Monthly Archives: December 2014

On Ragusan Yule Logs

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The town of Dubrovnik in Croatia is a renowned port city.  Seeing as it is Yule-tide just about now (or whatever the Slavic version of it should be called), we bring you a light-hearted description of the events in Dubrovnik on the Eve of Christmas.

The mariners of the city, you see, would gather up and carry a yule-log of sorts to the house of the local prince (comes) and then set it on fire rejoicing greatly.  The prince potentate would reward them pro Kallendis (i.e., for the end of year/yule-tide) with two perpers (local currency) as well as with something to drink (naturally).


The oldest manuscript in existence dates back to the 1340s and is in the Dubrovnik State Archives – this is a 16th century copy

All of this is described in the Liber Statutorum Civitas Ragusii (i.e., The Book of Laws/Statutes of the City of Dubrovnik, aka Dobro Venedik in Turkish (or “good Venice”)) from about the year 1272.  This was a book of laws that remained in force in Dubrovnik until the end of the Ragusan Republic in 1808.


bottom portion

We will return to Dubrovnik later when discussing the White Cliffs of Dover… as a hint we are doubtful of the official derivation of the name of the city from an oak grove, i.e., a dab but that is a matter for another time.

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


December 31, 2014

On the Earliest Slavic Names

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We present here some of the earliest Slavic names (as the title suggests) along with their sources.  Since these names appear both in the description of Slavs and in the description of the Antes we mention both groups of names under separate sections.

The Slavs 

Ardagastus – (source: Theophylact Simocatta’s History) – first known “Sclavene” chieftain known to conduct raids into Byzanthine territory.  He was engaged by Comentiolus at Adrianople/Ansinon and retreated with the Byzantines freeing a lot of their prisoners.  Later forced to flee another Byzantine general – Priscus – on an “unsaddled mare;” then when that mare was caught by the “Romans” (i.e., Byzantines) he fled on foot; but then fell on a tree stump only to escape in the last minute across a river.  Meanwhile, his Slavs were taken as captives to Byzantium in “wooden fetters”.

Feild dives into the mud after he won the Bareback event during the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary

Ardagastus after being left by his “unsaddled mare”

Musocius – (source: Theophylact Simocatta’s History) – another Sclavene leader (“rex”) who sent out a scouting party that was caught by the Byzantines by reason of a betrayal by a certain Gepid.  The Gepid first helped the Byzantine Alexander to catch the scouting party then was enticed by Priscus to draw Musocius into a trap which he did claiming that he wanted to get boats to help those left from Ardagastus’ party who had been trapped on the other side of some river (Paspirius? presumably a tributary of the Danube).  Musocius fell for this and sent one hundred fifty boats and thirty oarsmen came to the other side of the river.  At which point the Gepid went back to Priscus and brought a force back with him led by the same Alexander.  They caught the Slavs unawares (sleeping and/or drunk) took their ships and crossed the river with a much larger force.  There it seems they found Musocius (actually it’s not clear whether Musocius had crossed first or just sent the ships) who was sleeping/drunk (apparently as a result of funeral festivities or commemorations for his just passed away brother).


Musocius seemed ok after a few drinks but some in the Slav camp were beginning to worry

The Romans (i.e., Byzantines) were victorious but then they started drinking and the Slavs, apparently, got back on their feet and attacked them – the Byzantines would have lost but for one Gentzon who carried the day – the next day the officers of the watch were impaled by Priscus’ command and some of the other soldiers “severely flogged”.  It is unclear whether Musocius himself survived.  As we’ve already noted here, Musocius’ name is reminiscent of the name Mieszko from a few hundred years later.

Peiragastus – (source: Theophylact Simocatta’s History) – leader of a Sclavene raiding party.  Apparently he was letting his horses rest at a river crossing and came upon a patrol of Byzantine soldiers capturing them in the process (they were asleep as they had been riding all day and were preparing for night scouting duties – apparently with no sentries).  Then his force was camouflaged at the river bank and when the main body of the Byzantines began to cross the Slavs were able from their hiding places to kill a thousand of them.  When the Byzantines realized what was happening they attacked all at once and with arrows from their rafts driving the Slavs away from the river.  Peiragastus himself was killed by an arrow and his troops then surrounded and partly slaughtered but the Byzantines, lacking horses, were unable to pursue.


Peiragastus – the Last Stand (seeing as sitting down was no longer an option)

(So the end tally Theophylact Simocatta is: Ardagast – escaped; Musocius – may have escaped; Peiragastus – terminated).

Dauritas/Daurentius – (source: Menander the Guardsman, The History of [the same]; this is a work that now exists only in the collections De Legationibus and De Sententiis from the 10th century) – Apparently, he had “insulted” the Avar khan Baian by refusing to become the Avar’s tributary.  Specifically, Dauritas and his fellow chiefs reply to the Avars’ envoy was “What man has been born what man is warmed by the rays of the sun who shall make our might his subject?  Others do not conquer our land, we conquer theirs.  And so it shall always be for us, as long as there are wars and weapons.”  The Avars boasted likewise and then came the usual “abuse and insults” as well as a “shouting match.”  The Avar envoys miscalculated in the short run (and for those specific envoys the short run was all they had it turns out) and the Slavs “unable to restrain their rage” slew the envoys.


Slavs “unable to contain their rage” (Dauritas in the front  seems particularly unable to do so)

In the long run (about the year 578) this proved to be a bit of a mistake as the ever scheming Byzantines via the emperor Tiberius II started chatting up Baian and convinced him to attack the Slavs as part of the Byzantine strategy of divide and conquer (in fairness the Slavs have been raiding the Byzantine lands and, in fact, part of the Avars desire to get at the Slavs was to get their hands on the gold that the Slavs had apparently stolen from the Byzantines).  The Avar envoys requested boats from Tiberius to cross the Danube from Pannonia to Scythia Minor in order to attack the Slavs.  Although Tiberius was apparently suspicious that the Avars really wanted to get at the Byzantine city of Sirmium, he ultimately did agree and ordered the governor of Illyricum, John to assist the Avars.  About sixty thousand (!?) “armored horsemen” were transported into Byzantine territory (including Baian himself) who crossed Illlyricum, crossed Scythia and prepared to recross the Danube (?).  Once on the other side Baian “immediately fired the villages of the Slavs and laid waste their fields, driving and carrying off everything, since none of the barbarians there dared to face him, but took refuge in the thick undergrowth of the woods.”  It is not clear what happened to Daurentias and his “fellow chiefs”.

The Antes

Boz – (source: Jordanes, Getica) – the story of Boz has its own entry here.

Dabragezas – (source: Agathias of Myrina, Histories) – this was the name of an Antian officer in the service of the Byzantines – apparently in command of the Byzantine fleet in the Crimea.  Another officer  by the name of Leontios may have been his son (it is thought).  Be that as it may, since Leontios is a Greek name, we do not separately create rubric for Leontios. This was circa 582. (note that Slavs and Antae were in the service of the Byzantines as well as fighting them – for example, in 537 most of the about 1,600 horsemen sent to relieve Belisarius’ campaign against the Ostrogoths in Italy were Slavs and Antae as per Procopius).


The famous 1594 edition of Agathias Scholasticus Myrinaeus by Buonaventura Vulcanus

Mezamer/Idariz/Kelagast  – (source: Menander the Guardsman, The History of [the same]) – the Avars had been pillaging and ravaging (not necessarily in that order) the lands of the Antae (circa 582) forcing the latter to send an embassy to the Avars appointing as the main ambassador one Mezamer, the son of Idariz and brother of Kelagast so as to ransom some of the Antae who had been taken captive by the Avars.


Mezamer arrived for the negotiations so full of hope

But Mezamer was a “loudmouth braggart and when he came to the Avars he spoke arrogantly and very rashly.”  There was at the Avar court a Kutrigur (apparently the Gepids and Kutrigurs have noxious effects on the Slavs and Antae respectively) who noted to the Khagan who suggested that Mezamer was the most powerful of the Antae and that, therefore, killing him would make the Antae fold with fear.  The Avars did take up this helpful suggestion and thereafter were able to ravage the land of the Antae “even more than before, carrying off prisoners and plunder without respite.”

[Chilbudius] – (source: Procopius, Gothic Wars) – this one is not certain; Chilbudius was a magister in charge of Thrace who launched attacks against the barbarians north of the Danube but fell in one of his expeditions.  Apparently, an Antian prisoner of the Slavs either had the same name (which might be interesting for our purposes) or pretended to have the same name (which would be less interesting) and, therefore, claimed to be the same person as the magister who was thought dead.  Specifically, when the Antes bought back the man from the Slavs (yes, they were known to fight one another too), the buyers were approached by a Byzantine prisoner of theirs (i.e., of the Antes) who convinced them that they had the real deal here or at least that they ought to be able to get some cash for the pretender.  In any event, at some point the Antes figured out that this was not the “true” Chilbudius and the bought back Antae (Ant?) fessed up (supposedly) but the Antes went ahead with the plan anyway and sent him to Constantinople (apparently as part of a plan to convince the Emperor Justinian to have Chilbudius govern them at Turris, a city that Justinian wanted to give to the Antae in exchange for their protecting the imperial frontier from the Huns).


The (2nd) outing of the false Chilbudius – the Byzantines saw right through him

However, the whole thing was revealed when the Chilbudius or not Chilbudius was taken prisoner by a Byzantine named Narses who saw through the ruse or whatever else this was – our head is spinning and so should yours about now.  The year was [circa] 545.

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

December 30, 2014

The Tale of Piast and Popiel as seen in Gallus Anonymous’ Chronicle

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We thought it  interesting to produce an English translation of some of the more popular stories and myths of Slavic countries without analysis, interpretation and paraphrasing (something different this time).  To give you what’s there – literally – in the old chronicles.  We will start with the earliest versions but, to the extent we think there is interesting stuff in subsequent iterations of the tale, we will include those as well.  We will start this series with the tale of Piast (with Popiel) but have plans for other stories as well.

With regards to Polish sources, we have the Anonymous Chronicle as the most ancient source, then Master Vincent Kadlubek’s Chronicle, then Dzierzwa and then the Greater (Old) Poland Chronicles.  Finally, there is Jan Dlugosz who is hardly an ancient source but whose versions are always entertaining – for that reason we will include him as well.  Subsequent tales and myths of Miechow, Kromer, Bielski or Guaginin/Stryjkowski we will not include in these series as they are more modern and, we think, do not add much worthwhile material in this respect.

Gallus Anonymous Chronicle

About Duke Popiel [called Choscisko]:


There was namely in the town of Gniezno, whose meaning in Slavic is simply “nest”, a duke by the name of Popiel, who had two sons; according to pagan custom he prepared a great feast for their postrzyzyny [hair cutting ceremony wherein the boy became admitted to adulthood – aka First Communion or Pole-mitzvah], to which feast he invited a ver many of his magnates and friends.  It happened, however, from God’s mysterious will, that there arrived two guests , who were not only not invited to the feast but were even in hurtful ways turned away from city gates.


Some versions of this story have three guests arriving

And they, outraged at the cityfolk’s inhumane treatment of them, went straightaway to the burbs [i.e., the area around the city walls where poorer people dwelt], where they fortuitously happened upon the little house of a ploughman of the aforementioned duke who was arranging the feast for his sons [this “who” seems to refer to the duke’s feast, rather than to the ploughman].


Piast’s house is the second bottom one from the left

This poor man full of compassion, invited the strangers to his house making it available [to them] in all of its poverty.  And they, grateful to be so invited upon entering the friendly house, said unto him:  “Be happy indeed that we have come and perhaps our arrival will bring unto you a wealth of all good things, and from your offspring pride and fame.”

About Piast the Son of Choscisko:


[note that this section has caused much confusion as it suggests, given the title of the preceding section, that Piast was the son of Popiel – as far as we know that is an unresolved issue and people have lived with this problem and, absent new sources, will have to continue to so live; incidentally, Choscisko seems to mean someone with out of control hair]

“Those who lived in this friendly house were one Piast, the son of Choscisko and his wife by the name Rzepka; and both of them with all their heart tried to tend to the needs of their guests, and seeing their prudence/wisdom, they got ready to run secret plan they had concocted by the guests [?].  When sitting down and according to custom they talked about various things, and the visitors asked, what is there to drink, the hospitable ploughman answered: “I have a barrel of fermented beer which I have prepared for the postrzyzyny of my only son but what does such a small barrel mean?  Drink it should you will so!”  The poor man decided namely at a time when his duke and master was hosting a feast for his sons – for at another time he could not do so because of his poverty – to prepare a slightly better meal for the postrzyzyny of his little one and to invite a few of his likewise poor friends to this feast but rather for a modest snack; and so he’d been fattening a pig for this occasion.


Piast’s wife Rzepka trots out the very best

Strange things will I say but who can understand the mind of the Lord?  Or who would dare to question the goodness of God who in this life not once elevates the humbleness of the poor and does not hesitate to reward hospitality even among the pagans?  Calmly the guests thus ask Piast to pour the beer because they well knew that the amount of beer will not be lessened by drinking it but rather will only increase.  And so the there was more and more beer until all the borrowed cups were filled while those that feasted with the duke found their cups to be empty.  They order then to kill the afore mentioned pig whose meat – aching unbelievable – was to fill ten vessels known in Slavic as “cebry” [singular, ceber].


The names of Piast’s other wives did not make it into the annals of history – yet their role getting that pig was equally important

Piast and Rzepka when seeing these miracles that were happening, sensed in them an important augury for their son and almost intended to invite the duke and his guests but they dared not do so without first asking the travelers.  Why wait?  Thus, at the guests’ counsel and with their encouragement, their lord the duke and all his revelers are invited by the peasant Piast, and the invited duke certainly did not see shame to come to his own peasant’s house.


Piast is eager to welcome Popiel to his humble house

For at that time the Polish dukedom was not so great, nor did the duke of the country have yet so much pride and did not go about so richly surrounded by a procession of vassals.  So when the customary feast was organized and all the foods were aplenty, the guests cut the boy’s hair and gave him the nama Siemowit [or Siemovit] as an augury of future occurrences.”

About the duke Ziemowit, the Son of Piast:


“After all this, the young Siemowit, son of Piast Chosciskowiec [i.e., Piast son of Choscisco, with Chosciskowiec being a patronymic] grew in strength and in years and each day grew also in virtues until at last the king of kings and duke of dukes with the common agreement of all made him a duke of Poland and Popiel, together with his descendants, he [i.e., God] removed completely from the duchy.  Wise men also say that this Popiel once thrown out of the kingdom was so greatly pursued by mice, that for this reason he was brought by his people to an island, where he was long defended in a wooden tower against these enraged animals who swam there, until he was finally abandoned because of the great stench that arose from the many killed [mice? men?] and died there in the most shameful way, for he died being torn/bitten apart by these monsters…


Popiel’s last stand (from the Hanna Barbera documentary)

But let us leave the histories of people, the recollection of whom has been lost in the forgetfulness of centuries and who were sullied by the errors of idolatry, and mentioning them only briefly let us move on to herald those matters which have been solidified by exact memory.

Siemowit thus, having obtained the duke’s honors, passed his youth not on pleasures and fleeting entertainments but rather, devoting himself to hard work and knightly service, his respectability became well-known and so did his worthy fame and he expanded the borders of his dukedom further than anyone before him.  After his passing, his place was taken by his son Lestek who by his knightly deeds equaled his father in his respectability and courage.  After Lestek’s death there came Siemomysl, his son, who multiplied threefold the memory of his ancestors both through his birth as by his honor.”

[the next story in the Chronicle is the story of Mieszko]

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December 27, 2014

On the Freising Manuscripts’ Translations

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Having dealt with some things Czech, others Polish and a bit of Russian and Croatian, we decided to take a detour into the lands of Slovenia.  We begin by taking a quick look at the so-called Freising Manuscripts.

The Freising Manuscripts are Slovenian manuscripts and are the oldest Slavic-language documents written in Latin, likely created before the year 1000.  Perhaps they written by Bishop Abraham in Freising, perhaps not.  Currently, at the Bavarian State Library, they consist of three separate texts.  They are available for viewing here.


The above is the first page of the third manuscript.  We note the translation of the beginning in Slovene and in English is as follows:

Slovene (this is the modern translation of these ancient words):

Jaz se odpovem zlodeju, in vsem njegovim delom, in vsem njegovim lepotijam.


“I renounce the devil and all his works, and all his ornaments.”

What the language actually says is the following:

Iazze zaglagolo zlodeiu.  Iuzem iego delom.  Iuzem iego lepocam.

Now, the first interesting thing here is that zlodeiu is interpreted as an “evil doer” reminding us of the older meaning of this word (this is correct as the “zlodei” was to be contrasted with the “dobrodei”) which now may mean something else, e.g., “thief” in Polish.

Secondly, notwithstanding the translation, there is no devil or rather the word “devil” is not used.  Just “Zlodei”.  In fact, “dei” may actually be interpreted here as a god, specifically, a bad god, i.e., a zlo dei.  It is curious whether there is a connection between the word deus and the indo-european verb to do – perhaps, as in maker or doer.

Thirdly, the quality of the writing is remarkable.  Spacing, in particular is nice, airy and altogether generous as most words are properly and exactly separated with a nice roomy, yes, space (compare that to the incredibly annoyingly chicken scratched manuscripts of Lucas from Great Kozmin).  A few words are stuck together – mostly the word “and”, i.e., “i”.  Two-letter words, however are usually separated from others.  The word “I” seemingly appears in the text once only (this is partly because of verb conjugation that does not exist in English): as in “Jaz” then “se” in the above text.  Indeed, in modern Slovenian “I am” is “Jaz sem”.  Is that what “Iazze” means?

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December 26, 2014

Polish Gods Part II – On the Night on Bald Mountain

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Tranquility Itself

Merry Christmas y’all.  The Łysa Góra (aka ŁysiecŚwięty Krzyż or in English Bald Mountain) Benedictine abbey in the Holy Cross Mountains in Poland was (and what remains is) a very famous abbey.


Of course, the monks were only able to buy their tranquility by investing in a high quality ray gun – guaranteed to stop any Polish Gods… at least if they come at you from space at a 90 degree angle

As such it deserved to have its history written and, as it deserved it, so it got its desserts.  In particular, the history of the establishment was written in the so-called Powieść Rzeczy Istey (publication year 1538? (the Latin version came out in 1536)).


We will let readers take it all in at their own time and pleasure but, in general, the story starts with the existence of a castle (Łysiec or “baldy”) on Bald Mountain.  In that castle there lives a Lady so arrogant that she demands to be worshipped as if she is the goddess Diana.  Such sacrilege cannot go on and so the castle is torn apart by thunder such that its remaining stones can be seen to this day (and to this day too).


Money for the new monastery was there – just not enough for proper cleanup of what was there before

In that place there was (then? later?) a church to three idols (trzy balwany) named LadaBoda and Leli where the common people would come to pray and make offerings on the first of May (recall the Green Week and the Pentacostal Postillas/Sermons).


This was seen by  the Czech princess Dobrawa on her way to marry Mieszko and she being a good Christain could not tolerate such an affront and ordered that (the old church be razed and) a church (a “real” one) be built to be dedicated to the Holy Trinity.


The monk Benedict Kiddo used the Five-Point-Palm-Exploding-Wall Technique to break down the Lada/Boda/Leli church temple ramparts – effective, if messy

She also founded (and apparently funded from her dowry) a Benedictine monastery (tradition says in 1006 though she was already departed by then) and invited six monks from Bohemia to run it, i.e, to be doing whatever monks do in monasteries there.   Later, at her request, her son Boleslaw Chrobry after his coronation strengthened the construction (there is talk of some masonry) and donated more funds to it.


Now, since Dobrawa died before Mieszko in 977 and Boleslaw was not crowned until 1025 (although in this version of Powieść Rzeczy Istey he was king for 25 years so since the year 1000 – suggesting BTW that the Gniezno meeting with Otto III resulted in a coronation… a topic for another time) some time must have passed between Dobrawa’s request and Chrobry’s further works on the monastery (at least 23 years if the crowning is to be in the year 1000 or 48 years otherwise if we go with the crowning in the year 1025 as is usual).  In any event, Boleslaw Chrobry passes shortly after his (real) coronation in 1025 with the story noting that his passing was foretold by a large and very bright comet (“Kometa wielka i bar(d)zo Jasna).


So we are left with another list of Gods with the mystery figure here being Boda as the others are already known from Jan Dlugosz and others.

The stuff that went on on Bald Mountain was quite extraordinary

A priest of Boda on Bald Mountain?

Although Jan Dlugosz allegedly also referred to Lel and Polel (as well as Świst, Poświst, Pogoda) as being venerated on Łysa Góra, I have not been able to confirm this.

Note also that the above story about Bald Mountain was mentioned in one form or another by the Greater Poland Chronicle and by Jan Dlugosz later as well.

Here is the version from the above Powieść Rzeczy Istey.  It contains parts labeled 2 and 3 above:


This Boleslaw was the son of Mieszko [who was] the Polish duke [and] was the one who was first to spread the Christian faith in Poland and who at his baptism in lieu of his name Mieszko was named Mieczyslaw. His mother was a good Christian named Dabrowka a Czech duchess, [and] the granddaughter of Saint Wenceslaus the martyr.  This Dabrowka desiring to spread wider the glory of the Lord in Poland, tried to find worthy places to build a church.  She liked one place – Bald Mountain called after the castle Lysiec (bald) which stood on it and which was so called as it shone from afar.

It was in this castle that a certain lady who had lived there earlier; having grown in pride for she had defeated the great Alexander at this mountain, ordered that she be worshipped as the goddess Diana.  But she right away learned God’s wrath for this blasphemy for he threw all thunder at this castle; this lady too, together with all the servants he stifled so that till this day there lie at this place a great many stones.   At this same place there stood once a temple to three idols who were named Lada, Boda, Leli.  It was to these that the commoners would come on the first day of May so as to pray to them and to make offerings.  Therefore, the afore-said Dabrowka, having cast down their temple, ordered that a church be built there and dedicated to the veneration and praise of the reverend Holy Trinity.  Having called there six monks from the order of Saint Benedict, godly men from the Czech town of Sázava [Benešov District], she built there a small monastery and gave it a portion of her property that came from her dowry; which monastery later, the great and famous King Boleslaw Chrobry, at the request of this Dabrowka, his mother, whose only son was he, in the sixth year after his coronation, endowed with a greater estate and built up robustly with masonry.


Był ten Bolesław syn Mieyszki książęcia polskiego który napierwey w Polszcze począł szczepić wiarę Krześcijanską który też na krzcie w miasto imienia Mieyszki nazwan był Mieczysław.  Matką iego była dobra krześcijanka imieniem Dąbrówka księżna Czeska wnuczka świętego Wacława męczennika. Ta to Dąbrówka chcąc chwałę bożą w Polszcze rozmnożyć, iakoby młode szczepie, szukaiąc mieysca godnego ku budowaniu kościoła. Spodobało się iey mieysce iedno, Łysa gora wezwane od zamku Łysiec, który na niey był, który też tak zwano, iż się z daleka bielał. 

Na tym zamku pani iedna przedtym mieszkaiąca, podniowszy się w pychę, iż była poraziła wielkiego Alexandra pod tą gorą, kazała się za boginią Dyane chwalić. Ale natychmiast za to bluźnierstwo pomstę Bożą uznała, iż on zamek wszystek grom rostrącił onę też panią ze wszystkimi służebniki potłumił, tak iż ieszcze podziś dzień leżą na tym miescu wielkie gromady kamienia. Na tym też miescu był kościół trzech bałwanów, kthóre zwano Lada, Boda, Leli. Do których prości ludzie schadzali się pierwszego dnia Maia, modłę im czynić y ofiarować. Tedy Dąbrówka przerzeczona pokaziwszy ich bożnice kazała zbudować kościoł y poswięcić ku czci y ku chwale wielebney świętey Troyce. Tamże wezwawszy szesć mnichow zakonu S. Benedykta meżow nabożnych z Zozea miasta Czeskiego zbudowała klasztor niewielki y nadała im cześć imienia z posagu swego kthory potym klasztor wielki a sławny Krol Bolesław Chabry, na prośbę teyże Dąbrówki matki swey, ktorey był syn iedyny, roku szóstego po koronacyey więtszym imieniem nadał y dostatkiem więtszym zmurował.

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December 25, 2014

On Czech Gods Part II

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We mentioned before that the Czech sources for most of the Czech Gods are rather behind the times coming mostly (outside of the controversial Mater Verborum glosses) only starting in the 16th century.  We also mentioned that that was not entirely correct and that we had some ideas for earlier sources.  The time has come:

Here is Abbott Neplach of Opatovice, associated with the court of Charles IV.  He was apparently “born in Hoříněves to a poor family, then was sent to the Benedictine monastery in Opatovice in 1328.  In 1334 he took the vows of the Benedictine Order, and in 1340 he studied in Bologna.  He became abbot of the Opatovice monastery in 1348.” [quoting after Brill].  He wrote a history of the world with a particular reference to that most important part of it, i.e., Bohemia (Summula chronicae tam Romanae quam Bohemicae).  It seems that this was at the request of Charles IV and followed an earlier crappier attempt by another writer.  Neplach’s effort was also rather lousy and eventually it was left to Pulkava to please the sponsor.  However, Neplach does say under the year 894 the following (carryover paragraph):


A.d. DCCCXCIV incipiunt acta ac gesta ducum et regum Boemie, quorum quidam pagani fuerunt et idcirco, quo tempore vel quibus annis domini regnaverint, non est curandum.  Habebat enim quoddam ydolum, quod pro deo ipsorum colebant, nomen autem ydoli vocabatur Zelu.  Sed obmissis materiis de illis virginibus, de quibus fit mencio in principio cronice Boemice, de sola Lybossa phitonissa brevissime dicendum est.

To translate:

“There began the deeds and acts of the dukes and kings of Bohemia,  some of whom were pagans and, therefore, at what time or in what years they ruled is of no importance. And they had an idol whom they worshipped as a god and the name of this idol was Zelu.  But now let us focus on the matter of those maidens of whom mention was made at the beginning of this chronicle and briefly mention Lybossa [Libuse] the witch…”

Now, the interesting thing is that the German (and, apparently, only the German) translation of the Dalimil Chronicle contains a similar reference (perhaps based on this text above):


Now, Zelu seems to be the same as Zelon sive Dobropan, (interpretatio romana Mercury) from Stredovsky.  In fact, perhaps Stredovsky based his Zelon on the above reference of Neplach’s…


December 23, 2014

On the Names of Poland Part II

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We will come back to some descriptions/names of early Poland (including bin-Yakub‘s) in part III – but in the meantime we thought to take a detour (why not!?) describing some interesting etymologies of the name.

Some hypotheses as regards the name of Poles or Poland follow (we are trying to be complete and creative rather than trying to propose that each of those is equally likely).  We also note that some of these hypotheses are complementary (e.g., Poles maybe named after Lachs but Lach was a reference to a type of a field – lęda – not to a person or they were named after Eastern Polans but those in turn were named after fields or after lędy, etc.):

Named After Fields

This is the most common interpretation of the name.  This is also the interpretation given by Nestor in PVL to the name Polyane around Kiev (i.e., those Eastern Polans that would then become Rus, once the Rus took them over).


The serf overseer with his feared “skinny boomerang” – the bane of the fleeing peasant – doing what he does best – some good ol’ honest overseein’

On the other hand, at a minimum, this could not have meant “people who harvest fields”, i.e., it did not have an agricultural connotation but rather may have meant people who live in fields as in meadows or open fields.  Further, it is a strange name to give to a people who lived in a heavily forested country.

Named After Forest Clearings

Could Polyane refer to “polana” a forest clearing?  Initially, in Latin scripts Poland was many times referred to as Polania and to this day there is a Latin Polonia.  Possible, but it makes little sense to refer to a people who live in such a large country on the assumption that most of them live in small clearings.


Polane celebrating having set themselves up in “just the right kind of clearing”

Further, etymologists tell us that we then should have seen a different form of the adjective polski – polanski.  Also, the word Polak may come from pole but it is unlikely to come from polana.

Named After Lędy

Ledziny (or lędy, singular lęda) are fields but not in the sense of “pole” i.e., not the usual ones for cultivation of crops but rather fields that were were a result of the slash and burn agriculture allegedly practiced by the early Slavs.  This was a theory advanced by Rostafinski (of the beech fame).  (He also derives Vends/Wends from “wedzic”, i.e., to smoke fish, by drying them, i.e., to deprive them of water (i.e., wend)).

Thus, for example, the name of the Lendizi – a southeastern Polish tribe (aka Lędzianie) – would be the same as the Lachs or Polachs or Polaks or Poles.  Such a tribe was mentioned in 844-845 by the Bavarian Geographer as Lendizi.  This same tribe was mentioned by Porphirogenotos in De Administrando Imperio (Λενζανηνοί) as well as by Al-Masudi (“Landzaneh“).


Yo! That’s how we roll – gotta problem with that?

This etymology actually seems to make sense but only to explain the word Lachy which although applied originally with respect to the Lendizi, the Russians and others who lived next to the Lendizi then, in the same form applied to all Poles (and indeed to Pomeranians, Silesians, Mazovians and Polabian Slavs as well). (See PVL).

Named After Eastern Polans

A corollary of this is that, although the Eastern Polyane are mentioned by Nestor as the original inhabitants of Kiev, they disappear quickly after the Rus conquest of Kiev (about 882-885) (though Nestor mentions that some still live in Kiev as of the time of the writing of the PVL, i.e., in the early 12th century).  At the time of the Bavarian Geographer’s writing about the lands East of the Frankish kingdom, no Poles existed on his list.  Then they are there in Poland “ready to go” at least since mid-10th century.


Polyane – fleeing the Rus – only 50% would make it

Note also that while there is a Gniezno (nest) in Poland and that was the first capital of the country, there is also a Gnyozdovo in Russia just West of Smolensk.

So was Poland really a Russian venture?  Or putting it less provocatively, are Poles a tribe (or some of the tribe) driven from Russia (specifically Kiev) by the Varangian Rus some time in the second half of the ninth century?

Named After Lech

One of the popular interpretations has been that the Poles are named Po-lechu, i.e., after Lech their original founder.


Lech (modern reconstruction based on DNA sampling)

As we have seen, however, the existence of Lech cannot be proven before the 12th century Dalimil Chronicle and there he was actually named Czech (i.e., Lech means a young man).  Only, the later Greater Poland Chronicles and the Czech Pulkava Chronicle first mention Lech as the Urvater of the Poles.  Note that the Kadlubek Chronicle, which came after Dalimil but before the other two, mentions Lechites and mentions a number of “Lestkos” as in “sly” but does not mention a tribal leader by that name as leading the Poles into Poland as is mentioned later (e.g., in GPCs and in Dlugosz where Poles arrive from the South).

Now, there was a Czech leader named Lech who perished fighting Charlamagne in 805… So were these Lechites (the alternative name for Poles) perhaps refugees from Bohemia?  (There is an interesting, somewhat later, story that connects the flight of a certain Czech family from Bohemia, the Varshovtzi, to the founding of Warszawa or Warsaw in Poland).

Also there was a famous battle in 955 between Otto I and the Hungarians at Lechfeld (look – it’s got a field and a Lech (!)) named after the River Lech which was named after…


Otto I (on the right in the shorter shorts) and his most loyal knights celebrate their victory over the Hungarians

Named After Lech (but with Lech being a variation of the Norse “Lag”)

This is the theory that has Poland founded by Vikings.  Allegedly Old Norse Lag means “companion”.  Thus, the Viking companions would have founded Poland much like the Varangian Rus founded Russia.


“Dago, methinks it’s time to put away the flail and the attitude and start milkin’!”

There seem to be no facts that support this (a fact admitted even by Nazi scientists who sought to establish this during WWII after the occupation of Poland).  In fact, what speaks against it the most is that the name Lachs/Lengiel was employed (and is  employed) almost exclusively in the East by Russians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Hungarians but never by Germans or Scandinavians.

The theory of conquest was popular among the Polish szlachta (there is that Lach again… or Lech if szlachta is from Geschlecht) at the end of the 18th century to explain why the szlachta lived it up while the peasantry was so remarkably downtrodden (first they thought they were Vandals, then Sarmatians, then Norsemen).  It was later of interest to Polish defeatists who saw Poland partitioned (Lelewel, Szajnocha) and thereafter it was picked up by German historians after WWI when reborn Poland threatened Germany’s Eastern flank.

(incidentally, some members of the Anglo-Saxon historiography establishment sought to prove that the venal szlachta were really Asiatic Sarmatians while the Polish peasantry was of Gothic origin…)

Named After Polanow, the Town

There is a town in Poland named Polanow (in southern Pomerania or northern Greater Poland, if you will).  Already the Greater Poland Chronicles suggested that the country is named after that town.


(from the Polish National Library)

Incidentally, next to that town there is also the town of Pustow which sounds (a bit) like Piastow…


Named After Boleslaw the Great 

So was bolaniorum really the correct version and Poland is named after Boleslaw the Great?Given the number of “P” polaniorum manuscripts we think unlikely.   Interestingly, Poland with “B” as in Buluniia (no, not bulimia) also appears in Al-Idrisi‘s much later Tabula Rogeriana and in several other places…


Boleslaw Chrobry greets the young Otto III at Gniezno – A.D. 1000

Named After the Alans

It was named after the Alans as Poles are the remnant of the Scythian Alans (the “former Massagetae” according to Ammianus Marcellinus) most of whom went West with the Vandals and Suevi (and then onto Africa).


Alani on the Peutinger Map (in the far off grid 8A3)

After all Boleslaw is named pALANioru(m) duce above and we know from the Annales Vedastini about those “Alanos, quos dicunt Sclavos.” Here is that piece again:


We think unlikely – if anything the Polish tradition mentioned Vandals.  (Although later it began to mention the Sarmatians who may have been Alans… hmmmmmm).  And are Vandals just some conglomeration of Venethi and Alans – they did set out together in 406 or so… (we think this unlikely too).

Named After the North Star

A theory mentioned in 1745 by Benedykt Chmielowski has the name Poland derived from “Polo Arctico, that is the Northern Star towards which did the Polish Kingdom lay, just as Spain was named Hesperia from the Western star Hesperus.”


“No, not that one! The one on the left!!!!!”

Named After the North Pole

This is a variation on the above.  We cannot recall who came up with that one though it seems to have merited at least some debate in Polish ethnographic circles.


The subfreezing temperatures made well functioning port-a-potties into highly coveted real estate (the “Polish” flag will be touched up in post production)

Named After a Colchian Field

The same Chmielowski also suggests another etymology, that of a Colchian field, with Colchis being a part of today’s Georgia which was visited by the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece (remember those Paphlagonians…).


Colchis – in all its pink glory

Named After the Baptism of Poland

‘Polac’ means to ‘pour onto’.  Already the Czech Vaclav Hajek in his Kronyka Ceska (from 1541) suggested that Poles were those Slavs (or Lechites) who underwent baptism.  They were “polani” (i.e., poured onto) with water.  Apparently, Czech missionaries would ask “are you ‘polani‘ already?”  If this “Catholic” or, rather, “Christian” etymology were correct then, by definition, only those Poles that were baptized were real Poles.  This seems interesting if slightly preposterous.


966 A.D. – KQTZ brings it to you as it happened

Named After a Croatian City of Pula (or Pollentia)

After all the Poles (or Lech at least) supposedly came from Croatia (according to Jan Dlugosz) and there is a Krk island in Croatia so there should be a Polania or something in Croatia and, of course, there is: Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea or the modern city of Pula which was founded by “Illyrians” (or someone before them).


Eeeeee… if this is true, what were they thinking moving North!?

Oh yes, it’s also on the Peutinger Map!



Named After Vlakhs

Nestor writes in the PVL:

Over a long period the Slavs settled beside the Danube, where the Hungarian and Bulgarian lands now lie.  From among these Slavs, parties scattered throughout the country and were known by appropriate names, according to the places where they settled. Thus some came and settled by the river Morava, and were named Moravians, while others were called Czechs.  Among these same Slavs are included the White Croats, the Serbs and the Carinthians.  For when the Vlakhs attacked the Danubian Slavs, settled among them and did them violence, the latter came and made their homes by the Vistula, and were then called Lyakhs.”  

The strange thing here is that the paragraph on the Lyachs follows a settlement by most of the other Slavs in their lands already.  That is, the attack of the Vlachs (either the Romanized population of the Balkans or the Byzantines are presumably meant) seems to apply (or could be read to apply) solely to the Lyachs.  Are Lyachs those who were driven out by the Vlachs?  Or are they perhaps somehow the original Vlachs (in pursuit of Slavs)?


The most famous Vlach of all “No Slavs… you cannot get away!”

Named After Lany

A “lan” is a portion of a field.  So if not the whole field, perhaps some of it?  One of our readers suggested this and we thought worth including this etymology as well.  Tell us what you think.


The Polish “lany” were a place where fertility cults thrived

The Plain Truth?

Although neither Linde nor Brueckner suggest this etymology, it is conceivable that the Polish word “plony” (as in harvest) derives from plain as in flat (they suggest its original meaning was simply “booty” both of fields and that taken from the enemy).  However, the “pole” etymology was always tad suspect since by accepting it we were to accept that the forested Polish countryside was full of open fields – or at least more so than other areas of Europe.  On the other hand, we do know that the Great Northern European Plain is well, plain – whether covered by forest or by fields or whatever else the area is flatland.  In Latin the word us planum and means “level ground” i.e., plain…


Lech hunting “zubr” on the Great Plain of Poland [dramatization]

This would seem anecdotally supported by reports of Polish ethnographers who claimed that, e.g., Gorale claimed not to be Poles – when asked why that would be given they speak the same language, the Goral in question (a gazda – look it up) was confused because, he said, he is not a Pole as, of course, he lives in the mountains so how could he be a Pole…  (Incidentally, the Nazis after their conquest of Poland exploited these kinds of musings by declaring a new “privileged” minority – the Goralenvolk – most of the leadership of this short lived “minority” were executed after the war).   Similarly, by this logic Pomeranians were “not Poles” because they lived by the sea and Silesians by the Sleza mountain in the highlands.

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December 19, 2014

On Krak or Krok (or Crocus?)

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King Krak is a legendary monarch of Poland.  King Krok a legendary ruler of Bohemia.

The Polish Krak (known from the Master Kadlubek Chronicle and from the Greater Poland Chronicles) fought many wars, founded (and gave his name to) the city of Krakow, had to deal with a dragon, was succeeded by a son who killed another one of his son’s and then, when the crime was discovered, by a daughter – Wanda – who was of legendary beauty and who rallied her people against an Alemanic prince (only later called “German” by the name of Rittiger by the Polish Chronicler Jan Dlugosz) so smitten with her that he first tried to invade her country and then just could not bring himself up to an open war with Wanda.


The conflict between Krak and the Dragon was largely due to a case of athlete’s foot combined with the sharing of a soaking tub

The Czech Krok, after whom a castle was named, was also a great man though more in the nature of a wise man.  He lacked male offspring but had three daughters: Kazi, Tetka and, most importantly, the magician Libuse.  It was Libuse who married the simple ploughman Premysl, the founder of the Premyslid dynasty.


Dalimil’s Krok


And the same in “English” so to speak

BTW in this the Czech Krok legend (known from Cosmas and Dalimil) is different from the Polish one since the former connects Krok to the Czech ruling house whereas the latter does not make such a connection to the Polish House of Piast.  The reason for this may be that the Polish version stems out of the (likely) formerly Czech lands of Krakow (Little or New Poland) and does not tie easily (nor has it been expressly tied by any chroniclers) to the legend of Piast known in Gniezno (Great or Old Poland).

But what is the origin of the legend?  Where does the name come from?  The Polish chroniclers by using the name Graccus suggested a relationship with the ancient Romans by the same name.  But perhaps a different source presents itself.  Note that in the Polish version, the Poles are associated with Vandals and Wanda, the daughter of Krak, is about fight an Alemannic prince…

The Real Crocus/Chrocus?

History, via the mouth of Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks (or Decem Libri Historiarum), knows of an Alemannic Crocus (or Chrocus or Croscus) (with the -us suffix being a typical “Latinization” of the name) who raided with his comrades the Roman province of Gaul around the years A.D. 253-258 causing much damage including the destruction of the temple of Vasso Galatae (and causing the martyrdom of Saint Didier the third Bishop of Langres).

This is what Gregory says:

“Valerian and Gallienus receive the Roman imperial power in the twenty-seventh place, and set  on foot a cruel perscution of the Christians.  At that time Cornelius brought fame to Rome by his happy death and Cyprian to Carthage.  In their time also Chrocus the famous king of the Alemanni raised an army and overran the Gauls.  This Chrocus is said to have been very arrogant.  And when he committed a great many crimes he gathered the tribe of the Alemanni, as we have stated, by the advice, it is said, of his wicked mother, and overran the whole of the Gauls, and destroyed from their foundations all the temples which had been built in ancient times.  And coming to Claremont he set on fire, overthrew and destroyed that shrine which they call Vasso Galatae in the Gallic tongue…” (History of the Franks, Book I, 32 (Chrocus and the Shrine in Auvergne))

The Epitome de Caesaribus (41, 3) also speaks of a Crocus as a king of the Alemanni, this time serving the function of a Roman general/warlord in Britain (York) in July of the year A.D. 306.  It is not clear whether this was the same or a different Crocus.  But either there is a mistake or it is a different Chrocus as over 40 years separate these the events in these two accounts.

This is the text:

“Constantine [the Great], son of imperator Constantius and Helena, ruled thirty years. While a young man being held as a hostage by Galerius in the city of Rome on the pretence of his religion, he took flight and, for the purpose of frustrating his pursuers, wherever his journey had brought him, he destroyed the public transports, and reached his father in Britain; and by chance, in those very days in the same place, ultimate destiny was pressing on his parent, Constantius.  With him dead, as all who were present — but especially Crocus, King of the Alamanni, who had accompanied Constantius for the sake of support — were urging him on, he took imperium.” (Translated by Thomas M. Banchich)

Finally, and this is perhaps even more of interest, the Chronicle of Fredegar, which copies portions of the History of Franks, also mentions Crocus… but this time he is a King of the Vandals, leading them along with the Alans and the Suebi across the Rhine in that fateful year A.D. 406 (i.e., 100 years after the Epitome episodewhen these tribes crossed into the Roman Empire and made their way to Gaul, Spain and then, now Vandals and Alans only, to Africa.  Some believe that Fredegar was mistaken here but we were tempted, given the Vandal connection, to mention this and reproduce the following (from Fredegar):


Fredegar’s Vandalic version of Crocus

So what does the above say?

Chrocus rex Wandalorum cum Suaevis et Alanis egressus de sedibus, Galleas adpetens, consilium matris neequissimam utens, dum ei dixisset: ‘Se novam rem volueris facere et omen adquirere, quod alli aedifficaverunt cuncta distruae et populum, quem superas, totum interfice; nam nec aedificum meliorem a praecessorebus facere non potes neque plus magnam rem, per qua nomen tuum elevis’.  Qui Renum Mogancia ponte ingeniosae transiens, primum ipsamque civitatem et populum vasta vit; deind cunctasque civitatis Germaniae vallans, Mettis pervenit, ubi murus civitatis divino noto per nocte ruens, capta est civetas a Wandalis.  Treverici vero in arenam huius civitates, quem munierant, liberati sunt.  Post haec cunctas Galleas Chrocus cum Wandalis, Suaevis et Alanis pervagans, alias ubsidione delivit, aliasques ingeniosae rumpens, vastavit. Nec ulla civetasaut caster ab eis in Gallis liberata est.  Cumque Arelato obsederint, Chrocos a Mario quaedam militae captus et vinculis constrictus est.  Qui ductus ad poenam per universas civitates, quas vastaverat, impia vita digna morte finivit.  Cui Trasemundus successit in rignum.  Alamanni adversus Wandalos arma commovunt.  Uterque consencientes singulare certamen prilliandum, duos miserunt.  Sed et ille qui a Wandalis missus est ab Alamannos superator.  Victusque Trasemundus et Wandali, secundum placetum cum Wandalis, Suaevis et Alanis de Galllias praetermissis Spanias adpetivit, ibique multos christianorum, pro fide catholica interfecit.

Essentially, “Chrocus king of the Vandals, left his dominions together with the Suevi and Alans, eager to attack Gaul following his mother’s wicked advice, for she had said to him: ‘if you wish to carry out a new exploit and gain renown destroy all that others have built and kill everyone you conquer; for you cannot build a better building than you forefathers nor carry out a greater deed with which to make a name for yourself.’  Thus, after crossing the Rhine through Mainz, by means of an ingenious bridge, he first devastated this city and decimated its people.  After fortifying all the cities of Germania, he arrived in Metz, where the city wall collapsed when a divine wind was unleashed during the night and the city was captured by the Vandals.  The inhabitants of Trier, however, were saved by taking refuge in their city amphitheater, which they had fortified.  Afterwards, Chrocus, crossing the whole of Gaul with Vandals, Suevi and Alans, destroyed some towns by means of a siege and devastated others by ingeniously busting in.  And there was no city or fortress in Gaul that was saved from them.  However, when they were besieging Arles, Chrocus was captured and put in chains by a soldier called Marius [perhaps the Emperor usurper].  And led to execution through all the cities he had devastated, his impious life ended with the death he deserved.  Thrasamund reigned after him.  Then the Alamanni went to war against the Vandals and, as both parties agreed that there should be a single combat, they sent two warriors.  But the one sent by the Vandals was defeated by the Alaman.  And as Thrasamund and his Vandals were thus vanquished, after leaving Gaul together with Suevi and Alans, as it had been agreed, they attacked Spain and there they slew many Christians for their Catholic faith.”

[the translation is by Agusti Alemany]

Note that here Vandals lose and move on to Spain.  In the version by Gregory of Tours, Vandals lose in Spain with a Suev champion defeating a Vandal one and then move on to Africa.  In each case the Vandal king at this point is Thrasamund.  This kind of David-Goliath one on one combat to settle affairs is also found in other places, e.g., in the combat between the Slav and Saxon champions (Slav won this one) much later in Germany.  Note also that the Alamanni here seem to be distinct from the Suevi.  The latter come with Chrocus and his Vandals and Alans into Gaul and also leave with him once the Alemanni defeat the Vandal champion.  All in all, it is difficult to establish whether the Gregory or the Fredegar account is correct (or more correct since each has major issues).  For example, Gregory has Chrocus’ Alemanni martyr one Vicentius who is known to have met that fate in the early 400s.  But Fredegar also varies his timeline widely, e.g., by mentioning that Chrocus was succeeded by Thrasamund, a Vandalic king who ruled in the late 5th and early 6th century (almost 100 years after the Rhine crossing by the Vandals, Suevi and Alans).  Of course, Gregory also has Thrasamund be the king.  In reality, the trek to Africa was under Geiseric.*  Whoever may be closer to the truth, in Fredegar we have Alemanns in one on one combat with Vandals and we have Chrocus…

This Vandalic interpretation was then picked up by Annonius (Aimonius) in his de Gestis Francorum (Book III) in the year 1008.

Could Master Kadlubek (who is known to have perused ancient sources) also perused Fredegar’s Chronicles from 600 years earlier to come up with the story of Krak?  Or the slightly more recent Aimonius?

(Note that Krakow could have been named after the crowing of crows not after any Krak – such an etymology is mentioned, in the alternative, by the GPCs).

Kadlubek never connected his Polish Gracchus to the Allemanic or Vandalic Chrocus of the past – just mentioned the connection of Graccus to the city of Cracow.  However, another writer then made the connection explicit.  Alberic of Trois-Fontaines (Albericus Trium Fontium) a Cistercian monk and chronicler who wrote a chronicle of world events through the year 1241 (written between 1232-1252 (some people think in 1246)) when Cracow was already a well known city and a capital of (then divided) Poland) in which, under the year 413 he describes the invasion of Gall again by the Vandals and the Alans led by Craco/Crosco a duke/king in Cracoviae/Craconie (variations depending, it seems, on the manuscript):


Keeping in mind that Master Kadlubek’s Chronicle would then have already been written (Kadlubek passed away in 1223), could Alberic have had a chance to glance at it or was the connection to Cracow a figment of his own imagination (or not)?

In any event, we think the Alemanic and Vandalic connections are of interest in light of the Krak legend.  It is harder, however, to connect (even if ephemerally) this to the Czech version of Krok.

Next time when we touch this subject we will talk about the Norse angle, that of Hrolf Kraki‘s saga.

* Also, Fredegar was, supposedly basing his version of events on the work by Hydatius (Idacius) the bishop of Aquae Flaviae (Chaves or Chiaves) in Gallicia (Spain), from circa 427 to 470 who was an author of a  Chronicle (itself one of the continuations of Jerome) and who would have been closer to these events (for example, he discusses the plundering of Spain in 408-410 by the Vandals, Suevi and Alans).  Yet the timeline given by Hydatius supposedly is closer to the 250s as specified by Gregory of Tours.

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

December 14, 2014

On the Names of Poland Part I

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The earliest mentions of Polish rules speak of various names but the name Poles or Poland does not at first appear.

Widukind of Corvey

Instead we read, for example, about:

Misca (or Missacam) regem, cuius potestatis erant Sclaui, qui dicuntur Licicaviki, duabus vicibus superavit, fratremque ipsius interfecit, predam magnam ab eo extorsit.

(Roughly: [Wichmann the Younger] twice defeated MIeszko [in 963/?/965] who was the leader of Slavs named Licikaviki, killed his brother and forced him to pay great tribute/took great bounty [or, if you prefer, “extorted”]).

This is from Widukind of Corvey‘s Rerum gestarum Saxonicarum sive annalium libri tres (On the Deeds of the Saxons in (or aka) Three Books of Annals) Book 3 chapter 66 (Gero propter iuramentum dimisit Wichmannum) (below is the text of the 1532 first print Basel edition):

licikavikiThis book was written sometime between 967-968 then apparently continued until 973.  The above reference is to Wichmann’s working with the Veleti/Lutici against Poland’ s Mieszko I.  We already mentioned this source in discussing Mieszko’s name and note here yet again that he is the leader of Slavs called Licikaviki.  Interestingly, the very next chapter (discussing the margrave Gero) discusses Slavs called Lusiki as you can see above.  We reproduce that here in slightly more clear format:

Eo quoque tempore Gero preses Sclavos qui dicuntur Lusiki (Quomodo Gero Lusiki vicit) potentissime vicit et ad ultimam servi tutem coegit, non sine sui tamen gravi vulnere nepotisque optimi viri casu, caeterorum quoque quam plurimorum nobilium virorum.

The Lusiki are, clearly, Lusatians, i.e., today’s Sorbs.  Could Licikaviki be a misspelling of the same?  Unlikely, as one is attacked by Wichmann, the other by Gero.

[Incidentally, the Lusatians are different from the Lutici/Veleti.  The former were and are living in Southeast Germany around Cottbus/Chociebuz).  The latter were a tribal federation in Northeast Germany.  These two were two of three large Slavic confederations West of the Oder River – the third one being the Northwest Obodrites].

Gerhard from Augsburg

Another source of information, however meager, is Vita sancta Uodalrici (The Life of Saint Ulrich) by Gerhard from Augsburg written sometime in 983-993.

So first we have a reference to Mieszko as follows (from the 1595 print edition):


He then writes under the year 992:

“Obiit Misica dux Vandalorum

(There died Mieszko duke of the Vandals).

Clearly, people in the West were not entirely clear as to who the Slavs were.

John Canaparius

The first time the name Poland appears is in the 997 Life of the Martyr Saint Voytech (Adalbert of Prague) (Sancti Adalberti Pragensis episcopi et martyris vita prior).  Saint Voytech (Adalbert) was sent by Boleslaw the Brave to convert the Prussians.  Unfortunately, the Prussians did not want to be converted resulting in an early state of Sainthood for Voytech.  His half-brother Radim (Gaudentius) (who became the first Archbishop of Gniezno) survived the trip and told the story (later immortalized also in the famous Gniezno Doors) to the Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Sts. Boniface and Alexius in Rome.  That Abbot, John Canaparius, then penned the book Life of the Marty Saint Woytech.  In any event, it is in that opus that the name Poland/Polish first comes up.

Specifically, we read there that a Czech magnate Soběslav Slavníkovec left on a campaign together with his buddy “bolizlavo (Boleslaw) palanioru(m) duce” (i.e., duke of the Polans or Polanian duke).  The below is from the Guelferbytano codex:


Other manuscripts of the same have the following versions: poloniorum, bolaniorum, polaniorum, polonorum and a corrected pulaniorum.  Similarly, Boleslaw is featured as: bolezawo, bolezlao, boleslauo, bolisclauum and boleslao.[1]

But where does the name come from?  That is a topic for next time.


[1] Incidentally, the same document also contains the first mention of (medieval) Prussians and of the city of Gdansk.  The scrivener had some trouble with writing the latter (see too notes below in the lower left hand corner:


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

December 8, 2014

Slavs & Veneti

Published Post author

We have been reluctant to take a definitive position on the question of the relatedness of the Slavs to the (Baltic) Venethi/Veneti/Venedi.  The reason for this is simple.  The connection is one which it is impossible to definitively establish with the information we have at thus far. Absent new data or new methodologies, it is unlikely that anyone will ever know the truth of he matter “for sure”.  But, that said, we can confess that we are leaning towards admitting a connection.  There are several reasons for this and we enumerate them here:

1) Jordanes – he makes the connection clear and, given his background as an Ostrogoth (or maybe an Alan) living close to the time when the Slavs would have separated themselves from the larger Venetic group, he is of all those who have offered an opinion on the topic, the one best qualified to do so; that his conqueror of the Antes is named Vinitharius also seems to bolster the argument (while it has been argued that this was really Vithimiris, the name Vinitharius is separately attested in the letters of Cassiodorus which, unlike his Gothic History, did survive);

2) Peutinger Map – the map which was put together prior to Jordanes’ Getica (two or three centuries earlier) clearly indicates a group of people named the Venethi at the mouths of the Danube where Slavs are “later” found.  At the very least this indicates yet another place (in addition to the Vistula basin) where we first see the Venethi and then see the Slavs.  Were that a coincidence, it would be a strange one indeed.  The same  map, of course, also shows the Sarmatian Venethi up in the North;

3) Wends – numerous Western European authors, none of whom are known to have relied on Jordanes, refer to the Westernmost Slavs as Wends.  Another coinicedence?  While some say that this is merely a case of a name transferred, it is an odd transfer if true.  The Germanic transferors namely are not “old” east Germanic tribes but relative newcomers to the area, the Franks, the Saxons and the Bavarians.  But these peoples would, if the common telling of the story is correct, have never shared a boundary with the Wends.  They would instead have bordered the east Germanic Goths, Vandals and others.  Thus, one may ask whether they should have instead referred to the Slavic “newcomers” as Goths and Vandals instead? (they did later refer to them as Vandals at least but this sems to hav be inspired by Slavic historiography rather than anything coming originally out of their own German tradition.  Moreover, the Bavarians and Longobards referred to the Carinthian Slavs as the Windische.  But this too is strange as the Venethi, in the usual telling of the story, were found on the Baltic not in the Alps so whose name was being transferred to them and why?;

4) Location, location, location – to put it simply, this is where the Venethi were and this too is where the Slavs now are.  While this may seem simplistic, the burden of proof is on those arguing that the Venethi were not Slavs to show that otherwise is the case.  While certain Germanic tribes may have stayed in and passed through, e.g., Poland, the fact of an army passing through a territory does not equal the automatic complete displacement of the population.  Thus, both Napoleon and Hitler conquered large swaths of Russia but, in the end did not replace the indigenous population.  But, you might say, they lost.  Ok, but what of the Golden Horde or the Lithuanians?  They actually did conquer and hold Russia.  Were the Russians gone then from Kiev?  Of course, not.  The Gothic and other armies were likely just that – marauding bands of warriors like the Vikings much later on (incidentally, no one has located their landing site – Gothiscandza – though logic would suggest that rather than crossing the wide Baltic Sea to land at the Vistula, they would have gone via island hopping over the Danish Jutland peninsula; th ‘three mouths’ of the Vistula suggests rather the Oder than the Vistula).  They may have even taken Slavic (and other) women as wives but in all likelihood they were mostly male marauders at least at the bginning of their journey.  This view is also consistent with today’s approach to the Volkerwanderung which stresses a rather limited role for the “Volk” in such a Wanderung;

5) Where are the Venethi? – anyone arguing for the nonautochtonous nature of the Slavs must also account for what happened to the Venethi, a nation described as “populous” by Jordanes and one which Ptolemy already divided into greater and lesser races suggesting, again, their copiousness;

6) Are they Slavs or rabbits? – many a commentator has over the years pointed out the demographic difficulty of Slavs taking over wide swaths of Europe in such a short timeframe.  This is, of course, possible (that is, this is not a mathematical and biological impossibility) but it is unlikely;  Moreover, it is worth pointing out that there is very little to show for the most famous of the Slavs, those of Procopius – it cannot be even shown that these Slavs are the ones that settled the former Yugoslavia without even looking at the Czech lands, Poland and Pomerania/Polabia; in fact, as we have discussed already earlier, it is likely that all of the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia as well as Poland and eastern Germany were settled by the Slavs from the North); the most that can be said of the southern Slavs is that they assimilated the Bulgars but otherwise dissolved themselves in the Greek speaking population of Greece; as pointed out before, if this is so then the group of Slavs responsible for the settlement of all the other Slavic lands would have had to come from an even smaller subgroup of the whole;

7) Furtive conquerors? – outside of the Balkans we do not have any contemporary records of Slav migrations.  This lack of documentation of Slav arrival is in obvious contrast to the arrival of just about any other group in Central and Eastern Europe including the Germanic tribes of all stripes, the Huns, the Alans, the Avars, the Hungarians, the Mongols, the Lithuanians and the Turks.  In fact, the Byzantines never mention the Slavs as arriving on the borders – they seem unsurprised that the Slavs are where they are complaining only about Slavic raids into Byzantine territory.  This is in stark contrast with their description of the arrival of the Avars at about the same time.  In fact, in several places, Byzantine authors (for example, Theophylact Simocatta) call Slavs Getae – a nation well known to the eastern Romans.  Of course, it’s possible that poor recordkeeping in the medieval, post Roman space and the relative remoteness of the Slavic lands are to blame but be that as it may this seems to be  another one of those not entirely convincing but highly suggestive pieces of information;

8) Genetics – recent genetic studies also seem to support an autochtonic concept of the Slavs (also of Indo Europeans generally but that is a separate discussion).  Although we have generally shied away from discussing genetics here as its application in historiography is in its infancy and virtually all the studies conducted involve rather small sample sizes, we again feel that what’s there now should be mentioned, if only tentatively (most of these studies look solely at the male-only or female-only line, leaving all the other stuff “in between”);

9) Heruli – in about 509-512, the Heruli remigrated from the Balkans back to Scandinavia (to Thule).  As per Procopius (Wars), they went first through the lands of the Slavs (before hitting some empty territories – we think in today’s eastern Germany since they then arrive among the Rugii – although it is possible that they passed through portions of Poland too, that seems a rather out of the way way to go – not to mention more mountainous).  This suggests that already then – only 60 years or so after the fall of Attila – the Slavs occupied lands north of the Danube; if they spread after the outmigration of the Germans, the Slavs did so very fast);

10) River Names – contrary to what had beeen asserted by some authors, it appears that the various river names in, e.g., Poland have a stronger Slavic connection than a Germanic one; take, Vistula; the Roman authors call it, in places, Vistla or Viscla – the Slavs Viswa (Wisla) but the Germans Weichsel; of course, this does not suggest tha the name is Slavic but it does suggest that the Slavs got the name right but the Germans did not; even if the Slavs would have gotten the name from the remaining Venethi, this raises the question how is it possible that th Slavs being newcomers were able to get that but the Germanics who lived next to the Venethi for centuries never appropriated the Venetic name; this is in addition to the curious fact the Roman spelling with the -st, -sc seems reminiscent of the same sound “w” found in Viswa (Wisla) and also in Greek sources in “Sclavenoi”; incidentally, Wisla has been derived from a Slavic word for bog (but also, e.g., ‘wiosla’ – paddles);

11) Other Place Names – We have a rather extensive etymology of many place names in Germany that clearly date back to the Wendish period.  The Germans (or Franks and Saxons really) came into these areas and assimilated the local population.  No one questions that.  And yet, all of that assimilation notwithstanding, we can easily show where the Obotrite, Veleti and Lutizi tribes lived just by opening up a modern map.  One might think, therefore, that a similar process would have taken place in Poland and the Czech/Slovak lands – indeed in Russia.  But that is not the case – we are not aware of any place names that have a Germanic etymology and that are dated to the era preceding the Frankish expansion.  None.

If the Germanic tribes (as opposed to bands of roving males and their slavegirls) lived here and left, they left in their entirety and in a major hurry.  But then how did the Slavs inherit the various hydronyms that supposedly do not have a Slavic etymology?  Were the Venthi the ones hiding in the forests as the Germanics roved the countryside? Then they suddenly came back only to run into Slavs?  Someone has to be hiding somewhere for this story to be true it seems.

12) Slavs – the name Slav deserves a separate blog post but we will say only this here – as of now we are not aware of any other ancient tribe name that would contain the VEN of the VeNEthi other than Zlovene (i.e., Slavs) with the Antes possibly picking up the NT of the VeNeThi.

Were the Slavs the Zlovenei? I.e., the ones that got “caught”?

But what about the fact that:

i) Water – Slavs did not possess an extensive maritime vocabulary as would be found with seafaring peoples?  This argument is made by Antoine Meillet (others seem to parrot him with or without attribution but with no analysis in any event).  He bases his entire argument on three words (grebacostrov and something else)… Strangely, for Meillet already Pliny describes an island called “by the natives” Austrovia and it is not a river island it seems.  But undoubtedly it is an island of the East or where Eostre was worshipped or something like that…  He also does not show  which of the various peoples who were known to be seashore dwellers did possess a rich maritime vocabulary; that is there is no base case;  he appears dismissive and unconvincing in his rejection of various proposed Slavic water-related words;

As far as the amber/Bernstein argument is concerned (not something he discusses), all that proves – if even that – that a certain portion of the amber trade came to be dominated by Germanic speakers and that others may have adopted the successful German word (e.g., the Polabian Slavs had fallen so far as to use the Germanic word for ‘father’ yet no one (we think) would seriously suggest that the Polabians did not know the concept of fatherhood prior to meeting Germans);  we will return to this subject in the future;

Incidentally, in the Balkans, the Slavs were apparently seen as excellent mariners even if their ships were not large…

ii) Trees – Slavs did not know certain trees that grew in Germania? – objections to this claim were previously addressed in our prior posts (click here) and we will not revisit those at the present juncture;

iii) Tongues – Venetic is a centum language whereas Slavic languages are of the satem variety?; this is misleading.  No one knows what language was spoken by the Sarmatian Veneti (technically, we do not even know what language the Slavs spoke before the first written Slavic records began appearing at the end of the first millenium); the reference here is solely to the Adriatic Venetic which has had some words reconstructed on a limited set of inscriptions, i.e., no one even knows whether it was a centum language (although such a theory has been proposed by some scholars);

iv) Romans did not know of Slavs? – perhaps they did not; but if the Venethi were Slavs then this statement is misleading too – the Romans may not have known the term Slav or known Slavs by that name but that certainly does not prove that they did not know of people who – only later after the fall of the Empire – became known to the world as Slavs – which itself may have been merely a result of one of the Venethic tribes being the one stumbling into the Byzantines (as previously observed, in Western Europe, the alternative ‘Wends’ was used for a few hundred years more;

v) Those Slav Others – the word Venden/Venethen is Germanic for the generic “others”? – actually, that word is Walch or Wallach or Welch and that word certainly was used to describe various peoples at the edges of German influence (e.g., Wallachs in Moldavia or the Welch in Britain);

On the other hand, the etymology of Venethi is more than uncertain with Germanic, Celtic and Slavic being proposed – perhaps the most obvious is a connection with the Baltic languages, e.g., in Old Prussian (wundan) and Lithuanian (vanduo) refers to water such that the Venethi would mean simply those who live by the water; see the following (wasser = wundan) from the Elbing Dictionary:


So maybe the Venethi were Balts?  (Note that the Lithuanians, for example, refer to Belorussians not as Wends but as gudai, suggesting at the very least that some Goths have passed through Belorussia at some point).

However, “wedzic/vendzic” means to get rid of water (i.e., to smoke, e.g., fish) in Slavic – see also “wedka/vendka”, i.e., fishing rod.  We leave that for you to noodle on;

We note also that all the Venethi out there, i.e., the Adriatic Venethi, the Gallic Venethi, the Welsh (?) Venethi, the Paphlagonian Venethi, the Illyric/Macedonian Venethi and the Baltic Venethi seemed to have dwelt on one shore or another.  One might say that in Europe that is easy to do but surely there were plenty of tribes located inland as well.  Was this perhaps a designation, in some ancient tongue, of all such tribes that were coast dwellers?

Incidentally, it has been claimed that it was Safarik who first suggested the Venethi were Slavs.  This is not true – the first known connection comes from Martin Kromer, the Bishop of Warmia/Ermland who argued that the Slavs were not Vandals (the prevalent theory till then) but rather that they were Sarmatians and brethren to the Veneti.  He also came up with the idea that various tribes may well have passed over Venetic/Slavic lands while the locals just kept their heads down and went about their business – again, this is not therefore a 20th century invention by any means.

Finally, and this is important – no one is claiming that the Venethi were Slavs – quite the opposite – the argument is rather (consistent with Jordanes) that the Slavs were one of the tribes of the Venethi.  A tribe that was known to the Byzantines who were the cultural super power of the day and who then extended the Slav name to other Venethic tribes further away – see, for example, how the name Alemanni or Schwaben or Saxons became – for different people in different places – a name for all the Germans.  One might say, however, that the name Slav was also a name given by the Slavs to themselves in various geographies – this is fair but one also has to admit that all of those geographies were ascribed by chroniclers like Jordanes to the Slavs proper – what about central and northern Poland or north east Germany?  See for example the recent discussion of the Sukow-Dziedzice culture and its supposed differences with other “Slavic” cultures.

PS Some people have brought our attention to sources regarding the Enetoi that are older than the ones we have, thus far, discussed.  We are aware of those and will cover them at some point in the future – do not worry!

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December 2, 2014