what we would today call Slavs.


Several things become immediately interesting from the above account.

First, and least remarkably, we have the conflict between Slav and Teuton right there from the start.  In case you were wondering when it was “on” for the first time, this appears to be the first time, it was on.  (To be precise, Hermanaric, Vinitharius’ great uncle may have ruled over the Antes, Sclaveni & Veneti a few years back before the Huns and Alans showed him a giant Game Over sign in 376).

Second, and more interestingly, some of the events in question may have been related earlier in the account of  Ammianus Marcellinus who claimed in his Res Gestae that at or after the passing of Ermanaric (Jordanes’ Hermanaric?) the Goths fell under the Huns and then the the next Gothic chieftain to emerge, Vithimiris (Jordanes’ Vinitharius?) fought and lost to the Alans, at that time the allies of the Huns.


You might say was it then Vinitharius or Vithimiris?  But here is the interesting thing, it was common to name people by reference to those they have “conquered.”  See for example, the avenger of Varus, i.e., Claudius Germanicus.  Jordanes himself calls, at the very end of the Getica, Justinian and Belisarius to be “Vandalicus, Africanus and Geticus.”  (And, because of his wars against the Antae, Justinian was also called Anticus).  So was Vithimiris simply Vithimiris Vinitharius?  And if so, is this another confirmation that the Antes were simply the Veneti? Of course, Jordanes could have faked this (or perhaps the earlier section on the Antes, Slavs and Veneti) to make his connection between Antes and the Veneti to be stronger but that seems to be a rather elaborate scheme for someone who should not have expected much controversy on this rather tangential topic in his History of the Goths.  Or perhaps the story was true but the rebellion was of the Veneti but not the Antes?


Incidentally, Cassiodorus in his letters does mention a Vinitharius (or Munitarius?) albeit says nothing about his military campaigns (Variae Epistolae XI, I) only stating that he was known for his sense of justice (see picture above).

(There is another set of interesting parallels here.  To some it is difficult to let go of the fact that phonetically the most similar name to Slavs (in Slavic pronounced Suovieni) were the Suevi (on the assumption that the “u” was not pronounced as a “v”, as in Swaben).  The Suevi, however, appear early in Roman annals (as a confederation) but there is no mention of them between 150 A.D. and 400 A.D. and there is no direct proof that the latter Suevi were the former Suevi.  Perhaps they were Suevi Marcomanni and/or Quadi – perhaps not; In Ammalius the Goths fight the Alans.  In Jordanes they fight the Antes; Then we have the Veneti and the Vandals; We also know that the “actual” Suevi (but see above), Vandals and Alans headed west into the West-Gothic territories in France, then Spain and then (minus the Suevi) the Vandals and Alans rolled into Africa; It seems a huge stretch to think of those that remained as connected – and yet what remained/appeared were the Slavs, Wends/Veneti and, for a while at least, the Antes).

Third, we have the name Boz.  Bog, Bozy or Bozhy are generally Slavic names for God (apparently (to be discussed) from Iranian or Hindu – baga)  or, in case of Boz, godly and indeed many Slavic names feature Bog in them (e.g., Boguslav, Bogumir, Bozydar) even today.

Indeed, a similar claim was made about the connection (if any) between the West Slavic God Radagast (of Rethra) and the earlier Gothic King Radagaisus (a “Scythian” according to Orosius and, later, Issidore of Seville).**

Fourth, and this goes in tandem with the above point, Boz the Godly perishes via crucifixion…  While crucifixion, today much unappreciated, was a common method of problem resolution during the troubled times we speak of, an obvious parallel to that other prior crucifixion draws itself.  Thus, we may ask, is it possible that when later faced with Christian missionaries, at least some of the Slavs, thought ‘hey that’s our guy on that cross you got there – yeah we know he was very Bozhi ‘ and ‘you guys worship our guy? Awesome of you to join us’?

For the remaining portions of the Getica relevant to the Slavs see here.

* This is probably not exactly true as various Slavic-like tribes are mentioned earlier but since the Antes  are named as Slavs or as being part of a Slav ethnos of sorts in all sources, let’s ignore the earlier mentions, for now (we will return to those later at a time of our choosing).

** We may try to discuss the story of the origins of Radagaisus at a later time.

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August 5, 2014