Monthly Archives: January 2015

Polabian Gods Part III – Helmold on the Wagrii, Obotrites and Redarii

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Helmold of Bosau (i.e., presbyter Bozoviensis) was a 12th century parish priest at, yes you guessed it, Bosau.  Bosau was in the Slavic country of Wagria and is in today’s Schleswig-Holstein (yes, that is how far (and further) did the Slavs reach).  It was while residing there, starting probably in 1164, that Helmold wrote his Chronicle of the Slavs (Chronica Slavorum) which was a continuation Adam of Bremen’s work (in effect since it included significant chunks of the latter’s Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg) and detailed the events of the area through the year 1171.  It was later continued by Arnold of Luebeck through the year 1209.  A copy of Arnold’s chronicle resides now at, among other places, Trier.


Helmold was here (photo by Hans Wolters)

In any event, Helmold’s Chronicle contains several interesting passages about Slavs’ reIigion.  We begin with a description of Helmold’s travel through Wagria – a region where Helmold’s own church at Bosau was located.  We note that already a few miles north of Bosau he mentions the town of Plön with its seat of the Slavic God Podaga (and later the seat of a German V1 factory).  In the below passages he also discusses the Sacred Grove of Prove (as the God of the Aldenburg country in Wagria) and mentions Ziva (as the God of the Polabians (terra Pelaborum)) and Cernobog (who, perhaps, was all the Slavs’ “bad” god).  The Wagrii were members of the Obotrite confederation (though perhaps not always).  The Polabians may also have fallen in with that group.


Plöner See today – the white building may be a Temple of Podaga

We note, however, that in a number of instances Helmold also brings ups Radegast of the Redarii whom we already know from Adam but Helmold calls Radegast the God of the Obotrites.  The Redarii who we think of as members of the Liutizi may have shared their God with the Obotrites apparently – or perhaps they changed confederations by the time of Helmold.  Further, since the Radegast passages appear to some extent to be copies of Adam of Bremen’s work, Helmold follows Adam with that name of the God – from the much earlier Thietmar we know the God’s name was, more likely, Svarozic.


Plöner See has an island with a most suggestive name (for a Teuffelsinsel check out Galenbecker See)

In any event, the spellings cited above we retain in the English sections for consistency – the Latin version contains the original spellings which differ from time to time and we record them as they were in the text.

The only sections of Slavic religion that appear in Helmold and that we do not include here are the passages about the Ranii and their Rugian Svantovit – we will return to those later.

BTW We dedicate this to those Germans who are not really (just) Germans – so that they may know something about their ancestors (interestingly, someone recently thought it relevant to note that, on the male side only 20% of Germans have the “Slavic” R1a DNA – one might say, however, that, considering that even in Ukraine and Poland R1a is only about 50% of the male population, this could mean that as many as 40% of male Germans are direct lineal descendants of Slavs – the number is likely somewhere in between these two – of course, that does not include indirect Slavic descendants or those who can trace their ancestry to Slavs through the female line, etc).


Bosau & Ploen

Chronica Slavorum Book I Chapter 2 

(De Civitate Iumneta – Of the City of Iumneta [Wolin])


“Beyond the calmly flowing Oder, and beyond various Pomeranian peoples, on the Western side we come to the country of the Winili, those namely that are called Dolenzii or Redarii.  Their city is named Rethra, a hive of idolatry.  There a great temple was built to honor idols, among whom the greatest is Radegast.  His statue has ornaments of gold and his bed is bedecked with scarlet. The town itself has nine gates and is surrounded by a deep lake.  A wooden bridge is used to traverse it but which is only made available to those who bring offerings or those seeking answers/oracular advice.”


Rethra Bridge – yet another example of Slavic technology years ahead of its time


Post Odere igitur lenem meatum et varios Pomeranorum populos ad occidentalem plagam occurrit Winulorum provincia, eorum qui Tholenzi sive Redarii dicuntur.  Civitas eorum vulgatissima Rethre, sedes ydolatrie.  Templum ibi magnum constructum demonibus, quorum princeps est Redegast. Simulacrum eius auro, lectus eius ostro paratus.  Civitas ipsa novem habet portas undique lacu profundo inclusas.  Pons ligneus transitum prebet, per quem tantum sacrificantibus aut responsa petentibus via conceditur.

Chronica Slavorum Book I Chapter 21

(Pugna Tholenzorum – War of the Dolenzii)


“Redarii or Dolenzii desired to rule other Slavic tribes on account of their ancient city and their famous temple, in which one can see the Radegast statue, ascribing to themselves the honor or leadership for other Slavic peoples often come to them to receive judgments [of the God] and to bring annual offerings.”


Fearsome Radegast statue


Siquidem sive Riaduri Tholenzi propter antiquissimam urbem et celeberrimum illud fanum, in quo simulachrum Radigast ostenditur, regnare volebant, ascribentes sibi singularem nobilitatis honorem, eo quod ab omnibus populis Slavorum frequentarentur propter responsa et annuas sacrificiorum impensiones.

Chronica Slavorum Book I Chapter 47

(De Penitenthia Northalbingorum – Of the Penitence of Northalbingians)

[Vicelin, a priest accompanying Bishop Adalbert on his trip to Hamburg arrives with the bishop in Meldorf; there finding that the Northalbingians [Nordalbingians] appear to be Christian in name only, the bishop sends Vicelin to fix things up]


“There are three nations of the Northalbingians: Sturmarii (Sturmars), Holzatii (Dreviane) and Thetmarzii – and they do not differ from one another in their customs or their speech, and they follow Saxon laws and call themselves Christians, but by reason of their neighboring pagans/barbarians they began to thieve and rob…  When he [Vicelin] arrived at his destination, he saw the town and found the fields to be overgrown with useless bushes/weeds, and too the inhabitants to be wild and unenlightened, not knowing naught of religion aside from this that they were called Christians.  For there was among them the veneration of groves and streams and many other superstitions… In his pious carefulness he began to visit the local churches, teaching the people the knowledge of salvation, setting aright those who were lost, bringing together those who quarreled, and also destroying groves and other godless rites.”


The similarities between the Sturmarii, Holzatii and Thetmarzii were striking


Tres autem sunt Nordalbingorum populi, Sturmarii, Holzati, Thetmarzi, nec habitu nec lingua multum discrepantes, tenentes Saxonum iura et cristianum nomen, nisi quod propter barbarorum viciniam furtis et latrociniis operam dare consueverint… Cumque pervenissent ad locum destinatum, perspexit habitudinem loci campumque vasta et sterili mirica perorridum, preterea accolarum genus agreste et incultim, nichil de religione nisi nomen tantum Christianitabis habentes.  Nam lucorum et fontium ceterarumque supersticionum multiplex error apud eos habetur… Cepitque pia sollicitudine circumiacentes visitare ecclesias, prebens populis monita salutis, errantes corrigens, concilians dissidentes, preterea lucos et omnes ritus sacrilegos destruens.

Chronica Slavorum Book I Chapter 52

(De Ritu Sclavorum – On Slavic customs)


[In the year 1131] “When the Obotrite King Canute died who was called Lavardus, his place was taken by Pribislav and Niklot, who divided the country into two parts: one ruled the country of the Wagrii and the Polabians and the other of the Obotrites.  They were two terrible monsters and great persecutors of the Christians.  And there was in these days in all of Slavia a worship of idols and errors of various superstitions.  For other than sacred groves and home Gods [uboze, the later skshaty], the first and foremost worship was accorded to: Prove, the God of the Aldenburg country, Ziva the goddess of the Polabians and Radegast, the God of the land of the Obotrites.   Priests were consecrated to serve them, various offerings were brought to them and  all kinds of religious veneration was done onto them.  The priest according to the auguries determined when the ceremonies to honor these Gods should take place and on then came people with wives an children and made offerings to the Gods with cattle and sheep and many too with people who were Christians, for their blood, as they explained, was particularly pleasing to the Gods.   After killing the cattle, the priest tasted its blood so as to become better able to receive God’s judgment/decision/augury – for many of them believe that devilish spirits are more easily called forth when one uses blood.  After the offering/sacrifice the people begin to feast and party.  There is among the Slavs a strange superstition: during the feasts and drinking/debauchery, they carry a sacrificial skull and pour into it, in the name of the Gods, that is the good and the bad, words not to say of blessings but of curses – they believe namely that if fortune from the good God comes thus also does misfortune comes from the bad and, therefore, they name the bad one Diabol or Cernobog, that is black god.”


A priest of Prove was expected to meditate at least twice a day


Invaluitque in diebus illis per universam Slaviam multiplex ydolorum cultura errorque supersticionum.  Nam preter lucos et penates, quibus agri et opida redundabant, primiet precipui erant Prove deus Aldenburgensis terrae, Siwa dea Pelaborum, Radigast deus terrae Obotritorum.  His dicati erant flamines et sacrificiorum libamenta multiplexque religionis cultus.  Porro sollemptnitates diis dicandas sacerdos iuxta sortium nutum denuntiat, conveniuntque viri et mulieres cum parvulis mactantque diis suis hostias de bobus et ovibus, plerique etiam de hominibus Christianis, quorum sanguine deos suos oblectari iactitant.  Post cesam hostiam sacerdos de cruore libat, ut sit efficacior oraculis capescendis.  Nam demonia sanguine facilius invitari multorum opinio est. Consummatis iuxta morem sacrificii populus ad epulas et plausus convertitur.  Est autem Slavorum mirabilis error; nam in conviviis et compotacionibus suis pateram circumferunt, in quam conferunt, non dicam consecracionis, sed execracionis verba sub nomine deorum, boni scilicet atque mali, omnem prosperam fortunam a bono deo, adversam a malo dirigi profitentes.  Unde etiam malum deum lingua sua Diabol sive Zcerneboch, id est nigrum deum, appellant.  


After many a titanic battle, Zcerneboch aka Cernobog eventually unconditionally surrendered (or was it just a ruse?)


“Further, do the Slavs have an inborn cruelty which cannot be sated.  They are impatient at peace and for that reason do they cause a constant turmoil in nearby countries on land and sea.  And Christians do they execute in a multitude of ways that it is even difficult to report on this.  For some of them they would rip out their innards and twist around a pole, others they crucified, mocking the symbol of our salvation.  For the greatest criminals they condemn to a death on the cross while those that they take prisoner for ransom they torment with such tortures and bind so tightly that who does not know of this, would scarcely believe it/give faith to this.”


Slavs never tortured anyone who didn’t have it coming to them (or so they say)


Fuit preterea Sclavorum genti crudelitas ingenita, saturari nescia, impatiens ocii, vexans regionum adiacentia terra marique.  Quanta enim mortium genera cristicolis intulerint, relatu difficile est, cum his quidem viscera extorserint, palo circumducentes, hos cruci affixerint, irridentes signum redemptionis nostre.  Sceleratissimos enim cruci subfigendos autumant; eos autem quos custodie mancipant pecunia redimendos, tantis torturis et cinculorum nodis plectunt, ut ignoranti vix opinabile sit.

Chronica Slavorum Book I Chapter 69

(De Hartwico Archiepiscopo – Of Archbishop Hartvig)


“From there [the new town Luebeck!] he [Bishop Hartvig] went to Aldenburg [Stargard], where there was once the seat of the bishopric and he was received by the people ofof this country who worshipped Prove as a God.  The name of the priest who was the head of these superstitions was Mike, and the duke of the country was Rochel who was from the line of Cruto [or Cruco…], an idolater and a great pirate.  So the God’s bishop began to show the pagans the path to salvation, that is Christ, telling them to abandon their idols and hurried to the bath of rebirth.” [presumably, he meant baptism but with these priests who knows…]”


Helmold had evidence indicating that Mike, the local Priest of Prove, was into animal rites


Inde progrendies visitavit Aldenburg, ubi sedes quondam episcopalis fuerat, et receptus et a barbaris habitatoribus terrae illius, quorum deus erat Prove.  Porro nomen flaminis, qui preerat supersticioni eorum, erat Mike.  Sed et princeps terrae vocabatur Rochel, qui fuerat de semine Crutonis, ydolatra et pirata maximus.  Cepit igitur pontifex Dei proponere barbaris viam veritatis, quae Christus est, adhortans eos, ut relictis ydolis suis festinarent ad lavacrum regeneracionis.”

 Chronica Slavorum Book I Chapter 71

(De Nicloto – Of Niklot)


“In those days, when the duke was absent, there arrived at Lunenburg Niklot, duke of the Obotrites and met the duchess Clementia and complained to her and to the duke’s friends that Kicini and Circipani were beginning to slowly rise against him and refuse to pay even the most basic tribute.  Therefore, count Adolf was selected to ride with Holzati and Sturmari [other Slavic tribes] to help Niklot and to halt the arrogance of the rebels.  So the count went out there with over two thousand elite warriors.  Niklot also brought forth the armies of the Obotrites and together they went to the country of the Kicini and the Circipanni and plundered all of the enemy’s lands, destroying everything with fire and sword.  There was famous temple there too and it together with all the Gods and all that belonged to the veneration of idols, they destroyed.  The locals seeing that they did not have the strength to resist this, bought themselves out/bought their freedom with a great amount of money, and the unpaid tribute they made up in full and then some.”


Rethrascant – main temple suspiciously on fire – a recurrent issue in the Berlin area


In diebus autem, quibus dux aberat, venit Niclotus, princeps terre Obotritorum, ad domnam Clementiam ductricem Lunenburg, et conquestus est in facie eius et amicorum ducis, quia Kicini et Circipani paulatim rebellare ceperint et obniti tributis iuxta morem persolvendis.  Et destinatus est comes Adolfus et populus Holzatorum et Sturmariorum, ut adiuvarent Niclotum et coercerent rebellionem contumacium.  Abiitque comes cum duobus milibus et amplius electorum.  Niclotus quoque contraxit exercitum de Obotritis, et abierunt pariter in terram Kicinorum et Circipanorum, et pervagati sunt terram hostilem, omnia vastantes igne et gladio.  Fanum quoque celeberrimum cum ydolis et omni superstitione demoliti sunt.  Videntes autem indigene, quia non essent eis vires resistendi, redemerunt se immensa pecunia, defectumque vectigalium integraverunt cum cumulo.

Chronica Slavorum Book I Chapter 83/84

(Conversio Pribizlai – Conversion of Pribislav)


“At this duke’s [Pribislav/Przybyslaw of Aldenburg of (?) the Wagrii tribe] house we [Helmold is traveling with a Bishop and other company] stayed that night and also the next day and night and thereafter we set out deeper into Sclavonia to visit a noble by the name Thessemar, who had invited us.  It happened then that on our way there we came to a wood which was the only one in this country; the country otherwise being a great plain.  There we saw among very old trees holy oaks dedicated to the God of this land Prove, surrounded by a courtyard that was ring fenced by a wooden fence which had two gates.  For in addition to house Gods [most likely Helmold is referring to the house spirits such as uboze] and idols, which all the towns had, this was the holiest place in the country and it had an archpriest, holidays and many different sacrificial rites.  There on the second day of each week the people of that country together with the priest and the duke assembled for judgments.  Entrance into the courtyard was forbidden to all except for the priest and those who brought sacrifices or those that were in danger of death [presumably meaning the gravelly ill], those they never forbade from entering.”


The archpriest liked to scare the kids with his beloved fake heart trick


Manentes autem apud regulum nocte illa cum die ac nocte subsequenti transivismus in ulteriorem Slaviam, hospitaturi apud potentem quendam, cui nomen Thessemar; is enim nos accersierat.  Accidit autem, ut in transitu veniremus in nemus, quod unicum est in terra illa, tota enim in planiciem sternitur.  Illic inter vetustissimas arbores vidimus sacras quercus, quae dicatae fuerant deo terrae illius Proven, quas ambiebat atrium et sepes accuratior lignis constructa, continens duas portas.  Preter penates enim et ydola, quibus singula oppida redundabant, locus ille sanctimonium fuit universae terrae, cui flamen feriaciones et sacrificiorum varii ritus deputati fuerant.  Illic omni secunda feria populus terrae cum regulo et flamine convenire solebant propter iudicia.  Ingressus atrii omnibus inhibitus nisi sacerdoti tantum et sacrificare volentibus, vel quos mortis urgebat periculum, his enim minime negabatur asilum.


“The Slavs have such great veneration for their holly relics that the temple surroundings may not be tarnished by blood, even at times of war.  Oaths they only reluctantly permit, for the making of an oath for the Slavs is the same as in effect deceiving.  The Slavs worship their Gods in different ways, for not all agree to the same pagan rites.  Some place idols in temples of fantastic shapes as, for example, the Ploen idol that is called Podaga; other Gods live in woods and groves as, for example, Prove the Aldenburg God and of such Gods there is also many an effigy.  Many they carve with two, three or more heads.”


Slavic polycephallic gods hands down packed more of a punch


Tantam enim sacris suis Slavi exhibent reverentiam, ut ambitum fani nec in hostibus sanguine pollui sinant.  Uraciones difficillime admittunt, name iurare apud Slavos quasi periurare est ob vindicem deorum iram.  Est autem Slavis multiplex ydolatriae modus, non enim omnes in eandem supersticionis consuetudinem consentiut.  Hii enim simulachrorum ymaginarias formas pretendunt de templis, veluti Plunense ydolum, cui nomen Podaga, alii silvas vel lucos imhabitant, ut est Prove deus Aldenburg, quibus nullae sunt effigies expressae.  Multos etiam duobus vel tribus vel eo amplius capitibus exsculpunt.


“However, among all the differently shaped Gods to whom they offer their fields, forests, sadness and their happiness, they believe too that there is one God, who in the heavens rules other Gods, that He exceeds the Others with his might, that he troubles Himself only with heavenly matters, that the Others fulfill only the tasks appointed by Him, that they come from His blood and that each is the greater the close He is to that God of Gods.”


Hemold, just as Procopius before him, thought the Slavs basically worshipped the same as Christians


Inter multiformia vero deorum numina, quibus arva, silvas, tristicias atque voluptates attribunt, non diffitentur unum deum in celis ceteris imperitantem, ilum prepotentem celestia tantum curare, hos vero distributis officiis obsequentes de sanguine eius processisse et unumqueque eo prestantiorem, quo proximioren illi deo deorum.


“When we arrived at this grove and place of godlessness, the Bishop convinced us that we bravely should destroy this grove.  Therefore, jumping off the horse, I cracked open with a rod the embroidery/trinkets/insignia on the front gates and when we entered the courtyard we destroyed the entire fence around these holy trees and from this pile of wood we made a pyre, set it on fire, though fearful that we should be assaulted by the locals, though god watched over us.  Thereafter, we set out on our way to the house of Thessemar who received us with great splendor.”


Helmold found that his deep-rooted environmentalism ocassionately seemed to conflict with his religious zeal


Venientibus autem nobis ad nemus illud et profanacionis locum adhortatus est nos episcopus, ut valenter accederemus ad destruendum lucum.  Ipse quoque desiliens equo contrivit de conto insignes portarum frontes, et ingressi atrium omnia septa atrii congessimus circum sacras illas arbores et destrue lignorum iniecto igne fecimus pyram, non tamen sine metu, ne forte tumultu incolarum [lapidibus] obrueremur. Post hec divertimus ad hospitium, ubi Thessemar suscepit nos cum grandi apparatu.]”


“Yet the cups of the Slavs were neither sweet nor pleasant to us for we saw chains and all kinds of tortures meted out to Christians brought from Dennmark.  We saw there God’s priests [i.e., Christian priests] who were so famished on account of their imprisonment and whom the bishop neither with force nor pleading could help.”


Nec tamen dulcia vel iocunda nobis fuerant Sclavorum pocula, eo quod videremus compedes et diversa tormentorum genera, que inferebantur christicolis de Dania asvectis.  Aspeximus illic sacerdotes Domini captivitatis diutina detentione maceratos, quibus episcopus nec vi nce prece subvenire poterat.


“Next Sunday all the people in the country gathered together for a market day at Luebeck and the bishop arriving there taught the people to throw away the idols and to honor the only God who is in the Heavens and accepting the grace of the holy baptism to give up bad acts that is the robbery and murder of Christians.  When he concluded his speech to the people, Pribislav [came forth and], speaking for all of them said as follows: ‘Your words honorable bishop are God’s words and they lead to us our salvation.  But how can we enter upon this path when we are surrounded by so much evil?  If you truly wish to understand our sad plight, listen patiently to my words: for the people who you see here are your people and it is only right that we should tell you of our terrible plight and then it will be incumbent upon you to suffer with us.  For our dukes are so strict with us/mistreat us so, that on account of exploitation by taxes/tribute and servitude, we prefer death to this life.  For even in this year we the denizens of this small piece of land have paid the duke 1000 marks and then to the count [of Holstein] we paid the same and even that is not enough  for every day they persecute us and exploit us until our complete ruination.  How can we then adopt this new religion so as to build churches and accept baptism when everyday we dream of escaping?  But if only we could flee!  Should we cross the Trave [Travna] – there the same tragedies [befall people], should we walk towards the river Peene [Pena/Piana], there the same thing [happens].  What is then left to us, but to leave our lands and to move towards the sea and to live in fishermen’s huts?  Or will it be our fault, when expelled from our fatherland, we should disturb matters on the sea and take from the Danes or merchants sailing on the sea that which is necessary to keep us alive?  Will this not be the fault of the dukes who force us to do this?’  And the bishop answered so: ‘That our dukes till now have poorly treated your people, therein lies nothing strange.  For they do not believe it to be a great sin to deal so with idolaters and people who do not honor God, so why don’t you escape to Christianity and surrender to your Maker, to whom [even] the great ones who carry the [matters of the] world do bend their necks.  Do not the Saxons and other peoples who are called Christian live their lives in peace happy with their lawful taxes? You alone, different from others in faith, from others too suffer robbery.’  And Pribislav answered so ‘if the duke and  you so desire that we should along with the count the same religion possess, then give us the rights that the Saxons enjoy as to our lands and taxes, and then will we eagerly become Christians, build churches and pay the due Peter’s Pence.'”


Pribislav and his major domo telling the bishop the way it is


Proxima die dominica convenit universus populus terre ad forum Lubicense, et veniens ldomnus episcopus habuit verbum exhortationis ad plebem, ut relictis ydolis, colerent unum Deum, qui est in celis, et percepta baptismatis gratia, renunciarent operibus malignis, predis scilicet et interfectionibus christianorum.  Cumque perorasset ad plebem, innuentibus ceteris, ait Pribizlavus: ‘Verba tua, o verabilis pontifex, verba Dei sunt et saluti nostre congrua.  Sed qualiter ingrediemur hanc viam, tantis malis irretiti?  Ut enim intelligere possis afflictionem nostram, accipe patienter verba mea; populus enim quem aspicis, populus tuus est, et iustum est nos tibi pandere necessitatem nostram.  Porro tui iurus erit compati nobis.  Principes enim nostri tanta severitate grassantur in nos, ut propter vectigalia et servitutem durissimam melior sit nobis mors quam vita.  Ecce hoc anno nos, habitatores brevisiimi anguli huius, has mille marcas duci pesolvimus, porro comiti tot centenaria, et necdum evicimus, sed cotidie emungimur et premimur usque ad exinamnitionem.  Quomodo ergo vacabimus huic religioni novi, ut edificemus ecclesias, et percipiamus baptisma, quibus cotidiana indicitur fuga?  Si tamen locus esset quo diffugere possemus.  Transeuntibus enim Travenam, ecce similis calamitas illic est, venientibus ad Penem fluvium, nichilominus adest. Quid igitur restat, quam ut omissis terris feramur in mare, et habitemus cum gurgitibus?  Aut que culpa nostra, si pulsi patria, turbaverimus mare, et accepermius viaticum a Danis sive institoribus, qui mare remigant?  Nonne principum erit hec noxa, qui nos propellunt?’  Ad hec domnus episcopus ait: ‘Quod principes nostri hactenus abusi sunt gente vestra, non est mirandum, non enim multum se delinquere arbitantur in ydololatris et in hiis qui sunt sine Deo.  Quin potius recurrite ad ritum christianitatis, et subicite vos Creatori vestro, sub quo curvantur qui portant orbem.  Nonne Saxones et cetere gentes que christianum nomen habent, degunt cum tranquillitate, contenti legitimis suis? Vos vero soli, sicut ab omnium discrepatis cultura, sic omnium patetis direptioni.  Et ait Pribizlavus: ‘Si domno duci et tibi placet, ut nobis cum comite eadem sit culture ratio, dentur nobis iura Saxonum in prediis et reditibus, et libenter erimus christiani, edificabimus ecclesias, et dabimus decimas nostras.‘”


“As soon as he [priest Bruno] arrived at Aldenburg, he began God’s work with great fervor and he called the Slavic people to the grace of rebirth, throwing down the groves and wiping out unholy rituals… The Slavs were also forbidden to give oaths under trees, streams or stones and to bring those who were accused of crimes to the priest to examine him [his guilt] using iron or a plowshare.”

[refers to trial by fire – European laws recognized truth seeking trials by fire, water and, of course, by having the two parties just whack each other – this is in response to the Slavs having crucified a certain Dane accused of something, which the priest was witness to]


Now obsolete


Statim enim, ut venit Aldenburg, aggressus est opus Dei cum magno fervore et vocavit gentem Slavorum ad regenerationis gratiam, succidens lucos et destruens ritus sacrilegos…  Et inhibiti sunt Slavi de ceto iurare in arboribus, fontibus, et lapidibus, sed offerebant criminibus pulsatos sacerdoti, ferro vel vomeribus examinandos.

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January 28, 2015

Polabian Gods Part II – Adam from Bremen on the Redarii

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The second great chronicler of Polabian Slavs is Adam of Bremen.  He was born circa 1050 and died on October 12, sometime in or after 1081 (by 1085).  That is he was born some thirty plus years after the death of Thietmar of Merseburg.  We note that Adam does not appear to be as accurate as Thietmar but, on volume and on the breadth of his observations regarding the Baltic area, he is the undisputed champion.

Adam’s “History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen” or, if you will, “Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church” (Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum) contains all kinds of interesting Slavic stuff (and not just Slavic as, for example, the book also describes the Thor/Wotan/Freir temple at Uppsala – following Book 3 at Descriptio Insularum Aquilonis, chapter 26).  His writings were later used by Helmold of Bossau, a 12th century priest, who wrote the Slavic Chronicle (Chronicon Slavorum) and, in fact, some of Helmold’s passages are almost carbon copies of Adam.

For starters, in keeping with our topic of Polabian Gods, we will examine only the parts of Adam’s work that deal with the Polabian Gods – specifically, Adam’s description of the Redarii and their Gods – which is slightly different than that of Thietmar.  For starters, the God is not Svarosic but rather Redigast.  The city is not Riedigost but rather Rethra.  And instead of three gates there are nine.

While some of these changes may have occurred through time (e.g., adding new gates), it seems that the others may be a result of a mistake.  It would seem that Redigast (or whatever version you prefer) should rather be the place name of the Redarii.  That Rethra may be the same as Redigast (or whatever version you prefer) being the capital city of the Redarii after all.  Finally, the God may then be Svarosic.

On the other hand, it is also possible that the God Svarosic became, over time, also known by the name of his temple’s location – Redigast and that the town Redigast also acquired the name of the people living there, i.e., Redarii, i.e., Rethra.

Book II (par 18  in some versions)


“Among them [Polabian Slavs] the Retharii, centrally located, are the mightiest of all.  Their city, very widely known as Rethra, is a seat of idolatry.  There a great temple was erected to demons, the chief of whom is Redigast.  His image is of gold, his bower bedecked with purple.  The city itself has nine gates and is surrounded on all sides by a deep lake.  A wooden bridge, over which approach is allowed only to those who would make sacrifices or seek oracular advice, affords a means of crossing.   For this there is, I believe, a meaningful explanation: fitly “the Styx imprisons with its ninefold circles” the lost souls of those who serve idols.  This temple they say is a four day journey from the city of Hamburg.”

[from a version by Francis J. Tschan translated in 1959, as edited in 2002 by Timothy Reuter]

full version here:

The pictures are from the GKS 2296 4° manuscript (put together c 1200 – c 1225) which is now at Det Kongelige Bibliotek and which you can look at the following address:

(It does not have the Thor/Upssala section in case you are wondering – we were going to throw that in as a freebie)



Ibi est terminus Hammaburgensis parrochiae. Sunt et alii Sclavaniae populi, qui inter Albiam et Oddaram degunt, sicut Heveldi, qui iuxta Habolam fluvium sunt et Doxani, Leubuzzi, Wilini et Stoderani cum multis aliis. Inter quos medii et potentissimi omnium sunt Retharii, civitas eorum vulgatissima Rethre, sedes ydolatriae. Templum ibi magnum constructum est demonibus, quorum princeps est Redigast. Simulacrum eius auro, lectus ostro paratus. Civitas ipsa novem portas habet, undique lacu profundo inclusa, pons ligneus transitum praebet, per quem tantum sacrificantibus aut responsa petentibus via conceditur. Credo, ea significante causa, quod perditas animas eorum, qui ydolis serviunt, congrue ‘novies Styx interfusa cohercet’.  Ad quod templum ferunt a civitate Hammaburg iter esse quatuor dierum.


Book III (par 50  in some versions)


“The aged bishop John was taken with other Christians in the city of Mecklenburg and held for a triumph.  And because he confessed Christ he was beaten with cudgels and then was led in mockery through one city of the Slavs after another.  Since he could not be turned from the profession of Christ, his hands and feet were lopped off and his body was thrown upon the road.  Cutting off his head, the barbarians died it on a spear and offered it to their God Redigast in token of their victory.  These things were done in the chief city of the Slavs, Rethra, on the fourth day before the Ides of November.  The daughter of he king of the Danes was found with her women at Mecklenburg, the city of the Abodrites, and was sent away naked.  For, as we said before, she was the wife of Prince Gottschalk, who also had a son, Henry, by her.  Of another woman was born Butue: the two were begot to the great destruction of the Slavs.  When, indeed, the Slavs had achieved victory, they ravaged the whole of the region of Hamburg with fire and sword.  Nearly all the Sturmarians were either killed or led into captivity.  The stronghold of Hamburg was razed ot the ground, and even crosses were mutilated by the pagans in derision of our Saviour.  There was fulfilled for us the prophecy which runs, ‘O God, the heathen are come into thy inheritance; they have defiled thy holy temple,’ and the other sayings which prophetically bewail the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.  The perpetrator of this desolation is said to have been Blusso, who was married to Gottschalk’s sister and who, on returning home, was himself murdered.  And so all the Slavs, sworn to a general conspiracy, lapsed again into paganism, after they had killed those who persisted in the faith.  In vain did or Duke Ordulf fight the Slavs time and again during the twelve years that he survived his father.  Never could he obtain a victory, and because he was so often beaten by the pagans even his own men derided him.  The expulsion of the archbishop and the death of Gottschalk took place almost within a year, that is, the prelate’s twenty-second.  And, unless I am mistaken, a fearful comet which appeared that year about Easter time was a foretoken of the misfortunes about to me upon us.”


Iohannes episcopus senex cum ceteris christianis in Magnopoli civitate captus servabatur ad triumphum. Ille igitur pro confessione Christi fustibus caesus, deinde per singulas civitates Sclavorum ductus ad ludibrium, cum a Christi nomine flecti non posset, truncatis manibus ac pedibus, in platea corpus eius proiectum est, caput vero eius desectum, quod pagani conto praefigentes in titulum victoriae, deo suo Redigast immolarunt. Haec in metropoli Sclavorum Rethre gesta sunt 4. Idus Novembris. Filia regis Danorum apud Michilenburg, civitatem Obodritorum, inventa cum mulieribus, diu caesa nuda dimissa est. Hanc enim, ut praediximus, Gotescalcus princeps habuit uxorem, a qua et filium suscepit Heinricum. Ex alia vero Butue natus fuit, magno uterque Sclavis excidio genitus. Et illi quidem victoria potiti totam Hammaburg provintiam ferro et igne demoliti sunt, Sturmarii fere omnes aut occisi aut in captivitatem ducti, castrum Hammaburg funditus excisum, et in derisionem salvatoris nostri etiam cruces a paganis truncatae sunt. Impleta est nobiscum prophetia, quae ait: ‘Deus, venerunt gentes in hereditatem tuam; polluerunt templum sanctum tuum’ et reliqua; quae prophetice deplorantur in Ierosolimitanae urbis excidio. Huius auctor cladis Blusso fuisse dicitur, qui sororem habuit Godescalci, domumque reversus et ipse obtruncatus est.  Itaque omnes Sclavi, facta conspiratione generali, ad paganismum denuo relapsi sunt, eis occisis qui perstiterunt in fide. Dux noster Ordulfus in vanum saepe contra Sclavos dimicans, per duodecim annos, quibus patri supervixit, numquam potuit victoriam habere, totiensque victus a paganis, a suis etiam derisus est. Igitur expulsio archiepiscopi et mors Gotescalci uno fere anno contigit, qui est pontificis 22. Et nisi fallor, haec mala nobis ventura signavit ille horribilis cometa, qui ipso apparuit anno circa dies paschae.

For some other references to Slavic pagan rebellions see here.

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January 26, 2015

Polabian Gods Part I – Thietmar on the Redarii

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We have not until now explored the Gods of the Polabian Slavs,* that is, broadly speaking, of (A) the Obotrites, (B) the Liutizi or Walitaba (aka Wilzen in German) and (C) of the Lusatian Sorbs.  It is time to do that now, starting with the report of Thietmar of Merseburg‘s on the Redarii Gods.  We have already ran into Thietmar’s Chronicle when discussing the Baptism of Poland about which you can read here.  (We note too that Thietmar’s Chronicle contains other pieces relevant to the religion of the early Slavs.  We will return to those later).  Now let us turn to the Redarii, the Liutizi and the mysterious cult at Riedegost.

The Redarii were a tribe that was part of the Liutizi [aka Walitaba/Veleti] confederation.  The Liutizi had rebelled successfully against the Ottos (Liudolfings) of Germany along with Obotrites during the Great Slav Uprising of 983.  They were subsequently under constant attack both by the Germans and by the Poles.  However, after the death of Emperor Otto III in 1002, the new German King (future Emperor) Henry II changed course and allied with the Liutizi against the Poles presumably because at that point they looked to be the stronger threat.

The context of Thietmar’s story is, thus, the war that Henry II was undertaking against, the then duke, Boleslaw I (not yet the Great) of Poland.  That war lasted from 1002 through 1018 (with two armistices in between).  Thietmar, clearly contemptuous of Henry’s allies (and the decision to ally with them against a Christian ruler), describes them and their ways along with their famous temple at Riedegost (aka Radogost).

That templetown (later supposedly called Rethra) was one of the first places recaptured by the Liutizi in 983 and later continued to serve as their apparent spiritual (and perhaps, too, political) capitol.  Although the town has not been found a number of candidates have been presented, the most promising being somewhere around the Tollensee, a lake in Brandenburg – it was there in 1969, on the southern tip of an island called Fischerinsel (yes, fisher island), that, what appear to be wooden likenesses of Slavic Gods, were found.  On the other hand, the Redarii were one of four Liutizi tribes as per Adam of Bremen and there was also the Tholenzi tribe…


Tollensee area makes its claim to being the ancient Riedegost

Thietmar On Liutizi & Their Religion

 Book 6 (22-25)


“Before our troops were able to reach the Oder, they were joined on the prior day by [Liutizi] [though he seems to write Lausitzi, that is Sorbs or related tribes, he seems to mean Liutizi], who marched behind their idols.  Although I hesitate to say anything about then, I will describe something of them in short, who they are and where they came from, so that, dear reader you should know the terrible superstitions and disgusting pagan cult of this people.”


Post haec Liuzici nostris pridie, quam ad Oderam fluvium venirent, sotiantur, deos suimet precedentes subsequuti.  Quamvis autem de hiis aliquid dicere perhorrescam, tamen, ut scias, lector amate, vanam eorum supersticionem inanioremque populi istius executionem, qui sint vel unde huc venerint, strictim enodabo.


“There is in the country of the Redarii (pago Riedirierun) a town named Radogost (Riedegost) which has a triangular shape and three gates leading up to it, that is surrounded by a great wood, a forest which the locals have left untouched for it [the wood] is worshipped as a holiness.  Two gates of this town are open for all who enter whereas the third, on the eastern side is the smallest and leads to a path which leads to a nearby and terrible looking lake.”



Est urbs quaedam in pago Riedirierun Riedegost nomine, tricornis ac tres in se continens portas, quam undique silva ab incolis intacta et venerabilis circumdat magna.  Duae eiusdem portae cunctis introeuntibus patent; tercia, quae orientem respicit et minima est, tramitem ad mare iuxta positum et visu nimis horribile monstrat.


“In the town there is only one temple, intricately built from wood on a foundation made from the horns of wild animals [?].  The outside walls [of this temple] are decorated with effigies of different Gods and Goddeses – which one can see when looking close up [ehhhh…] – sculpted in the strangest way.  Whereas, inside there stand Gods made by human hand, wearing terrible helmets and armour, each with a name carved out at the bottom.  The first among them is called Svarozic (Zuarasici dicitur) and he is especially venerated among all the pagans.  There are also there banners which they never take out [from the temple], unless they are needed for a military campaign, and in that case they are carried by the foot soldiers.”



In eadem est nil nisi fanum de ligno artificiose compositum, quod pro basibus diversarum sustentatur cornibus bestiarum.  Huius parietes variae deorum dearumque imagines mirifice insculptae, ut cernentibus videtur, exterius ornant; interius autem dii stant manu facti, singulis nominibus insculptis, galeis atque loricis terribiliter vestiti, quorum primus Zuarasici dicitur et pre caeteris a cunctis gentilibus honoratur et colitur.  Vexilla quoque eorum, nisi ad expeditionis necessaria, et tunc per pedites, hinc nullatenus moventur.


“To guard all of this, with appropriate diligence did the locals task a separate [group of] priests.”


Ad haec curiose tuenda ministri sunt specialiter ab indigenis constituti.


Sometimes the Radagastian priests needed a little somethin’ somethin’ to get their divinations off the ground


“When they gather here in order to make sacrifices to the idols or to assuage their anger, only the priests are entitled to sit whereas the others stand.  Whispering mysterious words to themselves they dig shivering in the ground so as to, based on the auguries so obtained, probe  the heart of the questions [they have/or matters being studied for a solution].”


Qui cum hic idolis immolare seu iram eorundem placare conveniunt, sedent hii, dumtaxat caeteris asstantibus, et invicem clanculum mussantes terram cum tremore infodiunt, quo sortibus emissis rerum certitudinem dubiarum perquirant.


Svarozic (with “S” halo) Priest on the Holy Horse in traditional red-white wendish colours


“After these magics/readings they cover the auguries with green grass/turf and after sticking into the ground – in the form of a cross – two spear tips/shafts, they walk through them a horse while making penitent gestures – a horse that they consider to be of the most importance and that they revere as something that is holy.  Throwing the auguries which they already used in divination, they take up again the augury through this as if holy animal.  If both of the auguries produce the same sign, then these tribes follow that answer in their deeds, and if not then they stop with sadness whatever undertaking [was subject to the divination/augury].”


Quibus finitis cespite viridi eas operientes, equum, qui maximus inter alios habetur et ut sacer ab his veneratur, super fixas in terram duarum cuspides hastilium inter se transmissarum supplici obsequio ducunt, et premissis sortibus, quibus id exploravere prius, per hunc quasi divinum denuo auguriantur.  Et si in duabus hiis rebus par omen apparet, factis completur; sin autem, a tristibus populis hoc prorsus omittitur.


And then came the boar


“From the olden days, the stories of which were often falsified with all kinds of erroneous tales, we have the testimony that whenever harsh griefs of a civil war rear their heads, so comes out of the above-mentioned lake a mighty boar with foam glistening on white tusks and in front of all eyes he rolls in the puddle among terrible tremors.”


Testatur idem antiquitas errore delusa vario, si quando his seva longae rebellionis assperitas immineat, ut e mari predicto aper magnus et candido dente e spumis lucescente exeat seque in volutabro delectatum terribili quassatione multis ostendat.


“However many provinces in this country there are, so there are that many temples and that many idols are worshipped by the unbelievers, though amongst them the above-mentioned city is the foremost.  When they head out to war they always greet it and when they  return successfully from such war, they honor it with due gifts and through the auguries and through the horse, as above told, diligently divine, what kind of appropriate offerings the priests should make to the gods.  The silent anger of the gods they temper with offerings of people and cattle.”


Quot regiones sunt in his partibus, tot templa habentur et simulacra demonum singular ab infidelibus coluntur, inter quae civitas supramemorata principalem tenet monarchiam.  Hanc ad bellum properantes salutant, illam prospere redeuntes muneribus debitis honorant, et, quae placabilis hostia diis offerri a ministris debeat, per sortes ac per equum, sicut prefatus sum, diligenter inquiritur.  Hominum ac sanguine pecudum ineffabilis horum furor mitigatur.


“All of these tribes, together known as Liutizi, do not have one ruler.  All matters of importance they debate at a meeting in the way of common counsel and to effectuate a matter they all must agree.  If one of the locals is opposed to something that was already decided, they hit him with sticks and if he actually acts against such decision outside of the council, they either strip him of his possessions, confiscating them entirely or setting them on fire or he has to pay a sum of money, in accordance with his class/caste.  While being themselves untrustworthy and fickle, they demand steadfastness and absolute loyalty from others.  A peace accord they strengthen by shaking right hands and at the same time by giving out a lock of hair with a few blades of grass.  But they are easily corrupted with money to break such a peace.”


Hiis autem omnibus, qui communiter Liutici vocantur, dominus specialiter non presidet, ullis. Usanimiconsilio ad placitum suimet necessaria discucientes, in rebus efficiendis omnes concordant.  Si quis vero ex comprovincialibus in placitohiis contradicit, fustibus verberatur et, si forinsecus palam resistit, aut omnia incendio et continua depredatione  perdit aut in eorum presentia pro qualitate sua pecuniae persolvit quantitatem debitae.  Infideles ipsi et mutabiles ipsi immutabilitatem ac magnam exigunt ab aliis fidem.  Pacem abraso crime supremo et cum gramine datisque affirmant dextris.  Ad hanc autem perturbandam et facile pecunia corrumpuntur.


“And in this manner these warriors arrived to help the king, slaves at one time, today, through our wickedness, free.  Stay away reader from any contacts with them and from their religion and listen diligently to and follow the God’s commandments!  If you learn and keep in memory the declaration of faith of the Bishop Athanasius, you will note with absolute certainty that the matters I set forth above have no worth.”


Hii milites, quondam servi nostrisque iniquitatibus tunc liberi, tali comitatu ad regem auxiliandum proficiscuntur.  Eorum cum cultu consorcia, lector, fugias, divinarum mandata scripturarum auscultando adimple: et fidem, quam Athanasius profitebatur epscopus, discens memoriterque retinens, haec, quae supra memoravi, nil esse probabis veraciter.

Book 8 (64)


“The Lutizi came back angered and complaining that their Goddess had been offended.  For one of the men of Margrave Hermann threw a stone and thereby ripped a hole in her effigy on their banner.  When her priests informed the Emperor of this complaining of the same, they received as payment twelve talents.  And when the Lutizi tried to cross the greatly swollen Moldawa near the burg/fortress at Vurcin, they lost the second effigy of the Goddess together with an elite force of fifty warriors.  Given this bad augury the remaining warriors, under the influence of bad people, wanted upon returning home to quit the Emperor’s service but their leaders convinced them otherwise at council.”


“Sed Liutici redeuntes irati dedecus deae suimet ulatum queruntur.  Nam haec in vexhillis formata a quodam Herimanni marchionis socio lapide uno traiecta est; et dum hoc ministri eius imperatori dolenter retulissent, ad emendationem XII talenta perceperunt.  Et cum iuxta Vurcin civitatem Mildam nimis effusam transire voluissent, deam cum egreio L militum comitatu alteram perdidere.  Tam malo omine residui domum venientes a servicio caesaris se malorum instinctu abalienare nituntur; sed habito post communi suimet placito a prioribus suis convertuntur.”

The Manuscript Text

We feel obligated to note one fascinating aspect of the whole Chronicle of Thietmar’s.  Namely, it seems that the original manuscript (autograph, so to speak, called the Dresdner Handschrift based on the place of its residence since 1570) of Thietmar’s Chronicle, written as it was by eight different scribes (with Thietmar supervising and making notes on it), actually survived.  This is most unusual in the literature regarding Slavic past (albeit this is a German book obviously).

In fact, the manuscript survived (mostly) unscathed.*  Until the 20th century that is.  During the firebombing of Dresden in 1945 the chronicle was severely damaged such that little of it remains as it was before the war.  Luckily and presciently, a facsimile of the chronicle was created already in 1905 and published by Ludwig Schmidt – there is that German technology being put to good use!   We are thankful for this to the support given by Kgl. Sächs. Sammlungen für Kunst und Wissenschaft, der König- Johann-Stiftung und der Zentraldirektion der Monumenta Germaniae Historica.  Great job guys! 

* Some pages had been destroyed prior to the sixteenth century.  The solution on filling them has been to use the only other manuscript of the chronicle – the Brussels manuscript (from Corvey most likely) which was not penned by Thietmar’s team so is inferior.  Nevertheless, this is what we have.

Here are the relevant pages of that facsimile:







First, it is interesting that the temple described above may have contained samples of writing – whether the names of the Gods were etched in some sort of a rune script, Latin or Byzanthine writing is uncertain.  It too may be that this was a form of Slavic writing, perhaps even in a Slavic alphabet (there always was a hefty discussion as to whether that would have been runes and if so what that may mean).


Tollensee Idols

Second, the only God name mentioned is that of Zuarasici, probably Svarozic, who is, likely, though this is speculation, the same (in its diminutive form) as the Svarog, the God of the Eastern Slavs (there are other such strange similarities between Slavic Far East and Slavic Far West – like the word buki for letters – that apparently skipped over Poland, the Czechs  and other Central European Slavs).  Although Svarog is not mentioned in the PVL, he is mentioned in other Russian sources.


The sensational 1969 discovery drew thousands of worshippers to Tollensee

Third, and this is something that Brueckner focuses on too, the name Radegast (Riedegost) is that of a town – not of any God – at least not in this early account – later accounts refer to Radagast at Rethra (though whether that is the same Radagast is an open question).  We note too that Helmold (in Chapter 82 of Slav Chronicle) talks of the town of Reddegeshusen.

* Incidentally, there was no such thing, in any broad sense, as “Polabian” Slavs.  While a Slavic tribe living somewhere around the river Elbe (Laba, hence Po-Labians) was in fact called by that name, the notion that this name should be applied to all the Slavs West of the River Oder was Schaffarik’s.  Because the notion stuck, however, we stick to the notion.

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January 25, 2015

Is the Oder the New Vistula?

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We have raised this question before but we think it is worth enunciating it a bit so we will do it through the words of the chroniclers – one separated by a millennium of history.




[Partially Following Adam of Bremen]

“The second river, that is the Oder/Odra heads towards the North and cuts across the land of the Vinulli [Winnuli/Wends] and separates the Pomeranians from the Wilzi [Veleti].  At the mouth of this river, where it hits the sea, there was once a most illustrious city Winneta [Vinneta or Vinneda]… [description of the town and its fall follows] There one can witness a sea in three parts.  This island [on which the city stood] is cut through by three mouths of the river – one of them, as they say, is extraordinarily green, the second white and third is always covered in storms.”

Adam of Bremen

“Beyond the Leutici, who are alsoc called Wilzi, one comes to the Oder River, the largest stream in the Slavic region.  At its mouth where it feeds the Scythian marshes, Jumne, a most noble city, affords a very widely known trading center… There Neptune may be observed in a threefold mood: that island is washed by the waters of three straits, one of which they say is of a very green appearance; another rather whitish; the third rages furiously in perpetual tempests.”


“This island [Scandza] lies in front of the river Vistula which rises in the Sarmatian mountains and flows through its triple mouth into the northern Ocean in sight of Scandza, separating Germany and Scythia…”

“This land, I say, -namely, Scythia, stretching far and spreading wide, – has on the east the Seres [Serbs?], a race that dwelt at the very beginning of their history on the shores of the Caspian Sea.  “On the west are the Germans and the river Vistula…”

“Near their left ridge, which inclines toward the north, and beginning at the source of the Vistula, the populous race of the Venethi dwell, occupying a great expanse of land.  Though their names are now dispersed amid various clans and paces, yet they are chiefly called Sclaveni and Antes.  The abode of the Sclaveni extends from the city of Noviodunum and the lake called Mursianus to the Danaster, and northward as far as the Viscla…”

“But on the shore of Ocean, where the floods of the river Vistula empty from three mouths, the Vidivarii dwell, a people gathered out of various tribes.  Beyond them the Aesti, a subject race, likewise hold the shore of Ocean.  To the south dwell the Acatziri…”

“These Gepidae were then smitten by envy while they dwelt in the province of Spesis on an island surrounded by the shallow waters of the Visclae.  This island they called in the speech of their fathers, Gepodoios; but it is now inhabited by the race of the Vividaria, since the Gepidae themselves have moved to better lands.  The Vividarii are gathered from various races into this one asylum, if I may call it so, and thus they form a nation.”

[in some manuscripts, Vidivarii [Vindi-varii?]]


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

[yes, the source of the Oder is much closer to the source of the Elbe than is the source of the Vistula]

“Those that inhabit Germany on the other side of the river Rhine… and after these the Rugiclei up to the Vistula river….”

[yes, the Rugian island is west of the Oder]


So: Is it the case that Visculus sive Vistla as Pliny would have it?  Or maybe Visculus does sive Vistla but the Latin/Greek authors use the term erroneously when thinking of the Oder?

Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2015, All Rights Reserved

January 23, 2015

On the Story of Samo

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Of all the stories about the early Slavs, the story of Samo’s state is perhaps the most curious.  The story comes in two parts.  First, Samo, apparently a Frankish merchant, heads off to the Slavs who are in middle of a rebellion against the Avars and leads them to victory over the former overlords.


First Samo story courtesy of MGH

Then he reigns over them for many years leading them to further glory by refusing to submit to and ultimately defeating the army of the Frankish King Dagobert.


Part two from MGH

There is, perhaps, only one and only one source for this story of the “first” Slavic polity –  Book IV of the Fredegar’s Chronicle.  We will now present the entire Samo story and all the other parts of that book that relate to Wends, Slavs and Samo (though the principal years that relate to the two episodes are 623 and 630 in chapters 48 and 68, respectively).  We note first that Samo was not the first recorded Slavic king with his own kingdom as the southern Slavs had had several (and that is not even counting Boz of the Antes) quasi-states with their (explicitly noted by the chroniclers) own territory before Samo rolled in, as already mentioned here.  Further, it behooves us to say that “traces” of Samo may have survived outside of the chronicles – a topic which we will come back to later in this post – for now the story of Samo, in full, as related by Fredegar (manuscript pictures: Bibliotheque National de France, Latin manuscript 10910). (The years are given after the chronicle – some commentators question, e.g., whether the revolt happened in 623 or only after the Avar defeat at Constantinople in 626).


The countries in question

 Samo in Fredegar’s Chronicle


Book IV, Section 48 (Year 623)


samo1“In the fortieth year [of the rule of Chlothar?/Theuderich?], a certain Samo of the nation of the Franks from Sennonago [Sens in France? Soignies in Belgium?] together with a group of merchants went to trade with the Slavs who are called Wends.  The Slavs had at that point already risen up against the Avars that were known as Huns and their King Khagan.  Already in the olden days were the Wends used by the Huns as the so-called befulci [besulci?] so that when the Huns took the field against a nation, they themselves would stand in muster in front of their camp but the Wends would fight.  If the Wends won, the Huns would come forth to claim the booty; but if the Wends lost, they would regroup/gather new forces with the Huns’ help/protection.  They were called besulci by the Huns because they walked before the Huns and had to endure a double battle in any combat.”  [this may refer to the “motivational” influence of the Avars behind the Wends back]


“Each year, the Huns came to the Slavs, to spend the winter with them; then they took the wives and daughters of the Slavs and slept with them, and among the other mistreatments [already mentioned] the Slavs were also forced to pay levies to the Huns.  But the sons of the Huns, who were [then] raised with the wives and daughters of these Wends could not finally endure this oppression anymore and refused obedience to the Huns and began, as already mentioned, a rebellion.  When now the Wendish army went against the Huns, the [aforementioned] merchant Samo accompanied the same.  And so the Samo’s bravery proved itself in wonderful ways and a huge mass of Huns fell to the sword of the Wends.  Since these recognized Samo’s bravery they elected/raised him [to be] their king and he ruled happily thirty-five years long.  Many battles did the Wends fight under his rule and each time thanks to him did they remain victors.  Samo had twelve Wendish wives with whom he raised twenty-two sons and twenty-five daughters.”



Anno 40 regni Chlotharii, homo quidam, nomine Samo, natione Francus, de pago Sennonago plures secum negotiantes ascivit, ad exercendum negotium in Sclavos , cognomento Winidos, perrexit. Sclavi jam contra Avares, cognomento Chunos , et regem eorum Gaganum coeperant rebellare. Winidi Befulci Chunis fuerant jam ab antiquitus, ut cum Chuni in exercitu contra gentem quamlibet aggrediebant, Chuni pro castris adunato illorum exercitu stabant, Winidi vero pugnabant; si vero ad vincendum praevalebant, tunc Chuni praedas capiendum aggrediebant; sin autem Winidi superabantur, Chunorum auxilio fulti vires resumebant. Ideo Befulci vocabantur a Chunis, eo quod duplici in congressione certaminis vestita praelia facientes ante Chunos praecederent Chuni ad hiemandum annis singulis in Selavos veniebant; uxores Selavorum et filias eorum stratu sumebant; tributa super alias oppressiones Sclavi Chunis solvebant. Filii Chunorum, quos in uxores Winidorum et filias generaverant , tandem non sufferentes hanc malitiam ferre et oppressionem, Chunorum dominationem negantes, ut supra memini, coeperant rebellare. Cum in exercitu Winidi contra Chunos fuissent aggressi, Samo negotians, de quo memoravi superius, cum ipsis in exercitu perrexit, ibique tanta ejus fuit utilitas, ut mirum fuisset, et nimia multitudo de Chunis gladio Winidorum trucidata fuisset. Winidi cernentes utilitatem Samonis, eum super se eligunt regem, ubi triginta quinque annos regnavit feliciter. Plura praelia contra Chunos suo regimine Winidi gesserunt, suo consilio et utilitate Winidi semper superarunt. Samo duodecim uxores ex genere Winidorum habebat, de quibus viginti duos filios et quindecim filias habuit.

Book IV, Section 58 (Year 628)

[speaking of Dagobert in the seventh year of his reign]


“…And so great was the fear that he aroused among all the people that they all in humility submitted to his rule and even peoples, who lived on the border to the Avars and the Slavs willingly requested that he come to [rule over] them and he hoped confidently that the Avars and the Slavs and the other peoples all the way to the borders [of the Byzantine Kingdom] to rule…”


“...Timorem vero sic fortem sua concusserat utilitas, ut jam devotione arriperent suae se tradere ditioni, ut etiam gentes, quae circa limitem Avarorum et Sclavorum consistunt, eum prompte expeterent, ut ille post tergum eorum iret feliciter, et Avaros et Sclavos caeterasque gentium nationes usque manum publicam suae ditioni subjiciendum fiducialiter spondebat…

Book IV, Section 68 (Year 630) 



“In this year, merchants trading in Samo’s kingdom were killed and their property robbed by the Slavs that went by the name Wends.  This was the reason behind the falling out between Dagobert and the King of the Slavs Samo.  Dagobert sent an emissary Sycharius to Samo with the demand, to intervene, on account of the murder and theft committed by his [subjects/ people] on the Frankish merchants, as justice would demand it.  Because Samo did not even want to see Sycharius and would not let [Sycharius] before him, therefore, [Sycharius] put on Slavic garb and appeared before Samo and proclaimed to [Samo] all that he was supposed to proclaim. [i.e., he made the above-described demands for justice to be dispensed by Samo]  But Samo did not, for such are the pagan and haughty ways of bad people, recompense/undo what his [subjects/people] had done, and only committed himself to conduct judicial proceedings to resolve these and similar disputes between the two sides.  To that Sycharius replied in unfortunate words/threats, as is the manner of boisterous emissaries, which words/threats he was not empowered [by Dagobert] to use, that Samo and his entire people were  subjects of Dagobert’s.  Hurt [by these words] the King replied: “The country that we possess and we ourselves are Dagobert’s but only if he wants to keep friendship with us.”  To which Sycharius said: “It is not possible, that Christians, servants of God, should be friends with dogs.”  And then Samo replied: “If you are servants of God and we are God’s dogs then it is permitted us when you continually act against His will that we bite you.”  And with these words they threw Sycharius out.”


“When Dagobert found out about this he raised a great army out of all Austrasia [northern France – province of the Merovingian Empire] against Samo and the Wends and sent it to take the field divided in three parts.  At the same time, the Langobards raided [a/the] Slavic country to support Dagobert.  The Slavs prepared themselves to resist but the Alemanic army under Duke Crodobert  on a victory over them [Slavs] in the place where it breached their territory, and so too the Langobards won a victory; and both, Alemans and Langobards led away with them a huge multitude of prisoners.  But as the Austrasians headed towards Wogastisburg, where the main force of the Wendish forces was, there came to a three-day long battle, in which the greater part of Dagobert’s army fell to the sword, and leaving all their tents and all their belongings behind they went fleeing home.  Since that time, the Wends raided Thuringia and other Frankish provinces.  Yes, even Dervanus, the duke of the Sorbs, a people of the Slavic tribes, who until then to the Frankish Kingdom belonged, went over to Samo.  And by the way the Wends did not win their victory over the Franks thanks to their bravery but rather on the account of bad faith of the Austrasiers since they hated Dagobert for having constantly exploited them.”



Eo anno Sclav, cognomento Winidi, in regno Samonis negotiantes, Francorum cum plurimam multitudinem interfecissent et rebus exspoliassent, hoc fuit initium scandali inter Dagobertum et Samonem regem Sclavinorum . Dirigensque Dagobertus Sicharium legatarium ad Samonem, petens ut negotiantes quos sui interfecerant, et res quas illi cite usurpaverant cum justitia faceret emendare Samo nolens Sicharium videre, nec ad se eum venire permitteret; Sicharius vestes indutus ad instar Sclavinorum cum suis ad conspectum pervenit, Samoni universa quae injuncta habebat nuntiavit. Sed ut habet gentilitas et superbia pravorum, nihil a Samone quae sui admiserant est emendatum, nisi tantum placita vellens instituere, ut de his et aliis intentionibus, quae inter has partes ortae fuerant, justitia redderetur in invicem. Sicharius, sicut stultus legatus, verba improperii quae injuncta non habuerat, et minas adversus Samonem loquitur, eo quod Samo et populus regni sui Dagoberto deberent servitium. Samo respondens jam saucius [Clar., caucius] dixit: Et terram quam habemus Dagoberti est, et nos sui sumus, si tamen nobiscum disposuerit amicitias conservare. Sicharius dicens: Non est possibile, ut Christiani Dei servi cum canibus amicitias collocare possint, Samo e contrario dixit: Si vos estis Dei servi, et nos sumus Dei canes, dum vos assidue contra ipsum agitis, nos permissum accepimus vos morsibus lacerare. Ejectus est Sicharius de conspectu Samonis. Cum haec Dagoberto nuntiasset. Dagobertus superbiter jubet de universo regno Austrasiorum contra Samonem et Winidos movere exercitum: ubi tribus turmis phalangae super Winidos exercitus ingreditur, etiam et Langobardi solatione Dagoberti idemque hostiliter in Sclavos perrexerunt. Sclavi his et aliis locis e contrario praeparantes, Alamannorum exercitus cum Chrodoberto duce in parte qua ingressus est victoriam obtinuit. Langobardi itidemque victoriam obtinuerunt; et plurimum numerum captivorum de Sclavis Alamanni et Langobardi secum duxerunt. Austrasii vero cum ad castrum Wogastisburc , ubi plurima manus fortium Winidorum immoraverant, circumdantes, triduo praeliantes, plures ibidem de exercitu Dagoberti gladio trucidantur, et exinde fugaciter omnes tentoria et res quas habuerunt relinquentes, ad proprias sedes revertuntur. Multis post haec vicibus Winidi in Thoringiam et reliquos vastando pagos in Francorum regnum irruunt. Etiam et Deruanus dux gentis Urbiorum , qui ex genere Sclavinorum erant, et ad regnum Francorum jam olim aspexerant, se ad [Al., se et] regnum Samoni cum suis tradidit. Istamque victoriam quam Winidi contra Francos meruerunt, non tantum Sclavinorum fortitudo obtinuit, quantum dementatio Austrasiorum, dum se cernebant cum Dagoberto odium incurrisse, et assidue exspoliarentur.

Book IV, Section 72 (Year 630) 


“In the same year there arose a great discord in Pannonia in the Kingdom of the Avars that are called Huns.  There was a quarrel between an Avar and a Bulgar over the succession to the throne.  Both collected huge armies and fought with one another.  Finally, the Bulgars lost.  Nine thousand of them with wives and children were driven then out of Pannonia and turned now to Dagobert to give them permanent places to live within the country of the Franks.  Dagobert bade them for the time being to spend the winter by the Bavarians until he had time to take counsel with the Franks what should happen with them next.  Once they have settled in the houses of the Bavarians, he issued, after the council of the Franks, an order to the Bavarians that they should in one night, each in his own house, kill these Bulgars together with their women and children.  And that order was immediately carried out by the Bavarians so that only Alciocus with 700 men, women children survived from the Bulgars and saved themselves by escaping to the territory of the Wends where he with his people lived for many years with Wallucus, the duke of the Wends.”


Eo anno in Abarorum , cognomento Chunorum, regno in Pannonia surrexit vehemens intentio, eo quod de regno certarent, cui deberetur ad succedendum, unus ex Abaris et alius ex Bulgaris; collecta multitudine uterque in invicem pugnarunt. Tandem Abari Bulgaros superant. Bulgaris superatis, novem millia virorum cum uxoribus et liberis de Pannonia expulsi, ad Dagobertum expetunt, petentes ut eos in terra Francorum ad manendum reciperet. Dagobertus jubet eos ad hiemandum Bajoarios recipere, dummodo pertractaret cum Francis quid exinde fieret. Cumque dispersi per domos Bajoariorum ad biemandum fuissent, consilio Francorum Dagobertus Bajoariis jubet ut Bulgaros illos cum uxoribus et liberis unusquisque in domo sua in una nocte Bajoarii interficerent, quod protinus a Bajoariis est impletum. Nec quisquam ex illis remansit Bulgaris, nisi tantum Altioeus cum septingentis viris, et uxoribus cum liberis, qui in marca Winidorum salvatus est. Post haec cum Walluco duce Winidorum annis plurimis vixit cum suis.

Book IV, Section 74 (Year 631) 


“In the tenth year of the rule of Dagobert it was reported to him that an army of Wends raided Thuringia.  He left, therefore, with his forces from Metz and crossed the Ardennes towards Mainz in order to cross the Rhein there.  In addition to dukes and counts he also had the choicest cohort of brave men from Neustrien and Burgundy.  There appeared now emissaries of the Saxons in front of Dagobert asked him to exempt them form the taxes that they [noarmally] paid to the [Frankish] state.  In exchange for that they promised with great zeal and success to defend [against the Wends] and the Franksih country on the Wendish border to protect.  Dagobert fulfilled this request, after a/the council of the Neustrasier and the Saxon emissaries gave their promise, in accordance with their custom by hitting [their] weapons, for the entire Saxon nation.  Though, the promise was not successful, the taxes that they used to pay remained unpaid in accordance with Dagobert’s order.  Chlotar the Old had required them to pay annual taxes of 500 cows which taxes Dagobert now exempted them from.”


Anno 10 regni Dagoberti, cum ei nuntiatum fuisset exercitum Winidorum Thoringiam fuisse ingressum, cum exercitu de regno Austrasiorum de Mettis urbe promovens, transita Ardenna, Magantiam magno cum exercitu aggreditur , disponens Rhenum transire, scaram de electis viris fortibus de Neuster et Burgundia cum ducibus et grafionibus secum habens. Saxones missos ad Dagobertum dirigunt, petentes ut eis tributa quae fisci ditionibus dissolvebant indulgeret: ipsi vero eorum studio et utilitate Winidis resistere spondent, et Francorum limitem de illis partibus custodire promittunt. Quod Dagobertus, consilio Neustrasiorum adeptus, praestitit Saxonibus qui his petitionibus suggerendum venerant. Sacramentum, ut eorum mos erat , super arma placata [Al. placita] pro universis Saxonibus firmant. Sed parum haec promissio sortitur effectum, tamen tributum Saxones, quod reddere consueverant, praeceptione Dagoberti habent indultum. Quingentas vaccas inferendales annis singulis a Chlothario seniore censiti reddebant, quod a Dagoberto cassatum est.

Book IV, Section 75 (Year 632) 


“The eleventh year of the reign of Dagobert.  Since the Wends on the orders of Samo continued their wild raids and would often come raiding out of their own country into the Frankish Kingdom and devastated Thuringia and other provinces, therefore, did Dagobert come to the town Metz and made, after a determination of the clergy and the nobles of his country, his son Sigebert into King of Auster and gave him the town Metz as his seat.  And to the Bishop of Koln Chunibert and to Duke Adigisel he left the affairs in Sigebert’s Kingdom and palace.  He also left a sufficient treasury for his son and granted him all that his high honor required.  All these nominations he reaffirmed with specially prepared certificates.  From that time was the Frankish Kingdom through the zeal of the Austrasier sufficiently protected.”


Anno 11 regni Dagoberti, cum Winidi jussu Samonis fortiter saevirent, et saepe transcenso eorum limite regnum Francorum vastandum, Thoringiam et reliquos pagos ingrederentur, Dagobertus Mettis urbem veniens, cum consilio pontificum seu et procerum, omnibusque primatibus regni sui consentientibus, Sigibertum filium suum in Austeris regem sublimavit, sedemque Mettis civitatem habere permisit. Chunibertum Coloniae urbis pontificem, et Adalgiselum ducem palatium et regnum gubernandum instituit. Thesaurum quod sufficeret filio tradens, condigne, ut decuit, eum hujus culmine sublimavit, et quodcunque eidem largitus fuerat, singillatim praeceptionibus roborandum decrevit. Deinceps Austrasii eorum studio limitem et regnum Francorum contra Winidos utiliter defensasse noscuntur.

Book IV, Section 77 (Year 633) 


“Radulf, the son of Chamar, whom Dagobert made Duke of Thuringia, fought many times against the Wends, defeated them and expelled them.  This made him arrogant and he took every opportunity to act in a hostile manner towards Duke Adalgisel and already then was preparing to rebel against King Sigebert.  He acted according to the proverb: ‘He who loves war, always looks for/thinks of conflict.'”


Radulfus dux illius Chamari, quem Dagobertus Thoringiae ducem instituit, pluribus vicibus cum exercitu Winidorum dimicans, eosque victos vertit in fugam. Hujus victoriae superbia elatus, et contra Adalgiselum ducem diversis occasionibus inimicitias tendens, paulatim contra Sigibertum jam tunc coeperat rebellare. Sed, ut dictum est, sic agebat: Qui diligit rixas, meditatur discordias.

Book IV, Section 87 (Year 640) 


[In this year Radulf came to open rebellion.  Sigebert crossed the Rhine to attack him and initially won but then suffered a great loss at a battle at Radulf’s wood-protected camp that stood overlooking the river Unstrut.  Thereafter, Sigebert was allowed to withdraw and go home.  And, thereupon…]

“Radulf full of overconfidence/arrogance called himself King of Thuringia, became friends with the Wends and had a peaceful relationship with the other neighboring peoples.  Officially, he recognized Sigebert’s as his sovereign but in practice he opposed stingily/at every turn his rulership.”


“Radulfus superbia elatus ad modum regis in Thoringia se esse censebat, amicitias cum Winidis firmans, caeterasque gentes, quas vicinas habebat, cultu amicitiae obligabat. In verbis tamen Sigiberto regimen non denegabat, sed in factis fortiter ejusdem resistebat dominationi.”


No one knows what happened to Samo.  If you look at the “learned” sources they will say that he ruled until 658.  There is, however, no proof of this.  All we  know is that Fredegar said Samo came to power in 623 and ruled for 35 years.  That and only that is the source of the year 658.  In Fredegar’s chronicle no mention is made of Samo after the events of the year 632 where his Wends were raiding Thuringia.  Fredegar’s Chronicle ends on the year 642 and that is, as they say, that.

However, there are other interesting signs of Samo’s story to be found elsewhere.


The good old days

One example given is the Saint Catherine’s rotunda in the town of Znojmo.  Its frescoes (oldest in the Czech Republic)  date to 1134 (the rotunda is about 100 years older) and show the ancient rulers of the Czech lands (Znojmo is in Moravia but more or less).


Look up!

The first name shown is Zamo (the next three cannot be read and then we get Moimir I, the first historical ruler of  Great Moravia – between c 820-846).


yes, it’s not the best picture

You can look at the rotunda here.


The man in question

And then there are the names of some of the (legendary) Polish rulers, e.g. Siemo-wit or Ziemo-mysl.

There is, of course, also the question of the meaning of befulci which we will not touch save to say the meaning seems to be basically “cannon fodder”.

Then there is the question of the location of Wogastisburg.  While a lot of people are pointing at the Czech Republic, the constant mention of the Thuringians and Wends suggests a different answer perhaps.  One that points to the Veleti or Obodrites – it is in the territory of these that we find today’s Wolgast (or maybe it’s Znojmo…).  In any event, let us “REMEMBER [THE VICTORY AT] WOGASTISBURG!”


Oh, yes, and there is the issue of the origin of the name Samo (which, interestingly, translates roughly into “by myself”)

Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2015, All Rights Reserved

January 20, 2015

Reports of the Slavs from Muslim Lands Part IV – Masudi’s Account

Published Post author

Masudi, born in Baghdad became a world traveler and an author of a history book (under the rather confusing name of “The Meadows of Gold” (or, more fully, “The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Precious Gems”).  He wrote it between 941-956 (first edition in 943) in Egypt where he chose to settle.  Masudi died in 957 – eight years before Ibrahim Ibn-Ya’qub arrived at Otto I’s court in Magdeburg.  Although the below discusses some religious practices of the [seemingly, East] Slavs, we leave a wider discussion of the topic for later.  Finally, we include the Paul Lunde translation of the same separately at the back.

From Masudi

(c 943)

“The Saqaliba are descended from Madhay, the son of Japheth, the son of Noah and all the Saqaliba peoples derive their origins and trace their genealogies back to him, or at least this is the opinion of most of those who have devoted themselves to the question.  The Saqaliba dwell in the North, whence they have spread westwards.”

[this seems to suggest that at least some Slavs moved West from East; on the other hand, below Masudi seems to have his East-West confused as he suggests the Rus and Slavs extend eastwards from the Khazar Khaganate]

“The Saqaliba are divided into several different peoples who war among themselves and have kings.  Some of them belong to the Christian faith, being of the Jacobite sect, while the others are pagans and have no scripture and know nothing of divine law.”

[Jacobite, presumably meaning the Syrian Church]


The clan leaders of the Slavs – in front Majik of the Walitaba (unclear who backstabbed him)

“Among the different peoples who make up this pagan race, there is one that in ancient times held sovereign power.  Their king was called Majik and they themselves were known as Walitaba [Veleti].  In the past, all the Saqaliba recognized their superiority, because it was from among them that they chose the paramount ruler, and all the other chieftains considered themselves his vassals.”

[although this may seem far-fetched, if we take into account that M-dzh-k is a reconstruction, one might ask whether this could be a form of M-sh-c or M-sh-k, i.e., Mieszko – this would not be impossible though highly unlikely as in the 940s Mieszko I was very young and likely not even yet a chieftain and we also do not have evidence of earlier Mieszkos in the same area (though we also have no earlier evidence at all of that area); for a discussion of the same topic in Ibrahim‘s account (he uses the name Makha) see here]

“Among the Saqaliba peoples of the second rank should be mentioned in the following order: the Istrana, whose king in our own times is called Basqlabij; then the Dulaba, whose present king is called Wanjslaf.  Next are the Namjin, whose king is called Gharand; among all the Saqaliba these are the bravest and the best horsemen.  After, come the Manabin, whose king is called Ratimir; the Sarbin, a Saqaliba people much feared for reasons that it would take too long to explain and whose deeds would need much too detailed an account.  They have no particular religious affiliation.  Then there is the people called the Murawa and another known as the Kharwatin, and yet another called the Sasin, then the Khashanin and the Baranijabin.  The names of some of their kings which we have given are in fact dynastic titles.  The Sarbin, whom we have just mentioned, have the custom of burning themselves alive when a king or chieftain dies.  They also immolate his horses.  These people have customs similar to those of the Indians.”

[Tribes’ names mentioned above require some explanation:

– Istrana – difficult to do anything with this one; the Ister was the Danube, of course; maybe these were a tribe from the Dniester region such as the Tivercians; but the Venethi enthusiasts should also note that Istrana is a town in the Venetian country of Italy;

– Dulaba – the Dulaba were presumably the Dulebians mentioned in the PVL as being abused by the Avars and then dwelling “along the Bug where the Volhynians now are”;

– Namjin – the name might suggest Germans (Nemcy) especially given the name of the leader – Gharand (or maybe Goran?); this should not be that surprising since Masudi also lists the Sasin – possibly Saxons and the Turks (Hungarians) as Slavs; some have speculated that the reference is to Bavarians; it is interesting that these may be rendered in the Slavic suggesting a Slavic source;

– Manabin – other translations include mayin and maghanin – nonetheless, we can only throw our hands up in the air and say whaaaa?;

– Sarbin – ok, easy – Serbs of one type or another;

– Murawa – presumably the Moravians;

– Kharwatin – presumably the Croatians/Croats;

– Sasin – German Saxons or Cesi (Czechs)?;

– Khashanin – Kashubs? Those who live near Koszalin?;

– Baranijabin – we give up – other than to say that the town of Baranovichi is in Western Belarus] 

“Earlier in this work, we briefly mentioned this while discussing the Caucasus/the town Qabh [?] and the Khazars, we remarked that in the land of the Khazars there are, as well as the Khazars themselves, a Saqaliba and a Rus population and that these last [last or last two?] also immolate themselves.  These Saqaliba and other related peoples extent to the East rather than to the West.”

“The foremost of the Saqaliba kings is Aldayr, whose domains include great cities and much cultivated land, vast troops and countless armies.  Muslim merchants make their way to his capital with all kinds of merchandise.”


Slav Chief of Chiefs Altair (r) uses the Force to repel an Avar Berserker (l)

[Aldayr – Askold & Dir?; or is it really aldair as in aeldar as in chieftain? Or al-Ta’ir, the flying one or the flying eagle (see the Star Aquila)? Or, perhaps it is Aldir?]

“After this, on the borders of this Saqaliba king, comes the king of al-afragh [Prague?], who has a gold mine, towns, extensive well-cultivated lands, numerous soldiers and a large population.  He is at war with the Byzantines, the Franks, the Bazkard [Bashkirs but here are meant the Hungarians seeing as that (Urals) is where they (or rather the ruling class) likely came from] and other nations besides the hostilities among them are continuous.  Neighboring this king is the king of the Turks.  These people are the handsomest, the most numerous and the most warlike of all.  The  Saqaliba comprise many different peoples and are very far-flung, but this work is not the place for a detailed description and classification of them.”

“I began by mentioning the king whose suzerainty has been recognized by all the other rulers since ancient times, that is to say Majik, king of the Walitaba, who are the original, pure-blooded Saqaliba, the most highly honored, and take precedence over all the other branches of the race.      Later, dissent having established itself among these peoples, their original organization was destroyed and the various families formed isolated groups, each choosing a king, as we have said above.  An account of all these events would take too long, all the more so, since I have already related them in a general way and with great detail in my earlier works, the Historical Annals and the Intermediate History.”


This is the Paul Lunde translation of the same: Chapter 9 (The Slavs):

“The Slavs are descended from Madhay, the son of Japhet, the son of Noah, and all the Slavic peoples derive their origins and trace their genealogies back to him, or at least this is the opinion of most of those who have devoted themselves to the question.  They dwell in the north, whence they have spread westwards.”

“The Slavs are divided into several different peoples who war among themselves and hav kings.  Some of them belong to the Christian faith, being of the Jacobite set, while the others are pagans and have no scripture and know nothing of divine law.”

“Among the different peoples who make up this pagan race, there is one that in ancient times held sovereign power.  Their koing was called Majik, and they themselves were known as Walitaba [Wiltzes?].  In the toast, all the Slavs recognized their superiority, because it was from among them that they chose the paramount ruiler, and all the other chieftains considered themselves his vassals.”

“Among the Slavic peoples of the second rank should be mentioned in the following order: the Istrana, whose king in our own times is called Basqlabij [Vaclav?]; then the Dulaba [western Dulabians?], whose present king is called Wanjslaf.  Next are the Namjin [‘Niemczyn, ‘Germans’] whose king is called Gharand [Conrad]; among all the Slavs these are the bravest and the best horsemen.  After, come the Manabin, whose king is called Ratimir; the Sarbin [the Serbs], a Slavic people much feared for reasons that it would take too long to explain and whose deeds would need much too detailed an account.  They have no particular religious affiliation.”

“Then there is the people called the Murawa [the Moravians] and another known as the Kharwatin [the Croats], and yet another called the Sasin [either the Saxons or the Czech ‘Cacin’], then the Khashanin and the Baranijabin.  The names of some of their kings which we have given are in fact dynastic titles.”

“The Sarbin, whom we hav just mentioned, have the custom of burning themselves alive when a king or chieftain dies.  They also immolate his horses.  These people have customs similar to those of the Indians.”

“In the land of the Khazars there are, as well as the Khazars themselves, a Slav and a Rus population and that these last also burn themselves.  These Slav and other related peoples extend to the east rather than to the west.”

“The foremost of the Slav kings is the ruler of Aldayr, whose domain include great cities and much cultivated land, vast troops and countless armies.  Muslim merchants make their way to his capital with all kinds of merchandise.”

“After this, on the borders of this Slavic king, comes the king of al-Afragh [Prague], who has a gold mine, towns, extensive well-cultivated lands, umerous soldiers and a large population.  He is at war with the Byzantines, the Franks, the Bazkard [the Magyars] and other nations besides; the hostilities among them are continuous.”

“Neighbouring this Slavic king is the king of the Turks.  These people are the handsomest, the most numerous and the most warlike of all.  The Slavs comprise many many different peoples and are very far-flung, but this work is not the place for a detailed description and classification of them.”

“I began by mentioning the king whose suzerainty has been recognized by all the other rulers since ancient times, that is to say Majik, king of the Walitaba, who are the original, pure-blooded Slavs, the most highly honoured and take precedence over all the other branches of the race.”

“Later, dissent having established itself among these peoples, their original organization was destroyed and the various families formed isolated groups, each choosing a king, as we have said before.  An account of all these events would take too long, all the more so since I have already related them in a general way and with great detail in my earlier works, the Historical Annals and the Intermediate History.”

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January 20, 2015

Reports of the Slavs From Muslim Lands Part III – Hearth & Home

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In part I of this series originating from Muslim lands, we have discussed the political description of Slavic lands as set out by Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub.  In part II, we have discussed some aspects of the Slav trade.  In this part III we will discuss some customs of the Slavs as observed by Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub as well as by Ibn Rusta – both of whom were introduced in parts I & II.  In part IV, to come, we will conclude where we began with the political description of Slavdom (along with some historiography)  from Masudi – who wrote some 20 years before Ibrahim.

[As a side note, we note that Arabic, like Hebrew, does not always use vowels meaning that some of the names reconstructed below are necessarily approximations since the translators had to fill in some blanks].

Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub on the Customs of the Saqaliba

“The lands of the Slavs are the coldest of all the lands.  The greatest cold is when there is full moon at night and the days are cloudless.  Then frost increases and ice increases.  The ground hardness like stone, all liquids freeze, wells and puddles are covered with a hard layer so that they become like stone.  And when people breathe out, there forms on their beards a coat of ice as if it were glass…”


The Hrad where the Slavic Superchieftain “S”vetopolk made his home (artist’s rendition)

“They have no baths but they use log cabins in which gaps are stuffed with something that appears on their trees and looks like seaweed – they call it mech (original mh = moss)… In one corner they put up a stone stove and above it they open up a hole to let the smoke from the stove escape.  When the stove is good and hot, they close up the opening and close the door of the hut.  Inside are vessels with water and they pour out of them water onto the hot stove and steam comes from it.  Each of them has in his hand a tuft of grass with which they make air circulate and draw it to themselves.  Then their pores open up and the unneeded substances from their bodies come out…”


Slavs in a bath – their pores are about to open up

[This kind of a banya was likely where the Princess Olga had the leaders of the Drevlians burnt alive in 945 as reported by the PVL]

“The major tribes of the north speak the language of the Saqaliba because they have mingled with them.  These are such tribes as the Germans, the Hungarians, the Pecenegs, the Rus and the Khazars.  In all the northern countries famines occur, not because of lack of rainfall and continuous drought, but because of over-abundant rain and continual damp.  Drought is not devastating for them, because he who is afflicted by it does not fear it, since their country is so damp and the cold is so great.”

Czech Republic Europe Floods

Given the Slavs’ superior highway system, the frequent flooding was not even irksome

“They sow during two seasons of the year, in summer and in spring, and harvest two crops.  Their principal crop is millet.  The cold even when it is intense, is healthful to them, but the heat destroys them.  They are unable to travel to the country of the Lombards because of the heat, for the hear there is fierce and they perish.  Health among them is only achieved when the elements that make up their constitutions are frozen – when these elements melt and boil, the body desiccates and the result is death.”


Slavic Chieftain Tang-o-mir – after only a few minutes in the Lombard sun – or was it erysipelas?

“Two diseases afflict them all; scarce anyone escapes at least one of them.  The diseases are erysipelas and hemorrhoids [ehhh…].  They refrain from eating chicken, asserting that it exacerbates erysipelas, but they eat beef and goose, both of which agree with them.  They wear ample robes, although the ends of their sleeves are narrow.  Their kings sequester their women and are very jealous of them.  A man can have twenty or more wives.”


While the Slavic 1% may have had 20-plus wives, the Slav peasant typically had to do with only two

“The most common trees in their country are apple, pear and peach.  They have an unusual bird its back is green and it can imitate the sounds made by men and animals.  It has been found [] they hunt it and it is called saba (original sb – “szpak”? = starling or “sowa” = owl?) in the language of the Saqaliba.  They also have a fowl called tatra (wood-cock).  Its meat is good and its call can be heard from the tree-tops at the distance of a forsake [parsec?].  The most common are of two kinds, one black and one varicoloured; the latter more beautiful than a peacock.  They have different kinds of wind and string instruments.  They have a wind instrument more than two cubits long, and an eight-stringed instrument whose sounding board is flat, not convex.  Their drinks and wine are made out of honey.” [mead – medos?]

Ibn Rusta on the Customs of the Saqaliba

(c 903-913)

“It is ten days’ march from the lands of the Pecenegs to the lands of the Saqaliba.  The first town encountered after crossing the frontier is Wabnit.  To reach it, one crosses steppe and trackless wilderness, with springs and thick forest.”

“The country where the Saqaliba dwell is flat and heavily forested.  There are no vineyards or cultivated fields.  They have a sort of wooden box, provided with holes, in which bees live and make their honey; in their language they are called the ulishaj.  They collect around ten jars of honey from each box.  They herd pigs as if they were sheep.”


Some beekeepers (like these Polish bartniks) operated in airborne units

“They burn their dead.  When a woman dies, they cut her hands and face with a knife.  The day after the funeral of a man, after he has been burned, they collect the ashes and put them in an urn, which is buried on a hill.  After a year, they place twenty hives, more or less, on the hill.  The family gathers and eats and drinks there and then everyone goes home.  If the dead man had three wives, and one of them says she loved him, she raises two lists near the tomb, and sets another horizontally across them.  To this cross beam she attaches a rope and ties the other end round her neck.  When these preparations have been made, they remove the stool she has been standing on and she strangles.   Her body is then thrown in the fire and burnt.”


Typical Slavic funeral

[recall what Saint Boniface said of the Wends – also in agreement Thietmar of Merseburg regarding Poles]

They all worship fire.  [Svarog?] Their chief crop is millet. At harvest time, they place a few grains in a dish and hold it up to the sky, saying: ‘Lord, it is you who give us our daily bread: continue to show us your benevolence.‘”


Mieszko I’s coin with, ahem, a fire symbol

[incidentally, it has been suggested that the above coin is from the reign of Mieszko II – however, it seems to us more likely a pre-baptismal issue, i.e., pre-966 – given the “embroidery”)

“They have different kinds of lutes, pan pipes and flutes a cubit long.  Their lutes have eight strings.  They drink mead.  [medos?] They play their instruments during the incineration of their dead and claim that their rejoicing attests the mercy of the Lord to the dead.”

“They have very few mules, and even notables possess very few horses.  Their arms are javelins, shields and lances; they have no others.”

“They obey a chief named subanj [zhupan?] and carry out his orders.  He dwells in the middle of the land of the Saqaliba.  Their supreme lord, called ‘chief of chiefs’, however, is named Svetopolk [of Moravia?].  The subanj is his lieutenant and viceroy.  This king has many cattle and lives exclusively on their milk… He has splendid, finely woven and effective coats of mail.”


Svetopolk with the characteristic “S” (for Slav) was not only a mighty Slavic warrior but also an early milk adopter and promoter

“The name of the town in which he lives in is [jarwab or jarad or grad?] .  For three days every month a great market is held there and every sort of commercial transaction takes place.”

“The extreme cold which afflicts the country is so harsh that th inhabitants are forced to construct underground dwellings, roofed with wood like a church and completely covered with earth.  The head of the family builds one of these for his family and relatives.”


Slav “zemyanki” while seemingly small and nondescript from the outside…

“They bring firewood and stones, light the wood until the stones turn red hot and then throw water on them.  The steam released warms the room and the inhabitants take off their clothes and live in this shelter till spring.”


… were surprisingly cozy & roomy on the inside

“The ruler levies fixed taxes every year.  Every man must supply one of his daughter’s gowns.  If he has a son, his clothing must be offered.  If he has no children, he gives one of his wife’s or concubine’s robes.  In this country thieves are strangled or exiled to Jira [Yura by the Urals?], the region most remote from this principality.”

Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2015, All Rights Reserved

January 19, 2015

Reports of the Slavs From Muslim Lands Part II – Radhanites, Eunuchs and the Rus

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Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub wasn’t the only only traveler from the Muslim world to note the Slavs.  There were a number of others – we will bring you those reports over time beginning with four that are descriptive of the activities of certain early medieval trading groups.

One such group are the Radhaniya (Radania, Radhaniyya or Radanites in English) – a group of Jewish merchants that traversed the medieval world crossing boundaries between the Franks, Muslims, Byzantines, the Rus and the Slavs.  In fact, they were able to reach Mesopotamia, Arabia, Persia, Central Asia’s various –stans, India, perhaps Mongolia and even China.


Radanite merchants at an unspecified Antiochian tavern (their Saqaliba slave-to-be is seen growing into his role by serving warm handtowels)

As far as we can tell the Radhanites were principally traders carrying Western goods such as brocade, beaver pelts, marten, furs, swords but also (newly minted) eunuchs and, it appears, children – all to be sold into slavery.  From the East they came back with musk, aloe wood, camphor, cinnamon, celadon, silk (this was before the Italians took over production) and other products of the Orient.  In a way they were a more modest precursor to the Hanseatic iteague, the British East India Company or today’s corporations – a trading guild (or perhaps just a loose network of trading associates) whose members likely served as both merchants, explorers and, likely, spies for the local potentates.  It is possible that Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub was also a “member” of this group – we will likely never know for sure (the fact that, when visiting Germany, he was surprised to see some of the Eastern wares and coins in the local markets, e.g., in Mainz – suggests that perhaps he was more of a diplomat traveler than a trader himself).

What the origin of the name is another mystery (Frankish, Rhodan River? The city of al-Rayy/Rhages in Persia? Rhadan, a province in Persia or Mesopotamia? Do they have anything to do with the Slavic Rodanice? Or Rod-a-niya (as in, ominously (!), ‘destroyer’ of the ‘clan’)?) and much ink has been spilled on this topic… (Moshe Gil’s “Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages” contains some of the latest attempts at shedding light on this).

As regards slaves, the Radhanites themselves being principally intermediaries dealing in all kinds of merchandise, were not the ones who would capture human cargo – rather for that they relied on wars, the various local monarchs and raiders.  We must remember that slavery never died out with the collapse of the Roman Empire and as the Franks and then the newly-added Saxons began to fight the Polabian Slavs, a surplus of prisoners of war would most profitably be disposed off by selling them into slavery.  In this fashion your enemies would never be heard from again and you would make a lot of money – a win win so to speak.

Similarly, local monarchs were no doubt to cash in on the action and send some of their political opponents on long-desrved vacations (see Bretislav in Bohemia who permitted the slave trade in Prague some one hundred years after the official adoption of Christianity).  Finally, you had the various raiding nomads who continued to plague Ukraine and Russia much as the various Scythian and Sarmatian tribes before or the Mongols, Turks and Tartars after.

One such group was the south-Caspian based Khurasan.  But another one that we now come to, one that monopolized all channels of commerce (downstream and upstream, so to speak) were the Rus warrior-merchants – most likely Varangians (much more on that later).  Their reach was more limited than that of the Radhanites but they also penetrated far: first on the Dnieper then into the Black Sea  and then all the way to Constantinople; or, sometimes, on the Volga to the Caspian Sea and all the way to Baghdad.


Rus merchant teaching discipline to a soon to be not-so-unruly Slavic captive (circa A.D. 902)

Unlike the Radhanites, the Rus captured their wares at their point of origin and delivered them all the way down to the final end users.  They sold beaver and black fox pelts, as well as swords but also Slavs.  They traveled through the Khazar Khaganate and the Byzantine Empire selling some of their goods there and paying customs duties to the local rulers as they traveled even further.  While the Radhanites were likely to have to hire guards for their long voyages, the Rus were both merchants and guards.  They liked to do things on their own and, one may conjecture, that the Rus’ ultimate decision to get themselves “invited” to rule the Slavs (after first being thrown out) as Nestor in his PVL so diplomatically puts it, was simply an attempt to formalize the Rus-Slav relationship in a legal framework of “ownership” so as to enable the Rus to collect their bounty directly without having to resort to bothersome raiding activity.

It is also noticeable that, as the furs, swords, honey, wax, amber and Slavic slaves were sent to the East, the traders brought (in addition to bartered goods) tons of Abbasid silver dirham coins back with them, fueling the economic revitalization of Europe previously suffering the doldrums of trading collapse that occurred in the wake of the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The first report comes from Ibn Khurradadhbih (c 820 – c 911) and was written sometime between 840s-880s, however, it may be that what he describes relates to an earlier period perhaps in the beginning of the IX century.  Ibn Khurradadhbih was in the intelligence business working as a spymaster in the Persian province of Jibal (his official title being the director of the Abbasid Bureau of Posts and Intelligence).  He was a friend of the caliph Mu’tamid.  He is also the author of “The Book of Roads and Kingdoms” and that is where we find this first report.

The second report is one by Ibn al-Faqih (c 903?) of Hamadan (we have no idea who he was) and has been dated to 903.  Ibn al-Faqih almost certainly copied portions of the earlier Ibn Khurradadhbih report as will become clear to the readers.  It appears that what little survives of his writings is in the form of shorter versions that come from a monumental treatise which, alas, has been lost to us (it seems).  Faqih’s report is also curious because, while the first report (which predates Rurik’s takeover of Slavic tribes of later Russia), arguably, describes the Rus and the Slavs as separate [but maybe not see below] , the latter report calls apparently the same people just Slavs.

Third, as it seems to topically fit in here, we include a report by Ibn Hawqal (a traveler and geographer born in Nisibis c 920 – c 988; edited Istakhri’s Book of Roads and Kingdoms which was in turn an edition of Ibn Khurradadhbih’s version) regarding the trade in slaves and Slavic eunuchs which was written sometime before the year 988.  We note that there had been Slavs around his home town of Nisibis (albeit in a military capacity) already a century and a half before his writings.

Finally, we present a report on the Rus and Slavs by Ibn Rusta (circa 903), a native of Isfahan and an author of a multi-volume encyclopedia of geography and history.

In terms of the organization, we start with reports on the Radhaniya and their trade routes, follow it up with a note on the eunuch trade and then go into the excerpts dealing with the Rus and the Slavs.

We note, up front, that the name for Slavs in Arabic is Saqaliba.  Finally, note too that where possible we provide current place names but only once – if you can’t locate these in the text above then we didn’t provide any corresponding contemporary names (meaning you should know where the place is or what it is without help from us).

Ibn Khurradadhbih on the al-Radhaniya

The routes of the Jewish merchants called al-Radhaniya; these merchants they speak Arabic, Persian, Greek, Latin, Frankish, Andalusian and Slavic.  They journey from west to east, from east to west, traveling by land and by sea.  From the west they export eunuchs [more on that later – these were largely Slavic captives brought to Al-Andalus], young girls and boys, brocade, beaver pelts, marten and other furs and also swords.”

“They set sail from Firanja [the land of the Franks?] on the Mediterranean coast and then head for Farama in Egypt [Tell el-Farama, on the Mediterranean Coast, in the delta north of Suez].  There they transfer their merchandise to the backs of camels and travel to Qulzum [former Clysma, at the southern end of the Suez Canal] on the Red Sea, a distance of 25 forsakes [parsecs?].  They sail [from Qulzum] down the  Red [Eastern] Sea to al-Jar, the port of Medina, and to Jiddah/Gudda [Jeddah], the port of Mecca.  Then they continue on to Sindh [in Pakistan], India and China.”

“They return from China with musk, alloe wood, camphor, cinnamon and other eastern products, docking again at Qulzum, then proceed to Farama, from where they again set sail on the Mediterranean [Western] Sea.”

“Some of them head for Constantinople to sell their goods to the Byzantines.  Others go to the palace of the King of Franks.  Sometimes these Jewish merchants set sail on the Mediterranean from the land of the Franks to Antioch [then in Muslim hands before a reconquista in 969 by the Byzantines; now under Turkish administration].  They then proceed overland to al-Jabiya on the Euphrates, a journey of three days [somewhere in Syria – East of Antioch].  They sail down the Euphrates to Baghdad, then down the Tigris to al-Ubulla [East of Basra in the Tigre-Euphrates delta, served as the Persian Gulf “gateway” to India], from where they sail  the Arabian Gulf to Oman, Sindh, India and China. All these lands are connected to one another.”

The overland routes of the Radhaniya are as follows; the Jewish merchants also follow a land route.  Merchants departing from Spain or France sail to as-Sus al-aqsa [southern Morocco] and then to Tangier, from where they set off for Ifriqiyya [Tunisia/Tripolitania] and then to Misr the Egyptian [capital].  From there they head towards Ramla [today’s Israel?], visit Damascus, Kufa [on the Euphrates in Iraq], Baghdad and Basra [southern Iraq], then cross the Ahwaz [in Persia], Farz [Persia], Kirman [Kerman, Persia], Sindh and India, and finally arrive in China.”

“Sometimes they take a route north of Rome, heading for Khamlij [likely Atil close to the Caspian Sea shore] via the lands of the Saqaliba (Slavs).  Khamlij is a Khazar capital [city?].  They sail the Caspian Sea, make their way to Balkh [in Bactria – today’s Afghanistan], from there to Ma wars annahr [Transoxiana or Bactria, e.g, where the city of Samarkand is], then to the yurt [Wurt] of the Toghuzghuz [somewhere in Uighur countries or Mongolia – Toquz Oghuz means the (Turkish) Nine Tribes] and there to China.”

Ibn al-Faqih on the al-Radhaniya

“Someone tells that it is stated in the Torah that Rayy [Persian, close to the Caspian Sea] is one of the ports of the earth and the place of commerce for mankind.  [note that ray – also is Slavic for paradise]  … Rayy has a fine climate and its buildings are marvelous.  It is the gate of commerce, the refuge of those seeking liberty, the bridegroom of the Earth [?], the highway of the world.  It lies mid-way between Khurasan [northeast Persia], Jurjan [aka Gurgan in Persia on the Southeastern coast of the Caspian Sea] , Iraq and Tabaristan [Tapuria on the southern Caspian Sea].  It is the most beautiful creation on Earth.  It has the Surr and Sarban [presumably meaning those of the Pashtuns but there is always the question of the origin of the Serbs] quarters, and to it flows merchandise from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Khurasan, Khazaria and the country of the Burjan [Bulgar – probably of the Volga variety].”

[here the account begins to resemble what we know from Ibn Khurradadhbih]

“Merchants sail from east to west and west to east, carrying brocades and fine quality silk from the land of the Franks to al-Farama.  Then they sail from Qulzum and cross the sea to China, carrying these products.  Then they carry cinnamon and celadon and all the products of China until they come back to Qulzum and cross to al-Farama.  These are Jewish merchants.  They speak Persian, Greek, Arabic and Frankish.  They embark from al-Farama and sell the musk and aloes wood as well as everything they have brought with them from the kingdom of the Franks.  Then they come to Antioch, then go to Baghdad and then to al-Ubulla.”

Ibn Hawqal on the Trade in Eunuchs 

“The country of the Saqaliba is so immense that on the East side it delivers slaves to Korassan, whereas on the West side it sends them to Andalusia.  The Andalusians buy them in Galicia, in France, in Lombardy and in Calabria so as to make the eunuchs, and thereafter they ferry them over to Egypt and Africa.  All the Saqaliba [Slavic] eunuchs in the world come from Andalusia.”

“A well-known export from al-Andalus is slaves, boys and girls captured in France and Galicia, as well as eunuchs from the Saqaliba.  All the Saqaliba eunuchs in the world come from al-Andalus.  They are castrated near this country.  The [cutting] operation is performed by Jewish merchants.  The Saqaliba are descended from Japheth.  Their country is vast and extend over a very great length.  Raiders from Khurasan [or Khorassan] reach them through the territory of the Bulghars.  They are led in captivity to that province., their manhood left intact, their bodies unmutilated.  The territories of the Saqaliba are immense.  The arm of the sea which extend from the Ocean into the lands of Gog and Magog crosses their territory all the way to a point west of Trebizond [Trabzon, east of Paphlagonia on the Black Sea in today’s Turkey] then to Constantinople, thus dividing it into two halves.  One of these, throughout all its length is raided by the warriors of Khurasan, who live on its borders, while the northern regions are invaded by raiders from al-Andalus via Galicia, France, Lombardy* and Calabria.”

In another translation this text continues “so as to make the eunuchs, and thereafter they ferry them over to Egypt and Africa.” [See Ibn Khurradadhbih above on the same route]

Finally, he also says of the people of Khwarezm or Chorasmia:

“Their entire wealth comes from trading with the Turks and from livestock.  One imports to them the greater part of the Slavic and Khazar slaves and slaves from the bordering lands in addition to Turkish slaves and furs from the Korsak foxes, sables, foxes, beavers and other types of furs.”

* Incidentally, Lombardy meant all of northern Italy all the way to Rome. In fact, in the Life of Saint Zachary we have, under the year 747, an entry indicating that it was the Venetians who acquired slaves here and then delivered them to Saracen countries.  When the papal and imperial edicts forbade this practice, the Venetians began to use Adriatic and Mediterranean pirates to acquire slaves and hand them over to the Venetians.  Many of these slaves came from the Eastern shores of the Adriatic where we know slaves were traded as late as the 15th century in, for example, Dubrovnik.  However, in case  you ask, it is highly unlikely that it is for this reason that those Slavs living in the area became known as the Servi as that name appears in many places and predates the events described here.

[Ibn Hawqal concludes this chapter with a piece of good news]


Ibn Hawqal – an eternal optimist

“Captives from these regions are still plentiful [!]”

Ibn Khurradadhbih on Rus Merchants

The routes of the Rus merchants are as follows; the Rus, one of the Saqaliba people, journey from the farthest reaches of Saqlab [the land of the Slavs] to the eastern Mediterranean and there sell beaver and black fox pelts, as well as swords.  The Byzantine ruler levies a ten percent tax on their merchandise.  On their return they go by sea to Samkarsh, the city of the Jews [Tamatarkha, former Greek colony on the Black Sea off of the Crimea; then in the Khazar Khaganate – today in Russia], and from there make their way back to Slavic territory [?].  They also follow another route, descending the Don (Tanais) River, the river of the Saqaliba, and passing by Khamlij, the capital/city of the Khazars, where the ruler of the country also levies a ten percent tax on them.  There they embark upon the Caspian Sea, heading for a point they know.  This sea is 500 forsakes [parsecs?] long [in diameter].  Sometimes they transport their merchandise on camel back from the city of Jurjan to Baghdad.  There Slavic speaking eunuchs interpret for them.  They [the Rus] pretend to be Christians and, like them [Christians] only pay a poll tax.”

Ibn al-Faqih on Rus Merchants

“Regarding the Saqalib merchants, they bring fox and beaver pelts from the depths of their country to the Mediterranean, where the Byzantine king imposes a ten percent tax on them.  Then they go by sea to “Samkarsh of the Jews” [Tamatarkha, former Greek colony on the Black Sea off of the Crimea; then in the Khazar Khaganate – today in Russia].  From there, they either go on to the Saqaliba or take the way from the sea of the Saqaliba to the river of the Saqaliba (Don or Volga?), until they come to the gulf of the Khazars, where the ruler imposes a tax off ten percent.  Then they go to the sea of Khurasan (the Caspian Sea), usually disembarking at Jurjan, where they sell all their goods, which are then sent to Rayy, and the most amazing thing si that this is the emporium of the world.”

Ibn Rusta on the Rus (and Slavs)

“The Rus (Rusiya) live on an island in a lake.  This island is three days’ march across and consists of forests and thickets.  It is pestilential and the soil is so damp that when a man steps on it, it quivers underfoot.  They have a ruler called khagan Rus.  The Rus raid the Saqaliba, sailing in their ships until they come upon them.  They take them captive and sell them in Khazaran and Bulkar (Bulghar).  They have no cultivated fields and they live by pillaging the land of the Saqaliba.”  [the island may be at Gorodische where Volkhov comes out of Lake Ilmen – aka [?] Holmgarthr]

A Note on the Global Slav Trade

It is clear that various raiding parties of slavers but also of traders drove into Slavic lands from both West and East.  The people captured were then taken to processing centers – such as Prague and then towards slave markets of al-Andalus or similar establishments in the Middle East.


Saint Adalbert (Voytech) recommends the freeing of slaves to Boleslav II of Prague – slave traders  sporting fashionable hats – slaves sporting leashes – source “Gniezno doors” reliefs

Some were castrated and sold off as eunuchs – note, for example, the above reference about Slavic eunuchs serving interpreters in Baghdad.  Some remained in Spain.  Others were taken far into Muslim lands (e.g., the above mentioned Slavic eunuchs serving as interpreters in far off Baghdad), perhaps as far as the Arabian peninsula and, maybe, even further onto India and China.


Some Slavic eunuchs thrived in their new environs functioning as dispassionate schemers and machers

Of course for the wheels of medieval globalization to turn you needed a number of factors to work just right.


To others, their new circumstances proved more of a shock

First, as elsewhere in history where slavery comes up, you had to have a bunch of relatively hapless people who were isolated and ignorant of the wider world – preferably not speaking the language of the lands they were heading to.  These could be locals but, importantly, they could be strangers as in prisoners of war from other countries.

Second, you had to have brigand-raiders that would carry off the cargo.  These included the various Arabs (and Muslims in general), the Rus, the Avars, likely also – at least initially – the Magyars (Hungarians then called the “Turks”) and the already mentioned Khurasan.  As mentioned already, a great force in this trade seem to have been the Franks and, especially, the Saxons, who after (and during) their conversion to Christianity found a new cause in establishing marches for the Franks* among the various border tribes of the Slavs – their excursions into Polabian Slav lands were reminiscent of the later Reisen of the Teutonic Knights through the lands of the Old Prussians.

* The brutalization of the Saxons by the Franks – especially under the monstrous Charlemagne -may have contributed to their subsequent brutalization of the Slavs – no doubt psychologists might have something to say about this.


Khurasan raiders looking for slaves in a smoldering Slav village

Third, things, no doubt, went more smoothly if you had coopted the local elites into this business.  These rulers and traders may have been looking for ways to boost their income and the rise of the various local standing “armies” may, perhaps, at least in part, been fueled by human chattel.  Further, the extensive presence of Arab coinage from this time in Central and Eastern Europe may too attest to this phenomenon.

What can’t escape notice is that it was the continued willingness of Europeans to sell their countrymen (though not always countrymen, e.g., Franks selling Saxons, Franks and Saxons selling Slavs, one Slavic tribe selling members of another Slavic tribe) into slavery, that was a driver of this process (as much a backbone of this slave trade as the willingness of African chieftains to do the same a few hundred years later).  This point of “Christians” selling other Christians to “Jews” was raised by Bishop Agobard of Lyons while otherwise complaining (including about the fact that Jewish preachings were better received – by Christians – than Christian ones) to Louis the Pious (in 826-827) (though the bishop did not similarly object to the sale of pagan slaves – perhaps he felt that would weaken his argument to a Christian ruler or perhaps he cared less).  More than a century later, in 948, Bishop Liutprand reports that the town of Verdun was a center of castration as the residents could make more money selling eunuchs to Al-Andalus rather than “regular” slaves.*   Later, further East, Thietmar reports of the accusations of selling people (“to the Jews” – again, presumably, the act of selling your own to others seemed worse) being lobbied against Margrave of Meissen, Gunzelin of Kuckenburg in 1009.   See also the Life of Saint Adalbert.  Another slave-dealing report dates even to the much-later times of Boleslaw III Wrymouth (of Poland).  In each of those reports Jewish merchants are mentioned but we know that it was the Czech rulers who sold Poles, Pomeranian dukes who sold Obodrites (to Poles, Sorbs and Czechs), etc.  In fact, another Spanish-Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, makes the following observation (as late as the 1170s):  “Thence extends the land of Bohemia, called Prague.  This is the commencement of the land of Slavonia, and the Jews who dwell there call it Canaan, because the men of that land [the Slavs] sell their sons and their daughters to the other nations.”  While Benjamin’s sources here “may not have been entirely objective,” all evidence indicates that the maligned “Jews” – presumably, meaning the Radhanite merchants – served the same middleman role in the trade of human chattel as in the international trade of their other wares.  While the Radhanites’ behaviour was clearly terrible by today’s (Western) standards, the role of the sellers and buyers who happened to be “Christian” and “Muslim” (though some “ultimate” buyers may have been Jewish) sometimes seems to be ignored – which is, let’s just say, “odd” (thus no one seems to be blaming the “Swedes” for the acts of the Rus slave raiders even though they actually enslaved free people in the first place; same for the Franks and Saxons or other fellow Slavs)).  Without excusing anyone’s behaviour, one has to say that the slave trade was an acceptable practice of the times. (Whether Benjamin’s sources’ reference to Canaan originated from a different background is another story).

* “Carzimasium autem Greci vocant amputatis viribilus et virga puerum eunuchim; quod Verdunenses mercatores ob immensum lucrum facere, et in Hispaniam ducere solent.” (Liutprand, Antapodosis, seu rerum per Europam gestarum, 6, 6)

Fourth, you had to have initial processing centers such as Prague and other places – maybe in Khazaria or Rus.  We know that Prague got rather rich on these kinds of transactions and when wealth is involved, morals, too often give way to rationalization. As per Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub: “The Rus and the Saqaliba go [to Prague] from Cracow, to trade, and so do Muslim merchants from the lands of the Turks, as well as Turks and Jews, with [mathaquil al-marqatiyya [?] weights [?]].  They carry away slaves, tin and various kinds of furs.”

Fifth, you had to have distribution centers closer to ultimate markets – e.g., in Andalus where the final product would be prepared for retail (e.g., the castration business above) – then sold off to customers or shipped even further.

Sixth, you had to have a shipping/distribution network of traders/merchants who would be willing to take on such cargo – such as that of the Rus or of the more specialized al-Radhaniya (which, along with its successors, continued in the business well into the middle ages in Bohemia, Poland and Germany).

Of course, most importantly, you also had to have a willing buyer in need of soldiers, sex slaves or servants.


Slavic slaves offered something for everyone

While slaves were clearly not the only export of Slavic lands and neither were Slavs the only slaves (see reference above to French and Spanish child slaves) of the time, the extent of this trade seems to suggest that significant parts of the non-Slavic world may today have Slavic ancestors (unless, of course, the arrivals were eunuchs).  It is no wonder that the Latin word servitor was replaced at this time by slave.

The unpleasant fate of those people who were, in effect, outmatched from birth by these global networks so as to be stolen from their families and their lands, forever, and sent to places that neither they nor any of their countrymen (including their initial wholesellers) likely ever dreamt of, suggests that, perhaps, at least in some cases, Slavic state formation may have been a defense mechanism against this kind of human poaching.

We also note that, at least some of the warrior slaves or, perhaps, eunuchs may well have accepted their fate and, in relative terms, prospered in their new “homelands.”  As mentioned before, there is at least one report of a Slav warrior band revolt somewhere in today’s Morocco where the mutineers set up their own town – known as the “village of the Slavs”.  We will return with some positives of what happened to some of these peoples in the future (there are a number of interesting reports!).

Obviously the fate of those who were brought in (male, female and, worst of all, children) to satisfy the prurient or deviant desires of local elites was, ahem, not so pleasant even if some may have ultimately won freedom somehow (some may have escaped).

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January 17, 2015

Reports of the Slavs From Muslim Lands Part I – Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub’s Account

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Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub al-Israili, was a Jewish merchant from Tortosa (whether he was also a Muslim is debatable).  In the year A.D. 965, he traveled from Muslim-occupied Spain (the formerly Vandal, Al-Andalus) to Mainz and then to Magdeburg, the residence of German Emperor (as of 962) Otto I where, interestingly, he claimed to have been received by the Emperor (or was it puffery?).  Who was Ibrahim?  He was a merchant but beyond that we are not sure.  That he was given access to Otto suggests that he may have been an envoy and his account below suggests that either he also may have been a scout or a spy or that he was just naturally curious or, most likely, both.  If he was an envoy/spy then he was in the service of the Cordoban caliph Al Hakaman II (ruler between 961-976).


Ibrahim was thrilled to get new orders from the caliph and leave the sleepy Spanish Coast…

It is worthwhile to mention that we have briefly met his father Abd-ar-Rahman III already.  The father, also bears mentioning at this point, was a warrior who may have had a special Slavic guard of over thirteen thousand soldiers who helped him conquer portions of Spain and also North Africa (but maybe they were just slaves not Slavs…unclear).

The son, Al Hakhaman was a patron of the arts (his library contained something like 400,000 plus manuscripts) but was not a warrior.  What he was, however, was homosexual and was known to have kept a number of (male) harems.  Of course, a rich ruler gets bored easily and so his harems need replenishing.  Thus, it may well be that while his father kept Slav warrior slaves, the son was sending Ibrahim on a mission to get him some information and some male Slav sex slaves.  At the time the slave trade was booming and Slavs were the primary bounty (yes, we will have more on that later).  Prague was the center of this trade as of other trade as Ibrahim, himself, describes below.  Of course, we do not know Ibrahim’s mission for sure and, likely, will never know leaving the above in realm of speculation.


…for a little nature get away

It was in the service of Abd-ar-Rahman III, the father, by the way, that Hasdai ibn Shaprut performed all his diplomatic miracles as mentioned here. Ibrahim, it is worth noting may well have known Hasdai since the latter did not pass away until the year 970 or so.  It is conceivable then that Ibrahim would have brought back to Hasdai the news of the defeat and final collapse (A.D. 965) of the Khazar Kingdom at the hands of the newly emergent Rus.

In any event, it appears that after visiting with Otto I in Magdeburg he went on to Prague (the year was 965 so the princess Dobrava was just heading out to see her new husband, still non-Christian, Mieszko) and also went to see the Obotrites in the North though the order of his travels is uncertain (his visits to the Czech capital and to the Obotrite capital are relatively clear from the distances given and a description of the approaches to those cities (another reason that suggests that he was more than a merchant).  As for Poland, the lands of Walitaba (Veleti), the Prussians or the Amazons, it seems that Ibrahim had not ventured to those and that his information comes second-hand from people he met in his travels.

Ibrahim’s original account did not survive but, as already mentioned, some of his writings are replicated in Abu ‘Ubayd al-Bakri’s (11th century) “Book of Roads and Kingdoms.”  Since this is a “classic” account containing some of the first mentions of the Bohemian (first mention of Prague), Polish (other than Widukind’s mention of 963, this seems the earliest mention of Polish lands) and West Slavic countries (and of Baltic Prussia – Burus), we transcribe it here in most of the relevant parts (skipping only the German, lengthy Bulgarian and “hearth & home” sections – the last one we will return to in part III of this series).

From Abu ‘Ubayd al-Bakri’s Book of Roads and Kingdoms

“The Saqaliba are descendants of Madhay, son of Yafith (Japheth) and they dwell in the north-west.” says al-Bakri, then switching to Ibrahim’s reporting:

Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub al-Israili says:

‘The country of Saqualiba extends from the eastern Mediterranean to the north Atlantic.  The tribes of the north dominate them and now live among them.  They are of many different kinds.  They were once united under a king named Makha, who was from a group of them called Walitaba.[1]  This group was of high status among them, but then their languages diverged, unity was broken and the people divided into factions, each of them ruled by their own king.”

[We note that a similar term appears in other Arabic writings, e.g., Majik of the Walitaba or Walinana – which, presumably, is a reference to the Volinians of Wolin (or Wollin) Island – who are the same as the Veleti or Walitaba – either way from the Veletian Union on Wolin (from Masudi on the Slavs from A.D. 943; of course, the same Masudi speaks of the majus when speaking of, apparently, Viking (but, maybe, Wendish pirates – more on that later when we discuss Britain) raiders hitting the coasts of Al-Andalus); same people aka the Wilzi in some sources]

“At the present time they have four kings: the king of the Bulqars; Boreslav [the Cruel], king of Prague (Faraga) and Cracow (Karaku); Mieszko (Mashaqu), king of the North; and Nakon (Naqun), who rules farthest west.”

On Nakon’s Country

[Duke of the Obodrites]

“The country of Nakon is bordered on the farthest west by the Saxons [Saksun] and some Norsemen [Murman].  His country has low prices and many horses, which are exported to other places.  They are well armed, with shields, helmets and swords.”


A museum at Gross Raden

“From Burgh (Fargh [Magdeburg?]) to Mayliyah [?] is ten miles and from [there] to the bridge is fifty miles.  It is a wooden bridge, a mile long.  From the bridge to the fortress of Nakon is around 40 miles, and it is called Grad, which means a “large fort”  Facing Grad jus a fort built in a freshwater lake.  This is the kind of place where the Saqaliba build most of their forts, in swampy meadows with thick foliage.”


There be thick foliage

“They trace out a circular or square space the size they want their for to be, and then dig a trench along the perimeter and heap up the earth into a rampart, which they then reinforce with planks and logs, until the walls of the fort are the height they require.  They make a gate wherever they want and build a wooden bridge leading to it.  From the fort of Grad to the Surrounding Sea is eleven miles.  No army can penetrate the lands of Nakon without great difficult, because the country is all marshy, thickly forested and muddy.”


Stargard (Oldenburg in Schleswig-Holstein) reconstruction

[we note here that Nakon died about 965-966, a fact that Ibrahim does not seem to know about suggesting he visited there immediately before those events – maybe a hit commissioned by Otto using a Cordoban “merchant” emissary – let your imagination roam]

On Boreslav’s Country

[Boleslav, Duke of the Czechs]

“As for the country of Boreslav, from the city of Prague to the city of Cracow is a journey of three weeks; its length is comparable to that of the country of the Turks.  The city of Prague is built of stone an dime.  It is the pinrcipal trading city.  The Rus and the Saqaliba go there from Cracow, to trade, and so do Muslim merchants from the lands of the Turks, as well as Turks and Jews, with [mathaquil al-marqatiyya [?] weights [?]].  They carry away slaves, tin and various kinds of furs [?].  Their country is the best in the north the richest in provender.  There a man can buy enough flour for a month for a qinshar.  In Prague are made saddles and griddles and the leather shields used in their countries.”


Prague, a few hundred years after Ibrahim’s visit but before the tourists ruined it

“In Bohemia are made small lightly-woven kerchiefs like nets, embroidered with crescents, which have no practical use.  The value of ten of these kerchiefs is always equivalent to none qinshar.  They trade and exchange them, and have receptacles full of them.  They constitute wealth, and the most expensive things can be purchased with them, wheat, slaves, horses, gold and silver and everything else.  It is surprising that the people of Bohemia have brown or black hair; blonds are rare among them.”

“The road from Madhinburgh [Magdeburg?] to the country of Boleslav [to] and from it to the fort of Qaliwa is ten miles, and from it to Nub Grad is two miles.  It is a fort built of stone and lime, and it is on the Saale River [Slawah], into which falls the River Bode.  And from Nub Grad to Mallahat al-Yahud [Salzmunde?]  which is on the Saale River, is thirty miles.  From there to the fort of Burjin, which is on the River Mulde [Muldasah] … and from it to edge of the forest is twenty-five miles; from its beginning to its end is forty miles, through mountains and forests. for,, it to the wooden bridge over the mud is about two miles.  From the end of the forest the city of Prague is entered.”

On Mieszko’s Country

[Duke of the Poles]

“As for the country of Mieszko, it is the most extensive of their countries.  It abounds in food and meat and honey and cultivated fields.”


Gniezno reconstruction; courtesy: the Museum of the Beginnings of the Polish State

“His taxes are levied in [mathalqil al-margatiyya [according to how much they weigh?]], and they are used to pay the monthly salaries of his men, each of whom receives a fixed number.  He has 3,000 shield-bearers.  One hundred of his soldiers are equal of 1,000.  The men are given clothing and horses and  weapons and everything they require.  If one of them has a child, he is immediately assigned an allowance, whether it is male or female.  When it grows up, if it is male, he provides for its marriage and gives a dowry to the father of the girl.  Dowries are very important to the Saqaliba, and their customs concerning them are like those of the Berbers.  If a woman has two or three daughters, they are considered a form of wealth.  If a man has two sons, it is a cause of poverty.”

On the Prussians

[that is the Baltic Prussians]

“Mieszko is bordered to the east by the Rus and to the north by Prussia.  The inhabitants of Prussia live on the shore of the Surrounding Sea.  They have their own language, and do not know the languages of their neighbors.”


Old Prussians’ defenses were impregnable – at any temperature above 32 Fahrenheit

“They are famous for their courage.  If an army comes against them, not one of them waits until his comrade joins him, but each man charges on his own, striking with his sword until he is killed.  The Rus raid them in ships from the west [presumably Vikings from Sweden].”

On the City of Women 

“West of the Rus lies the City of Women [Magda/Mazovia?].  They have fields and slaves, and they bear children from their slaves.  If a woman has a male child, she kills it.  They ride horses and devote themselves to war; they are brave and fierce.”


In telling his Amazon story to Ibrahim, Otto (in the middle) relied heavily on visual aids

“Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub says: ‘The story of this city is true; Otto, the king of the Romans, told me so himself.'”

On the Walitaba Country


“To the west of this city is a tribe of the Saqaliba called the nation of Walitaba.  It is in the scrbuands of the country of Mieszko to the north-west.”


Wollin coast – it was a lot woodier in the olden days

“They have a great city on the Surrounding Ocean [presumably Wolin].  It has twelve gates and a harbor, with a revetment of wooden pilings [?] [wa hum yasta maluna la-hi shuturan harlan].  They make war on Mieszko and are very courageous.  They have no king and trade with no one.  Their judges are their old men.”

[1] this name Walitaba refers to the Veleti.  Also known as Wilzi.

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January 10, 2015

Idols in Oriente iam sole (East of the Sun)

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 Prologue – Introducing the Cast of Characters

Saint Vaclav (Wenceslas) is one of the two first saints of Bohemia.  He was the son of Vratislav and Drahomira.  His father Vratislav was the son of Borivoj I, the first historically attested ruler of the Czechs and of Ludmila (the other early Bohemian saint).  His mother was Drahomira, a princess of the Hevellians, a Slavic tribe from the area around Berlin.  After Borivoj passed away (about 889), the throne was inherited by Spytihnev, his first son but after Spytihnev died (915), the throne went to his younger brother Vratislav (who was, as we said, married to Drahomira).  After Vratislav died (921), his older son Vaclav (born about 907) became duke at the age of thirteen.

It also happened that Vratislav and Drahomira had a second son, Boleslav (the Cruel) (born about 915) who was about six at the time of his brother Vaclav ‘s becoming duke – as well as, possibly, a daughter – Stretislava (who married the famous Slavnik – about whom there will be more in the future).

(BTW It was this Boleslav the Cruel’s daughter – Dobrava – that married the first historically attested Polish duke, Mieszko I).

Exit Ludmila

He was being raised by both his mother Drahomira and his grandmother Ludmila.  Ludmila was a Christian while Drahomira was a devoted pagan and the grandmother, apparently, began to assert herself more as the regent.


Surprisingly, this led to some tension in the family which tension percolated to the surface such that shortly after Vaclav took the reigns of dukedom, his mother Drahomira caused Ludmila to ascend to sainthood by having her assassinated via strangulation.


Drahomira checking out what’s left of Ludmila

Thereafter, Drahomira began to reinstitute Slavic beliefs (also, presumably, so as get out from under the political overlordship of the Bavarian Church).  Nonetheless, at some point Vaclav sent his mother away as a result (though may later have forgiven her).

Exit Vaclav

In any event, the “good” king Vaclav reigned for many years until, in 935 his brother – Boleslav – decided that it was his turn now and that Vaclav would make an excellent saint.


Boleslav invited Vaclav to a feast, got into a quarrel with him and, apparently, three of Boleslav’s buddies did the dirty deed on the King.  Apparently, Boleslav tried to escape and hide in a chapel but the priest would not let him in.


“Sorry, closed for repairs”

(It is not clear whether Boleslav already then carried the moniker, the Cruel, but if he did then Vaclav was a dumbass for accepting Boleslav’s invitation).


Boleslav was seen as “just a regular guy” – quite understandably then Vaclav was surprised by his brother’s treachery

Thus, did the Czechs, being god fearing people, got two saints in record time and Boleslav got to rule for over 30 years.  Everyone was happy.  (Apparently, too, Drahomira was still alive at that time).

Enter the Literati

Vaclav became a saint almost right away after his passing and a number of Vaclav and Ludmila legends were written already in the X century.  The first one may have been in Old Slavonic but soon Latin versions followed suit as the legend of Vaclav grew and expanded to countries outside of Bohemia.  One of those Latin versions was Christian’s Vita et passio sancta Wenceslai et Sanctae Ludmile ave emus written about 992-994.  It was, it seems, based on that version that a later version of the legend – Oriente iam sole – was based on.  It was, in its shorter version, written in the mid-XIII century and in the longer version in the second half of the XIV century.

Oriente iam sole

[east of the Sun]

Our interest in this version of the Vaclav story is, however, rooted in something else and the above was just for context – the mention therein, however scant, once again of Slavic idols (unfortunately, this time with no names).

“[Denique] cum irent omnes ad immolandum ydolis, que colebat mater eius nequissima, hic solus fugiebat consorcia eorum et pergebat occulte ad ecclesias, quas pater eius construxerant… Sed iam dicta cultrix ydolorum, Yezabel immitatrix… cum autem factus esset vir exprobravit incredulitatem illorum et duriciam cordis, dicens ad omnes, qui erant infideles: Servus christi sum, ydolis vestris non serviam, non sub alicuius vestrum amplius redigar potestatem…. Et extunc ceperunt eo iubente [?] ydola minui, christi ecclesie aperiri, et fideles, qui dispersi fuerant, affluere.”


(When all went to sacrifice to the idols that were worshipped by his mother, he alone escaped and went secretly to the churches constructed by his father [i.e., Vratislav]… But the already the aforementioned worshipper of idols, imitating Jezabel [presumably reference to his mother]… But when he became a man he upbraided them for their lack of faith and their hardness of heart saying unto all of them who were unbelievers: “I am a servant of Christ.  I will not serve your idols.  I will not remain under your power anymore”… And thereafter, at his command, the idols were removed and Christ’s churches reopened and the faithful became bountiful [once more]).

We should say that other version also do have a few mentions of idols, e.g., Oporte nos fratres from the 2nd half of the XI century as well as the aforementioned Christian’s version as set forth in Vita et passio sancta Wenceslai et Sanctae Ludmile ave emus.  You can read more about these in Josef Pekar’s 1905 authoritative Wenzels- und Ludmila – Legenden und die Echtheit Christians.



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January 9, 2015