Monthly Archives: October 2014

Dreaming of Caesar and the Western Veneti

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It is common knowledge that much of the place names in eastern Germany are of Slavic origin.  In general, such names are characterized by endings such as -in (e.g., Berlin), -en (e.g., Dresden, Bremen), -an (Doberan),ow (e.g., Guestrow) or -itz (e.g., Chemnitz). [1]  Here is a map of northeastern Germany:


So even in this small area we have: Berkenthin, Dobbertin, Kroepelin, Tessin, Penzlin, Murchin, Rambin, Warin, Dahmen, Demen, Gnoien, Goeren, Bad Doberan, Lassan, Buetzow, Ducherow, Krakow (!) am See, Neubukow, Rastow, Marlow, Malchow, Wustrow, Sassnitz, Zinnowitz, Crivitz, Ribnitz, etc.

And, of course, there are others of different types, e.g., Jatznick, Woldegk, Blowatz, Velgast or, in the south, Leipzig or Cottbus, etc.

None of this is surprising given the Slavic presence in those parts since, at least, the middle ages.

Since we were talking about Paphlagonia the prior time, let’s move to the opposite side of Europe now and ask a question.  This is the question.  Let’s say there were Slavic settlements in France and let’s say their endings would have been the same as the above types in Germany, i.e., -in, -en (call these group 1), -ow (call these group 2) and -itz (group 3), what would they look like in French?

We, of course, can’t be sure but we can guess.  Here are our guesses and you can tell us, of course, that we are way off.  We think the suffixes are likely to be the following: -in, -en  or -an as the first group; –off or -iff as the second group; and -ic or -ec corresponding to the third group.  Here is a map of a portion of France, specifically a part of Bretagne west of Vannes:


Here are some group 1s: Primelin, Plomelin, Goulien, Esquibien,  Plovan, Pluguffan;

Group 2: Plogoff;

Group 3: Plouhinec, Landudec, Plogonnec, Pouldreuzic;

And what of Douarnenez, Plozevet, Pouldergat, Guengat, Treogat (-gast?).  (Throwing in -on, you also get Gourlizon and Mahalon.  Adding in -oc, you get Tremeoc).

This pattern continues throughout Bretagne, particularly in its southern and southeastern portion (though not exclusively).  E.g., Meslin, Treffrin, Naizin, Credin, Quintin, Gourin, Penestin, Plerin, Goudelin, Lesneven, Pleven, Pleslin, Goven, Seglien, Plaudren, Pledran, Lehon, Guiscriff, Quistinic, Pourdic, Pornic, Binic, Briec, Ploubazlanec, Plouezec, Tredarzec, Landrevarzec, Locquirec, Severac, Plouagat, Pleumergat, Langast, Plouguenast. We also get other places that have vaguely Slavic names. E.g., Bubry, Bieuzy, Plesse, Plesidy, Plouisy, Plouha.  And near the town of Fougerges we have Vendel.  Much further south we have a few others.


Some of these suffixes are, occasionally, found outside of Bretagne (e.g, Hourtin) and there are many other names in Bretagne.  We must also point out that many of the above names ought to have clear French or Celtic etymologies.  So, of course, we are not suggesting that Bretagne is some sort of lost Slavic colony…

Though you will notice the Namnetes (Nemcy?) nearby.  And, of course, there are the Ossismi – they are, apparently, also known as Ostimioi – a name meaning “the last” – see, ost, last?  Of course, that name is actually closer to, e.g., the Polish ostatni (the last).   We could not resist…

Nevertheless, given the mention of the Venethi there during Ceasar’s times (after whom the town of Vannes is named) we must point out that nowhere else in Europe do we find so many Slavic-like (let’s call them that) names outside of areas that had previously been clearly settled by Slavs (i.e., Slavic countries and portions of Germany and Austria).  We must also remember that it has been two thousand years since the days of Ceasar…

When the Venethi with their neighbors fought the Romans they were referred to as Gauls.  What was that rebel leader’s name again?  Oh  yes, Viridovix say the learned books – Viridovix of the Venelli.

Except, funny, that the below says Viridovic…  maybe it’s just the particular case …or maybe it’s his Croatian brother…

“Multae res ad hoc consilium Gallos hortabantur: superiorum dierum Sabini cunctatio, perfugae confirmatio, inopia cibariorum, cui rei paum diligenter ab iis erat provisum, spes Venetici belli, et quod fere libenter. homines id quod volunt credunt. His rebus adducti non prius Viridovicem reliquosque duces ex concilio dimittunt quam ab iis sit concessum arma uti capiant et ad castra contendant. Qua re concessa laeti, ut explorata victoria, sarmentis virgultisque collectis, quibus fossas Romanorum compleant, ad castra pergunt.”

(Ceasar, About the Gallic War, Book 3).

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[1]  Other Slavic suffixes are also present in Germany though less commonly, e.g., -ast or -ost (e.g., Velgast).  And, of course, there are other Slavic places that do not contain any such suffix (e.g., Leipzig, Luebeck, Rostock).

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October 31, 2014

On a Paphlagonian State of Mind

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There are lots of Zagoras (literally “beyond the mountain”).

Some are in Poland.

Others in Croatia.

Yet others in Bulgaria (e.g., Stara Zagora).

There is one in Greece, where Slavs likely reached.

(Strangely, there is even one in Morocco (there it is likely a Berber name, see, e.g. Sahara although stories of a Moroccan Nekur/Nukur/Nakur/Nekor where the royal guard was composed of Slavs (though perhaps just slaves?) have come up in the past and it is told that after a rebellion they set up their own “village of the Slavs” though some argue it was just a “village of the slaves”).

However, what is interesting is that a Zagora has been in at least four different sources mentioned in Paphlagonia – a place where lived yet another tribe of the Venethi.  One of them is Arrian  of Nicomedia (c. AD c. 86 – c. 160) (Zagora).  The other Marcian of Heraclea (4th century) (Zagoron, p 73).  Ptolemy has his own version (Zagorum in Galatia).  Finally, the Peutinger Map shows a Zacoria.  There is also a local river, Zalecus mentioned in some of these sources (though as Halega in the Peutinger Map).  Zagora is likely the later Gazuron or Calippi.

Here is a nineteenth century version/imagining on a map by the geographer Heinrich Kiepert:



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October 26, 2014

Strangers in Strange Lands – Histories of the World Part II

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Jews in Spain

Hasdai bin Shaprut was a vezir and maior domo to a local caliph Abd ar-Rahman in Cordoba.  The legends of his wisdom and learning are, well, legendary.  He was instrumental in curing the Christian King Sancho and helping him win back his crown (in exchange for a few border castles that went to the caliph).  He was involved in receiving embassies of Constantine Porphirogenetus (helping translate a tome of Dioskyrides) and Otto I, at that time not yet emperor (helping the ambassadors not insult the caliph).

Lastly, and in keeping with our theme here, we note that it was during Hasdai’s time in office that the famous four rabbis on the way from Bari to Sebast got themselves captured (or really the ship they traveled on was captured)  by admiral Romahis (aka Damahas) with the result that they got sold off in different ports – one, Moses, being sold in Cordoba.  It is likely that Hasdai was then Moses’ protector and sponsor.

All of which is irrelevant for our purposes here.

Except one thing.  Hasdai being in the thick of it all at the Cordoban court came across some traders who mentioned to him that there was in the East a Jewish state run by a khagan named Joseph.  Yes, it was the Khazars.  This piqued his curiosity (apparently he was tired of hearing that only the Jews can’t have their own state because they haven’t accepted Jesus as Christ – an assertion aid doff the mark in its very foundations even at the time as many stateless Slavs could testify, e.g., close to the events in question the Slavs of the Rus where the Rus ran things).   So he decide to send an emissary with the letter to the Khazars.


Which way to the Khazars?

The first attempt was unsuccessful at Constantinople as the Byzantines likely fearing some sort of alliance between the Khazars and the caliphate sent the embassy back on the apparent pretext that it was not safe to travel between Constantinople what with all the bandits, robbers and the generally deteriorating road conditions given the late season, etc, etc, etc.

Pissed, Hasdai sent another embassy but this time through the middle of the European continent.  It turned out that there were at that time in Cordoba as part of another embassy of a  two Jewish travelers – Joseph & Saul.  They came from the “country of Gebalim” who, we learn earlier from his letter, “of the Slavs” [al-sequeliba].  They told Hasdai that “iz no problem.”


“We will give your letter to the King of the Gebalim.  He will send the letter to the Israelites that live in Hungary.  Who will send it to the Rus who then will send it to the Bulgars [presumably Volga Bulgars even if those had already been driven towards the Danube by the Khazars] and from there the letter will be sent to where you want it to be sent.”

Who was this “King of the Gebalim”?  We will likely never know though there are some papers on the topic.  Perhaps a Croat king or one Serb?  But maybe a Czech potentate?  That would certainly be the simplest explanation for the path being suggested by the ambassadors.   (whether the letter and/or the response were opened and read by the Gebalim is not mentioned in the literature but it seems improbable that they would not be).

gebalinenz2And no the letter was obviously not in german.  We are showing a German translation from 1840 by Joseph Zedner in his “Auswahl historischer Stuecke aus Hebraeischen Schriftstellern (2Jh – Gegenwart)” (Selection of historical pieces of Hebrew writers from the 2nd century to the present).

PS The source documents were apparently discovered in the year 1562 by Isaac ben Abraham (ben Yehuda Akrish) on his trip from Constantinople to Egypt. He then published a 32 page book in Constantinople about the year 1577.  The book has four parts with the Hasdai letter and King Joseph’s reply being on pp 16-23 and 23-26, respectively.  (We are not currently in possession of it).  A reprint in Latin followed in 1660 in Basel by Johann Buxtorf.  A printing in Cracow also occurred.  After Zedner a French version was published by Carmoly in Brussels in 1847 and a German one (different from Zedner apparently) came out by Seeling Cassel in Berlin in 1848 (this one with the reply only).

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October 26, 2014

Sons of Beeches

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Of all the theories of Slavic origins none has been so convoluted as the “beech” theory and none has proven more resilient.  We will consider it in a few separate postings.


At the root(s) of the problem

The beech theory goes back to the speculations of Jozef Rostafinski in his 1908 article “O perwotnych siedzibach i gospodarstwie Slowian w przedhistorycznych czasach” (or “About the Prehistoric Dwellings of the Slavs”).


Rostafinski was neither a linguist nor an archeologist nor a historian but, appropriately for the theory, a botanist.  Undeterred by the apparent lack of relation between his chosen pursuit and the question of the Slavic homeland, he proudly decided to stake out a claim for the botanists in this debate.

We might begin by stating that he started off rather ambitiously by first taking a position on the name “Lach/Lech” and its etymology.  Having firmly established where that was from (we will not bore you with that part except to say he claims it is from “lenda” or “lyada” which meant an empty space later for cultivation – perhaps due to fire farming), he proceeded to locate the Slavic homeland by analyzing bushes and shrubs.  That was, however, not enough for him so, now really reaching, he stepped onto the ornithologists’ feet (claws?) and also analyzed bird names (vultures, storks, egrets).  With that done he proceeded to analyze the etymologies of the Slavic names for iron (concluding it had a Scythian origin but that that was ok because even the Greeks learned some iron making from the Scythians).  He then concluded that the name of the turnip has a Slavic root (repa) and that turnips made their way to the Greeks from the Slavs about five centuries before Christ (which, among other things, according to him, demonstrates conclusively that the Slavs were way ahead of the Germans at that time civilizationally).    Then it was onto grains and cereals (conclusion: initially Slavs did not know rye or wheat).  Then a discussion of the pastoral lifestyle of the Slavs and the circle the wagons origin of the stable (conclusion: Slavic stables were freestanding – Germanic part of the house).  In between Rosafinski threw in an etymology of the word “vend” – he claims it meant smoking (as in fish) (e.g., Polish word “wedzenie”).

Oh, we almost forgot, as to those shrubs and bushes.  Rostafinski was of the opinion that the Slavs did not know (originally) the following trees: beech (fagus silvatica), larch (larix), fir (abies) and yew (taxis baccata) (or at least some of their subtypes).  Incidentally, he makes the same claim about Balts.

Since, he reasoned, these trees did not (at his time) extend east past the so-called (made up) Koeningsberg-Odessa line and since the Slavs did not have their own names for these trees, they must not have originally lived in the areas where those trees grew.  Therefore in his map he places the Slavs east of this line. The map follows:


Rostafinski, based on other evidence (see above), specifically places the Slavs at the edge for the steppe-forest zone somewhere in Russia – in contact with the Greeks until the Scythians came in between them.  Note that most of the other points that Rostafinski made to support his thesis (see above) has been ignored but the tree stuff entered the mainstream of Slavic homeland research.  (All other beech theories are derivative of Rostafinski’s).

The argument is thus based on a number of premises (one might venture, principally, that a few tree names can be highly instructive in establishing the origins of entire peoples but let’s let that one lie).  Let’s list some of the more obvious ones:

1) The beech zone in antiquity was the same as the beech zone today.

That this is not true was supposedly shown already by Henrik Birnbaum in 1979 who placed the reach of the beech, so to speak, only up to the Elbe.

On the other hand, Bukovina is a historic country in Ukraine and Moldova.  What that specific part of the world was called during Roman times, we do not know nor do we know whether there were any beeches growing there.

More recent studies show that the current reach of the beech was reached only between 500-1000 A.D. (Giesecke, et al.).  This would be possibly consistent with Birnbaum.  (On the other hand, beech pollen has also been found in the Pripyet area – which would, no doubt, suggest to some that the homeland of the Slavs is in Siberia…)

2) The etymology of the above tree names is not Slavic and, in fact, is Germanic.  For example, the Germans must not have borrowed the name from the Slavs.  Nor can this be a common Indo-European name (or at least not one that the Slavs could partake in).

However, the reasons for asserting this word as German are less than clear.  The Gothic word is posited to be bok or boka.  It has been stated that, in some cases, the German o, corresponds to the Slavic u (e.g., Donau <> Dunaj).  This is obviously true except that (A) it is true in some cases only, (B) this argument says absolutely nothing about the necessary direction of the borrowing (if there were any) in the general case nor in the specific case of buk.

Alternatively, it has been stated that the old German word was buohha, i.e., with a u and that the k (as in book) shows that the Slavic is a borrowing (the u is not a problem here because the Slavic and the AHDeutsch both feature a u – now the h vs k is the problem).  In this context, it is worth noting that, as per the Elbing dictionary, the old Prussian name for the tree was bucus or bukus.  Now the old Prussians lived within the Kaliningrad-Odessa line so the question would have to be asked whether these forest dwellers also learned the name buk (maybe some late borrowing?) or whether they learned from the Slavs who first learned it from the Germans… (BTW German authors actually make this claim for Lithuanian – but a bit harder to do so for Old Prussian).

Incidentally, the beech is also part of an argument made by Johannes Hoops that Indo-Europeans originated in Germany precisely because the beech does not grow east of the Kaliningrad-Odessa line and because they had their own word for it.  It is not clear if that would make Slavs live next to the Germans or simply not Indo Europeans (we suspect the latter).

3) The Germans lived in the “beech zone” throughout antiquity.

We can assume that this is true for some though, possibly, not all Germanics (e.g., Goths in the Ukraine).

4) Had they been able to, the Slavs would have (before they met the Germans) taken their time to distinguish and name these trees.

The German-Polish historian Brueckner, however, claimed that the Slavs have called the beech tree grab, i.e., the hornbeam.  That is they either did not differentiate between the two trees or transferred grab to the hornbeam from the beech.

5) The Slavs did not, for example, have their own names for these trees which they then only changed to the German names.

See above.

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October 26, 2014

On Strangers in Strange Lands – Histories of the World Part I

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Travelers from far off places, if they manage to have their travels recorded, are a real boon to historians.  Thousands of gallons of ink have been spilled and many an academic post obtained and maintained thanks to a fortuitous turn at a fork taken by a few strangers from a strange country or by a couple of sailors way out of their depth.  We tell now some of their stories as they relate (perhaps) to the story of the peoples discussed here.

Indian (?) Sailors in Gaul 

…there is Cornelius Nepos, who is more dependable as an authority because he is modern.  Nepos… adduces Quintus Metellus Celer as witness of the fact, and records, that Metellus reported it as follows.  When Celer was proconsul of Gaul, certain Indians were presented to him as a gift by the king of the Boii.  By asking what route they had followed to reach there, Celer learned  that they had been snatched by storm from Indian waters, that they and traverse the intervening region, and that finally they had arrived on the shores of Germany.



This is from Pomponius Mela‘s Description of the World Book 3, par 45 – section on Scythia (written about AD 43).  Mela was using this anecdote (as related by Nepos c110 BC – c25 BC originating from, ultimately, proconsul Celer c103 BC – c59 BC) to illustrate that beyond the Caspian Sea there was also the same Ocean as surrounded the rest of the world (since Indians came from that direction) and not some frozen land instead (“without a border and without end”).  Later some Slavicists used the same story to argue that these Indians were really Vindians or Venethi.  Others argued against that interpretation.  It seems to us that the story is more likely to refer to the Venethi than true Indians from India (although it’s more likely to refer to a number of peoples than to Indians).  On the other hand, Celer was consul in Cisalpine Gaul (Italy, really), not even Narbonensis (the province in the south of France) and that is presumably where he met the Celtic (?) Boii gift givers of humans (the Boii who gave their name to Bohemia were also at times located in Cisalpine Gaul) so where these gentle sailors got caught, where they came ashore, where they were from and, ultimately, who they were, is anyone’s guess.  Nonetheless, whatever the truth as to that matter, such a truth bears no light on the question of the identity of the Venethi as nothing more is said by Mela of these travelers, their customs, their language or anything else relating to them for at all that matter.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Pliny retells the same story but with Suevi as the gift givers of the “Indians”.  Does that mean that the Boii were Suevi? (like Bohemians are now Slavs?)

Slavic Hippies (?) in Constantinople

Three men, Sclavenes by race, who were not wearing any iron or military equipment, were captured by the emperor’s [Heraclius’] bodyguards.  Lyres [or, perhaps, the Slavic gusle] were their baggage, and they were not carrying anything else at all; and so the emperor enquired what was their nation, where was their allotted abode, and the cause of their presence in the Roman [i.e., Byzantine] lands.  They replied that they were Sclavenes by nation and that they lived at the boundary of the western ocean, the kagan had dispatched ambassadors to their parts to levy a military force ad had lavished many gifts on their nation’s rulers; and so they accepted the gifts but refused him the alliance, asserting that the length of the journey daunted them, while they sent back to the kagan for the purpose of making a defence these same men who had been captured;  they had completed the journey in fifteen months; but the kagan had forgotten the law of ambassadors and had decreed a ban on their return; since they had heard that the Roman nation was much the most famous… for wealth and clemency, they had exploited the opportunity and retired to Thrace; they carried lyres [or gusle?] since it was not their practice to fire weapons ohm their bodies, because their country was ignorant of iron and thereby provided them with a peaceful and trouble free life; they made music on lyres because they did no know how to sound forth on trumpets.  Because for whoever finds war foreign, it is said that such a person should take up musical exercises.  Listening to this the sovereign, liked this nation, welcomed them warmly, and them alone among all the other barbarians who came into contact with him, admiring their height and the bountifulness of their members, he sent on to Heraclea.

The story comes from Theophylact Simocatta‘s Histories (at 160).  A substantially similar tale is relayed also by Theophanes in his Chronographia (226) except that here the trip took place in 18 months, the Slavs never made it to the kagan but went straight to the Byzantines and the emperor admired their age/youth (?) (not their height) and their bodybuild (not their members). The story seems curious on a number of levels.

Slavic Hippie becomes temporarily agitated as he recounts his experience with Khan

Slavic Hippie becomes temporarily agitated as he recounts his experience with Khan

For one, if the Slavs were not familiar with ironmaking, why bring them in as allies as the kagan intended apparently?  Further, whether the trip to the kagan was 15 or 18 months, it seems exceedingly long unless the Slavs were traveling  from Ireland or Siberia.  That any people, hippies, beatniks, peaceniks or whatever, would willingly travel to anyone styling himself a kagan (the etymology proposed being that of “khan of khans”) to tell him basically “Here we are to give you word from our leaders.  Ok, you ready?  Here it is: fuck off”, seems slightly doubtful (though stranger things have, on occasion, happened; on this at least Theophanes seems more convincing since in his telling the Slavs went straight to the Romans).

One thing is, of course, for sure: Byzantine emperor Heraclius (reigning in 610-640) was way flaming gay (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Rus Spies (?) in the Frankish Lands

[Emperor Theophilius] sent with them some men who called themselves, that is the people to which they belonged, Rhos; according to them, their king, called kagan, sent them to [Theophilius] in friendship.  [Theophilius] asked in [his] letter that the emperor graciously give them permission and help to return to their country through his empire because the roads by which they had travelled to Constantinople fell into the hands of barbarian and exceedingly wild trines and would not wish to expose them to great danger.  Having diligently investigated the reasons for their arrival, the emperor [Louis the Pious] established that they belonged to the people of the Sueoni [Swedes].

This little juicy tidbit comes from the Annals of Saint Bertin and describes a Byzantine embassy out of Constantinople to the Franks bringing with it these “Rhos”.  The Byzantine emperor is  Theophilus (ruling 829-842) and the Frankish emperor is Louis the Pious (in power 814-840) with the incident taking place in the year 839 at Ingelheim on Rhein (where Louis held court).

There was something about the leader of the Rus that made Louis the Pious suspicious

There was something about the leader of the Rus that made Louis the Pious suspicious

It seems, at least from today’s perspective (thus far), strange that such a long detour would have been advisable to return the Rhos back to the “kagan”.  Of course, much here is rivetingly strange.  First, again the kagan (see the story of the Slavenes above)?  What’s up with that guy?Why did the kagan send these tokens of his friendship to the Byzantine emperor?  Did they have any special talents?  Why did the emperor decide to send them back?  Why is the Rhos leader called a kagan?  Were the Rhos under the Khazars then?

The French/German emperor was also confused it seems.  Seeing as Germany was at the time being raided by Vikings, knowing that such Vikings were Swedes and suspecting these ones may well be spies, the Frankish emperor thought better of aiding these particular Rhos and decided to keep them around explaining to the Byzantine embassy that he would aid them should they turn out to be ok.

However, Louis the Pious died the next year at Ingelheim and the Frankish country fell into a civil war resulting in the creation of future France, Germany and an in-between land (disputed territory).  It is not clear, whether the poor (or not so poor) Swedes were able to make it back home or whether they perished of hunger in some dungeon once their jailer fell in the fighting.

So that’s for Part 1 of this mini-series.

Next up, Histories of the World Part 2, the long-awaited, much-demanded, Jews in Space!

Oh, wait, actually Jews in Spain but it’s almost as good!

But this blog is about Slavs!?  What gives?  Stay tuned!

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October 20, 2014

On the Singular Case of the Missing Wheel

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We have not dealt with the archeological evidence regarding the transition of the Venethi lands to Slavic lands thus far and for good reason.

Archeology is necessarily a study of material culture and material culture is, well, not necessarily biological or ancestral.  Were a hypothetical modern homo sapiens to leave this earth for the prairies of Manitou and were he to be buried with his “stuff”, an archeologist, call him A, doing a dig 1,000 years from now – pretty much anywhere in the Western (and not only) world would have to conclude that our hypothetical Billy Bob was, in fact, Chinese.  The copious “Made in China” labels would clearly attest to that fact.  If one were to look beyond mere labels and instead insist on examining the “substance” of the finds – as an academic competitor of our future archeologist might claim we should – this latter (and, of course, latter day) archeologist, let’s call him B, might conclude that by the early 21st century we were all firmly American all over the world, what with our Old Navy clothing, our Katie Perry music albums and our Hollywood movies.  Both A and B would be, of course, wrong.

Archeology, as can thus be readily seen, cannot tell us much about the people who lived in a given place if the question that we are asking it to answer for us is of the specific biological identity of the owners of the material in question and where we otherwise know little of such owners.  It would be perfectly acceptable to adjudge an archeological dig as more “Olmec” or more “Indian” – there we are dealing with two separately identified (and geographically dispersed) cultures, each rich in findings also separate and independent from the dig in question.  But how does one determine whether something material is Slavic where one has not defined what objects can be undoubtedly associated with Slavs (and, in some cases, where one has not been able to even come up with the definition of what is a Slav – as some historians and other academics have failed to do).  How does one determine what belongs to culture A vs culture B where both live right next to each other?  How does one determine whether a sample is, e.g., Venethic, where one is unable even to answer who the Venethi were?  For all these reasons, we have been reluctant to tread in this area (similar arguments apply to linguistics which we will tackle but not now).

Nevertheless, one argument that is frequently made about the Venethi to Slav transition is of interest and we feel may be brought up at this juncture because it is both so utterly typical of similar such arguments and because it conjures a counterexample which comes to us, curiously, out of the same time in question but out of another part of the “Venethic world.”

The argument involves a wheel.  More precisely, the argument involves a potter’s wheel.  Sometime at the time of or shortly after the migration of the various Germanic warrior bands (maybe, in some cases, tribes) into the Roman Empire, the area in question suffered a “cultural collapse” which when it began to be reversed it began to be reversed slowly and from a lower civilizational niveau.  The collapse has been associated with the departure of these Germanic bands (or tribes).  The slow reversal with the alleged arrival, settling down and picking up the pieces of what was left by the Slavs.

One of the first and most striking effects of culture collapse typically is the loss of access to the razorblade

In this respect we see a disappearance of sophisticated wheel-based pottery and then a reappearance of simple, hand-made pottery.  The potter’s wheel does not reappear in Central Europe until much later in time.

The Germanic Chieftain NIelsenric demonstrates the use of wheel pottery to Prislavia - a primitive Slav female

The Frankish chieftain Drebo NIelsenric demonstrates the use of wheel pottery to Prislavia – a primitive but highly attractive Slav female

So, let us first note the typicality of this explanation in its depiction of the Slavs as the (relatively) more primitive people.  Once that depiction or, really, assumption is made, the story of the cultural change suggests itself, of course.

The Polish Piast unable to figure out what to do with the wheel is seen clutching the more familiar sword in hopes of mitigating his perplex ions - it's not clear what happened thereafter

The Polish Piast unable to figure out what to do with the wheel is seen clutching the more familiar sword in hopes of mitigating his perplexions – given his moniker (Wheelwright) he may have eventually gotten “it”

Now, one might think, however, that to draw any definitive conclusions from one specific geography may be rather precarious and that if one were not inclined to examine the effects of the collapse of empires in general before opening one’s mouth, at a minimum, one ought to review the happenings around the Roman Empire at the time of its collapse.

(BTW if one ever suggests that, perhaps, just perhaps something different is at work, the word “defensive” appears on the horizon with the words “nationalistic” and “chauvinistic” close behind, at first on stand by, but clearly battle ready – try it out for yourselves – in truth, this whole experience with benevolent academic paternalism makes it easier to relate to the African experience).

We do not usually quote recent sources as we try to dig into the original records and see for ourselves “what is out there”.  However, in this case, given our archeological tangent, we think it fair (and so as to preempt any suggestions of us undertaking any digs ourselves) to make an exception.  The following comes from the article by the cherubic (if slightly more hirsute than your typical aerial baby) Bryan Ward-Perkins  “Why did the Anglo-Saxons not become more British?” in the English Historical Review (published by the Oxford University Press in 2000).  Doctor Perkins is a member of the faculty of history at Oxford University and, as per his information stub, is both a historian and an archeologist by training.  We apologize to Doctor Ward-Perkins upfront for the inevitable flood of emails, then calls, then faxes, then letters that is destined to follow this here publication, as Doctor Ward-Perkins will be called to “recant”, “correct”, “deemphasize” or, at the very least ,”limit geographically” his findings and conclusions (in case this fails, another, more pertinent (of course) authority will be, properly incentivized and then trotted out to contest the below – wanna bet?).  In the meantime grab a beer and read on:

[I]n Britain, and again in contrast to Gaul, Roman ways of doing things disappeared peculiarly fast, and with exceptional totality.  Towns, coinage, architecture in brick and stone, complex industries, and even basic technologies, like the use of the wheel for pottery production, all vanished during the fifth century, probably along with widespread  literacy in Latin… towns themselves disappeared and were sometimes replaced by iron-age hill-forts as political centers; almost all signs of economic sophistication (such as specialized mass-production industries and the use of coin) disappeared.

(Oh, Professor Ward-Perkins also published “The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization”) .

But wait! (say, the Scientists of the Wheel (i.e., the SOFTWs)):

“An inferior group of invaders – this time the Anglo-Saxons playing the role of the primitive Slavs replaced the local Roman (even if, by then, sub-Roman) population!  Well, duh!  This just proves our point!”

The Professor then says: “This happened autonomously within western Britain, long before the Anglo-Saxons reached his area, even in seemingly heavily romanized regions like modern Gloucestershire. 


SOFTWs win the Chirping Jiminy Award for the week (straight from hands of the Jordanes Doubters). Are the Sons of Beeches the next winners?

(BTW The remaining portion of the above article will make it clear that the Professor is not exactly a crackpot fascist or Welsh (or any other) “nationalist” – attaching, for this purpose, all the vitriol that our opponents would, to that term).

And, we can add from ourselves, this too happened in the future Kingdom of Gwynedd (remember the cousins of those Venethi Ceasar drove away from Bretagne? They were, oh yes, in that other Bretagne).[1]

Does this mean that the same happened in Central Europe to the Venethi?  Maybe.  Maybe not (the Professor Doctor notes himself that Gall was different, what with the Franks looking after things).  But, one would think, it behooves the scientists who allegedly study these things (with, we suspect, passion and prejudice though) to at least examine what entails a cultural collapse and whether a cultural collapse must necessarily be indicative of a population exchange –


– that it must when such a population exchange is a presupposed conclusion is another matter, of course.

[1] What is the first known of the name Gwynedd?  Oh, yes, here its: “Cantiorix hic iacit/Venedotis cives fuit/consobrinos Magli magistrate“.  And by the way, Venethi may have been a Wallach-like term to denote the “Others” – not one with a German origin but rather with a Celtic one.   More on that soon.

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October 9, 2014

On Ventspils & Wyndow

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

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

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

The German crusaders liked their phallic symbols red… bright red

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

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

Latvian locals, Henry was so fond of converting

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

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

The First Interesting Thing

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

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

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

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

The Other Interesting Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Argument 6
Quantum Arguments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the link to the full post.

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October 7, 2014

Polish Gods Part I

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We have a relatively thorough discussion of eastern Slavic Gods from Nestor.  We also have commentaries on the western Slavic religious practices from Adam of Bremen, Thietmar, Helmold and Saxo Grammaticus.  However, the central areas of Slavdom, Poland and Bohemia have often been thought of relatively empty areas as regards Slavic religious practices.

Palania – the scrivener must have missed the Polonia memo

There are usually a variety of reasons given for this situation. Some have speculated that the Slavs in those countries, not having come into contact early enough with either Romans or Germans existed in a kind of primitive society which simply found no room for detailed pantheons, involved myths or highly developed heroes.   Others have noted that the early influence and penetration of the Christian Church brooked no dissent with any local, primitive practices quickly and thoroughly stamped out.  For example, the first contemporaneous mention of  Poland was in 965 or thereabouts but already in 966 the “Baptism of Poland” took place whereby the first historical ruler, Mieszko I, converted the country to Christianity.  Whatever simple beliefs the populace possessed were thus thought to have been dealt with within a year or so of the country appearing on the world stage.

Christ arrives in Poland, offering the country a big hug

Giant Christ arrives in Poland, offering the country a Big Hug (a welcome committee is seen on the lower right approaching with some trepidation)

This, however, is far too clean a picture.  While it is true that Poland’s conversion to Christianity was almost instantaneous, as a matter of edicts and laws passed (and helped by the likely contemporaneous violence inflicted), we have to remember that the early Piast state was a rather flimsy creation and, ager the spectacular expansion of MIeszko and his son Boleslaw I, it quickly came under assault by all the powers of the day.

John Paul II responds on behalf of Poland - hug received and acknowledged

Giant John Paul II accepts the Big Hug on behalf of Poland – a love fest for over a thousand years!

As a result most of the state structures collapsed and indeed there was even a so-called “pagan reaction” in the early 11th century whereby Christian clerics were killed or driven off and the whole country plunged into the chaos of civil war and foreign invasions.  While subsequent Piast dukes managed to put most of the country back together, the disastrous 1138 division of Poland at the hands of Boleslaw III resulted in a new break up of the country that nearly led to its final demise.  It was not until the reigns of Wladyslaw the Elbowhigh and Casimir III that the kingdom was saved and strengthened, albeit in a rump state having lost Silesia and Pomerania for the next 600 plus years.

Meanwhile in New York City, things were not going so well

It was only in that rump, barely recognizable state that emerged in the 13th and 14th century that the groundwork was laid for a more enduring project via the establishment of a much strengthened central authority.  It was that central authority that contained now a rebuilt ecclesiastical component and it was that component that for the first time could and, therefore, begun to take its Christianizing mission seriously.  Bishops and priests looked around to see what was then going on in their country and what was going on they did not like.  Thanks to their new laws, statutes and heart-felt sermons we were able, for the first time to get a picture of the pre-Christian spiritual life in Polish central Europe.

Unsurprisingly, the new stability and wealth also brought forth the works of the nation’s first “professional” chroniclers who gave us a broader more historiographic and sometimes more secular view of the country’s pre-Christian roots.  Although virtually all of such sources are dated to the 14th or 15th century the practices they describe are ones that were alive while the authors wrote – of course, we cannot tell whether such practices were also present at the birth of the Polish state some 400 years earlier or whether they were merely a remnant or a new form thereof.

Annales of Dlugosz


Let us begin with the court chronicler Jan Dlugosz and his Annales seu cronicae incliti Regni Poloniae (Annals or Chronicles of the Famous Polish Kingdom).  Then we will work our way backwards as far as we can. This is what he says (from the Codex Regius version of the Annales (of Stanislaw Augustus Poniatowski) circa 1495-1515 – we will spare you the text version of the latin – you can read it for yourself from the manuscript below):


  Let us quote Dlugosz:

“This too is known about the Poles that from the beginning of their people they were idolaters  and believed and honored gods and goddesses, namely Jupiter, Mars, Venus [Greek Aphrodite], Pluto, Diana [Greek Artemis] and Ceres [Greek Demeter], having fallen into the errors of other nations and tribes.  Jupiter they called in their language Jessa, believing that from him, as the highest of the Gods, they receive all the earthly blessings and all occurrences the unfortunate ones but so also the serendipitous.  To him, therefore, more than to the other Gods did they give the greatest praise and the most frequent offerings.  Mars they called Lada.  The imagination of poets made him a leader and a war god.  The prayed to him for victory over their enemies and for courage for themselves, honoring him with the wildest rites.  Venus they called Dzydzilelya and thought her to be the goddess of marriage, so that they asked her to bless them with children and to give them a richness of sons and daughters.  Pluto they called Niya, believing him to be the god of the underworld and the guardian and caretaker of souls, when they leave the body.  To him they prayed that they should be let after death into better dwellings in the underworld.  To such souls/to this god they built in the city of Gniezno the most important temple and pilgrims journeyed there from everywhere.  Wheres Diana, which was thought according to the pagan beliefs to be both a woman and too a virgin, was venerated by matron mothers and virgins alike placing wreaths on her statutes.  Farmers and those who led an agricultural life honored Ceres, and they raced to offer to her grain seeds.  For a god they also took the “weather [Pogoda]” and called the same Pogoda likewise, that is the giver of good air.  There was also the god of life called Sywie.  And because the state of the Lechites happened to arise in a country with many a wood and forest and such country was believed by the ancients to have been inhabited by Diana and that Diana was their [i.e., the ancient dwellers’ of Poland] mistress, whereas Ceres was seen as a mother and a goddess of plentiful harvests which the country needed, therefore these two goddesses: Diana which in their tongue was called Dziewanna and Ceres called Marzanna were especially venerated and worshipped”


He goes on to say:

“Thus it was that for these Gods and Goddesses the Poles built temples and statues, ordained priests, dedicated sacred groves in appropriate and beautiful places so as to honor these [Gods and Goddesses] and bow before them.  There men and women came together together with children and gave sacrifices and burned domestic flocks and cattle and other animals, and on occasion people prisoners from battle.  They also had a superstitious rite of making offerings to placate their native Gods and, on certain days and times of year they had great festivals, for which people of both sexes were called to towns from villages.  These festivals they celebrated with debauched singing and dancing, sometimes clapping, lewd twisting and other debauchery in songs, games and salacious deeds; while at the same time they called on to the above-mentioned Gods/Goddesses in accordance with their custom.  Rites such as those and some of their relics, even though Poles, as is known, have almost five hundred years ago accepted Christianity, they continue to practice to this day, every year during the Green Holidays [Green Week/Pentecost/polish Zielone Świątki, german Pfingsten], recalling pagan idolatery with a festivity called in their language Stado [i.e., Herd], because great multitudes of people come together for it, who then divided into herds or groups of crazed participants and sybarites, happily celebrate these holidays with partying and leisure” [the text then continues regarding the circumstances of the baptism of Poland – for that see here]

[The Green Holidays were the main feast of spring in early May (see here for information on the Bald Mountain festivities) with Christianity replacing them with the Pentecost (i.e., in the Christian version the descent of the Holy Spirit among the Apostles and other early Christians).]

However, regarding Lada, Dlugosz expressed a slightly different view a few years earlier in a heraldry book he wrote (Insignia seu clenodia regis et regni Poloniae) sometime in the years 1464-1480.  Here he says as follows:

Lada, que ex domo Accipitrum deriuationem sumpsit, deferens babatum cruce signatum et in uno cornu sagittam, in altero retortam, in campo rubeo.  Lada a nominee dee Polonice, que in Mazouia in loco et in villa Lada celebatur, vocabulum sumpsit exinde.

([following the description of the tamga sign] Lada is a name of a Polish goddess which was venerated in Mazovia in the place and village Lada)

This is from the Arma Baronum Regni Polonae stone version, Poznan circa 1575 (previously in the Zamoyski Estate (fidei commissum) Library):


About the author:  Joannes Dlugossius, i.e. & aka, Longinus (1415-1480) is considered the father of Polish historiography.  Dlugosz’ father was given an estate as a result of his accomplishments at the Battle of Grunwald.  Dlugosz was educated at Krakow University (then called an academy) and, thereafter, served as a secretary and confidante to the Cracow archbishop Zbigniew Olesnicki.  Afterwards he worked in the service of the King of Poland, Casimir IV Jagiellonczyk the, including as the educator of his children and an ambassador (including, among others, to Rome, Bohemia, Hungary).  Before the end of his life he was to become the archbishop of Lviv, alas he was meant for greener pastures.

For another mention by Dlugosz of Polish paganism, see his description of the Baptism of Poland in here.

Note on The Life of Saint Adalbert (Voytech) in a Manuscript on the Lives of the Saints

(circa 1450)

Idola polonium fuerunt ista Alado agyessze.

(The gods/idols of the Poles were the following: Alado, agyejsze)

About the author: That is all there is.  This is literally just a gloss, i.e., a note, written on the manuscript of The  Life of Saint Adalbert.  We know nothing else except that this comes from a Latin manuscript relating to Lives of the Saints (weighing in at 357 pages) at the Petersburg Library and was brought to the world’s attention by Rafal Lubicz.

Postilla Husitae anonymi (aka Postilla Husitae Polonici)


Et sic Poloni adhuc circa Penthecostes Alado gardzyna yesse colentes ydola in eorum kalenda et proch dolor istis ydolis exhibetur maior honor tune temporis a malis christianis quam de deo quia puelle que per totum annum non veniant ad ecclessiam adorare deum, illo tempore solent venire ad colenda ydola.

(Poles even now about the time of the Pentacost honor gods/idols Alado gardzyna yesse… and unfortunately bad Christians honor these gods more than they honor God, because girls/women, who all year do not go to church to honor God, then came to honor these gods/idols)

About the author: We only know, as per the title, that this was written by a, likely Polish, Hussite priest who, likely, will remain anonymous.  This comes from Aleksander Brueckner and is from the Petersburg Library manuscripts.

Tractatus about Polish Orthography by Jacob (Jakub Parkoszowic)

(circa 1440)

Nya, quod fuit idolorum

(Every time there was a soft ‘n’ to be written, it was always written with the help of a double ‘y’ before the appropriate vowel…  This writing method was, however, inadequate to differentiate [from other situations], because between ‘Nya‘ which was the name of a [god/goddess/]idol and ‘nia’, a syllable found in the word ‘gniazdo’ [nest], there was no difference in writing)

This is from the 1830 Samuel Bandtkie edition in Latin:


[for more on the topic see here]

About the author: Jacobus Parcossi, Parkosch de Żorawicze, Parkossius was a priest and a four time rector, i.e., Chancellor of (and a one time student at) Krakow University (his four terms of one year each were nonconsecutive, separated by a year under Jan of Dobro, who played the role of Benjamin Harrison in this rectoral sandwich).  His main achievement was the creation of a tractatus (no known title) on Polish orthography, specifically, spelling out rules on the application of Latin letters to Polish phones (as in phonetics, actual phone service was not yet present in Poland). The tractatus survives at Jagiellonian Library in a manuscript from 1460-1470 scribed by one Warzykowski.

Sermones per circulum anni Cunradi


Sed proh dolor, nostri senes, vetule et puelle non disponunt se ad oracionem, ut sint digne acecipere spiritum sanctum, sed proh dolor hys tribus diebus qui servandi sunt in contemplacione, conveniunt vetule et mulieres et puelle non ad templum, non orare, sed ad coreas, non nominare deum, sed dyabolum scilicet ysaya lado ylely ya ya.  Quibus dicit Christus: solempnitates vestras odivit anuma mea.  Tales cum dyabolo venerunt, cum eodem[sic] reddeant et nisi peniteant, transient cum yassa lado ad eternam dampnacionem.

(unfortunately, our old men, old women and girls do not spend much effort on prayers so as to be worthy to take on the Holy Ghost but unfortunately during those three days of the Pentacost that ought to be spent on introspection, there come the old women and the girls not to church, not to prayers, but to dance, not to call God, but the devil, specifically ysaya lado ylely ya ya … those if they do not do penance, will walk with yassa lado to eternal damnation)

About the author: This quotation is from the Czestochowa manuscript of the Sermons of Conrad (probably Waldhausen?) for the liturgical year.  The year this dates to is 1423 although, if Waldhausen, is the author of the underlying original (and he would not have been writing about Poland being concerned with Czech and German matters), then the original (without the above notes) would have been written about during the life of the same, i.e., 1320- 1369.  We are not, however, interested in the original but in this version.  Source: Manuscriptum Czenstochoviense, (Johannis de Michoczyn? Conrad Waldhauser?) located by Rafal Lubicz.

Statuta provincialia breviter (of Gniezno?) 


Item prohibeatis plausus et cantalenas in quibus invocantur nomina ydolorum lado yleli yassa tya que consueverunt fieri tempore festi penthecosten, cum revera Christi fidelis tunc debent deum invocare denocte ut ad instar apostolorum valeant accipere spiritum sanctum, quem non ex actibus demoniorum merebuntur accipere sed ex fideli catholice fructuose.

(Forbid clapping and singing too in which the names of the gods Lado, Yleli, Yassa, Tya are invoked and which usually takes place during the Pentacost…)

The manuscript is in the Ossolineum library.  The below is from an edition by Wladyslaw Abraham from the year 1920:


About the author: It appears that these “short-version” statutes were enacted during a provincial synod (i.e., meeting of the clergy) at Wielun/Kalisz.  That synod, in turn, was a result of the Council of Constance (during which, among other exciting things, John Hus was put to the stake) which took place in and which had been attended by a Polish delegation under the Primate of Poland Mikolaj Traba and the Poznan Bishop Andrzej Laskarz.  A longer version of the statutes may also have been passed at Wielun/Kalisz.  In fact, Laskarz enacted longer Poznan statutes a few years later at a Poznan synod that appear to be based largely on the above statutes (though do not mention the above language found only in the “provincial” statutes).  These statutes are written down in a manuscript in the Ossolineum Library.

Pentacostal Postilla no. 2 by Lucas from Great Kozmin

(circa 1405)




Hoc deberent advertere hodie in choreis vel in aliis spectaculis nefanda loquentes et in cordibus immunda meditantes, clamantes et nominantes idolorum nomina: ‘Lado, Yassa‘ et attendere an possit referro ad Deum Patrem? Certe non venit ad summum bonum nisi quod bonum… 

Non enim salvatur in hoc nomine Lado, Yassa, Nia sed in nomine Ihesus Christus …

Non Lada, non Yassa, non Nia, que sunt nomina alias ydolorum in Polonia hic cultorum, ut quedam cronice testantur ipsorum Polonorum.

(To this day they sing and dance and name their Gods “Lado, Yassa” and others – surely not references to the Holy Father so can anything good come of this? Certainly not…

One does not receive salvation through the names of Lado, Yassa or Nia but rather through the name of Jesus Christ…

Not Lada, Yassa or Nia, that incidentally are the names of the gods worshipped here in Poland as will attest certain chronicles of the Poles)

Incidentally, a lot of time in the literature has been spent on the mythical “Quia” whose name was supposed to have been placed between the Lado/a and the Yassa in the second occurrence of this list and which, it was speculated, may have been the “Kiy”or “Kij” of Kiyev or, perhaps, some legendary smith figure (koval = smith; what a koval does is “kuy” or hits, i.e., hits the iron) a la Hephaestos.  We just do not see any such name in the above – let us know if you disagree.

About the author: Lucas from Great Kozmin (or Nicolaus Lucas de Jaroslaw olin de Cosmin if you are looking for a mouthful) lived between (approximately) 1370-1412.  He started his studies at Prague University in 1395 and got his B.A. there.  He then lived in Sandomierz where he was the head of a collegiate church school in 1400.  Thereafter, he studied at Cracow University (the later Jagiellonian University) where he got his masters degree in 1403 and, thereafter, began to teach the liberal arts at the same university.  He later studied theology at Cracow and got another B.A. in 1410.  His master was Nicholas (Mikolaj) from Pyzdry In 1411 he was chosen to be the Rector, i.e., Chancellor of Cracow University.  He is know to have defended Jan Hus (who, as noted above, was put to fire in 1415).  Lucas is last mentioned alive at the end of June 1412 but for the school year 1413-1414 he is listed as deceased (whether that is related to the information provided in the immediately preceding sentence is not currently  known).

The above quotations come from one of his Pentacostal sermons are part of his Postylla, a series of sermons dedicated to Bishop Wojciech Jastrzebiec.  The Postylla survive in several manuscripts:  the Ossolineum Library (above shown version); the Collegiate Church at Kielce; Jagiellonian Library (without the beginning parts); in parts, in the Polish National Library  (from the Bieszow Library); and outside of Poland in Prague’s Capitula Library; and in Cambridge at Corpus Christi College (first above picture in this blog).

The relevance of Lucas is at least threshold.  First, his is the earliest (known) source that lists Polish Gods by name.  In fact, he refers to them three times and each time uses the same spelling lending some additional credibility to his account (or at least to his orthographic prowess).

Second, he refers to earlier Polish chronicles as referencing such Gods, thereby, potentially, taking us to times before the 15th century.  In fact, elsewhere, he says (as per Kielce manuscript):

In quadam Cronica recolo tempore adolescencie mee legisse fuisse ydola in Polonia, unde et iste ritus usque ad tempora nostra pervenit, nam chorea exercebantur puellule cum gladiis ac si ymmolande demonibus et non Deo disponebantur et masculi cum fustibus et gladiis armabenatur et invicem findebantur…

(I recall that in youth I read in a certain chronicle that there were in Poland Gods and from those days to our times such rites come that, young women [in his time] dance with swords, as if in offering to the pagan Gods, and not to [the] God, as well as [dances of] young men with swords and sticks, which they then hit about…)

Third, and less relevantly, for all his bluster and dismissiveness, the 19th century historian Alexander Brueckner who ridiculed the idea of the above being trustworthy sources for the names of Polish Gods (tracing Dlugosz and all earlier sources solely to the above mentioned Statuta provincialia breviter which he considered unreliable), was apparently unaware of the mentions in the above sermons.  (This may be because he derived his knowledge of the topic from various, then popular, compilations that were put together by others).

(Of course, if one reads Brueckner, an unavoidable conclusion might be that, upon seeing this, he would just claim that the Statuta Breviter are derived from Lucas from Kozmin who just made it all up.  In other words, Brueckner never showed that the source was actually a single document but rather he just took the earliest one, assumed that it was the source of all the latter (none of these latter ones cites the Statuta Breviter so, again, it is just his supposition that all originated with the Statuta) and then proceeded to discredit it).

Earlier Sources

Although no earlier Polish sources are known (yet), there are some earlier Czech sources which mention Czech/Slavic gods/goddesses.  For example, the previously discussed (in the context of the Zlowene gloss) Mater Verborum (from 1240 though the notes/glosses may have been added at a different time – Patera & Baum‘s book/article provides interesting criticism for some unbelievers with “Lada” listed as a falsified gloss (along with other gods), presumably, by Vaclav Hanka, though they are not explicit on this) proves useful here as well by mentioning, some have thought, Lada but as Venus (rather than, as with Dlugosz, Mars).  More mysteries.


(On the other hand, a much much later source (or compilation really), Sacra Moraviae Historia (the Life of Cyril and Methodous) by Jan Jiri  (Joannes Georgius) Ignac Stredovsky (1710)  equates Ladon with Mars following Dlugosz’ interpretatia romana. On p 53 of the same you will also find other divine references, amongst them, a reference apparently to Yassa, the highest of the Gods here too but in Moravia known as Chasson sive Jassen.  We do not discuss these gods here as they properly belong in the Czech section which is to come).

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October 4, 2014