Monthly Archives: September 2014

On the Criticisms of Jordanes

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Jordanes has been criticized by so many people as to approach the level of critique applied previously only to Tacitus’ writings.  Jordanes’ most recent batch of critics reaches to Herr Doktor Professor Mommsen and has continued unabated thence.


Mommsen was a giant (Avar?) in his field, recognized as such even by other giants themselves (e.g., Mark Twain).  We will not delve into his interpretations of Getica here for that is not the time but we do bring him up because he is representative of a certain attitude that has, shall we say, infected, the topics we are studying here.  With that said, let us briefly look at Mommsen’s persona before looking closer at the words and arguments of his spiritual Nachfolger as relates to Jordanes and the Venethi.

Mommsen was, of course, like all methodical German (though he was Danish) scientists of the time, an unbiased, scientific, source on all things ancient and this, very much in contradistinction to the various Czech and other Slavic hysterio-nationalists.  His unbiased views were best expressed by the master himself in the Vienna Neue freie Presse on October 31, 1897, when he called the Czechs ‘‘apostles of barbarism’’ who would swamp German cultural achievements in ‘‘the abyss of their Unkultur.’’

At this opportunity, he also provided some useful advice – to be taken up by future Viennese – by noting that the German response to the Czechs had to be tough, because ‘‘the Czech skull is impervious to reason, but it is susceptible to blows.’’ It is unclear, whether Mommsen reached this conclusion relying purely on his formidable deductive powers or whether actual experimentation was conducted.


Be that as it may, this incident reveals Mommsen as proudly belonging not merely to the “wie es eigentlich gewesen” school of history writing but also to the “wie es mit dir geshehen wird, wenn du eben nicht…” school of futurology.  

His multiple talents unquestioned, let us leave Mommsen to his proper due and look at some of the Mommsense that cannot be laid on the shoulders of the master but rather has to be placed with his current disciples.

Professor Theodor Moominsen facing his own Unkultur

Theodor Moominsen – winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1902) – facing the demons of his own Unkultur

At the beginning, we note that there seems to be an inverse relationship (and a logarithmic one at that) between time passed from the drafting of Getica and the number of brave academicians willing to assert that they know better wie es eigentlich gewesen ist than the people who lived in those days.  We understand, of course, that to exist, even if for only the alloted fifteen minutes and, even if only in academia, one has to publish.

And we most certainly ascribe these (in our view) biases to the world of academia and most certainly not to the fact that some publishers of this kind of stuff may or may not be German (or, err… Austrian) with names like the Oesterreichische Akademie der Wissenschafen, Franz Steiner Verlag, etc, etc, etc.  Certainly no one has shown that any such publication houses or their authors are or have ever taken any monies from or were given any tax-breaks by the German (and related) government(s) (though, let’s be honest, if they have, so what, really?).

On the other hand, matters being discussed here being important, it would seem prudent to take greater care with facts, sources and, especially, interpretations.   In discussing, any of this it is important most of all to honestly say what we do know and what we do not know.  We do know what Jordanes wrote.  The list of what we do not know is far longer.

On the Detraction of Jordanes

Up front let us note something.  It is certainly true, as some would have it that the fact that the Venethi are found where later the people now called the Slavs are found does not mean that the latter are the descendants of the former (note, again, we do not care about linguistic descendants here – just real ones). However, given that we all agree they do occupy the same space just at different points in time, it then seems to us that the burden of establishing that they are not the same people should shift to the proponents of the allochtonous theories.  It is incumbent on these folks to show both:

1) what happened to the Venethi – where did they go, these “populous tribes”? and also

2) where did the Slavs come from to replace them (these also so populous tribes)?

While many attempts have been made to establish the second point, the academic literature is completely silent on the very first question (though, of course, Jordanes does provide hints).

Now let us examine the claims against Jordanes.

We are told that Jordanes is generally “unreliable.”  This is quite a claim given that Jordanes posits to be related to the Amal house of Theodoric and having his own grandfather (and possibly father) serve this Gothic house.  Indeed an Ostrogoth (or Alan in some tellings) such as Jordanes telling this story adds credibility to his claims.  For one thing he would have had inside knowledge and understanding (certainly compared to Procopius) both as a result of his ethnos and, more specifically, as a result of his family’s connections.  But also, as an Ostrogoth – whose people  had conquered the Venethi (and plenty of others it seems) – Jordanes would have had no reason to sugarcoat anything related to the Venethi or to try to establish an “ancient past” for them – his entire attitude towards them seems to be quite neutral and unbiased.  Short of having an actual Slav or Antae come forth and tell us the story, any reasonable person will have to agree that Jordanes is the best one could wish for.

We are told that Jordanes’ Getica is based on the Cassiodorus longer Chronicle.  In his preface, Jordanes, however, mentions only a book belonging to a certain Senator as being a source of much of Getica. The word Cassiodorus does not appear in the Getica at all.  Therefore, discussing the faults and abilities of Cassiodorus in the context of Getica is mere speculation.  This speculation comes from Mommsen and is based on the reference to “written records” of the Goths.  The fact that Ablabius (note the name – think Laba/Elbe) is cited as being one of the Gothic authors seems to not have mattered to Mommsen.

We are told, on the other hand, that it be likely that certain passages of Getica are simply Gothic oral tradition or have been just made up.  But for this there is also no proof other than speculation.  In fact, we know written sources were involved and we know some were oral and we also know that Jordanes filled in some blanks – we know all this because he comes out and says so – and not after water torture but right up front.  The question of which passage is attributable to which source, however, is the kind of thinking that people in the real world do not spend time on, for they know that any answer must necessarily be composed of high quantities of hot air.

We are told that, as to the Venethi, Jordanes used two different sources (at least).  Whether that should matter or not (isn’t more better, at least sometimes?) is here beside the point.  The current point is that the only evidence of this is that the “same” river (pol) Wisla is referred to as Vistula, then Viscla, then Vistula again in the same paragraph (elsewhere it’s Visclae).   This, however, assumes that Vistla/Viscla and Vistula in fact were the same river in the Romans’ minds.  But were they?  (Pliny says only that Visculus sive Vistla) Further, were they the same in Jordanes’ mind?  (One also ought to ask about the minds of the scriveners since we only have late copies of the Getica).  If so, then he seems to have been rather sloppy.  If not, then regardless of the names, what does that tell us?  There is, however, no easy and clear line here to concluding that Jordanes used more than one source for this passage.  (See below regarding maps – we are not discussing that here since a coup d’grace this early on would not be as delicious as it ought to be).

We are told, recently, that somehow Jordanes wrote in opposition to Procopius.  The discussion of the Venethi seems to have become wrapped into this interpretation.   But there is nothing to suggest that Jordanes’ stature (and the stature of his sponsor we can only guess at) was anywhere near that of Procopius – or that Procopius who was a senator would even have noticed .  The Venethi, Slavs and Antae of Jordanes and the Slavs and Antae of Procopius are side stories, at best.  If one were to want to have an argument with Procopius, it would seem strange to have one on such a side issue.  It is also unclear whether Procopius (or anyone) would have even noticed what Jordanes wrote (he was not a bishop or at least there is no proof of his position as other than that of a monk).

We are told that Jordanes is not consistent (and, therefore, either ignorant, making things up or ill informed) by first discussing the Antae and Sclavenes as two separate categories of the archetype Venethi but then referring to each of the three names as separate peoples.  But this is just silly.  Jordanes is clear that there was one group called the Venethi before, the new people are chiefly called Sclavenes and Antes.  But that implies that there are also others.  This is no different than the practice of medieval scholars who, once these identities have crystallized, would describe Czechs and Poles as separate peoples of the Slavs but would refer to the other Slavs who seemed to lack a permanent polity, simply as Slavs (or Wends).  In fact, the progression is visible since the initial Frankish authorship discusses Slavs (including Mieszko and Boleslaw in Poland) only as Slavs but later German scholars speak of Czechs, Poles, Carinthians, Russians and other Slavs with the Slavs now acting basically as a residual category.  That there were other tribes of the type “Slav” at the time is attested to by Procopius who, in discussing the return trip of the Heruli states that they went back through the lands of the various tribes of the Slavs.  These other Venethi may have had other specific names that Jordanes was not aware of or they may have just called themselves Venethi.  This seems hardly surprising.  (And to be clear, we are not claiming that the Venethi were one “Ur-Slavic” tribe as opposed to one general designation for a whole bunch of separate groups).

We are told that the name Venethi was not in then current “common” use (in the 500s) the way that Jordanes states it was.  This is a bizarre claim and one only needs to read Getica to see that… Jordanes at least used the term.  But seriously, Jordanes does not say that the Venethi was to be applied to the people raiding Roman territory.  A normal reading of his Venethi passage suggests a rather unremarkable conclusion.  Venethi were the progenitors of Antae and Slavs.  There may be other people Venethi whose names Jordanes does not know.  Such other Venethi may be smaller tribes attached to Antae or Slavs but the umbrella group Venethi are also people who may currently (in the 500s) be living back in the old Venethi haunts on the Baltic.  (Further, whether they do or not, is irrelevant since the claim that they do is entirely separate from the claim that the Slavs and Antae derived from the Venethi).  To be more blunt, how many other authors of the sixth century do we have that discuss Slavs in any level of anthropological detail including their background?  Other than Procopus and Jordanes, none.  So, 1/2 of those authors discussing these topics used the name Venethi, the other 1/2 used the name Spori.  To talk about “common usage” of a term when the topic itself is at best obscure and talked about by a sample size of two authors is to waste everyone’s time.

We are told that somehow and for some reason Jordanes wanted to attach the currently relevant tribes of Slavs and Antes to the Venethi.   But the question is why would that have mattered to Jordanes?  And, if this was a major point, why make it as a side reference in the book on Goths?  If it really mattered to Jordanes to show that nothing changes beyond the frontiers of the Empire, he certainly could have written more about that.

To claim that the Venethi were of any interest to Jordanes is to leave the realm of reality and enter a twilight zone of speculation.  Everything that Jordanes wrote suggests that the Venethi were, to him, a minor reference in a minor paragraph in one of his works concerning itself with an entirely different topic – the Goths (vide the title of the book) – he was not focused on the Venethi except as related to the Antes and Slavs and, he wasn’t very focused on the Antes and the Slavs either.  It is also for that reason, that there does not seem to be any reason for him to have lied or misstated facts related to the Venethi.  Would he have called the victor over the Antes, Vinitharius just to spice up his lies?

Moreover, in his other work Romana which does not deal with the Goths he limits himself only to discussing Slavs and Antae but if he were interested in stressing this connection why not throw it in, in Romana as well?

Of course, it is also possible that Jordanes was an entirely faithful compiler of partially untrustworthy sources.  The problem with saying anything about this, however, is that we are now speculating about the veracity of sources not only not in our possession but ones whose identity or even whose very fact of existence is, to put it generously, uncertain.

We are told that the episode of Boz comes from oral tradition applied to the Antes.  But there is no basis for this assertion.  We are alternatively told that it must have had a Greek source (as opposed to Cassiodorus) because of the Anti spelling used there by Jordanes is Greek and there is no evidence that Cassiodorus spoke Greek.  But Jordanes spoke Greek and there is no reason not to think that he could have switched back and forth between Latin and Greek as regards personal names.  Moreover, as per above, we do not even know whether Cassiodorus’ chronicle was a source used by Jordanes.  Even if it was to speculate now as to what languages Cassiodorus spoke seems rather silly – we do know, or at least we think we know, that he went to Constantinople at some point after the collapse of Theodoric’s kingdom – would he have done so, had he not known how to communicate with the appropriate social strata?

Who knows.

All we know is that Jordanes says what he says.  And we do not even know that because no original autographed manuscripts exist – the most ancient one seems to have burned down in Mommsen’s house and the other ones may well have been written by Greeks.

What about the title Vinitharius, “conqueror of the Venethi” as applied to Boz and the Antes?

We are told that the Boz episode Jordanes (or others, in turn, copied by Jordanes) have copied from the account of Ammianus Marcellinus’ discussion of Vithimiris’ war on the Alans, thereby giving the Antes a “pre-history”.  (Incidentally, a discussion on “Gothic” names may well be in order soon too).   However, Jordanes, who did not seem to have had much pride in authorship (listing elsewhere several sources he used), at no point claims to have used Marcellinus.  Moreover, there is no evidence that Vithimiris was Vinitharius.  But let’s say we are taking about the same person.  Vithimiris may well have fought both the Alans and the Antes (the crucifixion was not in Marcellinus and neither is the name Boz).  Or maybe the Alans were also of the Antes or the Antes of the Alans (see, e.g., “Slavs who were previously called Alans” or the claims that Antes may not have been Slavs sensu stricte whatever that means).

Further, at a minimum Jordanes (or someone before him) would have had to have invented the title Vinitharius and, likely, also the name Boz (BTW if Boz is not a Slavic name then we can conclude rather safely that not only Slavs were not Venethi but also that Slavs never existed and continue not existing to this day [3]).

We have even seen people claim that Vinitharius was a real title but seeing the Antes (and not the Venethi) and needing to explain the inconsistency of their whooping at the hands of Vinitharius, Jordanes went back and fabricated the earlier section on the Antes, Slavs and Venethi.

When asking as to why Jordanes (or someone prior to him) would have had an interest in such petty fabrications we ought expect no answers and we receive none.

And this is quite aside from the fact that, as per Jordanes, he had about three days to summarize the entire chronicle he was copying.  Perhaps he could think quickly on his feet and make up the most elaborate contortions but (there is a reason why police interrogators want to get a suspect talking ASAP after his capture) it is just as likely that, strapped for time, he copied more than he made up.

We are, finally, told that he must have used multiple maps – one “normal” and one being of the Peutinger non-projection type.  This is because the Slavs were, according to Jordanes, bound by the Vistula on the North and also because different spellings of Vistula were used by our noble author.  We are then told that Jordanes was a good Christian and respectful of past authority (but, apparently a fibber or, at least, a slob) and, faced with irreconcilable inconsistencies in his maps, his brow sweating with confusion and steam coming out of his ears like an android on instruction-overload kept repeating “error, error, error” while writing nonsense in his pages of the Getica.

The Goddess Perplexia - mistakenly associated with Jordanes

Jordanes, though not in the best of health, never suffered from any documented cases of exploding head

There is no evidence for any of this, however.  We know exactly nothing as to what maps (if any) Jordanes used.


An actual case of a Delusiosa Grandiosa Explosiosa

Moreover, the reference of the Sclaveni’s domains extending as far north as the Vistula is entirely consistent with a “regular” map being used.  Vistula, both lower and upper, is north of something.  That something (which happens to be Moravia/Pannonia) in turn is where Jordanes locates his Slavs.  A sideways, “east is up” map is entirely unnecessary for this statement to make sense.  Neither is a Peutinger-type map necessary.  Moreover, for the claim of Jordanes’ being confused to work, one would also have to argue that not only did Jordanes use an east is up or Peutinger map but also that he did not appreciate the fact that on such a map north was really “left”.  We do not know who Jordanes’ taskmaster was but, if all of that were true, one has to seriously question the judgment of this unfortunate patron.

It is, of course, possible that Jordanes used one, two or a billion maps of entirely different projections but to derive such a conclusion from the word Vistla versus Vistula and the statement that the Venethi were bound by a river on the north, seems, to us, a bit much.

But this stuff actually does raise an interesting point…

Venethi on the Peutinger Map

The Peutinger Map has been alleged to be based on an early fifth century or maybe even early third century map.  We will not quibble with such eminently sagacious assertions. (Of course, such versions could have been changed over time, etc).  Instead, let’s take a look at what we have…

And look we can – now – because the Peutinger Map, being item 324 in the Codex Vindobonensis  (named after Vienna aka Vindobona, an ironic nomen omen name, it seems to us, given this current exercise) has been generously (and recently) digitized and placed on the Internets.  This, we think, will have a healthy, democratizing effect on the state of the research in this area…

So what does the Peutinger Map show regarding the Venethi?

First, there are at least three Venethi tribes shown on the map.  We will ignore, for now, the Venethi of Gall (and Wales) whose ships fought Ceasar (see 1A2 on the map) .  This leaves us with two other Venethi.

These include the Venethi of the Danube (Venedi) (7A4):


But they also include the Venethi of Sarmatia (Venadi) (7A1):


Second, it should be (should be…) relatively straightforward to understand that the Venethi discussed by Jordanes as being the “source” of Antes and Slavs are the Venethi of Sarmatia that reside on the shores of the Northern (or Germanic) Ocean.

One look at the Peutinger Map further establishes that these Venethi are shown as completely unbounded by any river. [2]

Third, if this map is merely a reproduction of the state of knowledge in the third (or, would one prefer, fifth?) century then, we are most curious, why the Venethi are found anywhere around the area that Jordanes mentions his Slavs and Antes to be in (i.e., the Danube delta)?



No doubt many papers can now be written about how:

(A) the Peutinger Map is a vicious Slavo-nationalistic forgery;

(B) the map was actually authored by Jordanes who used a time travel vehicle to…yes, you guessed it… time travel, all as part of his plot to link the Venethi to the Slavs and Antes (which plot was key to his strategy of arguing with Procopius that… something or something);


Jordanes arrives in the 3rd century in a plot to to insert the Peutinger Map with its Venethi into the flow of history – the evil mastermind was successful yet again

(C) the Peutinger Map’s original zwar was the correct description of places shown but the portions showing the Venethi were clearly altered after the map’s publication (by Slavic hypernationalist saboteurs working hand in hand with the mysterious Order of Jordanes) [3];

(D) in a post-national Europa we are all Freunde, errrrr… friends, that is, and we should no longer  look at the past but look solely to the Zukunft! Err… you know vat vee meenz.

To all that, we can only say:

Gute Nacht & Viel Glück! [4]

[1] Attempts have been made to do just that by suggesting that Boz was a… Goth and that the Antes (here it is Procopius that gets attacked rather than Jordanes) were “Pontic Goths” who, contrary, to Procopius’ statemens on their language being the same as that of the Slavs, actually spoke a Germanic tongue.  As far as we can tell the only argument for this is that some of the (few) known Antes names could have been Germanic in the sense that some people elsewhere, heretofore considered Germanic, may have carried similar names.  Assuming arguendo that  that were the case (and that names are a trustworthy indication ethnicity – a subject for another day),  one would think that the simplest solution to this “conundrum” would be to consider the possibility that some of those “Germanics” elsewhere (e.g., the Gothic king Radagaisus, in several sources unfamiliar with Slavs called “Scythian”) were not Germanics at all rather than arguing that the Antes, described by both Procopius and Jordanes as being the same as Slavs in manner and language and all else, were Germanic…  But we know of at least one author who instead chose not to follow Occom’s razor in this instance, championing his own theory of Pontic Goth hot air.  In any event, we have said already too much on this.  While we are willing to take up some of our precious time responding to, what we see as, wrong-headed theories, we will not entirely waste it entertaining theories that are, in the immortal words of Wolfgang Pauli, “not even wrong”.

(Incidentally, if the Antes were not Slavs and given that we have no record of the Sclavines ever migrating northward from the Danube (they just keep attacking the Byzantines), the subsequent appearance of the Slavs literally everywhere  in Eastern Europe would be that much more impressive as regards the Slavs’ reproductive capacity).

[2] But Venethi don’t get your hopes up – you actually are bound, it’s just that the people who penned this thing together did not know that the Baltic was not an ocean – not having discovered Scandinavia – or rather, thinking the latter was an island (the biggest of the four east of Cimbria in Tacitus).

[3] It is said that if you turn off all the lights on the 11th of November and hold the Venethi sections of the Peutinger Map close to your nose an image appears directly behind the map.  German old men and wise women who claim to have seen this phenomenon swear by Wodan that it was an image of an evil spirit who would utter these words: Scha- ffa- rik.  The Austrian High Commission for the Cultures and Arts denies these claims wholeheartedly though one commissioner was heard suggesting that, in the alternative, the apparition may be that of an ancient Germanic chieftain – Zavaricus.

[4] Of course, it is possible that the Venethi were at the Danube at some point the past and that that is what later, faced with Antes and Slavs, confused Jordanes who first connected the Slavs and Antes with those Danubian Venethi and then sought to locate their ancestors elsewhere, with the Sarmatian Venethi providing a “solution”.  However, this would be a slightly different and more limited theory than the general “Jordanes was confused” theory as it would, at the very least, have to agree to locate both groups in the same geography.  And, of course, such a theory would also have to explain the alleged population exchange – now, however, not taking place in some Sarmatian terra incognita on the Baltic who knows when but rather right in the Romans back yard at some point between 200-400 OTOH and early 500s OTOH.  All of this is possible, of course, but one fears only at the cost of creating even more Ptolemaic orbits.

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September 23, 2014

Wends in Early Western Sources – Jonas Bobiensis, Fredegar Anonymous & Others

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It is worth mentioning that other sources – in Western Europe – though sparser and of somewhat more recent vintage also seem to make the connection between Slavs and Venethi.  As far as we know, there is no source indicating that they borrowed from Jordanes or were even aware of his work.  Consequently, if in fact Jordanes is seen as an example of Byzantine historiography (i.e., as opposed to a copy of Cassiodorus of Ravenna), then these writers may be seen as a second, quite independent confirmation of the validity of the Slav-Venethi connection.

Jonas Bobiensis

One of the earliest Western European sources is Jonas Bobiensis’ classic hit Vitae Columbani (Life of Saint Columbanus) (written in relevant parts circa 639-643 and excerpted in part in the Fredegar Chronicle) where it is said (Book I, 27):

Interea cogitatio in mentem ruit, ut Venetiorum qui et Sclavi dicuntur terminos adiret caecasque mentes euangelica luce lustraret ac ab origine per avia oberrantibus veritatis viam panderet.” (roughly: “to the Veneti who are also called Slavs”)*

Fredegar Anonymous

Then we’ve got Freddie.  The Chronicarum Quae Dicuntur Fredegarii Scholastici or “Fredegar Chronicle” (written in relevant parts circa 659) talks of the Slavs (Book IV, 48, as published in Monumenta Germaniae Historica in 1883) as follows:


The only surviving picture of Fredegar the Anonymous

Anno 40, regni Chlothariae homo nomen Samo natione Francos de pago Senomago plures secum neutiantes adcivit, exercendum negucium in Sclavos coinomento Winedos perrexit.  Sclavi iam contra Avaris coinomento Chunis et regem corum gagano ceperant revellare.

(roughly: Slavs that are of/are also known as the Veneti; this interpretation is consistent with the Avars being seen by the writer as being part of the Huns in the very next sentence (Huns being part of Avars would make no sense)

Later, the same Freddie says (Book IV, 68):

Eo anno Slav coinomento Winidi in regno Samone neguciantes Francorum cum plure multetudine interfecissent et rebus expoliassint, haec fuit inicium scandali inter Dagobertum et Samonem regem Sclavinorum.” (same)

Saint Boniface

Saint Boniface in his letter (written in 745-746) to King Ethelbald of Mercia writes as follows:

Et Uuinedi, qued est foedissimum et deterrimum genus hominum, tam magno zelo matrimonii amorem mutuum observant, ut mulier viro proprio mortuno vivere recuset.  Et laudabilis mulier inter illos esse iudicatur, quia propria manu sibi mortem intulerit et in una strue pariter ardeat cum viro suo.

Roughly: “And the Wends are a people uncouth and worst of all, and the zeal of their marriage/love is so strong that a woman on the death of her husband refuses to live on her own.  And that one is judged praiseworthy among them, who brings death to herself with her own hand and burns in one pyre with her husband.”


The above comes from The Letters of Saint Bonifacius (Michael Tangl editor, 1916).

Incidentally, this “suttee” type practice – albeit for men and women both apparently and only upon the death of a chieftain – is also mentioned among the Serbs (?) by Masudi and a more “humane” practice of first chopping off of the head and only then burning was mentioned by Thietmar for pre-baptismal Poland (to come).  However, the practice was not unknown to the Germans either – see the Sigurdlied with its Brunhilde.  Procopius, with reference to the Heruli mentions a hanging of the women rather than a pyre.  Ibn-Fadlan also speaks of a Rus funeral pyre in a famous passage.

(Bishop) Salomon

One of the Bishops of (ironically?) Constanz (on the Lake Venethi), Salomon II or Salomon III (sometime between 875-919) compiled or funded the compilation of (take your pick) a Latin dictionary (Glossae Salomonis) which also contained some German words.

The sources used for this dictionary or encyclopedia or, if you will, commentary/ies (germ: Glossen) apparently used an earlier book from Regensburg which has also been dated to the 9th century.

There is also a so-called Spanish dictionary (which bases itself on several earlier works, including Isidore’s Ethymologies) of that Regensburg book from around 750 which may have served as a source for the Regensburg version.

In the Regensburg version of the dictionary (see work of Steinmeyer/Sievers) there is an entry that goes as follows:

UUandalus id est uuinid

[“Wandal is a Wend” – the double “u” was, well, now you know why a double u is the name of the letter “w” which itself did not exist before the 12th century]

We have not been able to confirm the exact laanguage but note that the following appears in the Saint Gallen version of the same (we note that the Glossae Salomonis exists in more than than one version)**:

Saint Gallen version

Saint Gallen version

This does not say that the Venethi were Slavs but merely suggests Vandals and Wends to be the same.  (Now, that is a line of thinking that we are not going to take up since, it seems to us, at this time, that to try to put an equal sign between Wends/Slavs and Vandals is a bit of a “cause” and one that, in any event, appears entirely unnecessary to the main Venethi question).***

Nonetheless, this is clearly a mention of Slavs (described as Wends) and if more proof is needed we note  that another of those versions of Glossae Salomonis is the Prague Codex (X A 11).  This version, known as Mater Verborum, is famous for the fact that it contains little annotations in Czech thereby providing Czech translations of certain words (and then some as will examine in subsequent posts).  For purposes of our investigation what is of interest is that the word Wandal in the Mater Verborum has been “annotated” with Zlowene.  This would thus link the Slavs to the Venethi/Wends albeit via a discussion of Vandals – the one minor glitch being that the Saint Gallen windiculu becomes wandiculu in the Prague version.  And now for the centerpiece:


Prague version

This also hints at an entirely new etymology of the word Slavs – Slovene – a word used frequently by all Slavs (in contrast to Sclavi) to describe themselves and a word – Zlowene – which, obviously, contains the “Vene” or “wene” of the Venethi.

There is a question as to the dating of the Prague version – it is dated to sometime between the 9th-13th century.  Of course, the annotations are another matter. (And, we ought to add the Mater Verborum has apparently been tampered with by Vaclav Hanka, a 19th century forger.  Adolph Patera provided an analysis of the glosses found it and concluded that roughly 2/3 were fake – his view of Zlowene is not clear).

We will leave it to armchair etymologists to ask whether Zlo-wene were “bad” Venethi or were rather Z-Lovene as in “those who hunt” but, perhaps, really, “those who fish” – there was all that water in Venether Bay…

Widsith or the Bard’s/Traveller’s Tale

The Travels of the Bard is an Anglo-Saxon poem/song that comes to us from the 8th century (and maybe earlier) having been transcribed in the so-called Book of Exeter.  Aside from the description of some battles of the Goths at the Vistula, it has the following to say about the traveling bard’s travels in Venethi country (inter alia, of course, as the poem is quite long):

Mid Sveom and mid Geatum and mid Sudhdenum Mid Venlum ie vas and mid Varnum and mid Vicingum; Mid Gesdum i.e. vas, and mid Vinedum, and Gesslegum

(I traveled [or was] with the Sveami [?] and the Gettae and with the southern Danes; and with the Vinlans [?] I was and with the Varns and with the Vikings; and with the Gesdams and with the Wends and with the Gesslegams [?])

For a more detailed discussion of Widsith see here.  Also see Conybear and Altsächsische und Angelsächsische Sprachproben.

Wulfstan’s Travels

Wulfstan (a friend of the better known Otter) was a Danish navigator whose voyage to Truso made its way into King Alfred’s Description of Germany – a book allegedly authored by the Anglo-Saxon Wessex king who apparently was interested in geography when not bashing Viking heads.  This now is Wulfstan’s story (before 900):

“Wulfstan said that, leaving Schlesvig in seven days and nights sailing without any break he arrived at Truso [famous Eastern Baltic Viking port].  And always he had the country of the Wends on his right, on the left though Laeland, Falster and Skania (Sconeg).  And all those countries belong to Dennmark.”

For a more detailed discussion of Wulfstan’s travels (and a mention of the Wends in the Ohthere part) see here.  See also Scriptores rerum Danicarum (p 118);

Incidentally, a description of the country of the Wends is also found in the motherwork for the above tale, i.e.,  King Alfred’s Description of Germany but we will not tackle that here except to note that the “country of Amazons” mentioned by bin-Yakub is also described here as Maeg(h)daland being north of (White) Croatia.  This seems to be Mazovia, i.e., aMazovia or aMazonia, where as we learn in subsequent blog entries the locals venerated the goddess Lada.

For a more detailed discussion of the geography of Alfred’s Orosius see here.

See also Altsächsische und Angelsächsische Sprachproben;

Wessobrunn Commentaries

The Wessobrun Prayer is one of the oldest German poems.  It comes from the Wessobrun Abbey in Bavaria.  What else comes from that abbey, however, are the various associated commentaries (written circa 790-814).  Amongst those are the following explanations of terms in a section about the names of various provinces (Hec nomina de uariies prouintiis):

Pannonia. sic nominator illa terra meridie danobiae; et uuandoli habent hoc.” (Pannonia a country on the Danube; and Vandals live there [or have it]”;

A few lines, thereafter:

Sclauus et avarus.  huni. et uuinida” (Slav and/vs Avar.  Hun and/vs Wend);

And then:

UUandali. huni, et citta auh uuandoli.” (citta presumably means Scythians who are “(also?) Vandals”)

Here is the same in an 1827 version courtesy of Wilhelm Wackernagel:


Although this middle line of names has been explained as a chiasmus (look it up), it is, honestly, unclear of what to make of it.  Nevertheless, it is another connection (of some sort) between Slavs and the Venethi.

(Interestingly, a few lines below a list of cities follows with Spira (Speyer) called nimitensis civitas – a city of the Nemeter or… Nemcy?)

There are other sources that discuss Wends and Slavs as synonymous but they come later – Adam von Bremen, Helmold and Saxo Grammaticus will concern us when discussing Western (or Elbe) Slavs.  (For another source discussing the various connections see G.H. Pertz, Ueber eine fraenkische Kosmographie des siebten Jahrhunderts, Berlin 1847).

For now, let us conclude this section by making a reference to a source that does not discuss Wends but does discuss Slavs and, interestingly, in a slightly different way (it also denies Vandals were ever called Wends).

Annales Vedastini/Chronicon Vedastinum

The Annales (which served as a part of the backbone for the later Cronicon Vedastinum) were written in the early 900s at the Abbey of Saint Vaast in Arras, France.  The passage of interest is the following:

Ostrogothas sibi vicinos, qui longissimam oceani Germanici ripam insidebant, a quibus illi discesserant Gothi, quos notavimus ex Asia in Europae Galliam transisse, primo invadunt, sed mox repulsi, agilitate corporum confisi et agmine suorum, rursus crebro pertemptant, donec federatos recipiunt.  Alanos, quos dicunt Sclavos, pugna sibi pares, sed humanitate — in pignora sua primo die nota deseviunt.  Nam maribus — beluina vivunt sevitia.  Wandalos, quos nunc appellant Guenedos, attemptaverunt, suis victoriis faclie applicavere.  Gens Suavorum, id est Alamannorum, Gallis saepenumero infesta, et ipsa Hunis cessit foederata.




This, of course, does also point us to think about the discussion as to why the first Poles were referred to as Palani.  E.g., “cum Bolizlauo Palaniorum duce” (Joannes Canaparius in Vita Sancti Alberti) or  “Polania ergo tanti sepeliens floret martyryii pignora” (in the Reichenau Hymns/Prayers) or Bolizlaus Sclavigena, dux Bolanorum” (in Gesta Chuonradi of Wipo of Burgundy).  Compare that with the current Polonia version where all the “a”‘s go away replaced with “o”‘s.

For more on this topic see here.

* Incidentally, the “Sc” or “Sk” is strange in that no Slavic people use the “k” sound as part of their name.  It is always Slovenes or Slovaks (or rather these are the English version of Slavic names) not Sklovenes or Sklovaks.  In fact, the Slavic sound is actually a “sw” sound or, alternatively, a “su” sound.  The closest being among the ancient peoples being the Suavi (who are also mentioned by Jordanes) Suabi or Suavi (see  – but who really were Germanic.  A topic for another time.  See also discussion of the Zlo-vene below.

** Several “Salomon” codices of the dictionary in question contain such language.  See, for example, Muenchner Einzelblatt (187), Stiftsbibliothek Einsiedlen Codex 293, Admonter Stiftsbibliothek Codex III, St. Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Codex 905 (folio 1026), British Library  (Codex Ms. Add. 18379).  Steinmeyer & Sievers count 11 versions including the “Zlowene” Prague Codex (see their book Die Althochdeutschen Glossen, Berlin 1893).

*** Yes, it is strange that both the Venethi and Vandals have similar names and apparently lived in similar areas.  However, this hardly proves a connection.  For one thing, if the Vandals came from Scandinavia (and they were not called Vandals then), they could have overnighted in some valley in Venethiland, say, Vene[ther]thal and gotten their Van-thal name that way.  We know that, at least after their breakout across the Rhine and, likely earlier, they were a Germanic people (Greuthingi, Theuringi, Silingi, etc all had Germanic-named leaders… probably).  See also the reference in the Annales Vedastini section of this post – “Vandals who were never called Venethi/Wends.” In any event the Regensburg version also contains the Isydorian explanation of the Vandal name based on the river Vandalus – supposedly Vistula (also present in Kadlubek and his legend of Wanda).

In any event, the name of “Vandals” appears numerous times in the Frankish annals and often in reference to Western Slavs.  We do not discuss these unless also accompanied by a reference to Venethi or Wends.  This is so even when Vandals are clearly discussed and by Vandals Slavs are meant – see, for example, the references to the Slav terminated Life of Saint Martinus (Vita Sanctorum Marini) whose Vita was terminated by the Slavs, either while praying/conducting prayers in the middle of a dale (burnt to death) – note to self – if you believe the Tegernsee version or, in another variation, because he refused to give the Slavs directions (perhaps, if you want to combine the two, because he thought prayers were more important than talking to Slavs – again, non-Slavs – note to self).

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September 19, 2014

On the Arrival of the Croats

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The arrival of the Croats – as it actually happened

The most widely cited source on the arrival of the Croats (on the historical scene, that is)* is De Administrando Imperio (Of the Administration of an Empire) written, supposedly, by well-intentioned but tragic Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII (Porphyrogenitus or purple-born) sometime between 948 and 952.  The book survives in four manuscripts, seven printed editions in Greek, Latin, Russian, Croat and an edition in English from 1949 (no doubt there are German editions too) which also contains an extensive description of the interrelation among all of these.

In any event, the story of the Croats is told in chapters 29 and 30 and, to some extent, in 31.  Although told in three different chapters, the story is roughly the same.  We learn the following.  Croats originally lived in White Croatia (by white the writer seems to indicate “unbaptized”) “beyond Turkey [and beyond Bavaria] and next to Francia”.  Some Croats stayed and remain thralls to King Otto (presumably before he chose to call himself Emperor or perhaps the Byzantine author did not care).  The name “Croats” means in the Slav language “those who occupy much territory.”  Their Slav neighbors in the old country were “White Serbs” (i.e., Sorbs, the Serbs who stayed North).  This roughly corresponds to some area above the Carpathians – probably around Cracow.

We also learn that from these White Croats there split five brothers and two sisters.  The brothers’ names were Kloukas, Lobelos, Kosentzis, Mouchlo and Chrobatos.  The sisters names were less imaginative: Touga and Bouga.  They came down to Croatia and defeated the Avars who had earlier taken over the country from the Romani (i.e., the Byzantines).  At first they continued to be subject to the Franks but then due to shabby treatment revolted and fought the Franks and won (under a leader (not certain whether this was Franks’ leader or Croats’) named Kotzilis.  Then the Croats asked to be baptized by the Pope and so became Catholic.  At some point they also asked for the “protection” of the Emperor Heraclius.  Not sure whether this was immediately upon their arrival or at some later point.

There is also a story of how the Avars (in Chapter 30) or Avars but maybe Slavs (in Chapter 29) took the city of Salona.  Essentially, from that city the Byzantines would go out raiding the country.  When the Avars or Slavs came back from an expedition they noticed their villages plundered and waited to see who dun it.  It turned out to be Byzantines who showed up for more spoils.  Long story short, the Avars (or Slavs) took the Byzantine garb and rode back to Salusa taking it by surprise.

A number of things are, therefore, interesting about all of this:

First, this last story is roughly the same as the story of Lestek/Lech (the First) from the Chronicle of Kadlubek (and later Polish chronicles).  It is, of course, possible that Kadlubek read De Administrando Imperio (not clear if he could read Greek but translators did exist).  But, if not, then we have a quandary of how this legend came North.  Is the story of Lech a younger one and perhaps some group of Croats returned back North bringing with it this story?

Second, the Croats come to Croatia from the North and are, therefore, not technically “southern” Slavs (ditto for the Serbs).  But this is exactly the opposite the route chartered for the Slavs by Nestor (Slavs came North from Pannonia) and, much later, the Polish chronicles (e.g., Dlugosz having the Slavs come from Pannonia).  We note however that there was a “White Serbia” and “White Croatia” in the North – so that the Croats could have come from there and stopped by Bohemia – dropped off Czech – and headed further down to present day Croatia/Serbia?  (did they encounter any “original” Wends either in the North or in the Balkans/Alps?) While inconsistent with Nestor’s telling, this may not matter.  We note that Nestor strove to derive Slavs (and indeed so have the various other later authors who spoke of Slavs as coming from the South) from the biblical Japhet – so in his telling Slavs must have come from the South (and indeed all Europeans) unless Noah were to have been placed in Europe – thus Nestor’s travel direction is one of necessity.

Third, Constantine has trouble separating Avars from Slavs (and elsewhere he calls Attila king of the Avars).  Ok, this is less interesting.

Fourth, the Croat princes’ names do not look very Slavic or at least some of them do not.

Fifth, Chrobatos, the quintessential Croat’s name looks like Chrobry (i.e., Boleslaw Chrobry).  Well, maybe.

Sixth, the story of brothers we also know from Nestor’s Chronicle where both Sczech (Czech?) and Chorbat are present as founders of Kiyev.  See above for this point – are the three founders of Kiev the original founders of the “Rus”, Bohemia and Croatia?

Seventh, it is entirely unclear what happened to the White Croats – unlike the Sorbs no remaining population survived under that name or is mentioned in any of the sources (as an interesting aside, the Avarii are mentioned by Ptolemy as living near the Carpathian mountains).  So were these Serbs/Sorbs and Croats just passing through the Northern “Wendish” lands on their way to eastern Germany, Bohemia and Croatia?  Are the northern Slavs (Wends) related to these?  For example, how related were the Obotrites and Veleti (“many people” so “Vidovari”?) with the Sorbs of southern east Germany? 


The dreaded Avar "Yellow Projectile" being foiled by an evading Croatian princess

The dreaded Avar “Yellow Fire” being foiled by an evading Croatian princess (not clear if this is Touga or Bouga)

* Same for the Serbs (see chapter 32) but we will not consider them in this post.


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September 16, 2014

On the Veneti and Vindelici in Strabo’s Geography

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Strabo (64-63 B.C. – c. A.D. 24)

Strabo wrote his Geography (Geographica) before Tacitus, Pliny the Elder and before Ptolemy.

(note: We look at the VIndelici and the Veneti of Bretagne here.  Regarding Strabo’s discussion on the Adriatic Veneti see here)

Let’s start with a piece from his description of northern Italy (Book IV, Chapter VI):


“Next, in order, come those parts of the mountains that are towards the east, and those that bend round towards the south: the Rhaeti and the Vindelici occupy them, and their territories join those of the Elvetii and the Boii; for their territories overlook the plains of those peoples. Now the Rhaeti reach down as far as that part of Italy which is above Verona and Comum (moreover, the “Rhaetic” wine, which has the repute of not being inferior to the approved wines of the Italic regions, is made in the foot-hills of the Rhaetic Alps), and also extend as far as the districts through which the Rhenus runs; the Lepontii, also, and Camuni, belong to this stock. But the Vindelici and Norici occupy the greater part of the outer side of the mountain, along with the Breuni and the Genauni, the two peoples last named being Illyrians.  All these peoples used to overrun, from time to time, the neighbouring parts, not only of Italy, but also of the country of the Elvetii, the Sequani, the Boii and the Germans. The Licattii, the Clautenatii, and the Vennones proved to be the boldest warriors of all the Vindelici, as did the Rucantii and the Cotuantii of all the Rhaeti. The Estiones, also, belong to the Vindelici, and so do the Brigantii…


Then let’s briefly skip over to Gall (Book IV, Chapter IV) (West Lugdunensis and Belgica):


“After the aforesaid tribes, the rest are tribes of those Belgae who live on the ocean-coast.  Of the Belgae, there are, first, the Veneti who fought the naval battle with Caesar; for they were already prepared to hinder his voyage to Britain, since they were using the emporium there [perhaps see G-wynedd in Wales].  But he easily defeated them in the naval battle, making no use of ramming (for the beams were thick), but when the Veneti bore down upon him with the wind, the Romans hauled down their sails by means of pole-hooks; for, on account of the violence of the winds, the sails were made of leather, and they were hoisted by chains instead of ropes. Because of the ebb-tides, they make their ships with broad bottoms, high sterns, and high prows; they make them of oak (of which they have a plentiful supply), and this is why they do not bring the joints of the planks together but leave gaps; they stuff the gaps full of sea-weed, however, so that the wood may not, for lack of moisture, become dry when the ships are hauled up, because the sea-weed is naturally rather moist, whereas the oak is dry and without fat.  It is these Veneti, I think, who settled the colony that is on the Adriatic (for about all the Celti that are in Italy migrated from the transalpine land, just as did the Boii and Senones), although, on account of the likeness of name, people call them Paphlagonians. I do not speak positively, however, for with reference to such matters probability suffices.  Secondly, there are the Osismii (whom Pytheas calls the Ostimii), who live on a promontory that projects quite far out into the ocean, though not so far as he and those who have trusted him say.  But of the tribes that are between the Sequana and the Liger, some border on the Sequani, others on the Arverni.”


Here is what he had to say about Germania in Book VII (Chapter I):


“Now the parts beyond the Rhenus, immediately after the country of the Celti, slope towards the east and are occupied by the Germans, who, though they vary slightly from the Celtic stock in that they are wilder, taller, and have yellower hair, are in all other respects similar, for in build, habits, and modes of life they are such as I have said the Celti are.  And I also think that it was for this reason that the Romans assigned to them the name “Germani,” as though they wished to indicate thereby that they were “genuine” Galatae, for in the language of the Romans ‘germani’ means ‘genuine.'”


The friendly Gaelic Asterix

Incidentally, this is a curious passage because Strabo (as later Ceasar & Tacitus) calls Germans those who were “genuine” (i.e., before mixing with others) Galls.  In this common Roman view, the Germans were not a separate people but simply the Ur-Galls (a “purer” but also more savage, less civilized version of the same).

and the fierce Germanic Asteric

and the fierce Germanic Asteric

This was upsetting to some German scholars of the early 20th century so they set out to prove that not only were Germans not Galls but rather those tribes that history has claimed as Galls were instead Germans (see the rather conclusively titled, Sudgermanen by Braungart regarding the “Germanic” (not even Celtic now!) Boii, Vindelici, Rhaeti, Norici, Taurisci).

But let us continue:


“…while some of the tribes of the Suevi dwell inside the forest, as I was saying, others dwell outside of it, and have a common boundary with the Getae. Now as for the tribe of the Suevi, it is the largest, for it extends from the Rhenus to the Albis; and a part of them even dwell on the far side of the Albis, as, for instance, the Hermondori and the Langobardi; and at the present time these latter, at least, have, to the last man, been driven in flight out of their country into the land on the far side of the river.  It is a common characteristic of all the peoples in this part of the world that they migrate with ease, because of the meagerness of their livelihood and because they do not till the soil or even store up food, but live in small huts that are merely temporary structures; and they live for the most part off their flocks, as the Nomads do, so that, in imitation of the Nomads, they load their household belongings on their wagons and with their beasts turn whithersoever they think best. But other German tribes are still more indigent. I mean the Cherusci, the Chatti, the Gamabrivii and the Chattuarii, and also, near the ocean, the Sugambri, the Chaubi, the Bructeri, and the Cimbri, and also the Cauci, the Caülci, the Campsiani, and several others.”


And further:


“And near [the Hercynian (Black) Forest] are the sources of both the Ister [Danube] and the Rhenus [Rhein], as also the lake [Lake Constance] between the two sources, and the marshes into which the Rhenus spreads.  The perimeter of the lake is more than three hundred stadia, while the passage across it is nearly two hundred.  There is also an island in it which Tiberius used as a base of operations in his naval battle with the Vindelici. This lake is south of the sources of the Ister, as is also the Hercynian Forest…The country of the Rhaeti adjoins the lake for only a short distance, whereas that of the Helvetii and the Vindelici, and also the desert of the Boii, adjoin the greater part of it. All the peoples as far as the Pannonii, but more especially the Helvetii and the Vindelici, inhabit plateaus. But the countries of the Rhaeti and the Norici extend as far as the passes over the Alps and verge toward Italy, a part thereof bordering on the country of the Insubri and a part on that of the Carni and the legions about Aquileia. And there is also another large forest, Gabreta [Bohemian Forests]; it is on this side of the territory of the Suevi, whereas the Hercynian Forest, which is also held by them, is on the far side.”


Now the Venethi or Vindelici that are mentioned here are those that lived near Lake Constance (Lake Venetos) and that we already mentioned in earlier blog posts.  The battle that Strabo is referring to was one fought between the Romans (Drusus & Tiberius) and the Vindelici a confederation of “Celtic tribes” as per mainstream learning.  The battle took place in 15 A.D. One interesting aspect of this is that the same mainstream learning both admits that the Celtic Vindilici lived at Lake Constance and also denies that Slavs ever lived there.  Literally speaking, this is undoubtedly true.  It is also interesting however that at least some of the place names around Lake Constance remind one of Slavic words.



Take, for example, the biggest city in Western Austria – Bregenz – a place where the Carinthian Slavs, sensu stricte, never set foot – we all agree (except as tourists).  It is located on the shore of the lake.  The word “shore” has many words for it in German – Ufer, Kueste, Rand, Kante.  Similar words exist in all Germanic languages.  E.g., strand.  In Slavic languages “shore” is “břeh” (Czech), “brzeg” (Polish), “breh” (Slovak), “берег” (i.e., bereg) (Russian, Ukrainian).  In fact, in Poland there is the town Brzeg which, conveniently for our purposes, had a significant German population from the 13th century.  The Germans called the town Brieg.  Now, of course, there is the German word Berg, as in “mountain”.  In fact Berg is cognate with the various Slavic brehs and beregs.  But while there are obviously plenty of mountains around in the neighboring Alps, the town of Bregenz itself is not on any mountain but rather on the shore.  Of course, we are told and this may indeed be true that the town of Bregenz is named after the Vindelic tribe of the Briganti.  That may be true though that only begs the question of why were Brigantii called Brigantii  (or it may be that the tribe was named after the town which puts you back in the same place).  And if you go up into Bavaria along the shore of Lake Constance you will, a ways inland, come to the town of Stetten – not Stettin, today’s Szczecin but rather Stetten.  Nevertheless…;

Let us go back now to Strabo (you can look around Lake Constance further, of course, and see what you think…BTW there are other Stettens around Lake Constance – in Germany and Switzerland – and then there is one in Vienna, er Vindibona too)

Now then this comes in Chapter II (right after a rather fascinating discussion of how Crimea was named after the Danish Cimbri who, in a prelude to later Viking raids, sailed to the Black Sea – which way, around? or via Russia!?):


“Of the Germans, as I have said, those towards the north extend along the ocean; and beginning at the outlets of the Rhenus, they are known as far as the Albis; and of these the best known are the Sugambri and the Cimbri; but those parts of the country beyond the Albis that are near the ocean are wholly unknown to us. For of the men of earlier times I know of no one who has made this voyage along the coast to the eastern parts that extend as far as the mouth of the Caspian Sea; and the Romans have not yet advanced into the parts that are beyond the Albis; and likewise no one has made the journey by land either. However, it is clear from the “climata” and the parallel distances that if one travels longitudinally towards the east, one encounters the regions that are about the Borysthenes and that are to the north of the Pontus; but what is beyond Germany and what beyond the countries which are next after Germany — whether one should say the Bastarnae, as most writers suspect, or say that others lie in between, either the Iazyges, or the Roxolani, or certain other of the wagon-dwellers — it is not easy to say; nor yet whether they extend as far as the ocean along its entire length, or whether any part is uninhabitable by reason of the cold or other cause, or whether even a different race of people, succeeding the Germans, is situated between the sea and the eastern Germans. And this same ignorance prevails also in regard to the rest of the peoples that come next in order on the north; for I know neither the Bastarnae, nor the Sauromatae, nor, in a word, any of the peoples who dwell above the Pontus, nor how far distant they are from the Atlantic Sea, nor whether their countries border upon it.”


A rather honest conclusion but he already told us much.

Then, onto Chapter III and the description of Dacia:

First about the Mysi:


“Now the Greeks used to suppose that the Getae were Thracians; and the Getae lived on either side the Ister, as did also the Mysi, these also being Thracians and identical with the people who are now called Moesi; from these Mysi sprang also the Mysi who now live between the Lydians and the Phrygians and Trojans. And the Phrygians themselves are Brigians, a Thracian tribe, as are also the Mygdonians, the Bebricians, the Medobithynians, the Bithynians, and the Thynians, and, I think, also the Mariandynians. These peoples, to be sure, have all utterly quitted Europe, but the Mysi have remained there. And Poseidonius seems to me to be correct in his conjecture that Homer designates the Mysi in Europe (I mean those in Thrace) when he says, “But back he turned his shining eyes, and looked far away towards the land of the horse-tending Thracians, and of the Mysi, hand-to‑hand fighters” for surely, if one should take Homer to mean the Mysi in Asia, the statement would not hang together. Indeed, when Zeus turns his eyes away from the Trojans towards the land of the Thracians, it would be the act of a man who confuses the continents and does not understand the poet’s phraseology to connect with Thrace the land of the Asiatic Mysi, who are not “far away,” but have a common boundary with the Troad and are situated behind it and on either side of it, and are separated from Thrace by the broad Hellespont; for “back he turned” generally means “to the rear,” and he who transfers his gaze from the Trojans to the people who are either in the rear of the Trojans or on their flanks, does indeed transfer his gaze rather far, but not at all “to the rear.”  Again, the appended phrase is testimony to this very view, because the poet connected with the Mysi the “Hippemolgi” and “Galactophagi” and “Abii,” who are indeed the wagon-dwelling Scythians and Sarmatians. For at the present time these tribes, as well as the Bastarnian tribes, are mingled with the Thracians (more indeed with those outside the Ister, but also with those inside). And mingled with them are also the Celtic tribes — the Boii, the Scordisci, and the Taurisci. However, the Scordisci are by some called “Scordistae”; and the Taurisci are called also “Ligurisci” and “Tauristae.”


Then we get the following tidbits (after a brief mention of the noble savage Scythians):


“It is but fair, too, to ask Apollodorus to account for the Mysians that are mentioned in the verses of Homer, whether he thinks that these too are inventions (when the poet says, “and the Mysians, hand-to‑hand fighters and the proud Hippemolgi”), or takes the poet to mean the Mysians in Asia. Now if he takes the poet to mean those in Asia, he will misinterpret him, as I have said before, but if he calls them an invention, meaning that there were no Mysians in Thrace, he will contradict the facts; for at any rate, even in our own times, Aelius Catus transplanted from the country on the far side of the Ister into Thrace fifty thousand persons from among the Getae, a tribe with the same tongue as the Thracians. And they live there in Thrace now and are called “Moesi” — whether it be that their people of earlier times were so called and that in Asia the name was changed to “Mysi,” or (what is more apposite to history and the declaration of the poet) that in earlier times their people in Thrace were called “Mysi.” Enough, however, on this subject. I shall now go back to the next topic in the general description.”


Before going back to the discussion of the Getae:


“So, too, at the time when Byrebistas [also Boerebistas leader of the Getae] against whom already the Deified Caesar had prepared to make an expedition…”

“As for the Getae, then, their early history must be left untold, but that which pertains to our own times is about as follows: Boerebistas a Getan, on setting himself in authority over the tribe, restored the people, who had been reduced to an evil plight by numerous wars, and raised them to such a height through training, sobriety, and obedience to his commands that within only a few years he had established a great empire and subordinated to the Getae most of the neighbouring peoples.  And he began to be formidable even to the Romans, because he would cross the Ister with impunity and plunder Thrace as far as Macedonia and the Illyrian country; and he not only laid waste the country of the Celti who were intermingled with the Thracians and the Illyrians, but actually caused the complete disappearance of the Boii who were under the rule of Critasirus, and also of the Taurisci.”


And then about their relations, the Daci:


“But there is also another division of the country which has endured from early times, for some of the people are called Daci, whereas others are called Getae — Getae, those who incline towards the Pontus and the east, and Daci, those who incline in the opposite direction towards Germany and the sources of the Ister.  The Daci, I think, were called Daï in early times”

“The Marisus River flows through their country into the Danuvius, on which the Romans used to convey their equipment for war; the “Danuvius” I say, for so they used to call the upper part of the river from near its sources on to the cataracts, I mean the part which in the main flows through the country, of the Daci, although they give the name “Ister” to the lower part, from the cataracts on to the Pontus, the part which flows past the country of the Getae. The language of the Daci is the same as that of the Getae. Among the Greeks, however, the Getae are better known because the migrations they make to either side of the Ister are continuous, and because they are intermingled with the Thracians and Mysians. And also the tribe of the Triballi, likewise Thracian, has had this same experience, for it has admitted migrations into this country, because the neighbouring peoples force them to emigrate into the country of those who are weaker; that is, the Scythians and Bastarnians and Sauromatians on the far side of the river often prevail to the extent that they actually cross over to attack those whom they have already driven out, and some of them remain there, either in the islands or in Thrace, whereas those on the other side are generally overpowered by the Illyrians. Be that as it may, although the Getae and Daci once attained to very great power, so that they actually could send forth an expedition of two hundred thousand men, they now find themselves reduced to as few as forty thousand, and they have come close to the point of yielding obedience to the Romans, though as yet they are not absolutely submissive, because of the hopes which they base on the Germans, who are enemies to the Romans…”


Finally, discussing the Peucini and the Sarmatians:


“Near the outlets of the Ister River is a great island called Peuce; and when the Bastarnians took possession of it they received the appellation of Peucini.  There are still other islands which are much smaller; some of these are farther inland than Peuce, while others are near the sea, for the river has seven mouths.  The largest of these mouths is what is called the Sacred Mouth, on  which one can sail inland a hundred and twenty stadia to Peuce…”

“Now the whole country that lies above the said seaboard between the Borysthenes and the Ister consists, first, of the Desert of the Getae; then the country of the Tyregetans; and after it the country of the Iazygian Sarmatians and that of the people called the Basileians and that of the Urgi, who in general are nomads, though a few are interested also in farming; these people, it is said, dwell also along the Ister, often on both sides. In the interior dwell, first, those Bastarnians whose country borders on that of the Tyregetans and Germans — they also being, one might say, of Germanic stock; and they are divided up into several tribes, for a part of them are called Atmoni and Sidoni, while those who took possession of Peuce, the island in the Ister, are called “Peucini,” whereas the “Roxolani” (the most northerly of them all) roam the plains between the Tanaïs and the Borysthenes.  In fact, the whole country towards the north from Germany as far as the Caspian Sea is, so far as we know it, a plain, but whether any people dwell beyond the Roxolani we do not know. Now the Roxolani, under the leadership of Tasius, carried on war even with the generals of Mithridates Eupator; they came for the purpose of assisting Palacus, the son of Scilurus, as his allies, and they had the reputation of being warlike; yet all barbarian races and light-armed peoples are weak when matched against a well-ordered and well-armed phalanx. At any rate, those people, about fifty thousand strong, could not hold out against the six thousand men arrayed with Diophantus, the general of Mithridates, and most of them were destroyed. They use helmets and corselets made of raw ox-hides, carry wicker shields, and have for weapons spears, bow, and sword; and most of the other barbarians are armed in this way.  As for the Nomads, their tents, made of felt, are fastened on the wagons in which they spend their lives; and round about the tents are the herds which afford the milk, cheese, and meat on which they live; and they follow the grazing herds, from time to time moving to other places that have grass, living only in the marsh-meadows about Lake Maeotis in winter, but also in the plains in summer.”


Then we have this from Book VII, Chapter 6 (note at the time, Byzantium was Byzantium, not yet Constantinople):


“And above Byzantium is situated the tribe of the Astae, in whose territory is a city Calybe, where Philip the son of Amyntas settled the most villainous people of his kingdom.”


And finally we turn to Pannonia in Book VII, Chapter 5 (this time with a picture):



“The remainder of Europe consists of the country which is between the Ister and the encircling sea, beginning at the recess of the Adriatic and extending as far as the Sacred Mouth of the Ister. In this country are Greece and the tribes of the Macedonians and of the Epeirotes, and all those tribes above them whose countries reach to the Ister and to the seas on either side, both the Adriatic and the Pontic — to the Adriatic, the Illyrian tribes, and to the other sea as far as the Propontis and the Hellespont, the Thracian tribes and whatever Scythian or Celtic tribes are intermingled with them. But I must make my beginning at the Ister, speaking of the parts that come next in order after the regions which I have already encompassed in my description. These are the parts that border on Italy, on the Alps, and on the counties of the Germans, Dacians, and Getans. This country also might be divided into two parts, for, in a way, the Illyrian, Paeonian, and Thracian mountains are parallel to the Ister, thus completing what is almost a straight line that reaches from the Adrias as far as the Pontus; and to the north of this line are the parts that are between the Ister and the mountains, whereas to the south are Greece and the barbarian country which borders thereon and extends as far as the mountainous country. Now the mountain called Haemus is near the Pontus; it is the largest and highest of all mountains in that part of the world, and cleaves Thrace almost in the centre. Polybius says that both seas are visible from the mountain, but this is untrue, for the distance to the Adrias is great and the things that obscure the view are many. On the other hand, almost the whole of Ardia is near the Adrias. But Paeonia is in the middle, and the whole of it too is high country. Paeonia is bounded on either side, first, towards the Thracian parts, by Rhodope, a mountain next in height to the Haemus, and secondly, on the other side, towards the north, by the Illyrian parts, both the country of the Autariatae and that of the Dardanians. So then, let me speak first of the Illyrian parts, which join the Ister and that part of the Alps which lies between Italy and Germany and begins at the lake which is near the country of the Vindelici, Rhaeti, and Toenii.

A part of this country was laid waste by the Dacians when they subdued the Boii and Taurisci, Celtic tribes under the rule of Critasirus. They alleged that the country was theirs, although it was separated from theirs by the River Parisus, which flows from the mountains to the Ister near the country of the Scordisci who are called Galatae [Galls], for these too lived intermingled with the Illyrian and the Thracian tribes. But though the Dacians destroyed the Boii and Taurisci, they often used the Scordisci as allies. The remainder of the country in question is held by the Pannonii as far as Segestica and the Ister, on the north and east, although their territory extends still farther in the other directions. The city Segestica, belonging to the Pannonians, is at the confluence of several rivers…”

“The tribes of the Pannonii are: the Breuci, the Andizetii, the Ditiones, the Peirustae, the Mazaei, and the Daesitiatae, whose leader is Bato, and also other small tribes of less significance which extend as far as Dalmatia and, as one goes south, almost as far as the land of the Ardiaei…  I was saying in my geographical circuit of Italy that the Istrians were the first people on the Illyrian seaboard; their country being a continuation of Italy and the country of the Carni; and it is for this reason that the present Roman rulers have advanced the boundary of Italy as far as Pola, an Istrian city.  Now this boundary is about eight hundred stadia from the recess, and the distance from the promontory in front of Pola to Ancona, if one keeps the Henetic country on the right, is the same.  And the entire distance along the coast of Istria is one thousand three hundred stadia.”

“Next in order comes the voyage of one thousand stadia along the coast of the country of the Iapodes; for the Iapodes are situated on the Albian Mountain, which is the last mountain of the Alps, is very lofty, and reaches down to the country of the Pannonians on one side and to the Adrias on the other.  They are indeed a war-mad people, but they have been utterly worn out by Augustus.  Their cities are Metulum, Arupini, Monetium, and Vendo.  Their lands are poor, the people living for the most part on spelt and millet.  Their armour is Celtic, and they are tattooed like the rest of the Illyrians and the Thracians.  After the voyage along the coast of the country of the Iapodes comes that along the coast of the country of the Liburni, the latter being five hundred stadia longer than the former; on this voyage is a river, which is navigable inland for merchant-vessels as far as the country of the Dalmatians, and also a Liburnian city, Scardo.”

“…After the Rhizonic Gulf comes the city of Lissus, and Acrolissus, and Epidamnus, founded by the Corcyraeans, which is now called Dyrrachium, like the peninsula on which it is situated. Then comes the Apsus River; and then the Aoüs, on which is situated Apollonia, an exceedingly well-governed city, founded by the Corinthians and the Corcyraeans, and ten stadia distant from the river and sixty from the sea… After Apollonia comes Bylliaca, and Oricum…”

“…and the Adrias begins.  Now the mouth is common to both, but the Ionian is different in that it is the name of the first part of this sea, whereas Adrias is the name of the inside part of the sea as far as the recess; at the present time, however, Adrias is also the name of the sea as a whole. According to Theopompus, the first name came from a man, a native of Issa, who once ruled over the region, whereas the Adrias was named after a river.” [compare the river Oder/Odra]

“…whereas the Little Scordisci lived on the far side of this river,and their territory bordered on that of the Triballi and the Mysi.   After the country of the Scordisci, along the Ister, comes that of the Triballi and the Mysi (whom I have mentioned before), and also the marshes of that part of what is called Little Scythia which is this side the Ister (these too I have mentioned).  These people, as also the Crobyzi…”


Now, read that last paragraph and the peoples it mentions and ask yourself, assuming first you had not read the above post, what stock do you think they are from? 

Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2014, All Rights Reserved

September 15, 2014

On the Veneti in Ptolemy’s Geography

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After Pliny the  Elder and Tacitus comes Ptolemy.  Here is what he has to say about the Venethi (we provide context from both the section on Germania and on Sarmatia).

Ptolemy’s ( 90 A.D. and 168 A.D.) Geography

This is from Book II, Chapter 10 (Germania):


On the geography of Germania we learn:

“The western boundary of Germany is the river Rhine, and its northern boundary is the Germanic Ocean, of the shore of which the following is a description… After the mouths of the Rhine river [you have the following rivers: Vidrus [?], Amisia [Ems], Visurgis [Weser?] and Albis [Elbe].”

Then we are told we come to the “Cimbrian peninsula”, i.e., Jutland (or Dennmark). At which point we get (going up and then back down) “the cape after the Albis [Elbe], the next cape, the next one, the northernmost, the first cape after the bend, the easternmost part of it, the next one below this one, a bend towards the east…”

and then “the mouths of the Chalusus river, the mouths of the Suevus river, the mouths of the Viadua river and the mouths of the Vistula river, the head of the river, the source which is to the west and is said to be towards the Albis [Elbe]“.

Now the interesting thing here is that we do not know which rivers are Chalusus, Suevus or Viadua (the latter two have each been identified as the Oder).  Vistula is, supposedly, the river Wisla (or Vistula).  Seems straightforward there…

Then we see who lives in this Germania:

“Those that inhabit Germany on the other side of the river Rhine, if we go towards the north, are the Bructeri minores and the Sygambri, below whom the Suevi Langobardi; then the Tencteri and the Incriones between the Rhine and the Abnobaei mountains; and then the Intuergi and the Vargiones and the Caritni, below whom the Vispi and the Desert of the Helvetii until those mountains we referred to as the Alps.

… the Bructeri up to the Amisia river … to the north the Cimbri; after the Saxons from the Chalusus river to the Suevian river the Farodini, then the Sidini up to the Viadua river, and after these the Rugiclei up to the Vistula river….

Of the people of the interior and those who live inland the most important are the Suevi Angili, who are to the east of the Langobardi extending towards the north and up to the central part of the Albis river, and the Suevi Semnones, whose boundaries beyond the Albis extend from the area we mentioned towards the east up to the Suevus river, and the Burguntae, who inhabit from there to the Vistula.

…Back below the Semnones the Silingae have their seat, and below the Burguntae the Lugi Omani, below whom the Lugi Diduni up to Mt. Asciburgius; and below the Silingae the Calucones and the Camavi up to Mt. Melibocus, from whom to the east near the Albis river and above them, below Mt. Asciburgius, the Corconti and the Lugi Buri up to the head of the Vistula river; and below them first the Sidones, then the Cotini, then the Visburgii above the Orcynius valley…

…There are three islands located above Germany at the mouths of the Albis, which are called Saxon…   Above the Cimbrian peninsula there are three other islands which are called the Alociae islands… East of the Cimbrian peninsula there are four islands called the Scandian islands, three of them smaller… but one of them very large and the most eastwards at the mouth of the river Vistula… It is properly called Scandia itself; and its western region is inhabited by the Chaedini, its eastern region by the Favonae and the Firaesi, its northern region by the Finni, its southern region by the Gutae (Gautae) and the Dauciones, and its central region by the Levoni.”

This is from Book III, Chapter V of Ptolemy’s Geography (Sarmatia):


We are first told about the geography of Sarmatia:

“European Sarmatia is terminated on the north by the Sarmatian ocean adjoining the Venedicus bay and by a part of the unknown land, a description of which is the following [refers to four rivers: Chronus, Rubonis, Turuntus and Chesinus [supposedly, Pregel, Memel, Duna and Neva.

The terminus of its seacoast is located on that parallel extending thru Thule … the terminus of Sarmatia, which extends southward thru the sources of the Tanais [Don] river…

It is terminated in the west by the Vistula river and by that part of Germania lying between its source and the Sarmatian mountains but not by the mountains themselves, the position of which has been indicated; on the south by Iazyges Metanastae then from the southern terminus of the Sarmatian mountains to the beginning of the Carpathian mountains … and by the following part of Dacia along that parallel up to the mouth of the Borysthenes [Dniepr] river, and the shore of the Pontus which is near the Carcinitus river [somewhere in the Crimea].”

The description of Sarmatia veers eastwards but then Ptolemy returns to who lives in Sarmatia:

“The Greater Venedae races inhabit Sarmatia along the entire Venedicus bay;

and above Dacia are the Peucini and the Basternae; and along the entire coast of Maeotis are the Iazyges and the Rhoxolani; more toward the interior from these are the Amaxobii and the Scythian Alani.

Lesser races inhabit Sarmatia near the Vistula river.

Below the Venedae are the Gythones, then the Finni, then the Sulones; below whom are the Phrungundiones; then the Avarini near the source of the Vistula river; below these are the Ombrones, then the Anartophracti, then the Burgiones, then the Arsietae, then the Saboci, then the Piengitae and the Biessi near the Carpathian mountains.

Among those we have named to the east:

below the Venedae are the Galindae, the Sudini, and the Stavani, extending as far as the Alauni; below these are the Igylliones, then the Coestoboci and the Transmontani extending as far as the Peuca mountains.

Back from the Ocean, near the Venedicus bay, the Veltae dwell, above whom are the Ossi; then more toward the north the Carbones and toward the east are the Careotae and the Sali; below whom are the Gelones, the Hippopodes and the Melanchlaeni; below these are the Agathyrsi; then the Aorsi and the Pagyritae; then the Savari and the Borusci to the Ripaeos mountains; then the Acibi and the Nasci; below whom are the Vibiones and the Idrae; and below the Vibiones bordering on the Alauni are the Sturni, and between the Alauni and the Amaxobii are the Cariones and the Sargati; near the bend of the Tanis river are the Ophlones and then the Tanaitae; below whom are the Osili extending as far as Rhoxolanis; between the Amaxobii and the Rhoxolani are the Rheucanali and the Exobygitae; and between the Peucini and the Basternae are the Carpiani, above whom are the Gevini, then the Bodini; between the Basternae and the Rhoxolani are the Chuni, and below the mountains named from these are the Amadoci and the Navari.

Near Lake Byce dwell the Toreccadae, and near Achilles Cursus the Tauroscythae; below the Basternae near Dacia are the Tigri and below these are the Tyrangitae. Below the bend of the Tanais…”

It is clear from this that the key word is “below”.

Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2014, All Rights Reserved

September 13, 2014

On the Veneti in Tacitus’ Germania

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Sarmatian Veneti in 
Tacitus’ Germania (about 98 A.D.)

The relevant parts of Tacitus’ account begin with the discussion of several tribes, some of whom are clearly described by the author as non-Germanic (chapter 43).  Tacitus writes:

“Nor less powerful are the several people beyond them [Nariscans, Marcomanians and Quadians]; namely, the Marsignians, the Gothinians (?), the Osians and the Burians, who altogether enclose/follow the Marcomanians and Quadians behind. Of those, the Marsignians and the Burians in speech and dress resemble the Suevians. From the Gallic language spoken by the Gothinians, and from that of Pannonia by the Osians, it is manifest that neither of these people are Germans; as it is also from their bearing to pay tribute. Upon them as upon aliens their tribute is imposed, partly by the Sarmatians, partly by the Quadians. The Gothinians, to heighten their disgrace, are forced to labor in the iron mines. By all these several nations but little level country is possessed: they are seated amongst forests, and upon the ridges and declivities of mountains. For, Suevia is parted by a continual ridge of mountains; beyond which, live many distinct [other] nations. Of these the Lygians are most numerous and extensive, and spread into several communities. It will suffice to mention the most puissant; even the Arians (?), Helvicones, Manimians; Elysians and Naharvalians.”

(Retro Marsigni, Cotini, Osi, Buri terga Marcomanorum Quadorumque claudunt. E quibus Marsigni et Buri sermone cultuque Suevos referunt: Cotinos Gallica, Osos Pannonica lingua coarguit non esse Germanos, et quod tributa patiuntur.  Partem tributorum Sarmatae, partem Quadi ut alienigenis imponunt: Cotini, quo magis pudeat, et ferrum effodiunt. Omnesque hi populi pauca campestrium, ceterum saltus et vertices montium iugumque insederunt. Dirimit enim scinditque Sueviam continuum montium iugum, ultra quod plurimae gentes agunt, ex quibus latissime patet Lygiorum nomen in plures civitates diffusum. Valentissimas nominasse sufficiet, Harios, Helveconas, Manimos, Helisios, Nahanarvalos.)

Beyond these Lygians, Tacitus then lists (chapter 44) the Gothones and, “immediately adjoining” them, the Rugians and Lemovians “upon the coast of the ocean.” Then the Suiones/Suionas, “situated in the ocean itself,” and the bordering Sitones/Sitonum.  Here Tacitus also mentions the Aestii (chapter 45).

So now, seemingly going from the Southwest to the Northeast we come, in chapter 46 of Germaniae, to the end of Suevia:

“Here Suevia ends. I do not know whether to class the tribes of the Peucini, Venedi, and Fenni with the Germans or with the Sarmatians. The Peucini, however, who are sometimes called Bastarnae, are like Germans in their language, manner of life, and mode of settlement and habitation. Squalor is universal among them and their nobles are indolent. Mixed marriages are giving them something of the repulsive appearance of the Sarmatians.”*

(Hic Sueviae finis. Peucinorum Venedorum que et Fennorum nationes Germanis an Sarmatis adscribam dubito, quamquam Peucini, quos quidam Bastarnas vocant, sermone, cultu, sede ac domiciliis ut Germani agunt. Sordes omnium ac torpor procerum; conubiis mixtis nonnihil in Sarmatarum habitum foedantur.)


“The Venedi have adopted many Sarmatian habits; for their plundering forays take them over all the wooded and mountainous highlands that lie between the Peucini and the Fenni. Nevertheless, they are on the whole to be classed as Germans; for they have settled homes, carry shields, and are fond of traveling – and traveling fast – on foot, differing in all these respects from the Sarmatians, who live in wagons or on horseback.”*

(Venedi multum ex moribus traxerunt; nam quidquid inter Peucinos Fennosque silvarum ac montium erigitur latrociniis pererrant. Hi tamen inter Germanos potius referuntur, quia et domos figunt et scuta gestant et pedum usu ac pernicitate gaudent: quae omnia diversa Sarmatis sunt in plaustro equoque viventibus.)

Then some more on the Fenni (Finns (?)):

“The Fenni are astonishingly savage and disgustingly poor. They have no proper weapons, no horses, no homes. they eat wild herbs, dress in skins, and sleep on the ground…”

(Fennis mira feritas, foeda paupertas: non arma, non equi, non penates; victui herba, vestitui pelles, cubile humus…)

So where does this all leave us so far?

First, it is apparent that Germaniae was a geographical entity in the eyes of the Romans that encompassed groups other than “Germans” sensu stricto.

Second, it is interesting to note that Tacitus has difficulties deciding whether any of the peoples relevant to our discussions that is the Veneti or peoples who live next to them should be considered Germans or Sarmatians (these being the two categories that he is willing to entertain for them).  Importantly, he also takes us through his ethnic classification thinking process.

He notes that, as to the Peucini, they should be viewed probably as Germans on account of their language, way of life but too on account of their squalor and indolence (or at least of that of their leadership).  Let’s leave out the typical German squalor and indolence aside.  We are told that one of the distinguishing characteristic here was:

1) language – presumably Germanic was different from Sarmatian;

But too, the “way of life”.  What does Tacitus think is the German vs Sarmatian way of life? We learn from his description of the Veneti that the following factors were apparently relevant here:

2) settled homes (Germans) vs nomadic life style (Sarmatians);

3) movement on foot (Germans) vs movement on horse or wagons (Sarmatians);

4) limited movement (Germans) vs wide plundering forays (Sarmatians); (this might be a function of item 2 – traveling on foot vs traveling horseback – horseback = wider range = more plundering)  (note that this is written before the Voelkerwanderung);

5) defensive armor/shields (Germans) vs no shields (?) (Sarmatians);

It would seem that, as to the Veneti, Tacitus was willing to qualify them as German because they met the German criteria at items 2, 3 and 5; on the other hand, their forays seem to have suggested to him that they were more Sarmatians with respect to item 4.  Notice he said nothing about 1 either.

This is in contrast to the Peucini who are Germans, in Tacitus’ book, on account of 1 as well as, maybe (he does not explicitly say), 2-5.

The Fenni are not discussed in a Germanic-Sarmatian taxonomy and we leave them to their nuts and berries.

So it seems that the Veneti, whoever they were, were Germanic more by custom than by ethnicity.

Third, we learn roughly where the Veneti fall in this description (end of the world or close to it) and, then more specifically, that the Veneti make their “plundering forays… over all the wooded and mountainous highlands that lie between the Peucini and the Fenni” suggesting that that is also where the Veneti “lie” i.e., between the Peucini and the Fenni.  Now if the Fenni are Finns then this might suggest that the Veneti are between the Finns and the Peucini.  We do not know who the Peucini were but, a reasonable guess would be that they lived south of the Finns as the Finns are almost the last people listed (going South to North).  Now, the Aestii, the Suitones and Sitones were mentioned first which, if Aestii means Estonians and if Estonians were where they are now and if being listed “first” (even if in a different chapter) means that you come “first” when seen from the South or West, then this would put the Peucini and the Veneti either North or East of them (i.e., of the Aestii) – somewhere around Novgorod or Petersburg of today (in fact, in the Estonian and Finnish languages, Russian is referred to as Venedi).

Fourth, Tacitus never mentions the Vandals.  They do not exist as a tribe or a confederation of tribes in his list.  The Goths do.  The Langobards do.  The Suevi (hmmmm…) do.  But not the Vandals.  It seems that as of 98 A.D., at least, there were no Vandals.*

Of course, none of this proves a Slav-Veneti link conclusively.  One might legitimately ask the question too whether, even if they were at the mouth of the Vistula, could the Veneti just have been the ancient Prussians/Lithuanians/Latvians or some variation thereof?

* Tacitus does mention an ancient descendant of the Germanic God Tuisco whose name was Vandilij and that some nation may have corresponded to that name but he does not then list this god or people as an existing tribe: “In their ancient songs, their only way of remembering or recording the past they celebrate an earth-born god Tuisco, and his son Mannus, as the origin of their race, as their founders. To Mannus they assign three sons, from whose names, they say, the coast tribes are called Ingaevones; those of the interior, Herminones; all the rest, Istaevones. Some, with the freedom of conjecture permitted by antiquity, assert that the god had several descendants, and the nation several appellations, as Marsi, Gambrivii, Suevi, Vandilij, and that these are nine old names.”

* note – the same “Veneti” passage has been translated in slightly different ways.  The above translation is Harold Mattingly’s.  That was a 1948 translation later used by Penguin in its Germania.  We include here other translations.

The same from Thomas Gordon’s 18th century translation:

“Whether amongst the Sarmatians or the Germans I ought to account the Peucinians, the Venedians, and the Fennians, is what I cannot determine; though the Peucinians, whom some call Basstarnians, speak the same language with the Germans, use the same attire, build like them, and live like them, in that dirtiness and sloth so common to all. Somewhat they are corrupted into the fashion of the Sarmatians by the inter-marriages of the principal sort with that nation: from whence [the Sarmatians] the Venedians have derived very many of their customs and a great resemblance. For they are continually traversing and infesting with robberies all the forests and mountains lying between the Peucinians and Fennians. Yet they are rather reckoned amongst the Germans, for that they have fixed houses, and carry shields, and prefer travelling on foot, and excel in swiftness.”


The same from the Church/Brodribb translation:

“As to the tribes of the Peucini, Veneti, and Fenni I am in doubt whether I should class them with the Germans or the Sarmatæ, although indeed the Peucini called by some Bastarnæ, are like Germans in their language, mode of life, and in the permanence of their settlements. They all live in filth and sloth, and by the intermarriages of the chiefs they are becoming in some degree debased into a resemblance to the Sarmatæ. The Veneti have borrowed largely from the Sarmatian character; in their plundering expeditions they roam over the whole extent of forest and mountain between the Peucini and Fenni. They are however to be rather referred to the German race, for they have fixed habitations carry shields, and delight in strength and fleetness of foot, thus presenting a complete contrast to the Sarmatæ, who live in waggons and on horseback.”

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September 6, 2014

On the Veneti in Pliny (the Elder)’s Natural History

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The “Sarmatian” Venethi were already known to the ancient authors.  Here are a few citations from Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historiae, written about 77-79 A.D.) and Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus’ De Origine et situ Germanorum (Germania, written about 98 A.D.) that most are already aware of but that should serve as the beginning of any discussion on the topic.  We present the relevant sections of these two works.

Sarmatian Venethi in Pliny The Elder’s Natural History (about 77-79 A.D.)

In Book IV (96-97) of his Natural History, Pliny writes:

Incipit deinde clarior aperiri fama ab gente Inguaeonum, quae est prima in Germania. mons Saevo ibi, inmensus nec Ripaeis iugis minor, inmanem ad Cimbrorum usque promunturium efficit sinum, qui Codanus vocatur, refertus insulis, quarum clarissima est Scatinavia, inconpertae magnitudinis, portionem tantum eius, quod notum sit, Hillevionum gente quingentis incolente pagis: quare alterum orbem terrarum eam appellant. nec minor est opinione Aeningia.

(Leaving these however, we come to the nation of the Ingævones, the first in Germany; at which we begin to have some information upon which more implicit reliance can be placed. In their country is an immense mountain called Sevo, not less than those of the Riphæan range, and which forms an immense gulf along the shore as far as the Promontory of the Cimbri. This gulf, which has the name of the ‘Codanian,’ is filled with islands; the most famous among which is Scandinavia, of a magnitude as yet unascertained: the only portion of it at all known is inhabited by the nation of the Hilleviones, who dwell in 500 villages, and call it a second world: it is generally supposed that the island of Eningia is of not less magnitude.) 

(translation after John Bostock & H.T. Riley (1855) from

 “quidam haec habitari ad Vistlam usque fluvium a Sarmatis, Venedis, Sciris, Hirris tradunt, sinum Cylipenum vocari et in ostio eius insulam Latrim, mox alterum sinum Lagnum, conterminum Cimbris. promunturium Cimbrorum excurrens in maria longe paeninsulam efficit, quae Tastris appellatur. XXIII inde insulae Romanis armis cognitae. earum nobilissimae Burcana, Fabaria nostris dicta a frugis multitudine sponte provenientis, item Glaesaria a sucino militiae appellata, barbaris Austeravia, praeterque Actania.

(Some writers state that these regions, as far as the river Vistula, are inhabited by the Sarmati, the Venedi, the Sciri, and the Hirri, and that there is a gulf there known by the name of Cylipenus, at the mouth of which is the island of Latris, after which comes another gulf, that of Lagnus, which borders on the Cimbri. The Cimbrian Promontory, running out into the sea for a great distance, forms a peninsula which bears the name of Cartris. Passing this coast, there are three and twenty islands which have been made known by the Roman arms: the most famous of which is Burcana, called by our people Fabaria, from the resemblance borne by a fruit which grows there spontaneously. There are those also called Glæsaria by our soldiers, from their amber; but by the barbarians they are known as Austeravia and Actania.)

Further, in Book IV he writes some passages about the Germanic tribes (98-99):

Toto autem mari ad Scaldim usque fluvium Germaniae accolunt gentes, haud explicabili mensura: tam inmodica prodentium discordia est. Graeci et quidam nostri |XXV| oram Germaniae tradiderunt, Agrippa cum Raetia et Norico longitudinem DCXXXVI, latitudinem CCXLVIII,” 

(The whole of the shores of this sea as far as the Scaldis, a river of Germany, is inhabited by nations, the dimensions of whose respective territories it is quite impossible to state, so immensely do the authors differ who have touched upon this subject. The Greek writers and some of our own countrymen have stated the coast of Germany to be 2500 miles in extent, while Agrippa, comprising Rhætia and Noricum in his estimate, makes the length to be 686 miles, and the breadth 148.)

“Raetiae prope unius maiore latitudine, sane circa excessum eius subactae; nam Germania multis postea annis nec tota percognita est.

(The breadth of Rhætia alone however very nearly exceeds that number of miles, and indeed we ought to state that it was only subjugated at about the period of the death of that general; while as for Germany, the whole of it was not thoroughly known to us for many years after his time.)

“si coniectare permittitur, haut multum ora deerit Graecorum opinioni et longitudini ab Agrippa proditae.” 

(If I may be allowed to form a conjecture, the margin of the coast will be found to be not far short of the estimate of the Greek writers, while the distance in a straight line will nearly correspond with that mentioned by Agrippa.)

“Germanorum genera quinque: Vandili, quorum pars Burgodiones, Varinnae, Charini, Gutones. alterum genus Inguaeones, quorum pars Cimbri, Teutoni ac Chaucorum gentes.”  

(There are five German races; the Vandili, parts of whom are the Burgundiones, the Varini, the Carini, and the Gutones: the Ingævones, forming a second race, a portion of whom are the Cimbri, the Teutoni, and the tribes of the Chauci.) 

Then he continues Book IV with the following (100-101):

“proximi autem Rheno Istuaeones, quorum . . . . . mediterranei Hermiones, quorum Suebi, Hermunduri, Chatti, Cherusci. quinta pars Peucini, Basternae, supra dictis contermini Dacis.”

(The Istævones, who join up to the Rhine, and to whom the Cimbri belong, are the third race; while the Hermiones, forming a fourth, dwell in the interior, and include the Suevi, the Hermunduri, the Chatti, and the Cherusci: the fifth race is that of the Peucini, who are also the Basternæ, adjoining the Daci previously mentioned.) 

“amnes clari in oceanum defluunt Guthalus, Visculus sive Vistla, Albis, Visurgis, Amisis, Rhenus, Mosa. introrsus vero nullo inferius nobilitate Hercynium iugum praetenditur.”

(The more famous rivers that flow into the ocean are the Guttalus, the Vistillus or Vistula, the Albis, the Visurgis, the Amisius, the Rhine, and the Mosa. In the interior is the long extent of the Hercynian range, which in grandeur is inferior to none.)

“in Rheno autem ipso, prope C in longitudinem, nobilissima Batavorum insula et Cannenefatium et aliae Frisiorum, Chaucorum, Frisiavonum, Sturiorum, Marsaciorum, quae sternuntur inter Helinium ac Flevum. ita appellantur ostia, in quae effusus Rhenus a septentrione in lacus, ab occidente in amnem Mosam se spargit, medio inter haec ore modicum nomini suo custodiens alveum.”

(In the Rhine itself, nearly 100 miles in length, is the most famous island of the Batavi and the Canninefates, as also other islands of the Frisii, the Chauci, the Frisiabones, the Sturii, and the Marsacii, which lie between Helium and Flevum. These are the names of the mouths into which the Rhine divides itself, discharging its waters on the north into the lakes there, and on the west into the river Mosa. At the middle mouth which lies between these two, the river, having but a very small channel, preserves its own name.)

So, we learn not only about the Venethi here for the first time in Roman writings (but see Strabo) but also a little bit about Roman sense of geography (e.g., note the river Vistula, Vistla, Wisla; note also that, other than Guthalus (we think Oder/Odra) the rivers here are listed East to West).

BTW we have included the references to Germanic tribes mostly because the section is small enough all together that such a reference, we thought, could be useful without being too distracting.  WE do not repeat that for the next work concentrating only on the Venethi and those specific Germanic and other tribes that lived near them.

Other Venethi in the “Natural History”

As a post scriptum we ought to mention that Pliny also wrote about the non-Sarmatian Veneti.  Here are a few examples:

Gallic Veneti (Galia Lugdunensis) (note these “Venethi” are written by Pliny as Veneti whereas the Sarmatian ones are written as the Venedi) (Natural History, Book IV, 107):

Lugdunensis Gallia habet Lexovios, Veliocasses, Caletos, Venetos, Abrincatuos, Ossismos, flumen clarum Ligerem, sed paeninsulam spectatiorem excurrentem in oceanum a fine Ossismorum circuituDCXXV, cervice in latitudinem CXXV. ultra eum Namnetes, intus autem Aedui foederati, Carnuteni foederati, Boi, Senones, Aulerci qui cognominantur Eburovices et qui Cenomani, Meldi liberi, Parisi, Tricasses, Andecavi, Viducasses, Bodiocasses, Venelli, Coriosvelites, Diablinti, Riedones, Turones, Atesui, Segusiavi liberi, in quorum agro colonia Lugudunum.

(That part of Gaul which is known as Lugdunensis contains the Lexovii, the Vellocasses, the Galeti, the Veneti, the Abrincatui, the Ossismi, and the celebrated river Ligeris, as also a most remarkable peninsula, which extends into the ocean at the extremity of the territory of the Ossismi, the circumference of which is 625 miles, and its breadth at the neck 125. Beyond this are the Nannetes, and in the interior are the Ædui, a federal people, the Carnuti, a federal people, the Boii, the Senones, the Aulerci, both those surnamed Eburovices and those called Cenomanni, the Meldi, a free people, the Parisii, the Tricasses, the An- decavi, the Viducasses, the Bodiocasses, the Venelli, the Cariosvelites, the Diablinti, the Rhedones, the Turones, the Atesui, and the Secusiani, a free people, in whose territory is the colony of Lugdunum.)

Gallic Veneti (Galia Aquitanica) (Natural History, Book IV, 109):

Pictonibus iuncti autem Bituriges liberi qui Cubi appellantur, dein Lemovices, Arverni liberi, Vellavi liberi, Gabales. rursus Narbonensi provinciae contermini Ruteni, Cadurci, Nitiobroges Tarneque amne discreti a Tolosanis Petrocori.  Maria circa oram ad Rhenum septentrionalis oceanus, inter Rhenum et Sequanam Britannicus, inter id et Pyrenaeum Gallicus. insulae conplures Venestorum et quae Veneticae appellantur et in Aquitanico sinu Uliaros.

(Again, adjoining the province of Narbonensis are the Ruteni, the Cadurci, the Nitiobriges, and the Petrocori, separated by the river Tarnis from the Tolosani. The seas around the coast are the Northern Ocean, flowing up to the mouth of the Rhine, the Britannic Ocean between the Rhine and the Sequana, and, between it and the Pyrenees, the Gallic Ocean. There are many islands belonging to the Veneti, which bear the name of “Veneticæ,” as also in the Aquitanic Gulf, that of Uliarus).

Paphlagonian Veneti (Natural History, Book VI, 5):

ultra quem gens Paphlagonia, quam Pylaemeniam aliqui dixerunt, inclusam a tergo Galatia, oppidum Mastya Milesiorum, dein Cromna, quo loco Enetos adicit Nepos Cornelius, a quibus in Italia ortos cognomines eorum Venetos credi debere putat, Sesamon oppidum, quod nunc Amastris, mons Cytorus, a Tio LXIII p., oppida Cimolis, Stephane, amnis Parthenius.”

(Beyond this river [the river Billis] begins the nation of Paphlagonia, by some writers called Pylæmenia; it is closed in behind by the country of Galatia. In it are Mastya, a town founded by the Milesians, and then Cromna, at which spot Cornelius Nepos also places the Heneti, from whom he would have us believe that the Veneti of Italy, who have a similar name, are descended. The city also of Sesamon, now called Amastris, Mount Cytorus, distant sixty-three miles from Tium, the towns of Cimolis and Stephane, and the river Parthenius.)

According to Bostock & Riley:

“Paphlagonia was bounded by Bithynia on the west, and by Pontus on the east, being separated from the last by the river Halys; on the south it was divided by the chain of Mount Olympus from Phrygia in the earlier times, from Galatia at a later period; and on the north it bordered on the Euxine.. Strabo also, in B. xii., says that these people afterwards established themselves in Thrace, and that gradually moving to the west, they finally settled in the Italian Venetia, which from them took its name. But in his Fourth Book he says that the Veneti of Italy owe their origin to the Gallic Veneti, who came from the neighbourhood known as the modern Vannes.”

Incidentally, for our readers Paphlagonia will be the site of Viking Rus raids in the 9th century.

Finally, Pliny, of course, mentions the “actual” Venetia (Venice) a number of times (e.g., Natural History, Book VI, 218):

Septima divisio ab altera Caspii maris ora incipit, vadit super Callatim, Bosporum, Borysthenen, Tomos, Thraciae aversa, Triballos, Illyrici reliqua, Hadriaticum mare, Aquileiam, Altinum, Venetiam, Vicetiam, Patavium, Veronam, Cremonam, Ravennam, Anconam, Picenum, Marsos, Paelignos, Sabinos, Umbriam, Ariminum, Bononiam, Placentiam, Mediolanum omniaque ab Appennino, transque Alpis Galliam Aquitanicam, Viennam, Pyrenaeum, Celtiberiam. umbilico XXXV pedum umbraeXXXVI, ut tamen in parte Venetiae exaequatur umbra gnomoni. amplissima diei spatia horarum aequinoctialiumXV et quintarum partium horae trium.

(The seventh division begins on the other side of the Caspian Sea, and the line runs above Callatis, and through the Bosporus, the Borysthenes, Tomi, the back part of Thrace, the Triballi, the remainder of Illyricum, the Adriatic Sea, Aquileia, Altinum, Venetia, Vicetia, Patavium, Verona, Cremona, Ravenna, Ancona, Picenum, the Marsi, the Peligni, the Sabini, Umbria, Ariminum, Bononia, Placentia, Mediolanum, all the districts at the foot of the Apennines, and, beyond the Alps, Gallia Aquitanica, Vienna, the Pyrenæan range, and Celtiberia. A gnomon thirty-five feet in length here throws a shadow of thirty-six feet, except in some parts of Venetia, where the shadow just equals the length of the gnomon; the longest day is fifteen equinoctial hours, plus three-fifths of an hour.)

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September 5, 2014

Origins of Northern Slavs – the later Polish Chronicles (1200s-1300s)

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Polish Chronicles – the Kadlubek Chronicle

In the Polish corner, we have the Master Wincenty (aka “Kadlubek”) Chronicle (the Kadlubek Chronicle) written between 1190 and 1208, which starts off the deep end discussing Poles in deep antiquity and just goes deeper into the rabbit hole.  Either Kadlubek was, in the “tradition” of the then German Chroniclers (who tried to connect the Carolingian and then German empire to the legacies of Rome (Holy Roman Empire, etc.)), trying to ennoble the new Polish nation or he was reading a lot about the Venethi (or both).  In any event, what he writes is difficult to take seriously but let us mention some of it.

Mater Wincenty Kadlubek with annotations

Master Wincenty Kadlubek with annotations – these are facsimiles of different manuscript beginnings as per MPH (Monumenta Poloniae Historica) which followed MGH on this

Although it’s not very clear from his writing, it appears that, according to Kadlubek, the Poles in trays past first fought the Danes and their King Canute (who, incidentally, actually was Polish via his the mother).  Then we are told that “we” split the world with the Galls (taking most of the country from the borders of Persia to the borders of Bulgaria and those of Carinthia (in today’s Austria). That after many a fight with the Romans, “we” selected as a prince a man named Gracchus.  We hear that the Galls then fought the Pannonians and once they defeated them then also fought “this tribe” – by which he, again, seems to mean Slavs or Poles who were, according to Kadlukek, neighbors of the Pannonians.  Later we hear that upon “returning from Pannonia” (presumably from the campaign against the Galls) the leader Grakh (Gracchus?)* persuades others to elect him king.

Krak faces a dragon and, wisely, has his sons fight the beast.  Unfortunately, one of them is able to defeat the monster (this is the Cracow dragon) but then falls to the jealousy of his brother (Krak II) – Cain and Able style.   Consequently, once that comes out, Krak II can’t really stay on the throne.

Thankfully, Krak (the first) also had a daughter who was named Wanda and whose kingdom, we are told, was centered on the river Wandal (which river was so named after her for that same reason, i.e., that it was running through Wanda’s kingdom) (this is the Vistula).  This is the first recorded asserted connection of Poles to Vandals,** however, incredible.  The reference is to the river Vistula, well known to the ancients as Vistla (or similar) which sits the city of Cracow (Gracchovia or Caraucas/Caraucis/Carantas/Carancia/Carentia (anyone recall Caracas, the capital of Venezuela?), depending on how you read it elsewhere in the text).

Then Kadlubek discusses Poles fighting against Alexander the Great (in Poland although perhaps also in Greece since Cracow is discussed here as Corinth (see above names for it) – which leads to fascinating thoughts on Lech & Czech – see later post on that), Julius Caesar (defeated three times) and Crassus (“in the country of the Parthians”).***

Specifically, we learn that Alexander was defeated by Leszek (or Lech) I who wisely had the Polish soldiers put on Macedonian garb and thereby tricked the Macedonians (Leszek = sly).

Leszek II, who was not, it seems, his descendant, was the next ruler – this one named Leszek (again, sly) because he was able to win a race for the crown of the Poles by defeating others’ tricks and coming in first in the race.

Leszek II had a son Leszek III who appears to have eventually allied with Ceasar and married his sister Julia (plus got Bavaria as dowry from Ceasar; accordingly, of course, BMW = made in Poland).

Leszek III had a son named Pompiliusz I and Pompiliusz I had Pompiliusz II (in effect, Popiel) who killed his uncles (at the inspiration of his wife) and who was replaced by Piast‘s son Ziemowit, as in the Gallus Anonymous Chronicle (this the two chronicles are connected).

Thus, we see that Kadlubek says little to nothing of the origin of the Poles or Slavs.  He refers to Poles variously as Poles or Lechites (no previous Polish source has) though he does not mention Lech as a founder of the nation – his Lech/Leszek is one of three of the name and is not a father of the nation type of a figure – just the first ruler.  He  places them all over the ancient world in various fights and struggles but provides no trek story or other origin explanations.  We note here that his references to Pannonia are not assertions of Slav or Polish origin being there – he never says that at all (e.g., note that Krak returns from an apparent expedition to Pannonia but Kadlubek does not claim that Krak (or any of his people) comes from Pannonia (or from anywhere else)).  He also does not mention either brother Czech or brother Rus.

Polish Chronicles – the Dzierzwa (Mierzwa) Chronicle

The Dzierzwa (or Mierzwa) Chronicle (Miersuae Chronicon) of the early 14h century paints an even more convoluted picture.

Dzierzwa/Mierzwa with annotations

Dzierzwa/Mierzwa with annotations – again, with beginnings of different manuscripts included

For one, it goes the extra mile and derives the Poles from Japheth via Jawan/Ivan, Philir, Alan, Anchises,  Eneas, Asthanius, Numa Pamphilius, Rea-Silisius, Alan (II) who, upon entering Europe, bore Negnon.  Got that?  Great – there is more.  Negnon, not to be outdone, had four sons, the first one being Wandalus (Vandalus) (who lived in the days of Josephus – yes, that Josephus).  Wandalus gave his name to the river Wisla/Vistla which is known as Wanda (see the Wanda story already present in the Kadlubek Chronicle) and to a mountain of the same name.  Interestingly, we discover that Wandalus’ offspring got a quarter of Europe, including: Russia, Poland, Pomerania, Sweden, Kaszubia, Saxony, Bohemia, Moravia, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Sklavonia/Dalmatia, Croatia, Pannonia, Bulgaria and many others.  We also find out that Poles never (since Wandalus at least) wanted to have any kings of their own (all the way up to King Assuer the husband of Esther).

Thereafter, follows a similar story as that we already know of from the Kadlubek Chronicle, starting with King Gracchus (Krak I) who fought against the Galls (and fought the dragon or, more specifically, the Olophagus – Alleater).  Then came Krak II who killed his brother and thereafter Wanda who was so named by virtue of being from the people of Vandal, i.e., (we are told) Poles or Lechites or, in the alternative, from the river of the Vandals (i.e., Vistula).  This latter is a variation on Kadlubek since, according to him, the river was named after Wanda – not the other way around.

Thereafter, Poles fought against Alexander the Great who came from Pannonia (but again, it was Alexander coming from Pannonia, not the Poles themselves) and then we get three stories of the three Lesteks/Leszeks/Lechs, the two Pompiliuszs/Popiels and then Piast and Ziemowit.  Again, however, there is no ur-Vater Lech – just the three Lechs/Leszeks.

Consequently, other than the Japhetian pedigree, the Dzierzwa Chronicle does not add much beyond Kadlubek.

Polish Chronicles – the Greater Poland Chronicles


Boguchwal & Pasek versions

We also have the Greater Poland Chronicles (Kroniki Wielkopolskie) (GPCs) written between  1245-1270 although dates 1283 and 1384 have also been given.

There are at least two versions of these chronicles which suggests that the GPCs were initially written around the late 13th century and then upgraded to a bigger &, of course, better version in the late 14th century (in the process incorporating, perhaps, some ideas from the Dzierzwa Chronicle).

The GPCs take up where Kadlubek left off and take the confusion one step further connecting the confusion to the writings of Marcus Iunianus Iustinus (Justin to his friends) and to Isidore of Seville.

As a side note, the earlier portions of the GPCs have initially been called the Chronicle of Bishop Boguchwal and Godyslaw Pasek.  Boguchwal was a Poznan Bishop (and earlier a cantor in Cracow) who, according to XVIIIth century learning (Sommersberg) actually wrote the chronicle.  Godyslaw Pasek was a Poznan priest who continued Boguchwal’s Chronicle, hence both share authorship .  CBP was written probably between 1245-1270.


Jan from Czarnkow versions

Jan from Czarnkow is a 14th Century source and may also have been involved in the production of the GPCs.  He was a chancellor in the Schwerin Bishopric (strangely working for a Polish bishop of Schwerin).  Later he was an archdeacon at the Gniezno archbishopric and was involved in the founding of the Cracow (Jagiellonian) University.  His intrigues (favoring the Pomeranian duke Casimir IV of Slupsk over the French/Hungarian dynasty of Angevins) after the death of Casimir the III resulted in his being banished from the country.  However, he returned later to reclaim the Gniezno archdeacon position.   Whether he wrote the earlier parts of the GPCs is debatable but what is relatively certain is that he wrote the portions of the GPCs about the years 1370-1384 (criticizing the Angevin kings of Poland).

So what do the GPCs tell us?

Now these chronicles, for the first time, give a place for the origin of the Slavs and it is, surprise, surprise, Pannonia.  This is actually, of course, not surprising because Pannonia was viewed at the time as the original Heimat of a lot of Indoeuropean people on the theory (repeated, with respect to the Slavs, in the GPC) that that was the place where the children (sons, really, but we are trying to be inclusive here) of Japheth arrived from the Middle East to then spread themselves (or their seed) all over Europe.  Since the GPCs continue the theme of “us too” being the children of Japheth, they point to Pannonia.

The genealogy, however, that they give is a little bit different than Dzierzwa’s.  In particular, after Japheth (and may be others), came Janus (or Jan, brother to Kus, the latter being the forefather, according to the chronicle, of the Germans), then Nemrod, then Pan (hence Pannonia) and then, for the first time in Polish historiography, Lech, Czech & Rus.

Perhaps the most intresting fun fact of the day provided by the GPCs is the assertion that “there are not in the world other peoples who are as friendly to one another as the Niemcy (Germans) and the Slavs.” The chronicler goes to say that it was the Latins (Romans) who named one group Deutsch and another Slav “or Germani [Germans], that is brothers.”  Here the Latin word German is being used by the chronicler to describe the Teutonics and the Slavs together, a rather difficult notion to accept in light of… facts… or is it?  (Another fun fact of the day is the GPCs assertion that Hungarians are too Slavs – which, at least, linguistically, is not true).

In any event, after discussing Krak (but note here, for the first time preceded by Lech), we are told by the chronicler that his daughter Wanda confronted (as in the above chronicles of Kadlubek and Dzierzwa) an Alemanni prince who tried to take her country and/or her and was riding so high in popularity ratings that even Vistula was named after her (i.e., as the river Wandal/Vandalus)  (this is consistent with Kadlubek; Dzierzwa includes a version whereby Wanda is named after the river) and the whole nation’s name was changed to Vandals (from the prior designation of Lechites).  We also get at least two Lestkos, with one Pompiliusz and then move on to Piast and Ziemowit from whom the road to Mieszko is quick and easy. (As a final fun fact, the GPCs derive the name Wanda from wedzic/wedka, i.e., today’s fishing rod but yesterday’s hook/bend(ing) (recall the English wend) in that she hooked everyone with her radiant personality (or other attributes).  


So, we get Lech in the GPC as the first ruler.  And in all of these chronicles we get (in the GPCs after Lech) Krak(s)/Wanda, then Leszeks (two or three) then Piast.

Other than that, and the occasional mention of Pannonia we do no learn much from these chronicles.  One might surmise that if it were not Pannonia, it would have, nonetheless been some other part of southern Europe given the need of the authors to derive the Slavs from the hometown of Japheth.  This was not unique to medieval authors as evidenced in the, e.g., Fraenkische Voelkertaffel.

* This is the first Polish reference to King Krak of Cracow who seems to be much like the Czech Krok from both the Cosmas Chronicle and the Dalimil Chonicle (minus two daughters, plus two sons and minus the dragon). We will tell the story of both King Krak and King Krok later in another post.  Incidentally, Gracchus seems to be a reference to a Roman tribune and statesman from the 2nd century B.C.

But maybe not.  Maybe, he is the much more temporarily and geographically close Chrocus, who was said by Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks to be the King of the (Germanic) Alamanni and to have overrun all of the Gauls in the time of the Emperors Valerian and Gallienus (253-268)?  At least that is what Gregory says…

But Fredegar says Chrocus was a Vandal king that took part in the trek of the Vandals, Suevi and Alans (i.e., the early 400s)! But Fredegar’s Chronicle is actually (in its Book III) a copy of Gregory!  But this passage is in another part (Book II, Chapter 60).  But that is a copy of the Chronicles of Eusebius and Hydatius!  What’s going on!? In any event, some question whether Fredegar’s correctness as to this point (BTW Fredegar is better known here for his Book IV, Chapter 48 on the Kingdom of Samo).

(There is also a mention of a Chrocus in a Roman contingent in Britain, that seems to be a different Chrocus from the one in Gregory of Tours).

** Although it is not the first time that the Vandals are mentioned in that geographic area after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  E.g., Vita [Saint] Hrodberti.  There is an interesting article by Ludwig Steinberger on the question of Wandale/Wenden (titled with a “=”) from 1920 (in the Archiv fuer Slavische Philologie).  Other, more recent, and more critical, articles include the work of Ronald Steinacher (“Wenden, Slawen, Vandalen…”) from 2004.  See also Vita [Saint] Marini et Anniani authentica (edited by Sepp).

The notion that Vandals are named after the river Vandalus is also present in Isidore of Seville‘s Etymologies. Book IX (ii), 96: “The river Vindilicus springs out from the far frontier of Gaul, and people maintain that the Vandals lived by it and got their name from it. ”

Certainly, we know that some Vandals stayed behind as there is a story available (Procopius) about their embassy to their cousins now settled in Africa (regarding the question of who gets all that land these African Vandals left behind) – however, Procopius makes clear that few of these Vandals were left in their homeland and that, perhaps, they have mixed (yikes, Mischung!) with other peoples (he says “willingly”) and have likely disappeared as a separate people.  Whether the Vandals were themselves a type of Venethi, a derivative of Venethi or something else entirely is another series of questions that we will not tackle at this time. (Note, however, that the Vandals (at least by that name) are not mentioned in Tacitus Germaniae, whereas the Venethi are).  Although Tacitus does mention the Naharvali, who have been identified with the Silingi (who were part of the later Vandals), this identification appears to be purely geographic – along the lines of arguing that Vandals or Venethi are Poles simply because they lived in the same space – even we won’t go to those lengths.  

*** See Appian (Illyrica) & Cicero (Epistolae familiares) regarding Ceasar losing three times to the Parthians.  Interestingly, although Poles never fought against the Romans, the Veneti did (the Gallic Veneti that is and the Vindili around the Bodensee and presumably the Venice Venethi too or at least, in the latter case, against the Etruscans who seem to have driven the Venethi or Antenoi out even before the Romans), an affair in which both Ceasar and Publius Crassus (the son of the triumvir Crassus of, among many other things, the Persian Wars) were involved,  See Caesar’s Gallic Wars, Book III for a Caesar-centric point of view.

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September 5, 2014

On Lech & Czech & the Silliness of (Some) Historical Interpretations

Published Post author

We have, as the patient reader knows, so far on our journey entertained all kinds of hypotheses without, we hope, too much jeering and mocking as we have discussed in so entertaining only those proposals that strike us as at least being plausible if not all likely true.

However, sometimes, a hypotheses is so patently ridiculous that it cannot possibly be true.  But it would be really wacky if it were! And so, refraining from, this one time, restraining the always delicious temptation to jump into the preposterous, we will swerve into the realm of the highly improbable using the eternal opera of Lech & Czech as our canvas and our excuse.

The swerving will be elegant and quick and we propose to either win all kinds of accolades (if we be right) or, at least, to entertain you (if we be, so very, very likely wrong).  Then we will be back on our way.

We give this swerve a 10 on the Kobayashi Porcelain likelihood scale.

This is from Pliny the Elder and his Natural History (Book IV, par 10):

“Corinthiacus hinc, illinc Saronicus appellatur sinus; Lecheae hinc, Cenchreae illinc angustiarum termini, longo et ancipiti navium ambitu quas magnitudo plaustris transvehi prohibet. quam ob causam perfodere navigabili alveo angustias eas temptavere Demetrius rex, dictator Caesar, Gaius princeps, Domitius Nero, nefasto, ut omnium exitu patuit, incepto.”

(The Gulfs thus formed, the one on this side, the other on that, are known as the Corinthian and the Saronic Gulfs.  The ports of Lecheæ, on the one side, and of Cenchreæ on the other, form the frontiers of this narrow passage, which thus compels to a tedious and perilous circumnavigation such vessels as from their magnitude cannot be carried across by land on vehicles. For this reason it is that both King Demetrius, Cæsar the Dictator, the prince Caius, and Domitius Nero, have at different times made the attempt to cut through this neck by forming a navigable canal)

(translation after John Bostock & H.T. Riley (1855) from

Now, as we know, there were Slavs in Carinthia…  And did we mention that koryto means channel?

Even better, the Kadlubek Chronicle equates Corinth with Cracow during its description of Poles fighting the forces of Alexander Macedonian.

If I told you the Lech Ness monster hired me to hit the Corinth harbor, what would you say?

If I told you the Lech Ness monster hired me to hit the Corinth harbor, what would you say?

Further, there was even a 391 B.C. battle between the Spartans and the Athenians and their allies.  This would be earlier than the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 A.D. in or the battle at which Lecho, prince of the Bohemians lost his life to the Franks in 805 A.D.  And one could then start talking about fighting Alexander Macedonian as some Polish chronicles claim the Poles have previously.  In fact, forget Alexander this is 35 years before Alexander was  even in diapers!

He said "slob" not "Slav" - don't wet your pants.

He said “slob” not “Slav” – don’t wet your pants.


September 3, 2014

Origins of Northern Slavs – the later Czech Chronicles (1200s-1300s)

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Batch 2 of Slavic chronicles includes some interesting stories as well as some more refinements to the foundational myths of the Slavs.

Czech Chronicles – the Dalimil Chronicle

In the Czech corner we have the famous Dalimil Chronicle (Kronika Dalimila) which is, remarkably for those days, written in Czech (it was written about 1314-1319) and which for the first time in history mentions Lech and Czech in the same document (though not really –  rather, “a lech named czech.”).  That part of the text reads as follows (in the 1877 version of Památky Staré Literatury České if you are into the Czech literary preservation efforts of Josef Jireček):

this if you like 19th century Czech

here is a version in Czech

Or, if you are into the real deal, you can read the following in one of the manuscripts (we include it here in the blogtext so that, again, you don’t have to strain your bifocals):  “W Srbskem jaziku jest zemie Siez charvati jest ymie.  w tev zemi bycje lech.  Semiz ymie bycje cech.” 

it's not just in the margins...

it’s not just in the margins…

Either way, it says pretty much the same thing:

In the Serbian/Serb language there is a country

whose name is croatia.  

in this country there was a lech [i.e., a young man].  

whose name was czech.” [this rhymes (in Czech), we were not getting trigger happy with the “return” key]”

Dalimil then says that Czech had to leave the country because he killed someone.  Not a very glorious beginning.

Three points are of interest here:

1) There was no Polish Lech (as per the author) – a “lech” (whose name was Czech) was simply a youth (a jut in Pesci-lingo) gentleman that came from Croatia;


Polish historian clinging onto the apparently fictitious belief that there were “two jutes” – as per Dalimil, there may have been only the one jute

2) Czech came from Croatia but… since we know from other sources (e.g., De Administrando Imperium & others) that White Croatia was somewhere in the neighborhood of Cracow, this Czech may have been traveling South which is consistent with the same sources which tell us that the Croats came from the North.  Moreover, Czech, as per Dalimil, was one of seven  brothers.  Note that the Croats had six brothers and two sisters when they arrived in Croatia from White Croatia (i.e., probably southern Poland).

(This, of course, is not consistent with the Nestor Chronicle or all the later Slavic chronicles that try to tie the Slavs to Pannonia or elsewhere to the South – we think because of the desire to attach the Slavs to Japheth as per the then needs of the authors to tie the Slavs to those nations that made their way into the Frankish Voelkertaffel);

3) Perhaps the most interesting reference appears to us to be the one to the “Serbian” language.   Not Slavic but Serbian.  Even though we are told that about the turn of the millennium the Slavic language was virtually the same  everywhere it was spoken (and the Dalimil Chronicle is not that much younger), the author feels it necessary to call the Slavic language, Serbian. Hmmmm…

BTW For those Dalimil fans (the “Dalmilers” – but don’t call them “Dalmis”!)* who only speak Latin, the good news is that  you may now read the so-called Latin fragment discovered in 2005 (ok, someone translate what we just wrote here for them).  While that fragment does not cover the above passage (or put differently those pages of the Latin version have not yet been found), it was upgraded from the dreary Czech for a cosmopolitan Euro-audience with resulting multicolor pictures – here is one in a sneak preview:

Faced with a raised drawbridge at Seth's house, the after party moved elsewhere

Faced with a raised drawbridge at Seth’s house, the after party quickly moved elsewhere – only Brian could not let go

Interestingly, the Czech government tried to stop the sale of the “Paris Fragment” of the Dalimil Chronicle but was unable to halt the 2007 auction.  As told by the Czechs themselves, they had to bid on it just like everyone else ( apparently utilizing a “mystery blonde” as the actual bidder with beneficial results for the Czech pocketbook:

Take my Paris Fragment now!

You can have my Paris Fragment for free! Take it!  Take it now! (the blonde bidder was apparently a direct descendant of said Dalimil)

For our German readers, there are also at least two German versions of the Dalimil chronicle – though, we warn you, it is best to work yourself slowly into this book – we suggest a few screenings of Django Unchained followed by a day or two of Machete.   If, after watching these, you can still look at a picture of Jamie Foxx or Danny Trejo and ask, ever so innocently, Wie geht es Ihnen, mein lieber Mann?, then, maybe, just maybe, you could be ready for the Czech nose choppers of the Dalimil Chronicle (hint: Edvard Beneš was a rechter Germanophile in comparison to Dalimil). 

So according to Dalimil Bohemus‘ real name was Czech.  So, there you have it – that’s the value added on the question of Czech origins of this particular chronicle.

Czech Chronicles – the Pulkava Chronicle

Those, looking for more proof (or, depending on your point of view, repetition of the familiar), will want to look at the Nová kronika česká by Přibík Pulkava from Radenín, aka, the New Czech Chronicle (relatively new – presumably newer than the Cosmas [Czech] Chronicle and the Dalimil Chronicle) written before 1380 (i.e., the year of Pulkava’s meeting with his maker) (we will call it the Pulkava Chronicle).


There is that Lech fellow again but now nicely capitalized

Pulkava, like Dalimil, provides a killing as a motive for the migration of Czech – apparently, he had to leave the old country because he had killed a local nobleman.  Further, he came with Czech and, yes, the old country was once again Croatia.  Oh yes, too Pulkava does not list Poland or Russia among Slavic countries (though does list Croatia – perhaps White Croatia which, likely, was in Poland).  Pulkava’s other interesting addition is the claim that Bohemia was derived from the Czech (Slavic) word for godly, i.e., Bozena or some such contraption.

Note also that Dalimil & Pulkava are written in Czech.  The Polish Chronicles thus far are all in Latin.

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September 1, 2014